Recovery


Recovery
By Ricky
There is a truism frequently cited by those who are disabled:
"Being able bodied is only a temporary condition."
Fortunately, love and crossdressing are also permanent conditions.

Meetings.

What? You think I should say more? You obviously haven't been subjected to that modern form of torture that is the Business Meting. In mediaeval times they had the cute little custom of pressing you for the Truth; naturally the specific Truth your torturers wanted to hear. They tied you down and piled rocks on your chest until you couldn't breathe, maybe slicing or burning other parts of your anatomy just for fun, and encouraged you to say what they wanted to hear.

We, in our modern society, have eschewed such behavior. These days they tie you up in a business suit, wrap your neck with a gaily colored cord (to remind you of the gallows, no doubt), then lock you into a room with day-old donuts and cold coffee until you can't breathe. Which was the state I was currently in.

There was a tightness in my chest, and it sure as hell wasn't the pleasant weight of the falsies nestled in my bra as it caressed my body. Several of my colleagues were not at all happy with the answers I was providing, answers that didn't mesh well with their version of the Truth. They had wound down now, I wasn't the only one who wanted this damn meeting to end, but I could tell they were looking for new piles of metaphorical rock to cast in my direction. Too bad for them, I had the research results on my side so I was going to win this round.

I fear I was rather distracted at that point. When this never ending meeting finally ground to a halt I had six weeks of vacation coming. I had made the boss happy by offering to drive to this meeting in my own car, saving him a lot of air fare, planning to return home at a leisurely pace. When this interminable meeting ended I intended to dump this suit and spend every second after as Charlene.

I heard the chairs scrape and it brought me back to reality. The meeting was over! I declined the pro forma invitation to dinner, made a beeline to my car and got the hell out of there.

I was actually going to regret leaving Toronto. Instead of a hotel I had taken a friend's advice and stayed at Pimblett's Rest, a funky B&B in Cabbagetown. The climb up to the 3rd floor was worth it, for there was the Bewdley Room, done in 60s kitsch with orange shag rug, period "artwork" and it's own bath. The bath featured the most wonderfully awful fish sculpture, which sits watching as you cavort in the huge Jacuzzi.

The proprietor was named Geoffrey, and he was fully as funky as the place itself. If he likes you he'll show you his copy of a Chinese language Toronto paper. Smack in the middle of the front page, surrounded by incomprehensible Asian idographs, is a picture of him dressed as Queen Victoria. He's opening Toronto's first nude beach since the Victorian era. Kneeling before him is a gentleman wearing a hat and not much else. He'll gladly tell you the story if you ask.

Oh, yeah, he cooks a mean breakfast in the kitchen with his 300 + teapots all on display. Geoffrey knows everybody and everything about the city and will keep you entertained with outrageous stories as long as you are willing to sit there listening. A perfectly lovely man, indeed.

I compromised with my sense of urgency and actually took time to place my suit into the box of male clothes I had prepared that morning, but everything else landed on the floor on my way to the bathroom. I spread pink goop all over my legs and indulged myself with a copy of Cosmo as I sat waiting for it to do it's magic. The warm water pounded down on my body as I washed away all traces of unwanted hair. The scent of apples filled my senses as I shampooed and conditioned my own unfashionably (as a male) long hair.

There weren't many things I wanted to thank my father for, but the genetics that left me with a full head of hair in my 50s was a great a gift as any I had ever received. A good close shave and then the blow dryer and curling iron came into play. I was starting to see the beginnings of Charlene in the big mirror. Hair no longer dripping, I pulled out the brand new red bra I had bought for the weekend. Just for the fun of it I watched myself in that lovely mirror as I reached back and snapped the hooks together. Not bad for an old man, still flexible enough to pull that off! The falsies wiggled pleasantly in my hand as I slipped them in and viola!, Charlene's outline was a bit more clear. Since it was still a bit cool out, I selected a red bulky knit sweater with a rolled collar, which nicely displayed my faux breasts while hiding my Adam's apple.

What is it that makes wearing a colored bra so much more fun than one that is plain white? You'd think that, as a guy, just wearing a bra would be thrilling enough. I'm sure you remember the first time you took your mother's or sister's bra and crept into the bathroom to try it on. What could have been more exciting than that? The danger, the guilt, the exhilaration. Did you wear it under your PJs that night or was it during the day when everyone else was gone so you could walk around the house wearing it? However it happened, you knew that you just had to keep wearing a bra for the rest of your life, and it didn't matter what color it was.

That is until later, when putting a bra became a simple reflex; a natural thing to do. That's when you started to want more, or at least that's when I did. Even though no one in this world was ever going to see me in just my bra and panties, I still got a thrill out of red or green or blue lace on my body. I may be the only one who knows, but that's enough.

I sat on the bed and slid the stockings over my hairless legs, savoring the feeling as they covered my skin. There is nothing like the feeling of nylon on freshly shaved legs. I feel for the ordinary males who will never know the sensitivity of skin without any hair, who will never thrill to the sweep of a skirt over their calves. Will had it right: "What fools these mortals be…"

Such a shame I couldn't find matching panties to go with my new bra, just because my bra size starts with a "4" instead of a "3" or even a "2" doesn't mean I don't like pretty panties. Size discrimination — pure and simple. I found a pair of dangly earrings in my case and exchanged them for my simple gold studs. Guys get to wear only one earring, girls can have two. Sex discrimination, pure and simple and I wasn't buying it.

Enough kvetching! I was going to be exclusively in girl mode for the next six weeks and that's that, so I put on the nubbly skirt with red highlights that went so well with my sweater and a pair of modest flats. Thanks again, dad, for the light beard so I don't have to slather myself with a geologic layer of foundation. I stepped back and looked the results in the mirror. Charlene wasn't beautiful, but she seldom attracted undue attention, which is just as it should be. I slipped my wallet and makeup kit into my purse and descended the stairs.

I have to hand it to Geoffrey, he didn't even blink when I told him about Charlene. He waved me a cheery goodbye as I went across to the pub for dinner. He owns the pub, too, and it serves food to die for. The décor is early garage sale and the clientele ranges from leather boys to cheerful couples to businessmen to at least one crossdresser, all mingling happily and enjoying themselves. Don't bother with the menu, if there's a special just order it, you won't be sorry.

I was halfway across the street in the twilight when I heard a roar and saw something out of the corner of my eye. I never made it to dinner that night.

---

Waking up has never been a favorite activity of mine, especially when my head hurt like it was presently doing. I certainly hoped I had a very good time last night, because otherwise this hangover was certainly not worth the effort. I hadn't felt this way since my 20s; this was definitely not a part of my lost youth I wanted to recapture. I pawed at the bedcovers, but something was holding my arm down. It was not warm and curvy, so I supposed I hadn't gone home with a woman in a drunken stupor, but the effort to open my eyes and identify the obstruction was just too great to be worth it.

I lay there and slowly let the sounds around me penetrate my limited consciousness. The faint beeps and boops in the distance made me think of an arcade, but it wasn't nearly noisy enough for one. There was a low hum somewhere nearby, and the faint sound of snoring off to my left. Could I have gone home with a woman and then slept in a separate bed? This just didn't make sense. I was mustering the strength to shift an eyelid when I identified determined footsteps approaching me.

"Hello. Are you awake enough to hear me?"

I tried to answer, but my throat was awful dry.

"Hold on, I'll get you some water."

Feminine voice, soft but brisk. I don't usually sleep in under such circumstances, preferring not to acquire the status of lazy guest when I share someone's bed. I felt a straw at my lips and filled my mouth with cool water. Heavenly!.

"Not too much, now. Take it slow!

I savored the life-giving liquid, then took a bit more. OK, this time I was going to open my eyes. I now had incentive, I wanted to see the face that went with the angel that would do this for me. I blinked with effort and finally succeeded in keeping my eyes open, but suddenly I wished I hadn't.

Not that there was anything intrinsically wrong with the face I saw. Nicely shaped, a perky little nose, green eyes and auburn hair, fitting the voice very nicely. The problem was the nurse's cap on her head and the uniform on her body. Somehow I didn't think I was in the middle of some role playing game with a stranger, not unless the stranger had outfitted her bedroom with a lot of hi tech equipment and medical supplies.

About then I remembered the flash of light and the godawful kick and realized I was in the hospital. Can you forgive me if my next thought was "Not while I'm on vacation!"?

"Just take it easy, hon." My auburn haired angel advised. "You've been in an accident and got banged up pretty bad. You'll be all right, but you're going to hurt for a little while. And don't move your right arm, there's an IV in it."

So that's what it was.

"Just lay back and rest, hon. The doctor will be along in a bit and she'll tell you all about it."

I raised my head and sipped some more water. "Thanks!" I croaked.

I must have gone back to sleep, because the sun was nowhere near as bright when I next noticed it. Sure enough , in a few minutes another set of footsteps approached, but this time the voice didn't evoke a possible lover in my fuzzy brain.

"Geoffrey!" I croaked

I guess angels come in all flavors, because I felt a straw at my lips and once again filled my parched mouth with water. After a couple of sips I was feeling much better. The headache was gone, but I truly did ache all over. It took a second to identify one of those pains as hunger.

"Hungry." I croaked.

"Very good, if you're hungry you're well on your way to recovery. I'm afraid I haven't the facilities to make breakfast right now, but I hear they serve a palatable chicken broth."

"Broth?"

"Believe me, you need to start out slow after what you've been through. Let me find a nurse.

He left and a few minutes later I was still awake when he returned. He was right, the broth was good and when I finished I really didn't want anything more. He assured me my things were being taken care of and he had mailed the package he found in my room, so I didn't have to worry about that. I must have fallen asleep without saying goodbye. I did a lot of that for a day or two, swimming to the surface for a few minutes every few hours and then sliding back under again.

Morning came again, and this time stayed for a while. My auburn haired angel was again on duty and brought me my breakfast repast — juice and toast and not much else. With more strength than I had felt in some time I drained the glass and set it down on the tray. It was then I realized I was wearing a thin hospital gown. My hand involuntarily rose to my unencumbered chest, confirming the bra I had been wearing when I started off to dinner was no longer there. Erin, for what else would such an elfin angel be named, grinned at me.

"I take it you just realized you should have taken your mother seriously when she told you to wear clean underwear in case you got into an accident."

I was speechless.

"Your skirt and panties were a total loss, they had to cut them off for the surgery, and I don't think you'd ever get the garters clean again. Your bra and prostheses are still OK and in one of the drawers with your blouse. Your purse is safely locked up until you need it, and don't worry, we've proved hundreds of mothers wrong about underwear, really we have. Other than giving the surgical team a bit of a surprise it's nothing we haven't seen before."

"Thank you, Erin." What else could I say.

"All gets added to the bill,. Speaking of which — now that you seem coherent the dragon ladies from the office will be dropping by to find out who is going to be paying that bill. Forget what you've heard about socialized medicine in Canada, it's probably wrong anyway, if you heard it in the States. I'll fend them off if you want me to, but even I can't keep them away forever."

"Don't bother, I have insurance. If you get me the purse I'll dig out the information for the dragon ladies. So tell me, what happened? I don't remember much"

"I think that better wait for the doctor, we nurses only dispense meds, the doctors dispense wisdom and prognostications."

"So when do I see the doctor?"

"I told you, I don't do prognostications, silly."

It hurt to laugh, but if felt good. Some nebulous time later the Doctor arrived, a woman closer to my own age than the delightful Erin. She pulled up a chair and sat beside the bed, turning on her bedside manor.

"You're looking a bit better this morning, Mr. Mayes. Now that we've reduced the narcotics I think you will be able to concentrate a bit better."

"So that's why…"

"You have been very seriously injured, Mr. Mayes, the narcotics were called for and you'll probably still need them for a while. That's the button over there, press it and you'll get a fresh shot into your IV. The computer is smarter than all of us and won't let you overdose. Erin tells me you want to know what happened, and I seem to be the one elected to tell you." She took a breath.

"You were hit dead on by an SUV moving at a very high rate of speed. The paramedics arrived barely in time, you lost a great deal of blood. You were in surgery for about six hours and it was very close."

I was having trouble digesting this. Hell, I was supposed to be on vacation! "Six hours?"

"The reason you can't move is because your pelvis was fractured and was put back together. There's a lot of bandages down there at the moment. You are also hooked up to a catheter and colostomy bag and unless you really want the details I won't supply them."

"Thanks."

"Don't thank me yet, I haven't gotten to the hard part."

"Oh?"

"Mr. Mayes, in all my years of practice I have never found a good way to tell this to a patient." I felt her take my hand in hers. "So I'll simply tell you that we were unable to save your left foot. It was damaged beyond our ability to repair and had to be amputated."

The bright sunshine flooding the room was incongruous in the gloom that enveloped me. I felt the firm grip of her hand on mine, comforting in a very personal way.

"It's going to take some time to adjust, and we'll do everything we can to help. I know that's not much consolation right now, but you will get stronger and recover almost completely." She talked a bit more but I really didn't take it in. The drugs in my system must have kept me from going off the deep end — the idea of being without my foot still hadn't really sunk in. Eventually I slept.

---

Two days later I was feeling almost like myself, or rather as I imagined I'd feel at about 40 years from now. The company had changed my vacation to disability leave and the insurance people were satisfied. Geoffrey had my stuff in storage and was watching over my van. Best of all, I was up on crutches for short periods. I still hurt, aches in places where I hadn't known you could ache, but each day was a little better. I had just gotten back to bed after a short (very short!) walk and was resting my eyes when a whirlwind blew through the door.

"Howdy, partner!"

It's hard to jump when you have a broken pelvis and are still tied to an IV, but I managed it. It hurt. Seated in the gaudiest wheelchair on the face of the planet was a woman of middle years. Her brown hair was graying but her face shown with an animation that spoke of her joy in life. It was hard to see her figure in the chair, but I could see her breasts were as exuberant as her voice. She wore a cowboy hat, fringed leather vest and skirt and one cowboy boot of exquisitely tooled leather. She needed only one boot because her other leg was missing.

It was unnerving to look at where her leg used to be. Like most folks I had never really known anyone without all their body parts and it made me very uneasy when I saw anyone with a handicap. It really hadn't sunk in that I was now disabled, not really. I simply stared at her, speechless.

I'm Carla, here to brighten your day, wrassel coyotes and save the world, or at least your part of it."

She rolled over and stuck out her hand. I took it automatically. She had a firm grip.

"Do they let coyotes into the hospital?"

"Nah, I had to leave 'em in the van. Don't have a proper wrasslin' ring in this place anyhow. Tried to book one of the operating theaters for the show but they reserve 'em for doctors. Don't know why they call 'em theaters if they don't have a proper stage in 'em. Not some place I'd want to take a date to see a movie."

"So where would you take a date, Carla?"

"Depends on who I'm datin'. I do like movies, but these days it's hard for me to make out in the theater with this chair. Takes some effort to get gussied up and put on my leg so I can sit in a regular seat. Too bad they don't have drive-ins any more, that would make it so much easier to fool around." She paused for breath. "Then there's concerts, zoos, museums, the rodeo when it's in town and good vittles. I have never turned down a good meal, right Geoffrey?"

How had I managed to miss Geoffrey? He was standing there, right behind Carla.

"Somehow I think it's more than coincidence you happen to be standing there, Geoffrey." I hadn't realized he could look abashed. "Would this force of nature be a friend of yours, perhaps?"

"I thought it would be appropriate to introduce you two, since you have some things in common."

"Don't you mean there's a commonality in the things we DON'T have, Geoffrey darlin'?"

"I was trying to be tactful, Carla. I should have known better. If you two can arrange that date, you have a free dinner coming from the pub."

"You know how to motivate a patient better than a whole hospital full of doctors and nurses, Geoffrey, but that's going to have to wait until they spring me from this place."

"That's what I'm here for, partner. I bribed the sheriff, seduced the deputy and struck a deal with the judge's husband you don't want to know about. Geoffrey tells me you're from out of town. You got any kinfolks here abouts?"

"Nairy a one." Jeez, she had me talking like her! "The good doctors have been talking about a nursing home while I recover."

"Thought so. Well, you ain't a gonna be climbing up the stairs so Pimblett's is out, but it so happens we have a room available the Ole Homestead. 24 hour support staff, independent living, PT (I later found out that's Physical Therapy), home cooking and more crazy people" — how did she do what she did to her face!? — "in one place than you'll find anywhere outside Hollywood. Built the place special for DRC, so it's real homelike."

"DRC?"

"Disability Rights Collective. We don't let handicaps stop us from being active people. The Ole Homestead's not some damned institution where they cram us gimps in like cordwood and let us rot.'

"Carla, I get the feeling anyone tried to treat you like cordwood would get an axe in their face."

"Yup, and I'd be sweet enough to help 'em learn how to live without a nose afterward. Just all kinds of helpful, that's me."

The staff at the hospital had been great, helping me to recover and deal with my loss, but it had been all a bit unreal to me. After talking to Carla (well, squeezing short questions into the occasional pause in the verbal river and then listening some more) my spirits rose and I began to feel like life was going to be good once again. The loss of her leg was just one more challenge to her and it certainly wasn't going to stop her from getting on with the things she enjoyed. I was infected with her indomitable spirit by the time she was done.

A few pleasantries and they were gone. I was still contemplating her words when I fell asleep. I still did that a lot.

---

Carla became a regular visitor, the silent wheels of her chair allowing her to appear at my bedside unannounced. I think she liked watching me jump when I opened my eyes. (Hell — I know she enjoyed it!) I positively looked forward to her visits as the highlight of my day. She displayed a succession of western inspired outfits and I learned of her deep love for Cowboys, ranch life and Country music. ("NOT Country-Western, as in the junk you hear on the radio! I mean Country as in Cowboy songs on the range or making your own music in the kitchen come Saturday Night.") This passion was matched by her dedication to helping the disabled learn to live life fully and joyfully.

I was just starting to consider living at the Ole Homestead, not liking the idea of a nursing home, when Geoffrey and Carla came to visit. After a little while I screwed up my courage and asked "Geoffrey? Have you told her about Charlene?"

"I hoped you wouldn't mind. Normally I wouldn't make such a decision without a guest's approval, but I felt Carla would treat it with the confidentiality it deserves. Besides, when I put your clothes in storage I noticed that all traces of Charlie the businessman had vanished. By Fed-Ex, I suppose"

"I bet the staff was right surprised when they brought you in." Carla offered. "Y'all might clean up right nice as a woman. Want I should just put down C. Mayes and let y'all make the choice of who shows up? Your choice, ain't none of us going to worry 'bout weather you're a boy or a girl."

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. Not so much by her knowing I was a crossdresser, but at her easy acceptance of it. I decided to answer her with the same honesty she had displayed to me."

"I was planning to spend the next six weeks as Charlene, driving back home and seeing the sights. I haven't a stitch of male clothing with me, so for the next six to eight weeks I'll still be Charlene if you don't mind."

"Welcome to the Ole Homestead, Charlene. Jest as soon as them Doctors call in the plumbers and 'lectricians to let you loose I'll come and pick you up. Good thing you're in a single room, you'll be able to put on your real clothes without givin' your roommate a heart attack. I'll be back to help you then, you're going to find that you'll have to relearn even simple things like getting dressed."

---

I grew progressively stronger and was weaned from the painkillers and the IV. The time eventually came when I had signed a few thousand papers and put a load of instructions for the proper care of my mangled body into a bag. I shaved my face carefully that morning (the legs were still beyond my capabilities) and was resting my eyes until Carla showed up. I heard footsteps approaching, but not those of any of the nurses, who I could identify by their gait by then. There was a quiet knock on the door and I looked up to see a tall woman in a professional blue suit standing there. It took me a second to recognize Carla.

"Took you a second to figure out who I am, didn't it. I left the chair tied up at the corral so's I could push you out of here. You'll soon learn that being in a wheelchair is a very effective disguise."

"Not the wheelchair, the outfit. What happened to my favorite Cowgirl?"

"I am a woman of many moods and mysteries. I like to keep my men guessing."

"I didn't know I was 'your man', although I could think of worse things to happen. So do I get the answers when I'm Charlene?"

"Nah, you get a different set of questions, girlfriend. I hope you like the outfit I picked out for you. You have the darndest collection of bras I have ever seen, a regular rainbow."

She put a parcel on the bed next to me. I'll just say hi to Erin while you put on your panties."

She closed the door behind her and I discovered just how weak I really was after laying in bed for the last few weeks. I put my good foot into the panties without any problem, but getting my stump into the other leg hole wasn't as easy as it sounds. My brain still thought there was a foot on the end of my leg and I had a hard time lining things up. I eventually succeeded, but it was a trial.

I put on my bra next, or at least I tried to. The simple act of reaching around me to snap the hooks was beyond me. My arms seemed to be as weak as noodles and my coordination was shot. A bit embarrassed, I resorted to hooking the bra over my belly and spinning it around. I hadn't had to do that in years!

While I tried to catch my breath, Carla knocked and entered without waiting.

"You look plumb tuckered out, Charlene. I told you it would take some re-learning, now didn't I?

"Yes, Mother. You were right, Mother. Are my underwear clean enough to satisfy you if I have another accident, Mother?"

"You'll do, Child."

"Thank you, Mother. Don't just stand there, close the door so I can finish dressing. My 'prosthetics', as Nurse Erin so professionally calls them, are in the second drawer down. You could save me a lot of hassle if you would get them for me."

"Hot damn! I never got to play with a pair of boobs that weren't attached to a body before!"

"I don't think I want to hear the rest of that story, Carla. Save it for Paul Harvey."

"Hey, these things got nipples!"

"Of course they do, boobs have nipples if you grow 'em yourself, so why shouldn't mine look like the real thing?"

"I can't rightly say, it just struck me a funny. They sure do wriggle purty." She stood there flopping my falsies around like a couple of misshapen fish.

"Quit playing with my boobs, Mother, or I'll call the authorities."

"I'm an authority on everything, no need to bring in outside help. May I?" She gestured to my unfilled bra

"Be my guest."

She slipped the forms in and I settled them in place, with a wry smile. It was quite a sensuous feeling and I was sorry when the warmth of her hands left my body. With practiced fingers I buttoned my blouse and began the ordeal of pulling the skirt over my legs. Carla silently aided me and I accepted her outstretched hand to rise and settle it around my waist. With my fractured pelvis it was going to be a long time before I could wear anything to enhance my hips. It felt a little odd not to be wearing a cincher or girdle when going out in public.

"You're not going to be wearing nylons for a while so I got you a sock. She extracted one sock from her purse and put it on my good foot, then settled my shoe in place.

"Look at the bright side, your footwear expenses just got cut in half. We have an exchange where you can partner up with someone with a matching foot and trade, but with your size it's likely to run to combat boots."

"I have a secret life where they could come in handy, you know."

"Some secret. Let me do your makeup today, my treat.

"Thanks."

I explained the fine points of beard cover to her and she soon had me looking 'right purty'.

I climbed into the wheelchair because there's some law of nature that you have to leave the hospital in a wheelchair even if you are in there for a hangnail. She hooked the bag with my things over the arms of the chair and I sat clutching my crutches, which stuck out before me. I had a giddy urge to hang a lantern on them to light my way into the world and decorate them with streamers, but Carla just pushed me out into the hall before I could share my fantasy. Naturally the nurses were waiting to wish me goodbye, there was no way to hide my transformation back to Charlene from the hospital grapevine. Erin gave me a kiss and the other nurses, even Mark and John, took my hand and wished me well. I had a hard time keeping the tears from ruining my makeup.

---

I suppose it was Carla's Cowgirl personality that made me picture the Ole Homestead as a ranch house on the prairie. Kind of a foolish image for the environs of Toronto, one of the largest cities in the world. Anyway I was surprised to pull up in front of a modern condo. Other than the small plate next to the larger than normal front door, telling you it was the Somebody J. Woosis Memorial Residence, there was no indication this was any different than any other condo in the 'burbs.

I carefully shifted into the wheelchair Carla produced from the back of her van and she pushed me to the door, which opened at the command of a small, handheld control. Inside the halls were very wide, as were the doors. No institutional decor in here, lots of paintings and knickknacks adorned the walls and tables of the common area. Comfortable couches were scattered about, leaving plenty of room for those of us in wheelchairs to find a place to alight. It was empty at present, most of the residents being at work or at the Center.

She gave me the grand tour of the place.

"We worked on turning this place into reality for years. We finally got the funding and had the architects draw up the plans and they were a nightmare. They hadn't a clue about handicapped access. So the director back then took the plans and a bunch of us crawled around a basketball court drawing a chalk outline of the building from their prints. He even scared up a toilet and set it out on the blacktop in one of the bathrooms. Then he called a meeting and put the architects in wheelchairs and had them try to maneuver around the place. You should have seen the looks on their faces as they tried to get around. This is what we got from the revisions — not bad, huh?"

I agreed. The cowgirl accent had faded; she sounded as well as looked the part of a successful professional woman..

"Anyway, we have 20 permanent rooms here. Most of our residents have moderate to severe physical disabilities, enough to need extra help but not enough to need personal nursing care. The model is much like assisted living for senior citizens. No locks on the doors going out, but we watch out for each other"

"We have something unique to the Ole Homestead, two furnished rooms set aside for transient residents, people like yourself who are recovering from some major trauma. With a little help in learning how to live with your new status you'll be able to return to your own home in a short time. It's still in the experimental stages, trying to see how to make it work to everyone's advantage."

"This one's yours," she said as she opened a door with my name on it. The door revealed a small, nicely decorated studio apartment with everything placed unusually low to the ground, a convenience I would learn to appreciate in the next few weeks. My suitcases were placed near the bed.

"Take your time to unpack and rest up a bit. You're invited to the common room for lunch at noon, and I'll introduce you to whoever is around then."

She leaned over and kissed my forehead, then was gone.

It was amazing how tired I was, so I maneuvered myself into the bed and closed my eyes. Not that I hadn't done this an awful lot lately, but this was different. For one thing it was quiet, something that you can't get in a hospital. The other thing was the peace and comfort that always accompanies having time as Charlene.

Once I had started to feel better I had become frustrated that my long planned cross country trip as Charlene had been lost. Now, I lay on the strange bed in my temporary home and savored the feelings; the weight of my breasts on my chest, the subtle tug of the bra straps on my shoulders, the soft, sensual feel of the fabric, the hem of my skirt as it lay across my calf. I have always felt more creative when I dressed as Charlene, better attuned to the world. Maybe I was just fooling myself, but I felt my healing would be more rapid as long as I could remain as Charlene.

The thought of healing brought my attention to what wasn't attached to my leg any longer. In the hospital I had firmly refused to agonize about what would happen when I left, I made the decision to put my energies into recovery and not into worry. Not quite the feat of willpower you might think, because I spent a great deal of time sleeping or in a semi-daze. Now, for the first time I confronted the fact that I no longer had a foot on my left leg.

Years ago I had broken my leg and spent some time on crutches. I was young enough to enjoy the attention and, once the pain was gone, was able to get around pretty well. I knew that as I regained my strength I would be able to move around just as well as I had then, but this time there would be no date set for a return to normality. Carla assured me that in time I would be walking on a prosthesis. My mind suddenly translated Erin's passing reference to my falsies as a prostheses into a picture of me trying move around on two pseudopods extending from my chest. Strange mind I have, huh?

I wondered if I would ever be able to wear pantyhose again. For that matter, would all the time I had spent trying to walk like a woman be wasted. Could I relearn that walk with a phony foot? I had a feeling my days wearing high heels were over. Funny, but the problems I foresaw were mostly for Charlene. Charlie, who habitually wore pants, would be able to hide the foot, but it was going to draw unwanted attention to Charlene if I wanted to continue wearing skirts. And I did want to continue wearing skirts!

Eventually I drifted off to sleep and woke an hour or so later. Refreshed, I fixed my makeup and hobbled out into the hall, looking for someone to talk to. Off the common area was a aide's station and I met Marge, the day shift aide. I could smell lunch wafting from further on down the hall, so we headed that way.

There weren't too many people there, most of the residents worked to the extent they were able and were gone during the day. Carla was already seated, so we joined her.

"Howdy, Ladies!" Carla greeted us. She had reverted to a more casual Western outfit. As we were sitting a man came out of the kitchen with a large bowl of potatoes on his powered wheelchair. Carla took it from him as he stopped next to us, saying "Thank you, Gene. This is Charlene, she's going to be with us for a few weeks while she recovers.

"Pleased to meet you, Charlene."

OK, I have to admit I wasn't ready for Gene. He was a small man, and by small I mean under 4 feet. He had one functioning arm and both feet were very short and stunted.. He had a barrel of a chest and a funny voice.

Let's face it. My world, my PREVIOUS world, simply hadn't included people with handicaps. The only experience I had to guide me was being polite to some of my sisters who were obviously men in dresses; not in the same class at all. It was at that moment I realized how different my life was going to be. I was now one of those people who I glanced away from when I passed them on the street. I had thought that as a crossdresser I had abandoned the need to be 'normal', had found an ability to treat my sisters, indeed everyone, as individuals despite their mode of dress.

I was suddenly given a lesson in humility and an insight to a part of my character I wasn't really comfortable with. To be blunt, Gene shocked the hell out of me. He was gone in a moment, into the kitchen for another load, leaving me thinking very hard.

"First time, Charlene?" inquired Carla. The woman must have been reading my mind, or perhaps she had been present at this little scene many times before. In any case, there was no mistaking her meaning. One of the parts I find hardest about being convincing as Charlene is the voice. It doesn't come easy, but if I try I can produce a sort of husky contralto. At that moment, such control utterly escaped me.

"Yes. I'm not too proud of myself for what I was thinking."

"Well, I wasn't so happy with myself when I was in your position, either. We gimps have a saying: 'Being able bodied is only a temporary condition'. We live in a culture that has largely eliminated the horrible things that used to happen to people, and when those horrible things do happen we can keep 'em alive, unlike our ancestors."

"Then again, we place so much emphasis on perfection in our culture, most people haven't a clue how to deal with those of us with physical or mental problems. I know you're here to learn how to live without your foot, but I think there are other lessons to be learned that are just as important. It takes time and, frankly, it's probably easier to accept the flaws in others than it is to accept the flaws ourselves."

Gene came back with a bowl of vegetables, followed by a woman pushing a cart with the rest of the meal on it. I was soon introduced to Patty, the cook for the day. Her gait was stiff, it was obviously hard for her to move her right side.

"Hel-lo."

I suddenly forgot my difficulty in speaking, because it was nothing compared with the effort required for Patty to speak. I later learned she was faced with the choice of death from a brain tumor or possible paralysis from the operation. The surgery went on for far longer than was anticipated and she suffered severe brain damage. Her intellect was fully intact, but her speech and movement were severely affected.

Hello, Patty. Can I help you serve what looks like a delicious lunch?"

"Thank. You." This was accompanied by a vigorous nodding of her head.

So I removed the food from her cart and she sat down next to me. Perhaps to fill the obvious conversational gap, Carla started explaining the way the place worked.

"Charlene, we operate somewhere between a commune and an institution around here. While each room has a basic kitchen, we have found we prefer eating together most of the time. You're on your own for breakfast since our schedules are all so different.. We rotate preparing lunch among the regulars who eat here, with Patty taking much of the load because she's a damn good cook and is here most days. If you can avoid burning a pot of water we'll put you in the rotation, there usually isn't more than four or five for lunch.

"Dinner is a more elaborate production, with a real, paid cook supervising the kitchen for us. We're usually informal, but if you want to dress for dinner you're welcome to do so." She gave me a broad wink and I nearly sprayed my soda across the table. The next thing I knew, Patty's good arm was beating me on the back as I made strange choking noises.

I was beginning to think Carla would be a friend long after I returned home.

"You'll be taking your PT sessions mostly in the afternoon, so the mornings are yours to do whatever you want. Geoffrey helped me bring your van over, so once you're cleared to drive you can pretty much take care of yourself. I will warn you that anyone with their own wheels is very popular around here. Being a chauffeur is not part of the deal, but it would be nice to supply a ride now and then. It would take some of the load off me for a while, too."

Lunch passed amiable enough, with Carla or Marge translating when I couldn't understand Patty' s comments.

---

You'll pardon me if I don't go into detail about that first PT session, except to say it hurt like hell. Colleen, a therapist fresh from her schooling, drew me as her guinea pig. Actually she was pretty cute and had a gentle touch. It was just after a major injury and weeks of forced inactivity, just about any kind of effort hurt. My mantra became 'No pain — no gain!', repeated over and over, sotto voice.

Something that surprised and pleased me was the degree that I was accepted by those who knew I was a man under my skirts. Naturally my doctor, the aides at the Ole Homestead and the lovely Colleen had to know, but they were thoroughly professional and treated me with respect and dignity. So OK, Colleen once pinched my butt, but we were both in a very silly mood and it was a natural thing to do at the time.

By the time I was done with my first PT session I had spotted the flaw in my plans to remain Charlene for the next few weeks. While PT was not a heavy workout, I still needed a shower. That meant removing my makeup, then shaving and re-applying it. Why hadn't I thought of that before? Well, nothing for it but to just do it, I was committed. I wrapped my stump, then sat down and showered. That was another thing I had to get used to, sitting down to shower. Kind of hard to stand without both feet.

---

Were you ever in a sorority or fraternity? If not, you've surely heard of hazing. Well, dinner that first night was much like being initiated. As I hesitatingly entered the room, skirt swinging as I moved along on my crutches, Carla and motioned me to sit beside her. She introduced me and I nodded at the barrage of names that were returned.

Dinner was dinner, what else can I say. It wasn't until after the dessert was finished that the initiation started. If you are into being politically correct, I would recommend you skip the next few paragraphs, because I was initiated into the humor common among the disabled that evening. Gene turned to me and asked:

"Hey Charlene. What would you call a girl with one leg shorter that the other?

I just stared at him, my mouth sagging. I really didn't know what to say.

"Eileen." He answered his own question.

He was answered by a general groan. I was scandalized, I just didn't know what to do.

"Know what you'd call an Asian woman with the same affliction?" He paused. "Irene."

"What would you call her after the operation?" Chimed in Carla. "Noleen."

"How 'bout if she's married to a politician?" I really don't know who asked that one, this was too much.

"Tipper!" came the answer. They were off and running and nothing was going to stop them.

"Hey Charlene — What do you call a guy with no arms and no legs in the ocean?"

"Bob!" the chorus replied.

Hanging on the wall?" Art
In a hole? Phil
In front of the door? Matt
In a ditch? Phil
In your hot tub? Stu
Water skiing Skip
On a beach? Sandy

"Enough! Enough!" I cried. "You win! Did I pass the test?" It's hard to flee in horror when you're on crutches.

"Test?" asked Gene innocently. "What test?"

"So tell me, Gene." I had started to rally by then. " What goes 'Click-click —now? Click-click-now?'"

"Why Charlene," he replied, blinking his eyes rapidly. "Do tell us."

"Ray Charles with a Rubic's cube."

It was a good thing I had just heard that one at the B&B, but somehow it hadn't hit so close to home when I heard it.

Carla stuck out her tongue.

"Don't do that unless you intend to use it. Carla, could you give me the definition of 'Endless Love'"? A dramatic pause. "Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles playing tennis."

I passed the test, which was a good thing since I had exhausted my supply of handicapped jokes. And it looked like I passed, period.

---

After the dinner session broke up, Carla invited me back to her room for a while. Her room was like any other, except that it connected to the Director's office. I collapsed on her couch and she sat next to me, propping her good leg on the hassock. She waved her arm, inviting me to do the same.

"I would never have believed it. How did you get to be so convincing as a woman?"

"The same way you did. Practice, practice, practice."

"Yeah, but I got some natural advantages you ain't."

"So how did you learn to walk like someone with two legs?"

She stuck out her tongue again, so I made good on my threat at dinner and kissed her.

"Mmmmm…"

"You intend to practice that much, Charlene?"

"If you're interested. I just took advantage of the moment."

"Some moment!"

"Yeah! It was, wasn't it?"

"Let's let it simmer a bit before we start emptyin' the pot, but I think I like the cookin'" she drawled

"How can you think about food after that meal?"

She stuck her tongue out again, so I kissed her again. There's something to be said for old habits dying hard, at least from my point of view. When we finally broke she pulled back a little but kept hold of my hand.

"Enough! So you practice being Charlene a lot. Tell me why you want to dress up like a girl in the first place?"

Now who would have believed that talking about my crossdressing would be considered a neutral topic?

"I hate it when someone asks that, because I really don't know. It's something I have to do or I get very unhappy. There was a time when I was really bitter and confused and scared, but once I found some friends who are in the same boat as me I finally came to terms with it. Now I just enjoy being Charlene whenever I can and Charlie when I can't."

"You sound like you've read my Amputation 101 speech, which was why I invited you here before you distracted me. I guess a man wearing woman's clothes in this society would stand out much like those of us with a disability."

"Well, I'm not sure about that. After all I can always put on a pair of pants, but I don't think I'm going to be able to find a new flesh-and-blood foot. I do take your point, though. Even in the hospital there were some odd looks, weren't there?"

"Get used to it. You wouldn't believe how nervous some people get around us. In some ways I'm lucky, my amputation was clean and the rest of me is 'normal'. It isn't easy looking like an exhibit in the wax museum for the rest of your life. A lot of how you make out is in your personality."

"Gene is a salesman, drives a specially outfitted van and makes sales calls wherever they need his product. You can imagine what he has had to overcome to become a success. He makes enough money he could live on his own, but he prefers it here. Of course he's an exception, but the point is that a physical disability need not keep you from living a complete life. If there's anything I want you to learn from your time here, that's it."

"I think I may have a new role model, maybe a couple of them. Carla, I'm as scared of having to live without a foot as I was many years ago when I thought I was the only man in the world that wanted to wear women's clothes."

"Good!"

"Good?"

"Yeah, good. You know the stages of grief?" She paused until I nodded my head. "If you're at the point of being scared of the future then you’re halfway there. My job is to ease the depression and provide the hope so you make it to the 'acceptance' part."

Her hand squeezed mine as she spoke. I was trying to find something to say when the phone rang.

"Hello? Cindy? She's where? That damned fool! I suppose Kevin is with her, it would take both of them to come up with something so stupid. OK, as long as they're safe I'm going to let 'em stew for half an hour before I pick them up."

She hung up the phone and shook her head.

"Those two damn fools! Kevin bet Cindy she couldn't make it to the mall and back in her chair, so she had to prove him wrong, even with the battery at half charge. They're in some little restaurant with Cindy's chair flat dead halfway back from the mall."

She started to laugh.

"That's funny?" I asked.

"You've haven't heard Cindy speak, she makes Patty look like an elocution teacher. Kevin can talk, but seldom makes much sense. Can you imagine the poor people who had to figure out what's wrong and get the phone number from them to call us? After what I've been telling you about how people react to disabilities, there has to be some really confused people involved in this."

"Yeah, like me. Why are you making them wait half an hour?"

"To teach them a lesson. Cindy is a lovely person, she has to fight hard every day to make herself understood, but she hasn't an ounce of judgment. She lets Kevin talk her into the stupidest things imaginable."

"Yeah, I learned that just being a crossdresser doesn't make you immune to being stupid or boring or any of the thousand other foibles of humanity. I suppose being disabled doesn't either."

"Foibles? Y'all sure talk purty fer a leetle slip 'o a girl, ma'am." She slipped back into that accent.

This time I stuck my tongue out at her. We easily found something to fill the time until we went after Cindy and Kevin.

---

Saturday was a lousy day, at least as far as the weather. I suggested a trip to the Ontario Science Centre and Carla enthusiastically accepted. I had to quell my guilt about parking in the handicapped space. After a lifetime of having it drummed into me NOT to park there, it took some attitude readjustment to realize it was now OK. I was very pleased at how well the place was designed, we had no trouble getting anywhere and we had a great time. There's one exhibit on static electricity where they pick a victim, I mean audience member, and hook them up to the generator. You can imagine who was the first volunteer.

I don't think the demonstrator, a kid who had to be all of 20, was quite ready for a one legged cowgirl in a wheelchair to be his subject, but it's kind of hard to deny Carla. She put her hand on the great, silver ball and they fired it up. Her hair soon started flying and she had a most impressive fright wig sticking out in all directions. I kind of hoped to see sparks flying from he chair, but no such luck.

The time came when a trip to the facilities was necessary. Carla and I were using our wheelchairs; sure, we could get around with out them, but a great deal of walking will tire you out pretty quickly when you're an amputee, and I was still on crutches. Now, when I'm in Charlene mode I try to be as inconspicuous as possible using the ladies room, but I suddenly realized this was never again going to be possible. Two women in wheelchairs following each other into the bathroom truly draws the attention of those nearby!

I had started to get used to being an object of attention by that time. No matter how polite people may be, when you're in a wheelchair you get noticed. Carla was right, a wheelchair is an effective disguise. As far as I could tell no one read me as a man the entire time we were there. Since I occasionally get read no matter how hard I try, I have some experience with other people's reactions. Maybe you can stare at a woman if you wonder if she is really a woman, but staring at someone in a wheelchair is simply not done in polite society. While I wouldn't recommend the method to the general run of crossdressers, it seemed to work for me.

It was late afternoon when we had poked all the buttons and interacted with all the exhibits. We left the exhibit halls at the top of a long ramp with several 180 degree turns in it. Carla's face glowed as she suddenly shouted "Race you to the bottom!"

She took off down the ramp in her wheelchair at a speed that I found frightening. With the switchbacks she was headed directly for a solid concrete wall, going far faster than I wanted to contemplate, and it didn't look like she was slowing down enough to make the turn. At the last possible instant she screamed "Yahoo!" and grabbed the rail with one hand, sluing the chair around to roar pell-mell down the next incline. My heart beating furiously I followed, much more slowly. I made it to the second level as she had repeated the performance at the final turn of the ramp. She shot across the lower lobby at high speed, headed directly for a bank of glass doors.

Was this woman completely crazy? By this time everyone in the place had stopped dead and was watching in shock. I held my breath as she applied the brakes and stopped bare millimeters from the doors.

"Hot Dog! That was fun!" she crowed, hands clenched over her head in the traditional gesture of sporting victory.

By the time I rolled up beside her I had to force my way through the concerned crowd that surrounded her. I was so frightened I couldn't speak. The throng was treated to the sight of two women in wheelchairs kissing each other in public.

Must have been a liberal crowd, the applause was completely unexpected.

---

When we arrived home (funny — it was home to me by then) we curled up together on my couch, something we had been doing a lot of lately.

"Darling woman, don't you ever scare me like that again!"

"Sissy! I was perfectly safe and it was fun! There are times you have to take the opportunity to live in the fast lane."

"While your friends keel over with heart attacks. And by the way, just because I'm a crossdresser doesn't mean I'm a sissy. I'm not into that particular scene, thank you."

"Oh? So what scenes are you into?"

"Mutual respect, joy, tenderness, shared pleasure. Simple stuff like that."

We kissed then, our hands roaming over each other, exploring and caressing. I unbuttoned her blouse and she helped me, our fingers meeting in the middle. I traced the outline of her bra cup with a finger, delving into the warm space between her breasts and playing with her soft flesh. I cupped her breast in my hand and lifted it, savoring the weight in my hand, then ran my hands over the soft, slippery material of her bra. I felt her nipples begin to enlarge and she made low, encouraging noises.

I soon felt her playing with my own breasts. Such a shame that they were not real, but it was highly erotic to have her pressing them against my chest. I felt her fingers sketch the outline of my bra straps and down my back, causing me to shiver.

"Chilly, darlin'?" she asked. "We might be warmer in bed. Together."

"That sounds like a lovely idea."

It was a lovely idea but, as with many good ideas, it wasn't as easy as it sounded. Carla had opted to leave her leg off for our outing and my crutches were out of reach on the other side of the room. So it was either shift to our wheelchairs for the few feet to the bed or crawl.

We crawled. Have you ever tried to crawl wearing a dress?. I got about three shuffles before I was tangled in the hem, so Carla kindly unzipped me and I proceeded to wiggle and slither out of the dress on all fours in the middle of the room. Carla took the opportunity to remove her open blouse and her pants while I struggled, then we resumed our journey. I had a nice view of her lovely, panty clad ass ahead of me. Since her amputation is above the knee her crawl was a bit lopsided, but she still had a nice ass.

Isn't that a romantic picture, two gimps clambering across the room, shedding clothes as they go? With one of them quite obviously a male in bra and panties? There is only one conclusion an observer could reach: we both must have been superbly horny in order to be interested in sex by the time we got into bed.

That observer, thankfully hypothetical, would have been right. I slid the strap of her bra down her shoulder and exposed her nipple, which I immediately covered with my lips. I shifted lower in the bed, nestling myself against her, my own breasts pressing against her. She didn't seem to mind, so I started to run my hand along her inner thighs. She didn't mind that either. Quite the contrary, she spread her legs apart so I had better access.

Now I have played this game with several women in the course of my life, and it has always produced a favorable result. The sensitive flesh of the thigh can stimulate a woman (or a man for that matter) to intense pleasure. I brought my hand slowly up the leg closest to me, my fingers dancing and caressing lightly until I encountered the silk of her panties. I brushed lightly over her womanhood, feeling the springiness of her hair under the gossamer fabric, then continued down the other side. My fingers moved as if on autopilot while I sucked her breast and tongued her nipple.

That is until I ran out of leg.

I can only plead distraction. Hell, my brain knew there wasn't anything there, but I wasn't exactly relying on my rational capabilities at the moment. In a way it was a very intimate experience. No matter how well adjusted you are to your injury, there is always something just a bit disquieting about having someone touch your stump. I caressed the end of her leg before resuming my journey back upward, hoping I hadn't done something too outrageous. In any case, she seemed to be enjoying it, her hips were moving rhythmically under my hand and pressing upward in demand. I slid my hand under the elastic and began to play with the curly hair, working my way through it until I felt the parting of her soft lips.

They were very moist and easily parted. I immediately found her clit and felt is slide beneath my fingers. Each time I passed over her little nub she gave a cry of passion, I felt her shift and her cries were suddenly muffled but no less enthusiastic, she had placed a pillow over her head. I quickly slid down into her hole and circled my finger around the tight opening of her womanhood, then returned to her clit. I had barely repeated the sequence when her body went perfectly still beneath my hands. Her breathing stopped, her muscles tightened and in one explosive movement she came, crying out into the pillow.

"From the side. I want you in me. Now!" Assertive as always.

We wrestled with her panties until they were out of the way (a short leg does have some advantages!) and I pulled mine aside. Moments later I parted her lovely ass cheeks and sidled around behind her. She was so wet I slid in almost without resistance. I ignored the ache in my still healing hips as, with a little adjustment, I slid my rod in and out of her with ease. I had the passing realization that I was still wearing my bra, but it didn't really matter. We were deep into the urgency of the most ancient ritual of mankind, the desire to continue the chain of life. That modern medicine guaranteed I would never be a father again was irrelevant, I thrust into her until I exploded, filling my woman as had my ancestors had filled theirs before me.

We lay spent, side by side. My hand absently caressing her body as we relaxed. I once again came to her stump and gave it a squeeze.

"It doesn't bother you?" she asked.

"Well, maybe a little, but it's part of you and I'm content with that. I placed her hands on the mound of my false breasts. "You accepted me as I am, how could I do any different?"

"You are an amazing man. Woman. Both. From the moment I met you in the hospital, still half zonked with painkillers, I felt something drawing me to you. Geoffrey told me you were a crossdresser but it really didn't sink in until the day you left the hospital, but by then it really didn't matter. I just liked you, and it tickles me to watch you with everyone else. You have such a natural feminine way about you that I don't think anyone really suspects."

"I bet if you asked Cindy you'd get a surprise. Kevin is so self absorbed I could parade around in my lingerie and he wouldn't notice, but I'm pretty sure she's read me."

"Is that crossdresser jargon for getting found out?"

"Yeah. After all the jargon I've had to wade through in the hospital and this place, it's good to know I can confuse you."

"You surely do a good job of that. My sense of ethics has taken a beating the past few weeks. The more I got to know you the more I liked you. I've never had the hots for one of my residents before and I have been telling myself it was unprofessional to want to get you into bed with me."

"I can see the problem, but I'm glad you're here. If I were going to be a permanent resident there might be a problem, but I think we can consider it more like boffing the landlady than taking advantage of someone under your professional care."

"You have experience in boffing landladies?"

"Thousands of 'em. They pass my name around on the grapevine and I haven't had to pay rent in years."

Some people never learn. She stuck her tongue out at me again. My landlady remained silent for several minutes.

"Carla?"

"Yes, darling?"

"Can I ask an indelicate question?"

"Such as…."

"How did you lose the leg?"

"Bone cancer. I was 14 when it happened. By pure dumb luck I managed to break a leg falling out of a tree. When they did the x-rays they found the cancer very early, still Stage 1A. Back then amputation was about the only option. You can imagine what it was like. I was a tomboy (why else would I have been in a tree?) and played all the girl's sports that were allowed at school. Suddenly that whole part of my life was gone. Boys wouldn't come near me and the girls were almost as bad. I never got invited to a single dance. I had precisely 3 dates in high school, and two of them were guys that lost bets with their buddies."

"I was determined to be a doctor and learn how to cure people like me, but by the time I got a couple of years into college I realized that wasn't the right path for me. I found out I wanted to help people learn how to live well despite their challenges, so I majored in Social Work. After a little while in the field I realized that the barriers were both personal and institutional, and the institutional structure needed changing in a big way. I went back to school and got my Masters in Public Administration, learned how to play politics and started agitating."

"I've been thrown in the can a dozen times or so, handcuffed to my wheelchair to make it harder to get me in the can and I'm proud of it! It's almost fun to watch the cops figure out how to get me into a cell; most of the cells aren't accessible, you know. I guess I've gotten a bit more mellow over the years, hell — I don't even know where my handcuffs are any more, so I would have to find some other way to attach me to the chair if I wanted to start a protest."

"So how did you end up here?" I asked.

"I was horny and you were cute and available."

"You are the most annoying woman! Keep it up and I may fall asleep before I make sure your horns are properly ground down."

Jesus! You're lying there wearing a bra but you're still acting just like a man. Threats, he gives me!"

"And you didn't answer my question, Miss Side Issue."

"Task oriented, that's not very ladylike."

I tickled her, what else could I do?

"You win! I interned with the DRC and was impressed with the way the first director ran the place. His philosophy was to find how to bend the rules to benefit the clients, not how to save money by finding the simple way out. This residence was his brainchild, a place run by and for the residents with the help of professionals when needed. When he retired I applied for the job and now I theoretically run the whole madhouse, the clinic, the drop in center and this place. Actually it's more like guiding a wild horse in the general direction you want him to go, but I've never been happier."

"So now, you know my deep dark secrets. Can I ask how you came to be Charlene?

"That depends. Would you get upset if I talk about an old lover?"

"Not unless you're into comparisons…"

"The details have conveniently vanished into the haze of time; there is no other than you that fires my lust and inflames my passions!"

"It's a good thing you're lying on your back or I might be tempted to do something regrettable to your manhood. So what's the big deal with the old lover?"

"Her name was Betty. Still is, for that matter. We went out a few times soon after I got my first apartment. Much to my surprise she came home with me one evening when several of us had been out closing a few bars. It was a good thing we stumbled into the bedroom in the dark, because it wasn't until morning when I noticed I hadn't put away my nightgown and sleeping bra the previous morning, not to mention leaving the pile of panties and dresses in the laundry basket."

"So how did you handle that, you glib tongued devil?"

"That's part I don't like to remember. She was working up to a royal snit when she grabbed the bra and discovered it was stuffed. That saved my sorry ass but I had to tell her about dressing up. She was the first person I had ever told and I was scared shitless. I told her the truth because I was afraid she would think I was living with another woman and screwing her on the side."

"I must have sounded like a damn fool, because I didn't know why I wanted to dress up myself. She looked in the closet and laughed herself silly at my collection of mini skirts, high heels and sexy dresses. They would have been completely inappropriate for a woman of my age and size, but what did I know? To my everlasting relief, when she finished laughing she tried to show me how to dress and act like a proper woman. Betty christened me Charlene the first time we went out together in public, and I've been Charlene ever since."

"It wasn't so easy at first, I was pretty awkward and it wasn't too hard to figure out I was a man in a dress. Being a college town, the place was pretty liberal, but more than once there was trouble. Usually it was just people staring at me, trying to figure out what was different or what was wrong. I learned to keep away from any but gay bars, because drunks can get pretty nasty. I don't mind being stared at, but assault is a different matter."

"Well, at least you've had some practice being stared at," Carla offered, "because you're going to get the stare treatment for the rest of your life." Her expression was very dry. "We gimps get that a lot. You'd be amazed at how many people take a disability as license to offer you a cure, tell you their life story or use you as an example for their kids. I can't tell you how many times some parent has told their kids they would end up being like me if they didn't obey Mommy and Daddy. I'd like to throttle those types, I really would!"

"The kids aren't too bad, at least they're honest. It's the adults that go bonkers trying to figure out how to react to me. Some of 'em ignore me, some just stare at me with pity. There's the occasional Jesus Freak that wants me to get cured by Believing, annoying but at least sincere. The worst ones are the people who act like I'm contagious; I've actually seen people turn around and run away. Not too easy to take, especially for a teenage girl who already feels like everyone and everything is conspiring against her."

"Not that everyone acts like that, especially these days when we gimps have made enough noise that most people are aware we exist. In fact, most people are pretty nice, holding doors or offering to help carry packages. Simple stuff, but it means a lot. It means people consider me to be a human being. Just being accepted is a pretty powerful emotion."

"Carla, I can't claim my crossdressing is on a par with your loosing a leg, but I think I know what you mean.

Just then the phone rang. I was tempted to ignore it, but since no one had called me since I moved in I was curious as to who was calling. Carla nodded her approval so I picked up the receiver.

"Hi Charlene. I think you have a visitor, but they're asking for Charlie Mayes."

A visitor? The loving, confidential mood we had established evaporated instantly. Now I've been comfortable about being Charlene in public for some years now, but surprises like these still bring on that adrenaline rush of discovery that so often accompanies crossdressing. Carla responded by gently stroking my suddenly tense body.

Who could it be? The only people I knew in town were the people at the branch office I was visiting for that godawful meeting.

"Did they say who it is?"

"A guy named Ralph."

"Big guy, long hair, beard and beer belly?" I asked

"Bingo!"

Ralph? The crazy tech I worked with most of the time I came to Toronto. Nice guy, but definitely from another planet. Who would have thought he would try to visit me? What the hell was I going to do? No way I was going to become Charlie without any clothes. For that matter, making myself presentable as Charlene was going to take a bit of work after our bedbound exercise session. My makeup must have been a fright.

"Give him a chair and let me put my face on. We'll be out as soon as we can."

"We?"

Oh shit. Nobody was supposed to know I was boffing the director. For that matter no one besides the aides was supposed to know I was capable of boffing the director. My brain must have gone on vacation in my panic.

"Sure, sweetie." He continued. "Just make sure Carla has all her buttons buttoned."

I should have known there was no privacy in a place as small as this.

---

My makeup was a wreck. There was nothing for it but to remove it all and start over while Carla made herself decent and picked out some clothes for me. My panties were a bit big for her, but hers were in no condition to be worn again. With no need to refresh her makeup she was ready long before me, so she rolled out to the common room to greet my visitor while I frantically tried to recapture my outward femininity, all the while wondering if Ralph was going to have a heart attack when he saw me. I hope he had on clean underwear if they had to cart him off in an ambulance.

I had just finished zipping up my dress and my foot was still bare when the door latch turned.

" think you're going to find Charlie is a very different person since the accident." Carla's voice faded in as the door opened. "I hope you won't be too disturbed by the change, Ralph."

"Jeez, Carla. You make it sound like I'm some kind of chauvinist pig or something. Charlie's still Charlie even if a chunk of him is missing, ain't he?"

"Not exactly, Ralph." I replied. Talk about a great setup line. "When Charlie went on vacation Charlene took his place. I wasn't expecting to see anyone who would care about the difference."

"Ho. Ly. Shit! Charlie?"

"Charlene to my friends, if you still want to be my friend. Set your ass in the chair and take a load off."

Funny how the less than feminine speech patterns returned when I started to banter with Ralph.

"Carla, this hulking boob is my buddy Ralph, best tech in Toronto and the only bugger in the company I work for who had any interest in cheering me up in my adversity. Ralph, this wild woman is Carla, the lady who is helping me put my life back together. Right now you two are the best friends I have in this city and I'm very glad to have you both here."

Dammit, I was not going to cry and ruin my makeup! I hadn't realized how much Ralph's kindness meant until right then.

"Charlie, I always knew you was too effin' nice to be in management and too effin' weird to be anyplace else. Christ, you make an ugly woman!"

"And I love you too, Ralphie."

"Nah." He sniffed the air. "Smells like I'd just be getting sloppy seconds." Carla turned beet red. I hoped my makeup hid my embarrassment.

"Carla, the only thing 'PC' means to this lug is Personal Computer. You'll get used to him in time."

"Next time I visit I'll bring my wife so I don't get accused of fooling around with another woman." He shook his head. "So that's why you got two pierced ears. I always wondered 'bout that."

"You were meant to. I always liked watching people figure out what the earrings were all about. Funny how nobody has ever come out and asked." I paused. "You going to be OK with me like this, Ralph? I didn't want to spring it on you so suddenly, but I dumped all my boy clothes for my vacation and I didn't want to make like I wasn't here when you came to see me."

"I figure the worst part is not being able to tell anyone. Christ — could see old Kaiser if he found out!" He roared with laughter.

"Ralphie — don't even think about it or I'll have to have one of the nurses come in here and shoot you full of something that will make you nice and peaceful for the rest of your life. Then I'll bribe Madam Director here to rent you a room and the world will wonder what became of old Ralph from time to time."

"Charlene! I have my professional scruples! How big a bribe, and can you go her any better, Ralph?"

"How about free lifetime service on anything in the place that moves and a ringside seat when old Kaiser bursts his gusset?"

He fished in his shirt pocket and pulled out a small, rectangular object. He held it up and the room was flooded with light as his digital camera preserved me for posterity.

"Hey Carla, would you take one of Charlene sitting on my lap? I'll share the bribe money with you."

I hobbled over and sat on his lap while Carla snapped away. It was hard to get a good shot because we were laughing so hard.

"Charlene, I'd never tell old Kaiser about you, I was just pulling your leg."

"That could earn you a surprise around this place. I have some new jokes for you, buddy. What do you call a person with no arms and no legs on the wall?"

He really deserved what was coming.

"Art."

Carla and I were off and running. A good audience is a priceless thing.

And what do you call his arms and legs? Pieces of Art
What if he also doesn't have a tongue? Tasteless Art
In a pile of leaves? Russell
Same guy after 6 months? Pete
Two guys with no arms and no legs in the water? Swimming trunks
Two guys hanging on a wall beside a window? Curt 'n Rod

The rest of the visit went swimmingly, Ralph and Carla discovering a mutual taste for bad old jokes that left me groaning and frantically trying to find one bad enough to contribute. It was very late in the evening before the party broke up.

Carla borrowed one of my nightgowns and I showed her the current incarnation of the stuffed sleeping bra that Betty had discovered so long ago. That was the last thought of Betty I had for a good, long time.

---

The weeks passed, filled with Physical Therapy, recovery and Carla. My last Saturday in the Ole Homestead dawned fair and clear, so we loaded up our vans with anyone who wanted to join us and prepared for an odyssey. This was not as easy as it sounds, with 2 people permanently in wheelchairs, three additional chairs for those of us who could walk but were not going to do so over 780 acres of zoo, half a dozen with no major mobility problems and a crowd of assorted pushers (wheelchairs, not drugs!) accomplices and hangers on. Hey, everybody loves to go to the zoo. General Carla efficiently deployed the troops and supplies, sorting us out and loading the caravan without so much as raising her voice.

Ralph was true to his word and his wife Ann had accompanied him. He loaded the unoccupied chairs in his pickup and the parade started out. Carla and I drove our vans, followed by the others. I just wish we had those little pennant flags flying from the antennas like you see on diplomatic cars, it would have been the perfect touch. Oh, well — I doubt I could impersonate a diplomat in any case, I'd be too tempted to whack someone over the head with my crutch.

We caused quite a stir unloading, people like to watch the circus clowns pile out of those little cars. By the time we got through the gates we split up like the little kids we wanted to be. Ralph, probably figuring she was a lot cuter than I am, ended up pushing Carla while his wife Ann was my pilot. At first I had objected to having someone to push my wheelchair, I fear I'm not immune to masculine hubris even when I'm Charlene, but the sight of those long hills soon cured me of my reticence. Once again General Carla planned the campaign so we rode the tram uphill and rolled ourselves downhill, at least as much as possible.

I have become comfortable being Charlene in public for many years, to the point where I hardly notice the clothes I'm wearing much of the time. I was surprised to find how much being in a wheelchair made me aware of my feminine attire. Every time the wheelchair bounced, so did my breasts. I frequently found myself leaning foreword to look closely at something interesting and once again I was intensely aware of the weight of my falsies and the pull of my bra. Every time the breeze ruffled my skirt I had a flash back to the early days when that feeling practically sent me flying with ecstasy. It was quite an experience.

There were some pretty funny scenes, too. The time inevitably came when we needed to use the bathroom, so we found the facilities. Carla, who was wearing her leg, opted to leave her wheelchair and walk in. Jaws dropped in all directions when she stood up; somehow people just assume anyone in a wheelchair can't walk at all. They're amazed when the rider becomes a walker. No sense trying to explain things to them, you just learn to take it in stride.

On the other hand, I maneuvered the chair inside because I had left my crutches at home — too much trouble to drag around and I was still had not been fitted for an artificial foot. I completed my mission and returned to find Ralph ensconced in Carla's chair. That's one thing I have yet to perfect about my feminine persona, I still don't linger long enough in the bathroom. We chatted aimlessly until Carla and Ann returned, then Ralph got up to return the chair to its owner. Just at that moment a gaggle of teenage girls appeared and their jaws predictably dropped. Ralph couldn't resist — he started dancing around in circles.

"I'm cured!" He shouted. "Glory Hallelujah, Jesus has healed me. I'll never need that wheelchair again!" He faced the bewildered youngsters and continued "You just have to believe, sisters. Jesus is the answer!" and before he could get caught out he danced into the Men's Room, jumping and kicking his heels together all the way.

I almost fell out of my own chair I laughed so hard.

I must admit I did feel like a kid again, especially being pushed around like one of the numerous children in strollers that competed with us for the walkways. I hadn't been to a zoo in many years, not since my sister's children had grown up. We made faces at the monkeys, growled at the tigers and gawked at the moose. The place was overwhelming, and by late in the evening, almost closing time, and we hadn't done even half of the place.

My arms were aching, my residual limb (that's PC for my stump) was aching, I was getting tired but I didn't want the day to end. Tomorrow I would resume my interrupted journey home, but after two months the Ole Homestead seemed like home. We were about to descend another hill and were waiting for Ralph to return from the bathroom, but Ann and I decided to start out ahead of them. Carla the Cowgirl wasn't going to be left behind, so she started after us. She must have been pretty tired, too, because she missed her grip and before any of us could react, her racing chair was lapping my own sedate vehicle. With her wheels now moving far too fast to grip there was no way for her to stop and the steep hill stretched out before her. Ann screamed and I watched helplessly as the woman I had grown so fond of flew down the hill out of control.

Carla didn't get to where she was by panicking when things got dicey. She quickly grabbed her purse and jammed it into the wheel, causing the chair to snap to the right. The wheels hit the soft ground at the border of the path and Carla went ass over teacup as she parted company from both the chair and her artificial leg. Ralph, who had returned as the drama played out, sprinted past us to kneel beside Carla's prone form.

"Wha-hoo!" It was a little weak, but pure Carla. I groaned inwardly as Ann maneuvered me to Carla's side and, ignoring how I was dressed, I left my chair and took Carla in my arms. About then I didn't give a damn what the gathering crowd was thinking, I was just glad she was still alive.

"That was more fun than busting broncs, pardner!" she drawled.

"You damn fool!" OK , so it wasn't my best line ever. "You could have killed yourself!"

"Better to get dumped quickly than to keep going down that hill. You better fix your skirt before you become the center of attention, kid."

Yeah. In my hurry I had ended up in an 'indelicate position'. Carla lifted her head and I pulled the skirt below my knees.

"Hey Ann, you want to hand me my leg?"

The crowd laughed nervously at this, but Ann gamely retrieved the artificial leg.

"Thank heavens for Velcro." she said, then continued in a louder voice, "If you're squeamish you might want to find something else to look at for a few minutes, people."

Carla hiked her skirt and proceeded to re-attach the limb, then climbed into her wheelchair with Ralph's assistance. I followed suit and the show was over; we continued down the hill to the next attraction, gamely trying to see it all before they threw us out of the place at closing time..

---

That night was one of bittersweet emotion. Not much was said, but we both knew it was time for me to return to my home. A traditional love story is supposed to end with the couple getting married and living happily ever after, but neither of us were foolish enough to go there. We had only known each other a few weeks, no matter how close we had grown neither one of us was ready to make a radical change in our lives just yet.

We made love with a quiet intensity that night, and again the next morning. Carla picked out my outfit while I showered and we dressed each other for the final time. Again, not much was said because we had said it all before. We loaded my van, I made my farewells to the other people I had grown to love during my stay, and I was on my way. In deference to Carla's reputation I refrained from a passionate goodbye kiss with everybody watching, having to content myself with a sisterly hug. It was good enough.

I put my van in gear and pulled out, waving to my friends and headed for my home, the sadness of parting mingling with the joy of getting back to my home. The road lay open ahead, calling to me. I answered it's call, but I was sure I would be back.

The End

Author's Note:

Not all of this story was fiction. Pimblett's Rest is an actual B&B just as described, you can find it on the web at www.pimbletts-rest.com. I hope Geoffrey (who doesn't know I am a crossdresser and probably wouldn't remember me) will forgive me for using him to introduce Carla in the story. For that matter I hope he won't be too upset with me for staging such a nasty accident in his quiet neighborhood.

All of the named characters are real people I have known over a 30 year span. Sadly, most of them are no longer with us. It was fun to bring them back and introduce them to each other in this fictional setting. With a bit of poetic license, all of the more dramatic incidents in the story really happened.

Carla was inspired by my buddy Carl, who was not an amputee but had lost the use of his legs due to a birth defect. I grafted in the best parts of several people who have made helping the disabled their life's work, but Carl's personality survives intact despite the sex change I forced on him for the story.

The DRC and the Ole Homestead are based on a real project built by the group my first wife interned with. They are still going strong and should be a model for housing those folks who's disabilities require a little help to keep them independent.



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