And It's A Hard Rain

Synopsis: Rudy strolls through life looking for the right opportunities to express herself.

And It's A Hard Rain
By Angela Rasch

“Why did Santa bring me a doll for Christmas Eve?” We had just finished a yummy meal of ham and potatoes and the three of us sat in front of our really big Christmas tree opening presents. I felt all snuggly in my new jammies. Mommy said Doctor Denton made them ‘specially for me; he sure must like pink.

“Yes, Mildred,” Daddy said, setting down his eggs-snog. “I’m curious about that myself.”

I giggled whenever Daddy called Mom “Mildred.” Usually when Daddy said it, it sounded like singing, but tonight he didn’t sound very Christmas-sy.

Mom smiled at Daddy in that way she smiles at me when I eat my carrots. “Ruby, when we were in the Ben Franklin the other day you said you liked Raggedy Ann.”

“No, Mommy. I said I thought Raggedy Ann looked cute, but I never said I liked her.” But I did like her. I didn’t know how I could ever, ever play with her and not make Daddy yell at me, but I would think real hard to find a way.

“Santa knows best, Ruby,” Mommy said, and then messed my hair. She said I would have to get my first haircut some day.

I liked the way my curls tickled the sides of my cheeks.

“Mildred, please! The boy is already confused enough about things. His name is Rudy.”

Mommy laughed. She sounded so much like the angel in the story we listened to on the radio. “Frank — it’s just a joke between Rudy and me. He likes to be called Ruby sometimes; and it doesn’t hurt anything.” She turned toward me. “Sweetie, maybe Santa got confused on his ‘naughty or nice’ list and put your name down as ‘Ruby’ for one of your gifts.”

“Or, maybe the error was made by one of Santa’s gay elves,” Daddy said, and then Daddy did a funny thing with his hand, bending all of his fingers and his wrist down.

“What do you mean ‘gay’?” Mommy asked Daddy.

“ ‘Gay.’ Like Cary Grant said in the motion picture show we went to at the Orpheum the other night.”

“Ohhhh, ‘Bringing Up Baby,’ ” Mommy replied. “That’s so crude Frank; kindly don’t use words like that around Ruby.”

“Rudy!” Dad said my name so loud he made me jump . . . and as much as I really tried not to -- I started to cry.

“Ohhh, Honey.” Mommy pulled me up onto her lap and folded me in her arms. I didn’t want to stain her pretty dress with my tears, but I just had to collapse into her. “There, there, Ruby. Daddy’s sorry he scared you.”

I looked through my tears at Daddy and he looked plenty sorry, as he fiddled with his pipe -- knocking tobacco all over the place.

“Tell you what, Rudy.” Daddy finally got his pipe going. He puffed on it while I waited for him to continue. The smoke smelled sweet, but not half as nice as Mommy’s “Paris” perfume. She had dabbed a little on me one day, and it smelled like living in heaven with all the saints. “Did you see the Lionel Hiawatha electric train set when you were shopping?”

“Frank, that’s not an appropriate toy for a five-year old boy.”

“And a doll is?”

“Be reasonable, Frank. Maybe Rudy would like the Minnie and Mickey handcar set.”

I sniffed and Mommy rubbed my nose with a Kleenex tissue.

Daddy stood over Mommy and pointed the end of his pipe at her. “Rudy is our only child and will always be our only child. The son of the vice-president of the Springfield branch of the Havertown Bank can have a Hiawatha. What about it Rudy? Since Santa got his wires crossed and gave you a girl’s present, how about you have your Mommy send that doll back to Santa and you and I buy you a big boy’s train?”

I wanted my Raggedy Ann doll as much as anything in the world and hugged her tight to me, but I wanted my Daddy’s love more. So. . . .

***

Cynthia’s room seemed like it belonged on a whole other continent. A “continent” is another world a long ways away. We learned about Africa yesterday with all its lions and wild people. Mrs. Crosby said we would learn about somewhere called Asia on Monday. She said by the end of next week we would know everything about everywhere. That would be nice, in case I wanted to travel when the War got over. Third grade was a lot more fun than second grade had been.

Cynthia’s room didn’t look like Africa at all. It probably should have been called “Girlland.” She had sent me to her room to get the Monopoly board game from her closet, while she helped Aunt Rosella make chocolate chip cookies. I couldn’t wait to eat one, but for now I busily stared at Cynthia’s party dress. She wore her play clothes to help cook and had her dress ready to wear later. Its shiny material felt like clouds in my hands. Pink like an Easter egg, it had a big white bow that tied in the back and a wide, white collar.

“Pretty, isn’t it?”

I jumped and the dress fell away from my fingers to sway accusingly from its hanger.

“I. . . .” I wanted to hide until my face quit burning.

“That’s okay, Rudy,” Aunt Rosella said gently. “In this house it’s okay for boys to look at nice things and appreciate them.”

Last week I had gotten a paddling from Dad for saying something stupid. Mom had worn her new dress, the first one she had been able to purchase since the War started. Dad was going to drive us to dinner in a restaurant, even though he only got three gallons of gas a week, which wasn’t right because the town would be pretty sad without a good bank. Mom said that’s how rationing is, and we had to live with it.

I had gotten excited, like Dad says I do too much. My voice went too high and my hands waved all over the place, even though Daddy’s been working on that with me, too. Without even thinking I blurted out, “Momma, your dress is beautiful. I wish I had one just like it.”

Dad took the strap to me, and really blistered my hide for that one.

I smiled at Aunt Rosella because I knew she wouldn’t ever think about spanking me. Daddy said my cousin Cynthia got away with murder, which might be why she and I fought so much. A good spanking might hurt but it seemed to be the only way for me to learn, at least that’s what Daddy said.

“Would you like to try it on?” she asked.

“What!” I couldn’t believe my ears. Of course I wanted to try it on. Just once I wanted to know how it felt to be pretty and for a moment, or so, feel a dress bobbing around me like it did the girls in my class. I loved to watch them skipping in their dresses -- imagining what I would feel like, if I could be like them.

“You can, if you want.” Her lips had been painted red like the big fire truck Daddy had given me for Christmas last year. Two weeks before Christmas he had sat me down for a man-to-man talk and settled all that “crap” about Santa Claus. I played with the truck just enough so he thought I liked it.

“Can what?” I asked, hoping she wouldn’t laugh at me for even considering such a thing.

She took the dress down from the back of the door and held it up against me. My knees buckled a little as its magic jumped into my body. “It would be a little big for you, but not too bad. We could shut the door and pop it on and off you in seconds. You could see how you look in Cynthia’s mirror.”

Cynthia! I checked by looking around Aunt Rosella to see if Cynthia had followed her mother into the room.

Aunt Rosella took a step toward me. “No one would ever know but you and me.” She set the dress on the bed and gave me one of her super-duper hugs.

“But — Cynthia would tease. . . .”

“Not if she wants to have her birthday party later today, or ever again.” Aunt Rosella could be kind, but everyone respected her word as law.

The dress sat waiting on the bed, everything I had dreamed about for years. It would be so easy to pull off my shirt and trousers and. . . . “Daddy wouldn’t like it.”

“There’s things your Dad does I don’t particularly like. Besides, he’s at work and will never know.” She sounded like Aunt Rosella, but she had to be Lucifer dressed up like Aunt Rosella . . . tempting me with such a sinful idea.

“It’s really a nice. . . .” I stroked the soft material with my hand, noticing how nice my skin looked against the pink silk.

“Good then, I’ll help you.”

As her hands grabbed the bottom of my shirt, I yanked myself away. “No.” My eyes stung with great big tears rolling down my cheeks. “No, no, no. . . ." I ran from the room and didn’t stop until I had gone out her front door and all the way to the plum grove behind the garage. I hid there until long after they had gotten tired of looking for me.

***

“Mildred and I have been looking forward to this all year,” Aunt Rosella said.

We had just finished listening to a ball game on the radio. Aunt Rosella made life fun by allowing me stay up to hear the last out. Dad always sent me “off to bed, you sleepyhead” after the sixth inning no matter if Boston was playing with Ted Williams due up in the next inning.

My cousin Cynthia and I had changed places for a whole two weeks. She and I didn’t get along so good. I was already thirteen, but even though her birthday came ten months after mine, she had always been bigger and liked to bully me around.

Mom always had wanted a daughter and Dad hated it when I did things with her, so Mom solved the problem this year by “adopting” Cynthia as her daughter for two weeks. At the same time, I was scheduled to take Cynthia’s place with Aunt Rosella. Uncle Walter hadn’t come back from the War. Mom said Aunt Rosella got a big check from the government, but, she said, the money had “blood on it.”

She took my hand. “You will be staying in Cynthia’s room.”

Those seven words made my heart stop.

I hadn’t even considered the possibilities. Cynthia’s room -- a treasure house of all-things-girl that could help my every fantasy come to life.

After a scrumptious meal of pork and applesauce with corn and baked potatoes, Aunt Rosella made me take a bath to “wash the dust off from my train ride.” I had felt pretty grown up riding the railroad by myself. She ran the bath water for me and added something that made more bubbles than I had ever seen. The water made my skin feel sort of oily soft and smelled like flowers.

I wrapped myself in a towel and headed across the hall from the bathroom to where she was sitting on Cynthia’s bed waiting for me.

“Did you bring pajamas? I always forget pajamas. I suppose you could find something to wear in one of Cynthia’s drawers. Well, I’ll leave you to get ready for bed, Honey. It’s already ten, so don’t dawdle. If you want to leave a light on, that’s okay.”

She left the room after kissing me gently on the cheek. She showed no signs of coming back. Mom still tucked me in sometimes if Dad worked late at the bank, but I could go to sleep without a goodnight kiss, if I had to.

I hadn’t brought any pajamas, as I hardly used them in the summer. I crawled into bed, but Aunt Rosella’s words about “finding something to wear in one of Cynthia’s drawers” buzzed around in my head. Had she really meant it?

Aunt Rosella’s lack of rules always puzzled me. She seemingly wanted me to feel free to be whoever my heart said I should be. That could be very dangerous, because my heart went a little crazy at times -- like right now.

Before I could talk some sense into myself, I leaped out from under the covers and padding across the room toward “those” drawers. I had left on a small lamp, so when I pulled open the first drawer the rainbow of soft colors almost blinded me. I carefully ran my hands through the shirts in her drawer. I closed my eyes and tried to remember Cynthia in anything but a dress. Although she almost always wore them, she also did wear skirts, but never pants or even shorts.

I silently opened her closet door and saw at least twenty-five garments hanging next to each other beckoning me toward a forbidden thought.

“I am taking Cynthia’s place,” I whispered to myself. “Mom said that - just before I left home.”

I closed the door to the closet knowing that every dress and skirt in there appeared to be just my size . . . and more trouble than I could possibly handle.

“I can’t,” I said, and willed myself back into bed. For the longest time I stared at the ceiling and thought about baseball. That’s what our teacher in boys’ catechism class said we should do when we had impure thoughts -- think about baseball until they went away. But . . . would I ever have another chance? Probably not!

I bounced out of bed again, and then opened another drawer, this one filled with panties and nighties. BINGO! I picked a bright yellow nightie with flowers around the neck and lace on all the openings. I had never seen anything like it other than in the Sear’s catalogue; and I never looked at those pages too long, because how would I explain my interest in nighties -- if someone caught me?

Already naked, the decision to put it on was followed in the next instant by my arms shooting straight up and a slice of pure pleasure floating down around my welcoming body. I actually wiggled with delight. The mirror behind Cynthia’s largest dresser allowed me to stare at the girl I had become. I twirled and twirled, watching with fascination as the bottom of the nightie flew up and away from my ankles. Girls have it so good!

“Rudy, is that you? Are you having trouble sleeping?”

Ughhhh! She was coming down the hall and I. . . . With nothing else to do I jumped into the bed and pulled the covers up to my chin. There had been no time to take off the nightgown.

The door opened and the light from the hall spilled in brightening the soft light from Cynthia’s Cinderella’s glass slippers lamp.

“Hi, Aunt Rosella,” I said, trying to sound half-asleep.

She smiled that my-little-angel-you-could-do-nothing-wrong smile.

If she knew what I was wearing she would hate me forever and would always have a you-can-do-nothing-right look on her face for me.

She smiled again, even brighter. “I thought I heard you walking around. Maybe I shouldn’t have let you drink all that lemonade.” She came over to the bed and sat so that she could stroke my hair. “It’s a pity your mother cut off all those beautiful baby curls. You would be so pretty now.”

Her eyes focused on mine; and I tried to smile, but could see the still-open drawer behind her. If she looked away she would know for sure.

“I’m okay,” I lied. “I was just about asleep.”

‘Are you cold? You’ve got those covers pulled up so tight against you, it’s a wonder you can even breathe.”

I needed to keep her attention on me so she didn’t look around the room. “What are we going to do tomorrow?”

“I thought we’d start out with a trip to the beauty parlor. Once we’ve had our hair done and our nails painted, we can go shopping.”

I gasped.

“I’m just kidding,” she laughed. “Your mom made such a big deal about you taking Cynthia’s place here that I’ve been having a little fun thinking about making you my daughter for two weeks.”

I slid my bottom around in the sheets feeling the silkiness of the nightie and imagining right along with her.

“What?” I croaked.

“Sure. Why not? You’re exactly the right size to fit into Cynthia’s things and she only took a few dresses with her. You and I could cook and sew and go to the library. Cynthia has a blonde wig that would look good on you and no one would ever know.”

I couldn’t tell if she was teasing me because she knew what I was wearing -- or what.

I could have just pulled the covers down an inch or two to expose the top of my nightie and showed her what I thought of her idea. It would have been so easy. Her eyes were smiling; they weren’t laughing. She wanted me to be her daughter. I wanted to be her daughter. No one would ever, ever know.

She reached across me to the bed stand. “The bath salts you used have the same fragrance as this perfume. Give me your wrist.”

I carefully extended my wrist toward her - just enough to obey without disturbing the covers.

She dabbed a little perfume on me.

It didn’t smell very much like my bath; and I wrinkled my nose.

“It’s a little strong at first, but in a few minutes you’ll love it.”

She had told me to wear Cynthia’s nightie, given me a bubble bath, and put perfume on my wrist. Maybe she wasn’t kidding about the next two weeks. . . two weeks of absolute happiness. Would my heart be able to take it?

“I don’t. . . .”

Her smile faded a bit. “I thought. . . . Okay, then let’s explore plan B. Tommy Carson lives next door and he’s just your age. He and I are good buddies. I didn’t tell him you were coming, as I didn’t know if he would be meeting Rudy or Ruby. He’s a lot of fun and has a big flock of friends. They play ball in the empty lot across the street and down a block. I bought you a ball, bat, and glove -- if that’s what you want to do.”

She kissed me on the forehead. “Ruby, I know you’re in there. If you want to come out for two weeks, now’s your chance. If you want to find out what life is like as a girl, let me know. If not, I’ll call Tommy first thing in the morning and get you two guys together.”

My perfume already smelled as sweet as what Ellen wore to school last year on Valentine’s Day. My aunt's fingers touched mine and for a moment the only thing in the world I wanted to do was hug her.

All I had to do was sit up and become Ruby for two whole weeks. The dresses and skirts I had studied minutes before called to me. Years of waiting for a miracle could be coming to an end.

But, I couldn’t.

“What kind of glove did you get me? I play first base and will need a mitt.” The disappointment on her face was nothing compared to the ache in my heart, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

***

St. Thomas’ School for Boys’ had etched its motto “Is there any doubt?” on the front gate. Dad said people who graduated from STSB had a leg up on life. Of course, they drowned those who didn’t cut the mustard, rather than allow them to go out into the world and smudge the school’s reputation.

I was beginning to look like prime material for a permanent dunking.

I got into St. Thomas because my dad and his dad and his dad had all graduated from STSB. Taken on its own, my enrollment application would have lasted as long as it took to strike a match.

The school charged each student with finding a field of endeavor in which he could excel, for the glory of the school. I had failed at football, wrestling, debate, and chess. I had been informed by coaches and teachers that I was: too small, weak, wishy-washy, and non-strategic.

My family had a long history of being the best at being the best, and with each visit my father increased the amount of dismay he allowed himself to show. “Good God, is it time to run a blood test on our milkman?” had been his last parting shot.

In a way I took perverse pleasure in being such a failure, but my instinctive need to make everyone happy kicked in; and I tried harder than ever. Just when it appeared I would be placed in a sack with several rocks, I found the stage and its wonderful footlights.

They said I had the talent of a natural-born thespian, but I knew I had years of practice at acting. It hasn’t been easy convincing everyone I’m a boy, when in fact I’m dead certain I’m 100% female.

Something had clicked between drama and me. Mr. Foothall graded all of our performances on a tough set of criteria. Over the last five plays I had scored high and been named Actor-of-the-Play twice.

“I’ve been told by the prefect that I’m on probation.” Mr. Foothall easily qualified as the most popular teacher in school. He had been called on the carpet for never producing a play that had scored high in the state competition. “The good news is -- I have a plan.”

The eighteen members of the drama club cheered in response to his enthusiastic announcement. We had the best parties: pre-practice party, mid-practice party, post-production party, and we-should’ve-won-something party. Mr. Foothall’s had a genius for planning and carrying out parties. If a statewide competition for making the most fun out of nothing had been held, we would have been prohibitive favorites.

“We’ve tried everything,” he said, “except for what I came up with last summer.” Mr. Foothall didn’t need to teach. His family’s wealth exceeded that of most of the bluebloods he taught. He spent his summers at international vacation spots, living the good life.

“I was quaffing an amusing Bel Air Red from Bordeaux when it hit me. . .Shakespeare.”

“Shakespeare,” Tom said, “is dullsville.” Tom’s brother lived in the Village and Tom had a unique way of talking that we could hardly understand. One of the teachers called it “constant angst.”

We all nodded -- angst or not, Tom was right about Shakespeare’s plays not having a chance at winning.

“Not just Shakespeare,” Mr. Foothall said, “but Shakespeare interpreted through current language and fads. Everyone will be dressed in modern clothing and speak exactly like they would -- were Romeo and Juliet alive and enrolled at STSB.”

“Juliet wouldn’t get in,” I pointed out.

“That’s the thing,” Mr. Football said, uncharacteristically motivated. “Our actors will all be male, just like the actors were in Shakespeare’s times.”

One of those teachers that actually looked for class input before he reached a decision, Mr. Foothill led us in a democratic discussion, and then concluded his idea might pique the interest of the state judges. We had seen enough of the state competition to know that style won out over substance.

“Who’s going to be Juliet?” Winston asked. Winston had quit the football team when he ripped up his knee. He was about as big around as a Studebaker.

For the last few minutes I had been wondering who would get to play Juliet. I wanted it so bad my fingers hurt from tingling. Whoever played her would be expected to wear girls’ clothing — for the good of the school. But — what if I did it and came across as too realistic?

The jocks would make life miserable for anyone suspected of being one of those homos. Certainly a boy who looked comfortable in a dress would come under close scrutiny. I had no sexual interest in any of the boys, but I did wish I had been born a girl. In fact, I was convinced I had been, in a way I couldn’t figure out.

“Well, boys,” Mr. Foothall said, “here’s how I’ve got it figured. I’ve gone through the top five roles and ranked them in order of how tough it would be to play them. I’ve eliminated any boy who weighs over 165 pounds. That leaves twelve boys eligible. I’ve taken the average scores for each of those boys from past plays and put them in order -- one through twelve. The bottom seven will go into a hat to pick the smaller roles.”

“So, will one of the best actors play Juliet?” Winston asked. Winston looked very uncomfortable for someone who didn’t have to run the risk of playing a girl. He probably felt sympathy for whoever did. “Let me get this straight, Mr. Foothall. Do you mean to say whoever plays a female role in the play will have to go onstage in a dress?”

Mr. Foothall looked embarrassed by what he had to say. “When the prefect had me in for our little chat, he told me the drama club had to pull out all the stops. I told him what I had in mind and he suggested that all the players having female roles adopt female clothing and make-up from now until the final curtain. . .as much as needed.”

“What does that mean?” Tom asked.

“Those with minor female roles, like Lady Capulet, will need occasional practice in full female attire, but our Juliet will have to be perfect. She’ll work extensively to become at ease as a female.”

“That person will be in a dress every practice?” I croaked.

Everyone laughed nervously.

“No,” Mr. Foothall replied. “That actor will have to live as girl fulltime -- in class, during free-time, and in bed -- twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week, even during chapel.”

A lark singing outside provided the only sound. As a fifth year student, this would be my last chance to excel. Next year I would be in college at one of the Ivy League schools, more than likely Yale, where I would become a member of Skull and Bones like my dad. I wanted the part of Juliet and I knew I could be great.

Mr. Foothall looked eager to move forward. “The top five boys are: Willy, Rudy, Marvin, Vincent, and Tom. One of you five will be Juliet.”

The seven not mentioned looked somewhat relieved, even though they realized they could be the nurse, Lady Montague, Lady Capulet, or one of the other female roles. We chosen five groaned -- as required by male etiquette.

Vincent’s face went beet red. “Where would we get the clothes?”

“I’ve taken care of that,” Mr. Foothall said. “I’ve hired a consultant. She’s worked with Miss America contestants and is an expert in the essence of femininity. She will help whoever is our Juliet dress properly, walk and talk like a girl, and will work with him on his make-up for the entire six weeks leading up to the state competition. She claims that within two weeks whoever is playing Juliet will look exactly like a Bobby soxer.”

“A Bobby soxer?” I asked; they wore poodle skirts, rolled down their socks, and swooned. With every word he made me more eager.

“Uh huh. That’s how I’ve written the play, with Romeo just like Frankie Sinatra.”

Winston spit into a wastebasket. “I can’t stand guys who sing and dance like him. They’re not right.”

Winston would be one of the first to beat me up if I happened to get picked; but I couldn’t pass it up. Could I?

Mr. Foothall looked at his notes. “Before I assign roles I want to allow anyone who really wants to take on the challenge of playing Juliet to come forward. Any of you five can do it. You all have the ability. If you don’t mind doing it — it will be that much easier for you to. . . adapt.”

Everyone laughed, reminding me how risky “adapting” would be.

The five of us stared at each other. I only had to raise my hand to live six weeks of my dream life. I couldn’t. If he picked me I would raise a fuss, but would quickly relent.

Raise your hand you fool. As hard as I tried . . . I froze.

“Doesn’t anyone want the part?” he asked. “What about you Rudy, You’ve got the smallest build.”

For years I had looked to excel for Dad and now I could do it; but Dad would hate seeing his son as Juliet. There would be precious little glory in having a beauty queen son, and none he could brag about to his buddies down at the club.

All I needed to do was nod my head or mumble “yes.” That can’t be that hard. Do it!

I shook my head.

“Okay then,” Mr Foothall went on, “let’s match up the roles. The student with the best average scores for the last five plays is Rudy.”

I tried my best to look put upon, as all the guys offered their condolences. It was actually going to happen; I would be a girl for six weeks. Just so long as the school kept the jocks in check I would be safe.

“You’re going to look real sweet,” Winston sneered.

I hoped so.

“Wait a second,” Mr. Foothall said. “Rudy isn’t playing Juliet. He’s playing Romeo. Romeo is the more demanding role, and he’s our best actor.”

***

“I am so-o-o sorry, Mr. Prescott.”

Lisa stood before me with my Turkish, terry-cloth bathrobe extended before her. The laundry department had obviously washed it with something red and had turned what had been brilliant white to an ice pink. Mrs. Whilts next door had her TV on, watching Oprah talk to Kelly Pickler.

“You had nothing to do with it, Lisa,” I said. I extended my arms and she slipped it on over my pajamas. The Twelve Oaks logo on her badge reminded me that her name was Lisa Congers, a volunteer. I never called her Miss Congers and wished she would simply call me “Rudy.”

We both looked at me in the full-length mirror on the back of my suite’s door.

“It’s actually a very pretty color,” she said. “Too bad you don’t have a daughter to give it to.”

Lisa had been spending time with me every Thursday afternoon for almost a year. I had checked into the assisted living center nearly two years ago, after the third time forgotten flame under a cooking pot had resulted in near fire.

I had never married and made my work my life. I had no family and retired far away from where I had lived, so as not to become a burden on my friends.

We continued to look in the mirror together at me, in the. . .lovely robe. Lisa was right about it being pretty.

My hand went to my hair, which I had taken to wearing longer. I fluffed it a bit. For the last twelve to fifteen years my body had become increasingly feminine, as my testosterone levels dropped. My doctor had once said my memory problems might be attributable to reduced testosterone.

Lisa straightened the collar on my robe. She was alone in the world, just like me. Her marriage had failed when her husband of five years became enthralled with cocaine. Her parents had left her well off, like mine had. A thirty-year old woman like her would be a great catch for some young man, but she just wasn’t quite ready to try again.

“Your hair is nice and curly today, Mr. Prescott.”

“Call me ‘Rudy,’ please.”

“Oh my,” she said with a start.

“What? Don’t be upset. I’m not. I can always get a new robe.” Lisa had become important to me. She played gin with me or rented movies for the two of us to watch together. Her concern for me made me care about things, resulting in a marked improvement in my memory.

“No, I’m sure Twelve Oaks will buy you a replacement — Rudy.”

She had such a hard time saying my first name. It was obvious she thought it disrespectful to address a person more than twice her age by his first name.

She bit her lip, and then continued. “No . . . it’s because when I looked at you just then fluffing your hair, you. . .ah. . .looked just like my mother.”

I gasped.

She turned away leaving me to worry about allowing too much of my real character to show. When Lisa turned back toward me she had to brush a tear from her cheek. “I’m sorry. I miss my mother so; and you have so many of her nice qualities.”

Lisa had spoken to me a few times about her mother, who had died shortly after Lisa’s divorce had become final. Her mother and she had lived together in their family home. Like me, Lisa had no other living family.

“I consider it a great compliment that I remind you of your mother,” I said. A small tear trickled down my cheek. After leaving the bank in the late eighties, I had become rather sentimental. Lisa and I would sometimes fill my small wastepaper basket with tissues, as we watched a teary movie.

“Really, Mr. Prescott,” she started. “You’re a great deal like her.”

“Call me Rudy, please,” I chided her and reached to squeeze her hand gently.

“Rudy, with your hair styled a little and maybe a small amount of make-up you would be my mother’s identical twin.” She opened her locket and showed me a picture of a pleasant-looking woman who I would describe as fairly attractive. “I feel foolish telling a man he looks like my mother, but you do, you absolutely do.” Her eyes closed and her hands covered her mouth.

I couldn’t allow her to be so distressed. “Lisa, I have a secret I’ve never shared with anyone. It might explain what you’re seeing in me.”

I told her about my mother giving me a doll, and how my father had reacted . . . and how I had hid my feelings from them after that. I shared the story of staring at my cousin’s party dress, my aunt’s offer to me to try it on, and my refusal.

Lisa’s eyes opened and she quit crying. She nodded again and again, urging me to tell her more.

The story came out how my cousin and I had traded places and how I had opted to play baseball for the entire vacation rather than dress and be the girl I knew I was.

She squeezed my hands and made supportive sounds.

My voice cracked repeatedly when I went over my disappointment at being picked to play Romeo and the awful six weeks that followed when Marvin wore all the clothes and make-up I could have worn. He got to move and act the way I normally would’ve, if I hadn’t been so very careful to act like a boy.

Lisa stayed with me beyond her usual time, and then made arrangements to take me out for dinner, so we could continue to talk.

I spoke from the depths of my heart, masking nothing.

She smiled as I told her about what I had done after graduating from Yale, when I talked Dad into allowing me to take six months off before joining his bank as a junior executive. I had planned to spend a relaxing three weeks with my girlfriend in Boston. She lived in one of those row house things. As fate would have it, someone stole my baggage from the rack on the train when I visited the club car.

My girlfriend had an immediate remedy. She wanted me to try something completely different. A story in “Look” about Christine Jorgensen had gotten her all excited. She wanted me to pretend to be her girlfriend for the entire three weeks. She was just a little bit bigger than me and owned three or four wigs.

Her excitement about doing it set aside most of my worries, but my male pride finally won out and I refused.

I wasn’t sure, but it seemed like that was the beginning of the end of that relationship. I never found the time or the right person for another affair.

And then the story about the charity beauty contests poured out of me. Every year the major banks in our area had their female employees dress a male junior executive in an evening gown for a gala event. The people who attended the charity ball voted with dollars for the “most beautiful” man.

It happened four times while I was a junior executive, and each time I refused to be the one having all that fun. I couldn’t allow my father to see me in a dress; for fear that he would see the happiness in my eyes and know immediately that I really had wanted that Raggedy Ann doll.

“We’re a strange two,” Lisa said. “I’ve been looking for something to repair the huge hole in my heart that my mother’s death left. You’ve been running away from your bliss for your entire life. For a year now we’ve known each other and we’ve wasted all that time by not being open with each other.”

“Wasted? What do you mean?” I sighed. “I couldn’t possibly replace your mother. I’m sorry Lisa, but that would be impossible.”

She smiled knowingly. “I know no one could replace her, but you could live with me; and it would be wonderful to have your companionship. We could do things together in the real world, outside Twelve Oaks.”

“My memory. . . .”

“You memory is just fine. I’ll do all the cooking.”

We laughed, until I suddenly realized what she wanted.

“Do you mean you want me to dress . . .?”

“I never threw out my mother’s things. She and you are almost identical in size. With a little tailoring her things would be perfect on you.”

The dress her mother wore in the locket picture looked exquisite.

“I couldn’t possibly. . . . It wouldn’t be right.”

She reached for my hand and pressed it ever so lightly. “There, there, Ms. Prescott. You’ve told me all your secrets, and I think you will be a wonderful second mother.”

“Call me Ruby, please.”

The End

Thank you Dimelza Cassidy, Jenny Walker, and Erin for all your support.

Notes:

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