Kate, Part 1

Kate.jpg

Kate, Part 1

Tales of Manure and Metamorphosis

By Ricky

DISCLAIMER: I have known several students and faculty from SUNY Brockport and it makes a good setting for the story, but the people, events and school procedures in this story are purely from my own imagination, created to make the story go where I want it to go.

The damn fool window was stuck.

I whacked at it a few times, then strained my muscles against the painted wood, but it remained stubbornly in place. Since I had slid down the storm window last November I had been perfectly happy to have the thing firmly in the closed position while the wind and snow blew around the old house in the country. Despite the calendar reading January 13, 2005, Spring had made a preview appearance and I wanted to let it in the house.

Stubborn thing. At last I went down in the basement to see what might be found among the odd tools and just plain junk that had been left by the previous tenants. A very rusty hammer hung on a rack and an old putty knife, crusted with dried glop of some kind, was buried in a box of disused tools. A few blows from the hammer and most of the glop cracked away from the blade.

I returned upstairs and beat on the window for a minute and then pulled once more. Reluctantly it slid upward and the utterly unseasonal 70 degree breeze pushed itself inside the old farmhouse. I repeated my physical violence on a few other windows and soon the wonderful scent of warming earth filled the place.

Now 70 degrees in the middle of summer would be called chilly, but after months of freezing weather (it was only 32 ° two days ago!) I gazed over the farmland that surrounded me and breathed a sigh of satisfaction. I had been incredibly fortunate to find this place to rent. It was an old cottage that appeared to be in the middle of nowhere, but in less than five minutes I could be at the Wegmans Supermarket or the Wal-mart. It had been the original building, built by what grew to be a large farming family back when family farms were viable and prosperous. Fifty feet to the left, as I sat on my back porch, was the vast old farmhouse with it's great, faded red barn that had replaced the small cottage when times were good. The rambling old place had been added to whenever times got better and was typical of country homes of that era.

The rotting ruins of two other family houses dotted the road a bit further down, having been abandoned as too expensive to keep up and too far from the city to be sold or rented when times got bad. Until a couple of years ago, when they had extended the four-lane, Brockport had been pretty quiet except for the students at the venerable College where I worked. Now it was 20 easy minutes from downtown Rochester and Brockport was turning into a bedroom community.

Which explained why my bedroom window looked out on the fields. I loved the old place and the rent was half what I would pay for some modern townhouse. I dare you to show me a townhouse with a couple of acres of land around it, let alone a garden for the tenant.

The cottage now satisfactorily (and naturally!) air conditioned I couldn't wait any longer. I grabbed a rake from the porch and set forth with a will to clear winter's accumulation from the lawn and garden. I had amassed quite a pile and was starting to fill a garbage can when my concentration was interrupted.

"My, you are the ambitious one, aren't you? It may be January, but you're going to look like a lobster if you don't find a hat, you know. I would have thought a redhead would know better."

It was Stephanie, my neighbor and landlady. She is a rather good looking woman, generously padded in all the right places. At about 5' 10" she was a tall and striking. She could look me straight in the eye without having to crane her neck, which was a shame because that would have emphasized her long, dark hair. With her gracious movements and regal bearing she was even more stunning than I had remembered. Since I had rented the place a year ago last fall she was invariably clad in warm, bulky sweaters during the winters and rather frumpy clothes in the warmer weather. I guess the big, old farmhouse must have been expensive to heat, but from talking to her I gathered that wasn't the only reason she usually concealed her (I speculated) fine figure. This remarkably warm day in January must have lowered her inhibitions.

I had gotten to know a little about her since I moved in. Whenever I dropped by with the rent check she would usually invite me in for a cup of coffee and whatever homemade goodies she had baked. We shared a passion for gardening and education. She taught the 2nd grade and I was a lowly adjunct professor of English, hoping someday to get tenured and stop moving around to someplace new every few years. She had been rather distant when I first moved in, but had thawed as time went on. She was easy to talk to and more than once we had sat gabbing at her kitchen table for several hours, thoroughly enjoying each other's company.

The sudden arrival of warm weather must have released her inhibitions. I had certainly been right about the figure. For the first time ever she proved to have cleavage. Lots of it, but I tried to behave as a gentleman should.

"Well, I do know better," I finally replied, "but it's such a beautiful day I couldn't wait to do something with the garden. I don't even own a hat."

"Typical man, you typical man. Wait here a second."

She took off for the big red barn and disappeared inside. A moment later she came out and before I knew it she had placed a hat on my head. Not just a hat, but a wide brimmed straw hat even more absurd than the one she wore, decorated in artificial flowers and with a long cluster of ribbons hanging to one side.

"There, that's better. Now you won't have to worry about having your nose match your hair."

"Thanks, I think. Would it be gauche to point out that your hat is not going to do much to protect you in that outfit?"

"Probably, but who cares? Besides, I've still got sunscreen from last summer and used it before I came out."

"Such a sad thing, a woman as lovely as yourself being so efficient and sensible, it is, it is."

You never can tell; with my red hair I can sometimes get away with a phony Irish accent even if my ancestors had never been within hailing distance of the Emerald Isle. I wouldn't be at all surprised if some roguish resident of the Emerald Isles had gotten considerably closer than that to one of my umpty-great grandmothers, though. People see what they expect; when you have red hair you're expected to be Irish.

"Hey, can I borrow your spade? I'm going to need to shovel the shit if you keep that stuff up. Remember, I did a background check on you when you rented the place."

"Aye, and a bonnie braugh business women as well. 'Tis just as well as you've caught me out as I have just about run out of blarney, in any case." I dropped the phony accent and continued. "Too bad I didn't think to store up some sunscreen. Who would have thought summer would arrive in January?"

"Not me. The weatherman says it will be in the twenties by tomorrow evening, though."

"Naturally! Nevertheless, I've been wishing I could take off this shirt for a good while now. I suppose it's just as well, I must look pale as an old fish after a winter indoors."

"As long as you don't smell like one I have a strong stomach. Take off your shirt and I'll let you use some of my sunscreen."

She was off and loping to her place before I could even say thank you. I couldn't help noticing how she looked as she jogged to the door. Despite the patches of snow lingering on the ground, her tank top and shorts left very to the imagination, and I have a very good imagination. Indeed, it was a bit of a struggle not to be staring down her cleavage as we spoke. She returned at a more sedate pace and handed me the tube of sunscreen. I somewhat self-consciously removed my shirt and applied the white goop.

"Here, let me get your back." she offered. She had strong hands, she would have made a great masseuse. "There. At least you don't have to worry about tan lines, you lucky man."

"Didn't the courts rule a few years ago that women can go topless in public as long as it isn't for, as they so delicately put it, 'business purposes'? You gotta love the New York legal system."

"What a shame! I guess that means there won't be any picnics at the Klassy Kat this summer." The Klassy Kat was a "gentleman's club" that made the news with some regularity.

"I suppose way out here you could dress as you pleased and no one would be the wiser."

"Not unless you're planning to go blind in the next few minutes, buster. I could scratch your eyes out if it would help...."

"Heaven forgive me lass, me tongue got ahead of me brain for a second. I'd be keeping me eyes as they are, 'tis all the same to you."

"Yeah, and I know just where you've been keeping your eyes, buster." She said as she glanced downward to her ample bosom. From years of experience I estimated her to be a D cup. So sue me if you think I'm a sexist to make the observation.

"Was I that obvious?"

"Nah, you're pretty good about it." She started to giggle. "Go ahead and look, I'm used to it, you know," although her tone belied her words.

"Well, to tell you the truth, since I'm lacking any significant cleavage, I really don't know of my own knowledge." I quipped.

"What are you planning for the garden?" she changed subjects.

So we discussed the ABCs - alyssums, bellflowers and columbines - for the next little while and I showed her my sketches and plans for the flowers. She showed me the pictures of her garden from last year, quite an elaborate affair. Before long we were arguing who was going to cook supper for who. We compromised with her cooking the main dish and me supplying dessert. An altogether wonderful day in the country. She left with a promise to work together in her potting shed tomorrow.

Funny, ever since I had lived here it had been just me and the occasional mouse and the place felt like home. When she left, the cottage felt strangely lonely.

---

As is typical of Upstate New York, the next morning dawned dull and wet. Gone was the sunshine and in its place was 60 ° damp and fog. I really should get in the habit of consulting the weatherman before agreeing to an outdoor date. There was a fog of slumber in my head as well and it didn't seem to be clearing any faster than the fog outside. The phone started to ring.

"Hello?"

"You don't sound very awake."

"That's because I'm not. Where did the sun go?"

"Behind those clouds over your head. The ones with the silver linings. There's a heater in the potting shed, so we won't freeze."

"Yeah, but you won't be wearing your tank top this time." Did I really say that out loud?

"Sorry to disappoint you. I'll wear a tight sweater if that helps, but I'm going to be wearing a sweater."

I guess I did say that out loud. I should know better to answer the phone before I've had my coffee.

"You sound like you need a cup of coffee. Come on over and I'll even throw in some home fries and bacon." The woman was a mind reader.

"I'm on my way as soon as I find a sweater myself."

"Great! I'm wearing blue in case you want to color co-ordinate." She hung up the phone.

I stumbled into the bathroom and relieved myself. Although I usually go through the weekend without shaving without anyone being the wiser, I scraped the whiskers from my chin and sniffed my pits — still OK. After all, I had showered the day's labor off last night before going to bed, no need for a shower this morning.

Blue, huh? Who ever heard of color coordinating clothes to work in a potting shed? Well, I did have a faded denim shirt and plenty of blue jeans, so that's what I put on. Just for the fun of it I added a large red bandana around my neck (very cowboy) before I left.

It was raining harder now and darned if I could find the umbrella. I was resigned to getting soaked when I spied Stephanie's hat from yesterday. Sun hat it might be, but it would keep the rain off me for the short run to the main house. It worked well enough and I was still shaking the water off me on the enclosed porch when she opened the door.

"Nice, but the hat doesn't go with blue. I'll have to find something better for you. Wouldn't want you to appear in the 'fashion don'ts' of the tabloids."

"Strange, I haven't noticed any paparazzi hiding in the bushes. You don't have Elizabeth Taylor stashed in the back room, do you?"

"No, but you do look a bit like a bedraggled Katherine Hepburn this morning. I've never breakfasted with a movie star before."

"I guess it's a good thing I phoned up Leo before I came over and told him to stay home. Once it gets sunny I can take you home to meet my parents and we could play a round of croquet. We'll see how far the resemblance stretches."

"It would take a better Aviator than you to get that one to fly! Besides, you're an optimist. It could be months before it gets sunny again."

"Don't I know it! Why don't we live in Florida?"

"You ever been in a Florida thunderstorm?"

"Nope."

"That's why I live up here. That hat would be washed off your head and you'd be up to your pretty little knees in water before you knew it."

"Gosh, I didn't know I had pretty knees. How can you tell?"

"Your slip was showing yesterday. No, you phony Irish idjit, you have holes in the knees of your work pants. You do have nice knees."

"Well, in that tank top you have nice..."

"We better not go there quite yet, Kate. Breakfast is ready."

So I shut up and ate, not regretting it one bit. It had been a long time since a woman had cooked me breakfast - and I hadn't even slept with her.

Yet.

Afterward, we spent a companionable morning in the potting shed. It was still too early to plant anything, but with cleanup and preparing the soil mix and such tasks we whiled away the time to the roar of the propane heater. As lunchtime was nearing we were preparing a large flowerpot with topsoil and genuine horse manure from the stable just down the street. Stephanie was struggling to get the top off the large container she had transported it in when she yanked too hard and it opened all at once. I found out why she had kept it tightly covered when several large blobs landed on me, including one that completely covered my glasses.

Damned lucky I was wearing glasses.

Stephanie was abject in her apologies as I tried in vain to remove the smelly glop. I can't see crap with them off and, most assuredly, I was seeing crap with them on. This was a dilemma of the first order. She took my hand and led me to the house. I hesitated at the door of the house.

"You don't really want me to come inside like this, do you?"

"Well, now that you mention it you do have a certain robust fragrance about you. Is it too much to ask you to take off your clothes and shoes?"

"Somehow when I pictured getting naked with you I had a somewhat different scene in my head."

"Let it stay there, fella. I have no intention of getting naked with you. You are going to be all alone in your nakedness while I toss these clothes in the compost heap. I'm going to run across to your place and get you something to wear while you shower. If you're nice I might even clean your glasses so you can see again."

In my shorts, she led me to the bathroom and left me to find the shower in my half blind condition. I can see well enough to know that the large, pink blob on my right must be the tub. I groped for the silvery blob at one end and was rewarded by a spray of water.

The hot water felt wonderful as it rinsed the crap out of my hair and off my body. Funny how I had never contemplated doing that literally, but I was sure grateful for being clean again. I groped for what had to be a bottle and brought it close enough to read in my nearsighted condition. Conditioner. Try again. Shampoo this time, with half a dozen floral scents in it. Not my usual but better than horseshit by a long shot. I found the conditioner again and used it.

I had come out of the whole ordeal smelling like a rose. Literally. There was a knock on the door as I dried myself off.

"Are you decent?"

What a straight line! I had to restrain myself. I wrapped the towel around my nether regions and opened the door. The nice warm air of the bathroom dissipated quickly as the cool air pushed its way rudely in.

I was confronted by a drowned rat. Stephanie's hair streamed down her body and clung to her breasts, dripping slowly on the floor as she stood there. I thought I could see her bra through the soaking wet, tight blue sweater, but to be sure I would have had to get much closer without my glasses. I didn't think that was a wise course of action quite yet. She held a plastic bag with my fresh clothes in it, which drew my eyes from what I would, in other conditions, have been examining closely.

"You look wetter than I am. Maybe you should have taken me up on that offer of getting naked before I took a shower."

"Smartass. You aren't the one with a soaking wet bra sticking to your tits. Who needs a shower when Mother Nature is dumping her bathtub just outside the door.

"I suppose if I were to be wearing a bra I would appreciate it being dry and warm."

"You want I should loan you one? Here's your clothes."

"Thanks. I do appreciate it, Steph."

"No problem. Get dressed while I change."

She grabbed a towel from the linen closet and closed the door behind her. I opened the bag and took out a pair of underwear, then put them on, but when I pulled out the pants there was a problem. I suppose Stephanie hadn't felt comfortable rifling through all my drawers to find me something to wear, so she had taken the first things she saw in the top drawer of the dresser by my bedroom door. The problem was, it was the wrong dresser. Those clothes were from many years ago when I was less of a man than I am now. By about 30 pounds. I had never gotten around to sending them off to the Salvation Army or some such, convincing myself that some day I would lose that weight and fit into them again. There was no way I was going to be able to hook the waistband, let alone zip the zipper.

Maybe I could squeeze into the shirt but why bother when I wasn't wearing any pants? I wrapped my trusty towel around me and left the sanctuary of the bathroom.

"Steph?" I stood shivering as I called. There was a muffled response, so I waited. Eventually she came out of her bedroom, looking much drier in a warm cable knit sweater and a woolen skirt, her hair wrapped in the towel. Her eyes widened and she did a great one eyebrow interrogation while I stood there in my damp towel and shorts.

"Let me guess, you still have ideas about getting naked with me - or are you waiting for that bra?"

"Not as my first priority. You managed to find my old clothes. They — uh — don't fit any more." I shivered again.

"Crap! Do you get the feeling we're caught in some French farce? Too bad I don't have a husband. If this were a play he would ring the bell right about now and I'd have to hide you in a wardrobe or something."

"Well, at least there might be something warm in the wardrobe. I'm freezing."

At that particular second the phone started to ring. We both cracked up and she could hardly speak as she answered it.

"Hello?"

"Oh, Hi Mom!"

"You're what? "

"It figures.... No, not you . I'll explain in a minute. Bye."

She hung up the phone.

"You get your choice — hide in my wardrobe, put on my bathrobe or shiver yourself to death. Mom's out in the driveway. She called on her cell so I could open the door for her so she won't drown waiting for me to open the door."

I took the bathrobe. Who knows how long they would talk and a wardrobe can be damned uncomfortable. How do I know? Once in my misspent youth I had occasion to hide in one. Don't ask for details, it's too painful to remember.

---

"Good Lord, girl! Are you planning to start a stable in your front hall? Didn't I raise you better than that?"

"This from the woman who kept asking me if I was born in a barn while I was growing up? As if you weren't there when I was born."

"At least if it were my stable I'd muck it out once in a while. It stinks to high heaven out there!"

"Those are my tenant's clothes, Mom. I dumped a bucket of horseshit all over him and I wasn't about to let him come in wearing them."

"Stephanie darling, you'll be the death of me yet. Pray tell why were you throwing horseshit at your tenant? He wasn't getting fresh, was he?"

"Well, if he was fresh before it happened he sure wasn't by the time it was over. Phew! Steve has been a perfect gentleman. I slipped while we were mixing fertilizer in the potting shed and he got the worst of it. Come in and meet him, Mom."

I had been shamelessly eavesdropping from the living room, so I was ready to greet Stephanie's mother. I stood up, then hastily adjusted Stephanie's voluminous pink terry bathrobe (it was loose on her, a bit tight on me) as they came in.

"Hi." I greeted her sheepishly. Maybe the robe should have been woolen like Stephanie's skirt.

Steph's mom wore her grey hair long, gathered into a ponytail at the back. She looked like she had come from church, wearing a skirted suit . Pretty stylish for someone who had to be getting into her seventies. It was easy to see where Stephanie got her figure from.

"Hi yourself. Daughter. This is the first time I've ever met a perfect gentleman in a pink robe and purple bunny slippers. You do have odd tastes in men."

"Mother! Steve's not a man!"

That was news to me; perhaps I had entered the Twilight Zone. In any case, I wasn't about to resist the second great straight line in the past few minutes.

"Well, if you would get me that bra and panty set you were promising before we were so rudely interrupted I'd be glad to put on my dress for your company."

"Stephen! Wait — I didn't mean it that way!"

She was awful cute when she got flustered. Getting naked with her was looking like a better idea all the time, even if she was my landlady.

"Now darling, I'm sure your mother would understand. She looks like a lovely woman. It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Petrillo."

I wouldn't have believed Stephanie's blush could get any deeper, but it did.

"Did you know your slippers clash terribly with your hair?" Steph's mother was having a good laugh at the whole situation.

"I suppose I'll have to make an appointment with Mr. Pierre at the salon and have my hair changed, then. Perhaps a light blonde with discrete violet highlights. That would match the slippers nicely."

"Don't you dare! I know women who would kill for beautiful hair like yours. Why, I do believe you look a little like Kate Hepburn in her short haired phase, now that I think of it."

Yeah, I had to be in the Twilight Zone. A conspiracy theory was beginning to form. Maybe I was channeling a dead actress without even realizing it.

"I've been told that before."

"Have you now? Well, my daughter always did have better taste in girlfriends than in men."

"Mother!"

"Don't deny it, sweetie. A little work and Kate here will be absolutely stunning. Maybe you should brush your hair first though, Kate."

"I didn't want to get too personal and use Stephanie's hair brush without asking."

"You're standing there in her robe and bunny slippers waiting for her to loan you a bra and panties and you don't want to get personal with her?"

"MOTHER! "Will you two stop that!" cried an exasperated Stephanie. "Sit down and let me explain, the both of you!"

"Shouldn't you at least let Kate put on some underwear first?"

How innocently she asked that question. She must have been as great an actress as the immortal Hepburn.

Stephanie wheeled toward me, one threatening digit pointed menacingly at my chest. "If you two don't sit down I just might put a bra on you and see what happens." She paused. "Sit. Stay. Now!"

So we sat and she explained, but I let her do it all by herself. I sure wouldn't have wanted to explain this ridiculous situation to my mother, but she did a pretty good job of it. While the rain poured down outside she skillfully turned the talk to gardening and we spent a pleasant hour or so planning just what we were going to do in the yard — if the sun ever shone again. Stephanie's mom, who quickly became Hilda, was as big a gardening enthusiast as her daughter.

The rain had not given up by the time Hilda made her exit, but I felt compelled to say "I guess I should be getting back to my place." as Hilda pulled out of the drive.

"In this weather? Nonsense! Let me start a fire and see if we can take the chill off the place. I'm looking forward to sharing the afternoon with my girlfriend Kate."

Girlfriend? I wasn't feeling too much like a girlfriend, but what the hey? With a choice of getting soaking wet and spending the afternoon alone or curled up in front of a fire with a fine looking woman, which would you choose?

---

Some time later we were both curled up on the couch with enough space between us that there was no implied invitation on either side. The room was starting to warm as the fire crackled merrily. We sat for a while in a companionable silence, just enjoying being inside while the storm blew outside.

"So how did you come to be living alone in this big old farmhouse.?" I asked at last.

"It's the family homestead. My umpty-great grandparents on the Petrillo side started farming here back when this area was the Western Frontier of the country. The place has been added to and passed down through the family for generations of farmers until Dad dropped dead in the field about fifteen years ago. My brother didn't want to be a farmer, it's backbreaking work and the pay is lousy, but I guess that doesn't matter if you love the land. He didn't inherit that love of the land from Dad. He moved to Buffalo and works in a little office at a big corporation and it suits him fine."

"Mom stayed on a few years after Dad died, but the big old place was just too big and had too many memories. Just about the time she was ready to sell the place off I broke up with my ex and needed a place to stay, so now I'm a Gentlewoman Farmer, renting the fields to real farmers and reaping the benefits. Which just about keep the old place running and pays the taxes if I'm lucky. Why do you think I'm renting the cottage to you — I need the money."

"Don't we all." I replied "It must be nice to have a family place with some history. I'm an only child that grew up in a series of lousy apartments in the city. No history or roots in my family. Hell, I couldn't even tell you where my only cousin is these days. She married a Navy man and they moved somewhere without telling me years ago. I haven't heard from her since my folks died."

"That's so sad. I can't imagine how it would be without family. We still get together every summer for the Pie Festival. It's better than a church supper — my family can cook! Wait 'till you taste Aunt Marge's blueberry pie."

"Sounds good, but unless that's a proposal of marriage I'm not part of your family."

"Not likely! I'm not really longing for a man to complicate my life right now, so you stay my girlfriend for the foreseeable future, OK?

"You are one strange puppy, Steph."

"Well, better than being a bitch. You get invited to the pie festival because you live right in the middle of the campground. We have it here on the Old Homestead, silly. The cottage will be surrounded by a sea of tents. It's not just a family affair, we invite everybody we know and it's quite an event these days. I don't have to camp out any more now I'm living here, but I loved the weekends in the woods with my folks. Running a dairy farm is a full time job, those cows have to be milked twice a day come hell or high water, so they worked from sunup to sundown. It was a lot of effort to find someone to watch the farm long enough to let us get away, so those weekends together were very special.

"That sounds awfully nice. I was an only child and never got to do anything like that. I didn't start camping out until one of the other profs convinced me to come with him when I was complaining about how boring summer break was. I found out I liked it so that's how I've spent most of my summers since then."

"Do you get lonely living all by yourself?"

"Not really. I've always been an independent type, maybe because of being without siblings. Not that I'm a hermit, but I do appreciate solitude just as much as a good party. Not that I'm going to be giving many parties, the cottage is very nice but no meeting hall."

I took a minute to gather my thoughts.

"I told you my folks were dead and I only have a couple of people I count as good friends. We don't see each other much because we're all scattered across the country. One of those deals where if you see each other every few years you catch up and vow to see each other more often, then let another few years pass before you know it."

"A couple of serious women in my past, a couple of less formal relationships, but I've traveled up and down the East Coast for a lot of years before I landed here. With the summers off I used to love the traveling, but once the McMalls took over the country you couldn't tell if you were in Atlanta or Boston. The country has lost it's character, traveling isn't what it used to be."

To my surprise she put her hand on my thigh. "That's funny. I've been a teacher for all these years and have the whole summer off, too, but with one notable exception I'll tell you about some day, I've never gone more than few hours drive from here and always longed to travel."

"Then we'll have to go somewhere when the semester is over and I'll be your tour guide."

"That would be fun, 'girlfriend'. I'll keep that in mind. You hungry?"

I was. So we fixed supper and ate by candlelight in front of the fire. The storm had blown itself out by the time the sun was going down and I knew I had to go back to the cottage soon. I offered to help with the dishes, but she refused."

"I told you I was a teacher. If I don't get my lesson plan done right away the little darlings will get bored in class and start a riot. You don't want to be responsible for a civil disturbance, do you?"

"Makes me glad my semester doesn't start until next week." I allowed her to shoo me out after handing me my unused clothes.

"You can bring back the bathrobe tomorrow. Now scat!".

She pecked me on the cheek and pushed me out the door. It was still cool out there so I made a hasty trip to my own back door, feeling the warmth of her kiss linger on my cheek.

I was glad I hadn't turned off the heater on when it was so unseasonably warm, because the cottage was warm and comfortable when I entered. I put my too small clothes on the dresser and was going to return them to my drawer when I suddenly decided it was time to clean out that drawer and admit I was never going to drop those 30 pounds and it was foolish to keep those clothes any longer. I found a box and emptied the drawer, then threw the clothes that Stephanie had returned on the top of the pile.

What the heck? I picked up my too-small shirt and there was a bra and a pair of panties underneath it. A matching set. Red, no less.

I've never worn red underwear in my entire life.

---

What with the start of the semester and the typical lousy weather for that time of year, I didn't see enough of Stephanie for my taste during the next couple of weeks. Not that I wasn't interested in spending more time with her after our farcical but intimate time together, but with obligations and distractions for both of us it seemed we were never home at the same time. I found as many excuses to visit her as I could think of, but all I could do was leave her a note because she wasn't at home. Judging from the pile of notes at my back door she had the same problem.

That red bra and panty set sat on the top of my dresser, curiously attractive but basically useless except as a trigger for some very interesting fantasies. Eventually I noticed that Valentines Day was near. It had been some time since I had anyone special to make me notice the day, but that red bra on my dresser seemed to remind me that I just might be able to enjoy Valentines this year.

One Saturday morning the lousy weather was back. I didn't want to make yet another fruitless trip across the yard, so I picked up the phone. Feeling a bit like a kid trying to get the courage to call the hot girl in school, I dialed her number.

"Hello?"

"Ah! You're home at last!"

"And which pot is calling which kettle black?" I could hear a malicious grin in her voice.

"I will have you know that as an instructor of The Youth of This Great Nation I have nothing to do with pot. That's Official Policy."

"That's a fine kettle of fish. If you are in the same room with The Youth of This Great Nation then you couldn't be more than twenty feet from a stash of pot."

"That's not Official Policy."

"But it's the truth."

"The Truth is seldom Official Policy."

"But the Truth shall set you free."

"As in being unemployed? Telling the truth is the surest way for a teacher, or a lowly Assistant Professor, to get themselves fired."

"Then tell lies, for goodness sake. I need your rent money."

"Why is it whenever I talk to you I end up in a surreal situation?"

"Because reality sucks. Surreality is much more interesting."

"Sir Reality? Wasn't he one of the Knights of the Round Table?"

"No, he worked day shift at The Square Peg tending bar."

"I think I'm going to need a drink if this keeps up."

"First pot, now booze. What is this world coming to?"

"A confusing halt. Do you have any idea why I called? I seem to have gotten sidetracked."

"Maybe you want to pay your rent early, after all it is the 29th.

"I don't think that was it."

"Darn! Maybe you want to play in the dirt this morning?"

"Huh"

"Even though it looks like crap outside I want to get the marigolds started."

"In January?"

"It's two days to February, which is when you start marigolds. Why do you think we were mixing up potting soil? The marigolds get started in February so they're ready to plant in May."

"I hesitate to ask, but should I bring a change of clothes this time?"

"You didn't like my robe?"

"It looks better on you. You'll have to show me sometime."

"I'll think about it."

"Let me find an umbrella and I'll be right on over."

It wasn't until I hung up that I realized I had never got around to asking about Valentines Day. I went into the bedroom for an old sweatshirt and some grubby jeans. As I was changing I once again looked at the red panties on my dresser. What the heck? She did give them to me and it would only be fitting to wear them today — that is if they fit.

The label said size 6. What did that mean? Guys do it more intelligently, my tighty-whities said 34, as in 34 inches. No translation needed. Well, they looked like they might fit me. Feeling a bit silly I shucked out of my underwear and put them on. Although we were almost the same height, with her relatively larger hips they were pretty loose. With my jeans buckled they were comfortable. Actually there was no way to tell what I had on underneath.

So all right, the bra was sitting there and I'm sure you want me to tell you I put it on. I could keep you in false suspense for a couple more paragraphs, but I'll be merciful. One look at the label told me that it was too small for my chest. At least bras are sensible sized and now I knew that Stephanie was a 34D. Although far from a macho man, I had a 38 inch chest so the bra stayed on my dresser to inspire future fantasies.

When I arrived at the potting shed, Stephanie was filling trays with the potting soil we had prepared. She had on a denim apron to protect her clothes. She smiled as I opened the door and pointed vaguely to one corner of the room.

"Better put on an apron, you never can tell when I might take a notion to start flinging shit around."

Yeah, you never could tell. Hanging on some hooks were old shirts and a flowered apron. Great, first robe and bunny slippers, then flowered aprons.

"Why is it every time I come over here I end up in your clothes? You would look divine in those flowers while that denim would compliment my masculine bulk and bravado much better"

"Girlfriend, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, masculine bulk and bravado are not your forte."

"So we're back to being girlfriends?"

"Did we ever stop? The day we spent together was the most fun I've had in ages. I've sworn off boyfriends and I haven't had a girlfriend to hang out with in a while, either.

"Then I guess I can play the part if it pleases you, madam. One girlfriend coming up!"

I tied the flowers around my body.

"So what do I do?"

"Stand there and look beautiful.

"Some things are beyond my powers, girlfriend."

"Then clean out those trays so we can put geranium pots in them."

"Crap! I'm a girlfriend for only thirty seconds and already I'm washing dishes!"

"Get used to it. We women live a hard life."

"Well at least you're only throwing verbal shit this week!"

I started hosing out the trays and soon all the glass of the potting shed was steamed over. The heater kept the place reasonably warm, but outside it was still January. We contentedly filled containers with dirt and trays with containers, then put in the appropriate seeds as Stephanie clearly marked each pot as to what it would grow into, given time and nurturing. It seemed difficult to believe these pots, sheltered from the ice outside, would become an array of beauty in a few months.

When the last one wall filled and labeled, Stephanie washed her hands.

Drying her hands, she came up behind me. I felt her finger slip under the waistband of my pants. "How sweet, you did wear them. I love trading clothes with my girlfriends."

"I'm afraid the bra didn't fit." I was back in the Twilight Zone again. Conversations with Stephanie kept going off the track somehow.

"I figured it probably wouldn't but I knew you wanted to get into my panties. We'll just have to go shopping sometime and find one that fits you properly."

"You can't be serious!"

"Why not, girlfriend. You put on my panties all by yourself. You can't tell me that you don't want to be my girlfriend after doing that."

I still couldn't believe that Stephanie had actually looked into my pants to see them! I mean, up until a few days ago she was just my landlady — another person that I knew slightly. The woman who I handed a check to on the first of each month and then forgot about until another 30 days had passed. I just didn't get it.

But I did like the feel of the nylon on my butt

---

I had hardly settled into bed that evening when my cell phone rang. It was Stephanie. It seems silly to use cell phones to talk over the short distance between the cottage and the main house, but that's what we did. We didn't talk about much of consequence, after all we had just spent the day together. Just two friends chatting. Girlfriends, it seemed.

"Steve?" she asked after the conversation had hit a bit of a lull.

"Yeah?"

"I'm sorry about what I said to Mother last week."

"Huh?"

"That crack about you not being a man. I really didn't mean it that way."

"Good grief! You haven't been worrying about that all week, have you? We all put our feet in our mouths sometimes."

"Yeah, don't we? I just want to say how much I enjoyed spending time with you. I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but I felt almost like I was spending time with one of my girlfriends."

"Katherine Hepburn, right?" I was rewarded with a giggle.

"No, silly. What I mean is, well, you know how it is on a date, how you're always thinking about how you look and how you come across to the other person? It wasn't like that. You felt more like an old girlfriend I could say anything to, I didn't worry about putting on a show or trying to impress you."

"Uh huh?" I didn't really know what to say, so I just made an encouraging noise.

"It's been a long time since I felt that way. I mean comfortable with a man near me."

"I'm flattered. I really enjoyed being with you, too. I'm not going to tell you that I haven't noticed you're a woman, but you're right. There wasn't that male-female pressure on Sunday, just two friends enjoying each other's company. If that's what it takes to make you feel comfortable I'll happily put on a robe and bunny slippers any time I come visit."

"You did look pretty cute in my robe."

"By the way, thanks for the underwear."

"Really? I don't know what got into me when I gave them to you."

"Just trading clothes with your girlfriend. I hear women do that all the time. I'm afraid I can't reciprocate, though. My female wardrobe is a bit thin." She laughed merrily. "Are you really going to take me shopping for a bra?"

"Would you wear it if I did?"

"If you let me be your girlfriend I don't see why not."

"Seriously?"

"Well, I don't see how a man wearing a bra can be taken seriously, but I'm willing to try it if you want me to, girlfriend."

"You are an amazing man, Steve."

"Ahem… Modesty forbids, but since I haven't any…. So, when are we going shopping? I need a suitable outfit to impress you when I invite you over for dinner on Valentines day."

"Are you serious?"

"About Valentine's day? Sure! Will you be my Valentine?"

"You make me feel like one of my students. Valentine's day is big in the second grade."

"You're getting to be big in my life. I like you enough to see where this will take us, girlfriend, but you're in control. No pressure, my dear landlady. You haven't answered my question."

"I'd be honored to be your Valentine."

"Now I feel like a school kid."

"But you're big enough to wear a bra now. Next Saturday? Ten o'clock?"

"Sure! Speaking of time, it's after midnight. I need my beauty sleep. Goodnight, girlfriend."

I hung up the phone.

---

That set the pattern, every evening before we fell asleep we talked on the phone, but when I hung up the phone that night I couldn't sleep. I tried to blame it on the nap I had inadvertently taken at about 7:00 that evening, but if I was honest I was thinking about Stephanie. To be even more honest, about being Stephanie's girlfriend. I washed out her panties the night before and left them hanging on the shower rod. I intended to put them on again in the morning, knowing they would feel just as good as they had the day before.

But my head wouldn't settle down. I finally got up and fired up the old computer. I checked my e-mail and bank statement, but finally I got the nerve to enter the words 'breast form' into Google, which was what I had been intending to do but was still a little nervous about. If I was going to wear a bra I didn't want to look lumpy.

I still remembered my mother after she lost a breast to cancer. She was devastated at first, but when she was fitted with her new form it was miraculous how her outlook improved. There was absolutely no way to tell that only one of her breasts was the real thing when she was wearing normal clothing. She eventually had reconstructive surgery, but until then that breast form gave her the confidence to face the world again. I just hoped I could capture some of that confidence.

Talk about confusing! Who would have guessed there were so many choices? Teardrops, triangles, silicone, foam, nipples (or not), color, size. If I could just find something that would work it would be a miracle!

TheBreastformStore.com looked pretty user friendly, so I followed their directions. The only problem was I didn't have a tape measure. I checked the odd tools in the basement but all I found was an old fashioned folding stick ruler. That wasn't going to bend around my chest. The light went on and I took one of my belts and wrapped it around my chest, then measured the belt. A size 38, same as my male chest size, which made sense since Stephanie's 34D bra was too small on me.

Halfway there. So how large did I want to be? I've never been one to drool over big boobs. Sure I notice them, but they don't really make me any more interested in a woman just because they stick out halfway to the moon. Well, Stephanie filled a D cup nicely (very nicely!) but with my build and boyish hips that would be too much. The chart said that a size 5 in the Transform Full Oval would make me a C cup. Well — I was going to transform, so why not do it literally?

I winced a little as I typed in my credit card and paid for overnight shipping. Those babies weren't cheap, but I fell asleep feeling pretty good about trying to do my best to be Steph's girlfriend.

Our relationship was developing like nothing I had known before. I had to control some definite lascivious thoughts about her when I saw her across the yard or in my fertile imagination, but during those intimate talks in the dark of night I felt very comfortable in girlfriend mode. Being a girlfriend affected me as well, I talked of things in my life that I had never before shared. My parent's death, the serenity I found in the garden, even the loss of a very lovely woman many years ago when she moved to California and I couldn't bring myself to follow her. Talking with Steph as her girlfriend was better than any shrink. Not that I had ever talked to a shrink, but you get the idea.

The breast forms arrived on Tuesday. I opened them up and played with them a little bit, but there wasn't much I could do without a bra to put them in. I guess I was going to have to wait for the weekend. I almost told her about them, but I wanted to save them for a surprise on Valentine's Day.

"Hey ma — I got boobs!" Yeah, that was going to be a surprise.

---

On the way home after class on Monday I made a stop on the way home. My solution excessive hand washing of lingerie was to stop by the Wal-mart on the way home and buy a package of panties. I felt like a complete ass doing it, but it wasn't that hard. Since Stephanie's panties were a bit too big, I consulted the size chart on the package and found they went by hip size. Great! Well, my hips were the same size as my waist, so I guessed at a size 4. The new ones fit me very well and I didn't even have a problem with my male equipment — it fit in quite comfortably, thank you. Maybe by wearing nylon panties for the rest of the week I would be used to them by the weekend.

By Saturday morning I was sure that wearing panties was more comfortable than my male underwear. When there was a knock on the door and I had to put my new breast forms back in their custom shaped holders. They were fascinating, wiggling and jiggling in my hand. They did feel like the real thing, but I was going to have to rearrange my drawers, they took a lot of room!

"Hi, girlfriend" I greeted Stephanie. She was a vision cable knit sweater and tartan skirt. "Damn, you look stunning!"

"Why thank you, girlfriend. Just put your tongue back in and remember you're my girlfriend, OK? You ready to go shopping? I want to invite my new girlfriend to dinner tonight."

"Wait a minute. Isn't it 'The way to a MAN'S heart is through his stomach'? Can you bribe a girlfriend that way, too?"

"As long as she's not on a diet."

"Makes sense to me. Then it's only fair I treat you to lunch if we're going to wear ourselves out shopping. Want to try the Chinese Buffet?"

Brockport had gotten bigger with the new road. The little Chinese restaurant had recently expanded to a complete buffet.

"Sure, why not? Come on over to the house and I'll measure you so we know what size to get."

"38C for bras, size 12 or maybe 14 for dresses and a 10 for shoes." I responded smugly.

"You are full of surprises. How did you figure that out, girlfriend?"

"The Internet is the font of all knowledge. I just Googled it. Why is it men have only one size chart and women have misses and junior and woman's and lord knows what else?"

"Because women are endowed with the genetic ability to solve complex problems.

"I should have known."

"How did you decide you were a C cup?"

"Why, I have the advantage of being whatever cup size I want. Much as I would like to imitate my mentor, I don't think I could carry off a D cup as well as you do, so I decided it should be more modest"

She blushed.

---

"So where do we go, Wal-mart?"

"Only if you want to look ugly. Their buyers have lousy taste."

"Oh." That was news to me, but what did I know from women's clothes?"

"Let's start at the Fashion Bug across the street. They have a plus size department so we should be able to fit you there. It's just the place for a couple of casual outfits for a weekend in the garden and if we're lucky we'll find something you can wear to dinner. Last chance to chicken out, girlfriend."

"I promised, didn't I? If you want a girlfriend then I'm your man."

"That isn't quite how I'd put it, you nut."

"Don't I have to be nuts to be doing this? Let's get it done before I come to my senses."

"Sounds like a plan." She started off across the parking lot. "So tell me, would you prefer a solid color or a pattern on your bra?"

"I hadn't really thought about it. My panties are all solid colors."

She stopped. "Did you say 'your' panties? As in plural?" Then she did that one eyebrow thing again.

"Well, I couldn't very well wear the one you gave me all week long, could I?"

"I suppose not. You are full of surprises, girlfriend"

"Just call me Kate."

"I'm too refined to call you what I'm thinking, Kate. You haven't answered the question — plain or patterns."

"Which do you prefer?"

"Damn good thing you're my girlfriend or I might think you were being sexist, you sexist."

"I may be wearing them but they're for your benefit. It's only fair you have a say in picking them out."

"Funny, I've used that line with a couple of boyfriends, but I never thought I'd be on the receiving end of it."

"Now who's the one not answering the question?"

"I prefer patterns. I love the feeling of wearing something sexy that no one can see."

"Does that mean I don't get to have a look?"

"Let's leave that for another time, girlfriend. Right now it's your underwear we're concerned with. You get to be my boyfriend while we're shopping, offering me advice on what looks good. OK?"

"Sounds like a good idea." I paused. "You're not worried about the gossips seeing you in the store buying intimates with your tenant offering his advice?"

"I'd think you would be more worried if anyone thought the intimates were for my tenant."

"Nobody here knows me — I've only been here a year or so and I have no social life outside the college. If you aren't worried then neither am I."

We had arrived at the store, where she took me over to the bra section. There was quite an array, far more bras than I had ever seen in one place. I had no trouble looking like the nervous boyfriend waiting in a place that made him uncomfortable. In my foray for panties I had been able to find a six pack prominently displayed and drop them in my cart without spending any more time there than necessary. Now I was expected to actively help in narrowing down the choice for my new bras.

"What do you think of this one?" Stephanie asked.

"I like leopard spots. It's not an endangered species, is it? What are the wires for?"

"To strangle little boys who ask too many questions. They're to help keep your tits separate and perky."

"Imagine that, perky tits. Sounds like something you'd find in a Men's Magazine."

"You're impossible! Do you like it?"

"Sure, put it in the basket. I like that one with the blue lace, too."

"Your wish is my command, oh Master of Fashion. Will two be enough?"

"It depends on what you have in mind for the weekend, darling."

"Who says it's only for the weekend. You never can tell."

That was an interesting bit of news.

"Maybe you'd better get one of those pink striped ones too, just in case."

"And one in plain white. A girl always needs a plain white bra on hand."

"I didn't think you put bras on your hands."

"If I hadn't already told you that you were impossible, I'd tell you that you were impossible."

"I love it when you sweet talk me, darling. Do we look at the dresses for dining or the casual outfits for gardening first?"

"The dresses are closer. Perhaps you would like to help me pick one out."

"I'd be delighted. 'Lay on, Macduff and damn'd be him that first cries, hold, enough!'"

---

The last time I had been in the women's section of a store was as a child waiting for my mother to browse through the racks. Back then it was a lot more fun to hide in the center of those round racks and play peek-a-boo or run through the aisles until my mother was completely exasperated.

We didn't spend long looking at the dresses, they were all far more formal than what we wanted. Long sleeved jackets and sequins; female tuxedos, it looked like. When we got to the casual section I was struck by something.

"Stephanie, how come this is a women's clothing store and they don't seem to have any skirts?"

"You want to take a look out the window and see how many of the next 10 women to pass by are wearing skirts? I think that might answer your question."

"I never thought of that."

"That's not surprising, most men wouldn't have even noticed."

"Well, not unless we were trying to look up a skirt. It's ever so much more rewarding than looking up a pair of pants."

"Sexist pig!"

"Oink! Really, if I'm going to do this what good is wearing another pair of pants?"

"I suppose that does seem a bit foolish, now that I think of it. Don't worry, there's a Dot's not too far away, they should have a skirt or two to meet your approval. What do you think of this?" She held a blue T-shirt with a scalloped neckline and an embroidered flower across the bodice against her body as if she were gauging it for size.

"Well, it fits the gardening theme. Kind of cute, I guess."

"The blue bra would go well under it."

"If you say so."

"I do. Anything else that catches your eye?"

"Not really. It all seems kind of — plain."

"The word is 'casual'. We're not after high fashion here, we want something you can garden in. You know, dirt, water, horse shit. That sort of thing."

"How romantic. Can we get some deodorized cow manure before we fill any more pots?"

"One thing at a time. I'll let you check out Dot's before we get anything else."

Do you know how much it cost me to get out of that store? This crazy idea had better last more than one weekend, I have to get some return on my investment. Besides, I had to carry all the bags. Some girlfriend.

I could hardly wait to put on that bra!

---

We did have Chinese for lunch and made the drive to Dot's. Now this was more what I expected a women's store to be like. Lots of skirts and blouses and bright colors. I wandered along behind Steph until she stopped at a rack of skirts.

"We need something a bit shorter for gardening, You don't want to be tripping over your hem with a full pot. Besides, kneeling down in a long skirt is a real pain!."

"If you want short, how about this?" I asked as I took a pretty red and black checked skirt from the rack. "I'd say it was short enough, wouldn't you?"

"If I were 20 years younger and wanted the world to see what I don't want to be seen. I had in mind something knee length, not crotch length."

"You said you wanted short. I was just trying to be helpful."

By then she had found a crinkly green thing.

"What do you think?"

"It's OK. This must be the top that goes with it."

"It is, but don't you think that neckline is a little revealing for gardening? Think of the sunburn potential."

"Oh, yeah." I suppose since I wasn't going to have any cleavage I couldn't wear something with a plunging neckline. I never had to think of this kind of stuff when I went clothes shopping. "So what else would go with that skirt?"

"A blue or yellow would work, but we already have a blue top. Or even something with a pattern. Something like that." She pointed. "A little fancy for gardening, but why not?"

'That' was a pale yellow blouse with a tiger lily print. The material was light and gauzy, but it had an inner layer that made it not quite so revealing.

But it was still so undeniably feminine it brought me to a halt.

OK, a bra is undeniably feminine, but unless they're trying to be provocative most women don't go around showing their bras to the world. For that matter I had been wearing panties all week and nobody had the slightest idea except Stephanie. The T-shirt we just bought was clearly made for a woman but it was still a T-shirt. I wore T-shirts all the time, not so different, was it?

But that blouse was soft and sexy and there was no way I had ever worn anything like it. It was at that moment that the 'girlfriend' business crystallized, that I really understood what I had gotten in to. Was I ready to abandon a lifetime of being a man so easily? My father would have had apoplexy if he could see me at this moment, for him men were men and that was it — no questions need be asked. I hadn't precisely asked any forbidden questions, but I had never been sure of the answers, either. Suddenly I had to find the answer.

And quickly!

Then, just as suddenly as the doubt had flared the answer came to me. I wasn't abandoning anything. I was taking a vacation into an unknown land — a land of femininity. I was doing something to make a friend happy and just maybe doing something that would make my life more interesting. We all fear the unknown, but at one time or another in our lives EVERYTHING is unknown. This was just one more way of learning more about life. There could be no shame in learning.

"I like it, makes quite a statement, doesn't it?" I answered at last. A definitive statement, at that.

"You're getting quite the eye for fashion. Oh, look! This denim jumper would be perfect with the blue blouse, wouldn't it?"

"I think so."

"I know so. Come over here a minute."

I came. In the relative obscurity between the clothing racks she once again pulled back my waistband and checked out my underwear.

"Don't be mad. I just had to know. I think it's sweet, really I do." Then more loudly, "We need something a bit fancier for dinner on Monday. Can you reach up there and get that one down?"

"Sexist, you're as tall as me."

"But you have longer arms."

"Don't try to confuse me with facts."

I took the dress off the high hanger. It had a square neckline and padded shoulders. Why did women insist on making themselves look like quarterbacks? Well, I could always remove them, I had pre-padded shoulders and wouldn't need them. The dress looked to be tight about the bust line and then continued straight down from there. A perfect style to take the eye off my lack of wide hips. Stephanie held it up to her neck and the hem came about to mid calf on her, so it would do the same for me. I had seen dresses like this on innumerable women at nice restaurants, it certainly would be appropriate for a dinner party. it's brown tones would even go nicely with my coppery hair.

I was really getting into this, wasn't I?

While I was standing at the register Stephanie told the cashier to wait a minute and darted back to the wall. She placed a rose colored nightgown on the counter.

"A girl can never tell when she might want a nightgown if she's invited to a sleepover." Was her only comment.

My unvoiced comment shifted from "ouch" when thinking of the bill to "Hmmmm..."

As we got into the car for the trip home, Steph turned to me and asked, "I didn't scare you off or anything, did I?"

"No, I'm still with you. I had a moment there when this whole thing seemed just too surreal for words, but I think I'm over it."

"That blouse was what did it, wasn't it? You got lost in space for a moment there."

"Too right. I'm OK now and as of the moment we get home I'm going to be your girlfriend and nothing else. I'm all yours."

"That's..." she paused. "That's very nice of you, Steve. It's a lot to ask of you."

"You're worth it, Steph. It may be a little strange, but I think it could be something wonderful for the both of us as long as we don't try too hard."

"I hope you're right. I ..." she trailed off. I waited until she was ready to speak again. "I haven't let anyone get close to me for a long time, Steve."

"I know."

More silence as the road rolled beneath the tires. We were home all too quickly. We unloaded the day's purchases from the trunk, piling them on my sofa.

"Much as I would love to have you give me a fashion show, I have to put in an appearance at Mother's tonight. See you tomorrow, Kate." She kissed me and left. It wasn't a peck on the cheek this time, either.

---

Saturday evening was a trial. Stephanie had other things she had to do, so I sat there in the cottage with my new clothes but no girlfriend. I was going on a crazy adventure and was really hyped up about it. My head was swimming with all the things the newbie crossdresser was supposed to do. There wasn't quite an instruction manual on the net, but it didn't take too much reading to come up with the basics.

As I tried on my new outfits, I realized there were a few items missing from my wardrobe. Having done the 'shopping with the girlfriend' bit I was ready for the 'shopping alone' adventure. I felt a pang of regret putting on my normal clothes, I found that I liked the feeling of wearing a bra for the little time I had been wearing one.

I think I was supposed to get all worried and guilty about going into the women's department and buying things there, but try as I might I couldn't work up any guilt. Excitement, yes, but guilt was a complete failure. Maybe it was because I went out and bought my own panties before I knew I was supposed to be embarrassed about doing so. Anyone who's read Poe knows the best way to hide something is in plain sight, not slinking in the shadows.

Since the Wal-mart made it easy to buy panties, I knew that they sold pantyhose and they had a drug section. One stop shopping for your novice crossdresser. As I took a cart out of the rack I considered going over to the hardware section and getting something manly like a chainsaw to disguise my intent, but why bother? I knew that in these big box stores nobody pays any attention to you, even when you desperately need a clerk to tell you where the bathroom is before you start dribbling on the floor. Especially then, I suppose.

Pantyhose and socks were right there next to the shoe department, conveniently devoid of humanity. I pawed around a bit, those suckers were expensive! For something that wasn't going to be found on the government's listing of Durable Goods, pantyhose sure were pricy. The women who had to wear them all day must get pissed off every time they had a run in their stockings. Could that be why most women wore pants these days?

The convenient little chart on the package told me I was a size Q, but I was stopped cold by something I hadn't expected. Just what the hell color was 'Taupe' or 'Sandalwood'? I had a drawer full of black socks; I never had to worry about finding a pair or what color to wear on any given day, just grab two and put them on my feet. Crossdressers seem to make a big deal about how women can wear bright colors and men can't, but I could see there was a downside to that range of choice. I solved the problem by getting a three pack of each color, Stephanie would tell me which was the best for whatever I was going to wear and I wouldn't have to worry.

Black socks. I suddenly realized that black socks wouldn't really go too well with the casual outfits, so I picked out a couple of pair of colored socks and a couple with pretty patterns on them. I might have to get another dresser if I kept buying this stuff.

All was quiet on the Western Front by the time I had my pantyhose, not a sales clerk in sight, so I decided to give the women's shoes a once over. I had planned to wear my own sneakers for our gardening but if I was going to wear that dress we bought last night I wanted to have something more appropriate. While I wasn't conversant with the latest trends in fashion footwear, my mother had always maintained that a pair of sensible black flats' were a shoe she could wear with just about anything. Funny how much I've been thinking of my mother since this started; I guess the way she did things would be a guide in the way I would to do things as a woman.

There wasn't much choice in the women's size 10 area. Only to be expected, it was a large size for most women. Fortunately there were a couple of black flats among the sneakers and slippers. I took a quick look around and didn't see anyone, so I slipped off my moccasin and tried one of them on. Lousy arch support, but it fit well enough so they went into the cart with my pantyhose.

On the way to the drug department I realized I should probably get another package of panties. If I was going to be wearing them regularly I didn't want to have to be washing them every few days. Once again, there were a multitude of colors to choose from. My first ones were utilitarian white, but I figured that if I was going to be wearing colored bras I should have colored panties. The problem was they came in six packs, so why did they have to have a couple of ugly ones in there with the cute ones. I guess that was how their marketing department got rid of the dogs. And how come the ones I really liked were available only in size 5?

"Hi, Professor Tucker!"

Hey wow! I just found out how to work up a little guilt! Just stand there with a package of women's panties in your hand while one of your students comes up behind you.

"Hi, Patty."

"I never expected to find you here."

"And I expected you to be home hitting the books."

"Aww, c'mon Prof. Gimme a break." See why English Professors despair of the language? "You got a girlfriend you're getting those for?"

"Why Patty! If I were to ask you questions about your underwear they'd haul me up in front of the Faculty Senate for sexual harassment. You wouldn't want that to happen, would you?"

"Hey Prof, you never can tell. You might learn a thing or two if I was inna right mood. Don't wanna talk about your girlfriend, huh?"

"Girlfriend? They're for me. I'm planning to spend the day wearing a dress and exploring my feminine nature."

"Jeez, Prof. You don't have to go, like, all sarcastic, huh?"

"Why is it that students never believe anything I say — in or out of class?"

"Experience, Prof. Experience. And I like bikini cut panties like these, if you want to know." She took a package off the rack and put them in her cart. "See you on Monday."

She went on her way, a big grin on her face. Well, I was smiling too. Sometimes the best way to tell a lie is to tell the absolute truth — badly.

I managed to make it through the makeup department without meeting another student and soon had the makeup basics from the list I had compiled on the Internet. You could Google just about anything these days and get a cogent answer!

Since it was still early, I went across the street to the Aldi's and stocked up on veggies and such. By the time I had finished my errands I was getting antsy to get home so I could shave my legs.

That sounds silly, doesn't it? The funny thing is it seemed like an adventure to me. Since I had seen Stephanie's Venus razor when I showered in her bathroom, I bought one of my own. Then I bought a regular Gillette for my face. I use an electric, but from my wanderings on the web I realized that I would have to shave much more closely than I usually did. I just hope I remembered how to use a blade without slicing up my face, it had been a long time.

The hair remover stunk to high heavens. It might been a pretty pink bottle with perfume in it, but it was liquid lye and there's no way to cover the smell. I don't have a particularly hairy body, but the red curls on my legs just weren't too feminine. As I slathered the stuff on I realized I had no idea how far I should go. The directions on the bottle were no help; the only thing I was sure of is I didn't want the stuff too near my more delicate organs.

That brought back a memory I had mercifully suppressed for many years. In my misspent youth a girlfriend and I had done something very stupid. We had been watching a porn flick and all the woman had been shaved hairless so the camera could get a real good view of their pubes. Back in the apartment we decided to see what it was like to be shaved clean in the crotch, so we lathered ourselves up and had a lot of fun shaving patterns in each other before we finished the job.

Making love was mildly more interesting with our newly shaved bodies, but it really wasn't all that different. The problem came the next weekend; it was like making love to a porcupine! Thousands of tiny needles stabbing our crotches every time I thrust. I realized, then, why the Kama Sutra had all those shallow positions. They must have shaved a week before and were being damn careful!

The timer went off and I rinsed the goop off my legs and stayed in the tub for a long, hot shower. The mirror showed me a pair of legs that weren't too shabby for a guy.

Freshly shorn I tried on my new panties and pantyhose, then picked out an outfit to wear. I won't say anything more than I tried to use the makeup by myself — some things are too painful to remember. I was going to need Stephanie's help to come out presentable. I simply avoided mirrors like a vampire and enjoyed my first day learning to be a woman. All in all, it was pretty nice!

---

Just like it had for the last few days, my cell phone rang at 11:15PM.

"Hello, my Mistress."

"Kate? Is that you?"

"Yes, my Mistress."

"Stop with the Mistress crap! Are you out of your mind?"

"Considering how we're planning to spend the tomorrow that is a distinct possibility

"Kate, please don't call me that ever again. I know you're making a joke but it really bothers me." Her tone was serious. I seemed to have hit a nerve.

"Never again. From now on whatever happens between us is by mutual consent and desire. Deal?"

"You're going to make me cry again, Kate. Deal."

"You know what, Steph?"

"I hesitate to ask, but — What?"

"I just found out we're going about this crossdressing business the wrong way."

"I didn't know there was a right way. Did I miss the instruction manual or something?"

"The instructions are all online. I've been on the net the last couple of nights trying to learn a little bit about it. From what I see the proper way to do this is for you to force me into a cheerleader's costume or make me look like a whore, then drag me around by a silver chain and humiliate me in public. When we went shopping tonight you were supposed to make it clear to everybody in the store that you were getting those clothes for me, maybe even make me try on something sexy so they all could see me do it while I abjectly cringed and simpered, a slave to your demands."

"That's sick! I'm going to have to show you how to set the filters on your browser. There is no way I would ever humiliate you, Kate. Not ever."

"I know that, Steph, but you wouldn't believe the crap that I found out there.

"Hey — I own a computer, too. I believe it!"

"It certainly was enlightening. I almost feel like I'm missing out on something. The way they describe every minute step in forcing a man to look like a woman is absolutely incredible. My friends in the psych department at the college would have a field day with the stuff I found."

"They really write about being forced to dress up a women? Guilt avoidance, pure and simple. They damn well want to get dressed up and won't take responsibility for their own actions. I sure don't need any more of that crap in my life."

"Well, you won't get it from me, I'm in this voluntarily. Then there's the other extreme - the guys out there who claim they were insanely ecstatic from the first second they put on a pair of panties. Half of them seem to have cum before the elastic settled, then turned themselves into beautiful women and gone out to a bar and screwed anyone who stood still long enough, man or woman or somewhere in-between."

"What about the other half? I don't think I want to know any details about the others, thank you."

"Oh — those are the sane ones who have a good time dressing up like women and have real relationships with their wives and girlfriends. Not all of them are lucky enough to have a woman in their lives who understands them, but some of them do. I found the right discussion board after we got home tonight; this crossdressing thing has a nice side to it. I was starting to wonder for a while."

"Then why did you come shopping with me if all you found was so... so unhealthy..."

"Because you wanted me to go and with you there is no way you would turn our friendship into something sick. I trust you, Stephanie."

"Kate I... You're so kind I..."

"That's what girlfriends are for. I like being your girlfriend, I really do. If you want to know, I knew the porn stuff couldn't be all there was to crossdressing because of how I've felt this last week. I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with you last weekend. I don't want you to take this the wrong way, Stephanie, but I can and do appreciate you as a man appreciates a woman and I'll admit to my girlfriend I did have thoughts about getting you into bed with me. I still do when I'm not thinking of you as my girlfriend."

"But that's just it. Being your girlfriend is a lot more important to me than getting you in bed. I treasure your trust and friendship, I've never had anything like it before in my life. Wearing your robe was the first step away from confining our relationship to the 'me Man — you Woman' crap that too many men and women have. When you gave me your panties and bra it seemed to be a gift of your spirit, something intimate between souls, not a come-on from a woman to a man. Wearing your panties wasn't sexual at all, it was comforting and reminded me of the pleasure your company brings me."

"I like getting to know you without all the baggage of the man-woman thing. When you call me Kate I don't have to worry about what Steve would think or do, I can explore just how Kate and Stephanie are going to do things. It's all new. I want you to teach me how to be your girlfriend, how to be a whole person who treasures friendship for the closeness it can bring. The clothes are part of the learning, a way to break free from the way I always did things before."

"I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't care what anybody else thinks or what drives any other man to wear women's clothes. I don't care what anyone but you thinks about me wearing women's clothes. I'm not going to start a campaign to get any other man to wear a bra but I kind of like the feeling, even if I've only been wearing one for a couple of hours."

"You're going to make me cry, Kate."

"Then you can teach me how to cry. I haven't had much practice."

"Count your blessings, I've had far more practice than I need. But this kind of crying is the happy kind. That can be the hardest kind to learn."

"We can teach each other. What else did we go into education for?"

"Sure wasn't the money."

"Speaking of education, are we on for my class in femininity 101 tomorrow?"

"If you are still willing."

"You aren't getting cold feet, are you?"

"Not cold feet, but sometimes the things I start impulsively spin out of control."

"You don't say! The whole idea is crazy but fascinating. I suspect there's a lot more to it than just putting on the clothes."

"I can hardly wait to see you try to put on a pair of pantyhose. I'm looking forward to seeing that."

"Good thing I realized that earlier today and went out to get some."

"Without me? My, you're a brave one! I bet you've never shaved your legs before."

"I'll not be takin' that bet, me sweet Colleen, or I'd be losin' all me faery gold from the pot at the end of the Rainbow. That would fair piss off the leprechaun I stole it from, it would. A little pink bottle of scented lye and my legs are as smooth and hairless as a baby's bottom."

"I can never tell when you're bullshitting me, girlfriend?"

"I thought it was horse shit that started this whole thing."

"Make that friendshit — uh — ship."

"That it shall be, girlfriend. Anyway, the whole bit about shaving your legs seems to be part of the ritual whenever someone starts to crossdress. I even took a bubble bath and I'm wearing my new nightgown."

"You're really wearing that nightgown?"

"And the pretty blue lace bra."

"Under a nightgown?" she sounded incredulous. "You aren't going to wear it in bed, are you?"

"Well, if I'm going to be a woman for the weekend I may as well get a head start."

"Kate, women take OFF their bras when they go to bed."

"I realize that, but without a bra I sort of loose definition as a woman."

I didn't mention the special foam breast forms I had ordered along with my silicone ones. I could sleep with the foam ones in place and not worry about the leakage the silicone ones warned me about.

"Then I guess it's up to me to mold you into the proper form."

"Just like in those stories. I'm putty in your hands. There is one thing I need to ask, though."

"And what is that?"

"I'm going to need a lot of help learning how to use makeup. I tried this afternoon and failed miserably."

"You poor thing! Didn't your momma show you how to do it?"

"My momma would be spinning in her grave if she could see me now."

"Didn't they close her eyes before they put her in?"

"Put coins on 'em too. You know what I mean!"

"I just wish I could see you now."

"Come on over. I'll unlock the door."

"I'm in my pajamas."

"All the better!"

"That didn't sound like a girlfriend speaking."

"Oops. I'm still new at this girlfriend thing. Some reactions are automatic, like thinking of you in a nightgown."

"I hate to disappoint you, but they're flannel pajamas."

"If you're in them I won't be disappointed."

"Go to sleep, you crazy person. It's getting late."

"Right. See you tomorrow, girlfriend."

But I didn't go to sleep, I cruised the net until two in the morning. I had a lot to learn!

---

Sunday morning I nervously spread shaving gel over my face and shaved as closely as I could without cutting myself. I have never been able to raise more than a feeble Charlie Chaplin moustache and my beard isn't all that thick. It comes in like the chin whiskers on Hallmark Leprechauns, with not much on the cheeks or neck. I wasn't going to be as lucky as the heroes (heroines?) of the crossdressing stories I stayed up all night reading, but I didn't look too bad when I was done.

I wondered what we would do with my hair. A college professor is almost expected to be a bit quirky, so I wore my hair a bit longer than most men but shorter than most women. I didn't do much more than brush it into place once in a while, so I hoped Stephanie could style it into something more appropriate for a girlfriend. I didn't really like the idea of a wig, with my luck the thing would fall off at the worst possible moment.

Was I being a sexist by assuming that Stephanie was a competent hair stylist just because she was a woman? She wore her hair well below her shoulders, I liked the way it hung and swayed as she moved her head. Very attractive. Well, that would wait until she got here, which should be any minute now.

Should I get dressed first? Stephanie had said she wanted to be with me to show me how to do things properly. Then again, I didn't want to push things too far or too fast in the intimacy department. I finally decided to put on my bra and panties under my normal Steve clothes. I left the forms in the suitcase, somehow Steve with boobs wasn't where I wanted to go.

I spent the time until Stephanie was ready restlessly wandering the house marveling at how sensual it felt to have hairless legs. I had forgotten that feeling from my long ago shaving adventure, but it came back to me now. How could I have forgotten something so pleasurable? Eventually I heard the crunch of tires in Steph's driveway. I picked up the suitcase, locked the door and went over to greet her. Her smile was bright as I rounded the old barn. I set the suitcase down and gave her an easy hug.

"Ready to see what you look like, girlfriend?"

I'm bathed, shaved and ready to discover whatever it is we're about to discover."

"Then come on in and get dressed." She headed for the house, key in hand. "Just put your stuff on the bed for now." She said as we entered what was obviously her bedroom. A very comfortable space, bright wallpaper, wonderful old cherry wood furniture and photographs on the walls. There were several of two very cute children, running from baby to about three years old. In one corner was a laundry basket with the toe of a pair of pantyhose hanging over the side; clothes and towels were piled here and there. Not messy, just lived in by someone who didn't have to worry about anyone else.

"You're OK with me in your bedroom?

"We're girlfriends and we're going to have a wonderful time together. No hiding anything, OK?"

"I'll try. I can't say how much I appreciate your trust, Stephanie. I'll try to be worthy of it."

"And I'll try to keep my part of the bargain, too. There are things that don't come too easily for me, that's part of why I want to do this. I wouldn't have invited you if I didn't know you were someone I could trust, Kate. Now, let's see what the real Kate looks like." She started unbuttoning her blouse. "Just girlfriends, right?" she said as the blouse hit the laundry basket.

"Right." Oddly enough, it was all right. Steve would remember and appreciate this moment at the proper time, but Kate was the one in the room right now. I took off my shirt as well and folded it next to the suitcase. I averted my eyes while she skinned out of her slacks, then took off my own. I was interrupted by a girlish giggle.

"Kate, you're awful cute like that, but you're awful flat, too. We have to do something about it."

"Already taken care of, girlfriend." I opened the suitcase and slipped the breast forms into my bra. "Better?"

"Where the devil did you get those things?"

"Over the Internet, of course. I told you I was learning how to do this the right way."

"But... Those things cost a fortune. The good ones, anyway"

"They were less than I spent on my new wardrobe. I suppose we'll have to get enough use out of them to justify the cost."

"You have a way of knowing just what to say, don't you, Kate. I swear you were born with a woman's soul."

"I don't know about that, I never put much thought into being a man, but I think I could be comfortable as a woman. That's part of the reason I wanted to do this with you — to find out."

"That's an odd thing to say." She paused. "Listen to me! Here we are in our underwear together and I'm talking about odd! So be it and the hell with the rest of it!" With a devilish grin on her face she poked me in the breast form. "They feel real!"

"I should hope so. You said you wanted to see me put on pantyhose. Just let me visit the facilities and you'll get your chance."

"You know where they are."

"So I do, but I won't need a bathrobe this time."

I did what I had to do and returned to the bedroom. Stephanie was holding two dresses in her hands.

"Which one for dinner tonight, Kate? I haven't gotten dressed up in ages! This is going to be fun!"

"The one with the high neckline. I don't want to be distracted tonight."

"What a polite way to put it. I don't think I'm much of a distraction these days."

"You were in that tank top, or at least that's what Steve told me. I am resolutely ignoring what Steve would think of you in your underwear. Remember, we were going to be honest with each other this weekend?"

"If you say so. Sometime I might believe it." She hung up the low cut dress as I sat on the bed.

"Here's my first question, what color pantyhose do I wear with this dress?"

"What color did you buy?"

"I got three of them. I wasn't sure. Here, take a look."

"You got three different three-packs? God, you have more pantyhose than I do."

"Well, I didn't know any better. I'm new at this."

"The lighter ones would do just fine. You have nice legs, Kate."

"That's good to know." I opened the package and took out a pair.

"Roll up one leg on your arm and then put it on. The trick is to make sure you get the other leg on the right way or you'll end up all twisted."

"There are some that would say this whole affair is twisted."

"We're not having an affair, Kate."

"Neither of us are married, so by definition we couldn't have an affair."

"Semantics. My husband didn't think having an affair or twelve meant much, either."

"I didn't know you had been married, Stephanie."

"It was long ago but still too damn close."

"Those pictures of the children?" I left an open space for her.

"I'll tell you abut them later. It's a long story"

"Whenever you're ready."

"You're a gem, Kate. You also seem to have an instinct for pantyhose." She said, changing the subject.

"I practiced yesterday, but it's just the opposite of taking them off. I've done that before."

"So have I, but I don't think we're talking about the same thing, are we?" I settled the waistband in place.

"I'd have to consult Steve, but he's not here right now."

"Smartass. What are we going to do with your hair?"

"I've been wondering that myself. Nothing permanent, but other than that I don't know. Know a good hairdresser that won't get upset by a man in a dress?"

"As a matter of fact I do. How do you think I supported myself when I went through college?"

"I'll bite. How did you support yourself when you went through college?"

"Funny you should ask. I worked in a hair salon."

"How convenient. So what would you do with my hair?"

"Don't get any ideas, this is professional curiosity" she said as she ran her fingers through my hair. Professional or not if felt damn nice! "Plenty of body, especially for a redhead. Your hair's long enough it has possibilities. I think a little curl and shaping would bring out the more feminine side of your face. Too bad I don't have a fall the right color. Put your dress on and I'll see what I can do."

"You know, before I came here I was calling myself a sexist for thinking just because you're a woman you would know what to do with my hair. Am I still a sexist even if I was right?"

"I don't think a real sexist would be my girlfriend. Does that answer your question?"

"I guess so."

"Good. Would you zip me up?" she asked as she turned her back to me.

"What about makeup? That seems to be another of those rituals needed for any crossdresser."

"A very good question. I'm not into makeup very much. Lipstick, occasionally some mascara, but that's about it. I painted my face like a clown when I was a teenager and my ex practically demanded it, but I gave up on that shit when I got divorced." There was a fire in her eyes that I hadn't seen before. "These days the world can see me as I am and the hell with them if they don't like what they see. Besides, it drives my mother nuts. She grew up with a load of 'proper lady' crap in her head."

"Good for you. I do think I'm going to need more help, given my natural disadvantages."

"Fine by me, girlfriend. I suspect that I'm going to need to start using more makeup if we want to go out together."

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves. It will take a long time before I'm capable of going out in public." I put my feet into my new shoes.

"Let's do something with your hair. I still have some old hot rollers we can use, that won't be permanent. Too bad you don't have pierced ears, some earrings would help."

"Let's not go too far, girlfriend. This is only our first date."

"What's the matter, the thought of being penetrated scare you? Oops, I shouldn't have said that. It was nasty."

I had to laugh. "Pointed, though."

"Smartass!" This time she accompanied her remark with a swat to my ass. "Come in the kitchen where you can sit and I'll work magic with your hair."

So I sat at the kitchen table and let her fuss with my hair. This was something I had never experienced before, having someone fuss over me while I just sat back and enjoyed it. Going to the barber was a pale shadow of having your hair "done". A few clips, a buzz on the neck and you're done.

I slowly dropped into a pleasant fog as she brushed my hair while the rollers heated. She spritzed it with something with a floral smell, pulled it this way and that while examining how it looked, then finally began rolling up my hair in little rollers. I came out of my fog because she started pulling on my hair and it hurt. Not too bad, but enough to notice. When she started plucking my eyebrows I definitely noticed.

"Do they teach torture in beauty school?" I gasped.

"Sure, we get more answers than the CIA and the FBI combined. People will tell their hairdressers anything and everything. Now sit still, I won't take off so much that anyone will notice, but you'd be amazed at what a little shaping can do." She hauled out another hair with what felt like a blacksmith's tongs. Maybe I'm overreacting, but I didn't think beauty should hurt!

"There, you're done. Let's make dinner and we can take the rollers out after we're done. You want to chop up a salad?"

So we put supper together. I gradually forgot about the rollers on my head as other new sensations replaced them. The most interesting was how the hem of my dress felt as it brushed my legs. Even through the pantyhose it was a very sensual feeling, if nothing else this little adventure was making me appreciate how many pleasures a body could provide.

Then there was getting used to having breasts. I had put them in to my bra the night before, but all I did was sit at the computer. Moving around and doing things, like chopping vegetables or reaching for something off a high shelf was a very interesting experience. I was slightly out of balance but adjusted quickly. It didn't take long to decide that I liked the feeling of a bra around my chest and the tug of the straps on my shoulders. I really don't know why, but it felt very nice.

Even though I had read the glowing descriptions of crossdressing on the web with some skepticism, I was finding they were uncannily accurate. I liked the way I felt. No doubt about it and I never once felt my manhood threatened. Not that macho has ever been too important to me, but I was truly enjoying this trip into the other side of the gender gap.

Another interesting part of the experience was the easy conversation between us. Nothing meaningful, just slightly playful and unforced. Without the usual need to try to present myself as a desirable man I was able to let go of something I hadn't realized I was holding. I won't say I wasn't aware of Stephanie as a desirable woman, but it didn't matter right then. The wall of sex and its ramifications was missing and that was a very pleasant experience.

Just before dinner was ready to serve she removed the rollers from my hair and brushed it out.

"Sit down here and I'll give you a quick makeup lesson."

I sat. Explaining what she was doing, she applied foundation and followed it with a touch of blush. There were other subtle tricks that I could bore you with, but by the time she had finished I was sure that her disparaging comments about her makeup skills were unjustified. I was going to have to learn this myself. It didn't seem too hard, but it would require a good deal of practice!

I took a look at myself in the mirror and was properly amazed. No, there wasn't a beautiful woman returning my gaze. Stephanie had left the hair on the top of my head almost untouched, but now my hair curled and surrounded the sides of my head. hiding my ears and softening my too-square jaw line. My beard shadow was gone. I would probably given the woman in the mirror a second look if I passed her on the street, but not because of thinking she was a man. I wasn't going to be getting a call from Christie Hefner any time soon, but the AKC Gazette wouldn't be asking for an interview, either.

The cut of the dress minimized my lack of hips. I had been right to be modest with my bustline, big boobs and small hips would have been unsightly. This look was more balanced. I had to do it, I spun so the hem of my dress flared out and I liked the look!

"I never would have thought I'd like looking like this, Steph. It works, it really does! Well, at least it will if I learn to use a little makeup. How did you know?"

"Feminine intuition." she replied with a grin. "Really Kate, I don't think I even thought about if it would 'work'. It's just that after last weekend I felt closer to you than anyone I've known in a long, long time. When you hit me with that line about wanting a bra and panties when Mom was here I suddenly had this vision of you as a girlfriend. Did I shock you when I put my bra with your clothes?"

"Not shock, I laughed my ass off. The idea you would take me up on such an outrageous suggestion was a great joke. I knew you were someone I wanted to get to know better but sharing such a peculiar sense of humor is a rare gift. I don't doubt that you've noticed that not everyone can appreciate such things."

"Tell me about it! My first principal never could get it. I had to be very careful in the faculty room or he would have fired me. I get it from my dad, he thought that smashing social barriers was a riot. The practical jokes he pulled when I was a kid have warped me for life."

"My dad was the joker in my family, too." I replied. "Mom tolerated it most of the time but she was born without the gene for satire. She never could figure out Doonsbury or Bloom County."

"I love Opus. It's so sad the paper doesn't have him any more."

"Too radical, I guess. I have all the old collections, we'll have to sit down and read them sometime."

"Now. I can't wait. Go over and get them while I start a fire. Can you think of a better way to spend the evening?"

"Careful, open questions like that could shatter the girlfriend image...."

"Pshaw! Go get the books!" she commanded.

"Pshaw? How quaint. I've never heard anyone actually use that word outside an English class."

"Yeah, just like nobody does his plays any more."

"My Fair Lady, I have a book to fetch."

I went out the door. I was two steps off the porch when I realized I was outside and wearing women's clothes. I guess I should have been scared, but it felt great. The skirt caressed my legs as I walked, I felt the breast forms move slightly as my weight shifted, my curly hair brushed my face. What a feeling! Nobody was going to be able to see me, nothing to be worried about, just enjoy this new freedom!

I gathered the books from my shelves and pressed them to my breasts as I walked, visions of some girl hugging her schoolwork as she left the library in my mind. I hurried back to the main house, it was still chilly out here and I hadn't thought to bring my jacket when I left. Other things on my mind.

So with the fire just starting to crackle we sat next to each other on the sofa and read our way through some old Doonsbury strips, then moved on to Bloom County. We laughed all the more uproariously when we hit the occasional crossdressed Bill The Cat panels.

As we closed the book we became aware of how close we were. Our eyes met.

"Feels good, eh?" Not witty repartee on my part, but it would do.

"Yes. Very good. I miss being close to someone else."

"Mmmm..." I invited her to go on.

"I haven't just enjoyed being close to anyone since the divorce. It's either been sex and goodbye or distant acquaintance. Sex out of desperation is lousy sex, it just wasn't worth it."

"I'd come to that conclusion, myself. I think that any two people who are willing to take some time and find out what pleases the other, who are willing to put their partner's pleasure ahead of their own, can have a good time in bed. Sadly, our culture is so screwed up about sex that almost never happens. Too much baggage in the way, too much pressure, too many false expectations. And too damn much Macho. But sometimes you can get past all that. When two people fall in love, sex is no longer just mutual fun, it becomes something else. Sex when you're in love is the most beautiful thing I can imagine."

"That's a beautiful thought, Kate. I thought I was in love once, but it didn't work out."

"Yes?"

"I was 18 when I thought I was in love. He was an exchange student from Iran; handsome, exotic, a voice like a God. We were in the same classes together and we got along. We started dating, then I moved in with him and it was so romantic. None of this starving student in a garret stuff, he came from money and my family isn't exactly poor, either. He was going to be a doctor, I became a teacher."

"We got married when we graduated, much against the wishes of both families. I thought my mother was crazy not to love him, no way I would listen to her. I knew better, I was in love. I thought he was, too. Well, maybe he was in love, but it wasn't with me. He was in love with the idea of an American Wife in the sack but he wanted to keep on being a Sheik of the Desert with the little woman trailing one step behind in public. Culture clash. Hell, culture collision. A fifty car pileup on the expressway!"

"He loved having a liberated woman in bed but in public he wanted a quiet woman who walked one step behind him and never contradicted him. It got worse when we were married, no need to pretend any more, he had me tied up. It got even worse when I got pregnant. He had no time for the kids with Med School and only enough time for me to get me pregnant again. "

"Even when he treated me like dirt I didn't get the message. Divorce was failure. I signed up for 'Till Death Do We Part' and I wasn't going to let go. Mom and Dad tried to talk to me, but I wasn't hearing anything bad about him. I closed my ears and eyes and knew if I only loved him enough it would be a real marriage again."

"Then I came home and found him in our bed with some blonde. She was sucking him off and he was being quiet about it so I was in the room before any of us knew what was happening. Instead of being embarrassed at being caught he ordered me out of the room and told her to keep going."

"Keep going! I grabbed the kids and got out of there, left everything behind."

"Mom and dad were wonderful, they didn't rub it in or try to make me feel bad; just took me in and called the lawyers. It took forever for the divorce to be final. He fought everything I wanted just to show me who was boss. The damn judge went along and even granted unsupervised visits despite my lawyer raising holy hell. He was as dashing in court as he was when I met him, no one believed he could do what I said he did."

"He didn't give a damn about Yasmin or Tariq, but he got visitation just to screw me over. The first visit he kidnapped them and took them to Iran and I haven't seen them since. The oldest was five at the time. Our government wouldn't do squat and the Iranians did even less, women don't count for much in their culture. They wouldn't recognize the court orders or the kidnapping charge. I haven't seen my children in fifteen years. I'll never see them again."

What could I say? Not a damn thing that would do any good. All I could do was hug her and try to let her know I cared. As Steve I might have spoken, tried to reassure her, but I was Kate to the very core of my being right then. I instinctively knew words were out of place. Just presence, touching, caring, love; these were what want were needed. All thoughts of how I was or was not dressed were irrelevant, Stephanie was the whole of my world and she needed me there with her. I gave her my full attention, slowly stroking her back as she clung to me.

She wept a little, but not as much as I would have thought. The hurt was fifteen years old, she must have cried herself out long ago, but the hurt would never heal while she was alive. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to have your children taken. I had no children; I was an only child, no nieces, no nephews. I thought I had been alone during my life, but Stephanie showed me that there was always someone who knew a worse pain, had a deeper sorrow.

I continued to hold her until she was again able to speak.

"I went a little crazy. No, I went completely crazy. I left Mom and Dad and took off across the country. I had money, the divorce lawyer was at least that good, but that was all I had. I screwed any man who wanted me, trying to prove to myself I was worth something. It didn't work. Thank God it was before AIDS, the worst I got was a case of the crabs."

"The crabs probably saved my life. I was in San Juan and landed in a charity clinic run by the Sisters of Mercy. They knew better than I did that the crabs wasn't all that was wrong with me. I don't believe in their God but they didn't care. They believed in me and somehow brought me back to reality. I ended up helping in their day care center when they found out I was a teacher. Being with the children was what brought me back. It took a long time and a lot of support to realize that I needed to define myself and not let someone else do it for me. Living with all those women was what I needed."

"Then Dad died and I came home to be with Mom. It had been years, but she still loved me and I still needed her. With Dad gone she wasn't going to run the farm alone and none of us kids had the love of the land needed to continue farming. So we rent out the land and Mom has a place in the Village and I keep the old homestead in the family. I know it's crazy for only one woman to live in this big old place, but none of us want to let it go."

"Now I know why I held on. I wouldn't have met you if we had given up on the place. The Sisters told me I would find a place in the world and someone to share it with but I didn't believe it. Up until I met you I didn't believe them. I hope I'm not pushing too hard, Kate, but I haven't felt this comfortable with anyone in a very long time."

The sun had set by then, leaving us bathed in the dying glow of the fire. Peace surrounded us as we held each other close.

"It's been a long time since I have been close to anyone, too." I told her. "I'll tell you about it sometime soon, but I don't want it to seem like I'm trying to top your story. Tonight is your night and I want to be here just for you. I liked you a lot when I first met you, but I wasn't going to mess with the landlady. The more I got to know you the better I liked you and last weekend was the most fun I've had in ages. You knocked me out of a rut I didn't even know I was in."

I looked down at my chest. "See. No more ruts — now I got bumps!" She giggled and poked my breast again. "I'm beginning to see why women are so annoyed with men. I've only had breasts a few hours and you've poked them twice. Do you do that to all your girlfriends?"

"Not usually, but now you mention it there was one time in 'Frisco where I had an interesting time with a lesbian." From the look on her face the memory wasn't unpleasant.

"Did you now? And I'll be thankin' ye to remember that, despite appearances, a lesbian relationship 'twould be somewhat of a gamble, darlin' girl."

"Any relationship is a gamble, Kate. I'll let you know if I want to go to the casino. If I do, you'll be the one I invite along."

"And I'll be acceptin' you're offer. Remember that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Me Faery gold has about run out but perhaps we can find a new supply."

"Perhaps. You're a good listener, Kate."

"And you're a good talker and a fine companion in the silence, as well."

I didn't sleep too soundly that night and wearing a nightgown was not the only reason. My bed was very lonely.

---

My students must have thought I was out of my mind on Monday. I was completely distracted, my mind wandering to Valentines Dinner with Stephanie. Somehow I made it to 3:00 when my last class ground to a halt and was home by 3:12, dropping my clothes on the way to the bathroom so I could become Kate and get ready for the evening.

Of course, Kate was appalled by the mess Steve left behind him once she emerged from the bedroom. Somewhere deep in my brain I was wondering about my multiple personalities, but Kate was just too excited to be back to care much about psychology.

I was thinking of my mother again. In the years since her death I still occasionally thought of her when something brought her to mind, but since I started actively exploring femininity she had been in my thoughts quite often. No surprise, I suppose. Who has more influence on a man's concept of what is feminine than his mother?

She had died far too early. She hadn't even made 60. She survived breast cancer only to find a nasty pneumonia waiting to carry her off. Dad was ten years older than she was. His death certificate read heart failure, but 'broken heart' would have been more accurate. Without her he just gave up on living.

In my more maudlin moods I had wondered why I couldn't seem to find a love like my parents had. I had known passion in my life, but never that enduring love I grew up with. For that matter, there was nothing in my life I could call enduring. There wasn't anything wrong, but there wasn't anything really right, either.

At least until recently. For the first time in my life I was putting friendship ahead of sex in a romantic situation. Sure I was interested in Stephanie as a bedmate, but the urgency that usually accompanied those feelings wasn't present this time.

Was it the whole 'Kate' business? Maybe, but how could I tell from the inside of my brain? I had started to think of Kate as a separate person from Steve. Even before putting on the clothes I seemed to be developing a slightly different personality when I was thinking like Stephanie's girlfriend. Seeing myself in the mirror looking like a woman yesterday seemed to have crystallized the Kate personality and made it real.

Real enough that I couldn't wait to get home after class so I could leave Steve behind and become Kate. How much was it the clothes and how much the closeness with Stephanie? Hell, I teach English, not math. No way I was going to try to assign a percentage. All I knew was that ever since Kate became real in my head a void in my life had been filled. A void I hadn't even known existed!

Which brought me back to my mother. Ignoring the virtual certainty she would not approve of her son dressing like a woman and loving it, her serene example of how a woman should behave and appear set an example for me in my pursuit of femininity. No, I wasn't about to imitate her taste in clothing, a real generation gap existed there, but her attitude, style and carriage were timeless; if I could learn to carry myself like she did I would be a very lucky man. Woman. Whatever.

Thinking about my mother also brought to mind a family tradition I had ignored for many years. When I was a kid Mom would create holiday dinners with foods that matched the day. Green on St. Patrick's Day, pink on Valentines, orange and black at Halloween, red and green for Christmas. As I prepared dinner I tried to channel my mother while preparing a healthier version of the comfort food of my youth.

Start with a salad heavy on the red cabbage, tomato and red peppers. French dressing, of course. The main course would be meatloaf, smothered in undiluted tomato soup just the way Mom made it. Listen — if you ain't tried it don't knock it! It's delicious and you're getting close to insulting my mother if you think otherwise!

Pink mashed potatoes, courtesy of a dribble of red food color, accompanied by beets with feta cheese and walnuts and cherry Jell-O for dessert.

As I started to mix the meatloaf I discovered a flaw in my plan. Steve had no need to worry about messing up his clothes, Kate was not about to let her new blouse get stained by egg coated ground beef. The simple answer was an apron, but I didn't have one. Feeling rather stupid I found one of Steve's (damn — I'm doing it again with the multiple personalities!) flannel shirts and used it as protection.

This practical solution grated, however. It was hard to let myself become Kate wearing Steve's shirt, necessary or not. Tonight was a special one for us as girlfriends, I didn't want to be halfway between Steve and Kate. Then I remembered the flowered apron in the potting shed. As I headed across the lawn I prayed that Steph had washed it like she said she would. It wouldn't do much good for protecting my clothes if it was still imbued with dirt.

Bless the woman, it was clean! As I headed back home Steph pulled into the driveway.

"Hi girlfriend! You look lovely tonight."

"And I intend to stay that way. I came over to borrow your apron so I can cook with my usual carefree abandon and not wear dinner."

"Don't take this the wrong way, but you were stalking across the yard like a linebacker. Try to think elflike and delicate as you walk."

"What, I'm not perfect after one day of your esteemed tutelage?"

"Perfection is an elusive goal. I prefer my girlfriends comfortable and contented."

"Being on a former dairy farm, that word contented brings images of Elsie the cow to my mind."

"Forget the cows. Think comfortable evenings by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa."

"A splendid plan, girlfriend. Were you planning to slip into something more comfortable or were you planning to wear your teacher suit to dinner?"

"I'm not about to let you out-dress me after only one day. I'll be over as soon as I change."

I returned to the cottage and threw Steve's shirt in the wash, having managed to land a nice glob of meatloaf on it as I worked. I was slicing the beets when I heard the door open and a few seconds later I felt an arm around my waist.

"What have we here, Kate?"

I managed to stifle a comment about her spontaneous embrace and mildly replied "sliced beets with feta and walnuts. You are about to experience a modern version of my mother's valentine dinner. Comfort food at its best."

"I could use a bit comforting. The little hellions were as active as a volcano today."

"Do they still do nap time in the second grade? Maybe a three hour nap would calm them down."

"How I wish. How many seven year olds are willing to take a nap?"

"I'll bite. How many seven year…. Ouch!"

"That was not the setup line for a joke. It was a rhetorical question; the obvious answer is: zero, zip, nada!"

"I was musing earlier how happy I was to be teaching English instead of math. Besides, my experience with seven year olds is nil. See — some mathematical concepts are within my grasp."

Taking a chance, I turned and embraced Stephanie. If you ignore the odd feeling of my false breasts pressing against her real ones, it was a pleasant experience.

"Mmmm. I see you have some grasp of how to comfort a girlfriend."

"I should hope so. Was your day that bad?"

"Probably no worse than usual, but my mind was elsewhere. The kids really know when the teacher is distracted and can come up with some amazing ways to take advantage."

"Would it help if I told you my college students must have thought their Prof was teaching Zulu instead of English?"

"You, too?"

"Me too! I feel like a teenager with a crush who hasn't the faintest idea what to do about it."

"Pretty sad when a couple of forty something professional educators are this messed up, isn't it."

"'Tis not sad at all, me pretty colleen. 'Tis a magical experience to find someone such as yourself and to find something new in meself all at the same time. 'Tis a mystery where the rainbow leads, but I'm thinkin' I may have found the pot-o-gold already."

Her arms tightened around me and she started to weep. Tears of joy or release, my newfound feminine perspective informed me. I just held on and let her cry.

"You…(sniff) pseudo-irish… (sniff) idjit! Are we both crazy to be doing this?"

"Crazy or not, we are indeed doing it and I am not inclined to stop. As comfortable as it is to be in your embrace, there's comfort food ready to be served and I would hate to serve you a dry meatloaf."

"Is that what I'm smelling?"

"My mother's special Valentine recipe. Sit down and prepare yourself for a treat."

We didn't say much for a while and afterward we found the fireplace in the cottage was in working order. This time we sat on the sofa close together and enjoyed being girlfriends.

"Stephanie?"

"Yes, Kate?"

"This has been one of the most wonderful evenings of my life. I don't want it to stop."

"I don't want it to stop , either, but I'm not ready to stay over quite yet."

"That's not where I was going. I want to learn how to make Kate a real person, not just a convenient fiction. Would you help me learn to be as good a girlfriend as I can possibly be?"

"Oh Kate!" Her arms were around me and even the unaccustomed feeling of my breasts meeting hers could not disguise how wonderful it felt.

"Is that a yes?"

"If that's what you really want."

"Next to you, I couldn't want anything more. The more I learn to think like Kate the more I seem to enjoy life. Tonight has made me sure that being Kate is something real and worth doing."

"I'll try to help, but there is something essentially good in Steve, we are going to have to be careful not to loose that goodness."

"I'm flattered. I think Kate will be an extension of the essence of Steve, but with more choices and possibilities."

Only the demands of tomorrow's classrooms made us part.

---

We spent time with each other over the next few weeks, but I had classes to teach and she had her own classes to see to. As the weather warmed I grew comfortable being in the yard as Kate, after all no one could see anything from the long driveway and it wasn't a well traveled road. We had our privacy.

The first couple of weeks were rough, I had no idea how much work my need to become Kate would entail. Putting on a dress is easy, putting on a feminine personality and mannerisms is much harder. A million little unconscious moves had to be unlearned and replaced with more feminine counterparts. Stephanie gently and firmly guided me through the process.

Each day I quickly put on Kate's clothes when I arrived home. Sometimes Stephanie was with me, sometimes she was not; after all we both had obligations and commitments to fulfill. Some nights it was more trouble than it was worth to dress up a Kate, so Steve and Stephanie shared supper. The relationship was subtly different at those times. Oh, we both knew I was the same person despite the clothes, but it still made a difference.

Stephanie had been hurt badly, but she certainly didn't hate men. It was more of an awareness that sex was a possibility with a man present, even if we had an unspoken agreement that it would not be part of our relationship for the present. It was easier for Stephanie to put this unexplored facet of our relationship aside with Kate. For that matter, when I was trying to be Kate I was far less distracted than I was being Steve.

Multiple Personalities, anyone?

As the spring break approached I eagerly anticipated being Kate full time and not having to change back and forth to earn a living. To make the break even better, Stephanie's school district had scheduled their break at the same time. I had waded through some truly creative English in my classes. I could hardly imagine what I would get if I were teaching a Creative Writing class — the students in a plain old literature class had an impressive streak of creativity, but most of it involving spelling and grammar, not plot and character.

Come to think of it, had anyone put the last few weeks of my life on paper for a creative writing class I would have had a hard time suspending my disbelief. Hell, I would have needed cables from the Golden Gate Bridge to hold my disbelief above the ground.

After a month of Stephanie gently correcting my behavior I grew more confident and poised when I was Kate. I was now competent at using a light coat of makeup to hide my masculinity and emphasize my femininity. Of all the facets of femininity, makeup was far and away my least favorite. Yes, I know the right makeup can produce spectacular results, but I never was all that impressed by artificial beauty. The women I tended to notice used very little enhancement outside of very special occasions, their beauty was internal. I was one of those fortunate men with a light beard, but I still had to hide it as Kate.

Tutelage on the Internet helped me modulate my voice and there came a time when I no longer had to consciously control my body language as Kate. Now the opposite was becoming true — I had to try to keep Kate out of Steve in public. I'm sure my colleagues noticed the changes, but no one got up the nerve to comment. Oddly enough, my newfound perspective actually helped me in the classroom. My lessons in femininity gave me new tools to work with my students.

A few days before the start of the break, we were sitting at Stephanie's kitchen table, still talking after finishing our meal. We were in the habit of trading the cooking each night and it was Steph's turn. We also collaborated on correcting our student's homework. Most of Kate's comments involved cute little stickers, so I was able to do a good deal to help her. We had developed the habit of reading papers together, which had the decided advantage of being able to snuggle close to each other."

"That's an interpretation I wouldn't have thought of." Steph mused.

"Yeah, most students go for the obvious sexual explanation. Kelly usually looks a little deeper than the others."

"Much like her teacher?"

"Her teacher is well aware of the sexual aspects of the situation. She is willing to look deeper so that when something sexual happens it will be worth the wait."

"My thoughts exactly. What do you want to do over the break?"

"Anything with you is fine with me. I'm looking foreword to letting Kate out for nine glorious days. If you are there that makes it even more glorious."

"Flatterer. "You certainly do jump into things with both feet, don't you Kate?"

"You've noticed."

"Sorry you started the whole thing?"

"Not a bit! I've a full blown case of New Toy Syndrome and the only cure is to let it run its course. My parents used to tell me that any time I got a new toy I would immediately forget about everything else in the toy box and play with the new one for days and days. I've always been like that; when I get interested in something I get almost obsessed, even as an adult. Now that Kate has come along I intend to do my best to make her genuine and really become Kate. Dr. Frankenstein, you have created a monster. Does that bother you?"

"Not really. I suppose most people would think the whole thing was insane or perverted, but Kate is a part of my life now. I suppose I'll have to go with you or spend the week without Kate."

"Is that such a trial?"

"I'm worried that the sexual aspects of the situation might be a trial for you."

"It is at times, but I have developed patience as well as a bustline."

"Could we share a room without any further invitation implied?"

"I think so. If it doesn't work I'll let you know."

"I'm very much aware of the sexual aspects of sharing a room, but I'm not ready to be more than your girlfriend quite yet."

"Then you don't have to worry. Kate and Steve both respect your wishes. When sex rears its head we'll only approach it by mutual consent."

"I knew you would say that or I wouldn't have brought it up. There's a lovely B&B down in the Corning area. We could see the Glass Center and some of the museums if we spent a couple of days there."

"And if Kate isn't real enough we are far enough from home it won't hurt us."

"Depends if you can stay out of jail."

"My thoughts are not actionable, my deeds will remain pure."

"Let's not go too far, girlfriend."



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