The early evening crowd bar at the George and Dragon was thinning out when the door opened and in walked one of the regulars.
“Hello Mike,” said the Barman.
“Hi Pete. The usual please and a double ‘Grouse’ please.”
Pete, the barman raised his eyebrows.
“I can tell that something is wrong. It has to be for you to order a chaser.”
Pete started pulling a pint of ‘Broadside’. That was Mike’s regular ale.
“Yeah. It’s Claire. She’s chucked me out and told me never to darken our house again.”
“Catch you in bed with someone else then?”
“No. Nothing a simple as that.”
“Spent too much on Pressies?”
“Pete, shut the fuck up and let me have drink ok?”
This was very unlike the Mike that Pete knew. They were old friends and had played for the same Sunday League Football team form several years until Mike picked up a knee injury the previous year.
Pete started to get worried about his friend so he arranged for one of the other staff to cover for him at the bar.
Mike had sat down at his regular table with his pint. Pete took the opportunity to take the chaser over to his friend personally.
“Here you go Mike. I don’t think you should be driving if you drink that on an empty stomach.”
“Pete, at the moment, I don’t care a toss. I am homeless and will probably spend tonight sleeping in my car.”
Mike let out a huge sigh.
“Even that has to go back on the 31st. We all got laid off last Friday.”
Mike worked for a local building company and their last big contract had come to an end so what with the recession things didn’t look too bright for him.
“Mike, you know that I’d let you stay at my place but Angie has her sister and their brood staying until the 28th.”
“It’s ok Pete. I’ll find something.”
“Why did you get thrown out?”
Mike didn’t answer. He was just toying with the remains of his pint of beer.
Pete sat still after making sure that Mike knew that he wasn’t going anywhere.
After a couple of minutes, Mike said,
“She caught me wearing one of her dresses.”
Pete tried hard but he couldn’t stop himself from letting out a little snigger.
“Sorry Mike. Lots of men do that. Sometimes, even Angie dresses me up in her underwear and we have great sex.”
“Pete, it was more than that. I was wearing makeup and everything.”
“Oh. I guess this is not the first time then?”
Reluctantly, Mike said,
“No it’s not.”
Pete knew he had to help his friend.
“Let me make a couple of calls. I think I may know of a place where you can crash for the time being. Is that ok?”
“Pete, if you do that I’ll even stop teasing you about your knobbly knees.”
Pete went back to the bar taking the chaser with him. He knew that if his calls panned out Mike would need to be able to drive his car.
Twenty minutes later Pete returned to the table where Mike was sitting with a now empty pint glass.
Pete handed Mike a slip of paper.
“Go to this address and you will be taken care of.”
Mike looked at it.
“This is that self-build development on the other side of town. What’s it called?”
“Broad Oak Fields.”
“Yes That’s it. I was thinking of going there after Christmas to see if there was any work , well you know, to tide me over.”
Pete just grinned.
“There is only one house completed so far, so it will be easy to find.”
“Who lives there?”
“Some friends of friends.”
Despite some pressure, Pete wouldn’t say any more. If truth be told, he didn’t know much more than that.
As Mike left the Pub, he wished Pete a happy Christmas and thanked him for his help.
Mike sat in his car outside the one house on the development that was lit up. There were several cars parked close by so he guessed that there was some form of party going on inside.
He was reluctant to leave his car. The temperature outside was dropping. He could see frost crystals starting to form under a perfectly clear sky. It was going to be a cold night in his car.
As the interior of the car cooled, Mike got out of it and went up to the front door of the house.
He’d hardly stopped knocking when the door opened.
“Hi Mike, come on in. We have been expecting you,” said the face he slightly recognised but couldn’t put a name too.
Mike went inside and took off his coat. The house was nice and warm. The sounds of a party were clearly coming from the next room. He hesitated.
The person who’d opened the door said quietly,
“Don’t worry Mike, you are amongst friends here.”
He took a deep breath and opened the door to the next room.
He was not prepared in any way for what he saw. There were around ten people sitting around talking and generally having a good time. He recognised some of them from the building trade. The problem was that they were all dressed as women.
He was ushered into the room and a glass of wine was thrust into his hand.
One of the men who had worked with Mike stood up and said,
“Welcome to our little gathering Mike. We understand that your other half has taken objection to you being yourself. Well, you are amongst friends here. Several of us were in the same boat as you and were cast out. Others have the full support of their partners. The women are upstairs being women and taking forever to get ready.”
At that there was general laughter amongst everyone in the room.
“This development is being built by us, for us. If you are agreeable, there is a plot with your name on it if you are interested. We really need someone like you on the team as we don’t have a Quantity Surveyor and the problems we had getting this place signed off by the building inspectors for Christmas were terrible. What do you say?”
He was dumbfounded to say the least.
Then his shock was compounded by the sight of his mother in law coming out of the kitchen with a plate of food.
Her face turned into one huge smile when she saw her son in law. They’d never been close because his wife had had a big disagreement with her parents. An issue that none of them would talk about.
“Hello Michael. This is a nice surprise. Please have some food. It is quite excellent.”
“Wh…what are you doing here?”
“These are all friends of mine. My late husband was like you. I supported him but sadly my daughter never accepted him or me after that. Sadly, he is not here to see this but this was his dream.”
Things started to make sense.
“Last year, I donated the land here so that my friends could build themselves places to live in, be themselves and live their lives proudly. That’s also why I gave my name to the development.”
Then she added,
“I take it my frigid offspring caught you in the act with her clothes then? Well, you are best rid of her then. She always had a cold heart.”
“Don’t worry Michael. You are amongst friends here.”
He relaxed and looked around him. There were several couples where the man would clearly never pass as a woman in public. After all many builders are big people. Yet no one made a scene. No one threw a tantrum. People just accepted each other for what they were.
He was indeed amongst friends. That was the only Christmas gift he needed.
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