Reprogramming Your Life

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Reprogramming Your Life

By Ricky

When your carefully crafted program fails you need to learn to reprogram on the fly.

The business world is a rough place; some say you have to be ruthless and efficient to make it. I loved industrial programming, creating the computers and software that would make a machine or an assembly line work. When someone wants a multi-million dollar assembly line he wants it ASAP. When the salesman sells a multi-million dollar assembly line he wants his commission ASAP, but the commission doesn't come until the machine is delivered. When the hardware is built the boss wants the software ASAP so he can get it installed and bill the customer. When it comes time to deliver I spend virtually every waking hour making sure the whole project works as promised.

I was the man in charge, indispensable, powerful and at my desk from dawn to dusk on a short day, then on the line for however long it took. There was no time for family, my wife left me years ago, and frankly I didn't miss her much. Family? I was an only child of parents who were much like me - too busy to care. Sex? Women used me and I used them, we got off and got out of each other's lives. The work was everything.

Then business changed. Unless you spoke Mandarin you weren't going to be building assembly lines. US manufacturing went into the toilet, but we hung on and I kept busy with smaller projects. It wasn't too bad, I had a hefty savings account since I had almost no expenses beyond rent and food. Hell, when I was in the field I didn't even have to pay for my food.

My hours were cut. Now some of you might think that's a good thing, I can hear you thinking about what you'd do with the extra time. Me, I was at a loss. I wrote some simple software and put it out on various sites. Not much money but it gave me something to do. Then came the recession.

Slow became no. After a month of sitting at my desk diddling around the axe fell. I was out of work because there was simply no work to be done. I have to admit I was feeling pretty low after a few months of no work. I was bored, I was increasingly angry and I didn't know what to do. Just what do you do when your life is your work and you have no work?

When my old friend Sara called, her voice was a welcome pleasure in my otherwise depressed existence. Seems she had heard of my plight and called to invite me up to her place for a some rest and relaxation as long as I wasn't doing anything else. R&R? Hell, I hadn't been doing anything else! But some pleasant memories came flooding back.

We had been lovers in college, but drifted apart; her world and mine had little in common. We still kept in touch, the odd phone call here and there, Facebook mostly, although I don't post much. Until I got laid off I hardly even looked at Facebook.

She was an unusual woman, a free spirit, quite apart from the herd mentality of big business. She is one of those people who sets her own course in life, ignoring the conventions of the times. In the 40s she would have been Rosie the Riveter, the 50s would have found her immersed in the Beat scene. In the 60s she would have adopted the hippie lifestyle as her own. As it was, she, she lived in an isolated cabin, grew much of her own food and made her living by writing romance novels and running a small resort for the well-heeled. If you like romances you've probably read her work under one of her many pen names.

As much as I didn't like it, I had been forced to examine the things I held dear, and found them wanting, so I threw some clothes in a bag and took off for I knew not what. I tried to follow her directions but after a few wrong turns I was completely lost. I know guys aren't supposed to ask for directions but by this time I would have asked a stray dog if I found one, there were only trees and fields stretching before my windshield. There was only one option left, so I picked up the cell phone and called her, she knew exactly how to get me out of my mess.

As I stopped at the end of a long and winding dirt road, I found her log cabin in the woods. This was no rustic shack, but a beautiful and modern home made of pre-fab logs. Knowing Sara she probably built it herself from one of those kits you see in the papers.

She met me in a swirl of skirts and long, golden hair. I was drowned in a passionate hug of welcome as soon as I cleared the car door.

"Richard!"

"Sara!"

Did I just say I was getting along fine without anyone else, satisfied with loveless sex now and then? After that kiss I had to reassess that position.

"Sara, you're as beautiful as ever."

"And you're as full of it as ever. What have you been doing with yourself?"

"Not a damn thing except collecting unemployment and sitting around."

"This is where I should say 'you're looking good and life agrees with you' but you're tense as a bridge cable. I could bounce a hammer off your shoulder muscles."

"It was a little frustrating finding this place. How did you end up two miles past the back of beyond?"

"I prefer solitude when I'm writing and my clients prefer privacy. It works out for the best."

"You certainly have it here, but I've had a little too much solitude lately."

"There's solitude and there's isolation. I rather suspect you've isolated yourself from life, Richard."

Had I? I never quite thought of it that way.

"Perhaps, I've never really thought of it."

"When was the last time you took a vacation?"

"Ummm… I…."

"Went to a concert, saw a movie, threw a party?"

"There hasn't been time."

"I rest my case. You've isolated yourself in your work, haven't you."

"Well… yeah. But I'm not working"

"Then you need to learn how to play. You need to learn how to find the part of yourself that exists outside your work."

"Right! You must still be into that mystic mumbo-jumbo I remember."

"And you must still be into that work-till-you-drop crap I remember. Done you any good lately?"

"That's not fair!"

"Life isn't fair. That's why you need other people and other interests in your life so you have something when your situation changes."

Not a concept I was familiar with.

"I guess…"

"Such a ringing endorsement. Come inside and sit down

Her home was not what I expected from a shack in the woods. Beautifully furnished, with views of the hills from many large windows. The buzzward is 'open concept', no interior walls to block the view, a large modern kitchen, comfortable and inviting furniture arranged in conversational groups. The place was huge for a single woman.

Over a splendid candlelight dinner, made entirely from the produce of her garden, I found myself pouring my heart out to her; confessing my loneliness and frustration, cursing my bad luck and decrying my powerlessness over the world that had rejected me. We talked for hours as she held me close, stroking me like a baby, not answering but simply encouraging me as I let it all out. Her strong hands kneaded the knotted muscles of my back and shoulders and I began to relax for the first time in years. Well, to be honest some parts of my body didn't get the message. Obviously.

"Not tonight, I invited you to learn to relax. Let your mind go and stop thinking. No business, no software, no pressure, no sex. You always stayed up half the night after we made love and that's not on the agenda. You float off to oblivion tonight."

After her ministrations I was completely wrung out stumbled to one of the bedrooms (there were four) and I drifted off to a sleep deeper than I had known in years.

The next morning I awoke alone with the sun shining through the window. I looked around but couldn't find the suitcase It was there when I went to sleep, I was in the pajamas I had taken out of it last night. Feeling faintly ridiculous I headed to the living room where Sara was hunched over her computer, still in her nightgown. A kiss on her neck brought her out of her creative fog.

"I seem to have misplaced my suitcase."

"Such a shame. I didn't realize you had grown absentminded with the years. It must be a handicap when you write your software."

"My mind isn't absent - it's my suitcase. I took these pajamas out of it last night so it was in my room. Either my suitcase has grown legs and gone for a hike in the woods or the pixies took it."

"Well, it's a lovely day for a hike in the woods."

"Well, unless you're running a nude resort these days I would need something besides pajamas to accompany you."

"Not a nude resort, my clients come here to dress in the way that pleases them most."

"All right, Sara, since you are obviously setting me up to ask the question, how do your clients like to dress for walking in the woods?"

"An excellent question, old friend. I'll answer it with another question. Have you ever read any of my books?"

"I tried, but romance just isn't my style. I don't read much, anyway. No time."

"Then let's have breakfast and you can read one of my books while lazing around in your pajamas. There's a certain subgenre of that I have found has a small but dedicated following. In fact the readers are so dedicated that they will part with substantial sums to spend a week or a weekend up here living out their fantasies. Substantial enough that I could afford to build a four bedroom house for myself."

"OK, you're the boss, milady."

She was as good a cook as I remembered. I can fend for myself in the kitchen, but I don't recall any invitations to open a restaurant. I was glad I had gone quite a long way out of my normal way to share breakfast with Sara.

Once again I asked about my clothes but she just smiled again.

"I want to try something; will you trust me?"

"Of course I would."

"I want you to learn to relax, to be more accepting, to give up your need to be in control. You start by reading the book I promised. Keep your mind open, don't just reject it out of hand. You strongly resemble many of my clients; they've found a satisfying way to escape the stress of their lives. Maybe it would work for you. Now read and let me go back to earning a living."

Placing a book in my hands she returned to her computer. What else could I do, I sat down and opened the book. The cover was a bit odd. There was a young girl seated at a large makeup table gazing into the mirror. The face gazing back was subtly off; not what you would expect but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I suppose if I had put my finger on her face I would have earned a distinctly unpleasant response, so I let it go.

Have you ever read a book that wasn't quite what you would like to read but the writing was so damn good you couldn't stop? Say the plot concerned dancing but you didn't give a hoot about watching dance. Or maybe it's a yarn about sailing and you get seasick in the bathtub. As much as the subject doesn't excite you, you just have to keep turning the pages because you're caught up anyway. By such standards, Sara was one hell of an author. I knew the name on the book was one of her pseudonyms.

You can probably guess the plot - an unhappy young man discovers how to be a happy young woman. There are trials, and tribulations; then joy and acceptance. The cynical would call it fantasy fulfillment, but the plot was neither banal or formulaic and the writing was top notch. I finished just before noon and sat there bemused.

It didn't take an Einstein to figure out Sara's nefarious plot. A secluded setting, mysterious references to clients, a missing suitcase, a book on crossdressing. For that matter the huge makeup table and still larger closet in my bedroom.

Once again I recalled Sara from her creative fog with a kiss on the neck.

"You are still as crazy as ever, my love. You seem to have an odd idea of what would relax me."

"Don't knock it until you've tried it, bub. It works for a lot of men much like you."

"So you think I should discover the joys of lingerie? To be specific, putting it on my body and not taking it off yours?"

"You pick up on things real quick. You're obviously unhappy with the way your life is going, so I think you should give your feminine side a chance to develop. You aren't exactly a Neanderthal, but you seem to be drifting around the edges of being human. I think you're starting to understand that being a man isn't what you thought it was. I think that exploring your femininity would help bring some balance to your life. If you're willing to try I want you to dress the part."

Dress the part? Did she mean... Yes, that's exactly what she meant.

"Do you really think I could find joy and fulfillment in a dress, just like your confused kid in the book?"

"Real life isn't as simple as fiction. I suspect you could, and I've helped quite a lot of men get in touch with their feminine side. When I write TG romances I leave out most of the downers and emphasize the positive; got to write what your audience wants to read if it's going to sell. I do admit this is the first time I've thought a friend could use my help in this way."

"Interesting kind of help. I just don't know."

"Want to try reading some non-fiction on the subject?"

"Do they write as well as you do?"

"Non-fiction is not quite so engrossing as I try to make my novels. Still, it has its virtues."

"Do I get my suitcase back if I do?"

"If you're a good boy - or girl if you prefer."

"So let's have a pajama party and I'll read your book."

"You can have the pajama party, I need to put on a bra, my tits are starting to ache. Bras may not be the wondrous garments that crossdressers fantasize about, but the do help support these babies."

"I could kiss them and make them better."

"I need to work. No distractions, Lothario."

"And you in that nightgown aren't distracting?"

"No more than you in pajamas."

"I'll take 'em off."

"Better you put a nightgown on. I need to work, you need to read."

With that she left me standing, book in hand. So I sat down and read. It was hard to swallow some of the stuff, but much of it made sense, in a crooked kind of way. With it shoved in my face, I realized I wasn't happy with my life. I loved my work, but no one loved me. If Sara hadn't stepped in, chances were I would have just kept on spiraling downward, and I knew it. But was this just a new and different spiral?

Was this the change I needed? Sure, I had checked out my mother's underwear as a horny teenager, but the garments never called to me. Then again, jockstraps and three piece suits had never called to me, either. Clothes were what I wore to keep warm and not shock people. Could wearing clothes made for women make that much difference? Damned if I knew.

I didn't have the pleasure of kissing Sara to get her attention this time. She must have been satisfied with her daily output because she was playing Spider Solitaire when I approached her.

"You really think this is a good idea?"

"The question is: do you think this is a good idea?"

"Well, maybe…"

"Such a bold choice!"

"Like 'man up and be a woman'?"

"More like 'exasperating man'."

"I do my best. If you think it might help I'll try it."

"I have seen remarkable changes in my clients when they start to feel like a woman. But then, they come here wanting to feel like a woman. You aren't a client, you're a friend. Back when we were lovers I thought you had a more pronounced feminine side than most other men I had dated. That faded when you went into your line of work. Occupational hazard for you computer types?"

"Well, not many of my colleagues were into booze and broads, although lord knows we had the opportunity when we were in the field. It was more like role playing games and pizza. They weren't into macho, either. In the language of the books I just read, gender was more or less irrelevant."

"What an odd outlook. Then again, I live in a world where both sex and gender is essential to my writing and my little resort. I may be biased."

"Maybe so, but something in my life is out of kilter. It can't hurt to try your cure."

"Dr Sara's magical, mystical depression therapy. I think I have some snake oil cosmetics in my little black bag."

"Makeup?"

"Well, not today. Let's start out simple for the rest of the day. Just underwear and a dress, nothing fancy. If you like it we'll go whole hog tomorrow."

"Somehow the word 'hog' doesn't invoke a flattering image."

"You, my friend, are lucky. You have a neutral face. With a little makeup and the right clothes you will make a respectable woman. That's what I'm aiming for, you're a bit too old to try for sex kitten. You wouldn't believe some of the outfits my guests think look good on them."

"That must be a touchy subject."

"Very. That's why I have closets full of clothes in all sizes. I try to show my clients how to dress so they look right for their age and size."

"Sounds like a substantial investment."

"It was. However, I charge an obscene amount of cash for my services, and shop at second hand shops. It's long ago paid off. Perhaps it's wrong to serve only the rich, but it is a business and I need to make a profit. In any case, it will pay off for you because I can outfit you quite easily. Shall we adjourn to your bedroom?"

"Damn! Is it that easy to get you in my bed?"

"Bedroom, not bed. You're developing your feminine side, so get your mind out of the gutter."

We adjourned to the bedroom.

"Now don't take this the wrong way, lover, but strip. Remember, feminine thoughts."

"If you insist."

As she spoke she took a bra from the drawer and slid the straps over my arms, then spun me around to snap me in.

"Not quite. Take it off and let me get a bigger one. Unless you're into the hairy natural look we can shave your pits tomorrow."

She returned to the drawer and we repeated the process. This time the snaps snapped and I felt an unaccustomed pressure around my chest. This would take some getting used to.

"You do realize that I don't have the natural attributes to make this thing look right?"

"We can correct that surgically, you know."

"Does Dr. Sara have a real MD after her name? Seems a little excessive for a trial run."

"Spoilsport! I had a rusty knife all ready."

"You wouldn't have some chain mail in those drawers, would you?"

"No, but I have some breast forms in the closet. That should give you some nice curves. Don't worry, I sterilize them whenever they're used."

"Wouldn't want to get cooties, would we. Do boys get girl cooties when they dress up like this?"

"No, but they might get a whack upside the head if you keep this up."

"Yes, ma'am!"

"Better. You're doing very well, it's not unusual for my clients to get an erection by this point. That's why I do the panties last if they opt for the full service."

"So what do you do about an unwanted erection? Or is that too personal?"

"Not for you. I only accept clients for full service if they are with their wife or girlfriend. Even if they are here to learn how to be feminine, I'm not going to give anyone the idea I'm available. If my client gets an erection I leave the room and let the couple figure out how to deal with it."

"Should I be sorry wearing a bra didn't excite me? There's only one couple in this room. Oh, yeah, you've made it clear that sex is off the table, even if we are old lovers."

"Well, as much as I might enjoy having sex on a table, right now we are trying to bring out the feminine. Rutting like a bull is hardly feminine. Talk to me after you're comfortable thinking like a woman."

"Wouldn't that rather defeat the purpose?"

"Not once you really learn to separate sex and gender. It's not that easy."

"I'll work on it. Any chance I can put something over this lovely underwear you've given me? I'm getting chilly."

"Serves you right for distracting me. I think a simple dress is called for, we'll work on how to co-ordinate separates later. Give this a try."

She fished a brightly colored something out of the closet.

"It's called a dashiki, African in origin, very fashionable these days. Since it's a very loose style with a long hemline it will disguise your hairy legs and lack of feminine curves."

"My hairy legs and masculine curves thank you."

"Hush! Smooth feminine legs and enhanced curves are tomorrow's lesson."

"Yes, teacher."

That rest of that day was a blur, I walked about in bit of a daze, acutely aware of the bra and long dress I wore. I stayed away from mirrors, knowing just what they would show and not ready to face that image. We walked in the woods, talked about this and that, then cooked dinner together. Apparently her clients were encouraged to help with the cooking as a way of falling into their feminine roles. I don't know how much help I was, but it did help me get used to my new attire.

We sat together and watched a DVD; no TV in this rural retreat, even if it did have Internet access. All the better to have her clients interact among themselves instead of staring at the babble box. By that time I was able to ignore wearing a bra for minutes at a time. I was even able to ignore the warmth of Sara as we sat together. Was this how girlfriends behaved with each other?

When the movie was over I had to ask. "How did you ever get into running a crossdresser's resort? I can't fathom the idea."

"It was pretty odd and it took a while to put it together. I was at a romance convention flogging my books when I got into a conversation with a woman at lunch, or at least I thought she was a woman. I had thrown in a scene where the hunk's sidekick ends up dressed as a woman to make his escape. I played it for some cheap laughs; I had no idea of the crossdressing culture at the time. In fact, most of what I thought I knew came from Monte Python and daytime shock TV.

"She politely but firmly took me to task for the parody of crossdressing, letting me know that many of her sisters were fans of my writing. Something about the way she said 'sisters' invited me to ask, so she told me she was a crossdresser and hoped I could portray her sisters more accurately the next time.

"I must have looked as confused as you did when I invited you to put on a bra, because she invited me to attend a meeting of her crossdressing sisters. I ended up staying a few days extra and went with her to the meeting.

"It was an odd experience, I was surprised that there were several wives and girlfriends there, and had a very good time talking with some very interesting people. Completely outside my experience, which is just what any writer loves to have happen.

"To make a long story short, I included a crossdresser in the supporting cast of one of my stories, portrayed as a whole person and not just a ploy for cheap laughs. Sales were pretty good and I started to get letters from crossdressing fans. So I took a shot at a novel with a crossdresser as the protagonist. I thought it was pretty good, but my publisher disagreed, they didn't want me to be connected with the crossdressing culture.

"So my agent shopped it around and found a different publisher, invented a new pen name and it got published. To my regular publishers dismay, I started some careful rumors connecting that pen name to my own, then made sure my crossdressing fans knew about it.

"It wasn't a best seller, but it did make a little money. The next one did even better, so I had me a new sideline with an appreciative fan base. Then an invitation to speak at a major crossdresser's convention arrived. I bet most people don't know crossdressers throw big conventions at fancy hotels a few times a year, but they surely do. I didn't know what to think, but I went and had a great time.

"One of my overall impressions was how much they wanted a safe place to dress up and be with people who wouldn't laugh at them or hate them. These big conventions were one of those opportunities, but many wished to have somewhere a little less public and less crowded. I getting ready to build this place at the time and was considering a B&B as part of it, so I took a flyer and enlarged the bedrooms to provide that place. If it didn't work I could always go back to a normal B&B so I wouldn't be much worse off.

"The business has slowly built up so I do half a dozen weekends each year, with a couple of week long sessions in the summer. I haven't done a week long one this summer because I got a little too ambitious signing contracts and don't have the time right now, which is why we will have some time alone.

"There was considerable investment in clothes, but you'd be surprised what you can find at second hand shops and sales. The lingerie and wigs were the most expensive part, those I couldn't get second hand. That and the costumes; I wince at the whole Subservient Maid but I try not to judge. I get a few who really want to play the role so I try to please my clients.

"So there you have it, I get to write when I want to, meet some interesting people and make some cash at the same time. I've watched quite a few hard charging businessmen become happy and relaxed women for a weekend. When you seemed so down I couldn't help but wonder if it would work for you. You never were the macho man in college, but you were pretty driven by your work. It's nice to have you sitting in one place long enough to watch a movie with me."

"I don't know if it's the clothes, but I certainly enjoy spending time with you."

"As do I, madam, but I need some sleep."

As we parted at the bedroom door she pointed out the bottle of Nair in the bathroom. If I was going to continue my exploration of femininity that would be my first order of business in the morning.

Strangely, I wasn't disappointed to go to bed alone. Did I feel more feminine? With a sigh I hung up my dress, removed my forms and stored them in their box, then placed the bra and panties in the hamper. Sara had laid out a nightgown for me, so I put it on and lay in bed. I mused there for a few minutes, actually missing the comfort of a bra on my body, but sleep won out before I could examine that odd sensation.

I woke feeling more rested than I had in ages. As I sat on the throne contemplating the mysteries of the universe my eyes came to rest on the little pink bottle of Nair. To be or not to be was not the question. To depilate or not to depilate wasn't immortal poetry, but it was a damned good question. Now all I needed was a damned good answer.

I recalled my final, sleepy realization that I almost missed having a bra on my chest. Musing, I picked up the pink bottle and read 'Roll on, wait ten minutes, wash off'. Not an onerous task.

What the hell? OK girlfriend, girlfriends we shall be! With that I rolled the goop in and sat for ten minutes. My legs started to tingle, but no fairy godmother appeared. I read the label a little closer in my boredom. Sodium hydroxide? That's lye! I just put lye on my body. Wasn't that the stuff they use in outhouses to keep the smell down?

I was eager to jump in the shower when the ten minutes were up and wash the stuff off me. Sure enough, I washed my leg hair off along with the goop; then I cleaned up the wad of hair in the drain. I hadn't even started my first full day as a woman and already I was doing housework.

A few minutes with the razor removed what hair was on my face. I had never worried about beard stubble, but being blonde helped in my new situation. I debated about my pits, did I want a blade near them? Well, I just used a blade on my face, I suppose…

While there was a selection of wigs available, but my own hair was pretty long. No time for visits to the barber so I let it grow. Nobody gives a hoot about how long your hair is when you play with computers. I noticed it was pretty shaggy, though. I hadn't paid much attention to it.

Back into the shower and wash my hair. It was still shaggy but at least it was clean. Smelled pretty good, too. The crème rinse in the shower saw to that. Yes, I used crème rinse. Come on, I didn't have to be female to know that without it long hair looks like hell.

While I was waiting for my hair to dry I noticed my arms. My hairy arms, blonde or no. Roll on, wait 10 minutes, no hair.

I won't mention shaving again, other than to say my scraggly, patchy, sparse beard was now an asset. There was a stock of razors and shaving cream, so I gave myself a more thorough shave than is my wont and thought I looked pretty good. I shaved assiduously from then on to keep up my image.

Now: do I ask my girlfriend for help or try to get dressed by myself? Look, I design machines for a living, or at least I did. There's a process you use to figure out how to accomplish what the customer desires. I had a task to accomplish: try to get dressed like a woman would and look reasonably nice. They say men are problem solvers while women are problem listeners. A bit quixotic to apply my male skills to the task of becoming more feminine, but what man understands women?

First: define the task more clearly, then break it down to the smaller components, then find a way to accomplish each step. By taking it in small chunks the each bit becomes easier to solve.

When a woman gets dressed she has an objective in mind. A day at the office, a night at the theater, cleaning the house, sweating at the gym. Each task called for a different wardrobe. So the first thing I needed to do was decide what clothes were appropriate for a day hanging out with my girlfriend.

For the few months that I had been married I had watched my wife get dressed many times. Even if I was a jerk who neglected her, I had noticed how she dressed for different occasions. For a fine sunny day like today with nothing much to do she would have worn a casual outfit or a sundress of some kind. Very well, let's see what was in the closet.

Yesterday's dress was a 1X (labels are handy things) and was hung with several others of the same size. Skirts and blouses, too. I decided on a dress, I knew my dress size, but was ignorant about skirt and blouse sizes. Some had numbers, some had letters. No man would design a labeling system that way. Yeah, no man was going to wear these clothes, so I had to stop thinking like a man.

Choices. I wasn't used to choices in getting dressed. Maybe I needed to let Sara help here, but my masculine brain wanted to do this by myself. I needed something loose to disguise the lack of hips and de-emphasize that other bump that wasn't found on a real woman. Holding up a dress to myself I realized it would be better to have more of a figure before I decided.

Opening the drawer where Sara had found my bra (my bra???) I looked around and found a red number that looked likely. Wait a minute - there are other numbers involved. Checking the hamper I found yesterday's bra was labeled 40B. Nuts, the red one wouldn't fit. Another drawer yielded more choices, including something powder blue in 40B.

Wait a minute! Could I be getting fussy about the color of the bra I want to wear? Yes, I was dithering about my outfit as bad as any woman born. Who woulda thunk it?

OK, watching a woman get dressed and dressing as a woman turned out to be two entirely separate things. How did real women manage to get those two tiny hooks together behind their backs? After half a dozen tries I got one of them latched, but of course the top hook was in the bottom eye. Getting the fool things unlatched was never much of a problem when I was helping a woman out of her bra, but you wouldn't believe how many tries it took to help myself out of my bra. It was like calisthenics with a strange form of jumping jacks.

So think a minute - last night I kind of shrugged out of the thing and unhooked it over my belly. Maybe the reverse would be easier than trying to be a contortionist. Yup, it worked, but it was trying to migrate to my chin. Unhook again and let out the shoulder straps, hook up again. Now why would they put the strap adjustments on the back of the bra where you can't reach them? I hate designs that make things more difficult, but I finally had the bra on my body and filled with those intriguing, jellylike forms. Chalk it up to my masculine problem solving abilities to get myself into a bra. Ain't life strange?

Reading the labels solved the panty size as well, so I had my lingerie even if the panties weren't an exact match for the bra. I suspect most real women aren't obsessed with matching sets unless they're intending to have someone help remove them. Who the heck is going to know if they match?

I was stymied when it came to stockings (pantyhose?). There were many packages of each in the dresser, but the charts on the back went by hip size, a dimension of which I was completely ignorant. The stockings didn't have that problem, but I wasn't really up to wearing a garter belt. The only garter belts I had seen were on porn actresses and I just didn't want to think of that. My sandals and bare legs would have to do.

With somewhat of a figure I returned to the closet. I actually tried on several, finally deciding on a lime green sundress with a nice, wide skirt.

Avoiding mirrors simply wasn't possible in that room, I guess crossdressers want to see the finished product. Well, my product wasn't finished by any means finished, but it sure wasn't the reflection that usually greeted me. Maybe with Sara's help I could do this thing.

There was still something missing on the image in the mirror. It took a while to figure it out: besides the lack of makeup I had no jewelry. When a woman wore a dress like this one she always had jewelry to compliment it. There were two large jewelry chests on the makeup table, so I again had to make choices. There was a large, enameled metal necklace in blues and greens that looked about right when I held it up to my breasts. (That still sounds funny, but there they were in the mirror.) I even found a bracelet that went with it. Sara's clients had better realize how good they have it when living here!

Then I noticed the hands holding the necklace were unpainted. Would this ever end? I knew my wife would never have left her nails unpainted when she wore a dress like this one. Looked like my practice painting her toes would come in handy. I was unsurprised to find a stash of nail polish and various nail tools in one of the drawers. Filing nails is no harder than filing a small part to fit. The stuff did smell a bit like the industrial coatings I'm used to, but I soon had pretty nails.

My god! Had I really spent over an hour getting dressed? Where did the time go? Gazing into the mirror at the almost feminine face, I was gobsmacked. A fine old word that, gobsmacked. What had happened? Two days ago I wouldn't have ever imagined I would be doing anything vaguely like this, not in a million years. I sat there for some time, trying to figure it all out. Lots of luck with that.

What I finally realized was that the image was incomplete; the job wasn't finished. I've always hated that - If I do a job it is going to work the way it should, the customer will be satisfied by god! I had done a pretty good job at something I had only vague ideas how to do, but I wasn't satisfied. It was a half-assed job and I didn't do half-assed jobs. For that matter, it was literally a half-assed job if you compared my ass with a normal woman's. If they made fake tits that looked natural I wondered if they made fake asses. If the did, how much of a pain in the ass would it be to wear them? Oh, the questions I never thought to ask!

Yet here I was, dissatisfied that I didn't look more feminine. I was actually hoping my mentor would teach me how to use makeup so I was more obviously feminine. Was there something in the water? The air? Why in the world was I thinking like this?

With that settled it was time to visit my mentor. Mentor - that sounded much better than crazy ex-lover. I arose and got about two steps from the makeup mirror when a new sensation stopped me dead in my tracks. No one ever told me that a skirt brushing against hairless legs was so intensely sensual. I took another step and there it was again. If this was what women got to feel whenever they wore a skirt then I would never wear trousers again! Looking back, it was at that moment I committed to being the best woman I could be. Whatever wisdom Sara had to offer I would gladly take it to heart and do the best job I could.

Just like yesterday morning she was absorbed in her computer, but this morning she had taken time to get dressed first. I stood there for some time and watched her working. She was obviously deep into whatever story she was writing; I knew that feeling from the times I was completely absorbed in coding. Just as I hated to be disturbed when the ideas were flowing effortlessly, I was not going to intrude on her bright and shining world of fantasy.

I poured some coffee and put an English muffin in the toaster. I unplugged my phone and checked my e-mail while I waited, then scrolled thru Facebook. Facebook - wouldn't my friends be amazed if I posted a selfie? Not gonna happen!

Not even the popping toaster roused Sara from her writing, so I sat there and munched toast and played Spider Solitaire while watching her. She would occasionally murmur what sounded like dialogue, then attack the keyboard with gusto. Expressions fled across her face - quizzical, amazed, excited, gleeful. Must be something interesting going on in there, maybe she would let me read it at some point.

Another crossdressing fantasy? A flat out hunk-gets-the-fair maiden romance? The hunk would get a surprise when he got the girl if she were crossdressed. It brought to mind the old parody of "Side By Side":

Picture my amazement when

Her glass eye she let fall

Her wooden leg and other things

She stood up against the wall

Now me and my wife we are parted

Before we even got started

I slept on the chair -

There was more of her there

By my side

I didn't want to be a parody, I wanted to be believable. My reverie was interrupted by a substantial yawn.

"You've returned." I offered.

"What? Oh, Richard, you're up. Have you…"She stopped when she turned around to look at me. "Oh, I guess you have…"

"Well, mostly. I need some help to go on from here. Makeup is beyond me, I fear."

"You sure you haven't done this before? That outfit really works."

"Then it's doing better than I am. I have two problems, though."

"Do tell?"

"First, how the devil do you figure out what size pantyhose I need? I haven't a clue what my hip size is. I don't think I even have hips to speak of."

"You were a bit shortchanged in that department. All it takes is money and you can have hips every bit as authentic as your breasts."

"Seems it always comes down to money, doesn't it?"

"Makes the world go 'round, sweetheart. The gamut runs all the way from padded panties for a few bucks to silicone marvels for a few hundred. If you tuck yourself the high-tech ones will let you wear tight minis without fear."

"Tuck myself?"

"To be crude, you shove your balls into your crotch and tape your penis out of the way. Some men will do anything for beauty."

"You have to be joking!"

"And you thought we women went to extremes for beauty. No, quite a few younger crossdressers want to be sex kittens. I wouldn't recommend it at our age."

"Hell, I wouldn't try it at any age. Ouch!"

"They tell me it's not as painful as it sounds, but I wouldn't know."

"Neither will I. Now a padded panty sounds more like it."

"I have some, but you buy 'em and keep 'em if you want them. They're not something that can be easily cleaned and used by all of my guests."

"What the heck? Put it on my tab."

"You don't have a tab. Friends, remember?"

"Then start one. I'm not completely broke, yet."

"You'll get there if you want to assemble a wardrobe of your own. You said there were two problems."

"Yeah, it's obvious that I need to learn how to do makeup. The natural look doesn't seem to work for me."

"Now that's an easier problem to solve. By the way, you're hair would look better with some shaping and curling."

"Does this stuff ever end?"

"Beauty is a never ending quest. Should I call Debbi and make an appointment for your hair? She's my go-to person for my clients and comes up here so they don't have to appear in public."

"You think of everything, don't you?"

"I try to. That's what I do for my clients, and my friends."

"OK, Let's do it."

"Then take off your dress and get yourself settled at your makeup table. I don't want to ruin the dress while we're working."

Before I could make a pithy comment she picked up the phone, so I took off my dress and sat down in my bra and panties, once again studying myself in the mirror.

"You're in luck. If we feed her dinner she'll make you beautiful tonight. Here, try these on, they should be your size.

She handed me a box, in it were the padded panties she had mentioned.

"Y'know? Somehow this isn't how I pictured getting naked with you would be."

"Y'know, this is just about how I pictured getting naked with you would be."

I removed my panties and put on the new set without further comment.

"Try the size D pantyhose now you have a bit more hip."

"You're enjoying this too much."

"You're too much. Let's see if they fit."

They did, so now I was standing there in bra and pantyhose. My figure was not quite so obviously male, so I guess I had to be satisfied. I sat down on my newly ample fundament and tried to get used to sitting on a cloud. The things I do for beauty!

What followed was just about what you would expect. Sara made up my face with a running commentary so I would know what she was doing. I didn't have a hope of remembering all of what she did, let alone doing it myself, and I said so.

"One step at a time. You'll get plenty of practice before I'm done with you. Put your dress on and take a look. And don't muss your makeup!"

Amazing what makeup can do. I wasn't going to win any beauty contests, but I did look much more feminine.

"Thank you, Sara. I actually think you have produced a miracle. I really do appreciate what you've done with me."

"You're a work of art. Now is the time to sign the work. I christen thee Rochelle."

"Rochelle… That was my mother-in-law's name. Kind of old fashioned but I like it."

"Rosie to your friends. Now, no matter how much your nose itches do not, I repeat DO NOT, scratch it! Lesson number one in feminine deportment: If you muss your makeup you look like a clown, not a well bred lady. Got it?"

"And here I thought I had it all down. Don't touch the nose… Don't touch the nose… Don't tou-"

"Your new mantra. Do you realize just how much fun it's been to see you change? This is the first time I've had a friend up here. And despite the new clothes I'm starting to see the sweet boy I knew so long ago. I cried my eyes out when you started to change and split town.."

"I… I… didn't mean to hurt you. I hoped you would come with me."

"By then you were so immersed in your work that you didn't have time for anyone else. I thought you loved me, but you loved your work more. I couldn't play second fiddle."

"Was I that bad?"

"Not bad, just completely immersed in your work. You couldn't see that there were other things in life that were valuable."

"And now I haven't even got that."

"But you may have found yourself again. Give it time, let it grow. I would very much like to have my girlfriend stay with me for as long as we both think it's a good idea. Just so long as you don't distract me from my work too much. I have deadlines to meet and having you here has affected my concentration."

"Now who's the workaholic? No - seriously I've seen you when you're lost in your writing. I can find things to do while you are writing; I may even try to do a bit of writing myself. In any case, I'll try to be your girlfriend, but we both know there is a penis in my panties. There are, ah, yearnings that might not be the most feminine, but I'll try to keep it platonic."

"We'll deal with that later. Right now you need to learn to think like a woman. Your efforts this morning were nothing short of amazing. Now, just wait until Debbi gets done with you."

Once again I found myself in the kitchen. I'm not a complete stranger there, but I did tend to live on takeout, pizza and frozen dinners. If you're trying to learn how to behave in a ladylike fashion, working in the kitchen is a surefire method. Even I can chop vegetables into chunks without cutting off my newly varnished fingers. I was distracted by the swirl of my skirt, but the intense pleasure of those first few steps was no longer present. Good thing or I would have had bloody stumps instead of fingers.

I learned about rice cookers - somehow I had always assumed that rice appeared magically when you ordered Chinese. In short order we had bowls of vegetables and chicken cubes waiting beside the wok while, recipe in hand, I measured several spices I had no idea even existed into a bowl to become a chicken curry.

I had another challenge in store - how do you remain ladylike when beating the crap out of a coconut with a hammer until it shatters? Those buggers are tough, they keep spinning off in unexpected directions instead of cracking properly. Once I had it open I had to dig the meat out without lacerating my fingers or spoiling my nails. Life as a woman is tough!

With everything else ready Sara started simmering the curry sauce so it would be ready when the vegetables were chowed. Don't know what that means? Don't worry, neither did I. It just means to stir-fry if you're a more accomplished cook than I am.

"Rosie, will you get the door?"

"Me?"

"Yes, you. The butler is on vacation."

"Wouldn't that be the maid around this place?"

"I have maid costumes if that's what you want, but change after you let Debbi in."

You guessed it, I was nervous. I thought I looked respectable, but I knew my voice would give me away the second I opened my mouth. Doing my best to channel Angelina Jolie I opened the door to find a very cute redhead with a bag of stuff almost bigger than she was.

"Welcome, you must be Debbi."

"And you must be Rochelle."

"Rosie, please. Rochelle sounds like my ancient aunt sitting in a rocking chair."

"Rosie it is, then. Good to meet you. My, it smells good in here!"

"We've been slaving in the kitchen for hours, just for you."

"That's fair. I'll be slaving in the kitchen for hours over you after dinner."

"As long as I don't come out half baked…"

"My dear, no one will recognize you after I have my way with you."

"That wouldn't be too hard, considering how I looked a couple of days ago."

"Ah, but now I vill make you be-you-ti-full."

She sounded so much like Natasha Fatale from the cartoons that I was expecting Boris Badenov to be lurking on the porch. Maybe I should cultivate a sexy foreign accent as Rosie?

"You're welcome to try. I hope you love a challenge."

"My dear, you will be a breeze after some of Sara's other clients. Not that I'm criticizing her clientele."

"Will you two stop gabbing?" Sara called from the kitchen. "I'm about to put dinner on the table."

"And I'm about to put dinner into my stomach. Gangway, Rosie!"

It didn't take too long to forget myself and just be one of the girls. Conversation was sparse at first, but as we savored the last bites and sipped some very nice wine we talked about the banal things friends would talk about. By that time Debbi was counted as a friend.

We cleared the table and Debbi filled it with the tools of her trade. The good thing about being the evening's project was I didn't have to do the dishes.

"And so, me girl," Debbi now had a brogue that wasn't there a minute ago, "have ye ever considered how you would look as a wee Irish lass with fresh-scrubbed face and lovely auburn curls?"

"I have to admit the thought has never crossed my mind. I can picture the curls, but the fresh-scrubbed part might be a wee bit difficult unless you have a wee little leprechaun in your bag."

"Ach, I left the bugger home in me closet along with me bag of fairy gold!"

"Would auburn curls really suit me, oh mentor mine?"

"If Debbi says yes, then do it."

"Then make with the magic potions, Debbi."

I'd describe the next few hours to you, but since I spent the majority of them with my eyes closed and wishing I could hold my nose closed, the description would consist of a blank screen with assorted arcane noises punctuated by Debbi's lilting soprano ranging wildly over the musical repertory. The finale was a drone not of the Irish Pipes, but the American hairdryer.

"Lovely work if I do say so myself. Are you game for some shaping to fit your new look?"

"Since I have nowhere to go or anyone to impress with my masculinity, go ahead and make me beautiful. I can always get a crew cut if some misguided misanthrope offers me a job interview."

"This is where I intone 'On Your Head Be It' in sepulchral tones, but I think you're really going to like the look."

How did she do that with her voice? Maybe I need a second mentor.

With the snipping done and the eyebrow plucking a mildly painful memory, I was ushered to my bedroom with my eyes closed. Once there Sara repaired the damage to my makeup before I was permitted to see the results in the oversized mirror.

The results were spectacular. My soft curls changed the whole character of my face. I was surrounded by a strawberry blonde halo. Think some of the curly haired statues from the middle ages, those beneficent angels watching over some saint or other with patience and grace.

"This is really me?" I gasped.

"It's really you, girlfriend. Welcome to the club."

So I spent one lovely night floating in a pink cloud. The cloud turned to fog when I woke the next morning. Living dangerously, I tried on a skirt and blouse combination and found some jewelry that worked. No earrings, there were no holes in my ears and the only clip on earrings in the jewelry box just didn't go with the outfit. I was going to have to get my ears pierced.

Which left the makeup. Light blonde beard or no, without makeup I just didn't look right. Going boldly where no man (at least this one) had gone before I attempted to do my own. The result was just as much of a crime as attempted robbery or attempted murder. I was going to have to get a king size basket to hold all the goopy tissues I produced. At least taking makeup off is easier than putting it on.

Since my girlfriend and mentor seemed to be an early riser, she was once again off in a creative fog with her computer. Trying to be as quiet as I could I found some breakfast and continued my reading while she worked. Breaking out my own computer I followed some of the links provided by the books and watched makeup and deportment tutorials for those of us who would be more feminine without nature's advantages. (Yes, there was plenty of porn, but as a mature and upright girlfriend I ignored it. Well mostly. There's some strange stuff available!)

She must have been in an exciting part, because it was a good hour before she came out of her trance.

"Good morning, girlfriend. Must be an exciting chapter."

"I sure hope so. The heroine has finally gotten sick of screaming and fainting and decided to grow some balls and screw the hero."

"You paint a vivid picture. Might your heroine be of my persuasion? I don't think I'm all that interested in screwing a hero. Now an author…"

"Hush, girlfriend! I was speaking metaphorically. As in telling the big lunk she can do some things for herself."

"I should hope so. I couldn't imagine a publisher taking something like that."

"There are some. I started out writing porn - excuse me, erotic fiction - and still have some connections. Not much of a market anymore since VCRs and DVDs. Much more fun to have your hands free, as it were."

"You, writing porn?"

"It paid the bills. Men love reading how wonderful some hunk with a big schlong makes us sweet, defenseless females feel. Write what you know, they say."

"I will forbear any inquiries about the schlongs you have known. It wouldn't be ladylike."

"It wouldn't be answered."

"To change the subject, I need another makeup lesson. I feel inadequate as a woman."

"So did my heroine, that's why she's growing a set."

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that sentence. My sanity is precariously balanced as it is."

"The step into your boudoir and we'll see what we can make up."

So that's how it went, days of reading or exploring the trails on the property while Sara wrote, companionable dinners, gentle evenings of conversation or videos. And don't forget housework. Remember I lived alone in a tiny apartment, I had to do my own housework. Granted my standards didn't quite rise to the level of keeping a large house attractive to paying guests, but I knew how to vacuum, dust and wash dishes. With a bigger house and more fashionable surroundings I spent a lot more time doing housework. So shoot me if I felt more feminine doing 'women's work' in a dress. I know Sara appreciated having more time for her writing as I happily hummed along with my vacuum.

Not that it was easy, I practiced the feminine arts; makeup, pierced ears (it didn't hurt - but it itched!), walking with the right motion, higher heels for indoors, hours in my room talking to the 'feminize your voice' program on the computer. Talk about a merciless mentor! I still have to wonder how little guilt I felt while driving myself to abandon my manhood.

I spent a good bit of time on my computer programming. Several ideas for useful apps had been buzzing around in the back of my brain for some time, but work or the depression of being out of work had kept them well below the surface. Now I had the time and was happily learning the insides of the Android operating system to implement my ideas. At least for me, I found it was true that I felt more creative when dressed as Rosie. The clichés were coming thick and fast.

Along the way, Sara filled me in on her feminine getaway weekends. She explained the routines and how things were supposed to work. Supposed is the word, every once in a while there was an unhappy spouse or off the wall client that made life interesting. I got the feeling that she considered floods, tornados and earthquakes interesting phenomena, too.

So I learned to be her helper and realized that I was going to be put to work helping her clients to achieve a heightened level of femininity. I suppose that, even if I was still pretty new at the game, I had lived full time as a woman for a couple of months and was quite comfortable. More than comfortable, in fact; I was downright satisfied.

Part of it was the satisfaction of doing something properly and with style. Part of it was the joy of putting together outfits that were fashionable and striking. Mostly it was because it felt so darn good! It was almost routine to dress in the morning, but the makeup was getting a bit old. Yes, I needed it and knew many women painted themselves every day before work, but around a factory you didn't see painted women unless they worked in the front office. Oddly enough, I preferred the natural look of the women on the floor, but that was not to be for me.

Speaking of getting old (not me, please!) shaving was getting to be a pain. In my former life I could go for a few days without shaving if I wasn't hanging out with customers, but Rosie needed my daily attention. I was beginning to see why the people in those books blew the big bucks on electrolysis. I couldn't justify the expense without some reliable income right now, but I was thinking hard about it.

I even ordered a few things on line for myself. Sara had a fine selection of clothes for her clients, but I began to think of a time when I would need my own. Not having to share my underwear was appealing; having my own beautiful clothes gave me a deep satisfaction. Not that I was in any rush to leave, but...

One dull Thursday morning I had donned my favorite yellow sundress to counteract the grey outside. Could you wear a sundress with no sun? Who cares? Sara surprised me by being fully dressed and not at the keyboard when I completed my toilet, makeup and all. That's the word women use, with the French pronunciation, but it still strikes me as faintly icky.

"Now this is a surprise! I miss ogling you in your nightgown in the mornings. What's up?"

"It better not be you, girlfriend. Remember, we're having guests for the weekend, so we need to go shopping and lay in supplies. Oh, and you need to move your things into my room so our client can use your room."

"Oh darling, this is so sudden!" I swooned theatrically. "But isn't the heroine supposed to invite the macho hunk into her bedroom? I'm not feeling so macho these days."

"You've been reading too many of my books, girlfriend. This heroine is feeling comfortable enough to share a bed with her girlfriend. We'll see how the relationship develops with no one watching."

"I'm flattered, Sara. We both need to take it carefully if we sleep together. I don't want to blow it this time."

"That's traditionally my job, but I get what you mean. I don't want to mess up, either."

"So I make my debut today?"

"We go to the big city today. I never take my clients into town; small towns are not the most accepting of people who are different. You've taken to your new lifestyle remarkably well, but you don't want to try to pass inspection in a small town, especially with me. I'm a bit of a freak show here, I'm sort of famous as a writer but my grandfather wasn't born her so I'll be an outsider even if I've die of old age here. People still look at me and whisper even now. Not that you'd make a mistake, but I'd draw attention to you. So we do some driving; get ready to go through the dreaded 'door with the skirt' on it, we'll be gone all day. You have been warned."

"I'm ready for the big game, coach! Send me in!"

"Oh, yeah. Wear sandals and forget the pantyhose. I have a surprise in mind."

Having spent much of my time lately reading romances, both with crossdressers and without, I think I have the basic plot down. At this point in the story the heroine (no matter what her original genetics) does something stupid. If the heroine has breast forms that usually means she is read in public and humiliated. If the heroine has real tits that means she does something to be humiliated in front of her parents, school friends or the macho hunk. Either way, she spends the next several pages agonizing and trying to convince herself she is a human being of worth.

All right, I'm a cynical bitch, but there are those who insist that some kind of conflict in a story is essential, and that's a pretty standard scenario in the romance form. Crossdressing gives you a veritable banquet of potential problems to agonize over, but the first trip into the public eye is one of the favorites.

Sadly for the plot line, I wasn't read. We drove and we shopped. I did buy several pairs of pantyhose in the grocery store, I had been hard on Sara's supply of them, but otherwise no clothes or fashions, just food and supplies to entertain a crowd. That blows another crossdressers cliché - I didn't look at a single piece of lingerie. Besides, having bought a dozen bras and panties on line I had my own, I didn't need any more. And no cracks that women don't have to need clothes to buy them, thank you.

I was a little worried when I stepped out of the car in that giant parking lot, but my taskmistress had drilled me well and I was ready. There's nothing exciting to report, it was a simple shopping trip with no excitement. A couple of second looks, my senses were on hyper-alert, but satisfyingly normal. No one screaming 'It's a man!' when I used the facilities.

Sara had another surprise in store, she pulled up at a strip mall and told me it was time for a mani-pedi.

"Mani-pedi? I'm technically a man but the pedi- is a bit concerning. Just what do you have in mind?"

"Well, I suppose your pedis will be filed. Manicure and pedicure, you dirty old girlfriend. You are about to experience one of the pleasures of being a woman. Follow me."

You see these little nail places all over creation; there's one every few blocks in any town or city. I had noted them absentmindedly, but had never invaded their feminine precincts. Up until recently I had kept my nails short, shorter nails are much more practical when you're working with grease and grime. As I developed my persona as Rochelle I had let them grow and had begun to take better care of them, but they were still a reasonable length for using a keyboard. I remember one woman in the front office who had dragon lady nails but managed to type in spite of it. I never could figure how she did it and wasn't going to try it for myself.

I walked in the door and saw a row of very comfortable power massage chairs with built in foot baths. Who would have thought that someone would design such a thing? Well, I guess just about any woman on the planet; but very few of men would be interested in a pedicure; just chop 'em off and put on your socks. Simple, for a guy.

Now I understood why I wasn't wearing pantyhose. Following Sara's lead I perused a bewildering array of nail polishes - hundreds of them in all colors and with sparkles and who knew what else. Ice cream isn't the only thing that can give you brain-freeze. I was standing there trying to make up my mind when a diminutive Asian woman came over to us. Turns out that many nail salons are run by Vietnamese families. Who knew?

They obviously knew Sara, calling her by name. They started by removing the old polish from our fingers and toes, then we were ushered to one of those sybaritic chairs where Mary and Sue immersed our feet in warm water. Now I know these two women didn't get those monikers when they were born, but they admitted later that they had names that most Americans couldn't pronounce easily. I guess I wasn't the only one present with a new name.

I can now add one more thing to the list of reasons why I agreed with Sara that I was better off being more feminine. My first pedicure started with Mary rubbing my feet and calves in that wonderfully warm water. I was patted dry and then she clipped and shaped my toenails. While this was happening little mechanical fingers were running up and down my spine as I lay back in the massage chair. I could certainly get to like this kind of treatment.

Mary inserted those funny little foam plastic things between my toes that my wife used to use and started painting. It tickled, but who cared. A few more minutes of massage while the polish dried and we were given some cheap plastic sandals. I never did like flip-flops, that big hunk of plastic between my toes was annoying, but it was only until we were dry enough to don our own sandals.

The shaping and filing was repeated on our fingers while we exchanged gossip and I created my background out of whole cloth when Sue asked how I knew Sara. I hope they didn't read any of Sara's romances, because I borrowed liberally from several of them. On the trip home I kept admiring my sparkly orange nails that went so well with the yellow dress.

We carried in bag after bag of supplies, filling the counter with all the food for the weekend. Sara checked her voice mail; pretty much routine until the last one. It was a plea for directions to the resort from someone who had lost them. The voice was male but the name was female. It shouldn't have surprised me, but it did. I hoped I had gotten farther with my voice than Andra.

"Rosie, could you call her back and give her the directions again while I put this stuff away?"

Well, I was about to find out how far I had gotten.

"Sure." I had automatically written the number down. "I think I can remember the way, now. Are you sure my voice is up to it?"

"You heard Andra's voice. You have nothing to worry about, you'll do fine."

The phone rang a few times. I was just about to give up when a man answered.

"Hello?"

"This is Rosie. I'm..." Now just who the hell was I? Think quick! "uh, Ms Prior's assistant. I'm returning Andra's phone call."

"Oh, thank you. This is Andra."

"I've got the directions for you. Where are you starting from?"

As I went over the directions, Sara slipped a piece of paper in front of me.

"Andra? If you have a GPS I can give you the coordinates. These back roads sometimes aren't on the GPS maps. You do? Good then its…"

We talked a bit more and I answered some of her questions. I was surprised at how much I had picked up about Sara's operation in the last few weeks. It was almost like being back at the Help Desk, answering a customer's questions.

"I'll look forward to meeting you tomorrow, Andra. I'm sure you'll enjoy your time with us."

With that I hung up the phone. Sara was smiling at me when I looked at her.

"You make the perfect secretary, Rosie. I'm glad you're my assistant for the weekend."

"I never thought I'd say this, but I'm delighted to be your girlfriend and your assistant."

"It has all worked out rather nicely, hasn't it?"

"Indeed it has. I find myself wondering how I'm going to return to the real world."

"Cross that bridge when you come to it. Not many job offers flooding your inbox, I take it?"

"The only offers I'm getting are for penis enlargement. Not quite applicable to my situation, is it?"

"As I recall your penis was quite ample."

"It did the job. It's rather a handicap these days, but I'm not complaining."

"You shouldn't. The transformation has been remarkable, and I've seen quite a few. Don't be surprised if most of our guests this weekend don't quite measure up to what you've achieved."

"I guess I'm lucky to have a body that isn't too masculine. It must be hell to want to dress like a woman and have the body of a football player."

"It is, and that pretty much describes Andra."

"As my grandpappy said, 'Treat 'em all with kindness and you won't go wrong.' That's good advice for most any circumstance."

"I think you'll do fine this weekend. It will be good to have a partner to share the load."

"It's good to have a partner again. I was a little scared to come up here after all this time. I didn't seem to be able to keep up my end of a relationship very well before."

"You're getting the hang of it, Rosie. As Rosie. I'd hoped this would help you find what was missing in your life. Even in college you never seemed to quite connect with people."

"Just a born programmer, I suppose. At the risk of misappropriating a phrase already in use, I've been born again as a woman. It feels pretty good. Thank you, Sara."

"You're welcome. Rosie?"

"Yes?"

"Are you ready to make it permanent? I think I am."

"My relationship track record hasn't been so great."

"Neither has mine. I think this one will work."

"I've been thinking the same thing. Let's give it the old college try."

"Not the old college, neither one of us was very dependable back then. We're starting over."

"So we are, some of us more than others."

"Are you complaining?"

"No, I'm boasting. I'm bushed, let's go to bed."

So we did, and further deponent sayeth not. It's none of your business.

Friday morning I awoke to the satisfying feeling of a warm body next to me in bed. There was a beautiful sunrise out the bedroom window, inviting me to rise and shine. So I rose and used the facilities, leaving shining for later in the day. When I came out of the bathroom Sara was waiting with a box adorned with a red ribbon in her hands.

"As a reward for being so good in bed, here's a present."

"As I remember, all I did was sleep."

"Which is very good, girlfriend. It's hard to stay in character with me in bed; you've come a long way."

"Sara! You have to stop handing me those straight lines."

"Oh, I didn't mean it that way!"

"Be careful or I might…"

"No time, my well behaved girlfriend. Here, these are for your grand debut as mistress of the house."

(OK, I know I said I wasn't going to tell what went on in our bed, but I lied. I may do so again if it makes a better story, so live with it.)

Opening the box I found a pair of silicone hip pads. Now I'd spent considerable time on line researching objects that can make a man look like a woman, so I knew this was a handsome gift.

"Sara, how lovely!"

"I hope they'll make you feel as lovely as I think you are. I want to see you in that purple sheath dress."

"Hmmm… You don't ask much. I suppose with that neckline I'll need to spend the day in a gaff and bound up with surgical tape so I can present some cleavage."

I had found I preferred loose, full skirts to wearing a gaff and I had experimented with creating cleavage where none existed. Not so easy but it could be done. I'm sure you've read about it so I won't go into the details. Suffice it to say I had one more area of my body to keep shaved.

"It would certainly enhance your image. Is it really so uncomfortable?"

"Not too bad, as long as I don't do anything too acrobatic, like housework or running track. Demure is the agenda when I show some cleavage."

"I just happen to have a roll of tape right here…"

"You've been planning this, haven't you?"

"Of course! My partner in crime needs to set a shining example for our guests."

"At least you realize that that tape is a criminal offence!"

"We must all make sacrifices for beauty."

"Sez you!"

I sat in front of the mirror and watched her strap up my upper body, then outfit me with a very sweet violet bra and some special forms that slipped in under my gathered pecs to produce a fair illusion of breasts. Full service, indeed!

I looked pretty good in that purple sheath, I really did!

Our guests started arriving shortly after lunch. We had two couples and one single. Sara assured me that having two couples was unusual, her clients were mostly single men or men whose wives did not know or did not approve.

Arianne and wife Barbara Duchamps came first. They were an older couple, in their late sixties or a well preserved seventy. One look at them and I knew they were women with style; If I hadn't seen the info on them I would have been hard pressed to pick which one started out life with an Y chromosome.

"Welcome, I'm Rosie, one of your hosts for the weekend. Sara is out there on the riding lawnmower, she'll be back in a little while. Come in and I'll show you your room."

"It's good to be back." Barbara replied. "it's been too long since we've seen Sara."

"Then it may be unnecessary, but I'll give you the introductory spiel anyway. I'll take you to your room. Please feel free to wear any of the clothes in the closet or the drawers, They've all been cleaned and are for our guest's use. Both of you, by the way. If you don't have your own forms there are several in the closet, all sterilized and ready. Likewise the wigs, if one strikes you fancy they are yours to use. You can use any of the makeup at the table, but please take the open items with you; it's all included in the weekend. Sara also has a selection of padding items available at extra cost, just ask me or Sara if you're interested. Please be sure to put anything you've used in the hamper so we can launder it for the next guest.

"We have several guests for the weekend, we cook and socialize as a group. Tonight we have a evening of conversation and games planned; tomorrow we have a hairdresser and a makeup specialist available to help you refine your look, once again for both of you.

We try to respect our guest's privacy, you can use any name you want for the weekend and ask that you don't pry into the other guest's background. Naturally if they volunteer any details we would hope you will keep them to yourselves.

"Other than that, welcome and please enjoy yourselves. Come out when you're ready and meet your fellow guests."

Whew! I got through it all. Only two more to go. I was glad they seemed to be comfortable with each other, harmony is a wonderful thing when strangers gather.

I had settled in on the front porch with a tall glass of iced tea, enjoying the day as much as someone who was wrapped in surgical tape could, when a blue Volvo came up the drive. After a few seconds a rather large man unfolded from the driver's seat and glanced around. For all his size, he looked apprehensive and shy. As he was unaccompanied, this had to be Andra.

As I had gathered from her voice on the phone, she was someone who would need a lot of understanding in her pursuit of femininity. I hate to use the word 'cursed' but for a man who wanted to be more feminine she was cursed with a burly male body. It must be difficult knowing that no matter how much you dream your body just won't cooperate.

I raised my glass in welcome, but before a word could leave my lips Sara came zipping around the corner on the riding lawnmower, raising a cloud of dust on her way to the garage.

Some welcome for our guest!

I rose and headed for the car, arriving just as Andra lifted a suitcase from the trunk.

"Hello! You must be Andra, It's so good to get to meet you."

The poor man had that deer-in-the-headlights look of someone scared out of his mind. It was easy to see that revealing Andra to anyone else didn't come easy. I'm not sure why, but I gave him a hug. Maybe he looked like he needed it, maybe I was so comfortable by that time that hugging a man seemed perfectly reasonable. In any case, a smile lit his face.

"Andra, I'm Rosie. The lawnmower jockey over there is Sara, who owns the place. Come inside and I'll show you your room. You're among friends here and we hope you enjoy your time with us."

Taking his elbow I guided him toward the porch. I had to laugh, here I was, a man in a purple sheath dress while Sara was a woman in grubby jeans and T-shirt covered with grass clippings. Being feminine is a complex affair!

I settled Andra in, again reciting my spiel, and offered any help I could. I did point out that there was a fair selection of larger sizes in the closet. (We had moved all the larger sizes into her room since we knew Andra would need them, rearranging the other rooms to suit their occupants. Naturally, our guest's sizes were on their applications so we could prepare.)

Unlike Arianne and Barbara, Andra seemed uncomfortable. I didn't need inborn feminine intuition to guess what was happening.

"Is this your first time dressing with someone around?"

"Uh…yeah."

"I guess the first time scares the crap out of all of us. It seems like everyone in the entire world is watching just so they can scream "YOU'RE A MAN!" at the top of their lungs. I know I wished I was wearing diapers the first time I went out in public. I just about shit myself when I opened the door to the lady's room. Pantyhose aren't much protection at times like that."

Well, a bit exaggerated, but Andra needed to hear she wasn't alone. I did get a weak laugh for my efforts.

"Everyone here understands our need to dress like women, nobody's going to think you're part of the freak show. The whole idea is to spend some time relaxing and enjoying your femininity. Put on your favorite dress or check out the closet; then come join us in the living room. It will be OK, you're among friends."

"But I still can't do my makeup right!"

"That's why we're here to help. Get dressed and I'll come back in a few minutes to help. I'm still pretty new at makeup myself, but I can help."

"Thanks."

It wasn't until I left that I realized I had made a promise that was going to be a challenge to keep. Sure, I could do my own makeup now, but I was still a novice. I was glad I had Sara to backstop me if I failed.

I was starting to feel comfortable with my duties as 'official greeter.' Arianne and Barbara had joined me on the porch, both of them relaxed, comfortable and casual. Over iced tea I found out they had been here several times before. Before retiring, Arianne's day job being something that would be seriously affected if anyone knew of her dressing; they were able to relax and enjoy themselves here in this rural setting. Barbara seemed to be completely accepting of her husband's dressing, not a common thing as I was soon to learn.

One more car came up the driveway and I arose to greet our final guests just as Sara came out on the porch. She had changed from her lawn mowing duds to a blue sheath that mirrored my own. My, weren't we formal for the country life? We exchanged a grin and went to meet our guests.

They were Phyllis and Helene Patrickson, but unlike Arianne and Barbara they were looking tense and distracted. Phil was still in male mode and Helene was obviously unhappy about being here. I hoped we weren't in for some marital strife.

I have to admit I chickened out and left Sara to show them their room while I went to check on Andra. I knocked and entered at her call and found myself in a pickle about as bad as that I had escaped. Andra had chosen a very short skirt that was meant for someone a decade younger and a quite a few pounds lighter. Not to mention patterned stockings with bumps in the skirt that screamed 'garter belt'. Not to mention a cheap wig that would have been rejected by Barnum & Bailey. Novice that I was I knew her outfit was completely unsuitable for her body. She looked like a frightened rabbit having someone see her dressed, but how to tell her without hurting her feelings?

I called upon my customer relations skills; there is always something a customer wants that just isn't possible, either physically or within their budget. The trick is to tell them they can't have what they want without pissing them off. I could do it when talking about a machine, but how do I politely tell someone their taste in clothes sucks?

"Could I make a suggestion, Andra?"

"Uh… Go ahead."

"Dinner tonight is going to be informal, I'm about to go change into something more casual for the evening. I could help you pick out an outfit more suitable to a casual evening, if it's all right with you."

"But I thought…" she trailed off.

"Finding the right outfit is a lot harder for a woman. You can't just throw on a T-shirt and jeans like a man. Learning how to blend in with others is a valuable skill for a crossdresser, you know. That's why we're here - to help you learn how to do things right. To give you a place where you can relax and enjoy yourself."

"I know, but…"

"I don't want to hurt your feelings, Andra, but women your age don't wear an outfit like that in public. If you're home alone wear anything you want - the whole idea is to feel good about yourself. Even if you were young enough, would you want to be screaming 'sexy bitch' to the whole world? I know when I'm out I just want to be one more woman walking around the place. I don't want to draw too much attention - that could get sticky."

"I guess you're right. I… I…"

"But you want to feel really feminine?"

"Well, yeah."

"Don't we all? But there are a lot of ways to do that. Feminine and sexy aren't the same thing, you know. Sara's taught me the difference, let me help you find a style that suits your body."

"My body! Why the hell did I have to look like this?"

"When your parents were thinking 'glamorous' the Baby Gods misheard and went for 'generous'? Genetics is a crap shoot - you get what you get and have to work with it."

"Crap - you got that right!"

"I can feel your anguish, Andra. Short of surgery we can't change much about your body, but what I can offer is helping you to get the best out of what you have. There are some pretty big women in this world, you know. Ever sat and people watched at an all-you-can-eat buffet? You might get some fashion tips. Or maybe some fashion don'ts!"

"Now that you mention it, I do tend to hang out in places like that. Do I really look that bad?"

"Ummm… Look in the mirror and answer your own question." I've learned that some questions women ask can be hazardous to answer!

"Yeah, you're right. I guess I would attract a lot of attention like this."

"Then let's see what might be a better choice. Step into the closet, girlfriend."

With a little effort we picked out a loose printed blouse and a wide pleated skirt, along with some jewelry suitable for a larger woman. And some plain gartered stockings - they wouldn't show under the skirt and I hoped Andra could enjoy the femininity of a garter.

The illusion was still less than perfect, but with a better wig and more suitable clothes at least it didn't scream bad taste.

"OK, I'm going to change while you do the same, then I'll get Sara to help with your makeup, she's the expert around here. You're going to do OK, girl."

With that I left to unburden myself from my mechanically induced cleavage and enjoy the evening while being able to breathe freely. I can't tell you how good it felt to pull off that tape (at least after the stinging stopped) and unhook the gaff. The thought of breast augmentation surgery again entered my mind. If I was going to remain Rosie it would be very sweet to not have to use forms all the time. I was pretty sure I was ready to make that commitment.

I chose an ensemble that complimented Andra's in the hopes she would feel some kinship with me, laying it out on the bed. I was had showered and put on my underwear and padding, just slipping in the forms when Sara came in. Now, despite the fact she had encouraged me at every step of the way, despite having spent the night in bed together and despite having gotten dressed together this morning, I felt a guilty surge at being seen in my bra and panties. Not sensible at all, given the circumstances, but it took me a second to recover. Damned if I didn't put my hands in front of my fake breasts!

"My, but you look sexy like that!"

"Funny you should say that. I just had a discussion of sexy versus feminine with Andra. All I can say is I'm glad my parents gifted me with this body. I can't imagine how hard it is for her to want to be either feminine or sexy with a linebacker's body."

"Such cases are sad. I try to give them a safe place to live their fantasies."

"I hope I handled the situation right. She was dressed like a hooker and needed some encouragement to pick something more appropriate. By the way, could you help her with makeup; I'm still an amateur."

"She's still here, so you must have done something right. No problem with the makeup, as long as you get dinner started while I work. Speaking of problems, I'm a bit concerned about Helene. It's pretty clear she doesn't like Phyllis's dressing much. She's agreed to come with her this weekend but her attitude is approaching Ice Queen. I hope Andra's presentation won't tip her over the edge."

"Oh joy! Daytime Drama for the weekend. 'Will Andra pass? Will the Ice Queen bury the living room in a glacier? Will Arianne and Barbara find some stupid thing to fight over despite being perfectly happy with crossdressing? Will Sara and Rosie find true happiness? Tune in next Monday for Passing Fancies on your cable network!' "

"Will Rosie get dressed and get her ass into the kitchen so we can eat supper?"

"Oh my, if that's what's needed for us to find true happiness my amply padded ass is on the way!"

"Good evening, everybody. Sorry to have abandoned you but there were a few things that needed doing."

Our four guests were scattered around the living room, fortunately talking with one another in a peaceful manner. If I didn't know that two of our guests were born male, the only thing that would have given them away was their heaver than usual makeup. Arianne was wearing a long, silver wig that closely matched Barbara's natural hair. I have always appreciated older women who let their hair grow out, a young attitude that complimented the physical years they were not afraid to show.

With the exception of Helene they were all looking comfortable; she was sitting very straight and her face was pretty much locked in place. I just hoped that would continue when Andra made her appearance.

"Dinner around here is pretty much a community activity, I announced, "since you are all here to find the feminine side of your soul we invite you to help cook."

Oops, the Ice Queen just appeared!

"Maid's night off, eh?" asked Arianne.

"Funny you should say that. We do have maid costumes if anyone is interested."

Disney could have used Helene to generate all the blizzards in Frozen.

"Tonight we have a salad, much of which comes from the gardens out back, BBQ chicken that has been marinating in Sara's own BBQ sauce, baked beans and coleslaw. If you've spent any time in this area you'll know that the weekend Chicken BBQ is considered high art and no one, absolutely no one, will reveal their marinade recipe. Except for Sara - it's yours if you like it. Do I have any volunteers to shred some cabbage?"

Everyone volunteered, even the Ice Queen. Soon I had volunteers picking salad greens, shredding cabbage and carrots and setting the table. There were a few raised eyebrows when I added several scoops of horseradish to the coleslaw dressing but I made promises that they would like it.

As the last of the silverware was being set Andra and Sara made their appearance. Sara made the introductions; Andra's gate was as tight as the Ice Queen's but for much different reasons. I was sure she was terrified to be seen, even by other crossdressers. She looked much more presentable with clothing that suited her age, which was somewhere around the late thirties, and a wig that helped frame her unfortunately masculine face.

I needn't have worried. Our three relaxed guests greeted her warmly, the Ice Queen even managed a tight, wordless smile.

"Sara continued, "Do I have a volunteer to grill the chicken? They're boneless breasts so they'll cook quickly."

Arianne quickly volunteered and took the Tupperware marinating pan from the refrigerator. On the way out she took Andra by the arm, saying, "What say you and I put these babies on the fire so everyone can congratulate us on being able to grill even if we are women?"

That got a good laugh and the two went out to incinerate some chicken.

It's awkward when you have a room full of strangers searching for a topic of conversation. I could almost wish this were an AA meeting, not that I've ever been to one. The whole 'I'm Dave and I'm and alcoholic' bit has become cliché, but at least it gives you a starting point. 'I'm Richard/Rosie and I'm a crossdresser' doesn't have the same ring; besides, I have no intention of quitting! We all knew why we were here, but it hardly helped capture our feminine sides to talk about our genetic challenges.

The usual 'what do you do' or 'where are you from' didn't work, either; we were here incognito. The weather was fine and sunny - not much to talk about there. Politics? That could get dicey. Religion? Not with Deuteronomy and hellfire hanging over us. Fortunately, Sara had done this before and was able to suggest some neutral topics to carry us through dinner. I knew there was a reason I was falling in love with the woman.

With the dishes washed we adjourned to the living room and finally agreed to watch Mrs Doubtfire. OK, another cliché, but what did you expect? I had just started to get interested in the movie when I noticed Helene get up and go to the reading nook off the dining room. I suppose she found the subject difficult; so I joined her as I didn't want to leave a guest isolated.

"Movie not to your taste?"

"You could say that."

"Subject matter not to your taste?"

"You could say that, too."

"Kind of hard to avoid with a crossdressing weekend, though."

"I know. I'm trying to understand, but I just don't fathom why Phil has to do this! Why?"

Punctuation fails me here - I would need a whole string of exclamation points and question marks to accurately reflect the tone of her voice.

"I've been spending a lot of time lately trying to understand, myself. I've read everything from trashy romances to learned tomes, wandered over vast arrays of Internet links and hung out in crossdressing forums; I have to say I don't think anyone can answer that question completely. I think it mostly boils down to 'it feels right to me'. I suspect you could apply that to any other mildly antisocial behavior as well."

"Mildly antisocial? That's a laugh."

"Well, laughing is better than crying."

"I've been doing a lot of crying, Rosie."

"I'm not surprised, you haven't been very happy since you got here."

"I haven't been very happy since I found out."

"If I'm getting too personal just tell me to shut up, but did he tell you before you got married?"

"We aren't married. We've been together for four years but marriage isn't in our plans. We stay together because we love each other, not because some preacher says we have to."

"Then you must love him more than you dislike his dressing?"

"I… that's a hard question to answer."

"Then let's try something simpler - You said you love him, whatever that means. Let's not get distracted defining love. What makes you love him?"

"He's cute, he's funny, he loves music, he seems to know just what I need when I'm down, he's good in bed…" She laughed.

"Not a bad list. And you knew all that before you moved in together?"

"Sure."

"And did anything change when you got together. He was still the same person you fell in love with?"

"Well, actually the sex got better when we didn't have to go back home afterward."

"It is sweet when you wake up together the next morning."

"Or afternoon or evening…"

"TMI, Helene. So what changed when you found out he likes dresses on himself and not just on you? Was he still cute, funny, musically inclined and good in bed? Does he still know how to make you feel happy?"

"You're too damn logical, Rosie. It's not a matter of logic!"

"I guess it comes with being a programmer. Logic is my life!"

"You're a programmer?

"Out of work at the moment, but yeah, I'm a nerd through and through."

"Why so am I, or at least I was until they kicked me up to management. There aren't many of us women in the business, are there? Fancy meeting you here!"

The talk drifted off into computer esoterica for quite some time; if you don't speak the language be glad I'm not going to reproduce it here. Suffice it to say it was a bonding experience among nerds. We traded stories of oddball problems and their solutions or weird customers and their insanity. As much as I loved Sara she didn't speak my working language; Helene did. I had missed being able to trade stories with a colleague. I could appreciate Sara's stories, we both spoke the same normal language, but she didn't have the language or the background to see why some oddball mechanical snafu was funny.

We finally found our way back to the topic of her attending a crossdressing extravaganza. Of course she asked why Phil wanted to be here.

"Well, the whole idea of this getaway is to blur gender lines. I'm kind of surprised that a woman in a so-called man's profession should be so disturbed when a man wants to enter a woman's domain."

"I never thought of it that way!"

"It's awfully easy to split our lives into compartments that don't talk to each other, isn't it?"

"I suppose it is."

"Well then, I'm sure you know how much resistance you hit when you wanted to be a computer jock, but it meant enough to you to keep going and find the place you wanted to be. Can you put yourself in Phil's place and really feel his need to be more feminine? Sure, you weren't driven by the need to adopt a different gender, but you were facing many of the same issues. We're getting better as a society, but the whole male-female thing is still pretty strong. Men's jobs / women's jobs; men's clothing / women's clothing. You have to have noticed that both sides are intersecting. That's actually a problem for crossdressers - how do you crossdress if there's no difference in the clothing?"

"Would you stop coming up with new ideas to make it all more complicated? She laughed. "But I suppose you've been trained to think outside the box, just like I have. You seem to be able to look at a problem from an unusual perspective and make it less of a problem."

"I've been told that before, too. I once had a boss that told me that if there were two possible solutions to a problem I always came up with a third. It wasn't a compliment."

"Too bad for your boss. I wish more of my team had that gift, some programmers are so straightforward they can't see the anything but the main track and ignore side issues that will come back to bite them. I'm surprised you're out of work."

I'm in industrial programming - nobody is building new manufacturing any more. I've been branching out and getting up to speed on Java and learning Android so I can do some app programming."

"We do a lot of Java in our shop. Do you have a card? If we get an opening I'd love to have another woman on my team."

Another woman? Oh boy!

"Uh, Helene? You do realize that Phyllis and I share the same genetic challenge?"

"Oh my god! I…"

"I'm flattered. I didn't think I was that good at it. I certainly didn't intend to fool you. What you see is what you get; I'm seriously considering going full time and abandoning my former life. It wasn't so hot anyway, so I'm not loosing much."

"Why did I let Phil talk me into this? I'm so damn confused I'm not so sure I even understand myself!"

"Very Zen. The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling. I haven't thought of Zen and Motorcycle Maintenance since Sara and I were in college. I guess I became one of those straightline programmers for a while and forgot the side issues."

"You've been together that long?"

"Oh, no! We were lovers but I was an ass; I let her go to become a nerd. Screwed up a marriage for my work and then ran out of work. You might say she saved my life by dragging me up here and showing me that Rosie was a more real person than Richard the work obsessed nerd."

"She actually encouraged you to be Rosie?"

"Just short of coercion! She had seen some remarkably unhappy men become happy women for a weekend or two and thought I fit that category. She was right, with my obsession for doing the job right I jumped in and worked my ass off to be a believable woman. Ironic that my more macho traits helped me become more feminine, what? I found what was missing in my life. I'm comfortable and happy as Rosie and I'm ready to start a new life, even with all the hassles changing genders will cause. I like to think that Rosie is simply a more complete Richard."

"You are a very complex person, Rosie. Funny but I can't think of you as a Richard! You still have me confused."

"Then let me throw one more idea at you and then I'll go away. Do you really need the stereotype of a 'man' any more than you need the stereotype of 'marriage' to be happy?"

"I thought I was starting to get it and now I just…"

"Life's a bitch, isn't it?"

"And I was being one?"

"Not exactly, but we all knew you were very uncomfortable being here."

"You have a gift for understatement, Rosie."

"I've been told that before, too. Might I suggest you go out on the back porch and sit in the swing. Watching the moon and the stars is just the ticket for letting you mind go running free. You thought well enough of me as a woman to make a tentative job offer. Could you extend that good will to Phyllis? I might even suggest you invite Phyllis to join you after the movie and do a bit of snuggling. Talk to her like you talked to me - you need each other."

"You sound like a shrink, but I do need some quiet time."

"Go in peace, Helene. Let your love guide you on the right path, be it straight or filled with side trips."

Helene took my advice and went out to the swing while I mused on what I had just said. I hadn't put it into words before talking with her, but I did want to continue as Rosie, not just as a vacation but for the rest of my life. I knew that would be problematic once I left this snug woodland retreat and faced the real world, but others had done it before me and I felt confident I could do the same.

Now wouldn't it be nice to have a boss like Helene who would understand and run interference with HR? Work from home? I wouldn't even have to leave the place that had become home to me all that often. My apartment lease was up soon, Sara and I had obliquely approached the idea of making our arrangement permanent, but it was still tentative.

Arrangement? A cold word for a warm partnership. With both of us ostensibly women, who would make the proposal? As in marriage proposal. Did I really want to try that again?

Yes, I did.

My mother's wedding rings were sitting in a small box in my dresser back in my old apartment, I wondered if I could have the engagement ring resized for Sara. Poor mom, would she ever flip out if she were still around to see me as Rosie, but I liked the odd continuity of passing on her ring to Sara.

My, wasn't I spinning a fantasy as complex as those that Sara wrote? Pretty pleasant, but practical? Practical was Richard, Rosie was a new and more complex person. Practical be damned!

"You missed the movie."

Sara and I were getting ready for bed after saying good night to our guests. It still felt funny to be taking off a bra with her there, but I was getting used to it. I had better if I was considering a long term relationship. That's a nice way of avoiding the word 'marriage' for someone who had screwed up a marriage before.

"I just watched it a couple of weeks ago. Part of the 'Sara Plan For Rosie Reclamation' you might say"

"Rosie is turning out to be a pretty nice gal."

"I have to agree. Tonight I learned how important having a willing partner can be. Helene was tying herself in knots trying to understand Phyllis. Funny, I had pegged her as 'The Ice Queen' from her attitude but after talking to her she's just a nice woman trying to cope with something she doesn't understand."

"Ice Queen, huh. I've been calling her Elsa in my head, not that I'd do it to her face!"

"Yeah - I've been seeing the world ice over ahead of her as she walks, at least before I talked to her. She's a computer geek, just like me, so we had a neutral topic to share. It was actually fun to have someone who understands that stuff."

"To each her own, girlfriend. I'm glad you were the one to talk with her. I was about to give it a try when you beat me to it."

"I'm glad it was me, too. We got along well and I think I helped her look at Phyllis from a new perspective. Not that I'm expecting an overnight conversion, but she is a little more willing to consider the possibilities."

"It's a start…"

"It sure is. By the way, your transformation program is a rousing success, Helene made noises about having another woman on her team the next time a job opens up."

"I've created new life! It's alive! It's alive!"

"I feel more alive, Dr Frankenstein. Too bad you didn't sew in a few new parts, though. All this padding is getting old."

"You could opt for a boob job if you want to stay Rosie permanently."

"Only if I stay with you permanently. I'd like that very much.

"Really? I'd like that very much, too."

"Come over here a minute."

Looking out the back window we could see Phyllis and Helene were cuddled together on the swing.

"That's how I want to be forty years from now. You and me close together despite the problems the world throws at us. Did you think something like that could happen after her attitude tonight?"

"I noticed how she was careful not to touch Phyllis. It was pretty obvious."

"Wasn't it? Is this what a matchmaker feels like when she finds the right couple?"

"If it's anything like I feel after finding you, Rosie, then it's a glorious feeling!"

"So, are we a couple?"

"Yes. Yes. Yes"

My reply didn't need words.

Somehow Phyllis & Helene didn't make it for breakfast the next morning. I wondered just how late they had stayed up last night, the light on the back porch was still on when I drifted away but was off when I checked this morning. I hope they had been able to achieve some kind of compromise that let both of them be happy. I hadn't quite appreciated how lucky I was to have Sara not only tolerate my new-found femininity but to actually encourage it.

Sara must have figured this was a comfort food weekend, she had planned bacon, eggs and oven roasted potatoes for breakfast. Bacon has no calories if you think thin, right? Right??? OK, just ignore the calories and enjoy. And save some bacon for our sleepyheads when they arise.

As the plates were figuratively licked clean, (we were all too ladylike to actually lick the dishes) Debbi and her cohorts arrived for the morning's festivities. Andra became the victim for the makeup demonstration, I had my curls and color replenished, driving the last of the bacon odor from the kitchen, and while Arianne and Barbara had their hair styled. Our somnolent lovers finally emerged into the chaos with sheepish grins and actually holding hands.

Greetings were exchanged and after some good natured twitting we admitted to saving some of the bacon for them. Wisely, they elected to eat on the porch, as the permanent lotion made the kitchen less than appealing for eating.

Helene came in just as Debbi was putting the finishing touches on Barbara's hair, so Debbi called out to her "Want to be next, darling?"

I didn't recognize the voice, but it was definitely a Southern Bell speaking.

"Why not? I'm feeling rather giddy this morning and it's time to make a few changes. What would you recommend?"

Sara, Barbara and the three stylists went into consultation mode, leaving Arianne and me to ourselves.

"What say we take a walk, Rosie. We are obviously not needed here."

"Right you are. I see you're wearing sandals, so let me change into mine and we can go wading in the stream. Sound OK to you?"

"A fine idea. I'm glad I chose a shorter skirt this morning."

"I guess I had better find something shorter as well. I'll only be a minute."

"You'll blow the image if you don't take the time to agonize about what you're going to wear."

"Still a bit of the old me in here, I won't take long."

And I didn't, either. We walked in companionable silence, admiring the woods and the wildflowers. There was a small clearing with a stream running through it, shallow and perfect for wading on a fine summer's day. We happily got our toes wet and adjourned to a sunlit bench by the stream. After a while Arianne spoke.

"I just love being able to come up here and relax. Sara has something special here, we try to visit a couple of times each year."

"I know what you mean, I don't know what would have happened if she didn't invite me up here."

"If it's not too out of place, I'm glad she has found someone to share her life with. She deserves as much happiness as she gives other people."

"What can I say?"

"I don't want to embarrass you, but I do mean that, you two are so clearly in love."

"Is it that obvious?"

"I've been around long enough to notice such things. Don't let her get away."

"I don't intend to. I'm working up the nerve to give her a ring."

"Then I hope we get an invitation to the wedding. Don't take too long to do it, Rosie. She's a special lady."

"No argument here, Arianne, none at all."

The conversation drew to a halt as we watched a mother duck swim by with her ducklings in tow.

"You just can't find anything like this in the city. I envy you this place, Rosie. I'm a city boy, born and bred, but the quiet life in the country is something I've learned to appreciate."

City boy? I made encouraging noises. It sounded like she had something to say.

"I was born thirty years too early, you know. I would have given my eye teeth to have a place like this available when I was a teen. You can't imagine how awful it was to need to dress up in those days. You ever hear of Joe McCarthy?

"Communists, senate hearings? I learned about it in American history, but it seems pretty strange to me."

"If only it was strange, but it's all too human. I see it coming back in politics today, but I don't want to get started on that. I lived through it. Back then anything even faintly out of the norm was immediately labeled as a Communist Plot. Life was simple then, communists and homosexuals evil, crossdressers were obviously homosexuals and out to destroy the American Way Of Life. I grew up with that. I also grew up being told that only men had any worth for society. I was one fucked up kid.

"I suppose being a city boy I was lucky, there was a gay scene, there even if the word wasn't coined yet, and I found it. It was pretty tawdry, gay pride was a long way off back then. Two weeks before I hit 18 I was thrown in jail for underage drinking and being homosexual. The only place I could go was a bar and, like I said, crossdressers were by definition homosexuals and homosexuality was a felony in New York until 1950."

"I don't think it was you that was fucked up. They must have been crazy!"

"Nope, they defined crazy and gay was a mental illness or a crime. I knew someone who was lobotomized for being gay. Not much left of the bugger after that."

"That's sick!"

"I won't argue. Someone like Andra would have been crucified, and I use that allusion deliberately. The zealots were leading the moralistic pack. Still are, but they've become somewhat of a joke these days. Poor Andra would have probably been driven to suicide if she tried to come out.

"I was just damned lucky it was two weeks before my birthday or I would have had a criminal record; as a supposed child the records were sealed. Not that it did any good with my parents, but they did bail me out before throwing me out of the house. Anyway, I just wish I was born thirty years later and didn't have to go through everything I went through. I doubt you faced arrest or the loony bin when you came out."

"You know, I never even considered it, not for a moment. Of course I've only been out in public once."

"I spent most of my life hiding this part of me. Can you imagine being an investment banker by day and painted woman by night? I loved my job but if anyone found out about my desires I would have been blacklisted and broke overnight. It was almost as bad when my first wife found out and left me, I lived in fear she would tell the world if I didn't give her what she wanted. It was pretty ugly."

"So what happened? You look like a pretty classy grandma to me. By the way, I love the long grey hair. Mine comes from a bottle right now, but when I get to your age I intend to let it grow out and go grey naturally."

"Thanks for the compliment. Two women, Virginia Prince and Barbara, that's what happened. Society changed, feminism happened, gay rights happened, Virginia campaigned to make people like us acceptable. It took one hell of a long time, poor Virginia is almost forgotten now, but it's working. I met Barbara at a convention and something clicked.

"I still had to hide my crossdressing from most everyone in my life, but we vacationed as girlfriends away from home and we found places like Sara has here. Still pretty rare, but I love coming up here even though I'm retired and can let Arianne out whenever it feels right these days. The neighbors just scratch their heads, by they don't call the cops or the exorcist."

"I have to say that I'm a bit worried about what will happen to me when I find a new job. I've pretty much decided that Rosie is for keeps, but that makes for problems."

"Too right, my friend. Look for a place in a big company with a HR department that has a positive gender policy would be my advice."

"Just about what I've been thinking. I've got the resources to take my time."

"Well if you need any investment advice, give me a call. I still keep my hand in with some of my sisters."

"I may just do that, most of my money is in the my former company's plans, I'll have to move it somewhere else when the grace period is up."

"Even if you don't call me, get some advice. It's easy to get screwed if you don't know the system. I've seen it happen many times. You know, it would have been unthinkable to look for a job after a gender change when I was your age. Things like this give me hope for the future."

"Finding Rosie gave me hope for the future, I was pretty down before Sara dragged me into her world."

"That's an odd way of putting it."

So I recapped my path to finding Rosie, but you know all that already.

"Now I know I was born before my time. You managed to bypass all those years of angst and fear and hiding. You don't know how lucky you are."

"So I get to have angst and fear and hide different stuff, but I see what you mean. I don't feel guilty about what's happened, I damn well think it's the best thing to happen to me. I didn't even know what was missing to be aware I was missing it."

"You sound like a Zen master talking about the whichness of what."

"Funny you should say that. I was quoting Robert Persig last night. We got to talking philosophy and college days. I'm surprised that stuck with me all these years. He was a hero to a lot of us looking for a hero to worship."

"Never read him, such things were frowned upon in my line of work, Had to be serious, you know. These days I have more expansive tastes and commit philosophy once in a while. "

"Just don't do it in the middle of the road, you'll scare the children."

"I shall be a model of comportment. If I'm not I have to explain to Barbara."

"I would suspect we should face Barbara some time soon, the madhouse should be calmed down by now."

"Right you are! Thanks for letting me maunder on - we old farts tend to do that, you know."

"Nonsense! It was interesting. I never realized quite how much better things are now. You're the first actual crossdresser I've talked with, you know, or at least the first I know of."

"Curiouser and curiouser… I find myself a bit jealous of you. No guilt? No angst? What's this world coming to?"

"A golden path to a shining city, or some such mystical bullpucky. Either that or lunchtime."

"Then I shall refrain from committing a philosophical act and accompany you to the groaning board."

I groaned. It was the least I could do.

The rest of the weekend went pretty well. Helene and Phyllis seemed to be working things out, Andra seemed to gain confidence as she grew to know the company better. For that matter I felt more confident of my own voice and manor. I had grown comfortable in living with Sara, she seldom offered correction to my poise as a woman any more, but I was pleased to be able to live as Rosie without constantly thinking about how I should react to a given situation. Rosie was just me.

A couple of weeks later I came to a decision. By then we were pretty certain we were going to be in this for the long haul.

"Sara, I think I need to make a trip to town and visit my old place. There are a few things I'd like to bring back, and I need to start sorting what I won't need anymore. Too bad the complex doesn't allow yard sales, I'm not sure what to do with a lot of it."

"For shame, a computer junkie and you don't know how to use Craigslist?"

"Silly me. I'll take lots of pictures and I can set up appointments so I'm not running back and forth too much."

"Sell the bed last, so you can stay overnight if you need to. I'll pine away without you, but I can tough it out."

"You have plenty of pines out the door of this place, you'll have good company."

"After that you can make like a tree and leaf!"

So I did.

I was amazed at how pitiful my apartment looked after all these months. Did I really live in this crappy place? The bed and the TV were about the only decent things there, the rest came from garage sales or second hand stores. The appliances came with the place, the couch had sprung springs, the dresser had one broken drawer and whatever else I owned would bring about $35 at a garage sale, even if I could have one. I had just plain forgotten how bad my old life was.

There was only one thing to do - tomorrow was garbage day so I called Sara and told her I was staying the night. I packed all my old clothes into big garbage bags and took them to the Goodwill. In a few hours most of my former life was out at the curb. Mom's rings were safely in my purse, a few boxes of personal items and computer parts were in my back seat and the place was bare. I was glad I had cleaned up properly before I left, I hate to think what would have been growing in the refrigerator if I hadn't.

I cleaned up as best I could, naturally the hairbrush in my purse was the only personal hygiene item I had, I hadn't planned on all this. I went out for dinner and stopped to buy a nightgown and something to wear in the morning. Well, for a few mornings. Remembering Sara's joy at shopping second hand I did so and found quite a few nice things. I suspect I was telling the world that Rosie was here to stay and Richard was on the trash heap where he belonged.

I had to buy new for lingerie, but I couldn't help noticing one really sweet skirt, so I bought one for me and another for Sara. Matching outfits can be a kick.

By the time I fell asleep the bed and TV were on Craigslist and there was a letter in the office mail slot telling them that I wouldn't be renewing the lease.

On the way back I got a call from an unknown number. (Of course I have hands free in the car - I'm not stupid!) I took a chance and answered it, hoping it wasn't a robot or a salesman.

"Hello?"

"Rosie? It's Helene."

"Helene! How nice to hear from you. How are things going with you and Phyllis?"

"We're working on it. Look, Rosie, I called to see if you could come down for an interview."

"Say the word and I'm your girl!"

"And you would be my girl, by the way. I've cleared it with HR. Gave the lawyers conniptions making sure we followed the company policy, it did. Use Rochelle on your resume and I'll take care of contacting any previous employers with your old name. The company has a policy of using first initials on most official documents, so that makes things a bit easier."

"Then I can assume you've revised your personal personnel policy?"

"That's a fair way of putting it. We're at least talking with each other, as opposed to at each other."

"I hope the negotiations are fruitful. I'd hate to have a boss with personal problems."

"Still have a few of those, but I try not to let it affect my work."

"Good policy if you can implement it. Speaking of work policies, does your company expect us peons to live at our cubicles and check in with family every two weeks?"

"Not so much any more, although we still have a few workaholics. Their choice, I firmly believe that anyone who works for me needs time for family and relaxation. I think I'm fair in my work assignments."

"Sounds good, we can talk some more when I come in. How about…

The gory details aren't interesting, but we set a time and place.

And in keeping with recent policy of making commitments, I gave Sara the ring when I got home.

She kept it.



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