The Arrangement

December 2017 Christmas Dreams Story Contest Entry


This is the night
They say
Everyone wants a dream

This is the night
They say
Nothing is as it seems

Smoke Rise, New Jersey, December 23…

Daniel walked up to the entrance of the large manor-like home. He looked down at himself in a hasty self-examination. He wore a grey corduroy blazer over a forest green turtle-neck top with black slacks and black loafers. Even in male mufti, he was almost nondescript. Short straight brown hair and soft features; almost an ideal example of the characters he wrote about.

He could never tell what came first – his attraction to cross dressing or his androgynous demeanor. Nurture or nature? Was it only the clothes? He breathed in and sighed out in frustration over what he’d become… or rather what he hadn’t become. He had come to the conclusion that it was so much more than he’d dreamed about.

He noticed no doorbell by the entrance and knocked on the broad oaken door. A moment later he was surprised to find himself face to face with Ms Carol Benoit. He stepped back onto the landing. She was about as tall…actually taller than him at 5’7” even in flats. Her frame was slight and her hair was brown, long, and wavy. She wore a dark green cardigan over a mint green silk shell along with black slacks.

The clothes were certainly not what he expected, given her wealth, but her attire was exquisite if simple; the clothing of someone who does not need to flaunt her position. Daniel only then realized that Carol Benoit had captured the look Daniel had dreamed of for a very long time.

Her makeup was almost subdued, but her appearance was still striking and certainly belied her age. At 46, she was almost twice Daniel’s age, but as attractive as any woman he’d ever met. He blushed as he realized he was staring into almost cobalt blue eyes. Kind, sad eyes.

His immediate inclination was divided equally in wanting to either turn and flee or rescue whom he perceived to be a sad soul. She saved him the trouble; rescuing him from his dilemma by grabbing his wrist and tugging him into the house. She noted the surprised look on his face and spoke.

“I gather you expected a maid? I have a nice young lady who does housework, but I prefer to greet all of my guests. I’m so glad you decided to accept my offer, Daniel. Please come in? You can wait in the study. I was just finishing the paperwork for our arrangement. I’ll be just a minute.” Leaving him no opportunity to reply, she urged him into the study and closed the door behind her, leaving him alone.

“What did I just sign up for?” He said as he stared at the closed door.

The advertisement requested the usual references and resume’. Daniel wondered if he was even qualified, but the video conference left him relieved if a bit puzzled. Much of what Ms Benoit described seemed better suited for a young lady instead of a computer geek like himself. But Carol – she had insisted on first names only – explained she employed people based almost solely on how she ‘felt’ about any applicant. He shook his head in disbelief at the generous offer, a suite of rooms adjacent to her own quarters and a stipend for expenses in addition to $1000 a week with three week’s vacation and medical.

He heard a gentle rap at the door; odd considering he was in her study in her home. He turned to find her leaning against the doorway, her arms folded around her in a self hug.

“Musing? You’re wondering ‘why me?’ And will you say or do something to disqualify yourself? Fear not. You’re practically perfect in every way, Mary,” she teased. Daniel was not a governess by any stretch of the imagination. Carol had merely remarked that her child-like business enterprises had become unruly and needed to be seen to, ‘spit-spot.’

“I’m looking forward to working with you,” she said, her almost lost expression belying her station, as if she was the help and he was the… lady of the house? He dismissed the foolish thought with a silent self-rebuke and smiled.

“You’re very kind, Ms Benoit,”

“Please… call me Carol.”

She walked over to a very large desk in the middle of a bump out by an arc of windows. The sun had almost completely retreated, so the only light in the room other than from the hallway came from the soft glow of a small gooseneck brass lamp on the desk.. She laid one single paper down and handed him a pen.

“I believe in keeping things simple.” She pointed to the contract.

I, Daniel Adrian Romine, agree to provide any and all services such as Carol Benoit may require.

The paper included none of the details of his compensation. He paused, standing still with pen in hand practically hovering safely above the contract.

“Go ahead. I told you what you would receive. I am a woman of my word. Do you trust me?” She punctuated her remark by stepping close and kissing his cheek. Not erotic even in the fantasy fueled atmosphere of the dimly lit room. Her face was backlit by the light from the hallway, leaving her with the appearance of some celestial CEO cum shame-best cougar.

For some strange god-only-knows reason, he did trust her. He signed the arrangement before turning to face her. Leaning closer, he tried to kiss her. Instead of a rebuke, she merely placed her index finger gently on his lips.

“No, Daniel.” Not yet.“ She pointed to a sprig of mistletoe that hung from the chandelier where they had stood. She guided him back to the contract and smiled.

“At least not yet….First things first.”

He nodded nervously. It was like some of the stories he had read in a few of the more esoteric online fiction sites and felt almost dangerously close to stories he had posted under various nom de plume. What she expected just might be exactly what he had dreamt of; even down to the inexplicable attraction she seemed to be display for him. He signed the contract and sheepishly shrugged his shoulders.

“You have this afternoon to yourself. I usually take my evening meal in the dining room at seven, but I expect you may want to get settled. You must be hungry? Chicken Kiev is in the oven when you‘re settled in. We’ll begin later. Please meet me at nine in my suite. I’ll go over your responsibilities tonight, if I may?” Her demeanor seemed to wax and wane between calm authority and a timid search for acceptance; leaving Daniel totally confused. She didn’t wait for an answer but instead kissed him again on the cheek before walking out

8:49 pm…

Come dream, through the night
Come dream, and then tomorrow
They'll see who, what will know

Daniel walked the short distance down the wide hallway to Carol’s suite. He knocked twice on the door, first with authority only to be replaced with an odd dread marked by a barely discernable soft rap.

“Come in?” He opened the door and stepped inside. The outer area was almost as big as the living room from his now recently vacated condo. He sighed and shook his head, wondering where he could go if this didn’t work out.

“I’ll be right there,” she said from the bedroom. He considered sitting down, but decided standing was much more appropriate despite her already uncomfortably casual approach. A few moments passed, and he had turned his attention to the anteroom décor.

“Please, Daniel? She called again.

“Before I enter, I require two things to start? Face the opposite wall and do not turn around until I say? I expect you will have questions once I enter, but please? Do not speak until I nod?” He turned away from the bedroom door, noting her tone was almost a negotiable request.

“Second? Your contract was not specific for a reason. I could not trust the process if I had provided more details. It still is a mandatory condition of your employment. However if after we talk you find you cannot proceed, your service will immediately conclude, but without prejudice. You will be provided with sufficient compensation for your inconvenience.”

He noticed that her voice seemed to be getting closer. He put his hand to his face, almost in urging to keep still as she entered the room.

“You may turn around.” Her voice seemed to break.

He pivoted slowly, but instead of finding Carol Benoit at the doorway, there was a young man who appeared to be in his mid-thirties. He was dressed in medium grey slacks and a charcoal grey polo shirt. He wore black wing-tips and black socks. His hair was short and dark and well-groomed and his face was soft, bereft of any hair save for his eyebrows. Daniel shook his head slightly before looking past the young man into the open bedroom door to see if Carol was there. The young man smiled and spoke.

“I’ll understand if you wish to leave, Daniel,“ The young man backed away slowly and began to wring his hands slowly. Daniel shook his head in disbelief. Who? What?

“Daniel ? It…It’s me, Carol,“ the voice was soft and almost ladylike, demeanor shoving hard against the uncomfortable attraction Daniel felt. Another opportunity for shame-filled introspection urged on by seldom visited confusing fantasy.

“Ms. Benoit?” The ‘man’ half-frowned at Daniel’s words and spoke ‘her’ name.

“Carol…Please? At least for the time being?” Daniel’s face grew red and hot. Embarrassment? Shame?

“For now? Who the hell are you?” The young man… so to speak… replied.

“I am Carol Benoit. I….I just need…”

“What’s your real name? Where is Carol Benoit?” Daniel interrupted.

“I’m here,” the man patted his chest and stepped closer.. The long hair was gone, replaced by short brown hair. The eyes…those kind, sad cobalt blue eyes were still there, but were now filled with tears. Daniel tried to detach himself from an emotional connection with the creature practically cowering before him. But he tilted his head as the man drew close. An unblemished sylph-like neck? Eyebrows that were a bit thicker upon closer inspection? He shook his head again, but now in a mixture of wonder and empathy.

“This… this is who I am when I am alone. My dream?” She walked over to the sofa and sat down, still wringing her hands and holding in gasping sobs.

“My…my late husband and my mother, god rest her soul, are the only ones who ever met…me.” She patted her chest and suppressed a sob. It was only then that Daniel remembered just how slight Carol had appeared. He went to hold her hand and she pulled back with a start.

“No.” Her eyes almost flashed resentment, but she softened and spoke.

“You can’t rescue me, Daniel. I… This is who I am. You should just leave.” Daniel went to stand up, but something kicked in. Almost like when something resonates enough to cause a reciprocal change. He leaned just a little bit closer and spoke in a near whisper.

“I’m sorry. What is your name?” He smiled, leaving her confused.

“It’s Carol,” she breathed out in frustration. Daniel’s demeanor softened further, leaving room for the woman’s demeanor to exchange correspondingly with his. A hand wiped inconvenient tears from still-amazing cobalt blue eyes.

“No… What’s YOUR name?” Daniel used his hand in a broad gesture to indicate the person in front of him.

“Uh... Jason…. Jason Benoit.” The man’s complexion mirrored Daniels’ growing darker and increasingly hotter face as their eyes met in mutual if entirely unmerited shame. Daniel lowered his face, confused and almost emboldened at the same time. He faced the man, smiling tentatively, which eased the tension they shared.

“ I…I’m Carol’s…brother.”

It would almost have seemed ludicrous but for the waning fear the now-returned young man displayed. Daniel smiled through closed lips. He looked away. Life wasn’t one big fantasy. Life just was what it was. He breathed out as an idea came to him. Perhaps it had been born as early as their first meeting. Was she more of his type than he could admit? Moreover, was the young man exactly what Daniel had never dared to hope for but always dreamed of? He fought through familiar feelings of shame and spoke tentatively.

“Jason? Uh… I….Maybe?” Jason tilted his head as tears once again began to spill in dreaded anticipation. Years of disappointment over feeling freakish. Loving validation sadly torn away and replaced with shame? It couldn’t be true, could it?

“Jason? I… can…May I talk with Carol for a sec? I have to discuss our arrangement, okay?” No dissociative personality, Carol was still a woman, albeit with unique needs. Needs perhaps only met or at least bravely attempted to satisfy by someone equally acquainted with doubt and fear and disappointment. Jason nodded as a half-frown signaled the reluctant return of Carol Benoit.

“It’s okay… Really. I’ll have my realtor arrange for one of my rental cottages out by the lake. You can stay there until I… When you find a permanent arrangement?” She lowered her head, hand covering those lovely cobalt blue eyes.

“Actually? I have a permanent solution that meets your…our needs. I just… Give me a few minutes?” Daniel smiled and tapped Carol’s wrist… that playful gesture one only finds exchanged between girlfriends or sisters. He got up and walked into her bedroom, closing the door behind him.

About forty minutes later….

Carol was leaning against the back of the couch. While she had ceased shedding tears, she was still crying inside, feeling misfit and completely abandoned. A voice called from the bedroom door.

“Excuse me? Young man? Would you mind closing your eyes?” Carol shook her head in dread at the thought of her other self being shamed once again into lonely hiding. However, the young man returned, albeit with the same fear that things would never get better for Jason Benoit. He closed his eyes.

“I’m going to sit down on the sofa, but not too close. We haven’t met,” the voice was melodic and the tone was a subdued if decidedly feminine alto. A few moments later the sound of feet softly padding across the carpet was followed by the rustle of fabric and the crush of cushion.

Come see, close your eyes
Come see, give me your sorrow
And I keep watch for you
Until the dawn is breaking through
Until the morning wakens you

“Okay? You can open your eyes,” the voice said in a near hush. Jason opened his eyes to find himself face-to-face with Carol’s newest employee.

“Hi,” the woman said, her cheeks a bit red with embarrassment, but with no shame whatsoever. Her hair was brown and closely resembled Jason’s sister’s courtesy of her employer’s discarded wig. And Carol, ever generous, had apparently provided the young lady with an outfit that suspiciously approximated Carol’s as well, save for the substitution of mint colored silk slacks that matched her mint shell.

Her figure was almost embarrassingly boyish, but she liked the look as it projected her true self. Her makeup was subtle but attractive. And her smile was a mixture of warm and nervous, feeling somehow life had just made another, better arrangement for them both. She offered her hand.

“Jason, am I right?” She smiled in welcome.

“You’re Carol’s brother? We haven’t met, have we? I’m Daniela Romine. I’m your sister’s new personal assistant. I expect we’ll see quite a bit of each other, yes?” She let her hand linger in his. He placed his left hand over her right hand and smiled.

Yes, Miss Romine. I expect we shall.” He raised her hand tentatively and kissed it. She was pretty in her own way, but her greatest beauty was that her gaze seemed to dispel whatever reluctance and shame Jason felt. A disarming smile provided all the acceptance Daniela and Jason would ever need going forward. And go forward they would. Jason smiled in return, leaving the girl before him with a feeling of belonging she had never known. Twin dreams coming true at the most wonderful time of the year? He spoke again.

“See each other, Miss Romine? Indeed we shall,” he said, all the while drinking in her countenance with his smiling handsome cobalt blue eyes.

“Merry Christmas. Mr. Benoit? Jason? Is it ‘yet’ yet?”

“It is, Miss Romine. It surely is.” He answered as he drew her into a soft, tentative if hopeful kiss.

“Merry Christmas, Miss Romine.”

“Merry Christmas, Jason.” She settled next to him on the couched and smiled before adding,

“And please, Jason? Call me Daniella?”

“Merry Christmas… Daniella.”

Dreams are more precious than gold
Dreams are more precious than gold
Dreams are more precious than gold

Dreams Are More Precious
Songwriters: Eithne Ni Bhraonain / Nicky Ryan / Roma Rya
as performed by Eithne Ni Bhraonain (Enya)

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