After the Pantomime - Chapter 8 of 9

After the Pantomime

By Susannah Donim

A spare time hobby slowly turns into a lifetime choice for Nick.

Chapter 8 – Daisy’s Promotion

From pregnant secretary to Madam Chairman…

We three directors were meeting to compile our list of how we proposed to spend the Bank’s first £125k before our first Board meeting with Margaret.

I was still Daisy, still pretending to be six months pregnant, and very uncomfortable on a hard chair in Ruth’s small, hot office. The skirt of my dress was splayed out, as I had long ago given up trying to keep my knees together. My maternity bra was digging into my shoulders and my maternity knickers were riding up. I really didn’t want this meeting to go on for long. I needed to get to the Ladies to adjust my underwear.

We were all agreed on the money we needed to put aside to pay salaries and settle our debts, but that left just under a hundred thousand. This was enough to buy the second-hand machines Eddy wanted and which he could modify to automate most of our manufacturing process.

But Ruth wanted to spend the money on expanding our range to include wedding dresses, theatrical costumes, and more elaborate accessories. These would also require new machinery, specialist design consultancy, and a lot of man-hours writing new software. She wanted to spend what was left over on marketing.

Eddy couldn’t believe Ruth’s attitude. He maintained that they always intended to automate the process. That was the whole point of MyOwnCouture.com, its business model, and its Unique Selling Point. That should be our priority. If we didn’t do this, we would risk being unable to meet even the current relatively modest demand.

Ruth insisted that we were starting to get attention from both the industry and the potential customer base. We had a unique opportunity and we needed to work flat-out to build our brand. If we didn’t, someone else with deeper pockets would come along and steal our thunder.

Eddy argued that if we followed her approach we would end up failing thousands of customers. At least if we did nothing, we’d only be failing hundreds. While if we did what he wanted, we would satisfy all our customers, and that would be a much better base to build our brand on.

This was the first time I had ever seen Ruth and Eddy arguing about something as fundamental as the company’s strategy. It was clear they weren’t going to agree.

“Eddy, is there any way we could get the machines more cheaply?” I asked in Nick’s voice, to remind them that whatever I now looked like, I was there in my capacity as Finance Director and major investor, not as Ruth’s secretary. “Maybe on a leasing basis?”

“That was my first thought,” he said – crossly for him. “But the current owner of the machines I’ve got my eye on needs a quick sale to fund new plant. He’s not interested in leasing, and he says he has other potential buyers. And, before you ask, buying suitable machines new would be three times as much.”

“Well, that seems to put you in the hot seat, Nick,” said Ruth, emphasising my name. I couldn’t remember the last time she had called me anything but Daisy – to emphasise my subservient role. “You have the casting vote.”

She was so sure that I would support her. So was Eddy, which was no doubt why he was sulking.

“When was the last time you were down in the cowshed?” I asked her.

“What’s that got to do with it? A couple of days ago; I can’t remember. Hey, I’ve been doing my share!”

“I’m not saying you haven’t. I just think you should get an up-to-date picture of what’s going on down there.”

Eddy looked at me hopefully.

“Oh for heaven’s sake, Daisy, just vote!” Ruth fumed.

“Come downstairs, Ruth,” I said, quietly. “Now, please.”

She looked angry, then puzzled. I think she knew I was capable of standing up to her. I just hadn’t for quite a while. Now I was.

“All right, all right,” she said, “not that it will make any difference.”

But it did. The three of us walked around MyOwnCouture.com’s manufacturing facility together. Every surface was covered in pieces of material, paper work orders, work in progress, finished dresses waiting to be boxed up, and boxes waiting to be dispatched.

I checked the sweet little ladies’ watch Josie had lent me. The Parcelforce van would be here in less than an hour. We needed to stop this arguing and work together to get as many orders ready for collection as possible.

Ruth was studying the chaos, silent and stony-faced. Her first remark was unexpected.

“Why all the paper? I thought the whole point was to keep everything on the computer.”

“Because there are now four of us processing orders,” Eddy explained. “We were getting in each other’s way when we all tried to find the information we needed from a single monitor and keyboard. It was just easier to print the orders out. Now when any of us finishes a job we take the next work order from the pile. Each one has an ID number which enables us to pull down the right design data to send to the machines.” He smiled ironically. “So much for the paperless office, huh?”

“And the fully-automated process,” I added, to try and rub it in.

“If we go with my proposal, it will still be 4-6 weeks before we can automate those parts of the process that can be automated,” Eddy said. “This chaos will get much worse before it gets better.”

“Turnaround of an order has already crept up from one day to three,” said Mike, who had appeared at Eddy’s elbow when he realised that something important was happening.

“All right,” Ruth said, with bad grace. “I get it. We’ll go with your proposal. Call your friend with the machines.”

She stomped off back to her office.

“Daisy! I’ve got some filing for you to do!” she called over her shoulder.

* * *

When we got back to her office, I raised the question of my attendance at the Board meeting.

“I’ll have to go Transformations and get myself turned back to Nick,” I said.

“You don’t have to go to all that trouble. You can dial in from the Manor House. In fact, perhaps you’d better move back there for a while.”

“If that’s what you want, but I think it’s a little immature of you to blame me because you can’t have what you want this time. You know this is the right decision.”

She glared at me, too angry to speak. She did know it was the right decision. She was just cross because someone else had seen it before she did.

“I told you I wanted us to be equals,” I went on. “I may have to be your secretary here in the office for the moment, but I’m not your servant. I’ve never lied to you, and I will always tell you the truth, even when you don’t want to hear it.”

“Oh, go to hell!”

I knew it was mainly her pride that was making her behave like this, but I had my pride too. If I apologised now and tried to persuade her to reconsider throwing me out, she would just treat me as her doormat forever after.

So that evening I went back to Ruth’s flat while she was still in the office and filled a couple of suitcases with Daisy’s clothes. I left my key on the kitchen table.

I went back to my annex at the Manor House and my empty rooms. While I was still stuck (literally) with my breasts and abdominal prosthesis, I would have to continue to dress as Daisy, but I would arrange an appointment at Transformations to turn back to Nick as soon as possible. I felt I had fulfilled my commitment to Ruth, but it seemed she no longer wanted me – as Daisy or Nick.

* * *

It turned out that Margaret Villiers was a tricky so-and-so. We were expecting her on Friday for the Board meeting, so naturally she turned up on Thursday afternoon. I was there, as Daisy the secretary, sitting outside Ruth’s office finalising our proposal to the Bank. Ruth hadn’t spoken to me all day. She looked tired and angry. She looked terrible, for her.

I don’t know how Margaret got into the barn. Someone must have left the door open downstairs. That was always happening; it didn’t close properly by itself. I goggled at her like a rabbit in the headlights.

“Ruth mentioned she had a secretary now,” she said, with a smile. “So do I call you Daisy or Nick?”

I couldn’t think what to say. Deny everything? Ridiculous! Try to laugh it off? Eventually she took pity on me.

“I recognised you as Sarah the Cook in those pictures Ruth showed us at our first meeting. Not that Daisy looks like Sarah, but they both look a little like Nick,” she laughed.

I tried to be cool.

“You’d better call me Daisy, I suppose,” I said, “seeing how I’m dressed. But this isn’t what you think.”

I spoke in Daisy’s voice, which seemed to catch her by surprise, but she recovered quickly.

“I don’t think anything actually. Was being the Panto Dame something to do with you living as a woman now?”

“They’re not… unconnected.”

“Are you transitioning?”

“No… no, really.” She looked sceptical. I sighed. “It’s a long story.”

“Well, I don’t care as long as it doesn’t affect the profitability of MyOwnCouture.com.”

“Quite the reverse, actually. Nick only ever dropped in from time to time before, but as Daisy I’m Ruth’s full-time secretary. So in effect we have additional staff now – as Mr Latham recommended.”

Ruth appeared. She must have heard the voices outside her office and come to investigate.

“Oh hello, Margaret, how nice to see you!” she said.

Margaret noticed immediately that Ruth wasn’t looking her best.

“Are you all right, Ruth?” she said. “You look… tired.”

“I’m fine. You’ve seen from our reports that orders are booming. We’re all working flat out. Coffee for two, Daisy!” she snapped.

These were virtually the only words she had said to me since ‘Go to hell’, yesterday.

“Yes, Ruth,” I said with a smile concealing gritted teeth. Just this once, I swore to myself. “How do you take it, Margaret?”

“White without, please.”

I stood up to go down to the kitchen. It was now Margaret’s turn to look surprised.

“Pregnant?” she said. “Why on earth…?”

“It really is a long story,” I said.

“I’d love to hear it,” Margaret said, “but maybe later…?”

Ruth ushered our guest into her office. Five minutes later I was knocking on the door carrying a tray with two coffees and a plate of assorted biscuits. I went straight in without waiting for an answer.

“How’s the proposal coming along?” Margaret was asking.

“Daisy?” said Ruth, her eyebrows raised.

I put the tray down on her desk.

“Just finished. Shall I print off some copies?”

“Yes, please.”

I went back to my workstation. I printed three copies of the proposal and handed one each to Ruth and Margaret.

“Please stay, er… Daisy,” Margaret said. “I may need you – or Nick – to explain your proposed investments.”

I swept my skirt under my inflated bottom and painfully lowered my bulk down into the uncomfortable office chair. Margaret watched me, fascinated. She picked up her coffee and took a custard cream. For the next half an hour we went through the proposal. Margaret asked a few questions and requested a few minor changes, but seemed happy enough with the big picture.

When we had finished, she said, “I’m sorry about turning up unannounced. I thought it would be a good idea to come down a little early and see how things are going – informally. Then tomorrow’s formal Board meeting should be straightforward. By the way, you know it has to be minuted?”

“Daisy can take the minutes,” said Ruth. “She is my secretary, after all.”

“Actually I don’t think she can,” said Margaret, doubtfully. “She’s Nick’s proxy, isn’t she? And he’s a share-holder. She – he – they would have a conflict of interest. Can you suggest someone else?”

“It would have to be either Vicky or Mike then. Vicky’s the more literate.”

“Fine,” said Margaret. “Also, the rules say I have to chair the first meeting, as the only non-executive director. But don’t worry, that’s just until we can elect a permanent chairman. That’s another reason I came down early – so that we can agree the agenda. After that my only role as chairman will be to make sure that every item is discussed and appropriate decisions taken.”

With that, she got to her feet, stretched, and said, “Now I’m particularly keen to see the – what do you call it? – the cowshed? We’ve only had a glimpse through the webcam lens on your laptop. I see from the proposal that that’s where most of the initial investment will be going.”

“Absolutely,” said Ruth, hypocritically giving no indication that that wasn’t her preference.

We took Margaret down to the cowshed. The others had managed to tidy up a little since they were expecting her visit tomorrow, but they had far from finished. Margaret was no engineer but she still managed to ask lots of intelligent and informed questions. I could see that Eddy and Mike were quite taken with her.

Towards the end of the tour, when she thought no one was looking, she turned to me and said quietly, “Are you free tonight? I’d rather like to talk to you. Are you comfortable dining out as Daisy?”

“Yes and yes,” I said. “I’m quite used to it, for my sins.”

“I’d rather like to hear about them too,” she smiled, “if you’re willing to share with your new colleague?”

“I have reasons for keeping my situation confidential, but if you can’t trust a senior banker, who can you trust?”

She laughed. “I’m staying at the White Hart in Lavenden. They have quite a good restaurant, I hear. Eight o’clock?”

* * *

I pondered over what Daisy should wear for a business dinner. My choice was obviously limited but the previous Saturday with Ruth and Josie I had been persuaded to buy one posh maternity outfit for evening wear: a black, short-sleeved, V-neck top, and a long pink floral skirt. I no longer had a waist of course. The skirt’s waist band was just below my bust.

I called Josie to ask for her help in getting ready. She was delighted and rushed straight over. I was sitting at my dressing table in just my slip, contemplating my make-up choices. I had laid my chosen outfit on the bed.

“Brilliant!” she said. “Ruth will love you in this.”

I realised she thought I was going out for a romantic evening with Ruth. I had to disappoint her.

“Sorry, no. It’s a business dinner with a lady from the Bank. She’s here for our first Board meeting tomorrow.”

I paused. Tom and Josie were my closest friends, as well as family. Josie was like a sister to me – closer, if anything.

“Look, you might as well know. It seems that whatever Ruth and I had is over.” I told her everything that had happened. “I don’t think she really appreciated the sacrifices I’ve been making for her.”

Josie raised an eyebrow. “Sacrifices? Come on, Nick, you love being Daisy.”

“Hey, it’s a lot of effort! It’s pretty uncomfortable most of the time, and sometimes very embarrassing.” She looked unconvinced. “Be that as it may,” I continued, “she seems to over-react to everything. I’m beginning to think the woman is a flake.”

Josie laughed. “Trust me – all women are flakes from a man’s point of view, and I speak as a woman. You need to stay as Daisy for a while longer. You might start to appreciate how the other half thinks.”

She started checking through my cosmetics. She ran her hand over my cheeks.

“I see you’ve shaved really closely. Your skin’s very good for a man. I think a minimum of foundation, and maybe a little rouge for your cheeks. Now, pay attention, please. You know I love doing this for you, but I may not always be available. You need to learn how to do it for yourself.”

“They taught me the basics at Transformations, but I’ve never done proper evening make-up.”

She started work. Sultry evening-Daisy began to replace daytime office-Daisy.

Eventually Josie stepped back to evaluate her efforts. She had gathered my hair – that is, my wig – into a tidy bun at the back. I turned my head around to look at it. It wasn’t quite an updo, nor a ‘schoolmarm’. It was quite attractive. In fact, combined with the evening make-up, it made Daisy quite a stunner.

“You know, you really have no right to look as glam as you do – you actually being a man under all that,” she said, with a grin.

“You’ve done a fabulous job,” I agreed.

“I bet you’re the prettiest pregnant lady there tonight.”

“Hah! Perhaps if I’m the only pregnant lady there tonight.”

“Thanks very much!” she said, pretending to be offended.

“Not your fault. Even you can’t make a silk purse out a sow’s ear.”

She snorted. “I despise false modesty,” she said. “It may offend your masculine pride, but you know very well that Daisy is a babe – well, two babes, in fact.” She giggled. “Seriously, you really should stay like this for a while,” she said. “I’m sure Ruth will come around, but she might doubt your commitment if you give up at the first sign of stormy weather.”

“You may be right, but I don’t have much choice for the moment anyway. I’m booked in at Transformations to have my top-up on Saturday morning, but that appointment isn’t long enough for them to remove my forms and prosthesis. It’s too soon for the adhesive to have softened, or the top layer of my skin to have flaked off. So apparently it would take them an hour to un-glue everything. They can’t fit me in for that till next week.”

“You should still go for your top-up. There may be a cancellation.”

I stood up and put my top on. The V-neck exposed an embarrassing amount of cleavage.

“Do you think this is OK?” I asked her.

“It’s fine – very impressive. Those falsies from Transformations are amazing! You really can’t tell them from the real thing. You should wear that necklace I lent you though, to conceal your little Adam’s apple, and the watch and rings that go with it.

I picked up my skirt and tried to hold it out far enough from my distended stomach to step into it. Josie laughed and helped me.

“Will there be anything else, madam?” she said. “I’m beginning to feel like a lady’s maid.”

* * *

No longer being able to drive, I had to call a taxi to take me to the White Hart. The driver, Avi, was a charming Indian gentleman who rushed to offer me his hand when he saw I was struggling to get out of the cab. He waited patiently while I rummaged in my handbag for my purse and some cash to pay him. I gave him a decent tip. He smiled his thanks and insisted on seeing me up the steps and into the hotel.

I could get used to this, I thought. It briefly occurred to me that underneath my artificial feminine flab I was probably twenty years younger and considerably stronger than my gallant protector, but for now I was quite content to play the helpless female.

It wasn’t a large hotel and Margaret was waiting in the bar area opposite Reception. She waved when she saw the doorman helping me off with my coat.

“You look amazing,” she said. “I can’t believe you’re really…”

“That’s very kind of you to say so,” I interrupted her, before she could reveal my secret. “It’s not all my own work, I have to admit. My sister-in-law has been my partner-in-crime throughout.”

“Don’t worry, Daisy,” she said, “I wasn’t going to give you away. I was only teasing. But seriously, you are 100% convincing. That top’s lovely, but very bold, if I may so. Did you see how the doorman was looking down your cleavage?”

“What?” I squealed, my free hand leaping involuntarily to my bosom. “I didn’t realise…”

“Oh, relax!” she laughed. “It’s fine. If you’ve got it – and you’ve certainly got it – you should flaunt it. Every woman dresses to emphasise her best features. Seriously, I hope you can unwind and just enjoy yourself this evening. I’ve got us a quiet table in the far corner. We should be able to discuss all our secrets without being overheard.”

“You have secrets too?” I queried.

“I’ll tell you mine, after you’ve told me yours.”

The waiter had approached and led us to our secluded table in the half-empty restaurant. Since I was now forewarned, I looked to see if he was gawping down my décolletage, and I wasn’t disappointed.

He gave us our menus and took our drinks order. Since there was no one within range (apart from him, and I didn’t care what he thought), I risked asking for a white wine. Margaret was amused when I told her I hadn’t been able to drink in public since New Year.

“The Bank will pay for this, by the way,” she said, when she realised I was scanning the prices with some concern.

“That’s very kind,” I said. “It’s been an expensive month.”

“I can imagine. I assume everything you’re wearing is new?”

“Everything I’m wearing, and everything I’m wearing underneath everything I’m wearing,” I confirmed. “And that’s where it really gets expensive.”

That seemed as good a point as any to tell her my story, which lasted, with appropriate pauses, through placing our orders and consuming our starters. I told her everything except about Eddy being gay and needing to keep that from his parents. That might have undermined the Bank’s confidence in the financial probity of MyOwnCouture.com. I reassured her that Ruth and Eddy were still close friends even if they were no longer engaged.

“So being Daisy was a bit of fun that got out of hand?” Margaret said when I came to the end of my story.

“That’s right. Ruth was angry that I’d kept my stand-up performances from her, particularly those as Daisy. When it looked like we might be developing a relationship she said she couldn’t be with someone she couldn’t trust…”

“…and making you be Daisy was a test of your sincerity? Pretty weird test!”

“Well there might have been a little more to it than that.” I paused. She looked at me encouragingly. “On the night she came to the Panto she dragged me back to her place… in drag, as a sort of real-world variant of Sarah the Cook. It seemed that something about her lover being in women’s underwear gives her an additional… stimulus… in the bedroom.”

I blushed. Maybe I was revealing a little too much? But Margaret laughed. She was obviously more broad-minded than I would have expected from a banker.

“I’d heard of couples where that sort of thing happens,” she said. “I’ve never tried it myself, of course.”

“Of course not.”

“Perhaps I’m missing out…”

“No comment. You should ask Ruth. On second thoughts, don’t. It seems that our relationship is on the rocks now, and that I won’t be Daisy for much longer.”

“I sensed a bit of an atmosphere this afternoon.” Of course she did. This woman was sharp. “I hope you two will make up – for the good of the company. But we’re straying too deeply into the personal now. You’ve explained everything that I was curious about. I’m satisfied the Bank is not sponsoring a nest of perverts.”

“Thank you, but I will say a little more, because it could be relevant to your support for MyOwnCouture.com.”

“Okay…?”

“Ruth was angry with me because I supported Eddy’s proposal to spend the first tranche of money on further automation, rather than hers on marketing and expanding our range of products. It took her a while to see that without new machinery we wouldn’t be able to meet our existing demand, let alone the ten-fold increase she is hoping for. She is very good at what she does, and the company is her brainchild, but she’s no businesswoman. I may be in love with Ruth, but I’ve put a lot of money, and even more of my own time, into MyOwnCouture.com, and I will not let her ruin it.”

“Thank you, Daisy – Nick – that’s pretty much covered the rest of what I wanted to talk to you about. My colleagues and I feel the same way about Ruth. She’s a visionary and she’s created a marvellous venture that I’m convinced will make all our fortunes, but she will need someone to haul her back to reality from time to time. I’ve seen your CV. I know you’ve had a solid business grounding with one of the top firms. She needs you – one of you, Nick or Daisy – and it looks like you’ve already realised that and begun on the right foot. Let me be clear: the second and subsequent tranches of our financial support will depend on me being assured that you can control her.”

“But even you and I together can’t outvote Ruth and Eddy if they agree on what to do.”

“No, but I can live with that. Eddy has no more experience of running a business than Ruth, but he has his feet on the ground, I think. If they both agree on strategy, and recognise the value of your advice, it’s probably fine.”

The main business of the evening over with, we settled down to enjoy our main course. She had the sea bass. As the Bank was paying, I tucked into a Tournedos Rossini with chips.

“Eating for two, I see,” Margaret laughed. “You’re lucky you don’t have to worry about your figure anymore.”

I laughed. “Do you have children?”

I thought we were becoming close enough to ask a personal question. Then I realised I was beginning to think of us as friends – women friends, which was a new experience for me.

“Two: a son in his second year at Cambridge, and a daughter doing her A levels this summer.”

“Wow, you really don’t look old enough!” I blanched. “Oh my God, was that patronising? I’m so sorry!”

“It might have been patronising from Nick,” she grinned, “but I’ll take it as a compliment from Daisy.”

“Then maybe it was matronising. Is that a word?”

“Well, It is now. It means we’ll have to stick to girl talk for the rest of the meal. Can you manage that?”

“No problem. I’m becoming an expert.”

“So where did you get that lovely skirt?”

“Josie dragged me round at least a dozen womenswear shops last Saturday. I lost track of what I bought from where. I think it was Mothercare, actually.”

“I notice that you’re wearing an engagement and a wedding ring. So Daisy’s married? Who’s the lucky man?”

I laughed. “There isn’t one. Josie suggested I should wear these. Not sure why. It’s not like I would attract unwanted male attention in my condition.”

“You’d be surprised. Some men find a heavily pregnant woman irresistible.”

I thought back to the stranger who tried to chat me up outside the Ladies…

At that point the waiter reappeared to collect our plates. I allowed him to refill my wineglass. As he left a young couple approached. I couldn’t place them, which immediately got me worried.

“Aren’t you Daisy Duquesne?” the man said. “We saw you at the Club. You were brilliant! When are you on again?”

“Oh, er, I don’t really know,” I said, flushed with relief that I hadn’t been ‘read’ as a man in drag. “Probably not till after the baby comes, and then I suppose I might be a little busy…”

“That’s a shame,” he said, then hurriedly added, “but congratulations anyway.”

He was clearly afraid he’d just suggested it was a shame I was having a baby.

Margaret was obviously enjoying this, but I was aware that the young woman had spotted my full wineglass. She grabbed her boyfriend’s arm and dragged him away.

“Did you see she was drinking?” she hissed as they withdrew. “In her condition?”

“That’s none of our business,” he said. “You know these showbiz types…”

“It’s apple juice!” I called after them, but I don’t think they heard.

Margaret laughed. “So Daisy is a star of the comedy club circuit?” she said.

“I’m a long way from there. This is the first time that’s ever happened, I swear,” I said.

We returned to friendly girl talk through dessert. When the coffee arrived, I assumed that the interview part of the evening was over with, but I was wrong.

“What’s your end game, by the way?” Margaret said, abruptly.

“How do you mean?”

“Well I can’t believe you intend to work as Daisy, secretary to the MD, forever, or even as Nick the FD. So what will you do when the company is successful? Go public? Sell up, and retire rich?”

“I hadn’t thought that far ahead, to be honest.”

“Well, just remember, the Bank would be keen to buy your shares, and I’m sure we could give you a much better price than either Ruth or Eddy could manage.”

Food for thought...

* * *

I was in early the following morning in my smartest ‘pregnant office girl’ dress for the Board meeting. I checked out my own, Nick’s and Ruth’s emails.

There was one really significant email that morning, from Rixi Davenport, a fashion journalist. She was a freelancer but she was often published in a national newspaper. She had heard of MyOwnCouture.com and wanted to interview Ruth. I knew Ruth would be very keen to grab that free publicity, so I checked her diary and sent Rixi some possible dates and times.

None of Ruth’s other emails required any action on her part so I responded to them as her secretary, Daisy Duquesne, and sent her short ‘FYI’ messages explaining what I had done and why.

I was downstairs in the kitchen making myself a coffee when I heard the outside door open and Ruth making her way up the stairs to her office. On a whim, I broke my own rule and made her a cup, the way I knew she liked it.

She was surprised when I knocked on her door and put her coffee down on a coaster on her newly-tidied and cleaned desk. I was surprised to see that she was looking even more haggard and worn than yesterday.

“Thank you, Daisy,” she said in a low voice, almost a whisper.

She didn’t look at me, but she wasn’t looking at anything else either. I was getting worried.

“Are you all right?” I said.

“Just tired.” Something seemed to occur to her. “I’m surprised that you’re still here, as Daisy the secretary, I mean.”

“Well, I know some things have changed,” I began, “but most things haven’t. The company’s doing better than ever. You – and Nick – still need a secretary, and I’m still committed. So why wouldn’t I still be Daisy?”

She gave a wintry smile. Maybe she was starting to see her glass as half-full after all.

* * *

As Margaret had predicted, the Board meeting ran smoothly thanks to all the preparation – ours and hers. We met in the open plan office with two desks pushed together as a Boardroom table. Vicky had been a little surprised to be asked to take the minutes. Margaret instructed her to record Mr Nick Rawlinson’s apologies for absence, and that Ms Daisy Duquesne was present as his proxy.

I had expected that the first item on the agenda would be a vote to elect our permanent chairman, Ruth presumably, but Margaret had put that at the end just before ‘Any Other Business’. So first we had the accounts, which I – Daisy – had to present as Financial Controller, standing in for Nick, the FD. This was mostly good news, in that our revenues were now exceeding our operating costs, but of course we had a long way to go before our net profits would begin to make a dent in our debts (including the company’s debt to me, Nick).

We then reviewed the proposals for how we would spend the Bank’s initial cash injection. Again, Margaret had already seen everything informally and was happy to rubber-stamp our suggestions. So finally we came to the election of the chairman for future Board meetings, and that was when the only surprise of the day came.

“On behalf of the Bank, I would like to nominate Nick Rawlinson,” Margaret said.

It was difficult to say which of the rest of us was the most surprised. Vicky dropped her pen on the floor.

“I don’t know why you’re all looking so surprised,” she continued. “He’s the logical choice. He’s the only one of you with any business or financial training; he’s as fully committed to your success as any of you – you only need to look at how he’s dressed to see how determined he is; and he already holds the balance of power, as it were, if – or, more likely when – you two major shareholders disagree.”

“But this is my company…” Ruth began.

“Our company,” Eddy corrected.

“I think that rather illustrates my point,” said Margaret, wryly. “And it still is your company. Ruth is the creative engine; she owns the product lines and our unique designs. Eddy is execution; he solves problems and delivers solutions. Nick won’t interfere with any of that. He’ll just make sure that the company stays afloat long enough for the two of you to realise your dreams.”

The way Margaret presented it made perfect sense, but Ruth wasn’t listening. Her pride was hurt – again.

“Did you know about this?” she said to me accusingly.

“No, I didn’t – honestly,” I confirmed. Ruth looked sceptical. Did she know about our dinner at the White Hart? “I did meet with Margaret last night… for a chat, but she didn’t mention this.”

Margaret quickly confirmed what I said. “In any case, the fact that you’re upset simply shows you don’t understand how businesses are run,” she said, a little cruelly, I thought. “Nothing has changed. You and Eddy still control everything – as long as you agree. If you don’t agree, Nick decides. You should think of him as the referee, not a player.”

Margaret was now showing what a strong character she was. No wonder she had done so well at the Bank. I was sure she would chew up and spit out any hapless sexist male who tried to treat her like ‘the little woman’. Then I realised that dinner the previous night had been about the Bank interviewing a potential Chairman – who didn’t even know she – I mean, he – was a candidate.

Ruth was simmering, speechless. I liked to think that the logic of Margaret’s argument was worming its way into her brain, but her pride was putting up strong defences against it.

“Well, I think it’s a great idea,” said Eddy. “I support Nick’s nomination.”

Whoa, that was unexpected! But then Eddy wasn’t interested in money and had no wish to be in charge. Also he was no fool. He knew this was non-negotiable if we wanted the Bank’s support.

“So what do you think, Daisy?” said Margaret with a smile. “You have Nick’s proxy. Which way would he want you to vote?”

I paused for thought. I didn’t hold out much hope for a future with Ruth now, but to vote for myself would surely put the matter beyond doubt.

“I think Nick would want me to abstain,” I said, hanging my head, because I knew what it would mean. With both Eddy’s and Margaret’s shares behind me, Ruth couldn’t win by herself.

“Good,” said Margaret. “That means Nick is duly elected. Therefore as you are representing him, Daisy, I will hand over the chair to you.”

“Oh, er, yes,” I said. “Last item on the agenda: any other business?”

Everybody was too stunned, especially Ruth. She gathered up her papers and left. She didn’t go into her office. She went down the stairs and out of the building.

So Daisy had been promoted. She was secretary to the Chairman of the Board now, as well as Ruth’s secretary and the company’s Financial Controller. I wondered how many hats I could wear at once.

* * *

My commitment to being Ruth’s heavily pregnant secretary was most sternly tested at night-time when I had been carrying my excess weight around all day, and that evening I had more or less decided it was time to ring down the curtain on this fiasco.

It was nearly half-past ten, and I was getting ready for bed. I had removed my make-up with cold cream and wiped my face. I had just changed into a pretty maternity nightie, lent by the lovely Phoebe (whom I still hadn’t met). I always took my wig and wig-cap off last as – irrationally – I didn’t like to see Nick’s face on Daisy’s body. I was reaching for the pins that held the wig in place when the doorbell rang. I put on a negligée and went to answer it.

It was Ruth.

“Can I come in?” she said, pushing past me without waiting for an answer.

“Er, yeah, sure,” I said to her retreating back.

As far as I could remember she had never been to my rooms at the Manor House before, but she seemed to have no trouble finding her way. She marched in and took a look around.

“Nice place,” she said. “Very masculine. I’m surprised you haven’t done anything to make it a little more… girly.”

“That’s because this is Nick’s place, and there’s nothing girly about him,” I said, slightly irked by her implication.

“No, obviously not,” she smirked. “I love your nightie, by the way, Nicky dear. Very pretty.”

“Daisy insisted. Nick's pyjamas don't fit her figure – obviously – and she's not comfortable sleeping in the nude.”

“But you're Daisy,” she said, a puzzled expression on her face.

My speaking in the third person on behalf of both Nick and Daisy obviously threw her. She was trying to work out whether I was being serious.

“Are you developing a split personality?” she said. “Should I be worried?”

“Dunno. Perhaps you should ask Nick when you see him. Oh, wait, you won't be seeing him for a while, will you? Thanks for that, by the way.”

Ruth winced, but if I sounded bitter, it was because I was.

“You have a real talent for throwing me off-balance,” she said crossly. “I don't know why I put up with you!”

“Is that what you came here to say? At half-past ten at night?”

“No,” she said, lowering herself into my TV lounger, by far the most comfortable chair in the sitting room. “Aren’t you going to offer me a drink? You can have one yourself. I’m sure it won’t harm the baby.”

I sighed. “What would you like?”

“Something with vodka, please. I don’t think I’ll be driving any more tonight.”

What did she mean by that? Bloody woman! There had better be some sort of apology coming, or at least a concession, or maybe an attempt at reconciliation, or something.

Two minutes later she had a vodka and orange in her hand, and I was nursing a scotch on the rocks. I plumped down in my other armchair, which was much more difficult to get out of in my condition.

“I cried all evening when I discovered you’d taken all of Daisy’s things and left your key,” she began. “I never cry.”

And just like that, all was forgiven and forgotten.

“I hoped that it meant you weren’t giving up being Daisy for me, or why would you bother taking her things? Then when I saw you were still her the next day… I began to hope I hadn’t messed it all up after all. Then I realised that you had no choice anyway – until you could go to Transformations and get your thingies unglued.”

“No,” I said, when she paused for breath, “it looks like it won’t be as easy to give up being Daisy as I thought.”

“The whole situation was a mass of contradictions. I didn’t know what to think.”

I couldn’t help but smile inwardly. ‘Mass of contradictions’ was the exact phrase I had used to describe her expression at Transformations when she was trying to decide whether to make me go through with this ordeal.

She stood up and went to look out of the window into the inky blackness of rural England in late January.

“By this time I couldn’t really remember why I was angry. You and Eddy had ganged up on me…”

“Ruth, I…”

“…for my own good. I had all sorts of mad plans for the Bank’s money, but I would have destroyed everything we had built if I had got my way. Thank you for stopping me.”

“Ruth, we…”

“And then today, you took my company away from me…”

“But we…”

“…except that it was our company – yours and mine and Eddy’s… Ohhh!” she howled in exasperation. “I can’t do this… I can’t do anything without you.”

She turned toward me. Her voice had been so strong, so forceful, so Ruth, that I hadn’t realised the tears were streaming down her face.

“Is that… vulnerable… enough for you?” she gasped through wracking sobs.

For a moment I thought she was trying to make a joke, but there was no laughter in her eyes, only bitter tears.

I got up and moved as quickly as my wibbly-wobbly body and my nightie and negligée and high-heeled mules would permit. I threw my arms around her. Though my baby bump prevented me getting as close as I wanted, I held her tight as she sobbed quietly. I felt our breasts smooshing together.

* * *

She stayed the night and it was as good as it had ever been – better. In the morning she put on one of my – Nick’s – shirts and wandered around examining everything critically and looking as sexy as Jane Fonda in Barefoot in the Park (1967). She was still a little subdued, for her.

“I don’t know why you came to live at our flat,” she said. “This place is much nicer.”

“I thought that was what you wanted. Does that mean you want to move in here?”

“Yes, please.”

“You’re not concerned that people will find out you’re not living with Eddy?”

“It’s fine, as long as no one finds out I’m living with Nick. But I won’t be, will I? I’ll be with Daisy. It’s OK if I’m seen giving my secretary a lift home after work, for example; and your house is secluded. No one will know if my car is here overnight.”

We had got down to business so quickly the evening before that she still hadn’t fully explored my wing of the house. Still in my nightie and negligée, I waddled after her as she wandered around.

“You have two bedrooms here, don’t you?”

“Three, actually, and yes, of course you could have one for yourself.”

“No, silly. I mean there should be one for Nick, and one for me and Daisy.”

I laughed. “That would only be temporary. I’ll have to stop being Daisy in another three months anyway. I can’t be pregnant forever.”

“No, but you can just slim down to a normal-sized secretary. You could say you’ve had the baby.”

“And what do I say happened to it?”

“Well, let’s see… who’s the baby’s father?”

“Oh, he’s gone. Disappeared as soon as he discovered I was knocked up.”

“So what do unmarried mothers do… if they can’t manage alone?”

“Oh, give the baby up for adoption, you mean?”

“Yes, tell everyone you always planned to do that, and made the arrangements months ago. They took the baby away from you in the hospital. It was heart-rending, but you’re slowly getting over it. It’s a wonderful story.”

“OK, yeah… not exactly stand-up comedy material…”

“So you’ll do it? Stay as Daisy?”

“For the moment. If that’s what you want.”

“It is. You’re a great secretary!”

* * *

So I agreed to be Daisy Duquesne, unmarried mother-to-be indefinitely, and my life as Ruth’s secretary by day and lover by night went on. She enjoyed bossing me around in the office, but was careful now not to go too far. I didn’t need to threaten to resign anymore. I could always remind her that I had Nick’s proxy, and he was Chairman of the Board.

I didn’t pretend to understand why she wanted me to stay as Daisy, unless it was a way of preserving some level of dominance over me. It had occurred to me that she might have some hidden lesbian tendencies, but her performance in our bed seemed to refute that theory.

Anyway, I didn’t mind, or at least I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the inconvenience of pregnancy. I went to see Vera at Transformations every Saturday morning for her to add a few more ounces of fluid to my prosthesis. As the weight I had to carry around increased, the discomfort and the awkwardness of my movements got steadily worse – as Ingrid had predicted. When I thought about this happening for another two months, I got a little depressed. I got no sympathy at all from Ruth of course.

In principle we shared the housework at home, but I seemed to end up doing most of the wifely tasks like washing and ironing. I didn’t mind too much. I was used to household chores as I had been looking after myself alone for a while now. (At least it wasn’t difficult to tell my underwear from hers – my bras and panties were much bigger and much less sexy.)

Ruth tried to apologise for not doing her share, but I told her I understood. She was working long hours. In addition to dreaming up all her new designs, she also had to work out how to make them with our machines. Vicky could write the actual programs, but she wasn’t capable of translating a picture of a dress into a series of cutting and stitching instructions.

Ruth also explained that her mother hadn’t made her help much at home. Determined that her daughter would ‘make something of herself’ she let Ruth concentrate on her schoolwork. When she wasn’t doing that, she was designing and making her own clothes. She said she had ‘sewing machine hands’, rather than ‘dishpan hands’, from earliest youth.

She did, however, take great pleasure in being my ‘husband’ – helping me in and out of her car, and carrying more than her share of the shopping, which I really appreciated. I liked being pampered. I thought about sending her out in the evening for pickles and ice cream…

* * *

On my fourth visit to Transformations, Vera gave me a thorough check-up. She used her solvent to remove my breast forms and abdominal prosthesis to check on the condition of my skin underneath. It was a little red, as was to be expected, but there was no sign of any infection. She gave me another all-over waxing, which wasn’t anything like as painful as before. The ‘mild hormone cream’ seemed to be doing its job.

I felt self-conscious as she rubbed the soothing antiseptic cream into my groin, genitals and the surrounding area, but surprisingly I also felt naked without my breasts. It felt like I was missing something important. I was much more comfortable when she later replaced my forms and prosthesis and I could get my bra and maternity panties back on. It seems Daisy had taken over more than I had realised.

While I was there Vera took me in to see Sharon to check my wig. Once she had taken it and the wig-cap off, she declared that my hair was long enough for a proper style, and I allowed her to give me a tidy bob, as similar to the wig as she could manage. I felt much better after that. I had gotten used to wearing the wig and wig-cap, and had almost forgotten how uncomfortable they were. I realised I had rarely been out without them since the day of the Panto Tech Run.

* * *

The Manor House was big, with a central unit and two wings. My rooms were at the back of the East wing, the old servants’ quarters. I had my own entrance on the opposite side of the building from Mum and Dad’s, and it was quite possible to go for days without any of us bumping into each other. In fact, ever since my first visit to Transformations I’d been avoiding my family, except for Josie. I had told them what I was planning to do and why, but I could hardly hide Daisy from them forever. So one weekend, when Ruth was up in Manchester celebrating her parents’ anniversary, I had lunch with them all.

I did my best with my hair and make-up and wore a new knee-length maternity dress in green silk. I was afraid I might be overdoing it all, but I wanted to put as much distance as possible between Daisy and Nick in my family’s eyes. So when I waddled into their part of the house in my pretty dress and one-inch heels, and with my handbag over my shoulder, I was met with astonishment on my parents’ faces, and amusement on the part of my brother and his wife. They had all known what I was planning to do since that lunch the weekend before I went to Transformations, but the reality was proving to be a shock. I was the elephant in the room, literally and metaphorically.

“It was partly my fault,” admitted Josie, breaking the awkward silence. “When the idea of him doing stand-up in drag came up, I persuaded him to try and look like a real woman. Being pregnant was my idea too.”

“Well, maybe, Josie love, but I know my sons, even if one of them is currently a daughter,” Dad said. “Tom’s easily led, as you know better than most…”

“Hey!” said Tom, but it was true. He wasn’t fooling anyone.

“…but no one could persuade Nick to do something he didn’t want to do. He’s as stubborn as a mule.”

“Or a pregnant woman,” put in my mother, with one of her trademark ironic smirks.

“Well, he takes after you, love,” said Dad, which quickly wiped the smile off my mother’s face.

I knew that’s what he thought of me, but I hadn’t considered it before giving in to Ruth. Was he right? Did it mean that in some way I wanted to live as Daisy? If so, what did that say about me?

Dad turned to me. “So why are you doing this?”

“For Ruth,” I said. “I must love her, I suppose. This…” I indicated my dress, tummy, boobs and hair. “…is all about proving that.”

“Bizarre! And when will it end?”

“Well, I can’t be pregnant forever. I’ve got about two months to go. If I can stick it out, I reckon I’ll have proven my commitment to her satisfaction.”

No need to mention just now that Ruth wanted me to stay as Daisy afterwards.

Tom snorted. “And what is she doing to prove her commitment to you, little brother? This mad Northern bitch?”

Josie hit him on the shoulder. He didn’t seem to notice. He’s a big lad, Tom, and solid muscle. Maybe he was still fuming about my father saying he was ‘easily led’.

“Actually, that’s a good question,” I replied, ruefully. “She’s promised to think of something.”

“Well, it’s a shame you won’t be able to come with me to the rugby at Twickenham anymore.”

“What? Why not?”

“Don’t be a silly girl! It’s a lads’ day out, boozing, swearing, telling dirty jokes. You’d cramp our style. Besides Twickers is no place for a pregnant woman.”

“That’s a bit sexist, isn’t it?” I was aware I sounded like a whiny girlfriend.

“Don’t worry, dear,” said my mother. “You can join Josie and me on one of our girls’ days out. We can go to the spa, get our nails done…”

“Shopping, aerobics and… ooh, the ballet!” added Josie.

I may not have thought this through…

* * *

Meanwhile the company’s reputation was growing even faster than my stomach and orders were coming through steadily. Margaret was very pleased. She told her colleagues at the Bank that all we had to do was ‘scale up’ (management-speak) and we would soon pay off our debts, and be in profit. After that, who knows? An IPO? Ruth began to hope that we wouldn’t need any more money from the Bank, but she was still financially naïve. I was pretty sure we’d need at least the second tranche of funding.

This success meant we were still swamped in the cowshed. The new equipment was delivered about a fortnight after our inaugural Board meeting, and Eddy and Mike worked round the clock to set it all up and interface it to our old cutting and sewing machines. While they were doing that, the rest of us faced a further three weeks of chaos as incoming orders continually threatened to overwhelm us. Even Ruth was spending most of her time in the cowshed now.

Eddy’s previous experience with linking machines and implementing Numerical Control was invaluable, and he and Mike managed to get it all done much sooner than they had predicted. When the new kit and a jury-rigged conveyor to carry the pieces of cloth through the process, were fully up and running, they made all the difference. At last a dress could be made entirely automatically from start to finish. All we had to do was load the appropriate materials at one end and we could watch a finished dress come out of the other. This was true even if the customer wanted a design sprayed on the cloth. The printing was automated now too. We started to clear the backlog.

The only complication was if a design required a non-standard colour, as we still had to operate the dyeing process manually and then wait overnight for it to dry. So Vicky put a trap in the website software which flagged a request for an unusual colour and notified the operator, so that he or she could prioritise the dyeing process. Mo inserted a warning on the website that non-standard colours would mean a longer delivery time.

Ruth added more designs, still relatively simple clothes that we could make with our existing software and machinery. Mo revamped the website with the new designs and added testimonials from our growing number of satisfied customers – including Margaret, the Lathams, and Polly on behalf of LADS.

* * *

The day I had arranged for Ruth’s interview with Rixi Davenport arrived. Both the Barn offices and the cowshed were spic and span and everything was humming along nicely. I was ready to bring in refreshments for my boss and her guest. Could we do anything else to impress the journalist? Was there anything I had missed? It suddenly occurred to me to check our customer records, and there it was: Ms R Davenport. She had bought a short-sleeved wrap dress just two weeks ago. As far as I could see nothing had gone wrong. The transaction was completed in good time and the dress was delivered within forty-eight hours of the on-line order – well within our target turnaround time. I knocked on Ruth’s door.

“Just thought you should know, boss…”

Ruth liked me to call her ‘boss’ in the office, even though strictly speaking, I – Nick – was her boss, though she would never admit it.

“…this Davenport woman bought a lime-green wrap dress from us a fortnight ago. She might just turn up in it, I suppose.”

“Thanks, Daisy,” she said. “I’d like to think I would recognise my own creation, but forewarned is forearmed.”

The barn office doorbell went at that moment. I hurried down the stairs as fast as my swollen figure would allow. I opened up to a smiling woman in a lime-green wrap dress. I guessed that she was in her early thirties, and to my newly attuned eye she was wearing too much make-up, hurriedly applied. Daisy was becoming catty, Nick observed from deep down inside her.

I welcomed our guest, introduced myself, and led her, slowly and painfully, up to Ruth’s office. She met us at the door.

“Welcome, Ms Davenport,” she said. She pretended to look the journalist up and down. “So how do you like your new dress?”

“It’s great, I love it! It may be a bit much for an informal interview, but I thought you’d like to see it on. Lots of people have told me how much they like it and asked where I got it.”

“I hope you told them.”

“Of course! Please do call me Rixi, by the way,” she said. “May I call you Ruth?”

“Certainly, and you’ve met my secretary, Daisy?”

“Indeed, but I assume she won’t be your secretary for much longer?” Rixi said. “Is that lovely maternity dress one of yours?”

“Actually, it isn’t, but we will be adding maternity dresses to our product line very soon. Please do come in and sit down.”

I took their orders for coffee and withdrew. When I returned with the tray, the interview seemed to be going very well.

“Oh, I have lots of ideas for new designs,” Ruth was saying. “As soon as we have the necessary tooling, we’ll be offering coats, wedding dresses, pyjamas, nighties, maternity dresses, and lingerie. With our system, we can make virtually any clothes.”

“It sounds like a dream come true for you,” said Rixi. “Most young designers have to wait ages before their creations get to market.”

“That’s right, and I intend to invite other budding designers to submit their ideas to me, and we’ll feature them on our website. Each month we’ll pick the best of the submissions and make a dress to that design for the winner, free of charge. Also, if any other customer orders a dress to the winner’s design, she’ll get a royalty.”

Rixi was scribbling furiously. Later Ruth took her down to the cowshed and introduced her to the others. Rixi took lots of photographs on her state-of-the-art phone. I managed to avoid being in any of them.

The interview appeared the following week in the women’s section of one of the quality Sunday supplements. In addition to reporting everything she discussed with Ruth and Eddy, Rixi also described her experience with designing and buying her dress through the MyOwnCouture.com website. She confessed to being completely hopeless with computers but boasted proudly of how simple she had found the whole process, and how impressive it was to see her animated self strutting down the catwalk in her new dress. She also spoke highly of the quality and great value of her purchase.

Ruth and I read the article at home and were delighted, but I could see a potential problem. Despite it being Sunday I called our Internet Service Provider. It was a good thing I did because access to the site increased by a factor of a hundred that day. If I hadn’t warned them to expect that, our website would undoubtedly have fallen over. That led to a big bump in orders, and despite the new automation equipment, it was all hands to the pumps again the next day.

There was another potential problem. There was now no way of concealing from the Deveres what their son and his fiancée were doing. Ruth was not interning at a fashion house, and Eddy wasn’t doing an advanced degree. A rough few days followed and Eddy had a hard time placating his parents. He only escaped being disinherited because his father at least was impressed by their enterprise and pleased with the growing success of MyOwnCouture.com.

But he still didn’t dare tell them that he was gay and his engagement was bogus. So Nick still couldn’t be seen out with Ruth. If I wanted to be with her, it would have to be as Daisy for the foreseeable future.

* * *

It was a very busy but productive month. I had four top-up sessions at Transformations, at two of which I had to put up with waxing again, but these sessions were becoming progressively less painful, and there was less stubble to remove each time. Alas, after four top-ups, I was noticeably fatter and even more uncomfortable.

Our second Board meeting was imminent. As I was to chair this, I took a moment to think about the agenda. I sat at my desk, contemplating. I had kicked my heels off and was staring at my nylon-covered toes, but in this position I couldn’t reach round my bloated tummy to rub my sore feet. Pregnancy was a pain…

My monitor pinged; an email had arrived. It was from Margaret:

“Daisy,” it said,

“I’m sure you’re well-prepared for the Board meeting on Friday, but I thought you might like to see a pro forma agenda that we often use with new venture boards. Feel free to ignore it if you have your own preferred way of running meetings:

• Introductions and apologies for absence [I assume Nick will be absent again?]

• Minutes of the last meeting [can you remind Vicky to distribute these?]

• Matters arising from the last meeting [I don’t think there were any specific actions, were there?]

• Financial report [presumably you, standing in for Nick again?]

• Operations and technology report [Eddy]

• New products and services report [Ruth]

• Any other business

By the way, I intend to come down on Thursday. I won’t drop into the office this time, but can I treat you to dinner again? Same time, same place? I think it would be helpful for you and I to have discussed anything sensitive before the Board meeting. I think you know what I mean.

Kind regards,

Margaret.”

She knew full well that we didn’t ‘have our own preferred way of running meetings’, but I acknowledged that she had saved me some time and effort. I couldn’t think of anything to add or change, so I sent it out to all the Board members under my own name (and without Margaret’s personal comments, of course), reminding Ruth and Eddy that they would have to prepare reports. I sent a copy to Vicky too, asking her to take the minutes again, and to distribute the first meeting’s minutes as soon as possible.

I then replied to Margaret’s email accepting her invitation to dinner. Now, what was I going to tell Ruth without provoking her paranoia? More importantly, what was I going to wear? Margaret had already seen my one decent outfit. Did I have time before Thursday night to nip into town and buy an evening dress?

Margaret hadn’t asked me not to tell Ruth about this meeting, so I did, having learnt the hard way not to keep things from her. I told Eddy too. They wanted me to promise to tell them everything, which I really couldn’t do. I promised to tell them everything that was relevant to the company, and said – quite truthfully – that I had no idea why she wanted this session. I said that last time it was mostly social, getting-to-know-you stuff. Margaret had mainly been curious about how and why Nick Rawlinson had become Daisy Duquesne.

Ruth, being Ruth, felt excluded and wasn’t happy.

* * *

I managed to get away for a couple of hours on Wednesday morning to go dress shopping. I was embarrassed to admit it, but I knew I would miss that when Daisy took her final bow. Trying on dresses and twirling in front of mirrors was great fun.

While there I saw some especially sexy maternity lingerie and a caftan gown in metallic lace, and I couldn’t resist. I looked forward to seeing Ruth’s reaction. I hoped Phoebe would like it all. She was planning to have another baby soon. If her maternity clothes fitted me, then surely mine would fit her. So everything I bought for pregnant Daisy would eventually be hers.

I went a little upmarket and found a lovely Renaissance maxi dress in brilliant violet for my second dinner with Margaret. I had decided that I prefer floor-length skirts. The more of my legs I could hide, the better I liked it. The only problem was that it emphasised my baby bump rather than disguising it, not that concealment was a viable option now. Are all women as big as this at eight months? Maybe if I wore my white lacy cardigan with it?

The dress was expensive, and I had a crisis of conscience about the money I was spending. When was I likely to wear it again? Both the colour and design of the dress were very striking and I was a little concerned that I would attract too much attention, but as Margaret said, if you’ve got it, flaunt it. After another month’s worth of top-ups I’d certainly got it.

When Ruth saw it, she was astonished.

“You must really be enjoying this to spend so much money on a dress you’ll only be able to wear a few times,” she said. I started to object. “No, I’m glad. I never meant this to be a punishment for you. Anyway, I suppose I can be sure you’re not planning on making a pass at Margaret – not dressed like that!”

I asked our local taxi firm to send Avi for me again, as he had been such a gentleman. He jumped out of the car when he saw me waiting outside my entrance to the Manor House and offered his arm to help me into the car. He was just as solicitous at the other end and I made sure I gave him another good tip. In my condition I really appreciated old-fashioned gallantry. I didn’t see it as incompatible with feminism at all.

It was nearly five weeks since I last saw Margaret and she made no attempt to hide her surprise.

“Wow, you’re really going for it now, aren’t you? That’s a beautiful dress!”

“Thank you,” I said. “And it shows much less cleavage, as you will have noticed. I was mortified when you pointed out my near-toplessness last month.”

She laughed. “It really wasn’t that bad,” she said. She looked quickly around her and dropped her voice. “And those fake boobs of yours are completely undetectable. They jiggle just like the real thing.”

“Only the best,” I agreed, “and they’re just as heavy as the real thing too.”

I stretched a little and rubbed my sore back.

“Oh sorry,” she said, “let’s get to our table and sit down.” She waved to a waiter. “But how is it that you’re even bigger than last month? You don’t really have anything in there, do you?”

Once we were settled at our quiet table at the empty end of the hotel restaurant and had placed our orders, I explained about the Transformations service. She was fascinated. For the next half-hour our conversation ranged widely but mostly on women’s subjects – fashion, make-up and hairdressing, family life, children, babies. I had to use my imagination at times, but I kept my end up.

“I’m sorry,” she said suddenly, “you quite make me forget that I’m not here with a close woman friend. I know you’re acting a part most of the time, but you’re getting really good at this. Are you sure you’re a man under all that?”

“Positive,” I said, “but it may be a while before I can prove it to you. I had hoped that going through the rest of my pregnancy would satisfy Ruth that I’m serious about our relationship, but it looks like she wants me to stay as Daisy for a while longer.”

“You mean she’s decided she prefers Daisy to Nick? What will you do?”

That outcome had been preying on my mind.

“I honestly don’t know. It can’t last indefinitely though, can it? That would be pretty strange, wouldn’t it? She’s not a lesbian – I can guarantee that – and although she’s a strong character, she’s not a dominatrix, and I’m certainly no submissive. This prosthesis is pretty uncomfortable but it's not bondage in the traditional sense.”

“Ah, but you do give in to her most of the time, don’t you? Being Daisy is proof of that.”

“Up to a point, but not about things that really matter. I will certainly stop her from making any bad business decisions, I can assure you – if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“No, you’ve already shown you can do that. I’m thinking about your relationship and where it’s going. You have to admit, it’s an unusual situation…” She stopped and threw her hands up in a gesture of surrender. “I’m sorry, time out. It’s none of my business. I’ve overstepped the mark.”

“No, that’s all right. I’m happy to talk about it with you. It’s healthy. I can’t discuss it with my family; they’ve already shown that they don’t understand; and I’m scared of raising the matter with Ruth, for fear of breaking our fragile connection. But I know I will have to – soon. I’m thinking that the watershed moment will be when we decide the baby must come. I need to set a time limit after that.”

Our starters arrived and Margaret changed the subject. We discussed the Board meeting. She had seen all our reports and was very happy with our progress. We agreed that the main task for the next month would be to decide whether we needed a second tranche of funding – I told her I was pretty sure we would – and how we would propose to spend it. I predicted that Ruth would insist on grabbing the lion’s share of the money to expand our product line, which might need another specialist machine, and would certainly need some sophisticated program development. Margaret said she could see no reason to oppose that but we would have to prepare a very detailed proposal to get the Bank’s approval.

“I do have an item of ‘Any Other Business’, by the way,” she said. “I thought it would be a good idea to talk it through with you in private first – in your capacity as Chairman, or his proxy.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

I had expected something like this, but she had lulled me into a false sense of security with all our girl talk.

“Staffing – two items. First, you need a machine operator or two – relatively low-level posts. It’s ridiculous for Eddy to be dyeing and printing and carrying pieces of cloth around; he’s your senior engineer! And it’s not much better for Mike to be doing that either. He’s almost as well-qualified as Eddy. If you keep him doing unskilled tasks like that, you’ll lose him.”

I personally thought Mike would stay as long as Vicky was still around, but I took her point.

“Second: in addition to being Ruth’s secretary you are also the Financial Controller, the deputy to Nick the FD, and the de facto Office Manageress. At this rate you could easily end up being the HR Director too. Daisy the secretary needs a secretary.”

“You’re right, of course,” I said. I thought for a moment. She waited patiently. “Do you think it might be better if I raised this under AOB – rather than you, I mean?”

“I was hoping you’d suggest that,” she said. “I’m conscious of being an outsider, and I wouldn’t want Ruth or Eddy to think I’m interfering.”

“Heaven forbid!” I said with a grin.

She laughed. “One more thing: everyone in the company knows of your dual identity and most of the reason why…”

She had clearly sensed that I hadn’t told her everything. I said she was sharp.

“…but what about the new staff? Will they be told that Daisy and Nick are one and the same?”

* * *

Of course, I hoped that by the time we had taken on new staff, Daisy would be consigned to history, but I was no longer confident of that. She seemed to be more of a permanent fixture every day.

At any rate when I got back home after dinner, I was able to tell Ruth that Margaret had agreed that we needed to support all her ideas for new ranges and designs. She was delighted. She span me round and started unzipping my new dress.

“You realise we will need another tranche of funding?” I pointed out over my shoulder. “And that means the Bank’s holding of our shares will go up to 10% – at your and Eddy’s expense.”

“We’ll still have 70% between us,” she said.

She had now revealed my new black matching bra and maternity panties, which drew a sharp intake of breath.

“Whoa, you little minx! When did you get those? No more business talk now, missy. Lie back and drop your knickers. You have something I need under all that black lace. I’ll help you get it out.”

She giggled and grabbed a new black see-through babydoll from a shopping bag she’d hidden in her wardrobe.

“I’ve been looking forward to seeing you in this. If I ever have to fire you as my secretary, you can get a job as a plus size lingerie model.”

Briefly I wondered whether Ruth’s obsession with seeing her boyfriend in women’s underwear was entirely healthy, but the thought was soon pushed out of my brain by more pressing matters…

* * *

Our second Board meeting went well. Each of the Directors (or in Nick’s case, his proxy – me) gave their reports. Every performance indicator was in the green and everyone was happy. We agreed that we would need the second tranche of finance, and that most of it would be spent on whatever Ruth needed to expand our product range. She said that her ultimate goal would be for MyOwnCouture.com to become a one-stop-shop for custom-made women’s apparel. We all approved.

Under AOB I raised the subject of staffing. With Margaret’s help I had prepared a brief analysis of our needs and the Board approved the immediate recruitment of a machine operator and a secretary, with the expectation of hiring one more of each next month. As Office Manageress I accepted an action to begin the recruitment process.

I had one more item of AOB to raise: a warning note. In the first quarter of the year it looked very likely that our revenues would exceed our debts and operating costs; that is, we would be in profit. (I now realised that the Bank’s funding and my original support didn’t count as debt as we received shares in compensation.) If this was repeated in the second quarter, then the company would have to start paying rent to my father. Thanks to Will’s foresight, the original contract linked the amount due to profits; the more profit, the more rent, up to a predetermined limit.

Margaret asked if our premises were big enough to cope with the escalating demand, or whether we needed to consider moving. Nobody wanted to do that. We liked our current location and laughed about working in a barn and a cowshed. Vicky said she sometimes felt like a milkmaid in these surroundings. Ruth said that was quite appropriate as I was nearly as big as a moo-cow, which she seemed to think was funny. We all smiled to be polite and Margaret suggested we move on.

I said that we didn’t need any more space upstairs. We were only using two of the six desks in the office regularly; a third when Mo was in. Also I often worked down in the kitchen on my laptop as I struggled to get up and down the stairs in my condition.

We turned to Eddy to comment on the available room in the cowshed. He said that it would be big enough for the foreseeable future. There was plenty of unused space to expand into. The real constraints on further growth would be the machines, he said. What we had were old and jury-rigged, and prone to breaking down. Also we could only make one garment at a time. Admittedly each took only a few minutes, but with the rising demand we would soon need to be able to make two or even three simultaneously, unless we kept the machines running twenty-four/seven, in which case they would probably break down, and so we should have more machines in case of that. Also, any new kit should be custom-built to Eddy’s designs, not second-hand stuff that he had adapted.

We all agreed to go ahead with new machines for two additional production lines. Speaking on behalf of the FD, I had to admit that we couldn’t realistically pay for them even on hire-purchase, or lease them, from our current revenue stream. We would therefore have to ask the Bank for the third and fourth tranches of funding. Margaret confirmed that she would ensure this was approved.

Ruth and Eddy would then have 30% of the shares each, while I and the Bank would each have 20%. In principle, this would mean that if Ruth and Eddy disagreed over something and Margaret and I each backed one of them, there would be a tie. I asked Margaret later how that would be resolved and she said that as Chairman of the Board, Nick would have the casting vote. I wondered if Ruth realised that.

* * *

As we were in a hurry for new hires, after the meeting I called a local employment agency that my father used, rather than advertise. I thought that would be acceptable as these were fairly low-level roles. I asked them to make sure that all the candidates were briefed that the potential employer would be MyOwnCouture.com, a fast-growing fashion start-up, and that all work would be on site at our location. There would be little, if any, opportunity to work from home. Might as well do everything I could to weed out the non-starters.

Ruth overheard the telephone call and wandered over as I hung up.

“So you’ll meet the potential new hires as Daisy then?” she said.

“I suppose so. I don’t have much choice, do I?”

“Is that the faint odour of burning bridges I smell?”

* * *

At the close of our second Board meeting we were buoyant and upbeat for the future, but we couldn’t sit back on our laurels. Mike and Vicky had been keeping the machines going while we Directors were drinking coffee and munching our chocolate biscuits. With just the two of them, they were beginning to fall behind. So when Margaret set off for the station in a taxi, Eddy and I headed for the cowshed to help out. Ruth stopped me before I could reach the stairs.

“Actually, could you just step into my office for a moment, Daisy? There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”

So I went in and parked my expanding bulk awkwardly in her spare chair. She turned her monitor round so we could both see the screen.

“What do you think of these?”

“Maternity dresses!” I said.

There were four beautiful designs: three medium-length, one full; two in pastel colours, one floral. The floor-length dress was in black.

“They’re gorgeous! I really like that mid-length floral dress. It looks so cool and comfortable! Are you ready to add those to the site?”

“Yes, and I’ve written the software instructions to make them – but there’s a problem.”

“I’m not going to like what comes next, am I?”

“You might,” she said cryptically. “You see our ‘standard female figure’ template won’t work for a woman more than about four months pregnant. Her figure is just too different.”

I saw what she meant. We could adapt for different female sizes – OK, for skinny girls and fat girls – by just shrinking or inflating the standard template, but that was no good for a pregnant figure. If we inflated the tummy to the six months pregnant size, the breasts and buttocks would swell grotesquely too. She would need to develop a new template. I began to see where I fitted in. She saw that the light was dawning for me.

“You will do it, won’t you, sweetie? I don’t know any other pregnant ladies just at the moment, and I don’t want to have to pay anyone.”

I sighed. “What do I have to do?”

“The best way would be for you to strip down to your underwear and let us cover you with those motion capture sensor things. That will kill two birds with one stone: the sensors will give us a perfect 3D image of your sexy preggy figure, which I can use to generate the template. Then if you move around doing everyday pregnant woman activities, I can make the film from it. We obviously can’t use the catwalk or disco dancing animation for a woman in your condition.”

“And where exactly do I have to do this? We don’t have any of that equipment here.”

“I have an old university friend in Bath - Josh. He is a junior partner in an animation studio. They mostly work for video games companies, but they have all the kit and he’s happy to help us with it sometime when it’s not in use. In fact, it’s free this coming Sunday afternoon. We could make a weekend of it.”

She made it sound tempting. I hadn’t had many outings as Daisy.

“You haven’t told Josh about me, have you?”

“I’ve just said I need to get some film of a pregnant woman, and I’ll be bringing a friend with me. Don’t be so sensitive!”

“Well, as long as I don’t have to be on my feet all day…” I began.

“No, no, no, I’ll look after you, I promise!” She grabbed me and covered me in kisses. “Thank you so much for doing this!”

Well, it might be quite fun I suppose.



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