A Christmas of Confusion

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December 2021 Christmas Holidays Story Contest Entry

A Christmas of Confusion

 

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'You can't do this to me!' I say. Pointlessly. I'm pretty sure Karl can do anything he wants to me.
All he has to do is look at me with those deep, dark eyes and I start going all soft and unfocussed
and gooey and the next thing I know I've agreed.
But he doesn't know that.
I hope.

 


 
'Ok, not quite the reaction I was expecting. Definitely a bit dramatic, in fact. I literally didn't suggest doing anything to you, never mind pressuring you.'

'You said you wanted children!' I reply accusingly 'That means I have to have them. Or that you're leaving me. Which one is it?'

'I wasn't suggesting knocking you up on the spot,' Karl said mildly 'I just said I'd like to be a father some day'

'Meaning I'd have to be a mother - the one who does all the hard work I might add. Fathers just get to sit around smoking pipes and looking paternal.'

'I don't even smoke! And would being a mother be so terrible? It's supposed to be a good thing.'

'You try it then!'

'Well, I can't, can I? I'm a man.'

'So was I!' I scream and then my voice cracks as I dissolve into angry sobs. Karl gathers me into his arms and lets me soak his shirt front with tears.
He's very good and patient with me, always. He knows I need a lot of support, so much so that I often feel guilty for the way I lean on him all the time. It's not fair, he shouldn't always have to be the strong one, but that's just the way he is - stolid, patient, kind - he'd make a marvellous father. Me, I'm edgy, nervous, uncertain, emotional, sometimes I think I'm not fit to look after myself let alone anyone else.

In my defence I've had a lot of trauma to overcome. You may remember the publicity a few years ago, the arrests and then those huge trials across a score of countries that broke up The Organisation, a terrifying criminal empire known only as The Organisation. Seriously.

Just the initial publicity spawned ten thousand newspaper stories and a hundred conspiracy theories because The Organisation was something that shouldn't exist in any sane world. Like a cross between a madman's nightmare and the villain in a dystopian science fiction novel The Organisation was a worldwide network catering to the obscenely rich and utterly perverted, devoted to human trafficking.
It provided not just beautiful women but trained, obedient, beautiful women, who were charming, domestically talented, classy but uninhibited and, most importantly, still too broken ever to run away or defy their purchasers.

Uniquely The Organisation did this by taking a man as their raw material - I still don't know if this is because most of their clients preferred it that way or because - as my trainer had said to me - men who have had every aspect of manhood torn from them against their wills become more docile than any real woman could ever be.

Yes, I was one of The Organisation's victims. Five years ago I was a teenage boy, a hungry runaway sleeping on the streets. When the police arrested me I was almost grateful - at least I would get a hot meal in the cells. I was inside the van before I realised they weren't really policemen.

I don't like to think about the next three years, but as I pull myself together, lift my face from Karl's shoulder and accidentally catch a glimpse of my reflection in the lake we've been walking around I can see the effect they had on me. I really, really don't look like the man I've just insisted I was.

Thick, lustrous red hair falling past my bra strap practically to my bottom, big, bright, blue eyes framed by long, thick lashes, that pale, clear skin so many women want and so few have, those soft, curving - well, I'm not going into erotic detail but The Organisation really did me proud.
Not just on the outside either. I have a womb. ovaries, the full works. No matter what I think of it, there is nothing impractical about what we're discussing - in fact a little carelessness and I'd be started, whether I want to or not.

'Younger than she are happy mothers made', as Shakespeare said. Ugh. Shudder.

'Made' of course, is the operative word. The Organisation wasn't big on volunteers, which is surprising when you think how many people, female AND male seem to dream of being the sort of woman I've been turned into. Sadly for me I'm not one of those people. Maybe they started by advertising for volunteers but the whole 'life long slavery' thing put people off.

'Hey, come back!' says Karl

'Huh?'

'I can tell when you're thinking about the past, you know. It's over. Stay here. With me. Or talk to me about it if you can't stop yourself. You know what they say ' A trouble shared is a trouble doubled'.

'Mmm. I'm pretty sure only you say that.'

'You say it too. I've heard you.'

'Yes, your weird sayings are infectious. You've even got me singing along to folk songs for Heaven's sake.'

'See? Being with me is just a cornucopia of net benefits!'

'Hmmm!'

Being with Karl IS a cornucopia of benefits, not least of which is that I now know what 'cornucopia' means. I didn't get much of an education so I am busy absorbing his like a sponge.(Believe me, I'd never heard a Shakespeare quote before I met him). He knows everything! Including how to find the clitoris, which I'm reliably informed is downright tricky for most men. If I hadn't met Karl I don't like to think where I might be.

A lot of us who were kidnapped had already been trained and sold on when the authorities struck and were never found. Those evil sons and daughters of guns in the Organisation managed to destroy a lot of their records and quite a few of them escaped.

Nevertheless there were enough of us still being processed when the Organisation was busted up to leave the authorities with the problem of just what to do with several hundred traumatised young ladies who had only recently been traumatised young gentlemen.

The answer was, pretty much, to arrange emergency housing, refer to a counsellor, assign each of us a badly overworked social worker with forty other cases and leave us to our own devices.

Lots of us sold stories to the papers, two or three wrote books about their experiences, a few became models (the organisation didn't kidnap anyone they couldn't make, at least, very pretty) and one or two even managed to make the big break into show business.

One girl, by the name of April, actually decided to stay with the guy she'd been sold to. OK, it's really not as bad as it sounds. It turns out someone else did the buying and he had no idea his extremely hot and utterly devoted new girlfriend was actually a kidnapped sex slave - very long story there - but even so I think that chick should be checked for Stockholm Syndrome!

As for me, it took weeks just to get enough ID which identified me as Chloe Harrison ( I stuck with the name The Organisation gave me) instead of Trevor Harrison (Ugh, again. What a name. It occurs to me I've had a LOT of bad luck in life) to be able to organise the essentials of my life and once I did.... well, I did exactly what I'd been doing with my life before The Organisation found me.

I fucked it up. Drink, drugs, self harm, more drugs, you name it. I hated being a woman. Seeing my pretty, delicate face in the mirror made me want to tear it off. Looking like a woman, being seen as a woman made my skin crawl. I couldn't stand it. Which meant that the very worst of all the bad things in my life was the sex.

The Organisation's changes weren't just physical, they were mental too. They were well ahead of mainstream science in their fields; I read an article the other day saying that the breakthroughs medicine is making studying The Organisation's techniques mean they have hopes of being able to almost completely eliminate harmful compulsive, obsessive and self-destructive behaviours in the next few years.

I try to be very happy about this.

What the The Organisation used their knowledge for was programming me to be a hopeless slut (and yes, that is exactly how they put it). The process wasn't finished by the time I was rescued but they had sharpened my sex drive to something very extreme even for a twenty year old. The conditioning had also ruined me for girls. It was a good seeing to or nothing and nothing just wasn't an option.

So far, so good, you say, but I hated myself for it. I absolutely loathed touching or being touched by a man. I spent my day huddling under hoodies and anoraks so no one would see me. Then at night I got drunk so I could have sex, and drunker to blot out the memory of having had sex. Loveless, cold, often violent sex just for the hit and like any other addict the hit was all I was interested in.

Those nights were the only times I wore women's clothing. It isn't hard to get picked up as a lone woman in a short skirt drinking too much. The trick would be NOT getting picked up.

I spent days and weeks hardly knowing what was going on. I once woke up on the floor with a carving knife in one hand and realised I'd been trying to cut my wrists before I passed out. I tried to give it another go but luckily the helpless retching stopped me.

After all, what did I have to live for? I'll spare you details, but there were very good reasons I ran away in the first place. I lived like an animal on the streets for a year. I'd never been raised to be a well balanced, healthy boy or man in the first place, so I didn't know how to be one. Then after The Organisation had finished with me I couldn't even be a bad, unbalanced man because I wasn't one at all.

I couldn't be a well balanced woman either - I hadn't learned how. The Organisation didn't need me to have goals, or self-reliance or even common sense. So I didn't.

When Karl found me, ten months ago, I was in a bar sitting on the lap of an unshaven thug with a face tattoo. Sober, even I might have had the sense to run. I was so far from sober I couldn't see it with a telescope.

Bristle face and his friends had been plying me with drinks that I eagerly downed for hours, fondling me and passing me from lap to lap until it was clear the only questions would be if I was conscious or unconscious when they ran a train on me and if they'd bother to take me to a flat or just drag me into the parking lot. I know. I'm not proud of myself.

'Are you all right?' came a concerned voice, just as the thug's fingers were pulling my knickers aside

'Uh?' I managed to say, trying hard to focus

'Piss off!' snarled tattoo face 'This is our bird.'

'Oh really? What's her name?'

' S Michelle innit'

'No , 'm Trevor, I mean, urrghh' I managed to say.

'Right, if you don't know who you are, you're coming with me.' said the voice.

'D'you want a fight, you c*nt?' said my epidermally marked swain almost spilling me on to the floor as he rose unsteadily to his feet

'I will if I have to, but you might want to talk to the lads from my dojo first. They practice every day. They'd probably love a fight.'

Focussing at last I saw a group of about a dozen men and women around a long table a few feet away who were watching with great interest. The least of them appeared to be made out of whipcord and spring steel and they were mostly drinking water. Tatooey looked at them, looked at his own handful of sozzled, beer bellied allies, reckoned up the odds and subsided, grumbling, leaving Karl to whisk me away. As he gently led me away I heard my own voice saying 'I'm Chloe. I remember now!'.

I woke up the next morning hanging over the edge of a bed in Karl's spare room, staring down at a large washing up bowl with a terminal hangover and completely unsexually molested. That was the start of my new life.

Karl held my hair back while I was sick, made me eat something and drink large quantities of water, drove me safely home and asked for my number. A couple of days later we had our first date. In no time at all, I'd stopped drinking myself stupid, stopped waking up in strangers beds and realised that some of the skills The Organisation had given me were worth having after all.

I am an absolute domestic goddess in the kitchen and it gives me joy to know I'm making Karl meals that are delicious AND good for him. I know how to sew as well - he no longer sports the two buttoned shirts of the absent minded genius! I'm a talented dancer and, for the first time ever, realised that with Karl I could learn to love formal dancing, being led in a man's arms, or even topless belly dancing for his entertainment. (Yes, I know. The Organisation's motto was 'If your owner might like it you're going to learn it.')

Last, but emphatically not least, I found out, for the first time in my life, how it felt to be touched with love.

It changed everything. Just holding hands made me happier than I'd ever been. Being held made me feel, safe, secure, wanted. Being made love to by Karl made me feel whole, as if Karl was the missing piece of me I'd been looking for all my life. Karl is the reason I am - sort of - coping with being a woman.

Now I can look at my face and figure, my long slender legs and even my gently curved hips and boobs and be at least a bit happy because of the pleasure I can give him. When he looks at me the pride and joy on his face tells me that the sight of me is something worth being joyful about. His eyes on me are like a magic mirror, turning everything around and making it alright to be this delicate, fragile beauty he sees in me. So, I cling to him like ivy round an oak and pray I'm doing the whole girlfriend thing right!

Then from time to time I wake up in the night and wonder what on Earth I think I'm doing.

'Tabbycat, are you even listening to me?'

'Umm. Sorry. I drifted off again. Forgive me?' I give him big, blue eyes and pout, just a little.

'I said I have a surprise for you.'

'Oh, OK. What is it?'

'We're going to see Father Christmas?'
'We are?' I blink in surprise. I may be kind of clingy but Karl should know I'm still a grown up. What am I expected to do, sit in Santa's lap? Well, maybe if Karl was to dress up as Santa..

'In Lappland.'

'In Lapp - oh my God!' I squeak, my voice going high with shock.' We're going on holiday? At Christmas?'

Did I mention, Karl's pretty prosperous? He works as some sort of high level freelance IT consultant. He has explained the details but we got distracted before the end. New outfit. He really liked it.

'Yes, we're going on holiday. To Lappland. Where we will see Father Christmas, but you don't have to sit on his lap if you don't want to.'
I swear he's a mind reader.

'We also get a hotel in the middle of the forest, a suite with a real fire, romantic rides in a troika pulled by reindeer, sleds drawn by huskies, ice skating, cross country skiing, the works.'

'Oh my God, that is so, so - when are we going?'

Karl's grin is now that of a man who's swallowed a banana sideways

'We fly out at 7 am tomorrow morning.'

'Wha??'

I disentangle an arm from our embrace and give him a feeble thump.

'I haven't packed!'

'Me neither. We should go home really.'
'Ohhh- gah!'

Luckily, I still retain enough residual maleness that it only takes me a couple of hours to pack. Warm overcoat, check, heavy jumpers x 3, check, short warm jacket, check, cute pixy boots, check, stylish knee length boots, medium heel, check, warm wooly tights, check, formal dress and sheer tights for dinners, check, a pair of fuck-me shoes x two, check wooly hats x 3 check, fifteen sets of knickers, check, five corsets, check, six pairs stockings, smooth, check, two pairs stockings, patterned, check, one pair stockings, fishnets, check, one set handcuffs, fluffy, check....

We're only going for three days. I may be getting carried away.

A few hours after that we touch down in Lappland.

Snow is everywhere. I'm actually impressed we made it to our airport, which is a tiny set of landing strips and one building a few miles inside the Arctic Circle.

The little building is bright with lights and tinsel and seems to be made out of giant pine logs. It only takes a few minutes of flashing passports and swearing we haven't smuggled anything contrary to Norwegian law and we are through to where a sort of three runner sleigh,with hanging lamps and cushioned seats is standing.

'Your carriage awaits, milady.'

'This is for us??'

'This is for you,' he grins 'I'm just tagging along.'

And like the gentleman he is, he helps me into the sleigh and makes sure the rugs are properly tucked around me before helping the driver (coachman?) to strap our luggage into a compartment at the rear.

Then we are off, cold breath smoking the clear air in great clouds, the only sound the swish of the sleigh's runners, the jingling of little bells on the harness, the muffled thud of hooves on deep snow and the murmur of the great pine forest all around us.

I snuggle up to Karl as we ride through the endless forest that makes me think of trolls and frost giants and fairy tales, an enchanted kingdom just for us. An hour later I'm still entranced, gazing at the endless trees slipping by, when I see something up ahead, a vehicle pulled over by the forest path and people standing around. As we drew closer, I sat up to see what was going on. That was my mistake.

'Oh my God, I don't believe it! It's Catfish!'

I ducked down again at once but it was too late. An utterly impractically dressed woman was already leaping into our path carolling excitedly
'Yoo Hoo! Chloe, it's me!'

My antipathy to poor Catfish is completely one-sided - my side - and probably totally unfair. The Organisation caught her pretending to be a woman online, hence the nickname, tracked her down and decided she would make an ideal candidate to be one in real life. The next thing he knew she was learning to walk in heels. Rather stylish, strappy ones as I recall.

This is so far from anything that any sane person could possibly have expected to happen that I know it's completely unreasonable of me to blame Catfish for her own fate. Nevertheless, as we tripped around en pointe in calf length tutus putting on our ballet class production of Giselle I know I wasn't the only one thinking we were all innocent victims but some were less innocent than others.

Still, innocent or not, the only decent thing to do was make nice, so-

'Isobelle? Oh my goodness, what are you doing here?'

'I'm on a modelling shoot! Isn't that cool?' Isobelle/Catfish gave me a delighted twirl 'And who is this?'

'Karl, may I introduce Isobelle, one of my fellow um.. alumni? Isobelle, this is my boyfriend, Karl.' I tried not to put any emphasis on the word 'my'. It's confusing enough being a girlfriend after nearly two decades of guy-ness without morphing into a crazy, possessive one.

'What Chloe means is we were both kidnapped and tortured by very clever crazies, but things turned out OK for me in the end, and clearly for Chloe as well.' Isobelle turned her full beam on to Tyler, who gave her the same kindly good natured smile he gives everyone.

'I'm very pleased to meet you Isobelle.' he says as his large, warm hand reaches over me to engulf hers in his characteristic bear handshake.
Please pick up on my signals, Karl, please don't be too friendly I try hard to message him telepathically
'Are you staying round here?' he asks

'Of course. We're at the Hotel Ginnungagap.'

'So are we! We must have a drink together.' Damn The Organisation. Couldn't they have given me telepathic powers instead of perfect skin?

'That would be wonderful!' gushed Isobelle 'I'd love to catch up on everything Chloe has been doing since, well, since...' She falters a bit and I think she's wondering how much I've told my boyfriend about my past and if she's at risk of dropping me in it. She wouldn't be too bad if she wasn't such a 'Look at me!' type. Still, I suppose the personality type goes well with the modelling.

'We want to have a look around and a rest, but say 8 o clock? In the hotel bar?'

'Sounds wonderful! I'll see you there.' and with a swirl of skirts she's back to her photoshoot
Not being a telepath sucks

Still, having to be polite to Catfish over a drink isn't the worst thing in the world and I quickly regain my good humour. Karl moves from cuddling to kissing and I imagine I must be seriously flushed by the time we pull up at a great building, hung with lanterns, light pouring from the bright windows standing in a vast clearing in the forest.

It seems to be made mostly of great tree trunks but there are three storeys and two wings so I don't know if that's possible or if it's a facade on a stone structure. I really need to learn these things. If I am ever a mother I don't want to be forever saying 'I'll have to ask your father'. I can't have my children thinking I'm thick.

Ugh. Now I'm feeling shaky again. I smile to hide it, then let out a little shriek as Karl picks me up and carries me to the hotel's great veranda, before striding nobly back through the snow to fetch our luggage.

'That was very manly of you,' I giggle

'Hey, you know me, door to door care laid on with a side order of ritual adoration. Also, luggage carried.'

'You don't have to.'

'No, but I want to. Now let's get checked in and have a look around.'

Our room has a huge king sized four poster bed, the hangings tied back with sashes, our own fridge, a safe, ensuite bathroom, bath AND shower, a view over the snow bound forest and best of all a real fire roaring in the enormous stone fireplace.

'I'll have to keep that going; I don't want you to get cold.'

'How could I? I just came unscathed through an ice forest.'

'Yes, but you were wearing clothes then.

'I'm still wearing clo-mffl!'

I walked right into that one. He silences me with a kiss, slips my heavy overcoat off me and on to the floor and for a moment I stand spellbound in his embrace before he starts gently manoeuvring me towards the bed.

'Karl, we - mmmm' I manage to get the odd word out as he breaks the kiss to lift my thick wooly jumper over my head. He doesn't need to let me speak to undo my shirt though and whatever I was going to say seems to have gone out of my head anyway. One big, warm hand cups my face, holding my lips to his as he gently lowers me on to the bed and tugs impatiently at the waistband of my jeans. I let out a little squeak as he peels them from my legs, taking my wooly tights with them leaving me clad only nothing but satin bra and knickers I wore because I suspected this moment would come. No, I'm not a prophetess, this moment comes every night, most mornings and a surprising number of times during the day. He's so passionate! And randy!

Karl unhooks my bra and starts to move down my body, fingers, lips and tongue claiming me, leaving me unable to do anything more than make soft little noises. He casts my knickers aside and teases my clit with his tongue until unconscious reflex makes me lift my hips, and then dips his tongue inside me. One of my hands now is buried in his thick hair and the other is clenching at the bedclothes because I have to do something, and then he plants a swift kiss on the inside of each of my thighs before moving up my body, up, up, and then inside, plunging himself slowly, agonisingly slowly, deep inside me.

'Oooohhhhh!' I gasp. This is where my head always starts fighting against itself. I feel very full and very helpless.

'My gorgeous tabbycat' he says, looking straight into my eyes and then he kisses me again, thank God, because that stops me screaming what I feel, like,

'Yes, yes, I'm yours!'

'Never let me go!'

'I need you, don't stop!'

'I'm your tabbycat!'

'I love you!'

Then he stops kissing me to bite my earlobe and I wrap my legs around him and scream it all anyway.

Afterwards I nestle snugly in his arms, my head resting on his shoulder and wonder how long all this can last, until my neck gets stiff and Karl takes me down to explore the resort. At the hotel shop he gets me a sort of traditional Lapp dress - traditional refined through the imagination of a clothes designer who I suspect has done a fair bit of LARPing but warm and comfortable - and takes me to meet the reindeer.
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Yes, I love this holiday.

As the darkness sets in we go back inside for warming drinks overlooking the virgin snow. Then Karl coaxes me upstairs for a repeat performance of what we did earlier - two repeat performances in fact, followed by a romantic dinner delivered by room service, accompanied by champagne in an ice bucket. Karl is wealthy and he's always been generous but this is luxury even by his standards and I'm just thinking I could get used to Christmases' like this when it all goes to shit.

'Chloe,Chloe, I've something to give you,' I open my mouth to say he's spoiled me enough for one week and he shouldn't have when I see that Karl is dropping to one knee and holding out a little box with the lid open to display a ring of rose gold studded with diamonds and sapphires.

'Chloe Harrison, will you -'

'Don't say it!' I snap, cutting him off.

'Not what I was hoping you would say.' Karl remarks mildly.

'Karl, I can't!'

'You don't want to? It's too soon?

'No, it's - I - oh!' and I turn and head for the door

'Wait, please wait!' Karl is panicking now, 'You can't just run off, you'd freeze out there. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you!'

'You haven't done anything wrong,' I manage to say 'not one thing, but I have to be alone for a little while or my head will explode. I'm sorry, I will come back, I'm sorry.' and with that I tear myself away, out of the room and heading for the stairs.

I'm already out of the front door when I realise Karl is right. There's a cold here like I've never experienced before, like nothing I've ever known in England even in the early hours of a night spent sleeping on the streets. This is a bone deep, elemental cold. It won't chill me, or make me shiver or make me miserable, it will simply take me softly, swiftly and silently out of this life. I manage to walk three times round the outside of the hotel and for half the last lap I'm seriously thinking I won't make it back inside. For the first time ever I understand how people can perish in blizzards walking the few hundred yards from the woodshed to their own front door.

As I stumble through the doors into the hotel's lobby I see that the day just isn't about to get any better. Catfish is waiting for me. It's 8pm and that promised drink is at hand.

'That is the most amazing dress!' she gushes, advancing on me with cheerful enthusiasm 'Are we waiting for Karl or going straight to the bar?'

'Karl isn't coming, but I could probably use a drink.' I say sadly

'Chloe, what's wrong?'

I consider for a moment. Of all the people I could have chosen to talk to in this moment Catfish is somewhere near the bottom of the list. On the other hand she's here and it's not like I'm going to see her again any time soon. My secrets are more or less safe with her, at least from anyone I know.

'Let's get that drink and I'll tell you everything.'

A few minutes later we're sitting in the bar over very large glasses of chilled white wine and Catfish/Isobelle is looking puzzled.

'I don't get it.'

'Karl asked me to marry him' I repeat
'And that's not a good thing?'

'No. And I'd look ridiculous in a wedding dress.'

Isobelle gives me an incredulous look

'You really wouldn't.'

'Doesn't matter, I won't be wearing one.'

'So...you're not happy in the relationship? Quarrels, or do you just not feel he's compatible long term?'

'I've never been happier and you can't quarrel with Karl, I've tried. He just keeps being kind and patient until I have to go off to sulk alone.'

'OK, so do you think it's too early? I mean that would make sense, given everything that happened to us both, you're bound to have some trust issues.'

'No, that's not the problem either.'

'Then what is?

'He thinks I'm a woman.'

'So he doesn't know about The Organisation? That's definitely a problem, but do you not think he'd be OK if you just explained? I mean it's not like you asked for what happened.'

'No, he knows all about The Organisation. He knows I was a man, he knows I was kidnapped, he knows what was done to me and he still thinks I'm a woman.'

Isobelle is giving me puzzled face now, and looking, I have to admit, rather good doing it. The surgeons did a great job of making her look cute.

'I don't understand.'

'No? Look at me. I'm wearing a pretty dress, I'm sipping a white wine, I look like a girl, everyone calls me Chloe and it's all a sham. I'm a homeless substance abuser called Trevor. If he could see the real me Karl would be disgusted.'

'You know you're not making sense, don't you?'

'I'm making perfect sense. If it wasn't for The Organisation this facade everyone sees wouldn't exist.'

'What facade?'

'ME! That's what facade! I'm not real, I'm just a- a - a Potemkin Village made by mad scientists to sell to the rich and the wicked. Karl would be marrying a phantom. '

'I hate to be sexist, but for a redhead you really are talking like a blonde.'

'Huh?'

'Probably not the best way to put it, but I do think you're looking at this the wrong way.' Isobelle looks away uncomfortably, staring into the depths of her glass. 'I realise I was never your favourite person but I understand something about what it's like to be confused about your identity. I know you all called me 'catfish' when you thought I wasn't listening. I know why.'

Crap. Just when I thought I couldn't feel worse about myself I'm reminded exactly how bitchy I can be.

'I was online....exploring. I was a seriously mixed up adolescent and ...doing what I did, the way I did it was a way of trying on different lives for size. I found out very quickly once The Organisation grabbed me that I wasn't transgender at all. The difference between fantasy and reality was too big. 'So, this isn't the life I would have chosen but I have to make the best of it. I was never a girl trapped in a boy's body but I'm a woman in a woman's body now. It's freaky, it took me a while to get used to but I am, I became, a woman. Because I changed. I adapted. I grew.'

'That makes no sense to me at all.' I admit
'Let me put it this way. What makes you think you're nota woman?'

'Because I was born Trevor Harrison!'

I glance around but luckily the bar isn't crowded and no one seems to have heard our conversation.

'Yes and when you were born you were a baby - you aren't now. People change. What do you think is the definition of a woman anyway?'

'Umm. Not sure.'
'You and I can bear children. Any biologist will tell you that's literally the definition of a healthy adult female mammal. Does it really matter that we got this way through medicine and surgery?'

'Yes, but we're people, not dolphins.'

'So? OK, let's talk social roles. Your social role is a combination of how you live and how other people treat you. You live as a woman and everybody treats you like one. You wear make up, you wear skirts and heels, your name is Chloe, you're dating a straight man. How is ANY of this compatible with being a man?'

'I'm a good actress. Actor. I do these things because I'm stuck with a female body and it makes life easier.'

'I call bullshit! Your hair is three feet long for God's sake, there's nothing easy about dealing with that! If you really believed you were a man you'd cut it off. You'd wear nothing but jeans. You'd bind your breasts - or have them removed.'

'It's not as simple as that - you can't just have surgery for the heck of it.'

'Are you seriously suggesting that if you went to ANY competent doctor, told him your history and explained you wanted a FtM transition they'd turn you down? No way. You didn't choose to be this way, but you choose to STAY this way every day.'

'Yes but FtM transitions are way trickier than the other way around, I've done the research.'

'And how relieved you must have been. It's a great excuse isn't it? Or are you seriously suggesting you wear three inch heels for comfort and convenience? The only thing about you that isn't female is that little internal voice that insists you're a man. And I don't believe that voice.'

'How can you say that?'

'Tell me I'm wrong.'

'You are wrong.'

'Ha! How much time did you spend on your make up this morning?'

'That's all externals.'
'Make up is an external. The fact that you want to wear it is an indicator of something internal. You want to be pretty.'
'Everyone wants to be -' I begin and stop. Everyone doesn't want to be pretty. Girls do. And it never even occurred to me to shave my head or take male hormones or any of the things I could have done to look less feminine. And now that Isobelle's pointed out that I could, I don't want to.
Isobelle's looking at me now with sympathy. 'Are you alright Chloe? You're looking a bit shocked.'

'I think I am a bit shocked. I'm wondering how some of these things never occurred to me.'

Isobelle smiles cautiously 'It's always easier to see other people's blind spots than our own. '

'I still don't understand what you said earlier though. You said you made yourself into a woman. I know you don't mean physically, The Organisation did that, so what do you mean?'

'How shall I put it? How would you define bravery?'

'Umm, I'm not sure. '

'Well, is someone who's never afraid brave?'

'Yes. No. Maybe. You've obviously thought about it, what would you say?'

'I'd say yes, if they do brave things. I'd also say someone who's screaming scared all the time but does brave things is brave. That's the great thing about bravery. You don't fake it til you make it. If you fake it by doing brave things you HAVE made it.'
Isobelle and I never had a deep conversation like this in the old days. She's smarter than I realised.

'That makes sense, but what does it have to do with what we were talking about?'

'Because we're the same. Every morning I look at Isobelle in the mirror and say 'What would Isobelle do?'. Because if you have a woman's body, live as a woman and do whatever a woman would do, then for all intents and purposes you're a woman, by every definition that matters. Do it for long enough and you're no longer playing the part, you become it.
'But you, Chloe, I think you wake up every day and you look like, act like, live as Chloe but every morning YOU look in the mirror and say 'Don't forget you're Trevor.'

I'm gawping now. That is right, that is absolutely right and I never realised it.

'Oh my God. I think you may be right!?'

'I think so, but only you can know and only if you're being honest with yourself.'

'So what do I do?'

'You buy us another drink while I recover from all this mental exertion.'

A couple of minutes later I'm back with more chilled white wine. I'm sort of enjoying this despite the shock. It's like having a wise older sister to discuss my problems with and it occurs to me that when this holiday is over I'm going to have to keep in touch with Catfish. And also stop calling her Catfish in my head. D'oh!

'All right,' I say 'You seem to have a surplus of wisdom tonight? How do I solve this?'

'Not really for me to say, but if you want my advice..'

'I do,' I say firmly

'I'd say make a choice and stick to it. Either go back to being Trevor and hope you can get used to the taste of Special Brew and meths again - '

'Oh fudge, you knew about that?' I interrupt

'You know what a mass of gossip The Organisation's training facilities were. I mean, we all needed the distraction for Heaven's sake.Yes, I knew about that. Also that Emily had a thing for rubber. Where was I?' Chloe gazes pensively into her wine for a moment 'Oh yes. You need to either go back to being Trevor or take a decision to be Chloe. Sitting on the fence is just going to give you metaphorical splinters in the butt.'

'Just like that, make a decision to be Chloe?'

'Not just like that. Today and every day. Which brings me to the most important question of all. Do you love whatshisname?

'Karl!'

' Sorry, I'm terrible with names.' Isobelle grimaces apologetically 'Do you love Karl?'

'I do. I really do!' And he brought me on the holiday of a lifetime, proposed and I ran away like an idiot and left him hanging!
'Oh God, I'm such a dozy mare!'

'Well, I knew that.'

'Hey!' Isobelle just grins at me

'I have to run. Umm, can we meet tomorrow? Either I'll be able to introduce you to Karl, or I'm really going to need a shoulder to cry on.'

'Go! Run! Let me know how it works out!'

And with that I'm off, haring across the lobby and hitching up the skirts of my good new dress to take the stairs two at a time, along the corridor and bursting into my room to find it - empty!
'Oh no, oh no!'
But my panic is short lived as I turn and dash back down the corridor to find a snow covered Karl coming the other way.

'Oh thank God!' I hurl myself at him, and bury my head in his shoulder - then pull it back just a little as the thick snow on his overcoat stings my face

'Don't panic, tabbycat . I got worried you might have got lost in the snow so I came looking but I couldn't find you anywhere. Luckily I ran into your friend before I called out the Mountain Rescue people.

'I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm such a dizzy mare!'

'No, I'm sorry, I suppose I jumped the gun. I didn't mean to scare you off.'

'No, no you didn't. Please, let's forget about the last hour.'

'OK petal.'

'Now, please ask me your question again?'

He pauses for an instant and my heart is in my mouth but it's only while he feels in his pocket for the little box. He finds it and opens it to show me the ring once more.

'Chloe Harrison, I love you and I want to spend my life with you. Will you marry me?

'Yes, yes, yes I'll marry you, yes!'

Late that night, as Karl sleeps I'm still staring at the engagement ring on my finger. I'm very happy with my choice, but I still can't quite believe it. I'm a fiancee. I'm going to be a bride, then a wife. And, I might as well accept now, sooner or later, I'm going to be a mother.
I think, not this spring, because I'm not ready yet, and not next spring either but the spring after that or the one after that spring at the latest it will be time to cast aside the Pill and start work on our little Christmas present!



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