Plus-One With A Vengeance : 20 / 29

Plus-One With A Vengeance : 20 / 29

[ An Altered Fates Story ]
by Iolanthe Portmanteaux

 


"Could there be finer symptoms? Is not general incivility the very essence of love?"
— Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice


 

Back in the house, Max used a broomhandle to poke and push the Christmas present marked with P, until it fell from the high pantry shelf into his hands.

"Okay, have at it," he said, tossing me the box and grinning wickedly. "Remember, if you don't like it, or it doesn't fit, I'll change it. Or you can pick something else — as long as it's something similar."

I shook the box. It was surprisingly light. He talked about it fitting me, so it had to be clothes, right?

"I'm sure I'll like it," I promised, my eyes fixed on the red ribbon, which I cut, and the golden paper, which I recklessly tore open. When I lifted the lid, the inside was packed with light gift paper crumpled around a smaller, elegant-looking box with the imprint La Perla.

"The Pearl?" I translated.

"La Perla makes lingerie... and stuff," Max explained.

The lingerie in this case consisted of a super-light triangle bra, an impossibly thin Brazilian brief, and a transparent babydoll. Taken together, all three weighed practically nothing. I laid them out on the kitchen island, embarrassed beyond degree. Touching them made me glow red like a stop light, and of course my blushes delighted Max no end.

The bra and panties seemed spun from spider's gossamer into intricate, faint, butterfly designs. In color they were a pale red that rendered each piece shamelessly sexy.

"Do you like it? Do you like them?" Max asked, a little worried. "I can't read the expression on your face."

"Um, they're beautiful," I confessed, "But they frighten me. The expression you see on my face is fear. I'm afraid to wear these."

"Don't worry," Max joked, "wearing them won't make you pregnant."

Though I was looking down at the gift, I didn't miss the way his face went white at his own joke. In all sincerity, wearing those items could definitely make me pregnant, but I wasn't about to toss that joke back to him.

It would have been wonderful if I could have reassured Max that I wasn't in any way pregnant, not even a little. One of those pee-stick tests could maybe set his heart at rest, but it was too soon for that: we'd only had sex that morning.

 


 

Max and I fell instantly back into our old routine of living together: he went to the office each morning, and I stayed home. I cooked our dinners. Just like before.

Inevitably, I took on the other household tasks — which I didn't do last time. When I was still Elliot, the cleaning and the laundry were a bit too hausfrau (or hausfraulein, as Claus put it) for me. Now that I physically qualified as a fraulein, I didn't mind doing those traditionally female activities on Max's behalf.

So — In addition to repairs, adjustments, and small improvements (shades of handyman Elliot!). I also, with Melissa's help, got my initiation to the intricacies of sorting laundry (which cycles to use with which pile of clothes), the zen of ironing (and yes, I went so far as to iron our sheets!), and the endless task of cleaning.

"The more you clean," Melissa told me, "the more you'll see that needs cleaning."

"It's a weird twist on Sisyphus," I commented.

"If you say so," she responded.

HOWEVER — and naturally so — the biggest difference from "just like before," was the fact that we were sleeping together; sharing a bedroom and a bed. It was a difference that took a bit of getting used to — more for me than for Max. Being a woman by myself, or with Melissa, wasn't all that different from being Elliot. It was like Elliot with a few fleshy extensions.

Being a woman with Max, on the the other hand, was a complete and utter change. I won't say my world was turned upside down; it wasn't quite that. It was a dramatic inversion, though. I mean, I'd lived with Max before, and in some silly, naive part of my mind I expected things to be more or less the same as they were back then.

In Max's mind, it wasn't anything like that: for Max, a man moved out and a woman moved in. He had a smooth transition from "Hi, Elliot" to "Hey, babe." And the next thing after "Hey, babe" was always a throaty "Come here." I blushed more in the first two weeks than I had in my entire life before. Still, whenever he said "come here" I wanted to go there. His low, sexy voice infallibly evoked a visceral response in me. His wanting me, made me want him.

I didn't mind anything Max did with me or to me — I loved the way he touched me, the way he moved his hands — tantalizingly slowly — up, down, and all over my body. Whenever he slid his hands under my clothes, my desire for him switched on, like a hot, bright light. It was exciting as hell. I never told him to stop or slow down because I never wanted him to stop or slow down.

Still, being the object of that much and that kind of attention — it was a huge realignment, psychologically and physically. Nothing in my life prepared me for it.

And... it apparently lay completely outside my control.

It seemed that anything... everything... I did, aroused Max. I'd get out of bed and walk across the room; his eyes would follow me, then he'd groan and say, Come here, babe, come back to bed. Even if I was doing nothing, sitting and staring out the window, my passive state was enough to get his blood churning. Instead of saying come here, he'd glide over, to lie on me or drape himself over me. Let me hasten to say that it was always good! Afterward, on his part, he might fall asleep, or want to cuddle — or conversely, he'd jump up, charged to the brim with active energy. On my part, I'd often end up empty-headed, stupefied, smiling like a ninny, but in every case, he'd leave me glowing like an ember.

My life was teetering dangerously on the brink of the pornographic.

At the risk of telling you more than you want to know, the two of us were VERY sexually active during the lead-up to Nessa's wedding. VERY active. Max began waking up earlier in the morning and rushing home in the evening. We made a goal of doing it in every room of the house — a goal we soon forgot, since it was what were doing already.

I had no way of knowing this before moving in, but Max was a case study in sexual curiosity, with a vast desire for sexual adventure. I can't describe some of the things we did without venturing into (as I said) indecent prose, but I will say that he loved seeing me naked, making me naked, and in doing things in public that could easily have landed us — or at least me — in jail.

Why am I telling you all this? It's not to titillate you or to excite your prurient interest. I only mention this to give you a measure of the enormous upheaval my life underwent. My first transition — when I'd gone from being a man to becoming a woman — wasn't difficult, either mentally or emotionally. Maybe I was distracted by all the pretty — the clothes, the hair, the makeup, the shoes. Maybe I had so much attentive hand-holding from Vivianne and from Melissa. Maybe it was the nature of Melissa's support: everything was silly, it was fun. She made it all seem much like a game.

This second transition, where I was treated like a woman in a very sexual sense, and frankly, objectified — considered, regarded, and even used as a sexual object or a fleshy plaything, was more fundamental. It penetrated deep inside me. I finally began to understand what Vivianne told me at the start: that I wouldn't simply be playing a part. She insisted that the medallion would turn me into someone else, a different person. Now, at last, I got it: she was right.

But then, who was I now? It was easy to give myself the name, Lorelei. But who was Lorelei? Who was I going to be in future? A housewife? For the rest of my life? An add-on to Max's life? His live-in plus-one? Not that I would mind being either of those things... but the question Who is Lorelei? wasn't a question with an answer as simple as that. I wasn't just Elliot with breasts and female plumbing. I was a brand new human being who never existed before. I was more than the sum of my parts; more than my personal history.

As Elliot, I always had the option of finding a job as a programmer. It wouldn't have been hard, or taken very long. Lorelei could certainly do the work, but as Lorelei, I had no credentials and no CV. I didn't even have a high-school diploma! I was going to have to think about that — I mean, my credentials. Maybe I could earn my stripes by working on open source projects, and make a new name for myself there. Maybe.

I wasn't worried about settling all those questions quickly. I could work them out by living them, the way everyone does. The important thing I'm trying to communicate is my realization that I'd radically changed my destiny, my possibilities, my future.

 


 

With all that in mind, I went to visit Vivianne. We had tea, of course, and talked for three full hours. She was pleased by the way my life had developed, and by my recognition of my new personhood.

She gave me practical advice about dealing with my identity as Elliot. I took notes; I didn't want to forget any of it. In particular, she gave me a project to carry out after the wedding that would say goodbye to Elliot "for ever—" or as she said "—as forever as things can be in this world."

In spite of that, she instructed me to keep my last set of Elliot clothes. "You never know; you might have to change back for an emergency."

"Don't throw those clothes away in an emotional moment, or to make a statement, or to draw a line," she cautioned. "But, even if you do, there is still a way to get you back to being Elliot temporarily, if you need to. It's just more convenient to change when you've already got something to wear."

 


 

Max and I did the things all new couples do: we had dinner with his parents; we went out on weekends and embarrassed people with our public displays of affection, but mainly we were inside, together, huddled up in bed. It seemed we had a thousand things to talk about, as if we never knew each other before. We watched movies. We tried to jog together and other kinds of exercise together, but that seemed that exercise was the only activity we couldn't share.

"We might try riding bikes together, or kayaking," Max suggested.

"Sounds good," I agreed, and we put it on our sometime list.

One Sunday, Max's parents invited us to brunch at the Ludwig Hotel. "The Ludwig" meant dressing up: Max had to wear a jacket and tie. Melissa bought me a dress for the occasion: a cream maxi-dress with a coral-colored floral print. It was my the first floor-length dress.

"Pretty damn sexy, ma'am," was Max's comment.

"You clean up pretty well yourself," I told him — realizing as I spoke that my remark was nearly enough to get him going. I scurried out of our bedroom and down the stairs before he could say his magic words.

In case you're not familiar, the Ludwig is an old, ornate, high-end hotel. In these parts, it's our Plaza Hotel, our Ritz-Carlton. It's historically imposing, so I was already somewhat cowed when Max led me by the hand into the "tea room," where brunch was served. Imagine how much smaller I shrank on seeing not only our hosts, Melissa and Paul, but the two other guests, Vivianne and her husband Ken.

"Hello, Mr Errison," I said, shaking his hand. Everyone laughed.

"Why does everyone assume I'm an Errison?" he asked in good-natured bewilderment.

"People assume you took my last name," Viv quipped.

"I guess," Ken acquiesced with a small shrug.

"So, what *is* your last name?" I asked him. He told me, and somehow I immediately forgot. I didn't dare ask again.

It was an interesting lunch, though not so much for what was said. Max and I said very little, and not much conversational room was made for us. The "adults" did all the talking, mainly about people and places I didn't know. Max did an excellent job of hiding his boredom, and it struck me for a moment that were I still Elliot, I'd be bored out of my mind as well.

But I'm not Elliot, so there was a lot going on for me. I watched the interactions between the women — Melissa and Vivianne — and the men — Ken and Paul. Vivianne didn't relate to the men as an equal; she behaved as their superior, but in subtle ways. She never contradicted the men, not exactly. She had a way of stating things from a larger, higher point of view. I imagined her standing on a mountain top, seeing the world for hundreds of miles, and describing what she saw to the two men, who sat (as it were) on a comfortable ledge far below.

Melissa, on the other hand, was soft and agreeable. Funny, sometimes silly, but at the same time, surprisingly firm and decided in her opinions and her desires.

At one point near the beginning of the meal, Melissa reached out, placed her hand over mine and gave me an encouraging squeeze. Later, near the end, Vivianne did the same. It gave me a strong sense, that I've carried ever since, that the two women have my back; that they are with me, and want me to succeed and be happy.

Ken, at the start, insisted that everyone have a drink. All of us had a mimosa, except Ken, who ordered an amaretto sour. When the drinks arrived, he said, "I'd like to propose a toast — can I do that? If I may, a toast to our lovely young couple."

Max colored, all the way to his ears. I, for once, simply smiled, said "thank you," and didn't blush one bit.

When we got up to leave, Vivianne gave me a rather reserved hug, and told me, "You two make a wonderful couple. Treasure it. Nurture it."

Back at home, we trudged upstairs to our bedroom so we could change into more comfortable clothes. I was quicker about it than him: Max plunked down on the bed, loosened his tie and unbuttoned the three top buttons of his shirt. He kicked his shoes off and they randomly ended up under his bureau.

I smiled to myself but didn't say anything. My dress was about as easy to take off as Max's tie: being a wrap dress, all I had to do was untie the belt and unwind the dress, like a robe. As I went through the gyrations, I asked him, "I had a good time today at brunch. Did you?"

He shrugged and laughed and rolled his eyes. "It's family," he replied. "For you, it's a novelty. For me, it's the old folks — not that they're old! But you know, they were already adults when we were kids, so they live in whole 'nother world from you and me."

"I guess."

He gave me a cute, conspiratorial smile and said, "You know, I think the reason Dad wanted to do that brunch is because he's curious about your relationship with his sister."

"Vivianne?"

"Yeah. She's not an easy person to know or get to know, and she clearly likes you. That's unusual. I always thought she didn't like anybody."

"She can be a little cold and distant at times," I admitted. Max let out a quick bark of a laugh. "But I like her. It's great having her at my back."

Max replied with a wide-eyed, dubious, whatever-you-say look.

"Anyway, I'm glad she was there," I said. "And FYI — she said we make a wonderful couple, so there!"

"Hey, hey," he protested, holding up his hands in surrender. "I didn't say anything bad about her!"

"Okay," I admitted. "Well! I hope your Dad figured out... whatever it was that he wanted to figure out."

Max rolled his eyes and laughed.

I turned my back to him so I could hang my dress in the closet. As it was a very soft, flowing, loose design, it was no easy feat, making it stay on the hanger. It fell to the floor twice, consequently, I had to bend over twice to pick it up. In the end, I resorted to the expedient of folding it in half and draping it over the hanger.

Red-faced and flustered from my struggles and bends, I turned around to find a look of fascination and hunger on Max's face. I didn't need to look down at myself to know what he was staring at — what he'd been staring at this whole time. I was dressed in a pale peach bra and panty set — a color not far off from my skin tone — and my thigh-high stockings were nude. I still had a short string of pearls around my neck, and a pair of bracelets on my right wrist. I'd already taken off my shoes, so I stood there in my stocking feet.

"Do you want me to help you get out of those clothes?" he whispered.

"You're insatiable!" I breathed.

"Am I?" he asked. "Let's find out."

With a wicked, challenging grin, I shot back, "You'll have to catch me first!" And I ran from the room, shrieking with laughter.

 


 

A few odds and ends I need to tell you about before we get to the wedding, all jumbled up together in a short sequence of events:

On the last Thursday in April I went to talk to Melissa. I'd read everything that looked even halfway credible on the web about periods. I'm pretty sure I absorbed all the factual information pretty well, but I wanted to know what it felt like. Not emotionally; at least not so much -- I wanted to know the nuts and bolts of the experience. I wanted to know whether you can tell when it's coming. I wanted to know how bad it could be and how to mitigate the mess. I didn't want to be caught by surprise.

Unfortunately, each and every author finished up by saying "your mileage may vary" or "it's different for everyone" — which, at least to me, negated every single experiential point they'd made. Not matter what I read, or which video I watched, none of it took away my horror of the idea of being suddenly surprised by an uncontrollable gush of blood. Every time I was out in public, I worried this might be the day.

Also, in spite of the fact that I'd done a number of pregnancy tests, I could tell that Max didn't really trust them. He was waiting for Aunt Flo to visited me. *That* was the proof he wanted. In spite of his sexual appetite, I could feel in his body and see in his face that when he played with me, he felt he was playing with a live grenade. (Except that if *I* exploded, a baby would come out.)

It wasn't a huge issue; it was a subtle, underlying tension, like a soft, almost inaudible soundtrack to our life together. No matter what I said, I couldn't convince him that I wasn't pregnant. For my part, I was sure I wasn't pregnant at all — if I *were* pregnant, I figured I would have to know. Wouldn't I? Max shook his head at that and gave it no credence whatsoever.

Of course, I didn't share any of our mutual anxiety with Melissa at all. I couldn't bear the squeals, the hugs, and the squeezes she'd inflict on me. Unlike Max, if she knew, Melissa would be cheering for the baby.

So, I kept her in the dark. My question to her was just elementary girl talk. And she was, as always, great. Eminently practical. She delivered a very comprehensive Periods 101, or What To Expect When You're Expecting Your Period. After our talk, I felt somewhat relieved, and greatly reassured, but for the first time, I calculated how far out my first period could possibly arrive. With that, I picked up a new worry: the red wave might hit during Nessa's wedding weekend!

My visit to Melissa fell on a Thursday. The next day, which was the last Friday in April, I went food shopping in Town Center. I wasn't in the grocery store long before I spotted Kitty in the aisles. I immediately felt sorry for her and guilty for myself. She used to be such a good friend, but the only time we'd talked since I became Lorelei was her interrogation of me at the mall. I'd replayed that conversation many times in my head, and it was clear that she was trying to be nice; besides wanting to find out who I am, and whether I was special to Max, Kitty wanted to reconcile her friends to each other. Unfortunately, one of those friends is Amber, so... it didn't go well.

I needed to patch things up with Kitty. Even if she had no idea who I am now, we've been friends for far too long. I bit the bullet and approached her.

"Hi, you're Kitty Dahlmann, aren't you? I'm, um, Lorelei Gight — Elliot Beekman's cousin."

She smiled a little uncertainly, and said hello.

"Listen, I got off on the wrong foot with you," I told her, "that time we spoke at the mall. I know you're a good friend to Max and Elliot. Could we try again to sit down together for coffee, as if it was the first time?"

She responded "Yes" — positive and immediate. She was a bit timid with me, but she smiled.

We set our groceries down, told the clerk we'd be back in a bit, and went next door to the cafe.

"First of all," I confessed, "You asked me whether I knew Max, and I made it seem like I didn't. I've known him since I was little."

"Why did you tell me that you didn't?"

"Because I didn't know you. You were asking me dozens of questions, and I'd just had that... experience... with your friend Amber."

"Right," she said. "But... are you just acquainted with Max? How well do you know—"

I cut in, "We're living together. Sleeping together."

"Oh!" Kitty feigned surprise. Even if Amber couldn't come and go like before, she could still spy on the house. I suspected one of our neighbors of being Amber's eyes.

Thankfully, in the conversation that followed, Kitty didn't pump me for information — or at least, she didn't push very hard. She did have questions, but unlike our previous conversation, she unfolded as much of herself to me as I did to her. It was a provisionally friendly give-and-take. The conversation remained very natural and agreeable — up to a point, as you'll see.

She asked why, if I'd known Max and Elliot for so long, she'd never met me.

"Mostly I stayed at Elliot's house or went places with our families when I visited," I told her, "I never went to Max's house." (Technically, that was true: I'd never been to Max's house as Lorelei back then.)

She asked me about Darcy. I told her Darcy is my cousin, which is pretty improbable if you think about it for very long. Vivianne suggested the lie, and said she'd back me up on it. "Cousin is a word that covers many sins," she said. "She doesn't need to be your first cousin. Darcy could be your second or third cousin, to say nothing of removals."

"Removals?" I had asked.

"Do you know the difference between a first cousin twice removed and a second cousin once removed?"

"Uh — I don't know what either of those things are."

"Wonderful! So if someone asks you how Darcy can be your cousin and Lorelei's cousin, remember that phrase, and you'll be home free."

In fact, the first cousin twice removed, etc., threw Kitty for a loop, and she abandoned trying to understand.

Kitty told me how she'd met Claus. She talked about her business — I said, "Yes! You dressed my uncle's house!"

She laughed and corrected, "I staged your uncle's house. He's a really nice man. I hope he likes living in Florida. It's kind of a strange state, I think."

"Oh, he's having a great time!" I enthused. "He loves it down there. He's trying to learn to sail."

"Is Elliot with him?"

That threw cold water over me.

"Yes," I said, as my enthusiasm abruptly cooled. "Elliot's down there, too."

"Is he coming back?" she asked in a gentle tone. She must have my change, and known she was treading on sensitive ground.

"I don't know," I told her. "I don't think so."

Her face registered genuine surprise. She stammered at the start of her next question. "B—but how— what— How could he not come back? All his friends are here!"

I looked down at my lap. My eyes teared for a moment, but the tears rolled back inside. I looked in my heart, expecting to find an immense sadness, fed by self-pity. Instead I found a cold bitter anger, thick as caramel, bitter as bile.

"Are they?" I asked her quietly. "Are all of Elliot's friends here?"

From the look on her face, I think I scared her. In the moment I was glad of it, but at the same time I knew it was not a good thing. I needed to dial it back, to keep a lid on it.

"Yes," she answered. "Why would you ask that?"

"Because he told me," I said, leaning forward, "that nobody's called him."

"He's only been gone a couple of weeks," she pointed out. "I expected him to come back any day. If he wasn't coming back, why didn't he say goodbye?"

Only a couple of weeks... she was right, of course, though to me it seemed like ages. My anger took a step back, but I pushed it forward again.

"You're right," I admitted. "I guess it seems longer to him."

"Why?"

"Because he feels abandoned."

"Not by me," Kitty insisted, looking a little offended. "Claus and I have always kept in touch."

Damn. That also was true; I couldn't contest it. Anger took a step back; I pushed it forward again. "I didn't know that," I lied. "I guess it was everyone else."

"Elliot never was the most social person. I mean, he stayed holed up at that startup for years, and then he was doing renovations..."

It was true and true. I felt... cheated. I found myself struggling to stay angry. I wanted to start a fire, to burn something down, but every point I made, Kitty canceled out with something reasonable, and even kind. She wasn't even contradicting me; she was telling simple truths.

"Tell Elliot to come back," she said. "Tell him that Claus and I miss him."

"I'll tell him," I promised. Then I tried to resurrect my grievance: "But I don't think he will come back. Ever. Not after the lies Amber told about him. And Max."

Kitty appeared genuinely troubled. Her voice took on a kind, gentle, walking-on-eggshells tone, as if she was verbally defusing a bomb. "Lorelei, how do you know they're lies? I believe everything that Amber said about Elliot and Max. I was happy for them. I was glad they had each other."

"It wasn't true," I protested. "Any of it. None of it."

"How would you know?" she asked. "You weren't here."

"Elliot told me," I insisted. "I believe Elliot."

"Okay," Kitty said. "I understand. Tell Elliot that I believe him, too. Tell him that Claus and I believe him, and that he should come back home."

Another emotion welled up inside. I wanted someone to hold me while I burst into tears. I wanted to howl and cry. But I couldn't. I was so damn angry! I wanted to rage and break things. I've never felt that way before. The two feelings didn't cancel each other out. They rolled and flowed over each other in my heart, in my gut, in my brain.

Kitty reached halfway across the table. She was going to put her hand on mine, but stopped. She intuitively judged it a bad move. And it would have been. I'm not sure how I would have reacted, but it could have gone badly.

I took a deep breath. I didn't want to explode or rage or cry here. I didn't want to let myself fall to pieces in front of Kitty. So I said, "Thanks, Kitty. I will pass that message on to Elliot, and I'm sure he sends you his best wishes."

Kitty smiled. The genuine, open smile of a friend. "Tell Elliot we love him."

I nodded, confused as all hell. I managed to escape without acting out.

I trudged slowly home, experiencing with each step the strangest feelings I've felt in my life. I was angry, sad, weepy, raging. One emotion blended into another, rising and falling as they traded dominance. I barely contained myself until I got home. Max was there. He looked up at me, startled. "Babe, are you alright? What happened to you?" he asked, his voice loaded of concern.

For some reason, that was the final straw, the one that set me off.

"Nothing happened!" I snapped back, aflame with fury. "Why would something happen? Nothing happened, do you understand?"

"Yeah, yeah, sure!" he said, backing off quickly. "Sorry!"

"I need to go to the bathroom." I tried to slam the door shut behind me, but only managed a soft thud.

I stayed closed in a while, and there on the toilet the mystery resolved itself. I felt like a jackass, but at least now I understood what was going on.

When I returned to the living room, feeling much chastened, I said meekly, "Sorry, Max. I'm sorry for blowing up on you." I heaved a great big sigh. "I'm on my period. My period came."

Max jumped to his feet. He very nearly clapped his hands and whooped with joy and relief, but he caught himself in time.

"Oh, babe! Sorry, babe, so sorry to hear it. Anything I can do, tell me." I nodded.

He sat down in his recliner, and said, "Come sit with me — if you want."

I sat on his lap and he held me, wordlessly. Well, mostly wordlessly. As he cuddled me, he whispered, "I've heard that chocolate might help."

I shook my head. "I have everything I need right here."

Then, when he dared, when he felt enough time had passed, judging his moment and taking his chance, Max said, "So! You're definitely not pregnant."

"No, not pregnant," I agreed.

He nodded once, and wisely said no more.



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