Software Update, Part 1 of 2

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By Emma Anne Tate, continuing a story by Ricky.

Author’s note: The setting for this story, and three of the characters that appear in it, are based on Ricky’s beautiful story from 2016, Reprogramming Your Life. Ricky very kindly gave me the green light for this follow-on tale, and reviewed the manuscript before I posted.

The remaining four characters in this story are ENTIRELY fictional. Any resemblance to any person or persons in the real or virtual worlds is completely coincidental.

I’m reluctant to tell you that you don’t need to read “Reprogramming” before reading this story – even though it’s true – because I don’t want to say anything that might dissuade you from reading Ricky’s original tale. You want to read Ricky’s tale. Trust me. You DO. Treat yourself!

– Emma


February – April, 2023

I woke up to the sort of early morning noises you get used to, living in the countryside. They’d seemed strange and exotic the first time I’d come to this remote getaway, an out-of-work work-a-holic way closer to a breakdown than I’d had enough sense to see. Now, the birdsong and the rustling of leaves in a morning breeze just felt like the sounds of home.

Since the pandemic I work from here, mostly, and even that’s part-time. But I still go down to the city for a week every month. My boss Helene Patrickson lets me stay in her guest bedroom when I’m in town; she and her long-time partner Phyllis are also close friends.

Helene and I are nerds among nerds, programmers through and through, even though she’d gotten booted up to management and I’d avoided that fate with single-minded determination and the skill of an Artful Dodger. Helene and I can talk programming for hours and often do. Phyllis calls us the Goddesses of Geekistan.

I like it.

But Phyllis and I have some things in common, too. Specifically, a delight in being, and appearing, feminine, as well as a mildly inconvenient “y” chromosome. Phyllis passes pretty well, but at this point – after seven years of rigorous application, hormone therapy, assorted surgeries, and the gentle guidance of my lovely wife – I am effectively impossible to clock. I could piss in Ron DeSantis’ chamber pot and the skeevy bugger wouldn’t even know to call his gender gendarmes.

Not that I would. I mean, ewwwww, right? But it’s the principle of the thing.

Thoughts of my lovely wife are always sufficient to get me out of bed – unless, of course, she happens to be in it – and today was no exception. She had been asleep when I got back from the city the previous night, and I’d managed to snuggle against her toasty warm back without waking her. But she is an early riser and I am not – actually, that’s not, not, not!!! – so I’m used to waking up in an empty bed.

I found her where I usually do, most mornings: in the living room, a deep, warm robe over her nightgown, laptop open on a small table in front of her. Usually, when she’s at her work station, she’s in a creative fog, muttering bits of dialogue as she writes the romances for which, under several names, she is so famous.

Or infamous, these days. Some clowns had started a boycott of her known works when they had discovered, hiding in plain sight, that she had also been writing transgender fiction for years under (yet) another name. It hadn’t dented her sales all that much. Evangelicals devour trashy romances just like everyone else, they just don’t admit it. The present kerfuffle gave them an additional reason not to admit it, but they’d never needed more than one.

Sara being Sara, she had doubled down. She was writing more transgender fiction than ever, and attending transgender events regularly and openly. Just this past week, while I was gone, she had been off at a TG conference where she had been both a featured speaker and a panelist with other (less well known!) authors of TG fiction.

She wasn’t writing just at the moment, though. Instead, she was staring out the big windows that lined the south-facing wall of the main living area, apparently lost in thought. I typically don’t bother her when she’s working, and writers can do lots of that even when their fingers aren’t on the keyboard. But I hadn’t seen her in a week, so I decided I’d bend my rule. Her long, graceful neck was looking especially in need of a kiss, and I was not one to shirk when duty called.

Mmmmm! I’ve missed you, too, girlfriend!” She snaked fingers into my strawberry blonde curls to hold me in place, then turned and kissed me properly.

“It’s worth going away each month, just to have you to come back to,” I said when I came up for air.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder?”

“You wrote that one? Damn, you’re good!” I teased.

“I’m old, Rosie darlin’, not antique!” Her laugh, as always, was musical.

“Classic. Timeless.”

“True. So true. Make me some coffee?”

“Your wish is my command, my queen!”

Sara’s house – well, our house, now, but she designed and built it, so I will always think of it as hers – has an open floor plan for the main living area. So it was only a matter of walking a few steps to reach the kitchen, and I never had to lose sight of my gal as I got some magic black juice going. Still trim and fit, her fall of golden hair still thick and sweet-smelling. She had more lines on her face now, but they were smile lines. No sign of weariness or disappointment, much less bitterness. Her eyes were lively, and she remained the free spirit she’d always been.


“Sorry not sorry,” I said, with a grin. “I could look at you all day.”

“That’s certainly one way to get out of working.”

“It’s Saturday!” I slid into a teenagy whine. “Helene said I could take the whole day off!”

“She’s just your little boss, silly girl! I’m your big boss!”

“I must have missed that part . . . .”

She shook her head sadly. “It’s sad when such a fine mind starts to slip.”

“Hopefully I’m still good for some things.” I threw in a leer for good measure.

“Down, girl!” she said, but smiled warmly. “I do miss you when you’re away. Come on, let’s sit in the sun porch.”

I poured the coffee and joined her in the enclosed porch that went off at an angle from both the kitchen and the eating area. We sat in comfortable swivel rockers, facing each other at an oblique, enjoying the warmth of the wintry sun magnified by the surrounding windows.

“How are Helene and Phyllis?” she asked, taking an appreciative sip of her morning brew.

“They’re good. Phyllis is taking ballroom dance classes, if you can believe it. She’s enjoying it a lot. I . . . honestly, I think Helene is foolish not to go with her.”

“You think Phyllis needs a chaperone?”

“Noooooo . . . Not that, exactly. Just . . . I don’t know. Maybe it’s just something that’s better to do together.” Wanting to change the subject from my vague uneasiness, I asked, “How was your conference?”

“Outstanding!” She was suddenly energized. “You wouldn’t believe some of those people, Rosie. I mean, of course you would, you’ve been helping me run this little retreat for seven years now. But still . . . .”

Sara augments her writing income by hosting weekend retreats for transwomen (and, generally, their spouses or significant others). The price is wicked high, but for transwomen with means, the chance to spend a long weekend in a completely supportive and accepting environment, with an impressive selection of clothes (both intimates and, well, out-imates), and the company of other transwomen who understand their lives, is more than worth it. She suspended her operation during the pandemic, but she had cautiously reopened in the summer of 2022, and was now doing around twelve weekends a year.

“Got some new ideas for stories, did you?” I asked.

“No. I mean, yes, of course. I always do. But it’s not that. I had kind of a different idea.”

“Yeeeeees,” I said slowly, inviting her to elaborate.

“I met this complete character at the conference – one of the authors on my panel. Couldn’t pass – I mean, at all – and wouldn’t try. Just wore a fun, swishy dress and sensible shoes, and didn’t worry about the full beard. Her pen name is Tara Watt, and most of her stories are on BigCloset and Doppler. Anyhow, we really hit it off. We had dinner with a friend of hers from the BigCloset community who posts as Chris Alys. It was really, really great. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. And I got to thinking . . . it would be really cool to do a writers’ weekend.”

“I’m kind of surprised you’ve never done one.”

“Well . . . As you know, I’ve kept this place pretty pricey, for a whole host of reasons. Money being the big one, but there are side benefits. And, I’ll be honest, I haven’t rubbed shoulders with a lot of other authors until the past year or so. I was doing my thing, they were doing theirs . . . .”

“Admit it, you’re a snob when it comes to writing.”

“Well, yeah. I am. But also . . . writers can get kind of wrapped up in their own dramas and jealousies sometimes. Much as I hate to say it.”

“Who has the biggest . . . audience?”

She snorted. “Sometimes. I mean, it happens.”

“But you’re warming to them.”

“Not as a general category, maybe. But these women . . . I think it’s different. First, because I really do play in kind of a different league than most of them do. It’s not necessarily fair, but I made my bones in a more mainstream field, so I have contacts in the publishing world that most of these authors will never have. The other part, though, is that when they write TG fiction, they’re writing what they know. Personally. First-hand. I’m always at a remove.”

I reached out to lightly caress her forearm with perfectly manicured fingers. “Not too far removed.”

“No.” She gave me a fond smile. “And of course, it’s not just you. Through my business here, I’ve met lots of transwomen and heard their stories. But, that’s still different from what these authors are doing.”

“I guess I can see that. What kind of a weekend were you thinking about?”

“I want to invite Tara and Chris, and ask them to ask two other BC authors. People they know, whose work they like. Treat them just like other guests – you know, roll out the usual red carpet, bring Debbi in to do a hair salon and makeovers, the whole deal. But it would be the authors only – no plus ones – and it would be our treat.”

“I don’t see why not. Was there anything special you wanted to do?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, it is a chance to talk about all things to do with writing. The challenges, the fun parts, how to make ourselves better . . . .”

“Well, at least that part sounds like it’ll be less work for me. I’m no help to you there.”

“Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong, my little hazelnut!”

“Okay, that one’s new. Hazelnut?”

“Just came up with it while we’re sitting here. A flash of inspiration. As a widely-read author of romance, I think it sounds cute. What do you think?”

“That you’re nuts? Anyway . . . the only writing I do is code.”

“I’ve noticed that. But . . . since I’ve sunk my claws into you, you’ve branched out quite a bit in terms of your reading. You’ve read TG fiction – mine and other people’s – as well as plenty of related non-fiction. It would be really helpful to me if you could read their stories. Give me your thoughts about how they write, from the technical to the intangible.”

“I don’t have any special insights, though.”

“I disagree. You think very differently from most of the people in my world. And, of course, you’ve transitioned. Chris clearly has, but Tara hasn’t, and I obviously don’t know about the other authors they would invite.”

“So long as I’m not looped into your ‘writers’ discussions.’ I’d feel like poor Phyllis, when Helene and I get going.”

“Hmmmm. Let’s take a closer look at that bridge when the time comes. No need to decide today. You may feel differently after you’ve done your homework!”

“Have you read and of Tara and Chris's stories?”

“No. I worry about getting ideas stuck in my subconscious, and having them bubble up into full-fledged stories without my being aware that I had leaned on someone else’s work.”

“Hell hath no fury like an author plagiarized.”

“Yeah. That.”

“But you will read them, before they come? Right?”

“Yes, I absolutely will. At least some. But that’s actually all the more reason for you to read them. If I inadvertently crib an idea from one of their stories, you’ll be in a position to catch it before I ship the manuscript.”

It’s true that, at some point over the past six years, I had started proofing her manuscripts. I did add value; a career spent working with unforgiving code made me an exceptionally good proofreader. But that’s not really why I did it. Her stories were just so damned good!

“Well, darling, it wouldn’t make my top ten list of things I’d like to do in my spare time, but sure. I will immerse myself in TG fiction. The things I do for love! See what you can arrange with your new friends, set a date, and I’ll make sure I’m prepared.”

“What did I ever do to deserve you?”

“Saved my life. But more importantly, you got me a coffee refill.”

“I did not!”

“Oh!!! Right you are!!!” I stared into the depths of my empty mug and made puppy dog eyes. “But you’re going to, aren’t you?”

She laughed.

* * * * *

“What’s got you giggling like a schoolgirl?” Sara looked at me over the tops of her readers, her fond smile on her face. She’s got a good fond smile.

“Your friend Tara. Her Dorothy Sayers fanfic is inspired.”

“Lord Peter’s Whimsey?”

“Right. She’s got the Sayers dialogue down pat, and of course Lord Peter is every bit as perfect at everything as the original version – it’s just that he’s also perfect at transforming himself into a stunningly desirable woman.”

“Oh, of course!”

“And naturally, ‘Lady Petra Peach’ is exceptionally skilled at getting foolish males to confess the crimes they were trying to hide from Lord Peter.”

“We do have certain advantages that way.”

“I’ve heard rumors. Anyhow, the characters are good, the plots are no worse than most mysteries, and the writing is solid. Not in your league, but solid.”

“You might be a bit biased?”

“If I weren’t biased towards the woman who shares my bed, you’d evict me forthwith. And rightly. But I’m a programmer. I prefer Java to C++ – that’s my bias – but that doesn’t mean I like bad Java code better than good C++.”

“Your lips are moving and you’re making noises that sound, at first blush, like human speech. But, sadly, they aren’t. Keep trying, dear!”

“Right. Ummm. You’ve said writing is part art, part science?”


“And, because you’re a famous author, I’ll take your word for it.”


“Well, the ‘science’ part is objective, at least. And there, you have an objectively clear edge over Ms. Watt, what? I think you have an edge in the art department too, but that’s more subjective.”

“And might simply reflect your animalistic desire to jump my bones?”

“I should be very surprised if it didn’t.”


* * * * *

Three weeks later, we were driving into town to stock up on groceries for one of our normal client weekends – which is to say, the kind of clients that pay lots of money. Sara was driving, since she loves driving and does it whether she’s behind the wheel or in the backseat. But I was poor company, staring out the window as the foggy, soggy, muggy, muddy world went by.

Sara took a turn with her usual exuberance. Once she’d gotten on the straight she shot me a look. “You ready for the weekend?”

I had to shake my head. “Sorry – I need to pull all the info together on our guests. I’ll do it when we get home.”

“You seem distracted. Work issue?”

“No. Well, yes – work from you, my BIG boss. This is all your fault!”

“You don’t care for Chris’s stories?”

“It’s not that. She’s written a ton. It’s all technically good, but I’ll confess I kept waiting for something unpleasant to happen. Story after story, it was all puppies and kittens, you know?”

“I write romance, girlfriend. Happy endings are even more obligatory than torn bodices.”

“Sure. But I’m talking happy beginning, middle and end. The protagonist is always loved and accepted.”

“I can see why that wouldn’t be your thing. Everyone knows you're a harpy.”

“Nice! . . . But that’s just it. It was fine. The stories are pleasant. Feel-good. And – my caustic reputation notwithstanding – I like feeling good as much as the next T-girl. They’re all variations on a classic TG theme, but different enough to keep me reading. Boy meets inner girl . . . they do a little shopping . . . something, something, something . . . only girl remains. And the world rejoices.”

“I sense a ‘but.’”

“With all the potholes in our road, I’m sure you do.”

“You can’t help yourself, can you? Let me try again. I had the distinct impression that your last sentence – which was a fragment, but no matter – should have ended in a semi-colon, followed – immediately followed – by the word ‘however.’”


“Programmer! Now quit stalling.”

I sighed. “You’re right. I am stalling. Last night, I was close to finished with all of her stories, when I hit two that . . . well. They just tore me apart. Brutal.”

“Brutal how?”

“The stories involved a lot of abuse. Trauma. In the second one, the character is driven to suicide. In the first, she just thinks about it. Hard. They are dark, gritty . . . I can’t get them out of my head.”

“And you think that was her reality?”

“It was real as hell, Sara. The details were granular, in a way that they weren’t in her other stories. If that was coming out of her imagination, her mind travels some twisted paths.”

“I didn’t pick up on anything like that when I met her. It was just one dinner, though.”

“All I can say is, if my life had ever been like that, I might want a whole lot of puppies and kittens too. Baskets full.”

“You’d have to clean up after them.”

“You’d help, though.”

“I wouldn’t.”

I thought about that. “It’d still be worth it.”


* * * * *

When we aren’t spooning, Sara tends to sleep in a sinuous ball. For warmth, I assume. We were both wearing granny flannels; she looked almost child-like as she dreamed beside me. Her face is so animated when she’s awake that she looks like another person when she sleeps. Resting angel face.

But I was propped up on a pile of pillows, too wired from work to sleep. If I was going to get any rest at all, I needed to shut down that part of my brain. I picked up my iPad, opened BigCloset and went to the authors’ index. Tara Watt told Sara that she’d gotten a confirmation from “Rowena Redmond” for our writers’ weekend. Time for me to do some more homework.

It was probably three hours later when my lovely wife said, “You’re gonna be sorry in the morning!”

“I’m always sorry in the morning. If I could just sleep past noon, everything would be fine. Every day would be perfect, and there would be peace on earth.”

“We’re washing windows tomorrow, remember?”

“No. I’m affirmatively blocking that memory. I’ve decided I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.”

“Go to sleep, Rosie!”

She was right, of course. But . . . . “You awake?”


“I know you have trouble getting back to sleep. I feel bad.”

“I am asleep.”

“Are not.”

“Am so!”

“I know what’ll help you.”

“You not talking?”

“Exactly . . . . I won’t say another word.”

“Good . . . Oh! . . . ah . . . Mmmmmmmm!”

Insomnia is a curse, and it’s a spouse’s clear duty to effect a cure by whatever means necessary. ’Nuf said.

* * * * *

Mercifully, we both slept in. But the work still needed to be done, so the next morning found me up on a ladder, cleaning the outside of the high windows of the main living area.

Sara, who had no great fondness for heights, was steadying the ladder. “So what were you reading ’till the wee hours?”

“Not ‘what,’ ‘who.’”

“‘Whom,’ you doofus!”

“I’d say something witty in Java, but you wouldn’t understand it. Whom, then.”

“Well? Whom?”

“Rowena Redmond.”

“Rowena . . . ? Oh, right. The woman Tara invited. I remember now. What did you think?”

I looked at the portion of window I’d just cleaned from a different angle, which, as I’d feared, exposed the fact that it was now streaky as hell. I tried again. “Ah . . . well. She’s, ahhh . . . pretty graphic.”

“I’m guessing you don’t mean that she writes about engravings, etchings, or woodcuts.”

“I’m gonna start calling you Merriam. No, that’s not what I meant.”

“You do remember that I write romance?”

My second attempt at the window was better, but every streak shows from the inside. I tried again. “Remarkably, that hasn’t escaped my notice. But, if you want an analogy for the comparison, skip the foreplay and go straight to business.”

“Where’s the fun in that?”

“You might be surprised,” I muttered.

“I didn’t catch that!”

“I didn’t drop it,” I replied more audibly. “Anyhow . . . . Graphic though she is, in the sense of explicit, she’s actually damned good at it.”

“You don’t say.”

“I did say. Just now. I said it.”

“Does that explain your extreme attentiveness to my insomnia this morning?”

“Just trying to be helpful. I couldn’t think of another way to get you back to sleep.”

“You could have talked to me about C++.”

“I doubt that would have worked.”

“Because you’re so fascinating?”

“That’s me. Rosie the Riveting. You know, I could spill this bucket on you.”

“And I could tip you off the ladder. . . . Anyhow. You were saying? Rowena?”

“Her plots are well-designed to get you from one sex scene to the next, and she knows how to steam up a room!”

“Do her characters have a gender preference for their partners?”

“Plenty of both, and it’s not always a matter of preference, if you know what I mean. But the protagonist is invariably a transwoman. I’d say the lust interests are more likely to be male – I’ve never seen such detailed descriptions of schlongs, by the way. But sex with cis women probably happens at least 40 percent of the time.”

“Sounds like a fun read!”

* * * * *

Three weeks before our scheduled writers’ weekend we got the pen name of our last guest, Sharon Sheralyke. It was probably just coincidence that three out of the four had names that were deliberately clever. Looking at the list of authors on BC, it did not appear to be the norm.

Ms. Sheralkye’s corpus of work was shorter than the other authors – a couple longer works that were published in serial form on BC, and a whole bunch of short stories. She didn’t seem to specialize in any particular genre. One of her longer pieces was a western; she also wrote SciFi, magic, a thriller and something in the superhero line, as well as a bunch of “real world” solos that took no more than ten or fifteen minutes to read. I got through it all in a couple of nights.

Sara asked for my debrief the following evening as I was making dinner.

“Another pretty strong writer in the technical sense. Her dialogue could use some tightening up, but she writes a good scene. And her characters are very believable. But . . . her protagonists all seem to be pretty much the same person in different settings.”

“Mary Sue/Gary Stu?”

I looked up from chopping peppers. “You planning to translate that, or do I need to talk to your AI friend?”

“Leave Alexa out of this.”

“Don’t tell me you’re jealous.” I went back to chopping.

She stuck her tongue out at me. “It’s writers’ shorthand. When authors insert themselves into their main characters too much, they all seem very alike. And they’re all really wonderful, and everyone likes them. Except for the bad guys. You know someone is a bad guy, because they don’t care for Mary Sue. Or Gary Stu, if it’s a guy.”

“Or, in the case of trans characters, both. . . . Yeah. Could be that. I mean, if you take Constance, the Cowboy-turned-Femme Fatale Saloon Keeper and put her on the Space Cruiser Inspiration, she’d be at least a stunt double for Lieutenant Tabitha Long.”

“Hmm. Well . . . what do you think of Constance and Tabitha?”

“Great characters. Or, really, character. I like her. Smart. Caring. Desirable, but that goes without saying. There aren’t that many writers creating ugly protagonists.”

“Our sales would plummet.”

“Can’t have that – I want you to keep making more than me, for ever and ever. Makes me feel like a kept woman!”

“I’ll work on it. It’s a good thing you’re no longer useless in the kitchen. Kept women have to earn their kept!”

“I thought I was just supposed to be highly decorative and capable of entertaining visitors with witty banter?”

“Well then, you’re an All Star – you’re batting 500!”
May 26, 2023

Somehow, no matter how often we do these weekends, Sara finds herself mowing the lawn at the last minute. She loves that riding mower almost as much as she loves her snowmobile. Go figure.

As a result, and very much as usual, she was inside getting showered and cleaned up when the first of our guests arrived for the writers’ weekend. A nondescript rental car drove past the end of the driveway, slowed, reversed, and made its tentative way up the gravel. I gave a friendly wave from the front porch so the driver would know she was in the right place, then came down to meet her once she parked.

The woman who emerged was probably in her thirties, if only just. Short and petite. Unlike most transwomen, she deliberately wore her hair short, but it just made her look like Demi Moore back in the day. She was wearing form-fitting blue jeans and a sleeveless collared shirt, and none of that made her look less feminine either.

I smiled warmly and extended a hand. “Hi, I’m Rosie, Sara’s assistant.”

The woman had a nice smile, though it was a bit guarded. “Hi, Rosie. We’ve talked on the phone. I’m Chris.” Her handshake was delicate.

“Chris Alys!”

“Well . . . it’s Chris Sherman, really. But that didn’t seem like a very exciting name for a writer.” She popped her trunk and grabbed a carry-on bag and a garment bag.

“Here, let me help you with that,” I said, relieving her of the garment bag. “Come on in and let me get you settled.”

“Thank you!” Her eyes wandered as we walked to the house, taking it all in. “What an amazing place! You two live here all by yourselves . . . in the middle of the woods?”

“I’m guessing you’re a city girl?”

“Not originally, but for the past ten years. Soon as I could. It can be a scary place, I guess, but for me, it’s home. I hope I’ll be able to sleep without hearing the traffic and the el train!”

I ushered her through the front door, saying, “It’s pretty quiet at night, that’s for sure – though we can probably pipe some background city noises into your room at night if you need them to sleep. You know, gunshots, breaking glass, sirens and such.”

She laughed, light and playful. “It’s not that bad!” As soon as she got a look at the main living area, she stopped. “Oh. My. God. That’s . . . wow. I think that living room/dining room space is larger than my whole apartment!”

“But you can get take-out at 2:00 a.m.”

“Yeah, there’s that. I’m a sucker for pre-dawn Pad Thai.”

I showed her to her bedroom and gave her the standard introductory spiel, slightly modified. “Please feel free to wear any of the clothes in the closet or the drawers. They've all been cleaned and are for our guest's use. Just put anything you've used in the hamper so we can launder it for the next guest.

“I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you aren’t going to want to use any of our breast forms or wigs, but they are available for your use. So if you want to feel extra stacked, or fancy being a long-haired blonde for the weekend, feel free. You can use any of the makeup at the table, but please take the open items with you.

"There are four of you for the weekend and we cook and socialize as a group. Tonight we have an evening of conversation and games planned; tomorrow we have a hairdresser and a makeup specialist available.

“We try to respect our guest's privacy, and you can use any name you want for the weekend. I know that you all know each other online – and that you and Tara, at least, have met in person. But not everyone may be ‘out’ to the same degree, so everyone needs to respect each others’ privacy. Naturally if anyone volunteers any details we would hope all you will keep them to yourselves.”

“Thank you,” she said warmly. “I don’t know how much, if any, of this I’ll use, but I love the fact that it’s here. I really appreciate you and Sara opening your home to us! So, what’s up next, and when?”

“You’re the first to arrive; I expect it’ll take a few hours before everyone’s here. So the next couple hours are all yours. You can rest up, or read a book – Sara’s library is impressive, as you might guess! If you’re feeling energetic, you can take a walk – the trails are extensive and really pretty. We’ll all meet for dinner at six. Because all of you have been traveling, this is one meal you don’t need to help prepare.”

“I may take a bit of a nap, if that’s okay. Dress code for dinner?”

“Casual tonight. Sara and I tend to favor skirts and fun tops. Nothing fancy, but traditionally feminine. Seems to put our guests at ease. But if you’re a jeans-and-T-shirt kind of gal, go for it!”

“Thanks, Rosie.” Her smile was tentative, but hopeful. “I think I’m going to love it here.”

“We can’t ask for more than that. I’ll get out of your really lovely natural hair for now, and see you soon!”

I heard Sara talking with someone out front and surmised that another guest had arrived. A moment later, she came through the front door with someone with a pretty androgynous look, probably mid-thirties at a guess. Medium height, medium-length medium brown hair, unremarkable eyes.

Sara made introductions. “Avery, this is Rosie, who is both my business partner and my wife; Rosie, this is Avery.”

I smiled and shook her hand; we were both pretty gentle about it. “Welcome, Avery! I’m really Sara’s assistant, so don’t let that ‘business partner’ shtick fool you!”

“It’s good to meet you,” Avery replied. Medium voice, too.

“Let me show you your room and get you settled,” Sara said to Avery. To me, she said, “Keep an eye out, would you?”

“Absolutely.” I poured myself some unsweetened iced tea and went out to the front porch. We’d just put up the mesh hanging chair, so I sat and watched the clouds go by, sipping my drink and enjoying the quiet time. My brain, typically hyperactive, seized on a programming issue that was giving me a challenge at work.

It was probably close to an hour later when our next guest arrived. I had kind of gone into a fugue state contemplating my work problem, so it took a moment to reorient myself to the sidereal universe. I rose, stretched, and walked over to the muddy SUV that just finished parking.

The driver who emerged was a tall man, probably 6’2” or so, thin but for a slight paunch. Clean-shaven, so this wasn’t Tara Watt unless he’d shaved. His hair was short and professional, the kind of pale, pale blonde that fades almost imperceptibly into equally pale silver. It had already done the preponderance of its fading.

He looked like a scared rabbit. “Umm . . . Hi. I’m looking for Sara McClure’s house? I think I might be lost.”

“You once were lost, but now you’re found,” I assured him. “I’m Rosie. I work for Sara.” And work, and work, and work! “Welcome!” I put on my brightest smile.

My normal winning manner wasn’t working; he still looked skittish. “Oh! Ah . . . that’s great. I exchanged emails with ‘Rochelle’ . . . .”

“Same chica. I only use ‘Rochelle’ for correspondence. ‘Rosie’s’ a little more wash-and-wear.”

He still stood there, looking lost and frightened. This one's going to take work. I put a hand lightly on his forearm. “It’s okay. Really. You are among friends here. You’re safe. And we’re very glad to have you.”

That seemed to penetrate, finally. He didn’t say anything, but he did look less likely to run off into the woods.

It wasn’t my first rodeo, and I knew what I was dealing with. The poor guy was in the closet – probably so deep in the closet that he ought to smell like moth balls. Keeping my voice soft, I said, “It’s just us for the weekend – me and Sara, and your friends from BigCloset. What would you like us to call you?”

He closed his eyes, as if in pain. When he opened them, I saw the gleam of unshed tears. “Could you . . . could you call me Anna?” It was barely a whisper, filled with fear and hurt and longing.

I took her elbow . . . with her name finally out, I could think of Anna as “her,” and started guiding her gently toward the house. “Of course I can, Anna. All of us will.”

“Oh . . . I should get . . . “ She looked back toward her SUV.

But I knew there would be nothing for her there. “Don’t you worry, Anna. We’ve got everything you need waiting for you. Unless you’ve got medications?”

She shook her head.

I continued guiding her to the house. “Everything you might like to wear . . . inside and out. We’re going to take good care of you, honey.”

She was trembling. As we came inside, she looked around fearfully, and only calmed when she didn’t see other people. I decided not to waste any time, and brought her straight back to her room.

I gave her the same spiel I’d given to Chris, although I took the time to explain that the breast forms had been sterilized and that the padded panty products were available for purchase, since they couldn’t be reused. I showed her the wigs and explained that we had others available. Showed her the cosmetics. Throughout, her expression was a mixture of longing and fear, of desire and frustration.

As I wound down, she finally sat on the bed heavily, like her knees had given way. She looked at me hopelessly. “Rosie . . . this is all like some kind of a dream. But . . . dear God, I don’t know the first thing about any of this! I don’t . . . I can’t . . . God! I should never have come!” She could no longer hold back the tears.

I sat next to her on the bed and put an arm around her. “Anna . . . Anna! I said we’re going to take good care of you, and we will. You don’t know how to make yourself look feminine and pretty? I didn’t either, when I first came here. But I’m damned good now – as I very much hope you’ll agree! – and I’m going to give you all the help you need!”

“You’re trans? Really?”

I nodded emphatically.

“Okay, but . . . you’re beautiful, and I’m . . . .” She made a hopeless gesture. “I’m this.”

“Sweetheart, I’ve had tougher challenges, believe me. Believe me! Now, here’s what I want you to do. I’m going to draw a bubble bath for you. I want you to soak for at least forty-five minutes, and I’m going to put a moisturizing mask on you while you’re soaking. When you’re finished, I want you to get into one of the long nightgowns in the second drawer of the dresser over there, then wrap yourself in the blue dressing gown that’s hanging on the hook in the bathroom. Okay? Once you’ve done all that, I’ll be back to get you ready.”

Anna looked dubious, but I managed to get the bath drawn and get her set with the moisturizing mask. Once I was certain she would actually get into the water, I left to find Sara.

She was in the kitchen, fussing with everything that was going to go into this evening’s stir-fry. She took one look at my expression and said, “High maintenance?”

“Yeah . . . clearly very much in the closet. I’ll need to do a lot of hand-holding. She’d like to be called ‘Anna.’”

Sara cocked an ear and said, “Hey, be useful and do some chop-chop, would you? I think I hear Tara.” She took off her apron, handed it to me, and headed for the door.

Two minutes later, I heard the sound of Sara’s voice, followed immediately by a laugh so round and joyous and full of mirth that I couldn’t help but smile myself. A man bounded into the house, a bemused Sara following in his wake. Late forties, a barrel chest and red beard that would make Hägar the Horrible proud, and a slightly simian face reminiscent of late-stage Ernest Borgnine.

“There she is! The fabled Dulcinea!” He bounced over to me and pulled me into a fierce hug.

I barely had time to drop the cleaver on the cutting board.

“You aren’t pregnant, are you, my dear?” he inquired with an infectious smile.

“Uh . . . I’m sure I’d have noticed.”

He took in my bare feet, my apron, my location and occupation prior to being swept off my feet, and said, “Well, two out of three! You can’t ask for more than that!” He released his hug but snatched both my hands. Switching gears and speaking with sudden softness, he said, “Truly, Rosie. Sara couldn’t stop talking about you, and I’ve been dying to meet you. Thanks for sharing your lovely home.”

I pressed his hands, a bit overwhelmed by it all. “I’m delighted you came. What would you like to be called?”

“Oh, call me ‘Tara’ by all means. You could call me ‘Bob,’ but this is supposed to be a fun weekend!” He . . . she? . . . released my hands, turned to my bemused bride and said, “Now come on, Sara! Show me that magic, overstuffed wardrobe you promised me! I want to drop the pants and wear something with some swish in it!”

Laughing, they took off down the hallway.

“Well, then,” I said softly in the general direction of the departing duo. “That’ll shake things up!”

By the time Sara wandered back out, all the chopping was done and I’d started the rice. “I can see why you decided this weekend would be fun,” I told her.

“She’s a hoot, isn’t she?”

“You’re going with ‘she?’”

She poured herself some water, which gave her time to consider my question. “Yeeeees. Ask Tara, and she’ll laugh and say she’s just a guy in a gown. Won’t shave, won’t try . . . well, you know. Says it’s no big deal, just an old-fashioned cross-dresser. . . . But, she wants to be called ‘Tara,’ and I can’t help thinking . . . .” She lapsed into silence.

I tried finishing her thought. “That the laugh and the beard and all the rest are just her way of coping?”

“Maybe not ‘just’ a way of coping. But . . . yeah. Maybe that’s part of it.”

“Well, far be it from me to mess with a well-functioning coping mechanism!”

“Right you are,” she said, smiling. “But let’s go with female pronouns, just the same.”

I gave a mock salute. “Roger.”

“Pleased to meet you, Roger. I’m Sara.”

“Among other things. Listen, speaking of coping, I’d best get back to Sharon-Anna. It’s going to take some time to get her ready.”

Sara’s musical laugh was low and confidential. “Anna’s not Sharon Sheralyke. That’s Avery’s pen name.”

“Avery? Oh! I just assumed . . . .” Then it hit me. “No way!”

“Oh, yes! Very much ‘way’!”

“Anna is Rowena?”

“The ‘Gräfin of Gräphic?’ Yup!”

“Wow! I would never have guessed! She’s so shy!

“Authors are sneaky that way.”

“The things you tell me,” I said dryly. “Well, anyhow . . . I’d best get back to Gräfin Anna. I’m confident that Chris won’t need any help.”

“Tara will be fine, too,” she replied. “And I’ll check on Avery when the rice is done.”

“Great.” I gave her a peck, returned her apron, and went down the hall.

A soft knock on the door got no response, so I eased it open and peaked inside. Anna was standing by the window looking out, wearing a robins’ egg blue robe over a creamy white full-length nightie. So as not to startle her, I said softly, “Hey, Anna – safe to come in?”

She turned slowly. “I . . . .” She thought better of whatever it was she had been about to say. “Yes. Please come in.” Her voice, interestingly, sounded softer.

I came, sat on the bed, and patted the spot beside me. “Sit and chat, girlfriend.”

She gave a fleeting smile at the endearment, then moved to join me.

“How are you feeling?”

She shrugged. “Can I even describe it? I feel foolish – I know how I look.” Before I could say anything, she reached out a tentative hand to stop me. “And I feel wonderful, because I’m here wearing a silky nightie, and you’re here with me, and you aren’t laughing. You can’t know . . . I mean, maybe you can. Anyway – Rosie, no-one’s ever seen me like this in real life. No one who knows my legal name even knows I’m trans. At least, I think I’m trans. For sure, I’ve always wanted to be female . . . .”

I reached over and held her hand, sensing that she was just collecting her thoughts.

She gave my hand a grateful squeeze and took a breath. “And I’m scared. Terrified.” She looked at me, her smile crooked. “Is that enough to work with?”

“Enough to work on, I should think,” I responded. “Let’s start with the last piece. What are you afraid of?”

She dropped her eyes, looking at the hand I had captured. “Have you seen my stuff on BC?”

“Rowena Redmond? I certainly have!” She was looking down, so I made sure she could hear my smile. “You’re not worried that this crowd isn’t going to accept you because of your stories, are you?”

That got a full smile and a head shake. “No, no. Tara, Chris, even Sharon – they all know the kinds of stories I write. When I first started writing on BC, Tara kind of took me under her wing. Gave me pointers and lots of encouragement, even though my stories are about as different from hers as you can get. I’ve tried to do the same for Sharon since she came on two years ago. And Chris and I always read each others’ stuff.”

“Then . . . what is it?”

She got up suddenly, letting go of my hand, and started pacing nervously. “Did you see my profile picture?”

“The blonde bombshell? Oh, yeah!”

“That’s the only image anyone on BC has ever seen. That’s what Rowena Redmond looks like. She’s not . . . .” She stopped in front of the full-length mirror and gestured at the image with disgust. “Old, freakishly tall, and male.”

I stayed seated rather than trying to keep up with her pacing. “I saw lots of profile pics on BC; it was clear most of them weren’t the authors. I’m sure no-one here expects you to look like yours.”

She shook her head. “No; these are my peeps. They know I’m pushing sixty and they know I’ve never transitioned. So they know I can’t look like my pic. But . . . don’t you see? They don’t actually know what I do look like. When they think of Rowena, that’s the only image they’ve got. And that’s the image I want them to have. That’s what I should look like! If I go out there now, they’ll never see me like that again. When they think of me, from here on out, they’ll just see this old guy in drag. It’ll never be the same.”

“What won’t be the same?”

“I’ve been talking – well, communicating! – with Tara and Chris for seven or eight years. With Sharon, more like two. They know who I am in here.” She pointed to her heart. “That’s all they know. They communicate with me as women, to a woman. We’ve shared things . . . deep things. Personal things. Will they still see me? When they know that I’m like this?”

I rose and got in front of her, forcing her to stop. I took both of her hands in mine and looked up into her troubled eyes. “I can tell you now that with my help, you will look like a woman when you walk out there. A tall woman, sure, but I know cis women your height. You won’t look like your profile pic; neither of us are 25 any more. But I think there’s something that’s more important.”


“No one in your ‘real’ life sees the woman inside. No one on BC sees you in the flesh. Here’s a chance – maybe one-in-a-lifetime – to just be you. Not hiding one thing or the other. I don’t think you’re likely to find a better, more accepting group. Isn’t that worth some risk?”

That made her pause. “I . . . I don’t know.”

“Think what a relief it was, when you saw that I wasn’t laughing at you. What will it mean to you, to have your friends welcome you?”

It was a good half minute before she replied, her voice a whisper. “Do you really think . . . I can at least manage to look like a woman?”

I want to spend five minutes shouting “Scooooooooooooore!” like a World Cup announcer on Telemundo. Instead, I smiled – big, relieved, and genuine – and said, “Oh, honey! You just wait and see!”

You don’t need the blow-by-blow. Once she committed to try, once she decided the risk was worthwhile, she was able to simply enjoy the experience of being pampered and treated to feminine underwear, clothes and make-up. She was adorable when she picked out a wig, finding one with full, blonde hair, close to her (original) natural color. We went with a long-sleeved top and a loose, flowing micro-pleated cotton skirt. She was not in a position to shave her arms or legs, but between her light (and not very plentiful) body hair, it was unnoticeable under medium-colored hose.

I finally let her look in the mirror. She didn’t squeal with joy, or look delirious, or all of those other great things that happen in . . . well, in Rowena’s stories, among others. But she looked herself over carefully, front, profile, and an over-the-shoulder look at her backside. Her smile was thoughtful and tentative, but she finally nodded and said, “Okay.”

She looked at me and her smile softened. “You did an amazing job, given what you had to work with. I’m no bombshell . . . but you’re right. I look okay. In good light at least, I’d pass for a woman. It’ll do.”

“So, you owe me,” I replied. “And I’m going to collect right now. When you go out there, you’re going to meet your friends – Tara and Chris and Sharon, though Sharon goes by Avery. And I want you to remember, before you step out the door, that they might be feeling just as nervous as you are. Maybe for the same reason. Maybe for different ones. I want you to think, now, before you walk out there, how you can reassure your friends that you still see them. Okay?”

The look I got this time was priceless. “I am so sorry, Rosie! I’ve been so wrapped up in my own drama! I . . . .”

Whatever she’d been about to say was interrupted by a tentative tap on the door. Sara poked her head in and said, “Dinner in ten, Rosie.” She looked at Anna and smiled. “You certainly look ready!” She let herself in and took Anna’s hand in both of hers. “Anna, I’m Sara. Thank you so much for coming!”

Anna had frozen slightly when Sara entered, but Sara’s warmth had its usual effect. She visibly relaxed. Returning Sara’s smile, she replied, “Thank you – both of you! – for inviting me. I’m sorry if I’ve been so much trouble.”

“You’ve been great, and it’s been a pleasure helping you,” I said firmly. “But now, I think it’s time to meet your friends.”

She took a steadying breath. “Okay. Ready or not!”

“You’ll be fine,” Sara promised. “Really.” Looking at me, she said, “You’ve got a couple minutes to change.”

“I will, but I’ll come with Anna for the ice breaking.”

Anna gave me a grateful look. “Thank-you! For everything.”

Tara, Chris and Avery were standing around the island in the kitchen with wine glasses in their hands. As soon as we emerged, Tara put her glass down, spread her arms wide, and positively squealed, “Roweeeeeena!” She bounded over and gave Anna a huge hug.

Anna, to her credit, looked nothing but overjoyed at being jumped by a burly, red-bearded person in a dress that could reasonably be described as “swishy.” Nor, interestingly, did Anna have any doubt who had grabbed her. “Tara! Oh, my God! I finally get to give you a hug!”

Tara released her, beaming, and dragged her to the island. I was relieved to see that both Chris and Avery looked delighted as well. Both gave greetings that were every bit as warm as Tara’s, if perhaps less bone-crushingly exuberant.

I looked at Sara, who gave me a smile and a wink and made a shoo-ing motion with both hands. All was well.

I popped back into our bedroom and changed from the capris and shirt I had been wearing. I had noticed that none of our guests were wearing pants of any sort; Chris was wearing a short, stretchy black skirt with a loose top that ended just inches above the skirt’s hemline, and Avery had chosen a denim skirt and a gauzy white shirt over a camisole. So I dressed to fit in, selecting a loose, calf-length cotton print skirt and a tight-fitting sleeveless knit top.

The discussion was already lively by the time I got back, and they were all gathered around the island watching Sara do her magic with the stir-fry. I checked the table to make sure everything was where it needed to be, then lit some candles and dimmed the lights.

“Aaaaand, we’re done!” Sara looked pleased, as she should. The stir-fry smelled heavenly. Sara tipped the wok and scooped the contents into a large ceramic serving bowl we’d picked up on a trip through Burlington, and I brought it to the table.

After everyone was seated, Sara tapped her knife against her wine glass, then said, “First, thank you for coming. I’m really excited to get to meet all of you, and I hope you enjoy the weekend as much as I’m sure I will. Second, let me give you a toast.” She raised her glass and said, “To old friends and new adventures!”

I was seated at one end of the table, with Sara at the other. Interestingly, Sara had seated everyone so that she was between the two guests I had welcomed, and I was between Avery and Tara.

They picked up a conversation they had been having just before we’d paused to get everything served. Tara asked Avery, “So . . . six months in on HRT? What do you think?”

“I guess I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, I know what I was hoping for, obviously.” Avery grinned. “Perfect skin, gorgeous hair, and an instant hourglass figure! I knew that was all fantasy, but I really didn’t know . . . . Well, anyway. My emotions have been a bit more of a rollercoaster, for sure. I definitely see improvement with my skin, and maybe a bit of improvement with my shape. Not much yet, though.”

“You look terrific,” I told her, and it was true. She had looked fairly androgynous when she arrived, but she’d done a nice job with a face-framing hairstyle and subtle but very well-done make-up. She’d almost certainly made use of the padding we made available, both top and bottom. Nuttin’ wrong with that!!!

Tara added in her own praise. “You do, Honey! That’s got to help with the day-to-day as well?”

Avery smiled shyly at the words of praise. “Work’s been okay. We’ve had unisex bathrooms for a long time in my office, so that source of friction isn’t there. Some people are still a bit uncomfortable, but my immediate supervisor has been great. He hasn’t treated me any different than he did before. We weren’t close, and we aren’t now, but he’s one hundred percent professional and focused on getting the work done. I appreciate that.”

“Are you accepted by the women in the office?” I asked.

“It’s a mixed bag. Some yes, some no. And there aren’t any patterns. Some of the secretaries have been really nice, some not; some other architects have been warm, some cold. It’s . . . well. People, right?”

Tara said, “I really admire you for transitioning in place, if you know what I mean. It must be harder, with people who already have established relationships with the ‘old’ you, and are trying to figure out how to relate to the ‘new’ you.”

“Not much choice,” Avery said. “It’s all about the insurance. Our firm’s got a good plan and they’re covering my treatment at 80 percent. There’s no way I could have swung it otherwise.”

Chris, sitting on Tara’s other side, chimed in. “Same for me, Tara, as you know. I had no choice but to stick it out at my old company, even though my boss was a stone-cold bitch about the whole thing. I just gritted my teeth for close to three years and got through it. After I was fully recovered from my last surgery, I said ‘hasta la vista!’ and was out of there like a shot.”

“Talk about golden hand-cuffs,” I said.

Anna smiled evilly. “Hand-cuffs? Hmmm. Sounds kinky!”

Tara guffawed loudly. “Gurl, your mind is never far from the gutter, is it?”

I was delighted to see that Anna wasn’t remotely distressed about the ribbing. Her grin just got wider. “Nope! Admit it – you read every single salacious word!”

“Oh, I do! I do! And, unlike the timid, I leave not only kudos, but comments with my name on them, too!”

“You all do,” Anna said, suddenly serious. “And I want you to know, I love you for it.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “Is leaving comments a big deal or something?”

Tara raised both hands imploringly. “No! Please, no! Let’s not talk about this crazy subject – at least not on our first night!” She was clearly kidding – and also, not kidding.

Recognizing the latter, I chose to laugh and say, “I withdraw my question! Uncle! Or ‘aunt,’ or whatever!”

Tara talked a bit about her work, which was in construction. After she was done with one of her crazy tales – the process of putting up buildings is a lot more humorous than I ever thought – I shook my head and said, “You know, some people might say, ‘Wow! A foreman at a construction site is trans!’ But me . . . I say, ‘wow! A foreman at a construction site devours early twentieth century murder mysteries!’”

Tara smiled broadly. “Yup! People are just so much more interesting than their jobs. All the time, people pigeon-hole other folks on the basis of education, or job status, or religion, or whatever, and just miss all the fun parts!”

Sara leaned back. “Tell me about it – that one’s a software engineer, if you can believe it.” She pointed her wine glass at me.

“Really! I never would have guessed that!” Anna beamed at me, which I thought was strange until she added, “Now I don’t feel so bad: Respected forensic accountant by day; writer of erotic trans fiction by night!”

“Forensic accounting?” Anna was full of surprises.

“Yep. About as far from who I am inside as you can get . . . but it’s a living, and I’m good at it. I’m able to provide for my family, put the kids through college, pay for my daughter’s crazy-ass destination wedding . . . . You know. Life.”

Tara’s smile was soft. “Yeah. I know. . . . But, I can at least talk to my wife about what's inside. It made it a lot easier than you’ve had it, Anna.”

Anna shrugged, sadly. “It is what it is.” Deliberately changing the subject, she turned to Avery and said, “Hey . . . I wanted to ask you – where did you come up with the idea for your latest series? Why the 17th Century, and why Venice?”

Avery’s eyes were filled with compassion for her older friend, but she helped the only way she could. “Oh, the usual. I was watching some James Bond movie where they were having a high-speed boat chase through the canals of Venice, and I thought, ‘huh! Venice!’ Then I started doing a little research, and found that things were pretty interesting there back in the day. A lot of gender-bending around all of the old carnival traditions . . . . Anyhow, next thing you know . . . .”

“You’re off to the races,” Tara finished. “I love your versatility. I tend to stick with what I know.”

“You know a lot of people who’ve been murdered?” Chris asked innocently.

“Not to mention, minor British nobles,” Anna added.

“Oh, yes,” Tara said blithely. “Entire villages just littered with the bodies of minor nobility. . . . But seriously, it’s hard to explain what an outlet it is for me. I mean, Sayers’ characters are witty and charming. Peter Whimsy is urbane, civilized, clever . . . . I don’t get to live in that world, except when I’m writing. My company runs on blunt, Anglo-Saxon words of two syllables or less. Usually less!”

Chris nodded, and said softly, “We don’t get to live in a world where people like us are accepted, either. So I write about it. I imagine it. I write stories full of love and acceptance . . . even admiration . . . I guess it’s my candle against the darkness.”

Tara covered Chris’ hand with her own. “And thank God you do, honey. I know a lot of people in our community find comfort in your stories.”

Avery said, “I know I have, Chris. All the time. . . . I guess maybe I haven’t found my voice, that way. I’m just skipping along from rock to rock, writing about whatever strikes my fancy.”

Anna shook her head. “I disagree – as you know! I think your voice is in writing characters, so the genre’s less important.”

“You’re such a sweetheart,” Avery responded with a smile. “I’m actually concerned that I might be writing the same characters.”

“Well, your protagonists are all strong, principled people, but I wouldn’t say they were the same,” Tara countered.

Anna agreed. “Right . . . I mean, you might as well say all of my protagonists are the same, just because they are all – let’s be honest here! – smokin’ hot, and more than a bit oversexed.”

“They don’t all start out that way,” Chris objected.

“But they all get there!” Tara cackled.

They got into the weeds on the issue, with verve and good humor, and the discussion carried over until everyone was done eating. Apparently, I was the only person at the table who’d never heard of Mary Sue and Gary Stu. I learned a lot about them.

After dinner we played Apples to Apples, which Sara and I like as an ice-breaker since you win by guessing what someone else will associate with a word. This group didn’t need the ice broken – not after they got comfortable around each other's skins – but the game was an even bigger hit precisely because the four of them knew each other already and selected potential matches based on what they knew.

“Alright,” Anna said when it was her turn. “Do I have everyone’s cards?” Seeing nods all around, she said, “As a reminder, the Green Card is ‘Exciting,’ defined as ‘thrilling, breathtaking . . . arousing.’” Her voice lingered on the last word and she licked her lips. “Your suggestions are . . . . ‘High School Reunions’ – okay. Could be, I guess. ‘Leather.’ Oooh!!! Naughty, naughty! ‘The YMCA!’ Oh, now! Just because somebody read The Wanderer!! ‘Firefighters.’ You’re a devil, Tara Watt! I know you put that one in there! And . . . agggggh!!!” She dissolved into uproarious laughter. “Sorry, Tara!” she gasped. “We have a winner! ‘Power tools!’”

The room erupted and Chris waved her hand gleefully. “Mine, mine! I win that one!”

“Damn,” Tara said, laughing. “I thought I had that one in the bag!”

“Sometimes, fate gives you just the right card,” Chris replied. She brought her lips together and made a noise like a purring cat.

Or a vibrator, I suppose.

There was lots of raunchy good humor, especially directed toward Anna, who thought it was hysterical. There were plenty of sweet moments, too, though a rare somber moment occurred when Chris actually pulled “sweet” as the subject card. One of the suggested matches was “my dreams;” Chris briefly grimaced and said, “no,” putting that card down and turning to the next. Her selection for the match, appropriately, was “puppies.”

After the game, I served chocolates and a night-cap. I sent Sara off to bed with the promise that I’d join her shortly, and the girls helped me do a quick clean-up of the dishes and the kitchen. There were hugs all around, and we all called it a night.

Sara was in bed, but still awake. “What do you think?” she asked as I changed into my nightgown.

I visibly pondered as I dropped my dirties in the hamper, then slid in next to her. “I think . . . “ I paused to nibble on her earlobe. “ . . . that Java is preferable to C++.”

“I could throw things at you.”

“Decent chance I could catch them. What did you think?”

“Good people. Good women. Even Tara, who tries to pretend she isn’t.”

“Or maybe, tries to make us think she doesn’t think she’s a woman.”

She crossed her eyes, then refocused on me. “Okay, that sentence – really horribly constructed as it was – might actually make sense. And you know what that means.”

“That you married well?”

“No, silly. It means I need to sleep. Next thing you know, you’ll be babbling about Moka Java or some such and it’ll make sense to me.”

“You say the sweetest things.”

“Of course I do. I’m a professional.”

“Good night, Sara.”

“Good night, Rosie.” She rolled above me and gave me a long, lingering, kiss – the kind I feel from my curls to my cuticles. “Thank you for everything you did for this weekend. Especially for calming Anna down. I like these women.”

“Yeah. Me, too.”

* * * * *

I’m almost always a sound sleeper, but something caused me to wake up around 1:30. I lay in bed, listening for a repeat of whatever noise had disturbed me. Nothing.

I tried to go back to sleep, but my mind stubbornly refused to cooperate. Finally I gave up, slipped out of bed, put on a dressing gown and slippers, and went out into the main room.

There was a figure standing by the windows looking out, her back to me. She was completely back-lit, so all I could see was a shadow. But only one of our guests was that petite.

I walked toward her, being careful to make just enough noise that she would know I was coming. As I got closer, I could see that her hands were tightly clenched in fists, and her entire stance seemed tense. When I was maybe eight feet away, I stopped, and said softly, “Chris?”

I could almost see the effort it took her to relax the tension in her shoulders; to unball her fists. When she was ready, she turned to face me. “Rosie.” It came out quietly, a choked and distressed sound.

I closed the distance and wrapped my arms around her. For an instant she stiffened, but she immediately began to relax. Again, it was clearly an effort of will. Slowly, hesitantly, she brought her arms up and lay her palms on my back.

After five minutes, I brought a hand up and began to stroke her fine, dark hair. She relaxed further. I felt the dampness of her tears through the thin fabric of my dressing gown. Still, I didn’t say anything. I thought of her stories. Not the beautiful ones, but the others. The two I hadn’t been able to get out of my head. What did they do to you, child?

We must have stood like that for ten minutes, communicating without words. As close as we were, I could feel her breathing return to normal, the pounding of her heart slow. The tears stopped.

When her body was fully her own again, she tightened her arms to give me a grateful hug, holding it for maybe half a minute before she released and stepped back.

I kept my hands loose on her shoulders. “Will you be alright?”

Her smile was touched with heartbreaking sadness. “Somehow, I always am.”

“Would it help to talk about it?”

She shook her head. “I’ve talked it out. With friends. With therapists. But it’ll always be with me.”

“Is there anything – anything at all – we can do to help?”

This time, her smile was warm. “You already have. And I thank you for it. Go back to sleep. I’ll be okay now.”

“I can stay with you.”

“Not forever, you can’t. I’ll need to find my own Rosie! But I’ll be able to sleep now.”

“You sure?”

“Not my first episode, I’m afraid. So I know the drill.”

“Okay, Sweetie. You know where to find me, though.”

She stepped forward, kissed my cheek, and said, “I know.” Then she gave me a final smile and went back to her room, closing the door softly behind her.

I took her place at the window and stared at the stars, bright in the dark hours after the moon had set, clear and cold in an inky sky. Her stories haunted me. The Fist, and The Back of His Hand. All the torments she had endured.

I’m a programmer. A problem-solver. I had used my analytical skills and my logical mind to help lots of our guests over the years. Including my boss, Helene. I had used those same skills, coupled with my perfectionism – my OCD, as Sara sometimes called it – to reprogram my own life and become both a woman and a wife. But none of those skills could help Chris. I had nothing to give her, beyond the human warmth of a hug. And what was that, compared to the pain she held inside?

I felt the tears course down my cheeks, silent, hot, and useless.

To be continued. . . .

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Very cool!

to be able to read the next part of a story you've written without going to the bother of actually writing it. Emma has done her usual fantastic job and I really love where she's taken my characters.

I have to admit I am curious about the real-life versions of my favorite authors. Since I have a great deal in common with our bearded crossdresser in the story, what you see in your mind is not what you get.

Fantasy has it's attractions.


Emma Anne Tate's picture

Fantasy is a wonderful thing. Truly. And thank God we can get it here — a little break from a world that can be so hard. But . . . Being completely loved and accepted by your friends, just as you are? That might be better still.

Ricky, thank you so much for the opportunity to play in your sandbox. Sara and Rosie are great characters, and it was fun to hang out with them for a bit. I’m glad the end result felt right to you — And, I wouldn’t have posted it if it hadn’t!



RachelMnM's picture

Ricky's story and thought it was very well done. Very cool to let another author borrow the world you (Ricky) created and add to the story. Besides a great addition to the original what I find amazing is it reads like Ricky had a hand in it the way Rosie and Sara's dialog flowed, felt. Such a great addition Emma and you picked up those two as if a continuation of the original.


Rachel M. Moore...

Every word was Emma's

I agree she may have been channeling me. Maybe that's why new words refuse to escape my aging brain...


Emma Anne Tate's picture

The thing that really caught me in Ricky’s story was the easy banter between Sara and Richard/Rosie. Like an old married couple, but where both parties are naturally witty. It reminded me of some of the dialogue I’d written for Jessica and Janet (well, especially Janet!) in MaxWarp, but there were clear technical and tonal differences. I really focused on trying to recapture that dynamic. So if Ricky felt I was channeling, then I succeeded! (P.S. — Don’t you dare stop writing, Ricky!!!).



RachelMnM's picture

Don't stop tapping out those escapes for us Ricky! You either Ms. Emma!!


Rachel M. Moore...

very good !

I can relate to Anna for her struggles with confidence, and Chris for the PTSD.


I’m hoping . . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

. . . that all of us can relate, in some measure, to Tara Watt, Chris Alys, Rowena, and Avery. Certainly, there’s a bit of me in three out of the four. ;-)



I am living vicariously through this story.

I spend a lot of each day reading on BC. Stories, blogs, comments, and all are fair game. I've had one on ones with several denizens and am looking forward to meeting more. I enjoy this community.

Thank you Emma for helping me understand this obsession. I truly appreciate the dialog, the compassion, and the banter that makes us all so real.


Vicarious living

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I’m kind of living vicariously in this story too; I think it would be great fun to have a weekend retreat like this!

I’m glad you are enjoying the story, Ron!


Bon Voyage

Andrea Lena's picture

It's supremely comforting that we can somehow get transported at least for a little while to a place where we can be who we are. Thanks for the Passport!


To be alive is to be vulnerable. Madeleine L'Engle
Love, Andrea Lena

Wouldn’t it be loverly?

Emma Anne Tate's picture

But at least we can go there in our minds, together.

Thanks, Drea.



Andrea Lena's picture

Two Fair Ladies

All I want is a frock to wear
go to a party without a care
just maybe I'll see you there
Oh wouldn't it be loverly?


To be alive is to be vulnerable. Madeleine L'Engle
Love, Andrea Lena

I liked the continuity

Dee Sylvan's picture

It is well worth the effort to start with Ricky's story. Ricky has a very easy way with dialogue. Miss Emma, you are quite the artist, revealing yourself in your dialogue as well. There are a lot of characters that are tangent to the story but still have a lot to say. Sara is a bulwark that we all envy. Her clients are special in that they have found a safe haven to live in for a few short days, but are respectful to all who enter.

Rosie, to me, is still a bit of an enigma. She has been with Sarah these long years, but what has changed? Does she see herself a different girl, a partner of Sarah's? Or is Rosie still finding herself, in the long road to her true self? :DD


Continuity and change . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Driven by her innate perfectionism, Rosie has apparently completed a physical transition from male to female. But old habits, and old patterns, remain strong . . . .

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, and an extra hug ’n squeeze for reading Reprogramming Your Life first. It’s such a great story!



Just WOW! Seamless fit to Ricky’s story

Thanks, Mallory!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

BIG smile!



Just WOW! Seamless fit to Ricky’s story

There is a lot of pain out there

Wendy Jean's picture

In our community, but no easy answers. I chose to transition rather than to commit suicide because I knew how much it would hurt the remaining of members of my family. To me family is one of the things that's most important in life.

So true, Wendy Jean

Emma Anne Tate's picture

And everyone has to find the answer that works best for them — or that is least bad, at any rate.


Once more

Sunflowerchan's picture

Once more you have written an amazing story. The characters feel read, the interactions between them feel real, there is a world going on outside this story, and I feel events are moving around outside what we, the readers are allowed to see. What struck me was the way you seemed to write something that could have happen, might happen in our world and set it within a work of fiction. This story read like a first hand account. Like I was reading about something that really did happen? Or maybe it did happen? This is what I inspire to capture in my stories. Stories that feel so real, are so grounded in reality that your often left scratching your head and thinking 'Did that really happen?'. And again I wanted to thank you, thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story with all of us here at BG. And thank you for bringing to life an amazing story.

Real fantasy

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Thank you, Sunflowerchan! Even when I’m writing fantasy, I really want the interactions between characters to feel believable. I read dialogue out loud (when I can) and sub vocalize it (when I can’t) to try to really hear what it sounds like, and figure out if it’s something people might say. So I’m very happy that it feels real to you, even if an all-expenses paid TG weekend with favorite BC authors in an idyllic cabin in the woods is — alas! — pure fantasy. :D


Catching up a bit here.

Podracer's picture

Quality stuff, Emma, characters, their situations and the dialogue - yes, I love it.
Who knows where my own answers lie, when I'm not even sure of the questions yet?

"Reach for the sun."

Thank you, Podracer!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I’m glad you pulled this one back up — I had a lot of fun with Ricky’s crew, and I miss them!