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Mistletoe Mistake

by Hebe Dotson
2002

 

Every year, on the Saturday evening before Christmas Eve, the McKays held a neighborhood Christmas party. My family and I lived just four doors away, part way down the hill, and every year we went to the party -- it was one of our favorite holiday traditions.

Although I didn’t care much for parties in general, I always enjoyed this one, because I liked the McKays’ house so much. It was a big old Victorian with a three-story tower on one corner -- a robber baron’s mansion that stood at the top of the hill, overlooking the entire town. There was a terrific view from its dining room, where you could see all the town’s lights spread out below -- I had discovered it six years earlier, when I was only nine, and it had never lost its attractiveness to me. It was a spectacular sight at any time, but in the holiday season the Christmas lights multiplied the pleasure I drew from it.

This year, as always, the party was in full sway in the huge recreation room in the basement. The dining room was unoccupied and in semi-darkness, with the only illumination coming from the hallway -- and, of course, the town lights below. As always, I stood at the window farthest from the kitchen, the one with the best view, drinking in the glory of the lights that sparkled throughout the snow-covered town. The view was so beautiful and I was so completely mesmerized by it that I didn’t hear footsteps crossing the room behind me. I was startled to suddenly feel a hand on my shoulder and hear a voice say, "Mistletoe."

I turned slightly and saw a hand pointing toward the ceiling. Involuntarily, my eyes followed the hand. Yes, there was something on the ceiling above my head. Before I could tell what it was, before I could speak a word, two strong arms had spun me around and I was being kissed.

A roar of laughter went up and the dining room lights came on. I saw a crowd of kids gathered in the entrance, with my sister Anne right in the middle. The boy who had been kissing me turned to see what was happening and his face went red. "You’re not Anne!" he said. He looked at me. He was a kid named George who had a major crush on my sister. "Oh, my god," he said. "You’re Dickie!"

George blinked a couple of times as if that might make the whole thing go away. "Somebody set me up," he muttered. "I’m sorry, Dickie." He pulled himself together, forced his way through the taunting group in the doorway, and disappeared.

Someone had set him up, all right, and I had a pretty good idea who that someone was -- my dear, beloved, airhead sister. She’d been complaining about George’s attentions for several weeks, and she knew how much I loved the view from the dining room window. She and I were about the same height, and since we both had long blonde hair and were both wearing jeans, we’d look a lot alike when seen from behind in a darkened room. All she’d have had to do was get some confederate to tell George that Anne was in the next room, standing under some mistletoe -- George’s hormones would take it from there.

I felt embarrassed, too, even though no one seemed to be laughing at me. My cheeks were burning. I made my way through the crowd, found my mother in the family room, and told her I was going home.

"So early?" my mother said.

"Yeah. I’m really tired," I said.

"You look a little flushed. Do you feel all right?"

"I’m okay," I said.

"Have you had enough to eat?"

"I guess so. I’ll make myself a sandwich if I feel hungry."

"All right, dear. Dad and I will be along in an hour or so."

"Okay," I said. I said goodnight to Mrs. McKay and went home. I wanted to think. For one thing, I had to plan my revenge -- Anne couldn’t be allowed to get away with doing something like that to me, even though she’d really been doing it to George. But that was secondary. My primary problem was really scary. I’d enjoyed being kissed.

*****

I had a hard time getting to sleep that night -- my brain just wouldn’t turn off. What kind of a guy was I, anyway? I’d always thought of myself as being pretty normal, interested in girls even if they weren’t particularly interested in me. Now, all of a sudden, I found myself wondering about myself. Was I gay? I didn’t think so, but now I didn’t really know. Whatever I was, I didn’t think I liked it.

Eventually I slept. I woke up late and lurched downstairs to the kitchen, where I found my dear sister. I tried to ignore her, but she wouldn’t be ignored. Mom and Dad had gone off to do more Christmas shopping, she told me. They’d instructed her to make breakfast for me if I ever woke up, and she was prepared to make anything I wanted.

Okay; I could ignore her after breakfast. I placed an order for cinnamon pancakes and bacon. She gave me a big smile and set to work. I busied myself with the morning paper so I could substitute preoccupied grunts for conversation.

I expected her to disappear once she’d made my breakfast, but she didn’t. She poured a large glass of orange juice for herself and sat down across from me, looking at me solicitously and sipping her OJ. I dug into my pancakes and bacon without saying a word.

"How are the pancakes?" she asked after I’d inhaled about half the stack.

"Good," I said. "Thanks." I figured I owed her that much, but no more. In fact, she owed me.

She continued to watch me as I ate. After another minute or two, she sighed. "I’m sorry about last night," she said. "I shouldn’t have done it."

"That’s for sure," I growled.

"I just couldn’t help myself. George is such a pest, and I wanted to talk to Jared, but I couldn’t seem to get rid of George, except by going to the bathroom."

"I could have given you a baseball bat so you could beat him off," I said.

"When I went to the bathroom, I saw you in the dining room and I noticed the mistletoe," Anne said. "When I came out, I ran into Melissa. I was going to send her in to kiss you, but instead I told her to tell George that I was standing under the mistletoe. I’m really sorry -- I didn’t think."

If only she had sent Melissa. If she had, I would have been happy this morning instead of devastated. My eyes suddenly filled with tears. Anne peered at me. "It wasn’t that bad, was it?" she asked. "I mean, the joke was on George, not you. No one was laughing at you."

Tears weren’t enough. I began to sob. Anne jumped up, came around the table, and put her arms around me. "What’s the matter?" she asked.

"Nothing," I sobbed. "Just my life. It’s ruined."

"Oh, come on. It couldn’t have been that bad."

"Yes it was," I said. "You’re not me, so you don’t know."

"I don’t know what? Did George do something -- or say something?" She looked angry.

"He didn’t do anything except kiss me. And then he apologized when he saw who I was."

"Then what’s your problem, Dickie?"

"He kissed me. And I liked it. And now I don’t know who -- or what -- I am!"

*****

"Do you think you’re gay?" Anne asked. We’d been talking around and about the subject for some time without actually mentioning it. I’d given up my effort to ignore her. She was trying to be nice to me, and my tears seemed to have washed away my anger, leaving me ready to talk to her in the hope that she’d have some insight into what was going on in my head.

"I don’t know…but I don’t think so," I said. "It was all so strange. I didn’t know it was George at first -- I only knew some guy was going to kiss me, and all of a sudden I thought of myself as a girl. A girl who wanted to be kissed."

"A girl? Have you had thoughts like that before?"

"No," I said. I wasn’t about to admit that I’d tried on a few of her dresses, several years earlier, just to see how I’d look as a girl (alarmingly unfeminine, I’d thought). "At least not that I can remember. Maybe a dream or two; I’m not sure. Yuck!"

"What’s so yucky?" Anne asked.

"Just the idea of being a girl."

"It’s not so bad. I enjoy it."

"It’s all right for you," I said. "I wouldn’t enjoy it."

"How do you know?"

"I’m a boy, for Pete’s sake!"

"So? There are lots of boys who wish they were girls," Anne said.

"Really? Not me."

"But you said you thought of yourself as a girl when George kissed you. And you enjoyed it."

I didn’t like the way this was going. I looked at Anne and said nothing.

"Come on, Dickie -- I’m trying to help you, but you’ve got to be honest with me. Do you think that maybe you’d like to be a girl?"

"No!" I said. I saw disbelief on her face, which was entirely reasonable, because I realized I didn’t quite believe myself. I sighed. "I mean, I don’t know. Is this just between you and me? You’re not going to say anything to Mom or Dad or anyone, are you?"

"Whatever you tell me, it’s just between us," Anne said. Could I trust her? I had to talk to someone, I decided, so I’d just have to take my chances with Anne, because there certainly wasn’t anyone else.

"Well…this is embarrassing, but…I keep thinking that I’d like to be kissed again. By George. Without either of us being teased or anything. I guess I’d have to be a girl to have that happen. And that’s impossible."

"No, it’s not impossible," Anne said softly. "We could do it."

"What do you mean?"

"Would you like to try being a girl -- just to see what it’s like?"

"No way!" I said. "Of course not! Umm…what would it involve?"

"Clothes, makeup -- I’ve got plenty of both. You’re about my size -- it’ll be easy."

"But -- Mom? Dad?"

"They’ll be gone for hours," Anne said, "and this won’t take very long at all. You want to give it a whirl?"

"No!"

"Okay." She stood up to go. "Are you sure?"

"Uh -- no. I mean, I’m not sure."

"Shall we try it?"

"Ah -- yeah, I guess so."

"Atta girl!" Anne said. "This will be fun!" She grabbed my hand and pulled me, not too reluctantly, to her room.

*****

It actually was fun, especially when my makeover was completed and Anne and I stood side by side in front of her full-length mirror. We looked like identical twins! I had to wave to myself to be sure which one was really me.

She’d begun by sending me into the bathroom for a shower and shampoo. I was also under orders to shave my legs and armpits -- the peach fuzz on my face wasn’t worth shaving. When I emerged, wearing only the white nylon panties she’d given me, she inspected me carefully.

"Okay," she said. She opened a bureau drawer and extracted a white bra. I held my arms out in front of me and she put the bra on me and fastened it. "A perfect fit," she said.

I glanced down at my chest. The bra cups looked empty and floppy. "It doesn’t look like much to me," I said.

"Don’t worry about that," Anne said. She reached in her drawer again and took out two flesh-colored blobs of something. "These will help," she said as she stuffed a blob in each bra cup, and she was right -- my chest looked positively girlish. "I got these a couple of years ago when I couldn’t stand being flat-chested any longer," she said. "I don’t need them any more."

Anne looked in her closet and brought out a green ribbed turtleneck top and a red miniskirt. "Put these on," she said. "You’ll look real Christmassy." While I was dressing, she popped back into her closet, emerging in a red turtleneck and green miniskirt. "I’ll look Christmassy, too," she said. "Now let’s do something with your hair."

"Don’t make it too girly," I said.

"I won’t," she promised. After seating me at her vanity, she combed my hair out, trimmed it a little in the back to even it, and gathered it into a ponytail, which she secured with a green scrunchy. She then pulled her own hair into a ponytail, using a red scrunchy. "We’re almost done," she said. She took two pairs of pantyhose from her bureau. "Do you know how to put these on? I don’t want you to get runs in them."

"No," I admitted.

"Okay. Just watch me and do what I do." She showed me how to roll them down to the toes, put my feet in them, and draw them up to my waist. I did it right, first try, with no runs.

Anne returned to her closet and brought out two pairs of black pumps, not quite identical but both with two-inch heels. "Here, Bigfoot," she said as she handed one pair to me. "See if you can get these on." They were a little tight, but I was able to squeeze my feet into them.

"Just one or two more things," Anne said. She opened her jewelry box, took out a pair of earrings, and clipped them to my earlobes. Then she took a lipstick from her purse and did both my lips and her own. "There," she said. "Now, let’s see what we have." She took my hands, drew me to my feet, and led me to her full-length mirror, steadying me as I tottered on my unfamiliar heels.

I was astonished. The mirror showed me two pretty girls who looked too much alike for me to tell them apart (except for the different-colored tops and skirts, and the fact that the one in the red skirt waved back when I waved at her). "I can’t believe it," I said. "I really look like a girl -- and a pretty one, too. I look just like you!"

"Do you mind if I tape that?" Anne asked. "Then I can play it back next time you call me an ugly blonde ditz."

"I never said that, did I?" I said innocently. "If I did, I apologize. We could be twins! This is so amazing!"

"So, what do you think?" Anne said. "It’s not all that bad being a girl, is it?"

"No, it isn’t. It’s actually fun!"

"It is fun to make yourself look pretty," Anne said. "But there’s a lot more to it than that."

"What do you mean?"

"You have to have a life," Anne said. "You have to go to school and church. You have to deal with your girlfriends and put up with boys like George. You have to do chores around the house and get along with your parents and your obnoxious little brother. And that’s just part of it."

I was still seduced by the image in the mirror. "I could do all that," I said. "Anne, what if George were to see me like this? Do you think he’d want to kiss me?"

"I don’t doubt it for a minute," Anne said. "Do you want to find out?"

That snapped the spell. I gaped at her. "Y…yes," I said, "but I couldn’t."

"Sure you could," Anne said. "The McKays have invited all of us to their New Year’s Eve party, you know. George and his family have been invited too, I’m sure, and he’ll be there if he’s over his embarrassment."

"But…"

"We look alike and our voices sound a lot alike -- you know how hard it is for Mom and Dad to tell us apart on the phone. So, you can go as me, and I can go as you. That way, you can have George and I can avoid him."

I was tempted. It would be fun to look pretty and go to a party and fool everyone -- in particular, George. But I really didn’t know how to act like a girl or talk like a girl, and I couldn’t take more than two or three steps in heels without falling on my face. And what would Mom and Dad say?

I voiced all these fears to Anne, but she had answers for everything. She could teach me to walk and talk and act like a girl -- walking in heels was more a matter of practice than physiology. Our parents didn’t have to know a thing. Just look at their engagement calendar on the kitchen bulletin board -- they’d be out partying practically every night until New Year’s, which meant she’d have lots of time to put me through girl training while they were away. If they happened to come home unexpectedly, she and I looked enough alike to fool them in casual encounters, and they were going to be too wrapped up in their social life for any meaningful interactions. And if worst came to worst and we were discovered, we would explain that it was all part of a big joke we were planning for New Year’s Eve.

"So, what do you think?" Anne said in conclusion.

I looked at myself in the mirror. I still couldn’t believe my eyes. I wanted to be a girl on New Year’s Eve, and Anne had convinced me that I could get away with it. "Yes," I said. "I really want to do it. It will be fun!"

"Fun for both of us," Anne said.

*****

"Dickie," Mom said, "I need to talk to you for a minute."

"Sure, Mom."

"I’ve only got a minute -- this is such a busy time. Dickie, I heard something at the Pinkhams’ party last night. Someone told me that George Thompson embarrassed you at the McKays’ Christmas party. Is that true?"

Oops! I wondered what she’d heard. "I guess so, Mom, but it wasn’t a big deal."

"Do you want me to say something to Mrs. Thompson? I’ll be seeing her tonight."

"No, Mom. It wasn’t intentional. It was a mistake -- he thought I was Anne."

Mom raised an eyebrow. Oops again -- that hadn’t come out right. "It was dark," I said. "He saw me from behind, and he thought I was Anne."

"I told you that you needed to get your hair cut," Mom said. "Mistaken for your sister! It’s no wonder you were embarrassed. All right, I won’t say anything."

*****

Anne was right -- our parents’ social life was incredibly rich and full, which meant that we had lots of unsupervised time to work on my Anne impersonation techniques. She drilled me over and over in standing, conversing, sitting, and eating like a girl. I spent hours practicing how to walk like a girl -- in heels, of course! She taught me elementary makeup and hairstyling and told me more than I wanted to know about each of her girlfriends, so I could talk to them without getting tripped up by my ignorance of their preferences in boys, rock stars, and TV shows. She trained me to respond to being called "Anne" and to ignore people who called me "Dickie." Then our parents would come home and I’d have to be extra careful to walk and talk like a boy and to react if one of them spoke my name.

On December 23rd, our parents left home at 5:30 for a dinner engagement with the McKays, and Anne immediately told me to get dressed and made up casually, just as she was -- a top and jeans, knee-high nylons, flats, and lipstick. "We’re going out," she said when I presented myself for her inspection.

"Out? Like this?"

"Yes. We’re going shopping."

"Do we have to?" I asked. "I don’t think I’m ready. And what if we run into someone who knows us?"

"Yes, we have to. You need shoes, Bigfoot -- you’re really not comfortable in mine. And you need to get out in the world before New Year’s Eve."

"What if I make a mistake?" I said.

"This will be the best time to make it. The stores will be full of last-minute shoppers and no one’s going to pay much attention to you. We’ll go to the Southside Mall -- nobody we know will be way over there. Get your money -- I’ll loan you a handbag."

I raised a few more objections, but Anne overrode all of them, and forty-five minutes later, we had found what seemed to be the only empty parking space at the Southside Mall. I felt nervous and uncomfortable as we entered the mall and plunged into the crowd, but I soon realized that Anne had been right -- everyone was much too busy to notice me. I soon found myself cruising along on autopilot as we made our way through the stores, too busy to worry about anyone noticing me.

We tried on shoes in three stores before finding a pair that was just right for me (actually, the first pair I’d tried in the first store). They were black patent leather with three-inch stiletto heels, and I had no difficulty walking in them. Once we’d settled on the shoes, we went to the department store’s cosmetics department and picked out a lipstick, mascara, and eye shadow for me to wear on New Year’s Eve. Then we wandered on to the lingerie department. I tried to avert my gaze from all the fascinating lacy doodads, but Anne would have none of that. "You’re a girl tonight," she whispered to me, "and it’s perfectly all right to pick things up and inspect them. In fact, you’ll really seem odd if you don’t." I got into the spirit of things and selected a frothy black bra and matching slip and panties to wear to the party.

With the necessities taken care of, we bought a few Christmas gifts for Mom and Dad. We were quite laden down now and decided it was time to go home. On the way to the car, however, we passed an earring boutique. "That’s what you can give me for Christmas," Anne said as she pointed to a pair of truly funky earrings in the window.

"That will be a real surprise for you on Christmas morning," I said.

"I don’t want to be surprised -- I want those earrings."

We went into the store. I pointed out the earrings that we wanted and the clerk took them out of the window display and showed them to me. She looked at my clip-on earrings. "These are for pierced ears, you know. Are your ears pierced?" she asked.

"Well, uh…"

"I can pierce them for you," she said. "It only takes a minute, and it’s free when you buy a pair of earrings."

"Oh, yes!" Anne said. "You must get your ears pierced! But we’ll have to find some other earrings for her," she said to the clerk, "because these are for me."

And so, after a few perfunctory objections on my part, my ears were pierced and the holes were filled with a gorgeous pair of gold hoops. A little bag in my purse held Anne’s Christmas present and a pair of little gold studs that I’d have to wear for the next few days, whenever I wasn’t wearing my hoops, to keep my ear holes from closing.

"Can we go home now?" I said. "I’m tired."

"Me too," Anne said. "But it’s a half-hour drive and I have to go to the ladies’. How about you?"

I wasn’t mentally prepared for the ladies’ room yet. "I’m all right," I said. "I’ll wait here for you." I found a nearby bench and sat down, surrounded by our shopping bags.

The passing parade was interesting -- it seemed like hundreds of people, young and old, most of them loaded down with shopping bags and bundles. As I sat there, peacefully zoning out, a voice penetrated my mental fog. "Anne!" it said. "What are you doing way over here?"

Well-trained as I was, I smiled happily and turned to face my questioner. It was my sister’s best friend, Emily McKay.

*****

"Oh, hi, Em!" I said brightly. "I’ve been shopping. There are some stores here that I really like." I looked at her shopping bags. "I guess you’ve been doing the same thing."

"I’m afraid so." She sat down on the bench beside me. "Mom said I was crazy to wait until the last minute -- but that’s tomorrow!"

"Yes," I laughed. "I’m so glad we decided to come tonight."

"We? Are you with someone? Not George?"

Omigod! How stupid could I be? "No. I’m…uh…with Dickie. He’s gone off to get something for me -- he didn’t want me to see what he’s getting, so I’m just waiting here until he gets back." Not too quickly, I hoped.

"I wonder what he’s getting you. A model airplane kit? A baseball glove?"

"Some earrings, I think. I made a point of admiring a pair in a store window. I think he took the hint."

"That would be good," she said. "I guess our little boy is growing up. Well, I’m all shopped out, so I think I’ll go on home. See you New Year’s Eve, if not before."

"Okay, Emmy. I’ll see you." I smiled at her and at that moment, looking beyond her, I saw Anne come around a corner, marching toward us. I couldn’t wave; I couldn’t yell -- all I could do was smile and hope Emily didn’t turn around.

Emily stood and collected her purchases, just as Anne finally noticed her. I saw a look of horror flash across Anne’s face. She ducked into the nearest store as Emily smiled at me and walked off toward the parking lot.

It was a full two minutes before Anne peeked out of the store entrance. By then, Emily was out of sight in the distance. I waved to Anne and she came running to me. "That was Emily, wasn’t it?"

"It sure was."

"Did she recognize you?"

"No, she thought I was you. She didn’t stay long -- if she had, she might have figured me out."

"Probably not," Anne said. "Not if she didn’t guess right away. Well done, little sister! Are you ready to roll?"

"Uh…I think I’d better go to the ladies’ room first. And that will give Emily more time to get out of the parking lot before we get there."

*****

About forty minutes later, Anne turned into our driveway and pressed the garage door opener. As the door went up, we could see Dad’s car in its usual place.

"Oh, oh!" Anne said. "They’re home early."

"What are we going to do?" I said. "I can’t go in the house like this."

"You can take off the makeup and your earrings and the ponytail."

"Yes, but I’m wearing your jacket and shoes."

"I know what we can do," Anne said. "I’ll tell them we’ve been shopping and we don’t want them to see what we’ve bought, so they have to go to the living room until we’ve brought everything in. Just stay here -- I’ll be back in a moment."

It felt like she was gone for an hour, but I’m sure it was only a minute or two. She returned to the garage and winked at me. "It’s okay," she said. "They’ll stay in the living room until we’ve brought everything in."

I entered the kitchen nervously, afraid that Mom and Dad would be waiting there to have all their worst suspicions confirmed. When I saw the empty room, I hurried through it and up the stairs to my room. In less than five minutes, I changed into my own clothes, took off my earrings, washed my face thoroughly, unscrunched my ponytail, and shook my hair into its usual mess. Then I threw my shopping bags into my closet, took a deep breath, and sauntered down the stairs.

*****

A couple of days after Christmas, Dad gave me a funny look. "Dick…"

"Yes, Dad?"

"When did you get your ears pierced?"

I had never thought he’d notice -- Mom, maybe, but not Dad -- especially since the studs were so small and my hair pretty well covered my ears. "A few days ago, Dad. The night Anne and I went Christmas shopping."

"I guess ‘when’ isn’t that important. The real question is ‘Why?’"

Anne and I had anticipated that this might happen and we’d concocted a cover story. "Anne made me do it, Dad."

"Fine; blame your sister," Dad said. "I never thought she could make you do anything."

"Well, she didn’t exactly make me do it. She just said that I should because all the cool guys had pierced ears, and I was just a sissy who was afraid it might hurt."

"So you did it to prove you were a real man? Cool and impervious to pain?"

"If you want to put it that way -- yes, I guess so. Do you mind?"

"I can’t say I’m thrilled about it, Dick, but that’s just the old fuddy-duddy in me. It’s harmless enough, I suppose, though I don’t think it’s really cool to do something just because everyone else does it. I hope you won’t rise to every challenge that your sister sees fit to come up with."

"No, Dad -- just the cool ones."

*****

"Mom says Dad thinks we’ve become too close," Anne told me the next day. "He liked it better when we were always fighting."

"What does Mom think?" I asked.

"She says it’s great that we’re finally friends. And she knew right away that you’d had your ears pierced, but she decided she really didn’t care, so she didn’t say anything."

"Mom’s cool," I said. "I’m glad we’re friends, too. The fighting was fun sometimes, but doing things together is a lot better."

"Right you are, Sis."

"Maybe we should pretend to fight so dad will feel better," I suggested.

"You’re evil. Maybe we should."

But we didn’t.

*****

Before going to sleep on the night of December 30th, Anne and I set our alarm clocks to go off at five the next morning. A few minutes after five, we met in the hall and silently swapped bedrooms and identities.

I thought I’d be too excited to go back to sleep, but I wasn’t. I woke up at nine -- pretty early for me on a non-school morning. For a moment, I couldn’t remember where I was or why I was there, but suddenly I snapped awake and hopped out of bed. I put on panties and a bra (not forgetting the breast forms), a nightgown, a bathrobe, and a pair of slippers and hurried down the stairs. Anne and our parents were sitting at the kitchen table -- she was wearing my pajamas, bathrobe, and slippers, and Mom and Dad seemed to think she was me.

"Well, good afternoon, airhead," Anne said. "Nice of you to join us."

"Quiet, pipsqueak," I replied. "Good morning, all."

"Good morning, dear," Mom said, and Dad looked up from his newspaper and smiled at me.

I poured myself some orange juice and sat down at the table. "You’re going to have to hurry, dear," Mom said to me. "Your hairdresser appointment’s at ten -- you haven’t forgotten, have you?"

"Oh, dear -- I forgot it was so early," I said. "I’ll go take a quick shower and get dressed." I wondered how I was going to get to the hairdresser’s -- after all, I couldn’t drive. Was Mom planning to take me there? Why hadn’t Anne told me about the appointment?

"Can I go with you, O ditsy one?" Anne said. "I need to run a couple of errands in town."

"I suppose so," I replied, "as long as you’re ready to go in half an hour."

"I’ll be there," Anne said.

"I hope one of those errands is a haircut," Mom said.

"Next year, Mom! Next year!" Anne said. "But not today."

Half an hour later, Anne was backing the car out of the garage and I was praying that neither Mom nor Dad would look out the window before we were out of sight. They’d have heart failure if they saw "Dickie" driving.

"Why didn’t you tell me about the hairdresser?" I asked when we had made it safely around the corner.

"I was afraid you wouldn’t go," Anne said.

"I probably wouldn’t have. It was clever of you to box me in the way you did -- is there any way I can get out of it?"

"No way. You’re going to be me tonight, and I want to be sure I look good."

"But I can’t go back to school next week in a girl’s hairdo."

"You won’t have to. You won’t get a permanent -- just a cut and some styling. It will all shampoo out."

"How will I know what style to pick?"

"I’ll help you choose one," Anne promised.

I said, "Just remember that tomorrow morning my hair will have to look like yours does tonight, and you’ll have to be able to make yours look like mine does tonight."

"I’ve already thought of that," Anne replied, "and I have a plan -- well, sort of a plan."

Only "sort of" a plan? That didn’t sound too promising to me.

*****

Anne parked the car in the lot behind the hair salon and explained her plan as we walked to the entrance. "I’ve made two appointments with Maria," she said. "One for me and one for my cousin Bill from Chicago -- that’s you."

"She knows I’m a guy!" I yelped.

"Take it easy -- don’t tell the whole world. Yes, she knows you’re a guy, but she thinks you’re my out-of-town cousin, not my brother, and she thinks it’s all part of a big practical joke on our parents."

"Why didn’t you make me a girl cousin?"

"If we were girl cousins playing a trick, we’d want to look alike -- but I have to leave here looking something like a boy, if you want to be able to switch back tomorrow. Remember what you said a few minutes ago -- tomorrow morning, your hair will have to look like mine does tonight, and I’ll have to be able to make mine look like yours does tonight. I can’t think of any other way to do it, and I’ve tried."

We entered the salon, a most unfamiliar-looking (and strange-smelling) place. "That’s Maria," Anne said. "The brunette standing next to the empty chair."

Maria smiled at us and came forward to greet us. "Good morning, Miss Turner," she said to me. "Did you have a good Christmas?"

"Very nice, thank you, but…" I gestured toward Anne. "This is Miss Turner. I’m her cousin."

"I’m sorry; I beg your pardon. I see what you mean, Miss Turner," she said to Anne. "You and your cousin really do look like twins."

"We’ve fooled my parents already this morning," Anne said.

"What fun! Now, what can I do for you today?"

"Let’s look at your hairstyle magazines," Anne said. "My cousin wants a hairdo that’s simple and doesn’t require much cutting. It’s okay to do a little curling as long as it doesn’t involve a perm. Then I’ll need to have the same cut, but without any curling. I’ll curl my own hair when we switch back -- that’s why we have to keep it easy."

We looked quickly through several magazines. There were several styles that I liked but Anne or Maria vetoed -- some would be too feminine for Anne’s disguise, and others would leave me unable to have my hair look like a mop when we switched back to our normal selves. "I give up," I said. "Go ahead and take off as much hair as you need to, just so long as I can look good tonight and look like a boy tomorrow." That took us back to one of the styles that had been vetoed earlier, which now became a unanimous choice. Maria did Anne first, to make sure she could look like a boy, and then did me as Anne watched carefully. When we left, Anne was a boy with a ponytail and I was a girl -- an amazed girl who looked at her hair in the car’s vanity mirror all the way home.

"That’s a nice style for you, Anne," Mom said when we showed her Maria’s handiwork. "And I see that you had a haircut too, Dickie."

"Yeah; I decided to have a little taken off," Anne said. "I was looking kind of scruffy."

"Next time, have a little more taken off and lose that stupid ponytail," Dad said.

"Maybe," Anne replied.

*****

"You look very pretty, Anne," Mom said.

"Thanks, Mom," I said. I agreed with her -- I was gorgeous. I was wearing a black sheath dress that ended three inches above my knees, sheer black pantyhose, and my new shoes. Anne had fixed my hair and makeup and provided me with a gold necklace, a bracelet, and rings to go with my hoop earrings.

"And you look very handsome, Dickie," Mom added.

"Dickie" was wearing my suit and my favorite of my two neckties. His hair was neatly gathered and fastened into a ponytail. "Thanks, Mom…I guess," he said. "Do I really have to wear this tie?"

"Yes, dear. I’m sure you can put up with it for a few hours."

The party was only four doors away, but it was a chilly night and my dress was definitely not made for warmth. I took Anne’s winter coat from the hall closet and put it on.

"Let’s go, airhead," "Dickie" said. He was standing impatiently by the front door.

"Aren’t you going to wear a coat?" Mom asked.

"To go to the McKays’? It’s just up the street -- who needs a coat?"

"Suit yourself, dear," Mom said. "You two go ahead. Dad and I will be along in a few minutes."

With a great show of false gallantry, "Dickie" opened the door for me and waved me through. I blew him a kiss as I waltzed out into the cold.

We walked quickly up the hill. My heels clattered on the sidewalk. "You really do look pretty, Dickie," Anne said.

"Thanks, Sis -- and thanks for all your help. I couldn’t have done it without you."

Anne rang the McKays’ doorbell and Emily came to the door. "Hi, Anne! Hi, Dickie! Come on in." She closed the door behind us and gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Happy New Year, Annie!"

"Thanks, Em -- the same to you!" I said as I delivered an air kiss to the vicinity of her cheek. Emily helped me with my coat. "Dickie" had already disappeared in the direction of the noise emanating from the basement recreation room.

"You look great," Emily said. "I love your hair."

"Thanks -- I thought I’d try something a little different for the new year. Who’s coming tonight?"

"Well…all of us, of course." That meant Emily’s parents, her brother Jared, and her sister Melissa. "And all of you?"

"Yes," I said. "Mom and Dad will be along in a few minutes."

"Good. Let’s see…Sarah and Linda are here. And Dan." Dan was Emily’s boyfriend. "And Jared’s friends, Roger and Steve. And Mr. and Mrs. Thompson are coming…but not George."

I willed myself not to let my voice show any disappointment. "George isn’t coming?" I’d done all this for nothing!

"No. I think he’s too embarrassed from the Christmas party. He told me he was still mad at you. Are you heartbroken?"

"Hardly," I said disdainfully, because I knew that’s what Anne would have said.

"That’s what I thought," Emily laughed. "Come on, let’s join the party."

We made our way down the stairs to the basement, where the party was going strong. Strangely enough, there was no boy-girl activity going on. The boys -- Jared, Roger, Steve, Dan, and "Dickie" -- were in one corner of the room, watching a football game on television. I hoped "Dickie" was enjoying himself, knowing how Anne loathed football. The girls -- Emily, Linda, Sarah, Melissa, and I -- were seated diametrically across the room, chattering. I was having a wonderful time -- I was actually managing to talk with Anne’s friends without mucking things up. Moreover, I had contrived to seat myself next to Melissa -- she was fifteen (just like me), two years younger than the other girls, and I’d had a thing for her for years. I was in heaven.

The football game ended and the boys began to look for other sources of amusement. There were girls…and there was food. The McKays always had their parties catered, and the catering staff was beginning to place interesting-looking dishes on the various tables scattered around the room. The guys opted for food -- the girls weren’t going anywhere, but food had a tendency to disappear. Sarah, Linda, and Melissa stood up and drifted toward one of the food tables. I started to go with them, but Emily put her hand on my arm. "I need to talk to you for a minute," she said. "Let’s go upstairs. It’s quieter there."

*****

The living room was brightly lighted but unoccupied. Emily led me in, waved me to a chair, and seated herself on the sofa. She looked at me but said nothing.

"What did you want to talk about, Em?"

"It’s kind of a sensitive subject, Dickie…" Why had she called me that? Was it some game she and Anne played that Anne hadn’t told me about? I decided to treat it as a joke, but my laugh came out as a strained giggle.

"What’s so funny?" Emily asked.

"You are. You called me Dickie."

"Why not? That’s your name, isn’t it?"

"What makes you say something like that?" I demanded.

"Because I saw you and Anne together at Southside Mall the other night, just a few minutes after I talked to one of you. I’d gone to my car, and then I remembered one more thing I wanted to get, so I went back into the mall just in time to see both of you coming toward me. You didn’t see me -- you were too busy talking -- so I ducked behind a kiosk and got a good look at you as you went by. You looked like twins -- it was fantastic!"

"I told you I was there with Dickie!" I said. "What’s the big deal?"

"You didn’t tell me Dickie was wearing lipstick and earrings. So I think you two must have decided to play some kind of trick on George, and that’s why you seemed a little disappointed that he wasn’t here tonight."

"This is crazy, Em. I’m Anne, and Dickie’s downstairs working on the food -- and that reminds me, I’m getting hungry. Can we go back to the party now?"

"When did your last period start?"

"What are you talking about, Em?"

"When did your last period start?" she repeated. "Anne knows and I know, because I loaned her a pad, but Dickie doesn’t have any idea. I want the day and the hour."

I hadn’t a chance in the world of guessing correctly, so I extended my hands. "Slap the cuffs on me, Sherlock. You’ve got your culprit."

Emily giggled. "I thought so," she said. "I just wanted to be sure. I’m getting hungry too, Annie. Let’s go find some food before the boys eat it all."

As we stood to leave, Dan poked his head into the room. "Here they are, Jared!" he called. A moment later, both boys came into the room.

"We wondered where you’d gone," Dan said.

"So we decided to look for you," Jared added.

Emily grinned at me. "Translation: They’ve eaten all the food and now they’re looking for something else to do."

"Now that’s not right," Dan said. "There’s a little rabbit food left -- some lettuce and a few carrot sticks. The DJ’s here, and we’re going to have some dance music."

"And you don’t want to dance with the carrot sticks," I said.

"You’ve got it, Anne," Jared said.

"Well, Annie and I are famished," Emily said. "If a couple of gentlemen would like to find something for us rabbits to nibble on, we’d be glad to be sociable as soon as we’ve eaten."

"We’ll see what we can do," Dan said. He and Jared hurried off, and Emily and I followed at a more leisurely pace.

*****

Jared and Dan did much better than rabbit food -- they brought each of us a good-sized plate stacked with all kinds of tasty things (which they then helped us consume). As soon as we’d eaten, we upheld our part of the bargain. I was glad Anne had taught me the fundamentals of dancing -- since I’d never learned to dance as a boy, I had nothing to unlearn, and it felt perfectly natural to be led around the floor.

Jared’s parents had insisted that the DJ play mostly slow dance music, which meant that I got to be held in Jared’s arms instead of bouncing around in his general vicinity without actually touching him. He was a good dancer, too, which enabled him to make up for my lack of experience on the dance floor. We were soon waltzing and fox-trotting all around the recreation room. Each time the music changed, Jared held me a little closer. I thought Anne would be pleased at the effect her proxy was having on Jared, but each time I stole a glance at "Dickie," he seemed somewhat wistful.

Before long, almost everyone was dancing, including the parents. Emily was paired up with Dan, Sarah with Steve, and Linda with Roger. "Dickie" and Melissa were the only ones not dancing. I saw Melissa walk up to "Dickie" and say something -- I think she was asking him to dance, but he shook his head "no" and she walked away to one of the food tables.

Some subversive person had hung bits of mistletoe all over the room. It was almost impossible to avoid it even if anyone had wanted to; as a result, a considerable amount of decorous smooching was going on. Jared held back for a while -- he was a bit shy, as Anne had told me -- but eventually he took a deep breath and steered me under a sprig. I presented my right cheek and we danced on. After a circuit of the dance floor, he took another deep breath and waltzed me under another sprig. This time I offered him my left cheek.

We danced a few more steps. Jared seemed to be about to take yet another deep breath. "Who in the world put up all this mistletoe?" I asked. "You?"

Jared blushed. "Steve and I did it this afternoon," he said.

"Steve’s your roommate?" Jared was a freshman at Amherst.

"That’s right."

"And his father’s a florist, and he gave you a discount for buying in volume?"

Jared chuckled. "No, not quite. Do you think we overdid it?"

"No, of course not. Overdoing it would be not being able to see the ceiling."

"You can see the ceiling?"

"Little bits of it, here and there."

"I told Steve we needed more."

"That’s all right," I said. "I’m sure we can make do with what we’ve got. Where’s the next one?" Jared grinned and turned me slightly to the left. Three steps back, and Jared took yet another deep breath and aimed for my right cheek. I turned my head and met his lips with mine. It was a gentle little peck that lasted only a half-second or so, but it was very nice.

*****

At that point in the festivities, I saw Mr. McKay whisper something to the DJ. When the recording ended, the DJ announced a five-minute break. Mr. McKay caught Jared’s eye and beckoned to him.

"Don’t go away," Jared said. "Dad wants me for something, but I’ll be right back."

"Okay," I said. "I want to talk to my brother for a minute, anyway."

I crossed the room and sat down beside Anne. "You don’t seem to be having much fun," I said.

"Oh, I’m all right," she said. "You look like you’re enjoying yourself."

"Oh, I am -- I love dancing! I should have tried it years ago." From the corner of my eye, I could see Jared and Emily talking with their parents. "Jared’s nice," I said. "I can see why you like him."

"He seems to like you, too," Anne said. I looked at her. My sister was jealous of me!

"That’s only because he thinks I’m you," I said. "Cheer up -- next time, he’ll be all yours."

"That stupid George," Anne said. "I thought he’d monopolize you so I could at least talk to Jared."

"Don’t call him stupid," I said. "It’s all because of him that I’m here like this. Why didn’t he come tonight?"

"Because he’s stupid?"

I sighed. "I guess so," I said.

The DJ had returned to his microphone to announce the next dance, and the McKay conference had broken up. Jared was walking toward us and Emily was returning to Dan. "I’m sorry, Anne," he said. "My parents say that Emily and I should dance with all our guests, so I’m going to have to desert you for a while -- but I’ll come back as soon as I can."

"I’ll be waiting anxiously," I said, "unless I have more fun with Roger or Steve or Dan."

"You won’t," he said. "I’m much more fun than they are." He squeezed my hand and walked across the room to speak to Linda and Steve. After a moment, Jared and Linda began to dance. Emily talked briefly to Dan, who turned to Melissa and asked her to dance. Steve paired up with Linda and Roger invited me to join him on the floor. In a moment, everyone was dancing. My mom was with Mr. Thompson, my dad was with Mrs. McKay, and "Dickie" was dancing with Emily. Their conversation was probably quite interesting, I thought -- I hoped they’d speak quietly.

It was fun. I danced with all the guys except "Dickie" -- Roger, Dan, Steve, even my dad and Mr. Thompson and Mr. McKay. I got pleasant little kisses from all my partners -- even a nice friendly buss on my cheek from Dad! I’d been a little worried about dancing with him, but he seemed convinced I was Anne, so it was all right. "Dickie" got into the spirit of things, too, and danced with Emily, Linda, Sarah, Mrs. McKay, Mrs. Thompson, and Mom.

Mr. McKay was my last partner before Jared decided he’d served his term as gracious host and returned to reclaim me. He looked at his son and said, "Well, I don’t know, Jared. Anne’s a rather nice young lady, and I think I might keep her."

"That’s up to her," Jared said, "but I think she’d have more fun with me."

"I don’t think so," Mr. McKay said. "I know both the tango and the polka, and you don’t know either one." He turned to me. "What about you, my dear? Can you polka or tango?"

"I’ve tried the tango a couple of times, just with another girl, but I’m afraid I’ve never done the polka," I said.

"Then you’re in for a real treat," Mr. McKay said. "You’ve never really done the tango unless you’ve done it with a man of Argentine ancestry, such as I happen to be, and you’ll surely want to learn the polka from a man of Polish extraction -- me again. If you’ll excuse me for a few minutes, I’ll go see if the DJ has brought along any good recordings. In the meantime, Jared, perhaps you could entertain the young lady -- just until I come back, you understand."

"I’ll try, Dad. Anne, do you mind dancing with me while you’re waiting for him."

"I’d be delighted," I said as I took his arm. "Just until you come back, of course," I assured his father.

"Does your father really have Argentine and Polish blood?" I asked Jared as we danced.

"If he does, so do I," Jared said. "I’ve heard him claim about every country in the world in his ancestry. I think it’s all blarney."

"He’s Irish, too?"

"Indeed we are, Miss Anne; no doubt about that," Jared said as he danced me out of the recreation room, past the stairway to the first floor, and into an alcove. "Oh, my gosh!" he said.

"What’s the matter?"

"Somebody hung some mistletoe in here -- see?" He pointed to the ceiling, and as I looked up, he kissed me -- firmly, as if he really meant it.

*****

My passion for George was so strong that I completely forgot about him when Jared kissed me. I forgot about being Dickie, too -- I was a girl who was being held and kissed by a very attractive boy.

Jared released me and I stepped back. I smiled at him. "That must be high-test imported mistletoe," I said.

"The very best," he said. "Fresh from the florist, just this afternoon."

"I wonder who put it there."

"I haven’t any idea," Jared said with a smile.

"And it works just like the domestic mistletoe in the rec room? You can kiss me if I’m standing underneath it?"

"That’s the rule," Jared said. "It’s all right there in the Mistletoe Operator’s Manual. ‘Rule 1: If a pretty girl is standing under any mistletoe, domestic or imported, she must be kissed.’"

"What’s Rule 2?"

"‘Rule 2: There are no exceptions to Rule 1.’"

"And Rule 3?"

"There isn’t any. It’s a very short manual."

"I see. So if I were to take one step forward, like this…"

He kissed me. "I don’t make the rules," he said, "but I don’t break them, either."

"And if I were to continue standing here, Tiger?"

"I’d have to kiss you again, as soon as I caught my breath. Why did you call me Tiger?"

"Because of the cute way you pounce whenever I’m under the mistletoe."

"I like that," Tiger said just before he pounced.

*****

After a while, we decided we should go back to the recreation room -- not that we wanted to stop following Rule 1, but we were afraid a search party would come looking for us. Hand in hand, we emerged from the alcove to encounter Linda and Steve.

"Have you two worn out the mistletoe?" Linda asked.

"I don’t think so," I giggled. "It was working fine just a minute ago."

We continued on into the recreation room, where we met "Dickie." He looked at me carefully. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" he said.

"Sure," I said, picking up my handbag. "Would you excuse me, Jared?"

"Only for a minute," Jared said.

*****

"Just what are you doing, Dickie?" Anne demanded. We had gone upstairs to the still-deserted living room.

"Having fun," I said. "What do you want to talk about?"

"You need to go to the powder room and repair yourself," Anne said. "Your lipstick is a mess."

"I thought it would be," I said. "That’s why I brought my handbag. I’ll be right back."

I looked at myself in the powder room mirror. I was a mess, no doubt about it, but it had been such fun getting messy. I cleaned myself with a tissue or two and re-did my lipstick. As I worked, my euphoria faded a little. I felt guilty for enjoying being kissed by George and even more guilty for enjoying being kissed several times by Jared (who was a much better kisser than George). I really must be gay, I thought -- and a promiscuous gay at that. And now I’d found myself greatly attracted to the boy my sister wanted…and I appeared to have attracted him…but he only liked me because he thought I was Anne.

I emerged from the powder room, having descended from Cloud Nine to (at best) Cloud One-and-a-Half, and rejoined Anne. "I’m sorry, Sis," I said. "I guess I got carried away…but you’ll be glad to know that Jared really likes you."

"I’m thrilled," Anne said, "but I would much rather have found that out myself." She looked at me. "Emily knows about us," she said.

"I know she does. We had a little chat about an hour ago. It doesn’t seem to bother her."

"No -- she thinks it’s a great joke we’re playing on Mom and Dad. It bothers me, though."

"I’m a little bothered myself, to tell you the truth," I said. "Maybe we should switch back."

"Would you mind if we did?"

"Of course not," I lied.

"We can go home and -- no, we don’t have to do that. Emily’s got a dress just like the one you’re wearing -- we coordinated so we wouldn’t both be wearing the same thing. I can borrow it and everything else I need from her, and she can fix my hair. Then you can change to your suit. Is that okay?"

"Sure," I said. "Oh, one thing -- be sure to call Jared ‘Tiger.’" She looked at me as if I were crazy. I quickly explained Jared’s new pet name. "He’ll be expecting you to call him that," I said, "and he might get suspicious if you didn’t. Just trying to be helpful, Sis…"

*****

I went down to the recreation room, found Emily, and brought her back to the living room. She agreed to help us, though she seemed a little disappointed that we were ending our joke. I was instructed to go back to the party. When Emily reappeared there, I was to excuse myself and join her, as if we were going to the ladies’ room together.

When I re-entered the recreation room, Jared collected me and we danced for about half an hour before Emily returned. The dance ended and I excused myself.

"Don’t be long," Jared said. "It’s almost midnight."

"I’ll be back in plenty of time," I said, kissing him lightly on his cheek.

Emily led me up three flights of stairs. "I know you like our view," she said, "and it’s even better from the tower." She took me through a large attic storeroom and into a circular room with a wonderful view of the valley and the town. I gazed at the lights below. "This is Mom’s sewing room," Emily said. "She doesn’t do much sewing, but she likes to come up here to read. I’ll go get your clothes and bring them to you. You can change here."

She left and I looked around the room. It contained a sewing machine, a desk and desk chair, a small bookcase, two easy chairs, a carpet, a couple of paintings, two or three lamps -- and mistletoe. What was this house, a swamp? It seemed to have mistletoe everywhere.

I looked out the windows, searching for the best view. The lamps were a nuisance. Their reflections in the windows hampered my observations, so I turned them off. Emily wouldn’t need them; she’d be able to see well enough by the light from the attic. I gazed down at the town. The hands on the big town hall clock were almost vertical -- it would be midnight in a matter of seconds, and I was way up here, far from the party. Well, I supposed I’d had my share of smooching. It was Anne’s turn now -- and Mom and Dad’s turn -- and Emily and Dan’s turn. Everyone’s turn but mine. I was all by myself in a lonely tower room, unloved and forgotten by the world.

Where was Emily anyway? It would be nice to get back to the celebrations, but I had to change clothes and take off my makeup and get the curl out of my hair and the scent of Anne’s perfume off my body. It couldn’t be done! Why had I agreed to change back? I heard a clock begin to strike somewhere in the house below me. It was too late now. I was so focused on the scenery that I didn’t hear the footsteps behind me or realize that anyone was in the room with me until a voice said, "Happy New Year!" and I turned, startled, to receive an enthusiastic kiss.

"You’re under the mistletoe," Melissa said.

"Melissa! You scared me half to death! I thought I was all alone up here!" And why was Melissa kissing Anne? Was she a lesbian or something? It was shocking enough to discover that I was apparently gay, but to have the nicest, prettiest girl I knew turn out to be no longer available to populate my fantasies -- that was too much!

"I’m sorry, Dickie -- I didn’t mean to startle you. Emily asked me to come and get you and bring you back to the party. And when I saw you under the mistletoe, I just couldn’t resist."

She knew I was Dickie -- she wasn’t a lesbian after all! "How did you know I was Dickie?"

"Emily told me about the joke you and Anne are playing on your parents. That’s so cool -- and so funny! She and Anne said it was time to bring you down."

It sounded as if the joke were on me instead of my parents. I supposed that my clothes were carefully hidden somewhere in this huge house -- probably buried under a monstrous heap of mistletoe.

"Dickie?"

"Yes?"

"I…uh…just want to say how sorry I am about what happened at our Christmas party…because it was partly my fault."

"No, it wasn’t."

"Yes, it was. Anne told me to tell George that she was in the dining room under the mistletoe. I was kind of surprised, because I thought she liked Jared and couldn’t stand George. But I didn’t stop to think -- she told me to hurry, and I rushed off to find George. I wish I’d looked in the dining room first -- then I’d have seen that you were there."

"Under the mistletoe."

"Yes. Under the mistletoe." She blushed.

"I wish you’d been the one who kissed me," I said softly. It was my turn to blush.

"But I did. Just now. Have you forgotten already?"

"You’re under the mistletoe, Melissa."

"I thought you’d never notice."

Rule 1 applied, several times. Melissa’s kisses were lovely, warm and sweet. Maybe I wasn’t all that gay after all…

*****

Melissa and I paused briefly at the powder room to redo our lipstick and brush our hair. We then descended the stairway to the basement and entered the recreation room hand in hand. There were only four people left in the room -- Anne, Jared, Emily, and Dan. The DJ and caterers had gone, Steve and Roger were taking Linda and Sarah home, and my parents and the McKays were upstairs, having a nightcap in the kitchen.

Jared and Dan seemed somewhat perplexed until Anne explained that she and I were playing a joke on our parents. We were going to defy them to tell who was who, and we didn’t think they could do it.

"You do look a lot alike," Jared said. "I don’t think I could tell you apart myself." Anne quickly pointed out several minor differences in our dresses, shoes, and jewelry, knowing very well that Jared would be able to see the differences when they were pointed out to him but wouldn’t have a clue which dress he’d held in his arms for much of the evening.

Jared thought it was all pretty funny. "How did you do it, Dickie?" he asked.

"I had a lot of help from Anne," I said. "I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off by myself."

"When are you going to show your parents?" Jared asked. "I’d like to see that."

"We all would," Emily said.

"I’ve got a plan," Anne announced.

*****

In accordance with Anne’s scheme, Emily, Dan, and Melissa took up positions in the living room, where they’d be able to see my parents when they came down the hall from the kitchen. Anne went into the dining room and hid behind a drape, just in case Mom and Dad left the kitchen via the dining room. Jared and I stayed in the recreation room. He seemed slightly ill at ease, seeing me as Anne and addressing me as Dickie. By unspoken mutual agreement, we kept our distance from each other (and I resisted the urge to stand under the nearest sprig of mistletoe).

In a matter of minutes, we heard Emily’s voice calling down the stairway. "Anne! Your parents are going now, and they want to say goodnight to you." That was our cue. Jared and I came up the stairs and walked into the living room, somewhat intertwined (as part of Anne’s plan, not -- sad to say -- as something spontaneous and natural).

"Oh, there you are, dear," Mom said. "We’re going to go home and get some sleep. Are you coming, or are you going to stay a little longer with your friends?"

"I’ll be home in about half an hour, Mom."

"That’s fine, dear. Where’s Dickie?"

"He’s probably in the dining room, Mrs. Turner, admiring the view," Emily said. "I’ll look." She left the living room, and I heard her say, "Dickie! Your parents want to say goodnight to you!" She returned to the living room, followed a moment later by Anne.

Mom and Dad looked at Anne, then at me, and then at each other. The looks on their faces! It was so funny! Anne walked over to me and we stood side by side and laughed until our sides hurt.

"Anne!" Dad said.

We smiled at him and said, "Yes, Dad?" in unison.

"Just Anne," he said.

"Okay," we said.

"What do you two think you’re doing?"

"We’re playing a joke on you and Mom," I said as Anne said, simultaneously, "We knew you wouldn’t be able to tell us apart."

"Of course I can tell you apart. You’re Anne," Dad said, pointing at me. "And he’s Dick," he said, pointing at Anne.

Anne laughed. "What do you think, Mom?"

"If I say you’re Anne and she’s…he’s!…Dickie, one of us will be right."

"Turn around and close your eyes, Mom," I commanded. She obeyed and Anne and I stood on either side of Jared, who put his arms around our waists. "All right -- you can look now."

Mom turned and sighed. "You’re Dickie," she said to Anne, "and you’re Anne," she said to me.

"You tell her, Jared," Anne said.

"I’ve lost track," Jared admitted. "You both look the same to me. You feel the same, too."

"All right, you two," Dad said. "Stop making fools of your poor old parents. I want you to tell me who’s who, right now."

Anne and I looked across Jared’s chest at each other. "Okay," we said. We faced Mom and Dad. "I’m Anne!" we said.

*****

The next morning, at Mom’s insistence, Anne and I dressed as twins again. Mom wanted to show us off to Dad’s parents, with whom we traditionally enjoyed New Year’s Day dinner (yes, many holiday traditions in our family). We consulted in Anne’s room and then put on the red and green outfits we’d worn the first time I dressed as a girl. As before, I wore the green top and red miniskirt -- that’s how I could tell who I was.

Dad, who’d gone out to fill his gas tank, was a little startled when he returned -- perhaps even a bit disgruntled -- to find that he once again had two daughters. "Didn’t we have enough of this nonsense last night?" he demanded.

"Don’t be such a stick-in-the-mud, Richard," Mom said. "They look so cute --your parents will love it. It will remind them of the stunts you and Becky used to pull."

"You and Aunt Becky?" Anne said.

"You pretended to be Aunt Becky?" I said.

"Well…sometimes. But we’re twins, and twins always do that kind of thing," Dad said. "We were just kids."

"Just kids," Mom said. "Just little tiny toddlers. I remember the trick you two pulled on your parents on your sixteenth birthday…"

"Let’s not go into that," Dad said. "I can see that I’m outvoted. We’d better be on our way. My parents are expecting to see us in about an hour -- though I’m sure they’re not expecting what they’re going to see."

*****

Mom was right -- Grandma and Grandpa Turner were delighted with Anne and me. It took them back years, they said. Grandma went into their bedroom and returned with a photo album. "Richard, you move off the sofa," she said to Dad. "The girls and I are going to sit there. You’ll enjoy these pictures," she said to Anne and me as we sat down on either side of her.

"I want to see them again, too," Mom said. We all squeezed together to make room for her to sit beside me.

There were tons of photos of Dad and Aunt Becky, from age four or five to about eighteen. They usually were wearing dresses, but occasionally they were both in boys’ clothes. There were several pictures of them as boy and girl -- in each case, Grandma said, Dad was the girl. Dad groaned as the viewing (and Grandma’s commentary) began, but soon he was standing beside Anne, looking over her shoulder and laughing as hard as anyone else.

"You were really pretty, Dad," I said.

"That’s Becky."

"Well, you looked just alike, so you were pretty, too."

"Look this way," Grandpa said. We all looked, of course, right into the camera’s flash. "That will start your album," he said to Anne and me.

*****

 

A Postscript (or Perhaps an Intermission)

All of this happened several years ago. Since then, I’ve gained some understanding of teenage sexual angst and gender confusion and I’ve worked through my numerous problems (I think).

To summarize what happened to whom, Anne and Jared began dating right after that infamous New Year’s Eve party. They were inseparable until Anne left for William and Mary the next fall. Amherst was too far from William and Mary for their romance to survive and both began to go out with others, though they saw each other occasionally when both were home.

Melissa and I were an item for almost three years, until we too went off to widely separated colleges. It was basically a boy-girl relationship, but every now and then we went out as girlfriends -- to a concert, a movie, or a play, or just shopping. Other than that, I was sometimes a girl at home -- and invariably at the McKays’ New Year’s Eve parties! Although Melissa and I dated others in college, we were always together during the Christmas holidays.

Emily McKay and Dan Stevens announced their engagement their senior year in college, at the McKays’ Christmas party. They were married in late June. The following October, Anne married…George! He had also gone to William and Mary, and they’d finally come to appreciate each other there. They announced their engagement the night before their graduation, to the surprise of almost everyone.

A year after Melissa and I graduated from college, Mr. and Mrs. McKay bought a new business and moved across the state to manage it. Nevertheless, I’m happy to say that I still get to see that wonderful view of the town’s lights from their former home. I can see them anytime I want to now, not just during the holidays. I live there, you see. I married a McKay.

Who do you think it was?

Melissa or Jared?

The lady or the tiger?

 

 


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2002 by Hebe Dotson. All Rights Reserved. These documents (including, without limitation, all articles, text, images, logos, compilation design) may printed for personal use only. No portion of these documents may be stored electronically, distributed electronically, or otherwise made available without express written consent of the copyright holder.