Crystal's StorySite storysite.org

 

Something Ventured

by Hebe Dotson

 

She was young, she was photogenic, and she had a big glowing smile on her face for all the world to see. She was right there in crisply printed color on the front page of the sports section. "Chris Robbins, delighted to be the winner of the Fun Runner prize in yesterday’s ladies’ 10K run (Details on page C7)," the caption read.

She was me. Chris was short for Christopher, and I was far more shocked than delighted. The fact is that I was thoroughly shocked and not the least bit happy as I hurriedly turned to page C7. It was even worse there. After two paragraphs about the wonderful weather, the large and enthusiastic crowd, the 500-plus participants, and the three top finishers (all from distant places), the reporter turned her attention to me.

"A local woman, Chris Robbins of suburban Erlanger, was chosen as the winner of the first Fun Runner prize -- a complete makeover and a thousand-dollar clothing allowance. This prize, donated by JoieWear of California, honors the thousands of women who run for pleasure and exercise. It’s given to a participant who finishes the race, is not one of the top twenty finishers, and looks as if she’s really enjoying herself. All runners were photographed at the eighth kilometer and Robbins, who finished 224th, was selected at random by a computer from the 146 women who met all three criteria."

Great! I’d deliberately finished way back in the pack to be sure of avoiding the publicity that would come to a high finisher. All I’d wanted to do was be a woman for a day and run -- I’ve always loved to run. I love to be a woman, too, whenever I can, and with Mom and Dad away for a whole week, this had looked like a good opportunity to combine my favorite activities.

To add to my displeasure, the damned newspaper just had to mention my home town, "suburban Erlanger." That was a laugh -- Erlanger was hardly a suburb. It was way out in the boondocks, but the Journal-Tribune always claimed anything good within a hundred-mile radius of City Hall. Erlanger was really just a rural village, and there were only three Robbinses in it -- my dad, my mom, and me -- now that my four older brothers had departed to find fame and fortune elsewhere. It looked as if I’d found fame myself, even if I didn’t want it -- and now I’d probably have to leave town to seek anonymity.

But -- maybe not. How many people in Erlanger would read about women’s 10K runs in the Journal-Tribune? Hardly anyone -- most Erlangers got their national and world news from television and their local news from the Beaumont Weekly Advertiser, published just ten miles down the road. One important person -- my mother -- was a J-Trib reader, but she and Dad were out of town, visiting her sister in Louisville. She’d insisted that I save all the papers for her -- she just had to keep track of Mary Worth, Rex Morgan, and Spider-Man. The comics were on page C8, of course. Well, I’d just have to be careless and lose section C. She’d fuss at me, but that was all right. I hadn’t lived for 22 years without surviving a certain amount of fussing.

Dad was always reminding me, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." I suppose he was trying to goad me out of my shyness and my lethargic approach to life. So I’d ventured something -- and perhaps lost everything. I’d be safe (I hoped) if no one else in Erlanger saw the article and if I wasn’t dumb enough to claim the Fun Runner prize -- and, believe me, I wasn’t that stupid!

*****

Three days later, Mom and Dad returned from Louisville, half an hour after I got home from work. By then, section C was buried somewhere in the depths of the local recycling center (except for my front page photo and the accompanying article, which I’d clipped and tucked away in the back of my desk drawer). After helping my parents unload their car, I poured a tall glass of iced tea for Mom and got a couple of cans of beer for Dad and me. Then we all three sat down on the porch for the usual homecoming exchange of greetings and news. Aunt Christine (Mom’s sister) and Uncle Les sent their love to me. There wasn’t much news from Louisville, Mom reported, but she and Dad had had a great time. There was no news whatever from Erlanger, I told them -- but then, there never was. With the formalities behind us, we sat back to enjoy our drinks and the afternoon sunshine.

"That was a nice picture of you in the Journal-Tribune," Mom said. I inhaled most of the mouthful of beer I’d been swallowing, and it took a minute or two before I could stop coughing. As I gasped and choked and Dad thumped me on the back, I realized that I’d made no contingency plan to help me respond to a statement like that. I’d have to wing it.

Maybe there’d been another picture of me that I hadn’t noticed. Fat chance, but… "What are you talking about, Mom?" I said when I could speak again.

"Your picture. In that race a few days ago. It was a good picture."

"Oh, that picture." I laughed weakly. "It must have been some other Chris Robbins."

"From Erlanger?"

"The paper must have made a mistake. They do make mistakes. I’ll call them and ask them to print a correction. It’s kind of embarrassing."

Mom opened her handbag and pulled out a piece of newsprint. She held it up and looked at it, and then she looked at me. "There’s no mistake," she said. "Do you think I wouldn’t recognize my own son? Even with a bosom?"

"Where did you get that?" I asked.

"Christine and Les have a Journal-Tribune subscription. It comes by mail, a day late. She got addicted to Judge Parker and Apartment 3G the last time they visited us. They thought it was a good picture, too."

"Good grief!" I said. "Is there anyone who hasn’t seen that picture?"

"Your brothers haven’t," Mom said, "but I think we can order back issues from the newspaper -- we can get a copy for each of them."

I looked at Dad. He was just sitting back and enjoying himself. Mom was on a roll.

"Mom, are you crazy?" I said.

She seemed surprised. "They were all very proud of you when you were running for your high school and college track teams. Don’t you think they’d like to know that you’re keeping up with your running?"

"Mom! That was a women’s race!"

"Yes -- and for a very good cause, too. Breast cancer research. Did you know that your Aunt Christine had breast cancer surgery ten -- no, eleven -- years ago? She’s proud of you, too."

"Mom! Aren’t you angry with me?"

"Why should I be, dear?"

"For dressing in women’s clothes and entering a women’s race and getting my picture in the paper?"

"Of course not, dear. Your father and I always wanted a daughter. We tried five times and then gave up. Now it looks as if we may have been successful after all."

"But…but…but I’m not your daughter! I’m your son!" Why was I fighting it? I’d feared this moment for ten years, ever since I’d first surreptitiously slipped into one of Mom’s old dresses that I’d found in the attic. They should be threatening to throw me out of their house, and I should be groveling and swearing that it was an aberration, a one-time experiment that would never be repeated. All my nerves were jangling away in crisis mode while my mother was assuring me that crossdressing was no big deal -- not in my case, anyway. Perhaps I should just go with the flow…or should I? Were my parents using reverse psychology on me? Were they trying to get me to abandon crossdressing by making it seem as if it were something they really wanted me to do?

"Of course you are, dear," Mom was saying reassuringly. "You’ll always be our son. But perhaps you can be our daughter, too, now and then."

The opportunity I’d always dreamed of was staring me right in the face -- the chance to come out to my parents with no recriminations. I couldn’t fight it. "I…I’d like that -- a lot," I said. "Do you mean it?"

"I certainly do," Mom said. "Do you have any clothes? Besides that running outfit, I mean."

"Yes."

"Then why don’t you go get yourself prettied up while I fix us some dinner."

"All right," I said, though I wasn’t sure I really felt all right. "Dad, is this really okay with you."

Dad looked at me carefully. "There’s just one thing that bothers me, Chris."

"What’s that?"

"You’re a pretty good runner -- not great, maybe, but you did all right in high school and college. So how in hell could you get beaten by 223 women?"

*****

Getting myself "prettied up" was much easier for Mom to ordain than for me to do. I went to my room and pulled out the garment bag I kept hidden in the back of my closet. It contained my whole pitiful feminine world -- a few pieces of shabby, wrinkled clothing and a small hoard of cosmetics. I’d worn jeans and a polo shirt over my running outfit when I went into the city for the 10K run -- I’d looked female enough to get by, but I wanted to do better than that for my debut before my parents. My one summer dress was pretty enough, I decided. It had seen better days -- better decades! -- but it would have to do. I took it into the bathroom, hoping that the steam from the shower would take out some of the wrinkles.

I’d shaved my arms, legs, and armpits just a few days ago, before the 10K, but I shaved them again in the shower. My beard was blond and sparse, and I normally shaved it about every three days, but I did that again, too -- twice in one day was a personal first.

I dried myself off and examined my dress. It may have been my imagination, but most of the wrinkles seemed to have disappeared. I took it back to my room.

My underwear was clean. It was somewhat threadbare too, but I didn’t think anyone was going to inspect it. I put on a pair of panties and my bra and stuffed my homemade breast forms into my bra cups. Very carefully, I put on the new pantyhose I’d somehow had the foresight to buy in town, right after the 10K. I debated with myself about my slip -- it was a warm evening, but my dress was a bit sheer, so the slip went on. And then the dress, and finally the slightly scuffed black pumps with two-inch heels that I’d bought on the Internet. I looked at myself in the mirror above my dresser. What I could see looked about as good as I was going to be able to make it.

My hair wasn’t going to be very exciting. I brushed a few strands down over my forehead and pulled the rest back into a ponytail. "Easy on the makeup," I reminded myself -- not that I had that much anyway. I put a little blush on my cheekbones and selected the darker of my two lipsticks. That would have to do the trick. I fastened my pseudo-gold necklace around my neck and clipped on the matching earrings. I was done.

I inspected myself in the mirror. I looked like a girl, some kind of girl, I thought. Maybe Cinderella, before she got dressed for the ball? "Don’t be so hard on yourself," I said to myself. "You look better than you did at the 10K run."

I heard my mother calling up the stairs, "Chrissie! Are you about ready, or do you want me to hold dinner for a few more minutes?" Chrissie?

"I’ll be right down, Mom!" I called back. I took one last look in the mirror. I needed one more thing -- a positive attitude. I did my best to re-create the bright prize-winning smile that the Journal-Tribune photographer had caught. Nevertheless, I could feel myself trembling as I went down the stairs, and I clutched the handrail, just in case my knees decided to buckle.

*****

"We’re eating in the dining room tonight, dear," Mom said as I walked into the kitchen.

"It must be a special occasion," I said.

"Oh, it is -- it is. Everything’s ready -- you can help me put the food on the table."

"Okay," I said. Mom had served from the stove, and three plates of steaming food were sitting on the kitchen counter. I reached for one of them.

"Just a second, Chrissie. Let me look at you."

I smiled at her and struck what I imagined to be a modeling pose.

"You’re pretty," she said. "Very pretty."

"Thanks, Mom."

"You’re welcome. You can take that plate in to your father now. I’ll bring the other two."

I picked up the plate and carried it into the dining room. Dad was pouring wine into three goblets. He looked up as I entered the room, and a startled frown crossed his face for a moment before he returned my smile.

"Hello, Chrissie," he said. "It’s nice to meet you."

"Hi, Dad. It’s so nice to meet you. Are you okay? You looked a bit startled."

"I was startled -- to see how much you look like your mother did, thirty years ago. It’s amazing."

Mom entered the room with the other two plates and set them on the table. "I think she’s prettier than I was," she said.

"No, dear -- that wouldn’t be possible," Dad said. "But you are very pretty," he assured me. I smiled at him and thanked him.

We began to eat. It seemed really strange -- neither Mom nor Dad was asking me any questions. I’d expected a grilling on how long and how often I’d been dressing, but they behaved as if Chris had never existed and Chrissie had always been there. They asked me how work had gone and filled me in on the things they’d done with Aunt Christine and Uncle Les.

There was a pause in the conversation, and Mom took a moment to look me over again. "I remember that dress," she said. "I loved it before I moved on from my svelte period. But I thought I gave it to Goodwill when we cleaned out the attic, six years ago."

"You did," I replied. "At least, you tried to. But I intercepted it -- and a few other things -- before the Goodwill driver came to pick things up."

"So you were dressing that long ago."

"Longer than that, Mom -- it’s been ten years."

"Ten years. Since you were twelve."

"Yes."

"You were very discreet. I had no idea."

"I never took anything from your room," I said. "Just from the attic."

"I wish I’d known," Mom said softly. "You were such a pretty child -- I always thought you should have been a girl. You don’t know how many times I said I wished you were a girl -- didn’t I, Al?"

"Yes, you did," Dad confirmed.

"I was so sure you were a girl when I was carrying you," Mom said. "We were going to name you Christine, after my sister. It was so hard to have to change it to Christopher."

"Now you tell me all this," I said. "Why didn’t you say something before?"

"How could I, dear? I didn’t want you to feel rejected as a boy, and I didn’t know you wanted to be a girl. You do want to be a girl, don’t you?"

"I don’t know."

"You don’t know?" Mom said.

"No, I don’t. I like to dress up when I can, but I don’t know if I’d actually want to be a girl all the time. It never seemed possible, not in this little town. And there’s my job -- not that it’s a really good job, but it was hard enough to get it and I’d never be able to keep it if I started wearing dresses to work. So I just don’t know. I’ve got to really think about things."

"I see," Mom said. She ate without talking for a minute or two and then veered subtly to a slightly different topic. "I hate to say this," she said, "but your dress is…ah…sort of…ah…"

"Crappy?" I suggested.

"I was going to say ‘tatty,’" Mom said. "It’s a little out of style, and not the best fit for you. Do you have other things?"

"Not for this time of year. I’ve got a green cocktail dress and a tweed skirt and jacket combination, but they’re not right for summer."

"I remember that green dress," Mom said with a dreamy expression on her face.

"I remember it, too," Dad said, looking a little dreamy-eyed himself.

"Well, I guess it’s a good thing you won that prize," Mom said. "You can get quite a few new things for a thousand dollars."

"No way, Mom!"

"What do you mean?"

"I can’t take that prize. You know the JoieWear people will want to publicize it and the J-Trib will want to run a feature article about me, and my name will be Chris Crap in this town. I just can’t do it."

"But you’d like to," Mom said.

"Sure, I’d like to, but I can’t."

"There must be some way you could work it out."

"I don’t think so, Mom."

"Let’s think about it."

"Okay -- but I’ve already thought about it a lot, and I just can’t see how I could do it."

*****

Mom met me at the door when I came home from work the next afternoon. "Hurry and get changed, dear -- you don’t have much time."

"Change to what? And what’s the rush?"

"Change to Chrissie, of course. The JoieWear lady will be here in thirty-five minutes."

"I’m out of here," I said. I turned to leave, but Mom grabbed my arm before I could get out the door.

"Don’t be silly," she said. "This is a wonderful opportunity for you."

"It sure is," I said. "A chance to look for a great new job in Australia. I can’t believe you called the newspaper."

"I didn’t. They called you, but you weren’t here, so I told them to come at six. They were concerned because you hadn’t claimed the prize."

"I knew I should have used a fake phone number when I registered for the 10K. Well, I’ll just stay upstairs in my room until she goes. Tell her I don’t want the prize -- JoieWear can give it to someone else."

"Now you just listen to me, Miss Christine Robbins. JoieWear does a lot to raise money for breast cancer research, and you’re not going to embarrass them by refusing to take their prize. Do you understand me?"

I always understood Mom when she used that tone of voice. "All right, all right," I said. "I’ll go get changed."

"That’s my girl. I’ve put a new top on your bed. It’s too small for me -- I was in a hurry when I bought it and I didn’t try it on. I was going to take it back, but I’ll give it to you instead. You can wear it with your jeans and running shoes. Call me when you’re dressed and I’ll help you with your hair and makeup."

I hurried to my room. The top was pretty without being dressy -- it would go well with jeans and sneakers. I changed quickly, not taking the time to hang up my work clothes, and opened my door to call Mom, only to find her standing there waiting for me. "Come to my room," she said. "I’ve got everything we’ll need."

While I put on blush and lipstick, Mom began to rummage around on her closet shelf. "I just thought of something," she said. "You keep working while I look for it."

"Look for what?"

She didn’t answer, but a moment later I heard a satisfied grunt and she came out of the closet with something blonde and furry in her hand. "I found it!" she said.

"Found what?"

"My old wig. I got it for a Halloween party back when your father and I were first married. I went as Marilyn Monroe. I think it will be all right -- better than a ponytail. Let me brush it out and see how it looks."

I finished with my makeup and watched Mom. "Oh, yes," she said. "This will do very nicely." She gathered my hair and pinned it into a bun. Then she placed the wig on my head, adjusted it, and secured it in place with a few bobby pins. "It matches your natural hair color almost perfectly," she said.

With that done, Mom busied herself with mascara and a touch of eye shadow. She plucked three or four stray hairs from each of my eyebrows, trimmed several others, and used an eyebrow pencil to organize the rest. "You really need to get your ears pierced," she said. "It’s so hard to find nice clip-on earrings -- but you’re in luck, because I’ve had these since I was your age. Your dad gave them to me, so I’ve kept them, even though I hardly ever wear them now." She clipped them to my ears and hung a pendant around my neck.

She finished me off with several spritzes of perfume. "There," she said in a satisfied voice. "I do nice work. You’re lovely." I looked in her mirror, and she was right. I was lovely. I couldn’t believe it -- I’d never been able to make myself look half that good.

"It’s ten past six," Mom said. "I wonder where they are."

Downstairs, the doorbell rang.

*****

The JoieWear lady didn’t come alone. She was reinforced by two Journal-Tribbers -- a pretty female reporter who appeared to be about my age and a male photographer who looked about thirty. The photographer must have been the driver, because he kept grousing about how hard it had been to find 1 Robbins Nest Lane. Mom had told the JoieWear woman to take a right from the state highway onto the county road and then to take the first left after the "Erlanger" sign. They’d found the county road all right, but they’d missed the sign and so, naturally, they’d missed Erlanger. The reporter, who was in the rear seat, had followed her intuition and looked back to see the other "Erlanger" sign as they passed it on the far side of the village. So they’d turned around, found the Old Beaumont Road sign, and then proceeded half a mile to Robbins Nest Lane, as instructed.

"You’re way out there, aren’t you?" the reporter said.

"A quarter mile from the nearest house," Mom replied.

The two women were businesslike, but the man (once he’d stopped grumbling) was annoyingly flirtatious -- a little with Mom and a lot with me. Dad came home a few minutes after Ms JoieWear’s arrival, and the photographer toned himself down after that.

"As I told your mother," Ms JoieWear said to me after the introductions had been completed, "we’d been expecting you to call us about the Fun Runner prize, but when we didn’t hear from you, I decided I’d better call you." She was an attractive, well-dressed woman of about fifty whose name was actually Janet Gibson.

I nodded, a bit leery of using my Chrissie voice on strangers. "The Fun Runner prizes are very important to JoieWear," Ms Gibson continued. "We intend to award them at every ladies’ race that raises funds for breast cancer research. We see them as a way of increasing participation, and since most of each registration fee goes directly to cancer research, it’s a way to increase fundraising as well. You’re the very first winner, Chris, so you’re especially important to us." The photographer confirmed this by taking another picture of me.

"Chrissie was delighted to be the winner," Mom said. "She hadn’t expected it -- she didn’t even know about it when she entered the race -- but she’s very happy about it." I flashed a happy smile at one and all. "She’s just a little shy," Mom continued, "but she’ll come out of it when she gets used to you."

"My youngest is the same way," Ms Gibson said with a sympathetic smile. "As you know -- now," she said to me, "the prize consists of a complete makeover and a one-thousand dollar JoieWear shopping spree. You can enjoy your shopping spree at any store that carries our products -- you are limited to JoieWear apparel, of course. There are two department stores in this area that carry the full JoieWear line and there are three ladies’ wear boutiques with a limited selection. You can look around all five stores before choosing one of them, but you must spend the entire thousand dollars in one store and you must be accompanied by members of our public relations staff when you make your purchases. Those are the only rules." She looked at me and I nodded my agreement.

"What about the makeover?" Mom asked.

"There are four JoieSpas in the area," Ms Gibson said. "Chris can have her makeover in any one she chooses. The prize includes a full assortment of all the cosmetics that the beauticians recommend."

"That’s wonderful! Isn’t it, Chrissie?" Mom said.

"Oh, yes!" I said, finding my voice at last. (No one said, "That voice! You’re a man!")

With her explanation of the rules and regulations completed, Ms Gibson had only one more responsibility -- to give me letters entitling me to receive the prizes and, of course, to be photographed handing those letters to me. Once that had been done, she sat down to chat with Mom and Dad while the press did their thing.

I’d never been interviewed before, so I didn’t know what to expect, but it was pretty simple and didn’t take very long. The reporter wanted to know how old I was, where I’d gone to school, what I did for a living, and how often I participated in races. I answered her questions truthfully, but declined to give my employer’s name, saying that they were publicity-shy. Was I married? No. Did I have a boyfriend? No, not at the moment (the photographer pricked up his ears at that). Who were my role models? What did I like to do besides running? While she was questioning me, the photographer hovered around, taking more pictures than I could count. After she finished, he posed me with Mom and Dad on the front porch and then posed me by myself for half a dozen more shots.

At seven o’clock, it was all over with. Mom invited our visitors to stay for dinner, but the reporter and photographer were on deadline and had to get back to the newspaper. Ms Gibson reminded us to be sure and call her when I’d decided where to use the prize. She said she’d look forward to seeing us again, we shook hands all around, and they got back in their car and drove away -- hopefully, in the right direction.

Dinner was a casserole that had been scheduled for consumption at 6:30. When Mom learned that we were going to have company, she lowered the oven temperature so it would stay warm without overcooking. After everyone left, she turned the oven back up and announced that dinner would be ready in ten minutes. I decided not to change back to male mode, since dinner would be cold by the time I undressed, redressed, and got all the makeup off my face. Mom and Dad didn’t bat an eye when I took my seat at the table as Chrissie. Such cool parents! How could I have been so lucky?

*****

The next morning, I knew that the Journal-Tribune team had found its way back to the newsroom in time to make its deadline. I’d been leafing through the sports section, where I’d been happy to find nothing, when Mom picked up another section and said, "There you are," in an unmistakably pleased voice.

"Where?" I demanded.

"Page 1 of the Lifestyles section," she replied. I’d been promoted. She gave me the paper, and there I was -- a two-column color photo of me receiving the prize from Ms Gibson, under the headline, "Local Woman Wins JoieWear Prize."

The story contained no surprises -- it was just a combination of the original 10K race story and my interview. It carried over to an inside page, with two black and white photos -- the one from the race and one from last night’s interview. The photographer knew his business -- he’d found photo angles that made me look much prettier and more pulchritudinous than I’d expected to be. It was just as well that he couldn’t see me now, dressed for a day’s work.

Unfortunately, "tiny Erlanger" was mentioned twice in the story and once more in a photo caption. I hoped that no one at work or among our acquaintances in Erlanger (almost everyone in town) would see the article.

*****

When I got home from work that afternoon, Mom didn’t meet me at the door, but she came out of the kitchen when she heard my footsteps in the hall. "Good; you’re home!" she said. "Go get changed and we can leave."

"Leave? Where are we going?"

"To the Boulton Park Mall. We’ll get something to eat there, and then we’ll have a look at the JoieWear displays at Kaltendorf’s." Kaltendorf’s was the biggest department store in the area.

"Is Dad coming with us?"

"No -- just us girls. I’m making dinner for him. We’ll leave when he gets home."

"Just us girls? Mom, do I really have to do this?"

"Yes; you do. Tell me, Chris -- do you think you’re going to just walk into a store and spend half an hour pulling JoieWear things off the racks, and that will be it?"

"I was thinking more like twenty minutes."

"Then you need to think a little harder, dear. No woman would shop like that, and you can’t either."

"Why not?"

"For several reasons," Mom said. "In the first place, you have to try things on. You may think you wear a dress size ten, but even in one line, like JoieWear, one size ten may be too small for you and the next may be too large. Or even if it fits you perfectly, it still may look all wrong. The important thing is, you can’t shop like a man if you want people to think you’re a woman."

"Um," I said sagely.

"Also, if you look at the papers Ms Gibson gave you, they don’t say that you can just buy things on your own. The papers specifically say that the store will be reimbursed for purchases up to one thousand dollars as approved by a JoieWear representative. That’s Ms Gibson -- she has to be there, and you can be sure she’s going to have an entourage, including several photographers to take publicity photos of you in everything you try on. It’s going to take a full day."

"A full day?"

"A full day -- with time out for lunch. Actually, it’s going to take more than that, because you’ll need to allow several hours for your makeover a day or two before your shopping spree."

"That’s incredible, Mom."

"I know, but that’s the way it is. We’ll take a look at Kaltendorf’s tonight and see if that’s where you want to spend JoieWear’s money. If it isn’t, we’ll have to look at the other stores Ms Gibson mentioned."

"I see," I said. "Okay."

"There’s more. We’ve got to do a little preliminary shopping tonight. Are your undies as bad as the rest of your wardrobe?"

"I’m afraid so -- maybe worse."

"That’s what I thought. We’ll have to get you some new things before you start exposing yourself in one of the Kaltendorf’s dressing rooms. And you’re going to want a pair of undetectable breast forms -- believe me on that!"

"I do, Mom. I do."

"Good. Now go and get ready."

"Okay. What should I wear?"

"I bought you a new skirt and blouse this afternoon -- sort of a pre-shopping-spree shopping spree -- a new bra and panties too. I hope I got your sizes right. Everything’s on your bed. Wear pantyhose and the black pumps you wore the other night."

I took a quick shower and got dressed as directed. The bra was a little tight, but everything else fit me very well. I did my makeup, put my hair into its customary ponytail, and went downstairs. Mom looked me over and nodded her approval. Dad had come home and started on his dinner. He waved to me, and I walked over to him and planted a kiss on his cheek, leaving a nice red lipstick mark (the first he’d ever had from one of his offspring). He smiled and wished Mom and me happy shopping.

*****

Boulton Park and its mighty mall were a thirty-minute drive from home, about halfway to the city. I wasn’t all that old, but I could remember when Boulton was just a little place, much like Erlanger is now. But it was less than a mile from the Interstate, and about fifteen years ago, it was surrounded and overwhelmed by the gigantic Boulton Park subdivision and its mall. That was when my parents picked up their kids and moved from Boulton to Erlanger.

The mall had two good restaurants, several fast food places, and one in-between with okay food and fairly quick service. That’s where we went, because Mom had put a lot of things on our agenda, and wasting time on an excellent meal wasn’t on her list. As soon as we’d eaten, we headed for Kaltendorf’s.

I hadn’t appreciated the range of JoieWear’s products. They had everything a woman could possibly need to dress herself from her skin on out, for any kind of weather in any climate. They produced a full line of cosmetics as well, and one of the JoieSpa salons was conveniently located in Kaltendorf’s. We wandered around the store in awe for half an hour before Mom dragged me away to a boutique near the other end of the mall that also carried JoieWear clothing. Although it was nice, it couldn’t compare with Kaltendorf’s. Since the other department store that Ms Gibson had mentioned was on the far side of the city, an additional hour from Erlanger, we decided that Kaltendorf’s was our place.

The next thing on Mom’s agenda was a set of breast forms. She took me to a shop that specialized in post-mastectomy products. I was glad to see that it was empty except for a pair of clerks when we arrived, as my apparent frivolity might not have been appreciated by genuine cancer survivors. One of the clerks, introducing herself as Lisa, came forward to greet us. Mom told her that we needed a pair of good breast forms.

When Lisa turned her practiced eye in Mom’s direction, Mom pointed to me. Lisa looked shocked and sorrowful as she turned to me. "Oh, you poor dear. So young…"

"He’s perfectly all right," Mom said, "except for his bad habit of making stupid bets."

"He? She’s a he?"

"Yes, she is. And he needs a pair of forms that can be attached to his skin, but they have to be easily removable, so he can go to work."

Lisa led us back through the shop to a dressing room. She left us there after telling me to remove my blouse and bra, returning almost at once with several flesh-colored objects in her hands. "Let’s try this size first," she said as she placed one of the objects over my left nipple. It had some kind of adhesive on it to keep it in place. "These aren’t real breast forms," she explained as she placed another object over my right nipple. "They don’t weigh anything -- they’re just to help you with sizing. With this pair, you’d have to wear a C-cup bra."

Mom looked at me. "I think they’re too large for his frame," she said to Lisa. "What do you think, Chris? Does your bet require you to be a sex bomb? With something like those, you’d have to buy a baseball bat to keep the men away."

I looked in the mirror. Wow! Of course they were just what I wanted, but I knew Mom was right. I didn’t want to draw crowds. "Let’s try something smaller," I said.

Lisa plucked the fake fakes from my chest and replaced them with another pair. "These will need a B-cup," she said.

"I think they’re better for him," Mom said. "Chris?"

"Um…yes." I said. They were better, though I really would have preferred the others…

We weren’t done, of course. Now we had to consider the real fakes, which came in quite a variety, ranging from cheap (and cheap-looking) to unbelievably expensive (but incredibly lifelike). After considerable comparison and discussion, we chose a natural-looking pair in about the middle of the price range. I lay down on a gurney and Lisa attached them to my chest. She then applied makeup to conceal the borders where I left off and my new equipment began.

When she was done, I sat up. My breasts felt surprisingly heavy -- they were the same weight as real ones, Lisa assured me. I walked over to the mirror and took a close look -- to me, they looked as natural as if I’d grown them. Mom looked at them carefully, too. We agreed that we’d made the right choice.

While I put on my bra and blouse, Mom gave Lisa her credit card. "You can repay me later," she said to me. It would have to be much later, I thought -- those things had cost a week of my pay, before taxes. We walked out with our main purchase on my chest and a supply of adhesive, solvent, and makeup in a small plastic bag. Lisa thanked us and wished me greater wisdom in my future wagers.

Our next stop was an intimate apparel shop. "They don’t carry JoieWear," Mom said, "but their prices are much better than Kaltendorf’s." We decided it would be interesting to have me professionally measured and fitted for new bras. I was afraid I’d be detected, but Mom told me not to worry -- if I was, she’d just use the bet-losing story again. As it happened, if the clerk had any suspicions, she kept them to herself. We bought two bras for me, both white -- one sort of utilitarian and one low-cut and lacy. We also bought half a dozen pairs of panties and four pairs of pantyhose in various colors. It was costing Mom a lot of money for me to collect my Fun Runner prize.

On our way out of the mall, we made one last stop, at an earring boutique, to have my ears pierced. "It’s hard to find a female above the age of seven who hasn’t had her ears pierced," Mom said. "In fact, it’s hard to find a male above the age of fourteen without an earring or two." We got some tiny gold studs, barely noticeable, for me to wear until my new ear holes healed, and three pairs of much more noticeable earrings to wear after that.

When we got home, around ten o’clock, we found Dad watching television. He turned it off when we came into the family room and Mom and I filled him in on the evening’s activities. After about fifteen minutes, I found myself yawning uncontrollably. One evening of shopping and I was exhausted. How would I ever survive a full day of it? I’d have to worry about that later. I excused myself and went up to my room to get ready for bed.

I’d just finished removing my makeup when I heard a knock on my door. It was Mom, with yet another purchase from her afternoon shopping -- a gorgeous satin nightgown in a beautiful shade of peach. "For you," she said. "Now you can know how the other half sleeps."

"Thank you, thank you!" I said as I hugged her. "But you’re much too good to me."

"I told you I’d always wanted a daughter," she said, "and I meant it."

I quickly disrobed, down to my panties, and pulled the nightgown on over my head. It was so pretty! I pirouetted in it and hugged Mom again.

After she left, I considered removing my new breasts but quickly decided not to. My new nightie wouldn’t look right without them -- besides, I was too tired. It could wait until morning. I set my alarm for fifteen minutes earlier than usual and immediately fell asleep.

*****

Brothers can be a pain in the proverbial hindquarters. Older brothers in particular. My older brothers, specifically.

As I mentioned earlier, I have four of them. Randy, the oldest, is six years older than I am. He’s Mister Macho Man (don’t forget the Mister), the Leader of the Pack, Fount of All Knowledge, and Giver of the Rules. A big team sports guy, completely self-centered and essentially oblivious of others (except he knows there’s a pack of them somewhere out there, because he’s the leader).

Steve, the second oldest, is a year younger than Randy. He’s the studious one, with a doctoral degree in molecular biology. He’s in no way athletic, but he was Randy’s most loyal follower as a kid, and he had a long record of bruises, sprains, and fractures to prove it.

Harry, numero tres, is the numero uno pain in the proverbial. He’s three years older than I am, an overachieving middle child. He endeared himself to me by referring to me as his "little sister" from the time he was eight until his senior year in high school. I don’t know why -- I’m sure he knew nothing about my crossdressing (which, in any event, didn’t start until he was fifteen). I guess it was just general principles. Anyway, when he was a senior and I was a freshman, he was told by Dad to cease and desist the name-calling under penalty of perpetual grounding. It worked.

Mike, my nearest brother, is two years my senior. He’s my best friend of the four, usually sympathetic and helpful (though not always -- he’s a brother). He didn’t know about my crossdressing, either -- none of them did. He was a team sports guy, too, and pretty good -- more skillful and resourceful than Randy, though neither as big nor as strong.

Every litter has its runt -- but you’ve already met me.

*****

For reasons I’ll never comprehend, Mom thought it would be a good idea to send my brothers copies of the newspaper article about my winning the Fun Runner award. She called the J-Trib and ordered four copies of that issue. Then, when I had my interview, she bought four extra copies of that issue, too. A day later, she clipped the articles from both papers and mailed a set to each brother.

The brotherly reactions were interesting if predictable. Harry was the first to react -- he called two nights after Mom mailed the clippings. I had the good fortune of picking up the phone, to be greeted with "Hi there, little sis! It looks like I had it right all along (chortle, chortle)!" I offered a few noncommittal murmurs and passed the phone on to Mom.

I don’t know exactly what he said to her, but I could guess pretty well from her end of the conversation: "Don’t talk like that…you know what your father said…you’re not too old -- you’re never too old" etc. "He didn’t have time to talk to you tonight," she said to Dad. "He’ll catch you next time. He says to give you his congratulations on the race," she said to me. I only wished he could have seen me, sitting there in full Chrissie regalia as I enjoyed a quiet evening with Mom and Dad.

Randy e-mailed Mom the next day. She showed me his note -- he was completely impervious to anything that didn’t originate in his own head. He asked her to congratulate me for doing so well in the race, but it apparently didn’t register on him that it had been a women’s race and (athletically speaking) I’d finished 224th. He said nothing at all about the second clipping, probably thinking that it concerned some friend of Mom’s and could be placed on the bottom of his "To Read" pile.

Steve’s letter arrived the following day. He understood perfectly well what had happened but thought it was all a big joke. I’d dressed as a woman and entered the race as a joke, and the fact that I’d won a prize was an even funnier joke.

Mike called that night. He talked to Mom first and Dad second, just a couple of minutes with each. Then he talked to me, reminiscing about our boyhood days for nearly half an hour. At the end, he made it clear he knew that I’d dressed and raced as a woman because that was what I’d wanted to do and that I’d accepted the prize because I’d wanted it. He understood, he sympathized, and he’d support any decision I made. I had tears in my eyes when our conversation ended.

Now my entire family knew about me -- even ostensibly impervious Randy when it registered on him, as it eventually would. Lisa-the-bosom-saleslady knew about me, too, though she had probably already forgotten me. Everyone in the world seemed to be becoming aware of Chrissie-the-woman.

*****

"Chrissie, Janet called me today," Mom said. She and Dad and I were eating dinner at one of the better restaurants in the Boulton Park Mall. There was no special occasion; we’d just decided to go out to dinner and a movie together. Mom had suggested that I needed to do more out in the world as Chrissie so I’d feel more at ease when I had my makeover and shop-a-rama. Not only that, but she’d decided I should be Chrissie full-time at home so she could coach me in feminine behavior. I was hardly ever Chris-the-man any more, except at work. I didn’t mind in the least.

"Who’s Janet?" I asked.

"Janet Gibson, from JoieWear. She’s getting a little antsy because you haven’t scheduled your makeover yet."

"What’s the rush?"

"The Fun Runner prize was her idea and JoieWear is planning a big advertising campaign around it. Her superiors are beginning to ask her if something’s wrong."

"What did you tell her?"

"I told her everything was fine, as far as I knew," Mom said. "I said you didn’t always tell me everything -- she knew what that was like -- and I told her I’d talk to you tonight and try to pin you down."

"Pin away, Mom."

Mom suddenly looked tired and sad. "Oh, dear -- I can’t do it. I’ve been thinking about this whole situation and I’ve realized that I’ve been putting too much pressure on you. I don’t want to pin you down. I want you to make your own decisions about what to do and when to do it and not just do what I tell you to do."

"You’ve only told me to do things I’ve really wanted to do."

"I’m glad to know that. So you really do want the makeover and shopping spree?"

"Yes, I really do." I paused. "But…"

"But what, dear?"

"Well," I said. I paused again. "When I go in for the makeover, they’ll do my hair and nails, won’t they?"

"Yes," Mom agreed. "Unless you tell them not to."

"So if I have the makeover Saturday and do the shopping Sunday, I’ll have to shave my head and cut off my fingernail extensions before I go to work Monday morning -- and I just couldn’t stand to do that!" I could feel tears welling in my eyes.

"Why don’t you take a vacation?" Dad suggested.

"I would if I could, but I’ve only had the job for six months, and you have to have been there a year to get vacation time."

"Are they busy at work now?"

"No; summers are quiet and there’s plenty of staff. They’d probably be glad to have me take a vacation if I could."

"I have a suggestion, honey," Dad said. Honey? "You’re still working for Paul Sawyer, aren’t you?"

"Yes." Paul was a friend of my brother Mike, and my parents had known him for years.

"Just talk to Paul tomorrow morning and ask him if you can take two weeks of leave without pay."

"But I can’t afford it," I said. "I owe Mom all kinds of money for the stuff she’s bought for me, and I have a car payment due."

"I have a serious need for a personal executive assistant for about two weeks," Dad said. "The same pay as you’re getting now, and you’re fully qualified for the job."

I was stunned. "Dad! Do you mean that?"

"Of course I do, honey. And it’s not charity -- I really do need some help on a project I’m doing, so you should use some of that shopping money on office outfits."

"Oh, Dad! You’re wonderful!" I leaped from my chair, hurried around the table, and gave him a kiss on the cheek and a hug that almost took his breath away.

"Does that mean you’re ready to schedule your makeover?" Mom asked as I returned to my seat.

"Oh, yes," I said happily. "I’m sure Paul will be glad to give me time off without pay."

"That’s good. I’m supposed to try to pin you down to Monday afternoon, with the shopping spree on Tuesday."

"That’s fine with me. Can we get an appointment?"

"We have one already -- Janet made it for us. One o’clock Monday afternoon. We can change it if we have to, but that’s what she’d like."

"Then that’s what I’d like, too," I said.

*****

When we got home from the movie, Mom went off to bed. Dad wanted to catch the news headlines at eleven, and I decided to keep him company. At 11:15, he asked me if I wanted to watch any more. I said, "No" and he turned the television off, but neither of us made a move to go upstairs.

"Is something still bothering you, Chrissie?"

"I’m not sure. Well, yes, but it’s sort of silly."

"If it’s bothering you, it’s not silly."

I blushed. "I’m afraid of…ah…exposing myself while I’m trying on clothes. Panties are pretty flimsy, and…"

"I get the picture," Dad said. "Did your mother have any suggestions?"

I blushed again. "I didn’t ask her," I said.

"That’s understandable. As it happens, I have something tucked away in the attic that might help you. Let’s go up and see if we can find it."

He led me up to the attic and looked around. "Ah, here it is," he said, pointing to an old footlocker that was serving as the foundation for a tower of boxes. We quickly removed the boxes. Dad took his key ring from his pocket, selected a small key, and unlocked the footlocker. He raised the lid and extracted a flesh-colored -- what was it?

"It’s called a dancer’s belt," Dad said. "Male ballet dancers wear them to protect themselves from injury when they’re lifting ballerinas. They also help to keep things from getting out of hand under those tight pants they wear. Do you see how it works?"

"I’m not sure."

"The dancer puts it on like a jock strap. This part goes around his waist. He puts his penis into that tube-like gizmo and then tightens everything up as tight as he can stand it. That pulls his penis back between his legs and pushes his balls up into his abdominal cavity. He can urinate without taking it off, but of course he has to sit down."

"It looks awfully uncomfortable," I said.

"It is, but you get used to it. The alternative is a panty-girdle, but that would look rather incongruous on a skinny young woman like you."

"Not as incongruous as this belt thing."

"You wear panties over it, dummy. Try it out when you get home tomorrow."

"Thanks, Dad -- you’ve been a big help, I think. How come you had this gadget?"

"I used to…ah…dance a little."

"No kidding?"

"No kidding. Are you all set now?"

"I think so," I said. I drew in a deep breath. "Dad, do you really -- really -- think I’m doing the right thing?"

He looked at me carefully. "Yes, Chrissie, I do. Nothing ventured…"

"Nothing lost," I finished.

"No, something important would be lost -- an opportunity that might never come your way again." He turned out the attic lights and we walked down the stairs.

"Here’s something else from my footlocker -- you might find it interesting," Dad said. He thrust a small book into my hands. "See you in the morning," he said as he slipped into his and Mom’s bedroom.

*****

It was late. I got undressed, cleaned off my makeup, and climbed into bed. I really wanted to go to sleep, but I just had to look at Dad’s book first. It turned out to be a photo album containing about twenty pictures. The first was a black and white snapshot of Mom and Dad, taken during their courtship or soon after their marriage, I thought. They looked young and happy. Mom’s dress looked familiar. I studied the photo and concluded that it was the cocktail dress that I’d saved from Goodwill and now had hanging in my closet.

The next photo showed Mom and Dad with another couple, about their age. I’d seen their picture before -- in fact, I’d even met them, years ago. They lived in another part of the country now, but they used to live near us. I couldn’t remember their name -- Benson or something like that.

The third photo, in color, showed two women standing with their arms around each other’s waists. The one not wearing Mom’s green cocktail dress was Mom. The one wearing it looked like someone I knew, but I couldn’t quite place her. I knew it wasn’t Aunt Christine. Mrs. Benson-or-whatever from the last picture? I compared the two photos carefully and ruled out Mrs. B. -- she wasn’t quite as tall as Mom, while the woman in the green dress was slightly taller. However, my comparison told me that the mystery woman was indeed a member of the second-photo quartet -- she was Dad! Now that truly blew my mind, but I was sure I was right.

I turned quickly to the next picture. It was Dad by himself, wearing a different dress. The following three or four photos were also of Dad alone, in a different outfit each time and looking increasingly pretty. Then came a shot of four women seated around a table in a restaurant -- Mom, Dad, Mrs. Benson -- no (I finally remembered), it was Bennett -- and Mr. Bennett! Amazing!

I kept looking. The next picture showed Mr. Bennett, in male attire, with his three lady friends. They were sitting at a very small table, next to a dance floor in what appeared to be a nightclub. The three pictures that followed showed Mom, then Mrs. Bennett, and finally Dad, each dancing with Mr. Bennett, who looked as if he were enjoying himself immensely in each photo.

In the next picture, Mom and Dad were standing together, Dad in a dress and Mom in a maternity dress, looking more than slightly pregnant. Then came Mom, holding a baby (presumably my brother Randy), followed by Dad, in a dress, holding the same baby. Next, three women (Mom, Dad, and Mr. Bennett) with Randy and then another trio (Mom, Dad, and Mrs. B.), with Dad holding Randy.

The collection ended with several more snapshots of Dad alone, dressed in various female outfits, and a final professional photo of her (I couldn’t think of him as "him" in that one) looking absolutely beautiful, dressed and made up to perfection.

I was astounded -- and I obviously wasn’t quite the gender pioneer I’d always thought myself to be. I had to leaf through the photos again before I could make myself turn out the light and go to sleep

*****

On Monday afternoon, just before one o’clock, I entered the Boulton Park Mall JoieSpa for my scheduled makeover -- a first-in-my-lifetime experience for me (and perhaps the challenge of their lifetimes for the beauticians). Before I arrived, I’d made a decision -- I’d let the JoieSpa ladies do whatever they wanted to do to me, and I’d worry about regaining my masculine appearance when my two weeks of leave were over. That was one of the wisest decisions I ever made.

After the beauticians finished their initial tsk-tsking assessment of my rough-hewn hair and stubby fingernails, they went right to work. We decided upon a hairstyle and I was shampooed, shorn, curled, and baked. My eyebrows were plucked and shaped. After I had a manicure and pedicure, my fingernails were lengthened with acrylic extensions and then painted, and my toenails were colored to match them. My face was transformed a dozen times with a series of daytime and nighttime looks that ranged from "that-sweet-young-thing-next-door" to "lock-up-your-sons-she’s-loose-again." When it was all over, several hours after it began, I staggered out of the spa under the weight of an immense load of cosmetics (all part of the Fun Runner prize), looking more gorgeous than I’d ever imagined could be possible. It was such fun! I loved it!

My remodeling was witnessed every step of the way by Mom and Ms Gibson, both of whom seemed to be having at least as much fun as I was. Ms Gibson had brought along a pair of JoieWear photographers to record every step in my metamorphosis. At the end, she accepted the spa’s bill without a quiver (I’m sure it was quite large). She put it all on a credit card and then gave substantial cash tips to the legion of ladies who’d worked on me.

After we stored the cosmetics in the car, Ms Gibson sent the photographers home and took Mom and me to a celebratory dinner at a nice (non-mall) restaurant in what the locals called "Old Town Boulton." This, I gathered, was her personal treat, separate from anything provided by the JoieWear company.

We were met at the restaurant entrance by a handsome young man of about 25. Ms Gibson introduced him to us as her son, Stuart, and told us he’d be joining us for dinner. That was a bit of a shock. Was he supposed to be a treat for me or was I supposed to be a treat for him? Neither, as it happened. He was in town on business from his Los Angeles office, unexpectedly, for just one day. Since he’d be leaving the next afternoon, his presence was really Ms Gibson’s treat for herself.

All well and good, but as the evening progressed, he seemed to be more interested in me than he was in his mother. Ms Gibson and Mom had been chatting away all through the meal, leaving me to fend for myself with Stuart. I didn’t know quite what to do, since I’d had no experience whatever with males in my female mode. I decided to be shy (which wasn’t a difficult thing for me to do), answering his questions with the minimum possible number of words. That didn’t work at all. Stuart was an interesting guy and a good conversationalist, and he drew me out of my shell before I realized what was happening to me. I soon felt as if I’d known him all my life, and we found no end of common interests to talk about. I tried to think carefully about what I was saying before I spoke, but before long I was semi-giddy and hoping, in my occasionally lucid moments, that I wouldn’t say anything that I’d regret later.

As we finished our desserts, Ms Gibson turned to me. "Chrissie," she said. "There’s something I’d like to discuss with you."

"Certainly," I said.

"I’d like to offer you a job with JoieWear," she said, "as a spokeswoman for the company and the Fun Runner prize program."

My life was becoming filled with surprises. "That’s very nice of you, Ms Gibson, and I really do appreciate the offer," I said. "But I already have a job."

"Do you like it?"

"Well…no, to tell the truth."

"That’s what I thought. Do you mind telling me how much you earn now?"

My current salary was embarrassingly low. I told her what it was anyway.

"I can offer you $18,000 more per year than you’re making now," Ms Gibson said.

I could feel my eyes opening wide. I hesitated.

"Twenty thousand," Ms Gibson said. "And a fifty percent employee discount on all JoieWear products, including spa services."

"That’s really generous," I said. "What do you think, Mom?"

Mom didn’t hesitate. "I think you should take it."

"If you want my opinion, I think so, too," Stuart said.

"I’m really tempted to make it unanimous," I said, "but I have a couple of questions. What does the job involve? And why me?"

"Why you? For two reasons -- what you did and the excellent qualities you have," Ms Gibson said. "You’re the very first winner of the Fun Runner prize, and that means a lot."

"But that was just luck," I said. "I was one of a hundred and forty-something who qualified for the prize, and the computer just happened to pick my number."

"Don’t knock luck," Ms Gibson said. "Especially when it’s good luck for both you and JoieWear. You’re pretty, bright, and well spoken, you’re photogenic, and you have a gorgeous smile. Doesn’t she, Stu?"

"I’ve never seen a more gorgeous one," Stuart replied. I tried to frown at him, but he mock-frowned back and my scowl turned into a smile, hopefully gorgeous.

"I’d hoped to be able to make this offer to the first winner," Ms Gibson said. "If she hadn’t been someone like you, I’d probably have engaged a professional model instead. As for the job itself, you’ll be my assistant and you’ll help me publicize the Fun Runner prizes -- and, of course, JoieWear. We’ll attend all the races where Fun Runner prizes will be awarded. You’ll give newspaper and television interviews before the races and you’ll present the prizes to the winners. You can even run in the races if you’d like to -- and I hope you will."

"It sounds wonderful," I said. "Do I have to make a decision right now, or can I think about it for a day or two?"

"By all means, think about it. Call me if you have any questions at all. If you decide to take the job, I want you to do it because you’re convinced it’s a marvelous opportunity for you."

"I’m already convinced of that," I said. "I just want to talk to my dad before I make a decision."

"That’s fine, dear. Just let me know in a day or two. We’ll have so much to get started on if you do come aboard -- and I’ll have to find someone else right away if you don’t."

The waiter brought the check and Ms Gibson glanced at it and gave him her credit card. A few minutes later, we were standing outside the restaurant, exchanging our goodnights. "I hope you’ll take the job," Stuart said as we shook hands. "If you do, you’ll be spending quite a bit of time at JoieWear headquarters in Los Angeles, and I can show you the sights of my fair city."

"I’d like that," I said. "I hear that there are lots of sights to see there."

"That’s true," he said, "so I’ll get to spend lots of time showing them to you."

*****

Mom and I talked things over all the way home. As she had told me at the restaurant, she thought I should accept Janet Gibson’s offer, and she hadn’t said that just to make conversation. She really thought I should take the job.

"But, Mom," I argued. "I’d have to live full-time as a woman. Twenty-four hours, every day."

"I know."

"I’m not sure I could do it. Oh, I could try -- but what if I’m discovered? That would be terribly embarrassing. Not so much for me -- it wouldn’t bother me that much -- but for Ms Gibson and JoieWear."

"I don’t think you need to worry about that," Mom said. "You’re very convincing."

"Do you really think so?"

"I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t."

"Do you want me to be a woman? You said that you and Dad had hoped I’d be a girl, but…"

"I want you to be happy," Mom said. "I’ve noticed for the last year or so that you’ve been restless, unhappy with your job and everything else. You’ve cut yourself off from all your friends. I’d been worried about you -- but you’ve been a different person for the last few days."

"Of course I have -- I’ve been Chrissie," I said.

"And Chrissie is a lot different from Chris -- much happier and more interested in life. That’s why I think a few months as Chrissie would be a good change for you. You’ll have a chance to see some new places and have some new experiences. My advice is to not take things too seriously, but try being Chrissie for a little while and see how you like it."

"I like the idea," I said. "I think I could handle the job all right, and the salary would be fabulous. I like Ms Gibson, and I think I’d enjoy working for her -- a lot more than the job I have now."

"What about Stuart?" Mom said.

"What about him?"

"That young man was really taken with you, Chrissie," Mom said.

"Do you think so?"

"I know so -- and I think you may have been a bit taken with him, too."

"I don’t know, Mom," I said. "I haven’t figured that out yet."

"You’ll have to be very careful not to lead him on to places he can’t go…or where you don’t want to go. It wouldn’t be fair to him -- or Janet -- or you." With that, she made a sharp right and I looked up to see that we were rolling down Robbins Nest Lane, with our front porch visible in the headlights.

*****

Mom and I were both tired and ready to get some sleep before the shopping onslaught the next morning, but Dad wanted to get at least a condensed account of our evening. First, though, he had to check out the new -- or at least repainted -- me. "Very nice," he said when he finished his appraisal. "They did a good job on you, Chrissie -- but of course they had good material to work on."

"That’s me -- a good old material girl," I said. "A chip off the old blockette."

"We’d hardly left the salon before she acquired a boyfriend," Mom said. "Janet Gibson’s son, Stuart," she continued when she saw Dad’s eyebrow go up. "He joined us for dinner, and I think he has a thing for our daughter."

"He has good taste," Dad said.

"And Chrissie has a job offer at more than twice her present salary," Mom added. "I’ll let her tell you all about it, because I’m going to bed. Don’t keep her up too late -- we have a hard day coming up tomorrow."

With that, she left me to give Dad the details on my makeover, dinner, Stuart, and Ms Gibson’s job offer, and then we rehashed all the concerns that Mom and I had raised during the drive home. "Quite an evening," Dad said at last.

"What do you think, Dad? Should I take the job?"

"It sounds like a good opportunity for you, honey," he said. "More possibilities than the job you have now, and a lot more money besides."

"Would you take it, if you were in my place?"

"I honestly don’t know, Chrissie. I never really wanted to be a woman -- I just enjoyed dressing up once in a while -- but it was intoxicating. I sense that things may be a little different for you."

"They may be," I said. "They probably are. I’m just not sure."

"There’s not much in life you can be sure of. Ask yourself two questions. If you take the job with JoieWear, are you likely to lose anything you couldn’t stand to be without? Are you likely to gain anything that will make your life better and more meaningful?"

"That’s the easiest quiz I’ve ever had. No and yes."

"Sleep on it, Chrissie. Consider all the possibilities. Then make your decision and don’t ever look back."

*****

The whirlwind was over. With its final gasp, it blew Mom and me and our last armloads of JoieWear purchases into the house, where we dropped everything and collapsed on the family room sofa. We kicked off our shoes and groaned.

"That was fun," Mom said. "Don’t you think so?"

"I can’t believe I’m saying this," I said, "but yes, it was fun!"

It had all been fun, something I really hadn’t expected. Somehow, spending hours and hours just going through rack after rack of clothes, choosing things I really, really liked and wanted to try on from all the possibilities that I only liked, and then actually trying them on…that hadn’t seemed like it would be fun, but with Mom egging me on and advising me, it was!

It had been educational, too. I’d always thought of a thousand dollars as an incredibly large amount of money until Mom said, on the way to the mall, "I thought it might be a good idea to put together a shopping list, just to give us some focus. I estimated prices, and if we stay away from JoieWear’s higher-priced lines and look for things on sale, I think we can get everything you need for about $2,500."

I was flabbergasted. "You’ve got to be kidding," I said.

"No. A thousand dollars is great if you’re just adding to your wardrobe, but you need everything, an entire wardrobe -- clothes for work, for hanging around the house, for your social life. Enough to go for a week or ten days between launderings. Even $2,500 is really the bare minimum."

"I can’t believe it. What am I going to do?"

"It depends. If you’re going to turn Janet down and just be our occasional daughter, the thousand dollars will buy all you’ll really need for that. If you decide to take the job and live as a woman, you’ll have to spend at least $2,500."

"I was going to tell her I’d take the job, but I don’t have that kind of money. It will take me months to save up that much."

"Then take it, dear," she said. "Don’t worry; I’ll help you out. I’ve always wanted a daughter to spoil, and now I’ve got one."

"Thanks so much, Mom."

"Don’t mention it. It will give me even more pleasure than it will you. One thing, though."

"What’s that?" I asked.

"Janet might get suspicious if we actually bought you an entire wardrobe, so we’ll shop today as if we were just adding things. We’ll go out again in a day or two -- just the two of us -- and buy your basic wardrobe then."

"Okay," I said. "That sounds good to me."

When we arrived at Kaltendorf’s, Ms Gibson and her photographers were there to greet us. "Are you ready to go, Chrissie?" she asked.

"I’m all set," I said. "Do you have the starter’s pistol?"

"What? Oh, I get you." She chuckled. "I wish I’d thought of that. Maybe I can borrow one from the sporting goods department, and we can take a picture later."

"Before I begin, Ms Gibson…"

"It’s Janet, Chrissie. You don’t need to be formal with me."

"Not even when I’m your assistant?"

"Not even then, dear. Does that mean you’ve decided to take the job?"

"Yes," I said. "I know I’ll love working for you and JoieWear."

"That’s wonderful, Chrissie. I’m so glad you’ve made that decision. It will take me a few days to take care of the paperwork and put you on the payroll…"

"That’s fine. I’d actually like to start in two weeks, if that’s all right. I have to give notice on my present job."

"Of course," Janet said. "But since you’re so close to being on the payroll, I have the authority to give you your fifty percent employee discount. So, that means you’ll have to get through a two thousand dollar spending spree today. Are you up to it?"

"I think so," I said. "I’ve got an expert helping me out."

"Then get to it, Chrissie. I’ll just watch."

"Okay," I said. "Let’s start with dresses, Mom."

"All right," Mom said. I started toward a rack of lower-priced dresses, but Mom caught my arm and steered me to a higher-priced assortment. We looked through the display, picked out three dresses to try on, and took them into a dressing room.

"Aren’t these a little too expensive?" I whispered as I took off my blouse and skirt.

"We’ve gone to Plan B," Mom whispered back.

"What’s that?"

"Since you’ve just had your prize money doubled, we’re going to go for higher quality today -- we’ll get some really nice things. Then, when you and I go out to complete your wardrobe, we’ll probably be able to finish up for a thousand dollars or so -- and that will be my pleasure."

With a little effort, we managed to make two thousand dollars disappear by mid-afternoon. I tried on more things than I can remember, with the JoieWear photographers recording every change of clothing. We bought dresses, skirts, tops, two suits, three pairs of shoes (JoieWear has everything!), pantyhose, some really pretty bras and panties, a nightgown and robe set, slacks, shorts, a jacket, and a raincoat. With sales taxes, it all came to just under twenty-one hundred dollars. Mom started to pull out her credit card, but Janet waved her off and signed for the full amount.

"There’ll be more," Janet said. "The marketing people will have specific outfits they’ll want you to wear for your interviews and award ceremonies, but they’ll make decisions about them later, when we start to travel to the races. Just save some space in your closet!"

"I will!" I said. "This is wonderful."

The Kaltendorf’s manager came by to be photographed with me. Once that formality had been completed, she waved her hand and two husky male employees materialized. They loaded our purchases onto a mobile clothing rack, wheeled it to our car, and somehow managed to fit everything into the trunk and back seat. We thanked Janet again, said our temporary adieus, and headed for home.

*****

The next morning I got up two hours early, bathed, and shaved off everything that looked like it was -- or was thinking of becoming -- a hair. I put on one of my new suits and a crisp white blouse, pantyhose, and my new pumps with two-inch heels. I brushed my hair into place (not difficult with my new permanent wave) and made myself up carefully, doing my utmost to reproduce the look that the JoieSpa beautician had recommended for the office. When I was done, I checked myself out in the mirror. I didn’t look quite as pretty as I had in the salon, but I came reasonably close to that ideal -- it was the best I’d ever done by myself, and I was sure I’d get better with practice.

I came downstairs, poured a glass of orange juice, and made myself some toast and coffee. When I was done, I put my dishes in the dishwasher, touched up my lipstick, picked up my purse, and started toward the door.

"Good morning, Chrissie. Where are you going, all dressed up, so early in the morning?"

I turned around. "Good morning, Dad. I’m dressed for my first day as your personal executive assistant -- I want to look nice for you."

"You look very nice, honey -- but aren’t you going to wait for me?"

"I’ll meet you at your office. I have something I have to do, and I’ve already missed two days of work with the makeover and shopping, so I thought I’d take care of it early and try to get started on time this morning."

"That’s fine -- but I wouldn’t fire you if you were a few minutes late."

"Actually, I’m going to drop in on my old office, so I can give Paul my notice and clean out my desk. He always comes in early, so I can talk to him and be gone before I have to explain myself to everybody else."

"That’s fine. Take as much time as you need, and I’ll see you when I see you."

"Thanks, Dad. I don’t think I’ll be late."

My office was only about fifteen minutes from home. When I pulled into the parking lot, there was only one car there ahead of me -- Paul Sawyer’s red Toyota. Despite all my complaints about my job, Paul wasn’t a bad guy. He and my brother Mike had always hung out together, and I’d known him forever. Mike had suggested I call him when I was job-hunting -- I suspect he’d put a word in for me, because Paul hadn’t seemed surprised to hear from me, and he’d offered me an entry-level job right away.

I parked my car and went into the building. The big room where my group worked was empty and the overhead lights were off. Paul’s office -- the little room at the far end -- was lighted. I walked across the big room and stuck my head into Paul’s office. He was completely absorbed in his work and hadn’t heard me coming, though I’d made no effort to be quiet.

Rather than give him a heart attack, I stepped back a few paces and called, "Good morning, Paul!" Then I stepped forward again and stood in his doorway.

He had a blank look on his face. "Uh…good morning," he said. "Do I know you?"

"It’s me, Chris. Chris Robbins."

"Chris? My god! What are you…? Why are you dressed like that?"

"I’ve been trying to find myself…and I think I’ve succeeded."

"Holy smoke! Excuse me, Chris -- this is the last thing I was expecting this morning. You’ve become a woman? You’ve had a sex change?"

"No -- not yet, anyway. I’m going to explore living as a woman," I said. "I don’t have any idea where I’m going to end up."

"My god! I remember Harry used to call you his little sister. I thought it was kind of mean, but I had no idea…"

"Neither did Harry. It was just his way of teasing me."

"So why are you here? I thought you were taking leave for a couple of weeks."

"I came in to give notice and clean out my desk," I said. "I’ve accepted another job."

"I’m…uh…sorry to hear that," Paul said. "You’ve been doing good work for us. I know it’s been sort of boring and crappy, but you’ve done it well." He laughed.

"What’s so funny?"

"This," he said. "I just signed it, just before you walked in." He took a piece of paper off his desk and gave it to me. I stared at it. It was a letter to me, telling me that I was being promoted and given a substantial raise (though nothing like twenty thousand dollars).

I gave the letter back to him. "That is funny," I said. "If you’d given this to me a month ago…who knows? I guess you’ll want to tear it up now."

"No; not necessarily," Paul said. "If you want to stay, the promotion and raise are yours."

"Like this?"

"Just as you are. What do you say?"

"I say, ‘Thank you, but I can’t.’ I’ve agreed to start my new job a week from Monday, and it’s too exciting to even consider changing my mind."

"Then all I can say is good luck -- I hope it works out well for you. And if it doesn’t, and you want to come back here, I’ll do my best to find a place for you."

"Thanks, Paul. I appreciate that."

"You’re welcome. And…uh…now that we’re no longer supervisor and employee, how about getting together for a drink some evening? I’d like to know how you’re doing."

Was he coming on to me? Oh, my! "That would be nice," I said, "but I’m going to be really busy for the next few days, and I’ll be doing some traveling on my new job. Why don’t you call me in about two weeks, when I have a better idea of my schedule?"

"I’ll do that," Paul said. "Good luck." We shook hands and I went off to remove my few personal belongings from my desk.

*****

My next stop on the great road of life was Dad’s office. I arrived before he did, but the receptionist wouldn’t let me in until he got there. I gave her my name, but I wasn’t on his appointment list.

"Christine Robbins," she said. "Are you a relative?"

"Yes," I said, but I didn’t want to elaborate because I had no idea what Dad might have told people at work about his family. She told me I could wait for him in the reception area -- I had no problem with that. I sat down and picked up a magazine, and Dad walked in about two minutes later. He told the receptionist that I was his favorite daughter and I’d be helping him out for a few days, so she should let me come and go as I wished.

Dad took me back into his work area and introduced me to the people who worked for him. He said that I was his daughter, temporarily between jobs, and that I’d be helping him for a few days with two or three tasks connected with his most urgent project. He showed me a vacant desk near his office -- one of his former employees had been promoted and transferred but not yet replaced -- and told me that I could sit there and use the desktop computer. Then he took me into his office and spent about half an hour telling me about the first task that he wanted me to work on.

He gave me some papers, and I took them back to my desk and looked them over. The task wasn’t particularly difficult, but it would take me two or three days. I needed to track down some information, organize it into a database, do some simple analyses, and incorporate the results into a presentation. These were all things I’d done (and enjoyed doing) in college, and I didn’t think I’d have any difficulty in completing the work by Friday afternoon.

Everything went smoothly. The data I needed was right where Dad had said it was likely to be, and I was familiar with the database software. By the end of the day, I’d set up the database and was ready to begin working on my data analysis.

Two of the women in the office, Madison and Tyler, invited me to join them for lunch. We went to a nice little restaurant, just a five-minute walk down the street. They were good company and I was glad they’d asked me along, but it didn’t take me long to detect a hidden agenda. They seemed concerned about the possibility of nepotism, though they talked around that subject by asking me what I was going to do after I finished helping Dad. They seemed quite pleased to hear that I really, truly was going on to a completely different job and excited to learn that I’d be working on JoieWear’s Fun Runner prize program.

"I read about you in the paper," Maddie said. "I wondered if you might be related to Mr. Robbins, but I never asked him."

"You’re so lucky!" Ty said. "I was in that race myself, but I didn’t win anything."

"I was lucky," I said. "I didn’t know a thing about the prize until I saw my name in the paper. It was a total shock to me." I told them I was wearing part of my prize, and they admired my new suit and blouse. We decided to lunch together again the next day, and I promised to wear another selection from my prize (it wasn’t as if I had anything else to wear!).

Late in the day, Frank Hawkins -- one of Dad’s employees, about my age -- dropped by my desk to see if I needed any help with the database software. I didn’t, but I let him give me a few useful tips anyway. He wasn’t a blowhard trying to impress the new girl -- he was quite knowledgeable (an expert trying to impress the new girl). In the end, he conceded that I seemed to be doing quite well on my own, and he wandered back to his own desk after getting me to promise to let him know if I had any problems with any of the company’s software.

It had been an eventful day, and it wasn’t quite over. Mom and I were cleaning up after dinner when the phone rang. She picked it up, listened for a moment, and said, "She’s right here, Stuart," as she passed the phone to me.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Chrissie. This is Stu -- Stu Gibson."

"Hi, Stu. Where are you?"

"I’m back in Los Angeles. My mother says you’ve decided to take the JoieWear job."

"Yes -- I accepted it yesterday."

"That’s great -- I think you’ll enjoy working with Mom. She’s a terrific person -- she can even put up with me."

"She seems to bear the burden pretty well."

"Yeah -- she’s all right. Anyway, I’ll be picking you and Mom up at the airport, and…"

"What airport?" I said.

"LA International. Mom did tell you you’d be doing some traveling, didn’t she?"

"Yes, but…"

"She’s going to bring you out here to meet her bosses and start working on expanding the Fun Runner prize program. You’ll be flying out two weeks from Friday -- that’ll give you a couple of days to get over your jet lag before you meet the high panjandrums Monday."

"Okay, but…"

"You’ll get out here in plenty of time for dinner, so I’ll take you and Mom to your hotel and then we’ll all three go out to dinner. I’ve made reservations at a great little place I found in Beverly Hills. Mom will probably want to go back to the hotel after that, but I thought you and I could go dancing, if you’re not too tired. Do you like to dance?"

"Oh, yes…" I said.

"Terrific. It’ll be fun. There’s nothing better than dancing for curing jet lag. Then we can do some sightseeing on the weekend…"

"I think I’m exhausted," I said.

"Hey, we don’t have to do that much sightseeing, not all at once," Stu said. "We’ll have several evenings and another weekend before you go back. Maybe we can go to the beach Sunday -- the water’s too cold for swimming, but the tanning and the people watching are both great."

"That sounds good," I said.

"Great!" He was all wound up, semi-hyper, and he rattled off more entertainment ideas than I could keep track of before he finally rang off.

I hung up the phone. "Mom!" I said. She was watching me, with a faint motherly smile on her face. "Mom, we’ve got to get me some more clothes! And I need a bathing suit!"

"All right," Mom said. "We can go to Kaltendorf’s tomorrow night."

"And I need to learn how to dance! Backwards! In heels! Can you teach me?"

"Of course I can, dear. Who do you think taught your father?"

*****

It’s Sunday night. Tomorrow morning I’ll make my way into the city and report for my first day of work as Janet Gibson’s assistant. I’m not sure how much I’ll enjoy commuting, so next weekend I’ll probably look for an apartment not too far from the office. That would finally give Mom and Dad an empty Robbins nest -- but I’m not sure I could trust them on their own, without my moderating influence…

I’m not sure what my long-term career goals are, but I’m really looking forward to my new job with JoieWear. If it doesn’t work out, it’s nice to know I have two other possibilities -- a new, improved version of my old job or a place in Dad’s company. He liked my work and said he was sure he’d be able to find a spot for me (as Chrissie or Chris -- my choice) if that prospect appealed to me. I wouldn’t be working for him -- the company had a firm anti-nepotism policy -- but he knew other managers who’d hire me on his recommendation. That’s three job possibilities, all better than the one I had when I ventured to run in that ladies’ 10K.

I’m not sure what my long-term gender goals are, either. As of tonight, I plan to live as Chrissie for the next year and see how everything turns out. It’s quite a leap from occasional closet crossdresser to full-time female -- but I think I’ll enjoy it, and I certainly want to try.

And what about Stu? For that matter, what about Paul? And then there’s Frank, who stopped by my desk several more times during my stint as Dad’s executive assistant. Last Friday, he let it be known that he’d like to see more of me in the future. I suggested that he call me after I return from Los Angeles.

I’ve never had a date with a man, and now I find myself with three potential boyfriends, one of whom even knows my history. Back in my closeted days, I never felt any desire to date a man -- but that was Chris, and Chrissie feels something else, something beyond her experience but not her comprehension. Where will it all end? Who knows? But this is my golden opportunity to experiment a little, to find out who I am and what I’m all about.

After all, as my dad says, "Nothing ventured…"

 

 

 

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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.