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Zelda

by Abby Rhodes

One

  

Yvette slipped on her very best panties, the black stretch tulle ones with the flowers embroidered here and there, but especially there. She chose those panties, the matching bra and the matching garter belt quite carefully, the same way she chose her black stockings, selecting the finest nylon with the lace tops, straight from the packet to her legs that were newly waxed and polished. All twenty of her nails were a dark, blood red.

She put on the new three-inch black patent pumps and took a look in the mirror. Not bad for thirty-three she thought, all that worry and stress means I don't eat and walking to work helps me keep toned.

Most men with functioning libidos would have agreed that she was quite desirable.

"This is insane," she said out loud. "How the hell did I get talked into a girl's night out? What was I thinking of?"

Her old friend Barbara had finally convinced Yvette to go out with their other two friends, Donna and Rosa, thereby making up a foursome with three girls who had a reputation for man-hunting in bars and clubs. They were all in their early thirties, all good-looking and free, but Yvette wasn't at all sure she could keep up with them on a Friday night.

"Stop it," she said. "You haven't been out since Matt left. It's time to get back into the real world. You don't have to flirt, just have a drink and a snack and enjoy. For Christ's sake loosen up." She was getting tired of making motivational speeches to herself when it as obvious she wasn't listening.

She did her make-up a little heavier than she usually did and put on the black dress in layered chiffon with the uneven hem and the low neckline. She took another look at herself in the mirror and she knew she looked good. Her dark hair touched her shoulders and the sparkling green eyes and red lips added up to an attractive package.

She thought for a moment that maybe she should pick someone up. God knows it had been a long time since someone took care of her need for a serious fuck. It was one thing she'd missed since Matt left her a good fucking that left her knees weak and her eyes crossed. And that was why she'd gone to so much trouble to look her best tonight. She might be making a late and hesitant return to the mating game, but she was going to look the part.

"Fuck you, Matt. Why did you leave me? What happened?" It had been six months since Matt had walked out of their two year relationship and she still had no idea why he'd gone. As far as she knew there was no other woman, or man, and she found it incomprehensible. They were so well suited for each other, but he'd just gone overnight.

The thought depressed her and she shook her head to clear it. She picked up her purse and put a lipstick and a credit card in it. She left the house lights on for later and went through the garage, climbed into her compact and headed for Louie's Bar and Grill.

 

Louie's was classed as a singles hangout by singles and a family restaurant by families and Louie did a brilliant job of catering for everybody. He did it by creating little areas within the place that separated one group from the next so that the girls would not be unnecessarily disturbed by a stag night in the next area and the stags could roar but not disturb the City Fathers gathered to spend good taxpayer dollars on a slap-up meal at Louie's. The common meeting ground was the bar. It was circular and formed a central and neutral area in the enormous room where the guys and the girls would bump into each other and start various mating rituals with a view to sex before the end of the evening.

Yvette parked her car and wandered inside, looking out for the other girls. She spotted them to the right and waved as Barbara looked over and saw her crossing the floor. There was kissing as she sat down on the plush red seat and she inspected the other girls, as they inspected her, to see how they stacked up.

They'd gone to similar serious lengths to dress up and there was a lot of cleavage on show. Their cosmetics had taken a thrashing as well. Overall, there seemed no reason why they all couldn't get a guy without much effort. Barbara, Donna and Rosa were already checking out every male who walked by and seemed to be grading them from one to ten.

"Looks like a prime market tonight, girls," said Barbara. "I believe we might be in luck. Oooh, look at that guy. Christ, he's gorgeous. Look at those buns, the way they move against his pants. Oooh, I'm getting hot early tonight."

Donna laughed. "Easy, Barb. You'll peak too early and there's plenty of time. Hey, now that's my idea of a hunk." The guy with the blonde hair smiled at them all but Donna assumed the smile was directed only at her. He wasn't more than thirty or so but Donna would have no hesitation in dragging him under the table. Yvette, on the other hand, needed a few drinks under her belt before she could feel comfortable about flirting with strangers.

A bartender wearing a name tag that claimed he was Zac appeared in front of them. He didn't speak because he knew women, without exception, could not concentrate on a drink order until they'd taken in the tight white t-shirt and tighter black trousers and short black apron that didn't seem to be capable of hiding a certain bulge. He waited patiently until Barb shook her head and ordered a Bloody Mary.

"Anything for the rest of you ladies?" he inquired. They came to and ordered cocktails. Yvette went for a Harvey Wallbanger, but she had trouble taking her eyes off Zac's apron. As Zac went back to the bar with the orders she said, "Is that real or has he got a salami hidden in his underpants?"

"Ask Rosa," said Donna.

"My friend Angela took Zac for a ride one night a few weeks back," said Rosa. She said he probably has calluses on the inside of his left knee from his dick banging on it. Not just big, but well employed she said. Gave him a twenty-seven out of ten. I should be so lucky. I might point my cleavage at him and see what happens."

"I thought the Chief of Police had declared your cleavage an unconcealed weapon," said Barbara. "God knows there are enough men trying to lose themselves in it."

"The Chief of Police lusts after me. He says he wants to interrogate me one Tuesday night with a view to talking the pants off me."

The others laughed. Rosa had a reputation for being talked out of her panties without much effort.

Yvette took her drink in her hand as Zac returned. She had a terrible urge to reach out and stroke Zac's apron despite the fact she was still stone cold sober. She stopped herself and smiled her best smile at Zac, who failed to notice her charms. He looked over toward the party going on in the adjacent area and saw that the alcohol was being used properly. The party was going hard and loud. There were about twelve women laughing raucously and shouting at one another. Yvette peered through the bushy but effective barrier between the groups and caught a glimpse of a pair of four hundred dollar shoes.

"Those are guys, Yvette," said Rosa. They're a bunch of cross-dressers who meet here every Friday night for drinks and food and to swap make-up tips. It's kind of weird but the one's I've spoken to seem quite nice. Good-looking, some of them. Well, here's to getting laid, girls." Rosa held up her Grasshopper and they all clinked their glasses.

"Hey, why don't we make it interesting?" said Donna. "What about a prize for the first of us to score? A bottle of champagne? A night in Acapulco with George Clooney?"

"I'll go with the champagne," said Barb.

"Me too," said Donna. "Are you in, Yvette?"

"Why not?" she said. "I must say I'm finding these guys in here attractive. That Zac is just asking for his dick to be stroked and there are three or four others who deserve me as well. Yup. Champagne it is. Get Zac back here, Rosa, I need another drink. "

Rosa drained her glass and waved it towards Zac, who didn't see her for a moment or two, and then he came over and cleared the empty glasses onto his tray.

"Same again, ladies?"

Three yeses and a straight vodka and ice for Barb this time. Their eyes were so firmly fixed on Zac's bulge that he noticed and blushed before he went. "I'd really like to get that in me," said Donna. "Just once for the experience. Hey, Yvette, you're on the end. Can you chase Zac and get me a white wine as well? Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Thanks, doll."

Yvette got up and caught Zac as he reached the bar. She gave the order and he wrote it down. She found herself standing next to an attractive woman in a dark blue satin dress. It was full-length with a halter neckline and accessorised with diamante jewellery. Her hair was dark and her red lipstick was glossy and wet-looking. Her eyes were green and sparkled and long lashes sat below smoky eye-shadow.

The woman turned her head away quickly but Yvette saw her long enough to take her in and think she'd seen her before. The woman turned and headed towards the table next to Yvette's. She recognised the shoes she'd seen through the shrubbery between the seating areas.

This was a guy? That gorgeous woman was a male? Impossible. She must be a wife or sister. Guys simply couldn't look that good. But she was sort of familiar. Yvette's thoughts were interrupted by the blonde-haired guy they'd assessed and marked as an 8 earlier on. He smiled and introduced himself.

"Hi, I'm Robert. I haven't seen you in here before have I? I'm sure I'd have remembered such an attractive lady."

Yvette was nonplussed for a moment. This was her first mating encounter in a long time and for a second she didn't quite know how to respond, but finally said, "Hello, Robert. I'm Yvette. It's nice to meet you. So, do you come here often, Robert?"

"Louie's is my second home," he responded. "I come here Fridays to meet people and I have a friend who plays in the band."

"The band?"

"There's a rock band starts around eleven on Fridays. They're quite good. I wouldn't mind a dance later, Yvette. Are you planning on being here long?"

"Err, maybe. I haven't planned that far ahead, but it's a possibility. Ask me again if you see me here after the band starts. Right now, I need to rejoin my friends."

She headed back to the table, where the others started in on crude remarks about how Yvette had been pretending to be shy all along and wondering what kind of champagne she liked.

"Does anyone actually know Robert?" she asked.

No-one did, although they'd all seen him at Louie's from time to time.

They consumed the new round and called for more. Yvette was feeling decidedly light-headed as she stood up go to the restroom. As she opened the door she banged into the dark-haired girl in the blue satin dress she'd seen earlier. This time there was no mistake. She looked full on into her eyes and was positive she knew her.

"Don't I know you?" she asked.

"I don't think so," was all the girl said as she went past. Yvette was certain she knew her, but couldn't think of her name or where she knew her from.

When she got back to the table she found the girls demolishing a huge plate of finger food. There were more drinks and then the girls started to seriously select guys they'd been eyeing all evening with a view to a liaison of a sexual nature. The reverse was also true and guys started visiting their table and chatting to them. Robert re-appeared as the band opened up with My Sharona and Yvette went off to the small dance floor with him and found herself jammed hard against him as she tried to move in the crowd jammed onto 100 square feet of floor.

Yvette liked Robert. He was a nice guy and bright and funny. By the time she'd spent a couple of hours with him drinking and dancing, and the other girls had met him and given her approval signs, she was ready to say, "Take me home and fuck me, Robert."

She didn't quite put it like that, but he did go home with her and they screwed until the sun came up. Yvette loved the whole evening, night and morning and when Robert left at around ten the next day they arranged to meet later that week or again at Louie's on Friday night.

Yvette didn't mention to Robert that halfway through their final round of sex that morning her eyes flew open and she stared over his shoulder with alarm as she remembered who the girl in the blue satin dress was. Matt!

Once Robert had gone home she returned to her thoughts about Matt. Was it him? She was sure it was. You didn't live that close to someone for two years without picking up on little things like ear lobes, profile, nose shape and general carriage. It's how people recognise other people at a distance, even in a large crowd.

She brought back the image of the girl at the entrance to the restroom. Was it Matt? Then she remembered how the woman turned her face quickly away at the bar. She thought she was right but her biggest problem was reconciling the Matt she knew so well with the girl in the blue dress. She was interrupted by the doorbell ringing and it was Barbara calling by with a bottle of champagne. "You won this fair and square, honey. Was he good? Do you like him? "

Yvette blushed and laughed. "Yes to all of those questions, Barb. In fact, you didn't miss him by much. To answer your next question, yes, I will see him again."

"Good girl. My faith in you was not misplaced. So we'll see you at Louie's next Friday?'

"Yes, you will." Yvette frowned slightly. There were now a couple of reasons for going to Louie's on Friday.

 

The following Friday, Yvette dressed much as she had the week before, except for a new pair of black lace panties. For luck, she thought. Robert had called several times and was looking forward to Friday as well.

She had mixed emotions about the evening. She was looking forward to seeing Robert again but she was equally looking forward to fronting up to the woman she thought was Matt. During the week her certainty it was Matt had lessened a little but she needed to find out. She kept thinking, 'Is he gay, is this why he left me?' She had a need to find out, a need that was becoming stronger than her need to see Robert again.

Barb picked her up at eight and by twenty past they were clinking glasses with Rosa and Donna again. Robert wouldn't be there until around nine-thirty and Yvette intended to confront Matt before then. Assuming he was there, of course.

He was there, or at least the dark-haired girl was and Yvette spotted her early on with the same group but sitting on the opposite side of the room tonight. The girl was talking to another woman who Yvette assumed was a wife or partner. There was no way the svelte blonde was a guy. She even had doubts about the woman she thought was Matt once she inspected her. Tonight the woman was wearing red sequins down to her ankles but otherwise her looks were unchanged from the previous week. She still had the expensive black evening sandals on and her toes were the same red as her dress.

Yvette failed to notice her companions were starting to make comments about her obsession with the girl in red. It was only when Donna asked if she wanted an introduction that Yvette returned her focus to them.

"An introduction? Do you know her?

"Sure I do. Her name's Zelda."

"But how come you know her, Donna?"

"Because we've all been coming down here every Friday night for a year. From the left, there's Danni, Polly, DeeDee, Clarice, Belle, Stella, Zelda, a new attendee, May, Belinda, Marlene and Wanda. So do you want to meet Zelda?"

"Yes, but not with the group. Can you wait until she's at the bar or in the restroom?"

"Whatever. Just let me know."

"Thanks, Donna. Hey, she's heading for the bar now."

"Let's roll, doll." They got up and headed towards the woman, who reached the bar before them.

"Hey, Zelda, this lady wants to meet you. Zelda, this is Yvette. Yvette Zelda."

Zelda looked into Yvette's eyes and blushed. Donna headed back to the table. It was Matt, no question. Once you got past the make-up, there he was, but not the same old Matt.

"Zelda?"

"Hi, Yvette. Long time no see."

"I can't pretend not to be surprised. More than surprised, more like stunned."

"You're looking good, Yvette."

"Thank you, er Zelda. You're looking quite stunning yourself. Did I drive you to this?"

"Not at all. I've been doing this since I was a little kid."

"You have? How come I never knew? Did you dress up behind my back?"

"Now and then, yes I did. If you were out of town or working very late. I took my chances when I could."

"Then how come I never noticed anything amiss?"

"Because I was very careful."

Yvette could feel herself getting angry. "Should I assume you broke us up just so you could wear panties?"

"That's too simplistic, Yvette. It goes a lot deeper than a pair of panties."

"You mean that I have to take into account stockings and shoes and jewellery? A chemise? Red lipstick?"

"Keep your voice down, Yvette. This isn't the time or place for this conversation."

"And the right time will be?"

"I'm not sure you really want to talk about this rationally, Yvette, but if you insist and you can do so with your emotions under control and your voice lowered, I'm happy to talk to you. That's because I did, and in fact still care about you, whatever you may think, but if it's going to be confrontation and shouting, forget it."

"Fuck you, Zelda. Matt. Fuck you for the pain you put me through. Yes, I want to talk because I need to understand you and get some kind of closure for my own peace of mind. I promise that just once I'll let you put your point of view while I listen with quiet dignity. The next time I might tear your clothes off and announce to the entire room what kind of a prick you are." Her anger was starting to get naked.

"For Christ's sake, Yvette, keep it down. If you seriously want to talk, I'll book a table here next week for six-thirty and we can talk before the crowd gets in. Okay?"

She hesitated, and then said, "Okay. I'll give you the one chance. Six-thirty." She turned on her heel and headed back to the table, fuming.

"Everything alright, Yvette?" asked Rosa. "Anything we can do?"

She thought about telling them who Zelda was and decided that somehow it might reflect badly on her if they found out her live-in had left her and started dressing up as a woman. Someone might think she had that effect on men.

"No, it's okay. Just some old history." She drained her glass in one pour and called for Zac. She had some relaxing to do before Robert turned up.

It turned out that no matter how much she drank she couldn't get her emotions in order and when Robert turned up she said she had a headache and asked if he could take her home so she could get to sleep. Robert was solicitous and took her straight home, arranging to pick her up on Wednesday to take her to a movie.

Yvette had trouble sleeping. She lay awake running through two years of history between her and Matt looking for signs and portents and failed to find any. By the next Thursday she was starting to feel she might be to blame somehow, then switched her annoyance back to Matt again.

 

Come Friday, Yvette put on a new dress and wore her favourite tulle underwear again. She wasn't going to sit there wondering if Matt was wearing more expensive panties than her. She'd bought the new dress for the occasion. It was a black satin and chiffon number that clung to her curves and grazed her ankles and the halter top helped display her breasts to their best advantage. No way was her ex-boyfriend going to look more feminine than her.

As she walked into Louie's feeing like a million dollars and anxious all at the same time, she asked if a table had been reserved for two, then realised she didn't know what surname Zelda used, but she tried Matt's real last name, Stewart.

"Yes, Miss Stewart has arrived, Madam. Please follow me.' The head waiter led Yvette to a table discreetly placed behind a couple of shrubs that gave a reasonable amount of privacy. "I see that both of you ladies have the same tastes, Madam," he said as they reached the table. "Miss Stewart, your dining companion has arrived."

The guy pulled out Yvette's chair, but she didn't sit down for a moment. She saw what he'd meant by the 'same tastes' comment. Zelda was wearing the identical dress.

Zelda looked up and laughed out loud. After a moment, so did Yvette.

"What are the odds?" said Zelda. "I bought this specially for tonight."

"So did I," said Yvette. "I wanted to be sexier than you." She laughed again. "Well that's one point each. How are you, er Zelda?"

"Very well actually, but apprehensive. It's been a strange week, thinking ahead to tonight. Have you been keeping well, Yvette?"

"Mostly. I agree it's been a strange week. I almost didn't come, but, like I said, I need a few answers."

A waiter turned up to take drink orders and Zelda ordered a bottle of good French champagne for both of them. They studied the menu for about thirty seconds when both said together, "Did you ..?"

They both laughed again. "You first, Yvette. Go for it. Interrogate me."

Yvette looked over the top of her menu at the woman sitting opposite her. Zelda was at least as pretty as Yvette. Her dark hair was shiny and the cut suited her perfectly. The smoky eyes and red lipstick all combined to make a very attractive woman. Fuck her, she thought, she is better looking than me. Yet she was, is, a man. Yvette shook her head to clear it. "Is that a wig?"

'Yes, although my own hair is nearly as long. It cost quite a few dollars but it's a very good wig."

"It certainly is. I don't know where to start, Zelda. Yes I do. Why Zelda?"

"I liked Mickey Spillane when I was a kid and his secretary was dark, alluring and sexy. She was an early role model of sorts. Anyway, I decided to name myself after her. The trouble is I got it wrong because I'd forgotten her name was actually Velda." She laughed. "I've never admitted that to anyone before. I stuck with Zelda because it had a certain sultry ring to it."

Yvette couldn't help herself. She smiled again. "I'm intrigued by your figure, Zelda. It's so curvy and I know you were never much of a body-builder, but do you wear some kind of shaping to get that figure?"

"Yes, just a corset. A black satin corset that keeps me looking trim around the waist. I also go to the gym to help keep me in trim."

"Wonders will never cease. This is the man who called me inside from the garden to find the remote?"

"Sometimes I blush, but that was truly a joke and I only did it once."

The waiter arrived and displayed, then opened the champagne and poured it after Zelda confirmed it tasted okay. Zelda raised her champagne flute and said, "I know this is presumptuous, but I'd like to drink a toast to friendship. Deep down I knew I would have this conversation some day and it's sort of a relief the day has finally come. Do you think we could be friends again, Yvette?"

Yvette hesitated, then touched her glass to Zelda's. "To friendship. Maybe."

"Thank you, Yvette. Let's decide what to eat and you can order while I tell my story. I'm having oysters, steak and strawberry surprise. One after the other of course."

"Hmmm. The salmon starter, the fried chicken and I do believe I'll have the strawberry as well." Yvette put the menu down and said, "So tell me, Zelda. What happened?"

"Do you remember my mother?"

"Police in seven states probably remember your mother. She used to attack knights on horses and burn them badly."

Zelda laughed. "Fair comment. She was terrifying. Even now, sometimes I can't think of her without flinching. To cut a long story short, my mother had some unusual disciplinary habits that made me the woman I am today. As you know, I'm an only child and I had no social references until I was about seven, and then I started to realise I was being disciplined by a screwed up old psychopath."

The waiter reappeared and took their orders.

Zelda continued. "Because my father had called it quits when I wasn't even a year old, there was no-one to modify my mother's behaviour. One of the things she did, and it's the thing that's brought us here tonight, is that she used to dress me up as a girl. I don't think it was purely for punishment, although there was some of that. I can clearly remember her complaining bitterly that I wasn't a girl and blaming my father for inflicting a son on her.

"She took the easy way out for her that is - and treated me like a girl and made me dress like one. That went on until I got to school age. She had to relent then and let me be a boy but she made damn sure I changed into girls clothes when I got home. Because I didn't have any close friends until I was seven and started going to a few other homes, I had no idea how abnormally I was being treated and I can still remember the day I accused her of child abuse, although I didn't use those words.

"My mother had no interest in other people or what their opinions were. She told me that as long as I was home I would dress like a girl and that was that. Do as you're told or be punished. The old lady had a way with a stick that could persuade you to do anything at all.'

Yvette couldn't help but interrupt. "That's appalling. They take kids away from their parents for that sort of thing these days."

"They do, and I remember once my mother was warned by someone, I can't remember who, who had the power to remove me from my home and she stopped some of her more extreme behaviour. That was when a teacher noticed the extensive bruising on my legs. She didn't stop making me dress as a girl though and it was only when I got to about thirteen and I was finally taller than her that things became sort of normal. I finally had complete control over what I did and who I saw after school and at the weekends.

"This is the most interesting part. When I could dress how I liked, and I wore boy's clothes exclusively for a year or so, I found I missed the girl's clothes. Strange as it may seem, I liked the feel of dresses and skirts and particularly lingerie. The contrast with boy's clothes after all those years was dramatic and I gradually drifted back to dressing like a girl after school and when I was home at the weekends. My mother loved it. She always called me Cathy when I was dressed up in those later years and she became a much calmer and more likeable person."

The first round of food arrived and there was silence for a short time. Yvette thought about what Zelda had said and found herself feeling sympathetic towards her. What a shocking story!

"Wow, this salmon is really good, "she said. "I have to say I never found your mother to be a calm and likeable person, Zelda."

"Well of course not. You took her baby girl away. And not just you, but several girls before you felt her wrath because she just couldn't, or wouldn't, cope. Did you know she died just after I left you?"

"Oh. No, I didn't. I'm really sorry, Matt. Zelda. Oh, I feel all embarrassed saying all those things about her."

"Don't be, Yvette. I know very well just how bad she was. Sometimes I still get nightmares where she comes back for me. The only positive thing she did for me, as I see it, was to let me have a feminine persona. I don't regret that part of it. What I do regret is that it affected you, because I honestly believe that if you'd been sympathetic towards my cross-dressing we would be still together and I probably would have asked you to marry me sooner or later."

Yvette bristled. "But you never told me. You never gave me so much as a hint!"

"That's not quite true, Yvette. I never mentioned it directly and specifically because I didn't want to upset you. Nor did I want to feel a fool if you thought I was some kind of pervert. That would have been worse, because I did love you and when people you love laugh at you it hurts worse than anything else."

"But you didn't tell me," said Yvette through slightly clenched teeth.

"Do you remember yes thank you, it was very nice." The waiter took their plates and asked if the food was alright. Some of it hadn't been eaten, on both plates.

"Do you remember, Yvette, the time we watched Some Like it Hot? I think it was probably the first time we watched it together, maybe three months after we started going out?"

"Vaguely."

"When Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis were wandering around in those beaded chiffon dresses I said, 'Wow, those guys look like real women. I bet it feels sexy to wear dresses like that.' Your response was 'They look nothing like women, they look like perverts' or words very like that."

"Yes, I may have said something like that."

"And do you remember we talked about the difference between men and women and their clothes, probably not long after Some Like it Hot? I opined that men had a raw deal with clothes. We're obliged to wear mainly drab wool and cotton while women got to wear satin, chiffon and lace in a multitude of colours. They even dressed in men's clothes from time to time and that was regarded as normal, but if a man dressed in a dress, even a drab one, he was shunned by society. I asked you why that was."

"I remember that. I said that men who even considered dressing in satin and lace were deviants and needed treatment. Oh dear."

"It was a bit more scathing than that, but that's close. I tried a couple more times. We discussed Boy's Don't Cry and La Vie En Rose and I think we even covered Yentl once. You also didn't enjoy the drag show at the party when Ian Young had his thirtieth birthday. You were quite, how shall I put it, anti."

"I was."

"So I finally decided after those tests that you weren't going to come around to my point of view, but I was desperate to get back into girl's clothes. I dressed in your clothes sometimes when you were out but I truly didn't want to. I'd rather have had my own clothes and worn those with your approval. Wearing your stuff without you knowing about it made me feel like a weirdo."

The waiter brought the next course, but Yvette was starting to lose her appetite. Her feelings about what Zelda was telling her were mixed. She felt genuinely sorry about the dragon lady's behaviour but she'd had no idea she was being tested when she was asked all those leading questions. But, then again, would she have altered her opinion if she knew? Probably not.

"You say you were desperate, Zelda. Is the urge to wear women's clothes that strong?"

"Make no mistake, Yvette, it's something you can't really control. Despite the number of times I've burnt my stash of clothing and decided I was going to be a macho man, I've always had to go back to it for my own peace of mind. Do you know how many people cross-dress, Yvette?"

"In the entire country? Thousands?"

"More like millions. I'm constantly astounded by the number of guys who dress up all or some of the time. I estimate from what I've read that at least six out of every ten men have tried some specifically female garment at some time. Some will only do it once, but some keep doing it forever and the stats say that one to two per cent of the population cross-dress regularly, even if it's only for sex. Like a fetish thing."

"That's a lot of guys, Zelda. I'm not convinced. All those women you meet here on a Friday - are they from out of town?"

"No, and you know at least four of them. Think about all the other guys who are too scared to leave home dressed up."

Yvette did a mental double-take. "How many of them are married?"

"All of them, except me."

"Mmmm. Let me eat and think for a moment." Yvette ate some chicken, but thinking was another matter. She was starting to get information overload.

"While you're thinking, Yvette, think about this." Yvette looked at Zelda and Zelda's green eyes met and held hers. "If you could bring yourself to put up with me dressing up a lot of the time I'd still like to be your partner. As I said before, I never met anyone I wanted to settle down with more than you. The trouble is I'm not prepared to stop dressing as a woman and that won't change, but you're actually a kind, sensitive, funny and intelligent woman. I still have moments when I cry because we broke up, and I know it's my fault. But can you imagine someone you love laughing at you, deriding something that gives you a great deal of satisfaction despite it being outside the envelope? I think you can imagine that and I think you'll agree it would be devastating for the person being laughed at."

This got to Yvette, hit her right between the eyes, and she felt herself starting to tear up. She put her knife and fork down and tried to find a tissue in her handbag.

Zelda saw the moisture and said, "I'm sorry, Yvette, I didn't mean to make you cry." She produced a tissue and handed it to Yvette.

"No, I'm sorry, Zelda. I seem to have been responsible for something I had no knowledge of or control over. It was when you said you cried sometimes I started to lose it. We've both been crying over the same thing, Zelda, a lost relationship." She dabbed at her eyes. "Now I've got no idea what to do. Will you excuse me for a moment?"

Yvette got up and headed for the restrooms, went into a cubicle, shut the door and sat down and cried. It took more than five minutes before she felt slightly more composed and touched up her make-up before heading back to the table where Zelda was anxiously watching for her to come back. She sat down and Zelda covered Yvette's hand with hers and said, "Thank you for coming back, Yvette. I wanted you to stay. If you like we can leave this for some other time, or forever if you'd rather."

Zelda's food was largely untouched and the waiter saw that Yvette's was much the same. He was now concerned that something was wrong with the food and had to be reassured several times. He asked if they still wanted the strawberry dessert. Zelda looked at Yvette and said, "It really is delicious. Stay and eat with me, Yvette."

Yvette nodded to the waiter and he departed with the plates. She was now feeling more confused than anything else. Zelda had made a proposition she didn't know how to handle. But Zelda made the proposition, not Matt.

"Where are you living, Zelda?"

"I inherited the family home. I had it gutted and rebuilt as a light and airy living space. I had to get my mother's presence out of it and rebuilding was the only way to go. They only finished the job last week. Perhaps you'd like to see it? You certainly wouldn't recognise it. I have two dressing rooms off the master bedroom, one for me and one for Matt. I still work for the insurance brokers and they certainly aren't going to accept Zelda." She laughed. "My boss was here a few weeks back and he asked me to dance. He had no idea who I was."

"I think that's the trouble, Zelda. I'm not sure I know who you are either. This has all been a major shock and I'm probably not handling it well."

Dessert arrived and Zelda poured the last of the champagne.

"I know the shock is all yours, Yvette and I can apologise until I'm blue in the face, but it doesn't change the fact that I still care about you. My friends will all be here in about a half hour and I presume your friends will be as well. I recognised Barbara of course, even though she hasn't recognised me. Can I suggest we carry on like it's a normal Friday night once the strawberries are eaten? Think about what I've said tonight and we can talk next Friday, but only if you want to. If you want me out of your life forever, just say so, Yvette. I'm not going to hold it against you."

Yvette thought for a moment, then said, "That's fair. I'm so mixed up. On top of that I've just started seeing another guy." She put down her spoon and wiped some cream off her chin. "Thanks for being honest, Zelda. Hey, would you like a brandy? She waved for the waiter as Zelda agreed a brandy would be nice. When they lived together Matt often finished his meal with a glass of good brandy and Zelda was gratified she remembered.

Yvette ordered a brandy for Zelda and a substantial vodka for herself. By the time they were finished, the Friday crowds were arriving. Zelda called for the check and paid it and Yvette watched as Zelda handled everything with complete confidence, this guy she used to know so well now a beautiful dark-haired woman and no-one except her able to recognise Matt underneath. She stood up and kissed Zelda on the cheek, said, "See you next Friday, Zelda," and went off to join Barbara, Rosa and Donna.

  

  

  

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