The spanner1 rang like a bell as it bounced around the bottom of the inspection pit. Megan attempted a little experimental profanity as she unhooked the cage light2 and stooped to search for it. An errant strand of hair dropped in front of her eyes and she returned the escapee to its imprisonment with greasy fingers.
Most of the time she loved this job – the sense and logic of solving problems, the physical labour of replacing parts, the satisfying roar of a well-tuned engine – but there were times when she wondered if taking on the garage had been such a great idea. She didn’t mind working alone most of the time, but there were times like this when having a spare pair of hands around the place would make things so much easier. She’d tried to take on an apprentice a few times over the years, but parochial attitudes got in the way and most of the young locals refused to work for her. In the end, the one applicant she’d had for the post had proven to be so inept that she’d let him go after the month’s probationary period and given up on the idea.
She reached awkwardly around the engine mount, reattached the spanner to a corroded bolt, already dripping with several doses of WD403, and applied the deceptive strength of her wiry arms. The spanner slipped again. She managed to hold onto it this time, but let out a gasp of exasperation. There wasn’t enough room to squeeze an impact driver4 and hammer into the limited space and she was running out of ideas that didn’t involve removing other parts of the engine that might prove just as reluctant.
“Hello?” A timid voice sounded from above in the workshop and for once she was grateful for the distraction.
It was early in the morning – too early for anyone else to be up and about, especially in a quiet backwoods like this. Ryan checked his mobile phone for the umpteenth5 time – still no signal. He’d been walking for what seemed like half an hour and was beginning to wonder if he’d ever get to where he was going on time.
He rounded a gentle curve in the road and breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of the garage. “Meg’s Motors” the sign proclaimed and, from the number of vehicles on the forecourt, the proprietor was either very good or very slow. Either way Ryan wasn’t in a position to be choosy. He quickened his pace, despite the crippling pinch from his Oxford Brogues6 – not a pair of shoes he’d bought for their comfort over long distances.
The large side door to the garage was open and he peered gingerly into an apparently deserted workshop. Still the door wouldn’t be left open or all the customers’ cars outside if there was no-one here.
He heard a tool fall to the ground and a few choice words scoured the air. Someone there then.
He took a few moments to muster his courage. “Hello?” He ventured as he stepped inside.
The workshop was filled with the typical clutter: hydraulic ramps, inspection pits, boxes of tools on wheels, racks of spare parts and cars and vans in various states of dissection. Too many nooks and crannies; the owner of the idiomatic sailor’s vocabulary remained hidden from sight. Ryan stood nervously by the door, wondering if he dared go any further without permission.
A moment later he spotted movement from beneath a nearby car. A tangle of wavy brown hair trapped under a thin nylon net appeared, followed by a delicate, pixie-like face that no amount of grease could hide completely. The face looked up at him expectantly.
“Can I help you?”
It was definitely a female voice, but with a hard edge to it. Forceful, aggressive, as though its owner were fighting the natural timbre. Ryan suppressed a wince. The voice could have been softer, gentler, melodious even, and it seemed such a waste.
“My car,” he stammered. “It, er, it broke down a couple of miles down the road.” He waved vaguely in the general direction. “I was wondering if someone, er that is you perhaps, might have a look at it.”
Ryan wasn’t one to judge people by stereotype. Working, as he did, in a profession dominated by women, he could hardly expect everyone else to fit into society’s mould, so finding an attractive woman working as a grease monkey didn’t faze him. What did scrape fingernails down the blackboard7 of his soul though, was to see such beauty hiding under dirt and grime and ugliness. The poor man’s frustration at seeing wealth wasted by the rich.
The girl in the pit vaulted out effortlessly and stood to her feet. She was about the same height as Ryan, and slim, her oversized coveralls failing to hide her elegant curves. She wiped greasy hands down the front of her grimy work clothes and sauntered over to him.
“I guess I could have a look.” She picked a set of keys off a rack by the doorway and stepped out onto the forecourt.
Ryan remained rooted where he was, overwhelmed by a sudden rush of unexpected emotion. It didn’t happen to him often these days, but every now and again he would pass someone in the street and be filled with what he could only describe as delicious terror. His veins turned to ice, his breath caught in his throat, his knees felt weak and rubbery. It was strange though, he’d never felt this way under such circumstances before.
“Are you coming, or do you expect me to find it by myself?”
“What? Oh, sorry, of course.” Ryan managed to reassert enough control over his body to follow her outside.
“That’s alright, I get that a lot.” She pulled the roll-over door down and secured it with a padlock before turning towards a tow truck parked by the road. “I’m not exactly your typical mechanic material am I?.”
Ryan followed her, all but scurrying to keep up with her long strides.
“It’s not that, I mean there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be a mechanic. It’s just…” he faltered, unsure how to finish the sentence. “No, never mind.”
Meg had never met such a bundle of nerves. There was something vulnerable and lost about him which was kind of cute, and something about the way he looked at her…
She thought about the men she’d dated – all both of them. Each had been a disaster in its own way. On the first she’d tried to be girly and had even gone to the trouble of borrowing a dress from a friend, but she’d felt awkward and wrong the whole evening. On the second, she’d tried being herself and succeeded in making her date feel awkward. Since then she’d found it easier just to say no.
She’d experimented briefly with batting for the home team, but yet again something didn’t feel quite right; something in the way her short-term girlfriend had responded to her. Besides, homosexuality did not seem to be one of the acceptable perversions of this part of rural England, and just the hint of a rumour had put a brief dent in her business; swiftly mended after she broke off the relationship and went back to being obviously single.
Single was simple, uncomplicated, and she’d stuck with it since then. She eased the loneliness by sharing her life and her home with a cat for a while, but even that hadn’t worked out and, after a few months, the cat had taken up lodging with a family down the street, much to Megan’s relief.
She shook her head, unsure why such memories were resurfacing now, and climbed up into the cab. She reached across to open the passenger door and looked down at her newest customer. Fastidiously dressed in a navy blue suit, good looking in a sort of home grown John-Boy Walton way, but with an Ichabod Crane jumpiness about him. He was kind of cute and she found herself fighting a smile as he brushed crumbs and crisp packets of the seat before climbing up himself. He hitched his trousers as he sat and reached behind him for the seatbelt, then seemed to notice her looking at him.
“What?” He gave her a nervous glance.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that you’re kind of cute. My name’s Megan. Meg to my friends.” She reached a hand across to him, and after a moment’s inspection to reassure himself that it was relatively grease free, he took it in a grip that was on the gentle side of firm.
“Ryan,” he said. “Oh dear, that’s not going to work is it?”
“Meg? Ryan? Kind of sounds like a bad joke doesn’t it?”
She laughed. “You know I’m sure we can work around it if we try. It’s a pleasure meeting you Ryan, now where’s this car of yours?” She twisted the keys and let the initial engine roar subside before turning back to her passenger for directions.
Ryan turned away from the sight of Megan’s rear end sticking out from under the bonnet8 of her old Morris Traveller9. Disquieting feelings were dancing around inside him as it was, and this particular view was threatening to overload his already madly fizzing brain.
“She’s a real beauty,” the girl called back from the inside of the old car’s substantial maw. “Pristine condition inside and out.”
“She used to belong to my father. I inherited her when he died last year. I’m afraid I don’t know much about cars. I can look after the outsides, but the engine’s a bit of a mystery to me.”
“Good job there’s people like me around then.” She emerged with a spark plug in her hands, and examined it closely in full daylight. “It looks like your mixture’s running a bit lean, which could be a clogged fuel filter, dirt in the carb, half a dozen other things. Let me get it back to the workshop and I’ll give it a look over.”
“Is this likely to take long? Only I have to be in Amberley in two hours’ time for a job interview.”
“Amberley eh? That’s another ten minutes down the road. You could walk it in an hour and half.” Ryan winced at the thought of walking that distance in these shoes. Megan noticed and smiled at him. “Tell you what, if I can’t get you running within the hour, I’ll drive you down there myself.”
Ryan felt some of his anxiety fade. “Thank-you. That’s very kind.”
He watched while Megan attached cables and winched his dad’s pride and joy onto the back of the truck, then mounted the cab next to her for the short trip back to the garage.
He watched as she deftly transferred the car from the truck to a ramp in the workshop, then followed her directions to the nearby waiting room and its promise of hot drinks and greater comfort. An hour, two cups of tea and several loo stop later, he popped his head out into the workshop looking for good news.
In the past hour Megan had cleaned and replaced the fuel filter, replaced the fuel line above the filter and removed, cleaned and refitted the carburettor. The car was still refusing to start when she noticed Ryan making his careful way towards her. She was frustrated by her lack of progress in what should have been a simple job, but put her feelings to one side.
“Erm. I hate to be a bother, but it’s been an hour. I was wondering how you’re getting on, only I’m expected at the school in the next thirty minutes.”
“You’re right, and I’m sorry. I thought this would be easier to fix and I lost track of time. Come on, let’s get you to where you need to be. I could do with a break in any case.”
She wandered over to a sink and grabbed a dollop of Swarfega10. A minute’s attention and some soap and hot water had her hands properly clean. She slipped off her overalls, revealing fairly nondescript jeans and a tee-shirt, and led Ryan behind the garage where a racing green Lotus sat waiting for them.
“Nice colour.” Ryan remarked as she opened the passenger side door for him. She’d been expecting a slightly more enthusiastic response and was a little disappointed. Maybe he’d be a little more impressed in a few minutes.
Ten minutes to Amberley involved copious use of the sports car’s enhanced build. As they pulled up, Ryan was holding on with whitened knuckles and a distinctly pale cast. Megan looked across at him with a twinge of concern.
“You’re not too keen on fast cars are you?”
“Oh, the cars are fine, it’s just that I’m not all that used to the fast.”
“Well I hope I haven’t put you off your stride too much, and the best of luck in there. Listen, I don’t suppose you’d let me take you out to dinner later? There’s a new French restaurant just opened up near Storrington; I’ve heard it’s quite good.”
“I wish I could, but I have to be back at work first thing tomorrow morning.”
He ducked his head as he answered, but was that a slight flush to his cheeks? It felt strange asking a man out, but in this case oddly right. He was more interested than he was letting on. Megan suppressed a smile and leaned across to open the door.
“I guess I’d better head back to the garage and get your old jalopy working then. Like I said though, good luck in there, and call me when you’ve finished; I’ll come and get you.”
She handed him a business card and thought about kissing him on the cheek – for luck of course – but thought better of it. She watched him as he walked towards the school reception and allowed herself a gratified smile when he glanced briefly back at her before going inside.
The interview went better than Ryan had anticipated. His teaching demonstration was well received by the class as much as the observing teachers; he managed to answer every question put to him in interview clearly, succinctly and well, including the one about why he, as a man, wanted to teach primary school; he pretty much ticked all the boxes leaving the headmistress and senior teachers smiling and assuring him of a decision within the hour. He wasn’t sure how the other interviewees had fared as they had been separated early in the day, but he thought his chances were pretty good.
He pulled out his mobile phone, along with Megan’s business card, and dialled through to the garage. Oddly the gastric lepidopteran aerobatic display seemed to be intensifying rather than subsiding now that the interview was over, and he was overcome with a sudden shy breathlessness as the phone was picked up at the other end.
“Hi Meg, it’s Ryan. I’ve just finished at the school and was wondering how my little baby’s getting on.”
“Hey Ryan, how did it go?”
“Well I wouldn’t want to jinx it, but I think it went well. I should know one way or the other within the hour. Now about my car…”
“Yes, the news there isn’t quite so great I’m afraid. The cause of the problem is your fuel tank – it’s corroded inside and blocked the outlet. I know a breaker’s yard11 nearby with a couple of Moggie Minors12 so I’m pretty confident I can get you a replacement, only he’s shut today. I’ll be able to pick one up first thing tomorrow though.”
“Bother! Megan, I need to get home tonight. I have a classes to teach from nine o’clock tomorrow morning and I’m usually in half an hour early getting things ready.”
“Hey, it’s alright. Calm down a minute, we’ll find a way through this. How long did it take you to get here?”
“About two hours, not counting the breakdown, why?”
“So that means you need to leave here at six-thirty yes? Now I could get to the breakers around fiveish tomorrow morning – he opens really early. It shouldn’t take me more than an hour, hour and half to get the bits off his old wreckers and into your beast. There’s no reason why I can’t have you back on the road in time.”
“Well, I don’t know. I mean where am I going to stay tonight? and what if you can’t get my car fixed?”
“If I can’t get you fixed by six-thirty tomorrow morning, I’ll loan you a car ’til the weekend. I mean obviously that’s not ideal for either of us, but it’ll solve the immediate problem. As for where you can stay, one of my neighbours does a decent bed and breakfast for a very reasonable price. I stayed with her for a few days while my place was being done up a year or so back. I can highly recommend it.
“What’s more, her daughter goes to Amberley Primary. If I give her a call, I’m sure she’d be happy to pick you up and take you back to her place. There’s a shop in the village nearby where you should be able to get a toothbrush and stuff, and it gives me a fresh opportunity to take you out for a meal tonight. How does that sound?”
“Well, I suppose it does sound like it’ll work, thank-you. Are you sure you don’t mind getting up so early?”
The words ‘anything for a damsel in distress’ sprang to Megan’s mind. They seemed right somehow, but she wasn’t sure how he would take them. She opted for a safer route.
“It’s not as if I haven’t done it before, and I’m glad to help. I’ll be round to pick you up at seven okay? My treat since I’ve managed to strand you in the middle of nowhere.”
Ryan felt his resolve crumbling. He felt confused about the whole thing, I mean wasn’t he supposed to be the one doing the asking out? Then again, that had been his problem all his life. Whenever he met someone he liked, he’d been too scared to speak to them, especially since so many of them had been men.
It wasn’t that he was gay, or at least he didn’t think so. The thought of being intimate with another man made him feel uncomfortable, yet somehow there had always been something about some guys that attracted him. Come to think of it, Megan seemed to have it too. It wasn’t so much the way she looked – although he admitted to himself that he found her very attractive – it was more the personality. Megan was confident, decisive; that’s what he found most attractive about her. He made a decision.
“Okay then, seven it is. Although, can I ask, is there any chance we can get to and from at a more sedate pace?”
The laughter in his ear was free and easy. “I’ll tell Mrs Bamford to come find you at the school reception. See you at seven.”
Megan smiled as she ended the call. Nothing she had said had been a lie, strictly speaking. Barney’s Yard was closed for the day, but she had a long standing arrangement with the owner. When she’d first opened the garage, before she’d established a reputation for herself, she’d done some work at the yard, taking old wrecks apart. The trust that she’d built with Barney still endured and she still had keys to get onto the site whenever it was shut. She’d already been down and found a suitable petrol tank along with some fuel leads in good condition, and had all but fitted everything when the phone rang. Half an hour would see the Morris tested and ready, possibly an hour if she gave the rest of it a once over as she planned.
She whistled to herself cheerfully as she worked through the rest of the afternoon. The Traveller fired up first time, and the brief check of its other systems had not shown up anything to be concerned about. She finished off her day by going back to the car she’d been working on when Ryan had first turned up. It seemed that while her attention had been elsewhere, the WD40 had continued doing its job and the reluctant bolt finally given way. The rest of what she had to do to it was straightforward if time consuming, so by five-thirty she had one more car ready to go. She phoned its owner who arranged to pick it up the following morning.
She shut up shop and drove the Lotus home. Mrs Bamford lived three doors down, which left her pretty much all of an hour to get ready before going to fetch Ryan. She showered and washed her hair thoroughly, before spending half an hour drying and brushing it. By the time she’d finished, it shone and she nodded in satisfaction at the final result.
Choice of clothes was difficult. She had no skirts or dresses of her own, and most of the rest was jeans, tee-shirts and sweatshirts. In the end she settled for a trouser suit she’d bought online on impulse six months before. It had turned out to be all frills and flounces and, after she’d tried it on and decided that she was never going to wear it, she hung it at the back of her wardrobe. Sending it back was not an option since by the time she’d paid the postage to get it back to the retailers, she’d probably end up with a fiver13 to stick in her purse. She’d intended to take it down to the charity shop, but never got round to it. Now it was the most feminine thing she owned and she figured she ought to make the effort.
She stood in front of the mirror and gave herself a brief once over. She’d bought a silk blouse to go with the suit, and a pair of low patent leather heels. Overall, it was a good look, but it wasn’t her and the girl staring back out of the mirror at her looked decidedly out of her comfort zone. Still, she checked her watch, no time to do anything about it now, even if she did have a better idea. She grabbed her purse and headed for the door.
Ryan didn’t have any choice what he was to wear. He hadn’t planned on overnighting so didn’t have a change of clothes, and the shop in the village, while it had provided him with toothpaste, toothbrush, razor and foam, did not go so far as to sell clothes, or even underclothes.
He’d borrowed an iron from Mrs Bamford to freshen his shirt and trousers, and he’d done the old three s’s14. He would have liked to do more, but what was there to do? In the end he sat quietly on his bed, drafting his letter of resignation to his old school when the doorbell rang.
He put down his computer and popped his head out of the room long enough to confirm that the visitor was Megan. A few moments to put things away and grab his jacket and he was heading down the stairs. He faltered slightly towards the bottom as he caught his first full sight of Megan, standing and fidgeting nervously by the door. She looked very… girly, and Ryan found himself fighting a strange disappointment. I mean hadn’t he been upset when they’d first met that she seemed to be hiding all that beauty under the muck? So why, now that she had made the effort to spruce up, was this something he found he didn’t particularly want?
“You look… different,” he managed.
She shrugged and managed a lopsided grin. “I thought I should make an effort…”
She was clearly uncomfortable, but Ryan had managed to regain his composure in those few seconds and managed a genuine smile as he approached the rest of the way.
“And I’m flattered that you did.” He looked up into her face, then glanced down briefly. “You’re wearing heels.”
Megan blushed. “I could change them if you like, I mean I only live three houses down.”
“No, I like it. They make you taller.”
Mrs Bamford moved slightly and the intimacy of the moment was broken.
“Well we should be off,” Megan said. “We should be back about eleven Julia. I know you like to get to bed at a reasonable time and we both need to be up early tomorrow in any case.”
“Right you are. You kids have fun.” Mrs Bamford watched from the doorway as Megan led Ryan to her car and helped him climb in. She shook her head and chuckled. “Young love.”
Megan started the car and pulled out into the quiet road, easing the car along far more gently than she would normally. An awkward silence was threatening and she noticed Ryan glancing across nervously at her. Time to get both their minds off the Elephant15.
“So? What did the school say?”
Ryan’s nervousness snapped and gave way to a delighted smile. “Oh, they offered me the post. I was just writing my letter to resignation to my old school when you arrived just now.”
“So you’re going to take the job? That’s fantastic. When do you move down?”
“Oh. That won’t be for a couple of months yet. I have the rest of this week before half term starts, then when we go back, I have to work through a six week term running up the summer. I suppose I’ll come down looking for somewhere to live around the end of July.”
“That’s quite a long wait.”
“Yes I know. It’s the way the school system works though. Anywhere you’ve worked for over a year, you need to give a term’s, or half term’s – if you still go by the old system16 – notice. It ensures continuity for the kids.”
“I suppose it does. Do you have any plans for the half term?”
“Oh, I shall have to do some preparation for next term, but no real plans, no.”
“Do you realise you keep saying oh when you’re nervous?”
“Oh, do I? Oh, I do. Oh, oh,” Ryan found himself degenerating into incoherence as Megan did her best not to laugh out loud.
“Don’t worry about it. I think it’s sweet.”
They shared a glance and a smile and Ryan withdrew into the relative safety of silence.
“So half term. I was wondering if you might like to come down for a few days and see the sights, such as they are. I could close the garage for a few days and show you around.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you. I might take you up on that, but let’s see how things go tonight first, eh?”
They lapsed into silence, but a less nervous one at least. A few minutes later they pulled into a car park next to a bistro style restaurant. A few tables had been placed outside, which said more for the extreme optimism of the owner than it did for the weather. Dark clouds were churning overhead and a cold, blustery wind was threatening to abscond with the table clothes.
Megan held the door, which prompted a grateful if somewhat nervous smile from Ryan. There was an embarrassing moment as the Maître D’ pulled out a chair for Megan just as she was about to do the same for Ryan. They were given menus and two pairs of grateful eyes turned to the business of selecting dishes. Food turned out to be a neutral topic which helped to dispel some of the growing awkwardness, but once food and drinks were ordered – swordfish salad and a glass of white wine for him, rare steak and a glass of water for her – the strangeness returned. Neither seemed able to find a topic of conversation that would last more than a sentence or two, and neither was able to hold the other’s gaze for more than a second.
The food arrived and provided an excuse to stop talking for a while as they concentrated – a little too much – on the flavours. After a few moments, the silence became oppressive.
“How’s the swordfish?” It wasn’t the most imaginative gambit, but desperate times and desperate measures and all that.
“It’s good. How’s your steak?”
“Yeah, it’s… good.”
So that didn’t last long. Both reverted to silence for a while, hunting for something to say until Ryan put his knife and fork down.
“Listen Meg. We’re both adults here and I would guess we’re both a bit out of practice with this sort of thing. Maybe we should give ourselves a break. I mean we weren’t anywhere this nervous earlier, maybe we’re expecting too much of ourselves. Or each other.”
Honesty and openness. It was so refreshing to hear someone step back from the slow suicide of a dying conversation and try to find some way of coaxing it back off the ledge. There was still something not right here though. It wasn’t just that they were both trying too hard.
“I’m sorry Ryan. I don’t know what’s happening. Normally I don’t have any trouble talking; I mean ask any of my customers. It’s just that… I don’t know, things seemed to click earlier today. There was something about you, about us together that really seemed to slot into place. It’s not there now and I wish I knew why.”
So much for openness and honesty. Ryan picked up his cutlery and took another delicate bite of his food. Meg forked another healthy chunk of bleeding cow into her mouth and silence of a sort settled over them again. By the time they had finished eating, they’d barely managed another half dozen words between them and they were both waiting for an early exit before things became too uncomfortable.
A waiter cleared their plates and the Maître D’ slid smoothly in behind him as he disappeared back to the kitchen.
“Was everything to your satisfaction?”
He addressed the question to Ryan and the sense of wrongness intensified.
“Yes it was lovely, thank-you.”
“Would you like anything else? A dessert perhaps or a coffee?”
“Er, no thank-you. I don’t think I have room for any more.”
“Actually,” Megan said, interrupting, “I think I’d like a coffee, in fact we’d both like one.”
“Are you sure? I just thought…”
Megan shook her head slightly and Ryan took the hint and subsided. There was an essence of light-bulb about her, so he let her place the order and waited for her explanation.
Megan grinned her lopsided grin at Ryan’s arched eyebrow. She waited for the restaurateur to retreat completely.
“Something occurred to me. Are you up for a little experiment?”
“One that’ll only take a second or two. One that’s hardly going to put any noses out of joint, given that we’re the only paying customers in this one17.”
Ryan looked around. It was true, they were the only customers in the place. It seemed the weather had scared everyone else off.
“Alright, what do you have in mind.”
“Take off your jacket and tie.” Megan was already slipping her own jacket off. “Now swap with me.”
“What?” Ryan’s hissed reply was probably louder than if he’d spoken normally.
“Look, I know it sounds mad, but will you just go along with me on this? “
“You’re asking a lot. I have a lot more to lose than you do, reputation-wise.”
“I know, but… Look I just have a feeling about this. It’ll be alright, I’m almost certain, and if things mess up, I’ll say it was my silly idea of a prank.”
“I really don’t know…” Despite his words, Ryan was wavering.
“If the worst comes to the worst, I’ll slip the Maître D’ a big enough tip to forget it all.”
Reluctantly Ryan handed his jacket and tie over and accepted the frilly white one in its place. He slipped his arms into the sleeves and shrugged it on. It was a little tight across the back, but otherwise it fit surprisingly well.
Meg slipped his jacket on and made a passable attempt at tying the tie. She slid it up tight to her neck then looked up across the table. A look of something like relief filled her eyes.
“There you are.”
To give the Maître D’ full credit, his stride did not falter at all as he approached the table. A peculiar smile crossed his face, and he served Ryan first then Megan. The smile was still in place as he withdrew, but there was something about his expression that spoke of secrets shared and assurance of confidence kept.
Something of the panic he had felt subsided and he relaxed into his new role. He looked up at Megan and… saw something. She had a cat-got-the-cream smile sense of supreme satisfaction about her, and the jacket and tie looked… right. Perhaps less so with the silk blouse, but…
“I’m right aren’t I?” she asked.
“What? What do you mean?”
“I’m not the girl here am I?”
Ryan blushed furiously. There were times he felt like one of the girls. One of the reasons he enjoyed his job so much was that when he socialised with his colleagues, they accepted him as an equal even though he was the only man there. He had always related better to women than men, but never on a sexual level. It was something about him that he’d never admitted to anyone, perhaps not even fully to himself, but as Meg spoke the words, he felt a profound truth in them.
He looked across at her, not daring to say anything, waiting for her to share her epiphany more completely.
“I’ve always known I was a bit odd. I mean raised on my own by my dad, I never had much of a chance I suppose, but there was more to it. I was always a tomboy, always more interested in sports and cars than dolls and clothes. The few times I’ve tried dating have been a real mess, and I either end up coming across as too aggressive, or I try to be girly and feel uncomfortable. At one time I wondered if I was a lesbian, but experimenting with that made me realise that my partner wanted me to be a girl and I didn’t quite fit the role.
“With you, things have been reversed from the start. I mean don’t get me wrong, you’re a great guy, and anyone but me wouldn’t notice, but there’s something about you that wants to be feminine. The way you move, the way you speak, everything says, ‘See me as a girl.’”
“That’s what worked earlier today. Despite what we are and what we look like on the outside, I think we both saw each other for the way we really feel on the inside. We treated each other in a way that seemed right and we clicked. Tonight, I put on that ridiculous frilly jacket and we’ve spent all evening trying to figure out who’s the man and who’s the lady.”
Ryan felt long-standing walls crumble under the onslaught of Megan’s unusual but incontrovertible logic. It all seemed so right. Megan took hold of Ryan’s hands, and he felt a thrill course through him; not just from the sense of renewed feelings, but from Megan’s taking the lead. To be noticed, to be cared for, to have someone reaching out to him; it was something he’d been missing all his life and he felt himself melt inside.
No not entirely he. Megan had been right, inside he was a she. She embraced that thought for the first time in her life. It could be true now. Now that someone else could see the girl inside and accept and even love her, it made her alive, gave her validity.
They paid the bill shortly after and headed out to the car, the Maître D’ waving them off with a genuine smile. The rain was holding off, but the wind remained capricious. It was still quite early, so Megan drove them down to the coast, where they walked for a short while, looking out at the wild ocean.
Ryan kept Megan’s jacket on. Despite the tightness across the back, it signified something special, for both of them. A short way into the walk, Megan slipped her arm around Ryan’s waist and he melted into the embrace. Before long, she stopped and turned him towards her. Looking down at him from the slight advantage of her heels, she felt a sense of exhilaration, born from that slight hint of uncertainty, as she reached down to kiss him.
Ryan was tingling and breathless with anticipation. A part of him wanted to reach forward and force this issue, but the dominant part told him to wait. When it came, the kiss was all the sweeter for being given rather than taken. Somehow being accepted like this was a far greater indication of love than he’d known. He hadn’t done anything to influence Megan, so the kiss was entirely her idea and her gift to him.
Megan too was filled with a new exhilaration. She’d never felt comfortable taking the passive role, nor had she found a man, or woman for that matter, who was prepared to let her be the aggressor. She’d always wanted to be the giver and not the receiver, and now here was someone she cared for who was willing to wait for her.
Nothing is quite perfect in this world though, and the moment was interrupted by a squall speeding in over the water and catching them completely exposed on the cliff top. They ran back to the car, laughing, and only when they were sitting in the dry with fat drops of rain hammering down on the roof, did they take stock.
“Oh, your jacket.” Ryan slipped it off as quickly as he could in the cramped space. “It’ll be ruined.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. It was a mistake to buy it in the first place. It actually looked better on you than me, and I seriously am not going to wear it again. What about yours though.”
“You do realise I’m a teacher don’t you? I’m not sure if I bought it in a charity shop or a supermarket. Either way it’s not going to break the bank. Beside I think it may even be machine washable.”
With nothing left to do, they drove back to the bed and breakfast. The rain had eased considerably by the time Megan pulled up near to her flat. It was only ten o’clock by then, and neither was sure of the next move.
“I guess I could always take you back to Mrs Bamford’s,” Megan suggested. “We both have an early start tomorrow.”
“We could, but I’m not really ready for bed just yet.”
“In that case you could come back to my place for a cup of tea or coffee, or maybe hot chocolate. That is if you think your reputation can stand it. I should be able offer you a change of clothing and an airing cupboard18
“Well since you’ve been such a gentle, er, man(?) tonight, I think I can risk my virtue with you.”
The pavement was glistening in the street light as they made their hurried way across to Megan’s front door.
“You’ll have to excuse the mess20,” Megan said as she fumbled with her keys.
There followed the traditional dance of the dirty knickers, with Ryan standing by the doorway looking on bemused as Megan took a sudden, manic interest in the contents, or lack thereof, of her laundry basket. After a few seconds he gave up and dodged the human maelstrom, picking up dirty plates and mugs and carrying them through to a sadly neglected kitchenette.
He filled the kettle then the sink and set about clearing away the debris. An embarrassed face appeared in the doorway.
“You don’t have to do that you know. The lounge is liveable in, you can come and sit down. I’ll do that another time.”
“Will you? Look we may as well stay here at least until the kettle boils, which means you could amaze me by finding a reasonably clean tea towel and drying what I wash.”
They managed most of the dirty crocks21 by the time the kettle boiled and Ryan finished off while Meg busied herself with mugs and tea bags and things. She handed him a brew, took his hand and led him back into the lounge.
“I promised you dry clothes.” She indicated a fluffy pink dressing gown hanging over the back of a chair. “It was a Christmas present from someone who really doesn’t know me. I’ve never even worn it.”
So it was that, five minutes later, Ryan found himself wrapped in nothing but the dressing gown while his clothes dried, perched on the sofa with Megan beside him. She made a few fairly transparent stretching motions with her arms, leaving them lying across the back of the sofa behind him. For a moment he thought about suggesting that if she were that tired, maybe he should head back to his room, but in the end the armpit was too inviting and he snuggled up into it feeling warm and safe and loved.
“So, how d’you get into the car fixing trade then?”
It was an innocent enough question and one she’d been expecting. It touched a few tender memories, but what were they at a time like this? She draped her arm over him and pulled him close.
“My dad was a mechanic. After my mum abandoned us when I was four, it was just the two of us. He didn’t have much of a clue how to handle a daughter, so he treated me the only way he knew. I grew up with pistons and big ends and crankshafts, and after I left school I worked alongside him. He died a couple of years ago from a brain aneurysm. He left me everything: his garage, his tools, his clients, his debts.
“The old place was bigger than my little workshop and it was too filled with memories. I sold up, paid off what was owed and had enough left over to set up down here. It’s taken a while for people to trust me, but we’re getting there.
“I love what I do. I love the smell of the oil, that deep throated growl of a well-tuned engine. I can’t imagine anything else I’d want to do more than fix cars. All my best memories of growing up involved my dad and a stripped down engine.
“How about you? You don’t find that many male primary school teachers.”
Ryan looked up at her from the deep folds of the pink dressing gown, then snuggled down against her breast.
“We aren’t such a rare breed you know. In my case, I grew up working with kids. I used to go along to this youth group that was run at the local community centre, and as soon as I was old enough, I started helping out with the youngest group. You know? Kids about the age I teach now. I think they’re really cute, and the way they put all their trust on you once they get to know you, it’s the greatest of feelings. As soon as I was old enough, I trained as a teacher, and here I am, five, no six years into the profession and loving every moment.
“So , there you have it. No sad tale to my life, just an unusual love for looking after young children. My dad didn’t understand; thought it was more of a woman’s job. I couldn’t really tell him that I did too could I?”
“Have you ever, you know, dressed up?”
“What in dresses and stuff? Maybe a few fancy dress parties, and once or twice, when I was younger, I sneaked into my mum and dad’s room and tried on some of my mum’s clothes. I wasn’t very good at sneaking though and Mum caught me one day. After that I had the shame of facing my dad, and the look of disappointment on his face. Since then it’s not been something I do, because I know most people wouldn’t understand, and I have a responsibility to fit into the society I live in.”
“You also have a responsibility to yourself. I mean why shouldn’t you put on a dress now and again? It’s not as if it really hurts anybody is it?”
Ryan rolled over into Meg’s lap and looked up at her, with probing eyes. “Are you making fun of me?”
“I never would. It’s just that you look so cute in that dressing gown. And you’re more relaxed than you were earlier today; like you feel more at home.”
“I don’t think that’s the clothes, although I’ll agree this dressing gown is lovely and soft. I think it’s more because of the way you see me. I don’t have to prove anything with you, or be something I’m not.”
“I still think you’d look lovely.”
“I’d look ridiculous. I’m a guy and I look like a guy. I can’t help that any more than I can help how I feel inside. And if I were to put on a dress, would you want me to go out with you? How would the neighbours feel about it? Just how quick would the news go around the villages, and then where would my job go? I mean what self-respecting mother would allow their her son or daughter to be taught by some kinky pervert who likes to put on women’s clothing? No, I’d rather you just dropped the subject.”
Megan could see how this was affecting the young man, so she stopped talking about and it stroked his hair until he was all but purring in her lap. She had no intention of leaving things there though. She had ideas, for the right moment.
“What about you?” Ryan asked. “Do you ever put on a dress?”
“Not unless I have to. I did for one or two of my dates, but it felt so weird and wrong I stopped. I have vague memories of my mum trying to put me in a dress and me screaming my head off. There are times when I worry that it might have been me who drove her away.”
“At four? Don’t be daft.”
“Well I know I didn’t mean to, but she wanted her little girl to look pretty and cute, and I wanted none of it. I always hated the feeling of openness between my legs; it made me feel vulnerable. That and I could never run so well in a dress, and I got a serious tongue lashing if ever I got so much as a smudge on my ‘pretty clothes’.
“It bothers me that I couldn’t be the little girl she wanted and maybe that made her leave us.”
Ryan sat up and took Meg’s face in his hands, staring her in the eyes. “Well you can stop that thinking right now. You were a child. You had no way of judging how your actions were going to affect her. She was the adult and should have been the one making concessions for you.
“Children tend to be wrapped up in themselves a lot. It’s kind of a survival thing, to be demanding and get the most they can from their parents, but it has its downside as well in that a child will be far more ready to take on responsibility for any bad thing that happens.
“You mother made a commitment to your dad, and she also had responsibilities regarding you, your care and welfare. She chose to run away from that. It was her decision and nothing to do with you. So you didn’t like wearing dresses, big deal, she should have adapted to your needs, not pissed off the way she did.
“I don’t know, she may have had her reasons, even if I can’t think of any that justify what she did. The bottom line is, though, that you didn’t do anything wrong. The fault lies with her and her alone. You’re a beautiful person, and I bet you were a beautiful child, so there’s no reason why she shouldn’t have loved you and stayed around.”
“You really feel passionate about it don’t you?”
“I’ve seen a lot of kids going through the same sort of thing. Parent’s fighting and divorcing because they’re so wrapped up in themselves. The child comes into school in the morning and I have to put the pieces back together as best I can. People don’t take marriage seriously these days, and they don’t think about anyone but themselves.
“Sorry about that, but you just found one of my soap-box subjects22.”
A silence descended; awkward and embarrassing in some ways. Ryan looked at his watch.
“It’s getting late and I have a long drive tomorrow. I think my clothes should be dry enough by now. Will you walk me back to the Bamfords?”
Ryan dressed back into his suit, now only slightly damp, and Megan walked him the short distance back to her neighbour’s house. At the door, she stopped Ryan and turned him towards her.
“I had a great time this evening. Any chance of doing this again?”
“Oh, I think I can fit you into my busy schedule at some stage. It’ll have to wait ’til I come down next time though.”
“You’re assuming I can wait that long,” Meg smiled. “I’ll pick you up at about sixish tomorrow so you can get away on time.” She reached out a hand to cup Ryan’s cheek and drew him close. He seemed to be waiting, lifting his chin slightly, inviting the kiss. There was still a thrill to instigating all this, looking for and finding a welcome.
Ryan stepped inside, pausing momentarily to look back into Megan’s smiling face before closing the door and leaning back on it. His fingers gently brushed his lips and he felt a weakening in his legs as he thought about what the kiss meant. He danced lightly up the steps to his room, stripped down to his underwear, hung his suit carefully on a travel coat hanger23, and slipped between the covers.
Sleep came quickly enough, and was strewn with odd but exciting dreams of damsels in distress and knights in shining armour, only he was the one dressed in a silken gown at the top of the tower, and the knight was armed with a spanner and rode on the back of a green Lotus.
Megan rang the doorbell at six o’clock precisely. Ryan was ready, breakfasted and dressed smartly in a freshly ironed suit. He thanked Mrs Bamford for her hospitality and pocketed the card with her number on, loose arrangements having been made for the half term week.
Meg restrained herself from kissing him until they were in the car and Mrs B had closed her front door.
“I wasn’t sure how much you wanted this to be public knowledge. Julia’s a love. As long as she only suspects, she’s pretty discrete, but as soon as she’s certain, the whole village knows.”
“Thank-you, it was kind of you to think of me. I can’t say anyone’s ever given me the same consideration in the past.”
Meg drove slowly to the garage, enjoying the silent company of the man next to her, waiting for him to say something if he wished. It seemed he did.
“So how early were you up this morning then?”
Not a good question to start out with. Still complete honesty from here out, even if it meant negotiating the rocks.
“Actually, I have a confession to make. You know I said the breaker’s yard with the old Moggies in it was closed yesterday?” He nodded. “Well that much was true. What I didn’t tell you was that the owner lets me go in whenever I want. I fitted your tank yesterday while you were being interviewed. The rest was kind of a pretext to keep you around for the evening, I hope you don’t mind too much.”
He reached a hand over and rubbed her thigh. “I should be angry with you, but the way things turned out I can hardly be upset can I? No more lies though ok?”
“No more lies.”
They pulled onto the garage forecourt and Meg went about the business of unlocking and switching off alarms.
“I don’t suppose you have time for a coffee before you go?” She asked.
“I’d better not. Traffic can be a bit unpredictable this time of day. I did enjoy last night though, so thank-you.”
“Can I call you sometime?”
“I’ll be disappointed if you don’t; and don’t wait too long either.” Ryan jotted his number down on a pic of paper and handed to her. “Well I guess this is it for a couple of weeks.”
He was waiting for her to make the move, Megan could feel it. A delicious sense of anticipation filled her as she stepped forward. This time Ryan didn’t wait for her to start the kiss, just moving close enough was enough for him to reach his arms around her neck and plant his lips gently on hers. It lasted a long time. It was soft and sweet and involved just a little tongue. Eventually Ryan pulled away, reluctant but resolute.
“I should get going.”
“Before you do, I have something for you.” Meg reached behind the driver’s seat of the Lotus. There wasn’t much room there, but enough for a flat cardboard box. “Open it when you get home.”
“Thank-you.” The look on his face was all the thanks she needed. She couldn’t help smiling. “How much do I owe you?”
“Sort it out when you come back, that way at least I’ll be able to guarantee see you again.”
“Are you sure?” It didn’t look like he was going to argue too hard, but then it seemed he wanted the excuse as much as she did.
They lingered for an awkward moment, neither wanting to be parted, both knowing that wasn’t an option. Eventually Ryan checked his watch.
“I need to go. It was fun though. Call me won’t you?”
“Count on it.”
Megan stood in the doorway watching the old Traveller disappear down the road. Only when it had disappeared completely from sight did she turn back to the next piece of machinery that needed her attention. Her mind wasn’t entirely focused on car repair as she picked up the spanner.
Ryan’s heart was soaring as he drove away from the garage. On an immediate level, he was sad to go, but overlaying everything was the memory of what had passed between the two of them. She was everything he wanted in a partner. She was more man than he would ever be, but that was alright, that was better than alright, because he wanted to be wooed.
Wooed, there was an old fashioned word. The clouds ahead looked heavy and threatening, putting Ryan in mind of that dreadful joke about why owls don’t go out on rainy nights25. The car seemed to be running more smoothly than he remembered and once more her found reason to be thankful for his encounter with Meg. He glanced across at the package she’d given him and relished the anticipation but otherwise kept driving.
The journey home was easier than expected, and free, for once, from the nagging doubt of whether his ageing transport would actually get to where he was going. He spent the time reviewing his plans for the day in his mind and the miles disappeared. He pulled into his parking spot just ten minutes later than he would normally have done, and feeling far more refreshed than he usually did after a two hour drive. He would have preferred to stop at home on the way – two days in the same underwear did not appeal – but time waits for no man (or woman), and neither did the school bell.
There was time for him to print out his letter of resignation before the morning staff briefing, and in the hurried seconds before the first period he approached the head teacher, envelope in hand.
“I take it the interview went well then. I shall be sad to lose you, but congratulations Ryan.”
He smiled his thanks and headed off for the first part of the morning’s controlled mayhem.
By break time the news had made it round most of the school and a number of colleagues popped a head in to pass on their own well wishes. The day was shaping up quite well and routine re-establishing itself when lunchtime brought a surprise.
The bell was about to ring for lunch when there was a knock on the classroom door. It was enough of a distraction that the children, who had been working silently and diligently on a selection of assorted maths problems, turned to see what was going on, all thoughts of multiplication and division gone from the minds.
Ryan gave the instruction for the class to pack up and went to the door.
“Delivery for Mr Blake.” It seemed to be a talking bunch of flowers. Red roses, twelve of them nestled in an enormous spray, and suddenly the class was buzzing with excitement.
Ryan managed to get everyone wearing their coats and sitting in their seats before allowing a few questions. Yes twelve roses was a romantic gesture. Yes usually it was the man who gave flowers to the woman, but not always. No they didn’t need to know who they were from. No he wasn’t going to read out what was written on the card , some things are private and not for sharing – it had read, “Can’t stop thinking about you, xoxo M.”
Where had he been yesterday? The bell rang, saving him from answering that particular awkward question just yet. Lunch and play were way too important a part of any child’s life to trade for such a mundane thing as asking questions of a teacher. The class charged off into the playground, lunch boxes in hand, and Ryan allowed himself a sigh of relief.
By the time he’d found a jug to keep the flowers alive through the afternoon, fielded a barrage of curious questions from other members of staff and made his way to the staff room, there was barely time enough for a cup of tea and a dry and unsatisfying sandwich from the vending machine before the bell went for afternoon classes.
The rest of the afternoon went well enough with a mixture of science – looking at nature down at the school’s pond – and art – always a winner with kids this age, but as usual leaving a battlefield to clear up at the end of the day. The kids did a lot of the cleaning up and were sitting at their desks ready to be dismissed when the bell went for the end of school. Ryan’s duty that day involved overseeing the kids in the playground until their parents came to pick them up. As usual it took a half hour, after which he returned to his classroom and sat back in the peace and quiet. Ryan always took moments like this to breath and feel the peace, sharing a moment with the building around him as they both embraced the relief of a school without children. It wasn’t that he hated the rest of his day, far from it. It was more like the cooling down that athletes do after exerting themselves; a necessary wind-down and a reflective enjoyment at the end of a job well done.
Ryan often stayed for an hour or more after the kids left, to do things like marking and preparation for the next day, but today he wanted to get home. For one thing he needed to change out of his clothes, for another he wanted to make sure he was home early in case the phone rang. He finished clearing up the classroom, then collected his flowers and a box full of books to mark, and made his way out to his car. A short journey home and two trips to empty his spoils.
First things first, he poured out a glass of wine – he was going through a pink phase right now so it was a Pinot Grigio blush, nothing spectacular, but what would you expect on a teacher’s salary26. Second, he found a fluted glass vase and arranged the roses on the coffee table in the lounge. Third, barely able to contain himself any longer, he tore into the gift Megan had given him.
It was pink and soft. There was a note with it which read, “These are not my colour or my style. I’ve never worn them and you looked so much better in the dressing gown than me, I thought the other would work too. I hope I’m not being too presumptuous. xoxo M.” He pulled out the pink dressing gown he’d worn the previous night and underneath was a silk nightdress, also pink with lacy sleeves, cups and hem. Soft, smooth and deliciously feminine.
The fourth thing on his list of things to do was to get out of his two day old clothes and take a long, hot shower. He did just that, washing two day’s grime out of his hair and soaping himself all over with the water stabbing at him like fiery darts until he came out feeling clean all the way through.
Until now, he’d refused to have anything to do with girl clothes. On the one hand, his parents had disapproved and now they were gone he felt it would be disrespectful to their memory, not to mention hypocritical, to change just because he was alone. On the other hand, he felt sure he would be disappointed with the way he looked. Man in a dress sort of thing. A girl wears pretty clothes to look prettier; when a man wears pretty clothes, regardless of how much he may want to look prettier, he only succeeds in looking ridiculous.
He dried himself off with a soft luxurious bath towel and examined himself in the mirror. He kept himself hairless by choice. Something he’d never told his parents, but he shaved his arms, legs, chest, everywhere regularly. It was a quiet defiance, and a concession to the way he felt inside. Beyond that he was slim and not overly muscular, again by choice. He ate lightly, much to his mother’s concern while she had been alive, and he only ever exercised lightly, not wanting to build his muscles up into what on him would have been unsightly bulges.
He glanced over at his bed, at the pink night things, and felt his resolve crumbling. It was early still, but no-one would be coming round and he had no reason to go out. His parents were gone, his dad to an industrial accident last year, his mum to a broken heart shortly after. He didn’t owe them anything, and now Megan had come into his life. She saw him the way he was, as a girl. She didn’t demand that he be different from the way he was inside, in fact if anything, she encouraged him to be that person. Whatever he’d said, he had felt more relaxed in the dressing gown. He’d put it on because his clothes were wet and, there hadn’t been anything else to wear – except that in hindsight pretty much any of Megan’s clothes would have been less feminine than all that pink fluffiness – and he’d felt… right.
Why not? He pulled the nightdress out of the box and slipped it over his head, delighting in the soft smoothness of the material caressing his skin. That was when he noticed there was also a pair of knickers in the box. Matching material, matching colour, matching lace. He pulled them on as well, feeling sensual and aroused. He stood in front of his mirror, steeling himself for disappointment, and looked, really looked hard. Yes he was a man in a nightdress, but throw away convention and look deeper.
The girl inside, and she was smiling.
A weight he’d been carrying so long it had become a part of him fell away and it was as though his soul exploded out of a cage and spread out to fill the room, the world even. He held the hem of the nightdress out and danced around the room to the soaring music in his head, laughing out loud at the release he felt.
He slipped the dressing gown on, not wanting to hide the pretty silk, but still wanting to wear it all. It felt wonderful, in the mirror it still looked wonderful. If only he had some pink fluffy slippers to complete things. If only Megan were there.
The phone rang and he ran downstairs to answer it.
He’d been on her mind all day; the sort of distraction you can’t’ really afford when working on your own around heavy machinery. In a moment’s clear thinking, she’d made sure that she had a phone in her overalls, just in case something did go wrong and she ended up pinned. She pottered about, shifting priorities, fixing the easy jobs her distracted mind could handle. She’d never believed all the romantic guff27 about there being a perfect someone for everyone, but now she had evidence to support the notion. Just thinking of him made her heart race, her soul sing, mind swim, all those other romantic cliché’s.
Shortly after he’d disappeared down the road, she’d picked up the phone and called through to the school in Amberly. She knew the head teacher there, in fact as chance would have it, her car was in the shop right now for a new set of brake pads.
“Hi Karen, it’s Meg. Yeah, I should have it done this afternoon. Do you want me to bring it down to you, then you drop me back at the garage on your way home? About six? That’ll work. Hey, I understand you have a new teacher coming to the school. Ryan somebody-or-other? Blake. Ryan Blake, that’s it. Yeah, I fixed a problem with his car yesterday. Listen I don’t suppose you could give me the name of the school where he’s working at the moment could you? I need to get in contact with him about something. Thanks.”
Next had been a quick search on the internet for florists in the area and a phone call to arrange for the flowers to be delivered at lunchtime. Message on the card? Never any good at this sort of thing, as if she’d had much practice. Just tell it how it is.
She hadn’t expected a response, not the way a teacher’s day ends up getting filled. She set about the promised brake replacement. At least that wasn’t a difficult job. Jack it up so the wheels were off the ground. Brakes off, wheels off, callipers off, replace the pads and reverse the process. Quick check to make sure nothing was rubbing and one more off the list.
The day dragged by, the sort of thing you couldn’t help when you worked on your own, especially if there was something waiting at the far end of the afternoon that you were so looking forward to. Five o’clock came and she couldn’t bear to wait any longer. She headed towards the untidiness of her office and sat down with a fresh cup of coffee. Ryan’s phone number was pinned up on the board, she felt a rush of adrenaline as she dialled it.
Fifth ring and Megan was wondering if he was home yet, then the sound of the receiver being lifted and a breathless voice.
“Hi, this is Ryan.”
“Hey.” Well it worked for the Fonz.
The voice on the other end became even more breathless, quieter, “Hi. I’m so glad you called.”
“I’m not sure I could have waited much longer. I’ve been thinking of you all day.”
“Yes I figured. The flowers were beautiful, thank-you. I’m the latest topic of gossip at the school now.”
“Did you open the package yet?”
“Yes, I’m wearing them right now. How could you know Meg? How could you know that this was just what I needed? I feel complete, wonderful like I’ve never felt before.”
“I didn’t know, but it seemed right. I’ve been worrying all day that I might be pushing in places where I’m not welcome.”
“Well stop worrying. I was a little reticent at first, but then I thought what the hey28, this is how you see me and that’s what really matters. Guess what? I saw her today.”
“The girl in me. She was smiling.”
Megan’s insides turned to melted butter, and for a moment she couldn’t speak.
“Are you still there,” Ryan’s voice brought her back to the now.
“Yeah. I was wondering what you were doing this weekend.”
“Nothing much planned. I thought I might clean up around the house, do some ironing, maybe get ahead on some preparation for next week, why?”
“You really know how to have a good time don’t you? No, I was wondering if you would be up for a visit, and if you could recommend somewhere I could stay.”
“Well I have a spare bedroom if you don’t mind slumming it.”
“Are you sure? I mean this is too important to rush things.”
“Well if you continue to act like the gentleman you are, I’m sure everything will be alright.”
“Ok then. You’ll have to give me your address and I’ll drive up after work on Friday. Be with you about eightish?”
“I’ll have some tea ready for when you arrive.”
“You don’t have to, I’m happy to take you out again.”
“I know, but last time was your shout, this one is mine. Just tell me if there’s anything you don’t eat?”
The conversation rambled on into the nothings of the day. Megan didn’t want to hang up, and neither, it seemed, did Ryan. It was almost six when they finally ran out of things to say and reluctantly hung up the phone. Tomorrow was Thursday, so just over forty-eight hours to wait.
Ryan slept in his nightie that night, and slept like he never had. The dreams were more vivid, and in them he was completely a woman and Megan completely a man. He woke early with a warm glow suffusing his body, and only reluctantly climbed out of bed to get ready for work.
He thought about wearing the knickers under his suit, but didn’t want to risk anyone noticing, besides he’d already worn them through the night. He washed them out in the sink and hung them in the airing cupboard29. After that, normal routine established itself and he washed, dressed, breakfasted and headed out carrying the box of marked books with him.
The day floated by in a dream, colleagues continuing to wish him well in the new post, and to ask after the source of his flowers. There was another delivery at lunchtime, Deep red carnations this time, all grist to the gossip mill. Ryan wasn’t used to being the centre of attention, but he found he liked it.
There were a few snide speculations as to his sexuality, and whether or not this was a man rather than a woman courting him. He was able to quash those by describing Megan, by saying she was coming to visit over the weekend, and by promising to bring in a photograph on Monday. One of the teachers, an unashamed Mills and Boon fan30, told him that red carnations mean ‘my heart aches for you’ and that he was lucky to have found someone so romantic. Somehow Ryan thought it unlikely.
At the end of the day, once the school was empty, he dug out the Meg’s Motors business card and dialled the number on his mobile.
“You’re going to have to stop this you know.” It was only mock anger, which he couldn’t maintain. “They’re beautiful Meg, I don’t suppose you know what red carnations mean do you?”
“Flowers have meanings? I just asked the florist what would be appropriate, and she suggested these.”
“Well they’re lovely, but please no more deliveries to the school. You’ve made your point, besides I’m running out of places to put them all.”
“Tomorrow I’ll bring them with me. I don’t know about you, but I’m counting the hours.”
“Minutes more like, but yes. This is silly, but I feel like a schoolgirl on her first date. Not that I have any first-hand experience of that mind you, but you know what I mean.”
“Look, this was just a quick call. I’m on my mobile so I should keep it short, that and I have a lot of work to get out of the way if I want to keep the weekend free.”
“Yeah, me too. Look thanks for the call, and I’ll see you tomorrow at eight.”
“Looking forward to it.”
There were whispered goodbyes and Ryan reluctantly hung up the phone.
He worked until about six, marking, preparing for the next two school days, doing the hated administration. Sometimes it seemed like the purpose of bureaucracy was to turn the best jobs in the world into the worst jobs in the world.
He noted his was the last car in the car park that evening as he carried his flowers to it. Next stop was the supermarket and food for the weekend. At one point he wandered into the clothes section where his eye was drawn to a pretty, red jersey dress. He knew his nightie, which was a comfortable fit, was a size 1231 so he chose one in that size. The stretch in the jersey material would allow some adjustment. He also added sexy lingerie, tights and a pair of slingbacks in about his size. None of this was high quality or particularly expensive, but he wanted to do something for Megan, and this seemed appropriate somehow.
The girl at the checkout gave him an odd look, but accepted his explanation that they were for his girlfriend. I mean it was the truth, even if not in the way it was generally understood.
Back home he put the food away and went upstairs to try on his purchases. The dress fit ok, even if it was a little loose up top, and the same could be said for the rest. The shoes were a little small, but they had been the biggest in the shop and, with a little adjustment, were comfortable enough. Only kitten heels, because he didn’t want to be taller than her.
He hung the things away and dressed back in his normal clothes before making himself a light salad for tea.
Megan worked hard to get ahead, and managed to finish three cars ahead of the weekend. The only other one that she had planned to do by the weekend was a cosmetic repair only. I quick phone call to apologise and the owner was happy enough to leave it with her till Monday.
At five thirty she downed tools and cleaned herself as thoroughly as her facilities at the garage would allow. Smart jeans and tee-shirt, clean face and hands, hair tied back. She’d do.
The small case was already in the Lotus, belted into the passenger seat, so, with the garaged locked and alarmed, she pulled out onto the road and headed off for the weekend. The weather was clear and the road dry, ideal conditions for a bit of fun driving. Slowing down only for the police cameras, the little sports car gobbled up the miles, and by seven thirty she was there.
She’d spoken to the florist earlier, and since it was small family firm, family living in an apartment over the shop, they’d been happy for her to stop by after hours to collect. It didn’t take long and she was still ahead of time as she arrived at the end of Ryan’s road. It appealed to her sense of quirkiness that arriving early was actually ruder than arriving late, so she waited nervously round the corner until a minute before eight, then drove up to the address she’d been given and climbed out.
Weekend case in one hand, orchid arrangement in the other, she approached the door and pressed the doorbell with her elbow32.
A moment later a familiar but oddly skittish face appeared around the door and ushered her in.
“I was afraid this was going to be the evening the JW’s came round, or maybe the vicar. Would be just my luck to have a random visitor the evening I choose to dress like this.”
Megan’s jaw dropped open. Speechlessly, he handed the flowers across then stepped back to take in the apparition before her.
“Oh thank-you,” Ryan’s eyes lit up at the bouquet, and he sniffed at the delicate fragrance. Unnerved a little by Megan’s reaction, he continued in uncertain tones. “This is alright isn’t it?”
There was no doubt he was a man wearing a dress, but it looked good on him. Longer hair might have worked better, but overall the effect was stunning. The heels were just enough to give some added shape to his smooth, nylon clad legs, and the dress seemed to fit him perfectly. He even had…
“Oh these. I did a bit of browsing on the web. You’ll be amazed at the ideas. They’re a pair of old socks filled with birdseed. I didn’t want to go too big. Do they look alright?”
“They look perfect, you’re perfect. I thought you didn’t…”
“I know, I said that it wasn’t me, but after the nightdress and seeing the real me, it just seemed right. I wanted to show you what I saw. I’m so glad you like it. I was so nervous…”
Sometimes the only way you can shut someone up is by wrapping your lips around theirs, and that’s just what Megan did. It was a pearl diver’s kiss33 that set the tone for the evening. Dinner was a seafood salad, yes oysters included, over a bottle of something pink and sparkling, followed by a fruit trifle. Afterwards they finished off the bottle of wine on the couch, Ryan snuggled up as before in the crook of Megan’s arm.
It was late when he finally disengaged and pulled her gently upstairs. He showed her the spare room and disappeared to get changed for bed, returning after five minutes, a vision in pink, to ask if she wanted anything else.
“Only one thing.”
The yearning in his eyes matched the feeling in her own breast. She lifted the duvet, revealing her own boxers and tee-shirt choice of night attire, and invited him to join her. He slipped off the dressing gown and slid in beside her, the cool liquid feel of his nightie exciting her in unexpected ways.
“You don’t have your breasts anymore.”
“I need a bra to keep them in place and it’s not that comfortable to sleep in. I’ll go and get them if you like.”
“Don’t you dare move a muscle.”
What followed was cramped on the small bed, sometimes a little awkward causing them to giggle more than a little, but above all things passionate. It was slow and erotic, interrupted only briefly when Ryan reached into his dressing gown pocket for the inevitable small foil packet.
“I wasn’t sure, but I thought better safe… Are you sure?”
Megan’s answer was to tear the packet open and roll the latex onto his stiff and eager member34, then to climb on top of him and ease him into her. It was the wrong way round, but it was her taking the lead, and him lying back to receive. That much at least felt right.
It was short – the first time so often is – but they were both ready for it and both reached climax. Megan withdrew herself and settled down next to her beautiful man. They held each other for a while, then Ryan squirmed out of the bed.
“I’d better get rid of this before it leaks everywhere. Come through to my room, the bed’s bigger and I have a few more of these.”
He held up the recently used prophylactic and ducked out to the bathroom. Megan followed, all but flaunting her naked lower body.
“Why didn’t you say you had a double bed?”
“I didn’t want to spoil the moment. Ready to go again?”
And so they did, slower, more confident and eased by the increased space. The next time was better, and so was the next after that. Eventually they lay down in each other’s arms, Ryan resting his head on Megan’s shoulder, Megan gently teasing his short hair.
Ryan stifled a giggle.
“Nothing. I was just wondering whether you’ll disappear now that you’ve got what you want.”
“What do you take me for woman? You mean more to me than sex.”
Ryan giggled again. “I know, but the reversal appealed. Call me that again.”
“What, woman? It’s how I see you. How I saw you from the first. You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known.”
“And just how many woman have you known?” Ryan looked up into Megan’s eyes, feeling himself swell with a feeling both unfamiliar and glorious. “You are my knight in shining armour, my hero. You must be chaste.”
“I’ll chase you any day you like,” Megan smiled as Ryan laughed dutifully at the ancient gag35. “But no, you are my first. Probably my last too. I know we’ve only known each other less than a week, but I already feel like you’ve always been a part of my life.”
“You know just the right things to say to make a girl blush. You are all man where it counts, you know that.”
“I know, just as you are all woman. I just wish…”
“Yeah, me too. Still, we have what we have, and I do believe it’s going to be enough.”
Morning came and went. Somewhere in the middle of it, Ryan woke with Megan spooned against his back, her arm resting across his side. His night dress had risen up leaving his naked backside pushed against the her pubic area. It was erotic and he felt himself respond involuntarily. By force of will he managed to suppress his base urges, and he lay still, listening to her gentle breathing.
The next few weeks were going to be hard. They had this weekend, then a week apart before the summer half term. After that were six more weeks before he would be able to move down to the south coast. They’d make it work somehow. Weekends, phone calls, it was like being a teenager again, only this time on the right side.
They say it’s usually the woman in the relationship who knows first. Ryan wasn’t sure how Megan felt right now, but he knew this was going to work. He would make sure it would work.
It was early days yet, seriously early days. He didn’t expect Meg would get round to proposing for at least a year, but he already knew his answer when she did. There were many problems that needed sorting, but right now the biggest one that filled his mind was finding a place they could get married where the vicar wouldn’t object to him wearing the dress.36
1 Spanner – Wrench (for our American cousins though I suspect most of you will have come across the word before).
2 Cage light – Pretty much what it says; a light bulb in a wire cage that’s not much bigger, usually with a handle so you can swing at around like a torch and a hook to attach it to anything convenient.
3 WD40 – Stands for water displacement 40th attempt. A light aerosol lubricant, initially developed in 1953 to prevent rockets from corroding, later sold to the general public for its all things to all men attributes, in this case freeing rusted bolts.
4 Impact driver – Like a really fat screw driver, but designed so that when you hit it with a hammer it provides a brief, strong twist to whatever you’re trying to undo.
5 Umpteenth – I don’t know, I wasn’t counting, but a lot alright?
6 Oxford Brogues – Seriously? You really need an annotation on a style of shoes? I mean, okay, men’s shoes, but even so.
7 Blackboard – Blackboard, chalkboard, whatever.
8 Bonnet – Hood.
9 Morris Traveller – You know those Tudor style houses with exposed wooden beams on the outside? Will imagine a fifties style car built along the same lines.
10 Swarfega – Heavy duty hand cleaner. Comes as a sweet smelling green gel.
11 Breaker’s yard – Scrap yard. Where old cars go to die and, assuming they have a donor card, bring new life to others.
12 Moggie Minor – Slang term for a Morris Minor. Same make as the Morris Traveller and sharing many common parts. Not absolutely sure if the fuel tank is one of them, but allow me a little artistic licence won’t you?
13 Fiver – Five pounds. Or is that obvious?
14 Three s’s – Shit, shave and shower.
15 The elephant – Or the elephant in the room – English idiom for an obvious, and usually uncomfortable, truth which everyone is ignoring.
16 School terms – British schools used to have three terms (kind of like trimesters) per year, each one about twelve to thirteen weeks long and broken by a week-long half-term in the middle. These days each six or seven week period is considered to be a term in its own right. Nothing’s changed except the terminology (pun not intended), but then I guess we need to find some way to make the bureaucrats feel like they’re contributing something useful to society.
17 this one – joint that is.
18 Airing cupboard – I think it’s more of a British thing this. Old heating systems use an immersion heater19 to supply hot water for baths etc. This is housed in a cupboard with enough space and shelves to air out laundry and help it dry quickly.
19 Immersion heater – Usually an electric heating element which is designed to be immersed in water in order to keep it hot.
20 You’ll have to excuse the mess – Ancient English greeting to any unexpected visitor, not that some of us would make much more of an effort even if we knew you were coming.
21 Crocks – Crockery – plates. Am I being too simple here?
22 Soapbox – Speaker’s corner in Hyde Park is named for the practice – started in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – where members of the public who would turn up on a Sunday afternoon, raise themselves a little above the crowd and speak to anyone willing to listen to them about whatever topic happened to be on their hearts. The popular method of standing above the crowd was to use a soapbox or other cheap wooden crate as a podium, hence the modern day vernacular to describe someone speaking at length on a subject about which they are passionate.
23 Travel coat hanger – You know? Like the one the German officer had in Raiders of the Lost Ark that Marion Ravenwood thought was a torture device24?
24 Torture device – Come on, own up. You though it was too the first time didn’t you?
25 Dreadful joke – Too wet to woo?
26 Teacher’s salary – Nope, not a way to get rich this side of the pond either.
27 Guff – Empty talk or nonsense, popular in the late nineteenth century.
28 What the hey – Urbandictionary.com has something to say about this. While I’ve heard of Gary Larson and Al Yankovic, I can’t say I’ve ever come across Zakkh and Cody or the Rev Oral McJorrity, so I’ll leave you to do your own research here if you can be bothered.
29 Airing cupboard – Oops, I already did this one. Sorry.
30 Mills and Boon fan – Definitely something to be ashamed of. I picked one up once when I was desperate for something to read and almost vomited over the first page, so nauseous did it make me feel.
31 Size 12 – British sizes. Equivalent to a 10 in the US or a 40 in Europe. Or that’s as close as I can get averaging out the information from half a dozen websites.
32Elbow – Second choice was her nose, but putting something down to free a finger would be just too easy wouldn’t it?
33 Pearl divers – reputedly can hold their breath for two to four minutes at a time.
34 Stiff and eager member – See I told you I’d read some Mills and Boon.
35 Ancient gag – From Ye Olde Anciente Gage Booke. Much of my material comes from here, for which I apologise profusely.
36 Vicars and dresses – A bit hypocritical when you think about it. I mean vicars get to wear a dress every Sunday.