Santa Baby

santa_baby

Copyright © 2010 Maeryn Lamonte – All Rights Reserved.

Life always seemed hardest at Christmas. The added stress of buying in the food and decorations, of watching the bank balance dwindle, of searching the shops for a dozen and more gifts for family and friends, grown strangers with distance and infrequent visits; all took its toll.

It was late and dark when Chris finally pulled into the driveway and heaved a double armload of bags out of the back of the car. Ann was waiting for him at the door as he trudged the last few feet home, wreathed in misted breath like an old steam engine, straining under the weight of his burden.

“Evening love. Is Andy in bed?” He gave her a quick kiss as he stepped into the hallway.

“Yes, but he’s a little restless. I told him you’d go up and tuck him in when you got home. Let me take those, unless there’s something I shouldn’t be looking at?”

He gave her a what-do-you-take-me-for look. As if he was going to try and sneak his wife’s present in under her nose like this!

“This lot’s the food you asked me to get,” he settled one handful of carrier bags onto the carpet with evident relief, “and these are gifts for your Mum and Dad, Janice and Ian and my Mum. Oh and a few things for a certain young man.” He inclined his head in the direction of Andrew’s bedroom and Ann took the hint, disappearing with the present bags into the back of the house.

Chris shrugged off his coat and eased his aching feet out of his shoes then, loosening his tie as he went, he climbed the stairs to look in on his son.

The door opened a crack and a restless little body twisted under the bedclothes.

“Hey little fella,” Chris said in that subdued tone reserved for children who really ought to be asleep. He settled on the side of the bed and brushed a few errant strands of hair out of his son’s eyes. “Sorry I wasn’t home sooner, but things do get rather busy around this time of year. Wait and see, in a week’s time things it’ll be different and this’ll all be worth it.”

Chris could feel his spirits sinking even as he said the words. Why couldn’t things be different? Why couldn’t he be different? He shared a profound love with a beautiful woman and this gorgeous little boy who had grown from their loving, he had a job he didn’t hate which paid him well enough to keep his family in comfort; he had so much more than most people he knew and so very much to be thankful for. Why oh why could it not be enough? Was he the most ungrateful of men to be living such a life and yet to be aching with such a longing for something more?

“Why are you sad, Daddy?”

He looked into his son’s deep brown eyes and found reason enough to smile.

“I’m just tired sweetheart; It’s been a long day.”

“Are you afraid that Santa won’t bring you the present you want? Because I think you’ve been very good so you don’t need to worry.”

Now he couldn’t help but smile. Life used to be so very simple once upon a time, when did it get so complicated?

“That makes two of us then kiddo. Here give me a hug, then you need to go to sleep.”

The young boy threw his arms enthusiastically around his father’s neck and they held one another for a few precious moments. Chris managed, just barely, to hold his tears at bay, then settled his son down, tucking the sheets in nice and tight. He had fond memories of his own parents doing the same for him and the safe feeling of the bedclothes holding him in their warm embrace.

“Goodnight my beamish boy.” They were nonsense words from a half remembered poem, but they had become part of the nightly ritual.

“Callooh! Callay!,” Andy murmured back as Chris bent to kiss his forehead.

“Daddy?”

Chris was just closing the door, but was not far enough through it that he could ignore the query. He poked his head back in, inviting his son to go on.

“Did you write your letter to Santa Clause yet? Because Mummy made me do mine today. She says the reindeer post is very slow this time of year because they have so many letters, so you have to write early to be sure it gets there on time.”

“I’ll make sure I write it tonight sweetheart. Goodnight.”

“’Night Dad.”

He closed the door and crept downstairs again where Ann was already carrying two steaming mugs of tea into the living room. The next part of their evening involved a quiet snuggle on the sofa and a sharing of the day’s news. As a tradition, it had grown out of their sitting in desperate and agonised silence waiting for Andy’s murmuring to settle into the steady rhythms of sleep when they had put him to bed as a baby. Now it was time well spent renewing their relationship each day. Ann started as usual, updating her husband on a couple of on-going scandals in the neighbourhood and sharing something encouraging one of Andy’s teachers had said that afternoon. Chris, in turn, drivelled on about things at work for a while.

His heart really wasn’t in the words, but he revelled in the closeness of the woman next to him, the silent gestures of love and the softness and gentleness of her. It was hard not to break into shuddering sobs as the weight of the day was lifted by her closeness, but somehow he managed to keep them bottled up. It wouldn’t do to show weakness after all.

They settled into companionable silence for a while then Chris recalled his son’s parting words.

“Andy suggested I write a letter to Santa Claus. He thinks I’ve been good enough that Santa will give me what I want.”

Ann snuggled closer and smiled. “Perhaps you should then, and tonight’s the night to write it…”

“…because the reindeer post can be quite slow at this time of year due to high volume. I know Andy told me.”

They sat in silence for a few moments before curiosity won.

“What did he ask for?”

She snuggled closer still and didn’t answer immediately.

“He wants a little baby brother or sister.”

Oh sh*@!

“Did you say anything to him?”

“I told him that even Father Christmas would find it difficult to send one of those in a week…

“So he said maybe next Christmas.”

Her voice was so quiet Chris almost couldn’t make out the words. He closed his eyes and fought to hold back the tears. This was too much.

When he had regained control he tried to respond. His voice broke and he had to start over.

“Ann… Ann, I’m so sorry.”

“Yes I know, but it isn’t fair that he has to grow up on his own.”

No it isn’t fair. It isn’t fair that I can’t find peace even with all that I have; it isn’t fair that you can’t have the children you want. Life isn’t fair.

The thoughts were old, familiar, like a train running down the same old track; same words, same feelings, same unanswered questions.

“We could look into surrogacy again,” Chris offered, although he knew what the answer would be.

“We’ve been over that. The baby wouldn’t feel like ours, even if it was our DNA, and I couldn’t take a child from someone who’s just given birth; I know what it feels like.”

The complications following Andy’s birth had kept him from his mother for almost two weeks before the two of them were strong enough to survive the encounter. Ann had needed an emergency hysterectomy to prevent her bleeding to death and Andy had spent those weeks in an incubator.

“If only you could get pregnant.”

Thoughts wistfully aired. Oh yes if only. Chris held his wife close and kissed her hair. It didn’t make things easier that they were both denied something that weighed so heavily on their hearts.

The Andy-all-clear was soundlessly acknowledged and Ann picked up the mugs, now empty or too cold to drink, and headed for the kitchen.

“I hope you don’t mind, I ate with Andy. I’ll get you some dinner then do a spot more ironing,” she said, her face averted but the pain still evident in her voice. “Why don’t watch some telly? You’ve earned a bit of break.”

Chris let out a gentle sigh as his wife left the room. There was nothing he could do to console her when this mood took her over, and TV wasn’t going to ease his own cares. He was still staring at a blank screen when she brought a plate of stew through to him on a tray.

“You know, when I suggested you watch the telly, I meant you should turn it on first. Are you okay love?”

Her voice was stronger, her mood more positive already. Women were lucky; let the tears out and things were alright again, at least for a while. Chris filled to bursting with his own unresolved feelings didn’t respond right away.

“What? I no, I erm, I’m just a bit tired is all. I honestly don’t see what you women get out of shopping you know.”

That was a lie, except that Chris knew he could never share that pleasure. It was hard enough keeping himself from stopping and admiring the occasional window display. No that wasn’t part of his life now; it wouldn’t be fair on Ann or Andy, especially when they had worries of their own.

Ann disappeared and he started on the stew with some relish – Ann’s cooking was yet another blessing to count – but she was back almost immediately with a pen and notepad.

“Well if you can’t let your brain rot in front of that infernal machine, perhaps you should try to write a letter to Father Christmas like your son suggested. You never know it may even help.”

The meal was delicious and all too soon gone. Chris sat back and pondered the ceiling for a bit, fighting with himself. In the end he lost and surrendered to the inner part of him that was struggling for release. He picked up the notepad and stuck the pen in his mouth, all the better to think with.

Dear Father Christmas,

This was nonsense. Chris hadn’t believed in Father Christmas in over thirty years. Oh well at least it might be a way to let the pain out.

There is only one thing I want for Christmas. It’s something I’ve wanted almost all my life. I asked for it once before, long ago, and upset my parents so badly that Christmas was ruined for all of us that year. I know what I want is unusual, that most people think there’s something wrong in it, which is why I also know that I cannot ask for it. I love my wife and my son too much to cause them this hurt, so instead I will ask not so much for what I want, but what I need, which is the strength to endure in the face of this incessant clamouring desire that I carry with me every day. The strength to be the man they love and to hide that part of me that would make them ashamed.

I would also ask if there is any way that Ann’s and Andy’s desire for a new baby could be met, that would ease my own misery enough that I would be better able to endure.

In all sincerity,

Chris

He read through the letter, allowing the emotions that had risen as he wrote it to break through. The tears ran silent and unchecked down his face and great fat briny drops fell on the paper smearing the ink. Soothing tears, a gentle flood that lifted and eased the weight of his burden for long enough.

He tore the letter into tiny shreds, too small to put together, and threw them into the bin. It was still early, but Chris was tired, oh so very tired. He stood up and went to the kitchen where Ann stood behind the ironing board, an impressive pile of clothes stacked neatly to one side. Chris picked up an armful of neatly folded shirts, skirts and blouses.

“I’m going to have a bath and get an early night.”

Ann raised her head and smiled; there was a brittleness to her cheer.

“Did you write your letter?”

“Yes and posted it,” Chris didn’t really feel like talking just now. “I’ll see you in a while?”

“I’ll be up in about half an hour.”

“Okay.”

He headed up the stairs, treading carefully so as not to wake his sleeping son, hung the freshly ironed clothes in their wardrobe, gently stroking the soft smooth material of one of his wife’s dresses absently, then took his dressing gown and pyjamas into the bathroom with him.

Bubble bath for stress relief; if only it worked. Still the water had been as hot as he could stand and he brushed his teeth drowsily and headed for bed. He was still awake when Ann joined him a few minutes later. He turned to her as she slid beneath the sheets and for a while they sought refuge in each other’s embrace.

“Are we being selfish?” Chris wasn’t sure if right now was the moment to air the question, but it wouldn’t let him settle, so he asked it anyway.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean here we are with pretty much a perfect life. We have each other and Andy, we’re comfortably off, decent job, welcoming home, prospects of a long and healthy life together. There are so many people in the world today who can’t even dream of having as much as we do. Are we being selfish in wanting more and being so upset when we can’t have it?”

Ann stayed silent. She knew he wasn’t just talking about her desire for another baby. There was something her husband felt was missing in his life that he wouldn’t speak of. She’d noticed him carrying it before and knew that it weighed most heavily at times like this.

“I love you,” Chris murmured in her ear.

“I love you too.”

It was almost enough.

-oOo-

The next morning, after Chris had left for work and Ann had dropped Andy off at his school, she set about cleaning the house. About mid-morning she came to the wastepaper basket in the lounge and was about to empty it when she noticed the tiny shreds of paper in the bottom. She knew she should respect her husband’s privacy, but there was something about the deliberate way the paper had been torn and torn again until each piece was almost too small to be reconstructed.

She removed the cloth from the table and poured the scraps onto its clean wooden surface. The hoovering and dusting forgotten, she set about arranging the pieces…

…Chris arrived at the office to find everyone subdued and quiet. The group over by the water dispenser were talking in muted tones and no heads popped up over the partitions in the cube farm as they usually did. For some reason the cheery early morning gophers remained withdrawn in their burrows.

“Oh Chris!” Tracy, the boss’s personal assistant, hurried up wringing her hands. “Oh it’s horrible. Karen’s in hospital. Mike said he wanted to see you as soon as you came in.”

She scurried past, looking for some other hapless soul to whom she could impart her news.

It was as though the wind had been knocked out of Chris. He stood for a few seconds trying to catch a breath then, with mounting resolution, he headed for Mike’s office, diverting only far enough to drop his briefcase at his own desk.

Mike looked terrible; staring at a mug of coffee through red rimmed eyes as though by force of will he could turn it into the double whiskey he so desperately needed. He looked up as Chris stepped into his office and with a titanic effort of will, pulled the wreck of himself together.

“Chris, Tracy told you then. Karen’s in hospital. A gang of youths broke into her home last night and attacked both her and her partner. They’re both in a bad way and Karen’s been asking for you apparently. I know you were good friends. I’d like you to head down to the hospital right now and see what you can do.

“Don’t worry about us. I’ve arranged for a couple of temps to come in and help carry the load. Just give Martin and Nicky a quick brief on what you’ve been working on then get over to the Central Hospital. Give her our love won’t you?”

For the second time in as many minutes Chris stood stunned and speechless. The week running up to Christmas was one of the busiest in the year for this place. To be sent off on an errand like this when the office was already short staffed meant it had to be serious.

Mike had said all he was going to so Chris hurried back to his desk. Ten minutes later, briefing given, he was heading for the elevator, a stream of well wishes to be passed on following him down the corridor.

Things had changed in four years; Chris clearly remembered the angry eyes and uncomfortable looks Karen had endured when she’d first started. It was how they’d become such good friends because Chris had been about the only person who’d been prepared to see past the label and get to know the person. Mike had been quick to pick up on the office vibe and had given Chris the job of showing his newest recruit the ropes. They had quickly gelled into one of the most effective partnerships his little business had seen, and over the years Karen, with Chris’s help, had earned the respect of everyone in the office as well as the friendship of most.

Chris checked his watch. There wouldn’t be another bus for fifteen minutes and he wasn’t going to wait that long. He started walking down the main street, looking into the traffic until he saw a taxi then ducked out into the slow moving vehicles to make sure it was empty. The traffic stopped briefly and Chris stepped into the back.

“Central Hospital please.”

The cabby started his meter running and eased over into the correct lane without a word. He’d seen the distracted look on Chris’s face a hundred times before; experience told him the guy didn’t want to talk…

…Ann looked up from the scraps of paper on the table and checked the clock in the hallway. Most were so small they were either blank or contained only part of a letter. Through sheer determination she’d managed to group half a dozen fragments into words and phrases but this was taking longer than she’d anticipated. What she’d discovered so far was enough to push her on to greater efforts, but first she headed for the kitchen where she set the timer for two-thirty and made herself a cup of coffee. She could see herself getting caught up in this and didn’t want to miss picking Andy up from school.

The caffeine sparked her brain back into life and she returned to her task with a fiery intensity…

…The taxi ride had been remarkably short given the slow early morning traffic. Chris handed over the fare along with a generous tip and a word of gratitude then headed for the main entrance. He stopped long enough to ask directions to Karen’s ward and to buy some flowers before turning towards the maze of corridors.

Despite the confusing layout that is particular to older hospitals, Chris found his way to Karen’s ward swiftly, and before he knew it, was standing in the doorway looking with concern at his close friend.

A police woman, intimidating for all her short size and petite frame, stood to bar his entrance, but Karen turned her head at the movement and called after her.

“It’s okay; he’s one of the good guys.”

The policewoman stepped to one side to allow Chris through and he walked up to the broken figure in the bed, eyes swimming in sudden tears.

“These are for you,” Chris said unnecessarily and offered her the flowers. “The guys at the office all send their love.”

Karen managed a sardonic grin. “All of them?”

“All the one’s that matter.” Chris pulled up the chair the policewoman had been sitting in and settled close to the bed. “What happened Karen? No forget that, you’re most likely sick of repeating yourself.”

“It’s okay Chris, one more time for you isn’t going to be too much of a hardship.”

The policewoman had been standing awkwardly by the door, came over and picked up the flowers.

“I’ll try and find a vase for these and maybe grab a coffee if you’re sure you’re alright?”

“I’ll be fine thank-you.” Karen told her and turned her bruised face back to Chris.

“You know Jenny and I have been having problems with the neighbours?”

Chris nodded. Jenny was Karen’s significant other and the part of suburbia where they had settled wasn’t big on alternative lifestyles, especially after they had adopted a three year old girl the previous year. From what Karen had told him, the kids in the neighbourhood had been growing increasingly bolder, progressing from egging their house to pushing lighted newspaper through their letterbox and worse.

“We’d just put Emily down for the night and were enjoying a relax in front of the TV when the local fascists decided to take matters into their own hands. They broke one of the panes of glass in the front door and undid the lock and chain then they came charging into our living room and attacked us.

“You know Jen, more guts than sense, she tried to stand up to them but there were six of them and they were much stronger than us. Two of them held me while the other four laid into her, kicking her in the face and head and calling her all kinds of filth.

“When they were done with her they came at me, slapping me around. I was too terrified to fight back which is why they probably didn’t hit me as hard.”

The state of her body – one arm and one leg in plaster, bandaged around her abdomen, half her face swollen and bruised, tubes everywhere – all called her a liar.

“Then they tore off my skirt and underclothes and took it in turns to… to…”

She broke down in tears while Chris held her hand, unable to find words but at least sharing the tears.

The silence stretched out and eventually gave way.

“I was able to identify them to the police at least. They wore balaclavas, but they’re still as thick as day old porridge. A couple I recognised from their tattoos, three more from their voices and the last from his sheer size and the way he moves. Before this they were an annoyance who never quite did enough to make it worth complaining to the police, but now… Now I hope they get sent somewhere where the other inmates will teach them what it’s like to be…”

She couldn’t bring herself to say the word, but broke down in tears again, turning her face away.

Another silence settled on the room. Chris stayed still, holding his friend’s hand and waiting. He knew that unforgiveness was like a poison you took in the hope that the person you hated would die one day. He hoped his friend would be able to let go of her hatred one day, but this was neither the time nor the place to introduce that thought. He kept his peace and waited.

Eventually Karen spoke again, her words almost too quiet to hear.

“Jen’s in a coma, the doctors aren’t saying anything because they’re afraid of how I’ll react, but I get the feeling she’s not going to recover.”

Chris kissed her hand and held it against his cheek. There wasn’t anything improper in the gesture, and the damp tears against her skin told Karen how much her friend was sharing in her grief. She turned towards him and a weary smile played across her swollen lips.

“You always were one of the girls weren’t you Chris? I think that’s why I get along so well with you. I don’t think I could stand to face a man right now, but you’re not are you?”

Chris looked up at Karen, his eyes puffy and red, and hesitantly shook his head.

“Don’t tell Ann.”

Karen let out a short breath of a laugh and shook her head. “I won’t, but she’ll figure it out sooner or later.”

There was a question, but Chris hardly dared ask it.

“What’s happened to Emily?”

Karen was crying again, the flood surging forward, breaching the dam once more.

“Child services have taken her back. Legally she’s still ours, but if Jen doesn’t recover they’ll most likely rescind the adoption. That’s the main reason I asked you to come down here today Chris, I need to ask you a huge favour…”

…The timer in the kitchen beeped and Ann stood up to quiet it. Apart from the blank shreds, which she had set to one side, she’d all but reconstructed her husband’s words. She wasn’t completely sure of the order of some of it, but what he had written was clear enough and her vision blurred as the words spoke of Chris’s struggle to be the man she loved.

Fragmented memories tumbled over and over in her head, filling in the gaps.

Chris’s mother, taking her parent’s revenge in revealing her son’s most embarrassing moments – “Do you know, one Christmas he asked Santa for a pretty party dress?” – Ann still remembered the glassy look of denial in her Mother-In-Law’s eyes.

Chris taking her to one side before they were engaged, all serious and terrified at the same time – “Ann there’s something I need to tell you about me. I don’t want there to be any secrets between us.” – but Ann hadn’t wanted to hear it, hadn’t wanted to face something that might start to erode the strength of her love for this man. She hadn’t allowed him to continue, had distracted him and changed the subject until at last he had given in. he hadn’t tried again.

Smaller things like the way Chris caressed her clothes in their wardrobe sometimes when he thought she wasn’t looking, the way he would look at a dress in a window display out of the corner of his eye, the way he looked at other women on rare occasions. She had never felt jealous of those looks because there always seemed to be something in his expression; not mentally undressing the subject of his interest but rather looking with regret and… longing.

Ann was so absorbed by her revelation that she almost forgot about her son. Recovering with just enough time, she took a photograph of the reconstructed letter with her phone then swept the torn paper back into the bin before grabbing her keys and running for the car…

-oOo-

Having returned from the school run, Ann gave her son a snack and a drink then, with a twinge of guilt, left him mesmerised in front of his favourite cartoon while she slipped upstairs and into the room that doubled as guest room and home office. She fired up the computer and set about searching on the Internet for clues to help her understand her husband better.

At first she was disgusted by what she found, photographs of men wearing lingerie in explicitly pornographic poses, revoltingly erotic stories interspersed with crude terms and twisted erotic fantasies. With persistence though she found her way to story sites where she read with some distaste stories of mothers dressing their sons as girls or wives and disgruntled female co-workers taking revenge on the men who ruined their lives. She couldn’t believe that Chris could be involved in such things, but forced herself to read on until she realised – these stories were not about women doing depraved things to the men and boys in their lives, but rather men fantasising about ways in which they could indulge their own needs and desires without it being their fault, their choice.

She read on, finding common threads in the stories – men who felt that they were girls inside and had done so since an early age – men who wanted to be women and would go to extra-ordinary lengths to achieve it – men who fantasized about that transformation that would help them to become what they felt they always should have been, what they felt themselves to be inside.

She found scientific research that suggested there might be a genetic cause in some cases; not entirely conclusive and not an explanation for all cases, but the beginning of something perhaps. She read reports and articles by psychologists explaining the nature of gender dysphoria and realised that this seemed to describe her husband, that what drove him was not so much a sexual fetish as a genuine condition. And Chris was denying himself what he felt he needed because he didn’t want to upset his family.

Ann heard movement downstairs; either Andy had finished watching his film or he had become bored with it. She shut down the computer and headed downstairs to spend time with her son. This would have to wait till later.

She managed to interest Andy in helping her with some cooking and together they set about putting together some of the culinary extras that were essential parts of the holiday season. It was predictably messy and sufficiently distracting that Ann didn’t think anything more of her husband’s sacrifice until she heard a key in the front door. She dusted the worst of the flour off her hands and apron and went to meet him, possibly to confront him.

Ann and Andy were waiting as Chris opened the door. Covered in the aftermath of their afternoon’s activities they had never seemed more beautiful to him. On a different day he might have laughed, but today he dropped his briefcase, fell to his knees and embraced them both.

Andy, blissfully unaware of the turmoil of his father’s emotions, abandoned himself to the hug. Ann was more perceptive and drew back from her husband to look him in the eyes.

“What’s wrong Chris, what happened?”

Andy pulled back too, looking up with growing concern at his parents and noticing for the first time the tears streaming down his father’s face.

Chris looked at them both. He had thought that afternoon had drained him of tears, but they rose from deep within him on a great aching wave. His wife and son moved in and held him until the wracking sobs had left him and he was able to speak. Mindful of his son, Chris chose his words carefully.

“You know my friend at work, Karen?”

Ann nodded, Andy looked on and waited.

“She’s in hospital. I went to see her this morning and she’s not very well.” So many unspoken words, so many things to say which he couldn’t without risking giving his son nightmares. “I’m just glad that the two people I love most are here and well enough for me to hold onto.”

Ann and Chris exchanged glances; this was something they would talk about later. Ann’s discovery from earlier in the day slid down the priority ladder. She would bring it up soon, before Christmas, but for now… By mutual, unspoken consent they set about distracting their son. Chris took him upstairs to change and get changed himself while Ann headed back to repair the damage done to her kitchen then Chris and Andy played a game while Ann changed.

“I don’t know what you had in mind for tea tonight,” Chris offered when she reappeared looking fresh and more beautiful than ever, “but if you haven’t started anything yet I was wondering how you felt about getting some Chinese in?”

Andy immediately started bouncing and clapping his hands and Ann caved gratefully.

“To be honest we got so caught up with Christmas cooking I hadn’t given a thought to tonight. Chinese would be great thanks love.”

Chris stood up and walked over to the phone. “Okay then little man what’s it to be? Deep fried worms and slime fritters?”

“No,” Andy laughed. “Sweet and sour pork with noodles, silly.”

It was silly, Andy’s tasted in Chinese food were limited and predictable, but Chris always tried to come up with something new to suggest. Ann had a favourite too.

“Hoisin duck?” he raised his eyebrows at his wife. It had been a while since their last Chinese and she was hardly going to choose something else. She didn’t

Chris phoned through the order then returned to the game, which they started over so Ann could join in. Half an hour later, Chris headed out in the car to pick up their food and Ann and Andy cleared away the game and set the table for tea.

After the meal, the usual evening rituals cut in – bathtime, bedtime story for Andy followed by quiet time for his Mum and Dad. They settled on the sofa with steaming hot mugs as usual, Ann snuggling into Chris’s side.

“So what couldn’t you say in front of Andy?” The question had been burning a hole in her mind since her husband had walked through the door.

Chris gave her a blow by blow of his day, sparing no details from Karen’s description of her ordeal then he drifted into an uneasy silence. Ann was too shocked by what she had heard to notice, so after a while he spoke again.

“You know Karen and Jenny adopted a little girl?”

Ann pulled away, looked into her husband’s face and nodded.

“She’s back with social services now. With Jen in a coma and Karen laid up in hospital, there’s no-one to look after her. That and, since they don’t expect Jenny to recover, they’re talking about rescinding the adoption.”

“Oh God, that’s awful. Hasn’t Karen been through enough?”

“Social services say they are considering what’s best for the child, and they are worried about Karen’s state of mind after what happened.

“That’s why she asked me to do something for her.”

Ann felt a cold shiver run down her back. Chris wasn’t usually this reticent about speaking his mind.

“Right now, while Jenny’s still alive and while there is some uncertainty about whether or not she’ll wake up, there’s not a lot social services can do other than look after Emily in the short term. Karen has consulted with her solicitor and it seems that she still has parental rights, which include the right to decide who looks after her daughter if anything should happen to her and Jen.

“Ann, she’s asked if we would be Emily’s guardians. It will mean she gets to stay with us for Christmas instead of being stuck in some big faceless, friendless institution, which she really doesn’t need right now after what happened to her adoptive parents. It also means that we have right of adoption if both Karen and Jenny pass away.”

Ann was silent; a sensation of intense cold had spread out through her chest and was making its way slowly down her arms.

“I said I needed to talk it through with you before we reached any decision. I’m not going to trick you or force you into doing anything you don’t want to do; I know how hard this sort of thing is for you.”

“What happens if we agree to this and Jenny dies? You said social services were thinking of taking Emily back.”

“It’s uncertain, but if Karen can say she has named guardians in the event that something happens to her, it puts her in a much stronger position to fight to keep her.”

“And she’s not likely to do anything stupid? I mean Karen, she’s been through a lot just now, she’s not going to finish the job off knowing that Emily is taken care of.”

“She seemed to be on top of things when I visited her. We can go and see her tomorrow if you like just to put your mind at ease.”

“If I go and see her I won’t be able to say no whatever happens.”

Thoughts were spinning through her mind. Could she take in someone else’s baby girl just for a few weeks? What if she fell in love with her? How would she be able to give her back? She felt herself go light headed and put her unfinished mug down before she spilt it.

Christmas was a time for thinking of others. She and Chris had shared meals with Karen and Jenny. She wasn’t sure how she felt about the two women’s choice of lifestyle, but Emily had seemed a happy and well balanced little girl, despite having two mothers and no father. She and Andy had played happily together and made friends.

Ann thought about Emily, separated from those who knew and loved her, spending Christmas in some big soulless institution. No, whatever the cost, she couldn’t allow that to happen.

“Okay Chris, let’s do it.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure I don’t want Emily spending Christmas away from people who care about her. The rest we’ll sort out afterwards.” She managed a weak smile. “It looks like Andy might get his Christmas wish after all.”

It was times like this that had Chris aching with love for his wife. What she was prepared to give up for someone else to be happy was beyond anything he could imagine. He took both her hands in his and looked into her eyes.

“I am so glad I get to spend the rest of my life with you, and I couldn’t be prouder that you would choose me.”

Ann thought about her afternoon’s research. “You don’t do so bad yourself you know?”

He drew her into a kiss then held her, tenderly stroking her hair.

“I have some papers in my briefcase that we both need to sign. If I get them in tomorrow, they should be able to bring her to us by Christmas Eve.”

Ann burrowed more deeply into Chris’s side and murmured, “Can you get them in a bit when I’m done being thankful for having such a wonderful and caring husband?”

It was sometime after the Andy-all-clear that they separated, and even then not very long before they both decided on an early bed time.

On a whim, Ann took control that night, seducing her husband and climbing on top of him. It was a new and exquisite experience for them both, all the more so as she indulged her imagination and found her experimental fantasies arousing her all the more.

-oOo-

The rest of the week passed in a rush of last minute preparations. Despite the busy time at work, Chris explained what they were doing and Mike insisted he take the rest of the week off to make preparations. The computer and other pieces of office equipment were moved into a corner of their bedroom and Chris set about painting and transforming the guest room into a little girl’s bedroom. Ann was out most days shopping, determined that Emily was going to enjoy this Christmas despite what had happened to her parents. She also had a few other purchases to make, feeling more than a little nervous about what she was planning.

Christmas Eve came and everything was ready. The room was perfect with pink walls and many of Emily’s own toys and clothes, collected from her home by Chris with Karen’s permission. The tree was buried under a pile of presents that would take some overtime to pay off, but for now Chris and Ann sat back to enjoy a moment’s quiet satisfaction and a glass of something more spirit than Christmas. Andy was beside himself running around the house and unable to settle long enough to do anything for more than a few seconds at a time. He’d smelt the paint these past few days, but hadn’t been allowed to look in the spare room. All he knew was that there was a surprise coming today and he could not contain himself with the anticipation.

The doorbell rang and Andy was tearing through the house before his parent’s had managed to climb to their feet. There was a strange car in the drive and a large and rather stern looking woman stood on the mat. Chris reached past Andy to open the door.

“Mrs Dehart, thank-you for coming.”

“Mr Goodwin, I know you mean well in this but can I beg you to reconsider. Emily has been through a painfully traumatic few days…”

“…Which is why she needs to be with people she knows cares for her.” Ann finished for her. “We’re good friends of Karen and Jenny and Emily know us and our son Andy.”

Mrs Dehart let out a sigh. “It’s just that she’s been different since the incident. If you’d called in to talk to me before all this I could have explained.”

“Explained what?”

A timid face appeared from behind Mrs Dehart’s skirts, a small pudgy hand gripping the material tightly. Chris dropped down to his knees and smiled at her.

“Hello Emily. You remember me don’t you? Uncle Chris? I work with your Mummy and she’s asked if we can look after you until she gets better.”

Emily let out a yowling cry and buried her face into Mrs Dehart’s leg. The large woman looked down at her tenderly, then over at the confused family.

“We think she may have seen the boys attacking Jenny and Karen. We don’t know how much she saw, but she gets terrified whenever she sees a man. I’m not sure if she’ll settle here with you in the house Mr Goodwin. I’m not casting aspersions – I’m quite convinced from your actions and your mannerisms that you are quite the gentleman, but she’s too young to distinguish and it will take her a long time to learn to trust men again after what we think she saw.”

Chris was stunned. He stood up and stepped back a few paces. Emily eased her grip of the social worker’s clothes and calmed down a little, but all the while looking at the man in the house.

Andy took a step forward so he was in Emily’s line of sight.

“Hi Emily, do you remember me? We’ve played together a few times when my Mum and Dad came to visit your parents. You remember we had lots of fun together.”

Emily’s eyes showed some recognition. She obviously didn’t equate Andy with the bigger men who had hurt her parents. She slowly released her grip and the beginnings of a smile flickered in the corners of her mouth as happier memories broke into her nightmare.

“Do you want to come up to my room and play? I’ve got lots of toys. We can play Cowboys and Indians, I remember you liked the Indians because I have some squaws with babies. Or maybe you’d like to see your room. Daddy painted it especially for you. I haven’t seen it yet because they were keeping this a secret from me, but I’m sure they’ll let us go in there now. Come on, you know I asked Father Christmas for a little baby brother or sister, and I’m so glad he sent you to us.”

All the while he was leading her gently by the hand and into the house. Emily wouldn’t take her eyes off Chris who was cowering in the corner, still horrified by the effect he was having on the little girl. Ann watched her son with pride as he calmed Emily’s fears and led her upstairs. The germ of an idea took root in her mind, perhaps this could work out.

“I’m going to leave you my home number,” Mrs Dehart said offering a small, gilt business card. “Normally I don’t like to be disturbed over Christmas, but if Emily doesn’t settle you call me whatever the time or day.”

She passed over a small suitcase. The set of her jaw and the look in her eyes betraying her disapproval of the action she was being forced to take.

“Thank-you Mrs Dehart, I will call you if this doesn’t work out but I think things just might change for the better. The same goes for you too. You already have our number and if you’re still worried later, just give us a call to check in.”

Mrs Dehart nodded once then heaved her matronly form back into her car and away.

Ann closed the door and turned to her husband still immobile with shock. She grabbed his hand and dragged him into the living room where she pushed him onto the sofa and put his drink back in his hands.

“Drink it. All of it.”

More through reflex obedience than any voluntary action, he did as he was told, choking then suddenly aware again of who and where he was.

“What have we done Ann? I thought we were going to help her, but she can’t even look at me.”

“Chris… Chris, look at me. I have a plan which I think might work out for all of us. Do you trust me?”

“What kind of a question is that? I’d trust you with my life and everything I have.”

Ann rummaged under the tree for a while and pulled out a couple of packages. She thrust them into his hands.

“I know it’s a bit unorthodox, but open them now.”

Chris looked at his wife, bewildered, but she was smiling back at him, confident, determined. He looked back down at the parcels in his hands – four of them, all addressed to him in his wife’s hand. He looked up at his wife again in confusion, but she only nodded bright eyed encouragement at him. He tore into the paper.

A few minutes later he looked back up at her even more bewildered than before.

“I found the letter Chris. It took me most of a day, but I put all the pieces back together again. I know I shouldn’t have and you’ll have to forgive me for that another day, but I had to know what’s been troubling you these past weeks.

“I remembered things. What your Mum told me you asked Santa for when you were little, that time when you wanted to share a secret with me and I wouldn’t listen, a million different things about the way you are. They all added together to make this.”

“Oh God, you must be so ashamed of me.”

“Why would I be ashamed? Chris you have done all you could to turn your back on this because you were worried about how I would react, and I’ll admit I was shocked when I did figure it out. But I’ve researched it on the Internet and I think I have a clearer idea of what it is you’re going through. I have no reason to be ashamed of you. Just the opposite in fact, you have denied your true self for my sake and Andy’s for the past eight years.

“If anyone should be ashamed, it’s me. You wanted to be honest with me but I wouldn’t let you. All the stress you’ve been fighting through the years: I caused it, because I was too much of a coward to let you show me the real you. Now I’d like you to show me, and if you want more incentive then think of Emily. She’s terrified of you as a man, but she might just be ready to accept the real you.”

Chris stared at the things in his lap. He’d been denying this for so long, it was almost too hard to accept that things had changed. He looked up at Ann, the question unspoken but clearly written in his expression.

“Oh for Heaven’s sake!”

She grabbed a handful of things out of his lap and pulled at his arm until he dazedly climbed to his feet, scrabbling to hold onto the boxes and packets she hadn’t taken. She dragged him upstairs to the bathroom and pushed him inside dropping her gift through the door with him.

“Take your time love, have a bath and use some of my bath oils. You’ll need to shave all over and it may be easier on your skin if you use one of my razors. In fact use anything of mine that you like and don’t come out until you’re ready for me to meet the other you.”

-oOo-

It took him over an hour. He shaved first, the weight of his long denial lifting a little with each stroke. It felt strange and exhilarating to be so completely hairless, the delight and relief palpable as he ran his hands over smooth skin. The bath with its near scalding heat and scented oils was exquisite torture, leaving his skin even smoother and softer than before. He ran the razor over his skin again to eliminate the few stray hairs that had escaped his first efforts and pulled the large, luxuriant bath towel about him, thrilled by the heightened sensitivity of his bare skin.

He went through Ann’s collection of creams and other concoctions, settling on a moisturiser which he rather extravagantly used over his entire body. The perfumed smell coming from his own skin was heady and from deep within him an unsuspected joy began to well up.

He slipped on a pair of bright red, silky French knickers, shivering with delight at their softness, and grateful for the freedom of movement the loose fit gave him. The bra came next, front fastening and in a colour to match the knickers. The cups hung loose on him, but Ann had thought of that too. From another box he lifted out two breast forms, uncannily realistic in appearance, weight and feel. There was a tube of adhesive in the box, but he didn’t feel ready to go that far just yet. He settled each of the forms into an empty cup and adjusted the straps on his bra (yes HIS bra!) until they were comfortable.

Next he opened a packet containing a pair of sheer white suspender tights. After a little thought, he decided it would be best if they were worn under his panties, so slipped them off before rolling the smooth nylon onto his legs. Pulling the knickers back on took him to a new level of sensation and left him gasping and aroused.

He turned to the wig box, seeking some distraction to help him regain control, and pulled out a mannequin’s head with what looked to him like genuine hair, falling in dark brown waves to below shoulder length. There were instructions which Chris followed, using the hairnet to hold his own short cropped hair safely in place, then the hairpins to hold the wig securely once he had seated it properly.

He looked into the bathroom mirror and his heart quickened as he saw the Chris he knew fading into the background and the girl he had always wanted to be taking over.

He opened the last package to find a sexy Santa Baby costume in rich red velvet and lined with white plush fur. He almost chickened out then. He knew he was smaller and slimmer than most men his age, but he wasn’t sure he could pull off this level of cute. The temptation of the costume was too much though, and he gave in, slipping on the sleeveless dress, the small cape and hood, the fur lined soft leather boots and even the gloves.

The hem of the dress fell to about mid-thigh and hung in full elegant folds that swirled about his legs when he moved. He caught sight of himself in the mirror and stopped, staring open mouthed at the young woman looking back at him. His mannerisms had changed by degrees as he had dressed and now there was no indication at all of the man beneath it all.

There was a gentle knock at the door.

“Is everything okay Chris?” the voice was hesitant, almost regretful. “If this is too much then don’t worry. I don’t want to push you into doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable. I just thought that…”

Chris was suddenly terrified. What would Ann think when she saw him? The condemnation of his parents crashed down on him and he suddenly wanted to escape.

“Chris?”

There was nowhere to go. He reached for the bolt and slid it back, then slowly opened the door. Ann stood in the hall wearing a matching costume. Her hands shot to her mouth at the sight of her transformed husband and Chris immediately thought the worst. With a burning shame rising to tear away his new found peace and delight, Chris made to shut the door again.

“Chris no!” Ann reached forward to stop her husband. “It’s just that… I didn’t expect you to look so good.” She pushed the door gently open and looked the man she loved up and down. “I mean I think you look better than me in that costume.”

Despite the maelstrom of mixed feelings, Chris blushed and lowered his head demurely. Ann took his hand and led him gently through to their bedroom, sitting him on the stool in front of her dresser.

“It’ll be gilding the lily I think, but hold still.”

She reached for various powders and pencils and for a few minutes worked on Chris’s face and eyes. The makeup felt odd and the lip gloss tasted unlike anything he’d experienced, but somehow it made him feel more of the girl inside. She stopped trying to hide and took over again.

Ann stepped to one side and let her husband look into the full length mirror on their wardrobe. The transformation was complete; Chris was gone and in his place stood someone beautiful, someone who had never been given a chance to live. Ann stood beside him, a little shorter but certainly no more feminine.

“Do you have a name?” she asked looking at the reflection of her handiwork. “Because if you don’t I was wondering if you’d mind Christine. I know it’s a lot like your real name, but it will mean you can still use your credit cards and if I call you Chris by mistake, there’s a good chance people won’t notice.”

“You’re not suggesting I go out looking like this are you?”

“I don’t see why not, I seriously doubt that anyone would guess you were a man underneath it all. You not only look perfect, but you act more like a woman than most of my friends.”

Chris(tine) looked at his (her?) wife a little dubiously.

“Why don’t we see what Emily thinks of your transformation?” she grabbed his hand and pulled.

Things were happening too fast, Chris dug in his inch and a half heels.

“No Ann. What’s Andy going to think when he sees me dressed like this?”

“I think he will surprise you Christine. You’ve trusted me this far, just a little further.”

Christine allowed herself to be led. As Chris he almost certainly wouldn’t have allowed it, but the girl in him was alive now and ready to trust.

Andy’s door was open but, apart from the chaos, there was no sign of either him or Emily. They moved on to the guest room, now Emily’s, and listened. Muffled sounds came from the other side, mostly Andy talking, but one or two rejoinders from their small guest. It seemed she was beginning to open up. Ann knocked on the door lightly and pushed it open a crack. Her son was sitting with Emily on the bed, each holding one of her plush toys and evidently in the middle of some game.

“Hi,” said Ann, “I just wanted to check that you were both alright.”

Andy smiled brightly, but Emily was suddenly wary, trying to look through the crack in the door past Ann.

“I want you to meet a friend of mine. Her name is Christine.”

With that Ann opened the door fully and stepped to one side to reveal her husband looking worried, anticipating another screaming attack. Instead Emily looked at him curiously, warily, unsure how to react. Andy was also looking rather oddly at his father, when sudden recognition dawned and he leapt to his feet.

“Oh wow, look Emily now I have two mummies just like you.” He threw his arms around Chris and buried his face into the softness of his father’s dress. Chris crouched down and put his arms around his son, leaning his head lovingly against Andy’s. Ann had been right.

He felt a tug on his cloak and looked round to see Emily standing close by. He gently put an arm round her and kissed her gently on the forehead as she melted against the softness of his clothes.

“You smell nice,” she told him and hugged him tighter.

-oOo-

The rest of the day was one of small adjustments. Chris to his new status, Ann and Andy to the presence of another woman in their home as well as Emily, and their young guest to being with people she half remembered and who so evidently loved her.

They played a game together then Andy, the magnanimous host, took Emily up to his room while Ann and Christine worked together to cook tea and set the table, chatting all the while like best friends.

Ann then bathed the children, both still young enough to share the tub, while Chris washed up and cleaned the kitchen. They then settled down on the sofa, snuggled together as though this were the most normal thing in the world, and watched something Christmassy and soppy enough to make at least the grown-ups cry.

When it was over, the children hung stockings in front of the television for everyone before allowing themselves to be herded upstairs to their beds. Chris took Andy to his bedroom while Ann settled Emily into her bed. There was still a shadow of sadness in her eyes, but she was still quivering with excitement as she was tucked in.

“Now be sure to be quiet and go to sleep as soon as you can so Father Christmas can come and leave you some presents.”

Emily was suddenly still, looking up with round eyes. Ann realised her mistake.

“Oh that’s right I forgot. I heard that Mrs Christmas was going to come to our house this year because she heard that you were staying with us and she thinks that you’re so special that she wants to bring all our presents here herself.”

What kind of trauma could leave a little child so terrified of men that even Father Christmas was scary?

Emily settled then spoke, her question a little muffled by the bedclothes.

“Can your friend Christine come and say goodnight too?”

Ann smiled, pushing her sadness for the child away.

“Of course if you’d like her to.”

“Yes please.”

“Okay then, I’ll go and fetch her. Nighty night.”

“Nighty night.”

Ann started to close the door, then popped her head back in.

“Do you want the door closed or would you like to have some light from the outside?”

“Leave it open a bit please, that’s what my Mummy K does.”

Ann retreated again, leaving a sliver of light to hold back total darkness, and headed for Andy’s room.

“You were right Daddy, things are different and so much better. I like having two mummies.”

“Well I’m glad you don’t mind, because your second Mummy is probably going to have to stay for at least as long as Emily is with us.”

“Then I hope she stays with us forever. She’s nice and I like the way you and Mummy are smiling now.”

Chris looked over at his wife standing in the doorway. She certainly seemed happier, and he knew he was.

“You know I like it too and you may be right. I know I’m proud of you for the way you made Emily feel so welcome, but now you need to get to sleep so that Father Christmas…”

“Mrs Christmas.”

Ann spoke from the doorway. Chris looked a question at her for a moment then shrugged.

“…Mrs Christmas can come and leave you some presents.”

“Do you think she’ll leave me a pretty dress like yours?”

Again Chris looked at his wife, unsure how to respond. She came to his rescue.

“We’ll have to see in the morning won’t we sweetheart.”

She moved in to take over.

“Well goodnight my beamish boy…”

“No, that’s something my Daddy says. I want something different from my second Mummy.”

“Okay then, my little dormouse, because in Alice in Wonderland he was always falling asleep and that’s what you need to do now.”

Chris retreated to let his wife say her goodnight, but she turned to him, stopping him as he eased past.

“Emily asked if Christine would say goodnight too.”

Somewhat warily he made his way to the guest room and poked his head through the door. Emily turned to him and smiled so he went in all the way and sat on the bed beside her.

“You’re really Andy’s Daddy aren’t you?”

Children are capable of sudden frankness at times. Chris had been a parent long enough to know the dangers of lying in such situation. His face went serious and he looked Emily squarely in the eyes.

“Yes I am. Does that scare you?”

“I don’t think so. It doesn’t really matter that you’re a man on the outside because now I know there’s a lady on the inside.”

Chris felt his heart melt all the way. Sometimes the innocence of children can reveal the most profound truths. He leaned in and kissed her gently on the forehead.

“So would you rather spend Christmas with Andy’s Daddy or with Christine?”

“Christine please, I like her and Andy does too.”

“Christine it is then, goodnight snuggle-bug.”

He left the room, leaving the door open a crack as he had found it. Ann was still talking quietly with their son, so he made his way downstairs and filled the kettle.

-oOo-

The mugs of tea were ready by the time Ann came downstairs so she followed her husband into the living room and sat next to him, accepting a hot cup gratefully and snuggling up against his side.

“Aren’t you worried that a neighbour might peak in and catch sight of two cute little Santarettes having a snuggle?”

She snorted. “Santarettes eh? Honestly if it makes you this happy, I couldn’t care less what the neighbours think. I only wish I’d known sooner.”

“So you’re okay with this? Really?”

“Well I have to admit I feel a little weird about it and I can’t say that I understand it, but I can see from the way you’ve been today that it’s something you need so I guess I have to be okay with it.”

They leaned in on each other and sipped on their tea, groping their way through the silence. Ann broke it first.

“So have you ever, you know, dressed up in the time I’ve known you?”

“Not since we were engaged no.”

Ann sat back and looked Chris in the face.

“But before that?”

“There was one time. You remember, we’d been seeing each other for just over a year and you had to go out of out of town for the weekend. Some family thing I think.”

“My Grandmother’s ninetieth Birthday?”

“Yeah I think so. Anyway I was feeling really lonely so I went round to your place.”

“And?”

“You remember that pale blue three tier cotton skirt you had with the drawstring waist?”

“You didn’t!”

“It was about the only thing in your wardrobe I knew would fit.”

“What did you wear with it?”

“Well I really wanted to try that white gypsy top. You know, the one with the puff sleeves and gathered neckline? There was no way it was going to fit though, in fact pretty much the only things of yours I might have squeezed into were your knitted tops and I didn’t want to risk stretching any of them. In the end I settled for that old shirt of mine you used to wear to bed sometimes.”

“Why? I mean if you were going to wear something of yours, why that?”

“It smelled of you. You didn’t seem so far away.”

There was something of outrage and sympathy mingling behind her eyes. Chris ducked his own, staring at the sofa between them, at their nylon clad legs touching, and pressed on.

“I stayed the night; there were still traces of your perfume on the pillow. Then when I woke in the morning I felt so guilty, I put the clothes back where I’d found them and left. I promised myself I wouldn’t do anything like that again, at least not until after I’d told you, and then only if you were okay with it. But then I was too scared to tell you for the longest time.

“I tried to say something before I asked you to marry me; I didn’t want there to be any secrets between us. But you seemed to figure that I was about to say something you didn’t want to hear and you kept blanking me until I gave up. I decided then that if I wanted to be your husband, it would have to be on your terms, and I’ve stuck by that. I just didn’t realise it was going to be so hard.”

Ann leaned her head on his shoulder again. This was still all too strange, too many questions spinning around. There was one she was dreading hearing the answer to. She gritted her teeth and asked it anyway, her voice small and tight.

“So does this mean you want to be a woman? All the time?”

Chris was silent, trying to put his thoughts in order. Eventually, with his wife cringing and expecting the worst, he found his answer.

“I don’t think so. I mean if there were some way in which I could be magically transformed into a complete woman, I’d probably be tempted, but I’d most likely regret it afterwards.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you remember that management course I went on last year? I told you about that assessment thing they did that was developed by David er, David McLaughlin… McClelland, that’s it David McClelland.”

“Remind me.”

“He described three kinds of motivational need: achievement, authority and affiliation. We all have them to a greater or lesser extent, and the strength and balance of each can tell you a lot about someone’s personality.”

“I don’t see where you’re going with this.”

“Well I’m sure I told you. There are some people who have high levels of motivational need in two or all three categories. Unlike most individuals who are dominant in just one area, these people tend to switch backwards and forwards between the ones they’re strong in. They stick with one long enough to satisfy their motivational drive in that area, by which time another area has been neglected so they switch to that one.”

“I kind of get it, but I still don’t see…”

“I feel like I’m stuck between genders. There’s a big part of me that’s happy being a man. I mean I’m attracted to women – one in particular – so even if I could go through some mystical transformation, I’d probably still end up being a lesbian, and since I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t work for you, I’d rather stay as I am. I’m too happy being your husband and Andy’s father. I don’t really want to lose that.

“The thing is there’s also a part of me that wants to be a woman, that wants to look beautiful and be complimented on the way I look, that wants the closeness that women have and men don’t. At least that’s what I think I’m missing. Just wearing smart suits doesn’t do that because other people still treat me like a man. There are times when I need to be as much of a girl as I can be, and the clothes help me to feel that. When I’m dressed like this, the girl in me comes out.”

“I know, I can see that, you have the mannerisms and even the voice. It’s hard to believe that you haven’t been dressing up like this all your life.”

“Well I did when I was younger, and I guess it’s a bit like riding a bike: you don’t forget.”

“So why do you get so stressed with it then?”

“Well it’s a bit like I am at parties. You know I’m not very good at relationships; I still wonder how we ever got together, the way I used to clam up whenever you were around. Whenever I’m in a crowd I can get by for a couple of hours max, then I have to leave, get out on a balcony or something and just be on my own.

“It’s a bit the same with the gender thing. All the time I’m being a man, it’s like the female part of me is locked away. She doesn’t mind for a while, but the longer things go on, the more she wants to be let out until she’s screaming for release. She’s especially loud when there are other things in life that stress me out.”

“So you’re saying that if you stayed like this for, say the next couple of years, then the man inside you would start screaming to be let out?”

“Well I’ve never tried it, but I think so yes. Chris is at least as big a part of me as Christine.”

“But it’s not like two different personalities?”

“No. Same person, just jumping back and forth between different motivational needs.”

They settled into a long silence, enjoying each other’s closeness and lost in their own thoughts. After a while they separated and Ann went to fetch a box of goodies with which to fill the stockings. They worked in silence for a while, then Chris spoke.

“Ann?”

“Mmm?”

“Thank-you for today. I mean you not only rescued Christmas for Emily and the rest of us, but I can’t begin to tell you how much it means that you did all this for me.”

She looked up at him through her long lashes and gave him a saucy grin.

“Maybe you can try to show me. I have another surprise upstairs.”

They crept up to their bedroom, stopping briefly to look in on the sleeping forms of the two children in their care. The door closed, Ann pulled a couple more packages out from the bottom of the wardrobe and handed one to her husband.

“These were meant to be for tomorrow night, but after this afternoon it seems a shame not to keep things rolling.”

Chris tore the package open to find a short, red nightdress made from several layers of soft, sheer fabric. There were matching panties because there was no way the nightie was going to hide anything important.

Ann had opened hers to show the same style but in black.

“Would you think less of me if I told you I wanted to spend the night with you Christine?”

She pushed Chris back onto the bed and reached up under his skirt to relieve him of his underwear. While she was there she discovered that there was a part of Chris’s body that was still acting very much like a man.

Unable to wait, she pulled off her own panties and climbed on top of him. It was short but exquisite for both of them. She rolled onto the bed beside him and gazed into his eyes.

“Why don’t we get changed and see if we can try again, but slower?”

Chris didn’t need telling twice and before long, they were both naked and reaching for their nighties.

Ann noticed that the breast forms had come off with Chris’s bra and put out a hand to stop him changing further.

“You’re not expected back at work till after New Year are you?”

“No, the office is closed this week. Why?”

“How do you feel about having your own pair breasts for the week?”

“You mean the glue? I wasn’t sure about that and I didn’t want to risk making a mess of things by myself in any case.”

“Well I want to spend this week getting to know Christine, and that will be a lot easier on both of us if your boobs don’t keep falling off. I have some solvent to get them off if you change your mind.”

Chris shrugged his shoulders. He was actually quite excited about having the breasts as semi-permanent fixtures on his body, but old habits don’t go softly and something of the male enforced nonchalance came out.

A few minutes later, glue applied, breasts attached and a little bit of makeup to hide the joins, Chris was standing in front of the mirror admiring his new glands through the diaphanous material of his nightdress.

“Come on you poser, stop admiring yourself. I’m waiting to go to bed with my best girl.”

He didn’t need any more encouragement, but hurried over to slip under the covers.

-oOo-

Chris and Ann didn’t sleep much that night, enjoying each other more often and in more ways than they had since they were first married, so it was with bleary eyes and misfiring brains that they woke to the sound of little feet running around outside their bedroom.

With a groan, Ann climbed out of her bed and covered her all too revealing nightclothes with a pale green silk dressing gown. Chris looked at his boring old cotton one with some regret and was about to reach for it when a package landed on his lap.

“Happy Christmas darling. I’m afraid you are going to be spoilt rotten today. You may just have more presents to open than Andy and Emily, so just get used to it.”

He opened the parcel to find a silk dressing gown similar to his wife’s but in a paler yellow/green. He slipped it on and took a few minutes to straighten his wig, which had twisted a little during the night, before following his wife downstairs, luxuriating in the gentle caress of the material against his hairless legs.

It was a Christmas to remember. As usual they only opened stockings before breakfast, but once the discipline of waiting had been exercised for the bare minimum of time, they turned to the tree and started passing presents out. There were squeals of delight from the children as one after another wished for toy appeared, and eager excitement and curiosity as the adults revealed the contents of their own gifts.

Chris had found a beautiful gold necklace and earring set which he knew would go perfectly with a number of Ann’s posher frocks. It had been expensive, but the look of gratitude his wife gave him paid back every penny.

“I’ll may let you borrow them once you’ve had your ears pierced,” she said, and he wasn’t quite sure whether she was joking.

For Chris, this was usually his moment to sit back and revel in the delight on the faces of his loved ones, but this year his presents just kept coming. Nearly all from Ann and addressed to Christine, “with love and backdated for the many years she hadn’t shared Christmas with them.”

Andy and Emily joined in the excited anticipations as one after another parcel was opened revealing skirts, dresses, blouses, nightwear, underwear, makeup, in fact everything necessary for the newest lady in the family. Chris shook his head in disbelief.

“How can we afford all of this?”

“Don’t worry, a lot of the clothes came from charity shops and eBay. All good quality stuff and in mint condition, but a lot cheaper than if you bought it direct form the shops. If needs be, I’ll get a job in the New Year to help pay for it.”

“You flippin’ well won’t.”

“Oh is that so?” Ann put on a show of mock indignation. “Might I remind you young lady that at this present moment in time you are not wearing the pants in this family?”

Ann took advantage of the ensuing laughter to disappear out of the living room, returning a moment later with two last packages.

“It’s only right that the youngest people should be the ones to open the last presents.”

She held out two flat boxes for Andy and Emily, and they dived into them with renewed zeal.

“Oh wow, look Daddy, I have a dress just like yours and so does Emily.”

Chris gave his wife an odd look.

“He’s only six Christine. Lots of boys his age play dress up without it affecting them when they grow up. Besides, if it’s in him I’d like him to know he can talk to us about it without fear of judgement.”

“Wisdom and beauty all in one perfect little package.”

“That makes two of us then. Right kids we all need to get dressed. What do you think Christine should wear?”

The response was a unanimous vote for yesterday’s costume, but Ann vetoed the decision.

“She wore that yesterday though. You can’t ask a woman to wear the same thing two days running, especially when she has so many beautiful new clothes to choose from. I tell you what, you two put on your Little Miss Santa costumes and be Santa’s helpers for the day, and we’ll join in this afternoon when we go out visiting. For this morning though, do you think the blue dress?”

There was a chorus of yays and everyone headed upstairs to get dressed with far more than normal enthusiasm. The phone rang and Chris answered it on his way out. It was Mr Dehart. When peace had returned a little Chris could hear her laughing down the phone.

“Well I thought I’d call to make sure everything was going alright and I don’t think I need any more answer than I just heard. Mr Goodwin I don’t know how you did it, but that is a very pleasing sound and has just made my day. Merry Christmas to you.”

“And to you Mrs Dehart. I’m sure we’ll speak more in the New Year.”

He put the phone down and followed his family up the stairs.

“Who was it love?”

“Mrs Dehart checking to make sure Emily was okay. I answered just as she and Andy were squealing their way up the stairs so it was a short phone call.

“What was that you were saying about doing the family visits in those cute little Santa costumes?”

“Oh it’s alright, I’ve told everyone about Emily so they think you’re doing it for her; which isn’t entirely untrue. Besides I thought it would be an idea to break them into the idea of meeting Christine slowly and this seemed like a good way to start.”

“So Christine’s here to stay then, you’re sure you’re okay with that?”

“After all we’ve spent on her this year she’d jolly well better be staying.

“And all joking aside she’s a part of you which makes her part of the person I married. It’s taken me a while to understand, but now that I do I don’t want to live with only half of the man I love.”

-oOo-

Above the house an invisible presence allowed Himself a well-earned feeling of satisfaction. In a day and age where so few people believed in miracles it was hard to fulfil anyone’s Christmas wish and, despite the horrors that Jen and Karen had experienced at the hands of a few narrow minded and selfish bigots, this was working out very well for everyone. There was more to come too. In a couple of days Karen would be released from hospital and would go to stay with her friends and her daughter. Then in the New Year, against all the odds, Jen would regain consciousness and make a slow but full recovery. Convalescence would take a while, during which time Emily would spend a lot of her days with Andy and his parents, sometimes his Mum and Dad but more often his two Mums.

They would probably all look on Jen’s recovery as the greatest miracle, but in reality there wasn’t all that much to the big flashy ones. Parting the Red Sea, stopping the Sun in the sky, making someone alive and whole again were all very impressive, but they were nothing compared to the ones that took place in the heart of a person when they cared enough for someone to look into their heart and soul without judgement or prejudice, reached out to shoulder part of someone’s burden despite the personal cost and did everything they could to make things right with someone by caring for the person inside.

After all this was what Christmas was really all about.

-Fin-