stress managementCopyright © 2012 Maeryn Lamonte – All Rights Reserved.

He wasn’t always like this, my Barry. I remember when we first met, he was kind and gentle and so caring; I couldn’t help but fall in love with him.

I remember the first time he tried to asked me out, he was that nervous he could hardly speak. It was like he was so terrified I’d say no, he didn’t dare say the words. In the end I had to do it.

“Are you trying to ask me out on a date?”I asked him.

He stared at his shoes, as mute as a mime, and nodded. He wouldn’t meet my eyes, could barely even move his head. I thought it was so sweet that he thought so much of me.

“Of course I will go out with you,” I told him and he looked up at me, his eyes filling with delight and disbelief. That was the moment I knew we would be married, the moment I saw that expression and knew just how much I meant to him. I mean I felt the same way about him as well, but, like my mum always says, love is a two way street, and to know how deeply someone feels about you makes it all the sweeter.

His confidence grew after that, and he became even more precious to me. It was like my love helped him to become more in so many ways. He was going to be something special, I could see it, and I was going to help him, because behind every great man is a good woman, and I knew I was as good as he was great.

It took him over a year to propose. I thought it was just fear of rejection again, and I did my best to let him know that there was no way I was going to turn my back on him. Eventually the evening came. I could tell from his jangling nerves when he asked me out that he was planning something special, and I wasn’t disappointed. He took me to a fancy French restaurant where everything was so posh. It must have cost him a month’s salary just for that one meal, not that he was earning a great deal at the time.

He kept fidgeting right through the meal, and I remember wishing he would just get to the question so that we could both enjoy the rest of the evening. It was his thing though, so I let him play it the way he wanted.

We finished the meal and he paid, then he asked if I would walk with him through the nearby park. It was the middle of summer, so it was still light and warm outside, and I told him yes. We walked for a while and he seemed to be building up his courage. It wouldn’t have been fair to steal this moment from him, so I waited. Eventually he led me to a bench and sat us both down on it.

“Evelyn, there’s something I’ve wanted to ask you, but before I can there’s something else I need to tell you. It’s not going to be easy to hear, any more than it’s going to be easy for me to say, but I don’t want there to be any secrets between us.

“I’m not telling you this because I want you to make any special accommodation for me, but because I want you to know all about me and know exactly who and what I am.”

I have to confess, it wasn’t what I was expecting from the evening. Something of a mood killer you might say, but it was important to him, so I squashed my feelings and turned a little more towards him to tell him he had my full attention. As it was, he just sat there working his mouth without any sound coming out, and I had to say something to help him out.

“Barry,” I said, “I don’t know what this is, but please tell me. I’m sure we can work it out. You know I love you, and I can’t think of anything that would drive me away from you.”

He gave me a grateful look then blurted it out. I suppose it was the only way he could say it, in one big rush, but it came as a shock, I can tell you.

“I like to wear women’s clothes,” he said, then, like a crack in a dam, the rest of it came rushing out. “Ever since I was little, about seven or eight I think, I’ve been dressing up. My parents thought it was just a phase, but when it went on they kept telling me I had to stop, so I hid some clothes and did it when no-one was around.

“I didn’t know how to talk to them about it, and I couldn’t say anything to anyone else, so it just became this big secret of mine. I haven’t told anyone about it, and I only do it when I’m sure no-one will find out. I don’t even know why I do it, just that I have to.

“I’m sorry, it’s just the way I am. I wish I could be otherwise, but I’m not, and now I’m so scared that you’re going to think I’m some sort of freak and not love me anymore. I just can’t face the idea of living a lie with you, so I had to say something.”

He trailed off and looked at me expectantly, hopefully, but I was too shocked to respond. I mean I know what I said to him, but this? I almost walked away then and there, I mean the thought of Barry in a dress, euw.

I tried to think past my feelings, you know to hold on to the things we had shared, to try and find the man I thought I knew inside, and I managed it. It wasn’t easy though, and I look on that as the first big test of our relationship. I couldn’t understand why he would want to do this thing, but I was pretty sure I could offer him something better, and I told him so.

“Barry, it’s alright,” I said, “I don’t know what the attraction is for dressing up like a woman, but I promise you, I have something to give you that’s going to be so much better. When we’re together, I mean really together, you’ll forget all about this. You don’t have to worry about your little fetish, I promise you I’m woman enough to cure you of it, to make you into a real man.”

He nodded his head, but he didn’t meet my eyes. He looked a little disappointed for a moment, which I thought was strange because I hadn’t left him, had I? He smiled up at me, and when I think back, it was a little forced.

“Thank-you,” he said. “Thank-you for not freaking out and running away like I thought you were going to do. I suppose this is the best I could hope for, that you would listen to me and still stand by me.”

There wasn’t much else to say that evening, so he took me home. Things were strange between us for a while. I kept imagining him in a big flouncy dress, which put me off a little, and he was a little more quiet and distant than usual.

In time we adapted to the new norm though. Things weren’t quite as wonderful as they had been, but they were still pretty special, so when Barry took me out a couple of months later, to a different, but equally posh restaurant, and got down on one knee in the middle of the crowd to ask the question, it was like some of the magic had come back into our lives and I said yes.

-oOo-

The chinks didn’t appear right away, or suddenly, but after we’d been married for about a year I began to notice something different about Barry. He was less cheerful when he came home, more sullen. When we were first married, he used to tell me he loved me every morning, he used to send me flowers each week, and he used to find something to compliment me on every day, either in the way I dressed, or in something I’d done about the house, or something. Our marriage was important to him, and he worked at it.

I did too. I tried to keep the house looking nice, and I kept making an effort with my appearance. Some of my friends asked me why I bothered, I mean I’d got my man after all hadn’t I? I just told them he was special to me and I wanted him to know it. They made some sort of pheu sound, and it saddened me that they should have become so hard bitten and cynical. I was determined that Barry and I weren’t going to go the same way, but things changed even so.

After some months I noticed a change, subtle but definitely there. Barry would walk in the door and it was as though the weight of the world hung on his shoulders. I would ask him what was the matter, had he had a bad day at work, and he would give me this look, almost as though I should know what was the matter. He stopped speaking to me so much then. The complements faded, the flowers stopped altogether. He did still tell me that he loved me, but even that became less frequent.

By the time we’d been married about a year, it seemed like he was angry all the time, like there was some deep pool of lava just underneath the surface waiting to boil over at the least provocation. It scared me, although he never raised a fist to me, never even threatened physical violence. I tried to make things perfect for him. I kept my body trim, and dressed as prettily as I could. I kept the house clean and I cooked all his favourite meals. For the most part that seemed to work and, while the brooding silence dominated, at least the anger rarely came to the surface.

When it did, it was over little things, like the toilet paper running out when he wanted to go, or when I accidentally overcooked the dinner. Then his reaction would be out of proportion to the situation. He would rant and rave for a few minutes, then he would storm out of the house and I wouldn’t see him for the rest of the evening.

I often wondered where he went those evenings. When he came back, I would be in bed, quietly crying myself to sleep, and he would slip in beside me all quiet and apologetic and we would make sweet love, and things would be almost the way they were before. I never smelt alcohol on his breath, or cigarette smoke on his clothes. I did wonder if he was seeing someone behind my back, but I’m sure I would have smelt the perfume or seen some hint, a hair on his jacket, a lipstick stain on his collar, something.

I tried to talk to him about it once, asking if we could discuss what was bothering him, try to resolve it. I remember he laughed bitterly and told me we’d already talked about it and that I hadn’t understood. I didn’t know what he meant and I told him so. He just gave me a haunted stare and stalked out the house. He was gone a long time that evening.

Things continued to get worse. After a while, he didn’t need an excuse to let his temper snap. He became critical of the most minor things, and when he had reduced me to tears, he would yell at me about how I was always crying, then storm out again.

He would stay out later and later and when he came home from wherever he went he would sit on the bed next to me and I would pretend to be asleep. He would call my name softly and I wouldn’t respond. That’s when he would break down and cry.

“I’m sorry,” he would say, over and over again, and his shoulders would convulse in great heaving sobs. At times I would feel too hurt to want to respond, at others I just wanted to put my arms around him and tell him it would be alright. I did that once, and he jumped to his feet and yelled at me.

“How will it be alright? How is this ever going to be alright?”

That night he stormed out a second time and I didn’t see him until the following evening, by which time I was so worried that he was never coming home, I ran to him and threw my arms around his neck. He held me back, but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t yell at me or say any of the snide and unkind things he usually did that evening, but he didn’t say anything to make me feel better either.

I think that was when I realised how much trouble we were in. After that, whenever he came home in the evening and cry, I would pretend to be asleep and cry into my own pillow. I tried to think of something, anything, that would make things better between us. I racked my brain for something, anything, that might be causing him to be like this. Eventually, because there was nothing else, I went back to that one most scary moment of our courtship, when he had told me his secret. Anything was worth a try at this stage, even that.

I waited till he came home, then led him to the sofa and sat him down.

“Barry, I was wondering, would you…” It was so hard to say, I almost faltered completely. I wish I had. “Would you like to put on one of my dresses?”

I couldn’t look him in the eyes, and he sat quietly for a very long time looking at the top of my head. When he replied, it started of deceptively quietly, and for a moment, just the very briefest of moments, I wondered if I had said the right thing at last.

“I don’t believe this. I thought you made it abundantly clear, when I told you about that part of my life, that you wanted nothing to with it. You were so convinced that it was like some illness that you could cure. You wanted me to be a real man didn’t you?” His voice was rising steadily with each sentence. I cringed away, feeling him leaning over me, threatening. “Well this is me being a real man. Since that day, since you all but told me how disgusted you were with the idea of a man who’d dress like that, I haven’t so much as picked up a dress or a skirt, or anything else a woman might wear. I’ve tried every day to be the man you want me to be, and I’ve succeeded. I did it for you, and now you’re telling me that you want me to put on a dress?”

I couldn’t help it. I shook my head.

“No you don’t do you? You think I’m a freak, a disgusting freak.” He grabbed my shoulders and shook me. Just once, then he stood up and stepped away, unable to trust himself to be near me. “You wanted a man. A real man’s man, who doesn’t do perverted and kinky things like put on your clothes while you’re not watching. You make this suggestion, but you don’t really want me to say yes do you?

“Here I am Evelyn. Here’s your man’s man. I don’t dress up like the pansy, sissy girly-man you don’t want me to be. I’m doing this for you, you ungrateful cow. Don’t you like it?”

By this time he was yelling louder than ever, and I was curled up in a tight ball in the corner of the sofa. The door slammed, causing me to wince, and when I dared look up, he was gone.

I steadied myself with a glass of wine. Barry had never resorted to alcohol. I wonder if he worried he would lose control if he did, but he never drank these days. He had almost lost control this evening. Before now, the only time he’d ever touched me was with tenderness, and the way he’d grabbed my shoulders this evening still scared me. The last year had seen the worsening of our relationship escalate steadily through different stages, and it seemed this may well be the next.

I had to do something. I called my mother first, I mean most daughters do, don’t they? She suggested I leave him. She wanted me to pack a bag and come round to hers straight away, and I can’t say I wasn’t tempted. Barry had scared me tonight, but I wasn’t ready to give up on us just yet. I told her as much and said I’d call her if I changed my mind.

Next I phoned through to some friends and arranged to meet them at a café in town. If Barry was true to form, he wouldn’t be back home before midnight, so it wasn’t as though I were deserting him or anything.

They were waiting for me when I arrived, and sat me down with a mug of tea and a large piece of chocolate cake. I wouldn’t usually indulge, but this was a one off, and it did make me feel so much better.

We started off by sharing nonsensical ideas. They weren’t intended as serious suggestions, but rather a show of solidarity from my friends, and a bit of a mood breaker. If any mood needed breaking, it was this one. They suggested I put bromide in his tea, or some other form of chemical castration, that I dress up like a dominatrix with a whip and leathers and everything and give him a taste of aggression, that I drug him and put him in nappies. There were a number of similar suggestions, growing more outrageous with each new idea, until we were all giggling and my horrors had receded.

After that they turned to more serious suggestions. Marriage counselling, psychotherapy, getting him to go paint-balling with a bunch of mates to burn off his anger, getting him to join the TA. They were all good ideas, but none of them seemed quite right for Barry, though. The girls were discussing other stress relief ideas, when Carol tapped me urgently on the arm. She was looking out of the window.

“Isn’t that him? Isn’t that Barry over there?”

A flood of panic all but drowned me. What if he should come in here? What if he should see me laughing and joking with my friends after what we’d just been through? I turned to look, and there he was, on the other side of the street looking into a shop window.

“Why’s he looking in Oasis? I mean why would he be looking at women’s clothes?”

I felt myself blush. Barry had shared his secret with me in confidence and I had never spoken of it to another person, even my mother. Jenny caught my reaction and gasped at me.

“He isn’t. No. He is, isn’t he?”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s one of those men who likes to dress up isn’t he Evie?”

“He’s never once done it since we’ve been married.” I was being defensive and I knew it.

“But that’s perfect,” Carol said. “Well okay, not perfect, but it could work.”

“What are you talking about?”

“When he’s gone, we go over to Oasis and buy whatever we think he was looking at in the window, then you can leave it on the bed for him for when he comes home. I have at least one other friend who’s husband’s a bit like this, and she says since she’s allowed him to start dressing, it’s made all the difference to their relationship. They talk, they laugh, the sex has never been so good.”

“I tried to talk to him about it this afternoon when he came home. I suggested he’d like to put on one of my dresses and he completely lost his rag. That’s when he almost hit me.”

“Why?” Laura this time. She doesn’t say much, but usually when she does it’s worth listening to. “I mean if this is what he wants, why would he get so angry?”

“I think because he knows I don’t like the idea. He’s tried to be what I want him to be, and now I think he’s too invested into it to change back willingly. In a way I think he sees his anger as my just punishment for not letting him be the way he wants to be.”

We all sat in silence considering this. It was the first time I had admitted it to myself, let alone to my friends. It put a whole new perspective on the problem, but not one which made it unsolvable. At least Carol didn’t think so.

“Right,” she said, “if he isn’t going to come willingly, I suggest we make him.”

-oOo

I never felt so bad as I did that afternoon. You know the way things go? You face an impossible situation and it goes round and round in your head until it starts feeding off itself, taking up more and more of your mind until it’s all you can see. That’s what this was like. Way back when I had told Evelyn about my problem and seen the way she responded, I had resolved never to let it get between us. She was right, I’d thought. If our love was a great as it seemed, then this should pale in comparison and become only a minor side issue, so from that day I had decided I would never allow myself to dress up again.

At first everything was okay. What Evie and I shared was as near perfect as you could imagine. We were caught up in wedding preparations and planning our lives together, and I had neither time nor inclination to think of anything other than Evelyn.

The honeymoon period came to an end though, and thank heavens for that. I mean who could handle that intensity of feeling for long? We settled into the comfortable habit of living in each other’s lives, and it was great. For a while.

After we’d been married a couple of months, the old twitches started to return. Evie would be out shopping, leaving me to sort the washing and do some ironing. I’d come across one of her dresses and hold it up against myself. We’re not that different in size, so some of her clothes — the ones made from stretchy fabrics at least — would have fitted me, and I can’t say I wasn’t tempted. The thing is, I’d made a commitment and I intended to keep it, so I’d put the clothes away and get on with the next job.

Things worsened as the weeks went by. The desire was always nagging at the back of my mind, and I had a heavy feeling across my chest, like a tearing ache if you can imagine such a thing. It was as though my soul wanted — needed — to scream and couldn’t. Evelyn was dressing to please me, I could see that much, and I couldn’t bear to tell her that it was actually making things harder for me. So instead I carried the weight of denial instead.

Then one day at work things boiled over. I’d struggled through a morning of disappointments and frustrations when Carol, my secretary, walked in looking like ten million dollars with a million dollar smile on top. Something snapped in me and I started yelling at her about everything that had gone wrong that morning, and all but blaming it on her. I remember the way her mood crumbled and fell under my onslaught. At the time it felt like a rusted safety valve had finally surrendered to the pressure, and for a few minutes I actually felt better. I did feel guilty after a short while and I tried to apologise, but I guess it was too little too late.

Consciously or otherwise, if you find something that works you start to use it. I began to vent spleen at pretty much anyone and everyone I felt I could without risking a reprimand. It soon became apparent that it only worked with the girls, and especially with Evelyn. At first I hated that I was doing it, and the guilt I felt after an outburst was often worse than the frustration before, but in time that changed. I managed to convince myself that Evie was responsible, in part at least, for the way I was feeling, so why shouldn’t I take out my rage and frustration on her.

I began to change inside. Hate was easier to carry than frustration, so one inevitably replaced the other. I was rapidly becoming a misogynist, but I found myself welcoming it. Maybe this was going to be a good thing for me after all. I mean just how easy would it have been to try and make it in a man’s world with a secret desire to dress as a woman? Having to deny it all the time, having to be careful what I did and what I said so I wouldn’t be found out. No, pushing it to one side and replacing it with this fury gave me an edge in business and I started to move up the corporate ladder, usually treading on the fingers of some female former superior on the way. It was so much easier making the climb now that I was less inclined to think about other people.

At home though, things kept getting worse. What started off as sullen moods turned into regular arguments, or rather haranguing sessions where I would leave Evie a quivering wreck and charge out of the house before the anger broke out of my control. I was always afraid of what would happen if I went that far.

Out of the house, I’d do nothing much. Walk through the park and into town. Never to a pub, never meet up with any of my mates. This was my problem and mine alone, and I didn’t need any help brooding over it. More often than not, I’d end up wandering past shops and looking in the windows, especially those selling women’s clothes, shoes, jewellery. I figured if I met anyone I knew and they asked what I was doing I could spin some story about looking for a gift for Evie. In reality I was torturing myself, imagining the way I would look and feel in a particular dress with a particular pair of shoes, handbag, necklace, earrings. It was the way I punished myself for being so unkind to my wife and my female colleagues at work, not that I admitted it as punishment.

Then there was this afternoon. I had come so close to hitting her this afternoon. I’d grabbed her and shaken her. I remember the red wheals on her arms and the terror in her eyes, and it had sickened me to think I had caused both. Somehow, despite the misery I was causing her, I still loved Evelyn and it tore at my soul that I should be the cause of such pain and despair.

I looked up at the dress in the window, all satin and lace, frills and flounces. I shifted position until my reflection overlaid the garment and for a brief moment I allowed myself the indulgence of imagining what it would feel like, what it would really look like with me wearing it. The old feelings came running like long neglected puppies, tongues lolling, tails wagging, eager to be felt and to fill me with delight. At the last moment I slapped them, clamping down with an iron will born from months of growing bitterness and rage. The feelings retreated, subdued, tails between legs, leaving me feeling an odd sense of satisfaction.

I moved on, the dress forgotten, my thoughts returning to what had transpired between Evelyn and me earlier. Things had been getting worse for too long now. They were on the brink of going out of control and I couldn’t allow that. The long weekend started at the end of tomorrow. I’d pack a bag and move into a small hotel somewhere, start looking for one bedroom flats to rent, take myself out of her life. It wasn’t as if I was doing her any good, so this had to be for the best.

Didn’t it?

-oOo-

There was something about Carol’s words that sent a chill up my spine, or was it a thrill? I couldn’t be sure.

“What do you have in mind?” I asked her.

“I was thinking that maybe when he gets home from work tomorrow, we could ambush him and give him exactly what he needs.”

“He’s strong Carol,” I rubbed my arms where I could still feel the ghost of Barry’s fingers. “I doubt even the four of us could overpower him.”

“We could if you spiked his drink with Rohypnol.”

As one our eyes all turned towards Laura. She shook her head and held up her hands as if to ward off the communal idea we were all having.

“Oh no. I could lose my license just for listening to this conversation and not reporting you guys. I am having nothing to do with this.”

Laura worked as an anaesthetist at the local hospital, so it wasn’t surprising that she was our first thought when it came to drugs. We all knew it wouldn’t be fair to drag her in though, so we let that idea drop. Carol had others in any case.

“Fine,” she said. “If you can’t listen to this, by all means walk away. I can always call one of my scum of the Earth ex-boyfriends, I’m sure one of them will be able to tell me where I can score some roofies.”

“You cannot be serious.” Laura was also the moral conscience and voice of common sense in our group. “Evelyn, please tell me that you aren’t seriously thinking of doping your husband with street drugs? I mean who knows what might be in them?”

To be honest I hadn’t dismissed it entirely, but her words were enough to knock the wind out of all of our sails.

“Oh for heaven’s sake, alright.” None of us had expected her to cave so easily, but then maybe she was as keen as the rest of us to see something done about Barry’s erratic behaviour. “Not Rohypnol, don’t even ask, but I can probably get hold of something a little less potent. It’ll only affect him for an hour or so, and he’ll be awake and aware throughout, able to fight it if he decides to and he won’t have the loss of memory that the stronger drugs cause. It will make him suggestible though, and if what you’ve said so far is right, you might be able to get him to do what you want.”

“And if he fights it off and gets mad at us for trying to do him over?”

“Then we’re all up to our necks in the brown and smelly.” Laura was always matter of fact about things. “I’m still not happy with the plan, but I’d rather supply you with something safe than stand by and let you feed him sweepings from the local street pharmacy floor.”

“I have to admit Carol, I’m beginning to side with Laura here. Isn’t there any other way?”

“If there is you can offer me a suggestion at any time. All I know is we can’t go on with him being the insufferable ass he is at the moment. I mean I get him all day at work, you get the worst of him in the evenings. Unless you’re prepared to give up on him completely, just what else can we do?”

I wasn’t ready to give up on my husband, so we took some time to consider our options. No better ideas occurred to any of us, so in the end, with some resignation from Laura, we all committed to the course of action. Carol pulled a notebook out of her handbag and we started listing the things we might need, starting with the dress.

By the time we had emptied the pot of tea and wiped up the last cake crumb, we had a plan laid out and had apportioned the different tasks of acquisition to those in the group most suited to them. We paid up and headed across the street to Oasis and looked in the window.

“Are you sure that’s what he likes?” Asked Jenny. “I mean it’s a bit fussy isn’t it?”

“I think it goes with the territory,” Carol had the most experience with colourful boyfriends, not counting my own with Barry, so we listened to her. “Men who dress up tend to overcompensate for their heavier features by going as frilly as they can.”

It sounded like something of a generalisation to me, but it also made sense. The dress looked to be in Barry’s size, albeit with the need of some creative padding at the front, so we went in and I bought it.

After that we went our various ways, promising to meet up in the café at lunchtime tomorrow to bring together everything we needed and to go over final details. The plan was that I would greet Barry when he came home, somehow persuade him to take the drug, preferably with alcohol Laura had said, then once I had started his transformation and taken it past the point where he could easily back out, the others would join in.

I made my way home, hung the dress up in the back of my wardrobe, and went to bed early. I was still awake when Barry came in. Had he called my name I think I would have responded. He didn’t though, just pulled off his clothes, brushed his teeth and climbed into bed next to me. It may have been my imagination, but he seemed to be keeping as far away from me as he could.

-oOo-

Friday was something of a non-event as is often the case winding down to a bank holiday weekend. With no pressing business, other things got dealt with instead, including a surprise visit from Mr Perry, my boss. He wanted to talk to me about some rumours he’d heard of sexual discrimination going on. He wanted me to know that, because of the rumours, he’d have to keep a closer eye on things for a while. I assured him that he would find no substance to the smoke, and was reasonably confident this would be the case since I expected my moving out would change my mood for the better. Still, trust Carol to make a storm in a teacup. Just like a woman eh?

In keeping with the Grande Olde Traditional British Work Ethic, we celebrated POETS day (Push Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday) and everyone, Mr Perry included, was ready to leave the office by half past four. There was a certain amount of yabadabadooing and horsing about from the junior staff, but I didn’t feel much like joining in given that my own weekend would see the beginning of the end of my marriage to Evelyn. I sighed heavily and felt the weight I’d been carrying for so long settle more heavily on my shoulders as I climbed into my car. A large part of me really didn’t want to do this and it took me ten minutes even to start the engine.

Back home, keys fumbling in the door. The oppression of the moment drove me deep within myself and I could almost see the dark clouds hanging overhead.

“Hello darling,” Evelyn, sounding unnaturally cheerful, stood over by the kitchen door. “You’re home early.” She turned and opened the fridge. I loosened my tie and dropped my briefcase by the door while she did whatever she was doing. This was going to be harder than I’d anticipated.

She came back into the living room carrying two glasses of champagne and offered me one. She knew I didn’t drink. I couldn’t afford to, not and risk losing control like I nearly had yesterday. I stared at the offered glass, then back at her.

“What’s the occasion?”

“I thought we’d try something different for a change. I mean after last night things can’t get much worse can they?”

I curled my fingers feeling the strength in my hands and shook my head. She had no idea.

“Please Barry. It’s been so long since we had a drink together — since we did anything together even — and you know we’re never going to find something that works unless we try a few different things. You may find that a small glass of wine helps you unwind. Go on, it’s good.” She offered the glass again.

“And what if I lose all my inhibitions, including the one that stopped me from actually hitting you last night?”

“I have faith in you Barry.”

She raised the glass to me again. With everything else that had been going on recently, I was tired of fighting, tired of being strong. What the heck, I found myself thinking, I was going to leave anyway in a few minutes, what difference would one drink make. I took the glass and sipped at it, and yes it did taste good. And that’s the thing about the thin end of the wedge; once it finds its way in, it takes nothing to hammer it home. Before I knew it, I’d drained the glass, and with it I felt all my tight control melt away. In a moment’s terror I wondered what I would do next, but then I realised that my will to do anything was melting away too.

I blinked and half shook my head, all I could bring myself to do. The glass was still in my hand and I stared at it stupidly, wondering why I was holding an empty glass.

“Why don’t you put the glass down and follow me?”

The voice was quiet and soothing. It belonged to Evelyn who I knew loved me, and it seemed like a such good idea. A sense of relief eased some of the strain I was feeling. It was good not having to make the decisions for a change, and I could trust my wife, couldn’t I? I put the glass down and followed her out of the room.

“You should try some of this cream.” She handed me a plastic bottle. I tried to read the words, but it was hard to focus and I lost the will to do so halfway there. “It goes all over your body. It smells a little unpleasant, and you need to leave it on for about ten minutes, but afterwards it’ll make you feel so much better. Just put it on your body from the neck down, everywhere except your privates. Then in ten minutes you can shower it off.”

It didn’t seem like too much to ask. I stripped off my clothes and wandered into the bathroom. I didn’t want to make a mess, so I climbed into the bath before rubbing it on. It smelled pungent and I felt a slight burning sensation in some of my more sensitive areas. I didn’t know how long ten minutes was going to be since I’d taken off my watch with the rest of my clothes, but I was sure something would turn up.

I felt a nagging sense of wrongness. This wasn’t what I’d been planning this evening. This wasn’t even the way I normally behaved. I tried to shake the fog in my brain and felt the beginnings of control returning when Evie walked into the bathroom.

“That’s great,” she said taking the bottle out of my hand. “I think you’ve had about ten minutes now, so why don’t you shower and wash the cream off? When you’re done, I’ll run you a nice hot bath. I find that nothing soaks the stress away like hot water and scented bubbles. I think you’ll love it.”

Scented bubbles? Something felt wrong about that, but I was already standing under the shower. She was right about the hot water at least. The knotted muscles in my back eased a little more as the cascading stream washed over me. I rubbed my hands over my whole body to wipe off every last trace of the cream. She had been right, my skin felt so much softer and smoother; better. There was a lot of hair clogging up the drain though and I stared at it uncomprehendingly until Evelyn drew back the curtain.

“Oh don’t worry about that.” She had seen where I was looking. She held up a large fluffy towel for me. Soft pink, and so inviting. “Just wrap this around you while I clean out the plughole and run you that bath.”

I took the towel and wrapped it around my body, closing my eyes in delight at its soft, luxurious caress against my skin.

The sound of the taps running into the bath was soon muffled by the bubbles growing under the stream of water, and the bathroom filled with a delicate, flowery scent. That was kind of a girly smell wasn’t it? She didn’t expect me to bath in that surely.

“Would you like another glass of champagne? I poured you one while you were showering. I think it’ll help you relax more.”

I nodded dumbly still staring at the bath. The glass was offered and I took it in my hand and sipped at it. What did a flower scent matter anyway? The steam coming off the bath looked so inviting. I finished off the drink and Evelyn took the glass from my unresponsive fingers.

“Let me check the temperature for you. A little hot, but not too bad. Give me the towel and step in. That’s right. I know it’s a little hot, but you’ll get used to it. Just lower yourself in. There you go.

“Right I’ll be back in a few minutes, just enjoy the soak for a while. If you want you can wash your hair. I’ve left some of my shampoo just there on the edge.” She reached in and kissed me on the forehead.

She was right, the water had seemed a little hot at first, but now it felt almost cool, with just a hint of gently stabbing needles. I closed my eyes, settled down deeper into the bath until just my nose was above the surface and let myself soak it all in.

Somewhere in the back of my mind a black rage still whirled and tumbled. It wouldn’t quite let me relax, and it seemed to be yelling at me to pay attention. For now the heat of the water and the ministrations of the soft, sweetly smelling oils were doing too good a job helping me to relax so I ignored it.

As I lifted my head above water, I thought I heard voices and giggling from nearby, but they were swiftly suppressed. I reached for the shampoo — pink and sweet smelling — and set about washing my hair. Halfway through the second lather, Evelyn came back into the bathroom and took over. It did feel good to have someone else’s fingers massaging my scalp and I felt myself relaxing even further, despite the black cloud locked deep inside. One last rinse.

“I think we’re done here sweetheart. Why don’t you get out of the bath and dry yourself off?”

A fresh towel and a restraining hand as I started to rub it across my back.

“Try wrapping it around yourself and patting yourself dry. It’s much more relaxing.”

I did as I was bid and she was right again. She asked me to drop the towel and she finished me off by spraying sweet smelling talcum powder over me. I looked down at my skin, now bare and smooth as a the proverbial baby’s, and again something nagged at the edge of my mind.

“Come with me,” she said, and I did. She led me to the bed and pushed me gently onto it.

“I’m going to put a couple of things on your chest now Barry. They may be a little cold at first, and they may feel a bit odd, but you’ll like them. Ok?”

I nodded my head dreamily. Everything Evelyn had done so far this evening had felt wonderful, so why not trust her? Something a little like cold jelly landed over my left nipple and I reached up to find out what it was.

“Uh-uh. Just leave it for a while.” She gently slapped my hand away, then put something similar over my right nipple. Her hands reached down and pushed gently on the two whatever-they-weres for a short while. She then picked up a compact and started dabbing a brown powder on my chest.

She stepped back off the bed and there was a flash of white light.

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, just recording this for posterity. I have some underclothes for you to put on now Barry. They’re a little different from those you’ve been wearing recently, but I think they’ll be familiar to you. Here let me help you into them.”

She held out a pair of red satin knickers and, before I realised what was happeneing, I had stepped into them and she’d pulled them up. They were a little snug, but all my bits fit in there and the soft silkiness of the material sent a delicious shiver up my spine. Another flash of light. The cloud at the back of my mind was raging louder, demanding my attention. I felt confused, lost, and in that moment, Evelyn slipped matching red straps up my arms and fastened a clasp behind my back, adjusting things so that the weights on my chest settled comfortably into twinned lacy cups and stiff material was pulled tight enough around my waist for me to feel the constriction. There was another flash and suddenly the black cloud was back in control.

“What the hell are you doing to me?” I yelled out in sudden rage.

Evelyn stared back at me, cool and collected. None of the shrivelled flower I’d beaten and berated with my bullying words, no fear of the violence I had so often feared I would release if I lost control. This was a stronger, more confident person all of a sudden.

“It’s called an intervention. I already have photographs of you with breasts, and now red knickers and a matching basque, so if you don’t want your mates finding out what you get up to behind closed doors, I suggest you continue to relax.”

“You can’t scare me with that. All I need to do is find the camera and delete the pictures then you have nothing.”

“That might have been true if I didn’t have a few friends round. I just passed the camera to them while you were trying to figure out what was going on. They should have copied them and uploaded them to the Internet while we’ve been speaking. All it’ll take is a click of the button for them to go round all the Facebook addresses we have for people at work.”

She opened the door and three women sitting around a laptop waved at me. I recognised Carol more readily than the others.

“You’re fired,” I yelled at her, “and don’t expect a reference.”

“On what grounds, sir?” She gave the title a twist of insincerity. “I mean what I do with my own time is my business, just like what you do with yours is yours. The only way you’re going to convince anyone that I acted inappropriately is by showing them these photos, and I’m not sure who’d end up in more trouble after that.”

She lifted the camera to her eye and there was another flash, after which she dropped it back in the dock and a moment later the computer pinged. She turned the screen my way to show me the picture she’d uploaded. Head and shoulders, obviously me, but with an impossible cleavage all bound up in red satin and lace.

I looked down at my chest, my breasts. I could hardly see the join myself and they looked just as the felt, completely real.

“How did you manage this little perversion then?” I kept the anger in my voice, but I was beginning to realise that I was not in a good position to continue arguing.

“Uh, that was me.” A nervous little woman, name of Lucy? Linda? Laura, that was it. “They’re, er, prosthetics from the mastectomy clinic at the hospital where I work. They’re surplus to requirements, so you can keep them if you want to.”

“Listen Barry, we’re going to finish what we started here one way or another. We don’t particularly want to go public with those photos, but if you decide to fight us, you have to know we will. I mean me you might not believe, but that’s why we put Carol in charge of the computer.”

“And with the way you’ve been treating me these past months, as well as that threat just now, you know I don’t have a lot to lose.”

“This is what you’ve wanted all along isn’t it?” Evelyn asked. “I mean you told me about it before we were married, and I more or less blanked you. Since then you’ve been getting harder and harder to live with, and when we saw you yesterday outside Oasis, all the pieces just sort of fell together. You’ve been denying this in yourself and it’s been eating you up.”

“And I told you yesterday that I didn’t need this anymore. I’ve got by without it for over a year and I can continue to do so. It’s even giving me an edge at work.”

“Only because you stay angry all the time and take it out on the women you work with as much as you do on me. Well I’m not prepared to carry on living the way things are and neither are they. And, I think, deep down inside neither are you.

“Which is why we have an evening planned to help you find the person you used to be, the person I fell in love with. And we’re going through with it whether you like it or not.”

I stared around at the four of them in outrage and disbelief. “You cannot be serious about this. You actually think that forcing me to dress up as a woman is going to change who I am right now?”

“Maybe not immediately, but over time.” Evelyn’s smile was full of self-assurance. “I mean forcing you not to dress up as a woman changed you into who you are today, it seems fairly logical that the opposite should have the reverse effect. Eventually.”

“Eventually? Just how long do you intend for me to dress like this?”

“That really depends on you doesn’t it? I mean it took you a year to turn into the woman hating jerk you’ve become, but I think that was largely against your will. I’m hopeful it won’t take as long to reverse the change, but as long as it take I guess.”

“I am not going to do this. I am NOT going to do this.”

“Did you know Mr Perry has just got himself a Facebook account?” Carol’s tone was bright and innocent and all the more threatening for all that. I couldn’t risk Mr Perry finding out about this, and they knew it. This was my cue to stop fighting.

I let my shoulders sag in defeat. “I guess you win then. You know I don’t want to do this, but I can’t afford for my boss to find out, or my friends.” I turned my attention to Evelyn. Was that a hint of uncertainty in her eyes. I let my own gaze turn hard, and saw her respond with new resolve. “What next, mistress?” It was just the right touch. Enough to make her wince at what she was doing. Enough to renew her determination to carry it out.

She led me back into the bedroom and instructed me to sit in front of her dressing table. The girls gathered round, Laura and Evelyn on either side and Jenny behind me.

“Just relax sweetie,”Evie’s tone did not quite match the words. “Laura and I are going to give you a manicure and pedicure. It may tickle a little, but if you let yourself, I think you’ll enjoy it. Jenny’s going to work on your hair and face.”

Needless to say, Carol stood back with camera in hand and added to the growing stash of incriminating evidence. It seemed the further I went with this, the more they would have with which to blackmail me, but I was already in too deep. I tried hard to show through my expression that I was not doing this willingly, but I’m not sure how convincing I was.

Jenny pulled a long, curly blond wig over my head and tugged at it until it settled into position well enough to satisfy her. The colour was quite different from my own dark brown, but then I guess who wouldn’t be a blond if they had the chance? I had a moment of worry, though, when she pulled out a long, blunt needle and some thick thread.

“What are you doing?” I wanted to know.

“Wigs have a tendency to slip if you’re not careful, and we don’t want to risk you losing your disguise, do we? The thread will just interleave with your existing hair and hold everything in place that much more securely. It won’t hurt, unless you keep moving your head around that is.”

So I sat still and watched, fascinated, as she al but sewed the wig onto my head. A few minutes with the needle then Jenny gave it an experimental tug and it felt like she was pulling on my own hair. She nodded her head in satisfaction and picked up a hairbrush, with which she proceeded to arrange my new do into something more stylish and attractive.

Meanwhile, Laura and my wife had finished with my toes. In truth, I’m not that ticklish and I had only really noticed when they had worked on my cuticles. I looked down to find pads of cotton wool separating my toes and a bright pink varnish drying on each of my toenails. They took a hand each and started to work on my fingernails, shaping them, buffing them.

“These are in pretty good condition,” Laura said to Jenny. “Are you sure we need to put on the acrylics?”

Jen leaned over my shoulder for a closer look. I could feel her breasts pressing against my shoulder and cheek and was a little bit shocked at the intimacy. There wasn’t anything sexual in it, just familiar, like I was a girlfriend she was working on at the salon. An odd feeling crept over me, a calm and strange desire for more of that closeness.

“Hmm, they’re quite short,” Jenny said, “but they do have a nice shape to them. I don’t know, it’s up to you Evelyn, just how far do you want to go? I think they could look alright as they are with just a coat of nail polish.”

In the midst of the new feelings I felt an odd nervousness. I’ve always been a bit squeamish about long nails, and I thought that oversized talons were reserved for divas and cross-dressers of the most flamboyant nature.

Evie glanced at me and toyed with the idea for a moment. “Let’s see how they turn out on their own.” There was a slight smile there as she caught my very slight sigh of relief.

In retrospect I have to admit that it was a little silly. I mean here I was with my own breasts, dressed in sexy lingerie with a blond wig and pink toenails. Just how much weirder would having half inch false finger nails really be than this?

Under Jenny’s instructions my chair was turned to one side. Laura and Evie shuffled round and continued working on my hands, while Jen straightened my face and told me to keep still. There followed the process of high art that is making up a face. I have no idea what some of the stuff was that she put on me, but layers of different coloured powders were painted on and painted over. An inordinate amount of time was spent on my eyes, with dire warnings of severe pain should I so much as twitch during the process. She finished off the eye makeup by using something that could have come out of a medieval torture chamber, had it not been made of stainless steel, then started on my lips. I mean lipstick, schmipstick. This was a whole process in itself. She used a sort of pencil to outline the lips first, then something that tingled a little bit and made them swell slightly, followed by a pink gloss with sparkly flecks for colour.

I tried to turn and look in the mirror, but Jenny held out a hand, gently guiding my face back to her.

“Not yet sweetie. Let’s not ruin the surprise.” Then to Evie, “Eyebrows?”

“Tidy them up but don’t thin them out too much. If you need them looking thinner, do it with a bit of foundation.”

“It won’t look as good.”

“I know, but neither will it look so bad on Tuesday morning.”

It was the first indication of when they were going to let me change back. They hadn’t said anything about the rest of the weekend, but at least I would go back to being me in time for work. Carol, who was still busy snapping photographs, must have caught my expression.

“Don’t make any assumptions yet. Depending on how this weekend goes — this evening even — we may decide to call in sick for you on Tuesday or make some of the changes a little more permanent after all. Just don’t think you are going to be off the hook just by waiting buster.”

I settled my expression and sat back with my eyes closed. The tweezing wasn’t as bad as I had expected. I mean I’d pulled overly long eyebrows out with my fingernails before now, this was swifter and less painful. Jenny finished off by painting a light flesh coloured powder around the edges then stood back to admire her handiwork. Laura and Evie had finished my nails and warned me to keep my fingers splayed until the varnish had dried. They all stood back looking at me, each of them with her own version of smug satisfaction on her face.

The camera came up and there was the inevitable flash.

-oOo-

I don’t know what I had been expecting, but by the time we had finished with the hair, makeup and nails, there wasn’t a lot of Barry left. I pulled a packet of stockings out of my bag and handed it to him.

“You do remember how to put these on, don’t you?”

In answer he took the packet from my hand and tore it open. They were sheer, only ten denier or thereabouts, so he was going to have to be careful with them. They had been expensive but, despite what he had done to me this past year, I wanted this to be less of a punishment and more of a healing. If what I suspected was true, I had enough fault of my own to add to the cause of our troubles.

He rolled the first stocking up then rolled it on as though he’d been doing it all his life. I guess it’s not something you’re likely to forget how to do though, nor is it the most challenging of tasks. The stockings were seamed and he automatically checked down the back of his leg to make sure everything was straight before reaching for the clasps hanging from the basque.

“No,” I said as I stopped him attaching the stockings outside his underwear. “Like this.”

I took the strap and fed it through the waistband and out the leg, closed the clasp and stroked his leg playfully.

“It makes it easier to remove your underwear should you need to.”

There was a stiff bulge under the satin and I suspected the need would arise sooner than expected.

He attached the other straps on that side then rolled on the second stocking.

“You know, it’s kind of nerve-wracking having all this elastic under tension so close to my family jewels?”

It wasn’t the ultimate in jokes, but it was such a change from his recent brutish, sullen behaviour, I found myself smiling even so.

“If it’s any consolation, I’ve never once had a strap go on me.”

There was a flash. The camera pointing at my own earlier area of interest.

“You know,” said Carol, “I think there’s another piece of elastic under greater stress at the moment.”

“Yes there is. Girls, would you mind waiting outside while I take care of a little business here.”

They closed the door on the way out and I pushed Barry back onto the bed. First I slid off his knickers to reveal his only remaining evidence of masculinity, standing proud and erect, then I did the same for myself and hitched up my short skirt.

“You see how much easier it is this way?”

He didn’t reply, largely because he was too caught up in the sensation of me settling down on top of him. I tried to take it slowly, but we were both so ready that it barely took a few seconds before we were both shuddering with delight.

“Wow,” Barry said. “That was the best since…”

“…our honeymoon.” I finished for him. “Better even, short as it was.”

I grabbed some tissues from the night stand and climbed off him, doing my best to prevent anything gooey getting anywhere it shouldn’t. With Barry’s little guy satisfied for the moment, and tucked neatly away where he wouldn’t be noticed, we both climbed back into our underwear and repaired the slight damage to his hair and makeup before moving onto the next stage.

There had been few satisfying moments in my life over the previous six months, but the look on Barry’s face when I pulled the dress out of the wardrobe made up for the lack. Most of it in any case. Surprise, shock, fear, delight, and ultimately and most importantly, a lessening of that black mood at the back of his eyes.

He was like a little girl dressing for a party in his eagerness to put it on. I help him step into it, zipped it up and hooked it at the top. Shoes and bag followed. Two inch heels seemed best since he was already quite tall for a girl, and I didn’t want to cripple him in any case. He stepped into them like he’d been doing it all his life, then stepped in front of the mirror, straightening his dress as he did so.

The look of wonder reflected in the glass sat on both our faces. For Barry it was a realisation of the impossible, an attainment of something he had always felt was out of reach. For me it was a disbelief that my husband could look so pretty.

I removed his keys and wallet from his discarded suit and transferred them to the handbag before handing it to him. We opened the bedroom door to the anticipated flash from the camera, then faced down the mass goldfish impressions together.

“Turned out well didn’t he?” There was no response from the others, other than maybe a flash of envy from Carol. How could a man look so good? It wasn’t fair.

“Ready to go then?” This got a response. The girls snapped out of it and started looking around for their own handbags. Barry on the other hand started backing towards the bedroom door, the delight on his face replaced by abject terror. “Oh no you don’t. You wanted this and you’re going to get the full works. We’ve planned a girl’s night out and you’re part of it.”

“I can’t. I can’t go out there. What if someone sees me?”

“That’s the whole idea in dressing up sweetie, and the way you look you’re going be turning every head in town.”

“What if we meet someone I know though? What if they recognise me? I can’t do this.”

I grabbed him by the shoulders and marched him in front of the nearest mirror. It was surprising how easily he let himself be led like this. Yesterday he had grabbed my arms so tightly I could never have broken free, yet now there seemed no strength, no resistance. I made him stare at his reflection.

“Do you see Barry?”

He didn’t respond at first so I repeated the question, louder, more forcefully.

“No. No I don’t.”

“Who do you see? What’s her name?” She had to have a name. She was too beautiful not to have existed in some form before this moment.

“Rebecca. Her name is Rebecca.”

“Well Rebecca. If we meet someone Barry knows, they’re not going to see him are they? They’re going to see you.”

“But…”

“But nothing. Barry isn’t here anymore. Not tonight. Tonight it’s your turn to go out and Barry can stay inside for a change.”

There was still fear in those eyes, and a savage part of me welcomed it for all the fear and misery I’d felt, but there was also hope in there; a rebirth of sorts, a revivification of a soul I thought had all but been lost. For that part of him — her? — I felt hot tears prickling the backs of my eyes and had to fight to keep them in. I smiled encouragingly at this Rebecca, my new found friend, and led her back to the group in the lounge.

-oOo-

I had never felt anything quite like it in all my life. First Evelyn on top of me, encapsulating me, and the long forgotten delight of these unfamiliar clothes, then the dress, the very one I had imagined myself in yesterday, all frills and lace, satin and sequins. The skirt fell to mid-thigh and caressed my silk clad legs, sending paroxysms of delight coursing through my whole body. Had I not been so spent in our recent recreation, I know I would have been fighting to hide a decidedly unfeminine bulge underneath the folds of the dress. The neckline was low enough to show a very feminine cleavage, but not so low as to be slutty. I looked in the mirror and a decidedly attractive blond girl looked back. That couldn’t be me. I felt a weakness in my knees, and for a moment wondered if I would faint.

I couldn’t help the smile of delight as we re-joined the rest of the crowd in the living room. The inevitable photograph would be the most incriminating of them all, showing not only how far I had allowed this to go, but also how much I was genuinely enjoying it. The black cloud inside had all but dissipated though, and I was feeling relaxed and at peace with the world for the first time in so long I could hardly remember. For now the photographs and the blackmail didn’t matter. For now I was almost me again.

Then came the idea of going out and I panicked. Evelyn did a great job of calming me, so the remnants of my rage were kept at bay. I knew what they would say, that I was stronger than these girls, that I could overpower them and probably delete the photographs from the computer and the Internet before they could send them. I could get out of this and take control again, but I didn’t want to. I wanted this to happen. I could never have brought myself to try any of the things they were doing to me, certainly I would never have dared myself to go outside dressed this way, but with things out of my hands, with an excuse for not fighting back, I could let this evening run its course. I could indulge myself in way I would never have allowed had I been directing the changes.

I let Evelyn lead me back into the lounge just as a horn sounded outside.

“Taxi’s here,” Carol said and grabbed her bag.

The others followed, and again I held back. Go out in my car perhaps, go out in a friend’s car maybe, but go out in a taxi? Allow myself to be stranded looking like this in the middle of town, dependant on public transport to get to somewhere safe? That was a whole new level of scary.

“Come on Rebecca, you’ll be fine.”

The sound of Evelyn’s encouraging voice and the use of her name was enough. I took a breath and allowed myself to be led out.

“Where to ladies?” The taxi driver was the first test, and he seemed to spend more time looking me over than the others. Did he suspect?

“Town centre please,” Carol said. Always the spokesperson of the group was Carol. “If you can drop us near the town hall, that would be great.”

The girls were all giggling as he pulled out. I could still see his eyes checking me over in the mirror a little more than I liked, and I couldn’t figure out what they were laughing at until Jenny leaned in close and whispered, “I think you pulled.” Her eyes indicated the driver and sudden realisation of what she meant sent a hot flush through me, causing the girls to giggle all the more as the blush showed through my makeup.

The centre of town was packed with revellers. Bank holidays did different things to different people. Some would be packing the caravan or tent and going to bed early in preparation for an early start to a day spent in heavy traffic. Others took the opportunity to pack out the pubs and clubs and spend as much of their hard earned on booze and partying. This was the crowd that Evelyn and her friends were drawing me into. I’d done this from Barry’s point of view enough times in the past, but never thought to see it from this perspective. It would be short, girly drinks instead of pints of beer, something for which I was grateful as beer always left me feeling bloated. It would be sitting, chatting and laughing in the corner, or dancing around our handbags. It would be abandoning ourselves to sensuous movements, rather than awkwardly bobbing to the beat. I wasn’t sure if I could go through with it, wasn’t sure if I could actually do all that, but the girls were there and determined that I should.

The drinks were delightful. Such a variety of flavours, and the buzz they brought on was different. We went slow — no boozy slags here — and for that the alcohol helped free us of inhibitions but not control. I found myself joining in with the laughter and, for a while, I actually forgot I was a man.

I needed the loo and Jenny hopped up to go with me. She led me straight past the gents, where my autopilot wanted to take me, and into the ladies. The place was a lot cleaner and fresh smelling than I was used to, but there was as short queue for cubicles. Jenny kept up a prattle about anything and nothing to keep me distracted from my surroundings, and eventually we made it through to a couple of empty stalls.

Business dealt with, Jen took a moment to repair my makeup before looking to her own, then we re-joined the others as they were all standing ready to leave.

Next stop was a nightclub, where the bouncers waved us out of the line of people and straight into the club. It seemed that it was me they were checking over more than the others, but since we were a group, we were all allowed in.

A slightly tipsy, and therefore less restrained than usual, Laura leaned on me and said, “You can come out with us again.”

We didn’t pay for another drink that night, with a constant stream of rounds coming from the bar, paid for by one group of guys or another. One guy walked over and offered me a drink directly, but was turned away by Carol, who then went on to warn me about drinks that didn’t come directly from the bar, and the risk of them being drugged. That sobered me for a while, thinking what would happen if someone did drug me then took me home to find what I had under my skirts.

The down didn’t last long though, and in no time we were standing around our handbags, swaying to the music. It still felt a little awkward, but I managed eventually to let go, trusting that even if my dancing wasn’t so good, guys would still see a good looking girl.

Late in the evening, when the slow music started, a guy tapped me on the shoulder. I recognised him as someone who had paid for a few of our rounds since we’d arrived. I felt he deserved something for his generosity, but wasn’t sure how Evelyn would like it. I looked in her direction and she smiled and nodded. “Enjoy yourself,” she mouthed and I turned to the guy and let me take him in his arms.

He was tall and handsome; taller than me, even in my heels. I leaned my head on his shoulder and tried to keep my lower body away from his. The booze had put paid to any growth in that area, but I didn’t want to risk him feeling anything. When he asked me what was wrong, I told him my shoes were killing me, which wasn’t too far from the truth, so when the song ended, he led me to a quiet corner.

I noticed Evelyn watching me over the shoulder of her own partner, but oddly felt pleased for her rather than angry and envious. My guy asked if I wanted anything more to drink, but I after Carol’s warning, I wasn’t ready to trust anything he brought back from the bar, so I just snuggled against him and shook my head.

The kissing had had turned into a real tonsil hockey match when Carol rapped on the table.

“Sorry you two. Rebecca, we need to go.”

“It’s alright,” my new friend said, “I can drop you home later.”

“No. Thanks but no, I should go with my friends.”

“Can I call you?”

I hesitated. It had been amazing kissing him, being treated as a girl, but I was still just sober enough to know that this was a disaster waiting to happen. Besides I was a married man, no matter how much I felt otherwise. I shook my head. “I’ll see you around, maybe. It was nice to meet you.”

Carol handed me my bag and led me to the ladies where, once more, Jen redid my war paint; extensive reconstruction needed this time, given my recent activities.

Evelyn was giving me an odd look. In fact they all were.

“Ladies,” Carol announced, “I think we may have created a monster.”

-oOo-

The taxi ride home was subdued. Silence reigned and, as sobriety returned I could see a growing sense of shock and regret. Tears started to flow, undoing all of Jenny’s recent efforts.

“Evelyn, I’m so sorry, I…”

“Shh,” I told him, reaching out to take his hand. “This isn’t the place.”

We continued on in silence, Barry squeezing the blood from my hand until Laura, ever practical Laura, handed him a tissue. He took it and started dabbing at his eyes. Once the flood had eased, Jen leaned in to perform emergency repairs, finishing just as we pulled up outside the house.

Carol paid the taxi and we leaned on each other, swaying slightly as we walked up to the house. I let us in and went straight to the kitchen and the kettle.

“Coffee?” I called out and was met with a chorus of yeses. Barry appeared in the doorway, very much a man in a dress at the moment.

“I think I should get changed if that’s alright with you.”

“Not yet.” There was an anger inside me now. As much at myself for letting this go too far, but still no small amount for the figure cowering in front of me. This had to be resolved for both our sakes and I was afraid that if Barry was allowed to come back with all his boiling rage, I wouldn’t have the strength.

He started to cry again, and I relented a little. “Go into the bathroom and clean your face. There’s some cold cream in the cabinet. After that look under your pillow, you’ll find a nightie. If you must get changed, get changed into that.”

He bowed his head and made his way slowly into the bedroom. Once the door was closed, the girls gathered round.

“What are you going to do?” Jen asked.

I shook my head. “I don’t know. He did everything we wanted him to, and more, so we can hardly say he deserves having his picture out on the Internet.”

“It’s the more that’s the thing though,” Carol said. “I mean, who’d have guessed he’d get so far into character that he’d end up snogging a guy?”

“I know. I need to find out who I’m married to. I mean he actually was Rebecca this evening, not just a guy pretending to be a girl. He was totally one us. Do I still have a husband, or, or what?”

I was crying now, and the others gathered round me to comfort me. The kettle finished, and Jenny broke off to make the drinks. We sat with them in silence until Barry came through wearing the short, sheer black night dress I’d bought him, with the matching jacket over the top. Despite the misery still evident on his face, Rebecca was still fighting to let her delight be known with the nightclothes, and I couldn’t help but smile. It was like having a little girl in the house and sharing her excitement at each new outfit she was given. Perhaps that wasn’t too far from the truth though, I thought sadly.

“Come and sit with us Rebecca, or is it Barry? Would you like a drink?”

“Thank-you, a coffee would be lovely.” Jenny stood up to do the honours. “Milk no sugar please.

“As to the other question, it’s kind of both. It always has been, but we’re both always in here. I’ve been squashing Rebecca for nearly a year now, trying to be who you want me to be, and it’s been getting harder and harder. Tonight you let her out and she took over completely for a while. Evelyn, I’m so sorry about what happened earlier. I could blame it on the alcohol, but I wasn’t out of control. I knew what I was doing with him, but at the time it was Rebecca trying to regain time lost and not thinking you would mind, because we’re both girls, so why should you be jealous? It was only afterwards when the heat of the moment had cooled a bit that I saw things from Barry’s point of view.”

Jenny returned with his coffee and he thanked her as he took it. This was definitely a different person from the one who’d grabbed me and yelled at me the previous day, I think we could all see that, but what sort of a person still wasn’t clear. I turned to the girls.

“Would you mind leaving us? I think we need to spend some time alone.”

“Are you sure?” Carol’s protective instincts overreacting.

“I’m sure.”

They trooped out, Carol making ‘call me’ signs with her fingers and thumb. Barry, Rebecca and I finished our coffees in silence, neither of us able to think of anything to say, but at least the old Barry hadn’t returned.

“You seem less angry,” I said.

“You still have those photographs.”

“Is that really the reason?”

“No. No it’s not. It’s like I said, I’ve been keeping her bottled up, and she’s been banging away at the cork like an angry genie, getting stronger every day. Yesterday I was so frightened by what I nearly did to you, I was going to…”

“Going to what?”

He shook his head. All those blond curls on the move, I almost missed the tears. I don’t think I’d ever seen Barry cry before tonight, and here he was for the second time.

“I was going to leave. I was planning to pack a bag and go to a hotel. I couldn’t risk hurting you Evie, I love you.”

I swallowed, trying to clear the lump in my throat. “Is that you speaking or Rebecca?”

“It’s both of us Evelyn. It’s what I tried to say to you a year ago, only I didn’t know how and you didn’t want to listen. We’re not exactly two people, it’s more like there’s one of us, but I don’t really fit anywhere, so the best I can do is be one way for some of the time then a different way for the rest, so it sort of averages out. I can’t be one person or the other for too long. If I am, it’s like an itch I can’t scratch, a pain that no amount of morphine can dull, and it keeps getting worse. That’s what happened to me this year..

“I pushed her away, deep down inside me, because you didn’t want anything to do with her, and if I had to choose between you and her, I’d chose you every time. It’s just that it’s not so easy. She can’t leave, and I can’t ignore her forever.”

“Do you want to become her? I mean full time?”

He looked up at me shocked. “No, of course not. If I buried Barry, then the whole thing would happen again, but in a different way. I’d get stressed by him not being allowed out. I guess I have to be Barry most of the time, because that’s the most obvious part of me isn’t it?”

“Not from where I’m sitting, not at the moment.”

“But these are pretend. They’re bits stuck on to make me look the part, they aren’t me.”

“They look pretty real from here, and if you wanted they could become real.”

He shook his head.

“It’s not what I want. I’d just like for Rebecca to come out every now and again, like tonight.”

“Is she likely to get up to the same sort of things as she did tonight?”

“No, I never… No. Evelyn, tonight it’s like she escaped from prison. She had a lot of living to catch up on and the booze didn’t help her keep any sort of control. I won’t deny I didn’t enjoy it, I don’t think you’d believe me if I did. But it was just that tonight I’ve been more Rebecca than ever before. I lost myself for a while, but it won’t happen again.”

I stood up and walked into the bedroom. It was easy to believe him, her, them, whatever. The earnest expression on his face said it all, and there seemed to be no trace of the black cloud that had plagued us for so long.

I changed into my own nightie, bought to match his, and went through all the other pre-bed rituals before going back into the lounge. He was sitting where I’d left him, looking small and vulnerable and holding a cold cup of coffee.

“Are you coming to bed? We have an early start tomorrow if we’re going to outfit Rebecca, besides I want a bit of what that guy was enjoying earlier tonight.”

His gaze was filled with liquid stars and hope. “You mean you don’t mind this?” He waved an elegantly painted hand at his sexy nightwear and smooth legs.

“Well I don’t want to lose you, and if I have to make a choice between yesterday’s Barry and today’s, I choose this one wholeheartedly, complete with Rebecca.

“I didn’t understand before. I mean I don’t now, but I can at least see that she’s an essential part of you, and I’ll have you both rather than lose you both.”

We made slow, sweet love long into the night. The breasts and the hair, the nightdress and the perfume, all felt strange, almost forbidden, but there was no question that I had my man back, even if he was a bit of a girl.

-End-