Switching Tracks

Copyright © 2010 Maeryn Lamonte – All Rights Reserved.

I awoke with a start. Harsh reality blew the dream into a million insubstantial tatters, like a cobweb in a thunderstorm. I lay breathless, staring at the ceiling grasping for any remaining thread, but it was gone. It had been a doozy though, the twisted wreckage of my bedding was evidence enough of that.

There was a knock on the door and I reflexively grabbed for my duvet. I like to sleep in the buff and Mum had been no respecter of boundaries lately.

“Chris?” the singsong question came through the door. “Are you awake?”

“Yeah Mum, what is it?”

“It’s half nine sweetheart. You said you’d come into town with me to pick out some new clothes for your cousin Peter’s wedding.”

I groaned. I hated shopping, and especially for clothes. Something inside rebelled at the thought. I mean call me a bit weird but I’ve always been jealous of girls – they have all the choice of different styles and colours and materials, while us schmucks get to wear what? A pair of trousers and a shirt, usually in dark blue or grey – possibly a jacket over the top. I pulled the duvet over my head.

Mum must have recognised the sound because her voice hardened.

“You don’t want me to come in and get you do you young man?”

No I didn’t. I pulled the bedding down again and sat up.

“Okay.”

I squeezed as much resignation and resentment into those two syllables as only a teenager could.

“Downstairs in fifteen minutes or I’m coming to get you.”

Her voice receded with her footsteps. She would too – not one for idle threats my Mum.

I grabbed my dressing gown off the door and shuffled my reluctant way to the bathroom. A quick look in the mirror assured me that I had no new zits, and my shoulder length hair wasn’t yet greasy enough to need washing. A hand rubbed over my chin confirmed that I still didn’t need to shave. I climbed into the shower and left the water running just a little colder than was comfortable.

Five minutes later I towelled myself dry and slipped my dressing gown back on. It seemed different, somehow softer than usual, but I still wasn’t awake enough to do any more than notice this in a very vague sense. Maybe we were using a new fabric conditioner in the wash or something.

I grabbed my jeans off the back of my chair and pulled them on commando. There was a black tee shirt underneath them, a little creased but otherwise wearable. I gave the armpits a quick sniff to make sure then pulled it on. Yeah not much for personal hygiene me – rebellious teenager remember? I pulled open a draw and grabbed a pair of socks without looking. They were mismatched, but near enough the same colour.

I checked myself out in the mirror and the weight of the world descended on my shoulders. I looked like pretty much any other guy my age, perhaps a little less fastidious about my appearance, but then as I’ve said before, I feel we guys got the short straw with that one,so why bother?

Something in the back of my mind kept nagging at me; something was different and I couldn’t quite place it through my early morning fug. Still I didn’t have time for that right now.

I headed for the stairs before Mum decided she had a reason to invade my room. The place was its usual mess and as such was an argument waiting to happen. I just didn’t have the energy for that fight right now.

-oOo-

Mum looked up as I walked into the kitchen and the light went out of her eyes.

“Oh Chris!” She turned away from me and walked over to the kettle. “I do wish you’d make a bit more of an effort with the way you look.”

I felt the hackles rise; maybe I did have the energy for a fight after all.

“You’re one to talk!”

Definite barbs in that, but then why the hell not? I mean she was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt herself this morning – not exactly the most glamorous look in the world.

The kettle boiled and she poured steaming water into a mugful of teabag.

“That’s different and you know it. Saturdays have always been when I catch up on the housework.”

She mushed the teabag about a bit and chucked it in the bin, added a dollop of milk then handed the mug to me. I ducked my head and grunted my thanks. I was angry, but she was being uncommonly nice and it would have been childish not to acknowledge that.

“Toast?”

“Please.”

I sat and dangled my lips in my tea to give me an excuse not to talk. An awkward silence filled the room – this wasn’t going to be a pleasant Saturday.

After an interminable couple of minutes the toaster popped and Mum scraped a knife full of butter over its burnt offering before passing me the plate.

“Come on you can eat that in the car.”

I took one final gulp of tea – it was still just a little too hot – and followed her out biting into my breakfast. Mum rarely put enough butter on to satisfy me and this wasn’t one of those rare occasions. Still beggars can’t be choosers – at least I had breakfast.

I slid into the passenger side, put my seatbelt on and slouched down. The car pulled out onto the road and I closed my eyes and turned my face to the early morning sun – superman soaking up his early morning dose of energy before a hard day’s super-heroism. I was going to need all the help I could get today; clothes shopping was very much my personal kryptonite.

The silence dragged out and it sunk home that it would continue to do so until I waved an olive branch.

“So tell me why we’re doing this again? I mean can’t I wear that suit we bought for my job interviews?”

As olive branches go it was fairly pathetic – dried out withered leaves. It was enough though.

“I thought you might like something new to wear. Everyone else will be making an effort and it would be a shame for you to look like someone’s poor cousin.”

I let out a sigh. The warmth of the sun was soothing and I soaked it up. Light and shadow played on my eyelids as we passed a row of trees.

“So what did you have in mind? Another suit?” I really couldn’t see the point.

“Well I suppose we could if that’s what you really want. I did have some other ideas though.” There was hint of uncertainty behind her words, as though she wasn’t sure she was doing the right thing.

“Do what you like Mum, I really couldn’t give a…”

“Chris!”

I hadn’t planned the ending of the sentence, but it wasn’t going to be that shocking. I let it hang and lapsed back into silence, leaching what pleasure I could from the feel of the sun’s rays and the sound of the tyres on the road. Eventually we slowed and pulled off the road into an open car park behind a shop.

“We’re here,” Mum said as she opened her door.

Well duh! What was your first clue?

I climbed out and looked around. There were a few other cars in the car park with us, but the place was otherwise deserted.

“Where are we?”

“My little surprise,” Mum gave me a secretive smile that did very little to reassure me and headed off for the back entrance into what, if it were a shop, appeared to be a very modestly sized building.

-oOo-

The place was cluttered with racks of clothing of every sort. There were a few people milling about here and there but, as the shop floor was actually quite a bit larger than I would have guessed from the outward appearance, all we saw of them were the tops of their heads in the middle distance.

Mum guided us through the racks, an experienced navigator in this particular maze, and came to a stop seemingly at random. The racks bore a chaotic array of anything and everything clothes-wise with what looked like men’s and women’s clothes hanging side by side in no apparent order. It finally twigged that the apparent disorder was nothing of the sort and that the shop was divided up into sections by size – height in one direction and build in the other.

A shop assistant appeared; a young blonde girl wearing black trousers and white blouse with Peter Pan collar, tied off with a black bow.

“May I be of assistance?” The words were carefully enunciated as though she’d been practicing them in front of a mirror.

“My son needs a new set of clothes for a wedding next week.”

The assistant smiled at me and I gave her a weak, self-conscious grin in return. She gave me an appraising look and nodded to herself.

“Perhaps you’d like to step into the changing room and we’ll pass you a few things to try on.”

Panic gripped me as it dawned on me that clothes shopping without underwear was perhaps not the right thing to do. I pulled Mum to one side and whispered furiously into her ear – better to embarrass myself with her than anyone else.

She let out an exasperated sigh and gave me a what-am-I-going-to-do-with-you look.

“Well I suppose we’ll have to sort you out in that area as well then. Go on, get into the cubicle and strip. Don’t worry no-one will peek.”

So I did. The cubicle was more like a small room with a bench, a rack with hangers on it and a large full length mirror. The walls were pale off-white and a heavy grey curtain on one side separated the interior from the outside world.

I stripped off my tee shirt, socks and shoes. The jeans could stay on until I had something to put on in their place. A hand appeared through the curtain holding a plastic packet.

“Those are bought and paid for so just keep them on when we’re done.” There was a heavy note of disapproval in Mum’s voice, but then I suppose I can’t blame her – going pant free is not going to find approval amongst many parents, especially in a clothes shop.

I tore open the packet and pulled out the undergarments. For a long moment I couldn’t quite get my head around what I had in my hands. They were pale pink and looked a bit like hipster briefs apart from the fact that they were sheer with pink flowers embroidered into the translucent material. I figured this was probably Mum’s way of getting back at me for coming out without, but if she thought she was going to embarrass me this way she had another think coming.

I slipped off my jeans and pulled on the soft briefs. Being so obviously girly I was ready for them to be uncomfortable, but somehow they had space for my bits and felt wonderful.

“You can put this on as well.” Mum’s hand appeared again with another packet.

This time it contained a matching pink camisole with spaghetti straps, but flat where the breast cups would normally be. I slipped it on quickly, hardly ready to believe what was going on here, and checked myself out in the mirror. A wave of pleasure washed over me and my breath caught in my throat as adrenaline coursed through my body. Blood rushed to my groin and I felt light headed enough to need to sit down on the bench.

“Here try this.”

It was the sales assistant. Her hand appeared through the curtain holding a coat hanger from which hung a very frilly pink dress in shimmering satin.

“Are you serious?”

This wasn’t just my Mum and it wasn’t’ just about the underwear anymore. This had to be a setup, but I couldn’t begin to understand what this was about or why.

The dress disappeared.

“Yeah, I guess it is too strong a pink for your complexion. Hang on a minute.”

She was gone but came back a minute later with a similar design but this time in a light shimmering blue.

“Is my Mum there?”

“Yeah. Look can you just take this and I’ll go get her.”

I took the dress from her and she disappeared. It was beautiful and I was so tempted to slip it on. I had wanted to dress as a girl for so long now, but guys just don’t do dresses do they? It’s just wrong.

Mum’s voice came from the other side of the curtain.

“What is it Chris?”

“Seriously Mum? You want me to wear a dress?”

The sigh that came from the other side of the curtain was an exasperated end-of-the-rope sort of sigh.

“Look sweetheart, I know these aren’t the clothes you prefer to wear, but this is your cousin’s wedding and you really ought to make an effort.”

“But a dress Mum? Everyone will laugh at me!”

“Chrissy, you won’t be the only boy wearing a dress there, in fact if you insist on wearing trousers, you’ll be about the only one who does. Peter and Ellen are going to be wearing matching wedding dresses, Ellen has two nephews who will be there as page boys and they’ll be wearing the same dresses as the bridesmaids. You remember, she even asked you to be one of them but you refused.

“Please Chris, just do this for me… Please?”

This was impossible, I mean boys don’t wear dresses do they? There was a war going on inside. I wanted this so much but how could it be possible that Mum was okay with it, that there was a sales girl handing me dresses to try on as though it were the most normal thing in the world?

“Please?”

There was a note of desperate pleading in Mum’s voice. How could she want this for me?

“Mum I don’t understand, guys don’t wear dresses.”

She let out a half sob – half laugh.

“Try telling that to your dad. He has more than I do.”

“Is this a setup Mum?”

“Chris, we all have a little girl inside, even you. Can’t you let her out just for a bit? I promise you this is nothing more than me wanting you to look your best and fit in at the wedding next week.

“Look do this for me now and next week, and I’ll do something with you the week after. Anything you like.”

A tentative hand appeared through the curtain offering me another dress. I took it without saying anything.

“Thank-you sweetheart.” She said it so quietly I’m not sure she intended for me to hear.

The blue dress the sales assistant had handed me was fun. The skirt was very full as were the puff sleeves and I found myself dancing and twirling in front of the mirror at the sight of me. My hair did look in need of a wash now against the new clothes, but somehow it didn’t matter. I felt and looked fabulous.

“Do you mind if I see?” Mum’s voice was plaintive, half hopeful half dreading.

I bit my lip. If she was messing with me I probably wouldn’t live this down ever. But something weird was going on here, this was not an ordinary day in my world and surely this was worth the risk.

“Carpe Diem,” I muttered to myself and twitched the curtain aside waiting for the gales of shaming laughter and the flash of a camera.

They never came. Instead my mum and the shop girl gave me an appraising look and asked me to twirl for them, which I did.

“I think the blue’s a bit too strong. What do you think love?”

“It’s a bit too showy?” I ventured tentatively.

“I think you’re right, why don’t you try on that dress I just gave you and we’ll go looking for some more?”

And so the morning passed in a swirl of frills and lace. I never knew how much fun it could be just trying on different outfits, but the vast difference in the way I saw myself with each new outfit was an adventure to rival anything I’d read in a thousand books.

In the end we settled on the first outfit my Mum had suggested. A silky dark chocolate satin dress that fell to mid-thigh with a wispy, sheer layer over the top in the same dark chocolate and spattered with creamy white spots.

A pair of cream sandals, built up to a half-inch heel and a small cream handbag finished the outfit off.

Somewhat reluctantly I changed back into my jeans and tee shirt and we headed home with our spoils.

-oOo-

Mum was in a much more cheerful mood and chatted about the wedding and who would be there all the way home. I sat in a bewildered silence the entre journey. I was still wearing the camisole and briefs under my clothes and I could feel their softness caressing my skin.

When we arrived home I headed upstairs to my room. I looked around at the familiar sight of my mess. Dirty clothes lay in a pile by the door, mostly jeans and tee shirts and all looking perfectly normal, but half hidden in the heap the occasional glimpse of pink, powder blue or yellow. I dug in and found last week’s underwear hidden in there. A lot of it was plain briefs in non-descript colours, but there were a couple of flowery, decidedly feminine pairs of knickers, each with space for the male parts. I looked around at the posters hanging from the walls and ceiling. The usual rock bands and comic book heroes, all dressed as I would have expected to find them, but when I looked carefully in the background, the passers-by seemed to be dressed an odd mix of clothing with both men and women wearing skirts, dresses and trousers in pretty much equal amount.

I opened my wardrobe.

For the most part it was jeans and tee shirts, trousers and shirts, pullovers and sweatshirts, but tucked away in the back, half-forgotten were a few dresses and skirts. Possibly past weddings and similar occasions, worn once then hidden away where I didn’t have to face them.

I flopped onto my bed and stared blankly at the wall for a very long time. Eventually my eyes focused on a stuffed bear sitting on a shelf. Mr Flubbage had been a faithful companion through childhood, but I never once dressed him up in a flowery pink and blue dress like the one he was wearing now.

“Well Mr Flubbage, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

For want of anything better to do, I decided to clear my room. I preferred Mum in her present good mood and figured I had a better chance of keeping her that way if I took away any reason she might have for being angry.

The clothes went into the laundry hamper in the bathroom, almost filling it. I caught sight of myself in the mirror and decided there was room for just a little more, but maybe not quite yet. I went back to my room and spent half an hour picking stuff off the floor and finding homes for it, I even cleared out the accumulation of mess under the bed. In the end the place looked a lot better, and I felt happier for having done it.

I checked my watch, there was still time before lunch. I stripped out of my clothes, putting my new briefs and cami on my bed but grabbing the jeans, tee shirt and socks. I slipped on my dressing gown – it was softer than I remembered it and had a little pink bunny I hadn’t noticed earlier on the left breast.

I dropped the grubby clothes in the hamper and climbed into the shower for the second time that day. This time I let the water run hot and washed my hair through three times. Back in my room, I towelled it dry as best I could and set too with a hair drier. This part of having long hair was a drag, but the compensations outweighed hardship so I didn’t complain. I loved the feeling of long hair down my back, and this time I tried something different. Rather than just aim the blower and wait, I attacked it with a hair brush, curling it under and trying to give it some body as I’d seen Mum do now and again.

When I was done I slipped the pink underwear back on, opened the wardrobe and reached to the back, pulling out a green floral print summer dress that had caught my eye when I’d looked earlier. It fit like a glove, and suddenly looking back out from the mirror was a wide-eyed, smiling young man wearing a dress that looked good on him. I thought about make-up, but there didn’t seem to be any in my room, so either that wasn’t part of being a guy in this place or it was something else I had been denying myself.

Still I’d do. I’d do very nicely. My watch indicated a few minutes before one, which meant Dad would be home soon and lunch on the table. I headed for the bathroom and picked up the washing hamper then, somewhat filled with trepidation at the welcome I would receive, I headed downstairs.

I managed to duck into the utility room without being seen and sorted out a load of coloured clothes to run through the machine. I heard the doorbell go while I was finishing off and decided to wait it out. Mum was okay, she’d seen me in a dress already today, but I wasn’t quite ready for anyone else just yet – well maybe Dad, then I’d know for sure if the freakiness of the day was me or the world around me.

“Chris,” Mum yelled up the stairs, still thinking I was in my room. “I invited Becky over for lunch. Can you come and keep her company while I finish off?”

-oOo-

“Oh sh…, oh cr…, oh bu…” Half a dozen half uttered expletives passed through my head. Rebecca was the girl next door I’d been in love with since I was old enough to remember, but I’d never managed to get her to admit to anything more than friendship. If she saw me like this it could mean the end of any chance I might have with her.

I thought about grabbing something out of the dirty washing, but all my jeans were making sudsy revolutions in the machine in the corner. What was I going to do?

“Chris?” Mum called up the stairs again.

There was nothing to be done. I opened the utility room door and stepped out where my Mum could see me.

“Oh there you are… Oh.”

Suddenly she was very quiet with an unreadable look on her face. Oh hell, I’d got this wrong and with Becky here too.

I heard footsteps from behind her and Becky appeared at her shoulder, eased past into the corridor, walked up to the utility room door, stopped short in front of me.

“Oh hello Christine. You’re wearing a dress, let’s have a look then.”

She grabbed me by the hands and pulled me out into the corridor to look me over.

Hang on, wait a minute! Christine? My name’s Christopher.

“A little twirl?”

Thoroughly bemused, I complied.

“You look really lovely,” I can’t ever remember seeing her smile like that. “Maybe a bit of makeup would help, but I love what you’ve done with your hair and that’s a really pretty dress.”

I breathed out, aware that somewhere in the middle of this bizarre situation, my lungs had been screaming at me for attention. Mum continued to stare at me.

The front door banged open.

“Hi! I’m home.” Dad’s voice came from the front of the house and he walked through in search of us all.

Well if Becky hadn’t already answered the question about make-up, Dad’s appearance would have done so. He looked stunning in a bright red dress with very full skirts. His hair was blonde – not his natural colour, at least where I come from – and permed into tight curls. His face was beautifully made up with bright red lipstick to match his dress and nails, and more subtle shading around the cheekbones and eyes, all of which gave him a more attractive appearance than I remember.

“Hello everyone, hi Becky. Chris you’re wearing a dress.”

It was all so surreal.

“Erm, I know Dad, I put it on myself and everything.”

Becky was still holding my hands. I didn’t want her to let go so I looked back into her eyes.

“Can we go somewhere and talk?”

Becky looked at my mum and dad with a question in her eyes and from somewhere far away Mum came back to herself.

“Dinner will be ready in about ten minutes. Richard can you come and give me a hand?”

She grabbed Dad’s arm and pulled him into the kitchen. I led Becky into our lounge and sat down on the sofa. My skirts bunched up under me so I stood and tried again, smoothing them under me as I sat this time.

Becky sat next to me, quite close, and turned to look at me. For a while my own plain and chipped nails were all I wanted to look at, but I couldn’t do that forever, and ten minutes wasn’t a long time to get this done.

“Er, about the dress…” I sallied forth into the gale I was sure would tear my life apart.

“I’ve never seen you look more lovely, Christine. I always thought you hated dresses, and you don’t do yourself justice in those grubby jeans and tee shirts. I’d really like to see you dressing up like this more often.”

OK, not the answer I’d been expecting. I was really getting to like Oz, and I could definitely get used to being Dorothy.

“Er, thank-you I think. Listen this is all really new to me, and I’m still a little nervous about the way people are reacting. Are you sure you’re okay with this?”

She looked down shyly, demurely even, then glanced up at me through long eyelashes. She bit her lip.

“I probably didn’t ought to say it straight out like this, but I’ve always liked you. When you started going all grungy biker with the greasy hair and stuff, I kind of felt like I’d lost you, or at least the you I wanted you to be. This feels like you’re back and I really like it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look more beautiful and I think I’m falling for you all over again.”

Beautiful! There’s a word I never expected to hear used to describe me. Still I wasn’t going to let this pass. Seize the day, seize the moment!

“Would you like to go out sometime, you know on a date?”

“How about we go for a walk after lunch? It’s such a lovely day.”

“That sounds great.” This can’t be happening. Nothing this good could ever happen to me.

“Okay kids, lunch is served.”

Becky smiled at me and reached forward to kiss me. It was brief, but it was on the lips. Something this good is actually happening to me.

-oOo-

We made our way through to the kitchen and sat down to a lunch of salad and cold meat with fresh baguette. Mum had changed into a simple yellow dress, something I’d failed to notice earlier, and looked oddly outclassed by Dad.

We said a brief thanks for the food and dug in like we hadn’t eaten for a month. Becky kept glancing my way and rubbing her bare leg against mine. Every now and again she would grasp hold of my hand and squeeze it. I was in seventh heaven, or quite possibly several stories above that, but still trying very hard to come to terms with all these changes.

Mum and Dad kept exchanging knowing glances, and I decided I didn’t care.

Eventually the mad rush to fill mouths and stomachs subsided and Dad turned a very direct look my way. It was highly disconcerting under the bottle blond curls and makeup, but I figured I could get used to it. I steeled myself for the question I knew was coming.

“So young man, how is it that I come home to find you wearing a dress today?”

Three pairs of eyes were one me, and I realised that they must be finding my behaviour as odd as I was finding theirs.

“Well, erm…”

The words weren’t coming. I stopped and took a breath.

“Mum took me out to get something new to wear for Peter’s wedding next week. She and the sales girl kept pushing dresses through for me to put on. When I finally gave in and gave it a try I found that I liked it. I like the way I look and feel in a dress. I never expected it, but when I got home I actually felt like I wanted to put one on, so I showered and washed my hair properly and here I am.”

Dad and Becky seemed happy enough with the answer, but there was something in Mum’s eyes that told me she hadn’t totally bought it. I gave her a sheepish that’s-the-best-I-can-do-right-now look and she arched an eyebrow at me to let me know this wasn’t over.

“Becky and I thought we’d go for a walk down to the park after lunch, is that okay?”

Changing the subject seemed like a good idea at this point. It wouldn’t keep Mum at bay forever, but it would do for now.

“That sounds like a great idea,” Mum sounded truly delighted, as though this were something she’d been hoping would happen for ages. “Leave the washing up to your Dad and me and we’ll see you later.”

“Are you sure Mrs Bradley, I feel like I haven’t done anything towards lunch.”

“Well if you keep Chris from moping around the house all afternoon I shall count it as a debt repaid in full. Go on off you go before the sun decides to go sulk behind a cloud somewhere.”

Becky was up and heading for the door. “Well if you’re sure…”

“I’m sure, now scoot.”

Becks grabbed my hand and I was halfway to the door before something pulled me up short.

“Mum, do I have any shoes that go with this dress?”

She stuck her head out of the kitchen.

“We bought you a pair of light green sling-backs which I think are still in the cupboard under the stairs. There’s a handbag under there you can take as well if you want.”

I found the shoes and bag and slipped upstairs quickly to grab my wallet and keys. Ten seconds later I was walking down the street with Becky’s arm wrapped possessively around mine.

-oOo-

It felt odd to be outside walking around in a dress. I mean all of this felt odd, and strangely liberating. I’d wanted this for so long, but denied myself because I knew how much it would upset my parents and friends if ever I was discovered. Now it seemed that the people who meant most to me in the world were happy for me to dress like this and even encouraging me to do so.

A gentle breeze played mischievously about my legs and the very slight heel on my shoes added to the oddness of the way I felt. We made it to the park without saying a word, possibly because we were both too busy pinching ourselves and wondering at our good fortune, but eventually we made it to a grassy bank under an old oak tree and sat down carefully to bask in the sun’s warmth.

Making sure I was decent, I lay back with my arms behind my head. Beck snuggled beside me and lay her head on my chest.

“You’re going to have to shave your armpits if you want to wear sleeveless dresses you know?”

Suddenly I was very conscious of the hair under my arms and dropped my free arm. Becky giggled.

We lay and snuggled for a while, then Becky raised her head towards me and I reached forward to kiss her. It was my first real kiss and it lasted forever. Shooting stars could have been cascading overhead with a full string orchestra playing some swelling overture, I really wouldn’t have noticed so caught up was I in the taste and feel of her lips.

A thousand years and then some later we both came up for air.

“I have waited so long for an opportunity to do that,” I said. “If only I’d known sooner that all I need do was put on a dress…”

“It probably wouldn’t have made any difference you know? It’s not just wearing a dress that’s done it, it’s the way you are while you’re wearing it. You’re more alive, happier, more aware of the people around you. It’s like you’re a different person.”

I felt the world crowd round, accusing me.

“What if I am a different person?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know how to say this, I’m not even sure if I should.”

She sat up and looked down at me.

“Well it’s too late now. The last thing you should ever do, if you’re not sure about whether or not to say something to a girl, is make her curious.”

Oh well too late now. I thought for a few seconds, gathered my words and took a deep breath.

“When I went to bed last night, the world, from my perspective, was very different in at least one aspect. Men didn’t wear dresses.”

“Oh Chris, not this again.” She pulled away from me.

“No Becky listen, I mean really. In my world, men wear trousers and shirts and jackets and pullovers and that’s pretty much it. There are some guys who still like to dress up in women’s clothing, but for the most part they’re thought to be weird, perverted.

“I was one of those guys. For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to dress like this, but because most people in my society feel uncomfortable with the idea of a guy in a dress, I did what I figure most guys like me do and suppressed the desire. Every now and again you hear of someone getting caught dressing up in private and it gets into the papers and the guy’s reputation is ruined. He loses his friends, his job a lot of the time, even his wife sometimes if he’s lucky enough to have one.

“The thing is it stays there like an itch you can’t scratch, and the more you try to supress it the more it builds. Some people in my world feel so overwhelmed by the desire to live as a woman that they end up taking hormones to make them appear more like a woman and eventually have reconstructive surgery to make transformation as complete as they can make it, but they’re not understood and usually find themselves ostracised by family and friends.

“In recent months I’ve been horribly depressed because I couldn’t reconcile my desires with my fears. Then I woke up this morning and Mum took me into town and bought me a dress.

“I couldn’t believe it at first, I still can’t believe it. I see guys around me wearing summer frocks, I see my Dad dressed up to the nines, and everyone seems fine with the whole thing. It’s like this is my world, but changed slightly to fit the one thing I’ve wanted more than anything else.

“I love being like this, I want to live like this, more than anything I want you with me, and all the more now that I know you like me dressed this way, but I have to be honest with you. I may be very nearly the Chris Bradley you’ve wanted to fall in love with all your life, but I’m very slightly… not.”

She looked at the grass, not moving, not speaking.

“For one thing in my world I was named Christopher, not Christine. Where I come from Christine is a girl’s name.”

The silence hung for too long. I reached out a hand and put it on hers. She didn’t move and I didn’t dare go further in case I pushed her away. Eventually she looked up at me.

“So are your saying that maybe someday you’ll drift off to another world, or back to your own and I’ll have another Chris to deal with?”

“I hadn’t thought about that.”

I hadn’t either. This was such a dream come true, I’d been stuck trying to figure out how it could all come crashing round my ears and now I had an answer to that. If I’d somehow changed realities, was it possible that I might one day do so again?

“Carpe Diem,” I muttered half under my breath.

“What?”

“It’s something I learnt in history. It means seize the day. I’ve been saying it to myself all day. There’s more to the phrase, I can’t remember the rest in Latin but it means something like seize the day and don’t trust the future.

“Becky, you’re right. I have no idea if I’m here for good or just a few days. I hope I’m here forever, and if I can do anything to make sure it happens that way I will, but in the meantime will you be mine right now and let me be yours? We don’t know what the future’s going to bring and we probably can’t do anything to change things no matter how they turn out. Is it possible that being here with me right now and for however many right-nows we have to come could be enough?

“Rebecca, I only just found you and I don’t want to lose you so soon afterwards. What do you say?”

She didn’t say anything, but with tears running down her cheeks she lunged at me, our embrace meeting in a salty wet kiss. It was enough.

-oOo-

The afternoon passed in the way of young lovers everywhere. There was a lot of kissing and holding hands and talking about nothings. She asked me little details about my world, who were the world leaders, what had happened in the Second World War, things that I had done when I was younger, and it seemed that the only real difference between what I could remember of my world and what she could remember of this one was that guys here had the same freedom of expression through their appearance and what they chose to wear as girls.

It seemed to have happened in the sixties during the flower power revolution. As well as sharing free love, it seems that some guys had thought it might be hip and groovy to share their loved ones’ clothing as well, and in time it had stretched across the western world. Over time people saw a gentler side to men who embraced and expressed their inner girl, and as more and more tried it, the world became a happier place for everyone. Men found a measure of self-worth in self-expression and the incidence of sex related crimes and domestic violence fell dramatically. For most people the world was wonderful, only those who could not bend to the idea of being a guy in a dress suffered, and were pitied by society.

That conversation ended up getting a little too heavy and by the time we were making our way back home with the sun low in the sky, we were back to playing games like love/hate and finding out how close we could walk together without tripping each other up.

Mum and Dad exchanged a glance and a knowing smile when we came in through the front door; we were so obviously a couple. Becky stayed for tea and then she and I cleared up. It was late when she headed for home with an offer and a promise to come round after breakfast the following morning.

With the kitchen tidy I ducked into the utility room to empty and refill the washing machine, then I headed into the lounge to find Mum and Dad snuggling on the couch. They looked so happy together I didn’t even experience the usual kind of gross out common to teenagers when they see their parents sharing a romantic moment.

“I’m heading up to bed,” I said. It was early, but I didn’t want be a third wheel.

I made it into my room and I found a midnight-blue silky nightie laid out on my bed. It was a little large for me and, as I was taller than Mum, I assumed it had to be Dad’s. I was grateful and headed for a quick wash before getting changed. Mindful of Becky’s earlier comment I found a razor and very carefully removed my underarm hair. That felt odd but in such a good way.

When I finally slipped the nightie on and slid under the sheets, I was almost overcome with the luxuriant feel of the material against my body. I had such a strong and sudden erection that I had to slip out of bed and into the bathroom to deal with it almost straight away. Wow this was going to take some getting used to.

I cleaned myself up and headed back to my room. Mum was waiting.

She helped me into bed and tucked me in in a way I remembered from many years in the past. Then she sat on the bed next to me.

“I came up to clean your room while you were out, not that I needed to do much.” She looked around at the order that I had wrought out of the chaos. “But I did find this under your pillow.”

She offered a book to me, making sure I could see the title. It read “Lucid dreaming – A gateway to alternate realities.” I took it from her hands.

“It makes interesting reading. Of course I would be far more likely to dismiss it as hokum if I hadn’t witnessed such a significant change in my much beloved son today. It may still be nonsense, in which case I apologise for what I’m about to say, but if there is a germ of truth anywhere between these covers, and my son has managed to find his way to a place that suits him as well as this place so evidently suits you, please know that we would be very glad for you to stay.”

“It doesn’t worry you that your actual son is somewhere else and that I’m an imposter?”

“Well I imagine that your parents are pretty much like Richard and me.”

She inclined her head looking for confirmation so I nodded my head.

“Except that I doubt my dad would ever look so good in a dress.”

“Then my Christine is going to be as well looked after as he would be here, and I hope happier for having found a place he can live in. It hurt us as much as it did him to see how he struggled to relate to our feminized society.”

“Then he should fit in pretty well in my world.” There was no point in denying what had happened, and her smile told me I had done the right thing in admitting it.

“You know you’re so very like him. The only thing I can see that’s different is your obvious enjoyment of these clothes. Is there a Becky in your world?”

“Yes she lives next door, but I’ve been so angry and messed up recently that I think he may have his work cut out to get her to notice him.”

“A bit like you today then?”

She gave me a knowing smile and leaned in to plant a kiss on my forehead. Not the sort of thing teenage boys tend to like their mother’s doing where I came from, but it was kind of nice. I reached out and gave her a squeeze. She stood up and headed for the door.

“Can I ask something?” I asked.

She stopped and turned.

“Why Christine? My parents called me Christopher, Christine is a girl’s name where I come from.”

“It used to be here too, but a lot of girl’s names have been uni-sexed. I imagine in your world we might have thought Christine if it’s a girl and Christopher if it’s a boy. Here we didn’t have to make that distinction and I’ve always preferred Christine. It doesn’t bother you does it?”

“No I like it.” I snuggled under the duvet to hide the blush that was burning its way across my face.

She closed the door and I settled down into the deliciously sensuous feel of my nightclothes.

-oOo-

It was quite a few hours later that I turned the last page of the book. As Mum had said it could quite easily be hokum, but there were some highly practical exercises included, all of which were do-able by anyone with a smidgeon of technical ability and enough incentive to try.

One of them, the last one, had included schematics for a dream machine. It consisted of a motion sensor on the end of a length of wire and a mechanical buzzer built into the main assembly which was worn over the thumb. The motion sensor was taped over one eye and as soon as it detected motion in that eye, it would operate the buzzer, the vibrations of which would be felt as much as heard.

The principle was fairly straightforward. The motion detector was intended to pick up rapid eye movement or REM sleep which accompanies a dream. The cues from the buzzer were meant to be gentle enough that they didn’t fully wake you up, but just strong enough that your consciousness inside the dream recognised them and became aware of the dream. This would then allow you to take control of the dream – the so called lucid dream state.

After that it was all mental exercises – visualise a portal, visualise a world on the other side that possesses the alterations you’re looking for, open the portal and walk through. This is where anything approaching good science went out the window as the author claimed that the lucid dreams were not constructs within an individual’s brain, but portals to genuine worlds that existed in infinite or near infinite number, running almost but not quite parallel to our own.

Still against all the odds I was here wasn’t I?

I remembered a jumble of wires from this morning’s clearing up session. I’d put them in the draw in the bedside cabinet. I put the book on the cabinet and pulled open the draw. There it was. A single AA battery attached to a clip that fitted over the right thumb and a wire that lead to a small blob of plastic with some electrical tape attached.

I taped the sensor onto my right eye and looked at the circuit board. There was a switch in the thumb clip that turned the device on as soon as you slipped it on. I did so and was rewarded by the gentle whine of capacitors charging. I moved my eye back and forth under the eyelid for half a second and was further rewarded when a quiet buzz and a tingling in my thumb lasted for a couple of seconds before the machine switched off. According to the book, it should now lay dormant for about an hour before resetting itself.

An hour should be enough time to get to sleep, then all I had to do was wait for a dream. I turned out the light and scooched down under the warm duvet.

-oOo-

An indeterminate amount of time later I heard a buzz and felt a familiar tingle in my thumb. Suddenly I was awake, or at the very least more aware of my surroundings. I was wearing the blue silk night dress and I was surrounded by faceless people in jeans and combat fatigues. They had surrounded me and were herding me in a direction I didn’t want to go.

There was a sense of rising panic building in me as I became lucid within the dream, and I might have been carried with it, except that I remembered a passage from the book that had been printed several times over in bold type.

“This is your dream. You are in control even if it feels like you are not. Use your will to change or get rid of those things you don’t want.”

I stopped moving, but the faceless people around me crowd in close and all but pushed me. I closed my eyes and imagined them all in pink tutus. When I opened my eyes and looked around, they were all as I had imagined them, en pointe with their hands raised above their heads. I willed them to dance off out of the dream and obediently they took turns to perform a single pirouette and a grand jeté into oblivion.

I was alone in what had started out as a nightmare. They had been dragging me back to my world; whether for real or simply in my dream I had no way of knowing. Now I was surrounded by an empty and featureless plain.

I took a breath – reflex I’m sure – and pictured a large, circular stone portal standing upright in the ground a few feet in front of me. It appeared.

“Christine?”

He was there, on the other side of the portal wearing a pair of striped pyjama bottoms I’d forgotten I owned and a white vest.

He smirked at me.

“Well it didn’t take you long to settle in.” He gave a general wave at the nightdress.

“I could say the same thing about you. Where did you find those pyjamas?”

“They kind of turned up when I cleaned your room.”

“You too?”

He nodded.

“Well I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. We are essentially the same person, and that seems to be someone who’s generally tidy when he’s happy. If you were as unhappy as I was then no wonder your room was in the same mess as mine. I still don’t get why you’re into dressing like that though.”

“The one difference between us,” he said. “I don’t understand why you feel so much more comfortable dressed like that, but I guess we can agree to differ.”

“So you’re happy with the way things are working out for you?”

“I told you that last night, but then I guess you weren’t lucid dreaming were you?”

“I don’t remember my dream from last night, just that it really freaked me out.”

“Yeah it came as a shock when I woke up too. At first I thought it was all wish fulfillment, even in the dream, but then there I was and Mr Flubbage wasn’t wearing a dress.”

“Yeah, there’s a question for you. Why didn’t you take the dress off him?”

“Have you tried? It’s sewn on. It always annoyed me that he was a constant reminder of the futility of fighting the system. I always felt sorry for him, but I suppose since he’s your bear now, he won’t feel so bad about being in drag.”

“So since I didn’t get what you told me last night, can you give me a re-run?”

He shrugged.

“I reckon you’ve figured most of it out by now. The fact that you’re lucid dreaming this time means you found the book and the dream machine and put them to good use. You can figure out most of what I did, just that when it came to visualising the portal I thought of a world just like my own except that the whole global feminization hadn’t happened and that the me from that world was just like me except that he was unhappy about not being allowed to wear a dress. The hole opened up into your world, I went through to find you and brought you back to that side of the portal, then I closed it.

“I didn’t know if it would work, but I kind of had fingers and toes crossed on it, and it worked out. At least it did for me.”

He paused and looked at me thoughtfully for a few seconds.

“Listen if you can’t handle being in my world we’ll swap back. I hoped this would be good for both of us, but if you’re having a tough time with it I won’t force you to struggle with the same thing I did just so I can live a happy life over here.”

“Don’t worry yourself, this has worked out really well for me too. I just wanted to make sure you were okay with the swap, pretty much for the same reason. Hey it turns out that the Becky in your world has a thing for a guy in a pretty frock. We kind of hooked up this afternoon.”

He whistled. “That was fast. I have a date to take the Becky in your world to the pictures tomorrow afternoon. Turns out she was just waiting for you to get your act together and ask her out.”

“If she’s anything like the Becky this side, anything with Matt Damon, Kevin Costner or Kiefer Sutherland in it.”

The conversation went on for a while longer. Time stretches out in your dreams and what seemed like an all-nighter probably only lasted a few minutes in the real world. In the end we promised only to call on each other in the direst of emergencies and to take good care of each other’s parents.

I closed the portal and willed my way back into my own head and wasn’t aware of anything else until morning.

-oOo-

I woke early and well rested, climbed out of bed and paid the obligatory early morning visit to the littlest room. On my way back to bed I caught sight of myself in the wardrobe mirror. The feeling I had at the sight of me was so good I found myself trying to hug myself. I couldn’t go back to bed feeling like this. I opened the wardrobe and looked inside.

The selection was no better than it had been the previous day. The green dress was by and far the best of my meagre collection of girl clothes. I had hung it up carefully and there were no noticeable creases or marks to it, but having worn it the previous day I didn’t want to get boring. Next was a school uniform – white blouse, tartan skirt, blue blazer – which had never been worn. The school tried to enforce a uniform policy but there were a few refusers, one of whom had been Christine. Well that at least was going to change on Monday. Other than that there was a tight red pencil skirt which I supposed I could wear with my school blouse at a pinch, and a cream dress with a noticeable stain on the pleated skirt. I quite liked the look of it, but not with the mark.

My earlier enthusiasm began to ebb with the lack of choice and I was about to take Mr Flubbage back to bed for a cuddle when there was a tentative knock at the door. I opened it to find Mum standing there with two steaming mugs.

“I heard you moving around and wondered if you’d like a cup of tea.”

I smiled my thanks and accepted the proffered mug. She followed me into the room and we both perched on the bed, long nighties making anything more ambitious contortion-wise somewhat impossible.

“So how did you sleep last night?”

Not the most original of opening lines, but then I guess why does it have to be?

“Really well thanks, I met Christine.”

“What!?”

See, that’s how to get a reaction.

“He built a dream machine using the plans from the book and used the exercises to open a doorway into my world and swap places. I used it last night and we had quite a long chat.”

Mum turned towards me, her expression demanding more. I reached over and pulled the tangle of wires from my bedside drawer to show her. I explained how it worked and described my experiences of the previous night.

“So you see it’s like you guessed, he’s found a place where he’s happy, and he did a pretty good job of making sure that whoever ended up taking his place would be really happy here. He doesn’t want to swap back and honestly neither do I, so I’m hoping what you said last night was for real.”

By this time I was finding it hard to meet her eyes. If I was going to keep examining my nails like this I was going to have to keep them in better condition.

All of a sudden I was enveloped in a soft embrace. I could feel tears dripping onto my shoulder and found myself joining in.

“Oh Chris, of course I meant what I said last night. Whatever might have happened over the last two nights, I look at you and I see my son and I love you dearly.”

We clung to each other for a few more minutes, then Mum pulled away sniffing. She stood up and took the two empty mugs.

“Well I don’t expect Rebecca will wait too long before coming over. Why don’t you get washed and dressed while I put some breakfast together for all of us?”

I didn’t move or reply. I was back to inspecting my cuticles again.

“What’s the matter sweetheart?”

I felt a tear run down the side of my nose and had to tell myself it was alright, big boys do cry here. I nodded towards the wardrobe.

“I – it’s silly really. It’s just that I… I don’t have anything to wear.”

Mum made a strangled noise like she was trying to suppress a laugh and hurried out of the room leaving me sitting bewildered and lost. It was a few minutes before she came back and by that time the tears were flowing freely. I felt like an idiot and I still didn’t have anything to wear.

-oOo-

“I’m sorry dear, but that was so very unlike my old Chrissy that I couldn’t help but laugh. Here I think this should fit you. It was your father’s going away outfit from when we were married. He was a little smaller back then so I think it should be a good fit. We only kept it for sentimental reasons and he just said you could have it.”

My dad’s blond curls appeared over Mum’s shoulder and he smiled in at me. He was wearing a similar nightdress to mine, only in a bright red like the dress he’d been wearing yesterday.

“That colour suits you,” he said nodding at the deep blue nightie I was wearing. “I think this should too.”

Mum pulled the protective plastic off to reveal a deep green dress in shimmering satin. It had a very full skirt that fell below the knee and a broad halter neck. It was gorgeous and I found my mouth drooping open as I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

“It’s a little dated of course, but fashion always comes around and I think it’s about time we saw styles like this out there again.”

I gave both my new parents an enormous hug, Mum only just managing to rescue the dress from being crushed in the embrace.

“You guys are the absolute best,” I said as I pulled away and took the offered dress from my Mum’s hand. Suddenly today was going to be better than yesterday all over again.

Mum and Dad turned away from the door.

“Don’t be long sweetheart. Like I said Becky will most likely be here soon and it’s impolite to keep a lady waiting.”

She headed for the stairs and Dad headed back to bed.

“Mum?”

She stopped and turned.

“You know yesterday at the shop you promised you’d do anything with me after cousin Peter’s wedding if I co-operated?”

I had my head down and was biting my lip in what I hoped was a coy manner.

“Yes?”

The question was drawn out in an I’m-not-sure-where-you’re-going-with-this-but-I-don’t-think-I’m-going-to-like-it sort of way.

“Can we go shopping? For clothes?”

– Fin –