by Barb Caffrey
It was the middle of July in Nebraska. Sweat started dripping down my back even before I'd stepped foot outside my apartment. My hair was already sticking to my neck, and I didn't know how I was going to play my clarinet. And I had to do that, because my best friend Jolene Harris was marrying her long-time partner Paula Adelson today.
You see, this was a very special wedding. Paula and Jolene had waited for years to get married, and until recently, they couldn't. But the Supreme Court of the United States made up their mind a short time ago that same-sex couples are like anyone else-if they want to marry, legally, they should be able to do so. Of course I agreed with this. Anyone who ever saw Jolene with Paula and their son, Adam, for longer than two minutes would agree, if they had any sense at all.
Fortunately for me, my boyfriend, Allen, completely understood. He was coming with me-and playing his clarinet, too. (He was going to play Ave Maria at Jolene's request.) Allen, unlike me, identified as straight, but he's no bluenose-he's even walked with me in Lincoln's Gay Pride parade.
Yes, I knew I needed to tell him.everything. And soon.
But not today, as that might spoil Jolene and Paula's wedding.
The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. We'd even seen a rare double rainbow last night, after a brief but intense thundershower. Most people probably would've thought that today was absolutely perfect for a wedding, if they didn't mind having to stand outside in 90-plus degree weather.
Allen and I made it to the car, we stored away our clarinets and music stands, and started driving. Considerate as always, he turned the air conditioning on and let me bask in it a few minutes before he spoke.
"I wish it were our wedding," he said wistfully.
Oh, no, not that again, I couldn't help but think. I loved Allen-truly, I did-and I wanted no one but him. But.
"I'd rather get married in the winter than the summer," I told him, trying to keep it light. "It's way too warm right now for my liking."
"Are you sure you're from Florida?" he half-joked back.
"Hey, it's humid there, but it rarely hits the triple digits." At his cocked eyebrow, I added, "That's my story, and I'm sticking to it."
He laughed, as I'd intended, and the subject was defused. For now.
Somehow, I had to tell him what I really was. But I didn't have the words just yet.
* * *
I snuck a peek at Elaine as we set up our music stands. She looked gorgeous, as usual, though by her standards she was a bit dressed-down for such festivities in a burnt orange blouse, dark slacks and low heels, with an orange flower in her hair for the sake of whimsy. Chestnut brown hair cut short for the summer, bright brown eyes with flecks of gold only I could see, when she was particularly happy, high cheekbones.a beautiful woman, inside and out.
Who cared that she, like me, had been known to look at women from time to time before we met? Not I. (And no, I've never had that whole threesome fetish thing going on, thank you. I've always refused to share.)
Because it was hot, I'd worn dark slacks, a long-sleeved white dress shirt, and a tie with musical notes on it. (Jolene had told Elaine it was to be a less formal wedding, so what I wore would be more than good enough.) My glasses were starting to slide down my nose-occupational hazard, on a day as hot as this-but I knew the music well. Even if my glasses fell off, I'd be able to play and no one but Elaine should notice.
The caterers were still fussing with the food, and neither Jolene nor Paula was anywhere to be seen. It was an hour and a half until the ceremony, so this wasn't entirely a surprise. Elaine and I liked to be early, to get ourselves acclimated, whenever we played a gig-not that we'd played a ton of weddings, but we'd certainly played at enough other places that this should not be much of a stretch.
We started with the Telemann Canonic Sonatas, easy enough pieces to play as they hadn't been designed for the clarinet's three-octave range. They were fun, though, and suited the day well.after a while, I noticed Adam, Jolene's son and a burgeoning clarinetist, watching us avidly. His two-toned blond head bobbed to the music, and he seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. But he wasn't dressed for a wedding; instead, he wore a t-shirt and ratty old jeans with shoes that looked two sizes two big.
When we took a break, I nodded toward him and asked Elaine, "He seems happy, don't you think?" Of course, I wanted to say, What on Earth is he wearing? But I was far too polite.
"He's probably glad I didn't assign him to play these pieces," she said with an arched eyebrow.
I stifled a laugh. "He's still a beginner, so he doesn't need to worry about that yet."
"Ah, but does he know that?"
After we put our clarinets down, Adam came over and handed us each an ice-cold bottle of water. "You two sound great!"
"Thanks, kiddo." I resisted the urge to ruffle his hair, taking a sip of water instead. "Are you wearing that to your mothers' wedding?"
Adam shrugged. "They're worried about what they're wearing. I didn't think they'd care what I wore."
"Try again," I said kindly. "I'm sure they'll have someone taking pictures, as they've waited a long time to get married."
"I don't see what the big deal is. They've been together since I was a baby. Do they really need a piece of paper after all that?"
Before I could say anything, Elaine jumped in. "Yes, having the relationship matters more than the piece of paper. But they want that piece of paper. They've dreamed about having that piece of paper. And you, Adam, are going to go in the house and find yourself something to wear that shows you made an effort, or I'll give you five extra scales next week."
"And if you don't find something better than that," I added, "I'll have to come in and help you."
Adam shuddered dramatically. "Okay, okay already." He went into the house.
The minister had arrived, a cheerful, fortyish woman. The food had all been brought out. The guests were starting to assemble, so Elaine and I played some more duets. The music flowed out of me, and I became so caught up in that that I didn't care how hot it was. It was just me, Elaine, and the music.
Life was good.
By the time I looked up again, it was fifteen minutes until the ceremony. Jolene, tall and resplendent in a bright blue satiny long dress, was chatting with the minister, but Paula was nowhere to be seen. Then Jolene came over to us, murmuring, "Paula's nervous. Says she can't find anything to wear. And we went over this yesterday-I can't believe this is happening." She bit her lip, adding, "Maybe she wants to back out."
"I'm sure it's not that," I put in, trying to settle her down. "She loves you to distraction." My words were absolutely true. I'd never seen a more devoted couple.
Elaine sighed. "Let me guess. She won't let you see her, because of that old superstition about brides-even though I'm sure you don't care-"
"Got it in one," Jolene said, nodding.
"And I can't go to her," I put in.
Both women looked at me like I'd grown a second head. "Of course you can't," Elaine snapped. Then, her eyes silently apologized.she must've realized I'd been joking. "I'll go."
"Would you?" The look Jolene gave her would've melted an iceberg-that is, if it hadn't already melted due to the heat.
Elaine touched my hand, and was gone.
I turned back to my clarinet, and started playing the Miklos Rosza Sonatina, ideal for today as it required no accompaniment. Before I immersed myself fully in the music, I prayed that Elaine's errand would not take too much time.
I didn't get nearly enough time with Elaine as it was.
* * *
I went down the hall to Paula and Jolene's bedroom, and knocked.
Paula let me in without saying a word. She wore a bra and a half-slip, but nothing else. The last time I'd been here, the bedroom had been painfully neat but a bit cluttered; now, though, it was as if a tornado had hit the place. Black pants were draped over the wooden headboard along with a shiny silver bolero; a red dress was covered by a bright yellow swath of something in the middle of the carpet-had I ever seen either Jolene or Paula wear yellow? I didn't think so-while I saw green, brown, white, and checkered blazers, pants and skirts all over the place.
And a lonely light blue dress sat in the middle of the bed, crumpled as if Paula had thrown it.
Before I could say anything, Paula beat me to it. "Feeling femme today, Elaine?"
I blushed. "You two are marrying. It doesn't matter what I feel like."
"Then why the flower in your hair?"
Paula was the only person who'd guessed that I wasn't simply bisexual, though I was certain Jolene knew something was off, too. Paula knew what I was in its entirety-I'm a gender-fluid person, and some days I feel female, others male. But I've never felt fully comfortable giving in to my impulses, not the way I was raised.
I realized I was woolgathering. "Who cares why? I'm here to help you. Jolene's a mess. I think she's afraid you're going to call off the wedding."
"No, never," Paula said with a faraway smile. "But I have to have something to wear. And the blue dress that I was going to wear must've shrunk at the cleaners."
"Are you sure this isn't just bridal jitters?"
"Jitter me this," Paula snarled, and put on the blue dress. Despite Paula's tiny frame, the dress didn't fit over her slender hips, much less meet in the middle of her back. "Could anyone wear this?"
"Maybe a dwarf could, but certainly not you." I shook my head, and sighed. "You didn't want to try it on yesterday, why again?"
"It's a tradition in my family that we don't wear our wedding dresses between the time we try them on and actually are about to get married. My parents are out there, and I figured they'd know-" She looked like she was about ready to cry.
"I understand that you want to be as traditional as possible," I said gently. "But isn't it more important that you wear something that you might actually feel good in on a day like today?"
"Point." Paula smiled ruefully. "I certainly can't wear this. And everything else, except for one outfit, I've already worn.and that isn't very festive."
"Show me the outfit," I told her.
Paula pulled a charcoal grey sleeveless top with a bit of shininess to it out from under the pile of clothes on the floor, and grabbed a grey pair of pants. "I'd intended to wear this to dance with Jolene later. But it's not good enough to wear now!"
"Put it on, and let's see."
After shrugging off her slip, Paula got into the outfit. The top fit well, but wasn't too snug; considering it was at least ninety-five degrees in the shade, I didn't see a problem with it. And the grey pair of pants looked comfortable and easy to move around in.
"To my mind," I said, "this is the right outfit. Wear your best black shoes, and maybe add a black or white scarf? Or do you have a statement necklace, something that will visually draw the eye?"
"Who knew you knew this much about fashion?" Paula teased, as she got out her shoes and a white, fringy scarf. Once the scarf was draped, she added a chunky pearl-and-onyx brooch that went perfectly with the outfit, almost as if it had been designed for the thing.
"Don't tell anyone," I advised her. "It might ruin my reputation."
As we laughed, I took her arm, and escorted her outside to her waiting father.
"Dad, this is Elaine," Paula told him.
"I saw you playing the clarinet before, didn't I?" But before I could answer, he added, "Thanks for your help." He took my place at Paula's side, and walked her down the flower-strewn path toward Jolene and the minister.
Allen started to play Ave Maria. Before he got four measures in, I saw people dabbing at their eyes.
Of course, Jolene and Paula both looked beautiful, Jolene tall and buxom in blue, Paula petite and dainty in grey and white. So that might've been it.but I still think Allen's playing had a great deal to do with it, too.
I went to Allen, unnoticed in the crowd, and squeezed his shoulder. He put his clarinet down, and grabbed my hand; as I had been about to hold his hand, I had no problem with that at all.
We could barely see Paula's blonde head back here, due to the crowd, but it didn't matter. We were ready to play again long before Paula and Jolene shared their first kiss as a married couple, and before the audience had finished applauding, we were playing recessional music-Mendelssohn, I thought-that Allen had arranged for two clarinets.
After a while, everyone had gone toward the refreshment table but us. But before we could go get something, Jolene came up to us and insisted that we get our pictures taken. I hate having my picture taken, as my outer self doesn't always match my inner self.and even on a day like today, where I felt more feminine than not, I still hated having the flower in my hair memorialized for all time.
Still, Allen's kiss on the cheek was nice, and my smile at him was genuine. He was truly a good man, the best person I've ever known.someday soon, I'd have to tell him the truth about me.
And if he still wanted to marry me then, I'd let him.
* * *
Later on, after we'd stored our clarinets away and the food had been cleared out, I took Elaine back out to the yard again. Toward the back, there was a patch of green grass near the fence that I didn't think anyone had stood on today; an untrammeled bit of grass, if you will. The sky was breathtaking, all bronzy red and pinkish orange, fading into the deep twilight blue I'd only ever seen in a Nebraska summer sky. It was a sky Maxfield Parrish might've painted, had he the chance.
"Such beauty," Elaine breathed.
"What better omen for a wedding," I added.
For once, Elaine didn't give me a reproving look. Instead, she looked soft, touchable, feminine in a way I rarely saw.I knew I couldn't waste this moment.
As Jolene and Paula were saying goodbye to their guests, we were quite alone. Our temporary solitude suited me well.
I went down to one knee on the grass, and said, "Elaine Foster, will you marry me?"
Elaine bit her lip, which wasn't the response I wanted.
So before she spoke, I tried again. "Look, Elaine. We are meant for one another. I love you to distraction. I want you to become everything you have always wanted-a great writer, a great educator. You're already a great person, and the only woman I want to be with. Will you please put me out of my misery and say yes?"
At that, Elaine laughed, pulled me up, and kissed me. When I broke away again, I looked down at her shining eyes and said, "So, is that a yes?"
"It's a yes," she murmured. "But."
Before she could say anything more, Adam came barreling out into the yard. "My mothers told me to come and find you."
As we went inside, I thought, This is the happiest day of my life.
* * *
I loved Allen. So I said yes, when he asked me this time-hoping I'd be able to explain just who and what I really was, after. And it made Allen so happy, for a time, I basked in his reflected happiness, and felt transformed.
If only we could've stayed in that moment forever.
The Big Man had told me to call him Michael, because humans had names. He was calling me Massimino for that reason, though I wasn't truly accustomed to it, because we didn't want to stand out among the humans. We were proud to be at Jolene and Paula's wedding, though for a different reason than most. While everyone else had been watching Jolene and Paula take their vows, Michael and I had snuck peeks at Allen and Elaine.
We'd been in human form, of course. Michael told Jolene that Paula had invited us; he told Paula that Jolene had. We were both dressed appropriately, in dark slacks and white shirts; Michael had worn a rainbow tie, while I'd worn my shirt open at the collar so I didn't feel stifled. He'd called us "the Lights," as we were both, ultimately, made of light.I'd worn the body of a human teen, androgynous, of course, as Masses have no gender as humans knew it. And Michael delighted in "getting back to his roots," as he'd called it; he'd worn the adult male body he'd chosen, graying brown hair, bronze skin, and a tall, erect frame, with pride.
Michael had kissed the brides, even, while I'd hung back and listened to the music with Adam, Jolene and Paula's son. I didn't have to say much, which was just as well; I didn't know what to say in order not to stand out, and it was essential that I blended in just now.
No one had guessed that Michael was actually a being of rainbow light, or that I was an Amorphous Mass. Which was as it should be; the humans didn't need to know about us, or what we did.
When the sky darkened, we'd made a great show of leaving along with everyone else, but we hadn't. Instead, we became invisible and went back into the yard to watch Allen Bridgeway's marriage proposal to Elaine Foster. I still wasn't in my preferred, amorphous form, because that was too hard to control right now. But it was easier for me to be incorporeal than it had been to hold the body of a teen for six straight hours.
After everyone had left, including Paula and Jolene, we drifted outside a few miles to what the humans called a "rest area." It was a deserted place just off the main roads, something called an "Interstate," and was a place we could safely talk without bothering anyone.
We materialized in a deserted cornfield just behind the rest area, again in the human forms we'd taken for the wedding earlier, and walked the rest of the way there. This time, we were both in comfortable clothes-blue jeans, short-sleeved t-shirts, and tennis shoes. Michael had added a rainbow bandanna to his outfit, perhaps as a nod to what he really was-or perhaps because he'd just witnessed one of Nebraska's first-ever same-sex weddings. He looked quite comfortable in his skin, whereas I felt miserable. The dryness stung my eyes, and multiple small insects tried to bite me. But as I wasn't truly human, I didn't smell right to them, and they flew away again.
As we ambled along, Michael asked me, "What do you think about what you saw?"
"Paula and Jolene? Or Allen and Elaine?"
Michael snorted. "Allen and Elaine, of course. We're here for them."
"They're in love," I said, stating the obvious. "They'll marry in time. Right?"
"Wrong." Michael's lips twisted, and his eyes darkened. In them, I could see hints of the rainbow light he held inside him-but the light stood still. It did not dance, as per usual. "If they were able to marry, if Elaine were healthy enough inside to marry, we'd not be here, Mass."
"Shouldn't I have a regular name, too?" I asked irreverently.
"I know your designation, so knock it off," Michael said, unrepentant, before he ruffled my hair. That felt strange.
"Hey!" I couldn't help it; I chuckled. "Hands off the merchandise."
"That language update I gave you definitely is coming in handy, I see," Michael commented.
I wished I could fully show my displeasure, as my normal amorphous form would've done. As it was, I only shrugged, shook my head, and frowned, which wasn't nearly enough.
"What sense did you get of them, as a couple?" Michael asked, persisting.
"Allen didn't take his eyes off her. And Elaine didn't take her eyes off him. They look perfect together, and seem deeply in love.I don't see what the problem is. Unless she truly doesn't love Allen?"
"She does, or we'd not be here." Michael frowned, the light behind his eyes darkening to a midnight blue. "But she's been heavily traumatized in her past. Didn't you run their life histories?"
"Of course I did. But I thought Allen would get her past all that. She's been with him for what, seven years?"
"Almost," Michael corrected. "And yes, Allen loves her very much. He's stable, knows who he is, and has come to terms with it. But Elaine is more like you. She's not truly settled in herself, much less with just one gender."
"The humans mostly don't understand people who have, as they say, gender fluidity in their makeup. They understand someone who wants to be a male who wasn't born in a male body, for the most part. And they also usually understand someone who wants to be a female who wasn't born in a female body. It's not easy for them to become outwardly what they feel inside, but for the most part it's something civilized people understand. Yet someone who's more like you isn't understood.it's a real problem."
"And you're telling me this, why?"
"Elaine needs you," Michael admitted. "She isn't healing from her trauma, and won't let anyone in-not even Allen."
"I take it I can't talk with her like this?" I indicated my borrowed human form.
"No, though it's an idea." Michael brightened. "There is one place where Allen came to terms with Elaine, but-"
"I sense there's a problem, even there?"
"Yes, unfortunately." Michael paused, twisted his lips again, and shook his head. "It's because of what Allen said there that I decided to intervene here and now."
"But they haven't asked for help.have they?"
"Not yet. But they will."
As there was no one around to notice except a couple of cows and a whole lot of chirping cicadas, we wasted no time fading back into the fabric of the universe.
It was finals week at Willa Cather University for the fall semester. I'd taken my clarinet jury earlier today and passed it, sitting in afterward as several of my young clarinet students played their juries and commenting when appropriate, while Elaine had given an English 101 test to her students, then graded it. As teaching assistants, that was part of our jobs-but as far as I knew, we'd both wrapped up everything we needed to do before the term ended and Christmas week began.
I walked around the third floor, passing my office-Elaine was using it just then to teach a clarinet lesson to Adam Harris-dodging intent young music students right and left. The floor was a little damp due to the winter storm raging outside, but other than that, it was warm and cozy. But my original plan to practice my clarinet had been foiled, as every single practice room was in use.
That wasn't much of a surprise, of course. Many other students still had juries to play, or various finals to take, as there were three days left to go before the semester ended. And most of these kids-because they were kids; very few thirty-year-olds, like me, were studying at Willa Cather U-were stressing out. The few in the corridor laughed a bit too loudly, and their voices were a shade too sharp.
Maybe they didn't realize what was going on, but I did. I wished I could tell them, "This, too, will pass," but it wouldn't mean anything to them yet. They just weren't old enough to understand that as difficult as finals week could be, there were other things in life far more difficult to contend with.
Such as my relationship with my fiancée, Elaine.
Elaine, I thought. What can I do to help? I know you're in pain, love.why are you shutting me out?
Elaine was more upset than usual. Her advisor had said something rude again; why was it that English professors could be so cutting, especially on the subject of Sylvia Plath of all things? Elaine wanted to write about Plath, and yet her thesis subjects kept getting shot down, one by one.it didn't seem fair, though admittedly I didn't know much beyond what Elaine told me about it.
Of course, maybe Elaine was feeling overworked. That actually would make sense, because she'd worked hard to grade all those tests. Didn't even get a thank you. What is the matter with them?
On my fourth circuit around the third floor (students, lockers, wet floor, and all), I heard, "Allen, wait up!"
Jolene Harris got off the elevator. She carried a thick wool coat, and wore a black scarf around her throat. She was here early. I wondered why?
I stepped to the back wall to wait for her. An oboist was playing something haunting in the practice room behind me.I'd heard that song before. Something either an oboe or clarinet could play-Schumann's Three Romances, maybe? I wished I could lose myself in the music, but Jolene had reached me and I had to get back to business.
"What are you doing here, Jolene? Adam's lesson won't be over for another half an hour."
"I know that. I came here to see you." Jolene's eyes were green, direct, and unthreatening.
"You want to talk, then?"
"Yes. If we can find a place away from everyone."
"I know just the place."
I led her back to the elevator, and down the basement to the dining room. As a graduate teaching assistant (or GTA, as Willa Cather U put it), I had access. And considering it was eight-thirty at night and an important piano recital was going on at the Lied Center downtown, I knew it would be deserted.
Fortunately, the coffeemaker was still full. "Want some coffee?" I asked Jolene.
"Certainly. No cream, no sugar."
"As the lady commands," I said, giving her an elaborate bow. She laughed, but the amusement didn't reach her eyes.
What was going on?
After I got the coffee, I went to sit with her at a squat Formica table. "How are you and Paula doing, Jolene?"
"We're fine," she said, giving me a bright smile. "I'm just worried about you two. Especially about Elaine. Is she okay? She hasn't talked with me in at least three weeks."
"She's not talking with me, either," I admitted. "I'm not sure what's wrong. I ask her, she starts to tell me, and then clams up." I shook my head, momentarily looked at the floor, and sighed. I didn't know what else to say.
Jolene watched me patiently. "There's more to the story, isn't there?"
"There is, but.give me a moment, will you?"
She waved her hand.
I lifted my head and looked at the various paintings on the wall. Most were of different types of rainbows; some were surreal, while some were vividly depicted from life. It soothed my soul at a deep level to look at those rainbows.
After a few minutes of studying the rainbows, I looked intently at Jolene. "Elaine is very unhappy right now. I know this not because of what she says, but because of what she does."
"Sometimes, she goes in our bedroom, closes the door, and cries. I have to pretend I don't see it, or she gets upset-and I can't handle that."
There. The issue was on the table. I couldn't even talk to my own fiancée. How bad of a boyfriend was I?
"So, if you tell her you know she's upset, and give her a hug, she does what?"
"She pulls away," I said bitterly. "She tells me I'm all wrong, that I don't understand her, that I don't understand any part of her, that I won't like her once I do.it's nonsense, all of it. And I keep telling her she needs to go to counseling, but of course she won't go."
"With the counselors she's had, I can't blame her."
"Me, neither," I admitted. "But it makes it hard, living with her. And I love her so much; I just want her to be happy, or at least happier than this." I swallowed hard. "I knew what I was getting into when I started dating Elaine. She used to be heavily into the Goth scene, you know."
"I didn't, actually," Jolene said.
"I think it's because she admires Sylvia Plath so much. Or maybe she just wanted to get away from who she was, before she became emancipated-you know she's Hispanic, right?"
"I don't care what color her skin is. She can be black, brown, white, particolored, I just don't care. I want to be with her, whoever she is today, whatever she's feeling like today, whatever she wears today-I love Elaine, and I want to be with her for the rest of my life. But she's not letting me in, and I'm so afraid-"
"You know that she's-well, she's not straight," Jolene said.
"You're a fine one to talk, Mrs. Harris," I snapped.
Jolene raised one elegant dark eyebrow. "That's not what I mean. Elaine loves you, and no others. But who she is inside, she hasn't fully come to terms with."
"She's bisexual. So what?" I didn't understand what Jolene was getting at.
"Sometimes, realizing who we are is the first step toward happiness," she said enigmatically. "But sometimes, that realization can destroy us."
"You've known your entire life who you are, outwardly. But I don't think Elaine has any idea, and those rapists who hurt her so badly years ago didn't exactly help."
"I am not like those rapists," I said through clenched teeth.
"Of course you aren't. But-" Jolene sighed. "Allen, do you want me to try to talk with her?"
"If you think it'll help." Would anything help? I didn't know. But maybe Jolene could get through to Elaine.it was worth a try. "But please, tell her, I wish I'd have been there, when she was only fifteen. Had I known her, back then, I would've gone and strangled the life out of all of them for hurting her so badly. They nearly ruined her!"
Jolene patted my hand compassionately, but said nothing.
Because what else was there to say?
Adam's lesson was nearly over. He'd improved markedly in the last six months, possibly because he wanted to impress another of my students, Alicia Bennett. Usually, Alicia had her lesson directly after Adam's, and they'd become good friends. But as the semester was nearly over, Alicia and her parents had opted to discontinue lessons until after the New Year.
"What next, Elaine?" Adam asked.
"Hmm," I pretended to ponder. "Get out your duet book, and we'll sight-read something."
"All right!" Adam beamed.
Yes, I knew Adam wanted to play duets with Alicia. So why not give him an idea of what he needed to work on, without being too obvious about it?
As we played something from the Rubank Easy-Medium clarinet duet book, I listened to Adam intently. He was good at following me, but when I made him play the first part, he was much more tentative. That would not do.
We finished the duet. "Good reading today, Adam. Especially on that second part. You do a great job of following along."
"I've seen that duet before, Elaine.Alicia and I practiced it. She played the first part."
Oh. Now I understood.
"Well, next time, I want you to ask her if you could play the first part for a while. You need to learn both parts, just in case either of you gets lost; that way, you'll be able to jump back into the music a little faster."
"I never thought of that," Adam said. His hair was tinted black on one side, blond on the other; why he couldn't just pick a hair color and stick to it, I didn't know. In the foster home I'd been in at his age, I'd have been beaten black and blue if I'd have tried to tint my hair like that. But kids were into self-expression these days; apparently changeable hair color was just part of the deal.
As he put his clarinet away, I asked him if he'd listened to the Benny Goodman CD I'd given him as an early Christmas present.
"I did, but I didn't get it," he said, his face screwing up in concentration. "He's really good, though. All those high notes!"
"He studied a long time to be able to play like that," I told him. "You can play those high notes someday, too, if you keep at it."
"Yes, for real." I smiled, adding, "And he didn't just play jazz, either. He played classical stuff, too. Like the Mozart Clarinet Concerto."
"You can't say that until you've actually listened to him play."
Adam looked unconvinced.
Grasping at straws, I told him, "You wouldn't tell Allen what he plays is too boring, would you?"
"Of course not, or you, either," Adam said stoutly. "But-Allen didn't play any Mozart on his last recital, and you haven't played any, either!"
"Actually, we both have." When Allen and I played a in a recital a few years ago during Mozart Day, I'd played a movement from the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, while Allen had played the first movement of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet. "But not recently, no." I thought hard. "I'm sure I can rectify that, though, in a few weeks. Let me think about it, and maybe by the end of January, I'll be up to speed on playing you a movement or two from the Mozart Clarinet Concerto."
I laughed, assigned him a couple of scales (which he notated on his iPad-handy thing, that), and we were done for the day.
I heard a knock at the office door. Before I could ask, Adam opened the door; to no one's surprise, Jolene stood there, waiting. Allen was there, too, of course; I hoped we'd be able to get a quick bite to eat, though with the ice storm raging outside, it wasn't too likely.
Adam went to grab his clarinet case, but he'd forgotten to latch it again. The pieces of his plastic clarinet scattered all over the place; one fell underneath Allen's desk, while another was almost directly under my feet. I picked these up, waited for Adam to get everything back inside his case, and handed them to him silently.
"One of these days, I'll remember to close it up," he muttered.
"It's all right. I've done it, too."
He looked at his mother. "Ready to go?"
"Not yet," Jolene told him. "I need to speak to Elaine, sport. Alone. Go talk with Allen."
Adam gave her an unreadable look, but did what she asked.
As the door snicked closed behind him, I didn't think too much about her request. Jolene and I often talked after Adam's lesson. And she did have to pay me.
But her words rocked me on my heels.
"Allen doesn't look well," she said bluntly. "And neither do you. What is going on with you two?"
"I haven't been sleeping," I admitted. "That wakes Allen up, and then he doesn't sleep either."
"That's not all, is it?"
Jolene's green eyes were far too perceptive for my liking.
"I've dreamt, over and over again, about what happened to me in Florida," I whispered. "And each time I do, I find it harder to touch Allen." I couldn't look at Jolene; instead, I stared at the poster Allen had put up on the wall. Some bicyclist was leaping into the air, bike and all, along a mountainous bike trail, and there was a rainbow etched behind the cyclist.dew stood on the grass, as if to say that after the rain came freedom. "Before you remind me, I know Allen isn't anything like those guys. He's a great person, the best. But I still have trouble touching him."
"A counselor might be able to help you with that. Why won't you go?"
"The last three counselors I had were terrible." I concentrated on putting my Buffet clarinet away, focusing on putting each part of the instrument into its case just so. "They told me I have to forgive those rapists in order to heal. And I just can't." I tried to laugh, but couldn't. "So I guess I'll never heal."
"I don't believe that," Jolene said evenly. "You will heal." Her eyes flashed. "Dammit, you don't have to forgive them! You do have to forgive yourself." Now Jolene started to pace, even though Allen's office was big enough to hold only the two chairs, the music stand, and his desk. "You were only fifteen. You didn't want that to happen. And you got out of there. That experience didn't kill you, horrible though it was."
"I know it didn't kill me. But it did hurt me. Bad enough that I'm scared to get married, even to Allen. And though I love Allen to distraction, he doesn't know everything about me."
"Really, Elaine? You're going to play the transgender card with him?" Jolene arched a delicate brown eyebrow.
I flushed. "I didn't think you knew about that-"
"Whatever Paula knows, I know. Get that through your head. That's what marriage is about." Jolene puffed a breath of laughter.
"Yet another reason it scares me so," I muttered.
Jolene ignored this. "Allen loves you. He doesn't care if you're bisexual, transgender, gender fluid, or Martian. He cares that you're Elaine and that you love him."
"But-but-he's straight, Jolene! And I'm not."
"So?" Jolene shook her head. "Elaine, you're about to lose the best thing that's ever happened to you, if you don't go and get some counseling."
I sighed. "Can't we table this until after Christmas? No counselor in the world is going to start up with me over the holidays anyway."
"Probably true, but-you're at a crossroads, Elaine. I can sense it. And whatever is going on, whatever is upsetting you so much, you have to tell Allen about it. Don't wait any longer." Then, as she bent down to tear the pre-written check out of her checkbook, Jolene added with a catch in her voice, "And marry that man, will you? Stop putting him off. He doesn't deserve it."
I took the check out of her hand. "I'll do my best." Even to Jolene, my best friend outside of Allen, I couldn't promise anything more.
Perhaps what's why she grimaced, and let the subject go.
Once I'd wrapped my red scarf around my throat and zipped up my warm, winter parka, I picked up my clarinet and followed Jolene out. Allen went inside, grabbed his clarinet and coat, locked his office, and came back out.
"Are you sure you two don't want a ride home?" Jolene asked as we all walked toward the elevator. "It's icy tonight."
"We don't live far," Allen reminded Jolene.
"Besides, Allen said he'd take me out for dinner," I told her.
"Good luck with that," Jolene said. "I didn't see anything open. Maybe it's due to the storm?"
"I'll make you something at our place, then," Allen promised me. His eyes, his smile, warmed me all through.
But would he feel the same way about me once I told him what I was?
After we said goodbye to Jolene and Adam, we started walking to our nearby apartment. Well, gliding was closer to the truth, as the streets-much less the sidewalks-were covered with ice. No one else was stupid enough to be walking in this.maybe we should've taken Jolene up on her offer to drive us after all.
I shivered in my parka. Something about this weather unnerved me, and it wasn't just because I'd grown up in Florida. Something portentous, final, seemed in the offing-but what could it be?
Maybe I've read too much Sylvia Plath this week, I told myself. I'm seeing signs and portents everywhere, even when they don't exist.
I concentrated on the prosaic. I was bundled up, as was sensible in below-zero weather, but while I'd worn boots today, Allen hadn't; as usual, he had on a pair of ratty old tennis shoes, and he was sliding all over the place. He'd forgotten his scarf, too, which was very silly of him.
After he nearly fell for the fourth time, I asked pointedly, "Do you want to take my arm?"
Allen laughed. "You're not big enough to keep me from falling. I'd end up taking you down, too."
While Allen was right, I didn't like being reminded of my six-inch height disadvantage. Still, I didn't want to fight with him.we fought too often as it was. "I wish we'd brought our car today."
"We can do the walk in our sleep, even in this weather."
"I don't want you to slip and fall," I said, trying to keep the edge out of my voice. "I know how much you hate hospitals."
Allen shrugged expressively, which nearly made him fall again. "I didn't want to talk with Jolene, nice as she is. I want to talk with you. And we're private enough to talk now.on a night like this, who else is going to be walking?"
While he had a point, I couldn't let it go. "Why can't this wait until we get home?"
"I'm tired of you putting me off, Elaine." Allen sighed gustily, his breath visible for a long moment in the frosty air. "I want to know when we're going to set the date for our wedding." He looked at me, hope shining in his dark blue eyes. "You said you wanted a winter wedding.well, it doesn't get much more wintry than this."
"True, but." My mind raced. I couldn't tell him what I needed to say out here. "Can't we go home to discuss the details? It's too cold for me to think right now."
"Not until you give me a date," Allen insisted. He reached out and grabbed my hand; even through my lined gloves, I felt the strength of his grip.
"Christmas," I said, not knowing why.
"This year?" he asked, persisting.
Allen knew me too well.
"If you want," I offered. "But I have to tell you something very important first, and I can't do it outside in this weather." Then, with a glimmer of my usual humor, I added, "One thing's certain: we are not going to get married outside."
Allen husked a laugh.
Then we continued to glide along until we reached our apartment.
Once inside, Allen put the tea kettle on, and got out some pre-packaged hot chocolate. If we'd had more time, and weren't so tired, I'd make hot cocoa from scratch.but every muscle in my body ached with fatigue. He handed me a cup of cold water before I could ask for it, and as I drank it down, asked, "Want a sandwich?"
"All we have left is tuna, right?" I hated tuna fish. I'd eaten way too much of it in Florida in the various foster homes.
"Well, or peanut butter and jelly."
"I'd rather have that," I told him, rolling my shoulders and neck in circles to try to get them to relax.
"Coming right up."
Allen surprised me; not only was the PB&J ready quickly, but he put a white rose on the side, nestled in a silver napkin. Where had he come up with that?
He brought his own sandwich, along with both cups of cocoa, along with him. He placed the sandwiches carefully on our glass-topped coffee table, almost as if he was afraid they'd blow away, and sat on our overstuffed blue couch. I went to sit down beside him, giving him a peck on the cheek in the process.
"What, I don't get a real kiss for that?" he asked.
I laughed. A real one, not something I'd forced to make him feel better. "I would, love, but I need to eat first."
"That's the first time I've ever heard that kissing took that much energy," he mock-growled. His eyes were warm as he sipped his cocoa. "But maybe it's the walk back here that did it."
"Perhaps," I said, refusing to be drawn. The cocoa was good, filling me in a way I hadn't known I needed.
Allen stayed quiet until we'd both finished our sandwiches. "Do you really want to get married at Christmas?"
"Yes," I said. I still didn't know what had gotten into me. I was every bit as scared as before. "But I have to tell you a lot more about me, first."
"Like what?" Allen put his arm around me, companionably, and waited. His arm felt solid, strong, and warm-a bulwark against old fears, old terrors.
"You're aware that I'm not heterosexual," I started.
"If you were," he said calmly, "I doubt we'd have walked in the Gay Pride Parade last summer."
I hurried on before I lost my nerve. "Well, I'm not just bisexual. I am transgender."
"Like Chaz Bono? Or Caitlyn-formerly Bruce-Jenner?"
"Yes, but-not exactly." How could I put this? Oh, yes. "There's an actress by the name of Ruby Rose who's more like me than either Bono or Jenner. She calls herself 'gender fluid,' and made a YouTube video."
"I've heard of her, and even seen the video. What does this have to do with you?" Allen asked. His eyes looked puzzled, even worried-but not upset or scared.
I didn't know how to describe this. So I blurted out, "Sometimes, I don't feel female. At all. And I feel so wrong in this body, I wish I'd been born male instead."
Now he looked upset.
"But you're a beautiful woman. Whether you wear jeans or an elaborate dress, whether you wear makeup or none at all, you are a beautiful, strong woman. You've studied strong women, like Sylvia Plath, and have a solid interest in women's history." His blue eyes lightened to blue-gray all of a sudden. "You've even said that everyone should use 'she' as the default personal pronoun, rather than he, if you don't know what someone wants to be called. None of that has led me to believe you'd ever want to be a man. So why do you?"
"This is going to sound absurd, but I have always wished for a man's freedoms. Men can go anywhere at any time, and are only rarely accosted. And no one tries to protect a man; no one stares at a man's breasts; no one worries about what a man wears, save maybe those ladies on Fashion Police."
"You're forgetting the stylist, Brad someone-or-other," Allen put in. "Though I liked George Kotsiopoulous better."
"All right, those two guys, too. But aside from them, who cares what a guy wears, except maybe on a red carpet?" I got up from the sofa, comfortable though it was, and started to pace our old, grayish-brown carpet. "The fact is, Allen, I can't change who I am. And some of the time, I want to be a man. Or at any rate, feel more like a man than a woman." After a beat, I added, "Though you're right about the pronouns. I still would think of myself as female, and would continue to use 'she.'"
"Why does this not surprise me?" Allen shook his head, and sighed. "So, you're all right with being female, but you're not all right with being in a female body. Is that it?"
"More or less," I admitted. "I know it doesn't make a whole lot of sense."
"That's why you need counseling. Someone who understands transgender issues better than I do-"
"After the New Year, I'll talk with someone. It's impossible to get a counselor now."
"As you will, Elaine." He took a long sip of cocoa and looked intently at me. "So you're thinking about a sex change, then?"
"I.haven't gotten that far. But living as a man, yes. Wearing male clothes, picking a male name-I'd probably go with Eli." Until I said it, I didn't know that I had been thinking about it. But apparently, my subconscious was convinced.
"Elaine, as much as I love you, while I could handle calling you 'Eli' if that's what you wanted, and while I don't care what you wear or how you present yourself-you being in a male body would probably be a deal-breaker for me." His eyes were moist. "Even for you, I don't think I can make love to a man."
I felt like crying, but suppressed it. "I'm in the very early stages of this, love. I honestly don't know what's going to happen. I have to look into it all, but it feels right." Why couldn't he see that?
"Are you sure you're not just saying this to put off our wedding again?" Allen asked, his jaw clenched tight. "Because I've never heard you say anything like this before. And I thought I knew you better than anyone!"
"You do, in many ways. But-" How could I put this?
"After I was raped, I didn't think I could accept any man, at all. That's why I started looking at women. I'd always noticed them, always was attracted to them, but didn't act as a teen.I thought maybe, to find a good love-relationship, I'd only find it with a woman. Because I wasn't scared of women. Then I met you, and my world turned upside down." I swallowed hard, adding, "I never expected to love you the way I do."
"Love takes us all by surprise, Elaine," Allen said. "I can still call you that?"
"You can call me anything, love," I told him. "It's just the rest of the world I'm worried about. I know you know me. But-" I sighed. Everything inside me was a jumbled mess right now. How could I explain this to Allen when I didn't fully understand it myself?
"Look, Allen. Even though I'm very happy with you, I don't know for certain that I can stay in this body. I've never felt right in it." Yes, this was what I had to say. I just hoped he'd understand. "I've spent twenty-eight years of my life in this body." I indicated my womanly form, and grimaced. "I've tried to be as normal as I can be, for your sake-"
"It's not for my sake. Don't lie to yourself." He looked at me evenly.
"All right. I just couldn't admit to who I was, before. Only two people guessed, and those two, well."
"Jolene and Paula. Figures." Allen sounded disgusted. "I knew Jolene was trying to tell me something."
I shook this off. "Listen, Allen. Our love for one another doesn't have to change, no matter what my body looks like. You've said before you'd love me no matter what; if I gained weight or lost it, changed my hair color, pierced my navel.why does changing sexes have to be different?"
"It's very different!" Allen shook his head so hard I was afraid his neck would snap. "You'd be a man, and I'd be.what? Wouldn't I have to change sexes, too?" Allen put his narrow hand through his wiry brown hair, and pulled it. "I'm confused!"
"You wouldn't have to change. I love everything about you." I stopped pacing, and went to hug him. He hugged me back, but tentatively-almost as if I were made out of spun glass.
That wasn't the reaction I wanted. I stepped out of his embrace.
"But-if you became male, I couldn't look at you the same way. I'm sorry, Elaine.I don't think I could do it!" Allen's eyes, behind his wire-rimmed glasses, filled with tears. "Even for you, even knowing your heart and soul won't change, I can't make love to a man.I don't think I could ever do that, not in a million years."
My chest hurt, all of a sudden. My worst fears had come to pass.
Allen didn't want me. Not as I am, or at least, not if I ended up changing sexes and becoming outwardly male.
"Then we can't marry. I'm sorry." I took off my engagement ring, and put it in Allen's hand. The rainbow prisms dancing on the edge of the moonstone Allen had chosen nearly changed my mind.but I had to stand firm.
Allen would either love me as I was. Or we would part ways.
Allen's eyes pleaded with me to change my mind. "Don't do this, Elaine. I love you. Can't you give me some time to learn how to deal with this?"
"Maybe." I would have to think about that. Could Allen learn to understand what I was, in time?
But he'd hurried on.
"I can handle you being 'gender fluid,' whatever it is, so long as you stay in your body-"
I flinched. "Allen, love, I can't." Something inside me made me say that, too. "I don't feel right. And maybe, if I stop running from myself, and admit who I really am, I'll feel better."
"I believe that last part, but-" Allen waved his hands in the air. "If I remember right, Ruby Rose decided to stay in her female body, saying that was good enough for her. Why isn't it good enough for you?"
"I don't know, but it just isn't." The air in our apartment felt stale, all of a sudden. I had to go out, to get away.I couldn't handle being inside any longer.
As I hurriedly threw on my coat again, and grabbed my purse, I saw that Allen was just as quickly putting on his winter coat.
"Wherever you go, Elaine, I'm going with you."
I sighed. "All right."
He followed me down the steps outside, and into the dark, icy open.
The weather seemed even colder after the time we'd spent in our warm, cozy apartment. My glasses fogged up immediately. I took them off, seeing a dark blur with a teensy blur of red up ahead.
"Elaine, wait! I can't see!"
She stopped and waited as I slid over the icy ground. My glasses were starting to acclimate at the edges, but in the middle they were still fogged. My lungs ached with the cold, and I hoped it wouldn't set off my asthma-I didn't need to go to the hospital right now, thank you.
Once I got within a few feet, Elaine told me, "You don't have to come, you know. Why won't you wear your boots?"
"They don't fit right," I admitted. Secretly, I was glad she complained; it showed she still cared, even though she'd given me back her ring. It was nestled in my pocket; I hoped I'd be able to convince her to put it back on. "So I don't wear them."
She sighed, a big exhalation of warm breath. "Let's go, then."
I walked beside her and tried to act casual. I didn't know what to say that might make her change her mind.couldn't we find a way to stay together? Didn't our seven-year relationship mean anything to her?
Why would being gender-fluid and transgender have to change our relationship, anyway? Weren't we the same people we'd always been?
Still, I wasn't sure I could handle her in a male body. She'd already admitted she'd still think of herself as female, so what was the big deal about becoming outwardly male? Was this all about her rape trauma, and wanting subconsciously to be bigger and stronger so she somehow could've fought those guys off?
Not that anyone could fight five guys.
I'd told her that before, and she'd shrugged it off. But I wondered if that was the main reason for her wishing to become male, outwardly.
After we'd slowly walked two blocks, the streetlights went dark. "This isn't good," I muttered.
"No, it's not," she agreed. "Maybe we should go back home."
As we turned around, the lights flickered on again. But something about them was off-they seemed dimmer than usual. I wondered just how long these lights would stay lit.
"Whatever it is, we need to be out of the weather," Elaine put in. "But I can't go back to our apartment just yet.are you up to driving?"
"Sure." I sighed. Elaine did drive, sometimes, but rarely in the winter-never when it was icy. "Where do you want to go?"
"I'm still hungry; maybe one of the restaurants up by I-80 will be open."
"Okay." When we got back to our building, instead of going up to our apartment, we went down into the underground parking garage. We got into my old, reliable Ford Escort, and I put the key into the ignition; traitorously, the engine turned over on the first try.
As we sat in the frigid air waiting for the car to warm up, I turned to Elaine. "I am glad you told me what upset you so much, even though I don't understand it. I've known something was wrong for months."
"I tried to say something, but I didn't know how," she said in a very small voice. "I just feel all wrong, inside.I don't know how to explain it."
"There's nothing wrong with you at all, love," I told her. "You're a good person; the best. You didn't deserve what happened to you in Florida. And not all men are like those jerkwads."
"You know, you can say asses, if you need it." Elaine puffed a laugh. "I'm not that much of a prude."
"Asses isn't strong enough for them. And I'm trying to be polite," I said through clenched teeth. Then I tried again. "Look, love. You are the same person regardless of what you look like, whether you present as male or female. I will always love you. I'm not about to abandon you. I just don't understand why, if Ruby Rose can stay in her body as a gender-fluid person, you can't stay in yours."
Elaine's gloved hand reached out, but before we actually touched, she drew back. "I wish I could explain it, Allen. It's like a compulsion; now that I've told the truth about myself, I need to find out where that truth leads. And I'm not sure where that path is going to go." Her deep brown eyes filled with tears. "I don't want to deceive you. I love you too much for that."
"Honesty is important," I agreed. "Even so, how do you know that it's not just your depression talking?"
"I am depressed," Elaine admitted. "But it's mostly because I don't feel right in this body. I have never felt right in this body, and the longer I go on in this body, the more wrong I feel!"
The car had warmed up enough now, so I couldn't delay this any longer. "Just-don't leave me, Elaine. Let's try to talk this out." I turned onto the dimly-lit street, and started to drive.
Elaine sat, silently, next to me, for blocks. Then, she said, "If you can't accept me as myself, in whatever body I might have down the road, how can we stay together?"
"All I've said is that I don't know if I can accept you in a male body. I would find it hard to make love to another man." I swallowed hard, adding, "I've tried to put myself in your place, and I can't do it. I don't know how it feels to be transgender. I do know how it feels to be in love with you. I don't want to lose you. I'll do whatever it takes. But I want you to go to counseling-isn't there a very long period of counseling you have to go through, before you change sexes outwardly?" I seemed to remember that from Chaz Bono's story; that had been discussed often, a few years back. "And you don't like going to counseling as it is!"
"I've not run into good ones, thus far." Elaine turned her head to look out the window.
I glanced that way, and saw ice hanging from the trees just off the street. Was that a rainbow prism at the edge of my vision? I told myself I was just seeing things, and kept driving.
"Mind, Jolene asked me the very same thing, earlier." Elaine said, sounding very far away. "I told her I'll start counseling after Christmas." Then, she smiled wryly, a brief twist of her lips. "She told me to marry you and stop putting you off, too."
"I knew I liked Jolene."
We shared a laugh. Then I blurted out what I'd been thinking all the while.
"Elaine, please-I need you in my life. I love you so much.I don't care what you look like; I care that you're you. Please don't leave me."
She continued to stare out the window, and said nothing.
Oh, Elaine, I thought. How can you do this?
I turned my attention back to the road, which was getting worse by the second. It was rutted, slippery, and almost impassable. Worst of all, a gray fog had started to blanket the road. I started looking for places to safely pull off, but I didn't see much. The few gas stations were already closed, and there were a number of cars waiting in those parking lots.
If this continued, we'd have to break out our emergency supplies from the trunk. I'd packed blankets, food, water.we even had some spare gas in a gas can, just in case. So we'd live through the night, even if we'd not be comfortable doing it.
"I don't like this fog," Elaine muttered.
"I don't, either," I agreed as I drove through another bank of icy grayness. "Are you sure you can't just come back home?"
"Not yet. I don't know why." Then Elaine added in a very quiet voice, "I'm sorry."
I continued to drive, my gloved hands gripping the steering wheel. "Don't be. You can't help what you are." Then, before I lost my nerve, I added, "I love you. No matter what you are, no matter how you present yourself. I want to be with you. I just don't know if I can handle you in a male body.you only told me about this tonight, so how can you expect me to acclimate like that?" As we stopped at a light, I snapped my fingers, even though inside my gloves, they couldn't make a sound.
"You're right. I can't," Elaine said.
Something about how she said that, though, made me nervous.
"I need time to figure myself out," she said, biting her lower lip in concentration. "Maybe you should take me to a hotel."
"I'm asking too much of you. I have to be on my own."
I felt like shaking her. "You need counseling, and we both need rest. Why don't we go back home instead?"
"I can't be there right now. Not like this."
"Dammit, Elaine! I love you. Can't you see that? Why else would I be out on a night like this, if I didn't?"
"I love you, too, but this isn't going to work." The set of her jaw bothered me; she'd obviously made up her mind.
"It won't work only if you decide it won't," I told her, trying to keep the edge out of my voice. "Why won't you listen to me?" I snuck a peek at Elaine. The beauty of her oval face, her liquid brown eyes, her pointed, determined chin.how anyone that beautiful could want to become a man, I didn't know.
"Let's not argue, Allen," she said wearily. "I can't bear it."
"Okay, then." But while I'd stopped talking, I hadn't stopped thinking. Why does Elaine want to become a man? Why? What have I done wrong, that she should want this? I must have done something wrong, something terrible, for her to want this.
Inwardly, I prayed, hoping that God existed and would hear me despite my usual disbelief. Oh God, if you're listening . . .please don't take my beautiful Elaine away from me. I'll do anything, absolutely anything.
My reverie was broken when the car went into a skid. "Hang on!" I yelled, while I turned into the skid. That should've gotten us safely off the road, albeit into a ditch.but it didn't work.
Instead, something big, something solid, was in the way.
Something that shouldn't have been there.
"Oh my God!" Elaine screamed.
I tried to reach out to her, to reassure her, but I couldn't. My body just wouldn't respond.
Before I could worry about that, the world went black.
From the ether, I watched as Allen's little car crashed into something. No one saw it but us, perhaps because of the dense fog along with the ice and snow. "What is that thing?"
"It's a road grader," Michael said absently.
"Is there anyone around to help?" Surely we couldn't just leave them in this condition-could we?
"I thought I'd help them," Michael told me, sounding deceptively casual. Then, just like that, he wore a human body again and stood directly behind Allen's wrecked car-to human eyes, he now looked like a healthy, compact young woman. I wasn't sure why he'd picked that particular form, but Michael liked variety. The light around his body danced with his usual rainbow prisms-what I thought of as his true form-before he said, "You could help, too, you know."
Stung, I incorporated also, using the form I'd used at Jolene and Paula's wedding months ago. "Will this do?"
"I hope so." He turned to look at me; his blue eyes were grave, unchanging. "We have about two minutes, maybe three, before this car blows up."
"They had extra gas in the back of the car in case of emergencies." As he said this, he opened the passenger side door. Elaine's head had hit the windshield so hard, the windshield had cracked; fortunately, her seatbelt and airbag had protected most of the rest of her body. She was still breathing, albeit shallowly. "Help me get her out."
On this plane, we could not tap into any primal energy sources; at least, I couldn't, or I'd risk an explosion. I was limited to what this body could do, as it was the only one I knew well enough to summon; fortunately, Elaine didn't weigh very much, and we were able to get her out of the car. I picked up her purse and put it beside her, along with a blanket that had fallen to the floor, before racing back to help with Allen.
This was going to be much harder. Allen's body was wedged in between the steering wheel and the bent, damaged door. The road grader was firmly on the other side; no help there.
"Why can't we keep the car from blowing up?" I asked.
"I can only interfere so much. Now, help me with Allen!"
"Get the other blankets out of the car, and put them on the ground. This is going to be tricky."
While I hastened to do that, Michael reached inside the car. I heard the seat belt unlatch, and as I ran back to the car, I saw Michael start to pull Allen away from the steering wheel. Then, I don't know how, Michael had pulled him backward, out of the car.
"He's got a pulse. But he's got multiple fractures, minimum," Michael reported. "We have to use their cell phones to call an ambulance." As I blinked, he added, "Elaine's phone has a pink cover. Get it and call 911-that's for emergencies."
I raced back to Elaine's purse, grabbed her phone, and ran back. By this time, Allen was on the ground, but only a foot or so from the car. And there was something going on with the car, now.it looked unstable, to me, as an energy-being, rather than solid. I'd only seen this in elderly Masses who were about to end their existence.
My unfamiliar fingers fumbled with the phone, but I was able to use it. I reported the emergency, said two people were on the side of the road after a crash, and gave the location. Before they could ask anything else, the phone went dead.
"Here, Mass. We need to get them to safety. Now!"
I helped Michael pull first Elaine, then Allen, about thirty feet. We did our best to protect their heads, but there wasn't much time; we had to get them away from that car before it exploded.
Just as we got them both onto the nearby sidewalk, the car blew up. Even the foggy sky couldn't hide that conflagration.surely someone would get here soon to take care of them. Right?
But before I could ask Michael anything, he yelled, "Now, Mass! Shift to the ethereal plane!"
I shifted planes, and saw Michael-now the Big Man, in his accustomed rainbow-prism form-dance over Allen's body, then Elaine's. "What are you doing?" I asked in pulse-speech.
"Changing faces," he said succinctly.
He took Elaine's soul and bound it into Allen's body, then put Allen's soul into Elaine's and bound it there as well. As the ambulance came, he told them, "Be well, children. This is the best I can do."
"Why do this, though?" I asked. "It'll disrupt so many things."
"Separating them wouldn't?"
"True." This hadn't been the outcome I'd expected, even though I knew Elaine needed a lot of help. "I assume you have a reason for doing this. What is it?"
His rainbow prisms shifted to a somber blue. "Remember what I told you before, about how I'd run their various life stories in all universes?"
"Yes? What of it?"
"Only in one place did Allen and Elaine come to terms with themselves. But it was too late for Elaine. Her dying wish was that she got another chance to be with Allen.and that he would understand what being transgender means."
"How does that help?" I wished I still had a human body, so I could've sighed.
"Now, Allen will begin to understand. He'll be in Elaine's body, and she'll be in his. They won't be separated. And they'll get another chance."
"But-but-" I couldn't even speak. I gathered myself enough to say, "Allen didn't need to understand, did he? He said he'd love Elaine no matter what."
"He wouldn't have come to terms with her until she died, and that took years, Mass. Not days, weeks, or even months. Years." The Big Man's prisms faded to a leprous white. "And not just a few of those. They were both elderly when she passed." Then, his prisms started to dance again, in a shade of muted blue. "At that point, he, too, asked for another chance. Or I'd not do it this way."
"I still don't see how this helps."
An ambulance skidded to a stop beside Allen's wrecked car, two paramedics jumped out, then ran to the sidewalk and checked over the downed couple. As they went to work, I asked, "What happens now?"
"They'll go to the hospital. Allen will wake up in Elaine's body, concussed and frightened. We can't do much about that, though I will send as much help as I can. Elaine is our immediate charge; she'll be in a coma, inside Allen's body. You need to get through to her so she can work out her past trauma, which should allow her to accept Allen and the love she deserves."
"But-but-" I sputtered. "She wasn't able to accept Allen before. Now, she'll be in his body. How will this help?"
"It might be easier for her to look outwardly male."
"We'll need time-"
"Trust me, you'll get time," Michael replied. His multicolored prisms danced before settling down. "She'll need a long convalescence, and that's after she awakens. It will be at least a few days before Allen's body will wake up; you should be able to talk with her all that time. By then, she'll either have accepted her fate-or have refused. If she refuses." His rainbow prisms flared into a bright orange, then nothing.
"A conflagration, or an implosion?"
"I'm not sure," Michael admitted. "But it's not good for Elaine, and it's especially bad for Allen, if she can't come to terms with herself."
"I get the picture."
He "danced" a bit more over Elaine's old form just as a paramedic asked the ambulance driver, "Did you see something?"
"What did you do just now?" I asked.
"I had to make it so Allen can't talk about what happened to anyone, except Elaine."
"That might kill him," I warned. "Humans need to talk about traumatic things, and this is about as traumatic as it gets."
"It won't kill him, but he will be uncomfortable for a while," Michael told me. "Watch, and see."
"I don't understand you, Big Man," I told him. "I just don't."
Rainbow prisms danced over Allen and Elaine's forms once more. But before I could ask him what that was about, Michael winked out.
Barb Caffrey is a writer, musician, editor, and composer. (She likes to keep busy, y'see.) She has three novels published to date, Changing Faces, An Elfy on the Loose, and A Little Elfy in Big Trouble (all through Twilight Times Books), and a number of short stories (the most recent being "Fiona, Court Clerk in Training" in GIFTS OF DARKOVER) and poems have also found their way to publication.
She is working -- too slowly, alas! -- on a novel featuring Arletta the baseball psychic and her husband Fergus, a werewolf/shifter, along with several projects in the Elfyverse.
She lives in Wisconsin.
Read other works by Barb:
Check out an interview with Barb Caffrey at Blogcritics.
Re-printed by permission of the author.