after revealing her secret to a special man)
It bothered her that the other girls didn't dress with the dignity that she thought the legal profession should exhibit. Even the several lawyers in the office dressed in jeans and sweats on days they weren't due in court or headed for a hearing.
“We've never had even one client come through our door dressed as classy as you, Maryanne,” Sheryl Johnson told her one day in jibing her about “dressing up.” Since most of the unfortunate persons entering the legal services office were dirt poor, they appeared rough and ragged.
Maryanne merely smiled at the comment from the short, rather heavy-hipped black woman paralegal. She had learned that in her situation not to create a confrontation, to merely nod in agreement and smile sweetly. As the newest girl in the office (she'd been at the agency for 10 months now), she had been largely ignored by the others. For one thing, she was older, nearly 40 — a rather advanced age for paralegals in such a poverty agency where most of the staff were fresh out of their two-year training schools and were in their 20s.
“We don't pay what you might get from a corporate law firm, Maryanne,” she was told by Manny Sherman, the veteran lawyer who was the agency's director. “But the experience you get here will be priceless if you want to move on.”
That statement shocked Maryanne who felt that serving the poor should be the highest calling in the legal profession. Yet, it seemed to be expected that most would stay two or three years and then move on to the corporate world.
Perhaps it was Maryanne's unique background that made her feel so dedicated to serving the unfortunate persons in the community; her dedication obviously bothered her workmates, all of whom hesitated to get to know her better. “That Maryanne’s a loner,” she overheard one of the paralegals comment one day. It was true; she was loner, not only at work but unfortunately off the job as well. In short Maryanne was a lonely woman, a fact that became increasingly apparent to her as Thanksgiving came and went and the Christmas holiday season was nearing. It was apparent she would celebrate the Christmas period entertaining herself, just as she did on Thanksgiving taking advantage of a “Turkey Day” special alone at a family restaurant she frequented at least once a week.
It was March 2nd — she’ll never forget the day — when Maryanne joined the agency and first met Stan Epperton, the agency’s deputy director. It happened quite by chance.
She entered the ancient elevator to find it already occupied by a dignified looking tall man with graying hair. He stood near the elevator buttons, and asked kindly:
“Twelfth,” she said.
He didn’t punch any button since the light for “12” was already lit.
“Be glad when spring finally comes,” he said with a smile, obviously making small talk to fill the void of a slow elevator ride.
“Yes, I’m looking for the flowers, too,” she replied, a bit wary about engaging in conversation with a stranger.
“Well, guess that’s a few weeks off yet,” he said.
The elevator jerked to a sudden stop at the 12th Floor, with disturbing clang.
“You coming to the agency, ma’am?” he asked as he waited for her to exit the elevator. It was obvious she would be going to the agency, since it took up the entire 12th Floor.
“Yes, I’m starting work here today,” she responded.
“What?” he said, shocked. “Oh my, you must be our new paralegal.”
“Yes, I am and I’m to see a Mr. Epperton,” she said, as the two approached the office door.
“Really? Well, that means you’ll be seeing me. I’m Epperton, but everyone here calls me Stan.”
Later Maryanne learned that three months before she appeared on the job, Stan Epperton buried his wife, a woman he had loved totally and without reservation since they had been in college together. She died of melanoma cancer, a result of too much sunbathing for her fair skin. It was a horrible death and he had watched her suffer through terrible pain the last year of her life. It was true, too, that while he was known as an exacting lawyer, his kindness to all persons was legendary; he had won great love among the workers in the office.
Thus, Maryanne Cleary began her new life as a paralegal for a legal services agency where the only thing that mattered was whether they could bring justice to some person or family down on their luck. She loved the idea of this work; was there no higher calling? She liked Mr. Epperton, as much for his obvious smarts as for the direct and honest manner of dealing with the employees of the agency. If he’d been with a private law firm, Mr. Epperton (she still found it hard to call him “Stan”) certainly would have been a candidate as the managing partner — the one who handled the details of running a large firm. In the legal services agency, he dealt with the day-to-day business, rarely getting into legal cases anymore.
His dealings with her were always brief, almost abrupt and he seemed to be a bit cold with her. She found it strange that he’d occasionally engage in small talk with the others — sometimes about their children or the weather or the city’s major league baseball team — but rarely did he offer any such talk to her. She preferred it that way, and perhaps her reluctance to engage in small talk scared him away.
“You’ve developed a great connection with our clients, Maryanne,” Stan told her at her three-month review. “It’s important, however, that you don’t get too close to any one of them since it may cloud your judgment in serving them.”
“Yes, sir. I totally understand,” she said. “I feel it’s important however to let the clients feel that I do care about their case so that they’ll trust me.”
“I believe you do, Maryanne,” he replied, his words coming out haltingly. He seemed nervous and restrained as he addressed her, Maryanne thought. “You’re . . . ah . . . ah . . . most intelligent woman, it’s obvious.”
“Thank you, Mr. Epperton.”
“Ah, Maryanne, really,” he began. “I wish you’d call me Stan, as the other’s do. We’re . . . ah . . . ah . . .not too formal here, y’know.”
“Thank you, Mr. . . ah . . . ah . . . Stan.”
She watched the man closely; he was sitting behind his desk, the sleeves of his white shirt, rolled halfway up his forearm, revealing the veins of a strong arm. His hands were large and the nails well-formed and bright, almost as if they may have been painted in clear gloss. She found herself admiring, too, the short crinkles that spread from the sides of both eyes toward the graying temples. What a handsome man!
“Well, Maryanne, let me say that you’ve passed your three months here with flying colors,” he said, his face becoming flushed. “You know, we do have a six-month probation period here, and if it were up to me I’d waive that right now and make you permanent. But I have to follow policy. Just keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be fine.”
Maryanne nodded, adding a smile as she did so.
“Now,” he said, almost beaming with delight. “That’s more like it. Really, Ms. Cleary, you should feel free to smile more often. You really have a very pretty smile and if you show it more often I think you’ll find the others here warming up to you.”
“Oh my,” she responded in surprise, her face growing bright red. And she noticed his face grew even more flushed than before.
“That should do it for now,” he said abruptly, terminating the interview. “You may go back to work.”
Maryanne was pleased when Sheryl Johnson approached her in early December and suggested she might like to help plan the office Holiday Party.
“We don’t call it a Christmas party,” she told Maryanne, “since some of our staff is Jewish and as you know Abdul is a Muslim.”
“That’s wise, and I’d love to help you, Sheryl,” Maryanne said.
Even though Maryanne had remained somewhat isolated from the others in the office, she and Sheryl had struck up a close relationship, even to the point where Sheryl invited her to join her family for a September picnic. The last of the season outing included several other single woman from work, plus Sheryl’s immediate family of an out-of-work husband and two grade school age girls, both of whom were cheerful and utterly adorable.
The Johnson picnic was one of the few social outings that Maryanne attended during her first year in her newly adopted city and in her new profession. Anonymity was crucial, she felt, to her future.
Despite keeping her distance from co-workers, Maryanne found the other paralegals to be pleasant, friendly colleagues. For the most part, the workload in the office precluded much “standing around the water cooler” moments when gossip would flourish. Each one had more clients than they could comfortably handle, and they were constantly in a turmoil, preparing for and running off to hearings. There was certainly no lack of poor people in the city, and everyone seemed to have an unsolvable problem that threatened their mere ability to keep food on the table or a roof over their heads.
Maryanne soon realized why the other women in the agency dressed so casually; while she rarely wore anything other than a skirt (or during warmer months, a dress), she did grow more informal in her dressing. She did notice, however, that several of the women has begin showing up for work in skirts and dresses (or nice slacks), ditching those jeans and sweats some had favored.
“I think you’re bringing some class to this joint,” Sheryl said one day.
“You look nice in a skirt, Sheryl,” Maryanne countered.
“I guess, but I really need to start losing some weight,” the woman said, her black eyes sparkling.
“Perhaps, but with a family like yours and working fulltime, that must be hard. You’re a lovely woman, Sheryl.”
“Still too fat,” Sheryl said, her usual chuckle.
“Don’t fret about it, Sheryl, you look just fine.”
Sheryl changed the subject. “We’re meeting at 4 p.m. today in Stan’s office.”
Maryanne always felt uncomfortable when she went face-to-face with Stan Epperton. Perhaps it was just the feeling that any worker has when meeting with a higher authority, such as a boss. Stan was always easy-going and pleasant to talk to and never asserted his command; yet she could sense by his intelligence and command of a situation that he knew what he was doing. Her discomfort, she was beginning to realize came from something else; she looked at his rugged, craggily face, his full lips and realized she wanted to rush over and hug this man, to feel her lips upon his.
“I asked you, Maryanne, if you liked the idea of having someone dress up as Santa to distribute the gifts,” Stan said.
“What? Oh, I’m sorry, I guess my mind was wandering,” she responded.
“You looked distracted, Maryanne,” he said, kindly. “Are you OK?”
Maryanne felt herself grow hot, realizing she must be blushing, hating herself for how easily she would break into a blush.
“Oh yes, sir,” she said. “And I did hear you. You wondered about having a Santa, right?”
“Yes, what do you think? Sheryl thinks it’s kind of corny.”
Maryanne looked at her friend, who was eying her closely, wondering obviously about her distraction.
“Well, I guess it is a bit corny,” she began. “But, after all what’s Christmas without a Santa, right?”
“Sure, why not?” Sheryl said. “I know Manny our director has been as our Santa for years as Santa. He seems to get a kick out of it.”
“He does, even though he’s Jewish,” Stan said. “He feels it fits the giving side of the season.”
When they finally finished planning the party, it was nearly five-thirty, well after regular office hours. Sheryl, whose children were home awaiting supper, rushed off, leaving Maryanne alone among the huge row of cubicles in the office. Stan had returned to his office at the far end of the floor.
Maryanne, who had been in the midst of finishing up a memo she had been writing when the meeting began, decided to stay at her desk and complete it. She had no need to hurry to get back to her studio apartment and debate whether to eat reheated left-over pizza or order out for Chinese. It would likely be another night of being alone with her books (she loved reading), but sometimes the loneliness in the tiny apartment could be oppressing — even with a good book on her lap.
“You’re still here?” It was Stan who was passing her cubicle on the way to the elevator.
“Just finishing up,” she said, again realizing she must be turning red in a blush. Why couldn’t she control her emotions?
“Well, Maryanne, you were very helpful in the meeting today,” he said.
“Thank you sir,” she said, as she began clearing her desk to leave.
“I’m wondering if you’d like to join me for dinner,” he said suddenly.
“That is if you’re not otherwise engaged?” he asked. “Nothing special. I was just going down to McFinn’s for a bite and am alone tonight.”
McFinn’s was a local bar and grill that was known for the care it took in preparing even the simplest of foods. The place was a favorite among lawyers in the city as well as their staff workers. It had a complete menu, including many salads and lighter fare, besides the usual burgers and steaks.
Maryanne was speechless. She’d like nothing better than to spend an evening with this marvelous man, but the invitation came so suddenly, so unexpectedly that all she could do was blush.
“It’s not a date, Maryanne,” he said, quickly sensing the woman’s discomfort. “Let’s just say it’s been a long day and we both would like some companionship. We can even go ‘Dutch’ if you’d like, though I’d be honored to buy.”
Maryanne wondered. He said it wasn’t a “date,” yet it sounded like one.
“I’d love it,” she said, finally. “Just give me a few minutes to finish this up and fix my makeup.”
The bar was noisy and crowded, filled with office workers letting off steam. It was a Wednesday night near Christmas, so it was more raucous than usual. The only place available when the got there was a table for two tucked off in a far corner of the place where the sound level was somewhat subdued.
“Well, maybe we can at least talk here,” Stan said, as he held a chair for Maryanne. He was such a gentleman.
“Yes, this’ll be nice,” she said. Her eyes lit upon the table candle flickering as if gasping for oxygen. It gave off little light.
The waitress was upon them quickly. She was a tallish dark-haired woman wearing a miniskirt that barely covered her rump, and she walked with authority. She wore flats, but they did nothing to ruin the effect that she had lovely, long legs.
“Haven’t seen you for a while, Stan,” she said.
“Just been a busy guy, Teresa. How is that son of yours doing?” he asked, addressing her with an easy familiarity.
“Jamie’s doing great and he’s the quarterback for the Redcats,” she said, quickly reaching into her waistband and producing a laminated photo of a tow-headed middle school boy in a football uniform, holding a helmet in his arms.
“A future Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers?”
“I hope not,” the waitress said. “I’d rather he be a rocket scientist and live a long life.”
“This is Maryanne,” Stan said smiling at her last comment. “Been in our office for about 10 months.”
“Nice meeting you, dear,” Teresa said. “Haven’t seen you with the other girls from your office.”
“No, my first time here, Teresa. I’m not much for the bars, but Stan suggested we could get a bite to eat here. I’m famished.”
She gave them a menu, took their drink orders and was off in a flash. Maryanne saw her gently ward off a couple of drunken attempts to flirt as she walked.
“You know her well, Stan?” Maryanne asked.
“Only from here,” he replied. “She’s been here for years. She’s older than she looks, but she found she could earn more here than in her profession as a social worker. And she’s a single mom with a son.”
Maryanne smiled. It was apparent Stan had no romantic attachment to the lovely waitress, and that his easy familiarity with her was just his usual way of being open and respectful to all persons. She had never met anyone as fair and open-minded. Her mind wandered as she looked — without seeing the type — at the menu before her. Watching Stan exchange pleasantries with the waitress, Maryanne felt a bit of jealousy, wondering if the two had ever had a fling together. What was going on in her mind? Why should she care if Stan Epperton had dated a waitress? It was then the thought became clear: I could fall in love with this marvelous man.
“I told you this wasn’t a date, Maryanne,” he began as they finished their meals and began on coffee. “But, please let me pay for your meal. I’ve really enjoyed your company.”
Maryanne took a sip of her coffee, looked at the person across the table and smiled.
“I’ve loved talking to you, Stan,” she began. “But for tonight, let’s go dutch.”
“As you wish, Maryanne,” he said. “But I’ll take care of the drinks and most of the tips anyway.”
“Thank you, Stan,” she said, lightly placing her hand over his and patting it.
“Do you need a ride home?” Stan asked as they left Mickey Finn’s.
“No that’s fine I’ll catch the No. 22 bus. It stops right at my door.”
“No, no. Let me take you home. You live uptown a bit, don’t you?”
“Yes, but that’ll be out of your way.”
“Not much, why stand out and freeze?”
“OK, but I hate to inconvenience you,” she said honestly. The truth was she welcomed the invitation for two reasons, first it was a chilly night, with snow predicted and she was happy for the chance to spend more time with him.
“It’s my pleasure,” he said, as they continued to talk toward his car.
Like the good gentleman he had portrayed himself to be earlier, he held the car door open for her. She was pleased to see that he drove an ordinary tan sedan, a 2008 Taurus; the white residue from early winter road saltings had already stained the sides of his vehicle, but the inside was clean; even the material in the car caddy the separated the two front seats was neatly arranged. He was a neat man, it was obvious. He was treating her like a queen.
“You know, I haven’t dated since my wife died last year, Maryanne,” he said as they stopped in front of her apartment building. He had turned off the engine, and turned to face her.
“It must have been devastating to you,” she said.
“It was,” he said. “We were high school sweethearts and never dated anyone else. I’m very new at this.”
“Me too,” she said, words she immediately regretted saying.
“Were you married before?” he asked.
“I’ve never dated much,” she said, putting her hand on the door, hoping to escape before she had to explain further.
“I can’t believe that,” he said. “You’re so attractive you must have had plenty of men after you.”
“I’d rather not talk about it, Stan,” she said. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, no, of course, I was wrong to probe,” he said, his voice becoming hesitant and strained. “It’s none of my business.”
“Thank you,” she said, pushing the door handle down, as if to leave.
Stan put a hand on her arm, holding it tightly and saying, “Just a minute, stay. OK.”
She remained in her seat and pulled the partially opened door shut. She looked at him, longing to feel his lips against hers, but he seemed content to hold her hand. His large hand engulfed her slender hand holding it firmly, but gently. The contact thrilled her.
“Maryanne,” he began. “I don’t know how to say this, but I’d really like to get to know you better. I know this is all wrong. I’m your boss and it’s not right to me to insist and in legal circles these days it can even be considered harassment. But I’d like to truly have a date with you, maybe a nice dinner or a show.”
“Oh Mr. Epperton, I don’t know,” she said, taken aback by the suddenness of this request.
“Please consider it, and feel free to tell me ‘no.’ I won’t hold it against you at work. If you say yes and we enjoy a night out, we’ll make sure the other girls won’t know.”
“You know they will, Stan,” she said. “And I’ll be the office pariah.”
“Maybe so, but they all like you and they’re all so much younger. How could they have any such expectations?”
Maryanne’s excitement at his pleading grew as did the coldness of the evening begin to fill the car, now that the heater had stopped while the car engine was turned off.
“Stan,” she said finally, “I’d loved to join you anywhere. I think you’re a marvelous man, but I must tell you. There some things about my background that you may not like and that might make you change your mind about me.”
The car windows began to steam up, and before answering her, he turned on the car engine again to heat it up.
“What things? Were you a nun before? Or in jail?” he asked finally.
“No,” she smiled. “Nothing like that. I don’t have a criminal record and I don’t see I could ever have been a nun, even though I was born a Catholic.”
“What is it then?”
“Let’s leave it for now,” she said. “I need to think about this some more.”
“Have you lied on your job application, Maryanne? Let me know, maybe we can find a way to correct that.”
“No, I’d never do that. I told Mr. Sherman, the director, everything and he said my situation would in no way affect my work at the agency. He would respect my privacy.”
“Really? I’m puzzled about what you’re talking about.”
“Well, it’s personal, Mr. Epperton.”
“It’s Stan, remember,” he said, his smile clear from the streetlight beaming through the windshield.
An uneasy silence filled the car. Finally Maryanne leaned over, gave Stan a light kiss on the cheek, and pulled her hand loose from his. She opened the car door, stepping out into the cold. She closed the door of his car, saying nothing. It was only a short walk to her apartment door, but even in those few seconds she began to cry. In the background, she could hear his car move away from the curb, going off into the December night. Was that the end of everything?
She flopped on her bed, face down and cried. How long she cried she didn’t know, but most of the time she cursed herself. Why had she acted such a fool?
There was nothing to indicate that Stan was anything but a warm-hearted, generous individual. He didn’t attack her and the closest he got to affection was to hold her hand. After all, it was she who had kissed him. She had had two years of loneliness since Jeremy walked out on her. Hadn’t she loved Jeremy with all her heart and soul? Hadn’t she treated him with all the kindness in the world? Yet, when he learned of her secret, he fled out of her life forever. She couldn’t bear for that to happen again.
She had fallen asleep on the bed fully clothed and finally awoke at 1 in the morning. At first she was confused: why was she still fully dressed? Then, slowly the memories of the night flooded into her mind and she began to feel humiliated. How could she go to work the next day and face the man?
The next morning Maryanne went to work dressed more casually than she had since her first day on the job. She wore her hair loose, letting it flow down her back. She wore a simple blue wool skirt and pale blue blouse, with a dark blue cardigan sweater.
“Good,” she said, looking at herself in the mirror. “I’ll look all blue today. It’ll match my mood.”
The only trouble was that her eyes were red from the previous night’s crying; she hoped no one would notice. She wore a pair of ballet flats, which she carried in her purse. It had snowed overnight, and she had to wear her stadium boots to slosh through the snow to the bus stop. With her more informal look, maybe she’ll no longer look attractive to men, particularly Stan, she thought. That was okay with her; she wasn’t interested in any kind of relationship now.
“Aren’t you the cutie?” Sheryl said when the two met at the coffee station.
“Oh don’t kid me, Sheryl. I must look like shit.”
“Are you kidding? You look ten years younger,” she said, stopping herself. “Wow, are you OK? Your eyes are all red.”
“I’m fine,” Maryanne said. “I gotta get to work.” And she stormed off to her cubicle, leaving Sheryl in wonderment.
She felt a chill when Stan called her into his office. How would she handle this situation? What would he say? What does he want?
Stan Epperton was all business, though. Without looking up at her, he handed her a file and said simply: “We’re going to appeal the Rita Henderson case. Get started on the paperwork, will you, Maryanne?”
“Yes, sir,” she said, walking out of his office.
All day long she wondered what was going on in Stan’s mind. Yet, she knew he wanted everything at the office to be purely business, and she was happy to keep it that way.
Why was she so contrary? She both wanted him and didn’t want him. Why wouldn’t she want him? It didn’t make sense. Well, she really did want him, but she feared he wouldn’t want her once he learned her secret. So why try for the impossible?
That night after work, she was headed out of the office when Stan caught up to her at the elevator. “I think we need to talk,” he said, grabbing her arm. “I’m taking you to supper tonight.”
It was not a request; it was a demand. Maryanne was instantly mad at him presuming she’d even consider going with him. How dare he order her around?
“No Stan, I’m not dressed for it.”
“You’re lovely just as you are,” he said. “In fact I like you this way. I can see the real you there.”
“The real me? You don’t know the real me,” she said, reaching for the down button.
He released his grip and then said quietly. “That’s just it, I want to know the real you.”
Overwhelmed by the man’s persistence, she finally agreed to go with him. He led her to Giordano’s Bistro, a quiet Italian restaurant, where they were given a table in a small alcove. A quite private place, she noticed.
He did everything possible to put her at ease, beginning by talking about himself, his long love of his wife and her death from skin cancer, about his two children, a daughter Caroline who is a social worker in Chicago, and his son, Matthew, who is in law school at the state university.
“I told you last night,” he said, “That she was my only lover. I’m very green at this and very much afraid.”
It astounded her to hear that this man — who was widely recognized as a top attorney and community leader — should confess to such naíveté about his personal life. She suspected that someone as handsome and outgoing as he was to have lots of sexual experiences. Yet, here he was telling of his own inexperience.
“Now tell me about you,” he said, when they were lingering over coffee.
“Oh Stan, I just know how to begin and I am so afraid what I’ll tell you will so change your feelings for me.” She put a hand on his hand, looking into his eyes.
“Do you think I’m so insensitive that I’d reject you for something in the past? I see you now as a lovely, smart and sweet woman. I can’t imagine anything you’d tell me would change that. You’re not a serial killer are you?”
He said it with a smile.
“Nothing like that,” she said, emitting a nervous giggle.
Maryanne stayed silent for a moment. She looked about the room and noticed most of the patrons had finished their meals and left the place. Only four other tables, all across the room, were still occupied. Suddenly she felt afraid of the empty room, wishing there were large numbers of people nearby so that when she told her story Stan would be reluctant to protest too violently. She feared his reaction, even if he’d merely get up from the table and walk silently away from her.
“Stan,” she blurted out suddenly, “I’m all woman, first of all. I’m a woman through and through. Whatever else you hear, I want you to remember that.”
He looked puzzled, mumbling only, “Well it’s hard to think otherwise, Maryanne.”
“I wasn’t always a woman, or a girl, for that matter,” Maryanne began, her voice soft and deliberate. “I was born as Martin. Yes, my name was Martin and I was born as a boy. But I never felt like a boy, Stan. I felt I was a girl and should have been born a girl.”
Stan looked stunned, but quickly recovered. “You’re a what, then? A transvestite or something?”
“No Stan, I’m a woman. Some people would call me transgendered,” Maryanne said. “I’m not a weirdo or even gay. I’m a 38 year old woman, the same one you asked on a date.”
“Completely a woman?” he asked.
“Yes, except in one respect. I can never have children, but I enjoy being with a man just like any woman, and you’ll find me as you touch me and caress me just as much a woman as your beloved wife.”
“Oh my God, I don’t know what to say.” He pushed his chair back, as if to leave the table.
Maryanne found the silence awkward and finally said, “I felt you should know before you got too involved with me. I’ve kept my secret from everyone here, except Mr. Sherman who agreed not to mention it to anyone since he didn’t see it as affecting our work.”
“Oh my God, this is too much,” Stan said. “I’ll settle up the bill and then we better go.”
“Yes, that’s best I think, too. Stan, I’m sorry, but you had to know everything about me. I hope you won’t tell anyone else about this. Please. I’m trying to start a new life, and I love my work at the agency.”
Stan motioned to the waiter for the bill, fumbled about in his wallet for his credit card. He kept his head down, and it looked like he had tears in his eyes. Maryanne sat quietly, her hands folded on her lap, looking into the mainly empty dining room. There was silence between the two, a silence that continued in the drive to Maryanne’s apartment.
“Thank you, Mr. Epperton for dinner tonight?” she said as they stopped before her apartment building.
“You’re welcome Maryanne, I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said matter-of-factly. “You’ll need to get that draft of the brief on the Rita Henderson case to me by noon tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir, I’ve just about got it done. Good night sir.”
“Good night Maryanne.” She let herself out of the car, closing the door firmly as she left. His car charged off into the night almost instantly.
Maryanne suddenly felt an overwhelming sadness; Stan Epperton acted as if she had the plague and couldn’t wait to get away from her. Would every nice man reject her? Was this to be her life?
In her apartment, she looked at the Christmas decorations she had placed around, including a tableau of stuffed animals she had against one wall, each other wearing a Santa hat and scarf. She had sown each of them. This would be another Christmas alone. Since her transition four years ago, she had been alone each Christmas. Two years ago, the only boy friend she had ever had since transitioning had dumped her two days after Thanksgiving — on the night she told him she had once been a boy. And, she later found out the man had purchased an engagement ring he was planning to give her on Christmas that year. It never happened. It was enough to make a girl cry.
At work, it was as if nothing happened between her and Stan. He was still a pleasant and considerate boss, encouraging her in her work. But, there was no small talk, no gentle kidding around and no personal references.
Sheryl noticed how somber Maryanne had become, and sought to cheer her up about the coming holidays. Maryanne went about doing her work, almost mechanically; she was efficient as ever, but there was a spark missing. The planning for the Christmas party went smoothly. It was to be held at the backroom of a local club, and Maryanne and Sheryl were given the afternoon off on the evening of the party to set things up.
Both had worn cocktail dresses to work the day in preparation for the party, and won admiring glances from most in the office. Indeed, the men were in nice suits and the other women also dressed stylishly.
“You’re ravishing, darling,” Sheryl said to Maryanne, as they were putting up decorations at the club.
“As are you, Sheryl.”
The two hugged each other.
One of the features was that Manny Sherman, the director, always played Santa, dressing fully. Even though he was Jewish, he found Christmas a holiday when persons of all religions should be as one. He reasoned that all persons found there to be a Supreme Being, though it took many forms. It was a time for brotherhood and sisterhood. So Manny was a jovial Santa.
His main role was to pass out the gifts; everyone had picked a name out of the hat and they were to buy a gift for that person for under $15. Maryanne had picked Abdul’s name but she had no clue who had picked hers. A disc jockey had been hired to play music, and Maryanne even had danced several times with some of the men in the office. She even felt what she believed to be his penis hardening against her tummy as the danced, at which point the man (who was married with a large family) moved away from her. If only he knew her full story, she mused as they dance. It was a cruel joke, on both of them.
She noticed Stan did not dance and made no move to approach her.
Manny Sherman announced the recipients of each gift one-by-one, and her name never seemed to come up. As they approached the end, Sheryl said, “Wonder where yours is?”
“With my luck, my name got lost,” she quipped.
“And now for our dear Maryanne!” shouted Manny Sherman, following his announcement with a Santa-like chuckle.
Maryanne blushed with all the attention she was getting. “I bet it’s something special,” yelled one of the men. She then heard the man’s wife warn him: “You’re making a spectacle of yourself.”
“Open it up, Maryanne,” Sheryl said coming to her side.
“Oh my God, it’s from Stan.”
“It should be nice, Stan always gives the nicest gifts,” Sheryl said.
The card was lacy, pink and white — about as feminine as a card could get. Inside, he had written, “To a lovely woman, from your friend, Stan.”
She eyed the package; it was in a square box about 6 inches in each direction. She tore open the paper and extracted a music box with a ballerina on the top. As she opened it, music from “Swan Lake” began playing and the ballerina began her twirl. Everyone’s attention was on her as she turned the nob to start the music playing.
“That’s it folks, Santa’s work is done,” Sherman announced. “Let’s everyone enjoy the rest of the evening. We’ll have music for about an hour longer.”
“That was such a nice gift,” Maryanne said to Shertyl. “I bet he spent more than $15 on it.”
“That’s OK,” Sheryl said. “He’s a boss. He can afford it.”
Maryanne felt a new presence joining them. It was Stan.
“Were you girls talking about me?” he said.
“Yes,” Sheryl said. “Maryanne’s in awe with your gift.”
“I felt a pretty lady should have a pretty gift,” he said.
Sheryl smiled, turned to Maryanne and said, “I’m leaving you in good hands, dear. Have fun.”
Before Maryanne could protest, Sheryl was gone to join another group.
“Well, it’s just you and me now,” Stan said. “I saw you dancing before. Perhaps you’ll dance with me now.”
“You, really want to dance with me?” Maryanne asked incredulously. “You’ve treated me like I had typhoid since our date.”
“I am sorry about that, but your news was such a shock,” he said. “Right now I want to dance with the prettiest girl in the room.
At first she was stiff, but his movements were so fluid that she melted easily into his arms soon laying her head upon his shoulders as they danced to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” He didn’t speak, but his movements told her much; that he considered her to be a woman and perhaps, just perhaps, his woman.
“What are you doing Christmas Eve?” he asked as the glided off the floor several dances later.
How’s a girl to answer that? If she said she was doing nothing, the man would think she’s a wallflower, but if she said she was busy he might lose interest. Besides it would be a lie.
Stan sensed her quandary, and added quickly, “I’m alone this Christmas, and I’d like to be with you if you’d like that too.”
“With me?” she said.
“Yes, with the most beautiful woman in the world,” he said.
She smiled up at him. This would be the best Christmas ever!
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