TG Universes & Series:
Tom Smart was not happy on this Saturday morning. He was sitting in his room at St Andrews boarding school wondering who was out to spoil his fun. As a student in the upper-sixth year he was now only months away from his final exams but some levity was always welcome, often in the form of school organised social events. One such event was the annual school fireworks display in early November.
Unfortunately a notice had been pinned on the boards around the school stating that the display had been cancelled due to health and safety issues. That, he knew, was usually a lame excuse. In this case the school's intelligence network had established that the governing body had refused to pay the insurance premium so had cancelled the event several weeks ago.
Tom was aware of the problem. Having been at the school for ten years he knew how the school operated and which excuses would be used. He was used to disappointment.
The insurance problem had been known about for over a month, the fireworks committee had been stood down quietly and all notices had been taken down. One junior wag who had heard the rumours had loudly suggested a few weeks earlier that the whole school went to the town's Round Table organised display and was next seen coming out of the Head's office with his head down, refusing to speak to anyone. He did not go home that weekend, nor the next, nor the next, even though his family were only in Aberdeen.
The town of Thurso did indeed have a fireworks display planned for tonight, 8th November, a few days after the official Guy Fawkes anniversary. It was down to the Headmaster, Dr McIntosh, whether the students were allowed into the town to see the display in Thurso Harbour at seven pm. Tom's school, St Andrews, had a long noble history and often permitted students to participate in local civic events. The problem was transport, St Andrews was ten miles out of Thurso and the school's three minibuses, normally used for sports teams, were not suitable for transporting two hundred students, assuming that only the top four years attended.
As an 18 year old Tom had fewer restrictions on his free time than the younger students. He had been heading into town most Saturdays for the past year using a shuttle service operated using one of the school's minibuses. Although he never declared it to his fellow students, Tom had a Saturday job in a small clothing store owned by Sarah Bonney.
When Tom had heard that the Head was unlikely to agree for students to attend the display he sent an email to Sarah explaining how upset he was, but not expecting that there was anything she could do about it. One thing was clear however, the last shuttle bus back to the school was at five thirty, if you deliberately, or accidentally, missed the last bus then all weekend privileges would be cancelled for a month. Therefore staying behind was not a sensible option.
Sarah was the only person Tom had ever trusted with his deep secret. Tom had known for most of his years that he was a girl, only he hadn't been able to express himself. He knew his parents wouldn't understand, not least as his father had sent him to this private school a decade earlier.
The boys only school was run on military lines, designed to improve discipline. The idea was that this bred better educated boys. Of course, for some it made them even more frightened than when they were told they would be going to a boarding school in the Highlands, hundreds of miles from home. This did not always help their learning.
Tom was sat on his bed, watching the clock tick closer to nine o'clock. In preparation for his visit to the town he had put on his feminine vest, knickers and tights underneath his male attire. Sarah had told him he resembled a sixteen year old girl and he should really dress as one. He drew the line however at wearing a bra. Even wearing a sweatshirt over his vest and t-shirt, he was convinced he could see the thin straps in the mirror. He was certain that bra straps would be immediately visible and would expose him to everyone.
At five to nine, Tom pulled on his thick winter coat and shuffled to the school's courtyard where the bus was waiting. There was already a queue but the rank system gave Tom priority over younger students who had waited since breakfast. It had been the same for Tom years earlier.
The ride into town took twenty-five minutes and even the excellent suspension system couldn't iron out all of the bumps and holes in the road. Tom held his hiking bag on his lap. If anyone had asked, he would have answered that he carried water and a torch. Essential equipment. Of course, no-one asked a sixth-former such questions.
The bus stopped on Olrig Street and let the students off before returning to the school. Tom first made for Reids Bakery to collect some sweet pastries. By nine thirty five he was walking a little further along the high street before turning down a side street to reach Bonney's Boutique. Tom opened the shop door carefully. The sign still said 'Closed' but Sarah had unlocked it a few minutes earlier to allow Tom in. His official reason for being there was to help organise stock, but he'd never needed to give that answer as no-one except his Business Studies tutor knew he went there. Tom closed the door behind him and slipped the bolt across quietly before calling Sarah.
"Hi Tammy. Can you get us a coffee? Your uniform is ready."
Tom went through to the rear of the shop and plugged the kettle in after filling it. He went to the store room and took off his outer clothes and put on the white dress hanging there. He let his black hair down and took out his single stud, placing two pearl earrings in his ears. He'd had both ears pierced a few years earlier but only routinely wore anything in his left ear.
Tom brushed his hair through and started to think of himself as Tamara, his alter-ego. Tammy slipped her feet into a pair of black patent shoes with a small heel. She knew she'd have to learn about shoe styles if she was ever to survive as a woman; Sarah sold clothes but not shoes.
Tammy stood in front of the long mirror as she took out her contact lenses and put on a little make-up. The transformation was almost complete, she finally put on a simple pair of glasses. Tammy now looked nothing like the Tom who had walked in.
Tammy walked back to the kettle and poured two coffees, which she carried into the shop.
"Tammy, you look wonderful today."
"Thank you Sarah."
Tammy didn't speak with much sincerity today, and Sarah noticed.
"It's those fireworks. I just know I won't be able to get down to the harbour."
Tammy gestured over her shoulder in the direction of the harbour, quarter of a mile away.
"Tammy, don't worry about it. You have been there long enough to cope with little things like this."
"I know Sarah, but this isn't the first year they've done something this. They should know how to arrange a party in a distillery by now."
Sarah giggled at this remark. Although she was the mother of an 18 year old daughter she still maintained a girly attitude, where appropriate.
"Tammy, when we've finished our coffees I want you to check the stock and sort out any repeat orders. I'm going to start a sale at the end of the month to get some more business. This recession hasn't hurt me yet but I'm carrying too much stock. I'm just so lucky to have you to help me, I just don't think I could justify employing anyone."
Sarah thought over the words she'd just said. Before last year, her daughter Emily had helped Sarah, but Emily was now at Dundee University.
Sarah remembered how she had first seen Tom looking through the shop window every Saturday morning. After six weeks he'd almost gained the confidence to open the door but had retreated in fright.
The next time Sarah saw Tom was two weeks later but this time she was ready and had stepped outside the shop, standing across the road just before he walked past at ten thirty. She was sure he'd run but fear had rooted him to the spot. Sarah suggested a coffee and that had started their Saturday routine.
By the end of that first Saturday morning Sarah knew Tom and Tamara. She didn't like Tamara as a name so had used Tammy since.
"I'm sorry, Tammy, that sounded like I was only using you because you're not on a wage."
"Sarah, I know what you really meant and I think it's sweet of you to let me help you, just as Emily did."
Sarah gave Tammy a hug and sent her to check the stock while Sarah unbolted the door and turned over the sign. She normally looked after the front of the shop and dealt with the customers, most of whom were over thirty, the first of which arrived shortly after ten.
The shop did not stock mass produced clothes, nor one-offs. Just somewhere in between. Sarah's usual customers ranged from women needing a ball gown to those needed simple hosiery or lingerie. Every sort of customer would appear over the course of a typical Saturday. Tammy, of course, had never seen the shop on any other day.
For some unspecified reason the shop was particularly busy this Saturday but Sarah seemed to cope. At one o'clock she'd put up the Closed sign and locked the door, Tammy then produced more coffee and the pastries she'd bought earlier. This would suffice for lunch for both of them, Tammy could still feel the effects of that morning's highland breakfast.
Half an hour later, with make-up refreshed, Sarah re-opened the shop. After five minutes it seemed as if all of Thurso wanted clothes, including a few ladies from Wick. It now appeared there were a few social events that evening, including one at Thurso Golf Club.
Sarah called Tammy out of the stock room to handle the till and card terminal, Tammy had been taught during quiet times so was quite capable, although insecure and shy with customers. Fortunately there was little time for small talk whilst it was busy.
Sarah and Tammy had worked out a cover story for Tammy which had Tammy attending an unspecified private school near Dundee during the week and helping her 'Aunt' Sarah on Saturdays. Fortunately Tammy had a soft highlands accent and not Tom's original home counties accent.
Tammy was dealing with one customer, Ms Davison, when she had dropped her credit card as it was being handed over. Whilst Ms Davison was retrieving her card, Tammy had seen the Headmaster's wife, Mrs McIntosh, enter the store and was now talking at length to Sarah.
All the pupils knew Mrs McIntosh from school concerts and plays where she was regularly a guest, she always made a point of congratulating the pupils involved in these events and had often spoken to Tom.
Time seemed to stand still until Tammy was brought back to reality with her customer, Mrs Davison, holding out the dropped credit card. Tammy finished the transaction as quickly as possible then dashed to the toilet, where she locked herself in a started crying.
Sarah came looking for her a minute later.
"Tammy, open up."
"Tammy, open up and tell me what's wrong."
"She's just gone and I've put the five minute sign on the door so come out and sit with me."
Tammy reluctantly came out and dabbed her hanky on her bloodshot eyes. She avoided looking in the mirror and sat next to Sarah who put her arm around Tammy.
"I know you're frightened but you did really well today. I mean it. I couldn't have coped without you."
"Yes, but ..."
"You were scared Mrs McIntosh would recognise you?"
"Firstly, no she didn't, especially as I told her you had started your period this morning. Secondly she said how nice you looked."
"It happens to every girl, eventually."
Tammy managed a short laugh then hugged Sarah.
"Now go and fix your make-up."
At five Sarah locked the shop and Tammy helped check the till and card terminal before locking the money in the safe, she then reluctantly became Tom.
Sarah handed Tom a carrier bag and said not to look until he was alone, this he hid in his bag. She then sent him to catch the five thirty bus, the last of the day. Back at the school he spent so long in his room he barely made it to dinner.
As dinner ended, the Head announced that the school would indeed be going to see the harbour fireworks and several coaches would be outside imminently. With half the school at home for the weekend, four coaches would suffice. Dr McIntosh said his wife had convinced him that afternoon that it should be a gift to the students, he didn't say who had convinced his wife however.
To be continued in Tamara's Début
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