Epiphany

When Lee's girlfriend leaves him to chase after his best friend, he makes a Christmas wish. Lee gets his wish, but not the way he imagined.

An entry to the Holiday Story Contest, this is my first story to Big Closet, or anywhere for that matter.
Thanks are due to Angel for encouragement, advice and editing.
Minor edits added 21Dec06. (Thanks for these are due to Angela Rasch.)

Epiphany

by Geronwyl

"You're getting how much for a bonus?" my girlfriend gasped.

"Ten percent," I answered.

"So, Lee, what are you buying me for Christmas?"

"Something nice, don't worry. Some is going to be a down-payment on that new car I need to buy," I answered.

My employer, a small biotech start-up, had just sold a new product that we had developed to a jumbo pharmaceutical company. Because of that, they were giving out big bonuses for the end of the year. I knew telling Donna, my girlfriend, about my bonus was a mistake. She immediately expected me to spend a sizable portion on her. The problem was that I needed a new car. My trusty subcompact sedan needed more work than it was worth.

"Of course, if I had Ted's salary, I could just buy a car without a loan," I ruminated aloud without thinking.

"Really? How much does he make?" she asked, a little too intently.

I hesitated. "I don't know exactly, but he's doing well." I knew, but wasn't about to tell.

"Oh, come on, you must have a close idea," she pleaded.

"No," I answered. "I shouldn't have said anything."

"You don't have to get all huffy about it," she snapped. "I was just curious."

"I gave you a clue, just do the math." I shrugged and walked away.

I could sense trouble just from Donna's reaction. Donna is beautiful, vivacious, sexy, bright, and great in bed. At five-foot, seven inches, she has a model's figure, an angel's face with deep blue eyes and a torrent of blond curls at least four inches past her shoulders. Inside, she's no sweetheart. She is a selfish, spoiled, stubborn spendthrift who’s as mercenary as anyone I've ever known. Every time I spent money on something, she whined that I didn't get her jewelry or some other expensive gift. If she doesn't get something she really wants, things can get nasty.

She already knew that the company was going public and that both Ted and I had stock options. She was figuring out that, as a primary researcher, Ted made a lot more than I do. I was going to be comfortable. Ted was going to be rich. He had been one of the two scientists who had come up with the critical technology.

I could tell from the far-off, predatory look in her eyes that Ted had fallen into her crosshairs. That night alone, things cooled down considerably. By the end of Thanksgiving weekend, we were pretty much done.

I didn't mourn our relationship much. Donna had been a fling, not a love. I had accepted that she would slip away when she spotted bigger game.

There was only one problem; Ted was going to get burned.

Ted and I had grown up together and we had always been the geeks. He was always geekier than I was and he always caught the brunt of the abuse. One time in high school, I wound up sharing a hospital room with him because I tried to stop some jock from beating him to a pulp. Most times, it wasn't that bad. It just seemed that we were always overmatched or outnumbered. If we hadn't been overweight, we probably would have been really good at running.

The abuse from the jocks hurt us physically. The teasing and humiliation from the girls hurt us emotionally in a way the guys couldn't touch. Worse, those wounds didn't heal nearly as well. I think we both lost count of the number of times that some girl would cozy up and slip inside our defenses, just to be able to publicly humiliate us. The final straw was the prom. Ted didn't have a car, so his date drove. She left him stranded at the prom. My date had used me just to get into the prom so that she could hook up with her old boyfriend. She succeeded. I wound up driving Ted home, both of us minus our dates.

In college, Ted bloomed. He became everything everyone hoped, except socially. Intensely shy, excessively honest, and kind to a fault, he was an easy mark for all kinds of jerks. Most guys treated him like crap. Most women treated him like a pet. Since he was always longing for a relationship, he got used every time. That only lessened his self-esteem.

I fared only slightly better. I learned to never take the relationships too seriously.

Once out of college, I continued on my merry way. Ted went on in grad school and, when he finished, got a job with a little help from me. Hey, what are friends for? He soared while I cruised. We were doing well professionally and financially. In the meantime, both of us got our acts together, lost weight, and got into shape. All of that translated to a few dates, but in reality, we were lonely.

Despite the quiet desperation that loneliness brings, I recognized the signs when Donna was introduced to me. From years of painful experience, I knew a user when I saw one. She recognized me as an easy mark emotionally. I was almost relieved when all she really wanted was to boost her image with expensive dates and trinkets. Instead of getting humiliated, all I had to do was pay for play. In return, I got to have dates with a beautiful woman and she even deigned to allow me into her bed on occasion.

It was cheaper than keeping a paid mistress and sometimes less satisfying emotionally.

Ted had been lonelier than ever even though he was well off, successful, and in good physical shape. Ever since childhood, he had been tormented socially. Where I had grown calloused regarding the supposedly fairer sex, Ted became withdrawn, protecting festering psychic wounds that never seemed to heal. Too afraid to approach women who might be interested in him and too lacking in self-esteem to recognize the problem, he was the perfect victim for Donna.

I warned Ted that he should watch out for Donna. He didn't take me seriously.

"Don't worry; she wouldn't go out with me if I asked her," he replied.

"Ted, she seems interested in you. If she gives you an opportunity, feel free to go out with her. Just don't take her too seriously. She'll move on as soon as she finds someone richer. She's attracted to money as a shark is to the scent of blood. I just don't want you to get hurt."

"Okay. I'll be careful, but she won’t be interested in me," he said.

One week later, she tracked him down in the market. Two days later, she showed up when he went out with a few of us for beers. Within a week of that, they went on a date. Ted wound up bringing Donna to the company Christmas party. She showed up wearing a dress that must have cost a grand, not including jewelry, shoes, and the big salon hair and makeup job.

He was intoxicated from her presence. There seemed to be nothing I could do to avoid the impending train wreck. When I tried to warn him, he became annoyed, so I stopped. Donna came over, all smiles and made a point of steering my best friend away to a safe distance.

Over the next few days, Ted didn't even call me back. When I gave him a gift on Christmas Eve, he seemed cool.

"Look," I told him, "I just want you to be happy. I'm sorry if you took it any other way."

"Okay," he replied tentatively. "I appreciate that."

"Have a great Christmas. I hope she wraps her present with just a bow," I said with a wink.

Ted smirked, shaking his head.

On the way home, I ran into Donna. She was all bubbly, kissed me, and hugged me. Then she got serious.

"Don't try to keep me from Ted," she warned.

"As long as you don't hurt him, have fun. I want you both to be happy."

"Thanks," she said, seeming like a little girl who had been caught in a lie.

"I hope you've got something really good planned with him tonight," I lightly teased.

"Oh no. We haven't gone to bed yet," she smirked.

"Why not? Is something wrong?" I asked.

"That's my bait to get him to propose. You see, I have all you little boys figured out. I needed to have sex with you to keep you interested. Ted will let me get away without going to bed with him. It won't be long before he'll be hopelessly hooked, willing to marry me just to get some," she sneered.

"Don't play games. Mark my words, it will backfire on you."

"I'll do whatever I want," she huffed. "It's not like he'll believe you. Not when I'm there whispering sweet nothings into his ear. Have a nice Christmas, 'cause you won't be seeing us around if I can help it." She walked away laughing.

Discouraged and depressed, I walked through the park on the way home. I was alone again. Looking over my life it was easier to remember the hurt and betrayal than the academic and professional successes. After feeling sorry for myself for a few minutes, I realized that I was the lucky one. Not far away, I had a friend who was going to be destroyed emotionally, the way a worm eats the core of an apple. If Donna had her way, he wouldn't even know what happened until it was too late.

I sat down on a bench in the cold and looked up at the clear sky. It was a pleasant Christmas Eve, although snow flurries would have been nicer. I thought about all of the things I wanted, but none of them seemed important.

'I wish Ted had the perfect girlfriend, someone who really cared about him, who was beautiful inside and out.'

After a great deal of thought, I decided that if such a person were out there for Ted, it would be enough of a Christmas present for me this year. There wasn't anything that I really needed anyway. I sighed and headed home.

I woke to a beautiful, crisp, clear, Christmas morning. Sometime during the night, there had been a dusting of snow flurries, just enough to make things white, but not enough for kids to go sledding.

I headed over to my parents’ house, where my brother and sister would meet with their families. Both were married and both had one child each. We had dinner and opened presents. It was a pleasant holiday and I enjoyed it more than I had expected.

The next day, I got a call from my sister, Sandy.

"Lee, we ended up with one of your presents," she said.

"What is it?"

"I didn’t open it and I’m not giving any hints," she giggled.

I drove over, figuring it was a ploy to have me visit. Sandy probably figured that I needed company over the holidays.

As soon as I arrived, she lead me to the living room. "Lee, I think this is for you," she said. She held a small box with my name on a tag. "It was in the tree wrap at the base, hidden in the folds."

I looked at the package. It didn't indicate whom it was from. "Is this from you?" I asked her.

"Nope. Open it," she urged.

I opened it. It was a gold bracelet for a woman. In the links were a dozen diamonds. I just looked at it, wondering where it came from and whom it was for.

"Wow," Sandy cooed. "Was that for your girlfriend Donna?"

"No," I said dejectedly. "Are you sure this isn't for you?"

Sandy giggled. "I got my jewelry from Dave. I don't think so."

We checked with Bill, my brother and his wife Amy. We also checked with Sandy's husband Dave. Even Mom and Dad had no idea where it had come from.

"It's probably been there since last year, when Donna was with you," Mom said, over the phone. "Leonard Shaw, you do realize that I'm expecting some more grandchildren soon, don't you?" Her voice softened and she added, "You'd better save it for your next girlfriend. Maybe it will help you hang on to her." She meant well, but it hurt anyway.

Upon everyone's insistence, I took it home. I left it in the box and put it away in the closet. After talking to some friends by telephone, I called it a night and went to bed. I fell asleep watching the Christmas lights flashing, recalling childhood memories of doing the same.

That night, I had a strange dream. Ted and Donna were someplace and, evidently, I was too. I guess I was at another table, but I don't remember anyone else dining with me. I saw Ted and Donna dancing and then noticed a beautiful woman with dark skin and hair slink up to them. She cut in, leaving Donna standing there, fuming.

As beautiful as Donna was, this woman was every bit her equal, but in a mysterious and slightly dangerous way. She had dark, hypnotic eyes and a beguiling smile. Donna stormed off and, as they finished dancing, the woman dancing with Ted looked at me and smiled. As she led him back to his table, I noticed that she was wearing a bracelet just like the one Sandy found under the tree.

The next morning was Friday, and I went out for a run. When I got back to my apartment, there was a package at the door with a note.

'This was delivered to my apartment by mistake. Sorry I didn't get it to you before Christmas. Apt. 317.'

It was not addressed to me, but to someone named Lila Shaw. Since it was close to my name, I brought it in and opened it. Inside the box were eleven packs of stockings and pantyhose. The paperwork showed that is had been ordered by and billed to Lila Shaw at my address.

Deciding that it was a joke, I put the package back together and set it aside. I also went online and ordered a copy of my credit report to see if anyone had opened an account in my name, just to be sure.

That night, I had another dream about Ted, Donna, and the dark mysterious woman. Ted and Donna were at a bar, having drinks. Donna left for a minute to go to the women's room. Once alone, the other woman came in and went over to Ted. They talked for a few moments and then Ted got up and left with the darker woman. Afterward, Donna came out to find herself ditched. This time, she came over to me and accused me of meddling in her relationship. I denied it and, oddly, ended up driving her home.

Saturday morning started in an ordinary manner. As I went to get my notebook computer out of its case, however, I found an envelope. It contained a ten-coupon book for a beauty salon in town. I decided that it must have been for Donna. Later that day, I saw her over at Ted’s place.

"Hi," I said to them, trying to be upbeat. "Hey, Donna, I found this," I said, handing her the envelope. "I must have forgotten it, but I figured it was for you. Sorry about that."

"Oh, thanks, Lee," she said. She opened the envelope and looked at the booklet. "Ewe! Not for me," she said, handing it back to me. "I went there once. They did an awful job on my hair. They really specialize in serving minorities." Numbly, I accepted it back without really thinking what I would do with it.

They went out to dinner and I headed home. I got the credit report online, but found nothing unusual. I looked at the box in the corner. I figured that it was a joke, but something about it bothered me. Despite mulling it over a couple of drinks, I remained clueless.

That night, I dreamt of Ted, Donna and the other, exotic woman again. There was a little more detail, but otherwise, it was similar.

Sunday, I went out to the gym. After my workout, I went to toss my bag into the trunk. Sitting there, taking up most of the trunk, was a large box. In it were nine boxes of women's shoes. I decided to swing by Donna's new place to drop it off. When she insisted that she had not left any shoes at the apartment or in my car, I showed them to her.

"Ooh. These are nice," she murmured. Then she looked at the end of a box. "They're two sizes too small for me. Do you have a new girlfriend already?" she asked.

"No. I assumed they were yours, after all" I told her.

"Pity," she murmured. "If they were the right size, I'd take all nine pair. You don't happen to know where they were bought, do you?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "I have no idea."

I left as confused as ever and with a trunk full of shoes. I made a mental note to take them to a charity.

Later, a group of guys from work went out to watch some football and have some beer. Ted and I sat together, as usual. When the waitress came over, I noticed that she had a very dark complexion and was quite pretty. I also noticed Ted's reaction. He seemed to pay a great deal of attention to her, even as she waited on other tables. One of the guys asked jokingly if he wanted to trade in Donna and ask her out. Of course, he was too shy to even talk much to the waitress. Nothing more was made of it.

That night, I dreamt of Ted and the mysterious woman again. This time, Donna was not in the dream. They had a nice dinner and evening out at the movies. I never did realize what part I played. It was as if I was watching a movie, except for one time when she looked over and locked those almond-shaped, chocolate eyes on me. She smiled and then winked before returning to watch the movie. Neither she nor Ted acknowledged my presence the rest of the dream.

Monday, I went to lunch with Ted and we had sandwiches at a pub near work. He seemed to have something on his mind.

"You know, I've been thinking about what you said about Donna," he said.

"Hey, I didn't want to, but I was worried about you," I said.

"Yeah, well, I decided not to buy her something sparkly for the holidays, despite her hints. She had a fit. I'm sorry I doubted you."

"Hey, it's cool. Have fun with her; just don't give her your heart, whatever you do."

"Yeah. I've been thinking about asking her to go with me to my cousin's wedding. You know the one who was always an ass."

I nodded in agreement. "That might be fun, bringing a bombshell like her to his wedding. I'd love to see him choke when he sees you two in the reception line."

"Yeah. Too bad you weren't invited. Maybe I can get it on video," he commented. Both of us had often been the butt of his cousin's jokes. Every time his cousin visited in the summer, he found ways to hurt us and humiliate us. Ted always had to cover up for him, since his dad wouldn't put up with the slightest complaint about his favorite nephew.

I spent Monday afternoon at one of the factories, trying to sort out why the process wasn’t working right. I was dirty, tired and smelly when I got home. I shuffled into the bathroom to take a shower. I went to grab my shampoo only to find nothing. Looking around, I found a box containing an eight-piece set of toiletries, fancy soap, bath oil, powder and fragrances.

I looked over the box. It was obviously for a woman. I was sure that the box had not been in the bathroom before. I had double-checked to make sure all of Donna's things were packed up and went with her. That left the big question, where had these come from and why were they here?

I gave up, taking a shower and using my regular bar of soap on my hair. Despite the fact that there was shampoo in the box, I was almost irrationally opposed to using it.

Once again, that night, I dreamt of Ted and the mystery woman, as well as other things. I couldn't recall the other dreams when I woke, but I had the distinct impression that they were important.

I got up early on Tuesday, went running and then showered up. I checked my weight on the scale and noted that I had lost some weight. Seven pounds, to be precise. I went to work feeling pretty good. I decided that one benefit to being alone this holiday season was that I wasn't overeating.

I went in to work, hoping to get a few things done before we were let out at noon. Unfortunately, I was preoccupied with the realization that it was New Year’s Eve. Once again, I had no date on New Year's Eve. I had bought tickets to a nice place for dinner, drinks and dancing, expecting to take Donna. At work, I checked with Ted. He already had tickets to the same place. I checked with a few other people at work. Predictably, everyone had plans.

I decided that I might as well go out alone since I had already paid. I showered and pulled out some nice clothes to wear. While getting dressed, I discovered, to my consternation, a section of a drawer in my dresser with bras and panties. Seven sets of very sexy undies worthy of one of those mail-order catalogs. They were even folded and nested next to some perfumed soap.

I was getting frustrated with the appearance of these items and annoyed that someone seemed to have access to my apartment. I headed out around seven o'clock, dressed in the closest thing that I had to a tux. I looked okay, considering that I was a partially reformed nerd. I just wanted to have some fun.

I got to the club and had a couple of drinks to help me calm down and, hopefully, give me the courage to talk to some of the women. After a while, I noticed a young woman drinking alone. She looked quite sad. I decided that, at the very least, I could try to offer some conversation.

"Hi," I said to her. "Would you mind if I sat with you, even for a little while?"

She looked at me with a sad smile and hesitantly said, "Sure, have a seat."

"You look pretty down for New Year's Eve. Is something wrong?" I asked.

"I was supposed to come here with my fiancé. He died in a car accident just before Christmas," she said.

"Oh. I'm sorry. Would you prefer that I left you alone?"

"No, that's okay. I'm only here because I couldn't stand staying home alone. Christmas was unbearable."

"Well, I had planned to come with my girlfriend, but we broke up. I didn't feel like staying home, either. Would you mind if I joined you for dinner? I find eating out alone to be depressing," I told her, completely earnestly.

She looked as if she was about to pass when she stopped, hesitated, and said, "Sure. That might be good."

We talked a little, and then got in line to wait to be seated for dinner. Her name was Sherry and she was pretty, but I really wasn't thinking about her as a date. I just felt like keeping her company. We had a nice dinner. The conversation was very low-key and sometimes awkward. She told me about her fiancé and that her wedding was supposed to be in the summer. For the most part, I listened.

At one point, Ted and Donna came by. Donna looked fantastic in a sparkly sapphire dress that shows tons of cleavage and leg. Donna was giving me an odd look and carefully scrutinized Sherry. After they left, Sherry said, "That was your ex-girlfriend, wasn't it?"

"Yes," I said nodding. "She started dating my best friend just after Thanksgiving."

"You seem to be taking it well."

"She's mostly interested in his money. I'm just worried that she'll break his heart. He's never had any serious girlfriends and Donna's probably not the right person for him," I explained.

"But you don't seem jealous," she noted.

"I'm too apathetic. I never took relationships too seriously. With Donna, I figured her out before we ever started dating. I knew she'd drop me for someone with real money."

"I don't believe you're apathetic. You care about your friend. You're willing to let him go out with your gorgeous ex and instead of being jealous, you worry that she'll use him."

"Well, yeah. We grew up together, just a couple of geeky nerds. We're kind of like brothers."

"And you'd do anything to protect him," she said in a trance-like manner, staring into space. I just nodded. Suddenly, she sat up straight and said brightly, "Well, now that we've had dinner, what would you like to do?"

I was caught off-guard. "Oh. I don't know. What would you like?"

She smiled and said, "Would you consider dancing with me?"

"Sure." With that, we vacated the table and headed to the dance floor.

We danced a few songs and then Sherry begged off to dance with a few friends. I went to get something to drink. There, I saw Ted and Donna talking to a mutual friend, Karen. I joined in and, soon afterward, Donna dragged Ted off to dance. I asked Karen if she wanted to dance and we did one quick, fast dance before she headed off to a group of friends.

Just as I was leaving the dance floor, Sherry walked back up to me. "Hey handsome! Care for another dance?"

I looked up to see that, despite wearing the same outfit, she had transformed herself. Her makeup was much heavier and darker, with a very sensuous flair. Her hair was fully down and brushed out to look fuller. On top of that, she was wearing a mischievous smile. I gladly took her up on the offer.

"I decided that it might be fun to try to make your ex a little jealous," she said.

I lead her onto the dance floor and we danced to a few fast songs. Sherry's dancing was amazingly animated and flirtatious. When a slow song started, I expected that we'd be joining the large group exiting the floor, but she grabbed my hand and pulled me back to dance. We danced slowly and smoothly and she held her body close against mine. Near the end, I had to maneuver to avoid pressing a certain swelling into her. I succeeded for the most part, but not completely. She looked at me in surprise while I apologized.

After that, we left the dance floor. I apologized again.

"No, that's okay. It was mostly my fault," she said, blushing. "I appreciate the compliment, though."

"You are very attractive," I replied. "I never intended to come on to you, though. Not with you..." I stumbled trying to find the right words.

"With me in mourning?" she asked with her sad smile back. "I know. That's why I came back. I did have fun, though. Thank you."

She decided to leave, even though it was only ten o'clock. I offered her a ride, feeling a bit subdued, also. After driving her home, we exchanged phone numbers and a quick, chaste kiss.

"Lee, keep in touch. I really enjoyed tonight with you. Give me a few months and maybe I'll be ready for another date."

"Thanks," I replied. She went into her apartment building and I headed home.

Once home, I realized that I was sad, depressed, and exhausted. I washed up and went to bed, looking forward to an early start to the New Year.

That night, my dreams became bizarre. I dreamt that I was the dark, mysterious woman from previous dreams and that I had dressed up in a silky, golden satin sheath that showed plenty of cleavage and had a very short hem. I remember doing my makeup in the mirror, studying each dab and stroke with those exotic, chocolate brown eyes, flecked with gold. In the dream, I took a cab to the same club that I had been to. I had a drink and then danced with a few men. While dancing, I spotted Ted and Donna dancing on the other side of the floor.

Although I had an urge to try to cut in, I resisted, waiting for an opportunity to get to Ted alone. When Donna finally headed off to the ladies' room, I moved in. I went up to him, undulating across the dance floor as a snake approaches its meal. I asked him to dance and he agreed, looking very much like prey frozen before the fatal strike.

As we danced, I instinctively moved, rolling my torso and hips, moving in and out and occasionally dancing up against him. With the start of a slow song, I draped myself on him much as Sherry had with me. I looked him in the eye and smiled.

"Hi, I'm Lila," I purred.

After stammering, he managed to say, "Uh, I'm Ted."

We weren't able to dance more than two songs, but when Donna cut in, I'd left him with plenty to be embarrassed about. I slinked away as Donna gave me a nasty stare. Then, she focused some of her wrath on Ted.

I danced some more, making sure that I stayed in sight of them. Numerous times, I noticed Ted staring at me. A few times, I smiled back and once, even winked. At midnight, I kissed many men, but not Ted. When he looked at me, though, I winked again and licked my lips.

Later, at the bar, Donna came over to me.

"Look, bitch, that's my date you're teasing," she growled.

I batted my eyelashes and smiled. "I know."

"Then why were you dancing with him?"

"Because he was standing there, all alone," I replied, still smiling, "and I want him." I noted that Ted was approaching behind her.

"Well, he's mine, so back off!" she practically yelled. With that, Ted stopped suddenly, his eyes wide with surprise.

"Settle down, silly girl," I said dismissively, noting Ted was keeping his distance. "Someone as attractive as you shouldn't be so insecure." I could almost see the steam coming out of her ears.

"I won't let you have him," she insisted.

I stepped in close and gave her my best feral smile. Defiantly, I said, "Sometimes dating is like football or basketball; if you don't take care of the ball, you'll lose it. If you fumble this one, I'll be there to scoop him up." With that, I walked away with the sexiest walk I could muster.

After that, I remember that I took a cab home, hung up my clothes, and went to bed.

The next morning, I had nearly forgotten the dream. That changed, however, when I started to do the laundry. As I emptied the hamper, I found pantyhose, a satin bra and bikini set, and a cream-colored slip. With that, my stomach went into a knot and I dropped the hamper. With my hands shaking, I went to the closet. I opened the door to find a small satin dress in gold. Directly beneath, on the floor, sat two gold, high-heeled shoes to match.

I sat down on the floor and closed my eyes. Was I going insane, maybe suffering from multiple personality disorder? I prayed that it had just been a dream.

Never before had I ever dreamt or imagined being a woman. This time, the dream had seemed much too real. I gave up on laundry and had some food. As I was cleaning up the kitchen, it dawned on me that my hair wasn't its usual sandy brown. I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. My hair was jet black, with a bit of a wave.

'Just like it's been all my life,' I told myself. Then I froze. My hair had been a very light brown ever since I was a young boy. Confused, I looked at a picture of my family. There I stood, between Bill and Sandy, with black, wavy hair. I shook my head.

Sometime later, the phone rang. I answered it and it was Donna. She was furious.

"Who was that whore you hired last night?" she demanded.

"I met Sherry at the club. Why would you care?" I replied defensively.

"I'm not talking about that one, you idiot, I'm talking about the evil, dark-skinned slut that you had cozy up to Ted," she nearly shrieked.

"I didn't have anyone go to Ted."

"I don't believe you. Someone must have put her up to that."

"Up to what?" I asked.

"As soon as I went to the ladies' room, she moved in on him. I caught them dancing when I got back. Even after that, she kept trying to distract him. It ruined our whole night," she whined. Then, with a snarl, she said, "I can't believe she could sneak in to take his money from me, right under my nose!"

"Oh, please!" I snorted. "Anyway, what are you worried about? You looked stunning last night. Most of the men there had eyes for you."

"Well, Ted seemed to have eyes to spare for her, too. Didn't you see her?"

"Sorry, she must have arrived after I left."

"She's gorgeous. She has to be a model. Or an actress. She was so mysterious. And that dress was like liquid gold." Donna ranted for quite a while before she hung up. After that, I went over to my dresser. The second ticket was missing. If Donna could be believed, that woman had gone to the club. At least I hadn't made a fool of myself.

I wanted to believe that someone was playing tricks on me. Somewhere, deep inside, I truly felt the dream had been real, but I knew it wasn't possible. Still, I was worried. Those thoughts kept butting in insistently reminding me that something was up. Something big. I spent the rest of the day going for a run, cleaning, doing laundry, and watching football. Sometime shortly before dinner, the phone rang again. It was Ted.

"So, how was your New Years'?" I asked.

"Interesting, it was fun, but Donna was really touchy," he replied.

"Yeah, she called earlier, accusing me of hiring some gal to steal you away from her," I told him.

"I can't believe she thought that! That's ridiculous."

"I told her that. I told her that she had to be the hottest woman in the place with that dress."

"Oh yeah, that dress," he said, his smile evident through the phone. "Actually, what got her pissed off was a woman who came over to me when I was alone. She asked me to dance. Even next to Donna, this woman was smokin' hot."

"That's hard to believe," I replied.

"No really. Since when has Donna been insecure about her looks?" he asked.

He had a point, I thought. "Not that I recall."

"Well, Donna was almost a basket case the rest of the night. She confronted the woman and you know what she said to Donna? She told Donna that dating was like football, if she fumbled the ball, she'd take me away from her! Can you believe that?"

"That's pretty bold," I admitted as my stomach knotted. "So, could she?"

"Could she what?"

"Could she steal you away from Donna?" I asked. Part of me needed to know.

There was a long pause before he said, "Ya' know? I think she could."

"Wow." I didn't know what else to say.

I invited Ted over for pizza and beer, but he was going out with Donna. They had reservations at the new Chinese restaurant.

Not long after I hung up phone, I found six packages in the closet. All had been opened and all had contained women’s clothes ranging from casual clothes to a couple of fancy dresses. There was a wide variety of hosiery and lingerie and even some clothes similar to the suits and slacks worn by women at work. The last package had a short leather coat. All of these were size four, tall. One of the packages had a receipt for the gold dress hanging in the other closet.

Needing a drink, I grabbed a beer and sat down to watch football. I wondered who was paying for all of these things. If it was a joke, I decided, it was incredibly elaborate and expensive. Someone was spending a lot of money to play with my head. At some point, I must have lay down and gone to sleep because I woke around four in the morning. The television was off. I got up and shuffled off to bed. As I did, I recalled the dream that I had while I slept.

Once again, I dreamt that I was this dark, mysterious woman named Lila. I had ordered some Chinese food for pick-up. I put on some very snug, sexy clothes and put on some makeup that resulted in a very exotic look. I then drove to the restaurant in a black, two-seat convertible sports car. While picking up the food, I made a point of getting Ted's attention. As I walked out, I saw and heard Donna throw her silverware onto her plate. I smiled all the way home.

I went back to sleep and napped until later without any more of the dreams.

Since I had taken the rest of the week off, I slept in late. When I went to get breakfast, I found five silvery cases sitting on the living room floor, next to the couch. A couple of them were bigger than my toolbox. I pulled them out and looked at them. Inside them were cosmetics. Enough to put my sister to shame. Foundation, blush, eye shadow, mascara and eyeliners, lipsticks, nail polish, you name it. I noted that several items had been used.

Needing coffee to help me cope, I found boxes of Chinese food blocking my access to the milk. When I took a shower, I noted that my hair had become longer and I had lost a fair bit of weight. Well, at least I thought I had. Every photo and piece of paperwork indicated that everything was normal. I spent much of the rest of the day debating whether to spring a trap for my supposed jokester or call for an appointment with a psychiatrist. I decided to get a haircut and change the locks.

That night, I slept poorly. Between the dreams and the anticipation that someone might try to sneak into the apartment, I was becoming a nervous wreck.

Friday, as I put things away after breakfast, I found four small boxes on the kitchen counter. One held a gold-color woman's watch. The next held a gold bracelet. A third, small box held a gold ring that went with the bracelet. The fourth box held a gold necklace and long, dangling earrings that made a set. These, too, went with the ring and bracelet.

I took the four boxes and put them with the five cases of makeup, six packages of clothes, eight-piece toiletries set, nine boxes of shoes, ten-coupon book, and eleven sets of stockings. All of those women's things popping up in the apartment were driving me nuts. At that point, I had noted quantities and that the numbers were counting down, but for some strange reason, I didn't extrapolate to the endpoint, either by date or by effect.

Noting that my hair seemed too long, I went out for another haircut. The barber didn’t remember me being there the day before.

That night, I had more dreams. The part that unnerved me most was the detail that I recalled. Friday night's dreams were more solitary and erotic, exploring this woman's body and trying on lingerie.

Saturday morning came announced by an alarm clock, only it wasn't my alarm clock. It was sleeker and the alarm was a softer, synthesized chime. I found that I didn't need a shave and my hair was even longer and shaggier than I had ever worn it. I tried to use a beard trimmer to clean it up, with miserable results. I showered and noted in the mirror that I looked much, much thinner. A trip to the scale announced that I was over twenty pounds lighter than the weight I recalled from the day before.

I went to my bureau to get some underwear and froze. It was mostly full of the lingerie that I had dreamed about the night before. At this point, my heart was racing and my hands were shaking. Deep inside, I think part of me understood what was happening. Despite that, I clung to logic and science to bolster my denial much like a drowning man clutches a life preserver.

Oddly, my clothes seemed to fit adequately. I headed out in my old, beat-up, two-door sedan to do errands and meet up with Ted for lunch. Despite my hair and weight loss, no one seemed to notice. Maddeningly, everything tangible told me things were normal while part of me felt sure that they weren't. Hopelessly distracted, I was unable to focus on the tasks at hand.

At lunch, Ted was still nattering about Donna and then told me about the fit she'd had in the Chinese restaurant. He said little else about Donna, but spent quite a while describing the other woman that he'd seen. Part of me was excited with the mystery, but the rest of me was nauseous with stress. I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or not that he didn’t notice any changes in my appearance.

That evening, while putting things away, I found three purses in the closet. One, a casual purse, of brown leather, held a wallet, makeup, a hairbrush, a feminine hygiene pad, and other miscellany.

The wallet contained about a hundred dollars, a couple of credit cards in the name of Lila Shaw, and a driver’s license. Even in a registry picture, she was beautiful. Perhaps because of that, I regarded it as a likely counterfeit. She was listed as five-foot, nine-inches, 120 pounds, black hair, and brown eyes. The address listed was the same as mine.

Tired and confused, I struggled to understand the significance to the dark, mysterious beauty that haunted me, the packages that seemed to be for her, and the lingering feeling that something about me was not right. Too unsettled to sleep, I had a few drinks. I finally gave up, put everything away, and went to bed.

As I slept, my dreams, more vivid and erotic than ever, portended new surprises for the coming morning.

When I woke, I knew something was wrong. I quickly realized that I was sleeping naked in satin sheets. Getting up, I discovered that I had a pair of women's breasts. After recovering from that shock, I checked other parts of my body. My skin was smoother and darker and my hair was longer. With a mixture of relief and amazement, I noted that my male organs were still there and in their usual state for first thing in the morning. That brought the strangeness to a whole new level.

I got up and stood before the mirror. My facial features were changed, and I was downright skinny. My hair was now down to my shoulders and my hands seemed smaller. I was both fascinated and terrified of my new chest. I stayed in most of the day, unwilling to face the world. I eventually went out for groceries, but wearing a sport bra, an undershirt and a bulky sweater.

As with the previous day, no one noticed anything odd. Gradually, the panic eased. I considered calling a psychiatrist, wondering if I was hallucinating. After the third attempt to complete the dialing, I gave up and put the phone back in its cradle.

As I prepared for Monday morning, I gradually accepted that dawn would bring more changes. I also, finally, made the connection between the changes and the packages. I pulled out the purse and looked at Lila Shaw’s license again. I knew I was looking into my future. I finally went to bed, afraid of what the morning would bring and unable to find a way to avoid it.

If I had dreams that night, I never remembered their contents.

_________________________________________________

I woke Monday morning with a sense of renewal. Everything seemed perfect and I was ready to tackle the world. I bounced out of bed and shucked my baby doll nightie. I used the toilet, hopped in the shower, and started my morning routine of shampooing and conditioning my long, luxurious mane.

After showering, I towel-dried my hair, finished patting down my wet skin and stepped on the scale. One-hundred, twenty pounds, dripping wet. I put the finishing formula on my hair and proceeded to blow-dry it just the way they had shown me in the salon. No more hair-buns or ponytails for me! Today, I was going to let it flow freely, all the way down my back.

Once I was finished, I prepared to get dressed. I had a plan. I wanted to get the attention of my old childhood friend, Ted Riley. We had been pals when I was a tomboy, and stayed friends through high school and college. We had both studied biochemistry, but I had followed with biochemical engineering while he had studied molecular biology in grad school.

Through high school and college, I had been teased and mocked by other girls and ignored by most guys, except for the engineers. Even they rarely acknowledged that I was female. To ignore my ostracizing, I buried myself in books.

Now that I was in industry, I was successful and professionally satisfied, but intensely lonely. I spent most of my free time reading either engineering journals or silly second-hand romance novels. I never had dates. I was either too plain to attract their attention or too intimidating.

The problem with Ted was that I was always one of the guys and he was too shy to ask me out. Now he was dating that witch Donna Hanson and she was going to break his heart. I just knew it. Somehow, during the holiday season, I had come to realize that our friendship was worth risking a romance. We had so much in common and were very close through childhood. As we grew older, I found myself attracted to him in new ways. While I hid my crush on him in high school, that attraction never ended. I had made a resolution for the New Year to break out of the nerdy engineer mold, embrace the woman that I was and fight for what I wanted.

I had planned the clothes, the hair, the makeup, everything. It had taken weeks to prepare and now I was ready. I picked out a bronze satin thong and matching push-up bra. After wriggling into it, I inspected myself in the mirror. Yes, that would do. I did my makeup next. I had been practicing new looks for over a week. I never wore makeup to work before, but that was the old me. After about twenty minutes, I had it all down. I put a final coat of polish on my nails and let it dry as I waited for my coffee.

Next, a low-cut cami so as not to hide my cleavage. Then, the cream-colored satin button-front blouse and the stretch, boot-cut slacks in black. The tight fit had necessitated the thong. The suede boots with three-inch heels that took me two weeks to adapt were next. I put on the new necklace, bracelet, and earrings, and then added the ring and my new watch (no more fifteen-dollar watches!). That was topped off with the short leather jacket.

As I grabbed my sunglasses, I thought back to the old, thick glasses that I gave to charity the previous week after laser surgery. I grabbed my purse, hopped into my new sports car and headed to work.

As I drove, my cell phone rang. I looked at the display, but it didn't register a name or number. I decided to answer it anyway.

"Hello?"

"Lee?" asked a woman.

"This is Lila," I replied.

"Lee, we need to talk. This is Sherry. We met on New Year's eve," she said.

I hesitated, wracking my brain for confirmation of what she had said. None came. "I'm sorry, I think you have the wrong number," I told her.

"No, listen, Lila is it?"

"Yes."

"Is anything different this morning? Has anything changed?" she asked desperately.

I decided to pull over to continue this. Something odd was going on, but I didn't know what.

I was unsure what to tell her. "Why?"

"Do you know what day today is?" she asked.

"Monday?" I answered, not knowing what else the day might be.

"Lila, today is Epiphany. Today, you are a new person. There are big changes in the offing that you need to understand," she said.

Now this was downright eerie. "Are you stalking me or something?"

"No. The only time I've ever seen you was New Years' Eve. At that time, you were a man."

"Okaaay. Now this is getting really weird," I said, ready to hang up. For some reason, I didn't.

"Have you been having odd dreams?" she asked.

I didn't answer.

"Look, can I meet you over coffee? All I want is fifteen minutes. Whether you realize it or not, you gave me hope when I was at my lowest point. I have a favor to return and I've been asked to help you this morning," she said.

For the life of me, I couldn't understand why I should, but I agreed. "Okay," I said, looking at my watch. "Meet me at the pastry shop at Pleasant and Main. I'll be waiting for you."

After the call ended, I called in and left my boss a voicemail that I'd be late. I headed to the pastry shop and made sure that, as a regular, the employees knew that I was there.

I was standing near the entrance to the shop when a pretty woman about my age walked up to me.

"Are you Lila?" she asked, looking me over.

I nodded.

"Wow. That's amazing," she said, marveling at my appearance. I just stared at her.

We went inside and had coffee. She pulled out a picture of a man.

"Was that your fiancé?" I asked without thinking.

She looked at me. "If you don't remember me, how would you know I had a fiancé?" She waited for an answer that I didn't have. Then, she said, "Lila, when we met, I told you about my fiancé, that he was killed before Christmas in a car accident. He came to me last night and told me that I needed to meet you today.

"Epiphany is a holiday, celebrating when the Magi brought gifts to the child Jesus. Historically, gifts were often given on Epiphany. The word epiphany is often used to describe a sudden realization or comprehension of a particular reality. Some also use it to describe an actual gift. Today, you will experience Epiphany in every sense of the word."

She pulled out another picture. This was of another young man, dressed in a nice suit.

"Who’s that?" I asked.

"This is a picture that I took of you with my phone on New Year's Eve. I didn't know why I took it at the time, I just did.

"This man made a very unselfish wish several weeks ago. Instead of getting jealous when his best friend started dating his beautiful ex-girlfriend, he wished that his shy, lonely friend would find the perfect girlfriend, instead of a dazzling gold-digger."

I'm sure I looked shocked. I had no idea what to say. I knew she meant Ted and Donna, but I couldn’t imagine being a man and having dated Donna. "How can this be?" I asked.

"Today, fulfilling that wish, you've received the gift, the epiphany, of being able to become his perfect girlfriend. You've been his friend since childhood and you know better than anyone does how to be his partner, his lover, and how to support him. Soon, you'll have the epiphany of remembering who you were and understanding your true purpose."

She looked at me. "There is one more thing. Your friend will not know this. You will have to fight for the thing you've wished for. It isn't going to be handed to you on a silver platter. Instead, heaven and earth have been shifted to give you the tools and capabilities to make it happen, but you have to learn to use them and complete the job."

I let out a deep breath.

"Lila, you've become a stunning woman. Above all else, you're a kind, sweet person. Your most powerful tool is love. When all else fails, rely on that."

We exchanged phone numbers and I headed on to work. As I drove, snippets of memories of Sherry came to me. Soon, I had to stop again as my whole life, as a man, poured into my head. I was overwhelmed with the memories of parallel lives and the two different perspectives. I pulled off to an open parking lot and sat there crying. I saw the lives my two incarnations had lived and wept as loneliness met loneliness.

_________________________________________________

It was good and late when I strutted in to the office. Now that I rarely had field or lab work anymore, I was glad to have an office and the flexibility my job offered.

As I made my way through the halls, the people who saw me were so stunned they barely managed to return a 'Good Morning'. I sat down in my office and reviewed my original plan while I waited.

Although I had numerous visitors that morning, it took an hour and a half for the one I wanted to arrive. Ted strolled by the office with his usual 'Hey Lila', and kept going. I said nothing. After about ten seconds, he returned to my door.

"Good morning, Ted," I said with a big smile.

"Holy sheet! What happened to you?"

"What do you mean?" I asked coyly.

"You, you look amazing!" he said, awestruck.

I got up, strutted over to the door, and closed it. Then, I had him sit down.

I started and swallowed hard. "Well, over the holidays, I had an epiphany," I said, nearly choking on the irony.

"And what was that?" he asked.

"That I'm a woman," I said, batting my eyelashes.

"Oh heck, I could have told you that," he said.

"Really? Actually, I'm not sure either of us fully realized it. There's something else, also."

"And what would that be?"

"In addition to being a close friend, I love you," I told him. He started to shift uncomfortably. "In the beginning, it was like loving a brother." He nodded. "In high school, I had a huge crush on you, but I was too shy to tell you. I think you were too shy to notice."

"Probably," he said, his voice cracking.

"As we went through college, I valued our friendship and needed you as a friend more than I needed you as a romantic love. I was too deeply buried in math and science and engineering to take relationships seriously. Despite all that, I've always been attracted to you and I've come to realize that I need you to know that."

He sat there, staring at me. "This is about Donna, isn't it? You don't approve of her. So now you're doing this to convince me that we should break up."

I sighed. "Look, I'm sorry about what I said about her. That's something you need to decide for yourself. Today, though, this is all about me and us. I've come to realize that and I needed you to know it."

"Look, I finally have a girlfriend, a beautiful one, and you want to ruin it," he whined. "Can't you leave me alone?"

Something from my male memories told me to stop pushing and ease up for a bit. I decided to follow it.

"Ted, no matter what, I do care about you. I want you to be happy. Have fun with Donna. I just want you to know that you have two girlfriends. One's Donna and the second is an old friend that will stick by you, no matter what. That's me and I'll wait."

"What if Donna's the one? What if we get married?" he asked.

My stomach suddenly knotted, but the male part of me told me to relax. "Then I hope I'll get an invitation to the wedding," I said, as cheerfully as I could.

"Oh, don't worry, you would!" he said happily. We hugged and he started for the door.

"Oh, Ted?" I asked, with a sudden flash of inspiration.

"Yeah?" he replied turning around.

I posed and gave him a sly smile, saying, "If you need a girl to pop out of the cake for your bachelor party, I might be able to find one." Then I winked and licked my lips.

Ted swallowed hard and nodded, wide-eyed. With that, he made his escape.

I soon realized that as a woman, I didn't often go out for lunch with Ted or go out for beers the way Lee had. That would have been helpful. Instead, I often had lunch with some of the other managers, most of whom were male. That was awkward. Most of the men talked to my chest. Many of the women treated me coolly. I stayed professional and let it slide.

Each night, I went home and marveled at the gifts that I'd been given. I explored my body and my memories. I had gone from an younger brother to a younger sister. As a boy, my parents were my biological parents. As a girl, I had been an adopted orphan out of a refugee camp in Bangladesh. With a mixed ancestry, I was disposable there but wanted and loved here. I was moved to see how my parents had loved me every bit as much in both realities and how that had made me who I was.

Growing up as an adopted orphan, I developed an appreciation for the chance that I had been given. Between that and the subtle discrimination due to my dark skin and unusual looks, I became driven and fiercely competitive. In school, I was teased and ostracized for my lack of femininity as well as my looks. Instead of dwelling on my social problems, I channeled my energy and focus into math, science, music, dance and, later, martial arts.

In college, I had few dates and little free time. I gained weight cyclically, often resorting to my default stress diet of french fries and coffee (with milk, no sugar) to keep my weight down. Once out of college and working, I focused on work and getting back into shape. At that point, I had started to face my lack of a social life. It was at that time that Ted had started to date Donna.

As a man, I had never wanted to be a woman, but I soon became thrilled with my life in this new reality. Don't get me wrong, life didn't magically become a fairy tale. Everyday life for me had the same ups and downs as any other woman. I just appreciated the opportunity that I had been given. One big part of it was the ability to see myself in someone else's eyes. When I was insecure, I knew how Lee would have viewed me.

As happy as I was, I remained stunned about the change. I never, ever imagined that I'd be the perfect girlfriend for Ted when I made that wish.

While I adapted, I noted that all of my male clothes, except for a few items here and there, had changed to female clothes. Unfortunately, most of them were awful. As a woman, I really had needed a makeover. My image had been firmly planted in the female nerd engineer realm. I started adding to my 'new' wardrobe, especially for work.

When Friday came around, we had a large off-site meeting. I happened to be teamed up with a couple of other managers, Ted, and a couple of his people. We brainstormed all afternoon over some of the scale-up problems that we were having. One-by-one, the others all called it a day until it was just the two of us.

We were really making progress when it was time to leave. We debated what to do.

"Tell you what. Swing by my place and I'll order pizza. You pick up some beer and we'll keep brainstorming. Grab something casual and comfortable, too," I told him.

He looked at me. "Just like old times?" he asked.

"Yeah," I replied. "What do you think?"

He agreed. We headed out. On the way home, I ordered pizza. One veggie for me, and one Hawaiian for him. I picked it up on the way and went home. I had barely gotten in the door when he rang the bell. I let him in.

"I just got here. The pizza's on the counter."

"Here's the beer," he said glumly.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"Donna's pissed off at me for working on Friday night. I didn't dare tell her that I'm doing it at a woman's apartment. She'd go through the roof."

"Well, we can skip it or go back to the office, if you want," I offered.

"No, she's gone off with friends clubbing. I'll have to come up with a peace offering tomorrow."

I nodded. "We'll work on that later," I told him.

As I opened the beer and started opening files on the table, he changed into some sweats that he had in a bag. He came out of the bathroom wearing plain grey sweatpants and a sweatshirt. They did nothing for him.

"My turn," I said as I handed him a beer. I disappeared into my bedroom and took off my work clothes. I pulled out a tee shirt and sweat pants and looked at them. They were pretty ratty. I went to my new stash of clothes. I put on a pair of purple sport pants with a pink waistband that rode low on the hips. Matching it was a cropped turtleneck that zipped up the front.

I left my push-up bra on and the top unzipped enough to show some cleavage. The pants were low enough on my hips to leave some tummy exposed. I touched up my makeup, making it a little darker and heavier and tussled my hair a bit over my shoulders to get the effect I wanted.

I headed out barefoot, grabbed my pizza and beer, and looked over at him pouring over diagrams.

"Ted, do you want another slice of pizza?" I asked.

He looked over and his jaw hung open. "Uh, yeah."

I brought over his slice making a point to wiggle my hips.

"I thought you were going to put on some sweats," he said, hoarsely.

"I did. I have some old, ratty ones and some ragged tee shirts, but I thought this might be better. Would you prefer me to put on the old stuff?" I asked, in my most innocent voice.

"Uh, no! That's fine," he stammered, staring at the bare skin between the top and pants.

With that, we got to work. By ten o'clock, we had some real breakthroughs. Despite that, I took a few minutes every so often to make a point of displaying some part of me or making body contact with him.

By eleven, we had some really good solutions to try out Monday. I was also feeling quite warm. As midnight approached, we wrapped up and I broached the subject of his peace offering before I wound up suggesting he stay the night.

"You know, you need to deal with two issues," I told him. "One, she's a woman. She wants romance and sweet thoughts. Two, she's mercenary. She wants something expensive, a grand gesture."

"Come on, we already agreed that you'd leave it alone," he warned.

I plopped down on the couch next to him, making sure my bust bounced as much as my hair. "No, I don't mean it that way. I'm just talking about what will work with her. This is just another brainstorming exercise."

"Oh."

"With some women, you could probably get away with a romantic picnic, except that it's winter. I think Donna would prefer you spend a day shopping with her, followed by a romantic dinner. If you want to get away cheaper, how about some jewelry, and dinner?"

He thought about that. "Yeah, maybe."

"Why don't you try something like a nice necklace at Steinman's? Maybe rubies? I think diamonds would be too much."

He nodded in agreement.

"And I think you should take her to the new Indian restaurant. I'm told it's full of gardens and waterfalls. It sounds very romantic."

"That sounds good," Ted said. "I think I'd better go home."

I nodded and got up with him. He hugged me.

"Thanks. I don't know what I'd do without you," he said.

I kissed him on the cheek and told him, "Don't worry about it. You're my friend."

As he got to the door to leave, I struck a sexy pose and added, "And if you can't placate her, you've always got me." I finished it with a giggle. He laughed and headed home.

I found out Monday that Donna wasn't placated. We also found out that our ideas still needed work. The new product was needed for trials and time was running out. We ended up as part of a team that worked almost every night that week.

Thursday night, I left with Ted and Donna met him at his car. She flipped out that he was working with a woman. He introduced us, but she was very rude. She kept staring at me oddly.

By the end of the weekend, his relationship was on the rocks and he needed to take Sunday to try to save it.

The next week, we spent all kinds of hours in conference calls with one of the plants, unsure if we were going to need to head to Puerto Rico to get it going. Donna was driving him nuts and suggesting that if he wanted to hang on to her, he should propose. Work was trying and everyone was under a huge amount of pressure. I also worked hard to keep my professional, but slightly sultry, image at work.

I resumed running to defray the stress. Ted, drifting without emotional support, seemed to lean more and more on me. Finally, after one late night, he asked me to stick around to talk alone.

"Lila, do you have anything going on the second weekend next month?" he asked.

"Nope. Why?"

"You're going to hate me, but I have to ask. If Donna dumps me, will you go with me to my cousin's wedding?"

I recalled the discussion of this as a man. "Is this the cousin who always teased us about being nerds?" I asked, knowing the answer.

He nodded yes.

"Okay, but I'll need to know what to wear as soon as you know. Shopping for a dress won't be easy," I said.

"Oh, okay."

"If you give me less than a week, you owe me big-time."

He nodded and went home, looking like a dog that had been beaten.

Our roller-coaster lives continued and, sure enough, three days before the wedding, he came into my office and closed the door. He looked stressed-out and really nervous.

"Uh, Lila?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you remember our discussion about that wedding?" he asked meekly.

"Yeah?"

"She told me she won't go."

"Oh. Is that next weekend?" I asked.

"No, this weekend." He looked as if he were getting ready to duck.

I took a deep breath and let it out. "Okay. Where is it?"

"Florida. West Palm Beach."

"Do you know what type of dress it will be?"

"I asked my mom and she said she was wearing a cocktail dress, whatever that means." He looked sheepish, but he'd done his homework.

"What time of day?"

He looked at me. "It matters?" I nodded. "Five o'clock, reception at seven. I have airline and hotel reservations for Friday night, return on Sunday afternoon. I'll change the reservations to your name."

"Okay. You realize that you owe me," I told him seriously. He nodded. "I'll do my best," I said as I hugged him.

The next day, I started at lunchtime and later shopped all evening. I debated on all sorts of possibilities. I had multiple goals in mind and they didn't all work together. I wanted to overwhelm Ted and force him to think of me as a woman and potential sexual partner. I wanted to bowl over his cousin and give him second thoughts about the abuse he'd given us. In addition, I didn't want to make a scene. Well, not too much of one. I wanted to make sure that Ted's family would support a relationship between us.

When I got home, I took stock of what I had. Thursday, I got in very early, worked through lunch, and left at three o'clock. I went to a somewhat pricey dress shop on the outskirts of town.

There, I found a crochet knit lace dress in a dark taupe. The sleeves were very short and had a slight ruffle. The saleswoman called it a 'flutter sleeve'. The dress was lined with satin and was very close fitting down to mid-thigh. There, it transitioned to a flounced hem of unlined lace, biased a couple of inches higher in the front than the back.

The dress didn't show off cleavage or leg, but it left no doubt about my figure. It was going to cost me a couple of hundred dollars, but as I debated it, a voice inside my head pointed out that this project had already cost me my birth gender. I was also out of time. I couldn't afford to wait until the next day. I decided to buy it and a matching shawl cover-up.

The next step was to get the proper foundation and shoes. The shoes I found at a local shoe store. They were a near match in dark taupe, with a sandal toe and straps that went over the ankle. The only problem was a three-and-a-half-inch heel that seemed towering to me. Fortunately, Ted was a little over six feet tall. I knew they were going to hurt, but they went well with the dress.

The foundation was more difficult. Since the dress was lined, I wasn't sure of the value of a slip. My female memories didn't help as much as I'd hoped. With some help from the saleswoman, I finally settled on a micro fiber seamless bra and thong set. I picked lace-top thigh-high stockings instead of pantyhose. I also found a stretch slip with a silicone no-slip band at the hem to keep it from riding up. All were in a bronze slightly darker than my skin color.

I almost forgot to get a purse to go with the outfit. I found a simple clutch in a dark cream that would work. When I finished, it was late and the stores were closing. I headed home, deciding to use the jewelry that I already had. I needed to wash the undergarments and pack!

Friday was a whirlwind. Work was crazy and I was a near wreck. I'd been up late the night before washing and hanging up the new clothes, removing tags, and selecting other clothes to bring for the weekend. That morning, I was in at six o'clock again so that I could leave early. By three o'clock, I was ready to fly the coop. I headed straight home and packed a carry-on.

Ted picked me up at and we made the ten-thirty flight, which got in at one in the morning. We took a cab to the hotel. Upon Donna's insistence, Ted had booked two rooms but they hadn't held both rooms for him. Ted offered to give me the room, but I insisted that we just take it. I was tired, I wanted to sleep, and it had two double beds. Anyway, it dovetailed nicely with my plan.

We both took turns washing up and changing in the bathroom. We each got a bed and, as far as I was concerned, a good night's rest.

I woke up late morning well rested. Ted was still asleep, so I grabbed my new two-piece swimsuit, left him a note, and went to the pool to swim laps. When I returned, Ted was in the bathroom, so I waited, standing around in my suit. When he came out, his jaw almost hit the floor. I smiled and waltzed into the bathroom to shower.

After showering, shaving and doing the full shampoo, conditioner, finisher and blow-dry job on my hair, I threw on some clothes and relinquished the bathroom. We went to the restaurant for lunch and then visited with his cousins. All too soon, it was time for me to start getting ready. I gently explained that I wanted two hours.

He left me at the hotel and I started with the preparations. I styled and curled my hair, put together the underwear, and hung up the dress in the bathroom with the shower running. After a few minutes, I touched up the dress with an iron and went to work on my makeup.

I went through a few tries to get the look I wanted. I planned to keep it light for the wedding and then re-work it for the evening reception. Finally, I had it the way I wanted, emphasizing my cheekbones and the angularity of my Indo-Asian eyes. The hair was done, the dress was ready, the makeup was done, and I put on the stockings. I was just about to put on the slip when Ted came in, surprising me. I turned around as he dropped the keycard.

He made such a hasty exit that he left the keycard behind. I quickly put on the slip and then the dress and opened the door. He was standing there, back to the wall, head back with his eyes closed.

"I am sooo sorry," he said. His face was flushed with embarrassment.

"Hey, it happens. It's not a problem." I giggled. "It's not like I was naked."

He squeezed his eyes closed. "As it is, that image is going to stick with me for a long time."

"Was it that bad?" I asked him. He shook his head. "I'm hoping I look good enough for you."

"Oh, Lee," he said. "You're so beautiful; you put some centerfolds to shame."

I noted what he had called me instantly. "I doubt it. By the way, what did you call me?"

He stopped to think. "Lee. I'm sorry. Remember when we were small and you hated being called Lila?"

I dredged through hazy memories, nodding my head.

"First I called you Lili, but you got mad at me, so I called you Lee. Then your mom got upset and that was the end of that. Even so, I've always thought of you as Lee." He looked scared.

I smiled. "You can call me that again," I said softly. "I'll tell you what. That can be my nickname, exclusively for you to use."

He breathed in relief. "Thanks. I was afraid you'd be mad."

"Ted, we're friends. Come on in and get dressed." I grabbed his hand and pulled him back into the room.

We went to the wedding. I didn't cry. The bride was beautiful and the groom handsome, but I had no emotional investment in it. I had fun with his cousin in the reception line. I made sure to bat my eyelashes at him and leave lipstick on his cheek, on the side away from his bride. I'm bad. I made a point of looking over the bride as if I were about to eat her and made sure he saw it. Yes, very bad.

We headed over to the reception and went through the inevitable wait while the bridal party did pictures. I took the opportunity to ratchet up the makeup one level. I spent nearly the whole reception on Ted's arm. I tried to be good and play the trophy girlfriend. I didn't talk shop or scare anyone with big math or science words.

When the dancing started, I put on the full application of war paint and dragged Ted out onto the dance floor. In my female life, I’d had lots of dance lessons. I even have memories of taking erotic dance and belly dancing just for kicks during college. Part of me, Lila, fell right into a groove, shaking it for all I was worth on the dance floor. The other part of me, Lee, was overwhelmed, and slowly became submerged. By the time we had some slow dances, I was ready to drape myself on him, press up against him and smile to myself as he tried to hide his arousal.

When the reception finally ended, we took a cab back to the hotel. We returned to the room both a bit tipsy from the alcohol. Ted made a beeline for the bathroom and I knew it was time to make my move. I unzipped the dress, removed it and the slip, and laid them on a chair. As much as I wanted to take off the shoes, I knew full well how sexy they made my legs look. I quickly touched-up my lipstick and then waited for him to exit.

I had my pose ready when he opened the door. When he froze in the bathroom doorway, I did a slinky little walk over to him.

"Uh, sorry. I shouldn't have monopolized the bathroom," he whispered.

"That's okay. I'm fine." I was nearly face-to-face with him.

"Please forgive my staring," he added, his voice quivering.

I stepped forward and put a finger to his lips. "Shush. I would never have let you see me like this if I minded. Ted, I'm all yours." With that, I kissed him on the lips lightly.

"I shouldn't. I'm going out with Donna."

"Then why isn't she here instead of me?"

"She'll kill me. She's already mad at me."

I put my hands on my hips and said, "Do you really want her that bad?" He nodded. "Do you think she feels the same way?" He hesitated. "I just want you to think about this: Does she really care about you the way you care about her?"

There was silence. I was shaken to realize that I was annoyed that he had admitted that he wanted Donna. Instead of getting mad, though, my stubbornness kicked in. I determined that I was going to force the issue. I was going to do whatever I could to get my chance as his girlfriend and the part of me that was Lee knew exactly what would do the job.

"Anyway," I continued, "it seems to me that you owe me. I'd like to collect. Now."

His eyes widened. "You mean that you want me to...? I mean, in return for...?" He was speechless.

"Kinda turns the tables, doesn't it?" I said with a feral smile.

At that point, he was mine. I kissed him again. And again. "Come to bed with me," I said, as I took his hand. "I guarantee that it's the best offer you'll get tonight."

He did. I won't say it was heavenly. He was very quick and I was surprisingly inept. As soon as he was ready again, we did better, but I still didn't get off. In the early morning hours, I woke and considered trying again. I tried to remember what had worked for the few women with whom I'd had sex when I was a guy. I warmed up before waking him. Once I had managed a pleasant little orgasm, I had the ball rolling.

I gently climbed astride Ted and lightly rubbed against him until I was nearly frantic. With that kindling, I'd finally built a roaring fire. By the time we finished, we were both spent and quite pleased with the results.

Later, when Ted was showering, I slipped in to share. The embers were still glowing from earlier and I went off like a flare. We both needed showers again, but that was okay. By the time we finished, we were pushing past the checkout time and our flight was in three hours.

I put on some totally hot underwear, a snug pair of leather pants, and a very stretchy turtleneck. I also wore my suede boots. With the coat, it didn't garner too much attention, but I teased Ted unmercifully the whole flight back. I had little trouble getting him to come in for a nightcap when he dropped me off. We both found release for some pent-up tension.

The next day, the two of us had smiles indelibly stamped on our faces. No one figured it out until they found out that Donna had canceled on Ted. Once it was discovered that I went in her stead, well, the cat was out of the bag. Nobody seemed surprised. To a person, everyone we knew had felt it was a matter of time before we recognized what was obvious to them.

Donna, however, was scary. I was worried about her hunting me down. I even threatened to make her a guinea pig with the company’s latest gene-splicing product if she didn't leave me alone. That gave her pause. Finally, we reached a détente when I introduced her to the new VP. He was the perfect male embodiment of her characteristics. As soon as she saw the Ferrari he drove, she had moved on. It was going to be either a match made in heaven or one made in hell.

Within three months, I had managed to get a proposal out of Ted. He wanted me, I wanted him, and I just needed to bolster his self-esteem enough. I spent every free moment of that time convincing him that he was a worthy human being.

When I called my family, they were all wondering what had taken so long. On the flip side, Mom wasn't about to let this wedding slip out of her control. Because of that, our wedding won't be this summer but sometime next year. We have months of planning to do and untold details to arrange.

That's okay. I have what I want. My old pal is finally hooked up with a girl who will treat him right. Me.

I just never imagined that wish would make us so happy.

Readers, Please Remember to Leave a Comment

This is the first piece of creative writing that I've written since high school writing assignments. I wanted to contribute something back to the community and the contest helped to nudge my muse. (Thanks, Erin.)

My most sincere thanks are due to Angel, who has been wonderfully encouraging and patient. Her assistance has not only improved the story, but helped it to see the light of day. Thanks, Angel!

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