A felt a sinking feeling inside, as I feared where this conversation was going.
"The way I see it, Stephanie is that either I suspend you from work and maybe even call the police or....," he paused to stare at my face, before moving his hands off the desk.
I heard the noise of a zip being moved.
A warm summer breeze caressed my bare shoulder as I leaned over to take Bekka out of her pushchair. She looked at me intently and gurgled something back to me. I kissed her on her forehead. She smiled and made a little cooing sound.
"Oh that's lovely," said Mary," you both look so sweet"
She took out her mobile phone and took a quick series of photos as I sat on the park bench, put Bekka to my right breast and started giving my precious gift her mid-morning snack. Mary took out the shawl from Bekka's bag and draped it over the two of us so that my partial exposure would not attract unpleasant comments from passers by with prudish attitudes.
"Want a cuppa?" asked Mary.
"Is the shop open yet?" I asked.
"It should be, the sign says nine thirty on a Saturday," she replied pointing at a nearby advert for refreshments in the park.
"Yes, I'd love one then" I replied.
"OK, back in a bit," she said, before walking off in the direction of the Hornsey Park Tea Shop.
As I watched her make her way along the path, the yellow headscarf, covering up her hair loss from the anti-cancer treatments, flickering a little in the soft wind, I marvelled at how things had changed in the last two months. Apart from the side effects from the treatment, occasional nausea and hair loss, Mary had regained a strength and vitality that I hadn't seen since the early days of her being pregnant with Bekka.
It was less than a week since we had returned to London, from Manchester, and she was already making plans to return to her work in the planning department of the local council, even if only part time to begin with.
Bekka made a little whimper as she exhausted the milk supply in my right breast, I quickly transferred her to the other one while rearranging the shawl over my thin summer dress. I wondered how it was going to feel about returning to wearing male clothes from Monday when I went back to working in the office, instead of from home. I had managed to just about sustain my present level of responsibilities by remotely accessing the company computer and phone systems but until I returned I would not be able to take up the much improved job I had been offered.
"Where do you want it, Stephanie?" asked Mary returning with the cups of tea.
It had been so much simpler to continue to sustain the image of being a woman, while living in Manchester with Mary's parents, that I had even got used to being called 'Stephanie' all the time. Even Mary had switched to calling me that since she felt that to constantly to change from a male to a female name would be confusing and could lead to embarrassing slip ups.
"Oh I was lost in thought, you were quick, I didn't see you come back," I responded," by here on the arm is fine"
She placed the paper cup carefully on the arm of the park bench and held it until I was able to re-position Bekka to free a hand to take it. I took a sip of the hot, reviving liquid.
"Nothing like this, sitting in the park on a lovely summer morning with the two people I love the most," I said.
Mary knelt forward to kiss first Bekka and then me.
"You took the words out of my mouth," she said.
She sat down next to me and put her hand on my thigh, slowly stroking the bare skin.
"Mmmm, that's nice Mary," I said quietly.
"You have such lovely legs, my sweet," she said.
"You too, ma cherie," I whispered.
She moved her hand to my neck and softly caressed my face and shoulders. She leaned forward and kissed me gently on the cheek and then on the lips. I turned my face towards her and returned her kiss with passion.
"I love you Stephanie.....sorry Steve, oh so confusing," she whispered with a smile.
"I love you too, Mary," I whispered back.
At that moment Bekka decided that it was time for these adults to stop being silly together and to return their attention to the most important individual in the universe, her.
I stood up and rocked her in my arms to quieten her whimpering.
"Shall we walk, I can hold Bekka," I said," if you push the buggy, she should be OK in a little while"
"Sure," said Mary with a strangely sad look in her eyes.
"What's up?" I asked, after we had walked a few yards along the path.
"Nothing...it's a lovely day, it's nice to be in here at this time of day," she replied smiling with her mouth only, the small tears welling up in her eyes saying something completely different.
"Please, Mary, tell me what is upsetting you," I said.
"It's nothing, really, everything's wonderful," Mary said, avoiding eye contact as she spoke.
I put my hand on the buggy to stop it and then put our sleeping child back in. I took Mary's chin and turned her face gently towards me.
"Please Mary, let's not do that again, not tell each other how we're feeling. If there is something that is upsetting you I want to know"
There was a pause for a few seconds and then Mary took out a small handkerchief from her bag and dried her eyes.
"I'm sorry, Stephanie, I have no right to have these feelings," she said haltingly.
"What feelings Mary?" I asked.
"Well, it's hard to say this and it sounds so strange...." she started to explain and then somehow the words wouldn't come out.
"Please tell me," I said, turning away from her and slowly pushing the buggy along the path," I want you to be happy, my love"
We walked without talking for a few minutes.
"I am jealous, Steve," she said quietly. I was surprised at her deliberate use of my male name.
"Why?" I asked.
"It's hard to explain and I don't really understand it myself," she said," but..well, ok it's like this. I see you and Bekka together and I see you as such a wonderful parent to her, in fact you are both her parents in one."
"But you are her mother and always will be," I countered.
"Yes, but I don't feel like I am at all now. You're the one she responds to, I've seen how she always smiles at you when she sees you, she doesn't really respond to me as much," said Mary with sadness in her voice.
"It's early days, Mary, she is not four months old yet, and I'm sure at the moment it's cupboard love you know," I said
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"She knows where the next meal is coming from," I said, laughing.
Mary smiled in response to my merriment.
"Maybe if we shared the feeding it would make you feel closer to her," I suggested.
"I don't understand Steve, how can I do that?" Mary asked.
"There is a way," I said, smiling.
"There's always the milking machine," I said laughing.
"Good Morning Mr Jones, welcome back," said the elderly security guard as I strolled into the office of Adventure Travel PLC.
"Good Morning John, how are you today," I asked, pausing briefly to collect an updated ID card that he was offering me, as I came to his desk.
"Mustn't grumble, mustn't grumble," John replied," and how are you Mr Jones?"
"I am very well thank you," I said as I made my way to the lift.
"You are looking very well, although there is something different about you, Mr Jones," remarked John," and how is your lovely child?"
"She is very well, thanks, but she's getting a bit heavy to carry now, we must be overfeeding her" I said, putting Bekka's chair down and for effect rubbing an imaginary sore arm. John chuckled and then I was saved any more comments about my appearance by the arrival of the lift.
I looked at myself in the lift mirror. Even wearing my shirt and jacket and tying my hair back in a less feminine ponytail I looked more androgynous than male. It didn't help that I now completely filled my maternity bra and as a result my office clothes were less loose on me. I wished I had checked my appearance earlier and had taken the opportunity to buy some larger sizes. I hoped that I would get through the day without any further comments.
A little later after dropping Bekka off in the workplace nursery and getting a funny look from Janis, the nursery nurse, I walked into the office. As I opened the door, Jules looked up from her desk.
"Steve!, welcome back!" she yelled, standing up and then walking toward me to embrace me.
"Hi, Jules, nice to be back," I said.
"Let me look at you. You have changed a lot since I saw you last," she commented.
"It is a couple of months," I responded defensively.
"Oh, yes, your hair is longer and I reckon you have grown somewhere else," she said smiling and discretely giving my right breast a light squeeze.
I blushed a little with the unexpected intimacy and moved away toward my workstation.
"So what's the goss?" I asked trying to divert her attention from my physical appearance.
I sat down behind my desk being grateful for the barrier while Jules filled me in with some of the office news.
Soon our conversation was interrupted by the needs of the job and I plunged into my usual long list of phone calls, emails and faxes to agents, hoteliers and suppliers. The time flew by as I battled to solve the usual weekend collection of holiday problems. Once again I was surprised by the number of times I was considered to be female on the phone, especially by people I had not spoken to before. This response seemed to be more frequent since I had gone to Manchester.
I was interrupted briefly by Jules bringing me a coffee and arranging our usual lunchtime visit to O'Learys, where we would meet Kathleen, who was on a language course nearby.
I felt something vibrating madly in an inside pocket of my jacket. I retrieved the pager that I had forgotten about while trying to get on top of my work. I glanced at the message.
"Bekka needs a feed"
I saved the European holiday itinerary that I had been working on and made my way quickly to the nursery to feed my beautiful daughter.
Janis, as usual, was busy trying to comfort Bekka while feeding some sunshine orange breakfast to an older child. I changed her quickly and then sat down to give my own sunshine her breakfast, which fortunately wasn't orange.
As she suckled contentedly I untied my ponytail which was beginning to give me a bit of a headache. It was a relief to have my hair free, even if it was irritating to have to keep brushing it away from my face, whenever I looked down at Bekka to check her progress. Soon it was time to swap breasts after she temporarily exhausted the milk supply in the first one.
"You don't look much like a Steve, you know, with your hair like that and feeding Bekka," said Janis.
I looked up to see her standing in the doorway of the little room I was using to breastfeed.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
She came in and sat down in the chair next to me and sipped on her coffee before answering.
"Why don't you tell me what's really going on, I didn't have much time to talk to you before you went away to Manchester," she said.
"Janis, I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at," I responded, feeling a bit puzzled by the question.
"Steve, I'm not naive and I watch the day time talk shows, you know," she explained," it's obvious to me that there is more to this situation and the breastfeeding"
"Really Janis, that's all it is, there's nothing else."
"Well what's with the hair then? Steve are you having a sex change?" she blurted out.
I looked at her in amazement.
"No, of course not, what sort of question is that?" I asked.
"Looking at you now, a sensible one I would have thought," she replied.
The empty feeding bottle flew into the room, heading for Janis. At the last minute I reached up and caught it in my left hand before it could hit her in the back of the head. I held it out to her.
"I think one of your customers wants some more attention," I said, smiling, as she took the bottle and frowned.
"Thanks, yes, he is a real bundle of fun, that one, I'd have ten children like your Bekka rather than one of him, anytime," she said before rushing off to give little Lionel more excessive attention.
I kissed my precious child and then returned her to her cot, after she had finished her feed and fallen asleep. I looked at the time and realised that it was time to meet Jules and Kathleen. I made my way to the pub, getting another strange look from John when I left the building.
I saw a familiar face walking toward me.
"Hi Kathleen, aren't five languages enough?" I asked our star linguist.
She stopped and looked at me.
"Steve?" she asked, uncertainly.
"Of course, who else?" I replied.
"Sorry, it's just that you look, sort of, a lot different, really, and why are you wearing that jacket, it's much to hot," she said, referring to the mid-day summer heat that was quickly feeling oppressive after the air-conditioned office.
"Hi Kathleen, Steve, what good timing, come on let's get over and grab a table," said Jules, who had come up behind us.
"It's a bit of a scorcher today, how do you like it Kathleen?" asked Jules as we made our way to O'Learys.
"I love this weather, but I don't think Steve does, I would be boiling in a jacket like that," she replied.
"Yes, Steve, why don't you take it off," Jules asked.
"You know why, Jules," I said.
"Yes, I suppose you have a point," she agreed," but it is hot and it might be the same in O'Leary's.
"Listen why don't you take your jacket off, leave your hair down and keep your shirt unbuttoned," Jules suggested after a few seconds.
"Why?" I asked.
"It will hint at what is under there and people, well men, will look less at your clothes and face while they're trying to work you what you've got," she replied.
"What do you mean, what he's got, Jules?" asked Kathleen.
"Steve, tell her, she'll have to know at some point," Jules said.
"She means my breasts," I said, taking off my jacket and unbuttoning the top part of my shirt.
Kathleen looked at me transfixed, and then shook her head in disbelief at what she was looking at.
"You've got boobs!" she said.
"Well done Inspector Clouseau, " said Jules, laughing.
"But, how, are you a woman who wants to be a man?" she asked, obviously completely flummoxed.
I considered the irony of having been questioned about being a transwoman and then a transman within thirty minutes.
"No, I'm 100% male," I replied," but have had to breast feed my baby and, it's a long story, I'll give you a précis over lunch"
"Throw your shoulders back to emphasise your assets a bit, be proud of your figure," said Jules.
I did as requested and borrowed some lipstick to add to the illusion.
We reached our destination and were about to enter with behind another group of office workers when I had an important thought. I touched both of their arms to stop them.
"Listen," I whispered," you can't call me Steve in the pub."
"Oh, yes, you're right, what can we call you instead?" asked Kathleen.
"What about Elizabeth, I've always liked that name," suggested Jules.
"Fiona," offered Kathleen," that's a nice name for an office worker."
"Stephanie," I said.
"What about Stephanie?" Kathleen asked.
"You can call me Stephanie, I'll explain inside, come on, before all the tables have gone,” I responded.
We found one of the last tables and occupied three of the four seats. I gave Kathleen a very short summary of how I had go to where I was while we considered what to order. They went off to order while I applied a little of the makeup bag that Jules had given me.
"Excuse me," asked a pleasant voice," is this seat taken?"
I looked up to see a well dressed man in his late twenties, looking at me with a slight smile on his lips.
"No, just the two on the other side," I replied.
"Yes, I guessed they might be from the handbags on the table, do you mind if I sit here?" he asked indicating the seat next to me on the table.
"Not at all," I replied," be my guest"
"I'm Eifion," he said as he sat down with his pint of beer.
"Stephanie," I responded, " you name is unusual, where are you from?"
"It's Welsh, I'm from Nefyn," he replied.
"Nevin, that sounds familiar somehow, where is it?" I asked.
"It's in North Wales, it's where the singer Duffy comes from," he replied.
We chatted about the popular artist's music and her origins, Eifion had gone to the same schools although he was a little older, and knew a number of people who knew her. Soon the conversation had moved onto the work that we did. I was enjoying the conversation so much that I didn't notice Kathleen and Jules returning until Jules put my drink and my chickpea wrap on the table in front of me. I made introductions and noticed Jules giving me a funny look.
"I leave you for ten minutes and you are already flirting with a handsome man, are you sure there's not something you want to tell me?" whispered Jules in my ear, after Eifion had gone to fetch another drink.
"The answer is in the stars, Jules" I said as mysteriously as I could.
Before she could think of a response Eifion had returned and we had resumed our interaction. By this time the pub was so busy and so noisy that it was only possible to talk to the person sitting nearby so I didn't feel that I was excluding Kathleen or Jules.
Jules tapped me on the shoulder.
"Time to go Stephanie, work calls," she said, emphasising my female name.
"Bye Eifion, it was nice meeting you," I said, standing up and smiling at my lunchtime companion
"It was nice meeting you too Stephanie, do you fancy meeting for a drink sometime?", he asked.
At that moment I wished that the floor would open wide and swallow me up. Behind me I heard Jules and Kathleen doing their best to suppress their amusement.
After a few seconds of indecision, I smiled at Eifion, took the proffered card and promised to ring him sometime.
"That was wonderful," said Mary, huskily," I love you Steve"
I pulled my beloved wife closer, with my arm around her back, her head resting on my shoulder.
"I love you too Mary," I responded quietly.
We lay there for a while as we basked in our post-coital feelings of well being. As I softly caressed her back, Mary’s eyes slowly closed and within less than a minute her regular soft breathing indicated that she was asleep.
I carefully disentangled myself and then went to the bathroom to remove the sports bra and tight T shirt that were completely soaked with the milk that had leaked from my breasts during our lovemaking. Mary had insisted on me wearing these clothes as she had said she would find the feel of our breasts pressing together to be too foreign and strange to deal with.
As I stood in the shower, washing the residues of my own milk from my body I relived our first moments of intimacy for many months. The hormones had been doing their work too well and I had not been able to sustain an erection for many minutes but with the addition of my fingers and tongue I had succeeded in bringing Mary to a squealing, eager climax. I was pleased to be able to give her so much pleasure but disappointed in my inability to share the experience.
The jet of warm water on my breasts was caressing. My fingers lingered on my nipples and soon I was touching and squeezing myself to increase my excitement. I closed my eyes to focus on the pleasure I was getting from my arousal. An image coalesced in my mind. I could almost feel the touch of the object of my fantasy on my skin, lips pressing against mine, I strained to imagine Mary. The face of someone else appeared, Jonathan!
In shock I turned the temperature dial on the shower. The blast of cold water on my breasts was shocking and painful, to say the least, but effective in removing my strange, unwanted vision.
I quickly dried and put on a clean nursing bra and my pyjamas, which were a bit small in the bust department. I was forced to only button up a part of the pyjama top. I made my way back to the warm bed and snuggled next to my partner.
I slept very well, only being vaguely aware of Mary getting out of bed in the middle of the night to feed our baby from the bottle of milk I had expressed earlier.
I woke up with two pleasant sensations. The warmth of the sunlight, diffusing through the thin curtains on the bedroom window, on my face and the pleasure of a hand, inside my pyjamas, gently caressing my breast.
"Mmmmm, nice," murmured Mary.
I looked down at my sweet lover, her eyes closed. I wondered what sort of dream she was having and whom the object of her caresses was. To avoid waking her, and possibly causing her embarrassment about her unconscious fondling of me, I slowly moved her hand away and eased myself out of the bed.
Just over an hour later, having fed Bekka, washed, dressed, and had breakfast, I lent over Mary and kissed her gently on the forehead.
"Have a good day, my love," I whispered.
She half opened an eye.
"You too, Steve," she said, sleepily.
The morning traffic through North London was it's usual stop-start, dance of frustration. I was glad of the air conditioning in the car as another warm, summer day quickly developed.
"Morning Mr Jones, " said John cheerfully as I walked into the foyer.
"Morning John, lovely day again," I remarked.
"Yes, it promises to be a scorcher," he commented.
I was aware that he was still looking at me in a strange way as if to try and work out what was different about me. Although I felt more confident in my male persona with the new, larger office clothes, I was fairly sure that he had noticed me coming back from the pub, two days before with makeup on, despite Jules and Kathleen trying to distract him as I walked in.
"John," I said turning to look at the grey haired security guard, " I'm sure you've realised that there is something different about me since I came back to work"
"I had noticed Mr Jones," he responded, smiling," but whatever it is I'm sure you have a good reason for it"
"Yes, you're right," I said, " when I have some time one morning, if the traffic ever lets me arrive early, I'll tell you more"
The arrival of the lift brought our conversation to an end. I rushed to the nursery and made it to my desk just in time to answer my first phone call of the morning. The next two hours was the usual hectic mixture. Eventually the pace of phone calls, emails and faxes eased a bit and I was able to relax with a coffee. Jules had also reached a little lull in her work for the morning and came over for a chat.
"Are you excited?" she asked.
"A little bit, but I wonder what sort of person Mrs Forbes is going to be?" I pondered, thinking about the first appointment with someone who wanted a personalised, and very expensive, travel itinerary planned.
"Rich," said Jules, chuckling.
"That goes without saying, but there's different ways people handle unexpected wealth," I responded," it quite often seems to bring out the worst in someone's personality"
"When is she coming?" Jules asked.
"Damn, only thirty minutes, I'd better finish off her schedule, I'll see you in O'Learys," I said before turning back to my computer to put the finishing touches to the holiday of a lifetime that Mrs Forbes had requested.
An hour later the first client for Adventure Travel personalised travel service was glancing through the final printout of her plan for six months of world travel and accommodation in the best hotels.
"I am so looking forward to this," said the plump woman in her late fifties, " and my sister is really looking forward to coming with me, it's a shame that my husband isn't here, well it's his loss "
Mrs Forbes had already told me the sad tale of how her husband, dazzled by the six million she had won on the National Lottery, had gone on a spending spree and then run off with a younger woman from behind the bread counter in Asda, blowing half of her winnings in three months, before she could transfer them out of the joint account.
"Yes, it is indeed, Mrs Forbes," I replied diplomatically.
"So, what did you say it all came to," she asked.
"Three hundred and twenty three thousand pounds," I replied, thinking of my five percent commission, "but we only need a ten percent deposit"
"How much is that then?" my nouveau riche client asked, taking out her cheque book, " I was never much good at Maths in school"
"It's at the bottom, Mrs Forbes, thirty two thousand and three hundred," I replied, pointing to the figure on the full colour brochure I had produced for my client. I was really please with how the document had come out, with the pictures of all the destinations linked to the relevant travel details.
The vibrating noise from my jacket, on the back of my chair, distracted both of us.
"What's that?" Mrs Forbes asked.
"Oh, it's a message from the nursery, I have to go and feed my daughter, one moment I'll get my colleague to complete this transaction," I said as leaned back in my chair, turned my head and gestured for Jules to come over from where she was standing by the photocopier.
I turned back towards my client to introduce Jules to her. She was staring at me with her mouth wide open and a mixture of disgust and surprise evident in the expression on her face. I followed the direction of her stare to where my shirt was clinging to my slightly damp nursing bra, clearly displaying the shape of my breasts.
"You're not a man!" Mrs Forbes said accusingly.
"Well I am, but it's complicated," I said trying to explain, but without the time to do it properly as I took my jacket and prepared to answer the call from the nursery.
"I don't want to know," she said rising from her chair," but whatever it is, I don't want to have my holiday arranged by someone not normal"
"Please, Mrs Forbes, my colleague will explain," I said as I left the office, while Jules tried to mollify her.
I raced up to the nursery. Janis was holding Bekka and trying to pacify her while she waited for her feed.
I took my precious daughter and sat down to relax while she suckled. I hoped that Jules would be able to persuade our potential client to stay with us after all the hard work I had put in arranging her travel plans.
"Do you remember our conversation on Monday?" asked Janis as she walked in with a child to bottle feed.
"I think so," I replied.
"I did notice the make up, you know, when you came to feed Bekka in the afternoon," she stated, " are you going to tell me what's going on?"
"Listen Janis, Monday was just an accident, there is nothing going on apart from what I have already told you. I am a man and I have no desire to be a woman," I responded bluntly.
"It's hard to believe, when I see you breast feeding, that you're not going to stay like this," Janis commented.
"It's like this Janis," I said, beginning to feel annoyed at how things were going this morning," when I stop having to feed Bekka, when we can move her onto solids, my milk will dry up I'll be able to stop taking hormones. My doctor said that my breasts will shrink and after maybe a year, when this reduction has stabilised he has said I can have any surplus tissue that's left in my breasts, surgically removed"
I put emphasis on the word surgically and noticed Janis wincing a little.
"Now, tell me what person wanting to change sex from male to female would talk happily about having a mastectomy?" I asked a little triumphantly.
"Oh," she responded, clearly surprised at my certainty, "I didn't realise that you felt that way"
"I'm only doing this for my daughter, but all this looking like a woman has been a nightmare, it has led to so many complications," I explained further.
There was silence between us until it was time for me to leave and join Jules and Kathleen for lunch.
"I managed to persuade her, in the end," Jules was explaining, as we ate our lunches," it was lucky that her daughter had just given birth to Mrs Forbes's first grandchild so she was feeling very positive about babies. So I got her to write the cheque and sign the agreements"
"That's great," I responded," well done Jules, I worked hard for that signature. I'll have to cut you in on the commission"
"You're too generous," Jules responded," however there is one problem...well for you at least"
"What's that?" I asked.
"Susan turned up as I was explaining your situation to Mrs Forbes and she asked me afterwards what happened," Jules replied.
"What did she say," I asked.
"She was quite annoyed about almost losing our first client, she said that it mustn't happen again," said Jules.
"So how can we avoid that?" I asked, feeling confused.
"Sorry to have to tell you this, and she said that she would discuss it with you later, but basically you have two choices," explained Jules, before pausing.
"What are they?" I asked, a little fearful.
"You will either have to get the nursery to feed Bekka or..........you will have to come to work dressed as a woman!"
"Good Morning Miss Jones," said John as I walked into work on a warm Monday morning.
"Good morning, John," I said, smiling as I stopped by the reception desk," thanks for remembering"
"I have your new pass," he said, handing me my new photo-ID, before smiling back and whispering," it's OK Miss Jones, I understand your reasons and you could hardly be a Mr Jones, dressed like that. I think what you are doing is very noble"
"Thanks, I appreciate the support, this is hard enough to do just coming here wearing these clothes," I responded, indicating my blouse, skirt, and two inch heels," I just hope everyone else will be just as understanding"
I clipped the piece of plastic on my breast pocket, thinking how strange it was not to have it on my tie, and carried Bekka over to the lift.
The doors of the lift were closing when a tall, very smartly dressed man in his early thirties squeezed into the lift.
"That was close," I said, smiling.
"Yes," he responded, smiling back," with luck I'll make my appointment in time."
"Which floor do you want?" I asked after pressing the number three for the nursery and noticing his visitor's pass.
"I'm not sure, I'm here to take over from Susan Williams, what floor is she on, do you know?" he asked.
I was taken aback by the news that that something had happened to Susan, my line manager.
"Um, her office is on floor three, the same as the nursery, has something happened to her, she didn't say anything on Friday?" I asked, a bit worried by the possible implications of the Susan's absence.
"I'm not completely sure, I had a phone call on Saturday from Sir John's secretary to say that Susan would be away for a couple of months and asking me to jump in to take charge. I'm William Tumbril, by the way," my new boss said extending a hand.
I reciprocated the gesture, the greeting lasted a little longer than I had expected and I was relieved when William did eventually release my hand.
"Nice to meet you, Stephanie," he said reading my name-tag while lingering on my breasts.
The lift came to a stop and we walked along the corridor together while William described, in excessive detail, the sort of work he was usually responsible for in the Birmingham office of Adventure Travels. The entrance to the nursery couldn't have come sooner as I escaped from the tedious talk, although he did extract a promise for me to call into his office later in the morning to discuss my work.
"Hello Janis," I said, cheerfully to the nursery nurse, when I reached the reception desk.
"Morning Ste.....," she said looking up and then her mouth stopped working as she stared at me.
"Something wrong?" I asked innocently.
"Sorry, Steve, oh sorry I see it's Stephanie now, I'm just a bit surprised to see you like that," she replied," especially after you denied everything last week."
"It's a complicated story, I'll explain later," I said," sorry I've got to go and catch up with the weekend backlog and then go and see Mr Charmless later"
"Who's that," asked, Janis as she took Bekka off me and placed her in a cot.
"Some guy down from Birmingham taking over from Susan for a while, did you know anything about that?" I asked.
"No, but then again no-one tells me much about how the company runs, I am only the nursery nurse," she said, sighing.
I left the nursery and, as quickly as possible in two inch heels and a tight skirt, made my way to my office. As usual the phone rang as I sat down at my desk and the computer showed the usual mixed bag of emails.
"No luck on the weekend then?" asked Jules as we drank our coffees almost two hours later after the pace of work had slowed down temporarily.
"I tried so hard to express enough milk, in the end Mary had to turn the machine off cos my boobs were hurting too much, my nipples are still sore today," I said as I gently touched my engorged breasts," I don't understand, I've got enough milk”
"Maybe you were too tense about it, but you could have dropped the personalised travel service for a couple of months, Kathleen or me could have covered that," Jules suggested.
"I don't understand it really, I'm so pissed off about the whole situation. So I had no choice but to wear this outfit today," I said, thinking about the ultimatum that Susan had given me," I need the commission, Jules"
"Why is that Steve? Sorry Stephanie, I'd better get used to calling you that, in case I make a slip up when a client is here," she commented.
"Simple really, Jules, our income is down 'cos Mary is only part-time at the moment and our payments are about to go up next month. Our two year mortgage fix finishes then, and we already have big arrears from when she was ill and off work" I explained.
"That is tough, can't you sell and get somewhere cheaper?" she asked.
"Nope, negative equity*, like everyone else in our street who bought in the last two years," I said.
The phone rang to end our conversation, the buzzing sound indicated an internal company call.
"Hello," I said, wondering who could be phoning internally, a rare occurrence.
"Hello again, Stephanie, nice to hear your voice again," oozed my new line manager.
"OK," I gulped, " what can I do for you?"
"Um, now that's an interesting question, maybe we can talk about that at some other time," he responded, creepily," but in the meantime I'd like you to come up and have a chat with me to explain how your side of the business runs"
"OK, when do you want to see me?" I asked, feeling uneasy about something.
"How about now, Stephanie, yes please hurry along to my office, I'll keep a seat warm for you," sleezeyman said before disconnecting.
I held the phone in my hand and made a rude sign to it.
"What's up Stephanie?" Jules asked.
"I feel like puking, Jules," I said," I have to go and see our new line manager and I'm not looking forward to it"
"New line manager!" she exclaimed," what's happened to Susan?"
I explained what I had been told by our new boss in the lift and then made my way to my meeting.
"Hello Stephanie, thank you for coming so promptly," Tumbril said as I opened the door to his office," come and join me on this sofa, I do find formal meetings sitting on opposite sides of a desk to be so tiresome"
I sat down on as far as possible away from him on the leather sofa. My attempt to preserve some personal space was thwarted as he moved over towards me a spread a large sheet of paper, with a network chart on it, out on the low table in front of us.
"I'd like you to help me fill this in so I have an idea of what people do and how they are interconnected." he said as he pressed his leg against mine.
"Of course, ask me anything you need to know," I responded.
Over the next quarter of an hour Tumbril asked me questions about Jules, Kathleen and me, although mainly about me, and filled in the chart with the information. At the same time he was obviously using the opportunity to touch me as much as possible. Every question was accentuated with a touch on my leg or shoulder and a few times he pressed his arm into my breasts as he leaned over to write something on the chart. I was at a loss to know how to deal with the harassment.
At last relief came with the sound of my pager to go and feed Bekka. I was grateful for the excuse to escape the unwanted physical contact, although once Janis launched into her questions about my suppression of my supposed transsexual gender identity the words 'frying pan', 'fire' and 'escape' came to mind.
Finally Janis was busy with the rest of her charges and I was alone for a while with my precious daughter. As she took her nourishment from me I once again concluded that anything was worthwhile doing to ensure her well-being.
"Thank, Miss Jones, we are really looking forward to these adventures," said Mr Parrish as he and his wife too his leave of me, later on in the afternoon, after we had agreed the final itinerary of their two hundred thousand pound round the world trip.
"It's been my pleasure to help you Mr and Mrs Parrish," I responded, smiling, having enjoyed working for the retired couple and also thinking of how the five percent commission would make a substantial dent in the debt Mary and I had with the bank.
I sat down, feeling tired after having worked through my lunch hour to complete the Parrish's holiday plans before it had been time to meet them. I had also had to work faster in the morning to solve all the weekend's problems, to ensure there were no interruptions during the afternoon.
I looked at the office clock and noticed that it was almost five, I began to pack my things away.
The phone rang, an internal call again, I picked up the hand-piece, expecting to hear an unwelcome voice.
"Miss Jones, I need to see you at once," said my line manager curtly.
"Yes, of course, Mr Tumbril, I'll be right there, is there something wrong," I asked, surprised at his tone of voice.
"I'd prefer to discuss this in person," he replied, before breaking the connection.
Ten minutes later I was sitting opposite him on the other side of his desk.
"I imagine this work is important to you?" he enquired," since you have gone to great lengths to keep your position"
"Yes, of course, it is important and I think I am effective in what I do," I replied, wondering where the conversation was going.
He paused and shuffled some papers on his desk.
"Earlier on Stephanie, I needed some more information about you to complete my network chart, so I checked personal records," he said.
I felt a churning in my stomach.
"You realise that your little arrangement with Susan is completely undocumented. Nowhere is there any legal or medical paperwork saying that you are a transsexual and are legally entitled to present as a woman," Tumbril continued.
"Yes but.." I began to try and explain.
He held up his hand to stop me.
"At present I have a situation where a male member of staff in Adventure Travel is coming to work wearing female clothes, no doubt using female toilet facilities and has somehow acquired a female company identification," he said,"
so what have we here, deception for the clothes, sexual harassment for using the wrong gender loo and the most serious, fraud in acquiring the false ID."
A felt a sinking feeling inside, as I feared where this conversation was going.
"The way I see it, Stephanie is that either I suspend you from work and maybe even call the police or....," he paused to stare at my face, before moving his hands off the desk.
I heard the noise of a zip being moved.
"You give me a blow-job"
"I love sucking dick, William," I said as huskily as possible," why don't you show me what you've got"
My sleazy line manager, was initially nonplussed by my quick acquiescence to his ultimatum and then a vicious smirk filled his face.
"I knew you would see it my way, Stephanie," he said, " come and kneel here, little William is waiting for your mouth. Blouse and bra off too so I can grab a feel at the same time"
I unbuttoned my blouse halfway down with my left hand and slowly, as sexily as possible walked round the desk towards my predatory boss. I slid my right hand, surreptitiously, into my small shoulder bag.
I stood in front of Tumbril as he slowly massaged his penis. I unbuttoned my blouse a little more and moved it a little down off my shoulder, partially exposing my bra. I moved my left hand across my breasts, gently squeezing them.
"You are well endowed, William, so bigggggg, I'm looking forward to this," I said as erotically as I could.
By now his focus was completely on my boobs as I played with them to arouse him further.
"Nice, tits, bitch," he grunted.
I moved my right hand with my camera phone up to eye level, above what he was looking at, and starting taking pictures of my pathetic blackmailer.
"Smile for the camera," I said after I had taken more than twenty photos.
He looked up startled at my comment and I managed another ten shots before he realised his predicament and put his appendage away.
"What the fuck!" he exclaimed, as his brain sought to dampen his arousal and comprehend the changed reality.
"Not that either, you miserable worm," I said venomously, stepping away a safe distance," did you think I was going to give in to your nauseating needs, is this how you get your rocks off?"
He opened his mouth to talk but before he could utter anything I continued my attack.
"Unfortunately for your sick plan, you were wrong in all your assumptions," I yelled," firstly I am not a transsexual, I don't want to be a woman, I'm doing all of this for my daughter and my wife and soon enough I'll be rid of what you wanted to feel"
I paused for breath and to let the implications of my first statement sink in.
"Secondly I have a letter from Susan giving me express permission to dress this way, have a female ID and use the disabled toilets," I lied, knowing there was no way he could check.
"Thirdly," I said, in a more measured tone, as Tumbril's face crumbled with the realisation of his complete failure," what do you think will happen if you suspend me? Let me tell you. In three days, maximum, the whole European Adventure Travel programme will begin to fall apart. Most of the hoteliers and agents only trust me and will not give credit deals to anyone else. It'll be payment in advance for whoever takes my place. Of course the new very profitable, programme of bespoke holidays for the wealthy will stop immediately."
I could see that I had him, metaphorically, by the short and curlies.
"So you loathsome lothario, you'd better come up with the substantial pay increase that's going to stop me resigning tomorrow and taking my client base and contacts to one of our competitors, maybe even European Experiences," I said, referring to Adventure Travel's most fierce rival.
I turned and began to walk out of the office.
"Stephanie, wait, I'm sorry," pleaded the useless sexual exploiter.
"Oh yes, one last thing," I said , stopping and turning to face Tumbril, as an apparent afterthought, " I have already emailed all the pictures to a friend in Russia, aren't these 3G phones wonderful? So I wouldn't try anything nasty or you might find your profile picture on the company website has been mysteriously updated"
I strode out of the office to fetch Bekka and escape the building.
I just managed to strap my precious daughter in her car seat before I had to turn away and retch violently on the floor of the car park. I took out a tissue and cleaned myself as much as possible, before I got in the car and sped away. Even though I was still feeling nauseous I was desperate to get away from Adventure Travel, before the miserable molester appeared in the foyer.
Somehow or other I negotiated the journey back to my family refuge without any further mishap, even though on a number of occasions I felt a violent shiver through my body as I went over the events of the previous hour. The thought of how close I had come to being forced into an act of utter servility to Tumbril was beginning to fill me with a sense of my own worthlessness.
The bravado I had shown, in turning his threats back on him, had dissipated and I was being to have many doubts about the wisdom of my actions. Even though I knew as Steve I could easily get another job, I wasn't at all confident that as Stephanie or even as breast feeding Steve I would be so successful.
Almost three quarters of an hour later I pulled up outside my house. I put my head on the wheel, feeling utterly exhausted.
I heard a gentle tap on the car window. I looked up to see Mary, looking anxiously at me.
"Are you OK?" she asked, after I had wound the window down," I heard the car parking but you've been sat here for ten minutes. What's happened?"
"Sorry, Mary, had a bit of a nightmare day," I replied.
She leaned and kissed me gently.
"Don't worry darling, you're home now," she said.
"I'm so glad to be here, now, I didn't think I'd make it" I responded.
"Have you been sick?" Mary asked, noticing a few spots on my blouse.
"Yes," I responded, feeling subdued.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Steve, don't worry it shouldn't stain that colour. You go on in and shower and I'll bring in Bekka and your stuff," Mary directed.
The feel of the jets of warm water on my body was so relaxing, as I stood in the shower ten minutes later. I rubbed some shampoo into my hair to wash the city grime out. As the lather slid down into the shower tray it felt like I was washing some of the horrible experiences in Tumbril's office away at the same time.
I felt a soft hand on my back.
"Do you want someone to scrub your back?" asked my lover.
"Yes please," I said turning and smiling at Mary who was standing, naked, in the bathroom. I took her hand and gently pulled her into my embrace. She kissed me urgently and started caressing me. I soon returned the favour.
There is something uniquely sensuous about showering with someone, especially if you love that person. Soon the steam on the curtain was not just coming from the hot water.
Mary pushed me back and down a little as she prepared to mount me.
"Do you want me to go and get the sports bra and T-shirt on," I whispered as I moved my hand slowly over her neck and shoulders.
"No, I can think I can deal with your boobs this once, let's not lose this moment, before Bekka wakes up," she replied before taking my penis, slipping a condom on and lowering herself onto me. Her taking the lead was the arrangement we had discovered, the previous week, to be the best for me to maintain an erection.
An hour later, our passions sated, we sat down in the lounge after a sumptuous meal of Aloo Gobi, Basmati Rice, Paratha and a glass of Chardonnay.
I looked down at Bekka, taking her evening nourishment.
"You know something, Mary," I said, after I had related the events of the way to her,
"What's that my love?" she asked, quietly.
"I just want this having to pretend to be a woman to stop, it just creates so many problems," I replied.
"Oh dear I'm sorry, it may not be that simple," Mary said, a little sadly.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Well you know I went to the hospital for my monthly appointment, today," she explained.
"Yes, I remember, now, sorry I didn't ask earlier. How was the check up, did you get the results?" I asked.
"Everything's fine," Mary responded, " the blood tests showed that the HIV viral load is very low and the cancer is still in remission, but there is a problem"
"A problem?" I asked, fearing something new to threaten our futures.
"They said that they were so surprised that they did the test twice," she responded.
"What was the test?" I asked.
"They were checking my hormone levels," Mary replied.
"What does that mean, what's the matter, are you OK, you're not feeling ill again?" I asked, anxiously.
"No. I'm not ill, but it's going to be a big problem, I'm so sorry Steve, I'm pregnant." said Mary.
My sound of heels on the marble floor echoed around the foyer of Adventure Travel as I walked in carrying Bekka in her car chair.
Two heads turned towards me, as I walked towards the reception in my still unfamiliar female work outfit. I smiled at John, the security guard/receptionist sitting behind the counter. I turned to greet the other person in the foyer and froze in my tracks.
There, standing by the lift was Mr Tumbril, the molesting manager from the previous day. He gave me the vilest of stares before stepping into his lift. I felt myself shaking with a mixture of apprehension, fear and tiredness. I considered whether I should go home.
"Something wrong, Miss Jones?" asked John.
"Sorry, John, what did you say?" I asked, lost in my reverie.
"I asked if you felt alright, you've been lost to the world for the last half a minute or so," he said.
"I'm sorry, John, I'm very tired, I slept very badly last night and yesterday I had an unfortunate encounter with my new line manager." I explained. I had indeed slept little after Mary's revelation. I had lain awake for hours reliving the incident with Tumbril and bemoaning how one slightly split condom could have turned our lives upside down again.
"That Tumbril seems a bad sort in my opinion, Miss Jones," said John," it's so sad that Mrs Williams had to fly to Australia after her daughter had that accident on the weekend"
I digested the new information about my previous line manager and then after bidding a good day to John, I made my way to drop my daughter off for the day.
"Morning Stephanie," said Janis, smiling at me, as I entered the nursery.
"Hello Janis," I said, in a subdued tone, while handing over Bekka.
"Something wrong?" she asked, as she placed Bekka in the play pen and finished her coffee.
"Had a bad night and a worse day yesterday," I replied.
"Oh, I'm sorry" Janis said," anything you can tell me?"
"It's just that Mary's pregnant and I don't know how we will manage," I replied," and another thing, a word of warning Janis"
"What's that?" she asked.
"Don't ever be in a room with Tumbril, you know my new line manager, on your own," I advised.
"Why?" Janis asked.
"Just say that he is a predator, so don't risk it, sorry can't tell you more, got to rush to the office," I replied.
Janis gave me a strange look and then returned to busying herself with her morning schedule as I made my way to my office.
As usual the phone was ringing as I reached my desk barely seconds after the official start time for the beginning of the working day. I picked up the handset and was immediately placed on the defensive by an angry French hotelier complaining about the late arrival of the previous day's coach party causing him to have to pay extra for staff to work overtime. I was halfway through haggling the amount of the compensation cheque when I noticed the envelope on top of my keyboard addressed to 'Mr Steven Jones'. I stopped talking and Monsieur de Villepin was surprised at the sudden silence.
"ess everything ok, Steven?" he asked in heavily accented English.
"Not sure, Jean," I replied, before regaining my senses, and turning back to French to agree immediate full settlement of the claim. Monsieur de Villepin thanked me and bade me 'adieu', although he sounded a little disappointed that the argument, he had clearly been enjoying, had come to a premature end.
I picked up the envelope and, ignoring a second phone call, opened it with my paper knife.
A single sheet of plain paper fell out. I unfolded it and read it.
Did you think I wouldn't check about the letter.
After yesterday I feel like going straight to the police. Would you like it in prison, you nonce? I bet they'd love your tranny arse.
One chance left, ladyboy. Same place at 5, bring some lube in case I want to take our relationship deeper..."
I dropped the letter and rushed to the loo to be violently sick. I cleaned myself off and then sat down on the toilet seat, feeling emotionally exhausted. It seemed like my carefully reconstructed world was rapidly falling to pieces. There seemed to no alternative so I put my head in my hands and let the tears flow.
"Are you OK, Stephanie," asked Jules, some quarter of an hour later, "I saw you rush off to the loo and wondered why you hadn't come back"
I looked up at her, she looked visibly shocked by my appearance.
"Oh, Stephanie you look terrible, what's up?" she asked sounding very concerned.
"I had a letter....it's on my desk...let me show you," I said through my sniffles as I tried to regain a semblance of self control.
Jules and Kathleen read the letter and then with obvious mounting anger listened to my account of the events of the day before.
"The bastard!" exclaimed Jules.
"I wish I had a surgical knife!" said Kathleen angrily.
"Stephanie we must go to the police," said Jules.
"But, there is no real evidence here," I said," it's his word against mine"
"I still think we should call the police, let me look up Islington Police station." said Jules.
An hour later I was sitting in the feeding room in the nursery giving Bekka her morning nourishment.
"Well, I must say that is a fascinating story, Steven, what you are doing for your daughter is remarkable" said Inspector Janet Smith, after I had finished explaining everything to her," although I doubt that we have enough evidence for a successful prosecution case against Mr Tumbril"
"I didn't think so, either, Janet, but my work colleagues insisted I contact you about this," I said, as I cuddled my daughter close to me.
"Let me take the letter away, Steven, maybe there is something on it, some prints or some DNA," she said as she stood to leave," but if there are any other incidents, particularly if there are witnesses, then please contact me asap"
Lunchtime in O'Learys was the usual hectic rush to grab some food. I related the conversation with the police inspector to Jules and Kathleen. After a few minutes of thought, Jules suddenly smiled.
"I have an idea about the witnesses," she said and proceeded to outline her plan.
"It sounds a bit risky to me," I said.
"It's a way of getting rid of him once and for all," reassured Jules," just think you'd be ridding the company of something dark and evil"
"Don't worry," said Kathleen," there's nothing that can go wrong, we'll stop anything horrible happening"
"OK," I said, determinedly," I'll do it!"
The rest of afternoon sped past as I tried not to think about the impending meeting. It was difficult to focus properly and as a result I failed for the first time to persuade the afternoon's client to accept their itinerary for their world cruise. However all was not lost as they agreed to come for another discussion.
It was just after five when I knocked on the door of my line manager.
"Well, Miss Jones, I’m glad to see that you have come to your senses," oozed Tumbril, as he opened the door to let me in.
I quickly walked past him and stood in the opposite part of the room.
"Well time is short, Stephanie so if you'd just strip off, as sexily as you can, and I'll do what I want to do," he directed.
"I don't think so," I responded, firmly," I'm not letting your filthy hands touch me. I've just come to persuade you to stop this stupidity"
"Um, I think you may have misunderstood the situation you're in, you tranny freak," said the predator with a harsh tone in his voice, " you see some of my punts on property have been a little disappointing and I am being forced to relocate tonight. In fact in four hours time I will be winging my way to Russia, where they seem to reward their risk takers rather better, especially those who like taking risks with other people's money"
"Well in that case, I think there is no need for any further discussions between us," I said, with a confidence that I didn't feel, but hopeful that Jules and Kathleen would arrive soon as witnesses and moral support.
"I hate losing, and I don't to intend to with you," he responded, before turning to the door and double locking it. He started walking towards me, menacingly.
I gulped with fear. Having to force entry through a double locked, four inch thick, solid oak door had not been a part of the plan for my rescue.
I stared at Tumbril and then back at the locked door while I tried to think of a way to escape my desperate predicament.
"I don’t have time for messing round, if I have to hold you down to fuck you I’ll do it, you pervert. You can’t fight me, I’m a foot taller and must be almost twice your weight," sneered Tumbril.
I gulped at his direct threat and backed away. I had no intention of letting the brute assault me, but I was at a loss in thinking of a possible way out.
I reached in my bag for a possible weapon and felt something hard and cylindrical.
I continued retreating from him but then stopped, there would be no chance of escape if I let him force me into a corner.
“OK, OK, I can see now that my options are limited,” I said as I started unbuttoning my blouse.
My potential rapist stopped moving towards me, and a big smirk spread across his face.
“You learn fast”
“Yes, I do,” I replied, smiling sweetly at him.
“OK, my time is short, so get everything off and lean forward against the chair, I like to get a couple of handfuls when I do a whore,” Tumbril commanded, making groping movements with his hands, “ on second thoughts, you can leave your panties on, I don’t want to see your dick”
I dropped my blouse on the floor and then shimmied out of my tight skirt.
“There is a problem, though” I said.
“Yes,” my molester grunted as he took his shirt off.
“I haven’t got any lube, what about if I give you the blow-job instead?” I asked, in as breathy a voice as possible, running my hand suggestively over my bra and breasts to arouse him.
He paused for a few seconds to consider my request then resumed taking his clothes off.
“You’d better do me good, queer, otherwise, lube or no lube I’m going to stuff that tight arse of yours,” he replied maliciously, “now get that bra off and give me an eyeful of your tits”
“Get an eyeful of this instead, you bastard!” I screamed as I sprayed the deodorant, from my bag, directly into his eyes
His scream of pain at the intense stinging was heightened when I accurately kicked his testicles, as hard as I could, with the point of my shoes.
I flicked off my heels and legged it for the door. I quickly unlatched the Yale lock but the ancient bolt was very stiff. I cursed Susan’s predecessor as area manager, who had installed the four inch thick medieval door when it was discarded from a film set, as I tried to wriggle it free. My heart beat was going through the roof as I struggled to open the door.
“You bitch!” shouted Tumbril,” you’ll pay for that”
I glanced round to see that he had got to his feet and, with one hand rubbing his eyes and the other holding his groin area, was lumbering towards me.
Suddenly with one last desperate wrench I managed to pull the bolt back. I pulled the handle of the door, it opened agonisingly slowly, because of the door restrainer. In a few seconds the gap was large enough for me to try and slip through. I stepped out into the corridor.
The powerful wrench on my arm, as I was pulled back into the room by Tumbril, almost pulled it out of it's socket. I was slammed against the wall, I felt pain all over my back as I impacted. My bra was ripped off and my breasts were groped very painfully. I felt his thick fingers take an iron grip on my throat as he began to squeeze the life out of me.
"I should kill you for that!" he screamed in my face. I was quickly losing consciousness as my brain screamed for the oxygen that it was being deprived of. As everything around me began to go hazy an image of Bekka gurgling with happiness as I tickled her toes a few days previously filled my mind. I smiled at the sweet memory.
"I'll wipe that smile off your face, you nonce!" Tumbril shouted as I was flung onto the floor. I gasped for breath and was like a limp rag-doll as he knelt behind me, pushed my knees forward to raise my backside and pulled my panties down. I felt his penis probing for the entry through my anus. He reached forward to grasp my breasts as he prepared to violently thrust into me.
"Not so fast Tumbril!" shouted John as suddenly the weight of Tumbril, on top of me, disappeared.
I turned my head to see John, Jules and Kathleen wrestling Tumbril to the ground. Although he was stronger than each of them individually, he was no match for their combined efforts and soon he was face down on the carpet with my rescuers sitting on top of him.
"Don't be stupid, get off me, I was only giving your freaky friend what he wanted," shouted Tumbril.
"Keep your pathetic explanations for the police, they should be here soon enough," said Jules, angrily.
"Now, come on, it was only a bit of fun," responded Tumbril, changing his tone dramatically at the reference to the forces of law and order, " there's no need for the police to be involved, listen I'm sorry if I was a bit rough with Stephanie, I got a little carried away"
"You are a sick man and lacking in brain cells if you think we are going to let you get away with attempted rape," shouted Kathleen.
"Now then, I'm sure that we could come to some sort of arrangement, I've got a million pounds in my suitcase, what about if you take that and just let me get up and go. I promise you'll never see me again," the molesting manager pleaded.
"I don't think so, " said John," if you've got that much money you must have stolen it. You can help the police give it back to your victims"
"You don't understand what you're doing, listen if that's not enough I've got more in my bank account, you can have it all, just let me go, please," begged Tumbril, "you can't let the Italians get me"
"And what Italians would that be, Mr Tumbril or should I say Mr Johnson or even Mr Throuton," asked Inspector Janet Smith as she strode into the room, accompanied by two large male constables, " are you a little worried that the Sicilian Cosa Nostra might not be happy with the way their investments failed"
The policemen quickly restrained the thieving thug while the Inspector recited his rights.
"Mr William Tumbril, alias Mr Peter Johnson, alias Mr Hector Throuton, I am arresting you for assault, attempted rape and embezzlement," she began, " you do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something that you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence"
Tumbril said nothing and he was led away by the two police officers. In the meantime Jules had retrieved my blouse and skirt and was helping me dress.
"It's likely that there will be further charges," said Janet to us," we have a probable match of his DNA, from the gum on the envelope, with three rapes in the West Midlands. I'm sorry we couldn't get here earlier, how was it Steve?" she asked.
"It was bad, Janet, I thought he was going to kill me," I replied, quietly, "and then if Jules and the others hadn't arrived in time he would have........"
I couldn't say anything else and just sat down in a chair and began sobbing as the enormity of what might have happened began to sink in. I shivered as I suddenly felt very cold. Everything went a little blurred. The next thing I knew I had John's coat around my shoulder and was sipping a cup of hot chocolate.
I felt Jules's arm around my shoulder.
"I'm sorry you had to go through all that," she said, "but you're safe now and he's locked away where he won't be able to attack anyone else in the future"
"Yes," I said quietly.
"Come on Steve, we'd better get you home now," Jules stated.
At that Janet left, promising that she would be around to my house later to take a statement and that she would arrange a visit from a rape counsellor. We bade farewell to John after I had thanked him for his help and then Jules helped me down to my car while Kathleen fetched Bekka from the nursery, after Jules had spoken to Janis to explain the situation and I had briefly confirmed everything.
We drove home mostly in silence as I still felt too numb to want to interact and Jules eventually gave up making any small talk when I didn't respond. Kathleen followed us in her car, planning to take Jules back to Adventure Travel to fetch her car, after we had reached my house.
I walked into my domestic haven, feeling relieved to be home. I told Jules to leave my stuff in the hall, while I put Bekka in her playpen and started up one of her nursery rhyme toys. Jules then left to get a lift with Kathleen to fetch her car, promising to return as soon as possible. I was surprised by the quiet of the house and I looked around for Mary.
I noticed she was sitting at the kitchen table staring at a piece of official looking paper. She had obviously been crying. She didn’t say anything when I walked in.
“What is it?” I asked, wondering what could possibly be the matter.
She held up the piece of paper to me.
“Read it” she directed in a strange tone.
Dear Mr Jones,
In view of your failure to respond to the repeated warnings you have received, about your inappropriate dress and conduct while on the premises of Adventure Travel, I have no alternative but to terminate your contract of employment with immediate effect.
"This is an unusual situation, Steve, or maybe Stephanie would be more appropriate. It's hard to see an attractive woman sitting in front of me and use a male name," said Jeffrey Withers, the deputy MD of European Experiences, after I had explained some of the background to my search for a new job.
"Yes, unusual is an apt description, maybe even unique and Stephanie is fine by me" I responded, smiling, as I sat back in the thick leather chair wearing the black, Jaeger, skirt suit, that Mary had insisted on me wearing for the interview.
"Well Stephanie all I can say is that Adventure Travel' loss could be European Experiences gain, your reputation precedes you," stated Jeffrey.
"You are too kind," I said, pleasantly surprised at the positive response I had received so far. At last it seemed that my life had taken a turn for the better.
"Yes, indeed, the number of times you have put together exciting holiday packages, for Adventure Travel, that have made whatever we have offered, in the same market, to seem second rate," he said, smiling, "I have found it galling, so I was very pleased to see you today"
It had been a difficult decision to contact the main competitor to my former company to see if they had any vacancies. The deciding factor had been the insulting final salary cheque that had arrived the day after the assault. None of the expected bonuses had been included. I had tried all that day to contact Brian Salter, the regional manager, but he had been unavailable, at least to me.
"I really like the concept of individually tailored holidays at a premium price. Can you tell me more about that?" Jeffrey asked.
I outlined some of the travel plans we had designed for wealthy individuals. The young deputy MD smiled and nodded his enthusiasm, especially at the profits that had been made so far.
"That sounds splendid, I wonder if you can bear with me while I fetch Alex to hear about this idea," said Jeffrey before he rose and went in search of his boss.
Alone in the sumptuous office, evidence of the success of European Experiences despite being smaller than my former employers, I considered the events of the last three days. I had made my statement to Inspector Smith later on in the evening of the attack and she and Jules had managed to persuade Mary that there could not be anything to the allegations of misconduct that had led to my dismissal.
Jeffrey returned with a tall, impressive looking man in his early fifties.
"Stephanie, this is Alex Price, the Managing Director of European Experiences," said Jeffrey," Alex let me introduce Stephanie Jones, who has been working on an exciting scheme at Adventure Travel"
"Delighted to meet you, Stephanie," said Alex, in an attractive, friendly voice as he extended his hand.
"I'm pleased to meet you too, Mr Price, I've heard so much about you," I responded, shaking his hand.
"Nothing bad, I hope," Alex said, with a twinkle in his eye, "now please tell me more of this programme that Jeffrey was so keen for me to hear about"
I smiled and then gave him a similar outline to the one I had already given Jeffrey. Alex listened and then asked a few probing questions about the operation and how it might work for his company. After about half an hour of intense discussion he sat back in his chair and smiled at me.
"Well, Stephanie, I like this idea a lot so the only question remaining is when can you start implementing it for European Experiences?" he asked.
"Are you offering me a job, Mr Price?" I asked a little uncertainly, being surprised at the suddenness of the offer.
"Most definitely," he replied.
"In that case I can start Monday," I said.
"That is very good news," Alex said, then he stood and shook my hand again," I'll leave you with Jeffrey to sort out the details and look forward to seeing you on Monday"
I sat back and took a deep breath.
"Are you OK?" asked Jeffrey.
"I'm fine, just taken aback with the speed of events, I thought that it would take days or even weeks to find out whether you would have a position for me" I replied.
"It looks like you made a good impression on Alex," said Jeffrey, smiling," he is always decisive about decisions like that, if he likes a person or an idea then he will trust his judgement all the way. In your case I think he liked both"
"That's good to hear," I said.
"One thing, though, I didn't tell Alex about your other gender presentation," he stated.
"Will that be a problem," I asked, a little concerned that what sounded like a dream job would fail at the first obstacle.
"No, it isn't going to be a problem, whatever way you choose to present yourself here will be acceptable. I am in charge of equality policy after all," he explained.
"That's good," I said, feeling relieved.
"However may be a difficulty in replicating the arrangement you had in Adventure Travel," Jeffrey began, " as you are aware we are quite a bit smaller and therefore everyone gets to know everyone else. You wouldn't be working in a small separate unit. So if we had a male employee breast feeding a baby, it would become common knowledge before you could say Chinese whispers"
"Yes I can see that problem," I responded, wondering where this discussion was going.
"As well as that, being in London, with thousands of journalists and paparazzi looking for the next tabloid splash, well I'm sure you can imagine the rest," Jeffrey stated.
"OK, I can see that viewpoint, but what are you actually saying?" I asked.
"Stephanie, the way I see it, there are two scenarios that avoid damaging publicity to the company," Jeffrey explained, " the first you are employed as Steve and do not breast feed your daughter or any other future children, although of course you are welcome to utilise our workplace nursery. The second option is that you are employed as Stephanie and then breast feeding or not is not an issue"
"I see," I commented, already thinking about the implications for Bekka.
"Of course, as Steve we could employ you on a significantly higher salary because of your contacts although even as Stephanie we would make you a not unattractive offer," he said.
"There is a lot to think about here, Jeffrey, there are implications for my family life that are very serious," I said, carefully.
"OK, Stephanie, why don't you go and think about these offers. Ideally I'd love you to start on Monday, but if you'd like to have a little time to discuss it with your partner, let's say a week, then that's fine with me," said Jeffrey.
I took that as a signal for the interview coming to a close but, before I left, I asked him for a rough figure of the salaries as either Steve or Stephanie. On the drive home, through the usual slowly moving London traffic, I considered the financial situation that Mary and myself were in. Without the expected bonuses from my success at Adventure Travel we would be facing increasing mortgage arrears. If I was working as Steve, we might just about manage and with luck we might be able to wean Bekka very soon.
My precious daughter smiled at me as I walked into the house, some twenty minutes later. She was sat on Mary's lap listening to my wife's singing a simple nursery rhyme in her beautiful voice.
"That's excellent timing," said Mary," I was just about to feed her, but I'm sure she’d prefer fresh rather than refrigerated"
"Yep, that's me, it's always fresh and ready with Daddy's boobs," I responded, laughing and then picked up Bekka and quickly put her to my breast. She suckled greedily.
"How did it go?" Mary asked.
"I got a job, " I replied," but.."
Mary's hoot of joy was cut off by the 'but' and she looked concerned as I explained the details of the offer.
"Oh dear, that is a problem," she said, after I had finished," what can we do?"
"I don't know, sweetie, we'll have to think about it, maybe if the union is successful things will be OK," I said referring to my trade union attempting to get a quick settlement from Adventure Travel for the unfair dismissal.
"Oh, sorry, Sheila from the Unite office phoned and ask that you contact her urgently," Mary said.
She dialled the number for me and soon I was talking to Sheila Ellis at the Unite office in London. She outlined the response from Adventure Travel. I put the phone down feeling downcast.
"What's wrong?" asked Mary, as she saw my expression after the phone call.
"She said that Adventure Travel would fight the unfair dismissal claim all the way, they say that the documentation they have is water tight." I replied.
"But surely now that Tumbril is arrested and charged they can discount all his allegations?" Mary wondered.
"Yes, but he is not convicted and anyway the company can and will use the impending trial to delay the tribunal," I responded.
"But that could be months," Mary said.
"Yes, that's what Sheila said, it could be as long as a year before there is a tribunal decision," I explained.
"What can we do, how can we manage until then?" Mary asked.
"Mary, there is only one solution," I said quietly.
"What's that?" she asked
"I'll have to take the job as Steve and....," I said.
"and what, Steve?" Mary asked, a look of apprehension in her face as if she was expecting what I knew I had to say.
"You'll have to get an abortion, Mary," I said, turning my face away as I said it so as not to see the hurt in her face.
“No, Steve, I'm not having an abortion,” said Mary fiercely, as we sat at the table on Saturday morning having our breakfast,” it's my body and I'll make the decision and I've made my mind up!”
I looked at her tired face and I wondered if she had slept as little as I had. We had argued for many hours about how we resolve the impossible financial situation we were in. Eventually she had gone to sleep in the spare bedroom while I had kept Bekka company.
It had been a long night, tossing and turning in bed while trying to find another solution to the only one that seemed to make sense. Having to feed our daughter in the middle of the night had been a welcome escape from my mental turmoil.
“Mary, you're not being rational,” I said as calmly as I could,” what other options do we which don't involve losing our home?”
“No, you're right Steve, I'm not being rational,” she responded,” I'm being emotional, that's what woman do and my heart is telling me I'm making the right decision”
Our continued argument was interrupted by our precious daughter wanting some attention. I got up and made my way to the bedroom. Bekka was lying on her back with a look on her face that was a mixture of surprise, at the new perspective from rolling over onto her back, and contentment, after finally achieving her goal.
“Who's a clever girl then,” I said, happily, feeling pleased at this little step taken on Bekka's development. I called Mary to come and share the moment. We stood next to the playpen, holding hands, the previous disagreement put aside for a while. Our daughter smiled up at us, another recent addition to her skills and something we were so happy to see.
“Don't you think little Bekka deserves a brother or sister?” Mary asked after a few minutes, “ I used to hate being an only child.”
“Yes, that would be lovely, but I just don't think it's possible at the moment,” I replied, “ maybe in a year or so.”
“But I might not be strong enough then,” said Mary.
I turned and took her in my arms, kissing her softly on her cheek.
“You're always be strong, my sweet,” I reassured.
“But, Steve, what if the cancer comes back?” she asked, sobbing a little on my shoulder,” I can't be pregnant then”
I considered what Mary was saying as I gently stroked her soft hair.
The door bell rang, Bekka, startled at the sound, began to whimper. I looked at the clock in surprise at such an early call.
“Sugar, it's nine already, that must be Jules,” I said, as I picked up our little bundle of joy,” I forgot she was coming around this morning with my stuff”
“I'll let her in, you get on with Bekka,” Mary said.
I busied myself with changing my daughter while Mary let Jules into the house. I heard their voices in the kitchen as I prepared to give Bekka a morning feed. I sat in the armchair and put her to my left breast.
“Hi Steve,” said Jules as she walked into the lounge carrying two cups of tea.
“Hi, yourself, thanks,” I responded, as I took the proffered beverage.
“Hey, matching nighties,” joked Jules, changing her gaze from me to Jules and then back again
“Saves on shopping,” explained Mary,” and it's easier for Steve to breast feed”
“Well you both look very cute in them,” said Jules, between sips of tea.
“So how is everyone at work?” I asked.
"Going downhill fast, I would say," Jules replied," we seem to losing about ten contracts a day. Agents, resort managers, hoteliers and all sorts of other people are phoning all the time. They nearly all have the same two questions."
"What are those?" I asked.
"The first one is why did Tumbril get arrested and the second one is 'where is Steve?'." Jules replied.
"Nice to know you're missed then, Steve," said Mary, smiling.
"Oh, I forgot to mention, there's an article in today's Guardian," interjected Jules before handing over her copy, open to the main business pages. She pointed out the small article in the bottom right of the page.
Sunset for Adventure Travel?
There is still mystery surrounding the arrest earlier this week of the London area manager of Adventure Travel, William Tumbril, who yesterday was remanded in custody on charges of rape, assault and embezzlement. It is unclear whether these charges are related to his place of work or to some other location. There are also rumours that some senior staff have resigned in protest at the sacking of another staff member.
In a brief statement, Brian Salter, the regional manager, stated:-
"Adventure Travel is undergoing an employment restructuring programme and a few individuals have been moved on in their careers. We remain on course for record profits this year"
"Senior staff resigned?" I asked, after I had put the paper down and moved Bekka to my other breast.
"Yes, Kathleen and me," Jules replied.
"Why's that?" Mary asked.
"The last couple of days the atmosphere was so bad, especially with the Mr 'Fixit', they sent in to try and clean up the mess. He was almost camped in our office watching everything we did, especially after the first cancellations. I think he was worried that we were trying to sabotage the company," Jules explained, laughing, "little did he know"
"Why's that?" I asked.
Jules put her in hand in her shoulder bag and took out a pink memory stick.
"Voila! Your guarantee of future employment," she said, triumphantly.
"How come?" I asked.
"It's got the details of all your contacts and also all the people who were interested in the bespoke holiday service, past and potential customers," she explained.
"Wow, you are a genius, Jules," I said with appreciation of her company espionage skills.
"Aren't I just," she said, preening herself," me and Kath did the same as well"
"How much longer do you have to work there till the end of your notice period?" I asked, after a few minutes.
Jules told us that she and Kathleen had been escorted out of the building as soon as their letters of resignation were received, Friday afternoon, and were both on a month's 'gardening leave'. Neither of them were bothered as with their experience, language skills and their list of contacts they both expected to pick up work very quickly.
I finished feeding Bekka just as the phone rang, Mary answered it.
"Steve do you want to go for a picnic in Ally Pally*?" she asked.
"Sure, why not, it's a lovely day," I replied, looking out of the window to see the bright summer sun beating down," who with?"
"It's John and Elizabeth from work, they mentioned the idea yesterday, I forgot to tell you," she answered.
"What about you Jules?" asked Mary," are you busy today, want to join us?"
"Well OK, as long as you don't think I'll be in the way, you know with two couples, I'll feel like the odd woman," responded Jules.
"Maybe not," said Mary, smiling at me.
I caught her gaze and wondered where this was leading.
"Why don't I want to ask you by that remark, Mary," I said.
"Um, sort of sorry Steve, but John saw us in the shopping centre last week and I had to explain you were my sister," she said coyly.
"The return of Stephanie to the world!" announced Jules.
I shrugged my shoulders and went to find some suitable female clothes.
Two hours later we were walking along a tree lined path in the grounds of the park. The shade was a respite from the heat of the late morning sun. We had earlier met the young couple from Mary's work and I had had to endure some polite questioning about the whereabouts of my husband, while Jules and Mary struggled to keep straight faces.
"Hey everyone, what about this spot for the picnic?" asked Mary when we had reached a shaded, piece of open grass next to the lake.
Everyone agreed with Mary's choice. We put a blanket down and I lay down with Bekka, tickling her and letting her grasp my fingers, singing a nursery rhyme and doing the actions.
Hickory Dickory Dock
The mouse ran up the clock
The clock struck one
The mouse ran down
Hickory Dickory Dock
The other three went off to get some tea while Mary laid out the food.
"This is lovely here, don't you think?" she asked after the picnic was ready.
"Yes, one of those moments when you feel that you are at peace with the world. If only life could more often be picnics in the park with your family," I remarked.
"Especially if there is more than one child?" suggested Mary.
I smiled at her comment.
"I think that the memory stick could change things you know," I said quietly.
"What do you mean?" asked Mary, hopefully.
"It means that there is good chance a generating quite a bit of business, quickly for European Experiences and if so then maybe earning enough money to make things work," I explained.
"Are you saying what I think you're saying," Mary asked.
"Yes, I am, my sweet, I'll phone Jeffrey when we get back to tell him that I will start work as Stephanie on Monday and lets make sure that Bekka will have a little brother or sister in nine months time," I said, smiling at Mary.
Mary reached over and kissed me, pouring her feelings of joy and happiness into our embrace. After the nightmare of the previous week it was wonderful to feel normal again.
*Alexandra Park in North London.
"Hello, I'm Stephanie, I was told to bring my baby here," I said to the harassed young woman, who was trying to pull two three year old boys off each other, as I walked into the long room, decorated with children's drawings and simple educational posters, that was European Experiences's crá¨che.
"Sorry, a bit busy here," she replied, "Simone will sort you out"
"Oh, OK, thanks Theresa" I said, after reading the name-tag of the nursery nurse, who by now had succeeded in separating the two boisterous toddlers and was leading them away to engage in more constructive play.
"Simone!!," she yelled in the direction of the toilets where a procession of little children were walking out rearranging their clothes as best they could.
"What is it?" yelled the invisible Simone, obviously busy in encouraging appropriate toileting behaviour.
"There's a woman, with a baby here, says she was told to bring him here," replied Theresa.
"Damn, not another baby!" cursed Simone," OK tell her I'll be right there"
"Did you get that, Susan, no it wasn't Susan, sorry what did you say your name was?" asked Theresa, who had succeeded in seating her two energetic charges at the little table with the toy garage.
"It's Stephanie," I replied, dismayed at my first impression of childcare provision at my new workplace. This wasn't the start that I had hoped for on my first day presenting myself as a woman to a whole group of strangers.
As I had driven my way through the usual London gridlock to Camden Town I had felt increasingly apprehensive. It was one thing to wear female clothes, however convincingly, with a group of friends who knew the truth. It was a much greater challenge to spend the day worrying that any wrong response to a simple question might raise doubts about my apparent gender.
"Yes, how can I help you?" asked an unsmiling woman in her thirties wearing an apron, obviously Simone.
"Hello, my name is Stephanie Jones and this is Bekka my daughter," I replied, smiling as disarmingly as I could.
"Well, I'm sorry Stephanie, we don't normally have babies in the crá¨che, it's really for toddlers," said Simone, obviously confident in her ability to repel the source of a potential problem.
My heart sank at this unexpected response.
"We do sometimes have a baby if special arrangements are made and usually only for a short period, but I'm pretty sure that there's nothing in the book about a new baby coming today," Simone explained, in a not too unfriendly tone, but clearly searching for the coup de grace that would expel me from her little world.
She opened the big heavy diary that was on the top of the desk next to the entrance and quickly glanced at the list of children booked in.
"There's nothing here, who did you say told you to being your daughter here today?" Simone asked, her smile showing her confidence that I had made some mistake and was about to leave.
"I didn't say, but it was Jeffrey Withers, yesterday when I phoned him to accept the job," I replied.
"You spoke to him yesterday, at home?" Simone asked, raising her eyebrows at the idea of someone contacting the Deputy MD on a Sunday.
I sensed a weakening in Simone's resolve not to admit Bekka and pressed home my advantage.
"Yes and he was eager for me to start today after I had the interview with him and Alex on Friday," I explained, dropping the name of the company MD into the conversation.
"Is that Alex Price?" she asked, clearly taken aback at my contacts in the company.
"Yes, is there another Alex in European Experiences?" I enquired ever so innocently.
"Well I guess we'll have to try and fit you in, at least on a temporary basis, we are not really staffed here to cater for babies," said Simone, grudgingly conceding defeat.
At that stage Bekka chose to announce her presence with a little whimper that gradually increased in volume so that by the time I had picked her up she was making enough noise to attract the attention of most of the other children in the crá¨che, apart from the two garage mechanics who appeared to be experimenting in ram raid attacks with their plastic vehicles.
I sat down, holding Bekka, on a nearby chair and quickly unbuttoned my blouse, with my free hand. I opened my nursing bra, removed the pad and put Bekka to suckle. I had wondered how long she would last this morning as she had not fed well earlier, as if she could sense the tension I was under.
"Oh, you're breast feeding, that might be a problem," said Simone.
Meanwhile at this development two of the toddlers, a girl with blond hair in a ponytail, wearing a short pink dress and a boy in shorts, had walked over and were standing in front of me.
"Simone why is she letting her baby eat her boobies?" asked the girl, pointing at me, sounding very alarmed.
"It's OK, Evie" reassured Simone, "Stephanie's giving some milk to Bekka"
"Hello Stephanie," said Evie, smiling at me.
"Hello Evie," I said, smiling back.
"Stephanie?" said Evie.
"Yes," I said.
"Do you have to drink a lot of milk to get it into your boobies?" she asked, seriously.
"Um no, Evie," I said, trying my best to stifle my amusement.
"Will I get boobies, if I drink a lot of milk?" asked the little boy," I don't want boobies"
"You like milk, you'll have boobies soon, Paul," explained Evie.
Paul put his hands to his eyes and started sobbing.
"I don't want boobies, only girls have boobies," he said between his tears.
At this stage, before any more of the children could join in the toddler discussion, on breast feeding and gender roles, Simone decided that major distraction was in order.
"Children, I think we need a special celebration to welcome a new baby to our crá¨che, I have a packet of chocolate buttons for everyone," she said leading Evie and Paul over to the table. The other children followed, instantly captivated by the prospect of some more sweet, brown circles of delight.
I managed to finish topping up Bekka and she went back to sleep. By the time Simone had seated all the children for their extra treat I was once again the smartly dressed female executive, in my black Jaeger skirt suit as before. I would need to do some shopping soon to maintain the appropriate image.
Simone explained about the difficulties in ensuring that the crá¨che would be quiet enough for a baby to sleep, due to their lack of space. She suggested that I use the travel cot, that she had retrieved from the back of a cupboard, in my office and to bring Bekka down when she was awake and they could put her in one of the playpens. I accepted the only offer that was possible and we made our way to Jeffrey's office.
I knocked on his office door, a muffled voice bade us enter.
"Stephanie, welcome, I'm so glad that you could start today," he said effusively, as we walked into the room," Oh Simone, is there is problem?"
Simone explained about the staffing issue and the arrangement that she had made to look after Bekka.
"OK, that shouldn't be a problem, Stephanie will be working from the finance department, they have a spare desk and hopefully it's not as busy or noisy as the general office," he said, leading us towards across the open plan area where around a hundred employees of the company were working. The strange procession of the deputy MD, myself carrying Bekka and Simone with the travel cot received a lot of curious looks.
We entered a medium sized room with two desks on either side. A smartly dressed, tall woman in her middle thirties turned away from her computer and looked at us through her horn rimmed glasses.
"Debbie, this is Stephanie Jones, I told you about her earlier," said Jeffrey, "Stephanie let me introduce Debbie James, our financial genius"
I smiled and held out my hand a gesture that was reciprocated by Debbie, although her smile seemed to lack any warmth. Simone quickly set up the cot and then left, with a last mutter about staffing levels. I laid Bekka down gently in the cot while Jeffrey excused himself, promising to check in on me later.
"She's a lovely baby," commented Debbie," although I'm surprised that you have to bring it to work. Can't you get a nanny or a place in a nursery?"
I sensed a little opposition from Debbie to my presence in her office, so I quickly explained Bekka's cow's milk allergy.
"You're going to breast feed here?" asked Debbie, sounding astonished at such news.
"I'm sorry there doesn't seem to be much choice, maybe something else can be sorted out later," I replied, trying to mollify Debbie's antagonism.
"Well I hope you're not going to be too noisy about it, sometimes it takes a lot of concentration to get on top of the finances here," she said, sounding annoyed at the intrusion in her little kingdom.
I promised to do my best and then turned to my desk to start my work. The next few hours went by very quickly as I phoned a number of my European contacts. I had emailed them all on the weekend explaining the change in my work and gender situation. Despite that forewarning I still had to explain again the reasons for my changed identity and to deny that I was a transsexual. Apart from one or two frosty responses most of my calls went well and the majority were interested in discussing possible deals.
As usual Bekka timed her return from the land of nod very well and I had just finished my latest phone call when it became time to feed her again. I discovered the advantage of giving my precious daughter her nourishment at the desk as I replied to some of the emailed responses.
I noticed that Debbie had been giving me strange looks for much of the morning, which I put down to her antagonism and her curiosity. It was a relief to take the ten minute walk to the crá¨che and back to deposit Bekka.
As I walked back into the office she was stood next to my desk holding my phone.
"There's a call, I think it might be for you," she said, passing me the hand-piece," it's from Germany, by the accent"
"Hallo," I said uncertainly," wer ist das?"
"Morgan, Steve," came the familiar voice of Otto from Heidelberg.
The conversation followed similar lines to the ones previously and, once we had got over the confusion of my changed gender identity, was as positive as most of the earlier calls.
I put the hand-piece down and realised that Debbie was staring at me again. I was getting a bit annoyed by her attitude by now and decided to find out what the problem was.
"Is there something wrong Debbie, " I said a little abruptly," I've noticed you giving me strange looks all morning"
She stared at me for a few more seconds then leaned forward in her desk.
"Listen Stephanie, maybe it's not really any of my business," she said softly," but even though I can't speak French or German, it’s easy to work you the meaning of ‘Transexuelle’ . Also that man from Germany asked to speak to Steve but. Maybe you'd like to explain what’s going on"
“I’m not sure I understand,” I said evasively.
“Stephanie in my job I get to know all of the important things that happen to the company. I have to since I have to process all the finance for everything Alex and Jeffrey get up to,” Debbie said with a slight smile.
“I see,” I responded, not sure where this was leading.
“The point is that when Jeffrey told me that he and Alex were excited about recruiting a former employee of Adventure Travel I wondered if it might be the Steve Jones, whom they have often mentioned. I was therefore very surprised to be introduced to Stephanie Jones this morning,” she explained.
I sat there, staring at her, not being sure what to say.
Debbie stood up and walked over to the door, she closed and then locked it and then turned back towards me.
“There, we won’t be disturbed now. Stephanie, there is one very good reason why you can trust me on this,” Debbie said, before returning to her seat.
“Why is that?” I asked, intrigued by her comment.
“I used to be called Donald,” she explained.
I sat back in my chair, stunned by the revelation.
“Everyone here knows about my past,” she continued,” it’s not an issue, but if you want to keep your situation confidential then that is fine by me”
Reassured by Debbie’s candour I told her everything that had led to me being in her office at that moment. At the end of my explanation she stood up and walked over me and hugged me.
“Steve that is an inspiring story,” she said,” if there is anything I can do to help don’t hesitate to ask”
“Thank you,” I said feeling relaxed for the first time in my new workplace,” maybe things are starting to work out at last”
Epilogue — Ten Months Later
“Thanks everyone for coming in for this first meeting of the executive committee of the Adventure Travel division of European Experiences,” said Susan Williams as she sat at the head of the long boardroom table, addressing the twenty other committee members.
“Thanks especially to Steve, Mary, Jules and Kathleen in coming in even though they are on maternity and paternity leave,” she said turning to look at the four of us sitting at the four inch thick oak table that had been made out of the former door to the room we were in.
I looked down at baby Hugh greedily suckling on my left breast while Mary fed Bekka from the bottle containing her own milk that had been pasteurised.* To our side Jules and Kathleen, seven and eight months pregnant respectively, looked uncomfortable in their hard backed chairs.
“Before we start the business of the day, which is to discuss future ventures in the development of our business I just want to publicly thank our four guests for their hard work and perseverance in rescuing our company from the disastrous position it was placed in by the criminal activities of key senior members, all of whom will have time at Her Majesty’s pleasure to consider the folly of their actions,” Susan said,” so please will you join me in extending our appreciation for the four individuals who have shown that a Mother’s Love can conquer all”
Everyone stood and applauded. It was a sweet moment.
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