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The Book Club by K. Winters

© 2018

This story is sort of a continuation of the series Expectations but it takes place months and eventually, years later, with a few new people in the mix. Of course, there are changes, this time not so well, but characters, like anything else in life, persevere.

Perhaps you would understand the relationships I’ve established between all the characters better if you became familiar with the earlier series, Expectations. It might help you understand the events in this story. But of course, as I’ve said before, I’m just the scribe, and you can do as you please. Oh, and a big shout out to Axelotto for editing my work. His keen eye has saved my butt a lot of grief.

By the way, if you are under the age of consent or bothered by gender issues that fly in the face of conventionality, then I would give this story a bye, it may not be for you.

K. Winters

So now, The Book Club

Karen opened her door and Ben Riggs stood there smiling awkwardly. Karen wrapped her arms around him, squealed, and hugged him tight. Kevin joined her as well as several club members who stood by the door and heard the commotion. They clapped Ben on the back and welcomed him back.

Sarah, in her middle twenties, tall and slender, turned to Katherine McIntyre, a middle-aged woman of fifty years. She was very stylish and still turned heads, even at that age. In Sarah’s eyes, beyond being her boss, she considered her a mentor. “What’s going on?”

Katherine’s expression brightened considerably as she looked over the shoulders of others to spot Ben at the door. “Ben’s here, that’s fantastic.” she gushed.

“Who’s Ben?”

Katherine was distracted a moment, then returned to her friend. “Ben Riggs, he was a long time member of the club along with his wife Rebecca. She died in a terrible traffic accident six months ago, leaving Ben to care for their two daughters, Emma and Katie. He’s apparently back, thank God.”

“How horrible,” Sarah said holding her hand in front of her mouth.

“It was, Ben was devastated. Karen and Kevin visited him a lot over the months but he just seemed to crawl into his shell and push everyone away. I guess Karen persevered, I’m so glad, too.”

“Did you meet him when he joined the club?”

“Actually before that, I met him socially before I got my broker’s license and started my firm. It was at a party thrown by a development company that he worked for. He’s a landscape engineer and he helped them with several of their larger housing projects. We hit it off socially. He was married at the time and he and his wife Becca, remained good friends.” She turned to the front door again. “It’s so good to see him.”

She touched Sarah’s arm tentatively. “Excuse me, I’ll be right back,” she said weaving between guests to the door. She touched Karen’s back who turned and made room for her. Then she placed her hands around Ben’s shoulders and hugged. “It’s so good to see you, Ben,” she said leaning forward to kiss him on his cheek. “How are you?”

“Okay, I guess,” he said, smiling sheepishly.

Karen wiggled her arm around his and steered him to their island counter. “You’re just in time, we haven’t started discussing this month’s book yet. Have a glass of wine. God, its good to see you here,” she said hugging his arm again.


Soon, the discussion among club members started to get lively. The conversations were centered on a book that one of the club members, a young man named Eric, suggested two months earlier titled “The perks of being a wallflower” by Chbosky. They began discussing the book and the challenges of being homosexual in contemporary society. That soon expanded into a discussion of being transgender and living in the shadow of a repressive Victorian social order.

Bill Smiley was the first to pose a question that steered the discussion in a new direction. “So what about cross dressing? How is that different from being gay?”

Ben glanced at Kevin who smirked then shrugged slightly.

Katherine asked for clarification. “What do you mean?”

Bill expanded his question. “Well, aren’t they all just a manifestation of being gay? Cross dressers are just men attracted to men aren’t they? They’re just dressing differently to be more attractive, right?”

“Not really,” Carl Reilly responded. “I did some research online in preparation for this discussion after reading this book. Apparently, according to research at a university out west, almost seventy percent of men who find an interest in feminine clothing are still completely heterosexual.”

Karen whispered into Ben’s ear, trying to introduce him quietly to all the new members. “That’s Carl Reilly, he’s a loan officer for a local bank.” Ben nodded and smiled.

Bill was surprised. “Really?”

Carl nodded. “Granted, that means that some are attracted to men and use feminine clothing to boost their attraction, but the vast majority are still as they were before they indulged in their fetish, in other words, heterosexual.”

Katherine rejoined the conversation. “Does that mean women would find them more receptive to what it is to be a woman?”

Rhonda, someone Ben didn’t know from before interrupted. “Maybe, maybe not. I think that some women find men who indulge in feminine fashion more invested in what a woman thinks and does than,” Rhonda held up two fingers on each hand and gestured air quotes, “a man’s man.”

Karen whispered. “That’s Rhonda Reilly, Carl’s wife. She’s smart but opinionated, a real firecracker.” Ben grinned, she reminded him of Becca.

Rhonda continued. “But that also means that some women prefer their men to be exactly that, the ‘bread winner and protector of the family’, and, from their perspective, they can’t do that in a dress and heels.”

“I’ve spoken with women who’ve encountered men who cross dress before, they are repulsed by the gentleness and femininity of a cross-dressing male, which they often interpret as submissive. They don’t fit into their idea of what a man should be. Of course there are degrees of cross-dressing. The drag queens are an extreme case I would argue. Then again, I’ve spoken to women who adore a man who was responsive to them in a gentle and caring manner. Just last week I was in the dressing room at the local gym and a discussion was raging on about it. Apparently, this young woman surprised her boyfriend and found him dressed in panties and a bra; it sounded, I know, a bit of a cliché I suppose. But she was shocked by it and broke off their relationship immediately. Her reasons, in this particular case, were religious in nature.”

Rhonda added more; there didn’t appear to be any stopping her now. “Several women spoke to me privately wishing they had met the man first because a gentle and caring man was something they really desired in a partner. So, you see, it’s a mixed bag; there are women and men both who fall on either side of the issue.”

“A sliding scale of sorts,” Karen added to the conversation, sitting on the arm of the chair Ben sat in.

“Very much so,” Carl agreed.

Rita Sorenson chimed in with a smirk. “I saw a new report yesterday about South Korean men spending millions of dollars annually on cosmetics in pursuit of the ideal appearance of youth.”

“You’re kidding,” Alex Johnson exclaimed.

“No, it was on the CBS Morning News yesterday. They said the fashion is spreading worldwide into Europe and America. Incredible, isn’t it.”

Kevin chuckled. “If you all do a little research, you’ll find that everything that women wear today were once considered fashionable by men.”

Alex replied a bit shocked. “Including makeup?”

Kevin nodded. “Including makeup, check out the ancient Egyptians and even the early Roman elite, they loved the stuff.” Then he moved to stand next to Karen and Ben. “Everyone, this is Benjamin Riggs, an old-time member of this club who has been away for a while.”

There was a chorus of “hellos” as Ben waved sheepishly. Then the conversation seemed to diverge along several paths, mostly unrelated but still interesting and often humorous. Once the discussion quieted down, Kevin asked the group to offer suggestions for the next book. Several titles were mentioned but there wasn’t a sense of agreement. Then someone mentioned cross-dressing and Jessica shouted out “Twelfth Night, by Shakespeare,” with a giggle. The suggestion was quickly dismissed but the topic seemed to have momentum, several folks wanted to explore the topic in greater depth. Eventually, another member, Rodger, suggested “The Last Concubine,” and everyone agreed.

Before the evening was over, Katherine grabbed Ben’s arm and led him over to her protégé, Sarah.

“Ben, this is Sarah Landis.” Ben reached out and shook her hand. “She’s a new member of the club. She works for me at McIntyre Realty as an agent. She’s new but she’s very sharp.” He turned to Katherine, surprised. “You have your own company?”

“I passed the broker’s exam six months ago and decided to branch out on my own. We’re small, but we’re growing.”

“Congratulations, are you still working with Bradley Development?”

“Yes, when they have something to sell,” she grinned.

“Katherine,” Karen shouted across the room. “There’s someone here who wants to talk to you.”

Katherine grinned and took Ben’s hand. “I’ll be right back, I want to know everything. You sort of disappeared six months ago, sweetie, I want to catch up.” She waved to Sarah as she weaved through the throng of guests gathered at the island counter looking to fill their plates with snacks.

When Ben turned back to Sarah, she blushed a bit and said “Hi,” meekly.

“How long have you worked for Katherine?”

“Four months. I got my realtor’s license before that. Katherine’s company is my first job.”

“Well, if she’s as good a boss as she was a realtor, you’re in capable hands.”

Sarah nodded meekly.

“There’s something I’ve been wanting to do now for months and I guess, given your position with Katherine and her being a broker, you should be the one I ask.”

Sarah stood there, perplexed.

“I want to list my former home. It’s been empty now for some time and it really needs someone to love it as much as Becca and I did. Interested?”

She nodded enthusiastically, “Of course.” Aside from a new listing; there was something about Ben that intrigued her, this feeling bothered her. She suppressed the urge to confide in him, changing the subject to a more professional tone. “Can I see it?”

“Sure. Do you have time this weekend? I usually work every day so this Saturday is really my first day off.”

Sarah nodded. “That works for me, what time?”

“Maybe ten in the morning? I’ll have my girls with me if that’s all right.”

“That will be fine, I’d like to meet them, Katherine has told me about them.”

“Great, see you this Saturday at ten,” he said as he picked up his coat with a smile. He turned and kissed Karen on the cheek and hugged Kevin then walked out their front door.

Sarah stood awkwardly alone for a few minutes until Katherine joined her. “Oh pooh, Ben left before I could get back. I guess I’ll see him sometime this week when I’m out and about. What did you and Ben talk about?”

“He wants to list a bungalow he said he owns. It’s one he said has sat empty for a while now. I’m meeting him on Saturday to tour the place and make arrangements to list it.”

“Marvelous! It’s a great little place and the area is very desirable, you should be able to get a good price for it,” Katherine patted Sarah on the shoulder. “Good job.”

Sarah paused for a moment as if considering her next question. “Katherine, how well do you know Ben?”

“Like I said before, I’ve known him for years. Why?”

Sarah smiled awkwardly. “It’s nothing, really, I just…well, there’s something about him that…oh well, never mind.”

Katherine touched her arm gently. “He’s a great guy, Sarah, and a gentle soul. There should be nothing for you to worry about.”

Sarah smiled, shyly. “Thanks, but that’s not what’s concerned me. You see I feel…” she paused a moment as if mustering her courage. “There’s something about him that draws me to him, and with things that have happened to me in the past I’m…well, I’m a bit worried about that.”

Katherine wrapped her arms around Sarah and hugged her gently. She leaned back and shook her head. “You have to move on with your life, dear. We can’t change the past, none of us can. But we can learn from it and grow. Ben may be someone who can help you do that, or…maybe not. You’ll never know until it happens. Just go with the flow, Sarah, providence will keep an eye on the details.”

Sarah sighed and smiled. “Thank you for the pep talk, boss, I needed it. I’ll tell you all about the house on Monday after we meet.” She turned and waved goodbye to Kevin and Karen, then picked up her coat and walked to their front door. “See you,” she said to Katherine.


That Saturday Sarah parked her car in Ben’s driveway behind his minivan. She got out and walked to the front door, which stood open. She knocked on the storm door and opened it slowly asking if anyone was at home?

Ben entered the living room from a hallway. “Sure, come in.” He gestured to the open space around him. “This is the living room and dining room combination, the kitchen is over there beyond that island counter. It’s sort of an open plan layout before it became fashionable. This house and the neighbor’s were built about the same time and share similar floor plans.”

Sarah looked around, taking in all the details. “Its very lovely,” she said stepping over a teddy bear and a collection of plastic toys.

“Sorry about that, kids tend to sprinkle. The girls are in the guest room, we can go there next to meet them.” Ben led the way into the hall and stopped at the first door. “Emma, Katie, this is Sarah Landis, someone who is going to help me sell this home.”

Emma, nearly five-years old, stood and offered her hand to Sarah. “It’s nice to meet you, Miss Landis.” Katie, at almost three and a half, turned and grinned then her focus shifted back to the dolls she was setting up for a mock tea party.

“It’s nice to meet you too, Emma, but you don’t have to be so formal with me, I’m just a friend of your daddy’s, okay?”

Emma nodded then she turned to help her sister set up the table with her dolls.

“Do you girls need help with your party?”

Emma turned and beamed. “Of course.”

“Well, as soon as I’ve seen the rest of your home, I’ll join you, okay?” Emma and Katie nodded enthusiastically.

Sarah stepped back and joined Ben in the hallway. “You have beautiful daughters, Ben. They’re adorable.”

“I know, I’m lucky, a gift from their mother.” He turned and led the way to a bathroom at the end of the hall. “This is the second bath slash guest bathroom.”

“Its nice,” Sarah said as she stepped past him for a closer look. There was a showerhead in the bath and a nice sink and cabinet to store linens. Across the room the commode was located separately in its own tiny room.”

Ben turned and gestured down the hallway. “And through that door on the right is the master bedroom with an en-suite attached.”

Sarah followed him to the master bedroom and walked into the space.

“Its very large, I like this room, it seems very livable.”

“The en suite bathroom is right through that door. Over there,” he gestured to another door, “is a walk-in closet.”

She stepped over to the walk-in closet and opened the door before Ben could say that it wasn’t entirely empty.

Inside, she discovered several garment bags that contained women’s clothing. “Your wife’s clothing?”

“Sorry, no. They belong to,” he paused and his ears started to turn crimson. “They’re actually my, ah…sister’s.” Ben forgot that Janet’s clothes still hung in his old closet. He used to dress in this house when Becca was still alive but since her death he forgot about them.

“Your sister’s?”

The rest of his face burned hot as he stood in the doorway and looked past Sarah as she examined the garment bags in his closet. “I haven’t introduced her to my daughters yet.”


Ben shrugged. “I’m not sure how to go about it, it’s sort of complicated.”

She studied Ben’s eyes for a moment, and then her eyes got wide as she understood. She whispered, “You dress?”

“I used to, before my wife died. I haven’t since.”

“Oh God, I’m so sorry,” she said, and then she turned her attention to the first garment bag and felt the lace of the lavender gown hanging by itself.

“That was Becca’s favorite gown,” Ben said as she touched the gown.

Sarah smiled as she zipped up the bag then closed the closet door. “I can understand why.”

“It doesn’t bother you that I used to dress?”

“No, why?”

“You seem suddenly distant,” Ben replied, looking a bit confused.

“I was just trying to imagine you in that gown.”

He smirked. “It never stayed on for very long when I wore it for Becca.”

Sarah blushed and nodded. “I guess that explains why you joined the book club.”

“Sort of, but not really. Karen and Kevin are good friends, and Karen can be quite the arm-twister. We met them well before we ever were invited to join the club and they both were aware of my habit at the time, but I don’t think that was the reason why I was invited,” he said with a shrug.

“Did you go out dressed…as a woman, I mean?”

“That’s how Becca and I met. We did go out from time to time after that, mostly to shop and occasionally to a restaurant, nothing fancy.”

“That’s very brave.”

“Perhaps a little more reckless than brave and it did get me into trouble before I met my wife.”


“A local cop arrested me one night years ago. I’ve tried to keep a low profile since then.”

Ben led the way out of the bedroom and toward the living room. They walked across the room and Sarah sat on a stool by the island counter. “How did it happen, meeting your wife I mean?”

“It was actually kind of by chance. I was at this bar, Club Tropical I think it was called.”

“I’ve heard of it, kind of a place for women only though, right?”

Ben nodded and his ears began to turn red again. “I was out dressed for the first time in public and hoping I could pass when she came over and started to talk to me. I recognized her immediately. Needless to say, I was shocked and a little scared at how she would react.”

“Did she say something?”

“Yes, but not what I expected, she was incredibly kind and accepting. She wanted to talk in a quieter place because the club was so loud. So we walked outside where we found a bench in a secluded spot. After that, one thing led to another and we quickly became good friends, eventually lovers, and then we got married. Kevin and Karen stood up with us when that happened. That was a little over four years ago.”

Sarah nodded as she paused and glanced out the sliding glass door that led to the patio. There was a sadness to her expression that Ben found confusing. He followed her glance. “Perhaps I should show you the back yard, it’s a good selling point, although from the looks of it, it could use a mow.” He slid open the glass door and led her out on to his patio.

She turned to the hot tub nestled in the corner. “The hot tub, does it work?”

“I have it serviced regularly. It conveys with the house, along with all the appliances in the kitchen,” Ben said lifting the hot tub cover and turning on the jets. “They came with the home when I bought it so I sort of treat them as part of the property.” He turned off the jets and lowered the cover. Then he walked over and sat on a lounge chair near a wicker table. Sarah joined him. They both sat silently for a second, enjoying the peaceful back yard. She turned to Ben and smiled sheepishly. “I suppose I should go and help two young girls finish up a tea party.” Ben nodded, still lost in thought, as Sarah looked at him curiously. “You don’t mind?”

“Of course not, but be careful, before you know it they’ll rope you into a game of dolly dress-up.”

Sarah smiled as she moved to open the sliding patio door. “I’ll be careful,” she replied with a smirk, and then she was gone.

Ben gazed across his back yard and sighed, it needed mowing again soon, maybe tomorrow, early, before the girls get up.

His mind drifted to Sarah, she was nice; but she was hiding something or at least holding something back. Maybe he would ask Katherine about it, then again, maybe not. It would be prying and they’d just met. If she wanted to tell him she would find the right time and tell him. If not, it was her secret to share.

Relationships could be so complicated. Becca was such a force of nature; he loved her for it. Once she decided to do something it was only a matter of time before it was done. He still missed her, he probably always would.

Ben sat alone and gazed into his back yard remembering all the times he and Becca played with Emma and eventually Katie before they left and bought their new home on Elm Street; they were pleasant memories, even joyful ones.

He sighed and then wondered how Sarah was getting along with his daughters. He stood and walked to the patio door. Once inside he moved to the hallway. He could hear laughter and giggles coming from the guest room. Good, the girls are always entertaining and Sarah was having fun. He stepped into the doorway to find them changing the dress that dolly Mary was wearing. He grinned. “I did warn you, remember? I speak from experience.”

Sarah giggled. “I know, but it’s fun, you know? It takes me back to a time when life was innocent and I miss that.”

Ben nodded and smiled, then his face clouded as he considered her comment.

Sarah ignored his obvious confusion. “Can you follow me to my office to sign a few papers? It’s a lovely home, Ben. I’m sure it will sell quickly, the location, the home itself, it’s all very desirable.”

Ben nodded. “Come on girls, its time for cleanup.” He stepped inside and gathered up the toys the girls brought with them to place in a toy box.

Emma started to sing a little tune she learned in pre-school. “Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share. Clean up, clean up, everybody show you care.” Everyone, including Sarah, put the toys into a large box in the corner of the room.

After they had finished, Ben hoisted Katie into his arms; and took Emma’s hand to lead them out the front door to his minivan. Then he returned to the door and locked it. Thirty minutes later, Ben sat in Sarah’s tiny office with Emma and Katie on the floor, playing with toys he’d purchased earlier at the Dollar Store.

Katherine stopped at Sarah’s door and popped in. She reached over the girls to give Ben a hug then turned to Sarah. “Isn’t that home a sweet place? I was only there once when Ben and Becca hosted a book club meeting a few years back, but I remember it well.” She turned to Ben and smiled. “What are you asking for it?” She looked down at the papers Ben was signing and nodded. “That’s a good price, it should move quickly off the market,” she said patting his shoulder and smiling at Sarah. Then she knelt down to whisper to the girls.

Ben looked up after signing the last page. “I still need to pull some clothing out of the closet and straighten up before you show it. Can you wait until after next Saturday so I can clean and stage a few rooms before you have an open house?”

Sarah nodded. “Sure, want some help?”

“I’ll have my girls with me, so if you can keep from being distracted…”

“Of course!” Sarah laughed. “I’m up for the challenge.”


The next weekend, Sarah pulled into Ben’s driveway and parked her car behind his. She was wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and work shoes. She pulled some rubber gloves from a small bag on the passenger seat and stuffed them in her back pocket. She stepped to the front door and knocked.

Ben opened it for her and she grinned as she stepped inside. “You look casual,” Ben said as she walked over to the island counter and hopped up onto a stool.

“Thanks, I came to work. Where do we start?”

Ben smirked. “The kitchen. The girls are in the guest room again, it’ll probably be the last room I clean and most likely the easiest. I was about to spray oven cleaner on the stove then tackle the refrigerator.”

Sarah turned back to him. “The clothes in the closet?”

“Already in the van, I put them in the far back under a blanket.”

Sarah nodded. “Got you. So, how about I’ll handle the fridge and you tackle the oven.”

Ben nodded as he pulled out his gloves and slipped on his mask then he grabbed a bottle of oven cleaner and a scouring pad from the counter. He turned to Sarah. “Thanks again for helping, I really appreciate it. Oh, throw out what looks old and moldy, there shouldn’t be much anyway.”

Sarah nodded and said ‘okay’ as she filled a plastic tub with warm soapy water. “I’m happy to help, Ben. I’ll stop in and say hello to the girls before I start cleaning if you don’t mind.”

“Of course not,” he said, spraying oven cleaner into the oven.

Sarah stopped in the guest room to squeals and giggles but she was back to the refrigerator in a couple of minutes.

“That was quick,” he said still waiting for the oven cleaner to work on all the grime. “Becca was a delightful cook but definitely messy,” he said shaking his head then returning to the oven.

“That’s better than me, I can barely boil water.”

They concentrated on the task at hand for the moment. Ben scrubbed the baked on grease and Sarah tossed bottles of condiments into the trash. They worked in silence for several minutes.

Ben sprayed a second coat of oven cleaner on the toughest parts then paused and sat on the floor. He leaned against the island counter and watched Sarah work.

He took a big breath then let it out slowly as he worked on his courage. “Okay, I’m going to ask this once because I think we know each other well enough. But I don’t want to seem like I’m prying or nagging or both.” He paused again then took another breath to steady his nerves. Sarah glanced at him, concerned. “Since I’ve met you I’ve felt like there was something bothering you about me, and whatever I’m doing wrong I want to stop, because I like you and think of you as a friend and I don’t want to do anything to offend you.”

Sarah turned and paused as she reached into the refrigerator for one last jar of old pickles. She listened to Ben’s question and hid her grimace by turning away from him. She liked him and the more she was around him the more that feeling grew. Could she tell him? She’d never spoken about this to anyone outside of her family and the police who took her stepfather away. She did tell Katherine, but that was because she was worried that her issues might affect her work as an agent.

Telling Ben was different, way different. First he was a man, but he was a friend and Katherine, whom she trusted a lot, said he was kind and understanding. That translated to her as safe, and that was important.

Her scars were inside where no one could see them but they were there and they were painful. She sighed. She knew that he only wanted to help but holding back meant that he misunderstood what was bothering her and she didn’t want that either. Finally, she turned to him as tears traced down her cheeks.

“Oh shit, I am so sorry, Sarah, I’ll never bother you about this again, please forgive me.”

Sarah wiped her tears with a tissue from a box on the counter then she blew her nose. She smiled bleakly at Ben and slid down against the face of the cabinets to join him on the floor. “Ben, you haven’t done anything wrong, honestly, you haven’t, aside from being a man and you can’t help that,” she said with a meek smile. “My scars are deep inside me where no one can see them, but they’re here and very painful, even now,” she said, pointing to her forehead and heart.

She paused and took another breath to settle her nerves. Then she looked at Ben and sighed.

“I was raped when I was thirteen by my stepfather. He got me drunk on cheap wine and carried me to the basement rec room where he’d pulled out a camping mattress and a couple of old blankets before I got home. It was right after I came home from school and before my mom got off work. He ripped my shirt trying to get it off and tore open the zipper on my jeans. Then he raped me, twice. My legs were covered in my blood and I hurt, bad. When my mom came home she found us in the basement. The bastard scrambled around and tried to pull up his pants arguing that I’d seduced him and it wasn’t really his fault. She screamed at him, calling him a bastard and a son of a bitch. Then she clocked him out cold with a broom handle and continued to beat him until I screamed for her to stop.”

“She was sobbing so hard I couldn’t make out what she was saying. God everything was a mess. My legs were covered in blood, I was in pain from being repeatedly violated, and my stepfather was bleeding from several whacks to the head and shoulders, not that I cared, but the basement was a disaster, there was blood everywhere.”

“My mom called the 911 and the cops. They were there in minutes and they hauled my stepfather’s sorry ass away, I never saw him again. They rushed me to the hospital in an ambulance and I slowly recovered, physically. The scars are still there, I don’t know if they will ever go away, but I swore I would never let another man force me to do that ever again.” Sarah looked up with a fierce determination, her face was covered in tears and little rivers of mascara tracked across her cheeks.


“Shit,” he whispered softly, he shook his head slowly. “I am so sorry.” He sat there quietly and thought about what she had to endure from that creep. Then he turned to her. “Can I give you a hug?”

She paused a moment and remembered Katherine’s words, she took another big breath and nodded.

Ben wrapped his arms around her carefully and she stiffened a moment then melted into his embrace and wept. It was like a watershed moment, her first time being hugged by a man since that moment in her mom’s baement, it was traumatic and therapeutic all in the same moment.

They stayed like that for a long time just holding one another. Then Ben released her and sat back down, resting his back against the cabinets.

“Please don’t tell anyone, Ben.”

Ben shook his head and sighed. “I won’t, Sarah, I’ll keep your secret forever, but thank you for telling me.” Then he got up on his knees and silently began to scrub the remaining grime out of his oven.

Things remained quiet for a long time after that. Ben scrubbed the oven and Sarah finished cleaning the fridge. She started wiping down the counters when Emma appeared around the island counter.

“Are you finished helping Daddy, Sarah? We have a party set up and you’re invited,” Emma asked with a lilt in her voice that was so cute.

Sarah smiled sweetly then glanced at Ben. He nodded support and she dropped her washcloth into her pail of water to follow Emma.

An hour later, after he had a chance to rearrange some furniture, Sarah heard him vacuuming the carpets. She came out and stopped him. “Let me do that, it’s the least I can do after abandoning you in the kitchen.”

He grinned and nodded sheepishly. “You didn’t abandon me, you were invited,” he said with a grin.

“The room looks good. Maybe some flowers before I setup an open house tomorrow?”

Ben nodded and smiled. He still felt awkward around her; it was probably going to be like that for some time. It was a different kind of awkward than before, now he knew and rather than rub salt in a wound he decided it was better to be as gentle as possible.


Sarah knew what he was doing and offered him a meek smile. She knew he would be awkward for a while, until the pain wasn’t so raw. Would they ever be close? She didn’t know but she hoped so, not like lovers, but friends, hopefully good friends. Ben was different, one of the good ones, she wanted to keep him in her life, awkward or not.

After she finished vacuuming Ben told her that they were nearly finished. He was going to clean up the toys in the guest room and head home for dinner and a beer.

“You’re welcome to join us,” he said as cheerfully as he could, given the circumstances.

Sarah smiled and shook her head. “Maybe next time, but thank you…a lot.” She gathered up her work gloves and walked to the door.

Emma and Katie raced around their daddy and collided with Sarah at the front door. “Please come back soon and play with us, Sarah,” Emma pleaded.

Katie chimed in her support of the idea. “Yes, come play soon, okay?”

Sarah nodded and hugged them both. “I will…soon, bye-bye.” She nodded to Ben and was out the door, waving to both girls as she walked to her car.

Ben sighed. “Come on girls, it’s time to clean the guest room and pack your toys in the car. Daddy is going to put this house up for sale tomorrow and we need it to be extra spotless.”


The open house went well, there were lots of potential buyers who viewed the listing. Sarah called him the next day with encouraging news. “I may have several offers for you soon. There was a lot of interest plus the house is priced right for the market and that is always a bonus.”

“Thanks Sarah,” Ben said nervously. “I hope it continues to go well. Anything extra I can do to promote the home?”

“Nope, it shows well. Just keep your fingers crossed,” she said cheerfully, knowing the awkwardness still lurked in the shadows.

Finally, several weeks later, the home sold to a lovely couple with one small boy. They were very excited. After the closing, Sarah seemed concerned that she was going to lose touch with Ben. There wasn’t really any reason for them to hang out like they did before the home was purchased. There was something she wanted to ask him but up until that moment she was still a little scared. Her mind was filled with questions. Would he dress for her? How would it be with him dressed as his sister Janet? Would he act differently? Would she? He hadn’t dressed since Becca died, would she be stepping over a line in asking him to do something that he only shared with his wife? Would he do it?

She decided that now was the time. The opportunity wouldn’t come around again if she passed it up. Ben was gathering up his stack of papers from the closing. They walked to the front door of the lawyer’s office. She turned to him and took a breath to steady her nerves. Then she whispered her request. “Ben, I want to ask you something personal, and you don’t have to do it unless you really want to, okay?”

Ben nodded looking concerned.

“Would you model that lavender gown for me, please? I know it was your wife’s favorite but it looks so lovely and I want to see you wear it, just once.”

Ben paused as he considered her request. It’s true that it was Becca’s favorite and that made it special. But Becca’s gone. Would it be okay? Would she forgive him for letting someone else see it? He sighed.

“Yes,” he whispered. “But I can’t do it at my home, we have to do it somewhere else. I don’t want the children to find out anything, okay?”

Sarah nodded and thought for a moment then she offered a possible solution. “What about a hotel, someplace downtown?”

Ben thought about it a moment then he turned to Sarah. “You sure?”

She nodded and smiled.

“All right call me with the details, I have to pick up the girls, see you,” he said waving to her as he dashed out the door and climbed into his van.

“Okay,” she said, holding the door open. “I’ll take care of everything and call you later.”

Sarah made arrangements to meet him at a hotel downtown. The room she reserved was a typical hotel room on the twenty-seventh floor with two beds and a table with two chairs that sat by a large window overlooking a park and a river.

That weekend, he knocked softly on the door and waited in the corridor outside. A moment later, Sarah stood before the door, she was noticeably nervous, it was the first time that she’d shared a room with a man, albeit only for a few hours, but still…a man. She took a breath to settle her nerves and opened the door.

“Hi, come in. You can change in the bathroom, okay? Did you bring everything?

Ben nodded, nervously, as he moved quickly to the bathroom and shut the door. Once inside he still felt jittery. This was a big step for both of them. For Sarah, overcoming her fear of men was huge, and for him, to return to his former desires and to do so in front of someone whom he didn’t know how she would react was scary. It was sort of like Club Tropical all over again.

He stripped down and looked at his body in the mirror over the sink, it was one of those huge mirrors that went clear to the ceiling. He’d checked his body hair before he came over, twice, he was so nervous. Having blonde hair and not much of it helped but he checked anyway.

He pulled on a pair of lavender lace boy shorts after he tucked and then he put on a waist cincher. Next he rolled up the stockings and secured them to the garter hooks from the corset. Then he pulled out his breast forms and applied the adhesive and carefully pressed them in place. The demi-cup bra was next; it was lavender lace and matched his panties. He clasped the bra in front then wiggled it around and slipped his arms through the straps. A quick adjustment of his breast forms and he glanced in the mirror again to double check, still nervous. All of this was foundation for the gown to come, but it was necessary if he wanted to look good.

He removed his hair clip and let his hair fall in a cascade of curls to his shoulders. He pulled out a curling iron from his bag and did a little touch up. Next came the gown. He unzipped the garment bag and removed the lavender gown she wanted to see.

He sighed as he held it up to his chin and looked into the mirror. He remembered the last time he wore it, it was on Christmas Eve right after they got back from their honeymoon in St. Thomas. Becca’s eyes glowed with lust and anticipation as he transformed himself into his ‘sister’ Janet. She helped him with his bra and applied the foundation and eye shadow on his face. He never thought it looked right when he did it himself.

Now as Janet, she slipped on the gown, fastened the clasp at the top, and left the zipper undone until after she’d applied her makeup. Foundation was next then highlights and mascara and liner. She pulled out her makeup pallet and chose a smoky lavender color to accent her eyes.

Suddenly, a soft knock surprised her. “Are you doing okay in there?” She almost whispered her question.

“I’m almost done but I could use a zip in a minute, I’ll be right out,” Janet said, as close as she could come to a feminine voice, it had been a while.

Lipstick was applied, and a little blush and powder and she was nearly ready. She bent over and pulled her heels from the bag on the floor. They were lavender silk covered four-inch stilettos. She slipped them on and turned to the mirror one last time. She cupped her breasts and pushed them up so that they displayed a little better, then she turned and opened the bathroom door. Her hand was shaking like a leaf. Sarah turned from looking out the window and gasped.

“Oh my God, you look incredible, my imagination hardly did you justice. Wow. I mean wow, Janet, that dress is spectacular.” Her nerves seemed to fly out the window as she looked at Janet in the gown

“Thanks,” Janet said as she turned around. “I could use that zip now.” She felt better once Sarah saw the dress and accepted her in it.

Sarah walked forward and slowly zipped her up, then she stepped back to admire the gown and Janet in it.

“The transformation is remarkable, if I hadn’t known you walked in there as Ben I wouldn’t have recognized you.” Then she stepped to the side to reveal an elegant table setting with dinner plated for two. “Join me?” She gestured to the table. “A dinner date for two with my new friend, Janet Riggs.”

The table was centered on the window and overlooked the river below. A full moon was out and lovers strolled on garden paths in the moonlight.

“It looks lovely, thank you,” Janet said moving to the table.

Sarah gestured to a seat and Janet sat down.

It was a simple Italian dinner accompanied by two candles. Sarah lit the candles then stepped over to the room door and turned out the lights. Then she joined Janet at the table; it was two women having dinner in the soft glow of candlelight.

“You are quite the romantic, Sarah Landis.”

“My way of thanking you for indulging me,” she said smiling radiantly. She leaned over the table and stared into Janet’s eyes. “You know, only your eyes give you away.”

“That’s what Becca used to say.”

“I’m sorry I never met her,” Sarah lamented.

“You two would have been best friends, she was such a free-spirit.”


For the first time since she’d known him she felt uninhibited, almost care free. They talked about the sale of his home, “We had quite a bidding war going on before it was done,” she said giggling. “Tell me about your work.”

Janet described the process her ‘brother’ went through each time they began a new project. “He complains about it sometimes but he really loves it,” Janet said coyly. “And you? What attracts you to real estate?”

“Well, I love walking into a potential listing and discovering new things,” she said.

“Like a garment bag filled with my clothing?”

Sarah blushed crimson red and nodded. “That was a real shocker, but it led me to meeting you, so it was a good thing after all.”

“Thank you,” Janet replied. “So, tell me about selling homes, any embarrassing moments?”

“I was showing this home in the Brentwood subdivision, a nice four-bedroom townhome, the other day. My clients saw most of the home and we were finishing up with the en suite bathroom when I opened the door to a man in his underwear, having just finished a shower. I was totally embarrassed. What about you, has Ben told you about anything funny that ever happened?”

Janet finished another bite and paused. “Hmm, yes, he did say something last week that made me laugh. Apparently, he was not paying attention and slipped into a muddy ravine while juggling an expensive piece of surveying equipment. He came home that day looking like a tar-baby dressed in mud from head to toe.”

Once dinner was finished, Janet asked Sarah to unzip her and then she retreated to the bathroom to change back into Ben’s street clothes. When he came out he reached forward and shook Sarah’s hand thanking her for such a lovely evening. Then he stepped to the room door turned and wished her a good evening.

“Ben, wait,” she whispered, barely audible.

She wrapped her arms across her chest and squeezed. “Ben wait, dammit!” The words nearly burst from her mouth and Ben stopped abruptly and turned to her cautiously. “I’m sorry, that came out totally wrong. What I really wanted to ask was,” she drew a big breath and let it out slowly; her nerves were showing again. “Can you stay tonight, but if you can stay, can it be as Janet instead of Ben?”

“I have to call Mary, but even if I could, I didn’t bring a nightgown,” he said sheepishly.

“I did,” she said, pulling a long lavender chiffon nightgown from her bag on the far bed.

Ben looked from the nightgown to her. “Are you sure?”

Sarah nodded. “If you’re Janet, I am.”

He turned and walked back into the bathroom, taking the nightgown Sarah offered, with him.

When Janet emerged from the bathroom, she still had on her breast forms. The adhesive required a spirit gum remover and she’d forgotten to bring it. Her chest swayed with every step, she remembered how their movement shocked Becca when she first saw them.

Sarah was noticeably nervous now, shaking like a leaf. This was the first time she would spend the night with a man since the incident. Yet Janet wasn’t a man, even though Ben was.

Sarah passed by Janet and walked into the bathroom holding her bag. She closed the door behind her. A few minutes later, her hair up in a ponytail and wearing a baby-doll blue nightgown of patterned silk that flowed to her ankles, she stepped into the main room. She walked across the room and turned out the lights by the door and then slipped under the covers of the far bed. Janet blew out the candles on the table as moonlight streamed through the sheer curtains covering the window. Its soft glow was the only illumination in the room.

She slipped under the covers on the nearby bed and turned to lie on her side facing Sarah. “Good night, Sarah, dinner was lovely; it was such a wonderful surprise, thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Good night, Janet.”

They stayed quiet for a long time until Sarah whispered softly to Janet. “Are you asleep?”

Janet smiled, although in the shadows, Sarah couldn’t see it. “No dear, too nervous.”

“Me too. Can I ask you a question?”


“Are you a lesbian or straight?”

Janet burst out with a laugh. “I’m sorry, that question totally surprised me. I have no idea, Sarah. The last time I met someone new it was Becca and we ended up getting married,” he chuckled again. “I guess I’ve never really thought about it. Why?”

“I just wondered, I guess the conversation a couple of weeks ago in the book club got me thinking, that’s all. Besides, I feel so much more relaxed around you so I decided that you wouldn’t be offended if I asked.”

“Never, dear, ask me anything, always,” Janet said as she noticed that Sarah’s confidence had returned. Janet turned and laid back down on her back, her hands came up to rest behind her head. “As to your question about my sexuality, in a way, I suppose I’m really a bit confused on the issue,” she replied with a smirk. “I was, and still am, attracted to women as Janet and I’ve always been attracted to women as Ben. Does that make me bi-sexual, in a twisted sort of way?”

“Probably not, more like normal in a twisted sort of way,” she said with a giggle. “When do you have to leave in the morning?”

Ben sighed. “Early, Mary has a hair appointment at nine. I texted her in the bathroom telling her I was going to be late. I’m planning on taking my daughters out for breakfast at iHop after I pick them up from Mary’s, want to join us?”

Sarah leaned up on one elbow and grinned. “I’d love to, when and where?”

“Ten o’clock, the iHop on 21st street, okay?”


Just after ten in the morning at the local iHop, Sarah Landis walked through the front doors. “I’m meeting someone,” she said to the hostess who stood holding a menu for her. Sarah walked into the main dinning area and spotted Ben and the girls in a booth along the windows across the room. Ben saw her standing at the entrance and waved her over.

Ben’s daughters sat opposite him so Sarah moved to stand next to Ben. “Hi, can I join you?”

“Of course,” he said scooting in to make room for her. “We haven’t ordered yet so you’re just in time.”

A waitress stopped by to add a menu for Sarah and took her drink order. She returned a few minutes later with a carafe of coffee. “Are you folks ready to order?”

The girls nodded with huge grins at their daddy. “I know what you two want, but we’ll go slow so we don’t waste any, okay?” Each of his daughters grabbed for the strawberry syrup.. “Don’t fight over it girls, there’s plenty more where that came from.”

Sarah stood up and reached over to the next booth and retrieved an additional jar of strawberry syrup, she sat it in front of Emma. “It’s my favorite too so save some for me,” she said with a huge smile.

Ben ordered for his daughters then closed his menu and turned to the waitress. “I’ll have the breakfast special.”

“Me too,” Sarah said handing her and Ben’s menu to the waitress. She jotted down their orders and then she turned to go.

About then, Sarah’s cellphone buzzed. She sighed as she pulled it out of her purse. “The downside of real estate, you get bugged on the weekends.” She swiped the screen and looked shocked. “It’s Denise,” she said with a bit of concern in her voice. “Excuse me,” she added and Ben nodded as she stepped to the end of the aisle and spoke softly into her phone.

A few minutes later, she returned and shortly after that, the waitress brought their breakfast. The girls each had two pancakes and doused them in strawberry syrup. Emma slid the half-empty jar of syrup over to Sarah who looked distracted.

Ben glanced over a bit concerned. “Who was on the phone?”

“My cousin Denise, she called to tell me that my grandmother is coming to visit for a couple of days.”

Ben’s face lit up. “That’s great, isn’t it?”

“Well, yes, sort of.”

“What do you mean?”

Sarah groaned. “She’s been bugging me forever to find a boyfriend so I kind of let it slip the last time I spoke with her that I have a fiancé. Now she wants to meet him.”

“Does she know about…you know, that thing that happened?”

Even though the girls were concentrating on the stack of pancake delights in front of them, they still listened carefully to the conversation between their daddy and Sarah. Ben saw them glance back and forth with knowing looks. Even for young girls they were remarkably savvy to the adult world. Perhaps, the passing of their mother had something to do with that.

“My mother never told her, I asked her not to,” Sarah whispered.

“Oh. So, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know, she arrives tomorrow on a plane from Nashville.”

“I guess that gives you about eighteen hours to come up with a plan.”

Sarah picked up her fork and, using the edge, cut her eggs. She forked a piece into her mouth and nodded, solemnly.

“Would Katherine help you? You could have a girl-girl relationship, even if she’s an older woman,” he whispered.

“No good, I admitted that it was a man I knew and we’d been dating for nearly a year. She’s really old fashioned and set in her ways. If she found out I was marrying another woman she’d have a coronary.”


Sarah’s face turned crimson red. She looked away, took a breath to steady her nerves, and murmured. “Can you help me?”


“I really don’t know many men and I trust you, a lot. Please?” She turned to him and held her hands prayerfully.

Emma looked up after gobbling down another bite of pancake. “Daddy, Sarah needs you. Can you help her?”

Ben was shocked at his daughter’s sudden support. He slumped his shoulders and looked from Emma to Sarah’s pleading face. “Fine…what do I have to do?”

Sarah brightened considerably, she was still cautious though. “Meet Grandmother at the airport with me. Her flight is tomorrow and it arrives in the Richmond airport at nine-oh-five.”

“Okay. I’ll pick you up at seven and we can drive there from here. I’ll call my work and tell them something has come up.”

Sarah wrapped her arms around him and squeezed. “Thank you so much, this really means a lot.”

Emma smiled as she forked another bite of pancake into her mouth. Her sister nudged her with her elbow and whispered to her. She whispered back and Katie grinned from ear to ear.

Ben picked up his fork and began eating his breakfast. He glanced sideways at Sarah; she seemed jubilant. He’d not seen her like this with him, ever. Maybe the dinner in the hotel room came close, but he was dressed as his sister then.

The next morning Ben pulled up in front of Sarah’s apartment building. She was waiting on the front steps and stood as he arrived. She slipped into the passenger seat and buckled her seatbelt. Ben took off and a short time later, they entered the on-ramp to the freeway.

“We need to get our story straight before we meet Grandma,” Sarah said as she pulled a small notebook from her purse. “First off, we got engaged last fall, in October. We haven’t set a date yet but we’re thinking maybe a May wedding.”

Ben nodded. “That’s not far off,” he said signaling a lane change before they entered the tunnel to Newport News. “What about a ring?”

“Crap, I forgot that. What should we do?”

“Look for something in Richmond if we have time.”

Sarah nodded. “If the traffic holds we should have a few minutes.” She swiped the face of her cellphone and opened the flight tracker app. “According to this, Grandma’s flight has been delayed an hour so that may buy us a little time.”

“There are a few stores along the way we can stop at,” Ben added.

“I can’t believe I missed that,” she said, stuffing her cellphone into her purse.

“Don’t beat yourself up, kiddo, this all happened yesterday and today we’re engaged and on the road to meet your grandmother. They’ll be more things we’re going to miss along the way; it can’t be helped. Let’s just hope the issues are small ones, okay?”

Sarah nodded, still flustered.


They found a pretty engagement ring at a large department store inside the beltway around Richmond. It was simple and elegant; it looked classy on Sarah’s finger. The bigger issue for her was that she never realized how much it would effect her, having a ring on her finger that signified a commitment to another person, especially to a man. She glanced over to Ben as he drove on to an on-ramp and returned to the freeway. Did he understand the significance of a ring on her finger? Was it just an empty gesture meant to play the part of her supposed fiancé? Did he realize how much this changed things for her?

“Your grandmother’s flight should be arriving shortly,” Ben said as he put the ring box in the glove compartment. A few minutes later they arrived at airport parking.

Sarah nodded and they both walked quickly from his car to the airport lobby. She glanced again at the ring on her finger.

Fifteen minutes later they stood waiting for Sarah’s grandmother to clear the concourse. A few minutes after that, Sarah’s eyes brightened as she saw her grandmother for the first time in years. She ran up and hugged her while Ben stood apart and waited to be introduced.

“Grandma, this is Ben Riggs, my fiancé,” she said, gesturing for Ben to approach.

“Hello, Mrs. Snyder, it’s nice to meet you. Sarah has spoken often about you.”

“It’s nice to meet you too, Ben. When Sara said she had gone from boyfriend to fiancé, I was surprised but not shocked, if you know what I mean.”

“Sarah has always been a free-spirit, Mrs. Snyder.”

“Please, call me Teresa. After all, we’re soon going to be family, right?”

“Very true. We’re thinking late May, are you free?”

“I wouldn’t miss it,” she said smiling broadly. Sarah hugged her grandmother again then suggested they go to baggage claim and find her luggage. As they walked in the direction of baggage claim, Ben said he’d get his car and meet them at the pickup point just outside. Then he turned to Sarah. “Is your cousin Denise coming too?”

“She’s tied up keeping her kids from wrecking the house and trying to get the place ready for Grandma. We’ll meet her there.”

“Got it, I’ll meet you two out front.”

After Ben left Teresa turned to her granddaughter. “He seems nice, a bit older than I imagined, but very thoughtful. You seem to have made a wise choice.”

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