Chapter 1

This is the story of how I fell in love.

I've been called petite, at five three and weighing a hundred and five pounds. I always wear business suits, jacket, skirt, usually a matching silk blouse. I think my legs are too pretty to conceal. My dirty blond hair trimmed into a short, professional style. I always wear four inch heels, so I look taller. My whole appearance screams "successful business woman".

And I am. Very successful, working for a Fortune 100 company. At thirty, I'm a junior vice president, and the sky is the limit for advancement, as far as I'm concerned.

I have an MBA from Wharton, apprenticed with some of the most successful firms in the world, landing my dream job right out of college.

I've been called, brilliant, driven, devious, and a cast iron bitch. All apt descriptions.

How did an attractive young woman work her way up the food chain so quick? Well for starters, I never dated, giving my full attention to work. Oh, I got hit on, some customers have even hinted that my favors would go a long way towards sealing a deal. I usually found an excellent reason why my company should stop doing business with theirs. These men didn't get where they were by being stupid, word got around, and I was always treated with respect from then on.

"Married to her job, that one," they would say behind my back, "wonder if she's a lesbian".

I was so successful because I knew how men thought. I know, you hear men and women say that, but very few actually do. I could work the good old boy system with the best.

Why? Because underneath those Armani power suits, thigh highs, and expensive lingerie, lies a five inch cock. So now you know I'm not a lesbian.

That's right. I was born male. It didn't take me long to realize I was trapped in the wrong body. I actually had reasonable parents, and by the time I was thirteen I was in therapy for gender reassignment. When I got my driver's license I could legally put down female in the proper slot.

Social interaction with other teens was severely limited. I tried a regular high school, and when who I was became known, I was beaten up twice and almost raped once. After that, I tended to hang with others in my support group. I was privately tutored.

College was a little better, but not much. In fact, I had only been with two sexual partners, one transsexual that only gave and received oral, and one guy who was too rough taking my virginity. I bled, hurt, and swore off sex. I masturbated a lot to relieve my sexual tension. I was very lonely.

I literally fell into my husband's arms. It was late April, and as I gazed down from my forty third floor corner office, I had an almost uncontrollable need to get outside and breathe unfiltered air. I decided to take a long lunch, get a sandwich and sit in the park, enjoying the sunshine.

I had to walk by a construction site, another skyscraper that just had to be a floor taller then the last. As usual, the catcalls and whistles followed me all the way down the block. Construction workers are pigs generally, half a strand of DNA above an ape.

I got my sandwich and soda, found a nice bench with a southern view, and enjoyed the sunshine, for about five minutes.

The two men, obviously construction workers, were muddy, unshaven, and Neanderthals had more brain cells.

"Hey bitch, that's our bench."

I got up quietly, prepared to move. The loudest one got closer.

"Who said you could leave? You owe us for the use of this bench."

I gave them my most professional look.

"This is a public park. I should be able to sit where I want. But, if you need the bench that bad, take it and welcome. I have to get back to work now."

"We're not done with you missy" said the biggest one, grabbing my arm and causing me to drop my soda. "I think a kiss or two will square the debt."

I was struggling with his grip when a quiet voice said "Charley, I think you should let the lady go and apologize for being such an asshole."

He let go of me so fast I started to fall when strong arms encircled me and helped me upright.

"Miss, are you all right?"

I couldn't help it, I was so scared I started crying. I managed to sniffle a yes, conscious of the arms still around me. I think he realized he was still holding me at the same time, and gently let go.

"Fuck you Brian, we ain't at work and you ain't my supervisor" the man who tormented me said, trying to save face.

The man named Brian smiled.

"You're exactly right. So if I stomp your ass, you got no beef with the company or the union. Wanna get in on this, Dave?"

Dave appeared nervous.

"I got no problem with you, man. We was just havin' a little fun."

"Does she look like she's having fun?"

He had pulled me behind him, a position I was more than happy with.

"Get back to work, boys. If you hang around I might get the idea you intended to aggravate this young woman more. You know how I would hate that."

Dave couldn't leave fast enough, Charley wanted to save face, but as soon as Brian turned to him, he left.

I was shaking as he seated me on the bench.

"Don't worry, they won't bother you anymore. Relax, enjoy your lunch. I'm sorry they spilled your drink. Here, share mine."

He poured something from his cooler into a plastic cup and handed it to me. I took a small sip. My eyes widened. He smiled.

"Homemade lemonade, with a touch of raspberries. Do you like it? I have more."

I held out my cup, and he refilled it.

"May I join you?" He asked politely.

"Please " I said moving over slightly.

After the lemonade my bought sandwich tasted plastic. I could see him frown.

"Try this." He handed me a croissant filled with chicken salad. I had never tasted chicken salad like that. Made from herb smoked chicken, with bits of grape and pecans. I practically inhaled it. He looked at me, smiling.

I felt like a glutton. I tried to cover it up.

"Your wife is an excellent cook."

He grinned.

"She better be, when I find her. This is my recipe, I'm a fair cook, for a single guy."

"Good looking, single, and able to cook too. I might just apply for that wife position."

Shit! Where did that come from? I colored.

He laughed.

"Thanks, I think."

We talked for thirty minutes before he looked at his watch.

"I've got to go. I'm the foreman, wouldn't look good to be late. I enjoyed lunch. What time do you get off work?"

The question caught me by surprise.

"Five thirty."

He gave me a five hundred watt smile.

"Excellent."

He scribbled something on a notepad and gave it to me.

"I'm doing interviews for the wife position. I can work you in at six thirty. Don't be late, you'll lose points if you are. It was a pleasure to meet you, Andi."

I must have looked like an idiot, holding the piece of paper and grinning.

"See you at six thirty, sweetie."

And just like that, he was gone.

I came to my senses and checked the time myself. Shit, thirty minutes late from lunch. I was never late from lunch! I hurried back to my office.

When I went by the construction sight, the Neanderthals glared at me, but not one worker said a word. I looked up, Brian was in some kind of contraption about two stories up. It did not look safe. He gave me a small wave. I know I looked like an idiot waving back so hard. I practically ran into my building.

My personal assistant, Aubrey, was a woman in her fifties. I liked her. She had been with me since I got my first promotion. She was very good at her job, and would have mothered me relentlessly if I let her. After three years together she starting dropping hints. Why didn't I have a picture of my boyfriend on my desk? Was that wedding bells she heard? You work too hard, you should date more.

We had a code. If I stamped my foot and said "MOM!", she would back off for awhile.

I caught Aubrey watching me and smiling several times. I finally had to ask.

"What are you grinning at?"

It all came out in one long rush.

"You're not the only one who had lunch in the park today. We all saw you. Who is he? What does he do? Are you serious? He was, oh, what was it Janine said? Oh yeah, ripped. That means hunky, right?"

"Yes, it means hunky. No, we're not serious. I just met him today. He's a construction foreman on that project down the street. With me so far?"

She nodded.

"Did he ask you out? Did you ask him? He was definitely interested in you, that much was plain."

I couldn't resist.

"Well, he is currently conducting potential wife interviews. He offered me a six thirty slot. What do you think, should I dust off my resume?"

Her mouth hung open.

"You already got a date? Tonight?" she looked at the time.

"What are you standing around for? It's five ten, the clock is ticking. Where is he taking you?"

"Nowhere. I'm supposed to meet him at..." I pulled the paper out of my pocket, "Cafe Rizzo, ever heard of it?"

"Heard of it? It's supposed to be the third best Italian restaurant in the city. It's basically a Mom and Pop place. Small, intimate, next to impossible to get into. He must be more than a construction foreman to have the pull to get in there on short notice. Bring me a doggie bag, okay?"

Her mouth almost hit the floor when I told her I wasn't sure I was going.

"You're kidding! Young lady, you are going and you're going to have a good time. Are we clear?"

I stamped my foot. "MOM!"

"Oh no, little lady, that's not going to work this time. Now get your cute little butt in gear and go capture a man's heart. You're fired for the rest of the day. Go on now, get ready. Make me proud."

I was so shocked I let her lead me to the small closet of clothes I kept at the office. I never knew when something last minute would come up, and had to have suitable clothes.

Aubrey was already going through my wardrobe.

"Too formal, too business like, ah, this will do."

It was the classic little black dress, modest hem and neckline.

"This, and the pearls. Now go do your makeup. I'll call your driver, have him waiting."

If I hadn't wanted to go so much, I would never have let her go on. I even had to stand inspection before I left.

"Very nice, dear. Now, go have a good time. Details expected tomorrow. I'm going home and rape my husband, imagining he's a 'ripped' construction worker. Bye bye."

...

I was on pins and needles on the way. I dismissed my driver, I didn't know how long I would stay, and would cab it home.

I was about to ask the hostess for Brian, and realized I didn't know his last name.

I finally squeaked out "Has Brian arrived yet?"

She broke out in a big smile and led me to the back of restaurant. He rose to meet me. Damn, he cleaned up nice. White shirt, black vest, jeans and loafers. He looked good enough to eat.

"Here she is, Brian. You can stop worrying now."

She looked at me while he colored.

"He's been up to check the door at least ten times in the last twenty minutes. I can see why. I'm Gina, this idiot is my first cousin."

That explained the restaurant. It also explained why nearly every worker in the place, including the dishwashers, came by to be introduced. Finally a man and woman in their fifties shooed them away.

"Go on now, You can give her the third degree later. Let them have a little peace."

They were his aunt and uncle. If Brian turned out like his uncle when he was fifty, he'd still be getting looks. His aunt was small, petite really, and Italian to the roots.

"Come to lunch next Sunday. We'll talk. Now, I'll make sure you're left in peace. Enjoy your meal."

What meal? We hadn't had a chance to order.

The platters started appearing. It would take a week to eat this much food. Everything tasted so good, she had to have at least a bite of it all. They didn't have much conversation until after the dishes were cleared, and they were on their third glass of wine.

Brian grinned at me.

"Okay, time to fill out your application. Start with the basics. How old are you? Have you been married before? Got someone in your life right now? Foolish question, that. As pretty as you are, there has to be someone. Where do you work? What do you do? Are you happy with it?"

My mouth hung open in shock. Damn, get right to it.

"Don't you know it's not polite to ask a lady her age? I'll be thirty one in three months. I've never been married. Not dating right now, I'm concentrating on my career. I work at Chase and Simpson, and I'm quite happy with my job."

Why did I tell him all that. He just sat there, looking at me with those calm green eyes. I wanted to bare my soul to him.

"You're a little older than I thought. Not enough to matter, though. I notice you said where you worked, but not what you do. Care to elaborate?"

I hesitated, I had to make a lot more money than he did. Some men couldn't handle that, or the fact that I held a position of power. I shook myself. What did it matter? This was never going anywhere.

"I'm the youngest vice president in their history. I run run the mergers and acquisitions branch. Sometimes I get two clients to merge who can complement each other and be more profitable. Sometimes they get bought out by my company. And rarely, it's a hostile takeover. I'm very good."

He nodded, listening intently.

"What kind of pay grade does that carry? Stock options, bonuses, you must be making out quite well."

This should scare him off.

"I make two hundred ten thousand a year, plus bonuses and stock. It averages a little more than three hundred thousand."

He seemed impressed. Time to counterattack.

"What about you. If I'm older, by how much? Does being a construction foreman pay well? Ever been married before? Time to share."

"I'm twenty six. Never been married. It pays all right, I average seventy five thousand a year with completion bonuses. I don't intend to stay where I am. I'll have my degree in architecture in another year and a half, going part time."

He turned the tables again.

"What about kids? Do you want them? How many? How close?"

I figured this would be the deal breaker.

"I can't have kids. I've always liked them, but anyone I end up with, unless they already have kids, would have to agree to adoption."

There it was, the biggie.

He just smiled.

"I've always wanted three. One of each, the last doesn't matter. I'm adopted, myself. Best thing that could ever have happened to me."

Didn't see that coming, but it explained why he didn't look Italian.

We talked until closing time. His aunt escorted us to the door, extracting promises that we would join them next Sunday.

"Where's my cab?" Aunt Rita waved her hands.

"Why waste money on a cab when you have a perfectly fine young man willing to escort you home? Behave yourself Brian. I like this one."

It was a four door truck. He drove straight to her condo. He helped me out and escorted me to the security door.

"Well, I know now."

"Know what?"

"Where to pick you up. Seven O'clock, Saturday. Dress nice, we're going to the opera."

With a quick kiss on the cheek and an even swifter kiss on her lips, he was gone.

I didn't remember how I got into my condo. I did remember the huge smile on the doorman's face.

"I didn't even get a choice" I though as I got ready for bed. I knew I wouldn't have turned him down.

I rubbed my lips as I snuggled down, remembering his kiss.

Cold hard reality hit me the next morning as I showered. I rarely got an erection any more since my hormone treatments, but today I had a serious case of morning wood. I even masturbated, dreaming of Brian.

"He'll hate me when he finds out" I thought later, as tears threatened to ruin my makeup.

My mood brightened as I reached work. I'd hold onto my fantasy just a little longer.

Aubrey was on her as soon as she entered her office.

"Spill! I see that smile on your face. Was the food good? Does he clean up well? Did you get any last night? Did you bring me any leftovers?"

I let her wait for a few seconds.

"All right, here we go, in no particular order. He cleans up very well. This was a first date, so no nooky. His family owns the place, and the food was to die for. There were no leftovers."

I watched the disappointment on her face before I handed her a handwritten note.

"What's this?"

"It's a personal invitation for you and your husband to dine at Cafe Rizzo this Friday. Enjoy. Did you wear your husband out last night? Did you make him wear a hard hat?"

Aubrey held the note in awe, before turning just a bit red.

"I didn't wear him out, more like down. But not enough that he wasn't recharged this morning. I was almost late."

Andi hugged her.

"Now, if we can get our minds out our panties, let's get some work done. And Aubrey, don't spread this around."

Aubrey laughed so hard she almost spilled the two cups of coffee she held.

"Too late, my little Cinderella. Joan from accounting and Barb from legal were at the cafe with their husbands. They saw you and I quote 'hanging onto your hunk like a drowning woman clings to a life preserver'. I've had three calls already this morning."

Even my boss said something that afternoon.

"Popular rumor has it there's a new man in your life. Quite attractive, according to the woman in accounting. I'm not prying, I'm just saying good for you. All work and no play and all that. Just tell me he doesn't work for a competitor."

I was glowing red

"No, he's in construction, lower management, but he'll be qualified as an architect soon."

"Sounds great, think how much you'll save when it comes time to design your dream home."

I started telling him it was just casual until I saw him smiling.

"Relax Andi, I'm just teasing. It's good to see you look human, instead of the ultimate business woman. Does he know?"

Bob was the only one in the company who knew my secret. When he offered me the vice president slot, I felt it necessary to come clean. I didn't want it to be discovered and brought to light to embarrass the company. It surprised him, but my efforts spoke on their own. He supported me and I got the job. If Aubrey was my mother figure in the office, Bob was her counterpart. I often told him I wanted to be just like him when I grow up. It pleases him no end.

"No, but I intend to tell him soon."

He nodded.

"I expect no less from you. And Andi, if it doesn't go well for you, I have a dry shoulder you can cry on."

I couldn't help myself, and kissed his cheek.

"I swear, between you and Aubrey, It's like I never left home. Thanks, Dad."

I believe we were both misty eyed for awhile.

I now had a dilemma. It was Tuesday, and I hadn't chosen a gown. My cheerleaders, Aubrey, Barb, and Joan, spent two lunch hours helping me shop. I was about to give up when we saw it.

Almost full length, open back, modest neckline. Red satin. I had a 34C chest, mostly hormone induced, but augmented by small implants. It was hard to go without a bra because of my extremely sensitive breasts. I could almost orgasm just from rubbing them. I wondered how his lips wold feel on them. I would probably explode on the spot.

Matching shoes, handbag, a small red velvet choker. My Adam's Apple was almost nonexistent thanks to hormone treatments at an early age and a bit of discreet surgery. I spent two hours having my hair done

As I waited for him to pick me up, I wondered if he had a car. It was going to be definitely hard to appear ladylike crawling up into that monster truck of his.

The doorman called to inform her he had arrived. He had always liked her because she treated him like a person instead of an object. She would sometimes bring him a cool drink or a cup of coffee, depending on the season, on her way in or out.

"How does he look, Harold?"

Harold chuckled. "I believe he will pass your inspection, ma'am."

It took me ten minutes to gather up my courage to go downstairs.

I was stunned. He had on a black dinner jacket, a shirt so white it would probably blind you in full sunlight, gleaming black shoes, black pants and bow tie. He looked like a young American version of the old James Bond characters in the sixties.

We both stood for a moment taking each other in.

"Come" he said, holding out his hand.

He led me to a black Lincoln town car, shining like a new penny.

"Nice car" I said as I settled into the leather seats.

"It belongs to Aunt Rita. They stopped making them almost two years ago. It hurt her feelings so bad she bought two, with every bell and whistle they had to offer. This one has four thousand miles on it. The other has six. Not six thousand, six miles. She's fifty one and says she'll never have to buy another car for the rest of her life."

He stopped and laughed.

"She said to tell you that if we scratch it, it would be in our best interests to never eat anything she prepares for the rest of our lives."

The opera was Italian, a minor piece that wasn't preformed often. Brian surprised her by translating once in a while. He saw her look.

"What? Aunt Rita is first generation American, her mother came over after the second world war. I was speaking Italian before I learned English."

I was impressed with the number of people who knew him as we mingled before and after the performance. One city councilman, a deputy mayor, various shakers and movers in the city. Many knew me, and were surprised to see me on a date.

One slightly buzzed socialite put her hands[way to familiarly] on his arm.

"Looks like our Brian melted the Ice Queen. Kudos, Brian."

He frowned slightly.

"Ice Queen? Where did you get that? I had the run the air conditioner on the highest setting on the way over here, and I think the passenger seat smells a little schorched."

Both the socialite and Andi glowed, one from embarrassment, and one from pride.

"Does he really think I'm that hot?" I thought as we exited the venue.

We went back to the restaurant for a late dinner. Courses kept getting cold when family, friends, and steady patrons came by to comment on how attractive they were. They must have posed for fifty pictures with family.

Aunt Rita finally put a stop to it.

"Enough! The next person who bothers my nephew and his beautiful date will be dining at McDonalds for the next week."

Apparently it was no idle threat, it was like they became invisible. We could finally relax.

"Is your family always like this?"

He patted my hand.

"No honey, we're calm compared to the other side of the family. Uncle Sean is Irish. Wait 'til I take you down to the pub. Think Italians with a lot of beer instead of wine. They're even a bit louder, can you believe it? Last time we had a wedding, you couldn't even hear the priest."

Great. Irish and Italian. Catholics, no doubt. I waited to be struck by lightning.

Just before we left Aunt Rita came out and handed me some photos. One of us standing as we waited for our table. Several more of us from both our times there.

She smiled.

"Gina is majoring in graphic art and photography in college. She always has a camera around somewhere, if you want privacy, you might want to go somewhere else."

She pointed at a wall covered in photos.

"Our wall of fame. Family, friends, favored customers. You're already on it."

I was indeed. A candid shot of both of us laughing.

He took me home as I sat in a fog of emotions. Once he escorted me to the door, I hesitated. Did I want him to come up? Did I want to face what might happen if I did?

He solved my dilemma by gathering me in his arms for a firm good night kiss. Boy, did he taste good! He actually had me off the ground at the end. He sat me back on my feet gently.

"I've got to work overtime this week to stay on schedule, and I have two nights of classes to attend. I'll call you Thursday. You get to pick where we go this weekend. I'm not hard to please. Goodnight, Andi."

I was still trying to form a response before he pulled away. Do I ever get the option of saying no to him?

I turned to the door to see a smiling Harold.

"Pleasant evening, Miss Andi?"

I was so happy I hugged him and kissed his cheek.

"The best, Harold. Absolutely the best it could be and still stay clothed. Good night."

I left him with his mouth hanging open.

...

I took the photo of he and I standing in our formal clothes, framed it, and put it on my desk, just to tease Aubrey. I saw her pick it up several times. Finally, as she was about to explode. I asked her.

"Something you need to ask, Aubrey?"

She actually turned red before she blurted it out.

"Is he as good looking naked?"

I got a little satisfaction teasing her. I gave her my most solemn look.

"Better. There isn't an ounce of fat on his whole body. He's got muscles bulging in places I didn't know had muscles. And his equipment? Greek god. He could call a lot of porn stars Junior if he wanted. And stamina? My goodness, I finally passed out while he pounded me and woke up the same way. I'm not really sure he ever stopped that night. I'm exhausted and sore, but very, very, VERY satisfied."

The look on her face was priceless. She didn't know where to start.

"Really?" she finally managed to gasp out.

"No, not really. All he got was a goodnight kiss. A really good kiss, but that was it. If he ever does bed me, I'll never tell."

She recovered and smirked at me.

"If he does, I'll know. So will everyone else with eyes. I'll bet you a day at the spa you have that look before three months go by."

I grabbed her hand and shook it.

"Deal. Now do you need a minute alone to finish your fantasy, or can we actually work this morning?"

He didn't call me for three days. It took me that long to remember I didn't give him my cell number. I didn't have a land line, it seemed unnecessary. Well, he knew where I lived, he could give a note to Harold, I hoped.

I was getting pretty despondent by Thursday afternoon, when Aubrey buzzed me.

"Some guy named Brian just called. I told him we didn't take personal calls on a company line. He seemed disappointed, and hung up."

"WHAT!!"

Then I heard that wicked chuckle.

"Got ya! He's on line two."

Making a mental note to look into getting an assistant that wasn't such a bitch, I picked up the phone.

"Hello?"

His voice sounded like music to my ears.

"Hi, sweetie. Made a decision about what we're doing this weekend?"

I couldn't resist.

"How do you know I didn't already have plans this weekend?"

There was about thirty seconds of silence. I feared I had just made a big mistake, when his confident voice came on the line.

"If you had plans, cancel them. We're more important."

The nerve of him! To think I would just break plans because he said so was just too insul..."Yes, dear." Shit, did I really just say that?

The warmth in his voice rose about fifteen degrees.

"That's my sweetie. If you haven't made plans, there's a new exhibit at the art museum I've been dying to see. They're holding a small reception Friday. Interested?"

Damn right I was. I had read about the new exhibit, it wouldn't be until next weekend before it would be available for public viewing, but there was a reception for patrons preceding it. First opera, now art. I was going to have to change my opinion of construction workers.

"Well, I had made plans to fly you to Paris and make out at the top of the Eiffel Tower, but art works too, I guess. What time should I be ready? Dress?"

I think I threw him there for a minute with the Paris crack, but he recovered nicely.

"Seven, casual. See you then, sweetie."

I hung up smiling. Looking up, I saw Aubrey in the door, smirking.

"If I hadn't heard it with my own ears, I wouldn't have believed it. Yes dear? Next thing you know, you'll be in the office barefoot talking about color schemes for the nursery. I hear that new spa over on Grant is really nice. Anything I can get you before I go back to my desk?"

"Yes. You can get me some resumes for a new assistant, one that keeps her head out of her panties and doesn't listen in on private phone calls. Could you do that for me?"

Damn her, I wish she'd stop smirking.

"I'll get right on that, boss, as soon as I'm done with my break and hell freezes over."

"MOM!"

She was still laughing when she closed the door.

...

He picked me up in a vintage Corvette. It was a 1971 model that belonged to his dad. It had been pretty run down, but he had it restored to show room condition.

"It was nice of you dad to give you his car" I said, as I settled back and listened to the rumble of the big engine."

I saw a look of pain cross his face.

"I'm sorry, did I say something wrong?"

He reached out and patted my hand.

"No sweetie, you didn't. Just had a bad memory come up. Did I tell you how great you look tonight?"

I could tell he was trying to change the subject, so I let him. I smoothed my dress.

"This old thing? Why, I've had this thing forever, if you count this morning as forever."

It was a little black dress, indeed a new one, higher hem, hey, I've always thought I had great legs, lower neckline, time to let the girls breathe a little, and it fit me as close to perfect as humanly possible. A nice little pushup bra, matching panties, and a garter belt holding up patterned and seamed hose. Even I thought I looked hot.

Apparently so did every man in the room. As long as I was close to Brian I was fine, but when some of the executive committee pulled him to the side for a little impromtu discussion about the new exhibit, they swarmed me. It was making me uncomfortable, and the look in his eye was almost murderous before he regained his bland smile.

A thrill went through me.

"He's jealous!"

I caught his eye and gave him a big wink and blew him a kiss. He instantly relaxed and started smiling a real smile again. Still, he cut it short and rejoined me almost immediately.

I turned to the most persistent of my admirers.

"Here's my man now! Brian, this is Jon, if you're not acquainted. Brian's in construction, probably where he gets these delicious muscles from."

"I don't believe I've had the pleasure" said Brian, as he held out his hand.

Jon made a stupid mistake and tried to out macho Brian, trying to crush his hand with his grip. Brian's eyes widened a bit in surprise, before squeezing back, hard. It almost put Jon to his knees. He made his excuses and left, trying desperately not to rub his hand before he got out of sight.

"I'm glad he's gone. I thought there for a minute you were going to fight over me."

He surprised me by squeezing my hand, hard.

"I need you to understand something. If I'm with you, I'd fight for you until my dying breath, but I'll never fight over you. That would imply you did something of your own volition to cause the fight. I'm not built that way. If we're in a relationship, we're in all the way. And by the way, I mean exclusively and faithfully. You'll never have to worry about me. You agree?"

I looked into those intense green eyes. I wanted to say a lot, but all I could manage was "yes, dear." His smile told me all I needed to know.

We discussed art as we looked around. He didn't care for modern art.

"Ever see Red Square? It's Russian. It isn't even a square, it's a rectangle. Just a canvass filled with red paint, and it's worth millions. Pollack? Don't even go there. A monkey could do the same thing."

He like the more realistic paintings, the Wyeths, every generation, and some surrealists, especially Dali. He also had a soft spot for Van Gogh, I learned later he had a reproduction of Starry Night and Sunflowers hanging in his house.

I leaned towards sculpture. I think I shocked him when I told him I owned a Remington, a small group of horses.

Of course, we had to do the mandatory mingling, and it was a lot of people from the opera.

A man I knew casually through work and I were chatting while one of the patrons just had to talk to Brian.

"So, you and Brian."

"Excuse me?"

"You and Brian. I know you've had at least two dates, something of a record lately for Brian. After his last girlfriend, he didn't even date for almost a year, and then you never saw him with the same woman twice. She sure messed him up, good to see him doing better."

Curiousity got the better of me.

"Just to avoid any mistakes, what broke them up, if you don't mind talking about it."

He stood there a second, trying to decide if telling me was the right thing to do.

"All right, just don't let him know I told you. Do you know who Karen Eckles is?"

Of course I did. She practically lived in the society section of the local papers. Daughter of Martin Eckles, a man worth billions.

"Well, she and Brian met at one of these functions, and she decided she just had to have him. He never had a chance. Oh, he was cautious at first, but she wore him down. They were an item for almost a year, before he broke it off."

"Why? She was rich, beautiful, sexy. She was the dream girl of most of the men in this city."

He nodded.

"That's just it. She was the dream girl. It spoiled her. She hid it from Brian, but she was too shallow and self absorbed to commit to anything serious. Brian was on the edge of proposing, when he found out her true nature."

"How did he find out?"

"She told him. Not purposely, but he found out at a function just like this. I know, because I was with him at the time."

"We walked up behind her and some friends."

"When are you going to dump Brian?" one of her girlfriends asked. I'm a lot taller than Brian, and they didn't see him.

"Oh, I'm not going to dump Brian. I'm going to marry him. He's perfect, loyal, desperately in love with me, and daddy loves him. Says it's about time I found a real man."

"What about Freddie? Does Brian know about him?"

"No, and he's not going to. He trusts me too much to believe I'd ever have an affair. I'm going to keep on with Freddie until he starts boring me, then cut him loose and find someone else. Brian has that boring old job, And I'll only play then. I'll have the perfect life, a man who loves me, and all the toys I want to play with."

"I expected Brian to be shocked, I was, But I didn't expect what happened."

"He came round me and stood behind Karen. Her girl friends eyes went wide. She knew something was wrong and turned to see him. She went a little pale and started talking, but he had his own speech to give."

"How about we do it this way. I get out of your life. Permanently. Look how much more play time you could get in. It's a great plan. I get to keep my self respect and you get to continue your whoring lifestyle without complications. Goodbye, Karen."

"He never said another word to her. In her own way, she did love him, and was accustomed to getting whatever she wanted. She called his house, his company, his cell. She got banned from his aunt's cafe, and he finally had to go talk to her dad, telling him he was going to file stalking charges and a restraining order if she didn't stop. Her dad finally got the full story, and shipped her off to Europe for three months."

I wanted to know badly.

"Did that stop her?"

He shook his head.

"No, she just toned it down. Tell me, do you ever get the feeling you're watched? You have been, all night. She's here, and been watching you both like a hawk. Turn around."

I did, making it appear casual. He was right, she was across the gallery staring daggers into me. It was creepy. I shivered.

At that time David came back, so the conversation stopped. I made a point to hang on his arm and smile at Karen every chance I got. She left rather early, quite a surprise.

I broached the subject gingerly as he drove me home.

"Do you know Karen Eckles?"

He tensed before shrugging.

"Yes. Why?"

"Well she was there tonight, and every time I looked up she was staring at us. It kind of creeped me out.

He actually laughed.

"Karen and I were close once, but our lifestyles were just too different to make it work. She wasn't used to the word no, and it irritated her. Don't worry about it."

He surprised me by pulling into a nice neighborhood, stopping in front of a modest house.

"Where are we?"

He grinned.

"At my house. Come in, I'll make some coffee. I want a little time with you when there aren't fifty people standing around. I'd like to say I'll be a perfect gentleman, but why lie. Come on."

I felt myself freezing up. This could make everything unravel. Still, I offered no resistance as he ushered me in. He left me on the couch while he went to make coffee.

"Look around if you like" he said over his shoulder as he went into the kitchen.

I did. I noticed the art work, how neat it was, too neat for a batchelor. There were pictures everywhere of his family. His aunt, cousins, lots of people I didn't recognize. There was a large family portrait of Brian when he was about eight with what had to be his mom and dad. They looked happy.

He came back with the coffee, sat it down and walked over, draping his arm around my shoulders.

"My mom and dad. Can you see the resemblance to Uncle Sean? And Aunt Rita? They were brothers who married sisters. This was taken four years before the accident. They were coming back from celebrating their fifteenth wedding anniversary."

"The small charter plane went down with twelve couples aboard. There were no survivors. They were lost at sea, we didn't even get to bury them."

I could literally feel his pain.

"I only had them six years, they got me when I was seven. I never talked about it to anyone, just sort of closed down. Aunt Rita and Uncle Sean added me to their brood. It's probably what brought me back. It was like being adopted all over again."

"They set everything aside for me. The insurance policies, the settlement from the charter company. My mom even bought two of those insurance policies you used to could buy at the airport just to cover the flight. They said if they had to take money it wasn't love, and they wanted me to feel loved.

He gestured around.

"My dad was a builder. He and Mom literally built this place by themselves. Even if I live somewhere else, I'll never sell it."

I was crying openly now, sharing his pain. He was the one clinging to me now. Finally he roused himself and broke our embrace.

"Second door to the left down the hall."

"Huh?"

"The bathroom, second door on the left. In case you want to fix your makeup."

I knew he was trying to get a few minutes alone to regain composure, so I did as he asked. My carefully applied makeup was beyond repair, so I took a cloth and washed it all off, not bothering to reapply. He was sitting on the couch pouring the coffee when I returned.

"Now you know. Just for the record, I've only told one other person that story. Karen. Her only statement was it was good I had so much insurance."

I bristled.

"What a bitch. She didn't deserve you. I'm glad you didn't end up together."

He smiled a little.

"Thanks, I think. And thanks for listening. I don't know why, I just felt you should know."

That was it. The moment my fate was sealed. I knew at that exact moment I was in love with this man, and there was nothing I wouldn't do to try and keep him.

I put my coffee down carefully and climbed into his lap.

"let's make some new memories, something to cheer you up when you feel down."

I'll admit it. I had very limited experience when it came to kissing, but to balance it I had a lot of enthusiasm. They got longer, hotter, more intense.

I could feel his erection, and ground my bottom against it. By now he was caressing my breasts through my dress. They were hard as diamond cutters, I was afraid they were going to rub a hole through the fabric. Soon his hand was underneath my dress, sliding over my stocking tops, caressing the bare skin between them and my panties. Just as he was about to go higher I regained my senses and jumped off his lap. I had almost lost it.

I could see the disappointment in his eyes. I started kissing him again.

"Please honey, it's too soon. We barely know each other. Let's take our time. When it's ready to happen, we'll know it. Please don't dump me, I'm just not ready."

He pulled back and held my face in his hands.

"Dump you? After this and what you just said? Sorry babe, that's not gonna happen. I want you, but I'm not stupid enough to rush you. You're kind of stuck with me, for a long, long time, I hope. But I'm only human, so I think it's time for me to take you home. Come on."

The only place I wanted to go was his bedroom, but I got in his car.

There was another steamy set of kisses at my door.

"When will I see you again?"

He looked surprised.

"Sunday lunch. You promised Aunt Rita, remember?" I'm not going to pick you up, you have to be there at ten thirty, I'll be there just before one."

I was confused.

"Why do I have to be there so early?"

His grin was huge.

"Because you have to help cook. Every woman in the family does it on a regular basis. Also, to stand inspection. Don't be surprised at the amount or the nature of their questions, my family is pretty direct. Oh, and wear a nice, simple dress. Aunt Rita is a traditionalist. She thinks women should wear dresses to family affairs. See you then."

Another quick kiss and he was gone.

...

Houston, we have a problem.

I didn't know how to cook. Not the simplest thing. I agonized over it, getting little sleep Friday night. I tried watching about six hours of cooking shows, but nothing stuck. She was desperate, so she showed up at the restaurant early Saturday evening to talk to Aunt Rita.

Gina kissed me when I showed up unannounced. Aunt Rita kissed me in the kitchen. Some little woman who looked to be about a hundred grabbed me and kissed both cheeks, spouting in Italian ... She was pretty strong for a little old lady.

Rita laughed.

"My mother. She comes in on the weekends. Not to actually work, just to make sure we don't screw up. Mama says you're very pretty, you'll make Brian a good wife, but you're too skinny."

"Brian's not here. He had to work today to catchup some things that threw the schedule off. He came by, picked up his supper, and left. He looked exhausted."

Here it was. Time to confess.

"Um, I'm here to talk to you, Aunt Rita[she insisted on me calling her that], about tomorrow. I don't think I can make it."

She looked into my eyes for a second, turned and said something in rapid Italian, and we were soon seated at the back of the kitchen with two small glasses of wine. She got right to the point.

"Why? Brian has really been looking forward to showing you off. It'll hurt him pretty badly if you don't come."

I fidgeted.

"I can't cook!" I blurted out, then cringed in shame.

When I heard her laughing I looked up.

"That's it? You can't cook? Are you afraid that will shame Brian, make you less desirable? Silly girl. Brian would probably laugh and do the cooking for you."

She turned and said something to her mother.

The old woman cackled, then reached over and took her my hand, rattling something off in Italian.

Rita laughed. "Speak English, Mom."

She was pulling me along.

"Come child, follow me. Call me Nonna, alright?"

I spent three hours following her around the kitchen, wearing an apron. I tasted sauces, gave opinions, chopped onions and other vegetables. I learned the proper way to hold a knife for maximum efficiency and minimum risk, what "al dente" meant, and other things I was supposed to remember but promptly forgot. At the end, I was exhausted.

Rita, Nonna, and I sat down for another small glass of wine.

They both gave me a kiss and hug, and sent me home.

I barely made a shower before I collapsed, exhausted.

I was up at eight, obsessing over what to wear. I finally picked out a simple, light blue sundress and flat sandals. I put my hair up in a ponytail, for the first time since I was seventeen.

There were twelve women and three teenage girls there when I walked in. The place was closed, only family and select friends allowed. And men were not allowed in until twelve.

Everyone of them kissed and hugged me, handing me an apron. It had my name on it. Nonna took charge of me again, and I assisted where I could. Every one of them gave me help and instructions, and I finally started getting it. I even picked up a few words in Italian. I was having so much fun I didn't notice the time until I was swept of my feet and twirled around, getting soundly kissed.

"Hi, honey." I said to Brian, futility trying to smooth my dress and hair at the same time.

He grabbed my hand and pulled me along, introducing me to uncles, cousins and friends. I felt like the skin was being worn off her cheek. I finally got to flee back into the kitchen.

I got to escort Nonna out of the kitchen and to her place at the head of the table. I was given the honor of serving her first, she was a true matriarch, revered by all present.

Then we brought the platters out and settled into one of the happiest, loudest meals I've ever enjoyed.

Brian looked at me and smiled happily.

"Who told you to call my grandmother Nonna?"

"She did. Why?"

Brians' smile got bigger.

"Do you feel special? I think you are, and more importantly Nonna thinks so too. Nonna means grandmother. You're acceptance into the family, you're one of us now."

About that time Nonna tapped a wine glass. When everyone got silent. She made a little toast in Italian. I heard our names mentioned, and then every one raised their glasses.

"SALUD!"

I held my glass up and smiled.

"What was that about?"

"Nonna just told everyone that our rehearsal dinner was going to be here."

"What rehearsal?"

"Why, our wedding rehearsal, you silly girl."

I gave a little shriek and fled to the bathroom. Aunt Rita came to get me.

"Come on girl, you have to meet your new family."

"But we've only dated three times counting today. It's way too early yet. I don't know if he even likes me that much."

She had me in front of the mirror, brushing out my hair.

"Oh, he like you, a lot. And Nonna is never wrong. She says she her grandmother was a full gypsy, and she has the sight, the ability to tell the future. Don't fight it. Now fix your face, and come on back out."

We stayed until eight, dining again. In between, the men played cards and watched a ball game, while the women cleaned the kitchen and then sat by themselves, passing family information and gossip, Holding babies, keeping the toddlers occupied, and of course, talking about their men. I'd never felt so loved.

...

I kept telling myself I would tell him the truth by the next date, but I always ended up so happy to be with him I would postpone it. My job had me work long hours and travel sometimes, while his work and school schedule kept him pretty busy during the week. We managed to have lunch together a couple of times a week, and practically lived together on the weekends.

Then something happened that cemented my relationship to his family beyond his wildest dreams. We were looking at helping an Italian firm and a German firm merge their American affiliates. We had been working on this for months, when suddenly the Italians balked, seems one of the Germans managed to insult their CEO.

It was my project, so I had to go to Italy to smooth feathers. Normally Aubrey went with me. They were empty nesters, and she enjoyed the trips tremendously. Sometime her husband would take vacation and go with us. He got to sight see while we worked, then he would gather Aubrey up and be gone. I would look at them and marvel love like that was still possible.

She asked if she could stay home this time. She had two sons and a daughter, and the daughter was due with her first child any minute, and she didn't want to miss it. I was taking a substitute, a competent young woman.

I developed the habit of eating at the cafe once a week while Brian attended classes, often ending up helping. We were sitting after the dinner rush, enjoying out traditional glass of wine. I told them I probably wasn't going to be there in two weeks, I had to travel to Verona on business.

Nonna started rattling off things in Italian. When Aunt Rita calmed her down, she told me her Nonna was born in Verona, and emigrated her with her parents when she was ten, in 1949. She was rattling off people I should go see, when I shocked all of them.

"You know, it would be a lot easier if Nonna just went with me. It would give me a chance to burn up some of my frequent flyer miles, and I'll gladly pay for anything else. It would mean a lot to me. Gina is between semesters, she could go along to keep her company while I work. Would you think about it? Please Nonna, I'd love for you to go. I'm sure Gina would like it to. Will you think about it?"

Nonna surprised us all when she started crying and hugging me.

Later on, Rita gave me a big hug and kiss.

"What you offered back there was very kind. You are going to be my favorite unofficial daughter in law, I can feel it. Kiss Brian for me. And Andi, Nonna says you're hiding something. She says you need to tell him, soon. And she said not to worry. It'll all work out."

I wish I had that faith.

The next weekend was the first time Brian told me he loved me. I cried for joy, then for fear. I had to tell him, come what may. He deserved the truth.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / TransGender /