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Friday, March 10, 2017

Chapter reveal: Changing Faces, by Barb Caffrey


portrait in gardenTitle
: CHANGING FACES
Genre: transgender fantasy-romance (contemporary)
Author: Barb Caffrey
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Allen and Elaine are graduate students in Nebraska, and love each other very much. Their life should be idyllic, but Elaine’s past includes rape, neglect, and abuse from those who should’ve loved her—but didn’t, because from childhood, Elaine identified as transgender.
When Elaine tells Allen right before Christmas, he doesn’t know what to do. He loves Elaine, loves her soul, has heard about transgender people before, but didn’t think Elaine was one of them—she looks and acts like anyone else. Now, she wants to become a man and is going to leave.
He prays for divine intervention, and says he’ll do anything, just please don’t separate him from Elaine…and gets it.
Now, he’s in Elaine’s body. And she’s in his. They’ll get a second chance at love.
Why? Because once you find your soulmate, the universe will do almost anything to keep you together—even change your faces.
////////////////////////////
Chapter 1
Picture this:
It was the middle of July in Nebraska. Sweat started dripping down my back even before I’d stepped foot outside my apartment. My hair was already sticking to my neck, and I didn’t know how I was going to play my clarinet. And I had to do that, because my best friend Jolene Harris was marrying her long-time partner Paula Adelson today.
You see, this wasn’t just a wedding. Paula and Jolene had waited for years to get married, and until recently, they couldn’t. But the Supreme Court of the United States made up their mind a short time ago that same-sex couples are like anyone else—if they want to marry, legally, they should be able to do so. Of course I agreed with this. Anyone who ever saw Jolene with Paula and their son, Adam, for longer than two minutes would agree, if they had any sense at all.
Fortunately for me, my boyfriend, Allen, completely understands. He’s coming with—and he’ll be playing his clarinet, too. (He’s going to play Ave Maria at Jolene’s request.) Allen, unlike me, identifies as straight, but he’s no bluenose—he’s even walked with me in Lincoln’s Gay Pride parade.
Yes, I know I need to tell him…everything. But must it be today?
The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. We’d even seen a rare double rainbow last night, after a brief but intense thundershower. Most people probably would’ve thought that today was absolutely perfect for a wedding, if they didn’t mind having to stand outside in 90-plus degree weather.
Allen and I made it to the car, we stored away our clarinets and music stands, and started driving. Considerate as always, he turned the air conditioning on and let me bask in it a few minutes before he spoke.
“I wish it were our wedding,” he said wistfully.
Oh, no, not that again, I couldn’t help but think. I loved Allen—truly, I did—and I wanted no one but him. But…
“I’d rather get married in the winter than the summer,” I told him, trying to keep it light. “It’s way too warm right now for my liking.”
“Are you sure you’re from Florida?” he half-joked back.
“Hey, it’s humid there, but it rarely hits the triple digits.” At his cocked eyebrow, I added, “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”
He laughed, as I’d intended, and the subject was defused. For now.
Somehow, I had to tell him what I really was. But I didn’t have the words just yet.
* * *
I snuck a peek at Elaine as we set up our music stands. She looked gorgeous, as usual, though by her standards she was a bit dressed-down for such festivities in a burnt orange blouse, dark slacks and low heels, with an orange flower in her hair for the sake of whimsy. Chestnut brown hair cut short for the summer, bright brown eyes with flecks of gold only I could see, when she was particularly happy, high cheekbones…a beautiful woman, inside and out.
Who cared that she, like me, had been known to look at women from time to time before we met? Not I. (And no, I’ve never had that whole threesome fetish thing going on, thank you. I’ve always refused to share.)
Because it was hot, I’d worn dark slacks, a long-sleeved white dress shirt, and a tie with musical notes on it. (Jolene had told Elaine it was to be a less formal wedding, so what I was wearing should be more than good enough.) My glasses were starting to slide down my nose—occupational hazard, on a day as hot as this—but I knew the music well. Even if my glasses fell off, I’d be able to play and no one but Elaine should notice.
The caterers were still fussing with the food, and neither Jolene nor Paula was anywhere to be seen. It was an hour and a half until the ceremony, so this wasn’t entirely a surprise. Elaine and I liked to be early, to get ourselves acclimated, whenever we played a gig—not that we’d played a ton of weddings, but we’d certainly played at enough other places that this should not be much of a stretch.
We started with the Telemann Canonic Sonatas, easy enough pieces to play as they hadn’t been designed for the clarinet’s three-octave range. They were fun, though, and suited the day well…after a while, I noticed Adam, Jolene’s son and a burgeoning clarinetist, watching us avidly. His two-toned blond head bobbed to the music, and he seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. But he wasn’t dressed for a wedding; instead, he wore a t-shirt and ratty old jeans with shoes that looked two sizes two big.
When we took a break, I nodded toward him and asked Elaine, “He seems happy, don’t you think?” Of course, I wanted to say, What on Earth is he wearing? But I was far too polite.
“He’s probably glad I didn’t assign him to play these pieces,” she said with an arched eyebrow.
I stifled a laugh. “He’s still a beginner, so he doesn’t need to worry about that yet.”
“Ah, but does he know that?”
After we put our clarinets down, Adam came over and handed us each an ice-cold bottle of water. “You two sound great!”
“Thanks, kiddo.” I resisted the urge to ruffle his hair, taking a sip of water instead. “Are you wearing that to your mothers’ wedding?”
Adam shrugged. “They’re worried about what they’re wearing. I didn’t think they’d care what I wore…”
“Try again,” I said kindly. “I’m sure they’ll have someone taking pictures, as they’ve waited a long time to get married.”
“I don’t see what the big deal is. They’ve been together since I was a baby. Do they really need a piece of paper after all that?”
Before I could say anything, Elaine jumped in. “Yes, having the relationship matters more than the piece of paper. But they want that piece of paper. They’ve dreamed about having that piece of paper. And you, Adam, are going to go in the house and find yourself something to wear that shows you made an effort, or I’ll give you five extra scales next week.”
“And if you don’t find something better than that,” I added, “I’ll have to come in and help you.”
Adam shuddered dramatically. “Okay, okay already.” He went into the house.
The minister had arrived, a cheerful, fortyish woman. The food had all been brought out. The guests were starting to assemble, so Elaine and I played some more duets. The music flowed out of me, and I became so caught up in that that I didn’t care how hot it was. It was just me, Elaine, and the music.
Life was good.
By the time I looked up again, it was fifteen minutes until the ceremony. Jolene, tall and resplendent in a bright blue satiny long dress, was chatting with the minister, but Paula was nowhere to be seen. Then Jolene came over to us, murmuring, “Paula’s nervous. Says she can’t find anything to wear. And we went over this yesterday—I can’t believe this is happening.” She bit her lip, adding, “Maybe she wants to back out.”
“I’m sure it’s not that,” I put in, trying to settle her down. “She loves you to distraction.” My words were absolutely true. I’d never seen a more devoted couple.
Elaine sighed. “Let me guess. She won’t let you see her, because of that old superstition about brides—even though I’m sure you don’t care—”
“Got it in one,” Jolene said, nodding.
“And I can’t go to her,” I put in.
Both women looked at me like I’d grown a second head. “Of course you can’t,” Elaine snapped. Then, her eyes silently apologized…she must’ve realized I’d been joking. “I’ll go.”
“Would you?” The look Jolene gave her would’ve melted an iceberg—that is, if it hadn’t already melted due to the heat.
Elaine touched my hand, and was gone.
I turned back to my clarinet, and started playing the Miklos Rosza Sonatina, ideal for today as it required no accompaniment. Before I immersed myself fully in the music, I prayed that Elaine’s errand would not take too much time.
I didn’t get nearly enough time with Elaine as it was.
* * *
I went down the hall to Paula and Jolene’s bedroom, and knocked.
Paula let me in without saying a word. She wore a bra and a half-slip, but nothing else. The last time I’d been here, the bedroom had been painfully neat but a bit cluttered; now, though, it was as if a tornado had hit the place. Black pants were draped over the wooden headboard along with a shiny silver bolero; a red dress was covered by a bright yellow swath of something in the middle of the carpet—had I ever seen either Jolene or Paula wear yellow? I didn’t think so—while I saw green, brown, white, and checkered blazers, pants and skirts all over the place.
And a lonely light blue dress sat in the middle of the bed, crumpled as if Paula had thrown it.
Before I could say anything, Paula beat me to it. “Feeling femme today, Elaine?”
I blushed. “You two are marrying. It doesn’t matter what I feel like.”
“Then why the flower in your hair?”
Paula was the only person who’d guessed that I wasn’t simply bisexual, though I was certain Jolene knew something was off, too. Paula knew what I was in its entirety—I’m a gender-fluid person, and some days I feel female, others male. But I’ve never felt fully comfortable giving in to my impulses, not the way I was raised…
I realized I was woolgathering. “Who cares why? I’m here to help you. Jolene’s a mess. I think she’s afraid you’re going to call off the wedding.”
“No, never,” Paula said with a faraway smile. “But I have to have something to wear. And the blue dress that I was going to wear must’ve shrunk at the cleaners.”
“Are you sure this isn’t just bridal jitters?”
“Jitter me this,” Paula snarled, and put on the blue dress. Despite Paula’s tiny frame, the dress didn’t fit over her slender hips, much less meet in the middle of her back. “Could anyone wear this?”
“Maybe a dwarf could, but certainly not you.” I shook my head, and sighed. “You didn’t want to try it on yesterday, why again?”
“It’s a tradition in my family that we don’t wear our wedding dresses between the time we try them on and actually are about to get married. My parents are out there, and I figured they’d know—” She looked like she was about ready to cry.
“I understand that you want to be as traditional as possible,” I said gently. “But isn’t it more important that you wear something that you might actually feel good in on a day like today?”
“Point.” Paula smiled ruefully. “I certainly can’t wear this. And everything else, except for one outfit, I’ve already worn…and that isn’t very festive.”
“Show me the outfit,” I told her.
Paula pulled a charcoal grey sleeveless top with a bit of shininess to it out from under the pile of clothes on the floor, and grabbed a grey pair of pants. “I’d intended to wear this to dance with Jolene later. But it’s not good enough to wear now!”
“Put it on, and let’s see.”
After shrugging off her slip, Paula got into the outfit. The top fit well, but wasn’t too snug; considering it was at least ninety-five degrees in the shade, I didn’t see a problem with it. And the grey pair of pants looked comfortable and easy to move around in.
“To my mind,” I said, “this is the right outfit. Wear your best black shoes, and maybe add a black or white scarf? Or do you have a statement necklace, something that will visually draw the eye?”
“Who knew you knew this much about fashion?” Paula teased, as she got out her shoes and a white, fringy scarf. Once the scarf was draped, she added a chunky pearl-and-onyx brooch that went perfectly with the outfit, almost as if it had been designed for the thing.
“Don’t tell anyone,” I advised her. “It might ruin my reputation.”
As we laughed, I took her arm, and escorted her outside to her waiting father.
“Dad, this is Elaine,” Paula told him.
“I saw you playing the clarinet before, didn’t I?” But before I could answer, he added, “Thanks for your help.” He took my place at Paula’s side, and walked her down the flower-strewn path toward Jolene and the minister.
Allen started to play Ave Maria. Before he got four measures in, I saw people dabbing at their eyes.
Of course, Jolene and Paula both looked beautiful, Jolene tall and buxom in blue, Paula petite and dainty in grey and white. So that might’ve been it…but I still think Allen’s playing had a great deal to do with it, too.
I went to Allen, unnoticed in the crowd, and squeezed his shoulder. He put his clarinet down, and grabbed my hand; as I had been about to hold his hand, I had no problem with that at all.
We could barely see Paula’s blonde head back here, due to the crowd, but it didn’t matter. We were ready to play again long before Paula and Jolene shared their first kiss as a married couple, and before the audience had finished applauding, we were playing recessional music—Mendelssohn, I thought—that Allen had arranged for two clarinets.
After a while, everyone had gone toward the refreshment table but us. But before we could go get something, Jolene came up to us and insisted that we get our pictures taken. I hate having my picture taken, as my outer self doesn’t always match my inner self…and even on a day like today, where I felt more feminine than not, I still hated having the flower in my hair memorialized for all time.
Still, Allen’s kiss on the cheek was nice, and my smile at him was genuine. He was truly a good man, the best person I’ve ever known…someday soon, I’d have to tell him the truth about me.
And if he still wanted to marry me then, I’d let him.
* * *
Later on, after we’d stored our clarinets away and the food had been cleared out, I took Elaine back out to the yard again. Toward the back, there was a patch of green grass near the fence that I didn’t think anyone had stood on today; an untrammeled bit of grass, if you will. The sky was breathtaking, all bronzy red and pinkish orange, fading into the deep twilight blue I’d only ever seen in a Nebraska summer sky. It was a sky Maxfield Parrish might’ve painted, had he the chance.
“Such beauty,” Elaine breathed.
“What better omen for a wedding,” I added.
For once, Elaine didn’t give me a reproving look. Instead, she looked soft, touchable, feminine in a way I rarely saw…I knew I couldn’t waste this moment.
As Jolene and Paula were saying goodbye to their guests, we were quite alone. Our temporary solitude suited me well.
I went down to one knee on the grass, and said, “Elaine Foster, will you marry me?”
Elaine bit her lip, which wasn’t the response I wanted.
So before she spoke, I tried again. “Look, Elaine. We are meant for one another. I love you to distraction. I want you to become everything you have always wanted—a great writer, a great educator. You’re already a great person, and the only woman I want to be with. Will you please put me out of my misery and say yes?”
At that, Elaine laughed, pulled me up, and kissed me. When I broke away again, I looked down at her shining eyes and said, “So, is that a yes?”
“It’s a yes,” she murmured. “But…”
Before she could say anything more, Adam came barreling out into the yard. “My mothers told me to come and find you.”
As we went inside, I thought, This is the happiest day of my life.
* * *
I loved Allen. So I said yes, when he asked me this time—hoping I’d be able to explain just who and what I really was, after. And it made Allen so happy, for a time, I basked in his reflected happiness, and felt transformed.
If only we could’ve stayed in that moment forever.

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