Be All That You Seem To Be
“Carole, I’m glad you could get here today.”
“Della, no problem.” Carole sat down, putting her bag beside her.
“I know this is just about a wager but I’m determined to beat those two males of yours.”
Carole laughed at that. “Me too, they can get a bit bossy at times, I’d love to show them we’re at least as good, if not better, at this game.”
“Well, we share that view.” Della agreed. “Also, and I know it might sound strange for a demoness to say, but I am determined that we can get this Jane together with a lover. Too many females are somehow barred or simply too inhibited to realise their true feelings. Nothing compares to making love with a female and I have a soft spot for this human; I want her to at least experience that for real.”
“Obviously that’s a view I share, maybe for less altruistic reasons, but as we recognised at the start, our interests coincide. But, it’s not working.” Carole complained. “She appears to herself, and to anyone with any potential interest, as the hottest lesbian in London and yet it’s backfired. I’ve known married straight women experiment more than she’s willing to do; they’ll go with a woman just to see what it’s like or just to piss off their husbands.”
Yes,” Della agreed, “and unlike, them she’s got nothing to lose in trying. But her response, rather than to loosen up, has been to harden her shell even further.”
“Well, as I told you on the ‘phone, she must have called me up soon after seeing you. She was in my office, or that of Petra, I should say, by the following afternoon. I hoped to build on what you had put into her conscious mind by adding some extra in the subconscious. She got to participate in one decent lesbian encounter. I think it paid off a little. I followed her down to Soho afterwards and she was checking out the lesbian literature, so I don’t think we failed entirely. It might be that she is just more resilient than we thought.”
“But that’s why it’s a challenge; that’s why Jake and Tom picked her.” Della reminded Carole.
“Yes, so we need a new approach.” Carole suggested. “We need to get her more sexual in general before we can get her interested in me. She’s not slept with a man since we started working on her.”
“Sure, but of course, not everything’s in our control though is it? Did you pick up on the incident last night at the boss’s house?”
“I sensed it when I checked her in the café this morning.” Carole confirmed. “Some woman named Tori fell for her big time.”
“Well, what lesbian wouldn’t? She looks like a walking sexual fantasy, doesn’t she? That could have been the clincher, it could have made real what you and I had fed her earlier in the week. But I think it was more than her being disinterested in our suggestions. If Jane wasn’t blinding herself by fighting all of this so hard, she would have seen that she and Tori had a lot in common. They could be platonic friends even if nothing else developed, but she thrust Tori away. I accept that that was probably in fright. She’s fighting this very well, very hard. Jake and Tom were clever, she’s a rare beast: she’ll not accept pleasure without analysing and re-analysing the source. I am sure that if we engineered a lottery win she would then spend the next five years trying to find out how and why she won.”
“Yes. I accept that. It means we need to shift strategy.” Carole repeated.
“I agree, we abandon the image issue for the moment. We rushed that. She needs to become sexually active with someone, anyone, then become attracted to women, then we can bring about the transformation into this stunning lesbian heroine.”
Carole smiled. “I do feel a bit guilty over that incident with Tori. She really fell for Jay. But if I’ve learnt nothing else in this game over the past few decades you can only control a few of the pieces, there’s many others moving to their own rules and, so, quiteoften, something unexpected occurs. Sometimes it helps your task, sometimes it counters it.”
“Well, to some degree we should not disregard what we have achieved so far.” Della pointed out. “We have built up some momentum so that others are interacting with her as if she was already a lesbian. You know, we do not have to be there every step of the way.”
“Yes, but as a result we inadvertently presented Tori with her fantasy woman and it turned out, at this stage, that that was just a tease. Tori did not deserve that. Even from what I saw in Jane’s rather prejudiced memories, Tori’s not some hard-nosed chauvinist denied an easy lay, she’s a lot more decent than that, she’s genuine.”
“I agree. Men give female humans a raw deal as it is and they don’t need us doing it for them too. Get Tori sent somewhere on company business and when she comes back Jay will be ready for her. How long will you take to have your fill of Jay?”
“Three, four months. If she is as good as I think she’ll be, I’ll be sated by then. Jake always knows the best ones. I can feel it in her, it’s going to be good, but yes, she’s got a life to live after I’ve fed from her and I concur with your unwillingness to let her be left bereft.”
“So, the plan?” Della asked.
“Well, we let the ring off her. Keep it in reserve for when she is ready to change. What we must focus on is her urges. She needs to want sex a whole lot more than she does at the moment. We need to tread softly as she’s suspicious now of anything that looks like it’s labelled ‘lesbian’. So we need her to get excited about her body and what it can do; interested in women’s bodies in general and then that should lead her into seeing how nice it could be to interact with one.”
“That’s along the lines of my thinking. I don’t think we’ve wasted our time so far. All the stuff about other people thinking she is gay will kick in again when she starts to feel it for real. One thing we also need to add into the mix is a desire in her to get out and socialise a hell of a lot more. Half the drunk straight women in a night club at the end of an evening are willing to give it a go with a woman. Then that will get her some experience with one, reduce the mystery and increase her knowledge of how good it can be. So, when you begin feeding those new ideas in, get a social life in there too. Her sitting at home pining over women she sees on DVD is not going to advance things as quickly as we need.”
“Right, agreed. I’ll keep you posted.”
“And let me know if you need anyone like Kym to appear on the scene again.”
“Will do and the same goes for Petra.”
Della took a sip of the dark red wine in front of her and licked her lips slowly. It seemed to Carole that she was now going broach another topic.
“Something else has come up.”
“Yes?” Carole asked with a hint of concern in her voice.
“Don’t look so worried, it’s just that another project has appeared. It’s a bit different and I have held back from pursuing it until now, but I am enjoying what we are doing for Jane so much that I am finding it hard to resist.”
“It’s another woman?”
“Yes. You know I have been in and out of that office quite a bit in my role as Kym. I encountered another woman there who looks like she needs some help. I know I can’t go round altering the lives of every female human so that they find happiness, but when I encounter some of them one-to-one I feel I ought to.”
“Well, why not go ahead? Get her in like Jane, have a counselling session with her.”
“I have started that already. From what I can tell, and her name’s Steph by the way, is that she is a lesbian, but, of course, had some bad incidents about twenty, twenty-five years back and it entirely sapped her confidence. I could send her back there to try to get things right, but even a quarter of a century ago attitudes were different. You know times here are changing so quickly. For me it’s like a blink of an eye, but for these humans, twenty years is a long time. I feel instead I need to give her a second chance here and now. I don’t want half her life to have been just lived for knitted sweaters and cats.”
“Well, boost her confidence. She can find love in her late forties, her fifties.”
“Yes, I will do that, but I want to do something more radical.”
“What? I suppose you have got the power.”
“Don’t look sheepish. I’ve sworn off transforming people into demon slaves, I told you that. It’s just I feel it would only be fair to take her back, say to her twenties, let her experience what it’s like to be a young woman in London now.”
“Okay. Well, you know every woman would just love that to happen. You’re going to have to go round changing a lot of minds to make that stick.”
“Well, we’ll take her away from her current job and set her up with a new life. You’re good at that.”
“Oh yes, I can arrange a position for her, a flat, that’s not too difficult in a city like this. There’s no reason why she should not get a post over someone else. Her current job will come free and we might be able to use that in turn.”
“Yes, why not? When the time comes for Jane to start looking for Carole, wouldn’t it be easier for them to be workmates, working late together, having to go round to each other’s flats to finish it off. Much easier than a pick up in a night club.”
“That is a good point. Okay. I think this will work and we get two happy women for the price of one.”
“I don’t want Steph’s heart broken, but you can have a one-night stand with the new her, if you like. I can’t guarantee her energies will be of the top quality you three seek out, but I’m sure an encounter with her will be good.”
Carole smiled. “This deal is getting better by the minute. You’re like an excited teenager.”
“Well, I am only 483 in this planet’s terms. I’ve got millennia ahead of me.” Della almost giggled.
“Now, we need to talk strategy for this one. I guess you can just wave your hand and strip back the years, but that would throw up a lot of questions. I think the best would be something dramatic. Some sort of accident, Steph disappears and the new Stacey, Sara, whoever, wakes up and rediscovers her life as a twenty-something lesbian in London. Paperwork is no problem and I can fill her head with memories that come back gradually, we can weave in all the stuff she felt back when she was coming to her twenties, stopping of course at when you think it all went wrong.”
“Excellent. Well, ‘Kym’ will get all the useful information that she can out of her and I will email what I get to you, you know bank account details, PIN numbers, etc. Then, let me know when everything is in place and I will engineer the alteration.”
“Here’s to bringing some fun to females.” Della raised her glass with a smile and chinked Carole’s.
It was not that long after lunch when Kym came up to Jane, who noticed that the counsellor’s every move was being watched by Steph.
“Jane, could I have a quiet word?”
“Erm, no I’m busy.” Seeing Kym revived Jane’s anger at her and Petra and what they had done to her.
“It won’t take five minutes, come on, just a quick chat.” Kym insisted.
Jane was reluctant, but there was something about Kym that made it difficult to refuse what she was asking. Jane left her desk. She moved a little uneasily as Kym seemed so expansive in her gestures that it appeared she was going to wrap her arm around her and push her down the corridor. Jane guessed the ‘touchy-feely’ approach was what was to be expected from a counsellor and let it slide. Soon they were in Kym’s office. Despite the offer, Jane remained standing as she had been told, in order to indicate she did not intend to stay.
“It’s nothing major Jane, I was just checking to see how you were.”
“Fine.” Jane responded tersely.
“Have the hallucinations faded?”
“Have you done anything along the lines I suggested?”
“No. I went to see Petra Northgate. Is she a lesbian?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Well she put me in hypnosis and I ended up in some lesbian orgy, I couldn’t get out. That can’t have come from me, she had to be putting suggestions in my mind.”
“No, Jane, that’s not possible and it’s not ethical. Petra is a professional. Anyway, you must know you can’t be hypnotised to do anything you don’t want to do.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”
“And anyway, what motive would Petra have for doing that? Do you think she’s part of some international conspiracy to turn young women into lesbians?”
It seemed ridiculous when Kym said it like that, but basically that was what Jane had felt since leaving Petra’s office. Well, not immediately, of course, because she had felt so high on the post-coital sensation, was it coital if it was between women? She did not know. Anyway, it was clear the hypnotised orgasm had befuddled her and she had gone round Soho pretending to be a lesbian but the cold morning light had raised up other views of what had happened.
“No, I suppose not.” Jane conceded, at length. “Are you a lesbian?” She then snapped.
“That’s irrelevant to this. Petra certainly has had many male partners. But that is beside the point, neither of us is working to an agenda, whatever you might imagine. We are here to help you or any man or woman who needs guidance. We can’t make up your mind for you about your sexuality, we can only highlight things that you might have missed. It is very hard to get a grip on your true feelings when you are deep in the middle of them. Okay? Please don’t make us the enemy, we’re here to help you be happier with your life.”
Jane was unwilling to accept that, she found it easier to blame Kym and Petra but had to acknowledge that all of this had begun to happen before she had even met them.
“Kym, I’m sorry. This is all so hard to accept.”
“You want a solution that says, ‘yes, you’re mad, take these tablets and it will all stop’. Well, that is a rare outcome and not one that I think is appropriate for you. Everyone has to deal with their sexuality and maybe your dealing has simply been postponed. You’re an intelligent, thoughtful woman so don’t go all silly over this. What I say is, go where your desires take you and don’t question why they want you to go there, because they are part of you and to deny them is to deny yourself. Will you agree to that, at least experimentally, for a month? Relax: that is a key thing. Relax, see what your body and mind are saying to you and follow where they lead. I can guarantee you’ll feel a lot better.”
Jane hated Kym for cheating her of the focus of her anger. However, she realised that she was being small minded and that was making her mean. Kym and Petra could have been much more frosty to her; far more dismissive. Had she done anything wrong yesterday when she had engaged in a few hours of lesbian experimentation? Had it done anyone any harm? Had she felt happier? She was not certain, but she certainly had not felt any worse. Maybe a month’s trial was feasible. She would hate to admit that Kym and Petra had been right, but if their solution eliminated the hallucinations then she would be happier. She did, however, begin to sense that tinge of fear about what that outcome would mean for the rest of her life and also about the real, grown-up challenge of facing up to the fact she was different to how she thought she was. Then again, if that was the case, there was a big potential that moving herself in that direction would ultimately bring her happiness. Was not this all that Kym was saying?
“Okay, I agree. I will experiment for a month on my terms and then I’ll come back and if nothing’s changed, then I want Prozac.”
“Well, it’s not that simple, but we have a deal. Now, get out there and live life.”
Kym thrust out her hand enthusiastically and Jane took it. Then the counsellor took Jane’s other hand and held them both between her palms. Jane felt a tingle especially on her left side, but it passed and she thought nothing more of it. She was just glad that she seemed to have shaken off Kym’s and Petra’s unbending insistence that she was a lesbian. However, strangely she felt she could not renege on her commitment to at least experiment for a month. She was certain of the outcome already, so what harm did it do to try it? What would the experiment involve? She was unsure of for the moment but she felt she should give it some thought and do this properly. She had flicked by the gay and lesbian section of ‘Time Out’ in the past and maybe it was time to stop turning over those pages.
Jane awoke. The previous evening she had started the experiment that Kym had advised. However, despite sitting up reading ‘Time Out’ listings for lesbian activities and sneaking her ‘Hot and Bothered 4’ out from the bottom of the wardrobe, there seemed to have been little change. She was on the correct side of the bed and had no recollection of any lesbian sexual antics. Certainly no explicit dream had come, well not that she could remember. So, was that a good outcome? She guessed it was, but she was not hopeful that the peculiar reflection of her ‘other’ self would have faded yet.
Jane turned her head to check the time on her bedside clock and then reached to pull off the bed covers. She realised her left hand felt different and, looking at it, she saw that the ring had gone from her thumb. The skin where the ring had been looked less weathered. Jane felt a sudden burst of relief, the thing that had not only made her feel uncomfortable but she partially blamed for all the madness that had affected her recently was gone. She hurried to look in the mirror, still half expecting to see Jay in whatever she wore at this time of the day or what was left over from the night before, but instead saw herself as she was: in the long night dress, with her hair cut two inches above her shoulders but looking rather messy and her skin rather blotchy. It might be a mess but it was her.
Jane felt released from everything that had bugged her these past days. She also felt vindicated too and was certain now that Kym and Petra had been wrong about her. It seemed weird that the ring could have had such an effect. Maybe it was all coincidental. Perhaps, if you believed in things like Chinese medicine, the ring had just been pressing down on some power point and so had been triggering all the hallucinations. Whatever had been happening, Jane felt it was now over. She breathed a big sigh of relief and headed towards the bathroom.
Jane did not shower every morning, but today, for some reason she felt the need. As she unbuttoned her nightdress, her nipples felt terribly sensitive, not in a sore way, more aroused. It would not usually something she would think about, but the dreams and scenes that had been exposing her to intense sexual activity, she realised, had provoked a greater awareness of her body. Her labia too seemed excited and, as she rubbed the soap over herself and let the warm water run down her, making her body look shiny, Jane found herself breathless with excitement.
The sensation was wonderful. Jane rubbed her hands back over her skin and found them lingering around her nipples. She abandoned the soap and began rubbing her forearm over both nipples, gasping at the pleasure which she gained in reward. She tended to stay away from masturbation, feeling it was rather sordid, but the gentlest touches to her sex now fired off wonderful sensations that she could not stop herself from generating. She tried to shut out the image but all she could see as she closed her eyes was Naomi stroking her body and forcing her thigh between Jane’s legs. Jane felt hungry to have that hardness thrusting against her again and to once more feel the sensation of soft female skin and breathe the distinctive scent of a female before her.
Jane tried to hold back but as climax took her and she shuddered precariously in the wet shower, her voice let rip to sound out her pleasure. Jane staggered against the wall and struggled to remain upright. Her body still felt incredibly sensitive all over but something within her signalled a surprising amount of satisfaction. Was it, she wondered, because she had climaxed thinking about a woman? Was all that her body and mind needed? Somehow it still felt wrong, but she could not deny the pleasure of it. Jane killed the shower and clambered out. She draped the towel around herself, concerned not to arouse herself again by rubbing her skin dry.
The mirror still showed her as she was, but Jane began wondering if that was simply because she had entered the next stage in whatever weird process was happening to her. She looked flushed from the experience in the shower. Her cheeks were rosy and there seemed to be a glint in her eye that she was not averse to. There was no time to think through the implications, but Jane did feel that maybe she had been rather hasty to shove all the lesbian stuff back at whoever presented it to her. She was reluctant to admit that Kym may have been right and maybe simply it had been worry, fear even, that had made Jane so hostile to what had been suggested to her. She guessed she had done Kym, and Petra too, a disfavour. In other circumstances she would probably have been more accepting of what they said. After all, what did their advice boil down to, but that she should simply listen to her heart?
This evening she would have to sit down and look at all this. Maybe she should test herself, look at some women and some men and see how she felt about them. She had not looked at her new book beyond the front cover. She guessed that if she actually read the stories and found that her interest was in fact not piqued by them, let alone that her body was not aroused by what they told, then she would have a stronger case to argue against what Kym and Petra had said. How did bisexuality work? Was it one month on men then one month on women? Jane imagined it was not that simple, but maybe she was in that category and the women-desiring side of her was kicking up such a fuss because it had been so neglected up to now.
Even if she found out she was a lesbian there was a long way between discovering that she had such tendencies and becoming a fully functioning one. After all, she had been heterosexual, she assumed, since puberty, and yet had no sex life to speak of. She had once heard, probably at university, that being gay was not a lifestyle, it was a life, but surely that minimised the impact even further. If she found out she was a lesbian, there was no register she had to sign up to, she could just jog along as Jane much as before. Then again, given her arousal this morning, she sensed that her body might have something to say about that. Maybe if she was truly straight then she would have been driven by her desires to seek out more sexual encounters. If she was coming to recognise her true sexuality by becoming attracted to women, then her body might relish the fact and drive her to prove it.
Jane looked at the clock: all this speculation was making her late. Dry now, except, she had to admit to herself rather embarrassingly, between the lips of her sex, Jane hurried to dress and snatch a cereal bar she could eat on the way to the underground.
“Jane, erm, could I ask you something? Erm, it’s a bit personal, so say no if you’d rather not.”
Jane looked concerned for a moment, but smiled. “Go ahead, as you said, I can only say ‘no’.”
“Well, it’s about your haircut and, erm, your clothes.”
“Yes?” There was a hint of uncertainty in Jane’s voice, but not of irritability.
“I just wondered why you’d changed back. That haircut, you had, erm, last week, it really suited you and that suit you wore, well it was very smart.”
Jane laughed, to Steph’s ears a little nervously, as if caught out at something. “So you noticed?”
Steph nodded. “Erm, I thought the style looked really good on you.”
“Quite a few people, a few women, have said that. But, it was, it was a joke, a dare. I was talking with a friend of mine about how no-one around here ever noticed anything much and she dared me to prove it. She dared to come in here dressed wildly for a few days and see if no-one noticed. I thought I had won, but you were the sharp-eyed one. The hair was a wig, the earrings were clip-on ones, not real. My friend, she does amateur dramatics. She tried to find a style that looked really unlike me. I couldn’t keep it up for too long, it just wasn’t me, it wasn’t my style.”
“Oh, okay.” Steph said, it seemed odd, but feasible, something she could envisage young women doing.
Steph guessed Jane had been right about her colleagues, no-one else seemed to have noticed, though she was sure Mr. Logan had said something about being glad that ‘Jane was finally showing her true colours’ that she had overheard. She could not conceal her disappointment and imagine that Jane was making up a story to cover some embarrassment she had encountered in dressing that way. Her story fitted in with the evidence of Steph’s own eyes. It was impossible Jane’s hair could have grown back or all the piercings have disappeared so quickly. Now she appeared to be not a great deal different to Steph herself. Is that what this place did to its female employees or had the two of them shared similar embarrassment and difficulties? It was certainly possible given how callously so many people behaved in London, not least, many of their colleagues. Steph cringed when she thought about Derek’s behaviour over the years.
“Well, Jane, if you don’t think it’s silly, let me encourage to dress a bit more like the way you did last week. I think it fits you well, a young woman needs to look stylish.” Steph stopped there, worried she would end up insulting Jane if indeed she was convinced her old style was the right one. “I know it can be tough in London, but please don’t abandon your dreams, everyone gets knocked back once in a while. There are unthinking people out there for sure, but don’t let them scare you away from what you really want and need. At least give your desires, erm, sorry, your, er, dreams, a chance. Otherwise, and now I am definitely talking from experience, you will regret it when you’re older, I can guarantee that. Sorry, I had no intention to give a lecture, but a woman of my age hates to see a young woman, and especially one with as much potential as you, give up too easily.”
Jane sat silently as if genuinely digesting all that she said. “Thank you Steph. I understand that. You’re right, maybe I need to make some changes. Maybe something not as radical as last week…”
“Radical can be exciting.” Steph muttered.
“Well, I don’t crave excitement. And to reassure you, nothing happened last week. The highlight was probably dinner at the Logans’ and eating at your boss’s house is hardly ground breaking. Erm, and nothing else happened, it was just an experiment that erm, came to the end, my friend, er, Victoria, had to get the stuff back to the stores.”
“Victoria who works here? You know her?”
“Oh no, it was a different one, a friend from back home. She thinks women in London are all sex-crazed and whilst she dressed me up like one, she actually really, really disapproves and was just showing me how stupid it was to be like that.”
To Steph, Jane’s story seemed to be unravelling a bit and she guessed some of it was not true, though it fitted the pattern of what she had witnessed. Maybe this Victoria’s motives had been rather different to what Jane believed. Perhaps, though not recognised by Jane, Victoria had in fact wanted to see her friend dressed in a lesbian style. But, perhaps, even Jane had not spotted that, or maybe that was the cause of her unease now, when she had realised her friend’s ulterior motives.
“Well, it sounds like it was fun. I did like that suit and the haircut.”
“Thanks, I’ll tell Victoria.”
“Well, it was you who carried them off so well. And Jane…”
“Please don’t forget what I said about dreams and knock-backs. You won’t, will you?”
“No, Steph, don’t worry, I won’t; it’s all locked up in here.” She tapped the side of her head. “Though I have to say it’s all a bit crowded in there at the moment.”
Steph returned to her desk and looked at the new emails that had come in. She did hope that her message had got through to Jane and would harden her resolve in the future, but she supposed it was up to Jane how her life turned out. Since talking to Kym, Steph had not managed to erase the memory of what had happened to her in the past, but she had certainly began to soften the edges of it. Unfortunately Kym had been absent from work and no-one seemed to know when she would be back. Steph had dealt with things herself for the last couple of decades and knew she could continue to do so. She guessed she had to count herself lucky that someone as understanding as Kym had come on the scene even if for just a short period of time.
“Steph, can I get you a coffee?”
“I’d love that, thanks.” Steph replied, looking up from her work, pleased that Jane seemed to be making an effort to be friendly. “I’ve got some hobnobs we can share too.”
Well, it seemed to Steph, that she had not scared off Jane and maybe over time she could help the young woman find what Steph believed Jane needed.
“Rachel! Rachel!” Jane called along the platform, waving to her friend.
Jane felt Rachel’s visit was overdue. Fortunately when she had called up her friend she had found Rachel was able to come that very weekend. Jane was uncertain what she was going to say to her. In the past few days she had found herself aroused more and more often. Her body seemed to be excited so easily. More than that, the test Kym had set her had proven to be conclusive. Now she found that whenever she thought about women, no matter whether they were celebrities or just women she had known or saw on the underground, she felt that sensation of interest that she had once had for certain men. Of course, not every woman turned her on equally, and she guessed that in time she would have to find her type, but surely that was the same for all people whether they were straight, bi or gay.
Jane had read her copy of ‘Hot and Bothered 4’ right through three times now and had become eager to pick up more lesbian erotica as it had quickly become apparent that it excited her in ways she had never expected. Her dreams were now filled with her participating in scenes she had read about or poses from the front covers of the books she had ordered online. There was even a degree of frustration until they were delivered. Jane, did worry, however, about what her friend might think if she came across the parcel of books each showing women clearly being intimate with each other. However much she had been keen to have the books this weekend, she realised that with them not yet in sight, it would avoid some questions that she was not certain she was ready to answer yet.
“Jane.” Rachel now responded as she saw her friend and came towards her.
The two hugged and air kissed each other’s cheeks. Jane recognised that she was enjoying the scent of her friend and stood back, a bit uneasy about their proximity. That would be a complicating factor if she discovered that all of this had been building up to her realising what her feelings for her best friend truly were and Jane was keen not to spring anything of that nature on Rachel.
Then again, Rachel was probably not her type. Jane had noticed that her tastes had shifted slightly. She had only worn skirts to work this week but in the evenings had changed into jeans. Not tight pairs, but just the odd, loose two that she had in her wardrobe, rarely worn aside from when she went on things like walks with friends or it was too breezy out for a skirt and tights. Today she was in her only pair of black jeans with a red denim jacket she had got from a charity shop. It sat over a white clinging sleeveless top with four buttons down the front which she had spotted one lunch break. Her hair was pulled back into a short ponytail, hardly stylish, but she realised, better than the heavy shape it had had before.
Jane had found the silver ring pushed down to the bottom of her bed and at first had been reluctant to go anywhere near it. However, as the days had passed and her lusts for women had grown she had slipped it back on, strangely nostalgic for the images it showed her. Of course that was a fantasy and she now found her reflection unchanged. She kept the ring on, though, almost like a talisman: she felt it somehow represented a key that had unlocked the first door to herself. There were, naturally other doors to open, but maybe these would unlock on their own accord. Soon Jane found that she was thinking of Angelina Jolie, the way Tori had said she would, and Pink for a different style, and of course, Naomi, her first lesbian ‘encounter’ however much of a dream date she had been. And, of course, even though she felt uncomfortable to remember it, she thought of Tori herself. Thinking of Tori and what might have been always brought Jane’s speculation of which women she fancied to an end.
“How are you?” Rachel asked as they crossed the station concourse.
“Erm, fine. You know, it’s London, it’s work.”
Rachel, Jane, realised almost looked like a reflection of Jane from the past. Okay, so maybe just last week, but still, from before a lot of things had begun to shift tectonically in Jane’s life. Of course, she might represent where Jane would return to when all of this worked itself out of her system. Her hair was always a bit longer than Jane’s, darker in colour and artificially curled at the ends so that it hung perfectly around her head. Whatever blouse or top she wore was hidden beneath a dark green sweatshirt. Below was a long, slightly flared, patterned skirt in a dark maroon, stretching below her knee and her feet wore plain court shoes.
“I always say you should leave London, it’s no good for you, you know that.”
“I think a couple of weeks ago I may have agreed with you, but I am determined to make a go of things for now.”
“Well, you’re style seems to have changed quite a bit.” Rachel nodded to Jane’s clothes.
“I’m just behind on my laundry, I’ve been busy this week; it’s an experiment to try something a bit different.” Jane ran through the excuses, somehow afraid to say she needed something of a change to fit a little with all the new feelings she was having.
“Okay. I wondered if we could check out a few clothes shops while I was here.”
Jane was a little surprised. “Sure, I was thinking something similar. I’ve not been on a shopping spree for ages and there’s no-one here whose opinion I value like yours.”
Rachel smiled, clearly pleased that their thoughts were coinciding. That seemed to reduce her apparent unease about what might be happening to her old friend. “My Mum gave me a list of places she thinks I’ll like, you know in Oxford Street, Bond Street.”
“Well, let’s get some early lunch then so we’re fuelled up for a decent shop, I know a great café, I was in there the other day. It’s not far from Oxford Street.”
“Sounds good. There’s something I need to tell you, but it can wait until the café.”
“That’s naughty, teasing me like that. What is it?” For an instant Jane wondered if this was all that her own experiences had somehow strangely been building up to, and it was going to turn out to be Rachel who was going to come out to her rather than vice versa.
“No, no, you have to wait.”
Jane was rather frustrated on the tube ride, but kept patient. She and Rachel had more than enough to keep themselves occupied with discussing people Jane had known back home and friends from university that Rachel seemed much better at keeping in contact with than Jane ever had. Jane felt a little naughty taking Rachel to the Soho café where she had gone after seeing Petra, but her friend did not seem to notice much different about the setting and Jane guessed she probably thought every street in London was full of same-sex couples and fetish shops. Of course Soho was a weird amalgam with old-fashioned Italian grocery shops next to gay fashion stores. Coming back, Jane felt strangely that she now fitted in here, that she could come and belong rather than simply being a tourist. That gave her a nice buzz, something different, or not exactly different, but rather rounding out her growing arousal when looking at women.
Maybe it was that for a young woman interested in women, there was something about being part of that tribe, looking like the others and feeling that whilst you might be a one-in-ten, you actually belonged to a group. Okay, so the lifestyle might not be the life, but it could augment it and Jane realised as she walked through Soho’s streets, that as she was coming to believe that whatever she did she could not stop herself being a lesbian. There was another layer of desire bubbling up inside her now that she wanted people to see her for what she was. Jane felt uneasy admitting it, but as Kym had said, Jane had an image of what a young lesbian in London would look like and even more how she, as a lesbian, would appear. As her unwillingness to accept what she was weakened as it had been this week, it was then unsurprising that her wish to capture that particular look grew. She glanced down at her silver ring. She recognised now that her hallucinations had been simply the result of sexuality tension building within her, but she wished she could revive the ring’s ability to make her appear her best as a lesbian. Jane chided herself, maybe the ring’s ‘function’ had been simply to light the way and now she had to make the image real for herself.
“You looked like you were drifting away.”
“Sorry, I’ve had a lot to think about recently. Erm, so what is the news, we’re on the coffees so surely this is time to spill the beans.”
“Rupert’s asked me to marry him. The wedding’s going to be next summer, so make sure you can come.”
“Congratulations, well done.” Jane sputtered, trying to remember who Rupert was, before the memory of an emailed picture of a tall man with floppy hair who apparently went to Rachel’s church came to mind. “Do I get to be a bridesmaid?”
“No, silly, that’s for little girls. You will be my matron-of-honour, that’s what real women are.”
“Oh right, sorry, I’m not up on the ins and outs of weddings.”
“It’s going to be great. Don’t worry about the cost, my parents are covering everything so they’ll do the dresses, we’re going for powder blue, and the hairstyle, make-up, everything.”
“That sounds excellent.”
Jane liked her friend too much not to sound enthusiastic, though she was not really looking forward to it. Her experience at weddings had never been very good. She usually ended up at a table of old people.
“Make sure you get someone nice and handsome to accompany you. It is ‘plus one’.” Rachel giggled.
For an instant Jane envisaged herself arriving with someone looking like Naomi and then she thought of the scenes on the dance floor when the slow tunes came on with Naomi in her smart tight suit and Jane in a powder blue meringue dress looking like a same sex ‘groom’ and ‘bride’. She shoved that thought aside. She knew since ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ that gays were a compulsory accessory at all British weddings, but she could imagine Rachel’s discomfort if Jane introduced someone like Naomi to the proceedings. Then she envisaged taking a female partner in drag. She chuckled at the thought.
“That reminds me. I got you a small gift. It was for you coming up, but it can be my engagement gift to you.” Jane said as she pulled out the necklace from the stall.
Jane sat watching eagerly as Rachel unwrapped it. Though it was probably not what Rachel would have bought herself, she seemed to genuinely like it and hung it around her neck immediately. Rachel smiled and kissed her friend’s cheek.
“I’m glad you’re so happy.” Jane said, pleased that she had found Rachel so positive about the future.
Rachel bubbled with a level of excitement that Jane thought must be difficult to sustain. “It’s just going to be perfect. Rupert’s getting a good deal with his company, you remember he’s an estate agent, anyway it means we’re getting a nice new house right away.”
Jane sat back as Rachel spiralled off into her fantasies that seemed plucked from Eisenhower’s America buffed up and thrust into 21st century Britain. Then again, she scolded herself, when had she, Jane, thought so easily about trundling around the country with a female partner in tow? She had slipped into that without really noticing. Jane glanced around the café, strangely suspicious. Was there something in the air in Soho that brought about sexual, or, even, sexuality fantasies? The woman across there seemed to be a bit like Petra, but to assume somehow that there was some power being used to make her embrace her blossoming sense of lesbianhood, even if there was such a thing, seemed ridiculous.
Jane guessed that how fast things were currently moving in her life was messing with her head a little. She did not have anything to prove or disprove to anyone, including herself. However, she recognised that there was a sense of impatience in her. If she felt as good about having sex with women as she had come to feel was the case in her dreams of the past few days, how good would it be to do that for real? She imagined that lesbians, like straight people, looked for a person they could feel comfortable with, but Jane realised too, that she needed to look like, what was it Kym had said? ‘a lesbian who wants to signal that she’s available without communicating she is loose’ or something like that.
“Oh, I am so happy for you Rachel.”
Jane spoke truthfully as she knew it was the scenario that Rachel had been striving for. Jane was uncertain, though, if it was any longer the one she saw for herself. What outcome would make her as happy as her friend? That was presumably what she was trying to work through at the moment as she pushed further in verifying if she was truly a lesbian or just a woman mixed up by London, work, expectations and all the rest of it.
“Come on, time’s passing. Let’s get to the shops.”
Rachel grinned broadly at Jane’s suggestion. It seemed that Rachel’s good news was making her willing to be a bit more open to seeing what London had to offer. In turn, that fitted with Jane’s desire to see if she could not add some more items of clothing that would make her look little more like herself of the reflections.
Jane had gone with Rachel into all the large and small stores along Oxford Street and Bond Street. She had been a little surprised when Rachel had started seeking out lingerie. Jane had warmed to the idea and naughty thoughts of wearing something like a camisole right under a jacket or waistcoat, as she had seen some women do on the underground, began coming into Jane’s mind. Of course Rachel had bought other things too, a bikini for the honeymoon in Greece even though that would be a year away and she had supplemented her more mundane collection of court shoes and blouses with items a little more interesting. Jane had managed to picked up some ribbed and sleeveless tops of various kinds without attracting too much attention, but she realised that she was building up to the big purchase and she was a little concerned Rachel would blanch at that. However, seemingly satisfied with all her purchases, Rachel was unresisting as Jane headed towards a small leatherwear store she had spotted on their way to and fro. What had caught her eye was the mannequin in the window in the black leather trousers and the studded belt. As they came back to the shop, Jane saw the trousers were the kind the woman in the café had praised and she became increasingly eager to own a pair.
“Let’s head in here.” Jane said suddenly. “There’s something I want to check out.”
“Oh, okay.” Rachel said wearily, looking more at the chair next to the boots rather than at the stock.
Jane dropped her bags next to Rachel and went deeper into the shop. Jane’s throat felt dry as she headed towards the leather trousers. She had grabbed a replica of the pair in the window faster than the shop assistant noticed she was there. On an impulse she also took down a couple of studded leather belts, one narrow enough to fit through trouser loops and one larger that would sit so well on her hips. Jane headed to the changing room.
“Some jeans and two belts.” Jane said with a confidence that surprised her.
“Sure.” The shop assistant called back, becoming aware that these two might be customers rather than yet more tourists drifting in and out of shops like lost cattle.
Jane pulled the narrow curtain closed behind her. Her body felt excitement almost like some kind of reward for going down the right path. It was an encouragement to keep doing what she was doing and not leave here in a desultory way. Jane hurried to unlace the walking boots she had put on and thought to herself she needed something more suitable than these to suit what she was going to be wearing. Then she lowered her jeans and quickly pulled on the leather ones. They slid up her legs easily as they were not too tight. As Jane buttoned the shiny metal buttons, she wondered if she should have gone for some tighter, pocketless ones, rather than these looser ones with two front pockets. Then again she was not transforming herself into a fashion victim, she was looking for something between sexy and looking like a female trucker. As Jane buckled the wide studded belt around her, she felt a burst of pleasure. It was something akin to relief; something like emerging from the chrysalis. Jane did not have time to ponder her appearance and certainly did not want Rachel asking to see what she looked like. Quickly she shed the trousers and scrambled back into her jeans and boots. As she did she could make out that the assistant had come forward and was talking with Rachel.
“Nice necklace.” Jane could hear the shop assistant say to Rachel.
“Erm, yes, it’s new, Jane gave it to me.”
“Would you like to try on a pair while you’re here? We have a lovely range, five pocket, two pocket, cigarette trousers, even new skinny ones.”
Rachel blushed. “Erm, no, they’re not really my style.”
“Well, I’m sure she’ll let you borrow her pair anyway.” The assistant said with a faux conspiratorial tone.
“No, I don’t live in London. I live in Salisbury.”
“Oh, okay, so you two are in London for the day.”
“No, Jane lives here.”
“Oh right, okay. Sorry, I thought she was your partner.”
As Jane stepped from the changing room, she saw that for an instant Rachel look confused. “No, no, nothing like that. Oh, no I couldn’t.” She turned away from the assistant and looked on the verge of leaving the shop. Seemingly not wanting to abandon Jane in here held her back.
“Rachel, all done here.” Jane said slipping the smooth leather trousers beneath her arm to partly conceal them from Rachel. The belts she had hung over her forearm, studs inward so they looked like regular leather ones. “I’ve got what I need. Why don’t you pop next door and see if you can find a pair of those strappy high-heels you said Rupert liked and I’ll catch you up.”
“Erm, okay.” It was clear Rachel felt a little uneasy about the whole situation, but she seemed to accept Jane’s suggestion as the quickest way out of embarrassment.
“She doesn’t know.” The shop assistant said as Rachel disappeared from sight.
“Erm, well, I’m not certain myself.” Jane said as she put the leathers on the counter and her eye was caught by some ankle boots. “I’m just working things out.”
“But you want to look the part?”
“I think so. Those trousers feel so good. I need some boots. Nothing too heavy, these ankle ones look good. I like these: do you have them in sixes?”
The shop assistant nodded. Jane hurriedly tried them on and added them to her purchases.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it, you’re going to look like one hot piece.” She said.
“Erm, thank you.”
“Come back and see us when you know for sure. We do some excellent waistcoats and jackets. Bring your girlfriend next time.”
Jane did not know how to respond. Despite the sense that she was fitting herself in the way she was meant to appear, she was still uneasy about saying it openly. Maybe the shop assistant was riling her to provoke a response. However, Jane was determined that she was going to do things in her own time. Then again, a tingling thought of coming in here with her lover and trying out different leatherwear, smooth and slippery against the skin like this was, seemed increasingly delicious and it was a rather distracted Jane who left the shop in search of Rachel. She found her walking up and down in the shoe shop next door in a pair of very sexy high heels which encased her feet in shiny straps. Jane did ponder that both her and her friend seemed top be making big leaps in what they would wear. Did that signal real changes in their lives too?
On the tube ride back to her flat, Jane sat rather quietly. Rachel was dozing next to her anyway. Jane wondered who she was lying to. Was it Rachel, who at times she had felt like blurting out to all the turbulence of thoughts and worries and hopes and excitement of the past few weeks. She felt she had to tell someone at least the baseline that she was coming to think that she was actually a lesbian. Was she really one? Had all the arousal over women been real or just her mind being thrilled at something forbidden and so with that added frisson?
Jane still wondered what defined sexuality, but surely if you had the appropriate lusts and you were increasingly matching the style, if not the lifestyle, could you really deny you were that kind of person? At times Jane wanted to shut it all down, throw away her increasing accoutrements of lesbianism and go back to her old life. At others she felt that she was on the peak of the rollercoaster and was about to plunge into the most exciting phase of her life.
Why had she been so furtive about what she had bought in the leatherwear shop? Did she worry that it would trigger off questions in Rachel’s mind that she was not ready to answer? Maybe in a few weeks’ time she would be more certain. Even then, if she just stood there and said ‘I am a lesbian’ would Rachel credit it with being anything more than a phase? Jane increasing felt she needed proof, and the only form that would come in to any satisfactory extent was a living, breathing, kissing girlfriend. Until she had that, she realised that she would remain uncertain about whether she was lying to Rachel or she had lied to the possibly very perceptive shop assistant.
Jane wondered why she had felt the need to buy those trousers, belts and boots today. Was it simply desperation a sense that she needed them in part to try to staunch the arousal that came nightly? Was it that she had actually wanted to be ‘caught’ by Rachel and put on the spot? Most likely, Jane decided, she had wanted some sense urgency because if she had gone there alone, she knew she may have run away plagued by doubts without having bought anything. This way she had gone through with it and now owned a half-decent wardrobe to allow her to appear at least a little like her lesbian reflections. The thing was whether she could take the next step and turn that into a reality and, beyond that, take it from her bedroom on to the streets and into a club?
Back at the flat, Jane concealed her leatherwear purchases quickly at the back of her wardrobe. The two women had a fashion parade session but there were more than enough things in Rachel’s shopping bags to do that. Then it had been the two DVDs they had rented on the way back, the delivered pizza, some tubs of ice cream and a collapse into bed with sleep, inflicted by shopping fatigue, coming quickly.