When we checked into our hotel in Albany, one that Alan had stayed at before, I reminded Alan that I’d been late in the office the previous evening, getting the Berfield plans ready, and I wouldn’t mind getting off to my room soon after an early dinner. That was okay with Alan, so after I’d unpacked and laid out Alison’s things on the other bed, I went back down and joined him in the restaurant, secretly looking forward to how I would become a much happier and more relaxed person for the rest of the evening.
After dinner we moved to the lounge for a quick drink before I headed upstairs. Both of us are knowledgeable motorsport fans and we got to talking about obscure British race car drivers of the 1950’s, the likes of John Coombs, Roy Salvadori and Jimmy Stewart, Jackie’s elder brother. “How about Roberta Cowell” said Alan suddenly. “Heard of her ?”. This time he really caught me off guard and I know it showed. “Oh,” I said after a couple of moments of confusion, “Yes, I’ve heard of her. Had been Robert Cowell. Very minor race-car driver. Another gender-crosser. I read about her in a British magazine when I was a kid. Went to Sweden for surgery, actually ahead of Christine Jorgensen, although that isn’t generally known.”
Alan’s response was silence for a minute, then he gave me a strange look and his voice hardened. “Three obscure gender-crossers, Cornbury, McCloskey, Cowell, and you know about them all. You know a lot more about gender-crossing than you’re letting on.”
And to my surprise he leaned forward, put his hand to my shoulder, then sat back holding up, between his forefinger and thumb, a hair about twenty inches long. There was only one place it could have come from — the ash-blonde wig on the bed in my room. And what came next floored me even more. “It’s time,” he said “for me to know about this Alison business. You’d better not try to hide it.” I could feel my face going pale, my stomach churning, and I didn’t even try to lie my way out . All I could say, stammering, was “How did you find out ?” He didn’t answer my question. Instead he got up. “I’m going to make some calls” he said curtly. “When I get back, we’ve got to have this out.” And without another word he walked out of the lounge.
I sat there absolutely shattered. Life was coming crashing around me. The conversation, when he came back, would tear me apart. And for sure he’d tell Barbara — maybe he was on the phone to her now — and sooner rather than later she’d feel she had a duty to tell Maggie. What would this do to my marriage, to the kids ? And what about the business ?
My dejection grew as I sat there. I watched two young women come into the lounge and my thoughts turned to the injustice of it all. Why had fate dealt me such a rotten hand ? Why was it that those two girls, with full approval and encouragement of society, could dress the way they wanted, wear make-up, have beautiful hair and be delightfully feminine, all totally acceptable, yet all of that was absolutely forbidden for me ? I had tried to cross the barrier on my own, secretly without hurting anyone, but now I was going to be despised, ridiculed. Even worse. And Alison would have to go.
Watching another woman come into the lounge, and envying her too for her unquestioned right to be the person she was, I again asked myself the question that had so often tormented me in the past. Why won’t they just let me be what I want to be ? Why, why, why ? The turmoil in my mind was nothing new, but now it had new and terrifying implications.
My thoughts, a mixture of anger and despair, were interrupted when I realized that the woman was walking over to where I was sitting. “Hi” she said brightly. “I’m Lucy”. She was probably one of the staff about to tell me what the evening’s entertainment would be in the lounge, but I was in no mood to be polite. “Look, I said, “I want to be left alone.” That should have snubbed her but it didn’t. “Well,” the woman said, “that may be how you feel but I’m not going away”. And she pulled out the chair that Alan had vacated and sat down opposite me. My annoyance erupted in anger. “Now look here …” I started, but she cut me short. “You can make as much fuss as you like.” she said. “Go ahead and call the bartender. Call Security if you want. “But I’m not moving from here. At least,” she continued, “not until I’ve met Alison”.
A couple of seconds passed as incredible recognition dawned. “My God,” I gasped, “Alan !”.
“No, you should know better than that. It’s Lucy, okay?” she said with a smug smile. And as I sat mute and transfixed, Lucy looked at me, her tastefully made-up face a picture of amused delight. And then we both began to giggle and it took us quite a while to get things back under control.
“I have a confession” she said at last. “That hair I held up didn’t come from your shoulder at all. I’d brought it down with me – a final trick of the day to test you. And it worked !” Which set us giggling again.
“But how did you suspect in the first place ?” I asked. “Well the concept itself wasn’t exactly foreign to me, was it now ?” she replied, fluttering what had become enviable eye-lashes. “But when I received your e-mail yesterday I began to think that perhaps we had more in common than we had ever imagined. It was obvious your mind was somewhere else — set on something other than the Berfield contract. Otherwise I don’t’ think you would have signed it “Alison”, would you now ?”
Ouch ! Once again I had hit the send button without re-reading. Only this one time I was glad – ecstatically glad.
The thought was interrupted by an exaggerated cough. “Excuse me,” said Lucy, “but much as I enjoy talking to you, I’d really rather meet Alison. Do you think you might go up to your room and have her come down? “
And so I did.