Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
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The Homestanders
Book Four of the Bradford Exiles
Wes Boyd
2005, 2011

Chapter 4

Friday, October 30, 1998

Even though Vicky had volunteered to be the designated driver for the evening of the party, to no one’s great surprise the number of people going from around the Bradford area quickly outgrew a single car. The same night Kevin showed up at Jason’s house with a pile of motorcycle parts Vicky asked Jason if he knew anyone with a big van they could use instead. Jason did, a guy from the plant whose hobby seemed to be a dozen kids, and who needed an extended-body full-size van to haul them around. Borrowing it for a night turned out to be no big deal.

Vicky was driving when they pulled up to Kevin and Emily’s, the first of several stops. She’d never driven anything that big before, and they both decided she needed some practice while there was still a hint of light so she’d be a little more comfortable driving back in the dark, most likely with a load of drunks. As she drove here and there to pick up the rest of the passengers, there was a pretty good load that climbed aboard, most of them in costume, and most of the costumes better than Jason had expected. True to his word, Jason wasn’t exactly in drag, although he’d done the next best, if expected thing – he was in a full dress great kilt, with all the stops pulled out. They included sash, sporran, a dirk of course, wristlets with throwing knives, tam-o-shanter, and some other details he usually didn’t bother with. What made it a little special was that he’d collected a lot of that sort of garb over the years, enough to outfit Vicky in the same way. Technically – and only technically – she was the one in drag, since traditional Scotswomen didn’t wear kilts or the other regalia in the old days, although it was common now in festivals and gatherings.

Jason and Vicky weren’t the only ones not exactly in drag. Dayna and Sandy had taken a long detour between Kentucky and Louisiana through Bradford on an off weekend for the party. The two had a reputation for knowing a lot of dirty songs, some really dirty. Kevin, Emily, Vicky, Scott and Sonja, and a couple others had heard Dayna do some of them around night camps at renaissance faires a few years before, but the two had more or less agreed to avoid the dirtiest stuff in Bradford. In another piece of precision arm twisting, Emily had gotten them to promise to do a few of them at the party once they had a few drinks in them for inspiration. After all, it wasn’t in Bradford. The tall, dark-haired, slender Dayna and the slightly shorter and solider blonde Sandy were wearing striped stockings that didn’t reach all the way up to their short black skirts, garter straps showing, matching wide-striped tank tops, broad-brimmed black hats, and makeup laid on with a trowel. The effect was intentionally “cheap street hooker,” and they looked the part. They both carried their guitars, of course – they often said they rarely even went to the bathroom without them.

The rest were a little more dressed in the theme of the party. Kevin was dressed in a conservative woman’s business suit, with a ruffled blouse and conservative hemline; he looked more butch than Dayna and Sandy were reported to be. Emily was in a man’s business suit and tie, her breasts less prominent than normal – either she wasn’t wearing a bra or had bound them, possibly both – Jason wasn’t about to ask. Mike Austin had on a simple blouse and brown skirt, really not too far out. He had long hair anyway, but it had been done up a bit, and he was wearing women’s glasses. Liz was wearing a clown outfit; like Jason’s kilts, it was a bit of a hobby, and, as she explained, “It’s a hell of a lot harder for a woman to dress in something that looks uniquely male, but that ain’t true the other way around.” Keith Gritzmaker had on a housedress and a long dark wig; the rather heavyset and muscular Dean Sallows had on a miniskirt that was about as radical as Dayna and Sandy’s, and was decked out a little hooker style like them, as well. Like Jason, Vicky, and Liz, their wives had on outfits that were out of the ordinary but at least more or less unisex.

“Jeez,” Vicky said as the Gritzmakers, the last to be picked up, found seats. “This bus is a Halloween party looking for a place to happen.”

“Aye, lassie,” Jason grinned. “Could be ’cause ’tis.”

It’s about an hour and a half from Bradford to Mason. Vicky kept it under the speed limit – this van load of crazies could be hard to explain to a traffic cop, after all – and it was fully dark before they got to Aaron and Amber’s house. None of them had ever been there before, but the directions Vicky had been given were good and she drove right to it.

The place was really decked out for Halloween, with jack-o’-lanterns and all sorts of weird All Hallows Eve decorations. Amber had taken the day off to work on it, and Sonja had helped – she had a job where she could work at home, doing technical editing and website construction on her computer, so that made her schedule a little flexible.

Sonja was wearing her elaborate and expensive belly-dancer’s outfit, as she’d promised; it was actually rather modest, except for the bare belly, but it was covered with elaborate bangles, bells, and other devices, and she literally jingled when she walked. She was no belly dancer, but had picked up a few moves just to show the outfit off. She and Scott had bought it at a renaissance faire years before, and she rarely got to wear it, although with her dark skin and partly Middle-Eastern background she really looked the part.

Aaron proved to be wearing a black cocktail dress with a fairly high neckline, a string of cultured pearls, and long red hair halfway down the back. Scott, though, was a knockout, a virtual image of Vanna White – he was wearing a blonde wig and a long blue sequined dress that seemed to be made of so much froth; it was very low cut, and there was more than a hint of cleavage. Jason wondered just how that had been done.

Amber had invited a neighbor couple to come over and handle the grill and some of the food items, so that gave her and Sonja and Liz time to hang out with everyone else. Whatever was grilling outside the sliding doors of the patio smelled mighty exotic. Jason knew what it was, and suspected everyone else did, too. Back at the breakfast at the Chicago Inn, before he and Vicky had shown up, Aaron had been teasing Sonja a little and suggested that with her Middle-Eastern heritage, if she did the food she’d be likely to show up with roast goat shish kebabs. “Hey, that’s good,” she wisecracked right back. “Especially if I use my grandmother’s special sauce.” Aaron had tried to shrug it off, but a few minutes later, when it was learned that Mike and Liz raised goats on their hobby farm and had all the meat she’d need in the freezer, the deed was done.

“Sonja is a nice woman,” Scott explained as the exotic smell drifted into the room. “In fact, about my ideal of a woman. But every once in a while she can reach back into odd places in her heritage and make me wonder just who the hell it was I married.”

“Och, now,” Jason replied. “And this night is showin’ all the signs, isn’t it? I hae to say, laddie, yon goat smells pretty good.”

“I just hope it tastes as good as it smells,” Scott shrugged. “As far as I know Sonja has never actually roasted a goat, at least since we’ve been married. She wound up having to call her mother in Israel to get the recipe for the sauce. She couldn’t get it directly from her grandmother since they don’t share a language.”

“It ought to work out all right,” Mike commented. “Roast goat is actually pretty good.”

“Yeah, but Sonja’s mother is involved, so you’re never quite sure,” he shrugged. “I really hope it works OK. I sure as hell would hate to have to go to the emergency room dressed like Vanna White, even on Halloween.”

There was a punch bowl in the center of the room – well, not actually a punch bowl, but a black iron cauldron, literally frothing. “Jesus, witch’s brew, yeah,” he heard Kevin comment. “Jason, that makes me think of a quenching bath in your shop.”

“Just a little dry ice for effect,” Aaron explained, handing Jason a glass of the blood-red liquid. “It’s actually pretty good.”

Jason took a sniff and shook his head. “Laddie, don’t be usin’ yon witch’s brew as yer quenchin’ bath for yer red-hot blade lest ye burn the house down. Honest Highland single malt it’s nae.”

“There’s a little Everclear in there,” Aaron admitted. “Well, more than a little.”

“I don’t think I ever heard of that,” Kevin admitted.

“It’s 190-proof grain alcohol,” Scott snorted. “You don’t find it in decent liquor stores; you have to go down on skid row some place.”

“Roast goat, Everclear punch and a cross-dressing Vanna White look alike,” Kevin shook his head as he poured a glass. “Shit, they’re never gonna believe this down at the shop. I’m not sure I believe it now.”

“I suspect a couple ’a wee drams of yon witch’s potion and ye’ll nae hae to believe it,” Jason shook his head. “But tha’ idea was for the night bein’ intoxicatin’ so we might’s well be gettin’ intoxicated.”

Everyone was just a little leery of the punch, but most agreed it tasted pretty good, and after a round or two people were starting to loosen up a little. Sometime later, Vicky and Jason were talking with Kevin and Aaron near the front door while the smell of roasting goat got stronger. “Vicky, is that a real dagger in your belt?” Aaron asked.

“It’s a dirk, not a dagger,” she said, drawing it and handing it to him so he could have a look at it. “In fact, it’s the dirk Jason helped me make while I was still in high school. And it’s so real that Augie is damn lucky I didn’t use it on him. I came damn close when he beat me up the last time.”

“Looks pretty good,” Kevin said. “I hope I can do work like that.”

“It’s verra good for a first try,” Jason told him. “I dinna help her much either, tho’ I told her wha’ ta’ dae.” He pulled the dirk from his own belt for comparison. “I made this, och, four-five years ago.”

“Yours looks better,” Aaron nodded. “But then, it has every right to. But at least to my untrained eye, Vicky’s isn’t that far behind.”

“Nae, ’tis not,” Jason smiled as he slipped his dirk back in its sheath. “The lassie kin take lots a’ pride in her first try. My first blade hangs on my livin’ room wall, an’ ’tis nae as pretty as hers.”

“Vicky, do you still make knives?” Aaron asked as he handed the dirk back to her.

“That’s the only one I’ve ever made start to finish, but I occasionally go over and help Jason out with some things,” she shrugged as she put the blade back in the sheath.

“She has a fine hand wi’ tha’ engravin’ an’ scrimshaw,” Jason explained. “Might be better than mine ae’ times.”

Just then the doorbell rang. “Late arrival, I guess,” Aaron said, and turned toward the door.

Emily brushed past him with the words. “I think that’s who I’ve been waiting for.” Aaron shrugged, and let her do it. She opened the door, and talked with the person outside for a moment, then walked back into the room, put her fingers into her mouth, and let go of a shrill whistle. “Everybody, listen,” she said. “I’ve got a special surprise that even Sonja and Amber don’t know about. Right after the Tylers and the Heislers cooked up the idea of this party, Sonja and Amber told me they didn’t have any idea who could judge the contest for the most realistic costume. I told them I knew someone who would be in Detroit this evening, and I thought I could get them to come over here to Lansing. Ladies and gentlemen, and I use the words in the broadest possible terms; I’d like to bring in our judge.”

She opened the door, and a small person entered the room, wearing baggy blue jeans, a loose ‘Rensselaer Poly’ sweatshirt, and a brown baseball cap. There were jaws that hit the floor – their visitor was Eve McClellan, but dressed more or less like the Denis Riley they remembered she had once been! Jason didn’t recognize her at first, and only put two and two together from the circumstances before the recognition snapped into place. Yes, there was more than a mild hint of Denis in that beautiful young woman.

“Thank you, sir,” Eve – well, just at this instant, Denis – replied with a smile, and a voice that was a little lower than those at the reunion remembered from three weeks before, a little more like they remembered from Denis. “It sort of looks like I’ve wandered into wonderland tonight. Emily, I called you ‘sir’ just now because one of the first rules of etiquette I learned when I got on the road to becoming a woman was to always address people in the gender they’re presenting.”

“Thank you, sir,” Emily grinned back. “Can you stay long enough for dinner? I think it’s pretty close to ready.”

“I can hang around for two or three hours,” “Denis” replied. “But I’ve got to get back to Detroit tonight, since I’ve got a presentation to give tomorrow morning. I’ll have one drink, and only one, since I’ll have to drive later.” “He” let out a sigh. “And I think I’ll have that drink right now, since this is the first time I’ve tried to dress as Denis in over ten years, and it’s proving much harder than I thought.”

“Coming right up,” Amber said, from over near the punchbowl.

“How do you want to do the judging?” Emily asked.

“Why don’t I just circulate for a while, talk with people and check out the ladies? Then, after a while, I’ll make some comments on the costuming and announce the winners. Would that work?”

“Whatever you want,” Emily grinned. “You have to know more about this than the rest of us.”

“Not that I’m an expert,” “Denis” grinned, as Amber handed him a glass of punch. “I really only cross-dressed for a couple years, and that was ten years ago. Now, you want an expert, you have to go to someone like Carl Buttery down at Dress to Desire, a specialty cross-dressing clothing shop in Chicago, from whom I learned most of what I know. He forgot more thirty years ago than I’ll ever know. On the other hand, I do have a little perspective that he doesn’t.”

“Thank you for coming,” Amber piped up. “And while we’ve got everyone’s attention, we’ll start serving out on the porch. I’m afraid this is going to have to be a stand-up meal. Sir,” she added, turning to “Denis”. “As our honored guest, would you like to be the first in line? After that, I think we’d better go ‘ladies first.’”

Several minutes later, Jason and Vicky were standing in one corner of the enclosed porch, struggling to hold a plate in one hand and eat with the other, and talk with “Denis”; Scott, Sonja, Aaron, and Amber were there, too. “Eve,” Scott said. “I’d like to say for all of us that we really appreciate you coming. We were the ones who cooked up the idea of this party, but I want you to understand there was never any intention on any of our parts of mocking you with it. We did enough of that in high school through our stupidity, and we don’t want you to think we’re doing it again.”

“If I thought you were, I wouldn’t have come,” Eve/Denis replied simply and soberly.

“You did get us curious, I have to say that,” Aaron added. “Otherwise we probably wouldn’t have thought of doing this. It, well, gives us a little chance to peek over the fence without it really meaning anything.”

“I understand fully,” she grinned. “You’re comfortable enough in your own gender identities that you can only cross-dress in the context of being silly at a Halloween party. Believe me, I’m no less uncomfortable than you are at my role, because this is the only way I can bring myself to do Denis again, and I know I’m doing a damn poor job of it. I never really liked the little twerp back then and was very happy to be rid of him. I don’t think I’ll try it again.”

“It was really a surprise to see you here tonight,” Vicky said. “Emily caught us all on that. I’m a little surprised you didn’t bring John or Shae.”

“Shae would have liked to come, but she’s announcing a game in Dallas tonight. John would be bored to tears at that conference tomorrow, and I know better than to ask him to do drag.”

“Why’s that?”

“Come on, he’s got transsexuals for a sister and a wife. John is incredibly considerate and understanding about Cheryl and me, but we all recognize there are limits we’re better off not getting near.”

“We’re very happy you came, anyway,” Scott told her. “Feel free to drop by if you’re in the neighborhood again.”

“I might be, you never know. I have a fairly rare specialty in clinical psychology, so I travel doing consultations and seminars once in a while. I’d love to talk a little more, and maybe we’ll get the chance a little later, but I better do a little more circulating and play judge.”

*   *   *

Half an hour later the goat meat and other bits and pieces of dinner had been pretty well cleaned up, although there would be plenty of snacks and munchies left for the evening. The level of the punch bowl was noticeably lower, and a couple of bottles had been broken out. People were feeling pretty good when Emily got everyone’s attention. “Hey everybody, let’s get started with the judging,” she said. “Would the, uh, non-genetic ladies gather around so we can hear what Eve has to say?”

“This ought to be interesting,” Scott shook his head. “I expect she’ll rip everyone to shreds.”

“She has a sense of humor, no doubt about that,” Aaron agreed as they headed over in Emily and Eve’s direction. “That’s something Denis didn’t have in high school.”

“First off,” Eve began with a grin. “When Emily asked me to judge this little contest, she just said ‘realistic’ was what she was looking for. From my perspective, realistic may not mean the same thing as you would think it might, so I decided to hand out a number of awards. One of my clients runs a trophy shop, and I asked him to make up several award plaques. So I’m going to hand out the awards in no particular order, but I’m going to make some comments about the costuming that you may consider illustrating or funny, but certainly with no malice intended.”

She reached into a plastic sack she’d brought with her and pulled out a plaque. “No, let’s hold that one off till the end,” and pulled out another. She glanced at the plaque and smiled. “This one is a little awkward,” she smiled. “This is a Halloween party, after all, so there needs to be an award for ‘Scariest.’ The winner is obvious, even though the only drag involved is how he’d get an Englishman off his horse before he gutted him with one of those daggers. I have a special respect for him for a number of reasons. He saved my butt from bullies a couple times back when we were in high school, and I think he was one of only a few adults in town who didn’t look down on me for being a little odd. He taught me by example that it’s all right to be a little off the wall if you have the courage to do it, so in an indirect way he helped give me the courage to do what I wound up having to do. Jason, thanks, and come over here so I can tease you a bit.”

“Aye, lassie,” he grinned. “’Tis an honor.”

“Jason,” Eve grinned. “One of the things you taught me is it’s possible for a guy to wear a skirt and get away with it.”

“Och, lassie,” he said with a smile. “’Tis a kilt, nae a skirt. Kilt is wha’ sometimes happens tae tha’ poor misguided lad tha’ calls it a skirt. Sweet lassies like you now, an honorable Scotsman gives the chance to mend the error of ’er ways.”

“Tell me, Jason,” Eve laughed. “What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt?”

“A true Scotsman wears shoes and socks,” he grinned.

Eve smiled, suspecting this could go on for a while, and slipping one past him was going to be impossible; he’d probably heard every possible variation of kilt joke there was. Still, she gave it another try. “Are you telling me something about what you wear under your kilt?” she asked.

“You’d be the lassie that wants tae’ lift it tae’ find out? ’Tis tradition to nae draw a sword lest ye be ready to use it. I’d be willin’ but it might be best if the story didn’t get to yon husband.”

“Maybe we’d better not,” Eve replied with a grin. “Let’s put it this way. What’s worn under a kilt?”

“Nothing is worn,” he replied with mock indignation. “It’s all in perfect working order.”

“Jason, do you play the bagpipes?” she asked, taking a different tack.

“Aye, but only to irritate tha’ neighbors.”

He probably had as many bagpipe jokes as he had kilt ones, so Eve caved in. “Well, to be honest, I can’t comment on the outfit,” she nodded, “Other than the fact it looks very good and you look very authentic. I’ve heard you’re pretty good with those daggers. They’re not just for decoration, are they?”

Jason smiled, and looked around the room as he slipped one of the small throwing daggers from the sheath on his forearm. “Observe yon jack-o’-lantern on the mantle,” he smiled, and flicked his wrist. There was a flash of glimmering light, and all of a sudden the dagger appeared right between the carved eyes.

“Yes, sir,” Eve said respectfully. “There’s a darn good reason why I’m giving you the ‘Scariest’ award. That’s one hell of a nice kilt you have there, sir, and I pity the poor man who calls it a skirt. And like I said, thank you, Jason, not so much for saving my butt those times, but for the inspiration that you were.” She handed him the award, then put her arms around him and gave him a kiss.

“Och, lassie,” he smiled, staying in character. “’Twas nae big thing. Just glad ’tae have been of service, tha’ a sweet young lassie like you could be with us tonight.”

It turned out that Eve had brought a number of awards with her; for each one, she called the recipient up, teased them a little, and pointed out several things about their presentation that had been done well, and places where things needed work. Everyone needed work on voice and mannerisms, not surprising for everyone doing it for the first time. Aaron got the award for “Most Elegant” and Kevin, “Most Butch.”

“I’ve saved the best for last,” Eve said finally. “I know I’ve been taking a little time on this, and I’m sure that like everyone else I’m looking forward to watching Dayna and Sandy do their best to repair Dayna’s reputation as the black sheep of the class after the number Jennlynn and I did on it. But the last award in my mind is the most important. Emily asked for “Most Realistic,” which I define as most likely to pass at the supermarket, or maybe, most likely to get through a Real-Life Test without getting clocked. I don’t remember your first name, but Liz’s husband.”

“Mike,” he said, walking out of the crowd. He was wearing a simple brown skirt down to about the knees, and a striped blouse. He was about as overweight as Liz, fifty or seventy-five pounds.

“OK, Michelle,” Eve beamed. “I’m going to be honest and say I didn’t clock you until I remembered you from the reunion. Not knowing you obviously helped with that. Now, a couple things I’m going to say may not sound flattering, but from my viewpoint, they are. Everybody here is pretty glamorous, right? Except for you, you’re rather plain and dowdy, right? Did you deliberately intend to just look like an average woman, and not stick out from the crowd?”

“Just wanted to look sort of like a woman, and play along,” he smiled. “We didn’t put a lot of work into it.”

“There’s the key,” Eve beamed. “No glamorous clothes, just something of Liz’s that she might wear, well, to the supermarket, if she didn’t just wear jeans, right? In other words, not trying to stick out, but blend in with the crowd. In fact, among all the glamour-pusses here you actually do stick out a little, but I’m accounting for that. That’s your own hair, not a wig. You normally keep it in a pony tail, right?”

“Yeah, we used a curling iron to get it looking a little more womanish.”

“You or Liz, you did a good job. A minor detail that had me wondering was the glasses. They’re definitely a woman’s style frames, no man would wear a style like that, and I didn’t catch it until I noticed there’s no lenses in them. Not much makeup, just a little foundation to cover up the beard pores. You could walk down the street, into a supermarket, or another store, someplace where you’re not known, and no one would notice the really relatively minor discrepancies you have because no one would look that closely. The things that are really not quite right are well within the range of what a woman would do, so the observer is at worst left wondering, ‘man or woman’ and all the visual cues say woman. That and your being overweight mask the mannerisms that you don’t have quite right, but again, within the range of what a woman might do. Your voice isn’t bad and could work, but there’s some tricks of intonation that you could pick up. Now, I’m not saying there’s not things you could do better, because there are, but on appearance, you could pass most anywhere. Now, I say that with admiration, because I used much the same tricks to pass as Denis for quite a while. Don’t draw attention, look like people expect you to look, and don’t give them a reason to take a closer look. For that reason, I’m giving you the Denis E. Riley Memorial Award for the Most Likely To Pass As A Woman.”

There was a round of applause. “Well, thanks,” he smiled. “Like I said, I was just trying to go along with the gag.”

“You avoided the mistake everyone else here made,” Eve laughed. “They tried too hard. Now, I don’t know if this would be useful information to you or what, but if you’re considering sexual reassignment surgery, the surgeons aren’t real happy if you’re considerably overweight. But if you are considering it, let me leave you my business card.”

“I don’t think so,” he grinned. “Liz might not be too pleased.”

“I could tell you stories, but now’s not the time,” Eve laughed, then got rather sober. “Before we get on to Dayna and Sandy, I’ve got one thing I’d like to add. You’re all aware of the fact that I had a terrible time in Bradford, and I was very happy to leave there and not come back. The only reason I went to the reunion the other night was that Shae twisted my arm rather badly, and said it’d do me good to see that those experiences are in the past. I sometimes think she’s the one who should be the psychologist, because she was right. At that, I didn’t dare out myself until Jennlynn paved the way for me, and I was hardly less surprised at her being a multimillionaire Learjet-piloting prostitute than anyone else. But after an initial shock, everyone at the reunion treated me nicely. With curiosity, of course, and I appreciate that, but no hostility that I could detect. And then, tonight, on top of it. I think I see that most of you have a little curiosity about my side of the fence as a big reason for being here tonight. I know I’m running on, but I’m pleased and happy to say I have some friends from the Bradford Class of ’88 after all.”

“You certainly do have friends here, Eve,” Emily smiled. “You’ve taught us a lot of valuable things, especially about tolerance and respecting different viewpoints. I think we can all say we’re pleased and proud of what you’ve accomplished in spite of the difficulties you’ve had, and some of them that we made for you, unfortunately. You’re not in the running for Black Sheep of the class. In fact, if we had an award for ‘When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Lemonade,’ you’d be the hands-down winner. You have a lot of friends here, Eve. You’re one of us, and don’t ever think you aren’t. Don’t be a stranger in the future.” She opened her arms, and gave Eve a nice hug as she added, “Come back to us.”

There was considerable applause around the room to confirm Emily’s statement, and her hug was quickly replaced by Vicky, and then, one by one, the rest of the Class of ’88 members who were present. Eve’s face was running with tears by the time they finished up. “Thank you,” she said. “Thank you everybody. Yes, I’ll come back.”

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