After an hour of crying, Nick-the-man announced he needed to go for a drive.
That had been five nail-biting hours ago. Steph sat at her kitchen table, staring at her mobile phone.
Nick – call me. WTF r u. She sent the third text in five minutes.
The front door opened. Steph grabbed her car keys. “Mum?”
“I need to go out.” Not wanting to explain, Steph kissed Mum on the cheek. Mum stank of booze. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. Nick’s missing. I’ve left a note telling the kids you’re in charge.”
Mum’s mouth opened but Steph left the house, still in her slippers, before Mum could raise any objection. She trawled the streets. The new blue LED lights frustrated her.
She parked outside The Royal where Nick played darts. Nick’s car in it usual spot and she let out a huge breath of relief. He’d need a lift home. She used her blue badge to park near the door. Her fibromyalgia hurt worse than usual and she limped into the pub. “Have you seen my husband, Nick?”
A new barmaid shrugged and checked the clock. “He left an hour ago. Have you two had a fight? He seemed awful upset.”
Steph shook her head. “No. But I need to find him. Do you know where he went?”
The barmaid shook her head. “Sorry.”
On her way out the door, Steph sent a text to Mum. Is Nick home yet?
The response came before Steph returned to her car.
No. R U OK?
Steph responded with: Yes. Sleep tight. But then she sent Nick another message: Please. Where are you?
She drove. She checked her phone. Drove some more. Checked her phone – again. In a tired haze she drove to Stefan’s house; he and Chris lived in a smart town house opposite the ornate parish church. She parked outside and leaned on the steering wheel. Steph didn’t even know why she’d come here, but she needed help.
A knock made her jump.
Stefan looked at her.
She opened the window.
He wore his funeral expression on his face. “I think you’d better come in.”
“Nick? Is he OK?”
Stefan responded with a sage nod.
Stiff and sore, and having forgotten her coat, she’d frozen. Impersonating a ninety-year-old in the aftermath of a 10K race, Steph eased out of the car. The black railings alongside Stefan and Chris’s path provided her with support as she waddled up the path and into their hallway. Elegant with Stefan’s photography blown up and framed. They’d fusedStefan’s love of the chrome bachelor pad with Chris’s fondness for the interior of stately homes.
Men talking and delicious food smells drew her to the kitchen at the end of the hall. Cream gloss units lived alongside Chris’s pride and joy, an eight seater polished oak table.
In his pyjamas Chris sat at the table. Next to him sat Nick-the-man with red and puffy eyes.
A feeling that she didn’t know Nick any more replaced the natural desire to hold him and to comfort him. “Hey.” She stayed at the door. “I came to find you.”
Stefan placed a bottle of brandy with two glasses in the centre of the table. “Get drunk. Chris or I can take you home later. Do you want us to leave?”
Nick shook his head. “Don’t leave me. She doesn’t understand. She doesn’t want me any more. I need help to talk to her.”
“She wouldn’t be here in her slippers and without her coat if she didn’t want you.” Chris placed a muscular hairy arm round Nick. Chris’s big brown eyes turned to Steph, and he indicated for her to sit on the other side of Nick. “You need to talk,” said Chris. His deep voice took on a commanding tone.
She wasn’t sure he’d aimed the censure at herself, or Nick, or both.
Those seal-like eyes, that had wooed Stefan so many years ago, were hard to resist, but she didn’t want to be the one to give in first. Not again. She was done being a doormat. “He doesn’t want to talk to me. He’s made that clear.” Her lips pursed, and she fought the tears as though she was Joe Frazer taking on Mohammed Ali. No way would she let Nick see any weakness. Hours of worry evaporated and Steph was pissed, more pissed than she’d been at any point in their marriage. If she moved closer to Nick, she might hit him. She turned her head, so she wasn’t looking at Nick. “I can’t get anything right. I’m not even allowed to know what the other woman is called.”
Silence. Nobody spoke. Boredom made Steph sneak a peak.
Stefan nodded to Nick. His head jerked in Steph’s direction.
Nick stared into his cup and ignored the cues that Stefan tried to give him.
Stefan said, “Come on, Steph. You need to get this sorted.” He walked round the table to stand in front of her. “I’m going to do what your husband should be doing.” He wrapped his arms round, and her held her tight. His familiar musky deodorant, an aroma of safety, broke her defences, and the tears came, soaking his shirt. “You and Nick must talk. Chris and I will be in the living room. Holler if you need us.” He whispered in her ear, “Be gentle with him. Nick nearly killed himself tonight. Instead he thought of you and came here. He’s a mess.” Out loud he said, “Steph and Nick, you’re the best straight couple I’ve ever met. For God’s sake talk to each other and move forward with this together. Tell him you love him whatever his gender.
Steph checked her phone. Her discussion on the LGBTQA forum continued but still nobody could come up with the simple solution she needed. Apparently someone in a similar position to herself did not exist. But they must exist, so she continued to monitor the responses to her post, and she replied politely to anything well-meaning but way off base. Some came close, but she wished they’d stop telling her to go to the local group. There were six members, only one transperson, who attended on a good day. She sighed and left her phone on the side. Swearing to herself, she ran the hot water into the bowl, letting it agitate the washing up liquid.
Her mother, thank God, had a date. Nick and her mother glared at each other whenever they were in the same room.
She turned on the radio for company and sang along to “Perfect” by Pink.
Up in her room, Ellie performed a complicated filming procedure that meant nobody could even sneeze close to the door. It was another thank the Lord moment for Steph. Whilst they got along most of the time when they both suffered from PMS, like now, they were better off apart.
Steph eased her hands into the piping hot water, and wiped the first plate. “Pretty, pretty please...” she sang loudly and out of tune.
[Warning: The YouTube Video below isn't the radio edit]
Luke had spent the day trying to blow up the shed at the bottom of the garden. He now slumbered peacefully, full of dinner, in his bed. Yet again Steph thanked the almighty. No matter what she’d asked him to do today she’d been ignored. He’d done his own thing and buggered anyone else. She couldn’t have faced one more no.
“Don’t you ever feel...” She forgot about the radio edit and inserted the f word. Steph shuggled a glass and put it on the draining rack.
Jake... well Jake she was ready to bury and hold a funeral service over. He’d finally decided he should stay out of his mother’s way as whenever she spotted him she asked him to take the rubbish out. He should have done it yesterday. There was no way Steph was doing it for him this time. Well at least not until it started stinking and buzzing with flies.
Yick. Steph hated mashed potato pans. They were the worst thing to wash – ever. The radio had moved on to a song she didn’t know.
Nick she prayed for. She wasn’t usually a religious woman but tonight she she’d offer herself up on any available altar. For the first time Nick had left the house as a woman. A woman they still hadn’t given Steph a name for. A woman that had spent a fortune on makeup, clothes and shoes whilst Steph stood barefaced in an ill fitting bra and wearing secondhand clothes. Her shoes were nine years old. But she told herself the other woman needed to feel good, and that this meeting needed to be just right for Nick.
She put another plate in the draining rack.
The door opened. Her heart leapt so much she thought it might fall out of the chest cavity. She knew she’d been on edge but she hadn’t realised how much. “Mum?” No response. “Nick?” No response. Neither of them were due home yet.
She turned off the radio.
“Nick?” Still no response.
Ellie came into the kitchen. “Dad’s in the bathroom. I think she’s upset.” She picked up a tea towel. “I’ll finish the dishes.”
An offer from her teenager to do the dishes froze Steph for a moment before adrenaline kicked in and she became a superhero out to save her man… woman… whatever she found in their bathroom. She threw the dish cloth in the water, left the kitchen and ran up the stairs. She knocked on the bathroom door. “Nick?”
“I didn’t go. Well I did... but I didn’t go in there.” Nick’s voice cracked and it was all male. “God – I saw them.” When Nick was all woman, it moved a fifth of an octave higher. “Leave me alone.”
“What are you doing?” Her mother’s pronouncement made Steph jump. Quickly, Steph tabbed out of the site she was looking at and called up a spreadsheet with next month’s finances. “Nothing interesting.” She prayed her mother hadn’t seen the LGBTQA site she had been looking at. “Thanks.”
Her mother placed a coffee down in front of her. “All adding up? I can help out a bit if you like?”
“We’re alright next month. I’ve got some agency work coming in and Nick’s wages cover all our bills.” She sighed. Nick had a reasonable job, but the one wage made things tight, but when they got married they had both agreed that the children shouldn’t go to school. Home education was something she’d been set on since the start of the marriage. Long before they’d even had children.
There was a parp from a car outside.
“That’s for me. Don’t wait up.” Steph’s mother swanned out of the room and closed the door.
To make sure nobody else was looking Steph went to the living room door. Jake was outside playing with his mates. Ellie wouldn’t come out of her room unless she was forced to by the apocalypse. “Luke?”
“Mum?” His shout came from the kitchen.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m making my Excalibur extra suped up. I’ve heard bicarbonate of soda and vinegar can really make it fizz. I’m trying to find a way to encase it so it’ll release when I’m fighting Beelzebub.”
“Does he go to the home ed group?” With that particular group of people it was highly possible. There had been a Lucifer or two and a Lilith. And she’d misread little Stan’s name as Satan for a couple of weeks.
“No, Mum. He’s the devil. Summer says he’s in the bible. She called Jake it last week. He’s one of the big bads. She says I’m one of the big goods in the bible so I have to fight Beelzebub.”
Summer’s family were religious.
“OK, honey, there’s doughnuts and pink milk in the fridge if you want.”
There would be a mess to clean up later but he would be busy for a time and she could get back to surfing the net. She went back and sat in front of her computer.
My husband is trans. He is becoming she. I’m not angry. I don’t mind he wants to be a she but I keep putting my foot in it and if I want to help her I need to understand better. I would like to talk to a man or woman in a similar position.
She clicked send and posted it on the LGBTQA and allies group. Every forum she had found and wandered on to seemed to be full of angry bitter spouses. She wasn’t angry, she wasn’t bitter and she was damn well going to fight for her marriage. Three times she’d been called brave as she attempted to ask questions and been treated as though she should have been more hurt that Nick was becoming someone else.
A bing alerted her to a response.
Response: You need to get a divorce. You have to let him be free to discover himself. Do you have children?
This was a supportive site. Maybe they knew something she didn’t. She didn’t want a divorce.
She typed: Three.
She went back to general surfing, and sipped her now cold coffee. This time the bing came quicker than she’d been prepared for. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and went back to read it.
Response: He can’t be a good father once he’s a woman. It’s against nature. You and the children need to forget him and let him be himself.
Anger drove her response this time. She was angry this no mark had called Nick him. She was furious about the slight on her husband. She was also sure this jerk was wrong.
She Typed: My husband is a good man and she is becoming a good woman. She will be an exceptional parent no matter what her gender.. All I want is to understand.
Other comments followed, but none seemed to understand what she was asking for. Some were kindly and suggested she try the web, as though she was as incapable of trying Google. Another suggestion was to try their local LGBTQ group was lovely but small and limited. The only other transwoman travelled miles to get there.
All she really wanted was another woman or man in the same position whose partner was transitioning and who could tell her what was going on in Nick’s head, because Nick didn’t seem to be able to tell her that. He’d never been good at expressing his thoughts and feelings, but she now needed him to.
Steph sat propped up in bed. She was too exhausted to eat the chicken dinner on the tray on her lap. Having to ask Nick to get her into bed after an argument had been humiliating but she had no energy left. They hadn’t even laughed about it. The remote lay next to her but she didn’t have the strength to use it. Tears fell because this time she couldn’t work out what the hell she’d done wrong.
“Mum?” Little Luke came in and lay on the bed next to her. “Can we watch Fireman Sam?”
“If you can put it on. Was dinner OK?”
“Alright. Dad didn’t speak.” He found Demand Five and put on The Great Fire of Pontypandy.
“I didn’t realise you meant the full movie.” Steph refrained from adding again. “Can you help me put my tray on the bedside table?”
“Sure thing, Mum, I’ll take care of you.” He gave her his cutest smile and came round to help her before cuddling right into her to watch Norman Price steal sausages from his mother’s shop.
They snuggled for the hour and a half, cuddled, kissed and he went to bed, leaving Steph alone in bed. At least her legs had started to work again.
She’d drifted off and by the time Nick came up to bed it was dark. He didn’t say anything and got undressed.
Her eyes were half open and she watched him. It was like watching a stranger. He was changing and he was changing into something that didn’t love her any more.
He sat on the side of the bed. “I’m sorry.”
Steph didn’t respond. She was fed up of being the one who apologised first. She was fed up giving in to him to quickly. She was fed up that her anger never lasted long enough to get things sorted. One kiss and she was being too bloody understanding. This time she was going to make him work for it.
The bed depressed and he lay down, but he didn’t turn his phone off. The light kept her awake…
… and awake.
It was probably less than half an hour but it felt like hours.
“Not content with saying you’re not my sex object, you’re now cheating on me online.” She couldn’t keep quiet any longer and the words just came out. “Can you at least tell me what you’re doing?”
“Well on this site women put up pictures of themselves for us to comment on.”
“I read that site.” Yet again she’d made the first move. With a sigh she rolled over so she faced his back. “Any of them got a beard? A Cupid Stunt or two?”
“Ha. No. That was unique to moi.” He rolled over and gave her a kiss. In the light of the phone she picked up he was treating her to a sexy smile.
This was hard. Right now he was Nick. Her Nick. The Nick she loved and the one that loved her. She had always struggled to say no to him, but tomorrow she could wake up next to the bad tempered bastard that she’d dealt with earlier, and she was still no clearer to understanding who he was any more.
“What do I call her?” she asked. Steph needed a name. She needed to label what was happening to them. It had been so much easier in her head when she'd called her Nicola.
“The other woman in our relationship.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Hadn’t thought about it.”
His tone told her otherwise. Nick knew her name and he wasn’t sharing it with Steph. More and more Steph was feeling cheated on. Could a husband cheat on you with himself or herself?
Before Nick could discover her mother’s presence, Steph came out of the kitchen wiping her hands. He’d shaved and she still wasn’t used to the smooth kiss. “Hey.”
“Dare I ask?” He indicated the large case in the hallway.
“Umm…” She avoided his accusing gaze. “There’s been an incident at mother’s and she’ll be umm staying for a little while.”
His hand swept his hair back and he stared at her. “Serious, Steph? Not right now. I...”
“What do you expect me to do? Throw her out on the street?” She tucked her tea towel into the belt of her jeans. “She’s my mother.” To get round him she moved in closer and rubbed his chest. “We could… you know… you me and that silky nightie of yours.”
He pulled away. “I’m not a sex object.” And he ran up the stairs.
That one she wasn’t letting him get away with and Steph ran up after him. She stood in the doorway of their bedroom and glared at him. He stood there and did nothing.
“I want to get changed.” The way he moved and hooded his eyes was like when she walked in on Jake in his boxers.
“So? I’ve seen you in your undies before.” She moved into the room. “Since when were you not my sex object?”
All he responded with was a shrug.
It wound her up. In fourteen years of marriage she had never, ever wanted to slap him more. Apparently, this other woman in their lives was interfering with their relationship. She’d barely met her and already she wasn’t sure if she liked her. “Well come on? Are you trying to tell me the woman doesn’t want to have sex with me? I mean she’s been avoiding me for over a month now. I don’t even know her name. All I damn well know is she’s taken my man away from me and won’t give him back.” Aware her mother was downstairs it all had to be delivered in an angry whisper. “Well?”
She threw her hands up in the air and sighed. “When you get changed then you can take Mother’s case up to the spare room. She’s making a chicken dinner.” Her head again fought her instinct instead of slamming it she closed the door gently. Before going downstairs she went into the bathroom and locked the door. Steph splashed her face until she’d forgotten she was angry.
A thump indicated that Nick was bouncing the suitcase up the stairs with as much bad grace as he could possibly get away with.
“Nicholas, that suitcase has some precious and very expensive things in it. Be careful!” Mother admonished him.
“Whatever.” He muttered as he banged past the bathroom. “Fucking women. Fucking destroying my life.”
For the first time in her marriage Steph felt like there was a great long path of eggshells separating her and Nick and that they were both walking on it in bare feet. She sat down on the toilet and postponed the moment when she had to go and face her family. Her feet ached, her toes ached, her entire body ached and she didn’t have the energy to stand up. Fact was she needed Nick’s help or she’d be here for an hour. But no she wasn’t going to shout. It was a humiliation too far but she needed to be held by him.
“Mum,” shouted Ellie from outside the bathroom. “I told Grandma I was vegetarian and she said she knew that’s why she was cooking chicken.”
"Best Possible Taste" is very loosely based on real life events.