This week has been an important one in the path to publication of Painted Ladies. I received the copyedited draft back on Monday and spent the week putting in the corrections (not too many really) and making my own final alterations. The final manuscript is now back with the publishers so things can really get moving. But there’s still four months to publication day…
Here, therefore is the final part of Mirror Image, the first story in which I used the character, Jasmine Frame.
Mirror Image – part 3
Jasmine wallowed in the bath trying to feel more awake. She’d been restless all night trying to resolve the dilemma of how to report to the Galloways. She scraped at the last few stubborn hairs on her shins with a razor. The thing was, the Galloways were her clients and were entitled to her information, but she understood Nick/Nicky’s feelings and wanted to help him/her. At last she hauled herself out and dried off. It looked cooler out today so she dressed in natural tights, white knickers and bra, a white cotton shirt and a knee-length coral cotton skirt and jacket. She coaxed her blonde curls into shape and made up.
Carefully, Jasmine negotiated the narrow concrete stairs down to the main entrance in her high heel court shoes, collected the post and climbed back to her flat. There wasn’t much, a few thin envelopes containing bills no doubt and one thick package which proved to contain a solicitor’s letter and the divorce papers. Her signature was demanded immediately. For a moment she thought about the happy times, the smart house they had shared and the friends in the police force. Then she looked at herself in the mirror and remembered why that was all in the past. She dropped the papers onto her desk and picked up her car keys and handbag.
The driveway to the Galloway residence was empty today and there was a pause after she pressed the bell push. Mrs Galloway finally opened the door. Her face immediately showed concern and expectation.
“Oh, Miss Frame, do you have some news?”
“Jasmine, please. Yes I have some information. Can I come in?”
“Yes, of course, I’m quite forgetting, please come in. Can I get you a cup of tea or coffee.”
“No thanks.” They were in the lounge again and Jasmine was sitting on the edge of the armchair. Mrs Galloway sat on the sofa leaning forward intently.
“Is Mr Galloway out,” Jasmine asked.
“Yes he had to go to the office this morning. What have you found out? Is Nick safe?”
“He’s quite safe, I think, Mrs Galloway. He’s staying with a friend.”
“But I’ve spoken to all his school friends.”
“This is a friend he met on the internet.”
A look of worry passed across the mother’s face. “Are you sure he’s safe. Where is he? When is he coming home?”
“I’m sure I can persuade him to see you soon, but I think you have something to tell me.”
“Yes, something you perhaps have known about Nick for some time and didn’t want to mention yesterday when Nick’s father was here.” There was silence for a moment until understanding appeared in her eyes.
“Oh! Do you mean….? When he was younger I caught him wearing his sister’s clothes a few times. In fact when he was a toddler she used to dress him up as a little girl. Very sweet he used to look. I didn’t think much of it, a phase perhaps.”
“It was more than a phase. I think it’s very important to Nick.”
“I know. He hasn’t let me into his room much for the last few years but he kept it nice and tidy so I didn’t need to. But one day I did nip in to change the bed clothes for him and saw a bra under the bed. I couldn’t help looking and found a skirt and girl’s top. I heard him coming so didn’t stop to look anymore.”
“You didn’t talk about it?”
“No! How could I? But I realised why he kept his hair looking so lovely.” She sounded wistful, regretting missed opportunities.
“Nick is worried about upsetting you and about his father being angry.”
“Don’t worry about Mr Galloway, I can handle him.” There was suddenly a firm tone to her voice, “Just tell Nick to come home and speak to us.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Jasmine was driving with the street map in her lap, peering at street names, many of which were missing, and almost colliding with the parked and dumped cars. Finally she found the address Paul had given her. As she expected it was a large Victorian terrace house divided up into many tiny bedsits. None of the bells seemed to work but the front door was open and she climbed the threadbare stair carpet to the third floor. She rapped on the grubby door. As the last tap died away, Nicky opened the door. She was dressed in the same denim skirt as the previous evening with a blue and white short sleeved T-shirt. She looked vague for a moment then spoke.
“It’s you. Come in.” Nicky stepped backwards alongside Paul. Jasmine saw that even in the flat sandals she was wearing today she was an inch or so taller than the slim young man who wore a baggy polo shirt over his jeans.
Jasmine stepped inside. There was room for a double bed along one wall and a small chest of drawers alongside it. The rest of the space was taken up by a small drop side dining table, three dining chairs and a wardrobe.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” Nicky asked. Having refused one earlier, Jasmine was now quite thirsty.
“Yes, please, with just a spot of milk if you have it.”
“No problem.” Nicky passed through a curtain of plastic strips into a tiny kitchen.
“Excuse me,” said Paul, “I need the loo. We share a bathroom on the floor below.” As he moved towards the door he surreptitiously picked up a blue carton from the top of the chest.
Jasmine was left alone for a moment. She noted that the room although small was as tidy as Nick’s bedroom at home, except for the top of the chest. She looked more closely at the assortment of bottles, jars, make-up and the rectangular card containing a loop of pill tabs.
“Here you are.”
She turned to find Nicky holding out a mug to her.
“You can sit on the bed. As you can see we don’t have any comfy chairs.” She sat on one of the dining chairs herself carefully keeping her knees touching.
Jasmine sipped at the hot tea and gave Nicky a searching look.
“So you are happy here? This is where you want to be?”
“Well the bedsit’s a dump, but, yes, I am happy; happier than I’ve ever been.”
“Did you think you were gay?”
“I wondered. I danced with one or two lads at a club but it never went any further and then I met Paul.”
“Ah yes, Paul,” The door opened and the young man re-appeared, casually dropping the carton amongst the bottles and jars on the chest, “or is it Pauline or Paula?”
The boy froze and Nicky’s draw dropped.
“How did you guess?”
“It’s Paula actually,” the boy shrugged, “how did you know?”
“Well, I did spend an hour with you both last evening and I’m pretty experienced at this sort of thing. I didn’t think it was Nicky who was taking the contraceptive pills and that packet of tampons you took with you was a bit of a give away.”
“Well you know we’re not gay,” Nicky said defiantly.
“I do and I don’t care what you are. How you live your lives is your affair. What I do want to know is whether you are prepared to see your parents.”
“I’m not leaving Paul. I live here now with him. I don’t want to be Nicholas again.”
“That’s fine, but I think you should at least see your mother and father and tell them.”
“They’ll go berserk.”
“No they won’t. You may be surprised at how much your mother knows already, and she says she can handle your father.”
“She was always good at that,” Nicky smiled thinly, then added slowly, “I don’t suppose I can just disappear can I. Paul, will you come with me?”
“Of course Nicky-love, if you want me to.”
“I do.” The girl/boy entwined her arm with the boy/girl’s
For the second time in the day, Jasmine’s Fiesta pulled up in the Galloway’s drive. This time the big Audi was there as well. She got out and held the seat forward so that Paul could extricate himself from the back seat. Nicky stood nervously at the passenger door.
“You go first, please Jasmine,” she appealed.
Jasmine crunched across the gravel and pressed the doorbell. There was hardly a delay before the door was opened by Mrs Galloway.
“Oh, hello, hello. I’m so glad you’ve come,” she gushed. She looked beyond Jasmine at her son now wearing an ankle-length, patterned cotton skirt. “Hello love, it’s wonderful to have you back.”
Jasmine stepped to one side and encouraged Nicky to pass and fall into her mother’s arms. She was a good head taller than her mother as they hugged. At last Mrs G released Nicky and looked at Paul.
“And this is your friend is it.” Paul stepped forward and put out his hand. Mrs G took it. “Come in please. Your father’s waiting to see you.”
They finally entered the hallway and moved into the lounge. Mr Galloway was standing as far away as possible, in front of the fire place looking very unsure of himself.
“Here they are Hamish.” Mrs. G said brightly. Galloway looked Nicky up and down a few times struggling to recognise the son he thought he had.
“Hello, uh, uh, Ni…”
“It’s Nicky, Dad.”
“Oh, um, yes of course.”
“And this is Paul.”
Paul looked at Jasmine for reassurance. Jasmine nodded to him.
“Well, my parents called me Paula, but I prefer Paul.”
Galloway’s eyes widened. “You mean you are really a girl?”
“Physically perhaps, but I feel that I am a boy.”
“And you are um, friends with my son who wants to be a girl?”
“That’s right Dad,” Nicky, gaining confidence, stepped closer to her father, holding her hand in Paul’s, “We want to be together.”
“I’m confused,” Galloway said shaking his head, “Do you understand them Miss Frame.”
“Yes,” Jasmine smiled, “It is simply boy loves girl. The only thing unusual is that the boy believes she’s a girl and the girl believes she’s a boy. No problem.”
Jasmine’s phone beeped its monotonal tune. She ignored it for a moment.
“You’d better answer it,” Galloway said. Jasmine pulled the phone from her bag and thumbed the button clumsily, turning on the speaker phone.
“James, it’s me, you should have had the divorce papers today. Make sure you sign them, don’t just hang on to them.” Jasmine’s head swirled.
“Yes, all right, I’m busy,” she said in a voice that had become unfamiliar to her, a deeper, masculine voice. She stabbed the off button angrily and looked at four faces staring open-mouthed at her.
“That was my wife,” she explained, “we’re getting divorced. You see why I understand how Nicky and Paul feel.”