“Honey,” she told her friend Roni, “you have an unnatural obsession with that woman.”
Roni was used to Sylvia’s lighthearted taunts. “Lexi Marshall was number one on the World’s Most Beautiful Women list three out of the past four years according to Famous magazine. She got twenty-five million for her last movie.”
Sylvia nodded. She’d heard it before.
“Besides,” Roni added, “you have a much better TV.”
Sylvia beamed, as Roni knew she would. She was proud of the home theatre. Her most recent boyfriend had bought it as a gift. He was gone, but the home theatre wasn’t. That was one of the things Roni envied about about Sylvia. She never kept a man around when it wasn’t working, but somehow always ended up materially better off.
“Do we have to watch her every time she’s on the tube?” said Sylvia. “She’s not even Ellen’s first guest. We gotta sit through the guy that’s on before her?”
“Okay, go ahead and mute it. We can turn it back on when Lexi comes on.”
Sylvia eagerly punched the “mute” button. “I’d have thought you had better things to do.”
“She’s fabulous,” Roni protested. “I get fashion ideas every time I see her. And I wouldn’t have met Pete if it hadn’t been for her.”
“Pete,” Sylvia reminded her, “was posting on her fan page. Lexi didn’t have anything to do with that. Guaranteed, she didn’t even know any of this was going on.”
“Okay.” Roni had to concede the point.
Having quieted the TV, Sylvia turned to face Roni. “Okay, tell me about Pete.”
“I’ve already told you a lot. We’re in love. He calls me every night. We talk for hours, about everything and anything. He’s so understanding. Anything that’s going on in my life, he’ll listen. He’ll give advice sometimes, but mostly he just hears how I feel.”
“Does he know that … you didn’t start life … as a woman?”
“I told him all about it. He’s fine with it. He says he has a lot of trans friends and they’re great people. He’s got no problem with me being trans.”
“Does he know that you still have a … you know … down below?”
“I told him I’m saving for surgery. He’s even willing to help me. He’s got some money stashed away.”
A look of understanding crossed Sylvia’s face. “Ah. I see. You think he’s going to pay for your surgery.”
Roni looked away, clearly hurt by the comment.
Sylvia responded using a softer tone. “Aw, come on. Think about it. How much do you still need?”
“I’m fifteen thousand short.”
“You really think a guy is going to come up with that kind of money for you?”
“Well, I…” Roni didn’t make it to the end of her sentence. It was clear that was exactly what she thought.
“OK, think about it. Wouldn’t that be awfully generous, considering you’ve never met? He tell you what he does for a living yet?”
“I told you before. It’s secret. He’s on some sort of classified assignment that he can’t talk about. He can’t even tell me where he is. But he says soon it will be over, and we’ll be together. I can’t wait.”
Sylvia pursed her lips skeptically. “Uh, huh.”
“Look, what is he supposed to do? He can’t talk about his work. I can respect that.”
“Yeah, keep telling yourself that.”
“Why can’t you just be happy for me? I’ve finally found someone I click with. You know how hard that is.”
“How do you know you click? You haven’t even met him. He could be a drunk. He could be a murderer.”
“I’ve known him for eight months. We’ve emailed, texted, and we talk frequently. We’ve exchanged pictures. I trust him. If when we get together, we don’t like each other, we can deal with that then. I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.”
“He still won’t let you call him?”
“It wouldn’t work. He works odd hours. We make arrangements that he’ll call some specific time. He’s always called, every time, in all the months I’ve known him. Know anyone else who is that dependable?”
“You know what I think?”
“No, but I’m pretty sure there’s no way I can stop you telling me.”
“OK, Roni. I think this Pete is married. I think he’s got a wife, and kids, and a boring job. I bet he’s tired of coming home every night from his boring job, so this Pete invents this exciting persona of how he’s on some top secret mission, and then sells it to some naive unsuspecting girl he meets on some movie star’s fan page.”
“He didn’t tell me it was a top secret mission. He just said he can’t talk about it.”
“You didn’t ask?”
“That’s enough for me. I trust him.”
“Why? Why should you trust him?”
“I don’t know, Sylvia. Maybe I just get a feeling about him. Like, when there’s something he can’t tell me, he’ll say, “I wish I could talk about that, but I can’t.” If he were really shady, he’d just make up something. But when I ask him something, he tells me as much as he can. He promises he’ll tell me the rest soon, but he can’t yet. I believe him.”
“I give up, Roni. You’re going to do what you’re going to do. You always have. How many times have you believed something some man tells you. Remember that guy who said he was an army captain? He suddenly had to go back to his company in Iraq. Then you spot him driving a cab downtown.”
“So now you’re rubbing it in.”
Sylvia touched her friend’s shoulder. “No, honey, I don’t mean to make you feel bad. But you tend to, how do I say it, give men too much benefit of the doubt.”
Roni was silent. Sylvia felt the need to fill the gap.
“Look. You’re a loving, trusting soul. That’s wonderful. Some man will be very lucky. But I don’t think that lucky man will be someone you met on a fan site who won’t let you call him.”
“He’d read every one of my posts. He said he really liked them. He was able to talk about what was in them.”
“Can we do a reality check?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re a man right?”
“I didn’t mean that. IMAGINE you’re a man. Okay.”
“I don’t know.”
“Just think about it. If you’re a married man. Maybe you’re lonely because you and your wife have fallen into a rut. You take refuge in the fan site of a movie star you’ll never meet. You notice someone who seems a bit … lonely … posting there too. You think maybe she’ll be a nice online companion. How do you get her attention? You read all her posts, rights?”
“You’re not going to call her up and say, I’m a bored married man, please add spice to my life. You’ll make up some story and act like you really love her and care about her.”
“I don’t think Pete is acting. I’ve talked to him enough to know he’s an honest guy. He really does love me.”
“Stay with me. You want to tell her something that will make her keep taking your calls no matter what happens. You find out she needs surgery that costs way more than she’ll be able to afford. What do you tell her to keep her interested? Pretty much no matter what?”
“It isn’t like that. He loves me. He just wants me to be happy.”
“So he’s going to give you fifteen thousand, just like that? Really? Name one real-life man who’s got an extra fifteen thousand lying around and would give it to some woman he never met. Just one.”
Sylvia’s words sunk in. Her friend’s face suddenly turned grim.
“He’s not going to pay for my surgery, is he?”
Sylvia slowly shook her head.
Tears were now streaming down Roni’s cheeks. Sylvia took her friend in her arms and brought her face to her shoulder as Roni let the tears flow. Roni cried for a few moments, but then lifted her head and wiped her eyes with the heel of her hand.
“I was being stupid wasn’t I.”
“Not stupid. Just … hopeful.”
“I really thought I would get my surgery paid for. I’ve been saving for so long, and it’s not nearly enough. I’m going to be this way for many years to come.”
“You’ll find a way. I know you will.”
“Yeah. But when?”
“It’ll happen. Look. Lexi’s on.” She unmuted the TV.
“Oh, that dress,” said Roni. “Solid navy blue over one shoulder. I used to wish…”
“… that you could be her. I know. I’ve heard the story before. And heard it. And heard it. Girl, you are so starstruck!”
“Shh. She’s talking.”
They watched as Ellen seated her guest across from her.
“What’s this I hear about you taking a break from acting?” She asked.
Lexi nodded, her waving blond locks bouncing as they cascaded about her shoulders. “That’s right. I’m afraid ‘Hot Date from Hell’ will be my last movie for a while.”
“Oh. What are you planning next.”
Lexi’s chiseled features suddenly became serious. “It’s something I’ve known I’d have to do for a while now, and I can’t put it off for any longer. I apologize if I’m disappointing my fans, but some things can’t be helped. Thing is, I’ve known for a long time that I was not meant to be an actress.”
On the TV screen, Ellen had become genuinely puzzled. This clearly was not what she expected. “Go on.”
“Thing is, I’m becoming more and more sure, that I was meant to be a man.”
A gasp could be heard to spread through Ellen’s audience. Ellen herself was clearly and visibly taken aback, though always the professional, she recovered quickly. “Wow, that’s really brave of you.”
“Thank you. I’ve already started hormone treatments, though you can’t see much change yet. Soon, I won’t look much like the Lexi Marshall you remember.”
“This isn’t a joke then?”
Lexi shook her head.
Ellen took a few seconds to come up with another question. “Uh … are you willing to tell the audience what your name will be when you become a man?”
“Sure,” Lexi answered. “My name will be Pete.”