As the rain pounded on the windshield as I drove home from work after a late shift, I couldn't help but get a fluttering feeling of excitement as I remembered who would be greeting me as soon as I walked through the door.
I'd met her seven years ago, when she was a University student working part time at a restaurant. While treating my children from my first marriage to a meal, she had served us in the restaurant.
I'd fallen for her straight away. She'd sauntered out of the kitchen to our table, her hips swaying delicately as she made her way over. Her skin was creamy and pale, her eyes big, bold and blue. Her beautiful face was framed by long, flowing, golden hair.
She was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen in my entire life. I ducked my head when she took our orders, out of fear that making eye contact with her would ignite a series of blushes upon my cheeks.
I was almost resentful of my own children, her spell was so strong. I knew she could never look at me if I had two children. It would be an immediate turn-off to someone as young and achingly beautiful as she.
But she did look at me. As I handed her a tip, she spoke to me. She asked me if I was married, to which I truthfully replied no. Then she asked me if I lived locally. I answered that I did.
Soon, we were heading for a whirlwind romance. I was ten years older than she was, and the threat of her wanting different things hung over me like a dark cloud over the sun. Surely, at twenty, she would want fun and flings and girly nights out? I was thirty and with two young children, I was desperate for commitment and love and security.
Much to my relief, she wanted the same as I did. She was a brilliant stepmother to the children. It just came naturally to her. She was young enough to play childish games with them, agile enough to chase them in the garden, but mature enough to soothe them and discipline them.
Everyone loved her. My parents fell for her charm and wit straight away, while even my ex-wife approved of her as the children's stepmother.
Within a year, we were married.
From the start, our marriage was beautiful. I'd never felt so passionately for another human being in my life. I could barely tear my lips away from her soft skin. It took all my effort just to peel my eyes from her slender figure as we slept.
She understood me. She knew what would make me laugh if ever I was frustrated or upset. She would kiss me gently should I need some affection. She would wipe away my tears and hold me if I ever grew devastated at some personal calamity. She would watch the shows I liked on television and never complain, and I, in turn, would watch hers.
Every morning she would get up and prepare breakfast for everyone, wearing nothing but a pair of knickers and one of my T-shirts, her hair scraped back into an elegantly messy ponytail, strands of hair falling around her face. Every night I'd arrive home to a steaming hot tea, and be greeted by a kiss and hug so passionate, anyone would have thought we'd been separated for years, not hours.
As I sped through the relentlessly pouring rain, I longed for the feel of her arms around me once more. But just recently, she'd been acting cold and strange with me.
For the past year or so, she'd been far from sexy. Of course she was still astonishingly physically attractive, but she no longer made an effort with her appearance.
She hardly ever wore make-up, and didn't wear very feminine clothes anymore. Instead, she sat pale-faced, her hair pulled back into a straggly ponytail, in a baggy T-shirt and jogging pants. I hadn't seen her wear a dress, or full make-up, for around a year now.
I tried to make her feel special, wondering if it was anything I'd done that was making her behave this way. I could still barely take my lips away from hers, but suddenly she was uninterested in me sexually. All of my romantic efforts were rebuffed.
I'd suggested children a year ago, and she'd seemed horrified at that prospect.
'We've already got a little family,' she said. 'Won't that do?'
I was happy she viewed my children as her own, but worried why she didn't want to have even one baby with me. We'd been married for six years now. Was it so strange that I wanted some babies with her? I wondered if she didn't want to damage her figure, but now I dismissed that idea, as she didn't seem particularly bothered about her appearance anymore.
I wondered two things. The first and more prominent of my fears was that she was having an affair. It seemed plausible. After all, I worked long and demanding hours, so she could easily bring someone over to the house. It would also explain her reluctance to have children with me - if she left me for somebody else, there'd be no kids to fuss over properly, except for mine. It also explained why she didn't want a physical relationship.
My second explanation was that she was depressed. I feared that this could be the truer of the explanations. After all, she hadn't smiled or laughed sincerely in ages now. I tried my best but all I could ignite in her was a limp smile.
Now, I pulled into the driveway. The rain was still plummeting to the floor like tiny watery bullets, so I hurried to the front door and burst in.
I walked into the living room to see her sat on the sofa. She didn't turn around, even when I said hello and commented on the weather.
'Is everything okay, darling?' I asked her, a lump of fear forming in my throat.
She didn't answer. She didn't move. I approached her slowly, with caution, and sat beside her. She was staring blankly at the floor, her hands clasped together. I couldn't help but notice that her fingernails were bitten right down.
She opened her mouth and it was just such a relief to hear her voice.
'I need to tell you something,' she said, so softly I wasn't sure she'd actually said the words at all.
'Okay,' I replied in a quiet voice, though I could sense it wasn't okay at all.
I'm leaving you. I'm sick. I've found somebody else. What would she say? How would I react?
She shook her head slowly, a few strands of hair falling free from her tight ponytail.
'You'll hate me,' she whispered, 'but I love you.' It was such a relief to hear the words fall from her beautiful, plump lips.
Her shoulders began shuddering and I could hear the pants of her breath as she began crying. I threw an arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer towards me.
'I could never hate you, sweetheart. I love you so much. You're the woman of my dreams and I…'
'I'm not a woman,' she said. As simple as that, the words fell from her lips.
My arm grew stiff around her body. 'What?' I was in a daze, completely shocked by what she'd said. 'What did you say?'
'I'm not a woman. I mean, I am physically, but mentally…' She turned and looked at me, her eyes brimming with fresh tears which spilled down her cheeks. 'I'm a man, trapped inside a woman's body.'
I shook my head, moving away from her. What was she saying? This was completely outrageous. We'd known eachother for seven years and she'd never mentioned anything like this before… It had to be a phase. It had to be.
'You…you can't be serious,' I said. The loudness and harshness of my words startled me.
She nodded sadly. 'I am serious,' she whispered. 'Please don't hate me.'
'It's just a phase, right?' I asked. 'I mean, you'll wake up tomorrow and feel like a woman again, won't you?'
She shook her head. 'I've been feeling like this for a while now,' she admitted softly. 'When I was fifteen I thought I didn't feel like a girl, but I just ignored my feelings. And then when I was nineteen I seriously wondered if I wasn't meant to be a girl. I mean, I'm just a man in everything I do. I hate my body. I hate my clothes. I'm a man.' She repeated it again, more sincerely. 'I'm a man.'
I kept shaking my head, but she kept nodding. 'I met you and I…I love you, I really do. I loved you and I thought, "Well, that's it, I love a man so I can't be a man myself." But a few years after we married, when you suggested children, I just…I just knew. I wasn't a woman. I couldn't do womanly functions. I'm a guy, for crying out loud.'
I took hold of her hands, which were flailing about all over the place as she spoke.
'We'll get you help,' I said. 'We'll find you a doctor.'
'I don't need a doctor,' she said furiously. 'I need a surgeon!'
'Lots of women go through this,' I said, though I knew it probably wasn't true. 'We've all had…off days. But that doesn't make you a man.'
She sighed sadly. 'I love you, and I always will. But I just know you don't understand. I can't live like a woman forever, no matter how much I love you.'
'But the kids,' I said, clinging to anything that might make her change her mind. 'They need a mother.'
She laughed gently. 'They've got a mother,' she pointed out. She cupped my face with her hand softly. Her touch burned. 'I'm sorry.'
I knew I couldn't change her mind. But I also knew I couldn't support her decision. She was my wife, and I wanted her to remain my wife - not turn into my husband. I couldn't love him. I could only love her.
'Will you let me be your husband?' she whispered.
I shook my head furiously. 'No! No, I won't!' I theorised that if I didn't give her my approval, she wouldn't go ahead with it. But she rose from her seat sadly, her hips no longer swinging as she walked to the kitchen. She returned pulling a big suitcase behind her.
'I thought you'd say that,' she said, her voice thick, like she was trying to fight the tears. 'I love you…'
I stood up as she walked over to the door and opened it.
'No, wait… You can't go…'
'…And I'll miss you, but I…'
'I love you! You can't leave me!'
'I need some time alone right now…'
'Don't leave this house. Don't you dare leave this house…'
'…and I need to book a genital reassignment…'
'I can't live without you. You can't just go…'
'I'm going now.' She walked out of the door and went to her car. She loaded her suitcases into the backseat.
I walked up to her, uncertain of what to do. Kiss her? Hug her? Wish her luck?
'If you ever change your mind…' We said the words at the same time. She let out a soft little laugh.
'Keep in touch,' she said, and then she leaned forward and planted a kiss on my cheek.
I sniffed. 'I'll miss you.'
'I won't be gone forever,' she said, trying to sound reassuring.
'Yes, you will,' I replied.
And then she was gone. I walked around our bedroom in a daze, trying to make sense of it all.
I opened her wardrobe, expecting to see it completely bare, though of course it wasn't. She'd left her dresses, all hanging limp and lifeless.
And that was all I had left of him.