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Lalya looked at the sealed envelope sitting on the kitchen table, next to the breakfast dishes. It was heavy, official paper, with the Licensing Office logo emblazoned on it. He didn't have to touch the envelope to know its texture and weight. He had been waiting so long for it--now he found himself reluctant even to touch it.Author's Notes
Blue-sleeved arms went around him and he smelled shaving cream. Lalya smiled. He was glad he'd had the tailor cut that shirt down for Dini. It had always been a favorite; this way he got to keep on enjoying it though it no longer suited his own wardrobe. "Aren't you going to open it?"
"I--this marks an ending, you know." Either the end of his life as a man, or the end of his dreams of marrying Dini. Oh, certainly, if the licenses were denied, he would appeal. But so many plans had been made, if these weren't his licenses, the rest of the year would be disarrayed at best.
"No, of course not. At least I don't think so. But you know how when you want something so much for a long time, and you finally get it, in that moment sometimes the license not applied for seems ..." Lalya sighed. "I guess I don't know what I mean."
"Well, I do. It's like when I started becoming popular as a female role actor. I knew everything in my life -- not just my career -- would be affected." His arms around Lalya's shoulders tightened into an affectionate hug before he picked up the paper. "Let's go open this at the club."
Dini laid a finger on Lalya's lips. "Not my club, your club. Uglurituq." He slid the unopened envelope into his license pouch. "I expect we will be celebrating. But the people there will understand either way."
Lalya smiled up at Dini. He had no doubt that Dini did really understand. Dini had always understood the mysteries of peoples' emotional life, much as Lalya had always understood the clean structure of logic. Lalya assumed that difference explained why Dini was such a good actor, but hopeless figuring out licensing issues. "Let me grab my lace shawl, and I'll be right with you."
Dini sat down at the table, and picked up the new script. "Take your time."
Lalya fussed over his dress, shoes, and hair. He had always taken the time to look good, and still wasn't as certain of his fashion sense as a woman as he had been as a man. He lifted the shawl from its hanger and looked again in the mirror, wondering if a different dress would suit the occasion better. Then he shook his head ruefully. Changing clothes one hundred times wouldn't change what was in the envelope. He returned to the kitchen. "I guess I'm as ready as I'm going to be."
Dini closed the script, and left it on the table. For once, he did not tease Lalya about how long it took him to get ready. He just led the way out of their house, and made small talk, offering theater gossip as a distraction.
The weather was fine, and the walk to the club would've been very pleasant if Lalya's thoughts weren't so very focused on the envelope in Dini's license pouch.
Lalya felt a strange combination of excitement, dread, and relief as they came to the door of the club. He reached for the ornate brass doorknob, but then stepped back hurriedly as the carved door swung toward his face. He put up a hand to slow the door and found himself face-to-face with Urti. "Monitor Urti," he exclaimed.
Urti looked satisfied until he noticed Lalya, and then he looked slightly embarrassed. "License Manager Lalya, how are you today?"
Lalya wondered what brought him to the club though it wouldn't be polite to ask. If Urti was on official business, he would likely need to refuse to answer. And if Urti were a frequenter of the club, be a gaffe to embarrass another member on the street. "I'm fine," he answered. "And you?" Urti had always seemed stuffy and officious to Lalya, but Lalya maintained a friendly demeanor whenever he saw the man because he was a friend of License Master Bai.
"Busy as always." Urti nodded curtly to Lalya and then to Dini. "Congratulations on your engagement."
They thanked him, standing aside to let him exit the building. He strode off, shoulders squared, tucking his notepad firmly into its pocket. Lalya found himself pleased that whatever the man's business had been, he had finished it before they arrived.
They entered the club, and paused inside the door to let their eyes adjust. It wasn't dark inside, but the tinted windows that provided privacy also kept the sunlight from streaming in. It was only a moment before Netaarl greeted them. She pulled her lips into a smile, but Lalya noticed her brows were puckered. "Lalya, Dini. What brings you here so early in the afternoon?"
Dini gave a theatrical bow to the tiny club owner. "We'd like a quiet table with good light and a bottle of wine. We have an envelope to open."
Netaarl's face smoothed, and she took Lalya's hand, patting it encouragingly. There was only one envelope that would explain Lalya's nerves. "Of course, come right this way." She let them through the office area back into a private room. Dini was technically a visitor to the club, but from the beginning had been accorded the courtesies offered to a member's spouse. "I have just the thing."
The table was small and round, set directly in front of a window that depicted dancers of indeterminate gender in an embrace. It was in the back of the room, well away from two performers playing a quiet piece on the club's harmonichron. Dini held a chair for Lalya, then settled into the other one. They sat together quietly for a few minutes, listening to the music. "Should we order food?"
"I --" Lalya thought for a moment. He was always hungry. It was his Mayaloi heritage. But right now he couldn't decide if food sounded good.
"Right. We'll come back to that." Dini opened his license pouch and pulled out the envelope.
As if on cue, Netaarl showed up with two glasses and a bottle of bright red wine. She poured a little bit into a glass and offered it to Lalya. He sniffed and his eyes widened. The scent was rich, sweet, and strongly alcoholic.
Dini nodded, seeing the label. "An Affanumuur Berry Melomel. You're right, that will suit nicely."
Netaarl smiled at him, but waited for Lalya's approval. Lalya was the member, after all. Lalya sipped and nodded, though he hardly tasted the wine. Netaarl poured their glasses, and left them the bottle. She withdrew, but did not leave the room.
Dini sipped the wine and closed his eyes for a moment to appreciate the rich flavor. Then he offered the envelope to Lalya. "Are you ready?"
Lalya took the envelope, the feel of the official paper familiar to his fingertips. "I don't know if I should say I've been ready forever, or I'll never be ready, because in some sense, both are true." He reached into his embroidered license pouch for his seal knife. The utilitarian ones in the licensing office were small for his hand, so he had bought one more to his liking. His hand curled around it automatically, but he still felt awkward. He slid it into the fold of the paper and the long length of the envelope, slicing it neatly open.
His hands moved automatically, efficiently, after all, he opened envelopes like this every day. He was no stranger to official correspondence. The strangeness was having the life-changing papers be about his own life. And then they sat on the table in front of him, the license that declared him a woman, the marriage license, and the license that would let them either adopt a first child or hire a surrogate to bear one. The paper was new and stiff, the ink gleamed the exact blue-black used on official licenses. Their names were there, spelled correctly. All of the necessary seals and signatures were there. Lalya checked automatically, though she knew they had been inspected before delivery.
Dini grinned at her. "So how does it feel to be a woman?"
Lalya's stomach growled. "Hungry?"
Dini laughed; his grin looked impossibly wide.
Lalya realized she was grinning too. "Hungry, definitely hungry." She picked up the wine and sipped again. This time, the rich sweet taste burst across her tongue like the sunrise.
Netaarl set a tray of hot stuffed mushrooms and nutterjells between them. "Would you like menus?"
Dini nodded, taking the scrolls from the club owner.
Lalya popped a seafood morsel into her mouth, enjoying how the rich flavors chased the sweetness of the wine from her tongue. The combination was surprisingly good, perfect for a celebration. Lalya found she couldn't stop grinning. "It feels wonderful." She picked up the licenses, getting a first greasy fingerprint on the license that declared her female, and even that seemed good. It seemed -- real, or at least, less like her daydreams. Life, after all, was nearly always messy.
She slipped the new licenses and the seal knife safely away in her pouch, and raised her wine, letting the glass glide along her beard suggestively for a moment before taking another drink.
Dini laughed again, and handed her a menu. But it was a while before they stopped grinning at each other and started to read.
Written for the December 2012 Muse Fusion.