That delicate satin-draped frame
As it clung to her thigh, how I started to cry
'Cause I wanted to be dressed just the same
(Don't Dream It, by Richard O'Brien)
(Revised and reposted)
"Yesssss...." She pulled the flaps open and put it down so she could dig. "YES!"
She had a little doll, like just about four inches.
She was almost just like my balloon, like Carson's balloon, and I couldn't help smiling.
"I just ~knew~ I still had her!" Val plonked back down on the bed and pulled my balloon down and compared the doll Strawberry and the picture.
"She has a different dress nowadays, on the new TV show, I think, but this one's perfect...." She looked at the doll like she saw more than I could.
"Mom made this dress, exactly like the old one, 'cept the color's a bit different and she couldn't get the berries... and she made the hat different."
"Lemme see?" I couldn't reach down that far and wanted to see the real one. Val passed her to me like she would break.
She was soft plastic, softer than a Barbie, and squeezier, with little freckles and real hair, or plastic hair, and the hat was real, like it could be undone with a bow in the back, and the dress, and a frillier one underneath, and an apron thing with a bib or top part. She was a real doll, only tiny. Her clothes were real, too.
"Mom made this? All this?" She was as... she was like Carson's balloon... and real! And I remembered her... or something....
I laid her in my lap and covered her with my hand, like a blanket, then adjusted her so I could see her clothes better.... I picked her up and looked.... She was like, like I could almost see her the way Val could... more....
When I noticed, they were looking at me. Her. I ~had~ to smile.
"She's so... cool! How tiny she is and still all the clothes are real!"
"Smell her." Brenda had a weird smile.
She was ~exactly~ like the shampoo!
"That's ~soooo~ cool!" I took another smell, to see if it was her skin, or her clothes, but it was mostly her hair!
I had no idea why, but I felt all, like... a shiver, like when I used to hear my favorite songs, or when Carson kisses me.... I felt like I was blushing all over.
Like my hair...! LIke Carson liked!
... like me....
"How old is she?"
"She's... I got her when you were little. A baby." Val had the oddest smile.
Her dress had an opening in the back and I guessed it would come off and I untied the apron that was a tiny bow just like... the bonnet- hat....
I took the apron off and the dress had three tiny snaps in the back and I popped the top one and it would come off... and the one underneath was the same, but I knew it's slip off....
It was old, I mean, the cotton or whatever was old feeling, or just thin, but it flopped like real clothes, and it wasn't really old, just little and... delicate. I popped the snap back together... that was hard, it was so tiny... and then put the apron back on over her arms and re-tied it and it was even tinier, but ~way~ easier than the bonnet would be... I just touched it to make it right....
She sat in my lap, really just laid down, but I pretended she was sitting, 'cause that's the way she should be, awake. I was like a giant to her, so I was careful.
I made her dress spread out evenly on both sides so it looked nice. If I sat still, she could sit all by herself, sorta like me, her position. I had to mostly lay down too....
I smiled at the smell still in my nose. At a ton of things....
They were both looking at me. Val.... I smiled back, that she'd shown me. Shared her.
She got up and made me sit up and then sat behind me, just like Carson does.
She picked up Strawberry and faced her to me and hugged me with her, her arms around both of us, and pulled me back.
Her voice was shaky, even a whisper.
"You're welcome, sis...."
Brenda thought Val's stupid girlie thing too. Really.
They both said I was playing with Strawberry and ~boys~ didn't play with dolls, but Brenda even said boys didn't even smell things, which was about as dumb as anything.
Then they said I was a total girl with Carson, which was dumber! ~She~ was a girl!
But Val just squeezed and said that had nothing to do with it at all and we were talking about ~me~, not her.
So I said she knew she was a girl and she was, and ~I~ knew I was a boy. And I was. And I didn't say it out loud, but Strawberry knew, too.
It's hard to argue with weird ideas like the smelling thing. Even Val thought ~that~ was stupid, but Brenda just looked smug and said she'd read it somewhere. She sounded like Carson.
But they both kept saying.
Valerie said I wasn't like other boys, and was a lot like some girls, and she wasn't trying to be smart or anything.
She said she just knew it. She said- I didn't understand what she even meant, but she was really serious... not mad or grim or anything. But serious.
It was too....
I thought I should be mad at them, but I couldn't.
When I remembered to ask her again, Val said she couldn't remember if Strawberry smelled exactly the same as she used to.
She thought maybe it was less now, even if it was still easy to smell. Brenda said it seemed like the same to her, but she'd never had one herself.
Carson phoned about seven-thirty and her dad had taken everyone out to a nice restaurant, and he held her chair for her!
He didn't tell the waitress she was a girl or anything, but he didn't call her 'him' or 'son' either, and just called her 'Carson' and 'my child' and 'my oldest' instead of.
She said he was ~really~ nice to her and her mom was in on it and it was all just perfect. Even Jerri was nice, the way she was.
I could hear how perfect it was. She was going on and on like she did and kept trying to find new words. She finally just ran down and sighed.
I smiled, just to see her so happy. Hear her.
I asked her why she gave me the balloon and I fiddled with Strawberry while she said like, oh, and ummm for a few seconds.
"Is it because of my hair?"
She was quiet.
"It ~is~ isn't it!? Now Brenda says ~I'm~ a girl because I like Strawberry Shortcake and smell things!"
I laughed at her because she was being really quiet and I knew she'd feel guilty even if it was just Val and Brenda being stupid and not even making sense.
"So, from now on, no more Strawberry! Okay?"
I laughed and she was still quiet, but a kind of less scared one, so I told her about Val having a real one, a doll, and it still was strawberry-smelling even after like ~years~ and she was ~tiny~ and different than the balloon picture but the same, like you could see right away.
I could hear her smile, more.
"Do you really like my hair?"
"Um, yeah...." She sounded shy. "You smell nice...."
I think I sounded shy too.
"I have some more, I could keep using it...."
"That'd... I'd like that."
"I will, then."
I smiled at Strawberry and poked her over, and then felt guilty and sat her up again. Then I kissed her better and felt really stupid, but better, too. And smelled her.
Carson did too. Smelled nice. Just the same as she always did. But I really liked that, when I thought about it. She smelled like her. A quiet her.
"I like it... your smell, too...."
I could hear her blush.
I told her I was glad she'd told Brenda, and was she still really okay with that? and Brenda sure was....
"Yeah. After I told her she was really normal, like 'what's the big deal?' and it made it alright. And when we got to your place it, it was all... great."
I heard her smile again.
I wished she was where I could see her.
"I miss you."
"You just saw me a couple of hours ago!" She laughed like I hoped.
"I know, I still miss you. Talking with Val and Brenda... I just do...."
I don't know why, but feeling sad right then felt good.
Brenda hugged me and kissed my cheek when she left, and it was the first time she ever did that. Like that. It was nice.
It was the first time I was able to stand up at the door to say goodbye to her, too.
Mom said I had to go back to the hospital in the morning for a check-up at orthopedics and with the physio, and to see Dr. Wilkinson, but she said I could see Paul too, if he was in and we had time.
She said just once more, too, and I slept with Val.
She mentioned how her comfy nightie was almost like Strawberry's dress. The bottom one, anyway, the petticoat. But the ruffles at the top were, too, on her apron.
It felt even nicer.
When the lights were out and Val was quiet but not asleep, I couldn't stop thinking.
"Mmm?" She didn't sound sleepy either.
"You don't really mean that stuff about me being a girl, do you?" I fiddled with a ruffle.
She rolled over and looked at me.
"Not... not, exactly like Carson." She stroked my shoulder, smoothed out the sleeve.
"But you've been... more, I dunno, so emotional lately.... And it... it's been nice, and kinda... girly too. You aren't mad if I say that are you?"
I thought about what she'd said... about maybe because of the depression. Maybe.
"You mean 'cause I cry?"
She was quiet a few moments.
"Yeah, a bit, but not really...." She ran her hand up and down my sleeve.
"More... like how happy you get, too... and the way you are with Carson... it's sweet...."
"Sweet?" I looked down at Strawberry. She was sweet.
"The way you two hold each other, you cuddle almost all the time and it's sweet. And the way you kiss." I could hear her smile.
"I love her...." I whispered it. Even if she knew, I'd never told her.
She pulled me over and kissed my shoulder.
"I can tell." She was quiet for a while.
"It's really special, watching you two."
I didn't know what I could say, but I felt good. She hugged me again.
"And I like teasing you, if it's okay? I promise I won't embarrass you in public or anything, but can I still do it here... and...." She kinda ran down.
"Like the girly stuff?" I whispered, 'cause she was. Did. But I did it like a funny horror movie whisper, 'cause I really wasn't afraid. I could hear her smile.
"Yes, silly.... And like here, just that I can, I like having you like this...."
I had to think, but it was fun.... It was even fun with Brenda all evening. I liked being with Val, too, more than we used to be.
She kissed my shoulder again and then snuggled over so we could both sleep, her hugging me.
I couldn't even close my eyes, I was thinking so hard. I had to think about it all again.
I felt good with her arm around me, and I liked everything about feeling... like that was okay. Like it was okay to feel that much, like she said, and even if it was girly, or seemed like that to her. I liked how her nightie was so much like Strawberry's, or felt like it was. It felt good. More than just how it felt.
And Carson liked my hair. And she gave me the balloon.
Good that much.
I guess I was keeping Val awake, thinking.
"Sweet dreams, Strawberry."
She had an early class so I got up too. My first appointment wasn't until eleven, but because I was up Mom said we could do some errands first.
"Errands?" I was kinda surprised since it was the first time since it happened that she'd said I should go out except for school and hospital and doctor stuff. I sipped my juice. "Where to?"
"Yeah?" Val looked interested too. Mom looked at her like that was being snarky.
"We need groceries, and we should go by the school to see about you going back...."
"But don't I just have to go... and that's it? Like last time?"
Mom looked at me.
"Well, that didn't go so well, did... ahttt!" She held up a hand and made a face.
"I know what you're going to say, and I agree, but the school wants to be sure it won't happen again and they don't know about Carson and she has to be there for you and I want things a little better organized. Last time, you were just, well, registered from last year and we called the principal." She looked normal.
"So we'll go and see them and you can bring your homework and maybe we'll talk about setting a day for you going back."
I thought of something and then figured it wouldn't be possible, or a good idea. Mom looked like she wanted me to say anyway.
"She wants to see Carson." Val almost laughed.
"~She~?" Mom sounded mad and I started to get scared.
Val just laughed a note for real and poked me.
"Just a joke we had last night." She cheesy-grinned and leaned so our heads touched.
"We're sisters! She's Strawberry and I'm Thelma!"
Mom didn't look pleased with her. Or me, after I tried to smile just like she was.
Val, I mean.
At the beginning, I swung around the grocery store pretty well, and managed to fetch Mom some small stuff I could carry with a few fingers.
I was sweating by the end, but it was because it was hard work... and a little pain, too. More, maybe, but I really needed to finish.
Mom kept asking if I was okay and I kept saying I was and when we finally got back to the car I slid in the back seat as quick as I could without looking desperate or anything, and rested while she put everything in the trunk. I ~really~ wanted to lay right down, too, but it was better, at least.
When she got in and looked at me like I was dead already, I grinned.
"I ~totally~ need a pill, but I did great, hunh?"
She got us home and I took half a pain pill, the first one in about... well, since the hospital. A quick bath and soak, and we headed out for the school. With damp hair.
I had damp hair, and it was cold getting into the car, too.
But I smelled like Strawberry.
"I don't want you promising more than you can handle, now."
Mom drove like Carson, looking straight ahead, so sometimes it was hard to hear her. But I meant what she meant.
"Your father and I want you to try half time to start with, okay? And for Carson to stay with you for a while too." She smiled like she knew that was funny too.
"Awwww, Momm-yyy!" I kept from laughing, barely.
"And something else, important...." She stopped smiling and I listened.
"You two, you both have to be careful." She looked at me a second and it was something serious. She was almost afraid.
"Some, people... might not like..." She stopped and started again.
"You know what homophobia is."
I nodded. That.
"We don't want you to have trouble with anyone who thinks that way, and we know Carson can take care of herself, but you can't and she can't always be with you, so you both have to be careful, and you especially, okay?"
I thought about what she meant. Gay-bashing. The mean jokes on the team. The jokes and insults... everywhere, really. Being called sissy and fag. Gay anything. I was already afraid of that, but with Carson....
"I know, Mom. We'll be really careful."
I was quiet the rest of the way. I was afraid for Carson, more, but I could see.
I thought a lot of stuff while we waited in the main office. About how it could be Carson, or me, or even Brenda, just for being our friend. About what it might be.
About how scared Carson had been, before, when she told me, and... anyone.
She wasn't super, they could hurt her. And insults would be even worse for her.
The bell went and I started to look out the window to see if I could see her, but I was pretty sure she'd be going from algebra to english, so she wouldn't be by.
Brenda did, though, and I waved until someone saw me and looked and then practically everyone did and then she finally saw me and smiled big and wheeled around.
"Hey!" She was quiet because it was the office, and checked that nobody was gonna tell her to leave, I guess, and pecked me on the cheek.
It made everything I'd been thinking about seem to disappear. Instead, just being there seemed good. I leaned over and whispered.
"Hey! We're seeing about me coming back soon! Have you seen Carson?" I checked the window again. "I know she's going to english...."
"Well then, she won't be coming here unless she threw something at the teacher." She talked louder and grinned at me. "How long are you gonna be? I could tell her you're here?"
I thought that was a great idea, but before I could say, Mom said we had to be out by ten-thirty.
The warning bell went and Brenda had to go and kissed my cheek again and headed for the door and we both talked at the same time.
"Tell her I was here!" "I'll tell her you were here!"
My guidance counselor was who we had to see. I thought it'd be my homeroom teacher, or Mr. Carruthers, but apparently I was a behavior problem.
I'd only just barely met Mr. Lopez before, really, and that was just about football because I had to get permission for skipping late classes, like everyone.
The counselors had a really little waiting room, just a couple of chairs, posters, and a rack of pamphlets. AIDS and Acne to... something with a Z.... Zits, probably. I noticed one of them right away and pulled it out to look.
"My friend told me he's gay / she's a lesbian." It was photocopied on green paper and didn't have any pictures or anything, just a logo for a community center or something, downtown. Inside it was all questions and answers, like 'How does your friend know they're gay?'
I'd've thought it was corny if I didn't really want to read it so much, but Mr. Lopez was ready for us before I could even show it to Mom.
She helped me up and I took two swings and a turn and half-plopped into a slightly better chair in his office, padded at least, thank goodness. Hard chairs could be ~really~ painful on my hip.
His office was so small I ended up almost hugging my crutches and still had my leg under Mom's chair.
And then, right when I sat down, I think the pill hit me and I got kinda... detached.
Mom took over and I just listened and tried to object when she made me out to be fragile or something. Or when she said something like just a couple of full days a week... I'd thought she wanted.... Oh.
"Then Carson could give me rides both ways!" I smiled all over at them. "That'd work! And I can use the time for study or library while she's at practice too."
Mom looked at me, and I couldn't figure out her face until Mr. Lopez said "She?"
When I looked at him, he was looking at the pamphlet I was holding. And kind of doing eyebrows-up at me. When I looked back at Mom, she looked sad.
Mr. Lopez turned out to be totally okay with me being sort of gay. And with not telling him who 'she' was. And with me coming back Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Unless it was too much. And going to games on Fridays.
Mom turned out to be not sad, or at least not much. Just ~really~ worried about me and Carson. I think when I didn't cry or freak she felt better.
But she still ganged up with Mr. Lopez about the homophobia thing.
"You really have to be more careful...."
"I will. I promise...."
I sort of closed my eyes and waited for the rest. I knew that. And that I'd been stupid. In the best place in school to be stupid, but stupid.
But she didn't bug me about it any more.
I was afraid of what I'd tell Carson. I knew she'd be scared for me, more than her.
At the hospital the orthopedics doctor ordered another CT scan and took swabs and blood and urine and looked at the incisions and dug out a few more stitches and said I was healing just fine.
The physiotherapist made my foot and knee hurt and said except for needing to put on twenty or thirty pounds and a few dozen months of torture, it looked like things were good.
They all said I was "progressing very well."
They'd said that two days before I passed out from infection, too.
Dr. Wilkinson really just wanted to know if the depression pills and new pain medicine were killing me, and I suppose if I was thinking about killing me.
But he made it seem like it was really just to check the depression pills and ask if I'd eaten breakfast. And dinner, yesterday. And lunch. Eaten at all, really. He asked about every meal.
He didn't seem happy and I didn't really care. I still didn't like him.
We were finished just before three and Mom said we could go see if Paul was in, and when the elevator opened on his floor I swung out and there he was!
I didn't want to make a lot of noise but I headed for him as fast as I'd moved since I was hurt and the crutches made a little squeak, tick noises and he turned around from the counter and smiled.
I started crying, and almost fell.
After he showed us to a regular room that was empty right then and made sure I was okay, or not going to collapse again or something, he went outside with Mom and they talked.
I didn't even know why I'd cried, or why it stopped so quickly. I was afraid it was more of the depression, and if it was then how would I be able to go to school?
I went from as happy as I was all day... to crying. And looking at one of the nicest men I'd ever met, ever, and when he smiled at me.
"Hey, there...." Paul quietly closed the door and sat beside me on the bed. I was half on my side, which was the most comfortable right then.
"Are you okay, hon? You had me worried, there." He rubbed my arm.
I think he couldn't figure out my expression. I was trying to... confused that I'd said that.
"Do you wanna tell me about it?" He kept rubbing my arm and I could see he was worried.
I couldn't think of what to say, or what to explain, or how. He just waited, and then he took my hand and sort of just held it.
"Your mommy says you had a busy day."
I told him everything we'd done, all the things I'd felt and thought and worried about and been frightened by... and how I was sure I'd hurt Carson and... how the girls... Carson too... how they smiled when I did stuff that would get her killed, and Mom saw and I knew but I still did it!
And I couldn't even tell, about how dangerous it all was... not until after, when I thought. And even then I couldn't see ~why~ it was bad, or feel it... anymore... but I knew it was.
I showed him the pamphlet. It even had a part about homophobia. I knew they'd hurt me. But they'd call her names and hurt Carson ~more~, even if it was all ~my~ fault because ~I~ was gay... and, because... even though she was a beautiful girl and I loved her, ~they~ wouldn't see that and I knew what they'd see because ~I~ was what they hated!
Carson was a girl, and I'd get her hurt... or killed... because I was so stupid....
And it was already so hard for her.
And I knew I couldn't hide how I felt about her, how I loved her... that I couldn't, even when we were in school.
Val and Brenda thought that... I just knew....
And Mom and Dad were afraid, too.
It was all impossible.
He just listened. And when I just cried after a while, he held my hand.
When I stopped, finished... he squeezed my fingers and turned my hand.
"All the kids got balloons yesterday."
I closed my eyes. I couldn't think that.
He put his other hand on mine, made it really warm.
"The lady from the store came up and every one of the kids got to choose a balloon they wanted." He said it really quietly.
"There are kids in other wards too, you know, and we figured out where they all were and she brought them each one, too. The nurses got together and paid for those." He pressed my hand in his.
"She even ran out, and had to get some from a store downtown."
He sounded different. I opened my eyes and he was looking at me and smiling, but his eyes were shiny.
He massaged my hand again, held it between his, covering it in warm.
"Your girlfriend gave you a balloon because she wanted you to feel happy when you woke up, didn't she?"
I nodded, after I thought that was right. Like she held me.
"And you gave a whole lot of kids some because you wanted them to feel happy too, didn't you?"
I had to look down at the bed.
"You made me very happy, too." He almost whispered and I looked at him again. What I wanted.
"You made me so happy yesterday. It was a sweet thing you did. Thank you."
He leaned down and hugged me hard and I cried, and it was a good one.
He said he didn't know what my school would be like, and maybe Carson and I and everyone needed to talk about that. Even if it was just me that was scared.
But he didn't think I'd done anything wrong, from everything I'd told him. He said I wasn't perfect, nobody was, and maybe I thought I had to be to keep my girl safe.
I think I nodded when he said safe.
"Carson might be able to keep you safe, do you think?"
I thought. She was bigger than me. A lot stronger. LOTS stronger now. But that didn't matter about the insults or... or the really bad stuff. That'd hurt her even worse. I shook my head.
"Oh, okay...." He almost smiled, but just because I was listening, I think. He didn't say anything else.
I couldn't make us safe. Even if I was different, a normal guy. Not gay. Not girly. Not stupid and saying too much. Not me. And I couldn't not be me. So I couldn't make us safe. Her safe. And Carson couldn't be safe because I was me.
Unless I was gone. And then she'd be alone, and I promised I never would. I couldn't think what else.
"Is it impossible?"
I looked at his face and he was serious, and I didn't even know if he was thinking the same things I was. What was impossible?
If.... If I wasn't at school... or if the school was safe, or if I could change, or we could always do stuff together. All of us. That'd be... safer, so it wasn't ~impossible~.
"No... not really...." I almost believed it when I said it.
"But pretty hard?"
"Yeah." But not impossible. If Brenda helped, and she would. And I knew she had some really good friends. And Carson too. We did.
Then she could be safe. From me. I guess I kinda said that out loud....
"You aren't really an especially positive person, are you?" He smiled at my face.
"And this from someone who made dozens of kids and nurses and parents and families smile? From someone who ~I~ think is sweet and loving and, yes, a major source of contagion, but still worth the risk?"
He showed he was willing to take the risk, too.
He rubbed my back.
"I know it's hard, and so much is happening, but you have a family that loves you, and a girl who thinks you're worth anything, and friends," he squeezed, "who love you too."
He let me go and sat up more. "None of them would say they want to be safe from you, would they?" He looked like he wanted me to answer.
I shook my head and looked down. He didn't know how it was better for everyone, before.
"Do your Mommy and Daddy love you?"
I had to look up. "Yes?"
He nodded too.
"And do Val and Carson, and Brenda love you?"
I nodded. Like Mom said.
"And are any of them mad if you're girlie, like your sister says?" He didn't wait. "Do any of them go ~eww!~ when you kiss the beautiful Carson?"
I had to smile.
"Does Carson get all mad when you cuddle with her!?" He did a great icky face.
"No. They even risk ~viruses~ from you!! They ~touch~ you!!" He touched me and wiped his finger on his pants and grinned at me.
"Honey, you bring love to them, not problems. You're not a problem." He looked like he was thinking. Then he looked me over and pulled me up for a hug again.
"You're a joy."
Mom said I still had to go see the counselor, but I could visit Paul too, if he didn't mind. He said he didn't, and grinned at her the same way I was.
She said I had to let him go, though... before we could go home.
He said his family would be mad if he brought me home too, at least if he didn't call first. Then he leaned down and whispered in my ear.
"Your Mommy will never hurt you on purpose, ever."
I was quiet in the car, thinking.
He said I was afraid of hurting everyone, but they didn't think so... that I would. On purpose.
And he said it was okay to be who I was. Even if I was afraid, it didn't make it bad. And he said I wasn't bad.
"Mom?" I was quiet, but I tried to sound okay.
"Yes?" She sounded like she was really interested.
"Remember I was... remember I asked you about love? Changing?"
She nodded and said yes. I had to think again, whether I wanted to ask. Paul said she'd never hurt me. I knew that already. But I didn't want to scare her. Hurt her on purpose.
I thought some more.
When we got home I was tired and sore, but I'd thought it through, as far as I could. I sat down at the front window and put my leg up.
She came and sat on the edge beside me. I think she knew it was the same thing.
"If I can't...." I still had to look down and hold my own hands.
"I think people are going to say... I'm... different." I held my hands tight and didn't look at her because I knew what she'd say.
"They're going to call me names and stuff." I breathed. "But I still want to go. To school. But I'm scared."
Mom looked like I thought she would. She was almost crying. And I still couldn't tell her I thought I... I had to be more... different... than I was, before.
I pushed over and hugged her. "I'm sorry, Mommy."
"It's okay, it's not bad." She moved and made me stop hugging and hugged me instead and held my head.
"I'm allowed to worry and be afraid for my baby, but we went today so you ~can~ go back, right? And I know you're worried about Mr. Lopez but that doesn't matter. You talk with Carson, okay?"
She hugged my head so hard I couldn't see.
"We'll love you, whatever you want to do."
It hurt too much to even cry.
I wanted to sleep where Mom could see me, so I had a nap on the sofa. But I hugged Strawberry under the blanket.
Mom got her for me.
End of Part 12
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