"Hey, girl"

"Hey, girl"

by Michelle Wilder
 
Internet, fiction... and life

 

---

"Hey, girl..."

My best friend smiled at me as he walked up.

I jerked - half-spun - looking for who Jamie was talking to, but there wasn't anyone else and we were both... nobody else... empty hall.... Oh god.

"Wha?!" It sounded like I coughed. Barely a real word....

"I said hey." He smiled like I was being deaf. "Hi, hello, howzzit going? Heavy earwax day?"

He'd been weird before before. He looked like he was being... not weird, now. He was my best friend. Allowed to be weird.

And I was too embarrassed to ask again. Too scared. Freaked. So I acted confused and said "Oh... hi.... Jamie..." and kept heading for class. I hoped he did too, but I sorta shut down my active scanning.

*
"Hi." Ivy smiled at me when I walked in and I guess that brought me back on line, but I knew I was going to have to wash up right after class, or stink. I smelled sour to me already.

I had another flash of fear after I sat down. But she'd just said hi.

"Is something wrong? You look funny." She sounded like her normal self, not like me.

"M'okay." I smiled, trying to be... trying to not sound like my heart was shuddering. I must've imagined Jamie. He was at the back of the classroom, but I didn't look.

*
Class started. Not that I paid any attention to Mr. Buhler. I didn't pay any attention to anything.

Just over and over and over, "girl."

I almost thought I must have makeup on, or a hundred other stupid, impossible nightmares.

My papers were... where they were. Not in school. Nobody knew. Just me. I showed nothing.

"Hey, girl."

Impossible. I was a stupid, ugly ape.

Girl.... He'd called me a girl. Or I was going crazy. It was crazy if he did.

---

Mr. Buhler closed his folder thing to signal class was over, as usual about two minutes before the bell when we could actually leave, and while everyone else did that end of class thing Ivy went back into 'what's wrong' mode. At least I could think again by then. Or pretend to, anyway.

"Trevor, you're white...." She sounded like she was worried.

I nodded. Or shook my head. I was shaky, so I guess pale was about right. I was scared, even more than when I sat down. It was real. Fifty minutes of getting more scared.

He ~had~ said girl. And he was at the back of the room. So my life was over. Knowing he knew made me dead. Simple as that. And dying is scary.

There were still two classes before lunch... then I thought...

What's the difference?

Just like that.

*
"I, Ivy, sorry. I don't feel... very good..."

I put my note book in my pack and couldn't get it zipped and couldn't and COULDN'T and left the stupid ugly thing open and grabbed it across the top, and... left it... I had to take it... and... just...

got out.

"Trevor!" I could hear Ivy coming after me and I took off. Ran. I couldn't see and still ran.

She ran better than me, being able to think, and see, and breathe, because she caught up in the hall and grabbed my arm and yelled.

"Trevor! STOP!! Stop it!"

Then Jamie was there too.

---

I spent a horrible I don't know how long telling the stupid vice principal that I was just feeling sick and him not believing me.

I didn't care. Just so long as I could leave.

I was planning... thinking about hanging, or a knife... in my heart, or my leg... I remembered hearing about the big artery there, maybe it'd hurt less.... And there wasn't any poison I could think of, or none I could stand to.

Planning suicide will make your answers pretty lame, I guess.

I didn't want to die....

*
The guidance guy asked the same things over and over a lot of times and made some phone calls. Ruined my life.

More.

*
I didn't have any drugs, or know which ones I could get that would work. Dad's heart stuff, but he needed that. I remembered that a fall, jump... over ten floors was supposed...

That... buildings, or a hotel. I could rent a room. But I'd need a credit card....

I didn't say any of that. I barely heard him. I just thought that. It was all I could think. The most important thing in my life was not being alive as fast as I could.

I didn't want to die.

Mom and Dad and Rick and Shelly. They'd never understand. Nobody would. I was gonna hurt everyone so bad, but I couldn't stay. They'd never understand.

So I had to leave.

Run away and disappear. Then I could call in a day or so, or a week... I didn't think I could stand a week, but a week would seem real, be time, and, and I'd tell them I was okay and that they didn't have to worry or anything, and then I could be gone. I couldn't live, away, but I could go away, be like I wasn't alive because I wasn't here.

They'd never know. They'd just think I was somewhere... else... and normal.

---

My mother came in. Said stuff to me. The counselor talked with her alone, about me, about how I was acting crazy, I guess.

But whatever he said, she gave me a hug after and there's no way he knew, so she didn't. All I know he told her was that I was sick.

So I went with Mom so she could drive us home... home. That I was gonna leave. I started to shake.

---

She drove somewhere else instead, to the hospital. A building beside the hospital. Because I was pale, she said.

*
I sat with her in a waiting room and then an examination room with a tall bed-thing and desk and it took a long time for me to figure out that it was because they knew what I'd thought. Before. And they weren't going to let me and it was too late because Mom knew.

So I'd already hurt them.

The only thing I could do was not tell them why. Or any more. The only thing I could do was nothing. A big dumb ape.

Jamie Finn said girl.

It was like my arm was a thousand pounds. I looked at it, and it was too much to move. How could I, if it was so heavy?

---

'Dr. Quentin,' his tag said. He made Mom go wait somewhere else and sat on the same chair she'd used. There wasn't another one.

He said I was acting in a way that was scaring my mother. Like that. I already knew that, she'd even said that. But when he said it, I was guilty.

He asked about drugs, and accidents. And he asked... stuff....

I didn't tell him anything, but I guess he got the big bucks because he could spot the queers. His questions were more and more obvious. Then he said things that made it for sure. He knew. Nobody would ask a normal boy...

At least he just thought I was gay.

He said I was maybe even going to stay in the hospital a few days, so I could, so they could... he said a lot of things.

What he meant was they were gonna watch me and stuff so they could decide if I was gonna be locked away.

I didn't want to die, but now I couldn't run away and disappear.

---

At the hospital - next building and we didn't even move the car - Mom took my arm and led me after a nurse told her how to find some place... upstairs.

A little office waiting room. Open to the hallway. Like it was an office building.

I could still leave. Dr. Quentin... knew something. Nothing else was different.

They'd know I was okay when I phoned. I'd do it twice, so it'd seem normal. It got better once I thought that. It would scare them less.

If I could go, and call twice, then it was all better. I'd be far away and find a place to....

I decided on water, drowning. I almost did once and it didn't really hurt. I wondered why I hadn't thought of that first.

But I'd have to leave home. Go home.

---

A new doctor, Doctor Waltrup, came and said hello and then Mom went with him and he said they'd be back in a few minutes. And the woman at the desk, there, could see me.

He said that to Mom.

*
I'd cancel my e-mail and my profiles, and reformat my computer, then take my stories and throw them out where nobody'd know they were mine, or burn them... and I'd need to pack like I was really going.

I ~was~ really going.

*
I'd take Mom's book, and Rick's jersey and Shelly's earrings and... and....

I didn't have anything from Dad. Really from him.

*
When Mom came back out I was crying because I didn't have a single, solitary stupid ANYTHING from Dad....

---

After he asked Mom to wait outside, Dr. Waltrup talked to me.

They knew.

Mom told him.

Mom and Dad and everyone. Mom had found my stories and drawings years and years ago, when I first started them.

Shelly told Mom she thought I was in her stuff and she'd thought I was gay or something. And Rick found my stuff too, a different time, because we had the same room. He'd read my stories. He'd told Mom and Dad about them, but they already knew.

Dad had read them. Dad.

They all knew everything I ever wrote. Everything I ever thought. Or did.

Everything I ever thought was secret.

My parents had showed it all to other doctors, years ago. People I didn't even know... knew.

My friends didn't know, at least from them. But none of what I was planning mattered. Just that my worst nightmare was happening.

He said girl.

... Jamie Finn knew. My best friend.

I had to decide if I could live, or if dying was still better, now. They'd still know.

But they knew....

And I was still alive.

---

Dr. Waltrup said I could go home. I talked with him maybe two hours, and then some lady, and then Mom and I waited hours and hours, and then he talked to Mom some more, and then me... and he said I wasn't a high risk and I could go home.

I couldn't imagine what a high risk was, when all I wanted was to disappear, but I was better than high risk. So I guess that was medium risk.

Medium risk is being able to plan destroying everything you have and running away and... and drowning instead of... something.

---

The ride home was unreal. I expected to find everyone from school... waiting at the curb, laughing and maybe with bats or guns. Knives. I knew that wouldn't happen, but it felt that way. Jamie ~must~ know. He said, "Hey, girl."

Everything was collapsing to zero as we drove, and when we reached home: nothing. I'd die at home. I knew they wouldn't really be there, but it was still...

How could I talk to Shelly... or see Dad? See how he looked at me? Mom said Dad was at home, and Shelly would be.... It was after supper time.

I knew it wouldn't work, even if I'd told the doctor that I'd give it a try. Even if Mom said it wasn't bad. Even if I couldn't see how I could kill myself without hurting them even more... that's what I had to do. Or leave.

All my wishes and dreams were, had... that nobody would ever know. And they knew. I couldn't even read the stupid stories people wrote about fantasies where everyone was nice. The world wasn't like that.

When I was little there was a murder in the news. A man dressed as a woman was stabbed in the back of a bar by someone he didn't even know. That was the world. It was better to be dead first, before that happened. Better than being a fag joke on TV, and dead.

Even the best parts of the internet were fantasy....

*
Mom acted like everything was normal. She drove like she usually did, even trying to smile. And It was all phony. Her son was a queer freak. They knew it, for absolute sure, they always knew it and they still pretended. It was like the sun was getting dim.

---

Rick's Jeep was in the driveway. He was supposed to be at college. Five hours drive away.

And he knew all the stuff I used to write when he lived with us. He always knew. He saw my drawings....

He was sitting on the steps.

I had an idea. I was going to pretend like it never happened, that nobody knew. That it was like a week ago. Like this morning. Then I could still eat, or talk. Or look at them. Lie. I could do it for a couple of days.

Rick stood up and came over to the car as Mom parked. He pretty well ignored Mom and opened my door and waited, looking at me.

He wouldn't hurt me there, with them, so I got out. I don't know why, but I thought he really would hurt me.

Instead, he hugged me and... started to cry. Shook.

Mom patted his back or something, and Dad came out and around and said stuff like "It's okay..."

And he just kept doing it.

"I'm sorry, Trev..."

I tried to step away, or get him to let me go. I was still scared of him and he was really making it worse, different. When I moved he let go, and looked in my face again.

He ~was~ crying, like I'd heard. He'd never cried before, since I was a baby. He looked different, less big, less like he would say "fag."

He never said that. Ever, to anyone. And he knew, for years.

Suddenly I wasn't afraid of him. Like a wave. I just stared at him. It was like the sun got a little bit brighter and I wasn't afraid ~one~ person would hurt me... and his jersey I used to pretend was a nightie...

He hugged me again, harder, and it wasn't scary at all, even hugging back.

*
Mom made us all go inside.

We sat in the kitchen and she made coffee and all that, like when her friends visited. Like when Rick came home some weekends, special.

Rick and Mom. And Dad, who was smiling at Rick and me.

I over-thought everything.

*
I didn't know what to do. I wanted to run away. I wanted to hide in my room. I wanted to see Rick, even if he was so different. And I didn't want to make Mom and Dad more worried. So I sat and didn't say anything and looked at them. Him. All of them. At their hands.

Rick was bigger. He was always bigger, more muscles and maybe almost taller, from working out and practice. He was on the varsity team, though he said he wasn't ever going to be a pro even if he'd been a hero in high school and gotten a full scholarship. But he was bigger every time I saw him. More adult, maybe. He had a taped up hand, like maybe a sprain, and his eyes were red. And he was trying to smile.

"You brought your things with you, Rick?"

Dad sounded phony-serious, like he does when he's emotional. He always pretends the wrong feeling. Like when one of us is going away or something, he smiles and laughs tiny little fake laughs and says obvious things and you can tell he's hiding it all and it's so fake it's nice.

When we finally say goodbye, even for a short trip away, like camp or something, Dad always gives this little hug and says "You call if you need anything, okay?" And he almost cries every time and his eyes get bluer. But he smiles. I remember when Rick left the first year for college....

"Is your car unlocked? I can go out and bring your things in..." Dad was almost stood up and gone before Rick laughed. Dad always wants to carry our bags, even Rick's.

"I already brought them in, Dad, thanks." He looked at me like a wink, but didn't wink. I remembered there was a big duffle at the door to the garage.

Mom set a plate of cookies on the table and sat down. "I'll make up the couch..."

"Is there still an extra bed in your room?"

Rick looked at me. He didn't say 'my old bed' or 'our room.' Or 'my room.' And he always used the hideabed in the den on his last visits, since... Christmas. A year ago. But he asked me this time.

I nodded. I could see him in his old bed, remember the noise of him for all those years, and when he visited, before. I'd resented him then, that I didn't have my own room, but after he stopped... I wanted him back. I hated how lonely it was since he left. And then he didn't even sleep in his bed....

I suddenly saw what Dad did.

"Can I take your bags up?" I looked at him like I could make him see that. That I wanted his stuff back in ~our~ room. He smiled and nodded.

"Thanks. That'd be great. I'd like to talk with Mom and Dad some more, too."

As I was getting up Dad said "That's nice of you, Trevor," and I tried to smile for him too.

I realized that they were doing normal things, and I was too, because it felt really, really important. But Rick being home, and in our room, that was special.

They were beside the door. I hoisted his pack on my shoulder and lugged the big one and probably marked up the stairway paint a little, but it was really nice to put them on his old bed. I made sure they lined up.

I took my magazines and CDs and school books off his bed and then looked around. His dresser was mine now so I took out all of my stuff from the top three drawers and put it on the floor and left them open a few inches, so he'd see.

His things were mostly gone from the walls and all, and I went to the closet and dug out his game ball and put it back on the dresser where he always kept it before.

Then I sat on his bed and looked at it, and the drawers, and leaned over on his bags and cried.

*
They weren't saying anything. Anything about me, about what they all knew. And Rick...

I used to hate that he was so happy the way he was, and I couldn't be. But that's not what I wished for... and what really got so much harder once he wasn't there, so strong and popular and good at football and basketball and dating and all.

After he left it was like real life was a fantasy too.

I missed him so much I couldn't stand it. Or understand either. He'd come back for Thanksgiving or Christmas or whatever and each time was like... really special that he was... here. On his bed. Here. In our room.

Then he said he wanted to stay in the den, and he went further away, even when he was here....

"Hey?"

I sat up and tried to hide that I was crying but he walked right in fast anyway, and sat down beside me.

"Hey, there... what's wrong?" He didn't touch me, but was close and didn't say it loud. I wiped my eyes and couldn't think of what I could say. I thought I should get up.

"You put my ball back... and drawers... thanks."

I looked at it a second and made a huff noise and then he did hug me.

"What's wrong?" He whispered it like he didn't understand. Like everything he knew about me wasn't anything. Or anything bad.

"Mom and Dad told me what happened.... It doesn't matter, you know." He still hugged me, even though he knew what. Even saying it. He didn't before. I wouldn't let him....

"They... there's nothing wrong." He stopped, and then whispered.

"I didn't used to understand them... your stories... and they scared me for a while, but Mom, she said they were dreams that you had... and that's why they were like that, you, but not you, and I had to keep them secret." He put his head on mine and then lifted it again.

"I've read a lot about stories like yours, since then... and even met some other people who wrote the same kinda things too." He made a little change in his voice.

"I've gone to some seminars... all sorts of stuff. And the internet...."

I jerked at that and tensed up, fast. He just hugged me really hard.

"I've met with some wonderful people there."

He lifted his head back and looked at me and then touched mine again with his forehead.

"I'm Jerry."

I felt like throwing up. Dizzy and hot. I chatted with a Jerry all the time. I told him everything I thought, and wished... and everything.

Jerry. There must be thousands of Jerrys...

He hugged me harder and whispered softer.

"It's good to meet you, Suzy Q."

Suzy. Susan Elizabeth. Me.

*
Rick said he used search engines and went to about a hundred different sites, over and over again to look for me, and found me about two years ago... and logged in as Jerry a year and a half ago.

Jerry'd told me he was seventeen and a junior, and had a transgender brother who was 15. Who he just found out about. We'd had a lot to chat about and did most of it on IM after a few weeks. And... he was my best friend on-line.

He was the only one who ever called me Suzy Q.

My brother was Jerry.

*
After about ten minutes of him crying a little bit and me keeping it up, he made us sit up more and then stop hugging as hard, and doing it seemed to make the crying easier to stop, and then he stood up and made me stay sitting. He wiped his face again on his sleeve and said, "Wait."

He unzipped his duffle and pulled out some clothes and stuff and then a box wrapped in yellow paper.

"Happy Birthday, Suzy." He gave it to me and smiled.

I looked at it, took it, a shirt box... light. And remembered what we'd talked about, in the chat.

"Oh, no..."

"Open it?" He smiled and did that little hand movement. I looked back at it. Then tore the tape loose on one end.

It was the nightgown. Ice blue satin. Really simple, with spaghetti straps. So beautiful, like I'd wished for out of an internet catalogue. Like I was wishing on a star or something, typing it to someone who I thought was a thousand miles away and would never, ever see.

Because he'd said I had to have dreams, and I was just like his little sister.

I could barely touch it, and wanted to feel it on my face....

"I know it's a little late, but I really had to see you first."

I looked up and was suddenly embarrassed that he saw me with it, here, in the real world. That ~anyone~ saw me with... a girl thing. He just smiled more.

"There's more in the box."

I looked and there were the matching panties. And camisole.

And he pulled a little white teddy bear out of the bag, with a matching blue ribbon.

*
He said I could put my lingerie away if I wanted, but he couldn't see any reason for me to hide my bear.

I'd never had a stuffed animal that I could even remember. I'd always tried to never have anything that a girl might like, even if lots of boys did. Like as if I'd never had a girl thought, even when I was a baby.

I didn't want to put the bear - ~my~ bear - away. I wanted to hug it, but I was afraid to with Rick watching. So I just sat there. Looked at it.

He sat on the bed again and took the bear and wrapped his arms around both of us.

"It's okay to want to have a pretty thing, or a cute bear. I've kept it on my dresser in the apartment and tell everyone who sees it that it's for my little sister and it makes me think of her." He smiled in his voice.

"All the guys think I'm a big suck and want to meet you if you visit 'cause I told them you're really cute."

I lurched and probably would have strangled my bear if he hadn't hugged even harder.

"I told them you're a ~girl~, remember? Like you are... little sister?" He rocked me.

"I've been talking with you for a long time, more than we ever did... when I was living here. All that time, you were, I mean, you really are a girl, you know? Did you know that you're the same as the girls I chat with, or talk to on the phone, or in person?"

He was quiet after that, just holding us.

"When you aren't trying to be a boy so hard."

He rocked me for a long while.

*
"Did you tell Mom and Dad?"

"The online stuff? No."

I was lying down by then, with my bear, Pinky, watching Rick unpack and look at my things and his old things...

"Do you want me to?"

I thought about it. They already knew everything else... Mom and Dad. And Shelly. And doctors... But they didn't know about the internet.

I nodded, but was too afraid to say.

After a few seconds he said it could wait.

---

Mom had a late supper ready by the time Shelly got home and we were all sitting in the living room with the news channel on, Rick and me on the couch and he had his arm around my shoulders.

It was incredible to be sitting with someone who knew me. I wasn't really watching the news. I was hardly keeping my eyes open.

"Hi, everyone! HI RICK!!" Shelly dropped her pack and jumped down the steps and ran over to us. Rick got up and wrapped her in a huge hug.

"Hi, sis. How's the play?" He let her go before she spazzed. Easy question.

"Oh! OH!! We're doing 'Our Town' and it reads really slow but you wouldn't ~BELIEVE~ how powerful it is on stage! Even Mr. Morton cried once! The lighting is all over the place, dark and spooky and then bright and daylight, and the whole set is almost a copy from the Broadway one fifty years ago and totally weird but it works and it's all way better than you could imagine and you ~have~ to come and see it, I'll get you fifth-row tickets if you can? Please?"

He leaned down and kissed her hair and she just stopped. And he smiled.

"I'd love to see it."

Mom and Dad looked as freaked as Shelly.

Rick is a jock. Not a mean one, or stupid, but he ~never~ kissed anyone's hair. He ~never~ said "I'd love to."

But Jerry would. Jerry never said he was a jock. Jerry'd asked what I wanted for my birthday and then told me it was beautiful when I told him what I'd seen and where. Jerry was Rick and ~Rick~ bought me a little bear and found a ribbon to match.

I started to cry a bit just at how I thought maybe none of my nightmares would come true. Rick and Shelly both sat down with me.

---

He told them about the internet while we ate dinner, after he asked me again if it was okay. He sat beside me, which was different than we used to sit, and I didn't really have to say much about anything.

"Who's... I mean, where's ~Jerry~ from?" Shelly waited until he was completely finished to ask her questions, like the uber-student she is. I looked at Rick. I hadn't thought of that. I'd thought Jerry was real.

"Springer. I thought it was ironic." He grinned at her like she'd just been out-drama-ed. Whatever the right word is.

"That's so lame."

"It's ironic."

"It's ~not~ ironic. If nobody gets it, it's lame."

"If everyone had ~gotten~ it then Suzy wouldn't have chatted with me, would you?!" He grinned at me like 'back me up!'

"Ironic? Like... metal?" I tried to look stoned.

He spoiled it by laughing.

---

We mostly talked about Rick all evening, about his classes and football and his hand (he sprained his wrist in a practice) and his new girlfriend for the last three months, Dawn.

When we talked about me at all, Shelly asked the most. About the doctors that day and stuff like that, but she had a ton of homework for the play since she was doing lighting and apparently that was a lot of work.

---

Shelly came across and knocked on the door to our room around ten. I was having a five minute freeze-up over my new... things. Rick was doing a five minute whine that I didn't want to even wear his present??

But he was ~there~... and Mom and Dad, and even if it was... even if they wouldn't laugh at me, or hurt me, it was too scary. But it was too wonderful, too.

Freeze-up.

So Shelly knocked and I jumped and Rick laughed because I was still fully dressed and he got up to unlock the door (which he'd locked for me).

"You two decent?"

"I'm ~so~ far beyond decent..." Rick laughed like he'd been doing and flopped back on his bed. "Suzy's closer to the median tonight."

"Gol-lee! Collidge wurds!" Shelly laughed back and walked around to sit on my bed. "Oh, that's soooo cute!!"

Before I could look around she'd grabbed Pinky and was half looking and half cuddling her. I had to decide whether to run. Or to do what I did, which was to turn pale and freeze again.

"I got her that for a late birthday present." He grinned at me and it turned into a big smile. "It matches."

"Matches what?" Shelly looked around and I went a lot less pale and glared at him to shut up.

"Matches what? And how come you're blushing? That's so cute too!" She looked at both of us.

"What's it match?" She bounced around half way with Pinky in her lap and grinned just at me.

"Yea, Suzy? What's it match?" He was just like before she came in.

Then he stepped over and sat down and hugged me, all in one smooth motion.

"It's okay..." He talked really normally. "You're allowed. You're a girl and you're allowed and we won't laugh and we'll keep you safe." He squeezed hard.

"Ask Shelly what she thinks."

I was too afraid to even open my eyes. It was suddenly all too close again, or... them, people looking at me. Then the bed moved behind me and Shelly touched my hand.

"I think it's great having a little sister, okay?"

I still wouldn't open my eyes.

"We've known a long time, you know? I mean, we figured out about you a long time ago. It's okay. I was mad you were in my stuff 'til Mom told me to just let you, or why. But we... I never was mad at you, really..."

She made Rick move an arm and she leaned against me and put Pinky in my lap. Held it there. I took her. I guess I opened my eyes a bit.

"We even bought some stuff just for you, you know." I could hear her smile. "That blue dress was for you."

I had to look. I knew which dress she meant. It was beautiful... I couldn't think.

I'd liked the way I looked for... years and years. When I got too big and couldn't button it up I'd felt awful.

I looked at her and she had tears and was all sad.

"I know." She really started to cry.

*
I showed her the nightie and all and she said they were beautiful and the perfect color for me and I should probably shave my legs too, and everything else. She had some cream remover she gave me to try and said it was easier and better, if it worked, and I might need to shave first anyway, but not too carefully, which was easier.

She said waxing was even better, but I shouldn't since I was a big suck.

Rick laughed and Shelly reached over and pulled Pinky away and I tried to get her and she tossed her to Rick and he cuddled her and smiled at me and I must have looked like he was the biggest traitor and Shelly sat closer and hugged me.

"Hey... We're allowed to fool with you. You're our little sister, and that's what brothers and sisters do." She smiled. "And we'll kick the teeth out of anyone who really hurts you, okay?"

She must have signaled something to Rick because she had Pinky again and pressed her into my arms.

"And you don't really have to shave if you don't want to, but you can, and it feels nice."

She kissed my cheek and put her head on my shoulder.

*
I finally put on the nightie and panties after Shelly went to bed and Rick left the room to put on his pajamas in the bathroom, and then I hid under the covers.

When he came back he was really quiet and I had to peek out after a while. He was just standing by the door and smiling and then he turned out the light and I thought he was just going to his bed but he stepped around and leaned down and kissed my head.

"Sweet dreams, Suzy."

---

Saturday. I wasn't missing school, wasn't at the hospital to see a doctor, and... I felt like... like maybe I could be even a little bit me, without hiding.

The first day in my life I hadn't really thought about lying. I hugged Pinky.

I looked at Rick. He was still asleep, flat on his back. The bed was too small for him and his feet almost hung over the end. He was sagged down in the mattress too. I'd never noticed, when he was back for visits, before.

I looked at Pinky again. She was incredibly soft and squishy. Her ribbon had a perfect bow and I wondered if Rick tied it, if he did it over and over until he got it perfect. I looked back at him and thought about all the things that were different than... he was before.

Like I didn't feel as ugly, just because of him.

By the time he finally moved, I'd almost gotten used to the idea a little.

*
"Rick?"

"G'mornin' Suzy." He rolled over and smiled at me.

"Morning." I smiled at him too.

"You look really nice in that."

I looked down at my nightie. I was sitting up, kinda petting Pinky.

"Thanks." I got a bit redder, I think, but I wasn't embarrassed, just that he'd said it. "It really is beautiful. Thank you... for it."

"It was really hard to pick out. I had to look and look..." He grinned and I had to laugh.

After a few seconds though, I tried to ask what I wanted and it came out a bit wrong.

"You're really different...." I stopped when I thought that sounded bad.

"Yeah, well." He propped up on his arm and looked at me, at my face, serious. "Okay... I want to say a lot, so just listen, okay?"

I guess I nodded or something. He got ~really~ more serious.

"When Dad called and said you were at the hospital, I thought you'd tried to kill yourself, and it would've been my fault because I could've told them about what we talked about."

He held up his hand at me.

"Or I coulda come here and told you it was me, even a year ago, and then it might've been easier for you." He sat all the way up and faced me. He was calm, but really intense.

"I've been trying to... to learn how to be a good brother for you. I know I wasn't the crappiest one, before, in school and all... I tried then, I mean, I wasn't a monster or anything, but, after I found your stuff, your drawings and stories, right after, I was afraid I was gonna be explaining my brother the freak for the rest of my life, for a while, but Mom and Dad set me straight on that...." He looked at Pinky, I think.

"Mom said I had to think what ~I'd~ be like if I felt like you, if I was a girl, what I'd have to do, what it'd be like, to go to school and be in a room with a brother, and hide who I was."

He looked back at me and he had a really hurt face. "I tried to always think about that, what if I was a girl, what would it be like. I guess I didn't really do a very good job." He tried to smile.

"I mean, I never had posters or any girlie stuff like Playboy or that in here, because of that. I figured that would be bad... for you, if I did." He looked down.

"I know it's dumb, but I only really started to learn how to, to understand you when I got online at the Uni, and when we started to talk, and not just do that 'what if' stuff, or theories.... I put it all together, that you're real, a real girl... not just a story, or a name or a syndrome or something, and that I had to...." He made a funny jerk.

He pushed his sheets off and sat over on my bed and took my hand.

"Dad said you were in the hospital and I almost died right then, and then he said you were okay and it was because of all this, and I told him I was coming back and he said you'd like that... that you respected me." He twisted my hand, like feeling it all over it. Then he looked in my eyes. He had tears.

"I don't want you to respect me and I don't want to respect you, okay?

"I want you to be a little sister who isn't afraid and... I'm... not going to hide who ~I~ am either, and... lie any more because if you'd died I would have too, you know?"

He talked faster and faster like it hurt.

"I know what you're like and, and... how you are when you don't hide." He leaned over and pulled me and almost crushed me.

"I wanna try... to... to stop pretending... and, and you have to be alive for that, okay? And I'm your big... I wanna be your big brother and ~have~ a littlest sister? Okay?"

He was crying harder than I ever did, bigger. I tried to listen, understand what he was saying, I patted his arm with my free hand, rubbed it, and he pulled me so I leaned my head on his chest.

"I promise."

He quieted for a second, got still. I hugged harder.

"I really promise."

---

It took a long time before I felt better, like getting up. But I felt better.

I was too scared to wear any of my new things or even show them to Shelly but Rick said that was okay, I didn't have to do anything just because he thought I looked cute or pretty or beautiful or any of that....

In other words, except for being bloodshot-eyed, he was back to his new normal. He even said I looked cute in my regular jeans and t-shirt and kissed my cheek. And held my hand down the stairs.

He said he was catching up because even his last visit he didn't even get to hug me because I never hugged, before.

Shelly was up already and making breakfast stuff which was different than usual but I guess Rick being home was special, so it was more like a holiday. Even if Mom wasn't up, like a holiday.

"G'morning, Suzy!" She smiled at me like it was funny and great to say that, or watch me squirm.

"I'm chopped liver? Beneath notice? Same old? Just arm candy?" Rick took my arm and pouted.

Shelly looked at him like he was acting weird. Nuts.

I sure didn't know what to say. I loved the new, improved Rick. He was Jerry, and he was my brother, and whatever he was, he made everything less scary.

But not funny. I patted his hand.

"There, there." I looked at Shelly. "Issues."

She laughed and said a really exaggerated "Good ~morning~ Rick!" and he acted huffy and went to pour some coffee and then had to make it, and I sat down. But then, after a second, I got up to lean on the counter and watch him from closer.

He looked at me and smiled a little and then he touched me, like, tag. He moved so every time he did something, like going to the pantry or whatever, he bumped me with his shoulder, or hip-checked me just a touch. And he smiled like he thought it was fun.

I felt better, even though I hadn't felt bad. Then Shelly elbow-brushed me when she walked by with some toast even though it wasn't on her way to the table and smiled at me like it was a joke.

"So, Rickie, still like your eggs easy over?" She kind of skipped over to the stove and squeaked open the egg carton.

"Please! Call me ~Rich-ard~ now! Rickie is so juvenile, and I'm a ~college~ man, poised on the cusp of the world of debt, wage-slavery and... not-student... ing..." He had to dig for the last one. But he kept up his adult smile.

"So... sunny side up?" Shelly made it sound like it was the logical thing.

"Naw... easy over. I miss the old days." He smiled at me like he'd won. Shelly snorted, which she always makes sound like sniffing. She can't whistle, either.

Rick finished at the coffee-maker and turned it on and then took my hand and went to the table and held a chair for me.

"Have a seat my dear, and I will make my fingers yucky with raw bacon while your charming sister and I entertain you with displays of wit and sophistication...." He held a finger up. "Or I could get the morning paper and you can read the funnies?"

"You are totally off your rocker, aren't you?" Shelly almost sounded like she meant it and I suddenly felt like he was making it all too odd, or different. But he stopped and sounded totally normal. And not mad or anything. Or happy, even.

"Nope. Just..." He put his hand on my chair back and touched me with a finger.

"I'm celebrating." He twiddled his finger and I looked at him and he was looking at me and smiled again. "You."

He leaned down and kissed my hair and then grinned and walked over to the stove.

"Soooo... I'm in a good mood. Sue me." He stood too close to Shelly so she had to move and she laughed and waved the spatula at him like a wand.

"Okay then! Poof! You're Sue... too!"

---

Dad came down and we could hear Mom upstairs. Shelly was already making his eggs before he sat down and looked at all of us and made his little "Heh!" laugh.

"Well, it's good to have all the children back in the house." He looked at Rick and smiled even more. "I know you can't stay too long, but we... it means a lot to your brother that you're here." Dad always makes little speeches.

Rick leaned over and squeezed his shoulder and smiled back. I could tell Dad really liked that and I know Rick never did that before. Then he leaned back over towards me more and shoulder bumped my arm again.

"Lil' sister already told me she's happy I'm here, Dad. Thanks."

Dad turned all red in the second before I ducked. But he was still smiling.

"Well, I guess... I guess that's right, isn't it?" He made his 'heh' laugh again, just like usual. I looked up. He was looking at me and smiling.

"I'll have to get used to having another little girl to spoil, though we've spent all the money on Rick and his university... Shelly's going to have to get married right after college so we won't have to support her, but the wedding will be expensive... I guess there might be a dollar or two for you... maybe a special hair clip or a... fingernail polish...."

He kept smiling like he thought was acting cool.

Then, all of a sudden, Shelly made a noise and started crying and just about fell on Dad and he held her and kinda rocked and when I could see, he was smiling.

Rick made me sit over so we were both on my chair and he hugged me.

"See? I knew it'd be okay," he whispered and I could tell he was smiling his head off. Watching Dad and Shelly be happy.

---

Mom came down and was surprised at all the red eyes and how happy we all were and I guess a bit at how they were acting. Like a TV family, all polite and full sentences and 'Daddy dearest' (even Rick).

Rick told her Dad had to be waited on hand and foot since he was the 'master of the house' and Dad smiled all expansive and royal and said "Only as it should be!" and Mom looked funny mad and then they did it for me too, since Rick said I was the baby of the family and shouldn't be expected to work for my supper any more than the lord and master! and Dad waved like 'make it so...'

It was great.

So I sat there, with everyone... and Rick back, and everyone happy.

Dad made a movement, or noise, and we all looked at him and he was doing his 'looking at my family' look again, and him doing that meant more than anything, because everything ~was~ different. And he was the same.

After what... happened... it all made sense. But I was still embarrassed that they were doing things around me, for me, and all the hospital stuff and worries. That I might have to see a therapist.

I was different, even if they all knew before, but not like now. Just that ~I~ knew... changed them, everything. But I was learning too, whatever you call getting used to something.

Dad looked at me, and his 'proud of my family' eyes never changed. Rick saw, too.

---

Dad and I sat beside each other on the couch looking at the paper. I had the comics and sports, he had the local news. I'd started out at the other end of the couch, but he'd opened his arm and asked if I wanted to come and see the paper. Then he hugged me while we read.

Mom was doing the crossword and humming. Shelly was doing more homework in the kitchen.

Rick was showering and singing really loudly, out of tune. Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy. He was funnier than the comics, especially when he made up un-rhyming lyrics about football players for the parts he didn't remember. Even after he finished and it got quiet, it was funnier. The comics had about one laugh a month, Rick's singing was hilarious.

The doorbell rang.

Shelly jumped up from the kitchen table and ran upstairs because she still only had her housecoat on over her pajamas and Mom got up to answer it. Dad and I both put the paper down on our laps.

It was Jamie and Ben and Ivy. I must have looked like I was going to panic or something ('cause I was!), but Dad squeezed his arm around my shoulders again and pulled me close. Jamie saw me and gave me a little grin, so the other two did too, but Jamie looked at Mom. Then back at me. And Dad, I guess.

"Morning, Miz Lastman. We wanted to come see if Trevor... I mean...." Jamie looked back at Mom. "Can he have visitors?" He can do polite with the best.

I'd just almost gotten used to home being different, so fast, but outside was still... the same. They were my best friends, but...

Jamie had said girl, in school. Even if he ~couldn't~ know. But they knew I'd been at the hospital. And they knew it wasn't for any cut or virus. And... girl.

Dad squeezed my arm with his hand. "Do you want to see your friends?" he asked really quietly. "Whatever you want."

I sat there. I couldn't think fast enough, or slow enough... maybe I was afraid they'd make everything in the house bad again. I didn't really believe that, but it was a cold feeling in my stomach.

Rick stomped down the stairs, or just came fast. He smiled at me and then looked out the door over Mom.

"Hey, guys. Hi Finn! Come to see Trev?"

"Hi, Rick. Yeah..."

Jamie knew my brother really well, since back when we were in middle school, when Rick was still in high school. Ben didn't know him very well, I guess, but Ivy hung out with me a lot and knows Rick from every time he was home. She smiled at him like he was odd-looking or something, but she always does.

Anyway, Rick looked at them over Mom and they sorta switched to him instead of her and me, and Ivy spoke up.

"Can Trevor come out to play, or does he have to stay inside and can we come in and play too if he has to? We'll be quiet. Please?" She did it completely straight.

Rick grinned at her like she was smarter than the boys. "What are you, twelve now?"

He looked over at me and then back at them.

"How's about we talk outside for a second, okay?" He looked at me again and did question eyes as he stepped around Mom and kissed her cheek and shut the door. He didn't explain his look either.

Mom looked at us, and touched her cheek like she'd been slapped. She looked really confused.

"What's gotten into that boy?"

Dad wrapped his other arm around me and asked again what I wanted to do, and Mom came over too.

I still wasn't even dealing with Rick, or what he'd say to them, or what they'd say. He wouldn't do anything to be scared of. And he wouldn't let them say anything I had to be scared of. But he was different. And Jamie Finn, right outside, right there, had said girl.

"Who was it?" Shelly ran downstairs, dressed. I guess she saw the way we were sitting and slowed right down and then looked out the door window. "What happened?"

"Oh, just Trevor's friends. Rick's out with them, Jamie and Ivy and Ben." Mom sounded alright, but she was looking at me instead of Shelly.

Shelly switched from normal to hard, mad, cold in just a second. I suddenly knew what she was thinking. That she knew what happened, that they all did... "I don't think he meant it! I think it was an accident!"

"How could it be an accident!?" She looked at me cold, too. "Look what he did."

"I don't think he was being mean, or insulting me or anything... on purpose...."

I didn't really believe that. It hurt so much that Jamie had said that, that he'd hurt me....

She changed a bit then, like her face un-tensed. And she sat down on the arm of the couch. "You don't want me to go punch him out?"

I had to look again to see if she meant it, and still wasn't sure. "No... please?"

"Darn." She smiled a little sadly. Dad moved, and moved me, and Shelly smiled better.

"It'd be nice if I could at least blame someone..."

I shut down. Lights out, like ~I'd~ been punched. I was still there, but in a different world. Dad pulled me around and Mom or Shelly or both of them touched me.

Dad said, "It's okay...."

I guess the others said something too, but it was Dad's arms and his voice, not like he was pretending to be grownup, like usual, but like I'd scraped my knee and I was five. Like it was really okay, because if he said it, it was. Like he used to be. Or like I used to be.

I had ten minutes being cuddled and reassured. And it was... things were different.

"I'm better..." I pulled away from Dad a little so I could say that. So I could look like I was grown up more than I felt. "Thanks."

I didn't know why, but I kissed his cheek. Maybe because Shelly did it sometimes and I was jealous when she did. But I think because I couldn't say thank you enough.

He looked at me for just a second, all surprised, and then kissed my forehead and hugged me harder, right to his chest.

"You're very, very welcome."

Then, just when I was going to understand, he whispered, "My girl."

---

Rick came in and they told him it wasn't anything bad, and he got Shelly to go out and stall them a little longer and made Dad hand me over or something and anyway I ended up between them, Dad and Rick. Mom said she was gonna make more coffee.

---

Rick must've studied a lot more than football and business math. He and Dad talked, and I un-hun'ed and listened, and thought. And it only took as long as Mom and the coffee.

Rick said doing normal things made life normal, and being with people would make me feel alive.

Seeing Jamie and Ben and Ivy was normal. And they were my normal friends.

And I really ~didn't~ think Jamie would have tried to do something so mean to me. Or even that he could, I mean, that it was impossible that he'd even know. And then he wouldn't.

But it still hurt that he did.

*
When I said I wanted to see them, Rick said he'd go with me, and we went out front.

---

They were talking about the play, or Shelly was telling them about it and we'd read it in English last year and seen an old movie of it so I guess her lighting-talk made sense, but she stopped when the door opened and I looked out, like Neil Armstrong on the moon.

I wonder if he worried about the air running out?

Ivy scooted over and made room on the top step and I sat between her and Shelly.

"Hi." Ivy said, like I'd run away or something if she scared me. Since the last any of them had seen of me I ~was~ trying to do that, I guess. I bet they thought Rick was home just to catch me.

"Hi." I looked around, at their knees. Maybe that wasn't looking at them... I was ~really~ thinking.

"Are you okay?" Ben was looking right at me while I was looking at his leg. Unless he was looking at my leg. So I looked up. He looked like he was seeing an accident.

After just a second, Rick said something like "It was a major emotional crisis for all of us but we're already better than before, right?"

He sounded odd. I had to think about what he said longer than everyone else, though, because they were all talking at him or each other when I finally figured it out. He was right. And it wasn't all about who I was. Sitting in one of the folding chairs on the top step, he smiled and winked at me when he saw I was looking.

They were asking all sorts of questions. I only heard Rick.

"Want to answer that, oh youngest sibling unit?" He leaned over and nodded at me.

"What... that?"

He grinned more and looked at Jamie. So I did too. He was looking at me like I was still in that accident. It was all just a bit too fast... still. Emotional crisis and all.

"Sorry... the drugs and electric shock.... What?" I guess it worked because he smiled.

"I said... now listen carefully...." He grinned and spoke very slowly. "Will you be back at school on Monday?"

I hadn't thought about that.

I guess they waited longer than was comfortable, because Ben moved. But I had an answer.

"I think so... I want to, but I'm not really sure yet?" I tried to smile. It wasn't really a good thing, going back, but if I was okay at home, if I wasn't freaking about what happened. Then, yes.

Shelly leaned over into my shoulder. After she got my attention, she nodded up and pulled me up to my feet and then inside and closed the door. It was weird, because she didn't say anything. And I wasn't thinking. And they didn't say anything.

Standing in the front hall, she looked at me in the eyes, all worried, and then whispered even though Mom and Dad were there and could probably hear.

"Do you want to ask Jamie about what he said? Or tell them anything? Maybe now's the time."

Mom and Dad both heard, and sorta freaked, all, 'He shouldn't rush in,' and 'Wait until the doctor....'

Shelly sounded like a parent, too. Even whispering.

"~She~ can't pretend anymore, which is pretty clear from yesterday, and they're her friends and even if it's still got to take years or however long... for her to transition or anything, then she still has to start." She smiled at me.

"And it's not like she's just in a 'phase,' is it?"

Even I thought about about the thousand times I'd... done everything. Dreamed. Wished. Cried.

The years and years.

*
She went out and got Rick for a sit-down discussion.

---

Rick was kind of an expert. I was too, but I was afraid of what I was an expert on.

Rick thought Shelly was right. Mom and Dad thought she was right too, except for the now part. Mom more. She was all for after I finished university, and was hired in my dream job and off probation or something. Rick and Shelly tried hard not to roll their eyes.

Rick went out again and asked them if they could come back in the afternoon, and it was important. They said they would.

---

Everyone talked, but mostly I listened, and thought.

I sat so I was able to touch Dad. I really tried to think about it, if I could stand the... coming out. Telling them. I knew I didn't have a choice in what I was, who... but it still felt shameful. That word made me want to cry. Having to hold onto Dad just so I could think made me want to cry.

Mom just wanted me to be safe, but she said she knew that I had to change, but it wasn't... ~I~ wasn't all diagnosed and all that, and it was too fast.

Rick and Shelly said if I stayed the same as I was, I'd go crazy. Like yesterday. Like for the past year, really.

They talked, I listened, but inside, I was turning around whatever they said to fit into my life....

I'd spent hours and hours crying on the keyboard with Jerry.

I knew who I was. I knew I had to talk to a shrink, even if I knew. Parts of who I was hurt too much not to talk about to someone.

Mom thought everything would happen too fast, no matter how long it took, but I knew it'd all be way too slow, too....

I ~didn't~ know how I could change without the worst stuff I'd ever imagined happening, like in school. So maybe I couldn't change.

But if I had friends who knew, if I could even just stand to be in school because it wasn't ALL a lie, maybe I could go.

If I had time, I could at least not feel like everything was hopeless... sometimes. I could part-hide.

Hiding hurt more than anything. Lying.

*
After I thought all of that in about ten different ways, ten different times, ten different ways everyone argued everything... Dad hugged me harder. I looked up.

"Figured something out?" He was smiling.

I nodded, but I didn't smile.

"I think I want to tell them?"

It all came together differently than I'd just thought. Or I said it differently. Or it sounded different, out loud.

"And I... I want to change... a bit?"

*
It felt like nothing could be just right. But it was better than just Friday. Yesterday.

---

We talked about what a 'bit' was, all through lunch. They talked. I had to provide the pale and shaky parts. Mom finally said I could tell them. My friends. She provided some of the crying parts too.

---

When they came back they brought Jenn too, Ben's girlfriend. My four best friends, really. Mom said they could come inside even though it was a nice day, but we all decided to sit in the back yard. Rick and Shelly came out too.

*
I couldn't start. Like the time Shelly stood frozen on the high board at the pool for fifteen minutes, I just sat on the top step beside her, and couldn't jump either.

Miss High-dive said stuff like "Ahem... a-HEM!" and Rick made muttering sounds like "When's the bloody show gonna start..?" But they both grinned at me when I tried to shut them up.

My friends looked at them like they were evil or something. Or weird. Jenn had sisters, so she probably understood.

After about five minutes of stupid jokes and staring, Rick finally got up from his lawn chair and sat beside me and then, after another minute, he reached over and pulled me into a huge, both arms, feel-better hug.

It was incredibly embarrassing, and after a few seconds it worked. I loosened up and hugged him back and it felt like most of the stupid things didn't matter as much... and I could think again.

He let me go after he whispered, "Can you?" and I nodded. I could. Shelly leaned into my back.

I held onto his arm with one arm and clutched Shelly's hand with the other and looked up.

Ben and Jenn looked more at that - where my hands were - than me, but I guess that was to be expected.

I looked at Jamie and Ivy more. At their... not staring that way.... I took a couple of too-deep breaths and started to get dizzy.

"I..."

How could I say it, even if I wanted to? To them?

I thought of how for a few more minutes and finally Rick rescued me, again. He leaned in and whispered, "Want some help?" I nodded.

"Want me to tell them?"

I froze. It'd be like pushing a button. Like Rick would be a truth machine.

Nod, and it's over. Nod and...

maybe I wouldn't think of drowning... ever again....

I nodded.

I got a little more light-headed too.

He hugged me hard for a second and then sat up, still keeping an arm around me. He looked at me one more time and smiled. I took a breath and nodded again, and he looked at them.

"Trev is a girl. Her real name is Susan. Susan Elizabeth."

I stared at him like...

He looked back at me with a big grin and kissed my nose. Then he grinned even more and looked at my friends. Shelly made a noise and hid her face, like he'd made a groaner instead of told my whole life in... almost no words.

But, somehow... it ~was~ funny. I was trying not to laugh, anyway. Or run away, if I could've stood up.

Or cry. Maybe scream and run away crying so I could faint.

*
When I could look, Jamie was staring at me, us... with the most incredible expression. Like he was seeing a UFO, or someone walk in the air, or something like that. It was hard to look at him. He said, really quiet, "A girl..."

Ivy was looking at Rick and smiling, whatever he was doing.

Ben was still looking at our arms, where I was holding Rick, but he was smiling too, almost.

Jenn looked angry - at me, or something. She was staring at nothing. Then she looked really angry at Ben, like she was getting mad at something else entirely.

"You ~asshole~! I told you!" She swung at his arm but mostly missed because she was already standing up.

She walked away, out into the yard, stiff-legged, and then around towards us and I guess she was still mostly walking away from him because when she stopped she was right at the bottom of the steps again and looked at us. Her face was red and I couldn't tell what she was feeling.

"It's my f-f... fault, what Jamie said, an-nnd it's g-ggg... f-fucking ~Ben's~ f-fault he said it too an-nnd I'm sorry but... I..." She looked at Rick.

"It's n-not Jamie's f-fault. He... he didn't nn-know ab-bout Trevor an-nnd was just doing what sh... B-ben... said. I'm-m sorry..." She looked at me and then Shelly... and then right at Rick. She was almost crying. She only stuttered when she cried. But she wasn't.

"We were talking last weeken-nd... about sexism an-nn, and how regular en-n-nnglish was sexist and you said 'he' if, if you didn't know and 'guys' if it was anybody and never she, or 'girls'..."

Rick sat forward. "And Jamie was playing at saying 'girl' instead of 'guy' and my little sister got caught in the... idea?"

She turned red and ducked a little. "Yeah."

Ben made a cough. "I talked about... Trev... and... doing it, to him. Saying she... or..." He sounded like he was giving testimony, all dull, but Jenn got the rage face again and yelled at him.

"Shut the f-fuck UP, okay?! Just... SHUT... ~UP~ for once!!"

Ivy came over and touched her arm, but like she was afraid of her, and Shelly stomped off the stairs and just put her arms around Jenn. She's bigger than either of them, and stronger probably, but Jenn just stopped being mad and agitated, and really started crying.

Ben just looked at the grass.

---

I didn't understand everything they were saying, mostly because I didn't listen to it all, but apparently they talked with Janey Peterson and Linda Jacks on the weekend and again on Thursday night at a Social Studies study session I missed, and it was all about sexism and language and somehow Jamie and Ben were there for some of it even though they didn't take that class, and they got really involved when Jamie said something about gays saying 'girl' to each other and it was an insult any other time for a guy.

And Ben and him had gone at each other, or talked mostly at each other, and eventually, according to Jenn and Ivy, about me. Ben had said I was a perfect example of how someone would be really insulted and Jamie'd said something opposite. But it was about words, not me. And Ben had thought I'd freak. Not Jamie.

Jamie'd thought I'd be fine. Being called a girl.

*
While they talked about what'd happened... I mean there, in our yard... Jamie hardly said anything, just yeah or whatever when they asked him something. He really just looked at his hands and feet, and at me and Rick on the steps, in little peeks. He looked unhappy.

Rick kept holding me, and everyone except Jamie and me talked.

He'd tried out "Hey, girl" to prove something to Ben, who wasn't even there... to prove I wouldn't freak.

And I freaked. He thought I'd just be... normal. Or even that I'd think it was funny. Ben thought maybe I'd be mad at him for a second.

Nobody thought I'd panic and nobody'd wanted to do anything more than make me prove a stupid point.

About words.

*
Jamie hadn't had a ~good~ expression of any kind since Rick said "girl," and they'd been talking for a half hour.

Rick noticed me looking at him and trying not to look like I was. He pulled me closer and whispered.

"Do you want to go inside or anything? Mom and Dad probably want to know what's going on..?"

I shook my head. Jamie was acting like the walking wounded. I'd seen him that way. Just after his grandfather died. One time after Kevin Jones had hit him to hurt.

After a minute I realized I was thinking the same things over and over, just staring at my feet, peeking at Jamie. Rick brought me back.

"Do you want to talk to them, about you? I could if you want?" He was really quiet.

I had to think before I realized what he meant. That nobody was talking about me. Just what happened. Like they were avoiding me, maybe.

I shook my head again, but then that felt rude. I turned so I couldn't see Jamie and whispered back.

"H-" I swallowed. "Jamie looks like something's wrong..."

"Okay. I'll talk to him, okay?" He kept whispering and I was still a little slow on the uptake, but I nodded.

He stood up and everyone looked at him. He grinned at me like nothing even odd had happened all day. Like I wasn't trying not to reach for him. Keep holding onto his hand. He let mine go like it was okay.

"Okay. Finn, we have to talk. Over there." He pointed at the old bench at the back of our yard and then just walked off.

I had the thought that the absolutely weirdest, most amazing thing that had happened all weekend... all ~year~... was Rick.

Jamie looked at me when I looked back at him and he hadn't moved, but he at least had an expression: fear. Not that you could tell, since he was a regular guy, but he was afraid... probably that Rick was gonna beat him up.

I realized ~that~ at the exact second he stopped looking scared, and instead almost smiled at me. Then he got up and followed Rick, and looked back at me and did smile.

"Well, sis, ready for the third degree?" Shelly sat down where Rick had been.

"Sis?" Ben asked, like Rick'd never said anything. Like none of anything had happened. Shelly looked at him with the same grin.

"Sis, sister, girl, lady, daughter, she, her, Susan, Sue?"

She nudged me. "Isn't he the one who helped with your math homework? Is he to be trusted? Seems a little slow on the uptake... fell off the turnip truck and all that?" She grinned at all of us while she drama-ed, but she still held onto my arm and even took my hand like Rick had.

It made it easier. I stopped looking at everyone like I had to figure them out.

"So..." Jenn was quiet, but she was staring at me. And she was way past crying. "You're a... a transsexual?"

I flinched, even though I was. That's what the web said, and Dr. Waltrup even said, probably, and the other doctor or shrink he made me talk to, and the ones who read my stories, that Mom and Dad had talked to years ago, and they all said my stories said. It was the word. Even if it made me want to cry and hide again....

After a few seconds I remembered that she asked, and nodded.

"Cool." That was Ben, and he was grinning and staring at me too, like a bug. Jenn hit him and he glared at her, then smiled again.

"Well, it ~is~ cool! How many transsexuals have ~you~ ever met?!"

"Ignore him. Shelly's right, he's a turnip. It is cool, though." Then Jenn really smiled and got up, to get away from Ben again, I guess. She sat on the grass by Ivy instead. Like she was mad at Ben, except she smiled.

"So you're really a girl inside?" She grabbed Ivy's arm like she had to grab something. "And..." Her face twisted all mad and she twisted back to Ben.

"And you said Jamie should call him GIRL and your stupid f-f-f-f... sense of ~humor~ scared the wits out of him!!" And she looked at Shelly and me and made a ~sheesh!~ face. And smiled.

"Her, actually." Shelly was still smiling, or was when I looked. She rocked me and looked in my eyes. "My sister."

I was so embarrassed it could have killed me, but it wasn't just the day before, the ~morning~ before... and instead I started crying and she pulled me into a hug and I closed my eyes and just felt better, except for the part that knew my friends could see me.

The transsexuals I chatted with online said if I got hormones I'd get emotional, like puberty again. If I got hormones.

And I was crying even before any shots or pills. The doctor said I'd been repressing a lot. It was hard.

The hardest part was trying to not act like a boy. Or not acting like a boy, for once. Or... them seeing me.

*
Shelly used her thumb under my eyes and I wiped my face on my t-shirt sleeve.

Ivy was on the bottom step and had her hand on my foot. She looked really worried. I tried to smile because I was worried that she was, but mostly because I felt like an idiot.

"I'm okay." I tried to smile better. "Just that time of the month...."

Ivy's face made Shelly and me absolutely lose it. And then Jenn spazzed too. I don't even know if Ben heard since I was hiding from the embarrassment of my own joke while they laughed.

"I can't believe you said that!" Ivy hit my knee and smiled. "You jerk!"

"Hey!" Shelly slapped at the air over my knee. "She's allowed to pick a first one!"

Which made no sense to me, but Ivy and Jenn totally rolled in the grass. And Shelly kissed my head like it was... like she was making a point.

*
"Are you gonna wear girl's clothes now? I mean, are you gonna change, the way you look and everything?" Ivy asked really quietly. Jenn looked at me too and nodded.

I had no idea of what to answer. 'No' seemed like a good idea, but Rick's present made that a lie, and Shelly's clothes. But that was alone.

"I can't." I kinda choked it.

I tried to hide how bad it made me feel even thinking about how I looked.

---

It was stupid. I stopped looking like I could wear dresses and stuff a long time ago... I had mustache hairs... and ones on my chin, that I had to pluck out... and my legs were short and ugly and... my body was ugly. My face....

It'd never be a girl face... again.

Not for over a year.

---

"Hey?" Ivy rocked my knee. "I think you'd look cute. And I didn't mean you should wear anything to school or anything. Just, maybe, that you'd try, or some of the time, to change?" She was still talking really quietly.

I just sat there. Trying to think about what I could say. More than what I wanted to do, or wished I could, or about what she said.

What I wanted was my stories, and what could happen was reality. Nothing.

"Rickyyy!" Shelly yelled almost right in my ear. "Get your annoying, over-educated, jock butt over here!"

Jamie and Rick looked at us and Rick smiled and waved like he was a mile away instead of at the fence. "Coming, sister dear!"

Shelly hugged my shoulders and smiled at us.

"He'll throw a hissy fit if we don't include him in this."

She yelled again, a little less loudly since Rick and Jamie were almost back. "Are you two finished with whatever you were scheming about?"

Rick looked at her like she was being dumb. Jamie looked red. Got red. And didn't look at me.

"If you hadn't bellowed..." Rick stepped around Jenn and Ivy and sat down on my other side and hip-checked me tight into Shelly. "What wisdom do you want?"

He put his arm around my shoulders over Shelly's arm and right around her too. She grinned at him and pulled me tighter against her, like away from Rick.

"Li'l sis says she can't wear nice clothes," Shelly said, like I was being stupid.

He looked all surprised and amazed. And fake. He smiled at me and pulled her and I was squished even more between them.

"But sister, dear, whyever not? Why say something isn't true when it ~is~ true!? What's to be gained!?" He said it like a... someone in a British comedy or something. He waved his other arm too.

"You could! You might! And you would look as nice as your older, though still-unwrinkled sister, the also-fair Shelly! Nay! Emote not, fair older sister!" He covered Shelly's face with his other hand, putting his arm in my face.

"She is larger, it is true, but her largeness is in height, not worth! She is older... Phhh!"

Shelly licked his hand or something and he waved it around and wiped it on his jeans like it was poison.

"Perhaps I misspoke. She is unmannered and small of spirit!" He hugged us hard again, and lifted my chin with his fresh-cleaned hand. Looked right in my eyes and grinned.

"Fair sister, avoid her! Though her fashion sense is not dulled and might be raided... But use care, for she is strong in the ways of... frilly-ness-ness. Maybe foofy-ness too.... Um... I've run out of the right words...!" He waved his arm and looked out over the yard like an audience....

Ivy and Jenn were howling and even Shelly was laughing at him. He smiled and touched my nose and whispered.

"See, they agree. They won't laugh at you or tell anyone or anything. They're laughing at me. I won't let anyone hurt you. So have some fun, little sister."

He was really hugging me by the time he finished, us.

And I believed him.

*
I was still afraid to ever do anything like that where anyone could see me.

Inside fears, even if they ~wouldn't~ laugh. Years and years and years of fear.

*
Shelly leaned over brought her hand up so no-one could see her face and whispered super-quiet for us both.

"Would you like to try on some of my stuff?" She bumped her forehead on my hair.

"It'll be fun, and I have a dress that I think you'll look super in... it's like the other one, the same color...."

"I'm ugly..."

I didn't mean to say it, but it was in the front of my mind and it just came out, almost as quietly as she had been whispering.

Ivy and Jenn made some movement.

Rick and Shelly both made a sound.

"No you aren't!" They both said, almost exactly together, and Rick kept talking, first. Just before Shelly.

"You'll look great..." "... please?!"

Shelly stopped whispering, just talking quietly. "It'd be really fun.... C'mon, sis?"

"It'd be a lot of fun, Trev..." Ivy smiled like she had to try, like it was important. She was close. She heard.

"Susan." Rick said it like a teacher, but really quietly, and kissed my cheek. "Her name's Susan Elizabeth... Suzy."

"Susan." Ivy touched my foot. "It'd be fun, Susan."

Ivy and Jenn both smiled happily at me.

Jamie and Ben looked at us like we were nuts. Me. But they weren't mad or anything, and Jamie was smiling... a really odd little smile.

---

"Where are you all going?" Mom looked up from the same crossword as before when we herded in from the kitchen. Dad too. A book.

"We're gonna help Suzy with that dress." Shelly said it like it was nothing, and Ivy and Jenn giggled their heads off and I almost tried to get away.

Dad smiled at me. "Well, keep it down, okay? And no screams. I'm not as young as I used to be and screams make my pacemaker go off." It was an old joke with Dad, but he smiled at me like he was just saying it so he could smile at me. Make me see his smile.

"Call me when you have it on, dear, so I can see you." Mom sounded like it was normal. Jenn and Ivy spazzed again. Shelly just kept hauling at me.

"What are ~we~ supposed to do?" Rick followed us into the living room with the guys behind him and sounded all whiny, like when he used to imitate me. Shelly stopped us on the stairs and he made another over-acting gesture.

"How can we see her if she stays up there? It's so unfair!"

Jamie and Ben looked even more weirded-out than ever.

"You can see her if she wants you to. ~This~ is why we don't take you clothes shopping, you know...." Shelly made it sound like he hung out around girl's change rooms and Ben broke up because I guess he got that too. Rick looked like he was gonna pound him, but too much.

"Laugh it up, furball..."

"You are ~such~ a geek." Shelly pulled me upstairs again and Ivy, Ben and Jamie all broke up because that was so true, even if he was a jock.

*
We all got in her room and they shut the door and Ivy and Jenn both sat on the bed. Shelly pushed me to sit there too.

"~What~ dress?" Ivy whispered, all excited.

"Okay... wait'll you see this..." Shelly swept aside some closet hangers and took out a blue dress with a flourish, all in one motion turning around and holding it up to herself. And smiling at me.

"Well?"

It was beautiful. Sky blue... paler... and really simple, sleeveless... a more grown-up version of the other one, the one she said they bought for me. I hadn't really looked at any of her stuff since I got too ugly....

I think part of why it was beautiful is because it ~did~ look like that. It was probably ugly, too, like me. I'd never seen girls from the school wear anything like it, just grown women... in magazines.

Ivy made a breathing noise and Jenn giggled.

It was so ugly.

I hid.

"Nuh-unh!" Shelly was beside me again and I couldn't hear the others as she hugged me.

She was looking in my eyes. I understood what she meant. I nodded. I couldn't talk, but I nodded.

The dress was on the floor.

*
They all sat on the bed, we all did, and they talked, or Shelly told them about some of the stuff I guess Rick had told her. Yesterday.

I couldn't figure out when.

Maybe not Rick.

I had to keep nodding and answering and saying it was okay and stuff, but it was her telling them and answering their questions. Sometimes I listened, but mostly I tried to stop the awful thoughts.

"... because of the... the transsexual... ism?" Jenn was asking me something, or I was listening.

"Hunh?"

"She asked if you were freaked because you're a girl." Ivy was hugging me.

I tried to listen to what that meant. And wondered when Ivy'd started hugging me...

"I guess so..."

"Or is it because you've been hiding that you're a girl?" Shelly asked almost the exact same thing Rick said sometimes.

That Jerry said.

That hiding was the hardest thing of all.

*
They didn't think I was ugly, or that I had too much mustache or other face hair, or that my adam's apple was too big, or that my shoulders were too big or... legs... that I was too ugly.

They said I looked like a boy, but that just meant I was trying to look like a boy, dressing and hair and all. Not that I didn't look like a girl, or couldn't.

They said I wasn't 'classically pretty' the way Maryanne was in school, and they all thought she was about the most beautiful girl there, but that neither were they, and Ivy said I was as pretty as Shelly, and since I was skinny, I could even look like a model, maybe.

"Hey!" Shelly pretended to be mad and sucked in her cheeks. "I'll have you know I'm just a few pounds away from runway perfection myself!"

"And a few inches..." Ivy snickered.

Shelly growled and play-hit at her around me while Jenn barked.

"I mean height, HEIGHT!!" Ivy rolled away sideways and laughed too while Shelly thought about going after her more, from her face, but Jenn's snorting was too funny.

We looked at her for a second or two, and then Shelly nudged me with her breast.

"What you have to remember is to pick healthy role models..." She poked Jenn with a finger and she spazzed away from it and off the side of the bed. She kept making the weird laugh, though.

"Jennifer here, for instance, is the model of poise and grace...."

The laughing turned almost to coughing.

"... manners and polite conversation...."

Jenn coughed a few seconds. She said "Fuck..." really quietly and then started giggling.

Ivy grinned at her over the edge of the bed.

*
Jenn was okay after she'd gone to the bathroom and Mom made sure nobody was dead from the thumping. Ivy looked at the dress.

She held it against her front and looked down at it and smoothed it around her side, and stood sideways to look at it differently in the mirror.

"It's really sophisticated...." She held the neckline up a little higher and then looked at me.

"I mean, like it's more like... if you wore it to school you'd be over-dressed."

"It's dressy-professional." Jenn was looking at it too. She looked at me, at my body. "You really would look like a model in it. Or like a... like you were adult..."

"It's about like they wear in Hannah's, the salesgirls..."

"It's like on a TV show." Shelly looked at it too, and smiled at me. "Rich and famous. Do you like it?"

"Ohmigod! It's designer!" Ivy was staring at the tag at the back of the neck. "It's a Galliard! It must've cost a fortune!" She looked at Shelly.

"We found it at that resale store on Pacific, Encore. We thought it'd be special." She took my arm and looked at the dress and Ivy. "It was the closest we could find to the other one, and maybe it's a little mature, but it's beautiful, isn't it?"

It was.

And I wanted to try it on so bad I hurt inside.

---

It took them about another half hour to convince me.

And another ten minutes for me to shave my legs and arm pits.

And fifteen minutes for Shelly to convince me that the little nicks were nothing. After the bleeding stopped.

---

"I told you you were skinny..."

"He's not too skinny, you just bought a too-big dress... but not really...." Jenn was pulling at it from behind, pinching the waist and kinda humming and looking at it. "It's almost right, just he has almost no hips or butt..."

"She. Do you have some stretch leggings, shorts maybe? That we could... I have an idea...."

*
Mom had whatever, or beige whatever, anyway: stretchy exercise shorts... like those tight boxers....

Shelly folded dish towels and stuck them in it, which sounds stupid, but she'd put one or two in and then stand back and then move it or take it out or put another one in, and then look at Jenn and Ivy.

After about twenty tries, they made Shelly stand beside me to compare us in just ~her~ panties and it was so weird it was funny and then every time they did anything I started to laugh and got ticklish and one time Shelly whacked me like a spank and it went 'whoomp!' on the towels and we all broke up.

Finally, they said I was almost the same shape as Shelly, all with padding instead of squeezing. The pants'd been almost loose when we started, except at the waist and down the legs. And I was a size eight, or sometimes an eight, Shelly said. Her size, but taller in the waist. I was five-seven or eight. She was five-six or seven.

*
So... with a bra and really weird falsies-things (that Shelly had from years ago), and more padding besides that, and about a ton of arguing where to set the straps for the right position, and pantyhose that were hard to get right because of the shorts... I was ready for the grand dress fitting, again.

"Wait, wait! Let's do your face and hair at least a bit, first, okay?" Ivy was really into it.

"Do you want to?" Shelly grinned too, but she was the only one of the three that kept checking if I was feeling okay too.

I nodded. Shook my head. I couldn't believe how I looked, at my shape... how it looked in her door mirror.

I had to see how the dress looked, even if I had to take it off again....

Even before, when they said the dress didn't even fit right, I'd thought it was perfect. It fit Shelly perfect except they said she was too short for it, but it fit. I thought so, anyways. Just some wrinkles at her back. They said that was the too short part. Her, not the dress.

I didn't have those, there. It had a zipper up the back and there were no wrinkles.

My arms didn't look... bad....

*
Shelly went to see if Mom had any shoes that'd go with the dress and after taking off the dress (to protect it from marks), Ivy and Jenn took me into the bathroom after they made sure nobody else was upstairs and made me wash my face about twice with lots of soap and then moisturized me, dabbed on and wiped off all sorts of theirs and Shelly's and Mom's makeup before they figured out the best way that'd look good for me, which was a few little dabs here and there and then spreading....

It was some of Shelly's really old foundation they finally chose, and even though they really just put it under my eyes and and beside my nose they said I needed to get new stuff but it pretty well matched, and they said it was a little bit the wrong shade too....

And tiny flicks of really light blush, even on my eyes, on the outside edges. And mascara.

I watched them doing it all in the mirror and thought it all looked good. Great, even. I'd never had any luck since when I started to grow. Years ago. I hadn't tried in years....

But I just didn't know how.

I made Ivy play-mad because I wouldn't stop smiling after a while. But she was too. Jenn just crazy-grinned at me the whole time., except when she was giggling.

*
It only took ten minutes. After they found the right color, it only took them ten minutes, even laughing and arguing.

I was prettier than when I was little. Than my drawings.

*
They dragged me away from the mirror back to Shelly's room and started to fool with my hair with a spritz bottle of water and a comb and brush.

Shelly came back with a pair of Mom's black high heels that I'd tried on a hundred times before, even if I was still wobbly. I'd given up on clothes, before, but I still loved Mom's nice shoes....

*
They tried a lot of ideas and finally Jenn told them to trust her and she put a glob of gel on her hands and smooshed it all over my hair and just combed it back and then just poked the comb in the top a few times.

"There!"

I couldn't see how it could look good since it had to look even shorter than it was, but they all smiled and said wow and perfect and everything.

And Jenn said "Of course..."

I wanted to go look in the mirror right away but they all said she had to ~finish~, to which I said butwhatwhy, if it's perfect!? but Shelly made me sit there and got her hair dryer and some pump spray and a different brush from the bathroom and Jenn did it all over again, I thought. The same style, but dry.

I stepped into the dress again, and as Shelly zipped it up it all pulled just ~almost~ tight everywhere, which is what they said it was supposed to.

I began to feel... perfect.

*
Mom had had some of Grandma's old jewelry and Shelly'd found a pair of clip-on earrings they said were pretty nice, and a necklace/pendant thing that matched the earrings pretty well, but looked ~great~ with the dress, and she said was just the right length for the neckline.

*
When they were finished, they stood back and smiling at me. And looked... I couldn't figure it out, but a different smile they all had.

I started to close the bedroom door to see in the long mirror, but Shelly took my arm and led me into Mom and Dad's room, to their closet mirror. The sliding mirror doors.

The girls all stood and looked with me.

*
I was a lot taller than Shelly in the shoes. My hair was flat on the sides and almost spiky on the top, and looked cool. Pretty.

I looked older.

And I looked like a girl. A woman.

I wasn't a man. I wasn't ugly.

... I could....

*
I cried a little, from joy, but I mostly smiled so hard I hurt. I looked at the mirror so much they finally had to pull me away and we sat on Mom and Dad's bed, Shelly and me, and Jenn and Ivy stood in front of us and smiled. We all were.

"Well, Suzy my sister, the next question is how do you feel about showing Mom and Dad and the boys?" She hugged me one-armed.

"I know Rick'd ~really~ like to see you...."

They all looked at me. I looked at my knees, which I could see. I knew they all knew. Mom and Dad and Rick. The guys.

Everyone here. Downstairs.

All my stories and everything were about... other things, imaginary things, like what if everything was different? It wasn't me in them, nobody was real, because I didn't think I ever could, really....

Even if it was my name in them. Even if they were more ~me~ than my real life, sometimes.

I looked over into the mirror on Mom's dresser. I looked like Shelly, like her sister. I looked better than I ever imagined, ever, in my stories or pictures.

Not beautiful, but real. I looked....

I was real.

I was real. I smiled again at me in the mirror. "Okay, but you have to knock me out and just show them my body, okay?" I grinned at Shelly and she looked confused for a second.

"Kidding."

She looked even more confused for another second and I stood up and took her hand. And wobbled a bit and didn't care.

"C'mon. Let's go before I panic or break my ankle or something." I looked in Mom's mirror again and had to smile. Again. And at them.

"And while I still look this great."

*
Jenn and Ivy went down first.

While I tried not to listen to all the talking down there, Shelly whispered if I wanted to go down alone like an entrance or something? but I knew that if I was alone I'd probably freeze or hide or something. I had huge butterflies already and was even worried I'd throw up.

I shook my head and was a lot less happy than in the bedroom. More scared, anyway.

"Are you sure?" Shelly hugged my hand close and looked at my face and eyes. I could see that she was scared, too, even if she still looked happy and excited.

"You don't have to if you don't want. It's okay and no one's gonna be mad...."

I almost didn't, but I really wanted to see Rick, and show him and Mom how nice the dress was.

And see Dad. I wanted to see Dad and show him what I looked like.

I shook my head and took her hand. I was too scared to say anything, but that was just my voice.

*
Nobody made any noise when we walked down the stairs, which was slow just because they felt dangerous in the heels, and I almost wondered if they were all in the kitchen, but they were just quiet, and watching.

Mom and Dad were on the sofa and smiling, and smiled even bigger as they both stood up. I knew I was as red as a beet, but I couldn't stop my smile either. It was so perfect.

Mom had tears and Dad - for once - didn't.

Then Rick pulled me into a big hug and just rocked back and forth a few times and when I looked at him, he...

"You look perfect, little Suzy...." He was crying again and I started to too, and Shelly made us stop and she dabbed at my eyes with a tissue until I stopped, though Rick didn't. And he didn't let go, either.

Mom and Dad came and hugged us and Dad still didn't cry and kept looking all over me and smiling even bigger. Mom said I looked so incredible, and touched my arm and hair and my face... and Dad just smiled, and then he sort of made Rick let me go and hugged me hard all by himself and whispered.

"My beautiful daughter."

I ruined my eyes completely and messed up his shirt.

---

Mom made me do almost as much standing and turning as I'd done in the mirror, and Dad stood beside her and smiled his regular way, with wet eyes. It was wonderful. Rick sat on the arm of the couch and looked at me like everything was perfect. Every time I looked back at him he grinned the same, and even bigger.

Ben was almost like the girls, laughing and joking and sort of getting in the way and making it... normal.

Jamie smiled a little, but he stayed in his chair. And didn't say anything. He wasn't his usual self, but when I looked at him, he looked at my face, in my eyes.

---

After Mom and everyone (the girls, anyway) fixed me up from crying, again, and had a funny argument about whether it was worth telling me not to do that, we went back into the living room and I finally sat down on the couch between Mom and Dad and remembered to do all the sitting-in-a-dress stuff right, and crossed my ankles too.

And tried to smile at Jamie.

He probably thought I was a suck for crying. Which I was, so that was okay. Besides, Dad and Rick were there... and Ben, so it was okay....

But it didn't feel okay just then.

It felt like he was gonna laugh at me. Like I was wrong. And it ~was~ wrong. If anyone at school saw me like this, I'd...

Then Jamie leaned forward and stood up.

He came over and reached out, like to shake hands, or pull me up... and when I lifted mine he took just the tips, and smiled.

Really normally. Like it was fun, like he meant it. Like he still liked me.

Like my best friend. Like more.

"Hey, girl...."

---



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