One Word and One Year, by Karin Bishop
Chapter 11: Half A Phone Call
Solemnly I handed the phone to my mother and sat back, trying to gauge how Mom was taking things. I knew Ashley was smart, I was pretty sure she supported me, and I just had to trust that things would go well. I crossed my legs, leaving one hand in my lap and the other one on the table, idly spinning a napkin. It was frustrating only hearing one side of the conversation.
“Hello, Ashley? Yes, it is. How are you?”
“Fine, thanks. You know I’m sitting here with—”
Her eyes widened, then closed and her face trembled a little bit. She reached for my hand and squeezed it and I heard a slight gasp. Then Mom said, “And that’s your understanding? For his name—her name, I mean?” She nodded again and then opened her eyes, looking at me, and I saw that her eyes were moist. Instinctively I covered her hand with my other one. She squeezed again, smiled, and withdrew her hand so she could feel around in her purse for a tissue.
“Uh-huh,” she said. “I agree; you’re right. The pronouns will make us crazy,” she said for our benefit, I figured. “Her name. It’s just that … well, it’s a strange coincidence, because it was a name that we’d considered if he … if she was born a girl.” Her brow knotted. “Uh-huh; yes. Well, I’m sure finding out now!”
I glanced at Taylor, who was hanging on every word and trying to appear unconcerned.
“Does Jake know? How do you think we should handle that?” She looked at the ceiling briefly. “Tell you the truth, I don’t know how he’ll take it. I’ll have my hands full with his father, but …” She sighed. “This has been a long time coming but it’s pretty obvious that it had to … she had to … come out into the open.”
Taylor kicked me under the table about the ‘long time coming’ phrase, and I turned and glared at her and motioned down with my eyes. She did a wordless ‘oh!’ because it was a glass-topped table and Mom might have seen the kick, but had been looking elsewhere. Taylor hunched her shoulders in a ‘My bad!’ way.
Turning back to Mom, she was looking at me with shiny eyes. “Yes, yes, she is.” Mom smiled. “She’s very pretty. Oh, thank you, Ashley.” I blushed a little and looked down. Then Mom said, “And her friend Taylor is here, too. I gather that it’s Taylor’s clothes that … she’s wearing.” Pause. “Yes, that’s probably true.” Pause. “Well, I don’t know. On one hand it’s a fait accompli, if you know what I mean … yes, that’s true.” Another pause. “On the other hand, it’ll mean a major change in our family—no?”
She listened and I realized that Ashley was saying something like, ‘No, it won’t mean a major change in your family, because Dad has his jock son and Mom has her pretty daughter and Allison will still cook and clean and spend time with Mom, just as they’ve always done. Just as Jake does with Dad.’ Or something like that.
Mom was both frowning and nodding, and finally said, “There’s a lot of truth to that; I haven’t … well,” she chuckled. “I haven’t quite gotten used to the idea of a daughter yet. It’s a lot to process … thank you, I will. I’m curious; how did you discover who she really was?” She listened for a time, and then looked at me with a warm smile. “Yes, I know that look.”
She meant the look that everybody said I gave Jake.
She listened, and then gave her email address—her own, not the family’s—and finally the million-dollar question. “So where do you advise we go from here?” She half-chuckled a few times, then smiled. “That’s very tempting. I don’t …” She chuckled sadly. “Depends on how things went with the car.” She grinned a little. “Yes, they are.” Pause. “I think … I know this will work out; it’ll just take time—what’s that?” She nodded. “And not too many tears, you’re right.” She chuckled. “I’ve never been a big fan of band-aids, anyway. Uh-huh. Okay. Ashley, you’re … thank you. Thank you for being there for Jake and now for being there for … Allison.”
Mom was looking directly at me when she said my name for the first time. I felt a tingle, and my insides kind of crumbling, and my throat got tight. I realized I was blinking back a tear.
“Okay. We’ll see you later, then, and … yes, I’ll let you know. Or Allison will. Uh-huh. Okay, thanks again, and bye, Ashley.”
She turned off the phone and stared at it a moment. She placed the phone on the table and her brow furrowed a little and her mouth twitched with emotion. With forced calm, she said, “Taylor, how did you come up with the name Allison?”
Taylor looked at me and then at Mom. “We were just hanging out, and trying on clothes and things—”
“At the mall?”
“No, no; in my room. You know, like girls do, just trying on different outfits from my closet?”
That seemed to slightly startle Mom, but then she smiled and nodded. “I know. Go on.”
“And I’d been kind of teasing … Mark … about me naming him. Her. You know what I mean.”
“Ashley said that the pronouns will make us crazy. I think we’ll say ‘him’ when talking about Mark,” Mom said, without any bad feeling.
“See, when I’m with her,” she pointed to me, ”I just stopped saying any name. I’d call her ‘babe’ or ‘hon’ or … you know.” Mom nodded. “All this time we’ve been hanging out—I mean, years and years—we’re just … girlfriends, you know?” She shrugged. “But I knew it was time, and she really needed a name. She’s so … real …you know what I mean?”
Looking at me, Mom said, “Yes, I do. I wouldn’t have believed it if somebody had just told me about her, but seeing her with my own eyes, yes, she is real.”
“And I was teasing her about things like Gertrude or Prudence …”
“Hortense,” I said.
Taylor grinned. “Anyway, I could see her in my mirror—you were trying that gold halter, right?”
I nodded, and knew that the very thought of a halter had freaked Mom. I think Taylor had said it on purpose.
Taylor went on. “Anyway, seeing you in the mirror and the thought flashed through my mind like Alice Through The Looking Glass and how everything would be so much easier and better if we could go through that mirror into Looking Glass Land where she’d been born a girl and was my best girlfriend. Which she is, anyway.” Taylor gave me a warm smile.
“Tay is so literary,” I joked.
“So, my brain started with Alice, and it wasn’t right and I think I went from there to Alicia or Alyssa and suddenly, I didn’t have to decide. It was like the decision was made for me. Standing in front of me was Allison … Allie, my best friend.” She shrugged. “That’s how. Allison … Wonderland.”
Chapter 12: Parents Know
Mom—and I—stared at Taylor for a moment, who sat there with an appropriate Cheshire Cat-grin, and then Mom said, “It’s going to be interesting telling your father. Not difficult, I hope. Just … an adventure. Honey,” she paused, tilted her head and began. “Most teenagers think their parents are clueless. It just goes with the territory. Well, in some ways, maybe we are, but most definitely not clueless in other ways. We love our children and think that they’re the handsomest, the prettiest, the smartest, the best kids in the world, but we’re also realistic and know a lot more … truth about them.” She paused and cleared her throat.
Taylor and I just glanced at each other. Taylor cleared her throat and asked, “Mrs. Chambers, I’m sorry; we invited you here and haven’t provided anything. Can I get you anything? Soda? Water?”
Mom started to shake her head but turned it into a nod. “Thank you, Taylor. Um, a small ginger ale or club soda would be fine.”
“I’ll try, but they’re mostly Coke and Pepsi here. Sprite okay, or would you rather have water?”
“Oh, I hate paying for bottled water when we have the tap at home, but … alright. If there’s no ginger ale, water would be fine.”
“Sure thing.” She got up. “Allie? Want anything?”
“Um … the usual,” I grinned.
“Sure thing,” she said again. “One triple-shot Cuervo Gold Margarita with extra lime wedges and a shot on the side. Rocks, not blended.”
“Taylor!” I blanched.
Mom was laughing. “Two of those, if you can’t find the ginger ale!”
Taylor grinned and headed into the food court.
Mom watched her go and said to me, “You’re very, very lucky to have her for a friend.”
“Yes, I am. I’m so … grateful to her and I …” I turned back to her. “Mom, I’ve been meaning to ask you, and it’s trivial compared to what we really have to talk about, but … why did you let me have a sleepover with Taylor? I mean, a thirteen-year-old boy and a thirteen-year-old girl …”
Mom grinned. “But wasn’t it really two thirteen-year-old girls?”
I opened my mouth in shock, but she laughed and shook her head.
“No, it wasn’t conscious like that, but that kind of leads me back to what I was starting to say. Honey, your father and I are very aware of what you look like, act like, sound like … Perhaps even more than you. We’ve seen you go from a pretty baby to a … dangerously pretty boy.”
She nodded. “Dangerous, in the sense that the rest of the world will cause you problems. There are boys and men out there who would … hurt you, just because you look like a … well, I can say it now, can’t I? You look like a girl. We’ve always known it, honey; always. And even if we’d been oblivious to that, we’ve had years of strangers proving it to us. From your first stroller trip outdoors, women would smile at you and say, ‘Isn’t she just the prettiest thing?’ and it went on and—”
She broke off, her eyes wide.
“Mom?” I asked, worried.
She shook her head, as if slightly groggy. “I just remembered—I just remembered, after all these years …” Her head shake this time was more in awe. “It started even before that stroller trip. There was a … thing in the nursery. At the hospital, I mean, when your father went to see you.”
“Why wasn’t I with you?” I asked. “Um—sorry to interrupt.”
She smiled, her face showing the thirteen-year-old memory. “I was pretty exhausted. Your father was, too, and they’d sent him home to sleep. So they put you in what they called the ‘well-baby nursery’.”
“And there was a thing?”
She nodded. “There was, indeed, a thing. Your father got there and I think it was right when the nurses changed shifts or something, but his son was not there. They did this thing with blue and pink bassinettes. And they had you in a pink one.”
My hand flew to my mouth.“Oh, God! The poor guy!” I frowned. “Wait a minute—they had to change me, right? So they would’ve seen …” I trailed off, blushing.
Mom nodded. “That’s why the shift change confused things. I guess your diaper had already been changed and the new shift came on … they don’t just leave the babies in the bassinettes; they pick them up one-by-one, put them on their shoulders, gently pat them, that sort of thing, to give human contact. Don’t know if they still do that. But somehow you wound up in a pink bassinette.”
“But didn’t they have a card, something with ‘Mark Chambers, boy’ on it?”
“I’m sure they did, and I don’t know all of the details because I wasn’t there and it was so long ago, but the point is that when your father first laid eyes on you, you were already identified as a girl. And then, as I was saying, over the years, I can’t tell you how many people came up and complimented me on my pretty daughter.”
She seemed to enjoy my stare and said, almost teasingly, “As you got older, the comments were more like, ‘Oh, my daughter outgrew her tomboy phase; yours will, too’ and so on.”
Mom’s teasing smile softened. “So, yes, your father is aware of how you look. And how you act. And I can’t tell you how many nights we’ve lain awake staring at the ceiling and talking about you. Your father would say, ‘maybe he’ll grow out of it’ and I’d say, ‘maybe he won’t’. Another night, I’d say, ‘it’ll all be different when he hits puberty’ and your father would say, ‘but what if he stays so pretty?’”
“He thinks I’m pretty?” Ego got me.
Mom grinned. “Just like a girl; after all I said, you seized on the ‘pretty’ comment! Yes, your father thinks you’re pretty. And it’s difficult for him; you’ve got to allow that. He’s been magnificent at taking abuse from other men about his … I shouldn’t say this, but these are the things they said. Your father would be asked what it was like having a girly-boy. They’d call you Marsha. They’d say you ‘Mark-ed’ the wrong box when it said Boy or Girl. Stupid, hurtful jock talk.”
My stare dissolved into anger.“Those … They had no right to talk to him that way! I had no idea he got any of that! I always thought they’d be talking about how great Jake was playing.”
“A little of that, and a lot of the snotty things,” Mom said with a frown. “And we tried to keep it from you; I guess we did a good job.”
“I didn’t have a clue. Am I—was I that girly?” I corrected, seeing as how I was dressed.
“That’s just it; no, you weren’t. You never acted effeminate—you still don’t—but there’s a … a grace, a definite grace to your movements. And your hair, skin, big blue eyes … dangerously pretty, like I said. And the sick part is … no, I won’t say it.”
“I think I know. So I’ll say it. The sick part is that the men that were mocking me for looking like a girl were turned on a little bit, because I looked like a girl?”
She nodded sadly. “I’m sorry the ugliness of the world has already … made its way into yours—that you even could know that. Every parent tries to protect their child as long as possible. But now you know, and you see why I used the word ‘dangerously’.”
“I’ve never thought about my being in danger, even when kids at school taunted me. It’s just that I—”
“Kids at school taunted you?” Her jaw tightened. “See, honey, we never knew that; you managed to keep that quiet from us. And that’s not right; we need to know this kind of thing. Did you tell the teachers, or anybody at the school?”
“No; that would’ve been the kiss of death. I just tuned it out.”
“What would they say?”
“Just like, I’d be walking to lunch with Chelsea or Amber, and some guys would say something like, ‘Have a nice lunch, girls’ and usually Chelsea would giggle or Amber would flip them off but I just kept my head down.”
Mom’s eyes narrowed. “Those jerks. Well, it would only get worse in high school. Chelsea …” She looked thoughtful. “Chelsea Dunham?”
“Yeah. She’s moving away this summer, though. She’s a good bud.”
Mom tilted her head and said, “Yes, Tom Dunham got transferred to Minneapolis. Um … who are your friends at school? You never talk about them, besides Taylor.”
“Well, Taylor, of course, and Chelsea and Amber and Amy and … sometimes I’ll walk with Jennifer Housely and Jenny Monahan, and Kayla Lambert’s fun to talk with …”
Mom gave me a piercing look.
I held up my hands. “Mom, I know. I’ve already realized it. The only guy friend I had—I think I ever had—was Glen Stevenson, and the last time he visited, he said something like ‘you look like a chick.’”
Mom nodded. “I remember that. I overheard from the next room. I believe his exact words were, ‘Dude, are you turning into a chick?’”
“God, Mom, why did you remember that?”
“Because I’ve had thirteen years of hearing comments about you, remember? And because I remember my response. I heard that, and I felt a little hurt for you, but in my head I thought, ‘Turning into a chick? She is a chick—and what’s so wrong with that?’ and I shocked myself. It was the first time I’d consciously, openly, referred to you as female in my mind.”
“God … I had no idea …” I was stunned.
She nodded again. “And that opened the subject up once again with your father. Which brings me the long way around to what I’d said—I don’t think he’ll be difficult to tell. He will be sad about losing a son, though; you’ll have to be aware of that.”
“Not losing a son, just gaining a daughter?” I grinned.
“Yes, but not so easy as that. It’s a male thing; you wouldn’t understand.” She realized what she’d just said, so automatically, and chuckled but there was some embarrassment there.
To help her, I said, “Well, I sorta can understand. I sort of know how they think.”
There: I said it. They were males. They were the opposite sex to my mother—and me.
She frowned again. “Oh, sweetheart, are you sure this is what you want?”
I nodded. “With all my heart and with all my soul, and there’s something else, Mom. I could say that it isn’t what I want or don’t want—it’s what I am. Like asking you, are you sure you want to be a woman? You are, and all the wishing and hoping anything different won’t make any difference.”
Mom’s eyes narrowed. “There’s some solid truth to what you say. I suspect … well, your father and I have discussed it. You came kind of late in … what we’ll call ‘my proper years of childbearing,’ and that’s a time when all sorts of things can go wrong or just turn out differently. You could go along having three, four kids all pretty much the same, and the last one is a wild card.” She chuckled. “Because you certainly turned out to be one!”
Taylor was coming back with the drinks; Mom looked up and smiled and nodded. Taylor set them down and I said, “Now, miss, this is Diet, correct?”
Playing a waitress, Taylor said, “Oh, I’m sorry, it’s regular Coke. I should’ve known you’d prefer Diet, because you’re obviously such a fat broad.”
We all laughed as she sat, sipped for a moment, and I couldn’t resist further teasing. “Geez, Taylor; we were dying of thirst here. You go to Atlanta to get the Coke?”
“They know me there,” she said off-hand, not rising to the tease. Then she shrugged. “I always test-sip; you know that. The mix was off. They got weird about a refund—I would’ve gone to the fish place—and I had to wait while they changed canisters or whatever they’re called. But at least the mix is right.”
It might even have been a true story, but I was pretty sure she’d seen that Mom and I were talking pretty intensely and had stayed away on purpose. It made me love her all the more.
I smiled warmly at her and said, “The mix is perfect; worth the wait.” I took a sip and ‘ahhed’ appreciatively and then said, “Mom was just telling me that, basically, they’ve always known I probably should have been a girl, and I’m too pretty for a boy, and that we’ll still have to deal with my father’s emotions.”
“Too pretty for a boy? Maybe, but barely pretty enough to qualify for girlhood,” Taylor teased.
“You two!” Mom chuckled, sipping her ginger ale. “A best girlfriend is one of the most important things in a girl’s life, Allison, so as much as she makes you crazy, hold on to her.”
I almost choked. “You called me Allison, Mom. Thank you. It’s so special coming from you.”
She sat back. “You’ve got to admit that it’s cosmically weird that Taylor named you that. And that’s why she wanted to know what names we’d picked out for our daughter.” She looked at me seriously. “Our daughter … you.”
I choked up, this time and felt my eyes tearing. Mom rushed a tissue to me, grinning. “Just like a girl. See, your emotional responses are feminine as well. I think once we get you tested, it’ll just confirm what we already know.”
“Tested?” I asked nervously.
“Yeah, to see if you qualify,” Taylor said snootily. “To see if you measure up; to see if you’re man enough to be a woman.”
“That’s right, Taylor,” Mom laughed. To me, she said, “You must know that testing is going to be involved. Not just psychological, emotional testing, but bodily fluids, internal organs—all sorts of fun things. Look, a simple declarative statement from you before I go on. Answer these questions: Is this a passing thing you’ll grow out of, or permanent? Will you be male or female? Are you willing to do whatever’s necessary to get where you want to be, and where is that?”
“Be all that you can be,” Taylor added.
“Not helping, Tay,” I teased.
Her face set. “You’re right. Sorry. This is a serious moment for you.” Her eyes bored into me. “Go, Allie.”
I smiled at her; God, I love this girl! I focused on what Mom had asked. “Simple declarative statement,” I said. “Okay, I can do that. ‘Being of sound mind and body’ probably doesn’t apply here. So here goes. My heart, mind, soul, emotions, and most of my body are female and feminine, and I want the world to acknowledge that I am a girl, a girl who will grow up a woman, and I am willing to do and to undergo any and everything necessary to live my entire life, from now until the end, as a female.” I sipped my Diet Coke, my eyes locked on Mom. “That do it?”
“My God, we should have written that down,” Mom said.
“Don’t have to,” Taylor grinned and held up her phone. “Got it on voice recorder!”
“What?” Mom and I exclaimed.
Taylor pushed the button and held the phone to the middle of the table. My voice was tinny but could be heard saying, ‘—doesn’t apply here. So here goes. My heart, mind, soul, emotions, and most of my body are female and feminine, and I want the world to acknowledge that I am a girl—’ at which point Taylor stopped it.
We all sat back. Taylor looked at her phone. “Wow,” she said.
“Yeah, wow,” I agreed. To Mom, I said, “So now what?”
Chapter 13: Mother and Daughter
Mom looked at me, at Taylor, and back to me. “At the risk of inflating your ego any more than it is, I must tell you to your face that you’re very pretty, Allison, and those clothes suit you.”
I turned to Taylor with a big grin and said, “She said I was ‘dangerously pretty’!”
To my surprise, Taylor answered seriously. “Did she mean that as a boy it was dangerous being as pretty as you are?”
I stared and Mom just said, “Yep, she’s a keeper!”
“Did you two work out this routine?” I said, pointing between the two of them.
Mom said, “We’ve all established you’re a pretty girl, Allison—or I should get used to calling you Allie, I guess.”
“Thank you, Mom, and I meant to tell you, I’d be honored to have the name you picked out for me, and I’d like to officially be Allison Marie Chambers, if Daddy will agree to it.”
It was Mom’s turn to stare at me.
“What?” I asked.
“You just called him ‘Daddy’ like it was the most natural thing.”
“No, I said, ‘Dad’.”
“Uh-uh,” Taylor slurped her straw. “You said ‘Daddy’.”
Mom said, “You said it like you’ve been saying it your whole life.”
“I did?” I genuinely didn’t recall. I had just been thinking of my father and it had come out that way. I’d called him ‘Daddy’? More to think about later … “Well, whoever he is, if he agrees. Allison Marie Chambers, but everybody calls me Allie.”
Tay stuck a finger in the air.“Except when you’re in trouble or in Algebra.”
Our Algebra teacher insisted on full names; even Beth Fowler was ‘Elizabeth’.
Mom said, “Thank you, honey; it’s very strange to meet my teenage daughter with the name I’d picked thirteen years ago, but, hello, Allison Marie Chambers. Now, Allie, as I was saying—”
We all burst out laughing and Taylor said, “She said that like she’s been saying it her whole life!”
Mom struggled to go on. “I’m assuming those clothes are Taylor’s.” We nodded. “It’s a very cute outfit, by the way. Who put it together?”
Like a comedy bit, I pointed to Taylor at the exact time she pointed to me. Taylor said, “Well, I came up with the shoes. Don’t her toes look cute?”
Mom looked down at my sandals and I was terribly self-conscious as she said, “Very cute. The color matching, the style …?” Referring to my top and skirt.
Taylor said, “Allie picked ‘em out. I’ve got a closet full of stuff and we’d try things on—hey, that’s when Monica came in!”
“Your sister?” Mom asked. “What happened?”
“Well, Allie had on a skirt, I think, the black mini?” I nodded. Taylor said, “And Allie was pulling a top over her head so Monica came in when Allie just had a bra and tummy and Mon didn’t bat an eyelash. After that it was a lot easier convincing Allie to go out in public.”
“I hadn’t gone out, ever, until last night when we went for ice cream, where we ran into Ashley and Jake,” I explained, making it seem—still—that I’d been dressing as a girl at Taylor’s for a long time.
Mom asked, “Speaking of your bra …”
“My sister’s left-over Little Helpers,” Taylor said, matter-of-factly. “She doesn’t need them.”
“Does she know that you’re … borrowing them?” Mom asked.
I looked at Taylor, who said, “No. I already had them before I gave ‘em to Allie. And Monica still thinks Allie’s a girl.” She looked at me. “Well, she is, but … you know.”
Mom said, “A couple of stipulations. First, Allison will return the inserts to you to return to your sister.” She held up a hand. “We will find something for a replacement. Secondly, before we go any further, you must tell your sister the truth about Allie.”
“That’ll be kind of hard, but … yeah, she’s bound to find out, and Ashley already told me I had to tell her,” Taylor mused. “Look, you’re going to go ahead and help Allie be a girl? I mean with doctors and everything?” Mom nodded. “Then let me wait until at least the first doctor’s visit. Then I can tell Monica that it’s a medical thing and she won’t freak as much.”
“Under the circumstances, I think that’s probably best,” Mom agreed. “Alright. By the way, what bra is that?”
“I think it’s a Lily of France,” I said.
Taylor nodded and asked, “Why?”
Mom smiled. “I haven’t seen it, or the inserts, but it’s very … believable. Nicely curved and natural.”
It was very strange having my mother smiling and admiring my, uh, breasts.
“Told ya so!” Taylor said to me.
“Your earrings are lovely, dear,” Mom went on.
I knew where it was headed. “These are magnetic, Mom; I’m not pierced … yet,” I checked her response. “I would like pierced ears as soon as possible.”
Mom nodded. “I understand that, too, but let’s hold off on anything like that until your father and I have talked, okay?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, automatically. “Oh, and Ashley recommended silver.”
“Silver?” Mom asked, confused.
I nodded. “When I called her and she wanted to know what I was wearing? She said with the lilac and violet—and my coloring—that I should wear silver jewelry instead of gold.”
For some reason, that rocked Mom. She just nodded, distantly. “She said that, did she?” She paused. “Um … she’s right. With your coloring …”
“So … maybe pierced ears? Soon?” I nudged.
“Not until we talk with your father,” she said firmly.
“I understand,” I said. I did, but I was still bummed.
Seeing that I was a little saddened, Mom said, “However, seeing that the genie is out of the bottle, or Pandora’s box is opened …”
Taylor laughed. “We did the same thing! Maybe ‘the cat is out of the bag’?”
“Right,” Mom said. “It’s perfectly natural for girls to share clothes, and you two will be doing it for years, but it’s also proper that you have some of your own.” She held up a hand at our sudden excitement. “I said some, meaning at this time. Again, we really have to remain in limbo until your father and I have had our little talk. Big talk. Little Big Talk, whatever.” She chuckled. “But without going overboard, there’s nothing that says that I can’t take my daughter shopping today!”
I was stunned, but practical. “When are you planning on telling Daddy?”
She gave me a momentary stunned look, then smiled and nodded and I realized she had just accepted me calling my father ‘Daddy’. It had just slipped out, anyway.
“Tonight, if at all possible. I’ve been going back and forth in my head on how to present you to him, after we’ve discussed it, and I think you were right to meet on neutral territory for me, but he’ll need to be in his own home. Again, it’s a male thing. Hmm. While we walk I’ll call and see how he is.”
To Taylor, I said, “If it was a good day fixing the car or not,” and she nodded in understanding.
“Then … a roll of the dice. I think maybe … Taylor, could Allie stay at your house this evening? I don’t mean another overnight, but while I broach the subject with her father? Ashley said she’ll keep Jake away.”
“Sure,” Taylor grinned. “And she can stay overnight again. My folks are away and Monica’s cool with me and my girlfriend!” She grinned at me now.
“We’ll see,” Mom said, like parents everywhere. “Okay, let’s head to … Penney’s, I guess, and I’ll call him.”
We started walking, Mom behind us as she called Dad, and Taylor said, “See? Told ya it’d all work out!”
“You did not!” I said. “You were as nervous as I was!”
“Babe, nobody could be as nervous as you were!” She linked arms with me and we both giggled. I sensed Mom behind and turned. She was looking at us, studying us.
“What?” I asked.
Her face moved into an expression I couldn’t recognize. She shook her head once and said, “Just … realizing my son is gone … or never really was here …”
I turned, stricken. “God, I’m sorry, Mom—”
She smiled sadly and waved a hand. “Oh, don’t be, sweetheart. It’s just … seeing and hearing you and Taylor—it’s so obvious that you’re a girl. That you two are best girlfriends. It just reminded me of my best friend growing up and I … I just realized how many things we’ve missed out on.”
“Huh?” I looked at Taylor, who seemed to know although I didn’t; she gave a single, smiling nod.
Mom said, “All the things we would have shared with you growing up as my daughter. Well,” she seemed to force a smile. “No time like the present. You two don’t mind me. I’ve got to call your father.”
She made a ‘carry-on’ wave of her hand and opened her phone. I looked at Taylor, frowning.
“Geez, don’t ya get it?” Taylor rolled her eyes. “Dolls. Easy-Bake Ovens. Walking in Mommy’s heels. Velvet dresses at Christmas and white lace at Easter. Bluebirds, Camp Fire Girls. Ballet. Cheerleading. Geez, stop me any time!”
I’d missed all those things and I was shocked that I hadn’t thought about Mom missing them. How selfish was I? Or self-centered, I guess? I also thought about little things we already did, like when Jake and Daddy—I had never thought of calling him that; it had just come out automatically and I knew that I was already thinking of him like that, cementing it into place—when Jake and Daddy would say some jock thing and laugh and high-five each other and Mom and I would look at each other and smile or roll our eyes. ‘It’s a guy thing’ we’d think, and as warm and nice as that shared look was, it also pained me but I never knew why. Now I did. It felt like I was somehow betraying my father and brother—but even more than that, it should have been a mother-and-daughter moment.
I heard the snap of Mom’s phone shutting and she caught up with us. “Seemed to go okay. It’s running, ‘purring’, he said, and he’s popping a beer and watching the Phillies. And they’re ahead!” They were my dad’s favorite team for some reason, come good season or bad. And as far as I knew, he’d never even been to Philadelphia. “So. My plan is this. Um, Allison, do you have any objection to visiting the Ladies’?”
“No, not at all. After all, I got my mommy with me!” I said like a proud little girl.
“Goof!” Taylor rolled her eyes.
Mom took out a pad and pen. “Taylor, do you know all of the sizes of the clothing that Allie’s wearing? No? Okay, I’ll make a list. Allie, go in the stall, take off what you need to check the sizes. Oh, and the manufacturer. Every one of them sizes differently; you’ll go mad trying to match but at least we’ll have a starting place. Bra and … and panties, too. Taylor, shoes?”
“Six or seven, maybe?”
To me, Mom said, “See if you can find out. Okay, in we go.”
We’d reached the Penney’s Ladies’ Lounge, which was a palace compared to the mall’s public restrooms I’d used as a boy. There were two ladies waiting, and Mom took the opportunity to quietly say to us, “Now, we’re not going to go overboard shopping. Famous last words, I know, but I have my reasons. I mainly want to focus on an outfit for Allison and her father to meet—Taylor, you’re up—and maybe one for afterwards. I’m sorry, honey; I know you want to get everything, but it’s really not the time.”
“I understand, Mom, I really do. I’m just so … blown away by you accepting me,” I said, lowering my voice as two more ladies came in line behind us.
“There’s more going on here than you know, honey,” Mom said cryptically. “Okay, here’s the pad.”
I took the pad and went in. I quickly removed the top and noted the size, then removed the inserts—didn’t want them flopping onto the floor!—and wrote down the bra size. I put the bra back on and was putting in an insert and saw a brand and code stamped on it and wrote that, too. Pulling the top on and the skirt around, I got the skirt size and then pulled down my panties and peed and wiped, checked the size of panties before pulling them up. I bent over and unstrapped a sandal; nothing. I checked the other and a little white tag said ‘6’, and then I flushed as I got fully put back together. I came out and Taylor was just finishing at a mirror; in the purse she’d given me was a brush so I put my hair into place.
“Shame we don’t at least have that lipstick,” Taylor said about the Estee Lauder color I wore.
“I’ve got to tell Mom about her,” I said, just as Mom came out of the last stall and primped at the mirror.
She gave me the warmest smile and a ‘double-hug’, where she’d hug me close to her twice. I hadn’t felt that in years and I almost melted with gratitude.
“I’m thinking something in pink and white,” Mom said quietly so other ladies couldn’t hear. “Your father likes women in pink, and there will be a subtle, subliminal persuasion to him to see you in a color he’s never seen you in and that boys don’t usually wear.” In a normal volume as we headed out of the lounge, she said, “We know that lilac works very well for you; I think teal, maybe even a steel blue. What’s that funny color the Seattle Seahawks wear?”
“I don’t know, Mom; you’re asking the wrong child,” I said with a grin.
“Oh, that’s right. And what’s the secret of my apple pie?”
“Galas peeled and marinated for two hours with a teaspoon of cinnamon, half-a-teaspoon of sugar and—oh, you’re having fun with me.”
Mom shook her head. “No. I have one son to talk to me about football uniforms and one daughter to talk to me about apple pies. Best of both worlds,” she grinned. “Seriously, though, it wouldn’t kill ya to pay some attention to the sport that … the men-folk in the family love.”
“Thank God I got a sister,” Taylor smirked. “We just talk about makeup and boys.”
That was like a needle pulled off a record—it stopped the conversation cold. I knew that Taylor hadn’t intended that, but it was—to mix metaphors—the elephant in the corner.
Of course, Mom picked up on it. “Tell me, Allie … what are your feelings about boys?”
“Mom, I kind of talked about this with Taylor. I don’t know yet. I only know two things. First, I’ve never had any … special feelings for anybody, boy or girl. And second, I feel and think like a girl, so when it comes, I’ll probably be interested in boys.”
Taylor gave a stagey fake cough. “Um … three things.”
She did the fake cough thing again. “Der … ek …”
“Oh,” I blushed.
“Ah-ha!” Mom chuckled. “Come on; out with it.”
“Taylor and I … well, she was asking what I felt about boys, and we talked about boys in our class last year, and I kinda, sorta … well, felt something when we talked about one of them.”
“Who?” Mom asked. “Do I know him?”
“No. Derek Howell,” I said with a sigh. “He got hurt in football and then transferred during the first semester.”
Taylor said to Mom, “I believe the words she used were ‘warm and squishy inside’.”
“Taylor!” I spun on her.
“Yep, that sounds about right, especially with that sigh she just gave,” Mom grinned at my blush. “Warm and squishy … Oh, don’t be mad at Taylor, honey; she did you a favor. She got you over a major hurdle.”
“Hurdle? I did?” Taylor asked. “Yay for me. How?”
Mom sighed as she looked at me. “You may be determined to be—well, I guess you are—a girl, but there’s thirteen years of boy-stuff crammed in your head. It could mess you up, especially dealing with the opposite sex.” She chuckled. “Whatever the opposite sex might turn out to be! But I think your reaction to this Derek boy shows that you have a girl’s typical response to a boy. So I think you’re going to find that you’re a heterosexual girl, interested in boys.”
“Whew! That’s a relief!” Taylor joked. “I was afraid of stripping in front of her!”
“Taylor, you’d strip in front of the Chess Club if they’d pay attention to you!” I shot back as we came to the Juniors section.
“Girls! Girls!” Mom laughed. “Cool it! Okay, I think the best look for you will be the camisole and a tiered or layered skirt …” Quietly, she murmured, “Chess Club?” and chuckled; Taylor stuck out her tongue at me and then giggled.
I could tell that Mom had said ‘Girls! Girls!’ automatically, realized it, and seemed to like it!
We looked and were lucky enough to quickly find what Mom wanted for me. The top was a spaghetti-strap camisole in the lightest pink, with a gathered bodice and delicate lace at the neckline and hem. For the skirt Taylor found a tiered skirt in white eyelet; the two seemed to blend nicely when we held them up and when I put them on, I could instantly tell by Mom’s face that we’d found the outfit.
“Jewelry is fine—thank you for the magnetic earrings, Taylor—and the shoes are good, but I really want to find some of your own. Also lingerie.”
We got the lingerie first, a three-pack of panties in white, pink, and yellow, and had to go to the Women’s Lingerie for the bra. It was there that I had the strongest, strangest feeling that I truly was in another category, as we stood among the displays, flipping through bras. Nothing could be more feminine and less a male activity! Mom found the bra that Taylor had loaned me and bought two, one in white and one in what she called ecru.
In the shoe department, Taylor mentioned casually how cute I looked in her ballet flats, so Mom got a pair of white strappy sandals like Taylor’s—with a slightly higher heel!—and brown suede flats. She seemed to crumble a little bit and led us back to Juniors and I got a denim miniskirt and raspberry tank, and then back to Juniors Lingerie and Mom held a nightie up against me.
“If all goes well,” she murmured, and I started getting nervous about how much was riding on my meeting with my father.
Mom declared us done, but then asked an awkward question. “Who did your makeup? Taylor?”
We looked at each other and were forced to tell the true story, with the lie about the step-mother. Mom glared slightly at that, but nodded and said she completely understood, only never lie, blah-blah-blah. Sheepishly, we agreed. Then she absolutely blew my mind by taking us to the makeup counter! As luck would have it, Anna wasn’t there, so it was much simpler. Mom had the list and asked for the lipstick, blush, and shadow and asked that Anna get commission. There was a little glaring contest between her and the clerk but Mom won, made sure it was done right, and as we walked away, Mom surprised me again.
“Keep your fingers crossed that we get to do more business with Anna!”
Then Mom took us to a Denny’s for salad and finally to Taylor’s house, where we hauled in the bags. Monica was out, thank goodness, and so it was an easy matter. Mom told me to hang out, and she’d call and let me know what the scoop was. She suggested we pass the time by making a list of our own, based on Taylor’s clothing, of what I would need for day-to-day clothing as a girl.
“I can’t promise anything,” Mom cautioned. “But we better be prepared if things work out.”
I hugged her and told her how much I loved her, and then she was gone.
Taylor and I just looked at each other. She raised an eyebrow and said, “Beverages, anyone?”
End of Part 5
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