by Andrea Lena DiMaggio
The Ragazza home, Essex Fells, New Jersey, October 31, 2015….
Being the child of a jewelry artist was a plus, but the design of the tiara was simple if very pretty. She adjusted it as she tilted her head slightly; musing about how attractive it might appear to the boy she liked. Her makeup was a bit more involved than normal; which wasn’t really normal most days anyway. A quick re-touch of lip-gloss was in order; she had a tendency to bit her bottom lip when she was deep in thought or nervous. Deep thought and anxiety usually danced around her head in times like this, but she remained undaunted.
“Will you be back in time for dinner,” her mother called out from the kitchen. She looked around the room in haste, as if the answer was written on the wall or hidden underneath her bed.
“No,” she shouted, her voice a bit scratchier than usual, but needful for the moment.
“Okay. Maybe I’ll stop by your Aunt Margo’s on the way home from work. She’s busy re-doing the kitchen and I’ve been meaning to get over there to help. Is that okay? Do you have any money?”
“Yes, Mom. Probably stop by Taco Bell later.” She lied. Tonight, no matter what happened, was absolutely not a Taco Bell night. She wasn’t even sure she could eat.
“Okay, honey. Hope you have a good time.” She heard her mother open the front door, but pause.
“Nino? Would you mind? I forgot to check the mail last night?” The boy put his head down at the mention of his name, which pushed hard in ironic fashion against his family name. He didn’t hate it, but there was something so frustrating about hearing it time after time; especially since he hadn’t had the strength to push past his fears to tell his mother the truth. He sighed even as he heard his mother shout one last time.
“Love you, honey. I’ll see you tonight! Have a good time.” The door closed sharply behind her, leaving her only child to ponder the cruelty of fate or some deity or even Goddess herself; how a princess ended up stuck on a mundane planet in an ordinary town living a very sad life as a sixteen-year old boy. He looked up and his face….her face brightened as she realized that maybe today would be the day she told her mother that Nino still lived, but his name was Natalia.
The Stein home, Essex Fells, New Jersey…
“Oh, honestly, Lee. Do you really have to go out dressed like that? I mean….” The girl’s mother stared at her, hands on hips with a wry grin, trying with some success to keep from laughing. She stepped closer and inspected her middle child. The second of three girls had come to her nearly two years before and cried over a secret that everyone knew but no one wanted to face until that moment.
“You’re quite handsome.”
“I’m not, but I’m not pretty either.” Both of them were wrong, actually. The boy’s face was almost exactly like the girl’s face except for the lack of makeup. Sharp features and fiercely bright eyes made him look like the young man he was, even if things were different under his clothes. He looked down, as if he could see beneath his outfit. Everything was ‘put away’ for the moment. He felt oddly ashamed that unlike some of his friends, he did more than not despise his body. He embraced it. Gender was fluid and presentable depending upon the heart and mind of the person, wasn’t it? He shook his head as tears came freely.
“No regrets, Lee.”
“But I’m a freak, Mom. Even some of the folks in the support group look at me funny.” Kara looked at her child…her only son…and half-smiled; it was so ironic that some people could demand acceptance and tolerance while extending little or none to someone just as out-of-place as they were. Thankfully those moments and those people were few.
“Not a freak. We’re all different and all the same, Lee. I hope at least that I have shown that to you and Debra and Ruth.” She stepped back and looked at her son. Ready as ever to take on the world, no matter which world that might be. She patted the sides of the boy’s shoulders to boost him, so to speak.
“You have everything?” She inspected his ‘gear.’ Loose dark pants partly covered by a medium length tunic-like garment covering a cream colored shirt; all loose but not quite flowing. His hair was a bit longer than usual, but still just the right length. No other hair, however. Even the boy’s grandfather and uncles found it difficult to grow beards, and Lee had already chosen not to seek any extra ‘help,’ so his face was clean. No rules that either of them knew that demanded a beard. And he was only a Padawan anyway; his sister Ruth had added a braided length of hair to complete the look.
“What…I can’t find it…” The boy began to panic; even for a day of make-believe, looks and demeanor and even accessories mattered.
“Relax, my brother,” Debra said as she walked into the living room. She pulled a cylindrical object from behind her back.
“I was just scratching it up here and there to give it that used look, you know,” she said as she handed the light saber to him. He placed it under his garment in a deep inside pocket, breathing a sigh of relief.
“I hope you make that connection you told me about,” Kara said with a soft laugh. The boy’s cheeks grew red.
“Oh, as if we didn’t know? Come on, Obi-Wan.” Debra giggled and Ruth joined in with a laugh of her own.
“You might be a Jedi in training today and on any other occasional weekend, but you’re still living in this world, where young men fall for young ladies.” Kara said to him as she kissed him lightly on the cheek.
“And if you see a guy with a red and black face and horns, quickly walk away!” Debra said as she stepped closer to give Lee her own hug. The old ways had been replaced from one side, but Debra still treasured her sibling as much as when things were different. She pressed a small packet into the boy’s hand. A nervous look of recognition quickly flashed and was gone. He put his head down, but avoided looking at his hand. How could she have known? She stepped closer once again.
“I know, bro. It’s okay. You know….everything about you is just right!” The words did little to alleviate the feelings of awkwardness even if they were heart-felt. Things didn’t fit to begin with and he felt out of place with his newly-found peers; at least with the few friends whose rude if well-intended remarks seemed to outweigh the encouragement from others. He shook his head.
“No regrets, Lee,” Kara said. “I have three children who give me great joy. Two beautiful daughters and one handsome son, and I will not hear otherwise. And what my children choose to do with their lives in whatever manner they decide is just fine with me.
“You don’t understand.”
“I don’t. Not at all.” Kara said as she looked back and forth between Lee and Debra and Ruth. She smiled.
“But I didn’t have children with the idea that I had to understand everything about them. All I am called to do….everything I am called to do with you three is to love you as best I can. Your father, may his soul be blessed, said as much before he died. He loved you three so much. It’s what we do.” Kara began to tear up. A visit to a once-in-a-while event by her middle child would have meant much less to any other mother, but today was almost a hallmark; that moment where he would make up for those years of neglect of who he had always been. A ‘today I am a man’ moment, no matter what surrounded his soul.
“Okay, bro.” Ruth walked over to the pass-through counter by the kitchen and grabbed her purse. Reaching in, she grabbed her keys and tossed them to the boy.
“Park it nicely and bring it back in one piece.” She laughed. He stared at the Porche medallion on the fob; the one luxury Aaron Stein allowed himself passed to his oldest child who now entrusted her ‘baby’ to her brother.
“And if you run into a little boy with a big smile and big eyes and he asks you to train him? Tell him thanks but no thanks?” Kara touched the boy’s elbow. He winced only a bit; don’t all boys get a bit embarrassed at their mother’s attention, even in front of family?
The Izod Center, East Rutherford, New Jersey…late afternoon…
The girl seemed lost in a sea of colorful characters; both as beloved members of families and friends on the screen and the odd and unusual personality one might find in a gathering like this. She practically lowered her head, only glancing up on occasion when she saw the feet of approaching people. It was her first time ever to take a breath… the heart that beat inside her was throbbing for the first time as her, so to speak. As much fun as the afternoon promised, she felt awkward and out of place in an arena filled with novelty and odd amusement.
The boy strained his eyes from the glare of the exhibit lights as he looked and looked without much success. The arena was filled with people and creatures and all sorts of wondrous things to see, even if Jedis and Brownshirts and caped heroes and heroines all mixed together. Not as much organization as other conventions, to be sure; the promoters had made a horrible choice in the venue and it was a first-time well-meant effort and it showed. Even still, what wasn’t included or missed or forgotten was made up for completely with what …with whom he hoped he’d find.
His attempts to communicate had been thwarted by a crappy 4G knockoff and unanswered texting. He stopped and pulled out the large card in his pocket; a laminate ‘map’ of the exhibits. He realized he was probably only fifty yards or so from where he had told her to meet him. He walked a bit until he found the Lucasfilm booth and saw several girls standing in front dressed in skimpy outfits along with a tall guy in a dark vest over a cream shirt with dark pants.
He glanced at his watch; it was well past the time for their meeting; provided she had even gotten his message. Several people jostled past him even though the aisle was fairly clear; two girls who looked as if they were texting each other and a college age guy who looked like a reasonable facsimile of Benedict Cumberbatch.
“Lee?” The voice was almost a whisper accompanied by a tug on his sleeve. He turned to face a very pretty if nervous looking young lady. She wore a long ivory gown; crisscrossed bodice and billowy sleeves. The midriff was covered, unlike the photo she had sent of her idol. And she wore a very red complexion; unaided by cosmetics but enhanced by embarrassment.
“Natalia?” The boy breathed out her name in a sigh. Through his sister. they had known each other for almost their whole lives, but this was the first time they had met, in a way. He smiled nervously, which didn’t help the girl at all. She turned sideways and shook her head.
“I’m sorry….this was a mistake.” She went to leave but he grabbed her hand; first with urgency, but softly as she gave into his assuring eyes.
“I haven’t told my Mom.” She shook her head again and began to cry. Who cries at a comic convention, anyway? He stepped closer to her and pulled her to him in a brotherly embrace. It really was brotherly since they had been almost siblings since grammar school.
“It’s okay, Nat…. Maybe me and my Mom can help you tell her?” The boy was as strong as the girl was weak; the contrast was both good and bad, but mostly getting better as the girl sighed.
“You’d do that for me? I feel… I’m such a fool. I hate myself.” She shook her head yet another time; this moment with eyes cast downward in shame.
"Natalia?" The boy pled, his arms held out wide in encouragement.
“No…. Nino....” She used that name…that other identification that seemed to taunt her even if unintentionally so. Her eyes flashed with shame.
“Natalia….that’s your name. Not Nino….not anymore! We’ll tell your Mom.” He cupped her chin to raise her countenance, as the old saying goes. But he went further, even if it hadn’t been his intent all along, it was appropriate and honest and healing for both of them. A quick but tender kiss on the lips; the first kiss of many for both of them.
“Obi-Wan kissing Padme? Holy X-Wing! Some Jedi is gonna be majorly pissed,” a boy said with a laugh. His hair was short and very red and his face was covered with freckles. He wore slacks and a simple vest sweater over a button-down shirt with a bow tie. His comment drew a few smiles and some laughter from a gathering crowd of teens and young adults and even an older gentleman dressed in a long coat with a very large hat and a long striped scarf thrown loosely around his neck.
“Hey…look at the freaks!” Another boy dressed similarly to Lee said as he pointed. His intended response never arrived as several young men and a few girls booed him.
“I think it’s beautiful,” a girl clad in green and yellow spandex with a short brown leather jacket said loudly before elbowing the rude boy in the arm. The girl next to her was clad in a dark red outfit covered mostly by a very long trench coat. She took the pack of cards in her hand and flicked it at the boy unceremoniously; the pack was unopened and the box careened off the boy’s forehead and onto the floor.
“Ce qu'un imbécile!” She shook her head and laughed before grabbing her girlfriend’s hand. A boy dressed in white plastic armor took off his helmet and began to applaud. Soon everyone in the immediate area was clapping. Lee turned to Natalia and pulled her close for a hug, which the girl welcomed with happy tears.
An odd match made in a heaven in another universe, I suppose. The wrong bodies on the right people? The wrong clothes on the perfect person? The wrong approach for the right union? Even the wrong characters for the right hearts. A shy and retiring girl who wanted to be loved for who she was as well as for what she might remain. And a very strong boy; not weak of spirit or selfish, but a good and honest boy who sought only to be himself. And a promise that this odd couple might be much more together than they would ever have been apart; perhaps with young Padawans of their own? One can never tell when a romance like that is written for all to see across the stars….
The Love Theme from
Attack of the Clones
(Across the Stars)
composed by John Williams
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