Christmas Hopes Holiday Sampler



Jessica sat at the end of the couch; her clothing seemed so out of place with the other girls in the group. Nina wore a corduroy dress, blue with leather trim at the collar and the sleeve cuffs, along with a fringe at the calf-lenth skirt. Connie wore a cocoa brown sweater over a cream colored cotton shift. Nancy had come from work; her blue jeans were distressed, and the blue cotton work shirt was unbuttoned, revealing a green cami. The other girls wore similar clothing; dresses and skirts and blouses. Even the jeans were pretty. Jessica looked down at herself. The non-descript blue jeans and tee shirt adorned only by a maroon work smock that had a “Shop-Rite” Logo sewn over the pocket. Her name tag read James.

Renaissance Transgender Peer Support Group...Limestone Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, Delaware...December 22, 2011

“Jessica? You seem distant tonight? Is there anything wrong?” Minnie asked.

“What…are you an idiot? She comes here every fucking meeting in her work clothes. What do you think?” Cathy looked at Minnie and laughed before shaking her head.

“Cathy…not nice!” Nina half-frowned and rapped Cathy on the arm with her magazine.

“I haven’t told Dad yet.” James shrugged his shoulders.

“I still have a need at the consignment shop, honey. I’m sure it pays as good as what you’re getting at Shop-Rite.” Connie reminded the boy of the job, not so much beause of employment as much as to remove any excuse. She wasn’t trying to make it difficult for James, but removing the issue of a job placed his fears squarely back where they belonged; on his father’s doorstep so to speak.

“Yeah.that just leaves you talkin’ with your Dad, honey.” Cathy tapped the boy on the knee.

“I know you can do it, hon…you just have to…this isn’t who you are…and he needs to know that.”

“You tell us all the time he loves you, right,” Nina spoke up in a soft, motherly tone. The boy frowned.

“But she also said he is still having a hard time….you know, with the loss of his wife.” Nancy shook her head and tried to smile at the boy but began to tear up, having lost her own wife of seventeen years only a few months before.

“He…keeps saying that if he lost me, he’d die. I can’t put him through that.” The boy put his head down and began to sob. Nina leaned closer and patted him on the back.

“You miss your Mom just as much as he does…I bet he doesn’t even know how bad it’s been for you.” At that the boy turned and buried his face in her shoulder and started to shake.

“Let it out, Jessie…it’s okay…I know, I know.” She tried to keep from sobbing herself, but Nina still cried along with the child. Not a boy, not by any stretch of her imagination at least, the child in her arms was just as much a girl as any of them, and at fifteen, the youngest as well.

The Padalino home, Wilmington, Delaware….the following afternoon….

“Hey…Jimmy, Is your father home yet?” Mrs. Thomasino called from her front porch.

“No, Mrs. T. One of the guys at the precinct is at the hospital for his first kid, so he’s working the extra shift. You want him to call you?”

“No… I’ll catch him tomorrow when you come to dinner.” Jimmy blushed. Carla Thomasino had both of them over on the occasional Sunday; she was a divorcee’ with a daughter who went to Catholic High School. Both Thomasino girls had designs on both Padalino boys, so to speak. Angelo Padalino didn’t mind the attention. It had been nearly three years since Helen’s passing, and Carla was a very attractive woman. Jimmy, on the other hand, had no interest being anyone’s boyfriend, since at fifteen, he had already determined that being a girlfriend to a girl was the best possible future for him.

As scared as he was of telling his father about his other self, he was terrified of the rejection from Gina. Almost like a pre-teen girl, he had autographed his own middle-school yearbook with his alter-ego.

Best of Luck, Luv, Jessie Padalino… Dear Gina, We had fun at camp, Hugs, Jessie. See you in High Skool, luv, Jessie…

Jessie stared at the yearbook picture; Eighth Grade Science Club, Mr. Grajewksi. She stood next to Gina when the picture was taken. Her male self looked so girly any way, she would have been mistaken for Gina’s BGFF. She bit her lip and dropped the book to the floor. Slowly she took off her Shop-Rite Smock and placed it on her desk chair. She pulled off her sweater and tee shirt and jeans, revealing a bra and panties. Pulling back her hair, she fastened it with a rubber band in a tight pony tail.

“Daddy…Dad…Father dear…Pater…” She kidded as she looked into the mirror over her dresser. Staring back at her was a nice girl; about fifteen or so. With a little makeup she would look almost pretty. Maybe something to cover her face, which sported only a few blemishes. She sighed before reaching into her dresser to pull out what she had placed there on Saturday after she had done the laundry.

Just handling the garments brought her to tears. It was really nothing remarkable; a pair of kelly green slacks and a mint ladies shirt. There was something special about buttoning a garment backwards, she remembered as she put the clothing on. She reached into her closet and pulled out a pair of Sketchers; pink and low cut. Walking back to the mirror she tilted her head as she inspected the image.

“Hi, mom….I missed you,” she said as she waved to her reflection. She really more resembled her father, almost like a pretty younger sister of her Dad’s. But she was wearing her mother’s outfit. Jessie treasured the clothing because it really stood for who her mother was. Helen Padalino would have looked great even in Angelo’s sweat pants and a tee, but the nice green outfit made Jessica identify with the practical but pretty woman her mother was. She sighed and slapped herself in the head like she was chastising her self.

“You always cry….why do you do that?” The girl in the mirror seemed to be wondering as much as she did over the continued habit of tears invading what should have been a nice moment. It was really her and her other self’s way of both grieving and holding on, but at that moment, it just hurt and felt great at the same time.

She picked up her Mp3 player from her desk and walked down the hall to the kitchen. Putting the earbuds on, she proceeded to gather the morning dishes to load in the dishwasher. The player was blaring a Tech-House mix that her uncle Tony had made for her a few weeks before. Angelo's brother Tony was a Social Studies Substitute by day and did weekend gigs as a Tech-Jockey in the city and had gotten Jessie interested in the genre’.

The girl had her back to the kitchen door, and didn’t notice the police officer step inside the kitchen behind her.

“Jimmy?” She continued to load the dishwasher, oblivious to the company. The man reached over and popped one of the ear buds out and repeated,

“Jimmy?” She turned around and saw her father standing red-faced and shaking.

“Oh..god…Dad,’s not what you think.” Jimmy tried to argue the point with his dad but stopped in the middle of it. Jimmy started to shake, almost matching his father’s tremor like motion until he shuddered once, burst into tears, and ran down the hall.

A knock came at the door…

“Jimmy? Jim…let me in, we need to talk.” Angelo stood in the hallway by his son’s door, his head placed against it; he was exhausted. After a few minutes, he pulled back and started to walk down the hall when he heard the door unlock. Walking back slowly, he knocked twice on the door frame as he opened the door. Jimmy was sitting on his bed, his knees pulled up to his chin. He had on some sweatpants and a Phillie’s hoodie, which was pulled up over his head, casting a shadow on his face. Even at that, Angelo saw that the boy's face was puffy and red

“Can we talk?” His father asked softly as he approached the bed.

“I guess.” The boy turned his face away.

“I had a very hard day, Jim….I’m sorry if I got angry at you.” Angelo shook his head, and it was then that Jimmy noticed his father had been crying as well.

“You know…I was so upset just now….but I realized, I’ve been so upset about losing her…your mother… that I forgot how hard it’s been for you. That’s why you wore her clothes.”

Part of Jimmy was so afraid of what his father still might do that he was tempted to say yes, but the look on his father’s face was as welcoming and loving as he ever remembered. He took a chance and began, trying hard not to cry.

“Dad…yeah…that’s part of it…but that’s just it…it’s only part.” Angelo’s eyes widened, almost as fearful as his son as he wondered what he’d find out.

“I wear the outfit because it’s what Mommy would wear…like when we’d go to Wegmans or she’d sit in the living room on the couch…you know…with her legs curled up under her as she’d do a crossword puzzle?” His father nodded, wanting to understand.

“It’s like that, but I was like this before Mommy died. You….I’m sorry Dad…I’m…” He started to cry, but caught himself quickly.

“No…you don’t deserve this….I can’t…you need a son…I’m sorry, Dad.” The boy looked away until his father reached over and touched his cheek with his hand; as lovely a gesture as the boy ever remembered.

“Jimmy…I should be sorry. Your mother tried to tell me before….she knew…She never said anything. I think we both thought it was…wanted it to be a phase…just something you were going through. I am so sorry.” The boy tried to pull away, but his father wouldn’t have it.

“No…hear me out. I said I had a difficult day? Difficult doesn’t describe it. Me and Phil were in Big D’s between shifts…we hear this godawful crash…accident right down the street. Mom and daughter got sideswiped on a hit and run…run off the road and hit a tree…gone.” Angelo began to cry.

“She… the mom…and the girl was your age….” He sobbed.

“All I could think of…I got sick right there. Phil covered them and called it in. He must have said something because Jacki calls back and says the Sergeant is on the other end. Phil probably noticed the resemblance and Sarge gave me the rest of the shift off. Anybody else or anything else…but she looked just like your Mom…she…..oh God…I am so sorrrreeeee.” The boy pulled his father close and patted him on the back for several minutes before speaking softly.

“I promise I won’t do that ever again.” He struggled with only a little success in holding back his own tears until his father answered.

“Jimmy…no…that’s just it. I couldn’t even drive…Phil dropped me off about six blocks from here…I had to walk…you know…to get my head together. All I could think of was how much I missed your Mom and how it would kill me if I lost you…not you…Oh I don’t know how to put it. Your mom had sort of an awakening just before she died. She was always sort of close to God…you know. But she said the night before she died that I needed to remember that you were my child. She kept saying over and over, ‘Now Babe…remember’…she kept saying over and over…our child…our child. It was only when I walked in just now that I realized what she was trying to tell me.”

“I don’t understand, Dad.” The boy covered his face in shame. His father reached over awkwardly; not really knowing what would follow.

“She knew, Jimmy….” He paused and shook his head, as if he were a high school junior trying to remember his lines in a play.

“What’s her name?”

James misunderstood and said, “Gina,” while looking out the window to the next door neighbor’s house. Angelo half-smiled and his nose crinkled as he began to tear up once again.

“No…what’s her name…the girl…you….” Angelo tried to smile; he was being warm, but in that moment he felt another grief of a sort as he said farewell in a way to his son. He would struggle with that grief for many months, but at that moment in time he had gained a daughter he really knew all along; the name became the hardest part of the process after a while.

“Jessica, Dad…my name is Jessica” The girl, for that is what she truly was, shrugged her shoulders. Being a girl in her heart and mind was one thing as was the clothing and the accoutrements, but becoming who she’d always felt she was…being able finally to be accepted was too much for her.

Partly out of embarrassment as they both were still stuck somewhat in the past in their previous roles, Angelo and his daughter were left wondering just what does a father do for his daughter when she is happy and sad at the same time. In a few minutes they figured in out as the girl collapsed in her father’s arms and wept in relief.

Saturday afternoon before Christmas, the AMF Price Lanes, Wilmington...three years later...

The family laughed as the older of the two girls stepped up to the line for her second frame. She wore faded blue jeans and a dark green sleeveless blouse with the obligatory rented bi-colored shoes. She brought the ball right to her nose before walking back a few paces. She took two strides while bringing the ball back in an arc before swinging it forward quickly. The ball released with a ‘pop’ as it flew down above the lane for a few feet before making contact.

“Oooohh….I think…I think.” Her mother shouted as the ball sped down the lane, finally striking the head pin just right of center. The pins fell down in surrender as her mother shouted, ‘Strike!’

“That’s okay, Gee!,” Angelo patted his daugther Gina on the back as she stood up for her turn.

“Go get er, girl.”

“Okay…baby girl…don’t miss,” Carla shouted as daughter number two ignored her attempts at a psych job. The girl walked to the ball return and picked up her ball, a recent gift from her erstwhile step-sister and girlfriend. She stopped only long enough to kiss Jessie on the cheek before walking up to the line.

“No fraternization, there" Angelo shouted.

“You bowl your game, Dad and I’ll bowl mine, okay?” Gina called back to her father before rolling the ball down the lane sharply. Unlike Jessie’s ball, her’s was straight on and hit the head pin dead to center. But the mix flew around and by the end all but the ten pin had fallen. It teetered a bit before finally falling down.

“Strike!” Angelo cried out and rewarded his team by kissing the captain of the other team, his bride of three months.

“Hey…none of that,” Jessie laughed as her girlfriend sat down next to her on the side seats. Gina leaned closer and kissed Jessie before laughing.

“What’s that for?” Jessie asked.

“I just think this is a ‘perfect’ game, don’t you?”

Jessie kissed back before saying softly at last,

“Yep….just perfect!”

Come thou wisdom from on high
And order all things far and nigh
To us the path of knowledge show
And cause us in her ways to go

The Padalino home, late December…

The homework lay completed on the dining room table. The almost sad but hopeful strains of Rebecca St.James singing about captive Israel played softly as almost a theme music for the girl’s life, as the two girls sat on the couch at opposite ends. In nearly two years, Jessica had gained a mother and a step-sister who was also her girlfriend. She had, however, lost most of her friends. And while she had gained encouragement and friendship from the group at church, acceptance was still a lifetime away in a matter of speaking since her social status was being held ‘captive’ by her gender issues. At least from her understandably befuddled teenage view. For a ‘special’ girl, she didn’t feel special at all.

“I know,” Gina said, trying to cheer her up. “Let’s cuddle.” As innocuous as cuddling actually can be, it still remained provocative enough to frighten the girl, since she still hadn’t changed entirely. Gina sidled down the couch and began to kiss Jessica’s hand. She moved up quickly and kissed her on the ear.

“Stop, please?” Jessica tried to push Gina away but to no avail. Kissing seemed to be almost a foregone conclusion even if the girls were barely past their respective seventeenth birthdays, which fell within two weeks of each other. The girl really enjoyed the attention, but much of her felt guilty…almost ashamed, in fact, since she barely had any real say in what her body did or didn’t do. Too little, too late? Hardly. But not enough and certainly not a moment too soon?

“It’s okay, hon.” Gina kissed her once again, her hand straying past the open jacket, under the tee shirt, and onto the bra below as she massaged her girlfriend’s breast.

“No…please.” Jessica was practically pleading by then but Gina failed to pick up her intent, believing that Jessica was playing along with playing along. She edged her hand southward and would have arrived at the intended destination but for the sudden, intense sobbing by the girl in her arms. Jessica jumped up and stood stock still, looking down at the zipper of her jeans before running down the hall to her room.

Since their parents had married, it was both oddly comforting and very awkward and difficult for the two, since they seemed to be as much in love as Jessica’s dad and Gina’s mom had become. But at the moment, it wasn’t at all about love; leastwise in a romantic manner. No amount of caution and well-intended promises could change things as they were at present, and the girls did not share a bedroom like some sisters enjoy and even require.

“I’m so sorry.” The girl sat on her bed with her head down. Her body was shaking; actually the shaking had escalated to tremors that caused her to fall sideways on the bed in a fetal position as she shook nearly uncontrollably. Her dilemma seemed to mock her daily, and today was another visit from a familiar if unwelcome ‘old friend,' since 'Little Jimmy' wasn't going down without a fight and 'Little Jessica' had yet to make an appearance. A voice came from behind Gina. Angelo and Carla stood in the hallway; concern etched their faces. Angelo went to enter the room but Carla put her hand up in caution.

“I think Jessie and I need to have a mother to daughter talk.”

She beckoned Gina to leave and shooed Angelo along with her until she was sitting alone beside Jessica on the bed. A mother to daughter talk this late in the ‘game’ would be awkward enough. As it was, the talk was between a step-mother, albeit a very kind step-mother, and her daughter; albeit her pre-operative transsexual step-son in a way. Neither saw each other in those lights and both loved each other as if they were both from the same biological family and same biological origins.

“Go away….” The girl rocked softly on her side but pulled away sharply when Carla placed her hand on the girl’s back.


The words were loud and very emphatic, but they were driven by embarrassment and shame rather than anger and selfishness. Carla remained undaunted and continued to sit on the bed; redoubling her effort to engage the girl by stroking her hair. No loud rebuke, but instead the girl began to sob softly at the touch of the woman who had filled her mother’s place and filled her father’s heart in a way.

“Go away,” she sobbed, continuing to rock; a product as much from her meds as from her sadness. Carla leaned closer.

“Sorry, babe, but you’re stuck with me.” She kissed the girl on the cheek; an entirely unexpected moment. Carla was very affectionate with Jessica’s father, of course, but for some reason had almost withheld any show of affection from Jessica. Having been together for only a year or so, the family was still trying to knit together.

“I…Leave me alone.” The girl gasped between sobs. Plaints that were all-too familiar since Gina had cried in exactly the same manner when her own father left Carla and her several years before. The cries that protest any blessings or demonstrations of love since she didn’t deserve love at all.

“It’s okay, Jessie. I understand.” Carla continued to stroke the girl’s hair. She relented only a bit and allowed Carla to continue, but she continued to cry.

“I read…” She paused. Jessica would likely feel betrayed and entirely ashamed over the next few words, but she had to know that Carla was in her corner. Carla leaned closer. A mother to daughter talk about boys and things; this being so odd since the boys and things she was talking about had to do with the part of her step-daughter that hadn’t changed yet.

“I hear you and Gina talking last night after choir practice. Don’t worry….” She anticipated the embarrassment rightly as the girl’s face grew a very bright crimson. She was about to cry out and Carla whispered quickly enough to quiet the girl.

“Shhhh…..I looked around, and no one…nobody else heard, Jessie. Your secret is safe with me.” What had meant to be an encouragement did the exact opposite as the girl buried her face in the down comforter beneath her and began to sob.

“Shhh…..shhhh. We’ve got an appointment with Dr. Sharma, honey.” The girl continued to cry, but her sobs began to ebb.


“I think you need a little more help….maybe things need to be…. Accelerated?” She shrugged her shoulders and smiled a sweet if subdued half-smile. Jessica bit her lip and looked down briefly before sitting up. She pulled Carla into a hug, meaning to express sincere if subdued thanks. But whatever wasn’t enough for one part of her was entirely too much for the other parts of her and she burst into tears all over again. At least she was crying for all the nice reasons, as they say. Carla patted her on the back slowly, hoping that the girl would be alright.

Rejoice, Rejoice Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel
Rejoice, Rejoice Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel
O Israel
Shall come

Christmas Eve …

“I hope you like the medal, Dad.” Gina said with a smile. He smiled back at her with a kind look in his eyes; a St. Michael Protect Us/Patron Saint of Police Medal. While a man of faith, he wasn't religious and he wasn’t superstitious, but as a cop and parent both, the emotion and sentiment behind the gift made Angelo feel more secure as his step-daughter’s father.

“It’s great, baby girl.” He had taken to the pet name for Gina; more than anything from a deep appreciation and gratefulness for her.

“Open mine, Jessie,” Carla said.

The girl obliged, carefully removing ribbon and wrap in an almost dainty fashion. Gina glared at her as if to say, “Come on…rip it open.” Jessica pulled the box apart and eyed the bright object beneath the folds of pink paper. She saw that it was a locket about the size of a quarter; the triplet to the gold ones that Gina and Carla wore.

“Go ahead, honey. Open it up.” Carla nodded and smiled. Jessica used her fingernail to pry open the locket, revealing a picture of Carla and her and Gina together. The inscription on the inside opposite face read ‘Daughters are forever.”

“Merry Christmas, my dear sweet girl.” Carla said. Gina reached over and grabbed Carla’s and squeezed. It was a moment that almost begged for a ‘God bless everyone.” Instead, Gina laughed and said finally even as the doorbell rang,

“Great…Pizza’s here. Let’s eat.”

“Well,” Angelo said as he stood up, helping Carla to her feet. “Nothing says Merry Christmas like Chicken and Broccoli, si?”

“Merry Christmas, Gina…Dad…Mom.” She barely got out the word,’ Mom,’ when she began to cry

“Merry Christmas, Gina. Merry Christmas, Angelo,” Carla said as she nodded to them before giving special knowing smile to Jessica.

“Merry Christmas, Jessie.”

Rejoice, Rejoice Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel!
O Israel!


Theresa moved about the kitchen, singing softly to herself; the aroma of garlic and oregano and tomato filled the air.

"And the glory...the glory of the lord...."

She felt a soft hand touch her cheek, giving her a start. She turned and faced the love of her life, the young man smiling sweetly, but with eyes filled with tears. She kissed him softly on the lips, evoking a cry.

“We have to talk,” the young man said. She put her hand to her mouth to stifle a sob.

“No….” Her face twisted into a mask of tears of grief and fear as he nodded ‘yes,’ once before the two embraced.

Chicago Theological Seminary...two years later...

Theresa stood outside the student center. At twenty-seven she felt out of place, and her anxiety went far beyond first – day nervousness. She not only felt old, but she hadn’t planned to return to school, but it was more than just the academic challenge. She remembered the beginning of her journey.

St. Joseph's Hospital, Fort Wayne Indiana...

“It’s your fault…Terry…I don’t know why he did what he did, but it’s your fault…” The man stood nearly toe-to-toe with Theresa. His voice wavered a bit as he sat down, shaking his head. The woman behind him grabbed his arm from the side and shook it gently.

“Tim…Tim…let it go...It’s not her fault…you know that…you don’t mean.”

“Her? Him…let’s get that straight once and for all…not her…this isn’t a woman. My son married a freak and he died for his sin…him…he killed Andy…he killed my son.”

“Tim…cancer doesn’t…it wasn’t anybody’s fault…let it go…you have to let it go.” The woman buried her face in his back, weeping. He turned and embraced her, his eyes darting back to Theresa. She turned away.

“That’s right…you should be ashamed of yourself…Get out of my sight.”

The present day...Registration at CTS...

“Ms. Delvecchia? I see you have a BSN from Northwestern. What are your plans; you could just go for your MSN or Nurse Practitioner degree. You’re really getting into this quite late...”

“I’ve got all the time in the world, Sir.” She looked down at her left hand and sighed.

The office of Karen Krupinski, Psychologist…

“Things seem better, Theresa. You seem so much less anxious. How did you handle the weekend?” Karen smiled.

“I heard his voice…it didn’t…you were right. I was afraid I couldn’t remember, but I can still hear his voice. “ She put her head down and began to cry.

“How many years, Theresa?”

“We would have been married four years. We…we knew each other since…” She started to explain but the recollection caused her to cry harder.

“Since you were best friends...when you were little, yes, I remember, Theresa…It’s okay.”

“He called me.” She sobbed.

“Your father-in-law? That must have been hard? Your last words were so painful…his last words?”

“It was different…healing sort of…I can’t…” She shook her head. The tears still streamed down her cheeks but she was trying to smile.

“He…he said that he was sorry….that he was wrong…out of the blue…after a year.”

“Theresa? It sounds like you’re conflicted…was it a good thing that he called?”

“Yes…but…it was like I lost precious time…with my own parents…they…we had a relationship….they accepted me.”

“Why, Theresa? Tell me what was going on…why they accepted you…they did love you didn’t they.”

“Yehhhesss.” She began to sob again. She looked around and found the box of tissues and wiped her eyes and nose.

“You WERE good for their son, weren’t you?” It was a question that was asked almost every time they met; an opportunity to face and confess the truth about herself.

“Yeeehhhssss.” She cried.

“But it’s so hard to remember…the love you and he had…and the good that came of your love? Your time together was a good thing, but you still struggle…”

“Yes.” Theresa looked at Karen and tried to smile, but her tears got in the way.

“Tim rejected you…it hurt more than anything except for Andy’s death… what hurt the most about that?”

“I had nobody to talk to…nobody to hug…nobody to love….my heart was broken and I lost the only three people in the world I cared for…I was all alone. Andy died…and I know I’ll see him again….I had prepared for him going… but mom and dad…. blaming me because their son loved me…I don’t understand what happened.” Theresa looked at Karen for an answer that wouldn’t come from anyone but her in-laws.

“Why? I don’t know why…especially when they accepted you…”

“He said it was his fault…for everything.”

“What did he mean by that?” Karen suspected something but wanted Theresa to come to the conclusion herself.

“It…he said he felt he should have said something….done something…that he alone had to answer to God because….” She began to weep. Karen sat still, shaking her head. It was more than just ignorance that had fueled Theresa’s rejection.

“He….said….he raised a boy to be good….that it was his fault that his son rejected his faith…his fault.”

“So being a pastor’s son…and marrying a pastor’s….listen to me, Theresa…he felt that both of you were…”

“I think when the church threatened him…it was like he became a different person…he went from being my …like my own father to being….”

“That’s not all, is it?” Karen knew what the answer would be.

“He stayed away…until Andy’s….I know it was fast…very fast…but that doesn’t excuse what he did…his own son…Kenny didn’t do anything wrong….His dad took something so precious….so special and it’s like he took a statue…and smashed it….I don’t know if I can put the pieces together again.”

“I think you already are, Theresa…you’re doing very well and you’re getting stronger. “

“I’m so confused…I’m so angry with him…but….”

“It was good that he reached out? Even if he’s still wrong?”

“Like…maybe there’s hope…I’m so foolish for hoping…wasting my time.”

“Isn’t that what you call ‘going the extra mile?’ Extra mile, My god, Theresa…it’s like you’ve walked around the planet a few times…you’re not foolish…not at all. Your faith is what means the most to you, and you live it….that’s not foolish at all.”

“I wish he’d….It’s like losing my parents all over again…It’s like losing Andy all over again…my only tie to him…” Theresa put her head in her hands.

“I can’t tell you how strong you’ve become in the last few months…like you’re gained so much strength; you’re doing great Theresa…even only a few months ago this would have set you back…but now…and yes…you can always hope. It sounds like it’s a cautious hope…”

“I understand that I can’t change him…but I am changing myself…that’s a good thing, right?”

“Yes, Theresa…that’s a very good thing. He might come around…he might never come around, but you’re handling it well. What about Andy’s mom?”

“She writes me all the time…even e-mails,” Theresa laughed at the thought. “And she prays every day that….” She began to cry once again.

“It hurts that you’ve been separated…that she feels she can’t see you. Right? But it feels good that at least you know that….” Karen tilted her head in question.

“She loves me…like I’m still part of the family.” Theresa began to sob after that; the conflict of her mother-in-law’s love and her father-in-law’s rejection was too much. Karen shook her head again. Theresa was making great progress. To deal with grief under any circumstance was hard, but to deal with the rejection and the loss at the same time. They still had work to do, but Theresa would be okay.

Lecture Hall, CTS, the next day...

“Excuse me, Miss, is this seat saved?” The man stood in the aisle and pointed to the seat next to Theresa.

“No…but it’s under heavy conviction.” Theresa actually winced at the old joke even as the man sat down quickly. He was tall and handsome in a rugged way. His nose looked like it had been broken at one point, but the slight bend seemed to give his face character. He looked to be about forty, but his grey hair gave him an ‘older, distinguished’ look.

“Dave Armitage,“ he said softly as the professor stepped to the podium.

“Theresa Delvecchia,” she whispered.

The students slowly packed up books and notebooks and were leaving the hall as the class ended. Dave turned to Theresa and waited for a proffered hand, which he shook gently.

“Nice to meet you…” His smile was kind and he had the look of someone who had learned kindness through living the Bible as well as reading it.

“Me, too,” she said softly, wincing once again. “Is that the best you could do? Me, too?” she thought, but he just kept smiling at her.

“I’m a widower…two years last month. I pastor a church in Morton Grove, and my congregation trundled me off to school for a bit of a refresher, I suppose. I think they knew I needed a break after Tina died.” He sighed; the connection between him and his late wife remained strong.

“I lost Andy about the same time…It’s been hard, but I guess like you may know, it’s getting better every day.” She found herself staring at his eyes, almost a slate grey, but with a spark… a life she had only seen once before.

“I’m sorry,” Dave said with a sigh, as if somehow he should have known and felt her loss.

“I had a lot of support when Tina passed,” he sighed, almost as if he knew how much she had missed in her own lonely journey.

“It was hard…my parents died when I was in undergrad school; right after I got married to Andy.” At the mention of his name she felt a stab in her chest. She was surprised to look up to see this stranger with tears in his eyes; she began to write it off to his own commonality of loss until he touched her arm.

“No one to turn to and losing the love of your life…I am so sorry.” He bit his lip and looked away, once again appearing as if he felt he should have known. She tried awfully hard, but as they say, you can choose whom you will love and you can choose whom you will marry, but many times you are unable to choose with whom you fall in love.

“I….I need to get to my next class….Mister…excuse me, Pastor Armitage.” She went to pull away and felt his hand let go slowly. As she walked down the aisle to the exit, she found herself looking into Andy’s eyes once again and it brought her to a halt at the door as the tears blurred her vision.

Theresa's apartment...the following Friday evening...

“Hello…Oh…Hello Tim…what…I don’t understand?” Theresa pulled the phone away from her face and sighed.

“I understand…what? You and Betty want me…what? I can’t…what…you…you’re sorry? You said that before …forgive you? I forgave you already…I know…You couldn’t help….you could?” The tears streamed down and pooled on the notebook sitting beneath her on the desk.

“Lunch…I don’t…Betty…is that you? No…no…don’t cry.” It was amazing that in the midst of her own hurt she continued to be focused on being kind and accepting; returning love.

“Okay…tomorrow…Love….love you too, Betty.” The surprise was pleasant and painful, and Theresa sat down at the desk and cried.

Guy's Diner, the next morning...

Betty waved as Theresa was led back by the hostess. Betty stood and hugged her. As they both sat down she noticed that Betty was alone

“Oh…Hi, she almost sighed until Betty tapped her on the arm.

“Tim is parking the car…we just got here ourselves. I bet you thought…” She laughed softly but her laugh trailed off as she saw the tears in Theresa’s eyes.

“We have so much to say, honey, but for now…at least for the next few moments, just I’m sorry isn’t enough…We…well, here’s Tim...Let’s say grace and then we can talk, okay?” Tim sat down next to Theresa and smiled; the first smile he had shown to her in nearly two and a half years. It was almost painful in its lateness.

“Dear God, thank you for your provision and bless the food and the fellowship, In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.” Tim’s choice of words was odd; he never prayed for fellowship; much less with his estranged daughter-in-law. He turned to her and smiled again, but his eyes were filled with tears. He turned to Betty and nodded before speaking.

“I’m glad you were able to be with us today. I’m not good at this…I’m so used to being a Pastor….like the way I was taught was to be separate…not too involved, and I don’t remember ever learning in seminary how to be real? Like I was not so much too good, but too busy or too involved. And I can’t remember ever apologizing to anyone. I….I….mmmm…” He stammered and Betty reached over and grabbed his hand.

“I’m sorry….Theresa…I am so sorry I never came…I never….” Betty began to cry softly.

“I wouldn’t let her call you…to see you….I was so convinced I was right.” Tim shook his head. He squeezed Theresa’s hand.

“I was wrong. You were the best thing to happen to Kenny. He…tried to tell me and I was so foolish and arrogant. The church was more important to me than my own son….and to what end. I ended up leaving that church anyway…and in the end I lost almost everything…” Betty squeezed his hand at the word ‘almost.’

“I lost my faith…for a time…but I lost my son…and I nearly lost something…someone so dear to me and Betty…forever? Theresa? Is there any room in your heart to forgive me? If not me…please forgive Betty…she really was put in an unwinnable situation. “ It was a tender scene…several of the other diners had turned to witness Tim’s confession. One woman in the adjacent booth began to cry.

“I never….of course you’re forgiven. You and Betty gave me the most precious gift besides my own faith. You trusted me…gave me your son. How could I not. I’ve never held it against you…it just hurt so much that you said what you said.” Theresa bit her lip and shook her head.

“I’ve never stopped loving you…never. Oh, Dad…Mom? “She said the words as if asking permission to use those endearments.

“We love you, too, Theresa…we don’t deserve your love, but we want to be family for you once again…if you can find it in your heart.”

“Find it? It never departed, Mom…I love both of you.” The three gripped each other’s hands as if to never let go.

Theresa's apartment...the Tuesday before Christmas...

“Yes…I’ve got the train ticket in my hands…my last final was this morning…yes…six this evening…yes…oh and Betty…tell Tim...tell Dad that Dave has a question he needs to talk over with him….yes…Mom...yes!!!

Several years later...

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on,
our troubles will be miles away.

The woman was tired; looking more than a bit older than her thirty-four years. Who would be surprised, since she had been through three lifetimes in a manner of speaking. First as someone who had grown up wrong in the right place; she began life inside as a sweet baby girl, but her body didn’t quite match her heart until well into her early twenties.

And the second life-time included a very wonderful love that ended all too soon when her husband passed and her in-laws rejected her. The rift repaired by the grace of God and the humility of her one-time father-in-law who embraced the person God had created her to be. And the love of a wonderful man who accepted her because there wasn’t anything he needed to accept, in a way. The love that looked past her beginnings to imagine life together.

And now a third life…

The Lighthouse Fellowship, Niles Illinois...

A girl stood at the foot of the ramp leading to the front of the auditorium. She looked around before speaking.

“Pastor Armitage?” The girl seemed very scared; odd for her since she had always gotten along with Theresa since she started coming to the church with her father weeks before.

“Lina? It’s okay…call me Terry, right?” Theresa patted the stage for the girl to sit. It was obvious from her streaky makeup that she’d been crying. A pretty if shy ‘scene’ girl that had few friends since her arrival in town; she never the less had tried very hard to fit in at the church. And then for this to all happen.

“I…I’m so sorry…..” The girl sobbed and put her head on Theresa’s arm; a dark blue drop blotted on her top, but the black fabric absorbed it and the girl’s sorrow in a way. She pulled her head up enough to look into Theresa’s eyes; her expression apologetic and nearly embarrassed with shame. Too much guilt in a life not even a quarter lived. Theresa touched her cheek.

“Why are you sorry?” Not so much a probe as a way to get the girl to at least admit why she was upset and hopefully get to the bottom of the guilty look that still remained.

“But you...” She had barely gotten the words out before she began to sob once again; this time with such intensity that she got dizzy. Theresa leaned closer and supported the girl in a warm hug; all the while patting her on the back to console her.

“I’m so…I hate myself.” The girl gasped as she wiped her face with her sleeve. “You…you…”

“It’s alright, Lina. I understand. Please don’t be angry with yourself. I don’t think I could bear that grief.” It would be the only moment in the time they spent that she allowed herself to think about herself.

“But….I…I’m so….” She looked down at her body. She wore a very distressed looking pair of jeans and a pink Hello Kitty tee which was filled with blotching stains from where her makeup had run. She had been crying all day; even before she had heard the news from one of the youth group members. That her focus went back and forth between that and her own hurts was actually a good thing since she had chosen to look past her own needs to the needs of someone else.

“God loves you, Lina. I think I know a little about how you feel. Do you want to talk?”

“But Pastor Terry…..what about….what about….” Theresa put her hand up and used her finger to shush the girl gently.

“I think you need to know something about me. Something I don’t share with most people.” To prove her point, she moved her gaze back and forth between her body and Lina’s.

“What about…..your….” The girl choked up but pointed to the notepad next to Theresa’s Bible on the stage beside her.

“It can wait, honey. I know you need to talk, and I’m here for you.” She smiled even as she fought off her own tears. It was really as it should be; a gift to her and from her at the same time; as if the moment was a way of God writing her message.

“Your Dad told me you’d probably need to talk to someone; he’s so afraid you’ll be hurt, and he just wanted to make sure you had someone that understood. Your Dad and I go back to when he and your Mom went to school with me and Dave, you know?” The girl nodded without quite understanding.

“Your Mom and Dad knew everything about me…everything.” She patted her chest and smiled.

“And because of that…your Dad told me everything about you…everything.” She worried that the girl would have been angry over what her father had shared, but Lina began to cry softly; understanding not only the implication of her own secret but Theresa’s secret as well.

“Did….” She choked back her tears and collected herself; the freedom of being outed was enough to help the girl begin to understand.

“I felt like I never belonged. And that God hated me.” At Theresa’s words, the girl’s eyes widened in horrified and then relieved recognition. Nothing on earth might hurt more than feeling alone and odd and scared and maybe hated as well. Theresa’s revelation freed the girl; released by the idea that finally in some way her troubles wouldn’t take up her entire view, and at times might be far off and unseen.

“I…God doesn’t hate me?” She sobbed; her hand covered her mouth as if to keep from losing the little control she still had. Theresa smiled a half-smile and blinked back some more tears of her own; it truly was all about giving, wasn’t it? She pressed her hand in Lina’s and spoke softly.

“For I know the plans I have for you….” She practically whispered the rest of the Scripture; not as a secret from anyone as much as a precious word for the girl. The whole idea of a secret name that no one but God and she would ever know touched the girl’s heart that night.

“It’s why we do what we do, Lina. Why I’m here tonight. I could have been at home resting after today. Or I could have been in the office with the door closed and the lights off; praying I suppose but even crying out to God. But my prayers have always been about asking God what he would have me do. And he knew you needed to know that someone else understands and maybe even knows what you’re going through, right?”

She smiled and at least didn’t weep, but allowed the tears to fall as she embraced the girl who started the evening feeling alone, lost, condemned for wanting to be the girl she was instead of the boy she was born. Theresa hugged her and the two wept together as only sisters might.

“I asked my Dad and he said I could skip school tomorrow, if that’s okay?” She put her head down; that residual shame that feels it’s just the right thing to say no to yourself. She felt her chin lift softly as Theresa kissed her cheek and spoke.

“Nothing on Earth would please me more than to see you here tomorrow, okay?” She smiled and the girl nodded before stepping off the stage to leave. Theresa reached out and grabbed her hand.

“And don’t forget to wear something pretty, alright? It is a celebration, and you’re such a nice girl.” What was meant as encouragement might have not seemed as such as the girl burst into tears and ran out of the auditorium. But the words would be the most precious words that Lina had heard up to and perhaps well past that point.

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.

The following morning...December 24..

“Pastor Theresa said I’m a nice girl, Dad.” Lina said as she struggled to hold back her tears. Her Dad bit his lip to keep from sobbing as he grabbed her hand and squeezed before turning his attention to the figure behind the podium on the stage.

“I’m so glad to see all of you,” Theresa said with a broad smile only slightly dimmed by the tears that streamed down her face. She looked directly at Lina and smiled and mouthed ‘very pretty’ before turning once again to the congregation. She placed her Bible on the podium but did not open it up, but instead smiled before repeating a verse with which she was all-too familiar, but one that served her well within this community as well as her own life.

“Psalm 116 says that ‘precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.’ We come to day in celebration of a faithful servant, dear ones. Your pastor and my husband, David James Armitage…..”

Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself A merry little Christmas now.

Dara's Joy

Dylan sat at the table. Eileen stared at him like he had two heads. She stood with her hand to her chin and tapped the rattail comb against her head in thought. She smiled at him and then set out to comb her brother’s hair while whistling “I Enjoy Being A Girl.” Dylan shrugged once and smiled even as the tears welled up in his eyes thinking about his first date.

The Sullivan home...Portland, Maine...three weeks before Christmas

“Honey…Oh, I’m sorry…I didn’t know you had company. Hello, I’m Eileen’s mom.” The girl in the chair smiled politely but put her head down as she noticed the woman in the doorway.

“This is Kathy Ruff’s sister Dara.”

“Nice to meet you, Dara. Honey, let Dylan know that the school called; he got the Citizenship award. And he needs to call the college about the scholarship….I’ve got to run…they want me to work on the proposal for the youth center…maybe we can get it approved before Christmas.” Margaret blew a kiss to her daughter and left.

“Jeez…that was close.” Eileen pulled the comb from her back pocket and returned to the girl’s hair.”

“This is crazy. I don’t know what I was thinking…letting you do this.” The girl put her head down and began to cry.

“Mom would have a fit if she knew…Dyl…it’s okay. I think we’ll be alright…she’s gonna be at work for the next few hours. Don’t worry.”

“I’d be really worried….the green eye shadow is a bit much, don’t you think?” A voice came from the doorway once again.

“Here…let me help.” Margaret stepped closer and took the comb from Eileen’s hand; the girl stood and gaped as her mother.

“Mommmmmmmm….” The girl in the chair seemed to transform, even though she appeared no different than only a few moments before.

“Shhhhh….” Margaret whispered as Dylan began to cry.

“Honey….didn’t you realize? You can’t hide anything from me...I'm your mother.” She turned to Eileen.

“And you….you think you could trust me enough to know I care about the two of you…more than anything. Now…I think a nice soft brown fading to a gold.” It was wonderful to hear his mother speak so warmly about something so frightening, but he started to cry harder.

“It’s okay, baby….you’ll be alright ….Oh…and by the way, you’ve got two dates this week. I called up Dr. Chelios and she recommended an endocrinologist….you’ve kept this secret long enough.”

“What’s the other date, Mom.?” Eileen looked at her mother and back at the sister that was emerging at her mother’s touch.

“Why…that would be Dara’s date with Jessie Monroe.” Margaret used her new daughter’s name as well as Eileen’s boyfriend’s kid sister’s name as well. The boy shuddered as his mother grabbed his chin, moving his face back and forth under the bedroom light.

“If you don’t stop blushing I won’t be able to tell if this is your color.” Margaret laughed and her son started to cry once again.

A few days later...B Wing, Casco Bay High School, Portland, Maine...

“Are you going to Allie’s party?” The girl almost leaned on Dylan, causing the boy to turn red.

“I…I mimmight.” He shrugged his shoulders. The girl smiled at him and looked over her shoulder at the pair of girls standing in the hallway. She pointed to the pair and said.

“You gotta date? Everybody’s gotta have a date.”

He backed away, but she leaned closer.

“I’m not sure I’m even going…I don’t have anybody to bring…I’m…I’m sorry.”

Jessie Monroe shook her head and smiled.

“It’s okay…you don’t have to have a date…I’m sure you’ll find someone there. It’s okay.” Dylan’s lab partner walked off and he sighed deeply before closing his locker and heading to class.

That evening at the Sullivan home...

“So…what did she say?” Eileen practically tackled her brother when he walked in the front door. He turned and shook his head.

“I didn’t ask her.” He put his head down as if he had done something wrong.

“You mean Dylan didn’t ask her…well, silly that makes perfect sense. It’s Dara who has a crush on her, right?” She laughed softly, but her brother kept his head down.

“You mean neither of you are going to ask her out?” She stared at him as if he actually was two different people. He felt torn in two. His visit with the endocrinologist was frustrating; her testing seemed to show him to be a normal eighteen year old boy, even if he was tall and on the slight side. To be honest, apart from the gender specific 'physical' characteristics, he could easily pass as a girl, which was a dream he only allowed himself when all of his other dreams had been pushed aside. He had wanted to play soccer and track, but never quite impressed the coaches.

“So neither of you feels…”

“No…I gotta talk with Mom’s shrink…Dr. Melbourne thinks I’m …she said I might be transgendered, but she was…she didn’t want to make a mistake…so I gotta take some tests. God, Eileen..this sucks…I thought for sure she’d say…okay..we’ll just give you some hormones and something to keep the boy from getting more…like a boy.” He put his head down again.

“I guess the doctors always wanna make sure you get the help you need.” She shook her head; barely convince of what she was saying for her own sake, much less her erstwhile sister.

“I can’t keep this up…I don’t have it in me to live a lie, and if the doctors don’t want to help?” He looked up and his eyes were red. Eileen pulled him close and hugged him.

“We’ll figure somethin’ out, kid…I promise.” She held him as he wept, wondering if she had been too hopeful for his sake; nothing she could think of could help her brother and she began to cry along with him.

The office of Dr. Kathy Petrone, Margaret Sullivan's psychiatrist...

“Now the testing Dr. Melbourne had you undergo seem to be inconclusive. I understand she wants you to have another series of bloodwork? Your personality seems to be right there between the two…boy or girl; you could go either way?” Cathy asked the boy. Like any personality testing, much of the criteria was somewhat subjective. She wanted to know more about the boy's convictions.

“But I don’t want to go ‘either way.’ I’ve felt like Dara was who I was supposed to be all along. I’m sure of that. Just as I’m sure I….”

“For someone so sure, you seem hesitant. What aren’t you sure of?” Cathy had an idea, and she wanted the boy to express own his own feelings and beliefs.

“I’m….it’s not that I’m not sure…but if it’s this hard to be accepted as Dara…how hard will it be to have someone…I want to be…but what if? Is it more important to be who I am….or be with someone who I care for…Do I have to choose?” The boy put his head down, discouraged.

“Well, Dara…may I call you that?” The boy…the girl nodded; her countenance almost seemed to soften and grow demure...

“Dara…life is filled with choices…some very easy and plain to see and make. Some choices are easy to see but remain hard to make. And then some choices are not at all easy to see, and also are difficult to make. All of us must make choices. But in this case, it’s not so much whom you will be as from whom you may received acceptance. Do you understand?” Cathy tilted her head slightly and smiled.

“Not..sure…What do you think? Dr. Melbourne seems to think I’m probably just confused. That it’s more part of my…development as a man.” Dara winced at the word, ‘man’ as if it were a curse. To her it was.

“Let me turn it around…because if you are to enter into a contract…to put it in concrete terms. If you are to live as a woman for a period of time…the real life test we discussed; you first would have to convince me and the other doctors that you actually believe what you’re saying. Dara…it doesn’t matter if I think you’re a young woman if you don’t believe that yourself.” She shook her head no as if to deny the girl any more help. But it was important for her to make sure for herself once and for all.

“I’m a girl…I’ve always been a girl…I don’t care what the tests show…I feel like this part of me...” she pointed to her head and then her heart.

“These parts of me matter more than anything than some chemical or hormone level…like when I close my eyes and see myself….I’m sorry…when I see myself naked I look at what I am and it makes me cry…like that isn’t mine…who stole my body…what happened?’

“Other boys might say the same thing…but that doesn’t make them a woman.”

“I’m not a boy…I’m not even a girl…I lost that…being a boy for all those years when I wasn’t…having to live like this…without hope…You know something?....”

Her voice trailed off and she looked at the door; as if something waited for her outside the room.

“Does this sound crazy? I was walking in the mall over the weekend...I saw this girl...woman about twenty-five or so? She was expecting...I imagined..." Dara began to cry. She shook her head and continued.

"I’m going to go to college…I’m going to do everything I possible can to help myself be the woman I’m supposed be…even if I have to live like this….without help…I’m going to live my life as a woman…If I have to get help elsewhere…if I have to wait…okay, but I’m not going to spend the rest of my life…I’m sorry…I know you have to do your job.” She was crying, but she was more frustrated than scared or sad.

“Dara…I’m convinced…and if you are this articulate with the other doctors, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble…I believe in you , and I’m relieved to see you believe in yourself.

In the end, they decided, along with her mother and Eileen's support that she would wait until after she graduated. The school guidance was quietly made aware of Dara's decision, and supported her by helping her connect with a local support group for transgendered teens. She would live; not 24/7, but assume her Dara persona after school and on weekends. Unlike the delightful stories we've all read and loved, there were no tea parties or dances or slumber parties. Dara worked as a volunteer at the womens shelter, where everyone knew her and her sister Eileen as sisters that cared. During school, she worked and studied and interacted as Dylan, though most of her friends...all of them in fact, knew about whom she was to become...or rather whom she was already. And every once and a while, Dara got to have some fun.

The Monroe home...December 22...

"Oh great...I'm glad you could make it." Jessie pulled her in quickly and shoved her toward the dining room.

"We sorta started without you, Happy Birthday." She giggled. Dara looked past her to see several friends sporting conspiratorial smiles.

She shook her head; her birthday wasn't for another two weeks.

The girl giggled once more before dragging Dara under the archway of the dining room. Jessie pointed once to the mistletoe hanging from the woodwork before drawing Dara close.

"Merry Christmas," she said whispered softly and kissed her girlfriend.

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all
That children call
Their favorite time of year

Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times
And ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share

Several years later…Portland, Maine…

Dara sat in the chair; the very same chair where her journey began years before. Still helping like a sister should, Eileen was combing Dara’s hair. Her mother Margaret stood back as if to admire a freshly painted portrait. She tapped the comb in her own hand in thought.

“I think she looks just fine.” Eileen said but squinted again; looking for any missed but vital detail. It was going to be a joyous time, wasn’t it? Dara frowned.

“I don’t…I feel so selfish.” She put her head down, thinking of the coming days and the biggest day of her life apart from that fateful day in Colorado. It was there that she knew that she knew. No more kid’s crush; no more playing around. And just the thought of being ‘made up’ made her feel oddly unworthy.

“I know, honey, but really? Pastor Cam said that the church is happy to help, and we certainly want to acknowledge all that God has done.” Margaret winced at her own words; the statement itself would appear almost foolish but for the whole idea and who had thought of it first.

“I know it’s hard to think of it with everything else on your mind and heart.” Eileen tried to interject further but Dara held her hand up in a quiet but firm gesture. She shook her head as if to say NO! Margaret put her hand on her daughter’s shoulder and leaned closed.

“I know it’s the right thing…the good thing, honey. Maybe the best thing ever, even if it seems so…” Her voice trailed off at the thought of the word she had meant to avoid, but could not. She said it with a softness that seemed almost like a sweet whisper on a very harsh day.

“Sad….” She put her hand to her mouth. Could it be that faith had some say in the day to come? Would anyone….would God listen to their prayers? The family certainly had seen things work out well in so many ways, but those things were so transient and thin. What they all….each of their friends and all of their family and extended kin were praying for a miracle. And one who had the absolute confidence it would indeed work out. Funny how faith works? From the outside in, it often appears to be a waste of time, ironically enough when one wishes for more time. But from the inside out, it feels more like the hug of a parent after a bad day; that embrace which says that no matter what happens, it will all work out right in the end; another irony to face and either accept or push back hard.

“It’s going to be just fine!” Eileen said. An odd word; ‘fine’ when used in an answer about your feelings can often mean the exact opposite. But ‘just fine’ means exactly what it says; okay without concern or argument. From Dara's point of view, 'just fine' remained to be seen, but really, it was already a done deal!

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there

Christmas Eve…Hope Gateway Church, Portland…

Miracles occur in all shapes and sizes and colors; sort of like a rainbow of blessings. This night was one of those strange ones that while hoped for was entirely unanticipated. The church was almost full; friend and family looking forward to the night almost like the shepherds looked in anticipation centuries before. A tall, friendly looking man stepped up on the low platform and smiled. Pastor Cam McIntyre scanned the congregation and nodded at folks who caught his eye; it was going to be a special night.

“I’m so happy you all are here. Tonight is a celebration; a party of sorts where we and God get together and have a pretty good time.” He nodded and the young woman to his side began to play her mandolin; a very nice rendition of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. A younger woman stepped close and began to play a counter melody on her flute. She smiled with her eyes and you could see she was excited as the bride came down the aisle. Her sister, of course.

The friends and family were almost overflowing with joy; something that while always present had seemed to be quiet and translucent in recent months. The bride, such as she was, reached the base of the stage, accompanied by her mother. Margaret beamed as Dara took her place to the pastor’s right. She wore a simple cream gauze dress; almost a throwback to her mother’s own wedding decades before.

And then the people grew quiet as the other bride took her place at the back of the church for her own walk down the aisle. Her mother fought off proud tears as the woman struggled a bit to stand up from her wheelchair. Her hair was severely short; a remnant of an intervention that saved her life, it had grown very little since the most recent procedure had ended. Only days of being declared cancer-free, Jessie Monroe walked down the aisle to be united in wedlock with her best friend and the love of her life.

“I….I love you,’ Dara mouthed silently, fighting to keep it together. Jessie reached the stage and put her hand on Dara’s to steady herself. While still frail, the light had returned to her eyes and the playfulness behind the light shone clearly. She was wearing a simple beige gown of satin; floor-length and strapless. She wore a carved necklace; the near-twin of the one around Dara’s neck. But the biggest contrast was exactly how it should be. Dara had whispered; almost embarrassed to be blessed by Jessie’s love. Jessie wasn’t embarrassed at all.

“I LOVE YOU, TOO!” She shouted to the joy and laughter of the people in church that night. She lifted the skirt of her gown slightly to reveal a pair of classic Red Converse All-Stars with red and green and white striped socks.

“And Merry Christmas,” she said loudly; only a bit softer than her previous declaration. Fun and whimsy made a very needful appearance, and everyone smiled except for Dara. She put her hand to her mouth and began to sob; not a sad or angry cry, but a sob that says I don’t belong and I certainly don’t deserve you! Jessie had seen enough of that over the course of several years; especially during the past year and a half of their battle…THEIR battle. Cam stepped closer to them both.

“Okay!” Jessie held her hand up to the pastor as if to say, “I’ve got this, okay?”

“Change of plans, Ladies and Gentlemen!” She turned to the congregation and smiled the same broad smile everyone had come to love.

“Vows first!” She turned to Dara and smiled a half-smile while holding her hands out in some urgency; that ‘go ahead, what are you waiting for’ motion we sometimes make. Dara shook a bit and Jessie made the same gesture again. She even turned to the congregation in an aside that would have made Shakespeare proud.

“Can you believe this?” Instead of pulling back in embarrassment like she was used to doing, Dara looked at Jessie with grateful relief. The ice had been broken, so to speak, and Dara spoke.

“I love you. You are my life. You knew me way back when there wasn’t even a me, in a way. And you still love me now. Nothing can feel better to me than knowing that you care. And nothing can be better for me than to love you right back. I love you.” She shook only just a little and blinked back tears. Jessie smiled and stepped closer; an ad lib came that surprised really no one as she put the paper with her vows on the tall stool by the podium.

She pulled Dara closer and kissed her; not the mushy-faced kiss some folks do to show they care. Not the barely pecked kiss to show they don’t need to show they care. The kiss was soft and tender; almost like being kissed for the first time for both. She stopped and picked up the paper and read the words.

“I….Love….YOU! First, last and always, okay? Don’t feel sad or scared or unworthy. You bless me! You complete me! I…Love YOU! “

She smiled at Cam who shrugged his shoulders for the ‘if anyone objects’ thing but of course no one objected. He smiled once again and folded his sermon notes and placed them in his bible before saying.

“Wife and wife, folks, Pretty good, huh?” Everyone cheered. And for perhaps the first time in her life, Dara didn’t just believe in joy or trust in joy, or even try to demonstrate joy. For the first time in her life, she felt joy. And Jessie just smiled her knowing smile; a smile that would suit all of the challenges she and Dara would face. But they did live joyfully ever after.



"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD,
plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

for those who struggle with faith and self...

Do you love me? Can you speak my name.
Do you know me…know that I’m the same
I’m the one you loved forever
I’m the one that you bore
Even more…I’m your child

Can you see me? I’m the one you wed
Please remember the vows we said
I’m the one you said you’d cherish
I’m the one won’t you see?
Can you love the real me……

Maybe someday…

Julia looked out the window, hoping against hope that the car coming down the street was hers. Her contact prescription was two years old, and she had to wait until the car was almost right past the house before sighing as it drove past. She looked down at the letter in her hand,

“I’ll be at my mother’s, Cheryl.” Julia crumpled the piece of paper and wept.

The Campaniello home...Vails Gate, New York...Eleven Forty-Two P.M, Christmas Eve

She sat down at the piano but her heart wasn’t in the music. The duets she sang would be half-silent; perhaps her voice would be joined once again, but she was not hopeful. After a few moments of trying to play she closed the lid, pushed away from the piano and went into the living room. Every bit of decoration lay unopened in boxes around the room. The tree, unwatered, had already begun to shed needles on the beige carpet, leaving it looking like a forest floor. The phone rang, giving her a start. She ran to the phone and picked it up.

“Cheryl? Oh…I’m I’m not interested.” She hung up the phone and stared at the door, feeling foolish over the desperate hope but unable to let the hope go, despite her mate’s angry frightened words of parting. “You took my husband from me, you hurt me beyond healing, and I hate you. I’ll be at my mother’s, Cheryl”

Walking over to the mantel she picked up the lone Christmas card sitting on display. She opened it and read the twin messages; one printed and pithy —

Celebrating our Savior’s birth.

— and one handwritten, trite, and painful, if well intended.

Dear Jim and Cheryl, looking forward to seeing you over the holidays. Jim…we’ll talk. Rev. Peter and Elizabeth McDaniels

“We’ll talk? More like you talk and I listen.” She looked down at herself. Was she really so evil? She nodded in agreement with the assessment as she scanned her appearance in the mirror over the mantle. Cream colored satin blouse and blue jeans. Her hair was lighter after the stress of the last two years, and it set off her features, giving her face character; albeit an appearance that made her look like Diane Keaton’s tired, sad little sister even if she had only just turned thirty.

“What do you want from me?” She said to no one in particular, but it really was a prayer. She’d gotten the counseling everyone had insisted upon, hadn’t she? She submitted as much as she could to the authority of the elders, hadn’t she? She nodded in acceptance as they stripped her of her ordination as a worship leader, didn’t she? She prayed and prayed and prayed, like a distaff Apostle Paul for the thorn of the flesh to be removed, and yet here she was. She had changed, but the changes were imperceptible from the outside.

Wasn’t she a kinder person? Didn’t she care more for others than for herself. She tried denying her calling, but it remained, irrevocable. She tried denying her nature, yet here she stood, as much herself as ever, as someone once said.

“Florence is getting more like herself everyday,” her uncle would say about her favorite if somewhat eccentric aunt. Oddly, she identified more with her Aunt Florence than her own mother. She never really identified with her father, a tired broken man who died just before she graduated high school, the victim of his own codependent excesses. And she tried to identify with her mother; in fact she tried to be just like her mother.

“You disgust me…what would your father say if he was alive?” The answer was that her father wouldn’t have said anything; instead giving his son the back of his hand in anger. No words would ever hurt more than the silence after the beatings. And her mother would stand off to the side in quiet tacit approval.

“You’re no son of mine,” she recalled her mother saying ironically. The rejection was almost a blessing, since it ushered her out of the house and into real life. A very recent but tense reconciliation would bring new rejections as her mother would continually ask her if she wasn’t worried about going to hell even as they drank their tea in their newly discovered mother to ‘daughter’ relationship.

And now the final loss; the love of her life finally getting too disappointed to tolerate her; she had married a man, after all, and it wasn’t fair to expect her to accept this old if heretofore unrevealed facet of her husband of five years. Reasonable guilt over her years of deceptive silence, however fearful and unintended gave way to feeling guilty all the time. Evil…it comes in many forms. And she tried to cast it out. But like some theologians say, you can’t cast out ‘the flesh.’ These men think themselves to be clever in their condemnation, but in a way they were right.

Julia began to tear up as she recalled the years of counseling; first to be a good husband. Quickly followed by learning to accept hardship and grief as she and Cheryl had learned they were unable to have children. The long sessions of prayer followed by others praying for healing followed by strange men and women recommended by friends of friends; casting out demons and calling down God’s angels to deliver her from ‘perverse’ spirits.

The purging; both of garment and self-concept and esteem. The nights of sleepless prayers; hands twisted; self-wrung to painful distraction. The stares of expectation; the hopeful, self-deceiving nod followed by long periods of approval and acceptance in the marital bed and breakfast. And yet, she still was desperately, hopefully in love with the wife of her youth, even as the wife of her youth rejected her own dear sweet wife in favor of a husband who never really existed.

She looked in the mirror once again, noting the freckles dotting her face; a new and suprisingly attractive feature courtesy of recently broken capillaries due to the vomiting that visited her every night. The stress of the management and ultimate fracture of her relationship with Cheryl had brought about ulcers and reflux.

And yet she smiled. She tried as hard as she could to remember any of the Scriptures that had been wielded against her perversion, and yet she could only recall one at the moment.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD,
plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

She sat down at the piano once again, more out of a physical prayer than a need for music, although she needed her music now more than ever. Like David calling out to God, the words came slowly, almost with excruciating emotional pain. Excruciating…like a crucifixion of sorts. She prayed like David to create in her a clean heart. She wanted no part of any music that denied or compromised her faith. The words came to her like the presence of God…something of an old James Horner melody in her heart… bittersweet and speaking in notes what the words would agree with…

Do you love me? Can you speak my name?
Do you know me…know that I’m the same
I’m the one you loved forever
I’m the one that you bore
Even more…I’m your child

Can you see me? I’m the one you wed
Please remember the vows we said
I’m the one you said you’d cherish
I’m the one; won’t you see?
Can you love the real me……

Maybe someday…

Why couldn’t they see? Why couldn’t they speak her name? She closed the lid of the piano and rested
her head on her arms and began to weep. Year after year of rejection came back in waves; she had vowed only the day before not to allow the ghosts of the past steal from her present or future, but the tears were a necessary part of her cleansing; the past can never truly be past until it is faced and reckoned with.

“You’re not my son…” The accusation rang in her ears. Not a recognition of her true self as much as a bitterly disappointed condemnation.

“You took my husband from me,” the words seemed to echo; more a lament of loss and an indictment for a murder never committed. She didn’t blame Cheryl even as the words still made her weep disheartened and discouraged tears…Her shoulders convulsed as she sobbed; the pain of losing her only love…

“Jim? Jim…Ju…Julia?” A soft voice came from behind. She turned to see Cheryl standing behind her; a soft touch on the shoulder quickly followed by,

“I don’t know how to love you…I can hardly bear to face what you’ve become…what you are. But… I… still love you. I hate everything about this…I don’t understand it and it scares me… I’m sorry…but it does.” Cheryl had already been crying; her face was puffy and red and the lines in her face showed she had been unable to sleep.

“I…I’ll go change.” Julia said softly in surrender. Cheryl grabbed her shoulder and squeezed, stopping her from leaving.

“No…if I’m to love you…I need to love every part of you.”

“I don’t….what are you saying?” Julia looked at Cheryl with pleading eyes, hoping it wasn’t yet one more false start toward change. She had vowed to herself she would completely let go.

“I…I prayed all last night…I called in sick at work…and I prayed all day…” She shook her head as she fought back her own weeping.

“It’s like if I reject this part of you it would be like asking you to stop playing piano…like if you asked me to stop singing. Separating us from who we are. I'm not sure I know if I want to live with a wife…but I guess…I know I’m willing to live with a woman who was..who is my husband, if that makes any sense?”

“I don’t know what to say…I’m sorry, but I’m so scared, Cheryl…Like you’ll change your mind…I want to trust you, but I haven’t been exactly ….you have lost part of me…I’m so…I hate myself…” Julia began to sob, but her arms were lifted as Cheryl placed them around her waist.

“I might have trouble; I haven't made up my mind, but I haven’t changed my heart…I love you.” She kissed Julia on the cheek.

“But I need to know I still have a husband…inside?" She placed her hand on Julia's heart. "...that he'll always be a part of you…I can’t do this unless I have all of you, Jim…Julia?”

“Yes…” Julia nodded, but she put her head down and her shoulders seemed to lower. Cheryl grabbed her chin softly and lifted her head.

“No…I don’t understand this…need of yours, but I accept it…part of who you are...who you really are? Do not be ashamed. Do not take this gift and lessen it. I gave myself to you five years ago, and I give all of me to all of you on this day of days.” She raised her hand and wiped the tears from Julia’s face.

“I can’t promise I’ll be able to know what to say or to do, but I promise I’ll never leave you…Just promise me that you’ll never leave me, Jim…I’ll try to learn to love Julia…but never leave me, my dear sweet spouse?”

“I love you so much, Merry Christmas.” She put her head on Cheryl's shoulder and wept. Cheryl kissed her...perhaps for the very first time before finally saying,

“Merry Christmas, Julia.”

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all
That children call
Their favorite time of year

The woman sat on the piano bench as the boy concluded his practice.

“…oh, Petey, that was just wonderful,” the woman practically gushed. The boy looked up into his teacher’s eyes and saw a bit of relief. She was worried about his vow to quit; eight year olds will do that, but he marshaled on every practice and finally had gotten the exercise down. She smiled, which made him very, very happy.

“I think you’re going to be just fine, Petey…Just fine indeed. She leaned back and brushed a stray lock of hair from her forehead and breathed out a long sigh as things began to fade, as if in a nice but all-too short....dream.

“Hon…honey?” Cheryl grabbed her husband’s arm…what else to call it, she thought.

“The store called. Lois can’t come in today; she’s got a huge test to finish for her license, and nobody else can fill in. I’m so sorry.”

Cheryl was sorry. Only months before her days had been filled with confusion and fear over the future. Her spouse had lost employment due to an odd and annoying mixture of budgetary concerns and outright ignorance and prejudice. In the midst of that struggle, Cheryl had rediscovered her love for her husband, and that love had translated quite unexpectedly into deep appreciation and love for the other half… make that maybe three-fourths woman her spouse was ‘becoming.’

“I know it’s not fair, but we’ll make it.” It really wasn’t a question of making it so much as getting to a place where things actually went their way in how they wanted to live. Cheryl hadn’t gotten to that place where she ‘wanted’ to live in a monogamous relationship with another woman, but she loved Jim enough to find a way to love Julia. And thankfully, it wasn’t all her give and Julia take.

“I’m the one that should be sorry. If I hadn’t come out to the church board, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.” Julia shook her head. Of course she had to come out to the board; anything less would have been nearly fraudulent in her eyes since her own heart and mind and eventual body were at complete odds with church doctrine.

The nice and sad thing both at the same time about it was that many of the folks in church supported her. Even some of the board supported her. The really sad thing is that the folks who revoked her ordination still loved her in their own way. No ill will but just an insistence that things are just so and she was just not so.

“No, honey. Don’t say that.” Cheryl may have been a bit reserved in her support of Julia’s transition, but it wasn’t for the lack of wanting. She just still struggled with how she felt about the husband of her youth becoming the wife of her middle age. How did she fit into this new equation if the other half was a wife? Was she still a wife? A spouse? A partner? A….lesbian. Still, she found herself oddly and quite uncomfortably attracted to the woman the man in her life was now presenting to the world, if ever so tentatively and not at all as frequent as he/she had hoped. And Cheryl's love and determined stubborn devotion to Julia became even more devoted and protective; not quite like a mother hen, but more like a lioness coming to the aid of a sister within the pride? Do they even do that?

“You’ve got your Masters and this is the twenty-first century, after all.” She almost laughed at the irony. Life changed slowly even in places with progressive thought behind their big ideas, and a transsexual piano instructor was hard enough to accept. Julia would probably never ‘minister’ in song again unless it was on a street corner in New York singing gospel songs. Her days as a music minister were over.

“From your mouth to the goddess’ ears,” Julia muttered in frustration. She still held to an all loving God that more closely followed exactly what scripture said about male and female aspects of His image; another thing that would have likely gotten her into a bit of trouble had she still been a part of the ministry team.

“Oh, God hears me alright; I’m too loud and pissed off to keep quiet!” The more people pushed Julia…pushed them both, the more she pushed back; part of that unwritten rule in every family says that you can be angry and maybe even very upset with a spouse or a sibling or a child, but God forbid someone else goes against them. Which was a good thing; if anyone wanted to love forever, it was Cheryl, and she could use all the inspiration she could get.

“It barely gives me time for the interview,” Julia said with a sigh. She brushed her long hair back into a unisex-like ponytail and pulled on her nondescript over sized denim shirt. Late-in-life transition bore very few perks, but being somewhat if not completely nondescript gender-wise was nevertheless a help.

“I just hope they give me a fair chance.” She said as she hurried out the door; her male countenance beaming ever-so-slightly in anticipation of a very long day at the music store.

Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times
And ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share

New Windsor, New York…that afternoon….

“I’m very sorry.” Julia-as-Jim said, sitting down at the woman’s desk.

“I had expected you to be dressed.” The woman said. Her tone seemed just a bit disappointed, but that was belied by the growing grin on her face.

“I was called into work and didn’t get a chance to change.”

“Well, we can’t have that. You’ll have to present to our clientele in away that engenders trust and security.” She grinned again; almost laughing at the turn of her phrase.

“I promise to do whatever you want me to. I really need this job.” Julia didn’t just need the job; she desperately needed to be able to work once again in her gifting, and she was prepared to be whomever they wanted, even if it meant being Jim for them. Was she being fair to herself? She would never get the chance to find out.

“It says here on your application, ‘Jay Companiello, but I understand you go by your given name.” Julia cringed even as the woman began to laugh softly. Whatever was going on, the woman at least was cordial, even if it meant a cordial turndown.

“I’ll expect you’ll want to come to work…to start as soon as possible.” The woman tossed the application into an open folder on her desk.

“Start?” The word came out of her mouth and she gasped as she realized all of her practice had paid off; perhaps to the detriment of the position she was just offered.

“Of course, it being Christmas week, you’ll probably want to come in before New Years to get yourself acclimated.” She pointed to the calendar behind her desk.

“Now we don’t have a strict dress code, per se, but we do expect you to look professional, okay? Slacks are perfectly alright, but no jeans. Now if you want, you can wear a dress, though I wouldn’t recommend it until Spring. And you might consider wearing some makeup, Ms. Campaniello.” By then the woman had quite lost it and was giggling.

“I don’t understand.”

“I do…” She pointed to her name plaque:

“Agnes O’Dwyer, Principal”

“Dr. Rumer…Class of 2003? Used to be Alex way back when.” She laughed and Julia’s eyes widened in recognition; she’d been to the website hundreds of times, perhaps, and had met several folks who had been blessed with Dr. Rumer’s expertise. Julia’s face began to redden.

“Oh gosh, no, dear. Please. A Little Bird called me to say you were going to be late because of your job. We got to talking, but I knew about you already because I was turned down for the very position you lost at the church when they found out how…similar we are. And yes, they had no business telling me anything about your dismissal. A breach of ethics as well as a very mean-spirited decision on their part to flex their theological muscles, I suppose.” She paused.

“I am sorry. Very sorry. But I took the liberty of asking some folks in town. They said you were as kind and as caring a person and your music brought many of them closer to God, I expect.” By now Julia was completely unprofessional in that she was crying enough to drip tears on the desk before her. She forgot where she was and used the sleeve of her work shirt to wipe her nose.

“I’m so glad we have found someone with your talent and dedication. Welcome aboard!”

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there

Little Britain Elementary School, New Windsor, New York…the Friday before Christmas…

“Was that okay, Miss C?” The little girl turned from the keyboard and faced Julia, who was standing to her left just off stage. The remark gained a lot of attention since it was at the end of her first recital in an auditorium filled with adoring parents.

“That was just fine, Sandy…just fine!” She said loud enough for the whole audience to hear it. And she looked out over the group, scanning the seats until she saw a familiar if still-shy half-smile. All doubts left for good, however, when Cheryl stood up and began to applaud. Funny how that goes; a person who wasn’t even in Sandy’s family applauding like that. But the tears streaming down her cheeks spoke very clearly as well; that everything from now on would be just fine. Just fine indeed!

Christmas time is here
Families growing near
Oh that we could always see
Such spirit through the year

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there

Christmas time is here
Families growing near
Oh that we could always see
Such spirit through the year

He who finds a wife finds what is good
and receives favor from the LORD Proverbs 18:22

Jimmy and Betsy stared at the letter, tears streaming down their cheeks.


The paper taunted them as they looked down at the empty crib. Jimmy turned to his wife and touched her cheek.

“It’s okay…really,” even as he remembered his father’s cruel words against his daughter-in-law while he insisted he that he loved his son. The need for a grandchild outweighed everything that Jimmy had been taught; love and kindness were set aside and his wife became shameful in his father's eyes.

The Generro home…Sparks, Nevada…

Dear Jimmy and Betsy,

It is with profound disappointment and sadness that I must inform you that your application for adoption has been declined. As we discussed in your initial interview, we held little hope that the agency would approve your application given Betsy’s physical condition. I want you to know that the committee considered all aspects of your family presentation, and concluded that you would be unable to care for an infant. Please be assured that the decision was not made lightly, and was made as objectively as possible. Best Regards, Georgette Edwards, Director, Second Chance Adoption Agency

“Nothing personal.” Betsy said it softly, with no bitterness in her voice.

“We knew it was a long shot.” Jimmy said as he hugged his wife. Another disappointment and rejection in a series of rejections that started the day they became engaged.

The home of Ed and Darien Generro…Sun Valley, Nevada…several years earlier…

“Are you crazy? Do you honestly expect me to approve of this…travesty?” Jimmy’s father was candid, if nothing else.

“Dad…I’m serious….” Jimmy put his head down; was this the best that he could do? He felt ashamed that he didn’t defend his wife with more fire or fervor, like he was explaining how much he appreciated Chocolate or Sci Fi or Baseball.

“I’m serious, too. You know how much we’ve looked forward to grandchildren. This is ridiculous and an insult to everything we’ve ever taught you…everything your Mother and I have held dear, and I will not hear of another word about it.” With that, his father turned and walked upstairs, leaving Jimmy speechless and ashamed.

That afternoon…at Betsy McMaster’s apartment….Reno, Nevada…

“He said no.” Nothing more; Jimmy’s voice was nearly emotionless. Betsy’s eyes began to tear up and she put her head down. He went to lift her chin but she pulled away.

“What did you say, Jimmy? That I’m ‘authentic.’ That’s really what he’s upset about…I’m somehow like a pod person in one of those stories you write…like the evil alien impersonating a real human? Jimmy…tell me you told him you loved me? I could bear it if I knew you at least were able to tell them that…” His silence was painful.

“She probably didn’t even bother to talk to you…it was all him, right?” She turned away and rested her head against the fridge to keep from falling. She felt dizzy.

“Bets…I’m sorry…I can’t talk to him…He doesn’t listen…” He put his hand on her shoulder and she shrugged it off.

“I guess I’m not worth fighting for.” She began to cry and Jimmy once again went to comfort her.

“No, Jimmy…no…it you can’t stick up for me…this will never work…I love you, but I can’t be the only one who cares enough to try.” She turned to go and fell to the floor; red-faced with shame and sadness…and more…

At the Generro home…the following Friday…

“Dad…we have to talk.” Jimmy stood on his father’s front porch as Ed stood in the doorway; he seemed almost as put out as if he were greeting a troop of Girl Scouts selling cookies.

“WE don’t have to talk at all…YOU want to talk. But there is no need to talk, Jim…Our minds are made up, and nothing you can say will change them.

“I’m not here to change your mind, Dad. I gave up on that a long time ago. I guess I gave up on me a lot longer ago than that, Dad, but no more! I’m here to tell you that no matter what you and Mom say, I’m going to marry Betsy…I love her, and I should have said that at the beginning. She’s everything I’ve ever hoped for…everything I’ll ever need besides God….yes…” He held his hand up as Ed began to interrupt.

“No, Dad…God isn’t negotiable…You can’t tell me what I believe; only I can figure that out. And I don’t believe for one second that God rejects her…even if you do.”

“No…I mean…I don’t reject ‘her,’ if that’s what you choose to call someone like that.” Ed shook his head.

“No, Dad…it’s who she is…she’s the finest woman I’ve ever know other than Mom and Aunt Helen. She’s not just ‘someone like that,” Dad. She’s person with wants and hopes and wishes and dreams, and she makes me whole. Please don’t patronize her…you sound just like Granddaddy when he’d talk about the the guys that worked in his store…” Ed went to plead his case once again and Jimmy held his hand up.

“No…Would you have done this with Carmen when we were engaged?” Jimmy mentioned his late fiancé’, reminding his father that he had been perfectly willing to accept a girl from Argentina into his family.

“It’s no different, Dad. You and I are so much alike. We both struggle with standing up for what is right, but no more. If you can’t accept Betsy for who she is, that’s on you, and it will be your loss and Mom’s as well if you choose to reject her, because I’m going to marry her, no matter what!”

“You can’t…you just can’t….” Jimmy’s mother Darien called from over Ed’s shoulder. She wasn’t talking to Jimmy, but began to hug her husband tightly.

“He’s our son…she’s the woman he loves…I can’t stand this, Ed…you don’t have the right to decide who he marries…because none of us has the right to choose who someone will love. She’s a good girl, Ed…no matter how she started out. You hated Carmen…she was too different.”

“That’s not fair, Dar…and you know it. I just want what’s best for my son…Is that so wrong?”

“It is when you try to decide for him. He’s a big boy…he’s a man, Ed, and she’s a beautiful woman. To overcome what she has…and still be such a giving person? Come on, Ed….let it go…if you do this..if you reject her…you’ll push our only child…our….onnnnly child….” Darien began to sob; her chance at being a grandparent might come to as painful a conclusion as being a parent had when their only other child, their daughter Sylvia, had died in a horrific car accident with her husband and two girls only two years before.

“I….don’t care who or even what Betsy is…she’s going to be our daughter-in-law….my daughter….no matter what you say.” She struggled to speak even as she sobbed.

“If you push Betsy away….you push Jimmy away? I….I’ll never forgive you!” Darien held her husband tightly even as her words threatened to push him away.

“I don’t know…what to say.” He went to turn around and she held him tighter, turning her face away.

“I can’t look at you right now, Ed…I’m too angry…I’mmm sooooo sorrreee. Jimmmy…Jim….don’t let him push you apart….for …for all of our sakes.” With that she pushed away from Ed’s back and stepped onto the porch, embracing her son.

“I mean it, Ed….please don’t do this to him….please…” She put her head on her son’s shoulder and wept while her husband stood in the doorway, silent.

Spanish Springs High School…Sparks, Nevada…a few years later…

“Mrs. Generro? You have a visitor. “ The voice came over the intercom; immediate but pleasant, which seemed to indicate something good was about to happen. A few minutes later, Betsy sat in the conference room of the Guidance department while her father-in-law sat across from her.

“We need to talk,” Ed spoke with almost the same urgency as his son had spoken months before. His face was drawn and tired, as if he hadn’t had any sleep. And while it would have made sense that the redness in his eyes were from being tired, but he looked worn-out because he had been struggling with his conscience.

“Yes, Ed…we do.” Almost a whisper, it would almost have served him right if Betsy said “I told you so,” but her tone was conciliatory and welcoming.

“I need to apologize to you.” As if he had forgotten to invite her to a party or send her a birthday card, his own tone seemed almost disinterested. She smiled at him warmly nonetheless. The same person who brought such joy to his son…the same woman who blessed everyone she knew? How could she respond otherwise? Her warmth was overwhelming, and Ed began to tear up.

“I’m so sorry. You didn’t deserve my hatred….more than that, you deserve my thanks…After Carmen died, I…we worried if Jimmy would ever come out of his depression. I am so sorry for selling you so short. I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but I’m begging you to forgive me…I am so sorry.”

“Ed…I forgave you a long time ago…I know…I was so hurt for a while, but after what I’ve been through…It’s okay.” She pointed with a glance at her body, limited by the beginnings of dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy; an adult onset form of muscular dystrophy.

“No…it’s not okay at all…not for me….I was more than just wrong, Betsy. I was cruel and not at all like what I’ve pretended to be. I need to hear you say it…I need to know that you know that it was wrong but that you still accept me…even if I didn’t accept you.”

“Ed…I forgive you…from the bottom of my heart. Can you grant me forgiveness…I was so angry at you and Darien….yes…because she wanted to accept me even if you didn’t…. and she never responded to my letters. Even my e-mails.” Betsy bit her lip, not at the rejection, but at her own response.

“I was so bitter for so long that I stopped reaching out, and for that I am ashamed.”

“You have nothing to be ashamed of. I persuaded her to change her e-mail address…too much junk, and she never saw your letters. It’s my fault.”

“Now you’re making excuses for my behavior. Please tell me you forgive me?” Ed stood up suddenly and walked over and leaned closer to Betsy.

“Oh…of course. A young woman and an old man…we certainly are a pair.” His tears began to flow as he hugged her.

“I’ve got to get back to work, but I’ll have Darien give you a call. Okay?” He said as he stood up and walked to the doorway. She nodded and he was gone. Betsy took a moment to compose herself before returning to her office for her one pm appointment. She wheeled her way through the rush of kids in the office suite; all to the accompaniment of, ‘Hey Mrs. Gee!’ and ‘Mrs. Gee…don’t forget about our time this afternoon!” and ‘Yo, Mrs. Generro, Happy Birthday!’

A few weeks later…

“Honey…can you come here for a moment?” Betsy called from the kitchen. Jimmy clicked on ‘save’ and walked out of his office and down the hall.

“I got a call from Georgette…now hear me out, okay?” Jimmy sat down at the table next to his wife and nodded with a smile.

“For you, sweetheart, anything.”

“She remembered…she never forgot actually how much it hurt last year…well…there’s this girl…she’s almost fifteen…PDD, you know?”


“Pervasive Developmental Disorder…she’s what the folks in the office call ‘sorta autistic;' same spectrum as Asperger's." Betsy said with a shrug as if to say, "understand?" Jimmy nodded.

“Anyway…she was being fostered by a couple who have since had some health issues…they can’t take care of her. She has some minor behavioral problems that the school she goes to has been really helping with…but now with nowhere to go?”

“Yes!” Jimmy laughed softly and shook his head.

“You haven’t even heard what I was going to say, and what are you laughing about.”

“You want to see if we can help her with foster care.” He laughed again.

“And? What’s so funny?”

“I learned a long time ago that I can’t argue with you once your mind is made up, and the smile on your face told me everything I needed to know. Yes…call Georgette and get the information…Oh…wait… what am I thinking…you already got the info from her.”

“If we want, I can call Kathleen Fischer at The Adoption Exchange to arrange for foster care…and get this…” Betsy started to tear up….

“Her…her name is Hope.”

The following year…Christmas Week...

“Mom…I did my homework….can I watch the Hannah Montana Christmas show?” Hope sat at the kitchen table, her books spread out in a seemingly messy pile. Kids at the higher functioning end of the autistic spectrum often have a system of their own that appears disorganized to us linear thinkers. Betsy smiled and nodded. Hannah Montana might be ‘too young' for most teenage girls, but Hope’s emotional development was a bit delayed, even at nearly eighteen, and the show was her favorite. Time enough for teen-aged hand wringing and dating and such, but for now, it was a relief that she had found her niche’ in the family.

“Mom…why does Grandpa wear a wig?” Hope laughed at the image, which got Betsy laughing as well.

“Some men wear what they call a toupee’ you know….like that Hair Club commercial you find so funny. You didn’t ask him, did you?”

“Nope…Mrs. Collins reminded us it’s not…polite…not polite to ask adults personal questions unless they are inviting…yeah …inviting them, you know?” Betsy nodded.

“Can I ask you a couple of questions?” Hope said as she walked into the living room.

“Sure…just give me time to answer each one…like we’ve been rehearsing, okay?

“Okay…Do you ….are you ever going to be….do you want to?”

“Am I ever going to have children? No honey…I can’t…She was tempted to use her ‘public excuse,” but she and Hope already had discussed Betsy’s ‘beginning.”

“Girls who are born without the right body can’t have children, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be blessed with beautiful children, right?” Hope blushed.

“Oh, Mom…you and Dad picked me…you loved me…”

“Yes we did, honey…and we do….very much.”

“Did you ever think about…do you ever wonder?” Hope pointed to Betsy’s stomach.

“A lot…it hurts, but not because we’re not happy…your Dad and I are very happy, but I do wish I could…any woman who can’t bear children…even happy mothers like me…we all feel that.”

“Do you ever get angry about …you know…the other thing?”

“I did at first…I wondered why God wouldn't take it away, but I guess …I know it’s because things happen to everybody…and it’s what we do with what we are given…” Betsy gasped as she took a breath from her ventilator.

“You’re not going to get any better, are you.” The girl began to tear up.

“No, honey, I’m not…but I think God really has a kind heart toward me. I'm doing so much better than anyone could have hoped for, and I'm not giving up.” She looked down at her body, growing more tired as the disease was taking its toll. But she looked up at the girl sitting by her side and smiled, the tears flowing freely.

“Whatya mean, Mom?” The girl tilted her head slightly while smiling, even though her own face was wet with tears.

“Well, like your Dad says, honey? No matter what we go through?" Her face beamed with joy as she noticed Jimmy walk into the kitchen, home from work. He stepped next to Hope and kissed her on the cheek before hugging Betsy.

"I know, Mom...No matter what happens, we’ll always have Hope!” She giggled and kissed her mother before running off to the family room to watch her program.

"Have I told you how much I love you?" Jimmy said as he nuzzled his wife's ear.

"Yes, but you may repeat yourself if you like."

"I love you."

On a beautiful day that I dream about
In a world I would love to see
Is a beautiful place where the sun comes out
And it shines in the sky for me

On this beautiful winter's morning
If my wish could come true somehow
Then the beautiful day that I dream about
Would be here and now

A few years later...Sparks, Nevada...two days before Christmas

“It says here, that the man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the LORD…..” Jimmy Generro looked over at his daughter. Just past her twentieth birthday, but you probably would have guessed she was much younger, and you’d be right in a way.

“I have to say that I’ve been blessed twice; both with the most caring woman I ever knew and with a daughter who takes right after her mother.” Jimmy's comment about Hope wasn't lost on anyone; all who knew them knew that she had been adopted as a teenager. Jimmy smiled at Hope; he expected no return gesture as she was somewhat preoccupied with a Sudoku puzzle she was solving. It didn’t matter to him, since he loved her so much. She was singing quiet to herself, prompting Jimmy's next few words.

“I thought of what song might be appropriate to commemorate our anniversary, and I was lost for a choice until I came across an old VHS tape the other day. Scrooge…the Musical?” A few nods were accompanied by several more murmurs since the movie had been made decades earlier and rarely appeared on the classic movie channels. Jimmy smiled once again and looked over at Hope. She caught his eye and nodded as if to say, “Now?” He mouthed the word ‘yes’ and she stood up and walked to him. Something so soothing about knowing how everything will turn out, he felt secure that his daughter would enter heaven sometime since she did have the heart and soul of a child.

“Daddy asked me to help him here. I guess I should,” she said, putting her head down in anxious dread. He pulled her close and kissed her cheek.

“It’s okay, Hope. Whatever words you think of will be just right, okay?” He blinked back a few tears.

“I…wonder if it could say….maybe she who finds a great Mom…finds a treasure too?” As buoyant and loud as she could be at times, most people got to know Hope Generro in her quiet moments. She looked out over the folks before her and grinned broadly, as if she had indeed discovered a treasure. Jimmy touched her arm; partly to reassure her, but also to prompt her. She did so well now that she was learning to trust her plans; meticulous though they might be, they kept her on track. She was just short of earning her Associates Degree in Arts, and looked forward to going on to study Art History. She turned back to Jimmy and smiled.

“I know, Daddy. I’ve got it, okay?” No one could blame her for being a bit short with him; she felt more confident and sure of who she was, even if much of that remained somewhat scattered. It was something that we linears might struggle with, but her world was fine just the way it was. She shook her head in apology and turned to face front once again.

“I…love my Mom. I hope you love her, too. She’s the best Mom anyone could ever have.” The words came haltingly as she self-monitored as she usually did in a large crowd.

“I….” She turned to Jimmy one last time and fell into his arms, sobbing.”

“We miss her.” It was all Jimmy could say as he struggled past his own teary gasps before he returned the favor to his daughter and wept in her arms. The pastor place her hand on their shoulders.

“Please…come and share who Betsy Generro was to you folks?” She smiled a welcoming smile. No one rushed up; that awkward feeling of not being adequate enough to praise another human being? The feeling that one might say something too personal and emotional? And then a smallish figure made her way up the aisle and slowly up the stairs to the stage. Almost frail, but the girl seemed almost Dickens-like in her charm even as she struggled with the last step. She turned and spoke.

“Hi…my name is Elizabeth …I miss Betsy. I wanted to say that if it wasn’t for knowing her, I wouldn’t be here today. We…” She put her head down, as if it was shameful to cry, but she came from a legacy of shame and guilt, and it was still hard for her to apprehend all that Betsy had ‘left’ her.

“I have a form of muscular dystrophy..…the Jerry Lewis telethons and smile even though you’re crying?” Jimmy knew Elizabeth from her frequent phone calls to check on Betsy the past several weeks and certainly from the two support groups as well. The girl was so much smaller than her fifteen years would have been expected to present, but she was wise beyond her years as well.

“And I’m…” She paused; hopefully one last unneeded apology that played itself out in final guilt and shame.

“My Mom gave birth to a baby boy fifteen years ago this Friday. She didn’t know then but I did know when I was five that I wasn’t really a boy.” She sighed and looked at her mother, who stood in the back corner of the church, nearly cheering her on. Strength filled her heart; between the love of a mother and the love of a hero, she was able to continue, despite being very anxious.

“Lorenzo was really Elizabeth, you know? And I thank God that Betsy helped me and my Mom figure it all out.” Everyone who knew her well knew her story; no secret even in the midst of potential rejection, she had gained the courage to speak for herself and be herself. All of the people there had been like family and certainly as friends to Betsy and Jimmy and Hope, so there wasn’t really any need to worry about what she had just revealed. She and Betsy were like Aunt and Niece in a way.

And Elizabeth….. Elohim Shabbat…God will bless? The same name shortened and made cute and perhaps perky? Betsy. And entirely blissful coincidence. She put her head down once again, this time in relief. A few moments later she had returned to the back of the church, where she sat with her Mom. Several folks had reached over and were praying for her.

After nearly an hour of tribute, the Pastor turned to Jimmy and Hope. Jimmy had collected himself enough to speak one last time.

“I am so glad that I’m only one of many that my wife blessed. Her legacy lives on in children…young ladies like Elizabeth. And of course her legacy resides in Hope and even in me. I pray that her legacy resides in you as well…..

On this beautiful winter's morning
If my wish could come true somehow
Then the beautiful day that I dream about
Would be here and now

Then the beautiful day that I dream about
Would be here and now


The girl ran around the track, passing her two teammates and the four girls from the other team. She was almost ten meters in front of the next fastest girl and looked sure to win when she suddenly pulled up lame and fell to the track. She used her arms to push herself up just in time to see her rival from Highland Springs cross the finish line to win the race. She stifled a cry as she remembered the words her father said to her the night before…

"Let them win!"

Freeman Polar Bear Track and Field Meet, Douglas Freeman High School, Richmond, Virginia…December 15…

The trainer worked on Lydia’s calf as the other girls stood in front of the bench, shielding her. Carly Van Ossen, Lydia’s best friend was standing behind her, rubbing her shoulders.

“Hey…It’s okay. Sweets…we’ll get em in the 1500, kay?” She smiled at Lydia who winced; obviously in a great deal of pain. She was not going to give the Freeman Crowd the satisfaction of crying. Losing to Liz Wentworth of Highland Springs was hard enough but to lose at the biggest meet of the season in the capital city of Virginia? Carly noticed the tears beginning to form in her friend’s eyes and she stepped in front of Lydia and handed her a towel, which she draped over her head.

“Fuck em, Lydia! We got yer back.” Or more correctly in this case, her front. Her season was effectively interrupted by the pulled calf muscle; at least that’s what the doctor diagnosed. In the end, the meet was a fair success for the Lady Wildcats, who took first in three of the races, but failing to place any of their other runners, and winning their only field event as Mariah Washington took second place in the shot put.

That evening at the La Donna home...

“You do like I ask?” Her father snapped at her as she walked in the front door.

What the Hell?... she thought, “He doesn’t have to know...why make a crappy day worse.

“Yeah, Dad…just like you said.” She went to the fridge and got out a bottle of green tea.

“You should just quit…it ain’t right, kid….you got an advantage.” He put his newspaper down and shook his head.

“What…I’m five-five and I weigh one-twenty two…some advantage. You just can’t stand me…” He ignored the second part of her statement.

“I don’t know what the hell you expect. I get transferred from Boston to East fucking Jabib here and I unpack and not only don’t I have cable, but my son magically disappears to be replaced by you!” He practically spat it out.

“It wasn’t like you didn’t have a clue…I’ve been going to a specialist since we moved here..or maybe you don’t want to have a clue.” She turned away and walked to the kitchen door and looked out the window.

“It’s snowing…Mommy always loved the snow.” She sighed, fighting back tears.

“She didn’t have to shovel the damn stuff, and what do you mean I don’t have a clue.” He was upset but his anger seemed overtaken by sadness.

“I was going to Dr. Candelli before we moved, Dad…You knew this was going to happen. Why can’t you accept that this is who I am? Damn it Daddy…”

“Don’t use that tone with me, Lou!” He stood up and walked to the door, putting his hand on her shoulder.

“Dad….please…use my name.” She turned and her face had grown red with embarrassment.

“I am using your name…Jeez…what the hell do you expect. Your mom dies and leaves me with an empty bed and a kid who doesn’t know what the hell he is…I wish she was here.” He went to put his hand on her shoulder but she pulled away.

“I wish she was here, too! I hate you.” She ran to her room and slammed the door. A few minutes later she heard a knock at the door.

“Can I come in?” Cal leaned against the door frame and sighed. He pushed the door open and walked to the bed. Lydia turned away and sighed heavily.

“I don’t understand why you turned your back on me and everything we taught you.” He shook his head, and the girl could almost see his expression even though her eyes were fixed on her mother’s picture on her nightstand.

“Daddy…why do you hate me?” The girl sobbed. Cal sat down on the bed and placed his hand on her back, causing her to shudder.

“Louie….I’m sorry…I’m no good at this. What you are…it makes no sense to me.”

“What I am, Dad? What I am? I’m your daughter…I tried to tell you and Mommy years ago...when I was in Middle School…you just didn’t listen…Mommy did, but even with her on my side, it was more important what your friends said. I’m so glad we moved…” She bit her tongue, but the sobs grew stronger.

“I know it’s been hard on you…it’s been hard on me…but you have to see it my way…I lost your mom...I don’t want to lose you.”

“Hard on you…haaaarrrdddd on yyyoouuuu?” She buried her face in her pillow and shrugged off his touch. He may have lost a wife, but she felt like she lost both her mother and her father.

Deer Run High School, Glen Allen, Virginia...Science Wing..

“Hey, Lydia…wait up.” Mark Nelson called from behind her in the hallway and quickly caught up.

“I heard you won’t be running this week.” He put his hand on her arm and she pulled away.

“Yeah…the doctor thinks I’ve got to rest…may even get an MRI…it’s not healing.” She wanted to explain, but there was so much to say…everything that she needed to tell him, but her face gave nothing away, and her secrets remained safe.

“Shit…that sucks big time.” He sounded more than just disappointed; there was a coldness in his voice as if her inability to run made less worthy of his attention. She stopped and looked down at herself and felt the same shudder like a few days before.

Henrico Orthopedic Center...the office of Dr. Anita Childress...

“I’m sorry, Lydia…there’s more than just a hairline fracture. You have an osteoid osteoma…a tumor on your fibula…one of the two bones in the lower leg. We can treat the tumor…”

“Tumor?” Lydia grimaced at the thought. Her mother had died from ovarian cancer and she was understandably shocked and scared. Cal sat next to her and placed his hand on her wrist. She pulled away.

“It’s very treatable, Lydia, and it’s benign…the tumor will grow but isn’t harmful to the rest of the body but it will weaken the bone. The tumor is killed from the inside out by inserting a radio-frequency electrode. You should be back to walking soon, but I’m afraid your season is over.” Dr. Childress shook her head in sympathy.

“Wow, I’m glad it’s so easy…that’s great.” Cal smiled at Dr. Childress and then at Lydia, who looked at her father through frustrated tears.

“I bet you’re really glad about it…now I can’t compete…I won’t be taking anything away from real girls, right?” She pulled her arm away as he tried to touch her wrist once again.

“Mr. La Donna? Is that right? You told Lydia that?” Dr. Childress asked.

“It’s not fair that he takes a spot on the roster.” Cal betrayed his bias.

“This is your daughter we’re talking about!”

“My daughter? Were you there when he was an all-star pitcher? Did you watch him play football in middle school? Were you there when his mother died? No…Don’t tell me about anything. I lost my wife…I don’t want to lose my son?” His tone was more sad than angry, but Dr. Childress didn’t hold back.

“If you don’t change you’ll lose your daughter…your only child. Can you live with that?” She shook her head as she noticed the girl had buried her face in her hands, sobbing.

“I’m going to get another opinion.” Cal stood up and tried once more to touch his daughter’s arm. She offered no resistance but continue to sob.

“I’m sorry you feel that way.” She resisted a career-long urge to give him that second opinion, but she just nodded her head.

“I’ll have the office forward the results of the MRI to your primary physician.” Cal turned to leave but Lydia remained seated.

“Lou…Come on.” He snapped. She raised her head and Cal saw her face; she had the same look that she had when her mother died…the same look he had as well. He walked out of Dr. Childress’ office.

“Lydia? Do you want me to call anyone?”

“C….Carly?” The girl gasped. She slowly reached into her coat and pulled out her cell phone. Dr. Childress look up the pre-set and spoke.

“Hi…This is Anita Childress…I’m Lydia’s Orthopedic doctor. She needs a ride and she asked for you. Yes….yes…she’s ready…maybe she can spend some time with you…yes…Yes…she does need her best friend…okay..Thanks.” Dr. Childress clicked off and smiled at the girl, but her head was down and she was weeping once again.

“I had a good friend in med school who went through the same thing, sweetie. It’s not easy, but you’ve got friends….and me and your other doctors. We’ll get through this, okay?”

The La Donna home...eleven-thirty that night...

“You want me to come to the door with you?” Carly turned around and said as her mother pulled the car up to the curb.

“No…I…I’m going right to bed…He’s probably asleep anyway.” She got out of the car and leaned close to the driver’s side door. Mrs. Van Ossen got out and hugged Lydia.

“Give me a call…okay?” Lydia nodded and limped up to the front door and waved before going in.

“Lou…can you come here?” Cal called from the living room. She was tempted to walk back to her bedroom but thought better of it; it was likely he’d just follow her back and it was probably better to deal with him now.

“What?” She tried not to snap at him, but her frustration and sadness were too much to overcome.

“Lou…let’s not argue…I need to talk to you.” His voice didn’t seem at all angry; in fact, he sounded almost kind. It was then that she noticed the picture he was holding; the portrait of the family they had taken just before things got too much for Connie to go out. Cal lifted his head and she saw that he was crying.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t understand. I still don’t understand…but I had some time to think…and pray.” She heard the word ‘pray’ and winced; she didn’t need him preaching at her on top of everything else.

“Children, do what your parents tell you. This is only right. "Honor your father and mother" is the first commandment that has a promise attached to it, namely, "so you will live well and have a long life."

“Dad…please…please.” Lydia began to cry. She sat down on the couch and buried her face in a bolster pillow. Cal got up and walked over and sat down. He went to put his hand on her shoulder but pulled back; speaking softly instead,

“Fathers, don't exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.” He leaned closer and said softly,

“That doesn’t just mean don’t yell. It means I should have been listening to you all along. I’ve been so damned busy trying to have my own way I didn’t realized how wrong I was. I got that second opinion...I called Pastor Davis and we had a long talk. I’m sorry for hurting you, Lou…really. I missed your Mom so much…I was afraid of losing you…and all I did was push you away.” He managed to finish speaking before beginning to sob.

A few minutes later he felt a soft touch on his arm. He turned around and found Lydia smiling at him.

“Do you mean it Dad? If you don’t mean it? I couldn’t bear it…it would be just like when Mommy died.”

“I don’t know what to say…I can’t promise I’ll feel good about this, ‘cause I don’t. But that doesn’t mean I won’t support you…I guess what I’m saying is I’ll try my hardest to feel better, since I have to believe in you…the way you see yourself. It’s not my life to live…I think your Mom would have said that to me, and it’s true. I might slip up now and then…okay…you’ve got to help me on this…go easy on me?” He half-smiled before continuing.

“I won’t make any excuses and I promise I will listen to you from now on; okay. Can you forgive me, Lou?” He realized that he once again had used her ‘old’ name.


“Okay, Dad!” She touched his arm and shook it softly; they had never kissed before, and it was going to come with a bit of difficulty and change, but it would come...just not then. He shot her a wave and she waved back.

"You know who you look like?" Cal said.

"Mom!" She beamed.

"No...not so much." She frowned until he said,

"You favor my side of the know your great aunt Rosanna?" He smiled.

"Aunt Rosanna who used to be an actress...Rosanna...Po...Pode..."

"Podesta...what a looker...yeah...maybe a bit skinnier than her...but yeah..." She smiled at the complement and turned to go before hearing,


"Yee...yehhhss?" It was too much and too wonderful as she began to cry, the first time since her mother's death that she had cried for joy as he said finally,

"Good night."

"Good night, Dad."

Christmas week...the food court at the Virgina Center Commons Mall...

“Are you okay?” Carly asked.

“No…” She looked down at the soft cast on her leg and shook her head, but the smile indicated otherwise.

"Dr. Childress says I'll be able to run in the Spring...I won't miss the season. And guess what?" Carly looked at her in anticipation.

“He kissed me...finally…Car.”

“Your Dad kissed you? That's great” Carly asked, shocked.

“Oh, Hell no…still high fives and waves…no…me and Stevie…your brother Stevie…he knows.”

“He knows you’re....?”


"And he kissed you?"

“Way fucking cool, girlfriend!”

“Yep..Way cool.”

Candles in the window,
shadows painting the ceiling,
gazing at the fire glow,
feeling that gingerbread feeling.
Precious moments,
special people,
happy faces,
I can see.

Somewhere in my mem'ry,
Christmas joys all around me,
living in my mem'ry,
all of the music,
all of the magic,
all of the fam'ly home here with me.

Deep Creek, Chesapeake, Virginia...the Scialpi home, Christmas morning...

“I’m sorry, but it’s the way it is,” Amelia Schiavelli sat at the kitchen table sipping cold coffee. It was a very cold evening as well, and it wasn’t going to get any warmer, given what she had just told her niece.

“It’s not fair, Melie…” the girl looked out the front window of the living room before walking into the kitchen; her expression was one of utter defeat, which was so unusual for her. She had built her recent life, however, on disappointments and sad changes following the sudden death of her father.

“I know, but I just don’t know what to do,” the “older” woman replied. By older, she was about as close in age as anyone can be with an Aunt. Amelia was the youngest child…stepchild, actually, of Lydia’s grandfather, who had re-married a nice woman from Bayonne whom he had met on a cruise. Amelia was eighteen, which made her only a few weeks older than Lydia.

“I don’t know why they’re so…this is so wrong.” Lydia shook her head. Bad enough that she had to move to Chesapeake. Sure, her friends were still in state, but too many miles away. And the school district was quite adamant about their sports teams even if they said they were transgender friendly.

“You could try to petition the league, but…”

“Yeah, no can do. I already asked about that. They feel I have an unfair advantage.” She looked down at herself. Early intervention had been a boon to her continued journey….that road to herself, as an author/blogger had put it about her own transition. But while early intervention might translate well into fanciful stories about modeling and television stardom, girls like her were just that; girls.

She actually was at a disadvantage even within her own school, and the girls on the track team probably had at least as much speed as her and maybe even more stamina. No edge ever came of her origin, and she would hardly have been a ‘boy’ on a girl’s team, no matter how she began her life.

“So what do you intend to do?” Amelia reached over and touched the girl’s hand.

“I don’t know, but I sure as hell am not going to sit around and be sorry for myself.” She paused at the thought of regret and disappointment, since that was what she had been doing which was completely understandable; no need for anyone to forgive her for that, either. Amelia saw the look and spoke.

“You have every right to feel ‘sorry,’ Lyd….it’s not like they’re telling you to change your shoes or hang back. And that doesn’t even take your Dad into account.” The sage advice of being an ‘aunt’ came to a grinding halt as she realized she had gone too far. Perhaps not far enough, but for the moment it was too much for the girl to take and she burst into tears.

“Shit….we just got started!” Lydia sobbed. After a very stressful and confusing few years, Lydia finally felt like she was accepted. But her boyfriend threw her over for another girl; that he didn’t care about her gender issues made no difference to her, since being stabbed in the heart hurts nearly as much from a spear as from a serrated knife. And being that her best friend took the boy’s side (her brother) in the breakup; she felt she had no one to turn to except her Dad.

She sobbed at the thought of losing him so quickly and without any warning. His well-meaning but bad investments and poor choices left her with no real inheritance other than a small sum from his insurance. And the memories were all so vague and disjointed and forgettable until he finally acknowledged her. So she was stuck moving in with her Aunt and her step-grandmother clear across the Commonwealth.

“I’m so sorry. He was a nice guy.” Cal was a very nice guy who tried hard to live his life and do the right thing. If had left his daughter with anything, it was a tenacity that would serve her throughout life. Amelia stood up and walked over to the girl and leaned close, hugging her from behind. Lydia felt uncomfortable enough to try to pull away, but she had very little strength to resist and just rested in Amelia’s arms.

“I’d like to say it’ll be alright, but fuck, what do I know?” The girl kissed the top of Lydia’s head; almost like a scene in a movie except with no soundtrack and no happy ending….yet.

“I…I swear to God I’m going to ….” Lydia’s voice trailed off in defeat. She had the will and she had the determination, but she had no direction, and she felt almost abandoned even in the arms of a relative, so to speak. Funny thing about vows. You never know where they’ll lead you, bring you back from, or transform you into. Lydia rested in Amelia’s arms; strong and welcoming arms that felt almost as protective as her father’s.

“I know, kid!” Amelia smiled down at her ‘niece.’

“I…I’m serious. I’m so tired of all this. If I get the chance, I’m going to be exactly who I want to be…me!” She folded her arms over Amelia’s and pulled her close like a blanket. It was a very awkward moment for both of them and Amelia pulled away suddenly, which did very little to help Lydia’s self esteem and even less for Amelia’s need to feel helpful and loving.

“I don’t bite, damn it!” Lydia turned and faced her ‘elder’ relative and saw that Amelia was frowning.

“I can’t help if I…” She looked back at Lydia and the girl took her expression to mean something entirely different than what it represented.

“Fine…I’ll be in my room if you need me, Aunt Amelia!” She had vowed that she’d never cry again…ever being an infinite if unknowable time-frame. She broke her vow as she pushed her door closed a bit harder than she had hoped and threw herself onto the bed, weeping angry tears....

all of the magic,
all of the fam'ly home here with me.

“It’s not fair. It’s just not fair.” She murmured into her pillow as she continued to cry. A soft knock came at the door.

“Little one? Is it safe to come in?” Lydia lifted her head from the bed to see her grandmother…step-grandmother, actually, at the door. She nodded and the woman entered. Stella was a very attractive woman in a handsome sort of way; she looked much younger than her sixty years, and certainly more like an older sister to her daughter Amelia.

“I hate myself.”

“Nonsenso! You don’t hate yourself. You hate how things are, right?” Lydia wanted so badly to disagree, but she had very little strength left.

“Your Papa is gone and you’re sad and I think maybe you believe it’s your fault, eh?” She walked over and sat on the bed.

“But Nana…you don’t understand.” The girl shook her head, almost proving by her gesture that Stella was indeed right in her assessment. The older woman just smiled for a moment.

“Maybe, bambina. But maybe ….just maybe you wonder if what you did made your Papa die.” It would almost have seemed like an accusation but for the half-smile and her tears.

“Your Papa loved you, Lydia. He loved Louie, but he learned that love doesn’t make conditions. He learned to love this part of you, right?” She tilted her head and smiled; producing a softness in the girl’s protective façade.

“And maybe if your Papa loved you….doesn’t it say that God will love you even more? And what God would punish love like that?”

“Why did he have to die, Nana. I don’t have anyone.” Stella just smiled; the girl knew that she had Stella and Amelia, and she knew what Lydia meant.

“I know….your Mama died and your Papa died and you feel all alone. Nobody you know but us, and that’s so hard.” The woman leaned closer and brushed away the girl’s tears with her hand. The gesture did very little in the way of practicality, but the emotion and the concern behind the gesture helped the girl let her defenses down completely as she curled up in Stella’s lap and sobbed.

“I know, Baby….I know.” A word that she needed to hear; that part of her that never felt warm and cherished and alive even if her Dad tried very hard before the end. Louie got all the praise while Lydia lived in the shadows. And Cal tried and did love his child when he realized he had a daughter instead of a son. And the communication was tentative and awkward if still heartfelt, but the name Lydia never quite rolled off her father’s tongue. It was such a preciously painful moment since the word was soothing but bitterly sweet.

“I know if he could tell you right now, he’d say he was proud of Lydia and that he loves her very much, right?” Stella felt no need for a response; she just rocked the girl in her arms for a while until she fell asleep like the baby she was inside.

A while later in the kitchen once again...

Precious moments,
special people,
happy faces,
I can see.

“Mom….I hate myself!” Amelia said.

“Now where have I heard that?” Stella muttered to herself and laughed.

“Okay…what’s the matter, baby?”

“I should just tell her. What’s the worst that could happen?” Amelia shook her head and sat down; her watch band rattling against the porcelain of the antique table.

“Well, she could leave.” Stella tried not to laugh but started to giggle; the kind of silly giggle you rarely hear from someone over the age of fifteen. Amelia glared at her.

“I’m serious, Mom. Do you think? Oh, damn!” She sighed and looked away.

“No, honey. She’s family if nothing else, but I know it’s a bit more than that, isn’t it?” Stella already knew the answer. She would never be so much matriarchal as the other older women in the family, but she was just as wise. Amelia could never get as serious as she insisted unless she was at least as honest to herself.


“You remember what Pastor Christine said the other day? ‘Sheep bleat but goats ‘but,’ right?”

“She’s not…she doesn’t. She….”

“Well, after all that she's been through, I’m sure that she'd be glad that you used the right pronoun, O light of my life. What makes you think she won’t say yes? Have you a crystal ball that tells you how she feels? Some diary that she wrote that says no, Amelia, I do NOT like girls? Some big pronouncement on that FACEBOOK you gush so much about?”

“I don’t know.” Amelia felt so ashamed; she was doubtful of her own self. She was fearful of rejection. She felt guilty that she didn’t trust someone she at least had grown to love, even if from afar. She had followed her niece’s athletic success, and she had been proud that the girl had been her own person. And it indeed was unfair that Lydia would likely never compete in high school again, much less any hope of college.

But mostly she was angry because things should never be pushed into a corner; they should never be forced to travel down roads not of their own choosing. And there was that pesky should-have-gotten-over-it-by-now girl crush. The one thing she felt she had going for her was that even if people might find it disturbing that she was a lesbian who was in love with a transsexual; at least the girl wasn’t a blood relative; an all too important condition.

And besides, anyone who minded? What was it that great Aunt Rosanna would say? “Che cosa imbecile?” Oh….Che cosa fottutamente imbecile.” Even recalling the words made Amelia blush.

“I’ve got something I need to tell you. I don’t think it can wait.” Amelia said from the bedroom doorway.

“I thought you didn’t want to talk!” Lydia said, turning her head toward the window.

“Oh damn it, it’s not that I didn’t want to talk…I just didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say.”

“I feel so much better!” Lydia was still reeling from a year of huge hurts and disappointment, so we can forgive the sarcasm even if Amelia didn’t.

“Look. I’m trying as hard as I can, but you can make things difficult, you know? I just want to …damn…” She got into her scared cycle and Lydia was already upset.

“I vowed a long time ago that no one was going to push me into anything any longer. I don’t even care about the running so much as the reason why. A bunch of stupid idiots. I’m sick of being told what I can and can’t do. What my life is or isn’t. What I can or can’t be.” At the mention of the word ‘be,’ she began to punch the pillow on her lap while crying. She leaned against the headboard and began to sob. A moment later she felt the soft touch of Amelia’s lips on her neck; very unfamiliar and not at all the kiss between an aunt and her niece.

“I’m so sorry. I think maybe I should never tell you anything ever again.” Lydia tensed up and her shoulders arched ever so slightly as she tried to pull away from Amelia.

“From now on….all questions.” She laughed softly and the movement of her lips tickled Lydia’s neck; sending a very odd and uncomfortably comfortable feeling down her back.

“May I say that I’ve loved you from the first day we met?” No answer but a gasp instead escaped Lydia’s lips.

“I’m sorry. I lied. I ‘ve loved you from the first time my mother told me we weren’t actually blood-relatives.” She sighed and the heat of her breath sent a chill up the girl’s neck where it ended quite nicely indeed at the cartilage behind her right ear. She shuddered.


“I’m sorry. May I ask you not to interrupt while I tell you how much I care for you?” Amelia remained politely playful as she whispered in Lydia’s left ear.

The girl shuddered again and began to cry. It was as if the torrent only hours before in her grandmother’s arms was the prelude to a flood. She turned and fell into a tentative embrace; actually pulling back with her hands up in appeasement before accepting a hug.

“May I tell you that I am so in awe of your courage and that you make me more than proud. I almost feel like I’ve been yours all along and just kind of figured it out only recently.”

“You’re mine?” Lydia gasped, her hand placed carefully over her mouth as her nostrils flared and her eyes widened in shock and surrender. She had been pushed and pulled and folded and mutilated, as they used to describe misdirected mail packages. Too many ideas from everyone else; not only of who she should be, but even with whom she should be.

“If you’ll have me….I’m not going to insist on anything. Too many times too many people have told you too much! I’ll listen and be happy for the moment, okay?” Lydia nodded absentmindedly before turning to Amelia; her eyes were filled with fewer but happier if confused tears.

“No more vows for you. No more promises. No more expectations if I can manage it. But for sure, no more demands and certainly no more saying or doing anything you don’t want to,” It was as romantic as it was going to get. Which was very romantic.

Somewhere in my mem'ry,
Christmas joys all around me,
living in my mem'ry,
all of the music,
all of the magic,
all of the fam'ly home here with me

The quite nicely reverend Christine Allucio smiled at Amelia and spoke; her gaze shifted to Lydia.

“And you?” A soft inferred request; no demand at all. Lydia smiled at Christine and turned to Amelia before speaking the last vow that she would make.

“I, Lydia, take you, Amelia….”


Callie almost skipped down the hallway; she had finally convinced Coach Chen, and would be a starting guard that evening. She turned a corner and found a group of kids pointing to a girl who was sitting awkwardly on the hall floor. She noticed that the girl was crying and the kids around her teased and taunted as she struggled to get up. Callie reached down and helped the girl to her feet. She was shorter than Callie, and dressed in Near-Goth. The kids continued to laugh until Callie smiled once before kissing the girl and hugging her. She turned to the crowd and said,

“Mess with her, and you mess with me!”

Seymour High School, Seymour, Connecticut...

“Hey, Callie…got a minute?” Bobby Chen, coach of Seymour’s Girl’s Basketball team, called the girl into the P.E. office.

“Sure, Coach,” she said eagerly. She had been trying to convince Coach Chen that she was worthy of being the team’s starting point guard. That their two starters both had come down with the flu didn’t hurt her chances, but there was always the idea of starting Melissa Callahan, the scorekeeper.

“Melissa declined,” Bobby Chen laughed and pointed to the scorebook on his desk. Melissa was five-three and weighed about one-twelve soaking wet, but her whole family loved basketball and her older sister Moira had started at center, of all things, three years ago before leaving for UConn.

“I promise I won’t let you down.” She ran out of the office and headed toward her Calculus class. As she turned the corner onto the Math wing, she noticed there was a group of kids; about twelve or thirteen by a quick count, blocking the hall. They were laughing and pointing at the middle of the hallway, where she noticed a girl struggling in vain to get up. The girl was nearly a foot shorter than Callie’s six-foot frame; slight and wearing ‘near’ Goth; a long black dress and black boots, but her hair was red and her makeup was subdued.

“Goth and a fucking faggot, too. What a freak!” A boy pointed at the girl and started to almost cackle. Most of the other kids joined in while the rest of the crowd walked away since the ‘show’ was over.’

“Shut up, Craig!” Callie punched a locker for effect and to get Craig’s attention.

“What…you gonna make me? Craig wasn’t so much misogynistic as much as he really never cared for anyone but himself. Nevertheless, Callie took it as a personal insult and yelled back.

“ fuck! Mess with her….” Callie stopped and looked at the frightened girl. She’d never met the girl…she was a girl, wasn’t she? But she wanted to show solidarity and display her lack of respect for the morons and homophobes in the crowd. She stepped closer and kissed the girl before turning again to the crowd.

“Mess with her and you mess with me.”

“Hey, Callie…I didn’t know you went that way! Why don’t you come back from the dark side?” Billy Nichols shouted from the back of the crowd.

“Don’t be such an ass, Nichols!” Bonnie Van Camp shouted.

“I mean it…leave her alone.” She turned and held the girl’s hands (the girl?) in front of her.

“Let me know if anyone tries anything. Okay?” She felt good about herself, as if she’d rescued a puppy. The girl stared at her before shaking her head and walking away with her head down.

“Man….what the fuck?” Callie walked away as the rest of the crowd broke up. A hand tapped her on the back and she turned to find her best friend, Sheri Policastro.

“He probably doesn’t swing the way we do, girl!” Sheri pointed to the small figure down the hallway. You probably embarrassed him.

“Him?” Callie shook her head.

“Yeah…that’s Kevin McMonagle.”

“Craig’s brother?”

“Twin brother…yeah…pretty fucking crazy, huh?” Sheri smiled and shrugged her shoulders.

“Yeah…crazy.” The two walked down the hall and entered their Calculus class. Just before closing the door behind her, Callie looked down the hall one last time, wondering what had just happened.

The Seymour High School gym, that evening...

“Starting Point Guard for the Lady Wildcats, Callie O’Hara.” The overhead blared. After the game, it would be remembered by the O’Hara household as the highlight in an otherwise unremarkable performance, both by the Lady Wildcats in general and Callie in particular. She scored once on a free throw and had three assists as Seymour went down to defeat to Wilby, 42 — 39.

“You did your best, honey…” Her mother tossled her hair and patted her on the back in consolation. With Svetlana and Tanisha returning tomorrow, Callie’s brief moment in the sun would soon be over, or so she thought. As they reached the gym exit, a voice from the bleachers yelled.

“Hey…O’Hara…still kissing boys?” Craig McMonagle pointed at her and poked his friends to make sure they didn’t miss his clever point.

The next morning at the O'Hara kitchen...

“You kissed a boy?” Her mother almost said deadpan. She actually had to struggle to keep from laughing, but her delivery was sufficiently ironic, since she was well aware and certainly approved of her daughter’s orientation.

“I didn’t know she was a boy, Mom,” Callie protested.

“Well…alright…so long as you didn’t know.” She failed this time and began to smile.

“You know what I mean…besides…I was only trying to help.”

“Let me get this straight. You told me that this kid is Craig’s brother?” Callie nodded; everyone in school and most of the parents knew about Craig from his history of idiotic and foolish behavior.

“And kissing a boy dressed as a …how’d you put it….Goth-Lite? A kid who is already embarrassed sitting on his ass in the middle of the hallway…and this was suppose to help…how?” Her mother teased.

“Callie…you probably did no harm, but it wasn’t designed to help him, was it. You wanted to make a point and he was a convenient object lesson. Honey…I know being a lesbian isn’t an easy path at all, but you’ve at least got to think about how someone might feel before you go drag them into your crusade, right?” She wasn’t so much scolding her daughter as coaxing her to recognize that her act wasn’t entirely altruistic.

“It’s okay…just another opportunity to be kind and apologetic, sweetie.” Dave O’Hara kissed his daughter on the top of the head as he sat down at the table. “Got a lot to do if you want to catch up to me, sweets.” He chuckled and Bridget smiled at him before continuing.

“Your father has made an art out of apologies, dear. You should ask him for some pointers. Judging by the way your friends and nemeses act, they could call an assembly and your father could hold a Mea Culpa clinic for the students.” She paused as Dave nodded in agreement.

“It says somewhere that we should keep short accounts, Cal…don’t you think you should call that child or maybe see them at school and apologize. We may ask for help and welcome it when it’s offered, hon, but you know that child was given no choice in joining your crusade, right?”

“’s not like he’s a real girl?” Callie immediately regretted her words; not just because of the correction she knew was sure to follow, but somehow it occurred to her she might actually be wrong.

“Well, you’ll never know that unless you talk to her.” Bridget smiled and sipped her coffee. “I suppose you should just accept her word for it, Callie. If she’s presenting herself as a girl, shouldn’t you accept that? Your Aunt Rita wasn’t always your Aunt, you recall.”

“But Mom…this is a kid who’s just walking around the hallways in school in some sort of costume… it’s not like she’s really trying to be a girl.”

“This coming from a girl who insists she doesn’t want to be defined by anyone or anything.” Dave half-frowned.

“Oh…yeah.” Callie was almost sheepish, but really felt very strongly about what her father had just said.

“Either way, I think it would be the right thing to do to reach out to this child, no matter what the results might be.” Bridget grabbed her daughter’s arm and squeezed it firmly, indicating the ‘this is not a suggestion’ rule.

“But Mom…what if she just….”

“Rejects you…doesn’t forgive you? Doesn’t act the way you think she should? Isn’t how this started? Dave interrupted.

“It’s like the old story of the Coast Guard ship that was out in the middle of a hurricane. A newbie goes to the Captain and says, ‘We have to turn back…the storm is getting worse, and besides, nobody could last in a storm like this. We have to turn back.’” Callie stared at her father; she always enjoyed his wisdom, especially when he told stories.

“The Captain smiles at the newbie and says, ‘Son…we’re not paid to come back…just to go out.’”

“I sorta get what you’re sayin, Dad…we’re supposed to do the right thing…no matter what?” Callie dipped her head just a bit, as if she were looking for a blessing.

“Yep, sweetie. God doesn’t call us to succeed…just to obey…we don’t love folks with the idea that they must love us in return. It’s nice when they do, but even if they don’t, we and they are better for it. Call her or seen in school, okay?”

“Okay.” Callie kissed her father on the cheek and grabbed her backpack off the kitchen counter as her mother grabbed the car keys.

“Working from home today, honey?” Bridget asked as she headed toward the door to the garage.

“Nope…taking a vacation day to catch up here.” He smiled as a broad grin crossed his wife’s face.

“Well, maybe we could ‘catch-up’ together?” She walked back to the kitchen table and gave Dave a more-than-let’s-get-some-work-done kiss. Callie stood in the kitchen archway.

“Jeez, guys...get a room.”

“I believe we have, Callie. I believe we have.” Bridget said as they walked out.

A short while later at school...

“Hey…” It occurred to Callie as she walked up to the girl that she didn’t even know how to address her.

“I have a name.” The tone wasn’t dismissive; rather it was almost sad, like the word ‘hey’ was part of her everyday life.

“Sorry. What’s your name?” Callie put her head down slightly in embarrassment.

“Fiona,” the girl said, her face red and her tone almost apologetic.

“Listen….I’m really sorry about the other day. You’ve got to understand…” The girl’s face turned sad and Callie shook her head.

“I’m sorry…you don’t have to listen or understand or anything. I wanted to prove a point and I hurt you…like those jerks have hurt me all along. You…didn’t deserve that. I took…I dragged you into that and I guess…I know it must have made things worse.” Callie cringed as she saw the tears well up in the girl’s eyes, confirming her fears.

“After you left….my brother came up to me and started pushing me…not hard, but it hurt.” The girl’s sadness and frustration came spilling out like a badly made pitcher.

“I…I mean…isn’t he…shouldn’t….Fuck…I can’t talk anymore.” The girl went to turn and Callie grabbed her arm. She wanted to be a comfort, but her gesture was just another way the girl felt she had no control over.

“Let me go.” She pulled away and Callie released her arm. She shook her head once as the tears flowed before running down the hall and around the corner.

At the P.E. office a while later...

“Hey…Callie…do you think you can start tonight? Tanisha has an interview at UConn today and she won’t be back in time if at all.” Coach Chen smiled. Callie wasn’t the most talented sub on the bench, but she was the hardest worker; an asset she inherited from her parents.

“Sure…I’ll do my best.” Callie always did her best and then some. Partly as a compensation for the teasing she had been taking since middle school, but also because of the support and encouragement she received from her parents.

That evening at the Woodland Regional High School gym, Beacon Falls, Connecticut...

“And that’s it…the Seymour Lady Wildcats squeak by with a 52-51 thriller over our own Lady Hawks. Leading all scorers with 12 points…starting point guard Tanisha Coolidge.” The speaker was almost annoying as Bridget and Dave made their way to courtside. Callie didn’t start after all, as Tanisha’s interview had been canceled. She did get a lot of time on the court and had seven assists and a steal.

“Hey, sweets…nice game.” Her dad hugged her and rubbed her back. “I’m so proud of you.”

“Maybe you’ll start soon, but you do more with what little time you get than anyone out there,” Bridget said to her daughter with a smile. Dave nodded before continuing.

“I’ve got to run to work quick, hon. You and your Mom should go out for Pizza or to the diner, okay. She’s going to give me a ride and she’ll be back in about a half hour; just in time for you to get a shower and changed, okay?” He kissed her before they went to leave. Callie stood and watched them walk out the exit before she felt a tap on her shoulder.

“You got a minute?” A boy stood in front of her. His face looked familiar and his voice sounded like someone she thought she knew.

“Yeah…I’ll be happy to sign an autograph, but you’ll probably have to pay someone to take it off your hands.”

“It’s me…Fiona.”

“Oh…gee…this is what you look like?” Callie asked and the boy put his head down, but he spoke.

“No….this is what my family thinks I should look like.”

“Oh…I’m sorry…gee….that must suck.”

“My brother said he’d beat…well, you know.” The boy’s voice was quiet and he seemed almost…he was exactly like the girl she had met the day before, but without the clothes.

“Your brother is a moron…I’m sorry, but it’s not fair.” The crusader in her rose up and it was like she surveyed the crowd, looking for a challenge.

“No...It’s not…but that’s not why I wanted to talk to you.” He looked away, almost like he was seeking strength for the rejection he feared.

“Would you…” He faltered as his eyes filled with tears. He put his head down but continued.

“I mean…well…you…you’re the only one here…nobody else. When you said…” The boy couldn’t continue. Callie was shocked when he embraced her, weeping into her already wet tee shirt. As odd as it felt, it still felt right, and she kissed the boy on his ear and whispered, not to hide but to make sure he heard her over the crowd noise.

"I already am your friend, Fiona, okay?"

She patted him on the back and looked around, hoping no one would notice, again more for his sake than hers. Sadly she was disappointed as a voice came from behind.

“Hey…you! Dyke…leave my brother alone.” Craig McMonagle shouted; he sounded like a hyena as he laughed. He put his hand on Callie’s shoulder and spun her around.

“Leave her alone, Craig.” Callie spoke up, intentionally using the ‘wrong’ pronoun, but not as the crusader, but because she realized that the person in her arms actually was a girl.

“Fuck You, O’Hara!” Craig reached in and tried to pry her arms off of Fiona. He would have quickly succeeded but for the very large hands that slapped down on his shoulders and forced him to sit on the bench behind him.

“Excuse me, kid. I don’t know your name, but lay one more hand on my daughter and I will personally see that you experience traction up close and personal.” Dave O’Hara said calmly.

“Oh, Dad…” Callie looked at her father with grateful but confused eyes.

“Jerry called me on the cell just as I got to the parking lot. The client agreed to some changes, and we’ll just rework tomorrow when we get in instead.” He turned and faced Craig and tilted his head. Callie's mom stepped next to the sitting boy and actually wagged her finger at him.

“I know your parents raised you better than this. Your Mom and I go way back, Craig, and you can bet I’ll be talking to them both about your behavior,” Bridget said as she turned and looked at the forlorn figure still clinging to her daughter.

“And you must be the mystery girl. Well, sweetie, why don’t you come to dinner with us? You have a cell?” The girl nodded. “Call your parents and let them know we’ll be at Indochine for dinner. You ever have Vietnamese or Thai…” The girl shook her head no.

“You’re in for a treat. Come on…” Bridget tilted her head in question.

“Fiona.” The girl said as she wiped her face with her hoodie sleeve.

“Pleased to meet you, Fiona.” Dave said as he put his arm around Callie’s shoulder.

“Like I said, I’m so proud of you.” He kissed her on top of her head. She looked up and something in his eyes reminded her of the security of her family and she began to cry; probably for the first time for someone else.

“What’s wrong, sweets?” He whispered as the crowd continued to exit around them.

“I don’t know, Dad…it’s like something just changed in me…but it’s good.”

“Yes it is.”

Waterbury Republican-American, December 16, 2015

The UConn Lady Huskies beat Villanova 78 to 64 last night at the Rock Arena in Newark, New Jersey, to solidify their lead in the Big East. Tanisha Coolidge led all scorers with nineteen points; Calleigh O’Hara provided a spark off the bench in the second half with eleven points and six steals along with seven assists.

Christmas Eve, the following year...

“How are you…you okay?” Callie asked the girl as she combed out her hair. The girl turned around and smiled.

“Great now that you’re here.”

“This time last year, I was in Newark for the Christmas Tournament, but that was then but this is now and my second semester at Columbia Med doesn’t start until late January, so this works out perfectly.

“I told Anthony all about you…He’s glad that I’ve got such a dear friend.” Fiona choked up at the word ‘friend.’

“He’s a great guy, but he’s getting a great girl, Fi.” Sheri Policastro-O'Hara spoke up from over in the corner. “And I know you and he will be as happy as Callie and me.” She smiled at her partner who nodded and grinned. Callie pulled back and looked at her handiwork.

“You surprised me. I never dreamed I’d see you in a wedding dress,” Callie laughed. Fiona knew her friend well enough to know what she said wasn’t meant to mock her.

“Why…didn’t you think I’d ever get married?” Fiona said with a mock frown.

“No, silly…I just never, ever pictured you wearing white.”

A moment later the women began to laugh almost hysterically as Fiona stood and pulled up her wedding gown, revealing black fishnets and Doc Marten boots.

"I guess you can take the boy out of the Goth, but you can't take the Goth out of the girl!" Callie said as she hugged her friend.

"Merry Christmas, Fi, Merry Christmas!"

Route One, Hoboken, New Jersey, several years later…

The ambulance had just pulled away; two fatalities and two survivors. A tractor trailer had jackknifed on the icy pavement and the rig had slid into both oncoming cars, just barely missing a mini-van filled with kids and a couple of soccer moms on their way back from the mall. Both drivers had been killed instantly; one leaving a very scared little boy in the back of the first car. The second left a tallish woman whom the paramedics recognize instantly. The scene in the ambulance went from relaxed to chaotic in an instant.

“We’re losing her,” the paramedic screamed to no one and everyone at the same time. Her buddy leaned closer and spoke to the woman on the gurney.

“Come on, Callie….live!” He shook his head but grabbed the paddles and a moment later the flat line had changed to a weak but still up and down wave.

“Son of a fucking bitch!” He bit his lip at the sight of the mess of bones and blood that had been the woman's ankle. He looked at his partner.

“Shit, Jackie….” She returned his stare before looking again at the woman’s leg. She shook her head no; whatever fate lay in store for Callie Policastro-O’Hara would include pain over the loss of her wife and the loss of her career.

New York Sports Medicine, Manhattan, New York City…several weeks later…

“Come on, Callie.” The man smiled and pointed to the raised mat next to the exercise bike. She shook her head no but still rose and hopped over to the mat. Swinging around, her stump hit the edge, sending a painful, almost electric shock up her leg.

“Doc says your prosthesis should be in maybe tomorrow or Thursday…Let’s get to it!” Vic Domonali was kind and supportive, but he didn’t mince words. The quicker Callie got to work with her new leg the quicker she’d return….but return to what.

“You know, Vic. I don’t really give a fuck.” She put her head down. Two and a half months after the accident and she didn’t have a lot of motivation. The Sun had put her on the ‘physically unable to play’ list, but no one in their right mind expected her to return. At almost thirty, her best years in basketball had already been pretty much behind her even before the accident. Whatever life held for her, it wasn’t going to be in sports. At least that’s what she thought.

“Okay… let’s try it again, but this time, put some effort into it, okay?” Vic smiled at Callie; his expression got under her skin, as the old song goes, and she blew out a very frustrated breath before speaking.

“Listen…take it easy, okay?” She put her head down and continued.

“You don’t know what I’ve been through.”

“I’m sorry, Callie? I didn’t quite get that…would you mind repeating what you just said?” He knew what she said, but he didn’t want the moment to be lost in self-pity. And he was quite prepared with an answer.

“Listen, Vic. You don’t know what the fuck I’ve been through.” She looked down at the ring on her left hand and huffed.

“It’s easy for you to push me…you know?” She pointed to her leg and gestured at the ‘ghost’ limb; she had that feeling you might get after losing an arm or a leg as if it still was still there.

“And that’s the easy part. I’m so….it’s not fair.” She pointed to her left hand and continued.

“I’ve known…..” She breathed in deeply, as if she would pass out from the words that she expelled.

“I knew her since High School, for God’s sake. Do you understand?” She began to cry. A moment later she felt his hand on her shoulder.

“I know exactly how you feel, Callie.” A soft yet firm group of words strung together that would serve to convince Callie that she was not alone; nor would she be.

“Nina and I met in Middle School. Together for thirteen years.” He still wore his wedding ring. Callie looked into his eyes; his gaze met hers his gaze of comfort so deep you could fall into it. She wanted to ask how his wife died, but she realized it really wasn’t important. He still wore his ring, and that said more to her than any details. But the stakes were high in the game she was playing; she raised her loss and beat his hands down, didn’t she. He could still work at his chosen field, couldn’t he?

She moved her hand to point at the place where her foot should have been and opened her mouth, but the words got stuck in her throat. It was too painful; how could he understand that her life and her life mate had been lost in an instant.

“I’m sorry you got hurt.”

“Sorry I got hurt?” She thought, and would have voiced her anger but for that welcoming gaze of his; it silenced her protest even before he uttered an answer that saw her bet and raised the ante, beating her hand. He reached over and grabbed the cane she had taken to use while getting accustomed to her prosthesis. A smile like no other crossed his face; the look that says ‘you may not believe me, but this is for your own good.’

“I’m so sorry you got hurt. I know how you feel…yes.” He took the cane and hit his left leg. A loud clack came from wood on fiberglass and God only knows what else.

“I was driving, Callie. Drunk driver cut us off…tried to pass us on the right….hit the front end of our van. Nina…she was gone already when the van stopped rolling.” He gasped and blinked back tears.

“Petey lasted all the way to the hospital and….” His voice trailed off.

“I was driving….and it has taken me nearly three years to….”

He shook his head and looked down. He hadn’t meant to make it about himself, but only in doing so could he have reached her. He felt a hand on his arm and he looked down to see Callie crying, but not for herself. She struggled for the words; simple words, but her tears spoke for her as she told him with her heart that she understood...finally remembering and understanding that it wasn’t always about her. Finally, she uttered the words that set both of them free.

"I am so sorry."

Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, Manhattan, NYC…Christmas Eve, a few years later…

A smallish dark-haired woman knocked softly on the open office door.

“I stopped by to see if you need a ride? Tony is downstairs with the car, hon.” Fiona smiled at the mention of her husband’s name. It never ceased to amaze her how gracious life had been to her, but even that almost took a back seat to her best friend. Callie looked up from her desk and smiled back.

“I’ll catch up with you later, okay? I’ve got one more client to see and then I’m off to the Garden to drop off a check for that fundraiser the team has going.” She still felt a part of the team after so many years; they had helped tremendously after she decided to forgo any comeback, and they not only understood but supported her efforts.

“Okay. We’ll be at church for about an hour anyway; you can just go straight to the apartment if you like?” Fiona practically giggled.

“Okay, okay. Trisha’s gonna be there, you know?”

She laughed softly at her best friend’s efforts at matchmaking. Had it been a couple of years before, she might agree to date if only to be grateful for Fiona’s care. But Sheri seemed to be smiling down on Callie lately; her presence was a comfort even as Callie felt released to begin again, as some might say. Anyway, Two meals out and a very comfortable meal at ‘home’ urged her forward, and she was finally settled enough to want the relationship to grow; she was falling in love, and it felt as if Sheri was looking down in approval.

She dropped her attention to her leg; the prosthesis was uncovered since she had deliberately chosen to wear a long skirt instead of slacks. She hoped her decision would be helpful. Another knock came; this time at the reception area desk around the corner from her office. She rose and walked almost casually to the desk and smiled at the woman standing across from her.

“I’m Niecy White. We talked on the phone?” She turned away, almost embarrassed before using her arm to gesture to her right where a girl of about seven or so sat in a wheelchair.

“You must be Lisa, right?” The girl kept silent. Callie smiled a very broad smile and leaned a bit across the desk, eyeing the girl’s covered legs.

“I hope we can be friends, and I really hope that you and your Mom and I can get you all the help you need, okay?” The girl’s eyes began to tear up as she pulled the blanket from her legs, revealing one perfectly formed leg and another that stopped rudely at the ankle. The scars were not quite fresh, but still red enough to bear the testimony of a great loss. She shook her head no; not as a rebuke, but with the accompanying smile, it was a way to show the girl that she needn’t be ashamed. The girl shook her head no right back; her face etched with embarrassment and shame with a look that said,

“You don’t know how this feels.”

Callie glanced downward as if to do a spot-check before walking around the end of the desk. She stood about four feet away from the girl and glanced down again after getting the girl’s attention, bringing attention to her own leg; this time as in recent times past, her intentions were entirely selfless. She smiled and glanced at the girl’s stump before casting her gaze downward one last time, looking at her prosthesis. She half-smiled and blew out a breath. The girl switched her gaze back and forth between her own leg and Callie’s before smiling weakly with a reluctant nod. Callie knelt down next to the wheelchair and looked the girl in the eyes. Her mother was crying by then, and Lisa’s face was awash with tears.

“It’s gonna be okay, honey. It’s gonna be okay.” Callie said softly as she pulled the girl into a soft hug as the girl wept in her arms.

“It’s gonna be okay.

Come, they told me
Pa, rum, pa, pum, pum
Our newborn King to see
Pa, rum, pa, pum, pum

Our finest gifts we bring
Pa, rum, pa, pum, pum
To lay before the King
Pa, rum, pa, pum, pum
Rum, pa, pum, pum, rum, pa, pum, pum

So to honor Him
Pa, rum, pa, pum, pum
When we come

Little Baby
Pa, rum, pa, pum, pum
I am a poor boy too
Pa, rum, pa, pum, pum

I have no gift to bring
Pa, rum, pa, pum, pum
That's fit to give a King
Pa, rum, pa, pum, pum
Rum, pa, pum, pum, rum, pa, pum, pum

Shall I play for You
Pa, rum, pa, pum, pum
On my drum, on my drum

I played my drum for Him
For You honored me

Mary nodded
Pa, rum, pa, pum, pum
The ox and lamb kept time
Pa, rum, pa, pum, pum

I played my drum for Him
Pa, rum, pa, pum, pum
I played my best for Him
Pa, rum, pa, pum, pum
Rum, pa, pum, pum, rum, pa, pum, pum

Then He smiled at me
Pa, rum, pa, pum, pum
Me and my drum

When we come
Me and my drum


“I see you’re in boy-mode today.” Phyllis smiled warmly; it wasn’t an indictment, merely an observation.

“My mom keeps complaining…like why don’t you have any friends; if you weren’t so stubborn. Can’t you just do that at home,” the boy sighed. “It’s like she thinks it’s a hobby like my old Pokemon cards. Why doesn’t she understand?”

The home office of Phyllis Angstrom, LPC and EEC Neurobiofeedback Therapist

“So how are you today, Allie?” Phyllis Angstrom didn’t waste time with the girl; she seemed to be primed each time to gush like a well spring.

“Mom just won’t listen.” She shook her head and folded her arms.

“Didn’t we just go over this last session, Allie?”

“Yes…but… I know I can’t change her, but it’s getting to the point where I can’t even be myself at home, despite her promises.”

“What about your stepfather?” Phyllis probed and poked with Allie, more so than most of the teens she’d worked with because she not only had insight, but she displayed a tenacity and a willingness to work hard in therapy; her development demonstrated insight beyond most teens.

“She won’t take the chance. He’s always screaming about something being wrong, and it’s like I can’t even be myself anywhere.” She put her head down and started crying.

“Okay, what’s going on right now…things don’t seem any worse than usual. Why the tears?”

“Why?” She lifted her head and darted her gaze down at her body, as if to indicate an answer.

“I see you’re in boy mode today.” She wasn’t criticizing; it was merely an observation.

“You’ve always got time before and after our sessions to change, but you’re wearing jeans and a hoodie today. What’s that about?” The girl picked up the stuffed toy cat next to her and held it close to her body in an attempt to comfort herself. Allie was starved for physical affection, having a mother and step father who were polar opposites. Tom Czerzik was an angry man who often yelled at the girl for no apparent reason, and frequently yelled at her because she didn’t act like the ‘man’ she was.

Nita Czerzik, on the other hand, was cold and nearly numb emotionally; perhaps the effect of two failed marriages and a live in de facto husband and step-father to her child. She found herself withholding affection to Tom, and her disappointment just flowed like a glacier into her relationship with her son.

Neither had hugged the girl in four years. It amazed Phyllis that the girl actually was able to cope; not just function, but deal well on a day to day basis with rejection. She smiled warmly at the girl.

“I’ve tried, Phyllis…I sent her a card for her birthday…you know…the ones on the internet..with music and pictures. I signed it ‘To a great Mom from a loving daughter’ and her response was ‘Thank you, Alan…you’re a good boy.’ A good boy? She didn’t even read the bottom or if she did she ignored it.”

“That’s very sad, isn’t it, Allie?” The girl choked back a sob.

“It’s like she doesn’t see you…she looks at you but sees someone else.” Phyllis looked purposely at the boy clothes.

“So maybe if you wear jeans and a hoodie, at least she might see her son?” The girl nearly pouted as she began to cry.

“If you can’t be noticed as you, maybe they’ll notice you as the person they think you are, right?” She nodded and Phyllis continued.

“How does that help Allie? You’ve come here the last three times in boy mode…your mother has dropped you off every time, right?” Allie nodded again, trying to stop crying.

“And has she noticed you…do you get any more attention than if you wear your own clothes?” Phyllis was sure of the answer, but she had to challenge the girl’s thinking; it was counterproductive and codependent at its core.

“No…I don’t know why I even bothered.” She looked at herself again and scowled.

“I’m so stupid.”

“No, Allie, you’re a very bright girl who just wants her family to care. And you did what you did because you’re desperate and feel what?” Phyllis felt like she was leading the girl, but Allie had actually used the word Phyllis was looking for in a breakthrough the previous week.

“She looks at me like I’m still a little kid…like if I only get older I’ll grow out of it, like Pokemon or Gamecube.” She shook her head.

“I feel helpless…like I can’t do anything to satisfy them…like I’m…” She paused and looked at Phyllis.

“What do you feel like, Allie? What does that make you feel like.”

“Like no matter what I do it’ll never get any better.” She was teetering on the edge of an emotional cliff, but she alone had the lifeline at hand. She grabbed it when Phyllis asked,

“So…what do you take away from that, Allie? What does that mean to you?”

“It’s just hopeless.” She shook her head at the thought. “If…If things don’t get better when I try to be what they want…..” Phyllis tried hard not to, but if she had a mirror at that moment she expected she would have seen herself getting very excited.

“I should just be who I want to be.”

“I think that’s a very good idea, Allie.”


“Yes, Allie?” The girl looked as somber as she had ever seen since she had started to come for therapy.

“How much time do I have?” The girl looked at her empty wrist; her watch, a nice girl’s Seiko, sat on her nightstand, unused.

“Oh, gosh…we’ve hardly talked at all.” Phyllis fibbed, but her two o’clock appointment had canceled.

“Oh…okay.” The girl’s voice trailed off. Her face had the look of someone who really wanted to ask permission for something even though she felt she didn’t deserve it. Phyllis cut through Allie’s emotional red tape.

“You left your back pack here last week, you know, just before the snowstorm. It’s in the den, and I’m sure you can find something? Go ahead, we’ve got plenty of time.”

About fifteen minutes later the girl came back. She wore a green jumper over a red tee along with dark brown tights and brown suede flats. Her ponytail sported a new barrette and her face sported a nice smile.

“Phyllis…I opened my bag and I found this,” She pointed to her body in a broad gesture and then began to cry. Phyllis was glad that the girl hadn’t the time to put on her makeup.

“Just think of it as an early Christmas present, Allie. You’re nearly sixteen, and I think it’s time you allowed yourself out. I don’t think it’s healthy to keep this bottled up and my supervisor agrees. You don’t have to feel obligated to do anything, but I think it would be helpful it you asked your parents to come with you next month, sort of a good way to start the new year. You can wear that if you feel safe when we get together.

“You mean I can keep this?” The girl blushed and cried at the same time.

“I’d like you to consider this a tool for therapy rather than a gift. I can help you better if you feel free to talk, not as Alan, but as Allie, and I think this will help you confront your parents, okay?”

“Okay, Phyllis…I don’t know how I can thank you enough for this.”

“The look on your face is thanks enough.” She smiled and the girl smiled back.

“And Allie?” Phyllis asked. The girl had sat down at the computer desk for her biofeedback training.


“Merry Christmas!”

Freedom Counseling Center, Pittsfield, New York…December 23rd…several years later...

The mood of the composer seemed to be reflected…. Coloratura, chromatic scale….the odd visual descriptors for music fit with Tchaikovsky. Brilliant yet troubled, dark and light often mixed well and almost indivisible in many of his works. Serenade for Strings played; filling the cozy office with colors and shapes and tones that lifted the woman’s spirits as she prepared for her visitor.

“I’m sorry I’m late.” The boy stood nervously at the door, his face cast down in embarrassment.

“That’s okay, Billy. Come in.” She smiled, putting the boy only a little bit at ease.

“Did you want to change?” A funny line from an old joke that they both usually enjoyed. The boy only shook his head no.

“Hard to get your balance when things keep shifting?” Something they had talked about only a week ago. He breathed out a sigh before walking slowly to the small group of chairs and couch. Sitting down, he pulled off his glasses, setting them on the table beside him. Pulling the hood of his sweatshirt back, he sighed again slowly as tears came to his eyes.

“Seriously, Billy? You didn’t change for our time together…It looks as if your dad finally got his way?”

“I….he just kept telling me how…” The boy looked away and breathed out an almost silent gasp.

“He’s proud of you, right, Billy?” She stressed the name.

“Yes,” the boy nodded and spoke; almost sounding apologetic.

“And you feel bad about him being proud, right?” She turned her head toward the CD player. He saw her glance.

“That’s okay…” he stammered. The boy liked the music in the background. He even joked once about how Tchaikovsky seemed to be …seemed to have written a score just for him; the music almost a mirror for his moods.

“You’re sad about his pride?” She knew the answer; counselors often function in a vague similarity to lawyers in that they know enough not to ask too many questions without first having the answer. Funny thing that both are often referred to as advocates. Shewas advocating for the boy so that he might not serve a life sentence; albeit one imposed with the best of intentions.

Paracaleo…one who comes along side….

“He’s proud, but not really about me…you know? Mommy understands. I don’t understand why he can’t.”

“Has he agreed to come in with you?” She pointed to the couch, as if the boy’s father might sit beside him. He glanced at the chair furthest away; his look seemed to cast a grey pallor on the room as he nodded his head slowly.

“But you don’t feel he’ll listen, even if we all talk?” The boy looked away.

“It’s so hard to go without feeling some hope, isn’t it?” She said the words slowly, remembering how things had been long ago in another place.

Violins played softly; almost speaking and showing a way for the boy… the tempo started to speed up ever so slowly, if that makes any sense. Suddenly the music burst forth with a brightness that seemed to light up the room. He looked at her and smiled, oddly enough. She realized that just asking the question raised his hopes ever so slightly, but still enough to move him forward.

“You…” He looked down at himself and back at her. He already knew she shared so much in commonality; that knowing that only two people can share if they’re kindred in a way. But he asked again… a frequent question that gave an answer which in turn gave him hope.

“Yes, Billy. I know.” There would come a day; very soon perhaps that gave him enough courage to face his future with hope. A day where her life would no longer be necessary to validate his, as if that was even necessary at all. Freedom.

But he finally would feel confidence and strength and courage no matter what she told him. She smiled and nodded, knowing that it was okay for him to derive his hope from someone who had sought the same from someone else who in turn had received hope from another. Comfort ye therefore with the same comfort you yourself have received?

“So…let’s do a quick inventory, okay?” The boy only nodded, but his face seemed to brighten a bit.

“You came here without anyone understanding, right?” Another nod.

“And now your mom seems to understand, is that right?” A half-smile; the boy blinked back some tears, pulling a pillow close to him like a stuffed animal.

“And your dad…he’s always been proud of you, is that right?” He shrugged his shoulders and half-frowned.

“But now he knows at least that you’re different…that he listens even if he doesn’t quite get it…right?” Another shrug; the grey seemed to be returning to the room, but as a modifier; making the colors more pastel than bright, but still with shades of pink in a way.

“And he’s agreed to come here? To listen to you here?” The tones, color-wise and musically, seemed to brighten once again; almost a visual and audible increase in that one word the boy desired.

“So we can have hope, right? While the nod wasn’t enthusiastic, it still was a nod; speaking volumes without word.

“Would you like to change? I had a cancellation, so my next hour is free. You don’t have to worry.” The boy’s face brightened and he smiled; reminding her of another time and another smile.

“And Billy?” She spoke even as the boy headed toward the office door. He turned and tilted his head in question.

“I think it best that we call you by your name from now on, okay? It will help you feel more comfortable when we talk with your dad, alright?”

A few minutes later a nice looking teenage girl stood at the doorway; she wasn’t pretty so much as she was attractive with a smile that lit up the room. To look at her clothes you’d likely see nothing remarkable. Dark purple jeans and a white tee covered by a plum pullover. Nothing to be done about her hair, unruly as it was even pulled back, but at least you could see the amethyst studs in her ears. She had a purple tam on her head and a dark grey shawl around her shoulders. There was something just so comfortable about her; her figure seemed to paint the room with color.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I put this on,” the woman remarked as she pointed to the CD. Still Tchaikovsky, but the music was even more colorful in some ways. She smiled as the girl sat down.

“So…is that better?” She pointed to the girl’s clothing and the girl smiled even as she continued to blink back tears.

“Yes, Dr. Czerzik. Yes!”

“That’s wonderful, Bella. And please? Call me Alaina?”


Shari couldn’t believe it. She walked down the hall, excited that the girls in her gym class had actually invited her to a party. She walked into chem class just in time to see two of her classmates standing by the window with their backs to her. She sat down and was still smiling when the girls turned to her and laughed, pointing at her and saying,

“Gotcha!” They laughed again and several of the kids in class joined in. Her face became warm and her eyes filled with tears before her teacher stood up and clapped her hands hard to get their attention.

“Before we get into polymers, I want to talk to you about something important...about myself….”

Kelly Walsh High School, Casper, Wyoming…December 18…

Jeanette Applegate looked over the pile of test papers sitting on her desk. She sighed, wondering how to reach the clique of kids in her last class of the day. They were all successful enough academically, but the six girls, three in particular, seemed to always pick on Shari. She had seen this kind of bullying before, but she also had strong hope that the girls could be reached.

“I can’t believe you actually believed we’d want you to come to my party,” Theresa Falcone said as Shari put her head down on her desk and cried. This was enough to get all of the girls suspensions for bullying, but that would only get them out of school, and likely would do nothing to change their hearts. She blew out a breath and took the second biggest gamble of her life.

“Class…everyone take your seats. Please take your seats. Before we get into polymers, I want to talk to you about something important about myself….” She walked around the desk and sat down in a chair in front of the class. Her reputation as the most popular teacher in school was going to be put to a real and important test, and not for her own sake. She hoped that playing on her popularity would reach the girls…and the rest of her students as well; either way, the risk was worth taking.

“When I was just a little kid, the one thing I can remember that still remains important today is that kindness is a commodity that you can never have enough of and something that you should never keep to yourself. I had to learn that through a lot of trial and error, and not because I didn’t know how to be kind, but I never trusted anyone enough to receive it.

"I was never a big kid…some of the neighborhood boys picked on me a lot; almost every day when I was little, but it got worse in middle school. My brother Tommy sort of went along. I thought it was bad when the other kids would tease, but when my brother started in, it was like the world was wrong… something just didn’t make sense. I mean…” Jeanette paused for effect, knowing she would get a reaction.

“I mean, after all, brothers should stick together. I expected the boys in my class to tease me, but my own brother?” She paused again as nearly every student stared at her. She waited a moment and the desired effect became apparent.

“Mrs. Applegate?”

“Yes, Theresa?”

“I don’t understand…you were just talking about yourself and then all of a sudden you started talking about your brothers…I don’t get it.”

“Why…there’s nothing to get. There were just the two of us...Tommy and me.” She smiled at the memory; Tommy and she had made peace nearly immediately, but that was further along in her story. Theresa looked almost hurt; as if she had misheard Jeanette.

“My mother and father have two children, Thomas Carter and Jeanette Carter Applegate.” She almost felt like giggling at the implication; it was as if you could see the clockwork wheels turning in Theresa’s head. She raised her hand as Jeanette stood up. It was the first time all year that she had been thoughtful enough not to blurt out an answer or a funny remark.

“Mrs. Applegate…you said all brothers should stick together. What do you mean by that?” Theresa was joined in her question as several kids started to nod in agreement.

“Yeah…I mean what the fuck,” Vicki Canfield yelled from the back of the room, earning a mock glare from Jeanette.

“Sorry…I mean…what do you mean, Mrs. A?” Vicki quickly apologized.

“What I mean is that my parents had two sons.” Jeanette replied without comment; thus adding to the students’ confusion. Several of the kids tilted their heads, almost in unison.

“But you’re a girl!” Timmy Delvecchio shouted, prompting Naomi Stein to turn around.

“Woman, you moron!” She shook her head and turned to see Jeanette stifle a laugh.

“Yes, Naomi, that I am.” The class grew quiet, almost silent for a moment until Vicki Canfield spoke from the back of the class once again; this time without shouting but clear enough through the quiet.

“What the fuck…she’s a guy!”

“No she’s not…she’s a girl,” Timmy said but quickly added, “Sorry…She’s a woman!”

Marie Lopez, usually quiet and shy, raised her hand and waved for Jeanette’s attention.

“Mrs. Applegate? Can I take a guess?” She blushed as the class began to laugh. Jeanette raised her hands to quiet the students and spoke.

“Well, Marie, this isn’t a quiz, but yes, you can guess.” Despite her shy nature and minimal participation, Marie was one of her best students.

“This is like a riddle or a logic problem, right? You said your parents had two sons and no other kids…and you’re a woman, right?” Jeanette nodded.

“So….is it because you used to be a boy?” She put her head down a bit, as if she expected Jeanette to throw something at her.

“Ewwww…that’s disgusting.” A voice came from somewhere in the class, but it was followed by Naomi Stein speaking up once again.

“Hey…That’s mean…who died and made you Goddess?”

“Yeah, I mean…she doesn’t look like a guy…she looks pretty good!” Pete Barone shouted, but turned beet red when he realized just what he said.”

“Why, thank you Pete, but that’s not the point, is it?” Jeanette laughed. So far things weren’t too bad, and they were about to get better.

“It shouldn’t make any difference what she looks like.” Shari spoke up. It was the first time all year that she had spoken in class…any class. She looked around; expecting her usual tormentors to shout her down, but her chief nemesis spoke.

“No…it shouldn’t.” Epiphanies don’t often happen with such spontaneity and ease, but Theresa’s conscience had been primed way before that day. Her cousin Jeff had borne the brunt of cruel taunting within their family for being gay. She felt entirely justified along with her siblings and Jeff’s brother in teasing him. The guilt lay beneath the surface of Theresa’s conscience, waiting for an opportunity to convict her.

“No…it shouldn’t…it does…a lot.” She looked at Shari, and while she wasn’t ready to ask for forgiveness or to apologize just yet, Shari smiled at her anyway.

“Why do you think that is?” Jeanette asked, but it was more of a question for the whole class.

“My uncle says that gays will all go to hell.” Nancy Klimek said, almost with a self-congratulatory tone.

“Since we all do stuff that’s wrong sometimes…maybe we should all go to hell.” Timmy said and the class laughed, but he shook his head and raised his voice.

“I’m not fucking kidding, okay? I’m serious…who decides? Who says what’s right?”

“And what’s wrong with Mrs. Applegate…she’s the best teacher in school!”

“Should that make a difference?” Jeanette asked.

“No! But it does.” Theresa spoke up again. “If…if my cousin was a friggin’ rock star or something like that….but he was just a kid….you know…and….” The floodgates broke and she began to cry; hard.

“It does…I’m glad that a lot of people believed in me when others didn’t. There are a lot of kids who grow up without anybody believing in them, right?”

“My dad told me he loved me,” Cynthia Spagnola said quietly. “Mom left but he told me he’s not going anywhere.”

“My dad says I’m stupid,” Kerri Melchior said. “I’m not stupid, Mrs. Applegate….Am I?” The girl shook her head.

“There isn’t a single kid here who isn’t smart….no…Kerri…you aren’t stupid at all. None of you are.” Maybe it was the season, but the same welcoming spirit and joy for life and encouraging heart that had nurtured their minds had surely nurtured their souls as well. Theresa felt a tap on her shoulder as Nancy Klimek shook her head…

“I’m sorry…my uncle is a jerk and I shouldn’t have said that…okay?” Theresa frowned but nodded yes.

“I was never very good at anything. I wasn’t really bad at anything, either. Sort of average, As long as I could remember, I felt like I didn’t fit in with the boys my age; like I got along better with girls. I spent a lot of time crying, thinking there was something wrong with me.” Nancy looked up as Jeanette stepped closer to Theresa and Nancy. Instead of saying anything she pointed to Nancy’s face.

“What?” Nancy cringed.

“You wear glasses because your eyes don’t work the way they’re supposed to, right?” Jeannette pointed to Ben Patel and Tanisha Coolidge so Nancy wouldn’t feel singled out.

“My granddad wears a hearing aid.” Billy Kapusta shouted from the back of the class.

“Well…just like that…”

“Your insides don’t match your outsides…” Naomi said proudly.

“Exactly…eventually we got it all sorted out and I started going to a few great doctors who knew what I needed. I took a lot of teasing from the same kids who gave me hell…it was much worse, but my Mom and Dad stood by me when they figured I was the same child they already loved.” She sighed.

“But you’re married…What does your husband say?”

“He says he loves me.” She smiled and Linda Garner sighed and smiled in return.

“What I’m trying to say…and I know from firsthand experience how much teasing hurts…is that everybody deserves respect, right?” Most of the class nodded; some reluctantly, others enthusiastically. Carrie Belasco and Misty Jeffers, the two girls in on the joke with Theresa, just laughed. The period bell rang and the kids began to walk out.

“Theresa…Are you going to be okay?” Shari said; her voice soft and welcoming.

“Yeah…I guess so…yes…Th...thanks.” Theresa got up and walked out of the class, leaving the girl standing by her desk.

“She’ll come around…she’s already started. Don’t worry, Shari.” Jeanette said as she pushed the chair back in the corner.

“I know. Mrs. Applegate…?” Shari said as she reached the classroom door. Jeanette turned.

“Thanks.” The girl waved and walked out.

“You’re welcome,” Jeanette said, but her words were lost as the girl disappeared quickly down the hallway. She turned to see a solitary figure sitting quietly in the middle row of the class.

“Danny? Is there something you need to speak to me about?” Jeanette asked, but she already knew the answer as the boy nodded silently. He had the same look on his face that another boy wore nearly fifteen years before.

“Mrs. Applegate? Can we talk?”

When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep
Counting my blessings

When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep
Counting my blessings

Kelly Walsh High School, Caspar, Wyoming…..a few years later…

“Ms. Applegate?” Jeanette looked up from her desk to see a smallish teen standing in front of her. His face wore a look of deep concern.

“Yes, Jason?” Jeanette hoped he wouldn’t need much help since she was too tired to deal with anyone else’s problems; even if they were the problems of a kid as nice as Jason. He proved her point; albeit in a manner that didn’t do anything to help her cause.

“I saw you before class…. I was sitting in the back and I don’t think you saw me.” He said cautiously, as if he had been eaves-dropping .

“You …you were crying. I’ve never seen you cry before, Ms. Applegate.” She put up her hand to interrupt, but he continued.

“If you’re crying it must be important. Anything I can do?” There wasn’t a single thing Jason could do other than extend the sympathy he already had, which was more than enough as Jeanette Applegate shook her head even as the tears streamed down her cheeks. Not wanting to do anything that anyone might take wrong, the boy just stood there and nodded before walking out of the classroom; his own tears a way of showing a solidarity with her for which he had come to understand only recently after a trip to a nice therapist.

I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds

At the Applegate home...

“I….” Jeanette looked at Rick and quickly turned away.

“Babe…please? I know how much this meant to you…to us. But it isn’t your fault.” As he spoke, he stepped closer and put his hand on her shoulder, which she quickly pulled away; the gesture speaking of being unworthy of love and care. She tried to walk away but he gently grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand up to his face where she felt his tears. They weren’t for the disappointment, but she didn’t accept that and went directly to self-condemnation.

“Damn it, Rick. You should have just married Regina Petersen. At least this wouldn’t have happened.” She unconsciously looked down at her abdomen. His eyes followed the movement of her glance and he placed his hand on her stomach as he pulled her into a hug.

“No, Rick. I’m serious. She’s gorgeous and she can give you what I can’t,” Jeanette sighed without realizing she had spoken in the present tense; as if that was still an option.

“I have all I need right here!” He tried to kiss her cheek but she pulled away.

“What the hell can I offer? I’m not even real!” Jeanette wasn’t given to frequent questions about her ‘authenticity,’ but they did pop up enough to frustrate Rick. He sighed and hugged her tighter, causing her to try to pull away. Strength and love mixed together well, and she remained in his embrace.

“You’re the kindest, most caring person I know. You give me love and joy and wonderment every day.” She shook her head no in confusion.

“I don’t get you.” She did, but in this case it wasn’t a surprise, given her own lack of self-esteem. The face she presented to her students was one of confidence; even of bravery. The way she felt inside spoke of fears of falling short and failing; actually a testimony to how strong she actually was to put a brave face on every day in spite of herself.

“What’s to get? I married a pretty woman who loves me. How can things get any better than that, hon?” The question begged some sort of answer, but she went to her deepest place of shame and regret.

“We’ll never have any kids. Never. And it’s all my fault.” It was, in a sense, in that she presumed too much at the time of her surgery in believing that everyone was kind and understanding and open-minded. The adoption agency didn’t see it that way. Rick and she didn’t have the energy at the moment to seek any help and resigned themselves to the decision by the agency to turn them down.

For anyone at all, feeling rejected can be so sad and painful. Feeling completely responsible for the foolish decisions of others compounds that, and Jeanette was at a place of giving up, had that been an option. But God often finds ways of making things work where men and women may fail. Either way, the moment screamed for relief that wouldn’t come and Jeanette fell into her husband’s arms and wept.

At school a few days later...

“Ms. Applegate?” Jeanette looked up to see her pint-sized angel. The boy seemed different, and she realized he was wearing a bit of lip gloss and the slightest hint of eye shadow.

“I wanted to tell you that my Dad and I have been praying for you and your husband. Dad says that even when we don’t know why someone hurts, it’s enough to ask for help when they do. He said something about feeling a breakthrough coming. I hope that helps.” Jason smiled before taking his seat. Jeanette didn’t know if it helped that prayers were offered, but it felt good to know someone cared enough about her and Rick to pray. She held out no hope that any prayers would be answered, but to her wonder, they would be, and in a way no single person on the face of the earth would have anticipated.

That afternoon, Jeanette was getting ready to leave for the day when a girl walked to the doorway of the classroom. She hesitated and turned to leave.

“Carrie? Don’t go…come here, okay?” She smiled and the girl nodded meekly before walking slowly to the front of the room. Jeanette tilted her head and smiled.

“I…” The tears on her cheeks and the redness in her eyes spoke of more than just a teenage breakup or a bad grade. She also noticed the girl’s long sleeves had ridden up, revealing bruises on her wrists. Hastily applied makeup did little to cover up the darkening blotch around her left eye.

“Tell me, honey. It’s okay.” Okay meaning okay to talk to someone who would listen; the marks on the girl’s arms indicated that nothing at all was okay.

“I….we….I’m….” She stammered, shaking her head. It might have been providence; certainly a coincidence, but more likely something more divine than that. The girl wore the same look on her face that Jeanette had seen before; if not a thousand than at least hundreds of times. That look that says ‘I’m not worthy of love.’ The same look that Jeanette saw in her mirror every day. While it was probably a bit risky hugging a student, nothing could make things more painful for Jeanette than they already were, and she pulled the girl close as Carrie sobbed into her shoulder.

“Daddy found out….he wants me to abort.” A painful demand from anyone, but to demand that the girl ‘get rid of’ his grandchild? She looked at the girl’s bruises without comment and her glance was enough for the girl to answer.

She shook her head; the look in her eyes almost seemed to agree and disagree at the same time. “He is so angry.” Nothing else was needed to say, but the girl continued.

“Lonnie told me he’d give me the money…like he’s being….but when I….” Carrie bit her lip and pouted; a curious but understandable reaction since her feelings swayed more toward disbelief and disappointment than the likely underlying sadness and feelings of hopelessness. More for Jeanette to realize and then to step out of her own disappointments.

Responsible?’ Jeanette thought. Pressure and anger and hurt from all sides. She already knew there was nowhere else to turn to; at least in the familiar sense. A foster family might be arranged, but who knows how things would work out for the girl.

“I don’t know what to do.” She pled, looking for answers that Jeanette wanted to offer.

“I don’t know, either, Carrie, but we’ll think of something, okay?” The kind offer was accompanied by the even kinder and most wonderful look that the girl had ever seen and she dissolved in Jeanette’s arms in tears of relief. And Jeanette felt a sense of relief that was surrounded by an even bigger sense of gratitude and honor that the girl had come to her, of all people she would add. But really it was all about blessing even if she didn't realize she was the blessing as well as the blessed.

If you're worried and you can't sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you'll fall asleep
Counting your blessings

At home...

Carrie fell asleep on the couch and Rick covered her with a blanket before walking to the bedroom where he found Jeanette sitting on the bed nearly weeping.

"What's wrong?" As if anything was wrong at that point; they had rescued a girl in need and perhaps rediscovered the grace behind their sadness in the process.

“I feel so guilty.”

How anyone who extended as much love and understanding that Jeanette had for the girl could feel guilty remained another example of self-deprecation in her repertoire. Rick shook his head and half-smiled. Nothing he could say would sway her from her opinion. It was something that she had to walk out in the midst of their decision. They had talked about adopting or fostering a special needs child, but their schedules were too involved. And if anyone other than Jeanette was asked, they would have said that her love and care for her students both in and out of class more than made up for any lack, as if that could even be a consideration.

The day before Christmas break...

“Dad and I agreed.” The student before her seemed so much more at ease now that she had decided to move forward with a period of transition. Jason had the support of several friends and her father and had even picked out a new name after finally coming to grips with her true gender.

“If you don’t mind? I’d like to shorten it but I really want to use your name? Would it be alright to call myself Jen?” It was nice that both of them got to get in synch crying-wise as both of them shed tears of joy.

When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep
Counting my blessings

And in the end of the beginning, it was settled. Carrie had moved in with the Applegates. Between home-school curriculum and tutoring, she would able to finish just a few months late. And It would have been enough to put Jeanette more at ease about their decision; on the eve of her eighteenth birthday after much wrangling with the system, Carrie Lynette Belasco would gain a new family and a new name. Carrie Lynette Applegate. Odd for a young woman to be adopted so late in life, but it ensured her of a safe and welcoming home for her and the baby she carried. Barely eleven years older than the girl; Jeanette would become a de facto grandparent. But the best was yet to come, to Jeanette’s supreme wonder; both to the love of a grateful child and an even more loving God.

Paradise Valley Christian Church, Casper, Wyoming, Christmas Day…”

“Ms. Applegate?” Carrie stood at the back of the sanctuary. Jeanette was brushing back a stray hair on the girl’s forehead. She half-frowned and spoke.

“I told you…please, would you mind calling me Jeanette. I’m not your teacher right now.” She laughed softly.

“That’s just it. You’re not my teacher right now, but I have to call you something…both you and Mr. Applegate.”

“Jeanette and Rick, like I said, honey, it’s okay.”

“Okay, I guess, but if it’s all the same to you?” Rick’s eyes widened in relieved recognition. He nodded even before the girl had said the rest.

“Yes?” Jeanette tilted her head in puzzlement.”

“I’m just going to call you Mom and Dad.”

If you're worried and you can't sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you'll fall asleep
Counting your blessings


Cheryl put her head down on the desk. She had been working for six hours, trying to hone her ‘final’ draft one last time. The computer screen bathed the room in an eerie glow.

“Are you coming to dinner?” Her mother called. She looked up and read the time off the computer clock. Six-fifty-four.

“Yeah...I’ll be down in a few minutes.” She sat up and gazed at the document once more.

What it Means to Be a Girl, by Nathaniel Krupinski....

She highlighted the last paragraph and hit backspace, sending her conclusion into the ether.

“Nate…come on, your dinner is getting cold.”

The Laska home, London, Ontario…

“Mom…have you seen my gray hoodie?” Nate asked as he walked into the dining room. The look on his mother’s face seemed oddly upset, considering he’d only asked about laundry.

“Yes…it’s hanging on the back of one of the stools over there.” She pointed to the pass through where the breakfast bar was. The hoodie was draped over a stool, just like she said. He walked over and grabbed it before sitting down at the dining room table next to his sister Jane.

“Janey…would you mind. I’ve got some things I need to discuss with Nate, and you’ve already finished, okay?” Donna Laska said before turning to face her son. Her expression had softened somewhat but there was still an urgency in her tone, like something serious…maybe even dire…had happened.

“Sure, Mom. Nate…It’s okay.” She smiled a strange smile before getting up. She walked into the kitchen with her plate and he heard her walking upstairs. Turning to face his mother, he found her shaking her head, and her expression had changed once again; this time she looked a bit sad and even worried.

“Mom…what’s wrong?” Nate asked as he picked at the food on his plate; he wasn’t hungry to begin with and he was more interested in what she had to say.

“Honey…you know you can come to me with anything. Right?” He nodded and she held out a small wrinkled pharmacy bag which looked all too familiar to him.

“Why did you have this in your shirt? It fell out when I moved it off the counter.” She didn’t give him a chance to answer, but her tone was calm and seemed almost soothing.

“Honey…this prescription is over six years old,” she said, producing the roundel of birth control pills; her prescription. “You’re taking an awful risk with this honey…please…I know you didn’t mean to…at least I hope you didn’t, but you took these, and you could end up in a lot of trouble.

“Mom…it’s not like you think.” Fear began to grip his heart as the truth was being wrenched from its safe hiding place.

“Nate…I know what this is all about.” He began to cry as the fear and the shame overwhelmed him. She had to know, but he was so afraid to tell her. She put her hand on his from across the table and smiled warmly; another odd reaction.

“You’re not as secretive as you think you are, honey. I know why you’ve got these pills.” He thought about lying, but she didn’t deserve that; she had raised both him and Janey by herself after their dad left them, and she had been, as they say, both mother and father to them. Whatever he was, he wasn’t going to be ungrateful or cruel. He opened his mouth to speak, but she shook her head and smiled again.

“Nate…you’re sixteen and you don’t have a girlfriend…at least you don’t have a girlfriend like this…” She pointed to the pills.

"I know you care about Sara…I’d wondered about you two, but I know you’re not doing anything.” She reached down and pulled something out of her purse, which she had hidden under her chair. She handed it to him. A flash drive. A very familiar-looking flash drive.

“Mom… can explain.” He started but she smiled at him and he noticed her eyes had grown moist with tears.

“Honey…I thought this was my flashdrive from work…you really should get ones that aren’t identical to mine if you want privacy. What it means to be a girl...What did you write this for?” She smiled again and her look was as welcoming and forgiving and safe as he could remember.

“I…It’s a blog...I was…” He looked at the flash drive in his hands and burst into tears. Something about the safety of her tone removed the need for secrecy and the shame and guilt flowed out along with the relief.

“I read it…My name is Cheryl…that’s a very pretty name, honey. How long have you known?” That would have been his first question, but she beat him to it, and in a way that surprised him. Not ‘how long have you felt this way,’ or ‘how long have you been dressing in Janey’s clothes, but’ how long have you known?”

“Sssss….” He sobbed. She got up and went to the kitchen. Returning quickly, she handed him a bottle of Dasani which he drank eagerly while she squeezed his shoulder.

“Shhh….take your time…I’m not going anywhere,” she said, referring to something he had said in his writing.

“I hope she doesn’t leave me…I know she loves me and would never abandon me, but I am so afraid she’d leave me emotionally; like I’d stop being her child.”

“I…I didn’t want to tell you…..ssssinncceee Ddddadddy left….” He put his head down on the table and sobbed.

“I think we need to see a few people, honey…so we can get this all sorted out.” She lifted his face with both hands and kissed him on the lips softly like she used to when he and Janey were little.

“I am only sorry that you were so afraid I’d leave you. I love you, honey…that will never change, but I understand after your father left why you might worry.”

“It was my fault, mom….he found me in Janey’s room one day…oh mom…he beat me…not hard…he only hit me twice, and it didn’t hardly hurt…” Nate had become used to minimizing his pain; his father had done more than hit him…he had rejected him as well.

“But he hurt you, honey. And he left you feeling like it was your fault…” Donna had never spoken ill of their father but Nate needed to know.

“He had a girlfriend…he left with her and moved out of the province. I don’t even know where he is; I tried to find out, honey…I really did.” It was Donna’s turn to climb on the guilt carousel; her price of admission was her failure to prevent her husband from cheating and abandoning his two precious children.

“Mom! Stop it!” Donna turned to see Janey standing in the kitchen doorway. Her eyes were filled with tears, but they weren’t sad.

“He left because he was selfish and irresponsible, and we talked about all of that when we saw Dr. Jansen, right?” She walked over and hugged her mother, almost forcefully as if to wrench the guilt from her.

“I…I know…you’re right….he hurt me so bad for so long.”

“He hurt you and me and Nate and it’s his fault, not ours.” If Donna was welcoming and conciliatory, Janey was ‘take charge’ and direct.

“We’re gonna get through this just like we got through everything else, okay. You’re the best mother anyone could ever hope for; I am confident that you can raise another daughter, even if it is a challenge, mom.” She walked around to where Nate sat.

“Hi…my name is Janey, but you already know that. What’s your name?” Nate looked up at her in embarrassment.

“No sister of mine is going to be ashamed of who she is…ever, okay.” She was crying; mostly out of frustration, but some from relief as she saw that her feelings about her sibling…feelings she had kept to herself for nearly six years…were true.

“What’s your name, sis?” She still was crying, but she had grown calmer and her voice almost echoed the quiet welcoming tone of her mother.

“Ssshhhh…Cheryl?” Nate practically sobbed.

“Hmmm…just a second.” She ran to the bookshelf in the living room and quickly returned, leafing through a paperback.

“Cheryl…from the French…’Darling,’” She read as she stepped next to her brother once again.

“It suits you…and Nate…not Nathaniel, but Nate…how about Natalia…like the lady on CSI:Miami… ’New Birth!’” She smiled at the figure before her and then turned to her mother.

“Well…let’s just think about things…nothing has been decided yet, okay?”

"Oooo...oh...kay." Both siblings looked disappointed until they saw the smile on their mother's face and knew...everything had been decided.

Sociology Class...London South Collegiate Institute, London, Ontario…the following year

The class came to order as the teacher smiled and used her hand in a broad gesture.

“Kids…I’d like to introduce you to our new students. Rose Armetta is a transfer from Sarnia; her family just moved here this past August.” And then the teacher pointed to the student in the front row who was wearing a hoodie…a pink hoodie.

“And here is a new student you already know...This is Cheryl…Cheryl Laska.”

>Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

London Regional Cancer Program, London, Ontario, Christmas Day...several years later...

“Miss?” The nurse waved at the woman as she walked by the desk.

“Yes?” A quiet voice; her tone was subdued more from the moment, but she was a very quiet girl. She stepped closer.

“Are you Cheryl Laska?”

“Y…yes.” She feared the worst and her face showed it.

“Oh, gosh, no… You had a call? Your partner…” The nurse looked away, embarrassed.


“She said she was stuck in Ottawa? Something about a deadline. She said she would be here a little late.” The nurse smiled pleasantly and then grinned.


“We...we don’t get many of you folks here…” The woman’s face reddened. Cheryl put her head down; imagining god knows what until the woman finished.

“Oh…sorry… Senator Fans.” She laughed and pointed to her own left hand.

“I’m sorry…that sounded horrible. “ She smiled and held her hand up.

“Nancy and I have been together for seventeen years. Isn’t love grand?”

Yes it is, Cheryl thought, if you actually have it. She sighed and nodded before walking down to the room at the end of the ward.

“Cherie….” The woman in the bed gasped but smiled a broad beaming grin. An endearment they shared since childhood. Cheryl hurried quickly to the bedside and leaned close; kissing her sister on the forehead. Hot. She could never remember whether that was a good sign or not, which led to her feeling guilty over forgetting. Janey grabbed her left hand and held hit to her cheek.

“Just keep it here for a bit and don’t worry about the fever, okay?” Janey seemed to be handling things well; she always was the stronger of the two. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Janey’s strength, there might never have been a Cheryl in the first place.

“You’re looking brighter today,” Cheryl said; her head was turned away, but it didn’t fool Janey one bit.

“No, honey, I’m not. And we have to face that. You know, Mommy stopped by today…this morning…before breakfast.” She blew out a very labored breath but the smile on her face indicated a peace that pushed all the pain aside.

“Wha…what did she say?” Cheryl cringed; whatever her mother had to say, it couldn’t have been good. She felt a squeeze on her hand.

“She needed to tell me to pass something on to you.” Another cringe; it was almost more than Cheryl could bear as she waited to hear the words. A rebuke? No….Mommy was never like that. A scolding perhaps?

“I don’t know what is gonna happen next, Cheri, but you need to do whatever it takes. She’s worried about you.” Janey tried to smile, but the thought of her sister’s pain made her tear up. Ironic that both she and her mother cared more about Cheryl than Cheryl did.

“What’s to worry about, sis? I’m fine.” That word alone was enough to get Janey to frown; almost angry.

“Dammit, Cheryl…you’re not fine at all.” She shook her head; the effort alone sent a shock through her neck and head and she gasped out a painful cry.

Cheryl bit her lip; stubborn was one thing, but she felt guilty even about the ever-increasing pain that spread over Janey like a thick blanket; smothering the life out of her. She leaned over the railing of the bed and softly held her sister; fearing even that much contact would be too much for Janey to bear.

“I’m so sorry.” Tears flowed down both faces, but for each other and not themselves. Janey touched Cheryl’s cheek, feeling the essence of the love they shared. She shook her head no, once again sending a shock of pain through her head. She gasped once and then began coughing enough to shake the bed. A moment later the coughing subsided.

“Cher….let it go… you have to let her in. She loves you. And besides…Mommy says you have to, so there.” She stuck her tongue out playfully. That was the end-all for any argument the girls ever had; ‘Mommy says.’ Cheryl fell back down into the seat next to the bed and began to sob.

“Shhhh….shhhh.” She felt Janey squeeze her hand once again; the soft whispers were labored but sweet, making it that much harder for her to stop crying.

“Beeee Goood” Janey made a valiant attempt at an ET imitation, causing Cheryl to laugh a bit; she practically snuffled and ended up wiping her nose with the sleeve of her blouse. It would have been enough, since the two loved the movie, and shared moments like this when it came to mind. But Janey went further, and it really set the stage for the rest of the visit…the rest of Cheryl’s life, for that matter. Janey reached over and touched Cheryl’s forehead with her index finger; the gesture alone set Cheryl to begin crying once again, but the words that followed led to a floodgate of tears as Janey spoke.

“I’ll be right here.” She didn’t say it in the silly nasally tones of the ET character, but as herself. It was not time yet, but nearly so, and the words pierced Cheryl’s heart. A peace came over her even in the midst of impending and current grief; that maybe...just maybe... everything would befine, to use her own word. A moment later the mood was interrupted by a sharp knock on the open door.

“Hi…sorry I’m late.” The two looked to the doorway to see Cheryl’s partner Lori. Janey raised her head a bit and smiled a welcoming smile while Cheryl turned away. As Lori stepped into the room, Cheryl stood up.

“Here…you can sit here. I’ve got to make a call.” She started walking toward the door; the call was important, but it could have waited. As she reached the doorway she turned absentmindedly again toward Lori and Janey.

“Mommy says you have to!” Janey smiled again before turning to Lori to greet her as Cheryl walked out.

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

“I don’t know what I can do to reach you?” Almost a question, but more of a plea; Lori looked away, trying desperately to find words that would help.

“Mommy says I have to.” Cheryl half-frowned and blinked back tears in a vain effort to stop crying. Lori reached over and put her hand on Cheryl’s wrist.

“Mommy says? Have to what?”

“Mommy says I have to let you in. Janey talked with her today.” Lori’s eyes widened.

“I’m…I don’t think she’s got much time.” Cheryl put her head down on Lori’s arm and began to sob. A nurse sitting at the table next to them went to stand up but Lori put her hand up in caution; smiling and nodding thank you.

“Because your Mom talked to her?” Another statement. Cheryl nodded. A second later she raised her head.

“She’s so pale…so weak. I don’t know what I’ll do without her.” At the words ‘without her,’ Cheryl’s eyes widened in sad resignation of what she had just said and she gasped, trying desperately to stifle yet another sob. Lori wanted to tell her that she knew exactly what Cheryl would do, but any offer of support at that point probably would be lost. At that point fate or perhaps the touch of God took over as Cheryl heard someone speak from behind.

“Let her in.”

The familiar voice washed over her like a wave of peace as Cheryl felt her mother’s presence. That approving smile and warm hug surrounded her as the words reassured her and answered that simple prayer she had just spoken. What would she do without Janey? She turned around and saw that no one stood behind or next to her. Turning back again, she saw Lori’s face; awash with her own tears but with the most welcoming smile Cheryl had ever seen.

“I don’t want…I can’t…” None of the arguments she had prepared escaped her lips.

“I know….but I’m not going anywhere, okay?” Lori touched Cheryl’s face and bit her lip in frustration.

“I….know. I think that’s what….why Mommy spoke to Janey. Why she….” Cheryl swallowed hard before continuing.

“She just spoke to me…Lor….I’m….I’m so scared. It’s so…so hard.”

“I know, Cheri….I know. But like I said…I’m not going anywhere.” No words could assure Cheryl that Lori would live forever or at least merely outlive her, but that’s not what Cheryl needed to know anyway. And if the tears weren’t enough to convince Cheryl of Lori’s intentions, her next action did. She leaned closer and began kissing Cheryl’s face. It wasn’t a sensual moment even if it involved so many senses.

“I love you.” The spoken word… sound. Lori followed that by kissing Cheryl’s eyelids…. touch. Cheryl breathed in a deep sigh, taking in along with the precious air the aroma of Lori’s cologne. Smell. Lori’s tears mixed with Cheryl’s and flowed into the slight part in Cheryl’s lips… taste. And the absolutely unconditional love that radiated from Lori’s eyes…. sight.

And the few folks in the cafeteria seemed to understand the moment; how sacred and needful it was. Perhaps just like other moments at other times with other folks; it was a place of transition in a way and they seemed to almost welcome scenes like the one that had just played out beautifully before their eyes.

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

A short while later in Janey's room...

“I’m sorry. She passed only a few moments ago.”

The nurse put her hand on Cheryl’s shoulder. A look of disappointment crossed Cheryl’s face only to be replaced by grief and sadness. But a moment later, she breathed out before being pulled into a comforting embrace as Lori hugged her and patted her back. The two stared at the silent figure lying in the bed before them. Janey had a look about her that could only be described as utter bliss; that transcendent peace that some of us only dream about. And if you looked at Lori and Cheryl, you would have seen the exact same peace.

Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace


Kevin walked into the church, down the side aisle and slid into the confessional. The dividing panel slid open and he heard the tired sigh on the other side.

“Bless me father, for I have sinned,” he said quickly, almost gasping for air. “It’s been a week since my last confession.”
Another heavy sigh, almost as if his voice weighed down the man.

“I dressed in my mom’s clothes….” His voice trailed off. Even then, he was sinning. He had walked from his home; fourteen short blocks. A few blocks of his neighborhood and then store fronts and fast food restaurants and an empty lot. And all the while he thought…every moment from leaving his house, about how mother would feel if she knew her son was doomed to hell for being a girl.

In an ambulance on the way to Dayton Children's Hospital

“Fuck, we’re losing him…come on, kid…don’t give up….”

“Clear….” The sound of the defibrillator drowned out the siren for only a moment.

“Shit, that was close….” The woman sighed deeply “What makes a kid do something like this? He’s barely fourteen.”

“I’m just glad he’s stable…let it go at that, Tina, unless you plan on taking up social work on top of everything else.”

Dayton Children's Hospital...the following morning...

Kevin had his head turned to face the wall. His mother sat on the side next to the curtain, holding a plastic bowl of soup.

“Come on, honey…you’ve got to eat something. I know it’s uncomfortable, but Dr. Singh is going to be in this afternoon.” She looked at Kevin’s wrists and smiled, as if her comment would make the pain go away. The gauze chafed against the wounds beneath the dressing, but the real pain lay, not beneath the gauze, but beneath the surface of his soul.

“Well, you gave us quite a scare, Kevin,” the tall man at the door said. Kevin turned and faced him and forced, if not a smile, then at least no frown.

“You know you’re very important to me, son.” The word tore against his heart like a sharp piece of metal against concrete; both for the painfully real sincerity and its inevitable hopelessness. He closed his eyes, imagining the offensive blade had been restored to his hand; another final opportunity to do something right in his life.

“Now why the tears, son? You’ll be out of here soon enough.“ The words were sincere even if they were deluded and selfish beyond evil.

“See…I told you it will get better…Isn’t that right, Father Stephen?” Kevin’s mother was glad for help with her boy; he’d been troubled lately with sad twisted perverted thoughts, and it was good to have someone to turn to.

“Right enough, Mrs. Wilde. We’ll have the lad back home and back at the rectory helping out soon enough.

Fall on your knees!
O hear the angel voices
O night divine!
O night when Christ was born
O night divine
On night, O night divine

Wright State University Faculty Parking Lot, several years later…

“What do you mean….we can’t go out? You’re already my best friend, Kate.” Jimmy looked directly into her eyes; a calm if sad resolve seemed to reflect his gaze. She bit her lip and shook her head.

“I know. I just….I just can’t see you that way, Jim. I’m sorry.”

“We get along so well. And I can’t imagine anyone as…. You were there for me when my mom died. When I didn’t get into med school. I just don’t understand.” He put his head down, kicking the gravel in the parking lot with his sneakers like a little kid.

“You just have to accept it, Jim. I’m sorry.” It would have been almost comical had it not been entirely sad when she added, “It’s not you…it’s me.” His eyes blazed at the words.

“Come on, Kate. Tell me why. You at least owe me that much.” Kate owed him so much more, in a way; a debt that could never be paid since to do so would destroy them both, or so she thought. She looked away. He grabbed her arm but let it go immediately, feeling guilty over the least bit of physical contact that might push her away, or worse; pull her toward him against her will.

“I’m so sorry.” He put his hands up in surrender. Jimmy was a strong, brave man. A tour of duty in a place far away against all odds proved that to everyone he knew. But he was also gentle and kind and passionate. Tears began to fall; no need for pride since the one opinion he ever cared about came from the woman before him. He covered his face, nonetheless, feeling small for being so forceful and demanding.

“Jim…please….I can’t…you just have to accept that….and move on.”

“How can I move on when all I’ve ever wanted lives right in front of my eyes….please, Kate. What is it …what did I do to hurt you?” it was a reasonable if completely erroneous assumption. Kate almost stomped at the words.

“Damn it, Jimmy! You didn’t hurt me. I just don’t want to hurt you!” She shook her head and her own eyes filled with tears. Turning away, she placed her hand over her face; a remnant from a too painful and misplaced shame-filled past. She began to sob; a shower of hopelessness cascaded over her like a storm. But there are calms in the eyes of life’s hurricanes; she felt a hand touch her shoulder softly. Turning around, she found herself staring into the most welcoming eyes.

“Tell me. Whatever it is, you can….we can face this together. Don’t shut me out, Kate. Please.”

“I…I can never…we…” She stammered; words fitting in between sobs.

“What? We can do whatever we want, Kate? Nothing to stop us but us. Never is such a final word.” He stroked her cheek slowly with the back of his hand; she felt a start from the tickle of soft hair of his knuckles against her face.

“You don’t understand, Jim…. I…I can’t….Oh god….” She wanted to push him away; every part of her being wanted to spare him the pain of her shame….all of her shame. He cupped her chin; his lips were close enough to kiss her, but even that would be coercion. He backed away slightly and spoke.

“I don’t know if I’ll understand, but dammit, Kate, I sure as hell am gonna try. And what I don’t understand I will accept anyway, okay?” The frustration and anger in his voice was completely tempered by the empathy in his eyes and the same tears that mirrored her sadness. She let out a gasp before inhaling; the great big breath before diving into the waters of her past.

“I’ve known you almost….actually all my life, Jim.” She bit her lip and cast her vision downward; once again feeling ashamed over something bad that happened…that was forced upon her. And feeling horribly ashamed at something good that was never understood; even by her. He shook his head; not to deny her but to affirm her that the shame her face reflected had no place between them.

“You used to sit in the fourth row… you and your mom and your sis and your dad.” She smiled weakly at the memory.

“Sit where?” He had an idea, but he let her explain since the rest of it didn’t make sense.

“St. Anthony’s… You were so cute.” She blushed a dark crimson and choked back a tearful gasp; even thinking about the past seemed so wrong; as if her feelings were somehow invalidated by the present.

“I don’t remember anybody named Kate. I know you’re my age, but that you still could have been in a different school than me. Did you go to parochial school?”

“No…I was in your class.” She put her head down and began to sob. The truth, however innocent and even blessed, can often be painful if framed in the wrong context. She saw herself through the accusing eyes of strangers and the eyes of familiar evil. Once again she felt his hand touch her cheek.

“I don’t remember anyone named Kate. Did you go by another name. Nickname maybe? But your last name sounds so familiar now that you tell me you knew me.

“Yes…Wilde.” She put her head down once more; a routine that was getting old for the fact that Jimmy felt completely helpless in raising her spirits as well. He leaned down and looked up at her from below. What he thought might produce a smile had the opposite effect as she pulled away.

“Dammit, Jimmy…this is hard enough as it is. Don’t you see? There was only one Wilde kid in Mrs. McCartney’s class in fifth grade. Do I have to shout it out? Kevin….Kevin Wilde.” She began to shake; her fists balled up and she began to cry without sound. It felt as if nothing would ever be right ever again. She began to pace back and forth by her car; her arms wrapped around herself as if no one else ever would hug her. Jimmy stood; his mouth agape and his tears subsiding, he reached out and grabbed her.

“I don’t care, Kate! Don’t you understand? Like you said… we’ve known each other practically all our lives. I didn’t know you as Kate then, but you knew me enough? And since we ‘met’ each other during college? It’s like I was drawn to you. Do you think what you used to be…” He put his head down and began to weep; not for himself, but for her and the whole idea of having to be sorry for being herself.

“You….you’re the kindest…most loving….most beautiful woman I’ve ever known… Oh god, Kate! I love you. I’ve loved you from the first time we sat together in Art History. Oh dear sweet Jesus… I don’t know what else I can say, but that I love you, and I’m not going to go anywhere! Ever!” He reached over and pulled her into a safe if tentative embrace; as if she was a fragile porcelain doll rather than the very strong woman he had come to love. But safe if tentative was what she needed; that mantle of acceptance and unconditional love that Kate needed. She looked into his eyes and felt a chill go down her spine; an empowering shock that surprised her as she pulled him closer and kissed him.

“I…I love you, Jimmy…Oh dear god, I love you!”

Truly he taught us to love one another
His law is love and his gospel is peace
Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us praise his holy name!

Some years the practice of Tina Andrucci, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

“What’s troubling you, Katy…you seem to be distracted today."

“Oh, nothing, Tina. I think it was just something I saw on the news this morning…about the…”

“The scandal in Boston? Yes, I saw that, too. A lifetime ago, and yet it probably hurts almost as much as it did when you were hurt.

‘”Tina? How can I be sure…I mean…It’s too late…” she smiled as she pointed to herself. She wasn’t lamenting so much as asking for a clarification; something many of us do who have similar issues.

“To turn back? I hardly think you’d want to do that, dear. You’ve been a girl your whole life. It may be that your gender made you a target, even if your gender wasn’t apparent to you. Either way, you were a girl even if your form didn’t match who you were inside. Understand?” Katy looked at her and nodded. It still remained unsettled in her mind, even if it were settled entirely in her heart. Even her mother questioned her every time they got together.

“You’re a bright young woman, and you’re a blessing as well. Keep that in mind next week, no matter what happens. I’m so glad you’re doing so well; you’ve come a long way and you should be proud.

"I don't know abut it partly my fault? Did I ask for this?" She began to cry, a habit that was slow to leave even as the repair to her soul was taking time as well.

"He'd like you to think that...that he had no choice. You were a child, Katy...a child who should have been treasured. I'm not really good at this, but I remember from Sunday School when I was little....Better a man should have never been born than to hurt one of, wasn't your fault at all. Remember that when you go in there next week, okay?


Truly he taught us to love one another
His law is love and his gospel is peace
Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us praise his holy name!

In the hallway outside the Grand Jury Courtroom, Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, Dayton, Ohio...two years later…

“Hello, Father Pat…I’m glad you’re here.” She shrugged a small shrug and began to cry ever so softly.

“You’re the bravest woman I’ve ever known, Katy…I would be remiss as your pastor if I didn’t stand with you.”

“But Father…you’re going to be putting yourself in….won’t this make?”

“I served two tours in Iraq in the first Gulf War, and I have a steel rod in my leg to show for it. The ones who would be upset with me…frankly I don’t care. I’ve got to answer to God for this, even if they don’t want to. You’re a child of God who was hurt…deeply. And you still are a child of God, no matter what anyone says.” He sat down on the bench next to her and did something that one might have expected from her.

“May our God go with you in this, dear one, and may justice be served. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.” He smiled and kissed her wedding band. As he turned to face the door of the courtroom the tall man standing by the door walked over and held his hand out.

"Oh, Hi Jimmy...Don't worry...she's going to be alright. Your bride is made of what they used to call 'sterner stuff!" He patted the young man's wrist before shaking it.

“I’m sorry, Father Pat. I lost track. Thanks for coming and thank you for praying. I know Katy wouldn’t have gotten through this without you and Jacquie here.” He leaned over and helped Kathryn to her feet.

“I love you, Katy…we’ll all be in there with you, okay? You’ll do just fine.” He kissed her once as the bailiff opened the door and waved her in.

Fall on your knees!
O hear the angel voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine
O night, O night divine

Dayton Municipal Court….Christmas Week…

“Your witness…” The woman sat down and nodded to the attorney across the aisle.

“Ms. Wilde?”

“Actually it’s Mrs. Seraphino.” Kate pointed to the pair of rings on her left hand.

“Mrs. Seraphino. Is it to be our understanding that you are testifying today after nearly what amounts to nearly thirteen years of silence? May I ask you what took you so long?” The defense attorney’s face was all smiles, as they say, but his tone was patronizing; almost dismissive.

“I…” Kate hesitated before she even began. She took a deep breath and began again.

“I had decided a long time ago to forgive my offender; freedom, I believe.”

“If you wanted to provide freedom to my client, if what you say was even true, why then come forward now? Why make such a baseless claim against my client?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t make myself clear. My own freedom. I had harbored a great deal of bitterness in my heart, and only by letting it go could I move on.”

“Well, that I suppose is a personal matter. But as to the question of now? Surely you understand that even if your claims were true, the law has already moved on for any accusation you’ve made. What motivates you to speak on behalf of the prosecution? Are you in this for the publicity? To make a name for yourself?” He turned and looked at the jury as he continued, without waiting for an answer.

“You say you were harmed while serving as an acolyte for the parish, is that correct? At the time, didn’t the church only have boys serving in that capacity? Altar boys, they used to call them?”

“Yes, I did serve.” She put her head down, more to avoid the mean gaze cast in her direction, but she was still struggling with shame for too many reasons that were totally unfair and completely invalid.

“Which is it, Mrs. Seraphino? Surely you’re not telling us you were a boy?” A very soft, almost imperceptible snicker escaped his lips; magnified, however, by the smile on his face. The old adage that a lawyer should never ask a question for which he does not already have the answer. He smirked. In private life the man might have entirely different ideas about her past, but he was determined, obviously, to discredit her testimony. She took a breath.

“I was a boy.”

“Please explain, Mrs. Seraphino.” His stress of the title, Mrs. might have hit the mark with the courtroom gallery, as evidenced by a few murmurs, but Kate remained almost placid.

“I am what is commonly referred to as a male to female transsexual.” She looked across the courtroom to the back seat where Jimmy and Father Pat were sitting. Both smiled and Pat nodded as if to say, ‘You’re doing fine.”

“Oh yes…that’s where a boy thinks he’s a girl.” He paused, giving her an in.

“That’s not quite correct, Mister Danelli. It’s where a child; often a boy, but also with children born as girls….where they have come to discover very early on that their psyche doesn’t match their form. Really an issue of how the brain is formed in utero…”

“Well, that’s all fine and good, but in the time frame of the alleged contact, you were a boy, is that not so?” He paused only long enough for effect but cut her off.

“And that somehow someone as confused as a boy like yourself now expects us to believe that you’re telling the truth?” He looked away at the jury once again, arching his eyebrow. It was almost like a court or crime program on cable.

“I don’t expect you to believe anything, sir. I’m only answering your question. And please. Not only am I not a boy, I never was a boy in the truest sense of the word. But to answer your question? When I was eleven years old, your client molested me.”

“Move to strike, your honor. Unresponsive!”

“Denied, counselor. You asked her and she answered. Move on.” The judge turned to fake a cough, gaining the bailiff’s attention. The woman nodded and smiled an ‘insider’s’ smile at his grin.

“Can you tell the court just exactly where this supposedly took place?”

“Well, it wasn’t an event that just happened. He molested me…..” She paused, but this time she only allowed him the opportunity to turn back to her from his posing to the jury.

“In the rectory…on the days when the cleaning lady was off. In his bedroom. He made me perform oral sex on him.”

“Move to strike, your honor; assumes facts not in evidence!”

“You asked the question. Move on.”

“So you expect us to believe that after all these years you’ve come forward to see this poor old man to answer for some offense you have yet to prove? Please, Mrs. Seraphino.

“I’m not trying to prove anything sir. I’m merely testifying to what I remember in response to your question. I don’t know how else I can answer it other than that while I served as an acolyte as a child he molested me in the rectory. I’m sorry if that doesn’t answer your question, but it’s the best I can do.”

The man turned his back to her and took in a deep breath. Looking at the old man sitting at the defense table, he took note of the expression that revealed resignation. Hoping to salvage whatever he could, he turned once again to Kate. She wore a smile that simply reflected a calm courage. No matter what the outcome of the trial, she had withstood more than mere questions, but also the barrage of shame that had buffeted her heart from childhood. No verdict could ever take away nor add to the victory she had already enjoyed. That smile completely disarmed the man and he spoke weakly one last time,

“No further questions.”

The verdict came back after five days of deliberation. Guilty of most of the charges of sexual abuse. Of course, there would be no verdict on behalf of Mrs. Kathryn Seraphino; at least not in a court of law. After years of misplaced shame, Kate was able to come to grips with how things fit together and how she was unjustly accused by her own past. And at last? In her own eyes, which reflected the love and acceptance of her husband and her friends, Kate was finally free to judge herself not guilty.

Fall on your knees!
O hear the angel voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine
O night, O night divine


The CD player blared loudly...

"Let it snow...let it snow...let it snow."

“Have you been at my clothes again?” Liz said as she looked in her drawers.

“No, Mom,” the boy stated plainly as he stepped back from his mother's doorway.

“Well, it’s okay, Tony…just be done before your father gets home, okay?

The d'Artale home, Magnolia Chase Apartments, Virgina Beach, Virginia, December 19...

There's a place out there for us,
more than just a prayer or anything you've ever dreamed of.
So if you feel like giving up cause you don't fit in down here,
fear is crashing in, close your eyes and take my hand.

Carla d’Artale sat down on the couch next to her son. It was a long week after a long month after a very long two years. Tony d’Artale looked almost frightened, wondering just what his mother wanted to discuss. His father, Tony Sr., an F-18 Hornet pilot stationed at NAS Oceania in Virgina Beach, had been killed ironically in an auto accident on Virginia Beach Boulevard on the way home one evening. His RlO (Radio Intercept Officer), Chris Davidson, and Carla had fallen together and in love after reacquainting at a bereavement support group at a church in Norfolk. Chris had lost his wife two years earlier to cancer.

“Tony…I’m serious…It’s okay to wear my clothes, but if your father finds out?” Carla wasn’t at all angry but she remained nervous. Tony’s step-dad was hard to read. Carla had only been widowed a year when she and Chris began their whirlwind courtship, and Tony Jr. had really been almost lost in the shuffle. Carla had meant to take her time, but Chris was such a great guy and she was so sad and lonely.

“Mom…I love Chris…he’s so much like Dad….and Dad loved me. I wish…” The boy ran to his mother and fell into her arms. At fifteen, he felt so frightened and alone. After his father’s death they had moved back to Virginia Beach for support, since both sets of grandparents lived in Virginia. But leaving North Carolina meant leaving his only friends. He could only hope that he’d be able to make friends in his new school.

“Honey…he loves you like you were his own son.” She smiled, but her smile quickly turned to a frown when she realized just what she had said.

“But will he love me like I was his own daughter? Mom…I’m so scared.” Anthony James d’Artale was on the verge of dying, and he hoped that his resurrection would be welcomed, since he really wanted his new father’s love, even if it was for Antoinette Amelia d'Artale

We can be the kings and queens of anything if we believe.
It's written in the stars that shine above,
a world where you and I belong, where faith and love will keep us strong,
exactly who we are is just enough
there's a place for us, there's a place for us.

“Tony…How’s my man?” Chris threw his jacket over the chair in the dining room and walked into the kitchen. He really wanted to show Tony that he could be a good father. Falling in love can be a dicey thing when your true love has already lived a lifetime with another, treasured love. And to be a father at thirty when your new bride is seven years older than you are and has a fifteen year old son? He could only hope that he could be half the man Tony Sr. was; not just as a father and husband, but also a provider and an example to his new son. What he didn’t know about being a father could fill a building. What he didn’t know about his new child could fill a stadium. But what he had in his heart was big enough to fill Wisconsin, as they say.

When the water meets the sky,
where your heart is free and hope comes back to life,
when these broken hands are whole again,
well will find what we've been waiting for,
we were made for so much more

“Chris…we need to talk. Before we go any further I have a confession. I am so sorry for not telling you sooner. I guess I was afraid that if I told you, you’d walk away, you know?”

“Carla…there is nothing at all that you could tell me that would upset me at this point. I’ve told you as much as I can remember to tell, but I also know that you have a past…a beautiful past.”

“Chris…yes…Tony and I had a great life together….but that’s not what I need to tell you.

“Believe me, honey. I’ll try to understand. I might not get it right, but it won’t be for lack of trying. Just tell me and we’ll deal with it.

We can be the kings and queens of anything if we believe.
It's written in the stars that shine above,
a world where you and I belong, where faith and love will keep us strong,
exactly who we are is just enough,
there's a place for us, there's a place for us

Tony lay in his bed, holding his comforter ironically like a teddy bear. He literally looked upward and prayed for his mother. He could almost handle rejection as a son if he knew Chris would accept his mother; she deserved to be happy after losing her true love. He tried not to cry; he wanted to stay focused on prayer, believing that if God could move mountains he’d certainly be able to move a man’s heart.

So hold on, now hold on,
there's a place for us

“I think there’s something you ought to know yourself before we go any further. I think what I have to say may be right in line with what’s on your heart. Can you let me speak first?” Chris smiled and Carla breathed out a big sigh. She wanted to believe things would work out, but after the last few years her faith had taken a real buffeting and her heart was more fearful than she could ever remember.

So hold on, now hold on,
there's a place for us

“First, understand that I took a vow when we married; that you could be just the best thing…the best person to ever, ever grace my life? I love you, and I want you to know I took that vow as serious and as sacred as anything in my life.” He smiled and pulled her in for a quick hug.

“But you have to understand that knowing Tony Sr. even before we ever met? Pretty big shoes to fill, okay? Tony and I shared more than a flightdeck. We shared as much as two friends can share. He was not only a great pilot but a great guy and my mentor. We prayed together and talked together. And that he trusted me? What a privilege and honor. I would never have dreamed that I’d be in this place.”

So hold on, now hold on,
there's a place for us

As the night wore on, Tony knew that his mother and his new father had to be talking about him. A strange and wondrous thing happened; not at all magical in the enchanted sense, but magical nonetheless. For the first time in his life…for the first time in her life, Toni felt that things would be okay.

We can be the kings and queens of anything if we believe.
It's written in the stars that shine above,
a world where you and I belong, where faith and love will keep us strong,
exactly who we are is just enough,
there's a place for us, there's a place for us

“Carla…Tony was like a brother to me. Not only did he hear everything I had to say…everything on my heart? But he trusted me with everything as well. I know about Antoinette."

When the water meets the sky,
where your heart is free and hope comes back to life,
when these broken hands are whole again,
well will find what we've been waiting for,
we were made for so much more

A knock came at the door. Toni lifted her head…perhaps the first time she had ever felt herself without fear; filled with wonder as her parents entered her bedroom

“Honey…Chris and I have something we need to tell you.” Carla walked over to the bed and sat down. The child in the bed still wore boy’s pajamas, but it made no difference to Carla and Chris.

“Toni?” She turned and her face grew sad as she heard the familiar sound of her own name…that name…until Chris continued.

“Honey…I know…Antoinette Amelia…I married your mother and she made me the happiest man on earth. I can’t take your Dad’s place, but I want to try to be a part of his daughter’s life…Okay?” He smiled and grasped her hand, bringing it together with Carla’s as the family came together for the first time.

We can be the kings and queens of anything if we believe.
It's written in the stars that shine above,
a world where you and I belong, where faith and love will keep us strong,
exactly who we are is just enough,
there's a place for us, there's a place for us

Downtown Arlington… a few years later….the week before Christmas…

“Are you sure? I’m not familiar with the procedure, Toni.” Carla said. Chris pulled the car up to the curb and parked, but kept the motor running.

“It’s okay, hon. She’s going to be fine. Her meeting can’t last all that long, and it’s probably better that she go this alone.” Chris smiled at his wife and turned around to face his daughter.

“So the plan is for us to circle around the block about seventeen times or so…” His voice trailed off as his smile widened, causing the girl to grin ever so slightly.

“Or you could drive home and I’ll just catch a movie and crash at the Hilton, okay?” She leaned forward and kissed her father’s cheek.

“You’re the best….you know it?” He half-smiled and got a bit misty; pleasantries came easy for her and difficult for him to receive even though he’d been her Dad already for a few years. Carla slipped off her seat belt and leaned between the two seats, hugging Toni.

“I’ll be okay, Mom. You’re praying and dad here is praying, and somewhere Daddy is looking down on us all.” It took only a short while for Toni to get used to calling her step-father ‘dad,’ and it was all good, since somehow her father had almost known his end would come and that Chris was the best person to take care of his family. What Chris marveled at was that Tony knew that his family would be just right for his best friend.

“Wish me luck!” She said as she hopped out of the mini-van. She was dressed in a black jacket and charcoal slacks. Her white blouse peaked out from beneath the jacket; very professional if subdued. She waved and walked toward the entrance.

“You’re right on time. I like that.” The man smiled and stood. He was dressed in shirt and tie; his jacket draped over the back of his chair. The man looked to be about the same age as her parents; perhaps odd for such an important position, but he looked the ‘part’ as well.

“Let’s get right down to it, shall we? What makes you see yourself as qualified for this responsibility? It’s never easy by anyone’s estimation, but this is going to set a few folks on their ears, you know?” The man almost smirked, but the expression seemed to be intended for someone somewhere else.

“That’s just it, sir. I’m not quite sure that I’m qualified. I’m just hoping that you might find me acceptable.”

“Funny word to use, young lady.” He shook his head, but his expression turned to a welcoming smile; not quite grand-fatherly but more like a kind uncle or older cousin.

“I’m in no position to demand anything, nor should I. I’m just glad for the opportunity to present myself.”

“That seems a bit timid. In the situation you seek to gain, timidity has no place. Serious consequences can arise from being shy, young lady.” He said the words ‘young lady’ as if they were a detriment, but it really was more like he was provoking her to take charge.

“My dad….Daddy told me to be honest, but also be humble, sir. I’m trying to balance that with the need to speak plainly. I hope that I can be candid without seeming presumptuous.” He looked at her askance and she continued, as if she was answering the question he was bound to ask next.

“I know that this opportunity is unique, sir, and that it hasn’t been met with the approval others may have anticipated.”

“That’s very diplomatic; while I am perfectly happy to entertain new ideas and suggestions from others, I’m not terribly comfortable with folks who have a motive in their request. As such, I am treating it just as that; a request and nothing else…. You see my dilemma?”

“Yes sir. You would have been glad to offer this opportunity to someone such as I, but they beat you to it, and it now has been portrayed as someone else’ idea.”

“You should be quite comfortable dealing with the folks who make demands and have unspoken or unrealistic expectations. From what I recall, it’s something you’ve got to be good at if you want to get ahead. I couldn’t, so I moved sideways; an arrangement I hope proved beneficial for you as well.

“Sir, I cannot express my gratitude enough.”

“So then, tell me why you want this opportunity. What qualifies you besides your academic achievements? It’s so much more than anything on the other side of the fence, so to speak.”

“I just want to do my dad…my parents proud.” She hesitated. It was hard to speak of both her father and step-father to a stranger. Not that she wasn’t proud, but that both of them had such a profound effect on her in different ways.

“Well, I imagine you have, but everyone else does as well. Where you’re going, you’ll have to be…what did they use to say? Oh yes… twice as good as any man…maybe three times, since you’ll be coming at it from an entirely new perspective.”

“I can only hope to be half the person my …” She paused and backed off a bit; lost almost in thought.

“Go on…”

“My step-father has given me the love and support that my father did and would have if he survived. And of course my mom has always been in my corner.”

“Why do you bring that up?”

“I guess …I needed to let you know where I came from… the strong roots of understanding and compassion. I know that’s not what they preach in the brochure, but…”

“Oh, I know that it doesn’t say it, but everyone I know who has ever sat in that chair across from me or my predecessors found that those qualities were very much a part of the type of person we look for. And I’m quite confident that you’ll fit in just fine.”

“I’m…I’m not following you, sir.” Toni tried to look at him directly, but she felt very incapable and ill-equipped.

“Ms. D’Artale. I was convinced of your qualifications when I read the essay you wrote in request. The absolute conviction of who you are and what you stand for…what this country stands for. It came through, as they say, loud and clear. I have to caution you, though.” His face grew almost stern and his tone changed to serious. She put her head down slightly.

“Sir?” The voice was only just a bit timid, and her face was only just a small degree downcast.

“I don’t really care for sweet tea.”


“Oh….it’s what so many of the restaurants around here have. I was thinking more Thai. There’s a really nice Vietnamese place on Wilson Boulevard that you and your parents might enjoy.


“The interview for all intents and purposes is concluded. You and your parents are to be my guests for lunch. I don’t really like eating alone.”

“Thank you, sir. That’s very kind of you. You’ve done more than enough.”

“Perhaps, but like I said…I don’t like eating alone. My wife is at some conference and I won’t be seeing her until Christmas Eve. And besides, I’m very hungry. These interviews always work up an appetite, you know?” He smiled and tilted his head, smiling a kind cousin-uncle-brother smile once again.

“Toni? May I call you Toni, Ms. D’Artale? Or should I say Midshipman D’Artale?” The thought of being the first transgendered appointee to the United States Naval Academy wasn't lost on her, but it was a huge responsibility, nonetheless; perhaps too huge? She put her head down slightly, overwhelmed by the moment, but it wasn’t finished.

“I knew your Dad… Chris…. We got to know each other just before I left the service. I was never really good at taking orders… And I knew Tony as well.” Hearing her father’s name almost pushed her over the soft acceptable edge.

“Both of them are as fine as they come… Your Daddy and I were friends in high school. And your Dad Chris is the one who urged me to set my sights a tad higher than I had ever imagined.” It was a lovely moment but for the anxious look on Toni’s face. He noted it and put his hand up in caution.

“Oh, Damn…. Sorry. Listen. I make a habit of reading essays without looking at the names; helps me be a bit more objective. Maybe a bit unorthodox as well, but it’s like I knew you were your father’s daughter even before I knew who your Daddy was. And when I read the name, it just fit. Especially since I already knew that Chris had married your mom. Sounds odd, I know.” She looked at him and smile; she didn’t understand it, but she accepted his explanation. He helped make it harder a second later, but it was in such a sweet way that she would remember the words for the rest of her life.

“Your Daddy used to talk about you…when you were a baby. Never said a word that didn’t indicate pleasure or pride. And I like to think that if he were here today, he’d not only be pleased, but as proud as any father could be. But your dad…I know he’s a step-dad, but it’s like you’ve gained his legacy as well. This may sound odd, but it’s original and it’s mine, so write this down.” She looked at him and he smiled. Reaching back to his desk, he grabbed a pen and a small pad and thrust it into her hands.

“Oh I’m serious. Write this down, okay?” She nodded and put the pen to paper as he said finally,

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Even if it came from two different orchards.” He smiled as he walked back to his desk to retrieve his jacket.

“Now what do you say? Portuguese or Burmese?”

Times-Union, December 29
LtCDR. and Mrs. Chris Davidson of Virginia Beach, Virginia are pleased to announce that their daughter Antoinette Amelia D’Artale has been accepted as a first year student at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis Maryland for the fall semester. Ms. D’Artale is the daughter of the late Commander Anthony James D’Artale. Ms. D’Artale was sponsored by Sen. Vincent O’Reilly of Arlington, Virginia.

We can be the kings and queens of anything if we believe.
It's written in the stars that shine above,
a world where you and I belong, where faith and love will keep us strong,
exactly who we are is just enough
there's a place for us, there's a place for us..


Cindy walked down the aisle of the supermarket. It was fairly crowded for a Tuesday afternoon; Soccer Moms trying to get weekly provisions while the kids were still in school. She passed a stroller at the end of the aisle, nearly running into the baby’s mother as she stared at the smiling infant. She excused herself and quickly walked to the small ladies room. Locking the door, she stood at the sink and looked at herself in the mirror.

Her stomach was flat; in the right context she’d be the envy of nearly every woman in the store. But that day she looked down and could only see lack. She thought again of the baby in the stroller before covering her face as she wept.

Bartell Drug Store, Tacoma, Washington...

“How are you today?” The pharmacist smiled as she looked back at the order bins.

“Hi, Ginnie...Okay…still fighting what everybody else is, I suppose.” She forced a smile as the girl retrieved a bag with her meds.

“Hey…this is me…what’s really going on?” The girl said quietly as she leaned closer to the counter. Cindy shrugged.

“Haven’t heard yet, huh?”

She had heard. The look on her face told the girl everything she needed to know.

“I’m trying to be content in all circumstances, but it’s really hard, you know?”

“Gosh, Cindy, how do you do it?” The girl arched her right eyebrow and tilted her head; almost like Diane Sawyer…the only thing missing was the sympathetic head shake.

“I guess….no…I know it’s my faith.” She frowned and tears came to her eyes; she felt like she was letting God down by being human and disappointed.

“You know it’s okay to cry…doesn’t it say somewhere that “Jesus wept?” Ginnie was as close to a friend as one’s pharmacy clerk can get. She actually showed more sympathy than Cindy’s own sister, who continued to lecture her on that “foolishness,” as her sister put it. That Nan didn’t accept her gender identification added to the tension between her and Cindy, which was compounded by the fact that apart from her sister and her doctors and the adoption agency, no one knew.

“You should just find yourself a nice girl and get married and forget all that foolishness.”

Nan wasn’t so far from the truth. The fact remained that while Cindy had not even begun a belated real life test, it didn’t change the fact that Cindy still remained attracted to women; her orientation was settled at birth even if her gender was still in a state of unwanted flux. So to try to adopt in the midst of her personal segue was problematic at best.

“Did you think about what we discussed at Bible Study?” Cindy looked at the girl and smiled. There was something oddly appealing about Ginnie. The thought of dating the girl was tempting; she certainly was a nice woman even if she was a bit…eccentric. She made Abby from NCIS seem positively conservative; a bit quirky and only ‘mostly’ odd as Miracle Max might say.

“Jimmy is having the party on Saturday instead of Sunday since they’re planning on watching the Seahawks game Sunday night. You are welcome to come, okay?”

“I don’t know…” Her eyes teared up once again.

“For what it’s worth, dear…I think you’d make an absolutely great Mom!” Ginnie finished the transaction and stepped around the counter.

“C’mere…let me hug you…I need a hug.” She pulled Cindy in for a tight embrace and kissed her on the cheek.

“Saturday at six…bring something to drink if you like, okay?” Cindy nodded once and quickly left the store. The girl waited until the door closed behind her friend before allowing herself the luxury of her own tears.

The Mayfield family home, Tacoma, Washington...that Saturday...

“Hey…glad you could make it.” Ginnie hugged Cindy and led her to the big family room where the party was being held.

“Happy Birthday, hon.” She felt Ginnie’s grip on her arm moving her through the guests to greet her parents.

“I’m really thankful for the invitation,” she smiled as Ginnie’s Mom and Dad stepped closer.

“We’re glad you could make it,” her mother said with a smile.

“I’m going to get something from the kitchen; come on, okay?” Ginnie said, grabbing Cindy’s arm once again, walking quickly out of the room

“I have so much to be thankful for, but I think the thing I’m most grateful for is your friendship. You’ve been so kind and encouraging to me….” Cindy felt her face getting warm, and her nostrils flared.

“Oh, gosh…here I go again.” She was almost apologetic as her eyes began to fill with tears.

“I don’t know what’s going on…I’m in a pretty good mood…I gave the whole adoption thing to God in prayer, and yet here I am…crying…I’m so sorry…you don’t deserve this…on your birthday especially.

“Especially on my birthday…” The girl was a bit eccentric, as I noted, but Cindy wasn’t at all prepared for what happened next.

“Happy Birthday to me…” She giggled before pulling Cindy in for a kiss. Not a sisterly kiss…not a kiss from a churchmate or a trusted friend or acquaintance, but an honest to goodness real live romantic on the lips kiss. The girl was still giggling even as their mouths met, and the sensation sent a shock through Cindy; almost like shuddering after a chill.

“Nooo….I can’t….” She protested even as she gave into the younger girl’s advance.

“Pretty please…it’s my birthday…” She continued to laugh, but the tone grew softer and more serious, like the kind of laugh that calms the worst of fears.

“Ohhhh.” The woman began to sob. Ginnie pulled her into an even tighter embrace as she whispered in her ear,

“It’s okay…I know…” Cindy’s eyes grew wide in surprise even as the sobbing continued.

“And I love you just the same…always have…ever since I first met you…you know? You and my brother used to hang around and play PS2 all the time when I was a kid….”


“And I love you even more…now…just the way you are…or will be…it’s okay.” She smiled and laughed again, this time even softer and with a bit more of a breathiness to it.

“You and me…okay?”


Christmas eve…the following year…the Mayfield-Nelson home...

They embraced…two oddly matched dears so greatly in love. Wife to wife to quote someone somewhere. Cindy looked at Ginnie with loving eyes, grateful beyond anything she could have imagined. In the end, the appeal wasn’t so much about giving birth, although in another world in another time maybe that might have been possible. But being a mother was something that she was born for… designed for, in fact. She looked over at the attractive woman beside her; beautiful in being ‘great with child,’ as they say. And both women were glowing.

Christmas Eve...three years later...

Cindy stood on the hill. The macadam walkway had been cleared but the snow still covered the ground for most of the hillside and the expanse of white at the bottom gave way to only a little color; the firs surrounding the clearing as well as scattered collections of yellows and off whites and even a bright orange here or there. Ginnie had sat down on one of the metal benches to rest, and what little snow had remained soaked her pants. Another time to rejoice; even if it meant pushing aside the sad for a bit.

“She’s resting, I think,” Ginnie said, looking down at her body and the life that she held within. Cindy turned back and smiled.

“I bet that won’t last if he keeps it up,” she pointed to Ginnie’s stomach, indicating the ever active twin.

“I think she’ll be just like me, you know?”

“Don’t I? You could fall asleep on a razor while the 1812 Overture played in your I-Pod.” Cindy looked at her spouse and smiled.

“I wish I could fall asleep that easy… you know. Maybe he’ll be just like me?”

“If he is, we’ll have a lot of fun sorting things out,” Ginnie giggled. Just like his mom… Mommy One-A? There really was no mommy protocol since both women would love and nurture and protect their cubs, even if only one could suckle. As if Cindy read Ginnie’s thoughts, she looked down at her own breast; decorative to be sure, but not as useful as they had hoped. And no turning back, so the two in Ginnie’s womb would be the sole products of Cindy’s life before her surgery. Not sole, but the only ones remaining.

“He’s okay, you know?” Ginnie looked at her love and smiled. It was an uneasy expression; not for a lack of joy, but in the midst of the joy they shared there was so much sadness and regret. No need for any regrets, but every need for sadness.

“I know. I’m….”

“Don’t! Please don’t?” Not a rebuke or even a request, but rather Ginnie’s plea to someone above them both that might ease the burden Cindy felt. No matter what, both of them had placed their hearts in God’s hands. Now to at least leave that burden there; it was hard when Cindy picked up the guilt and shame as if it was gift-wrapped just for her.

“I can’t help it.” She meant thinking; she certainly could control her actions and responses, but the urge to go to that place of anxious doubt and shame wasn’t hers alone. Both women had examined and re-examined their choices. Someone outside would actually consider them blessed, as if one or two or a hundred blessing could ever remove grief.

“He’s just fine.” A habit Ginnie had picked up when questioned about their eldest child. He was just fine in a way, but never so much as in the usual ways. She smiled weakly trying desperately to avoid the tears that were inevitable and contagious. She needn’t have worried, since Cindy was already crying.

“I know.” Cindy stepped off the pathway and walked slowly through the deep snow to the spot where all of their hopes and dreams lay buried along with their son. She used her foot to push the snow aside until she came to the plaque beneath.

David James Mayfield-Nelson, Beloved son of Cindy and Ginnie
January 12, 2014 — February 17, 2014

They had chosen to leave a space below their names to include the hoped-for renewal of what they believed to be a blessed life. The letters were fresh; the tarnish had only begun to creep up the sides to bring them more into the same hue as the rest of the plaque.

Beloved brother of Lucille and Phillip

Cindy laid the floral blanket on the plaque and stepped back. Turning, she looked back up the slight rise to the bench, but Ginnie had already stood and was trudging down the hill.

“I couldn’t just sit there, you know?” She paused long enough to look down at the place; the inscription peeked out through the round wreath as if it had been designed to be framed; even if by something so temporary as woven bits of fir branches. She sighed deeply and stepped closer to Cindy, placing her hand in Cindy’s.

“Phillip kicked again and I think Lucy is asserting herself; she kicked, though I don’t suppose she was trying to get back at him. She smiled before stepping close and hugging her wife.

“I….You know I love you, right?” She said even as she began to weep.

“Always and forever,” Cindy nodded, blinking back her own tears. She smiled and pulled out the paper she had in her coat pocket, but she really could have spoken the words by heart. Nevertheless, she unfolded it and spread it out a bit for Ginnie to see. The paper was stained with tears from every visit, and the creases had begun to show wear straight through from folding and unfolding.

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning
and clothed me with joy,
that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!

Cindy sang; slowly and with just a hint of hesitation. The words were of a faith that still struggled to sustain the hearts of the two women, but with each year that faith grew stronger. Ginnie squeezed her hand; the expression that usually accompanied each visit, but this time seemed different. Ginnie tugged at Cindy’s hand. Gaining attention, she pointed to her pants. The stain of the snow seemed to have grown but Ginnie nodded and smiled broadly.

“My water just broke.” A moment to glance down at the plaque before a trip up the hill and over the slight rise to where their car was parked.

Cindy smiled at the name once more…. Beloved brother of Lucille and Phillip. Her coat seemed lighter somehow, but warmer and more comforting. …clothed me with joy. She blinked back tears and put her hand under Ginnie’s arm and they walked back up the hill.

“Oh Lord my God…” She began to sing and Ginnie joined in

“I will give you thanks forever.” And they smiled.

The End

O Come Emmanuel
By Latin: C. 9th Century.
Translated by John M. Neale
and Henry S. Coffin.
Arranged by Ted T.
and Rebecca St. James
sung by Rebecca St. James

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
from the movie
Meet Me in St. Louis
Words by Ralph Blane
Music by Hugh Martin
as performed by
Miss Judy Garland

Theme from the Motion Picture
Deep Impact
Music by James Horner
Words by Andrea Lena DiMaggio

Christmas Time Is Here
Words and Music by
Lee Mendelson and
Vince Guaraldi
As performed by
Miss Diana Krall

The Beautiful Day
From Scrooge — the Musical

Words and music by
Leslie Bricusse
As performed by
Snezana Jelic

Somewhere in My Memory
from the movie
Home Alone
Words by Leslie Bricusse
Music by John Williams

Carol of the Drum
(The Little Drummer Boy)
Words and Music by
Katherine Kennicott Davis,
Henry Ornati, and Harry Simone
As performed by
The Vince Guaraldi Trio

Serenade for Strings
Opus 48, Movement Four

by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky

The Nutcracker
Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky

Count Your Blessings
Words and Music by
Irving Berlin
as performed by
Miss Diana Krall

Silent Night
Music by Franz Gruber
English Lyrics by
John Freeman Young
as performed by
Miss Taylor Swift

O Holy Night
Words by J.S. Dwight
Music by Adolph C. Adam
Arranged by Tedd T. and Rebecca St. James
as performed by
Miss Rebecca St. James

There's a Place for Us
From the Motion Picture
Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Words and Music by
Carrie Underwood, David Hodges
and Hillary Lindsey
As performed by Carrie Underwood

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