by Andrea Lena DiMaggio
based on characters and situations from the 'One Saturday Morning' cartoon series
The boy sat on the Spartan-ish metal bench underneath the bus stop awning. Normally he would have had company, but with most of his friends driving to work after school, he was alone with his thoughts along with his nerves, his worries, his frets, fears, and dreads. But most of all, it was troubling because he was alone with himself, and that meant introspection.
And as Yoda might say, introspection leads to guilt and guilt leads to shame. Down the path of the Dark Side you will go, hmmm? He watched as the cars flew by in the light rain. No doubt his friends would be getting to school already. He lifted his head a bit more to watch a grey mini-van drive past. Two girls sat in the front; the smaller of the two was driving while the taller was riding shotgun; her window rolled down as her hand pushed at the wind and drizzle. The driver beeped the horn and the other girl waved.
The boy waved back and watched as the two sped off; leaving him with his doubts. He had wanted for so long to ask the tall girl if they could be closer but that chance was lost when she and the other girl hooked up. What’s that saying? You snooze; you lose? He lost and it played on him a great deal, but not as much as his number one worry. He dropped his gaze into his lap as if he could see under his corduroy pants to reveal what lay beneath. And even though he could only imagine the view, just the thought of it made him blush. He sighed as he wondered what the tall girl might think if she knew he probably wore the same underwear as her.
“I hate myself,’ he said to no one as he wiped the mixture of road spray, drizzle, and very shameful tears from his face.
A few minutes later, Gus looked up to see the schoolbus blow past the stop; splashing water on his already tired looking shoes.
“Hey, Griswald,” a voice came from over Gus’s shoulder. He turned to find T. J. Detweller leaning out the window of his well-worn Imprezza.
“Gotta pay better attention, Gus, old pal. Hop in.” He waved and Gus got up, shaking the water off his pants legs. He opened the door and sat down; banging his shoes together to get rid of some mud. As he swung his legs inside, something within him issued a teenage-angst forboding. He quickly looked down; relieved as he realized he of course wasn’t wearing his preferred choice of hosiery.
Nevertheless, the ride, as quick as it was, felt excruciatingly long. Gus wasn’t particularly close to his friends anymore, but he did feel a small affinity with T.J., with whom he shared a smallness of stature; at least until recently when T.J. ‘talled-up’ and his normal short and stocky became taller and more fit.
Gus swallowed hard; almost cartoonish as he almost felt his Adam’s Apple bob up and down. That action alone left him feeling more uncomfortable and disappointed. Too many books and on-line articles about what to expect and what needed attending-to had pushed him into feeling woefully out of place and ill-fitted to his circle of friends.
A moment later even more angst covered him much like the muddy water of the bus stop as the trip to school ended way too abruptly to gear himself for any interaction with his friend.
“Hey….what’s that on your eye… looks like you walked into a door,” T.J. said; leaning close enough for Gus to smell what was likely no less than three sticks of Trident.
“Uh…yeah,” Gus quickly stammered.
“I…I got up in the middle of the night and tripped over my skateboard.” T.J. might have bought that excuse but for the growing redness on his friend’s face. Gus for some reason recalled what Groucho Marx once said about a woman in a movie, ‘if I was any closer, I’d be behind you,’ which was as ironic as it could get. He tried to back away, but he was already pushed against the A-post of the car door; mushing his ever-increasing hair around his face.
“What the….” T.J. reached over and touched the dark area under the boy’s eyebrow and came away with a purplish smudge on his finger.
“This…this…” Gus pulled retreated further into the doorpost; leaving him crunched even more and as fearful as he had ever been in his life.
“What the…this ….” He repeated himself as Gus began to tear up. T.J. wasn’t predatory by any stretch of the imagination but even some of the nicest kids you’ll ever know can be a bit like a shark to blood. He pulled back in authentic horror and stared at the smudge….the eyeshadow on his finger…and shook his head.
“Oh fuck no, Gus….fuck no!” He didn’t wait for a response but fled the drama in his own car and practically sprinted the length of the parking lot to the front door of the school and quickly disappeared. Gus pulled away from the door enough to straighten up only to lean against the seat as he sobbed at what felt like the death of a friendship.
As much of a challenge as it had been, Gus muddled through an entire day of school; mundane and boring at times and interesting at other times to pry him out of his funk long enough to bring with it the realization of his potential exposure. T.J. might have recoiled in shock, but even he wouldn’t tell everyone about Gus, would he?
The conclusion of the school day saw him eschew a potentially painful ride home on the schoolbus. He had rushed into the boy’s room when he entered school that morning, and was fairly confident that he had cleaned the shadow off his eyelid, but then again that’s what he thought before he had gotten into T.J.’s car in the first place.
With everyone off to their after-school jobs or extracurricular stuff, he made the obvious if annoying choice to walk home. Only two-point-seven miles traversing a not-to-be-walked across highway but who cares about school traffic rules when you’re at risk of being found out to be a freak. As if he wasn’t already held in such little regard by many of his peers. So trudge he did.
After twelve plus minutes he passed a familiar house. An even more familiar face greeted him; albeit adorned much differently than he had recalled.
“Hey, Griswald? How’s it going?” The girl dropped the rake into the pile of leaves by her front porch and walked over to the sidewalk.
“Haven’t seen you much. I guess you’re sorta accelerated and I’m just another Navy brat with a B-plus average.” She would have flounced her hair for effect at one time, but Theresa’s medium brown girly-girl tresses had morphed into a very dark red Emo coif which suited her Doc Martins and mint-green tee and black eye liner.
“Uh…hi, Theresa.” He stammered. She smiled and rubbed his arm; showing much more attention than he had expected from a one-time crush/nemesis. Fathers from different service branches sometimes influence choices their kid make even in friendships. That distinction no longer mattered; at least to Gus.
“What’s wrong?” She leaned closer. A sensory day to be sure, but with unexpected stimuli. He smelled her breath; no longer the aroma of corn chips but rather the gentle redolence of an herbal lozenge.
“What do you care,” Gus snapped at her. He wasn’t so much petulant as disappointed with Theresa, since she hadn’t really made any attempt to keep in touch since middle school. She frowned; mostly at herself but she did feel bad on behalf of her friend.
“I’m sorry, Gris…I’m sorry, Gus. You really look sad, and you… I still am your friend.” She rubbed his arm; evoking a wince. He stepped off the sidewalk and into the street, but she followed him in a teenage angst passa doble; grabbing his arm.
“He…. My best friend, Tee… He knows….” Gus shook his head.
“Knows what? That you and I belong to Geeks for life?” Her attempt at levity evoked a resonse she had never seen. Gus dropped his head and began to cry; softly at first, but in a few seconds he was leaning up against the Lamaize Nissan minivan, sobbing. Theresa stood back a bit; stepping close on occasion to whisper some ‘there, theres’ as he cried himself out. In a few minutes he had followed her beckon and was sitting next to her on the front porch.
“Come on, Gus. I’ve never seen you like this. It has to be so bad. What’s wrong?” She repeated.
“I….” He tried to speak, but he couldn’t get any other word out.
“I….” He stammered once again, and grabbed his shirt, baring his shoulder, which was partially covered by his underclothing; a cream colored lightly padded bra.
“That’s it? That’s it?” She giggled. His eyes widened slightly and he bit his lip. She patted his arm playfully.
“Wow….I always thought we had a lot in common, but this kills it,” she chuckled.
“I…what’s so funny.” His face couldn’t have gotten redder at that point. He pushed his lip out a bit in an embarrassed pout. She patted his cheek softly.
“Gotta admit, Griswold. You’ve got taste.” She reached down and pulled up her shirt; revealing her cream colored lightly padded bra; a bra identical to the one Gus had already hastily covered. And as unlikely as it was, his face indeed turned at least a bit redder.
“It’s okay, Gus… Really.” She pulled her shirt down and stood up.
“C’mere.” She said; lifting him to his feet. In a few moments, they were inside, sitting on the grey micro fiber love seat in the living room.
“Do your Mom and Dad know?”
“Uh….I haven’t told my Mom….Dad walked in on me a couple of weeks ago.” Theresa pulled back a bit in surprise.
“He got back from his trip to San Diego…. They finished early, and I guess he had left his car at the airport. I was in my bedroom and Mom was still at work.
“Oh jeez…what the…”
“I usually don’t go full out… They’re usually home and so am I…. so being alone, I thought I had time.”
“So you like to dress up in girl’s clothes…so what….” She did as much as she could to understand, but she didn’t quite get it. He reached into his back pack and held up a circular pill carousel. She wrinkled her mouth a bit and tilted her head.
“Is that what I think it is. How the fuck did you get a hold of those?”
“Mom never got rid of them…They’re probably outdated…..” Theresa grabbed them and looked on the back.
“Hell, Gus….Our minivan is younger than these.” Gus put his head down.
“You should get your Mom to take you to the doctor….but I guess it’s like a …. “
“A security blanket.” They nodded at the same time.
“Anyway, what did your Dad say?”
“He shook his head, but I don’t know if he was … He was confused for sure.”
“He didn’t yell? I bet he’s …. “ She paused, looking for something uncritical.
“Your Dad pretty much lets you know when he’s upset. There’s hope….”
“Easy for you to say. You don’t have to tell your Mom and Dad you’re not the kid they expected, Tee….They were upset when I started going Scene on them. What the fuck do you think they’ll do if they find out I’m not the son they wanted. I’m not a son. Tee. What the hell do you know?” He shook his head again; this time in frustration. Theresa put her head down ever so slightly
“Yeah, Gus… everybody has it easy but you. Mikey didn’t have a problem when he started dating Danny. And Vince didn’t mind breaking his ankle just before the State finals last winter. And Ashley’s Dad didn’t blow a fuse when she and Gretchen…. Well, you know.” She turned away. As much as Gus had worshiped Gretchen the past few years, it wasn’t any secret to his friends. But he had company.
“Just forget about it, Griswald,” she said. She would have run to her room but he had reached out and grabbed her wrist; gently with as much apology as he could display. She turned and looked at him; her face tear-stained and as red as her friend’s.
“When Gretchen and Ashley got together you weren’t the only one who was hurt, Gus. You and me…you never knew why not….It was never the fuck about you. I was so confused.” Her voice trailed off. It was his turn to rub her arm. She pulled him closer and hugged him.
“No hard feelings, okay?” He looked down and frowned.
“Oh…. I guess your Mom’s pills are working.” She laughed softly at the irony before hugging him as he burst into tears. Her laughter grew more quiet as continued to hold him.
“We are a pair.” They held each other for a few minutes before Theresa got up.
“Come on….I’ve got an idea.” She grabbed his arm and dragged him down the hall to her room.
“If you can’t join em, fucking let’s fight em!” She said as she pulled him into the bedroom; shutting the door behind her. Even as the door latch clicked, a voice came from the front door.
“Tee? Mommy’s home. I’ve got some take out from the new Vietnamese place downtown.
“Tee? Are you alone? I thought I heard another voice.”
“Yes Mom. Me and ….” She turned to Gus.
“Sorry….” She smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
“Me and Lindsey are trying on some new tee shirts I got.”
“Is she that new girl in your chem class?”
“No, Mom…She’s a friend from way back…when I was little.” Gus looked surprised. He mouthed silently.
“Lindsey? And trying on clothes?” His face grew as red as it had been before, but there was no sadness at all in his expression. Theresa shrugged and half-grinned.
“You know what we said, honey. We want to meet your girlfriends.” Her mother seemed to stress ‘girl’ in the compound description.
“Don’t worry, Mom. We’ve only just gotten together and we decided to take it slow."
“Okay honey. Remember we’re behind you now, okay? Daddy and I understand.”
“Mom….too much information around ompany-kay.”
“Oh….yes. Sorry. Can you stop and come out for dinner? Daddy had to drive to DC for a conference, but I’m sure he’ll want to meet Lindsey when he comes home on Saturday. We can have your friend over. Maybe she can invite her parents. You know we want to support you, Baby Girl.”
“I know, Mom. We’ll be out in about ten or so, okay?”
“Sure. I’ll just put this in some Corning Ware in the oven until you come out. I got some Cranberry Akai that you like.”
“Okay? She thinks I’m a girl. What the…”
“Relax. The name is sorta nice – it suits you. And since you already are a girl, what’s the problem.
“She thinks….I… well….she thinks I’m your girl friend, Tee. I can’t pretend.
“Well, Miss Geek of the Week, you don’t have to.” With that, Theresa pulled Gus close for a kiss.
“Wha….wha…stop….I can’t, Tee. It…it hurts too much…”
“Listen, Griswald. I was wrong. I really liked you. I should never have let stupid stuff get in the way. And I’m sorry. This may sound just as bad, since it sounds like you fit my wants,you actually being a girl and all, but it’s….I’m so sorry.” She put her head down and began to cry.
“Why are you so upset. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I didn’t do anything right and now it just looks like I’m taking advantage of you. We should just go….I’ll explain to my mother that I was teasing you.
“It’s okay. I wondered…I’ve been wondering since my Dad discovered me how I was going to move forward. And you just gave me a nudge. I want to do this. Just one thing?”
“You can tell your Mom you were teasing me. And that my real name is….” He leaned close and whispered in her ear. She smiled in surprise.
“I always liked that name.”
“Shhh….sure. I’ll tell her you’re my study partner for English Lit. I’m sorry about the girlfriend thing, but if you must know, I still feel that way about you. I’m just sorry it took you being hurt for me to find out.”
“S’okay….but you don’t have to worry. I won’t be upset if you still want me to be your girlfriend, okay?” He smiled and Theresa’s eyes widened in gleeful surprise. She stared at the newly discovered-but-had-alway-been a girl and the girl smiled back, saying,
“So let’s get to work. I’m used to a little more subdued but I like what you’ve done with your eyes…..”
The following day…first bell senior assembly….
Mike and Danny were standing by the door as most of the auditorium had emptied.
“Great that they’re letting us go home early.” Danny looked around and then squeezed Mikey’s hand. Things were much better lately for the two of them and their friends never stopped supporting them. They sat down in the last row of seats and were talking animatedly while pointing to a notebook of music arrangements Danny had written for some of the songs Mikey was going to sing at the community concert next week. Just then T.J. walked up; looking very nervous.
“You guys see Gus today? I said some really shitty things to him.” He put his head down but a soft hand lifted it and a softer, near-whispery voice said,
“It’s okay, Teddy,” the girl said, using T.J.’s given name. Ashley Boulet kissed his hand like a mother making a boo-boo all better.
“He knows you… you tell him how sorry you are, and he’ll come around. He’s like a brother to you. He’ll understand. Mikey stood up and hugged his friend.
“I was just so surprised, and with everything else going I just couldn’t handle his …”
“How’s your sister?”
“Becky’s last run of chemo was last week. I just found out yesterday that things are looking really good.” He tried not to, but he began to sniffle a bit before falling into Mikey’s arms, sobbing. A second later another voice came from behind them.
“What’s with the cry fest…Oh shit. I forgot. How is Becky?” Spinelli stepped closer and put her hand on T.J.’s back. T.J. just nodded and smiled through his tears. Gretchen stood next to her girlfriend and put her hand on T.J.’s arm.
“We’re with you.”
“We are too, T.J.,” the voice seemed not entirely unknown if a teeny bit odd. The all turned to see two vaguely familiar faces; albeit in less than familiar garb and even stranger hue of hair. Two Emo girls stood in the back aisle in the now nearly empty auditorium. The taller of the two sported dark red hair under a grey wool hat and the other girl standing behind her work a dark sleeveless top to contrast with her near Cotton Candy Pink hair.
“Cornchip Girl….” Gretchen said absentmindedly to the taller of the two before quickly correcting herself.
“Sorry, Theresa…it’s been a long time. Easily identifying with the girl; Gretchen had finally lost the dental grill and the awkwardness both girls shared as members of the elite unpopular unpretty ladies of the playground as children. Spinelli squeezed Gretchen’s hand.
“Don’t mind her….she’s a bit distracted lately,” Spinelli said and to prove that point, she kissed Gretchen on the cheek; evoking a blush.
“Who’s your friend. Do we know her?” T.J. had recovered enough to wipe his face with the sleeve of his Letter jacket.
“You do, T.J.” the other girl said. Everyone stared at the girl and almost said in unison,
“Y…yes….” The girl looked only a bit nervous mixed with mostly relieved.
“G….Gus….I’m so …so sorry,” T.J. said as he lapsed into crying.
“I know. We’ve been here for a few minutes. I sort wondered about it and when you talked just now about Becky? I’m so glad she’s doing okay.” Griswald smiled and blinked back a few tears of his….of her own. It would have probably gotten all weepy except Theresa started laughing.
“What’s so funny?” No one was upset at all over at the intrusion into what had become a very solemn moment. They just couldn’t fit it all together.
“Just think for a moment. Griswald….my girl….” She paused and looked at her new girlfriend and beamed broadly.
“She had to pick a name…Gustav just doesn’t cut it in the bedroom, you know?” She teased. So far it was just kissing and holding hands, but a love built on a life-long friendship, even at their age, promised so much more.
“Anyway….don’t say a word… Just think for a moment about the person you’re with…. And then without a word, mouth their name slowly.”
It really didn’t sink in right away. Mikey couldn’t whisper in his beautiful baritone and said “Daniel” out loud. Gretchen shook her head. “Honey” came to mind; an endearment no one would have ever thought of attributing to Spinelli.
“Got you stumped.” Theresa laughed and her new girlfriend finally picked up on it.
“You guys don’t remember what T.J. said, do you?” They looked at Theresa and then at each other once again.
“Mikey…what’s your boyfriend’s name?”
“No….his last name…think about it…” T.J. shook his head in confusion. His girlfriend, however, seemed to flash recognition in her eyes.
“And what about you, Gretchen,”
“Uh…easy peasy…. Spinelli….though I call her some other things when we’re at my place,” she practically snorted. Spinelli playfully elbowed her before whispering in her ear. Gretchen’s face duplicated the looks of recognition everyone else displayed.
“You see….My girl here has had this name in the back of her brain since she was about seven, but she never shared it with anyone until she told me.
“Mikey….you love Danny…Daniel Ashley. T.J.? You’re dating Ashley Boulet. Gretchen? You’ve got the hots for Honey….pardon me….Ashley Spinelli.” They all looked at each other and nodded.
“Well, meet the newest member of the club…. Ashley Griswald.” With that, Theresa turned around and planted one right on her girl’s lips. No longer just a charter member of Geek of the Week or even Emo Girl of the Month. Gus Griswald had finally arrived in her true self. Ashley Griswald.
“You know what this means,” Mikey questioned in a baritone sing-song. No one answered. Theresa smiled, but let him continue.
“It means there’s an Ashley for everyone!” They all laughed and nodded. The former boy back away slightly and smiled. It was true; what T.J. had said in jest had come to pass for the most part.
“We’re all Ashley’s too.”
“I know what you’re thinking but I’ve got news for you,” Theresa said at last as the others were talking. She pulled her new girlfriend close and kissed her again before finally saying.
“I got the best Ashley of all.” And since her girlfriend and she suited each other that was entirely true.
May we all be so blessed.
Recess is an American animated television series created by Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere
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