All We Are


'Cause all we are we are
All we are we are
And every day is a start of something beautiful
And in the end the words won't matter
'Cause in the end nothing stays the same
And in the end dreams just scatter and fall like rain

Prelude: You Are You

East Aurora, New York…

Gary practically sprawled on the couch. His arms were folded in a ‘go ahead – entertain me’ hug and he bit his lip. He was bored for sure, but that wasn’t the worst part of his day.

“Now…Gar….honey? Go help her with her stuff, please?” Gina said to her oldest. The boy shook his head in frustration before hopping off the couch. He walked slowly down the hall to the last bedroom and knocked on the door.

“Come in….” the girl’s voice trailed off. Gary opened the door and found his sister sitting on her bed, holding a pillow like a stuffed animal. She had been crying.”

“Mom says I gotta help you….” He said sharply. She turned and looked at him and saw that at least he was smiling for a change.

“That’s okay, Gar…I got everything.”

“Really…let me help,” the boy protested; his tone softened.

“I…I’m sorry about before. I didn’t mean to….”

“I know…but I cry all the time, Gar, so it’s no big deal.” She shrugged her shoulders.

“It’s just…I don’t get this ….I don’t understand, and I….”

“You miss him?” Hailey smiled and looked back at the bedroom. Sports posters that had adorned the walls seemed to vie for attention with new decorations and décor since Hailey had inherited the room.

“Yeah…I do…. It’s hard being the only boy in the house…. At least when he was around things were different.” Gary sighed. Hailey walked up to the boy and pulled him into a tentative hug.

“I know….but it’s gonna be okay. I promise.”

“I guess.” The boy blinked back tears. It was hard living in a family in the midst of so much change. A father unexpectedly leaving for deployment. Move to yet another town. And to have the whole family in upheaval over the departure of his brother in a way was too much for Gary. His best friend ever was gone and nothing made sense anymore. But it was about to make a whole lot of sense…

That afternoon...

A woman stood in the center of the large courtyard. To her back and circling around on both sides were friendly-looking cabins; large and inviting with bright colors on festive looking signs as well as the window and door trim. She grabbed a microphone and spoke.

“You’re welcome to participate in the events of the week,” she explained as the parents and siblings stood while the children were ushered quickly to the cabins surrounding the courtyard.

“Now that doesn’t mean anything other than to encourage your children and sibs, okay? This isn’t for everybody, and it’s okay if you’re here to support them. We have found a few willing siblings who jump in when they realized just what we do here and how much it means to the family, but for the most part it’s all about showing them how much you care for them and support them while they’re here and especially when they return home. “

“Do I have to …you know…?” A boy spoke haltingly while raising his hand; his face only a bit darker from embarrassment.

“No, honey, not at all. This is for them. If you wanted to, of course that would be all right. The fact that you’re here means a whole lot to them, but we only want to encourage each step as it comes to each of them and all of you as well. I’m so glad you came,” she said to the boy and to the families as she used her hand in a broad gesture of inclusion.

A short while later...

Many of the families had gathered in front of the cabins as their children settled in for their time at the camp. Gary and Gina stood off to one side.

“Gary? Are you sure you don’t want to join in?” Gina patted him on the arm; not meaning to tease, but her words sent a shudder up his back nonetheless. He turned and frowned at her. At nearly fourteen, he felt completely out of place even if he was there to support Hailey. Gina shook her head in apology.

“I’m sorry. This must be hard for you. Let’s take a walk. Bonnie is with Hailey, and we need some Mom to son time, okay?”

“S…sure,” he nodded reluctantly. She grabbed his hand for a moment, but thought better of it. A few minutes later they were sitting at a picnic bench off to the back of the courtyard, away from the cabins and all the activity of the first day of camp.

“You don’t….it’s so ….” Gary began to speak, but the words seemed to get stuck. Gina patted him on the wrist and smiled.

“Go ahead…it’s okay…” She sighed, feeling helpless to encourage her son. Too many changes already and the biggest one seemed to loom large on the horizon. She smiled.

“Mom…this is so…it’s fucking crazy,” he looked over her shoulder at the bustle of activity behind her. She was tempted to say something about his language, but held back. Her smile gave him permission to continue.

“I miss Dad…. I miss my friends… our old house…and now? I miss my brother. Why can’t things be the way they used to be? What did I do to deserve this?” He turned his head and gazed at the place.

“It’s not about you, Gary. I’m sorry, but that’s just how things go sometimes….” She blew out a breath in frustration and continued.

“I’m still pissed off at your Father….but I knew going in that he was committed to a cause. That there would be times when it would just be me and you kids. And I love him, Gary. You know that, right.”

“Oh….yeah…. yes, Mom. I know. You just miss him. But that’s just it. It feels like you can miss him but I can’t miss my brother. Like somehow I did something wrong and he was taken away. Dad is coming home, but my brother is never coming back. And it fucking ….I’m sorry….It hurts so much, Mom….why did he have to go?” No explanation could ease any of the boy’s pain. Gina took a breath and tried anyway.

“I don’t know, honey. I’m still trying to figure it all out myself. All I know is that we’re still a family, and we all love each other, and that’s what we’re going to have to hold onto, okay? That’s the best I have, I’m sorry. I wish things were different, but we’ll get through this.” She blinked back tears as the boy rested his head on her arm and began to cry.

“Don’t tell Hailey about this, okay?” He looked up at her and she smiled.

“It’ll be our secret, honey. I promise.”

A bit later...

Gary leaned against one of the light poles surrounding the courtyard. Gina had gone back to the car to retrieve her purse and he felt almost abandoned in a sea of people. He heard footsteps on the soft gravel of the path that encircled the courtyard and he turned to find his sister Bonnie standing with an excited look on her face.

“Gary? You wanna come see Hailey?” The girl tugged at his sleeve.

“Not right now, Bonnie. You and Mom can go…maybe in a little while.” The boy placed his hand on Bonnie’s back and ushered her toward Gina, who had just walked up.

“You’re going to have to come over sometime, Gar…. Don’t wait too long, okay? I know you don’t feel good about being here, but it’s going to work out. You’ll see.” Gina smiled once again before she and Bonnie walked over to the pavilion on the other side of the courtyard. Gary waved at them before turning back. He noticed a Coke machine by the office nearby and walked over. He fished in his pocket and came up with a few coins. Counting them, he realized he was fifty cents short.

“Oh fuck,” he punched the machine in frustration.

“I’ve got a dollar you can have,” a voice came from over his shoulder. He turned and came face to face with a girl. She smiled.

“Nah…that’s okay.” He protested, but the girl took the dollar bill and thrust it into his hand.

“Please? It’s okay. Go ahead.” He nodded reluctantly and fed the bill into the machine.

“Here?” She handed him another bill and smiled again.

“Sprite? All the way on the bottom?” He looked at the machine and found the large button. A moment later the two stood awkwardly, drinks in hand.

“My name is Dylan, what’s yours?” The girl held her hand out. He stared at it for a moment before taking her hand in his in greeting.

“Gary.” He smiled and a look of confusion crossed the girl’s face. She tilted her head and her eyes grew wide in recognition.

“Oh…I’m sorry. I thought you were one of us…” her face darkened.

“N…no…I’m ….my….” He stammered.

“What’s her name?”

Her name? Oh…. Hailey.” In a moment his face had grown hot in embarrassment.

“I’m so sorry….”

The girl bit her lip. She looked down at herself, as if taking inventory. She wore a yellow skirt and a white tank top under a green pullover. Her legs were adorned with white and red striped tights and she had on brown leather sandals. She looked like she would have fit in at Kohl’s or Marshall’s sales flyer photo shoot but for her very short if somewhat pixyish red hair. He followed her gaze as she eyed herself. Even if she was a bit younger than him, she was cute, and he found himself staring at her until she looked up in question.

“It’s okay….I don’t ….I’m here for Hailey…that’s all. Who are you here for?” He smiled nervously and she half-frowned.

“What? Oh……No….I’m so sorry,” Dylan shook her head and her eyes began to tear up. Gary looked at her askance, wanting to know what he had said to upset her. She put her head down even as she began to speak.

“I…I’m not here….for anybody…..” She gasped.

“I don’t… I….what do you mean?” He asked nervously, as if the answer he expected was the worst possible thing he could hear. She looked up at him and frowned before blurting out,

“I’m here for me….sorry….I gotta go….” She turned quickly and ran across the courtyard. He shook his head as he saw her disappear in the crowd by the cabins. The look of confusion on his face gave way to awkward insight as he realized that Dylan was just like Hailey. He shook his head and walked slowly toward the cabins, wondering what the rest of the day would reveal.

“Thanks, Gar….” Hailey said as Gary sat on a chair in the large cabin. Gina was kneeling down, helping Bonnie, who had insisted on adorning Hailey’s toes with some dark pink polish.

“S’okay,” he said absent mindedly. The day was already old and he was tired.

“Can we leave soon….The Bills are on at four and I wanted to catch at least some of the game, Mom.” Gina frowned at him until it dawned on her that the game wasn’t so much important as not being there with Hailey had become. And she understood or at least thought she did.

“It’s okay…they’re having a welcome dinner tonight, but we can just come back later. I know this has been a long day for everybody, and I’m sure Hailey wants to go catch up with some of her new friends.”

“At the word, ‘friends,’ Gary cringed. A short while ago he had seen Dylan and Hailey talking; a moment which was huge for Hailey but extremely uncomfortable for Gary. It was as if everything he ever feared was coming to pass in that single afternoon.

“Yeah….okay….” He nodded.

“Mommy….Hailey says I can eat dinner with her friends. Can I stay?” Bonnie tugged on Gina’s sleeve.

“Oh I don’t know honey… it’s supposed to be for her and her friends.” Gina shook her head.

“It’s okay, Mom…. I think Bonnie will fit in just fine. I’m glad to have a baby sister I can share with everybody.”

“I’m not a baby,” Bonnie protested. At nearly ten, she was hardly a baby, but Hailey understood what she meant.

“No…you’re not… you’re my kid sister. Is that okay with you?” Bonnie nodded at Hailey and turned to Gina.

“Well alright. Gary and I can catch supper at the diner up the road…. You guys have fun and we’ll be back later.” Gina kissed the top of Bonnie’s head and hugged Hailey.

“Back later, okay?” She said at last as the girls nodded enthusiastically.

At the diner...

“I know this is hard, but you seem even more …. What’s bothering you, Gary?” Gina paused and poured gravy on her fries. Taking a sip of her Diet Pepsi, she eyed her son; looking for some way past his defenses. He shook his head silently and pushed some fries around on his plate in distraction.

“I saw you talking to one of the girls. She seems nice.” Gary looked up at her and shook his head in frustration.

“She’s not nice?”

“She’s not a she, Mom…. She’s just like everybody else here,” he snapped, looking away through the big window down the road to the camp.

“But that’s just it, Gary… Don’t you see?”

“Of course I can see, Mom… she’s ….just like Hailey….I mean…fuck….” His face grew red.

“So… because she’s just like your sister, that makes her something wrong?”

“Just like my sister? Mom? I don’t have a twin sister. Hailey’s my brother. Not a girl… a boy…” He hesitated and Gina jumped in, hoping she could manage to mend everything that was coming apart.

“I know this is hard, but it’s …. It’s who Hailey is…not what, Gary. We talked about this, and I thought you understood.”

“Understand, yes. Like it…fuck no! I want my brother back!” He pursed his lips in frustration, searching for the words that would convince his mother…or someone…anyone who could make things the way they were.

“Do you hate Hailey?”

“What? NO! I love him…he’s my brother.”

“She’s your sister, Gary. And deep down inside, you know that’s true.” Gina sighed; hoping that she could reach into her son’s heart and pull out every bit of kindness and caring she knew dwelt inside him.

“I…I know Mom….but it’s not like we had any ….I’m not ready for this….” He looked out the window again. She reached across the table and grabbed his hand softly.

“I wasn’t ready for it either. None of you came with instructions. It would be easy if you all were like your father… Straightforward….this is what you see…this is what you get. But we’re people, Gar…. We’re all different and all the same.”

“But….what about….”

“You, honey? What about you?”

“Yeah… Am I just like Hailey?”

“Well, you are twins. You’re about as kind and caring as she is….but no…you’re you…that’s what this place is all about. You are you…. Nobody else in the world is exactly like you. Or Hailey….or even that girl…” Gina paused, believing her son to be the fine young man she had raised. He smiled awkwardly.

“Yeah…her…” He bit his lip.

“She’s pretty. I saw you smiling.”

“Well yeah…until….”

“Until you knew that she wasn’t always like that?” Gina refused to give into his ignorance.

“She’s a boy, Mom. Like even her name… Dylan….”

“Well, at least you’re calling her ‘she,’ Gary. That’s a start.” Gina grinned.

“You know what I mean. I was looking at …at her and I …”

“Well, like I said, honey…she is pretty.”

“What does that make me, Mom….how do I put all of this….together?”

“That’s something I can’t answer other than to remind you how much you love your sister. That you are struggling and confused but every time you talk to Hailey you give her hope, because you believe she is who she says she is. Whatever else is going on, honey, you believe in her. And maybe that’s a start?”

“I feel so stupid…so fucking weird.” Gary blinked back embarrassed tears. But that was a beginning because he realized he cared that he cared. Dylan was more than just someone he met; she was another example of how things can be and how that isn’t so wrong after all.

“What should I say if I see her again, Mom? I mean…I’m a guy….”

“Well….” Gina wasn’t about to correct him; her own brother was gay, and Gary loved him because his uncle was who he was. But she also understood the awkward moments that stretched into days and weeks and months for a teenage boy. She nodded and smiled.

“I guess it’ll be okay, Gary, since you like girls and Dylan is a girl, right? Just like your sister?”

“Ye…yes?” He half-smiled; hoping he was passing the latest of life’s pop quizzes. Gina nodded and patted him on the hand.

“You’ll do just fine, and I know you’ll have just the right words for her when you see her, okay?”


After the events of the evening...

“Hailey…got a minute? We’re gonna get going, but I need to tell you something, okay?” Hailey stopped and smiled to the girls at the porch to the cabin. She turned and sat down on the porch; patting the step next to her. Gary walked over and sat down.

“I…. I just wanted to tell you that I’m so proud of you.” He smiled awkwardly. She looked at him and bit her lip.

“You…you’re proud….of me. I thought you hated me.”

“What…no….I…I’m so sorry. I…just didn’t know what to say or how to feel.”

“You’re my brother…what did you think you had to feel.” She turned and began to cry. He reached over and gently tugged her chin in his direction. She looked into his eyes and saw that he was crying…that he had been crying for some time. She tilted her head in anxious confusion.

“I miss…I missed my brother, Hail….like you went away….” He sighed and she went to turn her head once again.

“No…please….I’m sorry. I know now you never went away….you’ve been right here….and I should have said something sooner. I thought I’d lost you when you did all this….” He pointed to her. She shook her head.

“No…I mean it…I’m sorry. I didn’t understand….I know this is who you are. You’re still Hailey…you still love Mom and Dad and Bonnie and me…..” He bowed his head. It was her turn to coax as she lifted his face with both of her hands.

“I do love you….you’re my best friend, Gary…that will never change. Ever…and I love you.” She choked back a sob, but he looked at her with the kindest smile she had ever seen as he spoke gently.

“I…I love you, Hailey….and I’m so glad you’re my twin….” His voice trailed off and she sighed.

“Oh…okay….” She said. He smiled again and spoke.

“And I’m glad you’re my sister.” He pulled her close for an awkward hug and she did exactly what anyone would do in her situation; she burst into tears.

“I’m sorry….” He repeated and she shook her head even as she continued to cry.

“No, Gar… it’s okay….it’s just that you never once told me that you loved me and now you’re…. I’m your sister.” He patted her on the back; confused and feeling out of place until she kissed him on the cheek. Hailey the boy had never done that, but Hailey the girl kissed her brother and it was good.

After lunch, the next day...

“We’ll be back to pick you up, hon…okay? I know you’re going to have a good time and I’m so happy for you.” Gina said as she opened the car door. She placed her purse inside and stepped back and closer to Hailey. Giving her a hug, she smiled and nodded at Gary, who was standing on the passenger side.

“See you soon, honey.” Gina got in the car and nodded again in encouragement to Gary. He stepped around and met Hailey at the front of the car; giving her the first non-awkward hug in their short relationship as brother and sister.

“My game won’t be over until five, so I can’t come with Mom when she picks you up. But I’ll be waiting for you when you get home. Maybe you can tell me how things went, okay?”

It did get awkward. As much as he loved Hailey, learning about her first experiences with makeup and nail polish and best girlfriends was something he didn’t really look forward to, but they still had the Bills and the Sabres and everything else they would still share for a lifetime. She kissed him on his cheek and walked quickly to the cabin area, crying happy tears.

“Gary?” He turned around to find Dylan standing there; a nervous smile on her face. He noticed for the first time that she had freckles; something he never would have thought attractive, and yet she looked pretty. He smiled back.

“I just wanted to say a couple of things before you go, okay?” He cringed in anticipation. She stepped closer. He could smell the scent of some girly perfume, and it added to the awkwardness of the moment.

“I heard you talking with your sister last night. I just wanted to tell you how proud of you I am…That was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.” Her nostrils flared and tears began to spill, making it even harder on the confused boy. He shook his head.

“I’m not brave….she’s just….she’s my sister.” He protested. She shook her head in return.

“My parents don’t even know I’m here. My Uncle Danny found out about this place. They think I’m in Grand Island at a Youth Retreat. My brothers won’t even talk to me and mom won’t stick up for me. I’m supposed to be getting help for my problem, you know?” Gary looked at her, continuing to be confused.

“You showed your sister what kind of man you are.” She smiled. It was hard for him to think of himself as a man, but he was every bit of what his Mom and Dad had hoped for.

“And….I’m …” Her face reddened. She wanted to speak but the words got stuck. Gary stepped closer. The moment called for a goodbye kiss on the cheek, but neither of them was ready for that. He nodded and stared at her right hand. She looked down and got his meaning, and offered it to him.

“I’m kinda glad I met you, too.” He would have added that he’d like to know her, but they weren’t ready for that either. He shook her hand and smiled.

“I gotta go. Maybe ….if my game gets rained out I can make it back here when Mom picks up Hailey.”

“Maybe….” She sighed.

As brave as Gary had been to that point, he got even braver. Sure, it was easy to show acceptance and tolerance when surrounded by people of like mind. But he also had to be brave for himself. He had never seen a girl quite like Dylan; no matter where or when or how or who any of the other girls were whom he had met. And he took his next step into the rest of his life and the continuing journey into manhood. Pulling her closer, he hugged her and kissed her cheek. Maybe it would never be anything but a brother to sister kiss, but it was exactly what both of them needed. She pulled away gently and shook her head; disbelief mixed with sadness mixed with relief and finally mixed with joy as she smiled before walking slowly back up to the cabins.

Gary got into the car and Bonnie leaned closer from the back seat and laughed softly; not a tease, but a happy moment. And Gina nodded as she put the car in gear. As they drove down the driveway, she noticed Gary was still following Dylan’s walk up the path. She smiled and said with a soft, knowing laugh,

“That’s my boy!”

All We Are

I tasted, tasted love so sweet
And all of it was lost on me
Bought and sold like property
Sugar on my tongue

The Venturini home, Mid-September…

“Kids? Can you come here for a sec?” Gina called from the kitchen. Bonnie came running down the hallway from her bedroom and Gary ambled in from the living room. Gina looked up from her laptop and suppressed a grin.

“Where’s Hailey?” she asked as she looked over Gary’s shoulder. A moment later her older daughter appeared and stepped past Gary; sitting down at the table next to Gina.

“I’ve got some great news….” She paused, trying for some dramatic effect, but couldn’t help herself and just blurted it out.

“Your Dad is coming home!” She smiled and turned to each one of her children. Gary seemed almost nonchalant, but smiled back and nodded; not wanting to be too emotional. Bonnie ran to her mother and hugged her. Hailey put her head down without comment.

“Gar? You are glad, aren’t you?”

“Oh yeah…it’s just he’s been away for so long. I…. “

“I know, honey. But he’s proud of you. All of you,” she added as she tried to get Hailey’s attention.

“I just want…. You know…”

“You’re the best son any father could have, Gary.” She had barely gotten the words out of her mouth when she realized just what that meant.

“What…what does….What does that make me? “ Hailey stammered before bursting into tears. Gina tried to reach to grab her hand but Hailey backed away before standing and walking quickly down the hall to her bedroom. The door closed; not with a slam but deliberate enough.

“I don’t understand,” Gina sighed; speaking to herself.

“She wants to know what me being a good son makes her, Mom.” Gary shook his head; his words weren’t a rebuke but rather a reminder that everyone at home had met Hailey but her father only knew her as Gary’s twin brother Christopher.

“I…” Gina stammered as well before putting her head down on the table as she began to echo the sobs from Hailey’s room. She wasn’t being self-indulgent. Even though the family had done a great job in working through the changes wrought by the departure/arrival of newest member of the Venturini household, there remained doubts and even fears.

“Mom….what…why…” Gary stammered. Gina lifted her head up just enough to look down the hallway. She turned and faced Gary and shook her head.

“I’m….I’m so sorry…..”


“I haven’t told your Dad….” She looked down the hall once again before cradling her head on her arms on the table as she began to sob. Gary backed away slightly; feeling completely at a loss for what to say or do. Bonnie stepped past him; rubbing his shoulder before sitting down at the table next to her mother. She grabbed Gina’s hand and kissed it, saying softly,

“It’s okay, Mommy…it’s okay.”

Being apart from Chris Sr. had its impact on everyone….mostly. Gary felt inadequate as a son and a brother. Gina felt she had let her daughter down in so many ways even though she loved and encouraged Hailey.

But Bonnie was the optimist who kept the Venturinis on an even keel. Looking up to Gary and being hopeful and grateful for her mother. She struggled with how to encourage Hailey, but in the end still managed a hug and a kiss every day accompanied by the words, “I’m so proud of my sister.” Enough doubtful and even needlessly shameful tears were shed, but were balanced on a nearly moment to moment basis by joyful tears shed by the youngest member of the family.

East Aurora High School, the next afternoon…

“Hey Gary, how’s your brother,” the boy said as he pushed past a few students mulling in the doorway. Gary turned around and glared at the boy; trying to keep calm. The boy compounded his ignorance by bumping rudely against Gary in a failed attempt to knock Gary’s books to the floor. A moment later a kind-looking woman tapped the boy on the shoulder and spoke in a western African near-singsong.

“Mr. Sipowitz? Would you mind accompanying me into the twenty-first century tomorrow morning? Our excursion will be departing in my office in the Guidance department. Your trip may or may not last more than a day or so depending upon what you and I discuss, okay?”

“Uh….yes, Ms. Okifor…” The boy put his head down; walking away.

“I’m sorry, Gary. How is Hailey doing?”

“She’s…. so far …”

“It can’t be easy; even with role models and support. I’d rather not send a note; just in case I don’t see her, please let her know we’re all thinking about her?” She would have added that some of the actually were praying for her; albeit as individuals. The idea of prayer in school, even as folks instead of educators, still remained understandably a questionable idea. And of course it was de classe’ to some as well. She smiled and patted him on the back in a non-threatening-within-guidelines manner before walking into the administration office.

“You okay?” another voice came from behind. The girl smiled and waved a wee bit nervously.

“Yeah… Eddie’s just a dick.” He laughed; his nervousness duplicating that of the girl. She stepped closer; cautious as always. Her face, usually a very pale pinkish-white, had gained the occasional darker pink hue owing to her shyness. The darker complexion seemed to compliment her red hair; red hair that up to recently had meant very little to Gary. He sighed as he looked at her. Uncomfortable feelings hovered around him as he recalled another red-haired girl he had met a short while ago. He backed away.

“You want to come over after school tomorrow? My cousin is visiting and we’re sorta having a party for her. You and Hailey, okay?” Cristyn Edwards smiled once again and walked away nervously without waiting for an answer. And Gary looked around; recently discovered hey-I-do-like-girls feelings had him wondering if anyone noticed just how anxious he was as well.

I wasted, wasted love for you
Trading out for something new
Well, it's hard to change the way you lose
If you think you've never won
'Cause all we are we are
All we are we are
And every day is a start of something beautiful

That Friday at Cristyn’s home…

Gary and Hailey stood anxiously on the landing at the front door; neither wanting to ring the bell. Gary felt like walking the nearly two miles back home; torn between wanting to get to know Cristyn more while feeling conflicted and confused into his full on venture into no-longer-a-boyhood.

And Hailey didn’t want to see anyone; period. She felt completely out of place in her own home, so visiting someone else was more than a scary thought; even when she already knew what kind people the Edwards family was. She was pivoting already on her left foot in a fear driven about-face when the door opened suddenly. A vaguely familiar face greeted her and Gary. The girl looked to be about their age and just as nervous.

“Hi…. H…Hailey?” The girl stammered her name before turning to face Gary. Her cheeks, already a bright pink in contrast to her very pale complexion, began to darken in embarrassment and even near shame. Nevertheless, she stuck her hand out in greeting.

“Cristyn went to the store with Aunt Mefus. Co….come in.”

Gary took the girl’s hand and shook it weakly; owing more to his confusion and needless embarrassment, but also in an odd this-is-how-a-boy-shakes-a-girl’s-hand response. She smiled weakly before backing slowly away from the door. At this point Gary hesitated. Odd and all too familiar feelings seemed to push him hard against the door frame. Somehow he knew the girl and it made him feel sadly ashamed and even more confused, which added to the girl’s own embarrassment.

As much of her own fear and shame had driven Hailey to seek flight, a curious wave of empathy drove her even more to grab Gary’s hand as she walked inside. And an uncharacteristic feeling of belonging pushed her gently as she hugged the girl who stood shaking, with head turned. The girl wore simple jeans and dark maroon Nikes. Her top was pink and mostly obscured by a long dark grey cardigan. Her face was still dark from embarrassment, but still pale enough to be set off by her very red and very short hair. And her blush did nothing to obscure the very cute freckles that covered her face.

“Hi…Hailey….” The girl said nervously. Her anxiety rose as Hailey kissed her on both cheeks before smiling; albeit as nervously as the girl. Hailey pulled back enough to give her another hug.


A short while later at the Venturini home….

Gina was in the kitchen pouring water in the Keurig when her cell phone buzzed.

“Chris? Chris? Oh honey….what? What? You’re at the airport? Where? Oh, damn it… I know… Yes…No….Have you….Hang on….we can stop on the way back…sure….Duff’s? Yes…. The …the twins are out at a friend’s for dinner and Bonnie is at a sleep-over….Yes….we do need to talk….What? No….when I get there….Yes…about forty….yes….I…I love you too….b…bye….”

She clicked off the phone and punched the button on the Keurig. A few moments later she was sitting in the living room. She wanted to rush out and get in the car and drive, but she needed time to think…to plan. A long drive home would be filled with conversation, but somewhere between the airport and home…dinner? Somewhere along the way, Gina Venturini would have to tell Christopher Ardo Venturini that he no longer had twin sons, but that his namesake somehow had been a girl named Hailey these past fourteen years or so. She sighed and looked out the window; almost seeking a sign from above; divine guidance? Her guidance came divinely but in a much more humble and earthly form.

“Mom?” She looked up to find Bonnie standing in the hallway; somehow missed in all the semi-melodrama that had unfolded only moments before.

“Steph had to cancel. Her brother broke his arm at football practice and they went to the hospital.”

“You heard?” Gina eyed the cell phone on the coffee table.

“Yeah…. “Bonnie paused in thought.

“I wanna come to the airport with you, but I think you and Daddy need to talk by yourselves.”

“Oh, honey, you can come.”

“No… it’s okay. Steph and I are going to Mei’s house instead when she gets back. You two need to do Mommy and Daddy stuff….” She blushed and immediately added.

“Talking, Mom….you two need to talk….about Hailey.” Gina put her hand to her face and began to tear up.

“Mom? You didn’t do anything wrong. Daddy’s been gone and you did what you had to do.” She walked over and sat down on the sofa. Drawing closer, she hugged Gina and smiled; her own tears mirroring her mother’s.

“Daddy just has to get used to having three of us….” She eyed herself and Gina up and down, indicating a recently expanded membership in the exclusive Venturini girls’ club. The two giggled at the same time even as Gina followed up with a gasp.

“We out number him and Gary now, Mom….no problems.” She kissed her mother and stood up.

“You can do this, Mommy.” Bonnie liked to go back and forth between endearments; owing to her own recent venture into the senior class of Venturini womanhood. She smiled and waved as she pulled her own cell phone from her pocket.

“Steph’s on the way over….I’m gonna go get ready, so give Daddy a kiss for me?” Gina nodded ‘of course.’

“And in between all the Hailey and Gary stuff, tell Daddy if he ever goes away again…..” The other elephant in the room slammed its foot down hard as Bonnie began to cry. Gina got up and ran over; her turn to console in the ever-present queue of disappointments in the Venturini home. She pulled Bonnie close and kissed her forehead.

“Never again, honey. I promise. But you’ll have to stand in line, since I’ll probably hit him myself…..” She felt guilty but they all needed to face how to pick up the pieces of Chris’ absence. It was honorable and a good thing that Chris served his country. But now it was time for him to serve his family. His lonely wife. His confused son. His younger new-to-womanhood daughter. And his new as a woman daughter. No longer his namesake, but still a child who needed her father now more than ever.

Meanwhile, at the Edwards home across town....

“D…Dylan?” Gary stammered. As much as he wanted to be a young man at that moment, fears and ignorance seemed to shove his maturity aside, and he saw a boy in girl’s clothing instead of an almost pretty if altogether brand new girl. And seeing in context made all the difference; meeting her over the summer at the camp meant with all the other kids who actually looked like they fit in as new or temporarily accepted girls. In the home of his best friend, it was sadly a reminder of how much more change had yet to take place between him and Hailey. He shook his head; reflexively if entirely unintentional yet still revealing.

“Y…esss….” It was all the girl could manage as she looked into his eyes. She wanted to believe. Hell, even Gary wanted to believe, but he was a confused and even scared barely-fourteen-year-old boy, and his expression told her all the things she didn’t need to hear. She burst into tears and ran out of the living room and down the hall. Gary turned to Hailey….his sister. She saw In his eyes the same lack of understanding that Dylan had just now felt. The same lack of understanding she hoped had departed.

“Gar? How could you….oh fuck,” was all she could manage before she walked down the hall as well. And Gary stood alone in the living room; feeling more confused and afraid as ever. But mixed in with that confusion and fear was a wee bit of increasing insight coupled with acceptable shame. Damned if he didn’t have a sister instead of a twin brother.

And if…and since he did have a sister, what did that make Dylan. And if….and since Dylan was a girl as well, what did that make Gary Venturini? Was he ….gay? He was going to find out in very short order that it wasn’t what he was or wasn't that mattered, but rather who. Gay and straight were just someone else's labels after all. And learning who he was would prove to be a very good thing for him and Hailey and especially for Dylan Gwyneth Edwards.

A short while later…

“Hey, where is everybody,” Cristyn called as she walked in. Gary glanced down the hallway. She stare at him as if to ask, ‘what did you do?’ He shrugged his shoulders, but still came off looking somewhat guilty.


“I said his name….” He looked away. Cristyn shook her head almost furiously. Gary was her friend and she understood the difficulty in nouns and pronouns, but she just knew Dylan was in her room crying and maybe with the accompaniment of Gary’s sister. It didn’t mean much if he meant well. Dylan was pretty much going through hell at home and today and this place were supposed to provide her cousin with a brief respite. She brushed past him and half-smiled; acknowledging at least that she knew he hadn’t meant to hurt anyone.

“Hard to figure out, right?” Mefus Edwards smiled. She put a bag of groceries on the kitchen table and walked into the hallway where he stood.

“We had thought that meeting up with the two of you….Hailey and you….would help her.” The stress in the pronoun was meant to help the boy and not as a rebuke. He nodded almost robotically. He felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to find the kind eyes of Cristyn's father Danny peering into his.

“We made all sorts of mistakes when Dylan came to us. It’s a learning process even for those of us who know and support girls like Dylan and Hailey. I know you’re trying.” He patted Gary’s back.

“Let’s take a walk, okay?” He didn’t wait but instead ushered Gary out the front door. A few moments later they were walking on a bike path in the park adjacent to the house.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Edwards. I didn’t mean to…. I was just so surprised to see ….her here.”

“I know. Cristyn didn’t even realize you had met until Dylan and she talked this morning about the camp. She mentioned what a nice boy she had met who had shown her kindness.” At the word ‘boy,’ Gary’s face began to redden. Danny noticed the boy’s embarrassment.

“You’re confused? I get that. But I suppose you already know just by having a sister like Hailey that it’s not all about you?” Gary nodded awkwardly.

None of us comes with instructions, and we’re constantly being disassembled and put back together when we find a part in the wrong place or discover a new part that needs to be added.” He led Gary to a bench next to the path and sat down. Gary joined him; still feeling awkward.

“You’re doing a great job supporting your sister but that doesn’t answer questions you have about my niece…. And how you feel.”

“I don’t ….It’s hard to put into words.”

“You’re wondering if….” Danny left the word unspoken; prompting Gary to own the moment and his feelings.

“Gay? I….I mean….” His face began to darken once again.

“I’ve known you and your family since preschool. Would that be so wrong?” Gary put his head down.

“We’re all put together differently and sometimes we discover later than some just how different we are. But all we are? It’s who we are that matters….not what…who we are. You don’t feel attracted to boys and that idea is confusing. So think of it this way. You are….attracted to Dylan? She’s not a he, but if she was a he, would that be so bad? Even so, Dylan is a girl, no matter how she started out.” Gary looked away and nodded. Tears began to fall off his chin.

“Oh fuck...I’m sorry, Mr. Edwards. I didn’t mean to hurt ….her feelings.”

“I know you didn’t. It will be okay. We best hurry back.” Gary looked at him in surprise. Danny laughed as he stood; pulling the boy up.

“I’m cooking dinner tonight.”

On the interstate on the way from the airport…

“Why aren’t the kids with you?” Chris shook his head and stared at Gina.

“It’s not like you gave us notice, Chris.”

“I was able to get an earlier flight. I thought you’d be happy.” Sullen wasn’t exactly what Gina had hoped for; especially with the news she needed to convey.

“I…We are happy, Chris. The kids just had things they were already doing when you called. The…twins went to the Edward's house for dinner. And Bonnie had a sleepover that was canceled so she went over to Melanie’s with Steph… probably watching Downton Abbey.”

“Downton what?”

“It’s a show….” Gina was frustrated already. It wasn’t that Chris didn’t know about the show. It was all about his choice to accept deployment after she had pled for him to stay close to home. And now with the changes that seemed to be happening in all the Venturini children?”

“Anyway, it’s probably a good thing we’re alone. We need to talk, honey,” she said; surprised at the endearment that almost inserted itself into the conversation. Of course she still loved her husband, but she had grown to dislike bits and pieces of his life that seemed to almost always ignore her and the children.

“Okay…. Let’s talk.”

“Ah…. Maybe we should stop and get something to eat.” She faced straight ahead, hoping he didn’t see her wince.

“Good….I’m starving.” He laughed. She sighed and thought.

“I’m starving. For affection. The kids and I are starving for attention.” The words thankfully went unsaid as she glanced over at her husband, blinking back tears.

“Why are you crying?” He asked.

“Just…just happy you’re home, honey.”

That word again. Try as she might to stay angry, she still wanted to forgive him. She only hoped he would have it in him to forgive her once they talked. She didn’t really need to be forgiven; she hadn’t kept anything from him since Hailey had already made an appearance in a way. But add ignorance and an insistence that Chris Jr. was and would remain a boy to a protracted absence, and the equation could be summed up as Gina Carla Manfredonia Venturini dealing with raising three children mostly on her own. Add a transgender child to the mix, and things became all the more difficult.”

“I’m really glad to be home, too.” Chris did something quite unexpected.

“I love you.” He grabbed her right hand away from the steering wheel and squeezed before wiping the tears on her cheek with his hand.

“I love you, too, honey.” Gina smiled through the tears hoping that love would be enough to sustain them once she told her husband that he had two daughters and only one son.

I tried to paint you a picture, the colors were all wrong
Black and white didn't fit you and all along,
You were shaded with patience, your strokes of everything
That I need just to make it, but I can see that...
Lord knows I failed you time and again,
But you and me are alright


Mefus walked into Cristyn’s bedroom. All three girls were sitting on the floor. Hailey seemed to be the most ‘together’ of the three, oddly enough, but with more experience in fitting in, she’d cried more for Dylan than herself. Cristyn was holding her cousin; rocking her gently like a mother holding a child. Tears streamed down her face as she felt Dylan’s pain as her own; mourning with those who mourn, so to speak if a bit premature. Mefus stooped down and kissed Hailey’s forehead in blessing before sitting on the floor next to Dylan. She looked over at Cristyn and nodded; motherly pride over the compassion her daughter showed to Dylan.

“I’m so sorry,” she said; almost to all three. Hailey was already standing. She walked to the dresser in the corner of the room and retrieved some tissue.

“Mrs. Edwards?” Hailey looked out the bedroom window; as if to see all the way home.

“Yes, honey?”

“My…my dad is coming home. He…. He doesn’t know….” Hailey bit her lip and all the strength she had mustered for her friend departed as she began to tear up. Mefus nodded and glanced at Dylan; a need to show the girl that but for different names and homes, the two were all too much alike in their hurt, and that both girls mattered.

“Oh, honey…. I heard… Cristyn told me. “She grabbed Dylan’s and Cristyn's hands and squeezed with as much assurance as she could manage. Standing up, she walked to the girl and hugged her. So much time had passed since Hailey and Gary had become a part of Cristyn's life. Mefus had known from the beginning that there was something different about the twins; perhaps even before Hailey herself, and certainly before their parents.

She had long feared for the girl; a fear however that prompted two things. First, she had discovered a need in herself to understand and accept the child whom they had always known as Chris. And that led to prayer which not only prepared her for the inevitable day she would be called to help Hailey, but now to help her own niece.

Dylan Edwards was facing the same rejection and pain which had beset Hailey for so long. But in the home of Andrew and Gwen Edwards, there were no sympathetic eyes and nods and smiles. Hailey at least had two sibs and her mom. Dylan had no one. Kind and well-meaning faith can also hurt when misdirected or unaware. Andrew and even Gwen had grown almost inflexible. They loved all of their children, but with an eye to seeing three sons despite the protests of their youngest child.

I have an idea, girls, but it might make things more difficult before it gets better.” Three sets of eyes stared at Mefus in anxious hope. She smiled and nodded.

“Come out to the kitchen with me. Let’s have some tea and we can talk.” She grabbed Hailey’s hand and walked her over to the two cousins; both offering the girls help in standing. The anxious looks seemed to change a bit with more hope mixed in along with quizzical smiles that graced all three faces. Mefus bit her lip in thought; hoping against hope that something…anything… they could do would be enough for all three families. She looked upward and whispered a prayer before walking out of the bedroom and down the hall; three hopeful girls in tow.

Meanwhile, at Zebb’s Grill, Orchard Park, New York….

“I’m starved,” Chris said. Gina sighed and nodded. The waitress, Chelsea by her nametag, smiled and spoke.

“Something to drink?” Chris stared at the menu. Gina spoke up.

“Two Bass Ales? And a some water with lemon?” The waitress walked off and Chris turned his attention to Gina in surprise.

“What? I sort of learned how to order while you were away.”

“Don’t start!” he snapped but thought better of it.

“I’m sorry. I had that coming.” Gina wanted to agree out loud, but they needed better footing than being annoyed with each other.

“I’m sorry, too. I don’t mean to beat you up. I just hope in the middle of all this you know the reason why we’re all upset is because we all love you so much, okay, honey?” There was that word again. Her mind was telling her to stay angry, but her heart was saying otherwise. Not to extend cheap grace once more to a husband used to having his way, but a means of bridging a gap that would only widen if she didn’t speak truth with love.

A few moments later Chelsea had returned with the ale.

“Two….?” Gina looked at Chris. He nodded; more out of acknowledgement than approval.

“Two Haddock? Grilled okay?” Chris nodded and smiled.

“Baked potato and whatever vegetable you’ve got?” Gina smiled back, hoping the meal would help. The way past a man’s need to be right is through his stomach?

“Carrots…they’re fresh…carrots okay?”

“Carrots it is. And can we both have another ale?” She looked over and noticed Chris had barely reached half-way. The girl smiled and walked away once again.

“So what’s so important that we couldn’t talk about it in the car?” Chris shook his head, expecting the worst. Gina took a gulp of her water and sighed.

“I wanted to wait until we got home, but between my anxiety all day, I need to tell you now.” She smiled, hoping that would at least relieve any anxiety on his part. It didn’t.

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing is wrong.” Or at least it wouldn’t be unless he made it so.

“We …we talked about some things….before you deployed this time.”

“What?” His eyes widened in anticipation; almost a pre-emptive annoyance for what he already knew he’d say.

“The twins…they’re not getting any younger,” Gina shrugged. Chris took a swig of his own ale; downing it quickly.

“We…we did talk about this.”

“Actually, I tried to talk about it. You wouldn’t listen. Your child has tried to talk about it for nearly three years.” The word ‘child’ seemed almost a concession to his demands. She took another gulp of water.

“The doctors all agree, honey.” That word inserted itself once again; almost hoping on her behalf that the man she married would act as if.

“I…I know what the doctors said, Gina.” Her name was as close to an endearment as he could speak at that moment.

“We had to do something, Chris.” She spoke his name; not as an endearment but in appeal to who he was inside. The man she married. The man she thought she knew.

“I sent you an email. It had an attachment. I know you read it because you were happy about Bonnie’s volunteering at the homeless shelter. And Gary’s homer. But you didn’t say a word about….”

“His name is Christopher…. Anthony… Junior.” Chris spoke the words in an almost monotone; a portent of something worse?

“Her…. Her, Chris. Her name is Hailey…. Did you even look at the picture?”

“I didn’t when you first sent it.” He sighed. A calm before the storm?

“But the other day I was looking at my saved folder and I opened the email again.”

“And?” Gina hadn’t meant to be so abrupt, but she was desperate enough for all their sake that urgency took over.

“The picture? I guess that’s at the park? Gary is so much … he’s quite the young man. And Bonnie is so much taller than when I saw her last….” His voice trailed off. Speaking the next few words would determine the fate of the family.

“And?” The word was softer; accompanied by a par on her husband’s wrist.

Chris shook his head once again and just looked away.

At the Edwards’ home….

“Anyone for more?” Danny held up the platter of fish. Cristyn nodded and speared a fillet with her fork. Dylan and Hailey hardly seemed interested in the food on their plates. Mefus smiled and shook her head no, but gave her husband thumbs up. Gary took the platter from Danny’s hand and pulled two fillets and some fries onto his own plate.

“Dylan, sweetie?” Danny looked at Mefus. She nodded and spoke.

“We can do this only if you both think It best.” Dylan looked at her aunt; once again hoping for something…anything that might help.

“This really means all of you, since each of you are part of how we hope to reach Dylan’s mom and dad.”

“If you’re willing…if you can, dearest?” Mefus patted Dylan’s hand.

“Instead of driving you home tomorrow, we think it might be a good thing if your mom and dad come to dinner tomorrow. I know they’re free since they made plans to be home when I talked to Gwen.”

“I … I don’t understand.”

“When your dad dropped you off, you were…. You were their son. Danny and I think it’s high time they got to know Dylan….their daughter.”

“Oh….I…. “ Dylan shook her head; almost refusing to believe her parents would understand. Cristyn placed her hand on the girl’s back.

“I know you’re scared. But we’ll be here…all of us.” She glanced over at Hailey. The girl nodded at Cristyn and Dylan; albeit with an anxious look.

“I….I know how it feels….” Hailey was almost apokogetic; as if somehow Dylan's pain was her fault.

“And I’m scared for you…. And me. But this is who we are?” Her voice raised a bit in question. Danny nodded.

“Who you are. Exactly, Hailey. And we will be here for you. All of us.” He nudged Gary and spoke; anticipating the boy’s question.

“Having your brother here might help Dylan’s parents realize it’s not just their child or family, and that Hailey has support.” At the word support, Hailey winced. She had the support of her mother and her sister and Gary, despite her brother’s missteps. But she also had more convincing to do, so to speak.

Almost on cue, Gary’s cell phone rang.

“Hello?” He turned.

“It’s my sister Bonnie.” He put his ear to the phone again.”

“What? When? Oh… yeah…we’re at Cristyn’s….yeah…. Okay… bye.” He clicked off the phone and spoke.

“That was Bonnie,” he repeated.

“Mom got a call…. My Dad came home early. They’re on their way home from the airport.” He said it with excitement and everyone in the room smiled save for two. Dylan shrugged her shoulders; looking at least happy for Gary. And Hailey wore a blank stare that quickly turned to a look of panic.

“D…Daddy’s home?” She didn’t wait for the reply but simply burst into tears before getting up from the table and running down the hall once again. Mefus went to rise but Cristyn touched her arm.

“I’ll go…” She turned and smiled.

“Can..Can I come too?” Gary asked. Cristyn nodded almost solemnly and they walked down the hall together.

Back at Zebb’s Grill, Orchard Park, New York….

“He….he’s not my son….” Chris spoke the words in a monotone once again, leaving Gina worried and confused until she saw the tears in her husband’s eyes. Sadness mixed with his own confused shame over his behavior. He smiled weakly; not in protest but in that surrender of the good to embrace the best.

“I’m so sorry. I was so fucking wrong.” He sighed. Chelsea returned with two more ales and a basket of dinner rolls. Gina winced at her husband’s words and turned; shrugging in apology. The girl smiled.

“I’ll be over there,” she said, pointing in the direction of the kitchen.

“I’ll bring your entrée’s in a bit, okay?” She walked off, leaving them to an uncomfortable silence.

“You ….” Gina began to speak, but halted in fear that this was just like every other apology Chris had ever uttered.

“I was over there…. The kids I was with were barely older than the twins. A kid…. Eighteen if he was a day…. Got his arm blown off…I lost it…I held him while he just…?”

Chris shuddered; too much in the moment for his own sake but right where he needed to be, so to speak, for the sake of his family.

“All I could think of…. This is so crazy. He had three days to go and….”

Chris looked away and gasped; the expression on his face was sadness mixed with wonder.

“The kid looked just like Chr…Hailey… Like one of them.” Gina’s eyes widened; first angry but then in surprised relief.

“At first it was like if I didn’t know any better I would have sworn… “ He paused; looking at Hailey’s image on the photo in the table.

“I found out that the kid was…. Going to…transition? Is that what they call it?” I felt so foolish and ashamed. Trying to make sense of it and…him…of …of her? And there I am standing in the midst of fucking chaos trying to help out when I can’t even help my own children…. I am such a fucking failure, Gina. You’re doing all the heavy lifting and I’m over there…. So I asked and they gave me this,” he pointed to himself.

“I can’t make up for what I gave away, Gee…. But life’s too short to keep giving away what I’ve been blessed… who I’ve been blessed with….” His voice trailed off but his soft sobs were enough to the girl to place their food on the table without a word. She touched Gina on the shoulder gently before retreating once again.

Gina glanced at the ale before taking a long swig from her water. She patted Chris on the wrist and spoke.

“What…what are you saying?” She hoped she knew already, but also feared her husband would revoke the promise his words seem to hold. He looked up; red-eyed already as tears fell off his chin. He smiled; weak not from the moment but from finally giving into the father he had always been intended to be.

“She…..she’s my daughter.” He shook his head and lowered his gaze; sobbing unashamedly. Gina kissed her index finger and touched his lips.

“I love you so much.”

I wasted, wasted love for you
Trading out for something new
Well, it's hard to change the way you lose
If you think you've never won
'Cause all we are we are
All we are we are
And every day is a start of something beautiful

At the Edwards home, a short while later…

“How is Hailey?” Mefus asked as she handed Cristyn a mug of cocoa.

“Gary is sitting with her. I think knowing that he’s there for her helps. You know?”

“Like maybe there’s hope for their Dad?” Danny asked as he grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge.

“What about tomorrow, Aunt Mefus,” Dylan asked nervously.

“I think this is the best way to go.” Mefus nodded absent-mindedly at her own words. Dylan sighed.

“I’m so scared.” The girl stifled a sob.

“I know, sweetie. But …and it’s easy for me to say…. But as long as I’ve known your mom and dad they’ve always wanted the best for you and your brothers.”

“It’s what they think is best that’s the problem, Mom.” Cristyn said. Danny shook his head in sad agreement.

“My brother has fashioned a lifetime out of ‘he meant well,’ and it’s a real…. But he’s a good man. And your mom….”

“Gwen needs to just speak for Dylan for a change.” Mefus insisted.

“Well, now’s the time, hon. From your mouth to God’s ears.”

“It’s Andys’ ears that worry me,” Mefus said. She winced as she looked over at her niece. Dylan smiled and nodded; evoking a sigh of relief from Danny.

Meanwhile, in Cristyn’s bedroom….

“I’m scared.” The words echoed Dylan’s but they were uttered by Gary and not Hailey. She had calmed down enough to recall her mother’s support and her promise to encourage the new relationship the whole family was beginning to experience with the new older sister. Something inside seemed to prompt her to echo that encouragement.

“You’re not afraid of what your friends will say, right?” Hailey stared at her brother. He shook his head only slightly.


“I’m….it’s not them…it’s….”

“You need to say something…. For me…for her…. And for yourself.”

“What if…..”

“I’m seeing Daddy for the first time and I’m so scared, Gar…. But I’ll die if I don’t ….this is who I am, Gar…. You know that. So you know …. You have to say something.”

For the first time in a long while Hailey felt like the stronger twin, but really they shared strength to strength all the time. By now she had composed herself, and her tears were not about her…not for her. And Gary was about as big a mess as any boy his age who is scared and confused and in no man’s land. He bit his lip; trying not to cry was something he usually did well but, as Aragorn might say, ‘it was not that day.’

“I’m hungry. I didn’t really eat much and I need to.” Hailey didn’t wait for a response and she didn’t add the last thing she was thinking as she left; though it was a struggle not to say it out loud.

I’ll say you want to talk…

Meanwhile, at the restaurant….

“So what do we do now, Chris?”

“I guess we just keep doing what you’ve already been doing. I can only hope she can forgive me…. That they all forgive me…. “ he looked away and repeated.

“That she can forgive me.”

“They wouldn’t miss you if they didn’t love you, Chris. They will and she will, okay?”

“Oh….okay.” He took a swig of water and ignored the barely touched bottle of ale.

“Let’s go home.’ Gina said, handing Chris the keys.

Back at the Edwards’ home…

Danny glanced back and forth between Dylan and Cristyn; had they always looked so much alike? He smiled and took a deep breath; all the while hoping that his brother and sister-in-law would accept the invitation to the most intriguing family dinner they might ever attend. He tapped the pre-set on the phone.

“Andy? Yeah….About tomorrow? Why don’t you come for dinner?“ Danny put his hand over the phone and nodded to Dylan.

“Righr …yeah….Mefus just picked up a roast…yeah…. Hugh and Davy, too? Three is perfect. Dinner at four. Yeah…okay….love you, too” He smiled at Dylan and shook his head as he placed the receiver on the cradle. As he walked over to his niece, he recalled a line from a favorite movie and laughed.

“What’s so funny, oh light of my life?” Mefus asked.

“Just a line from Princess Bride? ‘I’ll take a miracle?’” Mefus laughed softly and Dylan swallowed hard before saying at last, “Have fun stormin’ the transgender castle,” which, while nervous still gave everyone a much-needed laugh.

“Dylan?” She turned to see Hailey standing behind her.

“Gary has something he needs to tell you… you guys were all a big help to me just now and I think he needs to tell you something too?” As she spoke, Cristyn arched her left eyebrow in both recognition and on behalf of her own conspiracy. Dylan took a few steps down the hall before hesitating. She turned without word; her expression and posture instead asking ‘Are you sure?’

“Go ahead, Cuz.” Cristyn said. As Dylan continued down the hall, Cristyn walked to Hailey and grabbed her hand before waving to Danny.

“Mom? Dad? Hailey and I have something we need to tell you.” A look of fear crossed Hailey’s face. Danny and Mefus looked at each other and then to their daughter and their daughter’s best friend. Danny nodded at Cristyn and smiled kindly as only a father can. And true to form, Hailey burst into tears and ran; but this time happily into the arms of her girlfriend’s parents…

A short while later…

“Uh…. Ga….Gary?” Dylan stood nervously in the doorway of her cousin’s bedroom. She shook at the sight of the boy sitting on the bed. Her tremors were almost imperceptible, though, and the glow of the hallway light behind her seemed to give her an angelic appearance… A picture which did nothing to diminish the anxious look on the boy’s face.

“Oh….hi,” he said almost nonchalantly despite the hornets crashing hard inside his stomach. He looked at the girl and noticed she was wearing lip gloss; pink and shiny and altogether unexpected and provocative; at least to him. To be truthful on her behalf, it was just a bit of balm to deal with very dry lips borne out of nervous chewing. She was overwhelmed already by the fear of showing herself finally to her parents and brothers. But it was exponentially compounded by the first (and last) crush she would ever have.

“Your sis says you wanted to….to tell me?” Her voice broke as he stood up. He turned away; almost looking at the wall behind him for a secret passageway of escape. A boy shouldn’t like boys…. Right? Had he more time alone he would certainly conclude that wasn’t true; his mom and dad raised him better than that at the very least. But he didn’t have any more time alone to think about the girl in the doorway. He went to speak but all he could do was stammer,


“It’s okay. I can…. I’ll just…..” She went to back away but her feet got tangled and she fell down; banging her head hard on the door jamb. She looked at him and began to cry. And Gary did what any boy who is confused with a newly sorted-out attraction to one girl in particular would do. He ran to her and offered his hand; smiling nervously. She shook her head no even as she accepted his offer; rising a bit unsteadily to her feet.

Down the hall, Danny had heard the soft thunk of Dylan’s head against the hallway carpet and went to respond but his wife grabbed his arm.

“I think he’s got it covered,” Mefus said; pointing to the two down the hall. He nodded and smiled.

“You…you okay?” Gary asked nervously. Dylan looked at him and did what any girl with a crush would do in that circumstance. She cried harder, but instead of pulling away she leaned on his shoulder. If they had been just a wee bit older, the moment would have not only demanded but strongly pushed them into a kiss.

But a hug by a boy who sees you as who you are and who is also nice enough to rub your back and say kind things that only girls might appreciate? She was just fine even as she sobbed in his arms. And her aunt looked upward and breathed out a thank you before turning attention back to the drama unfolding in front of her….

At the Venturini home around nine-ish….

"Mom? Daddy……” Bonnie walked in the front door; almost gleeful in anticipation. Two figures lay asleep on the couch. As much as she wanted to her father for a welcome home hug, the scene was just too precious to disturb. She turned and went to walk down the hall, but Gina had already nudged Chris awake, and the two quickly ran to Bonnie.

“Hi….” Was all Chris could get out before he pulled her into a hug; crying like the prodigal he had become.

“I love, you Daddy…It…it’s okay.” The child became a parent for the moment as she and her mother held Chris close. Too many lifetimes ago with too many departures and too much pain and horror for even one hundred men to bear; accompanied by guilt and shame wrought by his own choices and pride.

“It’s okay, honey…let it go.” Gina said softly as she and Bonnie led him into the kitchen. Bonnie put on the kettle as Gina eased Chris into a kitchen chair at the table. He looked over at his youngest before resting his head on Gina’s arm as he sobbed hard enough to shake the table. It wasn’t nearly the welcome Gina had planned for her husband, but it was exactly what he needed. She stood up and draped her body over his, weeping tears of joy and relief that seemed to comfort him.

And Bonnie also wept, but softly; relieved for herself and her mother and her brother. But anxious and sad for what might play out when her father finally met her sister for the first time.

Meanwhile, at the Edwards home….

Cristyn stood just a wee bit to the side and back of Hailey; an almost imperceptible tremor in her hands likely from the worry over her mother’s ‘now what?’ look. Danny waved to gain his wife’s attention; her eyes darting back and forth between her daughter and Hailey. She turned and spoke.

“Oh…sorry…. No prob, honey,’ she said as she waved back to her husband.

“Mom….Momm…meee?” Cristyn shook more; evoking a hug from Hailey, who in turn shook her head in question as she stared at her best friend’s parents. Danny stepped over and grabbed his wife’s hands while shooting a welcoming smile to both girls.

“Now there’s a surprise,” Danny said. Mefus looked at him and tried to glare but soon began to giggle.

“Now there, oh husband of mine. Plain it’s always been mewn cariad. I think I would have really been surprised if they didn’t have the same love they had when we didn’t know Hailey was… Hailey?” She giggled a bit before motioning the girls closer.

“Children…. fynd ag ef yn araf.” Hailey’s eyes widened in worry until Danny noticed and spoke.

“Not ‘no,’ sweet girl. Take it slow.”

“” Both girls spoke in unison. Danny and Mefus nodded; also in unison, and accompanied by two equally blessing smiles.

“Oh, Mommy.....” Cristyn gasped.

“Honey? We trusted you when you were....when you were Christopher. Why would we not trust.. Why would we not love you now?" Danny stepped closer and pulled his daughter’s girlfriend into a hug.

‘Now for a way to explain this all.....” Mefus interjected; her motherly tears interspersed with continued relieved laughter. Danny looked heavenward and sighed a silent prayer....

“Are you ...are you okay? I’m sorry....” Gary sat on the bed across from Dylan, who was sitting in the desk chair by the door; her head resting against the wall. She looked at him and down at herself as if she owed him an explanation.

“I’m sorry.” She echoed.

“Why.... you were surprised. And I haven’t exactly been nice to you. I don’t blame’s my fault.’

“No.... I .... I don’t want to be like this all the time,” Dylan said. She looked down at herself again in a needless reproach.

“I’m sorry you that all the time....” Gary stammered. Looked away even as he added in correction,

“You don’t feel like anyone will..... like how I treated Hailey at first and even you at the camp when we met. That no one would accept you? That... oh fuck,” he continued.

“I just want....” she started but stopped in mid-sentence with a gasp.

“I .... accept who you are, Dylan and.... I’m sorry I didn’t see that sooner.... since it .... since I hurt you. I.... oh fuck,” he repeated. She winced; not at the words, but at the never-hoped-for sentiment. She put her head down only to feel an unfamiliar touch on her cheek. More brother to sister at that point, but leaving room for both to look forward to the possibilty of more. She raised her head to find him smiling. He leaned closer and gave her a Galadriel-like kiss on the forehead. And she did exactly what she did only minutes before; falling into his arms in now relieved tears....

A short while later

“Hello? Gina?” Mefus sighed; half-relieved, but anxious as well.

“I… I know this is asking a lot…. Your husband is back….. We’re having dinner with my in-laws… yes, that’s right. Hailey…. Yes…my niece…. You understand more than most I’ll bet. Hailey’s …. Yes…. She’s needing some help, and I think if your husband met my niece?” she paused as Gina answered.

“What… did I hear you right? He wants to …sure.” Mefus turned to Hailey and smiled.

“Your father wants to talk to you.” She handed the phone to the girl.

“Dad….?” Hailey shook her head; the very first conversation with her father would seem to be so impersonal over what ironically was a smart phone, since she didn’t feel smart at all. She winced in anticipation of the rebuke that not only didn’t come but never would again.

“Dad….. Daddy? What? You…. I’m not your son?” She winced again until she realized what he was telling her.

“I’m….I’m a girl? I’m your girl? You… accept me?” She turned toward her friends; shaking her head once again.

“He….accepts me….”

It wasn’t a bad thing, but a revelation of such importance should have been done face to face. Mefus looked askance; feeling confused; even helpless as to what to say. Hailey’s eyes teared up, but not in anticipated joy.

“I….all he had to say…. All he needed to tell me…..He accepts me? He hasn’t… still the same…all about him…” She began to shake. Mefus went to hug her and but the girl turned her back.

“Nooo…” she stammered but still reached back as Mefus placed her hand on the girl’s shoulder.

“He still thinks…..fuck….he accepts me?” Hailey repeated

“Like he’s doing me a favor? I hate myself and ….he hates me too. Why can’t he just love me? What the…..It’s not my fault I’m this way…. I just want him to love me!”

She handed the phone to Mefus and ran down the hall to the new safety of her girlfriend’s bedroom. Mefus shook her head in continued frustration; worried for how the girl would be received and fearful over how Dylan’s family might react tomorrow.

“Hello? Oh…. Hello again, Gina. No… She…. She’s down the hall crying her eyes out. I know…. I was … yes? My daughter wanted to know if…. No….yes? One sec?” Mefus said. She turned to Danny.

“They’re coming over to pick up the twins. Can you let them know?” He nodded and walked down the hall….

Danny knocked on Cristyn’s door. A moment later his daughter appeared. She smiled weakly and opened the door further; inviting her father in. He kissed her forehead and walked over to the bed. Dylan and Hailey were sitting in a sideways hug; it was hard to determine who was consoling whom, since both had tear-stained faces. Gary sat in the armchair in the corner of the bedroom; his face cast down and almost hidden.

“I … I don’t know what to say, Mr. Edwards,” the boy sighed.

“Why did God make us this way?” It seemed odd, since Hailey was the twin with the problem, but Danny understood Gary.

“All we are? We are who we are, Gary. You’re exactly who you were meant to be. Your sister has discovered who she was meant to be. Just like my daughter and her cousin.” At Danny’s words, Gary lifted his head and looked at his sister and her new friend. He turned back and looked Danny in the eyes and shrugged his shoulders in shame; not for his feelings for Dylan but for his behavior.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Edwards. I’m….” He stood up quickly and went to walk past Danny and out, but the man stood his ground.

“I know, Gary. I think everyone knows. We’re all learning about ourselves, and that’s a good thing. And we all change; for the better, God willing.” Gary shook his head no.

“Sorry, but you’re caught, and there’s nothing left to do but agree. You’re a fine young man and I bet if you ask your sister she’ll say you’re a good brother as well.” The boy turned and looked at Hailey and Dylan, and both girls were still crying, but two welcome smiles had crossed both their faces as they nodded at Danny’s words.

“Your Mom and Dad are on their way over to pick you up. I’ll be back when they arrive,” he finished and walked out and down the hallway.

Danny walked into the kitchen and grabbed two bottles of water before walking into the living room. Mefus was leaning on the arm of the couch, staring at the cell phone. Danny tilted his head in question.

“Well…. Gina said that her husband… Chris…. Realized how…. How ….” Mefus stammered; her voice mixed equally in tones of sadness and anger.

“I pretty much figured out … It’s new. He’s sorry… So he just blurted out his acceptance after how many other times of telling her how wrong she’s been. No wonder she was bawling her eyes out.”

“Well, wouldn’t you,” Mefus snapped at him but shook her head.

“Sorry. It’s just that I’m afraid that your crusader of a brother isn’t going to be understanding. Maybe we should just back off?”

“NO!” a voice interrupted. Mefus turned to find Danny had come out and was sitting at the kitchen table around the corner from where she and Danny stood.

“I can’t wait. I … I need to know. I don’t care anymore,” she said before burying her face in her arms on the table as she sobbed. They walked over and Mefus draped herself over Dylan in a protective hug. When hurt and disappointment are part of anyone’s routine much less a gender conflicted teen, not ‘caring’ all too often means they’re so weary that they are too hurt and too tired to keep trying.

“Bydd yn iawn ferch , gwerthfawr,” Mefus said as the girl continued to weep in her embrace. Dylan was indeed a precious girl, as was Hailey. She could only hope and pray on everyone’s behalf that Dylan’s family would realize how precious and how indeed a girl she was and that everything would be alright.

“Bydd yn iawn ferch , gwerthfawr,” Danny echoed Mefus. She looked up to see him smiling broadly; his eyes twinkling as if to say, you too, dear wife, you too…

At the Venturini home, 9:12 pm…

Chris sat on the couch; sandwiched between Gina and Bonnie; looking less lost than only a hour before.

“She must hate me…” His voice trailed off, but was followed quickly with a rebuke from his daughter.

“No, Daddy. She thinks you hate her. And she...the only person she hates is herself.“ Bonnie went to stand up but instead leaned close.

“Nobody hates you….We’re….so….we’re angry ‘cause everybody has been more important than us. Everything.”

“I’m so sorry I hurt you. I’m so sorry.” He pled. Gina grabbed his arm.

“We know that. But this doesn’t get easy just because you’re sorry.” His eyes widened in hurt until he nodded.

“I just don’t know what to say…to do.”

“I have a brother, Daddy…He thinks there’s something wrong with him because he has two sisters.”

“What? That’s…..’

“Let me finish. He has two sisters that he loves and he’s afraid you…that you are angry with him and that he’s lost you!” Gina gasped at the sad realization of just how sensitive and hurt Bonnie was on behalf of her siblings.

“That’s crazy! I don’t feel that way,” Chris argued. Gina glared at him. She wiped angry tears away with the back of her hand.

“How would he know that when you refused to go to counseling when Hailey first told us? Or how all your letters never once used her name. What did you say? ‘The boys must be such a help to you and Bonnie!’ It’s not about being sorry, Chris.” He stared at her.

“This…“ she spoke even as she pulled out her cell phone and hit called ID.

“Hello? Mefus? Hi… sorry to bother you so late? What? Hailey isn’t….I’m okay with the twins staying overnight, but I have a huge…yes, favor…how?” Gina breathed out a heavy sigh as she listened.

“Tomorrow morning? Ok. Gosh, you’re a lifesaver. Ten? Yes? Th…thanks. Ten it is?” She clicked ‘off’ and leaned into her husband while reaching over to grab Connie’s hand/

“Mommy? Are you okay?” Bonnie asked as Gina began to cry.

“Yes baby….oh yes….”

At the Edwards home, 10:43 pm...

Dylan had fallen into a fitful rest on the couch, and Mefus placed a plush blanket over her. She had cried until sleep took her; comforted somewhat by a very worn stuffed toy do she had managed to smuggle from home. Danny walked over and he held his wife’s hand as they said a quick prayer for their niece before walking down the hall to Cristyn’s bedroom where they beheld a similar scene.

Gary had fallen asleep sitting up in the chair in the corner nearest the bedroom window; a sentinel on guard for the two girls who had drifted off in a still innocent sisterly cuddle. Their faces were a portrait of opposites. Hailey was murmuring restlessly; barely under, so to speak. Cristyn’s countenance, however, was about as peaceful as Mefus and Danny had ever seen her; the quiet confidence that their only child often displayed when even their own faith had waned.

“We can only hope this all comes together for everyone’s sake, my dear bride,” Danny said iin a near-prayer.

“I will not say, ‘God willing.’ I have to believe it already is God's will that your brother and this poor girl’s father will see the light.” Mefus turned away and began to weep.

“What…manner of man?” she stammered.

“What manner of man turns his back on his own child? If we….” She gasped. Danny pulled her into as protective a hug as he could manage; his own grief never more than a thought away as he pictured their other girl. Gwynneth; taken at seven from leukemia before Cristyn had turned five; her absence still painful, and yet a reminder in their sleeping daughter urged them toward a difficult yet needful gratitude at the same time.

“I swear, Danny! If they don’t want Dylan? She….she can be….ours?”

“I know, my love, but maybe…just maybe there’s hope for her and our girl’s friend here? As much as I’d love another daughter, let’s hope it’s in this one here someday with our Cristyn, and that Dylan’s Mum and Dad fall in love with that precious girl asleep on our couch, yes?”

Mefus looked into her husband’s eyes and gained a huge measure of peace, but she still felt the ever-present painful tug in her heart for the little girl who should have been asleep in the room instead of heaven. Danny pulled her closer and spoke softly even as his own tears fell.

“I know….I miss her too….so, so much.”

The next morning at the Edwards’ house…

Mefus sat at the kitchen table; coffee mug in her left hand as she laid her cell phone on the table. Danny sat down across the table being careful to ease the chair slowly closer. His eyes darted to the clock on the range.


“Maybe just let them wander out when they’re ready to face the day. Your brother won’t be in a hurry to retrieve his child, so they won’t be early. And the twin’s parents aren’t due before ten,” Mefus sighed in relief.

“I drove over to the Deli while you were hovering over the brood. Bagels and cream cheese and other breakfast goodies, so yes, let them sleep.” Danny took a sip of coffee almost a mirror gesture as Mefus nursed her second mug. He went to continue, but was interrupted by a soft gasp from the kitchen archway.

“I’m ready to go home, Uncle Danny.” The couple faced the figure standing behind Danny’ Dylan was wearing an R.I.T. sweatshirt she likely grabbed from the laundry along with the same jeans from the day before. The big difference from yesterday was her freshly scrubbed and unadorned face. Apart from the redness on the apples of her cheeks, her face had returned in a way to a countenance from months past.

“There are three children in the Roberts house….. we…we’re three brothers.” Dylan said. Mefus sighed heavily before getting up. She walked to the child and grabbed her hands.

“NO!” She hadn’t meant it as a rebuke, but the girl winced nonetheless. Too many times of being ignored or worse had left Dylan fearful. Mefus shook her head slowly even as she drew the girl closer. Had anyone else looked, they would rightly assume that Mefus was indeed hugging a girl; Dylan’s efforts to revert to boy mode notwithstanding. Even though she had not yet received any medical intervention, the only ones still convinced there were three sons in her household were her father and probably her brothers.

“I’m sorry, sweet girl. I didn’t mean to be so abrupt. I just don’t want to see you give up. All you ever were and who you are is who you are. I think your Ma knows, and maybe we all can help your Da know, too.”

“Davey and Owen take their lead from Andy. If my brother comes around, so will they.” Andy sighed, not knowing how pleasantly wrong he would prove to be.

“It’s a huge if you’re hopin’ for,” Mefus thought; not daring to voice that concern, lest she discourage the girl in her arms even more….

Meanwhile, at Dylan’s house….

"Mefus called and asked if we could make it closer to noon. He's going to grill some and we're all invited for lunch," Glynnis said as she downed her second cup of coffee that morning.

“I think it’s best to just go over there.” Andy replied as he poured coffee into a travel mug; ready to walk out the door. Glynnis sat at the kitchen table. She looked up from her Bible and raised her eyebrows and shrugged in frustration.

“Andy? Just slow down, okay? They’re probably all sleeping. A house full of teenagers probably means last night was a late night.” Glynnis nearly added that Dylan was probably worn out from crying. They had exchanged words before Dylan went to school, and she felt very badly about how things were left.

“Well…okay,” Andy said begrudgingly. As siblings go, he and Danny were different in temperament. Where Danny could be slow and easy-going, Andy could often be hasty. Both brothers were caring, but Andy was slow in the one thing that mattered most.

“We don’t… “ Glynnis paused, searching for words.

“I know. I…. I just don’t know what to do.” His words were met with a shake of the head and a half frown.

“We know what to do….we just don’t feel good about it.” Glynnis sighed. She got up and walked behind Andy and surrounded him in a hug; standing almost tip-toe with her arms curled around his waist.

“Number one son has been up since the crack of dawn, darlin’. He said he needs to talk to you.” Andy turned to her words.

“What? Can’t this…” He paused; more from a check in his spirit than the disapproving frown from his wife.

“Alright. I hope…” He stopped and shook his head.

“I guess it’s true what my Dad said….’Sometimes bein’ a father can be like bein’ a juggler.” Glyinnis looked up at him in puzzlement.

“As hard as this has been with Dylan, he’s still our child, but we still have two sons down the hall. He softly tilted her head back and kissed her on the forehead.

“Here goes,” Andy said finally and walked down to Owen’s room. Gkynnis made a mental note that Andy used the word son for only two of their three children.

“What’s up?” Andy asked as he leaned against the frame of the open door.

“Can we talk?” Owen sat on his bed, looking both tired and nervous. Andy hesitated; wonder what secret this son might harbor. He walked over and sat down on the desk chair across from own; nodding and smiling.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about Dylan and…you know…”

“The trans…. The thing, yeah?” It was Andy’s turn to be anxious.

“I was up the other night….had to go to the bathroom and I passed Dylan’s room, you know. The door was open and he was just sittin’ up in bed. In the dark.” Andy went to speak but just nodded with a ‘go on’ look.

“Even with just the hall light I could see he was crying…like really red in the face and his eyes were all puffy.” Andy could scarcely recall a day when Dylan wasn’t crying.

“He didn’t notice me at first, but wiped his eye with his arm, Dad. And then he just starts cryin’ all over again’” Owen said, looking confused.

“Did he…did Dylan say anything?” Andy seemed to check himself in mid-sentence.

“Yeah. You know how some of the kids are still teasin’ him…. Maybe less than half from last year. And they don’t even know about….”

“How he is at home?”

Yeah,” Owen nodded.

“That’s just it. Even if it’s only two or three, they’re still…Fuck, Dad.” Owen put his head down. Andy had given up trying to correct his kids’ vvocabulary since they still were devout in heart. No harm, he finally concluded. He patted Owen’s knee in encouragement.

“Anyway, he looks at me and says, ‘Why does everybody hate me? ‘ I mean… he does have friends, you know? But before I can ask him he just shakes his head….” Owen was never one to cry, but he choked up. Another pat on his knee urged him to finish.

“’Why does Dad hate me, Owe…Does Mom hate me?’ He just kept cryin’, Dad….. and then he….” Owen bit his lip and his expression seemed to turn to anger but he lowered his head; almost in shame.

“He says….’Do you and Davey hate me? Why does everybody hate me?’” Owen slowly raised his head and stared at his father through tear – stained eyes.

“Fuck…..Why do we hate him? What the fuck did he do, Dad? Tell me. I need to know why I hate my own brother.”

Andy looked away, his face growing hot and red. He shook his head and turned back to face Owen only to see his youngest child standing there, looking just as upset as Owen minus the tears. Andy point to the bed and Davey sat down next to Owen.

“I owe both of you an apology,” Andy said, leaving both boys looking puzzled and a bit anxious, since Andy’s apologies to his children at least felt few and far between.

“I…I’ve done all of you a … I haven’t done a good job as your father.” The boys winced even as Andy searched for words.

“I haven’t shown what it means to be a good man.”

“We’re …we’re tryin’ Dad” Davey protested. Owen could only nod as his face reddened; the dark blush seemed to almost hide the freckles all three kids shared with their mother.

“Oh fuck….NO!” Andy exclaimed. It was the first time he had ever sworn to their recollection, and it would seem to be at them but for the tears streaming down their father’s face.

“Oh…. Not you….Me.” He sighed in frustration.

“Dylan thinks I…everybody hates heh……” The word wanted to come out but seemed to be almost unable.

“Her, Dad…her,” Owen snapped. It was uncharacteristically disrespectful and entirely true. Rather than react, Danny lowered his head in shame even as he spoke.

“I wanted to teach you to be young Christian men and all the time “I wasn’t at all actin’ like Christ. Your bro….your sister needed love and I’ve let her believe we…I hated her. I am so sorry.” He stammered. Looking up he saw that Glynnis had joined them. She circled around behind Andy and hugged him.

“I think we all need a bit o’ breakfast and some cleanin’ up, yes?” Owen nodded as he and Davey got up and walked over to her. Giving the each a pat on the arm and a light push toward the bedroom door.

“And in a bit we can go over to the other Roberts for a nice meal and maybe finally we call all give your sister the greetin’ she’s been missing. The boys walked out and Glynnis hugged Andy once again.

“Okay?” He put his hand over his shoulder and squeezed her hand without a word…

At the Venturini home… 11:06 AM….

“I’m not she wants to see me, much less deal with everybody and their Grandmother in her business.” Chris shifted uneasily in the driver’s seat; ironically since he preferred to stay home.

“That’s our business and where better to help Hailey than to have friends and family who….understand.” Gina grinned and continued.

“Besides, it’s a nice lunch and we do have to eat.”

“I seem to have lost my keys,” Chris said. He put his hand on the door, but Gina grabbed his free hand; thrusting her keys into his grasp. He settled back, started the van, and backed out of the driveway. He paused, evoking a laugh as Gina used her hand in direction,

“All ahead, full….” He turned to protest again and she pointed ahead once more as she elbowed him with her free arm, earning a giggle from Bonnie who looked up from texting long enough to say at last.


Finally, at the Edwards home, 11:46 am…

“I don’t know about this,” Hailey stared at Cristyn; the girl practically beamed with pride. Dylan just shrugged and lowered her head.

“We need to present you both….” Cristyn smiled; moving her gaze back and forth between the two girls.

“Just like this. I know it’s tempting to overplay, but it’s got to be about you, okay?” Dylan looked up nervously at Hailey; fear still lingering on her face. Hailey smiled and patted her friend on the wrist; her own remaining fears falling off her moment by moment.

“It will be okay. It just has to be,” she said as the extended sound of car doors opening and closing announced the arrival of two families. Gary stood outside closed bedroom door; anxiously moving his gaze to the front door down the hallway.

“Can I come in?”

“It’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding,” Cristyn teased from the other side of the door, causing the boy’s face to darken. Wedding? Fourteen going on fifteen, and he had never even dated a girl; much less thought about any girl. He shook his head at the thought of Dylan; leaving him to be more ashamed and confused than ever.

“Kids? Company!” Danny yelled from the living room; heralding the welcome of multiple Venturinis and Roberts family members. Dylan shook his head and walked down the hall; feeling as nervous, likely, as the three girls who continued to prepare for the coming out party, so to speak.

Meanwhile, apprehensive adults and teens gathered in the living room.

“Where’s Dylan,” Andy snapped at Mefus. Glynnis grabbed his hand and squeezed; her nails digging in just enough to get his attention. They exchanged quick glances; prompting him to turn once again to his sister-in-law contritely.

“Sorry, it was a very long night at our place, so it had to be even longer here, I guess.” Mefus smiled warmly, leaving Andy confused.

“I think…I know that everything you’ve said and done has always because you want the best for her,” she replied; making a point to use the unfamiliar pronoun. Glynnis nodded and rubbed her husband’s arm in encouragement. Andy was tempted to correct her, but recalled his talk with Davey and Owen, and it wasn’t him just conceding, but for the first time, the word her was beginning to make sense. The boys walked over and sized up Gary, who by the was ready to bolt the place in embarrassment.

“You friends with our cousin?” Owen asked. Gary was Crystin’s friend, but everybody was due for a huge surprise, And the idea of even thinking about being anyone’s boyfriend made his face redden; which in turn left the brothers with the entirely wrong conclusion. They were prepared to address that. Davey was barely past his twelfth birthday, but equally newly protective of Dylan. Owen just shook his head, and would have continued but for his father’s hands resting on both their shoulders.

“Let’s go help Uncle Danny with the grilling?” Glynnis shot him a glance that reminded him that everyone surely had to eat, but that they were there for more than food.

“Ah….Dan? Chris…Venturini….. we met when the twins were in U10?” Had he been away most of the time since? Gina walked up and gave Mefua hug.”

“Be…before things… I just wanted to thank you two for all the care you’ve given the twins … ah….” She paused, and the relief of the moment brought her to tears. She had already forgiven Chris, but the accumulation of worries for all their kids was still weighing heavily on her. Mefus patted her back.

“It’s going to be okay. I believe that with all my heart, Mefus said softly. Bonnie had been looking around; a conspiratorial test had given her a heads up about the show which was slated to precede the meal. Mefus noticed, and waved; pointing down the hall.

“They’re expecting you,” she said. As Bonnie hurried down the hall, Gina wiped the tears from her face. Leaning close, she thanked Mefus again before turning to face Chris.

“I’m guessing the meal isn’t quite ready. Why don’t you and Gary take a walk down the street to the convenience store…maybe get some pop… Root Beer if they’ve got it. “ Something so innocuous, but it still evoked a wince from Gary. Chris walked over and went to hug Gary, but he pulled away and ran out of the house. Chris turned to Gina in frustration. She frowned, and despite the awkwardness, spoke.

“What did you expect?” He continued to stare at her. She pulled free from her friend’s hug and walked up to Chris.

“Go after your son. Dammit!” He nodded quickly, and she watched him walk out, Turning around, she found that Mefus had moved closer; her arms open. The charity of the moment broke down the remainder of her defenses and she collapsed in her friend’s embrace; sobbing.

A few minutes later, Chris sat next to Gary on the front steps.

“Why the fuck didn’t you come home?” Gary was overwhelmed; as if the entire year of unshed tears was released in one day in a painful torrent. Chris thought about one more reasonable excuse before shaking his head.

“I….I was afraid.” An odd thing for a combat veteran to say. Gary lifted his head.

“You… afraid? “

“I… wasn’t ready…..” He paused; even that was holding back. Gary frowned.

I didn’t feel…..I knew what I was doing over there… And… I took the easy way out.”

“Easy? And we’re the hard part? Fuck. It feels like we weren’t….we weren’t worth the effort.”

“I’m so sorry….I was so wrong…. “ Another first as Gary saw something… contrition? Chris leaned closer; words were almost a waste of time. He pulled Gary close and wept; not the please-forgive-me-once-again teas, but real disappointment over what he had done. It was as fatherly as he could manage after years of neglect, but I was a beginning….

12:26 pm…

Two picnic benches were moved close together on the patio, and everyone was sitting down; anxiety lessened by some merlot, lemonade, and plates filled with Beef Tenderloin, Corn on Cob and three bean salad. Andy and Chris both chose extra helpings of humble pie. And all parties from all three families awaited the arrival of the day’s debutantes along with their attendants, as Bonnie and Christyn stood by the double doors ready to pull back the vertical blinds.

“I’m bettin’ on my wedding gown,” Mefus said to her sister-in-law. She and Glynnis prayed that whatever trepidation anyone had would not overshadow the acceptance both girls so desperately needed. Still, she could hardly resist the idea of projecting every girl’s dream onto her niece.

Gina, for her part, was relieved that Chris was on board finally, and almost hoped for a real display of her daughter. While neither child disappointed anyone in the reveal; neither were thay remotely predictable. Cristyn and Bonnie slid the doors aside and placed their hands on the blinds.

“Ladies and gentlemen….” They said in unison.

“We give you….. Hailey Venturini and Dylan Edwards!” With that, they pulled the blinds aside; revealing two moderately composed teenage girls. No dramatic gasping, but rather a sedate wonder greeted Dylan and Hailey.

“Oh,” was all Glynnis could manage. Andy shook his head in disbelief. Gina smiled and touched Chris on the forearm. He turned to her and nodded; his eyes misting up in anew pride.

“You….you both look…. Sweet.” Bonnie said. She stepped forward and kissed Hailey’s cheek. Gary smiled a bit broader than normal but his attention was more on his new friend at that moment.

Instead of ‘doing it up’. The girls were dressed in dark tees which barely revealed any newness in their bodies. Each wore long denim skirts that Mefus had in the giveaway-Halloween hanger in the hall closet. Both wore dark ribbons in their hair; Dylan’s short red locks set off by the green and a maroon ribbon that seemed to fade into Hailey’s dark brown tresses.

The only homage to glam was that Cristyn had painted their fingernails and toenails a very pale pink; left exposed with unshod feet. Nevertheless, Hailey looked like a plain young lady; minimal 'decorated' for a pretty girl. Dylan was left without any protection that makeup and clothing would provide; but shining through with nothing but the lovely girl she’d always been finally on display. Owen and Davey resisted the very strong temptation to let down their defenses; crying and brotherly embraces were replaced by nods and smiles that would do for now.

Glynnis nudged Andy, but before they could stand, Dylan had run to them. She sat down on the long bench between them and they both hugged her for all they were worth. The family’s religion fell away that day; replaced by belief that would include doubt mixed with hope and questions mixed with faith pulled together by love. Family.

Gina and Chris practically sprang to their feet; rushing to embrace their child… their daughter together for the first time. Chris tried to speak but the words would not come. But the look in his eyes spoke to Hailey. She turned to her mom and smiled.

“He … he loves me,” she said as she fell into her father’s arms; serenity watered by tears of joy. Not merely acceptance but also the love a parent can give their child. Gina smiled and looked heavenward; mouthing a simple ‘thank you.’

That evening at the Edwards home.

Hailey stood on the next to last step off the front porch. Cristyn sat two steps up; both hands in Hailey’s.

“See you in French class on Monday?” Cristyn asked. Hailey nodded; her face ablush. Cristyn pulled her close and whispered.

“I love you.” She stood up and pulled Hailey closer; kissing her on the cheek and then quickly running into the house. Hailey stood still for a moment before walking to the van.

And Gary stood on the far corner of the porch. He tried to look away, but turned around; hoping and dreading one last moment of the night. He found himself looking into the pale green eyes of Dylan Roberts. Off to her right Andy reminded her brothers not to tease; the first act of a protective father for his there-all-the time-daughter,

“I wanted to thank you,” Dylan said. Gary looked at her askance; confused,

“What for?” He would have stepped back but he was already leaning against the porch column.

“For trying? Anyway… thanks. I gotta go.”

“Okay,” he said. He would have let it go at that but the girls weren’t the only ones with a coming out that day. He smiled before stepping forward; trying to remember everything he had pretended to ignore when his mother watched a rom-com. He grabbed her by both hands and kissed her gently on the lips. Like the first day the met, she turned around and walked away slowly; her eyes brimming with confident tears.

“Got… gotta go too,” Gary said; waving as Dylan disappeared into the house. He walked quickly off the porch, but stopped at the foot of the steps; sighing.

Gina and Chris waited patiently; leaning on the front of the van. She turned to her husband and pointed to Gary’s motionless figure.

“Well, honey…..That’s our boy.” He nodded in agreement but then pointed to Hailey standing and staring at the house as well. Bonnie was standing beside Hailey in a sisterly hug. And Chris said at long last,

“And there's our girls.”

And in the end the words won't matter
'Cause in the end nothing stays the same
And in the end dreams just scatter and fall like rain
'Cause all we are we are
All we are we are
And every day is a start of something beautiful, something real

Please note the final chapter (included herein) of the serial version will be posted sometime over the weekend - Thanks for your patience!

Inspired by ‘Camp You Are You,’ a four day summer camp for non-gender-conforming boys and their parents (the camp name is changed to insure anonymity)

All We Are
words and music by
Marshall Altman and the performer,
Matt Nathanson

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