Matt is starting over at a new school and finds that some of his old problems have followed him.
By Angela Rasch
“Well, school's got good points. I mean, smoking in the bathroom, cutting classes, showing my tattoo to the chicks.” - The Fonz
“Think-of-it-as-an-adventure.” My mother had just uttered the six eeriest words known to mankind.
Oh . . . Mom can be so NOT supportive! I thought.
She and I had just moved all the way across the state to a new city. I would be starting out on the bottom rung of the social ladder in a high school where I wouldn’t know anyone. If only I could go to me new school in the right gender. I’ve always been a girl in a boy’s body.
“It’s not easy for me to make new friends,” I whined. I’d been up for nearly an hour taking special care in selecting clothes for my first day at school. I’d love to wear something sheer and flouncy. The smell of bacon and eggs had me almost feeling less than terrified about the morning.
She smiled and handed me a plate filled with more breakfast than two people could possibly eat. “You’re a great kid. Anyone who wouldn’t want to be friends with you isn’t worth caring about.”
“You have to say that. It’s part of the Mom’s Code.”
“You need to take a good look in the mirror,” she said. “You’re the kindest kid I know. How many other kids would spend almost all their free time working for nothing at the animal shelter, delivering meals to elderly, and tutoring English to immigrant families?”
“Lots of kids do that stuff. What kind of person would I be if I didn’t help those less fortunate than me?”
“Just wear your best smile today,” she continued, shrugging off my assertion that I wasn’t a nominee for the Mother Theresa award. “You only get one chance to make a great first impression.”
A cold breeze caused me to shiver. It would be easier if I was a jock, but jocks don’t come in super-small sizes, like me. And, I still have a high-pitched voice that tells the world that the puberty fairy hasn’t made a visit. I’m pretty good at writing. If that ever becomes a sport I’ll be all-conference.
“Over eighty-nine percent of your new school’s graduates get a bachelor’s degree within four years.”
“Aren’t you supposed to graduate from college in four years?” I asked.
She laughed ruefully. “The four-year college degree is becoming a myth. Only about twenty percent of college students earn a degree in four years. Our family finances are tight. I’m willing to help out as much as I can with your college expenses, but it’s going to necessary that you can get in and out in four years, or less.”
I glanced at the clock and saw that I had five minutes to be at the corner to catch the school bus. It had only been six blocks to my old high school, so riding a school bus was something I’d only done before on field trips. I’d never imagined going to high school on a bus, but then again, I’d never thought Dad would die, Mom would get a new job in a new city, and I would have to be the dreaded “new kid” in school.
“You look sweet,” Mom gushed, while pushing an errant hair off my face.
Sweet! Like that’s gonna attract a friend! I grimaced.
“I meant ‘handsome,’” she covered ineffectually.
She’s really a great mom. When I first told her how I thought about my gender dilemma she seemed to understand better than I did. Together we read everything we could find about it. If only we had the money for me to transition. I grabbed my backpack and headed for the door. “See you tonight, if I survive.”
“You’ll do marvelously!” she called after me, once again fulfilling her Code.
She knows how I feel. But outside of a miracle what can anyone really do about it?
I’d just gotten to my assigned bus stop when a big yellow bus with the words “Central High Spartans” on it hissed to a stop and the door opened.
The steps into the bus were made for someone about six inches taller than me, but I used the handrail to yank myself up and into its cavern. Like a lot of other things in life, the people who designed the bus only had big males in mind.
There were exactly four spots open for me to sit. I rejected two options as being “GU” (Gargantuan Undesirable) due to the humungous person occupying the other half of the seat). They were man-children, sporting beard stubble. My pituitary glands are on hold, while theirs are obviously over-stimulated.
That left me the choice of sitting with an elementary school student with a runny nose, or with . . . her.
She shouldn’t be on a bus. A girl as beautiful as her should always be on top of a float with a scepter in her hand . . . wherever she goes!
“Do you mind?” I squeaked, opting for disease-free nirvana.
“Do you mind?” One of the Neanderthals mimicked, with a cruel laugh.
“Ethan!” she admonished. She patted the seat next to her with a hand whose nails sparkled like jewels. One of the ten tiny pink gems pointed toward my backpack which I had placed on the floor at my feet, after I plunked down next to her. “I don’t think I’ve heard of Lincoln High. Is that where you went last year?”
“It’s probably where his father went,” I heard come from the general direction of the boy who had just laughed at me.
Embarrassed because my feet didn’t reach the floor when I sat, I pitched my voice as low as possible. “My dad did go to Lincoln High, thirty years ago, but that’s my backpack from last school year. I’m a sophomore. Lincoln High is in Springfield. We moved here after Dad died and Mom took a new job.”
Her perfume is amazing. My mother usually smells nice, but not at all as wonderful as. . .. It’s a little like the perfume Mom gave me for my last birthday, that I use on our special nights when we watch old movies together -- and I wear my nightie that she keeps for me in a special drawer in her room.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” the most beautiful lips in the world stated. “My name is Megan.” She stuck out her hand. “I’m a sophomore, too. We’re the only sophomores who take this particular bus. It’s mainly filled with juniors and seniors -- and a few kids for the junior high. In two weeks, the school parking lot will finally be re-paved and this bus will be almost empty. All the older kids drive.”
Her eyes are awesome. I wonder if she’s wearing special sapphire contacts because I’ve never seen eyes that perfect; I’d give anything if I could look like her.
“Hey twerp,” a brutish voice called from behind me. I turned to see a third giant that I’d missed sighting when I got on. “Has anyone explained the kind of discipline our school has?”
I nodded. Mom had told me that the school felt its students’ fantastic success was based in its strict discipline. In fact, Mom had to sign a waiver that allowed the school to take steps that other schools would never consider. I hadn’t paid much attention because I’d never gotten a detention and didn’t think there would be any situation at my new school that would cause me to suddenly go rogue.
“You’re cute enough to be someone’s prom date if you fuck up enough,” he chortled.
“Language!” cautioned the bus driver frowning back at us in her mirror.
“Ethan, you don’t have to be so annoying.” After reprimanding the jerk in the back of the bus, Megan turned to me. “You are cute enough to be someone’s date,” she said while squeezing my hand, “but not like he means. You don’t look like a troublemaker.”
I’m not sure what they’re talking about but her hand feels nice. “Matthew,” I said quietly. “My name is Matthew, but it would be okay if you call me Matt.”
“As in door ‘mat,’” Ethan snorted.
I shook my head and closed my eyes. I’m not sure how to feel. I expected to run into guys like Ethan, but not so soon. Yet, Megan is really nice and seems interested in me. We could be friends. If only.
“Don’t mind Ethan,” Megan said. “He likes to think he’s the SBB -- school’s best bully. When he grows up he wants to be the town drunk.”
“That laugh just signed your death warrant,” Ethan growled. “I’ll be waiting for you after school to rearrange that smile on your face.”
“Ethan,” Megan stated, “you will mind your manners, or. . .. Well you know what will happen if you don’t.” She poked my arm. “Don’t worry about him.”
Easy for you to say. I know bullies, and I know he’ll be waiting for me. Bullies always rule. And, people like me always suffer in silence.
“What homeroom do you have?” She asked.
I pulled the yellow postcard I’d received out of my backpack. It listed my classes, teachers, and homeroom. “It says I’m in room 204.”
“That’s my homeroom, too,” she said with a smile.
“What a huge coincidence.”
“Huge coincidence,” Ethan mocked me again. “Each class has two homerooms. The odds were fifty percent that you’d be in Megan’s homeroom.”
I’d forgotten how small a high school I’ll be going to.
“Don’t lose your class card,” Megan cautioned.
“Uh huh, dork,” Ethan added. “Losing your class card would be a major screw-up that would get you sliding toward a ‘felony’ conviction from Principal ‘Goon’?”
Megan turned and stared Ethan down. “His name is Principal Gowan. He’s a really great guy who cares a lot about us students.”
“You’re a suck-up,” Ethan snarled. “Principal ‘Goon’ only cares about his stupid rules.”
“Are you still upset about what he made you do as a freshman?” One of the other huge boys asked.
“Wouldn’t you be?” Ethan questioned. “That was six of the longest weeks of my life. My dad almost threw me out of the house.”
“I’d never give “Goon” the chance to do that to me. I’m not that stupid,” the other boy retorted.
“Fuck you,” Ethan snarled and stood with his fist ready.
“Stay in your seats until the bus comes to a full stop,” the lady bus driver shouted. All the boys who had risen out of their seats to prepare for a fistfight silently and immediately sat down.
Wow! Maybe the discipline in this school is tight.
“Let me help you find your locker,” Megan said after we pulled up in front of the school. “It’s a small high school, but it’s had so many additions built on that it’s easy to become lost.”
I stood in the aisle, and then bent over to collect my backpack. Unfortunately, I was shoved from behind causing my backpack to spew its content on the bus floor. Several people knelt to help me collect my things, including Ethan. Perhaps he’s not such a bad guy. Having gotten myself together I got off the bus to start my new life.
“Are you getting frisky, Howard?” - Marion
Megan and I started out on the way to my assigned locker, but before we got too far the intercom blared a request for me to come to the Principal’s office, so she didn’t get a chance to show me around.
“The office is down this hall passed two water fountains. Then take a right. Go about fifty feet and take a left. After you pass the auditorium on the left, the office is on the right.
She grabbed my hand, and then squeezed it. “You seem a lot like me. I’m happy you’re going to be going to Central High. See you in class. Are you taking Chemistry and Trigonometry?”
I nodded. By taking those two classes I was indicating that I was on a fast track and would be taking mostly AP classes as a senior. Megan must have good grades, too.
“I thought so,” she smiled. “I’ll sit next to you in Chemistry; maybe we can be lab partners.”
My mind was concentrating on Megan and not so much on the instructions she gave me for finding the office. Five minutes later the bell rang leaving me in a deserted hall -- still trying to locate the Principal’s office. I stumbled around for about ten more minutes before finding a janitor who pointed at a door not fifteen feet from where I was standing.
“It’s the one with the sign over it that says, ‘Principal’s Office’,” he smirked.
The Principal’s receptionist stopped pounding at her keyboard long enough to frown at me. “If you’re Matthew P. Lawrence, you’re late. If you’re not Matthew P. Lawrence, who the heck are you -- and why are you in my school?”
“I’m Matthew. . .” I started, but was interrupted when a huge man with an extra-long clipboard launched himself at me.
“Matthew,” he pointed toward an inner office, “get in here. I’m supposed to be in a meeting with a group of mothers who want to change the morning starting time. Everyone’s an expert these days . . . except those of us who went to school for nineteen years to achieve our doctorate. Why are you late?”
“I wasn’t late,” I responded.
“You were supposed to be in my office before the first bell at 8:20, didn’t you read the Student Handbook?”
I shifted nervously in my chair. I’d glanced through the Handbook, but figured it was mostly for kids who hadn’t been in a high school before.
He shoved a paper toward me on his clipboard. “I need your Matthew P. Lawrence on this. It states that you’ve read the Student Handbook and understand that you could be disciplined according to Central High’s unique program. Your mother signed and returned her copy. I like to witness each student’s signature so there can be no quibbling when the human waste smacks into the rotating blades of the overhead fan.” He smiled as if he’d shared a joke with me.
Not wanting to admit that I was not only late for our meeting AND wasn’t prepared by reading the Handbook completely, I hurriedly signed the paper and pushed it back across his desk.
“It’s unfortunate that I’m going to have to give you a full demerit for being late,” he said, “but your records from Springfield suggest that you won’t be getting into any more trouble. In fact, you seem to be an ideal student who will be an asset for our Central High community. You’re a little small for a freshman.” He took a drink of what smelled like coffee.
“I’m actually a sophomore,” I said respectfully.
He glanced at my file. “I see that, now.” He wrote something in my file, and then looked up. “I’m going to need to give you a hall pass. What’s your first-period class and who’s the instructor?”
“It’s American History,” I said.
“We have two sections of American History,” he stated. “Your teacher’s name is on the yellow card we sent to you.”
“I’ve got that right here,” I said, and opened my backpack.
“Of course, you do. The Student Handbook is quite specific that you have to keep that card with you for the entire first week. That rule has cut down the number of office inquiries by nearly thirty-eight percent. We can serve you better when you take personal responsibility and don’t tie up our precious time with things you should be able to handle on your own.”
While he ranted, I rummaged frantically through my backpack, but wasn’t able to find the card. “That’s odd. I had it on the bus. Megan asked me about my homeroom and. . .”
“Megan?” His face broke into a wide grin. “Megan’s a fine girl. I supervise the Student Council; and I’ve enjoyed working with her on several civic projects. Fine girl.”
I sat in awkward silence while he obviously was thinking too much about an attractive student.
“Uhmmmm,” he finally said. “Look one more time. I would hate to have to give you three demerits for losing your card. Three demerits plus the demerit for being late would add up to a ‘felony’ which is punishable in one of three ways . . . but you already know all that because you read the Student Handbook. The first way is a three-day suspension. Or, you could spend up to four months doing civic work on your weekends. And, of course, there are the special punishments for bullying . . . or making derogatory remarks about someone who is being punished for bullying. We have zero tolerance.”
I nodded again, trying to cover for not reading the Handbook.
“But, you saw the pictures of the transformations in the Handbook and read our reasons for taking such drastic measures. We’re proud of our results and don’t mind sharing them with the parents.”
My face felt hot. “I must have lost the yellow card. . .”
He shook his head. “Okay . . . I’m going to cut you a break. I have to give you the three mandatory demerits for losing the card, but I’m going to let the other demerit slide. Keep your nose clean and it won’t be a problem for you.”
“I must have lost the card when someone pushed me. . .”
“Someone pushed you?” His eyes went wide.
“Did I say ‘pushed’?” I back-tracked, thinking about what happens when a large object hits a smaller object. “It probably was an accident because everyone helped me pick up everything. I’m pretty sure it was an accident. Things like that happen when everyone’s trying to get off the bus.”
“We don’t have “pushing” on our buses,” he snapped. “Mrs. Jenks please run a new yellow card for Mister Lawrence,” he called to the receptionist.” He clicked a few keys on his computer, and then grunted. “You’re in Tompkin’s History class. You’re in for a treat. She’s the best. Her thoughts on the Battle of. . .. Lovely woman. Lovely woman, Miss Tompkins.” His eyes glazed over again while he scribbled on a hall pass. “Make sure to get the proper Late Student form signed by her and returned by 4:00 this afternoon to this office. Mrs. Jenks has a supply at her desk. It will complete what I like to call one of our Circles-of-Life.”
He smiled again like he’d told me a joke. “Mrs. Jenks, will you please stand in for me with the PTA group. They’re in room 244. Don’t make any promises. Gather their information and give them my regrets. Also, can you get Toni Schroeder on the phone?”
“She’s probably en route picking up kindergarten students,” she said, with what sounded like caution in her voice. She handed me a new yellow card and a pink form headed “Late Student” with “Miss Tompkins – Amr. Hist.” typed on it with my full name.
“She’ll pull over her bus to talk to me,” Mr. Gowan said. He turned to me. “Get that form back to Mrs. Jenks this afternoon. I NEVER make two exceptions for anyone in the same day.”
“Sit on it.” - Joanie
I clutched the Late Student form and set off to find room 388, where I would be late for my first class. I had my replacement yellow card safely tucked in my backpack in a spot where it would never get misplaced again. It’s probably on the floor of the bus.
Geez! I’m off to a great start. The school bully is going to punch out my lights after school and I’m already three-fourths of the way to a major punishment. And, the principal didn’t seem to like me very much. He’s seemingly biased toward females. Now I can’t find my classroom.
The bell rang and I found myself surrounded by students whose determined pace indicated they knew where they were going.
“Hey, Matt! What happened to you?” Megan was standing ten feet away with her hands on her hips.
“I had trouble finding the Principal’s office. Then I found out I had lost my yellow card. Then I couldn’t find room 388.” My voice trembled. I was on the verge of tears.
Megan first pointed toward the door she obviously had just come out of. “Room 388 is also known as the lecture hall.”
I shook my head and noted that the doors to the room didn’t have numbers. “I have to get a Late Student form signed by Miss Tompkins.”
“She left early. I was in charge of the class for the last ten minutes. You’ll have to go to the office to get a new form from Mrs. Jenks. Have her put my name in the spot for Miss Tompkins since I was the temporary teacher.”
“Are you sure?”
“Uh huh, that’s how it’s done. You better hurry to the office. We have chemistry next and I want to make sure we get assigned as lab partners. Go to the office, get the new form, get a Late Student form for chemistry class as well, and don’t get lost again. The chem lab is right there.” She pointed across the hall at a room behind me that had that distinctive odor of a chemistry classroom. “You can’t miss it.”
I laughed, but when the bell rang I realized that I had to hurry and took off for the office again.
When I finally got to the Principal’s office, after what seemed like hours of stumbling around the school searching, it was empty.
I sat on the floor outside the office and pondered my fate. I’d been in the building for about two hours, got lost repeatedly, and accomplished absolutely nothing. In about five hours I was going to get my face massaged by the knuckles of one of the school bullies. I was late for my second class and seemingly on a never-ending downward spiral of trouble – one of my Circles of Life.
This is all a sign. I might as well skip school today and go somewhere where I can plan a future. Megan’s nice, but she probably isn’t interested in a guy like me, anyway, even as a friend. I stood, and then started in a direction that I thought might be correct for finding the front door. If I ever get out of this building, I’ll figure out what to do for the rest of the day. Maybe a coffee shop or. . ..
“Mr. Lawrence,” a voice boomed from down the hall. I turned to see Principal Gowan walking at a brisk pace toward me.
“I got lost again,” I offered. I looked up at him. He’s more than a foot taller than me.
“Wow,” he marveled. “Talk about starting out on the wrong foot. I was just going to call you back to the office – so you saved me the effort.”
He opened the iPad he was carrying. “Mrs. Schroeder was able to email the video from your bus to me. We have cameras on our buses that run all the time. It’s part of our overall discipline program. Last year we reduced the amount of bus related disciplinarian complaints by forty-eight percent due to that video system.”
“Uh huh! Take a look at this video that starts after you got up from your seat to get off the bus. The not too intelligent-looking buffoon who’s obviously shoving you is Ethan Monroe. Now watch his right hand. See how he picks up your yellow form and sticks it in his jacket pocket. I’d say we got him red-handed.”
“That explains where it went.”
He nodded. “Ethan is on his way down from class. His parents have already been notified. This is his second major offense for bullying. Last year he was picking on girls so mercilessly that we had him take a pill that changed him into a girl for six weeks.”
“You changed him into a girl?” Lucky stiff!
“We’re part of an experimental program for the FBI. It’s part of the witness protection program. The pills make you look like you would look, if you’d been born in the opposite gender.”
I don’t believe him. He somehow knows how I feel; and is teasing me.
“We thought he’d become a changed person. His grades went up seventeen percent and he had a forty-one percent improvement in what we call citizen quotient.” He looked passed me. “Mr. Monroe,” he said to someone coming up behind me.
I turned to see Ethan ambling toward us.
“Squealer,” the mammoth boy to me said in a menacing way.
“Nope,” Mr. Gowan countered, “the bus tapes caught you.”
“The bus tapes! Damn.” Ethan slapped his own forehead.
Mr. Gowan handed Ethan a purple pill. “I’ve already talked to your father. He’s aware that this time your pill will transform you for three months. I have his electronic signature on the necessary forms. Mrs. Jenks is waiting for you in the girls’ room. She has a change of clothing waiting for you.”
“I won’t,” Ethan said without a lot of conviction.
“You will,” Mr. Gowan said firmly. Do you remember how many boys it took to hold you down last time? Do you want to go through that again, with all of them watching you go through the change?”
Ethan shook his head. He took the pill, stooped over a water fountain, and then obviously swallowed it, -- and then he went into the girls’ bathroom just down the hall . . . where Mrs. Jenks supposedly was waiting for him.
“You might be startled by the change in Ethan,” Mr. Gowan said. “We don’t like to have to do this. It sends mixed messages to our students. On the one hand, bullies can’t be tolerated. On the other hand, some people might think that we’re suggesting being a female is a punishment.”
“It wouldn’t be for me,” I said before I’d taken a second to think. Oh my God! I can’t believe I said that.
“Really?” Mr. Gowan asked, looking at me pensively.
The door to the girls’ room opened and a pretty girl with about the same facial structure, skin-tone, and hair color as Ethan, stepped out. She was wearing a mid-thigh skater skirt with a translucent blouse that allowed a hint of the delicate bra underneath that held breasts that were as full as my mother’s. She wore lip gloss and a dainty gold necklace. She stood taller than average, but seemed quite feminine.
She blushed when she saw me. “I’m sorry, Matthew. I didn’t learn my lesson last time. I guess instead of playing quarterback, I’ll be in the dance line this fall.”
“You look much better, err. . .Ethan. You picked Vicki as your name two years ago,” Mr. Gowan said, giving her an appreciative stare.
“Yes, Mr. Gowan. I want to be called Vicki, again, if that’s okay with you.”
He nodded. “I’ll tell Mrs. Jenks to update your records.”
“I’d better get back to class,” Vicki said with a smile. She stopped, and then turned toward me. Her smile was brilliant. “Can we have lunch together, Matthew? I need to make it up for you for being so mean. I’ll buy.”
I felt myself smiling. She seems almost as nice as Megan.
Once she was gone, Mr. Gowan turned toward me. “You didn’t read the Student Handbook did you?”
I felt my face turn red while I shook my head. “Not entirely.”
“No one ever does. Do you have the Handbook with you?”
“It’s in my backpack.”
“Your Handbook contains a map of the school. You won’t get lost again, if you simply use the map.” He smiled. “Considering everything, I’m going to wipe your slate clean. I’m going to waive all the Late Student forms for you today as well.”
I’m almost disappointed he’s taking away my demerits. I wouldn’t mind being punished like Ethan. “Thank you. Will Vicki have to take pills every day?”
“Nope, one pill does it all. There are different pills for different durations. We had a boy two years ago who came out as trans. He took one pill and ten seconds later became . . . Megan. It was a permanent change. She doesn’t mind if people know that she’s transitioned. She’s one of about three percent of our students who have decided to take the pill voluntarily.”
“That sounds wonderful!” Did I really say that out loud?
He looked at me for a moment. “We have terrific guidance counselors, if there’s something you’d like to talk about.”
I nodded slowly.
He pointed to the left. “Go down to the very end of this hall and take the last hallway on the right a hundred steps to. . .. Why don’t I walk with you? Sometimes the hardest place for students to find is our guidance counselor’s office. They can be very helpful. We want you to be one hundred percent happy.”
“Hey I'm not the dreamer! I'm the dreamee! AAAAAAAY!” – The Fonz
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