Texas Two-Step

Angel has been orphaned and forced to move to live with his uncle. He had been a standout athlete in Illinois and is having trouble finding a fit in Pecos. Angel had played soccer, which isn’t even an option in this football-crazed, Texas town. He finds a job in a Dairy Queen, but mainly due to a misunderstanding his life goes off in a new direction.


Texas Two-Step

by Angela Rasch

Prologue

“Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas is called ‘walking.’
” - George W. Bush

Texans don’t avoid confrontation. In fact, their traditional dance, the Texas Two-Step requires couples to face nose-to-nose, rather than with their heads held side-by-side like those Yankees do with their effeminate strutting. Men are men, and women are women, when doing the two-step.

***

The last clear thought Mia had — was deciding that she would drink as much free liquor as the man with the slippery smile would buy. He had a name, probably several, but it was easier for Mia not to try to remember. Despite him making a big (and obviously practiced) show of putting her number in his phone, she knew that he would never call her. The ring on his finger suggested that keeping promises wasn’t his strong suit.

The best she could hope for was that when he demanded sex at the end of the night that he would be somewhat gentle. Not that she was going to resist, but some of the bastards she’d partied with weren’t happy tell they roughed you up a little to make sure you understood who was calling the shots. She accepted the widely held view that women who go to honky-tonks by themselves invite mayhem.

With sex, drinking, and dancing in her rearview mirror, Mia wrestled against the urge to pass out by gripping the steering wheel tightly. Her heeled, hand-tooled boots squeezed against bruised toes and her legs questioned when they could finally rest, with gentle spasms and slight cramping. His cheap and now unwelcome cologne fought to preserve its home on her blouse.

Work the next day would be rough. Teaching was never easy. Forcing math on ninth grade idiots was fraught with challenges. Not trigonometry. Not geometry. Not even algebra. She taught “math.” Adding. Subtracting. Multiplying. Dividing. Her students were getting one last shot at basic math skills before they would be shoved out the door at sixteen into the unsuspecting job market. The dumbest of the dumb. No damn wonder I drink. I deserve a little fun.

Fuck’em. I try my best. She would offer up simple math problems based on concepts they seemingly would find interesting. Since most of them centered their lives on football, she would ask, “If your running back went off-tackle for four yards on first down, how many more yards do you need to gain for a first down?” It would seem simple to subtract four yards from the ten-yard gain needed for a first down and yell out, “Six”, but more often than not her low-grade morons would mumble something like “Pass” or “Bring in better blockers.”

“Here’s another math problem,” Mia struggled to enunciate, while she squinted at the road ahead. “What do you get when you take one god-awful teacher and add in her brother, the best football coach in Reeves County?” She waited a few seconds, either to build suspense or because she was having trouble connecting her mental dots. “A ‘predicament,’ ” she finally answered, and then laughed ruefully, while burping a pungent bubble of gin and tonic mixed with “authentic, Mexican” tacos.

Her principal had used the word “predicament” to explain to her why she hadn’t been fired when she received her second DWI that year. Everyone knew that Pecos High School was lucky to have her brother as their football coach. Without him and the amazing teams he produced, their 30,000-seat football stadium wouldn’t be packed every Friday night. When he signed on as a coach, he brought along nine relatives for various jobs within the district, including Mia.

There had been some voter resistance against building a 30,000-seat arena in a county that only held 13,907, according to the latest census.

“Hell, even combining Pecos, Barstow, and Toyah — there’s less than six hundred kids in the high school,” the leader of the anti-vote had stated. “Even if you have every kid in school on some dance line, band, or cheer squad -- or on some Landry peewee football team playing at halftime – even if all their relatives, including second cousins, showed up, you’ll never come close to filling that stadium.”

If you considered that Pecos’ voters had turned thumbs down on the preceding five referendums for much-needed projects, the odds of them approving any spending levy had seemed abysmally low.

As often is the case in west Texas, the voices of reason and logic proved to be dead wrong.

Not only did they build, and eventually fill, that edifice -- but ticket scalpers did a brisk business. When Pecos played some of the schools who traveled well, like Odessa or Midland, they could have sold another 10,000 seats.

Football provided context to the lives of the citizens of this otherwise meaningless, West Texas, river town.

Perhaps it was the famous Pecos Bills’ logo that attracted legions of fans. In a rare stroke of generosity, four generations before Mia moved to Pecos, the Disney people had granted the football team unlimited use of Pecos Bill’s image. There was something about that ill-mannered cowboy with a roll-your-own cigarette hanging from his lower lip that seemed to provide the perfect logo for a high school football team. Somebody said that when you attended the Texas State Fair you couldn’t go twenty steps without eyeing someone in Pecos Bills’ gear. And, the Texas State Fair was held 425 miles away, in Dallas. Dealerships within a one-hundred-mile radius of Pecos knew they had to stock their lots with Pecos Bill’s-blue cars with gold interiors.

Stores in Pecos listed their hours of operation with an asterisk. *WE ARE CLOSED ANYTIME THE BILLS ARE PLAYING. HOME OR AWAY.

Even “Pour Judgment” the wettest watering hole for miles around, closed an hour before kick-off and opened when the first fan got there after the last whistle, and the bar staff never left before the fifth quarter festivities had concluded. The “fifth” quarter consisted of a sing-a-long for the crowd with the high school band playing: El Paso, Deep in the Heart of Texas, and The Yellow Rose of Texas. No one got out of their seat until they had channeled their inner Marty Robbins.

A brief moment of guilt caused her to glance at her watch. Numbers swam before her eyes. A check of the horizon indicated that the sun would be up in less than an hour. The bell for her first class would ring at 8:15.

Mia yanked the steering wheel of her Chevy Sonic when she thought she saw her first husband jump out of the ditch in front of her car. That would have been quite a stunt, because he had moved to Portland, Maine and would have moved further away from her had he not run out of money. Even more lethally salient was the unforgiving fact that Mia was at that moment driving across a bridge with inadequate safety railings, 132 feet above the Pecos River.

Her principal’s “predicament” came to a watery conclusion several moments later when she buried her car face down in the Pecos River. The eerie silence during her free fall allowed Mia to regret the $14.99 she’d spent that afternoon on an Ultra wash and wax at the Superstation.

Over ninety percent of Texans buckle-up. Mia, a member of the defiant minority, had sworn off seatbelts on her seventeenth birthday and was launched through the windshield on impact. She unconsciously embraced a brutal change in her morning’s lesson plan.

Her students would soon learn that one minus one equals zero.

Chapter One

“Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.” - John Steinbeck

“I am so screwed,” I said to no one, while I meandered the streets of Pecos hunting for a part-time job. “I’ve been looking everywhere in this grotesque-excuse-for-a-town for three days. I’ve searched for anything resembling a worthwhile part-time job -- and have come up empty. It’s just part of my run of rotten luck to get here two weeks after school has let out for summer. All the jobs have already been taken. If I can’t find someplace to work, I won’t be able to pay the insurance premiums on my car -- and my jerk uncle says I can’t drive it without coverage.”

“My Uncle John is a dick!” I stated to the air around me.

He had told me within five minutes of my arriving that I wasn’t his kind of guy. “You’re a major embarrassment. Boys who don’t play football don’t belong in Pecos,” he’d shouted. He had a big picture of himself in his Pecos’ football gear on the wall of his insurance agency.

As if I’d had any choice about coming here! I thought.

He said I would bring shame on him and asked that I keep out of his sight, as long as I stayed under his roof.

Then he said, “In Pecos, boys play footballs and girls fuck the players. You’re either a fuckee or a fucker.”

Am I supposed to magically become someone completely different?

He used a magnet to post his daily schedule on the refrigerator, and then stipulated that I do everything possible to avoid being around him. The two of us would live in the same house, but maintain total avoidance.

“I’m willing to have you in my home,” he moaned, “because circumstances dictate that I have to, but nothing says I have to let you make my life miserable.”

It’s not like I’m going to miss talking to that homophobic asshat. He thinks he’s handsome, but I think he looks like a slob when he dresses like a teenager in his hoodies and sweatpants. He hates himself. After I was around him for five minutes, I could smell despair.

I have to find a job so I can drive. My car means everything to me. It reminded me of what had been my personal identity pre-Pecos. My car had been the coolest ride in Mokena, Illinois. A vintage 1989, red Volkswagen Corrado, that my Uncle Mike had given it to me -- supposedly as congratulations for making first team Illinois all-state for boys’ soccer and a finalist for Mr. Soccer. Mike had been a college wrestler and always spoke of the importance of the life lessons learned from sports. However, he never seemed to have time to work out and had a small paunch from too many sundaes.

I later realized that the car was his way of apologizing for tossing me out of his house and shipping me off to West Nowheresville, Texas. It was his wife, Aunt Sarah, who had made the decision -- based on her desire to travel. She wanted to see Europe, the Far East, and Australia. The only thing that had stood in her way was an intruding nephew living with them. “I don’t blame him, or her, for that matter,” I whispered to myself. “It hurts because I thought she and I were pals.”

Sarah was okay. She was my mom’s sister and had been her best friend. One weird night about a year ago, the three of us had been watching an old movie on TV. It starred Dustin Hoffman and was called “Tootsie.” Sarah kept poking me and saying things like, “You’d be more convincing than him.” She then proposed a bet that she could dress me up and make me look enough like a woman, so that I could go with the two of them to a local bar and have a shot of tequila. “You’re about the same size as your mother,” she said. “We would be three hot senoritas.”

Mom had several wigs, because of her chemo treatments and Sarah thought I would look good as a blonde, instead of my natural jet-black hair. It took Mom almost an hour to talk Sarah out of her prohibited plan.

I had been scared to death that Sarah would prevail, but to be honest I was more curious how I’d look, than anything. She and Mom had mentally picked out the “perfect” dress for me to wear, with matching high-heeled shoes. They had spent several excruciating minutes debating foundation garments and panty styles, when Mom saw the look on my face and finally got a dose of reality. She called a halt to the nonsense.

Other than that I always thought Sarah had been the perfect spouse in that she was totally supportive of Mike.

It had been funny how contagious their amusement had become when they teased me. If I hadn’t been so afraid of what everyone would think, I would have gladly gone along with the fun.

I need a job!
I’d interviewed for three crappy, Pecos jobs and had been told I was either “too puny” or “just not the kind of kid we normally hire.” My mind wondered a bit about how I could have plummeted so quickly from having a dream part-time job, and being one of the most popular kids in school —with two more years of kickass high school soccer to look forward to – to being a nobody with nothing going for me. I had been counting on a soccer scholarship for college, and now had no idea how I would be able to pay the looming tuitions.

Pecos High School doesn’t have a soccer team. They don’t even have a recreational soccer league here. And, the good people in Pecos evidently think cars made by Germans are an attempt to subvert our government. They don’t even have a VW dealership. Nothing seems to matter in Pecos other than the ubiquitous “football.”

“I don’t know a thing about football,” I sighed. “And, even though my small body and slight build weren’t dis-qualifiers for soccer, I would get killed on a football team, who brags that its offensive linemen average over three hundred pounds each.” I was quoting a weight statistic from a billboard advertising the upcoming season. I can’t even imagine what a guy who weighs about three times as me looks like.

I stopped whining to myself when I noticed the familiar Dairy Queen logo a block ahead of me. My Uncle Mike, the one who had given me the car, owned a Dairy Queen and I worked for him since I had been ten. If I wasn’t playing soccer, back in Mokena, I had been making blizzards, sundaes, and chocolate-dipped cones. I’d worked my way up to store assistant manager in one of the most successful Dairy Queens in Illinois. Kids in Mokena all wanted to work at the DQ, because everyone went there. The DQ slogan was “Hot Eats - Cool Treats” but on Mokena it could have accurately been “Hot Chicks - Cool Kids” even though it didn’t rhyme.

I didn’t think there would be DQs in Texas!
“At least, that sign looks friendly – and this place smells like home,” I said with a smile, after I opened the door and took in the intoxicating aroma of potatoes deep-frying in vegetable oil blended with soybean oil. However, the interior of the store was done in blue and gold instead of the traditional Dairy Queen ten and brown with minimal red.

The windows needed to be washed, the floor was dirty, the upholstery on the chairs needed to be replaced, and everyone’s uniforms were either frayed or stained. There was some evidence of “pigging” where an employee had damaged equipment apparently due to boredom or poor morale. The average customer probably wouldn’t notice, but it all makes me wonder.

“May I help you?” An attractive girl wearing the familiar blue-on-blue Dairy Queen drive-thru garb asked. Her hand was poised over the cash register to tap in my order.

“Hi, my name is Angel. I. . .ah. . .I’m actually looking for work,” I stammered, lost for a moment in enviable eyes that mocked the lackluster blue of her uniform.

The corners of her lips laughed at some untold joke. “You must be new in town. Everyone working at this Dairy Queen is either a cheerleader -- or is one of the Bills’ Boosters.”

I quickly glanced at the seven girls who were working the front of the Dairy Queen. Each was a beauty in her own right. Thankfully three of them had skin the color of mine, which belayed the theory of racial prejudice that had been haunting me. “Oh, I didn’t know about having to be a cheerleader. Maybe I could be the exception? I was the assistant manager in a Dairy Queen back home in Illinois. I’ve got six years’ experience and. . ..”

She studied me in awkward silence for a moment, and then grinned broadly at some unspoken private joke. “If you did something with your hair you’d probably make the cheer squad,” she opined, “and you’d have to dress better and get over your Tomboy phase.”

My hand shot to my shoulder-length hair, while I felt my face redden. My long hair hadn’t been a problem in Illinois, but since coming to Texas a week ago I hadn’t seen one other boy with hair over his ears. She isn’t the first person to mistake me for a girl in this backward community. I don’t care what they think — if they give me a decent job.

I suddenly also became aware of my pink T-shirt. Our school colors, back in Mokena, were Red and White. Our soccer coach had gotten fed up with the smell of practice clothes that hadn’t been washed often enough. He gave each of us a mesh laundry bag with our name stenciled on it. Twice a week our manager collected our bags and tied the strings. He then threw the bags into the washer. Each bag contained white T-shirts and red shorts, so by the end of the season, everything that had been white was pink. Everyone on our team wore pink gear.

The blue Mokena High Unicorn logo, which has faded to purple, probably also seems feminine. Clothes just haven’t been a big deal to me. I’ve always been so busy with soccer and work. I just bought most of what I needed online. At least that way I could find things small enough to fit me.

“I’m Emily,” the girl behind the counter said.

I knew that from her name-tag.

She turned to the left to smile at a large boy who had just come in. I noticed a small tattoo under her right ear. It was clearly a tiny football.

Girls had always been friendly enough with me, but it never seemed to be the right time to ask any of them out on a date. She probably prefers big, cute guys, like him.

The closer he got, the more I realized that he probably was one of the advertised football players.

She made an extra-large vanilla cone for the mountain before turning back to me to continue our conversation. “Look, Angel. You’re pretty enough, already. . .,” she started to say, when a man in his forties pushed open the swinging half-doors that separated the serving area from the kitchen. He had been manning the French fry vats. Before he stepped out I watched him switch the heat on the vats to automatic.

Four hundred and eighty calories per serving, but millennials love them.

“Angel . . . Did I hear you tell Emily that you’ve been an assistant manager of a Dairy Queen?” His face displayed real interest that would have been creepy had I not been applying for a job.

I nodded. “For the last two years, I was an assistant manager. But, I can do every job in the store. If you have a need in back, on the fry line, I’d be delighted to. . ..”

“I’m Tony, the owner of this zoo.” He smiled broadly while shaking my hand more gently than I would have expected. “Here’s the deal. I’m a Bills’ backer. He pointed to a huge sign on the wall that indicated that he had donated $25,000 to the foundation that had provided the seed money to build a new stadium. “As part of being a Bills’ backer, I give jobs to Bills’ cheerleaders and pep squad members. That works out good for me -- because they draw customers, but their hearts really aren’t in selling Dilly Bars as much as they love flirting with the football players who come in for a Bacon Cheese Grillburger.” He winked.

Dairy Queens franchises are a license to steal, but the major larceny is in selling treats to-go: Dilly Bars, DQ Sandwiches, and Buster Bars have profit margins that are exceeded only by the enormity of their calorie counts. I quickly glanced at the tiny waists on the girls he’d hired and concluded that they weren’t indulging in his premium products and probably lacked passion for selling them.

I had kept my body fat under three percent through self-control and DQ abstinence.

“Do you think I could count on you to help me increase my off-sales?” He asked without looking too greedy.

“The store I helped run in Illinois was number two in the state in profit margins and number three in gross sales.” I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging.

Emily’s eyes had glazed over from listening to our shop talk. I’ve met girls like her before. They think the world is rigged in their favor. . .but she appears to be nice enough to share her winnings with those who really need them.

Tony’s eyes, unlike Emily’s, had lit up like the sky on Fourth of July. “You’re store must have been. . ..”

“. . .the most profitable store in Illinois,” I finished for him. “We won the Illinois’ ‘Buffett’ trophy. I only worked thirty-five hours a week, because I was a soccer player and I had to keep my grades up, but I think I provided some help in achieving our success.”

“What was your GPA?”

“4.20 – because I took so many college-level, extra credit courses.”

“What year are you?”

“I’ll be a junior, but I want to have a year’s college credits done before I graduate from high school.”

“Smart. College debt can kill you. Say – did you make varsity soccer as a sophomore? I played intramural soccer in college at Michigan State where I got my degree in Hospitality Business. Soccer’s a great sport!”

“I actually made varsity in eighth grade,” I said quietly, so that I thought only he could hear. “I was on the all-state team,” I almost whispered.

“That’s really good,” Emily remarked.

She must have been listening more than I thought.

“Wow! All-state in Illinois. You must be fast,” Tony enthused.

“Did you make all-state because you could kick the ball a long ways?” Emily asked.

“I suppose I can kick it pretty far,” I admitted. “I don’t know that the all-state selection committee kept records on that kind of thing. My coach always said it was my quickness and my ability to anticipate the other team’s moves that made me a good player.”

“Better than ‘good’ I’d say. Why would your parents move you to a place where they don’t play soccer?” He asked.

My eyes teared slightly. I don’t want them to see me cry. “Mom died three months ago. Dad died long ago was I was two. I don’t have any siblings. I got sent here to live with my uncle. My Uncle John owns River’s Insurance Agency.”

“I’m sorry for your loss. I know your uncle. ‘River’s Delivers!’ ” He laughed. “Well . . . your misfortune in having to move to Pecos is my luck. When can you start? One thing you probably noticed is that the other girls with long hair like yours — aren’t wearing hairnets.”

He’s mistaken me for a girl! Just like Emily did.

He continued. “Texas is a bit more relaxed about some things than I imagine Illinois was. So that’s a good thing for you, but I got to tell you, there aren’t a lot of girls in Texas who are assistant managers.” He turned to Emily. “Emily, keep it to yourself -- Angel here’s going to run the evening shift. Do you think the girls will be okay with that?”

She studied me carefully. “Does that mean she’ll be setting my hours?”

“Yours and everyone else’s, except mine,” Tony stated.

“Can I have Thursday off,” Emily begged. “There’s this band coming to the City Center from Austin that I like.”

Other than how I’ll break it to them that they’ve both goofed about my gender, it appears my job troubles are over. Because I’m small, people think I’m female. Tony will find out I’m a male when I fill out the standard Dairy Queen employment app. I thought. Whether I’m a boy or a girl shouldn’t be a big deal. I think I’ve found a home.

Chapter Two

“Deep down, I’m a Texas girl looking for that big romance every girl dreams about. Biologically, I look forward to being a cornerstone of a family.”
- Renee Zellweger

My gender never came up. I decided not to do anything overtly that might cause people to think of me as a boy — or a girl. And, I was too busy coming up with ideas to instill pride into the staff to think about something as inconsequential as gender. The only time I felt anxious about what people were thinking was when I was alone at night, or in the morning before I went to work.

A bigger issue with the other kids seemed to be how I’d landed a job at the Dairy Queen without even trying out for cheerleader. Emily just couldn’t wrap her head around someone as “downright cute” as me not having been a cheerleader. Every once in a while she would ask again about how far I could kick a soccer ball, and then, after I answered, would grin as if she just couldn’t visualize a ball going that far.

“Those people up North must not have any common sense allowing someone with a face like yours — to just sit in the bleachers,” she said one day while she and I were conducting an inventory of the treats freezer.

“I wasn’t sitting in the bleachers,” I argued, “I was running up and down the pitch kicking a soccer ball.”

“I don’t like to sweat in public,” Emily offered. “I ride my Peleton at home where no one can see me. Cheerleading is a workout, but we keep our cheers short, so that we don’t get all ‘glowy.’ ”

Tony had decided to ease me into my job, so as not to upset his staff. Emily was the only one who knew I was going to be in management. He told them that I was going to be trained under a new Dairy Queen training program called “the think method.” He also told them that rather than have people train me, or have me read the employees’ manual, I was supposed to simply walk around the store and “observe” for five days. Tony’s employees all rotated their hours so that everyone worked some day-shifts and some night-shifts. During my “training” I only worked the day-shift.

After my five days of “observing,” during which I spent most of the time in the backroom so as not to confuse paying customers, who might want me to take their orders, Tony and I sat down for a private meeting in his office. We discussed for four hours things I’d noticed that were different than the DQ I’d worked in. We debated what changes were needed to change the store’s culture, and then established an implementation schedule. Again, we didn’t want the changes to be so abrupt as to cause personnel problems.

“There’s one more thing,” I said. “You have a ‘reserved’ sign on one of the tables. We didn’t reserve any tables in Illinois. What’s that about?”

He grinned. “That’s Coach Acre’s table. It’s my way of showing respect.”

“Can any coach who comes in sit there?”

“Not hardly. That table is only to be used by the head football coach. You’ve been working from 7:00 to 4:00. He normally comes in for dinner around 6:30. You’ll know him when you see him.”

On the second Friday of my employment, Tony handed me a stack of envelopes. “You need to hand out the paychecks for this shift. Starting Monday, I’m going to have you take over the evening shift from 4:00 to midnight. Every Thursday afternoon, I’ll stick around for an hour or two so we can discuss issues face-to-face.”

I nodded. If my luck holds, I’ll never see my uncle. He’ll be long in bed when I get home.

There was some surprise when Tony made the official announcement about my job title and responsibilities, but I didn’t see anything from the crew that rose to the level of rebellion. There might have been some issues had there been any male employees, but Tony’s desire to support the Bills meant cheerleaders only — and Pecos didn’t have male cheerleaders.

I was the only DQ male other than Tony, and I continued to go along with the gender confusion so as not to rock the boat.

With that, Tony gave me a set of keys for the building and safe and shook my hand. “I’m going to leave in about fifteen minutes. Be sure to check your paystub like you would any new employee’s, to make sure our bookkeeper is doing things right. Anything else you want to talk about?”

I briefly considered making a full “gender disclosure” but decided against it. In truth, I felt much more uncomfortable faking to the other employees that I didn’t know anything about a Dairy Queen than I did about allowing people to draw their own conclusions about my gender. In fact, there’s really nothing about being thought of as a girl that bothers me.

I quickly distributed the eighteen envelopes for the employees on my shift. After handing out the last one, I opened mine. I’d worked thirty hours the first week, since I’d started in the middle of the week, and forty-four hours the second week, which included four hours of overtime. I expected to take home about $400, based on the $10 an hour salary I thought I would get paid. I gasped when I read the net numbers on my check . . . $3,076.42.

I poked my head in Tony’s office. “The bookkeeper made an error on my check.”

He took it from me, and then ran the numbers on the paystub through a spreadsheet on his computer. “Nope. It’s correct.”

“But. . .?” I questioned.

“Your hourly salary is $30. You get time and a half after forty hours each week. And there’s a $1,000 bonus for all those great ideas you’ve provided.”

“Tony . . . I don’t know what to say.”

“I take it you’re satisfied.”

“More than.” My eyes started to mist.

“Let’s try to hold the overtime hours under five per-pay-period,” Tony said. “But . . . if you need to work -- I don’t mind if you work eighty hours a week. You’re a gold mine for me.”

And, you’re more of a family than my uncle, who I haven’t seen nor talked to for two weeks. “Thank you, Tony. Let’s see if we can become the most profitable DQ in Texas!”

He smiled, and then looked chagrined. “I hate to even bring this up, but there’s one thing. . .. It’s personal – and if I’m stepping over some lines, just tell me to stick it in my ear.”

I nervously bit my lip, wishing I’d come clean with him before he had to make it an issue.

“This is Texas -- and people have ‘standards.’ ”

“Uh huh,” I said quietly.

“Would I be asking too much if I requested that you try to look a bit more feminine?” His face had turned scarlet.

“I . . . don’t . . . know.”

“I need you to set a good example. Some of the others have let their looks slip a bit since you started. You’re a role model!” He spoke hurriedly. “I don’t mean you have to become a southern belle. It’s just that I heard some of the girls talking. There’s a rumor that you’re a lesbian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if you are. But, if you made a little effort – you see what I mean.” His eyes were almost shut and his hands had clenched. “Oh hell – forget about it. I’m sorry I brought it up.”

“Really?” This is getting too weird.

“I should have mentioned it earlier, but Texas expects their women to make an effort with their hair and makeup and. . ..” His voice faded and we looked at each other in awkward silence.

“I’ll do it . . . if that’s what you want.” I should just tell him, but the paycheck in my hand clouded my judgment.

“Heck, I know I shouldn’t. How you present yourself to the world is your business. But Emily was talking to me about how pretty you could be and. . .. Oh, hell’s bells, Angel, just forget it!”

I’ll just figure out how to make this work until I find another job. But I love working here! “No . . . I’ll think about it. Really . . . I hadn’t thought. . .. I’ll think about it. Look, you’re entitled to know where I’m at. I have a tendency to get defensive when people tell me what to do. The thing is . . . I’ve always been the smallest person in my class. People stood in line to bully me. Everyone thought they could tell me what to do. I decided that I would never allow myself to be forced to do anything I didn’t want to do. In fact, I took several martial-arts classes to learn self-defense so I could stand up to people rather than do their bidding. I guess I reject criticism . . . even if it’s positive.”

“I get it, but maybe in refusing to be forced to do things — you’ve actually missed out on doing things that you really want to do.” He nodded sagely and patted me on the back in a nice way. “I understand that you’re going through a rough patch. Do what you think is right.”

Chapter Three

“I love Texas because Texas is future-oriented, because Texans think anything is possible. Texans think big.” - Senator Phil Gramm

After my shift ended, I deposited my check in my bank account and increased my cash card limit to $500. I then stopped back at the DQ to close out the afternoon’s tills. My next stop was a drug store where I looked through their magazines for ideas how I could appear more “feminine” without looking like a drag queen.

I found an article that seemingly was right to the point. It appeared that I wasn’t the only one trying to solve that problem. Lots of girls appear to want to look feminine without going overboard. It stated:

Buy clothes that fit. If you have a boyish body you need to give the illusion of curves that don’t really exist. Light and bright colors. Stretchy fabrics. Belts on the hips, higher than what I had considered my hips to be -- as a boy. Chunky necklaces and dangly earrings, but simple.
Always wear a fragrance.
Feminine footwear.
Style your hair.
Always carry a handbag.
Use bows and other girlish touches.
Take good care of your skin.
Use a moisturizing balm on your lips.
Drink plenty of water.
If you want to avoid makeup, use a tinted moisturizer, clear lip gloss, and medium-brown mascara.
Pluck your eyebrows into an arch.

“That’s a terrific article.”

Startled, I jumped and squeaked, a habit that the guys on my soccer team had found amusing. They’d also thought it funny to give me the nickname “Late,” because my puberty still hadn’t started. At least no one in Texas knows that stupid nickname.

“I’m sorry I scared you,” Emily said. “You were reading so intently that your forehead was squished.”

“Tony said. . .,” I started to explain and then decided I didn’t want to tell her that I didn’t want to be known as “that lesbian” even though I had a cousin who was a lesbian, who was simply perfect. “I need to up my game at work and look a little more like you-all.”

“Gosh, Angel,” she touched my arm, “I’d say -- of all the girls who work at the DQ, that you’re the prettiest.”

“Er. . ..”

“But,” she said with warm enthusiasm, “there’s nothing in this world I’d rather do than help you with a bit of a makeover. Believe me — it would make my day to help you become pretty-as-a peach.”

“That would be . . . okay,” I managed to get out.

“You won’t be needing that magazine.” She took it from me and placed it on the shelf. “Do you mind if I ask what your financial situation is?”

“If it’s necessary,” I allowed.

“Do you have some money you can spend on some shoes? Maybe a few tops? Some basic makeup?”

I nodded, thinking of the small fortune I’d just received from Tony -- and wondering if Tony had given me the bonus so that I’d spend a little making myself look more like the other “girls” at the DQ.

“Amazeballs!” She stated. “This is so exciting. It’s like I’m a momma bird gently pushing you out of he nest so you can learn to fly. Let’s buy a few things here, and then go to the mall for some intense shopping.”

“The mall?”

“Sure. . .Angel. You need to set aside your fears. I’ll make sure you have a good time; and you need guidance. For example; there are a lot of cosmetics that are marketed as Latina cosmetics. That’s crazy. Latina women have a wide range of skin tones. You need to match cosmetics colors with your complexion, which is beautiful, by the way.”

She took my hand in hers and pulled me toward the cosmetics section. Her hands felt warm and inviting. “That article was right about so many things.” She grabbed a shopping basket from the end of the aisle. “I’m going to assume we’re starting from ground zero. This is a great lip gloss. It’s got a slight peppermint taste, which you’ll love. It’s long-lasting which helps when you have to do all that talking when taking orders. This is the mascara I use for work. It’s really subtle.” She tossed item after item in the basket. “Girls are always shop-lifting lipstick. I could never do that.” Three tubes found their way into the basket.

I’ll use the internet to find tips on using all that stuff.

She stooped and put her hands on her hips while looking me over. “Hmmmm. What you need to do is preserve the great things you’ve got going while stimulating your body to start developing what you don’t have. Are you on the pill?” She asked with an amused grin.

“What? Wait . . .. No!” I exclaimed.

“Hey . . . don’t get so anxious. All the cheerleaders are on the pill. There’s only a few who really are avoiding pregnancy. The rest of us take the pill because it’s so good for our skin — and it promotes female development. If you don’t want to wear much makeup, you should order birth control pills online.”

“How do I get a prescription?” I questioned.

She snorted. “You get one from Dr. I-Don’t-Give-a-Damn. Honey, you don’t need a prescription online.”

At times, even though I know we’re the same age, that she makes me feel like a kid.

She touched my arm again. “There are ways to have sex without having to worry about becoming pregnant. One is to stay completely away from sperm/vagina contact, by having sex with another girl.”

She looked around, and then kissed me gently on the lips.

“Oh. . .,” I moaned. “That was nice.”

“Really? You seem a little stiff. I suppose it’s confusing for you. Do you prefer boys?” She asked.

I bit my lip. I truly don’t know how to answer that. “I don’t know.”

“Neither do I,” she admitted. “Have you kissed a boy. . .or a girl. . .before?”

“I’ve never dated anyone,” I said quietly. “But . . . I do like you. Maybe we shouldn’t, because of work – and everything.”

“Pecos isn’t totally ready for me to date you, or any other girl — openly,” Emily said. “About ten percent of the town’s people are still stuck in the past, but some of the cheerleader sleepovers can be fun. You need to try out.”

I ducked my head. “I think I’ll work as much as I can this year.”

“Perfume!” She grinned after I looked perplexed. “The article said a girl should always wear perfume — and I agree. I think perfume should be subtle. I like almost any of the Philosophy fragrances, but we’ll try them all on you to see what your body likes.”

“Why ‘subtle?’ I would think the more the Mary-er.” I punned.

She smirked. “When I walk into a room I want people to notice me – not a scent I’m wearing. I want my feminine aroma to be kiss-ably compatible, so that you have to be close enough to kiss me to smell it.”

She looked around again, and then kissed me. “Did you smell my perfume?”

“Oh my – yes. You smell like lilacs. My mother grew lilac bushes.”

“I’m hoping Matt Wentz likes lilacs,” she said.

I’ve met Matt. He’s one of the football players who hang around the DQ. He seems nice. The first time I met him he asked me out to a movie. I pretended he was joking and brushed it off.

After that, when there were boys in the front of the store, I stayed in the back. That way the other girls could flirt with them and wouldn’t consider me competition. And, embarrassing situations, like with Matt, would be avoided.

“Do you like Matt?” I asked.

In idle times at the DQ, I had received the rundown on who was dating which football player. I hadn’t heard of anyone dating Matt, even though he was the starting quarterback for the Bills.

“All the girls are interested in Matt,” she grinned. “The sluts on the cheerleading squad who have been to bed with him, rate him a solid ten between the sheets?”

“Is he that kind of guy?” I’ll be a virgin until I graduate from college.

“Not really. When he was a freshman he was running with the wrong crowd. He was a bit of a football protege and wasn’t mentally mature enough to handle the adulation. He’s grown up a lot during the last two years.”

“So — you do like Matt?”

“You’re so. . .exotic. You’ve got that ‘Hisanglo’ thing going for you which gives you exquisite beauty.”

Exquisite beauty? I don’t know if I should laugh or faint.

“I think I like you more,” she said – looking ready to kiss me again, but there were people in our aisle. “But if Matt selects me as his Slue-Foot-Sue, I’ll be one happy girl.”

“Slue-Foot-Sue?”

“According to the legend of Pecos Bill, he fell in love with a girl named Slue-Foot-Sue. About twenty years ago the football team had a quarterback who wasn’t particularly what you would call ‘a catch.’ The team had been winning every game by a wide margin. However, the quarterback couldn’t get any of the five girls he asked to go to the homecoming dance with him. Those rejections crushed his confidence, and consequently, the Bills lost three of the last four games of the season. It was a disaster.”

“Poor guy.”

“So,” she went on, “they made a rule. Now if the starting quarterback is having girl problems, he can name any girl he wants his Slue-Foot-Sue. By rule, she is obliged to pretend as if she’s madly in love with him, until after the season is completed.”

“Has any girl ever had to be a Slue-Foot-Sue? That sounds absolutely absurd, like an arranged marriage.”

“A lot of Texas traditions don’t make total sense, like Sweetwater’s annual rattlesnake roundup. They do it every year and the environmentalist go crazy. The cattle ranchers say the roundup is absolutely necessary because their cows get bit on the nose and die. The nuts thing is, those in the know say there are more snakes now than ever.”

“Snakes roundup? Slue-Foot-Sue? Am I on Mars?” I moaned.

“A lot of people are still hooked-up for life through arranged marriages. It just depends on your customs. As far as I know, over the last fifteen years, there’s only been three times when there was a Slue-Foot-Sue. Usually, the starting quarterback uses attack dogs to keep the girls away.” She giggled. “Matt has dated one girl seriously, that I know of, and she left town a year ago when her ultra-liberal mother was elected to Congress. I’m hoping he will ask me out without doing the Slue-Foot-Sue thing.”

“How will you get him to do that?”

“I have my ways,” she smirked. “I suppose I could offer to help him pick out lipstick, and then kiss him in the aisle of the drug store. That works with certain people.”

We both laughed.

“Angel,” Emily asked, “when you dry your hair do you use a blow dryer?”

I nodded.

“Do you set it on ‘high’ and make sure your hair is super dry?”

I nodded again.

“Your hair has a lot of natural curl,” she said, “but you need to change the way you dry it.” She pulled a hair dryer off the shelf. “This one will work great for you. It’s okay to run the heat setting on ‘high.’ You need to run the speed on ‘low’ and use the diffuser attachment with a curl spray. Your hair will look a lot more girly.”

I gulped, but didn’t argue when she placed the box containing the pink hair dryer in my basket.

After I paid for my new things, we went to the mall and spent over $700 on shoes and clothes. Again, no one seemed to think anything was wrong with me buying girls’ things. Everything Emily suggested I try on looked good on me. I did make a rule that I wouldn’t wear skirts or dresses, but everything else was fair game. Over my mild protest, she had me buy a babydoll nightie – “to move the girl meter away from Tomboy.”

“It’s time,” she teased, “for you to put on your big-girl-panties and become a Texas gal. You can’t hide who you are forever.”

The last stop was the lingerie department where she selected “essentials,” including something she called “enhancers” to put in my bras.

All afternoon she had found excuses to put her hands on me and remained close enough so I could smell lilacs.

***

That night I went to the websites that Emily had suggested. I found three different kinds of birth control pills. I ordered all of them thinking that a boy would need more chemicals working in his body to prompt good skin — than a girl. I’ll take all of them every day. For the same reason, I ordered an anti-androgen called Eulexin to block my male hormones. I don’t shave and I don’t want to have to start.

I studied the possible changes that would occur to my body and surprisingly realized none of them really were something I opposed. In a silly way, I regarded the pills I’d ordered as magic beans. I doubted they would do anything but enhance my complexion.

Chapter Four

“Football is to Texas what religion is to a priest.” - Tom Landry

During my second day of working the late shift, he walked in. He looked toward the counter and held up two fingers to Emily, who was running an order station. Then he walked to the table marked “reserved” and sat down.

Everyone seemed to know him.

He wore a silver whistle on a lanyard around his neck. On him, it looked like an amulet.

He doesn’t look like someone who needs a whistle to control a group of teenage boys. He’s not enormous, but his shoulders look powerful.

His order came out: Mushroom Swiss Grillburger, large order of fries, large Diet Coke, and a triple chocolate brownie.

Emily placed his tray in front of me. “You haven’t met the coach yet. No time like the present for you two to meet.”

“Has he paid for this?”

She giggled. “Tony would fry us in oil, if we made Coach pay for anything.”

“Don’t they pay him a good salary to coach?” I asked.

She laughed. “You probably think that he’s poor judging by his pick-up truck.” She pointed through the window at a beat up, mid-80s, black Ford F-150. “He gets that thing washed once a year at the cheerleaders’ fundraiser carwash.” She giggled. “He could buy his own food, and a brand-new pick-me-up, but that’s not how it’s done in Pecos.”

I took his food to his table.

He looked up at me. “You must be Angel.”

I could feel myself blush. “How did you know that?”

His prominent forehead was emphasized by his widow’s peak. He was older than most of our customers, maybe even forty-five or so. His deep-set eyes screamed “intensity.”

He unwrapped his burger. “These things are just excellent. I barbecue a good steak, but when I don’t have the time to fire up my grill, these will do just fine.” He stared at me. “I know all the girls who work here. Number one, I eat here three times a week. Number two, the cheerleaders are very important to my program’s success. I keep a close watch on all of them . . . and all the potential cheerleaders.”

“I see.”

“But . . . more importantly, I have a successful program because I chase down every opportunity. For instance, last year our placekicker did a mediocre job. He was twenty out of twenty-eight on P.A.T.s and missed every field goal we attempted over thirty yards. His kickoffs mostly landed around the twenty. Even with a measly fifteen-yard return, we were allowing the other team to start on the thirty-five, which is better field position than we like to give up. He’s back for his senior year, but his work ethic stinks, and I’m sure he won’t have improved. he hasn’t been in the weight room all summer.”

“That’s too bad.”

“It sure is. In high school football, once the ball breaks the plane of the goal-line on a kickoff it’s automatically blown dead and the ball is put into play on the twenty-yard line. I’d much rather start our opponents on the twenty without the potential for a long runback — to say nothing about our spotty place-kicking.” He scooped part of his dessert into his mouth, even though he hadn’t finished his burger and fries.

“I don’t know anything about football,” I admitted.

“That’s right, you’re more of a ‘futbol’ person.”

I’ll give him points for saying ‘futbol’ without a smirk.

“When someone tells me they don’t love football, I become an evangelist for the game,” he said. “To me, football is so much about mental toughness, it's digging deep, it's doing whatever you need to do to help a team win — and that comes in a lot of shapes and forms.”

“You could say the same for soccer,” I argued. “Our coach put a pedometer on me for one game. According to it, I ran about five miles during that game and about a third of the time I was sprinting full out.”

His eyes registered surprise, and maybe some respect. “In football, the worst things are excuses. Excuses mean you cannot grow or move forward.”

“Our coach preached that we should play so that we don’t have regrets. We had practice jerseys that stated ‘No Regrets.’ ”

“That’s interesting,” he allowed. “I like that. I’m going to talk to our captains. ‘No Regrets.’ Good concept. Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness, and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile. I suppose you’re going to tell me soccer is the same.”

I nodded.

“Football is a game of mistakes. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes wins,” he suggested.

“A surprising number of soccer games are won or lost by own-goals.”

“ ‘Own-goals?’ ”

“They usually happen when a defender tries to help out the keeper by clearing the ball from in front of the goal, but actually knocks it in.”

“That must smart, to lose like that.” He actually winced, but then got down to business. “Football can be good for a town like Pecos. It can generate excitement and bring people together. And, I think you could help. You see, if I could find someone who could consistently kick the ball into the end-zone on the kickoff we’d have good field position after every kickoff.” His look of euphoria at the thought of “good field position” was something between amusing and concerning.

“That’s where you come in.” He pointed to a chair at his table. “Please sit down.”

I sat. “I’m not supposed to be away from my duties for too long, but I’m curious what all this has to do with me.”

“I hear that you’re a really good soccer player.”

“That’s behind me since Pecos doesn’t have a soccer team.”

He took a sip of Coke. “What would you say was the longest goal you ever scored?”

I laughed. “It was a fluke but one time, on a counter, I hadn’t even crossed the centerline when I noticed the keeper had come so far off his line that he was about three yards outside the box.”

The coach was nodding, but I wasn’t sure if he understood the soccer jargon.

“The top of the box is eighteen yards from the touchline. Since he was out so far, I side-stepped the last defender, and then took a shot over the keeper’s head and scored. That’s probably never going to happen again . . . at least for me.”

“So . . . you kicked the ball about over fifty yards on the fly.”

“That’s about right,” I said, “of course the ball might have bounced before it landed in the goal.”

“And, my guess is that if the ball were teed up and you were just trying to kick it as far as you could without regard for hitting it into a goal -- you could probably kick the ball seventy yards.” He took a small bite of his burger.

“Definitely,” I admitted, “but I can tell you that I’ve never in my life kicked a football — or used a tee in soccer.”

He wiped his mouth. “Here’s what I’m told. Because footballs are pointy, and soccer balls are round -- a soccer ball has much more air drag. You can toss a football with a tight spiral a lot farther than you could throw a round ball. Most kickers say they can kick a football ten to fifteen yards farther than they can kick a soccer ball.”

“That’s interesting, but I don’t see the point.”

He pointed a fry at me.

I was pleased to see that it wasn’t soggy.

“In high school football,” he said, “the ball is teed up for the kickoff on the forty-yard line. If you can kick a soccer ball into a target from fifty yards, it’s a cinch that with a little practice you could kick the ball across the goal-line every time.” His smile indicated that he was either enjoying his meal more than any other patron we’d ever had, or he was pleased with his football strategy.

I shook my head. “I don’t think I’m interested.”

“You wouldn’t get hurt,” he said quickly. “You see there wouldn’t be a run-back because it’s an automatic touchback. You wouldn’t have to get blocked or tackle anyone. And, there’s a special rule to prevent kickers from being hurt. No one can block you within ten yards of your tee. That rule was put in because coaches used to have someone blast the kicker while he was still recovering from the exertion of the kick. It’s called unsportsmanlike conduct and could result in expulsion and definitely would be a fifteen-year penalty from the ensuing spot, which in this case would be half the distance to the goal-line . . . so they would start on the ten-yard line.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I’m not the football kind.”

He frowned. “What do you mean by that?”

“I had a lot of friends who played football in Illinois. Too many of them were taking steroids.”

“That’s unfortunate.” He shook his head. “I don’t push my boys to take any banned substances.” His face seemed to indicate he was being truthful, although he hadn’t spoken to a proactive program for preventing drug abuse.

“And, there are all the injuries,” I added.

“No more than soccer,” he argued.

I suddenly remembered my lip gloss and perfume. He’s asking a girl to play football. “I would be a freak.”

“Although I don’t know of many, I read the other day that over 1,500 girls played football in high schools last year. Heck – you wouldn’t even have to wear pads, if all you do is kickoff. Now, if you end up punting or kicking extra points and field goals, that might be another thing. Our punter is doing an excellent job — and because he’s a senior and been with the program for years I wouldn’t replace him.”

“Whoa . . . I’m sorry, coach, but I’m just not interested.”

“We’ll see,” he said in a way that sounded slightly threatening.

“What do you mean by that?” I demanded.

“I’m not going to say anything to anyone. But, Pecos is queer about football. People will figure out how you could help out the Bills. Same as I did. They’re going to want you to change your mind. You might decide that going-along-to-get-along is a good policy.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head. When I opened them a moment later, I noted he had almost finished his meal.

“There’s one other thing,” he said. “I can see that you have high personal integrity. I admire that.”

He’s working me, just like he probably works refs during games.

“You see -- I have eyes and ears everywhere, but sometimes the information I get is tainted. I need to know when my players are eating too much of the wrong thing.”

“I’m sorry again,” I stated, “I can’t help you by rolling over on our customers. Your players are entitled to their privacy.”

“Not when it comes to winning football games,” he said flatly.

“It wouldn’t be ethical,” I offered.

“Ethical?” He looked confused. “Dear me, sweetheart, you need to study your Good Book. It says right in Proverbs, ‘It is not good to eat much honey.’ I’m sure you will agree that it isn’t good to overindulge on French fries and ice cream.”

I thought for a moment. I wanted to grab his whistle, blow it, and then book him with a red card. “Yes, Coach, but it also says in Thessalonians that we should ‘aspire to live quietly, and mind our own affairs.’ ”

He smiled. “I hope we’ll see you on the practice field.” He chuckled “ ‘Mind our own affairs.’ Hmmmm. Bills football is “our own affairs.”

After he left, Emily took me aside. “What did you think of Coach?”

“Do you want to know the truth?”

“Of course. Don’t you just love him? Everyone in town seems to.”

I studied her for a moment. How can anyone as nice as Emily like that man? “Frankly, I thought he was sort of an asshat.”

“That’s harsh. Wait! Did he say something mean about you that he shouldn’t have?”

“No. He actually was awful nice to me. But he wants me to do stuff that I don’t think would be good for me in the long run.”

Her face told me that she didn’t agree, so I gave her the condensed version of the conversation that had occurred. “Given what I’ve just told you, what would you call him?”

“I’d call him the same thing I’ve called him for as long as I’ve known him.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“ ‘Daddy.’ Coach Acre is my dad.”

Geez! That’s right. Her name is Emily Acre!

Chapter Five

“If a man's from Texas, he'll tell you. If he's not, why embarrass him by asking?” – John Gunther

“I am so sorry,” I apologized. “If I had known. . ..”

She laughed. “Two years ago, the Bills lost a playoff game they should have won on a costly mistake during the last minute. A boy made a bad play under intense pressure and the fans blamed my dad. It was the only game they lost that year. Yet, our house was T P’d and people wrote the nastiest letters to the editor of the Pecos Enterprise. Luckily the paper only comes out two days a week, so we didn’t have to read that stuff every day.”

“Okay . . . but I called your dad an. . ..” I cringed.

“You’re not the first,” she observed, “and you won’t be the last. However, you should know that he’s a really good guy. He’s wrapped-up tight in football, but other than that venial sin of compulsive football syndrome, he’s a saint.”

“Is there anything I can do to make up for running at the mouth?”

She thought for a moment. “Daddy wouldn’t be so gosh darn eager for you to kick for him, if you weren’t such a good little. . .jockette.”

“I was a good soccer player, but I’ve never kicked a football. I really don’t have any idea if what he wants me to do is even possible,”

She smiled. “There’s really only one way to find out.”

“How’s that?”

“I’ll get Daddy to meet you at the football field tomorrow morning. He’ll have one of the boys hold the ball for you and will bring a kicking tee as well. You can try kicking. Maybe you’ll fail and he’ll forget about his fantasy.”

“Is it really that important?”

She giggled. “ ‘Is it important?’ If my dad could find a way to win one more game this year, he would take out a second mortgage on our house to pay for it. The Pecos Bills are judged by a very high standard. If they don’t have a good playoff run, Daddy could lose his job.”

***

The next morning, I met Coach Acre at the field.

It felt good to be back on the pitch, even though football players don’t call it that. The field featured such impeccably mowed turf, that I imagined legions of Bills’ fans measuring and cutting each individual blade with scissors.

He waited patiently while I warmed up and stretched. Just about the time I was ready Matt Wentz sauntered up to us carrying a sack of footballs. He stood about five inches north of six feet, but his broad shoulders made him seem like he was average height.

I wonder if he is the sweetest boy in high school, like Emily said.

“Good morning, Angel. . . Coach.” His smile fell lopsided as if he wasn’t entirely comfortable.

He knows my name!
“Hi, Matt,” I said. “Why would a quarterback come to a kicking tryout.”

“Is that what this is?” Matt asked. “I was going door-to-door selling footballs. How about it? I’ll autograph it, if you buy one.”

The coach and I laughed.

“I’m not sure,” I answered, “if I’ll have a need for my very own football. I’m here mainly out of curiosity. I want to see how far I can kick one of those.” I pointed to the sack of brown balls.

“My job on extra points and field goals is to take the snap and place the ball so that you can kick it,” Matt explained.

“Matt holds for kicks so that we can run fakes with him passing, if we need to,” Coach Acre added.

“I’m here to make this as realistic as possible,” Matt said

“Are you going to have some of those giants who come in for DQ burgers and cokes run at me while I’m kicking?”

“Just to be sure I’ll ask you again. Are you afraid of getting hurt?” Coach Acre asked. “There’s a fifteen-yard penalty for roughing the kicker on extra points. All they have to do is touch you. Only really clumsy players ever do that. I coach my players to try to block the kick by taking a line that makes sure they won’t ever touch the kicker.”

That’s somewhat reassuring.
“As you pointed out last night, soccer players get hurt much more often than football players. I didn’t play scared in soccer. After I set our high school record for most goals in a season as an eighth-grader, the teams we played put a target on me. I was getting knocked off the ball a lot. I’m not a fool, but the thought of a little pain doesn’t bother me.” I stared into both of their faces.

The coach nodded.

Matt grinned and then spoke in a hushed tone to me. “This must be important. The coach never uses the stadium field for anything but games.”

“I wanted Angel to see the field and imagine 30,000 cheering fans,” Coach Acre said.

He obviously has good ears. Maybe we had five hundred spectators at our regional finals game in Mokena. It would be sweet to play in front of a big crowd. “I was thinking I would try juggling a football in order to get used to the touch,” I explained while I reached for the bag of balls.

Matt laughed. “I can juggle three tennis balls, but I don’t see what juggling has to do with kicking a football.”

I grinned. “I’m going to juggle with my feet.” I passed the ball like a hackysack, from foot-to-foot.

“Wow,” Matt exclaimed.

“That’s a pretty good trick,” Coach Acre remarked, “but we came here mainly to see how far you could kick the ball. Let’s try a few extra points to get you warmed up. The idea is for you to kick the ball through the uprights.”

Matt pointed in the right direction, then knelt on one knee and lined up as if he was going to catch the ball from an invisible person. He then placed the ball where I could kick it. I stood back a few yards and off to the left so that I could approach the ball on a diagonal.

We tried ten extra points and I made eight of them while changing my angle and steps for comfort. On those I missed, Matt apologized and said he was trying some things with the placement of the laces and it hadn’t been my fault.

“You’re not doing anything wrong. It’s me. I would have done better if I could’ve kicked with my dominant foot,” I explained.

“Are you left-footed?” Coach Acre asked.

“Uh huh.”

“So — why didn’t you kick with your left foot?” Matt asked.

“You’re kneeling on the right side of the football for a right-footed kick, so I figured it was a rule that I had to kick with my right foot.”

Coach Acre chuckled. “Easy mistake to make. However, one of the best kickers ever, a hall-of-famer, Morten Anderson, kicked left-footed.”

We tried it again with me kicking from the left side and I hit ten in-a-row. With every kick, Matt said something supportive. It seemed like being positive was his nature.

“You’re accurate and consistent, that’s certain.” The coach then took a kicking tee out of the bag and set it up on the forty-yard line. “It’s sixty yards that way to the goalline. It would be best if you kicked the ball so that it was over eight feet above the ground when it crossed the goal, if possible. That way we would know it would be out of reach for anyone to try to catch it on the one or two-yard line and run it back.”

Matt and the coach stood ten yards off to the side.

I set the ball on the tee with one of the pointy ends at the bottom. Then I stepped back about ten yards and about three yards to the right so that I approached the ball on a diagonal line with power. I felt good contact with the ball when I kicked it and heard a much deeper “thunk” than a soccer ball would make.

The ball never got more than thirty feet off the ground and sailed a few feet beyond the goal post, which was ten yards beyond the goal line.

“You’re a Hoss,” the coach said softly.

“O-M-G! That’s crazy,” Matt offered. “You don’t weigh half what I do, and you just kicked the ball twice as far as I can.”

“It’s all in her technique,” Coach Acre said.

When he isn’t being an asshat, I can see a lot of Emily in him.

“Matt,” Coach Acre continued, “you can pass a football thirty yards longer than Jeremy and he’s a man-child who can bench press almost twice as much as you.”

“I’m getting stronger,” Matt argued. “Coach, don’t be giving Angel the idea that I’m some weakling.”

“Stick to the program, Matt,” Coach said. “I don’t want you getting hurt in the weight room.” He turned to me. “Did you kick that ball as hard as you could?”

I shook my head. “That was probably about ninety percent of maximum. I was coached never to over-exert when kicking.”

“Good thinking,” he agreed. “That’s a good way to avoid pulling muscles. Would it be fair to say you could kick it that far every kickoff?”

“If a stiff wind is against me it would severely shorten the distance, but otherwise, yes.”

Then we tried some field-goals. Each time Matt pretended to catch a pass that he called a snap, brought the ball down, spun it, and held the tip with his finger. It was gratifying to see the ball sail through the goal post thingies that the coach had called “uprights.”

At one point during the kicking, Matt gave me a quizzical look, and stood straight up. He stopped short of asking me whatever it was that he wanted to know, and quickly picked up again with holding the ball for me. Other than during that short period of time his sexy smile was on full voltage.

After we tried about a dozen field-goals, each time moving back a bit, Coach brought our efforts to a halt. “If you’d have kicked that last one in a game it would have broken the school record for longest made field-goal by fifteen yards.”

It feels good to be doing something again that requires physical skill. “Matt placed the ball just right,” I deflected.

Matt chuckled. “If you kick for us, I could make first team all-state as a holder.”

The coach guffawed. “There isn’t such a thing, Matt. But – good try. You’re going to have to make the all-state team using your arm and legs, not your fingertip.”

There seemed to be real affection between the coach and Matt. Maybe Emily’s dad isn’t such an asshat?

“I’ll have to make sure we have a uniform that’s small enough for you. You’ll need pads for when you kick field goals and extra points,” Coach Acre stated. “Does it matter to you what jersey number you wear?”

“Hold on,” I exclaimed. “I agreed to come out here this morning as a favor to Emily. I was expecting to find out that I wasn’t strong enough to do what you wanted, but it appears I am. That doesn’t for sure mean I’ll play.”

Matt and Coach Acre both frowned.

Matt spoke first. “Everyone works to make sure the Bills wins. Everyone. Not just the team. The mothers hold bake-sales and have team breakfasts. The dads work in the concession stands to raise money for uniforms and things. The merchants put up posters and paint their windows to support us. It would be criminal if you didn’t play.”

He’s even cuter when he gets all worked up.

“I couldn’t have said it better, Matt,” Coach said. “Angel, you could be a great addition to the team. What Matt meant to say was that around here it would be unthinkable for anyone as talented as you are not to make a personal sacrifice for the good of the Bills. People just won’t understand why you wouldn’t want to be a hero. However, Matt and I agree that your decision will be respected by us, either way.”

Matt nodded vigorously.

“I’ll think about it, Coach,” I said.

“That’s better than what you said last night,” Coach Acre allowed, “but now that I’ve seen you kick, I want you on the Bills more than I did last night. We need you. Make the right decision. There are two weeks before practices start. You need to be on the team the first day of practice, to be eligible to play in the first game.”

I nodded.

“Matt,” the coach said, “gather up the balls and the tee and put them in the equipment room. Angel, you must have been one hell of a soccer player.”

“I was good, Coach.”

“You could be an even better football player,” Matt said. “It would be fun to have you on the team”

I looked into Matt’s eyes, and then for some strange reason felt a weakness in my legs.

I’m attracted to him!


Chapter Six

“At the risk of descending to unscientific generalizations, 90 percent of Texans give the other 10 percent a bad name.” – Doc Holliday

Girls notice everything.

After kicking with the coach and Matt, I went home, took a shower, and then got ready for work.

I didn’t want to think too much about my strange feelings for Matt —so I poured my energies into preparing for work exactly how Emily had recommended, yesterday. All thoughts of football left me while I concentrated on something that seemed much more important.

Using the pink razor Emily had said I should use, I removed whatever fuzz I could find on my body.

After shampooing my hair, I used a conditioner for the first time in my life. I plugged in the hair-dryer with the diffuser, per Emily’s instructions, leaving my hair damp and using a light hair-spray.

I used the lotion she had recommended and then powdered my body with scented talc. Although I would be changing into a DQ shirt at work, I selected one of the blouses that I’d purchased and a pair of the new jeans. I thought the jeans and blouses were almost masculine, but they felt much softer and had the buttons on the left side.

My shoes were what Emily had called ballet flats and my socks were much thinner than anything I’d worn before -- and almost translucent.

I’d stayed up studying youtubes about applying makeup and felt comfortable with the foundation, mascara, and lip gloss I applied. After I put on the mascara I was so pleased with the results that I almost grabbed the eyeshadow, but decided to wait for another day to try smoky eyes.

It all feels so right!

I put the cosmetics I’d used in the handbag I’d bought. I’d wanted to buy a darling yellow cross body bag, but Emily talked me into a more practical black clutch.

I sprayed a small amount of Grace into the air and walked into the mist, and then set off for the DQ.

The response from the girls was immediate and extremely positive.

“What happened to you?”

“Where are those ratty tennis shoes and sweat socks you always wear?”

“Is that Grace? I was going to buy Grace, but didn’t. It smells so nice on you, maybe I should rethink my decision.”

“Your hair looks really nice today. Did you have it done?”

“Have you been giving any thought to joining the cheerleaders? You’d make the squad on the first ballot.”

Never before in my life had I received so many compliments. Once my Aunt Sarah, in Mokena, told me I had nice posture, but that was about it. It felt really nice to be one of the DQ girls. The other girls had been nice to me right along, but with the changes I’d made -- it was as if I’d been given the secret handshake and welcomed to the club.

Before today, the girls had talked “at” me, today they’re speaking directly “to” me . . . from their hearts. The conversations amongst us bubbled with excitement. All of a sudden it seemed like everyone had an idea who I should date and how I could get that selected boy to notice me. And — I cared.

Emily pulled me aside. “Were you nervous coming in today — looking like you do?”

I hadn’t even thought there might be a problem.
“Not really. You gave me so much good advice. Thank you.”

“I just know you’re making the right life choices. Daddy said you’re one hell of a kicker. He was so excited he barely could eat – and Mom had made his favorite lunch – Cesar salad with grilled chicken.”

“I haven’t committed to playing,” I admonished.

“I know. I know. But now that he knows you’re a star kicker, he’s not going to be denied.” Her eyes sparkled with what appeared to be devilish excitement, as if she was enjoying a private joke.

As childish as it might seem, the coach’s insistence that I play had only served to strengthen my resistance to being forced into anything.

For the past hour, I’ve been reveling in femininity. I want to give girlhood a chance and don’t want something stupid like playing football getting in my way.

What? Wait! Where did that come from? As soon as I can, I’m going to unwind all this confusion about me being a girl.

But for today . . . I’ll take it.

When Tony came in he stared at me for a moment, and then took me into the back office. He reached into his desk and pulled out an envelope. “I forgot this part of your bonus. I wasn’t totally sure whether I should give it to you, because it’s not my place to push your choices. I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable, but I can see that you’re much more. . .ahh. . .girly than what you’ve been letting on.”

I opened the envelope and found a gift certificate for a Day of Beauty at the Lady Bills’ Salon.

“It’s for two,” Tony said. “I’m told that girls like you love that place. I know enough about girls your age to know that you’ll be much more comfortable, with one of your friends along. Rework the schedule so that you and whoever you pick can take all tomorrow off. . .a paid vacation.”

“Thank you. Uhmmmm. . .. Maybe Emily?” I asked. “I screwed up and told her Coach Acre is an asshat -- and I need to make it up to her.”

Tony looked shocked. “You called her dad an asshat? To her face? Why?”

“He all but demanded that I play football. When I told him I wasn’t interested, he was sort of rude.”

“Why would. . .? Oh, he needs a kicker. With your soccer background, do you think you could kick a football sixty yards?”

“I kicked a forty-five-yard field goal this morning.”

“You did? That’s amazing! I should call Coach.”

“No need. He was there. Matt Wentz held the balls for me to kick. By now I’m sure the entire coaching staff and most of the team has heard.”

“And — probably half of Pecos. That’s great. Look – Coach Acre might be a little rough around the edges, but he’s a great guy. He was my best man at my wedding. He’s my daughter’s godfather.”

“I’m not sure I want to play football.”

“Uhmmmmmm. This could be bad. If you don’t play, word will get out, it always does. The community could get vindictive. People might stop coming in. The cheerleaders might find jobs at other restaurants. We could loss thirty to fifty percent of our business.”

“Are you sure it could hurt our sales?”

“Check it out yourself this afternoon. Once word circulates about your kicking prowess, people are going to come in just to get a look at you. Walk-in traffic will go through the roof.”

“Ohhhh! It’s not fair!” As hard as a tried I couldn’t stop two huge tears from escaping from my eyes. I wiped them away and bit my lip. “One day you want me to femme it up and the next you want me to put on football pads and hang around with smelly football players.”

“Hey, I’m just thinking out loud. Don’t worry about how it will impact the DQ. All that is meaningless compared to the things you’ve got to work out.” He shook his head. “We’ll figure it out,” he soothed. “By the way, the Pecos Bills don’t smell, they work up an invigorating male essence.”

We laughed.

“I told Coach Acre that I’ll think about it — and I will,” I promised. “It’s two weeks before practice so I don’t have to declare anything for a while.”

“Angel . . . your happiness means a lot to me. I’m going to tell you some things so you understand just what you’ve done for me.” He paused and collected his thoughts. “I went into the army after high school. And did two tours in Afghanistan. All the time I was there I kept my nose clean. I had this plan.”

He took a sip from the glass of water he’d drawn for himself at the beverage counter. “I didn’t spend a dime I didn’t need to. Saved everything I could. All of my spare time I spent learning how to play poker by studying books and playing online. I never played in any of the money games in the barracks because most of those were rigged. Besides, I wouldn’t have wanted to take money from my buddies. But I watched the games and learned about reading tells. After I got out, I had about $50,000 in the bank. I went to Vegas and used my poker skills to run that money up to $800,000, over a six-week period. $800,000 is what I needed to get my college degree and start this franchise -- coupled with a loan from the bank. I never gambled again and don’t ever intend to.”

What does this have to do with me?

“The first year I had this place I was in hog heaven. I quickly found out that owning a Dairy Queen would make me rich, if I simply did what my regional manager told me to do. I became a well-paid indentured servant and this place became my personal prison. There was almost no personal satisfaction. I worked from six in the morning until ten at night and rarely saw my family.”

He smiled. “Then you came along. Your ideas showed me that running this place could be fun. You gave me the freedom to split my time between here and home. You probably saved my marriage. I’m taking pride in this business and can’t wait to get here in the morning. You’ve changed everyone’s attitude about working here. I’m deeply indebted to you.”

I shook my head. “I just did my job.” I thought with pride about the spotless windows and floors and the new uniforms everyone was wearing. All the employees seemingly had bought into the new work ethic. Tony had started a workout program every morning before coming in.

He laughed. “If your job was making me a happy man, then yes, you ‘just did your job.’ ”

I blushed and felt love for my boss.

I left his office, and then wilted at the thought of a Day of Beauty. I’d glanced at the certificate and saw that one of the beauty treatments was going to be a full-body wax.

How am I going to keep my secret during that?!

Chapter Seven

“There are parts of Texas where a fly lives ten thousand years and a man can't die soon enough.” – Katherine Dunn

“A Day of Beauty,” Emily squealed. She tore the certificate from my hand. “Wow. Mani-pedi. Nail extensions if we want them. Facial. Full body wax. Haircut and style. Hair extensions if we want them. Highlights. Deep conditioner treatment. Brow services. Makeup session.”

“I’m not sure I want to. . ..”

“You’ve definitely got something mentally wrong with you!” She frowned at me. “Seriously --- we need to find a couch and a psychiatrist. First, you don’t want to be a star athlete/hometown mega-hero, and now, you’re actually thinking about messing with my fantasy dream day come true.”

“I wouldn’t. . ..”

“No,” she said, while shaking a finger at me, “you won’t. You’re going to do this for me and you’re going to love it. Okay.”

“Okay. . .,” I agreed tentatively.

“Maxine is the last person in the world who should scare someone like you. Wait! You’re not transphobic, are you?”

I gasped, not entirely sure if she had, or hadn’t, asked me if I was trans. “Heck no! I’m definitely okay with LGBTP.”

“I didn’t think you were biased. Nah . . . you just got into town. You probably have no idea that Maxine, the owner/operator of Lady Bills’ Salon, is transgender.”

I breathed a partial sigh of relief. “No. I didn’t know that.”

“She’s one of my most favorite people,” Emily said. “You’d better just love her to death, cuz I do.”

***

Maxine waited on us personally, just as I had hoped. She personified grace and style. If I didn’t know better I would have thought that she was either a college professor or a bank president. The only thing that suggested a hyper-feminine side were the four rings on each hand.

At the first opportunity, I got her aside. “I need a serious favor,” I begged. “Emily told me that you’re trans and. . ..”

“Does it have something to do with you having been born in a boy’s body.”

“How did you know?” My eyes shot wide open.

“I have radar for that sort of thing. Your Adam’s apple is barely noticeable, but it’s more prominent than most girls.”

“I’ve been worried about that. Girls don’t have Adam’s apples, right?” After I said it I tasted my foot, but when I checked out Maxine’s throat there wasn’t a visible lump.

“Actually, that’s a myth,” she corrected me. “All God’s children have Adam’s apples. Girls are usually less prominent and girls also have a bit more body fat that softens their curves including the ones around their larynx. Some of us choose to have them fixed surgically.” She smiled and looked like a slender Jennifer Lopez. “So -- what’s that favor you want.”

“You’re the only person that knows,” I stated.

“I’m the only person who knows — who’s told you,” she warned.

“Touche!” I closed my eyes and tried to disappear. She’s right! I really don’t know what people think of me.

“How long have you been dressing as a girl?” She asked.

“Just a few days, actually. People mistook me for a girl, and then one thing led to another, and here I am.”

“Just a few days? You look great for that little practice. And, your voice is perfect.”

Voice? “I really didn’t do anything to my voice,” I asserted. “Geez. People are always thinking I’m a girl when I answer the phone. Heck – I’ve always had waitresses and store clerks address me as ‘Miss.’ I thought that was normal.”

“It is ‘normal’ – for you.”

“Really?”

She nodded. “How long have you known that you should have been born in a girl’s body?”

I gave her question some thought. “I suppose I never thought about it, but I always had these feelings that I kept shoving aside. I thought I was overly curious, or something. Now I’m beginning to seriously believe that what you see in front of you – is the real me.”

“Uh-huh.”

“To be truthful,” I added softly, “my life has been one weird comment after another. Even though I was a pretty good soccer player, a lot of people have told me that I kick like a girl.”

“Oh?” She nodded. “When people tell you what they think, believe them.”

“Now that I think about it, my Aunt Sarah always said that I was too pretty to be a boy. She was always on me about wanting to get her hands on my hair, so she could give me a girly do.”

“How did that make you feel?”

“It really didn’t bother me. She lived in a world where she acted like my uncle’s trophy. Maybe she wasn’t happy and was taking it out on me? What did bother me though, was when people I admired a lot would say things. Like my advanced math teacher in junior high. He said that when I got excited about things I ran around in a tizzy like a girl.”

Her lips laughed. “I didn’t know “tizzy running” was gender specific.”

I grinned and relaxed.

“How can I help you?” Maxine asked.

I can trust her.
“Just get me through today,” I pleaded. “Help me keep my secret. I’m just not ready to let people know.”

She patted my hand. “When I finally told people about me, nearly everyone told me they already knew.”

“I just moved here,” I explained.

“I know, honey. If you had been a long-time resident, you wouldn’t talk like Lake Michigan, and I would have known about you. When they take the census in Pecos, they just go to Main Street and look around. This is a small town where everyone is either related . . . or wants to be” She hugged me. “You’re darling . . . and after today you’re going to be stunning. Your secret is safe. I’ll arrange things so that whenever it needs to be private for you today, I’ll be the one working on you.”

“Oh, thank you!” I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

“Do you have a boyfriend, yet?” She asked, while she sat me in a chair and started to work with my hair.

“No!” I blushed.

“Oh . . . someone has caught your eye.” She smirked in the mirror so I could see.

“It’s not like that. I like Emily, too,” I asserted.

“That’s dangerous,” Maxine warned. “This is Coach Acre’s town. You be very careful with Emily’s feelings.”

I nodded and made a mental note to have a talk with Emily. Not out of fear, but because it was the right thing to do

“Let’s see what we have to work with. Actually, you have a feminine forehead so you can wear a lot of hairstyles that I have to avoid. Bangs are a possibility for you. You have an apple chin, which is also quite feminine. Full lips like yours are so womanly. Your nose is a little broad, but I’ll show you a few tricks to easily hide that tiny flaw with makeup. Hmmmmm. Your hands are tiny and my guess is you wear a size five men’s shoe.”

“That’s right.”

“You’re extremely lucky. Ninety-nine percent of the transwomen I know would kill to have your body and face. You’re so trim and absolutely cute.”

I blushed. “Thank you.”

“How long did it take you to learn how to hold your hands at the right angle and to walk with such profound grace?”

“I’m not sure what you mean?”

“Oh? Ohhh! If you ever have questions, or need a friendly ear, I’m here for you. Let’s get you out of your clothes and into a dressing gown so we don’t ruin your pretty things.”

Although her salon isn’t anything like the barbershops I’m used to, it’s as comfortable as an old pair of cleats.

“Don’t worry, our gowns are ample. I designed them with girls like you in mind.”

Girls like me? “Without breaching anyone’s privacy, do you have a lot of transgender customers?”

“Pecos is a small community, but I have over fifty trans clients. That’s about ten percent of our total business. They come from as far away as fifty miles.”

“In Texas — there’s that many?”

“Being trans isn’t something that respects borders. Texans want everything to be in its place. Did you know there are more captive tigers in Texas than there are running free worldwide? Trans men and women don’t stay in their cages.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, why haven’t you moved out of Texas?”

“I almost did once. A group of people at my church outed me. I wasn’t ready to tell anyone. That’s how my parents found out.”

“How did they take it?”

“My dad said he knew since I was four that I was more girl than boy. My mom immediately helped me go through her old dresses and resized them to fit me. I was lucky. Two of my friends got zero support from their families.”

“Why did those horrid people in your church out you?”

She had finished shampooing and was working a minty-smelling conditioner into my hair. “They were trying to save my soul, by exposing what they described as the evil that was possessing me. Poor fools, they were well-intended, but so wrong. Most Texans are wonderful people. There are some loudmouths who run for public office who say and do things that are despicable, but the average Texan is extremely independent. As long as you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.”

“But . . . what about all the bathroom bills?”

“Honey, I have four ‘special’ girls whose hair I style who go to Pecos High School. No one bothers them about the silly “M” or “W” on the darn door. Pecos has its share of morons, but the nice people seem to keep the fools under their rocks.”

Chapter Eight

“For a few precious moments ... I'm back in Old Texas, under a high sky, where all things are again possible and the wind blows free.”
– Larry King

Several hours later, I stared at a full-length mirror. Maxine had talked me into allowing her to send a trusted employee to the mall to pick up a simple outfit for me. My first dress. Her employee had gone full bore at the mall while Maxine gave me the works.

It was definitely me in the mirror. Everything looks so nice!

I started at the top of my head and marveled at the mass of curls that my hair had become. She had colored my black hair — making it a more interesting auburn, highlighted it, and wove in extensions.

Next, I noted my eyebrows, which had been plucked to an arched line that was about half as bushy as they had been.

Maxine had given me a primer in cosmetics and shown me what eyeliner could do.

At the same level of my eyes were my freshly pierced ears and new studs. I can’t wait to add some of the fun jewelry to my collection that Maxine has for sale.

My lips had been tinted a shade of pink that seemed . . . kissable.

Maxine had given me a lovely necklace that she said would draw attention away from my Adam’s apple so that no one would draw the same conclusions she had.

My hands looked dainty with six rings, long nail extensions, and polish that matched my lips.

Maxine described my new outfit as a “skater’s dress.” It was candy-apple red with big white and blue carnations dotting all of the available surface, which wasn’t all that much. The hem stopped at mid-thigh and the dress was backless with two spaghetti straps instead of fabric. Until I saw that dress on me I didn’t know you could taste pleasure. The way I felt at that moment could only be described as “caramel.”

I’d studied Georgia O’Keefe in art class and blushed when I thought about the large flowers on my dress — and what they represent.

“Your dimpled knees absolutely scream ‘female,’ ” Maxine said.

Thankfully her assistant, who is also trans, had stopped at a specialty shop for a “gaff” and had picked up lingerie that worked with my new outfit, so I didn’t have to worry about accidentally outing myself in my short dress. She also purchased adhesive for my enhancers so that I could go braless and still have shape.

My legs were encased in “nude” stockings ending in black, two-piece sandals with three and one-half inch heels.

My first few steps in heels made me look like just-born Bambi, but the athlete in me kicked in and I quickly felt like Ginger Rogers spinning to make my short skirt flair.

Of course, my toenails were stained the same color as my lips.

Maxine had also introduced me to a new floral scent: Wonderstruck by Taylor Swift. She said it was whimsical, like me – and awesome for daytime at work.

The overall change was startling, but it wasn’t shocking.

For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m looking at the real me.

Emily emerged from the other side of the salon. Her transformation hadn’t been as magical as mine, however, she was an absolute vision. The fact that I had no desire to have wild sex with her confirmed my thoughts that maybe I wasn’t heterosexual.

Or, maybe I am. Maxine told me that for someone like me, wanting to make love to a man made me hetero.

“Omigosh, Angel. Is that really you?” Emily chirped. “We need to drive to your home right now and burn all your jeans. With legs like yours, it’s a sin against nature to hide them.”

“You look marvelous,” I deflected.

“It’s the red lipstick,” Emily said. “I don’t wear red that often, but when I do it makes me feel confident.”

“Why don’t you wear it every day?” I asked.

“Daddy would have a fit,” she laughed. “He thinks red lipstick excites men. He once told me that men get as excited about seeing red lipstick as they do by actual kissing.”

“If men get so excited by it, why don’t they wear red lipstick?” I asked sarcastically.

Maxine stepped in. “That probably goes all the way back to the French Revolution. Up until that time, men did wear lipstick. However, it fell out of fashion. Men wearing lipstick were thought to be part of the aristocracy and were taken to the guillotine.”

“That would discourage anyone,” I agreed.

“Daddy thinks women wear lipstick to attract men,” Emily said. “I’ve told him that ninety percent of women wear lipstick to feel good about themselves, but he just won’t buy it.”

We laughed at how obtuse men can be.

I feel slightly conflicted.

“You two beauties should go to Emily’s house and pick out a dress for Emily for tonight, and then have dinner at the country club,” Maxine suggested.

“Let’s do it,” Emily said with enthusiasm.

“Only if you have a purse I can borrow to match this dress,” I said. The right purse. That’s the only thing that bothers me about going to the country club looking like this? Crazy!

***

No one was home at Emily’s house. After she tried on about two dozen outfits we went to the country club.

“If this is what life on the girly side is like, sign me up,” I enthused. The staff of the country club had treated us like royalty from the moment we pulled up at valet parking in my Corrado. In fact, the boy who took my keys said it was an “awesome car,” which it is.

“I don’t want to burst your pink bubble,” Emily giggled, “but these knuckleheads are treating us like princesses because Daddy’s team won regionals last year. Had he lost a couple of conference games they wouldn’t be half so nice. Believe me, I’ve been around for the downside. Girls generally are treated nice, but not all that nicer when they’re pretty as you.”

I don’t believe her. Everyone has been so sweet to me since I started caring how I look.

We ordered a chef salad that we would split. I had decided after a day of shopping that I wanted to drop about three pounds,

“Emily,” I touched her hand, “I don’t want to mislead you.”

“Oh oh,” Emily grinned sardonically. “I know what’s coming.”

“I’m so sorry, Emily,” I apologized. “You’re terrific, but I’m beginning to wonder about my sexuality.”

She nodded.

I continued. “I’m so confused right now.” She doesn’t know the half of it. “I’m not sure if I like girls or boys, or what? And, I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“Is it David?” Emily guessed. “He’s been coming into the DQ a lot for someone who doesn’t like ice cream.”

“He doesn’t like ice cream?”

“That’s what he claims.”

“That’s sooooo not right. I wonder if he shouldn’t see a doctor about that.”

We laughed.

I shook my head. “I’m not interested in David – especially now that I know he’s an icecreamaphobic.”

The waiter brought our salad, already split between two plates.

“He’s cute,” Emily commented about the waiter, after he left. “He doesn’t play football and he’s about a year too old. He’s a Junior at SMU. Daddy would shoot me, if I dated a man that old.”

My eyes followed the waiter and I appreciated his very attractive backside. “Maybe he has a younger brother?” I giggled.

“If it’s not David you like, it must be Jacob,” she guessed. “I was into Jacob last year, but it didn’t last.”

“It’s not Jacob,” I protested. “It’s not any boy. I’m just getting used to the idea of boys not having cooties.”

She persisted. “It’s Jose. You can tell me. Jose’s a sweetheart. Wait! I know. It’s Matt!”

I blushed. “Nooooo.”

“It is. You like Matt! That’s okay. Matt asked me out before you moved to town, but I was dating Noah at that time, so I turned him down. I always thought he’d ask again . . . but he hasn’t.”

“It’s no one. Really.”

She laughed. “Bullcrap! It’s always someone.”

“Not for someone like me,” I whined.

“You mean, because you’re transgender?” She asked.

My mouth dropped open. “You know?”

She laughed. “You’re adorable, but I’ve suspected from the moment I met you.”

“How? Why?”

“Things didn’t add up. A girl as cute as you would never go looking for a job in an old ratty T-shirt. Everyone knows from watching HGTV that to sell your house you have to stage it properly.”

I shut my eyes. “Do you hate me?”

“Hate – heck no. There are things about you that I don’t like . . . like when you call Coke “soda” or “pop”. Coke is Coke. There’s root beer Coke and Big Orange Coke. There’s no darn “soda” and no darn “pop.” That. . .I don’t care for. The rest of you is just fine with me.”

I felt faint, but pleased.

“I knew within a few seconds of meeting you that you were trans. You reminded me a lot of that trans actress in Orange Is the New Black.

“Laverne Cox. I suppose I do look a little like her. Except she’s taller . . . and black. . .and I’m brown.”

“I knew you were trans, but I didn’t know. You see, I’m sort of a bitch.”

“Huh?”

“My daddy being the C-O-A-C-H can be a real pain. Since my aunt was killed in a single car crash on the river bridge, he’s been a goodie-two-shoes and demands that I be one, too. You see my tattoo?” She pulled back her hair to show me the tiny football below her ear. “I wanted to be a badass with a tattoo. I knew daddy would kill me so I went small and got a football so he couldn’t really get too mad.”

What does this all have to do with me?

“I don't want to be perfect, but I do want to be a role model. My mom always tells me that imperfections equal beauty. All of us are imperfect.” A tear ran down her left cheek. “Then you walked in. I heard you tell Tony about your soccer skills. I wasn’t sure if you were a girly-boy or a Tomboy, but either way, I thought it would interesting to see if Daddy would find a spot for you on his team of he-men.”

“You used me to play games with your father,” I accused quietly.

“I really don’t have an excuse. People in Texas see things as two dimensional with no middle ground. If they love you, they probably would throw themselves in front of a bus to save your butt. If they don’t like you, they’re probably driving that bus that just ran over you. —- It gets worse,” she said. “I followed you to the drug store that day. It was no accident.”

She was stalking me.
“Why?”

“At first, I was being a spoiled little girl lashing out at her father, but then I saw how much you wanted to be a girl. The look on your face in that drug store was . . . magical. I felt sorry for you, you being an orphan. I decided to do everything I could to help you. . .and screw with Daddy at the same time. I hope you can forgive the total bitch side of me and accept me for the friend that I hope that I have become.”

I peered into her soul and saw pure intentions.

We hugged as BFFs.

Chapter Nine


“The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likable. In three days, no one could stand him.”
– Joseph Heller (Catch-22)

As had become my habit, I shut off my VW on the street and coasted soundlessly up the driveway. Emily and I had finished our meal at the country club and then talked until midnight. We have so much in common.

The lights in John’s house were off so I felt comfortable entering looking like I did. Despite my heels, I stepped noiselessly into the house. The day will come when I’ll have to tell John, but. . ..

Suddenly someone turned on the lights. I blinked to fight the glaring brightness in the living room.

“So, it’s true,” John shrieked from where he sat in his chair. “I’ve been getting weird calls all day long about my ‘niece’ who’s causing problems because she won’t kick for the Bills.” His face registered disgust.

Despite my comfort with myself, for the first time in weeks I was having regrets about decisions I had recently made.

“You’re a. . .a. . .shemale,” he accused.

Unable to bridge the chasm between his wrath and my happiness, I closed my eyes and started to walk to my bedroom.

“Stop right there, Angel. Get back in here and sit down. I’ll let you know when I’m done with you.” His voice trembled, as if he could hardly contain his rage.

My innate respect for my elders trumped my dislike for John. I sat on the only other chair. For the first time, I became aware of how little furniture John’s house contained. When his wife left him she must have wiped him out. Mike told me she dropped off the face of the Earth. It’s extremely fortunate they never had kids.

“I haven’t lost an ‘A’ client in years,” he steamed. “Them ‘A’ clients are the ones that pays my bills down at the agency. They’re clients who place at least three policies with me. Pete Welk called, and he has that big home and four cars, and his bass boat all insured through me. That’s easily $300 in commission that I could lose. Terry Tranz has been with me since my first year that I been licensed . . . and he says that if my family isn’t willing to help out the Bills, he has to rethink where he’s got his coverages.”

“It’s none of their business,” I whined.

“Is it because you don’t want to break a nail,” he laughed. “I heard about you drag queens. Have you been beating off in my guest bedroom?” His question was loaded with disdain.

Eee-ewwe!
“What? No.”

“I’ll bet! When that rat-bastard Mike called and offered to pay me $2,500 a month to take you in, I should’ve knowed you were damaged goods.”

Mike pays him $2,500 a month? And, John doesn’t even stock the refrigerator.

“Don’t try to tell me that you were at some costume party,” he sneered. “I been all through your room and ‘Lucy, you got some ‘splaining to do.’ ”

I glanced out the picture window on the front of his fifties’ style home. I could see directly into the house across the street. They were watching a late-night movie. If I get up and knock on their door they’d probably let me watch with them.

“Let’s start with all that women’s stuff you got hanging in your closet and in your drawers. What’s up with that?”

“They’re my clothes,” I said indignantly. “You had no right to go through my things.”

“Bullshit . . . 1.) I’m your legal guardian, and 2.) When my paying customers are complaining, I got every right.” He took a swig of Shiner Bock, and then crushed the empty can against his forehead.

I shook my head. Even eighth graders back in Illinois know that crushing an aluminum can isn’t a sign of brute strength.

“So. . ..” He thrust my pay stubs at me. “What the hell’s the deal. I guess I sort of guessed you was working at the Dairy Queen from the shirts and things in the laundry, but hell, you make a lot more there than I pay any of my gals at the office. What’s up?”

I shrugged.

“Maybe you should be kicking in a little something on the monthly mortgage payment. How about that? Huh?”

I shook my head again.

“Sure . . . that’s a good idea.” He glared at me. “That Tony must be nuts from serving in the fucking army. He thinks he’s such a hero, but what he doesn’t realize is that no one else but him fell for that patriotic bullshit, except for the guys trying to score a green-card.”

He’s sooo wrong!

“You have no idea what it takes to make money. Do you think it’s fun down at the agency falsifying all those applications to make the rates competitive enough so people will buy? Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. If that means you have to kick a fucking football – you’ll kick a fucking football. Get it?”

I looked away, until he shook a handful of pill bottles at me. “What kind of drugs you been takin’?”

“The names are on the bottles.”

“Sure they are, you sissy,” he laughed. “I thought they might be worth something. Uppers or downers, or something. But I looked them up on Google and all they are is hormones for sissies like you. Do you even have a prescription for them?”

I remained silent.

“No, of course not. I suppose I need to flush these down the toilet . . . for your own good.”

“I’ll just buy more.”

“Fuck it. What do I care what ya do?” He threw the plastic vials at me. “If you don’t care what your body looks like, why should I?”

That’s just it, you moron. I do care what my body looks like. Very much!

I opened my mouth to tell him that the pills hadn’t had any impact on me, but thought of the two times I’d been sick to my stomach and decided not to say anything.

“I better not find you suckin’ dick in my house,” he said. “Unnnlessssss. . .. Come over here so I can take a closer look at you.” He squinted at me through eyes that were ninety percent closed.

I got out of my chair hoping that he’d soon be satisfied with being a complete loser, and then I could go to bed.

His pupils are constricted and he looks like he could fall asleep at any moment.

When I got close to his chair he stood and grabbed me by my left wrist. “Are you intending on looking like that. . . and smelling so sexy like you do around my house?”

I fiercely nodded. “Yes. I’m going to continue being me.”

“Then, by god, you can continue being you -- with your lips wrapped around my cock. I’m not a neophyte when it comes to you girly-boys. When I was in Europe on a trip I won selling life insurance, I had my own high old times.” He pulled me against his body. “You know, I married into your sick, twisted family. There’s none of my blood running in your veins. You can blow me just like you do all them other guys you meet in the bus station toilet. Since we’re not blood relations it wouldn’t even be perverted.”

My stomach roiled with outrage.

He twisted my wrist -- so that I’d be forced to my knees in front of him, but my martial arts training kicked in.

I reversed his move and had him on his knees. “Listen good. . . John. If you ever touch me again I’ll use my soccer muscles to kick your pathetic little balls up into your slime-infested body. Do you understand?”

He nodded.

“Say it out loud, you creep!”

“I won’t do it again,” he whimpered. “Watch what you’re doing. I don’t have insurance for the emergency room.”

I twisted his arm far enough to sprain it, but short of breaking any bones, and then let him free.

John got to the other side of the room before he swore at me, and then seemingly regained some of his cockiness. “I’m your legal guardian. You have to do what I tell you, or I’ll get you sent to juvie hall. You will play for the Bills. . .and that’s final. Besides . . . sooner than you might think, you’ll be in my bed like a good little girl — and loving it. . .you’ll see.”

He looked confused. “It doesn’t have to be bad between us. I got a new gig. I’m starting to provide a service to those demanding it. An opie man, that’s me. You could do some business with me down at that ice cream store and at your school. Maybe Fentanyl? You like money, don’t you?”

Finally, silence filled the room that had just been stuffed with hubris and horror.

Luckily he’d sat down in a chair and thankfully passed out.

Chapter Ten

“If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.” - Philip Sheridan

The next morning, I called Maxine and asked for her help. She said that she knew a local judge and would get me in to see him right away. In less than an hour, I was in Judge Bean’s chambers, between his court sessions. He was fifty to seventy pounds overweight and sported a sparkling-white beard. His full lips and bright eyes suggested a person who placed a high value on having fun.

“So that’s how it is, Judge,” I said, after asking for his help to get me out from under John’s legal authority. I hadn’t told the judge about me being trans or about John’s drugs. My navy-blue dress I’d borrowed from Emily, with a hem that stopped two inches above the knees, seemed appropriate for a meeting with him. “My Uncle John is asking me to do things I don’t want to, and I’m wondering what I can do about it.”

“Is he abusing you in any way?

“Not really. Let’s just say he and I don’t see eye-to-eye on anything. He says things that are hurtful. That’s all.”

“Words have power. My guess is that John is incapable of understanding what’s going on in your mind. If it gets out of hand I’m a text message away. -- Well,” the judge drew himself up to official level, “any minor can petition the court in Texas for emancipation. ‘Emancipation’ is what we call being declared an adult in the eyes of the law. You have to be a Texas resident, which you are . . . and you have to be seventeen.”

I shook my head. “I’m only sixteen and won’t be seventeen for another four months.”

“Do you have a job?”

“I’m the assistant manager at the Dairy Queen.”

“Oh . . . you’re the one Tony’s been raving about down at the Kiwanis meetings. How much is he paying you a month?”

That’s a strange question.
“I take home just a little over $5,000 after withholding.”

“The law says you’re eligible to be emancipated if you’re sixteen, living apart from your parents – or in this case – guardian – and are able to support and manage your own affairs. From what Tony says about you, you’re able to handle affairs quite well.”

I blushed. “Tony’s fun to work for.”

“What is it your scum-bag uncle wants you to do?” Judge Bean looked as if he would gladly kick John’s ass if I so directed.

“It’s crazy, Judge. John and lots of other people, want me to kick a football for the Bills.”

“About that,” the judge said. His entire demeanor had gone from that of a neighbor chatting over the back fence about the weather, to someone protecting the very integrity of jurisprudence. “You see, in a town like Pecos there is a social fabric. If that fabric has a loose thread, some fool might start to unravel what has taken years to develop. The good people of Pecos have decided that this towns very existence relies on the ongoing success of the Bills.”

I nodded. “It seems like some people feel that way.”

“Not just ‘some.’ The vast majority of the good citizens of Pecos, who every third year decide by public election if I will continue to serve as a judge, believe that everyone has to pull together on behalf of the Bills.”

“What do you mean by ‘pull together?’ ”

He spoke as if he was quoting verbatim from one of the hundreds of legal books on his shelves. “Well now, if you’ve got a skill that can be used to help the Bills win you’re legally bound to help them. I realize you have special circumstances, but that doesn’t change the basic facts.”

“Huh?” I asked stupidly. Legally bound?

“For some people that ‘skill’ is making supportive, encouraging signs and planting them on their lawns. For others, it’s taking off their shirts and painting a big ‘B’ on their bellies, and then going up into the stands and yelling themselves hoarse.”

“I see.”

“For you – your legal duty is to kick the ball as far and as accurately as you can.”

“Okay,” I questioned, “how does that become a legal duty?”

“In Pecos, things have a way of eventually finding themselves in my court. If you were to come before me seeking legal protection against the school district under a writ of mandamus or some other sort of writ to compel, I would be forced to uphold the will of the people and demand that you kick for the school.”

There must be a way to stop people from forcing me to kick. “And, theoretically what would happen – if I said ‘no?’ ”

“You don’t want to do that – even theoretically. If you were to defy the court’s decree, I would have to hold you in contempt. You would be tossed into an adult confinement holding cell with Pecos’ flotsam and jetsam – druggies, sex-peddlers, and other reprobates. It would not be a pleasant experience.

Especially if he discovered my birth gender and put me in a cell full of big, horny men.

“Would every judge in Pecos act the same way?”

“Only those who wanted to be re-elected. Look, Angel, as a judge I’m duty bound to get people to do what’s best for them. For most people that works just fine. For a few contrary individuals, it just drives them further into a life of crime – just to spite me. With you, I think pushing you to play football will help you move on down the road toward more of your life goals than you can imagine.”

I reviewed my position. Seeing no viable alternative, I decided to join the team. Judge Bean smilingly approved that decision and immediately granted my request for emancipation.

“As long as we’re here,” he said, “would you like me to officially change your legal gender from male to female?”

“Huh.”

“My dear young lady. It took me two seconds to call up your records from Illinois. I always like to know what the people I’m talking to in my chambers have been up to when I’m called in — to make a ruling. You’re a very good student who has managed to stay out of trouble. And – unless we make a change, you’re considered a male in the eyes of the law.”

“Am I in big trouble?” I asked quietly.

“For what?”

“For being a female impersonator.”

He chuckled. “Is that what you’re doing? If you’re doing an impersonation, you’re very good at it. All I see in front of me is a very likable young lady who has her life in order.”

I blushed. I’m doing a lot of blushing lately, and a lot of feeling relieved.

“You’re emancipated and capable of making your own decision on the matter of legal gender; should I make a ruling?”

I nodded, and then became legally female. No fairy dust. No fireworks. Just my signature on a few documents and I’d removed a “M” and replaced it with a preferable “F.”

***

I moved out of John’s house, and with Tony’s help found a place of my own within two blocks of Tony’s house. Tony and his wife got me moved and established that I would have dinner with them every Sunday and Wednesday. Strangely, living by myself was much less lonely than living with John had been.

I called Uncle Mike and made sure he didn’t send John any more money. Over my protest, Mike insisted that he be invoiced directly for my rent and stated he would send me $1,500 a month for food and incidentals. He also told me that he had put 5% of the stock of his Dairy Queen in my name, and that I would start to receive regular dividends, that he made me promise I would save toward college.

“That’s great, Uncle Mike,” I said, “but if that’s going to create a problem with Aunt Sarah, I’d rather you wouldn’t give me any stock.”

“Why would Sarah care?” He asked. “We have plenty.”

“You know,” I stated — wishing I didn’t have to get into it. “Aunt Sarah saw me as a pain. Isn’t that why I ended up in Texas?”

“I guess it’s time for you to know.” Uncle Mike’s voice broke a bit. “Sarah has terminal pancreatic cancer. Just like your mom. She was diagnosed the week your mom died. We didn’t want to put another rock in your sack, so we didn’t tell you. This trip is her way of dealing with it.”

“I’m so sorry, Uncle Mike. Is Aunt Sarah in a lot of pain? Can’t I come home and help?”

“Actually, we’ve been with doctors here in Europe who have put her on an experimental drug regimen that isn’t approved in the United States. So far, the prognosis is good. They expect that within weeks she will be in remission and we can come home and pick up where we left off. If all goes well, would you like to move back in with us in a few months?”

I smiled. “That sounds GREAT Uncle Mike. I’m so happy she’s better. As far as me moving back — let’s play it by ear. There are some things about Texas that seem to be bringing out the best in me.”

I wonder what Mike and Sarah would think if they could see their “niece?” I’ll tell them all about it once Aunt Sarah is better.

“As long as we’re clearing things up,” Mike said, “You should know that your Uncle John hasn’t had the best life. His parents were always too busy to see to him as a kid. They set him up with a trust fund that was supposed to make everything right when he turned twenty-five. However, when he became a slacker and flunked out of college they took away the money.”

That partially explains why there’s almost no furniture in his house.

Mike continued. “It doesn’t excuse him, but I wanted you to know so that you didn’t think the way he treated you was because of anything you’d done. He’s a jerk. I thought he’d turned things around, or I never would have arranged for you to live with him.”

“Things seem to happen for a reason.”

***

Football practice was a lot like soccer practice, only I dressed alone in my own room. Once on the field, I warmed up with slow laps, stretched, and then kicked. I kicked fifteen kick-offs every day, fifteen specialty kickoffs practicing for something Coach Acre called an onside kick, fifteen specialty squib kickoffs where we made the up-backs handle the ball, fifteen points after touchdown, and fifteen field goals of varying lengths.

I quickly learned that kicking a football involved the same basic three-step mechanics of soccer kicking: Cock the leg – Accelerate through the Ball – Follow through.

Matt could rarely practice with me, because he had to get in his “reps” doing QB plays. When he wasn’t available, I used various holding devices and mainly worked on my own.

I had suspected that some of the guys would be averse to a girl on the team, but if there were any who didn’t want me there, I didn’t know about it. The other kicker for the Bills used his toe, instead of his instep, and barely could kick a twenty-yard field-goal. Shortly after I joined the team, he quit.

I researched soccer players who became football kickers and found that the tradition went back fifty years to someone name Pete Gogolak who kicked for the New York Giants. Hundreds of soccer players have transitioned to becoming NFL kickers. There isn’t anything strange about my transitioning.

The third night of practices I ran into Matt Wentz when I was leaving my dressing room. Literally, I ran right into him, and then dropped my purse on the floor scattering my belongings.

“Thank you,” I blushed while Matt picked up feminine item after feminine item and handed them to me. I’d taken a tip from Maxine and placed two tampons in my purse, which, of course, Matt had to handle. Happily, I was sure that what he’d seen had sealed my illusion until I would come clean.

Come clean! “Matt,” I said suddenly, “I just remembered, I need to meet with Coach Acre.”

***

Five minutes later I was in Coach Acre’s office, which was situated just down the hall from the players’ dressing room.

Coach smiled at me when I walked in. “I was watching some of your practice kicks today, young lady. You’re simply terrific. If I could draw a picture of the perfect kicker for the Bills on my whiteboard, it would look just like you.”

I blushed.

He continued. “I was talking to Tony the other day at the Elks Club. He tells me that you’re pretty much the perfect assistant manager. We’re going to have to start calling you “Perfect Angel.”

I started crying. “I’m not perfect Coach.” I wiped tears from my eyes. “Not even close to perfect. I’ve been lying to everyone and I need to start telling you the truth, before someone gets hurt, maybe even the whole team.”

His face became clouded. “Young lady, I want the full story.” He went behind me, shut the door to his office, and then had me sit in a side chair next to his desk. He sat on the corner of his desk with his arms hanging loosely at his sides, while fingering his whistle. “Take your time, but tell me all.”

I decided to start with the hardest. “I was born a boy. I’ve only started transitioning to become a girl shortly after I arrived in Pecos.”

His face suggested only mild surprise. “Does Tony know?”

“Uh-uh.” I shook my head. “There are only four people in Pecos who know: Maxine at the hair salon, Judge Bean, Emily, and my uncle.”

“Only her hairdresser knows for sure,” Coach observed. “When I was a kid that was the marketing slogan for Clairol hair coloring,” he explained. “Maxine is a good person. She played a year of football for me before she made her decision. Finest kind. You’re probably not getting much support from your Uncle John. I once bought my insurance from him, but he knew less about what he was selling than I did. I heard that you moved out. Good for you. I suppose that’s where Judge Bean got involved. The less influence John has on you, the better. I’m not at all surprised Emily is a step ahead of me. She usually is.”

I couldn’t hold back the tears and suddenly didn’t see any reason to try. After I bawled for several minutes, I realized that Coach had been feeding me Kleenex and saying all the right soothing things.

“Coach . . . there’s something else,” I whimpered.

“Wow,” he said gently, “for most people what you’ve told me so far would have been enough.”

I bit my lip and resolved to get it all out. “I’m taking hormones. If I don’t take them, I’ll start developing male secondary sex characteristics.”

He nodded. “Go on.”

“I’m going to lose muscle strength. The drugs impact individuals differently, but I might not be as effective kicking for the Bills next year as I am this year. In fact, I might even lose some strength toward the end of this season.”

His face clouded. “Angel, people tend to view me as a coach, period. My primary job is an educator. As such, I’m interested chiefly in helping you become the best person you can be. For most of my players, that means shepherding them into the weight room and watching them move a mountain of steel.”

I started to cry again knowing how much I was letting down my teammates and him.

“There are two things that I’m going to demand of you, young lady: 1.) I want you to meet with Miss Fergus tomorrow morning at 7:30. She will come to your apartment, so I’ll need your address.”

Despite myself, I tensed. “I don’t want some joke psychologist telling me that Mom caused me to want to be a girl because she was a single parent.”

He nodded grimly. “She’s not like that. She won’t be judgmental. I trust Miss Fergus. She’s done right by me every time we’ve needed her help. She’s a counselor from school. I know she’s free to see you, because I had a meeting set with her that I was just about to cancel when you came in. Can you make that meeting?”

“I’m clear, if you don’t mind me missing morning practice.”

He laughed. “That’s the second thing. Football isn’t the most important thing in life. Not even close. I value my faith, my family, my country, and my health far more than football. Your transition is a health issue with you and is much more important than football. You need to be you. You could be half the kicker you are today and you’d be better than any kicker I’ve ever had on my teams. And, if you can’t kick at all because of your transition, my guess is you would be very valuable to our program as a cheerleader.”

“But. . ..”

“Besides, we have a team kinesiologist,” he explained. “She is an expert in sports medicine and body movement. She will help us with the proper weight training, so that you can have the body you desire and still be a very good kicker.”

I laughed from the immense relief I felt. “Coach . . . Emily said that you’re not an. . ..” I stopped myself just in time.

He laughed. “Well, she has to defend me. Daughters are duty-bound to love their daddies unconditionally.” His face became serious. “That first night we talked you told me that you didn’t like football because of those players that use steroids. I watch my players for signs of drug use, any drugs. If I see it, I stop it.”

I nodded slowly.

“Are you self-medicating?” He asked.

I nodded again.

“You tell Miss Fergus exactly what you take, and how much. Drugs can be bad news. You only get one set of kidneys, Angel. Miss Fergus is a LPN. You ask her to call me after your meeting — and if you would, give her permission to talk to me as if I were your parent. Tell her that I’m going to see Judge Bean about formally adopting you, if need be, to help with your transition.”

My eyes sprang open and I saw the real Coach Acre for the first time. “Coach – you’re the best, but would you mind if I ask you a tough question that’s been bothering me?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“Twice every day, before and after practice, you have the team managers weigh every football player and those weights are recorded.”

“I need to know if my players are getting enough liquids during practice. Dehydration can cause serious problems.”

“Uh huh, I get that. But you look at the numbers every day – I’ve seen you check the reports.”

“I sure do.” He picked up a log on his desk and indicated that it was the weight book.

“Then, Coach, why would you need someone to check up on the players to see if they were eating too much of the wrong things at the Dairy Queen?”

He chuckled. “I didn’t. Angel, kicking is a mental thing. It requires character. Football reveals character, but I prefer to know what’s going to be revealed before it costs us a game.”

“You were testing me?” I asked.

He nodded. “Do you mind?”

“Emily’s right about you. She’s also the most confident girl I ever met.”

He chuckled. “And the most devious, but she has nothing on you when it comes to determination. You’re the champ in that arena, and that’s a really good thing to have going for you.”

***

That afternoon, before I started my shift, I met with Tony and told him the whole story.

“You do know that Maxine worked for me when she was going through her transition?” Tony asked.

“I didn’t know that,” I admitted. Everyone in Pecos does know everyone else.

“I like and admire YOU,” Tony said with heavy emphasis on ‘you.’ “You are the person I see in front of me, who has made my Dairy Queen more profitable and much more enjoyable for all the employees and me. What genitalia you have is the last of my concerns.”

I shook my head in wonder.

He continued. “Are you working with a psychologist?”

“Coach Acre has me seeing a counselor tomorrow morning.”

“Good. Good. You shouldn’t go through this without professional help. I’m here for you. I can see that a lot of people want to be your friend. Coach Acre has your back.

“He’s terrific,” I agreed.

“Good. Angel – you give off an aura of femininity, but I knew from the very first day that you were transgender. I didn’t know until after I read your application thoroughly, and checked out your references.”

“But, you didn’t say anything.”

“There was nothing to say. When you walked in that first day I saw someone who might be able to help me solve a lot of problems. I didn’t know if you were an effeminate boy, a Tomboy, or a transitioning girl. It wasn’t salient then and is even less salient now. I had faith you would come to me if it became an issue. Now you have. All I see in front of me now is someone I care about a great deal. So -- about the refrigeration problem. I think we should get a plumber to check. . ..”

Chapter Eleven

“You don't just move to Texas. It moves into you.” – Manny Fernandez

As promised, Miss Fergus was on my doorstep at 7:00. At first, I thought Beyonce had lost her way and ended up in Pecos, but she quickly cleared up all misconception by giving me her business card.

Her long, straight hair fell to the middle of her back. She looked to be in her thirties. Even though Coach had called her “Miss” she wore a birthstone necklace that had been engraved with the names: Jacob, Amelia, and Josh.

For my meeting with her, I had outfitted conservatively in a burgundy shirt dress with leggings and low heeled sandals. She was my first official visitor and I proudly showed her through my one-bedroom apartment, as if I was giving her a tour of the White House.

“I’ve been going over your transcript,” she said, while graciously accepting coffee I’d brewed. She sat across the kitchenette table from me. “Your Uncle Mike sent it directly to us. You’re a very good student. Do you have plans for your future?”

I nodded while she blew gently across the surface of her coffee. “I’ve looked at Odessa Community College here in Pecos and might go there for a couple of years studying business administration. Eventually, I’d like to obtain an M.B.A.”

“You should get an M.B.A. Coach passed on Tony’s comments about your work at the Dairy Queen. That’s very impressive. You have the grades to get into Stanford or Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania.”

“Do you think so?” I marveled.

“I’ll start making some calls today, after we finish,” she said. “If that’s okay with you.”

“Thank you.”

“Can we get very personal?” She asked.

“If necessary.”

“Coach has told me what you told him about the drugs you’re using. I need to know what drugs you’ve taken and what dosages.”

I had prepared a list and handed it to her.

She bit her lip. “We’re going to need a full blood panel. How long have you been taking these?”

“About five or six weeks.”

She shook her head. “you need to stop immediately, at least until we get the test results. Harm to your kidneys is a distinct possibility. I understand from the coach that you have full emancipation.”

“Yes.”

“That’s good. It will make things that much less complicated. We’ll get you started on a hormone regimen that makes sense. I’ll consult with a gender specialist, but I’m sure that you’ll achieve better, safer results by adding injections and skin patches and cutting back on dosage.”

I smiled. She’s not going to make me quit!

“Have you seen any changes to your body since you started taking these drugs?”

“My skin is definitely softer, but that could be due to all the lotions I use.” My legs and arms feel like silk. “However, I. . .ah. . .have noticed that my. . .erections. . .are softer.”

“That’s normal given the massive doses you’ve ingested,” she said clinically. “Does that bother you?”

I shook my head. “No. . .I want that to happen. Eventually, I want to go all the way. . .I want to have an operation down there.”

“I see. Are you sexually active?”

I shook my head.

“Have you been?”

“I’m a virgin.”

“Don’t be upset when the blood test comes back with an indication of no STDs. I believe what you’ve told me, but by Texas law, every test of a girl your age has to check for sexually transmitted diseases.”

“Okay,” I whispered.

“Do you plan on becoming sexually active?”

“I. . .don’t know,” I admitted. “I’m not excited by the idea, but if the right boy comes along I’m not sure what I’m going to want to do.” I blushed furiously. “I haven’t had a lot of time to think about. . .sex."

“Oh,” she grinned, “you’re waiting for Mr. Right. As sweet and pretty as you are, you’re going to have your pick of a dozen Mr. Rights. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to do engage in much in the sex department. Sex complicates things, and you already have a fairly full plate. Sex will happen soon enough for you.”

I blushed, again.

“Men are good, but not totally necessary. There’s no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish. I know your uncle. How on earth could you live with your uncle, looking like you do, without him knowing?”

“We didn’t see much of each other,” I stated honestly.

“He sold me a flood insurance policy one time. Imagine that. Flood insurance in West Texas. He didn’t tell me what it was. He just slipped that policy between my home policy and my auto policy. There’s something about your uncle that isn’t quite right. My advice to you is to stay out of situations where you and he are alone together.”

She must have a crystal ball somewhere!

I decided to open up to her.

“I think I like boys a lot,” I said. “I like the attention they pay to me, the way that they affirm that I’m pretty and desirable. But there are things about the way they act that bother me.”

“Boys can be annoying. What is it they do that bothers you.”

“A lot of boys who come into the Dairy Queen are jocks. They seem to think that girls are prizes to win and that their jockdom makes them a winner. I don’t want to be someone’s trophy.”

“I agree, but that sort of misguided-thinking permeates our society.”

I nodded thinking about all the things I’d seen lately in the news. “They also seem to think that I exist primarily to satisfy their needs. It’s like they want me to serve them. I understand that kind of thinking, when they’re paying customers at the DQ. I have to expect a bit of that, but isn’t there a limit?”

“Healthy relationships are built around equal rations of needs satisfaction.” She finished her coffee. “That was delicious.”

“Thank you. Mom spent a lot of time teaching me to do domestic things.”

“Do you feel inferior around boys?”

“Sometimes. They don’t seem to realize that a lot of what they say and do perpetuates a myth that they are the superior gender. They seem to want to dehumanize me. Is that normal?”

“I’m not sure what’s ‘normal,’ but you are the only person who can decide what you want in a relationship.”

“Some of the boys seem to want extremely rigid gender roles. Is it just my perception because I’m transgender, or are gender roles more blurred than distinct?”

She shook her head slowly. “Gender roles are mainly established by the media and are superfluous to reality.”

“People were always pushing me to be a girl in subtle ways. Do you have any idea how it hurts when people shove you to do things?”

Miss Fergus stood and paced for several moments, before sitting again. “You might not believe this, but almost everyone is being shoved – one way or another. When I was in high school I was painfully shy. A group of my so-called friends thought they would get me to come out of my shell by pushing me to be a cheerleader. I acquiesced, but hated every minute of it.”

That’s how it’s been for me. “One time my Uncle Mike made a joke. He said that I should help the DQ he owned meet its diversity goals with the regional manager by dressing up as a woman whenever they were coming around to check. He meant it to be funny, but it really hurt me.”

“Men can be obtuse to the feelings of those around them.”

“I’ve noticed by watching at the DQ that boys don’t seem to take rejection well. They seem to think of a girl not wanting to date them as a failure.”

“That’s a problem. Personally, I think that most rapes happen because certain males take a “no” as an affront to their male-hood.”

“If you could change your sex to females right away without side effects or complications, knowing you could never change back, would you?”

I thought for a moment. “That’s funny. I almost immediately answered an unquestionable “yes”. But then I thought how different my answer would have been four months ago. I’ve really learned a lot about myself in the last few weeks. I would love it.”

She nodded. “From what I understand everyone has referred to you as a female since you arrived in Pecos, in every aspect of your life. Do you like being thought of as a female?”

“Almost everyone has treated me like a female. And, I’ve grown to absolutely love it.”

“Do you consider yourself to be a Tomboy?

“No. I am one hundred percent female and feminine.”

“Are you happy playing football?”

I giggled. “I’m a kicker. I can’t imagine running into other people and knocking them down, but I don’t do that. Kicking has been a lot of fun, so far. The guys, especially the captains, have been great to me.”

“So much of the language of football seems to be based on females being inferior and males being the preferred gender.” I squirmed in my chair, becoming aware that our conversation had engrossed me so completely that I hadn’t moved for quite a while.

“Football and war both seem to be like that. Thankfully, Coach Acre tries to limit the sexist talk in his locker-room.”

“One of the football players told me that I’m not attractive when I’m doing my management work at the Dairy Queen. He said that when I strive to make the store a success I look like a “bitch.”

“That young man is in for a rough life in a society that is changing faster than he is. Some people think that when a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch. Those people are anachronisms. I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.” Her face showed her resolve.

“Mostly I hate it when boys treat girls as their property,” I said.

“Men who feel that way view women as less than fully-formed human beings. They need to learn. Those who don’t learn — often become abusers. Many end up in jail. People like me won’t allow men to dominate. It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now I have it. I’m not going to be silent.”

“Miss Fergus, my breasts are sore, and I’m experiencing some discharge.”

She made a note. “We’ll get you that appointment with the gender specialist this afternoon.”

“I feel like I’m just starting to know about myself.”

“Self is an interesting concept. Psychologists tell us we have four selves. There’s the Open Self that is made up of information you and others know about you.

“There’s the Blind Self that is formed by information about you that you don’t know, but others do.

“There’s the Hidden Self that includes things about you that you know but others don’t know.

“And, then there’s the Unknown Self that is information about you that neither you or others know.”

My head spun, while I acknowledge that clarity she had just provided. “So – there are people back in Mokena who wouldn’t be surprised to see me looking like I am today.”

“More than likely — and people who would be flabbergasted and a lot who would simply shrug. Well – just to be sure we eliminate surprises here in Pecos, I’m going to talk to the principal -- and get the ball rolling so your first day of school is smooth.”

“Omigosh. Will I be the town freak?”

She smiled and shook her head. “Five years ago, it would have been touch and go. We’ve had a handful of transitioning students. Maxine did a great job a few years ago breaking ground for you. There’s a group of diehards who won’t be anything but barely tolerant, but we’ll do our best to keep them quietly ignorant.”

Chapter Twelve

“Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word. A Texan outside of Texas is a foreigner.” – John Steinbeck

I planned for the first day of school with as much effort as the Allied Command put into D-Day. Much of the tension was relieved by football scheduling, when the Bills played two games before school classes started.

I kicked off the first game and went four for four on extra points and three for three on field goals setting a school single-game scoring record for a kicker. The Bills’ defense held the other team scoreless, so we won 37-0.

Tony got so excited that he created a promotion. After that every time I kicked two or more field goals in a game he ran a fifty-cents-off special on blizzards.

The next week the game’s handout included a carefully worded bio about the new kicking “star” with a color picture of me in one of my cutest outfits talking to the team captains. Miss Fergus had helped Coach Acre carefully draft the article with a matter-of-fact statement about my transitioning.

The message had been clear: “SHE’S” important to the success of the Bills. Don’t mess with her.

Coach had met with the team in a closed-door meeting without me after the first game. He told them about me and answered all questions. I was told later that there were about six players who were against me being on the team. All of the team captains told those six that “WE” are the Bills. They told them that I was a Bill and if they couldn’t tolerate that, they weren’t real Bills. Bills are about winning and the captains felt I gave them a better chance of being successful.

End of discussion.

We won again the second game 48-0, and I again didn’t miss any kicks.

Maxine and Emily helped me with my first-day-of-school look, although between football and my work at the Dairy Queen all but a very few students hadn’t seen me around.

Nonetheless, I wanted to make a good first impression on those who didn’t already know me.

Maxine helped me with a minimal makeup approach that would require little maintenance. We decided that I should have nearly nude nails and a simple, care-free hairdo, which also would work on the sidelines when I slipped my helmet on and off.

Emily helped me meet the letter-of-the-law of the school dress code. I had selected a navy romper with spaghetti straps, because the temperature was going to be mid-nineties. She added a lightweight mesh jacket and helped me pick Navy high-top athletic shoes with white laces.

After our second period, we all were called to the gym for a pep rally for the football game that night.

The three captains: Ron, Jerry, and Matt introduced each player and had them stand, they asked that the applause be held until the last player was introduced, who was me. I was sitting with a group of girls from my class, including Emily, who sat next to me. My knees shook when they called my name and I stood, but the applause that followed felt genuine.

The program appeared to be over when Matt stepped back to the microphone. “There’s a tradition at Pecos High that the starting quarterback has some special perks.” He turned to the side of the stage where Coach Acre was sitting. “Coach, am I still your starting quarterback.”

Coach Acre smiled. “Matt, you’ve thrown for seven TDs in two games with only that one pick . . . so, for sure, you’re starting QB.”

Matt nodded. “Then, as is my right, I’m about to select a Slue-Foot-Sue. I guess I know most of the three hundred girls in Pecos High. I don’t know of any girl in our high school who I wouldn’t be proud to take out on a date. Yet, there’s one girl who I asked out who said ‘no’ who I think might become a very special friend, if I could get her to give me a chance.”

The gym buzzed with speculation. I leaned to whisper in Emily’s ear. “Do you have any idea who he’s talking about?”

She smiled. “I have a pretty good idea, but. . ..”

Matt continued. “My pick for Slue-Foot-Sue is our amazing kicker, Angel.”

The gym erupted in a loud cheer.

Emily hugged me. “I knew it was you. Matt talks about you all the time.” She then whispered in my ear. “Give him a chance to make you happy.”

Blood rushed to my ears causing me to feel faint. I gripped Emily’s hand.

The student body roared blocking any ability I had to ask Emily what was happening . . . if I could have spoken.

Matt’s announcement signaled the end of the convocation. Students quickly filed out on their way to their fourth-period classes. Unable to move and totally stunned, I barely realized that Matt had sat next to me in an otherwise empty gymnasium.

“This can’t work, Matt,” I said quietly.

“Is it because you feel pressured by the Slue-Foot-Sue thing? If that’s it, you can forget about that stupid tradition. That was just my romantic way of telling everyone that I like you.”

I smiled. “It certainly was romantic, but it doesn’t change the facts.”

“Don’t you like me?” He asked.

“I do . . . but there are things that just won’t allow us to be together.”

“You mean like you’re being transgender?”

“Yes . . . doesn’t that disqualify me as someone you should date?”

“Not a bit. I’m totally okay with that. It’s not a factor.”

“Are you sure?”

“Totally. Look, you get your hair fixed at Lady Bills’ Salon, right? The owner, Maxine, was once my second cousin Max. She and I are close. You remind me of her.”

“Oh. . .. I’m just getting used to the idea that there are a lot of other people like me. But – what will the other guys on the team think?”

“Most of them think you’re really cool. Look – I’m not for sure about the vocabulary, but if they’re going to be all homophobic about it, who cares what they think? And – two-thirds of the linebackers are gay. No one cares.”

“I know you, Matt. I’m not sure I can make you happy.”

“Sometimes, what you think you know about a person is 100% wrong,” he said. “I liked you from the first day I saw you. You’re amazing in every way. That first day you kicked, when I was holding footballs for you I had no choice but to look at your crotch when you kicked. I was waiting for a good time to talk to you about what I saw, but I thought it should be you who brought it up.”

He knew and he’s never acted weird around me! Maybe he doesn’t care? I bit my lip. “I suppose we could at least let’s try one kiss.”

“Sure,” he grinned, while he put his arms around me, “and if you don’t like it, I’ll stop bothering you.”

Six weeks later Matt and I were voted king and queen of homecoming. Everyone said that we made the perfect couple. We’d spent many incredible hours kissing. Especially in that alcove we found halfway between chem lab and the weight room. I never lifted with Matt, preferring to work on my core strength in yoga class, so we experienced daily the sweet sorrow in parting.

While we stood in our king and queen crowns, before the gym floor filled with students for the last dance of the evening, I stared at Matt and felt a yearning in my budding nipples for the touch of his magical fingers. We both had explored every inch of the other’s body and found wonder and satisfaction.

However — even more sensual were those quiet times we spent walking hand and hand in Veteran’s Memorial Park or watching game film at Coach Acre’s house. I’d memorized the football rule book and had been given countless hours of tutoring by Matt on the nuances of the game and could now understand some of what he and the coach were talking about. The Bills were 8-0 and ranked third in the state.

The more I got to know about Coach Acre, the more I liked him. Although he mostly cruised around in his ancient pickup truck, he was highly superstitious and always drove his lucky car to games. I was surprised to see him pull up to the field in his red, VW Corrado — the same model as mine.

Coach Acre and Matt even watched a Premier League soccer game on TV with me —and stayed awake.

I’ve often wondered how it would have been had I realized I’m transgender after puberty set in and I had a beard and a deep voice. Or, I try to imagine if so many people would have accepted me so readily if I wasn’t a kicker for the Bills. Or, I torture myself with questions about whether Matt would have fallen for me if I was bigger than him.

But . . . I don’t think about any of that very much. It’s better to simply accept what is and deal with those facts — than to worry about possible failures and miss out on life.

I hadn’t realized how lonely I had been in Mokena living a life of total frustration, while fighting an unnamed, and unknown need. I now have many good friends, one very special friend, and a better knowledge of self.

Pecos turned out to be as good a place to live as Mokena, and maybe even better.

The End

This story adds to the other over one hundred stories I’ve posted on BC.

High school sports have played a huge role in my life. I lettered in basketball, football, track, and tennis. Later I officiated hundreds of football and basketball games. I coached several dozen youth sports teams in mainly basketball and soccer and a high school team in tennis. My three children were standout athletes in high school and college.

I’ve been to Texas a number of times and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Given all that I’m still mystified by the Texan love affair with football.

I write for self-discovery and to hopefully convey the message that who we are should never be the basis for guilt and self-loathing. The world is full of acceptance from those who truly matter.

I’ve donated several of my books to Erin either to sell on Amazon or to help generate donations through Hatbox. BC is much-needed, so I’m pleased to allow Erin to keep 100% of the proceeds to help with this site’s expense. I encourage other authors to do the same.

Please leave a comment. Thank you for reading my story.



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