On Faith


Alyssa closed her eyes, lost in the pure joy of Alex’s ministrations. She had surprised Alyssa today, showing up right after school with some truly decadent lingerie for her birthday, which actually wasn’t for three more days. Alex – actually Alexa, but bastard Bezos had kind of ruined that – was her girlfriend.

Just not the way Alyssa’s parents might think. Her parents – well, her mom and step-dad – were both under the impression that Alyssa was a boy named Brody, and that Brody and Alex were involved romantically. But there was nothing romantic between them. They were simply girlfriends. As close as sisters, best friends forever. All of that.

“Keep your eyes closed,” Alex murmured. “I want to try blending these eyeshadow colors. Hold still.”

Alyssa just smiled, tilting her head so that Alex would have a better angle. “I love the presents. You are so sweet!.”

Alex giggled. “Right now, you’re the one who looks sweet. I knew that baby blue would work with your skin tone. And all that lace is just so you.”

“I know,” Alyssa sighed, oozing contentment. In her new bra, panties and camisole, she felt perfect. Complete. And Alex always did such a good job on her face and her hair. She wasn’t bad herself, but Alex had the touch. “Come on now, Alex,” she wheedled. “You gotta dish. Is Perry going to ask you to the prom, or isn’t he?”

It was Alex’s turn to sigh. “I don’t know. But I’d be a whole lot happier if he seemed just the tiniest bit thirsty!”

Alyssa reached out, blind, to find something to give a squeeze to, settling on Alex’s hip. “Sorry, Chicka. But you know, if all else fails, Brody will take you.”

“Thanks, kitten.” Alex gave Alyssa a peck on the nose. “We prob’ly should anyway, just to keep your cover. I was just . . . well, you know.”

“Think I don’t know you’re pining for Perry? He is awfully cute!”

“You got eyes on my target, girl?” Alex’s mock growl was entirely too full of humor to be a source of worry.

Alyssa smiled wistfully. “No. I’m not seeing how that’ll ever be in the cards.”

“It could be in the cards right now, if you put your chips on the table!” Alex shook her head, then gave her friend’s shoulders a squeeze. “Sorry. I know we’ve been through this.”

Feeling confident that Alex wasn’t presently about to stick something sharp in the vicinity of her eyes, Alyssa opened them again to look at her. “If it was just Mom, maybe. But Dad . . . you know, he’s got the whole Christian thing going. Church every Sunday, Bible study. The full catastrophe.”

“You’ll be eighteen in two years. After that, you can do what you want.”

Alyssa shrugged. “Maybe.” She decided that was more than enough time spent on things she had no power to change. “Have you picked out a dress yet?”

Alex immediately picked up on Alyssa’s desire to think about more pleasant things. “Oh my God! You’ll won’t believe what I found! It’s perfect! Just perfect! Teal satin, spaghetti straps, almost backless. And get this! It’s got . . . .”

Alex never finished the description of her prom dress. There was a sharp knock on the door to the bedroom. “Brody? What are you still doing here?”

Before Alyssa or Alex could so much as say a word, the door opened and Alyssa’s – Brody’s – stepfather stuck his head in. “You’re supposed to be at work in . . . .” He suddenly ran out of words as his brain took in the entire scene in front of him.

“Dad . . . I can . . . explain . . . .” Alyssa’s voice was just above a whisper. “We were just . . . .” But somehow, she couldn’t think of anything that would finish off the sentence. Her mind, chittering in terror, thought, What is Dad doing home? How come I didn’t hear him?

Jules’ brain froze momentarily, but it was brief. He was a disciplined man, and his mind went down disciplined paths. He stepped into the room, leaving the door open. “Brody, you’re supposed to be at work in five minutes, and you’re going to be late as it is. You don’t have time to undo all of your girlfriend’s hard work, and I don’t recommend showing up in lingerie. So put on something appropriate and let’s go.”

“But . . . Dad . . . I can’t —”

“Should have thought of that earlier. No time now.”

“I can call in sick! I”ll just —”

“Lie? To save yourself embarrassment? You told us you were old enough to take the job, Brody. You made a commitment.”

“Honest, Dad, I just forgot. When . . . .” Alyssa almost said, “when Alex surprised me by showing up with presents,” but stopped herself just in time. It was true, but Alex hadn’t known she was working this afternoon. Alyssa knew it was no-one’s fault but her own.

Jules shook his head sharply. “Doesn’t matter. No excuses now. You’re down to three minutes. I’ll drive you.” He turned and walked down the hall, leaving the bedroom door open.

Alex was as white as a sheet. “Jesus! What’ll you do? Alys, I’m so sorry!”

Alyssa sat frozen as she watched her stepfather walk away. Then she shook her head sharply and said, “Fuck! I don’t know! Alex, help me find something – fast!” She jumped up and charged over to her closet. Her male wardrobe would be useless, since there was no time to remove makeup and nail polish. Even getting her hair to look remotely boyish would take more time than she had.

She pushed over a pile of binders and paperback books – mostly Manga from when she was younger – to expose the top of an opaque plastic bin.

Alex was incredulous. “You’re gonna . . . ?”

“I don’t have any choice! He’ll roast me if I’m not out there in two minutes!”

Alyssa didn’t have very many clothes in her stash, and Alex knew all of them well. “Fine. Fine. Go with the skinny jeans, the peach top and your flats. It’ll work!”

“O . . . okay!” Alyssa started pulling things out of the bin, spotting the three items quickly. Grabbing the jeans, she rolled onto her back on her bed and pulled them up. The stretchy material hugged her legs, and something about the pair even made it look like she had a bit of a butt. Then she rolled off the bed and pulled the top on. It was nothing special, but nice – a crew neck and capped sleeves, with a fair bit of flare at the bottom. Enough to cover the tops of her jeans.

As Alyssa was putting on her flats, Alex pulled up her own top and pulled two pieces of padding from her bra. “Here – these’ll help!” She slipped them into the cups of Alyssa’s bra, then checked out the look. “It’ll do, Alys. You look good, okay?”

Alyssa nodded distractedly. “Thanks, Alex! I’ll . . . I’ll text. Okay?” Not waiting for a response, she turned and ran down the hall. But just as she got to the kitchen, the front door opened and her mom walked in. Alyssa thought, what the fuck is everyone doing today? Why are they here?

“What the . . . “ Her mom stood in the hallway, staring at her. Her mouth was hanging open.

“Mom . . . sorry. I’ve gotta go. We’ll talk —”

Go? Are you out of your mind!”

“Mom – Dad said —”

“I don’t give a rat’s ass what your father . . . .”

Of course, Jules chose that moment to open the door to the garage.

Alyssa thought, because, of course he did.

Jules leaned against the doorframe, his relaxed pose a complete fraud. The tension was palpable, but he kept his voice almost icy calm. “Cindy. Brody is supposed to be at work. Right now. A minute ago, actually.”

“I don’t know what you think you're doing, but my son isn’t going out of the house looking like that! What are you thinking!”

As terrified as Alyssa was at having her secret in the open, she was more terrified – far more terrified – of any strife between her parents. It had been eight years since her biological father had left them in one of his frequent drunken rages. Half a lifetime . . . but she hadn’t forgotten. She still had nightmares. “Mom . . . it’s not what you think. Dad didn’t do this, I did.”

Her mother turned furious eyes on her. “I know that! Your father knows less about makeup than he knows about astrophysics. That doesn’t change the fact that you aren’t leaving this house – much less going to work! – dressed like that!”


“No! Goddam it, Jules. No! He’ll be crucified! There – school – everywhere!”

“Cindy. I was the one on deck.”

That stopped her. They had made a rule – a hard and fast rule – when they’d gotten married, and they had taken joint responsibility for raising the children from their separate, earlier marriages. Jule’s two daughters had been fifteen and seventeen, and Brody had been ten. Six years ago. But they’d agreed to raise them as one family. To treat all the kids as their own. And part of the rule was, whichever parent was home – whichever one was on deck – made the calls. And the parent that wasn’t, would back him or her up.

They had never – not once – broken that rule. They were a team. And there had been plenty of times when Jules had backed her play when his daughters — their daughters! — had been in their rebellious stages.

“Jules . . . .” Cindy said, her voice catching. “Jules – this is different! Can’t you see!”

He looked at his wife and said, “Is it?” His voice was very soft. As Cindy knew, that was a sign – a sure sign – that he was very, very serious.

She closed her eyes, holding back tears, and said, “Fine. Go. Just . . . go.” She didn’t open her eyes again until the back door closed behind them. Then, and only then, the tears began to flow. “Oh, God! My poor boy!”

It was at this moment that Alex decided she needed to make her escape. She came into the kitchen area from the hallway and said, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Mason. I was just visiting with Brody. I’ll . . . I’ll go on home now.”

Cindy’s eyes fixed on the girl – the person she had thought was so good for Brody! “Just a minute, young lady! I want to know what the hell just happened. Did you dress my son up like . . . like some kind of tart?”

“It’s not like that!”

“Bullshit it isn’t! And now God knows what’s going to happen to him! He’ll be a laughingstock at work, at school – his life ruined!”

Alex was in over her head – so far over her head, she couldn’t even see the surface of the water. She wanted to help, but had no earthly idea how she could. “I’m telling you, it’s not like that. Brody is . . . .”

But Cindy was in no mood to be lectured by a 16-year-old girl who had betrayed her trust. She shook her head angrily and said, “Enough. Go home. Get out, and stay out!”

“Fine, don’t listen to me! You don’t have a frickin’ clue!” Alex stormed out and slammed the door behind her. But her rage quickly dissipated, and as she walked home, she began to cry. Alyssa had been her best friend for two years now. Would she ever even be allowed to see her again?

Jules saw her walking as he returned from dropping Brody off at the coffee shop where he worked part-time, but decided not to stop. He could see that she was crying, but he knew he would have troubles enough of his own when he got home. Consequences for his own choices.

Cindy went right at him as soon as he stepped through the door. “Alright. I backed you up. Kept our bargain. But honest to God, Jules! You’d better have a good explanation for how you chose to punish Brody, and it better not have anything to do with your religion!”

Jules was puzzled. “Punish?”

“What would you call it? Forcing him to go to work looking like that. Okay, so he and his girlfriend decided to have some kind of kinky fun. So what? It’s just a bit of makeup, and clothes are clothes. Big deal! Is that a reason to ruin his life?”

“Brody was supposed to be at work.”

“Don’t give me that. He works at goddamned Starbucks, Jules! Who cares if he gets fired! Admit it – you were punishing him, because you think it's wrong for a boy to dress like a girl. Don’t you!”

Jules looked at his wife thoughtfully. She didn’t understand his faith, and he’d never tried to explain it to her. Or to their son, for that matter. Maybe he should have, but didn’t want them to think he was forcing his beliefs on them. “Can we sit and talk about this?”

“I’m too angry to sit right now!”

He nodded slowly. Without really thinking about it, he folded his arms across his chest. “Okay, we’ll do it your way. Do I think boys should dress like girls? Honestly, no. But . . . what did you see, when you came in the door?”

“Uhhh . . . Hello? I saw my son, in a cute top, made up like a cheerleader on the first day of school.”

Jules’ eyes became dark at her use of the first-person possessive pronoun, but he decided to let it go. “I didn’t see that, Cindy. I saw a girl.”

Her mouth hung open. “You . . . what? Are you kidding me?”

“Please. Think about everything you saw, in the brief time you were here. If you didn’t know it was Brody, would you have thought you were seeing a girl or a boy? Not just the makeup, the hair or the clothes. Think about how Brody moved, spoke, interacted with you.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

Again he asked, “Is it?”

“Jules, he’s a guy. He has a girlfriend. He’s not . . . I mean, no way . . . he can’t possibly be . . . .”

“Trans?” he asked.

She didn’t answer, but her eyes were wide as saucers.

“I can’t claim to be an expert, but as far as I know, anyone can be trans. No reason why Brody can’t be. And, not for nothing, but during the car ride . . . . Well. Let’s just say, Brody thinks he’s trans. Not that he'd say that, exactly.”

She shook her head, disbelieving. “What would he say – 'exactly?'”

He wouldn’t say anything. . . . But Alyssa would say she’s trans.”

She stared at him, hard. “You’re shitting me. You don’t even believe in trans. This is all some sort of sick punishment —”

“Stop. Right. There.”

His voice was still soft, but it nonetheless stopped her. Jules had never used such a cold tone when speaking to his wife — or really, to anyone else. She gaped at him.

“Think about what you’re about to say, Cindy. Think really, really, carefully. Some words can’t be taken back. We’re on a tightrope. Right now. You and me. And there’s no net.”

He wasn’t yelling; if anything, he was speaking even more softly. But the warning chilled her blood. She took a deep breath and wasn’t surprised to find it ragged. “Okay,” she managed to say. “Okay.” Her legs felt weak, and she sank into a chair. “Just . . . Jules, please! Tell me what the fuck is going on!”

He lowered himself into the chair opposite hers, perching at the edge, his back still ramrod straight. With an effort, he lowered his arms to rest on his thighs. “I was working from home today because the guy was supposed to come by this afternoon to fix the washing machine. I guess Brody didn’t know. Alex came by, and because I had my headphones on, I didn’t know.”

His lips twitched into a rueful smile that at least made him look more like himself, but Cindy stayed silent.

“I took a bathroom break, and that’s when I heard them talking. I had assumed that Brody’d already left for work. I poked my head in to remind him, and got to meet Alyssa instead.”

“Alyssa?” she asked.

“Apparently that’s the name he — sorry, “she” has used for a couple years, when she’s alone or with Alex. She was dolled up in what I’d have to guess was some pretty expensive lingerie, and Alex was working on her makeup. I told her to get dressed and I’d drive her to work.”

“And you couldn’t just let Brody — Alyssa — whatever! — call in sick, until we could at least discuss it? The three of us, together?” She tried to keep her voice level, to keep her question from sounding like an accusation.

It wasn’t easy.

He grimaced. “Okay, Cindy. That’s fair. And I’m sorry there wasn’t time for a conversation. But lying isn’t acceptable, and commitments matter. Yes — that’s my faith tradition. My religion. But that’s what we’ve taught all the kids. What both of us taught them.”

She couldn't’ deny that. “But . . . the consequences —”

“Are the direct result of Brody’s choices. Of Alyssa’s choices.”

She closed her eyes, haunted by the thought of everything that Brody would be subjected to for having gone to work looking like a girl. Or . . . was it, being a girl? God, wouldn’t that be a million times harder? “Is Brody driving this, or is Alex? Should we, you know, keep them apart?”

“It’s real clear this has been going on a long time. In retrospect, I’m surprised we didn’t see it sooner. We’ll need to have a long talk when she gets home, of course, but my gut tells me that Alyssa’s doing the driving. Alex is just supporting her friend.”

“He could have talked to us. Why didn’t he just . . . tell us? We’ve always been here for him!”

Jules looked down at the floor. It was a question he’d asked himself, and he hadn’t much liked the answer he’d come to. “Maybe he didn’t trust us. . . . Or at least, didn’t trust me.”

Jules’ self condemnation galvanized Cindy’s protective instincts. “That’s not right, Jules! You’ve always listened to him. Never pushed him away. You’re kind, and understanding, and —”

“Deeply religious,” he said quietly, cutting her off. “He assumed he knew what that meant. So did you, just now. No one’s fault but mine, that he didn’t know any better.”

“But . . . I mean . . . don’t Christians believe . . . .” she couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence. Don’t they believe that LGBTQ people are evil? That they’re all going to hell?

He chuckled, but there wasn’t any joy in it. “Might as well make a list of what ‘Americans’ believe, honey. Christians are all over the map in what we believe. I can only speak for me, for what I believe. And . . . I didn’t. Which left both of you to assume the worst.”

“So you’re . . . okay with this?” She was having trouble processing the thought.

“Probably about as ‘okay’ as you are," he said, sounding resigned. "It scares me. I don’t have the first idea what to do for him. For her. I’m worried about what’ll happen at work, and at school. About what kind of life she’s buying.”

Cindy stared at her husband and shook her head. “You’re serious. This is really happening, isn’t it?”

“I’d say it’s really happened, actually.”

She felt a flood of terror, of indecision. How can I protect my child? “What are we going to do, Jules?”

He got up, came to her chair and knelt by her side, holding her right hand in both of his. “Have faith, Cindy. We’ll figure it out. Like we always have. You, me, and Alyssa. But first off, I think there’s a girl who’s hurting who needs a quick phone call.”

“I can’t call . . . Alyssa . . . at work!”

“No. But you can call Alex. And you should.”

Cindy squeezed her eyes shut. “Oh, God! I fucked that up, didn’t I?”

“Then don’t let it fester, okay? She’s been there for Alyssa when we weren’t.”

She opened her eyes again and looked at Jules. “I need to apologize to you first.”

He squeezed her hand. “No more than I need to apologize to you. Now if you’ll excuse me a minute, I’ll let you make your call.”

“What’re you going to do?”

“Me?” He gave her a half smile and a shrug. “I’m going to pray.”


Alyssa got off work at 8:00 after a four-hour shift. It had been bizarre. She’d gotten some ribbing, but it hadn’t been nearly as bad as she had feared, and after a little bit, everyone just treated her like any other teenage barista. Her goateed, long-haired, laid-back boss, had done nothing more than raise an eyebrow and say, “you go, girl,” before adding, “we’re backed up – give Brittany a hand on the espresso machine.” The pure normality of it had been the strangest part.

Stepping out onto the pavement, though, the feeling of strangeness returned. It was only a fifteen-minute walk home, but she’d wondered whether one of her parents would pick her up, to avoid having her be seen like this in their own neighborhood. No-one was there, so she shrugged and started to walk.

The evening was cool enough that she wished she’d brought something to wear over her top. But the goosebumps that formed on her arms probably had less to do with the light breeze and the flimsy fabric that floated over her lingerie than it did with the fear that was flooding back as she walked. Her parents knew. They knew. Dad didn’t freak out, exactly, she thought, but he sure didn’t say much. And Mom!

She was so engrossed in her own thoughts that she stepped into a cross-street without looking and got honked at by an annoyed driver. They’re going to freaking kill me!

She took a left on her street and started walking the last five blocks. Every step seemed harder than the last, as her dread rose higher and higher. Crossing her arms under her padded bra, she chaffed her forearms with her hands, trying to bring some warmth into them.

Past Tag’s house. She used to play with Tag, years ago when they were both kids. Before Tag had become “cool,” and had no time for a runt like Brody. It had hurt so much, when Tag joined the other jocks in tormenting his former friend. The thought of being seen by Tag made Alyssa pick up the pace again. Even what was waiting at home wouldn’t be as bad as that.

Two blocks from home, she passed what she would always think of as Tiffany Warren’s house. Tiff had been Brody’s babysitter when he was little. She’d always been so sweet. For years, he’d wanted to be Tiffany when he grew up. Kind and smart and pretty. He’d wept for days when she’d gone off to college. Her folks had moved away a couple years later, and he’d never seen her again.

Down to the last block. Fifty yards, then thirty. Ten. There were moths circling the porch light, incapable of doing anything else. Even when it hurt them, as it always did.

She took a deep breath, put her hand on the knob, and opened the door. Her parents were in the living room talking – with . . . Alex!

Her mother rose, smiled, and said, “Hi Alyssa. How was work?”

She looked from her mom to her step-dad, caught between fear and hope that suddenly blossomed inside. “I thought you guys were going to kill me!”

Her dad reached her first and folded her into a hug like she had never had from him before. “Have a little faith, girl! We love you.”

Somehow, she found herself being hugged by her best friend in all the world and both parents. “Oh my God!” she said, overwhelmed. “This is the best birthday ever!!!”

The end.

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