A retro classic TV story...
by Lainie Lee
"Are you going to just lay around the house watching television all summer?" Ronnie's mother demanded.
"Why not? Elrond O'Keefe answered. "I don't know anyone in town 'cause we just moved here. School's out and all the kids are hanging with their friends and all my friends are back in Missouri." He scowled, flipping through the channels looking for something worth watching.
Mrs. O'Keefe felt a bit guilty about taking Ronnie out of his comfortable school in Branson, Missouri only four weeks before the end of the eighth grade school year. He'd had a miserable month trying to adjust to the new school; Los Angeles, California was a very different environment than the Ozarks.
"Maybe you should take some summer school classes," she suggested.
"No, Mom," he said firmly. "I'm not going to see those kids again any sooner than I have to. Guess it's Oprah again," he added, settling in to watch the talk show.
Betty Lou O'Keefe sighed. She rather wished they hadn't moved to California, too. Everything, except food, seemed more expensive and the people weren't friendly like they were back home. Besides which all the white folks talked like Yankees -- except the ones who sounded like foreigners -- and even the black folks in California talked differently from the ones in Missouri. Well, why wouldn't they?
But Ormond, her husband, had a good job paying more than twice what he'd made back home, and she had found a job herself making very good money as a barrista. The only problem seemed to be Elrond, the boy. She didn't like leaving him alone most of the day, even if he was nearly fourteen. And she didn't like him watching so much television.
"I've got to go now, hon," she told him. "Your father will be home at six or half past and I'll be back at quarter past nine."
"Nine fifteen, Ma," he said.
"They don't say quarter past nine out here, they say nine fifteen," Elrond explained.
"Well, you know what I mean. I've put dinner in the oven for you and your father, it'll keep warm and there's ice tea in the pitcher. Can you load the dishwasher and clean up the table?"
"Sure, Mom," said Ronnie.
He really was a good boy, thought Mrs. O'Keefe. She paused at the door on her way out for one more motherly admonition, "You're going to get fat if all you do is watch TV."
"Okay," said Elrond, unconcerned.
She sighed and left.
* * *
At a quarter to six--or five forty-five, California-style--Ronnie got up to prepare dinner for himself and his father. It didn't take much work, his mother had almost everything ready, and when Ormond O'Keefe got home a good nutritious meal sat on the table in warm dishes. Two place settings and two tall glasses of ice tea were also ready.
"Good job, Ronnie," said Ormond.
"Wasn't hard," said Ronnie.
Ormond asked about Ronnie's day but there wasn't much to say about that. Ronnie asked about his Dad's day but Dad couldn't say much about it since mostly he looked at dials and entered numbers into computers.
"I'll clean up, Dad," said Ronnie after dessert. "You go watch some TV if you like."
"Is that all you did all day, watch the boob tube?"
"Pretty much," said Ronnie.
"You should get out more, that's gonna make you fat, just lying around the house all day."
"Fine by me," said Ronnie, unconcerned.
Ormond shrugged, uncertain how to deal with apathy. If Ronnie had been insolent or disrespectful, he could have dealt with it--as things were, he just felt baffled by his son's behavior.
Ronnie cleaned up the kitchen, preparing a plate for his Mom when she got home and putting it in the oven. He rinsed food off plates and serving dishes, filled the dishwasher but did not start it. Leftovers he neatly put away in the refrigerator. Doing something after lying around all day actually did feel kind of good.
His father had already fallen asleep in front of the TV so Ronnie switched to Lifeline to watch a movie he had seen advertised several times during the day. Mrs. O'Keefe got home, congratulated him on leaving the kitchen so tidy and ate her dinner in front of the TV while they watched another movie on Lifeline. Then she woke Ormond up so they could all go to bed.
* * *
Weeks passed and the O'Keefes fell into a routine. Ronnie watched a lot of TV, talk shows, soap operas, daytime movies. He developed a preference for watching cooking shows and gradually took over preparing the evening meal completely by himself.
Betty Lou suddenly got promoted to assistant manager at the coffee bar and worked even longer hours so this worked out well for them. "You're really a good cook, Ronnie," she told her son.
He nodded, quietly proud of his new skill. He'd also taken over doing a lot of other household chores like laundry, vacuuming and dusting. He had plenty of time, after all.
Ormond went to work in the morning, came home to a well-planned and excellently prepared meal in the evening, and felt himself very lucky indeed. After a couple of minor disasters where Ronnie forgot to include any meat in the evening meal, Ormond settled into the routine with pleasure.
Ronnie watched a lot of TV and did put on some weight but not that much.
Eight weeks into the summer, Ronnie had taken over making lunch for him and his mother before she left for work. Betty Lou liked this and her son had really discovered a talent for cooking. "This is excellent," she told him over a steaming plate of shell macaroni with white cheese sauce and sliced portobello mushrooms.
"Yeah," he agreed. "Dad wouldn't like it, though. No meat."
"Mmm," said Betty Lou.
"Uh, Mom, it's my birthday next week?"
"Why so it is?"
"And my pants are getting a little tight."
"Told you, you'd get fat watching all that TV," she teased. "I'm gonna get fat from eating what you cook."
Ronnie rolled his eyes and pushed his hair out of his face. He hadn't had a haircut since a month or so before they'd left Branson and his reddish mop had gotten a bit shaggy. He'd taken to tying it back with a rubber band when he cooked. "Well, I wondered if I could do some shopping, for some clothes?"
"Clothes?" his mother asked.
"Pants, shirts, some underwear, maybe some shoes?"
"Sure you don't want a bicycle or a model airplane or something a little more fun than some clothes?"
"Well," said Ronnie. "I could really use a new set of mixing bowls and a new chef's knife?"
Betty Lou laughed. "If I give you one of my credit cards can I trust you not to overspend?"
"Sure," he said easily. "I've been shopping for groceries with your debit card all summer."
"Debit card, that's the way to do it. I'll make sure there's money in that account and you can just use it, that way no one will have to ask you for I.D. How much do you think you'll need?"
"Two hundred, maybe," Ronnie guessed.
"With all the work you've done around the house this summer, you've earned it," she said. "I'll talk to your father and maybe we can include something extra for you to spend however you want?"
"Okay," said Ronnie, smiling. "Thanks, Mom." He felt relieved. He hadn't wanted to tell his mother but his pants had gotten more than just a little tight in the last week or so--he had trouble even getting them on lately. He needed to get some new ones before they burst at the seams. And the funny thing was, the scales in the bathroom said he'd only gained seven pounds. He'd gained a little weight elsewhere too, but he sure didn't want to talk about that.
Ormond agreed with the plans and felt grateful to Ronnie for all the fine meals. "After you got the eggplant out of your system," he teased. "It's your birthday, you've been working, you're a good kid, and you look like you really need some new clothes. You mother and I have decided you can have five hundred dollars. What's the point of working so hard if we can't be good to our only kid?"
"Wow," said Ronnie, a little stunned. "Thanks."
So the very next afternoon, after his mom ate a very light and tasty spinach quiche Ronnie had prepared, she dropped him off at the mall. Ronnie wore his loosest pair of jeans, still pretty tight, and a thick, white t-shirt that actually belonged to his father. He'd taken to wearing such shirts to conceal his other weight gain.
"Your father will pick you up at 6:30 and take you out to dinner for your birthday, okay? Now remember, you don't have to spend the whole five hundred today, you could save some of it for something you might need a bit later."
"Okay, Mom," Ronnie agreed. "I probably will. And thanks again."
The Los Angeles sun had decided to turn up the heat that day so Ronnie hurried across the parking lot to the air conditioned mall as quickly as he could without running. He didn't dare run in his tight pants, anyway. Besides, since he'd gotten fat in other places too, running wasn't very comfortable.
He pushed hair out of his face again just as he reached the doors and wished he'd remembered to bring a rubber band. Three boys, all bigger than him waited by the doors, apparently just watching people go in. They made Ronnie nervous since he thought he recognized them as part of the crowd of bullies that had made his first weeks in California and last weeks in eighth grade so miserable.
But to his surprise, just as he reached the door, one of the boys reached out and opened the door for him. Raised in Missouri and polite by reflex, Ronnie automatically said, "Thank you," in his soft accent.
"You're welcome," the boy replied, smiling.
"That was weird," thought Ronnie. "He actually seemed nice, as if he liked me or something. Huh? Well, first things first," he decided, "I'm going to get something done about this hair."
It didn't take him long to find a hair salon in the mall and it didn't even seem crowded. Sure enough, a kindly-looking hair stylist about his mom's age beckoned him right over to her -- oops, his -- chair. Ronnie almost changed his mind, sometimes California was just so weird.
"Now, what can I do for you, hon?" asked the hair stylist in a surprisingly soft Louisiana drawl. His name tag read 'Steve' which Ronnie thought rather unlikely. But imagine, another Southerner? He'd met so few in the Golden State.
"Um, I need my hair cut?" said Ronnie.
"Well, duh?" said Steve, rolling his eyes.
"Pardon?" said Ronnie.
"Oh, hey, you're from the South, too?" Steve said, smiling now.
"Well, yes, from Missouri?"
"The 'Show Me' State," said Steve. "Well, sit down, hon. Take a load off."
"What did you want, sugar? A little trim, neaten things up?"
"And shorter," Ronnie added. "It keeps falling in my face."
"Okay, hon. So where in Missouri you from? Not St. Louis?"
"Uh, no. I'm from Branson."
"Sho' Nuff? I've been there, nice town. I have some friends used to live there but they moved to Vegas, too much act for Branson." All the while Steve worked, he kept up the chatter, asking Ronnie about his parents, his home, his school, his pets. "You've not been here long, you said, but I bet you've already got a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend?" Steve wagged his slender eyebrows.
"N-neither," said Ronnie.
Steve the hair dresser so unnerved Ronnie that he hardly looked at his haircut, instead leaving quickly after using his debit card to pay, not forgetting to include a tip. "At least, the hair is out of my eyes now," he told himself. He didn't want to think about it too hard; he thought he knew why and he definitely didn't want to think about it.
It had something to do with the weight he'd gained--from watching so much tv. "That's what did it," he told himself. Especially the weight on his chest, after all, they did call it the boob tube. He groaned at the pun that almost made him admit to himself what had been happening to him.
Wandering disconsolately through the mall, Ronnie couldn't decide just why he'd been so excited about going shopping for clothes. He hadn't bought any yet and already the day had gone sour. "But I really do need some pants," he thought.
So, with some misgivings, he walked into one of the jeans shops, The Denim Depot. He followed the signs to the boys' department, noticing as he did that girls' had a lot more choice in kinds of jeans to buy--the boys' section was just one little corner of the place. The men's section wasn't much bigger but the girls', misses' and women's section took up three quarters of the place.
Looking at the racks of pants he realized something else--he had no idea what size he should be buying. Even after looking at a handy size chart he still had no idea because he had no clue as to his measurements. He wouldn't have known what "inseam" meant if there hadn't been a picture.
"Buying something for yourself?" someone asked him.
He turned, startled. A tall, very pretty young woman had spoken to him. Her nametag said, "Delia," and she smiled at him.
Delia wore jeans probably fractionally less tight than the ones Ronnie had on but not by much. She had on a denim vest, too, over a bright red top of some silky fabric. She kept smiling. "Trying to figure out boy sizes?"
"Um," said Ronnie.
"There's a chart right here," she said showing him the placard above a table full of boys' jeans.
He peered at it, afraid to find out. Sure enough, it showed how to convert girl's sizes to boy's sizes.
"It's pretty simple, really," said Delia. "Take the even number girl's size you wear and add two. That way, they fit in the hips. That's for regular cut." she added. "For slim cut, add four. You'd never want to try on huskies, 'cause they'd never fit in the waist."
"Um," Ronnie repeated. He didn't even know what size jeans he wore at the moment, boy's or girl's, slim, regular or doggie-style.
"You look like about an 11/12," said Delia. "Maybe a 9/10." She picked two pair of jeans out of the pile and handed them to Ronnie who took them as if they had really been girl's clothes and he might catch cooties from them. "Try them on and see which fits best. Remember that good denim will shrink a bit from washing then stretch a bit from wearing."
Ronnie nodded but then blinked. "Try them on here?" he asked.
Delia laughed. "Well, there's no one in there, guys hardly ever use the dressing rooms. I'll keep watch and not let anyone walk in on you. Go ahead," she urged, motioning toward the Boys' Dressing Rooms sign.
Feeling bizarre, Ronnie ventured toward the dressing rooms carrying the selected jeans. In the little cubicle, he couldn't avoid seeing his haircut. "Oh, God," he whispered. "I do look like a girl." Steve had cut his hair in bangs in front, layered toward the back with delicate feathery curls around his ears. "I'm going to die," Ronnie whimpered quietly.
He sat on the little bench provided and tried to think but nothing happened. How would he get home, looking like a girl? How would his parents react if he came home, looking like a girl? How could he go through the rest of his life, looking like a girl?
He rubbed his chest without thinking, because it itched, then winced because it hurt. That was another thing, or two other things. Ronnie's brain locked up completely for several minutes through trying to reason his way out of his dilemma without thinking about what had happened to his chest. On his chest.
Delia's voice in the little hallway outside the dressing cubicle shocked him. "I picked out a few tops you might like to try on," said the salesgirl. "Where are you?"
"Here," said Ronnie, still not thinking.
Delia passed three tops over the top of the wall of the correct cubicle and Ronnie took them. "Come out and let me see you in the outfit you like best," she suggested.
"Um," said Ronnie.
He listened to Delia move back toward the desk outside the dressing rooms then, moving like a badly animated muppet, he pulled off his too-tight boy jeans. Sure enough, they were Size 10, Boys Regular. He picked out the Boys 12 Regular pair Delia had offered him and tried them on. They fit remarkably well, snug in the seat and a bit loose in the waist, or rather below the waist. Just the way boy's jeans ought to fit a girl.
"Aggh." muttered Ronnie. He'd watched lots of daytime talk shows and knew more about crossdressers than was probably healthy for a thirteen year-old boy. "Fourteen next Saturday," he corrected in his head.
Why did wearing a perfectly ordinary pair of boy's blue jeans make him feel as if he were doing something kinky and maybe disgusting?
He looked at the t-shirts Delia had provided. One aqua with a sailboat, one peach with a green palm tree, and one yellow with a surfboard and a wave. All sized a perfectly unisex Small. It couldn't hurt to try one on, could it?
He chose the yellow as being least threatening to his dwindling sense of masculine identity. He pulled his dad's thick white t-shirt off with his eyes closed but he had to open them again to find the right way round on the yellow shirt.
The mirror clearly showed what had happened to him during two months of watching the boob tube. His conical little titties crinkled up in the draft coming under the cubicle door and that felt so weird he pulled on the new t-shirt quickly, the hem just reaching his waist.
He stared at himself in the mirror for sometime, pushing his gingery blond hair around to very little effect. He looked like a girl who had managed to get out of the house without her mother seeing her and making her put on a bra.
"Wottamigonnadoooo?" Ronnie wailed without making a sound, actually wringing his hands as he had seen guests on various talk shows do.
Delia's voice came over the top of the cubicle. "You dressed?"
"Uh, yes?" Ronnie made it a question, as in, why are you asking?
Delia opened the door to the cublicle and looked at Ronnie who tried not to cringe or blush.
"Nice," said Delia.
Ronnie nodded, stunned that she had opened the door on him.
"You might want to wear a bra with that," Delia commented, completely unaware of the knife-like anxiety her remark inflicted. "A padded one to give you a little more shape," she added.
Ronnie closed his eyes.
"You want these other tops, too?"
Delia gathered Ronnie's original clothes together and added the two extra tops. The one pair of jeans that were probably too big she left where Ronnie had laid them on the bench. "We can cut the tags off what you've got on and you can wear it out," she offered.
"I'm..." Ronnie tried to protest but what could he say. They fit, and they were boy's clothes. And he needed new clothes. "Okay," he gasped. His polite upbringing forced him to add, "Thank you."
"C'mon," said Delia. "I'll show you where the junior lingerie is."
Ronnie followed like a boy walking to his doom. How could he ever get out of this situation, stop turning into a girl and go back to being just a kid who watched too much TV?
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