By Katherine Day
(A transgendered woman deserves to be loved, doesn't she? Julie begins to wonder about her future with men. Edited by Eric. A sequel to two short stories published in 2013, “Julie’s Odyssey” and “Gifts for Julie.”) (Copyright 2014)
Chapter Eighteen: An Unusual Budding Romance
The following morning, I awoke; my dreams had been troubled and I didn’t feel particularly alert. It was a sunny summer Sunday morning, already warming. I had not turned on the air conditioner and already was feeling clammy. Everything in my room seemed to stink, a sour, sick smell, an odor that seemed to match my mood.
As I wandered aimlessly, purposelessly into the bathroom to shower and prepare myself for the day, I was in despair. I had nothing planned for the day, since I fully expected I’d spend it with Randy. It was to be his last full day at home before returning to Wisconsin and I had felt he’d want to spend it with me. But, that was not to be, I realized.
As the warm water flushed the dried sweat and sourness from my body, my mind also began to clear. Why had I ended our relationship acting like a petty, vindictive woman, employing a bit of sarcasm? Randy and I had built a perfectly beautiful, warm friendship and I had chosen to end it in a nasty fashion, especially since he was now the one acting responsibly and reasonably just as I had advised all along. The truth was I was hurt; I had fallen in love with the marvelous young man, even if I knew it was a love that could never be fulfilled.
After my shower, I took time only to brush my teeth and tie my hair back into a ponytail before rushing to my iPhone. I had to apologize to Randy, I knew, and I had to do it soon; I couldn’t stand him thinking about me one moment longer as such a mean-spirited woman. I wanted him to go back to Madison looking forward to a career and a happy life, whether it be in football or in sociology and with a woman he loved. I loved him so much and he deserved my support, not my attitude.
“Dear Randy . . .” I began texting.
I stopped and went back, deleting the “Dear.” I continued:
“Randy, please forgive me for my awful outburst yesterday. You deserved better from me. I value you as a friend and wish you the best. Feel free to contact me if you wish. Your friend forever, Julie.”
I studied the words for a minute, wondering whether I should say anything else. No, I thought, that was enough. It said exactly what I wanted to say and would give him an opening to reply, if he wished. I sent the message.
Less than five minutes later, the iPhone dinged, signifying I got a message.
“Julie: no need to apol. TY for msg and good wishes. Your friend, Randy.”
I guess I should have felt pleased with his reply; yet, I felt uneasy. His message seemed to be a final “goodbye,” just like writing “The End” to a long novel about two now-separated lovers.
Randy went on that year to lead Wisconsin to a Big Ten championship and a bowl victory. Even though he was only a sophomore, he was already being touted for the prized Heisman Trophy, given each year to the top college football player in the country. He came in third in the balloting that year, but barring injuries he was expected to be the winner the following year.
I never heard from Randy during that period, but made it a point to follow Wisconsin football whenever I could; since the team was doing so well it was often on national television. I watched each game, cringing when an opposing lineman might be aiming at sacking my beloved Randy. Several times, the cameras focused on Randy’s mother – a woman about forty who was heavily made up – with the announcer stating how Randy had been brought up with his two younger sisters by a single, unmarried mother in a cramped apartment in a poor section of Queens.
What troubled me, however, was the lovely young blonde woman sitting next to Randy’s mother; she appeared to be part his mother’s group. Could she be his girlfriend, I wondered? In one game, Randy was hit pretty hard and had been laid flat, remaining down for several minutes while coaches and trainers ran out to tend to him. The television camera trained on Randy’s mother and the blonde woman during that time. The blonde – who looked very much like a young coed – had a horrified look on her face, raising her hands to her mouth and finally turning away, as if she could not stand to watch.
That was his girlfriend, I was certain. I didn’t think she was as pretty as I was. My, I thought to myself, wasn’t that being a bit self-centered?
My life continued without Randy; we emailed each other several times a year, usually around Christmas and Labor Day. Always he said he’d never forget the two weekends we spent together at Point Pleasure and how he treasured those moments. Several times, he lamented that it was unfortunate that circumstances made it impossible for us to be together.
Sports Illustrated did a long feature on Randy in September of his junior year, even placing him on the cover showing him coaching a group of young boys on a playground. They headlined the story, “A Star on the Field and in the Community,” and the story related his volunteer work with impoverished youth in Madison. They told of the six weeks he spent during the summer in the gun-infested neighborhoods of Milwaukee, preparing kids for school as well as sports.
Perhaps it was the famed Sports Illustrated curse (so often the athlete featured on its cover went into a slump afterward), but Wisconsin’s football fortunes that year failed to live up to expectations, making it only to a minor bowl. Randy’s success on the field was counterbalanced by a team defense that gave up too many touchdowns for even the Badgers’ offensive might to overcome.
Randy rarely mentioned football in his few emails and usually told of his interest in social work and his hopes that the he’d be able to do some acting during the spring semester, when football practicing would be less intrusive.
“Randy wants to continue having you as a friend,” Carmen Montoya told me when the two of us met for lunch around Christmas time.
Carmen had trimmed down from the cherubic teen she had been, becoming an extremely attractive young woman with dark eyes, warm olive skin and neatly formed black hair.
“I know he does, Carmen, but I hate to encourage him too much,” I said.
“He understands that, but he still likes you. You were his first love, Julie.”
“And he was mine, too,” I said. “I was hardly as experienced as you kids are.”
She smiled. “My mom is concerned that I might be turning into a slut,” she said.
“Well, she’s wrong, Carmen. You’re a respectable young lady and your mom should be proud of you.”
Carmen explained that she and Ryan (the boy I she was dating when I first met Randy the three teens on my trips to Point Pleasure) had broken up a year earlier. Carmen worked every weekend at the Spanish Center recreation program with children while carrying a full load at the local community college.
“I’ve been out with three different boys since Ryan and I think that’s why mom thinks I’m a slut,” she laughed.
“Depends upon what you do with those three boys,” I said with a giggle.
“It’s all pretty innocent, Julie, but I must admit I’m not a virgin,” she said.
“You don’t have to admit anything, Carmen. That’s your business.”
We chitchatted for a while longer and as I was about to get up to leave, Carmen reached over and grabbed my hand.
“Julie, I need to tell you something. Stay a minute more. Please.”
“Of course,” I said, sitting back in my chair.
“Randy’s been talking to me lots on the phone over the last few weeks, and we’re getting kind of friendly,” she began.
“That’s OK. You’ve known him a long time and Ryan’s out of your life now,” I said.
“Well, it’s more than that,” she said, dropping her head down so that she was no longer looking at me.
She paused for a moment, apparently at a loss as to how to continue her comment.
“You’re in love with him,” I said, making it easy on the lovely young lady before me.
Carmen raised her head, looking squarely at me now: “Yes, Julie, and I think he is in love with me, too. You must hate me, Julie.”
“No, I could never hate you or Randy,” I said quickly.
“It would be alright if you did hate us, Julie.”
“No honey, I told Randy many times that we were not right for each other and that for him to be in love with me would be to cheat him out of a happy future. You two are perfect for each other.”
“You think so?”
Randy would be home for about ten days after Wisconsin’s appearance in a Bowl Game that season and Carmen said the two of them would likely be constantly together.
“Would you like to join us sometime while he’s home, Julie?” Carmen asked.
“No, it’s best I don’t interfere. You two enjoy.”
“He’d love to see you,” she pressed.
I still resisted, but Carmen said she knew Randy might at least call while he’s home. Again, I asked her to tell him it would be best if he didn’t try to call, but that if he called, I’d talk to him. I wanted to remain friends with Carmen, but was wary about rekindling any closer connection with Randy. As much as I wanted the two young people to be happy together, I was still disappointed at losing the only man I had ever truly loved.
I was both relieved and disappointed that Randy did not call during his visit back to his home. I knew I was doing the right thing by suggesting to Carmen that he not call me; yet, I hoped against all hope that I could hear his voice again and that somehow our age difference and my own gender issues would be all washed away.
“He was so busy while he was home, Julie,” Carmen told me after Randy returned to Wisconsin and Carmen and I met at our favorite coffee shop.
“I figured he would be, after his spectacular play in that bowl game,” I said.
“I hardly saw him either, because of the interviews he did with so many reporters. I guess he’s back on the Heisman list for next season,” Carmen said.
I looked across at the young woman, whose eyes sparkled, showing a charm that was infectious. She exuded obvious intelligence and I reflected upon how marvelous it was that Randy might eventually be rewarded with having her as a life partner.
“He’s certainly doing well for himself,” I ventured.
“Yes, he is and I don’t think it’s gone to his head, either,” Carmen said.
She announced that she was planning to spend spring break in Madison later in the year.
“I’ve applied for some scholarships so that I might be able to attend my final two years out there, too,” she announced.
Because of her sterling grades and her impoverished background she likely had a good chance of being able to finish up at Wisconsin. I imagined that Randy and Carmen someday would be portrayed in a photograph (appearing on sport pages and gossip sections) at their fancy wedding, the caption reading:
“Randy Hastings and his new wife, Carmen, leave St. Patrick’s church in New York City after their Saturday wedding ceremony. Hastings recently signed a multimillion dollar pro football contract . . .”
If you looked closely at the picture, you might see a pretty young woman in the crowd assembled outside of the church. She would be holding a dainty handkerchief to her eyes, as if she were crying. The young woman would be me.
I settled into a life of teaching and coaching drama students; it busied me for hours and hours. To fill my empty weekends, I volunteered to work the meal programs for the homeless at a church, working the Sunday noon lunch hours, serving up the food. I felt I should dress fairly decently for the chore, reasoning that the folks who went through the line deserved to be respected. No doubt they received little respect in their lives, and I felt that we who served them should greet them in something other than jeans and old sweatshirts.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t dress like a slut or wear lots of makeup. Mainly I wore slacks and a colorful blouse; I always wore my hair in a ponytail so that I could cover it easily with the obligatory cap we all wore for sanitary reasons. In warmer weather, when the church’s antiquated air conditioning system failed to keep up with the heat generated from the smelly, unwashed bodies that often filled the room, I wore a knee-length, airy skirt and a sleeveless blouse.
“I used to come here for the food, but now that you’re here the food is secondary. You’re so pretty,” commented a tiny, ageless man known only as Scooter.
“Oh Scooter, you say that to all the girls, you old flirt,” I said with a smile as I placed several slices of turkey on his tray.
“No just to you, Miss Julie,” said a tall black man who had a handsome, middle-aged face with bright eyes. He was known as Howard and usually accompanied Scooter, providing a contrast in height.
“You sure brighten up this place,” one of the volunteers told me as we were cleaning up.
“Is that all right?” I asked.
The volunteer was Michael O’Connor, a handsome, middle-aged man, who soon became my escort each Saturday and Sunday as we left. I had been accosted once in leaving the place and Michael intervened to save me from the advances made by one of the homeless men.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll walk you to your car,” he volunteered one day.
Several times, he offered to buy me a drink or coffee afterward and I accepted. He turned out to be a recent widower, probably twenty-five years older than myself, who was terribly lonely after the untimely early death of his wife. The truth was I enjoyed his company; he was warm, friendly and easy to talk to, with our topics ranging from the unfortunate national job situation that brought so many homeless folks to our shelter to the sorry fortunes of the New York Mets.
Two weeks later, Michael and I were seated at the same table in the coffee house. We had just finished our four hours at the free meal site; it had been a particularly grueling four hours since even though the stock market was skyrocketing and the economy was supposedly doing better, the crowds of homeless seemed to be growing at the same time. One of the men had come in drunk, having somehow been missed by the two security guards at the door who usually turn away those who appear drunk or to be potential troublemakers. The drunk had tried to touch my breasts after having declared loudly: “Look at that flat-chested bitch. I like to massage them. To make ‘em grow.”
“You shouldn’t have to take all that abuse, Julie,” Michael said when we stopped later at the coffeehouse.
“He was harmless, Michael, but thanks for being there and pushing him away,” I said.
“It’s so nice that a pretty young lady like yourself works at the center. Most of us are so old; you really brighten up the place a lot and I think our guests really enjoy seeing you.”
Naturally I blushed. I do that so easily.
“Thank you, Michael. That was sweet of you to say, but I truly enjoy doing this. My weekends ae usually pretty lonely otherwise.”
“I thought lonely weekends were just for old guys like me without wives,” he said, smiling, “But you’re so young and pretty, I’d have thought you’d have a full dance card.”
I giggled at the reference to “dance card.” I had often wondered how much fun it would have been a Century ago when young ladies wore the dance cards around their wrists at formal dances with the names of male dancers listed in the order of the dances.
“My dance card is pretty blank right now,” I confessed. “I had a boyfriend but he’s out of my life now and there are no eligible bachelors in the school where I teach.”
“I’m sure you’ll have another boyfriend in no time, Julie,” he said, rising to get the both of us refills to our coffee.
Returning to the table, Michael put down the coffees and looked at me closely.
“Do you see the stares we always get when we come in here, Julie? Does that bother you?” he asked.
“A little, but let people look.”
“Yeah, I guess that people are thinking I’m an old geezer with a young lady on my arm,” he said. “They must think we’re dating.”
“Let ‘em think what they want, Michael. I kinda like the illusion.”
He laughed. “That’s cool. How would you like to maybe . . . ah . . . make it more than an illusion and have a real date sometime?”
“Michael, no offense at you since you’re a perfectly marvelous, good-looking man and you’re fun to be with but really, I’m not ready for a real date yet,” I said.
“That’s OK, Julie. I’m really too old to even think about dating someone as young and pretty as you, but I do so enjoy your company. I still miss my wife and I guess I always will, so I’m not expressing any desire to have a date mean anything more than friendship. We don’t even have to have sex or anything.”
“No, Michael, it’s not your age, it’s just me.”
“Just you? I don’t understand,” he said, obviously perplexed at my answer.
“I’d rather not explain, if you don’t mind.” I felt bad, but I didn’t feel I was ready to tell him of my transition.
“That’s OK. I shouldn’t have asked,” he said, truly chagrined at his request.
Michael was a genuine and generous man, I could see, and I felt horrid that he might be thinking that I had rejected his offer because I found him offensive or too old. I tried to reassure him that his charm and basic decency would make him a marvelous catch for any woman. I could also see myself even falling in love with him, though at the moment I doubted it. My heart would always be with Randy, I felt.
He quickly turned the conversation to the Mets failures of the season, a discussion I welcomed. Why we were enamored with the Mets – a team with a recent record of losses – puzzled both of us, we agreed. It seemed everyone in the area were Yankee fans and I remember being laughed at often by my Yankee friends.
“Perhaps we welcome perversity,” Michael kidded.
I laughed. “That must be it,” I agreed.
“That’s nice that you like baseball,” he said. “My wife never did and that pained me since we got along well on so many other things.”
“I don’t know why since I never was much for sports,” I said. “I still throw a ball like a girl, I guess.”
“I didn’t take you as woman who would be any good at throwing a ball, Julie,” he said. “You really are so . . . oh . . . how should I say it . . . maybe the word is petite . . . no . . . no . . . I think dainty describes it better.”
He was right of course; my arms in particular were thin and my wrists so tiny that I could wrap my thumb and index finger of one hand around them.
“I suppose I should start working out or something,” I volunteered. It was an idea I had toyed with, since I knew it would probably be good for me to get more exercise.
“Perhaps, but I don’t think you should ever be one of those muscle women.”
“I doubt that would ever happen.”
“Would you like to go to a Mets game with me sometime, Julie?” he asked suddenly.
I was about to answer “no,” but instead I didn’t speak at first.
“Well, that’s OK,” he said, immediately taking my hesitancy in answering as a rejection.
I smiled at him and replied in a soft, sweet voice, “I think I’d like that.”
“Good,” he said enthusiastically. “How about next Sunday? We can ask Maxine to change our shifts at the meal program from lunch to breakfast and go to the game after that.”
Afterwards, I worried about accepting his invitation. Even though I felt he was sincere about not having romantic intentions, I worried that I might become more involved with him and he’d eventually want sex with me. Then what would I do? He was a church-going Catholic and when I would tell him about my gender change he might look upon me as a terrible sinner. I knew that I’d eventually have to tell him about my background.
And then, I wondered if I was betraying Randy. What a strange thought!
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