Not So Popular - 03

After school I stormed home to scream into my pillows.

I should have known Kelly was behind this! She always had it against me, just because I made fun of her sometimes. Okay, maybe trashing her prom dress was a dick move, but she didn’t have to turn the world upside down! That was just taking things too far.

My Mom lingered by the bedroom door. “Shannon?”

Couldn’t she see I was busy? I threw a pillow at her, and missed.

“I was just going to ask if you were staying for dinner, but fine,” she scoffed.

It was a stupid question anyway. As if freaks like me had anywhere else to be expect laying in bed and wasting away.

God, all I wanted to do was scream. It wasn’t fair! Kelly knew I had a life; she knew I had plans for the future. Who was she to get in the way of that? I swear, I’d never met anyone so entitled in my whole life.

No matter how tightly I pulled the sheets I couldn’t hide from myself. The proportions of the bed seemed off, though it was probably my new dimensions. Even my breathing sounded different, heavier somehow; it was more than panic.

My cell phone rang. It was that number again. Whatever. I brushed it off the bed and ignored it.

I must have been laying there for at least a couple of hours, because soon I heard Daddy’s truck whine to a stop outside. A shiver ran over me. Was he going to yell again? Maybe I should have kept hiding, but I was suddenly very thirsty.

His footsteps resonated through the floorboards, but there was no anger in them. Mom asked him about his day, and his voice echoed. On a normal day he would have been happy in his quiet way, and this seemed no different.

I reached beside the bed for my cell, and checked the string of missed calls. That same number had tried to reach me six times in the last hour alone. Someone, whoever it was, was desperate.

When I called back there was no answer; not even a voicemail. I texted ‘what do you want?’ Whoever owned the number wasn’t there.

God, I couldn’t catch a single break!

It was around seven when I tip-toed down the stairs, just before Mom finished dinner. She asked for my help setting the table, and I did, but I was distracted by the silhouette of Daddy in his recliner, drinking a beer, and watching Jeopardy. When I was in grade school I remember sitting in his lap, wishing I knew the answers like he did. Was that something we still shared?

Mom took my hand and sighed. “Leave him alone, hon. He’s had a hard day.”

Hadn’t we all?

The second her back was turned I crept into the living room and lingered at the end of the sofa. Daddy didn’t turn, even when I looked to him for attention.

Finally, he grunted. “Something you want?”

I shrugged. “Just thought we could watch Jeopardy together. You know, like old times.”

“What?” He still didn’t look, even when he scowled. “Listen, you know how hard I work. All I want when I come home is to be left alone a while. Bring me your dramas after dinner.”

“I just wanted to spend some time…”

“Well, I don’t,” he grunted.

My chest tightened, but I resolved to stand firm. Tears welled in the corners of my eyes as something important was shredded to pieces.

“Daddy,” I asked, “do you love me?” My voice was small and pathetic, like a little girl’s. Funny, I felt smaller than a child in that moment.

He rolled his eyes. “I have to, don’t I?”

I rubbed my arm, and clung to myself. “Yeah, I guess so.”

For the first time he looked in my direction, but it was to swat me away. “And stop calling me that name! You’re almost an adult. Start acting like it.”

I guess it was true; I wasn’t his little girl anymore, and I wasn’t even allowed to cry about it. He probably wanted me to ‘be a man’, whatever that meant. It radiated cold so deep that it made my bones brittle, and left my heart aching.

Mom reached for my arm again as I passed her in the kitchen, and sighed when she saw the tears. Yeah, well, she didn’t have to worry about me. I stormed past her and up to my bedroom.

* * * *

Laying in a bed strewn with tissues and fighting to breathe I thought about what Kelly had told me, that I was supposed to learn some kind of lesson.

Okay, maybe I was a bitch sometimes, but most people deserved it. Nobody had ever taken consideration for me, and I was just giving it back. That’s the way the world worked, wasn’t it? Do the best with what you have, and don’t complain because nobody cares.

When the tears ran dry and I was bored I hit up the old stories about guys with names like Hercules, Narcissus, Artemis, and Icarus, and while they all had a moral at the end none of them seemed to mean anything. Most even had the hero dying, and those parts were the least messed up.

Suddenly I heard a tap against the window, then another. I peered out to see someone in the yard; a man. It wasn’t until he looked around and stepped into the streetlight that I could pick him.

“Cody?”

He waved for me to come down, and I did, making sure to stay quiet as I put on a jacket and exited the front door. A part of me wondered if it was some kind of practical joke, but he was sitting in his car with the passenger door open, patting the seat for me.

I climbed in, and he started the engine.

“Where are we going?”

Cody bit his lip. “Why didn’t you answer?” he demanded.

“Wh-what are you talking about?”

“I’ve been texting you all day,” he said, “and then you tried to call me. Come on, that isn’t part of our arrangement.”

What arrangement?

Cody slowed at the lights, and turned to me. He reached out and cupped my cheek, and bore down on me with concern. It was the first ember of real humanity I’d seen that day.

“Are you okay? Has your Dad threatened you again? The girls at school?”

“I’m fine.” It was a total lie, of course.

The light flashed green, and we kept driving. It was nearly one in the morning, and the roads of our sleepy burb were empty. Still, Cody kept his eyes peeled, like he didn’t want to be seen.

Soon we rolled up to a park. There were no lights, save the lamps on the front of his car. I could barely make out his shape under the hue of the moon. His smell, however, I would know anywhere; that musky body spray and aftershave like coconut lime.

He made the first move, and stroked my hair. Collapsing into his arms was the easiest thing in the world. If only I wasn’t so pathetic as to cry.

Cody hushed me, and held tight. “Hey, what’s the matter?”

“You know who I am, right?”

“Yeah,” he said. “You’re my girl.”

His girl - not some ugly boy, not some weirdo transgender - a real girl, maybe.

“Tell me how we met,” I said.

“What?”

I clung to his arm. “Please?”

Cody shrugged, and chuckled. “Okay, it was junior year. You were trying out for the cheerleading squad, and I walked you home.”

The sound of his voice, and the memory of that day, were enough to make me purr. Finally, something familiar and good! In this God forsaken hell I needed nothing else but a cute boy to hold onto.

“I remember how upset you were to be cut,” he said, “and then for Linda to throw a bottle of Gatorade at your head, you were a wreck, and so was your uniform. You’d saved up every penny for six months just to get it.”

That part wasn’t so familiar. I froze, and listened.

“We walked back to your house, and your Mom was waiting. You got changed, and cleaned up, and in the five minutes she was out of the room we kissed.” He laughed, and cast his eyes down. “She caught us, and said that this couldn’t happen, but here we are.”

I stared at the dashboard, and at the blinking light. What was I thinking? Of course things wouldn’t be the same, not so long as I was…

My voice rattled through the lump in my throat. “And the fact that I was a boy didn’t bother you?”

“You’re not a boy,” he said. “Not to me.”

I groaned. Why? Why did he have to be as delusional as her? Maybe they could convince themselves, but so long as I knew what was happening under these clothes I would know the truth. There was no denying it.

Cody pulled me closer, but I shrugged him off. “Shannon, are you okay?”

“You deserve better than this,” I said.

He shook his head. “I deserve you. You’re the best.”

“You think so?”

“Yes,” he said. “Absolutely.”

My fists tightened. “Then you should ask me to prom.”

Silence struck the inside of the car. Cody pulled back, and folded his hands in his lap.

“You know I can’t do that,” he said, barely a whisper.

“Why not?”

“We talked about this,” he said.

I scoffed. “Are you ashamed to be seen with me? If you think this is so normal then it shouldn’t be a problem, should it.”

“It’s not me,” he said. “It’s… other people.”

“Because you’d cop hell if someone saw you kissing a transgender,” I hissed. “Imagine what it’s like being one!”

Cody snatched my hand. “Do you want me to do that? Do you want me to ditch Linda, and ask you instead?”

I sat, cold and silent.

“No,” I said, finally. “That would be gross.”

“Wait, gross?”

“Just look at me, Cody,” I spat. “I’m a boy in a dress pretending to be something he’s not. Doesn’t that feel even a little bit wrong?”

He reached for my shoulder. “Shannon, I-”

“Don’t,” I snapped. “Just… take me home.”

One of the great things about Cody is that he does what he’s told. He’s such an obedient boy, though misguided. His heart speaks over his mind a little too often, which I guess is how he landed in this mess, falling for a freak.

It would have been easy to stoop so low as to accept his love, but I had to be stronger than that. Kelly thought she could mess with me? Well, it was time to put my money where my mouth was.

* * * *

The past day had been a living hell. Something had to change, and Kelly was right when she said God - or at least her God - had made me this way for a reason.

It was the crack of dawn when I started work, and first thing I did was flush every pill on my counter; something that looked like birth control, and a minty smelling substance called ‘spironolactone.’ Ick. They went straight into the toilet bowl and out of my life forever.

I stared into the mirror, and dared the sissy to stop me. She was helpless as I took the kitchen scissors and took them to my hair, which I cut loose in heavy clumps. It wasn’t even by any measure, but whatever. Guys can get away messy hair for some reason.

After that it was just a matter of coordinating my wardrobe. Goodbye skirts and sandals, and goodbye superfluous bras. From then on it was t-shirts, skinny jeans, flannel and sneakers. No frills, and no fuss.

Cutting my hair was like shedding an anvil. God, it was so light! Finally I understood what Brooke from cheer team was talking about after she shaved her head for charity.

The boy in the mirror had heavy eyes, and frowned like every other mouth-breather I knew. It was progress, for sure.

“Hey,” I said, then tried to go deeper. “Hey. Hey…”

It was right at that time that Jacob decided to burst in wearing nothing but his tighty whiteys and a Batman t-shirt. From the look of him you’d think he saw a ghost.

I leered at him. “Can I help you, pipsqueak?”

“You cut your hair,” he said.

“Real master of deduction, aren’t you?”

He nearly tripped as I pushed past, and made my way downstairs. I was right on time for Mom to scream my name right into my ear. She stopped, and put her plate down. Wasn’t she happy to see her ‘son’ again?

I smirked, “what?” As though I didn’t know.

Mom leaned in close, and whispered. “Tell me this is a lesbian phase, or something like that.”

“No,” I said. “It’s time I manned up.”

“Father in Heaven…”

She charged through the kitchen, slapped a set of waffles on a plate, and threw another into the toaster. She couldn’t even look me in the eye.

“Aren’t you happy?” I asked.

Mom forced a grin, laughed, and shook her head. “I would have been if you’d decided this, oh, a year ago, before almost tearing this family apart.”

I inched back. “Mom…”

“Not to mention the cost,” she continued. “Doctors, specialists, insurance, out of pocket expenses, prescription medication. Need I go on?”

Cold ran down my skin.

“I-I thought you’d be happy.”

She sighed. “I would have been, if you hadn’t been so adamant. The only reason we did all this was because we thought you were going to kill yourself, and now we learn it’s all been for nothing.”

Suddenly, something snapped. Who was she to treat me that way? I was giving her what she wanted! Like I said, nobody ever takes consideration for anyone else.

“You’re welcome,” I roared, and snatched a couple of waffles for the road.

Maybe, I thought, I was being too rough on her. This Brandon kid had broken her heart, and my father’s heart, and they didn’t know how to react. Could I really expect that to be undone overnight? Maybe not, but it didn’t excuse her from being an asshole.

There was still an hour before the bus, and I wasn’t going to wait. Instead I opted to walk.

* * * *

Marching into school was like marching into a warzone, but I was prepared. Nobody could stop me.

I wonder if that’s what it felt like to be a man, and if it was why people made such a big deal. Wasn’t it good to be strong? It wasn’t without appeal. Hell, I may have been tempted to stick with it for a while.

Eyes pulled toward me like they would into a black hole. They could hardly believe the scrawny queer of yesterday was back to living as nature intended. Maybe I’d even find a girl to take to prom; that would be kind of fun.

Kelly was hanging by the bleachers. As soon as I entered the gloom hanging above her head her jaw dropped to the ground. Becoming a guy was worth it just to see the look on her face.

She charged toward me, and shook her head.

“You like it?” I laughed.

“What are you doing?”

It was almost as if she held some genuine concern. Right, the goth witch giving a shit. That’ll be the day!

“What you couldn’t,” I said. “How does it feel? You failed at being a man, and now I’m rubbing it in your face.”

She went pale, as in more than usual. “Give it a week,” she murmured, and pulled away.

I swear I’d never seen anything so pathetic. Of course she was a failure! She couldn’t stand to see someone make it look so easy, and it really was easy.

“Eat me, bitch!”

Wouldn’t it be funny if her goddess’ ‘lesson’ turned back on her? Whoever that ‘Hera’ person was, she would have to eat her words.



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