The Lottery - Chapter Two

There comes a time in every kid’s life when their parents sit them down for ‘The Talk.’ Most of the time that talk comes the day after the Lottery, especially when it’s your numbers being called.

My Mom was already sitting on the bed when I came home from school. She’d asked the night before if she could go through my drawers and sort what to keep and what to donate to goodwill. I figured there was no sense in delaying the inevitable.

“How’re you holding up, kiddo?”

There was nothing I could say, so I shook my head. Ever since the news dropped I was dragging cement shoes. The cavern in my chest was freezing and numb.

She sat me down and pulled me under her arm. “I know what you’re going through. This is a lot to take in. You’re thinking that everything is going to change, and you don’t know what to expect.”

“Natalie and the other girls keep saying it’s not a big deal.”

“Well, Natalie and the other girls are wrong,” she said. “Being a man or being a woman sets the stage for much of how people relate to each other. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything bigger than that.”

I pulled my knees to my chest and clung to them for dear life.

Mom combed my hair with her fingers and rubbed my back. “You must have a lot of questions. I know I did when I was your age.”

My fists curled tight as I fought the tears. I wasn’t ashamed to cry, but at that moment above all others I had to be strong.

“What if I’m bad at being a girl? Like, what if I do it wrong?”

She smiled to me and pulled my head to her breast. Her heartbeat was slow and soothing in the way that only her body could be. “Well, the good news is that there is no wrong way to be a girl,” she said. “It’s going to take some time to find out what that means for you, and though it’s scary sometimes I have no doubt you’ll come out as a young woman we can all be proud of.”

I collected myself and sat up.

“Hey, Mom, do you ever miss being a boy?”

She shrugged. “Not really, though I remember it fondly.”

“When they called your numbers, was it something you wanted?”

“No. It took time, but in the end I think it was the right thing. After all, I have your father, and I have you. None of that could have happened without the Lottery.”

Maybe she was right and something good would come of it; yet all I could think about was Natalie and the life that would never happen. Even my hours as her ‘boyfriend’ were numbered.

* * * *

There were busses lining the sidewalk the day I had to leave, and administrators with tablets directing girls-to-be to their destinations. A good number of Lottery entrants were sullen with bowed heads; some had taken a head start on their conversion, and wore dresses or skirts.

Natalie was there to see me off, and I clutched her hand for every second I could. The second I let go was the end; goodbye Elijah, and any dreams I had of being her husband. No matter how many times she tried to comfort me that was the part that hurt most.

My jaw tightened and held onto the words, but I still had to say them. “If… you want to start dating someone else…”

“We’ll talk about it when you get back, yeah?”

I could barely lift my head. Somehow she was still smiling. “You’d really want to have me as your girlfriend?”

Natalie shrugged. “Maybe. We’ll see what happens, but I’m not going to abandon you, especially not right now.” She yanked my arm, pulled me into a hug, and sighed into my ear. She was always so soft, and was as sweet as she smelled. Pulling away was agony.

One of the administrators called over the crowd, “all aboard bus 22C to New Horizons!”

That was my cue.

I said goodbye to my parents, and my girlfriend. There were no tears, or at least none that we shared openly.

As fate would have it Gavin did volunteer for conversion, and after putting in a word with the guidance counsellor arranged for us to go through the process together. At least neither of us would have to be alone, even if only one wanted to be there.

We sat side by side the bus with him sat by the aisle. Though dressed in a coat and skinny jeans that still read ‘boy’ he’d tied his hair back and swept the fringe to one side with a bobby pin. He trembled and wrung his hands, as though ashamed of the bright polish applied to his nails.

The road between home and New Horizons stretched for a hundred miles, and most of it was farmland. Despite the cold the day was bright, without a cloud in the sky. Wide open fields of grass danced in the wind, as though waving us by.

“Have you thought of a new name?” Gavin asked.

I shook my head, no.

“One of my dads likes ‘Sarah’, and the other likes ‘Caroline’,” he said. “Apparently they’ve been having this argument for years. I like ‘Georgia’, but I worry about going with a name that starts with the same letter as my old one. What do you think?”

I forced a smile. The least I could do was be encouraging. “Go with your heart, man. This is your name. You want it to feel good.”

Having dwelled on the question myself I’d yet to find one to inspire positive feelings.

Soon we could hear crying from the back of the bus where one boy, overweight and with bad acne, curled against the window. A couple others from nearby did their best to comfort him, and to assure him that he wouldn’t be an ugly girl like he feared.

I turned away, more worried about my own fate.

* * * *

Once upon a time at a scout camp the boys would tell horror stories about conversion, and about the cold, sterile machines they’d use in rundown farmhouses. In truth New Horizons couldn’t have been nicer, with lush, trim lawns spreading as far as the eye could see. At the end of the driveway was something like a mansion with great wings and double-wide doors atop the stairs.

The bus pulled to a stop outside the entrance where we were met by a group of women, all of whom seemed perfectly pleased to see us. From them stepped an older figure in a polo top, tennis skirt, and teeth shining like pearls. She clapped her hands and threw her arms wide like she was ready to celebrate.

“Welcome, welcome, welcome to New Horizons! My name is Ms. Monica Shaw,” she sang. “Now, I know some of you soon-to-be-girls are nervous, but our team is here to make your transition as smooth and as painless as possible.”

I shuddered. ‘Painless,’ she said, as though being some guy’s wife wasn’t the last thing I wanted to be.

Ms. Shaw continued, “some of you come here today with some funny notions about womanhood, and I am here to tell you, first and foremost, that even though you might be referred to as ‘the fairer sex’ that you are nobody’s slave. You’re encouraged, of course, to help propagate the human species, but that need not mean a life of domestic servitude. There are myriad ways to be a woman, none of which are right or wrong, and it’s up to you to make the most of it.

“Do you like sports, comic books, or working on classic cars? There is no reason for you to stop any of your previous interests. That said, there are a great world of things to learn that are traditionally dismissed as ‘feminine’ which may be worth your time and attention. All we ask is that you consider, and through that you will grow.”

Gavin grabbed my arm and almost pulled me off my feet he was so excited. Okay, it was a hell of a pep talk, and maybe it wouldn’t be all bad. I smiled, if for no other reason than to encourage my friend. Who knows? Maybe I’d have some fun by accident.

Over the next hour we were given the tour of the facility. The staff at New Horizons had really gone all out, with open gardens, water features and more to welcome us.

Not to mention the staff themselves, all former Lottery ‘winners’, were there to greet us with a smile. I’d never seen so many women in one place before.

Ms. Shaw, a woman in her mid-forties, boasted about the wide selection of classes, ‘freedom of individual expression’, and access to twenty four hour counselling facilities. She promised our tenure would be smooth and comfortable, as though state mandated gender transition ever could be.

“Only health class and medical checks are truly compulsory,” she said. “Believe me, ladies, some parts of being a girl are harder they look.”

‘Ladies’; that was going to take some getting used to.

Gavin continued to hold my arm as we were ushered toward the dorms, like a child daydreaming. Despite his enthusiasm he was still unsure whether to feel joy or foreboding.

After climbing the stairs we found our room, 211, with pale gold letters attached to the door. The inside of the room was equally plush, with soft cream carpet, crisp eggshell colored walls, and two luxuriously sized single beds facing the dresser and the television. To one side was a large window with velvet curtains hanging on either side, and on the other a door leading to a shared bathroom.

Wonder shifted into delight as Gavin threw himself onto one of the beds. I laughed and did the same, claiming the one farthest from the bathroom.

“Can you believe this?” he squealed. “I’ve only ever seen places like this on TV! No way could I ever afford something like this on my own!”

I laid back and stared at the decorated globes on the ceiling. “It’s the least they can do, really.”

“What do you mean?” Gavin stopped bouncing, his smile wavered.

“Nothing. Forget about it.”

He paused, then climbed over to take my hand. “They say that only one in every two and a half thousand regret the process,” he said, beaming. “Those are pretty good odds, don’t you think? You’re going to make an incredible woman, you just don’t know it yet.”

I tried my best to seem comforted, but it did little to stop the churning in my stomach.

There was a knock at the bathroom door, and from it peaked the head of the kid who’d been crying on the bus. He’d since calmed down, and was actually smiling now. “Is anybody home?” he chirped.

Gavin jumped to his feet and beamed. “Hi! Are you our new neighbor?”

“Yes! I’m Danny… well, soon to be Phoebe.”

“And I’m Gavin, female name undecided. This is Elijah, also undecided.”

Phoebe looked me up and down and bit – I guess ‘her’ – lip. “You don’t look too happy to be here,” she said, sympathetically.

I shrugged. “Not my first choice, but I’ll deal, I guess.”

“You might like my roomie. He’s about ready to burn this place to the ground.”

“I can hear you,” bellowed a voice from the other room. Heavy steps pounded the floor, carrying a strapping teen with clipped hair, like every jerkass quarterback stereotype given human form. “And I can’t believe you’re all just standing around here acting like this is normal. They want to cut your dick off!”

Phoebe turned away and folded her arms. “Tom here has… issues.”

The mountain of a boy scoffed. “You’d have issues too if you were any sort of real man,” he said, then turned his attention to me. “This guy, though; this guy right here knows what I’m talking about, don’t you?”

I shrugged.

“Come on, man. I saw you before with that girl. You know, the early convert.” He put his arm around my shoulder, but I threw it off. “What was she, your girlfriend? You’re really lucky, you know that? So many guys here will never know what it’s like to even touch a girl like you have, let alone kiss her, let alone fuck her in a way that only a man can.”

“Tom, quit being a creep,” Phoebe said.

Gavin sat on his bed and was inching away.

“Yeah, I got lucky,” I told the intruder, “but none of that matters now. If I were you I’d nut up and take my feminization like a man.”

Tom rolled his eyes and pushed past Phoebe. “Suit yourself.”

She clutched herself and apologized as I joined Gavin on the bed. He immediately retreated under my arm, and I rubbed his back.

“Tom’s an asshole, but he’s kind of an asshole to everybody, so it’s okay,” Phoebe tried to explain.

My attention was elsewhere. Tom was definitely an asshole, but what he said struck a nerve. Even if I could be Natalie’s girlfriend it wasn’t going to be the same; nothing would be the same. Would be I able to follow through? Like I had any choice.

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