To Be a Different Someone: Chapter 3 "When"

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For the next few weeks, I slowly worked my way into my new identity. Granted, I was not exactly sure how it was all going to work. If I could go back and start out young, it would have been easy to figure out, or at least have friends, maybe, to show me how my eyebrows should look or how to apply just the right amount of anything. I thought about asking Krys, but decided to go it alone.

I avoided looking at magazines or TV shows to guide me—I wanted to be as real as I could and what was passing as perfect on the cover of Seventeen and nightly on NBC left a lot to be desired. It was difficult to be "me" for the first few months. I looked like what Grans would call a ragamuffin—hair dyed auburn with black streaks, and earrings paired with jeans, a few Nirvana T-shirts and large flannels. I still wore glasses but obtained thin, red frames.

I asked Grans to drive me to the library so I could read up on what I could to adjust myself without resorting to surgery.
“They’re not going to grow anymore on their own.”
“We’ll work on those, dear. Have you thought about using tissue?”
“Grans, seriously.”
“I’m kidding with you, Jennifer.”
She pulled the car up to the side of the building. “I’m ready,” I replied as I moved to open the door
“You have some very pretty dresses. Why the jeans and that god-awful screaming guy shirt?”
“One day at a time, Grans,” I said as I opened the door.

There are big steps and there are blind jumps—and I was about to take a huge leap. Still, while reading through several anatomy volumes, I felt someone was watching me—like the guy on the other side of the main room. I would glance up from my reading from time to time to see he was still looking at me.

Eventually, I closed the books, placed them in my backpack, and walked over to the other side of the room. He pretended to read when I approached, and then stopped when I was in front of him.
“Hello,” I whispered.
“Hi,” he replied as I sat down across from him.
“What are you studying?” I asked as I leaned in closer.
“I was studying you.”
“I noticed. Your subject’s name is Jennifer, by the way.” I gave a short wave.
“Mike,” he replied with a happy sigh.
“Hiya. Why don’t we step outside, unless you prefer to keep whispering?”

We walked outside the library and into the late summer sun.
“Where are you from, Jennifer?
“Spokane,” I answered as we walked around the corner of the building.
“What brings you to Missoula?”
“Family just decided they wanted to see something different. You know, an it’ll be a fun adventure kind of thing.”
“This is Missoula, not a lot of adventure to be found.” Mike tried to keep his focus on walking but he seemed to have trouble with it as he stumbled on the broken sidewalk.
“I don’t know, I think it would depend on what I was looking for.”
“I don’t suppose you’ll give me your phone number?” “It may be best if I get yours...my Mom gets a little
pissed off when people call, she—” I wanted to have him
call me but how could I explain anything to Mom? And what if she answered if he called?
I looked at his blue eyes and also at the rest of him and kind of got lost for a moment. He had dark hair and an athletic build. The kind of body I wanted to have against me.
“What does she do?”
“Uh, she, um, turns red in the face and either slams the phone down or throws it off the wall.”
“Wow. I feel sorry for the credit card salespeople.” I may have embellished a bit, as Mom would have probably just hung up on them—after agreeing to their terms.
“What about you, Mike, are you from here?” I wanted to hear more about him—anything I could get in the limited time I had—as Grans would be arriving shortly.
“Yep, been here for sixteen years of my life.”
“So I guess you know all that there is to do here then, say?”
“Umm, Yes, I do.”
“I’m interested in everything you can tell me,” I said as I opened my backpack and handed him a pen and an opened notebook.
“I’ll tell you anything you want.” He smiled as he wrote his name and number on the page.
“Can I hold you to that?”
“Call me when you can.” He handed my pen and notebook back to me.
“I will.” I looked toward the rear parking lot and saw Grans’ car pull into a space.

I was kind of caught in a bind. One part of me knew it would be best to get into the car and go home…to go slow and take my time. The other wanted to see where Mike could take me.

I took a parting glance at him as I walked to the car and got into the front passenger seat. I must have lingered
longer than I thought. Grans noticed my dumb-founded look.
“Want to introduce me to your admirer?” Grans asked as she adjusted the air conditioner.
“Ummm….”
“How old is he?” She squinted to take a look at him.
“Sixteen.”
“Looks kind of old for sixteen. I should ask for his ID.”
“Grans, that’s not necessary,” I said as set my backpack in the back seat.
“Maybe not, dear, but you may want to take it slow.”
“Which is why I got in the car.”
I buckled my seatbelt, hopefully sending a signal to Grans that I wasn’t crazy enough, yet, to just take off with the first boy who took an interest in me.
“Were you thinking about going all over town with a complete stranger?”
“He’s not a stranger, his name’s Mike.”
I fought the urge to open the door and run back to him. I glanced into the side mirror. He was still there, standing in front of the library, watching us leave. I was desperately trying to not appear too interested, but I was the one who made the first move—and he obviously showed reciprocal interest—so why not go the full giggly school girl mode?
And with that, he waved back to me with a smile.

I spent the ride back to Gran’s house in a stupor as I stared intently at the seven-digit number written in my notebook. My first actual suitor—someone who paid attention to me, and didn’t want to bash me into the ground. The easy part was over...the hard part was to call him.

We arrived back at Grans’ house to see Mom standing impatiently on the lawn. She wasn’t tapping her foot or glaring down the edge of her nose, but something was up.
“Looks like we’re in for a verbal beating,” Grans stated as she parked the car.
I nodded as Mom stepped up to the passenger’s side. “What are these?” She raised her hand and held it out
toward the door as I opened it.
I tried to look at what she was holding as she loosened her death grip on something—a pair of panties.
“Uh, underwear?” Out of everything that she could have taken out of my room she went with those?
“Whose?” She asked with a little bit of disdain.
“Mine.”
“How can you possibly wear these without—” I refused to look at her as I reached for my backpack.
“Do we really need to go into that?”
Grans got out of the car and stood back a few feet to watch the fireworks.
“James, I’ve scheduled an appointment for you with a family therapist.”
“A shrink?” I sprung up from the car and was this close to her face.
“Someone has to talk some sense into your head. This— ” she threw the underwear at me “—is the last straw.”
I picked them up off the ground as Mom turned her back to me.
“I met a boy today too,” I piped up. Tragically, I didn’t get to see her face since she only stopped, stomped her right foot, and walked back into the house.

I walked up to my room, closed the door, and sat down on the edge of the bed. I didn’t really have an issue with wearing them. They were uncomfortable to wear at first— they were confining, especially in the morning. But I liked how they felt against my skin.

Everyone was quiet at dinner. Mom stared at her plate and moved food around like a grumped up teen who wasn’t getting her way. The fork scraped against the porcelain every other second. It was all a build-up to something.
“Why, James? Why?”
“Why what?”
“Why all this? Are you planning to grow a pair?” she clutched her breasts and shook them. If we were anywhere else in the world I would have died of embarrassment.
“Yes. Thank you,” I replied with a bit of hesitation to go with the sarcasm.
“This...this is not natural.” Mom made sure to point at my face and body.
“Natural? In nature, some parents eat their young. Maybe you should have done that.”
“James—”
“Please stop calling me by that name.”
“No, because it is your legal name,” Mom stated.
“And I can change that too!” I wasn’t sure exactly what I had to do to get that done, but it was high on my list of things to do before I got a driver’s permit or started school.
Mom stood up, stormed down the hall, and went up the stairs. I followed after her as she opened the door to my room and started throwing things around.
“Stop it!”
She had torn into everything by the time I ran in.
“No. We are getting rid of all of this. James, please, this is... This is not how a teenage boy acts.”
“I’m not a teenage boy.”
Mom moved around the room, haphazardly, almost drunk-like until she stood in front of the uniform design. She took the blouse off the hanger and turned to me. Her hands once again knotted around something of mine she did not seem to like. At this point, I wondered who the person in front of me was. She looked like Mom but sounded like Dad.
“Throw this away. Throw all of it out.” She threw the garment across the room.
“What?”
“Tomorrow, you’re getting a haircut and some regular—boy—clothes.” I had purchased a lot of socks, underwear, and jeans, in addition to various bracelets and rings which she proceeded to shove around the top of the dresser.
“Why, so we can be a regular family?”
“That...that, yes, in a way. A two-person, regular family.” She took a break from damaging everything I owned and turned to face me.
“Would you prefer if I took up smoking? That’s a normal teenage thing to do, right?”
“As opposed to this, yes!”
I wanted to chalk up the basis of her entire argument as her being tired or under some sort of stress. I did not want to think that she would prefer to have me smoke cigarettes. What would I graduate to, crack cocaine?
Mom sat on the edge of the bed, and cried. This was another side of her I seldom ever saw. Most likely because I hated to see her cry, much less hear it, as there was nothing I could do to make her feel better.
“I just want some form of normalcy.”
I bent down to pick up the blouse but kept my eyes on her.
“I do too. And for me,” I pointed to myself, “this is a start down that road.”
The silence hung thick in the air for a few moments. I kind of wanted to move toward her, take her hand and tell her everything was going to be okay, but I kept my distance.
Eventually, she spoke up. “I have to go back to Spokane for the court proceedings.”
I looked at the blouse—there was a rip to the top buttonhole.
“We’ll get through all of this,” she said as she brushed her tears aside.
“I’d like to think so too,” I replied as maybe Mom was seeing my side. We were both victims of Dad’s callous ways.
“We’ll talk about this with the therapist. Good night, James.”
She walked out of my room without looking back, because if she had, she would have seen the fury I had for her.

The next morning Grans dropped me off at the mall.
Once again it was time to people watch and window shop. I walked into a store and browsed through the various dresses, seeing nothing I actually liked. I had become some sort of fashion snob.
Then, I saw them. From the corner of my eye, a group of teenage girls staring at me. I still wore my jeans, this time with a Pearl Jam band shirt and flannel, but I tried to accent my look with a bracelet and two extra piercings in my ears. The three teens appeared to be the stereotypical set you’d expect—the reigning queen bee and her court.
“The grunge look ended a few years ago, you know that, right?” a short girl with long dark hair and a could be pretty if it wasn’t caught in what looked like an ever-present scowl face commented as she threw her hair back.
“And the bitch attitude went out with the eighties, or were you waiting for it to make a comeback?” came my quick rebuttal.
The two attendants stood in shock from my insult to their queen. I had no idea who this girl was any more than she knew me and I really wanted to hit her.
“Jennifer!” I turned around to see a familiar face outside the shop.
“Mike, you know this, person?” Queen Bee asked with a bit of disdain in her voice.
Mike walked into the store and came toward me.
“You never called,” he said as he walked up and hugged me.
“Believe me, I wish had. I just—”
“Just been having your grand adventure around Missoula without me?” Mike tried to catch my gaze and he succeeded.
“No, I was waiting for you. I just didn’t know how to ask.”
“Who are you?” Queen Bee inquired.
Mike stepped back, took my right hand, and held it up toward her.
“This is Jennifer, she’s my new...friend.” Queen Bee rolled her eyes.
“Has my little sister been bothering you?”
“No, not at all,” I replied to him—with all the honesty I could as I’d most likely have to apologize for what I said earlier.
“Jennifer, this is Monica. That’s Casey and Melissa.”
The ladies-in-waiting did a half wave—taking a cue from their Queen—they couldn’t care less about me either.
“Hello,” I replied.
It was now Monica’s turn to wave me off in a "be gone with ye" gesture.
“You ready for the grand adventure?” Mike asked as he led me out of the store.
“Before you go adventuring or whatever, when will you be back to pick me up?”
“You can take the bus,” he replied without looking back and Monica, in true bratty little sister form, flipped him off while her entourage went back to looking at clothes.
“I waited for you to call,” he said as I felt the blood rush to my face.
“I’m sorry I didn’t.”
“It’s okay. Better to see you in person and talk, right?” He had a certain allure to his face, like all he had to do was get up in the morning and it was perfection.
“Yeah,” I replied as I could feel the sweat building up in my hand or maybe it was his? I wasn’t too sure.
“So, what are you into?”
“I’m a bookworm...but I’m into trying new things.”
“Like grand adventures?” he asked as he pulled me closer.
“Yeah, like that.”

We left the mall, walked into the parking lot and snaked our way through to a new model pickup truck.
“Is this yours?”
“Yeah, well, it will be in a few months, legally. You like it?”
“It’s very nice,” I replied even though I was clueless about trucks. All I knew was I had his full attention.
“Let’s roll up for the mystery tour,” he opened the passenger side door for me and I looked into the immaculately clean cab. For a moment, the voice in the back of my head yelled out This is how people get kidnapped, raped, killed, and mutilated even. You’re willingly stepping in like a little sheep under the control of an evil wolf, you idiot!
I looked at Mike, all smiles, and then climbed in.

We drove around Missoula, making simple small talk. I had not seen a lot of the town, since Grans and Mom only went to specific locations and then back home. I could only do two things: either look at Mike or stare blankly ahead and think about him anyway.
“Why so quiet?” he asked.
“I just enjoy listening to you.”
“So I could read directions off a soup can and you’d listen to me?” He could mumble off the periodic table of elements in Latin and I would take in every unintelligible syllable.
“Potato or chicken?”
“Hmmm... Tough one.”

We crossed over a bridge and then turned toward a grassy area.
“I know you like to spend time in the library, but how about some time at the park?”
“I’d like that.”
We parked next to a lot of other cars and he held up a finger to tell me to wait a moment as he got out, walked to the passenger side, and opened the door.
I slid out of the truck and stepped down onto the pavement.
“You come here, often?”
“No, not really. I just thought it was a nice day and I also thought that we could spend some time together, in a public place, so you know I’m not one of those creepy, stalking kind of guys.”
“But doesn’t saying that make one think you are?”
“Well?”
“I’m not thinking it.”
“Race you to the swings then.”

But instead of racing me, he took my hand and we ran together. If I were like his sister and her subjects, I would have thought he was weird or cheap—not even wanting to buy me lunch—but I was loving this, and all we were doing was running to the swings.
I broke away, ran ahead, and jumped up onto a swing— only to lose my balance, fall, and land in his arms.
“You’ll never be a rider if you can’t stay on for eight seconds.”
“It fought me.”
“And I caught you. Now...the question is, do I let you down?”
“Please don’t,” I replied as I moved my free hand—the other being wrapped around his neck. I so wanted to reach out and kiss him, but...I just wasn’t brave enough.
“I’d carry you anywhere you want to go,” he said as he attempted to adjust his grip.
“You’ve got a truck for that.”
“True, and it’s best that I let you down, this is kind of killing my back. Sorry, that’s not the most romantic thing to say.” He gently put me down on my feet and I wanted to jump right back into his arms.
“Just talk about soup and I’ll forgive you.”

***

I stayed at the park with Mike, listening to him talk about school. He played basketball and baseball, his parents worked at the college and his sister was a certified bitch, which made me feel better when he said that because that’s how I felt about her too. I tried to deflect his questions about me, as I didn’t want to lie but I wasn’t about to
tell him everything about my family. His life sounded so perfect though—he had a lot of friends in school, a sibling to argue with, but maybe also—at the end of day—they’d be peaceful with the other. He went to bed at night not wondering why his parents despised him.

We left the park in the late afternoon, drove back through town, and into a suburban neighborhood.
“I’ll bet my house is smaller, compared to yours.”
“It’s not the size, but what’s here,” I placed my fist to
my heart and he nodded as we pulled into the driveway of a two story house with a manicured lawn and built-in sprinklers.

He got out of the truck and the front door of the house opened to reveal Monica.
“Mom says you’re in trouble.” She spoke with a snobby tone, as to inspire fear in her brother. Translated, she had said: I played the helpless victim and you were the selfish jerk who left poor me, all alone, to fend for myself at the mall. Basically, I lied so your ass is in trouble.

Monica glared at me as Mike looked like he wanted to smack her but instead backed off as his mother walked out
of the house. She was rather tall with long hair and I would have thought she were pretty if she didn’t have a major scowl on her face.
“Michael Wesley Preston, did you leave your sister alone at the mall?”
“I said take the bus home. She takes it every other time she goes there, why not now?”
“Because I told you to bring her home, she—” she stopped abruptly when she saw me get out of the truck. His mother looked at him and then back to me.
“Mom, this is Jennifer.”
She continued her inspection of me, perhaps trying to figure out how old I was or to sense something else about me...like maybe I was some sort of airhead.
“Hello,” I said with a slight smile and wave. Her scowl vanished.
“Where are you from, Jennifer?”
“Spokane, Washington.” I cheerfully replied.
“And how do you know—”
“Mom, please don’t give her the third degree,” Mike pleaded.
She ignored him as she revved up with more questions. “Where did you meet?”
“The library,” I answered with utmost truth.
“How long have you been together?”
“All day.” I was almost ready to give her my social security number at that point.
“Do you like spaghetti?”
“Yes, thank you, ma’am.”
“I like you. Maybe you can teach Michael some manners.”

Mike grabbed my hand and raced us into the house.
“I’m sorry about that...she’s just—”
We stood in the middle of his bedroom with the door closed. I looked around at the various trophies—baseball
mostly—pictures and books that were neat and precise on his desk, shelves and nightstand.
“Your mom just cares about you. She doesn’t want you to fall for someone who may break your heart.”
“Well, since you put it that way…” he replied as placed his hands around my waist. He slowly moved his face closer when a fist pounded on the door.
“Mom says get the ice out and Dad says you need to leave your door wide open!”
He didn’t respond to Monica but instead moved closer to me.

I waited in anticipation as time slowed down and I could feel each beat of my heart pounding out. I closed my eyes in anticipation only to have them abruptly open again when a man’s voice boomed out, “Make yourselves presentable, please.”
Mike sighed in defeat.
“There’ll be another time,” I said. I squeezed his hands. He nodded as we walked into the hallway.

The Preston family dining room table was large and circular. I found myself sitting to the right of Mike’s father, with Mike on the left side and Monica sneering at me—when her parents weren’t paying attention, of course—from across the vast spread before me. They said they were having spaghetti which—at my old house—meant noodles, sauce and perhaps a glass of water. But they had salad, breadsticks, noodles, and the sauce—which was so aromatic the neighbors down the block could smell the oregano. I kept my excitement bottled up but I loved what was there before me.
“So, Jennifer, what does your father do?” Mr. Preston asked as he glanced at Mike and not directly at me.
“Umm, he’s a business realtor.”
He nodded and made some sound like, mmm-hmm.
“You just moved here then?” It was his mom’s turn.
“It’s been a few months, but I’ve been slow to go out. Mike gave me a tour around the city. It’s very pretty.”
“Missoula? Pretty? Yeah right,” Monica chipped in and everyone pretty much ignored her.
“What about your mother?” Mrs. Preston asked as she offered a basket of garlic bread to me.
“She’s, Mom, um, takes care of the home and me and— ” I took a small piece while keeping eye contact with her.
“Do you have to interrogate her?” Mike asked as she passed the basket to him.
“Michael, we just want to get know your friend.”
“Mom.”

Dinner went by with more small talk. Mrs. Preston told me about the schools; Mr. Preston discussed the sports teams and Mike’s prowess with baseball; and Monica blew her hair out of her face with an expression that stated, I’m in Hell, when can I get out of here?
An hour later, Mike drove me back to the mall. We sat in the truck while parked for a moment.
“Thank you. I had a great time.” I replied as I tried to see him in the dim light.
“You’re welcome. I think my parents like you.”
“I hope I passed their test.”
“Oh, you nailed it!” he exclaimed. “They only ask the what are your plans after high school question to certain people.”
“They really love you.”
He then reached out his hand to hold mine.
“You’re different from any other girl I’ve ever met.”
“Really?” I couldn’t hide my surprise.
“Sorry, too up front? I mean—”
“No, no, I just—” I felt my heartbeat quicken and my face felt flushed. Thank God he couldn’t see me.
“Jen?” he asked as he turned on the interior lights.
Damn.
I tried to hide my expression, a mix of confusion and euphoria, but I couldn’t.
“I’m serious. When I first saw you in the library I saw something between us.”
“Me too, I—”
I opened the truck door with my other hand and looked back at him.
“Thank you again for the adventure.” There was an abrupt choice to make—to get out and simply wave goodbye or to move closer to him. I took the chance and leaned toward Mike, kissing him on the lips. I bounced out of the truck.
“I will definitely call you,” I said.
“Tonight?”
“Yes,” I replied with a bright grin.
“Great. Bye, Jennifer.”
I closed the door and walked toward the mall and right as I stepped inside I was immediately stopped by a security officer.

“What’s your name?” The officer towered over me and he looked past me, tracking Mike’s truck as it drove out of the lot.
“Jennifer.”
“Jennifer what?” he asked as he reached for his radio.
“Kane.” I replied, now feeling like I had done something illegal.
“This is Jones, 346. I’ve found Miss Jennifer Kane.” The radio crackled back with an indecipherable reply.
“Could you come with me, please?” I was ready for him to throw on a pair of handcuffs.

The officer, Mom, and Grans talked for a few minutes at the porch as I sat in the back seat of a patrol car in the
driveway. Every few seconds, Mom would glare at me from the porch and then turn back to the officer. Minutes later, he came back and opened the door.
I walked to the house in silence. Mom and Grans didn’t say a thing until we were inside.
“You were at some boy’s house?”
“Yes,” I replied as we gathered in the kitchen.
“You just left the mall and went somewhere else without letting anyone know? I waited and looked for you for hours!”
Grans went to the stove to pour hot water into a tea cup as the drama continued around her.
“I went out and met people. I’m sorry you disapprove.”
“How was I going to describe you if you were kidnapped? Long, red hair, earrings, his name is James but answers to Jennifer?”
“How lucky I was found unharmed to save you from that embarrassment.” I turned and ran upstairs.
I sat in my room, listening to the muffled sounds of Mom’s tirade over me, and Grans replying something to her that made her explode yet again. I kind of wanted to apologize to her, maybe tell her I made a mistake and should have called her at some point. Sure, so she could
piss and moan over the fact I was eating pasta and garlic bread at someone’s house and not smoking crack or dying in a gutter.

***

“I’m sorry you got in trouble. I didn’t think about the time.” Mike’s voice sounded so sincere when we were talking on the phone that night—like he was willing to take a bullet for me.
“Me neither. I was so wrapped up in the day I didn’t call home” I sat at my desk with a sketchbook in one hand, a red pencil in the other, and the phone precariously balanced on my shoulder. Grans could never get her hearing aid to work with a cordless so the only one I could borrow for my room was a heavy desk phone with an enormous handset.
“Your parents ground you?”
“Something like that. They didn’t chain me up or lock me in a cell, but I’ll be out of sight for a bit. I can still call you though.” If I was going to be kept a pseudo prisoner, then I would get some things accomplished.
“So when can I see you again?”
“If I can keep my cool, I might get time taken off for good behavior,” I replied as I traded out pencils and turned to a new page.
“Your parents do that too?”
“Doesn’t everyone’s?” I asked as I looked out the window. I could just leave the house and run to Mike’s in the middle of the night.
“I guess so. What are you doing right now?”
“Besides thinking about you? I’m working on a dress design.” I had thought of several designs to wear for school that would complement my current shape. School started soon, so it was time to get working on them.
“Will I get to see you in it?”
“Possibly,” I grinned as I switched to a green pencil and shaded in the skirt, “it’s about time to lose the jeans.”
“Lose the jeans?” I could hear the tone of his voice was not so innocent.
“Don’t get cheeky on me.” I laughed.
“Sorry, I was kind of wondering how you’d look in a dress.”
“I hope your imagination’s not too vivid.”
“Only thinking what I know. I’m sure you’ll look beautiful.”
“Thank you.” I really liked his response.
We took several minutes before we actually ended the call—the No, you hang up first routine. As much as I used to think no one ever did that in real life, I found myself wanting to keep talking.
I picked up the blouse Mom had ripped. Sure, it was just a button hole and I could repair it—I just didn’t feel like doing that; it would look imperfect, flawed—and that was something I could not stand. Leaving things incomplete.



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