The Trials of Youth

The Trials of Youth

by Karen Page

School can be hard enough, but some children have extra challenges

The Trials of Youth

Chloe slammed her bedroom door shut, which got the expected rebuke. "How could Dad do this to me," she thought as she jumped onto her bed and cried into her pillow.

Justin, her father, wasn't far behind, but instead of shouting, he sat at the edge of her bed and waited for her to speak.

"Why, Dad?" she asked without looking up.

"After mum left, you encouraged me to find someone new."

"I know Dad, but-" Chloe pounded her fist onto her pillow with frustration, "it just seems so wrong."

"It's just a surprise for you; that's all. Why don't you sleep on it and see if you feel better in the morning."

Chloe snorted, which Justin didn't let pass. "Look here, you were brought up to have better manners than that. I know the last nine months hasn't been easy for you, but there is a limit to how lenient I'll be."

Knowing that she'd pushed too hard, Chloe gave a small "sorry". Not once though had she turned round to look at her dad.

"I'm sure it will all look better in the morning," said Justin as he got up. As he left the room he didn't know if he was trying to convince himself as well as Chloe.

"It's so not right," she complained to herself as got herself ready for bed, determined that she would never agree the her Dad's new relationship. When they'd first met, Chloe had just thought it was a friend from work, and they had got on really well. However, when Justin had explained that they were going out together, Chloe went downhill really quick. It was this issue that really upset Chloe. She couldn't understand how she got on so well so quickly. It normally took her months to get used to a person.

The next morning, Chloe breathed a sigh of relief to find only two places set for breakfast. She didn't think she would have been able to cope to find her Dad had been sleeping with-. Chloe retched before the thought could take a further hold.

"How are you feeling?" Justin asked, walking into the room.

"The whole idea just makes me sick," Chloe responded truthfully. She saw her father wince, and felt good about it.

Breakfast was a rather quiet affair. Neither of them ate much and Chloe quickly excused herself to go to school. Justin just watched her go, his heart torn. He hated to see Chloe like this, and wondered, if she was taking this news badly, how the rest of the news would go.

* * *

"Hey, what's up Chloe?" asked Nicky, one of Chloe's close friends. "You really don't seem with it today."

"I met my Dad's new bit of stuff last night."

"It didn't go down too well?"

Chloe dragged her friend to one side where things were a bit quieter. "It turns out my Dad is a f'ing fag."

"You what?!" queried Nicky, not quite believing what she'd heard. Chloe hardly ever used language like that.

"I knew he'd been seeing someone, and stupidly I'd been encouraging him. Heck, he needed something after Mum abandoned us like she did. Last night he brought someone home and I got introduced to Keith."

Nicky nodded, as she realised what Chloe was saying, but decided there must have been more to it. "Didn't you like Keith?"

"Yeah ... no ... look it doesn't matter about bloody Keith. I just can't believe my Dad is queer."

"At least they can't get married, like some areas in America," commiserated Nicky, trying her best to cheer up her friend.

"Yeah, America must be full of pansies," agreed Chloe. "You sure it can't happen here?"

"Isn't it a bit early to worry about it? After all, they have only just started seeing each other."

"The way they were acting, it's like they've known each other for years. And it was like Dad had been spilling our whole lives to Keith. He seemed to know all about me. You will keep this to yourself, won't you? I mean, if the word gets out, my life will be hell."

"Hey, no worries. You kept it secret when I thought I got preggers the other month. Talking of boyfriends, Tom mentioned last night that Rob fancies you."

"Rob Parrish?"

"Well duh, you don't think I was talking about Rob Weston, did you?"

Indeed, as Chloe queued up outside the classroom for morning registration, Rob Parrish walked past and gave her a smile. She thought a bit about Rob and wondered what to do about him, but her thoughts were quickly replaced about her Dad seeing Keith. It wasn't until Mr West, their form tutor, asked if she was joining them today, did she rush into the class.

For Chloe the day was a blur. She didn't get chance to speak with Nicky alone again, so had no emotional outlet for her worries. When she wasn't thinking about her Dad and Keith, she was worrying about the Rob situation. She'd had a few smiles and looks, but so far he hadn't asked her out, and this was just adding to her anxieties. If he did ask her out, what should she say? Would Dad being gay put Rob off?

'I don't need this now!' she thought to herself.

After school, she found a great outlet for her frustrations. Hockey. She'd been a member of the school team for years, but had always found herself playing okay, but never brilliantly. However, the pent up emotions did something to her, and she thrashed the ball across the field and it sailed into the opponent's goal.

"Where did that come from?" asked Nicky in surprise.

"I imagined the ball was Keith's head," Chloe growled.

It certainly turned a lacklustre gamer into something with more passion. When Nicky got passed the ball, she pushed it onto Chloe, who was just outside the scoring area. Chloe controlled the ball and hit it with force, gaining another goal.

"Who was that?" Nicky asked, with growing concern. Chloe wasn't a goody-goody, but she wasn't a girl who would go round hitting people or causing trouble.

"My Mum," Chloe replied tersely.

"Try to keep cool. If you hit another ball like that, I'm worried you'll get booked for dangerous play."

Thankfully there wasn't a serious incident and the game ended as a decisive win. Chloe only had to look like she was going to belt the ball and the defence crumbled.

As they walked towards the changing room, Mrs Lupin, the girls PE teacher, caught up with Chloe and asked, "Are you okay, Chloe?"

"Miss?"

"I know I talk about playing a bit more aggressively, but tonight you didn't seem yourself."

"Sorry, miss?"

"You haven't seemed yourself tonight. Is there something wrong?"

"I'm okay." Chloe smiled, trying to reassure Miss Lupin.

"You better get changed then. If you do feel like talking, then you know where I am." It frustrated Miss Lupin that she knew there was a problem, but there was not much she could do unless the child talked. Why did children think they could solve the problems of the world all by themselves?

Chloe felt a bit better after the match, having worked off some of her frustration and by the time she was dressed she was back to her normal self. Nicky wanted to talk about it more, but knew Chloe would be upset if she mentioned it with others around.

As Chloe walked out of the changing room, she bumped into Miss Lupin. "You look a bit better. Why don't you come in and have a chat?"

"It's late, miss."

"I'll only keep you a few minutes. You've left later than that before."

Chloe sighed and followed Miss Lupin to her office.

"Now we're on our own, are you going to talk to me?" Miss Lupin opened.

"There's nothin' wrong."

"Someone like you doesn't go from your normal style of play to being on the verge of being sent off for dangerous play for no reason."

Chloe stayed silent.

"Do I have to leave you off the team for the next game because of unexplained dangerous behaviour?"

"I wasn't dangerous," Chloe complained.

"And who is the expert here?" Miss Lupin said, raising her eyebrows.

"You are. Please don't take me off the team."

"Then tell me what's wrong," demanded Miss Lupin. "You know full well that I kept Nicky's secret."

Chloe still didn't say anything.

"Okay then, it's obvious you don't want to tell me, so you better go home."

"Are you dropping me from the team?" asked Chloe, fear edging into her voice.

"I don't think I have any choice. When you can demonstrate you can play safely, then you can come back."

Chloe started to get upset and as she approached the door, said, "My Mum left nine months ago. Now my Dad has met someone new."

Miss Lupin's heart jumped for joy. She hated threatening to remove Chloe from the team and was glad things were coming out.

"Didn't you say the other month you were encouraging your dad to look for someone?"

"Yes, but it was still a shock to meet them last night."

"Didn't you like her?"

Chloe gave a snort. "I got on quite well with him; until I found out he was my Dad's boyfriend."

"Are you also upset because it wasn't your mum? Do you think even if it had been a woman he'd been seeing, you would also have resented it a bit?"

"I don't think so. I've been the one encouraging him to move on."

"Have you seen your mum since she left?"

"No. It's like she just disappeared."

"How are you coping, just you and Dad?"

"Okay. He can cook a bit, and used to do some of the ironing before."

"I take it you help out?"

"A bit."

"Only a bit?"

"Well I do any sewing that's needed. Last time Dad tried he ended up with a needle in his thumb. I do some cooking, too. Dad says it's good to know that sort of thing, but he doesn't like me helping too much. He says a child should enjoy their childhood."

"As they should. But if your Dad had a woman move in, it would mean a lot less work for you."

"Probably."

"What about your friends. How do you think they'd react to your Dad being gay?"

"I'm not sure. Nicky knows and is fine about it."

"So, if everything is fine, why are you not behaving so?"

Chloe sighed and blurted out, "Because what if Dad being gay caused Mum to leave?"

"Have you mentioned this to your dad?"

"No!"

"Why not? If you were that pent-up with frustration, I'm sure you've been off with him at home."

"He'd tell me to bog off and mind my own business."

"Perhaps, but it would let him know a bit more about how you feel. I've met your dad quite a few times when he's watched you play. I'm sure he'll be worried about how you feel."

"I just wish I knew what happened to Mum."

"Then talk to your Dad. I know one thing, men aren't mind readers."

* * *

By the time Chloe got home, her Dad was already there. She looked around and didn't see Keith.

"Did you have a good day at school?" Justin asked, as she walked into the lounge and dumped her school bag in the corner.

"We won."

"That's good," Justin responded, glad that Chloe was actually being a bit more civil than that morning.

"No Keith tonight?" Chloe asked, wondering if it would be best to do her homework upstairs or downstairs.

"After last night, I didn't think that would be wise." Justin paused, trying to put into practice what he'd been planning most of the day. "Why don't we wait until Saturday and try to something together."

"I was going to go to town with Nicky."

"All day?"

"I suppose not."

"Excellent, then try to think of somewhere you want to go."

Chloe closed her eyes and nodded. "Just don't hold hands and get soppy while we're out."

"You're home a bit late. Were you avoiding coming home because of Keith?"

"No, Miss Lupin wanted a word."

"Were you in trouble?"

"No, she just wanted a word."

"Go and relax, tea will be ready soon."

The meal was eaten in near silence. Justin was worried about the way Chloe had reacted. It was Chloe however who broke the silence.

"Dad, did mum leave because you're gay?"

Justin gave a small smile at that. "No, she left because she thought I wasn't."

"Huh?!" This didn't make any sense to Chloe, and certainly wasn't the answer she expected.

"Look, let's go and sit down in the lounge. Do you have any homework?"

"Not that needs to be handed in tomorrow."

When they were all cleared away, they sat down on the settee. Justin was going to sit on the little single seat chair, but decided that he needed to be close to his daughter, so he sat next to Chloe.

"I don't know where to begin," he started helplessly. "I think nine months ago, we made a big mistake not telling you what was going on."

"You mean why Mum left?"

"Yes. We thought what we did was for the best." Justin gave a small, almost mad laugh. "And yesterday, I thought introducing you to Keith was for the best. So much for my bright ideas. Before we get into Mum, I have a few questions for you. Did I hear you up late last Saturday watching a film?"

Chloe didn't say anything, but looked at her Dad, slightly fearful.

"What did you watch?"

Chloe shook her head.

Justin got up and wandered over to the window and looked out. "You used to be able to tell me most things. I forget sometimes that you grow up and want to keep things to yourself."

"Am I in trouble?" Chloe asked, sounding a lot younger.

"I'm rather upset that you got up to watch it when you should have been in bed. If you'd asked, I would have let you stay up late."

"Yeah, but then you would have wanted to watch it with me." Chloe realised that she'd admitted getting up and buried her head.

"That is 'yes' not 'yeah' and I suppose I would have stayed up. Now you've admitted sneaking down, tell me what you saw."

"Boys don't cry."

Justin gave a small smile. "I thought so. Did you enjoy it?"

"Not really."

"It doesn't get easier watching it a second time."

Chloe looked very surprised at her Dad. "You've seen it?"

"Twice. What did you think of Brandon?"

"An idiot for breaking the law and getting mixed up with the people he did."

"I didn't mean that, and you know it."

"You mean how did I feel about him being transgendered?" At Justin's nod she continued, "I don't know what the big deal is. It was certainly not something to beat someone up over. Certainly not something to kill over. Jeesh, those American's have strange ideas."

"So why did you watch it?"

Chloe's heart sank and looked at her Dad, trying to see if his face gave anything away. It didn't. Justin just sat there, looking just like he normally did; a kind and loving father who wouldn't hurt a flea.

"It was an Oscar winner," Chloe explained tentatively.

"It was, but did you really just get out of bed and sneak down the stairs because you wanted to watch an Oscar winning film. The Little Mermaid won two Oscar's. Would you like me to get you that to watch?"

Chloe didn't say anything, but got up and headed out of the lounge and towards the stairs. When Justin realised she wasn't going to the toilet or kitchen to get a drink, he followed.

"Can't I do my homework in peace?" she complained as he followed her to her room.

He didn't enter, but just stood in the open doorway. "I was trying to have an adult conversation with you. You don't just get up and leave; it's rude."

"Well don't treat me like that then. Suggesting we watch that kids film."

"I'm not like Brandon's parents. I wouldn't kick you out or beat you up."

Chloe looked really scared and tried to get past her Dad. Justin just stood there, blocking her way.

"I hate doing this, but sit!" ordered Justin, turning round Chloe and giving her a gentle push towards her bed. She got the message and went to sit down.

"Why are you doing this to me?" she sulked.

"Because bottling things up is just the way to heartache. Was I upset with you when you cut your hair short? Was I upset that you don't have any feminine clothes?"

"But I like to just dress as I feel comfortable."

"True, but last Sunday, while I was at work, you bound your breasts and went out dressed as a boy. That makes me think you need to tell me a bit more about what you're doing."

Chloe, who had been sitting looking defiantly at her dad suddenly sagged and looked like she was trying her best not to cry.

"You're not going to hurt me, are you?"

"Don't be silly. Of course I'm not. This is as much your home as much as mine. If you feel like dressing and acting more as you feel, then you should."

"But what about Keith? Isn't he going to think it's strange? He won't hit me, will he?"

"No, he won't hit you. Do you want me to ask him around so you can see for yourself?"

"Er, I think I'll pass. Anyway, weren't you supposed to be telling me about why Mum left?""

"I thought you came up to do your homework?"

Chloe looked at her Dad and saw him grinning. "You're a right pig sometimes."

"Why don't you get changed out of your school uniform while I wash-up? I should have finished with the pots by the time you're changed and then we can have that chat."

"Can I wear what I wore last Sunday?"

"Of course."

As Justin closed the door, Chloe lay back on her bed in shock. Her anger gently subsided, but her fear remained. She wondered how her Dad would react when he saw her. Remembering how long it took to bind her breasts properly, she jumped off her bed and started getting changed.

Downstairs, Justin was swilling a plate as he heard the loud thump as Chloe jumped off the bed. He gave a sad smile, wondering about how Chloe would take the news about why her Mum left. His thoughts kept him occupied, and before he realised, he was putting the tea towel over the draining pots.

"Do you want a hand?" came the voice from the lounge.

"I've just finished," Justin called back. "Do you want a drink?"

"Beer, please."

"Not a chance. Will lemonade do instead?"

"Thanks."

Justin sorted out two lemonades. He thought it best to keep a clear head and not have a beer himself. As he went through, he noticed Chloe trying her best to look like a boy. She'd not done a bad job, but there was something not quite right.

"Well, son, what do I call you?" Justin asked as he placed the drinks on the coffee table.

Chloe's face darkened. "I don't know."

Justin was surprised. "I thought you'd have had a name."

"I used to, but I can't use it anymore."

"Oh?"

"I used to think of myself as Keith, but that all got ruined yesterday."

"There's nothing stopping your call yourself Keith."

Chloe shook her head. "Aren't parents supposed to name their children? What name would you have given me if I'd been born a boy?"

Justin's mouth twitched slightly. "Keith."

"You're pulling my leg?"

"Nope."

"Was I going to have a middle name?"

"Yes. Justin."

"Oh great. A fat lot of good that was. Can you think of another for me?"

"How about Brandon?"

Chloe reached across and gently punched him on the arm. "Okay. I'll try and think of something."

Chloe took a sip of her lemonade and as she put the glass down, asked, "So, why did Mum leave?"

"It's a bit complex," sighed Justin. "We didn't tell you because we didn't want you distracted at school."

"Come on Dad," Chloe complained as Justin paused. "Spit it out."

"Keith is your mother."

"What!" exclaimed Chloe in shock.

"Your Mum tried her best, she really did, but when you are constantly hiding the real you it can get quite depressing. Eventually she couldn't stand it any longer and was going to leave, thinking that we would hate her."

"Why did you let her leave?"

"I didn't want her to go. However, she went because she didn't want either of us to see her while she worked out how to be the man she felt she was."

"For ages, I've been trying to get Keith to meet you, but he's been too scared. He's been worried that you might find out who he was and hate him. It was Keith who spotted you in town last Sunday and he let me know. It was what I used to get him to visit. How could you hate him if you did find out, since you seemed to also be experimenting that way?"

"And I've messed it up," realised Chloe. "Was Keith very upset?"

"A bit. It took quite a lot of fast talking to get him to try again this weekend."

"Does Keith live far?"

"No." Justin wondered what was going through his child's mind.

"Then what are you waiting for? Let's go visit so I can apologise."

"Sorry?" Justin couldn't believe what he was hearing. Yesterday Chloe wanted nothing to do with Keith, and now she wanted to get across and see him straight away.

"Don't phone to warn her. I want it to be a surprise."

"That's him, not her."

"What?"

"You referred to Keith as her. He probably wouldn't say anything, but it would hurt him."

Chloe came to a halt. "Oh, sorry."

"That's one of the other reasons he didn't want you to know the truth. If you hadn't known, then you wouldn't ever slip up with names or pronouns."

"Do you want me to change before we go?"

"That's up to you. You went out last Sunday, so why not now?"

"Will Keith be okay with me like this?

"What do you think?"

"Oh yes. Let's go now then."

"He's going to kill me," muttered Justin under his breath.

Fifteen minutes later they pulled up outside a small block of flats. It wasn't the nicest part of town, but it was nowhere near the worst. Since it was away from the main boozing areas of town, it was a relatively quiet place. As they arrived, a man was walking out of the entrance door, and held it open for them, so they wouldn't have to buzz.

"Thanks Tom," said Justin as they walked through.

"Now it will be a total surprise," Chloe said with glee as they walked up the stairs to the first floor. "You don't have a key, do you?"

"Yes, but I'm not using it. This is Keith's flat, and he needs his privacy."

"From you?"

"Mostly from you. You don't go barging into the bathroom while I'm in, but you used to with your mum. If, and I say if, we can persuade Keith to come home, you will have to respect his privacy like you do mine."

"Oh yeah, I haven't thought of that. It's going to mean a lot of change, isn't it?"

"Yes. Stop thinking of Keith as your mum, and just another dad, and you should be okay."

Justin pressed the door bell, and the ring could be heard in the distance. A moment later the door opened a little and Keith peered out.

"Why didn't you just use your key?" asked Keith, as he opened the door fully.

"Because I've bought our son with me," replied Justin. Chloe smiled at being referred to as their son.

Keith must have understood, and the door was left ajar and the sound of running footsteps was heard.

"Come on in," sighed Justin. He went into the lounge and said, "Sit here while I see how upset Keith is."

Chloe sat down and looked around the cramped lounge. The place was covered in pictures of her and Dad. It was obvious to her that Keith really loved them both. After a few minutes she couldn't wait any longer and headed head towards the bedroom.

"After yesterday, how can you expect me to go in there? I know I'm not wanted," Chloe heard as she got near.

Chloe didn't knock, but went straight in through the open door. "I'm so sorry about yesterday," she said looking straight at Keith. "Neither of you had explained who you are, so I got upset thinking that Dad was seeing anybody but you."

Keith just looked down, not daring to believe he was hearing what he was.

Chloe paused wondering what else she could say to persuade her Mum, no Keith, to come home. "I also think I need your help. When I went out on Sunday, people looked at me rather strangely and when I went into a shop they referred to me as 'miss'."

"Do you really want to be a boy?" Keith asked, lifting his head to look at his child.

"I don't know," Chloe admitted. "I think so, but I want to experiment a bit. Does that make sense?"

"Not only does it make sense, it sounds sensible. And if you aren't happy as a boy, then we can find out what makes you happy. It's half term in two weeks. Do you want me to take some time off work to help you?"

"Does that mean you're coming home?" Chloe asked, all excitedly.

Keith looked down. "Yesterday you hated my guts and couldn't wait to see me go. Yet today you are totally different. Why?"

"Because I didn't know who you were then. I thought you were someone corrupting Dad."

"And aren't I?"

"What?"

"Corrupting people. For me, your Dad has gone from being straight to gay."

"Don't forget, it was me who fought for us to stay together," Justin responded. "I love you. And don't you forget it."

"But I'm a-"

Justin quickly interrupted Keith. "Don't start that again. Especially in front of Chloe."

"Have you thought of a male name?" Keith asked, looking at Chloe.

"No," said Chloe, her fingers crossed behind her back and hoped Dad would stay quiet. "Will you both choose me one? It is a parent's job to name their child."

"Dad and I will put our thinking caps on," promised Keith, only just coming round to the fact that his child didn't hate him like he'd thought last night.

"So what do I call you?" Chloe asked Keith.

Keith looked at his child for a second and then laughed a bit. "I don't know. I didn't expect you to know who I was. How about just calling me Keith?"

"I can't do that," Chloe complained. "You didn't bring me up to call an adult by their first name."

"Uncle Keith?"

"But you're more than an Uncle. Can I call you Dad?"

Keith started to cry tears of happiness.

"Hey, I didn't think boys were supposed to cry?" teased Justin.

"I think this is allowed," Keith responded, a big grin on his face. It fell a bit as he thought aloud, "No matter how much I'd love you to call me Dad, I think it might get a bit confusing. How about you call me Dad Keith?"

Chloe nodded.

"Only if you call me Dad Justin," added Justin. "I don't want any of us to be lesser of a Dad."

"So Dad Keith," said Chloe, trying the new name out. "Now you know that I won't freak out about you, will you come home?"

"If I'm welcome by you both."

"Yes," smiled Justin.

"Oh, yeah!" yelled Chloe, almost jumping up-and-down. "Just promise never to leave like that again."

"I won't," promised Keith.

Keith grabbed some clothes for the next few days, with the plan to move everything back on Saturday. It wasn't long before they drove home, the family once again complete.



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