Melanie's Story -- Chapter 40 -- Ursula

CHAPTER 40 -- Ursula

The next weekend, I visited my family. I stayed in my old room and my parents called me "Martin," but I continued to dress as a girl and mostly act like a girl. Biff was away at school, but Pete was around, and he called me Melanie. It was surreal.

We mostly hung around the house or ran errands. I didn't try to contact anyone I'd known before because, well -- what would I say? Besides, there were a lot of people I didn't want to remind of my existence. I wasn't sure they wouldn't follow me to the east side if they knew.

Anyway, we ended up going out for pizza Saturday night. We were sitting at the table waiting for our pizza to be done when I saw Ursula walk in. I'd had a crush on Ursula back in ninth grade, or as much a of a crush as I could have with things as they were, me being a "loser" and she being an "ugly." I never went anywhere with it, because the only thing I knew about boy-girl stuff was how my brothers talked about taking girls out and seeing how far they could go with them. I couldn't see treating Ursula that way. Or any girl. So when I saw her, I couldn't help calling out to her.

"Ursula!" I said. She gave me a puzzled look, like, who are you?

"Ursula, it's me, Martin. Remember?" I added. She walked over to us with a really confused look on her face.

"Who?" She shook her head, still confused.

"Martin Rawlings. From West High. Ninth grade. And part of tenth. You know, the vampire at your Hallowe'en party? Who pretended to bite your neck? The guy who got the involuntary sex-change?"

"Martin ?! Is that you? I can't hardly believe it. They said you'd killed yourself, that's why you weren't around any more. And you look so different. You really look like a girl now, nothing like the old Martin."

"Well, I'm not dead. But I'm going to a different school now, and I figured I might as well live as a girl, since living as a boy wasn't working out."

"Do they still call you Martin?"

"I'm called Melanie now. But I'm okay with Martin, from people who knew me back then. How are you doing? Surviving West High?"

She suddenly looked miserable. "They haven't killed me. Yet."

"Do you want to join us?" I looked at my mom and dad, a little late, but they seemed to like the idea.

She glanced nervously around the room. Her face twitched. "I don't think I'd better." She kept looking around.

"Do you want to talk sometime? Give me your number? Or I'll give you mine." I pulled a pencil out of my purse and jotted my cell number on a napkin and pushed it into her hand. She looked at it, then suddenly tore off a piece, took my pencil and wrote a number down and gave it to me. Then she sidled off.

"God, she looked afraid to be seen with us," I muttered. "It's like we're Jews in Nazi Germany or something." Nobody else said anything. Our pizza came and we went back to talking about Pete and Biff and the neighbors.

On Sunday, I talked to my parents about me going to church, but they decided it would be too complicated trying to explain who I was. Some of the people there knew about my metamorphosis, but I hadn't been around long enough then for them to get used to me as a girl. So they went and I stayed home. Surreal.

At dinner, at my aunt and uncle's, I told them about how Ursula had acted. "I'm worried about her. She didn't used to be so afraid. It looked like she was afraid of someone seeing her. I was wondering if I could invite her here sometime. Maybe she'd feel safer about talking to me. And Aunt Edith -- I hope this isn't asking to do work in your free time -- you might have a take on what's going on."

I called Ursula that night and invited her over for next Sunday afternoon. She sounded real depressed, but after I talked to her a while and told her about my situation, she agreed. She'd take the bus over -- I told her how -- and Uncle Boris would drive her home.

Teresa and I met her at the bus stop. She did a double-take seeing Teresa, so I introduced them. "Ursula, this is my cousin Teresa. She's real nice. She was my friend last year when nobody else would be."

Teresa simply said, "any friend of Melanie's -- Martin's -- is a friend of mine," and opened her arms for a hug. Ursula stood there for a moment, looking anxious, then let Teresa hug her.

As we walked back, I got a better look at Ursula. Her eyes had always looked sunken, but it used to be because of make-up. Now it wasn't. She used to look defiant, now she looked defeated. Her black nail polish was chipped and worn, like she'd put it on a week ago and hadn't done anything since. She was wearing black sweats instead of a black blouse and skirt.

At lunch, she was very quiet. She didn't join in any conversations, and gave one- or two-word answers to questions. After lunch, we went up to the guest room. Teresa poked her head in and said she'd be in our bedroom if anybody needed anything. Instead of sitting on the couch-bed, Ursula sat on the floor in a corner where she could see the door and put her arms around her knees.

"So, how's it going?" I started off.

"Martin -- Melanie -- can we talk about something less depressing? Why don't you tell me about what's been up with you since you left West High?"

I glossed over my suicide attempt and told her about moving to my aunt and uncle's to get away from the harassment. I told her in great detail what it was like being at Gabriel.

"God, it sounds like you died and went to heaven," she said when I was done. "What it's like at West High? Same old, same old, I guess. No, that's not true. It's gotten worse. All we want to do now, we 'uglies' and your 'loser' friends, is to get out. Evelyne has been taking lots of summer courses and hopes to graduate early. Even if they don't let her, she plans to apply to college for next year, anyway. Toshi -- well, she tried to kill herself right before school started, and her parents sent her to a Catholic school, and they won't let her see or talk to any of her old friends. Seth and Kurt and some of the other 'losers' have started smoking weed each morning and lunch time just to get through the day."

"How about you?" I asked.

She started to tear up. "You don't have to say if you don't want to," I said.

"No, I need to tell someone. But you've got to promise not to tell anyone."

I wasn't sure if I should, but she looked so miserable, I couldn't say no. "I promise."

"Okay." She didn't say anything for a while. Then she started talking, like she was talking to herself. "Did you know Kevin? On the basketball team? Last spring, he started coming on to me. He kept asking me out and wouldn't take no for an answer. I was able to avoid him in the summer, but this fall, he started up again, only real polite and considerate. One day, he offered me a ride home, and stupid me, I accepted. He drove me out into the country and told me how hot he thought I was and how he couldn't help coming on to me and how if I had any decency, I'd 'help him' with it. I kept asking him to take me home, but he ignored me. I realized I wasn't going to get home until I agreed to go all the way with him. I thought of getting out and running away, but we were miles away from anywhere and anybody and he could outrun me easily. So I finally gave in.

"It was awful. It hurt, but worst of all, I felt like I was a thing. Like a -- a dirty kotex. He wouldn't even use a condom. He took me home and I sat on the toilet for an hour and then took a shower for like an hour -- well, you know. I was scared I would get pregnant, too.

"After that, I didn't care. It was like it was happening to someone else. He'd take me off in his truck and fuck me and then bring me home or to school or wherever. I'd just go, whatever. I'm amazed I never got pregnant. But then he stopped and went back to calling me ugly. And people started saying I was a slut. An ugly slut. He must have told people, or maybe they saw.

"And I can't talk to any of my friends. We don't talk. We don't do stuff together any more. There's no solidarity. Just staying alive takes everything we've got. I don't know what the others are going through. I don't know what Toshi went through, to try to kill herself like that, but it must have been bad.

"So now I just go to school and back and spend the rest of my time in my room. I can't get interested in school work, I'm flunking courses and I don't care. I'd probably spend every day stoned like Seth and Kurt, except that I don't want to get to school any earlier than I have to, and besides, my parents would have a cow if they smelled it on me. When you saw me, it was like the first time in weeks I'd been out. I was afraid the whole time somebody from school would be there and start picking on me, that's why I ran off."

She stopped talking and sat there, looking lost and miserable. It really hurt to see her like that. Finally I said, "would it help if I put my arm around you? I mean, I know you know me as a boy, and it might remind you of, well...."

"It's okay," she said, and I could see tears in her eyes and on her cheek. "I know you'd never be like Kevin, even if you were still a boy." I slid over to her and put my arm around her shoulder. She buried her face in my chest and sobbed silently for the longest time.

Teresa peeked in the door, then tiptoed over to the desk and got something out of the drawer. Ursula looked up, tried to smile at her, but then buried her face again.

"Would you like Teresa to stay?" I asked. She shrugged. Teresa sat down on the other side of her. I looked at Teresa and just said, "West High." She nodded.

When she'd stopped sobbing and was just sitting there rubbing her thumb idly over her knee, Teresa suggested, "would you like some hot chocolate? My dad likes to make some about now."

Ursula half laughed and said, "sure, why not?"

When Teresa went out, I said to Ursula, "you know, you could talk to my aunt and uncle. My aunt's a social worker, so she's probably heard stuff like that and might have some ideas. And she'd have to keep it confidential if you asked. My uncle's pretty smart. If nothing else, they'd give you a sympathetic ear."

While we were drinking our hot chocolate in the living room, Ursula saw some paper and a pencil on the coffee table and started doodling. I didn't pay any attention, Ursula had always doodled, but after a while, Teresa noticed and said, "hey, that's pretty good."

"Naw, it's just some doodling."

"I wish I could draw half as good as your 'doodles'."

Now I looked over, and I had to admit, it was pretty good. A picture of a tree with fairies on the branches and wolves stalking around in the grass. My aunt and uncle took a look. My aunt gave my uncle a look I couldn't figure out. I said, "you know, I have a friend, Sylvia, who likes to draw. I should introduce you to her. Maybe if you come back again...."

I looked around, suddenly wondering if it was okay to invite her without checking with them, but my uncle said, "sure, we'd love to see you again."



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