Business Tripped


Business Tripped
by Melanie Brown
Copyright  © 2016 Melanie Brown

Kyle's mom had him dress up for a trip once too often.



“Let me help you with that, miss,” said a man I hoped worked for the hotel as he pulled the suitcase from my grasp.

By now, I was used to being referred to as a girl. That was the plan after all. Ever since after Dad died in that tuna fishing accident years ago, Mom has made me dress as a girl when she goes off on her summer business trips. About a month before school ends for the summer, I’m not allowed to get a haircut, though I keep it on the longish side anyway. When I was little, Mom just felt it was easier for me to pretend to be her daughter for going to the rest room and other reasons that she would never actually say why. And by now, some of her business clients only know me as a girl.

So for about six weeks that we’re on the road, I’m Kim instead of Kyle. And I’m hoping that this year will be the last year. But then, I hoped that every year. But since I just turned fourteen, I doubt I can stay looking like a girl much longer. The last couple of trips, Mom has talked about retiring from being head of sales to something less hectic.

“Come on, honey,” said Mom. “Let’s get checked in.” Mom tossed the car keys to the valet after we emptied the trunk. The man who had taken my bags started loading everything onto a cart.

“Okay, Mom,” I said, running the ten feet between us. Mistaking me for a girl was pretty normal. My long hair bounced around my shoulders. I wasn’t wearing make-up, but I was wearing green nail polish. And I’d never tell Mom, but I actually kind of liked the short black denim skirt I was wearing. Later in the summer, when I’d switch to just shorts, it just wasn’t the same. To finish the illusion, you could see my bra straps outlined by my t-shirt.

Taking my hand, Mom led me inside the spacious and cool hotel lobby. There were lots of people standing and walking around. This was the apex of our trip, the big sales convention over the next few days. There was a convention hall adjacent to the hotel and the company Mom worked for had paid for small booth for Mom to man. Mom was excited. She loved meeting both new and old clients at these things.

Me? Not so much.

I couldn’t help Mom with the booth and the convention part was boring to me. Fortunately for me, there was a mall on the other side adjacent to the hotel with a movie theater and video arcade, which were the only two places I was allowed to go. Mom wasn’t too keen on me going to the video arcade since it was usually filled with boys.

The boys could be annoying since they hogged the games I wanted to play or they’d try to flirt with me. Sometimes I’d flirt back when I was short on cash to get a soda or something to eat from the food court.

After standing in line for over fifteen minutes to get checked in, we finally made it to the check-in counter. When Mom said her name to the clerk, a man standing at the counter with another clerk looked over at us with a curious look.

“Denise Booker? I thought I recognized the voice,” said the man with a big smile.

Looking a bit confused, Mom turned to him and with a wrinkled brow said, “Hmm?”

The man held out his hand and said, “I’m John. John Connor. With Brono Aerospace? I talk to you at least once a month on the phone.”

Smiling with sudden recognition, Mom limply shook John’s hand and said, “Oh yeah. John. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

I just looked at the man and said flatly, “Where’s your terminator?”

John laughed without humor and pointed at me. He said, “Cute. You must be Kim. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Oh terrific. Mom talks about “Kim” with clients at work instead of her actual son.

Mom put her arm around me and smiled. She said, “Yep. This is my daughter Kim.”

John smiled at me and said, “Nice to meet you too, Kim.” To Mom, he said, “You have a lovely daughter. She looks just like you.”

A boy stepped out from behind him and John put his arm around the boy and said, “And this is my son Levi.”

Mom smiled at the boy and said, “Very nice to meet you, Levi. You look about the same age as Kim. I know Kim really hates these conventions. She gets so bored. Maybe you two could hang out in the mall?”

Levi smiled at me and said, “I’d like that.” He waved at me. I took him for being older than me since he was more than a bit taller than I was. Turned out he was only a few months older than me.

I whispered, “Mom!”

Mom just stood there smiling at John. John said, “That’d be a great idea. Say. The convention doesn’t start until tomorrow morning. How about dinner tonight?”

He saw Mom start to frown slightly and hesitate. John said, “Dutch treat?”

Mom smiled and said, “Sure. Mind if I bring Kim?”

John grinned and said, “I don’t see why not. Levi will be with me. I’ll talk about one of our products for a minute so you can claim a business expense.”

Mom giggled slightly.

John said, “Great. I know a really nice Italian restaurant a couple of blocks away. Meet in the lobby around seven?”

Mom took the room’s key card from the hotel clerk and said to John, “We’ll be there.” She started to walk away from the counter.

“See you then,” said John with a grin.

As the elevator doors began to close, through clenched teeth I hissed, “Mom! Have you lost you’re freakin’ mind?”

*          *          *

“Will you stop fussing and help me find you a dress?” said Mom as she flipped past another dress on the rack. We were in a dress store in the mall. I felt embarrassed to be in the store.

I said, “Why are you buying me a dress anyway?”

Frowning, Mom said, “Because you can’t go to dinner dressed like that!” I was wearing the t-shirt and black denim skirt.

“Why not?” I protested, folding my arms.

“Because we’re not going to Mickey D’s, that’s why. I already have a few nice dresses to wear at the convention. You’re going to need matching shoes and purse. Hmm. Did you bring your stud earrings?”

Folding my arms tighter, I said, “Remember who I am, Mom? And…and this is dinner with strangers, not a double date!”

Mom stopped looking through the dresses hanging on the rack and looked at me with a confused look. She said, “Hmm? What are you talking about? Of course this isn’t a date. But you want to look nice for Levi don’t you?” She started looking through the dresses again.

I put my hand on Mom’s to stop her from pulling out another dress to look at. I said, “Mom. Stop. Please. I’m not a girl, remember? I don’t care if I look nice for Levi or not.”

Mom stopped and looked at me and heaved a heavy sigh. She said, “You’re right. I’ve been working too hard and I’m not thinking straight.”

She brushed her hair out of her eyes and ran her fingers through my hair. She said, “Look honey. I know I’m asking a lot from you, but can you give me a break? Do you have any idea how long it’s been since a man has asked me to dinner, Dutch or not? I know it’s not going to go anywhere, but I really like John. Isn’t he handsome? And I’m not asking you to date Levi. Just be nice to him. Okay? For me?”

I hate it when Mom begs and tries to make me feel guilty. I looked at the floor for a moment and then back to Mom. With a weak smile, I said, “Okay, Mom. You win. Let’s pick out a pretty dress.”

Mom beamed as she turned back to the rack and pulled out a dress. She said, “I think this floral print is very pretty and very feminine. It really suits you.”

*          *          *

“You’re so beautiful!” Mom gushed as I exited the bathroom after checking my make-up. I was wearing the new dress she’d bought me while we were out in the shopping mall.

I spun around for her as I said, “Thanks, Mom.” My hair flared out around my neck as the dress’ skirt did the same.

Mom bit her finger a moment as she continued to look at me. A worried expression fell across her face as she said, “I’m so sorry, honey.”

“Sorry for what, Mom?” I asked as I smoothed the skirt down as I sat on the edge of my hotel bed.

Pointing at me, her palm upwards, Mom said, “Look at you. I’m sorry I keep making you dress as my daughter. It’s just that I…you know…”

I smiled at Mom and said, “You always wanted a daughter. I kinda got that idea a long time ago. I don’t mind it, Mom. I’m used to dressing this way and sometimes it’s a lot of fun. You just keep forgetting I’m not a girl. Even when I’m not dressed as one.”

Even during the rest of the year, when I didn’t spend most of the summer dressed as a girl, Mom and I would have girly weekends where she’d try different make-up looks on me, and we’d try different nail polish and paint my toenails. I realized early on that this wasn’t what most boys did on weekends with their dads, but it became a special time that just Mom and I shared.

Sitting on the bed next to me, Mom patted my leg and said, “I know. I know. I just went overboard in the opposite direction when I realized there was no way I could substitute for your father after he died. Before he died, he would talk to me about all the big plans he wanted to do with you. Stuff like watching football games, restoring old cars, camping, fishing. He even wanted to take you on a bear hunting trip after you got a little older. I gave up trying to do boy things with you after that one camping trip.”

I frowned and said, “Yeah. That was a disaster. And again, I was just being myself and I was still mistaken for a girl.”

Mom laughed and said, “Those girl shorts you wore didn’t help.”

Feigning anger, I said, “I packed what I was used to wearing. Again it was ultimately your fault!”

“As long as I live, I’ll never forget that frustrating time of trying to put up our tent,” said Mom. “We spent thirty minutes trying to put up that stupid thing! Then that nice man and his son from the next camp site came over and offered to help. They had the tent up in about five minutes.”

Scowling, I said, “They were laughing at us. They only offered to help after I got hopelessly tangled up inside the tent. I’ll always remember them coming up still chuckling and asked, ‘Do you ladies need some help?’ I know you thought the man was cute, Mom. But they thought we were stupid. They thought we were incapable because we were girls. Or they thought we were girls.”

Mom shrugged and said, “Well, we were incapable, honey. Not because we’re girls, but because of experience. I can guarantee you those guys didn’t set their tent up for the first time in five minutes.”

Still frowning, I said, “That boy, Frank was it? He was only about a year older than me. We might have been friends, running around in the forest behind our campsites and doing guy stuff. But no, he treated me like a girl. It didn’t help you introduced me as Kim…”

“Sorry, honey…”

“…and he acted like I was helpless,” I continued. “When you were going to show me how to fish, even though you’d never gone fishing yourself, they laughed at us again. They’d brought a canoe and said we’d never catch anything from the small dock extending into the lake. Frank laughed when I got squeamish about sticking the bait on the hook. He didn’t talk to me like he’d talk to another guy. He talked down to me.”

Mom shrugged again and said, “Well, they did show us how to gut and clean fish. That was nasty business.”

I said, “Then they asked if we’d cook them. They actually said we’d probably do a better job at cooking than them. Gee. I wonder why *that* would be, huh?”

“A lot of guys are like that, honey,” said Mom. “And I’m afraid I didn’t help change their minds. I’m just not much of an outdoors person. I’m sorry. I gave it my best shot though.”

Staring at the floor, feelings of inadequacy flooding my mind, suddenly very aware of my dress, make-up, pierced earrings, styled hair, bra, panties and sandals, I said, “We both left the camp on the same day. They laughed at us as we took down the tent. No offers to help this time. They neatly packed their tent back into that stupid little bag that’s too small to hold the tent even though it came out of it, and laughed at us as you just wadded the tent up and stuffed it into the trunk of the car.”

Mom sighed and said, “I never did get it back into that little bag.”

I looked over at Mom and said, “You know what the worst was though?”

Mom ran her fingers through my long hair. She smiled slightly and said, “What was that, honey?”

“Frank came over to say good-bye as his dad started up their pickup truck to leave,” I said, remembering my anger. “I said good-bye to him, reached out to shake his hand and as he took my hand, he pulled me to him and he kissed me. Right on the mouth! He kissed me! He grinned and ran to jump into his dad’s truck as they quickly drove away. He yelled from the truck, ‘See you next year!’”

Mom pulled me close so my head lay on her shoulder. She said, “Oh honey. You never told me that before. I’m sorry. That must have been terrible for you.”

I buried my head more into Mom’s shoulder and said, “It was worse than that.” In almost a whisper, I said, “I liked it.”

*          *          *

I tugged on the hem of my skirt in a vain attempt to get it to stay covering my knee as I sat across from Mom in one of the lobby couches. Glumly, I said, “I would have figured ‘around seven’ would mean a bit closer to seven.” I put my phone back into my purse after checking the time for the fortieth time.

Mom just smiled at me and said, “Oh, have some patience, honey. You’re not excited about going out to dinner are you?”

Frowning, I said, “No. I’m hungry.”

Mom turned to look at the elevators and said, “Oh look. Here they come now. And see? I told you we needed to dress up a bit”

I didn’t have the heart to tell Mom I saw John and Levi get off the elevator about fifteen minutes before wearing t-shirts and jeans, spotted us and turned around to get back on the elevator. Now they both wore slacks and dress shirts. No tie though.

Mom stood up as they approached. It’s rare to see her with such a big smile. I was glad to see her so happy. I stood up next to Mom and took her hand. I smiled with her.

“Good evening, John,” said Mom.

John grinned looking at Mom. He said, “Ladies. I called ahead and reserved a table for us.”

“Very thoughtful,” said Mom. “Are we ready to go?”

John took a step backwards and said, “You’re very lovely tonight, Denise.” He glanced at his watch and said, “Ready if you are.”

“Hey, Levi,” I said.

“Hey,” said Levi.

“Okay, ladies,” said John. “Let’s go grab a taxi.”

As we walked towards the lobby’s exit, Levi looked me up and down and said, “You look very nice, Kim. That’s a very pretty dress.”

I gave him a smile and said, “Thank you. You look nice too.”

Levi grinned back at me and said, “Thanks.”

We all crammed into the taxi cab and rode mostly in silence to the Italian restaurant. I just looked out the window at the tall buildings we drove past. Levi let his leg rest against mine. I tried to scoot over a bit, but there just wasn’t much room.

After arriving at the restaurant, we were led to John’s reserved table. Levi sat across from me and John across from Mom and adjacent to me on one side and Mom on the other. I didn’t like the way John looked at Mom. But Mom seemed happy and I wasn’t going to ruin it for her.

As we all picked up our menus and began looking, John said, “They have great food here and it’s pretty reasonable.” Looking over his menu at Mom, he said, “I’m glad we ran into each other, Denise. It’s always a pleasure talking to you.”

Mom smiled and said, “Same here. I just wish your company would buy more of our products.” Both Mom and John laughed. “Anyway, it’s nice to finally put a face with the voice.”

After we gave our order, Mom and John continued making small talk across the table. Levi just looked at me and shrugged. Without interrupting our parents, we couldn’t really talk about anything. Which suited me just fine. Eventually, Levi pulled his phone from his pocket and started playing a game.

He was being subtle about it during the meal, but John was hitting on Mom. This wasn’t Mom’s first time around the block, so I’m sure she was aware as well. But I don’t think she minded much. She had a dreamy look to her eyes. She was really enjoying having a man’s attention. I let a few pangs of guilt creep into my mind knowing that it was because of trying to provide for me, help me with homework, etc, that Mom didn’t leave much time for a social life. I had a very strong feeling that if Levi and I weren’t on the trip, that Mom and John would be sharing a bed tonight. That was one thing I was happy to interfere with.

We learned that John was divorced and got custody of Levi. He was a couple of years older than Mom. He loved travel, sushi, and sports. Levi was on the football team and liked hockey. Sitting close to him, I noticed his shoulders were broader than I originally noticed. Levi was mostly quiet, but John was really pouring on the charm and Mom was eating it up.

The meal over, Mom set her fork down and said, “Well, I need to get ready for tomorrow. It’s going to be a big day. And a big day the day after that.”

John wiped his mouth with his napkin and said, “Yeah, me too. Say. Do you want to get away for lunch?”

Mom smiled again and said, “I’d love that, John. My helper should be arriving in the morning after I get the booth set up.”

John smiled back and said, “Great. Is twelve thirty okay?”

Mom said, “That’s perfect.” She looked over at me, then to Levi. She said, “Kim, maybe you and Levi can hang out at the mall together? The convention goes to ten the first night. I’d hate to think of you sitting in the hotel room all by yourself for that whole time.”

Giving Mom a stern look, I said, “Well, actually Mom, there’s a Firefly marathon tomorrow I was going to watch and…”

Mom dismissed my comment with a wave of her hand. She said, “Oh, you’ve seen those a zillion times. Go see a movie with Levi and play some games at the arcade. Sitting in a hotel room is no fun.”

Levi smiled at me and said, “I think that’d be great, Kim. I’ve been wanting to see the new Tommy Kincaid movie Carson of Venus. It’s supposed to be funny with lots of special effects. It’s showing at the mall theater here.”

I smiled weakly and said, “Yeah, I wanted to see that too.”

John looked at Levi and then to me. Smiling, he said, “Sounds like a plan. Well, let’s go. I still need to organize our new product line display.”

*          *          *

“Why did you do that to me?” I asked Mom after we got back into our hotel room. “You set me up for a date with Levi!”

Mom turned on the TV and plopped down on the bed. She said, “It’s not a date. I was just tossing out things for you to do. I know these conventions are boring for you. Levi seems like a nice boy.”

Sitting cross-legged on my bed, I said, “I’m sure he is. If I was an actual girl, I might find him cute. But I don’t want to go out with him or any boy for that matter.”

Mom looked over at me and said, “You think he’s cute?”

“Mom! I know you like that John guy, but snap out of it!” I almost shouted. “How can you keep forgetting I’m a guy? Your own son for crying out loud!”

“I’m sorry, Kim. But it’s so much easier to think of you as my daughter. Go stand in front of the mirror and tell me what you see. Go ahead. Do it.”

I frowned at Mom for a moment and then dutifully got up and stood in front of the mirror.

“What do you see?” asked Mom raising herself up on one elbow.

I turned around to look at Mom and said, “I see me, Mom. What am I supposed to see?”

Mom pointed at the mirror and said, “Turn around and look. Describe what you see in the mirror. Pretend you’re not looking in a mirror.”

I sighed and said, “Okay. If it’s not me I’m looking at, I see a pretty teenage girl wearing a floral print dress, wearing probably too much eyeliner, diamond stud earrings, a gold necklace and pink nail polish. I don’t know why I couldn’t keep the green polish.”

Mom said, “But you see a girl, right? You don’t see a boy do you? I know I’ve probably scarred you for life having you dress this way, but in all honesty, even without the dress or the make-up, I see a girl. You’re pretty. You’re feminine. You move with a grace most boys don’t possess. So yes. Even with my own son, it’s easy for me to forget you’re not my daughter. You’ve told me you enjoy wearing make-up and how many times after school do you run around the house wearing mascara and eyeliner?”

Turning to face Mom, I said a bit hatefully, “If you hadn’t been painting my nails since I was little, putting bows in my hair and insisting I learn how to wear make-up and scolding me for getting dirty and discouraging boy activities, maybe I wouldn’t be so girly. You made me this way!”

Suddenly looking pissed, Mom said, “Oh really? Even before your father died, you were too little to remember how you used to try to walk around the house in my high heels. And I used to catch you trying on my lipstick. When I’d ask you why, you’d always say you were wanting to be like Mommy. Maybe I should have done more to discourage your behavior, but Kim, you’ve always been a bit girly.”

I just stood there numb, looking blankly at the wall. She was right. Some vague memories crept into my mind of thinking I was going to grow up to be a mommy. I resisted it. I sometimes rebelled against it. But I couldn’t deny that I did enjoy doing girly things. I sat down next to Mom on the bed and cried.

*          *          *

I was slipping into my denim skirt when my phone announced I had a new text message. I picked up my phone and read the message from Levi asking me to meet him at the arcade in about half an hour.

I texted back “K” and slipped my t-shirt over my head. I flipped my hair out of the neck hole and then looked at myself in the hotel room’s mirror. I turned one way and then the next and twisted around to try to see my butt in the mirror. I leaned in to re-check my make-up.

I frowned at myself. I don’t usually wear make-up to go to the arcade. Am I doing this for Levi’s benefit? I hoped not. Sometimes I just felt going all girly since I have to dress that way anyway.

I finished my look with a pair of large hoop earrings. Mom had pierced my ears many years ago. I looked again at the girl staring back at me from the mirror. Would I ever be a normal teen boy? A few months back, Mom had even casually asked me if I’d be interested in hormone therapy to prevent the onset of male puberty. Of course I said no way.

And of course, the question I don’t want to pop into my head always does. Do I actually want to be a normal teen boy? When in school, I’d glance at the girls in my classes and notice how they did their make-up. Or notice the clothes they were wearing. Only occasionally did I look at a girl in the way most boys always look at girls.

I checked my make-up one last time, dropped my phone into my purse and tossed the purse strap over my shoulder. I had never spent almost a whole day with a guy who thinks I’m a girl. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I heaved a large sigh and left the hotel room.

A few minutes later, I was entering the mall from the hotel’s entrance. The mall had been opened for about an hour and there already quite a few people walking about, mostly teens. I did get passed by two middle-aged women walking quickly through the mall.

Between the entrance and the arcade is a game store. That’s usually not a problem and most times in the past, I’d stop in and check out their selection. But since I was going to be meeting Levi at the arcade, I was just going to walk past it.

Three teenage boys, maybe a bit older than me were standing outside the game store talking as I approached. One of the boys, the tallest looked over at me and nodded in my direction. I could just barely hear him say, “Hey, check this out.” The other two boys turned to look at me and all three grinned.

This unwanted attention was the biggest irritation when I was out in public dressed as a girl. I felt embarrassed and a bit nervous with the three boys just staring at me as I approached. I tried not to look at them as I got closer.

The tallest one said loudly as I started to pass them, “Hey babe! What’s the hurry? Don’t you want to talk to us?”

I should have just ignored him, but I said, “I’m meeting someone.”

“Yeah. You’re meeting me!” said the tall boy. “Come back. I want to talk to you.”

I shook my head and walked on towards the arcade.

I heard someone running up behind me. The tall boy said, “Hey bitch, wait up. I want to talk to you. You are smokin’ hot!” He touched my arm.

I jerked my arm away from him and shouted, “Don’t touch me!” I started to run. The three boys stopped following me and just laughed. I felt my face flush with anger and humiliation.

I’ve had guys call out to me when walking through the mall or elsewhere or come up and try to flirt. This was one of the few times I actually felt threatened. Maybe they were just being assholes, but when he touched my arm, I actually felt frightened.

I made it to the arcade without further incident. Levi wasn’t there yet, so I headed to the back of the arcade where my favorite game was located. There was someone already playing it, so I just stood by so I could claim the game when he finished. The guy looked over at me and then he started to play a bit more aggressively. Mistake on his part as he quickly lost his remaining lives.

He didn’t look at me as he got up and vacated the game. I quickly took my spot at the controls and plopped in my tokens. The game started and the world shrank down to just the screen in front of me.

A minute or so into the game, I heard a voice from behind me, “So, we meet again!” I heard a couple of other boys laughing. I turned around and there was the tall boy again, arms folded and grinning at me.

Tall boy said, “Oh, don’t stop playing. We want to watch. Not many girls play this game and you’re good.”

I lost my concentration as the three boys gathered close around me. I said, “Will you leave me alone please? I just want to play this game.”

The tall boy said, “And we just want to watch you play. Free country, right? And you’re good.”

One of the other boys said, “I’ll say she’s good.”

I tried to ignore them hoping they’d get bored and go away. Since it was early the arcade was mostly empty. I reached the end of the game and got the high score. I suddenly felt my butt being slapped and the hand remained on my butt.

I turned to face the tall boy and said, “Don’t touch me!”

He just grinned and said, “You know you love it. And you have a really nice ass. What do you say we leave here and go have some fun?”

A familiar voice from behind said, “The girl said not to touch her.”

We all turned to see Levi with a very annoyed expression.

The tall boy frowned and said, “What’s it to you, dickhead?” He kept his hand on my butt.

Levi stepped close, his muscles tensing. He said, “She’s my girlfriend, so I suggest you take your hand off her ass.”

Being your basic coward and seeing that Levi meant business, the tall boy pulled his hand away from me and said, “Hey, we were just having a little fun. No big deal.” Turning to me, he grinned and said, “Catch ya later.”

After the three boys walked past us towards the outside of the arcade, Levi put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Are you okay?”

That’s when I noticed I was shaking. I’ve never been this scared before. I had no idea if those boys intended me harm or just stupid to think that was a good way to pick up girls. I started to relax, but I didn’t pull away from Levi. For a moment, I rested my head on his shoulder.

I said, “Thank you, Levi. I was scared.”

Levi stroked my hair a few times and said, “You’re safe now. I doubt that they could have done much here in the mall anyway.”

Still letting Levi hold me, I said, “What if he comes back? He did say he’d see me later.”

Levi shook his head and said, “He won’t. We only have one more day here and tomorrow I’ll meet you in the hotel lobby. You’ll be with me the whole time.”

I relaxed and separated from Levi. I said, “Thanks again. That was scary.” A sudden feeling of shame washed over me. It bothered me that I had to be rescued by a guy. Yes there were three boys harassing me, but Levi faced them down by himself. He put himself in harm’s way for me. What if the bully hadn’t backed down? What if he’d been hurt? And there had been a very real danger to me.

Next to the arcade is a fire exit; one of those doors that will let you out, but not back in. I’ve never tried to develop my muscles so I wouldn’t have been able to resist being forced out the door. And if they’d found out I wasn’t an actual girl, who knows what would have happened? And what would Levi’s reaction be if he discovered he’d rescued another guy instead of a girl? I couldn’t bring myself to look at him.

He noticed me withdrawing and trying to make myself smaller. He said, “Look, it’s my fault this happened. I should have met you in the lobby and not here. And I hope you didn’t take offense at me saying you were my girlfriend. It just seemed the right thing to say to get them to leave you alone.”

I felt cold and small. I looked up at him for a moment and gave him a weak smile. I said honestly, “I didn’t mind. I knew what you meant.”

Levi said, “Do you want me walk with you back to the hotel?”

I shook my head and said, “No. I’m fine. We can still go to the movie. It starts in about an hour, right?”

Levi nodded.

Pointing at the game I had been playing, I said, “This is also a two player game. Want to go a round? I don’t want to let some bully spoil our day.”

Levi smiled broadly and said, “Sure! I’m warning you though. I’m an expert at this game.”

*          *          *

“Wow. You were good,” said Levi as we walked towards the mall theater. He had unconsciously taken my hand. “I’ve never seen a girl beat my score before.”

I smiled at him and said, “I’ve played that game a lot. I have the console version too.” I thought about pulling my hand away from his, but decided it was largely harmless. After the arcade episode, holding his hand did give me an added feeling of security. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, either. I could tell Levi liked me and I felt bad about fooling him. It never bothered me to fool others before. I never knew those people and it didn’t really matter.

We walked up to the ticket window and Levi said, “Two for Carson of Venus.”

I poked his shoulder and said, “I can get mine.”

Levi just smiled at me and said, “Don’t worry about it. I got it.”

Oh great, I thought. First he rescues me and now he’s invested money in me. I hope he’s not going to expect anything from me.

Despite the fact that I was standing there holding my money, Levi again insisted on paying for my drink and popcorn. In fact, he got the huge tub so we could share it.

I had to make a quick trip to the restroom and didn’t even bat an eye about entering the women’s. In fact, for most of my life, it’s the only restroom I’ve ever been in. As I entered, there were two girls at the mirror fixing their hair and checking their make-up.

As I closed the door to the stall, one of the girls said, “Oh, did you hear about Tanner?”

“Who cares about that asshole? God! He thinks he’s God’s gift or something,” said the other girl.

Giggling, the other girl said, “You’ll like this. It seems there was this plains clothes cop in the arcade and he saw Tanner and his minions harassing a girl. He was about to say something right then, but her boyfriend showed up and they left. But the cop followed Tanner out of the arcade and said he’d broken several of the mall’s rules of conduct. Tanner and his buds have been banned from the mall for a year.”

The other girl said, “It’s about time he got caught being a jerk.”

The first girl said, “He’s been banned before. A couple of weeks or a month. I overheard the cop talking. He said the girl looked totally scared. The cop said he’d had enough. If Tanner doesn’t start behaving, he’s going to get arrested.”

The second girl said, “We can only dream.” They both laughed and left the restroom.

The movie was about what we both expected. A light adventure comedy with some romance tossed in for good measure. I was worried about what Levi might do during the movie, but he behaved himself. The only thing he did was to slide his arm around my shoulder. I snuggled up against him just a bit as it seemed the thing to do. Not to suggest I wanted to start dating guys, but I could get used to this aspect of being a girl.

As we walked out of the theater and back into the mall, Levi again took my hand. Maybe I should have pulled my hand away, but I didn’t. I hoped he wasn’t reading too much into that.

Levi said, “That was a pretty cool movie. Tommy Kincaid movies are always a hoot. And the girl…that new actress…um Brianna Pace? She’s totally hot.”

I looked over at Levi as we walked. I said, “You don’t find something odd about her?”

“Like what?” asked Levi.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Just something different about her.”

Levi laughed and said, “I think you’re jealous of her. She got to kiss Tommy Kincaid and all.”

I laughed and said, “Trust me. That’s not it.”

Levi said, “Do you want to go back to the arcade now that we won’t have to worry about your new boyfriend for a year? Or walk through the mall?”

I punched Levi on the arm and said, “Yuck. He’s not my boyfriend! Let’s walk through the mall. I was never allowed past the arcade anyway.”

*          *          *

“You didn’t have to escort me all the way to my hotel room, Levi,” I said as we stood just outside my hotel room.

Levi shrugged and said, “After this morning, I’m afraid to leave you alone.”

I laughed softly and said, “I’m pretty sure this morning was a fluke.”

Looking serious, Levi said, “Well, I’m not taking the chance. I’ll meet you right here tomorrow morning.” He pointed at the floor in front of the door. “I thought you might want to see that Nathan Adams movie tomorrow. I forget what it’s called, but it’s a chick flick.”

I said, “Really, Levi. You don’t have to escort me. And yes, I’d like to see that movie.”

Levi smiled and said, “Great. Then it’s a date. See you tomorrow.”

Levi looked at me intently for a few moments. He was still holding my hand. He smiled briefly, gave my hand a gentle squeeze and then let go, and turned to walk back to the elevator. I just stood there and watched until he’d gotten in the elevator car. He waved as the doors closed.

What a bizarre afternoon I had. Levi had paid for my movie, then paid for my lunch in the food court and then paid for my dinner at the Taco Tako at the far end of the mall. If I had to guess, I’d just had my first date with a boy. I felt like a total fraud.

It was nice having all that attention. It was nice not being alone all afternoon like I usually am. There is no mistake. Levi likes me and I feel terrible about it. And…and…I can’t bring myself to admit it. I like Levi.

*          *          *

“Can we go home tonight?” I asked Mom after she had dragged herself back into the room after a long day on the convention floor.

Lying on her bed with her eyes closed and sounding very tired, Mom said, “I wouldn’t be opposed to that, honestly. I’m beat. But we can’t honey. Why do you ask?”

“I can’t see Levi tomorrow,” I said flatly.

Mom looked over at me with a curious expression. “Why not? It sounds like you had a good day together today.”

I hesitated for a long moment before answering. I said, “I’m a girl to him. Mom. He likes me. I can tell. And…and…it’s just not right.”

Mom sat up and threw her legs over the side of the bed. “Oh honey. I was always afraid something like this would happen. Did he touch you?”

I shook my head and said, “Oh no. He was very nice to me. Really nice. We should tell him the truth.”

Mom just stared at me with her head cocked to one side. She said, “And break his heart? Piss him off and make him hate you? What would be the point? After tomorrow night, you’ll never see him again. How do you feel about him?”

“He was very nice to me,” I said. “We got along pretty well.”

Frowning, Mom said, “How do you feel about Levi?”

I studied the floor for a moment. Without looking up, I said, “I like him. I know it’s wrong, Mom. I’m sorry. But I do.”

Mom stretched out her arms to me in an obvious invitation to a hug. I sat on the bed next to her and we hugged for a minute or two. Finally, Mom said, “Don’t be sorry, honey. He’s treating you special and you’re responding to that.”

I just sat there for a bit, hugging Mom. I felt tears well up in my eyes. I said, “Mom. This dressing as a girl business is affecting my mind and my emotions.” I paused a moment and continued, “I have a crush on Levi, Mom. I have a crush on him! That’s insane for me to crush on a guy!”

Mom sighed and said, “You’re right, honey. It was wrong for me to ask you to pretend to be my daughter in the first place. It’s gone too far. When we get home, no more, okay? Next year if I’m still doing this sales trip, you can stay with your aunt.”

I sniffled and said, “Why can’t I just stay home?”

Frowning, Mom said, “I’m not leaving you alone for six weeks.”

I said, “Why can’t I come with you as just plain old Kyle next year?”

Mom coughed a laugh and said, “Everyone I do business with knows you as a girl by now. How do I explain the gender change?”

I pulled away from Mom and said, “Well, I know you won’t tell the truth, so if you have to tell them something, tell everyone I’m going through a tomboy stage.”

Mom said, “We can do that. Think you can give up wearing panties?”

Suddenly horrified, I said, “I have to quit wearing panties?”

*          *          *

“Are you awake in there, Kim?”

I looked through the peep hole in the door and saw Levi standing in the hallway. Through the door I said, “Just one more minute!” I was just finishing my make-up when he had knocked on the door.

I couldn’t help but notice that all morning while I was getting ready that I had an almost giddy anticipation of Levi’s arrival. I thought I had purged my crush on him last night. But here I was, anxious about being taken to the movies by him. I shook my head trying to clear it. Then picked up my brush and brushed my hair back into shape. A quick look in the mirror confirmed my make-up was perfect.

I opened the room’s door and saw Levi smiling at me. “I’m ready!” I said.

“About time!” said Levi as he took my hand. He took a firmer grip this time and leveraged me to be closer to him. He looked at me up and down as we headed towards the elevator. He said, “You look great. Those shorts are hot.” For some reason Levi saying I was hot was okay with me while that tall guy yesterday saying it wasn’t okay.

We made it to the mall theater without incident. I didn’t try to stop Levi from paying for my ticket and snacks. Later, I didn’t say anything when paid for our lunch. For some reason it seemed important to him to pay for it. Mom had given me money to spend on food and movies but Levi would have none of it.

My movie date went a bit differently. Levi still put his arm around my shoulder, but taking me totally by surprise; he bent down and kissed me in the middle of the movie. On the lips! But I didn’t go running down the aisle in a panic, or screaming, or spitting or wiping my lips on his sleeve. In fact, I kind of enjoyed it. I closed my eyes and met his kiss with my own. I snuggled next to him and felt content.

Our mall adventure had a completely different feel to it. This time, instead of just being two separate people, we were a couple. It wasn’t just Levi holding my hand everywhere we went. It was a different attitude. I dropped all my personal restraints and just let my feelings run wild. Despite my conversation with Mom the night before, I allowed myself to be a girl.

Finally, Levi led me back to my hotel room. He held both my hands as we stood in front of the door. He said, “I had a great time today, Kim. You’re a fun girl to be with. You’re pretty, smart and funny. I’ve never met a girl like you before.”

I smiled as I looked up into his eyes and squeezed his hands. I said, “Oh, I had a great time too. I didn’t want it to end. I wish this wasn’t our last day together. I’m so at ease with you. It’s like we’ve been together forever.” I felt so dreamy standing there holding his hands and staring into his eyes. I have never felt this way before and now I hunger for it.

Smiling, Levi said, “Yeah. Too bad we don’t live in the same city. I would love to see you again.”

I grinned and gushed, “Oh, me too!” I was as riot of emotions. I know I shouldn’t lead him on. But knowing that we were never going to see each other again, I decided to not fight it and finally see what it was like to be a girl as much as was possible instead of merely looking like one. I’m not so naive as to think this was all there was to being a girl. But I definitely decided I like it.

There was an awkward moment as we just stood there outside my door in silence. I wasn’t going to be so stupid as to invite Levi inside where things might get carried away and my secret discovered. And considering our ages, I really hoped he wasn’t thinking of taking this any further.

Levi put his hand against my cheek and brushed my hair back. He looked directly into my eyes and said, “You’re a very pretty girl.” He then bent his head towards me and kissed me. It was a long, smoldering kiss. A kiss just for me. I put my arms around his neck and drew him closer.

I don’t know how long we stood there in embrace, but it was both but a moment and forever.

*          *          *

We stood outside the hotel entrance. We were waiting for the courtesy bus to arrive to take John and Levi to the airport. I was standing there next to Levi, as he held both my hands again. I rested my head against his chest.

John said, “Denise, I’m glad I got to know you better. Maybe we’ll see each other again next year.”

Mom said, “That’d be nice, for sure. I just don’t know if I’ll be back next year or not. I might be changing jobs.”

John looked disappointed and said, “Well, good luck with whatever you decide to do. I’m sure I’ll be back at least one more time. Oh. Here’s the bus.”

Mom and John hugged. Mom said, “Take care, John. You have my number.” Mom flashed John a smile.

I looked up at Levi and said, “I’m going to miss you.”

Levi smiled weakly and said, “I’ll miss you too. You’re special Kim. At least I have your email address.”

John said, “We’re loaded up, son. Time to go.”

Levi said, “Just a second, Dad.” Levi ran his fingers through my hair and smiled at me. He said, “Stay sweet, Kim.” He hesitated a moment and then bent down and kissed my forehead. He turned away and got into the bus with his dad.

Mom and I stood there next to our luggage for a moment and watched the bus disappear into the distance. I’ve never felt a heartache before.

As the valet drove up with our car, I said to Mom, “What were you saying a few months ago about hormone therapy?”

*          *          *

The End

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