Not So Popular - 01

If you were to look up ‘freak’ in the dictionary you would see it punctuated with a capital F by a picture of Kelly Strickland’s face.

Where do I even start? She’s tall, she’s ugly, and she dresses like Wednesday Addams on a dime store budget. Maybe if she bothered learning how to do make-up she’d look more like the girl she’s pretending to be.

Oh, did I mention she’s transgender? You know, one of those ‘trapped in the body of a man’ types who take birth control to grow boobs. So weird.

Not that I have anything against that. I have a lot of gay friends. In fact, when Kelly came out in freshman year I offered to take her shopping and to give her a makeover! I was actually excited about having a tranny for a best friend, but she had to be stupid about it.

“I’m not an accessory,” she said.

Whatever. She could have her poetry books, her screamo bands, and her empty lunch table. If she didn’t need me then I certainly didn’t need her.

Most of the time I could pretend she didn’t exist, but she couldn’t leave it there. After coming to school in drapes straight out of ‘Gone with the Wind’ her parents petitioned for her to use the girl’s lockers, right where me and the cheer squad got changed!

We tried to talk to the school, even told them stories about the weirdo trying to sneak a peak, but they wouldn’t hear of it. Decency isn’t politically correct, I guess. So instead, whenever she went inside we would walk out, because no way were we sharing our space with a boy in drag.

Eventually Kelly dropped out of phys ed. She cried, but nobody was buying it.

There was also the time in junior year when she called me ‘transphobic’ in biology. Can you believe it? All I said was that real girls have XX chromosomes. She was contradicting science. How was I the bad guy in that scenario?

Then, finally, there was the prom dress incident.

It was senior year, two weeks before graduation, and one week before prom. It was to be the night of nights, second only to my wedding. Cody Dalle and I were a shoe-in for king and queen, and after summer vacation was the start of college.

“So what happens to Shody after graduation?” Linda asked.

‘Shody’, of course, was the smoosh name for Cody, my beau, and Shannon, myself.

“He gives me a promise ring,” I said, “then we get married, and have kids.”

She laughed. “Seriously?”

I shot her a smirk. “Hell no. I’m going to college and getting laid, bitch!”

For those of you who don’t know, Linda is my best friend. We met in middle school gymnastics and have been tight ever since. Honestly, if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have slimmed down enough to make the cheer team.

She forked the books from her locker and cradled them in her arms. We had social studies together, which promised to be a snooze. What was the point of going to class when we’d already sat the tests?

“I can’t believe our school’s favorite pair are breaking apart,” she said.

I shrugged. “We’re only a power couple until graduation.”

“Yeah, but he’s hot and so are you.”

“Then I’ll screw him goodbye,” I said. “Maybe I’ll get lucky and he’ll knock me up.”

Linda grabbed my arm. “Don’t even joke.”

“Bitch, I’m on the pill.”

The halls were decked out with banners and streamers in summer colours, which was also the prom theme. Some took it to mean ‘Summer Nights’, you know, like in that musical? Others thought ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ with all the pixies, fairies, and whatever. The rest of us were hungry for the real summer, with booze, beaches and a lot of sun; all the things we didn’t have in our jerkhole town.

Linda stopped and rolled her eyes. “Oh my god. Look at that.”

You guessed; it was Kelly Strickland, showing off a dress to whatever loser she called a friend, which in this case was that weird Asian guy who knew too much about comic books. The dress wasn’t even that special. It was a medieval gown made of burgundy velvet, as in the kind that asked for more cleavage than she would ever have. The way she fawned over it you’d think it came from Milan.

I called to her. “Hey, Kelly! The middle ages called! The tavern wench wants her uniform back!”

Her expression soured, and Linda collapsed in a fit of giggles. There were snickers all around, but Kelly rolled her eyes and returned to her conversation.

“You’re just going to ignore her?” Linda called. “Rude!”

She turned away and kept talking, so I walked up to her.

“That’s for prom, right?” I asked. “Aren’t you going to show me your dress?”

Kelly groaned, folded the garment over one arm, and turned to face me. She wasn’t any more attractive close up, with her hard jaw and uneven brows. For someone trying to be a girl she really had no idea.

“What do you want?” she huffed.

I laughed. “What? I can’t get in on the fun? Show me your dress.”

“No,” she said.

“Why not?”

“Because,” she said, “you’re not really interested.”

Our eyes locked on like missiles. “You’re wrong,” I said. “When somebody like you makes plans to come to my prom, thereby turning it into a freakshow, I am very, very interested.”

The would-be girl drew a long breath. “I know you don’t like me,” she said, “but it would mean the world if you could stop being a cunt for five seconds. How about we ignore each other until graduation?”

They say when you’re angry that you should count to ten. I hadn’t made it past two before I jumped to wring the bitch’s neck. Linda tried to hold me back, but it was no use. Nobody called me such an ugly name and got away with it!

I scraped, and I clawed, and I latched onto the neck of the medieval gown. The fabric tore unevenly down the middle, reducing it to an oversized rag.

The change of expression was instantaneous. Kelly was fighting back tears. It was better than any blow I could have landed.

Linda giggled and stumbled back. “I can’t believe you just did that!”

“It was an ugly dress anyway,” I said.

The bell rang, and we were gone, probably leaving the freak to cry. She always cried; it’s how she made people feel sorry for her. Well, it wasn’t going to work on me. With any luck her prom was cancelled, and I’d never have to see her again.

* * * *

Both Cody and I had plans for college, but while I was going east coast he was headed west. It was just like Linda said - it was the end of an era.

He wasn’t even waiting out the summer. Come graduation he and his brother were loading up the truck and hitting the road. I was going to miss that truck, and all the memories we made in the back.

After school we drove to the lakeside, figuring we’d squeeze as much alone time as we could.

There was a lot about Cody worth remembering; more than his being sex incarnate. Behind those pecs and washboard abs, the kind that came with being a star athlete, was an animal who knew how to laugh, and how to let loose.

He pushed me back onto the picnic blanket and rolled on top to ravish my neck. His bites always made me squirm in the best way. My claws sunk into his shoulders and raked the bare flesh under his tank shirt.

Cody hummed and pulled back. “You are so fucking sexy.”

“And yet you’re giving it all up,” I teased. One leg wrapped around and pulled him on top.

He leaned in, and tugged my lower lip between his teeth.

“Are you sure I can’t convince you to wait?”

I tightened my grip and took a fistful of his hair. “Not a chance.”

It was the same conversation we’d been having for months. We’d had a good thing since we were juniors, and in an ideal world we would stay together and have the fairytale end. Reality, however, didn’t play that way.

“How many people meet their soulmate in high school?” I’d ask.
The question answered itself.

Cody and I made love in the back of his truck; made love, not fucked, because he was my first, and I’m not a slut. There was plenty of time for that in the year to come.

He thrust into me, and hiked my knees behind his ears. We sweat like beasts and made all the jungle sounds. Somehow I evaded the jealousy of knowing how many girls he’d give it to. How many of them would he actually love like he did me?

We lay side by side on the blanket with my head resting on his arm. Cody stroked my hair and dreamed with eyes wide open.

“Say you love me and I’ll kick you in the balls,” I laughed.

He laughed too. “But I do love you.”

“They’re going to tear you away kicking and screaming, aren’t they?”

A warm breeze blew to cool our sweat. The first sliver of evening inched on the horizon and into an otherwise clear afternoon.

I reached for my panties and pulled them back on.

“School night. We should get home.”

Cody didn’t move.

“I heard you shredded Kelly Strickland’s prom dress,” he said.

“Yeah, and?”

He lifted his head and shrugged. “Kind of a shitty thing, don’t you think?”

I rolled my eyes. “She’s got a mental disorder. I’m not going to feed into her delusional fantasy of being prom queen.”
Cody propped himself on his elbows. “Is that what you think it is?” he asked.

“She’s a boy who thinks she’s a girl,” I said. “God made her a certain way. Don’t you think that’s crazy?”

“I guess,” he said.

“You guess?”

He reached for his pants and pulled them on. “I don’t know. I was flicking through the channels, and I saw some documentary about people like her. They’re pretty common now, and a lot of what they say is pretty convincing.”

I scoffed, but still kissed him. “Liberal media bias. Don’t let it get to you.”

That was what I loved most about Cody; he had a big heart, even for people who probably didn’t deserve it. Maybe it made him naive, but I could never see it as a flaw.

* * * *

Don’t tell anyone, but I couldn’t wait to move from home.
My Daddy was the overprotective type, as in the kind who made jokes about his gun collection every time Cody was in the room. Mama did her best to rein him in, and kept the more interesting secrets to herself, but threatened to let the cat out if I ever stepped out of line.

Outside of their need for control, however, we were a great family. My parents were still in love after two kids and nineteen years of marriage. We went to church every Sunday where Daddy served as a deacon, and Mama put out tea and cakes. They always supported me through school, gymnastics, and eventually cheerleading.

Even my little brother, Jacob, was okay; you know, for what he was. Daddy always wanted him to play football, but he settled for soccer, and even that was second to collecting spiders, bugs, whatever. He was only starting to figure out girls, which is weird time for an older sister. Still, I stayed out of his way, he stayed out of mine, and it worked.

When we arrived home Daddy was on the front porch nursing a rifle and a grin; you know, like it was funny. Cody laughed, but not really, and I grimaced him down.


“Hey, sweetie pie,” he said. “Don’t mind me. Just making sure you got home safe.”

“Don’t worry. We lost the cannibal hill folk several blocks ago.”

I gave Cody a kiss on the cheek goodbye and walked into the house. Daddy followed but kept an eye on him, as though a trouser snake would jump out at any moment.

Inside Mama was a whirlwind, just as always. If she had one mission in life it was to make sure her family were fed. She ran back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room table where she’d put out plates, cutlery, bread and salad. There would be lots more, given she had boys to feed.

“Shannon! Honey, is that you?”

“Yes, Mama!” I started up the stairs where Jacob was sat playing a video game.

“Come back down! I need to talk to you,” she said.

Jacob didn’t flinch, and Daddy shrugged. I placed my backpack down in the hallway and turned into the kitchen.

Mama stretched to keep the fresh tray of meatloaf arms length from her. She danced around the heat wafting from the oven and was careful to place it down on a wooden cutting board.

“Need any help with that?”

She beamed and bent over to close the oven door. “No, sweetie. Thank you.”

Mama straightened herself out and stood before me. If it weren’t for her jeans or the streaks in her hair she would have made the perfect fifties housewife.

“I got a call from the school today,” she said.

Ugh. I should have known this was coming.

“They said that you had a run-in with that Strickland child.”

“You mean the faggot,” Daddy said.

Mama snapped. “Dave!”

He shrugged and opened the fridge. “Just calling it like I see it,” he said.

“Be that as it may,” she continued, “the school says you… ripped…”

I sighed and folded my arms. “Her prom dress, yeah. I was there when it happened. She caught it on something, and blamed it on me.”

“The correct word is ‘it’, not ‘she’,” Daddy said. He left the kitchen with a beer in hand.

Mama tensed. “Well, this child’s parents want you to pay for it.”

I scoffed. “Fat chance.”

“Did you rip the dress?”

“No, and even if I did it’s her word against mine.”

Mama rolled her eyes and stepped away. She agreed, even if she didn’t want to say so. It wasn’t like she was going to punish me.

“That freak shouldn’t be coming to prom in the first place,” I said. “What, just because she ‘feels’ like a girl we should let her play dress up? If I thought I was a frog would I get to live in a lake and eat flies?”

She pursed her lips. “It’s a tricky situation, and you’re right, this whole thing is ridiculous; but I don’t want you stirring trouble. Do you understand?”

I lowered my arms and pouted, as per ritual. “Yes, Mama.”

“Good girl,” she said, and pulled me into a hug.

That was the last we said about it. Like my folks would bust me over a freak like Kelly. It was like my Daddy said, her kind invited trouble and deserved whatever they got. After all, there’s a reason that those types are always miserable.

We sat down for dinner, and talked about our day; with certain details edited out, of course. At least one parent was under the impression his daughter was chaste.

“Make sure to finish your homework,” Daddy said once we were done, wanting me to nurture good study habits.

I went to my room and sprawled out.

One more week until prom; it was going to be incredible.

* * * *

That night I slept like a queen. I can’t remember the last time I’d slept so soundly.

Every night I was up until two, texting Linda, or Paige, or even the whole cheer squad about the week ahead. That, and we had a campaign to run; do you know how much work goes into being elected prom queen? If anything was worth losing sleep over that was it.

Pulling myself from the comforter was a kind of torture, but there’s no denying the call of nature. I put my feet on the ground and shuffled toward the door. Ugh, it was like dragging anvils on my feet. I was going to have to lay off the carbs before bed.

I opened my eyes and peered through the haze. Something was different. Was it the room? Everything was where it should have been, but it seemed, I don’t know, smaller.

Whatever. I had to pee.

My father stepped out of the bathroom and marched back to the bedroom.

“Good morning, Daddy.”

He grunted, and gave me a foul look. Did I say something wrong? He’d vanished before I had a chance to speak.

Jacob leapt from his bedroom, but didn’t make the bathroom before I closed the door.

I laughed. “You snooze, you lose, turd.”

“Don’t take all day,” he whined.

“Yeah, yeah.”

Something was off, but I couldn’t put my finger on it; like everything was nearer but also further away. My balance was also off kilter, like I was balancing something on my shoulders. Maybe I slept funny, I thought.

Then came the one thing I couldn’t explain away. I pulled down my pajama shorts and screamed! My voice crashed at mid-pitch, not as high as I could manage usually, but was loud enough to summon footsteps out the door.

Mama knocked.

“Shannon? Baby, are you alright?”

I stared, and I stared. What was this flesh alien in my pants? Worse, I couldn’t tell where it began and I ended.

She knocked again. “Sweetie?”

“Mama! I have a… a-”

God, I couldn’t even say it.

“He’s having another episode,” Jacob murmured through the door. He didn’t sound surprised.

“I… I know, honey,” Mama said. “That’s why we’re going to the doctor, remember? It’s going to be okay.”

“Tell him to hurry up,” Jacob said.

He? Him?

I turned to the mirror to find more had changed than I’d thought. It wasn’t just the thing between my legs; my shoulders were wider, my boobs were a weak little A cup, and even the shape of my face had changed. God, I had the bone structure of a caveman.

“What… the-”

How was this happening? It was my worst nightmare come true.


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