Becoming Myself

Nervously steps outside. The sun low, just peeking over the horizon. Almost night, just enough to hide in. Hot, though, and humid too. Beads of sweat already on his forehead under long, straight bangs. Would the sweat ruin things? First time out like this, he can't really be sure. Should have tested first, see if sweat caused it to run.

Deep breath. Calm down. Face flushes not with heat, but with embarrassment. Why be embarrassed? This is natural, so act like it. Being nervous would only make it noticeable. Others would be able to tell. Didn't want others to realize. Wanted to fit in. No, to blend in. Be just like anyone else.

Smooth down the front of his shirt. It fits so much better than others. Though he lacks the curves. Would that give him away? Rubs his arms. Maybe they would. Just a little too muscular, though he didn't work out.

Slow walk to his car. The parking lot clear. Smooths down the front of his skirt. Nothing there to give him away. Long, to his ankles, to hide his legs. A little old fashioned, perhaps, but useful. The other, obvious, damning piece of evidence is tucked away. Could have been uncomfortable, but this he practiced.

A car pulls in to the lot as he reaches his own. Fumbles the keys. Stoops down to retrieve them. When he stands, the other person is getting out. Vague recognition, a girl from another floor. Seen once or twice, never spoken to. Glances at him, says nothing, doesn't look twice.

Opens the door, slides in. Buckles the belt. Lowers the mirror. Checks the makeup. No smears, everything painfully perfect.

Tonight he would be himself.

He wasn't quite sure when he first discovered he was different than other boys. It must have been a slow, dawning realization built up to over weeks and months. Some time in middle school, he supposed. At least he remembers understanding that he enjoyed dressing like a girl sometime in 7th grade.

But he does remember the first time he first crossdressed. It wasn't intentional then, of course. He was only a little kid, all of 8 years old. His mother had gone to the store, leaving his older sister in charge of him for the afternoon. She paid attention only reluctantly, allowing him to run around and do whatever he liked.

He wandered into his parent's bathroom and started digging through drawers. There was lipstick, a compact of face powder, a variety of eyeshadow. He pulled them out, fascinated. His mother rarely wore makeup, but he'd seen other women with it on in movies and at school. The lipstick went on first, creating a huge red circle that covered his lips and the areas above, below, and stretching to his cheeks. Next he'd covered most of his face with an uneven application of powder, then attempted to use the eyeshadow to color both his lids and his cheeks.

The mirror allowed him to admire his handiwork. Oh, how surely he had looked like a terrible clown or some schizophrenic drag queen. But he was so proud that day. He thought he looked just like the beautiful women on television. He was sure he was so pretty.

He'd run out to show his sister, completely oblivious to any disapproval against him. She had gasped and squealed and said, "Oh no!" but didn't judge. She smiled and laughed and asked what he had done.

"I made myself pretty!" he told her and she giggled even harder.

"I think you need to take some lessons first," she teased him. She looked over at the clock and saw it was already growing late. "But we need to get you cleaned up before mom gets home."

"Why?" he remembered asking. Wouldn't mom want to see him pretty too?

"Mom won't like that you got into her stuff without asking," his sister explained to him. He believed her too, though if he'd been older he might have noticed the look on her face.

She took him into her room and pulled out a package of makeup cleansers. She wiped his face roughly, even as he squealed and objected. She dropped the wipes into the toilet and flushed them away, then went into their parent's bathroom and cleaned up the mess he'd left in there.

He remembered, quite clearly, her holding the tube of lipstick up, frowning at the mashed down tip, and doing her best to straighten it out. The job was done rather poorly, but he never heard anything about it from his mother, so he guessed it had been covered up well enough.

Drive goes fine. Sun's down, no one can see. Not that they'd get close enough to tell. Everything in the lot is automated. No need to talk with another person. Twenty minutes until the movie starts. Stays in the car. Hand placed on the handle, can't bring himself to open it.

Takes out the compact. Checks the makeup again. Grimaces as he looks. Upper lip still too dark, even though he shaved just before getting ready. Hairs too dark. Might need to start plucking. Cringes at the thought of it. Painful. But pain is worth it for beauty. To feel right.

Smooths some more concealer over it. The shadow can still be seen, but not as much. Chin and jaw look clear. Adjusts the choker that hides his Adam's apple. It's not very prominent in the first place, but it makes him feel better to hide it.

Eyebrows look good. Worried about them before, but not now. Bangs hide them a little, judicious plucking thinned them out nicely. Very feminine now. He smiles at that.

Adjusts the wig just a few inches. Natural hair short and curly; used to be long, but didn't look like a girl's hair. Too many questions would be asked if he did the work to get it right. So cut it all off, buy a woman's wig instead. The look on everyone's faces when they saw him with short hair brought many smiles to his face. Asked why, simply said it was time for a change. No one knew the real reason.

Time is wasting. Doesn't want to be late. A deep breath taken, he opens the door and steps out.

His sister treated it more like a game than anything else. When their parents were out, she'd invite her little brother into her bedroom and taught him about the proper application of makeup. She also used him as a test dummy, trying out different combinations of colors and applicators, trying to see what looked the best. Of course, he was lighter skinned than she was, so it wasn't perfect. He didn't care though, he just let her make him pretty.

They laughed about it and took pictures, but she always wiped the makeup off before their parents got home. He asked her why he couldn't show mom and she said, "We're not allowed to wear makeup before we're 16."

She was only 15 when she said that and he was only 10. It was a secret they could share together, then, and it brought them closer. Looking back on it, he realized she never understood exactly what she was doing. She was just playing with her little brother, she wasn't indulging his desire to crossdress. He certainly never told her, because he didn't even understand it at that point.

Walks down the sidewalk. Head down, hiding his face in the shadows of his hair. Arms crossed over his chest, hiding his lack of breasts. Comes to an intersection, "Don't Walk" burning bright. Stands and waits. Others begin to gather. Woman walks past, glances at him a moment too long. Cheeks flush with heat. She keeps walking. No one else spares him a look. All too busy chatting with each other.

Light turns red, walk sign lights up. Rushes across. Accidentally steps on the hem of his skirt, tugging it down several inches. Stumbles, mutters, jerks it back up. For the first time, wishes he had hips for practical purposes.

Horn honks. Stiffens and turns, eyes wide. Staring. Horn honks again. Suddenly realizes the light has turned green. Still in the middle of the road. Scampers to the other side. Car passes peacefully. Let out a breath, lean against the light pole.

"Are you ok?" someone asks. Eyes fly open. Nods, says nothing, hurries away.

Acting suspicious, he thinks. Just act normal. He is normal. This is normal.

His sister died a few weeks after her 16th birthday. She was going on a date. He'd helped her put her makeup on. Their parents were a little confused by that, but said nothing. It was clear on their faces, but since it was her night, he didn't wear any makeup himself.

She'd looked so beautiful as she waited for her date to come pick her up. She had a big smile, and red lips, and light eyeshadow, and spiky eyelashes. Her blue dress was a pretty, but simple thing that reached her knees. "I wish I had a dress like that," he'd told her softly as she was getting ready.

For a few seconds she stared at him, eyes narrowing, lips curled slightly up, confused. Suddenly her eyes went wide and her smile dropped, then that too vanished in a second. She rushed over and hugged him and kissed him on the cheek and said, "Maybe you will!"

Maybe she'd realized then that when he put on makeup like she did, it wasn't just a game to him. Maybe she didn't. She was only 16 and he was still only 12.

The car crash killed her, but spared her date. The police said it was too difficult to figure out who was at blame. The person that crashed into them claimed they had turned on a red light; the date claimed he'd had green and the other light was red. There weren't any witnesses who came forward.

His father packed all of her things up and stuck them in the attic. His mother cried for weeks. He snuck up into the attic and took her clothes out of the boxes and stared at them. By this point he'd already realized that boys didn't wear skirts and dresses or put on makeup, that was something only girls did. He also knew he wasn't a girl, he was a boy. He didn't understand why things were the way they were.

He held on to his sister's skirt and wanted to put it on, but it was her skirt, not his. It felt wrong to do it, so he didn't. He just cried himself to sleep that night.

Reaches the box office. Finally has to talk to someone. No way to avoid this one. Takes a deep breath, steps into line. A dozen people in front of him. Someone else steps into line behind him. Head kept down, looking at his feet peeking from beneath the edges of his skirt. Just plain sneakers, nothing girlish or boyish.

Rubs the exposed part of his chest, conscious of the flatness. That would give it away, he thought. Even a flat girl would wear a bra, but he didn't. Shirt was tight enough to show he didn't wear one. Just a strange boy in drag. Someone would laugh. Teen working the window would realize, say something.

Shuffles forward. People in front of him talking. Listens. Don't notice him, or don't say anything if they do. Just talk about their excitement over the movie. Shuffles forward. Remember to breathe. No, don't hyperventilate. Breathe normally. This is who you are. This is normal.

Shuffles forward. Next in line. Still time to get away. Forget this, it's silly. Go through life like everyone expects. Keep the crossdressing private. No one needs to know. Except he knows, when he's not dressed like this. Skin crawls, itches. Not who he is.

Next up. "One for 9 o'clock Dark Knight." Voice little more than a whisper. Softer than his normal voice. Rehearsed. Does it sound like a girl's voice? No idea. Some days he thinks it does, some days he doesn't. Slides the money through the opening.

The cashier, a young girl. High school, probably. "Theater 4, enjoy the show," she says. Slides the tickets through. Smiles at him. Smiles back. First smile he's given tonight.

Straightens up some. Walks into the theater.

The day he first noticed the hair on his upper lip, he started crying so hard he got sick and threw up. His mother simply thought he was sick. For three days he didn't go to school, but since he wasn't showing a fever he was coaxed to go. He took his father's razor and made a bloody mess. It was all superficial, but it sure hurt, and he stayed home from school another day.

The next day his father taught him how to shave properly and sent him off. He didn't pay very much attention to anything at all. As the months passed, it got worse. He was getting hairy on his legs and arms too. A lot of hair, in fact. One day his mother made a harmless joke about it. It sent him crying into his bedroom.

He started to shave his entire body, with the rapidly-dulling razor he was supposed to use every few days on his face. It was winter when he started, so he hid the suddenly bare skin beneath long sleeves and jeans.

Then spring came and it got too hot to wear them every day. No one really noticed, at first. Then, one day, as if hit with sudden realization, his mother asked, "Did you shave your legs?"

He broke into a cold sweat and tried to deny it. "No," he said hastily, pulling his legs back and trying to hide them beneath himself. But she wasn't fooled. She walked over, grabbed his leg, and pulled it out to look. The stray red bumps of razor burn, courtesy of the dull razor, betrayed him.

She tried to figure out why he was doing it. All he would tell her was, "I think it looks ugly." She tried to assure him that it wasn't, that all boys got it eventually. To comfort him she mentioned his father's hairiness, which prompted his dad to take off his shirt and reveal a thick mat of curly black hair.

He wanted to throw up after seeing it, but forced the bile down and put on a brave smile. His mother considered the issue resolved. He kept shaving, but just found excuses to hide behind long pants all the time.

Good movie. During a lull, needs to pee. Gets up, softly slides past other patrons. Too focused on the screen to think of him. Out the door, heads to the bathroom. Nearly there, someone calls out, "Miss!"

Doesn't register at first. "Ma'am!" the voice repeats. Keeps going, almost at the door. "Young lady!" Finally gets through to him. Freezes where he is, turns slowly. Eyes wide.

Older gentleman carrying a broom and dust pan. Stops a few steps away from him. Called him "young lady"! Puts a hand over his heart, daintily. Thudding.

"That's the men's room." Slowly trailing off. "The... the ladies' room... is... over there." Gestures weakly across the lobby. Eyes turning away.

Unsure how to respond. Stands nervous for a moment. Finally, says, "Oh, thank you." Glances up at the sign on the door. "Silly me." Giggles, hurries off. Bursts in, lets out a shuddering sigh.

Bathroom empty, thankfully. Enters stall. Does business. Washes hands. Rushes out. Gaggle of girls pass him by. One does a double take, but only sees the back of his head.

High school was difficult. He hated it. He hated going every day. He didn't pay attention to the teachers. He didn't do his work. Some days he got to the building, but never went to class. Instead he snuck around, hiding in bathrooms until the halls cleared then finding an empty classroom to sit and sulk in. Most days, though, he didn't even bother with that. He just languished.

His parents were furious with him. "Why aren't you studying?" his mother asked.

"Why aren't you doing your homework?" his father demanded to know.

"You used to be so good at school! What happened to you?" they both wondered. He didn't have any answers for them. He shrugged and muttered about not knowing.

They talked to his teachers and his counselors, who all said the same thing. He was just a difficult student. He didn't want to learn. He didn't get along with anyone. He was a trouble maker.

His parents tried to break through to him. Once, he tried to get them to understand.

"Sometimes I just feel like I'm not really me," he said to his mother one night.

"What do you mean?" she asked, leaning forward on her upturned palms.

He shrugged his shoulders and looked around the room nervously. "I dunno, it's just... It's hard to explain."

"Well, try."

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He'd been growing it long, but it was a curly mess. The follicles were too thin and it came in too thick. It was a huge wavy poof and no matter what he tried, he couldn't get it to look pretty.

"I look in the mirror and the person I see isn't who I really am," he said. "Like I should be someone different."

His mother reached out a hand and put it over his. "Honey, if you want to change, you just need to try. You're the only one who can make that happen."

"It's not that easy," he muttered, realizing that she didn't get it at all.

"Yes it is, honey." Her voice was soothing, soft, sweet. Like someone talking to a tantruming child. "Why don't you think it's easy?"

He looked at her, then glanced at the door toward the room where his father sat, watching Monday Night Football. "I don't think everyone will like it if I change."

She smiled sadly at him and squeezed his hand. "If you want to do better in school, or you want to be nicer to your teachers, or whatever, you shouldn't worry what your friends will think about you. If they think you doing good and being smart isn't cool, well, that's their problem. And they shouldn't really be your friends. Do you understand?"

He closed his eyes and sighed to bite back the tears. "Yeah, I guess," he said. He wanted to yell at her for not understanding. For not knowing what he was trying to tell her. For not guessing, at the worst, what was wrong.

When he opened his eyes, they were thick with unwept tears, but his mother was smiling proudly. "It'll be ok, honey. You just have to try to change, ok?"

"Ok, mom," he whispered.

Movie's over. Keeps head down. Walks briskly toward the parking lot. People talking to each other. About the movie, still. Some arguing. Wishes he was with someone. No one to be with. No one else would understand. How could they?

Hurries along. Head down. No one can see. Hair hides the sides of his face. Hangs over his eyes. Covers them. Closes them. Fights back the tears. Open again, vision blurry through the water. Bumps into someone.

"Hey, watch where - "Turns and looks at him. Pauses. "Uh, I mean, sorry." Turns away again, back to friends. Soft murmuring as he hurries off. Glances back over his shoulder. Still looking at him. Hurriedly turn away.

Gets to the door, pushes his way out. Hot, humid air slaps his face. Wants to run. Just get home, scrub off the makeup, pretend this never happened. Can't change things. Better to just suffer in alone than in public.

Leans against the wall, tries to catch his breath.

It was a typical day when he met the girl who would change him forever. He was hiding from the hall monitors in a boy's bathroom, leaning against a wall and looking out heavily-frosted windows at the empty courtyard. He heard footsteps and turned to face what he thought would be a school administrator coming to drag him to class.

Instead it was a girl, red hair pulled up into twin pigtails, plaid skirt hiked up so the hem was around her thighs, long black socks pulled up to almost the same place, blouse with the top three buttons undone, big black platform boots buckled up to her knees. He stared at her and she barely glanced at him. As he stood there watching her, she turned to a mirror and pulled lipstick out of her purse. It was a dark, purple color.

As she started to apply it generously to her lips, he cleared his throat involuntarily. She turned briefly and gave him a single up and down, then turned back to the mirror. Finally, he said, "You know this is the boy's bathroom, right?"

She shrugged her shoulders but said nothing as she pressed her lips together, then started to dab away the stray lipstick. Once that was finished, she retrieved a compact and popped it open, revealing a variety of dark eyeshadow. She dipped her brush into one that was dark black and began brushing it on her eyelids.

As he watched her, he felt a twinge of desire, which led him to blurt out, "I've never seen you at school before."

"I'm trying to put on my makeup," she said to him with a huff.

He smirked despite her rebuke and took a step toward her. "You really shouldn't be caking it on so much," he told her. "With colors that dark, it'll look better with a lighter touch. Right now, it looks more like it exploded on your face."

She finally stopped and turned to face him. Following a much slower up and down, her face took on a bemused expression and she crossed her arms over her chest. "Yeah? And how would you know?"

Suddenly, he blushed. "I just, uh..." he muttered. "Well, I used to watch my older sister do her makeup. She was really good at it." This wasn't the whole truth, but it was nothing but the truth.

The girl turned away from him again and leaned toward the mirror. "Yeah, well, if your older sister was here, I might listen to her."

"She's dead," he said flatly.

She stiffened and let the eyeshadow brush drop a few inches. "Oh."

"It's ok, it was a few years ago," he told her.

"I didn't say I was sorry or sad or anything," she answered with too much annoyance to sound sincere. She spent a few seconds holding the eyeshadow brush in front of her eye, but she didn't add any more on. Then she put it down and pulled some makeup wipes out of her purse and began cleaning her face off.

"So'd you learn anything from your sister?" she asked. He smiled and joined her beside the mirror.

Everyone stares. Doesn't see them, but can feel them. Knows they're doing it. Why are they staring? Something's giving him away. Must be. Fool. Why'd he ever think it would work? So obvious. All wrong. Face shaped wrong. Body shaped wrong. Everything shaped wrong. Whole life shaped wrong.

Car honks. Stepped out into road without looking. Backs up to sidewalk. Arms hugged around himself. Other people join him. Talking to each other. About him? Tries to hear words. Head swims. Everything sounds the same. Head pounds. Ears ring.

Someone bumps into him. Unexpected, goes sprawling forward. Their voice, "Oh! Are you alright?" In the street. Scrambles to his feet. Looks wildly. Expecting cars. Walk sign lit up. "Hey, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to knock you down like that! I didn't even think I bumped into you that hard."

Looks at the man talking. Turns. Runs. Worried shouts calling after him. Ignores them. Flees toward his car. Fumbles with his keys. Finally open. Collapses in.

Tears burst forth.

He sat alone in Kate's bedroom, looking around at the collection of posters and pictures plastered on the pink walls. He'd been surprised that the walls were pink, given her seemingly darker tastes. She told him her parents didn't want to repaint. "That's why I've got all the posters," she explained, though there were just as many old Polaroids as anything.

One cluster, in particular, had fascinated him. One was her as a very young girl with a pet dog. "That's Chuck," she told him. "He was the best dog I ever had." For a brief moment, she smiled when she talked about him. She didn't smile very much, even though he thought her smile was very pretty. She had braces, though, and she hated them.

The other pictures were of other children. Sometimes she was with them. It was two boys, for the most part. She didn't like to talk about them. He'd figured out from her mom that they were kids she used to be friends with but didn't talk to any more. He thought that was very strange, that she'd keep pictures of them even though they stopped talking. He tried to ask her about it more than once, but each time she got angrier, so eventually he gave up.

Finally the door opened and she walked in carrying shopping bags crammed with makeup. She slammed the door behind her, sending a loud crash echoing through the house, then tossed the bags on the bed. He dove toward them, pulling out all sorts of darkly colored powders and creams. She let out a clipped laugh at the glee on his face.

"What are we going to try today?" he asked as he sorted the makeup into different piles based on type, color, and many other factors.

"Something dark," she said, predictably. "I feel dark today."

"You always feel dark," he said as he picked up a compact with pale powder and pried it open. "You should try something a little lighter for once." He dabbed his finger into the powder and examined the coloration against his own skin tone. It was much lighter than his own, but on Kate it would blend in seamlessly.

"No reason to feel light," Kate said as she flopped onto the bed beside him. She stretched her arms out and let out a sigh. "But if you want to try something light, I guess I won't stop you."

He froze and turned slowly to her. "Really?" he asked. For months now, he'd been coming over and testing out different combinations of makeup on her. Her mother had forbidden Kate from going to school caked in white face powder and black lipstick and eyeshadow. He'd figured out some more subtle combinations that still kept her firmly in goth territory while not freaking her mother out too much.

But this was the first time she'd ever let him do something more typical. "Yeah, sure, why not?" she said with a shrug of her shoulders. "Might as well prove to myself how bad it'll look."

"Awesome!" he exclaimed and began sorting through the pile of cosmetics, searching. He kept the fair powder, adding a similarly colored foundation. It took him a little looking, but he eventually found a light lilac colored eyeshadow and a tube of pink lipstick.

He hopped off the bed and grabbed her wrist, pulling her to her feet. She let out a resistant groan, but shambled over to the chair and plopped down. He stood in front of her and popped open the foundation and went to work.

As he applied the makeup, he explained his choices. The foundation and powder were to smooth out blemishes, though she had surprisingly clean skin for a teenage girl. He didn't go with the white powders she liked so much, "Because it doesn't look natural. It contrasts too much with the rest of your skin. If you held up your hand beside your face, it becomes obvious. Besides, you're already pale. You don't need to go even paler."

She grumbled and tried to act like she wasn't paying attention and was only indulging him, but he could tell she was soaking the information up. That only made him even more eager to work. Next was the eyeshadow, which he applied lightly to her upper lids with a light brush. He made several passes, finishing it up by wetting the brush and applying a small amount of color around the upper lash.

"The lilac really brings out the color in your eyes," he told her. "Wet shadow is darker - don't go imagine using it with the black or purple please! - and adding a little bit of it like eyeliner creates just a little contrast and really makes your eyes pop."

Next he used the lipstick to just slightly color her lips. "We're emphasizing your eyes here," he told her. "You want to pick one or the other. You have lovely eyes. Lovely lips too, but your eyes are just gorgeous, so we want to really show them off." As he said this, her cheeks turned just a hint of red through her makeup. He laughed.

"Well, I was going to put some blush on you, but I see you're already doing it yourself."

She turned even more red and punched him in the shoulder. "Shut up, you're the one talking about my eyes and stuff." As if to hide her face, she spun away from him, though it just made her face her mirror so he could see her smiling reflection regardless.

"I wasn't finished yet!" he complained, but she was already admiring his handiwork in the mirror.

She leaned forward on her table and rested her chin on the back of her intertwined fingers. With intense force of will, she banished the smile from her face, returning herself to the morose expression she wore as a matter of course. The smile would have gone much better with the subtle look he'd given her, but even without it she was stunning.

Several minutes passed as she examined it in the mirror. "Well?" he finally prompted her, unable to wait for her reaction any longer.

"It's..." she paused and pursed her lips. "Different."

"Good different?" he asked hopefully.

She slowly spun back around, her lips still pursed together. "I don't know if I'll wear it out to any concerts or school," she said softly. "It might make my mom too happy." His face must have been completely crestfallen, because her mouth dropped open and she darted out of the chair to put a hand on his shoulder and smiled at him. "But I can wear it for you, if it makes you happy."

He looked up at her, eyes wide, and put his hand over hers. Then, suddenly, he stood up and kissed her on the lips he himself had just painted.

Calmed down, the drive home was numb. Done by rote. No thinking, gliding along. Instinctual. Animalistic. Limping home. Reach a safe haven. Lick wounds and recuperate.

Home in sight, he lets out a sigh. Meant to be relief, it comes in a ragged shudder. Go back to how things were. Hide truth in the darkness. Only come out in the camouflage of his own skin. For the best. How it has to be. No one understands. Not any more.

Parks and sits in the car for a long time. Getting out means the night is over. Even though it has become terrible, it was still his night. Briefly, he was whole. Perfect. But perfection can be marred so quickly. Slumps out. Head hanging, walks to the front door. Unlocks the door and trudges in.

A girl, about to leave, brushes past him. Over her shoulder, "Rough night?"

Answers, "Yeah."

Waits for comfort, but she's already out the door. Heads to the elevator, slumps against the back wall as it rises. Carries him uninterrupted to his apartment. No one else sees him. Enters. Time to rid himself of the lovely illusion.

The kiss lasted only a few seconds before she squealed and pushed him away. He stumbled and fell on the floor in a heap. She fell back into her makeup chair, eyes wide and skin ashen, as she stared at nothing.

He stood slowly up, shocked at himself and shocked and hurt by Kate's reaction. He sat down on her bed and looked at her. After a few seconds, she turned and looked at him. They stared at each other for a few minutes. Finally, she said in a quiet voice, "I thought you were gay."

He blushed and looked away. "Why did you think that?" he asked, even though he'd considered the possibility himself many many times. He liked to wear makeup and dresses, didn't that make him gay? He wanted to be a girl, or something like one, didn't that make him gay?

But he had just kissed Kate and it felt good to kiss her. And he had never once wanted to kiss a boy. He considered it in that moment and found the thought left him uninterested. So what did that make him?

"Well, you're into makeup so much," she said softly. "And you've never really talked about girls or anything. I just thought..." She put her hands over her face, as if to hide the work he'd just finished, then slowly ran them up and through her hair. It left the makeup smudged and ruined.

"I'm sorry," he told her. "I shouldn't have done that. I should have asked first." He stood up and started to walk to the door.

"No!" she yelled, reaching out to him even though she didn't stand. "Don't go!"

He paused and turned back to her. "Why not? You pushed me down. I thought that..." He couldn't bring himself to say anything more.

She shrugged her shoulders and looked away from him slightly. "Well, I was just surprised. And, uh... Well, if my mom came up and saw us, she'd get mad. The only reason she lets us come up here together is because I told her you were gay."

With a laugh he sat back down on the bed. "So I guess we can't do more of it, huh?"

She laughed, nervously. "Did you want to?" She bit her lower lip, brows furrowed.

Looking at her, he could tell the answer she wanted to hear. He sighed and said, "No, it's ok." The relief on her face was evident. He tried to ignore it, but it still left a painful pang. "I didn't mean to confuse you like that. I can see why you thought I'm gay."

"But you're not," she said. She stood and walked over to the bed and sat beside him. That made him feel better, a little. "So you just really like makeup?"

There was a sudden lump in his throat. Should he tell her? She was the closest friend he had, probably ever. If he couldn't trust her, could he ever trust anyone? But he'd just kissed her and...

"I wish I was a girl," he blurted out. Her eyes went wide for just a moment, then she blushed slightly. When she finally laid a hand on his shoulder, he let out a relieved sigh.

"But you just tried to kiss me," she said, her voice carrying faint hints of confusion but no disapproval.

He shrugged and smiled. "I still like girls too. I just..." He sighed and stood up, letting her hand fall away. "When I was little, I got into my mom's makeup once. When my sister found out, she treated it like a game and did me up whenever my parents were out. I don't think she ever realized how much I liked it. It just felt right to me." He hung his head, staring down at his own body. "I look at myself and feel... wrong. I wish I could wear a dress to school. I wish I could wear makeup to school."

Suddenly, her arms wrapped around him from behind. Her head rested on his shoulder. The unexpected contact made him suck in a deep breath and when he let it out, it came with a shudder and tears. He spun in her arms and hugged her back, burying his face into her shoulder as he cried with frustration.

She patted his head and shushed him. "If that's what you want, you should do it," she said softly. "And fuck anyone who thinks you shouldn't."

Trudges to the bathroom. Takes out the makeup wipes. Removes the wig, sets it aside. Time to end the charade. End the self-deception. Reality clashes with dreams all the time; mostly reality wins. This is no different.

Stares at the mirror. Mascara has run, making dark circles around his eyes. Reminds him of an old friend, long lost.

Smiles and puts the wig back on.

"You are not going out like that," his mother said, actually stamping her foot as she spoke. "What in the world is wrong with you?"

He crossed his arms over his chest. He'd hoped he'd be able to sneak out of the house without anyone seeing. But as he came down the stairs, his mother had spotted him. After a moment of freaking out about a stranger in her house, she realized who it was and what he was wearing.

"Nothing's wrong with me," he told her, his voice cracking with the remnants of puberty and his own desire to sound like a girl. "This is what I like."

His mother shook her head. "Are you just trying to shock me? What would your father think if he saw you like this!"

He huffed, "No, mom, I'm not trying to shock you! I just like dressing like this." Kate had lent him one of her more plain dresses, a rather modest red getup that reached his knees and had a high cut and sleeves half-way to his elbows. It didn't fit like it should, as he was taller than she was and lacked her curves, but it was close enough.

"Where did you even get that? It's not one of mine, it's too small. Did you steal my makeup?" She was shaking her finger at him now. "You should have asked before you took my makeup!"

"I didn't steal anything," he said, knowing it wasn't going to help. "I got it from Kate. I got both things from Kate."

"That girl!" she said, throwing her hands into the air. "I knew that girl was a bad influence on you!" He wanted to laugh at his mother for saying that; since he'd become friends with Kate, his grades, attendance, and overall demeanor had all improved to a great degree. "Always wearing those slutty clothes and listening to that awful music. I bet she does drugs too! Are you high? Is that why you're dressing like that!"

"Jesus, no mom!" he shouted, stamping his own foot now. "Won't you just listen to me? I'm doing this because this is what I am! I like to dress up like a girl! I've always liked it, I just hid it from you! I hid it from everyone! That's why I was so miserable!"

His mother shook her head. "No, no. No son of mine is a queer! If your dad saw you, he'd kill you where you stood, I swear. We can get you help. I'm sure if we talked to your counselor, he could help you through this... this phase. You're just confused, that's all. With your sister dying, I'm sure it messed you up. You just need to talk to someone who can help you deal with this."

"You leave her out of this! And there's nothing to deal with! You're the one who has to deal with this, not me! I'm just being myself."

Again, she shook her head. "No, no. You go back up to your room this instant and clean yourself off. You're not going anywhere tonight. In fact, you're grounded for a week. Unless your father decides you should be punished more! Oh yeah, don't think I'm not going to tell him! When he gets home from the store, that'll be the first conversation we have, you bet your butt on it."

"I hate you!" he screamed and stormed back up the stairs.

As he slammed his bedroom door behind him, he heard his mother yelling, "We can get you some help! I'll call a psychiatrist! We'll work this out!"

He flopped on to his bed. He wanted to cry. He wanted to scream. He wanted to jump out the window and run away.

The phone rang and he shot up. He glanced at the caller ID and saw it was Kate. He snatched the phone off the hook and held it up in time to hear his mother yelling at Kate to leave him alone. Then there was a click and his mother's voice stopped, but he could still hear Kate's breathing and what seemed like tears.

"Kate?" he asked. "You there?"

"Oh!" she gasped. "I thought your mom hung up." She'd clearly been crying. She still was.

"Yeah, but I picked up the phone in my room before she did," he said. "I'm sorry, she caught me before I could leave. She saw what I was wearing and got pissed. You're right, I should have gotten dressed at your house. I'm sorry she yelled at you. She's being a real bitch about everything. You should have heard what she said to me when she caught me."

"My parents are getting divorced," Kate broke in. She let out another sob. "They're selling the house and both moving away. I have to go with one of them. I have to go away." She started crying again.

"Kate..." was all he managed to get out before he started crying too.

Wig on. Makeup done. Nice, flattering dress. Casual pumps and sheer stockings. Maybe he would fool everyone. Maybe a few people would be able to tell. Maybe no one would be fooled. Walks with his head held high. A few eyes on him, but he doesn't notice. People look at other people all the time.

Reaches the restaurant. "I'm supposed to meet my friend, Kate," in his breathy, feminine voice.

Hostess smiles. Leads him to the table. Kate, a decade older but still beautiful as ever stands. Throws her arms around him and kisses him on the cheek.

"You look beautiful."

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