Tiffany stood and stared down at me. With a puzzled voice, she asked Mrs. Oliver, “What’s he doing here?”
Mrs. Oliver grabbed Tiffany’s hand and lead her over to the table. “He’s staying with me for a few days,” she informed her. “Now, sit down, Sammy.”
She pulled her hand away. “Nana,” she muttered angrily. “Don’t call me Sammy. I’m Tiffany.”
Mrs. Oliver looked nervously at me. I don’t think she knew what to do. She didn’t know that I was aware of Tiffany’s gender identity, and she probably thought it might make things awkward at dinner. “Yes, Dear,” she replied politely. She gripped Tiffany’s hand and insisted, “Now, have a seat...Tiffany.” She gave me a weary look before turning, going over to the oven and removing the chicken from the skillet.
Tiffany sat down and looked angrily over at me. It was obvious that her grandmother hadn’t informed her that I would be joining them for dinner. I attempted to speak, but words wouldn’t leave my mouth. I was relieved when Mrs. Oliver placed plates before us.
She sat and asked me to say grace. I said the usual saying I had been taught since a little boy. Mrs. Oliver said, “Amen,” but Tiffany said nothing as she picked up her fork and began eating the mashed potatoes.
Mrs. Oliver attempted a smile as she said, “Isn’t this nice?” She gave me a pleading look as she said, “Jacob, you and Sam... I mean... Tiffany go to the same school. Do you know each other?”
I glanced quickly at Tiffany and replied, “Yes, Ma’am. We’re in the same grade.”
Attempting to sound cheerful, she responded, “That’s wonderful.” She then looked over at Tiffany and asked, “Isn’t it nice to know someone who goes to your new school?”
Tiffany took a bite of chicken, and without looking up replied sarcastically, “Wonderful.”
I was beginning to become upset. I knew Tiffany wasn’t expecting me to join them for dinner, but she didn’t have to be so rude. I had attempted to protect her a couple of times from Darryl. That at least should have expressed some degree of friendship. However, it was very obvious that Tiffany wasn’t looking for friends.
We ate in silence the remainder of dinner. Mrs. Oliver seemed hurt that Tiffany was making no attempt to be friendly. She had expected that perhaps we could be friends. That was probably the purpose of inviting Tiffany to join us.
When I finished eating, I asked Mrs. Oliver politely if I could please be excused. Dinner had been uncomfortable, I couldn’t wait to leave the table. “Of course, Dear,” she replied apologetically.
Instead of going to my room, I decided to go out into the backyard and sit on a swing in the back yard. Mrs. Oliver and I had often sat together and watched the hummingbirds drinking from the feeders that were hanging from the nearby trees. Mrs. Oliver loved gardening, and her back yard was an oasis of various plants and flowers. I particularly loved the bed of day lilies I had helped her plant a few years earlier.
From the swing, I could see Mrs. Oliver and Tiffany through the window as they washed and dried the dinner dishes. They appeared to be engaged in a very serious conversation. Occasionally, Tiffany would look out the window and see me watching them from the swing.
Soon, they turned out the kitchen lights and went into the living room. I continued to swing as I closed my eyes and enjoyed the chirping of the birds in the trees. It was about a half hour later when I heard the back door open. Tiffany stepped out and stood looking at me. At first, I thought she was going to leave through the back gate, but I was surprised when she walked down the stone path to where I was sitting.
As she approached, I looked at her lithe body. She step was graceful, but hesitant. I looked up into her face. Her face was beautiful and flawless. However, behind her blue eyes appeared uncertainty and fear.
It surprised me when she sat down on the swing beside me. She said nothing as we swung in awkward silence. Finally, she clearer throat and looked at me. “I want to thank you for helping me at school.” Her eyes darted nervously around, and she wouldn’t look at me directly.
“It’s okay,” I responded. “Really.” As she looked away, I noticed how beautiful her complexion was. It was silky, not the rough texture that most boys are age had. Her nose appeared almost too small for her face. The stubble I had noticed on the bus the first day was shaven. As awkward as it seemed, I found her to be...beautiful.
I quickly looked away, thinking that my thoughts were as my father would have described them- sinful. Maybe I was being tempted. After all, it didn’t seem normal for a boy to be described as beautiful. However, Tiffany was. She was prettier than any girl who attended our school.
Perhaps, that was why boys like Darryl felt threatened. If I found Tiffany pretty, then they did as well. However, their masculinity would never permit them to accept that fact.
Again, we sat in an awkward silence. I didn’t know what to say to her, and it was obvious she would rather have been anywhere other than sitting beside me on the swing.
Finally, I asked, “How do you like our school?”
She laughed slightly and replied, “It’s just swell. Everyone loves me there.”
“Sorry,” I responded apologetically.
She looked forward as she said, “It’s not your fault. You’re about the only person who has treated me like I’m not some kind of a freak show.”
I looked over and saw how taunt her face appeared. “It must be pretty hard, huh?”
“Yeah,” she replied as tears welled up in her eyes. “It’s not easy being different.”
“I know what you mean,” I responded sullenly.
She looked over and smiled slightly as she asked, “You? What would you know about being different?”
I gave Tiffany a puzzled look and asked, “So, I guess no one has told you?”
I sighed and replied, “I’m the preacher’s son.”
She gave me a questioning look and simply said, “Oh.”
We swung for another minute without saying anything. We watched the window as Mrs. Oliver busily moved around the kitchen. Occasionally, she would glance out the window to see if we were alright.
Suddenly, Tiffany sat forward and gave me a puzzled look. “You’re not Pastor Long’s son, are you?”
I nodded my head and answered, “Yeah.”
“Wow,” she said as she shook her head. “Now I know what you meant when you said you were different.”
I gave her a puzzled look and asked, “What do you mean?”
Tiffany explained the conversation she had a few days ago with her grandmother. Like she had with me, she explained to her about leaving the church because of his intolerant views. Now, I understood why she had made that decision.
“I don’t see how you can live with him,” she said.
I laughed slightly and replied, “I don’t. That’s why I’m here.”
She glanced over and asked excitedly, “He kicked you out of the house? Nana didn’t tell me that.”
“I’m not sure what’s going on,” I responded sadly. “Mother packed my bags and brought me to your grandmother’s house.”
“Oh,” she said as she sat back. Again, we continued to swing in silence.
Tiffany started to get off the swing, but I stopped her. “Wait,” I insisted. She sat down and looked over at me.
I stared intently into her face, and then I looked away. “Never mind,” I mumbled.
She laughed slightly before stating, “I wondered when you were going to ask.”
I replied, “It’s none of my business.”
“You’re right,” she said tersely. “It isn’t your business.” When she looked over at me, my face began to redden.
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
She sat back and remained quiet for a minute. “It’s hard to explain,” she said softly as she watched two squirrels chasing each other around a tree.
“It’s alright,” I replied. “You don’t have to.”
“No,” she said adamantly. “I want to tell you. I think you would understand.”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “It goes against everything I’ve ever been taught.”
“Yeah,” Tiffany said with a sense of sadness. “It’s against everything everyone’s been taught.” She sat back and sighed. “I was hoping you would be different.”
I smiled and stated, “It goes against everything I’ve been taught. I didn’t say I believe everything I’ve been taught.”
For the first time since I had first met Tiffany, she giggled. It was cute because she cupped her hand over her mouth and looked over at me with her blue eyes.
She sat back, and I was getting ready to hear her story. But just then, Mrs. Oliver opened the back door and hollered out that it was getting late. “You both have school tomorrow,” she reminded us.
I giggled when Tiffany mumbled, “Wonderful. Another day in paradise.”
“Yeah,” I laughed. “Another day in paradise.”
As she started to walk away, she turned and asked, “Will I see you tomorrow?”
I smiled and replied, “I hope so.” She turned and followed her grandmother into the kitchen.
Is it possible for everyone to be wrong about something? Okay, let me ask it this way. If I believe something that everyone thinks is wrong, but in my heart I believe it is right, does that make it okay? When I get to Heaven and I stand before St. Peter to answer for all my sins, will it be a sin if I think something in my heart is truly right, even though others think it is wrong? I know I’m not making any sense. I’ll just have to make the right decision and hope you don’t object.
When I prepared for school the next morning, my stomach was doing somersaults. In eleven years, I had never been afraid to go to school. I had my problems, and other students would often shun me, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.
Now, however, things had changed the past week. Two times I had almost fought with Darryl. I’m not a violent person, and I had never even considered hitting someone. Even when other boys would wrestle on the playground when we were in elementary school, I never participated. It just wasn’t in my nature. I think I feared my father’s wrath if I was sent home with a note that I had engaged in bad behavior.
Now, though, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to just be an innocent bystander to Darryl’s, or anyone else’s, harassment toward Tiffany. After last night, I felt that I understood her better, even though we never talked about why she preferred to live her life as a girl.
Even though I still wasn’t certain how I felt about the whole thing, one thing I was sure about- she was the one who had made that decision. It really didn’t matter what I or anyone else felt about it.
And in a way, I admired her for that.
For several years, I had hidden safely in the shadows of my father. No one had ever questioned me about how I felt about anything because they just assumed that I was cut from the same mold from which he was made. Until a week ago, I had accepted that. Now, I had been kicked out of my own home for attempting to step out of that shadow. And now that I had left the darkness into the light, I wasn’t sure if I could ever go back. And that too scared me.
“Jacob!” shouted Mrs. Oliver from the kitchen. “You’d better hurry or you’ll be late for school.”
When I entered the kitchen, Mrs. Oliver was busily fixing breakfast. She turned and smiled when she saw me. “Have a seat, Jacob,” she said cheerfully.
I sat down and watched her flit around the kitchen. I could smell bacon, and the eggs she was preparing in the skillet looked delicious. My mother would only fix a breakfast like this on Sunday morning before church. She always said my father needed a fulfilling breakfast to help him preach the Lord’s word.
When she placed the plate in front of me, she smiled and said, “Thank you so much for being kind to my grandson, Sammy, last night.”
“Not to be rude, Mrs. Oliver,” I responded, “but I think she wants people to call her Tiffany.”
“Yes, Dear,” she said as she turned to get the orange juice from the refrigerator. “I must remember that.” When she placed the glass before me, she sat down and frowned. “It’s so hard, though. He was my sweet little Sammy for fourteen years. Then two years ago, he decided he wanted to be a girl.” Tears began to well up in her eyes. “I just don’t understand it.”
“I don’t think she decided to get up one day and be a girl,” I replied. “I think it was something she struggled with for a long time. I guess it’s hard for us to understand.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she responded sadly. “I’m just an old woman, and it is hard for me to accept what is happening in the modern world.”
“I don’t know, Mrs. Oliver,” I replied. “I think these things have happened for a long time. It is just that people are more open about it today.”
She clicked her tongue and said, “It was better when people didn’t talk about it.” For a brief second, she sounded like my father.
When I arrived at school, I went to my locker before going to the cafeteria. When I approached, I noticed a few students standing before it and laughing. They quieted when I came nearer. Someone had vandalized my locker by spray painting the word ‘fag’ on it in purple paint.
“Excuse me,” I said as I pushed my way to my locker. The other students began to move away. I got out the books I would need for my morning classes, slammed my locker door and stormed off toward the cafeteria.
As I was walking down the hall, someone grabbed my arm to stop me. I turned expecting to have to defend myself. Instead, it was Jerome Norman, one of the smallest members of our class. He had been bullied since the first grade by bigger students like Darryl. He was only five foot five, and on a good day he may have weighed about a hundred pounds. I always felt sorry for him; however, like others I shunned him for fear of others ridiculing me.
“It was Darryl Standifer,” he informed me softly as he quickly glanced down the hall. “I saw him do it.”
“Thanks, Jerome,” I replied. “I figured it was him anyway.”
He nervously around as he said, “Please don’t tell him I saw him do it.” He then quickly hurried away.
Cathy was sitting at the table when I entered the cafeteria. She could tell by the look on my face I was upset. She asked, “What happened?” as I sat down.
“Darryl messed up my locker,” I said.
“What did he do?”
“Spray painted ‘fag’ on it,” I informed her.
She asked worriedly, “You going to tell Mr. Edwards?”
“What good would that do? Mrs. Edwards won’t do anything.” Cathy nodded because she knew it was the truth. Darryl was a star athlete and quarterback of the football team. He was also a starting forward for the basketball team, and the catcher for the baseball team. He was at the highest student level, and his involvement in inappropriate behavior would never be questioned. Besides, he would lie about it, and no one would believe otherwise.
Cathy smiled and nodded toward the door. I didn’t have to look to know who was approaching. Colton sat down in a seat opposite me and smiled. “Hey Guys,” he said cheerfully as he looked at us.
When we didn’t respond, he sarcastically asked, “Did someone’s cat die or something.”
“More like something,” said Cathy as she relayed what I had told her about my locker.
“Fucker,” hissed Colton as he looked over at me. “He’s going to get his someday.”
I pleaded, “Please don’t be the one to do it.”
Colton slapped his fist into his palm. “He’s got one more time to fuck with you. I’m getting sick of his shit.”
We turned and looked at Cathy when she started giggling. I asked, “What’s so funny.”
She continued to giggle as she responded, “You guys are so sweet. Maybe you should just get a room.” Darryl rolled his eyes and flipped her off.
Just then, the bell rang, and we headed to class. Darryl stopped me and asked if he would see me at lunch. He smiled when I assured him he would.
As he hurried down the hall, Cathy laughed and said, “He’s really into you, Jacob. God, you’re a lucky shit.” She waved and hurried off leaving me to wonder what was happening.
I was sitting in Mrs. Hawthorne’s English class reading a short story she had assigned. It was Edgar Allen Poe’s, Masque of the Red Death. I was enjoying it. I was just getting to the part where the stranger enters the ball, when a student entered the classroom and handed Mrs. Hawthorne a note.
She looked back and motioned for me to come to her desk. She informed me that Mrs. Edwards, the school principal, wanted to see me in her office. Since the period was almost over, she suggested that I should get my books before leaving. She smiled and nodded her head when I asked if I could take the book that contained the short story.
Mrs. Edwards was pacing back in and forth in the hallway waiting for me to arrive. She smiled nervously when I approached. She said, “I was informed this morning of the vandalism to your locker.” She folded her arms and added, “You could have come and reported the damage to me yourself.”
I have known Mrs. Edwards since I first arrived my freshman year. She introduced herself to me in the cafeteria one morning. When I told her my name, she asked if I was Pastor Long’s son. I think she was aware of my father’s reputation, so she had quietly kept an eye on me. If any of my grades fell, she would talk to me in the hall and remind me that my father expected good grades.
She is a rather heavy woman. To me, she always appears like she should be teaching a first-grade class rather than being principal of a large high school. However, she is very popular and well-liked. Because of her good nature, most students don’t feel threatened by her presence.
“Yes, Ma’am,” I replied as I hung my head. I didn’t want to tell her how embarrassing it would have been for me to have reported the incident. How could I have possibly explained why another student would paint the word, fag, on my locker.
“Well,” she informed me. “I notified your father what happened.”
“What!” I shrieked. “Why did you do that?”
She looked worriedly at me and replied, “Well, you are his son and I thought he should find out from me rather than someone in his congregation.” She shook her head and said, “I didn’t want to deal with the repercussions if he found out from another source.”
“I don’t know why you told him,” I responded angrily. “It was just a little paint, and no one got hurt.”
She sighed, looked sorrowful at me and stated, “You’re very right, Jacob. I shouldn’t have.” She sighed again and informed me, “He’s sitting in my office.”
I shrieked, “What! Father is here?”
“I’m afraid so,” she replied with a nervous laugh. “Why do you think I was waiting out here in the hallway.”
She placed her hand on my back and pushed me toward the door. “Let’s go deal with this,” she said nervously.
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