Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Bill Riley always tried to be an easy-going guy, but there were limits, and he could do what needed to be done, a characteristic required by his position at work. He wasnít originally a Bradfordite, but a career man at General Hardware Retailers. Heíd been sent to Bradford from the Denver office nine years before, to be distribution manager, the same position that Shaeís father, Mike Kirkendahl, held now. Mike had been transferred in to be shipping supervisor at about the same time. Since there were only a handful of people at the distribution center who thought in terms of their careers in the company rather than their careers in Bradford, theyíd had something in common and became friends. In a job shuffle four years ago Bill had been promoted to general manager, and in the wake of that Mike had been promoted to Billís old job heading up distribution. There was another job shuffle on the horizon, in the next year or so, and that would take Bill out of town Ė the word "finally" frequently entering his thoughts, and right now it was sounding pretty damned good.
As heíd told Denis and Shae, it didnít look good for the manager at General to be throwing his weight around, seeking special treatment for his kid. As General executivesí kids, he was pretty sure both knew that already, which was probably why Denis hadnít come to him with these problems in the past. But, it wasnít as if he werenít aware that there were problems; heíd known that, and probably should have stepped in sooner, but heíd taken a little pride in his son trying to tough his way out of an obvious problem without seeking his help. He now realized heíd let that go much too long.
But, he and Arlene had long been aware that there was some deeper problem with Denis. He was a late child Ė Bill had been thirty-nine and Arlene thirty-seven when their son was born, ten years behind his older sister Sue and four years even further behind his still-older brother Tom. He realized even when Denis was very young that he was very different than Tom had been; Tom had been big and strong and outgoing, an athlete; Denis was small, interested in quiet things. Yes, girl things. It wasnít as if he hadnít heard the accusations that people thought Denis was gay, or at least going to be gay, because within a couple years he would not have been surprised to hear that announcement himself. For some time heíd seen that Denis was struggling with wanting to get something out. This was not at all what heíd expected.
Maybe Ė he hoped Ė this was something that was just the stress of the moment, taking an idle thought to extremes in a bout of anger. But somehow, he doubted it. What was clear was that Denis had blurted it out not to him and his wife, but to Shae. While the two were friends of a sort, no one would call them close friends Ė but then, perhaps she might still be the closest friend that Denis had. The only other candidate for him having a friend at all was Steve Sharp, and they were nowhere near as close. He looked at Shae holding on to him, his arm around her as she helped him into the house, still sobbing, but now not with anger and fear but with the relief that something long needing to be said had finally been aired. Maybe Denis felt he could come clean to Shae when he couldnít to anyone else.
Shae was, letís face it, a little strange herself. She was a good kid, a fair student, a fine athlete, but she was so tall that it made her have some different perspectives on things. Sheíd been tall for her age Ė nearly a year and a half older than Denis Ė when theyíd first met nine years before. But then, her mother Joyce was six foot two and her father Mike six foot five, so to have her turn out anything under six feet would have been a surprise. No one had expected her to blow past her fatherís height and still be growing. The amazing thing Ė her parents must have had something to do with it Ė was that she was not shy in the slightest about being tall. Bill remembered back to his school days, seeing tall kids, boys and girls alike, slouching as they walked down the halls, because they didnít want to stand out. Seeing a girl close to six feet seven inches wearing four-inch platform heels Ė like she was now Ė sure wasnít a kid trying to cover up being tall. But there was no doubt that in a lot of kidsí eyes it made her a freak, and perhaps a freak who Denis could identify with. Maybe this would be the lever Bill needed to get to the bottom of his sonís problem.
Denis and Shae collapsed on the couch, their arms still around each other, with him crying on her shoulder now. A lot of Shaeís height was in her very long legs, so she didnít seem quite so intimidatingly tall sitting on the couch, but she was still a lot bigger than Denis. Arlene sat down next to them and put her hand on her sonís shoulder.
"Denis," Bill said as gently and warmly as possible as he sat down in his own chair a few feet away, "Iíve sensed for a while that youíve wanted to tell us something, but this isnít what Iíve been expecting. Please understand that I am not hurt or angered by it, but Iíd like to know more about why you feel you ought to be a girl."
Denis let out a long, shaky-breathed sigh Ė the sobs were receding now, but he kept his head on Shaeís shoulder as she held him close. "I canít tell you why," he said. "I just know Iíve always felt like Iím supposed to be a girl. I mean, always, as long as I can remember. I remember dreaming I could be one, going to bed at night praying that Iíd wake up in the morning changed into a girl. I, uh, I finally realized it wasnít going to happen. And then, oh, several years ago, I heard about that tennis player, Renee Richards, who had himself changed into a girl. I, uh, I havenít exactly figured out how to do it, but at least after that I knew there was hope. Iíve spent some time in the school library trying to find out more about it, but thereís not much there."
"Doesnít surprise me," Bill nodded. "You wouldnít expect to find something like that in a high school library, I guess."
"Iíve never thought of it in quite that way until now," Arlene said thoughtfully. "But since you put it that way, I guess you have seemed a little feminine to me. I mean, youíre much more like your sister than your brother."
"Shae," he said softly. "You remember when we were little, and sometimes Iíd be at your house to play, and how we always used to play with dolls?"
"Sure," she smiled. "I guess I never thought much about it. I mean, we never played with model cars or anything like that, it was always the dolls, at least when it was rainy and we were playing inside. You really used to like playing with my Barbies, dressing them and like that."
"I always envied you for them," he said. "I mean, I knew I was a boy, and wasnít supposed to do that, but you were so lucky to be a girl so you could have them, so you could dress them up so pretty. I know back then I dreamed that I could be a girl. I remember one time Ė maybe we did it more than once, Iím not sure Ė we went up to your attic on a rainy day and dug out some of your old clothes that were way too small for you, and dressed me up like a girl."
"I remember," she said. "I guess I thought it was just playing."
"It was playing," he said. "But, well, I envied you so much for being a girl and being able to be dressed up so pretty. It was so neat! I could look at myself in that old mirror up there and imagine what I would look like if I really was a girl. It made me so happy! And then, Iíd have to change back, and well, it was always sad to know that I couldnít really be one."
"Denis," Arlene said softly. "Have you ever tried on my clothes?"
"No, Mom," he said. "Well, Iíve worn a jacket or something like that of yours once in a while, but thatís for warm, not for trying to dress like a woman. Besides the fact that your clothes are bigger than mine, all you wear is that funky old stuff like sweats and jeans that donít make you look much like a woman. I mean, youíre a woman; you can wear all that neat stuff and do pretty things for yourself, but you donít. That doesnít mean I wouldnít like to dress up like a woman, but I donít want to just dress like a woman, I want to be one."
Bill sat and looked at him for a moment. "Son, this is one of those questions that are hard to ask, and itís especially hard knowing some of the things youíve been called, but do you honestly think youíre gay?"
"No," he shook his head. "I mean, not like that. I mean, maybe I am. I know Iíve dreamed of being with guys, even, uh, Iím sorry, but I beat off thinking I was with a guy, but I always, and I mean always, dream of being a woman when it happens. And I never think of girls that way. I donít know if that makes me gay, or what. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesnít, or maybe the word doesnít cover it. I mean, Iíve never dreamed of being with a guy as a guy, and Iíve never dreamed of being with a woman as a guy."
"I donít know," Bill said. "I mean, this is something Iíve never thought about, and even the idea is new to me. You realize that this is a damn serious decision, donít you? I donít know much about the process of a sex change, but I seem to recall that when the deed is done thereís no turning back. That makes it a pretty serious decision and one that canít be made quickly, right?"
"I realize that," he said. "But I also realize that if I hadnít had the hope of people like Renee Richards out there, I might have committed suicide by now. Thatís the only thing thatís kept me going the last few years. I figured Iíd try to muddle through high school before I could do anything about it."
Bill let out a long sigh. "Look, Iím not going to say yes right now, but Iím not going to say no, either. Youíre obviously under some stress, and that has to play a part. This is a serious decision and requires careful consideration. Thereís just too much that you donít know, that none of us here know. That means we need to look into it, talk to some people who know something about it."
"Dad, youíre kidding!" he said, sitting up and taking his head off of Shaeís shoulder for the first time since the discussion started. "I figured youíd blow up like a volcano."
"I will admit that on the first thought the idea appalls me," Bill said. "At the same time, just because it appalls me doesnít mean that it may not have merit. Which is why it deserves long and careful consideration." And, gives it a good chance to blow over, he carefully did not say.
"Dad, really, Iíve considered it a lot," he said. "Itís what I want to do."
"It may be," Bill nodded. "But you said you donít have any serious idea of whatís involved. Obviously, neither do we. We need to find some of that stuff out." He let out a sigh. "Arlene, my thinking is that I would really rather that, if this comes about, it happens with our support, rather than him going about it on his own. However, I canít see how we can support it without knowing more about it."
"Itís awful new to me," she agreed. "I, uh, I guess I never really thought about it in that way. On the surface, the idea of looking into it does seem to have some merit. Denis, if youíre going to do it, and in the long run it will be your decision, then Iíd feel better if it were done carefully and wisely."
"Mom, Dad," he stammered. "Youíre already ten times better about the idea than I ever figured youíd be."
"Iím like your father," she said. "My first reaction is that I hate the idea. But that doesnít mean it may not prove to be a good idea once I know more about it."
"Then letís look into it," Denis said. "Like I said, I want to do it, the sooner the better. But Iíd rather have your approval than have you hating me for it."
"I donít think your mother and I can ask for much more," Bill replied. "All right, first things first. Tomorrow, Iíll make some calls and see if I can find anyone who knows anything about this, surgeons or something, maybe at U of M hospital, rather than anything local. I get the impression that this is not a common operation, and finding people who know something may take some time. Another thought is that we need to get to some library thatís going to be a little more complete than the school library. Possibly the university library at Western might be a place to start. That may take some time, too."
"So long as weíre moving ahead, I can wait," he conceded. "I mean, I donít see how anything much can be done before I get out of school, and thatís another year."
"My thinking exactly," Bill nodded. "Which leads me to an awkward question, Shae. You realize what would happen around school if one breath of what weíve said the last twenty minutes gets out?"
"Mr. Riley, I think I know better than you do. If a hint of it got out, itíd take an armed guard to keep him safe over there. Three quarters of the kids in the school would go absolutely apeshit, and there are parents who would be worse. If anyone finds out, it wonít be through me. And if thereís anything I can do to help, just ask."
"Thanks, Shae," he smiled. "I always knew your folks raised a good kid. Now, Denis, are you satisfied with where weíre at for now?"
"Yeah, sure," he said, shaking his head in awe. "I mean, I never expected this."
"Good," Bill nodded. "Now that weíve got that put in place for a moment, can I point out that we have a more immediate problem? While weíre on the subject of appalling, this stuff at school has got to cease. Now, I realize that youíre probably still upset about what happened this afternoon, but I want you two to calmly take me through what happened. Then, weíll decide what steps to take."
* * *
This has been the day from hell, John Ingersoll thought as he walked into his house. Three different teacher grievances, Dr. Morris on his ass all day about the budget, and about fifteen other crises, all topped off by that thing with the Riley kid and having the fire department show up. That was totally unnecessary; the Riley kid was all right and could have waited for a few minutes until he got off the phone with Dr. Morris, but no. Even then heíd had to cut off the important call with the superintendent when a freaking fire truck pulled in! It was probably the Kirkendahl kid who called the fire department, and he was going to have to have a talk with her about that. And that Riley kid! Couldnít he just keep his ass out of trouble for once? But no, every time he turned around he was the cause of something!
Thank God that was behind him, now, at least for a few hours. Since it wasnít an active sports season, he didnít have to go back to the school for games, so he could leave all that shit behind at the school door. It was good to just get home, get those shoes off, pour a stiff one, and not have to deal with any of that shit until tomorrow.
In fact, it took a couple of good stiff ones to get him settled down a little; he could feel his blood pressure falling as the alcohol relaxed him. Brokaw was just finishing up the evening news when the phone rang. Hopefully it was one of his wifeís friends, not something from the school.
But, no such luck. "John," she said, "I think youíd better take this call."
"Oh, crap," he said, tearing his attention away from the TV and getting up. "Now what the hell?" He walked over to the phone, picked it up, and said, "Yes?"
"This is Bill Riley," he heard over the phone. He didnít sound angry, but there was a flat menace to his tone that made it clear he wasnít a happy camper.
"Is this about that thing this afternoon? Canít it wait till morning?"
"No, it canít wait," Riley said. "Because what happens in the morning depends on what we talk about now. Now, Iíve talked to the kids, and Iíve talked to the firemen, and I want to know what in hell you think you were doing!"
Oh shit, he was pissed. This was all he needed, to have the big shot from General all over his ass about that punk kid of his. "It didnít seem that serious to me, and I had some other things to do, too."
"According to the firemen, it was damn serious. He was close to asphyxiation. What kind of zoo do you think youíre running over there?"
"Like I said, I didnít think it was that serious," he said, realizing that he had a very pissed person to try to calm down.
"It was damn serious," Riley snorted. "And itís obvious that you have an atmosphere of violence over there and have no intention of doing anything about it. All right, if you wonít do anything, I will. Tomorrow, a uniformed security guard will bring my son to school and watch over him all day. The school will pay."
"I canít have that!" Ingersoll said. "A security guard? It would raise hell with things over there. Besides, thereís no money in the budget to pay for something like that!"
"Oh, youíll find the money somewhere," Riley said calmly, "Even if it comes out of your own pocket. Get this clear: Iím not going to pay for a security guard, but Iím quite willing to pay for all the lawyers I need to be sure you or the school pay for one."
"Look, a security guard is totally ridiculous," he protested, realizing that Riley wasnít kidding. "I canít have that."
"Then youíre going to have to be the one to keep an eye on him."
"I canít do that, either! Iíve got a school to run; I canít just take all day watching to see that one kid stays out of trouble."
"Youíre not going to have much time to run the school when your ass is sitting in court all the time. Maybe jail, if Iím lucky. I have a damn good case of criminal negligence on you for this afternoon, and letís not even get into some of the other incidents Iíve been told about in the last two hours. Now, whatís it going to be? Iím going to give you one chance to take steps to end this shit and discipline the kids involved. If youíre not going to try, I might as well know now so I can call the security company and my attorney. Your choice."
"Look, give me a chance to look into this," he protested, backpedaling hard. It was clear Riley was pissed, and if he was that pissed he was probably capable of doing something like he was threatening. This would probably blow over in a couple days. "I canít have a security guard around the building all the time, watching over one kid. I mean, how would that look?"
"Itíd look like youíre not doing your job," Riley said, "Which you havenít been. Now, Iím going to have a talk with my son, and Iíll take some other measures from my end. You hold up your end and weíll see. But if there is one more incident, you will be looking at a uniformed security guard and you will have your ass in court. Do I make myself clear?"
"Look, give me a little time on this; Iíll do what I can."
"Iím giving you all the time you need if you use it right," Riley said.
"All right, like I said, Iíll do what I can."
"Weíll see," he then heard the click of the phone being hung up.