Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Bill and Arlene were trying to be unobtrusive as they stood arm in arm in the living room, back from the window, watching Shae and Denis head for her car. "You know, Arlene," he said ruefully, "Back when we first realized that we were going to have a family, thirty years ago, I knew that we were going to have strange and unexpected experiences now and then."
"But you never expected to watch this happen," she finished for him. "Neither did I. Bill, Iím scared."
"I am too, honey," he sighed. "I donít know if that was a good idea. Iíd hoped that taking some of the pressure off at school would bring him to his senses. From what the kids said, they had a couple victories over there today. But no, it just opened the door. I know that when we talked it over before and I suggested it to them, we thought it would bring him to his senses, or at least buy us some time. I still hope it does."
"Iím not very optimistic, now," she said as they watched the two drive off.
"Neither am I," he agreed. "I told them I had a pot load of work to do over at the warehouse office today, and I did. But other than breathing heavy on some people, I didnít get much of it done. All I could do was sit there and think about this."
"Thatís about what I did," she nodded. "I donít just think itís a bad idea, I think itís a terrible idea. But the more I think about it, the more Iím scared that it may be the right idea. For months, heís felt so heavy, so sad, so defeated. Now, last night and this afternoon, he seems bright and chipper, like the cares of the world have been taken from his shoulders." She let out a sigh. "Maybe itís just a phase heís going through. Maybe putting it off was the right thing to do."
"It realistically is the only hope," Bill agreed. "Weíve managed to put it off a year, maybe more. Maybe thatís what itíll take. I donít know. We can hope. But you know what kept going through my mind all day? Which would you rather have, a live daughter or a dead son?"
"You donít think itís that serious, do you?"
"Yes I do, and the second option almost happened yesterday, could have if Shae hadnít done the brave thing. We owe that kid a great deal, whatever happens." He let out another sigh. "And we canít even tell her parents how proud of her we are, because weíd have to tell them why."
"And Joyce would have it all over town," she agreed. "Weíre going to have to do something nice for that kid."
"I somehow donít think thatís all weíre going to owe her before this is over with," he agreed. "Letís go out to the kitchen and find something to drink. I think I need one worse than I have in years."
"I think I do, too," she nodded as she turned to head toward the kitchen. "The only thing thatís kept me from it is that I knew if I got started itíd be hard to stop." She shook her head. "Bill, Iíve thought all day that he needs counseling."
"I couldnít agree more. The problem is he needs Ė hell, we all need Ė to talk to someone who knows about this stuff, not someone whoís pretty close to ignorant about these kinds of issues. That means certainly not anyone involved with the schools. I mean, heís basically a good kid. A good student, doesnít drink, smoke, use drugs, or anything like that. Heís just depressed because he gets beat up all the time and he wants to be a girl. We need someone who will help him reach an intelligent decision, not try to cram their own ideas or our ideas down his throat."
"It would be nice if someone could," she agreed, rummaging around in the cupboard where there were a couple bottles. "But heís going to be eighteen all too soon, and if he takes it in his head we canít stop him. We agreed about that last night. Heíll come into that trust fund money from my father. It was supposed to be for college, or something like that, but as far as I know thereís no reason he couldnít use it to buy his sex-change operation, no matter what we say." She let out a long sigh. "God, my father would just absolutely shit if he knew about it. Heís probably rolling over in his grave right now."
"Thatís exactly what I was thinking when I told him that if this happens, Iíd rather it happen with our support than without it. And, as far as that goes, if itís going to be done, it needs to be doneright. Heís still our kid, boy or girl, and Iíd rather have . . . him . . . her, whatever, loving us rather than hating us. But in the end this will be his decision, and about all we can do is to help him have the best possible information to base the decision on. Thatís why I think we need to find a counselor who knows something about this, and itís what I spent a little time on today."
"Any luck?" she said hopefully as she pulled some orange juice from the refrigerator.
"Not really," he shook his head. "I knew damn well there wasnít going to be anyone around here, so I spent some time calling around Ann Arbor. They have more loose nuts and screws running around up there than we do here. I didnít really get any leads, but I did get a couple words, so thereís a start."
"Gender dysphoria," he said. "Discontent with the sex one is born with. Apparently itís not unknown, at least if thereís a term for it. The person I got it from doesnít know anyone dealing with it. But, itís a start."
"Itís more than we had," she nodded, then took a deep gulp of a rather strong screwdriver. "You know what really bothers me?"
"What he said last night about my appearance, that I could do things to look pretty and I donít. The hell of it is that heís right. Iím just afraid Iím going to have a son whoís a better looking woman than I was at his age."
"Youíre pretty enough for me, Arlene. You always have been."
"Yeah," she snorted. "But still!"
* * *
The sun was getting close to setting, and the light was low and rich as Shae and Denis drove the Monza back down Taney Road into Bradford with a stack of plastic bags clustered in the back seat. "I canít wait to see how this is going to look," he said his head bouncing with a huge grin on his face.
"I have to say that Iím having a little trouble imagining it myself," she smiled. "I mean, this whole deal is pretty unreal, but the more I think about it, the more sense it seems to make."
"You havenít thought about it as much as I have," he replied. "My God, I thought my folks would just shit when they heard about it. Thatís why I planned on holding off until I was at least out of high school, because I always figured Iíd be out the door on my ass when they found out. But to have Dad give me a hundred bucks and tell us to go buy me some girl clothes, well, I never, everthought Iíd see the day that happened."
Shae thought about it for a moment. Theyíd spent a couple hours in K-Mart, Penneyís, and Wal-Mart, and theyíd gotten more than just clothes, also some accessories to get the details right. Shae had a couple of things at home that she never used and planned to donate them to the cause. She was really curious about how this was all going to go together; she couldnít quite imagine it in her mindís eye Ė it ought to look good, in a way, but she couldnít quite put it together and make believe it was real.
"You know what I think?" she said thoughtfully. "I think they want you to get a taste of reality."
"No doubt about it," he snickered. "I donít think itís going to work out the way theyíre hoping, though."
"Denis, I hate to tell you this, but it isnít all wonderful being a girl, you know. There are plenty of downsides."
"I realize that," he nodded. "There are plenty of downsides to being a guy, too. There are even more downsides to being a guy when youíre supposed to be a girl. I mean, letís face it, I donít do guy stuff. Hell, you do more guy stuff than I do. Sports and outdoor activities."
"I donít think of sports as guy stuff," she snorted.
"I do," he said. "I mean, on the pro level, whereís the Womenís NFL? Womenís NHL? Where are the women fans for those leagues? Or the college level? All the big colleges around here have womenís basketball teams, for example. Who won the Big 10 Womenís Basketball championships last winter? Or the Mid-American Conference?"
"No idea," Shae shook her head, seeing his point but not willing to admit to it.
"Northwestern and Ball State," he smiled. "And Iím not a sports fan, in any way, shape, or form. Youíre a woman and a sports freak, you should know the answers to both those questions. Hell, you could wind up going to one of those schools, but sports are so guy-oriented that you donít even know much about the womenís side of them. And that kind of underlines my point. Iím more interested in womenís issues than you are."
"Youíve put a lot of time and thought into this, havenít you?" she said, understanding a little more, now.
"Yeah, I have," he said. "And Iíve pretty much had to keep it to myself. God, it feels good to know that at least someone knows about this and is trying to be understanding, rather than getting down on my case about it."
"At least trying to understand," she sighed. "Donít get me wrong, I wouldnít mind being a guy, but I donít have this big compelling urge about it that you seem to. I may be a girl, but Iím satisfied with it."
"Thanks for trying," he sighed. "Thatís more than most people around here would do, I think. Iím actually a little afraid to do this right now, since if one word of it got out things would really go to hell."
"Itís not going to get out through me," she said flatly. "Denis, you know I understand that. I donít get the shit that you do, but I get more than my share."
"I get way more than my share. I think I get more than anybody but Steve Sharp."
"Probably," Shae said understandingly. Steve was in their class, a very bright kid Ė but he was only a little taller than Denis, and weighed somewhere on the far side of 300 pounds, to the point where he had trouble walking. Academically, he was on the level of Jennlynn Swift, getting all Aís, all the time Ė but heíd gotten D-minuses two years in phys. ed., despite his best efforts and all the teasing. That didnít seem very fair to her, but she was sure that no one was going to cut him any slack on that when the time to determine the valedictorian rolled around. He was teased, put down, beat up on, and lots more, although he didnít take the gay and pussy stuff that Denis had to endure. Like Denis, he was an easy target, maybe an easier target because he was so damned fat and had so few friends.
"Weíre friends a little," he reported. "He told me once that thereís an operation you can get that sews up part of your stomach, so you donít get so fat. He canít get it until heís eighteen, but heís counting the days."
"You didnít tell him about the operation you want, did you?"
"Oh, hell no; are you crazy? Hell, the shit I take now would only be a warm-up! Iíd even get it from him! I never told anybody until yesterday, and I didnít even mean to then."
"Maybe itíll work out for the best," she sighed. "I mean, if itís what you really wind up doing, itíll get the ball rolling sooner, and easier."
"I sure hope so," he nodded as they drove under the I-67 overpass, about a mile from the edge of town. "Like I said, I never dreamed my folks would take it as well as they have."
"They sure . . . oh, fuck!" she said, looking in the rear view mirror as a red pickup truck came up on them quickly, as they were passing the truck stop and the Chicago Inn by the exit ramp, then whipped out and passed them, horn blaring. A hand came out the right side window, middle finger extended. "Brock and Brett!"
"Oh fuck," he agreed, watching the pickup flash past. "Theyíre going to be all over us because of getting chewed out . . . " The truck stayed in the passing lane, still obviously accelerating. Perhaps a quarter mile off, perhaps closer, there was an oncoming blue car in the same lane.
"Assholes playing chicken," Shae snorted. "What a pair of . . . "
It happened very quickly as they watched. They could see that whoever was in the blue car was making no effort to evade the oncoming pickup. Their angle was such that it was hard to make out the distance, but all of a sudden, they could see the brake lights on the pickup flash, and watch it dive to the right Ė as the oncoming car crossed the center line to stay in front of it.
"Shiiit . . . " Denis breathed as they watched the two hit. The truck smashed into the car a little off center; while the car stopped almost in its tracks, smashed into junk, the truck spun around into the ditch, rolled over once, then again, then came to a stop upside down in a mass of crumpled scrap metal.
"Oh, God," Shae said in a tortured voice, knowing in her heart that sheíd just watched at least three people die. She stepped down hard on the brake, slowing quickly, with the idea of turning around and going back to the Chicago Inn to call 9-1-1. But as soon as she had the car turned around, she could see there was no need; there were police car lights flashing. Someone must have seen the accident from the Chicago Inn where the cops had been having coffee.
She pulled to a stop at the side of the road to let the police car pass, then turned around again to drive closer to the accident scene. She pulled off on the berm and stopped well short of the battered car. "Oh, shit," she heard Denis say with a sob. "Thatís Steveís momís car."
"Oh, God," Shae said, feeling tears coming to her eyes. "You donít suppose?"
"It had to be him," he replied. "Shae, you want to know why I donít drive by myself? Thatís why."
"Just had to have their fun, didnít they?" she shook her head, tears rolling now.
"Yeah," he said, tears suddenly replaced with hard anger. "Iíll bet he finally had all he could take, and decided to take a couple with him." He was silent for a moment. "Shae," he said finally, "Thank you."
She didnít need to ask what for. If she hadnít gotten the pistol away from Denis yesterday . . . it wouldnít have been any prettier. She put her hand out, took his, and squeezed it hard. "Denis," she said, "We are going to do our damndest to see it doesnít happen to you again."
* * *
Several hours later, they carried the bags theyíd gotten earlier up to his room and dumped them in a chair. Before the accident theyíd been excited, looking forward to seeing how they looked, but that enthusiasm had long been washed away by the hours of standing out beside the road in the flashing red and blue lights. They hated watching the rescue and ambulance crews literally have to cut the vehicles apart to free Steveís body from his motherís Buick and free Brockís and Brettís bodies from their pickup, watching four anguished, crying, and swearing parents, and having to tell the story of what theyíd witnessed to the police time and time again.
It was clear that Denisí impression had been dead on. It turned out that someone had seen the Mansfields run Steve off the road a couple minutes earlier, before Denis and Shae had come on the scene, and they were apparently coming back to have some more fun with him. The lack of skid marks from the Buick told the tale: Steveís foot had been flat on the gas when the impact occurred, at a combined speed they heard estimated at well over a hundred and fifty miles an hour. While standing around, they heard a cop or someone sum it up: "It ainít real bright to play chicken with someone youíve got so pissed off that theyíll turn kamikaze on you."
Along with a number of other people, they witnessed an even uglier scene, if that were possible: a confrontation between Bert Mansfield and Steveís father, Phil, who had a long history of hating each other. "Jesus, Sharp!" they heard Mansfield swear. "Couldnít your kid take a fucking joke? My kids were just having a little fun!"
"Your kids grew up all their lives on all your stories of how you had what you call a little innocent fun like that with me," Sharp replied angrily. "Now your arrogant little bastards have taken away my only child. The only goal I have left in my life is to piss on your grave."
It took four police officers to keep it from turning into a fist fight right on the spot, and Mansfield eventually had to be led off in handcuffs and taken away in a police car.
Of course, as soon as Denis and Shae got back to the Rileysí, they had to tell his parents all about it. "I have to admit," Bill Riley sighed, thinking about his statement yesterday about having a live daughter versus a dead son, "I donít blame Phil in the slightest. All I can say is, ĎThere but for the grace of God go I.í"
"Iíve been saying that an awful lot for the last three hours," Denis said somberly. "I know exactly how Steve must have felt. But you know what? Iíd bet money that Brock and Brett died blaming Steve."
"Knowing them, youíre probably right," Shae nodded.
"Itís a hell of a thing for me to say," he said, "But I just hope people will remember that they started it and Steve finished it. Brock and Brett wanted to find out who was chicken. We saw their brake lights, and it was only their skid marks on the pavement. Damn it, Steve was too good a person to have to die that mad."
Shae and Bill and Arlene looked at each other wordlessly. What Denis hadnít said was more important than what he had said. More than anyone else, heíd been in Steveís shoes. After a long, long time, Shae ventured to break the silence. "Maybe this will tone things down at the school for a while."
"We can hope," Denis nodded. "We can hope."