Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
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The Girl in the Mirror
Book 3 of the Bradford Exiles
Wes Boyd
©2005, ©2011

Chapter 16

October 10, 1998

"It was a night to remember, in many ways," Eve told the crowd around the table in the back of the Brass Lantern. "It was a night I’d dreamed could never happen. I danced with Paul, and with John, even with a couple of others, including Vicky’s date." She let out a sigh. "It was liberating in many ways, and not the least of it was the fact that Vicky looked right at me any number of times and never got a clue of who she was looking at."

"Honestly," Vicky said from far down the table. "I have no memory of you at all from that night, and I think if I’d noticed anything strange I would have remembered it. But I do remember Shae, and my God, she looked hot. I think until then I mostly thought of her as a big, gawky jock, but that night she really stole the show. That would be hard to forget."

"We were still a little nervous about it on the way home," Eve admitted. "But when we got to school Monday, all we heard about was how great you thought Shae had looked. It wasn’t for a couple days that we were sure I’d really gotten away with it. That was a huge victory for me in many ways, at least as important as going to the prom itself. I mean, to have someone who knew me as well as you did, Vicky, look right at me a number of times and not recognize me – well, it told me as much as anything that all the work of the past year had been a success. Granted, I looked a lot different than you were used to seeing me as Denis, and the cleavage didn’t hurt. All that added to the fact it wasn’t a context you’d have recognized me in, even with Shae there, helped me believe I could really pass in the long term. So, I wasn’t surprised in the least earlier tonight that nobody clocked me until I told you, and I had ten years and surgery on my side tonight, too."

"So, did you ever see those guys again?" Emily asked.

"Oh, yes," Eve grinned. "Although, it was some years later. They both said that it was possibly the best memory they had of their high school years. You get right down to it, it was of mine, too. But, I suppose I’d better get on with the story. From that point on, we were in the final days of our high school career. The end was in sight, and it wasn’t any too soon, either. It was getting harder and harder to maintain the masquerade of being Denis, and my breasts were only part of the reason. As I mentioned earlier, a year before, Denis had to put on Eve, so to speak. By that time, it was Eve who had to put on Denis, and it was harder every day because, very simply, I’d come to realize that I really was Eve and always had been. Denis was the fake personality, and it had been forced on him against his will, so when graduation rolled around and I could abandon him, it was really a relief."

"After all the abuse you’d taken, and with a double life like that," Andy nodded, "You must have been really happy to have it over with."

"You have no idea," she agreed. "Dayna, that album of yours, Experience of Survival? Believe me, I know what it’s like to have the experience of survival at Bradford High, and I almost didn’t survive. When I finally saw the place behind me for the last time, I never planned to come back. It turned out that I have come to town a couple times when I’ve been in the area, but until now it’s always been just to visit Steve’s grave like we did before we came here. More than anyone else, I’ve always been sorry that he didn’t have the experience of survival at Bradford. It still doesn’t seem fair that I should have been so lucky when he wasn’t. But I know who the braver one was. When the going got tough, I ran and hid behind the skirts of the girl I really was, while he stood his ground in the face of death."

June 4–5, 1988

Already, Bradford was beginning to seem like a strange place to Bill Riley, a place out of his past, a place where he needed to clean up loose ends and move on. Arlene had flown to Colorado for an overnight trip back at the first of April to approve his choice of the ranch house with the nice view in Wheat Ridge, and then again a few weeks later to sign papers, measure for drapes and make other cosmetic decisions. Eve had come with her the second time, just to go along for the ride.

The house in Bradford seemed really empty now, mostly a collection of cardboard boxes in various rooms, furniture ready to be hauled, cabinets and cupboards and drawers and closets yawning empty. The whole process had started months before, back after it was certain that the move was going to come off; he’d packed up a lot of his shop and hobby stuff, his books, and related items in the months before he drove out to Colorado in February. Since he’d left, Arlene, helped by Shae and Eve, had made a lot more progress, and the last few weeks had been almost as if they’d been camping out.

Along in the spring, they’d collected most of the stuff that Eve and Shae would need at college, which included not only clothes, but a small refrigerator and microwave and other necessities for their room. Along with Arlene, the kids had taken a carload to a town not far from Marion, and rented a storage locker, so they wouldn’t have to be moved to Colorado and back again.

Now, here he was back to handle the final details, the most important of which was Denis’ graduation from Bradford High. He knew that Denis would just as soon have skipped the ceremony, but it was a passage of sorts, an end to an era, and Bill knew that it was going to be an end to an era in more ways than most people in Bradford would have believed.

In fact, he didn’t really believe it himself. In spite of being up to his neck in the process for nearly a year, there was a surreality to the whole thing that was still a little hard to fathom. He still wasn’t a hundred percent sure that it was the right thing to do, but couldn’t conceive of what any alternative might be.

Still, in the whole high school, only he and Arlene, and two of the kids on the stage in the gym knew this was going to be a bigger turning point than any of them could have imagined.

The ceremony didn’t take very long. There were many people in that crowd who he knew, and there was handshaking and congratulations before things got going. Phil Sharp was there, not saying much; although Bert Mansfield was still technically on the school board until the end of the month, he wasn’t there, and no one commented about it. The superintendent, Dr. Morris, made some insipid comments, as did Mr. Rosine, the new high school principal. Jennlynn Swift, the valedictorian, gave a brief speech, about bright futures and working hard and having faith, and when you got down to it her speech was just about as insipid as the rest. They handed out the diplomas and went outside for some more greetings, pictures, and congratulations, then the kids turned in their caps and gowns, and that was pretty much that.

Since the Riley house was now a nearly uninhabitable warehouse, Mike and Joyce had been nice enough to offer to host a joint reception for Shae and Denis at their house. There had been a lot of invitations sent out – Bill had been an important person in the community with a lot of friends, and Mike still was, so the house was crowded, and there were many people who had to be greeted, most for probably the last time.

It was a shame that he hadn’t been able to work out that Mike and Joyce could be moving out to join them in the near future, but that wasn’t exactly a dead issue either, although it was one that would have to wait for a while. They were good people, and it really seemed a shame they’d had to be kept in the dark about the secret that had been happening in their family for the last year, but they were almost through the last of it, now. There could still be a few awkward repercussions if the news got out in the next few years, but the danger of that happening was much diminished, now.

Eventually, the last guests left. "Good party," Bill told his friends. "Do you need us to stick around and help you clean up?"

"No, that’s all right," Joyce said. "I know you’ve got scads to do yet. You know, we’re really going to miss you two."

"I know," Bill said. "There’ve been some good years here, memorable ones, but I think I’m just as glad that we’re moving on."

"I know I’m getting to the point where I won’t mind seeing the place in the rear view mirror," Mike agreed. "But, I guess I can hold out if I have to. With you gone, and the kids gone, it’s going to be different."

"They do grow up on you," Bill said, nodding. "And sometimes they don’t come out where you expect they will. Look, I want to thank both you and Joyce for allowing Shae to be all the help she’s been the last year or so. Especially with this move, things would have been a lot more difficult without her."

"It was mostly her doing," Joyce commented. "I think it was very nice of her, too, especially since she won’t be seeing much of Denis again."

"Believe me, we all appreciate it," Arlene said. "Shae is a wonderful kid, and I think she’s going to go far."

"We’re more than a little proud of her ourselves," Mike admitted. "Look, are you going to need any help moving out in the morning?"

"Shouldn’t need any," Bill replied. "After all, that’s what we’re paying the movers for."

"Well, we were thinking of coming over and saying goodbye," Mike said. "But Mark has set up this meeting the first thing; it’d be hard to get out of."

"No big deal," Bill grinned. "You getting along with him all right?"

"No problem, I worked with him before, years ago; we get along. You sure you don’t need us to come over?"

"No, having Shae there should be all we need," Arlene said. "It’s very nice of you letting her come with us for a couple weeks so she can help us get settled."

"Gets her out of the house for a while," Joyce said. "I’m just concerned that she’s going to spend the summer sitting on her fanny because there’s nothing much to do. Keep her as long as you need her."

"We’ll get her back to you in plenty of time," Arlene said. "We’re probably talking a couple weeks."

"Look, we can still come over if you think you’re going to need help," Joyce offered.

"We shouldn’t," Bill said. "Tell you what, though. Once you get Shae into college next fall, why not hop a plane and come out to visit for a few days?"

"That’s not a bad idea," Joyce said. "God, I’m going to miss the two of you."

"Happens that way in this business," Bill shrugged. "Maybe we’d better think about getting out of here. There’s still some odds and ends we need to do so we’ll be ready for the movers at five in the morning. Do you think we could borrow Shae for a few minutes?"

"Sure, no problem," Mike smiled. "I take it you’ve got something up high you need reached?"

"Among other things," Bill grinned.

It still took a few more minutes to get out of the house. These were friends, and an era was ending. Eventually, they left, and shortly afterward Shae changed into a T-shirt and pair of shorts and drove her Monza over to the Riley house.

Though her parents had not been allowed a hint of the real reason, there was one last thing to do. She parked the car and went inside to where the Rileys stood waiting for something that had been planned for the earliest possible moment after graduation. This was it, and known only to the four of them.

It didn’t take long, but there were tears on all the faces. Bill started it, taking Denis in his arms. "Goodbye, son," he said for what he was sure would be the last time. "You know that I’m still not sure about this, but I think you’re convinced that it’s the right thing."

"I’m sure it is, Dad," he replied softly. "The last year has pretty well proved it, and I think the next year will only prove it more."

Denis turned to his mother, who took him in her arms as well. "I know we’ve worked toward this for so long," she said. "But now that the time is here, well, it’s hard to give up a son, even though I know I’m gaining a daughter out of it. I guess I realized he was my daughter all along, but I couldn’t make myself admit it."

"It wasn’t easy for me either," he said. "I know that I could never have done it this well without your support, and I’m extremely grateful for it."

He turned to Shae, who bent down and kissed him. They really hadn’t kissed much over the past year, and then mostly for show, but she meant it this time, and so did he. This time, it meant something and didn’t seem particularly funny. "Goodbye Denis," she said. "Goodbye and good luck. You made a hell of a boyfriend, but Eve has become an even better friend."

"Thanks, Shae," he said. "I couldn’t have done it without you. Now that it’s finally here, I’m glad that it is, and I hope you’ll stay my friend forever."

There was another hug and kiss for each of his parents, then Denis turned and walked down the hall to his room, never to return.

*   *   *

On the way back from the prom at Woodstock High weeks before, Eve had made up her mind about what her last acts in Bradford were going to be, and now the time had come. Shae had been at the house with the Rileys since early in the morning, but when the truck was finally loaded and there was nothing left to do, she hopped into the Monza with her friend and drove downtown. At one end of Main Street, near the school, Shae stopped the car. Eve got out, wearing a short skirt and nice blouse. She closed the car door and started to walk up the street, as Shae drove on to her own house, where she’d leave her car and the Rileys would pick her up.

While they were running that errand, Eve took her time walking up Main Street. Things were picking up downtown, now; several times, in cars, or in stores, she saw kids who had graduated with Denis the day before. None of them took notice of the stranger casually walking down the street, except for a couple boys who obviously checked out her legs, but said nothing.

Down toward the far end of Main Street, Eve decided to indulge herself. She walked into the Spee-D-Mart, where Emily was standing behind the counter, studying an inventory sheet of supplies being unloaded on her first day as a high school graduate, but far from her first day as a worker there. Emily barely glanced up at the little blonde who walked in, went over to the cooler, pulled out a can of diet pop, took it up to the counter, and pulled a dollar bill out of the pocket of her skirt. "Thank you," Emily smiled as she handed over the change. "Have a good day."

"Oh, I am," Eve smiled. "Maybe my best day yet."

As Eve walked out the door and around the corner to where her parents and Shae waited to drive out to Maple Shade Cemetery with her, Emily glanced back down at the inventory sheet. There was a difference of a case of Pepsi between the invoice and what she counted, and her attention was on that. That she might have known the blonde stranger never crossed her mind.

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To be continued . . .

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