Author's Note: New story! I got some feedback for it and some inspiration. Yay! :D I like it a lot and I hope you guys do too.
Disclaimer: I don't own Coke or Johnny Depp. (Though I wish I did).
I wasn't very popular in elementary school.
At least not among the girls. While they had tea parties, played dress-up, or with their dolls, I would go on extensive frog-and-bug hunts, or play on my neighborhood's baseball team. I was famous for my slides into home base and being able to spit farther through my teeth than anyone else on the block. I was one of the guys and everyone thought I actually was one of the guys.
When I think about it now, it was relatively easy for people to mistake me as a boy. (I lost count of how many times people called me "son" or "buddy"). It could've been because I wore nothing but t-shirts, ratty jeans and half-destroyed tennis shoes. I felt naked without my customary inch-and-a-half of dirt caked on my skin. Even the mention of the word "soap" would send my skin crawling. Maybe it was because I was the best kickball player in the whole third grade, and a beast at dodge ball. Or maybe it was because my name was Kyle. Not Kylie. Kyle.
Yes, my horrible name seemed to be the root of all the problems. How many girls named Kyle do you know? Yeah, the people in my hometown knew just as many. Three. Me, myself, and I. Sometimes, life might've been easier if I had a different name. At least then, people would know I was a girl.
I got two basic reactions from my classmates. One was the shrill squeal of "Ewww! There's a boy in here!" No prize for guessing who that came from. Then everyone would run from the lavatory for fear of getting cooties. Because, as every grade-school girl knew, the dreaded cootie was transmitted through boys only.
The other was quite different. "I want Kyle on my team!" "No way, he was on your team yesterday." Never mind the "he" bit, but do you pick up a slight difference? I had always got along better with boys and it wasn't likely to change any time soon. Too bad everyone assumed I was a boy.
Come middle school, people began to realize I was actually a girl, though I looked and acted even less the part than before. I was dwarfed by the large, baggy clothes I wore—tight-fitting stuff was so constricting—and the fact that I was scrawnier than most of the guys didn't help. I chopped off most of my hair because it got it my way. I had broadened my interests however. Now I played hockey, soccer, lacrosse, and basketball—along with other stuff, but those interested me the most.
I didn't play on any teams, but I liked to think I could make it onto any of them if I tried hard enough. I also ran in marathons, went biking, and roller-skated religiously. Sports were my life and if I wasn't watching them on T.V., I was outside doing them. I had to be active. If I wasn't, I went crazy.
Unfortunately my life was more than just sports. There was still school.
I hated school.
Now that my peers and I were all older, and somehow nowhere close to being wiser, everyone began to change for worse. The insults directed towards me grew progressively more hateful. New, scathing words such as transvestite and lesbian were coined specially for me. Everyone stopped using my horrendous real name, which suddenly I would've preferred, and began to call me "Butch". Now I was about as welcome in the girl's locker room as a swarm of bees. I couldn't pretend that didn't hurt.
One girl in particular, Nicole Simmons, a slight homophobic, and an all-around bitch, tormented me to no end. She always had a vicious remark ready. When our gym teacher, Miss Burns, a particularly masculine-looking woman, would come storming into the locker room to see why nobody was ready, Nicole would be quick to reply.
"Butch's in here," she would retort. "I'm not changing in front of her. What if she looks at me?" All the others would nod and murmur in agreement. Whatever Nicole did, you could guarantee that the others would be doing it right along with her.
"It's a locker-room," I would answer helplessly, "of course someone is going to see you topless…" Nicole actually made it a point to strut around topless, flaunting her training bra, which was supposedly "filling out". "…Why do you assume that it's going to be me? More importantly, why do you think I would want to look? I don't like…"
"…you definitely don't like boys," Nicole, who had already been with five guys, interjected rudely. "So what else is left, Butch? Girls. That makes you a lesbian."
Technically I had been ready to say "I don't like you", but Nicole's words stung. Regardless of how many times the hateful "l" word sprang up, my skin never seemed to get any tougher.
"I'm not a lesbian," I whimpered tearfully. "I'm not." From experience all girls were prissy bitches, very much like Nicole. I would sooner climb to the top of a mountain and live there as hermit before even considering going out with a girl.
"Leave Kyle alone and stop fooling around," Miss Burns would bark. "Now get dressed and get outside before I make you all run laps."
"She always sticks up for poor little Kyle," Nicole would scoff once the teacher was out of earshot. "God. Fat, ugly lesbian bitch. Maybe she should just date Kyle. They spend enough time together."
True, I did spend a lot of time with Miss Burns.
But mostly she was delivering 'motivational' speeches. She encouraged gay pride and self-acceptance with it, confusing me for a lesbian. She told me that it might be hard to come out, but once she did, it was the happiest day of her life—no more lying to herself. She talked about how people were supposed to fall in love, and falling in love, if even with another woman, was perfectly okay. There would be something wrong if you couldn't give love to anyone, regardless of gender. She insisted that Nicole was just scared because it was something she didn't understand so rather than try to learn about it, promptly decided she hated it.
I maintained the fact that Nicole was a self-righteous bitch (which I would never have enough balls—I mean, nerve, to say to her face). It was a lot safer if I avoided her and all of the others. Girls traveled in packs, I learned. If one of them alone was unbearable—Nicole—then a whole cluster of Nicole-wannabes would be—were—terrifying. I decided against having a little posse following me around, imitating my every move and parroting my every word. Honestly, I though that would be kind of annoying. You couldn't even be your own person.
So rather than confide in a giggling, squealing group of clones, I poured my heart out to Miss Burns. The counselors were recommended, but no help. They saw hundreds of students a day, so I was just another whiny middle schooler who had issues. Miss Burns said I was exactly like her when she was a kid. She was genuinely interested in my problems. She wanted to help. With her I was at least guaranteed an attentive and compassionate audience. Half the time during a visit with a counselor, they would be on the phone, talking over you.
…Miss Burns was absolutely beside herself with joy when I came to her on my own, telling her that I was having girl problems.
"Well, her name's Shelby," I told her as we both struggled to transport a large box back into the equipment room. We had cleaned the entire thing out—God, it needed it—and were attempting to reorganize it.
Miss Burns gave a delighted smile. "Take a break, Kyle," she said, "you've worked hard enough." Admittedly, we had been at it a few hours; already it was five o'clock. (My parents thought she was a positive influence on me, so they didn't object to our time together).
She collapsed on a box, face red and sweaty. There were sweat stains on her grey t-shirt. I sat on a large plastic box, facing her. "So what were you saying?" she asked, producing a can of Coke and passing another one off to me.
"Her name's Shelby," I repeated. I wasn't even out of breath; Miss Burns' sides were heaving. Funny how she was a Gym teacher. She was rather heavyset.
"How do you feel when Shelby is around?" Miss Burns interrupted excitedly. She recovered from our strenuous workout very quickly.
I took a sip of my Coke and swished it around in my mouth, considering this. It was very fizzy still and the bubbles gave me a sneezy feeling. Miss Burns and I seemed to be on different pages, but it was still nice having someone to talk to, outside my family anyways. Someone to trust with stuff that no one else would ever hear.
Shelby Grier was a new student. She was the second tallest girl in the sixth grade and had moved from a neighboring city (I was awful at geography, so I had no idea where exactly she came from), but it was apparently a lot bigger and more exciting than ours. She was a gold medal-winning gymnast—and had been for the last six years, got her first kiss at nine, loved Johnny Depp with an almost unhealthy passion, and wanted to date me. Somehow it escaped her attention when I would follow her into the girl's locker room or restroom. Like the rest of the world had at one time or another, she assumed I was guy.
At first I didn't think much of it. At first I thought that I had made a friend. It took me some time to come out of my shell, due to the years of verbal abuse, but once I did, we were inseparable. We went shopping, to movies, restaurants, stuff friends did. I liked her a lot. It was she who I now entrusted my secrets to. She in turn told me everything and I felt like I was getting very close to her. Life was good: suddenly I had someone who understood me.
It didn't matter that all the girls at Northern Valley Middle School despised me. I had a best friend.
Things took a turn for worse during a movie. It was a horror film. Charlie, Shelby's older brother, chaperoned us, got us into the theater, but then he spotted some of his friends and was too happy pretending he didn't know us. Why would he, a senior, a popular senior, want to spend a Friday evening hanging out with his eleven-year-old sister and her friend? Eventually, all of them left and sneaked into a different theater. Before he left, only barely avoiding a suspicious usher, Charlie instructed us to meet him at the car. Again we were cramping his style, but Shelby was his sister so he had to put up with us.
About midway through the film, during an especially scary part, I found Shelby pressing herself up against me. I found it a bit annoying; the theater was hot and stuffy and now I couldn't reach the popcorn. But the movie got progressively scarier. Soon I found myself clutching at her in fright. Why didn't we go see that action film I wanted to see?
All at once, Shelby kissed me. The realization that dawned on me was scarier than the movie. My best friend was into me. Shelby neglected to mention that she was a lesbian. I had received enough abuse just from Nicole—and I wasn't a lesbian. Imagine if she found out about Shelby. The thought made me sad, but Shelby and I couldn't afford to be friends any more.
"I just remembered that I…I need to wash my dog," I said hurriedly, jumping to my feet. I ran from the theater. Note to self: get a dog.
Shelby was definitely hurt when I fled, but persistent as well. She was determined to date me, even if it killed me. I couldn't get away from her.
I looked at Miss Burns, who was awaiting my response eagerly. It seemed that Shelby should be having daily conferences with her, instead of me.
"Nervous," I said thoughtfully. "Uncomfortable. I don't really know what to say or how to act around her." She definitely didn't need much more encouragement. "But I like her a lot."
"Kyle, it sounds like you have a crush," she crooned. Her face broke into a broad grin. "God, I remember my first crush," she said wistfully. A dreamy look crossed her face and for a moment I wondered if she was having a daydream about it.
"I do?" I asked incredulously, shocked by the outcome. That wasn't quite what I expected her to say. It didn't sound like a crush to me, but judging by my nonexistent love and social lives, I was nowhere close to being an expert.
Miss Burns nodded serenely. "I'd recognize puppy love anywhere," she said, still looking starry-eyed. I was left even more confused. Wait, now we were talking about puppies? What'd they have to do with me and my problems? Maybe it was some sort of psychological thing.
"Puppies are cute, I guess," I ventured, still unsure of where we were going with this. Okay, maybe not those yappy little fluff balls. Nicole owned one and constantly bragged that Princess won first prize in the local dog shows. I felt a little sorry for the dog actually. Other than belonging to Nicole, it was always dolled up with bows and ribbons. Judging by the Barbie pink of its claws, it went for manicures.
Those things were surprisingly vicious as well. My neighbor, Mr. Turner, bred different kinds of them. Had a whole yard full of them. Whenever a baseball was hit over his fence, it was left there. There were rose bushes planted beneath the fence, ensuring a prickly landing. It wasn't fun crossing the yard with dozens of demented fur balls attached by the teeth to your ankles. Thank God my mother talked my younger sisters out of getting one from the latest litter.
The coach just laughed and checked her watch. "Five thirty," she informed me, "your dad's probably here." She finished saying this just as I finished saying it. Weird.
I stood up. "Thanks for the Coke," I said politely. I really had only taken it to be polite. I didn't like sweets—everyone knew they were just unnecessary calories. Not the sort of thing an athlete should eat a lot of. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Don't be afraid to tell Shelby how you feel," Miss Burns encouraged.
I didn't want to date Shelby. Was it too much to ask to just be friends? Confessing meant ruining everything. Breaking poor Shelby's heart. God. I never thought I would actually be saying that. Worst case scenario, I would send her to Miss Burns for emotional support. Miss Burns would send her off to a counselor or someone else she tried to get me to visit. They in turn would introduce her to people like her.
"Yeah, about that…"
But she didn't hear me. With a grunt, she hoisted another massive box onto her shoulder and vanished into the equipment room with it. There was a particularly loud crash, followed by an equally loud "God Dammit!" My parents honestly wondered where I learned all of my curses…But cussing was a surprisingly effective way to reduce your anger. That and a good game of tackle football with the guys in my neighborhood. A lot of them were younger than I was by two or three years but already they had succeeded in breaking my arm and dislocating my knee.
Still those support group meetings would do wonders for Shelby. They consisted of a bunch of eleven- to thirteen-year-old kids, not really an intimidating audience. A lot more pleasant to be around than the student body of Northern Valley. Everyone talked about "coming out" or confessed about not feeling accepted. It was kind of like entering a different world: a lot of the girls were very much like boys, clad in baggy clothes with choppy hair; many of the boys were like Nicole and her friends. They were pretty cool however and I made a couple of friends.
My chance to talk to Shelby came sooner than I hoped. Actually, she cased me down in the hall and succeeded in cornering me. "Kyle, I have to talk to you," she insisted.
"Me too," I said sadly, figuring it was now or never. "Me first."
Shelby didn't wait her turn. As I mumbled, "I don't want to be friends anymore,", she blurted, "I like you a lot and I really want to be your girlfriend."
We both stopped and stared at each other, shocked by what the other had said.
"You don't want to be friends anymore?" Shelby asked tearfully.
"You want to be my what?" I asked, a hard knot of dread settling in the pit of stomach. I knew it was coming, I had been expecting it for sometime now, but it still caught me off guard. "I'm sorry," I said quickly, "but I'm not gay." What else could I do?
"What's that supposed to mean?" Shelby demanded, angry tears running down her cheeks. "You think I look like a boy!?"
"No!" I insisted. She had twisted it completely out of proportion. "What I meant was…"
"Let me guess. You're a girl and you've been lying about it?" It was difficult to say if Shelby was going to punch me in the face or run off bawling. Either way, this wasn't going the way it had in my head. "Jesus Christ, Kyle! If you don't want to go out with me, just tell me. I'm tired of you ignoring me and my efforts."
She thought I was making excuses because I didn't want to date her. Then it dawned on me. She wasn't a lesbian. She still thought I was a guy. Like the rest of the world. For once, and I seriously mean once, I wished I could be like any other girl my age. Then maybe Shelby and I could have a normal friendship.
"Forget it. You're a bastard." She turned to walk off. I had given my usage of colorful language to her.
I ran after her, the thudding of my sneakers echoing throughout the hall. I was faster than she was. I grabbed her by the hand and pulled her to a stop. "Dammit, Shelby!" I shouted, making everyone stop and stare. "I'm a girl!"
"Oh, God." Shelby's face drained of all color. "Oh, God."
Nicole came around the corner, flanked by the others. Shelby and I turned and looked anxiously at Nicole. Our fingers were still laced together. Nicole's face was animalistic: the look a lion might get before moving in to chomp down on the zebra's airway and finish it off. Only with Nicole, she would relish in the kill, while for the lion it was just business.
"Aw," she said mockingly. "Look at the happy lesbian couple. Shelby I had no idea…" For hating lesbians, she sure liked to talk about them enough. Or make fun of them until they wanted to kill themselves. Having already chased one known one, Sabrina Maxwell, out of Northern Valley and pretty much out of town, she would stop it nothing to cleanse the school.
Horrified that her good friend Nicole was turning on her, Shelby burst into floods of tears. I was surprised that Shelby was surprised. No one was safe from Nicole's wrath. She was vicious and fought dirty. If it meant clawing her way to the top, even her friends, her "b.f.fs", were targets. Even some of the eighth graders, the highest on the middle school food chain, were cowed by her.
While I had been doing everything in my limited power to get rid of Shelby, I still hated seeing her in tears. Like my sisters trying to play a sport. Something that wasn't meant to happen. She was always so perky and bubbly. She had been there by my side when the rest of the school abandoned me. My first girl friend I had ever had. I felt a surge of protectiveness towards Shelby and an extra rush of hatred towards Nicole. I did something I longed to do for years but never had enough courage to do until now.
"Lay off, Nicole," I snapped, feeling myself getting angrier by the minute.
"Defending your girlfriend, Butch?" she seethed.
That was the final straw. She had absolutely no right to call me and Shelby lesbians, because we weren't. Even if we were, there was absolutely nothing wrong with lesbians. Just because she didn't approve of homosexuality didn't mean it was wrong—or disgusting—or evil. Whatever else she might say. All of the ones I had met were cool, a lot cooler than she imagined herself to be. It was time she got over herself.
"Bitch!" I yelled, giving her a shove.
My triumph didn't last for long. I handled the things the way a guy would: with violence. I had never been much of catfight type of person. I got in trouble for shouting the "b" word in front of Mr. Hull, our principal, who was out of his office for once and patrolling the halls. And I landed in Detention Hall for fighting.
Something good came from defending Shelby however. When I got home there was a message of thanks on my answering machine. Things were resolved between us and we became friends—for real this time…
Girls were a lot more formidable opponents than boys, I learned the hard way. Unwilling to overlook our little 'fight', Nicole made my life hell for the next two years. Like I had said, Nicole fought dirty. Through a carefully devised scheme, she had Miss Burns fired. Claimed that she had come onto her. Everyone knew it was a lie, but it was poor Miss Burns' word against the Board of Education's. They weren't willing to take any risks. Those assholes were every bit a prejudice as Nicole.
We both cried when we packed up her office. I had bailed on going bowling with Shelby to help her. She was my favorite teacher and kind of like a friend to me, one who just happened to be twenty-some years older. Without her help, I never would've made it through sixth grade. After she got the last box in the van, she gave me a big hug and wished me the best of luck.
For the next two years, I could never be in the new Gym teacher's office without tearing up. I continued to attend the meetings even if I didn't need them.
The few who attended Northern Valley, the guys who remained loyal to me, and Shelby served as a strong enough support system so that I could graduate and not go completely insane.
I was very glad when I graduated middle school. I had had enough drama to last me a life time. Hopefully things would be different in high school.
…And they were. I plucked up enough nerve to join some teams. Conveniently I was able to lie my way onto the guys' teams. For once my name and scrawny appearance worked in my favor. All of the coaches bought it. I just made sure to steer clear of the guys' locker room.
Two monumental things happened. For starters, I began to like boys. As in get crushes. Shelby, who had become much less girly come freshman year, was "so proud", and now we had even more common ground to talk about. I was relieved. I had learned long ago that I wasn't a lesbian, but now I feared being asexual, because I didn't seem to like guys either.
And then I wished I was asexual. So many of my longest friendships crumbled because I developed a crush. I didn't know how to act so I would frighten them away, or they just saw me as a dude and couldn't possibly have any romantic feelings for me. I would make them feel so awkward that they would stop talking to me. It started off subtly: always busy when I wanted to hang out, claiming they missed my calls, to flat out blowing me off, until they were out of my life altogether. Or they would use me to get with either my younger sister, Kelly—who was only in eighth grade—or my older sister, Casey.
I hated girls, and now I hated boys. Romantically at least. Joining teams enabled me to make a lot of new friends.
The second event was actually a little scary. Nicole approached me.
"Hey, Butch," she said, "I mean, Kyle, could you do me a favor?" We met after school in the locker room purely by coincidence. I was changing for lacrosse practice; she was retrieving a forgotten bag for a friend who had just finished with soccer practice. Even though she wasn't accompanied by the usual four-six other girls who loathed me, it was still awkward. It was easy to see why she was so popular—she had a killer sense of humor. Did she honestly expect me to do her a favor after how she treated me?
"I asked my parents," I grumbled, "and they won't let me transfer schools." So sorry to disappoint her, but I was staying. "Now leave me alone before someone sees you talking to me. That would absolutely kill your reputation."
"If you do this for me, I promise I'll leave you alone," Nicole coaxed. Intriguing… "You know Shane Dorsey?" she persisted. He was a burly junior with brown hair and eyes. He played on my lacrosse team. Normally whenever we spoke, he was telling me what I should've done differently. I guessed that qualified as knowing him. "He keeps flirting with me, but I don't know if he's actually interested. Do you think you could find out?"
I had no clue what motivated me to ask Shane, but as it turned out, he was in fact interested in Nicole. They dated for five and a half months. Over that time, people behaved differently towards me. Turns out, Nicole not only held true to her promise, but enhanced her offer. Suddenly we were like best friends, wouldn't say a bad word about me. Other popular girls, with Nicole's strong recommendation, came gravitating towards me, wanting to know if their jock crushes liked them.
I found my niche at Central Valley High (creative name, wasn't it?) and settled in comfortably.