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Two Secrets

We sit on her bed, talking about our hair.  She pulls out a magazine and shows me a picture, says she’s going to get her hair cut like the model.  I shrug.  My hair is too fine and straight to look cute in that style, but her thick waves would look perfect.  I tell her so, and she giggles.

We’re quiet for a few minutes, and then she says, “I have to tell you something.”

“Okay,” I say.

“You’ll think I’m weird.”

“Weirder than I already do?”

She grabs her pillow and hits me with it.  “Yes.”

“Okay,” I say again.

She leans over the side of the bed and pulls out a box.  Inside, there are half a dozen Barbies.  I can feel my heart pounding.  Does she know about me?

She hauls the box onto the bed and hands me one with a sparkling pink dress and bare feet.  She apologizes; she tells me she lost the shoes ages ago.  I take the Barbie.

We play for a long time, this game we should have given up years ago when we started buying our own ninety-nine-cent lip gloss from the corner drug store.  It feels good to slide back into our past together–to have someone to share this secret with.

She says, “Want to have a wedding?  I think I still have all the dresses and stuff at the bottom of the box.”  She rummages around.

“Who’s going to get married?”

She shrugs.  “Um…how about these two?”  She holds up a doll with unnatural red hair and one with a set of painted-on tan lines.

I make a face.  “But they’re both girls.”

She huffs.  “Well, I don’t have a Ken.”

“I could bring mine next time,” I offer.

“Okay.  But for now, these two can get married.  Anyway, it’s legal.”

“True.”

We hold a wedding ceremony for them, complete with a Smurfette figurine as the flower girl.  There aren’t enough dolls to fill our makeshift church, so we line the bed with stuffed animals to serve as witness to this momentous occasion.

When we’re through, we carefully lay the Barbies back in their cardboard prison, and she gets up to slide it back under the bed.  I lay on my back, staring upside down at the poster above her headboard.  It’s that girl who was on some reality music show last year, and she has it in exactly the same place where I keep the one of the cute boy from all those movies.

I roll over and press my cheek into her pillow, my head turned to face out into the room.  She is sitting next to the bed, her knees drawn up and her head laying on her folded arms.  She looks up when I shift.

“There’s something else I need to tell you,” she says.

I’m pretty sure I know what it is.  We’ve been friends since we were five.  Slowly, I reach my hand down so I can touch her arm.  Our eyes meet.

“It’s okay,” I tell her.  “No matter what, I’ll always be here for you.”  I smile at her.

She grins back.

_________________________

Today is National Coming Out Day.  I wish the story above was how it could always be, but I’m realistic enough to know it isn’t.  If you’re reading, please be THIS friend.

Betting on It

Author’s Note: This story takes place in roughly the same “world” as several other ones on this blog.  They’re not entirely related (that is, the same characters don’t necessarily appear in every story), but in my head, they all live in the same general location.  Just thought you’d like to know.

This story is included in the Creative Buzz Hop.  The theme for the week is “gender.”  To participate, visit Muses from the Deep or PenPaperPad and add your voice.

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It all started with a bet.

Tyler could never remember later whose idea it really was. It might have been Matty’s because he’d had a ginormous crush on Justine starting in fourth grade. Or it might have been Justine’s; she liked to see Tyler and Matty squirm. It might even have been Tyler’s—a stupid reaction to stupid Matty’s stupid teasing.

It didn’t really matter anyway.

The only important thing was that six days into the school year, Tyler was sitting in the top row of the bleachers in the Old Gym (which hadn’t been “old” since 1962) waiting his turn to try out for the seventh grade cheerleading squad. Matty was on his right and Justine was on his left. Somehow, it didn’t make him feel any better.

If he went through with it, he got eight dollars and Matty’s copy of Super Mario Zombies, and Justine would find out if Carly Dunbar liked him, liked him. If he didn’t, he had to make copies of his social studies notes for a week—for both Matty and Justine, neither of whom appreciated Mr. Connolly’s habit of outlining the whole text book.

Tyler sighed. There was nothing for it. He had no intention of losing this bet; he cared far less about the winnings than his pride. Anyway, it wasn’t as though he couldn’t do it. Tyler was pretty sure he stood a better chance than half the girls. He’d taken several years of gymnastics until his parents decided it was too expensive. At that point, he switched to hip-hop. That was considered respectable, though Tyler always secretly wished he’d been allowed to take some of the other dance classes. That was the fun part about being a preacher’s kid in a not-so-big town; there was pressure on his dad to make sure he grew up right. There was no way he was going to tell his father that he’d tried out for cheerleading—especially if he didn’t make it.

After suffering through several out-of-sync routines, the coach finally called Tyler’s name. There were a lot of poorly-concealed snickers. Even the coach looked like she thought Tyler wasn’t serious. He performed the skills she asked for and watched her make checks on her clipboard, her eyebrows slowly climbing her forehead. She dismissed him with an “I’ll let you know” and moved on to the next person.

“You so owe me,” Tyler said when they were out of the gym.

“Whatever.” Matty was scowling. “I didn’t think you’d actually do it. I was looking forward to sleeping through Connolly’s class.”

“You wish. Just think, now you can play Super Mario Zombies at my house.”

***

Two weeks later, Tyler was standing in Coach Pepper’s office, fiddling with his backpack while she talked.

“…just don’t see how it’s possible,” she was saying. “I mean, we don’t have a uniform for you or anything. I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Tyler, but this isn’t going to work out. I’m sorry.”

Wait just a minute. Was Coach Pepper really saying Tyler couldn’t be on the squad because he was a boy? “Coach, that’s not fair! It’s discrimination.”

She glared at him. “Boys can’t have everything. Some things just naturally belong to the girls.”

He let his mouth hang open for ten seconds before he turned and marched out. No way was he going to stand for this. People staged protests all the time, right? Why not for keeping boys off the cheer squad? Time to take some action.

Without telling his parents.

That turned out to be easier said than done. By the time Tyler had organized a protest at the first soccer home game, put on one of the mini-skirt uniforms, passed out fliers at every lunch period (earning two detentions for cutting class), and called the local paper, his parents were well and truly informed.

Tyler was unprepared for the media circus that ensued. Apparently, the tiny town of Morton Ponds hadn’t seen this much excitement since the high school baseball team won the state championship back in the early eighties. Everyone took sides, including most of the teachers—and Tyler’s own family.

It didn’t help that every single one of them had an opinion. Helen thought he was attention-seeking. Charlotte said she was proud of him for sticking The Patriarchy in the eye, whatever that meant. His parents said they would support him, but it didn’t sound entirely sincere. Only Colby said he was staying out of it.

When all was said and done, Coach Pepper was forced to accept boys on the cheer squad, provided they could demonstrate the skill level she expected. There was a big press conference, and Tyler had to make a speech about how wrong it was to keep kids from doing what they wanted just because they were the “wrong” gender. He didn’t know how to answer the question about whether girls should play football; Morton Ponds didn’t even have a football team.

Afterward, Colby took Tyler out for ice cream. Colby was pretty cool, for a college guy. They sat outside the Dairy Queen eating Dilly Bars and not actually talking. That was okay with Tyler; he didn’t have anything else to say. Eventually, they tossed their sticks and got back in Colby’s car.

“Well, at least you made the team,” Colby finally said.

“Um.”

Colby glanced at Tyler. “What?”

“I didn’t actually want to be a cheerleader. I just wanted Matty’s copy of Super Mario Zombies.”

For six heartbeats, Colby said nothing. Then he roared with laughter, buckled his seat belt, and drove them both home.

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For those of you heading to SS in a couple of weeks (you know who you are), I’m auctioning a collection of stories that includes Betting on It and several others from this blog as well as a few new ones.

All in a Day’s Work

Kay Harvey pulled out her company-issue tablet and turned it on. While it was booting up, she stowed the case under her chair and settled herself in her seat. She shuffled through the few hard copies of the report she had brought. This meeting wasn’t necessarily the most important one she would attend that month, but it was critical she be prepared. Her workgroup supervisor, Lenore McCaid, was personable but exacting, and Kay wanted to continue to leave the good impression she always had.

The other members of the workgroup began filing in. Kay greeted most of them pleasantly, but she could feel her smile tighten into a replica of the real thing when Devon Armstrong walked in. Of all the people she worked with, Devon was the one she found most challenging.

Until she was hired two years prior, Kay had always considered herself relatively easy to work with. She was dedicated and hard-working, certainly, and she held her ground when she believed in what she was doing, but she got along well with most people. She generally kept a positive attitude; she had found that most people appreciated it. She felt that one received back what one put in, for the most part, when it came to interpersonal relations. For that reason, she had set out to communicate effectively with all her workgroup peers. Nearly everyone had responded well to her outgoing personality.

There was one exception.

Devon Armstrong was the sort of man her mother described as a “man’s man.” One did not need to have a conversation with Devon to know that he had a certain opinion of himself and wanted everyone to know it. Like Kay, he was dedicated to his work and gave the impression that he was wholeheartedly behind the company’s mission. His methods of proving it, however, were not what Kay would have chosen.

She honestly didn’t know why she reacted to Devon this way. Perhaps it was the fact that he didn’t respond to her optimism in kind. It might have been the fact that he was objectively attractive—and was fully aware of that fact. Maybe it was the way he always seemed to be in Kay’s business, instructing her on ways to improve her efficiency, while leaving every other member of the team alone. It could even have been his habit of rolling his eyes whenever Kay looked like she might open her mouth during a meeting.

Whatever it was, Kay found nearly everything about Devon maddening. She disliked his booming laugh, his boastful reenactments of his weekend activities, and his assertions that the team would fall apart without him. She even disliked his obnoxious printed ties—even if she did have to admit they suited him. Kay’s least favorite thing about Devon was the fact that he always looked good, no matter how horrid his ties.

That was a fact Kay’s friend and coworker Nicole was constantly going on about. She hadn’t made it a secret that she thought Devon was phenomenally good-looking. She was also forever teasing Kay that her problem was all the “unresolved sexual tension” whenever she and Devon were in a room together. It was Nicole’s theory that Kay and Devon spent most board meetings arguing because they were deeply in lust with each other. Kay decided she wasn’t going to bother considering that option, no matter how attractive Devon was.

Despite all that, Kay still tried to remain, if not friendly, at least courteous. In the board room that afternoon, she willed her smile to remain in place long enough for Devon to find his seat. When she was certain he was no longer looking in her direction, she relaxed.

The meeting was long. While it wasn’t dull overall, there were moments when Kay found her mind wandering. She resolved not to stare at Devon, even accidentally, and thus provide Nicole with more fodder for her ridiculous theory. After most of the hour had gone by, Lenore pulled out a final chart.

“In order to increase our efficiency on this project, we’re going to split into teams of two. I have paired you with people who have similar work patterns and habits in order to make things more convenient.” She passed around copies of the assignment chart.

As the papers went around the room, people began whispering. Nearly everyone sounded pleased with their partnerships, but Kay could hear some chuckling. She wondered what could possibly be amusing about the situation.

When the chart finally reached her, Kay understood what had been so funny, though she certainly disagreed. She groaned, not even bothering to cover it up. The laughter nearby increased in volume.

Kay had, naturally, been paired with Devon.

My life is a cliché, she thought bitterly. This is the sort of thing that happens in those horribly cheesy romantic comedies Nicole makes me watch with her.

As they left the board room, Nicole patted Kay on the shoulder. “It will all work out,” she said with a wink.

Kay wasn’t so sure. She just hoped the two of them didn’t end up eschewing the task in favor of shouting themselves hoarse.

*

The next several days were uneventful. After a time, everyone fell into a busy and productive routine. Kay could tell that the project was going well, because despite the urgency of the deadline, Lenore was in a good mood. She trusted her staff, and the feeling was mutual. Even Kay had to admit that the pleasant work environment lessened the burden of working with the last person on earth she wanted to spend time with.

Kay had exchanged a number of terse emails with Devon in which they divvied the individual parts of the work load. They would have to meet face-to-face once they completed the bulk of the job, however. They still needed to organize the results into something they could take to Lenore. Kay tried not to think to hard about that.

Meanwhile, Kay had to endure much teasing from her coworkers. It seemed that Nicole wasn’t the only member of the workgroup who thought their mutual dislike was born out of rampant sexual tension. Apparently, the animosity between herself and Devon was the stuff of legends, or possibly a raunchy intra-office version of fan fiction, depending on who one asked. Kay was not at all pleased to find that a number of people had been contemplating setting them up on a blind date long before the project assignments.

At last the moment had come. Kay could put it off no further, so she sent Devon a message asking to set up a time to meet in person. They agreed to stay late on Friday in case they had adjustments to make over the weekend. They would regroup on Monday with any changes. Kay was surprised that their exchange had gone so well. She began to dread their meeting a very little bit less.

When Friday rolled around, Kay and Devon settled in at his work station. Within minutes, Kay could feel her blood pressure rising. She and Devon simply could not agree on the best course of action, and neither of them was budging an inch. As they went over the figures and possible management scenarios, tempers ignited. As Kay had predicted, they were already on the verge of shouting at each other.

During the course of their argument, they had continued to move toward each other until they were almost nose-to-nose, breathing each other’s air. The tension between them was so thick Kay could almost feel it pulsing around them. She stood there, arms at her sides with her hands balled into fists, her nostrils flaring. Suddenly, she and Devon leaned in simultaneously and their lips met. Kay let her eyes flutter shut. The kiss wasn’t timid or gentle; it was rough and angry and—

They pulled back at exactly the same moment. Kay was having a difficult time keeping her features smooth.

Devon didn’t bother. He wrinkled his nose and said, “That was—”

“—awful,” Kay agreed. “Good lord. How in the world did anyone think our problem was sexual tension?”

Devon jumped. His mouth dropped open and he stared at Kay for a moment; then he laughed. “So you’ve been getting an earful as well.”

“Oh, yes. Including two fake emails, three bets, and several threats of a blind date if we didn’t end up humping in the conference room by next Monday.”

“Don’t forget the jerk who said, ‘Kiss her, that’ll shut her up.’ I wouldn’t have, though, if you hadn’t leaned in too.”

“I figured. I’ve never seen you get grabby with anyone else.” She was quiet for a moment before she said, “This doesn’t change anything, you know. I still think you’re a pompous ass.”

He snorted. “And I think you’re a stuck-up bitch.”

“Well, yes, I can be sometimes,” Kay admitted. “Mostly when I’m around you.”

“I can understand that, given what you’ve said you think of me,” he admitted. He huffed a little. “I do think I understand why Lenore put us together, though.

“Oh?”

“I suspect she knows we’re both pretty tenacious. She wants to see what will happen if we work out our differences.”

Kay nodded. “That sounds like Lenore. She’s probably right.” Kay sat down at the desk and withdrew a blank paper. “I think we’ve been trying to hard to persuade each other to either compromise or forgo our ideas. What we really need is something we can both get behind.”

He nodded. “Consensus. We both get something we want, rather than both having to give something up.”

Kay looked up at Devon. She was fairly certain they would not end up becoming friends, but perhaps they could learn to work together. It was obvious that he was every bit as passionate about his job as she was about hers; that had to work in their favor. She offered a tentative smile. “Maybe we can start over,” Kay suggested. “I’m not saying I’m going to be your best friend. I still don’t like you. But we both want to put everything we’ve got into this project, and I think that’s worth something.” She held out her hand.

Devon accepted the handshake with dignity. “Let’s do this,” he said.

“Good. I have an idea that just may work. Hand me your worksheet.”

With a genuine smile, Devon reached over and grabbed the page from the other desk and turned it over to Kay. She laid it in front of them and began writing on the scrap paper in front of her. Perhaps working with Devon wouldn’t turn out half bad after all.

© March 8, 2013 ABMitchell

Die for Our Ship

Sometimes friends mean well, but the execution leaves much to be desired.

This story requires a bit of background.  Some time ago, a fellow writer tweeted about how people are forever trying to pair her up with a fellow blogger: “We’re not fictional characters you can ship.”  I liked that line and used it as a prompt, resulting in the bit of dialogue between the main characters here; the rest of the story was built upon that.  There is no intentional resemblance between the aforementioned bloggers and the characters in this story, so please do not assume any relationship.

The phrase “die for our ship” is a common trope in fan fiction.  I only indirectly used it here; I mainly used the trope from which it derives, the “fan-preferred couple.”

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