Almost perfect, p.13
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       Almost Perfect, p.13

           Brian Katcher
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  Sage’s forehead wrinkled. “It wasn’t a decision, Logan. Tammi was what showed me that there was a difference between boys and girls. I realized I was a girl. I told Tammi I was her big sister. Told Mom and Dad that I was going to grow up to be a princess. That didn’t go over well, especially with Dad.”

  “I can imagine.” I couldn’t imagine that at all. Mr. Hendricks seemed like the type of guy who’d explode if he caught one of his children smoking or staying out past curfew. Having a son who wanted to be Cinderella? I was surprised he didn’t have a stroke.

  “Well, the more I wanted to be a girl, the more he was determined I would be a man’s man. Every day from when I was, like, five, Dad would make me play baseball or basketball with him. Every birthday I’d ask for a doll or an Easy-Bake oven, and I’d get a catcher’s mitt or a T-ball set.” She paused. “By the way, do you know anyone who wants some unused sports equipment?”

  I shook my head.

  “So I decided to be a girl in secret. Tammi helped me. She let me wear her clothes, though they were always too small. She’d help me borrow Mom’s things, and we’d play house. I’d always be the mommy. I thought that if I tried hard enough, I’d grow up to be a woman. It wasn’t until I was a lot older that I realized how impossible things would be.”

  Sage sat, spinning the empty weight bar on the bench, lost in thought. “One day, my dad caught me wearing Mom’s bikini.” She laughed with the voice of someone remembering something that wasn’t funny. “He signed me up for Little League. Jesus, I hated that. I told him so, but he forced me to play. He thought it was good for me. He would have enrolled me in kickboxing if he could have. It took me two years to convince him to let me quit. When I was ten, I was already really tall, and he tried to get me to try out for peewee football.”

  I laughed; I couldn’t help it. She glared at me.

  “Thank you for laughing at my emotional baggage, Logan.”

  “Sorry. Just the thought of you playing football …”

  She rolled her eyes. “Anyway, it went on like this until sixth grade. Remember those stupid human development films we had to watch?”

  I thought back. “No. Jack and I got kicked out for making rude comments.”

  “Shocking. Well, it was then that I realized I was going to grow up to be a man, no matter what. So that night, I locked myself in the bathroom and took out Dad’s razors.”

  “Christ, Sage, you didn’t try to cut off your wang, did you?” She’d just crossed the line into uncomfortable territory. But what she said next floored me.

  “No, Logan. I tried to slash my wrists.”

  The shed suddenly became ice cold. I almost touched Sage on the shoulder, but I stopped myself. I knew being a girl was important to her, but suicide? Jesus.

  Sage wouldn’t look at me. “It wasn’t as bad as you think, Logan. I freaked out as soon as there was blood, and I started bawling. Dad had to force open the bathroom door. It was a real mess. Luckily, I’d only scratched myself.

  “My parents made me go to a psychiatrist after that. And even then it took me a month to get up the courage to tell my parents why I’d tried to kill myself. But there was no going back. I told them I was going to be a girl, or I didn’t want to live. I think they were afraid I’d slit my wrists for real if they didn’t let me.

  “So they pulled me out of school right before eighth grade. Who knows, it was probably the right thing. And I’ve been living as a female ever since. Now please say something!”

  I stood up and began to pace nervously in the narrow confines of the storage building. I pictured an effeminate junior high boy who needed to be a girl so badly that he wanted to die if he couldn’t. “Sorry, sorry. I just didn’t know how serious you were about this.”

  She cocked a disbelieving eyebrow.

  “Okay, I guess I did realize it. This is just weird. I’m sorry, but it is.”

  She didn’t look offended. “At least you’re willing to listen, Logan. I wish my parents would just let me try to explain things. Especially my dad.”

  The fact that they let Sage be a girl showed they were more open-minded than a lot of people. “How are they taking it?”

  “Mom’s resigned. I think she’s terrified that I’ll do something crazy, or run away if she tried to stop me. But she wishes I wouldn’t do this. Dad …” Sage rapidly turned to the wall and didn’t say anything for about two minutes.

  “Dad,” she continued hoarsely. “He’s disgusted by me. We never talk. He works constantly. I’m not allowed to visit my grandparents. I know he didn’t want to transfer out here, but I think he liked the idea that no one he knew would realize his son was now a girl.” A sob racked her body, but she got control of herself. “Do you have any idea what it’s like to have your father so ashamed of you, Logan?”

  “No,” I replied bluntly. “I don’t.”

  “Sorry, I forgot.”

  I idly stacked some empty crates. “Sage, um …” How could I put this delicately?

  “Just say it, Logan. Whatever it is.”

  “Okay. Why do you have to, um … change?”

  “Transition,” she corrected.

  “Transition right now? I mean, why didn’t you tough it out for a few more years? Wouldn’t it be easier to do this after you were out of school? When your parents weren’t watching you?”

  Sage contemplated her polished nails. “You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But transitioning is something you can’t put off. The younger you start, the easier it is.” She reached into her purse. “Let me show you something.”

  She handed me a color printout of a photograph. I almost laughed before I realized she wasn’t trying to be funny.

  It was a picture of a middle-aged guy in a blond wig and a dress. He was wearing makeup and sitting with his legs crossed. Obviously, he was trying to be pretty. There was no way. He was a man in a dress. You could even see his beard stubble.

  “Um, Sage, this isn’t how you hope to turn out, is it?”

  “Of course not. That’s what I want to avoid. That’s a picture of Sylvia. I know her online. She didn’t transition until she was fifty, and married with kids. If you think my parents didn’t understand, you should hear her talk about her family.”

  I handed Sage back the picture.

  “The point is, Logan, I don’t want to turn out like that. I’ve been living as a girl for almost five years. I don’t think anyone at school suspects. Next year, I’m going to enter college as a woman. I let myself deny that I was a female for over ten years. That’s ten years wasted. And it’ll probably be another ten years before I can afford the surgery.”

  In my entire life, I’d never wondered about how a sex change worked. “So you’re really going to have some doctor cut it off?”

  She shook her head. “They won’t actually remove my penis,” lectured Sage. “They’ll slit it laterally to create …”

  “O say, can you see? By the dawn’s early light!” I sang at the top of my lungs. “What so proudly we hailed …”

  “Sorry,” she snickered. “Too much info there.”

  I pulled my fingers out of my ears. “You think?”

  “Okay. Yes, I do want to have sexual reassignment surgery, or a sex change, as you’d call it. When they’re done, you could see me naked and still think I was born female.”

  My testicles shrank up into my body as if they were in danger. “And it’s really that expensive?”

  Sage held her head in her hands. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was staring at her crotch.

  “Over thirty thousand dollars. Mom and Dad won’t help, of course. They’ll pay for college but won’t pay for me to become a full woman.”

  I wanted to spout some pearls of wisdom. Fat chance. Sage had just told me that being a woman was so important to her that she’d almost killed herself. What do you say to that?

  “Sage, it’ll happen someday. And for now, no one knows.” Except me.

  She balled her fists and rubbed her eyes
. When she spoke again, there was hurt in her voice. “Logan, I know. And every time I go to the bathroom or take a shower … I want you to imagine that instead of a penis, you had some sort of deformed tentacle, or a gaping, oozing sore. That’s how I feel. It’s like I have a terminal disease, and there are doctors all over the place who can cure me, and my parents could help pay for it, and they won’t! I can’t live, I can’t live, until I don’t have to pretend. The only one in the world who even cares is Tammi.”

  “I care.” I really did. I didn’t understand, but I didn’t like to see Sage in pain. And it was all the worse because there was nothing I could do to help her. I couldn’t give her the money. I couldn’t make her family accept her. I couldn’t completely accept her myself.

  Sage sniffed, then smiled. “I know you care. And that’s important to me.” She wiped her eyes and pulled her hair back into a ponytail.

  I stood. “Let’s get some air.” We’d been talking about this for about ten minutes, and I’d kind of reached my limit.

  “Logan? I printed out some information about trans-gendered people. Would you like to read it? Maybe it could help explain things better than I can.” She patted her enormous purse.

  I shook my head. “No, Sage. It’s not that I don’t want to understand, but … look. I still think of you as a girl. It’s hard not to. And maybe we should just not talk about the other side of things for now.”

  Sage stood. I think she was slouching so I wouldn’t seem so short. “I’d like that, Logan.” She moved to hug me, then pulled back quickly. She held out her hand for me to shake.

  What the hell. I gave her a quick squeeze.

  There was one more thing I had to say. “Sage, listen. If you ever get desperate like before, just remember, you do have a friend in me. If you ever think about, um, hurting yourself, you’d talk to me or Tammi, right?”

  I thought Sage was going to break down. “Logan, I’ve got a real friend. I haven’t had that since elementary school. That makes all the difference in the world.”

  “I think I heard Rob pull up,” I said, a little uncomfortable. We were almost having a moment.

  Sage and I walked to the front yard. It wasn’t Rob who’d arrived. It was my mom. Still dressed in her waitress uniform, she was walking to the house, exhausted from her early shift. Her tired face broke into a grin when she saw me walking with Sage.

  “Why, hello there.”

  I felt like I did years ago, when I had first shyly introduced Brenda to my mom. I’d been so awkward, so terrified that Mom would flat-out ask if we were dating. I felt so nervous and proud, proving to my mother that her son was becoming a man. So why was I feeling that now? I was no more interested in Sage than I was in Tim.

  “Mom, this is Sage.”

  Sage held out her large, soft hand. “Hello, Ms. Wither-spoon.”

  “Nice to meet you, Sage. Would you like to come in and have a soda?”

  Far down the road I could hear the squealing of tires and the blast of a horn.

  “Thanks, but I think my ride’s here.”

  Rob very nearly took out our mailbox, but Sage got in the car anyway. As soon as they peeled out, Mom winked at me.

  “So tell me about your friend,” she prodded as we went inside.

  “That’s all she is, Mom. A friend.”

  Mom removed her name tag and kicked off her shoes. “An awfully cute friend.”

  Two weeks ago, I would have violently disagreed. Instead, I tried to feel Mom out about Sage’s sex. “You don’t think she’s kind of, you know, burly?”

  Mom glared at me. “That’s rude, Logan. She’s a little tall, but she’s very pretty. Don’t be so judgmental.”

  “Yeah.” I poured myself a soda. Don’t be judgmental. Sage’s family certainly judged her. I wasn’t going to add to that. Her own parents didn’t accept her. Society didn’t accept her. It had almost driven her to suicide. But now she had me. I wouldn’t judge her. Not anymore.

  chapter eighteen

  WINTER WAS OVER. The last of the snow was gone, turning half the roads in Boyer into muddy, impassable swamps. The county ambulance district stopped pulling burn victims out of meth labs and started scraping them off the highway again. The girls at my school, and the middle-aged women who dressed like teenagers, would break out the halter tops and Daisy Dukes before too long.

  Now that football season was over, the track team enjoyed a few months of unrestricted use of the field. Coach Garrison had us running laps. Garrison also coached wrestling, softball, and JV basketball, so we didn’t get much direction from him. “Run! Faster!”

  The first track meet was in two weeks. Boyer would have its chance to square off against such mighty opponents as Moberly, Higbee, Centralia, Sturgeon, and a half-dozen other hick towns. The next few meets would be my last chance to compete. I felt foolish for thinking it, but I wanted to go out with an impressive record. Mom even said she’d come to most of my meets. Her manager had recently hired some new waitresses, and, as a senior employee, she finally was able to get a stable schedule. No more nights, and only two weekends a month.

  Jack sprinted up beside me, moving easily. He sweated more than any human being I knew. Running near him was like passing through a car wash.

  “Dude,” he wheezed. “Three o’clock.”

  I looked over at the aluminum bleachers. Even from the other side of the field, it was impossible not to recognize the tallest “girl” in school. Though there was still a bite of cold in the March air, Sage was wearing shorts. Her long, long legs stretched down across two rows of bleachers.

  I waved as I passed, and she smiled. She must have been there to watch me. Just like Brenda used to. It wasn’t the same, of course, but it was kind of nice having a friend who’d sit out here in the chilly weather, just to see me run.

  My next round, I made it a point to pass Jack and a couple of other guys. You know, just so Sage wouldn’t be disappointed. But the round after that, I realized she was no longer watching me. She wasn’t alone.

  Phillip Myers. He was a junior, and that was about all I could tell you about him. He had spiky hair, had a wispy mustache, and had worn the same Members Only jacket since the fifth grade. He was sitting next to Sage, talking to her.

  Sage was talking back. And laughing. I was watching them so intently I nearly missed my turn and ran into the fence.

  The next go-round Sage and Phil were still chatting. What did I care? Why shouldn’t Sage have other friends? I sure as hell wasn’t jealous. It’s not like I assumed I was the only guy in all of Boyer Sage would want to hang around with. But guys only started conversations with random girls for one reason. Sage needed to be careful.

  On the following lap I tried to make myself not look in their direction, but failed. Phillip sat alone, staring at his feet. I glanced around, trying to locate Sage. I finally saw her trotting to the parking lot. Where was she going in such a hurry?

  I nearly knocked Jack over in my rush to follow her. Through the gate, around the teachers’ parking area, and right up to her truck.

  She knew I was following her, or at least didn’t show surprise when I collapsed at the driver’s door. She had a grim look on her face, as if she’d just been unexpectedly insulted.

  “Back off, Logan.”

  “Hey, I just wanted to see if you were okay.” What did Phillip say? Did he suspect the truth?

  She opened the door. “I’m serious, Logan. You smell like a jockstrap.”

  That would have been funny, except she still wasn’t smiling. Finally, she rolled her eyes.

  “Get in.”

  I sat, gasping for air, as Sage toyed with the radio. Though I tried to avoid looking at her legs, I couldn’t help myself. They were long and shapeless, with freckles on the knees, large (though not huge) feet, and a couple of shaving nicks.

  “Catch your breath, Logan, then leave me alone.”

  After what she’d put me through recently, I was starting to get pissed at this attitude. What had h
appened to the girl who’d said she needed my friendship more than anything?

  “Just checking on you,” I said, failing in my attempt not to sound pissy. “You ran off in a hurry.”

  She turned to me with a haughty smirk. “You know what that guy Phillip asked me to do? Right there? Right where anyone could hear him?”

  I was afraid to ask. “What?”

  “He asked me if I wanted to go for a walk.”

  My calf muscles were beginning to seize up from stopping so abruptly. I waited for Sage to finish, then realized there wasn’t any more to her story.

  “Go for a walk? That’s all?”

  She shook her head, disgusted with me for some reason. “Logan, do you know how many guys have asked me out since I came here?”


  Her frown deepened. I think I was supposed to guess a much higher number.

  “Yes, two. But this is a small school.”

  My sweat was soaking into the upholstery. “What’s your point?”

  “Nothing. Forget it,” she huffed. Apparently, I was supposed to be clueing in to something.

  “Sage …”

  Sage placed her head on the steering wheel as if she was cuddling a pillow. “Logan, I just realized. I’m never going to have a date. Ever. In my entire life.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  And then it hit me. She would never be able to date. Not me, not Phil, no one. She wasn’t a woman. And she wasn’t a man, either. Too masculine for a straight guy, far too feminine for a gay one. She was stuck between two worlds. I began to understand why she so desperately wanted that operation.

  Sage roughly ran her fingers across her eyes, attempting to stop the tears before they started. “You showed me I can’t lie to guys. But I can’t very well say, ‘By the way, I have male genitalia’ on the first date, can I? Jesus, I’m screwed.”

  “C’mon, Sage. It’s not that bad.”

  Sage reacted like I’d just told her she could make a fortune moving money out of Nigeria. “Not that bad? Logan, not everyone can be a monk like you, okay? I want to meet guys, just like any other girl, and I can’t! I’m going to be alone.”

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