“We don’t have drive-ins anymore. We have cineplexes.”
Dad widened his eyes. “Don’t be a smart-ass. Answer the question.”
I stood and crossed the room; switched on the TV. “He doesn’t tell me everything.” Which was the truth, at least. “Probably he doesn’t bring dates home because his father’s such a studly guy and he’s worried about the competition.” I smirked over my shoulder.
Dad rested an arm along the back of the sofa. “But he does like girls.”
Drop it, Dad, I thought. Grabbing the remote off the top of the TV, I surfed through the channels, hoping he’d take the hint.
I wanted to scream in his face, No! He’s not into girls, okay? He likes guys. We both do. That doesn’t make him gay. It makes him as straight as me because inside he’s a girl, Dad. Just like me. You have two daughters, okay?
I settled on Scooby Doo. The remote control dangled at my side.
“Well.” Dad pushed to his feet. “I guess I’m satisfied.”
Like Liam, Dad saw what he wanted to see. Heard what he wanted to hear. A genetic defect.
Dad approached from behind and looped both arms around my shoulders. “Tell him I promise to behave myself. Tell him if he brings a girl home and introduces her, I might let him borrow the VW.” He gave my lifeless body a quick squeeze.
I forced a smile, but my heart ached. Liam could never tell him. Never.
At the top of the stairs Dad called down, “Tell your brother to lay off the cologne, too, will you? It smells like a brothel in that bedroom.”
Liam got home around ten-thirty that night. From the middle of my bed, where I was doing homework, I heard him sit in the desk chair and start clicking away. My body begged sleep, but I had to get through these chemistry problems. I was two days behind on worksheets and late with a lab assignment. Bruchac dropped our grade a notch for every day late, and he wasn’t giving anyone a break. Especially me, it seemed. He’d waggled a fat finger in my face as I’d slithered past him after class today.
I thought about asking Liam for help, but he had enough on his plate. Now he had to worry about Dad breaking into his room. I’d better warn him. Why did Chris have to drop? I would’ve helped him. We could’ve flunked chem together. Which is probably what would’ve happened if he’d stayed. My interest in the class would’ve hovered somewhere around absolute zero, since I’d have spent the whole hour making goo-goo eyes at Chris. Better not to have the distraction. For some reason, this inexplicable desire to live up to Bruchac’s expectations consumed me. Like it was my big opportunity to glorify the sisterhood or something. Glorify myself.
My bedroom door flew open. “Look at this.” Liam rushed in.
“Don’t you knock anymore? Doesn’t anyone around here respect people’s privacy?”
He slid to a stop. With exaggerated steps, he tiptoed backward and closed the door behind him. He rapped twice.
What a dork. “Go away,” I muttered.
He rapped again.
“Liam, I’m busy.”
“I just want to show you something.” The door cracked. “Please? It won’t take long.”
I exhaled exasperation and remoted off my Carmen CD. “You have thirty seconds,” I informed him. “Twenty-nine.”
He bounced up onto my bed and curled cross-legged opposite me. “What are you working on?” he asked, his gaze skimming over the comforter, where all my papers were strewn.
“Chemistry,” I droned.
He picked up my half-finished worksheet from yesterday and said, “You got brutal Bruchac?”
“How’d you guess?”
“Looks familiar. Speaking of looks . . .” He bit his lip. Whatever he was hiding behind his back, he whipped out and slapped on the bed between us. “Check this out.”
I eyed the printout. Lifting it, I brought it closer to my face and scanned the page. It was a blurry picture of a guy — a pimply guy with glasses. It appeared to be a blow-up of a bad driver’s license. “Yeah, so?” I set down the page.
“Now look at this.” Liam placed another printed photo on top of it.
My eyebrows raised. “Wow. Who’s this?” I picked it up. It was a girl. A beautiful girl with long black hair and blue eyes. She was posed like a model or something, for a studio sitting. I glanced up from the photo to find Liam grinning at me. “That’s Teri Lynn.”
“Really?” I examined the photo. “Wow.”
“They’re both Teri Lynn.”
“What? No way.” I snatched up the nerd picture for closer scrutiny. Studied both side by side. There was no resemblance at all. “You’re kidding.”
“I’m not.” Liam let out a little laugh. “She’s amazing, isn’t she?” He picked up the female photo. Gazing into it, his eyes caught fire.
A wave of fatigue flooded over me. I yawned and said, “Tell her to share her makeup secrets, okay?” I stretched my arms over my head and heard the cartilage cracking in my shoulder blades. Stiff, achy.
“It’s not all makeup. She’s had surgery. A chin implant and nose reduction. But she says the hormones made the difference.”
“So take the hormones.” I handed him the boy picture so I could get back to work.
“I am.” He scooted off the bed, leaving the boy picture behind. Cradling the view of Teri Lynn’s new face like it was a sheet of gold leaf, he padded out, leaving the door open behind him.
An alarm sounded in my head. Liam’s taking hormones? What hormones? Those were serious drugs. Where was he getting them? Off the Internet? That had to be illegal. I clambered to the end of the bed, then stopped. Did I really want to know about this?
Yes. But not tonight. It was too late to get into a deep discussion about hormones and surgery and transitioning. My mind needed to focus. On my life, for once.
I shut the door and resumed my homework. We had to calculate the molecules of acid rain yielded by copper ore conversion — big thrill. My concentration lagged. My eyes came to rest on the picture Liam had left behind.
Teri Lynn’s other face. Her false face. It wasn’t the difference between the male and female that struck me so much as the change in demeanor, the attitude, the confidence. Teri Lynn, the male, seemed to be another person altogether. A dead person, the way Liam appeared sometimes. Sad, vacant. The other Teri Lynn, the real one, had blossomed and sprung to life. The way Liam broke free when he morphed into Luna.
Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, I thought. An exquisite and delicate creature, unfolding her wings and flying away. Except in Luna’s case, the butterfly is forced to rein in her wings and reinsert herself into the cocoon every day. Every single day, she has to become this shell of a person.
Tears stung my eyes. It wasn’t fair. Why him? Why her? She was such a good person, Luna. Liam. The best brother ever. I remember, after I got my tonsils out, Liam had put on a puppet show for me. He’d built a stage and dressed up sock puppets. In skirts, of course. My throat hurt so bad, I can still feel the rawness sometimes when I swallow. Every night at bedtime he’d read to me, before I learned how. He’d try to teach me . . .
Once, in first grade, when this bully on the playground kept chasing me and pulling my hair, Liam came over and socked him in the face. That was the only time he ever hit another person in his life.
No, it wasn’t.
There was that time at the mall with Mom. She was looking at purses. Liam was, too.
He loops a purse over his arm, copying Mom. I get bored and wander off. Behind me I hear Mom say, “Put that back, and go watch your sister.”
“Let me try it,” I say to Liam, grabbing for the hat.
“Okay, here. I’ll put it on you.” He places a felt hat on my head and adjusts it so the feather sticks up in front. I hold my neck stiff because the hat feels like it’s going to slide off. It’s way too big. Liam tries on a green hat with a silk bow in back and netting on top. He delicately draws the netting down over his eyes.
We model the hats in the mirror. Liam puts a hand on his hip and prances around like a model. It makes me giggle. I mimic him. When Liam returns to the counter for another pair of hats, something happens.
I’m on the escalator and this man is holding my hand. I hear Liam’s voice behind me call out, “Regan?”
I glance behind and catch Liam’s eye. “Regan!”
I suddenly realize I don’t know this man. I scream. I try to twist away, but can’t. He’s got me tight. Liam comes charging down the escalator steps, falling and picking himself up. We’re almost at the bottom before Liam catches up. He lunges and tries to wrench my hand out of the man’s. “Let her go. Let her go!” He pounds on the man’s back. He fists the man’s arms and side and stomach.
Liam’s yelling and kicking this man and I’m falling and someone is lifting me up and Liam’s hugging me hard and I’m crying and he’s saying, “It’s okay, Re. I’ve got you now. It’s okay.”
Mom lunges off the escalator and yanks me out of Liam’s arms. She hoists me up and clutches me to her chest. She yells at Liam, “Why did you let her out of your sight? I can’t trust you for a minute!”
She makes him cry.
Mom, it wasn’t his fault. It happens to kids all the time, even when their parents are right there. It happened to Cody at the playground. Elise said she turned her back for a minute and a man approached Cody out of nowhere. If Liam hadn’t saved me . . . If he hadn’t been there for me ...I shudder to think.
Liam’s so needy now, I thought, I’m forgetting all the times I needed him. He’s always been there for me. Always.
The sound of Liam’s humming filtered under my door. Low, sultry strains of an unfamiliar tune. He only hummed when he was happy. Would he ever really be happy? Maybe if he got to the place Teri Lynn was now he’d be okay. No one would even suspect she was a T-girl. Could Luna change her body chemistry, her physical appearance, enough to convince the world that she was the person she knew herself to be?
The image of Chris flooded back into my brain. Why him? Why now?
Chemistry. That was it. The tears in my eyes overflowed the rims. Why did it have to be about chemistry?
As I was retrieving a box of Cocoa Puffs from the pantry to take to the breakfast table, I heard Mom on the wall phone in the kitchen. “Will you please have Dr. Rosell call me?” she said. “I need an early refill on my estrogen.”
I rolled my eyes and slugged down my own daily fix of OJ at the fridge.
Dad said, “Morning, honey” to me as I flopped into my seat.
I grunted, but it took effort. These all-nighters were frying my brain. I think I preferred mindlessly watching Luna put on mascara for three or four hours than shorting out synapses with chemistry.
As soon as Mom hung up, the phone rang. She leaped on it like she was expecting the call from Powerball. “It’s for you, Regan. Elise.” She sounded irritated. Mom didn’t like Elise much. Another reason I did. She told me once she felt Elise and David took advantage of me, always calling at the last minute, expecting me to drop everything. Like I had anything to drop. “Don’t be over there all weekend,” Mom said. “I need you here.” To do her job. Handing me the receiver, she asked, “Where’s Liam?”
“She was still in the shower when I came up.”
A surge of electricity charged the air. It wasn’t until Elise burbled, “Hey, Regan,” in my ear, “can I ask you a favor?” that it hit me. What I’d just said. Maybe it was because Luna had been in my room sometime during the night and left a cloud of perfume behind, or my dream at dawn had deposited a strong visual. Before and after. Liam/Luna. The difference between them was beginning to blur.
“Huh? Oh,” I snapped out of it, “yeah, sure, Elise. Whatever.”
“David and I finally got tickets to this play we’ve been dying to see. It’s called, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Have you seen it?”
She laughed a little. “Of course not. You’re too young to even appreciate the title.”
No, I wasn’t.
“Anyway,” she went on, “we waited too long to get tickets and now this is the last weekend it’s playing, so we were wondering if you could baby-sit Saturday night?” Her voice rose in a hopeful wince. “I know it’s short notice and I try not to ask you on Friday or Saturday nights, since you undoubtedly have a busy social life . . .”
Yeah. Me and Titration. “No problem,” I said.
“Really? Regan, you’re a doll. What would we do without you?”
Why wonder? I almost asked. Adopt me. Give me a regular life, a happy childhood. Oops, too late.
Elise asked me to be there by six-thirty and we disconnected. When I dragged back into the dining room, Liam had materialized. Dad lowered his newspaper and said, “A blind man and his guide dog go into a restaurant.”
Liam and I groaned.
“After ordering and sitting there a while, the blind guy yells to the waiter, ‘Hey, you wanna hear a blonde joke?’”
I tried to snag Liam’s attention for a dual eye roll, but he was immersed in one of his tattered manga comic books. Call Me Princess, if that wasn’t telling.
“The restaurant becomes absolutely quiet,” Dad continued. “In a husky, deep voice, the woman next to the blind guy goes, ‘Before you tell that joke, you should know something. The waiter is blonde, the cook is blonde, and I’m a six-foot-tall, two-hundred-pound blonde with a black belt in karate. What’s more, the woman sitting next to me is blonde and she’s a weight lifter. The lady to your right is a blonde and she’s a pro wrestler. Think about it seriously, Mister. You still wanna tell that joke?’”