“If that’s true, Re,” Liam said, “then I’ll never be fulfilled.”
Oh God. Here we go. “Don’t say that.”
Liam stared out the windshield unseeing into the empty football field. “I won’t be able to follow my heart.”
“You know what? You think too much.”
The head stuff, the heart stuff, the hopeless, helpless, hurt stuff. It put a damper on my day. “Maybe you could get a job at Weddings by Patrice,” I suggested. “Be a bridesmaid.”
That made Liam crack a smile. He had to say it, though: “Always a bridesmaid. Never a bride.”
Chris was sitting at our station when I got to Chemistry. Our eyes met across the crowded room, like in the movies, except we didn’t share a knowing smile and race into each other’s arms. Instead I fell into the trash can. Well, almost. I hit it with my boot and overturned it, which made such a racket everyone stopped talking and turned to gawk.
Great. So much for the invisibility shield.
“Nice entrance,” Chris said, pulling out my stool.
I wanted to slug him, but didn’t know if that’d be too intimate a gesture.
He handed me my goggles and quipped, “These must be worn at all times. This is not a beauty contest — grrrls.” He snapped his on and fluffed his hair.
It made me laugh. He was cute. Beyond cute. Handsome. There was that word again. One time when I was little, Mom took me with her to Sears to pick up Dad after work. Dad was with a customer selling a refrigerator so we waited by his desk. Mom nudged me and said, “Look at your father. Isn’t he the most handsome man you’ve ever seen?” I remember thinking, He’s my dad. Duh.
Had she really said that? Maybe they had dated.
Relatively speaking, Dad was better looking than most geezers his age.
Bruchac boomed, “As I gaze around the room, I see that only a few of you have a memory span longer than a sitcom. I realize yesterday was long, long ago, but you might recall my mentioning that when you come to class from now on, the first thing you should do is retrieve your lab assignment from the basket on the back counter. The basket is labeled Chem I, Lab Assignments. Ring a bell?”
I turned my head to check out the basket and Chris said in my ear, “Bruchac better watch it today. My A.T.Q. is on low battery.”
I must’ve looked clueless, as usual.
“Asshole Tolerance Quotient,” he explained. Chris slid off his stool to join the others who were straggling to the rear of the room.
He got that right. I glanced up to see Bruchac staring at me.
Oh my God. Sofa king. I hid my face under my hand.
Chris returned and slapped the paper on the counter. “Would you mind reading this? I forgot my 3-D glasses.”
The copy was clearer than yesterday’s, but not much. It was a stupid experiment. Heat up an ice cube until it reached the boiling point, recording the temperature in Fahrenheit and centigrade at various stages of meltdown. There was an additional exercise about converting Celsius to Fahrenheit and calculating absolute zero. I think I did this in fourth grade.
It was hard to concentrate with Chris sitting so close, brushing shoulders with me every once in a while. I noticed how he held his stubby pencil between his thumb and index finger. How he printed the measurements in perfectly square, block numbers. How his fingernails were jagged, like mine, as if he chewed them, like me. Maybe we could compare blood loss.
“What?” Chris said.
I flinched. “Huh?”
“You’re smiling. Am I doing something wrong?” His face fell. “Are you laughing at me?”
“No. Of course not.”
“You sure?” He looked worried.
“You’re doing it right. I just . . .” I shrugged. “It’s kind of a wee-Todd-did experiment.”
He reeled backward, jaw dangling. “You don’t think knowing how fast an ice cube melts is important? My God, woman. This is vital science. What if I wanted you to bring me a frosty brew with a piping hot plate of nachos? Do you know how much time you’d have to get it to me before the beer got warm?”
I knuckle-fisted his chest. “Pig.”
He snorted like one.
We both jerked around. The thermometer I was holding slipped through my fingers and clinked on the counter. Chris managed to capture it between cupped hands before it hit the floor and infected us all with mercury poisoning.
The person behind us winced an apology: “Sorry.” The person: Shannon Eiber. It’d barely registered that she was in this class. She’d changed a lot since sixth grade. Physically, anyway. Who hadn’t? Me. I lived in a state of eternal stasis.
“Aren’t you guys done yet?” Shannon asked. “That experiment took us three minutes.”
I curled a lip at her, which she missed because her eyes were glommed onto Chris.
“There’s a rave Saturday night in Genesee.” She wedged herself between us, speaking directly, and only, to him. “You want to go? We could drive together — you and me and Morgan and Tay.” She thumbed across the room where Her People, the Chosen Ones, had staked out the choice lab stations. No doubt they’d put them on reserve a year ago.
Chris smiled at her. “Maybe,” he said. “Can I let you know?”
He radiated heat. Or was that me?
“Sure,” Shannon said. “Call me.” She grabbed his hand and flipped it over. Wrote her number on his palm in red ink. “Later.” She strutted off.
A bubble burst — the one that had sucked me up in its helium high. “I thought you were new here,” I said, taking the thermometer and repositioning it in the beaker of boiling water. “Didn’t know anyone.”
“Yeah, well,” his lip cricked, “that was last month.”
A shroud of darkness descended over me. I don’t know why I thought it’d be different. He’d be different. Someone as cool as him? All he had to do was cross the threshold of Horizon High to be instantly absorbed by Them. The ones with shape, form, matter. They Who Mattered.
Reality check, Regan. How dare you wish he was yours.
Shannon cast him a little finger wave as she wriggled back onto her stool. Her lab partner was Hoyt Doucet. No wonder she was stealing mine.
When had Hoyt become a member of TWM? Shannon’s standards had taken a plunge.
The bell rang, jolting me back to my destiny. “Are we done?” Chris asked.
“I am.” I filled in the solution to the absolute zero equation and thrust the lab report at him. “All you have to do is sign it.”
He scribbled his name next to mine. Regan O’Neill. Chris Garazzo. I imagined a plus sign between them. Which confirmed my unstable state of emotional delirium. As Chris rushed around to clean up our station, I hustled to the front to turn in our paper.
On the way out I made a mental deposit in the hazardous waste receptacle. Disposed of any dreams I might’ve had of us hooking up.
When I got home, Liam’s bedroom door was closed. I wondered how he’d spent the day, if he’d even bothered with school. Considering how my day went, I should’ve blown it off, too.
A wave of music washed up from under Liam’s door. Then singing. My heart stopped. Dana International. Oh my God.
Pounding the door. “Liam.”
He can’t hear because he’s got his CD amped up to earsplitting volume. Dana International, this Israeli singer I can’t stand. Liam idolizes her.
I knock again. “Liam!”
When he doesn’t answer, I do the unthinkable. I barge in.
First thing I see are the pill bottles. A row lined up neatly along the edge of his bookshelf. They’re Mom’s; they have to be. I’m thirteen and I already know my mom’s a popper.
But that’s not what freaks me. The bottles are all empty.
“Liam?” I punch off the music. “Liam!”
His voice is faint, but it’s a voice. I run toward it, to the closet. He’s huddled in the corner dressed in his football uniform. I rush over and grab his arm; try to wrench him to his feet.
He resists. He buries his head between his kneepads and mumbles, “Leave me alone.”
“Come on.” The panic registers in my voice. “You have to throw up.”
He goes limp. He doesn’t budge. My first impulse is to kick him, so I do.
“Ow!” He scoots further into the closet. “Why’d you do that?”
I fall to my knees and clench his shoulders; start to shake him. “You have to throw up, Liam. I won’t let you die!” This comes out a screech, which makes him raise his head and look at me. His eyes are
“Liam. Lia Marie. Please.” My eyes well with tears. “Please.”
His left hand reaches out and snags the football helmet beside him. He holds it up to me by the faceguard. Inside is a mound of pills. Blue, purple, orange, white.
“I can’t do it,” Liam says. “I can’t even do it. I can’t do anything right. I’m wrong. All wrong.”
“No, you’re not.” I feel so relieved I throw my arms around him.
“Please, Re.” He clasps my wrists and pulls me away. “I wasn’t meant to be born.” He transfers the helmet to my right hand. “Help me die. Pour these down my throat, okay?” He pleads urgently, “Please?”
My fingers grip the faceguard. I straighten up and charge for the bathroom. I flush all the pills down the toilet. I flush it over and over and over until all the pills have dissolved, disappeared. Then I crumple to the floor and rest my forehead against the toilet bowl. And cry. Just cry. For my brother. Liam. God, Liam.
After a few minutes, I leave the helmet in the bathroom and return to Liam. He’s perched on the edge of his bare mattress, the shoulder pads heaped on the floor at his feet. He’s already kicked off the cleats.
“You don’t have to play football,” I inform him. “Just because Dad’s coaching doesn’t mean you have to play. Why did you tell him you wanted to? You hate football.”
Liam’s eyes bore holes through the blank wall.
“You wouldn’t understand.” His eyelashes glisten. He blinks and a tear overflows the rim. I reach to wipe it away; wipe all the tears away.
He beats me to it and swipes his eye with a knuckle. Then sniffles, and heaves.
I gather the jersey and shoulder pads and cleats off the floor. “I’ll take care of it,” I tell him. “You don’t have to do this.” I’m mad, seething mad.
At the bottom of the stairs, I stop. I drop the bundle of gear. There’s something else I want to say.
“Lia Marie?” I stand in the doorway. “You can wear my new nightgown to bed. You can have it. And you can use my room to dress in from now on, whenever you want.”
Liam glances over his shoulder and meets my eyes. Slowly, the color in his face returns. He comes to life. I see him physically morph into Lia Marie. “Okay.” She smiles. “Thanks, Re.”
I breathe a sigh of relief.
Liam’s door swung open in my face and Dana International assaulted me. “Hey, Re. Come here, look at this.” Liam motioned me inside.
I breathed a sigh of relief — the same one I’ve breathed every day since that Liam’s been too chicken to do it.
If he’d considered suicide again, Liam hadn’t discussed it with me. Not that he’d give me the date and time. But I watched him pretty close. I think he’d gotten to a new place, a better place. Having the freedom to dress in my room had cured him — I thought.
His room still creeped me out. It was stark. Cold. Abandoned. He never used sheets on his bed, or even a comforter. Just this scratchy wool blanket he’d bought at army surplus or something. During the day he kept it wadded up at the top of the mattress where most people have pillows. The walls were bare, too, except for the books and paperbacks and notebooks and computer manuals that were stacked to the ceiling. The room always felt vacant to me, unoccupied.
Liam was speaking, but I could barely hear him. I deamped the volume on Dana.
“. . . and I found all kinds of history on TG’s. For instance, did you know in ancient Greece and Rome, Philo writes about men transforming into women?”
TG’s. Transgenders. “Well, yeah. Everyone reads Philo.”
He ignored the sarcasm. He was sitting on the floor, surrounded by all these piles of printouts. “And King Henry the Third of France was referred to as sa majesté. Her majesty. Abbé de Choisy in the seventeenth century actually wrote, ‘I thought myself really and truly a woman.’ Then there’s Joan of Arc.”
“Joan of Arc was a man?” My eyes bulged.
Liam tilted his head. “In her mind,” he said. “There’s enough evidence to suggest it.”
Wow. I never considered that girls could be transgender. I dropped my backpack on his bed and slid down beside him. I wondered, too, what his sudden interest in history was all about. “Why are you researching TG’s?” I asked. “I mean, why now?”
“Why not now? One day I’m going to be a part of history.”
My heart sped up. Did he mean he was going to be history?
“Lots of Native American tribes pass down stories about trans people,” Liam babbled on, “the Mohave, Navaho, Pueblo. They accept, even embrace, females who are men, and vice versa. ‘Two-spirit’ people, they call them. Did you know in the Yuman Indians there were groups of people called Elxa who actually underwent a ‘change of spirit’? Isn’t that cool?”