an awakening
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Some of my Friends
by Chris Morey


They’d hit a few of the neighborhood bars, the four of them: Pete, Tony, Ryan and him. Pete had drawn the Sober Driver slot, and he’d stuck to it like a man – just two regular beers before he switched to Lite.

They cruised the boulevard beside the park, looking for action, but without much hope. A few hookers under the trees, nothing to write home about. They weren’t a fighting gang, so wouldn’t meet any enemies that they could release their tensions on. As for the odds of finding four willing chicks just cruising too, you wouldn’t put serious money on it.

“Hey, man, stop the car! I gotta piss,” Tony yelled from the back.

“You just did, at the Hideaway,” Pete answered.

“Sure, but I gotta go again. You know you don’t buy beer, you only rent it.”

Pete pulled over, and Tony stumbled out.

a line, (a short blue one)

Flashing red and blue lights behind, a short burst on the siren. “Shit, Jim,” Pete muttered to him as the cop riding shotgun approached, gut swaying.

“Hi, boys.” The cop pointed a meter at Pete. “Just breathe into this here.”

He looked down at the reading. “You’re clear, just about. Don’t drink any more tonight, okay? Y’all have a good evening.” He turned away and headed for the cruiser.

“Asshole,” Ryan muttered under his breath.

The cop turned again, sauntered back.

“Didn’t quite catch that, son. D’you mind repeating it?”

Ryan sank down in his seat, mumbled, “Nothing, officer.”

“Well, that’s just fine. If I were you, I’d get along home now.”

a line, (a short blue one)

It soured all their moods. The fat prick hadn’t even given them an excuse for righteous anger, just treated them like regular people. Asshole. Pete took off.

Two guys in chinos and polo shirts, one in a baseball hat, strolled the sidewalk ahead of them. Holding hands? Sure looked like it, though they separated as the car came up behind them.

“Queers!” Tony breathed. “Let’s get ‘em.”

Pete pulled up again. The men –the guy in the hat maybe Latino, his companion blond – turned at the sound of doors opening. They exchanged a couple of words, then hurried off, away from the road.

Tony and Ryan piled out. It wasn’t something he exactly wanted to do right now, but he couldn’t hang back. He scrambled out himself.

The guys ahead started to run. So did Ryan and Tony, but he must have been in better condition, passing them easily.

The embankment of the state highway loomed ahead where it passed over the boulevard. Their quarry was halfway up, the blond giving the other guy a hand when he lost his footing. They made the top, jumped the crash barrier.

He hauled himself up, scanned the highway, breathing hard. The two stood on the central median, the Latino guy bent double – puking? No, just winded. Traffic zoomed past. They’d taken their lives in their hands to cross those four lanes, dodging the cars and vans and big rigs that pounded down it even at this time of night.

Pete joined him, then Ryan and Tony, panting and cursing. Pete grabbed Ryan’s arm as he straddled the barrier.

“C’mon, guys, it’s not worth it! You’re liable to get yourself killed. Let ‘em go.”

“Gave ‘em a scare, anyway. Teach the bastards a lesson,” Ryan said. He slapped palms with Tony. “Hey, remember that queer in the park, the way he squealed? Wonder how he got home without his pretty dress?”

Tony guffawed. Reliving past victories, they slithered back down the embankment, threaded their way through the trees to the car. Another Saturday night fizzled to a close.

a line, (a short blue one)

Wednesdays were their other Club Night: over the hump of the week, not long till TGIF.

“You seen Tony, Jim?” Pete asked as they sat in the Covered Wagon under the faux-Western décor.

“Naw,” he said.

Ryan was better-informed. “Saw him last night with some snatch. He looked real hypnotized.”

“Yeah?” Pete said.

“No shit. Dressed kinda like a hooker, but you see that everywhere nowadays.”

He said nothing, disbelieving that any chick in her right mind would go for Tony, sanitation technician for Christ’s sake, beer-gut, foul-mouthed, invariably bringing the conversation down to its crudest level. None of them liked queers, but you didn’t have to curse them all the time. Come to that, Ryan was the same. Was he? No, he had more class than that.

His round. He stepped up to the bar and got them.

a line, (a short blue one)

The three still met on their regular schedule, waiting for Tony to come back, cursing the bitch who took him away from his good buddies. But she must have really got her claws into the poor s.o.b. And it wasn’t the same without the whole brotherhood.

Worse was to come. One night, Pete didn’t show either. He and Ryan sat looking at each other like the other was a Martian, wondering what the hell to do, or say. After two beers, he got to his feet and said, ‘Guess I’ll be getting along,’ to save him having to stare into Ryan’s stupid face all evening.

a line, (a short blue one)

Maybe it was a sign of the times. He got laid fairly regularly: one-night stands, not as much as he’d like, but at least he didn’t have to pay for it. Though if things were going to change, he’d need to up his game. The kind of girls he knew were fine for the kind of action he got, but a regular girlfriend wanted more from her man than a stiff dick. It wasn’t impossible; even that dork Tony, with about as much brain as a jackass, had managed it.

a line, (a short blue one)

Using a dating app was fast losing its stigma that you weren’t man enough to score a hot chick off your own bat. Everybody did it nowadays, or so the marketing said. He researched carefully, wavering between this site and that, before picking the one he thought was the biggest, because it was sure to have the best choice of matches. He set up his profile with care, agonized over what pic to use, what to say about himself. Dare he call himself an engineer? Riggers didn’t exactly need to be intellectuals – more a case of nerve, balance, physical strength – but they were essential workers wherever there were tall structures, which was pretty much everywhere. He paid his fee, and he was all set.

a line, (a short blue one)

The scene was certainly an eye-opener. He needn’t have worried about shading the truth, as he saw when he hooked up with girls who by no stretch of the imagination matched their profiles. ‘I thought we could get to know each other, honey, even so,’ one said plaintively, as she registered the shock and dismay on his face. He bought her a drink and they talked, and to be fair to her she made an effort to be appealing, but – no.

Then the chick who broke into a session of hot foreplay with, ‘I could really give you something to remember, lover, if I could just have a little present. It doesn’t need to be much, I really like you, but a girl’s got to live…’

Or the girl with a fast-expiring study visa: ‘It’d just be a marriage of convenience. We could get divorced any time after I have my citizenship nailed down. Or’ – smiling archly – ‘you might want me to stick around? I could be so sweet to you…’

Or the plump one who dragged him into her bedroom as soon as she answered the door. ‘C’mon, Jim – that’s right, isn’t it? –  I bet you’re a real man,’ crushing her lips to his, tearing his clothes open, dragging him on top of her, crying out for him to do it harder, harder, her body convulsing like a wild thing while he thrust and panted in the Texas summer heat, sweat running in rivers down his back. His dick was sore for days.

Those were the standouts in the cringe stakes, and just as well no one he knew saw him with any of them. The rest were pretty much vanilla, nothing to turn you off or turn you on. At best, they managed two or three dates before it became obvious it wasn’t going anywhere.

a line, (a short blue one)

She didn’t look his type, medium height, skinny and while some guys fantasized over redheads, he wasn’t one of them. But she had something, assuming the pic wasn’t of her friend. Local, too, at least in Greater Dallas. Monique, an uncommon name, French. Everyone knew Frenchwomen had style, chic. Maybe Monique had, too. No harm in finding out.

a line, (a short blue one)

Hi, I’m Jim. Like to talk? Best not to seem too eager.

The answer came right back. Hi, Jim, Monique. Tell me a little about yourself.

They flicked messages back and forth, until he hit the jackpot with her Okay, let’s meet. Any suggestions where?

He picked the fanciest bar he knew: comfortable, quiet, zero tolerance for misbehavior. Even if Monique had scruples about hanging out in bars, she wouldn’t be ashamed to come here.


She’d definitely used her own pic. Taller than he’d envisaged, maybe five-eight. Skinny, that was true. Well-groomed, auburn hair, skin a smooth ivory, not the blotchy white you saw on some redheads.

She looked around nervously as she entered, like she didn’t usually go into places like this alone. Then her face brightened as she spotted him, and he confirmed it with an encouraging smile and lift of his chin. She took the seat opposite him, smiling back and murmuring a greeting.

a line, (a short blue one)

Their conversation flowed smoothly, but there was never a shortage of topics on a first date. She drank slowly, and he didn’t like to toss them down in front of her. Nothing like his usual encounters with girls in bars, but it didn’t seem so strange, batting the conversational ball around, going with the flow. It was after ten before she said she had to work tomorrow and had better go.

“Can I see you again?” he asked.

“Sure. I enjoyed this evening. Call me in a couple of days. Let’s eat somewhere. I just adore Asian food, so I hope you do, too. You can’t spend your life chugging down pizza.”

She picked up her purse and got to her feet. He stood too, not knowing quite why.

He drained his beer and headed off just after she did. I’d better not ever take her to a pizza joint. Well, it took all kinds. And she said she enjoyed his company, and he sure as hell had enjoyed hers.

a line, (a short blue one)

She did like Asian food, and knew a lot about it. They ate out often: Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, even Indonesian it claimed to be, peanut and coconut flavors with all the fire of good Texas chili. He’d been reluctant to try some of that stuff, afraid of showing his ignorance, but with Monique as tactful guide, he was pleasantly surprised to find he liked it – even raw fish. He didn’t miss pizza at all.

Movies too, her taste more art-house than his, but once you got used to the slower pace, there was plenty to take in, and to talk about afterward. And walks, and museums and art galleries as his consciousness expanded as to what a big city had to offer.

“I’m only a quarter French,” she said once in answer to his halting question. “Mom’s dad was, and I guess she got the final say in naming a girl. My brother’s Dale, as American as you want. I like Monique, it’s different. You don’t meet one every day of the week.”

“I like it, too.” What made him say that?

“Thank you!” – and that half-smile he loved to see, sexy as hell.

a line, (a short blue one)

Though sex could have been a deal-breaker. “I’m not ready for that, yet,” she told him. “Please don’t press me. It’ll happen when it’s meant to.”

But his growing desire for this girl who wasn’t like any other he’d known wasn’t easy to fight against. And once when perhaps they’d had more than usual to drink, he must have overstepped the limits.

She pulled away abruptly from his exploring hands, slid to the other end of the couch. “No. I mean it, Jim.”

“But, Monique…”

“You can find plenty girls online to screw. I’m not one of them. What’s it going to be, are we friends or is it goodbye?”

He crumpled in the face of that awful word, and she relented, moving back beside him, kissing him eagerly. “You know, I like you a lot. But this has to be on my terms.”

a line, (a short blue one)

Her terms were more than he expected, though. A week later, he was thinking maybe he should go home when her hand strayed to his thigh. Then upward. Then – Oh, God!

Eyes downcast, she unzipped his pants, and her gentle fingers bared his flesh. He gasped as her soft mouth engulfed him.

All he wanted was for it to last forever, but her technique was too good for that. After she’d swallowed and released him, she smiled up at him.

“How was that?”


“I wanted to give you something good, seeing how you’ve been so patient.”

He held her close, kissing those lips that had just devastated him. He didn’t get home till nearly one.

Will she do it again? But that wasn’t the point. It had been a gift and a symbol, not one he fully understood, though he’d certainly remember it. Had she been sexually abused, as a child maybe, that created an inhibition? He’d seen that TV documentary, so hard-hitting it made him squirm. Poor Monique. He’d love to help her, if only he knew what help she needed.

a line, (a short blue one)

“I saw you at work, down on Sixth,” she said one evening. “At least I think it was you. It’s not easy to tell when someone’s two hundred feet up.”

“How did you…?”

“You told me where your project was, and I moseyed on down in my lunch break. I think I’ll stick with H.R. I couldn’t be a fraction that brave.’

“We wear safety harnesses, it’s not so dangerous.”

“I meant to ask, how did you get into that line of work?”

“Well, my high school grades weren’t great, and they’re always looking for roustabouts around here. Then I thought, I’d better have a specialism.”

“That’s the best thing. And they’ll never replace you with a robot.”

a line, (a short blue one)

They’d been dating for three months, two or three times a week, and life without Monique was hard to imagine. They’d spent that Sunday afternoon in the park.

“Hey, let’s eat out tonight. Maybe Michiko?” He’d definitely acquired a taste for anything teriyaki.

She hesitated a little. “I’ve got another idea. Why don’t we go back to my place and I’ll fix you something? I think I’d prefer that.”

“Sure.” They grabbed a bottle of pre-chilled white at a liquor store.

The fish fillets were fresh out of the freezer, but Monique had a way with sauces and garnishes, and she knew how to cook vegetables just right. They sat back, replete, sipping coffee.

Then, on the couch, they held each other, kissing deeply, murmuring endearments. Tonight, she might blow him, though he knew better than to ask. It was for her to offer, and anyway, they were about a lot more than just sex.

She pulled away a fraction.



“I’ve been thinking. About us.” Her words came haltingly.

He smiled encouragement.

“I told you I didn’t jump into bed with guys I only just met. And you were cool with that, and I was glad, because I wanted you to stick around.”

“Go on.” He hoped he knew where this was leading.

“But maybe it’s time, now.”

He nodded and smiled, expecting her to take his hand and lead him to the bedroom, where the miracle would happen. She didn’t move, though.

“But first, there’s something you should know about me.”

What on earth could it be? His mind refused to provide any sensible answer.

“I’m not quite a regular girl, though you probably wouldn’t know to look at me. Fact, I was born a boy. I want to tell you that before we –”

The light in the room went red, and it wasn’t just the afterglow of the sunset. “You… You…”

“I’m a trans woman, Jim. There’s a lot of us around. Please don’t be shocked, it’s just that Nature made a little mistake, and I had to get it put right.”

Memories returned, of the faggots they’d shouted abuse at, dressed so you couldn’t tell what the hell they were. Chased them, made them run, get off our streets! Queers, perverts, trying to trick decent guys, abominations all. And he’d let one of them blow him, reveling in it, hoping it’d happen again tonight…

He leapt for her – his! – throat, hands clenched, catching her a glancing blow as she dodged back, scrabbling in her purse.

A pungent cloud enveloped him, making him cough and sneeze, his eyes streaming tears, mucus pouring from his nose and filling his throat.

He gasped and spluttered, wiped his face on his sleeve. As his choking died down and his vision cleared, she came into focus: hands locked around the spray canister, finger on the trigger like a Western gunslinger who had the drop on you.

“Get out, Jim. Unless you want some more.”

The right thing to do in dangerous situations was to back slowly away, no sudden movements, like you were confronting an angry rattlesnake, or mama grizzly protecting her cub. One step, another…

His back pressed against the door. Hand behind him, he opened it, slid through, closed it gently on her unreadable stare, the deep-blue eyes no longer limpid ocean pools set to drown him in their depths, but opaque, and hard as flint.

He turned and ran, down the emergency stairs, into the street. Horror began to percolate through his rage. And the first stirrings of remorse, because of what he’d surely lost.

Shielding his tear-stained face from passers-by, he made it to a quiet bar and slipped into the bathroom, filling the washbowl with cold water. That and a handful of paper towels made him at least halfway presentable.

To the bar, to forget the nightmare. Beer with whiskey chasers, then he cut out the beer.

“Kinda goin’ hard at it, fella?”

Some shithead who couldn’t mind his own business. “What’s it to you? I c-can hold my – my liquor.” Though his tongue was already finding it hard to get around the words.

“Yeah, well, watch yourself. This is a respectable place, ‘case you don’t know it.”

The punk was an inch shorter than him, and only averagely built. He swung a roundhouse right.

a line, (a short blue one)

The ceiling lights circled, waxing and waning, as he looked up from the floor.

A face close to his. ‘C’mon, kid, you best get home. Lemme help you.”

Strong arms dragged him to his feet, guided him to the door. He fought the urge to collapse onto the sidewalk.

“Whaddya want to hit Jason for? Pro welterweight. Go home and sleep it off, buddy.”

Alcohol and shame and inchoate anger fought in his brain as he staggered home.

- She lied to me!

- No, she told you the truth. And you couldn’t take it, so you tried to beat up on a woman, you coward. She has integrity. All you have is prejudice.

He fell into bed fully dressed.

And didn’t sleep. Images of women with penises, men with vaginas, swirled in his head. He’d defy anyone to pick Monique, the essence of femininity, for what she was. But what was she? What made a woman a woman, and a man a man? If he asked the boys that, they’d make some off-color joke, but it wasn’t anywhere near so simple.

The scene in the park that night, crystal clear. He’d twisted the guy’s arms behind his back, making him cry out with pain and fear. Pete punched him in the head for that, then Tony tore off his dress, ripping it from top to bottom. He cowered in his bra and panties, trying in vain to cover himself. Ryan kneed him in the groin, then in the face as he went down clutching himself and sobbing.

As he writhed on the ground, his face came into view. Monique’s face, a mask of terror, streaked with tears, eyes pleading with him to save her…

He jolted awake, quivering. No! Monique was a full woman, heart and soul. If anyone dared try anything like that with his girl, he’d kill them, and if he went to the pen, it’d still be worth it.

But the guy in the dress only wanted to be someone’s girl, too.


a line, (a short blue one)

Two cups of strong coffee made no more than a dent in his hangover. He stumbled into his car and set off to work.

Today, he’d be on his own, carrying out structural checks and inspections that needed an experienced man. In overalls and hard hat, tools and meters clinking at his belt, he rode the service elevator as far as it ran, then the temporary hoist, finally climbed the ladder to level 32.

Routine work: the image of Monique floated to the surface, causing him an involuntary shudder. What was she doing now? Interviewing someone for a job, doing paperwork, making coffee, chatting with co-workers? If she was thinking of him, it’d be with a revulsion he fully deserved, for what he’d done to her last night…

His next foothold wasn’t there.

He swayed, arms flailing, dropping the wrench he was holding. Then falling, humanity’s worst nightmare since the time their ancestors swung in the trees. He grabbed at a vertical, its sharp edges cutting deep into his hands, sending blood oozing between his fingers but arresting his freefall to a slither.

His right foot struck a projection: a cross-beam? Steeling himself, he looked down. No, just a bracket. But two feet below, a horizontal member. Inch by inch, carefully when both hands were slippery with sweat and blood…

One foot made contact, then the other. He stood clinging to the upright, taking great racking breaths, his heart pounding. Then he threw up.

Where was the harness that should have saved him? He looked up to where he’d been working, saw it dangling uselessly. He couldn’t have fastened it properly, he who was always so careful.

Nor was he out of the woods yet. The nearest emergency ladder was over in the next frame, four – no, five – steps away on a six-inch-wide reinforced-concrete beam spanning thin air, four hundred feet up.

Five steps in a straight line. A cakewalk, apart from the gulfs that yawned on either side.

He could do it. Those old photos of guys high above Manhattan, casually wandering about the skeleton of the Chrysler or the Empire State, eating their lunch sitting on a girder in empty space. They weren’t better men than him.

Balance, confidence, rhythm. Look straight ahead. Don’t overthink it.

He fixed his eyes on a bolt-head on the far frame. One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

He clung to the vertical like it was his lover’s body. But you don’t have a lover anymore. A girl in a million, and you blew it. He groaned aloud for what he’d lost, cold emptiness pervading his vitals.

He paused, to clear his head. Then, taking extra care with hand- and footholds, he climbed down, floor by floor by floor, until he reached the service elevator and rode it to the ground.

a line, (a short blue one)

The site manager was waiting for him.

“Jim? What the Devil’s going on?”

“Uh – I slipped, no big deal. I’m fine, Matt.”

“Look at your hands! And where’s your harness?”

“Guess it must have detached.”

“They don’t just “detach,’ you know that.” Matt gave his face a close inspection. “Been in a fight? Look kinda hung-over, too.”


Matt’s tone softened. “Do me a favor and report sick. Go see a doctor. This here’s a no-fatality site, and I don’t intend that to change. And I’m damn sure you don’t want it to, either.”

It wasn’t doing anyone a favor; it was taking an order. Would he be allowed back, even with a clean bill of physical health? Suspected psychological issues… Maybe I just lost my job. But that wasn’t half as bad as losing your girl, and all through your own fault.

a line, (a short blue one)

He sat on the couch at home and let stuff run through his mind. Where did this all start? That party he’d been to when he was sixteen rose in his memory.

They’d been mostly an older crowd, the girls uninterested in a snotty-nosed kid like him. He wasn’t used to drinking beer, and after he’d staggered outside and puked in a flowerbed, a guy – Tom – had helped him clean and freshen up. They talked, and what Tom had to say was really interesting. Time slipped by, and the alcohol must have made him drowsy, because he only dimly recalled lying down.

Some chick he didn’t remember scoring was deep-kissing him, her delicate fingers caressing the inside of his thigh, and upward. His dick rock-hard, he ground himself against her…

Him. He separated himself with a convulsive movement, his face blazing scarlet because he’d let a guy feel him up, and he’d loved it.

“Not your scene, kid?” Tom’s voice. “Too bad. Hasta la vista –” The last to his back as he stumbled from the room, out the front door, away from his shame.

Afterward, he’d always hated queers. But that was ten years ago. Time, and long past time, to let it go.

What must it be like to be Monique? To have that barrier between you and the rest of the world, and to have the strength to break it down, to let human feelings flow through? She had integrity and humanity, and look how he’d repaid her!

Could he recover what he’d thrown away? The longest of long shots, but he had to trust her to sense his contrition, to trust him in return.

Send her a text? Too impersonal. At least with a phone call he’d hear her voice, even if she hung up right after.

He waited until she’d be home, unable to concentrate even on his favorite basketball on the TV. Then he mis-keyed, twice, his fingers clumsy as thumbs. He took deep breaths, trying to relax. It wouldn’t help anyone if he showed her how scared he was.

“Monique, it’s Jim,” he croaked.

“Well! I wasn’t expecting to hear from you.” Anger in her tone, or just surprise?

He knew what he had to say. “Monique, I – I’m really sorry...” His voice caught, but he’d got out the important thing. He added, “I’ve never hit a woman before.” It was one of his strict rules.

“So, I’m a woman now? Glad to hear it.”

The sharpness in her tone made him wince. But what was really running through her head? Fear, disgust, amused contempt? If only he could talk to her face to face...

“Can I – maybe – come and see you?”

An agonizing pause, then, “Why?”

“I want to apologize in person.” The words came without hesitation.

Another pause, longer and worse than before.

“Well-l… I guess so. To apologize.”

a line, (a short blue one)

Downtown, he found himself passing a florist’s. The display of deep-red long-stemmed roses in its window hit him in the eye, just like the window-dresser had meant it to.

He was in the store without realizing how he got there.

“Ah, those roses?”

The clerk, fifties, motherly, smiled at him. “They’re beautiful, aren’t they? Fresh in today.”

“A dozen?”

“Why, surely. Special occasion?”

He nodded, mumbled.

“Someone’s a lucky girl. I’ll make up a real nice bouquet for you.”

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He couldn’t meet Monique’s eye at the door, but held the flowers out, looking down at her feet.

“Oh! For me? They’re rather spectacular. Come in and sit down.” She turned. “I’ll just put them in water.”

He took an armchair, avoiding the couch where they’d kissed and cuddled. Banging sounds came from the kitchen, then she reappeared with the roses in a plain white vase. She set it down, teased one or two blooms into place. “There. Hope I bruised the stems enough. Seems cruel, but you have to do it if you want them to last.”

“I didn’t know that,” he got out.

“You would if you often bought your lady-friends roses.”

She spoke lightly. And at least she didn’t tear the heads off and throw them in his face. But perhaps she was humoring him, drawing a civilized line under an episode she’d rather forget, would indeed forget as soon as she hooked up with a man who had decent manners? What the – no, Monique didn’t like the f-word – what the hell did he say to improve his chances?

She saved him the trouble. “You look kind of bruised yourself. What happened?”

“Er – I got into a fight, in a bar.”

“And your hands!”

“I had a – ah, a little incident, on the Woodville project.”

Her hand went to her mouth. “You fell? Oh, God, I used to...”

What did that mean? That she thought about him when they were apart, the way he so often thought about her?

a line, (a short blue one)

They were tiptoeing around the elephant in the room, the big ugly one of his awful behavior to her last night. No point waiting for her to mention it. That was his job.

“Monique, I – I...” Nothing to the purpose came out of his bone-dry mouth. He licked his lips, forcing the words out.

“I’m sorry. I really mean it. Last night, I freaked out like some idiot. I’m so ashamed of myself.”

He’d never imagined saying anything like that, to anyone, about anything. You learned from your mistakes, sure, but you didn’t publicly flagellate yourself.

And that wasn’t all he needed to say.

“Can you f–forgive me? Monique? Please?” You didn’t plead, either. Only the weak pleaded. But none of those rules applied when the stakes were this high.

Her brow puckered. “Well, that’s a big ask. You really scared me last night. It was like you were a different person.”

What more could he say? Dared he be as open with her as she’d been with him?

Yes. She’d understand. He drew a deep breath.

“Monique… Can I explain a couple things? I’m not making excuses, but I want to tell you the truth.”

She nodded.

He told her about the party, ending, “I didn’t know what I felt. Whether to blame Tom, or to blame myself.” His voice trembled as he spoke.

“Men and women aren’t so different, Jim. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I see that now.” Though it had taken him ten years. Emboldened, he went on to the trans girl in the park. “You said I was like a different person. Well, back then…”

Her eyes widened in horror as he told the story, but she said nothing. He forced himself to go on, faltering, leaving sentences unfinished. His words hung in the air, dripping their poison.

My God!” she breathed. “Did you…”

“I just held his – her arms. But even that was bad enough.”

Her voice sharpened. “I’ll say it was. It was next door to rape. That poor girl! She must have been terrified. You could all have gone to jail.”

He hung his head, his voice sinking to a mumble. “Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that.”

“No, you have to admit things before you can move past them. But give me time to process it.”

The silence congealed. Under the ratcheting tension, his brain whirred uselessly: what was she thinking, what would she throw at him next, how should he answer?

After an eon, she spoke.


“Unh?” His voice molasses-thick.

“What would you do if I said, ‘Get out of here, and don’t ever come back’?”

He cried out with unbearable pain, stumbling to his feet, his impulse to flee, to hide like a wounded animal. Or could he, even now, plead for a last-ditch stay of execution? He wavered, unsure of what to do with his hands, afraid to look at her.


Something in her tone… He turned. She sat bolt upright, her blue-violet eyes transfixing him.

“That’s probably what I should say, but… You had the honesty to tell me those things. That can’t have been easy.”

Her features relaxed a little. “Sit down.” She patted the couch.

He took the far end, away from her.

“I’m pretty sure you understand yourself better now,” she went on. “I had to understand myself, too.” She paused. “I ought to have told you earlier about me, not sprung it on you like I did. But I was scared I’d lose you – which was crazy, because if you couldn’t accept me as I am, we’d be finished anyway. But you don’t always think clearly when your feelings are involved.”

Well, he certainly hadn’t. “So, you mean – could you…?”

“Well...” A tentative smile. “Maybe you deserve another chance.”

He let go his breath. His eyes prickled, with a kaleidoscope of emotions and released tensions. He hadn’t cried since he was a kid, but he didn’t mind at all if Monique saw him do it now.

“Yeah, I guess you’re feeling emotional. I feel pretty shaken up, too. But we’ve been good together –” she cocked her head to one side “– haven’t we? We don’t want to lose that if we can help.”

He’d have put it a lot more strongly, though right now he couldn’t have articulated a word. But he could still show her.

a line, (a short blue one)

“Whew!” she said when they broke. “I guess that’s another way of saying it.” Her tone became serious. “Jim, it’s been a heavy evening. Maybe you should go now. But call me, soon. And – maybe you should meet some of my friends. Especially the ones who’ve been matchmaking for me.” She grinned.

Things were moving so fast! Or were they? They’d had time to get to know each other, and the feeling that Monique was right for him had grown so naturally he’d hardly been aware of it. Only a few months ago, it would have been unimaginable. But you didn’t pass up a treasure just because you didn’t expect it to land in your lap.

Sometimes, it took a crisis to help you see your way clear.

“I’ll be glad to,” he said, pushing aside thoughts of the boys. But maybe he’d outgrown them, and they weren’t the only people he knew. “You’ll have to meet some of mine, too.”



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