Endorsed by one of the leading researchers on Disorders of Sex Development, Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite is a young adult novel, an authentic portrayal of the issues faced by an intersex teen.
Jamie was born with a testis, an ovary, and a pixie face. He can be a boy after minor surgery and a few years on testosterone. Well, that’s what his parents always say, but he sees an elfin princess in the mirror. To become the man his parents expect, Jamie must leave behind a little girl’s hopes and dreams.
At sixteen, the four-foot-eleven soprano leaves home school for a boys’ dorm at college. The elfin princess can live in the books Jameson reads and nobody has to find out he isn’t like other boys.
When a medical student tells Jamie that he should have been raised female, suppressed childhood memories stir. The elfin princess can thrive, but will she risk losing her family and her education for a boy who may desert her, or a toddler she may never be allowed to adopt?
Coral Gables, Florida — December, 1970
Pain, sharp and insistent, dragged me back toward consciousness. I kicked the covers away and struggled to raise my head. One hand swept my lower abdomen, searching for blood, or perhaps the handle of a stiletto. Instead, a gauze bandage meant the healers had already treated my wound.
“How are you feeling?” An angel hovered beside my bed. Western eyes dominated her beautiful Asian face. Black hair cascaded over tanned shoulders. A sleeveless silk blouse clung to her perfect figure. As I stared, the mild concern in her eyes brightened into amusement. “Jamie, I’m Lisa. Remember?”
Lisa—my one true friend in college. The mists departed, leaving me groggy and sore in a hospital bed. “Thanks for coming. How’d you find out I was having an appendectomy?”
Shadows drifted across her brow, darkening her face. “Your Neanderthal roommate left a message saying you were in labor.”
Ooh! A chuckle died in abdominal pain as my muscles contracted. I reached a hand down and applied gentle pressure against my recent incision, hoping that would help. Frank majored in teasing his little roommate, but he also protected me from more serious abuse by the other boys in the dorm.
“Frank’s okay,” I said.
Doubt blossomed across her face. “What’s that med student see in him?”
Yeah. Her. Sharon considered my small frame and unusual face evidence of a rare disorder begging to be diagnosed. “I think they were high school sweethearts.” Frank had worked at his dad’s car dealership for a couple of years before starting college. With his new Trans Am and his masculine good looks, he was pursued by a number of girls. I searched Lisa’s eyes, wondering what she found of interest in a boy like me.
Lisa sat on the bed, her hip brushing against my bare knee. She grinned, teasing again. “You should show a little leg more often.”
“Hmpf.” Exposing my smooth skin would only provide one more reason for boys to ridicule me. My golden-red mane grew thick and straight, but the rest of my body was free from hair.
Footsteps sounded in the hallway outside my room. Lisa pulled the covers back up, kissed me on the forehead, and tousled my hair. “Rest. I’ll drop by tomorrow.”
I closed my eyes, glad to have a friend like her.
When I woke again, I saw someone standing beside my bed. Ooh! My mother must have taken the red-eye to get to Miami from Illinois so soon. “Mom, you didn’t need to come all this way. I’m okay.”
“Jameson, if you had—” She paused and brushed the hair away from my face. “—a daughter in the hospital, wouldn’t you visit her?”
Come on! Okay, so you haven’t seen me with long hair since I was nine, but I’m not effeminate, and I don’t wear girl’s clothes. So why make such a big deal out of it? At least Mom only hinted at her displeasure over my looks. Dad would probably go ballistic.
Rather than argue, I changed the subject. “I’ll miss my finals.”
She smiled and patted my arm. “That’s all right, sweetie. They’ll understand. No one expects you to take exams while you’re in the hospital.”
Alicia sat on the other side of the bed. The thirteen-year-old was six inches taller than me, but she was still my little sister. “Hey, Ali. Enjoy the trip?”
She nodded. “Yeah. Flying’s neat.” Alicia took my hand and returned a grin.
Only four months had passed, but I missed her like it had been years. I didn’t want to upset her by admitting it, though. “Does this count as a home school project?”
“I’m supposed to write an essay when I get back.”
My sister held a paperback in one hand, so I asked her what she was reading.
“Mom’s making me read the books on your favorites list. I finished Pollyanna and Anne of Green Gables last week. I brought Jane Eyre with me on the plane.”
Mom brushed her hand against my arm, capturing my attention again. “It took too long for the hospital to reach me in Springfield. I gave Kaylah a medical power of attorney. She lives in Coconut Grove now, so in an emergency, she can authorize your treatment. I want you to carry her phone number in your wallet.”
What’s with that? Mom and Dad hadn’t been on speaking terms with my cousin since I was nine. “Okay.” Had they forgiven her? Talking to Kaylah again would be awesome.
“The doctors should release you on Thursday or Friday. We’ll drop you at the Piersons’ before we leave. You can stay with Sharon and her brother over Christmas break.”
Sharon? I was doomed! My eyes popped open and I sat up, or rather tried to. Pain brought tears to my eyes as I sank back down. “No, Mom. I’ll be okay in the dorm.”
“Frank won’t be there, and I don’t want you alone in your room so soon after surgery.”
“But Christmas break is three weeks long!” Way more time than I would want anybody examining me under a microscope. Who knew what Sharon might come up with? “I’ll be back to normal in a couple of days.”
“This is not open for debate, Jameson. We can’t afford a hotel for that long.”
Mom pulled her chair close to the bed and put a hand on my arm. “When I arrived, a young woman in a white coat was in your room. I know how you are about doctors, so I asked her to make certain the examinations were kept to a minimum. She apologized and introduced herself as Sharon Pierson, saying she was only a medical student visiting you. We had a long talk. Her parents are spending the winter up north, so she’d appreciate some company. You’re blessed to have someone like her as a friend.”
A friend? I shut my eyes and groaned. Frankenstein chased creatures from The Island of Doctor Moreau through the fields of my imagination.
* * * *
I checked out of the hospital on the fourth day, hoping never to get near the place again. Bad enough that I had surgery, but did everybody on the planet have to examine me?
Alicia and I waited in the lobby while Mom walked out to get the rental car. My sister grinned at me and brushed the hair out of my eyes. “I’m surprised Mom didn’t say anything. Your hair’s gotten kinda long.”
Long and shaggy. Dad had cut my hair the previous spring and I hadn’t so much as trimmed it since. “Please don’t bring it up, okay? I don’t need to be hassled about anything right now.”
“Okay. I won’t. You’re pretty with long hair, though.”
Alicia was my best bud ever, but she wouldn’t let some things alone. “Come on, Ali. I just got out of the hospital. Besides, lots of guys wear their hair long.”
“Yeah, but Dad says they’re all pot-smoking hippies and draft dodgers.”
“Who cares? I don’t do drugs, but I’ll burn my draft card when I get one.”
“Jamie! Don’t say that. Dad’s already ashamed of you. Scott died a hero in Vietnam, but you’re half girl. Even if you got drafted, you know they wouldn’t take you, so what’s the point?”
“Last year they shot students at Kent State. Not violent criminals, Ali. Just unarmed kids. Ideas are important, even if your actions are only symbolic.”
Mom pulled up in the car, so I slid into the passenger seat. On the way to Sharon’s we stopped by the dorm to pick up my clothes and some other stuff. Unbelievable that my mother would make me stay with Sharon. I scowled at her when she wasn’t looking. The medical student already ran Frank’s life. Why did she have to run mine too?
I opened the car door and got out as soon as we stopped. Sharon was unloading grocery bags from her car. When she eyed me, her smile reminded me of some mad scientist plotting an evil experiment.
After Alicia helped Sharon carry her groceries in, everybody hugged and said their goodbyes. Then my mom and my sister got into the rental car and left for the airport.
I offered to help put stuff away, but Sharon reminded me not to lift anything heavy yet. So I eased down into a chair at the kitchen table and watched her. “When’s your brother supposed to get here?”
Sharon sat down opposite me, holding a sheet of paper with both hands. “Actually, Tyler left a note…His unit’s on high alert…He’ll call as soon as he hears anything…So we’re alone for the next few days. Is that all right? If not, I can drive you back to Eaton Hall.”
My mother wouldn’t be happy if her son was alone with Sharon or disobeyed and went back to the dorm. On the other hand, Dad might actually like the idea of my being alone with a girl. “No. Mom wanted me to stay with someone.” I chuckled nervously. “Please don’t tell her we were alone, though. She’ll have a hissy fit.”
“You’re sure this is all right?”
No, actually. The situation was horrible, but what other options did I have? “Yeah. Well, better than being alone in the dorm.” I shrugged. “And better than going home.”
“Why? Is your family so bad?”
“No. I love my family, but Dad would want me to get a buzz cut. He thinks I look like a girl when my hair’s long.”
Sharon tilted her head, studying me. Then she stood up and got a couple of containers out of the refrigerator. “Are chicken salad sandwiches all right? I was going to reheat the pot roast, but I’m not very hungry.”
“Yeah. I’m not exactly starving, either.”
The two of us sat down for a dinner of sandwiches and potato chips. Sharon’s laser eyes burned into me. She was examining her specimen already, so I put on my innocent-little-kid smile and leaned closer. “What’s up?”
“I was thinking how pretty you are when you smile,” she said.
Like I need three weeks of this! “Thanks, Sharon. I love you, too.”
“No. I’m serious. Perhaps that’s why your father thinks you look like a girl.”
I put my sandwich down and shook my head. “That’s not how things work. I frown and he still makes me cut my hair.”
“Why do it then?”
Why was obeying my father so hard to understand? “He’s my dad.” I poked at my sandwich, no longer hungry. “If short hair is what will make him happy, I’ll get it cut.”
Sharon frowned at her empty glass and got another soda out of the refrigerator. “Why’s your father so sensitive about your appearance anyway?”
Like I should tell you? I scowled at my plate, pleading the Fifth by my silence.
“You can trust me. I wouldn’t tell anyone.”
Yeah. Right. “Hmpf.” She would probably blackmail me. One more person under her control. One step closer to world domination.
Sharon set her fork down and breathed deep. Her face softened and her body relaxed. Sadness touched her eyes. Was Dr. Jekyll becoming Miss Hyde? Wow. Like maybe she was a real person with feelings and all. When Sharon next spoke, her voice was gentler than I’d ever heard it. “Jamie, Doctors Hospital is a teaching hospital. Earlier this week I watched them examine someone with a rare disorder. The patient was sixteen, less than five feet tall, and had strawberry blonde hair. He was still unconscious after having his appendix removed. I didn’t recognize his face until the end, or I wouldn’t have stayed.” She shrugged, looking apologetic. “I’m sorry.”
My stomach muscles seized, almost making me hurl my lunch. I grimaced, nervous that my heart might not start beating again. For a few seconds the only sound was the ticking of the kitchen clock. Then my pulse came crashing back, pounding in both ears. What more could anybody take from me? I drew in a long breath, closed both eyes, and exhaled. “You stole his secret,” I whispered. “What will happen if everybody knows?”
“No,” Sharon whispered, with a gentle shake of her head. “I’m the only one who recognized you, and I won’t tell anyone. You can trust me to keep your secret.”
Fear and uncertainty raced across my mind. Did I have any choice? I stared at her without blinking, eyes unfocused. How much did she know? “What did the doctor say about him?”
Sharon put on her medical student face. She would have looked perfect in a white coat. “You have a genetic condition resulting in short stature, a pixie face, and a sexually ambiguous body. The doctor pointed out parts of your anatomy. And,” she added, in a conspiratorial whisper, “he said you should have been raised female.”
I stared at the table, wondering who would ever want some nosy medical student as a friend. But since she already knew everything, I longed for her acceptance. I closed my eyes again, trying to calm shattered nerves. “What if he was?”
“What do you mean? I don’t understand.”
How could anybody explain a childhood like mine? I put my plate into the dishwasher and retreated to the living room. Outside the picture window white clouds drifted across a pale blue sky. A small child’s laughter echoed across the years. I’d been happy once, blissfully unaware of what awaited me. Out of my field of vision I sensed Sharon’s silent approach. In a hushed voice, I said, “Maybe when he was little he thought he was a girl, but when he got older his mom and dad didn’t like that.”
“So you’re a boy because that’s what your mother and father want?”
Rejected, the little girl had run away from the pain in her father’s eyes. She’d hidden in the one place no one could ever find her. Should I tell you the truth about Jameson? Would you help if you understood? In a small voice, I said, “She might have built a pretend boy to fool them all.”
A wing-back chair sat in one corner of the living room, a lamp stand next to it. I sat down, pulled my feet up under me, and opened a magazine. What good was dwelling on old wounds? The girl had died long ago.
Sharon stopped in front of me, concern written across her face. “Someone should tell her I’d like to be her friend.” She reached out a hand, hesitated, and then touched my arm.
Still withdrawing, I got up and walked toward the guest room. At the door I gazed back at her with a growing heaviness in my chest. “She hasn’t talked to anybody since she was nine.”
I collapsed on the bed in the guest room. Long ago I’d realized that someone would eventually find out Jameson wasn’t a regular boy between his legs. But I’d never expected anybody to discover he wasn’t much of a boy between his ears either.
Sharon wanted to be my friend, and yet she was too much like a doctor. They’d already done something evil to her brain. Why had I admitted anything to her? Packing and returning to the dorm seemed the safest thing to do, but she had me trapped in her specimen jar. What choice did I have? If she wasn’t my friend, she might tell Mom I really did have gender issues. Then I’d be history.
Jameson existed as a thousand boys-don’t and boys-do rules. Deep inside, I brushed the dust off the end of one. Was shutting off a part of him even possible? I pulled, gently at first, and then more firmly. With a quiet popping sound, the rule slid out. I waited, probing for any adverse reaction, ready to replace it. A slight easing of inhibition was all I noticed. Down the corridor each way, as far as the eye could see, stretched more of Jameson. This would take time.
One of his rules stood off alone, like a shepherd watching over the others, guarding and caring for them. When I brushed my fingers over it, an electric thrill ran through my vision. Images flashed rapid-fire, jumbled sounds crashing softly in my ears. Kids at a party. I didn’t remember anything from my early birthdays. Was this a memory block? Why forget about a stupid party? Ignoring the sights and sounds flooding me, I yanked on the end—and got swept into the past.
* * * *
I didn’t have any clothes fit for an elfin princess, so my cousin Kaylah let me borrow some hand-me-downs one of the Fair Folk had given her. She shook her head as she held a white velvet skirt up in front of me. “I don’t care if that old book says the Kirkpatricks are faie. Your face is bean shìdh, but the rest of you is brùnaidh.”
At five I was only a little taller than my two-year-old sister Alicia, so the clothes were way too big for me. “Please, Kaylah. The brownies are elves too. They’re just not as tall.”
“All right, then.” Kaylah safety-pinned the white velvet skirt to my slip, so the waist stayed up under my arms and the hem brushed the floor. The satin sleeves of the woodland green blouse hung down past my fingertips. She wrapped a silver lace belt around my waist twice and made a bow in the back. A spider-silk flower went on my shoulder. I sat down so she could tie the ribbons of starlight ballet slippers around my ankles. “There you are!” She clapped her hands together. “Princess Grace herself doesn’t dress any finer than that.”
Fancy clothes weren’t all an elfin princess needed to be dressed for a party, so I sat facing my reflection and waited for my maidservant to finish. She stood behind me in the wall mirror, intense concentration twisting her face. I grinned as she pulled the soft foam rollers out of my locks and fluffed, brushed, teased, and sprayed until my hair was perfect. It wasn’t very long, but the color was pretty, somewhere between ripe pumpkin and the gold of the earrings she clipped on my ears.
Face full of wonder, Kaylah held a glass vial before my eyes. “There’s a river so high in the Mountains of the Moon that the water turns silvery-blue.” She pulled the stopper out of the shiny bottle and dipped a small brush into it. “I’m going to paint your nails with moonlight. Sit still until it dries.”
In the mirror sat a beautiful elfin princess—golden hair aglow, large emerald eyes, small red mouth, and rosy cheeks sprinkled with freckles. She was the happiest elf-maiden of the realm. I stood, grabbed a handful of white velvet on each side, curtseyed to the lady in the mirror, and spun around so my skirt would fly.
“Pretty!” shouted Alicia, one finger in her mouth.
“Both my girls are beautiful.” Kaylah bent down and kissed my little sister on the cheek.
“Are you ready, birthday girl?” She grabbed my hand and held it high. “Your court awaits you, my lady.” I spun around on tiptoes, a lovely ballerina, my shoes sparkling like stardust in the night sky.
Jimmy the Pirate swaggered into the kitchen, wooden saber at his side and a black patch over one eye. Alicia danced in her little pink tutu and a pair of angel wings made from coat hanger wire and crinoline. Gladys was dressed like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, red shoes and all. She had even brought Toto, a stuffed toy animal that might once have resembled a dog. Kaylah wore a tattered pair of bib overalls, a gingham blouse, and an old straw hat.
They had all chipped in and bought me a present. Kaylah must have wrapped the package because the edges and folds were all straight. I pulled the tape off, careful not to rip the paper. Inside was a new Raggedy Ann. A squeal of delight burst from my lips, and I hugged the doll to my breast. “Sofie! I’ll name her Princess Sofie!” I scooted over on my throne, set her on the seat beside me, and straightened her dress.
Kaylah winked at me, set my birthday cake on the kitchen table, and lit the candles. I blew out all five with one breath and grinned at Jimmy. They say you shouldn’t tell anybody your wish, but he already knew I wanted to be his wife.
The pirate grinned at me, eyes flashing, and waved a saber over his head. “Yar! Cut the cake!”
Kaylah was the one who baked my birthday cake. I think she got the recipe off a Hershey’s Cocoa tin. Anyway, she made the yummiest chocolate cakes. I cut Jimmy a ragged chunk and passed him his plate.
“Princess, you’re making a mess.” My cousin, gentle as always, cleaned the frosting off my sleeve and cut slices for the rest of us.
I was halfway through eating mine when I heard the front door open. Ooh! Dad was home early. Seeing the little princess would make him sad. My fork hit my lap, chocolate cake and all, and bounced to the floor. Arms trembling, I sprang up, thinking to run away.
“No, Jamie. It’s okay. Today’s your birthday.” Kaylah grabbed my arm and gently pushed me back down into my seat. “He should see how pretty you look.”
Kaylah was only twelve, but she’d pretended to be my mom ever since she was seven. My real mom home schooled Kaylah, and me, and my brother Scott every morning. In the afternoon, while our moms worked, my cousin, and Alicia, and I played together. Scott didn’t hang around with girls, so he went to his pal Joey’s or played kick-the-can outside the old schoolhouse on Polk Street.
I didn’t have a magic ring to make me invisible, so Dad found me as soon as he strode into the kitchen. His eyes—those deep wells of disappointment—locked on the elfin princess and sucked the life out of her. “What’s going on?”
Kaylah stepped between me and Dad, saving me from certain doom. “It’s Jamie’s birthday, remember? The kids are all wearing costumes for his party. We were reading Old Scottish Fairy Tales and he wanted to dress like an elfin princess.”
I peeked around Kaylah’s waist, hiding Sofie behind my back. The air around my father seemed to crackle with lightning, but he only nodded and smiled at me. “I got you a new softball. After your party, let’s play catch. Okay, sport?”
So my dad played catch with the elfin princess, tossing her the ball underhand from a few feet away. I missed the first one; it went right between my outstretched arms. The second rolled off my fingertips. The third bounced off my hands and hit me in the face. Boys seemed to learn right away, but I didn’t think I’d ever be able to catch a ball. I shut my eyes to hide my frustration, but the tears were too many.
“I’m sorry, Jameson. Are you okay?” Dad knelt down and hugged his little princess tight, but the disappointment in his eyes hurt her worse than the ball had. Scott said I threw like a girl, but all the ones I knew played catch better than me. I got hurt when I played boy games. Every time. That’s one reason I preferred playing with Kaylah and Alicia.
Dad led me back inside. While he searched for the ice pack, I sympathized with the princess in the mirror. Her face resembled a raccoon’s now, with a dark half-moon under one eye. Poor girl. Another black eye. Won’t you ever learn?
* * * *
A knock on the door meant it was almost bedtime. I put Barbie into her case and picked up my little china tea sets. Alicia began gathering the Lincoln Logs that were scattered across the floor. “Mom knows,” she said as she slid a box on the shelf.
“What?” I collected the dolls, and stuffed animals, and all and put them into the closet.
“That you don’t play with your cars.”
Every morning before Dad left for work, I got my Matchbox cars out of their carrying case. After breakfast Mom home schooled us. In the afternoon I played with Alicia and Kaylah. When Dad got home, I packed the cars back into their case. Seeing me put them all into their little slots made my dad smile. Like he thought I’d been playing with them the whole day. After supper Alicia and I read or played with dolls in our room.
My sister touched my shirtsleeve. “If you’re an elfin princess, how come you always wear boy clothes?”
I glanced into the mirror. The elfin princess wondered why, too. “I don’t have any dresses, you know. Kaylah’s old clothes are only for dress-up, and they’re too big anyway.”
Alicia hugged me like I was her little sister. “You can wear mine.”
I glanced at her and shook my head. “I don’t want to wear somebody else’s clothes.”
“Mom says we’re supposed to share, and besides, we’re twins.”
Alicia was my best bud ever, but sometimes she said goofy stuff. “We can’t be twins. I’m seven and you’re only four.” I picked up Sofie and put her on my bed so she could sleep with me.
Alicia held her hand above my head and slid it toward hers, like she was measuring us. “We’re the same size and we’re sisters.” She bobbed her head as if that settled everything.
We stood next to each other in the mirror. Alicia really was as tall as the elfin princess. Our hair and eyes were the same color. She was human and me part elf, but we were both girls. Not twins, though. When I shook my head again, she pouted. “Jamie, please. I want to wear jeans.”
She had some cute corduroy overalls with a flower sewn on the front, but no blue jeans. What could I do? I hugged her and said okay.
She squealed and ran to my dresser, where she picked out a pair of jeans. Then she ran to the closet and found a blouse like the one she was wearing. A minute later we were giggling and jumping on my bed, dressed like we were identical twins or something. We scrambled to get ready for bed when someone knocked on the door again.
Mom stared at me for several heartbeats before she tucked me in, but she didn’t say anything about Alicia and me wearing matching nightgowns.
* * * *
The doorbell rang a third time. I glanced at the bathroom door, wishing Kaylah would hurry. Alicia peeked around the corner as I took another step across the living room. “You’ll get us in trouble,” she whispered.
“What if it’s Aunt Elizabeth?” She’d be mad if I didn’t let her in.
“Kaylah said never, ever answer the door by yourself.” She shook her head in emphasis. “Never.”
A fist pounded on the door, insistent. What could I do? I turned the handle and pulled.
The tall lady on the porch smiled and leaned close. “You must be Alicia. Is your mother home?”
Never, ever talk to strangers. That’s what my mom always said. “No, ma’am. My name’s Jamie. Mom’s not home.”
Alicia poked her head around the corner, and then ran to stand next to me. “We’re twins.” She tugged on the sleeve of my dress, beaming. “See. We have the same clothes.”
I stared at my sister. She always insisted we dress alike. Our hair was even cut the same. In her mind, that was enough. That was okay, I guess. We liked each other better than any real twins I knew.
The lady studied her notebook for a moment, frowning. Then she shook her head. “Our records indicate a nine-year-old boy named Jameson and a six-year-old girl named Alicia reside at this address.”
Always helpful, Alicia said, “Jamie used to wear boy clothes.”
“Who’s there?” I turned to see Kaylah approaching, her face pale. Was she sick?
The lady held out a hand. “I’m Stephanie Pollock, from the school board.”
* * * *
The sights and sounds dispersed, finding their old homes in my memory. A curious child’s imagination drew me into the bathroom. Golden hair surrounded her face. Large green eyes, small nose, cute little mouth, freckles spread over her cheeks—the ethereal face in the mirror belonged on an elfin princess. Before I’d made Jameson, I’d seen her every day. All of the stupid behavior rules would have to be put back before returning to the dorm, but I swore I’d never again hide away her memories.
I unpacked Jameson’s clothes and other things, and dressed in his PJs. I could disable the rest of his rules while lying on the bed. Sharon would think me asleep.
A flash, a crack of thunder, and an old wizard appeared in the doorway, inviting me on a quest. I slammed the door in his face. Jameson lent stability to my life. Other kids teased me, but I could live with that. People got killed on adventures, especially ones involving old wizards. Safety lay behind my mask, living my life in my books. No one would ever suspect—or so I had thought.
He shattered the door with his staff. “You’re too late,” he intoned. “Jameson’s doom is sealed. The young mage has seen and won’t rest until she frees the elfin princess from his grasp. You must learn to live without him.”
My arms and legs trembled at the thought of losing Jameson. How could I face the world alone? He was the one who remembered all those rules about how to be a boy. No. I would only remove my mask long enough to make friends with Sharon, so she would leave me alone and not go blabbing to Mom. Just for one day. Then I’d put Jameson’s rules all back and make my world safe again. I stared at the imaginary old wizard and sighed, wondering if Sharon had any idea what she’d unleashed.
Lying on a feather bed underneath a pile of quilts, breathing the cold night air—could even a princess have asked for a more pleasant sleep? Stretching and yawning, I rubbed my eyes with balled fists. Muted noises somewhere in the house meant Mom was up. Soon she’d be telling me and Alicia to get ready for home school. I rolled over, bunched the soft pillow around my head, and pushed the hair away from my face. The last little bit of sleep was always the best.
An errant ray caught my eye. Bright light peeked around the drapes, too intense for an Oswego winter morning. This could only mean one thing. Snow! The little princess bounced up out of bed, clapped her hands together, and squealed at the thought of a white Christmas. I poked my head between the drapes, expecting a winter wonderland.
Bright sunshine dazzled my eyes. Tears formed as I blinked away the blinding colors. Behind the neighbor’s house a majestic rainfall stretched skyward to heavy cumulus clouds. God’s rainbow soared off into the distance. Memories of the previous day awakened me from my half-sleep and brought me back to the present. Ooh! The world was so much more alive without Jameson.
In the yard a magnolia tree spread limbs heavenward, dozens of lilac and cream blossoms declaring the beauty of creation. Great drops rolled off their petals and fell to the earth. Nearby, mist rose from puddles already returning to the clouds. Butterflies played tag among the hibiscus blooms. A hummingbird dallied within arm’s reach outside my window, winked, and zipped away. An enchanted land, it seemed, that fair place the humans named Coral Gables. Fully awake now, I pulled the drapes open, spun around on tiptoes, and waltzed to the bathroom.
A shaggy-haired girl frowned at me from the bathroom mirror. She wasn’t a real princess, you know, but even a waif expected to have her hair trimmed once in a while. She narrowed her eyes at me, but I spread my hands apart. “You shouldn’t expect Jameson to keep his hair all pretty. At least he didn’t cut it short.” The girl glared at me from under her brows until I turned away.
“It’s not my fault his hair’s a mess,” I whispered as I brushed out the snarls. “And look,” I said, holding up a golden lock. “Isn’t the color pretty? There’s more sun in my hair now. You can’t tell whether I’m a blonde or a redhead anymore.” She stared back at me, unimpressed. “Okay,” I whispered, “So maybe Sharon will trim the ends for us.”
The princess in the mirror scowled at me when I took off Jameson’s pajama bottoms. She didn’t like seeing what was down there because it proved she wasn’t a girl like she thought. She only had a pretty face and small size. “Don’t be sad, princess,” I tried to reassure her. “Sharon said you were supposed to be a girl. Maybe you will be when you grow up.”
I took a quick shower. Boy clothes were all I had—I couldn’t expect Jameson to keep girl clothes, now could I? He had no fashion sense anyway; all he wore were T-shirts and blue jeans. I dressed in the cleanest ones I found and went in search of my new friend.
Sharon was making coffee when I walked into the kitchen. “Good morning, Miss Sharon. Would you please trim my hair?”
She flinched and turned pale before nodding. “Trim…Sure…Go shampoo. I’ll find some scissors.”
In the guest bath again I glanced at the princess. “Should we use the sink to wash our hair?” I grinned at her, feeling a little mischievous. Jameson had to use the shower. That was one of those stupid boys-don’t rules. Back when being a girl was okay, Mom used to wash mine in the sink.
The little princess strolled out of the bathroom about ten minutes later, a towel wrapped around her head. I grinned when I realized that was breaking another of Jameson’s rules.
Sharon studied me from under her brows. “Would you like your hair cut short?”
Memories of my first buzz cut almost knocked me down. Even as a teenager, I fought against tears whenever Dad got out the clippers. My hands rose instinctively to shield my head. “No, ma’am. I only want my hair trimmed.”
Sharon smiled the way Mom used to whenever I got scared. She pulled up a kitchen chair and asked the little princess to sit. Then she wrapped a towel around my shoulders. “Your hair’s beautiful. You should take better care of it.”
My hair had gotten so tangled up with the whole boy-girl thing, letting Jameson do anything at all with it was hard. I craned my neck to gaze up at Sharon. “I’m sorry. Jameson isn’t any good at that.”
Sharon stared at me. I counted heartbeats until she pulled up another chair and sat down facing me. With one hand she brushed the hair out of my eyes. “Where’s Jameson now?” she whispered.
Deep inside, stacks of rules were all there was of him. I touched one to make sure everything was still okay. Then I smiled and tilted my head. “I took him apart. He’s not a real person, you know.”
A wisp of cloud crossed Sharon’s face, leaving a faint trail of distress. “Are you?”
“I hope so.” I chuckled, a soft melody at first, like wind chimes in the breeze. How long had it been since the little princess made a sound like that? When I realized that giggling was against another one of Jameson’s ridiculous gender rules, the insanity of it all bubbled up out of me as musical laughter.
The sound appeared to banish Sharon’s concern. Her smile turned carefree. “So…what’s your name?”
“I’m Jamie. You said you wanted to be my friend.”
“I do. I’m sorry. I was confused, that’s all.”
“You said you’d trim my hair.”
Sharon stood in front of me, a hand on either side of my head. Her face knotted up in concentration as she studied the little princess. “I think you’d be pretty with your hair cut just below your chin. Is that all right?”
Ooh! “That sounds neat.”
When Sharon finished, she asked me to go look in the mirror. The pretty little princess reflected there squealed with delight. She started crying, though. The princess hadn’t had a girl’s haircut in forever. I brushed my hand across the glass to wipe away her tears. “It’ll be okay now,” I whispered. You shouldn’t lie to her. You know Jameson can’t go back to the dorm like that. I dropped my hand and turned away, whispering, “Let her be happy for a while. Okay?”
I went back to the kitchen and thanked Sharon for the pretty hairstyle. Mom didn’t want hair in Jameson’s eyes, so I asked my friend for a barrette.
“There’s one on the dresser you can use. I’d like to speak with you after you get it.”
“Okay,” I piped and headed for the guest room again. The girl in the mirror grinned at me this time, her green eyes flashing as I pinned her hair back. It was only for a day, but neither of us cared. I winked at her and bounced back down the hall to the kitchen.
Sharon motioned for me to sit at the kitchen table, and then sat across from me. I imagined her with her white coat and stethoscope, hair tied back and face all intense. For some reason I found her medical student seriousness amusing. It only broadened my grin when she leaned toward me and asked, “Last night, you said you were a girl when you were young. Would you explain that?”
It seemed a strange question to ask first, but perhaps this was a medical student’s way of making friends. “I was small. When I played with boys, I got hurt, so my parents let me play with other girls. When I asked, Mom taught me cooking, and sewing, and all. My parents bought me dolls. I thought being a girl was okay.”
“What did you play?”
“Kaylah, and Alicia, and I played house and dress-up—” An old memory derailed my train of thought, leaving behind an image of Dad’s sad eyes when his happy little princess explained why she had a pillow tucked under her shirt. My sad eyes glanced at Sharon. “Sometimes I was a mommy.”
Sharon’s eyes lingered on mine. “Kaylah’s your cousin who was at the hospital?”
Had Sharon met her? “Yeah. We used to be neighbors.”
“You’re living as a boy now. What happened?”
Images from my childhood tumbled across my vision, like leaves on a windy fall day. My hands clenched on the wooden edge of the kitchen table as my world spun. I lay on cold steel, crying and alone. Doctors surrounded me, talking to each other. One poked my belly. Another examined me between my legs. “When I was nine, we went to a doctor in Chicago because my parents thought I was too small.”
I took several deep breaths, trying to slow my racing heart. My body trembled on the examining table. Why isn’t Mom stopping them? “I told the doctor I liked being a small girl. He said I had to be a boy.” I tore my eyes away from Sharon, trying to hold back the surging ocean of depression. “We moved. In Springfield they didn’t let me do girl things, and I couldn’t play with Kaylah anymore.”
Waves crashed over me, sweeping me off my feet. I had been hysterical when they pulled me away from my cousin. Alicia and I had clung to each other as our family left Oswego for the last time.
A barricade snapped into place, shutting out the images, protecting me, leaving only the indistinct shadow of childhood memories. The pain receded, but I struggled to catch my breath. “Mom took away my dolls. My parents kept my hair short.”
Tense muscles eased somewhat. I glanced at Sharon. A single tear spoiled her medical student detachment. I smiled, sure she was my friend. “Last year, my mom took me to one of the doctors she works with. He gave me shots. After a while, my voice started to change. I hated that, so I figured out how to get early admission to college, and here I am.” I stared down at the table and grimaced. “Or at least here Jameson is.”
“What do you mean?” Her voice was soft and gentle. Not the usual Sharon.
“I’m not allowed to be a girl, so I built a pretend boy. I started making him when we moved to Springfield. He’s not a real boy, you know, but he’s good enough for most people.”
“Why don’t you be a girl?”
“I’m not allowed. You saw me without clothes. I’m not a girl between my legs. So—”
“You’re not a boy either,” insisted Sharon.
Because I was part elfin princess? Because I had to sit down to pee? Because I wasn’t good at boy things? At times I wanted to be a boy more than anything. “It would be neat to be tall, and strong, and fast, and play sports.” I shrugged, still wondering what Sharon was thinking. “I’m not good at being a boy, but I’m not allowed to be a girl either.”
Sharon stared at the little princess, wheels turning. She appeared to be planning my future. I wondered whether she would ask me what I wanted or be like all the doctors who did whatever they liked. After a while longer, Sharon nodded. “Why not be a girl until you graduate? You wouldn’t need to tell your parents.”
“They aren’t stupid, Sharon. I can’t stay here until I graduate. Mom and Dad want me home for the summer.” They wouldn’t like the elfin princess. They’d cut her hair.
Sharon sighed, and then stood up. “Well, I promised Tyler I would do some baking for Christmas.”
The princess had her own little red apron. White streaks of flour ran across the front. The small dark spots were probably either butter or lard. How many times had I helped my mom cook? I jumped up out of the chair. “May I help? Mom and I used to bake cakes and cookies for Christmas.”
“Sure. Why not? Why don’t you find out how much flour and sugar are in the pantry? Look, don’t lift. I’ll find some recipes.”
“I remember our recipes for shortbread and for sugar cookies, and the Hershey’s Cocoa tin has a recipe for chocolate cake.”
Sharon made a yummy face. “Mmm! Shortbread sounds good. Why don’t we begin with that?”
“Okay. You start with two cups of flour, two-thirds of a cup of sugar, and a half teaspoon of salt in a large mixing bowl.”
Sharon measured the ingredients with care and mixed them.
“We need to cream in the butter. This way.” I smiled, picked up a stick in each hand, and squeezed them both through my fingers.
Sharon blinked at me. “Wouldn’t it be easier to melt them first?”
I shook my head, serious. “You don’t want the butter to melt the sugar.” I stuck both hands into the mixing bowl and began blending the mixture with my fingers. “You want the butter to break up into tiny pieces.” The little princess held a handful up in front of Sharon’s face to show her. “See?” Small bits fell to the floor.
“Jamie, you’re making a mess.” Sharon bent down to pick up the pieces. I reached for the washrag and accidentally bumped the bag of flour. A handful of the soft white powder spilled over the front of the cabinets. When Sharon stood again, she had flour in her hair and down one cheek. “Jamie!”
I grinned and covered my mouth with one hand, getting dough on my chin. With the other buttery hand, I tried to wipe the flour off Sharon’s face. “I’m sorry.” Giggling, the little princess began licking the batter off her hands.
Sharon scowled at me for a second before her lips trembled, and she started laughing. Seeing the always serious medical student crack up sent me into a fit that ended in tears.
Later in the day I settled into one of the wing-back chairs with a book, a glass of milk, and some artistically decorated cookies. Sharon sat on the rug next to me. “I’m going to dress up a bit. Why don’t you?”
What would I wear? A different T-shirt? “I don’t own anything fancy.”
“I’ll let you borrow something of mine. I’m quite a bit taller than you, but I have some things that might fit. I can do your makeup as well.”
You want me to be your Barbie Doll? “No. I don’t want to wear somebody else’s clothes.”
“All right, then. Why don’t we open presents? We have a tradition—We can each open one before Christmas.”
You didn’t need to be a little princess to love watching people open their gifts, and I had brought something I thought Sharon would appreciate, so I picked up her present and handed it to her. “This is from me.”
Sharon pulled off the bow and unwrapped the package. Inside was a book, an old leather-bound edition of The Comedies of William Shakespeare. She beamed at me with a big grin. “Frank must have told you about the plays.”
“Plays? No. He only talked about how much you like Shakespeare.”
“I love The Bard, but I also produce a play each year at the country club. We do a dinner theatre for charity. The club donates a lavish buffet. The cast waits tables. Everyone has a wonderful time. We’re always looking for people.”
“That sounds like fun.”
She handed me a present. The folds and edges were all straight. Who would have expected any less from someone as meticulous as Sharon? Whatever the package contained was soft. Clothes, no doubt. I grinned at Sharon and peeled back the paper to reveal a set of baby doll pajamas and an embroidered peasant blouse.
The little princess squealed, hugged Sharon, and ran off to the bedroom to try on her new blouse. The girl in the mirror bounced up and down, holding up the top, impatient to rid herself of the old T-shirt.
I bobbed my head at her and grinned. “Yes. You’re right. This is the nicest present I’ve ever gotten.” It was the only blouse anybody had ever given me—a perfect fit.
The girl’s eyes went wide and she pointed at the blouse again.
“Huh? Ooh! How did Sharon know what to get us for Christmas?” How would I know? I shrugged at her. “Maybe she was going to give these to Frank’s little sister. We’re the same size.”
She seemed to accept that, so I washed my face and rushed back out to thank Sharon.
“You said you’d do my makeup.” I grinned at her, trying not to burst.
“Sure.” Sharon smiled, took my hand, and led me back to the guest bath. She applied a little bit of mascara and lipstick. The girl in the mirror kept grinning at me and at Sharon. She was the happiest princess in the whole world.
We walked back into the living room. Sharon seemed as happy as I felt. I sat in the wing-back and tucked my feet up under me. When I reached for my book again, Sharon asked me what I was reading.
“I found a copy of A Little Princess on your shelf. I read it when I was four, but it’s one of my favorites.”
“Yes. Mine as well.”
She looked a little misty-eyed, so I hopped up out of the chair and hugged her. “Thank you, Sharon. This has been the best day ever.”
* * * *
Sharon closed the door to her room. Even over Christmas break my friend studied. I frowned and went to change into my new PJs. A chenille bathrobe hung from a hook on the guest room door. The elfin princess wrapped the softness around herself and went to sit in the wing-back again.
The clock said eleven, but I’d already spent so much time in bed the past week I didn’t think sleep would follow me there. A Little Princess, though pleasant to read, I set on my lap. With some stories, I would read for a while and wander off into my own little world. Dreaming was important when real life sucked.
Sadness drifted over my head. Why delay the inevitable any longer? Time to put Jameson’s rules back into place. Get it over with. Change back into his PJs and go to bed. I brushed my fingers across the end of one rule, hesitated, and picked up the book again. Just one more chapter before the elfin princess had to go. What could it hurt?
A mad dash for the guest room was my first thought when I heard the front door open. I was sitting cross-legged on the chair and my feet got all caught up in the robe, so the princess nearly ended up face down on the floor. That would not have done at all. By the time I recovered, he stood in front of me, grinning. “I’m sorry if I startled you.”
“No. That’s okay,” I said, my voice wandering up the scale like some kid’s slide whistle. I hid my face behind my book, my eyes peeking over the top.
He eased the volume out of my hand and examined the cover. His grin shone white in the dim light. “Tyler Andrew Pierson, my little princess,” he said, bending one knee before the throne.
I took his hand, intending to shake it, but he raised mine to his lips and kissed my fingers, like a storybook hero would. “I’m Jamie,” the little princess whispered, out of breath.
“Good to meet you, Miss Jamie.”
Tyler Andrew Pierson grinned like the Cheshire Cat and seemed able to appear and disappear at will. His brown eyes sparkled with mirth and his smile confessed that he had his hand in the cookie jar. Perhaps he would teach Alice the rules of Wonderland.
Tyler wasn’t as tall as his older sister, but it seemed a spirit of adventure gave him an energy I’d never seen in Sharon. He wore what looked like a one-piece, casual uniform. “Are you a pilot?” I asked, eyebrows raised.
“Yes, miss, I am.”
“What do you fly?” I bit my lip. Warmth spread across my cheeks. The little princess didn’t believe in love at first sight, but she was having trouble keeping her smile under control.
Sharon pulled the door to her room open. “Hi, Tyler. Jamie, you should be in bed. You two can talk in the morning.”
Yes, I should, I thought, studying Tyler. But first the princess must grant him a boon for his kindness. I leaned close to him and whispered, “Don’t tell anybody, but there’s homemade cookies in the kitchen.”