Costumes by Teekabell
Summary:

Every kid knows Costumes are for Halloween, and the rest of the year you are not supposed to wear costumes. So what happens when you decide the outfit you wear every day is really just a costume?


Categories: Characters: None
Story Attributes: Consensual Change
Story Era: 4 - Modern Times (1951-2020)
Story Warnings: Contains Bullying/Emotional Abuse, Contains Violence Depictions
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 10 Completed: Yes Word count: 63286 Read: 65121 Published: 03 Jan 2013 Updated: 06 Jan 2013
Story Notes:

Halloween Costumes

Costumes

 By Teekabell

© 2012 by Teekabell

1. Chapter 1 by Teekabell

2. Chapter 2 by Teekabell

3. Chapter 3 by Teekabell

4. Chapter 4 by Teekabell

5. Chapter 5 by Teekabell

6. Chapter 6 by Teekabell

7. Chapter 7 by Teekabell

8. Chapter 8 by Teekabell

9. Chapter 9 by Teekabell

10. Chapter 10 - Last Chapter by Teekabell

Chapter 1 by Teekabell
Author's Notes:

Chapter 1: The Decision

Summary: Every kid knows Costumes are for Halloween, and the rest of the year you are not supposed to wear costumes. So what happens when you decide the outfit you wear every day is really just a costume?

Costumes

Chapter 1 of 10

The Decision

~o~O~o~

     None of Daryl's peers or neighbors knew what he dressed up as for Halloween. Over the last five years he had found it quite amusing that no one had found out he dressed as a girl each year.  Daryl looked down at the tights and pink dress he had just taken off.  As he took off the blond curly haired wig and clip on earrings, he contemplated what he was going to do.  Each year it had been getting harder and harder to take his costume off and leave the girl behind for another year. Pulling a box out from under his bed, Daryl proceeded with what he had done every Halloween evening since first dressing as a girl on this special night, putting Princess Stephanie back into the Halloween box so she would not be seen again till next Halloween.

     ‘Nine year old boys do not wear girl clothing on any days but Halloween.' He told himself. 

     Daryl wasn't sure if any other nine year old boys wore girl's clothing on Halloween, but wasn't letting himself think about that.  Opening up the box he looked at the outfits he had worn for the last five years.  The first one, a Disney Princess Aurora costume, was the only one that could be considered an actual costume. It held a special place in his heart with it being the first chance he had ever had to wear a dress. After that, his mom just bought him a tiara and pretty dress at the second hand store.  Daryl actually enjoyed the real dresses more than the costume, but that first costume certainly was special.  In addition to the clothing and shoes, he had collected three tiaras, one princess scepter, and a princess hat.  These were used each year to make the outfits look like he was a princess instead of just a girl wearing a pretty dress. 

     Daryl pulled out the dress he wore last year, a white party dress with red trim.  He knew he hadn't grown a lot since last year and wondered if he would still fit in it.  It didn't take long for Daryl to get the dress on and looking at himself in the mirror.  With his haircut he looked silly in the dress, so he put back on the wig and smiled.  The dress still fit him. 

     He had two dresses he could wear, and he started to giggle before a big frown crossed his face.  He had never worn a dress on any day other than Halloween.  Tomorrow was a school day and he would have to be back in boy clothes.  He would have to go back to pretending he didn't like the girls. He would have to go back to playing ball, and pretending the girls were silly chanting songs as they were jumping rope. He knew all those songs by heart, and wished he could join the girls.

     Twirling in the dress one more time before taking it off, Daryl tried to think of any way he could wear dresses again before next Halloween.  Like last year, he couldn't come up with any possibilities.  He took off his girl panties and put on some Spiderman underwear before he put on his Buzz Lightyear pajamas.  He was ready for bed.  All he had to do was put his costume into his box with the other costumes. 

     ‘Halloween is now over, and Princess Stephanie must be hidden away in the box till next year,' Daryl thought as he slowly put all the items in the box and back under his bed.

     Daryl was in bed hugging his Teddy Bear when Dad came in to say goodnight.  "You got a lot of candy this year little guy.  Did you have fun?"

     "Yeah Dad.  I love Halloween."

     "Anyone see Daryl tonight?" Dad asked with a grin on his face.

     "Not even Mrs. Tellbore," Daryl giggled as Dad's smile faded. "I was worried she would, considering how much she has been babysitting me lately, but she just thought I was a cute little princess."

     "Well that is part of the fun of Halloween, dressing up in a costume and going around with no one realizing it is you."

     Daryl thought about that, and believed Dad had it wrong.  Daryl enjoyed having people see the real him on Halloween and wondered why no one could see Stephanie while he was pretending to be a boy named Daryl. 

     Dad hugged him goodnight and wished him sweet dreams before going back to the living room.  Daryl wondered if Dad would still love him if he was a girl instead of a boy. Shortly into his thoughts believing Dad wouldn't love him as a girl, Daryl was interrupted by his Mom coming in.

     "Princess Stephanie have fun Trick-or-Treating tonight?"

     "Yeah Mommy!  It was so much fun. I wish we had Halloween every day."

      "It wouldn't be special anymore if everyone dressed in costumes every day."

      "Stephanie would enjoy it a lot more," Daryl said and quickly covered himself up with his covers to hide from Mommy.

     "Does Stephanie want to visit more often than just on Halloween?"

     Daryl wanted to scream at the top of his lungs, ‘YES, YES SHE DOES!' but he said nothing.  He was a boy, and boys can only dress as girls on Halloween.  And then, only if no one found out.

     "I bet Stephanie was scared when she went up to Mrs. Tellbore's house."

     Daryl peeked out from under his covers with a big smile. "You wouldn't believe it Mommy.  She called me a cute little princess and said I was wearing a lovely dress. Then she said she had some sweets for a sweet little girl and gave me two pieces of candy. She didn't know it was me."

     "You did look lovely in that dress this year."

     Daryl's smile grew, "Then Mommy, there was that group of girls at the next house.  Two of the girls were Joanne and Gwen from my class. They liked my outfit and they never guessed it was me.  It was fun going to lot of houses with them. I really liked just being one of the girls."

     Daryl was kissed on his forehead and given a hug.  The two of them silently sat there for a while.

     "Mommy, I put Stephanie back in the Halloween box, but I put the panties in the hamper.  Could you put them in the box when you are done cleaning them?"

     "Of course pumpkin."

     The room went silent again with Daryl cuddled into Mommy.   For several minutes all Daryl heard was Mommy's breathing and the noise from the TV in the Living Room. 

     "Go in and go potty dear, and don't forget to brush your teeth.  Then it is time for Teddy to do his job protecting you all night as you sleep."

     Daryl gave Mommy a big hug and kiss before prancing out of the room to the bathroom.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     Daryl woke the next morning feeling stronger than he ever had before.  He climbed out of bed and straightened out his sheets.  Placing his Teddy Bear with its head on his pillow and body tucked under the sheets, Daryl smiled.  He went to the other side of his bed and pulled out the Halloween box, placing it on top of his bed.  Opening the box and looking at the contents, he took a deep breath and got undressed.

     The package of three panties he opened last night had two more in it.  One was quickly out of its package and put on.  Debating between the dress from last night or last year, the one from last year was picked.  A proper girl would not wear the same dress two days in a row.  She quickly got dressed; wig, earings, tights, and shoes.  The tiara was not appropriate clothing for a nine year old to wear to school. 

     Standing in front of the mirror, thoughts were vocalized. "Good Morning Stephanie.  Time for everyone to meet you.  Halloween costumes are only supposed to be worn on Halloween, so you should stop wearing your Daryl costume.  Halloween is over for another year. Daryl should not be seen till next Halloween."

     Standing proud with a determined look on her face, Stephanie took a deep breath and headed to the kitchen for breakfast.

     "Morning Mommy," Stephanie walked into the kitchen and sat down.

     "Morning Pumpkin," Mom said without turning around.  "Did you sleep well?"

     "Yes Mommy," Stephanie poured milk on her cereal.

     Stephanie started eating her breakfast.  When the toast popped, she stopped long enough to say one word, "Strawberry."

     "As you wish dear, Strawberry Jam on your toast," Mom said as she turned to the refrigerator to get the jam out.

     Stephanie was looking at her cereal bowl when she heard a thud.  She turned to see the jar of Strawberry Jam on the floor with the door to the refrigerator still open as Mommy stared at the kitchen table where Stephanie was.

     "Something wrong Mommy?  Is my dress tucked into my tights?" Stephanie felt around her dress to make sure her panties were not showing.  Noticing everything was okay, she turned back to her cereal and kept eating.

     "Umm, Stephanie?" Mom hesitantly asked.  "Why are you dressed like that?"

     "I know most girls don't wear pretty dresses and tights to school unless it is a special day, but I don't have many clothes to choose from. I didn't want to wear the same clothes two days in a row," Stephanie quickly smiled at Mommy before returning to eating breakfast.

     Keeping her eyes on Stephanie, Mom closed the refrigerator and picked up the Strawberry Jam.  After a few moments of looking at her child, Mom looked down at the jam in her hands and slowly turned back to the toast.  She quickly put jam on the toast and brought it over to the table, sitting down with her . . . child.

     "Halloween is over Pumpkin," Mom cautiously said.

     "I know Mommy.  That is why I didn't wear my Daryl costume today."

     "D . . . Daryl costume?"

     Stephanie took a piece of toast and continued eating.

     "People are only used to seeing you in your . . . Daryl costume Pumpkin.  Don't you think they will find it strange with you being Stephanie today?"

     "Costumes should only be worn on Halloween Mommy," Stephanie firmly stated.  "People shouldn't see me in a Daryl costume unless it is Halloween.  Yesterday was Halloween, so today, no costume."

     "Okay Pumpkin," Mom said with hesitation. "No Daryl costume today."

     Mom got up, kissed her child on the forehead, and went into the Living Room.  She called the pediatrician, leaving a message on the doctor's answering machine stating there was a problem with Daryl and to call as soon as possible.  Afterwards, she headed back to her bedroom to talk to her husband.

     Stephanie finished her breakfast and went into the Living Room to watch some cartoons before school.  Turning on the TV she quickly went about flipping channels to find a cartoon to watch. Once she found a show, Stephanie zoned out, replaying her decisions this morning and how Mom responded.

     When Mom and Dad walked into the Living Room, they found Stephanie sitting on the floor watching a My Little Ponies episode.  Usually in the morning at this time, Daryl would watch Pokemon. 

     "Daryl," Dad asked standing behind the couch with his wife? After getting no response from his child he reluctantly asked, "Stephanie?"

     "What Daddy," Stephanie replied without turning away from the TV. 

     Dad closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  Turning to his wife he quietly told her to talk to the doctor and proceed as directed.  He then kissed her and turned back to his child.  Unsure of what to say or do, he started to say something and then stopped himself.  Looking down at his child for a few minutes, he then said, "Be good today."

     "I will Daddy.  I am a good girl," Stephanie said without taking her eyes off the TV.

     The parents looked at each other, communicating a lot without saying a word.  Dad then got his coat and left for work.

     Mom went to the kitchen to clean up from breakfast.  After a few minutes, the phone rang.  Stephanie knew it must be the doctor returning Mommy's call, for no one usually called this early in the morning. Although she wanted to hear what Mommy was going to say to the doctor, Mom went back to the bedroom to answer the phone, so Stephanie had to settle on just watching the TV.  When the show ended, Stephanie was only partially aware of the fact a new show started.  Strawberry Shortcake was in the middle of solving a problem when Mommy came back in the room, sitting down on the couch.  Stephanie just kept her eyes on the TV. 

     No one had yelled.  There was no instruction to go get changed. Daddy had always insisted Stephanie was a costume and could only be seen on Halloween.  No costumes were allowed on other days. 

     "Am I in trouble Mommy?"

     "Come here Pumpkin," Mom said patting the couch next to her. 

     Stephanie turned to look at Mommy, then got up and snuggled in next to her.

     "When Daddy and I put Daryl to bed last night, we didn't expect Stephanie to be the one waking up in the morning."

     "I have to put Stephanie back in the box, don't I?"

     Mommy was silent and just hugged her child.  The two of them watched more of the Strawberry Shortcake episode.

     "Pumpkin, Mommy and Daddy are not sure how to answer that question.  At school when you don't know the answer to a question, you ask for help.  To help us answer that question, we called Dr. Gold."

     "He said I have to go back to pretending to be Daryl, didn't he."

     "No, he also needed help to answer the question. My little nine year old is asking a hard question. Dr. Gold told us to call a nice lady called Dr. Jones and get help from her."

     "I am sorry Mommy.  I will go put Stephanie back in her box and put on my Daryl costume."

     Mom held on tight not letting her child get up, "No, not so fast. Dr. Jones wants to meet you, and she told me your costume is to stay at home when we go to the appointment."

     Stephanie smiled as she looked up at Mommy.

     "So Princess Stephanie, who is going to the doctor's appointment to meet Dr. Jones?"

     "Stephanie," she stated giving Mommy a big hug. 

     They sat watching the end of the Strawberry Shortcake show.  When the credits started, they heard some kids outside talking as they walked by on their way to school. 

     "Well, I guess it is time for me to go to school," Stephanie hopped up and headed to the closet to get her coat. "Have a good day Mommy."

     "Dar . . . Stephanie," Mom said as Stephanie reached the closet. "You're not going to school this morning Pumpkin.  Dr. Jones found time in her busy schedule to see you this morning.  You can play for a little bit before we have to go."

 

~o~O~o~

 

     Dr. Jones was asking a lot of questions, and under Mommy's direction, Stephanie tried to answer every question and answer it honestly.  The questions started with both Mommy and Stephanie, then just Stephanie, and then just Mommy.  At the end, Dr. Jones had Mommy and Stephanie sitting on a couch while she talked. 

     "It has been quite a day for everyone," Dr. Jones said. "And we cannot ignore the decisions that Stephanie made this morning.  We also cannot have Daryl just disappear into a box till next Halloween."

     "But we are only supposed to wear costumes on Halloween," Stephanie stated with resolution. "so why do I have to wear my Daryl costume all the time?"

     Dr. Jones held up her hand stopping Mommy from talking as she formulated a response. "Stephanie, all people know is you in your Daryl costume.  Only your Mommy and Daddy have met Stephanie.  Not even your Grandma and Grandpa Meyers have met Stephanie."

     Dr. Jones paused while Stephanie processed what was said. "Mommy and Daddy have agreed that Stephanie does not have to be hidden away in a box till next Halloween, but you will have to go to school in your Daryl costume."

     Stephanie brought her legs up under her dress and hugged them close to her chest.

     "You can be Stephanie at other times, but at school you have to continue pretending to be Daryl. There will be other times that Mommy and Daddy need you to dress up in your Daryl costume.  They want you to be happy Stephanie.  Most of the time, you are going to be in charge of when you show people Stephanie and when you show them Daryl."

     "I don't want to be Daryl anymore," a small voice said on the verge of tears.

     Mommy cuddled her child.  "Doctor Jones?  Earlier I admitted I have seen this coming for years.  Even when I had a toddler running around the house, I questioned its gender.  Back then each diaper change reminded me I definitely had a son and not a daughter.  He was a bed wetter till he was six, so I changed a lot of diapers over those years, just reinforcing the facts to me.  My child is a boy. When Daryl started asking to dress as a girl for Halloween, it was James that convinced me to let it happen. His little brother had done it once as a toddler, and he had done it once with his Frat Buddies in college.  He figured it was just a phase and if we said ‘no' the forbidden fruit effect would happen. He is such a loving husband, he easily convinced me to let Daryl explore girl things.  He reasoned it wasn't hurting anyone if Stephanie only came out at Halloween."

     Stephanie stayed curled up in a ball being hugged by Mommy as she listened to the adults talk.

     "Mrs. Meyers you gave me many examples of how you saw Stephanie peeking out at times other than Halloween.  Even trips to the department store had you seeing Daryl slow down to examine the dresses as you passed by the girls department or him looking at the girl toys more than the boy toys."

     "I know, but this was supposed to be a phase.  He was supposed to grow out of it.  James figured someone would recognize him when he was dressed as Stephanie and then never again would want to dress up.  No one ever saw Daryl when he was dressed as Stephanie.  The last few times even I have had trouble seeing Daryl when he was being Stephanie on Halloween.  She is so much more animated and alive than Daryl.  I have a different kid on Halloween night."

     "Wouldn't you like to see that child more often?  See your real child, not the one suppressing who they are?"

     The room was silent for several minutes.

     "Mommy," Stephanie broke the silence. "I AM Stephanie. I don't know why other people can't see that. I want to show you who Stephanie really is. If you want me to dress and act like Daryl, I will for you Mommy."

     Dr. Jones smiled at Stephanie and then looked directly at Mrs. Meyers.  "Your child is willing to sacrifice who they are and everything that makes them happy just to make you happy Mrs. Meyers. You earlier agreed to let Stephanie out of the box.  We called your husband and he agreed.  Are you still able to go along with this decision?  Does your child need to sacrifice their happiness just to make you more comfortable?"

     The room was silent again.

     "It will not be easy Mrs. Meyers, especially over the next month.  Your child will be hurt more if you agree to this and then change your mind.  We need to come up with something now, which you and your husband are comfortable enough with that we can advance without putting your child under even more stress."

     "This is all happening so fast though," Mommy looked confused.  "I know I agreed, but . . ."

     Dr. Jones looked straight at Stephanie and told her to go play with the toys in the corner of the office. 

     "Mrs. Meyers, look at your child."

     Stephanie had picked up a baby doll and was feeding it a bottle as she looked over the other girl toys.  The boy and girl toys were right next to each other, but clearly separated.  There was no question about the toys that drew her attention. 

     "Would your child have chosen something different if dressed as Daryl?"

     "Yes, but . . ." Mommy answered with hesitation. "When dressed as Daryl he would have grabbed something like a truck and just moved it back and forth as he looked at all the girl toys."

     Stephanie smiled, she knew Mommy was right.  She thought she was good at hiding her watching of girl toys and girls clothes at the store, but Mommy knew.  Mommy knew!

     "Mrs. Meyers, there is more to gender identity than just the biological make up of an individual."

 

~o~O~o~

 

     After the doctor's appointment the two of them stopped at the local fast food restaurant for lunch.  Stephanie would grab a nugget between trips down the slide.

     "That's a lovely dress your daughter has on," Stephanie heard a stranger say to Mommy during one of her nugget breaks.

     When all the nuggets were gone, and Stephanie had talked Mommy into several more trips down the slide, the two of them headed to the thrift store. Stephanie could hardly contain her excitement as they shopped for some girl clothing.  They bought some dresses, pants, blouses, and sleepwear.  They also found a pair of sneakers and Mary-Jane shoes that fit Stephanie.  After a stop at the Dollar Store, they had some necklaces, bracelets, and hair accessories. A trip to the department store had them picking up some panties, socks, and tights.  Mom also took Stephanie to the toy section to pick out one toy.  Stephanie picked a doll.  Seeing the choice, Mommy allowed a package of doll accessories to enter the cart.

   By the time the two of them got home, Stephanie curled up on the couch cuddling up under a blanket with her dolly, trying not to fall asleep while Mommy took the clothes and put them in the washer. 

     "Mommy," Stephanie asked as Mommy re-entered the living room?  "Will you still love me if I stay as Stephanie?"

     Immediately Mrs. Meyers went over and brought her child up onto her lap.  "I will always love you my little pumpkin, whether you are Stephanie, Daryl, or a blue creature named Cookie Monster."

     "Mommy!" Stephanie giggled.

     "What, I have seen the way you go through a plate of cookies."

     They both giggled.

     "You are my child pumpkin, and I will love you no matter what your choice is.  Getting used to seeing Stephanie more often than Halloween will be difficult, but it will never stop me from loving you."

     "Daddy won't love me anymore though, will he?"

     "Oh never think like that pumpkin.  Daddy loves you very much.  He was the one who let you wear the Princess Aurora costume that first year, and he said he would support whatever Dr. Jones decided.  He wants you to be happy.  If that means taking you to ballet instead of football, then he will be happy taking you to ballet."

     "I can take ballet?  Really?" Stephanie's eyes were wide and her smile was huge.

     "Maybe pumpkin.  It is too late to get signed up for it this Fall, but if you want we can talk about it after Christmas."

     Stephanie cuddled into Mommy while she hugged her dolly tight.

     "Have you come up with a name for your Dolly yet?"

     "Melanie!"

     "That is a very pretty name for a Dolly.  I am sure you and Melanie will have fun together."

     After several more minutes of silence, Stephanie looked up at Mommy, "What was your dolly's name when you were my age?"

     "I had several, but my favorite at your age was named Susan." The two of them spent time talking about Mommy's childhood and the things she liked and did when she was nine years old.

     As the afternoon continued, Stephanie, with Melanie, helped Mommy do things throughout the house. When the clothes were clean, they went to Daryl's room and turned it into a Daryl/Stephanie room.  The closet was split in half with Daryl's clothes on one side and Stephanie's clothes on the other side.  The same was done with the dresser. 

     The toys in the room became an issue between Stephanie and Mommy.  Stephanie wanted all of Daryl's toys out of the room, but Mommy said they should stay. 

     "Fine," Stephanie said in a huff. "They can stay in the room but I don't want to see them."

     Stephanie went around the room collecting all the ‘boy' toys and tossing them under the bed.  What didn't fit under the bed was put on the Daryl side of the closet and covered with a blanket.

     "There, happy," Stephanie asked sitting back down on the bed?  "The yucky Daryl toys are all still in the room."

     "Daryl!"

     "I AM NOT DARYL.  I AM STEPHANIE!"

     "You are . . . I just . . . Stephanie, you might want to be Daryl and play with the toys."

     "I have to be Daryl for school.  Unless you and Daddy tell me I have to, Daryl's yucky boy toys will NOT be played with after school."

     Mrs. Meyers took a deep breath and left the room, leaving her child behind.

     "Melanie, she doesn't understand. It's no fun being Daryl." Stephanie said to her dolly while rocking her.  "Teddy can tell you some of what I had to deal with.  I don't want you to worry though, it is time for the world to meet Stephanie, and I am going to make sure the scary Daryl costume stays away as much as possible."

     Stephanie turned to her pillow where her Teddy Bear was still tucked in.  "Teddy, this is Melanie.  Be nice to her.  She is new here and not used to seeing all these boy things in her bedroom.  You need to protect her each night, just like you protect me."

     After a moment of introductions and hugs, Teddy was tucked back in to get enough rest before nighttime duty. Stephanie then brought Melanie around the room to show her around.  Since most everything except for the furniture and clothes were under the bed, it was a quick tour.  It ended with Stephanie getting the Halloween box out to show Melanie the previous outfits.

     "You know Melanie, these don't have to stay under the bed anymore," Stephanie started finding places for the various items in the box. The top of the dresser got the tiaras and princess hat. 

     With the Princess Scepter in hand, Stephanie placed Melanie on the bed next to Teddy Bear.

     "Princess Melanie," Stephanie said tapping Melanie on the head. "May your perfect Prince save you from a mean witch and you never have to be tortured by being forced to dress up like a boy."

       After a quick trip to the living room to get the doll accessories, Stephanie sat down on her bed getting to play with a doll like she had dreamed about for years.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     While Stephanie was lying on her bed, looking under it for some of the stuffed animals she wanted to introduce Melanie to, the doorbell rang.

     "Don't worry Melanie. That is only the doorbell, nothing to be afraid of. No, it can't be any of my friends, I don't really have any.  The girls would not play with a boy named Daryl and the boys said I was too much of a wimpy sissy to play with. Yeah that was mean of them, but I am okay with it.  I never wanted to play with the boys anyways.  They were right though, I am a wimp.  What Melanie?  No, I don't know who is at the door.  We will stay back here.  Mommy is mad at me and I don't want to get her more mad by showing someone Stephanie she doesn't want seeing Stephanie."

       "Listen Sis," Stephanie and Melanie heard a raised voice coming from the living room.  "I left work early and rushed over here to see my new niece.   I want to see her and I am going to spoil her."

     "Aunt Jennifer!" Stephanie exclaimed with excitement.

     "Sis, I know you.  You are tolerating this but expecting a decision to turn back into Daryl at any moment.  You said you bought her clothes, but even though you have the money to buy her a whole new wardrobe from the fancy shops, I bet you went to the Thrift Shop because you didn't want to spend money on a fad.  Did you even get her any accessories or toys."

     "Yes Melanie, Aunt Jennifer's mad at Mommy."

     "What, you didn't take her to Claire's to get the accessories?  You got them at the Dollar Store?  You have a nine year old little girl in there, not a preschooler.  She needs some quality stuff to wear in front of the other girls.  She is going to have a hard enough time being accepted by them without looking like a preschooler."

      Stephanie quizzically looked at Melanie and asked, "Were those things we picked up at the Dollar Store really only things Preschoolers would wear?"

     "Sis, get over it.  Embrace Stephanie while she is here.  You now have her in regular therapy sessions, so let the doctor decide if this is just a fad or something more permanent.  You and James will go to therapy to help deal with your issues. This is NOT a problem with your child, it is a problem you are having.  You and I have talked for years about the feminine traits you have seen in Daryl as he grew up, so why are you having so much trouble now accepting Stephanie?"

     Stephanie trying to understand asked Melanie, "What are feminine twaits?"

     "NO, I am not going to hold off giving my new niece these things.  I have nine years of birthdays to catch up on and this is just the start. For now, I am going to go see this niece of mine that you have hidden from me.  Five years of Stephanie at Halloween and I never even got a picture."

     Moments later Aunt Jennifer was walking into Stephanie's room with a few bags in her hands.

     "Oh Stephanie, you look so cute."

     Blushing, "Thanks Aunt Jennifer. Watcha doing here?"

     "Your Mom called to tell me I had a pretty new niece, and I rushed over to see her."

     "Oh," Stephanie lowered her face so Aunt Jennifer could no longer see it.  "Well here she is, her name is Melanie."

     "My oh my.  So nice to meet you Melanie," Aunt Jennifer said taking the doll and holding her like a baby.  "You look a lot younger than I thought my niece was, but you definitely are very pretty."

     "Tank-oooo" Stephanie said in a baby voice through a giggle.

     "Well Melanie I came over to welcome you to the family and give you some welcome gifts."

     "Gifts?" Stephanie asked looking straight at Aunt Jennifer. "I mean, . . . Giff-th Aunth Ennifa?"

     Aunt Jennifer started tickling Stephanie, "Yes gifts, you silly little girl.  I figured you were new to the area and needed some girl things to get you by till your Mommy could get you some stuff."

     "Mommy got me some stuff today."

     "Your mom told me, but I got you some other stuff.  After talking with your mom, I have also decided that this weekend the two of us are going out for a girl's day out, shopping for some more stuff."

    Stephanie's eyes went wide with a huge smile on her face.

     "That is if you want to do a girl's day out shopping?"

      "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, Aunt Jennifer," Stephanie pounced onto Aunt Jennifer with a big hug.

     "Hi Stephanie," Aunt Jennifer said in a much subdued tone, holding Stephanie out at arm's length.  "I am your Aunt Jennifer. My job as your Aunt is to spoil you rotten.  Since you have been hiding behind a Daryl costume, I figured you would need some things every girl your age already has."

     Out of the bag came several Disney Princess movies, Tinkerbell movies, some American Girl movies, Hannah Montana movies, and two My Little Pony DVDs.  Then Aunt Jennifer pulled out a toy horse, Hello Kitty alarm clock, and a bracelet making kit.  The next bag was big and Aunt Jane just turned it upside down over the bed, dumping it out.  A package of pink sheets with small red hearts on it was quickly covered up by a pink and white bedspread.  

     "Now Stephanie, I was in a rush to get over here so I didn't have time to hunt out some really good things, but I thought these would be a good start."

     "Aunt Jennifer, these are great.  I love them. Thank You, Thank You."

     "There is one more bag of stuff, princess."

     Aunt Jennifer pulled out a Barbie, her younger sister Chelsea, and some clothes for the two dolls.  When she got to the bottom of the bag there was a pink iPod nano. They spent the next half hour loading it with various songs from Hannah Montana, Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, various Disney artists/songs, and one song from an artist called Fred Small.

     "Now Stephanie, this song from Fred Small is a special one.  It is called Everything Possible (click title to hear song). It has a special message for children trying to grow up in the world today.  No matter what struggles you face on the path you have chosen, I want you to know that I love you and will always be here for you.  No matter how hard things get, you can always turn to me for help.  I love you Stephanie.  Never forget that people love you sweetie. It is who you are inside that matters sweetie.  Stephanie, Daryl, it doesn't matter what you are wearing on the outside.  It just matters who you are on the inside."

     Aunt Jennifer kissed Stephanie on the forehead, set the iPod to play the Fred Small song and left.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     Stephanie was playing with the Barbie doll and the horse when Dad came in.

     "Hi Daryl.  It was quite a day wasn't it," Dad asked as he sat down on the floor next to Stephanie?

     "Daddy," Stephanie asked looking at him with a sad face. "Look around the room and tell me if you think this is Daryl's room or Stephanie's room."

     James looked around the room.  Princess Tiara's on the dresser. Hair bands, necklasses, and bacelets were scattered on the desk. The closet had clothes with a lot of pink and frills. There was a Hello Kitty alarm clock next to the bed which now had pink sheets and a frilly girl bedspread. On the bed next to the Teddy Bear, was a baby doll in a yellow dress.  The shelves had girl DVDs, a Princess wand, and toy doll accessories. Scattered around the little girl in a party dress was Barbie dolls, a horse, and changes of clothes for the Barbie.  Nowhere did James find the sports equipment, Legos, Pokemon, or toy trucks.  Gone were the Buzz Lightyear figures, spaceship, and alien creatures.  There was not one dinosaur anywhere to be seen. 

     "This is definitely Stephanie's bedroom," Dad admitted.

     "Daryl is under the bed, hidden away Daddy, just like you forced Stephanie to hide away under the bed.  I AM STEPHANIE.  This is my room.  When you or Mommy force me to dress up in my Daryl costume, I will.  The costume will come off as soon as I can take it off.  You told me every year costumes are only to be worn on Halloween.  Since Daryl is a costume, I don't know why you are making me wear it when it isn't Halloween.  Dr. Jones said you and Mommy wanted me to wear the Daryl costume to school every day, so I will.  I will not like it.  You can't make me like it, but I will wear it," tears started coming down Stephanie's face.  "This is my room.  No yucky boy named Daryl here.  I AM STEPHANIE."

     Stephanie dropped the horse and Barbie doll as tears freely flowed down her face.  She went over to her bed and plopped down face first onto the pillow, hugging Teddy and Melanie.

     "Daryl . . . Stephanie . . . I . . ." Daddy came up and kissed Stephanie's head. "I love you."

     Dad turned and walked out of the room.

     Dinner that night was a silent affair. Stephanie found herself afterwards playing alone in her room with her new toys. At bed time she dressed in her new Tinkerbell pajamas, only complaining when Mommy made her take the wig off.

     "Can I let my hair grow Mommy?"

     "Yes pumpkin, but not too long.  You would look silly dressed as Daryl with long girl hair."

     "Don't you think I look silly being myself with yucky boy hair?"

     Mommy kissed Stephanie on her forehead and headed for the door.  With her hand on the light switch, "It will take a long time for your hair to grow out pumpkin.  We will talk about it again when your hair starts getting into your eyes."

     Tears started to slowly fall after laying in the dark for several minutes.

     "I . . . I . . . I don't understand Melanie and Teddy.  Mommy told Dr. Jones she saw me, the real me, even when I was dressed as Daryl, so why does she want me to look, act, and dress like Daryl?"

Chapter 2 by Teekabell
Author's Notes:

Chapter 2: Who Are You

Summary: Stephanie, not wanting to wear her Daryl costume, introduces herself to some people who were not prepared for a girl. As Stephanie spearheads this transition faster than her parents are comfortable, the real feeling of Mom and Dad start to be revealed.

Costumes

Chapter 2 of 10

Who Are You

~o~O~o~

 

     Waking up in the morning, Stephanie didn't want to get dressed for the day.  After sitting on her bed just looking at her closet for several minutes, she finally just went down to eat breakfast in her pajamas.

     "It's a school day you know?" Mom stated as Stephanie sat down at the Kitchen table.

     "I know mom, just wasn't ready to start pretending to be Daryl yet?"

     "You know you are still the same person dressed as Daryl or Stephanie?"

     As she started eating breakfast, all Stephanie could think was, ‘I wish that was true.'

     After breakfast, Stephanie stripped and slowly got dressed in her Daryl clothes for school.  Mom yelled from the other side of the house several times, telling Daryl to hurry up or he would be late for school.  Mom and Dad were both in the living room as he was sent off to school.  Daryl felt like they were there to make sure he was really dressed in his Daryl costume.

     The day at school was the same as any other, except Stephanie was having a hard time pretending to be Daryl.  Seeing Joanne, Stephanie wanted to chat about Trick-or-Treating, but knew she couldn't. She was Daryl, and Daryl didn't go Trick-or-Treating with Joanne.  By the time Stephanie in her Daryl costume walked into her house at the end of the day, she wasn't sure agreeing to be Daryl every day for school was a good idea.  She was really questioning if she could do this every day.

     "Hi Daryl, have a good day at school?" Mrs. Tellbore asked from her spot on the couch.

     "Mrs. Tellbore?"

     "What's wrong Daryl?  You're acting like you weren't expecting me to be here.  I'm always here Friday afternoon."

     "Uhhhhh, I . . . Uhhhh, Hi Mrs. Tellbore."

     "Silly boy.  Do you have any homework?"

     "It's Friday, so we just have to do our twenty minutes of reading."

     "Go have your snack and then do your homework.  I set out some cookies and juice for you."

     On her way to the kitchen to eat the snack, the eyes never left Mrs. Tellbore. Stephanie quickly ate her snack and then went back to her bedroom. 

     Sitting on her bed, Stephanie grabbed Melanie, "What am I going to do now Melanie?  Three times a week Mrs. Tellbore babysits me afterschool.  Do I have to stay Daryl while she's here?"

     Stephanie got a library book out of her backpack and started reading.  She didn't get very far in the twenty minutes as she kept thinking about what she was going to do.

     "Okay Melanie," Stephanie said when she finished her homework.  "I am not going to spend three afternoons a week in a costume.  I am Stephanie!"

     The costume was quickly off and Stephanie put on a dress. Feeling herself, Stephanie took a deep breath and headed to the living room.

     "Oh my," Mrs. Tellbore said as Stephanie walked in.  "Who are you?"

     "Hi.  I'm Stephanie."

     "Hi Stephanie.  When did you get here?  Daryl's not supposed to have friends over without telling me."

     Getting up and looking down the hall, Mrs. Tellbore yelled, "Daryl!"

     "Yes?" Stephanie said.

     Mrs. Tellbore turned to look at Stephanie with a quizzical expression, then looked back down the hallway and called out again, "Daryl, come here and introduce me to your little friend."

     "I told you my name is Stephanie."

     Mrs. Tellbore looked at Stephanie again.  "I know sweetheart, but Daryl is supposed to introduce you.  What is he doing back there?"

     "He is not in his room."

     "Where is he?"

     "I'm right here Mrs. Tellbore."

     Mrs. Tellbore looked at Stephanie more closely, "Have I met you before?  You look very familiar."

     "We have definitely met before," Stephanie said with a smile spreading on her face. "One minute Mrs. Tellbore, I have something that might help you remember."

     Stephanie rushed down the hall to her bedroom. She quickly switched into the outfit she wore Halloween night, including the tiara, and headed back to the living room.

     "Oh, you were that pretty princess on Halloween." Mrs. Tellbore said with realization before her expression changed.  "Where did you get that costume Stephanie?"

     "In my room."

     "You went back to your house that quickly?" Mrs. Tellbore looked down the hallway.  "Daryl!  Get in here NOW!"

     "I'm right here Mrs. Tellbore."

     Mrs. Tellbore looked more closely at Stephanie.  "Daryl?"

     "Yes," Stephanie replied.

     "Stop being silly Daryl and go get changed into your clothes."

     Stephanie put her head down and slowly went back to her room.  Getting out of the Halloween costume, she redressed into the outfit she was in earlier.  Taking a deep breath, she held her head high and returned to the living room.

     "I told you to get changed into your clothes young man."

     "I am in my clothes Mrs. Tellbore.  I now only wear my Daryl costume at school."

     "Daryl . . . Costume?"

      Mrs. Tellbore put her hands on Stephanie's shoulders and walked her down the hallway, "Young Man, it is not nice to make fun of girls.  Now get out of those girl clothes and into something appropriate.  I will not have you . . ."

     Mrs. Tellbore stopped talking when she reached Stephanie's bedroom.  She had been in Daryl's bedroom many times, but she was now in a girl's bedroom.  She looked around the room several times.  Looking at Stephanie she started to talk but stopped.  She looked around the room several more times and then went over to the closet and looked at the dresses and blouses hanging up. She then went over looking at the Barbie and horse before stopping at the Tiaras on the dresser.  Looking at them, at Stephanie, and then back at them she said nothing.   She examined the DVDs on the shelves and sat down on the bed, feeling the comforter and looking at Melanie.

     "This is your room . . . Stephanie?"

     "Yup!" Stephanie proudly proclaimed.

     "You wear a Daryl costume to school?"

     "Only because Mommy and Daddy make me."

     "I don't know about this," Mrs. Tellbore said looking around the room and picking up Melanie.

     "That's Melanie," Stephanie smiled at Mrs. Tellbore.

     "Melanie? Daryl I thought you were a boy?"

     Stephanie just looked at her.

     "Why don't you stay in your room and play till I have a chance to talk to your parents," Mrs. Tellbore said as she got up, shook her head back and forth, and returned to the living room.

     Grabbing Melanie, Stephanie sat down on the bed. "It could have gone worse, at least she didn't make me put the Daryl costume back on."

     Stephanie stayed in her room all afternoon.  She stayed when she heard Mom come home, and stayed when she heard Mrs. Tellbore leave.  Dad had come home and the house was filled with the aroma of dinner before anyone entered her room.

     "Hi Stephanie," Mom said coming in and sitting down on the bed. "Looks like we will need to get a new babysitter.  Mrs. Tellbore was a little surprised by the way you introduced Stephanie to her."

     "Sorry Mommy."

     "I probably should have prepared her for your transformation. It was a little too much for Mrs. Tellbore to handle.  Daryl, not everyone is going to accept you as Stephanie.  Some people will.  Being Stephanie pumpkin, is not going to be easy. You have already won over Aunt Jennifer, and I am sure you will win over a few more people."

     Stephanie looked up at Mommy, as they both sat there in silence. After a few minutes the silence was broken by Stephanie's tummy grumbling. 

     "Well, sounds like someone is hungry.  Let's go find Daddy and eat dinner."

    Most of dinner was a quiet affair. Since Stephanie knew it was all her fault Mommy needed to find a new babysitter, she was just relieved Mommy and Daddy were not yelling at her.

     "So when is Jennifer taking Daryl," Dad started and corrected himself upon looking at his child.  "Stephanie tomorrow?"

     "She said she would be here at one o'clock to pick her up.  She expects to have Stephanie out shopping all afternoon and will bring her back after dinner."

     Dad looked at Stephanie, "Sounds like you have a busy day tomorrow.  You be good and do what you are told.  You stay right next to your Aunt Jennifer at all times.  No wondering off now.  You are going out shopping as a girl, which is not the same as going as a boy."

     "I will stay with Aunt Jennifer, Daddy."

     "Are you really sure you want to go dressed as Stephanie," Mom asked?

     "Who else would I go as?"

     "You might be more comfortable going as Daryl," Dad pointed out. "If someone recognizes you dressed up as Stephanie . . ."

     "But Daddy, I am Stephanie."

     "James, let her go.  Good or Bad, she will learn from the trip.  She has made a decision, and there are consequences to that decision."

     "But this does not just affect him," Daddy stated.  "We have already lost our babysitter, what's next.  Do I need to dig a mote around the house to keep out the angry villagers?"

     "Stephanie," Mom said. "Looks like you are done. Go get one of your new movies and go watch it."

     Stephanie got the Cinderella DVD and returned to the living room to watch it.  Her parents were still in the kitchen talking.  Although she started the movie, she tried to listen to what her parents were saying. 

     "James, we can't protect her forever from the people in the world that will hate her.  I don't like it any more than you do, but either we force her to stay Daryl, or we accept the consequences of her staying Stephanie. You heard what Dr. Jones said about the life expectancy of children with . . ."

     Stephanie wanted to hear what Dr. Jones said, but she couldn't over the sound of the movie.  A while later she could hear more of the conversation.

     "NO Mary, you can't do that."

     "What do you expect me to do?  We need a babysitter.  She is the only stay at home mom I know of in our neighborhood that might be willing to watch her."

     "The consequences Mary, think of the . . ."

     The movie again drained out the conversation as their voices went back to a normal speaking volume.

     "MARY, you know that isn't true.  You heard what Dr. Jones said.  Do you really believe that?"

     "I guess not James, it's just . . . How can I go from having a little boy one day to a girl the next?  This type of thing doesn't just happen overnight."

     "Mary we have talked about things we have seen in him for eight years.  This didn't just happen overnight.  You are the one who time after time came to me expressing concerns about his non-boyish behaviors. Many years ago I had to accept my boy was not going to be a rough and tumble typical boy who I could play sports with.  I, like you, have held onto the dream he would suddenly butch up one day, but with each year he was never seen as a boy dressing as a girl on Halloween, I knew more and more my dream would never come true."

     "James I am not sure I can . . ."

     Stephanie was frustrated by how little of the conversation she could hear between her parents, but at least the movie was good.  Oh what it would be like to have a Fairy Godmother.

     When the movie was done, Stephanie was sent off to her room for bedtime.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     After breakfast Saturday morning, Stephanie got dressed in a purple dress with tights. The wig didn't leave her many options for her hair.  She wished she could occasionally put it in pig-tails, but that would just have to wait for her own hair to grow out.  She was working on making a bracelet from the beads Aunt Jennifer had gotten her when Mom came in the room.

     "Bed's already made and toys picked up?  Not one piece of clothing on the floor?  Who are you and what have you done with my child?" Mom asked with a giggle.

     "After yesterday I didn't want you to have any reason why I couldn't go with Aunt Jennifer," Stephanie meekly replied.

     "Oh Pumpkin," Mom embraced her. "We are not mad at you.  You didn't do anything wrong yesterday, Mrs. Tellbore just . . . she doesn't . . . she only wanted to babysit a boy.  It was too confusing for her to be babysitting a kid who was both a boy and a girl."

     "If you let me wear my clothes to school, I would just be a girl and she wouldn't have me switching."

     "No Pumpkin, you need to go to school as Daryl. In fact I need you to get on your Daryl clothes now."

     "BUT MOM! I don't want to go shopping with Aunt Jennifer in my Daryl costume."

     "No Pumpkin, you can go shopping with Aunt Jennifer dressed as Stephanie, but I need you to go over and introduce yourself to your new babysitter. Since you will be going to her directly from school, she needs to see you as Daryl."

     "I have to stay Daryl on babysitting days till dinner time?  That's not fair."

     "Pumpkin, we don't have a choice.  I need someone to watch you Monday after school and there isn't enough time to find someone who would be willing to watch you in our house like Mrs. Tellbore did."

     "But Mom!"

     "Quickly change, go meet her, and come back to get dressed for your trip with Aunt Jennifer.  Here's the address.  Mrs. Sterns is expecting you.  She lives on the other side of the park, so the fasted way to get there would be through the park.  She said it was four houses down from the park entrance on Maple Street."

     With head down, "Okay."

     Mom smiled and left the room.

     Stephanie put two more beads onto the bracelet and tied it off.  It read Stephanie.  She then tied it on her wrist. Sulking over to her bed, she picked up Melanie. 

     "Three days a week I will have to stay dressed up in my costume all afternoon.  I don't even want to be in it for school, why do I have to be in it after school?"

     Looking for Melanie to provide an answer, a smile slowly spread across Stephanie's face.

     "Mrs. Sterns doesn't know me, that is why I have to go over and introduce myself.  Why does she have to know me in my Daryl costume at all?  After school I could come back here, change and then go over to her.  Yeah, Melanie, it could work.  The house key is hidden in that fake stone by the back door.  I can change quickly, she would never know.  If I go over there now dressed as I am, she will never know anything about the Daryl costume and I can be Stephanie at her house.  Perfect!" Stephanie gave Melanie a big hug and headed for the door.

     Grabbing the paper with the address on it, she peeked out of the room.  Seeing no one in the hallway, she quietly went down the hall peeking into the living room.  Dad was watching a football game and Mom was nowhere to be seen.  Quietly she went and got her coat, keeping her eyes on Dad at all times.

     Waiting for the football to be in the air, "Dad, I'm going to meet the new babysitter.  Bye."

     Without taking his eyes off the TV, Dad replied, "Be polite Daryl."

     "I will," Stephanie said as she went out the front door without being seen by Dad.

      Running to the park, Stephanie didn't stop till she was at the swing sets.  She did it.  She made it out of the house without anyone seeing her.  She sat down on one of the swings for a moment to catch her breath and get her heart to stop pounding so much.

     Once calm, Stephanie looked at the piece of paper:

Mrs. Sarah Sterns

236 Maple Street

- Yellow house with white trim.

-  4 houses down from park entrance, headed towards convenience store.

     ‘That should be simple to find.' Stephanie thought.  Once Mom had even let Stephanie, in her Daryl costume, go to the convenience store to get some milk and bread.

     Stephanie quickly found herself standing in front of Mrs. Sterns' house.  Taking a deep breath she walked up and pressed the doorbell.

     The door opened and Stephanie went flush.

     "Hi, can I help you," Joanne asked?

     "Uhhh . . ."

     "Who is it Joanne," a voice called from inside the house.

     "Some girl Mommy, I think I went Trick-or-Treating with her," Joanne yelled back.

     "Uhhh, ummm, is this Mrs. Sterns house?" Stephanie finally got out.

     "Yeah, that's my mom," Joanne said before yelling out, "MOM, IT'S FOR YOU!"

     Stephanie just stood there petrified to say or do anything. Things were not helped by Joanne continuing to examine her.

     "Thanks Joanne," Mrs. Sterns said coming up behind Joanne.  "Hello there. May I help you?"

     "Uhh, ohh," Stephanie said looking down at the piece of paper in her hand.  "My Mommy sent me over."

     "Who are you dear? I don't recognize you as one of the kids in the neighborhood. Joanne said you went Trick-or-Treating with her?"

     "Uhhh, yeah.  I was wearing my Princess Costume.  I'm Stephanie.  You, ummm, will be babysitting me."

     Stephanie could see confusion on Mrs. Sterns face and wondered if maybe she just made a big mistake.

     "Come in dear," Mrs. Sterns said directing Stephanie into their living room.

     Stephanie wasn't feeling brave anymore. Here she was with Joanne from her class and her Mom who obviously wasn't expecting her.  Stephanie now realized her mom probably told Mrs. Stern that Daryl would be coming over to greet her. A girl showing up in place of a boy is not good.  How long would be it before Joanne figured out Stephanie and Daryl are the same person? 

     "Well Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns started. "I wasn't expecting such a pretty little girl to show up on my doorstep.  If I am going to be babysitting you, you must be Mary Meyers' so-. . . child."

     "Yes ma'am."

     "Oh not so formal darling, Mrs. Sterns will do just fine."

     There was a pause as Mrs. Sterns and Joanne continued to examine the girl in front of them.

     "Do I know you," Joanne asked looking more closely.

     "Umm, yeah.  We went Trick-or-Treating together, member.  You had on a Tinkerbell costume."

     "Yeah, Princess Stephanie, but . . ." Joanne was in deep thought.

     "Initially I was hesitant about babysitting you, umm, Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns broke the silence.  "But now, I see this will just give Joanne someone to play with.  Yes, this will work out just fine.  You will just come here after school on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Won't that be fun Joanne, having someone to play with three afternoons a week?"

     Mrs. Sterns' question disrupted Joanne's thoughts, "Yeah Mommy, someone to play with."

     "Well I need to get back home.  Nice meeting you Mrs. Sterns and Joanne.  I will see you on Monday."

     Stephanie turned and left.  She had to get out of there fast, not sure why she had gone against what Mom had told her to do.  Joanne was sure to figure things out; she was one of the smartest kids in class.  Mrs. Sterns already knew about Daryl, there was no question in Stephanie's mind about that.  Did this mean she wouldn't want to babysit her?

     Stephanie stopped at the swing set on the way back and swung a bit before going home.  She had never been so scared as when Joanne answered the door.  It sounded like such a good plan back in her bedroom talking with Melanie, but now . . . now, how mad are people going to be at her for going as Stephanie.  She had done it again.  She did what she wanted without thinking about what would happen because of it.  Mommy and Daddy keep telling her she needs to think out the consequences. 

     After a while of swinging, Stephanie saw no reason to sneak back into the house.  Mrs. Sterns had probably already called Mom and told her what she did.  Stephanie slowly walked home to her punishment.

     Dad was still watching the football game when Stephanie walked back into the house.  She managed to put away her coat and start down the hall to her room before any sign of Mom.

     "Not so fast Daryl Eric Meyers," Mom said from behind Stephanie.

     All three names!  This even got Dad to look away from the football game.

     "I told you to put on your Daryl clothes and go over to meet Mrs. Sterns. Did I not?"

     Swallowing, Stephanie turned around to face her mother. "Yes ma'am."

     "Then please explain to me why Mrs. Sterns just called me to say what a sweet and delightful daughter I have.  Look at what you are wearing, those are NOT Daryl clothes."

     By this time Dad had come up and was standing next to Mom.

     "Well?" Mom inquired while tapping her foot.

     "I couldn't go over in the Daryl costume Mommy.  I can't stand going to school in the yucky costume.  How could I spend three afternoons a week in it?"

     "And how do you expect to change out of your Daryl clothes before going to the babysitters?" Mom asked while glaring down at Daryl.

     "There is the key to the back door in that fake rock.  I can come right here after school, change clothes, and then go over to the babysitters," Stephanie blurted out before putting her head down.

     "That definitely is a possibility Mary. I was a latch key kid when I was his age.  He would still be going to a babysitter, just with a quick stop at our house first," Dad interrupted.

     If looks could kill, the one Mom gave Dad would have had him buried six feet under.

     "Joanne is in your class, she is going to figure this all out you know.  Then what," Mom asked?

     "I didn't know it was Joanne's house till she answered the door," Stephanie admitted without looking up.

     "Stephanie," Dad said in a calm voice. "Go play in your room while your mom and I talk about this in the kitchen."

     Stephanie promptly turned around and headed to her room, sitting down with Melanie and Teddy on the bed.  The kitchen was the farthest from her room, but the beginning of the conversation could easily be heard.

     "He didn't think again.  He just went and did something without thinking of the consequences of his actions.  What are we going to do with that boy," Mom was practically shouting.

     "Calm down Mary," Dad tried to calm her.  "Is Mrs. Sterns still willing to babysit Daryl or Stephanie?"

     "Yes, but . . ."

     "Then we don't have a problem. It wasn't going to be long before the neighborhood parents of the other girls found out about Stephanie.  She is going to want to play in the park dressed as Stephanie.  This will just speed up the process.  Just having a girl walking in and out of our front door was going to start having the neighbors asking questions and spreading rumors.  Daryl made the decision to have the babysitter watch Stephanie.  I think we can support this."

     "James!  He went against my directions," Mom stated still quite loud. "I told him to put on his Daryl clothes before going over to meet Mrs. Sterns."

     "I know honey, but have you looked at what he is wearing today?  He is not just dressed as a girl today, but he is dressed as a girly girl with frills and lace. I didn't see all of his new clothes, but other than his Halloween costumes, I suspect that is the most girlish outfit he has. If he chose that to wear today, I bet even in his Daryl clothes he would have had a hard time not showing everyone Stephanie.  There is more to an image than just the clothes a person is wearing.  Today Stephanie is here stronger than ever.  I don't like it, and I know you don't like it, but our son is finding it very hard to be a boy at the moment.  Dr. Jones warned us about this, the over compensating thing she talked about."

     Stephanie could hear them continue to talk, but could no longer make out what they were saying.  Lying down on the bed, she cried herself to sleep.

 

Chapter 3 by Teekabell
Author's Notes:

Chapter 3: Finding the Real Stephanie

Summary: Stephanie starts to find out what kind of girl she really is.

Costumes

Chapter 3 of 10

Finding the Real Stephanie

~o~O~o~

     Shortly after one o'clock Stephanie was woken up by Aunt Jennifer. "Ready to go shopping Stephanie?"

     "Wha. . . Huh . . . Oh, Aunt Jennifer!  Shopping! Stephanie Shopping!"

     "Yes you silly, time for Stephanie to go on her first real Girls' Shopping Trip."

     Stephanie gave Aunt Jennifer a big hug, still holding tight onto her doll.

     "Apparently you slept through lunch, so first off we get you something to eat and then we go shopping."

     Aunt Jennifer readjusted Stephanie's wig and then took her hand to lead her out of the room.  She did suggest the doll stay in the room, causing Stephanie to run back to the bed to tuck Melanie and Teddy back under the covers.  Then the two left. They only stopped briefly to say goodbye to Mom and Dad who were sitting at the Kitchen table.

     Once in the car, "Sounds like you have had a rough time over the last two days."

     "I am just trying to be myself.  Why is it so bad to be myself?"

     "It isn't sweetheart," Aunt Jennifer reassured her.  "Some people, including your Mom and Dad, are just having a hard time accepting you have always been Stephanie."

     "Where are we going today Aunt Jennifer?"

     "First we will get you something to eat and then I thought we could go to a wig shop I know of. If you are going to be going around as Stephanie all the time, you are going to need a better wig till your real hair can grow out some more."

     "Wig Shop?"

     "Yup, they have a shop where they sell just wigs for ladies who need them."

     "They have little kid wigs?"

     "Of course, even little girls need wigs from time to time."

     "Can we," Stephanie hesitantly asked, "do the wig shop first?"

     Aunt Jennifer looked at Stephanie in her rear view mirror. "Of course we can sweetheart.  You don't like your current wig?"

     "It's just . . . It makes me look like a girl and I like that, but . . . It's just . . ."

    "It's not you?"

     "Mommy got it for me that second year I dressed up for Halloween.  It has curly hair.  My real hair is not curly Aunt Jennifer.  I want pig-tails and pony-tails with bows and ribbons, but I can't do that with this hair."

     "Oh Stephanie, I think you would look very cute with pig-tails.  Yes, we can definitely go to the wig shop before lunch and get you something that better shows the world who Stephanie is."

     With another glance in the rear view mirror at Stephanie, Aunt Jennifer saw a big smile on the little girl sitting quietly in the back seat looking at the scenery go by.

     At the wig shop Aunt Jennifer took charge.

     "My niece here needs a wig that does a better job showing off who she really is," Aunt Jennifer stated when they found a sales lady.  "Her real hair is starting to grow in, but it is still too short.  She is afraid people will view her as a boy with just her real hair."

     "Oh we can't have that with such a beautiful young lady," the sales lady replied.

     "Stephanie," Aunt Jennifer said.  "We need to take your wig off to show the nice sales lady what your real hair looks like and what color it is.  We want to get a wig to match your real hair color."

     Hesitantly, Stephanie took her wig off.

     "Oh my," The sales lady said.  "It is coming in, but yes, it will take a while for it to get to a length a young girl would feel comfortable with.  I think we might have some children's wigs in a color that will match.  Will her hair come in curly like her current wig?"

     Sheepishly Stephanie answered, "No."

     "I am guessing that you want your wig to match how your hair is supposed to look?" The sales lady inquired.

     Stephanie nodded her head in agreement.

     "How long are you looking for?"

     Aunt Jennifer smiled at Stephanie and replied, "She likes her hair up in pig-tails and pony tails. She wants to be able to put accessories in her hair like all the other girls."

    "Definitely, most girls your age enjoy accessorizing your hair.  I think the Emily children's wig might be just right for what you are looking for.  It has nice bangs in front and is perfect for naturally looking braids or pig-tails.  Let's measure you head and see if we have one in your color."

     It took about an hour, but they left the store with Stephanie wearing her new wig.  The sales lady even braided two pig-tails going down the back for her.  It felt a lot better than the cheap Halloween costume wig, and she was shown how to secure it so it will not easily fall off. Stephanie was surprised by the other things they also got at the store; two wig stands, a special comb, shampoos, and adhesives.

     Aunt Jennifer went to the mall next and they went straight to the food court to eat lunch.  As they ate their lemon chicken, they talked.

     "So do you like your new look. I think it really fits you."

     "I love it," Stephanie said while still eating.

     "Young lady, don't talk with your mouth full of food."

     Stephanie swallowed and said, "Sorry."

     "I was thinking we could hit Claire's next.  It is a store where we can get all sorts of accessories a young girl needs."

     "No Aunt Jennifer," Stephanie objected.

     "Why not Stephanie?"

     "You already spent more money on the wig and stuff than Mommy spent getting me a new wardrobe.  I saw the bills Aunt Jennifer.  The wig shop was over $300.  That's a lot of money.  I can't go spending all your money."

     "Oh Stephanie, you are so precious.  Yes the wig was about $250 and we spent over $70 on things someone wearing a wig needs.  I have the money dear.  It makes me happy to spend it on you and seeing how happy it makes you.  Don't worry dear.  If something is too much money or we have reached a limit, I will tell you.  Today Stephanie, we are here to find out who Stephanie Meyers is.  Since you have not had nine years collecting things to show your personality, yes this first trip is going to be expensive.  If you see something you like, let me know, even if it is for little girls younger than you.  You have been looking at this stuff for years and unable to get any of it, haven't you?"

     Stephanie nodded her head in agreement.

     "Well, today Stephanie let that little girl out.  I expect to see everything from little girl Disney Princess stuff to big girl jewelry in the bags before we leave here today."

     "Really?"

     "MOST DEFINITELY!"

     Stephanie found a new vigor to finish her meal and get out shopping. 

     It took a while in Claire's before Aunt Jennifer started to see the girl appear.  There was nine years of avoidance behaviors Stephanie had to overcome before she started to feel comfortable actually taking things off the shelf and trying them.  Based upon the choices, Aunt Jennifer could see a younger girl than nine years old appearing.  She had half expected something like this would happen considering how long Stephanie had been suppressed. She decided The Disney Store and Toy Store should be next to get some of the little girl out before going into places to get more big girl things.

     Clothes, toys, and stuffed animals were bought at the Disney Store.  At the Toy Store Aunt Jennifer steered Stephanie towards Fairies, Tinkerbell, Polly Pockets, Lego Friends, and My Little Pony. When Stephanie saw a Fisher Price Little People Doll House, she really wanted a doll house, but Aunt Jennifer told her that if they didn't see a big girl doll house today, she would get one for Christmas.  At the American Girl Store, Stephanie got a Molly doll, book, and accessories. 

     "Can we get some make-up?"

     "Sorry Stephanie," Aunt Jennifer apologized. "We can get some nail polish but not make-up. Your Mom and I didn't get to wear make-up till we were thirteen, so unless your mom gives approval the same rule is in place for you."

     "When did you get pierced ears?"

     "My ears were pierced when I was ten and your mom when she was seven."

     "Mom was seven when she got her ears pierced?"

     "Yeah, she got hers pierced the same time as mine."

     "Can I get mine pierced?  Mom was younger than me when she got her ears pierced."

     Aunt Jennifer hugged Stephanie, "Sorry I can't let you get them pierced. It requires parental consent for kids your age, and I don't think your Mom would give approval. You did get some pretty clip on earrings at Claire's."

     "Since she doesn't want a girl, she will never let me get my ears pierced," Stephanie glumly said.

     "Oh Stephanie, your Mom loves you.  She just is struggling to get used to you being here all the time."

     "You didn't hear her this morning Aunt Jennifer, she doesn't love me as Stephanie.  She only wants to see the Daryl costume."

     "That's not true honey.  She loves you," Aunt Jennifer said steering Stephanie into an ice cream shop. 

     The two talked over some ice cream shakes.  Aunt Jennifer tried to convince Stephanie her parents love her no matter what; Stephanie or Daryl.  Stephanie wasn't convinced.  After the ice cream, it was time for some clothes and jewelry shopping.

     "Can I get one of those Aunt Jennifer?" Stephanie asked pointing at a young girl walking by.

     "What is she wearing that you want Stephanie?"

     "Her coat."

     Jennifer looked at the girl in question noticing the pink Disney Princess coat and then looked at Stephanie, "You want a girls' coat?"

     "Yeah"

     "Do you want that particular coat, or just a girl's coat?"

     "Just a girl's coat. One that's pink or purple."

     "Of course dear, let's go get you out of that black coat and into one more fitting for a lovely young lady."

     The hunt for a coat, hat, gloves, snow pants, and snow boots brought them to a few different stores.  The final coat choice was pink with faux fur around the end of the sleeves and around the hood of the coat.  The rest were also pink, except for the boots that were purple. In the process a few outfits were picked up, mostly dresses, but also some with pants.  Stephanie always went to the pink clothes first, but Aunt Jennifer was able to convince her to get some other colors. 

     At dinner, Stephanie was wearing new hair, earrings, bracelets, coat, and a heart shaped necklace. She was wearing a Christmas Dress outfit with a matching purse, had her fingernails painted, and was happier than Jennifer had ever seen her. When the meal was done, the day was over, and on the drive home, Stephanie felt like Cinderella leaving the ball as the clock struck midnight.

     As the two of them walked into the house, Dad was the first to see his daughter.

     "Stephanie?  How?  Jennifer, how did you get her hair to grow out so quick?"

     "Don't be silly James, there is no way to get hair to grow . . ." Mom stopped when she finished coming around the corner and saw Stephanie.

     Stephanie just stood there smiling at her parents, with her hands behind her back and one of her feet rocking on her toes.

     "How did you do that sis?  That can't be her real hair, is it?"

     "So Stephanie," Aunt Jennifer asked.  "What did you do to your hair to get that look?"

     On the verge of a giggle fit, "I just put these pretty scrunchies in the end of my braids.  I did learn how to braid it from the nice lady, but I will practice on my new doll before I try it on my own hair."

     Mommy came over to get a close look at her hair, "Wow, it looks so real.  It is even the right hair color. Where did you get it Jennifer?"

     "There is a small wig shop on one of the side streets off Division."

     "That is amazing.  Take off your coat D . . . Stephanie," Mom asked.  "Let's get a good look at your new outfit."

     Stephanie took her coat off, handing it to Aunt Jennifer.

     "Oh Jennifer," Mom ogled.  "She looks so precious in that outfit, and with that hair . . . it would be hard for anyone to know she is wearing a wig."

     Mom and Aunt Jennifer talked a bit about the wig and the outfit, until Dad spoke up, "Jennifer, you shouldn't have spent so much."

     "James, Stephanie is worth every cent I have spent on her today, and she needed SOMEONE to do it."

     "Thanks Jennifer," James said while trying to smile. "Your help through all of this is appreciated.  Stephanie, thank Aunt Jennifer and then off to get ready for bed."

     "But Daddy, we have to bring the stuff in."

      "The Stuff?" Dad inquired.  "There is more than just what you are wearing?"

     Stephanie giggled, "Yeah, just a little Daddy."

     "How much is ‘just a little'?"

     "Oh James," Aunt Jennifer said with a slight chuckle. "You really do have a lot to learn about daughters going shopping. There are a few bags in the car for you to bring in. I am sure with your big manly muscles you can handle it. We only got enough to make nine year old Stephanie look and feel like she has been here the last nine years." 

     As Dad headed out to the car with Aunt Jennifer, Stephanie ran to the window to see Daddy's surprise.

     Even from in the house Stephanie could hear Daddy's reaction to all the bags of stuff they bought, "What in the world?"

     It took several trips for Dad to bring all the bags in.  Mom, Stephanie, and Aunt Jennifer worked on unpacking the bags as Dad brought them back to Stephanie's room. It was more of a show and tell than putting things away.

     Dad interrupted the girls in their post shopping frenzy, "Well, I am not sure if the stores have anything left in them, and not sure where you are going to put all of this, but these are the last bags from the back of the car."

     "Where's Molly Daddy?"

     "Molly? You bought a sister while you were out?"

     Aunt Jennifer giggled, "No James, but I am sure Stephanie wouldn't mind if you and Mary got to work on making one for her."

     "Whoa, hold on a minute," James abruptly said.  "We had a boy and now we have a girl, isn't that enough.  Anyways, I don't think will be able to support another child if this shopping trip is any indication of how expensive it is to raise a girl."

     The adults all laughed as Stephanie sheepishly looked at all the bags covering the floor of her bedroom.

     "James," Aunt Jennifer refocused everyone.  "You will find Molly buckled into the back seat, along with her stuff."

     Several minutes later Dad returned with a relieved look on his face and holding up the Molly doll, "Now this child I can afford to raise."

    "You say that now, but wait till you find out how much a new outfit costs for her," Aunt Jennifer said with a chuckle.

     It was long past Stephanie's bed time when everything was finally unpacked and put away.  Under Aunt Jennifer's recommendations, the Daryl clothes and toys were moved to the guest bedroom, to make room for Stephanie's stuff.  The two bottom drawers in Stephanie's dresser were reserved for the clothes needed to be Daryl during the week at school.  The rest of Daryl was moved out.


~o~O~o~


     Sunday morning started like all Sunday's in the Meyers household.  Grown-ups reading newspapers and books in the living room and a child playing with toys on the living room floor.  Stephanie had a collection of new toys to play with. Neither parent did much reading, for their attention was on the child playing in front of them.  They were both looking for their son, but they only saw a young girl full of joyous glee as she played with toys that boys Daryl's age would not find enjoyable to play with.

     By lunchtime; the Lego Friends' models were assembled, the ponies had saved Molly from some yucky boys making fun of her for not being able to hit a ball with a bat, and Tinkerbell went around finding trinkets throughout the living room and brought them back to show the Disney Princesses. Shortly before lunch, there was a tea party with Princesses, Tinkerbell, Molly, Melanie, Teddy Bear, Barbie, Chelsea, and Stephanie.  Mom silently chuckled several times during the tea party as Stephanie gave advice to the younger participants on how to be a proper young lady at a tea party.  She wasn't sure where her child had learned such things, but it reminded her of tea parties she had given many years ago.

     "Mommy," Stephanie asked towards the end of lunch. "Can I write my letter to Santa?"

     The two parents looked at each other and then back at Stephanie.

     "Ummm, sure.  It is the first weekend in November.  This is when we usually write the Santa letter."

     "Goody," Stephanie said before taking another bite.

     "Is there anything in particular you are going to be asking for this year?  Aunt Jennifer just got you a lot of stuff," Dad inquired.

     "I want a doll house, some girl books, a jump rope, nail polish, and to tell him only to bring me girl toys this year."

     "A doll house?" Dad questioned.

     "Aunt Jennifer and me saw one at the toy store I wanted, but she said I needed a big girl doll house not a little kid one like they had at the toy store. She said I could get one for Christmas because we didn't find a big girl doll house yesterday. I need him to know I want a GIRL doll house.  He messed up last year getting me a Lego house and Lego fire truck."

     "Last year you asked for a Girl's Doll House," Dad inquired looking at Stephanie and then at his wife?

     Mary nodded at her husband before they both turned back to Stephanie.

     "Yeah, but I understand Daddy.  Santa had me on the Good Boy list, and I am sure one of his helper elves couldn't understand why a good boy would want a girl's doll house.  I hope Hermey the Elf helps with my list this year.  I know he is the Dentist Elf now, but maybe Rudolph and him can help the other elves understand how I moved from the boy list to the girl list."

     "Hermey the Elf?"

     "Come on Daddy," Stephanie said exasperated. "Haven't you watched the Rudolph movie enough times with me over the years to know who Hermey is?"

     "Rudolph movie?  Hmmm .  . . let me think for a moment. Would that be the movie you watch over and over and over again every Christmas?"

     "Twenty gazillion times each Christmas!  Yeah, that's the one. If Santa can accept Hermey and Rudolph, then I know he can accept me. I just know Daddy," Stephanie said as a tear starting coming down her face.

     Mommy went over to her child and gave a big hug, "Stephanie, I am sure Rudolph and Hermey will make sure you have the most magical Christmas ever."

     After a few minutes of tears and hugs, "Let's go write that letter, describing all the things you want, so no elf will make a mistake this year."

     Mom and Stephanie worked on the letter all afternoon.  Several drafts were written, then Stephanie copied it onto special Christmas paper in her best handwriting.  A picture was added to the letter, one Stephanie drew of herself in one of her new dresses.

     Getting dressed in the Christmas outfit she wore home last night, Mom and Stephanie went to the Santa mail box in the mall to make sure the letter is properly delivered. Like every year, after putting the letter in the mail box, they stood in line to get a picture taken with Santa Clause.   

     "Santa, I know one of your elves messed up last year," Stephanie said sitting on his lap. "This year I made it very clear in my letter, No yucky boy gifts."

     "Ho . . . Ho . . . Ho . . . I don't know how my elves messed up, but I will be certain to make sure they know little Stephanie is a girl and wants girl gifts."

     "Oh thank you Santa," Stephanie hugged him and jumped down to go tell Mommy.

     As the two of them waited for the Deluxe Picture Package to come off the printer, Stephanie told Mommy all about Santa making sure his elves would make sure she got girl gifts this year.

     Trying to get Stephanie to talk quietly, Mary kept looking around to see if others were listening or staring.


~o~O~o~


     Monday morning Stephanie slowly walked back to her room after breakfast to go put on her Daryl costume.  After many reminders to hurry up or she would be late, Stephanie finally arrived in the living room dressed in her costume.  The final bit of Stephanie was hidden away when Mom had her trade in the wig for Daryl's black coat.

     Mom watched her child head off to the bus stop, wondering if she was watching her son go off to school or her daughter in a boy costume go off to school.

     Stephanie stayed away from the other kids at school, even more than she usually did. Her teacher, Mrs. Farren, noticed a depressed kid and asked Daryl if anything was wrong.  Stephanie lied and said no.

   Joanne was unaware that Stephanie watched her throughout the day and made sure to stay as far away from her as possible. 

     After school, Stephanie quickly got changed out of her Daryl costume and into one of the pink outfits she bought with Aunt Jennifer.  Looking at her two wigs she tried to figure out which to wear.  She really wanted to wear the new one, but Joanne had already seen her in the old one. 

     "Melanie," Stephanie said turning to her bed.  "I am Stephanie.  She is the only one my age who knows both Daryl and Stephanie. She is going to find out, isn't she?  I can't keep pretending to be Daryl. Joanne has to see the real me, the new me. I will just come back here with you when she finds out.  She will not want to play with me once she finds out.  Mrs. Tellbore didn't, Mommy and Daddy don't, and Joanne won't either. It's okay Melanie.  I am okay having no one to play with but you and Molly, just as long as I can stay Stephanie."

     Stephanie put on her new wig, quickly painted her nails, and headed out the door to Joanne's house.

     Stephanie resisted every impulse to turn and run away as she pressed the doorbell. -Ding-Dong-  

     "Hi Stephanie," Joanne said answering the door.  "Come on in, I'll show you my room."

     Stephanie went inside and started to take off her coat.

     "You look different."

    "Oh it's my new hair style.  My Aunt Jennifer took me out for a makeover."

     "A makeover, oh cool.  Did you get to wear make-up?  Mommy won't let me wear make-up yet.  What else did you get done besides your hair straightened?"

     "Joanne," Mrs. Sterns said coming into the room.  "Stop giving her the third degree.  I am sure Stephanie will answer all your questions, but at least let her get the coat off first."

     "Sorry Mommy, but she got a makeover.  Look at her hair.  How can they make her hair go from so curly to so straight?  It is even a different color.  Can I get my hair colored next time we go to get it cut?"

     "NO Joanne, your hair is beautiful just the way it is. Stephanie, is your hair naturally curly or was that just done special for your Halloween costume?"

     "This is my natural look," Stephanie grabbed her two braids and spun around while holding them out. "My costumes make me look different, but now, I am who I am.  Stephanie Marie Meyers.  I will always be myself here Joanne and Mrs. Sterns.  No costumes, no pretend, no Dar. . . I am Stephanie.  This is who I am."

     Joanne looked at Stephanie confused by the outburst.  Mrs. Sterns smiled at Stephanie, impressed by the declaration.

     "Well I guess we are not going to play dress up," Joanne said as she started to drag Stephanie down to hall to her room.

     "We can play dress-up. What do you have to play dress-up with?"

     "I have a few Princess outfits, a doctor outfit, some cheer leader pom-poms, and for my birthday I got a bow and arrow set so I can be Merida from Brave."

      Joanne and Stephanie played for over an hour before Stephanie crossed a line she had not intended crossing. The two of them were playing with dolls and Stephanie had just made one do a cartwheel.

     "Oh, I wish I could do those," Joanne said.

     "You do them just fine Joanne.  Don't worry about what John said during Gym class, he was just jealous because he couldn't do one as good as you did."

     "How did you know what John said in Gym class?  You weren't there, were you?"

     Joanne looked at Stephanie more closely, while Stephanie tried to look away and not make eye contact. 

     "Are you in my class?"

     Stephanie was silent while Joanne looked her over.

     "I have to go," Stephanie said standing up and heading for the bedroom door.

     "You look a lot like Daryl in my class, are you his sister?  I didn't think Daryl had a sister.  If you were Daryl's sister why isn't Daryl here too?"

     "I am," Stephanie said as tears started to flow and she ran to the living room to get her coat.

     "Wait Stephanie," Joanne yelled after her.

     Turning the corner into the living room, Stephanie ran right into Mrs. Sterns.

     "Hold on there little one, where are you going in such a hurry."

     "I go home now," Stephanie said through the tears as Joanne came charging into the room.

     "Joanne Sterns, what have you done?"

     "But Mom, I didn't do anything."

     "Well something happened, Stephanie here is in tears trying to go home and you are yelling at the top of your lungs for her to come back."

     "I don't know what happened Mommy.  We were playing with my dolls and Stephanie said I shouldn't be upset about John teasing me during Gym class.  How did she know about John teasing me and how does she know what my cartwheels looked like in Gym class.  Who is she Mommy? She looks like a boy named Daryl in my class, but I don't think Daryl has a sister.  Even if he did, why wouldn't you be babysitting Daryl too?   You said Stephanie lives on the other side of the park, then why haven't I seen her around the neighborhood or at school.  She is my age, but she isn't in my grade at school?"

     "I see," Mrs. Sterns said squatting down trying to console Stephanie while listening to her daughter ramble on. "You have a lot of questions.  I am kind of surprised it took you this long to ask them.  Have you asked Stephanie any of these questions?"

     Stephanie upon hearing this tried to get away from Mrs. Stern, but was being firmly held.

     "Sort of," Joanne thought for a moment. "She said . . . No, that doesn't make any sense Mommy. What she said can't be right."

     Mrs. Sterns whispered into Stephanie's ear, "You told her.  That was very brave. I am proud of you."

     "What did she say Joanne," Mrs. Sterns asked?

     "I go now," Stephanie got out through her tears.

     "No you are not going anywhere.  It is time everyone here learned and accepted the truth, whether they like it or not."

     "The truth?  I have been telling the truth Mommy, honest I have."

     "I know princess.  Back to the question, what did Stephanie say?"

     "I said Stephanie looked like Daryl's sister.  I asked if Stephanie was Daryl's sister where is Daryl.  It doesn't make any sense Mommy that you would babysit Daryl's sister and not him.  Does it?"

     "No it doesn't Joanne.  Keep going."

     "She said, ‘I am'.  But Mommy she's not Daryl, she's Stephanie.  Is Stephanie Daryl's sister?"

     Mrs. Sterns smiled, "The innocence of children, if only more adults saw the world that way. No Joanne, Stephanie is not Daryl's sister.  The reason Stephanie knew about John teasing you during Gym class is because she was there.  She is in your class, and if I recall correctly she has been in your class a few times since Kindergarten. You even used to play together some back when you were preschoolers going to the same Daycare. I think it is about time the two of you actually met."

     Mrs. Sterns turned Stephanie around, "Now Stephanie, how is it that your mom phrased it?  Something like; you wear a costume to school."

     "Yeah, a Daryl costume," Stephanie said barely above a whisper.

     "A what costume," Joanne inquired?

     "A DARYL COSTUME!" Stephanie blurted out.

     Joanne stood still staring at Stephanie with her mouth open.

     Stephanie took a deep breath and turned to Mrs. Sterns, "I will go now Mrs. Sterns.  Thank you for babysitting me.  I am sorry."

     "Stephanie Meyers you are not going anywhere.  Come with me into the kitchen. I think this is a perfect time for some cookies and milk," Mrs. Stern holding on tight to Stephanie led her into the kitchen, leaving Joanne standing there with her mouth open.

     "But . . . You can't be Daryl. You're a girl," Joanne said a moment later as she followed them into the kitchen. "Girls are NOT boys!  Ha Ha funny joke.  Joke over.  Who are you really?"

Chapter 4 by Teekabell
Author's Notes:

Chapter 4: Joanne’s Awakening

Summary: Joanne has to face the reality that Daryl and Stephanie are the same person. For 9 year old Joanne, more will be revealed than just who Stephanie is.

Costumes

Chapter 4 of 10

Joanne's Awakening

~o~O~o~

     Mrs. Sterns was afraid to let Stephanie go, figuring the little birdy would fly the coop at the first possible opportunity.  She held Stephanie's hand while getting the cookies out and the two of them brought them over to the table.  She held Stephanie's hand while getting the milk out and bringing it to the table.  She even held Stephanie's hand while getting out two Disney Princess glasses for the two girls to drink from.  Finally sitting Stephanie down at the table, she let go but then sat down next to her.

     Joanne had come in and sat down in her usual seat at the table just staring at Stephanie and her Mom get the snack out.

     "But she is a girl.  Daryl is a boy.  She can't be Daryl."

     "You were Tinkerbell for Halloween," Mrs. Sterns commented.  "Are you really a fairy?"

     "Don't be silly Mommy," Joanne said in frustration.  "That was just a Halloween costume.  Of course I am not really Tinkerbell."

     Stephanie took a bite of the cookie looking between Mrs. Sterns and Joanne.

     "You have dress-up clothes in your room, are you really those things when you dress in them," Mrs. Sterns asked Joanne who had yet to take a cookie?

     "No I just pretending to be things."

     Joanne reached out to get a cookie, only realizing then that she still had a doll in her hand.  She put the doll down on the table and got a cookie.

     Stephanie took a drink of milk, spending time to examine all the princesses on the cup.

     "Stephanie wears a Daryl costume to school?" Joanne asked to the air as she ate her cookie.  "Daryl is in my class at school."

     "Yes princess," Mrs. Sterns reassured her confused daughter.

     "Stephanie is in my class at school but wears a costume to school, a Daryl costume?  Daryl and Stephanie are the same person?"

     "I think she's got it," Mrs. Sterns announced.

     "Don't be silly Mommy!  Stephanie is a girl.  She can't be a boy named Daryl."

     "Well Stephanie, she almost had it."

     Stephanie stayed quiet continuing to eat and drink slowly.

     "Your right Joanne, Stephanie is NOT a boy named Daryl.  She is a girl who pretends to be a boy named Daryl."

     "Why would she do something stupid like that, especially Daryl of all people?"

     "Joanne Sterns be nice."

     "No Mrs. Sterns, she is right," Stephanie said.  "Daryl isn't exactly anyone someone would want to pretend to be."

     "Daryl's a Noper Mom," Joanne stated.

     "A . . . ‘Noper'?"

     "Yeah a ‘No Person'," Joanne explained.  "A person who no one talks to, no one plays with, no one likes.  You only talk with a Noper if you have to or the teacher assigns them to your group.  If Stephanie was going to pretend to be someone else, why would she ever pretend to be a Noper?"

     Stephanie looked at her plate with a half-eaten cookie on it, "None of the boys will play with me, I hit and kick like the girls.  None of the girls will play with me because I am a boy.  I didn't choose to be a Noper, everyone else chose that for me.  I chose to be Stephanie and Stephanie is NOT going to be a Noper."

     "Well, it sounds like you have been very mean to Daryl, Joanne Elizabeth Sterns."

     "But Mom!"

     "I did not raise you to treat other people that way."

     "But Mom, Daryl's a boy.  Girl's don't play with boys at school."

     "Do you treat all the boys like Nopers Joanne," Mrs. Sterns inquired.

     Joanne put her head down and said, "No."

     "Young lady," Mrs. Sterns firmly stated. "You do talk with the boys and interact with them, even if you don't play with them, but apparently you didn't give Daryl this same level of respect.  It is never appropriate to treat someone like a non-person. Your father and I will talk with you more this evening about this, and if I EVER hear about you treating anyone else like a non-person."

     Both Stephanie and Joanne knew by the tone they didn't want to find out what would happen.

     "I am not going to raise a daughter who feels she is better than others.  I think you owe Stephanie an apology."

     "Why do I owe Stephanie an apology?  I didn't treat her like a Noper."

     "It is okay Mrs. Sterns," Stephanie interjected. "She doesn't have to apologize. Joanne doesn't tease me like some of the other kids do."

     "No Stephanie, it is not okay.  I am glad to hear that she doesn't tease you at school, but treating you like a non-person is just as bad," Mrs. Sterns said to Stephanie before turning to Joanne.  "Joanne, do you treat Daryl like a non-person at school?"

     "Yeah, but all the other kids do too."

     "If all the other kids jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?"

     "No"

     "There is no excuse for treating someone like a non-person.  That is disrespectful and demeaning. How would you like to be treated like a non-person?"

     "I wouldn't like it."

     "Then apologize to Stephanie for treating her that way."

     "But I didn't treat Stephanie like that. I just treat Daryl that way."

     "Joanne, Stephanie IS Daryl."

     "No she's not. Daryl has really short hair and never wears pretty dresses like Stephanie has on."

     "Joanne, the curly hair Stephanie had on Halloween and yesterday when she came to visit was definitely a wig, and I don't know where she got such a good one, but I would say she is currently wearing a wig too."

     "Yes ma'am," Stephanie stated. "My Aunt Jennifer took me to a wig shop yesterday."

     "A wig?" Joanne looked confused.  "Stephanie's wearing a wig?"

     "Now apologize to Stephanie for how you treat her when she is dressed up as Daryl."

     "Sorry . . . Stephanie?"

     "That does not sound like a very honest apology," Mrs. Sterns glared at her daughter.

     "But that isn't Daryl Mommy, it can't be.  Stephanie's NOT a boy.  She can't be."

     "Oh and my little nine year old princess is such an expert on boys?"

     "No, but I know girls.  Stephanie is a girl.  Not only is she a girl, but as Gwen would put it, she is a Girly Girl. Every dress I have seen her in had frills and lace.  She wears girl colors, and plays with dolls and dress up.  She was the perfect Princess on Halloween.  Gwen doesn't even like playing with Tomboys, but after trick-or-treating she asked me if I knew who Stephanie was so we could all get together and play.  Stephanie can't be a boy!"

     Mrs. Sterns chuckled, "Well I think you are right Joanne, Stephanie is definitely NOT a boy."

     "Thank You," Stephanie said with a big smile across her face.

     "So let's look at this another way Joanne," Mrs. Sterns directed. "Tell me about Daryl.  Could Daryl be a girl?"

     "He's a boy.  He lines up with the boys.  He has a boy name.  He wears boy clothes.  He even has a boy haircut.  He has always been a boy."

     "But does Daryl act like a boy or like a girl?"

     "The other boys say he hits and kicks like a girl," Joanne admits. "He can jump rope better than some of the girls in our class."

     "What does he do at recess," Mrs. Sterns asked?

    "Well, I don't know. He is a Noper, I don't play with him.  He just sort of swings on the swings and goes on the jungle gym occasionally."

     Stephanie interjected, "Do any of the other boys swing on the swings or play on the jungle gym?"

     "No not really.  Usually only the girls play on them," Joanne replied in deep thought.

     Stephanie continued to get Joanne thinking, "What is Mrs. Farren always complaining about that the boys should be more like the girls."

     Joanne giggled, "She always tells the girls how nice their handwriting is, and the boys that they need to write neatly like the girls.  She tells the boys to settle down and focus, but rarely says that to the girls."

     "What about Daryl," Mrs. Sterns asked?

     "He . . ." Joanne contemplated.  "He . . . has nice writing like the girls . . . he, stays away from the boys and is never in trouble like they are."

     "So he is more like the girls than the boys at school," Mrs. Sterns asked?

     "Yeah, I guess so," Joanne admitted.

     Stephanie's face lit up.  She decided to expand the topic, "Do you ever see him at the park down the street when you go play?"

     "Yeah, why?" Joanne inquired with a questioning look.

     "What do the boys do at the park," Stephanie asked?

     "They play basketball or soccer.  They play pirates or shoot them up games.  Some of them wrestle. Even the little boys do this," Joanne grimaced.

     "Does Daryl ever play those games," Mrs. Sterns asked?

     "No, again he is usually on the swings or jungle gym.  Occasionally I see him riding his bike around."

     "So does Daryl play like the girls or the boys," Stephanie asked?

     "Well more like the girls I guess."

     Mrs. Sterns smiled widely, "So Daryl could be a girl dressed up in a boy costume?"

     "Yeah I guess, but why would any girl ever want to do that?"

     "I didn't have a choice.  Everyone keeps calling me a boy and until Thursday I only had boy clothes to dress in. I . . . I didn't have a choice," Stephanie blurted out before the tears started to flow again. 

     Mrs. Sterns gave Stephanie a hug.

     "Even once I had a dress, I couldn't exactly go out like this," Stephanie said taking her wig off.  "I couldn't play the jump rope games with you and the other girls. I couldn't play with dolls when one of the girls brought them to school.  I couldn't wear pretty dresses on picture day.  I couldn't be me.  Everyone just saw the boy Daryl. NO MORE.  Daddy said costumes are only to be worn on Halloween.  I don't want to wear the Daryl costume anymore.  I don't want to.  It is not fair.  Mommy and Daddy make me wear the Daryl costume to school, but I am NOT going to wear it other times. It's not fair."

     It took Mrs. Sterns several minutes to calm Stephanie down and get her to stop crying. 

 

~o~O~o~

 

     With the wig back on and the tears subsided, Mrs. Sterns settled the two girls in the living room and put on one of the American Girl movies.  It kept both girls quiet for 90 minutes, giving them each time to think.

     Throughout the movie, Stephanie knew she was being watched by Joanne.  She also saw Mrs. Sterns come into the room a lot to look at her.  Stephanie was convinced she did it again, she revealed the truth and now her parents would need to find a new babysitter.  How was she going to explain this to Mom?

     At the end of the movie Mrs. Sterns sent the two girls back to Joanne's room to play.  Joanne got up and after glaring at Stephanie, she went back to her room.  Stephanie stayed on the couch.

     "Stephanie go back and play with Joanne," Mrs. Sterns said taking the DVD out of the player.

     "I'll just stay here."

     Mrs. Sterns looked at Stephanie, "What's wrong dear?"

     "Nothing," Stephanie said without making eye contact. "I just don't feel like playing."

     Mrs. Sterns put the DVD away and sat down next to Stephanie, "What are you worried about Stephanie?"

     "Nothing."

     "You were having fun playing with Joanne earlier.  Why don't you go back and see what she is up to now."

     "No, that's okay."

     Mrs. Sterns took Stephanie's hands and looked straight into her eyes, "Stephanie, why don't you want to play with Joanne anymore?"

     "She doesn't want to play with me."

     "What would make you think something so silly."

     "It's okay Mrs. Sterns, I am used to doing nothing as the other kids play. I know when I am not welcome. I'm a Noper remember."

     "Joanne Elizabeth Sterns, get in here NOW!"

     "What Mommy?" Joanne asked as she came back into the living room.

     "Can you please explain to me why Stephanie believes you don't want to play with her?"

     "Maybe because I don't," Joanne sheepishly said.

     "And why is that?"

     "She's a boy in a dress Mommy," Joanne clearly explained.

     "And you are a girl in pants.  What's your point young lady?"

     "Stephanie's a boy.  That is just really really weird."

     "Before you knew about the connection between Stephanie and Daryl, you had no problem playing with Stephanie.  She is still the same person.  Are you?"

     Joanne looked at her Mom and then at Stephanie. 

     "Young Lady, you are already scheduled to have a long talk with your father and me this evening about your inappropriate behavior towards Daryl and any other people you might have treated like non-people.  Apparently, we now need to add a discussion about how you are treating Stephanie."

     "But Mom," Joanne said confused by her mom not understanding.

     "Don't ‘But Mom' me young lady.  I am very disappointed in you at the moment."

     The room was silent.

     "Joanne," Mrs. Sterns broke the silence. "Go get your backpack and go to the kitchen table to work on your homework.  Playtime is over for the rest of the day. When you are done with your homework you can think about how you have treated Stephanie today, and how you have treated her when she has been dressed up as Daryl.  She is going to be here three days a week.  I am going to make sure she has fun when she is here: with you or without you.  Now go do your homework."

     Mrs. Sterns turned to Stephanie as Joanne went off to get her backpack, "I am sorry Stephanie. You do not deserve the treatment you have gotten.  I need you to know you are safe in this house, and always welcome."

     Standing up and reaching out her hand, "Come with me Stephanie."

     Mrs. Sterns led Stephanie back to Joanne's room.  As they entered, Joanne was leaving with her backpack.

     Stopping in front of the bookcase in the room, "I know you have homework to read twenty minutes every night.  We have collected quite a collection of books for a little girl to enjoy. If most of your life you have been in your Daryl costume, I am sure you have never gotten to read many of them. I want you to view this like a lending library. Pick out two books and then come back to the living room to do your reading homework."

     Mrs. Sterns left the room while Stephanie looked through the books.  She picked out a book called No Flying in the House, and a Fancy Nancy book. Taking the books she returned to the living room and settled into the couch with her back to the kitchen. She didn't want to see Joanne at the kitchen table working on her homework.

     The Fancy Nancy book was read first, and despite her feelings, a few giggles escaped.   It was a quick read, and Stephanie went on to the ‘No Flying in the House' book.  She was quickly getting pulled into the story when the front door opened.

     "Hi Joanne . . . Oh, you are not Joanne," The man who walked through the door commented.

     "No sir."

     "Then you must be Princess Stephanie."

     Frowning, Stephanie looked back down at the book before looking back at the man, "No sir.  Just Stephanie."

     "Well, Stephanie, for starters you can call me George or Mr. Sterns, but sir is just a little too formal."

     "Sorry sir. . . I mean Sorry Mr. Sterns."

     "Second Stephanie . . ."

     "Welcome home Honey," Mrs. Sterns said coming into the room. 

     Mr. Sterns kissed his wife and then looked back at Stephanie, "as I was saying Stephanie, as a girl, you are always a princess even if you don't always feel like it inside."

     Stephanie gave Mr. Sterns a weak smile.  She wanted to believe him, but the impending arrival of her Mother and possible need for her to get a new babysitter was weighing on her heavily.

     "So where is the other little princess," Mr. Sterns asked looking at his wife.  "I figured the two would be running a raucous throughout the house."

     "Well, your daughter is doing her homework at the kitchen table.  Apparently she has been disrespectful to kids at school and has chosen to continue that disrespect in her interactions with Stephanie here. The two were fine together till she found out about Stephanie's past."

     Looking at Stephanie, Mr. Sterns thought a moment before saying, "I am sorry Stephanie. Everyone deserves the right to be respected.  I don't know what Joanne's issues are, but I will get to the bottom of it."

     Mr. Sterns looked to his wife.

     "Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns reinforced. "You are always welcome here.  You have done nothing wrong.  Joanne should never have treated you like a non-person at school and there is no excuse for her behaviors this afternoon.  I am sure she will have a different view of things by the time you come on Wednesday."

     Mr. Sterns' eyes went wide at his wife's comment.

     "You mean you will still be babysitting me?" Stephanie asked with shock.

     "Of course I will," Mrs. Sterns reassured her.  

     "Even though I wear a Daryl costume to school?"

     "That doesn't matter Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns reassured her.  Raising her voice she continued, "Joanne was wrong in how she has treated you as Daryl and her behavior this afternoon has also been inappropriate.  Like I have said, you will be welcome here as Stephanie or as Daryl.  If Joanne has a problem with that, she will be a very unhappy little girl while you and I have fun together."

 

~o~O~o~

 

    At recess the next morning Joanne approached Daryl on the swings, "Mommy says I have to apologize for treating you like a Noper.  Sorry Daryl."

     "That's okay Joanne."

     "Daddy said I have to play with you at recess all week."

     "You don't have to Joanne, just go play with Gwen and Melissa like you always do."

     "No Daryl, I have to play with you.  Daddy said I have to.  Mommy is going to be asking you on Wednesday and Friday to make sure I am playing with you."

     "Go play with your friends Joanne," Stephanie said looking over at Gwen and Melissa getting a big jump rope out.  "Don't worry I will tell your mom we played together."

     "I have to play with you Daryl, Daddy said he was going to call Mrs. Farren to make sure we played together and to make sure I have been nice to you this week in class."

     "I'm sorry Joanne," Daryl said looking down at the ground as he scraped his feet in the bark under the swing.

      "So you think you are a girl trapped in a boy body?"

      "Never really thought of it that way, but yeah, I guess that would describe it."

     "Daddy says that is not weird."

     "Just the way things are," Daryl said still looking down at his feet.

      "Daddy said people like you are girls in the brain and heart where it counts the most.  I don't understand, but Daddy said I would if I played with you all week.  He said playing with you as Stephanie and as Daryl would teach me that you are the same no matter what you are wearing."

     "Joanne, just go play with your friends.  I will be fine."

     "Not a chance in the world.  I like all my toys.  I am in trouble enough for treating you and Sally as Nopers."

     "How did they find out about Sally?"

     Now Joanne looked down at her feet, "I had to tell them.  Mommy said she would take away all my dresses and girl clothes and make me dress only in boy clothes if I didn't tell them about all the kids I treated like non-people."

     "If they are making you play with me for a week, what are they going to do about Sally?  She moved away this last summer?"

     "I don't want to talk about it.  Come on Daryl.  Melissa and Gwen have the jump rope and are waiting for me."

     "I can't go play with them."

     "Why not?  If you are really Stephanie, you would just be one of the girls.  Anyways, Gwen said at Halloween that she wanted to play with ‘Princess Stephanie' again."

     "But I am in my Daryl costume," Daryl said in hushed tones. "Gwen doesn't even play with the girls like Candice who play all the ball games with the boys.  She will never play with me."

     "Melissa and I can't out jump rope Gwen," Joanne said with a devilish smile.  "But, I bet you can. Come on Daryl.  If we have to play together, we might as well have some fun."

     Joanne dragged Daryl off the swings and he followed her over to Gwen and Melissa.

     "Joanne, what are you doing with Daryl?" Gwen asked as they approached.

     "I thought he could jump rope with us today."

     "What," Gwen asked in shock.  "He is a boy and a Noper.  We can't play with him.  I bet the Kindergarteners could jump rope more times than he can."

     "Tell you what Gwen," Joanne stated.  "If he can get through the Teddy Bear song, doing all the actions, then you will let him hang out with us this week."

     "Joanne!" Daryl exclaimed.  "I've only done jump rope in Gym class. I can't do you're your type of jump rope."

     "Come on Daryl, I bet you are better than Gwen."

     "Yeah, right.  A boy better than me.  Never going to happen," Gwen said with arrogance.

     "Then I guess you will not mind spinning the rope while Daryl jumps.  He will jump all the way through and do all the actions."

     "Joanne!"  Daryl was getting more and more scared as Joanne went on.

     "Daryl," Joanne turned to Daryl and asked.  "Do you know the Teddy Bear chant?"  

     "He's a boy.  He isn't going to know any of the Jump Rope Chants," Gwen snided.

     "Yeah," Daryl reluctantly responded. "I know it."

     "In you go Daryl," Joanne pushed Daryl towards the jump rope that Melissa and Gwen were starting up.  "Who are you Daryl?"

     Mouthing a response without saying it out loud, "I am Stephanie!"

     Daryl watched the rope for two turns and then jumped in and started chanting:

 

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn around,

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, touch the ground

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, show your shoe

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, that will do!

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, go upstairs-

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, say your prayers-

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn out the lights-

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, say good-night!

 

     Daryl got to the end of the song after acting out all the steps and still jumping rope.  Gwen stopped the rope and turned to Joanne, "Fine he can jump, but he is not better than me.  You think he is good, let's see how good he is."

     Gwen started the rope back up causing Daryl to start jumping.  She then shouted out ‘Cinderella'.  All the girls and Daryl started chanting:

 

Cinderella, dressed in yellow

went upstairs to kiss a 'fella

made a mistake

and kissed a snake

how many doctors

did it take?

1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . . 5 . . . 6. . .

 

     Daryl managed to keep jumping till they reached 64.

     "Wow, not even Erin can jump that long," Melissa blurted out, only regretting it upon seeing Gwen's expression.

     "Fine," Gwen pouted.  "He CAN jump rope, that doesn't mean we should have to play with a Noper.  What are you going to do next Joanne, invite the Special Ed. kids to play with us?"

     Melissa threw the rope down and walked over to the swings.

     "Well now look what you have done Joanne," Gwen glared at Joanne.

     "Me? . . . Me? . . . Gwen you were the one that insulted Melissa.  You know how sensitive she is about having to go to the Special Education room.  How could you be so mean?  Come on Daryl," Joanne grabbed Stephanie's wrist and dragged her over to Melissa on the swings.

     Melissa, Joanne, and Daryl swung together for the rest of recess.  Gwen kept her distance.   At lunch recess, Gwen tried to join Melissa, Joanne, and Daryl, but based upon Melissa's reaction to her presence, Joanne told Gwen to get lost till she could be nice.

     Daryl had fun at both recesses, but knew it was only happening because Joanne was being punished.  He tried to remember all the feelings and actions so he could replay them in his head next week when he would be all alone again. He wasn't even sure this would last till tomorrow, but for today . . . today Stephanie got to be at recess and be one of the girls, even if she was wearing a Daryl costume.

Chapter 5 by Teekabell
Author's Notes:

Chapter 5: The Freak

Summary:  Stephanie only has a future if people in her life can accept her for who she is.  Friendship is a new concept for Stephanie, and figuring it out will not be easy.  Joanne thought she knew everything she needed about friendship, but a Noper of all things is teaching her a lesson.

Costumes

Chapter 5 of 10

The Freak

~o~O~o~

     After school Stephanie quickly changed and Mom promptly got her into the car for a therapy appointment.  The trip to the appointment, and the grocery shopping afterwards were noticeably quiet to Stephanie.  Mommy never asked about her day, didn't ask about what Dr. Jones and she talked about, and didn't talk about anything.  Usually Mom is asking tons of questions.  Stephanie wanted to tell her about how good she did Jump Roping. She wanted to tell her about Joanne, Melissa, and her swinging so high that Melissa got scared and they all needed to slow down.  She wanted to, but Mommy wasn't asking about her day and was making it very clear she was in no mood to talk.

     At dinner that night, Dad asked about her day. With a look at Mom, Stephanie just shrugged and took another bite of her dinner.

     "Oh it couldn't have been that bad," Dad said looking between his two girls.  "Are you still having trouble with the math that Mrs. Farren is giving you?  Do you want my help tonight?"

     "Math is fine.  I only missed one problem on the paper we did today in class."

     "That is great Stephanie.  What else happened today?" Dad queried.

     "Joanne played with me at recess," Stephanie said just before taking another bite.

     Both parents looked at Stephanie and then at each other.  

     "Oh really," Dad broke the silence.  "What did the two of you do?"

     "Her Mommy and Daddy made her play with me, but that is okay.  We had fun.  She has two friends; Gwen and Melissa.  We did some Jump Rope games. I got all the way to sixty-four before I missed a jump.  Melissa said that was even better than Erin can jump. Erin's the best jumper in the school."

     "Wow, that is a lot of jumping," Dad said.  "Did you have fun?"

    "It was great Daddy," Stephanie said with glee.  "I have always wanted to do Jump Roping with them, but I couldn't.   I know it was only for today because Joanne had to play with me, but we had fun."

     "Why did her parents make her play with you," Mom asked?

     "Because I'm a Noper.  After jump roping, Gwen got mad at how good I did, so Melissa, Joanne, and I played on the swings without her.  We kept going higher and higher till Melissa got scared, then we all slowed down.  I even got to play with both of them during the second recess."

     "That does sound like you had a lot of fun," Dad smiled.

     "It was great Daddy."

     "Stephanie," Dad hesitantly asked seeing how happy Stephanie was.  "What is a Noper?"

     Stephanie took another bite of her dinner and looked straight down at her plate.  Under her breath she said, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

      "Stephanie?"

     "Nothing Daddy.  It's nothing."

     "Stephanie, if it was nothing then why did Joanne's parents make her play with you. Now Stephanie tell me, what makes you a Noper?"

     "Don't worry Daddy, I am only a Noper when I am in my Daryl costume. I am NOT going to be a Noper as Stephanie.  I am NOT."

     "And what exactly is a Noper young lady," Dad pushed.

     "Oh . . . well . . . it doesn't matter Daddy."

     "Stephanie," Daddy coaxed. "It does matter.  You said you are a Noper, now tell me.  What is a Noper?"

     "A Noper is someone who no one likes and no one talks to and no one plays with and no one works with, and no one . . ." Stephanie held back crying.  "I am a Noper in my Daryl costume.  I will not be a Noper as Stephanie.  Stephanie is NOT a Noper."

     A long discussion followed, as Dad pulled from a reluctant child, details of how Daryl is treated at school.  How he has been treated for years, and what the reality of life is for his child while dressed in the Daryl costume.  As Dad got more and more upset over how his son was treated at school, and how long this had been going on without him knowing about it, Stephanie continuously pleaded with him to do nothing.  She didn't want him to talk to the teacher or the Principal, stating that it would only make things worse.

     Before Stephanie was allowed to go back to her room, a phone call was placed to the Sterns' house, to find out what they had discovered from Joanne.   Stephanie found the conversation strange only being able to hear one side of it.  Daddy didn't say much, but the conversation went on for a while.  After Daddy's initial question and explanation as to why he was asking, the conversation that Stephanie could hear went along like, "I see.  Uh - huh.  No you don't have to do that.  I see. No, I understand.  I see. Yeah, probably will work. Interesting.  No, we didn't know about it either. I'll be calling the Principal in the morning.  Yeah, that might be helpful.  How many kids?  Yeah, definitely bully behavior.  No, I don't blame Joanne, it is the teachers I blame. Thank You.   Your help is appreciated.  Thank You."

     Stephanie dreaded going to school tomorrow.  Once the other kids found out she told on them, she would be the target of the bullies.

     "Daddy, the other kids are not bullying me.  Don't call the Principal. Please Daddy."

     Dad went over to where Stephanie had settled into the couch.  Taking both of her hands and looking her straight in the eyes, "Never be afraid to tell the truth Stephanie.  The things the other kids have been doing to you is most definitely bullying behavior. It is against the law.  The school needs to teach the kids appropriate behavior.  I cannot stop the bullies, especially once they find out about the connection between Daryl and Stephanie.  But as your Dad, it is my job to make sure my baby girl is bullied as little as possible. No kid should be treated like a non-person.  I have to talk to the Principal to make sure you and the other kids being treated like non-people have a chance to be people at school."

       Dad hugged Stephanie and told her to go get dressed for bed.  Stephanie looked over at Mommy sitting on the lounge chair. Mommy had been quiet during most of the discussion, and Stephanie, who wanted a hug from Mommy, for some strange reason felt this would be a bad time.  Stephanie just turned and went down to her room.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     At school on Wednesday, Daryl was surprised when Melissa said hi to him.  He was surprised even more when looking for a pencil and Joanne offered one to Daryl.  At recess, he found Melissa and Joanne playing with him again.  Gwen didn't join them.  The three of them occasionally saw Gwen looking over at them, but she never approached.

     Daryl didn't understand why Melissa and Joanne were being so nice to him.  He knew Joanne needed to play with him this week, but Melissa didn't have that requirement.  Why were they being nice to him.  He liked it, but didn't understand why?

     In the afternoon, Mrs. Farren asked everyone to pair up with someone for a project.  Daryl hated when she said this, for he would always end up at the end with Mrs. Farren forcing someone to be his partner.  This time however, both Melissa and Joanne attempted to be his partner.  Melissa got there first.  The two of them watched as Joanne attempted to be Gwen's partner.

     Gwen, seeing Joanne coming, turned and grabbed the first person next to her, "Billy, you're going to be my partner."

     Joanne ended up with Elwood.  He was rude to everyone, causing both Melissa and Daryl to shudder when they saw the match.  Daryl knew he probably should have ended up with Elwood, and as he sat down to work with Melissa he expressed to her how he was sorry Joanne ended up with Elwood instead of himself. Melissa reassured him that Joanne was strong and could stand up for herself.

     Daryl found Melissa a great partner.  He enjoyed doing the project, something he rarely got to do on partner projects.  Even through some laughter and giggling, the two finished the project before the end of the time period. 

     After school, there was a quick change and Stephanie headed over to Joanne's house. On the way over she thought about the day. Joanne and Melissa were being friendly today.  It felt nice.  The group project with Melissa was actually fun, Joanne had tried to be his partner too.  She didn't need to do that as part of the deal made with her dad. Did she? Was she actually making friends while dressed in his Daryl costume?  Stephanie looked down at her pink coat, her dress with lace at the hem, tights with snowfakes on them, and Mary-Jane shoes.  With a smile, she skipped her way down the sidewalk. Another wonderful element of the day is that no one got in trouble for Noper issues, so she hoped Daddy had forgotten to call the Principal. As Stephanie approached Joanne's porch, she tried to figure out how to apologize for Joanne getting stuck with Elwood.

     Just as Stephanie was about to press the doorbell, she stopped in her tracks upon hearing Joanne, "Mom, it's not fair.  Why do I have to lose Gwen as a friend just because you make me play with the class freak?  Today I had to work with Elwood.  Elwood Mom!  Gwen wouldn't have me as a partner and Melissa was working with the freak."

     "Joanne Elizabeth Sterns, Stephanie is not a freak and if I hear you refer to her again like that, you will find your punishment lasting longer and impacting you more."

     "But MOM!  You don't have to listen to the comments the other kids are saying to me for playing with Daryl.  If I have to continue playing with him, I will be a Noper by the end of the week.  It's not fair.  My life at school is over and with you babysitting the freak after school, my life at home is destroyed too."

     A tear started coming down Stephanie's face, screaming so she could be heard from inside the house she proclaimed before storming off, "Fine, I'll go home so you don't have to play with the freak!"

     Stephanie had reached the park entrance when she heard Mrs. Sterns screaming for her to come back.  This only made Stephanie run faster.  Upon reaching her house, it took Stephanie three attempts to get the key into the lock, but she was finally safe at home.  Shutting the door, she went straight to her room and collapsed on the bed in tears. It wasn't long before Mrs. Sterns and Joanne were walking in the back door, looking for Stephanie.

     "Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns called out as she started to search the house.  "Stephanie.  Where are you sweetie?"

     It didn't take Mrs. Sterns long to find Stephanie lying on her bed.  Mrs. Sterns sat down by her side rubbing her back.   It took a while to calm the little girl down, but eventually she had Stephanie sitting up in bed, cuddling Melanie, with no tears coming down.

     "Joanne, I believe you have something to say," Mrs. Sterns glared at her daughter.

     "I am sorry Stephanie."

     "Uhh-hummm," Mrs. Sterns cleared her throat.

     "I am sorry Stephanie for calling you a freak and saying it was your fault Gwen doesn't want to play with me anymore."

     "I am a freak."

     "You are not Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns hugged her. "You're just a little girl trying to find her place in the world, in a world that doesn't understand."

     Looking around the room for the first time, Mrs. Sterns smiled, "You have a very nice room Stephanie. Let's get that coat off you.  I think the two of you should play here for a little bit."

     Joanne for the first time started looking around the room as her Mom worked on getting Stephanie's coat off, "But this can't be Stephanie's room.  This is a girl's room.  Stephanie is a boy."

     "I am certain this is Stephanie's room," Mrs. Sterns commented while taking Stephanie's coat and standing up.  "Isn't it Stephanie?"

     "Uh-huh"

     Joanne walked around the room getting a closer look at the various things in it.  Stephanie just stayed on the bed hugging Melanie.

     "Look Mom, she has a Molly doll," Joanne said with surprise.  "I have an Emily doll Stephanie.  I asked for a Molly doll for my birthday, but didn't get one. Did you know Emily and Molly are best friends?"

     It didn't take long for the two girls to start playing with the toys.  Mrs. Sterns stayed in the room just long enough to know they were playing together and not fighting. 

     "Well girls," Mrs. Sterns said coming back into the room an hour later.  "I need to start dinner, so we need to switch houses."

     "Oh, Mom," Joanne whined. "Do we have to go now?"

     "I know of one little girl who is going to be very hungry shortly unless I can make something for her to eat.  So yes, we have to leave now.  Also, your Dad is going to be worried if he gets home before we do.   Grab your coats, and don't forget Joanne, you have something you need to do as soon as we get back."

     Upon hearing that last statement, Joanne dropped the toy in her hand and with her head hung low, went over to the bed to get her coat.  She was quiet the whole walk back.  Upon entering her house she slowly took her coat off and hung it up.  Under non-verbal prompting from her Mom, Joanne made her way back to her bedroom.

     "Stay here Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns said putting a hand on her shoulder.  "Joanne will be back in a minute."

     Joanne returned with a gift in hand, "Stephanie . . . I am sorry I treated you like a Noper.  This cannot make up for me being a bully, but please accept it as part of my apology."

     Stephanie looked up at Mrs. Sterns, who gestured for her to take the present. 

     "Thank You," Stephanie hesitantly said taking the gift.

     After being prompted by Mrs. Sterns to open the gift, Stephanie opened the package.  Stephanie's eyes went wide as she saw and felt the fabric of a lovely dress.  She felt the dress, trying to picture herself in it, and wondering which shoes would go best with it.  Next to the dress she found a Barbie, with fairy wings, sitting on top of a unicorn. This she recognized from when she was over playing on Monday.

     Confused, Stephanie asked, "On Monday you said this Barbie was your favorite.  Why you giving it to me?"

     Joanne just put her head down.

     "Tell her Joanne," Mrs. Sterns prompted.  "Tell Stephanie why you are giving away five of your favorite things."

     "I . . . I treated you as a Noper for two years and Sally for three.  Daddy says I was mean and made you sad.  I lose one thing that makes me happy for every year I made someone else sad.  So . . ."

     "Go on Joanne," Mrs. Sterns pushed.

     "The dress and doll are two of my favorites and they make me happy.   I can't go back and change what I did, but maybe these will make you happy like they made me happy."

     "I can't take these."

     Joanne looked hopeful.

     "Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns stated.  "Joanne is being punished for being a bully to you and Sally."

     "But she didn't tease me like some of the other kids."

     "That may be," Mrs. Sterns explained. "But what she did was bully behavior and she knows better than to bully other children. Joanne has already lost these things.  Nothing will change that.  She had to pick her ten most favorite things and five of them were chosen to make you and someone else happy.  We don't know where Sally is, so the things that would go to her are going to a shelter to help some little girl be happy when life is hard.  Joanne chose those two gifts to go to you.  They are yours Stephanie."

     "Oh," Stephanie said looking between Joanne, Mrs. Sterns, and the box.

     Stephanie put the lid back on the box.  She put it by the front door before going with Joanne back to her room. 

     Once in the bedroom, "I am sorry Joanne.  You can have the dress and Barbie back."

     "No I can't.  Daddy won't even let me ask for any of the things for Christmas.  He was really mad.   When he finds out what I did this afternoon, I'm gonna be in more trouble."

     "I'm sorry Joanne," Stephanie said sitting down at Joanne's vanity.

     Joanne sat on her bed looking at Stephanie adjusting her hair in the mirror, "You really are a girl aren't you?  Gwen does the same thing every time she sits there.  And how you reacted to that dress, when you saw the dress I gave you, you lit up, just like I did the first time I saw it.  And your bedroom, that isn't a boy's room."

     "I am who I am Joanne.  I just want to be one of the girls, but all you and other can see is the Daryl costume, even when I am not wearing it."

     Joanne chuckled, "On Halloween Gwen thought you were one of the girls, and you act just like Gwen at times. You're so girly girl, liking frills and lace.  It makes you seem so silly dressed in your Daryl costume when I watch you playing with Melissa at school.  In a lot of ways you are just like Melissa.  You're so strong, but you just walk away when things get tough. You know, she would love the Disney Princess toys and dolls you have in your room. Gwen keeps saying she's too big for them, that only little kids play with Princess toys, but she plays with them every time she is at Melissa's house."

     "I'm like both Gwen and Melissa?"

     Joanne giggled, "yeah, I guess you are.  You're both my friends wrapped up in one package with a little Daryl mixed in."

     "I wish Daryl had never existed."

     "Mommy says we used to play together when we were Preschoolers.  If you were a girl then we would have grown up playing together."

     "I got my name of Stephanie playing dress-up when we were Preschoolers, and I did my first Halloween as Stephanie in Kindergarten. I went as Aurora."

     "Really?"

     "Yeah, I still have the costume."

     "I was Aurora one year for Halloween when I was little too."

     Stephanie turned back to the mirror, "Did you wear your hair up in high pigtails when you were little?"

     "Oh course, didn't we all?  Several of my school pictures are with my hair in Pigtails. Now a days most of the girls wear their pigtails more like you have it now, braided and coming down the back or side of their head.  Some like Melissa still like wearing them high on the head."

     "Mommy always had my hair cut short just before school pictures."

     Joanne saw Stephanie's face reflected in the mirror. It looked sad.  She tried to imagine getting her hair cut really short just before school pictures each year, and shuddered.

     "Stephanie," Joanne inquired.  "Have you ever worn your hair in high pigtails?"

     "No," Stephanie said still looking in the mirror.

     "Can you?"

     Stephanie turned and looked at Joanne.

     "Well, it's a wig right," Joanne inquired.  "Is it stuck in that hair style or can we change it?"

     "It wasn't like this when Aunt Jennifer bought the wig.  The lady in the wig shop put it like this when I said I wanted pigtails."

     "You wanted the other type of pigtails, didn't you, the type that come out the top of your head," Joanne put her hands in fists and stuck them high on each side of her head above the ears.

     Stephanie nodded her head up and down.

     "Well then, let's change it."

     "I don't have any experience with girl hairstyles.  I was going to practice on my Molly doll before I tried something with my hair."

     "Well, I have experience putting my hair in all types of styles. I need Mommy's help with some of them, but I can do simple things."

     Joanne and Stephanie took out the braids in Stephanie's hair and started playing.  Many different styles were attempted before Stephanie's Mom showed up to take her home.  They quickly put her hair in a high pony tail with a pink scrunchie, before Stephanie went out to meet her Mom.

     When Stephanie and Joanne came around the corner giggling Mrs. Meyers frowned, "Come on Stephanie. We have to get going.  Your father and I have an appointment after school tomorrow, so you two can play again tomorrow."

     "Bye Joanne," Stephanie said putting her coat on and grabbing the present.

     "Bye Stephanie," Joanne and Mrs. Sterns said together as Mrs. Meyers rushed Stephanie out the door.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     After dinner, Stephanie was in her bedroom playing with her Barbie dolls when she started to hear Mom and Dad talking in the living room.

     "James, what are we going to do?"

     "We are not going to do anything.  Now calm down. There isn't a problem here."

     "Not a Problem!  Not a Problem? What are you talking about?  Our son is in there wearing a dress and playing with Barbie Dolls.  He is starting to make friends dressed up as Stephanie, and now you say we should let him go to your Parent's house for Thanksgiving dressed as a girl."

     Stephanie's smile grew, looked at Barbie's little sister Chelsea in her hand, and said, "Stephanie is going to Grandma's for Thanksgiving."

     "James, he was supposed to get tired of this by now.  He isn't. In fact, I think he is more convinced he is a girl now than he was a week ago.  This isn't going how it's supposed to."

     "How it is supposed to?  What are you talking about?"

     "Letting him play out his fantasy for a while, he was supposed to realize how ridiculous this all is.  Why in the world isn't he getting tired of this by now?   We can't bring a freak to Thanksgiving dinner.  How can you even think of doing such a thing?"

     Stephanie crawled up onto her bed and grabbed Melanie.  Sitting up, resting her chin on her knees, she listened to the conversation.

    "Our child is NOT a freak.  Be careful when you say that, you wouldn't want her to hear you say that."

     "Even you're doing it.  You are calling Daryl as she.  ‘Your Child' is a boy named Daryl, not a girl named Stephanie.  I shouldn't have let Jennifer get him all that stuff.  I should have put down my foot and insisted he go to Mrs. Sterns' house dressed as Daryl.  You're to blame for all of this nonsense James.  If you hadn't talked me into letting him dress as Princess Aurora that first Halloween, we wouldn't be in this situation now."

     Dad laughed, "You truly believe Stephanie wouldn't have shown up if we had refused the Halloween dress up?  Mary, at times your thinking really does miss the logic in a situation.  Our child, whether we like it or not, is Stephanie.  I don't like it, but I have reluctantly accepted it. If you think about it Mary, Stephanie has been our child his . . . her, oh these pronouns . . . her entire life. We were the ones not seeing it.  Our child over the last week has been a joy to have around.  She is so happy and vibrant.  She hasn't been like this since she was a Preschooler.  Do you really want to go back to having a sad depressed child?"

     "But James, he can't live a normal life like this.  He will never have a family or children of his own.  He will always be ridiculed and harassed, and we will too.  I am already getting comments from the neighbors.  It's not natural James.  We can't raise him like this."

     "Natural . . . hmmm . . . he was born from us and grew up in a society and family that encouraged him to be the boy biology says he is.  Yet even with all of that he is a she in mind and soul.  We did not do anything to cause him to be Stephanie, she just naturally developed that way.  Sounds like it just Naturally happened.  Stephanie has made a choice to go with her heart and mind, which both tell her she is a girl.  Now we need to make a choice.  Dr. Jones has made it very clear.  Suicide is a very high possibility if we make the wrong choice.  We can support our daughter, love her, and help her develop into a proper young lady, if that is what she wants to do.  Or, we can force our son to be a man.  If the last week is any indication of what our child's emotional state is like as a girl, I will tell you right now I will let her be a girl.  I want a happy child, and we didn't exactly have that before. Did you listen at all to anything Stephanie said last night about how she is treated by the other kids at school?  Let's face reality Mary, she is treated that way because she is made to act like and be a boy at school."

     "He's been happy growing up!"

     "You mean he enjoyed doing some things, but was he happy in life?  I don't think he was, but as Stephanie he is starting to find joy in life.  I am going to support her in whatever decision she makes.   What are you going to do Mary?"

     "I . . . I . . ."

     Tight in a ball hugging Melanie, Stephanie tried to hear more but couldn't.  After a few minutes she heard the front door open and close.

     Not long afterwards Dad came into Stephanie's bedroom.  Finding her in a bundle on the bed, he went over and cuddled her.

     "Sorry Stephanie, I was hoping you didn't hear all of that, but I guess you did."

     Daddy hugged Stephanie tight, "Mommy and I love you dear. We both do dearly."

     "Only in my Daryl costume," Stephanie got out as tears started down.

     "Oh Stephanie, we love you no matter what you choose to wear or who you choose to be.  We are your parents and we may not always like some of the choices you make, but we BOTH will always Love you.  Nothing you can do will stop me from loving you with all my heart and Mommy is the same way."

     "I am a freak aren't I?  Joanne said it and Mommy said it. Mrs. Tellbore won't babysit me anymore because of how much of a freak I am. The kids at school know it. I'm just a freak boy in a dress that people will only play with if they are forced to."

     Stephanie cuddled into Daddy, and cried herself to sleep that night in Daddy's arms. 

 

~o~O~o~

 

     In the morning, Stephanie stood looking at her dresser.  She had opened up the top drawer where her panties were kept.  It was time to get dressed again in the Daryl costume; no panties, no tights, and no dresses. No Stephanie allowed. Taking her wig off the wig stand, Stephanie looked at it.  Gently putting it on top of her tights, she slowly closed the top drawer.

     "I can't be Stephanie anymore," Stephanie declared.

     She opened the bottom drawer which contained her boy underwear and other elements of the Daryl costume. She was convinced that this was necessary to be loved by Mommy. Stephanie slowly covered herself up with the Daryl costume and attempted to get into the make-believe roll of being a boy.  Before turning the corner to the kitchen, Stephanie took a deep breath, chanted in her head ‘I am a boy named Daryl, I am a boy named Daryl', and put a fake smile on her face. 

     "Morning Mom," Daryl said sitting down at the table.

     Mrs. Meyer's looked at her son and smiled, "Morning Daryl.  Grape or Strawberry jelly this morning?"

     "Grape."

     Daryl ate his breakfast and then went to watch TV before needing to leave for school.  While flipping through the channels he stopped for a moment on Strawberry Shortcake, his smile faded as he kept flipping till landing on a Pokemon episode.  He watched in silence till Mom pushed him out the door for school. The morning at school went like any other Daryl morning, except for Melissa saying hi to him before the morning pledge.

     At morning recess Melissa and Joanne were waiting for him when he came out. 

     "Come on Daryl," Joanne stated. "Melissa wants to play on the big slide."

     "You don't have to play with me today Joanne," Daryl commented while walking by. "I am going to go play soccer with the other boys."

     "But Daryl?"

     "Don't worry I'll tell your Mom we played together. Now go play with Gwen.  Trust me Joanne, as one who doesn't have any; I know how important friends are."

      Melissa looked at Joanne with a quizzical look before looking back at Daryl heading towards the crowd of boys forming on the field.

     Standing in the crowd of boys as they split into two teams, Daryl quickly found himself in front of Elwood who was dividing everyone up. 

     "What you doing here dweeb?"

     "I want to play soccer.  What side should I go to?"

     "Get lost Noper," Elwood stated as the other boys started to crowd around. 

     "I just want to play soccer Elwood."

      "Go back and play with the girls.  I bet prissy Gwen over there could hit a soccer ball better than you could.  Maybe if you wore a dress to school tomorrow she will let you play dollies with her.  Now get lost dweeb, no Nopers allowed here and definitely no girls."

     Everyone promptly turned around when they heard the recess monitor, "Elwood, bully behavior is not allowed."

     "I wasn't being a bully, I was just helping my pal Daryl here understand a problem we did in math this morning.  Yes, Daryl, you had to multiply the first two numbers and then add the third to get the answer."

     "Save your lies for the Principal.  I heard everything you said to Daryl.  Now get over to the Time-Out wall.  I will be letting the Principal know everything after recess."

     Elwood pushed Daryl as he walked away, "Thanks Dweeb, if it wasn't for you I would be playing soccer."

     The recess monitor turned to Daryl, "You okay Daryl?"

     "I'm fine."

     "Break it up everyone," the recess monitor said to the collected crowd.

     The boys grabbed the soccer ball and started playing.

     "Why don't you go play somewhere else on the playground," the monitor said to Daryl.  "I don't think some of Elwood's friends would be nice to you at the moment."

     Daryl put his head down and started towards the mostly empty swings.  Passing Gwen, Melissa, and Joanne starting up a jump rope chant, he gave them a glance and kept walking.

     "Daryl," Joanne called out. "Come on and join us."

     "Gwen doesn't want me to play and you Joanne don't really want me playing with you either.  I know you have only been playing with me because your Dad made you.  Well, I don't need your pitty.  You don't have to play with me anymore.  I will tell your Mom that you did.  You play with people who make you happy, not a freak like me."

     Daryl was gone before any of them could react.  He settled in on one of the swings with no one on either side and just rocked back and forth with his foot.  It wasn't long before Melissa came over and sat down on the swing next to Daryl.

     "What are you doing here?" Daryl huffed.

     "I decided to play with my friend."

     "Well their over there, go play with them."

     "No silly," Melissa added. "You."

     Daryl stopped his swing and looked at Melissa, "Me?"

     "Yes, you.  I know when one of my friends is feeling down.  I have been there a lot.  What happened?"

     "Oh nothing, Elwood was just being Elwood."

     "He can be a pain, but what made you go play with them?  You haven't played with them all year."

     "I had to.  I have to be a boy or Mommy won't love me."

     "Now you're just being silly Daryl. Your Mommy will always love you.  Mommy's have to, it's like a law or something."

     "I wish that was true."

     They swung for a bit in silence.

     "Why are you being nice to me Melissa?  Didn't you get the memo, I'm a Noper."

     Melissa chuckled, "Didn't you get the memo, I don't read that good.  I can't really read the memos when they come out.  Anyways, if I paid attention to the memos, I would be wearing diapers and spending my day in the Preschool room with the other babies."

     "Sorry Melissa."

     "Don't apologize, you didn't do anything.  Joanne has been teaching me how to ignore the other kids when they tease me or call me names. Maybe she can give you some lessons too."

     "Joanne doesn't like me . . . either me," Daryl said looking down at his feet.

     "She likes you Daryl.  When I left them she was trying to convince Gwen to let you play with us.  She was giving a long list of your good qualities."

     "She's just doing that because she got in trouble for treating me as a Noper.  Her Dad is making her.  She doesn't really like me."

     "I never understood why she went along with the Noper stuff when it came to you and Sally.  I think she did it first to impress Gwen, but the funny thing is, Gwen never cared who was a Noper or not.  She just doesn't like boys or anyone who acts like a boy.  But by now I know Joanne fairly well, what she is doing at the moment with Gwen has nothing to do with her Dad's punishment.  She has done it for me with Gwen before.  She does this for her friends."

     The two of them swung in silence.

     "They are an interesting pair," Melissa said watching Joanne and Gwen.  "But deep down, they are both real nice, just like you.  Look at them Daryl.  I bet Joanne is still over there trying to convince Gwen we should all play together."

     "Melissa," Daryl inquired.  "If I was a girl in a frilly dress, would Gwen have any problems playing with me?"

     "Other than constantly making you endure repeated attempts for her to break your jump roping records, she would accept you as just one of the girls.  Too bad you don't have any frilly dresses to wear."

     "Yeah, too bad," Daryl said avoiding eye contact. He swung a little bit more in silence before jumping off his swing, "I'll be right back Melissa."

     Daryl ran over to Joanne and pulled her aside, "Play date with Gwen and Melissa, after school on Friday at your house?"

     "Daryl I can't do that.  Mommy is babysitting Stephanie on Friday after school."

     "Exactly, if we can't play together because I am in my boy costume, why can't we play together when I am being me?" Daryl smiled at her. "Joanne, friends try to help each other by finding ways to make it all work, even if one friend is a freak.  Thanks."

     Daryl ran back to Melissa.  He hopped on the swing and started going as fast as possible, avoiding Melissa's inquiries as to what he had said to Joanne.

Chapter 6 by Teekabell
Author's Notes:

Chapter 6: Standing Tall

Summary: Stephanie can't be herself, and her attempts to be Daryl have failed. Desperate times lead to desperate measures. Can a little nine year old survive under all the pressure? Things get complicated as people respond to Elwood's bullying behavior.

Caution: Stephanie finds herself under attack in this chapter from a school yard bully.

 

Costumes

Chapter 6 of 10

Standing Tall

~o~O~o~

     After school at the Sterns', Stephanie was playing with Joanne's Polly Pockets on the living room floor while Joanne and her Mom discussed the day. 

     "There were two school assemblies in the afternoon; one for the little kids and one for us.  The Principal was really mad.  He said ten parents had called him this week complaining about the bullying problem at school.  He said bullying would no longer be tolerated in any form at school.  There was even a policeman there who said the police would not allow bullying away from school and kids could go to jail for bullying."

     "A policeman, really," Mrs. Sterns pondered.

     "Yeah, I think he was some type of Indian," Joanne said.

     "An Indian?  Why do you think that?"

     "Well, all the adults kept calling him Chief."

     "The Chief of Police?"

     "Uh-huh, that's it."

     "Sweetie that is a rank, it means he is the person in charge of all the other police officers.   Interesting, they had the Chief of Police come and talk to you kids.  They must finally be getting serious about these issues," Mrs. Sterns said. "You said ten parents had called?  We only talked to three other parents, I guess the word spread.  Joanne, did the Principal say treating people as a Noper was bullying?"

     "Yeah, he said . . ." Joanne thought for a moment. "Stephanie how did he phrase it?"

     "Uhhhh . . ." Stephanie started, paused and then started again in her best Principal imitation, "giving someone the Noper treatment is considered bullying and will be grounds for suspension just as much as teasing, fighting, and intimidation are. I view Noper treatment as one of the worst type of bullying behavior.  You don't have to like everyone, but you have to treat everyone with respect. Treating someone like they are not even a person is not respectful. Everyone deserves to be respected and treated like a valued individual.  It doesn't matter how someone is different, because the reality is, it is the differences in us all that make this world such a wonderful place to live. Noper treatment ends here and now."

     "Wow Stephanie, you remembered all that."

     "Yeah well, as a Noper, it was the most important part to me."

     Mrs. Sterns looked at the two girls, "And what did you learn from his speech Joanne?"

     "That I am lucky you and Daddy found out about how I treated Daryl before the Principal did."

     "Really Joanne, that is what you learned from the speech?" Mrs. Sterns said raising her eyebrows.

     "I could say that I learned that it is bad to be mean to a freak, because sometimes they can be a good friend who can help you out of a bad situation.  I can't though, because the principal didn't teach me that Daryl did earlier in the day."

     "What did I do," Stephanie asked?

     "You got Gwen talking to me again. She's still mad at me but she is talking to me. Oh, that reminds me," Joanne looked at her Mom.  "Mom, can Gwen and Melissa come over tomorrow after school?"

     Mrs. Sterns turned towards Stephanie, "I'm not sure that is a good idea while Stephanie is here.  She might not be ready for a full girl attack."

     "But it was her idea Mommy."

     "What?"

     "Yes Mrs. Sterns," Stephanie responded.  "I figured Gwen would play with Joanne again and maybe include me at school if she got to know the real me."

     "Stephanie this could go really bad," Mrs. Sterns looked between the two girls.  "Melissa and Gwen might react really bad and stop being Joanne's friend all together.  They might also tell everyone at school about you."

     "I'm okay with it Mom, can they come over?"

     Stephanie took a deep breath and stood up, "I AM STEPHANIE.  I have to wear a stupid Daryl costume to school, and if other people find out . . . they will only be finding out the truth, and Mommy says to always tell the truth."

     "But Stephanie, this is different."

     "No Mrs. Sterns it's not.  I am Stephanie!  Some people are not going to like me because of that, like Mommy, but it doesn't change the truth.  I AM STEPHANIE, and Daryl is just a costume. Melissa said she was my friend today, and no one is forcing her to play with me.  If I want to play with Melissa, I need Gwen and Joanne to like me too."

     "I see," Mrs. Sterns said.  "But what if Melissa stops wanting to play with you once she finds out Daryl is just a costume?"

     "Mrs. Sterns, I am a Noper.  The other kids did that to me, but as Daryl, I let it happen and I let it continue.  You wrecked everything Mrs. Sterns, so now I have to do this."

     "What, how did I wreck everything for you Stephanie?"

     "Mrs. Sterns, I was a Noper for so long I didn't remember anything different.  You forced Joanne to play with me at recess and we had fun.  If I do nothing, next week I will be alone again.  I . . . I don't want to be alone again. I can't be alone again.  As Daryl, I would never fight to have a friend.  As Stephanie, I . . . I . . . I have to be me.  I have to fight.  If Melissa, Gwen, and Joanne don't want to play with me anymore when they find out, then I will be alone again.  If I do nothing, I will be alone again.  But maybe, one of them will want to play with me.  If I don't try, I deserve the Noper label.  Stephanie is going to have friends, so Stephanie has to try!"

     "What about the other kids Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns inquired.  "If they find out, things are going to be hard for you as a boy at school."

     "You mean one of the kids might say something like, ‘I should wear a dress to school and play dollies with Gwen and Joanne.'  Then call me names, insult me, and exclude me from playing with them."

     "Yes Stephanie, that and worse.  Kids can be cruel to other children who are different."

     "Mrs. Sterns, today at recess Elwood said and did all of that. I don't have to let them know Daryl is just a costume to get teased."

     "Wow, that's what happened." Joanne commented.

     Mrs. Sterns looked at her daughter, "I thought you and Stephanie told me that the two of you played together at each recess?"

     "Well, ummm, you see. . ."

     "Mrs. Sterns, it's not Joanne's fault. It's mine.  I told her I didn't want to play with her today and then went to go play soccer with the boys.  Elwood wouldn't let me.  Once he got in trouble for bullying me, Joanne tried to play with me.  I told her to play with her friends not me.  We didn't play together but for the rest of recess she tried to get Gwen to let me play with them.  Melissa came over and swung with me."

     "I see," Mrs. Sterns said while staring at her daughter.  "We will talk about this as a family tonight."

     "Sorry Joanne," Stephanie apologized.  "I won't do it again tomorrow.  After getting Elwood suspended . . ."

     "You got Elwood suspended! So that's why the Principal wanted to see you before lunch."

     "He wanted to know what happened at recess. He then asked a gazillion questions about how the other kids treat me at school.  Some of the parents who called him said their kids had bullied a kid named Daryl. He wanted to know if it was me."

     "Is there anyone else named Daryl in our school?" Joanne inquired.

     "There is a Kindergartener."

     Stephanie picked up one of the Polly Pockets and changed the outfit, "I just hope I don't get beaten up tomorrow."

     "Stephanie, why would that happen?" Mrs. Sterns asked.

     "Some of Elwood's friends beat kids up."

     "I am sure nothing is going to happen," Mrs. Sterns said getting down and hugging Stephanie.  "Especially after the assembly."

     Stephanie played with the Polly Pockets.

     "You know Joanne," Stephanie said while still focusing on the Polly Pockets. "We could follow Elwood's advice.  How many of the girls in our class do you think have an American Girl doll?"

     "All of them.  What advice?"

     "We tell all the girls tomorrow to bring their American Girl dolls on Monday.  I will wear my fancy purple dress.  Monday recess will be lots of fun."

     "Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns inquired.  "Haven't you promised your parents and Dr. Jones that you will go to school in your Daryl costume?"

     "It would be fun though.  A girl can dream, can't she?"

     Mrs. Sterns gave Stephanie another hug, "Dream away little one, but don't actually do it before you get permission.   I also think it is too early to have Gwen and Melissa over.  The risk is too big for potential disaster.  I know you girls don't see it, but I don't think it is time for other kids to find out yet. Your Mom and Dad probably would not want other kids playing over here either."

     Stephanie played with the Poly Pockets for a bit.  Joanne came down on the floor to join her.  Mrs. Sterns stayed for a while but then went off to do her own thing in another room.

     "Joanne," Stephanie said looking at the doll in her hand. "If your Mom won't let Gwen and Melissa come over because they do not know the secret, then I just have to tell them the secret."

     "But Mommy said . . ."

     "Your Mom just doesn't want to get in trouble with my Mom and Dad.  If I tell them at school while wearing my Daryl costume, your Mom will have no reason why Gwen and Melissa can't come over. Then if my Mom and Dad get mad, they will be mad at me. Not your Mom."

     "Don't do something Stephanie that gets you in trouble."

     "My Mommy already hates me Joanne, and they are punishing me by making me wear the Daryl costume.  Don't worry, I have been a Noper and forced to wear a Daryl costume for years. I can handle whatever they do to me, but I have to fix what I did to you.  You lost Gwen as a friend because of me. It doesn't matter what happens to me, but I don't want to be why you lost your friends."

     The girls continued to play for over an hour before being told to work on their homework.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     Joanne and Stephanie were trying different hair styles in an effort to find what Stephanie would wear when she met Gwen and Melissa. They were not sure when it would happen, but Stephanie was certain that it would be soon and wanted to be ready.  Some that they tried made it too easy for someone to tell she was wearing a wig, and others didn't work at all with the wig.  They did manage to find a few that would work.

     "Girls," Mr. Sterns said coming into Joanne's bedroom.  "Time for dinner."

     "I'm eating dinner here?"

     "Your Dad called and said their appointment with Dr. Jones lasted longer than they thought, so they will pick you up after dinner."

     Joanne quickly finished braiding Stephanie's high pigtails and they both went to dinner. 

     "That's a good look for you Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns said as the two came to the dining room table.  "It reminds me of when Joanne was little and let me do her hair like that.  She always insisted on ribbons and bows to tie off the pigtails.  I think we still have them if you want me to put some in your hair after dinner."

     "MOM!   We're not six."

     Stephanie, with a big smile, was in her own little world as they all sat down to eat.

     "Stephanie . . . Stephanie," Joanne repeated. "Earth to Stephanie."

     "What?" Stephanie said looking around at everyone.

     "If you want to look like a Preschooler, the dress Grandma gave me for my birthday would be perfect for you."

     "Joanne! The dress isn't that bad," Mrs. Sterns reprimanded.

     "Mom, it has puffy sleeves."

     "You looked soooooo cute in it."

     "Seriously Mom?"

     "Maybe," Stephanie hesitantly said. "I could try it on."

     "Sounds like something fun to do tomorrow afternoon," Mrs. Sterns said.

     "Don't do it Stephanie," Joanne warned.  "She'll want to take pictures of you looking like a little kid."

     "I don't have any pictures of me as a little girl.  Mommy wouldn't take pictures of me in my Halloween costumes over the years."

     "Not one picture," Mrs. Sterns asked?

     "Nope, not one.  Mommy and Daddy always said I could only be Stephanie on Halloween as long as no one found out.  Stephanie had to stay hidden away in the Halloween box.  I could only open the Halloween box on Halloween, so they said there was no reason to take pictures."

     The room went silent.  After a few minutes, Mr. Sterns started dishing up the food. It was a while into the meal before the silence was broken by conversation.  Stephanie stayed silent, except when she was asked a direct question. Shortly after dinner, Stephanie's dad showed up to take her home.

      "Thanks Sarah," James said as Stephanie got on her coat.  "Your help in watching Stephanie is greatly appreciated. Dr. Jones wants to see us together the first Thursday of each month, are you sure that will be okay?"

     "It's not a problem James.  Stephanie is a sweet girl to have around.  Whenever you need a sitter, just let me know."

     "I'll keep that in mind.  We have certain problems getting sitters for her," Mr. Meyer's said before turning to Stephanie. "Come on Princess, let's go home."

     "Mommy in the car?"

     "No, Stephanie.  She decided to go visit Aunt Jennifer for the night."

     "Will she come back if I put Stephanie back in the Halloween box?"

     "Oh Stephanie," Mr. Meyers said getting down on his knees in front of her and taking her two hands.  "Mommy loves you.  She loves you with all her heart. It doesn't matter if you are dressed as Daryl or Stephanie, she loves you. You be who you are, and Mommy will love you. She is just going through some hard times at the moment and needed to talk to her sister."

     "Will she come back if I put Stephanie back in the Halloween box?"

     The adults looked at each other as Mr. Meyers stood up and took Stephanie's hand, "Come on Stephanie. Let's go home."

     Mr. Sterns held Joanne close as they waved bye.

     That night, Stephanie silently cried herself to sleep while holding Melanie.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     Friday morning started with Stephanie looking at her dresses. 

     "Melanie what am I going to do?  To have friends at school, where I have to dress as Daryl, I need to be Stephanie.  To have Mommy at home and love me, I have to stop dressing as me and stay in my Daryl costume. What am I going to do? I can't make anyone happy."

     "Stephanie," Dad yelled down the hall.  "Hurry up, Breakfast is on the table."

     Stephanie sat down on her bed looking at her closet.  Taking Melanie onto her lap, a tear came down her face.

     "Stephanie," Dad said walking into the room.  "Breakfa . . . Are you okay sweetie?"

     Dad sat down next to Stephanie and hugged her, "What's wrong Stephanie?"

     "I can't win Daddy.  I can't win.  I can have friends at school if I am Stephanie, but you say I have to be Daryl.  The only place I can be Stephanie is at home, but Mommy only wants me in my Daryl costume.  Why can't I just be me?"

      "What do you want?"

     "I want to go put on that dress, go to school, and tell everyone I am Stephanie Marie Meyers.  I want Mommy to love me, not my Daryl costume.  I want to be me.  I want pictures of me as a little girl, and school pictures of me in pretty dresses. I want to wear pretty Christmas dresses and fancy Easter Dresses.  I want to be a ballerina. I want long hair I can put in pigtails, braids, and a pony tail.  I want to stop pretending to be Daryl. I want Santa to know me as Stephanie, not Daryl. I am Stephanie. Why can't I tell and show everyone?"

     "Stephanie Marie?"

     "It's Grandma Eaton's middle name.  I always liked it so I took it as my middle name too," Stephanie said without looking at Daddy.

     "Does Mommy know you chose that as your middle name?"

     "No."

     "I am sure Grandma Eaton will be honored that you picked her name to be one of yours.  That was your Great Grandma's first name," Daddy hugged Stephanie.

     "I can't do it Daddy.  I can't be Daryl for Mommy.  I am not sure I can keep being Daryl at school.  Daryl is a Noper.  He has no friends.  He will never have friends.  Even when I try to be like the other boys, they won't let me.  I'm not like them Daddy.  I don't like doing the things they do.  I like what the girls like, but they will not let me play with them because I am wearing my Daryl costume.  I want friends Daddy.  Stephanie can have friends, so why can't I be Stephanie all the time?"

     The two just hugged each other.

     "I don't want to be a freak anymore Daddy.  I just want to be a normal little girl like all the other girls in my class."

     "I'm sorry Stephanie.  It's not easy, is it?  I'll see what I can do to make things easier, but we can't make these changes overnight. The world only knows Daryl Eric Meyers.  We will introduce Stephanie Marie Meyers to people, but not everyone will accept you as a girl.  This is not going to be easy Stephanie.  There is nothing I can do . . . nothing to make it easy and pain free.  Growing up is hard.  Switching from a boy to a girl is not something that happens every day, so people are scared by it.  It is going to make growing up for you even harder. I love you Stephanie.  Boy or Girl, you are my precious child."

     Dad hugged Stephanie and wiped away her tears, "Right now, I need to get my precious child ready for school. Mrs. Farren is expecting Daryl to show up in her classroom this morning.  I am sorry, but I need you to get dressed up in the Daryl clothes and go to school."

     "Will Stephanie ever be able to go to school?"

     "Maybe, but not this school year.  You need to stay Daryl at school this school year."

     Dad helped Stephanie make the transformation and the two of them went off for breakfast. Afterwards, Dad drove Stephanie in her Daryl costume to school.  He brought her inside the school and sent her off to class, telling her he needed to talk to the Principal. 

 

~o~O~o~

 

     "Stephanie we can't," Joanne said while swinging on the swings during morning recess.  "Mommy said no."

     "Your Mom said we couldn't have Melissa and Gwen over while she is babysitting me.  This would be them coming over when I am not there."

     "Will you get in trouble if we do this?"

     "Probably, but . . . I have to do it Joanne.  If we don't do it now, they will find out.  You just called me Stephanie, and I am wearing my Daryl costume.  If you do that in front of them, they will find out.   Gwen will not go near me because all she can see is the Daryl costume.  Look at her over there, she is having fun with Melissa, but she keeps looking over here at you.   You two need to be together, and this is a way I can still play with you."

     "I'll invite them," Joanne agreed.  "But don't blame me if things go wrong."

     "That's okay. It won't be my fault either.  We can blame Daryl.  We already know he is a trouble maker.  He got Elwood suspended."

     Joanne giggled as she started to pump harder.

     "Did your mom come back and make you breakfast this morning," Joanne asked?

     "No, Dad made me breakfast and then brought me to school.  He said he had to talk to the Principal."

     "Probably about Elwood teasing you yesterday."

     "Yeah, maybe."

     "I'm sure she will pick you up at my house this afternoon."

     "I hope so, but she doesn't li. . ."

      "Hey faggot," Frank said as he approached the swings.  "Elwood told you to wear a dress to school and play dollies with the girls.  I don't see a dress on you sissy, and where is your dolly?"

     Daryl turned to Joanne and quietly said, "Go play with Gwen and Melissa till he leaves. You'll be safe with them."

     "Get over here dweeb.  You got Elwood suspended, and now you are going to pay for it."

     "Do you want something Frank?" Daryl kept swinging.

     "I want you dead.  Elwood got in a ton of trouble because of you, and now you are going to pay big time. No sissy Noper can get away with what you did."

     Daryl looked at Frank and then back to Joanne who was still on her swing. In a much more forceful tone he said, "Go!"

     Joanne got off her swing and ran away.

     Daryl turned back to Frank, "All I did was try to play soccer."

     "You know very well Nopers are NOT allowed to play soccer.  If you had stayed in your place Elwood would not be suspended. It is time someone taught you a lesson. As a Noper you are to have no friends, you aren't allowed to play, and you're not allowed to talk to people."

     "I am Steph . . ," Daryl looked down at himself and then back up at Frank.  He got off his swing and stood straight in front of Frank.  Daryl, practically screaming, said, "I will not be a Noper anymore! Now get out of here Frank!"    

     Frank took a swing at Daryl, but missed due to Daryl taking a step back.

     "Do that again sissy, and I'll break both your legs," Frank said as a crowd started to gather.

     Frank's second attempt got Daryl in the gut and knocked him onto the ground.  Daryl tried to block the attacks but did not fight back. Frank kicked some woodchips all over Daryl before kicking him again.

     "FRANKLIN, STOP IT NOW!" the recess monitor said approaching the two with Joanne by her side.

     "You don't get off that easy you wimp," Frank said kicking Daryl hard in the side and going down on the ground to throw a few punches.

     Daryl was in tears as Frank was forcibly removed from him.  Joanne was quickly by his side with Melissa joining shortly afterwards.  The Principal and Mrs. Farren promptly showed up to help deal with the situation.  Daryl was escorted down to the nurse by Mrs. Farren, Melissa, and Joanne.

     "Girls, thank you for helping Daryl down to the nurse, but she needs to examine him now.  Which one of you was with Daryl when Frank started the fight?"

     "I was Mrs. Farren," Joanne said raising her hand.

     "Joanne the Principal will want to talk to you. Go out into the office and wait.  Melissa, please go back outside to recess."

     "But . . ."

     "Melissa," Mrs. Farren said. "It is nice that you are concerned about Daryl and Joanne, but I need you to go back outside till recess is over."

     Melissa looked at Daryl who nodded for her to do as Mrs. Farren instructed.  Slowly she headed back outside.

     Daryl was questioned and examined by the nurse.  Then he was questioned by the Principal, after which he was returned to the nurse.  She again examined Daryl, paying close attention to where he was kicked in his side.

     Daryl was laying down on one of the beds when a police officer came in.

     "Is," the officer looked at Daryl before turning back to the nurse "he okay?  Do we need to get him to the hospital?"

     "I think he will be fine with some rest.  He is going to have some bruises and sore muscles.  There do not appear to be any broken bones, and no obvious signs of damage to internal organs."

     "That's good.  His father will be here in a few minutes and then I will want to talk to him.  Can he do that in the Principals office, or do we need to do that here?"

     "I see no reason why he can't move.  He has already made one trip to the Principals office with no serious impact. . ."

     "Daryl," Dad said coming around the corner and seeing Daryl lying in bed.  "Are you okay?"

     "I'm fine . . . owwwww," Daryl grabbed his side as he sat up.

     Mr. Meyers was quickly at Daryl's side and giving him a big hug, "What happened Daryl?"

     "Mr. Meyers," the Police Officer interrupted. "I need to get a statement from Daryl about what happened.  If it is okay with you, let's all move to the Principal's office and talk in there."

     Daryl, with help from his Dad, moved to the Principal's office with the Police Officer following.  The Principal, Mr. Meyers, the Police Officer, and Daryl all sat down.

     "Mr. Meyers," the Principal started. "After we talked this morning I talked with the district Superintendent about steps we should take if or when problems started with Daryl and the other kids.  I did not expect things to start this early, but due to the nature of Daryl's issues, this could be viewed as a Hate Crime.  It is district policy to immediately involve the police with any Hate Crime.  Officer Owen has worked with the school district for many years and is here to help."

     "Hate Crime?" Mr. Meyers looked at the Principal, Officer Owen, and then at Daryl.   "What happened Daryl?"

     Daryl started his story with the event yesterday with Elwood and ended it with Frank being pulled off of him by the recess monitor.

     "Mr. Meyers," Officer Owen started.  "With Daryl having gender identity issues, and both Elwood and Frank talking about him dressing as a girl, this must be investigated as a possible Hate Crime."

     "If we do that everyone will know about Stephanie.  Daryl will immediately be a target and any chance of him having a normal life would be over.  I can't do that to him.   She deserves a chance to get a start without being at the center of a scandal.  She is just nine years old. She wants friends to play with, and wants to take ballet lessons. She wants to be a normal girl, wearing pretty dresses for Christmas and having other girls over to play with her dolls.  We have to give her at least a chance of making friends before she is thrown into the middle of a hate crime investigation."

     "Mr. Meyers," Officer Owen replied.  "You want your child to lead a normal life. You want her to have friends.  As Daryl does she have any friends?"

     Mr. Meyers looked at Daryl and then back to Officer Owen, "No."

     "At pure minimum, Stephanie has been the target of significant bully behavior and assault. From what I hear, this has been going on for a long time. I will hold off on any Hate Crime charges till after I have talked to the other children.  If they knew about Stephanie, then it would be a disservice to her not to press charges for hate crimes," Officer Owen stated.

     "No one likes me.  No one wants me, not even Mommy.  If I am going to be hated by everyone, I want to be me.  I want to be Stephanie.  I am Stephanie!  Daddy, it doesn't matter what Officer Owen says or does. Daryl has to die, so Stephanie can live. Anything Officer Owen does will just help kill Daryl.  That is a good thing.  Daryl is a Noper, always will be a Noper.   I am Stephanie.  I am NOT a Noper.  I confronted Elwood.  I stood up to Frank.  Not Daryl, me, Stephanie. I have friends, something Daryl has never had.  I am going to go tell them Thank You, and let them know I am okay," Stephanie using her arms for support, got up and headed for the door.

     "But . . ." Mr. Meyers started reaching out to stop Stephanie.

     "Let her go Mr. Meyers," the Principal stated.  "She needs to do this."

     "She seems to have a better grasp on all of this than we all do," Officer Owen stated as Stephanie hobbled out the door. "Nothing we say or do is going to slow her down. Our job now is . . ."

     Stephanie didn't hear the rest, as she made her way out of the office.  The pain was getting worse as she made her way down the hallway.  By the time she was half way to Mrs. Farren's room, she could only go a few steps without holding on to the wall for stability.  

     One of the classes from the older grades was walking the other direction.  The teacher stopped the class and looked at Daryl, "You okay?  Do you need any help?"

     "It hurts but I am okay.  I just have to get back to class to tell my friends thank you."

     "Are you sure?  One of my students could escort you down to the Nurse's office."

     "Was already there. Just have to tell friends Thank You."

     "Who's your teacher?"

     "Mrs. Farren.  I okay.  Thank You," Stephanie said fighting the pain.  She continued down the hallway.

     "As soon as I drop my students off I will be right back to help you," the teacher said as they parted ways.

     Stephanie's pace was slowed as the pain increased, but she finally reached the room.  Standing in the hallway outside the classroom, she heard Mrs. Farren talking to the class about bully behavior and how she was disappointed in how the only one in the class to come to Daryl's defense was Joanne.

     "A bully gets away with the inappropriate behavior because whoever they are picking on has no one to come to their defense," Stephanie heard Mrs. Farren say.  "Has Daryl ever done anything to anyone in this room?"

     The class was silent.

     "Has Daryl ever been mean to anyone?  Said something inappropriate to any of you?  Hurt any of you in any way?"

     The class was still silent as Stephanie stood in the hall listening.

     "He couldn't really," Mike said. "He's a Noper."

     That was enough.  Taking a deep breath, Stephanie stood tall and made her way around the doorway into the room, "I let you all turn me into a Noper.  I didn't fight it. No more!  I am a person!  I have likes and interests.  I have things that I am good at and things I am not.  You don't want to be my friend, fine.  You don't have to be. I've never had friends before anyways. But I will NOT be a Noper anymore!  I am here.  Live with it."

     Stephanie stumbled a bit. In an attempt to prevent falling to the ground, she reached out to the bookcase next to her and used it for support.

     "Daryl," Melissa called out.

     Stephanie looked at Melissa and smiled, "All I did was try to play soccer with all the other boys yesterday.  Elwood would not let me because I was a Noper.  He was suspended for being a bully.  Today I was just on the swings, nowhere near Frank.  I did nothing to Frank, said nothing to Frank, and I never have.  He wanted to beat me up because I tried to play soccer and Elwood got suspended for being a bully."

     Mrs. Farren had moved from the front of the class to the back where Stephanie was.  She took the child under the arm and supported her over to Daryl's seat.

     "I will NOT be a Noper anymore! I . . . I am . . .," Stephanie was in tears.

     "You are Daryl Meyers and you are my friend," Joanne stood up and went over to Daryl's desk.

     Stephanie smiled at Joanne and said, "Thank You."

     "And you are my friend," Melissa stated also standing and going over to Daryl.

     The rest of the class was not sure what to say or do.  They were all silent just looking at Daryl.

     "Daryl," Mrs. Farren said.  "Welcome back. It looks like you have two good friends and I am sure more students in here will be your friend soon. As the Principal stated yesterday, Noper treatment of any student is over.  I don't care what your reason is, there is no excuse for bully behavior. No reason, none at all."

     Squeezing Daryl's hand, Joanne looked up to the teacher, "What if a boy dressed up as a girl?"

     The class all started to giggle.

     "Okay, settle down everybody," Mrs. Farren looked at Joanne and then at Daryl with a quizzical look. "I said there is no excuse to tease anybody.  Yes, a boy wearing a dress is a little unusual, but how does that hurt any of us.  When you see someone that does not fit into your perfect image of the world, I want you all to ask the question, ‘How does that person hurt you?'  A boy wearing a dress is no more a threat to you as a kid in a wheelchair.  They are just like you and me.   They have dreams to have friends and fit in just like everybody else. There are girls who act and behave more like boys and boys who are more like girls.  That does not make them a freak, it just means they are following who they are. Everyone is different. Look around this room.  John is an amazing artist.  Candice is outstanding at sports.  Zoe has an incredible singing voice.   Each one of you has something that makes you different from everyone else."

     "Mrs. Farren!" Melissa screamed.

     Everyone looked at Melissa. She was looking at Daryl who was grabbing his side and had his head down on his desk with an expression of pain.

     "Candice! Go get the nurse now!" Mrs. Farren said as she got down on her knees next to Daryl. "Everyone stay in your seats, and I need it quiet."

     Mrs. Farren lifted Daryl's shirt where he was grabbing it, and saw a huge bruise on his side.  Many of the children close by also saw it and gasped. In a few moments the Nurse, Principal, Officer Owen, and Mr. Meyers came into the room.  After a quick examination, Mr. Meyers carried Stephanie back to the Nurse's office.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, you will never guess what happened at school today," Joanne said as she came barging into her house.

     "Did Frank beat up Stephanie? Then Stephanie collapsed in your classroom, and the Principal, the Nurse, Officer Owen, and Mr. Meyers carried her out?"

     "No, Stephanie was beaten up . . . wait a minute," Joanne dropped her backpack and looked at her mom standing in the middle of the living room.  "How did you know?"

     "Sorry Joanne, but Stephanie got here a little after lunch time."

     "She's here? How is she?  Where is she? Can I see her?"

     "Slow down little one.  Stephanie is asleep in your bed, and you are not going back there to wake her up. The doctor said she needs to get her rest, and a hyperactive little girl waking her up is not exactly restful."

     "Ohhhhhh, Mom! I'll be quiet. Honest.  She won't even know I am in the room."

     "Get your coat off and then into the kitchen.  We are going to let Stephanie sleep."

     Thirty minutes after getting home, Joanne finally got to peak into her room after telling her Mom she needed to go to the bathroom.  Before she got all the way into the room however, her Mom pulled her out and scooted her down to the bathroom.  On the way back to the kitchen, Joanne did manage to get into her bedroom and sat down on the floor next to her bed.

     "You awake Stephanie?  Stephanie, you wake?" Joanne said getting right into Stephanie's face.

     "Joanne Elizabeth Sterns," Mrs. Sterns said in a loud whisper standing just inside the door pointing out into the hallway. "Out, now!"

      "But look Mom, she is waking up?  See?"

     "Joanne?" Stephanie said without opening her eyes. "You have a comfy bed."

     Joanne jumped up and down, "She's awake! She's awake!"

     "Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns said coming over to the bed.  "How are you feeling?"

     "My side really hurts," Stephanie said hugging Melanie tight. "Is there any more of the medicine?"

     Mrs. Sterns looked at her watch, "Not for another half hour Stephanie.  Sorry sweetie.  Stay there, I'll go get you something to drink."

     "Mommy, I'll watch her."

     "I am sure you will.  Be gentle."

     Joanne sat at the end of her bed and stared at Stephanie. 

     "Thanks for getting the teacher Joanne.  You didn't have to do that."

     "Yes I did.  You . . . I have been mean to you all week, but you keep trying to be nice to me.  When Frank came up to us, you sent me away so I wouldn't get hurt too.  Thank You," Joanne went in and gave Stephanie a hug.

     "Owwwwwww," Stephanie moaned while being hugged.

     "Sorry, sorry, sorry," Joanne said backing off holding her hands up.

     "What did you do now," Mrs. Sterns asked as she walked in?  "I told you to be gentle."

     "I just tried to give her a hug for making sure Frank didn't hurt me."

     Mrs. Sterns handed Stephanie a lidded Disney Princess cup with a straw coming out. She then helped Stephanie sit up more and adjusted the pillows behind her. As Stephanie starting drinking, Joanne just couldn't hold it in anymore.

     "Stephanie, Mom, you wouldn't believe what happened this afternoon.  By the end of lunch recess, the story about you almost dying trying to tell everyone you were not going to be a Noper anymore was all over the school.  All afternoon kids from different classes kept coming in with stacks of cards for you.  Mrs. Farren couldn't get any lesson in without being interrupted," Joanne chuckled.  "Your desk is overflowing with cards.  Finally Mrs. Farren let us make you cards instead of doing the Social Studies lesson. In fact . . ."

     Joanne jumped off her bed and ran out the door.  Mrs. Sterns and Stephanie looked at each other confused.

     "I almost died?"

     "Not that I know of Stephanie," Mrs. Sterns got out before Joanne came charging back into the room holding her backpack.

     "I didn't put mine on your desk.  I was going to bring it over to your house.  Melissa found out and told me to bring her card to you too," Joanne said while digging through her backpack.

     Stephanie took the cards and opened up Melissa's first.


Deer Daryl,

I was reely scard. I hope you ok. You told bullys day all idee ots. No Noper do dat befor. You stood up to Frank. I prod of you. All kids in my speshel ed class are. You are hero to me and dem. You my frend. Tank You

Melissa

 

     "What she say?" Joanne asked.

     Stephanie looked at the pretty picture on the cover, of flowers and butterflies, "She . . . hopes I am okay."

     "The next one's mine."

     Stephanie took the next card and looked at the picture of two girls swinging on the front, one with high pigtails and a pink dress, the other with hair like Joanne's and wearing the same outfit she had on.


Dear Stephanie,

Everyone is talking about what you did. Your a Noper and a girl in a costume, but you stand up to Frank and Elwood. The principal tell class you left his office without permishen to say Thank You to the friends who helped you. He say you okay, but you get hurt more coming to say Thank You. Why you risk your life to thank me? Why Stephanie? Get better. Get better and be my friend.

Joanne

 

      Stephanie was in tears by the time she reached the end of the card. 

     "Joanne, what did you say in that card to make Stephanie cry?"

     "Nothing Mom, honest."

     Stephanie handed Mrs. Sterns Joanne's card.

     After a quick read and a proud smile to Joanne, "Well Stephanie needs to stay in bed, but Joanne you can stay in here and play with her.  Drink your water Stephanie. I'll be back in half an hour to give you more medicine."

     Mrs. Sterns gave the card back to Stephanie, gave Joanne a hug, and left the room.

     "So what happened when you left class?" Joanne inquired.

     "Daddy took me to the doctor.  She took pictures of my insides and sent me home.  Daddy and I had lunch together, and then he had to go back to work so your Mom said she would watch me.  The doctor said the medicine would make me tired, so your Mom said I should lie in your bed and she would read me a story."

     "She does that when I am sick too," Joanne smiled.  "She always brings me that cup too.  Different lids can go on it.  One of the lids is a sippy cup lid. It was my favorite sippy cup when I was a little girl."

     "I must have fallen asleep during the story. I remember her starting it and then you were asking if I was awake."

     "Stephanie, you wouldn't believe it. At lunch all these sixth graders wanted to see me."

     "Why?"

     "They wanted to know what I did that made you go back to class in so much pain just to say Thank You. They saw you walking back to class and said you were in a lot of pain, but you had to get back to say Thank You to the friends that helped you."

     "Yeah there were some big kids in the hall when I left the Principal and Officer Owen."

     "Somehow their teacher heard you tell our class you were not going to be a Noper anymore.  She gave her class a half hour lecture on treating people with respect and what a true hero is.  She told them you were a true hero. When you sent me off to safety before Frank beat you up, that is something a Hero would do. You cared more about the safety of your friends than you did yourself. Then afterwards, you were in so much pain, but you had to go back and say Thank You for getting help.  The sixth graders all said you were a true Hero today and a true friend."

     "I am not a Hero Joanne," Stephanie looked down at Joanne and Melissa's cards.  "I was really scared today.  I can't protect you like a Hero would. I'm just a scared freak. I got beat up today and I will get beat up again.  The only way for you to be safe is to stay away from me. I can't have friends Joanne."

     "Don't be silly Stephanie.  Didn't you listen to what Mrs. Farren said about friends needing to stick together to be safe from bullies? Maybe you weren't there when she said that.  It doesn't matter.  To be safe from a bully you need more friends, not less."

     Stephanie started playing with Melanie's hair while listening to Joanne.

     "I didn't let Melissa stop being my friend when she tried.  I am not going to let you.  Don't worry Stephanie, none of the bullies are going to beat you up.  You got two kids suspended in two days.  They are all scared of you."

     "They are not scared of me."

     Joanne chuckled, "After what the Principal said they are."

     "What did he say?"

     "He said bullying will not be allowed and he will not tolerate groups of kids targeting one student or a particular group of students. He then explained how the police are investigating the two attacks on you and if anyone else does anything to you the police will immediately be called. He wanted to know if anyone had anything to add about what happened between you and Elwood, and between you and Frank."  Joanne looked at Stephanie for a minute before continuing, "But Stephanie, that's not why the police are involved, is it?"

     "No," Stephanie said not looking at Joanne.  "It's because I am Stephanie. Officer Owen said Frank's attack could be a Hate Crime."

     "What's a Hate Crime?"

     "I don't know, but Daddy, the Principal, and Officer Owen were all very concerned Frank's and Elwood's bullying were Hate Crimes.  Daddy really didn't want Officer Owen to call Frank's attack a Hate Crime."

     The girls were silent. Joanne watched Stephanie playing with Melanie's hair, "I have a doll like that, but mine has black hair."

     Joanne went over to her pile of dolls and stuffed animals, returning with a doll looking a lot like Melanie.

     "They could be sisters," Stephanie said holding Melanie up next to Joanne's doll.  "What's her name?"

     "Cindy," Joanne said.

     "Melanie, this is Cindy.  Say Hi to her," Stephanie instructed her doll. Stephanie had Melanie try to hide and sheepishly waved Melanie's hand at Cindy.

     "Oh Melanie," Stephanie said. "Don't be shy.  I am sure Cindy is very nice and you two will have fun together."

     "Me nice. Me big girl," Joanne had Cindy say.

     "Me big girl too.  Me fwee," Stephanie had Melanie say while getting a little closer to Cindy.

     The dolls played together till Mrs. Sterns brought Stephanie her medicine.

 

Chapter 7 by Teekabell
Author's Notes:

Chapter 7: A Debt

Summary: Stephanie may be recovering from the attack, but her focus is not on getting better. Will the people in her life be able to see the truth?

Costumes
Chapter 7 of 10
A Debt

~o~O~o~

     Saturday morning, Stephanie stayed in bed after waking up. It was a new day and a lot was going through her head. The pain in her side was minimal as long as she didn't move, but it was also a strong reminder of all the positives and negatives of the last week and a half. 

     "Morning sleepy head," Aunt Jennifer said as she entered the room. "How are you feeling this morning?"

     "Aunt Jennifer?"

     "Hi Stephanie.  I was worried about you when your Dad called to tell me about yesterday."

     "Mommy come with you?"

     "Sorry Sweetie. Mommy went to see Grandma yesterday morning.  She didn't even hear about you being attacked till last night. Hopefully she'll be coming back tonight."

     Stephanie rolled on her side facing away from Aunt Jennifer. She hugged her Melanie doll tight as tears came down her face.  The sore side was only part of the pain she was feeling.

     Aunt Jennifer sat down on Stephanie's bed and rubbed her arm, "I know, you want Mommy here don't you."

     "She doesn't want to be here.  She hates me."

     "Oh Stephanie, she doesn't hate you.  She just can't figure out how to treat you.  She was really concerned about you when she heard about the attack."

     "No she wasn't," Stephanie got out through her tears.  "She was happy I got beat up."

    "Oh sweetie, she really does love you.  She would never want you to be hurt.  She will be fine with you being Stephanie, she just needs some time to adjust.  In no time at all, you two will be having fun doing some Mommy Daughter activities."

     "Really," Stephanie turned back towards Aunt Jennifer, but grabbed her side in the process.

     "Let's go get some medicine in you to help with that pain, and some food in you to help your body heal."

     After a short detour to get her wig, Stephanie and Aunt Jennifer made their way into the kitchen for Breakfast.  As the girls walked through the living room, Dad stopped reading his Kindle and followed them into the kitchen. Aunt Jennifer made up a bowl of cereal and a glass of juice for Stephanie. 

     "You guys aren't eating," Stephanie questioned?

     "We ate breakfast a long time ago sleepy head.  It's already ten o'clock," Dad said hugging Stephanie and sitting down. "Aunt Jennifer's been here for about three hours now."

     "Why didn't you wake me," Stephanie asked as she drank her juice and took a pill for the pain?

     "You needed your sleep precious," Dad explained with a big smile.  "Anyways, Aunt Jennifer and I wanted a little peace and quiet before a hyperactive little nine year old girl started demanding all our attention."

     With a devilish grin Stephanie replied, "Don't worry, Molly doesn't demand everyone's attention when she is busy. I'll keep Molly busy babysitting Melanie so she doesn't demand all your attention.  That way I can have it," Stephanie giggled until she found it hurt to laugh.

     "You okay Stephanie," Aunt Jennifer asked upon seeing Stephanie's expression when she suddenly stopped giggling.

     "I'm fine.  It just hurts when I laugh.  It hurts when I move.  It hurts when I eat.  It hurts just to be me."

     "Oh Princess," Dad said reaching out and grabbing her hand.  "The medicine will start working soon. Today we will just take it easy and give you a chance to go through that huge collection of DVDs Aunt Jennifer bought you."

     "Okay Daddy," Stephanie said as she started to eat her cereal.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     Stephanie, holding her Molly doll, was cuddled up next to Aunt Jennifer watching the movie Molly: An American Girl On The Home Front.  Stephanie ignored the fact that the phone had rung, but not when Dad came over and put the movie on pause.  

     "The phone call is for Daryl," Dad said handing the wireless phone to Stephanie.

     "Hello?" Stephanie asked?

     "Hi Daryl are you feeling better?  Melissa is over playing with me this morning. You know we talked Friday morning at recess about her having a play date with me today.  Well she wanted to know how you were doing.  She was really worried about you after your Dad carried you out of the classroom. She is right here listening.  Our phone has a speaker phone and Mommy let me use it," Joanne blurted out.

     Stephanie smiled, "Hi Joanne and Melissa. I am okay. I hurt a lot but I am okay. The doctor told me to take it easy, so I get to watch movies all day today."

     "Oh that is great Daryl," Melissa commented.  "I was really worried.  You gonna be back on Monday?"

     "I think so," Stephanie said looking at her dad even though he could not hear Melissa's question.  "The doctor said I would be sore for a while, but I should be okay to go back to school. Not that anyone would notice me missing."

     "No Daryl, no," Melissa exclaimed.  "Everyone will know if the hero is missing.  They hate the bullies now, but they like the school hero. You get better and come back."

      "Thanks Melissa, but I am no hero," Stephanie sighed, gently feeling her side. "I got beat up.  Hero's aren't wimps who get beat up."

     "You are the biggest hero ever," Melissa said with pride.  "You did what none of us nobodies could ever do.  You showed Frank and Elwood you were no longer a Noper.  Then you told our whole class that you were no longer a Noper.  The whole school heard Daryl.  The whole school!  You . . . you showed them all that a nobody can be a better person than even the popular kids.  You the biggest hero ever."

     "I think she is right Daryl," Joanne said.  "The person who stood up to Elwood and Frank was very brave.  The person who came back to our classroom after being hurt to say thank you to me is definitely a Hero.  After our talk yesterday, I don't think anything we say is going to make you believe it, but you are a very brave hero.  I hope you feel better . . . Daryl. Melissa and I are off to go play in the park for about half an hour.  It was nice talking with you."

     "You two have fun. Bye Melissa," Stephanie said.

     "Bye Daryl, get better," Melissa said.

     "Bye Joanne," Stephanie continued.

     "Bye," Joanne said hanging up the phone.

     Handing the phone back to her dad, Stephanie glanced down at her Tinkerbell pajamas before looking at Aunt Jennifer, "I think I want to get dressed.  Will you help me please?"

     "Sure sweetie," Aunt Jennifer replied, giving a quizzical glance towards her brother-in-law. His eyes went wide and he shrugged his shoulders, providing her with no answers. "You sure you don't want to wait till after the movie?"

     "No I . . . I think I should get up and going for the day.  It's . . ." Stephanie looked over at the clock in the room, "almost eleven o'clock.  I'm too old to spend all day in my PJs."

     "Stephanie sweetie, you can stay in your pajamas if you want. You can never be too old for a Pajama Day," Aunt Jennifer stated. 

     "I want to get dressed now," Stephanie declared. Standing up however, the expression on her face showed that she was not as inviolable as she was trying to portray.

     "Okay," Aunt Jennifer reached out her hand to give some support to Stephanie. "I'll help you."

      The two went down to Stephanie's room.  Once there, Stephanie sat on the bed and directed Aunt Jennifer to the clothes she wanted to wear.  When the outfit was complete, Stephanie was dressed in a lavender dress with white tights.  Her wig was done up in braided pigtails, with lavender hair ties at the ends. 

     "Okay Stephanie, out with it.  Why are you suddenly wanting to be all dressed up, looking like you are ready for the first day of school," Aunt Jennifer asked as she put the Mary-Jane shoes on Stephanie.

     "First day of school," Stephanie inquired looking down at the outfit.  "Yeah this would be good for my first day at school as Stephanie."

     "You're avoiding the question young lady.  What's up?"

      "Let's go to the park," Stephanie smiled looking straight at Aunt Jennifer.

     Aunt Jennifer quizzically looked at Stephanie, "Thirty minutes ago you loved the idea of sitting on the couch all day watching the DVDs.  Now you want to be all dressed up and go out to the park.  You're up to something Stephanie.  What's at the park?"

     "I don't know what is at the park for Stephanie, but I have to go and find out.  I have to go and see.  I have to try," Stephanie said staring at the card Melissa had made her.

     "Try?" Aunt Jennifer said looking over at the cards standing up on the dresser.  "It was Joanne and Melissa on the phone.  Aren't those the two that wrote you the cards? Are they going to be at the park?"

     Stephanie nodded her head in agreement. 

     "Do they know about Stephanie?"

     "Joanne does. Her Mommy babysits me after school.  I change into my Stephanie clothes before going over there."

     "But Melissa doesn't, does she?" Aunt Jennifer said getting up and going over to the two cards.  Although they had been pointed out when they got Stephanie's wig this morning, she had not read them.  This time she picked them up and read both of them.

     "Your Dad said something this morning about Daryl not being the one who stood up to Elwood and Frank.  You were no longer pretending to be Daryl when you did that, were you?"

     "I have a hard time pretending to be Daryl now.  I put on the costume, but I just can't do the pretending part anymore."

     Aunt Jennifer held Melissa's card in her hand looking back and forth between it and Stephanie, "You and Joanne arranged to have Melissa meet Stephanie at the park today?"

     "Yeah her and Gwen. I don't know if Gwen is coming today, Joanne only mentioned Melissa was at her house. The plan was to have Joanne invite both of them over and we all meet at the park."

     "Let me guess, you had this planned out before the fight."

     "Yup," Stephanie grabbed Melanie and hugged her tight.

     "Do any of the adults know?" Aunt Jennifer inquired.

     Sheepishly Stephanie replied, "Only you.  We tried to invite Gwen and Melissa over to Joanne's house one day Mrs. Sterns was babysitting me, but she said no.  She was afraid Mommy and Daddy wouldn't want the other kids knowing about Stephanie.  I thought Frank ruined everything for me, but Joanne still invited Melissa over.  I just have to go to the park to see her."

     "Why do I have this feeling I am about to be dragged into something whether I like it or not," Aunt Jennifer said coming over and sitting next to Stephanie. 

     Stephanie smiled, "Please Aunt Jennifer?  I'll never make it to the park without some help, and I'm afraid Daddy isn't going to let me go."

     "Let me guess, you want me to try and convince your father to let you go to the park, and you don't want me to tell him why."

     "Please?"

     Aunt Jennifer smiled, "You know, you look just like your mother did when she was your age trying to convince me to do something.  I got into more trouble giving into that look."

     "Will you help me?"

     "They're going to be your first friends, aren't they?"

     Stephanie hugged Melanie tighter and shrugged her shoulders, "This is definitely about friendship."

     "Every girl needs close friends.  Okay, I'll do it," Aunt Jennifer reluctantly agreed.

     "Oh Thank You, Thank You, Thank You," Stephanie said giving her a big hug.  "Let's go quick while they are still there.  Joanne said her Mom would only let her go to the park for half an hour."

      Stephanie got up and started dragging Aunt Jennifer out of the room.  Going straight to the coat closet, she started putting on her pink coat.

     "And where do you think you're going," Dad inquired?

     "Aunt Jennifer said she would take me to the park."

     "Oh you are so much like your mother," Aunt Jennifer quietly said.

     "The doctor said you are supposed to take it easy.  I don't think that includes playing at the park," Dad explained.

     "James," Aunt Jennifer interjected. "I'll explain later, but this is important to her."

     "Aren't you the one who offered to come over and help me keep her sedate for the day?"

     "Well," Aunt Jennifer hedged.  "This is a girl thing, something Stephanie needs to do."

     Dad dubiously looked at the two of them.

     "Please Daddy," Stephanie put her lips together in a smile, tilted her head, and batted her eyelashes.

     "Uhhhhhh, now wait a minute.  No, No, No, No, No!" Dad took a step back.  "I was warned about this by my friends with little girls.  I am not going to fall for the superpowers of little girls.  You need to stay home and get better. A trip to the park will not help.  Being super cute and batting your eyes is not going to change that."

     "Please Daddy?  Please?  Don't you always say fresh air is good for me?"

     "Now that's not fair; super cute little girl, my own words used against me, and your Aunt on your side. I am not going to win on this, am I?" Dad asked.

     "James," Aunt Jennifer added. "I suspect this will only be the first of many things you will really have no choice on."

     "Please Daddy?"

     "Alright, but just a quick trip to the park," Dad gave in.  "I don't want you out long and I don't want you playing.  Let's try to get through today without another trip to the doctor."

     "Thanks Daddy," Stephanie said with glee, dragging Aunt Jennifer out the door.

      They had only walked past two houses when Stephanie started holding onto Aunt Jennifer's arm for support.

     "You know you don't have to do this.  We can come up with another way."

     "I am not going to let Frank ruin things for me.  This has to work."

     "There is always another way Stephanie.  We could invite Joanne and Melissa over to the house. You don't have to go meet them."

     "Yes I do.  They have to meet me as Stephanie, not Daryl."

     They made it to the entrance of the park, and started their way in.  Stephanie quickly started scanning the park to find Joanne and Melissa.  

     "There they are Aunt Jennifer.  See they have hula hoops.  Over there by the picnic tables."

     "Let's go sit down near them," Aunt Jennifer led the way over to a picnic table near the girls.

    As they approached, Melissa was facing away from them.  Joanne smiled when she saw Stephanie, but refrained from approaching when she saw Stephanie indicating she should stay put.   Stephanie then pointed over to the picnic table where her aunt was leading her.  Joanne nodded and started up again with her hula hoop.

     Aunt Jennifer could tell Stephanie's side was hurting her.  Joanne could see it too as she watched Stephanie hang onto the grown-up with her.  Once Stephanie was seated, Joanne and Aunt Jennifer were both figuring out how to do this without revealing just how much pain Stephanie was really in. While they tried to figure out a way to make this work, Stephanie unzipped her coat and made sure she was presentable.

     "Oh Joanne," Stephanie said loudly.  "I didn't see you there."

     "Stephanie!" Joanne faked her surprise. "So great to see you."

     Joanne grabbed her hula hoop and made her way over to the picnic table with Melissa following.

     "That's a pretty hula hoop Joanne, I've never seen one sparkly like that before," Stephanie started the conversation, trying not to show any expression of pain.

     "Thanks, Mommy got them for me this summer.   My favorite is the pink one.  I'm letting my friend Melissa here play with it."

     Melissa smiled, looking at the hula hoop and then at Stephanie.  She was about to turn back to Joanne when she took a second look at Stephanie.

     "Joanne," Aunt Jennifer interjected.  "Stephanie and I were going to spend the day watching DVDs, I am sure she would much rather watch them with a friend like you, than with an old lady like me."

     "Aunt Jennifer!" Stephanie glared.

     "What a great idea," Joanne said turning to Melissa.  "What do you think Melissa, a girl's afternoon watching movies?  I bet Mommy would even make us popcorn.  Stephanie, bring your American Girl doll. Melissa brought hers and Gwen is planning on bringing hers this afternoon."

     Stephanie giggled, "We were watching the Molly movie this morning.  We are half way through it and stopped to get some fresh air.  Daddy always says fresh air does the body good."

     Melissa was about to say something but stopped, looking more closely at Stephanie, "I guess so, Daryl?"

     Joanne and Stephanie looked at each other and then at Melissa.

     "I'm Stephanie," she said trying to recover from the unexpected realization.

     "You look just like Daryl. Doesn't she Joanne?" Melissa asked pausing for only a second.  "No, you are Daryl.  Why are you wearing a dress Daryl?"

     "Don't be silly Melissa," Joanne stated.  "Stephanie's a girl and Daryl's a boy.  Daryl would look silly wearing a dress."

     Stephanie took a deep breath and responded, "It's okay Joanne.  I knew this might be one possible reaction. Hi Melissa, at home I'm Stephanie, I only wear my Daryl costume when I go to school."

     "Why do you wear a costume at school Daryl?  None of the other girls have to wear boy costumes to school."

     Aunt Jennifer held back a giggle.

     "The school records have my name as Daryl, so I have to dress up as Daryl to go to school."

     "The teacher once put the wrong name on one of my papers," Melissa commented.  "When I told her she just used the pencil eraser and changed it.  Can't you do that with the school records?   Seems silly they would make you come to school in a boy costume just because someone put the wrong name on the school records."

     Joanne and Stephanie looked at each other not sure how to respond.

     "You are right Melissa," Aunt Jennifer replied.  "It is silly that the wrong name on a paper would force Stephanie to put on a Daryl costume every day just to go to school, but unfortunately that is the way things are for Stephanie."

     "Stephanie?" Melissa said to herself as she thought through the situation in front of her.

     "So Joanne, do you think your mom would be okay with another kid coming over this afternoon to join you and your other friends," Aunt Jennifer inquired?

     "Sure, let's go ask her," Joanne came out of her thoughts.

     "How far away to do you live Joanne," Aunt Jennifer asked.  "Stephanie isn't up for much walking at the moment."

     "Well, I live just four houses down from the park entrance over there," Joanne pointed to the entrance on the other side of a big field.  Mumbling to herself she said, "Stephanie's hurt . . . can't walk."

     Melissa continued to just look at Stephanie.

     "hmmmmm," Aunt Jennifer pondered.  "I don't think she is up for such a long walk.  I wasn't even sure if she was up to walking back to her house."

     "I know what we can do," Joanne said with excitement as she came out of her contemplation. "Melissa and I will go get it and be right back.  Come on Melissa."

     Joanne started running off for her house, but Melissa was still looking at Stephanie.

     "Bye Daryl . . . Stephanie," Melissa said before giving Stephanie a big hug and running off to catch up with Joanne.

     Aunt Jennifer turned to Stephanie, "Joanne ran off without telling us what she was going to do."

     "She is like that at times," Stephanie said smiling.

     "Well, it looks like Melissa has accepted you as Stephanie."

     "Yeah, maybe, but . . ." Stephanie thought about the interaction. "It didn't go the way I wanted it to.  I was supposed to get to play with her as just one of the girls before she found out about Daryl.  And . . . and she thinks I really am a girl."

     "Well you are, silly."

     "No I mean.  She thinks I am a girl like her and have the same girl parts. Joanne thought I was a girl too at first and when she found out the truth . . ." Stephanie sat quietly recalling the disastrous results.

     "Well Joanne appears to be your friend now, so everything worked out."

     "Only because her Daddy punished her and made her play with me," Stephanie responded.

     "I don't think you have to worry about Melissa.  She seems to understand you are Daryl at school and Stephanie at home.  Isn't that what you wanted?" Aunt Jennifer inquired.

     "Yeah I guess, sort of," Stephanie thought.  "I'm worried about what will happen when she finds out the truth. I do like her idea however, of just taking an eraser to my school file and changing the name on it."

     "It would be nice if it was just that simple," Aunt Jennifer said zipping Stephanie's coat back up.  "But unfortunately, it is a little more complicated than just changing your name on a piece of paper."

     "Does it have to be?" Stephanie questioned.

     "I don't know Stephanie, but it is," Aunt Jennifer said sitting down at the picnic table.

     "Will Daddy let me go to Joanne's house to watch movies?"

     "I am sure he will sweetie, he just wanted you to take it easy today.  As long as you promise to stay on Joanne's couch watching the movies, I am sure he will let you stay."

     Stephanie pointed to the other side of the big field, "look, here come Joanne and Melissa."

     "What are they doing," Aunt Jennifer asked as she tried to see the two girls that far away.

     "Are they pulling something?"

     The two didn't have to wait long for the answer, soon Joanne and Melissa were back with a wagon behind them.

     "See, Stephanie doesn't have to walk.  We can just pull her.  Daddy wanted to get rid of my wagon at the end of the summer, but I wouldn't let him," Joanne said as she blushed a little. "I like to bring my dolls around in it, so they are not cooped up in the house all the time."

     "That is a great idea Joanne," Aunt Jennifer said. "Let's see if Stephanie fits in it."

     "Oh she will," Joanne reassured Aunt Jennifer.  "I still fit in it and Stephanie's smaller than me."

     Joanne took down one of the sides of the wagon, letting Stephanie get in.  Once the side was put back into place, the four of them headed for Joanne's house.  Aunt Jennifer pulled the wagon while Joanne showed her where to go.  Melissa stayed back with Stephanie holding her hand.

     "You okay back there Stephanie," Aunt Jennifer asked?

     "It hurts with the bumps, but I'm okay."

     "I'll do my best to avoid big bumps," Aunt Jennifer said steering the wagon.

     "Stephanie," Melissa stopped watching where she was going and just looked at Stephanie.  "Was it your Daryl costume that made you so brave?"

     "No Melissa," Stephanie said squeezing Melissa's hand.  "It was when I stopped pretending to be a boy that I was finally able to stand up to them."

     Melissa got a big smile as she continued to look at Stephanie and hold her hand.

     "Wait Aunt Jennifer, wait," Stephanie shouted.  "I need my Molly doll."

     Aunt Jennifer stopped the wagon and turned around to face Stephanie, "First we need to see if Joanne's mom will let you stay over.  Then we need to call your Dad to see if he will let you stay over.  And once we get that all figured out, we can decide the best way to connect you and Molly.  Who knows, maybe this is all going to happen at your house instead of Joanne's."

     "Okay," Stephanie reluctantly gave in.

     The group quickly found themselves in the front yard to the Stern's house.  Mr. Sterns was in the yard raking leaves.

     "See Daddy, see," Joanne announced. "I told you I needed the wagon for Stephanie."

     "I see, and who is this that you drafted into doing the hard work?"

     "Mr. Sterns," Stephanie said still sitting in the wagon.  "That is my Aunt Jennifer.  She's the bestest Aunt ever."

     "Well, Bestest Aunt ever, nice to meet you.  I am George Sterns.  The mean daddy of sweet little Joanne there," He said with fingers outstretched and wiggling as he approached Joanne.

     Joanne started giggling before he even got close and ran to the other side of the wagon, putting Stephanie between her and him.

     "Nice to meet you Daddy of sweet little girl Joanne.  Apparently you are also the tickle monster."

     "Who me?" Mr. Sterns pleaded innocence.

     "Yes Aunt Jennifer," Joanne confirmed.  "He IS the tickle monster."

     "So young lady," Mr. Sterns turned to his daughter.  "What an amazing coincidence that you decided to go to the park at the same time that Stephanie decided to go to the park. Especially considering how hurt she is."

     "Um . . Yeah . . Dad," Joanne fidgeted around avoiding eye contact.

     "Oh Mr. Sterns," Aunt Jennifer interjected.  "It is even more complex than that.  Apparently Stephanie and Joanne planned this out a few days ago when your wife wouldn't let Melissa and some girl named Gwen come over while Stephanie was being babysat.  Stephanie wanted girlfriends and felt this was the only way to get them."

     "Really now," Mr. Sterns said looking at Joanne and Stephanie.  "A little underhanded scheming, huh.  Stephanie sweetie, you do deserve to have friends just like everyone else.  If we as adults couldn't figure out a way to help you get them, I am glad you had a good FRIEND to help you.  I guess the trio that invades my house on a regular basis is going to grow to a quartet."

     "I don't think so Mr. Sterns," Stephanie said putting her head down.  "But if this works, hopefully Gwen, Melissa, and Joanne will all start playing together again.  It is all my fault they stopped.  I broke up their friendship, I have to fix that. I will not be responsible for anyone losing a friend. I won't. I will go back to being a nobody next week when Joanne doesn't have to play with me anymore.  I am okay with that.  But Joanne, is not going to be a nobody with no friends because of me. Sorry Joanne, I told you we were doing this for me, but getting Gwen and Melissa over here to see me is all for you.  You and your friends need to be friends again."

     "You won't be a nobody Stephanie," Melissa got down and hugged Stephanie.  "You are the school hero."

     "Stephanie . . . Stephanie," Joanne got out trying to figure out what just happened.

     Mr. Sterns got down on his knees and took Stephanie's two hands in his, "You are an amazing little girl who deserves to have a million friends. If someone doesn't see that, they are really missing out.  All I have heard out of both Joanne and Melissa is how you did amazing things at school yesterday.  They were telling me about a friend, not a nobody. You are NOT a nobody Stephanie.  Never view yourself as a nobody and always view yourself deserving of a friend or two."

     "Mr. Sterns," Stephanie looked him straight in the eyes and said with confidence.  "I am not the one who decided I was a nobody who deserves no friends. Everyone else decided that. Grown-ups try to hide who I am or put me in a box under the bed. They keep other kids away from me.  Kids and grown-ups view me as a monster they don't want to be around.  Even Joanne, the closest thing I have to a friend, only plays with me because you are punishing her.  I am NOT the one who decided I am a nobody.  I just am.  Everyone can see it, even you.  That is why you forced Joanne to play with me when she didn't want to.  Grown-ups only have to force other kids to play with nobodies."

     Melissa shook her head in agreement.

    "I am so much of a monster Mr. Sterns, my Mommy doesn't even want me around.  I will always be a nobody, a monster to hide from.  If I am lucky, I will no longer be a Noper, and kids will at least talk to me.  There is no question in my mind though, I will still be a nobody.  You and Aunt Jennifer are the only two who believe I can be anything more, but you two are just in a world of make believe.  I can no longer continue to pretend to be a boy when I wear the Daryl costume.  It is time you two stopped being in that make believe world with Stephanie.  Daryl is no more, and once I can get Gwen back together with Joanne, Stephanie will . . .," a tear came down Stephanie's face. "She will . . . never again cause people problems. I never should have let her out of the Halloween box. I will not be a problem for people ever again."

     The two adults looked at each other with concerned expressions.

     "Stephanie," Joanne said standing very still.  "You are my friend.  Not because Daddy made me, just because you are."

     "And you my friend too Stephanie," Melissa said still holding onto Stephanie's hand.

     "Why don't we get the three friends into the house with a warm cup of hot chocolate," Mr. Sterns said taking off the side of the wagon. "I think there are even little marshmallows for everyone's cup."

     Mr. Sterns lifted Stephanie up out of the wagon and carried her into the house.  After settling her down onto the living room couch, he called his wife.

     "Sarah, we have two extra people for that hot chocolate.  Do you have enough?"

     "I think we can find enough," Mrs. Sterns said coming into the living room.  "Oh, hi Stephanie."

     "Sarah," Mrs. Sterns guestured to Aunt Jennifer. "This is Jennifer, Stephanie's Aunt.  She is reported to be the Bestest Aunt ever."

     "Nice to finally meet you Jennifer," Mrs. Sterns said shaking Jennifer's hand.  "Stephanie talks very highly of you."

     The adults talked for a little bit while the kids discussed what movie they wanted to watch.  As the kids settled into the American Girl Molly movie, the adults went into the kitchen to get the hot chocolate.  Mrs. Sterns returned with the girl's cups, and then left them to watch the movie.  The adults stayed in the kitchen talking.

     About ten minutes after the kids got their hot chocolate, Mr. Meyers showed up with Stephanie's Molly doll.  Melissa had her Kit doll, and Joanne had her Emily Doll.  The three girls, with their dolls, sat together on the couch to watch the movie, with Stephanie in the middle.  The adults again, left the girls in the living room and escaped into the kitchen.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     At lunch Stephanie was questioned as to what they had planned and why.  Then she outlined what she wanted to do when Gwen came over.  The plans had to be altered a little when Mr. Meyers informed Stephanie about an appointment to see Dr. Jones that afternoon.  Stephanie handed out roles for the different people, telling them how to act and sometimes what to say.  The adults reluctantly agreed with one stipulation, they would tell Gwen's and Melissa's mothers when they came.

     The girls returned to the living room and were playing with their dolls while they waited for Gwen. 

     "Now you sure you can do this Melissa," Stephanie asked.  "Don't let Gwen know I am Daryl.  Let's see if she can figure it out like you did."

     "Yeah, it will be fun," Melissa said with a big smile.  "She likes playing tricks on me.  It will be fun playing one on her."

     Gwen arrived a little after one thirty. She had with her an American Girl doll which had been custom made to look just like her.  They were even both wearing the same outfit.  Introductions were made all round and the adults again escaped into the kitchen, adding Gwen's mom to the group.

     Stephanie had never left the couch and as the girls started to discuss which American Girl movie they wanted to watch next, Gwen kept looking over at Stephanie.  It was explained to Gwen that Stephanie had been hurt on the playground at her school so she needed to stay on the couch resting.

     "Have we met before," Gwen asked?

     "Yeah," Stephanie said with a big smile.  "We went trick-or-treating together.  I was a princess."

     "Oh yeah, I remember you," Gwen said looking Stephanie over.  "You looked different though."

     "I had my princess curly hair wig on."

     "That was a nice princess costume.  Much better than the store bough Disney Princess costumes," Gwen commented sitting down on the couch.

     "Thanks, my mom always makes my princess costumes by finding fancy dresses," Stephanie responded.

     "How many times have you gone as a princess for Halloween," Gwen inquired.

     "Five times," Stephanie said smiling.  "I get to wear these really pretty dresses and everyone says how cute I look."

     "Yeah," Gwen said smiling.  "Grown-ups always do that when we wear pretty dresses.  Kinda fun isn't it."

     The four girls all agreed, before turning to their dolls and telling them how cute they look in their outfits.  After a giggle fest, Joanne started the movie.  While it started, she requested from her mom some popcorn.  It was brought out for them all to enjoy, along with some juice containers.

     Once near the beginning of the movie, Gwen's mom came in stating, "I don't know about this." But she was quickly brought back to the kitchen away from the girls.  

     Throughout the movie, the girls all chatted about various scenes in the movie and other things unrelated to the movie. They also enjoyed having their dolls re-enact some of the scenes.  The adults were often coming in and out watching the girls.  Gwen apologized to Stephanie for her mom, noticing it was her mom coming in the most. She explained that she didn't understand, for her mom didn't usually do that.  She also wasn't sure why her mom was even still there.  Gwen believed her Mom was supposed to do some shopping while she was playing with Joanne and Melissa. 

     Stephanie just brushed it off, pointing out her dad was still here too and he would come in watching them too.

     After the movie, Joanne got out a bunch of art supplies and brought them to the coffee table in the living room.  Stephanie winced getting down on the floor to work at the table, but she did without it hurting too much.

     "So Gwen," Stephanie commented as she worked on making the wings on a fairy.  "Joanne says she lost you as a best friend."

     "Yeah well, she wanted some yucky boy to play with us during recess.  Imagine that Stephanie, playing with a boy," Gwen made a face expressing her distain.

     "I don't know Gwen," Stephanie replied.  "There is a boy at my school who always wants to sit down with the girls during indoor recess and color pictures with them."

     "Well that's not too bad," Gwen said.  "It would spoil the fun a little, but I wouldn't have to do anything with him.  It is just a lot more fun when it is just girls.  Like now, it is just us girls.  This is fun."

     Joanne stifled a giggle.

     "Could you still have this much fun if one of us was a boy," Stephanie asked?

     "No way!  A boy would wreck everything.  He would be getting into everything, making battle scenes, and wanting to blow things up," Gwen said cutting some tissue paper and gluing it on her picture.  "There's this boy at school named Daryl that Joanne wanted to play with us.  He would never make something pretty like that fairy you have there Stephanie."

     This time it was Melissa that had trouble holding back a giggle.

     "What do you think," Stephanie asked the group while holding up her picture.  "Some glitter on the wings?"

     "Most definitely," Melissa said.

     "Yeah that would look pretty," Joanne responded.  "But be careful, mom complains when I get glitter all over the living room."

     "That's a lovely fairy you have their . . . Stephanie," Gwen's Mom said coming into the living room.

     "Thank You," Stephanie said beaming. "It's not done yet.  I am going to put some glitter on the wings, and maybe a pink ribbon in her hair."

     "I see," Gwen's mom commented.  "Your dad asked me to tell you, you have five minutes left."

     "Thank You," Stephanie smiled at Gwen's mom.  "I better hurry up and finish. Gwen please pass the silver and gold glitter."

     "Gwen," her mom stated. "We are going to be leaving soon too.  Maybe about fifteen minutes or so."

     "I thought I was spending all afternoon here," Gwen questioned?

     "Well we have already been here two hours and . . . well plans have changed."

     "Okay," Gwen glumly said.

     Gwen's mom returned to the kitchen and the girls went to work on finishing up their pictures.

     "Gwen," Stephanie interrupted the silence.  "Why don't you want to play with Joanne if she plays with this Daryl kid?"

     "Daryl is just so . . . well he . . . he is such a show off.  He just had to come over and beat my jump roping record.  A boy!  How can a boy beat a girl at jump roping?"

     Stephanie smiled, "There is a boy at my school that is really good at jump roping.  In fact, he holds the jump roping record for the school."

     "Well, this Daryl kid does now too I guess.  I did have fun telling Erin a boy beat her jump roping record.  I had always dreamed what it would be like to tell her I beat her record, but this was kinda more fun.  She got mad at Daryl and not me."

     "If Daryl is that good, why can't he do jump roping with you, Melissa, and Joanne," Stephanie pushed.

     "Well Daryl is a boy.  He just wouldn't understand.  We wouldn't be able to talk about girl things with him around.  He would never understand how fun it is to go shopping for a new Christmas dress, or a tea party with our dolls."

     "I went shopping for my dress last week with my Aunt Jennifer.  I got to wear it home and to visit Santa.  I need to find more times I can talk my Mom into letting me wear it," Stephanie said.

     "Isn't that terrible," Melissa agreed.  "They get us this really pretty dress and we only get to wear it three times; the school Christmas program, visiting the grandparents, and the Christmas service at church."

     "We don't go to church," Joanne said. "So I only get to wear mine twice."

     "Daryl would never understand why this is such a problem," Gwen proclaimed.  "No boy would.  I just can't be myself around them."

     "So if I want to play with Daryl," Joanne interjected.  "You won't play with me anymore?"

     "Well . . .," Gwen hedged.  "Mommy says I shouldn't stop being your friend just because you play with a boy occasionally.  Something about someday I may want to play with a boy too. She was being all funny, but I guess I can still be your friend. I don't want to play with a boy though."

      "That is fine," Stephanie said smiling.  "You don't have to play with a boy if you don't want to.  I am glad to hear you will still play with Joanne though."

     "Come on Stephanie," Mr. Meyer's said coming into the living room with Aunt Jennifer and the rest of the adults in tow.  "Time to go talk to Dr. Jones about Frank beating you up on Friday."

     "Okay Daddy," Stephanie said writing her name on the fairy picture.  She stood up, unable to hide the expression of pain as she did so, and thanked Joanne for letting her come over. 

     Gwen looked up at Stephanie with a confused look on her face.

     "Gwen, it was nice meeting you.   I would like you to have this picture," Stephanie said giving Gwen the fairy picture she just finished.  "I am sorry I came between you and Joanne."

     Stephanie's dad had her coat out so she could just slip into it.  He then started directing her towards the door.  Grabbing her Molly doll, she thanked Mr. and Mrs. Sterns for letting her come over.

     "Bye Stephanie," Melissa said. "Glad to see you are feeling better.  See you at school on Monday."

     "Bye," Stephanie waved as she was rushed out the door by her father and Aunt Jennifer.

     As they were closing the door to the house, they heard Gwen ask, "Daryl?"

 

Chapter 8 by Teekabell
Author's Notes:

Chapter 8: Mom!

Summary: At long last, Mom returns. Will this be a good or bad thing? The surprise visitor with her will change everything, for everyone. Stephanie's Mom is not the only Mom facing Stephanie this chapter.

 

Costumes
Chapter 8 of 10
Mom!

~o~O~o~

     "Yes Stephanie, it is strange when others think of you as a hero and you don't, but heroes do not always get to decide if they are one or not.  Sometimes it is the people around the hero that decides," Dr. Jones explained.  "Melissa and her friends in the Special Education class saw you doing what all of them wanted to do, but couldn't. You are their hero for standing up to the bullies and telling everyone you are not a nobody. Joanne and the teachers feel you protected Joanne by sending her away before Frank could do anything.  Many people view that as heroic, considering others before one's self."

     "But I just . . ."

     "I know Stephanie, you have already told me several times you were not trying to be heroic. You seem to think that that is a reason why you are not a hero," Dr. Jones gave a reassuring smile. "That makes you the best kind of hero to some people.  You do that a lot, don't you Stephanie?  You think of ways to help others, not really caring about yourself."

     "What is there to care about?  I can't be me, so why should I care about me? I am a nobody, a freak. No one even knows the true me or cares about me."

     "I know it seems that way at times Stephanie, but there are a lot of people who care about you. Just think about all those cards the kids wrote for Daryl on your desk at school."

     "They may care about Daryl, I know that is all Mommy cares about.  But I am not Daryl."

     Dr. Jones jotted something down on her note pad and continued, "Can you tell me about you and Daryl?"

     "Daryl is no more," Stephanie said with confidence looking straight at Dr. Jones.

     "Why do you say that?"

     "I put on the costume every day for school like you and my parents insist I do, but I can't pretend to be him anymore.  He just isn't there for me to be him. Daryl is dead, and no matter how hard I try he is not coming back."

     "Who are you when you have the Daryl costume on?" Dr. Jones watched as Stephanie picked up the boy doll on the couch.

     "I . . . I don't know," Stephanie looked closely at the doll and moved it around on her lap a little bouncing from foot to foot.  "Me maybe, but I can't be me in the costume."

     "Why not Stephanie?"

     "People don't see Stephanie in a boy costume.  They see Daryl, a boy.  If I let myself be Stephanie, I . . . I . . . I get beat up."

     Stephanie pounded her hands into the boy doll beating it up.  She then laid the doll down on the couch next to her and declared, "Daryl is dead now."

     Stephanie picked up the girl doll on the couch and looked closely at it.  Dr. Jones stayed quiet and just watched.

     "Stephanie . . .," Stephanie said staring at the girl doll in her hands.  "You can't stay.  You have to go away."

     Stephanie took the girl doll in one hand and gestured to throw it across the room, stopping just as the doll would have been released.  Bringing it in for a tight hug, she then brought the doll into her lap and sat it down looking at her.

     "I don't want you to go Stephanie, but you can't stay.  Only bad things happen when you are here.  I need the bad things to stop.  I need people happy again.  I can't . . . I won't be responsible for people being sad," tears started down Stephanie's face.  "You have to go away so Mommy will come back, so Gwen, Melissa, and Joanne will play together again, and so the kids at school can go on without me messing everything up for them.  Stephanie has to stop being Stephanie."

     "If Stephanie stops being Stephanie, will she go back to being Daryl?" Dr. Jones asked.

     "No, Daryl's dead!" Stephanie said never taking her eyes off the girl doll on her lap.

     "Then who is Stephanie going to be," Dr. Jones probed?

     "Nobody.  I will just be nobody.  I hurt too many people as Stephanie.  Daryl is dead.  I will just be nobody, never causing any harm to anyone ever again," Stephanie grabbed the girl doll and hugged her tight as tears freely flowed down her face.

     Dr. Jones watched as Stephanie moved the doll away three times, but unable to put it down, bringing it back in for a hug each time.  On the fourth time, Stephanie put it down and covered the doll with a pillow.

     Dr. Jones and Stephanie talked for two hours during that special Saturday therapy session.  At the end, Stephanie agreed not to shut out the rest of the world and hide away inside of herself.  It was only a temporary agreement, but Dr. Jones would take whatever she could get. Stephanie promised not to hurt herself, Stephanie, or Daryl before talking with Dr. Jones.  Enough was said and worked through that Dr. Jones felt it was safe for Stephanie to leave her office, especially with her returning for the regular appointment in just three days. 

 

~o~O~o~

 

     Dad, Aunt Jennifer, and Stephanie stopped for chicken nuggets on the way home.  No one talked about the therapy session. Topics of discussion stayed focused on irrelevant issues, even a discussion about the weather at one point. Stephanie was in a world of her own, not paying attention to much of anything. By the time they pulled into the driveway, Stephanie was in need of more pain killers and was feeling tired.  She was just leaning against the car window staring out, with her Molly doll held tight in her arms. 

     "Were home Stephanie," Dad jolted Stephanie back into awareness of her surroundings. "Let's get you some medication and then ready for bed."

     Aunt Jennifer helped Stephanie out of the car, and the three of them headed for the house.  Stephanie was the first one in, and she promptly heard a voice coming from the Kitchen.

     "I don't know where they are.  I didn't expect them to be gone with how James described Daryl being hurt. Don't give me that look.  I know, I know."

     Stephanie's eyes went wide as a huge smile spread on her face, "Mommy!"

     Charging for the kitchen where the voice was coming from, Stephanie left Aunt Jennifer and Daddy behind.

     "Mommy you came back," Stephanie said running in and giving Mom a big hug.

     "Of course I did Daryl, I was so worried when I heard you were hurt," Mom said hugging back.

     Stephanie winced from the pain the hug produced and then separated from Mom.  The glee was gone as she hung her head and turned to leave, "Oh, you came back to see Daryl.  I'll go change."

     Stephanie was slowly walking out of the kitchen trying to hold back tears. She knew the only way Mommy would stay was for her to change into Daryl clothes. She didn't want to lose Mommy again so she had to go get changed.

     "Mary Margret! How could you?  Stephanie honey, come here."

     Stephanie turned to look at the mysterious voice that reprimanded Mommy.

     "Grandma Eaton!" Stephanie ran over to her.

     "Hi Stephanie," Grandma said giving her granddaughter a gentle hug.  "How is my favorite granddaughter doing?"

     Stephanie just started crying.  Grandma picked her granddaughter up onto her lap and gently cuddled and rocked her.

     "It's okay honey.  It's okay.  Grandma is here to make everything better," Grandma rubbed Stephanie's back. "It has been a rough time.  I am sorry Stephanie. I know Mommy has not made it any easier for you.  She is going to be different now.  I am here to make sure of that."

     Grandma glared at her daughter who was still standing on the other side of the table, "Now Mary Margret, you have been disrespectful to your daughter, paid no attention to the fact that she is in pain from her injuries, and were about to force her to go put on some costume.  Is that any way for a mother to treat her daughter?  Your daughter here was beaten up yesterday.  It wasn't your son in some school yard fight.  No, it was your daughter being beaten up so much that she had to be taken to the doctor and is obviously still in significant pain. Did you even notice her pain when you hugged her?" 

     "She's overdue for this," Dad said putting a pill and glass of water next to Grandma Eaton.

     "Thank you James.  Here honey, take this," Grandma Eaton got Stephanie to take the medication.

     After several more minutes of just cuddling into Grandma, the tears subsided. 

     "I think it is time I was formally introduced to my granddaughter," Grandma announced moving Stephanie a little bit out onto her lap so the two could look at each other.

     "Hi Grandma," Stephanie said still trying to recover from the crying fit.  "I am Stephanie."

     "Nice to meet you Stephanie," Grandma smiled at her.

     "Stephanie sweetie," Dad interjected. "Tell Grandma what you chose as your full name."

     Stephanie smiled and sat up straight, "I am Stephanie Marie Meyers."

     Grandma Eaton smiled at Stephanie.  She looked over at Mary who acted just as surprised at the name. Looking at James she was greeted by a smile.

     "She picked it all on her own," Dad said with pride.

     "I always liked your middle name Grandma," Stephanie hugged Grandma.

     "Oh thank you Stephanie.  You know, it was my mom's first name," Grandma explained.

     "Daddy told me," Stephanie looked over at her Dad.

     "Well honey, let's get you out of that coat," Grandma said starting to unzip the coat. "I want to get a proper look at my little girl."

     Grandma took off the coat and stood Stephanie up in front of her.  With a spin, Stephanie stood in front of Grandma with a big smile on her face.  She tried to curtsy, which got some big smiles from the women in the room.

     "Oh Mary, she is so beautiful. You need to give her a few lessons in how to curtsey though," Grandma said with a chuckle.  "But if I recall correctly, you didn't master that till you were twelve."

     "Hi Mom," Aunt Jennifer said coming over and giving her mom a hug and kiss.  "This is a nice surprise. Is Dad here too?"

     "No, he had to stay home.  I was needed here though," Grandma said staring over at Mary.

     "How long are you staying Grandma," Stephanie asked?

     "At least a week Honey, maybe longer if I am still needed," Grandma again turned to stare at Mary.

     "Stay as long as you want," Dad said. "You know you are always welcome here.  We have the guest room for you to stay in."

     "Thank You James," Grandma replied.  "I think for now we should go into the living room.  There are some things in there for Stephanie."

     "Presents?" Stephanie lit up.

     "Yes Dar . . . Stephanie," Mom said.  "Two from me, and one from Grandma."

     Stephanie grabbed Grandma's hand and walked with her into the living room.   Sitting on the coffee table were three presents, three different sizes.  The big and medium sized boxes were wrapped in pink Disney Princess wrapping paper and the small one was wrapped in Hello Kitty wrapping paper. Stephanie immediately went to the big present.

     "Can I open them," Stephanie pleaded?

     "If you are a little girl named Stephanie, then you can open them," Grandma said with a smile as she sat down on the couch.

     Stephanie opened the first present to reveal a porcelain doll dressed in a ballerina outfit.

     "She's so pretty," Stephanie took the doll out of the box and danced around the room with it.  Well sort of danced, as the pain in her side impeded some of her movements.

     "Do you like it," Mom asked?

     "Oh yes Mommy, yes!" Stephanie put the doll down on the table and made it do a spin.

     "China dolls are very special Stephanie," Mom explained.  "They are fragile and break easily, so you have to be very gentle with them."

     "Your mom should know Stephanie," Aunt Jennifer interjected.  "She broke my China Doll when we were kids."

     Mary blushed, "Yeah well, I am sure Stephanie will be much more careful with her doll."

     "Oh, Yes," Stephanie said still looking over her doll.

     Mom got a doll stander out of the box and helped Stephanie put the Porcelain doll into it. Afterwards, Stephanie's attention shifted to the medium sized box.  Inside was a pink leotard and tutu.

     "I will call on Monday to see about you getting ballet lessons," Mom said looking at Grandma instead of Stephanie.

     Grandma nodded but didn't say a word.  Stephanie was holding the outfit up and feeling the fabric.

     "Can I try it on?"

     "Sure Honey, go ahead," Grandma replied.

     Stephanie started for her bedroom to get changed. 

     "Someone is going to need to help her," Aunt Jennifer said standing up.

     "Sit down Jennifer," Grandma looked at Mary.  "A girl's first leotard and tutu should be helped on by her mother."

     Mary got up and followed Stephanie into the bedroom.  Shortly afterwards, Grandma got up and headed back too.

     Stephanie at first tried to get the dress off herself, but Mom started to help when she saw how much pain the attempt was causing.  It wasn't till the dress was off that Mom for the first time got to see the giant bruise.  The largest black and blue marks were on her left side, but there were several smaller spots throughout her mid-section.

     "Oh Pumpkin," Mom gasped as she examined Stephanie.

     "And you felt you were not needed here," Grandma commented while taking a step into the bedroom.  "Having a little temper tantrum and running off across the country to me.  Look at your daughter Mary.  She needed her Mommy after that.  It has been what, about thirty-three hours since Stephanie was attacked.  Thirty-three hours without her Mom to help her through all of this. I haven't even heard you apologize yet for being gone.  Your baby girl was brutally attacked.  She wasn't fighting the other kid, from all accounts, she didn't even fight back.  Your daughter Stephanie got beat up Mary. Your Daughter!  She may have been wearing boy clothes at the time, but it was your daughter that was brutally attacked by a boy.  Look at her Mary.  Look Stephanie in the eyes and tell her why she had to endure all of this without you here to love and care for her."

     "Oh Dar . . ."

     "And that stops now Mary!" Grandma reprimanded.

     "Stephanie," Mom restarted. "I am so sorry I wasn't here. I . . . I was being foolish.  I was thinking of myself and not you.  I should have been here when you needed me.  I shouldn't have turned my cell phone off after leaving Dr. Jones' office. I'm sorry Stephanie.  I shouldn't have left you and Daddy."

     "You have a bit more you need to apologize for Mary, but I think we better get Stephanie into her leotard, she's shivering," Grandma said picking up the leotard. 

     Mom got some pink tights from Stephanie's drawer and put them on Stephanie.  Half way into getting the leotard on, the two adults realized this probably was not a good idea.  The ways Stephanie needed to bend in order to get the garment on caused her significant pain.  It didn't stop Stephanie though.  She wanted to wear that leotard and tutu.  She had wanted to wear one many times before.  She was not going to pass up this opportunity.  Getting her arms into the long sleeves was hard, but worth it.  The tutu was last, at which point nothing could take the smile off of Stephanie's face. The trio returned to the living room where Stephanie did some dancing around.

     "There is one more gift for the little ballerina to open," Grandma expressed after watching her granddaughter dance around, wincing and grabbing her side repeatedly throughout the performance.

     Stephanie smiled at Grandma and went over to the couch and sat down next to Grandma, "This one's from you?"

     "Yes precious," Grandma said gently hugging Stephanie.

     Stephanie picked up the present and unwrapped it, being much gentler than she had been with the other two presents.  Inside was a plain looking wooden box.  Stephanie looked at Grandma with a quizzical look.

     Grandma just smiled, "Open it Stephanie."

     As the lid went up, music started to play.  Once it was completely open, a ballerina was revealed who danced around to the music.  In a tray below the Ballerina's feet, Stephanie found a diamond encrusted heart necklace. She gently picked it up and looked at it.

     "Here," Grandma said taking the necklace.  "Let me put it on you."

     Stephanie hugged Grandma and thanked her for the presents.  She then lay against Grandma and watched the ballerina dance around.  Whenever she stopped, Stephanie would wind her back up and watch again.  Each time, she would end up more and more lying down.

     "So where were you three this evening," Mary broke the silence.

     "Stephanie had a two hour appointment with Dr. Jones," James responded. 

     "Oh my," Grandma said rubbing Stephanie's back. "Is everything okay?"

     "After some comments Stephanie made this morning, it was felt she needed to see Dr. Jones today.  Stephanie's had some hard times over the last few days and it was a bit more than what she could handle by herself.  Dr. Jones helped, and will help some more at Tuesday's regular therapy session," James explained.

      By the non-verbal communication, it was clear further questions should wait till after a certain little one had gone to bed.  As Stephanie continued to watch the ballerina, Aunt Jennifer talked about how a day of watching movies, turned into a play date with friends.  Stephanie contemplated objecting to the phrasing of ‘friends' but just watched the ballerina.

     After hearing about the afternoon's adventure to introduce Melissa and Gwen to Stephanie, Mary told about some messages on the answering machine.  She went over and pressed the play button so all could hear it.

     "Stephanie," Melissa was heard on the recording. "Mommy doesn't want me playing with you anymore.  She says I shouldn't be around people like you.  I tried to tell her you a hero and a good girl.  She agreed to meet you after church tomorrow.  Call me, 555-4142.  Please Stephanie, I still want to be your friend.  We have to show Mommy you are a good girl."

     "Can she come . . ." Stephanie started but stopped when a second message started.

     "Stephanie," Joanne's voice was heard. "Melissa and her Mom just left here.  We tried to convince Melissa's Mom that you are a good kid, but she wasn't listening.  Daddy even covered my ears a few times when she was talking about you.  Mommy and Daddy tried to tell them you are not a threat, but it was Melissa, you wouldn't believe it, Melissa stood up to her Mommy like you stood up to Frank.  She has never stood up to anyone ever before.  She was amazing Stephanie.  We all convinced her Mom to meet you.  This is Melissa's Mom Stephanie.  Same bit as what we had planned for Gwen and Melissa, but go little girl.  I think you should wear that dress of mine you wanted to try on.  Mommy is going to bring it over and leave it on your back . . ." - - - Beep

     Stephanie got up and went to the back door.  On the back porch was a bag.  She got it and brought it into the living room.  Opening it up she found a dress, hair ribbons and bows. 

     "That is a cute dress," Grandma beamed.

     "This must be the one Joanne's Grandma gave her on her last birthday," Stephanie said with a big smile and slight chuckle. "Daddy we have to call Melissa and set up the play date."

     "I don't know Stephanie," Dad expressed. "Are you sure you are up to someone so adamant not to accept Stephanie?"

     "It doesn't matter about me Daddy," Stephanie said turning away from the contents laid out on the coffee table.  "Melissa needs me. She's not strong like I am.  Dr. Jones said Melissa and the other kids in her Special Education class view me as a hero because I did what they have all always wanted to do.  What they could never do.  I stood up to the bullies, announcing to the world that all the nobodies are actually people.  I'm not a hero like they think I am, but maybe I can help them see they are not helpless.  Melissa can't have her first time standing up to someone be a failure. If it is, she will never do it again."

     "Smart little girl you have there James," Aunt Jennifer said.

     "And a very brave one too," Grandma added.

     "Please Daddy," Stephanie smiled and batted her eyelids.

     James sighed, "If I say no, you are still going to find a way to do it anyways, aren't you?"

    Stephanie nodded her head, continuing to smile.

     "Okay," James said looking over at his wife. "I'll call."

     "Are you sure about this James," Mary expressed her concern.  "Stephanie is in poor shape at the moment.  Is she really up to this?"

     "She is in worse shape than you know," James said looking at Aunt Jennifer.  "But Stephanie deserves friends, and she deserves adults who are willing to take as many risks as she is to get them."

     James went over to the phone and called Melissa's house.  He set up a play date for two o'clock Sunday afternoon.  Based upon his conversation with Melissa's Mom, he did not view this as a good idea, but knew he could only protect Stephanie from people like her for so long.  Stephanie was partially prepared for this encounter, and it would be done in her own home with support.  That is a better scenario than the first one being without support of loved ones around her.

     "So Stephanie," Grandma inquired.  "What did your friend mean when she said ‘go little girl'?"

     "Joanne wants me to look like a six year old when I meet Melissa's Mommy," Stephanie smiled at the concept.  She picked up the dress and held it out to look at it.  "And this should do the job with the right hair style."

     "Why does she want you to look like a little six year old," Mom asked?

     "Melissa still likes and plays with little girl toys.  Her Mommy dresses her up in little girl outfits.  Melissa likes it, but Joanne and Gwen view it as babyish.  Joanne things I have the little girl elements of Melissa and the strength of Gwen.  I just have to be me and dress for the part.  Cute six year old little girls are not dangerous.  They in saint."

     "Innocent?" Grandma questioned.

     "Yeah that," Stephanie smiled sitting back down on the couch and grabbing her Molly doll. With a yawn she continued, "I have to do it for Melissa, and maybe, my first Stephanie pictures will be of me as a little girl."

     "First Stephanie pictures," Grandma again glared at Mary.  "Are you going to tell me that she has dressed up as a princess for the last five years on Halloween, and you have never taken her picture?"

     "Well," Mary stumbled on her words.  "You see . . . We just . . ."

     "No! I don't want to hear your lame excuses," Grandma said with frustration while cuddling Stephanie.  "It is time for things to change around here.  For now, there is a little girl who needs to get her sleep.  Tomorrow we will start to address some of these issues."

 

~o~O~o~

 

     "Joanne, I said to leave Stephanie alone and let her sleep.  I just put in another My Little Pony DVD for you to watch," Stephanie heard.

     Stephanie was in a daze. She tried to process what she was hearing but it didn't make any sense.  It sounded like Mrs. Sterns, but didn't she fall sleep at home?  Stephanie, assuming she was dreaming, snuggled into her pillow and her Melanie dolly. 

     "Come on, she needs her rest.  She will wake up soon enough."

     "But we have to get her ready."

     "That can wait till she wakes up."

     Stephanie squeezed Melanie, "I have to get ready."  She then rolled over, still with eyes closed and in a sleep haze.

     "She's awake, She's awake," Stephanie heard the pitter patter of feet running away from her.

     Shortly afterwards, Stephanie was awoken by someone rubbing her back, "Morning . . . Stephanie.  Are you feeling better this morning?"

     Stephanie kept her eyes closed, "Mornin' Mommy.  I was dreaming about Joanne being here waiting for me to wake up."

     Stephanie heard a young girl's giggle.

     "What?" Stephanie opened her eyes and looked straight into Joanne's face.

     "About time you woke up," Joanne said giggling.  "We have a lot of work to do before Melissa gets here."

     "What? . . . Melissa? . . . Get ready?" Stephanie shook her head.  "What time is it?"

     "Almost nine-thirty," Mommy said still rubbing Stephanie's back.  "When your body is busy repairing itself, it makes you sleep a lot Pumpkin."

     Stephanie sat up and looked around the room. 

     "Come on Stephanie," Joanne smiled. "We have to get you ready."

     "Slow down Joanne," Mrs. Meyers intervened.  "There are several hours before Melissa gets here. Let's start with some Breakfast and then get Stephanie in for a shower before we put her in the time machine to make her younger."

     "How much younger can we make her Mrs. Meyers? Do you think if we put a diaper on her with rhumba pants that she will look like a baby?  I bet one of Stephanie's old princess dresses are small enough that she would show off her cute diapered bottom," Joanne schemed.

     "Umm . . . Diapers?  I don't think so," Stephanie eyed Joanne. "I'll settle for the time machine taking me back to six years old."

     Mrs. Meyers giggled.

     "Oh well.  You gat diapers for your doll?  We can turn you into a six year old and your Dolly into a baby," Joanne inquired.

     "No, I only have a baby bottle for my dolls," Stephanie brought Melanie up and animated her.  "Me no baby.  Me big giwl.  Me fwee.  Me no need diapees.  Me only sometimes go pee in panties."

     Joanne smiled, "Okay Melanie.  Then just training pants for you as long as you can keep them dry.  But Stephanie, she needs to turn into a six year old."

     Stephanie had Melanie clap her hands, "Mommy becoming little girl.  Mommy never been little girl before."

     "Yes Melanie," Mrs. Meyers played along.  "Your Mommy is going to be a little girl today.  Every dolly needs their Mommy to be a little girl at least once.  I bet little girl Mommy will like playing with you today.  Let's go get some food into Mommy."

     Joanne and Stephanie giggled as they headed down the hall to the kitchen.

     After a bowl of cereal and a quick shower, Stephanie stood in her room dressed in Joanne's birthday gift dress and her wig. 

     "Okay Mommy," Joanne turned to her Mom.  "Little kid pigtails and little girl pink nail polish?"

     "We can try it," Mrs. Sterns commented looking Stephanie over.

     Stephanie uneasily looked over at her Mommy, Grandma, and Aunt Jennifer who were sitting on the bed with Mrs. Sterns. 

     "We will have to be careful with the wig," Grandma said.  "Putting it in little kid high pigtails, everyone will be able to tell it is a wig if we are not very careful."

     "Tights or socks," Mommy pondered out loud?  "I think we will need to try both to see which one works best."

     "I'm not a baby doll," Stephanie worried.

     "Oh don't worry Stephanie," Aunt Jennifer reassured. "We are just trying to get it just right.  I am sure we can do this in much less time than it took your Mom to pick out her wedding outfit.  We spent six hours at the bridal shop getting just the right look for her."

      "Maybe this was a bad idea," Stephanie said backing away from the bed right into Joanne.

     "It will be fun," Joanne said.  "I'll even let them do the same thing to me."

     "Really?" Mrs. Sterns raised her eyebrow.

     "Just as long as I don't have to go anywhere," Joanne said looking a little worried.

     "Would I make you go anywhere looking like a six year old," Mrs. Sterns smiled innocently.

     "Yes," Joanne smiled. "You definitely would."

     Mrs. Sterns looked at the other adults on the bed with her, "Well, she just looks so cute I enjoy showing her off."

     The adults all laughed, and then went to work.  After a few attempts they had Stephanie dressed.

     "Can I see it now," Stephanie pleaded.

     "One more thing," Joanne ran over to the bed and grabbed Stephanie's Melanie doll. "You need to be holding this."

     Stephanie was led to the full length mirror in Mommy's room.  Looking back was a cute little girl, definitely not a nine year old young lady.  Stephanie had to admit she did look more like a six year old.  She liked it, but was this really the best way to go with Melissa's Mom?  Joanne in the high pigtails looked cute, but not as young as Stephanie did.  The dress and doll really did make a big difference. 

     Before Stephanie could even turn away from the mirror, cameras started taking pictures.  Over the next hour there were two outfit changes and so many pictures that the memory cards had to be downloaded to the computer twice. Both Stephanie and Joanne were relieved that they didn't travel any farther outside of the house than the back yard. Eventually the grown-ups were done having their fun, and Stephanie was redressed into the original outfit.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     Joanne and both of her parents left half an hour before Melissa was scheduled to arrive.  They offered to come back once Melissa and her Mom had left, but everyone felt it would be best if they were not there during the encounter.  They had already tried to convince Melissa's Mom, and with Aunt Jennifer and Grandma there were already enough adults to express different views.  Stephanie wanted Joanne to stay and help her, but Mrs. Sterns did not want her exposed to the inappropriate language again.

     Joanne gave Stephanie a lot of pointers.  Stephanie was confused by some of them though. She kept pointing out that Melissa is in the Special Education class and isn't like the other kids in their grade.  As Stephanie sat on the living room floor playing with her Disney Princess figurines, she kept thinking about this.  What did Joanne mean by that?   Why was that important?  Joanne seemed to think it was important to Melissa's Mom.  Melissa wasn't really any different, was she?

     When the doorbell rang, Stephanie grabbed her Melanie doll and held her tight.  She stayed sitting on the floor as directed, surrounded by Princess toys. 

   "Welcome, I am glad you could make it," Dad said greeting Melissa and her Mom.

     "Yeah, Yeah," Melissa's Mom said. "I don't know why I agreed to this, but I did.  I am not going to go against my word.  I agreed to see this pervert of yours, so let's meet him. I want to spend as little time here as possible."

     "Let's go into the kitchen and talk," Dad gestured towards the kitchen and looked over at Stephanie.  "I would rather not have little ones hear certain language."

     Melissa's Mom looked at Stephanie sitting there holding her Melanie doll, "Very well, Melissa go play with Daryl's little sister while I talk with his parents, but stay here in the living room with her."

     Melissa went over and sat down next to Stephanie looking a little confused.

     "Please understand, I have nothing against you," Melissa's Mom started as they headed for the kitchen. "But I have to protect my baby from perverts like your son. She is a little slow and doesn't see the danger in things.  With Daryl having a little sister, you must understand my concern."

     As the grown-ups turned the corner into the kitchen, Melissa turned to Stephanie and whispered, "Daryl's little sister?"

     "Hi Melissa," Stephanie said with a smile.  "Don't know why your mom is calling me Daryl's little sister, but it gives us a chance to play while the grown-ups talk. I don't think she would let us play if she knew who I was."

     "She is really mad.  She keeps calling you a pervert.  What's a pervert Stephanie?" Melissa picked up Snow White and walked her over to Bell.

     Stephanie shrugged her shoulders, "I don't know."

     Melissa turned Snow White to Bell, "Oh Bell, please wear your yellow dress to the tea party this afternoon.  You always look so pretty in that dress."

     Stephanie picked up Bell, "What a great idea Snow White.  I will rush home now and change."

     Stephanie clicked Bell's peasant outfit off and put on the yellow dress.  She then walked Bell over to Ariel, "Ariel, Snow White is having a tea party, time to change from a mermaid to a Princess dress."

     "Stephanie," Melissa asked while changing Ariel from a mermaid to a human.  "I don't want to lose you as a friend."

     "I hope we can still be friends too Melissa, but if we can't, I want you to know," Stephanie paused looking at Melissa playing with the toys.  "You were there when I needed a friend.  Thank You. You are a good friend. You can stand up to the bullies all by yourself.  You don't need me."

     "Wow," Melissa said grabbing a doll next to Stephanie.  "You have a Merida doll.  She even has a bow and arrow.  I asked Santa for one."

     To Stephanie, Melissa did not appear to hear or understand what she just said.  This made Stephanie think about Joanne's words, ‘She's not like the other girls in our class.' 

     Stephanie and Melissa continued to play with occasional loud noises heard from the kitchen.  The girls set up a tea party, got all the princesses in their prettiest dresses, and the Princes in their royal garb. 

     "Oh Charming," Melissa said while having Prince Charming and Mulan dance together.  "You are such a good dancer."

     "I still don't think it is appropriate for Melissa to play with him," Melissa's Mom said as the adults came into the living room and sat down.

     Melissa just kept playing like nothing had changed.  Stephanie also kept playing with Joanne's voice in her head, ‘If you get the chance let Melissa's Mom see you just being the little girl you are.'  Stephanie tried to focus on the adult's conversation while still playing with Melissa. She didn't trust the adults, especially since at least two of them wanted Stephanie to disappear forever.

     "Melissa needs girls like your daughter here," Melissa's Mom gestured towards Stephanie, "to teach her the things she struggles with.  Your son just isn't the kind of kid who would understand how to play with my little girl.  His deviant ways are a threat to Melissa's innocence.  I can't let that happen."

     Stephanie poured fake tea into the tea party participant's cups. Melissa went around pretending to offer cookies to each attendant.  As Stephanie reached around offering one lump or two, her side hurt enough that only Snow White and Rapunzel got sugar in their tea.  Picking up Melanie and hugging her, she decided to just watch Melissa finish the preparation. 

     "Is something wrong Melissa," Stephanie inquired as Melissa bounced from foot to foot in one spot.

     "Oh Melissa," her mom said upon hearing Stephanie's statement.  "You need to tell me when you have to go.  Mrs. Sterns, where is your bathroom?"

     "It is just down the hall, first door on the right."

     Melissa's Mom quickly got up and physically directed Melissa down towards the bathroom.

     "She still has accidents if someone doesn't keep on top of her to go on a regular basis," Melissa's Mom stated as she watched Melissa run down the hall and into the bathroom.  "If she can't even figure out when she has to go to the bathroom, how can she know who is safe and who isn't?"

     Stephanie stood up and faced Melissa's Mom, "She has a good heart and she picks her friends carefully.  Her real threats are the same as mine, the bullies in the school who will not accept anyone who is different.  I am a nobody.  I will always be a nobody.  Melissa thinks she is a nobody, but she isn't.  She has friends, real friends.  Gwen and Joanne are both girls who the other kids in the class listen to.  They are also both friends with Melissa.  Most of the other kids in her Special Education class do not have any friends outside of that room, but Melissa does.  I have no friends, none. I never tried to be Melissa's friend, she chose me.  She doesn't go around making friends with everyone.  I feel honored that my first friend, ever, is Melissa. She calls me a hero.  I am no hero, but your daughter might be.  That day Elwood got suspended for being a bully to me, Melissa was the only one who cared about the boy on the swing who was crying.  I told her to go away, she wouldn't. I saw no reason to go on, to keep trying, but then, then Melissa came over.  You say she doesn't understand.  She just might see things better than the rest of us.  My name is Stephanie Marie Meyers.  At school I put on a boy costume.  Melissa thinks it is because someone put the wrong name on my school paperwork.  I wish that was true, but it isn't.  The school knows me as Daryl Eric Meyers.  He is now dead. The fight on Friday taught me that I can't even pretend to be him anymore. I don't know if he was ever really here. Go to my room, you will not find anything boy in there other than a drawer with clothes my parents force me to wear to school.  Call me a boy, call me a girl, it doesn't matter, I am a nobody.  All I ask is that you look at me.  Look at who I am. You decided who I was before you even met me.  Is that fair?"

     Melissa's Mom looked at Stephanie in shock.

     "Is it?" Stephanie firmly asked.  "Do you want people deciding if Melissa is a good kid before they even meet her?  They do it!  Is that fair to her?  Is it?"

     "Well," Melissa's Mom struggled with her answer. "No it's not fair."

     "Then why do I have to stop being her friend Mommy," Melissa said coming out of the bathroom.

     "You . . . I . . . He . . ." Melissa's Mom looked back and forth between Stephanie and Melissa.

     "I cannot protect Melissa from the bullies. They will attack her just because she is different.  They do not get to know you before they decide if you are good or not. If a bully comes after me, I will make sure she is safe.  If a bully comes after her, I will do what I can to get them to go away.  Melissa was there when I needed a friend.  I will be there when she needs one."

     "You are Daryl?" Melissa's Mom tried to process everything that was said.

     Melissa came up next to Stephanie.

     "Wait a minute Melissa, I didn't hear a flush or you washing your hands.  Did you wipe?" Melissa's Mom directed her daughter back to the bathroom.

     Mr. and Mrs. Meyers got up and stood behind Stephanie, with their hands on her shoulders.

     "She doesn't like to be called Daryl," Mr. Sterns added. "She is a girl.  She has never been interested in boy things.  This is not a game for her.  It is not a passing fad, and she has no control over her brain and heart telling her she is a girl.  Her doctor has confirmed all of that.  You are trying to protect your girl, and we are trying to protect ours.  The reality is, unless we are with them one-hundred percent of the time, we can't.  We learned that the hard way. Stephanie has multiple bruises on her abdomen and chest.  The kid who did this to her didn't even know about her girl side, it happened just because of an attempt to play soccer. For years, the other kids called my child a Noper, a non-person, and they treated her that way.  When she tried to stop being a Noper, the bullies tried to teach her a lesson.  Bullies don't care if a peer has a disability, is transgender, or just a little bit different.  As parents all we can do is teach our children to know good from bad.  Teach them that they can come to us for anything.  We failed our daughter in that regard, but we are working on changing that." 

     "Mommy," Melissa said going up and giving Stephanie a hug. "Stephanie is my friend.  She is my hero. She will not hurt me. You tell me to only make friends with kids who are nice and don't get in trouble.  Daryl's name is never on the board.  Daryl is nice to everyone.  Stephanie is fun to play with."

     "But . . .," Melissa's Mom tried to get out.

     "Mommy, you always tell me when I don't know what to do, I should find a kid who is doing their work and being good and copy them.  I copy Daryl.  He is always doing what the teacher tells us to do.  Why do I copy Daryl for good behavior and school work, but now that he is Stephanie I can't do that anymore?  She same person Mommy, just have new name."

     Grandma stood up next to Mary, putting her arm around her, "My daughter has had a hard time accepting Stephanie, and she has been dealing with this for nine years.  We do not expect you to decide overnight to accept Stephanie, but we ask that you at least give her a chance.  Get to know her first before you stone her to death."

     "John 8:7 - When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.'" Melissa's Mom recited as she looked directly at Stephanie. "James 4:12 - There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you--who are you to judge your neighbor?  Romans 12:16-18 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."

     "She does that a lot," Melissa quietly said to Stephanie. "Never makes any sense to me, but it means she is about to make a decision."

     Melissa's Mom chuckled, "Your right Melissa, it means I have made a decision.  I will not throw the first stone. . ."

     Melissa immediately stood in front of Stephanie with her hands spread out, "Don't throw rocks at Stephanie Mommy."

     "Melissa, I am not going to throw a rock at Stephanie.  It is something they did long ago, people don't do that now a days."

     Melissa brought her hands down but stayed in a protective position in front of Stephanie.

     "I do not approve of this," Melissa's Mom stated. "The bible clearly states this is wrong, but . . . it also states that I am not the one to judge, the Lord is.  I need to protect my baby.  She just doesn't understand the dangers out there."

     Melissa's Mom went up and wrapped Melissa in a big hug, "If I let them play, I never want them to be alone together.  Always out in the open.  At School I guess it is okay.  Maybe even at Joanne's house if they are in the living room and Joanne is always with them, I don't know, maybe.  Never just the two of them.  I. . . I don't like this.  But . . . If I am to follow the Lord's lessons and do what is right in the eyes of everyone, here, where . . . where girls can marry other girls.  What does that mean with a boy being a girl?  I will pray to God for guidance."

     After all of that Melissa's Mom said it was time for them to go, and they quickly left.  There was some uncomfortableness when Melissa gave Stephanie a hug goodbye, but Melissa's Mom did not totally flip out over the incident. 

 

Chapter 9 by Teekabell
Author's Notes:

Chapter 9: Clothes

Summary: Clothes are now at the center of the controversy. Do the clothes really make the person? Is a person judged differently just by the clothes they wear?

Costumes
Chapter 9 of 10
Clothes

~o~O~o~

    "Now will someone please explain something to me," Grandma said once we all settled down on the couch after Melissa left.  "Why in the world are there boy clothes in my Granddaughter's bedroom?"

     "Well she has to wear boy clothes and be Daryl at school," Mom explained.  "It's not like we can send her to school as Stephanie."

     "Ummm, well . . .," Dad tried to get out.

     "Fine," Grandma interrupted Dad. "She has to be Daryl when she goes to school.  Not sure I agree with that but for the moment let's stick with that.  Why does she have to be wearing boy clothes?"

     "If she goes to school in a dress Mom," Aunt Jennifer commented. "She would look awfully silly with everyone calling her Daryl."

     "Jennifer," Grandma smiled.  "You were old enough to remember.  What did I do when Mary went through her Tom Boy stage?  Did I go out and buy boy clothes for her to wear?"

     Aunt Jennifer thought for a while, "No, you just took the dresses out of her closet.  You stuck them all in my closet if I remember correctly."

     "Well, I had to put them somewhere," Grandma explained with a smile. "But you are right.  I just took away the dresses.  Mary, that was enough for you to be a Tom Boy.  Why can't we just do that with Stephanie?"

     "You're brilliant Mom," Aunt Jennifer praised.

     A tear started down Stephanie's face, "But I don't want you to take away my dresses."

     "I don't think that is what she meant . . . Stephanie," Mom said giving Stephanie a hug.  "I think she is just saying we should find outfits you can wear to school that are girl clothes, but looks like they could be boy clothes."

     "Glad to see not all your common sense has left you Mary," Grandma said.  "Let's go get those boy clothes out of Stephanie's room and see what we can find for her to wear to school."

     "Umm," Dad spoke up.  "Stephanie, go back with Aunt Jennifer to start the process.  I want to talk to Mommy and Grandma."

     Stephanie kept looking back as Aunt Jennifer led her out of the living room, "What are they talking about?"

     "I don't know Stephanie," Aunt Jennifer said continuing to lead Stephanie down the hall.  "Remember I wasn't allowed to be in there either.  Let's go get rid of those yucky boy clothes and make space for some more girl clothes.  Considering most of the girl clothes you have are dresses, I think there might be a shopping trip in order."

     The clothes were quickly out of the two bottom drawers of the dresser and put in the guest room with all the other Daryl things.  The ladies then went to work on trying out different outfits to see if Stephanie could pass as a boy while wearing them.  Stephanie's preference for pink and purple clothing made the options limited.  They came up with one pair of pants and three tops that would work.

     "Why don't we look through some of the Daryl clothes to see if any could be worn by a girl?  Girls often wear boy clothes," Mom said looking at the small selection on the bed.

     "Mary," Grandma firmly stated. "Little girls do not usually go around wearing boy clothes, and this isn't about finding what would work.  This is about your daughter's mental health.  She will know that they were Daryl's clothes."

     "Why can't I just wear a dress to school?" Stephanie pleaded.

     "That's a real good question Stephanie," Grandma looked at the other two ladies in the room?

     "She's a boy Mom," Mary stated.  "She can pretend to be a girl all she wants, but in the eyes of the government she is a boy.  That means she has to go to school as a boy."

     "Mary!" Grandma reprimanded. "Stephanie is not pretending to be a girl.  She is a girl.  You were the one that told me the results of Dr. Jones' evaluation."

     "But Mom!" Mary tried to protest.

     "Don't you ‘But Mom' me.  Your position on this is very clear.  Now it is time for you to stop having a position and start being a parent who supports their child discovering who they really are," Grandma lit into Mary before going over to the door.  "James, could you come in here please."

     Daddy walked into the room, "Something I can do to help?"

     "Stephanie just asked a really good question," Grandma started.  "She wanted to know why she can't just go to school wearing a dress.  I think it is time all the facts be laid out on the table.  She is the one who is living with the decisions. Don't you think she deserves to know why?"

     Dad came all the way into the room and sat down on Stephanie's desk chair, "Come here Stephanie."

     Stephanie came over to Dad and was lifted up onto his lap.

     "When you first started being Stephanie for Halloween, Mommy and I thought you were going to grow out of wanting to be a girl.  That didn't happen though.  When you finally told us you were Stephanie and not Daryl, we were confused and not prepared for that.  I am sorry, we saw all the signs of Stephanie hiding behind the Daryl costume, but we never wanted to see her there.  So, we ignored her.   As parents we shouldn't have done that.  Switching from a boy to a girl is something that very rarely happens, so we don't have a lot of guidance for how to do it with you.  At first Dr. Jones felt we should keep you as Daryl at school, till she got a better handle on who Stephanie was and what type of girl you were."

     "I'm a good girl Daddy," Stephanie said.

     "I know sweetheart. Dr. Jones wanted to know if you were a frilly dress girl who was here all the time, or one who just needed to visit us every now and then.  She felt having you go to school as Stephanie would cause you more problems than you were ready to handle, and you wouldn't be able to switch back to Daryl if you wanted to."

     "I don't want to be Daryl though.  Daryl is Dead!"

     Dad gave Stephanie a big hug and a kiss on the cheek, "It's okay with Daryl being dead, but we don't want Stephanie to die too.  You are going through a lot of things emotionally at the moment sweetheart, and . . . and . . . well, things have changed.  After yesterday's emergency meeting with Dr. Jones she gave us permission for you to go to school as Stephanie."

     A huge smile grew on Stephanie's face.

     "But she is concerned about you making that switch in the middle of the school year.  She feels it would be best if we waited till the summer, that way you would be starting a new grade from the beginning as Stephanie.  Maybe even going to a different school where the kids didn't know Daryl."

     "So I have to stay in my Daryl costume at school all year?"

     Daddy hugged Stephanie again and looked around the room at the other adults, "The Principal said you could come as Stephanie if there was a doctor's note saying that was okay.  I got that letter from Dr. Jones yesterday.  I think I know Grandma and Aunt Jennifer's position on the issue.  I . . . I just want to do what will hurt you the least.  I don't know what that is though.  As for Mommy . . ."

     Everyone turned and looked at Mary.

     "I love you Stephanie, but if you do this there is no turning back," Mom said.  "Everyone will know you as Stephanie, and you will never again be able to hide in your Daryl costume.  The other kids will tease you and maybe even beat you up."

     "They already do that Mommy.  See!"  Stephanie lifted up her dress to show the huge black and blue marks.

     "Yes we know Pumpkin," Dad said lowering the dress.  "Like I said, the situation has changed."

     Dad looked straight at Mommy.

     "It just makes more sense to wait till next school year to make the switch," Mom stated.

     "Logic and sensibility states that," Grandma said. "But we are not dealing with logic and sensibility. We are dealing with your child's emotional well-being.  Daryl is this meek, quiet, passive little kid, but Stephanie is not.  Stephanie appears to have the strength and fortitude to stand up for her position.  It sounds like she might even have a few friends to help her too.  What is it going to do to your child if you force Stephanie to continue putting on that Daryl costume day after day?  She will need to suppress her personality, interests, and friends, for what?  Sensibility and Logic? Inside she is being torn apart emotionally as she tries to find her place in the world.  I do not want to see my granddaughter end up in a Psychiatric Hospital just because you two decided to do the Logical and Sensible thing.  What is right for Stephanie?"

     The room was silent.

     After a few minutes of silence Grandma came over and took Stephanie's hand, "Stephanie, you have stated your position, and I have stated mine.  It's time to let your Mom and Dad figure out their positions.  Let's go call your friend Joanne.  You said you would call her after Melissa left."

     Grandma and Stephanie left the room hand in hand, with Aunt Jennifer following behind.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     "She's not happy Joanne, but she said Melissa could play with me," Stephanie explained over the phone.

     "That is great Stephanie," Joanne reassured her.  "You will see, everything will be okay."

     "I hope so," Stephanie took a deep breath.

     "Stephanie, Daddy says he wants to take us all out for dinner tonight.  Ever since he suggested it, Mommy has been trying to get me to look younger than you.  Daddy says I have to get you to ask your parents.  Please tell me they say no."

     "Joanne!" Stephanie heard Mrs. Sterns reprimand through the phone.

     Stephanie lowered the phone and looked at Grandma, "Mr. Sterns wants to take us all out to dinner tonight."

     "That sounds like an absolutely wonderful idea Stephanie," Grandma beamed.  "Here, let me talk with Mr. Sterns."

     Stephanie looked at Grandma and then down the hallway towards her room where her parents were still talking, "Aren't we going to ask them?"

     "Not this time Stephanie," Grandma said coming close to the phone. "We'll just tell them when they come out."

     Stephanie hesitantly handed the phone over to Grandma.  After a few exchanges, the time and location was set.  Grandma said we would meet them at the restaurant, and the phone call was ended.

     "Grandma," Stephanie asked?  "What if Mommy and Daddy don't want to go out.  They always say we can't go out on a school night."

     "Stephanie sweetie," Aunt Jennifer reassured her.  "Grandmas are more powerful than Mommies and Daddies, especially this one."

     "Jennifer!" Grandma said with a slight chuckle.

     "Sorry Mom, but it is true."

 

~o~O~o~

 

     Stephanie walked into the restaurant holding Mommy's hand, scanning the entry way for Joanne.

     "Oh good," Joanne said coming up to them.  "I was afraid you would have changed and I would be left looking silly dressed like this."

     Stephanie looked over Joanne and saw her still in the pigtails and little kid pink nail polish.  She had a dress on which Stephanie had never seen her in before.

     "It is a very pretty dress Joanne," Stephanie said.

     "Yeah, you would like it.  I bet Melissa would too.  It makes me look like a little kid, and with these pigtails," Joanne flicked her high pigtails.

     "Well, it doesn't have puffy sleeves," Stephanie tried to point out a positive.

     "No it's worse," Joanne pointed out. "Ruffles!  A sleeveless dress with ruffles as shoulder straps, and look where the waist is on this thing.  Big kid dresses have waists down where they are supposed to be, but little kids dresses put them way up here.  And look at this, a little pink flower right here on my chest.  And down there at the bottom of the dress, there are embroidered pink flowers."

     "They match your fingernail polish," Stephanie said with a smile.

     "They do, don't they," Joanne smiled looking at her finger nails and the flowers.  Shaking her head, "but that's not the point."

     "I think it is a pretty dress Joanne," Stephanie kept admiring it.

     "Remind me to give it to you when we get back," Joanne looked at Stephanie like she was nuts.  "I thought I had outgrown this thing."

     "Oh Joanne it is not that bad," Mrs. Sterns said taking a picture as Joanne and Stephanie looked up at her.

     "Told you she likes to dress me up like a little kid and take pictures," Joanne gestured to her mom.

     "Smile for the camera you two," Mrs. Sterns coaxed.

     "Just smile and get it over with," Stephanie smiled with true joy.

     "Sterns," a Lady said coming into the waiting area. "Party of eight."

     "Here," Mr. Sterns said raising his hand and stepping forward.

     "Oh, we have two little princesses with us this evening," The Lady commented, looking down at Stephanie and Joanne.  "Will your youngest here be needing a booster seat?"

     Joanne started giggling as the lady looked down at Stephanie.

     "No," Mr. Meyers said coming up behind Stephanie.  "We'll try it without one tonight."

     Stephanie glared up at her Dad.  She hadn't sat in a booster seat for years.  Why was he acting like this would be the first time?

     As they were led to the table, Joanne leaned in and said, "Told you that you looked like a little six year old.  Maybe she thought you were even younger.  One good thing at least, I now know you look younger than me."

     Stephanie stuck her tongue out at Joanne and then started giggling.

     Once they had all been seated and the order had been placed, the conversation turned back to discussing Stephanie, without including her as part of the conversation.  Stephanie and Joanne sat next to each other with crayons and activity pages in front of them, just listening to the adults talk.

     "It is risky," Mrs. Sterns stated.  "But maybe it is for the best.  She is being bullied and teased anyways, maybe this will give her the emotional strength to handle it better."

     "She does appear to gain strength when she states she is Stephanie and voices her position on something," Mr. Sterns added.

     "She does, doesn't she," Aunt Jennifer said smiling over at Stephanie who was finding her way through the maze on the activity page.

     "Will the school give you any resistance," Mr. Sterns inquired?

     "Not from what I could tell," Mr. Meyers explained.  "They just want it to be supported by a doctor.  If Dr. Jones says it is okay and appropriate they will support our decision."

     "Why do they want the doctor's approval," Mrs. Sterns asked?

     "They are just trying to cover their legal position Sarah," Grandma said.  "When others complain, they want to be able to state Stephanie has been declared a girl by a doctor, not just some kid suddenly showing up in a dress and wanting to use the girls restroom."

     "That is a good point," Mr. Sterns looked over at the two young girls.  "Where will she go to the bathroom?"

     "The Principal wasn't sure on that one," Mr. Meyers explained.  "He said he needed to look into that a little bit more.  He said she could use the bathroom in the nurse's office till the district lawyers gave him an answer."

     Joanne leaned into Stephanie and whispered in her ear, "Sounds like they are really going to let Stephanie come to school tomorrow."

     Stephanie kept her focus on the activity page, trying to find the hidden pictures.

     "All this Noper and school hero stuff may work to her advantage," Aunt Jennifer added. "She wasn't known before the incident, and now everyone is going to want to know this kid.  This will give them a chance to meet the real hero."

     The conversation paused as food arrived and plates were correctly matched with each recipient. When the waitress left and people were starting to dig in, Stephanie spoke, "No matter what you decide, Stephanie IS going to school tomorrow morning."

     Stephanie stabbed a chicken nugget with her fork and stuffed it into her mouth.

     "She has a good point," Grandma stated.  "We may be able to control what she wears, but she is in control of who she is.  She has repeatedly stated since Friday morning that Daryl is dead, which means regardless of what we do, Stephanie will be the one going to school on Monday."

     The adults were all silent as people ate and pondered the information.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     Half hour before school was to begin, Stephanie stood in front of her Elementary School with a death grip on Daddy.

     "We don't have to do this Stephanie," Dad explained. "We can go back home and change."

     "Change into what," Stephanie asked?  "I am Stephanie! I don't want to wear a costume to school every day."

     With a squeeze of his hand, Mr. Meyers led Stephanie into the building with Mrs. Meyers following.

     "Good Morning," the office secretary said looking at Stephanie and then the adults.  "May I help you?  Are you looking to register a new student?"

     "No," Mr. Meyers politely replied.  "We would like to meet with the Principal please."

     "One moment," the secretary picked up her phone and let the Principal know that some people wanted to meet with him.

     As the Principal came out of his office he looked over the three people standing there waiting for him.  He immediately got down in front of Stephanie and reached out his hand, "And you must be Stephanie.  Nice to meet you Stephanie. I hope you are feeling better."

     "Yes, Thank You sir.  It still hurts but I am ready to come back to school.  The doctor said no PE and no fun at recess. Can I come to school, Please?" Stephanie asked with a pleading expression in her face.

     The school secretary looked at the exchange, looking at the child and parents more closely.  The Principal led the Meyers into his office. Before closing his office door, the Principal asked the secretary to have Mrs. Farren come down to his office.

     "I am glad to see you are feeling better Stephanie," the Principal said directing everyone to sit down.  "I wasn't expecting you to come to school as Stephanie today, but I am not completely surprised after the events on Friday."

     "It has been a rough last couple of days," Daddy explained to the Principal.  "I have two letters here from her therapist which will explain.  You said we just need a doctor's approval for her to start coming as Stephanie."

     The Principal took the two letters and quickly looked them over, "This one will meet the legal elements the district requires.  I will copy it and send it off to the District Office.  This other letter however is a bit more concerning."

     Stephanie looked between the Principal and her parents.  She didn't know what was in that second letter, but worried it would mean she couldn't be Stephanie at school.

     "She has not made an attempt yet," Daddy stated.  "But she has made several comments which have concerned us all.  A negative reaction to her coming to school as Stephanie, could be a tipping point.  We want to keep everyone on guard."

     "We will make sure she is never alone and an adult always close by," the principal said as there was a knock on the door.

     Mrs. Farren came in and sat down with everyone else.

     "Mrs. Farren, this is Stephanie.  She will be joining your class starting today," the Principal stated.  "We want her to feel welcome and accepted as fast as possible."

     Mrs. Farren looked closely at Stephanie, "Welcome Stephanie.  I assume you will be just as good of a student in my class as Daryl was."

     Stephanie smiled.

     "Are there any special instructions?" Mrs. Farren asked looking at the Meyers and the Principal.

     The Principal handed the second letter over to Mrs. Farren to read.  She looked it over, glancing up at Stephanie several times during the read.  The expression on her face changed from a happy pleasant demeanor, to one of concern.

     "She is to always be with another person, and always close to an adult," the Principal explained. "Until that restriction is lifted by her doctor, I want her using the bathroom in the nurse's office."

     "Stephanie is still quite sore from the fight and we are not sure how much of the day she can handle," Mrs. Meyers added.  "Doctor said no PE and no running around at recess.  We will be leaving some medicine with the nurse if she is in too much pain.  The pain meds we gave her this morning should last three to five more hours.  She does fairly well as long as there isn't too much bending and stretching."

     "I assume Joanne has met Stephanie," Mrs. Farren said looking at Stephanie who nodded her head.  "Has anyone else?"

     "Three kids in your class know Stephanie and her connection with Daryl.  There is Joanne, Melissa, and Gwen," Mr. Meyers responded.  "At least two of them appear to be her friend and will support her.  We are not sure about Gwen.  Melissa's Mom has voiced concern about her playing with Stephanie, but has allowed her to play with Stephanie at school, as long as the two are never alone in a room together."

     "Stephanie will have some good friends in those three," Mrs. Farren remarked.  "I assume I am to change all her name tags over to Stephanie?"

     "Yes please," Mrs. Meyers spoke.  "May I ask Mrs. Farren, you don't seem surprised by any of this?"

     Mrs. Farren smiled at Stephanie, "Joanne asked a question on Friday which caused me to look at Daryl in a new light.  Over the weekend, I put a lot of thought into Daryl and realized he had a significant amount of feminine traits.  Stephanie has been a part of my class all year, just with the wrong name.  It is nice to finally see her come out of her shell and join us."

     Stephanie and Mrs. Farren made their way down to the classroom, leaving the parents talking with the Principal.

     "This is a big change Stephanie," Mrs. Farren stated as they walked into the classroom.  "Do you want me to change your desk so the kids don't see you as taking Daryl's spot?"

     Stephanie looked over at her desk with the pile of cards stacked on it, "No need Mrs. Farren.  They will all know soon enough that I used to be Daryl. I am not going to lie anymore, and I am not going to hide away.  I meant what I said on Friday.  I am not going to be a Noper anymore."

     Stephanie looked at a few of the cards on her desk, before putting the rest into her backpack to look at when she got home.  Mrs. Farren went to work changing all the places in the room that said Daryl, over to Stephanie, starting with the name tag on her desk.

     Stephanie was reading the next chapter in, No Flying In The House, when the other children started to enter the room.   Everyone noticed Stephanie immediately, and they were all asking each other questions about who the new kid was.  No one approached Stephanie.  She heard questions about why she was in Daryl's seat, and to Stephanie, it appeared the general consensus was that Daryl had died after Frank beat him up on Friday.

     "Stephanie!" Melissa screamed as soon as she saw Stephanie.  She ran up and gave her a big hug.  "Goodie, they fixed your name.  Told you, you just had to tell Mrs. Farren and she would fix it."

     The other children all looked at the two of them.  The chatter volume in the room increased dramatically with people asking each other if they knew who Stephanie was.

     "Stephanie, I didn't expect to see you in school today," Gwen said coming into the room.

     "Hi Stephanie," Joanne said coming in just behind Gwen.

     As Joanne and Gwen were getting their coats off, the other kids were asking them who Stephanie was and why was she in Daryl's seat.

     "Okay class," Mrs. Farren tried to rein in the students.  "Everyone quiet down and find your seats."

     The chatter lessened significantly as everyone headed for their seats.  Al, who sat across from Stephanie, sat down and looked at her.  He couldn't take his eyes off of her.

     "Daryl?" Al asked.

     Stephanie smiled at him, "Hi Al."

     "Okay class," Mrs. Farren got everyone's attention.  "As you might have noticed we have a new student.  Her name is Stephanie.  I expect everyone to be nice to her."

     "Why is she in Daryl's seat?" Zoe asked. "Did Daryl die?"

     Melissa giggled.

     "She is Daryl," Al said loud enough that the kids around him heard, but not loud enough for the whole class to hear.

     Stephanie didn't hear what Mrs. Farren said next, for she was suddenly focused on the five other kids at her cluster of desks.  They were all looking straight at her trying to figure out if what Al said was true.

     "That can't be," Candice commented first.  "Daryl has short hair.  Stephanie has two long braided pigtails."

     Stephanie smiled at Candice.

     "She looks a little like Daryl," Ellen pointed out.

     Stephanie stayed silent while the group debated the issue.  The group's discussion started to attract the attention of other kids.  Soon no one was paying attention to Mrs. Farren.

     "I guess you are right Stephanie," Mrs. Farren said loud enough so everyone could hear her.  "Class, eyes on me please."

     Everyone turned and looked at Mrs. Farren.

     "Daryl is not dead. He was hurt on Friday when Frank beat him up, and will take a while to fully recover. As some of you have noticed, Daryl is now Stephanie.  She has always been Stephanie."

     "Just wearing a Daryl costume," Stephanie interjected.

     "On Friday we talked about teasing and bullying behavior and how it will not be tolerated," Mrs. Farren continued. "It was really brave of Stephanie to take off her Daryl costume and show us who she really is.  If any of you have a problem with this, I will give you a pass to go talk with the Principal or the counselor at any time. Otherwise, I expect everyone in here to treat Stephanie with respect and kindness.  As she stated on Friday, you don't have to like her, but she does deserve respect and to be treated as a human being.  Now due to the injuries Frank caused, Stephanie cannot participate in PE and has to take it easy at Recess.  For at least this week, I am putting a few more rules in place.  She will be our line leader. When I ask people to line up or get ready to go, I want her to stay in her seat till everyone is in line.  We don't want her getting knocked down again. At lunch I want someone to carry her tray for her."

     "I will Mrs. Farren," Melissa quickly stated while putting up her hand.

     "I am sure we will have a lot of volunteers as the week goes on, but for today Melissa you can be Stephanie's helper," Mrs. Farren smiled and nodded at Melissa.

     Melissa smiled.

     "Class we have already had two students in this class suspended for being a bully to Stephanie," Mrs. Farren reminded them all.  "I expect everyone in this class to stand together with Stephanie against any more bullies."

     Mrs. Farren had everyone rise for the pledge.  She started the school day like nothing out of the ordinary had just happened.  Other than a lot of stares by the other kids, Stephanie settled into a normal morning.

     "STEPHANIE IS NOT A FREAK!" Melissa screamed.  "NOW YOU TAKE THAT BACK."

     The whole class looked over at Melissa and her group of desks.

     "Is something wrong over here," Mrs. Farren asked as she approached the group?

     "Lucas called Stephanie a freak Mrs. Farren," Melissa explained.

     "Lucas?" Mrs. Farren looked at Lucas for an explanation.

     "Well he is," he finally blurted out after a period of silence.  "Just look at him.  He is wearing a frilly dress and tights.  He has pigtails and ribbons in his hair. Any boy who would do that is definitely a freak."

     "I see," Mrs. Farren looked over at Stephanie and then around the room at the other children.  "Do any of you other children agree with Lucas here?"

     Stephanie looked around the room and saw several nods of the head, but none verbally said anything.

     "Well I guess you're right then," Mrs. Farren said to the shock of a few students and most especially Stephanie.  "But by that logic, all the girls in this room except for Brooke and Stephanie are also freaks."

     Everyone in the room started looking at all the girls in the room.

     "Only Brooke and Stephanie are wearing dresses today, which mean the rest of the girls are wearing boy clothes. There are still places in the world where that would be considered a crime," Mrs. Farren explained.  "We are not judged in this country by what we wear.  In this country there is freedom of choice and expression.  If you dislike someone so much because of what they are wearing that you attack them in some way, your actions could be considered a Hate Crime and might land you in jail.  We discussed this on Friday everybody.  A boy wearing a dress may be different, but how does that hurt you.  Stephanie was a boy, yes.  She was pretending to act and behave like all the other boys.  Lucas, did she do a good job pretending to be a boy named Daryl."

     "What?" Lucas appeared totally confused by the question.

     "Did Daryl look and act like the other boys?" Mrs. Farren elaborated.

     "Well, not really," Lucas admitted.  "He couldn't hit or catch a ball.  He would look at the flowers when they came up or chase butterflies."

     A few of the kids giggled.

     "So you don't view those things as very boy like behaviors," Mrs. Farren questioned?

     "No," Lucas said looking over at Stephanie.

     "If a girl did those things would you think them strange," Mrs. Farren asked?

     "Yeah, but everything girls do is strange," Lucas stated.

     Most of the boys in the room laughed.

     "Well, Daryl is no more.  We now have Stephanie here," Mrs. Farren explained.  "She is the same person, just now with a new look and new name.  Like before, she is not into all the boy things, because she is a girl.  That doesn't make her a freak. It just makes her a girl.  She has a doctor that agrees she is a girl and we made a mistake before by calling her a boy.  I would like everyone in this room to think for a moment.  Imagine what it would be like if you grew up with everyone making you act and behave like the opposite gender when you knew you were not.  Boys, nothing was different except everyone called you a girl name, made you wear pretty dresses, and insisted that you play with dolls.  Girls, imagine you still like and want to do all the same things, but you are made to wear only jeans and play the ball games every recess."

     Stephanie looked around the room.  Many of the kids had their eyes closed and a few looked like they were cringing with the thoughts they had.

     "Think about that before you start to tease or bully someone," Mrs. Farren said.  "For nine year Stephanie has had to endure everyone thinking she was something she wasn't.  She finally stood up and said no more.  I am going to support her in that decision.  The Principal is going to support her in that decision, and I expect all of you to support her too.  Now, can we please get back to work?"

     Melissa left shortly afterwards for her Special Education class, and the rest of the class focused on their work.  Things continued without comment or incident till morning recess.

     "What's wrong Daryl . . . I mean Stephanie," Candice asked as she saw an expression of pain on Stephanie's face as she stood up to go outside.

     "Oh it's nothing Candice," Stephanie tried to brush her off.  "It just hurts where Frank kicked me."

     "Mrs. Farren," Candice called out.  "Stephanie is hurt."

     This immediately quieted down the class and got Mrs. Farren over to Stephanie, "What's wrong Stephanie?"

     "It just hurts when I move Mrs. Farren.  It's getting better, it doesn't hurt as much as it did yesterday," Stephanie explained.

     Mrs. Farren looked at Stephanie and then up at the clock, "Do you want to stay in for Recess?  I am sure one or two of the girls would be happy to stay in with you."

     "I'll be okay," Stephanie reassured Mrs. Farren, but the pain was clearly seen by all when she was putting on her coat.

     Stephanie was crowded by kids as she made her way to the swings to sit down.  Lots of questions were asked, but few were actually answered.  Gwen pointed out to everyone that Stephanie had beaten Erin's jump roping record, which impressed all the girls.  Joanne told everyone how Stephanie worked hard to repair Gwen's and her friendship when they wouldn't talk to each other anymore, which again impressed all the girls.  Eventually, all the boys and most of the girls left, leaving just a few curious individuals.

     "So where is this ‘School Hero' everyone keeps talking about," an older boy said approaching the swings.

     "She's right here," Melissa announced.

     "She?" the boy stopped in his tracks and looked at Stephanie.  "My brother beat up a girl?  Oh that is hilarious."

     Stephanie and the other girls just looked at the boy as he started laughing.

     "Frank thought Dad was mad when he got kicked out of school for fighting, wait till he hears this.  Oh Dad is going to be so pissed," the boy said walking away laughing.

     "That was Blake," Zoe said staring at the boy leaving.  "He's Frank's older brother.  He's a bit nicer than Frank, but not much."

     "What difference does it make if Frank beat up a boy versus a girl," Stephanie innocently asked?

     "Not really sure.  Candice beat Frank up two years ago when he called her a name," Ellen stated.

     "Oh we are just so fragile and weak," Joanne said in an overly sappy voice.  "Boys are not supposed to hit us.  They just have to protect us, for we can't protect ourselves."

     Everyone laughed.

     "Yet who is the boss at your house," Mary questioned?

     "Mom," the group said in unison before all giggling.

     By the end of recess, the group of girls all knew about Stephanie's large collection of dresses, her American Girl Molly doll, and that she had dressed up as a Princess for the last five Halloweens.  Gwen even commented on the sparkling fairy Stephanie made for her.

     Class progressed as usual after recess.  Getting up from her chair for lunch however, Stephanie showed a lot more pain.    Al was the one to express the concern this time.  Mrs. Farren took the opportunity to remind everyone that Stephanie had been beaten up by a bully and it was going to take her a while to heal.  Several of the kids that had seen the bruise on Friday recounted what they saw.  Mrs. Farren had everyone settle down and get back in line for lunch.  On the way to the cafeteria, the class stopped at the nurse's office for Stephanie to get some medication.  To the dismay of several volunteers, Mrs. Farren chose Joanne to stay with Stephanie and help her get down to the cafeteria.

     At lunch, Melissa quickly got up from her seat to help Stephanie get her tray of food.  Being unusual for one student to help another get a tray of food, the word quickly spread that Stephanie was the kid who got beat up on Friday.  This confused some, for they thought the Hero was a boy.  The news of a boy who was now a girl spread rapidly throughout the lunchroom.  Stephanie had trouble focusing on her lunch for there were constantly people pointing and looking over at her.  Kids would stop and look as they walked by with their trays.  Several came over to say hi to one of the kids at her table, just so they could get a look at Stephanie.

     "Ignore them Stephanie," Joanne said.  "They'll get used to you."

     After lunch, at recess, the taunts were quiet and often said under a person's breath as they walked by.  There was still a collection of girls around Stephanie, but the teasing was coming from a steady stream of mostly boys who would walk behind the swings and comment when they reached Stephanie.

     "That's enough," Ellen screamed as she stood in front of Lucas just after he made a comment.  "Teasing and bullying are not allowed.  Now STOP IT!"

     "Something wrong," the recess monitor asked coming up to the scene?

     "The all keep coming up and calling Stephanie names," Ellen puffed. "They're not being nice."

     "I didn't do anything," Lucas claimed.

     "Oh yes you did," about five girls standing around Stephanie said at once.

     "What did he say," the monitor inquired?

     "They keep calling Stephanie things like Sissy, Faggot, Queer, Freak, and a few others Mommy would spank me for if I said," Ellen told the recess monitor.

     When the crowd of kids over by the big slide was pointed at as the location of the other kids who were doing this, the crowd suddenly dispersed in all directions, except towards the swings.  The Principal was called out to the playground and he took Lucas, and another boy who was with Lucas, back inside.

     "Thanks Ellen," Stephanie got out once the adults left.

     "Mrs. Farren said the only way bullies will stop picking on other kids is if people stand together to make it stop," Ellen stated.  "I think this is really weird Daryl, but that is no reason to say those things to you.  Mommy really would spank me if she ever heard me saying them, no matter who I said them to."

     Stephanie stayed silent the rest of recess, with Gwen, Melissa, and Joanne interacting with the crowd that had stayed around Stephanie.  She was silent when they got back into the classroom and a group of girls told Mrs. Farren about what happened. She stayed silent when Lucas came back to class to collect his coat, after the Principal had decided to send him home.

     Mrs. Farren was starting to be concerned.  She had to admit to herself that the behavior wasn't really that different for Daryl, but even with Daryl she could get him to talk when she tried.  She was unable to get Stephanie to talk.  She would respond by nodding her head or shrugging her shoulders, but nothing was being said verbally.  Mrs. Farren noticed that Melissa and Joanne tried to get Stephanie to talk too, but there were also unsuccessful.  Stephanie appeared emotionless as she went throughout the rest of her school day. Even when Grandma picked Stephanie up from school at the end of the day, she stayed silent.  Mrs. Farren let Stephanie's Grandma know about the afternoon behavior, then wished the two of them a nice afternoon.

 

 

Chapter 10 - Last Chapter by Teekabell
Author's Notes:

Chapter 10: The Future?


Summary: Time to move on with everyone's life. Can Stephanie put the past behind her? What are her options for the future?

Costumes
Chapter 10 (Last Chapter)
The Future?

~o~O~o~

     Grandma changed her plans for the afternoon, and Stephanie found herself standing inside an icer09;cream parlor being asked what flavor she wanted.  She pointed to the mint chocolate chip icer09;cream.  Grandma and Stephanie each had a scoop of icer09;cream in a bowl and sat down at one of the tables.

     "Rough day," Grandma asked digging her spoon into the ice-cream.

     Stephanie nodded her head in agreement.

     "Was there anything good about it," Grandma probed.

     Stephanie just shrugged her shoulders.  Grandma asked several more questions and only got nonr09;verbal responses back from Stephanie.

     "I really hate to do this Stephanie," Grandma said putting down her spoon.  "But you leave me no other options."

     Stephanie didn't even look up at Grandma.  She just continued to look straight at her scoop of icer09;cream.

     "It is my understanding you promised Dr. Jones you would not shut us out.  You would not escape into your own little world refusing to talk or interact with the rest of us."

     Stephanie looked up at Grandma with an emotionless face, "Fine, you want to know how my day was?  Well it sucked.  I was stared at and teased all day. At least two more kids got suspended because of me today.  I never should have stopped being a Noper, at least then everyone ignored me."

     "I bet some of things the other kids said were pretty mean," Grandma reached out and rested her hand on top of Stephanie's.

     "Why can't I just be me?  Why? Am I really that much of a freak that everyone has to hate me?"

     "Not everyone has trouble with you being Stephanie.  Were Melissa and Joanne nice to you today?" Grandma inquired, hoping that they were.

     "Yeah well, they don't count."

     Grandma smiled, "What about Aunt Jennifer and myself?  We love you dearly."

     "But Mommy doesn't.  She struggles to even say my name."

     Grandma knew it was true, Mary still felt very uncomfortable even saying Stephanie's name, "She loves you dear.  She just needs a little more time to get used to you being here all the time."

     "She told me it doesn't matter what clothes I wear for I am the same person, but she doesn't even want to look at me when I am wearing dresses.  Today Lucas said I was a freak for wearing a dress and everyone in class agreed with him, even Mrs. Farren."

     "I am sure not everyone agreed with him," Grandma tried to see through the emotions to discover the truth.

     "Everyone!" Stephanie dug hard into her ice-cream.  "At lunch the whole school was laughing at me."

     The two ate some more of their ice-cream.

     "You should have heard what they were saying to me out at recess.  If Ellen hadn't stopped them, I . . . I . . ." Stephanie started crying.

     Grandma moved her chair over right next to Stephanie's and brought her over into a hug, "Let it out sweetie, let it out."

     The lady at the counter brought some water over and some extra napkins, "Ice-cream therapy always worked wonders with my daughter too."

     Grandma smiled and thanked the lady.  It was several more minutes before Stephanie stopped leaning into Grandma and went for another spoonful of ice-cream.  The two talked about the day as the icer09;cream slowly disappeared.

     "Grandma," Stephanie asked without looking up.  "Will Mommy ever love me again?"

     "Oh sweetie, she never stopped loving you.  She loves you very much. You were just so good at pretending to be Daryl, she feels she has lost her child because Daryl isn't here anymore.  Give her time and she will see you and Daryl are the same person."

     "But we're not," Stephanie scooped up some of the last of the ice-cream in her bowl.  "I am a lot different from Daryl."

     Grandma could see the truth in the reply, "But on the inside Stephanie, on the inside you are the same person.  You have just taken off the costume and stopped pretending. Halloween is over."

     "Mommy wants Stephanie back in the box?  Do I have to go back in to have Mommy love me?  She's going to make me, isn't she?"

     "What box Stephanie," Grandma inquired?

     "The Stephanie Halloween box.  After every Halloween Mommy and Daddy made me take my Princess Stephanie outfit off and put everything in the box.  I had to stay in the box under my bed. I wasn't supposed to open the box till the next Halloween. I don't want to go back in the box Grandma," Stephanie was on the verge of crying again.

     "You will never again have to be hidden away in a box sweetie. Never again, I promise."

     "Really," Stephanie questioned.  "Even though Mommy wants me there?"

     "I promise Stephanie," Grandma tried to reassure her.  "Mommy will never ask you to go back into the box."

     The two of them finished the last of the ice-cream and headed off for home.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     When they got home, Stephanie went down to her room to drop off her backpack.  She sat down on the bed grabbing her Melanie doll.

     "You're lucky Melanie," Stephanie said putting Melanie on her lap facing her.  "You have always been a girl.  You have always been loved as a girl.  No one has ever wanted you to be a boy.  Yes, I know you would look silly as a boy.  I did too.  Mommy and Daddy cut my hair short.  No, don't worry I am not going to do that to you.  Then they made me wear boy clothes and forced me to play with boy toys.  They wouldn't let me have any Disney Princess toys or even a little doll like you.  Yeah, they're big meanies."

     Stephanie took Melanie over to her desk, grabbing her Molly doll on the way. She set Melanie up to watch as she started to undo Molly's braids.

     "Sorry Molly," Stephanie said starting to brush out her hair.  "I always promised you that I would practice different hair styles on you so I could do it with my own hair, but your hair is still the way it was when I got you.  You want hair like Mommy had last night?  Yes I did look cute in the pigtails and dress.  The girl at the restaurant even thought I was such a little kid I still needed a booster seat.  Yeah silly grown-ups, I don't know why she couldn't see I was a big girl and don't need baby seats.  Oh Melanie, it is okay you still need baby things.  Your my little baby girl.  Sorry, a big girl who uses the potty. No baby diapers for you."

     Stephanie got Molly's hair up in pigtails like she had last night.  Then she started to braid the pigtails, fastening the end with little hair rubber bands.

     "They would accept you at school Molly," Stephanie said looking at the one pigtail that was braided before starting on the other one.  "Me, I'm just a freak.  So what Ellen stopped Lucas and the other kids from teasing me, she still thinks I am a freak.  Yeah Melissa and Joanne were nice to me.  Real nice, but . . . I don't know."

     Stephanie messed up the braid and had to start over.

     "I don't need friends," Stephanie started to cry.  "I just . . . I just need to be me."

     Stephanie put her head down, crying into Molly's tummy.

     - - - Ding Dong Ding Dong - - -

     Stephanie ignored the doorbell and kept crying.

     "Oh braids are not worth crying over Stephanie," Joanne said coming into the room.  "You just brush them out and do them again when you mess up."

     Stephanie sat up and looked through her watery eyes at Joanne and Gwen coming into her room, "What . . . what are you two doing here?"

      "Well you were so popular today I didn't get a chance to tell you," Gwen said sitting down on Stephanie's bed.

     "Tell me what?" Stephanie wiped the tears from her face and eyes.

     "Mom wasn't that happy about me playing with you, even though she thought you were nice," Gwen said smiling over at Stephanie.  "But my dad, he was mad.  Not at you Stephanie, he was mad at Mommy.  He said he was not going to raise a bigot and if I wanted to play with you, it was okay with him."

     "What's a big-it?" Stephanie wondered out loud.

     "I asked too," Gwen stated.  "But they just used that line, you'll find out when you're older."

     "You don't have to play with me Gwen," Stephanie said holding Molly in her lap. "I know you don't like me."

     "I never said I don't like you," Gwen defended herself.  "Well I . . . not . . ."

     "I bet you a million Barbie dolls you won't get out of this one Gwen," Joanne smugly smiled.

     Gwen thought for a moment and then, with a huge smile on her face, stated, "I never said I didn't like Stephanie."

     Joanne giggled, "Nice save Gwen."

    "Stephanie," Gwen changed the subject.  "A kid on the bus said Lucas was in tears when his Mom picked him up.  She told Lucas he had no right making fun of a boy wearing a dress, seeing his favorite pajamas were pink."

     "Lucas wears pink pajamas," Joanne was trying to stifle a giggle.

     "Wonder if they have Disney Princesses on them," Stephanie said looking at the other two.

     "Think we can get him to wear them on the next Pajama Day at school?" Gwen pondered.

     The three girls giggled at the thought.  None of them saw Grandma walking away from the doorway.

     "So what do you want to do," Gwen asked?

     "Thanks for coming over and telling me about Lucas," Stephanie said taking Molly off her lap and turning back towards her desk to work on her hair.

     "We're not going anywhere silly," Joanne piped up.  "We came over to play with you, so what are we going to play?"

     Stephanie turned around to see the two of them smiling, "I . . . uh . . . I"

     "Gwen," Joanne took over.  "She has some of the new Lego Friends and some Barbies, and of course some My Little Ponies."

     "Which Lego Friends models do you have," Gwen asked.

     "I have Olivia's Tree House and the City Park Cafe," Stephanie said looking at the shelves where the Legos were.

     "Oh," Gwen got down on the floor in front of the shelves.  "Look at that horse."

     "Barbie can ride her side saddle," Stephanie explained.

     The girls pulled down the Legos, the horse, and the Barbies.

     "Where are the unicorn and the fairy Barbie?" Joanne asked looking all around.

     Stephanie put her head down, "They are still in the box."

     "What do you mean they are still in the box," Joanne questioned.

     "I . . ." Stephanie paused.  "I couldn't play with them.  They're yours."

     "I gave them to you Stephanie," Joanne was confused. "Where's the box?"

     Stephanie went over to her closet and got a box out.

     "That's the same box I gave them to you in."

     Stephanie brought the box over and opened it.

     "The dress is still in there too," Joanne was shocked.

     Grandma heard the tone in the voices had changed and came down to hall to investigate.

    "Joanne," Gwen questioned when she looked into the box.  "Isn't that the dress you love so much? The one you say makes you look like a teenager."

     "Yeah, and my favorite Barbie," Joanne looked at Stephanie. "Why Stephanie?  Have you even tried on the dress?"

     "I just couldn't Joanne," Stephanie said going over and picking up Melanie.  "They're your favorite things.  It didn't feel right to have them.  Every time I look at them I think about how sad you were when you gave them to me."

     "Well they're yours now," Joanne stated.

     "I . . . I can't," Stephanie said backing away from the box on the floor next to Joanne and Gwen.

     Gwen took the dress out of the box and held it up, "My Mom says I'm not grown up enough to wear anything like this yet."

     "It took me forever to get my Mom to buy it for me," Joanne stated still looking straight at Stephanie.  "And now you tell me it is just going to sit in a box with no one ever wearing it?  I gave it to you so I would at least know someone got it that would enjoy it."

     Stephanie continued to back up, running into Grandma.

     "What's wrong in here," Grandma asked putting her two hands onto Stephanie's shoulders.

     "I gave Stephanie these things a week ago, two of my favorite things, and she refuses to even take them out of the box," Joanne explained.

     "Why is that Stephanie," Grandma asked?

     "Why did you give them to her Joanne," Gwen asked?  "You wouldn't even let me try on the dress when you got it."

     Grandma looked at the elegant dress Gwen was holding up, "My, that really is a beautiful dress."

     Both Stephanie and Joanne were silent.

     "I can't wear it Grandma," Stephanie admitted. "It's her dress."

     "It is not!  Daddy made me give it to you.  It is your dress now.  I gave it to you so you would wear it, and . . . I might be able to borrow it sometimes.  You have to wear it," Joanne demanded.

     "Why did your Dad make you give it to Stephanie," Grandma inquired.

     Joanne looked at the dress and then at Stephanie, "It was my punishment for treating her as a Noper for two years."

     "I thought that is why you had to play with Stephanie last week," Gwen inquired.

     "Yeah that too," Joanne said looking at the ground.

     "I didn't want it Grandma.  I don't want it.  I don't want the Barbie either.  Her Dad never should have made her give them to me.  She didn't tease me like the other kids did. She just treated me like the Noper I am.  She shouldn't be punished for it."

       "I see," Grandma said hugging Stephanie from behind.  "Let me take the dress and toy.  I will talk to Joanne's dad."

     Grandma took the dress and fairy Barbie.  After a few awkward moments, the girls were soon playing with the toys in Stephanie's room.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     "Wait up Stephanie," Candice said as they headed into the school Tuesday morning.

     "Morning Candice," Stephanie said once she had caught up.  "What you want?"

     "That was very brave of you coming to school yesterday in a dress," Candice said with honesty.  "I hate the things, but if you want to wear one its okay with me."

     Stephanie smiled at Candice.

     "Erin called me last night.  She wants to meet you this morning.  She said she would be in the gym with the Double Dutch squad," Candice explained.

     "What does she want to see me about," Stephanie asked.  "I've never done anything to her."

     "Let's go to the gym and find out," Candice suggested.  "Mr. Bendit is always in there at this time watching over any groups that want to use the gym.  He won't let anything happen to you."

     Stephanie said goodbye to her Dad and followed Candice into the gym.

     "Girls," Mr. Bendit said to Candice and Stephanie as they entered the gym.  "The Double Dutch squad is using the gym this morning.  Sorry, no other groups are allowed in."

     "It's okay Mr. Bendit," Erin said coming up.  "I asked them to come.  So you are Stephanie.  You have caused me some problems you know."

     "I didn't do anything," Stephanie was confused.

     "Yeah right," Erin accused. "What are you eight years old, and you beat my playground jump roping record.  I can't have a little eight year old known as the best jump roper in school unless she is on my squad. And Mr. Bendit, why haven't you recommended her for our squad."

     "I'm nine!" Stephanie objected.

     "Erin," Mr. Bendit explained.  "You have an all girl squad and no one as young as . . . Stephanie here."

     "You want Stephanie to join your squad," Candice asked.  "Oh Stephanie that is such an honor, I'd do anything to be on the school's Double Dutch squad."

     "Well, she has to show us she really is as good as reports say she is," Erin stated.  "Robin and Liz, come here with a rope, let's see how good this Stephanie kid really is."

     "But," Stephanie spoke up with resolve.  "I can't do any jump roping till I recover from being beat up by Frank."

     "You're the kid that got beat up?" Erin looked at Stephanie. "But I thought that kid was a boy."

     "I was in a boy costume when it happened," Stephanie said looking straight at Erin.

     "Interesting way of looking at it Daryl, I'm sorry I mean Stephanie," Mr. Bendit smiled at the nine year old.  "Stephanie is right Erin, she can't try out till she is cleared to participate in PE.  As the PE teacher I can tell you, I won't let her back in for at least a week and even then I might want a Doctor to clear her first considering where she was injured."

     "Well Mr. Bendit, I want you to tell me as soon as she is cleared," Erin said with authority.   "Come on girls, let's get back to practice.  You two can stay and watch if you want as long as you are quiet."

     Mr. Bendit brought Gwen and Stephanie over to the bleachers and sat down with them, "She is really quite nice, but when she is leading the squad she gets a little intense."

     "You should have heard her last night," Candice said.  "She knew the kid who beat her record was in my class. She tried to say she was calling to talk to my older sister who's in her class, but she just wanted to talk to me. She wanted a name for the kid who beat her record."

     "Gwen had told her Daryl broke her record.  She probably didn't think a boy could have beaten her.  I know Gwen had a lot of fun telling her it was a boy," Stephanie filled in the blanks.

     "Gwen would enjoy telling Erin that.  She has been trying to break Erin's records for years," Candice stated.

     Stephanie watched the squad dance and jump rope to music, "I can't do that."

     "They couldn't either when they were nine Stephanie," Mr. Bendit stated.  "But with a little bit of practice I bet you could."

     Candice and Stephanie stayed watching till the bell rung.  Mr. Bendit rushed the Double Dutch squad to clean up and out of the gym, then he brought Stephanie and Candice down to class.

     Before leaving, Mr. Bendit turned to Stephanie and said, "You really should consider her offer Stephanie.  You might find it quite enjoyable to be part of the squad."

     Stephanie got her coat off and was sitting down in her desk when she heard the voice of the one person she was dreading.

     "Oh what a hoot," Elwood said seeing Stephanie.  "I tell the dweeb to come to school in a dress and he does.  Oh this is going to be so much fun."

     Stephanie turned to face Elwood. She found Candice, Gwen, Joanne, Lucas, Al, and Brooke standing between her and Elwood.

     "Teasing and Bullying is not allowed in this classroom Elwood," Candice said for the group.

     "If you know what is good for you, you will leave Stephanie alone," Al added.  "We stand together as a class against Bullies like you Elwood."

     "Elwood," the Principal said grabbing everyone's attention.  He had slipped into the room behind Elwood without being noticed. "I think the two of us need to talk in my office. As you can see, there have been a few changes since you got suspended. Nopers are no more in this school, and bullies will not be tolerated. The other kids in your class have learned this lesson. Look at them, they will not stand by and let a bully attack another student.  I sent ten kids home yesterday, and if I need to send ten more home today, I will. Let's go talk about whether you are going to stay the day as a student in this school, or if I need to call your Dad."

     Elwood left with the Principal.  Mrs. Farren calmed down the rest of the class and got everyone settled into their seats.  The school day began with the pledge and a review math sheet.  When the reading lesson began, Melissa left for her Special Education class and Elwood returned.  He went straight to his seat, without saying a word or looking at Stephanie.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     "So what's going on tonight Stephanie," Gwen asked out on the playground.

     "You're going too," Joanne inquired.

     "I can't go, Mommy won't let me," Melissa added.

     "What are you three talking about," Stephanie looked between the three girls.

     "Dinner at your house," Joanne and Gwen said together.

     "What?" Stephanie looked at them.

     "Didn't you know," Joanne asked.  "Your Dad called last night and talked with my Dad for a long time.  When Daddy got off the phone, he said we were all going to dinner at your house tonight."

     "Yeah," Gwen said.  "Your Dad talked with my Dad too.  After the call, he said I was going over to your house to help with something.  Mom and Dad aren't coming with me though, Dad said it was something I needed to do if I was going to be your friend."

     "You're . . . my friend," Stephanie looked at Gwen confused.

     "We all are," Melissa said.

     "Definitely," Joanne agreed.

     "So what's going on tonight," Gwen asked.

     "I don't know," Stephanie admitted.  "I have to go see Dr. Jones after school.  I didn't know about you all coming over."

     The four got in line for the big slide.

     Ellen came up behind them, "Did you all see Elwood when he came out to recess?"

     "No," Stephanie replied.  "I am sort of trying to avoid him."

     "Well by the time we got out here one of the little kids already had the soccer ball and was deciding the teams.  Elwood tried to take over, but all the other kids told Elwood to let the kid with the ball do it," Ellen explained.

     "Elwood must have been really mad," Joanne looked at the others and over at the kids playing soccer.

     "He can't just bully his way into doing things anymore," Gwen stated.

      "It's all because of you Stephanie," Ellen smiled.  "Even my little sister in first grade thinks you are the hero who stopped all the bullies."

     "But . . ." Stephanie looked between the kids in line who were all now looking at Stephanie.  "I didn't do anything."

     "A true hero, doesn't do it for fame or fortune.  They do something because it is the right thing to do.  They often don't even realize what they are doing is heroic. My teacher was right kid, you are a true hero," an older girl said before climbing the ladder.

     "She's right," another older girl said before following.  "A little weird to be wearing a dress, but definitely a hero. You changed things around here."

     "See," Ellen said.  "Even the big kids think so."

     They only did the slide once that recess, for climbing the ladder hurt too much for Stephanie.  By the end of recess, the group of four had grown to seven with Ellen, Zoe, and an older girl from the Double Dutch squad sticking with Stephanie.

     Before the group split up at the end of recess, Gwen directed the group, "All Stephanie can do out here is sit down or walk around.  Let's meet at the picnic table next recess, and bring some drawing supplies."

    The rest of the morning went like any other.  At lunch Ellen stayed with Stephanie as she went to the nurse for some aspirin to help fight the pain.

     Lucas helped Stephanie with her lunch tray today, "Sorry for calling you a freak yesterday."

     "It's okay," Stephanie said between telling the lunch lady what she wanted to eat.  "Thanks for standing up to Elwood this morning."

     "Yeah, well, only through standing together will he stop being a bully."

     "Thanks."

     "Girl huh," Lucas added.

     "Yeah," Stephanie replied looking at him.  "It is me."

     "Takes a lot of guts.  Good luck," Lucas put Stephanie's tray down at a table with all girls and went back to his own lunch.

     Stephanie sat down and looked around, realizing she didn't know any of the girls she was sitting by, "Oh sorry, wrong table."

     "No wait," one of the girls said stopping Stephanie from getting up.  "You're Stephanie, right?"

     "Yeah."

     "Erin says you might be good enough to be on the Double Dutch squad," the girl sitting next to Stephanie said. "How old are you, eight?"

     "No, nine," Stephanie was not sure how to judge this group.

     "Wow.  Did you know Erin started on the squad when she was that young?  If you join, you two will be the youngest who have ever been allowed to join," another one of the girls stated.

     Stephanie just looked around at the group of them.

     "Oh, I'm sorry," the girl who first spoke up commented.  "Where are my manners?  I am Beth.  This is Sophia, Ellie, Andrea, and Vickie.  Sophia and Vickie are on the Double Dutch squad.  Vickie's the youngest on the squad at the moment, she's ten."

     "Hi," Stephanie said looking around at the girls.

     "You better eat your lunch," Andrea suggested.  "They don't take talking as an excuse, and will kick you out when it's time to go, whether you're done or not."

     Stephanie started eating as the girls chatted about a new song Sophia wanted to try with one of the Double Dutch routines.  Stephanie was asked some about the fight she was in, with the group thinking it was very brave of her to stand up to Frank.  Vickie asked about Stephanie's hair, commenting that it was short last week.

     "It's a wig," Stephanie explained.  "My aunt got it for me to wear till my hair grew out."

     "Wow," Ellie leaned across the table to get a closer look.  "You can't tell."

     "Thanks."

     "Girls," the lunch room aide interrupted.  "Finish up. It's time to go outside."

     Stephanie, Beth, and Sophia turned to their trays and started eating as fast as they could.  The other girls took their trays up to be dumped.  When the three slow eater's final finished, Vickie took Stephanie's tray up to dump it.

      "It was nice meeting you Stephanie," Beth said as they walked outside. "Looks like your friends are waiting for you."

     Stephanie saw Joanne, Gwen, Melissa, and Zoe waving for her to come over, "Nice meeting you all.  Bye."

     Stephanie started to skip off, but pain told her walking was the better option.

     "So what did my sister want," Gwen asked as Stephanie approached?

     "Your sister?" Stephanie looked at Gwen and then back at the girls she had just left.

     "Yeah, Beth is my sister," Gwen looked over at Beth.  "Was she nice to you?  I'll tell Mom on her if she wasn't nice to you."

     "Calm down Gwen," Stephanie smiled.  "She was nice.  We talked about Double Dutch and my wig."

     Zoe looked at Stephanie's wig, "It is a nice wig Stephanie.  If I didn't know you had really short hair, I would think it was your real hair."

     "Come on," Melissa interrupted. "The other kids are already at the table.  If we don't hurry there will be no room left."

     "Other kids?" Stephanie inquired looking over at the picnic table.  She saw John, Al, Brooke, and Ellen already sitting down at the table drawing.

     Stephanie spent recess drawing a picture of trick-or-treating on Halloween this year.  She put herself in the middle with all the other girls around her.

     "Wow," Zoe said looking at Stephanie's picture.  "You were that Princess girl on Halloween?  That was a really great costume Stephanie. I didn't even know it was you."

     "You saw me on Halloween," Stephanie said looking at the picture and then up at Zoe?

     "That's me," Zoe said pointing at the bride in the picture.  "You can't tell it's me because of the veil. Dat one there is my little sister, the Raggedy Anne doll.  She's five.  She thought you were the prettiest and kindest Princess ever."

     Stephanie looked down at the picture and then over at Zoe, "Wow, I really had a lot of fun Trick-or-Treating with you all."

     "Yeah," Gwen added.  "When you left we were all wondering who you were."

     The bell rang, cutting the conversation short.  Supplies were gathered and everyone headed in.  The rest of the afternoon Stephanie focused on her lessons, but was surprised by how much people were actually interacting with her.  As a Noper, rarely was she even asked to pass a paper.

 

~o~O~o~

 

     Dr. Jones was very happy to hear about Stephanie's day and the other kids talking with her.  She tried to show Stephanie that kids were being friendly and some were even trying to become a friend with her.  The conversation did not stay completely positive, and Stephanie found herself in tears several times as she worked through some issues.

     "It was a good session Stephanie," Dr. Jones said as the two walked out to the waiting room.  "Over this next week I want you to let people see Stephanie.  Try to make a new friend with one of the kids being nice to you, maybe Ellen or Zoe.  You can do it Stephanie.  I know it's scary making friends after so long of having none, but it sounds like you have three good friends now and will soon have more.  Keep Smiling Stephanie.  You can do this.  Remember now, you agreed to no shutting down.  Use your words and tell grown-ups when you are having trouble."

     "Okay Dr. Jones, see you next week," Stephanie said going over and hugging her Mom.

     As advised to by Dr. Jones, Mrs. Meyers did not ask Stephanie about the therapy session and what they talked about.  They both stayed silent till they were in the car and headed home.

     "I have a surprise for you Stephanie," Mommy looked in her rearview mirror at a sullen Stephanie.

     "Gwen and Joanne coming to dinner?" Stephanie said looking out the window.

     "Oh, yes," Mom said navigating the traffic.  "Who told you?"

     "Gwen and Joanne were asking me today about it," Stephanie just looked out the window.

     "Daddy's going to get the grill out and cook up some hot dogs and hamburgers.  Then we have a special activity planned."

     "Okay," Stephanie just sat there thinking about things Dr. Jones talked about.

     Several more minutes of silence passed.

     "Stephanie," Mom asked. "What are you going to do with the picture you drew today?"

     "Don't worry. I won't hang it on the refrigerator."

     Mrs. Meyers took a deep breath, "Why don't we put it up in the living room?"

     Stephanie looked at Mom before looking back out the window, "Whatever."

     The two were quickly home and Stephanie was surprised to see Gwen there already.

     "Just got here about five minutes ago," Gwen explained.  "Mom had to take Beth to her music lessons.  She is learning how to torture us all with the violin."

     Fifteen minutes later, Gwen was looking through the songs on Stephanie's iPod Nano when Joanne walked into the bedroom.

     "Anyone else coming?" Joanne asked.

     "Not that I know of," Stephanie explained.  "But Mom didn't even tell me about you two coming till the ride home from Dr. Jones. Either of you know what's going on?"

     "Nope," Gwen and Joanne said in unison.

     "Well," Joanne thought for a moment.  "I do know one thing, but I don't know why Gwen and my parents are here."

     "What?" Stephanie inquired.

     "Well, it was decided I get to keep the dress and Barbie I gave you," Joanne said looking at the two other girls.

     "Good," I didn't want them.

     "But if they were part of your punishment," Gwen questioned?

     "Yeah," Joanne looked down at her feet.  "Dad hasn't fully decided what the replacement punishment is going to be.  I replaced the dress with two I don't like but Stephanie does."

     "Which ones," Stephanie asked?

     "The two we wore on Sunday," Joanne explained.  "You liked them both, right?  Mom says you won't look so little in them if you do your hair a different way."

     Stephanie smiled, "It was kinda fun being treated as a little girl.  I never got a chance when I was little."

     "So you are getting those dresses and a toy I picked out for you at the toy store today," Joanne said.

     "What you get her," Gwen questioned?

     "I'm not telling," Joanne smiled.  "I spent too long wrapping it to give away the surprise."

     Half an hour later the girls were called down for dinner.  Due to the crisp evening, everyone had dinner inside.  At the end, Stephanie got to open her present from Joanne.  There were the two dresses, which caused Stephanie to smile.

     "You sure you don't want to keep this one," Stephanie indicated the one Joanne wore on Sunday.  "Maybe we could . . ."

     "No!" Joanne abruptly replied.  "You can play little girl with Melissa.  I need that thing out of my house so Mommy doesn't try to dress me in it again."

     The adults all laughed.

     Stephanie opened the wrapped present, "A pink pony!  Oh, she is so cute."

     "No Stephanie, look!  It's a Webkinz," Gwen pointed out with glee.  "We can all play together online."

     "Webkinz," Stephanie inquired?

     "Don't you have any Webkinz Stephanie," Joanne questioned?

     "No," Stephanie looked at the two confused.

     "You go online with your animal and play with other kids.  It's lots of fun," Joanne explained.

     The girls got into a discussion of how to play and what Stephanie could do with her pet.  When they all tried to go play with the pet on-line, Stephanie's Dad told them they could do it later.

     "We have a special activity to do right now," Mr. Meyers got everyone's attention. "Stephanie here has come into our lives but some things are holding her back from being the girl she is inside.  Tonight we are going to leave the past behind and move forward."

     "We love you dearly Stephanie," Grandma added.  "Hopefully tonight will show you just how much.  Part of you Stephanie is worried that Mommy and Daddy will make you go back into the Halloween box and be Daryl again.  Mary, I think you should take it from here."

     "Stephanie, I love you very much and would never force you to go back into the Halloween box," Mrs. Meyers said looking at her daughter.  "Since actions mean more than words, tonight you and I are going to take action to make sure the words are true.  Daddy has set up a fire pit in the back yard.  We are going to burn the Halloween box so it can never again hide someone from the world."

     "Burn it," Stephanie looked between her Mom and Dad who were both nodding their heads in agreement.

     "I'll go start the fire while you and Mommy go get the box," Dad said smiling at Stephanie.

     "Come on Stephanie," Mom said taking Stephanie's hand.  "Let's go get the box."

     Stephanie went with her mom down to her room and took the box out from under her bed.  She opened it one more time and looked in.  It was empty.

     "You know something Stephanie," Mom said looking at the empty box.  "I think we need to fill the box before we burn it."

     Stephanie's smile disappeared as she looked up at Mommy on the verge of tears.

     "Let's go see how many of Daryl's clothes we can fit into the box," Mom said giving Stephanie a hug."

     "Burn Daryl's clothes," Stephanie contemplated the idea.

     "That is, if you want to," Mommy left the decision up to Stephanie.

     "Oh yes.  Can we, please?"

     The two went into the guest room and opened up the dresser drawers containing the Daryl clothes.

     "Not all of them will fit in the box, but we can go tonight to one of the donation bins and give away whatever we don't burn," Mom explained.

     Underwear and pajamas were first into the box.  Next she put Daryl's suit and tie.  Various shirts were put in before the box started to be overflowing.

     "Okay," Mom smiled at Stephanie. "The rest of the clothes and toys we will take to the donation bins."

     Stephanie looked up at Mom and gave her a big hug.  The two went to get their coats on and joined everyone else in the back yard.  Stephanie carried the box up and looked at the fire.

     "Stephanie," Dad said. "That box has hidden Stephanie away year after year.  It will no more.  We will never again ask you to be hidden away.  You have told us that Daryl is dead.  Inside that box is Daryl's remains and we shall give him a proper send off.  Are you ready?"

     Stephanie looked around at everyone gathered around the fire.  Looking down at the box she smiled. Stephanie dumped the box onto the fire.

     "I am Stephanie!  I am here to stay.  I like ballerinas and flowers and my favorite color is Pink.  I wear dresses and I like my hair up in pigtails.  I play with dolls and color pretty pictures. I have friends and people who love me, not the Daryl costume. I am Stephanie and I am here to stay," a tear rolled down Stephanie's face.

     "Bye Daryl," Joanne said as Gwen and her went on either side of Stephanie and held hands.

     Mom stood behind Stephanie hugging her as they all watched the box burn in silence.

     Stephanie looked at Gwen and Joanne before looking around at all the adults around the fire, "Stephanie has friends. She is here to stay."

 

The End

 

 

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