Chapter 10 (Last Chapter)
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.
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.
"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.
"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."
"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?"
"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."
"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.
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."