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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.


Chapter 5 of 10

The Freak


     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."


     "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.




     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?"


     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."


     "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.




     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. 




     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?"


     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.

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