“Let’s sit down,” Dad said, closing the study door after us. There were two high-backed chairs opposite a love seat. Mom sat on the love seat, so I took one of the chairs. Dad sat next to Mom, and the two of them looked at me, expectantly. “I understand you’re a bit upset, Marsh,” he said.
I nodded. This was going to be pretty easy. “I’m really sorry for worrying you, Mom,” I told her. “I… I guess had been just thinking too much about school and not paying attention to dinner, and I… just lost it. I’m fine, now. Really. I’m OK, Daddy; sorry to take you away from your game.”
“Just as simple as that, Marsh?” Mom asked. She didn’t look convinced.
“Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I wasn’t thinking. But I’m fine.”
“So is this the truth we won’t believe, or the lie that we will?” Dad asked, smiling. “I think I want to hear more about this experiment you mentioned to your mother.”
When did he hear about that? Mom must have told him while I was talking to Tina, probably during a commercial. “Oh, that was nothing,” I said, as calmly as I could. “I… I just had this stupid dream, and–”
Dad cut me off. “Marsha, I want to hear it. If it bothered you enough that you were freaking out, I want to know what it was. Why exactly would somebody make an experiment that changed how you look?”
He wasn’t buying it. I’d said too much, panicked too much. I had seriously messed up, this time. This could be very, very bad. “Daddy, please…” I whimpered.
“Please… please don’t pull me out of school. I… I can really handle it. I’m doing well in my classes, and… and I have some great friends who are always there for me, and…”
“Marsha, your mother and I are worried about you.”
“I know, but–”
“Your mother’s worried that you might hurt yourself, somehow.”
“I won’t!” I wailed. “Please…”
“You’ve always made good choices, Princess, so as long as you can convince us that you’re not going to do anything stupid, I don’t see any reason to keep you out of school.”
“I’m not… I–”
“But I want to hear this ‘true story.’ I want to hear about this ‘experiment’ that changed you.”
My mouth went dry. Dad seemed really relaxed, but he wasn’t giving up. I’d already blabbed so much, I just didn’t feel comfortable lying, any more. I’d just have to trust my parents. Dad had said that they weren’t going to pull me out. I just had to sound calm and collected. Yeah, right.
I took a deep breath and let it out. Then, watching Mom and Dad closely, I explained, “It was some kind of time travel experiment, Daddy. I think they said they wanted to see how things might be different. We thought it meant that we would get to see things and report, you know, as explorers, or something. But…” I hesitated again. How were they going to react to this? “Before the experiment… I was a boy.”
Mom looked at Dad. Dad didn’t move, although his eyes flickered. I was surprised. That revelation had been really hard for me. Why were they taking it so casually? Dad just said, “Go on…” as though I were telling an interesting story, instead of confessing to hiding a terrible secret.
“Well… I was tall,” I added, indicating my old height by holding one hand above my head. “I was taller than you, Daddy. And… I dated a lot. I had girlfriends all the time. And then I woke up like this… and everything was wrong, and I had to keep pretending that it was OK.” I was in agony. Admitting this should have been a relief, but now what was going to happen to me?
Dad put out his arms and I ran to him and sobbed on his shoulder, his arms wrapped comfortingly around me. He stroked the back of my head and said, “It’s OK, Honey. It’s OK.”
“The question, Mir,” he said to Mom, speaking over the top of my head, “is what would make our beautiful daughter want to believe that she was a boy?”
What? I almost popped my head up at that.
“You think it’s wishful thinking… or escapism, or something like that?” Mom asked.
“As opposed to what? That somebody invented a time machine to change the way people look?”
“No, of course, not.” Mom looked at me with concern. “Marsh, honey, did a boy… do something to you?”
“Or make an inappropriate suggestion?” Dad added.
“No,” I answered, a bit thrown by the way they were taking this. “Nobody… oh, wait. But that doesn’t have anything–”
“What doesn’t?” Dad interrupted. And now there was an edge to his voice.
“I mean… we worked things out…”
“What. Happened?” Dad insisted.
“The… the guy who’s playing my ‘husband’ in the show. We met at the Grill, you know, to get to know each other, and… and he asked me to sleep with him.”
“Daddy, it’s OK,” I protested hurriedly, looking up at him. “We worked things out. He apologized, said it was a really stupid thing to do, and now we’re friends. So it’s fine.”
“But how did you feel when he asked, Marsh?” Mom prodded.
“Horrible… vulnerable, afraid. I mean, I panicked, and I know I overreacted, but my roommate said that I was right to. That I shouldn’t have anything to do with a guy who would do such a thing.”
“I should think not,” Mom agreed.
“But it was all a mistake. He was just really clumsy, and he never did anything like that again, and I think he’s dating one of the girls in the cast now. We’re cool. We’re friends. I trust him.”
“Yes. I don’t have anything to worry about there.”
“OK,” Dad chimed in. “And I wonder how this relates to the conversation we had over your midterm break, Princess.”
“What conversation, Art?”
“When I took Marsha to the train, she asked me if I was sorry not to have a son.”
“Oh, Marsh,” Mom said sympathetically, “How could you even imagine that about your father?”
“Princess, your aunt and uncle have a boy and a girl, and I’m sure they are very happy with them, but I wouldn’t trade. There’s something very special to a father about having a daughter – and I have two! How lucky can a guy get?”
“And don’t worry about not dating anybody right now, Marsh,” Mom said. “You just have high standards. I admire that. Too many girls seem to think that they aren’t worth anything if they don’t have a boyfriend. I’m very proud of you, that you don’t need one to feel good about yourself.”
I was in shock. Mom and Dad had jumped to what was probably a more sensible conclusion, howbeit wrong, than the truth. They thought I was horribly insecure, and were love-bombing me to make me feel better. But I didn’t laugh; it just felt too good. Dad still had an arm around me, and it was very nice, feeling protected and cared for. So what if they didn’t believe me? I had told them the truth, hadn’t I? Even though I had been afraid to? The important thing is, they were there for me; they were absolutely on my side, and not looking at me as though I was some kind of freak – or a stranger in my own family.
“Now, honey,” Mom said, standing up. Obviously, what she had decided had reassured her. “You do seem to be feeling better, but I want to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. I’m fine with you going back to school, but I want you to call me at least every other day.”
“Every other day?” I repeated, doubtfully. What in the world were we supposed to talk about? But I stood up as well.
“Yes. I don’t mean for a long conversation each time; I know you’re busy with school. But I do want to make sure that if you are ever upset about something, that you feel comfortable telling me. You never called about this boy in the Grill, for example. If I had known about him… well, I think I could have helped you, or at least made you feel better.”
“This is really important, Marsh,” Dad put in. “College can be very stressful, and sometimes talking to your mother can be just what you need.”
I grinned. I knew he didn’t mean talking to him.
“Art, wait,” Mom said. “What about this imaginary cousin?”
“Oh, that’s right. Marsh, can you explain?”
“Do you think she even knows? Consciously?”
Now I was looking back and forth between my parents. They had rationalized away my sex change; what would they do with my panic over Tyler?
“Well, it does sound as though she’s feeling guilty about something. What haven’t you told us, Princess? What do you think you might have done?”
Oh boy. I just stared blankly. I had no idea at all what to say.
“You know,” Dad said cautiously. “On second thought, maybe we should see what happens over the next few days. If there’s no recurrence of… tonight’s episode, I feel comfortable with you returning to school, Marsh, as long as you talk to your mother regularly. But, I think we should wait to make a final decision until Sunday. Just for your own safety. OK, Princess?”
I nodded, slowly. I was pretty sure I could keep from freaking out again this weekend. Tina might have to help me try to anticipate any more surprises, though.
“OK, honey,” Mom said, kissing me on the cheek. “Remember that we love you and we just want the best for you. OK?”
“And I love you too, Mom,” I replied, kissing her back. Then I stood on my toes to kiss my father on the cheek as well. “And you, Daddy.” And since they seemed to be done with me, and before they could change their minds, I left the room quickly, and returned to the kitchen.