97 Boy Trouble

The next morning, as Mom and I were cleaning up after breakfast, she asked, “So are you bored enough, yet?”


“Well, I didn’t want to bother you when you just got back from school, but if you’d like to sit with me while I’m working, I’d love to talk with you.”

“Oh! Sure,” I said. “I was going to do some chord practice, but I can spend time with you instead.”

So we finished in the kitchen and moved to the bedroom Mom had turned into a sewing room. It was, of course, a lot larger than my work area or even Nikki’s, with four clothing racks, a three-way mirror for her client, and an iron and ironing board in addition to her sewing machine. I took a spare chair as she pulled a garment off the rack and started work.

“What’s going on with this date?” she asked. “You don’t sound very excited. Do you not like the boy?”

“I like him very much,” I admitted. “Don’t tell Tina, but he’s the boy I told you I had a crush on.”

“The one who has a girlfriend? Oh…” She looked at me out of the corner of her eyes. “Then why did he ask you out?”

“Well, it seems to have been his sister and Tina’s idea. I’m guessing that Phyllis doesn’t like his girlfriend very much.”

“Oh, Honey, that’s terrible.”

“And Daddy wants to meet him, and I thought about canceling, but Tina was so proud of herself for setting this up.”

“What a mess,” she said. “Here, why don’t you move the buttons on this blouse. They’re marked.” As I started hunting for the right color thread, she continued, “Well, he’s obviously not averse to the date.”

“His sister was standing next to him when he called, and I think she hit him when he didn’t ask me quickly enough.”

As I started cutting off the buttons, she shook her head. “How do you feel about all of this?”

“I feel horrible, of course. I don’t like the way he’s being treated, and he’s probably going to have this really negative association towards me now. On the other hand,” I said, as I started sewing the buttons at their new location. “I’m probably going to enjoy being with him, only he’ll be feeling guilty, and I’m going to feel guilty about that. I’d just cancel the whole thing, only I don’t know what’s going on between him and his sister, and Tina will be really mad at me, so just going on the date seems to be least bad thing to do.” I looked up and saw her staring at my hands. “Is something wrong?”

“No, I’ve just never seen you start your threads like that before.”

I looked at my hands, and then remembered. Nikki had said that she hadn’t noticed the way Marsha did it, so she had taught me her own way. Apparently, it wasn’t the way Mom had taught her daughters.

“Oh, this is the way my friend does it, and I just picked it up, I guess.”

“Oh! Well let me see that again.” She watched as I started the thread for the third button. “Hmm. Do you find that easier than my way?”

“Uh… I don’t know. I just got used to it.”

“Hmm… I can deal with your father. What time is Jeremy picking you up?”

“Seven o’clock.”

“I’ll make sure he’s not there; that will at least save you the embarrassment of having him questioning this boy. But otherwise, you’re pretty much on your own.” She stopped the machine, took the skirt out of my hands and inspected it. “Good job as always, Honey.” Then she hugged me. “I’m so sorry about the way this date worked out. Just be kind to the boy, and don’t push him to do something that will get him into trouble with his girlfriend.” I thought guiltily about my hopes for a goodnight kiss. “I’ll try to keep your sister from interfering in your love life in the future.”

She sat back down at the machine and started working again. “Do you have any prospects back at school?” Apparently Tina hadn’t mentioned Dirk, at least.

“Not really,” I told her. “There is a boy who seems to really like me, and is probably going to ask me out, but I’m not all that attracted to him.”

“But you’ll go out with him once, at least. You never know how things will work out.”

“I suppose. And Lee Ann is intent on fixing me up with somebody; she knows this boy, so I suppose that means only after he has his chance.”

She nodded, and we chatted about school in general, and Tina’s play, and my schedule for next semester. It’s probably a good thing she only had the one sewing machine. The only things she asked me to do were handwork: buttons, and ripping seams, and the like, all of which I felt competent at. I had gotten pretty good with the sewing machine, but watching her now showed me how much I didn’t know, and I wasn’t sure how good Marsha was supposed to be. At some point, I was probably going to have to have an explanation of why my skills had slipped, but as long as I had the hope that this wasn’t permanent, I wasn’t ready to deal with the issue.

I went back to my room after a couple of hours and worked on my chord progressions. I felt that I was getting reasonably competent there, although I still wasn’t ready to play in public. Developing the muscle memory and skills takes a long time, and I had years of practice to catch up on, but at least it felt good to see some progress.

My phone rang a bit after lunch, and the display told me that it was from Dinah.

“Hello?” I said, a bit uncertain.

“I hear you spoke with Maddy,” said a soprano voice.

“Um, yes, I did. Hi, Dinah. Um… I’m sorry for not talking with you all this time.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry for lying to George about you.”

George was presumably the boy that Maddy had mentioned. I didn’t know him at all, and certainly wasn’t interested in him, so why did I feel angry when she said that? I forced myself to be calm and simply said, “Don’t worry about it. It’s in the past.”

“But it still hurts?”

“No, not really.”

I heard her sigh. “Geez, Marsh, you’ve gotten boring in your old age.” Uhhh… an in joke, probably.

“Anyway,” she continued. “You’re coming to the New Year’s Eve party, right?”

“Uh… sure.” A lot of my old crowd would be there, and I was probably going to have to deal with them eventually, anyway. Besides, just staying home would have been boring.

“And will you be coming with Dirk?”

“I… don’t know,” I said, hesitantly. “We’re going to talk on Saturday. I’m inclined to doubt it, though.”

“Really? You know a lot of us are rooting for you two to get back together.”

“I appreciate that,” I said. “We’ll see.” It hadn’t occurred to me just how much of a challenge this break could be. Maybe there was a better way for me to handle it than just pretending I was Marsha?

“So what have you been up to, lately?”

“Well, I played Mollie in a production of The Mousetrap.”

“Uh huh…”

“And my classes are going well…”

“C’mon, Marsh. I mean, what have you been doing? OK, Maddy says you’re not actually seeing anybody, but if you’re not into getting back together with Dirk, there must be somebody else you have your eye on. Spill!”

Spill? Was I supposed to admit to a crush? Or talk about my thoughts on dating when I got back to school? “Um… well… there’s a boy that I like but he’s taken, does that count?”

“Taken? Marsh, you know better than that. What are you doing to yourself?”

Aside from talking about things I don’t want to discuss with a girl I don’t know very well? I really wasn’t sure how this was supposed to work. “I didn’t know about her when I met him, is all. There’s a boy at school who likes me, though, but I’m not so sure how I feel about him.”

“So why don’t you want to get back with Dirk?”

“I’m just not sure we belong together. Besides, I think I’d rather be with somebody at school. My roommate has an off-campus boyfriend and she hardly ever sees him.”

“Yeah, that’s not so good.”

Talking about my love life or potential love life when I really didn’t know what I was doing was awkward. Dinah sure seemed to be nosy, considering that she hadn’t even spoken with Marsha probably since the summer. Then I had a brainwave.

“What about you? What’s happening with your love life?”

“Oh, well, wait until I tell you,” she started, and told me. And told me. I didn’t have to say anything more about myself, just react.

When she finally ran down, she asked, “so can you come over on Sunday to help plan this thing? If you’re back into the group, I’d really like you to make those things you made last year. Everybody loved them.”

“Oh… “ What things? “Let me see if I can find the recipe again.” Maybe Tina will know.

“OK, great! Sunday about one, then. See you, Marsh!”

Tina’s last day of school for the year was Friday, the afternoon of my date, and she had scheduled me to get my hair “done.” This turned out to be way more complex than the haircuts I had been used to, and I really wasn’t sure what was going on, only Tina and the lady doing my hair kept chattering on, while I just closed my eyes and pretended I was somewhere else. Why exactly this made me feel out of place in ways that other female-only venues hadn’t, I wasn’t sure, but I was certainly not an active participant in whatever was being done to me, nor did I particularly want to be.

When we got home, I pulled into the driveway and pushed the garage door opener. While we were waiting for the door to open, I heard a sharp rap on my window and looked up to see Chad. In the light from the garage, I could see a very surprised expression on his face. I rolled down my window.

“Hi, Chad,” I said, as casually as I could.

“How long have you been home?” he demanded.

“Can I put the car in the garage, first?” I asked. “It’s kind of cold out here.”

Chad waited until I had stopped the car and then followed us into the garage, looking confused and – maybe it was only my imagination – a bit annoyed.

“Did you just get back from school today?” he asked, as Tina and I got out of the car.

“No,” I answered, “we just got back from the…” and then I sort of mumbled, “… beauty parlor.”

“From the what?”

“The beauty parlor, Chad,” Tina put in. “Marsh has a big date tonight.”

“Um, Tina,” I said, “could you let Chad and talk for a moment?”

The two of us watched as Tina went into the house and then Chad turned to me, clearly stunned. “You…. have a… what?”

“Um… a date?” I said, embarrassed.

“With a guy?” I nodded. “And you got your hair done for this date… with a guy.”

“Um… yeah.”

“So… all this, ‘oh I’m really a boy, Chad’ thing was just a joke? See if you can tease old Chad? I’ll bet you and Tina had a big laugh over that.”

“No,” I protested. “It’s not like that. I am really a guy… or was, anyway.”

“Really,” he said, his eyebrows raised. “You didn’t tell me the part about you being gay.”

“I’m not! I… look, this was a real surprise to me.”

“Was it? Your sister said, ‘let’s get in the car, Marsh,’ and then she wrestled you into the beauty parlor?”

“No… I mean… look, it’s getting real cold out here. Do you want to go inside to talk?”

“When you’re expecting your sweetie to come over? I don’t think that would go over very well.”

“This is important, Chad!”

“Is it? I notice you didn’t feel it important enough to tell me anything about it. Remember what I said about keeping a guy informed when he’s working on a problem with you? Oh, sorry. That’s a guy thing. Nothing to do with you.”

“Chad, that’s not fair!” I called after him as he walked out of the garage, but he didn’t turn around. I ran out of the garage after him. He completely ignored me until he reached his front door, when he suddenly turned around with the door open and froze me with a scornful glance – and then went inside and shut the door.

It was like a slap in the face. I was just doing what made sense, wasn’t I? Why hadn’t he let me explain?

“Marsh?” I turned and saw my sister calling from the opening to the garage. “You need to start getting ready.”

“Ready for what?” I asked, looking back at Chad’s door. “Oh, right. My date.”

“Marsh, what’s wrong?”

“Why am I doing this, Teen?” I asked as I followed her back into the garage. “How did things go so far? Beauty parlor? What am I doing, going to beauty parlors?”

“So you’ll look beautiful for Jeremy, Marsh. It’s a date, and Jeremy’s a really nice guy. You want him to like you, don’t you?”

“What am I doing dating boys in the first place? We have to cancel.”

“What?! Of course you’re not going to cancel. Jeremy is a nice boy and you’re going to great together.” She wasn’t listening to me, any more than Chad had.

I reached for the door to the house, but it opened suddenly, with Mom on the other side. “You look beautiful, Marsh. And don’t worry about your father. I sent him on an errand that will keep him busy until after you and your date leave.”

“Marsh, are you listening to me?” Tina hissed, following me into the house. “You can’t cancel. You promised. Remember?”

“Cancel?” asked Mom, “What are you talking about?”

“Marsh is talking about canceling her date!”

“Marsha, you can’t do that. It would be rude. You’ve accepted and he’ll be here in an hour-and-a-half and I got your father out of the house for you. Everything’s been set up. Now go shower and get dressed.”

I looked back and forth between my mother and my sister. “It… I shouldn’t be doing this. It’s all wrong.”

“This is not the time, Baby. Get in the shower and I’ll come in and talk with you while you get ready.”

“I thought I was going to–” Tina objected, but Mom cut her off.

“On the whole, Tina, I think I’d better be the one tonight. Get going, Marsha.”

Feeling that I was completely losing control of things, I tore off my clothes and stomped into the shower. The hot water usually relaxed me, but not today. Stupid girly body, I thought. Stupid Chad. Did he think I really had a choice? I was doing what I had to do.

I stayed in the shower long enough for my fingers to get all pruney. Then I toweled my hair mostly dry and wrapped a towel around myself before stomping back to my bedroom.

Stomping is a good thing to do when you’re mad. I imagined I was stomping on Chad’s face as I went. This is not my fault, I told him. I stomped on Tina’s. Why did I let you talk me into this? I stomped on Jeremy. What are you doing, cheating on your girlfriend – and with me? I stomped on Janine. Why do you have to be his girlfriend?

When I got to my room, Mom was already there, laying out the clothes Tina had picked out for me. “Oh, Marsh, you got your hair wet – and it was just styled!” She sighed. “Sit down, and let me dry it for you.”

I couldn’t figure out a way to making sitting down a stomp, but I sat, grumbling.

“Now tell me what’s ‘all wrong’ and why you were thinking of canceling the date,” Mom invited, raising her voice over the sound of the hair blower.

“I just…” Wait. I can’t tell her that. “I had a fight with Chad.”

“With Chad?” she echoed, sounding confused. “Why are you fighting with Chad?’

“Um…” Now that was a question I didn’t know how to answer. If there was any time to explain about the experiment, if I were even ready to tell her, this was not the time. “He was helping me with something… and I didn’t tell him I was home, and he really got angry at me.”

“And what does that have to do with this date?”

“Um… well… nothing, actually.”

“Then why mention it? What is the problem?” She was brushing my hair now, trying to put it back the way it had been when I got home, with limited success.

“I… I’m just feeling that this is all wrong, Mom.”

“What’s wrong, Sweetie, is promising a boy that you’ll go out with him and then canceling. The time to decide that you shouldn’t have accepted the date was when he asked you. Now, unless you have an accident or are seriously sick, it would be wrong to back out.”

“Terrific,” I muttered. It didn’t help my mood to know that she was right. Tina had really screwed things up for me. Why had I made that stupid, stupid promise?

“OK, I think that’s about as much as I can do with your hair, for now. Get your makeup on and get dressed.”

“Why?” I groused.

“Why what?”

“Why do I need to wear makeup? He won’t be.” Mom stared at me, and I stared right back.

“Well, you…” She looked at me intently. “You know what? If you really don’t want to wear make up, don’t.”

“Huh?” I hadn’t expected her to give up so easily.

“This is a boy you said you really like, and I’d have thought you’d want to look your best, but it’s up to you.”

“OK… fine, then. I won’t. I hate makeup.”

“OK.” Why wasn’t I getting a reaction? Marsha would have worn makeup, wouldn’t she?

“That’ll save you time, too. So just get dressed now, and come downstairs. I’m sure Tina wants to see how you look,” Mom said, and walked out, quietly.

I stared after her, and then looked at myself in the mirror. I don’t need makeup, I assured myself. I’m not Marsha. I put on my underwear and then came back and looked again. Ooh, I look a bit pale… No, I’m not wearing makeup tonight. Besides, we’ll be in the movie theater and it’ll be dark.

I pulled on the stockings and my dress and then looked again in the mirror. I don’t know… The next thing I knew I was forcing myself to put down the concealer. OK, get away from the mirror, Marsh.

I put on my shoes and checked my face again. This is a pity date, I reminded myself. No need to look nice. Just to make the point, I took a section of my hair and twisted it until it stuck out like a horn. There. Take that, Tina.

When I came downstairs, Tina opened her mouth as though she was going to say something, but looked at Mom and seemed to change her mind. Mom must have prepared her for what I was going to do, although she couldn’t have anticipated my little hairstyle change.

“You look… nice,” she managed to say, and I could almost have laughed. Then the doorbell rang.


  1. George DW says:

    Maybe Mom is figuring things out? Good chapter. (fairly long-time reader, first-time commenter)

    Minor typo:

    “Um, Tina,” I said, “could you let Chad and talk for a moment?”

    Should be “Chad and I

  2. scotts13 says:

    I like this; it almost seems like the actual plot of the story is about to start. Please don’t let it blow over again!

    >> “I thought I was going to–” Tina objected, but Mom cut her off.
    >> “On the whole, Tina, I think I’d better be the one tonight. Get going, Marsha.”

    I can’t get past the feeling that these are the two most significant lines yet spoken in the story. Two of the conspirators in “handling” Marsh are having an out-of-character disagreement on who’ll deal with this small crisis. The conspiracy is revealed…! Or not.

  3. von says:

    Cough. Gag. Choke.

    The female half of the race, otherwise reasonably sane, has two particular forms of insanity. The first is, that they think that the male form is attractive. This form of insanity can be excused as a biological imperative. But the idea that they need something on their face, or some new dress, or some new shoes, in order to be attractive…

    Note to Marsh: The naked, clean, unmodified teenage female body is the most beautiful object in all of creation. And you know that, you said so yourself back when there was some shred of male sanity in your brain.

    Hopeing that George and Scott are right; this is still one of the better chapters, altho it fell short of what it could have been. The bit with Dinah distracts, and it is sad that he goes into kind of a mild depression instead of the full angry fit that the various events could well have caused. I’ll give this one a B+.

    Oh, and I will lay odds, good odds, that Marsh will panic and fix his hair before the door opens. Or that one of his handlers will do it for him.

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