Tiffany stood in the doorway and looked at us. “I’m really sorry,” she apologized as she entered the room and sat down at the table. She looked over and gave me a puzzled look.
“We were just playing around,” joked Colton as he glanced at me. “It didn’t mean anything. Did it Bobby?"
Tiffany again gave me a puzzled look and asked, “Who is Bobby?”I shrugged my shoulders and responded, “I am. I’ve asked people to start calling me Bobby instead of Jacob.”
“Why?” she asked. I looked over at Colton, and he also seemed interested in listening to my explanation.
I sat down and tried to make them understand why I didn’t like the name Jacob. By the time I finished, I felt like I was consumed with rage over my father’s strict control over me. I knew that simply changing my name wouldn’t help, but at least it seemed to lessen the yoke around my neck. Tiffany giggled when I finished. “I like Bobby,” she smiled. “You look more like a Bobby than a Jacob. Jacob sounds like an old man’s name.”
Colton laughed and agreed. “I told him the same thing at school.”
“So you don’t think I’m acting stupid?”
Before they had a chance to reply, Mrs. Oliver entered through the backdoor. She was visibly upset. As she took off her coat, she looked at me and snarled, “I’m sorry, Jacob, but I absolutely despise your father.”
I laughed and replied, “You should live with him.”
“Never!” she exclaimed. “If I did, I would have shot him ages ago.”
Tiffany asked worriedly, “So, what’s going to happen?”
Mrs. Oliver sat down and explained that Mrs. Edwards really had no control over the meeting. She had spent the day trying to convince the board members that they were inviting trouble by having an open meeting that dealt with such a sensitive subject. She said that she was told that the board was comprised of seven members, and that four agreed with my father. Three were members of his church. Mr. Jacobsen, the board president, was an usher for the church. Suddenly, I realized how my father had found out that Tiffany had enrolled in our school before it even opened. “It appears the meeting will be Monday night,” she explained. “Mr. Jacobsen informed me that they expect a large number of parents and members of the community to attend.”
She looked over at Tiffany and asked, “What were you thinking? Couldn’t you have just used the boys’ bathroom like you’re supposed to?”
“Nana!” cried Tiffany as tears appeared in her eyes. “You sound just like everyone else.” She then pushed herself from the table and rushed from the room. Seconds later, we heard the bathroom door slam shut.
“Oh, Dear,” cried Mrs. Oliver. “I’m always upsetting him..umm… I mean her.” She shook her head and muttered sadly, “This is so hard.”
“It’s okay, Mrs. Oliver,” assured Colton. “None of us is used to this.”
She shook her head and lamented, “But I’m her grandmother. I should understand. She’s having such a hard time, and I’m always seeming to make things worse.”
She rose from the table, poured herself a cup of coffee and returned to her seat. When she did, she reached for Colton’s swollen hand and examined it. “You really need to go to the hospital,” she informed him. “I’ll drive you home and talk to your parents.”
Colton sighed and looked up at the clock. “Mom should be home.” He rose and put on his jacket. “I guess I’ll have to face the firing squad sometime.”
Mrs. Oliver rose and gave him a hug. “I’ll tell them how wonderful you were protecting my grandson. Oh, Dear, I mean granddaughter.” Colton gave me a worried look, and then he told me he would see me in the morning at school. I nodded and watched them leave. Several minutes after they walked out the door, Tiffany returned to the kitchen and sat down beside me. She had been crying, but she was trying to regain control of her emotions. It was impossible for me to understand just how badly she was hurting inside.
I asked worriedly, “Are you going to be all right?”
She smiled slightly, wiped tears from her eyes with a tissue and replied. “I guess I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”
We sat in awkward silence for several minutes. Every time I would take a sip from my glass, I could hear myself swallowing the liquid. Finally, I looked over at Tiffany and asked, “Can I ask you something?” She looked at me and replied, “I was wondering when you were going to ask. You started to ask me the other night on the garden swing.”
I shook my head and replied, “You don’t have to tell me. It’s none of my business.” I was afraid if I pushed Tiffany too hard, she may not want to speak to me again.
“No, it’s okay,” she assured me as she got up, went over to the cupboard, took out another box of cookies and returned to her seat. She took a cookie and started nibbling on it. I could tell she didn’t know where to start.
Finally, she let out a sigh. “This is so hard,” she remarked sadly. “I’ve tried to explain it to my parents and Nana, and no one wants to understand.”
I looked into her eyes and replied, “I want to understand. Really.”
She surprised me when she asked me, “Why?”
I shrugged my shoulders and responded, “I guess it’s because it is something I don’t understand, and I want to.”
She sat silently for several minutes as she nibbled on a cookie. Occasionally, she would look over at me. I think she was deciding if she could trust me. Finally, she turned towards me with our knees touching lightly. My first instinct was to move away, but I was afraid if I did, then it might remove the trust she was developing.
“Several minutes ago,” she said, “You said you wanted people to start calling you Bobby. Right?” I nodded my head.
I asked, “Aren’t we supposed to be talking about you, not me?”
“We are,” replied Tiffany. “Tell me why you want people to call you Bobby.”
It was now my turn to remain quiet while I thought of how to explain what I was feeling. I sat back, looked across the room and began, “I’m tired of my father telling me how I should feel and act,” I said angrily. “I can’t make a move without him scrutinizing every action I make or every word I say.” I turned towards Tiffany and continued, “I just want to be me. I want to feel like I want to feel. I want to say whatever is on my mind without someone criticizing me.” I sat back and stared once again across the room. “Jacob lets other people do that."
We didn’t say anything for several minutes. I was thinking back over all the years that my father had controlled my life. I thought of all the times I would cringe when he uttered my name- Jacob. That was the reason I had started signing my letters to God as Bobby. I sat up once again and looked at Tiffany. “I know it sounds really weird, but I feel that if I can change my name, get rid of the name Jacob, then I can be who I really feel I’m meant to be. Not someone my father wants me to be.”
Tiffany smiled as tears formed in her eyes. It surprised me when she leaned into me and gave me a hug. “I knew you would understand,” she whispered in my ear.
I gave her a puzzled look and asked, “Understand what?”
“How I feel,” she replied.
“I don’t get it,” I responded. “How can me changing my name to Bobby have anything to do with you?”
“I feel the same as you,” she said. She took a bite of her cookie before she continued. “When I was a little boy, I began to feel different. I talked to my mother but she said it was a phase I was going through, and I would outgrow it.”
Tears started once again to form in her eyes. “But I never outgrew it. I never felt like I was a boy.”
“So you thought you were a girl?”
“No,” she insisted. “I knew I was a girl but I couldn’t make others understand.” She wiped tears from her face. “Everyone called me Sammy, but I didn’t want to be Sammy. Sammy is a boy’s name.”
“When did you become Tiffany?”
“It was around the time I turned twelve. I was watching a show on television and there was a girl named that. I thought it was such a pretty name. When I asked my mother if I could be Tiffany, she got upset.” Tears started to flow more rapidly from her face. "She took me to a psychologist, and he tried for a year to convince me I was a boy. But nothing he said made me feel that way.”
I was curious for Tiffany to continue. “What happened?”
“My mother finally gave up. She realized I couldn’t change, so she started calling me Tiffany. She’s been supportive.” She then frowned and added, “But my father still hasn’t accepted it. We get into fights all the time. He hates it when I dress like a girl.”
I looked at her and asked, “But is it really worth it? I mean, look at all the trouble you’re having at school.”
She smiled and replied, “Look at you. You’re living with Nana. Is it worth it?”
I didn’t know how to respond. Tiffany was right. I had given up everything just to be who I wanted to be, to get from under my father’s shadow. I still wasn’t sure it was worth it. I had no idea what my future might be. It could be a long time before I could answer the question, ‘Is it worth it.’
Tiffany started giggling and said, “I knew you would understand.”
I shook my head and replied, “But I don’t know if it is really worth it. What if things don’t turn out like I want?”
She reached out and touched my arm. “Does that mean you could live your life as Jacob Long? Because if you don’t think it is worth it, then you might as well move back home.”
“I can’t do that,” I replied. “I want to be Bobby Long.”
Tiffany smiled, reached out and held my hand. “And I want to be Tiffany Martin.” She leaned forward and hugged me. “Thank you, Bobby Long.”
I pulled away and looked into her face. “But I didn’t do anything,” I said.
She smiled and replied, “Yes, you did. You’re the first person who understands me.”
I returned her smile and said, “I guess I do.” I leaned over and hugged her gently. She sighed and rested her head on my shoulder.
When she pulled away, she looked at me and smiled. “All right,” she said. “I’ve told you all about me. Now tell me all about you.”
I gave her a puzzled look and asked, “What about me?”
I was stunned when she asked, “Are you gay?”
My eyes widened as I shrieked, “What!”
“I didn’t forget,” she giggled. “I saw you kissing Colton.”
“I wasn’t kissing Colton,” I insisted. “He kissed me.”
Tiffany giggled again and replied, “You didn’t seem to be resisting.” She smiled and asked again, “So, are you gay?”
This was a big moment for me. I had been denying my sexuality to Cathy and Colton for days. I now had the opportunity to reveal how Bobby Long felt, not Jacob Long. I stared into Tiffany’s blue eyes and said, “Yes.”
“I knew it,” she giggled. “You and Colton are so cute together.”
“I don’t know,” I replied. I then spent the next few minutes explaining to her how I felt about accepting my sexuality. “What if my father is right? What if homosexuality is a sin?”
A stern look appeared on her face when she mumbled, “Bullshit.”
“Bullshit,” she repeated. “That’s why I have so much trouble with religion. It’s all bullshit.” She leaned forward and asked, “Tell me one word Jesus said about homosexuality.”
I thought for a minute and replied, “He didn’t say anything.”
“That’s my point,” replied Tiffany excitedly. “All these so-called Christians go to church on Sundays and listen to preachers preach about the love of Jesus, but then go home and hate people like me and you. There are things more sinful than what we are."
For the first time, I felt like someone understood the conflict I had been having for weeks. “I’ve been dealing with the same thing,” I admitted. “My father kicked me out of the house because I wouldn’t buy into his hate.” I gripped Tiffany’s hand and confessed, “He wanted me to hate you. He said some awful things.” I gripped her hand tighter. “That’s why I’m here.”
She smiled and replied, “That’s what I thought.”
Just then, the back door opened, and Mrs. Oliver came walking in. We quickly pulled away, but not before she noticed us. She attempted a smile, but I could tell she was upset by what she witnessed. I was afraid that she might think that we had been making out before she arrived. Tiffany asked her grandmother, “How is Colton? Did he go to the hospital?”
“His mother was upset,” she informed us. “She seemed to settle down after I told her what happened.”
I asked, “Did she take him to the hospital?”
“She was going to wait until his father got home from work,” she answered. “She seems like a very nice woman.”
She went over to the counter and poured herself a cup of coffee. She then returned to the table and sat down. She looked worriedly at Tiffany and stated, “We need to discuss what happened at school.”
Tiffany nodded and replied, “You don’t understand, Nana.”
She asked, “Understand what?”
Tears formed in Tiffany’s eyes. I wanted to reach over and hold her hand, but I didn’t. “What I’m going through.” She reached for a napkin and started to daub at the tears. “I can’t walk down the hall without other students taunting me.”
She asked worriedly, “What do they do, Dear?”
“I’ll tell you what they do,” I responded angrily. “They call her names you wouldn’t believe. It is so cruel. I’ve gotten to the point where I hate them.”
Tiffany and I both became visibly upset when she suggested, “Perhaps, it would help if you dressed more normal?”
Tiffany shouted, “More normal! You mean dress like a boy?” She then turned and rushed from the kitchen. We both jumped when she slammed the bathroom door shut.
“Oh, Dear,” replied Mrs. Oliver. “I’ve done it again.” She started to cry and said, “I just don’t know what to do.”
I reached out and gripped her hand. “You have to try,” I insisted. “She’s got the whole world against her. She could use her grandmother on her side.” I then told her some of the things I had witnessed at school since she arrived. I told her how I had to stop Darryl from tormenting her on the first day of school. She continued to cry as she listened to me explain how horrible things had been for her granddaughter.
She angrily replied when I finished, “Some of this is your father’s fault. He’s going around creating all sorts of problems.” I nodded my head in agreement. “He’s going to stir up another nest of bees with this meeting he’s having with the board on Monday. Mrs. Edwards told me she thinks things could get very ugly.”
I asked, “What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know,” she replied as she shook her head. “Somehow we’re going to have to fight back.”
Just then Tiffany returned to the kitchen. Mrs. Oliver apologized, hugged her tightly and said she would try to be more understanding. When Tiffany sat down, she asked her to explain why she had decided to use the girls’ restroom.
“I can’t use the boys’ bathroom,” she replied. She then related some of the things that had happened to her when she tried. On two occasions, she had been taunted and ridiculed. Several boys had made crude comments about her coming into the wrong restroom. One boy even threatened to rape her if she didn’t leave. She became more upset as she talked.
“I’ve gotten to the point,” she confessed, “that I have to hold it until I get home.” She started crying when she asked, “Do you know how uncomfortable that is?” She then explained how she had decided to use the girls’ restroom that day because she thought she was going to urinate on herself if she didn’t. She knew that if she did, then others would ridicule her even more.
Mrs. Oliver reached over and held Tiffany. Tears filled my eyes as they clutched each other and cried. “If only I knew what to do,” sobbed Mrs. Oliver.
After a minute, they pulled apart. Mrs. Oliver looked over at me and asked, “Tomorrow is Friday. Do you think you could keep an eye on Tiffany?”
I was surprised because it was the first time she had called her Tiffany without hesitating. “I’ll try,” I replied.
Tiffany responded insultingly, “I don’t need Bobby watching out for me.”
I reached out and gripped her hand. “I’m just being a friend,” I smiled. “I’m not planning to be your bodyguard.” She squeezed my hand and smiled.
Tiffany looked up at the clock and rose. “I should be going,” she said. “It’s late.” I looked and it was after ten. I was surprised that Mrs. Oliver hadn’t gone to bed. She said goodbye, and Mrs. Oliver walked her to the front door. I rose and went to my bedroom to finish some homework assignments before I went to sleep.
When I awoke the next morning, I went downstairs for breakfast. Mrs. Oliver had already set out a bowl of cereal and a glass of milk. She smiled when I entered the kitchen. “Good morning,” she sang out as I sat down. I nodded my head and started eating.
“Remember what I said last night,” she reminded me. “Keep a watchful eye on Tiffany for me. Won’t you?”
I found it strange how she was beginning to say Tiffany’s name without calling her Sammy first. I think she was slowly accepting her. “I don’t see her too much during the day,” I said. “We share sixth period together, but that is all.”
“Ask your friend, Colton, too. Will you?” She looked over and smiled. “He’s such a nice, young man. I really feel bad that he got hurt yesterday. You don’t think that other boy will do anything. Do you?”
For the first time since yesterday, I became worried about Colton. I had been so focused on Tiffany’s problems, that I had almost forgotten about the fight he had with Darryl. I was sure that Darryl would not just let Colton get the best of him in front of all his friends and not plan some sort of revenge.
After walking to school, I hurried to the cafeteria to find him. I gave out a sigh of relief when I saw him sitting beside Cathy. I noticed he had a brace covering his wrist.
I looked at his hand and asked, “Is it broken?” He assured me that it wasn’t broken.
He informed us, “The doctor said it is a hairline fracture.” He held up his arm and told us, “It’s going to be a while before I use this hand.”
I started choking when Cathy volunteered me to help him out. She gave us a devilish smile and said, “I know what you boys do with your right hands.” Colton laughed even harder when he saw how embarrassed I was. It didn’t help when he told me I would if I were a true friend.
I tried to change the subject by asking if his father had been upset with him. He said he had been at first, but like his mother, he was proud that I had stood up for Tiffany when Darryl had sexually assaulted her in the hall. He convinced them that he couldn’t just stand by and watch Darryl grope her while other students laughed. He said it took him an hour to persuade his father not to come to school and talk to Mrs. Edwards. He said, “I told him it would only make matters worse, and that things had already gotten out of hand as it was.”
Just then, the cafeteria became quiet before there was a loud outburst of laughter. I didn’t even have to look at the door to know what had caused the commotion. Tiffany was entering wearing a long white blouse with blue velvet pants. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail. I watched the faces of the other students as she walked over towards us. As usual, they were amused by Tiffany’s presence.
She walked up to our table and asked if she could sit down. She took a seat beside me gave a brief wave to Colton and Cathy. I quickly introduced her to Cathy. I know they shared a couple of classes together, but I don’t remember Cathy saying they had actually spoken.
“Hi, Tiffany,” said Cathy with a smile. “It’s nice to finally get a chance to meet you.”
Tiffany seemed surprised. “It is?” I think it was the first time someone besides Colton and me had said anything nice to her.
A worried look suddenly appeared on her face. She looked around at the nearby tables to see if anyone was watching us. Most had looked away, and they weren’t paying us any attention. She gripped Colton’s arm and warned him, “You have to be careful. I heard students talking on the bus this morning. Darryl’s out to get you. When I saw him, he had a black eye and a swollen jaw. You must have really hurt him yesterday.”
Colton held up his arm. “I didn’t exactly come out of this unhurt.”
“I mean it,” warned Tiffany. “Be careful.” She looked over at me. “Stay with him as much as you can.” I nodded my head and assured her I would.
We talked for a few more minutes. I kept looking around to notice students watching us. I would have thought that after a few days, they would have gotten used to seeing Tiffany in the building. However, they still seemed curious about her. I thought that if only she could sit down and talk to others as she was with us, then maybe they would change their opinions of her. Perhaps, they would see her as human, rather than a freak show.
When the bell rang, she walked out of the cafeteria with me on her right side and Colton on her left. Cathy was walking beside me. With others watching us, I realized that this was probably the first time they had seen Tiffany walking without her head down and clutching tightly to her book bag. When we entered the hall, she again warned Colton to be careful before scurrying away. Colton watched her leave and then said, “I don’t know how she does it.”
Cathy stepped up beside him and responded, “It’s because she’s a woman.”
Colton looked at her and surprisingly said, “Maybe there is something about women being the stronger sex. It sure takes balls for her to face all the shit she does every day.”
He didn’t realize what he had said until Cathy started laughing. “I don’t think it takes balls,” she giggled. We said goodbye to each other and then rushed off to class.
As I was making my way to Mrs. Hawthorne’s class, Jerome Norman stepped up beside me and starting walking with me. I looked down at the worried expression on his face. “I thought you should know,” he warned, “that Darryl is going to get even with you and Colton. I was sitting in the stall in the bathroom this morning when he and a couple of his friends came in. They didn’t know I was there.”
I asked, “What did they say?”
“He’s not going to do anything in school,” he informed me. “He’s going to get you when you walk home after school.”
“It’s Friday,” I reminded him. “Isn’t there a game tonight?”
“Yeah,” he replied, “but he says he’s going to kick your ass then go out to the field before his coach misses him.” He gripped my arm and stopped me. “You should go to Mrs. Edwards and tell her.” He seemed extremely nervous as he added, “I’ll go with you if you want.”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “He really hasn’t done anything yet.”
“So, what are you going to do?” asked Norman. “Wait until he beats on you before you tell?”
I asked worriedly, “What about Colton? Did he say anything about him?”
“Not really,” he replied. “He just said he has a plan worked out. I guess it involves him and Tiffany too.”
“I don’t understand,” I responded sadly. “What have we done to him?”
“Darryl’s been a bully since the first grade,” he answered. “You don’t have to do anything to be on his shit list.” He frowned and added, “Believe me, I know. He’s been picking on me since the first time he saw me.” We had finally reached the class and stopped. “Just be careful, Jacob.” He touched my arm and remarked, “I don’t want to see a guy as nice as you get hurt.” For a minute, I was afraid he might start to cry.
“I’ll be careful,” I assured him. “Thanks for telling me.” He smiled, and we entered the room. I looked to the back and saw Darryl watching us closely. I was afraid he might have overheard us talking.