Chapter 1: Meeting Her

This really wasn't Kevin's kind of party. Too many goths, too many emo-boys, too many drugs. He'd only come because his current girlfriend Angela had talked him into it, and as soon as they'd arrived, she'd headed for the liquor table and the pool, in that order. The last he'd seen of her, she was flashing her cleavage at the old man who owned the house - one of her uncles, she'd said. Girls. Oh, Kevin loved girls, for sure, but sometimes they really were just too Barbie-doll to take. Let alone take seriously. Of course, he dated only cheer-leaders. For football players, it was like a rule.

And he knew he wouldn't have much fun anyway, since he couldn't drink, or get stoned, or even stay up late. As a starting Senior fullback on the football team, with practice early every morning, there was just no way. The new coach was a strict bastard, intent on making a name for himself at the most expensive private school in New Hampshire. Kevin had seen that on the man's first day. He could tell things like that about people. So one slip and he'd be cut from the team. Well, that just wasn't gonna happen. Kevin's only hope was football – he didn't have the grades for college and he knew it. He only barely had the grades to stay in the football program – a fact that worried him greatly. So he was winding his way out, to hell with this.

It was in the living-room – the front door finally in sight – that he saw her. Now there was a girl who wasn't a Barbie... she wasn't stunning, she wasn't a babe, she wasn't even in fashion. But he couldn't tear his eyes off of her. Which was odd, because she didn't have much boob, she didn't have much butt, she didn't have much of anything really, this brunette girl in the mini-skirt. She did have nice legs, though. Her face... was pretty enough – he couldn't really make out her eyes at that distance, but they were nicely sized for her somewhat angular tom-boy features. It was her smile that got to him as she flirted with some emo-kid in the corner by the couch. And the way she carried herself. Girly, yeah, but... tough, somehow. Like she didn't give a shit what you thought. Like she wasn't putting on a show. Like she was really herself. Kevin stared. You don't see many people like that in St. Augustine's Academy...

Also, she seemed familiar, somehow...

Someone called out to her - "Dani!" - and as she turned to see who was calling her name her eyes met his. Normally Kevin would have looked away – he'd certainly had time. But he just couldn't. She was that striking to him. Even the way she turned her head, moved her eyes, held her drink... everything about this chick was fascinating. Her eyes met his eyes for just a split second before she continued looking for whoever wanted her. There seemed to be a flicker or fear or something in that look. That was strange, Kevin didn't even know this girl so why – and then Kevin realized who she was.

Oh my god! That's HIM! That's him in drag! The kid's a faggot!

The second-string quarter-back on the team. A junior. "Daniel" - Dani - was a new kid from somewhere down in Texas. No one really knew him very well, and he didn't seem to be in a big hurry to fit in, either. Yeah, well, no wonder. Maybe the public schools had lots of fags, but not St. Augustine's... no way. Kiss of death, that was. Daniel was usually late to practice because of his AP class, Kevin remembered, so the coach reluctantly put up with it. AP class. Advanced Placement. Kevin didn't know what kind of AP class it was, but it didn't really matter. Kevin shared the distrust most slackers held for National Honor Society nerds. So little Danny is a fag, eh?

Oh, this was too good to pass up... This could be fun. He strode up to her and her boyfriend, he supposed, in the corner, without really knowing what he had in mind. She really did look good in drag. Amazing. That would make it even better.

"Hey, Dani" he said casually, but with an evil look in his eye.

Her face flushed, but she remained remarkably calm.

"Kevin!" she said, as if he were an old friend, "Justin, this is Kevin, Kevin, Justin. Uh, could you excuse us a minute?" she said to Justin, "I need to talk to Kevin. School stuff. 'Kay?" Kevin was actually impressed she could handle herself – himself – so smoothly, and then a little shocked when she – he – took his hand and led him outside.

"Okay, fine. So you caught me" Daniel said, dropping his voice back down to normal. It wasn't much of a drop, but it was noticeable. "What's it gonna be, Kev. A scene, or blackmail? Let's get it over with."

"Actually, I hadn't really made up my mind on that yet, 'Dani'. But I gotta say, you do look pretty good in a mini-skirt. Not bad at all" he chuckled meanly. "That your boyfriend in there? Justin, was it?"

"No, he's not – Look, it's none of your business anyway. What are you even doing here? This isn't exactly a jock party. And these are all public-school kids. I thought all you Saints were supposed to turn up your noses at those."

"We do. I got roped into it. Girlfriend thing. I guess you wouldn't know how that is, though..."

"Very funny. All right, so what do you want? And I swear to god, if you say 'blow job', we're gonna go 'round right here. And you may win, but then you can explain to everyone why you were fighting with your boyfriend. How's that sound?"

"Jesus, Dani – calm down. I'm not that bad, for fuck's sake." Kevin was a little taken aback by Dani's matter-of-factness about it. She had a point about the "boyfriend" thing, though. If he were to make a scene out of the fact that she was a boy, she could just as easily make it out to look like they were "involved". She was a clever girl, all right. So that was out. However... there was still some traction he could get out of this...

"As a matter of fact," he said, "how about this: I'll keep your secret if you help me with my homework. I hear you're a brain. There. That wasn't so bad, was it?"

Dani narrowed her eyes thinking about it. That wasn't a typical jock request... she had expected – besides 'blow job' – the blackmail to be money, or more likely, drugs. But then, she wasn't used to the private-school situation yet. These kids didn't need money, and they could buy their own drugs. Dani wasn't used to thinking that way. She came from New Money - her father had made a killing on something called "tech futures", and immediately moved to New Hampshire, as soon as Dani's school was over. She barely had time to say goodbye to her boyfriend there. Not that it was a big loss. He was getting a little... clingy... anyway.

"What homework, and for how long..." she asked suspiciously.

"All of it. The rest of the year" Kevin said.

"One subject, the rest of the year" Dani countered.

"Three subjects, the rest of the year."

"Two subjects, two months."

"Two subjects, the rest of the year" Kevin said, "and that's my final offer."

"What two subjects?"

"English and Analytical Geometry."

"And you tell no one. No one at all, not your family, not your buddies – no one."

"Scout's honor."

"You were a scout?".

"Uhm... no. Cross my heart then? Like the bra?"

"Real comedian, aren't you, Kevin..." she said as she considered her options, "Okay. It's a deal. But I mean it: no smart remarks, double-entendres or innuendo – nothing. If I start hearing rumors – or even rumors of rumors - the deal's off. Got it?"

"You're the..." Kevin started, then wondered why the hell he was about to say "boss", and asked instead, "What's 'innuendo' and 'double-whatchamacallits'?"

Dani sighed. "It means no sly little remarks about me or stupid jokes that can be taken two ways. This meeting never happened. Okay?"

"All right, 'Dani'. Clever name, by the way."

"Yeah, I'm a brain, like you said. My first time in drag and I run into you. I'm god-damn brilliant..."

"Really? Your first time?" Kevin said, wondering in the back of his mind what that meant about the boy, "Well, you really did a good job. Seriously. Could use a little more boob, though."

"I'm outta here. Thanks for ruining my good times, Kev. Hope you're proud of yourself. I can't fucking believe I had to run into you... God!" Dani turned away and took two steps before she stopped, fists to her sides, "DAMMIT! My car's blocked in! Of all the DAMN times..."

Seeing her like that - her back to him, tensed up, making fists of frustration - Kevin actually thought to himself She's so CUTE! Before he brought himself back under control by remembering that "she" was a "he". But, well, looks count, and he looked like a damsel in distress. He really did.

"I was just leaving too. Need a ride?"

She slowly turned around. Was this guy pulling something else now?

"What about my car?"

"I'll bring you back tomorrow."

"You don't know where I live..."

"I will after I drop you off."

All right, so jock-boy isn't a total moron... Still a jock though. "You don't strike me as the kind of guy who does favors for fags."

"You're my first one."

"Yeah? Your first one? Well, you really did a good job. Seriously." Dani said, mocking him.

"Look, Dani. I really do need help with my grades, okay? If I get kicked out of football I'm dead. It's two fuckin' weeks into the school-year and I'm already getting close. So if you'll do what we said, then maybe we can just drop all the jock and fag stuff, all right?"

She stared at him, trying to make up her mind.

And Kevin had an inspiration: "And... I'm sorry I ruined your evening, okay?"

"You're not gay or bi or anything, are you? Looking to try out for the other team? Because I'm SO not up for that."

"I like girls" he said firmly.

"Lucky them" Dani's voice dripped with sarcasm, "So, first you black-mail me, now you're going to do me a favor, is that it?"

"Uhm... yeah. I guess that's it."

Dani wasn't really looking forward to this, but she was kind of stuck for any better ideas. Besides, if this Kevin guy tried anything, Dani could hold her own. Like she'd said before, he might eventually win, but there would be some permanent marks to explain later.

"Oh... fine. I just want to go the hell home. You try anything and you will be sorry, Kevin..."

Kevin sighed. It was kind of a bummer having this girl – or... whatever – thinking he was that way. Then again, he was blackmailing her, so she had good reason to be suspicious, he supposed. That kind of sucked too.

Wait a minute, what the hell was he thinking? This was a boy he was talking about here. A fag boy! It was the dress that was confusing him. Or the makeup. Or something. Whatever, this was a guy who liked to do – or be done by – other guys! That was just disgusting, man. Weird and disgusting. Not that they should all be shot on sight or anything, long as they don't bother him, y'know.

Really, this was a weird situation. And being tutored by her – or rather, this guy - was going to be... even weirder. But he could put up with it for one year. Long as it kept him on the team. Kevin only had one back-up plan if he couldn't get a football scholarship, and that was his rich (seriously rich) uncle Keith. And Keith didn't really like Kevin much. Considered him a shallow slacker. And, Kevin thought, he's probably right.

In the darkness and silence of Kevin's Mustang, Dani looked over at her tormentor. The asshole that had ruined her day – and would ruin many more, no doubt. Well, what's done was done. It would've been nice to stay in the closet long enough to finish high school in this new town, but obviously that wasn't going to happen now. She knew that Kevin wouldn't be able to keep it in forever. She gave him a week, at best. Hell, the tutoring thing probably wasn't even worth starting on, but she'd give him a little benefit of the doubt, because that's what she always did. That was just the way she was. More often than not, she got burned by it. She expected to be burned again.

"Turn right on State, keep going to thirty-first, turn left" she said dejectedly. Tonight had started off so well, to. Nervously at first – her first time in drag in public and all - then so good as people actually seemed to accept her as a girl, and now... now Kevin was a part of it. Asshole.

"Got it, left on 31st" Kevin said. He, on the other hand, was feeling pretty good. If he could bring his grades up, everything might be all right after all. Now that he had a way to do that – with the gay boy brainiac under his thumb, the weight of the world seemed to be lifted from his shoulders. And after high school, once he was picked up by a college team, he was sure to be drafted into the Pros – he just knew it. Things were going to work out. Something just felt right, or something. He just had to keep Dani on a string, is all. No sweat.

As he reached for the shifter, he spared a glance at Dani's legs as she sat on the passenger side. Man. She really was hot in that skirt. He was, rather. He looked hot, is what Kevin meant. Because of the skirt. Obviously, he couldn't be hot... Dani was a guy, for fuck's sake! Man, this was almost funny. Imagine stealing glances at another guy... Heh.

"So Dani, how long ya been gay?" he asked almost jovially, without looking at her.

"Excuse me?"

"I'm just wondering when you decided you were gay, is all. I won't tell anyone. Just curious."

"Okay, first of all, one doesn't decide that they're gay. One discovers it. And second-"

"Oh, don't get all PC. Look, it's your choice. Ain't my thing, but you wanna be gay, that's up to you. Really. Just don't be hittin' on me, is all."

"God... You really are a complete idiot, aren't you..."

"Well, I know it takes a man and a woman to make a baby. And I know that's what sex is for. So ya gotta admit, it has to be 'unnatural' for two guys – or two girls for that matter – to screw each other. I mean, that's kind of the meaning of 'unnatural', isn't it? 'Not like nature'?"

"Kevin – shut up."

But Kevin would not. Instead, he launched into a monologue of Everything I Know About Homosexuality – almost all of it learned via prime-time television and action-movies. Dani stared out the tinted side-window and groaned inwardly. Kevin was pathetic. This situation was pathetic. In fact, the whole evening had been pathetic, really...

She really had been having a good time, before Kevin showed up. An amazingly good time – and not 'good' as in 'wild' or 'crazy' or 'sex-filled'... just good as in... well, comfortable. Comfortable with herself, with herself around other people, around boys... in every way. Comfortable enough to forget, for that precious couple of hours, that she even was a boy.

Dani would rather have been a girl. And now she had just had her first taste of what that would actually be like, and she wanted more of it. Wanted it a lot.

Just to be able to talk to boys, flirt with boys, have boys flirt back... in public. Enjoying it, not nervous and awkward and tense, like it was when she was a boy trying to figure out if some guy would be interested in him or not. And almost always, after a great deal of trouble, figuring out that the answer was "not". As a girl, they all seemed interested in her! It was like... well, it was a new thing for Dani, that's for sure. Even asshole over there driving the car was interested in her – she'd caught him glancing at her thighs, oh yeah. Okay, so that wasn't such a good thing, but still... he was a boy, and he was interested. Dani liked boys. She wished more boys liked her. And as a girl, they did!

"... but even so, for a guy to wear a dress is just weird, ya gotta admit. Freaky. I mean, why can't you just be yourself, y'know? You're a guy, right? What's wrong with..." Kevin was still droning on, fascinated by his own insight.

He wasn't saying anything she hadn't heard before, in her own head, from herself. Weird. Freak. Unnatural. Asshole was right, though, and she hated him for it. Homo's couldn't make babies. And that was what sex was for. So it was sort of "unnatural". So she was sort of "weird". On the other hand, she'd accepted all that a long time ago. Why didn't people understand that it wasn't a choice? And even if it was, somehow... should her life be ruled by the same standards that apply to, say, bacteria? That sex is just for reproduction, period, end of story? No, she'd thought about that enough. Dani was who she was, and by GOD she liked herself that way, even if a lot of people didn't. Their problem. Not hers.

The word "freak" was hitting her hard, though. Dani was a boy in a dress – well, mini-skirt, anyway. Same diff. Girl's clothes. Girl's underwear too, for that matter. Like some pervert. But Dani wasn't dressed that way because she got off on wearing women's clothes...

Did she? That was the problem – she really didn't know. She did like feeling like a girl, and the only way she could accomplish that was to look like a girl. Was that shallow? Again – she didn't know. And why did she like that feeling anyway? And what did it mean to "feel like a girl"? Why should a boy want to be a girl, at all, ever, anyway? She didn't know any of the answers. All she knew, for sure, was that it had been better than she'd ever imagined, until Kevin had spotted her.

Now, that was all over. Once Kevin spouted off to his buddies, it was going to be a living hell. She'd been caught in drag. Everyone was going to know it – including her parents, eventually. What was she going to say? Dani had no answers for herself, let alone her parents! It would at least have been a little easier, maybe, if she knew why she liked the things she did. If she could just answer one of those questions.

Tears began to well up as she imagined the things that were going to happen. It was all so unfair! Why did all this have to happen to her! Coming to a new school was hard enough, trying to make new friends, trying to keep her secret from everybody...

Everybody but his older sister. Stacy knew. And although she teased Dani about it a little, at least she let him use her closet for his girl-clothes, so that their parents wouldn't find out. She'd even given make-up lessons and passing tips and taught Dani how to walk in heels. The one person who knew. Well, one of two now. But at least his sister was cool with it. Kevin was... well, Kevin was just a typical idiot, is what Kevin was.

Yeah, she supposed she was a freak. Just like that man she'd seen in a dress at the mall that time – obviously a man, too, middle-aged gut and huge ugly feet and all. Even Dani had seen that man as a "freak". And now here she was, in a mini-skirt and a stuffed bra and high-heels...

Her breath hitched as she continued staring out the window, turned away from Kevin.

Oh, god... don't cry. Don't let me start crying. Not in front of this guy... oh god...

Which only made her feel even more freakish than ever. Which only made it hurt more. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to concentrate on keeping her breath regular. Kevin hadn't noticed yet. If he were to notice, he'd probably...

A quiet sob escaped Dani's throat, while her concentration lapsed. Kevin heard it.

He forgot what he was saying.

"Hey... Hey Dani... are you... Oh Jesus Dani, don't cry..." Kevin was caught off-guard. Dani's face was turned away, but he knew what he'd heard, and he could see her shoulders hitching as she held back her sobs. What the fuck? It couldn't have been anything he'd said... he was just stating obvious facts, right? Things they should have both been able to agree on. Like that Dani was a freak...

Christ... me and my big mouth. Way to go, asshole. Now you made her cry. I mean, made him cry.

"Uh..." he started speaking before he knew what he was going to say, "C'mon Dani... I didn't... I mean – look – Uhm, I'm a moron, okay? I know that. I'm sorry about... rambling on like that. I obviously don't know squat about you, or... being gay... or anything, y'know? C'mon..." He put a hand on her shoulder.

"DON'T TOUCH ME!" she screamed into her window, pulling her shoulder away, bringing her hands up to her face.

"Fuck" Kevin said, turning his attention back to driving. The light he'd been sitting at was already green. Probably been that way for awhile. Good thing there was no traffic this time of night. As he started to drive through the intersection, it occurred to him that he'd just put his hand onto the shoulder of a crying boy. Well, fuck, he'd think about that later. After he'd stopped her from crying like that. He was such an asshole – and now she knew it, too. Fuck...

"I said I was sorry, Dani. Look, I swear to GOD I'll never tell anyone, okay? It'll be all right. It may be hard to believe, but you can actually trust me, because I suck at lying – seriously. I'm really, really bad at it. Everyone can always tell when I lie. So I just don't do it anymore."

"You're an idiot, Kevin! And a fucking ASSHOLE, too!" Dani said behind her hands.

Kevin sighed deeply. Well, at least she wasn't crying as much, now. "Yeah, well... that's what I need your help with..."

Dani blinked. What? She looked over at Kevin as he drove.

"Uh..." Kevin said, as he considered what he'd just said, "I mean... That didn't come out right..."

Dani started to smile, and then smirk, and then smile again, and then – giggle.

"Is this where I'm supposed to turn?" Kevin said, trying to change the subject. Dani didn't answer. Instead, she brought her hand up to cover her mouth as her giggling began to turn into an almost-laugh.

"It wasn't that funny..." Kevin said.

He pretended to find something fascinating in his outside rear-view mirror. That way she she wouldn't see him smiling, too. He couldn't help it. She just affected him that way.