Happy Friday! I’m taking a much-needed vacation, so I won’t be posting much for the next week. Before I go, here’s my short story. This was written for a holiday prompt. I borrowed characters from something else I wrote, but I changed their names for this because it’s unpublished and I don’t want to give any spoilers.
This is dedicated to a few people I know in real life, though the story is not taken from any of theirs. I gave it to my son, who was delighted to finally be allowed to read something I wrote. I hope you enjoy it!
The students sat in neat rows in the Sunday school room, facing Miss Patti. She smiled and pulled out a stack of papers, handing them to a tiny girl in the front row to pass out. As she walked up the aisle between the chairs, handing the papers down until each child had one, Miss Patti clapped her hands for attention.
“It’s time for our annual Christmas play,” she said. “First, let’s decide on the parts. We’ll start by taking volunteers.”
The children squirmed uncomfortably. There were a few who liked this tradition, but far more didn’t. It wasn’t all that interesting to mime the actions of the characters while one of the middle or high schoolers got to read the text. Only a few people had actual lines, but even then, most of the kids would rather do something else. The costumes were hot and itchy, and nobody liked playing the farm animals.
“All right. Now, who would like to be Mary?” Miss Patti asked.
Not one of the girls raised her hand. The room was quiet. Eventually, a small, skinny boy near the back put his hand in the air. “I will,” he said.
The entire class giggled with the exception of a brown-haired girl on the other side of the room. Her face went beet red and she shrank down in her chair, scowling.
Miss Patti said in her gentlest voice, “Beck, dear, you can’t.”
Beck sat up straighter. “But last year, you said I wasn’t old enough. I am now, and I want to be Mary.”
“That’s a girl’s part,” Miss Patti informed him.
“None of the girls want it,” Beck countered, his expression fierce.
The class had gone silent again, and everyone waited for Miss Patti’s answer. She shook her head. “I’m afraid not.” She pointed to the girl next to Beck, the one with the pink knit hat. “Megan, you will play Mary.” The girl crossed her arms and glowered as Miss Patti said, “And Beck, since you’re so eager to be in the play, you can be Joseph.”
Beck’s lip quivered, but he bravely held it together while Miss Patti finished doling out part assignments. It wasn’t fair; he’d waited three years to be considered old enough to have the best part in the whole thing—the only one really worth having, in his opinion—just to be told it was for girls.
After class, as the children filed out to go upstairs with their parents, a couple of the boys stopped Beck. They both had nasty expressions on their faces, and they blocked his way.
“Beck thinks he’s a girl,” the first one, Derek, said.
His friend laughed. “Maybe he is.” He shoved Beck’s shoulder hard enough to send him backward several steps. “Betcha play with dolls, too.”
Beck wasn’t admitting anything. His sister’s fashion dolls were the best—she had a whole drawer full of clothes, and she barely touched any of them. At eleven, he’d outgrown most of their playthings, but he did still like dressing up Libby’s dolls. Sometimes, he even coaxed her to play along. Not that he would tell these bullies any of that, though.
“I do not!” he said, putting his hands on his hips.
Derek grunted a laugh. “You look like my mom when you do that.” He glanced at the other boy. “Yep. He’s a girl.” To Beck, he said, “You know what we do to boys who pretend to be girls, don’t you?”
Before Beck had the chance to say he didn’t, Libby was at his side. “Go away!” she shouted at them. “You’re going to hurt him. Then my mom will call your mom, and your mom will be mad ‘cause you were fighting in church.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Let’s go.” He turned away and pulled his friend with him. Glancing back over his shoulder, he gave Beck one last nasty smirk.
Libby rounded on her older brother. “Why’d you have to do that? Now they’re going to pick on me, too. The kids at school already say stuff behind my back.” Her face twisted in anger. “I hate you!” she hissed at him before turning around and running off.
Left alone, Beck crumpled. He hadn’t meant to do something that would get Libby in trouble. She was his favorite person in the world, and if he could have, he’d have done anything to protect her. He hated that being small and skinny and sick all the time left her having to fight both their battles when it should have been the two of them standing up together. Now he’d gone and made her angry because he’d just wanted one small thing.
That was the last straw. He fled the classroom, not waiting for his parents. He knew the perfect spot to hide, too. No one would find him unless he wanted to be found. He scurried up to the second floor, to a little space underneath the stairs. The only thing there was a supply cupboard. Tucking himself up small, Beck curled his arms around his knees and let out the tears that had threatened back in Sunday school.
Ten minutes later, just as Beck’s well-earned cry had dwindled to sniffles, he felt movement in the tiny space. He gasped and pressed himself further back against the wall, his heart hammering. Someone had discovered him after all.
It was a kid’s voice, but not Libby’s. Beck dried his tears. “Y-yeah?”
Beck crawled to the front of the space where there was more light. “Why are you here?”
“Looking for you, of course.” She sighed, and it sounded sad.
“You ran away. I wanted to tell you something,” she said.
Anger and embarrassment wound through Beck. “Did you come here to make fun of me, too?”
“No!” Megan put out her hand, but she withdrew it. “I came to tell you I was sorry.”
He relaxed. “For what?”
“For what my cousin said downstairs, and that you didn’t get to be Mary.” She looked down and picked at the hem of her skirt. After a moment, she raised her eyes. “Why do you want to be Mary so much?”
Beck hesitated. “She’s so holy, and she’s pretty. I…I want to be like her.” He cringed, waiting for Megan to laugh.
“Okay,” was all she said. “Are you really a girl, like Derek says?”
“What? No!” Beck definitely didn’t feel like a girl, not really. Sure, sometimes he liked to try on Libby’s dresses, but he mostly liked being a boy. There was more, but he didn’t quite know how to explain it to Megan. Something about the way the pretty girls got noticed, and he wanted to be noticed, too.
“Oh,” Megan replied. “I thought maybe—never mind.”
“You thought I was a girl because I—” He broke off, not sure he wanted to finish that sentence. He looked at Megan, and her face was open, waiting. He took a deep breath. “You thought I was a girl because I like girl things, and I l-like boys.” There. He’d said it out loud, and it hadn’t been so bad.
“Maybe,” she said. “I thought—I hoped—”
Beck touched her arm. “What?”
Megan pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes, and Beck had the feeling she was trying to read his soul. “Can I tell you a secret?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Beck said. “Depends on if someone’s going to get hurt.”
“Nothing like that.” She fidgeted. “I don’t want to play Mary.”
“Yeah, I know. You’d have said if you did.” Beck shrugged. Not much of a secret there.
She shook her head. “Do you know why I have this hat on?”
“Because you like it?” Beck guessed. It was a nice hat, after all.
Megan pulled off the hat, and her hair, which had previously been in long braids, stuck up all over the top of her head. Beck had to cover his mouth with his hand to keep from laughing.
“I cut my hair all off. My mom was so mad she said I would have to pay for the haircut to fix it, but not until it grows out. So I have to keep it like this.” She leaned in and whispered, “I’m going to get it cut even shorter as soon as I save up.”
Megan wiggled her feet. Her worn sneakers didn’t fit at all with the satiny dress she had on. “I don’t want long hair. I’m not a girl.”
Beck looked her up and down. She was wearing clothes people expected for girls, but that didn’t matter. Beck wasn’t a girl, but he would have loved to wear her dress. “Okay,” he said.
“Okay?” Megan asked.
“Yeah. Why not? It’s pretty cool, being a boy.” He gave him a lopsided grin.
Raising his head to look at Beck, Megan said, “I don’t think God likes people like us.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Beck argued. “My dad says God loves everyone. It’s in the Bible. We even sing about it.”
Megan shook his head. “No. My aunt lives with another woman, and my parents won’t talk to her. Mom says she turned her back on God.”
Could he be right? Beck wasn’t sure. He thought his parents had some friends like Megan’s aunt, but they’d never said anything about it. What if they found out what he was doing in Libby’s room when no one was around? He wondered if he should stop playing with her dolls, too. Maybe people thought God didn’t approve of that, either.
“That’s mean,” Beck said. “I don’t want to believe in a God like that.”
“I don’t either.”
Defiance rose in Beck. “I’ll bet they’re lying. People don’t like us, but God is God. That means He has to love us no matter what. If you’re a boy then you’re a boy, even if we’re the only ones who know it.” He took a deep breath and let it all out at once. “But if you’re a boy, can you still be Megan? That’s a girl’s name.”
Megan shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve always been Megan. Maybe I could be…” He trailed off, thinking. “I know! I can be Blaze.”
“I like it,” Beck replied.
Blaze twined their fingers together and rested his head on Beck’s shoulder. “I want to live in a world where I’m a boy and where you can be as pretty as you want.”
“Me, too,” Beck whispered back. He closed his eyes and made a wish, even though it was daytime and there was no wishing star. Someday, he would find someone who loved him just for himself. Blaze would, too.
Sitting in the dark space, resting against each other with their eyes closed, an idea bubbled to the surface of Beck’s mind. He sat up and dropped Blaze’s hand. Blaze stirred and shifted away.
“What?” he asked.
Beck grinned. “I have an idea.”
“You always have an idea. Is it a good one, though?”
“Of course it is! All my ideas are good. They just sometimes don’t come out like I planned.” He shrugged. “Anyway, about the Christmas play.”
“Let’s switch,” Beck said.
“Switch…parts, you mean?” Blaze looked confused.
“Yeah. We’re almost the same size, and the costumes will hide us. By the time they figure it out, we’ll be onstage and they won’t be able to do anything about it.” Beck got on his hands and knees and looked Blaze in the eye. “When they do, they’ll just think we were playing a prank. We’re the only ones who have to know the truth.”
Blaze’s face lit up. “Okay. Yeah, we can do that.”
“Good.” Feeling much better, Beck crawled to the opening of the space under the stairs.
“Wait!” Blaze called, and he turned back around.
“When we leave here, we have to keep our secrets.” His face fell. “You have to go back to calling me Megan, unless we’re alone.”
Beck nodded. “I know.” He reached out and touched Blaze’s knee. “But when it’s just us, we can do whatever we want.”
He backed out of the crawl space and stood up. Blaze followed, and just like that, he was Megan again, pink knit hat back in place. They exchanged one last glance before they parted ways and descended the stairs to find their parents.