Cross-Country - Part 7 of 7: Conclusion

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I stole a girl’s dress. It was the worst thing I’d ever done—and the best!

Cross-Country, by Karin Bishop

Part 7

Chapter 13: The Barbecue

We followed Amy’s family car down the interstate a few miles, then turned off into some low foothills. Finally we came to a little town even smaller than where we’d been, but there was a restaurant, really more like a cantina, with paper lanterns hung out, a mariachi band playing, and trucks and cars parked every which way. People were milling around, with their heads bent over paper plates, eating ribs or corn-on-the-cob. There were families, kids running around, and here and there couples talking quietly. All in all, it was a lovely scene.

People seemed to know Amy’s car, and they greeted Amy and her mom and dad. Her younger brother was already there with friends, and from the way people talked I guessed that an older brother was around somewhere. Mom and I were introduced and welcomed without a second thought. I realized that I was more concerned about being overdressed than I was about being ‘found out’. That actually made me relax a little.

Mom and I were handed a sturdy Styrofoam plate brimming with beans, corn-on-the-cob, and a piece of barbecued chicken and piece of barbecued rib. We looked for a place to sit, then found two stools and a small table by a volleyball net. Amy came over with her own plate and sat down on the ground and tore into her rib, then looked up at us and grinned.

“I just realized this probably isn’t what you thought it was. This is a restaurant, but tonight is a combined birthday party and after‑ballgame party. Hope you don’t mind.”

Mom laughed. “No, of course not, and we’re honored. It’s just that we expected more, well, you know …tablecloths, menus, that sort of thing. That’s why I had Ann dress nicely.”

“Sorry; I forgot. Any other night, that’s what you get. Oh, you don’t have silverware! ‘Scuse me.” She set her plate on the edge of the table and ran off before we could stop her.

Mom watched her go, then turned to me with a smile. “You know, I think it’s grand that you’ve met Amy. You know why?”

I had no idea, and said so.

“Because this summer you’re supposed to learn all about being female, and being female doesn’t just mean frilly lace and high tea, or designer dresses, or playing with dolls. It means being yourself, whether you’re a tomboy or ‘girly’, just being yourself. And Amy’s not what you’d call ‘girly’. But she’s 100% girl, and I like her.”

I didn’t tell Mom about Amy’s lust for hockey players; I knew she wasn’t a tomboy, but she sure was ‘rough ‘n ready’.

“I like her a lot, too, Mom. See, she’s the first person who met me as Ann and accepts me as Ann without question, so even if we never see each other again, she’ll always be special to me.”

Mom reached out and put her hand over mine. “I know, dear, that’s just what I was thinking. And everybody here seems to accept you as a girl. It’s reassuring to have ‘independent verification of the facts’,” she said, imitating a news reporter.

Amy came up with knives, forks, spoons, lots of napkins, and of all things, placemats. “Just wanted you to feel more comfortable,” she said.

“Amy, dear, thank you, but you needn’t go to all this trouble,” Mom said, although I noticed she took the items.

“It’s okay. By the way, I don’t think I told you; the meal’s free.”

“Oh, no, we couldn’t—”

“Sure you could; the cash register’s closed. This is a private party for friends, so I guess it’s a public party. And you’re friends ...” Her voice trailed off and she looked at me guiltily.

I realized just then that she and I had hit it off so well that we’d be great friends, except tomorrow Mom and I would drive off. I felt terrible.

“Amy, I ...I feel awful somehow. You’ve been so great to us right from the start, and I think that if we lived here, you and I would be really good friends. Suddenly, I don’t want to drive away tomorrow!”

Tears welled up in my eyes, and I saw Amy getting teary, too. Spontaneously, we reached out and hugged each other. I looked over at Mom and saw the saddest smile I’d ever seen.

Mom cleared her throat as we ended the hug. “We really do have to leave tomorrow. Of course, there’s no law saying we can’t pass through here on the way back to California. And there’s no law that says you two can’t write every now and then; email, whatever. Maybe visits can be arranged, in both directions.”

We nodded, dabbed our eyes and noses, and laughed a little. I think I’d just had my first ‘woman’s cry’, and felt much better after. But still I’d miss Amy.

We settled down to our barbecue, but first I got up to get drinks for Mom and me. I found a barrel with beer, wine coolers, and sodas floating in ice. Grabbing a couple of Cokes, I turned and bumped right into someone. The cold cans make him yell and jump backward, and I got a good look at my victim as I apologized. He was about 18, tanned like Amy, wearing shorts and a tank top, now with a wet spot from the ice on the cans in the center of his chest.

“Whoa! That’s one way to cool down!” he laughed.

“I’m sorry; I didn’t see you ...”

“That’s okay; I was probably a little nosy and paid for it. You’re new here?”

“No, we’re just passing through.” Then we both laughed with embarrassment at the banality of the dialogue.

“I’m Ted,” he said extending a hand.

I juggled the cans and reached out. “I’m Ann.”

He shook my fingertips and I thought, ‘Oh‑oh, whole new playing field.’ He held my hand a little longer than normal as we looked at each other; then let my hand go.

“So. Here alone?” From his tone of voice, he was playing along with the lame pickup lines.

“This is the part where I say, ‘Sure’, or ‘No, I’m with my girlfriend’, but the truth is, I’m here with my mom. And my girlfriend.” I started walking back towards the table.

“Here, let me carry those for you.”

He took the two cans from me, and I had nothing to do with my hands, so I crossed my arms, and we walked back to the table like that. Mom had been watching the whole thing with a quirky smile, and Amy looked up with a mouthful of barbecue and swallowed.

“Hey, Ted.”

“Hey, Ames.”

“You know each other?” I asked, thinking suddenly that probably everybody in this small town went to school with each other.

“You could say that,” Ted said.

“He’s my brother,” Amy said, with enough derision in the word ‘brother’ that we all just had to laugh. He squatted down next to Amy and she went back to eating.

“Are you guests at Mom’s?” Ted asked, looking at us.

We nodded; Amy nodded and said, “Gone tomorrow. She’s my friend. How’s Sharon?”  

“She’s fine. She and Art should be here.”

“Art? Since when?”

“Since—we’re being rude, Ames. Well, I apologize for my sister—” Amy punched him in the arm. “But I’ve got to talk to Mom for a minute. Pleased to meet you.” He got up and walked toward the cluster of people.

I couldn’t take my eyes off him; I realized that my heart and breathing were going faster. I also realized that Mom and Amy knew what I was feeling, and I looked at my plate in embarrassment and tried to eat as if nothing had happened.

“Yeah, well, Ted’s okay,” Amy said grudgingly. I could feel some tension and didn’t want to lose my new friend.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I agreed in the same tone of voice. Then we looked at each other and laughed.

“Buds?” she asked.

“Buds!” I smiled, and the mood lifted.

However, the look on Mom’s face was searching mine, so to head off any discussion, I asked if anybody wanted a refill of drinks. Amy got up with me to walk to the barrel.

“Amy, I hope you don’t think—”

“Nah, he’s just a guy. What can I say? Just another walking penis twenty‑four hours a day!”

I blushed at the reference, and then if it was possible, blushed even deeper when I thought what would happen if Amy only knew ...

We got new cans of Coke and walked back to the table. I had actually barely started my first can before the whole thing with Ted, but now I was glad I had two since the barbecue sauce made me so thirsty. The barbecue was delicious, but I was conscious of ‘eating like a girl’, so I kept myself within reason by eating more than my mom but less than Amy, and that seemed to fit. The three of us chatted about all sorts of things; that is, Amy and I chatted mostly, but it was comfortable with Mom there, too. Finally, Mom announced that it was late and we’d had a very, very long day, with another ahead of us. Amy and I hugged goodbye, and promised to write. Mom and I drove back to the motel in drowsy silence.

Back in the room, I washed my face and hands carefully, moisturized my face and hands, while Mom was changing, then we switched. She’d laid out a white short cotton nightgown for me, and I undressed while she washed. Conversation was at a minimum only because we suddenly felt how tired we were. Mom came out of the bathroom rubbing lotion on her hands.

“Tomorrow I wanted to leave at seven, but now I think we can push it back to eight, don’t you?”

“Well, we can try for seven and if we’re too beat, let the clock go another hour, how’s that?”

“You surprise me. I’d have thought you’d want to stay as long as possible.” She had a twinkle in her eye.

“No, I mean …I know you mean, do I want to see Amy? I guess we had our goodbye tonight, and hopefully we can pass through on the way back, but let’s get on the road.”

“Oh, I understand about Amy; it’s better you said goodbye tonight. But is there anyone else you’d want to stick around for ...?” She was almost laughing.

Instead, I got choked up with tears, which surprised me. “No. No! I know who you mean, and believe me, I have no idea what that was all about.”

Quietly, she said, “I do.”

“What?” I asked tearfully.

“I saw a good‑looking guy feel an attraction for a pretty girl, and the pretty girl responded. Why? What did you think it was?”

“Mom, that’s not it, that’s ...” I trailed off as I realized the implications of what she was saying. “Yeah, that was it …” For some reason the tears really came now.

Mom sat down on the bed next to me and gently smoothed the hair from my cheek. Magically she produced a Kleenex for my eyes.

“Oh, honey, this was such a special night. You were accepted without question by people, including a girl your own age—and in a swimsuit, no less!—and a boy showed an interest in you. And you showed an interest right back! And that’s wonderful!”

“What’s so wonderful about it? Because it means you think I’m gay?”

“Not at all, and never talk that way, young lady! Don’t you remember what we talked about before we went to the barbecue? I don’t think either of us expected it to happen so soon, though! And when it did happen, it was perfectly normal and natural. If you don’t believe me, ask Amy! Better yet, ask Tod!”

“It’s Ted!”  I cried, my tears turning to laughter.

“I know it is, honey. I was testing you—and teasing you. Oh, my darling Annie! I just watched my little girl grow up a little today, even though I never really had a little girl!”

Now she began to get teary. I handed her the Kleenex, and we both burst out laughing. We hugged; she kissed me on the cheek, and we got into our beds and turned out the light, still chuckling.


Chapter 14: To The East

We left very early the next morning. I left a note for Amy, saying that I thought we had a special bond somehow, and thanked her for being my friend, even if only for one day. I left my email address, Grandma’s address, and reminded her that they had our California address in the guest register. I also took a card from the motel for Amy’s address. Dressed in yellow shorts, lime green camp shirt, and my ‘travelin’ sandals’, Mom and I left.

Along the way we talked about the day before. Mom said that while other girls had the advantage of years of learning to deal with boys, and years of talking and dreaming about it, I would have to ‘catch up’ quickly. I was embarrassed by the whole conversation, because before yesterday I wouldn’t have thought I cared about boys—although I remembered how I’d told Jane that I liked Sean Callahan in class. Now, after my reaction to Ted, maybe I was becoming a real girl quicker than I thought. Or maybe I was already more of a real girl than I realized …

Mom also mentioned how she’d made her decision about the hormones when she saw me in the bathing suit. She said that Bobby would have moped around the pool area, never daring to enter because there was a strange girl there, no matter how much he wanted to swim. Ann not only met the girl, she made friends with the girl, borrowed a swim suit, swam and laughed and talked with the girl, and looked so comfortably and so completely natural as a girl that Mom made her mind up then and there.

That also reminded her that I’d need a swimsuit of my own. How had we forgotten it? The next big city we stopped in was Salt Lake City, so we decided to take some time to go shopping for a suit. We found a large mall, and toured several stores (picking up some items here and there) before finding just the right suits at a department store. I tried them on, having no qualms at all at using the changing room, other than the icky lighting that Mom warned me about! We settled on a one‑piece suit with a long scooped back in a blue‑green abstract pattern that reminded me of Monet’s water lilies. It was a maillot, like the one I’d worn in Amy’s motel pool. Mom surprised me by telling me to also get a two‑piece; I was too embarrassed to ask her although one of my greatest dreams was to wear a bikini. We found a nice two‑piece in hot pink with ‘boy‑cut’ bottoms (I had to laugh at that) and a modest halter top. I couldn’t wait for the next motel pool!

After a trip to the food court we were on our way again, and we stopped later that day at a motel somewhere in Wyoming. It was hot and dusty, and all I wanted was a pool! I couldn’t decide which suit to wear, so Mom suggested since there wasn’t anybody else using the pool, I should wear the two‑piece and get used to it. Leaving our motel room and crossing the parking lot, I really felt like I had crossed yet another threshold. Here I was walking around in public in a two‑piece bathing suit, and having the start of some curves to fill it! I was so happy that I plunged right into the pool and right out again, preferring to lie in the sun and work on my tan. I decided to get really girly and undid the top strap of the halter, pulling it down so I was still decently covered but wouldn’t end up all white under the top. I wanted a real bikini tan line, and was prepared to wait for my very own bikini before tanning that way.

Later, after my shower, we had a quick supper in the motel’s coffee shop and made an early night of it. The next few days continued that way; I mostly passed the drive time by dozing or reading teen fashion magazines. I was discovering that I was getting critical about many of the designers, and at one stop I impulsively bought a scratch pad and some colored markers (all we had in the motels were ballpoints and small notepads). As we drove, I started sketching what I thought were improvements to the designer clothing shown in the magazines. Mom looked over my drawings at a gas station and said that she was surprised at how I’d jumped right in, and that they were actually very good. Hmm, I thought. Bobby had never known what he wanted to be when he grew up, but maybe Ann would be in fashion design somewhere. Well, it was a possibility.

Sadly, there was no repeat of meeting a nice girl like Amy. One motel had free wifi so I sent her an email—‘Here we are in fabulous Joliet!’—only there was a thunderstorm. Mom and I talked about how it was kind of funny that since the Elko motel, we hadn’t run into any families with teenaged girls. Motel managers were either the age of grandparents, or solemn Indians with one grown son, or one old cranky guy; the other guests either were young couples with toddlers, groups of college kids, or lots of businessmen. Mom said it was almost cosmic that we’d met her the first full day of my life as Ann in the outside world; the universe arranged the meeting just so she’d start me on the hormones! I laughed and said I had no problem with that, but I did miss the feeling I’d had when Amy and I declared ‘buds!’ to each other.

The other aspect of the ‘cosmic’ at the Elko motel was meeting Ted. I wasn’t dreaming of Ted himself, but he’d opened up our eyes and minds to the reality of boys being interested in Ann—and Ann being interested in boys. Mom gave me cautionary lectures and warm, funny and sad stories about her own life and the girlhood of others. In a way, Ted had knocked down any last reserve that Mom might have had about discussing things with me. She even said herself that she had to look at things objectively: If I’d been born her daughter, of course she’d be talking with me about boys and periods and heartbreak and funny dresses and experiences growing up. The fact that it took nearly fifteen years before she could begin having conversations about those topics shouldn’t enter into things; what was important was that she shared with her daughter.

And Ted wasn’t the only guy that showed an interest in Ann …

I no longer was the least bit self-conscious about being female in public. Of course, now came the lectures about showing too much skin or too high a hemline! I welcomed the lectures as a rite of passage, although I knew that very soon I’d be rolling my eyes like any other teen girl. And I was pretty good about knees together, how to sit, and so on, and Mom praised me for it. So maybe it was a mark of my new-found confidence that ‘radiated’ or something—that was Mom’s word—because from that first mall in Salt Lake City, teenaged boys checked me out. And, to be honest, one or two of them—or maybe more!—got my breathing going funny. I asked Mom about it once we were underway, because I was worried that I was so obvious, and because I thought it was vital that we share everything like this. Mom grinned and said she’d noticed my reactions and was proud and worried, but it was the worry of every mother with a pretty teenaged daughter!

I was learning so much about life, and boys and girls, and about myself that a part of me didn’t want the drive to end. Just keep heading into the sunrise each day …

On the last day, Mom pulled to the Colonie Center Mall in Troy, NY and we hit Macy’s there for last minute shopping. The weather had turned cooler and we were both getting a little nervous about my meeting with Grandmother, about an hour away. Mom decided that my original denim skirt was too casual and we found the perfect skirt at Macy’s, which allowed me to dress completely in the Ladies’ Lounge. Mom also changed there, after finding a yellow shirtwaist dress that would be perfect for her mother’s approval. I’d forgotten that she was a daughter wanting to impress her mother, too! We carefully checked our hair and Mom made me redo my makeup slightly. The point was that I wasn’t garish, of course, but that I was wearing makeup because I was a girl, right? That morning I’d carefully applied a light shimmery pink nail polish, too. I wore a light blue top with a scoop neck, cap sleeves, and with pretty shirring all around it. My lingerie was light blue as well, and I was quite proud of the slight mounds of my what-will-be-my-breasts in the slightly padded bra—because it was definitely not a boy’s chest! I wore my new dark blue-and-gray plaid skirt—a bit longer than a mini, and white flats that we’d bought in Salt Lake City. I wore Rose’s necklace, of course, and gold hoop earrings, bracelets and a ring, and a lovely new scent that we’d found at Macy’s, and although Mom said I looked wonderful, my nerves were ramping up. What if my grandmother disapproved? What if she was disgusted? Oh, God—what if she liked Bobby better? Mom told me not to worry, but I was very anxious the whole drive to Bennington.


Chapter 15: On To Grandmother’s

We pulled up at my grandmother’s house, a stately Victorian on a tree-lined, ancient street. Suddenly my stomach was in knots. I remembered the scene in The Parent Trap where the girls switch places and see their new homes for the first time; remembering that they were girls as I was trying to be—no, I was—and I somehow felt more confident.

We didn’t carry our bags to the door, but just took our purses and a present that Mom had brought. As soon as Mom rang the door, the knots in my tummy came back. The door opened, and my grandmother stood there, as stately and ancient as her house and street, white hair back in a bun and wearing a high-necked, ornately embroidered brown dress. My mother dutifully stepped up for a hug and a kiss and then turned to look at me. I was standing all alone on the porch, petrified, my ankles and knees together, my hands folded in front of me, with the two women who meant the most in the world to me looking down at me expectantly. Me—a son and grandson, dressed like a girl.

“Hello, Grandmother,” I said hesitantly.

She looked at me from top to toe in an instant; it felt like I was being scanned by x-ray. Then she smiled softly and said, “Hello, Ann. You look lovely. Welcome to Bennington.”

With that she reached an arm out and I lunged forward to hug her, my vision suddenly blurred by tears. I heard Mom gasp slightly, and then she joined us in the hug. The three of us stood there, feeling the unspoken emotions flow between us. Oh, God, my grandmother accepted me! She called me ‘Ann’! She said I was lovely! Maybe it could all finally happen—maybe I could truly finish my journey and fully become her granddaughter and my mother’s daughter! I wanted the whole world to pass by my Grandmother’s house and see the three of us in our group hug; my grandmother, my mother and me …my family—three generations of women.

The End


“Cross-Country” was written years ago. Ann and her mother will be back in “December”.

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Thanks Karen

Such a lovely gentle story. Thanks for sharing.