Facing the Mirror

Chapter 2: Hidden Identity Jade paused in the foyer as she entered her house and silently declared war on Ashley. Her eyes shifted from wall to wall, hating each new flower-themed wall trim and framed oversize magazine covers. Lines of crystal ballerinas stood gracefully on top of the cherry wood entertainment center. A giant bouquet on the counter greeted the homesick owner as she walked into the kitchen.

Who sets flowers in the kitchen? It’s a place to eat for Christ’s sake.
She opened the fridge and the astonishing alcohol collection nearly blinded her. She walked back into the living room with a half-empty bottle of Belvedere vodka. “Here’s to you, Pop Princess,” she toasted to the magazine covers. “Jade shares all her beauty secrets!” She read the Seventeen cover aloud, chugged the vodka, and jumped on the couch. “You want my fucking beauty secrets?” She yelled and threw her hat on the floor. “Here’s my beauty secret!” She raised the bottle above her head and poured the alcohol. Once the last drop of liquor loosened its grip on the rim, she sent the bottle flying into the foyer. The echo of shattered glass sounded rather comforting as it boomeranged back into her ears. She tugged on her ponytail until it loosened. The slippery leather under her feet threw her off balance and caused her to land in the carpet swamp. She was glad to find her phone wasn’t drenched with everything else, though the internet seemed slower than usual. The letters that composed “steam clean company” slowly appeared on the screen as she used all her might to type them. “Steamy Dreams, this is Carol, how may I help you?” a girl answered the phone. “Hi. Do you guys clean houses? Celebrity houses?” Jade asked. “I think we can clean celebrity houses…” Carol said. “I need more than that. I need you to de-feminize my house.” “Could you repeat that ma’am?” “I need you to steam-suck a crazy lesbian out of this house.” “I’m not on some kind of radio show prank am I?” “Yes…yes you are. Why is your company steam cleaning at midnight?” “Oh my god, which station is this? I’m so going to kill my boyfriend!” “Haha. Can I be your boyfriend?” Jade hung up. The trip back into the kitchen seemed like a funhouse tour. She concentrated on the fridge and took all the clear bottles out. Opening them one by one, she drank two sips from each bottle and poured the rest into the sink.

Derek Ryans

“Buy all the stupid purses you want but don’t you dare turn the house into Barbie’s playhouse,” she refilled the bottles with water. “What is it? I look like a girl or something?” When she returned the bottles, she was careful to disorganize them, placing them where she knew Ashley would not want them to be. She made a note to buy beer. Every man’s fridge should have beer.

She imitated James Bond as she made her way up the stairs, rather surprised to see that nothing had changed. It dawned on her that Ashley was about public appearances. She stumbled drunkenly into her room and climbed into bed. Everything had a hint of Ashley’s scent, especially the pillows; they soon found themselves crashing into the floor. She woke up sleepily when Ashley straddled on top of her. “You smell like cigarettes and alcohol,” Jade said. “You just smell like vodka,” Ashley laughed. “Nice glass work downstairs honey.” Jade stroke her fingers on Ashley’s bare body, from the waist down to her lower back. Ashley arched her back and invited Jade to caress every inch of her skin. “I missed you,” Ashley pulled Jade on top of her. “I think I’m still drunk,” Jade said. “I am too,” Ashley lowered in for a kiss. Jade resisted and rolled on her side. Ashley kept one of her legs wrapped around Jade’s waist, and pulled herself in against Jade’s back. “Don’t,” Jade flinched. “I haven’t seen you in three months…” Ashley kissed the back of Jade’s neck. “It’s been a long night,” Jade replied. Ashley sighed and laid flat on her back. Jade closed her eyes hoping to fall asleep, but she could feel the slight movements next to her. Ashley moaned and gasped quietly, her fingers gripped onrt56to the sheets. The bed rocked to a slow and steady rhythm; Ashley reached over, grabbed Jade’s hand, and led it towards her inner thigh. Her moans grew louder as she grinded against it. Jade stared off into space and granted Ashley the use of her limp arm. Ashley arched her back as the rocking came to an abrupt stop and she let out a deep sigh of relief. Tears streamed down Jade’s face as she laid there, stiff as a corpse. “I love you,” Ashley reclined on one arm and whispered.

2

Derek Ryans

The next morning Ashley woke up to an empty bed. A light peeked through the crack underneath the bathroom door. Inside the bathroom, Jade sat underneath the running shower and hugged her knees. She leaned her forehead against the cold tiles while her tears found company with the pounding water on her skin.

This is dirty… so dirty.
She scrubbed her skin repeatedly until parts of it turned bright red. No matter how she tried to compress her breasts, they remained part of her body. “I don’t want to do this anymore…help please…God…” she hid her head between her knees. Ashley taped her ear to the bathroom door and knocked gently, “Baby?” She turned the doorknob left and right; it did not budge. She tried forcing her way in. The knocks on the door grew louder. Tiny pools of water waved back and forth in the tub. “Why did you lock the door? It’s just us here!” Jade sighed and stood up quickly, water trickled down her sides. “Four bathrooms in this house…” she wrapped herself in a towel, opened the door, and poked her head out. “BABY!” Ashley jumped back. “I got you some clothes to wear.” “I have some already,” Jade tightened her grip against the door. “But I thought these would fit the mood today…” Ashley pointed to a pile of clothes on the bed. Jade stuck her head out a bit further and squinted. All she had to see was the word “PINK” on the sweatpants and she slammed the door shut. “Jade!” “Be out in a minute damn it!” Ashley had left the room by the time Jade came out. She sat down on the bed and stared at the designs on her boxers. She rummaged through the pile of the clothes and found a pair of black thong hidden between the sweatpants and the shirt. “America’s Pop Princess…” She picked up the thong with two fingers and dangled it in front of her face. A drop of tear slowly rolled down her cheek; she dropped the thong on the floor and stomped on it. “Didn’t get the memo it was dyke day today,” Ashley made her way over to Jade and wrapped her arms around her. “I don’t want this anymore…” Jade wanted to say, but she held Ashley tighter instead and rubbed her head against her waist. “It’d be nice to just hide.” “You know what else would be nice?” Ashley asked. “What?” Jade walked into the closet and pulled on a pair of men’s sweatpants. “If we went to the mall!” Ashley said.
3 Derek Ryans

“I only have a month break,” Jade walked in front of the mirror. “Only one month?” Ashley came up behind Jade and rested her hands on her waist. “I have an interview with Rolling Stone in LA and then it’s rehearsal time.” “I only see you in magazines now. You and Brett. Rehearsal for what?” “You could’ve come on tour with me. Or visited,” Jade studied the reflection of her and Ashley. “Don’t even start. Ms. New Coming Artist doesn’t need to be outted,” Ashley said. “Fine. Thank you for not outing me. Maybe I’ll wear a LESBO t-shirt at my VMA performance.” “No…that’s so Britney and Madonna…don’t be gay for publicity.” Jade rolled her eyes and headed for the door. “Where do you wanna go?” “I said mall…I need a new purse,” Ashley said. “Why don’t we go to South Beach and relax?” Jade walked into the corridor. “We’ll go to the beach later. I can’t drink this early.” “How about further south? I feel like getting back to my roots,” Jade skipped the steps down the stairwell. About half way down, she looked up at Ashley and asked, “You wanna come to LA with us?” Then she turned and continued down the stairs. Stupid question, she doesn’t even want Ashley in LA. She asked out of politeness. Yes, that must be it. “Dadeland and Dolphin Malls are dirty,” Ashley took each step carefully. Should Jade ask again? The first time she did it for politeness, what about the second? “What do you mean? I grew up in those malls.” “The stores are dirty. The people that shop and work there are rude; half of them don’t even speak English.” “You do realize you live in Miami right?” Jade waited at the bottom of the stairs and crossed her arms. “Our area’s not ghetto though,” Ashley paused a few steps above where Jade stood. Jade grabbed her keys and wallet from the table in the foyer and headed for the door. “Call if you need me,” she trampled over tiny pieces of glass on the floor. “Where you going?” Ashley chased after Jade.
4 Derek Ryans

“Back to the ghetto.”

Jade got into her car and counted to sixty impatiently. By fifty Ashley still had not come out. She pulled on a baseball cap and sunglasses. “Starbucks in Kendall. 1 hour,” she sent Brett a text message. Her phone rang soon after, the caller ID showed “Beard Hubby Calling.” “Hello?” Jade answered. “Sorry darling, I’m half way to Orlando with Steve,” Brett said. “Say hi. You’re on speaker phone.” “Whore,” Jade said. “I’m going out in public. Who’s gonna hold my hand and make me look straight?” She heard Steve’s laughter coming out the other end. “Ashley’s not humping you in broad daylight today huh?” Steve asked. “The bitch had a fit,” Jade replied. “No Jade outing today.” “Good. Join us in Orlando,” Brett said. “Oh wait no. Steve’s shaking his head.” “Aw what’s the matter Steve? Scared that Brett might be more than just my beard?” “Ew!” Brett shrieked. “You’d be a sexy boy, but then you’d be like my brother. That’s gross.” Jade laughed, “Call me when you get back.” “We love you!” Brett said.

The Starbucks in Kendall was one that Jade had been going to since middle school. She checked her reflection in the door before walking in. Music blasted from behind the counter, she walked a little closer, and she smiled because it was her song. The girl at the register looked vaguely familiar. Her nametag read “Yazmin”; dirty brown locks fell just below her shoulder blades and her silvery blue eyes triggered a memory. Jade grabbed her coffee and hurried away. Once she sat down, she texted Brett, “Do you remember the creepy girl from 9th grade?” After a minute or so her phone rang. She pressed the ignore button and texted Brett again. “DON’T CALL! You idiot! She’s like 5 ft away.” Another minute went by and a reply came back, “There were lots creepy girls. Which one?” “Yazmin/Jasmine. Remember her?” Jade replied. “THE MURDERER???!!!” Brett’s text said.
5 Derek Ryans

“No I don’t think she murdered anyone…” “Yes she did Jade. She just hasn’t been caught yet.” “She made my coffee at Starbucks : )” “Don’t drink it. It could be someone’s blood.” Before Jade could reply, another message came in. “Come to think of it. If it’s the right girl…you had a huge crush on her.” The phone vibrated again, “You always could pick them. They’re all bitches or fucking insane.” And another message came in, “Fucking get out of there!!!” “I’m just having coffee. I did not have a crush on her!” Jade replied in a text message. She pulled a small notebook out of her pocket and laid it on the table. Steve had always told her that there was no need to write her own songs but she loved to write poems. As she stared at the blank page, her phone went into a vibrating frenzy. When it stopped, the screen showed “7 text messages.” Before she read any of the messages, she sent a new one to Brett: “You know how I know you’re gay? You just sent me a 7 part text that I have to decipher because they don’t come with page numbers.” After a few minutes of decoding, she figured out that the texts said: OMG don’t even go there!!! You so did have THE biggest crush on her! She was all creepy and quiet and sat in her little corner all alone and you were all OMG look at her eyes they’re sooooo pretty! 9th grade English she wrote a Witch story and you were the only person that liked it. Remember her parents at Open House? Her dad was an EMO FUCK and her mom looked like a goddamn witch. Rumor was they had like 30 cats. Don’t talk to her!! She’ll feed you to the cats.

Jade tried to remember what it was like in ninth grade. So what if she did have the slightest little crush on Yazmin? She was always interested in weird people; she and Brett became friends in first grade when he took Mrs. Greto’s vibrating pager and shoved it in his pants. During ninth grade, the conversation with Yazmin lasted about eighteen seconds. It went along the lines of Jade saying, “I liked the story you wrote.” Yazmin replied with “Huh?” Then Jade said slowly the second time, “Your story, I liked it.” Maybe Yazmin had answered but no one heard her. She just simply smiled. Jade thought that maybe she had a personality disorder. The phone vibrated once again while Jade had it in her hand and she almost dropped her coffee. “Real mature Jade. Drop the G word. You whore.”

6

Derek Ryans

She set the cup down on the table and turned it in circles. The writing on the side caught her attention. It seemed a little too long to be a coffee name. She brought the cup to eye level and examined it, “Can…I…have…what the hell is that a Y? Oh can I have your autograph!”

Weird, but cute…somewhat original…
She counted the steps as she walked up to the counter. “1. 2. Bend the knees a little. Be cool Jade. Be like Big P. Remember what he taught you. Do the pimp walk.” Yazmin cocked her head sideways and wondered why Jade seemed to be walking in slow motion. “You got my note?” Yazmin asked. “Uhh…yeah…” Jade took giant strides awkwardly up to the counter. “Can I maybe borrow a marker? Don’t exactly carry those things on me…” “Order something!” Yazmin hissed. A man in a suit walked out of the office behind her. “What?” Jade scrunched her eyebrows. “Oh! Uh…Can I have a grande white mocha and umm…a lemon pound cake.” Yazmin stared at the touch screen and tapped away. “$7.31,” she said. “Busy day?” Jade asked. “Huh?” Yazmin said. “Still a fucking idiot,” Jade thought. “Busy day?” she repeated slowly. “Oh…yeah. Ha-ha,” Yazmin answered. “Please don’t tell anyone I’m here,” Jade took off her sunglasses. “Ma’am, please have a seat while I heat up your cake,” Yazmin said loudly. Jade looked confused. Yazmin sighed and eyed the corner seat. “Thanks…” Jade’s face reddened. “Feel free to come and grab a seat. I’ll sign anything you want.” She grabbed her coffee and speed walked to the corner table.

What did you think, she was going to rip open her shirt and be like “yes Jade please sign my tits?” Stupid stupid stupid!
Yazmin glided over like a ghost and sat the plate down on the table. Jade felt the hairs on her arm stand up. “I was at your concert last night,” Yazmin said quietly. “Did you like it?” Jade asked. “Yeah. I watched you from a screen,” Yazmin mumbled with a lowered head.

7

Derek Ryans

“Why are you whispering?” Jade asked. Yazmin looked around and exaggerated a sigh. “You want paparazzi to show up?” “Alright Ms. Drama Queen,” Jade laughed. Jade’s cell phone lit up as it danced across the table. The caller ID showed “Baby Calling.” Jade faked a smile and said, “Duty calls.” Yazmin glided away the same way she had come.

Wow girlie, someone should feed you. I would break you.
“Yeah?” Jade answered. “Baby! We can go to any mall you want,” Ashley said. “I’m down in Kendall.” Jade pushed the cake around with a fork and looked towards the front counter. Yazmin stood with her hands folded and wore a smile on her face. “Ok so come home and get me and we’ll go to the beach,” Ashley said. “You sound funny…” “I only had two Martini’s.” “Ashley it’s not even two o’clock…” Jade sliced the pound cake into small cubes and rested her forehead in her other hand. “I know honey…” “Hold on someone’s beeping in,” Jade said. “Hello?” “Are you still alive? Thanks for texting back you whore,” Brett said. “I’ll call you in a second. Ashley’s drunk,” Jade said and switched back. “Ashley, you there?” “Let’s go to the strip in Ft. Lauderdale,” Ashley said. “Fine. Don’t drink anymore till dinner.” Jade jotted down her cell phone number and wrote “let’s catch up some time, it’s been a while since high school” under it. She folded the note into a tiny square and puffed out her chest. Yazmin stood at the counter with her chin rested on her hand. Jade walked up to the counter and handed Yazmin the note. “Little better than an autograph,” she said. She took out her cell phone and stared down at it as she walked out the door.

That was pretty smooth…she’ll call soon.
The phone vibrated. Jade took a deep breath. She looked at the screen and sighed. “Don’t you and Steve need some alone time?” she picked up.
8 Derek Ryans

“Bitch is passed out in the passenger seat,” Brett answered. “That good huh?” she asked. “My love life is private, yours is on National Enquirer. Spill.” “I gave my number to Yazmin.” The phone went silent for a few and a screeching sound came out the other end. “Brett? Hello? Somebody answer me!” “…You doing?” Loud voices came out from the phone. Jade got into the car and turned the speakerphone on. “Just shut up. Shut up. SHUT UP!” Brett yelled. “You don’t just pull the fucking emergency brakes!” It sounded like Steve’s voice. “It IS an emergency!” Brett said. “Jade gave her number to a MURDERER.” Jade leaned against the steering wheel and laughed hysterically. She imagined Steve freaking out, smoothing his half-an-inch of a buzz cut and adjusting his Versace glasses. He probably stumbled out of the car and estimated how much damage Brett had done. “Quit your bitching!” Brett yelled. “This is a Maserati, Italians make their cars for killing!” “Is there a reason I’m still on the phone?” Jade asked. “You could’ve hung up. I can’t deal with two bitches at once.” “And miss Gays of Our Lives?” “So you’re telling me creepy-murder-bitch is a lesbian? That is delicious,” Brett said. Jade rolled her eyes and started the car. “Just because she came to my concert last night it doesn’t mean she’s a lesbian.” “Whatever. Seventy percent of the AAA were gay and they’d love to jump into your bed.” “Are you guys back on the road yet?” Jade asked. “Your other gay banned me from driving,” Brett said. “Oh my goodness Jade I have a fabulous plan.” “He’s always been the smart one,” Jade said as she pulled onto the ramp to the Turnpike. She watched the rearview mirror carefully and tapped her foot to the low sound of the music.

9

Derek Ryans

“Ask me about my lovely plot,” Brett said. “It’s so hot it blows the calendar fire boys out the water.” “I just pulled on the pike,” Jade said. “Unlike you, I actually want to keep my car.” “Break up with Ashwhore. Bend Yazmin like a pretzel, if she’s still that skinny,” Brett said. “I gotta go…” Jade turned the music a little louder. “Shut your pie hole and listen,” Brett said. Steve’s laughter echoed through the speakerphone. “This is what celebrities do. They just don’t talk about it in magazines.” “Not this one.” “But Jaddddeeeeee!” Brett pleaded. The music became louder. “Jade?” “People just can’t get enough of this song!” The radio blasted. “This is Bitter Sweet Irony by Miami’s own Jade.” “Jade?” Brett yelled. “Ohhhh whoooorrrreee!” Click. “You love the part of me you created,” Jade sang along to the radio. “But you refuse to see the rest.” She pulled the car into an empty lane and set it on cruise control. It was almost as if she went into auto mode with the car. The music filled her head and she just drove. “The highway of love is filled With two-way lanes. But the view of you is missing… For your love I stripped off pieces of me And painted a new face in the mirror. For your hand, I carved my heart Into the shape you want it to be. I love you…but I want to be me. I love you…and I want you to be happy. I love you…but oh I’m stuck…in a bittersweet irony.” ……………

10

Derek Ryans

As the song went into the second verse, Jade remembered what it had been like writing it. The record company had been pushing Steve for a “hit song” from her. She was clueless what could be a hit song. The songwriter she was working with had asked her, “Do you have any poems?” “Not really…I kind of just keep them in my head…,” she said. “Well ok…love songs are popular. What do you think of love?” the songwriter strummed a few chords on his guitar. “Love is…,” she said. “Love is blind…” the songwriter started to sing. “ Yeah I never saw you coming and you took my heart like a thief in the night…” “I’m sorry but that’s so…” “Cliché?” the songwriter asked. “Cliché is what sells honey.” “I don’t know…I feel like love is kind of…a bittersweet feeling.” “Pop is not bittersweet though…” “I thought all that’s required for good music is love and heart?” “You got the heart girl; let’s see if your bittersweet song can pull through.” Jade had decided to dedicate her very first single to Ashley because that was what their love was - a bittersweet irony. The song exceeded the company’s expectations and topped the Billboard Charts for three weeks in a row. ……………

“Slowly there’s no more me left in our world…but I love and I need your warmth and your smile…” Jade sang. “It’s no longer a feeling of the heart. It’s a desire to be wanted, a need to be held. My love for you is a bittersweet irony.” “Hit me up with requests! 305 – 969 – 0888,” the DJ said on the radio.

Jade and Ashley ended up at a waterfront restaurant at the Fort Lauderdale strip. They sat on the patio overlooking the beach. Jade wondered if her beach day with Ashley would be displayed in the newsstands the next day. Catching paparazzi had become a daily paranoia. Steve had a “talk” with her every time something bad popped up in the tabloids. She lowered her head when the server came by. “Hmmm…I’ll have…a Long Island ice tea,” Ashley said.
11 Derek Ryans

“And for you sir?” the waitress asked. Jade smiled and was glad she had tucked her hair under her hat. “Grey Goose on the rocks and a coke please,” Jade said quietly. “I’m sorry, repeat that again?” the waitress asked. “Speak up girl!” Ashley said. Jade balled up her fist inside her pocket and grinded her teeth. “She said Grey Goose on the rocks and a coke on the side,” Ashley said. “Sorry…it’s dark here,” the waitress took the order and walked away. “What was that for?” Jade asked. “You’re not a man. Just thought she should know,” Ashley said. Jade rested her head in the palm of her hand and stared at the beach. The sea breeze and the sounds of the ocean calmed her. She watched the waves rock back and forth in a constant cycle of synchronization.

The water…it’s like God’s tears. I’m stuck in the middle of it all. Tossing and turning, being pushed back and forth. Lesbian…straight…woman’s body, mind of a man. Where do I stand? I want some answers God, even if you’ve given up.

Ashley swirled her drink in front of Jade’s face and climbed on top of her. Some people at the other tables turned their heads to watch. Let the freak show begin, Jade thought. Ashley took a sip of her ice tea. Jade kissed her and tasted the liquor concoction. Ashley turned around and sat down on Jade’s lap. She wrapped her arms around Ashley’s waist. “I’m sorry baby…” Ashley said. “I love you.” Jade leaned on Ashley’s shoulder and stared off into space. It’s either you love her or

you want to break up with her. Which is it?
“Fine. Stay mad at me,” Ashley said. “You came to one concert and left,” Jade said. “Steve told me I couldn’t kiss you or hold your hand while I was there.” “It’s the rules the company set,” Jade explained. “You know that.” “Come out of the closet already,” Ashley said. “I bet it’d increase your sales.” She tried to pull Jade’s baseball cap off. Jade tilted her head back and gave Ashley a serious look.

12

Derek Ryans

“And my music?” “Oh honey pop music is all about sex appeal! Your music is sexy,” Ashley said. Jade thought of Yazmin at Starbucks listening to her CD. “Since you’re my girlfriend, I don’t need to watch the shows. I see what others don’t get to see.” “In other words, my career means nothing.” Jade said. “You know me, I’ve always thought of mainstream music as a stupid trend. I like it better now because you’re in it.” “I’m a stupid trend…” “You’re the love of my life!” “You’re drunk. Let’s just go.” “I’m tipsy, not drunk,” Ashley said. “Lovvveeeee you.” “You don’t even know me.” “What?” “Nothing. Let’s go home.”

Jade stuck her head out of the bathroom when she heard the phone ring. Ashley pushed her against the counter and shut the door. She fought against Ashley and reached for the handle. Ashley backed off and stripped off her black lace bra. Jade’s grip on the doorknob loosened. Ashley grinned and lifted Jade’s chin up with the tip of her finger. “Your mind is like a teenage boy,” Ashley said. “I know how to get what I want.” After the shower, Ashley wrapped her arms around Jade and laid her head on her side. Jade smoothed Ashley’s hair gently and watched the digital clock. She felt small whiffs of air against her body as Ashley drifted into deep sleep. Once Ashley rolled on her side, Jade leaned over and kissed her forehead. She climbed out of bed and saw that there were two voicemails on her cell phone. “New Message, Saturday, 10: 31 p.m. Hi. Um…this is Yazmin. I’m sorry for calling so late but I just got off work. It’s 10:30, by the way. I don’t know if maybe you already went to sleep. I guess I thought I’d call you and see if you wanted to catch up. Ok well, I will talk to you soon.” Jade smiled and saved the message so that she could go back to listen to it another day. “New message, Saturday, 10:37 p.m. Hi. Again. I forgot to leave my number. 305.339.0042. Ok, bye.”
13 Derek Ryans

Jade wrote a note and left it on the nightstand just in case Ashley woke up. “Went out for some fresh air. Call if you need me.” She grabbed some clothes and walked downstairs to change. She wrapped ace bandage around her breasts and pulled her hair into a ponytail. The mirror reflected a girl that looked like she may have just came out of surgery, not a man. The texture of the wrap did not feel like real skin, but it was the only option she had. The screen on the mp3 player in the bathroom flashed 12: 17. What if Yazmin had already gone to sleep? She decided to send her a text message - everyone gets text messages. “Hey it’s Jade. From Starbucks,” Jade sent the text. She walked outside and lit a cigarette. If it wasn’t for Ashley she could’ve answered the phone. She stood by her car and looked at the reflection.

Yazmin’s most likely straight. What are you doing? Ashley’s not great but she put up with you for two and a half years. No one’s perfect.
The phone vibrated. “Hi! I know who you are :p” Yazmin’s text read. Jade picked up the phone nervously and called her. They decided to meet in their old high school’s parking lot.

“You look different than earlier,” Yazmin said. “It’s to hide from the paparazzi,” Jade said. “Same hat…but you just seem a bit off,” Yazmin said. “Paparazzi follow you around at one in the morning?” “The sneaky bastards never sleep.” Jade walked towards the portable classrooms. Memories of skipping classes came back as she passed by the bathroom. Yazmin followed closely behind her. They found a concrete spot away from the sandy ground and sad down. “So you’re secretly dating this girl Ashley?” Yazmin asked. “And Brett’s a cover boyfriend. That’s cute.” “Cute? You’re weird,” Jade said. “You’re the guy in the relationship, right?” Yazmin wrapped her arms around her knees. “Don’t ever let Ashley hear you say that,” Jade propped herself up with her elbows and looked up at the clear indigo sky. “Why? Someone’s gotta be the guy.” “Ashley doesn’t believe in the whole gender role thing,” Jade sighed.

14

Derek Ryans

“I always knew you were an odd one,” Yazmin said. “Look at the moon. It’s pretty.” “When I was in New York, I loved looking up and seeing all the buildings.” “Big buildings block out the stars and their lights steal the peacefulness. I like my peace and quiet.” “Open sky shows where you’ve been. But the sky with the buildings and the lights shows how far you’ve come along. Each building that blocks out the stars is another dream come true. The stars will exist forever in your head.” Jade said. “Any current lucky guys? Ladies?” Yazmin laid back and pulled Jade’s arm so that she turned and leaned on one arm. They looked at each other for a few moments silently. “Guys. Definitely guys. Too many to choose from. No one special though,” Yazmin said. “Cocky bitch,” Jade laid down flat and crossed her fingers behind her head. Yazmin smiled and shrugged it off. “What’s your girlfriend think of you hanging out with some girl from high school?” “She’s sleeping.” “Maybe you should go home before she wakes up.”

Ashley was still asleep when Jade got home. She slipped into bed quietly and wrapped her arm around Ashley.

I’m sorry. It’s not your fault that you always see me as the girl you love. It’s my fault I never tried to show you who I am and what I can be. I don’t think I really missed you on the road. I just missed having a warm body next to me. Maybe that’s all that we are…two bodies seeking company.

A few weeks after Jade and Yazmin’s reunion, the tabloids started reporting a new “mysterious friend” accompanying Jade. The reporters described her as “fragile pasty blonde, perhaps a cancer patient getting her final wish.” Oddly enough, Yazmin never complained. Brett on the other hand, hopped on the bandwagon and added fire to the gasoline. “I went to get gas before I got to your house,” Brett said while he adjusted the t-shirt wall in a clothing store. “Guess what I saw?”

15

Derek Ryans

“What now?” Jade slumped against the wall outside the dressing room. “Must you fix everything? You know Ashley is like a hurricane in these stores.” “Star magazine says Yazmin is your makeover project,” Brett said. “That shirt’s in the wrong place. It’s the same color but different graphics,” Jade said. Brett unfolded the shirt and examined the graphics on it. He rested his chin in his hand and searched the area for the same shirt. “National Examiner has proof that she is an alien.” He pulled Jade by her hand and trailed off to the opposite end of the store. “Ashley hasn’t said anything about the news…” Jade said. “She too busy swiping that black platinum credit card of yours,” Brett replied. Jade silently fingered through the sales rack. She randomly checked the price tag of a shirt – the sale price was $649.99. The red sign above the rack read, “40% OFF!” “I owe her...” Jade said. “No. I love her.” “She might as well be hooking for Prada and Burberry,” Brett said. “She kept our secret…” “I told you this a million times. Your relationship with her ended after 3 months.” “Why do you hate her so much?” “Because she made my best friend miserable!” Brett shook the clothing rack; anger flamed in his eyes. “You wanna spoil hookers, fine. But a ho ain’t a house wife.” Jade backed into an ottoman and involuntarily fell into the seat. She clasped her hands together and brooded in silence. Brett watched hopelessly, his head peeking from above the clothing rack. Jade checked her cell phone and lowered the visor of her hat. “This is bad,” Brett walked over and rubbed her shoulder. “You’re stuck between two bad choices.” “Yazmin does this weird thing…” Jade said. “No shit Sherlock, she’s a psycho.” “No she hasn’t done anything crazy. She just doesn’t answer text messages.” “She’s not normal. High school proved it,” Brett sternly stated. “Does Ashley plan on buying this entire store? She’s been in there for almost an hour now.” “I only hang out with her when she texts me.” “Do you see the common theme between Ash-Whore and Yaz-Tease?” Brett asked. “Go ahead Brett, make my day.”
16 Derek Ryans

“They’re both psychotic controlling lovers.” “I’ve always been faithful to Ash…” “The definition of ‘faithful’ is not preparing one boat ready for jumping while the one you’re in is slowly sinking.” “It’s complicated. We’ll talk later. Ashley’s headed to the register.” “I’m estimating at least five grand. The bag alone is eight hundred bucks.”

The stories in the tabloids did not have any effect on Ashley because they made sense. Jade was known for doing charity work and many of her fans were women in their twenty’s. In Ashley’s mind, as long as Jade slept in her bed every night, there was no time for anybody else. The panic started when she woke up one night to a note on the nightstand that said, “Went out for a run. Didn’t wanna wake you.” She wondered how many of those notes she had missed already.

“Do you know what’s wrong with Jade?” Ashley asked Brett in a text message. He showed Ashley’s text to Jade. She shrugged and looked into the binocular. They were in the car, spying on Yazmin in the bookstore. He claimed it wasn’t stalking, it was simply “information gathering”. Yazmin was flipping through a magazine with Jade on the front cover.

Why would you look at me in a magazine when you have my number? You silly girl.
“She’s a celebrity. Something’s always wrong,” Brett replied to Ashley’s text. “No I mean she’s kind of distant lately,” Ashley replied. Brett showed the text message to Jade. “Gimme that phone,” Jade grabbed his phone. “Your girlfriend thinks she’s a man,” Jade texted back. “It’s not a joke,” Ashley replied. Jade handed the binocular to Brett. “Who said I was joking?” Jade texted. A minute went by and her phone lit up. She pressed the ignore button and showed the screen to Brett - One Missed Call: Baby. Brett’s phone started ringing next. He held up the screen and showed it to Jade - Crazy Bitch Calling. Jade pointed two fingers to her forehead and pretended to shoot herself. “You two are going to have to talk some time,” Brett said. Jade’s phone vibrated again; she sighed and picked up, “Hello?” “Brett has this crazy idea that you want to be a guy,” Ashley said.
17 Derek Ryans

“It’s not a good time to talk right now,” Jade tapped on the window with her knuckles. “I’m driving.” “Do you want to be a man?” Ashley asked. “So what if I do?” Jade answered. Silence came from the other end of the phone. “You don’t even like guys,” Ashley was calm, too calm. “What’s that gotta do with me wanting to be one?” Jade asked. “Oh my God Jade you didn’t tell me Yazmin had a boyfriend,” Brett tugged at Jade with one hand, the other one holding the binocular to his eyes. “She doesn’t,” Jade said as she held the phone away. “Look for yourself,” Brett handed her the binocular. Ashley’s voice blasted through the phone. Jade mouthed the words “fuck you” and hung up. Through the binoculars, she saw a guy with slick dark hair wrap his arms around Yazmin’s waist. He attempted to give her a nice little peck on her cheek but she pulled away. On the second try, he backed her up against a bookshelf and moved in for a full on kiss. Jade squeezed her cell phone tightly. Brett took it and tossed it in the backseat. “Let’s go.” He took off Jade’s hat and brushed her hair with his fingers. She dug through her bag, but he took it from her and pulled out a small pink container from the side zipper. “Look at me,” he said as he applied lip-gloss on Jade’s lips. Her phone rang in the backseat. She reached out for it but he slapped her hand. “Do not move.” He took his own cell phone out of his pocket and threw it in the backseat as well. Brett walked off and signaled for Jade to follow. “Where are we going?” she asked. “Thank goodness you’re not in drag today,” he said. “Act straight. Do I look straight?” Jade crossed her fingers in his and said, “Now you do.” He led her over to the magazine section when they walked into the bookstore. He deliberately slowed his pace and stopped in front of the mainstream magazines. The majority of them had Jade somewhere on the cover. Some of the younger girls sitting on the floor gasped and fluttered their hands. “Smile,” Brett whispered. Jade smiled and nodded at the young girls. They squealed and covered their mouths, causing the small cluster of heads to look up from their books and focus on Jade and Brett. “I like this one,” Brett picked up a random self-help book from one of the isles and led Jade over to the couch. They sat at a slanted angle and snuggled up to read together. Their eyes floated above the edge of the book and observed Yazmin, who was about three bookshelves away.
18 Derek Ryans

“Excuse me,” someone said. Jade looked up and saw a woman with a little girl holding a stuffed animal. “This is Laura, she’s a big fan of yours. Will you please sign an autograph for her?” “Hi Laura!” Jade smiled at the little girl. Laura opened her arms and took small steps towards her. She smiled and threw her arms around Laura’s neck. Steve’s words played back in her head, “Your fans…the parents… you’re a lesbian…they won’t like it…” Jade took the marker from the mother, signed Laura’s book, and posed for a picture with her. The group of girls from the magazine section gathered up behind Laura’s mother to wait for autographs.

“Hi Jade,” a voice said. Jade felt a chill travel down her spine as she signed the last magazine for the group of girls. “You know her?” A deeper voice asked. Brett sat back with a smirk on his face and kept poking Jade until she looked up. The guy brushed back strands of his oily hair and cleaned his fingers on Yazmin’s shirt. Brett was stunned; he slapped Jade’s thigh repeatedly until she dug her fingers in his wrist to stop him. They both giggled under their breaths. “I’m Trevor. Yazmin’s boyfriend,” the guy extended his hand. Brett focused in on the oil smear on the thumb and raised an eyebrow. He nodded politely. Jade gritted her teeth and shook Trevor’s hand. “I’m Brett. Jade’s boyfriend,” Brett puffed out his chest and stated. “Hi Brett. Good to see you,” Yazmin squirmed away from Trevor. He held onto to her shoulder and pulled her closer. Jade kicked at the front of her shoes, wishing to kick Trevor in the face. “I can’t believe you know a celebrity and didn’t tell me!” Trevor pouted his lips at Yazmin. Jade and Brett both pouted their lips at each other mockingly. Jade measured her competition: he couldn’t have been more than 5’8” and his bloodshot eyes convinced her that he was stoned. His face was chubby, though she found his keg belly far more noticeable. Brett counted the number of pimples that covered Trevor’s face and shivered. He noticed Jade’s trembling hand while she was signing a magazine and gently rubbed her back. “Do you think you can sign a few more? I’m so broke and I could totally sell these,” Trevor said. “I think we better get out of here,” Brett scoffed. He patted Jade’s lower back and urged her to move. She took her wallet out of her purse and counted five twenty-dollar bills. “Take your girlfriend somewhere nice,” Jade handed the money to Trevor. She and Brett hurried to the exit.
19 Derek Ryans

Trevor and Yazmin looked like a TV commercial through the window; he had his lips glued to Yazmin’s, but her eyes wandered desperately in Jade’s direction. Brett held onto to Jade’s shaking hand as they walked toward their car. She lowered her sunglasses onto her face as a tear traced its way down her clenched jaw. He squeezed her hand. She turned and buried her face in his chest. “Easy…easy…you’re better than him in every way.” He kissed her forehead. “I have no reason to,” Jade sniffled. “But I envy him…” “We got something else to finish,” Brett said. “You gotta hang in there. Is Ashley at home?” “Drop me off at my car. I’ll take 826 and you take local roads,” Jade said. “Let me handle her first.”

Jade heard muffled sounds through the door before she even put her key into the lock. Ashley was on the phone, pacing around the living room. Jade’s laptop was open on the coffee table. As she walked closer, she recognized the website on the screen. It was the website for The World Professional Association for Transgender Health. “Stop putting shit in my girlfriend’s head you fucking faggot!” Ashley yelled into the phone. Jade rushed up behind Ashley, yanked the phone out of her hand, and threw it across the room. “What the hell is wrong with you?” Jade screamed. “Was that Brett on the phone?” “I know you didn’t find this out on your own,” Ashley pointed to the laptop. “Someone had to introduce you to those freaks.” “Freak? Is that what you think I am?” She stepped closer to face Ashley. “You’re not one of them,” Ashley said. “There’s no such thing as being trapped in the wrong body. God created you to be who you are.” “DO NOT put God in my face!” Jade hissed through her teeth. Tiny streams of tears deepened the red colors of her cheek. “I want to be your boyfriend…” Ashley‘s honey colored pupils shrunk as she raised her eyebrows. Jade grabbed Ashley by her arms. “Look at me! I see what you see every day in the mirror. I have to close my eyes every time I take a damn shower!” A ring of red seemed to blend into the colors of Ashley’s eyes. She shook Jade’s hands off and stepped back. Fear and confusion turned into anger, she raised her hand and slapped Jade.

20

Derek Ryans

“Fuck you!” Ashley yelled. “How could you do this to me? You made me think that I did something wrong.” “I wouldn’t let anyone touch me,” Jade touched her stinging cheek. “Can you seriously tell me you never saw it?” Ashley backed away gradually. Jade’s eyes widened as multiple droplets fell from her eyes. She slouched forward as her heart raced and her stomach turned. Her feet involuntarily followed Ashley’s lead. Ashley backed into the edge of the coffee table and froze. She grabbed Jade by her shoulders and shoved as hard as she could. “I’m not dealing with this,” Ashley walked towards the door. “I don’t know if this is some publicity stunt but I will not deal with this.” “You think this is my choice?” Jade sobbed. “Fine! Get the fuck out of my house!” “Fame’s already changed you. I didn’t sign up for this,” Ashley picked up her purse in the foyer and opened the door. “Fucking psycho.”

Brett stood at the door with his cell phone in his hand. Ashley’s voice blasted over the speakerphone. She pushed pass him when she opened the door and slapped the phone out of his hand. The flip phone fell to the ground and clammed shut, but the speakerphone was still on. He watched as she rushed to her car, wondering if the voicemail led to what he had just missed. Ashley slammed her car door and cranked the engine. The car rolled backwards slowly then stopped. She opened the door and kicked Jade’s car. Brett gasped and ran to the driveway. Ashley backed out and sped away. He looked at Jade’s car - there was a quarter-sized dent on the passenger door. “Ashley’s just confirmed my theory,” Brett said as he walked through the door. “She’s a crazy bitch…” Jade sat in the middle of the living room with her head between her knees. Strands of hair stuck to her jeans, covering spots where the tears had soaked. Brett kneeled next to her and wrapped his arms around her. She looked up and rested her head on his shoulder. “She…freak…publicity…stunt….” Jade sniffled. “Shhhhh…it’s ok…” he said. “ Let it out first, let it out.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and lifted herself up to kneel against him. His eyes made contact with the laptop on the coffee table nearby. The voicemail finally made sense. He held onto Jade tightly and kissed her forehead. “Come on, let’s get you out of here.”

Brett wrapped his arm around Jade’s shoulder while they walked around Bayside Marketplace. Jade breathed in the sea breeze and looked at herself in the reflection through the stores’ mirror like doors.
21 Derek Ryans

Pull yourself together. You look like the star of a freak show.
The crowd stopped and stared as Brett and Jade walked by. Some took out their cell phones and took pictures, others whispered in each other’s ears. Jade rolled her eyes and grabbed Brett’s hand. “Fake kiss time…” she whispered in Brett’s ear. Brett reached over, kissed Jade’s forehead and said, “Don’t do it for them hun…not today.” “Wanna go to the studio?” “Yeah…let’s go before someone gets the balls to come ask for autographs.” Jade’s phone vibrated - one new text message. She showed the phone to Brett as he opened the car door for her. “Vultures alert, 6 o’clock,” Brett said. “Think the text’s from Ashley?” “Ugh. Hurry. Next week’s picture is going to be ‘Jade’s rude day at Bayside’,” Jade said and weaved her fingers through her hair. “So who’s the text from?” Brett got into the car. Jade shrugged and tossed the phone into the center console. Brett sighed and grabbed the phone. “It’s from Yazmin…Hey. ‘Smiley face’ you left in a hurry today. Paparazzi follow you?” Brett read aloud. “Smiley face?” Jade stared out the window. “Yeah she’s pretty gay. Actually wrote out smiley face in a text.” “Gimme that phone,” Jade grabbed the phone and looked at the screen. The text read, “Hey :) …” She picked up an empty water bottle on the floorboard and threw it at Brett. “Steve said you guys have a new studio now. It’s around here right?” Brett asked. “Take Biscayne Blvd straight down pass the Triple A and turn left on 11th. It’s on the corner.”

Jade sat in front of the soundboard and searched through a pile of CDs. She found the one titled “Bittersweet Irony” and popped it into the CD player. Brett spun around in his chair and watched the tears fall from Jade’s eyes. He ruffled his hair and spun faster, nodding along to the beat of the music. A mental image of the laptop at Jade’s house popped into his head; it did say something along the lines of “gender dysphoria.” What is it and

22

Derek Ryans

where did Jade find it? He looked up and saw her in the recording booth. The chair slowly came to a stop and he paused to listen. You love the part of me you created, But you refused to see the rest. For your love I stripped off pieces of me and painted a new face in the mirror. For your hand I carved my heart into the shape you want it to be.

(Chorus) The highway of love is filled With two way lanes. But the view of you is missing… I love you…but I want to be me. I love you…and I want you to be happy. I love you…but oh I’m stuck…in a bittersweet irony.

Time and time again I speak No one seems to hear me. The wall you built Drowned my words out, Like they’re just waves Unable to escape. Am I the captive of love? Or just an unwilling slave?

(Repeat Chorus)
23 Derek Ryans

I break one chain and Another attaches itself. Slowly there’s no more me left in our world… but I love and I need your warmth and smile.

It’s no longer a feeling of the heart. It’s a desire to be wanted, a need to be held. My love for you… is a bittersweet irony.

Darling I offer you… My bittersweet irony.

24

Derek Ryans