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Facing the Mirror

Chapter 3: The Bittersweet War


Jade pushed the overhead microphone out of the way and dropped to the
floor. Brett ran into the recording booth and kneeled next to her. Should he hug her?
No. The studio was the only place that allowed her to be strong.

“I don’t know what to say or do Jade…” Brett picked at his nails.

“I’m hungry…” Jade buried her face between her knees and crossed her hands
above her head.

“Well then what are you waiting for?” He patted her head and hugged her.
“Hitachi’s Steak House and sake bombs!”

Brett drummed on the table rhythmically as the waiter filled six beer mugs. He and
Jade each broke three pairs of chopsticks and lined them on top of the glasses. The waiter
skillfully balanced the sake cups in-between each pair of chopsticks.

“Ladies and gentleman!” the server announced. “Jade is in the house! Let’s make
some noise!” Customers sitting at the nearby tables cheered and gawked at Jade and Brett.

“When I say sake you say bomb!” the waiter banged on the table. “Sake!”

“Bomb!” Jade and Brett yelled in unison.

“Sake!”

“Booooooommmmmb!” everyone shouted toegther and pounded the table with


their fists. The sake cups sunk into the beers like concrete.

“Fuck. Ashley,” Brett whispered. “Ready? ONE!” He and Jade grabbed the beers and
started chugging.

“TWO!” They reached for the second mug and chugged it down. “THREE!” Brett
chugged nonstop, but Jade paused for a few. Before she could set the glass down, he tipped
the bottom of her mug so that she had to keep chugging.

The waiter stood wide-eyed and chanted, “Chug! Chug! Chug!”

“You’re such a whore!” Jade slammed the mug. “I’m gonna need food like asap before
I puke all over your Armani.” She leaned her forehead on the edge of the table and crossed
her arms around her stomach.

“Excuse me…” A woman’s voice said. Jade opened her eyes and saw a pair of black
heels. Her eyes continued upward, tracing the shape of the woman’s calves to the edge of
her black sateen dress. When she looked up, she found herself gazing at the woman’s
cherry red lips. The lips were moving but she had no idea what the woman was saying.

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“Of course!” Brett said. “Come on Jade sit up. We’re taking pictures.” Jade sat up and
posed for the picture while the woman rested a hand on the back of her neck. Jade shivered
as she felt the cool soft touch.

“Food!” Jade said as the food arrived. “Oh you have no idea how much I love you
right now.” The waiter smiled and walked around to talk to Brett. Brett handed him two
fifties and a set of car keys then took out his cell phone and texted Steve: “We’re at
Hitachi’s. Jade and Ash-whore = no more. Vultures swarming outside for pictures. I’ll play
crazy taxi with them unless you drive.”

“Eat up baby girl,” Brett rubbed Jade’s back. “There’s a battle to come.”

Steve walked up to the table and sat down next to Jade, blocking the view from
people taking pictures with their cameras. He smoothed out Jade’s hair, kissed her cheek,
and asked, “You ok sweetheart? Sorry to hear about Ash.”

“Stevie! Where did you pop up from? Try this, oh my god it’s delicious,” Jade slurred.

“How much did you make her drink?” Steve tapped Brett behind Jade’s back. Brett
waved three fingers and mouthed “boom.” Steve rubbed his forehead and signaled for the
waiter.

“Emergency exit?” Steve asked.

“As usual sir,” the waiter answered. “The valet parked Ms. Jade’s car out back.” Steve
loosened his tie and observed the environment. The restaurant wasn’t very packed, some of
the photographers made it through the door by pretending to be customers. They sat at
their tables with the cameras aimed at Jade while more and more of the other customers
turned their heads. The manager of the restaurant glided smoothly next to Steve.

“Mr. Hughes!” the man said with a heavy accent. “Everything good for Ms. Jade?”

“Thank you for the accommodations,” Steve shook the man’s hand.

“Ah no…thank you for coming!” the man said. “Oh I forget. Here Ms. Jade’s car keys!”
Steve handed him a credit card and smiled. “I be right back!” he bowed repeatedly.

Jade dangled a forkful of food in front of Steve but he shook his head and rubbed her
shoulders gently. “You eat,” he said. “Not gonna be so tasty later when it comes back up.” He
took out his Blackberry and created an emergency event for the next day. “Lawyer for
damage control.” He proceeded onto to sending Ashley a text message: “We need to talk.”

The restaurant manager and three others escorted Jade, Brett, and Steve to the car.
Brett and Steve sandwiched Jade between them and covered her. Jade stumbled into the
backseat of her car and curled up into a ball.

“Your tolerance is horrible,” Brett laughed as he helped Jade into the car.

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“She can hardly handle one sake bomb and you give her three,” Steve said.

“The poor girl’s had a bad day, she needed it.”

“Take my phone. Tell me when Ashley texts back.”

Brett looked down at Steve’s phone; the wallpaper was a picture of the three of
them. Jade was in the middle and they were kissing her cheeks. He was glad it wasn’t just
him and Jade anymore. Steve was a professional at handling Ashley; All Brett knew was
how to start fights with her. The phone made a ding sound and he checked the text.

“Ashley says don’t worry,” Brett read the text aloud. “Not gonna out your prized
possession. I’ll go by later to pick my stuff up.”

“Bitch she bought all your shit AND your car. You should return the car and walk
your ass back to gold-digging-village,” Brett replied in a text. A few minutes went by and
the phone rang. “Let me know when you’re bringing the car back. I’ll get the hazmat team to
unbitchify it,” Brett answered the phone.

“You know what you little faggot?” Ashley screamed. “Don’t think I don’t know any
magazines.”

“Go the fuck ahead!” Brett shouted. “What you think? A little lesbian story’s gonna
ruin Jade? She at the top baby and she dropping your ass like dead weight.”

Steve panicked and slapped the back of Brett’s head.

“Give me the damn phone!” Steve yanked the phone from Brett. “Ashley?”

“Your fuck toy just cost Jade a condo,” Ashley said.

“You love her Ash, let’s not make this messy,” Steve said.

“My life will be just fine without the magazines. I keep my car, my stuff, and find me
a place to live.”

Steve looked into the rearview mirror and saw Jade’s head taped to the window,
tears dripped from her eyes like a leaky faucet. He sighed and adjusted his glasses. “Look,
I’ll have the lawyers draw up a statement for you to sign,” Steve said. “Don’t do any more
damage. We’ll talk in the morning.”

“You’re finding me a place tonight,” Ashley said. “And I’m coming by to get my stuff.”

“Ashley…” Steve said. Click. He ripped off his tie and threw it at Brett. Brett shrugged
and wrapped the tie around his head. Should he apologize? It wasn’t like Ashley and Jade
were getting a divorce. Why was it so important to keep Jade in the closet? Maybe someone
should out her, maybe not as a lesbian…but at least just set her free.
“Stop the car,” Jade said.

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“Do you have to puke or something?” Steve asked.

“Pull into the church’s parking lot,” Jade said.

“Ummm gays are already deemed for hell…” Brett said. “Lightning might strike while
you’re puking. It’s not pleasing to the eye.”

“Pull into the damn parking lot!” Jade demanded. Brett looked over at Steve
nervously as the car slowly came to a stop. Jade got out and slammed the door. Steve and
Brett looked at each other, hands on the door handles, and then decided to roll down the
windows instead. Jade ran towards the front of the church and stood underneath the cross.

“What exactly do you want from me?” she looked up at the cross and yelled. “You see
everything right? Why me? I tried to like guys. I FUCKING TRIED!”

Brett watched from the car as tears began to build up behind his eyes. He
contemplated on stepping out but he had a fear of churches. “I tried too…” he thought. “God
doesn’t like people like us.”

Steve rubbed his head and sighed. What was Jade doing? Who was she screaming at?
There is no such thing as God. If there were, he wouldn’t have been jumped during high
school for liking a football player. Feelings are feelings; “God” had nothing to do with it. He
looked at Jade through the open window and wanted to shout, “Give it up, if He existed, we
wouldn’t be here today.” He opened his mouth but the words never came out. It was the
one thing Jade held on to, who was he to take that away from her?

“Bow your head,” Brett said. Steve looked over at him and raised an eyebrow. “Do
this for Jade.” Steve bowed his head and stared at the rip patterns on his jeans.

As Brett and Steve bowed their heads in the car, Jade dropped to her knees.
Teardrops slowly rolled down Brett’s cheeks. Steve swallowed a breath of air and closed
his eyes.

“Dear God…” Brett began. “We’re two gays that you don’t want to hear from. But this
is for Jade.”

“Heavenly Father,” Jade said. “My sin is too big to forgive.”

“Please don’t hate Jade. She’s not gay, she said it all her life,” Brett said. “You’re
supposed to be all knowing.”

“Send me to hell. Fine. But please just love me…I just wanna be accepted by you.”

“Everyone loves Jade but herself…she wants to know you. You scare me because you
would put me in hell, but she believes you exist! I can’t speak for Steve but if you must hate
someone, hate me. Don’t hate the one person who seeks after you. Amen,” Brett finished the
prayer.

“I won’t ask for forgiveness. I don’t deserve it. But I am sorry. Amen,” Jade said.

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Jade ran to the car and said, “Meet me in the next parking lot.” Then she dashed for
the pathway to the next building.

“Am I missing something?” Steve asked.

“Now she has to puke,” Brett said.

“And this parking lot is different how?”

“Jade wouldn’t even hold her first boyfriend’s hand in church.”

“She had a boyfriend?”

“Odd part was she thought she was gay for dating a boy.”

Steve drove the car into the adjacent parking lot. Brett got out and ran to Jade’s side.
He pulled her hair back while she bent over the garbage can.

“Explain to me why we ate Japanese food?” Jade asked. “Worst food for puking.”

“Come on, war’s only half way over,” Brett said.

Ashley’s car was already parked in the driveway when they arrived at Jade’s house.
Two large suitcases propped the trunk lid open and three smaller ones stood next to the
car. Brett helped Jade climb onto the trunk of her car and proceeded to sit next to her with
his arms crossed. Steve inspected the garage and peeked into the house; he signaled for
Brett and Jade to stay outside.

“I’m sorry…” Jade said.

“You have nothing to be sorry about,” Brett rubbed Jade’s shoulders and kissed her
forehead. “Do you still have that extra oil in your trunk?”

“Huh?”

“You know, when you tried to change your own oil and failed.”

“Yeah it’s in there, I’m gonna try again soon.”

Brett stood up and patted Jade’s leg so that she would get down too. He walked
around to the front and popped the trunk. She picked up the bottle of motor oil and met
him half way. He took the bottle from her and grinned. She floundered her way into the car
and turned it on.

“Put on a good song,” Brett skipped happily over to Ashley’s car. Jade watched
curiously as he unzipped each of the small suitcases.
“What are you doing?” she asked. He whistled along to the melody as the stream of
oil flowed from the bottle into one of the suitcases. While he was finishing his “work” on the

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suitcases in the trunk, a large truck pulled into the driveway. Jade stared wide-eyed
through the windshield and wondered if she should signal Brett somehow. She glanced into
the rearview mirror, saw him standing behind her car, and sighed with relief.

“The dyke squad is here,” Brett muttered. Jade slouched in the seat and extended her
feet under the steering wheel. A woman with short spiky black hair poked her head into the
car. “So nice of you to just move Ashley into a new place!”

Jade inched towards the center console and nodded. Brett opened the passenger
side door and slid in as far as he could. “Does she know about you and Ashley?” he
whispered into her ear. She shrugged. The two stared at the stranger with her head half
way in the car. The woman awkwardly backed off and picked up the rest of Ashley’s
luggage.

“That gold digger’s already got a new beau?” Brett asked.

“She kept her end of the deal…” Jade said.

“Doesn’t change the fact that she’s a gold digging bitch,” Brett said.

Jade watched as the woman tossed the luggage into her truck. She had a masculine
figure. Was she Ashley’s new girlfriend? She wasn’t even her type. Her arms were at least
twice the size of Jade’s, and in some respect, she seemed to be more manly than Jade ever
will be.

“Are you all set to go little sis?” the woman shouted. Jade turned to look at Brett,
who stared back at her and buried his face in her shoulder, laughing as if he had lost his
mind. Jade tried to remember when Ashley mentioned she had a sister. She never did. Or
did Jade ever listen to anything Ashley had said?

“I don’t remember there was a sister…” Jade whispered.

“I wouldn’t know. Every time I called, you guys were humping your way through the
gates of hell,” Brett replied. She slapped the back of his head. He mouthed the word “what”
and shrugged. They huddled over the center console and looked out the back window.
Steve looked like a tree to Jade: standing with his arms crossed, not budging an inch in
Ashley’s spit storm. She wanted to get out of the car; she wanted to fight her own fight. She
stayed glued to her seat.

Steve and Ashley walked around to the front of the car and he knocked on the
window for Jade to come out. She was reluctant but sound of rapping knuckles continued.
Brett rubbed her shoulder gently and kissed her forehead. “You got this,” he whispered. She
pulled the handle and kicked the door open. She slowly got out of the car and came face to
face with Ashley. Steve stood behind Jade while the woman walked around and stood
behind Ashley.

“I’ve got you at the Hilton down at South Beach for two weeks,” Steve said. “I’ll have
an agent call you to check out some condos.” Ashley nodded and Jade stared at her silently.

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“Y’all must be good friends,” the woman said.

“Oh the best of friends,” Ashley reached out and touched Jade’s face.

“Come on little sis, let’s get you to the hotel,” the woman tugged on Ashley’s arm and
walked towards the truck. She threw her arm around Ashley’s shoulder and whispered into
her ear, “Explain to me why Ms. Prissy Pop Star is buying you a condo?”

“I saved her from a major career failure,” Ashley replied.

Jade lowered her head and watched the truck out of the corner of her eyes. The
pebbles on the ground rumbled as it pulled out of the driveway. Goodbye Ashley… She ran
after the truck as it sped down the street.

“I’m not a lesbian!” she screamed as she fell to her knees. “I’m not a lesbian…”

Brett stopped in driveway and crouched next to her, “So let’s clean out the closets
and let the past go.” Jade turned around and laid her head on his shoulders. He started to
mutter something but she muffled his mouth. Steve strolled up next to them and kneeled
down a few inches away. Jade invited him to join the group hug.

“I need to know how to keep your CDs coming,” Steve said. “What kinda skeletons
we talking about?”

Brett rubbed Jade’s leg and smirked. “Fabulously pansexual skeletons.”

“Pansexual?” Jade asked.

“Beyond all genders, biological sex, sexual orientations…” Steve said.

“Leave it to the gays to know the gay dictionary,” Brett said.

“And that is how I know I’m not a lesbian,” Jade said.

Steve opened the front door and stopped Brett from going in. Jade hesitantly took
the first step. The foyer felt empty without Ashley’s collection of shoes. Once she walked
into the living room, she picked up the framed posters one by one and smashed them on
the floor. She wanted to break the crystal ballerinas on top of the TV too, but Ashley took
them with her. A sense of anger grew within her, why didn’t Ashley take everything that
was feminine? Did she leave the posters behind to remind Jade that the world only sees her
as what was shown in the magazines? Who was Jade if she wasn’t a girl who made it big?

She ran over to the stairs, grabbed the handrail, and jumped onto the first five steps.
Tears built up behind her eyes and she rushed up screaming things that made no sense.
Brett and Steve walked into the foyer and slumped against the wall, allowing gravity to pull
them to the floor. Their hands searched for each other, fingers crossing the moment they
came in contact. Redness appeared in Steve’s eyes as small drops of tears fell past the rim
of his glasses. He had thought that Jade’s battle was against Ashley. At that very moment, he

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was no longer sure what Jade was up against. It was a war that he and Brett could no longer
fight with her. She had to figure out what she wanted; she had to make a choice. Should he
remind her that her career is in jeopardy or did she already know that? How do I help?
Steve asked himself.

“Jade needs us…” Brett finally said.

“How do we help her when we don’t know what she wants?” Steve asked.

“She doesn’t need help, she needs us to be open,” Brett answered.

“Open to what?”

“Open to whatever identity she chooses…”

Steve could not respond.

“Business wise, you better think of a concept to sell the Pop Princess that turned
into the Duke of Pop,” Brett said.

Steve raised an eyebrow and his mouth dropped open. “Duke…of Pop…” He finally
managed to say. “Nothing like this has ever been done.”

“Are you Jade’s manager?”

“Of course I am.”

“Bittersweet Irony was the first of its kind was it not?” Brett asked.

“Yes…Jade did pull it off.”

“Are you Jade’s friend?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“Are you gay? Do you proclaim your identity?”

“Jade’s one of our closest friends,” Steve said confidently.

“So then you should know there’s only one Jade,” Brett said.

“And she’s going to be the first to do a lot of things…” Steve sighed.

Brett turned and hugged Steve, leaving him a kiss on his forehead. Steve’s face
seemed blank, but Brett’s eyes filled with hope. They held onto each other tightly, hoping
that Jade could somehow feel their support and hopes.

“Let’s go find the duke…” Brett whispered into Steve’s ear.

They found Jade in the bedroom that was once a storage room. Faded yellows lines
on the wall outlined the areas that stored Ashley’s belongings. Jade arranged the leftover
boxes in the room into a circle, and she laid in the middle of it all. Brett walked up next to
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her and looked over each of the labels on the boxes: “high school hell”, “middle school
bliss”, “mom’s hopes and dreams”, “faggot you know who”, and another box, no bigger than
a shoe box, labeled “the one who never came back”.

Steve sat down in the middle of the circle and let Jade rest her head on his legs. Brett
joined and rested his head on Jade’s legs. He thought of things to say, something that could
encourage her, maybe even prepare her, to open up the wounds of the past. There was
nothing. He had known her since first grade. He saw all the signs. Yet he had said nothing
and done nothing. Maybe the one Jade should hate is him. He was supposed to be her
friend, her best friend, and yet he rejected her every attempt of a real identity.

These boxes didn’t matter so much to Steve when Jade moved into the house. She
was a Billboard Chart topping artist; the media wanted her history, but only the good. He
had made sure that everything the press knew about her was limited. She was a girl with a
dream and she made it come true. All the press ever knew about her mom was that she was
a lawyer. In fact, that was all he knew about her too, that and she might be the reason why
the word homophobia was created. What about her dad? The only word Jade ever gave the
world about her dad was “nonexistent.”

Steve patted Jade’s head gently and wiped the tearstains on her face. “We are here
for you…”

She sat up and looked around the circle. Should she pick the easiest, the hardest, or
somewhere in between? No, definitely not somewhere in between, she was tired of being
stuck in the middle. She got up, picked up the small box, and dumped its contents on the
floor. There were letters folded into different shapes and a glass bottle filled with paper
stars.

Box #1: The one who never came back.

It was a Sunday, the day before Jade had started first grade. Her mom was in
her office, as she always had been on Sunday afternoons. Her dad sat with his feet
propped up in the Lazy Boy and smiled at the piece of paper in his hand. They had
just celebrated a few weeks before that, her daddy getting his Ph.D. She had no idea
what a Ph.D. was, but she was happy that her family was together even for a few
hours. Her mom always had to work. She hid behind her dad’s Lazy Boy and
pretended she was in the Marines. She crawled on her stomach, acting as if she had a
rifle in her hand. A large suitcase blocked the other side of the chair, and she used it
as a fort. She rested her rifle on it to shoot at the invisible army. It was she and her
daddy against the world.

“Jade,” her dad said. “Why don’t you come over here and sit on this chair?”
Her toes tingled with delight. It had been a while since her dad let her sit on his lap.
He picked her up and lowered her into the chair while he put his diploma into the
suitcase. Jade gripped on the armrest and watched confusingly. Her head followed
the movement of the suitcase out of the room. She got up and pretended to be
carrying a rifle again, and she walked backwards to protect her dad as he walked
towards the front door. She shot at the invisible army; they were chasing her and
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her dad, that was why her dad was running away with the suitcase. She turned and
looked at her dad when she reached the front door. He had already dragged the
suitcase all the way to the car. Were the enemies that scary? Did he not know that
they were invisible? With one easy lift, he put the luggage in the trunk.

“Daddy,” Jade yelled. “Are you going to be back on time to read me a bedtime
story? School starts tomorrow!” Her dad smiled and shut the trunk. He walked over
to the front of the car and got into the driver’s seat. She waited for his invitation to
come along for the ride. He buckled his seatbelt and turned on the ignition. She
prepared to run. He was going to roll down the window any minute now and tell her
to come along; she just knew it. The car pulled out of the driveway. She waved
frantically. It kept going and seemed to pick up speed. Maybe he was in a hurry and
didn’t see her wave. She stood by the front door for a little while longer. Twenty
minutes felt like two hours to an eight-year-old. She turned and looked into the
house. Did her mom know that her dad had left? She wanted to yell and tell her
mom, but she knew better than to interrupt. Her dad might be sad if she stood there
all day waiting for him. So, she took a seat on the doorsteps.

When her mom had come out for coffee, the sky was already a shade of light
gray. She poked her head into the house and watched her mom walk into kitchen.
Then she came back out and proceeded into the living room. Finally, she looked
down the hall and noticed Jade sitting on the porch.

“Nice day out huh?” her mom took a seat next to her.

“Where did daddy go?” Jade asked.

“He didn’t tell you?” her mom asked in return.

“No but I asked if he’d be home to read me a bedtime story.”

Her mom sipped her coffee calmly and wrapped an arm around Jade’s
shoulders. She was a successful lawyer, and had faced many tough trials. Somehow,
at that moment, she drew a blank as to how to tell Jade the truth.

“Why don’t we go inside for dinner?”

“But daddy always cooks…”

“I think I will cook from now on.”

Jade lifted her head up and caught a glimpse of a tear in her mom’s eyes. Her
dad was coming back. Right? She was going to make a wish just in case she needed
help from the stars. She ran inside the house and her mom followed her, carefully
hiding the tears. Jade ran up the stairs and pulled out a plastic box from underneath
her bed. She found a glass bottle and some strips of paper her dad had bought from
an Asian grocery store. The old lady at the store had taught her how to make stars
from the strips of paper.

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“Lucky stars,” the woman said. “They make your wish true!”

Jade took a strip of paper and folded it into a star; it was not as pretty as the
ones the old woman had made. She was old, that had to be why she was better at
folding stars. She dropped the finished product into the glass bottle. Then she ran
back downstairs, one hand following the guide of the railing and bottle in the other.
Once she made it to the doorway, she held the bottle above her head.

Her mom was sitting on the kitchen floor when the trail of sounds tumbled
down the stairs. She rose to her feet and quietly snuck up behind Jade.

“Dear God, please let my daddy be safe, wherever he is going. Also, let him
come home tonight. Thank you,” Jade said.

Tears slowly built up on the corners of her mom’s eyes.


“I made this star for you, please make my wish come true,” Jade finished.

Her mom crouched down and held her as tears flowed freely.

“Mommy?” Jade asked. Her mom tried to catch her breath. Jade turned to face
her mom, her hazel eyes widened to the size of a nickel. Her mom sniffled and gently
touched her cheek. It wasn’t the first time she had seen her mom cry, but it was the
first time her mom didn’t run. She wasn’t quite sure what she could so she just held
her mom tightly. Tears soaked her shirt and she wanted to cry too, but she knew she
had to be strong. She just had to. Little boys did not cry.

“You’re my baby girl…” her mom said. “ Thank you for being so strong.”

“I am?”

“Of course you’re strong,”

Jade stared at her mom shockingly and backed away a few steps.

“What’s wrong?” her mom asked.

“I have to go to the bathroom…” Jade rushed back into the house. She locked
the bathroom door behind her and looked into the mirror. Was her mom serious?
She had never called her “baby girl” before; neither did her dad.

It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen. Her mom’s mind must have been a mess.
She stood by the toilet as close as she could and pulled down her pants and
underwear.

“Little girls could never master the art of peeing,” she thought. “I did. So I am
not a girl.”

...................

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Jade pulled the cork on the glass bottle, tipped it in midair, and watched as each star
fell to the floor.

“Those stars…” Brett muttered.

“Three hundred and sixty-five stars,” Jade said. “I wished for a whole goddamn year
for him to come back.”

“Who?” Steve asked.

“Her dad.”

Jade kicked the paper stars on the floor like soccer balls. “You two pick the next
box.”

Steve and Brett looked at each other and said, “Faggot you know who.” A slight grin
finally appeared on Jade’s face. She rolled her eyes and kicked the box over to Brett. He
tossed the box at Steve. Steve caught it and wondered curiously; his fingers itched to rip
open the tape. She nodded. He happily dug his nails into the tape and sliced it open. The
contents glowed at him.

“What the hell is this stuff?” Steve flipped the box upside down. Glow in the dark
stars fell out along with a variety of sex toys.

“Jade’s birthday presents,” Brett muffled a laugh.

Box # 2: Faggot you know who.

Jade stared at the blackboard and gripped the edge of her desk. The chipping
sound from the chalk sent shivers through her spine. She tapped her feet
impatiently and looked around the room full of strangers her age. “School is going to
be spectacular,” her mom had told her. She wanted to crawl under the desk and
hide. She wanted to run home and fold paper stars for her dad.

“Hi,” a voice said. Jade clenched her teeth. The boy next to her finally decided
to speak. She slowly shifted her peripheral view to the right. He had blonde hair and
his hand seemed to shine. She lowered her head and noticed that the boy had
crossed his legs under the desk. Her mom sat the same way. She looked at her own
legs. They were steady on bent knees. She had seen on TV that was how the good-
looking guys sat, though she could not figure out why her mom forced a skirt on her.
Were boys allowed to wear skirts? She did not dare to ask. Her mom’s eyes were still
red and puffy from the previous night.

“My name’s Brett. Want a glowing star?” the boy offered.

“What is it?” Jade asked.

“They shine when you turn off the lights. It keeps the boogey man out.”

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“I make stars too…but they don’t shine. They’ll bring my daddy back.”

Brett shoved the glowing star in Jade’s hand. “I like your skirt, what’s your
name?”

She turned the baby blue nametag in front of her to face Brett. “Jade.” She felt
the rounded edges of the glowing star. Her rifles would trump the glowing star any
day. She remembered her mom had taught her to be polite. “Thank you.”

“Hi kids!” the teacher stood in front of the class. “Welcome to first grade! My
name is Mrs. Greto and I am your new teacher.” She turned to face the board and
started to write again. Brett slid slowly in his seat until he was fully under the desk.
Jade found that she was unable to move her eyes from her teacher’s backside. She
seemed younger than her mother, and just a tad bit older than her baby sitter. Mrs.
Greto’s butt ranked number two, next to her baby sitter’s.

A low rumbling sound brought Jade’s eyes over to Mrs. Greto’s desk.
Something black and square was dancing its way across the table. The very next
thing that grabbed everyone’s attention was Brett’s hand. He swiped the pager,
pulled open the elastic on his shorts, and dropped it in. A strange smile appeared on
his face.

Mrs. Greto’s eyes widened to the size of a quarter. She quickly skimmed the
room and found the empty seat with the bright pink nametag that read “Brett,” and
ran over to her desk.

“Brett sweetie,” Mrs. Greto blushed. “Can I have that back please?” He shook
his head and imitated the buzzing sound. She sighed and stuck out an open palm. He
reluctantly reached into his pants, pulled the beeper out, and showed it to her.
“Thank you.” She covered the pager with a paper towel and grabbed it.

Brett walked by Jade and asked, “High-five?” She lowered her head. He sat
down and pouted his lips. She kept her hand on her side of the desk and stayed
perfectly still. He reached for it. She flinched. He reached again and held onto it.
Then he took something out of his pocket and stuffed it in her hand. Another
glowing star. She looked at the star, sat it on the desk, and raised her hand for a
high-five.

“Why do you like stars so much?” Brett asked.

“Why do you like them?” Jade asked in return.

The two turned and grinned at each other. “Peace and love sister.”

“What?”

“It’s what my dad always says when he meets a new friend.”

13 Derek Ryans
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Chapter 3: The Bittersweet War
Over the next five years, Brett gave Jade a glow-in-the-dark star for every
occasion – birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas – she received presents along with a
star. The tradition of the stars ran its course on Jade’s 11th birthday.

The birthday party had a guest list of two. It would have been three but Jade’s
mom had a deposition to write over the weekend. Jade and Brett kicked back and
relaxed on the lawn chairs by the pool. Flower patterned birthday balloons floated
around the outdoor canopy. Matching disposable plates and silverware sat on the
table underneath the covering.

Brett loved the pink and purple crepe streamers snaking through the fence
and the glittered “Happy Birthday” banner. Jade watched the reflection of
decorations in the pool water and rolled her eyes. The pool was her happy place and
yet somehow, her mom managed to sabotage it.

“Save all this stuff,” Brett said. “I want to use it for my birthday.”

“Won’t your parents kill you?” Jade asked.

“Are you kidding me? Peace and love sister!” he replied.

“So here’s the plan. I’m gonna tell my mom the pizza guy didn’t show.”

“But what about your presents?”

“See that rectangular box?”

Brett looked over at the small pile of boxes.

“That’s a karaoke machine from my aunt in California. I saw my mom


wrapping it.”

“And the other boxes?” Brett asked.

“Clothes from Forever 21,” Jade said.

“You don’t even like Forever 21…”

“But you do.”

A deviant smile slowly appeared on Brett’s face. He ran back inside the house
and closed the glass sliding door. Jade checked her cell phone for the time. It was
1:23 pm. Her mom said she would order the pizzas by 1:00, but she is usually at
least fifteen minutes late. Jade dialed the number to the pizza parlor.

“Hi…did someone order pizza for the Devocci’s already?”

“Is this Jade? Happy birthday! The pizza is on the house!”


“Oh. Thanks…” Her escape plan had gone out the door.

14 Derek Ryans
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A box flew over Jade’s head and landed in her lap. She looked up and saw
Brett’s gigantic smirk.

“Tell your mother I said hello!” the man on the phone said.

“I will. Thanks.” She hung up the phone.

Jade rattled the box and pasted her ear against it. There was no sound.

“Wipe that dumbass grin off your face!” she said.

“Open it!” Brett replied.

Underneath the blue wrapping paper was a shoebox. She opened the box and
the first bag she took out was a Ziploc bag filled with sand. Below the bag was
another wrapped package. She unwrapped it and her jaw dropped. It was a skinny
rectangular box a little bigger than the size of her hand. The picture on the outside of
the box showed a cylindrical shape. She took it out and examined it. Brett crouched
over Jade’s chair and took a closer look.

“What is that?” Brett asked.

“You tell me…” Jade said.

“I saw one in my mom’s room. She said it’s for grown women.”

“You took this from your mom?”

“No I bought it in Spencer’s. Pretty cool huh?”

“Oh my god look I can turn this thing at the bottom.”

“Yeah I know I opened it and put two batteries in.”

Jade twisted the bottom of the foreign object and it started vibrating. The
green color of Brett’s pupils expanded. He grabbed the vibrating object and threw it
in the pool. It created a Doppler in the water and sank to the bottom.

“You put the batteries in and it didn’t do that?”

“I put the batteries in but I didn’t turn it on. Happy birthday!”

“You’re so getting that out of my pool before my mom comes out.”

“Hey, my present is way better than that Barbie birthday cake your mom
bought.”

Jade turned the shoebox upside down and separated the contents. There was
a gift certificate to her favorite restaurant, a baseball cap, a pair of boy’s jeans, and a
graphic t-shirt. She tilted her head and bit her lips.

15 Derek Ryans
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“Something wrong?” Brett asked.

“No stars this year…” Jade said. “And you got me baggy jeans. I love you!”

“We’re in six grade! Totally adults now. Who gives a crap about the stars?”

Later that afternoon they fished Jade’s present out of the pool and wrapped it
in a towel. Neither of them had any idea what it really was until years later, though
they both thought it would be best to hide it from her mom. Jade emptied out an old
duffel bag in her closet and stored all the presents in it. The baggy jeans became her
favorite item of clothing. Some girls at school taunted her for wearing them for two
weeks straight. She kept wearing them anyway. If it were up to her, she would wear
them until the day she could buy her own clothes. Unfortunately, an event forced
her to conjure up a new clothing plan. Someone had left an open container of
strawberry jam on her seat.

“I’m gonna kill that bastard!” Jade paced around the courtyard, her eyes
focused on the front doors. She knew who did it. Douglas Moran, he had an
obsession with strawberry jam. Whenever he decided to get his chubby-jam-loving
butt off school property, she was going to pound him.

“I tried those jeans on before I bought them,” Brett sat on the bench and
calmly filed his nails. He found all sorts of great tools in his mom’s closet. “I don’t
know why you like them so much. I like your jeans.”

Jade kicked around the flower bushes. “Maybe we should try the gym?”

“What I’m saying…Jade…is we can totally switch clothes.”

“Maybe he went out the door by the band room…what?”

“We’re the same size. We walk to school together. I can totally switch clothes
with you when your mom leaves.”

“You would be wearing girl clothes…”

“I look hot in them.”

Jade hopped on the stone bench and squatted next to Brett. She turned her
baseball cap backwards and stared at him. His eyes wandered around curiously.

“Do you want to be a girl?” she asked.

“That’s gross! I just like their clothes. I think they’re quite nice.”

“There’s a name for people like you.”

“Us. People like us. You like dressing like a boy.”


……………

16 Derek Ryans
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Chapter 3: The Bittersweet War
After years of struggling and fake obedience, Jade finally earned some
freedom: her mom allowed her to have an unsupervised birthday party. Her guest
list? Same as usual: party of two. She did have a secret guest list however, one that
had five girls she was currently crushing on, and twelve boys that she suspected
Brett of liking. They decided on a “birthday-movie date” since the rumors of them
dating started the summer before ninth grade. Jade’s mom could not be more
delighted to see the two childhood friends’ relationship evolve. She even patted
herself on the back for facilitating such a wonderful partnership.

The van stopped in front of the movie theater. Jade looked down at the
enormous bag underneath the backseat. She eyed her mom and then Brett.

“No peeking at the presents!” he said.

“You two are so cute. I’m picking you up at midnight,” Jade’s mom chuckled.
Jade rolled her eyes and climbed out of the van. Brett reached out for her hand and
she gladly took it. They crossed their fingers and used it to wave at her mom. She
smiled adoringly. They smiled back the smile that they had practiced hundreds of
times.

“Ignorance is bliss,” Jade said. “I think I finally understand that now.”

“Hush, I think she’s waiting until we walk in. I’m going to let go and put my
hand on your back. Don’t flinch. Lawyers have an eye for these things.”

Once they made it inside the theater, they sat at the top row and hid in one of
the corners. Before the previews began, Jade observed the crowd as they dispersed
to their seats. She liked the hot skinny blonde, but she was also escorted by a tall guy
in a flannel shirt.

“Whoa happy birthday Jade!” Brett pointed to a group of girls entering the
theater.

Jade looked over at Brett. “Thought you were my boyfriend?”

“Was…until I saw him,” Brett pointed at a guy with his pants sagging at his
waist.

“Ew. Ok. Presents time.”

“What? He’s totally hot. I love those muscles.”

“Presents. Presents. Presents!” Jade patted Brett’s thigh impatiently. She


secretly looked over at the guy. His fashion sense was horrible but he definitely had
a nice build. How nice would it be if her body was more like his.

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Brett reached into the gift bag. Jade rubbed her hands with excitement. He
pulled out a bottle of juice. She noticed the label on the bottle was identical to the
brand that her mom usually bought. He pulled out another bottle, a soda this time,
and handed it to her. She squinted at him.

“What? Theater food is expensive!” he said.

“Cheap bastard,” she said.

“Hey. This is a fake date. If it were real, you would be paying.”

“That makes no sense.”

“You are far manlier than I ever will be.”

Jade savored the moment and slipped her hand into Brett’s. “I love you.”

He smothered her forehead with an exaggerated smooch. “Happy birthday


darling, open your presents. The suspense is killing me.”

Jade set the bag on her lap and peeked in. She wiggled her fingers inside and
pulled out a small plastic bag. Brett quickly took it from her and distributed the
items inside. A bag of Skittles landed in her lap. A ball of warmness rose from her
throat. She had wanted those Skittles when her mom worked late and forgot to leave
her dinner money. Brett himself opened pack of chocolate Teddy Grahams. He
sensed the fumes emanating from her ears.

“Are these the Teddy Grahams you were looking for last Tuesday?”

A low growl accompanied by a wall of ice approached him.

“The ends justify the means! Movies are boring if you can’t throw something.”

“I had a glass of milk poured out and waiting for the bears to do their dive.”

“Oh shut up and open your damn presents. Ha. Milk and bears.”

Brett sighed as Jade crossed her arms and dropped the bag on the floor. He
scratched his head and reached into the bag nervously. The first present was
wrapped in plain black paper. Glow in the dark letters gleamed in the dark theater,
“Present #1 Meet Your New Best Friend.” Jade glanced over at the present. Brett
displayed it for her in the palm of his hand. He stretched a smile across his face and
winked. She snatched the present from him and yanked him by his shirt.

“I starved after I ran out of frozen dinners,” she hissed.

Brett lowered his head silently and poked the gift. Jade started at one corner
and peeled the tape. After the fifth failure, she tore the paper open at any corner she
could find. Her jaw dropped gradually as pieces of wrapping fell to the floor. When
the package was half way unwrapped, she stopped. She robotically rotated her head

18 Derek Ryans
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Chapter 3: The Bittersweet War
to face Brett. His smile reached from ear to ear. She looked back down at the
package. Sex education class from the beginning of the school year slowly drifted
back into her mind. The image of what she wanted all of her life, the one thing she
wished God had given her. Underneath the torn wrapping paper, the half shape of a
penis peered through its box.

“Is this…?” she asked.

“It’s a penis,” he nodded spastically.

“I know what it is dummy. Why is it in a box?”

“Remember our bus trip? This answers your question.”

“So I use this…but how?”

“I think instruction’s in the box. But you have to open it first.”

Jade gripped the edge of the box and pulled it free from its packaging. A fit
blonde woman was on the cover. The picture of her naked body excited Jade.
Something confused her though. The woman seemed to be wearing some sort of
underwear, and a penis extended from it. She bit her lip and arched an eyebrow.

“Strap…On…” Brett read the cover.

“Finally got ‘Hooked on Phonics’ huh?” Jade asked. “Should I ask how you
managed to get this?”

“Short version of the story,” Brett said. “No interrupting me. I can only talk
for so long on one breath.” Jade nodded. “I told you that you’re a lesbian on the bus
because I learned it from the gay straight alliance club. G.S.A. I met this really cool
lesbian there, she’s a senior at our school. She taught me all about dildos and strap-
ons.” Brett pointed at Jade’s gift. “My dad makes up holidays to buy sex toys for my
mom. Remember when I accidently opened my dad’s mail in seventh grade?
Anyway, so I took my dad’s credit card and I looked up the internet history to find
the site he uses to buy the toys. I had an online shopping spree for my mom. Hey
now, it’s not weird if I was pretending to be my dad. After the spree was over, I
added some stuff to the cart for you. The end. No questions please.”

“Brett…I love you and your stoner parents. I really do,” Jade said. “Thank you.
I think this can be filed away as the coolest birthday ever. Just don’t ever touch my
snacks again.”
……………

Brett sat in the center of the circle and took the toys out of their packaging. He
wiggled one in front of Jade’s face and she slapped his hand so that it hit him back. Steve
slowly scooted his way to the center and picked up one of the packages.

19 Derek Ryans
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“Y’all must have had disturbed childhoods,” Steve said.

“Hey!” Jade said. “I didn’t use them! Besides, blame it on your boyfriend.”

“What, I was just promoting her self confidence and giving her all the options she
had when the time came for her to have sex with another girl!”

“So you assisted her out of the closet as a...lesbian.”

“No he didn’t, I’ve always liked girls.”

“Jade…in your mind, who are you?”

“If I told you, you would think I’m crazy.”

“We do not think that! In fact Steve and I came up with a new name for you.”

“Umm…can we just finish opening these boxes? I’ve waited long enough to say
goodbye to them.” Jade reached out for the box labeled “middle school bliss” and sat it on
her lap. She opened the lid, took out a stack of papers, and laid them on the floor. Brett’s
eyes lit up. There were two plastic rings at the bottom of the box. She threw the pink ring at
him and slipped the blue one onto her finger.

Box # 3: Middle School Bliss

The sound of the lunch bell allowed the impatient students to finally pick up
their backpacks and file out of the room. The class period before lunch had always
felt longer than the rest of the classes. On that particular day however, Jade felt as if
class had gone on for a lifetime. She was ready, she had a crush on one of the girls
since six grade and after a year, she was prepared to share her secret. She had
written Brett a letter and told him to meet her for a covert rendezvous during lunch.
It drove her insane that she couldn’t talk about her crush to her best friend. He talks
about his crush all the time – “someone” in eighth grade – no name or description,
just someone.

“Covert, it means secret,” Brett crossed one leg over the bench. “Ren-daz-foos
is meeting place. The cafeteria isn’t exactly secret or a proper meeting place.”

“It’s pronounced ‘ran-di-vu’, with an ‘ah’ and ‘day’ sound,” Jade laughed and
stuck her hand into her pocket. She clenched her fist around the object and
squirmed to buy some time. Brett spread a sheet of paper towel on the table and
opened his box of Lunchables.

“Are you on a food strike or something?” he asked.

“I wrote that for you,” Jade tossed the letter on the table. It landed near the
edge of the napkin. Brett squinted at the house shaped letter and pushed it away
from his food.

20 Derek Ryans
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Chapter 3: The Bittersweet War
“It wasn’t anywhere near the paper towel!”

“Oh but it was close!” Brett wiped his mouth elegantly and unfolded the
letter. “Dear Brett…” he read aloud.

“NO!” Jade slapped his arm. “The letter itself is the secret you idiot.”

He lowered his head into the letter and mouthed the words. A few minutes
passed and his eyes slowly rose above the edge of the paper. “Addie blondie girl I
want to kick in the face?”

It was not the answer Jade had expected. She shifted in her seat
uncomfortably. “I think she’s pretty…”

“But she’s in seventh grade, that’s so lame.”

“We’re in seventh grade doofus.”

“You’re the doofus. I can’t believe you liked her for a year.”

“She’s a girl…”

“And now you’re a genius. Those two things bouncing in her shirt confirm
your theory. Though the rumor is she stuffs them like nobody’s business.”

“I don’t think I’m supposed to like her…or any other girl.”

“Pea…”

“Don’t you dare say it. God I swear you’re turning into your dad.”

“Well, if you wrote a letter for every girl you liked since last year, I have…”
Brett counted his fingers. “Seventeen letters for you.”

“Oh you suck! You only told me about one of them!”

“Fine. Even exchange. His name is Conrad. He got kicked out of school for
selling drugs. I’ll write letters for the other sixteen.”

“He’s a guy…”

“Correct again. I’m glad you noticed! He’s pretty bad too…I like his arms.”

“You’re way too nonchalant about all this.”

“Stop using big words. Thought I told you I didn’t pay attention in class.”

“Lunch is almost over. Stop eating; let’s go to White Orchid after school.”

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At exactly 3:20, students rushed into the hallways and followed each other to
the lockers. Jade hid behind her locker door and peeped through the slits. She only
caught glimpses of Addie’s flowing blonde hair. Once the students in between the
two lockers cleared out, Addie’s face was in plain view. Jade tapped her fingers
nervously. How could one feel right and wrong at the same time? She wanted to ask
Addie out on a date, get to know her, maybe even finally experience a first kiss.
Nothing was wrong with that, every child lives to accomplish life’s first events.
Something was wrong, however, her body had deemed her a girl, a fact she had been
forced to accept. God had created her as a girl, and he had shown no intentions to
change it.

“Honey garlic chicken is calling my name,” Brett snuck up behind her. “Addie
ain’t calling you from the looks of it.”

“Dude! Where the hell did you come from?” Jade asked.

“I’m not a stealth agent. Ain’t my fault you were ogling at Addie.”

“I’m not…ugh…never mind, let’s go.”

Brett stopped next to the toy vending machine as he and Jade entered the
restaurant. She rolled her eyes and walked up to the hostess. She tried to think of
something clever to say. Something other than “Hi, two please.” The hostess never
said anything. No “follow me please” or “enjoy your dinner”. Just an Asian girl
carrying menus and walking away.

“Our regular table please,” Brett made his glamorous entrance. “Do you speak
English? We can teach you if you want. You’re so cute.”

“I’m so sorry…” Jade lowered her head.

“I said the last part for you sweetheart, you’re welcome.”

“I’m gonna slap you.”

“Um…fow…low…me…pah.lee.see,” the hostess managed to say.

“Oh my God you’re so cute!” Brett broke out in laughter. “I wanna hug you.
I’m gonna hug you.” He turned the girl around and threw his arms around her waist.

“Xiao nan hai,” she wondered what she should do. “Little boy.” She patted the
back of his head and slowly wiggled out of his embrace.

Jade stepped up next to the girl and bowed repeatedly. She smiled at her and
gestured that it was ok. “Say it with me,” Jade said. “Fo-llow me p-lease.”

“Follow…me…please…” the hostess nodded her head with each word.

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“Good job!” Brett and Jade said in unison.

“Xie xie,” the girl nodded politely. “Thank you.”

Brett slid into the booth and tapped his fingers on the table. As the girl
turned to walk away, he reached out and grabbed her hand. Jade clutched the knife
in her napkin and contemplated on throwing it at Brett. The girl turned her head
with a confused look.

“English…here. Ok?” Brett smiled. The girl smiled back and rushed off. He got
up and walked towards the buffet tables. “Order me a coke please!”

Jade sighed and spread opened her napkin. She lined her fork and knife next
to it and began tearing pieces of the paper off. Her secret was out. So was Brett’s.
Why was he not scared? He had never mentioned wanting to be a girl, but he likes
guys. She on the other hand, always thought like a boy, the only logical thing to do
was to like girls. Was either one of them wrong? If they weren’t, how come he has
yet to open his broadcasting mouth and she can’t seem to speak one word of it?
Brett returned to the table with two plates. His plate was filled with fried rice and a
selection of light brown and red sauces, most likely sweet and sour chicken and
whatever other Chinese American dish on the menu that day. Her plate was filled
with food that she had no way of describing. She usually liked to watch what the
“real Asians” ate and followed their footsteps. As it turned out, she liked the food,
and had no problems not knowing what she was eating.

“They were out of those weird clear noodles, so I got you lomein,” Brett set
the plate in front of her.

“Do you think something’s wrong with us?” she eyed the noodles in disgust.

“What do you want from me? I’d ask them to cook you some damn clear
noodles but I don’t know what they’re called!”

“You’re a boy and you like guys.”

“And you’re a girl, whether you like to believe it or not.”

“I’ve come to accept that fact. That’s not the problem.”

“You know…talking like an adult isn’t really all that cool.”

“Jeebus on a stick. Could you be serious for one second?”

“Ok. Ms. All Grown Up, what seems to be the issue at hand?”

“Don’t call me Ms. I hate that.”

Brett sighed and pushed his plate aside.

“All I’m saying is a guy is not supposed like a guy and vice versa.”

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“I agree.”

“So what do we do?”

“We say nothing and do nothing. My dad’s always on the computer but I’ll
search it up when I get a chance.”

“Shouldn’t we talk to someone? A school counselor maybe?”

“The week before Conrad got caught, I saw him in the bathroom,” Brett
jabbed his drink with a straw. “He was acting really weird and I tried to hug him.”

Jade paused with an open mouth full of food. Had she been so courageous to
try anything like that? No. She helped Addie once with a math problem. They talked
about boys half the time. Addie talked about boys. Jade simply smiled and named
random boys’ names when she was asked. What questions were asked? Jade cared
more about Addie’s delicate hand. She wrote bubble letters beautifully. Her French
manicured fingers…now nice would it be to grasp those hands.

“By the time I woke up, he was gone,” Brett said.

“Huh? What? Who’s gone?” Jade asked.

“Thanks. I opened my heart up and you were dreaming about Addie.”

“How you know I was… sorry, I was just shocked you tried to hug him.”

“Never again. He shoved my head into a toilet and then knocked me out.”

“When was this? How come you didn’t tell me?”

“I took a shower in the locker after P.E. I didn’t want to tell you I like a guy.”

“And you’re telling me now because…?”

“One, I felt guilty. You’re my bestest friend. Two, we’re in the same boat.”

Brett opened his backpack and took out two small plastic capsules. They each
had a plastic ring in it. He laid the rings out on the table. Jade picked up the blue ring
and twirled it. She remembered the vending machine at the entrance.

“How much?” she asked.

“Four fifty,” he answered.

“Nine tries to get…”

“Blue and pink. Blue’s your favorite color.”

He held out an open palm and she put the blue ring in his hand. “We don’t
know what we are right now…and I don’t know if we’ll find out any time soon.” He

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slipped the ring onto one of Jade’s fingers. She took it off and switched hands. He
handed her the pink ring.

“You’re not scared to wear a pink ring?”

“As long I don’t hug any of my crushes, I think I’m in the safe zone.”

Jade pushed the ring onto his finger. He lifted his hand in mid air. She lifted
hers to match his hand.

“If either one of us has any information, we tell each other before the entire
school. Deal?”

“I, Brett Lucas Callisca, solemnly swear that I will keep this secret until I can
find an explanation for my feelings.”

“I, Jade Kalie Devocci, solemnly swear that I will keep this secret until I can
find an explanation for my feelings.”

………………

Brett stretched out on the floor and tossed his ring in the air. It landed between
Steve and Jade. She took hers and threw it in the same area. Neither of them had worn the
rings for more than two weeks after they made the pact. During Sunday school, they found
out what they were – homosexuals, sinners – they were going straight to hell. If they
wanted to reach heaven’s gates, those rings had to come off.

“Out of the closet in middle school...” Steve said. “When I was that age, I didn’t even
dare look at a boy. I turned the focus to my piggy bank. Money is power. Power is freedom.”

“We weren’t all the way out,” Brett said.

“Yeah, back in the closet within the same month,” Jade laughed.

“Something about being a kid…easily manipulated, easily scared,” Steve said.

Jade looked at the remaining two boxes and her heart began to pound in her ears.
She stacked all of the open boxes together and scooped the stuff on the floor into them.
Steve kicked the unopened boxes over to her.

“Thank you for volunteering, grab those too,” she said.

Steve questioned Brett with his eyes. Brett shrugged and stood up to follow Jade.
She rushed out of the room and muffled footstep sounds traveled back in. Steve sighed and
trailed out of the room. Brett had his foot out the door before he turned around and picked
up the two boxes on the floor. They caught up to her in the kitchen; she was half sticking
out of the fridge. The stacked boxes stood on the counter, along with a candle lighter and
two bottles of rum. She swung the fridge door shut with her hip, two more bottles of rum in

25 Derek Ryans
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her hands. Steve picked at the flower petals on the counter while Brett stood wide-eyed
and confused.

“Alright! Team work! I like it,” Jade said. “Steve, grab the bottles and the flowers that
you seem to like so much.”

Steve obeyed and the three of them made their way into the backyard. Jade picked
an empty spot in the grass and dropped the boxes on the ground. Brett sat his boxes next to
her feet and crouched down. Steve inspected the area for a good place to display the
bouquet. She took it from him and dumped them over the boxes. He backed up a few steps,
sat down, and hugged his knees. She proceeded onto opening the bottles and pouring them
over the pile. Brett sneaked the last bottle of rum behind his back before Jade could get her
hands on it. She pulled a towel out of her back pocket and dowsed it in rum. Both Steve and
Brett watched in awe as she dropped the ball of fire into the pile of memories.

“What are sex toys made of?” Brett slowly backed away from the fire. “Back up.
Whatever they’re made of, it can’t be good to inhale the melted versions.”

“You never imagined a cock in your nose?” Jade chugged the rum.

“I’m offended.”

“You always are. But you take it anyway. I love you.”

Brett opened the box named “High School Hell” and took out the binder inside. He
wiped the dust from the cover and opened it. “The book of lies!” he read aloud. Steve
reached over and helped him turn the pages.

“Is that…?” Steve asked. He stared at the torn yearbook page inside the clear
covering.

“Yup. Me and Jade as the cutest couple in ninth grade.”

“What’s that?”

“We took a Polaroid on the bus.”

“Don’t let Jade burn it, I think I can use it for her new album.” Steve pulled the
picture out of the lamination and slipped it into his back pocket.

Box #4: High School Hell

Jade wrapped her arms around Brett as the photographer snapped the
picture. He wore the outfit that she had tried on in the clothing store and she wore
his favorite jeans. The two of them practiced for three weeks before they perfected
the act of the “couples photo shoot.”

“Dylan charged me fifty bucks for this, you?” Jade asked.

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“Can this fucking boy take a damn picture?” Brett muttered. “I thought
freshmen can’t work for the yearbook staff.”

“Considering that we’re freshmen and we bribed the editor…I’m guessing he


sent his bitch boy to do the job.”

“I haven’t paid him yet, I’m going to during seventh period.”

After school that day, Jade waited for Brett at their usual meeting place,
behind the portable classroom by the bus loading station. They preferred their
private space instead of high school gossip and pointless jokes. It amazed them what
students do while they waited for the bus. Some applied make up, while others
attempted to shoot foreign objects at each other, extra points if the target was a
private body part. Jade swayed back and forth in place. Her teeth chattered
involuntarily. She took a small swig of water and chewed on her shirtsleeve. Brett
strolled up with a lollipop in his mouth.

“All done,” he took her hand and kissed it. “We’re gonna be the cutest couple
in our grade.”

“I have a secret to tell you,” she cuddled against his shoulder.

“Quit chewing on that, here eat this,” he popped the lollipop into her mouth.

“Trish Spencer gave me a pill in second period…and then we skipped the rest
of the day.”

“Suicide pale face with too much eye liner?” he asked. “I didn’t know she
actually talked to normal people.”

“Hey…leave her alone. Her eyes are shiny black.”


“I think the devil’s eyes are the same colors.”

“She kissed me…no I kissed her…oh damn it I think the pill’s wearing off…”

“Bus is here, let’s go. Do you remember what the pill looked like?”

“It looked like a pill. She said it was called ‘triple stack x’.”

Brett helped Jade as she slowly climbed into the bus. She rubbed her eyes
and steadied herself. Was there any way she could sustain the high? Everything felt
so wonderful, even the texture of a wall. She lightly traced the pleather seat and
hoped for the chill in her spine. It still felt good, just not as good as the feelings she
had that morning.

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Chapter 3: The Bittersweet War
“How was it?” Brett slipped into the seat after Jade sat down.

“Better than any guys I kissed.” She wrote, “One day I will be free. One day I
will be more than a freak” with a permanent marker on the seat in front of her.

“So you definitely like girls?” He joined in on the vandalism, “I kissed one boy
as an experiment.”

“I’ve always liked them. You know that,” Jade said. “One day I will be able to
explain what I am,” she continued on her side of the seat.

“You’re such a lesbian,” he replied as he finished his work of poetry. “He


stuck his hand in my pants as an experiment. I liked it. So I stuck my tongue in his
mouth. And we kissed. Hey guess what bitch? I’m a dude.”

“I hate that word. Lesbian. Why does everything need a label?” She looked
over at what he had written and laughed hysterically.

“But it’s what you are,” he said. “I already told my parents I’m gay. They told
me to seek happiness as I wish.”

“Your parents are hippies,” she said. She stared out the window and
wondered what her mom would say if she came out.

“Fuck you,” he shrugged. “Better for me I guess.”

“I don’t think I’m a lesbian…” She picked out a different color marker and
started writing on another spot. Instead of choosing a blank space, she wrote over
the faded words “Jesse <3’z Peter” with “those who stand on the outside looking in
have no right to love.”

“Do you like kissing girls?” he crossed his legs, placed his hands on his knees,
and asked her sincerely.
Two boys who sat across the aisle shot him disgusted looks. They wore
identical baseball caps that had their school mascot embroidered. Brett recognized
them from the school yearbook. “Faggot!” One of them coughed. The boys laughed
and high-fived each other.

Jade stood up and tried to push past Brett. He pushed her back down in the
seat, then turned to the boys and said, “Your girlfriend sucked Coach Gowen’s dick
under the bleachers during the Pep Rally while you two tag teamed Freshmeat
Jimmy in the locker room. Oh yes, I saw it.” The boys’ faces changed.

“Better watch your ass. Soon as we get off this bus you’re dead,” one of the
boys replied.

“What do you plan to do with your needle dicks?” Brett asked. “My ass is
dead? Ha! I’d die from laughing.”

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“Brett…shut it,” Jade hissed. “I don’t know if I could take them both.” The
boys gripped their hands on the seat in front of them. Jade pushed past Brett and
yanked one of the boys by his shirt.

“Listen ass wipe,” she said. “Touch him and the school will receive an
anonymous tip that Coach Gowen has been shooting the baseball team up with
steroids. Whether it’s true or not, the whole team will be tested and you can kiss
Gowen’s ass bye-bye.”

The boys leaned back in their seats and gritted their teeth. The bus rolled to a
stop. Jade stood up and grabbed Brett by his collar. “Come on.”

“It’s like almost half a mile to your house!” he whined. She pushed him out of
the seat and urged him to start walking up the aisle.

“You,” she pointed at the boys. “Stay.” The boys stared at her while the rest of
the bus talked amongst themselves.

Jade slammed her backpack down on the sidewalk and sat next to a giant
trashcan that had fallen over. Brett tiptoed over beside her and sat down, keeping a
few inches distance. She sat with her knees perpendicular to the ground and rested
her head on her forearms. He crossed his legs Indian style, kept his head down and
picked at his fingernails.

“Still high?” he asked.

“Why are you always so damn calm? I got high and skipped school!”

“Should I make a big scene and tell you that drugs are bad and you should
stay in school? School is hell, you and I both know that. The drugs…well heck if you
pop another pill I’m gonna make it so that you can’t have kids.”

“What are you gonna do? Cut my nonexistent testicles off?”

“You didn’t answer whether you like kissing girls or not,” Brett said.

“It’s not a fucking joke. Those guys can and will beat you to a pulp!” Jade
screamed. Her face reddened and her eyes glazed. Brett inched closer and hugged
her. Tears rolled down her cheek, drop by drop, as if each was moving in slow
motion, then crashing and soaking into Brett’s t-shirt with massive momentum.

“What I said was true though,” Brett said.

“So what if it was?” Jade asked. “You can be gay all you want but goddamn it
can you please keep yourself alive?”

“What about you?” He asked. She loosened her grip on him and sat up
straight.

“I don’t think I’m a lesbian,” she answered.

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“Do you want to fuck girls?”

“Umm…if that were possible…I suppose…yes.”

“Of course it’s possible. Anything is possible,”

“How?” Jade asked. Brett lifted his left hand and waved the magic fingers
motion.

“That or you can do this,” he said and shaped a v with his fore and middle
finger while flicking his tongue in between the opening. She rolled her eyes.

“What if I wanted to…you know…I don’t know…be a guy?” She asked.

“I don’t know, I’m sure there’s a way to pretend,” he said.

“I don’t wanna pretend.”

“So kill someone and then chop off his dick. Lesbians have sex with each
other all the time. There’s gotta be a way.”

“I’m not a lesbian.”

“Whatever floats your boat. Stay in the closet.”

“I’m not…”

“You’re a lesbian. Have a nice day.”

…………………

Steve lifted the binder above his head and bowed. Jade opened it and flipped
through its pages. “Book of Lies” was definitely right, her life was a lie. She took the last
page that read, “hell is finally over” and tossed it into the fire.

“Hell is never over,” she unclipped the binder and loosened all the pages into the
fire. The flames rose to the height of her eyes. She watched the fire burn all of her
memories into ash and considered jumping in. There are new boxes and binders she could
store memorabilia, but unfortunately, new bodies are hard to come by.

Steve walked up next to her and patted her shoulder. The fire in front of him meant
something totally different. Not only did Jade burn her past, she may have burnt what was
left of her career. He brought her into the industry, could he manage to keep her there?

“I’ll be fired after the VMAs won’t I?” Jade asked.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know,” Steve answered. “Any plans?”

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“Everything just happened so fast, you know? I thought Ashley would leave me one
day and I’d miraculously marry a straight girl. The music thing kinda just happened.”

“Brett wants me to sell you as ‘The Duke of Pop’, I’m willing to give it a shot.”

“It’s not just business! It’s my life!”

“Your choice Jade. I’ll take care of Ashley. But how long do you want to keep hiding?”

Brett walked up next to them with the last box in his hands. Jade shivered and
sniffled as tears fell from her eyes. She threw her arms around Brett and sobbed. The box
fell open into the fire. A slight breeze blew a half-burnt piece of paper next to her feet.

The clear night sky with the crescent moon hanging like a lantern created an
awkward yet comforting ambience. Three people stood in a secluded backyard with a five-
bedroom mansion in the backdrop. One cried and one held the tears and the questions
back. The other racked his brain for business options while his heart tore itself apart.

“I gotta tell my mom first,” Jade finally broke the silence. “Don’t make me decide
right now if I’m gonna tell the press or not.” Steve picked up the piece of paper on the
ground and examined it.

“Is there a reason you kept a receipt with your mom’s box? There’s nothing but TV
dinners on here.”

Box #5: Mommy Dearest

Jade’s mom had considered herself a good mother. Jade, on the other hand,
looked at her as the perfect cliché mother. She was a successful lawyer who
managed to raise a child on her own. It was exactly like how the movies portrayed it:
a woman can move on with life after her husband drives off and never looks back.
She handled single-motherhood quite well. Jade was an obedient child and
she was lucky that law school had taught her to make delicious meals out of frozen
dinners. Though she never told Jade, she was grateful for Brett and his family. They
allowed Jade to have a real childhood while she was at work. Money didn’t grow on
trees.

After high school started, Jade began to enjoy spending time with her mom.
She had less rules and more opportunities to explore just how many times she could
fool the great know-it-all lawyer. She learned quickly that her mom would believe
anything she told her. There was no reason to figure out why. She finally got the
secret life she had prayed for.

Her mom’s rules were simple: follow the dress code of girls her age, behave
like a good daughter should, and appear as a lady that she had taught her to be. She
willingly conformed to her mother’s rules; it was a good cover and feminine

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appearances had their advantages. One of those advantages was that the beautiful
popular girls invited her to parties. She learned to deal with wearing bras and
pretending to like boys.

Don’t knock it till you try it. Try it enough, I might just learn to like it.

“Mom, can I go to Greta’s house?” Jade asked one day as her mother prepared
dinner.

“Greta who?” Her mom asked. She opened a bag of Stouffer’s skillet dinners
and poured it into the pan.

“Greta Rodriguez, a friend from school.” Jade took two plates from the
cabinet and laid them on the counter. She walked over to the small dining room
table and organized her mother’s documents so that the two adjacent seats to her
mom’s chair would be empty.

“What are you guys going to do?” Her mom joined her at the table and set the
plates down. They bowed their heads for a quick prayer. Her mom spread her case
files over her half of the table. Jade rotated her peripheral view clockwise from the
empty chair on the left of her mother to the empty chair on the right.

She had gotten used to the empty chairs and her mother’s work. She often
wondered if those were the reasons that led to her dad to walking out the door.
Maybe he hated how his wife did her work at the dinner table while he cooked.
Maybe his daughter didn’t behave well enough, didn’t stay by the door long enough
to wait for him to come home.

“You know, the same old stuff,” Jade answered. “Drink out of a keg, do lots of
different drugs, oh and maybe I’ll go and strip for Girls Gone Wild.”

“Don’t be a smart ass,” her mom said. “I prosecuted four date rapes last year.
It’s not a joke.” Jade peeked at the files.

“Is it still the shopaholic case? The lady that spent fifty something thousand
dollars and tried to change her name?” Jade asked.

“Who else is going to be at this party?” Her mother asked, one hand holding a
file parallel to her face while the other searched the plate with a fork.

“It’s not a party mom.”

“I was young once you know.”

Jade wondered how true those words were.

“Brett, few people from school…and…Justin Lebowski,” Jade said.

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“Justin? Aren’t you and Brett official now? By the way, whatever happened to
Patrick?”

“His name’s Brandon. Patrick’s the sugar daddy that your bank lady conned.
Stop asking me about Brett. Justin’s cuter anyway,” Jade answered.

In all reality, Brett begged Jade to go to the party with him. He knew that
Justin had a crush on Jade and he just so happened to have a crush on Justin. Jade
agreed to go simply because she liked to look at girls. She dreamed about kissing
one of these gorgeous girls one day.

“You know, law schools will like it better if I was well rounded. Greta’s the
president of the debate team.” Jade twirled the penne pasta on her plate.

“I’m picking you up at ten, not one second later.” Her mother said. Jade
stabbed a stack of noodles with her fork and stuffed them into her mouth. I am too
damn good at this.
……………………

Steve walked around the yard to find the hose. Jade stood silently and thought about
how to break the news to her mom. At that very moment, she felt lucky her dad was not
around, that’s one parent she didn’t have to disappoint. If he were around, would he care?
He always seemed like a tree, embedded into the background of their lives. She took out
her cell phone and opened the recording application.

“They say time can heal all wounds,” she sang into the phone. Brett’s ears perked up.
Steve pressed his thumb on the rushing water hose.

“Three sixty-five counted down, time after time. You were never around and when
you finally left, you never came back. I would say I miss you, but I never knew you well
enough. I would say I hate you, but I’d be lying to myself.”

“That’s a song…” Steve’s jaw dropped. The water flowed out of the hose and
extinguished the fire.

“I told you she’s one of a kind,” Brett said. “This world will never be ready for Jade.
Or I should say…’Jake’. But damn it, Jake’s coming!”

“Jake…” Jade said. “I like it.”

Her stomach seemed to tickle a bit. She steadied herself. Then it appeared, it started
slowly in the corner of her mouth. It slowly curled into a smile. She smiled and wiggled her
toes in her shoes. She stared at the drowned ashes on the ground. “Good bye…”

33 Derek Ryans