The Challenge That is Tony

by Pedro


Early June, Year Ten

I can hear Dad rabbiting away to someone on the phone. Although I can't hear what is being said, I can tell from the tone that it is a social call. At least it is not his boss asking for him to go in to work on his day off – again!

The rumble of conversation stops and there is the shortest of pauses before he shouts for me. The response time has me worried I am about to be upbraided for some misdemeanour, but I can think of nothing that I have left undone that I ought to have done nor done that I ought not to have done. So why do I feel guilty!

"Do you want the good news or the bad first?" asks Dad when I join him and Mum in the lounge. He doesn't wait for a reply. "They are the same thing really: Your grandparents are coming down from Sheffield for the weekend. They are complaining they haven't seen you for a while so you will have to be around to entertain them."

Oh, pooh! Grandad is all right but Grandma can be hard work and things always seem to be a bit strained between them. It also means less time to be with my boyfriend, Tony.

"I don't suppose anyone will object if Tony wants to help with the entertainment," Dad says with a chuckle. Am I that obvious?

Mum is in practical mode. "We will have to think of something to do with them, otherwise we will all sit around glaring at each other all weekend." My sentiments exactly. "We've got a few days before they get here, so think on it," Mum adds.

When I see Tony the next day in school, I mention our little family problem to him.

"I don't know if it helps", he says, "but Mum was talking about a trip she has been helping her Women's Institute branch organise. They are visiting a regional WI event this Saturday. It's at Kedleston Hall, the National Trust place near Derby. She was saying there are places left on the coach and was worried the trip might run at a loss. Your mum is in the WI isn't she? Get her to find out about it. It might make an interesting day out."

I frowned "I think she's a member. But I don't think she bothers to go to all the meetings. She might not know about the trip."

"Well, mention it when you go home. She can always ring my mum if she wants any information or tickets."

"You can mention it. You're coming round to do homework aren't you?"

"Nah! It's Tuesday in case you've forgotten. I've got Scouts. You'll have to do your own dirty work."

I remember to tell Mum of Tony's suggestion when I get home. She says she thinks she received a leaflet advertising the trip and goes off to look for it. I make myself a cuppa and snag a biscuit out of the tin and then go up to my room to get on with my homework.

Mum reports to Dad and me as we are having our evening meal.

"Thank Tony for his idea for me when you next see him. I had to ring his mother to get the details."

She tells us what the event is about. Dad and I cough and look at each other. I let him be the spokesman.

"Er, I am not sure it's the sort of thing we or my dad would be interested in." He looks like I feel: as though we're expecting to be told we're going whether we like it or not.

"I didn't think you would. You can't go anyway," Mum replies, allowing Dad and me to relax. "It's member and one guest only. Although they are a bit short on numbers, they don't want to set a precedent by allowing more than one guest per person. So Grandma is going as the guest of Tony's mother. She says Bert owes us one for letting him off the hook…"

"Why isn't Grandma going as your guest?" I ask.

"I was about to tell you when you interrupted! I'm taking my sister. It's just the sort of thing she likes."

You can almost hear the cogs going round in Dad's brain.

"Does that mean we don't have to visit her the following weekend?" he asks hopefully. We usually visit Aunt Doris every fortnight. It can be a bit of a chore.

"Yes. You're let off. Aren't I good to you?" Mum preens in reply.

We can't argue.

On Saturday morning, Tony and I are in the café in the shopping centre. We are sitting at our favourite table, the one next to the low barrier that divides the café from the circulation in the arcade. Dad and Grandad have come with us, and they have the best seats for watching the passers-by. Tony and I are facing more into the café. As compensation we get to watch Simon, the cute waiter we both fancy, going about his business.

Rolling his eyes in Simon's direction after he has taken our order, Grandad whispers to me, "I can see why you like coming here."


Simon brings our drinks and we settle down to savour the moment.

"This is grand," says Grandad, "Enjoying a nice cup of coffee and not having the missus blathering on about nowt. I gather we have you to thank for it, Tony. It were your suggestion the women folk should go on the Wild Indians' trip to Kedleston."

Tony blushes at the compliment and emits a giggle. "Wild Indians. I've not heard the WI called that before. I'll have to tell Dad: he's sure to let it slip and get himself into trouble with Mum and her WI committee members."

In quiet contentment we watch the world go by for a while before Dad breaks the silence.

"I don't want to spoil the moment but I suppose we had better think about what we can do tomorrow. Any ideas?"

"In't it well-dressing season i ?" Grandad asks. "The missus was whittling on about it t'other day. Said we should have a run out as we haven't been to see 'em for years."

"Started the last week in May, I think," Dad replies. "The displays will probably still be good. We could run out to Tissington or Wirksworth. Neither are that far away — half an hour perhaps. We haven't been for a few years either."

Tony leans across to me. "What's well-dressing?"

Yay! Something I know about that my smartypants boyfriend doesn't! Still, I suppose his family is not from around these parts so they might not have heard of it. I explain.

"It's a custom local to the Peak District in Derbyshire and Staffordshire. It's supposed to be a way for a town or village to give thanks for a reliable water supply in the days before piped water. The well is dressed by putting boards around it that are decorated with pictures made out of flowers. There is usually a theme to the pictures, often including something religious."

"Goes back at least to the time of the Black Death but probably has its origins in pagan ritual," adds Grandad who has been listening in to my explanation.

Dad catches Tony's eye. "I would say you could come with us to see it, but I there isn't enough room in the car for six."

"It's alright, thanks," says Tony. "Dad has me signed up to caddy for him playing golf tomorrow." He doesn't sound too keen.

Grandad and Dad go back to watching the world go by. Tony and I go back to watching Simon.

Dad leans forward.

"Ee. That's a statement!" he says as he nudges Grandad and uses his empty coffee cup to indicate something behind me.

Grandad looks in the suggested direction. "You're right there, lad! Although I'm not sure what it's supposed to be saying."

"What is it?" I ask.

"Don't turn round or you'll be caught nebbin'," Grandad instructs.

"Leaning against the wall next to the entrance to the loos," Tony tells me. He is sitting in a better position to glance sideways and see what the oldies are talking about. "A kid two or three years younger than us, wearing above-the-knee socks with rainbow stripes, a mauve tee with the word 'Love' on it and cut down shorts even you would think are too short."

"Is it a boy or a girl? I can't tell," says Dad. "Either way, with those socks it must be gay."

"Those shorts are for a girl. The fly is too short to be able to fish a cock out safely and the legs are too tight for that alternative route." Grandad doesn't miss much. "Also, I would say it's a girl's tee. Not from the colour, but the cut and the wording. I think a boy, even a gay boy, is more likely to go for artwork of some kind or a punchy slogan — 'I like mauve' or 'my boyfriend is gay' — that sort of thing."

"So it's a girl," Dad states.

"I didn't say that. Their body shape is more like a boy, although I don't think they are old enough for the dimorphism that comes with puberty to be fully expressed. The posture is more like a girl, but they could just be anxious. I think I would be anxious dressed like that. There is the possibility they could be trans or non-binary."

I am wide-eyed. Tony leans towards me. "I'm impressed your grandad is using the gender neutral 'they'," he whispers to me.

"Dimorphism? Trans or non-binary? That sounds heavy stuff for you, Dad," says Dad, causing Grandad to chuckle.

"Like with that kid over there, don't judge this old book by its cover." Grandad pauses for effect. "Actually, they've had us all on diversity training at work. It sounds, lad, as though you could do with going on the course, too." He turns to Tony and me. "Do they teach you about this sort of thing at school?"

Tony answers for us: "Enough that we know it's not a case of either/or."

"I don't know if you two have the same problem I have," Grandad says. "I accept that sexuality varies across a spectrum. However with gender, I understand the idea that it isn't binary, but I still have trouble getting my head round the concept that what's between your legs isn't definitive."

"Don't we all have preconceptions based on societal expectations and gender stereotypes," Tony replies, "and statistically those who do not fit into the binary model are a very small proportion of the population. Unlike sexuality which your parents' generation struggled with, where the non-modal population was much more visible."

Dad has a blank look on his face but Grandad is smiling as if impressed by Tony's erudition.

"As long as everyone is accepted for what they are, does it matter?" I suggest.

"It shouldn't," says Grandad, "but those preconceptions and prejudices Tony mentioned means it does."

Since we have all finished our coffees, Grandad slips me some money and I stand up and walk to the counter to pay, leaving the others to follow in their own time.

I pay for the drinks and exchange a few pleasantries with Simon's mother, the owner of the café. When I turn back towards the others, I see both Dad and Grandad leaping over the little barrier next to our table and running off through the arcade towards the exit leading towards the supermarket as if chasing someone. I have to say I am well impressed with the athleticism of the two oldies. I know Dad used to be on the running team when he was at school but that was ages ago. He is going faster than I would have expected and yet Grandad is outpacing him.

Meanwhile Tony turns towards me and shouts, "Call security!" I turn back to relay the message to Simon's mother but she must have heard Tony and tells me she has already called for the security service.

"You had better join your friend and find out what is going on," Simon's mother says. "Keep me informed please. Security will want to know any details I can give them."

By the time I catch up with him, Tony has walked across the arcade and is crouched down talking to someone sitting on the floor, slumped against the wall. It is the kid in the striped socks Dad had noticed earlier.

"We saw him kick at you. Do you think you are injured?" asks Tony.

"Just winded, I think," the kid sniffs in reply. Tears are close. Physically they might be only winded, but it is obvious their self-confidence has taken a battering.

"What happened?" I ask.

"I was leaning here waiting for my mum to come out of the loos, when this guy — I think it was the same guy who barged into me as I was coming out of the gents as he was going in." The kid snivels again and puts a hand in one of the pockets of those miniscule shorts. "The guy calls me a 'fucking queer', spits at me and kicks my feet from under me. I land hard on my bum and he kicks me in the crotch." The kid draws a crumpled tissue out of the pocket and moves to wipe their eyes and face.

"Don't!" Tony insists and puts his hand down to block the move. "You said he spat at you. Don't wipe it off with that. Use a clean tissue. There might be useable DNA evidence."

Tony tells me to go back to the café and ask Simon's mum if she has some clean tissues and a plastic bag to put the used ones in. When I do that and tell her what is happening, she gives me a new packet of pocket tissues and some sandwich bags. She also gives me some of the thin, blue, butyl gloves they use in the kitchen area. They should help stop any samples we do manage to obtain getting contaminated with stray DNA.

As I cross back to Tony and the kid, Dad arrives. He has a grin on his face. "Got the bastard," he announces. "Grandad is with security, keeping an eye on him until the local police arrive. The security office is near where we caught him so we saved the guard answering the alarm from having to run up here. The guard is going through the surveillance camera footage now." Dad looks down at the kid on the floor. "They have already found where is shows the actual assault."

While Dad has been talking Tony and I have put on the gloves and, with consent, have carefully wiped the areas the kid says the spit landed and bagged up the tissues. When we take the gloves off, we put them in another bag.

"If you're feeling up to it," Dad says. "We had better get you up off the floor. Then, when you are ready, I'm afraid we'll have to take you to security to make a statement for the police. You should have one of your parents there as well. Can you get in touch with them?"

"It's just my mother. I was waiting for her. We both went into the loos at the same time. She should have been out by now. If she is not here, I don't know where she is." This time real tears appear. I hand over the rest of the packet of pocket tissues.

"Does she have a mobile?" Tony asks he gets his out of his pocket. He gets a vague 'yes' in reply.

"If you know the number, we can ring it and I'll speak to her if you wish," says Dad. "Unless you want to call her yourself?"

"I don't have a phone."

Tony dials the number when given it, but gets the off-line message.

"Probably switched off or out of battery. Typical of my mother," the kid observes.

"Was she going into the supermarket? Could she still be in there?" asks Dad.

"Yes, possibly."

"When we get to security, we can ask them to make an announcement over the PA system for your mother to come to their office."

We walk to the security office and when they make the announcement we learn that the kid's name is Lindsay MacLeod. Tony whispers to me that it is a good Scottish name for a boy — or for a girl. The kid has no trace of a Scots accent though.

Grandad appears from one of two side rooms and says that the local police have arrived and are interviewing the guy he and Dad apprehended. When he starts to ask about Lindsay's parents, Dad tells him about the PA call for the mother.

"The police want statements from you all about the attack," Grandad says. He hands some sheets of paper and pens to Tony and me. "For you two, written statements will be sufficient. Write down what you saw, heard and did and why you did it all in chronological order. Work on it and make a fair copy when satisfied. No conferring. I have been told to stay and supervise to make sure you don't." He turns and gives the same writing materials to Lindsay. "Make some notes to get your thoughts in order while we are waiting for your mother. However, you won't make the final version of your statement until after the police have interviewed you with your mother present."

After about five minutes, Lindsay's mother arrives and declaims her presence.

"I'm Lindsay MacLeod's mother. What's the little queer done now that I get called out publically?"

I look up from my notes in time to see Grandad straighten up. "Mrs. MacLeod. Lindsay has done nothing wrong. Lindsay is the victim of an assault that took place while waiting for you near the entrance to the toilets in the arcade, although you never appeared. The police are here and want to interview Lindsay and they need you to be present." Grandad's tone is hard and business-like.

"I'm not Mrs MacLeod. I never married the tartan twat that was Lindsay's father. He fucked off years ago, leaving me to raise the child alone." The woman looks Grandad up and down. "Anyways, who are you?"

"At the moment, a witness to the assault," is Grandad's enigmatic reply.

Before Lindsay's mother can say anything else, the security guard announces that he has told the police she is here and that they want her and Lindsay to move into the other room.

"Tony," Grandad says after they have gone, "when you've finished your statement can you ring your dad and ask him to come down to sign it off as your parent, please?"

"I'll ring him now," Tony replies. He pulls out his mobile and dials. While he is talking to his dad, I notice Tony is rubbing his shoulder.

We have both finished our statements when Bert, Tony's dad, arrives. There is a round of introductions followed by explanations. Grandad fetches a police officer to make appropriate notes of who we all are and to receive our statements after Dad and Bert have signed them off. We also give him the bags containing the tissues used to wipe the spit off Lindsay.

"You two are finished here now," says Dad, "so you might as well go with Bert. Grandad and I will be a while yet. We still have to make our statements. We'll see you later."

We take the hint and get a lift with Tony's dad to their house.

Of course we have to have a more detailed review of the morning's events with Tony's father once we get there. At least, with Tony's mum away on the WI trip, the questioning was in mono not stereo.

"Do you think Lindsay is in our school?" I ask when we are released from interrogation and safely in Tony's room.

"Good question! Let's look on the school list."

Tony boots up his computer and navigates to the school website and signs in to the pupils' area. He then does some more typing and the pupil list appears.

"There," says Tony, pointing at the name on the screen. "Year Seven, birthday in August, so age nearly twelve."

"Pretty much still pre-puberty. Unusual to be sexually aware enough to come out as gay at that age I would have thought. I think it was the back end of year eight when I realised I liked boys more than girls. "

"Except she is flagged as a girl. Girls start puberty a bit earlier than boys. So maybe she's worked it out earlier."

Having found out what we wanted to know, Tony signs out of the school system.

I had forgotten that the school list distinguishes boys and girls. There is something bugging me about that girl flag. After all Grandad was very careful not to commit to one or the other, always using 'they'. I think back over the morning and what I wrote in my statement.

Got it!

"Didn't Lindsay say something about being bumped coming out of the gents loo when telling us about the assault? If she is a girl, why was she in the gents?"

Tony thinks about it for a while.

"Your right, Lindsay did say that. But said something else as well: about being kicked in the crotch. Wouldn't a twelve year old boy be developed enough for that to make him double up in pain? Lindsay was slumped against the wall, not curled up on the floor."

Curiouser and curiouser

Mum had said it would be early evening when they get home after their trip to Kedleston, so I take the hint and prepare our evening meal. I would have done a curry but Grandma won't eat Indian so I do a lasagne, timing it for when they are due back. I can turn the oven down low to keep it warm without it spoiling if they are late. I prep a salad and get some garlic bread ready to go in the oven when they arrive. I make sure there is enough for six —Aunt Doris will want to stay if there is a meal on offer.

The meal is a success although Grandma refuses the garlic bread saying she doesn't like garlic. I don't know how Dad and Grandad manage to keep straight faces, when in the next breath she praises me for the lasagne. They saw how much garlic I put into the meat sauce — nearly a full head.

The conversation over the meal is a full report on the WI trip, coloured with character assassinations of some of the other members of the party. Neither Dad, Grandad nor I mention the events of our morning. Not that we could get a word in edgeways.

Mum volunteers Grandma and Aunt Doris to help her clear up after the meal, saying she would take her sister home when they had finished.

"Fine. We're going for a walk." Grandad says as he ushers Dad and me out of the back door. He turns to me. "To the pub for a pint. You're coming?" he asks, except it was more of an instruction than a question. Not that I would have said no!

It is a ten minute walk to the pub and Grandad sets a fast pace — to settle our dinners.

"I didn't want to say anything in the house with them three earwiggin', especially the missus," Grandad says when have our beers — mine is alcohol free —and found a table outside in the beer garden. "But I think there is summat odd about this morning. The mother mainly. Leaving aside she must smoke pot occasionally…"

"How do you know that," I ask.

"The smell. You weren't as close to her so you probably didn't notice it. A bit like cat pee."

I didn't notice, but it would explain Tony rubbing his shoulder where the school cat got him at Halloween. Something like that always seems to set it off.

"As I was saying," Grandad resumes. "The mother. I had seen the kid earlier — who could miss those socks — walking with the mother towards the loos. The mother pretty much pushed the kid into the gents, then instead of going into the ladies, she turns around and walks off towards the supermarket. That's why, when the kid was leaning against the wall and you, lad, asked if they were a boy or a girl, I was a bit cagey. Looking at the kid I thought they were probably a girl, but with using the gents' loos, I wasn't so sure. Either way, they were in for a long wait with the mother going off like that."

Grandad doesn't miss much, does he?

"Then when I had done my statement, one of the policemen told me something he probably shouldn't, so don't tell anyone else; the mother was insisting the child was a boy but when the kid signed their statement they put a plus under the 'o' of MacLeod turning it into the medical symbol for female. The policeman said mother wouldn't have seen as the kid is left-handed — you know how some lefties hold their wrist over where they are writing — and the mother had countersigned first, which would invalidate the statement on a technicality if it became known."

Grandad sups from his pint.

"It does sound odd," Dad remarks. "I wonder what the birth certificate says?" It's Dad's turn to draw from his pint.

"I don't know about that but I do know Lindsay is down as a girl on the school list," I say. "We checked when we went to Tony's after we left you."

I tell them about both Tony and me hearing Lindsay mention being barged by her assailant on the way out of the gents. I also repeat Tony's comments about Lindsay not doubling over when kicked in the crotch.

"Tony could be right there. Maybe she hasn't got the bits between her legs to be a boy," says Grandad. Sounds like he has made his mind up – Lindsay is a girl.

"That doesn't explain using the gents and her mother's insistence she's a boy," Dad argues.

"I think young Lindsay is going to need the support of people other than her mother very soon, if not already," Grandad states. He looks me in the eye. "You and Tony keep your eyes and ears open. I know there is a three year difference that makes talking to her in school difficult, but see if you can draw her out to find out what is going on and be there to support her. Good luck. I shall be interested to hear what happens." Again it is more of an instruction to keep him informed than a passing interest.

We all drain our glasses.

"I suppose we had better get back to see what the women are up to," Dad says. Then he stands up, ready to leave.

Grandad objects. "Not bloody likely! We're having another round. Since you're standing up, lad, you can go and get 'em."

"Thought you had gone off me. You didn't call or text yesterday," Tony says when I catch up with him before school on Monday. He is grinning so I know he is only playing at being offended.

"Grandparents. As you well know. They've finally gone this morning," I tease him back. "How was golf?"

He groans. "A good walk ruined, as someone once said." To mix metaphors, Tony puts the ball back in my court. "Did you go and see the well-dressings? Were they any good?"

"Interesting. Worth seeing, especially if you like that sort of thing. Lots of work involved in making them. Unfortunately they were past their best. One of the villagers said the displays really only last about a week."

"You don't sound too keen. So not a good day."

"No, a good day actually. We stopped off in Cromford on the way back and did some industrial history. Much more my thing. Dad's and Grandad's too."

"Talking of them, did they tell you any more about the thing with Lindsay in the shopping centre?"

"Quite a lot. That's why I didn't ring though. You know how Grandad is always on about Grandma earwigging. I didn't want to accidentally give her the opportunity to overhear something. I didn't want to put anything down on record either, which is why I didn't text."

I tell Tony about the additional information Grandad had shared, editing it enough not to land the policeman in it.

"Grandad wants us to keep an eye on Lindsay," I say in summary, "and be there to support her when needed and to report back to him."

"How are we supposed to do that?"

"I don't know. Talk to her at lunch or break, maybe. You're supposed to be the brains!"

The bell summons us to our first lesson.

It is a fine day so everybody escapes into the school yard at break-time. Tony and I head towards the area of the yard where the seniors hang out — near the kitchens. Tony says they gather there as the fumes coming from the extract fans cover the smell of the cigarette smoke if any of them want to have a crafty fag. Judging by the smell we are having curry today. Goodie!

We are looking for our friend in year thirteen: Virginia. She is a prefect and has access to information we ordinary mortals do not. It also allows her to be seen with students not in her year group, something that is otherwise considered contrary to the unwritten rules of student behaviour.

Virginia sees us approaching and comes over to us so that we are standing away from the main group.

"Okay, you two. What brings you to this den of iniquity?" Typical Virginia: straight to the point.

"Can you get us a schedule for year seven, please?" Tony asks.

"Why can't you get one from the office?"

"They'll ask too many questions."

"And you think I won't?" Virginia laughs then narrows her eyes. "Come on, out with it. Why do you want it?"

"There's someone in year seven we want to talk to. We want to know where and when we can casually bump into them in the corridors." Tony replies.

"More," Virginia says as she rolls her hand. Tony gets the message.

"We witnessed them being assaulted in the shopping centre on Saturday. We want to follow up with support if they need it."

Virginia pauses then rolls her hand again. "Who?"

"Lindsay MacLeod," I say. We know Virginia will keep the information to herself.

"Ah! Alright, I'll get it for you. I'll see you at lunchtime," Virginia says, before she breaks into a wicked grin. "It'll cost you though. Payment on delivery for you, Tony." She turns to me. "And you need to buy him lunch."

Is she getting at me because I am known to be careful with money? Probably, but I think it's more than that. I mull the thought over for a while, then smile — I know what Tony's forfeit will be.

There is a queue when we get to the canteen at lunchtime. The place looks busier than normal. It happens that way sometimes.

"You go and find Virginia and grab us some seats," I say to Tony.

"I want to see what there is."

"Since I'm paying, I choose."

"It'll be curry, I suppose," Tony grumbles but he moves away to find Virginia. I watch him to see where they are sitting.

I am also watching because I don't want to miss the show I know is coming.

When Tony finds the right table, Virginia stands up, gets her arms around him and starts kissing him, tongues and all. Needless to say there are catcalls from those around, drawing attention to them. Also, as I expected, I can see poor Tony has zoned out like he does when kissed by girls, especially Virginia. She thinks it's cute and kisses him to wind him up whenever she gets a chance.

"Two curries, is it?" comes a voice from behind me. I turn and see Cook grinning at me, serving spoon in hand, and tipping her head in Tony's direction. I grin back.

"Yes, please."

Cook's curry works its magic and releases Tony from his zombie status.

"Do you have to do that?" Tony glares Virginia. She smiles.

"All part of the service. You'll thank me for it one day."

Virginia produces a sheet of paper and hands it to Tony. It must be the year seven schedule. He takes a quick look at it. "That's good. We share the same lunch period," he says before putting it in his pocket.

We don't see Lindsay at lunch the next day. Maybe we need another plan.

Virginia sends us a text just before break finishes on Wednesday. We are to grab one of the four-seat tables near the servery in the canteen at lunchtime. Aagh! Those tables are where the kids waiting in the queue to be served lean over the handrail and nick your chips off your plate. We are instructed not to be late.

When we get to the canteen, Tony risks losing his half his meal by choosing the chicken pie and chips. My meal is safe. Cook has done a chilli with rice. We find a table as instructed and take the seats on the outside, not only to be as far from the queue as possible but also to stop anyone from joining us without invitation.

We are watching the kids in the queue as they go past but we don't see Lindsay. It is getting close to the end of our lunch period. We finished our meals ages ago and we are beginning to think we have been set up. Then we hear a small cough. We look round. Standing there holding a tray is a slender kid in long trousers that you would be certain was a boy.

"Do you mind if I join you?" the kid asks.

"Oh. Hi, Lindsay. Of course," I say then move myself over to the seat near the handrail.

"I'm sorry I'm late. I had to go out for an appointment."

"No problem," Tony says. "Er, we didn't recognise you in school uniform."

"I wouldn't have recognized you either if Virginia hadn't pointed you out, Monday lunchtime." Lindsay giggles at the memory. Tony blushes for the same reason.

"Yeah, well," he says before changing the subject. "How do you know Virginia?"

"All the prefects were introduced to us at the beginning of the year. I heard about her standing up for herself at the fête last summer. I was also told she can be trusted, so I have spoken to her a few times. Then she caught me on the way to lunch on Monday and told me there were two year ten boys wanting to talk to me. She wouldn't say who you were or why, just that you could be trusted.

"I realised who you were when I saw Virginia with you on Monday."

The bell goes for the end of the lunch session.

"You need to eat your lunch. We've only got a few minutes before we all have to be in class. Will you meet us after school?" asks Tony.

"I don't need to rush. It's PE next. I've got an exemption."

"We haven't! And we've got German!" I try to make it sound like a joke.

"By the main doors?" Tony queries.

"Okay." Lindsay raises a hand to signal goodbye and we dash off to lessons.

We meet Lindsay after school and, as the sun is out, Tony suggests we walk to the park and maybe find somewhere to sit.

"I was hoping you'd be in my school," says Lindsay as we amble along. "So that I could thank you for helping me on Saturday. And, if you know who they are, those two men who chased after the bloke who hit me."

"They are my dad and grandad," I say. "I'll tell them. I know Grandad will be interested to hear if you are alright."

"I'm amazed they even saw the attack, it was over so quickly. Where were you that they could see it and react so fast?"

"We were all sitting in the café. Dad had seen you in your socks leaning on the wall opposite and pointed you out to Grandad and Tony here. I couldn't see you as I had my back to you. The three of them were wondering if those socks meant you were gay."

"Please don't be offended," Tony says, "but we were still watching you when the attack happened because this one's father…" Tony tips his head in my direction, "was speculating if you were a boy or a girl."

We take the path that leads to the duckpond.

"Did you decide?" Lindsay doesn't sound offended.

"Not at the time," I reply. "We think that you're probably a girl, but you used the gents in the shopping centre. You're also wearing trousers today."

Tony reminds me that the school's uniform rules allow girls to wear trousers.

There are some benches overlooking the duckpond. Lindsay steers us towards one.

"Can we sit down, please?"

Lindsay must feel safe with us. We're put one on either side.

"I told you I had seen the doctor at lunchtime. Apart from giving me some test results, we had a long chat. She said it might help me deal with my situation if I talked to someone outside my family. I know she meant a psychiatrist because she said it might take some time to find one who would agree to see me even if my mother refused consent.

"I want to talk to someone nearer my own age as well. I feel I can trust you. Will you listen?"

Is this what Grandad meant when he said Lindsay might need support?

"Yes," I say. Tony agrees as well although he says we probably won't be able to offer any advice.

Quite a story it turns out to be.

When born, Lindsay was listed as a girl on her birth certificate. The problem was her mother had always wanted a boy and had lost one, stillborn, the year before she became pregnant with Lindsay. She therefore treated Lindsay as if she was a boy. It became an obsession , in fact a neurosis. Lindsay now realizes that although her father disapproved of the way girls are normally raised (gender stereotyping Tony says it's called), he also thought that her mother was storing up trouble for when Lindsay was older except she didn't understand what he was talking about at the time. Her parents started rowing about her mother's attitude which got steadily worse until the father walked out when Lindsay was about seven. Her father tried to get custody but he was never likely to be successful, the courts tending to favour the mother.

Lindsay was enough of a tomboy to pass with her peers as a boy in kindergarten and her early school years. Always answering to being a boy when asked and her mother also fixated on her being a boy, Lindsay made it to year six. She avoided two potential problems because there are no urinals in the primary school and up until year six the only sports played allowed for mixed teams and no changing out.

"This year has been harder," Lindsay says. "The school has been pretty good. Although I think they have me marked as a girl on the school list, probably because they asked to see my birth certificate at the beginning of the year, they have accepted I might be trans, and have let me use the staff toilets since I was getting uncomfortable using the boys' and seeing everyone standing at the urinals. They have also exempted me from PE and sports as year sevens and upwards have to change out and shower afterwards.

"It's me that's had the problem. Seeing the boys at the urinal and the sex-ed we've had in science made me realise that I must be a girl. I tried to talk to Mum about it."

"How did that go?" Tony asks.

"Not very well. She just said to wait for puberty and my balls to drop. Then about three months ago I overheard some of the girls talking about chest pains as their boobs develop and starting to find boys interesting. I went on-line to find out more about puberty. I discovered it starts earlier in girls than in boys and read that breast pain was one of the early symptoms for girls. I had already been finding boys more interesting when about three weeks ago I started with breast pain. Again I tried to talk to Mum about it."

"Went about as well as before, I suppose," I say.

"No, worse. I got told boys don't get breast pain in puberty and if I was fancying boys I must be queer. Next day when I get home from school, she'd bought me those socks and the tee. She said if I was queer I should dress like one. She's made me wear them all the time I'm not at school."

That's just sick.

"Mum had got me so confused about my gender and sexuality, I tried to see the doctor about it, but they wouldn't see me without parental consent. I know there is no way would Mum consent. I didn't want her to know anyway. Several times I tried to explain why I needed to see the doctor without Mum's consent but they refused until Monday when I explained I had been attacked because of Mum's fixation. I finally got to see the doctor yesterday lunchtime. She made all sorts of notes about why I was being seen without parental consent and asked me all sorts of questions to satisfy herself I knew what I was talking about. Only then did she examine me and take blood and saliva samples for analysis.

"I got the results today. I'm a perfectly healthy girl with XX chromosomes and no genetic abnormalities. Onset of puberty is slightly delayed, probably due to parental denial of my true sex. I can expect to begin menstruating in about two years."

Ugh. Too much information

"Are you happy in your own mind," asks Tony.

"Now that I know why I have been so confused, yes. The idea of periods, not so much."

"You'll have some adjustments to make. Both at school and at home. How are you going get your mother to see sense?"

"I don't know. At least I've got two years to convince her before I have to ask her to buy me tampons."

"Did she ever suggest gender reassignment surgery for you?" I ask.

"No, thankfully. I try not to let her see me naked. If she does, she is usually too out of it on weed to notice I haven't got a cock and balls."

Our conversation is interrupted by a chorus of quacking from the ducks on the duckpond. Merkin, the school cat has appeared, walking along the path.

"You said the doctor suggested therapy for you. Do you think your mother would go if the doctor organised it for her instead?" Tony asks when all is quiet again.

"I doubt it, but who knows what the future will bring."

Seeing Merkin gives me the answer to that.

"It's the school fête next month. Mrs O'Reilly will be in her tent telling fortunes. You could ask her."

I report back to Grandad without giving him all the detail. He accepts that most of what Lindsay told us should remain confidential.

For the rest of the term, we don't hear much from Lindsay, and when we do, all she tells us is that there is no progress with her mother. We can only offer words of encouragement.

The school fête takes place and term ends on the following Wednesday. At lunchtime on the last day we get a message to meet Lindsay at the café in the shopping centre the next day.

We make sure we are at the café first so we can get our favourite table. Simon is complaining to us about his mother being a slave driver: making him work on the first day of the school holidays when we see Lindsay walking towards us. Although she is still looks like a boy there is something subtly different about her. More self-assured perhaps; holding herself a little straighter and with her eyes up. We wave to attract her attention.

"Cradle snatchers," Simon whispers to us before he stands back to allow Lindsay to get to our table and sit down.

Simon takes our order and goes to get our drinks. Lindsay's eyes follow him. Yes, she is definitely into boys.

"He's cute," she says.

"Yes, we know," we both reply. "And our age," Tony adds.

"I can look can't I?"

Lindsay has brought a carrier bag with her. She hands it to me. I look in and see two small parcels.

"One each. I thought you would like them as souvenirs," she says. "You can open them later."

We thank her for the presents then Simon arrives with our order.

"How're things at home?" Tony asks after Simon has gone.

"Really well after the fête last Saturday."

That surprises us. "Tell us more." I say.

Lindsay looks at me. "We saw Mrs O'Reilly's tent and after your suggestion I thought it might be a bit of fun to see what she predicted, so I managed to persuade Mum that we should both go in. Except Mrs O'Reilly insisted we had to go in one at a time, with me to be first.

"I went in and sat at the table. Mrs O'Reilly asked me to hold out my hand while she read my palm. She said I had recently had a serious adjustment I my life, not fully resolved. You two know that was true and she could have known it through school although I haven't really discussed it with them yet. She then went on with some vague stuff about meeting my future husband, and we would have good times and bad. She seemed to have finished because she asked if it was my mother waiting outside and I said yes. I had just stood up to leave when she said my recent problems would soon be resolved. Then I was told to send Mum in."

"Sounds like the normal sort of patter you hear of fortune tellers using. What did she say to your mum?" asked Tony.

"Mum can't really remember much of anything. To be honest I think she had been on the weed before I dragged her to the fête. She can remember the cat was sitting on the end of the table, watching everything. She remembers looking into the crystal ball on the table but can't remember what she saw. The only words she remembers clearly are what Mrs O'Reilly said to her as she was leaving. 'Isn't your daughter lovely? You should be proud of her.' To which Mum says she replied 'Yes and I am.'

"The strange thing is, when Mum came out of the tent, she hugged me and told me she was proud to have such a lovely daughter. She's not said anything about me being a boy since. I've not smelled her smoking pot since either."

"That sounds good then," I say. "Let's hope it stays that way."

When we open our parcels, we find we have each been given a rainbow sock.

"Are we now supposed to be free elves?" I ask Tony.

"I don't know, but I think I know who feels free now."

© Pedro July 2021

i For those interested in learning more about well-dressing try the following links:

Derbyshire Well Dressings

Well dressing - Wikipedia

A story of a Peak District well dressing - YouTube


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2021 Inspired by a Picture Challenge - of Books and Covers

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