It laid on his bed, but it might as well be looming over him.
No one was going to think it's weird. It's spirit week, and everyones going to be dressing oddly all week. Yesterday everyone was mismatched. The day before, people dressed as twins, or in the Ashley's case, as quadruplets. Today, Friday, was a gender swap. Girls dress as boys and vise versa. So him wearing this makes sense, and no one should give him any odd looks.
A red skater dress with a white ribbon around the waist that tied into a bow on the back. Short sleeves with a bit of a petticoat under the skirt that made it nice and fluffy and swing so nicely when he twirled in it. Sitting on the floor was a pair of freshly shined black Mary Janes with a small heart cut out above the toes and soles that clacked when you walked. A pair of white frilly socks and white gloves finished it off. On his dresser was a long, thick, brown wig, perfectly combed and cared for.
TJ only had five dresses, all tucked away in the farthest part of his closet, but this one was his favorite by far. He sighed, and looked back to his closet. Maybe he should pick out one of the other plain looking ones. What if the other students thought he was trying too hard and caught on? What if his friends knew he wasn't joking and thought he was a freak?
"Are you going to get dressed or not?"
TJ flinched at the sound of his sisters voice. Becky stood in the doorway, still in her pajamas as it was earlier than either of them normally woke up for school. He needed the extra time to get this stuff on, style the wig, and put on the makeup if he wanted to go that far.
And work up the courage to do any of that.
"Hey, Becky. No, I think I'll just wear one of the boring ones so it doesn't look like I'm not joking along with everyone else," he said.
"But you were so excited to finally wear that one. It's been sitting in your closest since mom got it for you," she said. "C'mon, tell me what's the matter?"
"Everyone's going to think I'm a freak," he mumbled. "They won't understand and then I'll be an outcast, even with my friends."
"Maybe if you explain it to them-"
"Yeah that'll go well. 'Hey guys, you know how I'm a boy? Well once in a blue moon I feel like a girl and I want to dress like one, hope you don't think that's weird or anything.' Yeah, right."
"If they're your friends, they'll try to understand," said Becky. "Besides, aren't all the boys expected to dress like girls?"
"Not like all this." He gestured to the wig and the backpack sitting near the door. It was red, like his normal one, but with and charms attached.
"Well, you should wear whatever you're comfortable with. You already know I'm going to say you should go for it," Becky said. She walked back to her room, leaving him with his thoughts.
TJ wrapped his arms around himself. He wanted to wear it. It wasn't often that he felt like he did today, and on top of that, it lining up when he had a perfectly good excuse to? When was the next time he was going to get a chance like this.
"It's now or never."
The dress slipped on and fit perfectly. The last time he had it on was in a dressing room the day it was bought. Like then, he turned back and forth in front of the mirror, watching the skirt flared up with the motion. Still, he couldn't look at his face in the mirror.
The wig was harder to get on right, but once it was on, the long brown hair was halfway down his back. The color was as close to his own hair color as he and his parents could find. When Becky came back, she helped him comb and brush it into a high ponytail with two loose curls in front of his face. He topped it off with a red ribbon tied into a bow, more or less replacing his usual red cap.
"So how do you feel?" Becky asked.
"I feel good." It was easier to look at his reflection with the wig on. "Do I look okay?"
"You look great," she said. "Adorable even."
"No problem. Now if you don't mind, I still have to get ready."
After his bedroom door shut, TJ turned his attention back to the mirror. The whole dress thing wasn't anything new, but letting others see him in it was. He looked at the small makeup case on his dresser. Well, he's already going this far, might as well.
As much as he complained about Becky trying out makeup on him, it taught him exactly how to do it and not look like a clown. First the primer and foundation, both liquid. Not too much that would cake, not too little that it would be useless.
Then the blush, just a tiny bit.
Then the eyeliner. White on the waterline to make his eyes look bigger and brighter. Brown on top for subtlety.
No lipstick, just balm for today, his lips were dry anyways.
"You're getting good at that," Becky said from the doorway. "I taught you well."
"Do you want me to give you a ride?"
"Please. If I walk, I'm going to change my mind halfway there."
Most of the time when TJ got Becky to drive him anywhere it was under threats and after he stole her diary. Today he sat in the passangers seat, clutching his backpack and tapping his shoes together, trying to calm his nerves.
"You've got this," said Becky as they reached the school. "If anyone gives you trouble, just call mom or dad, they'll come get you."
"I know." It was too late to turn back now. "Thanks for the ride, Becky."
He watched her car disappear down the street before turning to the school and heading towards the bike racks. The girls were dressed in baggy jeans and shirts, and the guys wore sloppily put together skirts and dresses. Some even had the ends of mops on their heads as wigs, no doubt for a laugh.
TJ tossed his backpack over his shoulder and started walking. He caught the attention of a few students when he passed, but it didn't look like they recognized him, thank goodness. The longer they didn't know it was him, the better.
"Hey, guy," he said as he reached them. "How's it going?"
"Pretty good, Teej. You should see Lawson, he looks like a clown with all that makeup he put on his face-"
The five of them gasped when they turned and looked at him. Compared to the other guys he went all out with his outfit. He almost didn't look like himself, and if it wasn't for hearing his voice, they might have mistaken him for a new kid.
A new girl.
"Woah, Teej. You're, uh sure taking this spirit week thing seriously, huh?" Vince asked.
"I thought all the guys would dress up this much," he said. His friends weren't idiots; they were already catching on. he had to think of a lie. "Becky forced me into it. It's not too much, is it?"
"Kinda? But guys are supposed to dress like girls today," Spinelli said. "You just did more than the rest of them."
The bell rang, and they headed inside to class. Walking through the hallways meant walking closer to other students. More odd looks, this time lasting longer as a few of them realized that it wasn't a new kid they were staring at, but him. It was worse in class as he heard their snickers behind him. It had to be about him, right? What were they thinking? He must look ridiculous to them, in this dress and wig.
For once in his life, TJ didn't want to go out to recess, but the bell eventually rang, and all the kids were heading outside for a taste of freedom. He walked with the others, heading to the kickball field. They planned a game against Lawsons team the day before. Not willing to make more a spectacle of himself, he told the others that he didn't feel like playing and opted to cheer them on from the sidelines.
There was that, and he didn't want to ruin the dress. It was pricy, and he didn't want to get dirt on it, or ruin the makeup he worked on with sweat. The others wouldn't understand that, he was sure, no matter how much he'd try to explain.
"TJ?" He almost jumped out of his polished Mary Janes at the sound of a new voice. He turned in his seat and saw it was Megan. She still wore her hair in pigtails, but swapped out her skirt for a baggy pair of overalls for the day. It wasn't just her; a few of the other girls in his class was with her at well.
"Yeah?" He asked. "What's up?"
"We just wanted to say that you look really nice today," said Megan. "Your dress is pretty."
"Oh. Thank you." He started messing with the trip of the skirt, put stopped himself.
"Are you wearing make up?" It was Chloe who spoke up with him. Her blonde braid was pinned up in a bun for today.
TJ nodded. "My sister taught me how to do it. It doesn't look bad, does it?"
"No! It looks good," said Megan. "I tried putting on eyeliner before. It's really hard. I hear even the Ashley's have trouble doing it, but yours look perfect."
"Oh! Do you think you can do our makeup one day?" Ruby asked. Her curly red hair was pulled back in a ponytail and covered in a cap, and baggy jeans and oversized t-shirt.
"You want me to do yours?" he asked in disbelief. "I mean, yeah, if you want me to."
"You know, if we didn't know you were, you know, you, we'd think you were an actual girl," said Megan. "You look just like one of us."
An actual girl.
They had no idea how much that meant to him today.
His attention turned from the game to the girls as they sat down next to him. His nervousness started to melt away as they kept talking to him without any hesitation.
The only other people who knew any of this about him was his family. His parents was okay with it, though his mom was more than his dad, and Becky, despite their usual back and forth, didn't tease him about this. He used to complain about the only cousins around his age being girls, but they were the perfect group to talk about 'girl' stuff with.
Still, as far as these girls knew, he was just dressing up for the day, and there was nothing deeper behind it. But he'll take what he can get.
Going inside after the first recess, TJ felt a lot better than earlier. It was easy to ignore what strange looks he was getting after talking to those girls.
It was during second recess that things went south at neck breaking speeds.
He stood in front of one of the sinks in the boys bathroom, looking at his reflection. Today was going good! There was nothing to worry about after all, he almost felt silly for thinking anything would go wrong.
"Shouldn't you be using the girls bathroom?"
He looked as Lawson and his friends came marching in. Despite him wearing a tutu around his usual jeans, it was hard for him to laugh when they looked like they came in to start trouble.
"No? I'm using this one. Don't you have someone else to annoy?" TJ snapped back. He's rather not be in the same room with one of his enemies, so he headed to the door. Lawson stayed where he stood, blocking the door. "Move, Lawson!"
"Why should I listen to you? I don't listen to freaks," he said. "What the heck are you wearing? You look like a girl!"
"That's the whole point. We're supposed to dress like girls today," he said, rolling his eyes.
"Looks like you went overboard on that, you look like an actual girl!" Lawson laughed. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say wanted to be a girl."
"What kind of guy wants to be a girl? A freak, that's who." TJ felt his back hit the bathroom wall as he was shoved into it. "And do you know what we do with freaks?" The three of of them loomed over him, tapping their fists into into open palms.
No one in their right mind dared to go near the gate holding the kindergarteners, so it made the perfect hiding spot.
TJ sat in the corner, curled on the ground with his knees brought up to his chest. His wig was messed up and tangled, and his dress was dirty and the edges frayed. This day was a disaster. Forget wearing this specific dress, he shouldn't have worn ANY dress. Everyone thought he was a freak, and they had every right to with how he looked.
He ran out of the boys bathroom as soon as he had an opening, no doubtedly getting the attention of a few students who happened who be standing close by. He must be the laughing stock of the playground by now. Maybe if he could sneak inside he could call his parents to come pick him up, maybe transfer him to another school while they're at it.. .
He looked up and saw Megan peaking out from the corner. "There you are! We've been looking for you!"
"Why? To make fun of me like the others?" He asked. "I already feel like enough of a freak if you don't mind."
The girls looked at each other, concerned.
"We aren't here to make fun of you. saw what the others did," said Ruby. "That was really mean of them."
"Will you come with us? It's not a trick, we promise," Chloe said. "We want to help."
TJ wiped his eyes and looked up at them again. He was perfectly fine with hiding out in this spot for as long as he can. Maybe find a window to crawl through to get inside and call his parents to pick him up.
"Fine." He picked himself up off the ground, dusting off the dirt of his dress. These girls weren't the ones who cornered and laughed at him. Besides, it's not like things could get much worse.
They smiled and took his hand, leading the way. TJ kept his head down the entire eye, not willing to risk eye contact with whoever was looking his way. He could feel that the wig was moved out of place from earlier, and the ponytail was nearly all the way pulled out. He could feel the air touch his hands through the rips and tears on his gloves. This whole day was a bad idea, and if he could get home and hide out in his room, that'd be great.
"Okay, we're here."
He looked up and saw that they brought him to the infamous pile of tires on the playground.
"The Ashley's clubhouse?" He asked.
"Yep! C'mon, everyone's waiting," said Megan. She and Ruby climbed down first.
"It's nothing bad, we promise," said Chloe. "We really just want to help."
"She said 'everyone'," said TJ. "Who else is down there?"
"Just us girls. The Ashley's barely let anyone else into their clubhouse, and they definitely don't let any boys down there. You're the exception today," she said.
TJ nodded. Might as well go down. He started the climb down the tired with Chloe following close behind. Once he reached the bottom of the tunnel, he was met with the sight of what had to be the entire female half of his grade, minus Gretchen and Spinelli. Seeing him arrived, they turned their attention to him.
"Okay so, like, lets get one thing straight." Ashley A. pushed her way through the crowd to him. She and the other Ashley's were the only girls to refuse to take part in the gender swap dressing. "We're only letting you down here because this is, like, a fashion emergency. Don't thing that, like, after this you can just come down whenever you feel like."
"We all saw how those guys messed up your outfit earlier, and Judy, Megan, and Ruby told us how hard your worked on it, so we wanted to help," said Upside down girl as she hung from the ceiling.
"After getting together we thought about what we could do, and then it came to us," said Ruby. "How about we all give you a little makeover? Or at least fix what those jerks did you. How does that sound?"
Out of all the reasons he thought they brought him here, this wasn't one of them. And it wasn't just the three girls he was talking to earlier that were willing to help.
"Yeah, I'd like that a lot," he said, grinning. "Thanks."
"Great! Let's start on that wig."
They settled around on the carpeted floor. Combs, brushes, and hair accessories were pulled out as TJ readjusted the wig on his head and pulled out the ponytail, letting the hair fall down his back. He looked over the ribbon in his hands. It wasn't damaged at all, thank goodness.
"Can I brush your hair?" Megan asked. "It's kinda messy."
"Huh? Oh, yeah, if you want," he said.
"I'm not an expert on wigs or anything, but this looks fancier than a costume wig," she said. "Where'd you get it?"
"Some place online, my parents got it for me," TJ said. "I just know it was pricey."
"Wait, is that human hair or synthetic?" asked Ashley Q.
"Synthetic, I think."
"Then it must've cost at least a couple hundred dollars!" "
No offense but why would your parents buy a wig that expensive for one day?" Chloe asked.
". . .It's complicated," he said. "Do you really want to know? You might think I'm weird."
"You can tell us," she said. "If you want to."
". . Okay. Please don't think I'm weird when I explain it," he said. "It's just that, I don't know, sometimes I want to wear dresses and skirts and have long hair. I don't get why I can't wear this stuff, it's just clothes, it's not like it's going to explode if I put it on. I dunno if it's because I just want to wear it, or if I want to be a girl sometimes, but I get this itch when I feel like this. And I thought that since guys and girls are supposed to dress like each other I thought I had a chance to do it today without getting looked at weird. I guess I was wrong, huh?"
"So right now you feel like a girl?"
"Yeah, I think."
"And you aren't doing and saying this just for laughs?"
Despite how crowded the clubhouse was, silence fell over them. TJ rung his gloved hands, waiting for them to laugh or ask if he was kidding.
"Well, you do make a pretty girl," said Ruby.
"If you're not joking about this, then, like, I suppose its okay," said Ashley A. "But what's not okay is your choice in hairstyle. Like the ponytail is okay and the two curls left out was alright, but letting your hair down with some waves and volume would frame your face better."
"Y-you think so?" They weren't making fun of him? "I put it in a ponytail to keep it out of my face to to wear this ribbon."
"Let me see." He handed over the ribbon to the blonde Ashley. She turned it over in her hands. "We can make it work, but your hair is staying out."
"Can we see your gloves? A few of us know how to sew, we might be able to fix it," said Swinger girl said. He slipped the gloves off, careful not to damage them any further, and handed them over.
"I can fix the frays on the bottom of your dress, but we also have this ribbon with hearts that can replace the one around the dress." Ashley B held up a white ribbon with red hearts printed on it.
"You're all being really nice to me," he said, wiping his eyes. "Why? You don't think I'm weird?"
"We already thought you were kinda weird, TJ," said Chloe. "This is nothing."
"Besides, being a girl is kind of awesome," said Upside Down Girl. "Who wouldn't want to be one?"
TJ smiled at their words. The girls soon set on helping, fixing up his clothes and wig.
"How's this?" A mirror was held up in front of him. The wig was combed and styled into loose waves, and the red ribbon acted as a headband tied at the top of his head at an angle.
"I love it." It looked much better than anything he could have done on his own. "Oh, but my makeup is ruined from all the crying. . ."
"Like, relax, Detweiler. he have enough makeup to make a professional artist jealous," said Ashley T. The four girls stood by a wall and pressed a hidden button. The wall opened up to shelves displaying a myriad of products only someone as rich as they were could ever hope to afford. The other girls ooh'd and awed at the display. "Like do you have a favorite brand?"
". . .Do you have Smashbox? I use that for primer and foundation-"
"Powder or liquid?"
"Liquid. I use 2.1. But I need to use a moisturizer first, and I like First Aid Beauty-"
"We have the FAB Skin Aid, FAB Pharma, Ultra Repair, and Skin Rescue collections."
"Do you have Too Faced?"
"The Chocolate, Peach, and Tutti Fruitti collections were just added last month."
". . .I'll take the Peach collection."
When the bell rang, the fourth grade girls climbed out of the Ashley's clubhouse like clowns out a clown car. Megan, Chloe, and Judy were part of the last few that climbed out. TJ was the very last, carefully looking around for staring eyes.
"We've been looking all over for you, man!"
TJ turned and saw his friends running towards him. He tugged at his gloves, now repaired from the damage from earlier. Chloe, Ruby, and Megan waved him goodbye as they headed inside. He had to do something to show his thanks to them for everything.
"Sorry, guys. Lawson and his goons kinda messed me up in the boys room and the girls found me and helped, in the Ashley's clubhouse of all places, can you believe it?"
"If anyone else was saying it, I wouldn't," said Spinelli.
"Oh, c'mon Spinelli. Everyone's capable of kindness, don't you think?" Mikey asked.
"No. The only thing I think is that we need to get to class before we get in trouble," she said. The others agreed, and they headed inside before any of them got a detention. At the end of the day, Becky was waiting for him outside in her car. He climbed inside, missing that nervousness she saw him struggle with when she dropped him off.
"How'd it go?" She asked. "Wait, you didn't have your hair down before."
On the way home, TJ told her about everything that happened, from being complimented, to being bullied, to the girls coming together to make him feel better.
"That was really nice of them," she said. "I guess things turned out better than you thought."
"Yeah, I guess so."
He twirled a lock of hair between his fingers. It was a good day, despite what happened in the boys room. As nice as it was, he knew this is was probably going to be the only day he'd be able to do something like this. For now, knowing that the girls in his class were accepting and happy to help him was enough, and put a smile on his face.