Intersexion

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chapter-2

drop-cap-roz arrived at the shelter. For a moment, she just breathed in the busy noise of the hours between supper and lights-out.

It was sort of sad that she felt more relaxed and at peace amidst the noise and chaos of Hannah House than at her own home. It seemed like the only time that she wasn’t constantly on edge and dealing with her family’s complaints and grouchiness now was when she was at Hannah. Take her own two hormonal teenagers and multiply by six, and you would think that there would be six times the stress and angst at the youth shelter. But instead, she found it calming.

She knew she was really making a difference there. Helping teens who had no one else and getting them on a better track. At home, she couldn’t seem to do anything right by her son and daughter. They had grown up in a home with two loving parents and more material wealth than most of the shelter kids had seen in a lifetime. Instead of being grateful, they just whined and complained when she asked them to do anything. Someday, they would come to understand all that she had done for them. All that she and Robert had done to provide for them, to see that they were properly educated and didn’t want for anything. But that day wasn’t going to come around for a while.

Roz ran a hand through her long, dark hair and settled a smile on her face. She walked into the family room to greet the residents who were hanging out there, talking and watching TV.

“Hi, Mrs. Dale,” Beth greeted with a huge smile. She bounded up to give Roz a quick shoulder hug. “Did you have a good day?”

Roz gave her a squeeze and released her. The smell of stale cigarette smoke clung to the girl. Roz resisted wrinkling her nose, instead giving Beth a warm smile of her own.

“I’m glad to be here, Beth. How about you? Good day?”

“We had to write an essay in English,” Beth groaned. “But I think I did really well at it! I filled a whole page!”

“Good. That’s great.”

Beth nodded and returned to her seat on the couch, hugging a green cushion in front of her chest.

“Hi, Mrs. Dale,” Razor greeted. He was a tall, black boy who tended to intimidate visitors and new residents, but was really just a sweetheart.

“Hi. Did you get to school today?”

He gave her a big smile and raised eyebrows, not answering. He obviously had not.

Others around the room nodded or gave Roz a little wave. Francesca sat in a beanbag chair, her eyes mostly closed, mascara and eyeshadow smudged into a dark raccoon mask.

“Hi, Chessy,” Roz called to her. “You okay?”

Francesca just shrugged and didn’t answer.

“You want to come have a chat? Tell me what’s going on?”

“No. Thanks.”

The small-boned girl rarely talked to any of the adult supervisors and had started on yet another antidepressant the previous week. By the looks of her, it either wasn’t yet up to full efficacy, or this one too was a bust. They would have to wait a couple more weeks to see if it took, and then start on the next drug on the list.

“Okay. You know where I am if you need anything.”

Francesca didn’t nod or acknowledge the invitation. There was little Roz could do if Chessy didn’t want to talk. Unlike at home, where Roz could corner Laura in her own room and force a heart-to-heart discussion if she felt like her daughter needed it, all she could do at Hannah was to offer and be available.

Roz went into the kitchen, following the sound of dishes clinking as they were loaded into the dishwasher.

“Roz, I thought I heard you come in!” Shirley straightened up from the dishwasher. “Would you get started on an intake for me?” She nodded to an unfamiliar boy in a baggy hoodie sitting at the cracked, seventies-era kitchen table. “This is Taylor.”

“Taylor? Nice to meet you,” Roz greeted. She went over to the table and offered her hand. The boy looked at her for a moment as if he wasn’t sure what to do with it, then gave her a dead-fish handshake. They’d have to work on that. A good, firm, confident handshake could open up all kinds of doors for a down-on-their-luck teen. First impressions were everything.

“I’m Mrs. Dale,” Roz said. “Come with me and we’ll just have a little chat.”

Taylor stood up. He was shorter than Roz, most of his face hidden by the hood of his oversized hoodie. A younger teen from what she could tell, maybe thirteen or fourteen. He followed her to the office. Roz cleared a space on the shared desk and set the battered intake binder in front of her.

“Hood off, please, Taylor,” she said. “I need to be able to see your face.”

He hesitated, freezing halfway into sitting down in the visitor chair on the other side of the desk.

“Why?”

“Have a seat.”

He finished lowering himself into the chair and looked around the room anxiously. Was he afraid they were going to lock him up and refuse to let him go? It was a youth shelter. They didn’t force anyone to stay.

“I need to be able to see your face so that I know you are being open and honest with me and so that I’ll be able to recognize you in the future,” she told him. “You’re going to be honest with me, aren’t you?”

He hugged his backpack to him and Roz thought he looked like a toddler cuddling a teddy bear for comfort. She waited. After a period of awkward silence, Taylor finally pulled back the hood.

In her head, Roz added another reason that they needed to see faces during intake interviews. So that they could be aware of signs of abuse. Taylor had a black eye and there was a suture tape holding closed a cut over his cheekbone.

“You want to tell me who hit you?” Roz asked, looking down at the blank intake form so that he wouldn’t feel like it was an interrogation. He could answer her in his own time, without pressure. In the meantime, she filled in his first name and sex and noted the visible injuries.

“No,” Taylor said eventually. His voice was tentative, unsure how she was going to take the refusal.

Roz looked at him, raising an eyebrow. “We need to know if you are being abused,” she said frankly. “A lot of kids come to shelters because of abuse at home. You’re not going to shock me if you tell me that it was your father. Or maybe stepfather.”

His eyes widened. He shook his head adamantly.

“It wasn’t your father? Or you still don’t want to tell me?”

“It—I—don’t want to tell you.”

“I hope that once you’ve been here for a few days and gotten used to us, you’ll trust us enough to talk about it.”

Taylor didn’t have anything to say to that. Roz studied him. His clothing was neat and freshly laundered. His backpack was unscuffed and looked unused. Usually, kids ran away with their school backpacks, worn and frayed, but Taylor’s looked as if it had been bought just for this occasion.

“What’s your last name?”

“I don’t…”

“You’ll need health care. School registration or identification for a job. We have records that need to be filed. We’ll need your last name.”

His eyes darted around the room. There wasn’t much for him to look at. Desks overflowing with paperwork. A couple of bulletin boards. Drawers of files. A dead poinsettia in the corner.

“I don’t know if I’ll be staying here.”

“I need a last name.”

He swallowed. “Okay… Jones.”

Obviously, not his real last name, but Roz wrote it down anyway. Sooner or later, they would know his real name. For now, at least, it was something.

“Date of birth?”

He gave it in what seemed like a natural tone and Roz wrote it down, doing a quick calculation in her head. Thirteen years old.

“Do you want to tell me what happened, Taylor?”

“What happened?” he echoed.

“What brings you to us? Did you get kicked out? Run away from a foster home? Get released from a treatment program? Most thirteen-year-olds don’t just decide they’d rather live at a shelter out of the blue.”

Taylor considered this. He rubbed the canvas of the backpack. Trying not to stare at him or make him feel uncomfortable, Roz evaluated him while she waited for him to speak.

He didn’t look like an addict. Of course, looks could be deceiving, but she didn’t see any sign that he had been living on the street or hanging around with rough characters. He could have been one of her neighbors, a boy from an affluent neighborhood, riding his bike to school each day, working on homework every night before being allowed to visit with friends, online or in person. Except for the injuries, there was nothing to indicate any problems.

Taylor had prominent cheekbones and a little peach fuzz over his lip, a face caught somewhere between childhood and the more chiseled man’s face he would eventually grow into. His brown hair was medium length and a little messy, waves tending toward curls.

“I got kicked out,” Taylor eventually offered. He watched for her reaction, as if afraid it might be the wrong answer and she would yell at him or kick him out. Another sign of abuse. The black eye and the cut over his cheek would heal. But he would carry that worried, wary attitude with him for much longer. Roz nodded, acknowledging his reply.

“By who? Your mom or dad?”

He nodded. His mouth moved, but no sound came out. He cleared his throat and tried again. “My dad,” he admitted.

“You and he are not getting along?”

“No.” A quick shake of the head.

Roz had no doubt it was his father who had hit him too.

“Is it just you and him, or do you have a mom too? Siblings?”

“I have two sisters. Older. I’m the baby.” A grimace. He hated being called the baby. His throat worked. “My mom…” He cleared his throat again. His voice cracked higher. “My mom brought me here.” His face turned pink.

“She dropped you off?”

Taylor nodded. Roz considered this. Cleanly dressed. New backpack. Abused by dad. Dropped at the shelter by his mom.

“Did your mom pack your bag too?”

He nodded, getting redder still. He squeezed the backpack to him, looking more than ever like a child with a comforting teddy.

“Did she agree with your father kicking you out? How did she feel about it?”

Tears glistened in the boy’s eyes. He was so young to be dealing with this. So soft and immature. Not hardened like many of the street kids that were there one day and gone the next.

“She doesn’t argue with him.” His lips pressed together, preventing anything else from escaping.

“Does he hit her too? If she argues?”

“No. Just—” He didn’t finish the sentence. Just me. “He just yells at her, usually. She doesn’t argue with him.”

Roz made a few brief notes on the intake form. “Why did he kick you out, Taylor?”

Taylor ran a thumbnail along a zipper on the backpack, making a rapid ticking noise. Roz gritted her teeth and refrained from asking him to stop. Taylor repeated the nervous gesture a couple more times, then stilled his hands.

“He kicked me out for being gay,” he confessed finally.

Roz wasn’t shocked. It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence. Right up there with drugs for the most common reasons to be kicked out.

“But I’m not,” Taylor insisted quickly. “I can’t help it that he thinks I… act gay. Or talk gay.”

“This is a safe place for kids of all gender identities,” Roz said, the shelter’s policy flowing nimbly off her tongue. “It doesn’t matter to us. And if any of the residents try to bully you, for being gay or for being straight, you come to me. It is against the house rules and we will not tolerate it.”

“But I’m not gay,” Taylor reiterated, his face a brilliant red.

“That’s okay too. Either way.”

Taylor breathed out and his shoulders dipped down. Relieved at being somewhere safe.

“My mom said that when she looked it up,” he confided. “Before she brought me here, she looked shelters up online and picked one that said it was safe for… homosexuals.”

That puzzled Roz. Both of his parents thought he was gay? But Taylor said he wasn’t? She wondered what his story was. What had happened to lead both parents to believe that he was better off living in a shelter that offered a safe haven for gay children than staying at home?

“That was very thoughtful of her,” Roz said. “And she packed your bag and dropped you off. She cares a lot for you.”

Taylor nodded and sniffled.

“One thing that I’ve noticed about parents like that,” Roz said. “They don’t just drop out of your life and never talk to you again. You’ll see her again.”

Taylor scrubbed at his eyes, but Roz saw no tears.

“Do you have any problems with substance abuse or addictions?”

The boy shook his head. “No.”

“Alcohol, prescription pills, porn?”

Wide-eyed, Taylor continued to shake his head. “No, nothing.”

“Do you have any questions for me?”

Taylor ducked his head. “No. Can’t think of any.”

He must have been bursting with questions, but he was too shy to bring them up yet. Once he had been there for a few days, the questions would start to come. He would float one or two at a time, like experimental balloons, watching to see how she would react before asking the ones that really mattered to him.

After Taylor’s intake interview, Shirley was available to show him to his room and fill him in on the house rules and any other orientation details he needed to know. Roz did a quick check of each of the bedrooms, then went to the family room to keep an eye on the youth there. As the sitcom on the TV ended, Roz looked at her watch.

“Who has homework that needs to be done tonight?”

There were groans from a few of the kids. Roz looked around at them.

“You know lights-out is ten o’clock. If you have homework, you’d better get to it now.”

“I can do mine while watching TV,” Beth said, going to the school bags lined up along the wall to get her assignments out.

“No, you can’t. Take it to your room and get it done properly.”

“Mrs. Dale…” Beth drew it out in a whine. But in the end, she laughed. Roz knew Beth wasn’t going to cause trouble over homework. She was too happy to be back in school and didn’t want to get behind. They both laughed and Beth went to her room to do the work. A couple of others did as well. Roz looked around at the remaining teens.

“Chessy? What about you? You’re in Beth’s classes, aren’t you? You’ve got work to do.”

Francesca just shook her head and didn’t look at Roz.

“Mills?”

The long-legged blond boy got to his feet grumbling and also retrieved his homework. “You’re a slave driver.”

“If you want to get somewhere in life…”

Those who remained had jobs or were enrolled in alternative programs. Roz flipped through the guide on the TV to see what was on and selected an old sitcom that she and her husband had watched in the early years of their marriage. She got some looks, but no one complained.

Taylor wandered into the room and looked around. There were a number of places to sit or lounge around. Taylor glanced at them nervously, scratching the back of his neck.

“Make yourself comfortable,” Roz said. “Anywhere that’s free. No saved spaces.”

He was slow to obey. The other kids glanced toward him.

“Guys, this is Taylor,” Roz introduced him. “He’s just moved in today.”

“Hi, Taylor,” Razor greeted. “Why don’t you come over here?” He indicated a beanbag chair beside him.

Taylor looked at Roz for reassurance.

“Anywhere you want,” Roz repeated.

Taylor moved over to the beanbag chair and sat down tentatively. He looked ready to jump back up at the slightest sign of threat from Razor or anyone else.

“It’s cool, man. Just chill,” Razor encouraged.

Taylor settled back, getting a little more comfortable. After a few minutes, he started to pick at acne scabs. Roz looked away from him. They hadn’t been sitting long when Taylor’s stomach let out a loud growl. Taylor grabbed his stomach as if to silence it, face getting red. There were giggles from some of the girls. Razor clapped Taylor on the shoulder, making him jump and jerk away in alarm.

“You hungry, man?” Razor demanded. “He didn’t get here until after we ate,” he informed Roz. “He said he’d already had supper.”

“Why don’t you take him to the kitchen and rustle up a snack,” Roz suggested. Maybe Taylor had eaten supper and maybe he hadn’t. He seemed pretty shy. Maybe he’d said no because he didn’t want to be put on the spot, or maybe because he’d had butterflies from coming somewhere new and unknown. Or maybe he just hadn’t eaten enough dinner at home.

“Come on,” Razor invited, not touching Taylor again, but gesturing for him to follow.

Taylor looked at Roz, then got up and followed a few steps behind Razor. Roz hadn’t noticed Taylor’s walk before. Maybe because he’d followed her to the office. As he walked away from her, unconscious of her observation, his hips swayed, more like a woman’s gait than a man’s. Roz looked away and said nothing, not wanting to attract any attention to the detail. Maybe that was one of the reasons Taylor’s father had accused him of ‘acting gay.’ One of those things Taylor had no control over. He probably had no idea he was even doing it.

“Whadya want, man?” the tall black boy asked. He opened the fridge and pawed through a few plastic containers of leftovers. “There’s some chicken here. That’s from yesterday. It was good. Mashed potatoes. Uhhh… spaghetti… I’m not sure when we had that last. Maybe stay away from that.”

The boy pulled a few dishes out and put them on the counter for Taylor to choose from. Taylor looked over them, his stomach letting out another loud rumble. He wanted everything and wanted it now.

“Dude, eat something,” the other boy encouraged, laughing. “Before you implode or something.” He pulled a plate out of the cupboard and handed it to Taylor.

Taylor opened the nearest drawer to find serving spoons and started scooping some of everything onto his plate.

“Is that okay?” he asked anxiously. “Did I take too much?”

“Not if you can eat it all,” the boy said. “They don’t like waste, so don’t take so much that you gotta throw it out, but if you’re going to eat it, take as much as you want.”

Taylor finished dishing up. One thing that his dad had never complained about was Taylor’s appetite. He always bragged to his friends about how Taylor could eat more than him by the time Taylor was ten. Only recently had he started pointing out how Taylor was beginning to put on a little extra weight. As if Taylor might not have noticed.

“Can I microwave it?”

“Have at it.”

After Taylor had programmed the timer, the boy stuck out his hand.

“Don’t think I introduced myself. I’m Razor.”

“Razor?” Taylor repeated, offering his own hand tentatively.

“Yeah, that’s right.” Razor squeezed Taylor’s hand, grinding his knuckles together. “Come on, you can grip better than that! You want people thinking you’re a little girl? Tighter. Squeeze!”

Taylor did his best, then pulled away from Razor. He rubbed his bruised hand, wincing. When the microwave beeped, Taylor pulled his plate out and shrugged at Razor.

“I guess we’re probably not allowed to eat in there,” he observed. “I’ll just sit down at the table and I’ll see you later.”

But Razor took it as an invitation to join Taylor and slid into another chair across from him. Taylor dug into the evening snack, using his full mouth as an excuse not to talk to Razor. Razor didn’t seem to mind, holding up the conversation himself and only requiring occasional nods from Taylor to keep him going.

Razor stopped talking and Taylor glanced up from his nearly empty plate to see why he had stopped. Razor was staring at him.

“I didn’t think there was any way you were gonna eat all of that,” Razor said in amazement. “Where did you put it all?”

Taylor chewed and swallowed. “I have a fast metabolism,” he said with a shrug.

“You’re not kidding!”

Taylor finished up and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, regretting that he had eaten so fast. He could still have eaten more, but now he would have to wait until morning.

Roz glanced at her watch as she unlocked the front door and headed into the house. Robert was up, sipping his morning cup of coffee while typing away on his laptop. There was no sign of the kids.

“Gavin and Laura up?” Roz asked, leaning over to give Robert a brief hug, and then heading for the electric teapot. Robert hadn’t started it warming for her, so she pressed the button.

“No. Haven’t seen them yet.”

Roz shook her head and headed downstairs to Gavin’s bedroom. All of the lights were out and he was sprawled across his bed in the warm, close room, dead to the world. Roz grabbed his arm and shook.

“Gavin! Come on, you’re going to be late for school. Up and at ’em.”

She looked at his clock. The alarm indicator light was still on, which meant that he hadn’t just forgotten to set it, but had turned it off and gone back to sleep when it had sounded an hour earlier.

Gavin made noises of protest. “Just a few more minutes.”

“You’re going to be fighting your sister for the hot water now. Up you get. No more tardies or you’ll get kicked off the team.” She shook him again. “Move, Gav!”

“Okay. Okay, I’m up.”

Roz left him and went up the stairs, past the main floor and up one more flight to Laura’s room. At least it was not close and fetid like Gavin’s room. Laura had left the window open and cool air circulated the room. She was buried under several layers of blankets. Her phone was playing music, but she had either not woken up or had been lulled back to sleep by it.

“Laura! You want to be late? Move your butt. Don’t you have cheer this morning?”

Continued shaking roused Laura. Even though Roz hadn’t thought that she was awake for the first speech, Laura shook her head and answered.

“I quit cheer, Mom.”

“What?” Laura didn’t explain any further and Roz shook her some more. “What do you mean, you quit cheer?”

“A couple weeks ago,” Laura mumbled. “I just can’t do it anymore.”

“You can’t do it? Can’t do what? The acrobatics?”

“Mom, leave me alone. I just can’t, okay?”

“Well, cheer or not, you need to get up.” Roz jerked the covers back and Laura rolled up into a ball.

“Sheesh, I’m freezing, Mom! Give me my blankets!”

“Nope. Get up. You can warm up under the shower. If you can get in there before your brother, who I just woke up.”

Laura swore, crawling out of bed. “Honestly, mom… can’t we get a bigger hot water tank?”

“Then how would I get you out of bed?” Roz teased.

Seeing Laura was on her way to the shower, Roz went back downstairs. The teapot was whistling. Robert seemed completely oblivious to it. Roz turned it off and filled a mug, dropping an herbal tea bag into the hot water. She was preparing herself to go back downstairs for another try at getting Gavin up when she heard his footsteps on the stairs.

Gavin walked into the kitchen in nothing but his boxers, blinking sourly in the sunshine. His bleached blond hair stood up in messy spikes from sleep, not mousse.

“Get some clothes on,” Roz ordered.

He ignored her and made a beeline for the coffee machine. He placed his huge travel mug under the spout and threw in a pod. After the mug was full, he grunted an incomprehensible greeting at his father and headed back toward the stairs.

“How was work?” Roz asked Robert, hoping to prompt a conversation that would include how her night at Hannah House had gone. But Robert just grunted and continued to work on his computer. Roz sat down at the table and stirred her tea, staring out the window at the bird bath.

It was almost time for school to start when Gavin came pounding up the stairs. He bent over her to give her a kiss on the cheek. “See-ya, Mom. Have a good day.”

He was out the door.

“Laura!” Roz shouted up the stairs. “School starts in ten minutes!”

Laura dragged down the stairs. She still looked exhausted.

“What time did you get to bed last night?” Roz demanded.

“I went to bed in good time. I just don’t feel good… maybe I’m coming down with something.”

Roz looked at her watch. “You’d better get going.”

“Mom… do you think you could drive me today? Please?”

Roz shook her head. She knew she had to make the kids be responsible for themselves. They knew they had to get up on time to get to school on time. If Roz rescued Laura once, she’d expect it every day. Roz hated to say no, with Laura looking so pale and tired. But chances were, she’d be fine once she got to school.

“Sorry, sweetie. You’ve got to get yourself there.”

Laura muttered something under her breath that Roz decided she didn’t want to hear anyway. Robert looked up from his computer for the first time.

“I’m on my way out to work. I can drop you.”

“Oh, thank you, Daddy!”

“Where are your books?” Roz demanded.

Laura looked at her empty hands and rolled her eyes. “Just a sec.”

She went back upstairs to get her bag. Roz glared at Robert as he closed his computer and prepared to leave.

“I wish you wouldn’t overrule me like that.”

“Overrule you? You said that you couldn’t drive her. I’m on my way out. So why can’t I?”

“Because she needs to be responsible to get herself to school. Did you know that she quit cheer?”

He shrugged. “Yes, I knew that. You didn’t?”

Roz didn’t know how to answer that. How could he know that Laura had quit cheer when Roz didn’t? Roz was the one who was home during the day. She was the one who was there to greet the children when they got home from school. Why hadn’t Laura talked to Roz about it? And when had she told Robert?

“We need to talk about it.”

“It’s a little late for that, don’t you think? She already quit,” Robert pointed out.

Laura came back down the stairs with her backpack and purse this time. “I’m ready to go. Thanks again, Daddy.”

“You haven’t had any breakfast. And what about lunch?” Roz pointed out.

“No time, Mom. I’ll grab a coffee between classes. And I’ll pick something up for lunch.”

“You need to take care of yourself—”

“Bye, Mom. Love you.”

Unlike Gavin, Laura didn’t stop to kiss Roz goodbye, but hurried out the door ahead of Robert.

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Intersexion

By P.D. Workman

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