I took a plate out of the cupboard and sat at the table. “How was school?” Mom asked as I arranged my food on the plate.
“Same old, same old.” I dropped a handful of fries onto my plate and decided that wouldn’t be enough, so I took a second handful. They really piled the fries into their orders. A small order was usually enough to satisfy Mom and me, and this time it looked like she’d bought a large. Which was fine with me. I’d skipped lunch, so all I’d eaten since breakfast was the granola bar I’d had during my homework break. I was starving.
“It looked like you and Holly had a lot of homework.” She took a bite of her burger.
“Every class,” I said. “I mean, two of the assignments aren’t due till the day after tomorrow, but we decided to do them today. Then we won’t have to worry about them.”
“Good idea. I’d really like to see you be more responsible with your work this year. You had some problems last year.”
“Yeah.” I’d had problems in the classes I shared with Jim Frankel. It had been pretty hard to pay attention with a gorilla behind me whispering crap like “I’m going to chop off your hair, fag” every few minutes. He was the main reason I’d cut my hair from shoulder-length to practically a crew cut over summer vacation.
That, plus a crew cut would fit better under a wig.
I didn’t see a reason to point that out to Mom. She knew I was bullied at school. She’d talked to the school about it a few times, and they’d promised to “look into it.” To be fair, they usually did, but the kids responsible tended to deny what they’d said to me. And I was pretty sure Mr. Lawrence, the vice principal, held me responsible for the way other kids treated me. After all, I was the one who chose to go to school wearing nail polish, scarves, and brightly colored shirts, some of which I found in the women’s section of my favorite secondhand store.
“I just want you to do well this year,” Mom said. “I mean, you didn’t do too badly for the most part last year. There were just those few issues with your grades. But this is your junior year. This is when grades really count for college.”
“I know, Mom.” She’d had this conversation with me pretty much weekly during summer vacation, when she wasn’t reminding me that I should have gotten a job. I’d tried to find a job, but the only places I could have worked were around town, and those places all employed kids I didn’t want to deal with during the summer. Bad enough I had to deal with them during the school year. I wasn’t sure an employer would be as attentive to bullying as the school, and the school didn’t do as much about it as I thought they should.
“Your father says he’ll help with college.” She took another bite of her hamburger and took her time chewing. I figured that was to keep herself from saying that she didn’t believe a word of my father’s promises. Neither did I. In the six years since they’d split up, he’d kept maybe three promises of the dozens he’d made.
Then again, he hadn’t been great about keeping promises before they’d split, either. That was one of the biggest reasons Mom had left him.
“I’ll apply for plenty of scholarships,” I said. I didn’t even know what I wanted to major in when I went to college. I hadn’t considered not going. A college education seemed important, and in college I might actually meet tolerant people my age. But I wasn’t sure what major would help prepare me for a career as a drag queen. Business, maybe, so I could manage myself and the income I hoped to earn.