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Joseph

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My mouth felt dry, so I licked my chapped lips and I could taste the watermelon lip balm from 4 years ago. He was staring at me, expecting.
I felt so scared, I wanted to cry. I wanted to sob, “This is a wig I’m sorry I lied please don’t hurt me don’t kill me,” but I stood there like an idiot. My heart nearly abandoned ship and dashed away. My eyes watered because of the heat of my face.
“Something wrong, honey?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“Why won’t you talk to me?” he laughed. Gently touching my hand. I jerked away.
Why had I done this? So many regrets came rushing through me. Just run, I told myself. You did it, this is good enough, now run. But I stood there like an idiot.
He was so handsome, skin darker than mine but he had a more European nose and a shining bald head. His smile was bright, cutting across his sharp jaw. He was significantly taller than me and his profile said that he was nine years older than me. He worked at the airport, doing something about controlling the spinning thing you put your bags on.
When we messaged each other, he complained about his job a lot and he would say that I made his day better. His words were always gentle and comforting, seeing him in person, his voice was the same way.
I fidgeted with my dress, but something about it felt like that skort from 4 years ago. I could taste blue raspberry flavoring on my tongue and hear the dropping of groceries before I was brought back by him saying, “If you don’t feel comfortable, I’ll go.”
I grabbed onto his sleeve and shook my head as we made eye contact. He chuckled.
“Okay,” he said. “If you say so…”
He was my Prince Eric. I was Ariel, my voice stolen by a witch named fear. What if I said something and I was given away? My pitch too deep? I had practiced speaking into a voice recorder, but I still wasn’t confident. Before I had left, I checked my legs for their smoothness and my wig for its stability, but I still wasn’t sure.
“If there’s something wrong, please just tell me. I drove all this way,” he said, getting a tad exasperated.
An idea. I pat my chest and coughed a bit then mouthed, “My throat hurts.”
“Oh,” he drew the word out and nodded. “Okay. Guess I’ll just play Prince Eric for the day then.”
I smiled which made him beam back at me. I heard the smack of her sucking on the Ring Pop and it leaving her mouth. The command “Put this on!” It was that first time all over again.
He walked among the streets with me, people bustling about in and out of stores. He would point to things in shop windows and ask whether or not I liked it. I’d reply with a shake or nod. I would point to things and he would do the same, going into detail about his like or dislike for the item. He made jokes and I laughed. I would try things on and he’d give a thumbs up. We danced like fools to loudspeaker music and ate at a café that he’d reccommended.
During this date, I forgot. I forgot my fear and why I should be afraid. I forgot I was wearing a wig and padded breasts. My name really was Alaina and I was seriously the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. He loved me because I was not only gorgeous, but a woman who shared his interests and sense of humor.
He was my Prince Eric, so when he kissed me by the fountain, I should have popped up my foot and faded into the romanticism. But I stood there like an idiot. I could taste the watermelon flavored chapstick and the blue raspberry Ring pop that had painted her tongue. The vulnerability crawled through me like critters under my skin and out my eyes in the form tears. From fear. From embarrassment. I wanted to run.
He pulled away and holding firmly onto my arm, asked, “Was that wrong?”
I nodded furiously, but stopped, afraid of my wig flying off – then stepped back. We stared at each other. And others must have been staring at us too.
With a long period of silence, the strangers’ stares died away, but we remained fixated on one another.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He was going to go on, but then a voice.
“Joseph?” It asked.
Pure cold down my spine. Pure vulnerability. Naked, skinned, and being prodded by a perverted doctor who criticized every decision I made. Pure fear. Regret and doom in their simplest forms.
I grabbed his hand and ran. Fast, dashing away from all fear. The danger. Of being found out. Of becoming a man again. I could it feel it though. I was turning back into a fish out of water. My legs transforming into fins. The groceries dropping to the floor and the tears running down my cheeks as we kissed on her bed, the skort hugging my hips – a perfect fit. Oh no, my flippers were back – fish out of water.
We stopped, panting, my head uncovered. Tears streaming out smoothly, sobbing as I bent down and hugged my knees. I couldn’t stop crying. While running, my wig had flown off. He’d seen me. Real me. Not Alaina. Joseph. I hated Joseph.
“Wha… Who are you?” he asked, anger vaguely lingering in his tone.
“I’m sorry,” I cried. “I’m so sorry. I’m lied. I’m sorry. Please don’t hurt me. Please don’t kill me.”
“Who are you?” he screamed.
I was born in 7th grade when my best friend Erin told Joseph to put on a skort her parents had bought her. The jean skort was too big for her so she didn’t like it. It fit Alaina perfectly. Erin got a wig from her parent’s room – she wasn’t allowed in there – and put it on me. Then she painted my nails and we added a tank top and some cute tights. She told me I was beautiful. She told me she loved me while sucking on a blue raspberry Ring Pop. Wearing that somewhat bittersweet watermelon chapstick, we kissed. Her mother came home. And saw us. She dropped the groceries and I was sent, never to see Erin again.
I loved Erin. I wish I could thank her. She gave me Alaina. A vulnerable confidence. A pathetic beauty.
He had told me I was beautiful and I thought maybe he could love me.
“I’m Joseph.”
I wanted to puke.
“You’re disgusting.”
I wanted to puke. He stormed away, after sending me a harsh glare. He probably wanted to puke. After crying my eyes out, I got to my feet and wiped my face with the back of my arm. For some reason, I didn’t feel like a fish out of water anymore despite the many looks I got from passerby. A lonely bald girl with red eyes and a newfound self.
I should have just gone straight home, but I stood there like an idiot, drank in the stares, then swam home with the delicious taste of watermelon on my lips.



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