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Only Slightly

Author's note:

This is a work in progress, so feel free to give feedback!

Author's note:

This is a work in progress, so feel free to give feedback!

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Chapters:   1 2 3 4 5 Next »

Chapter One

"I'm ready."
Conor paced back and forth across the cramped tent, back-light burlap seeming to close in, ready to swallow him up like the times when he would roll up in his uncle's exotic rugs during extensive games of one man hide-and-seek. The chattering voices of fair attendees bowed in and out, crackling radio music filling the air thicker than the pungent smell of fried chicken and sweet molasses candy that drifted from stall to stall.
Conor's frantic steps crunched the dry grass that covered the field every summer, making him cringe. His father stood characteristically stoic by the tent's entrance, his gaze resting on his son in the way a teacher watches a troublesome student. Only slightly closer than everyone else.
After a few more moments of silent contemplation the blue-suited man swept back the tent flap and climbed onto the stage, leaving the blue-suited boy to finish his pacing and sink to the ground, trying to cap hot puffs of nervous breath with sweaty palms.
Conor wasn't ready. He never would be. He stood and examined his reflection in the bowl of water that'd been left on a rickety side table in the corner, the only furniture in the tent.
He started with the easy part: shoes. Conor liked his shoes. They were tough and beautiful and custom-made to encase his small, pale feet with their smart black leather and white cotton laces.
Next were the pants. These hadn't been custom-made, but fit fairly well, except around his personal areas, where they sagged almost invisibly. Almost.
Conor's shirt, vest, and jacket had all been made by a no-questions-asked tailor who worked above the Silver Star. Names hadn't been exchanged, only large stacks of cash for clothing. The cotton fit tight across his chest, holding flat the hints of breasts Conor cursed every morning. To anyone else it would look normal, perhaps even become the new fashion.
Finally, there was his face. This is where everything went wrong. His slim chin and cheeks, large brown eyes framed by delicate lashes, skin more vigorously peppered with freckles than the Milky Way was with stars. There was something about his face that made people start when the word "son" was combined with it.
Most agreed that, yes, he was pretty, but not dashing, not rugged or chiseled, not handsome, not quite manly enough. He was pretty in the way a fairy was pretty, the way you can look at it and study it and decide that you like what you see, but there is still something decidedly wrong, decidedly off about its features. The short cut of his chestnut hair did help, but it hung limply from his scalp, like corn silk or wet leaves.
The electric murmur of his father's words seeped into the tent. Conor brushed off the bits of dry grass that still clung to his clothes and scored a peek through the tent flap, listening closely for his cue.
"...and now, without further ado to you lovely men and women..."
Conor cringed at the jab, but kept listening.
"...my son and heir..."
There was a hardness to the way he said "son", a stiffness only Conor could detect after so many years of hearing his father say it that way.
"...Conor O'Brien."
Conor stepped up onto the rickety wooden stage, blinking away the bright sunlight assaulting him from all sides. The crowd didn't erupt into clapping, but boiled into it, sporadic bursts cut by whispers of "...didn't know they had a son..." and "...skinny little thing, isn't he..." Some young children just stared, open-mouthed and blank-faced like the would have at anyone, which almost Conor feel better. But didn't. Not by a long shot.
His father stepped back from the microphone, gesturing him forward. All Conor could see was the hard glare in his eyes of 'you better not screw this up.' He gulped and assumed a smile just like his father's: wide, glittering, and completely fake. Conor gripped the microphone and attempted to begin.
"Hello..."
The microphone squawked ironically, and all those who hadn't yet resorted to grimaces in the crowd now did so.
"Hello..."
This time his voice was clear, and Conor forged ahead.
"...As my father mentioned, my name is Conor O'Brien, heir to the Pyson Locomotive Company..."
Conor scanned the crowd as he spoke. His eyes decided to rest on a strange young women with a scarf, no, a bandage, wrapped around the lower half of her face. That was strange enough, but she was also dressed in workman's clothes: wool pants, leather boots, and a dusty plaid shirt. Conor didn't want to be rude, and had almost decided to move on with his gaze when the odd girl raised one finger to her bandaged lips in the universal symbol for silence.
That was when Conor's world went black.
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Conor was an only child, so no, it wasn't like that. He wasn't trying to fit in with his brothers and he wasn't trying to rebel from his sisters. He'd simply screamed enough about it that his parents had finally, with lots of yelling and groaning and sighing, conceded. Morgan was their little girl, the light of their life, and they'd do whatever it took to keep her, no, him, happy. He was too young to be presented into society yet, so nobody needed to know. Nobody could ever know.
His father even seemed glad, at first. A male heir trumped a female by far, he would joke. Conor's mother tried her best to understand, but some days Conor would find her gripping a rosary and muttering his other name, Morgan, over and over until she noticed him watching and would continue with her Hail Marys.
It was around age eleven when Conor noticed a difference in the way his father acted. It could have been the added impetuous sniffs every time Conor had his monthly cycle, or the tightness of his hand on Conor’s shoulder when the woman at the general store had called him "Such a sweet little boy."
The simple truth of it was that Conor's father thought his daughter would've gotten over all that silliness about being a boy and dealt with the harsh realities of what she was. A girl.
It made Conor grimace to even think about it.
He knew that after he gave the speech at the church picnic he wouldn't be coming back home. He saw it in the way the maid had looked at him mournfully during dinner, in the way his father had stopped purchasing him new clothes, and most certainly in the way his mother’s stomach had grown much larger in the past few months.
His father didn't want to kill him, certainly. Just push him out into the wild and sweep the business about that strange O'Brien boy under the rug in preparation for new spawn. That was it. That was all.
That was what Conor had thought until he heard the gunshot.

Chapters:   1 2 3 4 5 Next »


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