'Connor Blatt!' she cried. 'You idiot.' Connor tried to help her up. 'Get your hands off me you freaking pervert!' she added, slapping his hand away. She struggled to her feet.
'I ... I'm sorry, I didn't mean ... I'm not ... are you OK?'
'Of course I'm not OK. I'll have a lump on my head the size of an egg.'
'It looks OK to me.'
'Are you calling me a liar?'
'No ... yes ... Oh Jeeze. Look, I'm sorry. I was just ...'
'For goodness sake stop babbling. I'm dizzy enough already. If you want to make yourself useful, you can carry my bag. It's heavy.'
This wasn't how he had hoped to begin a relationship with Emma; but at least they had made contact, albeit a painful one. He picked the bag up from where it had fallen and staggered under its weight.
'Holy cow! You must have half the school library in here.'
Emma said nothing. They walked together in awkward silence.
'Friends now?' Connor said at last.
They continued in silence to Emma's house. She unlocked the front door and stepped inside. Connor stopped at the threshold and handed the bag to her. 'Well, it's been nice chatting to you.' He turned to leave.
'Bring it in.' she said. 'It's OK. There's nobody home.'
'Good grief. She talks!'
'Don't be sarcastic. I didn't feel like talking, that's all. I'm OK now. Are you coming in?'
Connor hesitated, glanced around to see if anyone was watching, and then followed her into the house. He followed her all the way to her bedroom and then stopped at the door.
'Come on,' Emma said.
Connor hesitated again before stepping into the bedroom. 'I shouldn't be in here.'
'Nope,' Emma smiled. 'But I won't tell anyone ... if you promise not to behave.'
'You're kidding, right?'
'Don't you want to kiss me?'
Connor had wanted to kiss her very much, but not like this. What sort of girl lures a boy into her bedroom on their first meeting? Was she a nympho or something?
'I'd better go...' Connor began. He got no further. Emma took a step forward and clasped her hands behind his neck. She pulled their faces together and pressed her mouth to his. Connor's head felt in danger of exploding.
'Wow,' he gasped as they disengaged. 'What was that all about?'
'You just made me twenty bucks.'
'Marcy knows how shy you are. She bet me twenty bucks that I couldn't get you into my bedroom, and I just did.'
'How much did you get for the kiss?'
'Nothing. That was my idea.' She grabbed her cell phone and took a selfie with her arm around Connor's neck. 'I need this as proof to collect my twenty dollars.'
'No photographs!' said Connor as he tried to wrest the phone from her. 'If anyone finds out that I have been in your bedroom with you I'm dead.' Just then, they heard the sound of a car turning into the drive.
'It's Mum!' cried Emma. She slipped the phone under her pillow. 'She's home early.'
'Oh shit!' Connor made a dash for the door. 'I've got to get out of here.'
'You can't,' cried Emma. 'Mum will see you.' She looked out the window. 'She's stopped to have a chat with Mrs Hawthorn next door. That'll give us time.'
'To do what?'
'To think of something of course.'
'Is there a back way out?'
'Yes, but it's locked and I can't remember where Mum puts the key. The only way out is through the front door.'
'A window then.'
'Then we're in deep sh...'
'No we're not.'
'You've got an idea?'
'Yes. I can't let Mum see a boy in here, but it'll be OK if she sees a girl.'
'In case you haven't noticed, I'm a boy.'
'I've noticed. But Mum won't. Not if you wear this.' She went to her wardrobe and pulled a blue and white shift dress from its hanger.
'Are you serious? I can't wear that dress!'
'Yeah, you're right. Mum will know it's mine.' Her brow furrowed and then cleared almost at once. 'But she won't know this uniform is mine.' She started to undress. 'You wear the uniform. I'll wear the dress.'
'For God's sake get your gear off. We haven't time to argue. Mum could have you arrested.'
'She will when I tell her how you forced your way in and ...'
'OK OK. I'll do it.'
'Cover your underpants with these,' she said, pulling a pair of navy blue knickers from a drawer. Connor didn't argue. Emma handed him her white cotton blouse, still warm with her body heat. He fumbled with the buttons.
'The buttons are all on the wrong side,' he complained.
'They're on the right side for a girl. Here, let me do it.'
With nimble fingers, she had the buttons all done up in quick time. 'Raise your arms,' she said. She slipped her navy blue pinafore dress over his head. It smelled of girl. The plain bodice felt snug but not too tight. Emma smoothed down the neatly pressed box pleated skirt. She stood back and looked at him critically. The dress might have been made for him.
'You'll do,' she said. 'Now sit.' Connor sat on the side of her bed. She pulled off his sandals and replaced them with her white cotton socks and black leather school shoes with button down straps. She was in the shift dress by now. She stepped into a pair of sandals of her own, and then handed Connor a canvas bag with a floral pattern on the side. 'Put your clothes in there,' she said.
Connor did as he was told. He felt calmer now but was still afraid.
'This is crap. I still look like me!'
'Yeah. It's your face, but anyone who doesn't know you will just see a pretty girl in her school uniform.'
Connor flushed. 'Pretty? I don't think...'
'Shut up and let me do something with your hair.' Emma did some quick work with a brush and a couple of hairclips and soon had his rebellious mop of dark hair shaped in a passably feminine style.
Just then, Mrs Chipley came into the room. They hadn't heard her approach. Connor froze. 'Oh, I didn't know you had a visitor, Emma,' she said. Turning to Connor, she asked, 'What's your name dear?'
'C ... Con ... Connor,' said Connor.
'Connor? But that's ...'
'Connie,' interrupted Emma. 'She said Connie. She's my best friend ever from school. She has to go now.'
'Nice to meet you ... Connie,' said Mrs Chipley. She gave him a quizzical look.
'Yeah. Gotta go.' He almost ran to the door.
'Strange girl,' Mrs Chipley murmured.
'She's very shy,' called Emma over her shoulder as she hurried after Connor. She caught up with him at the front door and thrust the canvas bag of clothes into his arms. 'You nearly forgot this, dummy. Now get going and bring my uniform back as soon as you can. I need it for school tomorrow. Don't talk to any strangers on your way home. See ya.' She skipped back into the house.
Connor started walking. He passed several people. None gave him more than a casual glance, but he worried that he might meet someone who would know his face. To reduce the risk, he walked with his head down and stared at the ground just in front of his feet. A painful encounter with a lamp post made him abandon that idea. Twice he saw someone he knew up ahead. Twice, he turned around and sought a different route home. He was a nervous wreck by the time he reached the street where he lived.
He hoped to sneak into the house unnoticed, but his mother saw him coming from some distance away. She had come outside to check the mail. She glanced at the girl walking toward her down the street. And then she looked again, with her eyes and her mouth competing to see which could open the widest. 'Connor! Is that you? What on Earth are you doing dressed like that?'
'It ... it was for a dare'.
'Don't lie to me. That's an expensive school uniform. It looks nearly new. Did you steal it?'
'Can we please go inside to talk about this?'
Connor couldn't conjure up a credible explanation for the way he was dressed, so he decided to tell the truth. Or most of it. Not the kissing bit. Or Emma's twenty dollar bet.
'Now then young man,' Mrs Blatt said. 'Would you care to explain why you are dressed as a girl, and whose clothes you are wearing?'
Connor's older sister Melissa came running into the room. 'Is Connor dressed as a girl? Oh my God, this is so cool!'
'The thing is,' Connor began, 'Emma had an accident on the way home from school. She was hurt. I asked if I could help. She asked me to carry her bag home. So I did. I carried it right in to her bedroom. Then her mother came home. Emma panicked. She didn't want her mother to see a boy in the house, so she made me wear her school uniform. She called me Connie.'
'You changed clothes in the time it took Mrs Chipley to get out of her car and come inside?' Melissa said.
'Nah. Mrs Chipley stopped to gossip with a neighbour. We had plenty of time. Emma lent me the uniform because her mother would have recognised one of her dresses on me. Now I have to get her uniform back to her. She needs it for school in the morning. Melissa, would you ...?'
'No way! You got yourself into this mess. You get yourself out of it.'
'Melissa's right,' said Mrs Blatt. 'You should never have gone into that young lady's bedroom while she was home alone. I'll have to punish you for that.'
'But it wasn't my ...'
'Of course it was. You chose to follow Emma all the way into her bedroom. Do you admit that?'
'Yes, but it was ...'
'Don't try to blame Emma. You will only make your punishment worse. But before we get to that, you have to put things right. Take that uniform off right now and get it back to Emma. We'll have a little talk about your behaviour later.'
'I can't do that. Mrs Chipley will recognise my face and see that I am a boy.'
'Not if you go back as Connie,' Melissa chipped in. 'Let me dress you in something pretty.'
'I won't dress up as a girl. Not ever again.'
'That's up to you,' Mrs Blatt said, 'but I think Melissa's talking sense. If you take the uniform back as yourself, you will land Emma in trouble. On the other hand, you could be a man and go back as a girl. Then Mrs Chipley will think you are Connie.'
'If ... if I dress up as a girl just this one more time, can ... can that be my punishment finished with?'
'Good heavens no. That's all part of putting things right. Your punishment will come later.'
Connor didn't trust his sister. She was bound to choose something humiliating for him to wear. Pretty, she said? But he had no choice. He couldn't let Emma get into trouble.
They moved through to Melissa's bedroom. 'Does she have to stay in here while I undress?' Connor asked, glaring toward Melissa.
'Of course she does. She can't dress you if she's not in here with you, can she? Now take that uniform off. I'll fold it and you can take it back in the bag that you brought your clothes home in.'
Connor undressed awkwardly. He again had trouble with the buttons on the blouse. Melissa helped him. 'You'll have to get rid of those underpants,' she said. 'My panties won't fit over them.'
'I don't need panties!' Connor said.
'Of course you do,' Mrs Blatt said. 'A gust of wind could display your underpants and then everyone will know you are a boy.'
'Not if Melissa will lend me her shorts or jeans ... or even her coloured tights.'
'Well, I suppose ...'
'No! I want him to wear a dress,' Melissa said, 'and no tights.'
'That's enough you two,' Mrs Blatt said. 'Perhaps I'd better do this part.' She pulled Connor's underpants down and bade him step out of them. Melissa handed her a flimsy pair of nylon panties, which she held out for Connor to step into. Connor's face flushed with shame and anger as she pulled them up.
Melissa pulled a white training bra from her drawer. 'Hold your arms out,' she commanded.
'I don't need that!'
'Of course you do. Every girl your age needs a bra.'
'Better do as your sister says,' said Mrs Blatt. 'She's the boss ... for now.'
Connor held out his arms. Melissa slipped the bra on to him and fastened it behind his back.
'Now the dress.' Melissa chose a red sleeveless dress for him. It had a scooped neckline, a short gathered skirt and a narrow black belt at the waist. The bodice felt comfortably snug over his training bra, which gave the impression of developing bumps on his breast. They put him in shoes and socks similar to those he had borrowed from Emma, except these shoes were red and had bows fixed to the toes.
Connor felt terribly insecure. At least with the uniform, he had been wearing his own underpants, and the blouse had felt pretty much like a shirt. There was nothing familiar about the way he was dressed now. He was acutely aware of the nylon panties, the bra, the short skirt and the amount of bare skin that remained exposed.
'Oh my goodness,' exclaimed Mrs Blatt as she stood back and admired the result. 'You look pretty, Connor. You really ought to have been born a girl.'
'Humph. Maybe I look a bit like a girl dressed like this,' Connor said, 'but what if I run into someone who knows me? I don't want to push my luck a second time. Have you got a big hat or something to hide my face?'
'I've got a hoody,' Melissa said. 'I suppose you could borrow that. It's pink.'
'It would be,' Connor muttered. 'Thanks, I'll take it.'
'Right,' Mrs Blatt said later. 'You'd better get going. It will be getting dark soon and I want you safely back home before then.'
The hood concealed most of Connor's face. He kept his head down by pretending to text, but he kept a wary eye on the way ahead. His colourful outfit and short skirt attracted more attention than he liked, but nobody showed more than a casual interest.
Mrs Chipley answered the door bell and recognised Connor at once. 'Hello, Connie. I suppose you've come to see Emma. Come on in.'
'Yes, but I won't come in thanks, Mrs Chipley. Mum wants me to be sure and get home before dark, and it's dusk already.'
'Alright. I'll fetch Emma. She won't be a minute.'
Emma came to the door and appraised Connor in his little red dress and pink hoody. 'Wow. You look way cool,' she said.
'Don't push your luck. You've got no idea what I've been through because of you. Here's your uniform back.' He passed the bag to her.
'Thanks, grumpy. You should wear a dress more often. It suits you.' Connor glowered. 'Bye,' Emma said as she skipped back and closed the door in his face.
During the days that followed, Conner waited anxiously to see what his punishment would be. Time went by with no mention of the incident. Then, on the following Sunday, Mrs Blatt said to him, 'I've got your new school uniform sorted. It's laid out on your bed. Come with me and we'll make sure it all fits.'
'I don't need another uniform. The one I've got is fine.'
'The school has changed its uniform policy. Haven't you heard?'
'There's been a change of rules for transgender kids. The uniforms haven't changed.'
'That's right. The uniforms haven't changed, but now you can choose which one to wear. I've put you down for the girls' uniform.'
'What? You're joking!' Connor dashed through to his bedroom. There on the bed lay a uniform identical to the one that he had worn home from Emma's, but with the addition of a navy blue blazer and an extra pair of regulation knickers. 'You bought all this stuff for me? Are you crazy?'
'Watch your mouth, young man. No, I didn't buy these clothes. They were Melissa's but they are too small for her now. I've bought her a new uniform. Now get undressed and try all of these things on.'
'But, Mum ...'
'Don't argue. We'll talk after you are dressed. And take your underpants off this time. You can't wear those under your knickers when you go to school. You'll get too hot.'
Slowly, and with his mind struggling to accept the appalling situation that had arisen, Connor undressed and climbed into the now familiar uniform. I'll never get used to these sodding buttons!
'Everything fits. Can I take them off now?'
'Not until bedtime. You will have to learn to sit in a skirt so you might as well start now. I'll give you an apron to wear at dinner time in case you spill food.'
'Does Dad know about this?' Surely his father wouldn't allow him to attend school dressed as a girl.
'Of course. But it was my decision and the school won't let me change it. This is your official uniform from now on. The school will punish you if you don't wear it.
Connor considered his options. If he broke the uniform code, he would suffer increasing detention for each offence. For repeated offences, he would have to attend Saturday school as well. That would leave him with little time to himself. Maybe he would be better off wearing the uniform and be done with it, he thought. People would soon get used to seeing him in it.
Mr Blatt said nothing when he saw Connor at dinner. The smile on his face was so fleeting that Connor wasn't sure whether it was a smile or indigestion. Traitor, thought Connor.
After dinner, Conner washed the dishes (with his apron on) while Melissa dried them. She couldn't keep the smirk off her face. 'So what are you going to do? Be a good little girl or spend all of your free time in detention?'
Connor said nothing.
'I'd wear the uniform if I were you. The other kids won't hassle you if you pretend to be transgender. Of course, that means you will have to pretend to be a girl all the time. Either way, it won't do your love life much good. Oh yes, and if you pretend to be a girl at school, you will have to be a girl outside school too. Think of all the pretty dresses ...'
'Shut up!' Connor could stand it no longer. He tore the apron off and ran through to his bedroom. He threw himself on the bed. He could hold back the tears of shame and frustration no longer.
Mrs Blatt glanced at her husband. 'He's taking this harder than I expected. I'd better go through and tell him that he's been punished enough.' She hastened through to Connor's bedroom. Melissa followed her.
'Goodness gracious me,' said Mrs Blatt. 'What a fuss. Did you really think I was going to send you to school dressed like that?'
'What?' Connor peered at his mother through moist eyes.
'I wasn't serious about sending you to school like that. I made you think so as punishment for being in that girl's bedroom.
'You mean ...?
'I think you've learned your lesson now.'
'Mum!' interjected Melissa.
'Not now, Melissa,' Mrs Blatt said. 'Do you understand, Connor? You don't have to wear the girls' uniform to school.'
'But, Mum, he does ...'
'Melissa will you please stop interrupting.' She paused. 'He does what?'
'He does have to wear this uniform. You filled in the consent form last week, remember? The rules won't let you change it now.'
'Yes, I remember filling in the form,' said Mrs Blatt. 'But I didn't sign it and I didn't send it to the school. I would never have done that. Don't take any notice of her, Connor. She's just winding you up.'
'You did sign it, Mum,' Melissa said. 'You must have signed the form without thinking after you filled it in. It was a natural thing to do.'
'Oh dear. I might have done. I really can't remember. But I didn't send it to school. I would have remembered that.'
'No, I did that for you. I took it to school next day and handed it in at the office. I thought I would save you the postage.'
'Without telling me? That was a bit silly, wasn't it?'
'Silly?' cried Connor. 'Is that all you can say? Don't you realise what she's done to me?'
'I'm sure she meant well. She didn't know it was just a hoax. Anyway, what's done is done and can't be undone. It won't help to get angry with her. You'll just have to make the best of it.'
Connor cried himself to sleep that night. He totally didn't want to be a girl.
Melissa smiled herself to sleep. She knew that her talent for forging her mother's signature would come in handy one day. She would have such fun with her new sister.