She was absolutely stunning. The way her red velvet dress fanned out around her hips when she spun. The click of her shoes as her partner whirled her to and fro rang throughout the hall. Charlie had never seen anything so amazing. He sat on the edge of his seat, big brown eyes wide and twinkling in his awe. It was like nothing else existed but the woman and the curve of her arms inward as she spun in circle after circle, her legs occasionally dipping out to make her look long and graceful.
When the music stopped, Charlie watched as she smiled with brilliant white teeth and gorgeous ruby red lips. Her chest heaved with the exercise, but she bore it with ease. His parents stood up, clapping loudly and shouting “Brava! Brava!” and he followed suit, wildly clapping his tiny hands together. He loved the dancer. He wanted to be just like her. He wanted to be her.
When they left the theater, Charlie chattered about the performance endlessly, telling his mother and father how beautiful she was, how the whole room seemed to be empty when she danced. And when they reached the car, as his father was buckling him into his chair, he let out a delighted little giggle, “I want to be just like her! I want to dance too!”
“Dancing is for girls, Charlie.” His mother’s face had suddenly turned stern, no hint of the twinkle that had been there moments before.
“Oh,” said Charlie, suddenly very sad. He looked down at his lap as his father clicked the belt into place. He patted Charlie’s leg and smiled up at him.
“It’s okay, Charlie. Maybe we can find something similar for you.”
“Don’t encourage him, Charles!”
His father grimaced and clambered into the front seat.
Then an idea popped into Charlie’s head. “I know! If dancing is for girls, I’ll just be a girl! They’re prettier anyway!”
Charlie’s father laughed. “There’s an idea!” His laugh was loud and full of vibrado, coming deep from his chest.
“Charles! Charlie, you can’t be a girl. You’re a boy. Don’t you worry. You start school in the fall. We’ll find something for you to do. There’s lot of things like football, basketball, baseball. And if you don’t like sports, we’ll find something else!”
Charlie’s smile dropped. “But I want to dance,” he whispered, too quiet for either of his parents to hear.
Charlie was five years old.
When Charlie was in the third grade, his father pulled him aside one evening, out of earshot of his mother. “Charlie, do you remember going to the theater and watching the ballroom dance competition?”
Hope, stupid, ridiculous hope leaped in Charlie’s heart. Of course he remembered. He thought about dancing every day. About being that woman and watching as his skirt fanned out around him, spinning on the air. He wanted desperately to dance. But boys didn’t dance. He held back his excitement and beat down the hope lurching inside him. “I remember.”
“How would you like to go see it again on Friday, Charlie?”
Charlie’s heart twinged, disbelief widening his eyes into shiny stars. “Really?” he whispered.
“Really,” his father whispered back, smiling. “But it’s a secret, okay? Don’t tell your mother. This is just for us.”
Charlie nodded vigorously and leapt away to write in the journal his father had given him last year. It was the only place Charlie dared speak of how much he longed to dance. How he wished his mother would let him grow his hair long. How he was jealous of the pretty, frilly dresses the girls at school got to wear. He couldn’t help a few escaped giggles as he wrote about his excitement. His father was going to take him to see dancers!
Friday came and his mother waved an emphatic farewell as Charlie and his father climbed into the car. His father had told his mother they were going to a local basketball game. She had given Charlie twenty whole dollars to buy a souvenir.
When they arrived at the theater, Charlie could no longer contain his excitement. His father only smiled as the doorman took the tickets and smiled softly toward Charlie. “Always good to see little ones who love the theater.”
Charlie smiled wider still and followed his father to their seats. Their seats were two rows from the stage. Charlie looked up at his father. “We get to see them up close!?”
His father nodded. “We do. And, if you behave, there’s a surprise after the show.”
Charlie felt his eyes go round, the size of saucers. “Really?” he whispered.
His father chuckled. “Really.”
Charlie was even more fascinated than he had been years ago. He wanted more than ever to be the woman on stage. He imagined he was her, dancing on her toes in arcs and clean, beautifully straight lines. He became her, feeling the curve of his hips as they swung out, the air beneath his pointed toe as he thrust it into the ceiling, the rough firmness of his partner’s hand as he gripped Charlie’s in a vice to keep him from spinning too far. He felt the closeness of his partner as he whirled back into his embrace, melting into a soft sway only to be swung out again.
Intermission came all too quickly and Charlie was suddenly himself again. He looked up at his father, eyes still shining. “That was amazing.”
His father smiled a soft, warm smile. “It’s good to see you enjoy yourself, Charlie. You’re only 9 years old and I’ve never seen you smile so much. Come on, let’s go to the lobby. We’ll see what they have at the shop.”
Charlie followed his father to the gift shop at the outer edge of the theater lobby. He looked around at all of the pictures and statues and playwrights. Then he saw it.
It was a deep mauve color with black accents and a soft bell shape that went out about the hips with slightly puffed long sleeves and a heart-shaped neckline. It was made for little girls and Charlie gulped past the lump in his throat as he glanced over to make sure his father wasn’t watching. He seemed very interested in a statue of Rapunzel in her castle. Charlie snuck over to the dress and glanced at the price tag. Seventy dollars. He let out a soft sigh and stared one, longing moment at the dress then squared his shoulders and looked about the room a bit more.
He settled on a figurine of a woman and man caught in a tango, a ruby red rose caught in the woman’s teeth as she arched her back into a lovely arc over her partner’s arm. When his father took him to the counter to pay, he glanced at the figure in Charlie’s hand. “Are you sure that’s what you want, Charlie?”
“Yes,” Charlie said firmly, offering the cashier his crisp $20 bill.
The cashier smiled, “Ah. This is a lovely figurine. You know they’re real people? They came to dance here once.”
“Really?” Charlie asked, his eyes widening.
“Really,” the clerk smiled. He took the figurine, wrapped it carefully in tissue paper, and stuffed into a plastic bag, handing it back to Charlie.
“Charlie, why don’t you run on ahead and get our seats? Make sure the show doesn’t start back up with me.”
Charlie nodded. “Okay!” He rushed off, clutching his new souvenir close to his chest.
His father came back just before the show started once more. Charlie was no less fascinated in the second half than he had been in the first.
When it finally ended, Charlie felt warm and giddy with the excitement. His father looked at him, his eyes a strange, sparkling question. “Charlie. How would you like to meet some of the dancers from tonight?”
“Really?” Charlie could barely speak.
“Really,” his father smiled. He pulled Charlie along to the backstage and watched as Charlie peppered them with questions. Charlie had never felt so alive and so much like he belonged.
Charlie chattered and questioned for the better part of an hour and his father practically had to drag him away so the dancers could return to their dressing rooms. “Charlie, I’ve got one more surprise for you. Come on.”
Charlie couldn’t fathom what could possibly be more surprising than meeting the dancers and diligently followed his father. All the way to the gift shop.
The clerk smiled widely. “Ah, Mr. Jones. I was beginning to think you’d forgotten.”
“We’d have come sooner, but someone couldn’t stop asking questions about dancing.”
The clerk chuckled and handed Charlie’s father a large plastic bag, who in turn handed it to Charlie.
“Why don’t you open that up. See what’s inside.”
Charlie looked again at his father, questions in his eyes. He pulled up the plastic and felt his jaw drop. It was the dress. Charlie felt the corner of an eye itch with unshed tears. His father had bought him a dress. His father had bought him a very girly dress. He snapped his head up to his father. “I can have this?” he whispered shakily.
“You can have this,” his father replied firmly.
Charlie bit his lip, trying to keep from crying. “But what will Mamma say?”
Charlie’s father grimaced. “What your mother does not know, Charlie, will not hurt her. You do what makes you happy.”
Charlie nodded. A tear falling down his cheek. He clutched the dress tightly to his chest. This was, absolutely, the best day ever.
As they pulled into the driveway, his father stopped Charlie. “Charlie, why don’t you pull out that sack in the back up here?”
Charlie diligently grabbed the bag in the back seat and rummaged through it. He pulled out a basketball jersey. “What’s this?”
“Your ‘souvenir’ from the game. Tonight is our secret, Charlie. Your mother, she wants what’s best for you. She just…she just doesn’t know how to do that.”
A lump formed in Charlie’s throat. He nodded solemnly and pulled the jersey over his T-shirt. “I understand, Dad.” He stuffed the dress and figurine into the bag, making sure nothing peeked out from the edges. It was okay, keeping all this a secret. It didn’t matter that his mother didn’t understand. Charlie would cherish this night forever and his mother would come around eventually, wouldn’t she?
Charlie and his father were greeted with warm smiles and hugs from his mother as they entered the house. “Well, hello boys! How was the game?”
“Great! You should have seen the way Charlie’s eyes lit up, Maude. I think I’ll have to start taking him to a rec league.”
“You think so?” Charlie watched his mother’s eyes shine. “It’s about time he got a hobby!”
“Yeah. I’ll take him to the rec center next week, see if we can’t find a team for him to join.”
Charlie forced a smile. Playing basketball sounded like the worst thing Charlie could possibly imagine. “I’m gonna go to bed, I think. I’m real tired from the game.”
“Oh, all right, Charlie. You’ll have to tell me all about it tomorrow, okay, Charlie?”
“Of course, Mama.” Charlie turned up the stairs to his room. Somehow the evening suddenly seemed tainted. He should be basking in the glow of that performance, imagining all the different ways he could be on that stage, but the lump in his throat wouldn’t go away. Charlie had wanted to try on the dress, see how beautiful it would look on him, but now he just wanted to cry. Why hadn’t he born a girl?
About the Creator
I'm a poet and a fiction writer. I can write quite decent essays, but I'd rather tell stories of the heart and speak with my whole soul.
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