Crystal's StorySite


Kimberly's Summer Vacation


Valentina Michelle Smith


Part 1

Will O'Connell had looked forward to this summer for years.

One of the perks of being a steelworker in a union plant was the 5-year vacation. Every five years, a steelworker at the Bethlehem Steel Mill got a 3-month vacation with pay. Technically, as a shop foreman, Will was management. But the 5-year vacation benefit that the union managed to squeeze out of the steel mill was granted to management as well as labor.

It was only fair, Will thought to himself as he drove to the lake. He had worked up through the ranks from a laborer on the floor through middle management. He had stood in solidarity with his union brothers through a very bitter strike. They all kidded him in a good-natured way when the company recognized his leadership talent and offered him an assistant foreman's slot. He worked just as hard as a manager as he had on the floor, but he never forgot where he came from. His men respected him for that. Just because he had been promoted was no reason to give back any of his benefits.

This was going to be a great summer. Doris and the kids had left for the family's lake house when school ended. Will had spent a couple of weeks as a virtual bachelor, stopping off for a beer with the guys and enjoying a few cigars without Doris rolling her eyes. But at heart, Will was a family man. He missed his wife and his kids, and he was looking forward to seeing them again after two weeks separation.

The lake house held some very special memories for Will. It had been in the family for years, originally bought by his father, "Big Bill" O'Connell. Now there was a steel man! Big Bill was one of the hardest-working steel men in the mill, and had become an assistant foreman before retiring. It was Big Bill's influence that got Will his first job in the mill, but it was Will's own ability that got him into the machine shop and ultimately the foreman's job.

Will remembered many wonderful summers at the lake house. Summertime at the lake was an idyllic time, away from the pressure of school. Will was free to go swimming, to fish, or to explore the woods surrounding the lake. But his fondest memories were of the two weeks every summer when his dad was on vacation. Those were great times, when he and his father could fish together or just plain talk. For those two weeks it was as though his father accepted young Will as an equal. And now he had the opportunity to do the same with his own son, Trip.

To be honest, Will was a little worried about Trip. He spent an awful lot of time reading or listening to music. True, he was getting good grades in school, but Will was worried that Trip was too much of a bookworm. And Will was not really sure how he felt about Trip's long hair. Will had shook his head in disbelief when the Beatles invaded the States a few years ago with their mop-tops. But at least those fellows were well-dressed and seemed polite enough. All of this psychedelic stuff with the wild clothes, the crazy long hair, and that God-awful noise they called music was just too much to take. Will hoped that Trip would never turn into one of those hippies. Maybe by spending this summer with him, Will could give him some of the guidance he needed.

Two-lane blacktop gave way to an oiled gravel road as Will turned onto the last leg of his journey. The winding road made its way through the woods, past the few remaining cottages surrounding the lake. Once a popular revival camp-meeting ground, Mason's Lake had fallen into disrepair. A few hardy souls like Big Bill O'Connell had purchased the remaining cottages nestled next to the lake. Bit by bit they restored, repaired, and improved their cottages until each one was a reflection of the owner's unique personality.

When Big Bill bought the cottage, it was definitely a handyman's special. It was a shell, with no plumbing, a limited electric service, and broken windows. Big Bill and young Will spent several months repairing and refurbishing the structure. They replaced the broken glass, repaired the shutters, installed screens, hauled furniture, laid linoleum, and cleared overgrowth from the outside.

Their labors paid off. Big Bill's Bungalow was a rugged but comfortable retreat from the excesses of civilization. It had neither telephone nor television, a five-tube clock radio being its only concession to the wide world beyond the woods. The propane-fired range was an antique. Recent additions included an electric pump, a propane-fired water heater that required lighting every morning, and an outdoor shower. There was no toilet; sanitary facilities were provided by an outhouse privy. And heat was provided by a Franklin stove that had been rescued from a chicken coop.

Will negotiated the final turn when he caught sight of the white cottage with the red shutters and trim. He parked his green Chevy next to Doris' black-and-gray Dodge. As he got out, he was greeted by a tiny red-haired bundle of energy, his eight-year-old daughter, Maggie.

"Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" she shouted, bounding into his outstretched arms. He scooped her up and swung her around as she hugged him and covered his cheeks with kisses.

"Hi, Kitten!" he said, giving her an extra hug. She always giggled whenever he used his special nickname for her. "Where's your mommy and Trip?"

"Mommy's inside, Daddy! She has a surprise for you!"

"A surprise? Now what would that be?"

Maggie smiled. "I'm not tellin'," she said. "You have to find out."

Will was intrigued. Maggie was notoriously awful at keeping any kind of secret, so he knew that this had to be something special. He gently set his daughter down and made his was through the screen door in the back.

The screen door opened into the kitchen at the back of the cottage. As Will stepped in, he inhaled deeply. The very smell of the place brought years of fond memories rolling back. And mixed with the smells of childhood was the sweet perfume of his wife, Doris, who greeted him in the kitchen.

Not a word was spoken as they embraced. Will held his wife close, and she held him. Their lips met. In the back of his mind, Will reflected that life just didn't get any better.

"I missed you," he said.

"And I missed you," she answered. "But I'll bet you had a few cigars while you were gone."

"Well," he said, smiling sheepishly, "I didn't have you to keep me occupied. By the way," he said, in an attempt to change the subject, "where's Trip? And Maggie said you have a surprise for me."

"Yes, I do," she said, and she called out, "Honey, come on in and see your father!"

They walked into the common area that served as a living room and dining area. Three doors opened to this area from the side. The center door leading to Trip's room opened, and Trip entered. Only he wasn't exactly what Will was expecting.

Trip's shoulder-length hair had been styled into a flip. He was wearing a pink top with a denim skirt and a pair of sandals. Bumps resembling a teenage girl's budding breasts disrupted the otherwise flat front of his pink top. His toenails and fingernails were polished the same shade of pink, which matched his pink lip gloss. There was a hint of blush on his cheeks and a subtle line of turquoise on his eyelids. And he was wearing earrings!

As Will looked on, Trip spoke. "Hi, Daddy," he said, his nervousness betrayed by the quiver in his voice.

"So how do you like your other daughter, Kimberly?" Doris asked.

Neither Trip nor Doris expected Will's reaction. Stunned silence gave way to a smile, then a chuckle. And then, Will bent back his head and laughed. He laughed so hard his sides began to hurt. He laughed so hard his eyes watered. And as he wiped his eyes, he said, "That's rich, Trip. That's really rich. You had me going for a minute there. Now why don't you get out of all that and we can head down to the lake?"

If Will's reaction was unexpected, so was Trip's. Will saw a nervous smile give way to a shocked look of dismay as tears filled his son's eyes. "Oh, Daddy!" he sobbed as he ran back to the sanctuary of his room, shutting the door behind him.

Will looked over at Doris, who was scowling. "What was that all about?" he asked.

"You know, Will," she said, "sometimes you can be a real horse's ass!" She followed Trip into the center room, slamming the door.

He glanced around, finally seeing Maggie. "Kitten," he said, "I…"

Maggie didn't answer. She just went to her room, leaving Will all alone. Bewildered, he left by the front door and walked down to the lake.


* * * * *


Kimberly lay on her bed sobbing, her face buried in the pillow. Her mother sat down next to her, stroking her hair in consolation. "Honey," said Doris, "I'm sorry. I didn't think your father would react this way."

Still crying, Kim hugged her mother. "Oh, Mommy, he laughed at me. He thinks I'm some kind of a freak. Maybe I am. I'm just a disgusting freak!"

Doris hugged Kim close to her, and then held her up to look at her. "Don't talk like that. You know your father loves you."

"He loves Trip!" she sobbed. "He thinks I'm a joke. He laughed at me! He hates me!"

"That's not true, Kim! This is just a surprise for him. He's never seen you before today, and I did warn you that he might react badly."

"I know, Mommy," she said between sobs. "I thought that he might be angry, or that he might be confused. But I thought that once he got to know me, I mean, as Kim, that he would like me. Maybe I better go back to being Trip."

Doris looked at Kim. "You don't mean that, do you? For the past three months this summer was all you would talk about. For the past year you pestered me to let you spend the summer as Kim. Do you really want to back out now?"

Kim hesitated. "I, I, I really want to be Kim this summer. But I really want Daddy to like me too. I wanted to spend some time with him. He's always at work and hardly knows me, and he doesn't know Kim at all. Why does he hate me, Mommy? Why does he hate Kim?"

"He doesn't hate you, sweetie. It's just that this was a surprise for him. I didn't think he'd act like such a big jerk either."

Kim started to laugh. "Daddy's a big jerk!" she said.

"Now don't you talk that way about your father! He might have a few rough edges, but you should have seen him when we first met. He needed a woman to straighten him out!"

Kim giggled at the thought of her mother correcting her father. "Do you think he won't be mad at me?"

"Let me talk to him, honey. I think I can smooth out any misunderstanding." She kissed Kim on the cheek.

"I love you, Mommy," Kim said.

"And I love you too, Kim."


* * * * *


Down by the lake, Big Bill was in his favorite spot, seated on the fishing pier he had built two decades ago. He sat with a fishing rod in his hand, contemplating the ripples of the lake surface as water-striders skittered about. The line extending to the motionless bobber hung limply as Big Bill chewed the end of his unlit stogie.

Will walked up to the pier. "Hey, Pop!' he called to his father, "Catch anything?"

"Nope," said Bill, pausing to take a sip from the can he had at his side. Somehow he managed to accomplish this feat without removing the cigar from his mouth. He reached into the cooler and pulled out a cold beer, which he handed to his son. "Hell, I ain't even tryin'. This hook don't even have any bait."

"How do you expect to catch anything without bait?" Will asked as he opened his beer.

"You're missin' the whole point, Will. All my life I always had to do something. If I wasn't at work I was doing something at home, fixing the pipes or the car, or even fixing up this old place. I'm done working, and I just don't feel like always having to DO something. But people still won't leave me the hell alone! 'Watcha doin' Bill? Whatcha wanna do?' So I fish. I can do absolutely nothing, and nobody asks me what I'm doing."

Just then the bobber jiggled. The limp monofilament line went taut and the drag on Bill's reel started to ratchet. Big Bill stood up and bent the rod back gently, applying just enough pressure to set the hook. He reeled in the line, working his catch with years of experience to guide him. "Get me my net," he told Will.

Will grabbed the fishing net and stood at the end of the pier as his father reeled the fish in. "I thought you weren't using bait?" he asked.

"Even a blind squirrel stumbles over a few nuts. Now you gonna shut up and net that fish for me?"

It was a beauty, a four-pound bass. "Looks like a keeper, Pop," said Will.

"Good. Let's clean it and have it with dinner. It'll be a nice surprise for Doris and the girls."

Will stood up straight, a little bit stunned, and faced his father. "The girls. As in plural. As in my son wearing a goddamned dress."

He walked up to the big man and stood face to face. "Just what the hell is going on here. How long have you known about this, this…"

"You know," said Bill, "maybe if you would spend a little more time at home and not killin' yourself for the company, you might know a few things about your own family for yourself."

"Just what the hell do you mean by that? Are you telling me that my son is some kind of fairy because I have a good job?"

"Your son is not a fairy, Will. But he's a stranger to you. You need to spend some time with him before the stranger grows up and moves out and has strangers of his own."

"And I'm supposed to feel guilty about it? God damn it, I have an important job! It takes a lot of time! But it's what puts a roof over his head and clothes on his back. No, sir, I am not going to feel guilty about being a success!"

Big Bill backed off, picked up his fish and tackle, and walked off. "Suit yourself, son. But take a little advice from your old man. Nobody ever died wishing they spent more time at the office."

Big Bill turned and walked off the pier, leaving Will alone at the water's edge.


* * * * *


Big Bill was sitting out in the screened-in porch blowing smoke rings when Will finally returned. "You get away with murder," Will said to his father. "Every time I light up Doris gives me holy hell."

Big Bill took a long puff on his stogie and expelled a slow, lazy stream of blue smoke. "That's because you don't know when to stop. I only have one or two of these things a day. Back when you were still smoking it seemed you always had one burning in your mouth."

"Yeah, I guess you're right."

"Of course I'm right! Will, you're a good man, and I'm proud of you and the man you've become, but you never did learn moderation. It's a damn good thing you don't like getting drunk."

"It's not being drunk I don't like, it's the hangover."

"Just what I'm saying. Moderation is the key. You have to know how to set limits for yourself."

"Why do I have the feeling this is leading up to something?" Will asked.

Big Bill paused to savor another puff. "It is, son. You've been spending way too much time at work. It's not like you still get time-and-a-half for overtime."

"Pop, you know I have a lot of responsibility. There's a lot I have to do."

"There's a lot you can let your assistants do, Will. How do you expect them to learn anything if you always handle it for them? Fact is, son, you already know this. Seems to me you're hiding from something."

"Hiding? That's ridiculous! Why would I hide from my own family?"

"You tell me, son. But if I were you, I'd go talk with Doris. I think there's a lot you two need to settle."

Big Bill leaned back in his chair and let loose another lazy stream of smoke. Will got up and went inside.

Doris was at the stove, fussing over the pots. Will could smell potatoes and green beans cooking. Doris always cooked the green beans southern style with a little slab of bacon in the pot. She turned as the screen door shut behind him.

"Well, there you are," she said. She paused to give him a kiss. If she was still angry with him, she was hiding it well. "Dinner's going to take a little while. Pop cleaned the fish, but I still have to bread it and heat up the pan. I didn't know how long you were going to be."

"That's good," said Will. "I think we need to talk."

"Well could you help me out while we talk? I'm getting hungry, and I'll bet you are too."

"Sure, how about if I bread the fish?"

"Great! Thanks a lot, honey."

Will found a bowl and started mixing an egg and some milk. "So," he asked, "does this mean I'm no longer the northern end of a south-bound horse?"

"That depends on a lot of things. You know you really hurt Kim's feelings."

Will stopped for a minute, then continued dipping the fish in the egg mix. "That's something we need to settle. What is with this outfit Trip was wearing? And what's with this 'Kim' stuff?"

"That's her name. It's Trip's name when he's being Kim."

"And just how long has he been pretending to be a girl?"

"I don't know that he's pretending, Will. Kim is pretty serious about this."

"So are you telling me my son is some kind of she-male?" he asked. Remarkably, neither Will nor Doris had raised their voice.

"It's not like that at all. Sometimes Trip likes to, well, sort of take a vacation from himself, and that's when he becomes Kimberly."

Doris turned to Will, no longer paying any attention to dinner. "Will, Trip is a lot more sensitive than you are. You know how much he loves his books and his music. Did you know he's been learning to play the guitar? He taught himself how to play from a book and records.

"Trip's gifts aren't physical like yours. He's intelligent and naturally curious. But he's smaller than most of the other boys his age, and they give him a hard time. He doesn't complain much, but I know it hurts him. Being Kim is like a safety valve. It lets him express his sensitive side."

"You still haven't answered my question," Will said, "how long has this been going on?"

Doris thought for a minute. "I first discovered it about five years ago when I found him wearing some of Becky's things."

This startled Will. They had lost their oldest daughter to cancer almost seven years ago. "What? Why was he wearing Becky's clothes?"

"I asked him that same question. I thought maybe he missed her and wanted to feel close to her. But he told me he was always curious about girls, especially their clothes, and he always wanted to know how they felt. He found some of Becky's old things and, well, started experimenting."

"Why didn't you tell me about it?" Will asked.

"Will, you were so busy with your job that I didn't want to stress you out. And I thought that Trip would eventually get it out of his system. But after a few months I knew that Kim was here to stay."

"And you never told me?"

The tone of Doris' voice was now tinged with irritation. "When was I supposed to tell you, Will? When was the last time you spent any time with us as a family?"

"Every weekend, Doris, I'm always home on Sunday."

"That's right, you're always home on Sunday, and we always go to Mass together. But then you plop yourself in front of the tube and watch football, or golf, or some other sport."

"And how often do I watch baseball with Trip?"

"I'm surprised you still know he's watching with you. But did it ever occur to you that you just might go out and actually have a catch with him? Maybe you could try playing ball with your son instead of just watching the Phillies?"

"So it's my fault that Trip is a, a, …" He faltered, not knowing what to say next.

"Your son is a healthy boy, and some day he'll grow into a man we'll both be proud of. Don't go calling him any names you'll regret."

Will was silent, gathering his thoughts. "So how did he get all of that, that, that stuff."

"What stuff?"

"The clothes, the makeup, the earrings. Jesus, did you get his ears pierced?"

"Kim got her ears pierced over a year ago, Will."

"So he's been wearing earrings for a year. I'm surprised he didn't get into any fights over it."

"Actually, his status went up a little. It's cool for boys to have pierced ears these days."

Will shook his head in disbelief. "I guess I'm just too old-fashioned. The idea of a boy with long hair and pierced ears is just plain strange. And you still haven't answered my questions."

"Which questions, Will?"

"How did he get all of this stuff, and why is he wearing it now? And just how the hell is it my son has boobs?"

"I bought them for him, Will. We went shopping together."

"Together? You dragged Trip shopping and made him try on dresses?"

"I didn't have to drag anybody. Kim and I have had some very nice shopping trips together. I take her and Maggie and we make an afternoon of it at Hess's in Allentown. We try on clothes and shoes and we have lunch together on the patio."

"And Trip just goes along with you?"

"Kim loves our shopping trips, Will. So does Maggie. It's an afternoon with just us girls."

Will was pensive. "I suppose you're going to tell me none of this would have happened if I spent more time at home."

"Not at all, it would have probably happened anyway. But it certainly wouldn't have been such a surprise to you."

"What about the, you know, the boobs?"

"It's just a padded bra. Lot's of girls Kim's age wear them, you know."

"A padded bra; my son is wearing a padded bra. Do you have any idea just how creepy this is making me feel? And why is Trip suddenly wearing this stuff all the time?"

"Honey, Trip was having a really hard time with Algebra this year. I told him that if he got an A that he could spend the summer as Kimberly. He really worked hard and applied himself."

"I take it he got the A?"

"He got straight A's, Will. He's on the honor role."

Will's anger softened a little. "Honor roll, you say? Straight A's?"

"Absolutely. He's been put in section one for his sophomore year."

"Section one? Isn't that the college prep track?"

"Yes it is, and most of the kids in section one end up with a college scholarship."

"And this dressing up is his reward?"

"Yes. I promised her that she could be Kim for the summer"

Will pondered these facts as he pulled a milk-soaked fish fillet through bread crumbs. "Well, I guess as long as this is a reward for good grades, and it only lasts for the summer, maybe we can let him play girl. Besides, maybe if he spends the summer in a dress he'll get it out of his system. But he gets a haircut before school starts."

"That sounds reasonable."

"Good. That's what I've decided."

Doris rolled her eyes and smiled with a bit of amusement. "Good thinking. But why don't you tell her yourself? And Will, call her Kim. Humor her."

"All right, why don't you fry up this fish while I go have a little talk with hi-, uh, with her," he corrected himself. This was going to take some getting used to.

Will left the stove and walked over to Trip's room, excuse me, Kim's room, and knocked. "Who is it?" he heard.

"It's just your dad. Can I come in and talk for a few minutes?"

The door opened. Kim's eyes were still red from crying. "Are you mad at me?" she asked.

"No, Tr-, uh, Kim, I just want to talk with you for a few minutes."

"Okay, Daddy," she said. She opened the door to let Will in.

The room wasn't really much different than it had been last year, other than the clothes hanging from the rod in the corner. Instead of blue jeans and Trip's Sunday clothes it now held skirts, blouses, and a few dresses. Otherwise, it looked just like it did last year, down to the Phillies team poster Trip had tacked up in 1964. That was four years ago.

Kim sat down on the edge of the bed. Will spoke. "Your mother tells me you got straight A's, and that you're on the honor role."

"That's right, Daddy. I really worked hard to get those grades."

"She also tells me that this," he pointed to the clothes, "is a reward for doing so well."

"Yes, sir," she said.

"Well, since she made you a promise, I guess we have to keep it. You can be Kim this summer. But when school starts you have to go back to being Trip again."

"Okay, Daddy."

Will looked over at Kim's bed and spotted a familiar object. It was a doll. "Is that Susie?" he asked.

Kim smiled. "How did you recognize her?" she asked.

"Are you kidding? When you were little we couldn't get you to bed without her. Where did you get her? I thought you gave her up when you started first grade?"

"Mom kept her for me. I just found her last month and asked Mom if I could bring her with me, and she said I could. You don't mind, do you Daddy?"

Something stirred in Will's heart. He didn't know exactly what it was, but it was there. Some connection to a childhood memory asserted itself. "No, I don't mind. I'm glad you found her. Now how about some dinner? Mom cooked us that fish Pop-pop caught."

Kim's sobs turned to smiles. "Oh, yes! Oh, thank you, Daddy! I love you!" She got up and hugged him. Will hugged her back. Then she kissed him on the cheek and ran out of the room.

Will emerged to see Kim and Maggie sitting at the table with Big Bill. Doris was setting out the food. As she looked up at Will, she smiled.

Will walked over to the table. Doris asked, "How did it go?"

"It went good. I think this might work out fine." He had a most unusual expression on his face, one which Doris noticed.

"So what's wrong?" she asked.

"Nothing, nothing at all, it's just that, when I told Tr-, uh, Kim that it was all right, she kissed me."

"And that's bad?" she asked.

"Bad? Oh, no, nothing bad. It's all good. No, I was just remembering something that happened when Trip turned 10. I went to give him a kiss and he said, 'Boys don't kiss boys,' and he insisted on shaking my hand. I kind of remember feeling a little proud of him, but also a little sad."

Will and Doris sat down. "You know, I think this might not be so bad."


(End of Part One)

© 2005 Valentina Michelle Smith




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