Chapter Thirteen

Carys arrived at Jami's house Saturday morning after breakfast with her clown gear. She looked tired when Anne met her at the door.

"Good morning, Carys," said Anne. "How are you doing?"

"I've had nightmares the past two nights. I guess I'm a little short on sleep."

Jami rushed down the stairs at that point and immediately gave Carys a hug.

"You already look like Lovelorn, and you're not even into makeup! I'm worried about you."

"One more full week of classes. I just want it to be over."

"Were things all right on Friday?" asked Anne.

"Nothing happened, exactly. David or someone else in the GSA made a point of being with me as much as possible. It's almost like I had a bodyguard."

"What do you mean, nothing happened, exactly?"

"Maybe I'm just paranoid. It seems like people are staring at me, whispering, laughing. But when I turn to look at them, they've stopped. I get elbowed in the hall, bumped in the line in the cafeteria. Any of it could be nothing, but all of it seems to add up to something. I am, however, totally stressed out."

"If anything does happen," said Anne, "you go right to the Counseling Office and speak to Sandy Meechum. I talked to her yesterday. She knows what's going on. But there really isn't much they can do about the kind of harassment you're describing."

"I know," sighed Carys. "Thanks, though. Thank you for talking to my parents Thursday when you took me home, too. I know I was incoherent. I went right to my room and climbed into bed."

"Are you certain you don't want me to drive you two to Foster today? I don't mind."

"Oh, no. Thanks, I'll be fine once I get into clown. It's not quite as good as ducking into a phone booth and turning into Superman, but it works for me." She smiled weakly.

"All right, then. Let me know when you leave, please, and Jami, take your cell phone. Call me if you decide you want a ride home."

Jami took one of Carys's bags and they went upstairs then. Carys dropped her clown bag on the floor and just about fell into Jami's arms.

"Are you going to be okay, Car? Even as Lovelorn? You look awful."

"I'm just tired. Maybe when we get back this afternoon I could take a nap, here, with you? I've wanted you so bad the last two nights."

Jami kissed the tip of her nose. "Of course. We can cuddle while you calm down. I can work with the photos I take today while you sleep. Okay?"

"Sounds lovely." She smiled. I feel better just thinking about it."

Carys let go of Jami and stretched. "Where would you like me to do my makeup?"

"I have a card table stashed under the bed for when I need an extra work surface," said Jami. "Will that do?"

"That'll be fine."

They set the card table up in front of the windows. Carys sat on the stool, pulled a mirror and her makeup kit from her bag and began putting on her clown face while Jami finished packing her photo gear.

"What should I wear, Car?"

"You? I don't know. I hadn't thought about it." Carys was concentrating on drawing the outlines of her clown face using a grease pencil.

"Should I be the grungy androgynous photographer fading into the background, or should I femme it up to contrast with your Lovelorn character?"

Carys paused from moving her face muscles to check that the lines she'd drawn were in the right places. She turned to look at Jami. "Since you're going to be interacting with people doing the posed shots, I would say femme it up, if you don't mind. Everyone likes a pretty girl."

"One pretty girl, coming up." Jami opened a closet door. "Now where did I leave my sweet and innocent outfit? Oh, yes, here it is, next to my punk grrrl duds. Good thing I haven't shaved my head recently."

"Jami, you are a scream," said Carys, as she began filling in areas of her face using a makeup stick. "I love you dearly."

Jami changed while Carys finished applying the first part of her clown makeup.

"Do I look okay?" Carys asked when she had her first layer of makeup on.

Jami walked over to take a close look. "Looks good to me. Uh, Carys?"

"Don't worry, me and my powder sock are going outside. Come hold the mirror for me. You look ravishable, by the way."

"That's ravishing, you half-baked clown," said Jami, batting her eyelashes.

Carys took her powder sock out of its plastic bag and held it up, ready to throw. "Never insult a clown who's holding a powder sock."

"My humble apologies! This way to the powdertorium." Jami picked up the mirror and motioned to the stairs.

* * *

Once Carys changed into her Lovelorn costume, they picked up their bags and headed for the bus stop. Jami had a large bag with camera gear, her laptop, the printer and supplies. Lovelorn carried what looked like a small, battered suitcase. It was full of balloons, face painting supplies and magic odds and ends.

"Jami, on my web page, make sure you say something about Lovelorn being the kind of clown who has to bum a ride or take the bus. I'd like to learn to ride a unicycle, but I don't think that would take me very far."

"Will do." Jami set her bag down and took the cap off her lens. "While we're waiting for the bus, let's do some supporting shots. Go stand by the lamp post with that suitcase and put your thumb out like you're trying to hitchhike. Good. Now by the bus shelter. Great. Oh, good. Here's the bus. Stand by it as it comes up. Turn toward me a bit as you step up. Got it!"

Jami grabbed her bag and followed Lovelorn onto the bus. Carys had just swiped her card and was talking to the driver, in her Lovelorn persona.

"I don't suppose this bus is going to go where I need to go?"

"And where might you be going, sir?" said the amused driver.

"Foster Community Center. It's a long way from here."

"We go right by there, not too long after we go through Frandor. Just have a seat."

"Is there air in your tires? You might run out of gas, I suppose."

Jami swiped her card. "Come on, Lovelorn. Let's have a seat and you can tell me your troubles."

"What are you two up to?" asked the driver.

"We're doing a gig for a special needs group," said Jami, "at their graduation party. Lovelorn's visited them before." She pulled one of Carys's business cards from a pocket and handed it to the driver.

"That sounds like a fine thing to do. I see a lot of those people on the bus, as they get older. They lead hard lives, some of them do. People make fun of them, play tricks on them. That's not right. They're people, just like the rest of us." He shook his head.

Jami and Lovelorn took the bench seat in the middle of the bus, facing the rear door, so they'd have room for their bags. The bus wasn't very full, so they didn't see any reason not to spread out a bit.

The other riders mostly ignored Lovelorn, except for a smile or maybe a shy wave. Lovelorn responded with a frown and a nod, or a half-hearted wave back. Jami remained silent.

At the stop in the Frandor shopping center, a woman with two young children boarded the bus. The older of the children caught sight of Lovelorn.

"Look, Ma. A clown!"

The mother, busy collapsing her stroller and balancing the younger child on her hip, did not immediately respond. When she did look up, she saw Lovelorn slowly waving at her child.

"It looks like kind of a sad clown, doesn't it, dear?"

The girl was on her knees hanging over the back of the seat, looking at Lovelorn. "Why are you so sad?"

"I'm sad because my stop is coming up, and I have to leave this nice bus and walk."

"It's a nice day for a walk!"

"But I have a hole in my shoe." Lovelorn tilted her foot up to show the large hole in her oversized clown shoe.

"Oh, poor clown. I'd give you one of my shoes, but they're much too small."

"Thank you for the kind thought. It cheers me up." Of course Lovelorn's expression did not change.

The girl giggled. "Are you a boy clown or a girl clown?"

"I don't know. Is that important?"

"Well, what's your name."

"My name is Lovelorn. I'm lorn because no one loves me."

"Oh. Is that why you're so sad?"

"I'm afraid so. I think this is my stop, which also makes me sad. Please pull the cord, Jami. I don't have the energy."

Jami pulled the cord and gathered their bags. As the bus stopped, Lovelorn shuffled over to the girl who had been talking to her. "I don't want you to be sad." She made a plastic flower appear in her hand. "So here's a flower from Lovelorn the Clown. Have a nice day, and please behave yourself."

"Thank you!" said the mother, as Lovelorn went carefully down the steps. Jami handed the mother a business card and waved good-bye to the driver.

They were alone at the bus stop as they turned to walk along the sidewalk to Foster, so Carys used her normal voice. "You know, Jami, having you along is a good idea. It's hard for me to work handing out business cards into my act, but natural for you to do so. Now that I have business cards, for which I thank you again, by the way."

"I'd love to come with you more often."

"Maybe we could expand the act, so to speak."

"What do you mean? I don't think I want to be a clown."

"No, that's not what I'm thinking. More like my lovely assistant, the way a magician often works with another person. We could think up sort of a costume for you."

"I get what you mean. Yes, that could work. I'd be a photographer, too, of course. Let me think about this. I just had an idea, but I want to chew on it for a while."

When they reached Foster they checked at the desk to see what room the group was in. Lovelorn waddled up the stairs with Jami carrying the bags. As soon as they entered the room, Lovelorn was surrounded by kids and began talking with them.

A woman introduced herself to Jami as one of the parents. "Are you with Lovelorn?"

"Yes. I'm Jami. I'm acting as Lovelorn's assistant today, and I would like to take photographs, if I may. I brought a small printer with me, so I can make prints of the children posing with Lovelorn, if you think that would be an appropriate thing to do?"

"Oh, that would be wonderful!"

Jami took photos of Lovelorn with the kids, tying balloon animals, doing magic tricks and settling them down for a story. While Lovelorn was telling the story, Jami set up her equipment in a corner away from most of the action.

Several of the adults wandered over to watch what she was doing.

"You look familiar," said one. "but you weren't with Lovelorn last time. Where have I seen you?" He snapped his fingers. "I know! You were in that staged reading at Riverfront last weekend, The Captive. You played the role of Irene!"

"Yes," said Jami, surprised. "And Lovelorn, or rather Carys, was Jacques in that play."

"Oh, really? I knew she was talented. That's great. So you're friends?"

"We met at the Arts Camp during spring break. I was helping with the photography class. I took photos of the clowns, and met Carys. We've been doing things together ever since." Which was about as far as Jami wanted to go with that line of talk.

Another man, who'd been looking intently at Jami's setup said, "Photos. Jami Barton. Clown photos. Your prints have been on exhibit at the Art Gallery this month, young lady!"

Jami blushed. "Yes, they have."

"I did not realize we were favored with such a talented pair of young people today! It's such a busy time of year, to spend your day doing this for us."

"This is important," said Jami.

"We certainly think so. Do you have a business card? I was very impressed with your photos."

"Yes, I do," said Jami, pulling cards from her bag. "I made some for Lovelorn, and a web site for her, too."

"So you design web sites, also?"

"I've done several. If you visit my site, there are links to ones I've done for other people."

"I certainly will take a look. But right now I think Lovelorn is finished with storytelling, so let's get this organized for photos. Then we'll have refreshments and our little ceremony."

* * *

After the clown gig they returned to Jami's house. While Carys was getting out of clown, Jami put her equipment away and uploaded the photos she had taken.

"That was fun, Car. I think it really meant a lot to those kids and their parents. You're quite a wonderful person."

"So is my lovely assistant. You were good with the kids, too, Jami."

"I guess I was. Which is kind of surprising."

"How so?"

"Well, I've always kept to myself so much I've assumed I don't really know how to deal with people."

"But you do, Jami. During play rehearsals, talking to my parents, this afternoon. You pay attention, listen, and have something to say. Everyone likes you."

Jami was quiet for a while, digesting that.

"So do you want to join the act?"

"Huh? Oh, of course. I have an idea, for the photos. It's kind of dull to use a normal camera for that. I can rig up a weird looking contraption, with blinking lights and sound effects, so something is going on while people wait for the print to come out."

Carys laughed. "I think you're a natural for show biz, Jami. We'll go far together, kid. But right now I'm going to wash my face and lie down, if that's okay?"

"Yes. Scoot. I'll plump the pillows and spread out the blanket."

When she returned, Jami tucked Carys under the blanket, and turned out the lights in that part of the room. She busied herself at the other end of the room uploading photos from her camera and laptop to her main computer. When she turned to check on Carys, she was sound asleep.

Jami went down to the kitchen to fix a cup of tea. Her mother was already there, heating water.

"Hi, Mom. Me, too, please. Carys is asleep. I'm going to work with the photos I took today and just let her sleep for a while."

"How did it go?"

"Great! Carys was fine as Lovelorn. The kids and their parents loved the photos I took. One person recognized me from the play, and another had seen my photos at the Art Gallery. We're thinking of having me be a regular part of the act, so to speak. Lovelorn's Lovely Assistant, with a magical camera." She giggled.

"Have you decided you like performing, Jami?"

"Yes! It really surprises me, but it's a blast."

Her mother nodded. "Carys is good for you."

"That's an understatement." The smile left her face. "I seem to be trouble for her, though."

"No, Jami. It's not you. You know that."

"I know. I'm just frustrated. She's having such a rotten time at school."

"This is one of many reasons you were home-schooled. The schools are simply not set up to deal with such issues. The teachers and staff don't have the right training. The whole structure makes it very hard to see individual difference as the norm, rather than an excuse for ridicule."

"They need more people like you as teachers, Mom."

"Even when the teachers are good, and many of them are, the system severely limits what they can do. I couldn't stand it, day after day. It's different teaching part time at the junior college level. Most of the people taking my classes are there because they want to be there."

Jami was thoughtful as she took her tea back upstairs. She worked with the photos. Carys continued to sleep.

When Jami went downstairs an hour later to use the bathroom, she called the Douglas house and talked to Carys's father, letting him know that Carys was okay and was taking a nap. Jami let Carys sleep another hour, then decided it was time to wake her up, or she wouldn't be able to sleep that night.

Jami went to the bed, leaned over and gave Carys a kiss.

Her eyes fluttered open. "Jami?" She sat up. "I wasn't dreaming! You are here!"

"Yes. You've been asleep for about three hours, love. Do you feel like eating something? We're about to have dinner, and of course you're welcome to stay. I called your dad about an hour ago and told him you were taking a nap and might stay for dinner. So they're not expecting you."

"Of course I'd like to stay! I need to wash my face again. I still feel greasy. I'll call my parents and let them know for certain I'm staying here."

Jami went downstairs to tell her mother that Carys would stay for dinner, then went back upstairs to help her put her clown gear away. They'd decided it might as well stay in Jami's room. One less thing to move out of Carys's house later.

"I called home. They'd figured I'd stay, but I think my dad at least was glad I called. I guess he noticed I looked like a zombie this morning."

"You look much better now."

"I feel a zillion times better. I'm actually unfogged enough that I think I can finish writing that last paper for school tonight."

"Then I'll walk you home after dinner. I have a few prints from today to give your parents."

"Jami?"

"Yes, Car?"

"Tomorrow, Can we sit down and figure out how we're going to live together? I want to start making it happen. I think I'll be able to handle everything that's going on right now a lot better if I know we're going to be together soon."

Jami sat and put her arms around Carys. "Come over whenever you like and we'll work on it. In fact, I'll get started tonight. We've talked a lot, but you're right, we haven't tackled the messy little details."

* * *

Sunday Carys called Jami in mid-morning. "My parents just left for mass. Okay if I come over now?"

"Much more than okay. I'll go sit on the steps and watch for you. Did you eat breakfast?"

"Yes, actually. With my parents, even. My father said I looked much better this morning. I finished my paper around midnight, and I didn't have nightmares. But I dreamed about you, and you weren't there when I woke up."

"I'm sorry. I'll see you soon. I'll be on the front steps waiting for you."

They went upstairs when Carys arrived. Jami had put pads of paper, pencils and some printouts on the work area floor. She took her laptop off the desk and sat next to Carys.

"The key to making this work, Car, is keeping it simple. We need to minimize our fixed expenses, what we are committed to spend every month."

"We need a budget, for certain."

"Right. That's what spreadsheets are for. So," Jami pulled a sheet from the pile. "Here's what I have so far. Rent. The various utilities, though we don't know in advance what those are. Groceries, we can estimate that. What else?"

"Our cell phones."

"DSL for the computers," added Jami.

"Computers? I don't have my own."

"No problem. You can use mine," she gestured to the larger computer at her desk, "or I'll put together another one. They can all use the same DSL line. I have a switch, so I'll just do a little network."

"Sure, what you said. Two bus passes?"

"Right." Jami was entering the new items on her laptop.

"We should try to save some money each month, both for unexpected expenses, and for long term."

"For buying a house, would be our first major investment."

"Can we really do that?" asked Carys.

"I don't see why not. A mortgage doesn't cost much more than rent on a decent apartment, and the interest is deductible. We can own a house together, even though we aren't legally married. It's about the only way we can get any kind of tax break."

"But a house costs a zillion dollars!"

"Even in East Lansing you can get a decent house in the one hundred thousand dollar range."

"That sounds like so much."

"A lot of couples spend at least half that much on owning two automobiles. With insurance the cost adds up to more than a house payment would be. Gas and parking alone can easily cost more than our two bus passes. The cars are junk in a few years, with no value. A house doesn't loose value."

"If it's so sensible, then why don't more people buy houses?"

"Because they buy cars first, and they get trapped living and working in ways that require them to continue to own and operate cars. It's not buying a house that's difficult, it's buying a house and also owning two cars that's the killer."

"So we could just buy a house?"

"Like Mandy said, renting for a while is a good idea. It will show we can make regular payments. Having a credit card and using it, but keeping it paid off, is good, too. Then all we need is the down payment."

"But if we're going to have trouble renting, wouldn't buying be worse?"

"No, easier. There's no landlord in the picture. Just look at the LAHR Newsletter, there are a bunch of gay realtors in town."

"Wow. You've really thought about all this, Jami."

"There's something else to keep in mind, Car. My parents have some money put aside for me, a trust fund, basically. I don't think it would be smart to touch it, but that it exists would make something like buying a house a whole lot easier."

"Money? You mean for you to go to college, don't you?"

"Or whatever. It's mine when I want it."

"I am constantly stunned by your parents. I'll be lucky to get a birthday card from mine."

"They may change, with time. Your sister is okay with us."

"Thank the stars for that!"

"It's not going to be easy, Car. But we have friends, and we'll have more. From what my parents tell me about attitudes toward queer people when they were our age, things have improved tremendously. But there's a long way still to go."

"True. Look at equal rights for women, and civil rights. It takes a lot more than laws to make equality work. We don't even have laws yet, for the most part."

"Would you want to be different, if you could be?"

"I've thought about that, Jami. Especially after what Rachel said at that rehearsal. But no, I wouldn't, not if it changed who I was. If I could take some kind of super nanobot pill to actually change me into a man, maybe I'd try it out. But not if it changed the way I felt about myself. That wouldn't be change, that would be obliteration, suicide of a sort. I don't want to be fundamentally different, no." She looked at Jami. "Would you?"

"I've thought about that a million times, of course."

"You don't have to answer."

"I think my answer is basically the same as yours. I wouldn't mind trying it, to be either completely male or completely female, but I wouldn't want to be a different person. With sex and gender being so much of what this culture sees as who you are, I'm not sure it's possible to change that without being a different person, at least so far as other people are concerned."

"If the infamous Them captured you and forced you at gun point to take either the female nanobot makeover pill or the male nanobot makeover pill, which would it be?"

"The easy answer is that I'd choose female, since that's the role I play and it's one I'm happy with. That would change who I feel I am, but not how most other people see me."

"But you're not completely certain?"

Jami looked pensive. "What I said to your parents that day is true, Car. There is a sense in which my body is more male than female, even though I feel more feminine than masculine. It would be a very disturbing choice to have to make. I think I'm glad it isn't possible." She frowned and look off into the distance.

"Oh, shit. I didn't mean to open a can of worms, Jami."

"Don't take my dark side so seriously, Car. Anyway, being with you changes everything. I couldn't do anything that would cause you to stop being in love with me."

"How could I not love you?"

"One of my worries used to be how I would deal with being lonely when I was out on my own. How could I ever possibly begin a relationship with anyone? When, and how, would I tell them about myself? What if I did fall in love with someone, and they wanted me to be different? Would I resist? Would I do it? That's another reason my parents put money aside for me. In case I wanted surgery as an adult."

"Then you should leave that money alone, in case you do."

"I'm rather certain by now that it's not going to happen. It does for some intersex people, and that's fine, that's who they are and what they need, and they sure as hell ought to be able to have what they need.

"I was raised as a girl, and that's okay with me. I'm quite happy being recognized as a girl. I like to wear a dress and be pretty, for you at least. My mom's a feminist, of course, and so am I. I'm a geek girl, if not a tomboy."

"You don't really have a punk grrrl outfit, do you?"

"No." Jami tilted her head. "But it might be interesting."

"Hmm." Carys put a hand to her chin and looked Jami up and down. "I'll have to think about that Jami. Leather might suit you."

"Ahem. I think we're going off course a bit. Let's get our own place before we get kinky, okay?"

"Sorry. Just a minute. Let me find my bookkeeper hat. Here it is." She pantomimed changing hats. "What we have here, are our expenses. Some income to balance against those would be very nice."

"New spreadsheet. There's regular income, that's your bookkeeping clients and my part time job. Then there's irregular income: clown gigs, photo sales, article sales and anything else you can think of. Plus we need current savings and investments."

"This will surprise you, in my current lack of mind," said Carys, "but I actually brought my clown gig and other records with me." She opened her pack and pulled out a couple of folders.

"Great! Let's go fix a snack and then get to work on this. I think we can figure this out this afternoon. While I enter this in the spreadsheets, you can look at rental listings in the paper and get some idea of rents and utilities and such. We can search on the web, too."