Chapter Five

The mall was crazy during the week before Christmas. Jami stood behind the counter in the photo store where she had worked part time for several years, catching her breath after a crowd of shoppers had moved through the store.

"Jami? Are you feeling okay?"

"Hmm? Oh, sorry, Mr. Hoffman. I was just collecting my wits."

"Well, it is time to come back to Earth. Those look like your two o'clock clients coming."

Jami looked out the storefront into the mall. Yes, that woman with the two young children would be coming for their portraits. I hope the children are in good moods. Too bad Lovelorn isn't here to entertain them.

The children were in better moods than their mother.

"Kimberly! That's no way for a girl to behave. You sit still. Jacob, don't you dare take that tie off. I want you looking like a young gentleman." Turning to Jami, the mother grimaced. "It's a wonder children ever learn how to behave like adults, isn't it?"

Mentally gagging herself, Jami replied, "I think we're doing pretty good here." Turning to speak to the children, Jami said, "I'm going to take a lot of pictures, with you in several different poses, some with you holding props. The flash heads are off to the side, so if you look at me, they won't flash in your eyes. When we're done, we'll look at the pictures. You and your mother will decide which ones you want printed. Okay?"

The children nodded, already looking bored.

"Remember what I said about not smiling, Jacob. I want you to look serious. Kimberly, you give us your prettiest smile."

Jami looked at the mother. "Excuse me? You don't want your son to smile?"

"No. He looks too girly when he smiles. He needs to learn to look serious and manly, like his father."

I will not loose my temper. I need the commission I get from portrait shoots. "As you wish, ma'am." Jami went to her shelf of props, picked out a ball for the boy and, suppressing a sigh, an ornate hair brush for the girl.

Giving the props to the children, Jami said, "Just hold these in your laps. It'll give you something to do with your hands."

"Miss?" said the mother. "That's a softball! Please give my son a boy's ball! I see a football on the shelf."

Goddess give me strength...

Eventually the shoot was over, they had agreed on a selection of shots for Jami to print, and she was alone again. She sighed and leaned against the wall.

Mr. Hoffman walked over from the front counter. "Jami, something is bothering you, yes? Did the session go okay?"

"Yes, sir. We picked a set of shots that will print well. It's just me." Her boss didn't know that Jami was intersex, or what her real relationship with Carys was. "I'm sorry. Maybe I'm coming down with something. I'll try to be more cheerful the rest of the afternoon." She smiled. Be the pretty girl; that's what people like.

"I hope you do not have one of those bugs going around. Take care of yourself, Jami. Having a cheerful, pretty girl working here is good for business. Not that I don't value your very real talent! You would not have the job I give you here if I did not have confidence in your skill."

"Thank you, sir." Jami looked down to hide her scowl.

Mr. Hoffman looked at his watch. "It is three o'clock. Why don't you go ahead and leave today? This is the slowest time of the day, though a busy week. We have no more portrait appointments in the book. I will take the counter until Sebastian arrives. He will be in at four."

"If that's okay, sir," said Jami, "I'd really appreciate it. I can make the proof prints from today when I get in tomorrow morning."

Jami went in back for her pack and coat. She looked through her CD case, trying to decide what to pick for the bus ride. I think it's time for something new. She walked from the photo store to Warehouse Records to look at CDs.

At the Warehouse checkout counter, the young woman looked at Jami's selection, saying, "Oh, I love her! You a fan?"

"I suppose so. I buy all her albums, even if I don't always agree with everything she does."

The woman gave Jami a glance, raising an eyebrow.

The truth will out, thought Jami. "She's a regular at Michfest. I'm intersex. My partner is genderqueer. Our best friend is trans. You couldn't pay me to go anywhere near Michfest, even though the doctor put 'female' on my birth certificate. Sorry. I'm babbling. I don't really know how to talk to people."

The woman nodded. "It's hard, especially if there's something important that you're afraid to say to people. I could never do what you just did, but now I feel I could talk with you." She glanced at the people lined up behind Jami. "You work at the photo store, right?"

Jami nodded as she paid for the CD.

"Want to get together and talk some time?"

Jami slipped the CD into her pack. "Sure. We're usually not very busy in the morning. Unless I have a portrait to shoot I can take a break pretty much any time. Just stop by and ask."

"Cool. I'll do that. Um, I'm Alyssa." She smiled.

Jami smiled back. "I'm Jami. See you tomorrow."

As Jami left the store and headed to the bus stop, she thought, That was easy. Of course maybe she wants to tell me I'll burn in hell, or thank me for staying away from Michfest.

"Hot chick alert!"

Jami scowled and kept on walking.

"Hey, nice butt!" A group of boys laughed behind her.

What I need is a one-way trip to another planet.

The bus was crowded, as usual this time of day. She settled into one of the few empty seats, took out her CD player, inserted the new CD and put on her headphones, but not before she heard the conversation behind her.

"Well, I hope they never let the gays marry. It's such a mockery of a proper family."

"They can't have children."

"How could they ever be happy? It makes me sick to imagine what they do with each other."

Jami turned up the volume.

* * *

The apartment door slammed shut so hard it bounced open again. "Carys!"

Carys knocked over the chair at the desk getting up to run to the stairs. "Jami? What's wrong!"

Jami stomped up the stairs, ripped off her headphones, dropped the CD player on a cushion and struggled out of her coat.

"Jami? Carys? Is everything okay?" Mrs. Carmichael called up from their doorway.

"No!" shouted Jami.

Carys leaned over the stair rail. "It'll be okay. She's just had a bad day."

"Ordinary people! I hate them all!"

Carys wrapped her arms around Jami. "Calm down, love. Tell me about it."

"I am calm."

"No, you're not. You're scaring Mrs. Carmichael. You're scaring me."

Jami took a long, deep breath, let it out slowly. Shut her eyes, Another long, deep breath.

"Carys?" called Mrs. Carmichael.

"It's okay, Mary." replied Carys. "I'll come talk to you later."

"I'm here if you need me," said Mrs. Carmichael. She shut the door, quietly.

"Okay, Jami. Come on, let's go cuddle and talk."

"Let me change first," said Jami. Her shoulders slumped and she started to cry.

Carys held her until she calmed down a bit. "Change and wash your face. Then we'll talk."

"Sorry, Carys" Jami went into the bathroom.

Carys leaned her head against the wall. This is not good. I'm the one with the temper. Why has Jami been coming home upset so much lately?

Jami changed into her favorite black sweat shirt and pants, then climbed on the bed. "I'm sorry, Carys. I shouldn't be taking my frustrations out on you."

Carys pulled the blanket over them and held Jami. "I don't think you are, love. I just happen to be here when you explode. You're too well behaved to do it anywhere else. Tell me what happened."

Jami recounted what had happened during the day.

"Reminds me too much of school, Jami. Lots of clueless people, too many assholes and 'phobes, too few people who get and accept any part of being different."

"I thought people eventually grew up," sighed Jami.

"I wish. But, not meaning to belittle your shitty day, why are you so upset?"

"Because I'm an accessory to the crime of binary gender!"

Carys nodded.

"That mother used me as an example of a perfect young woman! She expected me to aid and abet her gender fascism. And I had to; I'd get fired if I didn't do what the client wanted."

"So you're an undercover agent."

"I don't want to be undercover! I don't want people to think I'm just like them. Even my boss, Mr. Hoffman, made it clear he values me as much for being pretty and cheerful as for being a competent photographer. I can't stand it!"

"Unfortunately your clown accountant partner doesn't make enough money for us to live on, or I'd suggest you quit that job and just do freelance work on your own terms."

"I know. I'm sorry. Just hold me a while, please."

"Did anything good happen today?"

"Maybe." Jami told her about Alyssa wanting to talk with her.

"That could be good, Jami. Having a friend who works in the same mall."

Jami chewed her lip before replying. "I suppose it would, and I've already blurted out my freak status. So assuming she has no ulterior motives, and even understood what I said, maybe. I don't know anything about her, though."

"Tomorrow you will. Think positive."

"I'll try. What's on the list for dinner tonight?"

"I think it's spaghetti."

"Okay. Will you be at a stopping place soon?"

Carys nodded.

"I'll get dinner started then, and I'll go apologize to Mary for slamming the door."

"Okay, love."