Danny looked at Mike as she was lying on the couch. She lay on her stomach with her feet kicked up behind her, reading the game informer magazine that came with her yearly subscription. She lazily kicked her feet back and forth while staring intently at the article about the latest first person zombie game, while resting her head on her hand. She’d quickly changed out of the dress she’d worn earlier own into a simple athletic shirt and soft cotton pajama bottoms.
He’d come back to stay for the evening since both Mom and Dad were out of town. Their Dad was on his way back from Washington, DC tonight for a short break before returning. The secret Congressional hearings on his breakthrough was going to keep him busy for at least six to eight months while things were being properly explained. Their mother had taken a short trip to Vegas for a bookseller’s convention and wouldn’t be back until Saturday night or Sunday morning. In the mean time, he’d volunteered to be the adult presence on the house.
Mike seemed anxious, as though she could barely contain herself but at the same time she was doing her level best to appear normal. He plopped down in the easy chair across from her. She brushed the hair from in front of her face and looked in his direction briefly. When their eyes met, she turned visibly more flushed and tried to turn back to her magazine without saying anything.
“Somethin’ the matter, kiddo?” He asked.
Mike focused her gaze back on the magazine, intent upon not answering him. She flipped another page. Feeling playful, he scooped up a coaster from the holder on the coffee table. It tumbled through the air and bounced off her buttocks before wedging itself in between the cushions of the couch. She yelped, surprised at the attack, then glared back at him menacingly.
“I’m talking to you, squirt…”
“I know,” she replied, “I’m ignoring you…”
Danny chuckled to himself and got up from his chair to get a drink from the kitchen. She turned back to her magazine without comment. As he opened the fridge, he heard the faint rustle of the fabric of the couch followed by soft footfalls on the hard wood floor. He grabbed some cold cuts, mayonnaise, mustard, tomatoes, lettuce and cheese from the fridge. When he closed the door, Mike was standing quietly there, watching him prepare to make a sandwich. Seeing he’d overloaded himself, she took the mayonnaise jar from its precarious perch.
“You can make more than one trip, you know…” She held the jar upside down by its lid while she lectured.
Danny nodded mutely while waving her off. He set the contents down on the counter. Mike leaned over and set the jar down next to his pile of cold cuts and condiments. As she leaned over, her dark tresses draped loosely over her delicate shoulders. She paused to brush a n errant lock of her long bangs over her ear. Danny noticed that they were still not pierced. She gave him a sideways glance without saying anything. She hesitated for a moment, then silently turned to grab a cutting knife from the block next to the fridge.
As he opened the packages, Mike grabbed a plate from the cupboard along with wheat bread sandwich rolls from the breadbox. She laid the lettuce and whole tomato side by side, while edging him away from the sandwich meat as if she meant to make the sandwich for him.
“You make shitty sandwiches, Danny.” She said quietly and flatly.
Danny took the hint and stepped to the side out of her way. He watched her work around him, gliding quietly back and forth. In just a handful of weeks, she’d developed her own particular sense of grace. He took a seat at the counter and continued to watch her work. She took the large cutting knife to the tomato, expertly slicing it thinly on the chopping board. She cut the seeds out of the pulp before setting each slice off to the side.
“I never get why you do that…” He remarked.
“The seeds don’t add anything to the sandwich, and they always end up spilling out onto your clothes. So I take them out before hand.”
“I didn’t realize there was an art to making a sandwich.”
She sliced the pickles in half the long way and proceeded to do the same, scooping out the seeds then slicing the remaining pulp into shanks.
“It’s more of a Tao.”
“The Tao of the sandwich?”
Mike looked up and nodded, then went back to her work. She broke pieces of the iceburg lettuce of in large leaves approximately the size of the sandwich rolls.
“An art reminds me of a process…” She began. “It’s like you have a definite set of things to do in order for it to be considered an art. To me a Tao is more like a feeling… I think about the person who’s going to eat the sandwich, and I let those feelings guide me. You could make a sandwich a thousand different ways, but the emotion is still the same.”
She laid the cuts of meat carefully in a diagonal pattern across the bread. Once she was satisfied that it was placed properly, she set slices of cheese across the cold cuts at an opposing angle. Danny watched her work diligently at her task, lost in her own thoughts while she worked.
“Mike?” He asked.
“Hmmnnh?” She replied.
“You all right? I mean… You don’t feel gay or anything do you?”
She cocked an eyebrow for a moment, as though she was puzzled over the wording of his question. She motioned for him to come over and stand in front of her. As he did so, she put her back against the counter, looking up at him and taking his hands. She placed them on either side of her ribcage gently.
“Lift me up. I don’t want to strain my neck.” She said.
She was as light as a feather. As he lifted her up, she inhaled involuntarily, looking behind her as he placed her safely on the high countertop. She held onto his arms, not allowing him to let go of her.
“I don’t know what gay feels like…. But this --this feels good…”
She shifted slightly in his grip. “I’m trying to explain this because I know you don’t have any idea of what this is like for me. When I feel your hands like this –just being close to you –makes me feel warm inside. I don’t want you to let go of me Because you’re my brother, and I feel safe --it’s hard to explain. But there’s more to it than that. I would have thought something like this was not something to want, but now I do. I guess that’s what Dr. Rigby said about being a woman is more than just how you think. I might have thought that something like this wasn’t right, but my heart is gushing because right now I have you all to myself and my thoughts tell me that if my heart feels this way than it must be right.
In fact I think if it were anyone else I would probably feel scared or creeped out. When I was out at the mall, I felt really scared because people were looking at me because of the way that I look. My mind tells me I should stand up for myself, but my feelings turn my thoughts to seeking protection, because I’m smaller —because I was never very good at fighting like you guys... My emotions make me think in terms of safety –even though my mind may start out thinking other things.
You’re holding me and I don’t know whether what I feel is the boy I was or the girl I am. You or Marcus or Peter or Jim can hold me like this, and it doesn’t matter –Paris, too… I like being touched and feeling protected like this. I stopped trying to figure out which way was which because it doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t know how to be a girl or a boy, so I just try to be me and follow my feelings.”
She let him go and turned, picking up the plated sandwich. She turned and offered it to him with both hands.
“Is making me a sandwich part of what’s changed, too?” He asked. “I don’t recall you ever doing it before.”
“I don’t know,” she smiled, “but it’s heartbreaking to see you make a sandwich on your own.”