Banner Made By bissa 666 with special thanks to Kathleen 7wildwaysup.
Beta:Kim predec2 Can't thank you enough!!!
"If you can't love yourself, how the hell are you going to love somebody else?" ~RuPaul Charles
Justin's journey to self-acceptance and personal transition is long and winding. Will he learn to love himself as others love him?
A/N:I started writing this series back in December 2015 which officially makes it my first WIP. Please bare with me and wait patiently between updates.
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Disclaimer:I own nothing but this story.
Comments are love.
"Why are you staying cooped up in here all day, honey?" Mom asked. "Why don't you wear the new bathing suit we bought for you, and go out for a swim in the lake? It's such a lovely day outside…"
"I don't want to," I told her huffily, folding my legs under me as I sat on the sofa in the living area of the cabin.
"Oh, is it is your, umm… time of the month, sweetie?" Mom asked me, peering at me with a knowing smile that only frustrated me even more. How was I supposed to answer that? It was bad enough that I had to go through this horrible time 'of the month' in the first place, while I simply wished I could crawl out of my own skin and hide under a rock for a week. But it was excruciating, having to live a lie and not being able to tell my own family how I really felt, who I really was, and who I was striving to be.
And it wasn't 'my time of the month,' anyway, as my mother had so quaintly put it. But I had no desire to put on a hideous, two-piece, pale peach-colored swimsuit – which was at least one size too small in the breast area – and go out to the lake like that. I hadn't even wanted to go shopping for vacation clothes last week with my mom, but I eventually caved in and didn't even react when she persuaded me to buy the skimpy swimwear. It's not that I didn't mind. I was just too numb to feel anything.
"Suit yourself then; we'll be leaving after breakfast. You can join your dad and Molly and me if you want. We're going to take the boat out for a sail with the Bells who're staying in the next cabin. They have a boy around your age, by the way. He seems really nice. Maybe you'll find that interesting," she concluded with a wink before she left the room. I so hated it whenever she tried to push me into some type of girl-boy relationship, especially when it involved dressed up and acting like some flirting female, especially when I wasn't even sure about my own self.
After my family left, I poured myself a cold drink of lemonade into a tall glass and wandered outside to sit on the porch swing overlooking the lake. I could see my parents and Molly standing on the boat deck, talking to a few other people who I assumed were the Bell family, who were strangers to me. The owners of the cabin right next to ours, I actually hadn't seen them before, because I wasn't here last summer. I had been in a particularly bad mood that summer after I had turned eighteen, so I had insisted on staying back home in Pittsburgh while my parents and younger sister drove up here to the lake cabin. This year my mom wouldn't take no for an answer, however, saying it might be my last time taking a vacation with them before I left to attend Dartmouth in the fall. At this stage, I didn't even give a shit, so I thought I might as well join them as long as I could be left alone. I wasn't the least bit interested in some summer boy-girl fling.
Leaning back in the swing, I took a sip of the cold lemonade and squinted my eyes from beneath my dark sunglasses to get a better look at the tall, young guy who was busy holding onto on the rope that anchored the sailboat to the small dock so everyone could climb aboard.
He was standing with his back to me, wearing only his swimming trunks and a pair of light brown Espadrilles. As he held firmly onto the rope, I could definitely observe how lean he was, and I couldn't help admiring how toned his biceps were when he flexed his tanned arms. I was fascinated.
"That's it, Cody! You can let it go now as soon as you're both on board!" I could hear someone calling to him. He looked over to the man speaking to him – his father, probably – and then flashed a wide smile at a little girl who was skipping happily toward him, and appeared to be around two years old. It was such a radiant one that I could see how brilliant it was even from my position on the porch. I could hear him laugh as he let go of the rope, scooped the girl up in his arms, and climbed on board the boat as it slowly drifted away from the dock.
As they all sailed into the far end of the lake and out of my sight, I realized that I'd been sitting there the entire time, watching this guy's every move. It wasn't because I felt any attraction to him – like my mother would have hoped – but it was more that I envied him. He could be carefree, able to walk around shirtless outside on a warm summer's day, surrounded by family while engaging in a typically male task of casting off a sailboat.
The next day after I reluctantly joined my parents and my sister for breakfast, they told me they were going on a camping trip up in the hills, and were planning to stay there overnight. I asked them if the Bell family would be joining them. With an almost conspiratorial smile, my mom that the Bells would be going with them, but their son, Cody, was staying at the cabin. I forced myself not to lash out again as peered over meaningfully at my dad. If my little sister Molly hadn't sent me a reassuring smile at that point, I would have run away right then and there.
But I didn't.
I rose from the table, cleared the breakfast dishes, and then ran to the bathroom, locking myself inside as I dried the tears from my eyes.
I took a deep breath and pulled the first aid kit from the drawer, rummaging through it until I found what I was looking for: it was a wide, elastic band that I rolled open before lifting the hem of my shirt up as high as I could. I pressed my breasts together, wrapping the elastic band around as tight as I could to make my chest look as flat as possible. Luckily for me, genetics was on my side, because large breasts were not normal on my mom's side of the family. Still, I had to work for quite a while to keep everything in place. When I more or less got to where I wanted it to be, I still wasn't pleased. The pale, skin-tone elastic band didn't look as tight I'd hoped. I grabbed my younger sisters' black sports bra from the laundry basket, hoping I could squeeze myself into it. The extra small bra felt tight against my chest, but at least it held everything together and made me look more convincing.
I continued by temporary transformation by tucking my hair under my baseball cap, which wasn't much of a problem due to its length, but then I noticed the much bigger issue. I was almost twenty years old, but I still didn't seem to have a proper 'package.' If I wanted to make the most out of the next 72 hours in the cabin while my family was away, I would have to do everything I could to look like I always wished I could. I looked around the bathroom, contemplating what to do, before finally grabbing two of my white tennis socks that were rolled together like two balls at the bottom of the hamper. I lowered my shorts down to my ankles, tucking the socks inside my underwear. The heaviness of the two rolls of cotton felt foreign against my skin, but at the same time the sensation filled me with a new-found excitement. As I turned toward the bathroom door, ready to step outside, I noticed that one of the rolled socks had slipped out of my shorts until it landed on the floor. I cursed to no one in particular, but finally decided I'd have to make do with only one pair of socks in my pants until I could find a better method to fill in that particular space. I couldn't help wondering what my parents and younger sister would think or do if they saw me like this.
Passing by the small hallway near the entrance, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror that hung there. I couldn't help but smile. I found it quite refreshing to look at the mirror without having to avert my eyes away to avoid the constant pain of seeing a reflection of ME in another's person's body. It wasn't a lot, but it was a start.
Before I lost my nerve, I decided to step outside and walk across the grassy path to the Bell family's cabin.
"Hello? Is there anybody home?" I asked, knocking on the door.
A few minutes later, I heard footsteps approaching as the door opened and the Bell's older son, Cody, stood there. Just like before, he was shirtless, clad only in some knee-length, cropped denim shorts and flip flops. The top button of his shorts was slightly open, showing just enough of his tight, black boxer briefs and the tip of what appeared to be some intricate tattoo.
I had to avert my gaze before Cody noticed how I was drawn to the way his treasure trail traveled down from his navel to his lower abdomen and then disappeared just below the waistband of his shorts. At the same time, I simply couldn't take my eyes off his bright green eyes, strong facial features, and the way a two- or perhaps three-day old scruff covered his jawline and cheeks. I thought it looked hot on him.
"Can I help you?" He eventually said as I remained standing there mutely like some store mannequin.
"I…I'm Ju…Justin. Justin Taylor," I eventually managed to choke out. "My parents own the cabin next to yours," I added quickly, my head spinning.
"Nice to meet you Justin." The guy smiled back at me, his eyes sweeping up and down my body, and making me even more nervous. I wondered, what exactly was he seeing when he looked at me? "I'm Cody Bell. Come on in," he invited me with a sort of sexy smirk, opening the door wider so I could enter.
"Yeah…sure," I replied, trying to sound nonchalant and keep my composure, while feeling like some insect being lured into a spider's web. But in an odd way, it all felt SO real, so…normal. At the same time, though, it was also surreal, like watching myself in a movie.
As he led me further into the cabin, he turned to advise, "We'll have to keep our voices down. My daughter is sleeping upstairs," he explained unexpectedly.
"Your…daughter?" I instinctively raised my voice in surprise before lowering it to a softer level. "S…sorry, I didn't know you had a daughter," I mumbled.
He smiled. "It's okay, no need to apologize," he reassured me. The pride was obvious in his voice as he explained, "Her name is Hailey. She's almost two-and-a-half years old." He shook his head in disbelief. "Wow, I can't believe it's been that long ago." He studied me for a few moments before he held his hand out and gestured for me to follow him over to a small but cozy sitting area.
"So… have you been coming up here for a long time? To the cabin, I mean," he asked as we both sat down.
"Yeah, we come up here almost every summer. My parents bought the cabin when I was around nine, I think." Cody nodded. His intense stare was mesmerizing, but also a little unnerving. It made my palms sweat, and my heart race.
"Sounds cool," he replied. "My family only bought this place last summer."
"I…I wasn't here last summer, actually," I admitted, not quite sure why I was sharing this information with a virtual stranger.
"I wasn't here last summer, either," he revealed to me. "I mean, between my surgery and everything else that was going on in my life at the time, I wasn't exactly up for it…"
I frowned, wondering about his words, and what type of surgery it had been. He certainly looked healthy enough. "Well, I hope whatever your medical condition was, they were able to take care of it," I told him politely, finding the courage somewhere to meet his gaze evenly.
He gave me a half-laugh. "Oh, it wasn't anything like that. I was just having some bottom surgery," he said.
"Bottom surgery?" I found myself repeating his words, choking a little on them. Was he talking about his ass? I had heard of breast reductions, and people who had actually enlarged their ass to make it look bigger. But that was normally done for women, not for men.
I watched him seem to hesitate for a moment before he seemed to come to a decision. "Yeah," he began. "I'm a transgender male," Cody stated quietly, never flinching from my gaze as he spoke. "I was having problems finding my own way in life, and what direction I wanted to take. Ever since I could remember, I always felt as though I didn't fit in anywhere. I had lots of problems when I was in high school. I drank and smoked and ran away from home more times than I can even fucking remember. But then I was lucky enough to get to know a couple of doctors who finally seemed to understand what I needed: Lindsay Peterson and Ben Bruckner. Since I started working with them, things have changed so much that sometimes I can't even believe it. I've been on testosterone for the past four years, and then had my top surgery done three years ago. See?" He turned towards me, revealing his taunt bare chest for my inspection. "Barely any scars now. Dr. Bruckner is the best," he explained enthusiastically as I sought to take it all in. "Then through all that, I met this guy…A CIS guy."
"What's a CIS guy?" I asked, perplexed, yet at the same time feeling utterly fascinated.
"It means he's a biologically born male, and that his body and his mind align with who he is," Cody explained, stopping for a few moments to compose his thoughts. "I mean, I never thought I would end up with a guy after all, but it's… it's a whole different experience, let me tell you." He seemed a little embarrassed as he continued. "We knew we wanted to be together though, no matter what, but since I haven't had my bottom surgery yet we knew we had to be extra careful in bed, if you know what I mean. But then one day about two-and-a-half years ago, I decided I'd like to carry a child, my OWN child. We both agreed we wanted a child that would belong to both of us biologically. So I went off the testosterone for a while – which was NOT a pleasant experience at all – but within two months I became pregnant and… well, then came Hailey, the love of my life," he told me with a smile. "The other love of my life, of course, would be Peter, my partner. I wouldn't have been able to go through all this if it hadn't been for him." He paused again. "So I guess now you know what I did last summer huh?" He flashed a smile at me. "I imagine that wasn't what you expected."
Well, that was an understatement, to say the least for me. "Uh…yeah. Definitely not," was all I was able to say. "That certainly tops any other 'what did you do last summer' story that I'VE ever heard."
Cody laughed. "Yeah, I'm sure it does." He studied me then as he asked, "So what about you, Justin? Tell me more about yourself." He asked. But before I had a chance to answer, he told me, "We'll have to fix your 'package' soon, dude, along with a few other things. But as a whole you passed rather well."
"Thanks, I guess," I replied hesitantly, not sure what he was talking about. "But what did I pass? Is it like some kind of a test?"
Cody grinned. "Not exactly. It means that you looked believable enough as a guy when you first walked in here that you had me fooled, at least for a couple of minutes," he told me, causing my heart to pound that he had determined my secret. "That's actually a good thing."
"Shit," I mumbled, causing him to chuckle. "But…How did you figure out that I was a…That I'm not a…That I am a…?" I started to fumble. I wasn't sure WHAT to say.
"I've been there, Justin. It's a never ending journey, remember that," Cody answered, his voice understanding and sympathetic.
I nodded my head, feeling like I might have found a kindred spirit. "I guess it is," I replied, realizing the truth in his words: that this would be a life-long process that might not ever be over completely.
"Uh…Do you think we could maybe hang out together while we're here? I would really like to hear about your experiences…and what you've gone through." I didn't know when – or if – I would ever have this kind of opportunity again, and I didn't want to waste it. Would he be willing to do that, however?
To my relief, Cody nodded with a smile. "Yeah…that would be really cool," he told me, putting my mind at ease. "I'll be leaving here soon, though," he told me a little regretfully, seeing my face fall in disappointment. "Peter's going to join me and Hailey so we can spend the weekend together, and then we'll be leaving on Monday to go back to New York. Peter owns a film production company there, and I work as a free-lance graphic designer," he explained. "So we always have to make the most of whatever vacation time we can squeeze in," he concluded with a slight smile. He paused for a moment before he added, "Hey, why won't you join me at the lake? I'm taking Hailey there after her she wakes up."
His invitation to spend the afternoon with his two-year-old daughter sounded great to me, but at the same time I began to feel some discomfort creeping in. "Umm… no thanks," I mumbled awkwardly. Cody looked back at me and cursed under his breath. "Fucking dysphoria! I know it way too well."
"What do you mean?" I had to ask, my brow furrowing in confusion.
"Dysphoria is basically when your mind and your body are playing a vicious game of tug of war between themselves," he told me. "There's probably a better way to describe it, but when you experience it, you KNOW it what it's like. Let me put it this way: when I asked you if you wanted to join me at the lake, the thought of wearing some kind of two-piece bikini made you nauseous, didn't it? Like you're betraying yourself, and not being who you really are?"
FUCK! So is that what made me grit my teeth and feel as if my heart was about to sink each time I had to use the girl's restroom in high school or in public? Is that what made me feel so disgusted with myself, even when I was home alone in my own bathroom? Is that why I had felt like I wanted to leap out of my skin when I stood in front of the mirror that day at the department store as my mom studied my appearance? Is that why I couldn't bear to see myself getting dressed every morning? Is that why I struggled with so many other dark thoughts that I couldn't find any peace and quiet within my soul until after I got myself drunk with a six pack of beer and after smoking far too many joints? That constant feeling of dread has a name?
Is that why I felt like I could finally breathe for the first time in my life and not feel sick to my stomach when I looked at my flat chest and the bulge in my pants earlier this morning, even if it was a lousy elastic band and a roll of socks? If it's true, then at least I know I'm NOT crazy. At least I know there's a name – a real name – for how I feel.
I swallowed hard and looked back at Cody. There were so many things I wanted to ask him; so many gaps I needed to fill.
"You can leave you tee-shirt on; it's okay," Cody reassured me.
I nodded, emotionally affected by the fact that Cody really understood what I was going through. He didn't look at me like I was some kind of freak; instead, he took my feelings seriously. I didn't feel tears stinging my eyes like I usually did whenever people would scoff at my feelings and dismiss them like yesterday's trash. That realization that what I was going through actually had a name, a TITLE, was very reassuring, but at the same time scary, because that was when I knew for the first time that I couldn't go back to how things were, and that I needed to change.