I was not a big kid, in fact I was probably only about the same size as a medium-sized girl; about five-six by the age of sixteen. My body was still smooth and slender with no muscular definition whatsoever. I hadn't much in the way of body hair (or body to put it on really) and my face was still baby-smooth. By this age, I would have expected to have something — even if it was just a dead caterpillar on my top lip.
It didn't seem that long ago that I was the same as everyone else, but in the blink of an eye, my mates had sprouted hair all over the place, grown up or grown outwards or both and some of them had even started shaving. I meanwhile felt as though I'd been nailed to the spot not having changed at all that I could see. I hadn't grown as much as an inch in height in over eighteen months.
The only thing that had grown was my hair. It just didn't get cut, it wasn't a fashion statement or anything, but I did like it long.
The others had noticed these things too and this is where my troubles really began...
I went from being accepted to an object of ridicule in no time flat. Instead of growing like the other boys did, it appeared to them as if I was growing more girly although I couldn't see that.
That made life interesting and not in a particularly good way either. Being small was bad enough; but being small and girlish was worse, much worse. If you think being a nerd is bad, try looking like you're only thirteen when you're actually sixteen and then add a side salad of femininity and see where it gets you.
It made me an easy target for the bullies at school and soon, it became the norm that I would get found and swiftly divested of any money or sweets [candy] I may have been carrying. I stopped that by not taking anything to school with me. This just made them angry and instead, they would tear up my homework.
It didn't take long for this to come to the attention of the school and boy did I get into trouble, mostly because I wouldn't tell them who had done it. Basically I was afraid of what the repercussions would be. Of course the grown-ups weren't overly impressed by this, wondering why the hell I was trying to protect people who were actually causing trouble, but then, they weren't prepared to admit that bullying was a problem or accept that there would be a knock-on effect.
Mum just told me to stand up for myself, but I really don't think she fully grasped the severity of my predicament.
"Bullies," she said sagaciously. "Are only strong, because they let you think they are." I didn't fully understand where the Taoist explanation fitted with dealing with half a dozen illiterate apes, all of whom were bigger and stronger than me and said so.
"Huh! That'd be fine if I was just a few inches taller and maybe several pounds heavier."
"Paul, Paul, Paul. It's not the size of the man in the fight, but the size of the fight in the man." said mum as if that answered all my questions and solved all my problems.
Anyway, the gist was that all the time they think they can push you around, they will.
That I understood.
I decided to push back and got pounded and detention for fighting along with several large and tender bruises.
I was then told that if at first I didn't succeed, try, try again. Who the hell thinks all this blather up?
I tried again and got pounded, yet more bruises and more detention.
In fact I tried, tried again several times in an attempt to stand up for myself, but all I got out of it was a lot of pounding, detention and bruises. It was useless as I don't think the concept of standing up for oneself to gain respect was understood by the Neanderthals I was up against. Had they understood, it may well have worked, though honestly, people who communicate in grunts are not likely to are they? Most likely, if I wasn't trying to fight several at a time, I may have stood more of a chance, but I doubt it.
After some of the poundings I got, I could barely walk and needed to re-examine the validity of what I was being told to do. I couldn't honestly say that mum's methods were working and telling the teaching staff would only have served to increase the numbers of those who wanted to beat on me.
So I turned off the 'taunt receptors' in my brain, which I figured were outnumbered by the pain receptors that covered the rest of by body.
It is here that we can examine the formula of "He who fights, but runs away, lives to fight another day". In my case, it's more along the lines of "He who fights, but runs away, gets to be able to run" so this was an improvement.
I can't say that my methods solved the problem, but it was certainly lessened and worked better than anything I had tried hitherto. I now didn't get robbed, just punched or kicked fairly regularly.
I admit it, I had little going for me at that time as the few friends I had, were giving me a wide berth so as not to get beaten up by association, which left me well and truly on my own.
"If that's the way it's going to be, then so be it" I thought. "Fuck the lot of them."
Games are a drag
Games lessons [Phys Ed] got to be a pain - literally. For the guys who were developing as normal, their build and stature made them nearly twice my size on average and pounding me for 'the good of the game' became their primary concern. Of course if I complained, I was a wimp and the poundings increased, but if on the other hand, I kept my mouth shut, it was seen that I was getting used to it and the poundings increased.
Either way I looked at it, I would limp away from whatever sport was being played (even the non-contact ones), feeling as though I needed to rearrange my features and would still get it in the neck by Mr Georgeson, the teacher, for not trying hard enough. I couldn't win and games lessons became a real drag.
When this so-called sporting 'camaraderie' as Mr Georgeson referred to what I was getting, extended to the changing room [locker room], I started to get very upset very quickly.
I was tired and sore after one particular session and was sure my ankle had been damaged when I had been tackled during the rugby game by one of the bigger boys and while I was on the floor, another had ground the heel of his boot into it. I was limping quite badly, which angered Mr Georgeson and he spent the rest of the game shouting at me to get a move on. Mercifully, the game ended shortly after.
I was trying to be as unobtrusive as possible as I changed and by then was hobbling more noticeably. Then I got shoved and my ankle gave way. I was sent flying, hitting the floor like a 'belly-flop' with a resounding 'slap!', gasping and holding my right ankle. God that hurt, but not as much as the verbal abuse that accompanied it.
"Get out of my way short-arse." sneered Jeremy Fuller, a big bloke and a bully to boot. "Christ, I don't know why they let a puny little fart like you in here with us seniors." I tried to get up, but I couldn't put any pressure on my right leg, which left me sprawled on the floor.
"I mean shit, look at you, bloody wimp. Do you shave your legs?" One of the other boys, Greg Bridger, pulled away my towel, exposing my apparently hairless body.
"Hey look, he even shaves round his cock too and under his arms. Just like the girl he is." said Greg
"Aw look, the little girl's crying." added Fuller. The truth was, there were hairs on my legs, but not like the fuse-wire he had on his, a fact that seemed to go unnoticed.
The laughter that went round the changing room hurt more than landing badly on the floor had and nearly as much as my ankle was now hurting. The boys were jeering and pointing their fingers as I sat on the floor with tears running down my face.
Mr Georgeson entered at that moment.
"What's going on here?" he demanded. "Get dressed all of you. Fuller, Bridger, get away from there." I was in plain view when Fuller moved. Mr Georgeson looked across at me as I sat, rocking gently and holding my ankle, tears still running down my face.
"Turner! I might have known you'd be the cause of this. My office NOW! And stop that stupid snivelling." With that he turned and left the changing room. I hauled myself up onto the bench below my clothes and tried to pull myself together.
The other boys in the room were almost silent. I could see out of the corner of my eye that some of the lads knew there was something wrong (other than just the results of the verbal abuse), but Jeremy Fuller was not someone you messed with. He had no business on my side of the changing room anyway and whilst I was sure that they wanted to at least check me out and make sure I was okay, they wouldn't move until he and his band of merry dickheads had gone and they were still laughing about me at that point.
I managed to get my shirt and jumper on, but was finding it really difficult to get my pants [underwear] on thanks to the blinding pain I was experiencing from my now very swollen ankle. I was still trying to pull up my trousers when Mr Georgeson came back in. What small amount of talking was going on at the time, ceased immediately the guys knew it was Georgeson that had opened the door.
"Turner! I thought I told you to come to my office?"
"I'm getting dressed sir." I told him, my voice breaking as the now constant throb of my ankle was actually taking my breath away.
"I didn't tell you to dress. I told you to get your puny little arse into my office." This got a few snorts and chuckles from Fuller's side of the changing room.
"I can't sir. I think I've broken my ankle."
"Don't be so stupid, Turner." he said and strode round the racks in the centre of the room, grabbed me by the ear, hauled me to my feet and dragged me across the changing room floor.
I didn't have my trousers on properly at the time and I tripped, falling back onto the floor.
"Get up!" Georgeson shouted and bent down, grabbing me by my upper left arm and hauling me out into the corridor. I was trying to pull up my trousers with my free hand, when I suddenly howled in pain. My ankle got knocked against the sprung door to the changing rooms as it returned to its closed position and it sent the most awful pain straight up my leg.
"Stop that noise!" he growled. "Or I'll give you something to moan about."
He didn't let go until he'd slammed me onto a chair inside the doorway of his office. I just sat there and looked at the now tennis-ball sized swelling that was once my ankle.
He sat down and did that ignoring thing for several minutes before he looked up. I was tearstained and gasping every so often as pain would shoot up my leg.
"You disgust me." he said. "You're about as much use as..." then he shook his head and returned his gaze to the paper in front of him.
"Did you know you're the bottom of the list when it comes to sports activities? You've made absolutely no effort whatsoever."
"But sir..." I began. I didn't care that I was bottom of the list, but to say I didn't make the effort was unfair and well, completely untrue.
"Shut up. I'm sending you to the headmaster's office. I'll be along shortly when I've got the other boys out of the changing rooms. Now get out of my sight."
I got up and turned, put my right leg down and a really bright light flashed in front of my eyes as a bolt of pain shot up my leg and I went down like a sack of shit.
The next thing I knew was I was lying on a bed. I stared at the ceiling trying to get my head round what had happened and it all started coming back to me. I could feel the pain in my ankle, but now it felt different, kind of numb.
I looked down the bed and saw that my ankle had been wrapped and I could hear voices from the small ante room.
"You bloody idiot Jeff. Didn't you even look?" asked the headmaster.
"I thought he was moaning as usual." replied Georgeson.
"I'm disappointed. I spoke to some of the boys and they've all told me the same thing; that you manhandled young Turner from the changing room and shouted at him for not keeping up. Is this true?"
"He was being obstinate." said Georgeson defensively.
"He couldn't walk you imbecile. You saw his ankle. That's not being obstinate. I can't help you with this one, you've gone too far." I heard the door close and the room next door went once again quiet.
Anyway, I was taken to hospital for x-rays and all sorts of other tests and apart from severe bruising that they said was consistent with my ankle being crushed under someone's boot, I'd be alright, although they did say that it could take some time before I was back to full fitness.
I didn't need an excuse now to get out of games. I couldn't do them anyway and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Mother was suitably concerned and told me off for being careless, but then changed to looking suitably crestfallen when she was told what had happened. Why she should think that everything that happens was automatically my fault I don't know. I guess I just accept it with a cynical edge, having had her take that viewpoint for so long now.
Fortunately, Jeremy Fuller's taunting got kind of washed away when what happened came out into the open. It was odd how many of the boys came forward after what happened to me and parents were lining up to cut one part of Jeff Georgeson or another off with a blunt knife.
Sadly, my mum's opinion about how things happen didn't change for long. It returned to being my fault, but hey, I can handle that. I just don't tell her stuff anymore, it's that simple.
I got a new found respect from some of the others after it was made known that the 'accident' that caused my ankle injury was "not sporting at all". The fact that I couldn't or rather wouldn't tell who had actually crushed my ankle when I knew perfectly well who it was, seemed to get me brownie points and the picking on me subsided somewhat.
I'm Mandy try me...
I was given free periods for those lessons that would normally have been for games "until I felt fit enough", so that was good. I would have looked a bit silly trying to play soccer or rugby on crutches anyway.
Free periods [study hall] weren't what they sounded like. I mean I couldn't go off school premises, or just do my own thing either; I had to make use of them. It was more like 'get-on-with-homework-and-no-talking-periods', but this is where I met Amanda or Mandy.
I'd been in the classroom designated for this for about three weeks when she turned up. I had lost the crutches by then and my ankle was just bandaged. What was even better was the fact that I got to wear trainers, which were infinitely more comfortable than the shoes I would have worn. Anyway, Mandy was not one of the spectacularly pretty girls, quite plain actually, but I became aware of her stares quite soon after she arrived. I don't think she knew I knew what she was doing, but I did. I just didn't know why.
She approached me, which was cool as far as I was concerned, because I had absolutely no experience with girls and wouldn't have known where to start. I had had a crush on one girl, Elaine, who was one of those 'pretty' girls, well out of my league, but if I was anywhere near her, I lost the power of speech. It was just lucky I suppose that she wasn't near me very often. As with Elaine, all I knew about what was happening with Mandy was that I felt uncomfortable.
She came across to my table and the feeling of discomfort rose.
"It's Paul isn't it?" she asked and I just nodded, probably looking a little vacant actually as I twirled a lock of hair in my fingers, but for Christ's sake, I had no idea what she was going to do or say and since most of my experiences seemed to involve getting pounded on or ridiculed, I was on guard; bayonet at the ready.
"Um... Hi." I said, edging backwards and making ready to run or hastily limp for it.
"Amanda Jenkins! Go and sit back down." said Mr Fredricks, a miserable Maths teacher, with all the 'teacher/pupil' skills of an alligator with toothache. He had what he termed as the misfortune to be assigned to supervise us during the first period of the lesson.
"I was just getting a rubber [eraser], sir." she said and he tutted, muttering something about having her own stationery and not wandering around pinching everyone else's. Unfortunately for him, Mandy's hearing was spot on.
"I don't want everyone else's, sir, nor was I 'pinching'. I just borrowed this one." she said, holding mine up for him to see, then looked at me and rolled her eyes.
"Well now you've got it you'd better sit back down."
That didn't work for long as after she'd finished rubbing out the error, she then needed to give it back.
"You again?" asked Mr Fredricks, sighing and looking at her over to top of his glasses, his fingers steepled before him on the desk.
"I'm just returning the rubber, sir." she said, that look of dumb insolence returning to her otherwise plain and open face. She was a feisty one and I couldn't help admiring her ballsy attitude.
"Well to save you getting it again, as I'm sure you'll have to before this period is through, move your belongings to er..." he struggled for my name, but I wasn't going to supply it. "... HIS table. Come on, don't take all day." he added, waving his hand in my general direction.
"Yes there! Now no talking." he barked, lowering his head to whatever he was doing and muttering something along the lines of "Bloody kids!" but I can't be sure.
We sat in silence until the bell for the end of the first period rang. The games lesson was a double period — one hour and as Mr Fredricks left, he barked out his no talking order as the door closed behind him.
"You're that kid aren't you?" Mandy asked, springing back to her normal animated self.
"I'm certainly one of them I suppose; only I prefer the term young man."
"I know that, silly. I mean are you the 'young man' Jeremy Fuller was picking on in the changing room."
Ah, so that's where this was going. I shook my head and went back to the rigours of trying to work out what was so important about learning fractions and twirling that lock of hair again.
"I guess." I said without looking up.
"He's such an asshole." I looked at her, trying to read where the 'friendly' conversation was going to turn into something else.
"I mean it's not your fault you're smaller or prettier than them, is it?" she said.
"Thank you for pointing that out." I said sarcastically, mortified by the 'prettier' part in her statement. I hope she meant better-looking, but well, that's not what she said and I couldn't help being cut to the quick by her remark.
"Well it's not is it?" she asked, apparently oblivious to the effect she was having.
"Look, I don't know where you're going with this, but I really don't want to talk about it." I said, trying to head any further faux pas off at the pass.
"I was just saying." she said as if I was being overly sensitive about being called small and pretty.
I got up to move to another table.
"Where are you going?"
"To sit elsewhere. I know you mean well, but really, just leave me alone." My movement coincided with the arrival of Miss Clarke the home economics teacher.
"Sit down!" she commanded. "You're not here to wander around." I sat back down with a thump.
We sat in silence again and I tried concentrating on fractions. I knew I had less than half of the lesson left to get these, was only a quarter of the way through the problems and about a third of them just looked vulgar.
The silence didn't last for long this time as not only was Miss Clarke the home economics teacher, but was also a year tutor for the year below me and as such, she was often on call. She'd only been sat at her table for a few minutes when she had to leave.
"I'm going to have to leave you lot on your own and I don't want to hear anything about you talking, waking around or any other form of misbehaving. Is that clear?" We all looked at her, but said nothing.
"I said, IS THAT CLEAR?" she barked.
"Yes Miss Clarke." we intoned in unison.
"Good." she said, turning on her heels and disappearing.
Of course, as soon as she'd left the room, Mandy became once again reanimated and was probing.
"I didn't mean to upset you." she said, I expect trying to make me feel better.
"You didn't." I answered not looking up, that strand of hair wrapped again around my finger.
"You seem pretty upset now."
"Alright. Look Mandy, I really don't know you and I don't feel comfortable with talking to you about this, alright?"
"You've got to talk to someone."
"Can't you take a hint?" I said, looking at her and trying to convey a look of exasperation. "I — DON'T — WANT — TO — TALK — ABOUT — IT!"
"Oooooh!" she said, sitting back, her eyebrows raised and her eyes wide. "No need to get your knickers in a twist."
"Just piss off will you?" I said shaking my head and doing my level best to ignore her. It went quiet after that.
I suspect you've already guessed by the way I spoke to the only girl who had shown any interest in me for any reason, that I haven't had much experience in that department and you'd be right. About the only 'experience' I did have was with Sally Hurst two years ago. We lasted about a week and never went anywhere outside of school together.
Like I said, it was only a week before I was unceremoniously 'chucked' [dumped] and I later found out that she was only with me because of a dare. The grown-up feeling I got being part of a 'couple', disappeared about a millisecond after she did the chucking bit.
We didn't kiss, well, we did, once and then it was the quickest of pecks behind the bike sheds when we thought that no-one was looking. Not exactly the most auspicious of beginnings.
Since then, even having passed my sixteenth birthday and had therefore reached and passed the age of consent, there had been no girls in my life and I was fast beginning to question the validity of the boy/girl relationship thing. I was confused at being legally allowed to bonk and yet I knew nothing about foreplay, intercourse or even 'French' kissing.
Mandy was the first girl since Sally and she said I was cute. I think that was the best she could come up with, since the word 'pretty' upset me, but I'm not sure that 'cute' was any better. To this day, I still haven't found out what cute really means when a girl uses it to describe a boy/bloke/man, but I've since decided that it means, you're nice, but don't try getting into my knickers. Not that at that time I'd have known what to do if I did!
Anyway, back to the present and I was heading out of school the afternoon after meeting Mandy, when who should be waiting for me?
Yeah, you guessed it; Mandy (or did you cheat and read ahead?).
She certainly was a tough nut this one and I think I underestimated her when I called her feisty. I think the word 'feisty' was coined as a mild alternative to 'Mandy'. I obviously wasn't going to avoid her this time.
"Can we talk?" she asked.
"Well I know you can. It's stopping you that's the hard part." I said, mentally chalking one up for my side. She wasn't happy with my remark.
"You don't have to be like that." she said. "I just wanted to know from your point of view what happened. Hell, I know how hard it can be, but if you're going to be like that..." I immediately mentally rubbed out the one up, returned the score to evens and apologised.
I gave her a potted version of my final year of school up to that point and played down a lot of the bullying I'd had to put up with, hopefully so that she didn't think I was either being melodramatic or would look upon me with pity. That was definitely one thing I didn't want.
By the time we got to her house, we were chatting away a lot more comfortably and I actually felt that with certain reservations of course, I liked her. I was glad I had someone to talk to who seemed to understand the situation. From then on, Mandy was never far away from me or I from her (lessons permitting), depending on your viewpoint.
Still I now had a friend.
Mandy and I hung out together and pretty soon, the guys that had been giving me grief, eased off because all of a sudden, I had a girlfriend. Well, I say girlfriend, but I don't think she was really that. She was a young female friend and I think there's a vast chasm between that and the 'girlfriend'. I had at least, been seen with a girl that was not my sister or mother and perhaps I wasn't such a weirdo after all; all of this thanks to Mandy.
Thanks Mandy — really.
The fact that nothing happened in that way between Mandy and I, was beside the point. It deflected the situation somewhat and I was able to get on with school without the fear of constant ridicule, my performance picking up enough for me not to be in regular trouble with the teachers and having to keep my mother from finding out, not that she took that much interest anyway.
After a couple of weeks, I was invited to go round to her place after school, where we just chatted and listened to music. She really was a very intelligent person, one with whom I could talk, laugh and joke and not feel self-conscious, although I did notice that she watched me closely whatever I did. I just thought it was her way.
I was late home after the first time I went to Mandy's house after school and was nearly in trouble, but when I said that I was round Mandy's, I was let off. I got the usual "Paul's got a girlfriend, Paul's got a girlfriend" and "Paul and Mandy sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G" from my brothers. It amused them, but as a pouting, underdeveloped teen, I was most annoyed which seemed to amuse mum and was an almost constant source of hilarity for the brats.
I meet her friends
After a couple of weeks, I got to meet some of her friends too.
They weren't from our school, but they seemed nice enough. A bit standoffish at first, but that's only to be expected since their normal female circle was being sullied by a male. I don't know what happened to change this view, but it wasn't long before I was accepted and the quartet became a quintet.
As I said, it all started innocently enough.
There were only three of them: Julie, a five-eight blonde with a real sharp sense of humour. Her body was behaving something like mine, so although mentally mature, physically, she was a bit slow off the mark, looking a bit like a stick insect.
Next, there was Lisa. She was the same height as me with dark spiky hair. She was into the new romantics (yeah, I AM going back a few years) and as a result, her outlandish style tended to alienate her from the other circles. I wouldn't be at all surprised if she was only hanging about with us because there was nowhere else to be. She was actually really nice though.
Lastly, there was Caroline. She was a quiet one. Long straight hair and looked not unlike Violet Parr from the Incredibles. When they said "beware of the quiet ones, they're the ones to watch out for", they must have been talking about her.
This motley crew got together just before half term that year and I was just pleased to have someone to do things with, that it never bothered me that they were girls and not boys.
It didn't take long before the makeup and makeovers started. I would sit and read to begin with, since I nearly caught fire blushing when Mandy first stripped down to bra and panties. Her argument was that it was no different to being in a bikini and suddenly it didn't matter. I was pleased however that I was only asked to give an opinion and not actually join in with this pastime.
I was a pretty good artist and as such, got asked my opinion on makeup quite a lot — the apparently natural progression from dressing up. Lisa and her 'colourful' image was the starting point. She was somewhere between Souxie and the Banshees and Steve Strange. I know that the idea was to shock or to be outlandish, but it can still shock or be outlandish and still look tasteful can't it?
I started by offering opinions just from observation and when Caroline said "Well if you think you can do any better" I was up and at it. Next thing I knew, it became almost ritualistic and I started to get asked to do all of them (their makeup, silly!). Sometimes Mandy would even take pictures of the finished results.
It was during the two-week half-term break that things first stepped into a different realm.
I get makeup
Up until now, I had been able to just watch as the four of them would play 'fashion show' and they seemed happy enough to let it go at that. I was happy enough just getting involved with the makeup and the more I did it, the better I got, but it never went near MY face.
This time however, I had done all four girls' makeup and was taking a well-earned break while they danced around to something on the radio. I was pretending to be reading a magazine, but in fact I was looking at Lisa. I liked her the most and I didn't see anything wrong with looking since Mandy had not made any romantic feelings apparent to me.
So there I was, enjoying the 'show' and the music when Lisa suddenly asked "What about Paul?"
"What about me?" I asked and for the first time, I actually felt quite wary about what was to come.
"Well, you've done this for us so often and yet we never get to do yours."
"No sweat! I don't wear it do I?"
"We just want to see what you look like in it."
Now I didn't know where the 'I' suddenly became 'we', but somehow these women had an ability to talk to one another without moving their lips.
"Yeah, come on Paul. It'll be fun." said Mandy.
I thought SHE of all of them would have been a little more sympathetic, but no. Lots of 'boys' were wearing makeup since plenty of guys in bands like Duran Duran (especially Nick Rhodes) and Human League were wearing it and Steve Strange of Visage had made it something of a trademark.
I was outvoted four to one and whether I wanted to or not, I was going to be wearing makeup. It wasn't a gentle experience. While I tended to each of them in turn, with me, it was a case of all hands on deck (or Paul in the case), so the experience wasn't like being pampered, but mauled.
At the end of their work, I was shown the mirror and staring back at me was a teenage girl in too much makeup.
"Don't you just love it?"
"Er..." I began. Yes actually I did. Boy George, eat your heart out, but the word pretty kept coming back into my head and it was shouting out that this was wrong. I was confused since for the first time the image in the mirror looked right. I don't think there's anything worse than trying to be something that your not, but sometimes it can be more difficult finding out what you are and even more so, coming to terms with what that might be.
I was speechless. I saw a girl in the mirror, not a boy in makeup — a girl. Perhaps there WAS too much makeup, but it looked so much more believable than looking in the mirror each morning and seeing me staring back and trying to see the man, even the boy.
"Yeah, I guess..." I said not knowing what to say. It was all so much of a shock.
Looking this way and that and seeing the cheekbones highlighted with the blusher, the lips, full, glossy and pouting and the eyes... I couldn't get over how feminine I looked, how real.
I could see that the girls looked somewhat deflated, their efforts being shrugged off with an "I guess", like an old coat that keeps you warm but you don't want to be seen in and I felt sorry for being so offhand.
I was confused. I'd never seen me like this before, not even in my head. The idea that I could pass for female never occurred to me. I suppose it's because I already had a lot on my mind, but now all the emotion I'd felt about not fitting in, not feeling comfortable with the way I was and a whole host of other things came crashing in all at once.
Tears started to well up in my eyes and in theirs too and I had no choice but to run into the bathroom and try to scrub it off my face. Believe me that was no mean feat, since the tears wouldn't stop and I couldn't see what I was doing.
I didn't even stop to get my coat. As soon as I had 'cleaned' the war paint from my face, I was off. I ran nearly all the way home, sprinting upstairs two steps at a time into my room and closed the door behind me, ignoring the pleas of my mum to come in and find out what was wrong. My chest hurt and my head was spinning like a top and I really wasn't sure which way was up.
I thought that would be an end to it. I thought that by running out on them, they would be saying how I wasn't worth it and that I wasn't one of the girls (which with all due respect, I wasn't) and wasn't it better without him?
I was wrong, on all counts.
The first thing I was wrong about was being able to stay in my room and sulk, mum saw to that.
"Dinner's ready!" she announced. I just buried my head deeper into the pillow and tried to pretend to not hear. It wasn't long before there was a sharp rapping on my door.
"I don't know what the matter is, but it'll be a whole lot worse if you don't come and have you dinner NOW!"
Putting on my best 'hurt' pout, I went and opened the door. I thought she had gone back to the kitchen, but to my surprise, she was waiting outside, arms folded and tapping her foot in that way a woman does when you're in the wrong and they are at the end of their patience.
"Get your backside into..." she began and then all at once, her eyebrows started their ascension to her hairline and didn't stop there. "Oh — my — God! Are you wearing makeup?"
"NO!" I assured her. I had rubbed my face almost raw back at Mandy's and there was nothing left; if I had rubbed any more, she would have been looking at my bones, wouldn't she?
She caught my earlobe in between her thumb and forefinger and dragged me yelping and squirming into the bathroom, hauling me up to the mirror.
"So what's that?" she demanded.
"Er..." I spluttered. It was obvious that where I had rubbed, the makeup had been removed, but I just hadn't rubbed enough all over. In fact, I had missed more than I had got, my eyes looked like those of a panda and there was still enough rouge on my cheeks to look more than just a healthy blush.
She dragged me back out of the bathroom and into her bedroom and my ear by now was feeling like one more tug and it would come away, probably complete with the half of my face.
"Here." she said, thrusting a tin of makeup remover at me. "Don't come into the kitchen until it's all off."
"I'd rather not go into the kitchen at all, if it's all the same." I said miserably.
"I didn't go to all the trouble of cooking your food, just to have you leave it." she said, her eyes flashing with an anger I'd not seen before. "Now get on with it and come and have your tea. If you don't hurry up, it'll be cold."
She turned to leave her bedroom and both of us could hear the scampering or four other feet that no doubt belonged to the brats. I could still hear their titters and giggles well after mum had gone.
I picked up some tissue from a box on her dressing table and started to smear the cold gloop over my face, being careful to cover where all the makeup was, then threw that tissue away, picked a fresh one and started to wipe the gloop and makeup off.
It wasn't a long job; not nearly as long as I had hoped. I had hoped it would take forever so I could just go to bed, but no. A couple of minutes and it was history, a bad memory, or rather, a good memory gone bad.
I tried to stay invisible as I crept into the kitchen and my two brothers we giggling into their hands. I wasn't happy and told them to shut up, but mum was having none of it.
"What do you expect you big sissy."
"I'm no sissy!" I said and I thought that had I been bigger, this probably wouldn't have happened in the first place.
"Well, boys don't wear makeup do they?"
"What about Boy George, Adam ant or Duran Duran?" I asked. "Maybe OMD or Tears for Fears and Gary Numan?"
"But they're all bloody poofs." she said spitefully, making the two brats laugh even harder.
I couldn't eat all my dinner either. I was too interested in getting the hell out of there. I wasn't a poof [gay] and what was wrong with Gary Numan or the Durannies anyway? I was pretty sure after considering it, that mentioning Boy George didn't help my cause though.
I couldn't believe that my own mother could be so negative, especially since she had Slade, Sweet, Kiss, David Bowie and Marc Bolan albums in her collection, not to mention Roxy Music when Brian Eno was with them and there were some serious makeup jobs on a few of them that's for sure, never mind the suits!
Another thing that shocked me was the fact that this was the first thing she had actually given an opinion on with regards to what I was doing. So far, she'd shown little or no interest in my schooling, the subjects, marks or my reports. Why the sudden interest now when legally, I was allowed to leave home, get a job and become my own man or woman for that matter?
I get a makeover
The next thing I was wrong about was them just giving up on me.
It was a few days later when Mandy, Lisa, Caroline and Julie turned up mob-handed to drag me out with them. Mum answered the door and was shocked to see that there were four girls asking me to come out with them. Boy was that a shock.
I didn't feel that it was necessary to point out that I wasn't having a relationship with any of them (more's the pity) and just like Mandy and I at school; that was just a detail. Mum could believe what she wanted to believe.
Meanwhile, it deflected the anger that mum was still harbouring to some degree over my returning with makeup on last time I was with them because, how could a poof go out with four girls? She's a dear mother, but can be a real simpleton sometimes.
It was with a look of wonder that mum watched me waltz off with my friends and I have to say, it felt good to be in their company again.
"We've got to stop off at my place, and then we're all going to that place along Western Road, The Cordoba to play some pool and have coffees." Mandy announced.
"Lead on!" I said grinning and the four girls looked at one another and giggled. I tried to ignore it, but once again, I was just one pathetic and skinny lad with four rapidly maturing females that frankly scared the bejezus out of me.
In no time, we had arrived at Mandy's house and were ushered inside. I was grabbed and led to the bathroom. I didn't even have time to react before the shower was turned on and I was told to get on my knees and lean over the bath.
Before you ask, yes I did try and resist, but in my defence, there wasn't a lot of room and it was a four-to-one spilt, so the long and short of it was, I lost and was on my knees with my head over the side of the bath within seconds of my objection.
They weren't too discriminate about the water, my t-shirt and sweatshirt soaked after a few moments amidst much giggling and yelping. I felt like I had been pushed through a car-wash by the time they'd finished and I was told to turn round. My wet things were roughly pulled off and hung up to dry while one of them towel-dried my hair.
"You've got lovely hair." said Lisa and for the first time, I felt proud to get the compliment although, with everything else that was happening, I wondered how much sincerity there was there.
After much patting and rubbing of my hair, I was led to the bedroom and sat down on Mandy's computer chair in front of the vanity.
"We're really sorry about the other day." said Mandy. The others chorused in with a murmur of affirmation. "And we feel really bad about you having to go home like you did."
There were more affirmatives, but I was starting to see something here, bubbling as it was just below the surface and I had a strange feeling I probably wasn't going to like it.
"So we decided we needed to look after you." said Lisa. I looked up into the mirror before me, to see Lisa standing just behind my right shoulder. The look she gave me could have melted my heart right there and then, in fact it did. "So do you trust us?"
"Oh God!" I thought as a resounding "NO!" crashed like an ICBM into my conscious thoughts, but I was looking at Lisa's face and any resolve that may have been present disappeared with a 'ping' like it had been zapped by a magic wand. "Yes." I said in a small voice, thinking that I trusted her, but I wasn't sure about the others.
It was like letting off a firework. The stillness was broken by the four girls going into overdrive, each moving in a different direction, each with an agenda and all moving together like the cogs of a well maintained precision instrument. This one, swift movement culminated in the covering of the mirror and then all hell broke loose.
The next stage rushed at me like a herd of stampeding bison as Lisa began applying makeup.
"Hey! What's going on?" I started, backing away as far as the seat back would allow.
"Shh. You trust us, right?"
"I promise I won't let anything bad happen okay?" she said and kissed me lightly, her lips barely touching mine, but the feeling was like being hit in the stomach with an out of control truck.
I was trembling like a leaf, but I let her carry on and Caroline started brushing out my hair, sectioning it off and putting it in rollers. I was just a complete mess inside and was about to turn completely to jelly when Mandy returned from wherever she'd been along with Julie with a whole host of clothes, none of which matched my gender.
Now with my eyes closed and Lisa being oh-so-gentle with the pencil, I succumbed to what was inevitable, even though I knew what was about to happen, though frankly, with the feeling of the pampering I was getting, I didn't care.
My hair completely rolled, I was told to raise my hands, which I did almost in a dreamlike state and felt a very strange sensation of something been draped over my arms and fastened about my chest. I can't say I didn't know what it was or what was going on, because that wasn't true. After the makeup session, I was intrigued as they were as to what I would look like and was content to go with the flow. The fact that four pairs of very feminine hands were brushing, touching and just being on my body probably swung it.
I felt some things being shoved down the front of the bra and then my hands were raised again and a very soft, silky garment was dropped over my head and buttons were fastened when it was in place.
"You're going to have to do this last bit." I was told. I opened my eyes to see all four girls turned away, one holding a pair of cotton knickers in pale lavender with a tiny bow in the front on the waistband and one holding a plain black pleated skirt. I understood what was expected and dropped my trousers and briefs, stepped out of them and took the proffered underwear.
I have to say, that women get the better deal in the undies department. I know they're not supporting anything, but the construction is lighter, the material softer, more gentle and well, much more comfortable than the crappy things I was expected to wear.
I stepped into them and pulled them up, marvelling at the feeling, partly because I knew they were girl's undies and partly because I liked the feeling and then stepped into the skirt, zipping it up and turning it round as I had seen mum do thousands of times before.
"Are you done yet?" asked Mandy.
"Just about, I said smiling ruefully. They turned round and although that part wasn't choreographed, I have to say that it couldn't have been done better in a film. They all turned at about the same time and their jaws dropped one at a time from right to left as they looked at me, standing in a skirt and whatever else and a silly grin. Oh, don't forget the curlers.
"Right, sit yourself down." said Caroline, patting the seat in front of her and when I had plopped back down in the chair, she started to take out the curlers one by one, teasing the hair gently with the tail of the comb.
I lifted an arm to see the blouse I was wearing and although it wasn't particularly showy, it felt gorgeous and I could feel the butterflies starting to do their own version of Riverdance in my stomach at the anticipation of the final outcome. The last thing was a pair of low-heeled sandals that fortunately fitted quite comfortably.
I didn't have long to wait either as with two girls on either side of the mirror and to the count of "one... two... three..." the cover was removed from the mirror and I gasped.
"Holy..." I cried, finding it hard to take my eyes from the reflection of the teenage girl that was staring back at me. I rose slowly, smoothing the front of the skirt as I did and turned equally slowly, looking at myself from every conceivable angle.
The girls were nudging one another as they looked at me, my eyes nearly out on stalks.
"I-I don't know w-what to say." I stammered. My mind was in warp-drive as I felt the material of the skirt touching my legs like a whisper. I liked alright. I could see Lisa standing just behind them all and when I caught her eye, she looked down, demurely. That feeling of being hit by a truck resurfaced and I had to sit back down.
I got my breath back, got up and walked straight up to her. I looked her in the eye and whispered "Do YOU like?" She blushed and I could tell without her saying anything what the answer was.
We go out
I was caught up in a whole range of emotions, the most overpowering on was the feeling of Lisa's touch. I got the collywobbles just thinking about it and I think the silly grin was fast becoming a permanent fixture.
I sat waiting for the next thing to happen, my brain somewhere in outer space I think. I had completely forgotten the bit about going out into the big, bad, very wide world and was preoccupied with the feeling of the blouse, the skirt and the knickers.
I don't know or care how long I had sat there, but I nearly jumped out of my skin when Mandy announced that we were now going to the Cordoba.
"What?" I almost screamed.
"That's what we said, remember? Now come on or we'll be late."
"Late?" I thought. Were we meeting others there or something?
"I-I don't know if I c-can d-do this." I said, suddenly turning very green. I couldn't see the colour change, but I felt like I was just a moment away from actually being sick, so I think it's a fair assumption.
"Yes you can." said Mandy as usual, taking charge of the situation.
I wasn't so sure. I mean, okay, I liked the way I looked, how I felt, but for over sixteen years, I had been Paul. Now I suppose I was Paula or Pauline, which was a complete departure from what I was used to.
Lisa came and put her arm round me and gave me a hug. I wished that we could have just stayed there and cuddled Lisa. I think that would have been infinitely more preferable to wandering around town in a skirt for the first time in my life.
Once again, I found myself outnumbered and it was only because of Lisa that I found the courage to go with them.
I have to say though that Mandy was starting to worry me and had been from the first time I had seen her looking at me. I don't know what it was or is that I find bothersome, but there's something there and I have had the impression on numerous occasions that she is working to an agenda I know nothing about.
The trip to the Cordoba wasn't nearly as bad as I thought. I walked close to Lisa and no-one even gave me a second look.
We were in there for about half an hour I suppose when some boys came into the little café. I recognised Greg Bridger and one or two others, but I didn't know their names. The rest I didn't know. I guess they were like the girls and went to different schools.
I knew that Greg Bridger saw me, I was dead. My life at school would be over, if I got to live that long. I immediately found the toilets and nearly went into the gents rather than the ladies. I was in there for about twenty minutes before anyone knew I was even missing.
I expect that it was just a coincidence, but I thought I saw a look on Mandy's face when the boys came in and it didn't look as though she was particularly shocked by their arrival.
It was Lisa that found me.
"Are you alright?" she asked, her face showing concern.
"No," I sniffed. "I know some of those boys that came in. Are they still out there?"
"Yes. You know them?"
"One of them is Greg Bridger. He's friends with one of the boys at school that like to make my life a living hell."
Lisa thought for a moment.
"We can get you out of here. You're not feeling good right?"
"Not now, no."
"Well just rest your head on my shoulder and we'll walk out. They won't even see who you are and they stop us, we'll just say you're not well and I'm taking you home."
It was so simple, it had to work.
I tucked my head into Lisa's shoulder and I could smell her perfume, I couldn't help but plant a kiss on her neck. She was reaching for the door when I did it and she froze. I looked up at her. There was a look on her face I couldn't read and she pushed me back slightly. I wondered whether I had done something bad, something that would leave me on my own again to deal with a situation that I really didn't need to be in.
She took my face in her hands and drew me closer, planting her lips on mine. I could feel her tongue against my lips and opened my mouth for her to let it slip inside. Within seconds, we were wrapped in a very passionate kiss that left me breathless and weak at the knees to say the very least.
We broke apart and assumed the position again to get me out of there.
Walking at a slow but steady pace, we left, passing the pool table. Mandy and Julie were talking with the boys that had come in, while Caroline was sat on the edge of the pool table, her legs wrapped around one of the boys. I think that given a little more prompting she'd have been prepared to have sex there and then. As I said, it's the quiet ones you have to watch. They didn't notice us until we walked past the window outside and along the road.
There was a shout from behind and still arm in arm, my head against Lisa's neck, we stopped.
"Where are you going?" asked Julie.
"Do you know who those boys are?" asked Lisa.
"Yeah, they're friends of Mandy's." she answered. Lisa looked at me and nodded. She pursed her lips and nodded again.
"She knew they'd be there then?" It was more rhetorical than a question.
"Dunno," said Julie shrugging. "They're in there most afternoons."
Lisa nodded again. "See ya." she said, turned around and we carried on up the road.
"Hey! Just a fucking minute. What's that supposed to mean?"
"Those are the boys who have been giving Paul grief. Mandy knew that. She set him up."
"You don't know that." said Julie defensively, although her defence seemed to lack conviction. "Oh shit. Wait a minute."
We hung around for a few moments before Julie reappeared complete with jacket and the three of us walked back towards my house. I didn't know what I was going to say to mum, but I needed to understand what was happening to me and I needed her to understand that too.
We got to the front door and I asked if they wanted to come in for a drink.
"We'd better not." said Lisa and we kissed again before she and Julie disappeared up the lane and out of sight.
My heart sank. I knew that thanks to me, the quintet was now down to a quartet and I wasn't overly sure about that. I was in tears as I opened the front door and ran upstairs to my room. I didn't care whether mum saw me like this or not. All I cared about was the fact that my one friend at school turned out to be an enemy or at best, someone I could no longer trust any further than I could spit.