Limping home, he had run to Gabby’s room, not his own, and cried on the bed for a long time. At least it was the weekend now.
By the morning, a layer of snow had fallen, wiping the view from his window clean. His balls still ached a little.
“I’m off shopping today,” declared his sister at breakfast. “You want to come along, help carry stuff?”
Here we go, he thought. “Yeah, OK.”
They took Mum’s car – Gabby had got her provisional licence the moment she turned 17, and was already an assured driver – and hit the Oaklands shopping centre. They had a merry time filling bags and fooling around in Sainsburys, a gift shop and Waterstones.
Suddenly Gabby halted in front of M&H and smirked as she drew his attention to the window display. Excited by the possibilities of a new market, mainstream shops that once sold skirts and dresses exclusively to girls now displayed boy mannikins in their windows wearing the latest fashions in skirts and dresses. The only girl mannikin in this shop window was wearing trousers, three boys crowding about her in short dresses.
“Meet the future, eh, Marty-mouse?”
“I guess,” he muttered. This was the future all right. He’d seen it, at the gates of Ladywell Grove.
“God, things move fast,” said Gabby, staring at some boys’ occasional wear by the entrance. The dresses were tied at the waist with satin bands and filled out with net petticoats. “Boys’ stuff is getting really… bouffant.”
“No it isn’t,” said Marty. “It’s just that sissy GuyCandy brand.”
She suddenly put a hand to her mouth, and gasped in delight. “Oh my! You know what that means. You can wear sweet bridesmaids’ dresses! It’s too gorgeous for words! Or is that bridesboys? Pageboys? I’ve no idea. Come in with me, Marty-mouse, maybe I’ll buy you a dress.”
“Oh come on, you know I’ve always wanted to get you a nice dress instead of those boring trackies you wear all the time.”
Marty sighed the heaviest sigh heard from any boy in town that day. “Well, I don’t know about that, but there’s one thing you could do.”
Alas, the shame of that shopping trip. Leading his sister to the school suppliers, observing her surprise as he flicked through a railing full of boys’ skirts. The shame as he picked a couple out and took them past the smug trousered woman at the fitting rooms. The shame of standing alone in the cubicle in his underpants, Gabby expectant outside, the skirt waiting for him on the hanger with its pleats in a neat fan. Gabby calling out to ask what was taking so long. The shame of finally stepping into the thing, pulling it to his waist, and buttoning it up. His first time in a skirt. The shame of having to step out into the shop, dressed like a girl – yes, like a girl, dammit – and seeing the patronising satisfaction that Gabby couldn’t quite keep off her face.
To her credit, Gabby didn’t crow. She knew it was hard for him, though she didn’t really know what had caused this sudden change of style. She did however grow impatient as her brother turned, examined himself, sighed, tried on a slightly different skirt, and shied from the final, fatal step of buying. “Come on, Marty! You brought me here, remember? Look, it’s not even ten quid, let’s just get it and if you never wear it then it’s no real loss, huh?”
“I guess I’ll take this one, sis,” he mumbled.
“We’ll take two,” she retorted, taking out her wallet, “for when one’s in the wash. And it’s January, we’ll get you some tights as well. They need to be black ones, right?”
He watched as Gabby paid up and handed him a carrier bag containing his new clothes. His skirts, his tights.
They gathered all their shopping and walked towards the car park. A woman in a trouser suit and tie was sitting on a bench in the shopping precinct, talking curtly into a mobile phone. Two small children were playing happily at her feet. They wore flouncy paisley dresses with rustly white petticoats and puff sleeves, their feet, clad in white tights, slipping neatly into little white shoes. Each child had a ribbon in its hair. They crouched, giggling, flounces heaping up almost to their chins, at a carefully fenced-in bed of flowers.
“Don’t get your dresses dirty, boys,” said the woman. She stood up and took one little gloved hand in each of hers, leading them down the street.
At home Marty pulled on his skirt and tights and wore them for the rest of the day, figuring he’d need to get used to it. He felt such a dork dressed like that while his sister lolled around in jeans. But if this was what modern boys were meant to do, fine, he’d do it. There was no point fighting against the unstoppable tide of history, a.k.a. Emma Lamb. If his Dad had taught him one thing, it was the importance of adjusting to reality: he’d seen the anguish that followed when you didn’t.
Mum saw her son walking around in his skirt and tights and actually beamed. She looked at Gabby as if to say, ‘Did you do this?’ And Gabby shook her head, equally baffled.
On Monday morning he assembled his complete new uniform for the first time. It occurred to him that his shoes were a bit too heavy-looking. Never mind, he would sort it. He looked in the mirror, tugged his skirt down, and sighed. Time to face the world.
He stepped outside feeling rather frightened and began walking down the street. Three girls came chasing loudly up behind him and he swallowed, but they didn’t even glance at him as they romped past. All three of them in trousers, the lucky cows. A couple of boys across the road, Ladywell Grovers, in skirts. He kept watching for more: the more boys he saw in skirts, the less exposed he felt, the more normal it all seemed. Christ, you really noticed how no girls were wearing them these days. The more boys wore them, the less girls wanted to. Through the school gates. Watching for how people reacted, and no one seemed to care. A loud wolf-whistle: Alice Dempsey from his class. “Whoa, Marty, looking good,” she thrilled. “Walk you to registration?”
“Yeah,” he blushed.
“Come on, darling.” And she held out her arm. Gratefully he took it, heart fluttering, feeling exhilarated. Fine, she was patronising him, mocking him a little maybe, but now he felt stronger.
Alice chatted with him on the way to class so he almost forgot what he was wearing. Look how many boys were wearing skirts, dammit, they were for boys now, so how could it be wrong? He was just acting like everyone else.
The real test came in the break when he went to the Fifth Form common room. Marty hadn’t dared set foot in there for several weeks, ever since the quarrel with Emma in the youth club. Today he felt he had nothing to fear. Kerry and Asha were hanging around by a table and there was no choice but to walk past and let them see him. He was almost disappointed when they didn’t react, but, glancing back, he caught them peering at him and catching each other’s eye.
Emma swept through the common room like she owned it, wearing a black winter coat with a fur trim, which contrasted crisply with her white school shirt. She dropped onto one of the sofas and put her foot up on the table. Then she saw him, and she smiled. How different that was to what he was used to! He swam with a beautiful feeling of relief, gratitude and adoration.
“A proper boy at last, Marty? Saves me beating you to a pulp. Oi!” she called to a boy standing by the radio. “Turn it up a bit, squirt.”
They were allowed to have tunes on if the volume level didn’t go over 5. “It’s at 5, Emma,” said the boy apologetically.
“I said turn it up.”
He turned it up.
Marty stood in the middle of the room, wondering what he should do. She patted the sofa beside her. “Well, come and sit next to me, then, my lovely.”
A dream come true! He could hardly believe it. The music was thumping, bodies were swaying and flickering as people came in for break. The girls were loud, striding around, laughing and chatting at the tops of their voices. Some boys drifted to one wall, hanging around, sneaking looks at the girls, staring at Emma. She was beautiful, raven-haired, blue-eyed, with a figure to die for. Marty couldn’t believe it was him who got to sit beside her. Take that, suckers!
“Whoa, Marty!” said Peter Hancock, weaving over to them through the bodies. “I never thought you’d come… like that.”
“He looks smashing, doesn’t he, babe?” said Emma. She put her hand on Marty’s leg, gave it the slightest rub through the pleats of his skirt, and the thrill passed through his entire body. This could not be happening.
‘I Want To Be Her Sweetheart’ by the Sugarboys came on, and a groan rippled through the room – the trad boys hated it, and it was too sissy for the girls. Someone flipped the channel. Emma’s gang commandeered the rest of the sofa. Kerry, Asha, and a couple of other girls spread themselves across the padded upholstery, looking cool in their slim-cut trousers.
The girls talked about their future careers – law, business, engineering – and were confident, articulate and ambitious. If there was a group of young people that would go out into life and kick arse, this was it. Marty couldn’t possibly compete with these magnificent creatures. They gushed at him, grinning at him with big, white-toothed smiles and saying what a pretty thing he was. He tried to look demure, the way one could not help when wearing a skirt amongst girls.
This was the new male role: smiling, nodding, admiring the female. Power wasn’t male any more and there was no way to keep hold of it. And maybe it was because they had him where they wanted him that the girls were attentive and friendly. Normally he would have been stricken with terror surrounded by Emma and her mates, but he felt OK, as if he had finally found his place. These girls were the toughest clique in the school, and suddenly he was accepted by them as part of their orbit. A second-rate member, because he was only a boy, but he felt protected, as if nothing could hurt him now.
“Marty’s going to make someone a lovely househusband, aren’t you, babe?” said Emma.
“Probably,” he sighed. It was true – he hadn’t much else to look forward to when he left school. But he didn’t care.
“Boys shouldn’t worry their pretty heads with work and stuff,” said Kerry complacently.
“And he’s going to chuck out all his trousers and ask his mummy to buy him lots of dresses, aren’t you?” said Emma. “Just like a modern boy. He wants to make himself nice and pretty for the girls. Don’t you, Marty?” She put her hand on his shoulder, and when he didn’t reply straight away, pushed her thumb painfully into his neck.
“Yes, of course,” he winced.
‘Blue Monday’ came on, and the common room became a forest of necks and arms. Kerry and Asha immediately got up to dance. He saw Sunday Abuja there too. Lucy Forrester was actually snogging Mark Bradbury and – yes, Kerry was swaying voluptuously in front of poor gormless Peter, who looked terrified.
“I’d’ve thought he’d be pleased,” Marty said to Emma. “He quite fancies her.”
“Oh, we know. Beware of what you wish for,” said Emma in his ear, “in case you get it. That’s what my grandmother told me.”
“Peter might be taking on more than he can handle,” Marty grinned.
“She’ll rape the poor squirt.” The warmth of her hand on his leg spread through him like a dizzying drug. His cock stiffened under his skirt. Emma’s other hand crept along his shoulders, resting on the back of the sofa. Oh my, he felt safe, and happy.
“Uh…” A teacher’s voice at the door. “Turn that music down, please! It’s getting far too rowdy in here!”
The world was a headmistress who worked on your faults. Not in a mystical way. More how you’d keep tripping over a hidden step, over and over, until you finally understood: watch out for that step! Everything that was wrong with how you fitted into the world, that was a hidden step. Either you suffered on and on from not noticing, or one day, you did notice, and fixed it.
Overjoyed, but a little afraid, he turned to Emma, gazed into her stunning blue eyes. “Gotta go to the bog.”
“Don’t be too long, my pretty.”
He carried his bag low and in front to hide his straining erection. Making his way to the bogs he saw that both of the boys in there were skirt-wearers, exchanging secrets and checking their hair in the mirrors. It was reassuring. He edged past into a cubicle, pulled up his skirt, pulled down his tights, and took hold of his prick.
Emma! His Emma! Her image caused a surge of inexpressible excitement as he rubbed his shaft. Starting to ejaculate eagerly, he shifted back, catching the emission in some loo roll. It was dizzying. He wanted to prolong the pleasure for ever.
He mustn’t be slow. Don’t be too long, she’d said.
Noel was shaking himself off at the urinal. He was wearing his school uniform without the tie. His hair was gelled into spikes.
“Well, ain’t you pretty,” he sneered nastily. “Peter told me about it.” He tugged at Marty’s skirt. “So much for standing up to Emma, eh, you chicken?”
Marty, a little scared, shook him off. “I’m sorry, Noel, I just had enough, mate.” He adjusted himself in his tights.
“What’s up – can’t find your dick? Look at yourself, Welling – a right poofter those tarts’ve made of you.” He raised his voice for the benefit of the two other boys. “Got you running about like a sissy, licking their fannies.”
The other boys gave their pretty bobs a last preen and cleared out.
“You keep going on at me,” said Marty, “but what do you ever do? Always pushing someone else onto the front line ‘cos you haven’t got the bottle to do it. You poser.”
“Shut up, Welling, just shut up. You’ve given up, you have. Given – fucking – up. I should smash your face in.”
Marty wished he’d go away. He walked out into the common room, Noel champing at his heels.
“They may have turned you into a sissy, but they won’t push around the rest of us. We’re boys, bloody BOYS, and we’re in charge, and always will be!”
His voice was shrill but they were in sight of where Emma was sitting, and Marty felt safe. Emma started up.
“Piss off, Walsh,” she ordered. “He’s with me.”
Noel sneered into her face. “Created a little nancy-boy for yourself, then, Emma?”
“Aww, poor Noelsie: a latent sissy if ever I saw one. Mummy won’t buy you a pretty dress, then?”
“Marty was right, you are a bitch.”
Emma put out her hands and Noel caught them and for a moment they assessed each other, fingers entwined. Then Emma pulled him towards her, jerking him off-balance, and in that second her knee snapped up between his legs. Noel howled. Hugging his testicles, he collapsed and writhed in agony on the floor. Everyone in the common room stopped what they were doing and stared.
“Like I said, piss off. I like my little nancy-boy.” She stroked Marty under the chin with affection. She was so much in control that Marty couldn’t help himself: his cock began to stiffen again. How fabulous girls were! How he adored his Emma Lamb!
“He’s just what I like,” she went on. “A prettyboy who’s learnt his place. Girls are the dominant sex now – you understand, darlings?”
And without waiting for a reply, she gave Marty a long, wet kiss.