Joey and The Dress: A ‘Family Matters’ short
Joey Clarke stood in his walk-in closet and stared at the package he’d smuggled into the house. God, he longed to—
The door opened, and his twin sister, Jenna, stepped into the room, holding the phone she seemed to have glued to her hand.
“Seriously? You don’t knock? What if I was naked or something?”
“I’ve seen your ass before, Joey.”
He cringed. “Would you stop calling me that? We’re not five anymore. Joseph is better, even Joe if you have to.”
That made her laugh. “Since when are you too old for Joey? It’s your name.”
He closed the closet door and took a chair at the desk. “Maybe it’s time I grow up. I’m sixteen now.”
Jenna put the phone into her pocket, then stepped up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Okay, what’s wrong?”
She snorted, then walked to the closet. She yanked open the door and pulled out the garment bag. “Does it have something to do with this?”
Joe pushed out of the chair and snatched it away from her. “Don’t touch that.”
“All right, so it does. What’s going on? You’re acting weird, even for you.”
Joe ran a hand over the bag, his stomach in knots. “It’s nothing.”
“Oh, it’s that kind of thing. I understand.” She went to the bedroom door. “Papa! Joey’s having an existential crisis.”
“What? Why did you do that?”
She rolled her eyes at him. “Because, stupid. You’re my brother, and I love you. Now if you won’t talk to me, you can talk to Dad when he gets home from visiting Uncle Travis and Aunt Denise or you can let Papa know what’s going on.” She went back to him and patted his shoulder. “Wear it, Joey. Be proud of who you are.”
Before Joey could say anything, Jenna was out the door. A moment later, Papa—Seth Clarke—was there.“What’s up, Joey?”
He hated lying, especially to Papa. But there was no way he’d ever understand.
“Okay, let’s sit down and talk this out. I’m gonna guess it has something to do with that bag.”
Joey got up and put it back in the closet, then closed the door. “No, it’s fine.” He swallowed a lump in his throat. “Everything is fine.”
“Kid, I’ve known you for most of your life. I know what fine is and that’s not you now. Would you rather I call your Dad?”
No, Joey didn’t want to talk about it with anyone. It was stupid. He was stupid. He wasn’t a little kid anymore, and he had to—
“It’s a dress, isn’t it?”
“What?” Joey widened his eyes. “What do you mean?”
“In the bag. It’s a dress.”
Joey swallowed against the lump in his throat. “Yes.”
“Let me see it.”
Joey didn’t want to. He was already a freak, even if he’d been wearing dresses for years. Still, he opened the door again, then unzipped the bag. God, the dress was so beautiful. He’d fallen in love as soon as he’d seen it, and Joey knew he had to have it. Then, when he got it, it had been such beautiful surprise. He took it out of the bag and clutched it to his chest. He took in a deep breath and turned around.
“That’s pretty. What’s the problem?”
How could Joey explain it? “I’m not a kid anymore.”
“You’re always going to be our kid. Always.”
“I don’t mean that. I mean…” He waved a hand toward the bag. “This is kid’s stuff. I’m a teenager now and…”
“Joey, who made you feel bad?”
His eyes burned as the tears started. The mocking voice of Eric McNab and his friends, laughing that Joey had fag fathers was clear in his head. But when he asked Joey if he was going to be a fag too? That had hit him right in the gut.
Strong arms encircled Joey. “Let it out. I have you.”
And Joey couldn’t keep it in anymore. He clutched Papa around the waist and sobbed into his chest. He didn’t want to be ashamed of having two fathers who loved him more than anything. And he really didn’t want to stop wearing the dresses, because even after all these years, he loved to feel pretty.
“I’m a guy,” he whimpered. “I am.”
“Who said you’re not?”
“Someone at school. He made fun of you and Dad, then asked if I was going to be a fag.”
Seth cupped the back of Joey’s head. “Do you remember what I told you years ago? Fag is a bad word that only very stupid people use. Now, is this kid smart?”
Joey choked a laugh. “No. He’s an idiot. He thinks he can have any girl he wants, and most of them look at him like he’s pathetic.”
“You’ll always have those people. I’m a lot older than you, and I still have to deal with them. You can’t watch TV without seeing them spewing their hatred.”
“How do you deal with it?” Joey’s gut ached. “How do I deal with it?”
“By being true to who you are, and not letting Joey become something he’s not. Joey likes dresses. He likes to feel pretty. He also likes cycling, football, getting his nails done, and can’t decide between tennis shoes and pumps.”
“But guys don’t like—”
“Stop right there. Don’t you dare compare yourself to other people. I don’t ever want you to become someone because others expect it of you.” He took a step back. “Let me see the dress.”
Joey drew in a breath, then opened the bag. He pulled the dress out and handed it to Papa. When he’d seen the crimson dress with the blue beading around the neck, and the flowing, elegant sleeves he’d fallen hard for it. So hard, in fact, that he’d said he would love to wear it to a dance. He was surprised when Micah ordered it for him and had it delivered.
“Wow. What’s this for?”
“It’s stupid,” Joey murmured. “It was something I thought about, then changed my mind.”
“Okay, so it’s something public.”
How the hell did he do that? “Yes. There’s a dance at school, and I was going with Kayla and Micah, but now I think I’m going to stay home.”
“You want to wear this for Micah, don’t you?”
Joey couldn’t lie. He nodded. “He helped me pick it out, and then he bought it for me. I wanted to wear it for him and Kayla.”
Micah was the coolest. Best friends since kindergarten when he shared his cookies with Joey. When Joey was eight, he told Micah that he liked to wear dresses, and to his surprised Micah had been totally cool about it. When they were kids and Micah would come over, Joey often wore Jenna’s Elsa dress when they watched Frozen together, and Micah never said anything bad about it.
“Do you like Micah?”
“Yeah. But I like Kayla, too. That’s why we’re all going together.”
“This is what I’m talking about. You like both of them. I’m assuming you’re talking like like, yes?”
Yeah, Joey had feelings for both of them. With Kayla, Joey was always trying to make her laugh. Micah was more serious, and he made Joey feel safe. Kayla had confided that was how he made her feel too. “Yes.”
“So let me get this straight—no pun intended.”
Joey groaned at the Dad joke.
“You like both of them, right?”
“And they like each other. All we’ve done is kissed and held hands. Kayla and I wanted to try more, but Micah said we should wait until we’re older. He…he worries about us.”
“He’s always been a good person. So are you. I haven’t met Kayla yet. Tell me about her.”
Joey sighed. “She’s so pretty. And smart, funny. She made Micah snort milk out of his nose one day.” It had surprised Joey when he thought about kissing her. Before it had always been Micah who’d been in his fantasies. When they’d gone to the movie and Kayla took his hand, Joey had been shocked. He jerked away, and Kayla whispered she was sorry. Then Micah reached for Joey’s hand, and he was confused. After the movie, Micah asked him what was wrong. He confessed that Kayla had taken his hand, and Micah cocked his head and asked what was wrong with that.
The three of them started out as friends, and with a simple touch of hands, other avenues opened up to them. They were in Kayla’s room, goofing around. Joey looked into Kayla’s eyes, and she smiled. He leaned closer at the same time she did. They brushed lips together. It was Joey’s first kiss, and it had been amazing. He faced Micah, expecting him to say something, but Micah was there, poised the same as Kayla had been. It was as though he was waiting for Joey to make the first move.
“Kiss him,” Kayla whispered. “That’s what he’s waiting for.”
“You don’t mind?”
“Not if you don’t.” She grinned. “Besides, I’d kind of like to kiss him too.”
That afternoon had been one of touching and exploring. Nothing sexual, because Micah said they needed to know to be older and know each other better before anything like that happened. He said he didn’t want any misunderstandings, so they needed to take the time to learn about each other.
He startled at Papa’s voice. “I’m sorry, I was thinking.” He bit his lip. “Do you think it’s weird that we all like each other?”
“Weird? No, not in the least. Despite what a lot of people will tell you, love doesn’t necessarily conform to gender or race or any other preconceived ideals. Love is a force of its own, and the old adage is true. The heart wants what it wants. If you, Kayla, and Micah care for each other, and if you’re open with your feelings, and you can be honest? I think you could build a beautiful thing.”
God, Joey loved Papa. “Thank you.”
“Now, back to the dress.”
Joey closed his eyes and sighed. “We’re going to the dance together. They both want me to wear the dress, and I really want to, but—”
“You’re afraid of what people will say. Can I ask why? Has anyone ever said it was weird or wrong? Your dad and I? We love you with our whole hearts. The dress you wore at our wedding was beautiful, and you looked great in it. And the dress you have there? I’m willing to bet you’ll rock it.” He put a hand atop Joey’s. “Let me guess, this classmate of yours is messing with your head.”
Joey hung his head. “Yes, sir.”
“Let me ask you a question, and be honest with me and yourself. These people who are being dicks. Do you care about them? I mean, are they your friends?”
The thought he would sink so low and be friends with a bully rankled. “No way!”
“Then don’t let their opinions matter to you. If your friends like the dress, and they’re encouraging you to wear it, and you really want to, then do it. But, and let me stress this, it’s only if you feel comfortable. I know it’s a big step, but you have to know we’re always going to be there, cheering for you.”
“But won’t you and Dad be embarrassed?”
“Aw, Joey.” He pulled Joey into another hug. “We have nothing to be embarrassed about. We love you for who you are, and the only expectations we have is that you’ll grow up loving yourself as much as we love you.” He let go and stepped back. “Tell you what. I’d like to see you in the dress. It’s obviously important to you.” Papa sighed. “Jen said you didn’t want to be called Joey anymore. If that’s what you want, I suppose we can do that too.”
Joey swallowed. “No, I like Joey. I just…” Jen was right. He was Joey, and would always be. “No, I want to be called Joey.”
Papa ruffled his hair. “Good, I like Joey too. Now, are you going to stop worrying what everyone thinks? Did you run away from Micah when people were rude about you being white and him being black?”
No way in hell. Micah was worth a hundred of any of them. “No, sir.”
“Then trust in your friends, your family, and most of all, trust in yourself.” He nodded toward the dress. “For what it’s worth, I think you’d look stunning in it.” He leaned in and kissed Joey’s forehead. “But then again, you look great in anything you wear, because it’s what’s on the inside that makes you beautiful.”
He turned and gave Joey a smile. “Yeah?”
“What do you think I should do?”
“Honestly? You should be Joey, whoever you decide that is. If you want to wear the dress, then do it. Show people you’re not ashamed of who you are. If you’re too nervous, then we’ll get you a tux, and you can still be prettier than all of them combined.” He smiled. “I’m going downstairs. I’d really like to see you in the dress, but only if you’re comfortable about it.”
He closed the door, leaving Joey alone. He wasn’t sure what to do. He pulled out his phone and called Micah.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“I’m not sure about the dress.”
Joey wasn’t sure if he expected Micah to be upset or angry, but he wasn’t either.
“Okay. If you aren’t, then don’t wear it. Just so you know, though? I was looking forward to walking into the dance with two of the finest looking people I know. That dress would make your ass look amazing.”
Joey snorted. “You’re a perv.”
“And you love me for it.” He chuckled. “You know I’m kidding. I just want to lighten the mood. Y’know what? Hang on.”
There was a few moments of silence, then Micah came back. “I got Kayla on the line with us. Kay, Joey’s not sure about wearing the dress.”
“That’s fine, Joey. You’re the one who needs to be comfortable, not us. We’re going to have your back, no matter what you decide.” She gave a soft sigh. “We love you.”
“I love you both too.”
He did. He loved it when the three of them sat together on the couch, Micah with an arm wrapped about him and Kayla, as they shared soft kisses. He really liked that Micah cared for him and Kayla equally.
“Do you think I should wear it? I don’t want you to get caught in the crossfire if anyone says something.”
“You already know what I think, boo. You and Kayla are beautiful beyond words. I don’t care how you dress when you go, as long as you’re both going with me. You know how I feel for you.”
True. They’d all spoken words of love. Kayla had been concerned that Micah would choose Joey over her, and she’d be left out, but Joey had been the one to tell her that if they all loved and trusted each other, they could make it work. Papa was right on that score too.
And if he loved and trusted his friends and family…
“I’m going to wear the dress. The hell with Eric McNab.”
“Sweetheart, if he says anything, I’ll lay him out on the dance floor. You’re my boo, and no one talks bad about either you or Kayla. Got me?”
“Yeah, I got you.”
Kayla gave an indignant snort. “And if Micah won’t, I will. That little creep is always trying to talk to me, even after I told him to leave me alone. He brushed against me once, and I swear he copped a feel.”
Micah growled. “What? Why didn’t I hear about this?”
Kay chuckled. “Because I’m not a damsel in distress. Trust me, I don’t need you or anyone else to protect me. I know right where to stomp an instep to make it hurt. And the way he cried, I think it did.”
They all laughed.
“Joey? Micah and I, we’re going to be proud no matter what you do. I’d love to see you in the dress, but if you’re nervous, we can have a private showing. This has to be your decision, but whatever it is, we support you completely, okay?”
“Yeah.” Joey felt better. Papa had given his blessings, Kay and Micah weren’t going to pressure him. He felt like he could breathe.
“Good,” Micah said. “I need to go pick up the corsages. This is a big thing for all of us, Joey. Kayla, you, and me? Tonight everyone is going to know we’re together. I want to show that none of us are ashamed of what we have with each other, okay? But, and listen closely, if either you or Kayla are worried, then we don’t do it. We don’t have to make a big statement to others to know how we feel.”
Kayla chuckled. “Don’t worry about me. I can’t wait to see their faces when we dance together.” Then she sighed. “Y’know, when I met you guys, I kept thinking I shouldn’t like both of you. I thought it was weird that I cared about each of you. But now? I don’t think that anymore. You helped me discover who I was, and who I want to become.”
That warmed Joey through to his heart. “Thank you.”
“I feel the same. Always knew I was bi. I’ve had feelings for Joey since I was ten or so. Then when we met Kayla? For a time, I figured it was wrong, because I really liked Joey. But after a while, it was like everything made sense, especially once the three of us were on the same page. I realized that there’s enough love to go around for all of us, as long as we want it to.” He groaned. “Listen, I gotta go if I’m going to be ready for tonight.”
“Love you both. Later.”
“Love you too. Joey? Wear the dress or don’t, that’s your choice. But remember, we love you. We’re going to be there for you through thick and thin. You need to trust in us, the way we trust you.”
She disconnected. Joey put the phone away as he thought about their conversation. If Kayla and Micah liked him in it, then he’d wear it. And if Papa and Dad were proud of him? That made it all the better. He never should have let doubt creep in.
“Joseph, I’m not getting any younger! Jenna and I are waiting.”
Joey chuckled. “Coming Papa.”
Putting the dress back on the bed, Joe started stripping off the other clothes. As soon as Joey reached the underwear, Joey looked at the reflection in the mirror. He was slender, and a few people had told him he’d be a pretty girl. Screw that. Joey was on a journey of self-discovery, and taking along family and friends. No matter what, Joey knew they’d always be there for support and to lean on. Tonight Joey felt like being pretty, and that dress would fit perfectly. A grin formed as Joey lifted the dress and slipped into it.
Joey smiled, because the decision had been made. Joey Clarke felt pretty, damn it, and that’s all there was to it.