He was at the bank, finalizing the terms for the home loan. Stan, his banker, was placing forms in front of him documenting that Kyle was financially eligible for such a sum.
“Bringing on some investors, huh?” he said,clearly intended as an understatement.
“I couldn’t believe it. Spright Brothers Industries wants to fund my expansion to the tune of six centers in six states. We sign the final agreement tomorrow.”
Stan flashed Kyle a smile. “When you opened that first center, did you ever think it would all be this successful?”
Kyle shook his head. “My book helped. I didn’t know it would be featured on all those news and talk shows. There turned out to be a huge market for our services.”
“You’ve been talking with Spright for months. What do you think suddenly made them so eager?”
“It was this whole thing about Bruce Jenner. No one wants their kid to grow up like him. Families are seeing what’ll happen if they just sit back and don’t do anything about it. Since the Jenner thing, the number of parents bringing their kids in has tripled.”
Stan nodded. “Doesn’t get much worse than that. Can’t believe people want to pass laws against what you do. It’s so important.”
“Spright was really concerned about that. They had a political analyst pick states that weren’t likely to legislate. I don’t think I’d have been able to expand without all their help. Turns out these laws might actually help revenue. If parents are forced to travel out of state, they’re willing to pay more.”
Stan put another stack of documents in front of Kyle. “Heck of a house.”
“Yeah. If you’d told me I’d be able to afford a five million dollar house, I’d have said you were crazy. But the wife fancies the place – fourteen acres, a security gate, even an indoor pool. It’s a dream come true for her. I’m glad I could make it happen. When I started researching how to fix those kinds of kids, I never thought it would lead to this.”
Another sheet offered for Kyle’s signature. “Figure it’ll go places from here?”
Kyle nodded. “Spright did a marketing survey. There are millions of families desperate for help. After these six centers, I think we’re looking at six more within two years, and twice that many within ten. This is going to be big. We’re going to fix a lot of kids.”
Stan slipped the final sheet in front of him. “You didn’t start out that way, did you?”
Kyle fell strangely silent.
“You OK,” Stan asked.
He recovered quickly. “Sorry, what were you saying?”
“How you didn’t start out to create a recovery center? How you started out trying to make those types of kids comfortable with themselves?”
Kyle ignored the question. “Are we finished?” he asked.
“Yes sir.” Stan stood up and held out his hand. “Congratulations. You are now officially approved for your mortgage.
Kyle shook his hand. “Thank you.”
“And, Mr. Schenk, I need to tell you what a good thing you’re doing. Parents who have a kid who is … like that, they need a place to turn. My cousin’s kid. Wanted to get his thing cut off. For real. He started taking these pills, and the guy grew breasts. My cousin knew what he was like when he was young, but they couldn’t do anything about it. Now look what happened to him. A real tragedy. I wish you’d have been around then.”
Again, Kyle was silent. Stan kept speaking. “They read your book when it came out. That stuff about throwing all his girl clothing away and making sure he only plays with the correct toys. If only they had known that earlier. Back then they were all like, ‘as long as he’s happy.’ Totally the wrong thing to do. They didn’t know you can make a kid stop being that way just by not letting them do it, like you say in your book. If they’d have known, it would all have turned out differently.”
As Kyle walked from Stan’s office, he heard Stan call after him. “Keep fixing these kids. They’ll all thank you for it some day.”
Just as he passed into the corridor, Kyle’s phone went off. He turned toward Stan, intending to check the caller and then thank Stan one more time. But he saw it was Jacob. His son never called him. Ever. It had to be important.
“Thanks Stan,” he called out. “I’ve got to take this.” He sat himself in one of the upholstered chairs in the bank lobby as he took the call.
There was something wrong in Jacob’s voice, Kyle could tell right away. He was boarding at one of those posh New England prep schools. He’d become distant in the past year. Kyle had been working such long hours to get the clinic off the ground, he couldn’t say exactly when or how it had happened. He’d called him last week eager to tell him about the agreement, and Jacob had mostly answered in monotones. As Kyle accepted the call, he felt a stab of guilt. Had he neglected his son?
“What is it Jake?” he asked.
Silence on the other end.
“Jake are you there?”
“Dad. I need to tell you something. I’m trans.”
Had he heard right?
“Trans? You mean transgender?” Or maybe he’d misunderstood?
“I know you know what it is.”
Kyle’s voice got much quieter. He sat for a moment before he responded. “Trans. Are you sure?”
“Yes, Dad, I’m sure. You know how it is. It’s not something you make a mistake about.”
A million questions raced through Kyle’s mind, vying for space in his mouth.
“For how long?” he finally asked. “When did you start thinking this?”
Jacob replied in a weak, shaky voice. He obviously knew how his news would affect his father. “Since I was little, really. I never told you. I knew you would have been unhappy with me.”
Kyle paused to collect his thoughts long enough so that Jacob had to ask, “still there?”
“Yes, I’m here. So when you say trans, you mean…?”
“You know what it means. Girl in a boy’s body, and all that. I’m a girl. I’m so sorry to have let you down.”
“You didn’t let me down. It’s not something you can help. You know I love you however you are, and whomever you decide to be.”
Now Jacob was silent, surprised at his father’s reaction. “You’re not upset?”
“I guess I’m surprised. But if you’re trans, that’s who you are.”
Another pause on the other end. Finally, Jacob spoke, his voice cracking. “Dad. I don’t want to be this way. I can’t stand it. I’d hate to live like a girl. But I have to. You need to fix me. You need to get me into your center. Everyone will make fun of me. If I have to become a girl, I’ll kill myself.”
“Into my center?”
“Yes, Dad. It’s my only hope. If I have to become a girl, I won’t want to live. Please fix me. Please. I know there’s a waiting list and all, but for your own son, you can get me in, right?”
“Into my center?” Kyle asked again. He cleared his throat noisily as Jacob continued begging him to admit him. There was a long stand of silence once Jacob finished.
“Um… Well…,” Kyle said finally. After another pause, “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? Dad, you need to do this for me. I can’t stand living like this way. I’m desperate. I can’t stand myself as a man but I can’t stand the thought of living as a girl. Can’t you find some space?”
“Jake, let me talk to some people, OK?”
“Oh, thanks Dad. Thanks. You need to fix me. I can’t stand it.”
After Jake got off the line, Kyle spent a long time staring at his phone. People came in and out of the bank lobby, the large tinted glass doors alternately opening to stream sunshine across his inert body and then closing so their smoky glass presented a gloomy view of the world beyond. Kyle’s expression was so absent that one of the bank staff asked him whether there was anything she could do. He shook his head and sank back into himself.
After Jacob ended the call, he slowly slipped his phone into his backpack. His movements were reluctant, as if putting it away would add some finality to what he had just done. A glance at the large white time display reminded him that he needed to start for his next class on the far end of campus. He hefted the pack from the bench and turned toward Melissa.
“Do you think I’m doing the right thing?” he asked her.
She didn’t answer right away, smoothing her straight, fine hair as the spring breeze ruffled it. “It depends, I guess. What do you think he’ll do?”
Stan heard a knock. He looked up and saw Kyle standing by the open door to his office.
“Forget something?” he asked. Then he noticed the look on Kyle’s face. Like he’d just received a death sentence.
“Stan, I need you to cancel the loan. I’m not going ahead with the expansion after all.”
“You sure?” Stan answered, uncomprehending. Something bad had just happened and he felt for Kyle, but it was his job to protect the bank’s money.
Kyle nodded his head, his expression still distant.
“Consider it cancelled,” Stan said finally, his tone serious.
“Can’t say for sure what he’ll do,” Jacob answered, as he and Melissa started down the path. “But my dad knows all that stuff is crap. He’s just doing it because Mom wanted him to make more money.”
As she strolled in stride with Jacob, Melissa absentmindedly fingered the Gay/Straight Alliance button pinned near her collar. “Do you feel bad lying to your dad?”
Jacob looked over at the button. “He’ll thank me for it some day.”