22 – Who I Am
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This is the last chapter of Self Discovery!

22
Who I Am

“God, I’m pumped up for today,” Ryan said with a glimmer in his eye. “Football games always have me excited.”

“I’m excited too!” I said, smiling. We just finished up the school day and it was time for football. It had been a month since I had come out at school, and things were going well. Most people were accepting, and the few that weren’t couldn’t say much in fear of Ryan and Daniel. I held onto Ryan’s hand as we walked onto the field.

“Julie!” I heard my mom’s voice say, catching up to us. “Ryan, how are you two doing?”

“Good,” I said. “I didn’t expect you to show up this early, Mom.”

“Oh, got to grab the good seats, you know,” she said, fishing out some money from her purse. “Here, for you to get some popcorn and hot dogs.”

“Thanks, Mom” I said, taking the twenty dollar bill from her hand. I reached to put it in my pocket before realizing I didn’t have anywhere to put it, as I was wearing a skirt.

“I’ll grab our seats,” she said, walking over to the bleachers. “Get me a hot dog, please.”

“Sure,” I said, getting in line for the food stand.

“What are you going to get, Ryan?” I asked.

“Me, nothing,” he said, shaking his head. “I can’t eat before the game, I’ll be sick.”

“You sure?” I asked. “I can buy you a nice yummy plate of nachos.”

“Tempting, but I’m good,” Ryan said. “It wouldn’t be good if I threw up on the field while playing.”

“Yeah,” I said, giggling. “That certainly wouldn’t be good.”

We waited a minute or two and got to the front of the line. I ordered a hot dog for mom and some popcorn for myself. “Let’s head back to my mom now,” I said, looking around the bleachers for her. “I’m sure she found a good seat.”

“She’s right there,” Ryan said, pointing towards my mom sitting in one of the front seats.

“Great, let’s get going,” I said. We made our way next to her and sat down.

“Welcome you two,” she said, scooting to the side to give us room to sit. “Did you get my hot dog?”

“Freshly made, here you go,” I said, handing it over to her. “Just kidding, it’s probably been in the heater for a while now.”

“It probably has been, yes,” she said, gently laughing. “It tastes good enough to eat while watching the game though.”

I was munching on some popcorn when a familiar face made its way in front of us. It was my dad, looking rather haggard. His beard was in a worse state than usual, and deep dark circles hung under his eyes.

“Dad,” I said, not quite knowing how to react to seeing him again.

“Julie,” he said. I blinked, did he just call me by my actual name? “I’m sorry for the way things ended up.”

“I didn’t want it to end up like this either,” I said, frowning.

“And Ashley,” he said to my mom. “I wish things could’ve worked out better, I apologize.”

“Oh, well, oh, yes,” Mom said, stumbling over her words in surprise.

“I’ll give you all space,” he said, starting to lumber away. “I just wanted to see my son play football and apologize.”

“Okay,” I said quietly, watching him walk away. He almost went to the end of the bleachers and took a seat. Thankfully there were some other families sitting between us so we wouldn't have to look at him. I sighed, still upset about how things went with Mom and Dad.

“Julie, it’s okay,” Ryan said, patting my back. “Don’t think about it.”

“I won’t,” I said. “I’m here to support you today and watch the game. I don’t want to spend the whole time being upset.”

“Exactly,” Ryan said, flashing a lopsided grin at me. “Sadly, I have to go now, get prepared for the game, you know.”

“Oh, of course,” I said, giving him a quick hug. “Don’t let me hold you up, see you after the game!”

“Yeah, see you,” he said, running to the locker room.

“Mom, are you there?” I asked, shaking her shoulder slightly. She was staring off into the distance next to me, clearly not paying attention to anything going on.

“Oh, yes, sorry,” she said, snapping back into focus. “I was just distracted a little bit by seeing your Dad again.”

“Yeah, it’s okay, I was surprised too,” I said. “I can’t believe he actually apologized.”

“Maybe he learned the error of his ways,” Mom said, shaking her head. “I’m not sure if I can forgive him yet though.”

“Me neither,” I said, sighing. “Whatever, let’s focus on the game now. Well, the pregame routine at least.”

We both looked at the field to see the cheerleaders doing their thing. A few minutes passed as we idly chatted, waiting for the game to start. We were very early, so it took a while, but the football players finally ran out onto the field, signaling the game was about to start.

“Ryan, Daniel!” I yelled. I tried to yell over the crowd, but it was a futile effort. “Let’s go!”

“You sure are excited,” Mom said, laughing gently.

“It’s my brother and boyfriend playing, how can I not be excited?” I asked, smiling at her.

“True,” she said, taking a bite of her hot dog before speaking up again. “I’m sure the game will be a lot of fun.”

“I don’t know, the first time I went it wasn’t too fun,” I mumbled. Dad yelling into my ear about downs and scrambles made for a rather exhausting time.

“It’ll be better this time,” Mom said. “Look, once you understand the game, it’s rather exciting. There’s a reason why it’s the most popular sport in this nation after all.”

“Do you mind explaining to me what’s going on?” I asked.

“Of course,” she said. She explained to me the basics of the game, pointing out to me what was happening. I was still a little confused, but it made a lot more sense than I expected.

“This helps a lot more than Dad’s explanation did,” I grumbled. “I actually kind of get it now.”

“Your dad, well, his love of the game might have made him a little overzealous,” she said.

“True that,” I said, giggling. “What is Ryan doing?”

“Ryan’s the main wide receiver, so he’s mainly there to catch forward passes from the quarterback,” Mom said.

“Is Ryan good?” I asked. “Whenever I ask him he says he’s the best player in the world, but I doubt that.”

“Your boyfriend is one of the best members of the team, yes,” Mom said, laughing. “But he’s certainly not the best in the world. I think Tom Brady takes that title.”

“How about Messi?” I asked.

“You’re thinking of the wrong sport, dear,” Mom said, sighing.

“Sorry, I’m a little clueless about all this sports stuff,” I said. “Who is Messi then?”

“A soccer player,” Mom responded.

“Oh, okay,” I said, laughing a little bit at my own cluelessness. I’m sure Ryan would be disappointed at how little I knew if he was here. When he was on his own, I always saw him watching clips of just about every sport out there. He tried to teach me football a few times as well but gave up out of frustration.

“This game isn’t all that competitive,” Mom commented, looking up at the scoreboard. It was 21-3 with our school, Westside, winning. “Although I should be wary of the scoreline.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, looking over at her.

“Back in 2017 or so, the game was 21-3 in favor of the Atlanta Falcons but they ended up losing because the Patriots made a tremendous comeback,” Mom said. “I hope that doesn’t happen here.”

“No, Ryan’s going to win, I know it,” I said, crossing my arms. “No comeback today.”

I found myself quite swept into the game, and Mom and I had a lot of fun cheering. It was a stark contrast to what the game was like with Dad. Eventually though, the game came to a close. It was a pretty decisive win, as the other team wasn’t able to come back at all. Westside took all the momentum early and didn’t give it back.

“The game could’ve been a little more fun, but it was nice enjoying it with you Julie,” Mom said, giving me a quick hug. “Although I guess I shouldn’t complain about a victory.”

“Thanks, Mom,” I said, melting into her arms. “I think Ryan and Daniel are coming back now.”

“Oh, they are,” she said, letting go of me and standing up to greet them. “Congrats on the victory!”

“Thanks, Mom,” I heard Daniel say. “God, I’m exhausted.”

“Thank you, Ms. Parker,” Ryan said, before turning to me. “Did you see that? We absolutely destroyed them. The other team was so demotivated by the end.”

“I did see it,” I said, smiling. “It was lots of fun to watch too.”

“I’m glad, I tried to put on a show,” he said, smirking. “I seriously need some food now though.”

“Yeah, I’m feeling hungry,” I said. “Mom, do you have any idea where we should go?”

“How about we have some tomatoes?” Mom asked, laughing a little at her own joke.

“No!” I said, crossing my arms. My dislike of tomatoes was known a lot by Mom. Apparently, when she tried to feed me some as a kid, I threw it across the room. Frankly speaking, I’d still do that if someone handed me a tomato.

“Okay, how about Chinese then,” Mom said, relenting.

“I’m up for that,” Daniel said.

“Same,” Ryan said, nodding. “That sounds good.”

“Great, get your parents, Ryan,” Mom said. “I get that you love your girlfriend, but they’ve been waiting to see you.”

“Oh, I forgot they showed up,” he said, laughing. “I’ll go say hi and come back, and then we can all go and grab some food.”

***

We all crowded into the Chinese restaurant. There were six of us: me, Ryan, Daniel, Mom, and both of Ryan’s parents. We were directed to one of the larger tables by the waitress, and made our way there.

“Ah,” Mr. Morgan said as he sat down, taking a second to rub his back. “Congrats on the blowout victory you two.”

Ryan sat next to me, with Daniel on the far end. It was the parents on one side and the teens on the other. “Thanks, Dad,” Ryan said, shifting in his seat to find a comfortable spot. “It wasn’t all that hard to be honest.”

“Hey, let’s show some respect to our opponents,” Daniel said, elbowing Ryan.

“Fine, they did their best and were worthy opponents,” Ryan said. He then lowered his voice to a whisper. “Too bad they sucked though.”

“God, Ryan,” I said, giggling. “That’s not showing respect at all.”

“We just won!” he exclaimed. “Let me have some fun.”

“Okay, okay, you’re allowed to celebrate,” I said.

“Anyways, what are you all going to order?” Ms. Morgan said, looking at the laminated piece of paper that was the menu. We ordered our food after a few minutes of glancing at the menu and then sat back to chat until the food came.

“Julie, I forgot to ask if you enjoyed the game,” Ryan said, looking over at me. “I know you don’t quite know the rules, so it could be a little boring.”

“No, my mom taught me a little of the basics so it was pretty entertaining, actually,” I replied.

“Ms. Parker, you actually managed to teach her the rules?” Ryan asked, acting as if he was shocked. “I gave up because it was too difficult.”

“Just the barebone basics to enjoy the game,” Mom said. She then laughed a little. “She did think Messi was an American football player though, so that was funny.”

“You didn’t know Messi was a soccer player?” Daniel asked, laughing.

“Shut up,” I said, burning bright red. “I’m not really into sports, you all know that.”

“Hey Julie, what sport does LeBron play?” Ryan asked teasingly.

“He’s a basketball player, I know that,” I said, crossing my arms.

“That’s a relief,” Ms. Morgan said, laughing. “If you didn’t know that, Ryan would definitely make you take some serious sports education.”

“Would you really, Ryan?” I asked.

“Hey, you tutor me for math, I tutor you for sports, I feel like that’s a fair deal,” Ryan said, shrugging.

“That’s not fair!” I exclaimed. “Math is actually necessary for school and college, sports isn’t all that useful.”

“How could you say that?” Daniel said, faking a deep gasp. “Sports is the most important thing in the world.”

“Yeah, okay, you just say that because you’re the star quarterback,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“Yeah, and you say what you say because you’re a mega-nerd,” Daniel quipped back.

“Hey, I’m not a nerd!” I said, our fun back and forth being very much amusing to the adults.

“And your food is here,” the waitress said, interrupting our conversation. She had all of our orders precariously on a tray. She expertly handed it out to all of us, and I got my order of orange chicken and fried rice. I began to dig in, using a fork to stab the delicious orange chicken.

After a while, I finished my food. Ryan finished first though, eating at record speeds. I started to feel a little overwhelmed by how busy it was and all the conversation.

“Hey, Ryan, is it okay if we step outside?” I asked, gently nudging him.

“Oh, yeah, little overwhelming isn’t it,” he said, instantly understanding why I wanted to go out. “Julie and I will head out for a little bit, just to get some fresh air.”

“Okay,” Ms. Morgan said, waving to us. “See you two lovebirds in a few.”

***

“God, it’s cold,” I said, shivering. Despite the fact that I was wearing a hoodie, it was still quite cold. Maybe because I chose to wear a short skirt.

“Here, have my jacket,” Ryan said, draping his massive jacket across my shoulders. We were outside sitting on the bench.

“That feels better,” I said, wrapping the jacket across my body. “Aren’t you cold though?”

“A little, but I can handle it,” Ryan said.

“Sure then, I’ll let you be the cold one,” I said, giggling.

“Wow, making me come outside and then leaving me cold,” Ryan said, chuckling. “I’m just joking of course.”

“I still get a little overwhelmed when there are so many people,” I said, shifting in my seat. “But still, it’s a lot better than it used to be.”

“How is that?” Ryan asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Well, I used to avoid people and couldn’t handle even the slightest bit of socialization,” I said. “Meals used to be so different too. Dad used to always pressure me about doing this or that, but now I’m just free to be me.”

“I’m glad,” Ryan said. “You’re such a great person Julie, I’m glad you broke out of your shell.”

I smiled as I leaned on Ryan’s shoulder. I couldn’t believe where I was now. A few months ago, I thought dressing up as a girl was just a hobby. I viewed Ryan as little more than a nuisance, mostly there to get me more money for clothes. Now that annoying boy was my boyfriend, and I was a girl. Me, Julie Parker, a girl. I giggled a little bit at the thought, it was nice.

“What’s so funny?” Ryan asked.

“Oh, nothing,” I responded. “Just reminiscing.”

“Yeah, there’s a lot to reminisce about, huh?” he said, putting an arm around me. “So much happened the past few months, it’s weird to think about.”

“It is,” I said. “I’m happy to be where I am now though.”

“So am I,” Ryan said. “I wouldn’t have had things happen any other way. I’m so happy to have you in my life.”

“I love you Ryan,” I said, looking up at him.

“I love you too,” he responded with a lopsided grin. Our lips met, and we kissed deeply. After a few seconds, we pulled away, and I grinned. I really did love my life now.

 

Thank you all so much for reading! I hope you all enjoy the end of Self Discovery.

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