Charlotte walked into the kitchen, her Mary Janes making crisp noises on the bare hardwood floor.
“All ready, Mom!” she chirped. Mom smiled, though Charlotte noticed her mom’s mouth twitched a bit.
“Good job, baby. Let’s brush that pretty hair of yours; I think we have a few minutes before the bus comes.”
Mom took Charlotte’s hand and walked into their bedroom. Charlotte sat down on the chair in front of the vanity. She looked in the mirror and smiled. Mom picked up the good hairbrush and began stroking Charlotte’s hair. This was one of Charlotte’s favorite parts of the day, feeling her mother’s sure fingers teasing out the occasional knot, humming as she stroked.
Charlotte watched Mom’s reflection pull out a long, blonde hair from the brush.
“I swear, Charlotte, your hair just gets prettier every day!”
Charlotte beamed, then turned towards the window. The windows were much smaller in their new house, and it had been hard getting used to going to school every day instead of staying with Mom and reading and going out to run errands. But she was starting to like her new classmates.
“Well, I guess that’s our cue,” Mom sighed. “Come on, baby, let’s get you out the door. I can pick you up after work today. Maybe we’ll come home and bake something.”
Charlotte hugged her mom around the waist. “Yeah! Bye, Mom!”
Mom pecked her cheek. “Be good. Be sure to keep your ankles crossed.”
Charlotte huffed. “Moooom!”
“Young lady, have a good day at school. You know the rules.”
Charlotte looked up at her mom. “Yes, ma’am.”
The rest of the morning passed quickly. Finally, it was snack time. Charlotte ate her ring cookies and sipped her apple juice. She needed to go to the bathroom, so she walked to the corner of the classroom. They shared it with the younger kindergartners next door.
Charlotte knocked on the door, squirming a little bit. Since no one was there, she opened the door and let herself in.
The toilet was little and lower than the one they had at home, and easier to use. Charlotte sighed in relief and situated herself, making sure to lock the door. She yanked her panties down and hiked up her dress; she REALLY needed to go. Charlotte plopped down on the toilet seat.
The door popped open. “Oh, I’m so sorry!” said Marcy. She was sometimes the playground helper and she was the classroom aide for the little kids next door. “Please excuse me, Charlotte…uh…“ Marcy trailed off.
Charlotte froze. “Please…please leave? My mom said you should always knock.”
“I’ll be right back.”
Charlotte heard a muffled voice through the door.
“What do you mean she has a penis? Do you realize we could get sued? Are you sure there isn’t some kind of mistake?”
Marcy’s hushed voice couldn’t be made out. Snippets came through…something about child projected services?
Charlotte sniffed and pulled her panties up, then walked out the door of the restroom.
Her teacher was waiting for her. Her lips were pressed into a thin line.
“We’re giving your mom a call, and then you’re going to go to a special meeting.”
Charlotte didn’t go home that night. During the meeting, Charlotte didn’t understand why her mom started screaming and crying. Charlotte’s face crumpled up when a police officer came and walked away with her mother.
“Shh, shh, it’s ok baby. You’re my perfect little girl. They’ll understand and this will all be over soon. We’ll bake something, we’ll make chocolates…it will be a regular candy factory when you come home.”
Before she knew it, Charlotte was at Walmart. They bought her an ugly striped shirt and shorts. The lady had to show her how to put them on. The lady wanted Charlotte to put the new underwear on, but Charlotte started whimpering.
The next few weeks were a blur of meeting with new people. A doctor, more meeting with the lady, who was something called a “case worker.” A special doctor, who said he worked with children and showed her puppets. She kind of liked the doctor; he let her play with dolls.
The new people she lived with were named Stan and Janet. They’d shown her to a new bed the first night. Everything smelled funny, none of the good wood polish smell like at home. There were no dolls or stuffed animals, only toy trucks and make-believe tools.
“Charlie, supper’s ready,” called Stan. Charlotte did not budge. “Dammit, boy, I SAID supper’s ready.”
Janet shushed him. “Charles? Sweetie? Come one, we have brownies for dessert!” Charlotte knew she wasn’t supposed to hear the next thing, but she’d gotten really good at listening.
“Stan, it’s not his fault his mother’s crazy. Raising a perfectly normal boy as a girl…my god. We have to set a good example; be easier on him.”
Stan grunted. Charlotte heard the jingle of his car keys. “Janet, I’ll eat later. The boy’s coming with me. Charles! Come here.”
Charlotte knew better than to disobey. She shuffled towards the kitchen. Her new sneakers were too big.
“Let’s go in the truck.”
Stan helped Charlotte climb up onto the big seat. He buckled her in. They drove down the road. Stan pulled into a cluster of small shops. One of them had a big red and white striped pole.
“Alright, son,” said Stan. “You’re not going to like it, but it’s time we did something with that hair.”
“Oh, Mommy used to cut my hair,” said Charlotte.
They walked in.
“This little boy needs a haircut very badly,” said Stan.
The barber raised an eyebrow. “I’d say so. Come on, then, get in the chair.”
Charlotte winced as the man put her hair into a ponytail. She heard a snick and watched, disbelievingly, as the man came away with a long rope of hair in his hand.
Charlotte looked in the mirror, and screamed as a stranger looked back at her.