With a quick flick of his wrist, Gavin grabbed for my hat exposing my newly shaved head.
“You cut it off!” He exclaimed, shock all over his face. “I can’t believe it! You followed that old toad.”
“Ms. Ann is not a toad,” I said, defending her. Gavin had a nickname for all of our teachers. Some of the names were funny, but calling Ms. Ann a toad was just plain mean. He called all of her favorite students toadies, too.
“You used to be cool,” he said, not hiding his disappointment.
“I was boring!”
“Boring to who? To Ms. Ann? Who cares what she thinks!”
Gavin shoved my hat into my hands. “You care!” He said, not bothering to hide his disgust.
“No, I —” I started to deny it, but instead I got angry. “Of course I want her to like me. I want to get a good grade. I want my art to be noticed – to be good!”
“Art,” he scoffed. “Is that what we’re doing here?”
“Yes!” I said, but Gavin was done talking to me. He walked to his usual desk, shoved his earbuds into place and completely blocked me out.
“Wow! Now that’s short hair!” Isabel said as she entered the classroom. “Gene, you really are coming out.”
Clark/Celeste entered, their lacey top rustling around them in a feminine swirl. “Is that your statement?” They asked, rubbing their hand over my shaved head. “I like it.”
It felt curiously strange as they played with my head, their hand teasing the little bit of fuzz that was attempting valiantly to grow back. Ms. Ann came rushing through the classroom door, and her dark eyes sparkled approvingly as she took in my appearance.
“Class,” she said, addressing us all. “Today, we are going to pick apart one of our own.” She walked to the easel and pulled off the paint-smattered cloth with one tug. “‘Freedom’ by our very own Gene.”
“No!” I couldn’t help but protest. I didn’t want everyone’s advice. I wasn’t done yet. It was a work in progress.
“Now, Gene, we all have to have a critique at some point. This is your turn.” She turned back toward my painting and pointed to the red cyclist. “Do you see how the artist has tried to convey the feeling of freedom and movement? What do you think of the color choice?”
The class was eager to pick apart my choices. All but Gavin. He had checked out weeks ago.
“It’s almost looks like she doesn’t know what freedom is. She needs to…” Isabel stopped talking when Clark/Celeste put their hand on her arm. Isabel turned toward me, an expression of guilt written all over her face. “I’m sorry, Gene. Do you want to be referred to as ‘they’, or ‘he’?
The very same eyes that so easily tore apart my painting, now turned toward me. They were curious eyes, and careless. Eager to tear and rend and remake without a thought for the outcome. For me.
“It’s Eugenia,” I said, my voice sounded scratchy and unused.
“Gene?” Ms. Ann asked, half laughing. “Are you sure?”
“It’s Eu-gen-i-a,” I said again, enunciating every syllable. And this time, my voice was firm.