I looked at him as he placed his hand on the side of my face gently. This was the man that I loved. The only man that I have ever loved really. He is rugged, kind, amazing. My Clay. Not perfect or imperfect but perfect to me because of that. And he has chosen me as his girl. Only I’m not. Not really. At least not yet.
“Giovanna I want to ask you something.”
“What is it Clay?”
“I know we’ve only been dating a short while but I have never felt this way before. You fascinate me. You complete me.”
He stands up and takes a tiny box from his pocket. I’m melting. I’m freaking out. I don’t know what I’m feeling because my mind is so mixed up. He gets down on one knee. Now I’m really freaking out!
“I love you Giovanna Lima and I want to spend the rest of my life. Will you marry me?”
My mouth is gone dry. I feel ill. I feel happy. I wrap my arms around him holding him tightly. I don’t want to ever let him go.
“Giovanna, you haven’t answered me. Is that a yes?”, he laughed.
I don’t reply. I know he’s going to find this weird but I don’t know what to say. This is getting more and more complicated by the day.
“Giovanna babe …”, he begins nervously.
I know that I have to speak.
“Yes. Yes, it’s a yes.”
He kisses me passionately.
“Oh babe you’ve made me the happiest man in the world.”
“Yeah.”, I say faking a smile.
He holds me into his chest. I can smell the warm, musky odour he has and I inhale it deeply into my nostrils. This brings tears into my eyes. Luckily he can’t see me crying. And I think how this should be the happiest day of my life and it isn’t. Well not completely anyway. I am so happy that he has asked me but so overwhelmed by the fact that I know in my heart of hearts that it won’t come off in the end. And the thought of him not in my life kills me. I don’t ever want that day to come.
“Let’s not wait!”, he says excitedly.
“Let’s do it in two weeks when the cup is over.”
He is a top footballer and really good actually though sport isn’t my thing.
“Yeah. I mean why not?”
He is naturally spontaneous by nature. It’s one of the things I love about him. But I just wish he wouldn’t be so spontaneous right now.
“Little G are you with me?”
“Yeah. Two weeks time sounds good Clay babe.”, I find myself saying in that vulnerable, easy way of a woman in love though I know I should put this off for a bit longer.
He holds me tighter.
“This is going to be amazing Giovanna. You are amazing.”
Oh kill me now! Just kill me now!
I get home from Clay’s flat after the proposal. One of my two flatmates Craig is there. He is dancing around to show tunes while occasionally checking the time on the microwave.
“Been trying to get this shepherd’s pie to cook for the last half hour!”, he complains before adding,
“Did you have a nice day with Clay?”
I sigh deeply and slump myself into a chair.
“Oh, that bad, eh? You didn’t tell him, did you?!”
He looks nervous.
“No! Of course I didn’t! I wouldn’t be sitting here right now if I did! I’d be in the ICU!”
“If he lays a finger on you he’ll have me to deal with!”
“Craig whatever happens don’t hurt him. I don’t want that.”
“What happened?”, he asks ignoring my comment.
The ping sound goes off from the microwave.
“I’ll just get that. Keep talking Gia.”
He heads over to the microwave and takes it out.
“Yeah, all done. At last!”
“He asked me to marry him.”
He drops the shepherd’s pie.
“Oh pet your dinner …”
“Don’t worry about that. You said no, right?”
I sigh and look at the floor.
“Oh my god Giovanna! You can’t marry him when he really doesn’t know who you are!”
“Well he does …”
“I know he knows you as a person. That isn’t what I’m saying and you know that girl!”
“I love him Craig.”
He sighs and rubs his forehead in distress.
“I know you do. I know you do sweetheart but you’re deceiving him. Honey, this is getting way out of hand.”
“I know but I mean I’m getting the operation soon and …”
“That isn’t the point. What are you going to do? Keep all this secret from him for all-time?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Sweetie you can’t do that to the guy!”
“I don’t know. I just don’t want to lose him! You think I should tell him?!”
“No! Oh god no! Just say you want to concentrate on your career or something. You’re a career lady, it’s plausible. Tell him anything sweetie. Just don’t tell him you’re a dude! If I was dating a guy and he turned out to be a girl I’d freak out so keep that bit back, yeah?”
“Either way I’m going to be without him.”
“Only one way you won’t be in the ICU and I won’t be in prison!”, he smiles.
“Craig, I’m serious!”
“I know you are! So am I though. I’m not condoning what you are doing mate but that’s what you are. My mate. And I won’t stand back if he hurts you. Protest all you like Gia, I ain’t changing how I feel girl.”
“We best get that dinner up.”
We begin to pick up the dinner between us.
My technical name is Gabriel Lima. I was born in Sao Paulo in Brazil twenty-two years ago to my parents Sophia and Pedro Lima. I have two older brothers Santos and Rodrigo. When I was fourteen I made the decision to tell my family that I felt like a woman trapped inside a man’s body. So now here I am now. In love with a man who will probably reject me if he finds out. I know Craig is right of course. I have to set him loose some way so that he never knows but it is difficult. I can’t bare the thought of him not in my life anymore. Not smiling at me. Not cuddling me. Not me inhaling his scent.
I arrive at Clay’s next match with my two flatmates Craig and Ava. I love the pair of them to bits. If we were in secondary school we would have been all at the bottom of the social ladder talking about books and playwrights. Sadly we were at our respective secondary schools but on our own with a book. Still we eventually found each other.
“Doesn’t he just look so hot in his shorts?”, I say proudly.
“Is that creep here?”, Craig asks ignoring me.
He’s talking about Craig’s team-mate Simon.
“He’s not a creep. He just fancies you Craig. Can a guy not come onto someone nowadays without been called a creep?”
“I was having a leak when he came onto me Gia!”
“His timing was a little off I admit …”
“A little off?! Really?!”
“He’s sexy though. I mean I would.”, interrupts Ava.
“It’s not happening guys!”, Craig says rolling his eyes.
“Oh look Simon sorced!”, I said excitedly.
“Only on the field!”, Ava giggled causing Craig and I to giggle also.
Ava and Craig like football. I don’t. But then Clay doesn’t like literature and I’m a librarian so we’re even. Simon has just ran over to us. He hugs Craig. I see them go up on the big screen. Craig will not be pleased. Simon flashes him a quick smile and runs back onto the pitch.
“Did he just do that?! This is his last match because I’ll sure as hell kill him after it!”, Craig says angrily.
“Oh Craig, cut him some slack! He really likes you.”, I say in defence.
“He’s like a dog on heat Gia!”
“As I said, he really likes you!”
I stormed down to the dressing-room. I was fuming! No, fuming is an understatement but I can’t think of a better word! I got there and went in. There he was in the corner laughing away having sorced the only goal of the match.
“Si, we need to talk!”
“You do not want me to get into it here! Outside now!”
I can see Clay and their other mate Caleb smile to each other. I walk outside and he follows.
“I can explain …”, he begins before I get the chance to speak.
“Really?! You can, can you?”
“I got excited. You are the first person I think of when I get all excited.”
“Oh don’t give me that! You took your goddamn opportunity!”
He smiles and sighs.
“Busted. But hey I like you. I know that I came onto you at the wrong time. I was nervous. You were concentrating on going to the toilet so you weren’t looking straight at me and because you weren’t I was more at ease talking to you.”
“But I’m the shy one …”
“Yeah but I am when I like someone Craig …”
“Oh come on you’ve dated everyone!”
“I meant with guys I really like and Craig I really like you. And I’m sorry about what I said about your employment status. I didn’t mean it. I was just angry because you turned me down which you are totally entitled to do. I’m just not used to it.”
“Are you still chasing me because I turned you down or because you like me?”
“Maybe a bit of both.”
“Ok. If you’re still up for it then let’s give this a go. Why not?”
“Are you serious?!”
“Cool. But why didn’t you want to date me before?”
“Because I’m trying to break into journalism and I want to do that off my own back. I don’t want to get it because I’m the boyfriend of the best footballer in the league. The no.1 bloody goalscorer around. I want to achieve things on my talent or whatever talent I have.”
“Ok, I promise I won’t try to help you in any way.”
That night I’m sitting on Simon’s sofa cosed up to him watching a film. He keeps cuddling me. He’s majorly tactile. It’s really nice. He’s talking about his career. I don’t interrupt to say that I know most of it because I like listening to him talking about it and putting his own personal andedotes to it and I also love listening to the sound of his voice.
“I made my debut at 17 and it was horrific. I gave away two goals and almost a third before the half. The gaffer decided enough was enough and he took me off before the half was out. I thought my career was over before it even began. I was dead nervous, wasn’t trusting my own judgement because I was so nervous.”
“Oh you should always trust your judgement. It’s spot-on.”
“Yeah I’d agree with that.”, I smile and he giggles.
“So tell me about you …”
“There’s not much to tell …”
“Well tell me what there is to tell.”
“It’s not as exciting as you. I mean when I was 17 I was just in my Leaving Certificate year back in Ireland. About to begin on the dole. There’s no jobs.”
“I know. Stop justifying yourself.”
“Then I started a course when I was 22 and I’m in the second year of that now.”
“Journalism, is it?”
“Fashion. But fashion journalism comes into it and I want to further that aspect of the course in the future.”
“So fashion journalism is what you want to get into?”
“Well that or entertainment journalism. I’ve always been a nosy git into the lives of the old celebs!”
“I can well believe that!”, he smiles.
I was sitting in our flat with Craig and Ava in my wedding dress. It was the night before my wedding day.
“You have got to tell him it’s over! This is going too far Gia!”, Craig is saying.
“Giovanna this is serious. The guy doesn’t know you were born a guy! And Simon’ll hate me!”
“Is that all you’re worried about?! Your boyfriend of two weeks hating you?!”
“I really like him! Don’t be so selfish!”
“And Caleb’ll hate me.”, Ava says,
“We started dating earlier today. He bought me flowers. I don’t like flowers but it was sweet and I like him.”, she added.
“Guys, I can’t tell him it’s over! I love him!”
The two of them sigh and give me a hug.
The next day at 2 pm I am walking up the aisle of the local church. Craig is walking me up the aisle instead of my father looking fearful. I haven’t even told my family I’m getting married or that I’m even dating Clay. I can’t tell them I’m deceiving someone completely. Ava is my bridesmaid and she looks just as fearful. Clay is up the top smiling to me as he stands with his best man Simon and groomsman Caleb. I’m forcing myself to smile back. I can’t do this. I know I can’t. I find myself stopping. Clay rushes to me.
“Are you alright? Did you get a pain?”
“No. We need to talk Clay.”
“Does it have to happen now? Can’t it wait until later?”
“No. We need to talk now babe.”
“Ok. Ok.”, he says softly going back up to the vicar to let him know. His father is staring at me with his stare boring into me. I look at the floor to avoid his gaze. Clay comes back to me and takes my hand softly.
“The vicar said we can go into the vestible to chat.”
We go into the vesatible and sit down.
“What’s going on little G?”
“I can’t …”, I begin but my words fail me because I don’t really want to say them.
“You can’t what? You can’t marry me?”
“Um …”, I begin.
He interupts me.
“Look I know that I am not good enough for you. I’ve known that since day one but I love you. But if you’re not happy I understand and I’ll set you free.”
“You’ve met someone else. I understand.”
“No. You’re the only man I ever loved …”
“I just am not ready for this.”
“What? Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“What’s the real reason? You’re holding back.”
“I know you! Tell me!”
“I can’t. It’s off! I have to get out of here!”, I say standing up.
He takes hold of my hand roughly.
“Ow! Clay, stop, you’re hurting me!”
He doesn’t let go.
“Tell me Giovanna! You owe me that!”
“I’m a …”
“You’re a what?”
“I’m a … I’m a man. Well I was born a man. I’m going to have the operation soon and …”
My words are stopped by a punch going into the side of my nose knocking me to the floor.
“I hate you! You are a sick, weird creature and you’re nothing to me anymore!”, he says with venom flowing from his lips before storming out.
Within seconds Craig and Ava have rushed in. They both help me to my feet as tears stream down my face.
“Did he do this?!”, Craig fumes.
“No! No, I fell!”
“I’ll bloody kill him!”, Craig says rushing out.
“No Craig, no!”, I shout but he’s gone.
“It’s Ok. You’re going to be Ok.”, Ava says softly taking a tissue from her bag and starting to wipe the blood which is pouring from my nose.
“Ava, I hope he doesn’t hurt him.”, I say.
I catch up with him up the road from the church.
“Hey Clay, what the hell did you do that for?!”
“Oh if it isn’t one of the accomplices!”
“She didn’t know what to do …”
“She?! Don’t make me laugh!”
“I know you’re angry. I understand but you didn’t have to hit her.”
“He needed a punch. He deserved it.”
I punch him. He wobbles slightly.
“Have you ever heard of assault charges?”
Simon has now joined us. Noticing Clay’s eye, he looks at me.
“Craig, what the hell have you done?”
“Your little boyfriend here hit me!”
“Why did you do that?!”, Simon asks me in shock.
“Because I hit his freak of a friend!”
I go to punch him again but Simon holds me back.
“Control yourself Craig.”
“Yeah the little freak is a man and Craig knew this, didn’t he?”
“Is this true?”
“I could hardly tell on her, could I Si?”
“Oh my god!”
“I’m calling the police.”, Clay says taking his mobile phone from his trouser pocket.
“Stop! Don’t do that! Please Clay don’t do that. We’re friends! He’s my boyfriend! Please Clay. Don’t do this.”, Simon protests.
“He hit me! Maybe you mate should consider getting a new boyfriend!”
He starts to dial the number. Simon lets me go and pulls the phone from Clay’s hands. He throws it onto the ground and stamps on it breaking it.
“Si, that’s my phone!”
“Yeah, well you’ll have to report that too, won’t you?!”
Simon takes hold of my hand and the way he pulls on my hand as we walk away I know that I’m in the doghouse.
“I’m sorry.”, I whisper.
“You’re not one bit sorry!”
“He hit her. What was I supposed to do?!”
“Comfort her. Not be the big macho man going and punching him!”
“As I said before you’re not one bit!”
“Then why did you defend me?”
“Because you’re my boyfriend! I’ll never let you down! It doesn’t mean that I think you’re right!”
“Ok. Thanks anyway.”
“If he reports you you could go to prison … And if he does I’ll never speak to him again!”
I sat with my father.
“How did you not know?! Weren’t you two … active?”
“No. Giovanna wanted to wait a bit.”
“Now we know why.”
“Yes, thanks dad for pointing that out.”
“And Simon’s boyfriend punching you. Their a crazy connection! You have got to report that lunatic!”
“I’m not going to report him dad …”
“Son you have to …”
“Craig’s alright. He was defending his friend. And besides Si is my friend. I can’t do that to him. I just lost my head.”
“Well it’s your call.”
A call comes through my father. He has to go.
Tears come into my eyes once he is gone. I am angry but most of all I miss her. Or him. But I’m not gay. Or am I? But it isn’t guys in general I’m into. It’s just Giovanna. And I can’t just change my feelings. All those feelings I have built up for Giovanna because of her gender. But I can’t go back to her. Can I? Thinking throughout my life that I’m straight and to then realise that I’m gay. I’m so confused right now.
I go into training the next day. Simon comes over with a new mobile phone.
“Sorry mate about …”, he begins.
“It’s alright. You were defending Craig. That’s natural. I didn’t report him.”
Relief seems to wash over him.
“You love him, don’t you?”
“It’s early days and I know I shouldn’t but yeah. He’s everything I ever wanted in someone and so much more.”
I know that feeling. I’ve only ever felt it with Giovanna. But how could I trust her again?
“Don’t let him go then.”
“I don’t plan on.”
He pulls a box from his trouser pocket.
“I’m going to propose tonight.”
“Ah Si, I’m so happy for you.”
“He hasn’t said yes yet.”
“Hold that back with Craig. He’s massively unpredictable.”
“Yeah, I totally understand that first hand or first fist or whatever way you want to put it!”, I laugh.
“I’m sorry about that.”, Simon smiles weakly.
“No, he was defending Giovanna. He’s her mate. He got angry. It’s understandable in hindsight.”
“She loves you …”
“And I am not condoning what she done but she loves you and mate you love her.”
“But I’m not gay Si. Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with been gay. I just amn’t.”
“No, I understand. I mean I’m not straight and it isn’t that I find anything wrong with been straight but I would totally freak out if Craig turned out to be female … You don’t think he is and he hasn’t told me?!”
He looks horrified. I have to smile.
“I don’t think he is female.”
“Well a lot of the time a dude is stronger than a female and his punch was pretty hard!”
“But he could be a strong female!”
“Don’t sweat. I don’t think he is Si!”
“Oh mate, I shouldn’t have told you about the proposal. I wasn’t thinking …”
“It’s Ok. I’m fine. I’m happy for you and the world champion of boxing.”
I am shaking as I walk to his flat. I have never proposed to anyone before. Will I fall getting down on one knee? Will he find it corny? I sigh and knock on his door. Giovanna answers. Her eyes are red from crying and her nose is banaged up. I have a mixture of anger and sympathy for her.
“Is Craig here?”, I ask.
“Listen what I did to Clay …”
“It’s none of my concern. I just want to see Craig.”
“He’s gone down to get some books in the bookstore.”
“In the shopping centre?”
“Si, how is he?”
“How do you think he is? He’s hurt.”, I say and leave.
Craig is waiting by a lift upstairs when I find him in the shopping centre. He is swinging a plastic shopping bag from side to side. He hates going down in escalators thinking he’ll fall so he always runs for the lift.
“Si, what are you doing here?”
“Giovanna told me you were out buying books. Listen I have to ask you something. Well two things really.”
“Are you female?”
Craig looks around and smiles weakly at the other people waiting for the lift.
“No Si, I am not female! Do I look female?!”
“I’m just asking. You can’t be too sure! Ok, Craig …”, I begin and get down on one knee, pulling the box from my trouser pocket.
“Si, what are you doing?”
I open the box to reveal the engagement ring and take his hand in mine.
“I love you Craig. I love you because you’re kind, you’re nerdy, because you look at me and you don’t see a famous footballer. You see me. I love you because when you look at me you don’t see the colour of my skin. And because of that you make me the happiest black man alive. Craig, marry me?”
A chorus of aws go up around us from the other people waiting for the lift.
“Oh Si …”, he says beginning to cry.
I wish he’d hurry up. My knee is giving way but I keep smiling.
“Yes. Yes, I love you too.”, he says and thankfully pulls me up from the floor and holds me close to him kissing me.
The people at the lift start clapping.
“Craig, I have to put the ring on babe.”
“Oh yeah.”, he smiles through tears.
I place the ring on his finger and I begin to wipe his tears in my fingers.
“I love you so much Si and I will get you a ring soon. I promise.”
“It’s alright. Take your time. I knows finances …”
“Watch it Si!”
“I’m only trying to be nice. Don’t take it like that.”
“Ok. Ok. Grand.”
I breathe a sigh of relief and hold him close. I think how this is going to be fun sarcastically but also that I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have never been happier than I am right now.
I’m sitting crying in my flat when I hear a knock at the door. I go to answer it. It’s Clay.
“Giovanna, can I come in? We need to talk.”
“Yeah sure. Come on in.”
I let him in and close the door.
“Have a seat. Do want a cup of tea? Coffee? A beer?”
I’m speaking quickly. I’m all nerves.
“It’s Ok. I don’t want anything.”, he says and sits down.
“Fine.”, I reply and sit down beside him.
There is silence for a few moments before he speaks.
“Why did you do it?”
“I fancied you. It was only supposed to be a short-term thing with a hot footballer …”
“Then where was this hot footballer?”, he smiles.
Oh, he’s joking me. We’ve moved on from him calling me a sick, weird creature. Progress.
“Oh stop Clay!”, I smile,
“But I was going to leave you before it got serious. I was only after a bit of fun. You have no idea what it is like been a woman trapped inside a man’s body. It’s so hard to find love. It’s hard enough as it is but for me it’s even harder. You don’t know how someone is going to react. And I am only young. I want to meet people as much as anyone else and it gets lonely sometimes and it hurts.”, I continue.
“But why didn’t you break it off with me eventually then?”
“Because I couldn’t. The plan was always to let you go. To not hurt you. But then I just couldn’t. I fell in love. I’ve never felt anything like this for anyone before.”
“Oh Giovanna, what am I supposed to do?”
“Whatever you want to do.”
“But it’s not that simple, is it?”
“Because I want you. And I’m so confused.”
“You want me?”
“Oh I don’t know. I shouldn’t have hit you …”
“You were angry. It’s alright …”
“It’s not alright. I was a twat. You were my partner and I just punched you. I was wrong and I’m sorry. And you’re not a sick, weird creature. I’m sorry. You are the sweetest, most incredible woman I have ever met and if you were born female I would never leave you.”
“Ok, so that’s it then, is it?”
“I’m sorry for what’s it’s worth. I didn’t mean to hurt you. But I understand …”
“Giovanna it’s difficult.”
“It’s Ok. I understand. You’re fine.”
“I’m not fine! How can I be fine?! I love you! To have what we have, I don’t know how to walk away from that. I have never felt like this before either.”
There is silence before he holds me close and kisses me passionately and lingeringly.
“So that means the wedding’s back on?”
“Little G, let’s take one step at a time.”
“Ok.”, I smile.
“Thanks for not reporting me either to the police.”
“I wouldn’t do that on you babe.”
Seems everyone is kissing passionately and lingeringly as Craig and Simon come in doing the same.
I notice the ring on Craig’s wedding finger. I rush towards him and hug him and Simon.
“Oh my god! Craig! Congratulations Craig!”, I say happily,
“Congratulations Si.”, I add as Clay comes forward and shakes Simon’s hand.
“Well done mate. Congrats.”
He turns to Craig and pats him on the shoulder.
“Thanks and sorry for punching you.”
“Forget it. Me and Giovanna are giving things another go.”, Clay says.
“Oh brilliant. I’m so happy for you two!”, Craig says giving us both a hug.
“That’s great news.”, Simon adds.
Ava comes in dancing with Caleb.
“We’ve just been to ballroom dancing classes!”, Ava informs us all.
“I didn’t enjoy it really.”, Caleb clearly lies because his team-mates are here.
“Me and Clay are back together.”, I say.
“Oh fab and are you getting married?”, Ava says hugging us.
“No, we’re taking things slow.”, I say.
“I’m happy you guys are back together.”, Caleb adds.
“But me and Si are getting married.”, Craig says happily showing Ava his ring.
“Oh my god! Congratulations guys!”, Ava says happily as she throws her arms around Craig and Simon.
“Congrats fellas.”, Caleb adds,
“I knew of course. Si told me. But you were secretive Clay.”
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do myself to be honest. But now …”, he says and looks at me before taking my hand gently in his,
“Now I can see everything clearly.”