The following two weeks after homecoming, Evan and I are sitting in the Social Deductions room. We’ve been swamped lately with about a million breakups; the club room, which is typically pretty quiet, has been swamped with the sound of sobs. Even crying guys. I have to admit, it was kinda funny to see the most popular football player crying so much after his girlfriend dumped him.
However, I think the flow of people is starting to die down a little. Good; I’ve been staying longer than I should. In fact, after the jock came in (at 4:30! After I thought I was done! ) I nearly passed out, but thankfully Evan stopped me. It was weird; usually, I’m the one who’s trying to make him stop being a couch potato.
The door opens again, and judging by the silhouette, it’s a guy. “If you’re here because your girlfriend dumped you, we’re clo-”
“I’m not gay or trans!”
Well that’s new. “Okay…” How do you respond to that? “So…is that why you’re here? People think you are?” His voice sounds off. Maybe that’s why? No, not quite…maybe a developmental problem? Either Downs or autism.
“Yeah.” He’s tall; maybe 6’0. Imposing. “Erm… You can sit down…” I offer.
“Oh! I can?” he asks.
“I just said so…”
As he sits down, I make some observations: blonde buzz cut, but judging by some extra fuzz, had hair done a little while ago. A Senior. Fidgets a lot; nervous. However, he’s also crossed his arms. Add that to tapping his foot, and it means he may be annoyed. As I thought earlier, his voice makes me think he has some sort of developmental problem; however, it doesn’t seem too serious.
“What’s the problem?” I ask.
He takes a long breath. “I’d like to clear the air a bit.”
“I’m autistic. It’s not serious, but it means I’ve got some unconventional interests.”
I nod again. “Yeah, makes sense. Are the interests a problem, or?”
“Yeah. The reason I said I’m not gay or trans is because I like women’s shoes.”
I think for a moment, but he takes it the wrong way. “See, even you’re judging me! I’m leav-”
I shake my head. “No, I’m not judging. I’m thinking. I’m silent when I think, okay?”
He still looks mad, but he doesn’t leave. “Fine. Okay, I’m sorry. I’m just paranoid about people judging.”
Evan says, “Yeah, it’s okay. I’d be paranoid, too.”
I tap my pencil a moment. “What’s your name?” I ask suddenly. “You’ve told us some pretty personal information, but not your name.”
He smacks his head. “Oh my God! I forgot…I’m Andrew Sullivan.”
I smile a little. “Nice to meet you, Andrew. Now tell me; why do you like women’s shoes?”
He thinks for a moment. “Erm, I suppose…it comes down to the colors. They look better than men’s shoes. Typically, the comfiest men’s shoes are brown. I hate brown!”
Hmm. Interesting. But women’s shoes are odd; they can be really comfy, or really painful. “Do you like the comfy, colorful women’s shoes, Andrew?”
“Yeah! They’re really expensive, though. That, and… I’ve only found a few pairs that work for my foot size.”
“I can imagine,” I say. “Andrew, why are we meeting now? What’s changed?”
He goes a little red. “I’d…like to date and marry someday. I just…don’t want my likes to push her away…”
Ah. “Andrew, what types of women’s shoes do you like?”
He glances down at my feet for a moment. “I actually like the kinda shoes that you’re wearing. Sneakers. Light blues, dark purples, and bright reds.”
I note this. “Andrew, can we meet again on Friday? I’d like to look some stuff up.”
He slouches. “It’s about whether this behavior is normal for autistic people, isn’t it? Well, it is and it isn’t. Everyone I’ve met is different. Like, I’ve met autistic guys who like nail polish but aren’t trans. So don’t stereotype!” he snaps.
I sigh and put my pencil down. It’s always difficult to help kids with developmental problems; you never know what may set them off. “No, I wasn’t gonna look that up. I don’t trust Google with this stuff, Andrew. Like, Google tries to tell you that a cold is cancer. I don’t trust it with mental and developmental stuff either.”
He relaxes a little. “Well, that’s good.”
“He’s got a crush,” I inform Evan as we’re walking home.
“How’d you figure that out, Sage?” he asks.
“He suddenly decided to go and get help today. Suddenly, Evan. That’s the key word. Social Deductions has been up for a few months now. He could’ve gotten help whenever, so why now?”
Evan nods. “Ah. Okay, that makes sense…”
“He probably wants to find guy’s shoes with good colors that are comfy. However, my mindset is that the right girl would be accepting and understand that he’s not trans, gay, bi, etc. So I have a dilemma. Do I find some shoes for him, or do I just tell him my honest opinion?”
Evan thinks for a moment. “I’d say tell him your opinion, but also look up some shoes that are a compromise; y’know, kinda androgynous. Make him choose, instead of letting him manipulate you into choosing for him.”
I sigh. “Is that what you think’s happenings? He wants me to choose?”
He nods. “Yeah.”
I rub my forehead for a moment. “Okay, Evan. That sounds like a good idea.”
It turns out, Andrew does have a point; a lot of the really cool looking shoes have reviews that say they aren’t as comfy as other brands, which mainly consist of brown shoes.
But I am determined; Evan’s words struck something inside, an anger. I can’t let Andrew manipulate me. I’m certain that if I weren’t so tired from the sudden amount of people coming in, I would’ve caught on and confronted him about it during our meeting.
I think about it; he said that he wanted to ‘clear the air’, therefore giving me the impression that he wasn’t lying, and that he was being completely forthcoming, even though he wasn’t. In fact, he was probably coming in, hoping I’d make the choice for him. There may not even be a crush, and he was just trying to give that impression. Anger flares up again. Andrew may be a lot smarter than I was giving him credit for.
Of course, a lot of this may be paranoia; maybe he isn’t such a master planner. Maybe he’s just an autistic guy with a crush and a dilemma, and he can think of several options, but be unable to choose. I just don’t know what to think anymore. I may find out on when Friday comes, though.
Friday arrives. Thankfully, there’s no one else who I made an appointment with.
I wait in the Social Deductions room with Evan. Okay, so I’ve got a plan. Please let it work, though…
The door creaks open. “Okay, I’m here,” Andrew says.
I nod. “Okay, come sit.”
He sits down. “So, um, what’ve you come up with?”
I hand him a few shoe brands. “I decided to try to find a midway point for you. Y’know, shoes that are supposed to be comfy, but also have cool colors.” I hand him pictures of shoes that are meant for guys, but have the colors that Andrew likes. “I had to dig around for a while.”
His eyes flick over the pictures. “I like these,” he says.
“However, I do think that you should have one pair of women’s shoes.”
His head shoots up when I say that. “What! But you just said… Are you trying to screw with my head?” he says, his voice raising to a shout.
Evan starts to speak. “Hey! No shouting. We’re staying after school for you, damn it! At least act nice!”
Andrew mutters to himself.
“Mm? What was that’s?” I ask.
He glares at me. “You’re not helping at all! Here I am, thinking you’d help me, but all you’re doing is screwing with my head. I’m outta here,” he snarls, and he rises to leave.
“What’re you so upset about, Andrew?” I ask. “Is it ‘cause I’m not making the decision for you? Is that what you wanted me to do?” I ask. I brace myself; this could become ugly real quick.
He turns around, his face somewhere between anger and confusion. “What? Well…yeah, fine! I wanted this solved quick, and I’ve been trying since 9th grade! I got asked if I was gay or trans every single day! You wouldn’t get how infuriating it was to be asked the same thing so much. No wonder you couldn’t help…” he mutters to himself.
“Andrew,” I say gently. “I’m trying to get you to make a decision on your own. This is for you, after all. Not me. I helped by giving you an option. Now, d’you wanna hear my opinion on the matter? Not what I think you should do. My personal beliefs.”
He sighs, and finally sits down. “Shoot,” he says.
“I think that when you meet the right girl, she’ll accept that you like women’s shoes. She’ll understand that that doesn’t mean you’re gay or trans. It wouldn’t matter to her, because she knows that they make you more comfortable.”
He looks down and mutters something else. “Andrew, I know that you have a crush, okay?”
He looks back up at me. “I didn’t tell you, though…”
“One of the aids told me. Your crush is a year older than you, right? She’s in college.”
He nods. “Yeah. I was going to tell her last year, but… I couldn’t figure out a way to tell her because of the stupid shoes. I didn’t want to clam up on something important again because of them.”
Evan speaks up. “That’s brave of you, Andrew. You’re willing to get help because of something you enjoy, even though it may not be deadly. You’re willing to seek an alternative.”
He nods. “Yeah. I’m okay with alternatives. Besides, I kinda outgrew all of the women’s shoes I like, so…”
I chuckle a little. “That’s okay, Andrew. You can get two pairs; one you truly like, and an alternative. The choice is up to you.”
The following Tuesday, I’m trying to find Evan and/or Sharra to try to give them their homecoming photos when I feel someone tap on my shoulder. “Who is- Andrew? Hi!” I glance at his shoes, and I smile a little when I see that he picked one of my alternatives.
“Hi,” he says.
“How’ve you been?” I ask.
“I’m okay; I haven’t had to deal with questions.”
“That’s good. Are they comfy and colorful enough?”
He smiles. “Yeah. You have good taste in clothes, Sage.”
I chuckle a bit. “That’s ironic. I despise clothes shopping. Are you feeling better? Braver? Less ashamed, or… Well, you shouldn’t have been ashamed in the beginning, but…feelings aren’t rational.”
He rolls his eyes. “You’re telling me. Anyway, I… Do have a pair of women’s shoes. I think I’ll alternate between them now. Besides, they aren’t girly, and look kinda like guy’s shoes.” He adjusts his backpack. “I gotta go.”
“Okay!” He leaves. I smile a little. This one was a challenge; I had to deal with paranoia, and overthinking things. But it turned out okay, and I learned something; never underestimate a customer, but don’t overestimate them either.