chapter one

 

 

ALEX LOOKED around, worried someone might see him watching Lyric, his twin sister, and her girl posse as they did each other’s hair and nails. They took nearly every piece of clothing out of her closet and tried them on, swapping items between the four girls until they all were happy with how they looked.

He sat on his twin bed, glancing over the top of the book he was “reading” to check the mirror again as he looked on with envy. They were allowed to spend time together, doing girly things. He knew, however, if any of them noticed him using the bathroom mirror to look into his sister’s room, they would tattle, claiming he was being a pervert.

Ha! If only they knew. It wasn’t them he was lusting after; it was their clothing and the ease with which they interacted. Girls could be feminine or butch, and no one thought a thing about it. Or, at least his dad didn’t care. But a boy wanting to wear a dress or wishing for pretty shoes or undies? Yeah, hell no. So not okay.

He’d realized about a year ago that girls held no appeal for him, not in the same way they did for the other guys his age. No, it was the boys in his class who had his stupid cock standing up and his stomach tight and fluttery. He’d attempted to deny it, but no matter how hard he tried, girls only held his attention because of how they acted and what they wore.

“Oh,” one of the girls squealed. Candy, he thought. “Wait ’til you see what I talked my sis into buying me.” Alex looked over the top of his book in time to see her proudly holding up a pair of purple lace panties and a matching bra. The huge grin on her face was so full of glee, he wanted to hit something. He knew where that exact outfit came from, having looked at it himself under the pretext of buying something nice for Lyric.

Angry at himself for being a freak, he slammed his book closed, hopped off the bed, and grabbed his coat off the back of his door before he stomped out the bedroom, planning to go for a long walk. Maybe they’ll be gone by the time I get back, he fumed. He got as far as the front door when he heard Lyric behind him.

“Alex? Can you drive us to the mall?”

They both had licenses, but only he had a car. Another stupid double standard, but it was one of the few in his favor. He spun on his heel, intending to tell her he had somewhere he had to be, but when he saw the pleading look in her eyes, he caved. He always caved for her. He was older by all of ten minutes, but when it came to willpower, she ruled all.

He frowned, not liking the idea, but resigned to spending his evening in the stores he could only wish he was allowed to shop in. Hell, it wasn’t that he wanted to be a girl. No, he was perfectly happy with the equipment he was born with; he just sometimes felt fem and wished he could wear the clothes that expressed who he was instead of the wrapper he’d been born with.

“Yeah. I guess, but I’m not a pack mule,” Alex grumbled.

“We know,” Lyric said, and patted him on the back. “Come on, it’ll be fun. We can shop, eat greasy foods Mom would kill us for without getting in trouble, and there’s the cooking store you can browse if you want.” She offered the last part up as a tasty morsel, knowing that was his biggest weakness at the mall.

Alex loved to cook and had already applied to a couple of culinary schools for after high school, determined to have the future he wanted, not the one his dad tried to foist on him. Seriously? What in the world was that man thinking? Bad enough his father had forced him into sports when Alex was younger, determined to “make him a man” but wanting him to go into construction with him—his father was the foreman for the company he worked for—was beyond him.

Alex was almost five-nine, slender but with firm muscles, with the same light mocha skin as his sister. People did not think butch when they looked at him, not if they had eyes and a brain cell or two. He worked hard not to look too girly, though, afraid of what his father would say and do.

“Hey,” Lyric said, snapping him out of his thoughts. “Why don’t you go warm the car up, and we’ll be there in a minute?”

“Yeah. Sounds good, just don’t forget to leave a note. You know Mom and Dad will freak if you don’t.”

“Stupid rules,” she grumbled as she turned and left him standing there.

Shaking off the darker thoughts, he headed to the car. He tried to prepare himself for the annoying music and chatter that taking his sister’s friends anywhere always included.

 

 

AN HOUR later, he was certain his sister was trying to drive him insane. He stood in the middle of Forever 21 as the four girls in his care flitted around the store, looking at clothes and talking about boys—and damn, they were worse than the guys in the locker room with some of their comments and suggestions. The store didn’t even have a “guy chair” like some of the others, so he was forced to walk around, seeing all the things he would be beaten for wanting.

“Lex?” Lyric’s voice distracted him from the cute little skirt he’d been eying two racks over.

“Yeah? Done here?” Please be done or let me go to the cooking store… please!

“Ha-ha. No. I just wanted you to hold a few things for me so I can help Zoe pick out a new pair of boots, and then we’re going to go to Victoria’s Secret. If you’ll run some of our things to the car, you can go to the cooking store,” she singsonged, a huge grin on her face.

“You’re lucky I love you, or you’d be stuck shopping with Mom,” he grumbled before perking up and grinning. “Or worse. Dad.”

“You’re the evil twin, huh? Just hold this, and I’ll be right back.” She shoved a pile of clothes into his arms and sauntered away.

Alex looked down at the clothing, hoping none of the guys from school, or scarier, his father’s company saw him there. Neither teasing nor lectures about what real men did and did not do sounded appealing.

Hoping to hurry the girls along, he led the way to the counter, thankful it wasn’t in the front of the store. Eventually the others showed up, and he was able to pass out the clothing to their soon-to-be owners. Alex idly watched as Lyric’s things were rung up, his breath stuttering to a halt when he noticed the same skirt he’d been admiring earlier. Had she noticed his interest? No, she wouldn’t get it just to harass him, and she wasn’t like their parents, he knew that. While he fully believed they would hate him if they knew who he truly was, he was just as certain Lyric would still love him. They were too close for something he couldn’t help to destroy their relationship. He hoped.

Instead of commenting or letting it get to him, he stomped out to the hall and flopped down on one of the hard benches, slouching as he silently fumed and wished for the millionth time he could be normal.

When the girls finally trickled out, he was, for the first time ever, thrilled to have bags to haul to the car. On his third trip—seriously, did they have to buy so much at once?—he stayed outside for a bit. He sat on the hood of the old Corolla his dad had gotten him, debating whether to go back in yet, when his cell rang. He checked the ID and groaned.

“Hey, Mom, ’sup?”

“Speak properly, Alexander.”

“Sorry, Mom. What’s up?”

“You need to bring Lyric home now. It’s near dark, and I don’t like her out this late, and you know it.” Her voice made him cringe. He looked around quickly, happy no one he knew was there to see him.

“Yes, ma’am. They should be about done anyway.”

“Aren’t you with them? You know you’re supposed to stay with her. Malls are dangerous!”

“Mom, I just ran stuff to the car for her and her friends. No one’s going to mess with her posse while I do the gentlemanly thing and carry their things.” He knew it was cheating, but she had harped on him since he was little about how decent men carry things for their girlfriend or wife instead of forcing her to lug everything through the huge mall.

“Oh well, then, that’s fine, honey. Hurry back and collect Lyric and her friends, please.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

As soon as he hung up, he walked back inside to do his mother’s paranoid bidding. He and Lyric had less than a year before graduation. What was she going to do when they were away at college and she couldn’t control either of their lives any longer?

When he caught up to the others, they were still in the lingerie store, giggling and holding things up against each other as they discussed color, cut, and padding. His sister met his eyes, her smile dropping, instantly replaced by a deep frown. “Mom or Dad?”

“Mom, so hurry it up, or we’ll both get it.”

Grumbling and fuming, she herded her friends to the counter and met him at the door a few minutes later. Sheila, the most diva of the group, stormed over to him, her normally pretty face twisted into a nasty scowl. “You said we could shop. You even brought us here. It’s not even dark!”

“Not my call, Shay. Sorry. Have to get Ly home before she turns into a pumpkin, and the parents turn into wardens for us both,” he explained, and shrugged. Why she was fussing, he didn’t know or care. She’d spent more than the rest. She had to be out of allowance by now. Besides, she knew the rules as well as he and Lyric did.

Laden with packages, he trudged behind them as they headed out into the evening light, silently agreeing with Shay and Ly’s mutterings about paranoid control freaks needing to get a life.