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Sam Lightfoot was several feet taller than Snappy the Alligator, and for that reason alone, he thought he shouldn’t be there. He paused, squinting at the words YOU MUST BE SHORTER THAN ME TO RIDE, watching the rain drop down Snappy’s strangely forced half-smile. The go-kart track would have closed hours ago and anyone smaller than Snappy was probably in bed, and the last time he might have enjoyed a place like this was when he was little enough to race.
He entered the main building through the arcade, a few coins in his pocket. He put 10p into the penny pusher, knowing that if he thumped the glass, he’d get more money. Knowing also that this would get him thrown out, he didn’t, but he won enough to play a coin-op game. Most of them were about ten years old: Bomb Jack, Paperboy, Arkanoid, even Pole Position. A few lads crowded around Sonic Blast Man, calling their friend a “poof” for not hitting the punch pad hard enough to smash the asteroid hurtling towards Earth.
He walked past the air hockey tables to the foyer, wondering whether his parents would have gone to the Prince Albert pub or the Casablanca Showbar. He tried the pub, where two middle-aged newlyweds were mangling I Got You Babe – a favourite of his mother’s. He had long suspected that karaoke was the worst thing in the world and was pleased not to waste much time proving it.
He went to the bar, wondering how his parents were celebrating their final night at the camp. They were near the back with a bottle of wine and a near-empty pint of lager.
“She got bored,” his mother replied.
“Don’t blame her,” said his father. “This is bloody embarrassing.”
“You wanted to stay. You know I hate this kind of thing.”
Sam looked at the stage. There was a drag queen in a tiara, a green dress with a skirt down to her black stilettos and a sash saying ‘Helen Heigh-Water’ in gold script. Her wig had blonde curls, her blue eyes had long lashes and her lipstick shined red, smudged across her face as she swigged Prosecco from the bottle.
Swaying, she finished Big Spender. “Seriously you posh fuckers,” she yelled, “give me some money, I’d down to my last forty Benson & Hedges. Nobody’s going to tell the DSS if you chuck a fiver onto the stage!” Sam was one of the few people to laugh. “What do you faggots want, hand jobs? You’re not so tight that you can’t part with a tenner, are you?” She drank more Prosecco and burped loudly, attracting more laughter. “We’ll auction it. Five pounds for a hand job. Do I hear five pounds? No? Four fifty? Anyone?”
“I’ll give you a fiver to fuck off home,” yelled Sam’s father. “This place has gone down the bloody pan – last year we got the Bootleg Beatles!”
“Bootleg Beatles, darling?” asked Helen, hitching up her skirt. “Wouldn’t you prefer to stick your John in my Ringo?”
Sam’s mother got up and walked out. His father downed his Stella and followed. “Yesterday, you’re not half the man you used to be!” he yelled as he left, to cheers and applause.
“Oh, please say to me / You’ll let me be your man / And please say to me / You’ll let me suck your dick,” yelled Helen, to enthusiastic laughter from Sam and boos from almost everyone else. “Ah, screw you all,” said Helen, winking at Sam and then hiccupping, looking at the DJ booth. “Sweetheart, that’s your bloody cue, can I have the music please?”
The bleeps and drum machine kicked in, and Helen began slurring her way through Tainted Love by Soft Cell. Sometimes I feel I’ve got to run away, I’ve got to get away …
Sam had an erection. His boxer shorts were too small; it was so sharp and painful that he raced out. “Fucking hell, love, it wasn’t that bad, was it?” came from the stage, where the chorus should have been. Touch me baby, tainted love … He leant on Snappy, taking deep breaths to calm himself, and then walked back to the chalet. His parents had gone to bed, so he tiptoed into his room. Jen wasn’t there. He wondered why she’d come – wasn’t she too old for this?
Jen’s suitcase was open. Sam took off his T-shirt, his jeans, his socks and his itchy boxer shorts and stood naked, gazing at the pyjamas on his pillow. He took a pair of white knickers with a lace front and put them on. Instantly, his erection sprang back. Terrified of tearing the stitching, he tore them off. He tried a pair of pink briefs, and then pulled some black tights over them, too thin to mask his hairy legs. He grabbed a white bra, putting one strap over each arm and one sock in each cup. He couldn’t fasten it and the socks fell out. Shit, he said, before worrying that he was making too much noise. He dropped the bra and put on a dress, white with a red sash. It barely covered his crotch.
He took a hairband and put it over his brown, floppy curtains. The door opened. He took it off. Too late. Jen entered and shrieked with laughter. “What the fuck?”
“Shush!” said Sam. “You’ll wake up mum and dad!”
“What’s so funny?”
Sam didn’t recognise the voice. A man in a No Fear T-shirt, about 17, lanky, cropped hair, came in. “This is your brother?”
The door to his parents’ room opened.
“Quick – under the covers!” whispered Jen, hiding him.
“What’s going on in there?”
“It’s fine,” said Jen. “Me and Rich just woke up Sam, that’s all.”
The door closed. Jen prized the covers out of Sam’s hands, seeing him curled up, shaking.
“It’s okay, he’s gone.” She paused. “How long have you been doing this?”
“This is the first time, I swear.”
Jen smiled. “If you don’t do everything I say, I’ll tell everyone in Reigate.”
“And I’ll tell them you’ve been with some guy who isn’t your boyfriend.”
“As if they’ll believe anything you say,” said Rich. “Gaylord.”
“Leave him alone.” Jen smiled again. “Do you like doing this?”
“No! I just-“
“I think you do,” she said, tugging down his skirt and slyly brushing his leg. “Come on, let’s go to the disco. Get that dress off and I’ll sort out your bra.” He did, and Jen put the bra over his torso, fastened it, rolled up the socks and put them back. “You’ll want cotton wool next time, love. Sit still and I’ll do your make-up.” Sam noticed Rich glaring at him as Jen put foundation and blusher on him, then did his eyes, giving them beige shadow and long black lashes. He put the dress on and she put the hairband back, handing him a mirror.
“Feel sexy yet?”
“Great, let’s go. Quietly! Wear these.”
Jen handed Sam some black heels, a size too small. He crammed his feet into them and they left. Sam strutted across the square, looking around nervously, with Jen and Rich behind him, holding hands.
“She walks like a girl, doesn’t she?” laughed Jen.
“Nice legs, too.”
By the go-kart track, Sam saw the lads from the arcade, smoking. He heard whispers, laughs, and then a wolf whistle. As he got closer, they cheered. One of them blocked his path. Jen and Rich kept going, holding their ground, and the boy moved. Sam walked on, faster, pretending not to hear them yell fucking queer.
They went to Casablanca’s, where Blame It on the Boogie was playing. Jen screamed, grabbed Sam’s hand and yanked him to the dance floor. “Come on!” she shouted as Sam glanced at the rhythm-less forty-something couples. Rich took Jen’s face and kissed her: she held him off but he pressed harder. She soon gave in, and they snuck off to a corner. Sam watched as Rich kept kissing Jen, every time she tried to get up, and although he couldn’t make out what they were saying, he figured it must concern him as they kept looking at him. He started to walk over but Rick caught his eye, kissed Jen and climbed over her, so he stopped.
Having nothing else to do, Sam danced. He saw someone he thought he’d met: tall, blue eyes, jutting cheekbones, cherry lips with cropped, bleached hair, wearing an earring, tight white T-shirt and perfectly straight denim jeans. The man went to the bar and then turned to him.
“Why did you run off?”
“Have we met?”
“My name is Matt, but I think you know me as Helen.”
“You recognise me?”
“You’re the first fit boy I’ve seen here for years,” said Matt. “Did you dress up for me?” Sam blushed and laughed. “I’ll take that as a yes. It makes a nice change from the bald old fuckers and frigid trollops who usually come here.”
“Those were my parents,” said Sam.
“Come here, I’ll teach you to dance,” laughed Matt, taking Sam’s hands, “as you clearly don’t know.” He led, and Sam wobbled. “This is your first time in heels, isn’t it?”
Sam nodded as Everlasting Love hit its chorus.
“Are you alright?” asked Matt.
“People keep staring at me.”
“Fuck ‘em,” said Matt. “Come back to the performers’ chalet, there’s no-one there.”
Sam looked over at Rich, who was all over Jen. They didn’t notice him. He took Matt’s hand and they left. Matt opened the door. The sofa was covered in Helen’s clothes: the dress and sash draped across it with the wig and tiara thrown over them. Heels and frocks were everywhere, interspersed with make-up and hairpieces.
“Sorry about the mess.”
“I liked you better as Helen.”
“You want to try it?” Sam smiled. “Come on,” said Matt, taking off Sam’s dress. “You shouldn’t be wearing this Top Shop bollocks.” Matt looked in Sam’s bra. “Socks?”
“This is my first time.”
“Let’s make it special then. Here,” said Matt, handing Sam a pair of flesh-coloured silicone breast forms, “I got these through the post.”
“Where from?” asked Sam, squeezing one of them.
“Transformation. You know it?”
Sam nodded. He’d seen their adverts in the Sunday People, promising ‘From He to She – Instantly!’ but he had never spoken to anyone about it.
“Shall I put them in then?” asked Sam. Matt grabbed them and fitted them into his bra, pulling up the cups when he was done.
“You want to wear the green one, don’t you?”
Sam smiled. Matt unzipped it and gave it to him to step into. Then Matt did it up and put a hairnet over Sam’s head, topping it with the curly blonde wig and the tiara. He sat Sam in front of a mirror. “Lashes first, darling,” he said, gluing some fake ones onto Sam’s eyelids. “And now … glitter!” He smeared it across Sam’s face. “Divine!” He paused, stroking Sam’s shoulders, smiling at his reflection. “I’d do your lips, but …” Matt picked Sam up and kissed him. They looked into each other’s eyes as Matt rubbed Sam’s thigh, brushing the silk dress against his tights. Matt worked his hand up to Sam’s crotch, rubbing his knickers, and then led him into the bedroom.
“You use a condom?” asked Sam.
“Always,” said Matt. “So many of my friends dropped dead.” He paused. “Get ’em off then.”
Sam took off his underwear and laid on his front. Matt threw Sam’s shirt over his back and fucked him until they both collapsed onto the bed.
“In a nice way?”
“You’d better go,” said Matt. “I don’t know how old you are, and if anyone finds out then I’m in big trouble.”
“If we were straight, it’d be legal” said Sam.
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask for my tits back.”
Sam laughed. He took off the dress, wig and hairnet and jutted out his chest, letting Matt take the breast forms. Matt kissed him again, handed him Jen’s dress and picked up the socks.
“If you roll them up, they’re more convincing,” said Matt, putting them back. “And walk with your heel first.”
“Thanks,” said Sam.
“Keep the lashes, they suit you.”
Sam left. Where was his chalet? He wandered across a few courtyards, and then remembered that Jen had the keys. Perhaps she was in? He saw their block, and their ground-floor flat. A light was on: he crept closer, cursing the noise that his shoes made on the concrete, quickly realising that he couldn’t quieten it by walking over the damp grass.
Someone was in the living room. Was it Jen or his parents? The curtains were closed. He walked past the cinema, seeing that Ace Ventura: Pet Detective had been on. The same lads were outside, smoking. They eyed up his legs but said nothing. Perhaps they think I’m a girl? Sam tried to keep his head up, going for the disco. It was closed. That must have been Jen, he thought, mum and dad will be in bed by now …
He decided to avoid the cinema, taking another route back. Seeing Snappy, he felt like he’d found a friend. Then he realised that people were following him. Panicking, he stumbled in his heels, balancing himself on Snappy’s snout.
“Are you a girl or a boy?”
“What?” said Sam, backing away as three lads cornered him against the go-kart entrance. “ARE YOU A GIRL OR A BOY?” Sam tried to barge through but they blocked him.
“You’re a fucking geezer, aren’t you?”
“Leave me alone!”
“Grab his wig!” said one, as his friend yanked at Sam’s hair.
“That’s real, you dick!”
“Don’t call my mate a dick, you bender!”
Sam tried to run. Someone grabbed him and shoved him backwards.
“Those aren’t your real tits, are they?”
He folded his arms over his chest and stood against Snappy, shaking.
What would Helen do?
Sam took off his heels and smacked one of the lads around the face with them. He ducked under Snappy and raced across the go-kart track, vaulting over its ridges, lifting the skirt of Jen’s dress so it didn’t impede his movement, and then ran to the chalet, praying that he wouldn’t slip on the wet grass in his tights.
“I’ll kill you!” he heard. “Faggot!”
Sam reached the chalet, desperately hoping that the door was unlocked. It was. He got inside, slammed it shut and bolted it. Struggling not to vomit, he leant on the handle, gasping for air. One of the boys banged on the door. “Get out here! Poof!” He started crying, then felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Jen.
“Are you okay? What happened?”
“Make them stop,” said Sam, falling into her arms. He glanced over her shoulder at Rich, sat at the table looking at the Daily Mail sports section.
“Rich,” said Jen, “tell them to piss off, would you?”
Rich sighed and went to the window, opening it a fraction. “Look, he’s not coming out so you might as well piss off, understand?” He closed it again, glaring at the boys until they walked off. Sam made for the bedroom.
“Hold on!” said Jen. “Where have you been? We spent ages looking for you!”
“You disappeared! Where did you go?”
“I was dancing with Helen.”
“That rubbish drag queen?”
“She’s not rubbish!”
“She?” laughed Jen. “Wait – you don’t fancy her, do you? I mean him.”
“Shut up!” whispered Sam. “I’ve got to go and get-”
The door to their parents’ room opened. Sam’s father walked out, looked at him and laughed.
“What are you doing dressed up like that?”
“It’s for a competition,” said Jen.
“Which competition was that?”
“Umm … we bet Sam that he couldn’t win the Miss Lovely Legs contest.”
“Why the hell would you want to do that?”
Before Sam could answer, his mother walked into the living room. She shrieked. “Why are you wearing your sister’s clothes?” She looked at Sam’s father. “Are you just letting him do this?”
“He says it’s for a competition,” said his father.
“I didn’t say that!”
They heard voices outside, giggling. Rich went to the window. “I thought I told you lot to fuck off!” The lads jeered. Sam’s father walked over. “He means it – get out of here or I’ll call the police!” They laughed, shouting wanker and paedo as they walked away.
“Did you win the competition then Samantha?” asked Sam’s father as his mother glared at him. “Funny time to have it – in my day they were in the afternoon. And they didn’t have blokes!”
“There wasn’t a competition,” said Sam.
“Were you copying that drag queen?” asked his mother.
“No … I just wanted to see what it felt like.”
“And how does it feel?” asked Jen, before their parents could. She offered Sam a seat.
“It feels …” Sam looked at his parents, and then Jen. “It feels nice.”
“Go and get changed,” said Sam’s father. “And don’t let us see you dressed like that again.”
Sam’s parents went to their room. Sam went to his, closed the door and stared at himself in the mirror before taking off his clothes and trying to sleep. The next morning, after she returned from Rich’s chalet and then called to say that she’d be home that afternoon, Jen gave Sam a pair of knickers. “Keep them until you can be more open,” she told him. Sam put them on under his jeans and packed to leave, thinking that he would never forget the strange freedom of the camp as his parents silently drove through the exit, wondering when that time might arrive.