"Happy Birthday," the mother said. Her cherry lipstick gleaming in the noontime sun made the motion of her lips as hypnotizing as a lollipop pendulum. "Do you know where we're going?"
Anne shook her head, and short tufts of caramel hair swung along with the motion.
"We're going where my momma took me when I turned nine. Nine is a lucky number, did you know that?" The mother helped Anne up from where she'd been sitting on the floor with her newly-opened gifts.
Anne said, "Where?"
The mother tugged her by the hand to the door. "You'll see when we get there. Won't you put on your shoes?"
Anne slipped on her blue sneakers and followed her mother out of the house and into the car. She looked at the empty spot on the asphalt driveway where her father's truck should be. His work schedule wasn't kind to him, he would always explain. He was never home for the important days.
"Put the seat belt on," the mother instructed, then waited until Anne had finished. She drove from the driveway and out of their neighborhood, and began toward that special place her mother took her when she turned nine.
They came into a parking lot and the special building loomed ahead like an obelisk among unbroken desert. Anne pushed herself up from her seat to get a better view. She squinted at the big letters hovering above the broad centered entrance.
"The Decade Diner," the mother said. Her eyes became absent, forgetting present and watching memories instead. She shook herself out of it. She got out of the car and took Anne toward the restaurant. Stopping before the entrance the mother said, "Go on, you go in first."
Anne pushed against the door and her mother went behind her. The interior was dimmed by cigarette smoke and drowned by old music from a jukebox. A waitress found Anne and her mother and sat them at a table by a window.
The waitress asked, "Can I get you something to drink?"
The mother looked expectantly to Anne. Anne said, "Lemonade?"
The waitress smiled and nodded. "I can get you lemonade." To the mother, "And you?"
"Just cola, please."
The waitress said, "I'll be right back with them."
The waitress returned to the table with a cola and a lemonade.
The mother demanded while she accepted the cola, "Anne, come on, you've got to tell me what you dragged me all the way out here for."
"You know I like to go by Andy now." Andy took the lemonade and put it aside.
"Anne is a much prettier name," the mother said.
There was a momentary silence and the waitress interrupted, "Do you know what you'd like to eat?"
The mother said, "Just a burger. With fries on the side, please."
Andy said, "I'll have the cheese pizza."
"I'll have that to you in just a few moments." The waitress finished writing down their orders and rushed off to have them filled.
"Well?" The mother stared at Andy.
The mother said, "You mean you're gay?"
"No, that isn't it." To Andy, it was as though it took a lifetime for the sandpaper syllables to come up and into the open air: "I'm transgender."
The mother shook her head. "The hell does that mean?"
"It's why I've been going by Andy."
"What, do you mean you've just decided you're a boy?"
Andy shrugged. "I didn't decide it, I realized."
There was laughter spiking the mother's over-loud voice. "You're nineteen, with a cunt, and you've realized you're not actually a girl?" She drew stares from the other patrons.
Andy retreated, sitting back into the seat, and the mother continued, "Do you know what kinds of people end up with scalpels in their groins? Fuck-ups, that's who. You want to be like one of them?"
Andy started, "That's not-"
The mother cut Andy off. "You're not even masculine. You've played with dolls ever since you were a little girl. Where is this even coming from?"
"It hasn't got to do with how manly I am, it just means I'm not comfortable with my body."
The mother said, "What, is this, then? A fashion trend? Calling yourself a boy, is that what's hip these days?"
Andy frowned and stared downward at the table. The mother grimaced, unsure what to ridicule next.
The waitress distracted them from their silence, came back to the table with a pair of plates. She set the burger in front of the mother and the pizza in front of Andy.
The waitress said to the mother, "Ma'am, anything else I can do for you?" The mother shook her head. She said to Andy, "And you, sir?" Andy shook his head as well. "Alright. I'll be back to check on you later, okay?"
Andy watched the waitress hurry away. He said, "It's been a while."
The mother wouldn't look him in the eye. "Yeah."
"I'm sorry Dad died."
"Me too." The mother bit into a fry.
"I know he meant a lot to you."
The mother jeered, "You didn't know shit. You haven't been in touch for years."
"No you're fucking not." She looked up at the man in front of her. He was almost thirty. His brown hair was cropped short and the shadow of a beard was overtaking his face. "If you were sorry you wouldn't have been so selfish."
"Wrecking that body that I gave you. Making it so impossible to love you. You're a freak, you know that?"
Andy frowned. He said, "I hoped we could be more civil than this."
The mother began to cry. "How could you do this to me? How could you kill my daughter?"
"I didn't. I'm right here."
"It's not that easy! Why won't you understand what you're putting me through?"
Andy said, "Why won't you understand what I'm going through?"
The mother's crying intensified. She gathered her things and fled the restaurant. Andy cradled his heads in his hands and tried to hold back tears.
The waitress came to the table. "Sir? Are you okay?"
Andy managed, "I'm okay. Yeah. Could I have the check?"
"Sure," the waitress said. She went to the kitchen to fetch it.
The waitress returned immediately. She said to Andy, "Don't worry about the bill. It's free today."
"Thanks. Really, thank you."
The waitress smiled sympathetically and hasted back to her duties. Andy took a last draught of his lemonade and put a fiver out for a tip. He collected his coat and walked out into the afternoon sun.