Cut, by Delaney Trezise

For 20 minutes, Jess had sat and stared at her reflection in the mirror. She could pay no mind to the mounds of hair clumped and scattered in the sink’s basin. “I did it,” she uttered shakily to herself. “I finally did it.”

Upon first glance, it seemed like any other Tuesday. Jess rolled out from under her weathered bedspread and got dressed for school. She inhaled her cereal, keeping a close eye on the time on her phone. She offered a quick “so-long” to her father who smiled and nodded, reclining contentedly on the family’s beloved chesterfield while sipping his coffee before his morning commute. She attended her classes and was pleased that she hadn’t been called on by the teacher, as she allowed her mind to drift from the grey chalk dust and outdated world maps adorning the classroom walls. Her pulse lulled into a steady synch with the gradual tick of the clock in the back of the room. Things were quiet. Things were normal. Things were fine.

But today was different. Cora looked at her. Today, Cora looked at her.

It was just a brief passing glance in the hallway. Jess had finished up early in Study Hall and had a few moments to spare before making her way to Geology, and so decided to take the slightly longer route. She enjoyed taking the scenic passage when she could, passing by the windows to catch a glimpse of the stubby shrubs garnishing the front parking lot. Spring had settled into their roots after months of lying cloaked in snow, as the small buds at the ends of the branches had sprouted into splendid, crimson red blossoms. She appreciated the silence in the hallway which, on any other day, would be empty. But today was different. As Jess reached the staircase at the end of the hall, Cora descended the steps.

Cora was easily the most brilliant and defiant student in the senior class. Her expressions of genius in her classes as well as her regular demonstrations of civil disobedience had garnered the attention of many in the school, Jess included. Though, for Jess, that wasn’t all that drew her to the rebellious teen. As if her blazing passion for knowledge and justice wasn’t enough, Cora was absolutely immaculate. She had hips that could shake a mountain and a gaze that could pierce diamond. She dressed in tight sweater dresses that complimented her ample curves, and had an owl pendant that rested comfortably on her bosom. Her hair color changed from week to week. She was never the same, but she was always perfect. Someone like her couldn’t possibly exist. But she did, and that Tuesday, she looked at Jess.

In that brief glance, Cora’s emerald green eyes pierced Jess’ soul. She felt everything all at once. It was an eruption of emotions and raging hormones, lashing at her gut to break out of years of her cultivated sexual restraint. Years of questions immediately pointed her to the same answer, in the form of this 18-year old nonconforming goddess with beauty radiating even against the dingy staircase. Cora smiled politely, shaking Jess down to her very core. As Cora continued down the hallway, Jess looked back. In that moment, she knew that she couldn’t hold back any longer. No boy could ever rock her entire being the way Cora did. She finally knew what she had to do.

Jess tugged gently at the ends of the strands, lingering slightly as she considered if some kind of remorse over the loss of her gorgeous golden mane was in order. She quickly pushed those thoughts aside. They wouldn’t be necessary anymore. Not to her, anyway. “Maybe a little too short, but I’ll make it work.”

Always second-guessing herself, she never told her secret to anyone. There was no turning back from a decision like this. For the longest time she had convinced herself that she was just having some momentary lapses in judgment. Consistently, she reaffirmed herself that teenage hormones were constantly running wild in high school. She couldn’t possibly know who she really was through all of the cluttered feelings and emotions.

After the incident in the hallway earlier that afternoon, however, Jess knew exactly who she was. For three years she had known, to be honest. She had grown accustomed to hiding her vibrantly blushing face in the girls’ locker room upon catching Cora undress, assuming it was just a phase. She had turned clearing out her search history on the computer into a sport, deleting her searches faster and faster each time in attempts to hide the burning questions she’d asked on countless Internet forums. But she knew now that this wasn’t just a phase. She knew who she was, and she couldn’t hold back anymore. Jess sought freedom, and her key came in the form of a pair of kitchen shears and an afternoon in front of the bathroom mirror.

A knock at the door, however, shattered her newfound confidence into pieces. Jess froze, mortified, suddenly realizing that facing society would mean starting with her family. “Jess, you doing okay in there?” Her father called out. “It’s been a while. We haven’t heard from you.”

“Just a minute!” Jess replied, scrambling to clean up the mess and trying her best to hide the tremble in her voice. It clearly didn’t work. Her father was always good at picking up on when something was wrong. She stuffed whatever strands of hair she could fit into her trembling fists, as she considered all at once the people in her life that she would have to face. She wasn’t ready. In seeking freedom, she had trapped herself between a dirty mirror and the bathroom door.

“Can you please just open up? If there’s a spider that’s freaking you out in there, I can get rid of it for you. It’s just a bug, kiddo.”

Jess stopped her desperate gathering of hair strands and took a deep breath. There was no hiding any of this, no turning back. They would find out regardless of when she stepped outside the stuffy bathroom. Glancing at her reflection one last time, she accepted her fate. She reached weakly out to the vanity and gripped the scissors, hoping they would dispense some sort of security to her. Slowly, she grasped the door handle and pushed her way through.

The normally-pleasant disposition on her father’s face faded into confusion as he gazed upon his daughter’s newly-cut locks. The corners of his mouth gradually dissolved into a frown. He looked Jess up and down, and focused in on the pair of kitchen shears grasped tightly in her fist. He returned to his daughter’s eyes. “Jess?” he beckoned softly. “What did you do?”

The life immediately drained from Jess’ attempt at a reassuring smile, and she began to shake as all of her fears washed over her. She saw not only her father’s face, but the face of every friend, relative, teacher and peer, gawping at her in bewilderment. “I-I’m sorry Dad, I j-just…” she stuttered incoherently, the tears forcing their way through her façade in a constant stream down her cheeks. She paused and took a long, quivering breath. She peered down, her eyes focusing on what she had only moments ago viewed as the key to her freedom. Now the scissors felt heavy in her hand. “I didn’t have much of a choice,” she whispered.

“What are you talking about Jess, why are you sorry?” her father asked, the slight edge of his tone making her flinch. Noticing the weight of his words, he hesitated briefly before proceeding. This time, he spoke with more caution. “I just don’t understand. What’s going on?”

“I’m done pretending to be someone I’ll never be,” she uttered quietly. She took a deep breath and spoke the truth for the first time in three years.

“Dad, I’m gay.”

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