"Boys don't wear tights!" Randolph shouted.
“Go to your room,” his mother said in her quiet, firm, gritting-her-teeth-and-trying-not-to-yell voice.
Randolph turned and headed for the stairs. He stopped and glared at his mother before raising one foot high into the air and bringing it down on the bottom step hard and loud, as if he were crushing a big, juicy bug. He did the same on the second step, and then the third. His mother stood with her arms crossed, watching without saying a word. Randolph turned and stomped his way up the rest of the stairs and down the hall, into his room.
He slammed his door and leaned his back against it, holding his breath and listening for the clunking of his mother's angry footsteps on the wooden stairs. Hearing nothing but the sound of his own heart drumming against his chest, he relaxed and walked over to the window. A thick, white blanket of fresh snow covered everything in sight, and the storm wasn't over yet. Randolph wondered how his father would make it home from the museum without crashing their orange station wagon. The roads hadn't been plowed yet, and they were sure to be icy.
Randolph hated winter. It was cold, dark, and annoying. It killed the green grass, made the roads slippery, and froze the water pipes in the basement. Doing anything outside in winter was a pain. You had to dress in tons of heavy winter clothing just to check the mail, and if you wanted to go somewhere, you had to shovel the driveway, scrape the car windows, and put chains on the tires so you wouldn't get stuck. Plus, if you turned the heater vents on before the engine warmed up, you got a blast of icy air in your face. Winter was too much work.
All of these were good reasons for Randolph to hate winter, but they weren't the reason he wanted it to disappear, taking the cold and snow with it, never to return.
Randolph hated winter because in the winter his mother made him wear tights. Girl tights.
But not just girl tights. Randolph's mother made him wear his older sister's hand-me-down girl tights.
Randolph was a boy, he didn't want to wear girl tights, especially Becky's tights.
"Boys don't wear tights!" Randolph would shout every year. He would cry, stomp his feet, and refuse to put them on.
He sometimes tried to trick his mother by hiding the tights under his bed or in the closet under some toys, but she always seemed to know when he hadn't put them on. On those mornings, she would wait at the bottom of the stairs, and when Randolph came down for breakfast she would stop him and pull up his pant leg for a look.
"Go upstairs and put on your tights," his mother would say firmly.
Randolph would turn around, pounding his feet with every step as he made the trip up to his room to dig out the tights and put them on. Sometimes he was so angry he would punch his pillow until his arms ached, wishing it were the person that had invented tights.
"Olympic skiers wear tights," his mother would remind him as he left for the bus stop.
"I am not an Olympic skier," Randolph would mutter under his breath.
Wearing tights to school was dangerous, especially for Randolph. He was younger and smaller than the rest of the kids in second grade, making it easy for the other boys to pick on him. And pick on him they did; Randolph had been bullied since the first day of elementary school. That morning the kids at the bus stop had made up a song about his big red ears, and sang it to the tune of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer." They changed the words to:
Randolph the red-eared loser,
had two very shiny ears;
and if you ever saw them,
you would laugh your way to tears,
Even the other losers,
used to laugh and call him names;
they never let poor Randolph,
join in stupid loser games!
They sang the song over and over again at the bus stop on that first morning of school, and Randolph had tried to be brave, tried to ignore them, but the words were loud and they hurt. They sang it on the bus, and so Randolph curled up into a ball on the front seat, covered his big red ears, and cried until his head hurt. They had been singing that hateful song ever since, never letting Randolph forget that he was different, that he was a loser, and that he would never fit in. And the louder they sang their song, the redder Randolph's ears would get, because Randolph's ears turned red whenever he felt something. Happy, silly, angry, sad, or embarrassed, it didn't matter; if Randolph felt an emotion, his big ears would turn red.
And so Randolph knew that it was dangerous for him to wear tights to school. If even one kid found out that he was wearing girl's tights, the news would spread all the way up to the sixth grade by the end of recess. The teasing would start, and it would never stop. They would probably even make up a new song, a song much worse than "Randolph The Red-Eared Reindeer."
Randolph was very careful to never show his tights to anyone. He would pull his socks up as high as they would stretch, so that no one would see the white of his tights. He would go to the bathroom alone, and use the stall so that no one would see him pull down his tights to pee. Sometimes the tights itched, but Randolph tried his best to never scratch, because he feared that one of his classmates would see him scratching and wonder why.
Every day after school, Randolph would run straight home. He would crash through the front door, bound up the stairs, and run into his room. He would drop his backpack, kick off his shoes, pull off his socks, strip off his pants, and with one quick motion, peel off the terrible tights. Not until his pants, shoes, and socks were back on did he feel safe. He could breathe again, scratch again, and feel normal again. Well, as normal as a scrawny little boy with big red ears and a big round head could ever feel.
One night Randolph decided to tell his mother that he wasn't going to wear the tights, no matter what she said or did.
"Mom, I am not wearing tights to school tomorrow. Boys don't wear tights, and I am not an Olympic skier. I don't want to wear them, and you can't make me," he said, trying to sound stronger and braver than he actually felt.
"Randolph, you will wear those tights tomorrow, and that is final!" his mother said, gritting her teeth to let him know she was serious.
"I hate those tights, and I hate you! I wish that I had been born into another family, one where the boys don't wear tights because their mother loves them!" he shouted.
Randolph's mother looked down at him, surprised at Randolph’s angry words. He had never told her that he hated her before. After a moment of silence, she replied, "What a terrible and hurtful thing to say. I want you to go upstairs, brush your teeth, and go to bed. When you lay down, I want you to think about what you have said, and if it is really what you want. I know that you will feel differently in the morning." And with that, she sent him upstairs.
Randolph brushed his teeth, but only long enough to taste the toothpaste. He wasn't going to listen to his mother anymore. He slipped into his pajamas and climbed into bed, ignoring Harrison on the other side of the room. He decided that as long as he was hating, he may as well hate sharing a bedroom with his older brother. Randolph drifted off to sleep with wishes for new and perfect parents floating around inside his head.
He woke the next morning and saw that his mother had set out his clothes for the day. On top of the pile lay the dreaded tights. He sat on the edge of his bed, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and wondered what to do. He hated those terrible tights, but he knew that his mother would be waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs to pull at his pant leg and check that he was wearing them. He thought for a moment before making his decision.
He tossed the tights aside and started to get dressed. As he lifted his right foot to slip on his jeans, he noticed a small green spot on his ankle. He sat down on the floor in a panic, bending over to get a closer look at the green spot.
"I told you that you'd feel different in the morning," his mother's voice boomed out of nowhere.
Startled, Randolph looked up and saw his mother standing in the doorway, her arms folded across her chest. She looked down her nose at him.
"I cast a spell on you last night while you were sleeping. If you don’t wear those tights, that spot will spread over your whole body until you become a frog," she said, then turned and walked down the hall to the stairs.
Randolph sat on his bedroom floor, listening as his mother's footsteps faded away. He looked down at his ankle, staring at it so long that he thought he saw it grow larger. He reached out with a finger and poked the spot. It felt like his skin. He pinched it, and it hurt like a pinch normally hurt. He rubbed his thumb over it to see if the green would come off. It didn’t; his thumb stayed thumb colored, and the spot on his ankle stayed green.
Randolph sat and thought about what to do. Ever since he could remember, his mother had told him that she was a good witch with special powers. He had never seen her use any of her special powers, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t a witch. Why would she lie about being a witch?
But if she was a good witch, why would she threaten to turn him into frog for not wearing the terrible tights? That didn’t seem like a very good thing to do. Randolph was confused, a little scared, and very angry. But there was nothing he could do.
After a few minutes of angry silence, Randolph stood and pulled on the tights, then his pants, and finally, the tallest pair of socks that he could find. He went downstairs and ate breakfast with a scowl on his face, then grabbed his school bag and left the house without saying goodbye. He walked to the bus stop without saying a word, and if any of the kids on the bus sang the song about Randolph's red ears, he didn't hear them because he was too busy being angry.
Later that day Mrs. Diamond had the class sit on the floor while she read to them from a chapter book. Randolph listened carefully, his imagination painting pictures of dragons, knights, and beautiful maidens in his head. After a few minutes he felt something poke his ankle once, then twice, and then a third time.
"Are you wearing tights?" Johnny Palaki asked, a teasing sneer on his face, his finger pointed at Randolph’s legs.
"No, they're thermals," Randolph said, his voice little more than a frightened croak.
Johnny pulled on Randolph's pant leg to get a better look. "No, those are tights. Tights are for girls, are you a girl?"
"No, they are special thermals, like the ones that skiers wear in the Olympics," Randolph said, trying to explain.
"No they're not, there is no such thing. Those are tights, and that means you're a girl!" Johnny said, his voice loud enough for the class to hear.
Randolph felt his ears grow warm, which meant that they were also growing red.
Mrs. Diamond stopped reading at the sound of giggling. “What’s so funny?”
“Randolph’s wearing tights!” Johnny declared happily.
“No I’m not, they’re Olympic skier thermals,” Randolph croaked.
“Johnny, sit still and be quiet,” Mrs. Diamond said sternly.
Johnny muttered something about punching on the playground, and Randolph decided he would hide inside during recess.
After recess, Mrs. Diamond led the class down to the gymnasium for a special surprise. They filed in and sat in a large circle in the center of the shiny wooden floor. Randolph was excited and worried at the same time. He wasn’t very good at sports, and just being in the gym made him nervous. To make matters worse, Johnny sat down next to him with a menacing smile on his face.
A man walked in holding what looked like a folded red flag. He crossed the gym, then stepped politely between two students and entered the circle.
“Hello kids, my name is Levi, and Mrs. Diamond has asked me in today to teach you about parachutes,” the man said.
Randolph and his fellow students squealed with excitement as the man began to unfold the parachute. He pulled at the soft, shimmering cloth, stretching it out until it covered the floor inside the circle of students.
“Okay, I want you all to stand up, then grab the edge of the parachute in both hands,” Levi commanded from outside the circle.
Randolph and his fellow students scrambled to their feet, then reached down and grabbed at the edge of the shiny red cloth.
“Okay, everyone hold on tight. On the count of three, lift the parachute above your heads, and then kneel down without letting go,” Levi said.
"One, two, three!" Levi shouted.
The class raised their arms, and the parachute dipped low against the floor.
"Now kneel down everyone," Levi instructed.
The parachute billowed overhead like a red cloud as the class dropped to their knees. A rush of wind blew over Randolph’s face as the soft fabric circle collapsed slowly to the floor.
“Okay, stand up and do the same thing, and try to keep the parachute billowing for as long as you can,” Levi shouted over the happy laughter coming from Randolph and his classmates.
They played with the parachute for several minutes, under Levi’s loud but gentle commands.
“Okay, let’s sit down and talk about gravity, and why the parachute acts the way it does,” Levi said finally.
The red silk fluttered gently to the ground as the students sat to listen.
“Who can tell me what gravity is?” he asked.
Randolph wanted nothing more than to raise his hand and answer Levi’s question so that Levi would notice him.
But Randolph didn’t, because Randolph couldn’t raise his hand; he was too distracted by the puddle that was growing on the floor around Johnny Palaki's bottom.
Johnny Palaki had sprung a leak.
“What are you looking at, red-ears?” Johny hissed.
“Um, I, Um, I,” Randolph muttered.
“Stop looking at me,” Johnny managed to say, as his eyes filled with tears. His voice was no longer the hiss of a bully. It was more like the squeak of a mouse.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Randolph said softly.
“Shut up, red-ears,” Johnny blubbered quietly.
“What’s going on over there?” Mrs. Diamond interrupted loudly.
“Um, there’s some water on the floor, and Johnny sat down in it,” Randolph explained quickly.
“There must be a leak in the roof,” said Levi.
Randolph looked up at Levi and nodded. “Yeah, I think so,” he agreed.
Levi winked at Randolph, and followed it with a broad smile.
“Johnny, do you need to go to the bathroom and dry off with some paper towels?” Mrs. Diamond asked.
“Uh, sure,” Johnny answered, his voice bubbled with snot.
“Randolph, I want you to go with him, and then the two of you can go to the office and tell Mr. Winters that he needs to send a janitor down here to mop up the water from a leak in the roof.”
“Yes, Mrs. Diamond,” Randolph replied.
The walk to the bathroom was quiet and awkward. Johnny had stopped crying, but his face was still red and his eyes were puffy. Once inside the bathroom, Johnny entered a toilet stall and closed the door.
“Hey Randolph?” Johnny said from behind the closed door.
“Yeah Johnny?” Randolph replied.
“No problem,” Randolph said softly.
“I’m sorry I told everyone you wore tights,” Johnny said.
Johnny flushed the toilet and opened the stall door. Randolph stood and watched as Johnny washed his hands, then dried to dry his pants with a paper towel.
“Hey Johnny?” Randolph said at last.
“They’re not tights, they’re Olympic skier thermals.”