We didn't talk that night; Daddy brought home a bucket of fried chicken and Mr. Richter, my lawyer. He wanted to talk about my court date next week.
It was a working dinner, eaten at the big table, but with Gina and Robbie at one end with all the food, while we pored over a brief-case-full of legal documents spread out between our paper plates and Styrofoam cups, with a jumbo roll of Bounty nearby to keep greasy fingerprints off the pages.
"I don't think we have a chance," the Mr. Richter said, "to be quite frank, but we'll press on anyway. Losing at the state level is a given; it's a circle jerk..."
Mother cleared her throat loudly.
"Sorry," he coughed. He was a combat veteran, and as such was afforded a certain degree of freedom, but polite society had to draw the line somewhere.
"Don't worry, Rafe," I assured him, "I've heard worse."
He grabbed another chicken wing and chewed on it absently while thumbing through his yellow legal pad. I never understood why people ate chicken wings. There was no meat on them, but he seemed to be enjoying it.
"The case doesn't become significant until it hits the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals. Then, it's put on your poker faces, kids, were playing for high stakes. With some of these judges, we'll be takin' a real crap shoot."
It sounded like we already lost, but I wasn't going to give up until the ship went down.
"Do we have any chance at all?"
He shook his head sadly and fixed me with his lazy-eyed stare.
"In the short-term, not a snowball's chance...." He caught himself before he said 'hell'. "But over the long haul, we might just win.
"The problem is, nobody's ever had a case like this with real unequivocal standing before. Most people are either male or female. That's always been the case..." He rummaged through a pile and picked up some worn photocopies of what looked like medical reports.
He shook the papers for emphasis.
"Because of DNA," Mother asked, taking the documents from him.
"Yes, because of DNA. We know how sex is determined now, and these reports confirm that phenotype and genotype are not always the same. I'm going to ask Dr. Epstein and Dr..." He turned back to his legal pad and flipped through the pages. "Kolodny...to file an amicus curiae brief if the court will allow it."
He gnawed the last flesh of his wing and tossed it into the bone bag. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and dug through another pile of papers.
"This is how we're gonna beat 'em," he said as he gathered the loose papers into a neat stack.
"You have neither a genetic or physical sex; not even a gender, really. The only reason you're legally a girl is because of some doctor who assigned you a gender."
I wrinkled my nose at that and Mother came up beside me and hugged me. I hugged her back.
"But we can make a case—not airtight, mind you—but a strong case nonetheless, that you are neither a male nor a female, and that society has no compelling interest in denying you your own proper category."
"But," he looked grim, "we have to get the court to apply strict scrutiny on this. Otherwise, they'll decide Missouri has the right to define its gender classifications as it sees fit.
"That must not happed, because once a court case breaks one way or another, it opens up roads to new action along the same lines. Once that occurs, the dam breaks, so to speak, and all hell breaks loose in the valley.
"If this goes against us, it'll set back civil rights in the District for a decade, or even a generation. I think we can win it, Dani-boy, but you gotta be in it up to your hips. Are you in?"
"Danny-boy?" I'd never had anyone mistake me for a boy before. It felt like...I fumbled for an appropriate word...'relief'.
"Sure," he chuckled, "whatever. It seemed like the right thing to say."
Daddy looked at his watch.
"It's seven thirty," he observed, gathering up the detritus of dinner. "How much longer do you need?"
"We're done with the basics, but I'd like to talk small points with Dani. Neither of you need be present—she needs a detailed briefing on the legal principles and precedents, and a touch of outright coaching couldn't hurt—but you are both welcome to sit in if you like."
"No, Rafe," Daddy pointed to the study, "that's fine. Y'all can use the study as late as you like. I've got some reading to do, but I can do it in bed."
"I think I'll sit in," Mother said perhaps a bit too nonchalantly. Whether she was interested in my case or chaperoning I wasn't sure. "I'll just sit in the corner and be quiet as a mouse."
The meeting was dull and went on till 11:00 PM, so I got an unwanted reprieve from the expected lecture.
Mother brooded and kept me in the house all the next day, which was unbearable, so I stayed in my room, reading stories for silly girl about silly girls, which, for some obscure reason, were written by men.
I didn't come out until dinner, which was bland and lifeless, to my taste.
After supper, she told Gina and Robbie to do the dishes and took me and Daddy into the study for a talk.
"Your Mother told me she found drug paraphenalia in your room," he said, plopping into his swivel chair. It was like he threw a pitch, but didn't bother to wind up.
"I...," I began, but faltered. There was no good coming from this. It was a simple case of bad luck and miscommunication.
"Yes I did."
"Let her talk, dear," Daddy said, playing idly with a pencil.
I remained mute.
"She's been like this since yesterday," Mother explained when I didn't speak up. "She tried to plead the Fifth Amendment."
"Interesting," Daddy observed. "Did it work?"
She glared at him and he looked up sheepishly.
"Do you think I allowed that?"
"No dear, I don't suppose you would. Dani, where did you get these drugs?"
"It wasn't drugs, Daddy; I bought some tapes from a kid at school, and one of them turned out to be someone's stash-box. There were needles in it, and a spoon."
"So you haven't been doing any drugs?"
"Only baby aspirin," I told him. "I have headaches sometimes."
"That's not what he meant."
"See dear," Daddy smiled at Mother and shrugged. "She says it's a mistake. There were no drugs after all."
"And you believe her? Mitchell, kids these days are on drugs all the time. And they lie about it to your face."
Daddy put down his pencil and took her hand.
"Not our children, Billie. We raised them right. Now, Dani says she hasn't been taking drugs. Do you have any reason to disbelieve her?"
She withdrew her hand like she'd been shocked.
"I found her...I mean 'the'...I found that stash."
"That's circumstantial evidence. Has Dani ever lied to you before, ever given you reason to not trust her?"
"Not that I know of...but that's only what I know of."
"Dear," Daddy began, but she would not be deterred.
"Don't make light of this, Mitchell. This is serious."
"I am serious, dear. But I trust my children."
She crossed her arms and started tapping her toe. This was becoming more intense than the episode at the hotel in Dallas.
"It seems," he said at last, looking at me, "that we've come to an impasse. What do we propose to do about it?"
"Well," Mother said in an icy tone, still tapping her foot, "I'm not happy."
"None of us are happy about this, dear. We just have to deal with that."
"I will not be ignored."
"What do you think, Dani," Daddy asked me, ignoring Mother completely. "You say this is an honest mistake. Are you willing to prove it?"
I nodded; Mother continued her tapping.
"Okay." He turned back to Mother. "Now dear, I think I know of a way to accommodate you both."
"And how is that," she asked through her teeth.
"Bear with me," he continued. "You think Dani might have a drug problem. She thinks you've been snooping, and she's right."
Mother's eyes narrowed and her brow furrowed like a freshly plowed field.
"It's true, dear, you did. I can't say I'm happy about that, but we'll just have to deal with that, too.
"Now I have a colleague at work who has a son who's seventeen and really is into his vices—sex, drugs, rock and roll. Wally's been sending him to a support group, for troubled teens.
"I think that would be good for Dani."
"What," Mother protested. "You mean put her in a group with real drug users?" She sounded quite alarmed.
"Oh? So you admit you don't believe she is using drugs? Dearest, they are not hardened criminals, they're wayward youths."
She didn't answer.
"Dani, are you amenable to this?"
"I guess so."
"Dear, what do you think?"
"I don't like the idea of my Dani being with those reprobates."
"Don't you think that's a bit harsh? I've met the boy; he's not bad—he's young."
"I suppose," she said, throwing up her hands.