Phillip Carlyle is only eight years old when he first experiences the feeling of ice touching his heart. Phillip is smaller than the other boys his age, quieter, more inclined to read books than climb trees and wrestle like his peers. But he's a happy child. He is sure his mother is the most amazing mother in the world. He is convinced his father is the most respected man in the world. And, since Phillip would rather let his mind wander into fantasy tales, he doesn’t get scolded by his parents for ruining his clothes with mud or tears. Maybe a light reprimand from his mother for the wrinkles he creates by sitting in narrow places for hours a day to continue the tales of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, “Cinderella”, “Tom Thumbs” –or any book he can read, really. Phillip had been a quick learner in that area, a fact that had made his mother and father proud. To a certain extent.
“Fairy tales are for little girls, Phillip.” seems to be one of Henry Carlyle’s favorite sayings as of late. Phillip is always puzzled at that statement, his bright blue eyes blinking in confusion. He admires his father, wants to be just like him when he grows up. But Phillip doesn’t understand why he’s being told this with such a contemptuous tone. He finds those fairy tales awe inspiring, filling his mind with colors and fantasies, a relief to his lessons on stature and social customs. But at least his mother, Catherine Carlyle, smiles sweetly when Phillip tells her he wants to "learn how to dance like Cinderella and Prince Charming do in the story." His mother tells him he can start learning in a couple of years, so he can become a proper gentleman at the galas. Phillip cannot wait.
One evening, Phillip’s parents take him to see a ballet recital at the School of American Ballet. One of his father’s associate’s daughter is performing. It’s Phillip’s first time attending a dance recital, all well-dressed, grinning broadly – Scold your features, Phillip – and in absolute awe of the recital. Ballet is flawless, graceful and fluid. Breathtaking. Back home in bed, he tells his mother he wants to learn ballet. His mother, perhaps also inspired by tonight’s recital and recalling her youth, arranges for her son to fulfill his wish, convincing her husband with the argument that Phillip’s physician did recommend more physical exercise for his spine. Carlyle Sr. relents with a huff.
“Men should learn formal dancing, not this floozy for women. But no matter, it will be good for your stubborn posture, Phillip, if anything. I hear the Vanderbilts and the Shermans have enrolled their daughters in Monsieur Anton’s classes this summer too. I’ll allow it, for the time being, perhaps it will give you an advantage for your formal lessons to come. We’ll see about September. But boy, you will not embarrass me, is that understood?”
Phillip is all too happy to nod and begin learning.
His first recital at the end of summer is thrilling. He doesn’t see the odd looks from the audience, too focused on the performance. At the end, as the parents clap enthusiastically for their children, Phillip searches for his mother in the crowd. He finds her smiling broadly, wiping a tear from her eye with her initialed silk handkerchief. Phillip’s heart soars at the pride in her expression. His father is talking with another man, politely clapping along. Phillip grins nonetheless, all the more so when Monsieur Anton compliments him on his performance during the reception. He cannot wait for the next recital.
“Hey Carlyle, heard you started ballet this summer. You know that’s what girls do, right?” Benjamin Astor, one of Phillip's classmates, says with a jeer, making Harrison Vanderbilt snort.
It’s Phillip’s first day of his fourth year in elementary school. His first few years had been quiet, uneventful. He had made friends, not close but still, he had enjoyed their companionship and vice-versa. Phillip, sitting comfortably against a large tree in the school’s recreation area with one of his books propped up by his legs, looks up, startled. He blinks at the two boys towering over him, at their words.
“You like being a girl, Carlyle?” Harrison teases snidely, “My sister says you dance just like one.”
Phillip frowns in confusion.
“I enjoy dancing.” he states quietly but with certainty. “It’s convivial– hey! ” Phillip quickly scrambles up, looking anxiously at his book, now held loosely in Benjamin’s hand. “Hand me back my book, please.” he demands. Always be polite, Phillip. Authoritarian, but polite, his father's voice echoes in his head. But Benjamin makes no move to do so, looking at the cover with a sneer.
“ Cinderella? ” he guffaws. “You’re such a pansy, Carlyle!”
Phillip doesn’t know what that word means, but he’s heard his father describe a colleague of his with it. It had not sounded positive then, nor does it now.
“I am not. I just like to read.” Phillip retorts calmly, despite his heart beginning to beat faster. “Now please, would you hand me my book?”
The two older boys look at each other with matching expressions of mischief, then back at Phillip. Benjamin extends his arm, holding the book in front of the younger boy.
“Sure. Take it.”
Phillip offers a small smile, and reaches for it. But Benjamin pulls it up just as Phillip’s fingers brush the cover, making the blue eyed boy frown. The young Vanderbilt and Astor smile with all their teeth.
“What’s the problem, Carlyle?” Harrison mocks loudly, bringing the other students’ attention to them. “Too short?”
Phillip’s throat constricts, breath catching. His straight posture starts to crumble. Why are they doing this?
“Give it back.” His voice trembles slightly. He reaches for it anew, but once again Benjamin pulls it up and out of reach. Phillip’s stomach churns, all too aware of the amused gazes of his school peers. It makes him nervous. Small. Helpless. He doesn't like this feeling at all.
“Aw, is the little pansy boy going to cry?” Benjamin sing songs. “ Pansy boy! Pansy boy! ”
To Phillip’s mounting distress, the others around them begin to sing along. In a desperate attempt, he stands on his toes quickly to try grabbing his beloved book once more, and instantly feels a rough shove on his back. He loses balance and falls to the ground. Laughter erupts all around him.
He opens his eyes, only for his vision to appear blurry. His knee hurts. He wants his book back and he wants to go home. He wants to see his mother. He wants the other students to stop laughing at him. Why are they mocking him? Aren't they friends?
Phillip pushes himself to his knees, whimpering as his left one throbs.
“ Pansy boy! Pansy boy!” they continue chanting in unison, laughing gleefully at Phillip’s anguish.
He can feel his eyes burning, struggling to keep the tears at bay. He’s not a pansy! He just likes to dance and read!
“You want your book, pansy boy ?” Benjamin asks innocently. Phillip lifts his head slowly, looking at his book. “Have it.”
Phillip's breath hitches as his Cinderella tale is ripped in half at the middle, swallowing thickly as the pieces are dropped in front of him. He stares down at them silently, slumping. When the first tears slide down his reddened cheeks, he is rewarded by another round of laughter echoing loudly in his ears. And from then, the tears don’t seem to stop, the first sob stuck halfway in his throat, creating a choked sound. He brings his hands to his face, trying to hide himself. He doesn’t dare stand up, doesn’t even think he can. He begins sobbing uncontrollably, much to his peers’ entertainment, and to his shame. His heart is beating wildly against his ribcage, making it hard for Phillip to breathe between sobs.
His savior comes in the sound of the bell calling the students back to class. The circle of children disperses with parting giggles, leaving Phillip mercifully alone. He doesn’t know how to calm down, but he knows he needs to. He vaguely hears one of the teachers calling for him to come back inside. He tries to stand, his legs wobbly, his breaths becoming hiccups as he bites his tongue. He startles when his arm is gripped in a strong hand, pulling him up and forward.
“Cease your wailing, Mr. Carlyle,” Mrs. Morris, his teacher, admonishes. “It’s unbefitting of a young man.”
And that is that. Phillip is given a handkerchief for his nose, and brought back to class with a warning for his tardiness. He sits silently in his chair, eyes red and swollen, shivering from the sensation of feeling his classmates’ gazes on him. He is unable to pay attention to what his teacher is saying, too focused on the fast rhythm of his heart, as if it’s trying to fend off the ice building around it.
When school comes to an end for the day, Phillip goes to collect the remains of his torn book. He is then picked up by his nanny, Miss Eliza. He likes her, she’s always nice and caring with him. But the weight of his ripped book in his satchel heightens his wish to see his mother. He notices Mrs. Morris, adorning a pinched look, handing a small envelope to his nanny, who takes it with her head bowed. Phillip has often seen his nanny acting like this in front of his parents, especially when his father is angry. He idly realizes that he must have looked the same today in front of his peers. Is his nanny scared and ashamed like he was? He didn’t like feeling like this. He doesn’t want his nice nanny to feel like this either. Or anyone.
As he and Miss Eliza walk home, Phillip remains quiet, his small hand held loosely in his nanny’s calloused one. Their color difference has always intrigued Phillip, but not today. He’s tired, he still feels coldness spreading inside of him, and his mind is...confused. Hurt. Should he even be going to his ballet lessons tomorrow? He wants to, but what will his classmates think? Do the girls in his ballet class think the same of him? But their teacher is a man, so why should Phillip be scorned for wanting to learn as well?
“Miss Eliza?” he asks hesitantly, not looking up.
“Yes, Master Phillip?” Miss Eliza answers sweetly.
Phillip opens his mouth, but closes it again, biting his lower lip. What if she mocks him as well? He looks up at her, and is briefly reassured by her caring dark eyes.
“Does– Am I– I mean...” he trails off, feeling the earlier acidic weight in the pit of his stomach return.
“Y’know what your father thinks ‘bout half-sentences, Master Phillip.” she says, her Southern accent thick.
Phillip nods. Better no sentence than a half-sentence, Phillip.
“Am I...different?” he asks quietly.
“O’ course you are, Master Phillip.” Miss Eliza answers with a fond smile, but frowns as Phillip bows his head miserably. “But that ain’t whatcha wanted to hear, was it, sweet’eart?”
Phillip doesn’t answer, nor does he look up. Miss Eliza sighs, squeezing his hand.
“Wha’s on that troubled mind o’ yours, lil’ Master?”
Phillip looks up shyly.
“What’s...What’s a pansy?” he asks in a whisper, eyes darting around to make sure no one is around to listen.
“Now, Phillip.” Miss Eliza admonishes sharply, looking around them as well. “You don't go askin' things like that.”
Phillip flinches. “I’m sorry.”
"Don't apologize to me, Master Phillip." She reminds him automatically, before looking at Phillip curiously. “Why d'you ask?”
Phillip hesitates once again. “I like to dance. I like to read.” he admits, looking up shyly. “Does that makes me one?”
Miss Eliza’s features soften as she looks down at the young boy under her care, at his downcast expression.
“Oh, Phillip, sweet’eart. Where d’you get that idea?”
“At school. They said–” his voice cracks. “They said that’s what I was. B-But it’s not my fault, I didn’t know! And–”
“Quiet down, lil’ one. Breathe.” Miss Eliza interrupts his agitated rambling. “And hear what I say.”
Phillip obeys, taking a deep breath, looking at his nanny with bright eyes. “It don’t matter what them other kids say. You like readin' and dancin'. It don’t mean it’s bad. It means you’re special.”
Phillip ponders over what his nanny said. Is it true? His father always says he should listen to smart people. Miss Eliza is smart. Why, only last week she taught him how to tie his shoelaces.
Feeling slightly cheered up, Phillip forgets about the envelope addressed to his father.