On Tuesday morning I was sweating bullets.
“It’s only natural,” my Mom told me. After all, it was the first day of senior year, and many of us had gone through some big changes over Summer vacation, and I mean Big, capital B, changes; for some more than others.
The horn beeped, but I still hadn’t decided. Was a skirt too much, or should I have gone with jeans? Maybe shorts and leggings would be best; if I wore a dress would people think I had something to prove?
I turned to the mirror, straightened the kinks in my hair and frowned. Who was I kidding? I had everything to prove.
“Candace!” Mom called.
Screw it, I was going to go full girl. Bright dress, pink lip gloss, my favourite flats with the bows on the toe; there would be no questioning my gender, unless my voice slipped or something like that.
My brother burst through the door. “Mom says you have two minutes.”
I threw my arms over my chest. “Mitchell!”
He laughed and looked away. “For real? You only just started hormones last week. You’ve got no boobs to hide.”
The volume of my scream only highlighted the depth of my pitch. Alone in my room I stared at the mirror, and oh god, I was a boy in a padded bra. How was I going to convince everyone else?
Five minutes later and I was climbing into the backseat of the car.
“You were late, so I claimed shotgun,” Mitchell bragged.
Mom hushed him and looked back. “Are you okay, sweetie?”
I crossed my arms across my stomach. “If I say no can I stay home sick?”
“Not a chance,” she smiled, and started the engine. “I know you’re worried now, but trust me, you’re going to come home tonight, and you’re going to have a whole lot of wonderful stories to tell. You’ll be the transgender princess of Cordova High, and before you know it you’ll be accepted as just a regular girl.”
Easy for her to say.
During the drive she made sure to give me every comfort; that the staff had been informed of my situation, that the principal had personally guaranteed to accomodate me, that I would have no difficulty in using the girl’s restroom and lockers, and that if I was uncomfortable I could go to the nurse’s station. It helped some, but the butterflies still lingered.
“Nobody’s going to care,” Mitchell said. “Remember Reggie Howard from sophomore year? He came back with one leg and nobody said a thing.”
“That was different. He had cancer,” I retorted.
“I’m just saying, nobody’s going to give you a hard time because you want to have bits cut off.” He laughed; I didn’t. “Just don’t try anything with the jocks, okay?”
That earned him a flick to the back of the ear.
“I like girls, idiot!”
“Break it up,” Mom growled. “Well, at least everything is normal with you pair.”
Soon after I was in front of the school, my hand running up and down the strap of my satchel, and considering the sea shuffling inside. As I walked along the path I kept my head down, hoping, praying that nobody would notice.
Did they know? It was the first day of school; only a handful of friends, and friends of friends would have heard that their classmate was coming back as a girl. What about everyone else? People were going to talk.
No sooner had I walked in than I heard a squeal. “Oh my god! It’s true!”
I froze; my shoulders arched up to swallow my head as the gaggle circled. I knew them all from Home Ec class, but we weren’t exactly what you’d call friends; acquaintances, perhaps. Regardless, they seemed like they meant well, in the loud, terrifying way.
“Wow, you look so different,” Amanda beamed. “Is it true your name is Candace now?”
“Was it hard buying new clothes?” Laura pressed. “You look like you’ve had a lot of practice. Have you always dressed up like a girl? You should come to my house and I can give you a makeover.”
“Uh, yeah, my name is Candace,” I finally managed to mutter.
I smiled, they smiled; some smiles were more real than others. Though as my eyes scanned the hall I could see a few that definitely weren’t smiling. Between the crowd racing after first bell I could make out, in order, a snicker, a shrug, a glare, applause, and a huff of disbelief.
Good start, I guessed.
After assembly was home room, and from there we were given our timetable. My teacher, Mr. Fletcher, halted when he read my name, then drew it out as he tore each syllable like a band aid from his skin. He looked down on me with heavy eyes, as though resentful for forcing him to enunciate a new name.
I ignored him; maybe he would go away if I stared out the window long enough.
When the next bell rang I jumped to the door, hopefully into a place more accepting. A double period in English was waiting for me, thank god. Ms Steiner, a hippy from way back, took the seniors.
Somewhere down the hall along the line where no eyes met I scraped by a figure. She nudged me out of my haze, and that’s when I caught sight of her; retro denim jacket, every inch covered in badges, and caramel eyes decorated by her ruby frames.
“Hey... Candace, right?”
Weird that she should ask my name, given we’d known each other since grade school. I fumbled a nod and cracked a grin.
Erica beamed and clung her books to her. “I just wanted you to know that I think you’re really brave,” she said, “and I think you make a really pretty girl.”
I didn’t say anything. What could I say? I may have said “thank you”, but I wasn’t sure.
She lingered a moment and then walked away. Was she going to Ms Steiner’s class? For a fleeting moment I hoped, but no; she was going in the opposite direction. Maybe that was a good thing; it’d give my heart a chance to start again.
The words circled around my head. “Erica thinks I’m pretty…”
Anyone would think I’d won the lottery.
“So she thinks you’re pretty,” Justin told me over lunch. “Girls are allowed to think other girls are pretty. That doesn’t mean it’s a gay thing.”
“But Erica’s a lesbian,” Trevor argued. “So when she sees a pretty girl, it’s not just ‘oh, she looks nice’; it’s more like ‘damn, girl. I wouldn’t mind some of that!’”
My friend clicked his tongue and sighed. “First, can the ghetto speak. It doesn’t make you cool. Second, just because she can appreciate a good looking woman doesn’t mean she wants to immediately bone her.”
What joy had been was starting to wear thin. I wondered, why was I hanging out with these guys? Could it have been because they were the only ones who gave me the time of day when I was in boy mode?
“Can’t I just enjoy the fact that someone thought I was pretty?” I asked my hamburger.
Justin turned and put a hand on my shoulder. “You’re pretty. No, you’re beautiful. Seriously. I say that as someone who, if I didn’t know you last year as a guy, I’d probably be tripping over my feet trying to get into your pants.”
“So just because she’s transgender she’s not good enough for you,” Trevor teased.
My soon-to-be-less-than-a-friend opened his mouth and dropped his head. “Look, it’s complicated, yeah? She’s a beautiful girl.” He turned to me. “Candace, you’re a fucking beautiful girl, but you know that people are going to be a bit iffy, right?”
“Why would they be iffy?” Trevor pressed.
“Because,” Justin explained, “she used to be a-”
I slammed my palm against the table. “Don’t. Please?”
He reeled himself in. “Sorry.”
Hunching over the table I circled a french fry around the rim of the ketchup.
“I know that it’s going to be weird for some people,” I sighed. “Not everyone is comfortable enough to have feelings for a trans person. I guess that’s to be expected but… you know.”
“She’s a lesbian, bro,” Justin hummed. “Pretty sure she likes her girls to have always been girls. Sorry.”
“Yeah. Sorry, bro,” Trevor echoed.
Then, as if on cue, a slab of meat collided with my back and continued to walk as if nothing had happened. I turned to look at Bradley Shaw, former captain of the baseball team, who sneered as he passed.
“Faggot,” he muttered.
Trevor leapt from his chair. “Seriously, dude? That’s a thing you’re going to do? You’ve got a problem with people of different sexualities?”
I sunk about as far as a person could sink on a cafeteria bench. “You don’t have to do this,” I whispered.
Bradley rolled his shoulders, as if to demonstrate that they were arms he was carrying, and not tree stumps. “What do you care?” he spat. “Are you some kind of faggot as well?”
“Maybe I am,” Trevor huffed. “Would you have a problem if I was?”
“I... need to use the bathroom,” I said; not that they were listening.
My chest wrenched as I scuttled into the hall and pushed past the door. The painted figure on the sign gave some protection, or at least it did until an insider challenged my place. I dashed into a stall and locked the door, buried my face in my hands and tried to breathe.
Suddenly I felt more alone than I ever had before.
There was a knock at the door, and I froze. Mom said that I’d been okay to use the bathrooms; what if someone had a problem?
“Hey, Candace,” a voice said. “It’s Erica. Are you okay in there?”
Erica? I opened my mouth and fought to keep from shaking. “Y-yeah, I’m fine.” It was a total lie, but whatever.
“Look, I saw what just happened in the cafeteria,” she continued. “Bradley’s an asshole. You’re not the first person he’s picked on for being queer. He’s given me a lot of shit too. Just, if you want to talk about it I’m here, okay? And I understand.”
Silence lingered. Did I trust her?
I released the lock and let her in. Tears burned without my realizing. I must have looked a mess.
Erica smiled and stepped inside. “Are you okay?” she asked again.
“Yeah, eventually,” I shrugged. Funny how I wanted to tell her everything but held back anyway.
“I’m always here to talk,” she said, slid down the stall and to the floor, and crossed her legs. She looked up at me, not really expecting anything, or at least not that I could read off her body language, and placed a hand on my knee.
Then, I smiled. “Thank you.”
It was all I could think about until final period before Mr. Bertinelli snapped me out of it. He called my name on the roll the same way you would an inmate, and looked down as though I were the one who forced his tone.
Why did he have to look at me like that? It was just a name; I didn’t see what the big deal was.
Who was I kidding? It was totally a big deal. Candace was the name I dreamed of ever since Mom told me that’s what my name was if she “had a daughter.” Well, turns out she did, and I was going to make a point of it; even if a jerk teacher thought it tasted like licorice and oysters.
The clock read just after three; ten minutes until freedom, ten minutes until the day was done. The world had not exploded. Wasn’t everything supposed to come crashing down when I challenged the gender norm?
I looked down to the hem of my dress and to my shoes. No, they were still as harmless as ever. I, however, was only made more whole by wearing them, and everything seemed… I don’t know, brighter? Does that sound cliche?
When the bell rang I was first out the door. There were stares; there had been all day, but they were dwindling in number. I guess the novelty of having a transgender girl in the hall was wearing off.
A block from the school and I heard her voice again.
I’d never seen Erica grin like that, at least not at me. She ran in my direction, and I did everything I could to not watch her breasts bounce as she caught up; I mean, it’s not like she’d be interested in my staring.
Though I looked away from her and flushed I was still beaming. “Hey,” I muttered. “What’s up?”
She ran her fingers through her hair and stepped in front to face me. “Nothing. I just thought you’d like to, you know, hang out? Talk? Maybe I could walk you home if that’s okay. Just make sure you’re alright.”
“Why wouldn’t I be alright?” I pressed; not that I didn’t want her there or anything.
Erica ducked her head and folded her arms. “No reason, I guess. Honestly, I just wanted to check in and see how you were doing. Totally selfish, I know, but I need peace of mind. Us queer kids have to look out for each other, after all.”
I chuckled and hid my gaze. If it could have my head would have turtled inside my shoulders. Finally, I looked back. “How do you know I’m not a straight girl?” I teased.
“Are you a straight girl?” she asked.
“Does it matter? I mean, it’s not like you’re going to ask me out on a date or anything.”
She went quiet.
“And what if I was?”
We stopped. She was joking, wasn’t she?
Erica didn’t smile, and neither did I.
“I guess I haven’t really thought about it,” I lied; as though being with her wouldn’t be a dream come true! “If you wanted to, I... I don’t know. Everything’s so up in the air right now.”
She took my hand and squeezed it. “You don’t even need to explain,” she said. “You’ve only just started your transition and, even though I can never know what it’s like I can only imagine how complicated sexuality must be. You’re still learning to relate to yourself, let alone other people.”
“Yeah,” I said. I wish I’d said more.
Pulling away Erica turned, brushed a strand of hair behind her ear and shrugged. “Sorry if that’s all a bit much to take in. If you need some space I can-”
“I like girls,” I said.
I like you, I wanted to say.
Erica blinked, then flushed. “Y-yeah?”
“I like girls a lot,” I added for effect. Maybe I’d said too much.
She swished back and forth, biting her finger and searching everywhere but right in front of her. “Are..." Erica paused and drew breath. “Are there any girls in particular you like?” Did she really not know?
Come on, Candace; just say it!
“Yeah,” I whispered. “One.” My eyes rested on her. “But… I don’t know if she’s into girls like me.”
“Maybe if you gave her a chance..."
Her hand brushed to my side. Fingertips curled around mine and stroked the length of my digits. Atoms leapt as they flirted with touch. My breath escaped me.
“Only if you’re really sure...”
Erica’s eyes shone as she looked up. We caught each others’ gaze. Was this really happening?
“I’m sure,” she grinned. “Trans or cis, you’re an amazing person and, no matter what happens I just want to be a part of your world.”
We laughed and that was when it hit; this was no dream.
“I’d really, really like that,” I told her.
Her face lit up.“Does that mean I can walk you home?”
Like she had to ask.
We dawdled the rest of the way with fingertips clinging loosely.
Everything was good in the world.
Mom was right; I really was a girl just like any other, and boy did I have a story to tell.
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