15. (Un)familiar Experience
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Erin was nervous. Friday evening had finally come, and she was supposed to meet Sarah at her place for a sleepover. The only problem was that she’d never had one before and didn’t know what to expect at all, which didn’t help her nerves at all.

She’d been trying not to think about it too much during the last few days, and had mostly succeeded. Sarah’s unsuccessful attempts at unlocking her magic and Erin’s last discussion with Becker had been enough to keep her mind busy. She’d focused her time and effort on trying to find solutions to both problems, and had been at least moderately successful. She’d thought of something that might help with Sarah’s struggle, but had refused to tell the girl what she was planning, much to her frustration. Her reasoning was that she didn’t want to raise her hopes up if it turned out her idea didn’t work, but that definitely hadn’t worked, as Sarah was already way past excited. Still, she was committed now, and Sarah wouldn’t have to wait much more anyway.

As for Becker, she and Sarah had agreed that they needed to wait before acting, as there wasn’t much they could do about the situation anyway. They hoped the professor would come to his senses and apologize to Erin while also offering a more sensible plan, though they definitely didn’t expect it.

These two problems had proven to be great distractions, but as Friday neared it had been harder and harder to keep the sleepover out of her mind, especially now, as she was walking towards Sarah’s house. Her friend had given her the address of her house – written on a piece of paper, as Erin still hadn’t retrieved her phone, and didn’t want to ask her parents for it – and had been pleasantly surprised to see she didn’t live that far away from her own house.

A few minutes later saw Erin nearing her destination. She could see that Sarah’s place wasn’t unlike her own. It was a small two story house, with a garden surrounding the whole property. Hedges were in turn surrounding said garden, offering a minimum of privacy to its inhabitants.

Opening the gate, Erin made her way on the paved path leading to the door, before ringing the doorbell. She could see light coming from the adjacent window, and, soon enough, could hear steps progressively getting louder, until they stopped on the other side of the door.

The door opened to reveal Sarah, a bright smile on her face, which almost instantly turned to a confused and slightly panicked expression. Quickly closing the door behind her, she approached Erin and gripped her by both shoulders.

“Why did you come like this?” she asked in a hissing whisper, eyes roaming up and down Erin’s body.

Erin, now really confused, followed Sarah’s gaze, taking a look at her simple red shirt and jeans combo, as well as her old jacket. Not seeing anything amiss, she glanced up, even more perplexed than before.

“What’s wrong with my clothes?” she asked.

“Not your clothes, Erin, your gender,” she quickly said, looking over her shoulder through her house’s windows.

“O-oh,” Erin stammered. Was she not supposed to come in her male form?

“Change back,” Sarah said, urgency in her voice.

“B-but why?” Erin stuttered, still not completely sure of what was going on.

“I told my mom a girl was coming, you dunce,” she answered, once again glancing at her house. “please do it, before she sees you!”

Finally understanding the situation, Erin relaxed the spell keeping her transformed, swiftly losing a few inches of height, her long curly red hair now cascading down past her shoulders.

“Better,” Sarah sighed in relief. “We’re lucky my mom didn’t answer the door or come check on us, that would have been awkward to explain.”

“Sorry,” Erin said, abashed. She hadn’t even thought that Sarah would want her to come as a girl, but it made so much sense in retrospect that she was now feeling very silly.

“It’s alright, I should have expected it coming from you,” Sarah answered wryly, moving her hands from Erin’s shoulder to her sides, pulling her into a quick hug. “Let’s go, it’s cold outside and I want you to meet my mom.”

Following her through the door, Erin took a look at the inside of Sarah’s home. Even from a very quick glance, she was able to see how different it looked from her parent’s house. Everywhere small knick-knacks and photos were decorating the walls and furniture, with warm and inviting colors giving the whole house a very welcoming atmosphere. Erin couldn’t help but be put at ease by the décor, so different from her home’s relatively cold and sparse furnishing.

They quickly arrived into a big living room, two couches forming an angle with a small coffee table in the middle. Sitting on one of the couches was an older woman, which Erin estimated to be in her forties, calmly reading a book with her legs tucked underneath her. Hearing them come in, the woman looked up and gave both teens a warm smile. Her expression was very reminiscent of Sarah’s, she noted, and the resemblance between both of them was obvious. She had the same auburn hair as her daughter, only it was tied in a loose bun.

“Why, hello there,” she said, putting her book down and standing up. “You must be Erin, right?”

Making her way towards them, she quickly pulled Erin in a warm hug, surprising her.

“Sarah’s told me a lot about you,” she went on, breaking the hug before raising an eyebrow at Erin’s clothing.

“I’m still working on her fashion sense” Sarah quickly said, earning her an “ah” of understanding from her mom.

“In any case, Sarah also told me that you were going through some… rough times, so I just want you to know that if you ever need anything you can come knock at our door. We’ll be happy to help,” she finished warmly.

“I…thank you so much, ma’am” Erin stammered, touched by the kindness and honesty she was being shown.

“Please, call me Lisa, dear,” she said pleasantly. “I’m not that old yet, am I?” she laughed.

“Moooom, she’s super shy with strangers, don’t do that,” Sarah admonished lightly, seeing Erin’s cheeks turning red.

“Sorry, hon, I was only jesting. I wouldn’t want to embarrass the friend you keep babbling about now, would I?” she teased, a cheeky smile forming on her face.

“Mooooom!” Sarah screamed, her own face turning red.

Wishing to escape her mom’s relentless pestering, Sarah grabbed Erin by the sleeve of her jacket, pulling her still flustered friend towards the staircase. “Come on! We’ve wasted enough time, see you later mom!”

“Have fun, you two, but not too much!” both teens heard her say from the living room.

“Oh my god,” Sarah muttered, not daring to look her friend in the eyes.

Once at the top of the stairs, Sarah led Erin towards a door at the end of a hallway. Erin noted that almost everything was made of wood, almost like one would expect the inside of a lodge in the mountains to look like. Every time she stepped on a plank it would creak, giving a really rustic atmosphere to the floor.

Sarah opened the door to reveal a medium bedroom. A bed was resting against the wall on the left, with a rather big wardrobe occupying the wall adjacent to it. Opposite of the bed was a small television, with a few stacked shelves over it. Erin could see a few trophies, some of them representing soccer balls, leaving little doubt of their origin. Finally, a small desk was occupying another corner of the room, on top of which Erin recognized Sarah’s schoolbag as well as a bunch of books and stacks of paper.

The most striking feature of the room, however, was the stuffed animals. They were everywhere, occupying whatever space they could, from the top of the wardrobe to the bed, some of the shelves, and anywhere else where space was available. All kinds of animals were represented, though Erin noticed a rather high number of bunnies and sharks, for some reason.

Shuffling inside, Sarah sat down on her bed, still not looking at Erin, before taking a deep breath.

“I’m sorry about my mom,” she started, playing with the edge of her blanket. “She loves to tease people, I hope she didn’t make you uncomfortable.”

“It’s fine, Sarah,” Erin replied, sitting down next to her friend. “Your mom’s pretty cool, actually, don’t worry about it.”

“Okay, if you’re sure,” she replied with a small smile, perking up and regaining some of her enthusiasm. “So! Clothes. I did tell mom we needed to work on your fashion senses, so I can’t let you wear these boyish clothes. Also, you’re not sleeping in jeans, that’s just ridiculous,” she said, making her way to the wardrobe before rummaging through it. “I’m sure I’ve got something that should fit you. There!”

Sarah turned around and threw a pile of clothes at Erin, who clumsily grabbed them while trying to discern what they were. On closer inspection, she could see that Sarah had picked a rather simple pair of blue long sleeved pajamas.

“Bathroom is two doors down on the right, if you want some privacy,” Sarah said, pointing at the door.

“Oh, yeah, thank you” Erin stammered and stood up, quickly leaving the room.

- - -

That girl! Sarah couldn’t believe her. Erin really could be oblivious, sometimes. Did she really come here expecting to hold her transformation spell all night long? And wearing jeans? Seriously?

At least that obliviousness had worked in Sarah’s favor, tonight. Erin hadn’t really reacted to her mom’s comments, or she’d hidden it very well, which Sarah didn’t believe was the case. For someone who kept so many secrets, she way incredibly bad at hiding her emotions.

It didn’t take long for Erin to come back from the bathroom, now wearing the blue pajamas and carrying her original clothes with her.

“That actually suits you pretty well!” Sarah said, surprised.

“Thanks, Sarah,” Erin said gratefully, if somewhat abashedly. Receiving compliments about her appearance still felt a little bit odd, though she’d gotten better about it. There were still times when she felt like she was playing a role instead of being herself, but these moments were becoming less and less common. Strangely enough, she now felt almost strange whenever she turned back into Ryan, like something wasn’t quite right.

“What do we do now?” She asked after a pause, snapping out of her contemplation.

“Well,” Sarah started “I was thinking we could watch movies? I’ve downloaded a few on my computer, so we could pick a few together.”

“Oh!” Erin exclaimed. “I haven’t seen a movie in a while. Sure, that sounds great,” she said enthusiastically.

Sarah raised an eyebrow and smiled lightly. She hadn’t expected her friend to be this enthusiastic about a simple movie, though she wasn’t complaining. Idly, she wondered what exactly Erin had expected them to do, amusing herself with the thought. Opening her laptop, Erin sat down next to her, and they went through Sarah’s collection together, finally settling on a generic sci-fi movie.

Once they’d connected Sarah’s laptop to the small TV in her room and started the movie, they both settled down on her bed. Sarah then made sure to practically bury herself under as many stuffed animals as she could, much to Erin’s amusement.

“What?” She asked, pouting somewhat at Erin’s giggling. “It’s super comfy,”

“I didn’t say anything,” Erin retorted, trying to hide her smile. The shark currently hiding Sarah’s mouth and nose was making it pretty difficult, however.

“No, but you didn’t have to,” Sarah said, before tossing a stuffed tiger at her friend. “They’re super soft, see?”

Erin didn’t answer, looking the tiger over with a pensive look on her face. Sarah smugly noted she didn’t deny the incredible softness of her stuffed animals, and she also didn’t seem to want to put it away. Triumphant, Sarah turned her attention back to the movie with a self-satisfied smirk on her face.

A few minutes later, Sarah turned her head to see that Erin was now snuggling the stuffed tiger. Something about her friend seemed off, however, and it took her a few seconds to realize she wasn’t looking at the television screen. Her gaze was lost in space, the way it usually was when Erin was deep in thought.

“Erin?” Sarah asked, touching her shoulder.

“Huh?” she quickly turned her head towards Sarah, broken out of her reverie.

“Are you alright?”

“I…yeah, sorry. I was just thinking,” she answered, looking down at her lap.

“About what?” Sarah pressed, her attention now completely on Erin.

“Just my old toys. My parents made me throw a lot of things a few years ago, they said I’d become too old for them. It’s cool that you got to keep yours,” she answered with an innocent smile.

Sarah was silent for a moment, staring at her friend, mulling over her words. “Erin,” she finally said, trying to keep her tone casual.

“Yeah?”

“You can keep the tiger, if you want.”

“What? But why? It’s yours,” she asked, confused.

“It is, but I’m pretty sure you need it more than me,” she answered, smiling warmly at her. “I’ve got plenty, I promise I’m not going to miss it. Think of it as a small gift.”

“Thank you,” Erin eventually said, looking down at the stuffed animal while smiling. She was still a bit confused about the unexpected gift, but she knew Sarah wouldn’t take “no” for an answer anyway. Erin got a thoughtful look on her face before shuffling over to Sarah and pulling her into a hug.

Sarah was taken aback, not expecting the display of affection, but quickly returned the hug, tightly embracing her friend. She knew Erin was still a long way off from being truly happy, but in that moment, just for a few seconds, she was certain things would turn out just fine.

Announcement
I feel like the pacing was a bit off towards the end. I rectified it as best as I could, but I dunno. Still, it's not horribly bad, I'm pretty sure I'm just a mess. Also, it's 6 AM, so sleepytimes now. Hope sleep deprivation didn't make me write or edit weird stuff last minute into the chapter.

Be sure to check out The Enchanted Pond, my short story about a depressed teenager getting thrown into a Dryad's backyard and learning more about his (gender) identity.

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