“How was your weekend?” Millie stirred a big mug of tea casually, looking over at Kat. Kat was not in a space to do anything casually, holding on to her espresso for dear life. On-campus off-brand coffee had been a godsend, but only having access to it at noon was exactly three hours too late. Or, she considered, nine in the morning was three hours too early to start classes. Mornings were for other people. Noon was Kat’s morning, and she was having her ‘morning’ coffee.
“I’m alive,” Kat said with a forced smile. Millie cracked up at her pained expression, and Kat’s constructed smirk became a real one. Millie was wearing her leather jacket, her black nail polish flaking and her black lipstick was smeared, and all of it looked entirely deliberate. Kat was trying very hard not to be into it. Millie, meanwhile, caught her staring, and only raised an eyebrow. Kat cleared her throat. “Ahem,” she said. “How was yours?”
Millie shrugged and leaned back, carefully sipping her tea and burning her tongue. “It was all right. Was up too late yesterday,” she said. She didn’t look it, but Kat assumed she was one of those people who rolled out of bed looking perfect anyway. Kat shot her an inquisitive glance, and Millie shrugged again. “I’ve been trying to get a can of spray paint to tag on its own. It’s… going. Slowly.”
“Enchanting is, as they say, a bitch,” Kat agreed. Her specialty, which she was never going to admit to the cute goth-slash-punk girl opposite her, was actually botany. Part of her wished it wasn’t, but then she was elbow-deep in dirt and she could feel the earth talking to her and everything felt right. Of course, right after she’d have to pretend that it meant nothing to her. Indifference was exhausting, but a necessary part of school life. “Though this morning was a damn wash regardless of what class we were going to get.”
“Ugh,” Millie agreed. “Dickstrap is the worst.” Kat couldn’t help but scrunch her face a bit. Derek ‘Dickstrap’ Dykstra was their geography teacher, and he hadn’t actually been considered a terrible teacher for a long time, until a few years ago people had found out he tended to think a little old school. For a teacher who didn’t actually teach magic, he apparently had some outdated ideas on who could be witches and who could be warlocks, and his tenure had actually been under review after he’d made some disparaging comments to the female students, but it had been just tame enough for nothing to have come of it. But it had gotten him a new nickname. And he’d lived up to it this morning.
“You know,” Kat said, “I was so ready to spend the entire week trying to talk Violet out of this whole stupid bet, but with Dickstrap’s whole thing…”
“Yeah,” Millie said, “I feel you.” Her eyes seemed to bore into Kat, and it was hard for her not to feel self-conscious under so much scrutiny. Considering how much time her best friend usually spent in their own head, focused on their own obsessions, feeling awkward was normal. She wasn’t used to being listened to like this. She wasn’t sure if she hated it yet, especially considering who was doing the looking. “At this rate, I just want both of them to make it through the month, even if it’s just to prove the old bastard wrong.”
“Word,” Kat said, the events of the morning coming back to her. It had been… unpleasant. When they’d all walked into the auditorium, April and Violet had both walked to the front of the class to present themselves, and explain why they’d be responding to different names during roll call. It… had not gone well. Dykstra had looked at the two of them and, for a moment, Kat thought he might have broken into laughter, mocking them both. That might have been better, because then everyone in the class would have been on their side. Instead, it had been a lot more painful.
Millie and Kat had shot each other a glance from across the auditorium, both of them worried about their friends and neither of them able to really do anything. Yelling at a teacher was a great way to get themselves suspended. All they could do was watch as Dykstra raised his back and looked at the two students.
“I don’t care about your bet,” Dykstra had said. That wasn’t the worst thing in the world. But it had been April and Violet’s response that had been so painful. They’d both cried out in protest, but Dykstra had raised a hand and looked at them both with a look of utter condescension. “As far as I’m concerned, the both of you are two of my most mediocre students.” He paused and looked at Violet. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re Mark Rose,” he said, and turned to April, “and you’re Roland Mayweather. It doesn’t matter how much you change your name or appearance. Take a seat, boys.”
The two warlocks had protested again, but Dykstra had shut them both up with detention and extra homework. When Violet had sat down, Kat wanted to ask if everything was okay, but the look on Violet’s face had made her change her mind. Kat had expected her friend to look angry, but Violet’s eyes were red, like she was close to crying. Sure, Kat felt like her friend was taking the whole bet too seriously, asking her several times to use girl’s pronouns for her and call her Violet exclusively, but she also didn’t like seeing Violet hurt.
The rest of the class, Dykstra had called on Violet and April over and over again, using the names of Mark and Roland with a careless glee. It had been especially jarring considering he otherwise exclusively used last names. Every single time, it had seemed to sting Violet like the personal insult it was. Kat had wanted to reach out and comfort her friend, but she also knew that the teacher was just as likely to up his bullying if he spotted another weakness. After class, Violet had returned to her dorm room without another word.
“How is yours doing?” Kat asked Millie. She’d been mostly busy worrying about her friend, but as far as she was concerned, April was just another student. Kat held her no ill will, and she’d enjoyed spending time with Millie. Someone who had friends like that couldn’t be the worst person.
Millie sighed. “April’s had a rough weekend,” she said, and finished her tea. Kat followed her example, and after a minute both of them walked outside. They both still had half an hour before classes resumed, the weather was lovely, and neither of them had their best friend to take care of. “She told her parents,” Millie continued while they looked for a spot on the campus lawn. They sat down under the shade of a tree and Kat did her best not to feel like this was a date, focusing on what Millie was saying. “They thought it was hilarious, and they’re encouraging her to engage in healthy competition.”
“That’s… good, isn’t it?” Kat said, wrapping her arms around her legs as she leaned against the trunk of the tree, closing her eyes and enjoying the soft warmth of the summer heat.
“Well, yes and no,” Millie said. “April’s parents are… difficult.” She paused. “You sure you wanna hear this? I don’t want to bore you.” Kat opened one eye and peeked at her.
“Are you kidding me? I could listen to you talk all day,” she said, and only after grinning smugly did she realize just how gay that had sounded. She realized there was no taking it back, and the only refuge was in audacity. Millie didn’t seem too bothered by it, which was even more intimidating to Kat.
“Well, that goes both ways, Kat,” Millie smiled, and laid down with her hands under her head. “Anyway, yeah, April’s parents have always pushed her. That’s how we met, actually. They picked the students with the highest score and set up playdates.” Millie smiled sheepishly as Kat raised an eyebrow. “Listen… I was a bookish kid. And it didn’t work, April was never going to be a model student. Anyway I’m worried they won’t take it well if this doesn’t turn out to be ‘proof’ that she’s finally becoming the promised son they’ve always wanted.”
“What do you mean?”
“This bet of theirs,” Millie said, playing with a flower in the grass, “this isn’t going to prove anything.”
“Mmm,” Kat said.
“They’re just… acting out. Neither of them is going to get better at magic because of it.”
“And April’s parents are going to go mental if they think this negatively impacted her grades. She’s been stressing all weekend, and this morning was… well, it wasn’t the final straw, but it was definitely an extra straw,” Millie said, sighing.
“Where is she now?” Kat asked. Rich kids didn’t always go home during lunch, but it wasn’t unheard of.
“Having lunch alone. She needed time. I take it Violet is doing much the same?”
Kat nodded. “She’s in her dorm room. She pretty much lives on campus.”
“Oh,” Millie said. It was an ‘oh’ with implications and assumptions.
“Her parents are fine, really,” Kat said. “Just… don’t have a lot. She’s on a grant, and it’s cheaper if she stays in the dorm.”
“Oh,” Millie repeated, an ‘oh’ of understanding this time.
“She’s actually got a pretty big room. It’s practically an apartment. It’s a lot bigger than her room back home.”
This time it was Millie’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “You’ve been to her room often?”
“Pfft,” Kat said. “Not like that. We grew up on the same street. Mark was the cool kid who collected rocks and I was the dumbass who kept the other kids from throwing more of them at him.” She paused. “Her,” she corrected herself. “Is it him or her when we’re talking about them in the past tense? I’m trying to be respectful of how seriously they’re taking this, but they’re not making it exactly easy.”
“Ehh,” Millie said. “I’ve got a cousin who did that. You get used to it. I just try to think of her as a girl, and I’ll switch back after the month is over.”
“Just like that?”
“Your friend is still your friend, boy or girl.” Millie paused. “Fuck Dickstrap.”
“Fuck him,” Kat concurred.
“You’re cool,” Millie said, looking up at the clouds. “I was worried you’d be like Violet.”
“What do you mean?” Kat asked, trying, on the one hand, not to be offended for her friend. On the other, she desperately wanted Millie to say more nice things.
“Violet and April are so hyper-focused on each other, on those numbers. I was worried you’d be like them. But you’re chill,” she said, and stuck a flower by the stem between her teeth. “I was worried you were just a pretty face.”
Kat froze and her eyes shot open. She’d hoped that Millie hadn’t noticed, but the goth girl was looking right at her. When she caught Kat’s eye, Millie winked, causing her heart-rate to double.
“How dare you,” Kat managed, but it came out a little more high-pitched than she intended to. “Judge me by my looks when you go around looking all…”
“Hmm?” Millie hummed a question, her eyes closed with all the confidence in the world.
“I know, I just want to hear you say it.”
“You’re the worst,” Kat smirked. “How did April put up with you for that long?”
“Well,” Millie said, took the flower out of her mouth, and lazily looked over to Kat again. “I’m free next week on Friday. Why don’t you find out over dinner?”
“Fucking hell,” Kat laughed. “Alright. It’s a date.”
“Yeah, it is.”
The break couldn’t last forever, however, and Kat and Millie went to separate classes. Kat found Violet as they walked into the botanical gardens. She walked a little faster to match pace with her friend. Violet looked a little better than she had after class, but only a little.
“Are you okay?” Kat asked.
“Yeah,” Violet snapped, and then took a deep breath. “Yeah,” she repeated, softer this time. “I just… want today to be over, you know? I want to go back to my dorm and just not think about anything.”
“I get you. But hey, they say botanical witchcraft is easier if you’re in touch with your feminine side, so at least class won’t be the worst, right?” Kat said. She hoped that this might cheer up her friend. It failed.
“Ugh, don’t remind me. This might be harder than I thought it would be, Kat. I wasn’t expecting, you know, pushback.”
“Well, I’m here for you regardless. Are you sure you want me to keep calling you Violet?” she asked, as they walked down the rows of potted plants to the small auditorium.
Her friend nodded. “It makes it easier, knowing you’re taking it seriously too. Right now, calling me Mark would feel, I don’t know, wrong. I think I’d want to quit sooner.”
“All right. But you keep me in the loop, okay?”
Kat smiled, happy she could still talk to her friend the way she had before, and remembered what Millie had told her. Thinking of her friend as a girl wasn’t too hard, she realized, and she smiled.
“You’ll be all right, Violet.”
“Thanks.” Violet smiled and took a deep breath, and tried to focus on botany the way Kat had suggested. As it turned out, being turned into a girl hadn’t made a lick of difference, and she was as rubbish with plants as ever. Kat poked fun at her, and she pretended to be annoyed. When Violet finally went back to her dorm, Kat could tell she was in a much better mood and went home smiling.
She panicked only three times when she realized all of a sudden that she had a date the week after.