Monday rolled around like it always did. Once upon a time, Kat had dreaded Mondays. She never found herself comfortable in groups of people, and integrating into an existing group had always been an uncomfortable experience for everyone involved, like mandatory team-building exercises. But now it meant spending time with a best friend who had actually found herself, who was learning to enjoy life (and how to be a girl), as well as sharing lunch with April, who she’d grown fond of, in a big-sister-kind-of-way, and Millie, who she’d grown fond of in a decidedly un-sibling-like way. Sunday had been very wonderful, a little scary, and mostly breathless. She’d been learning a lot about herself, even though the two of them were taking things slow.
Geography was, as always, a frustrating ordeal, however. Dykstra found it once again necessary to single out Violet and April, but found them not nearly the ideal victims they’d been only a week earlier. They bore his use of their old names and pronouns with dignity, even though Kat could see Violet tense up every time. Coming out to themselves had renewed their strength, but it was still an uncomfortable situation, being targeted by someone in a position of power.
But Millie and Kat had considered that the day before. Today, after class, they’d take the girls to the school counselor’s office, and help them not only come out to the faculty, but Kat and Millie would serve as eyewitnesses to Dykstra’s behaviour, hopefully reprimanding him and getting him to stop harassing the two girls. Millie especially could name four other students who would be willing to back them up. Over the past month, and especially the last week, the general opinion on Violet and April had shifted from an eye-rolling amusement at the two more unpopular kids having a go at each other to a low-level indignation. Sure, April and Violet weren’t very popular, but in the end they were fellow students and a bully was a bully, no matter how high up the food chain. If there were no teachers (or snitches) around, there were plenty of their classmates who had begun to voice their frustration.
After class, Millie and Kat dragged their counterparts to Ms. Lopez’s office. They’d made an appointment and everything. Rather than being connected to the rest of the faculty building, the school counselor’s office was just around the corner from the cafeteria, allowing a student with a more private matter to slip away quickly without being seen going directly to the teachers. It was a clever solution, and especially now, Violet and April seemed grateful for it. They looked nervous. Sure, they were out, to a certain extent, but officializing their new status was still a scary prospect.
A little light shone green next to the door, indicating that Ms. Lopez was free and available for them to come in without knocking. Millie held the door open, and Violet and April slipped inside like they were committing a B&E, almost hunched over as they scurried into the office. Kat stole a quick kiss from Millie as she walked in behind them. The school didn’t outright ban displays of affection, but they did try to keep it somewhat subtle when they were on campus grounds, so any excuse to get a quick smooch in was a good one.
Through the second door, and they were in Ms. Lopez’s office. It was not big. The school counselor had a lot of work -- teenagers throughout history aren’t exactly known for their mental and emotional stability -- but she could clearly do with a larger office, a bigger staff, and perhaps even a budget. She sat behind a desk that had seen better times, although only oral tradition went that far back, her small, half-rimmed glasses teetering on the edge of her nose. It was hot in the room too, even with two windows open, and the counselor looked like what she needed was a fan and a cold drink. Instead, she’d bunched up her black hair in a messy bun that had several pencils shoved into it, and rolled up her sleeves.
She looked up from the page she’d been writing when the four of them came in. She gave the best impression of a ‘No, you’re not disturbing me at all’ kind of smile. “This is… Rose and Mayweather?” She looked at her watch. “How is it four already??” A polite cough and she gestured for them to sit down on the two chairs. Millie and Kat stood behind them, content to stay standing. There wasn’t enough room in the office for two additional chairs. Ms. Lopez shot them a questioning glance.
“Emotional support,” Millie summarized. Ms. Lopez shrugged.
“So how can I help the two of you?” She looked between Violet and April. She’d likely seen their student file, so she probably hadn’t expected two girls showing up, but she wasn’t drawing attention to it. Violet began to explain the situation, starting at the beginning, thankfully leaving out the fact that it had been Kat’s idea to begin with. She focused mostly on how she’d felt during the past month, how she’d slowly begun to dread the end of it. April chimed in with confirmations and the occasional ‘same’. Their hands were entwined next to them, probably hoping the counselor couldn’t see it. From where Kat was standing, she knew Ms. Lopez could most definitely see them holding hands, but again refrained from saying anything.
“Last week… we realized we couldn’t go back,” Violet concluded. “I can never be… I’m Violet, I feel that.”
“I’m April,” April said, quietly.
Ms. Lopez pushed her glasses back up her nose -- in the heat, they kept sliding down -- and sucked her teeth for a moment. “Well,” she said, “we have several transgender students on campus, so the process isn’t exactly arcane.” She opened a drawer, took out a binder and began to retrieve several coloured forms. “You’re going to have to fill these out. They’re mostly ‘Do you swear under threat of perjury’ nonsense, but it allows us to protect you in the case of harassment and discrimination.” She looked between the two of them. “Now, normally, I’d ask if you’re sure, but you spent the past month switching pronouns and presenting. Unless you have doubts, of course?” April and Violet both shook their heads aggressively. Ms. Lopez smiled. “Thought so.”
“Eh, Ms. Lopez?” Kat interjected.
“Maria, please,” Ms. Lopez said, holding up her hand. “I feel old enough as it is. Yes?”
“Well, we wanted to talk to you about that harassment,” she said, a little less cocksure now that the attention was on her. Maria Lopez’s brown eyes were very intense when they were pointed at you.
“Oh? Has someone already given you -- well, your friends -- any grief? We take bullying quite seriously,” she said, her mouth a thin line. Kat knew that the school took bullying seriously. She also figured that Ms. Lopez was probably dreading actually doing anything, because the school had been sued before by rich parents refusing to accept that their little angels were actually shit-flinging turdgibbons in disguise.
“It’s… not a student,” Millie jumped in, Kat’s knight in shining armour. Ms. Lopez leaned back and crossed her arms. She looked extremely stern and even Millie’s usually relaxed demeanour stiffened up. “Mr… Dick-Dykstra… he’s been targeting the two of them. Even after they explained that they’d prefer to use other names.”
Maria Lopez took a deep breath with her eyes closed. “If you came forward to him and requested to use different names and pronouns, he should have brought that to the faculty -- which I know for a fact he didn’t -- instead of denying you outright.” She retrieved a small book and wrote down some things in it. The only sound in the room, other than the faint sounds of life happening outside the window, was the soft scratching of pen on paper. Then Ms. Lopez looked up again. “I’ll be honest, girls. This isn’t the first time Mr. Dykstra has needed a reprimand. That’s why we don’t usually tell him --” She stopped and interrupted herself, squeezing her eyes shut. “Probably shouldn’t have told you that. Anyway, it’s nothing you should concern yourselves with.” She wrote some more in the small booklet and closed it. It was almost full, and Kat just barely managed to read the small sticker on the front that said ‘Dykstra’. Maria wasn’t kidding.
“Now, with regards to your transition,” she said, changing the subject. “You’re not the first to use transfiguration to make yourselves more comfortable in your own skin, but I think you’re also aware it’s not permanent?” Violet and April nodded, and Kat noticed that they squeezed each other’s hand a little tighter. “Now, the school has several programs for low-income students.” Kat saw Violet stiffen up, but Maria went on without mentioning that Violet was a recipient of a program like that. “We offer a lot of support, but the medical treatments that usually go with this sort of thing are a little outside of our scope.” She paused. “That means budget, honestly. You’re both eighteen?” They nodded. “That does help somewhat. Still, you’ll likely have to approach your parents if you want to begin medically transitioning.”
Kat saw Violet’s shoulders droop. She’d talked about it with her parents. Both of them were neck-deep in debt, and finding well-paying work had been difficult. They simply couldn’t afford any kind of treatment for Violet right now. Maria immediately saw the shift in Violet’s pose and took off her glasses, which decreased how stern she looked by a factor of ten.
“I’m very sorry, Violet. It’s just not something we can afford to do he--” She paused again as the high-speed bumper car that was her brain bounced in a new direction. “Actually, I have some questions to ask a colleague of mine before I go any further,” she said, writing something down on a post-it note. “I have an idea, but I need to ask around about legal stuff. I don’t want to give you any false hope, Violet, but there might be something. What about you, April? Do you think your parents can help out?”
“I’m not out to them yet,” April mumbled.
“Ah,” Maria said. “Well, I have some materials here.” She looked around the room, its cupboards full and boxes everywhere. “... somewhere. For relatives of transgender people, explaining things. If you think that’ll help.”
“Yes, please.” April nodded.
“And if they’re being difficult or not understanding, they are also always welcome to come to school with you. I can talk to them separately or with you in the room and explain things.” That seemed to satisfy April, who nodded again, forcing a smile. “Now, is there anything else I can help you all with? I have a lot of research to do and I want to make sure I do it well.” They all shook their heads. “Very well then. I would also like to add, of course, that everything said here was said in the strictest confidence until you sign those papers and hand them in, at which point I’ll inform the faculty of your official name change.” And then, like flipping a switch, her expression turned from kind and reassuring to angry thundercloud. “And I’ll talk to Mr. Dykstra.”
Other than the obvious reasons, Kat was, in that moment, very grateful she was not Mr. Dykstra. Despite Maria Lopez’s kindness towards the girls, Kat got the feeling that the woman was a hellion when she got into an argument. A part of her wanted to be a fly on the wall when she confronted ol’ Dickstrap. With a murmur of thank-you’s, they all shuffled out of the office again.
“How are you feeling?” Millie asked Violet and April once they were outside.
“Scared,” Violet said. “And a little hopeful.”
“Mostly scared,” April said quietly. “I’m going to tell my parents tonight.” Kat saw Millie lean forward, ready to pull her friend into a hug, but Violet was quicker, wrapping her arms around April.
“I’m here for you, April,” Kat heard Violet mumble softly. “No matter what happens.”
Kat and Millie decided to give them some space, taking each other’s hand in their own. The future was uncertain for their friends, but they weren’t going to be without love and caring any time soon.