Chapter 2 – Alys
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Mom returned my hug, and then silently pulled me inside a little bit and closed the door behind me. “Hey sweetie” she said to me in a soothing voice, as she continued to hold me tight. God, how I missed that voice. “What’s wrong?”.

It was quite weird to be getting called ‘sweetie’  but honestly it made me extremely happy. Though I’m pretty sure mom could have called me anything she wanted and it would make me extremely happy. Mom! Mom is back!

“Talk to me, Kiara. You know you can tell me anything”. She looked up to me, with those beautiful eyes of hers. With a look that told me everything was going to be okay. And it was, now that she was here with me.

Wait ‘Kiara’? Did she mean me? I mean… I hadn’t thought about it, but I guess this other me would not go around calling herself ‘’Sean”.

" ‘S nothing” I mumbled, still crying. They were happy tears. I know it wasn’t very manly of me and dad would disapprove but I’d just missed her so much

“Okay then. I won’t force you to say anything.” mom replied in a concerned but calming voice “Just know that if you ever want to talk about it, I’m always there for you.”

I released the hug, despite not really wanting to. Mom gave me a smile and repeated that she was there if I needed her and then excused herself to the couch were she was watching some sort of documentary about Alexander the Great. The house was both familiar and different. Same rough lay-out, but for example the couch was one I did not recognize. Before we’d had the same couch for as long as I could remember, but now we had one that looked a lot newer than that one.

There were a couple of other things in the living room that were different from when I’d left earlier that day. Notably there was a large bookcase filled with books about all sorts of historical subjects. Dad had never been much of a reader, but apparently mom had more interest in it. I could go upstairs and check what had changed there or….

I sat down next to mom on the couch. As by instinct I put my head against her shoulder. I just really needed to be close to her right now. To feel her, to be able to convince myself that this was real, that this was really happening. Mom took my head and instead pulled it into her lap and then started softly stroking my newly long hair. It felt…. nice.

We sat there for a while just watching the people on the television talk about Alexander’s conquest of Persia in silence. After about ten minutes mom started complaining about how some aspects of the documentary were totally historically inaccurate. She got quite passionate about it. It was kind of fun, and it seemed like for a bit my emotional outburst was forgotten. I could just… exist there with mom. I just nodded along, just enjoying her being there, though it was difficult to keep paying attention to the documentary with her commentary on it.  Then I noticed that on the tv stand there were a bunch of pictures.

Two of them were baby pictures that  I recognized, dad had them in a photo book somewhere as well. The rest were pictures I did not recognize of either “me” or mom or both. All of the ones of “me” seemed quite recent. In one my hair was only a little bit past my ears. I suppose it was the oldest one. The other me must have only just started that whole transgendered thing around then. I was… 14? 15? In that picture. The rest of the pictures featured me with longer hair in a variety of outfits. One of them was a long summer dress. I couldn’t really imagine wearing that, it must be weird. It did not look that bad in the picture though. She looked happy enough in it. Most notably however: there were no pictures of dad.

As mom talked about how the romance between Alexander and Hephaestion was totally underrepresented I mulled the implications. Did that mean that Dad died? Like, had I just traded one parent for another?

I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I loved having mom back. Mom still had her arm on my head and had shifted to softly rubbing my head instead. Having mom back was nice. Really nice. But what if it meant giving dad up? Then again… dad still had photos of mom around. Maybe seeing him is too painful for mom? Or maybe….

There really was only one way to find out, wasn’t there? As the credits started rolling. I worked up my courage “Hey, ummm” I asked, my voice still coming out sounding off “What is dad up to?”.  

I felt mom’s hand stiffening and then it retreated. I sat back up and mom responded with a slight frown “he’s fine. Still with that Katie woman last I heard. Still working at Shell.” Then her look softened “Is this what this has been about?”

“Y-Yes” I replied uncertainly. It had not been smart to act so obviously emotional considering I was trying to act as if nothing was wrong, so if this could work as an excuse then I should embrace it with both arms.

“Honey….” Mom started “I’m sorry David is not accepting of you. But…. he’s a dick. Just… try to forget about him.” She put her hands on my shoulders and looked me straight in the eyes “Remember: he is a giant piece of shit whose opinions you do NOT have to take into account, okay?” she said bitterly.

Holy shit, where had that come from? I guess mom and dad went through some pretty bad break-up or something. I nodded. Maybe I could use that watch-thing to get mom and dad back together later? Clearly something bad had happened between them, but I now had the power to fix whatever that was. After I fixed myself of course. Maybe that would already do it? Maybe that had caused their break-up? Dad was pretty bad about LGBT people.

-

After another hug mom looked at the clock and excused herself to make dinner. I decided to finally check out what had happened with my room. It was still in the same place in the house on the first floor. The door to it now featured some cut-out coloured letters that spelled out “Kiara” on it. I’d had those same sort of letters before with “Sean” when I was little, but had gotten rid of them when I was like, 10 or something. It was quite baffling that this other me had not gotten rid of such childish things yet.

Inside the room the most obvious change was that the walls were no longer blue but a sort of yellow-ish white instead. It looked nice, a lot less dark then it usually did. The bed and some of the furniture was the same, though there was a different closet. Opening it revealed a broad collection of skirts, dresses, bras and panties along with the more familiar pants and socks and the like. Not much was the same there. Among the lot I noticed the summer dress that I’d seen in the pictures. A weird urge came over me but I shut it down. I’m still a man, I just need to get through these four days intact.

On my desk was a laptop of the same brand that I’d had. Some school books and notebooks and a planner that was the same type I’d had before but was now neon pink instead of blue, luckily that was the only pink thing in the room at least. And then there was…. Lion.

I picked Lion up, held him close to me and stroked his brown mane. He was a little dusty, but it still felt so familiar. His little whiskers, his paws. He was just like I remembered him.

When I was little I’d been in some shop with mom and had seen him and instantly wanted him. Lions had been my favourite animal, and when you are little that sort of thing is very important somehow. I’d asked mom for it and she’d said it was too expensive. But then a month later for my birthday she’d given me Lion. She’d gone back to the store and gotten him for me. Me and Lion had been inseparable for quite a bit after that, I’d take him to all sorts of places.

Dad had made me get rid of him when I was 11. I was going to middle school and that ‘’was no age to still own stuffed animals’’ or so dad had said. I’d cried due to that, which had only made him angrier. I couldn’t help it, Lion was one of the last things I owned that mom had given to me.

I felt tears start to well up again. No. If I cried over having mom back that is fine, but not over a stuffed animal. I needed to man up. I put Lion back where he’d been and rubbed the tears out of my eyes. Okay: focus! Practical concerns: what’s my schedule like for the next four days?

I picked up the neon-pink planner and checked the schedule. Weirdly I had half expected it to be way different, but apparently “Kiara” had picked the same electives. The classes were all at the same time and place even. I suppose it made complete sense. Why would my life choices alter the school’s schedule after all? But with everything that had changed it felt almost weird that that was entirely the same.

This week’s schedule had all the homework neatly noted down per day. Besides that I noticed that on tomorrow, Sunday, it said ‘’studying with Ellie’’. I was still friends with Ellie here? Well that was going to be weird. I had not talked more than one sentence at a time to Ellie for the past five years. Should I try and cancel it or would that raise too many suspicions?

On Monday I was having dinner with a “Chris”. Kiara had even drawn a little heart on the I in “Chris”, which was kind of weird. The rest of the days were just homework. I didn’t really know anybody named Chris, I don’t think there was anybody in my grade called that, but maybe it was different now? I checked for next week just out of curiosity. Interestingly enough on Monday there was again a ‘’dinner with Chris’’ with another little heart over his “I”. Maybe he was like some sort of tutor? That would explain the weekly meetings. Dad had talked about getting me a math tutor because I’d been struggling pretty hard with it this year, but nothing had come of it so far, but maybe that was different with mom?     

I went back to the closet and started to inspect some of the clothes again. There really was some cute stuff in there. Cute on a girl I mean, not on me, but I could see why Kiara wears it. Then I heard the landline phone ring from downstairs. Is that Bryan calling? The timing is about right, but why wouldn’t he just call me on my cell phone?  

I decided I should at least check and made my way downstairs but by the time I’d gotten down the stairs mom had already picked it up.

“Hello, Alys McDowall speaking” said mom. Right, McDowall, didn’t even think of the fact that with Dad being gone we’d have a different last name as well.

Whatever mom heard from the other side of the line turned her face into a scowl and she replied to the phone with barely contained anger “I’m sorry, but nobody lives here with that name. Goodbye. Do not call again or I will have a talk with your parents.” With that she put the phone back down on its charging station with some force.

“Who was that? ” I asked.

“Don’t worry about it” she replied as she walked back to the kitchen, stroking my hair once as she moved past me “dinner in ten minutes, sweetie.”

I went back upstairs and checked my cell phone. It was around the time Bryan should have called, so I might as well call him in case it was him. I scrolled in my contacts to the “B” of Bryan but there was nothing there. Neither was there anybody with his last name in my contacts. Now what? Bryan didn’t have a landline anymore, it was already pretty crazy we still did. But… hmmm.

The class app was indeed still there. It wasn’t used often, mostly just for when a teacher was sick and we could skip class, but everybody should be in it. In the list of participants was indeed somebody with Bryan’s acne-filled face and a phone number that was not in my contacts. I added him to my contacts again and pressed ‘call’.

It didn’t take long for a familiar voice to sound from my phone.

“Hey, who is this?” it asked. Right, he probably doesn’t have me in his contacts either.

“It’s me, dingus. It’s six o’clock, we were gonna call.”

“Oh hey! Sean! I tried to call you but you weren’t in my contacts. So I tried to call your landline but then some woman called ‘McDowall’ picked up and got super mad at me for no reason” Bryan replied in a sulking tone.

“That was mom!” I replied enthusiastically “Bryan, it actually worked! Mom is alive again!” It was honestly still too good to believe.

“Isn’t your last name Baker?”

“McDowall is mom’s maiden name, something happened with dad or something? I don’t really know the specifics yet.”

“Huh. Then why didn’t she just give the phone to you when I asked”

“You asked for ‘Sean’ right?” I answered. It was the logical explanation considering how mom reacted. “I’m called ‘Kiara’ right now apparently, so I guess you should call me that for now.”

“Yeah… I’m not gonna call you by a different name, Sean. That would just be weird.” Bryan replied in a weird tone.

“It’s just to keep a low profile so nobody notices anything is up. Just for these four days”

“Ugh.. I’ll just like… not call you by any name for the next couple of days or something” Bryan replied in a derisive tone.

Why was he being so weird about this? It’s just a name, and just for four days. I considered pushing the point further, but decided against it right now. I guess this would work well enough. Besides…. even if Bryan had said the wrong thing mom should still have recognized him by voice or phone number, right? I mean, we had been friends for years, even before my 9th birthday. Plus, he wasn’t in my contacts at all even though I’d noticed several classmates I barely knew before were in my contacts. It seemed like we probably weren’t that close right now anyway, so it might not even come up that much.

After that I briefly shared my findings and gushed a bit about what it was like to have mom back. Bryan seemed happy that mom was back and apparently he’d gotten the artefact back safely where he’d gotten it from and his dad hadn’t noticed. That still seemed like the most important thing going on right now  by his telling. As I was talking about the meetings with Ellie and Chris and what they could mean mom called me over for dinner and I had to hang up.

Mom had made some risotto with salmon. It smelled quite delicious, especially as I hadn’t had anything like that in ages. Dad had like 5 dishes he sometimes cooked, mostly pasta or fries, and otherwise we ordered take-out. I had gotten into the spirit of cooking more when I was 16 and for a while dad had appreciated it. Then apparently he felt I was taking it too far or something and decided that I should stick to the same stuff he made, so the more varied diet was short lived.

I helped finish setting the table as mom talked about the issues with documentaries for the general public misrepresenting history.  I didn’t really remember this talkative side of my mom. I suppose she wouldn’t have talked about stuff like this to a 9-year old anyways. It was nice though as it meant I didn’t have to bring much into the conversations except polite agreement. It was kind of like dad talking about sports, but significantly more interesting.

I took a bite and the food tasted as good as it smelled. “Hmm, this is really good mom” I said earnestly.

She looked me over quizzically. “I’m going to ask this again Kiara, are you okay?”.

“I’m fine” I answered quickly. How is she catching on? What am I doing wrong?

“You say you are fine, but you don’t well…. sound fine” mom replied. Fuck, my voice, that’s what’s wrong. I knew it sounded off.

“I’m sorry” I replied, trying to even out my voice a little, make it a bit more resonant. When I was 13 dad got on my case about my voice as well, so I just did that. “Just have a lot on my mind”

If mom looked somewhat worried before, she now looked straight up distraught. Distraught and confused. Fuck, I’m making it lower but she’s probably expecting it to sound higher or something? Girlier?

I tried to get my voice into a higher register “Sorry, my voice has been acting up” I said. It sounded too high though, like a weird soprano.

“If you need some time with your speech therapist again that’s fine, Kiara. Don’t hurt your voice or something.”

“I think it’ll be fine after some rest” I replied. This was turning into a significantly bigger problem than I had thought it was going to be. Mom did drop it after that, though I wasn’t sure what she would say if it was still as bad tomorrow.

 The rest of the conversation turned towards school work. Luckily in this case Kiara and I had the same subjects so I was able to answer her questions. I tried to keep better track of my voice. Talking as high as I did started to get a little painful after a while so I dropped it a little. It still sounded weird to my ears though.

In the evening I considered going back upstairs and playing a game or something. But really, I wanted to spend more time with mom. I wasn’t sure if she was still going to be there in four days after all. I needed to make our time together count while I had it. We watched some detective series. Mom started talking about a plot hole in the script halfway through, apparently that habit was not contained solely to historical subjects, but otherwise it was a nice quiet evening with her. We had some brownies that “I” or really Kiara had apparently baked sometime in the previous week.

After the second episode, in which the serial killer turned out to actually be the most recent victim, setting up the mystery for who killed him  for next week, we went to bed. Brushing my teeth I noticed there were a bunch of things on the bathroom counter that I did not remember, but I was too tired to care. The pyjamas I found were also much too feminine for what I would normally be comfortable with, but all I really wanted was sleep. I had a minor panic attack over taking off the bra I was wearing, then I decided to just put on my pyjamas over my underwear instead so I didn’t have to deal with it and could just sleep.

 I normally slept on my stomach, but when I tried that it produced rather strong protestations from the two new occupants on my chest. Instead I curled on my side and promptly fell into a deep sleep.

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