Dysphoria; reference to date rape drugs.
“The snapdragon rears up on its hind legs and breathes another puff of flame at you,” Nathaniel said.
“I dodge it,” I replied, rolling three dice. “Two successes.”
He nodded. “You roll out of the way; the ball of flame passes by you and hits the side of a house, setting it on fire. Would you please get rid of that beast, before it burns our village to the ground? King Jareth screams.”
“Hey, it was you who unleashed it on us, saying it was a trial, Helena shouts back,” Lena said.
“Well you passed the trial, congratulations, King Jareth says, so kill it already!” Nat said.
I held back a burst of laughter, and looked at my character sheet. “Let’s see…” I mumbled. “I cast Ice Beam at the snapdragon.”
“Okay, roll Black Magic.”
I rolled the dice. “Four successes, one failure.”
Nathaniel nodded. “The Ice Beam hits the snapdragon; it roars in pain, and whirls about to face you again.”
“Taking advantage of the distraction, Tomàs shoots it with his bow,” Patrick said.
“And Helena charges at it, sword drawn,” Lena added.
“Roll for it,” Nat replied.
There was a clatter as the dice hit the table: four successes for Patrick, and seven for Lena.
“The arrow hits the snapdragon in the eye; it rears up, exposing its throat, and Helena slashes at it. With a gurgling sound, it drops to the ground, dead.” Nat looked around the table. “King Jareth emerges from his hiding spot; Congratulations, champions! He exclaims. You have earned my trust. Come now, I’m sure you have many questions to ask.”
He looked at his watch. “But since it’s almost midnight, I think we’ll get to that next year, after Patrick and Theo are back from their vacation.”
Lexi nodded, and stretched. “That was fun. Thank you for the game, folks.”
“Thank you for coming,” Nat replied.
We got up from the table; my friends started towards the stairs, but I stopped them. “Before we go, I have something for you all,” I said.
“Oh? What is it?” Roger asked, turning towards me.
“This,” I said, rooting around the plastic shopping bag I’d brought along to the gaming session. I retrieved a small packet, wrapped in a newspaper – I hadn’t managed to find wrapping paper, unfortunately – read the name I’d written on it, and handed it to Lexi. “This is for you. And for you, and for you,” I continued, handing a packet to each of my friends in turn, ending with Lena.
“Aw, Theo. You shouldn’t have,” she said with a smile.
“I did, actually,” I replied, smiling back. “Y’all are my friends, and I wanted to do something for you.”
She held the present up to her ear and shook it a bit; then she tapped the package, to try and discern its contents. “Can I open it?” she asked.
I hesitated. “Actually… Do you mind waiting for Christmas morning? It’s kind of a tradition in my family, no presents get opened before the twenty-fifth.”
She nodded. “Yeah, sure, though I’ll be burning with curiosity for the whole week. I’ll be sure to text you and tell you how I like it.”
Lexi, Lena, Patrick and I bid goodnight to Roger and Nat, and we got into Lexi’s car to make the drive back to the dorm; we kept chatting all the way.
“So you two are going home for Christmas, right?” Lexi asked.
“We are,” Patrick replied. “I’m leaving tomorrow, actually – I’m going to skip the final two days of college before vacation, but it’s fine, I’ve asked the teachers and they all said it was okay.”
“As for me, I’m flying back home on the twenty-third, in the afternoon,” I said.
“Oh, you’re flying this time?” Lena queried.
“I am, I managed to find a cheap last-minute ticket. Less than fifty bucks, which is about what taking the Greyhound would’ve cost me.”
“That’s good,” she said as the car stopped in front of the dorm.
Patrick and I got out, as did Lena; she gave me a tight hug. “Have a good trip home, Theo.”
“I will,” I replied. “And I’ll be sure to text you to keep you up to date.”
We broke the embrace, she got back into the car with Lexi, and they drove off. Patrick and I opened the dorm’s door with the key, and made our way up the stairs, being careful not to make too much noise – it was past midnight. When we got to our room, Pat and I chatted a bit before getting to bed and falling asleep.
“I know, Mother. I’m sorry,” I said into the phone.
“Isn’t there any alternative? Any way you can get here?” she asked. “Everyone’s waiting for you. Peter and Leah want to see you again. I want to see you again.”
I sighed. “I know that too,” I said. “But all flights have been cancelled, and I don’t know when they will resume.”
I pulled aside the curtain of my dorm room, and looked out at the falling snow. It was the twenty-third of December, I was supposed to be on a plane heading home, and yet I was stuck at college.
They’d called it ‘the Storm of the Century,’ and it was living up to its name: a full five feet of snow had fallen over the Northeastern United States in the last twenty-four hours, and it looked like it wasn’t going to let up any time soon. Roads were impassable, airports were closed, and I was snowed in inside my dorm.
“Look, I’ll keep you updated,” I said. “But there’s no way I can get there in time for Christmas at this point.”
I heard a sigh on the other end of the line. “That’s unfortunate. But it’s not your fault, Theo. You can’t control the weather.” There was a pause. “It’s just… This will be the first holiday we spend apart.”
“I know,” I replied.
Another sigh. “Do you think you’ll be able to come over for New Year’s?”
“Possibly. I can’t say for sure yet.”
“Alright. Let me know. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
I hung up, and sighed again. I hated it. I hated not being able to spend the holidays with my family. But that couldn’t be helped, unfortunately. And I couldn’t just call some of my local friends and hang out with them, either: Christmas was a family holiday, I was sure they were busy spending it with their relatives.
I idly wondered what they would think of their presents, especially Lena: I hoped she would like the dress I’d picked out with Lexi’s help.
That thought brought another to the surface: I remembered the pills Lexi had spilled the day we went to the mall. I know she’d said it was nothing to worry about, but I couldn’t help but be curious: what would cause a teenage girl to carry a pill bottle around? That day, after all that had happened, I’d forgotten to look up the pills. But now…
I booted up my laptop; after a bit of searching, I found a website, a page on… Reddit? Was that it? That could help people identify pills. That would be fine. I quickly made an account, and wrote out a post.
Hello everyone. I have a question: a friend of mine, a girl about my age (late teens – early twenties) has been using some pills, and I’ve been wondering what they were for. I saw two kinds: one was an oval, about a half inch long, light blue, with a lowercase b on it, and the other one was a round, yellow pill. Does anyone know what they’re used for? Thanks.
I sent the message and shut down my computer; I pulled my notes out of my backpack, and started studying. Since I was stuck there, might as well get ahead on coursework.
I spent the rest of the day, and then all of Christmas Eve, in my dorm room: I studied a whole lot, but I also watched some movies on Netflix – Patrick had kindly let me borrow his account – and read some books. The only times I left the room were to go to the common room and make myself breakfast, lunch, or dinner; there wasn’t anything to do outside anyway, the dorm was snowed in and would probably be for a few days still, and there were only a handful of people in the building – those who had been so unlucky as to be stuck there like I was. I didn’t know any of them, so we had no interactions besides a brief wave when we occasionally passed each other in the corridors.
I spent the evening of Christmas Eve on the phone with my family, as we wished each other a Merry Christmas, and once again lamented that we couldn’t be together for the holidays; then I shot a few texts to my friends, to wish them a Merry Christmas too, and went to bed.
I awoke at about ten on Christmas Day when my phone pinged; I had planned on sleeping in, so I hadn’t set my alarm. I picked up the device, and saw that I had a message from Patrick.
[09:57] Pat: Merry Christmas, Theo!
[09:57] Pat: You up already?
I blinked the sleepiness from my eyes, and sent a response.
[10:04] Me: Not quite
[10:04] Me: Was asleep until just now. You woke me up
His reply came almost immediately, and we started an exchange.
[10:05] Pat: Aw damn, sorry :( hope you’re not mad at me
[10:05] Me: Why would I be mad
[10:05] Pat: For waking you up
[10:06] Me: Nah it’s fine don’t worry
[10:06] Pat: Great! Listen, can you open my closet?
I frowned down at my phone.
[10:07] Me: Your closet? Why?
[10:07] Pat: There’s a present in there
[10:07] Pat: For you
[10:07] Me: ???
[10:08] Me: What??
[10:08] Me: You got me a present?
[10:08] Pat: Yeah!
I was really surprised; it was the first time in my whole life I’d been given a Christmas present from someone outside my family. But it made sense, didn’t it? After all, I’d gotten Pat a present, too.
[10:08] Me: Why didn’t you give it to me before leaving?
[10:09] Pat: I
[10:09] Pat: Uh
There was a pause; according to the messaging app we were using, my friend was probably trying to find something to say, since there was a “Pat is typing…” message prominently displayed on the screen. In the end, his response popped up.
[10:13] Pat: I forgot
[10:13] Me: You forgot?
[10:15] Me: Pat
[10:15] Me: Pat, you there?
[10:17] Pat: No
[10:17] Pat: I mean yes
[10:17] Pat: I’m here
[10:17] Pat: No I didn’t forget
[10:18] Me: Why then
[10:18] Pat: Because
[10:18] Pat: You were supposed to go home for xmas
[10:18] Pat: That’s not a good gift to open in front of your family
[10:19] Me: ?
[10:19] Me: ???
[10:19] Pat: You’ll see
[10:20] Pat: Whoops gotta go, my uncle and cousins are here
[10:20] Me: No wait
[10:20] Me: What did you mean?
[10:21] Me: Pat?
After a couple minutes of him not answering, I sighed and put down my phone. What the hell did he mean by those words?
Well, there was only one way to find out.
I got up from bed, walked over to his closet, and opened it; inside, lying on the floor, was a present, neatly wrapped up in cheerful holiday-themed paper, with a pretty red bow on top. I picked it up – it was light and soft – and read the tag: “For Theo, from Patrick.”
Being careful not to rip the paper (I could probably reuse it later on), I unwrapped the package.
“What the hell?” I mumbled.
I held my present up to look at it more carefully.
It was the dress. The red dress, with orange and yellow flowers, that had caught my eyes when we’d gone to the mall to buy Lena’s Christmas present. The one I’d categorically denied I wanted to try on.
As I was staring transfixed at the dress, a slip of paper fluttered down from it to the floor; I bent it over and picked it up.
I’m sorry if this present was unexpected, but I saw the way you were looking at it, and I thought you might like it. I hope it’s not unwelcome; in any case, I’ve kept the receipt, so if you don’t want it, you can always exchange it for something else.
I stared at the card for a few moments, then I chuckled. What the hell, Patrick? Why would you buy me a dress for Christmas?
My phone chimed again; I looked at it, and saw that Lexi and Lena were wishing me Merry Christmas. I quickly returned the wishes, and then looked at the time: it was half past ten in the morning – late for breakfast and early for lunch, but a brunch would do me good, I decided.
I carefully laid the dress down on my bed, got dressed in a simple tracksuit, grabbed a few ingredients from the fridge, and went down to the common room to cook my food.
As I tapped the eggs on the counter to crack them and broke them open in a bowl, my mind kept going back to the dress.
Why? Why would Patrick give me a dress as a Christmas present? I didn’t wear dresses. Girls wore dresses, and I was not a girl.
Had I given something away? No, wait, hold on. Had I given what away? What was there to give away?
He’d written that he saw the way I was looking at the dress. How had I been looking at it? Lexi had evidently noticed it too, since she’d taken me aside to ask if I wanted to try it on.
What the hell did this all mean?
I turned on the stove and dropped a knob of butter into the skillet; while I waited for it to heat up, I whisked the eggs carefully with a fork, before pouring them into the pan.
Couldn’t Patrick have just talked to me, in any case? Instead of being so cryptic?
As I put the cheese and ham and veggies on my omelette and folded it over, I resolved to return the dress to the store and exchange it for something more appropriate at the first available occasion.
My hunger sated, I washed the dishes and returned to my dorm room. I glanced at the dress as I entered, but then sat down at my desk, in front of my computer. I should probably get to studying, but I wanted to surf the internet first, maybe watch a movie.
Oh, right. I hadn’t checked if I had gotten any answers to the question I’d posted on Reddit. The one about the pills.
I navigated the website, and saw that I had a few replies; I scrolled through them, but one stood out in particular:
From how you described the pills, I think the blue one is estradiol, while the yellow one is spironolactone. They’re used for a few things, but the fact that your friend is using them together, and that she’s young, makes me think she’s taking them for hormone replacement therapy – HRT. Your friend is probably transgender.
There was that word. Transgender. I’d heard it before, on my first day of college, but I hadn’t bothered looking up what it meant.
Well, no time like the present.
I opened up a new tab and navigated to Google; then I typed in, slowly and carefully: what does transgender mean.
The first result was a Wikipedia page, providing a simple and clear explanation: “Transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.”
I frowned. Sex assigned at birth? What was that? And why was that page using gender and sex as if they were two different words – weren’t they the same thing?
I typed in another question: what is sex assigned at birth.
My frown deepened as I looked at the results; apparently, when people are born, doctors declare them to be one sex or the other, male or female, depending on what’s between their legs. “In most cases, sex assigned at birth corresponds with gender identity, though there are exceptions.”
I typed again. What is gender identity.
As I read the page that had popped up, I distinctly felt cold, starting to spread from the pit of my stomach, to the rest of my body.
My hands were trembling as they moved over the keyboard.
What is transitioning.
That was a thing? An actual thing? That people could do? That people actually did?
Wait, hold on.
The Reddit poster that had answered my question had said that my friend – that Lexi – was probably transgender.
But there was no way that was true, right?
Several people appeared on the screen. Apparently her name wasn’t as uncommon as I thought.
Lexi Hamilton Bradford McKinley.
That time, the first result was a news article, dating from just before the Summer. I read it: it was about how a member of the triathlon team at Bradford McKinley College had been arrested and charged with possession and intent to distribute controlled substances, as well as “Drugging a fellow student, Lexi Hamilton. Miss Hamilton, who is transgender…”
I blinked at the screen. Once, then twice. The words were still there.
Lexi was transgender? Lexi? My teammate and friend? Seriously?
Apparently one day she’d just realised she wasn’t a boy, actually? And just… Changed that? Could someone really do that?
Could I do that?
Unwillingly, my eyes were drawn to the dress, still laid out on my bed. I stared at it, long and hard.
I gulped, stood up, and removed my tracksuit. Then, with trembling hands, I picked up the dress, unzipped the back, and stepped into it. It took a few tries to pull the zipper back up, but in the end I managed.
I looked down at myself.
There was no way this could work.
My dorm room didn’t have any mirrors in the main living area; walking slowly, like someone heading to the gallows, I made my way to the bathroom.
Taking a deep breath, I switched on the light, and looked in the mirror.
And saw a girl reflected in it.
She looked very much like me. She was me, in fact. I was her.
She was just… There. And I realised she’d always been there. Trying desperately to get out.
Suddenly lots of things made much more sense.
Woodenly, as if I were sleepwalking, I walked back to the bedroom, and sat down on my chair.
I put my face in my hands, and I started crying.