I rang the doorbell; after a few moments, the door opened, revealing Roger’s and Nathaniel’s father.
“Hi Theo. Patrick,” he greeted us. “The boys are downstairs, I think you know the way.”
“Thank you, Mr. Jones,” I replied.
“Oh, please, call me Andrew,” he said, waving a hand. “Off you go.”
I smiled at him, and we made our way across the living room, to the basement door, and down the stairs. Roger and Nat were sitting at the game table, looking over Roger’s character sheet, but they looked up as we arrived.
“Oh, hey, you two! What time is it?” Nat asked, checking his watch. “You’re a bit early, Lena and Lexi aren’t here yet.”
“I know,” I said. “We came early, took an Uber. Actually, I have to talk with you both for a moment, if you don’t mind.”
“Yeah, sure. What is it?” Roger said, putting down the sheet of paper.
Patrick and I walked over, and sat down around the table too.
“Okay,” I began, taking a deep breath. “Here’s the deal. I’m transgender. So I would be grateful if you could refer to me as a girl, she and her pronouns,” Lena had taught me that was the correct way to say it, “And call me Allie.”
Roger and Nat blinked, and exchanged a quick glance between themselves, before looking back at me. “Like your character?” Nathaniel asked.
“Yes, like my character,” I said with a smirk.
“Yeah, sure. Can do,” he replied.
I smiled. “Thank you.”
“Okay, hold on a second,” Roger said. I looked at him, and he raised a hand. “No, don’t worry, I don’t have a problem with it. I just wanted to know, is this a private thing?”
“For the time being yes, yes it is,” I nodded.
“Alright. Who else knows?” he asked. “Because I don’t want to call you Allie and accidentally out you to someone who doesn’t know yet.”
“Thoughtful. Thank you. Those who know are Patrick here, of course,” I said, jerking a thumb towards him. “Then there’s my siblings, though you’ve never met them, Miriam, the school counsellor, Coach Davis, and Lena and Lexi.”
He blinked again. “Okay, that’s more people than I expected.” He paused, then continued: “About Lexi…”
He smiled. “Okay, cool.”
“What about Lexi?” Patrick asked.
I hesitated. Crap. Patrick didn’t know Lexi was trans; they hadn’t met at all since before the holidays, actually, and neither had he and Lena for that matter.
“Uh… She’s helping me figure stuff out. She and Lena, along with you Pat,” I said. “But she made me promise not to take up too much of her time, she said that Roger can get a bit jealous.”
Roger understood. “Yeah, that’s right,” he said, going off my lead. “We’ve only started dating recently, you know how men are when their girlfriends start hanging out with someone else.”
Pat nodded, but seemed unconvinced; just then I heard the doorbell ring.
“Oh, speak of the devil, that must be the girls,” Nat said. True to that, a minute later, Lena and Lexi came down the stairs; they stopped at the bottom, looking at us.
“Did you tell them?” Lena asked.
“I did,” I replied. “It’s okay.”
“Good,” she nodded. “Now, before we begin, can I have a word with Patrick?”
Patrick looked at her, puzzled. “Yeah, okay,” he said.
“Alone,” Lena added.
I nodded; Roger, Nathaniel, and I got up from our chairs and started towards the stairs.
“Wait, hold on. What? What’s happening?” Pat asked, looking at us.
Roger gave him a pat on the shoulder as he passed him. “I know the look Lena has in her eyes right now. Good luck, my friend,” he said.
We closed the basement door behind us, but we still heard Lena shouting “What the fuck were you thinking?” as we stood in the living room; the words that followed weren’t as loud, so they weren’t intelligible, but the meaning came across just from the tone.
We glanced at each other, and then burst out laughing; Nat and Roger’s dad gave us a questioning look. “Everything alright?” he asked.
“Yeah, everything’s fine dad,” Nathaniel snorted out between laughs.
“Should we help him?” I said.
“Nah, it’s fine,” Lexi said, smiling widely. “My sister is all bark and no bite, she’s going to give him an earful, but forgive him in the end. I’ve seen it happen before.”
I nodded. “Oh, by the way, Lexi, Patrick still has no idea you’re trans. Should we tell him?” I asked. “You know, so we don’t have to be careful about what we say whenever we’re around him. If you don’t mind, of course.”
“Yeah, sure,” she replied, nodding back. “Normally I don’t just go telling every random person I meet, but Pat’s a friend.” She paused, listening carefully. “Hold on, I think they’re done.”
Indeed, we heard footsteps coming up the stairs, and Lena opened the door. “You can come back down,” she said. “I said what I had to. We had a really nice conversation, actually, even if it was brief.”
“Everything’s good, then?” I asked.
“Yeah, we’re good,” she replied. “He understood why what he did was wrong, and we went over some… Stuff.”
Roger lifted a questioning eyebrow. “Stuff?”
“Stuff,” Lena nodded.
When she didn’t elaborate further, Roger dropped it, and Nat ushered us all back down the stairs. Patrick was still sitting at the table, a chastised look on his face.
“I’m sorry, Allie,” he said when he saw me.
“It’s fine, big guy,” I replied, walking over and giving him a hug. “I’ve already forgiven you.”
“Oh, by the way,” Lexi said as we took our seats about the table. “I’m trans, too. Thought you should know.”
Patrick looked at her, then ran his gaze over the rest of the group. “Is there someone in this room who’s not trans or gay or otherwise queer?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s me,” Nat answered, raising his hand. “I’m a boring old-school cishet dude.”
“Also me, maybe?” Roger said. “After all, the only one I’ve ever had feelings for is Lexi.”
“But you liked me before you knew I was a girl, so that would make you bi,” Lexi said.
“Or he’s just Lexisexual,” Lena interjected, causing a burst of laughter around the table.
“Okay, kids, pipe down,” Nat said, pulling out a cardboard screen and placing it in front of himself so we couldn’t see his notes. “Now, last time you’d just defeated the snapdragon, and King Jareth had agreed to answer your questions.” He cleared his throat, and began narrating: “The King leads you to the main building in the centre of the village and sits down in his throne, lounging and stretching. Ah, that’s better, he says. Now, you said you had questions?”
There was a moment of silence around the table, then Lena spoke up: “Yes, we did, Helena says. We’re trying to track down Catherine Edel, former Chief Sorceress of the Kingdom of Irbia, and we’d heard you knew something about her whereabouts.”
“Ah, yes. Catherine. Kat, the Goblin King says, nodding heavily,” Nathaniel said. “She appeared in town suddenly, late last year. Actually…”
As he continued speaking, I tried my best to concentrate on the game, despite my mind being elsewhere at that moment.
“Death to the tyrant!, the goblin assassin shouts, springing towards King Jareth,” Nathaniel said. “Let’s see, next on initiative… Tomàs, then Allie.”
Patrick nodded. “Tomàs steps in front of the King, and draws back the string on his bow, and shoots the closest assassin.” He rolled six dice. “Three successes.”
Nat nodded, and turned to me. “Allie?”
I didn’t reply.
“Allie?” he repeated, a bit louder.
I jumped a bit. “Yes?” I asked.
“It’s your turn.”
I glanced around the table: everyone was looking at me. “Are you okay, Allie?” Lena said. “You’ve been out of it all night. What’s on your mind?”
“Nothing,” I replied, shaking my head. “Let’s continue.”
There was a moment of silence as my friends looked at each other, then Nat shook his head. “No, game’s over for tonight, we’ll reset from the start of the encounter next time.”
“But…” I began to protest.
Patrick put a hand on my arm. “Allie, something’s clearly bothering you,” he said, looking at me in the eyes. “We’re your friends. Talk to us.”
I held his stare for a couple seconds, then sighed. “It’s just… I’m not sure whether I want to transition.”
“Okay,” he nodded. “And why is that?”
“Well, I mean…” I paused, and glanced around the table. “What if I look like a freak? I mean, I’m already too old to transition and get passable results. I’ve read that.”
Lexi stared at me. “Okay, first things first, Allie: do not read stuff on the internet, while it can be useful it’s full of misinformation, and everything must be taken with a pinch of salt. Second, do I look like a freak to you?”
“You don’t,” I answered. “But you’ve been transitioning for years now. I’ll never look as good as you do.”
She tilted her head to the side. “I’ve been transitioning for how long now?”
“…Years?” I replied. “I mean, I know you came out to Coach Davis last year, but you’ve been on hormones far longer than that. Haven’t you?”
She blinked, and then started laughing. “Oh, god, this is so funny,” she said.
“Lexi has started transition less than a year ago,” Roger said. “She started hormones in April.”
“But…” I said, looking between the two of them, and thinking about what they’d said. Yes, that timeline did make sense, from the various bits and pieces I managed to recall them telling me about. “But then…”
“Hold on, I’ll show you,” Lexi said; she pulled out her phone and tapped the screen a few times. “Ah, there it is.”
She placed the device on the table in front of me; on the screen was a picture, of Roger, a slice of cake in his hand, standing right beside a boy… Or someone who looked like a boy, rather, very much similar to Lexi: they could easily be close relatives, siblings or cousins. I looked up at her, and then down at the phone, and then back up at her.
“This was taken at my birthday party last year,” Roger explained. “Lexi had already realised she’s a girl, but she hadn’t started transition just yet.”
I was completely stunned. True, the boy in the picture wasn’t very masculine, but to go from that to what Lexi looked like was a big leap.
But still. “I’m much bigger than you, though,” I said. “I mean, I’m taller, I’m more muscled… There’s no way I’d look good as a girl.”
“That’s absolutely not true,” Lena said. “You looked really cute when Molly put on your make-up.”
“Oh, she did?” Patrick asked. Lena nodded, and he turned to me: “You’ll have to show me, Allie.”
I blushed a bit.
“And besides,” Lena continued, “Women come in all shapes and sizes.”
“That’s right,” Lexi interjected. “I think I saw something on Instagram…” She picked up her phone again, tapped and swiped for a few moments, and then set it back down on the table: on the screen was a different photo, this time showing three young women, dressed in racing swimsuits, standing in front of a pool.
“Pop quiz!” Lexi said, grinning. “One of these three women is trans; which one is it?”
I looked at the phone; I pushed my hand out, zoomed in on the picture, examined each of the three women closely, but in the end I went with my gut instinct. I pointed at the tallest woman on the screen.
“This one?” I asked.
Lexi’s grin widened. “Nope, sorry. That was actually a trick question!” she said.
I looked at her. “So none of them…?”
“No, no. Two of them are trans,” she replied, pointing at the screen – at the two women I hadn’t pointed out.
My eyebrows rose in surprise. “But the other one is…”
“Taller than the other two?” Roger asked. “Bigger?” I nodded, and he continued, “Well, that’s the point Lexi was trying to make, actually: you usually can’t tell who is and who isn’t transgender, just by looking at them.” He turned to Lexi. “That was the point you were trying to make, right?”
“In fact,” Lena said, “A friend of ours is a cis woman, and she’s over six feet tall. She looks like an amazon. Makes you feel tiny when you stand beside her.”
“The point being, Allie,” Lexi said. “Most trans people have no problem looking like their actual gender once they transition. And I think you’ll look real cute. Won’t she?” she asked the group.
“She’s cute already,” Patrick replied.
“Yeah, that’s right. And she’ll only get cuter,” Lena answered.
Again I blushed.
“B-but,” I stammered out. “What if dresses don’t look good on me? I mean, I do sports…”
“Fit girls in dresses are hot,” Nathaniel said, the first thing he’d said in a while; we all turned to look at him. “What? It’s true,” he continued, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “I for one appreciate a woman who can crush a man’s skull like an egg between her thighs. If you decide to become that kind of woman, one who can show off her muscles, that’s hella valid.”
Everyone laughed, and even I smiled briefly, but the mention of muscles made my face fall.
“Oh,” I whispered.
“What’s wrong?” Lena asked.
“Muscles,” I repeated. “If I medically transition, I will lose strength, speed, endurance… The works.”
“…Oh,” she said.
“I’m sorry, why would that be a problem?” Nat queried. “Sure, that’s a bummer, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right?”
Me, Roger, Lena, Lexi, and Patrick exchanged glances.
“Allie is on an athletic scholarship,” Lexi explained. “She’s a two-time high school state champion in triathlon, actually.”
Nat’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “She is?”
“She is,” Lexi nodded. “And, if she decides to take hormones, she risks losing the scholarship.”
“Oh, that’s terrible,” Nat said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
Lena put her hands on my shoulders and looked at me in the eyes. “Allie, think about it. What is more important to you: transition, or the scholarship?” She paused. “Whatever you choose, it’s your decision, and we will stand behind you all the way.”
The others nodded in agreement.
I thought about it. True, my scholarship was extremely important; it was the only thing that allowed me to attend Bradford McKinley. But on the other hand, the thought of spending at least three more years of my life, pretending to be a boy, with everyone seeing me as one…
“Transition,” I replied.
Lena smiled. “There you have it.”
My lip started quivering; I felt as if I was about to burst into tears. “I…” I began. Then I paused, and took a deep breath. “I don’t know what to do. I need that scholarship, to pay for college. I can’t afford it otherwise.”
“Couldn’t you ask your parents?” Nat asked.
I shook my head. “My father died years ago, leaving us with no money, just the house. And my mother…” I thought back to my conversation with Miriam. “Well, maybe? But probably not.”
Roger had a pensive look on his face, and he was rubbing his chin. “Would you placing well at state championships, maybe even at nationals if we get that far, make a difference? Regarding the scholarship, I mean.”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Why?”
“Lexi, when you started hormones, how long did it take for them to take a toll on your fitness?” he asked.
Lexi raised her eyes to the ceiling, thinking back. “I think… A couple months, maybe? I didn’t notice anything before that.”
“Okay, how’s this,” Roger said. “To be able to compete against women, you need to lower your testosterone for at least a year. And--”
“How do you know that?” Lexi interrupted him. “I didn’t even know about it, we had to ask Coach Davis.”
“I did my research,” he replied, flashing her a grin. “Even though it’s not come up before, I wanted to be able to help you if needs be. I love you, Lexi.”
Lexi’s face became red, and she looked away, embarrassed, mumbling something.
“As I was saying,” Roger continued. “I’m sure you’ll be a high class woman athlete after transition; there’s no reason you shouldn’t be.”
I slowly nodded. I wasn’t so sure myself, but time would tell.
“So here’s the plan,” he went on. “If you were to start hormones in, like, mid-April, you’d still be fast enough to compete as a boy at the state championships, in early May, and maybe even at nationals, in early June. And then, next year, your levels will have been fine for long enough that you’ll be able to compete as a girl at the next state and national championships.” He looked around the room, a smile on his face. “How’s that?”
There was a moment of silence.
“This could work,” Patrick said. “I mean, I don’t know much about hormones and stuff, but it sounds like a solid plan.”
“Yes, it actually is,” I said. “I could run this by Coach Davis, see what he says?”
“And, if that doesn’t work, we’ll find something else,” Lexi said. “Like, you could get a part-time job. I can introduce you to my boss where I work.”
“And our dad works in a bank,” Nat continued. “We could ask him if he has any pointers about student loans, which one has the lowest interest rate, and all that.”
“That would be fantastic. Thank you,” I answered. I felt a few tears roll down my cheek; I was so lucky to have such good friends.
“Ah, come here,” Lena said, and she wrapped me in a hug, which was quickly joined by Patrick.
I was crying, but smiling at the same time.
Things were looking up.
Later that night, after we’d said goodbye to Nat and Roger, Lena and Lexi dropped me and Patrick off at our dorm; I bid them goodnight, and made to open the door, but Lena stopped me: “Allie, just a quick thing.”
“Yeah, what is it?” I asked, looking at her.
“I was talking with Pat earlier, and we were wondering if you’d like to do something for spring break,” she said. “Maybe go somewhere, I don’t know.”
I looked at her, then glanced at Patrick. “Just the three of us?”
“Yep,” he nodded. “I mean, it’s not like we have any other close friends we could invite.”
“What about Lexi? And Roger, and Nat?” I said.
“I’m spending spring break with Roger,” Lexi answered. “On our own. We didn’t get to last year, so we made plans.”
“And we asked Nat, he said he’s going somewhere with his girlfriend,” Lena said.
“He has a girlfriend?” I asked in surprise.
“He does,” Lexi replied. “They spend lots of time together, actually, but she has zero interest in games.”
“Okay,” I said, nodding. “Actually, I’d been planning on going home for spring break.”
“Oh,” Lena said, her face falling; Patrick seemed really bummed out, too.
“But you know what? I’ve seen my family for New Year’s, and I’ll see them again in the Summer, so yes, I think I can come,” I continued. “I’ll tell my mother, she’ll probably grumble a bit but in the end there’ll be no problem.”
“Great!” Patrick said, brightening up considerably.
“Yeah, that’s awesome,” Lena smiled. “So… We’ll talk about this next time?”
“Of course,” I said. “It’s only January, we have lots of time to make plans.”
“Good. Well, see you,” she said. Then she leaned over from the front seat and gave both me and Patrick a quick peck on the cheek.
Patrick and I got out of the car, and the two girls drove away.
“Is this how we say goodbye now?” I wondered.
“What do you mean?” Pat asked.
“With a kiss on the cheek,” I said.
He shrugged. “I think it’s cute. She’s cute.”
“Oh, you think she’s cute?” I teased him. “After the talking-to she gave you today?”
“Yeah. It’s cute that she cares about you so much,” he answered. “And you’re cute, too. You’re a pair of cute girls.”
I felt myself blush slightly; hopefully Pat wouldn’t notice in the low light.
“But still,” I said. “A kiss feels a bit weird. It feels very… Italian.”
“It’s completely normal.”
He stepped in front of me, put his hands on my shoulders, leaned down, and kissed me on the cheek.
“See?” he said, straightening up. “Normal.”
My blush deepened, and he definitely noticed. I stood there, dumbfounded, for a few seconds, then I shook myself.
“You’re such a tease,” I said, turning away from him and starting towards the dorm building’s door. “Let’s just go to sleep.”