“This is really good,” Lena said, after taking a few bites of the pasta I’d served up. “Really, I’m impressed.”
“It’s nothing, really,” I replied, waving my hand. “It’s just some pasta, tomato, eggplant, cheese, and basil. Unfortunately it’s not really the authentic recipe, your aunts didn’t have any salted ricotta in the pantry.”
She blinked. “Ricotta? Like, the soft cheese?”
“Ah, no, I’m talking about salted ricotta here. Same thing, only salted and aged, much more firm, you usually grate it over dishes and stuff.”
“…Whoa,” she said. “You really know your stuff.”
“That’s right, this is the first time you get to taste Allie’s cooking, isn’t it?” Patrick said. “She’s a really good cook.”
I shrugged. “Had to learn. After my father died, Mother was too busy with work to make food for the family, so I stepped up. I did basically all the cooking at home for the past five years, I picked up a few tricks along the way.”
“And you’ve been eating like this ever since starting college?” Lena asked.
“Beats cafeteria food and delivery by a mile. Cheaper, too,” Patrick answered.
Lena was quiet for a couple seconds, then smirked and said, “So you had a cute girl cook you dinner for months, did ya? I’m jealous, actually.”
I blushed, and looked away from her.
Pat and Lena had found out a couple months earlier that being called cute was all it took for me to absolutely melt down and be unable to function for a while, and they’d started it using it whenever they wanted to fluster me. Which was often. I still hadn’t gotten used to it.
“Well, in exchange I have to wash the dishes,” Pat replied. “Can’t let my cute roommate do all the work, right?”
My blush deepened. “You guys, s-stop,” I half-stammered out.
“Why should we?” Pat said. “We love it when you’re like that.”
Lena nodded. “We do. It’s just so…”
“Cute,” they concluded, speaking the word at the same time.
By then, my blush had definitely reached my ears; I was intently staring down at the table, focusing my gaze on the wood grain. “Don’t be mean to me,” I whispered.
There was a moment of silence, then the two of them burst out laughing simultaneously.
“Oh, god, Allie, you’re just so precious,” Lena guffawed.
“You really are,” Patrick added. “You’d think you were a young girl being complimented or something.”
“Well, she actually is,” Lena replied. “After all, she figured out she’s a girl just a little while ago. Cis girls have a whole lifetime of getting used to it.”
I nodded. “This is all new to me,” I said.
“And just you wait until the hormones start taking effect,” she said.
“Why? What then?” Pat asked.
“It’s just that, with the correct hormones going through her, her emotions will be heightened for a while, until she learns how to control them,” Lena answered. “I went through this with Lexi, it was impressive how emotional she could get actually.”
“So what you mean is… It will be fun. For us,” Patrick said.
Lena chuckled. “Oh yeah. It will be.”
I looked up from the table and stared straight at them. “Keep this up, and I’m gonna break up with you. With both of you.”
They blinked in surprise, but then smiled teasingly. “Oh, were we dating? I hadn’t noticed,” Lena said.
“Well we can’t have that, can we now?” Patrick said. “Sorry, Allie. I promise we won’t tease you.”
“…Too much,” Lena added.
I let out an exasperated sigh. “Come on, help me clear the table, then we can watch a movie or something and then get to sleep.”
“Oh, you go ahead,” Pat waved me off. “Go pick a movie, Lena and I will tidy up and do the dishes. The kitchen’s not very big anyway, three people would just get in the way of each other.”
“Alright,” I nodded. I got up from the table and walked to the living room. Lena’s aunts had a smart TV connected directly to the internet; I picked up the remote and, after taking a few minutes figuring it out, navigated to Netflix and started scrolling through movies, until I finally found one that caught my eye.
By then, Pat and Lena had finished tidying up the kitchen, and had joined me in the living room. “Find anything interesting?” Lena asked.
“I did,” I replied, and pointed at the screen.
“The Princess Bride,” Patrick read the title out loud. “Huh. Quite an old movie, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but it seems interesting,” I replied. “And besides, it’s not much older than Jurassic Park anyway.”
“Okay then. Shall we?”
I nodded. “You two take the couch, I’ll sit in the armchair.”
I’d noticed earlier that Lena’s aunt’s couch was a two-seater; and considering how I’d seen Patrick and Lena talking to each other earlier that day, at the clinic… Well, it made sense to give up the couch to them. Their reply surprised me, however.
“Don’t be silly, Allie, the armchair is at an angle to the TV, you won’t be able to enjoy the movie that way,” Lena said.
“True,” Patrick nodded. “Besides, there’s enough space for the three of us on the couch.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. “I mean, you’re a big guy, and I’m not small either.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he said, in a mock-offended voice. “Here, I’ll show you.”
He sat down on the couch, and scooted over up to the edge as much as possible; Lena did the same, on the opposite side, leaving a small space in the middle.
“See?” Patrick said. “We can fit.”
I looked sceptically at them, then at the void they’d left on the couch. “If you’re sure…” I said, and climbed on too. It took a bit of manoeuvring, but after a couple minutes we managed to find a comfortable position: we’d shifted and swapped places, so that Pat was half-sitting on the couch, I was lying halfway on top of him, and Lena was lounging in the front, leaning back onto us.
“Okay, here goes,” I said, pressed a button on the remote, and the movie started rolling.
As I watched the scenes unfolding on the screen, I kept getting distracted: snuggling together with my two best friends felt really nice.
“Well, that was fun,” Lena said, getting up from the couch and stretching.
I nodded. “Sure was,” I replied. “It was a really good movie. I wonder if they ever made a sequel, or another one like it.”
“Dunno,” Patrick said. “The blend of fantasy and comedy was quite unique though, I really enjoyed it.” He yawned widely. “Anyway, we should be getting to bed, it’s getting late and we have quite the full day tomorrow.”
“Aw, so soon?” I answered.
“Yeah, we’re all tired from the trip,” Lena interjected. “Some sleep will do us good.”
I pouted. “But I don’t wanna.”
“But you have to. Come on, I’ll carry you,” Pat said, grabbing me and lifting me from the couch.
“Hey!” I yelped. “Get off me, Fezzik!”
Pat stopped and looked at me. “Oh, am I Fezzik now? Is it because I’m dumb?”
I shook my head. “Nah, you’re actually the smartest person in the room, academic scholarship and all. It’s because you’re big and strong and kind.”
“That’s right,” Lena nodded in agreement. “Our own gentle giant.”
“…That’s really flattering, actually,” Pat said, blushing a bit. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” I said, smiling.
“But we still have to get to sleep, sorry,” he continued; he carried me physically across the living room and up the stairs, grunting with the effort, followed closely by Lena. When we arrived upstairs he gently let me down on the landing, and then paused, breathing heavily. “Well, this is what I get for not exercising,” he said.
“You should come running with me once in a while,” I said. “Not every day, maybe once or twice a week. It’ll do you good.”
“I’ll take you up on the offer one of these days.”
I nodded in acknowledgement, then asked, “So how’s the sleeping situation?”
“Here’s the deal,” Lena replied. “There is only one room.”
I blinked. “One room? Really?”
“Yeah, just the guest room,” she said. “We can’t well take over my aunts’ or cousin’s rooms, of course.”
“Uh,” I said. “So we’re sleeping together?”
“In the same room, yes, but not the same bed.”
“And it doesn’t bother you?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Why would it? I’ve been on school trips and sleepovers, I’ve slept with friends in the same room before.”
“Yeah, but none of them were boys, I bet.”
“It’s not a problem at all. I trust Pat completely,” she answered, looking at him. “You two have been sleeping in the same room for months now, and nothing untoward happened.” She tilted her head to the side and smiled. “Or did it?”
“It didn’t,” Patrick said, while I nodded.
“Very well, shall we get to sleep?” Lena said.
It took some time to decide who would sleep in which bed – in the end I took the one closest to the door, since I wanted to go on a run early the next morning – and to change into our pajamas, but after a while we were settled into bed with the lights turned off; we spent a few minutes chatting and making plans for the following day, but in the end we were all very tired, and soon we fell asleep.
I slowed all the way down about a hundred metres from the house, and walked the final stretch; I’d just finished my morning run. While I was out, I’d paid close attention to where I was going – I didn’t want a repeat of what had happened on my first day at Bradford McKinley, after all – but I also spent lots of time thinking. About HRT (I couldn’t believe I was finally on hormones), about the trip, and especially about Lena and Patrick.
They were my closest, dearest friends: I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done without their support, without them being there for me, pushing me along, cheering me up when I was down. I cared a lot about them. I really enjoyed being in their company. And, being so close to them for the whole day, I’d noticed they seemed to enjoy each other’s company, too. Very much so.
I was pretty sure Lena liked Patrick. I mean, liked. She had a pretty big and obvious crush on him, and it was clear it was reciprocated – I’d caught Patrick looking at Lena with a very specific look in his eyes a few times. So the situation was obvious: my two best friends were in love with each other, and neither of them had noticed it.
I didn’t know what to make of it. I wanted to cheer them on, to push them to get together… But, on the other hand, that would mean they would leave me behind, to be with each other. For whatever reason, just the thought made my heart ache.
Oh well. I didn’t have to find a solution for it right at that moment; they would figure it out on their own eventually, and even if they didn’t, I still had plenty of time to work on it.
I took a deep breath, opened the front door, and walked into the house.
“Oh, welcome back!” Patrick greeted me from the kitchen table; he and Lena were seated around it, each holding a steaming mug. “Did you have a nice run? Want some coffee?”
“No, thank you,” I refused with a gesture. “I’ll have some with breakfast later. What about you? Did you rest well? Did you dream of large women?” I asked with a smirk.
He smiled back. “Even better, I dreamed of you two, so it was a perfect night.”
I blushed a bit, but at the same time I thought: Patrick, you dum-dum, you’re supposed to compliment just Lena, not the two of us at the same time. This way, she’ll never get it.
“I’m going to take a shower,” I said. “Then we’ll have breakfast, and head out.” My friends nodded in acknowledgment – though Lena gave me a suspicious look – and resumed the conversation I’d apparently interrupted by entering the house as I climbed the stairs upwards.
The shower was a quick affair: I was an athlete, after all, we don’t usually linger that long when washing ourselves. Though I did pause for a moment to cup my chest with my hands while under the running water. There wasn’t anything there yet, of course – I’d only started HRT the previous day, these things take time – but I couldn’t wait to see what size and shape I would get. Though I felt a bit dejected: I was just getting started, the ending line seemed so far away, and not getting any closer.
I quickly dried myself, wrapped a towel around me, and walked to the guest room. There I got dressed, putting on the dress Patrick had given me for Christmas.
It was something the three of us had decided beforehand: since there would be no one here in Portland who knew me from before, I could dress en femme and go out, without fear of someone recognising me. I’d even brought along some underwear which I’d bought for myself – panties, and padded bra, to give the illusion I had a bit of a chest.
I finished pulling my clothes on, took a deep breath, and turned to face the mirror… And felt like someone had punched me in the gut.
Dysphoria is an ugly thing, coming up when you least expect it. Even though I hadn’t started hormones yet, on a good day I could see a girl – I could see myself – in my reflection. That day was not a good day: my eyes kept moving across my shoulders, over my legs, my non-existent waist, my masculine face. I felt blocky. I felt ugly. I felt terrible.
I let out a choked sob and sat down on the bed, my face in my hands. There is no way this was going to work. I should just give up there and then. I should forget everything about transitioning, it was a pipe dream anyway. I should--
“Allie?” came Lena’s voice through the door. “You in there?”
“I…” I began to answer, but then sobbed again.
Slowly, cautiously, the door opened, and Lena entered; she took a look at me, then sat down on the bed beside me.
“Hey. Hey,” she said, giving me a half-hug. “It’s okay, Allie.”
“It’s not okay!” I replied. “Have you seen how I look? I look horrible! I’m a goddamn man in a dress!”
“Hmm,” she mused. “Weird. I don’t see any men. It’s just us girls here.”
I let out a bitter laugh.
“No, I mean it,” she continued. “You’re not a man, Allie. You’re my dear friend, and when I look at you, I don’t think man, I think girl.”
“You’re only saying this to make me feel better.”
She shook her head. “No, Allie. While it’s true that you may not look your best – that will come in time – not once, since you came out to me, have I thought about you as anything but a girl. And that’s what you are. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” She ruffled my hair. “Not even that dumb dysphoria brain of yours.”
I laughed again, but it was way less bitter.
We were silent for a few minutes, then Lena said, “Feel better now?”
I nodded. “I do. Thank you.”
A thought came to my mind. “What are you doing here?” I asked. “Weren’t you talking with Pat?”
“I was, but you’re more important,” she replied. “I saw a certain look in your eyes when you came back after your run, and I thought you could use a friendly face to talk to; I’ve been through this with Lexi, I can recognise the signs of an impending dysphoria attack, especially in someone I care a lot about.”
I sniffled a bit, but didn’t say anything.
“In any case, we better finish getting ready and go downstairs, or we’ll burn the whole morning. Besides, Patrick is making breakfast, and I don’t really trust him not to burn everything.”
I smiled. “Don’t worry, he can handle himself. I know for a fact he can make pancakes, and it’s not like bacon and eggs and hash browns are that hard, either.”
“Still.” She pulled out a tissue, and dried my eyes. “Do your make-up, girl, and let’s go.”
I nodded, retrieved a pouch from my suitcase, and got to work. Ever since the trip to Molly’s store, I’d practised doing my make-up quite often, almost every day, and I’d gotten pretty good at it: in less than five minutes I was done, and I walked down the stairs with Lena. Patrick was distributing spoonfuls of scrambled eggs on the three plates that were on the table, and which already had a couple strips of bacon each on them.
“There you are,” he said, looking up as we approached. “Everything alright?”
“Yeah, everything is fine,” I replied.
He smiled at me. “Good. Breakfast is ready. By the way, you look amazing, Allie.”
I managed not to blush that time, but I still felt a happy, fuzzy feeling deep in the pit of my stomach. He’d already seen me dressed up several times – I practised wearing girl clothes and putting on make-up in our dorm room, with Lena’s assistance – but I never got tired of him complimenting me: it gave me an euphoric feeling.
The three of us sat down at the table, and started digging into breakfast.
“So what should we do today?” Lena asked between mouthfuls. “Truth to be told, I don’t know much about Portland myself, I’ve only ever come here to visit my aunts, I’ve never done any sightseeing.”
“That’s not a problem,” I replied. “We can get the car, park it somewhere downtown, and just have a walk around. Maybe stop somewhere for lunch before coming back here.”
“Sounds good,” Pat agreed.
“Oh, and we should also stop by a store to get some groceries,” I added. “You know, so I have something to work with when I make dinner tonight, and to replenish what we used. Maybe we’ll do that tomorrow.”
“Alright,” Lena nodded. “Shall we go?”
By then we’d finished having breakfast; we got up from the table, quickly brushed our teeth, and climbed into the car, ready for a day out.