11. Melissa
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Melissa sat on the chair and just stared at me. Her face was pale, her eyes wide, and her mouth hanging open slightly.

I was crosslegged on my bed again, and had just finished explaining all about my new deal with Lily. My best friend's reaction wasn't reassuring, and I was getting more nervous the longer she stayed quiet.

At long last Melissa took a breath then half-demanded, "So you sold your soul to a demon!?"

It took me a moment to parse what she just said, because it had absolutely nothing to do with what I'd been telling her.

"What?" I frowned, "No! Were you even listening to me?"

Melissa retorted "You said Lily's a demon!"

I rolled my eyes, "Melissa I've been talking for like the past fifteen minutes. Was 'demon' the only word you heard?"

She shook her head, "It could all be lies, Mara. How can you trust anything she tells you? How can you be sure of anything? She could have tricked you or something."

I frowned again, "Ok first, I read the contract before I signed it. And second, why would she want to lie to me? We're partners."

"That's what demons do," Melissa stated. "That's their thing."

"Says who?" I asked, and my tone was a little more confrontational than maybe I meant it to be. But the more my friend tried to demonize my uh, demon, the more upset I was getting.

"Everyone knows you can't trust demons," she said, as if it was gospel or something.

I took a deep breath then sighed. I tried to think of another way to explain to her, to make her understand the stuff she'd been told was just wrong. It took a few moments, then it hit me.

I'd only just started learning about trans issues literally this morning, but I'd been doing my best to understand and read up on the subject. I'd spent all morning reading and learning. And I was never the smartest kid in class, but it was all really fresh in my mind and I was suddenly seeing some parallels that I hoped might open my friend's eyes a bit.

"Melissa, if I wanted to learn more about trans experiences, who should I talk to? Some cis folks who are self-declared experts on the subject? Or should I talk to trans people and find out from them what it's like being trans?"

She gave me a slightly confused look, my change of subject caught her off guard. Her answer was what I expected though.

"Trans people, obviously."

Melissa scowled slightly as she continued, "Even well-meaning cis allies don't know what they're talking about sometimes. Worse though, there's a lot of bigots and haters who set themselves up as 'experts', and spew lies and misinformation and do whatever they can to leave the public jaded and suspicious."

I nodded, "Yeah, that's what I thought. So if I want to know about demons, should I ask a demon? Or should I trust some humans who claim to be demon experts?"

My friend frowned, she looked like she was about to say something but stopped herself. After a few moments she sighed, "It's different."

"How?" I asked. "How's it different? Literally half the things people say about demons are the same things transphobes say about us! We lie, we can't be trusted, we're out to deceive and corrupt men and defile women, we're hiding our true nature, blah blah blah! It's the same damn thing. If it's not true for us, why's it true for demons?"

She didn't have an answer to that.

After a minute or so of silence I sighed, "Melissa you don't have to like Lily. You don't have to let her help you. You don't have to talk to her or see her, you definitely don't have to be friends with her. But I'm friends with her. She and I are partners, we're bound for life. I trust her, I like her, and I think she's nice. So I'm just going to say, I don't want this to come between us. If you don't like her that's fine. But please don't try and turn me against her, and please don't badmouth her to me. Ok?"

She took a deep breath then sighed, "Ok Mara. I'm freaked out, and I'm worried about you. And I was listening to what you said before, I know you think she's not evil, I know you think she's a friend. It's just... It goes against everything I've been taught."

"Taught by people who've never met a demon," I pointed out. "Anyways I don't want to fight about it. I don't want to lose you as a friend, I want to help you and be here for you."

Melissa nodded slowly, "Thanks Mara. I don't want to fight with you either. I'll try and keep my opinions about Lily to myself."

We were both quiet for a few seconds, then I brought the subject back to her again. "So you said you aren't out yet with your family. Are you thinking about telling them? Or what's your plan?"

She grimaced, "I've been thinking about it a lot, but I'm scared. I have no idea how it'll go? I mean, my dad's a bit of a redneck you know? So's my brother. They're both sort of 'macho' manly types. My mom might take it easier? I'm not really sure though."

I didn't know her family all that well, but I knew her brother Sam was a couple years older than her. Last I heard he was taking a forestry course over at Fleming college. I knew he didn't live with the family anymore, but he came back for holidays and stuff.

Her dad was a bigwig at a local trucking company, he didn't drive trucks anymore but he used to. Now he was a manager or one of the bosses or something. Whatever it was, he made enough money that Melissa's family were pretty well off. They had a nice house and lived in the nice part of town. And her mom didn't work, but she was active with her church and stuff, and she did volunteer work sometimes.

I sighed, "Well if you want some moral support or whatever, maybe I could be there with you when you tell them?"

"Thanks Mara," she smiled. "I appreciate it."

"Have you told anyone else?" I asked. "Or am I the only one?"

She blushed, "You're the only one 'IRL' who knows. I'm out or whatever on a few of those discords I sent you."

After a moment she added, "I'm not going to do anything till school's over. It's only two weeks. Once that's out of the way then I'll think about things I guess. Like, I've already downloaded the paperwork to do a legal name change? It's pretty straight-forward, just fill out some forms, pay a fee, and mail it in? But I'm holding off on that too for now."

I thought for a few moments then asked, "If you want, if you're up for it, we could go talk to my mom? Like, I'm positive she'll be supportive? So if you want some more experience coming out, that might help? No pressure, I just figured since you said it was ok to tell her, maybe it would be ok to do that while you're here?"

Melissa's blush grew deeper, but she looked like she was thinking it over. She finally replied, "Uh, ok. We can try it, if you're sure she'll be ok with it?"

I suggested, "I could try and explain to her first that I'm trans? That you helped me figure that out about myself? Like as a sort of lead-in to you?"

She thought it over for a few moments, then finally nodded "Ok. Thanks Mara."

I gave her a supportive smile, then got to my feet. "Let's go find her."

We found Mom down in the basement, she was doing laundry. Melissa followed me down the creaky old stairs.

I still ducked my head out of habit when I got to the low doorway at the bottom of the stairs, but in truth I didn't have to anymore. Melissa still needed to duck. Mom was just transferring a load from the washer into the dryer as I greeted her.

"Hi mom, you should have called me. I'd have done this, you don't have to."

She shrugged, "You were visiting with Jason, and I didn't have anything else to do this afternoon."

I frowned, "I still would have helped. Or I would have just done it for you."

Once the wet clothes were all in the dryer she got it started. She looked to me and Melissa and asked, "So what can I do for you two, I'm sure you didn't come looking for me just to watch me do laundry?"

I asked, "Can we go upstairs and sit down? We need to talk with you about something."

Mom nodded, and the three of us went back upstairs together. We wound up in the kitchen, mom made herself a cup of coffee while Melissa grabbed a cola and I just had a glass of water.

Once we were all sitting at the kitchen table, I asked "Mom, do you know anything about uh, like what it means when someone is trans?"

She sipped her coffee and nodded "Sure. One of the bartenders at work is trans. She was there yesterday at the... She was there yesterday to pay her respects. Why?"

I was pleasantly surprised by that. It made it easier not having to do a lot of explaining, and it sounded like mom didn't have any problem with trans people. So I dove straight in.

"So remember last week when you asked why I wasn't freaking out about this, and I said it was kind of a dream come true? Like I used to wish I'd be turned into a girl or whatever? I was kind of clueless about it, but basically it means I'm trans? Like, ok my transition was pretty unusual, but the end of the day it's like, I transitioned from a guy to a girl? And like, even though everyone including me thought I was a guy all my life, I really wasn't because I'm happier and everything being a girl?"

Mom frowned slightly as she listened to me. She had another sip of coffee, then finally asked "Ok, I suppose that makes sense. It doesn't really change anything though does it?"

I shook my head, "It doesn't change anything for me. Except that I'm working really hard to educate myself on the whole thing."

"Ok Mara," mom sort of shrugged. "I'm glad you're learning more about yourself, and I'm glad you're educating yourself. If you were worried how I might react, you can relax. I'm mostly over the shock of you becoming a young woman. I suppose if anything, I'm happy knowing this is what you always wanted and you're happier now than you were before."

That sort of warmed my heart and I smiled, "Aww. Thanks mom!"

Then I glanced at Melissa. She'd been silent through all this, I could see she was still tense, but she wasn't signalling 'no' or anything. And I figured mom was going to take this just fine.

"Actually mom, I didn't figure out that stuff on my own? I needed someone to explain it to me, because of how dense I was about the whole thing."

I looked at Melissa and smiled.

Mom followed my eyes and looked at my best friend as well, then asked "You know about this Jason? You're the one who explained it to Mara?"

Melissa was still uptight, and now she was blushing. She grimaced slightly but nodded, "Yes Ms. Carter. I know about it because I'm trans. My real name is Melissa..."

Her voice sort of faltered there, but she'd got through the hardest part.

Mom looked shocked for a moment, but she quickly recovered. She gave my best friend a compassionate look and said, "Oh hon..."

She was quiet again like she didn't know what else to say. Like was she supposed to be sorry, happy, or something else.

I spoke up while mom was still processing, "Melissa's pronouns are she/her, same as me. She's not out with her family or anywhere else. But we figured you should know, because you'll hear me using her new name."

Mom nodded, then said "Melissa, thank you for trusting me. Please understand, you're always welcome here. Our home is a safe place, you're welcome to be yourself here."

There were some tears in my best friend's eyes now. She looked happy, and relieved. She smiled weakly and whispered, "Thank you Ms. Carter. I really appreciate it."

"Why don't you stay and join us for dinner?" mom offered. "I think we'll be having pizza tonight."

Melissa wiped her eyes but nodded "Ok. Thanks Ms. Carter."

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