After that night a troll caused havoc on the threads I’ve been feeling weird. A part of me knew it was Grace, but another part of me proposed it was just someone else. I kept looking for Grace in the crowd with my eyes, and anytime our eyes met her face would dull and she would look away. She looked tired and out of it most of the time. So tired that she didn’t put up her facade of being friendly and social anymore. She just sat on her own and kept her distance, effectively breaking ties with everyone in her social circle which were mostly Advik friends.
That was supposed to be a good thing, but this was Grace.
“You’re just paranoid,” I mumbled to myself, looking up to find George giving me a weird look.
“What?” he asked, leaning forward as he continued to examine my face. I looked away as my face grew warm.
“I was talking to myself, it’s nothing,” I said, shaking my head and stepping away from the counter. I’ve been in my head all evening, and I couldn’t even enjoy the fact that George and I had the same assignment at work for once.
George rolled his eyes, letting out a sigh as he sat down on the chair behind the counter. He didn’t look convinced, but he didn’t probe me any further. I felt bad about pushing him away, so I went to sit down beside him again. I hated working in the evening. Few people stopped by then, and it was so easy to slip into my subconscious because of how idle and silent everything way.
I rested my head on the table, watching George as he kept making notes for the manager. I smiled, reaching out to touch his idle hand. He looked up for a bit, raising a brow at me.
“Is something wrong?” he asked, and I shook my head, still touching his hand. It had a nice red tint, and I wondered if it was because he was blushing. George was one of those people that got full body blushes.
“Are you doing this to distract me? You don’t want me to ask you what you were thinking about, right?” he said. His tone was a little high — like he was trying to keep himself together, and not give in. I took my hand away from him before sitting up on my chair and letting out a sigh. Yeah, that was it. He read me so well.
“Grace,” I said with a little shrug. My mouth felt dry, but I had to keep talking. “Advik,” I added, reaching up to brush back my bangs. George cocked his head to the side as he adjusted his sitting position so that he was turned to me.
“I thought you said Grace left you alone, and that Advik was cool with us being together,” he said, watching me. I nodded, looking down at my hands with a sigh.
“Yes, but I don’t think Grace is doing okay,” I said as a slight smile took form on my lips. “And I don’t know. I think she’ll do something to people... or maybe even herself.” Why was I smiling? Why did I feel like laughing? There was nothing funny about this situation, but it was like my body was aching for relief. The past few months have been tiring, and it was annoying that I couldn’t shut my mind off from what was happening around me.
Georg was frowning at me now. It looked more like an annoyed frown rather than a confused one. He rested his back on his seat, still giving me that look. His lips were pressed tightly together, making them into a thin line. He was thinking, probably trying to find a way to phrase what he wanted to say without making me anxious.
“Why do you care so much? She’s not your friend,” he said, and my eyes went wide. “She’s not your responsibility Ollie,” he said with a clearer tone, making me swallow down the words I wanted to say. Sure, I understood where he was coming from, but Grace wasn’t only a danger to herself, she was a danger to everyone around her. I had to do something, or at least tell someone.
“No, she’ll act out. She might even hurt you. You don’t understand—”
“Then report her,” George said, cutting me off. “Just report her,” he said again before looking away. “I don’t like to see you beat yourself over this. You can’t fix everything,” he said as he fiddled with the collar of our store uniform shirt. He did that when he was nervous and had to tell someone something he didn’t want to. I’ve always thought it was an ugly shirt, but for the longest time it was the only thing I saw George wearing and I made an exception for him. It was cute on him.
I looked away from him again, turning my gaze to the entrance door that no one had walked through for the past three hours. Our other co-workers had ended their shifts a long time ago. We were alone, and just waiting for it to be eight in the evening so we could call it a day. I didn’t say anything, and just let George’s suggestion bounce around in my head. Should I just report Grace? I had evidence. I just don’t want... What, to be a snitch? The voice in my head offered and I bit my bottom lip, not denying the claim. I guess a part of me was still acting like Grace’s lackey.
I hate that.
“If you don’t want to report her you could just recommend her for counseling. Didn’t you roommate do that for you?” George asked, making me look back at him. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out, so I just looked away. I kept making it a point to visit the counselor, but I always turned around when I got to the hallway where her office was. You could imagine my shock when I got a call from her office saying they’ve scheduled a meeting for me. It seems Austin just went ahead and dropped my name at her office. Now that I think about it, Austin really did care a lot about me. He just wasn’t the outward affectionate type.
“Yeah, I guess I can do that,” I said after thinking about it for a while. She wouldn’t know I was the one, right? George smiled before getting up. I watched him with a confused frown, but he just kept smiling as he walked over to the back room. He stopped at the door, holding the knob before calling out to me. “Do you want to leave?”
“Like, leave the store?” I asked, and he nodded.
“We’re the only ones here if we close early who’s going to find out?” he asked. Wow, I didn’t know Geroge could slack at work. After hesitating for a bit, I grinned and I got up before following him into the back room. It wasn’t a big place, just large enough to hold six lockers, a shelf, and a long bench. It was painted a dirty brown, and the old yellow fluorescent light was all that illuminated the room. It was where we took breaks, changed clothes, and hide from exhausting customers.
It was not until George started taking his shirt off that I realized I was supposed to be changing too. Most times I snuck in here just before everyone was off work to change, or I did it at the far end corner. I looked away from George, trying to convince myself to change without thinking much about it.
Why did the soles of my shoes feel glued in place?
Sure, I was nervous about changing, but I had the option to just walk to the other side and change.
He’s your boyfriend. A voice scolded me in my head. He’s seen you before, idiot. My face flushed, and my hands felt sweaty. I guess I didn’t want to hide because of that realization. I didn’t want George looking at my naked chest, but at the same time, I felt it was odd to feel that was around your significant other.
When I heard the door close I looked up, my face burning when I realized I had stood there long enough for George to dress up and leave. I cursed under my breath, sighing as I finally found the will to walk towards my assigned locker to get changed. When I came out from the back room I noticed that George was waiting for me at the store’s entrance. he was in one of his plain sweaters, and he’d changed his jeans to some black trouser pants. I kept looking at him until he turned to me and waved.
“Sorry—” I started, pausing when I realized I didn’t know how to explain what I was sorry for. “For wasting time,” I said, scratching the back of my neck. George didn’t reply to that. He just gave me a reassuring smile before stepping out of the store with me and locking the door.
We took the escalator downstairs, and for the first time in a while, we took the stairs to the basement, so we could get the train instead of the bus.
“This way we’ll be together for longer,” George whispered before leaning away when we were standing behind the yellow line. I smiled, looking over at him.
“Hey,” I called out, making him blink before looking over at me.
“I’m really sorry,” I said, repeating my words from the store. I really was, and I’m not sure why guilt was eating my insides so much. “I couldn’t change in front of you. I’m sorry.”
“Is that what you’re worried about?” I heard him ask in a low tone as a hand ran through my hair. “Come on, now you’re just finding things to worry about,” he said. “Stop worrying, if you feel uncomfortable you’re uncomfortable. You don’t have to be sorry,” he added, giving me a wider smile. I smiled back, before looking down at my shoes. I guess my mind was just hardwired to worry about any and everything.
We got on the train and talked for a bit before it stopped at the station I had to get down at. I waved him off, only leaving the train station when the train was completely out of sight. I walked out into the street and started my journey to my residence building. I kept thinking about how George had shrugged things off. On one hand I was grateful, but on the other hand, my mind was starting to complicate things for me again. Maybe he doesn’t want to see me naked? Stupid. A very stupid thought for me to entertain, but I did. Sex, what about sex? I wondered, realizing how things never went past kissing and touching. I guess I got into my head again on the way because when I got to my room the first thing I did was ask Austin a question.
“You’re not straight, right?” I asked, and Austin just looked on at me with a shocked look with his fingers hovering over the keyboard piano he had propped on his desk. It looked like he had been practicing before I walked in.
“Well?” I don’t know what was up with me, but I felt impatient.
“Yeah, I’m not straight,” he said, and I let out a breath before walking over to my bed. I sat down, my eyes still on him.
“Can I ask you a question?” I asked, watching at Austin thought about it for a bit before nodding. He itched his small afro, waiting for me to say something. His skin looked lighter. Maybe because it was winter was on its way. I think... I don’t know.
“Well?” he said, trying to urge me to say something. I looked down at my hind, turning my palms into small fists on my thighs as I tried to arrange the question I had for him in my head.
“If you had sex with a guy. It’s going to freak you out if they have a vagina, right? It’d be a turn off if you looked at their chest and it looked like someone tried to saw them in half under their breast—”
“Okay... I don’t think I have the range to answer that...” he trailed, throwing his hands in the air as he shook his head.
“Austin, please listen—”
“You’re talking dysphoria Oliver. I don’t know anything about that,” Austin said in a firm voice. I stared at him, closing my mouth that was hanging open before covering my face and taking deep breaths.
“Your boyfriend knows your trans. He probably doesn’t care—”
“Well, I care,” I said, surprising Austin. The boy with sun-kissed skin opened his mouth but closed it and muttered something under his breath instead.
“Then what do you want me to say?” he asked, looking up at me again. “If I confirm your fears you’ll start panicking. If I don’t you’ll just smile at me but curse out at me in your head because you’ll feel I’m lying to you. You won’t gain anything from this conversation Oliver,” he said, and I just stared at him, knowing everything he was saying was the truth.
My eyes darted away from him when I realized my eyes were starting to water.
“You’re stressed.” That was all Austin said as I heard his chair creak as he turned back to face his keyboard. “Stop overthinking things.” I looked up at that one, watching the back of his head as music notes started to fill the room.
“You know, I haven’t had sex since I started transitioning,” I said, and Austin paused playing. “And I only had sex a few times with the same person before I transitioned,” I kept talking, feeling an odd sense of relief when Austin turned his chair so that he was looking straight at me again. I wasn’t going to tell him that one person had been Grace, that was a whole other thing I had to unpack on my own.
“When I came out to this person there was nothing under the sun they didn’t say, but I think what cut at me most was framing my transition as a destruction of my body,” I explained. “You’ll no longer be beautiful, and no matter what you’ll do you’ll never look how you want,” I added.
“And you know what? To an extent, I guess they’re right,” I muttered, gritting my teeth, hating to admit that to myself. “I ‘pass’ very well with clothes on, but without them, I don’t know...” I trailed, moving to look up at the ceiling I’d decorated with stickers. If I made eye-contact with Austin I was sure I would break down and cry. “I’m not as tall as other men, I have wider hips than other men. I have mixed feeling about having got top surgery. On one hand I’m so happy, and on the other hand, I feel agitated about the ugly scar...” I trailed, frowning when I realize I didn’t know where I was going with this.
I closed my eyes. “I guess in layman terms you can say I just feel ugly naked,” I said, opening my eyes before looking over at him. My eyes didn’t gush with tears like I thought they would. Instead, they went dry as the confidence in my words came back. “How do you learn not to feel ugly naked?” I asked after a long pause. A small smile crept onto Austin’s lips, and I looked on at him with hope.
“I can’t answer that,” he said, and my shoulders slacked in defeat. “But, there are plenty of ways to have sex without taking clothes off,” he said, making me raise a brow at him. His smile just widened as he got up from his chair and went over to his bed. He opened his laptop on his lap before tapping the space beside me for me to come and sit. I went over, and before I knew it Austin was showing me a lot of things that had never crossed my mind before.