"Have a great first day sweetie!" my mom yelled from the car. I waved and turned away to look towards the towering walls of Avery High. Taking a deep breath, I walked through the big front doors and quickly followed some signs that pointed towards the guidance office. The hallways were like any other high school, beige walls with grey lockers spreading from one end to the other. As I reached the office I heard a voice behind me.
"You must be the new student." I turned to meet a girl with dark brown hair braided into a crown around her head. Her green eyes looked me over with what I assumed was curiosity. "My name is Emma, I'll be your student guide for the day." She reached her hand out to me to shake and I froze for a second. Feeling my heart start to race, I reached my shaky hand to hers.
"I'm Ben, nice to meet you." For a few awkward moments we just stood silently as students rushed by at the sound of the bell.
"Well, Ben, welcome to Avery High." She tossed me a knowing glance over her shoulder as she started down the hall. My heart beat skyrocketed. Did she know? It was entirely possible she didn't and I was just imagining things. I swallowed hard at the fear of having to switch schools again.
"Um hey could we start our tour with where the bathrooms are?" I managed to get out over my coming panic attack. She nodded and led me around the corner to a unisex bathroom. She definitely knew. I opened the door and closed it behind me as calmly as I could manage, which probably still looked pretty fast to her but I didn't have much time to think about it before I was on the floor against the wall with my knees to my chest trying to catch my breath.
Memories of my old school flooded my head. Erica Stevens taking my clothes from my locker during gym class and replacing them with a skin tight piece of fabric meant to be a dress. Walking through the halls filled with students glaring at me as I made my way to the principals office. Being issued a detention for breaking dress code before I could say a word to the secretary. I don't know how long I sat there reliving that day in my head. I heard a faint knock on the door, but couldn't bring myself to respond. I was drowning in my own mind.
"Ben, can I come in?" After waiting a few minutes and not hearing any protest, Emma slowly opened the door and stepped inside making sure to lock the door behind her. My red rimmed eyes met hers and she slowly walked over to sit next to me. "I know the first day at a new school can be hard" she said softly and I could feel her struggling to find the right words. "I apologize if I'm overstepping but I want you to know this school has a very strict anti-bullying policy." I looked over at her kind eyes and realized that she is one of the first girls to look at me without fear or disgust etched into her features.
"How did you know?" I whispered fearing the worst. Maybe some of my old classmates found out where I would be transferring and started rumors over the summer. She looked at me sympathetically.
"I didn't, not until I saw you." I winced internally at her words. I wasn't passing. I hoped starting over would mean people would just take me as another awkward teenage boy because they didn't have a before picture to compare me to. At my silence she made a face like she had said something wrong. Then understanding spread across her face and she turned bright red.
"Oh, I'm so sorry that wasn't what I meant at all." She smacked herself in the forehead and tried to meet my eyes again. "What I was trying to say is that I've seen you before." I froze, scanning my memories for some semblance of her kind face and dark hair. When I couldn't think of anything immediately, I relaxed a bit. If she wasn't a face I recognized then she probably wasn't behind any of the things I had endured in the past year. With that thought, I remembered where we had met.
Last summer, I came out to my mom as transgender. She hugged me and told me she would always love me. I started my junior year wearing mens clothing and a binder. Within the first few days of school I was getting odd looks from classmates. By December, I was being pranked and harassed daily.
One particularly warm day in March, I was sitting behind the school eating my lunch like always when I heard heavy footsteps coming. Before I could react, someone grabbed the hood of my loose hoodie and yanked it over my face. I was held down and kicked to a bloody pulp while some guys called out "freak," "whore," "dyke," and any other insults they could come up with. At some point I blacked out and woke up in the hospital. On my way out I saw her. That dark brown hair of hers braided into a crown then too. Her green eyes watched me limp through the waiting room, with the same look of sympathy she was giving me now.
"I overheard the nurses talking about you that day. They said it was a shame such a pretty face would go to waste. They said some other awful things too, but I don't think it's good to dwell on the past." She smiled at me, it didn't quite reach her eyes, but still I found comfort in her presence. She had to have known supporting me could put her in the sights of those same bullies. But she didn't seem to care. She was more worried about me feeling safe here. I smiled back, just enough to show her I was going to be okay.
"I think I'm ready for that tour." I told her and she stifled a laugh before getting up and offering me a hand. Together we left the bathroom and headed down the quiet hallway.