A knock on the door breaks our conversation. Ungo hops off my lap and runs to the front door, like a dog waiting to greet someone.
Next thing I know Ashanna is at the door, she moved so fast; I didn’t even see her get up.
“You might want to greet who’s here.” Luna says with a knowing smile.
“Okay…” I say, confused, and she walks with me as we head to the front door.
Rose, Dee and a third woman are speaking with Ashanna. The newcomer is nearly as tall as Rose; she has olive skin, and her black hair is pulled back in a ponytail. She’s cuddling a very happy Ungo in her arms. As I approach, the four turn to face me and smile.
“Hi.” The woman says. “I am Cassandra.” She's still holding the cat in one arm, as she reaches out a warm hand in greeting, and shakes it gently before letting go.
I think back to our earlier conversation. “Oh, you’re Rose’s wife.” I say with a smile.
She looks at Rose affectionately. “Yes, I am.” The two of them kiss briefly, before she turns back to me.
“Let’s sit down and get more comfortable.” Ashanna suggests, and we make our way to the lounge area and sit down.
Rose is the first to speak. “So, my first question to you is: Do your parents know you are here?”
I shake my head, and Rose frowns.
“Have you spoken to them at all since you left?”
I shake my head again. “My phone is still back on my bike in the woods, in my waterproof frame bag. I only brought my backpack with me when Luna and I came to Hillcrest.”
“Well, you’re not in Hillcrest right now, so it’s best that your family knows. They could be worried.” Cassandra says with a touch of concern.
“I’ll go find it.” Luna says. “I remember where I found Simon last night.”
She stands up, and… disappears. Will I get used to how these people move around?
“I doubt they care.” I grumble.
“Parents can disagree with their children.” Rose says. “It doesn’t mean they love you any less.”
“Unless they’re like your father and my parents when we were growing up.” Dee says in a dour tone.
Rose stiffens at that comment, and she frowns, the worry on her face evident. “Well… if that’s the case, then we have a few more options.” She looks at Dee. “Though parents can eventually come around, my father was quite happy when Cassandra and I married.”
“Meanwhile, my parents still don’t approve of me or our relationship.” Dee reminds her. “I gave up talking to them years ago.”
“That’s cause you fell in love with a married woman.” Rose teases her.
“You weren’t married when I first fell in love with you. In fact, you and Cassandra weren’t even dating back then.” Dee says, defending her affections for Rose.
“No, I was dating Travis and Leilani back then. I still wasn’t single.” Rose reminds her.
“I miss them.” Cassandra says sadly. “We never get to see them often enough.”
“Well, Travis wanted children of his own, and Leilani wanted to go back home after graduation. As much as they were accepting of our family arrangement at the start, it’s clear that it would not last.” Rose comments sadly.
I watch as the three of them reminisce; I have a feeling they’re doing this for my benefit somehow. Still, curiosity gets the better of me. “Where are those people now?”
“We lived together for years while we went to university, but they married each other.” Rose looks at me. “Travis felt compelled to have a more traditional family life as our lives got more popular. Leilani missed Birch Creek, so they moved back there a few years ago.”
“I still think Heart is yours and not his.” Dee comments.
“We were both sexually involved with Leilani. They never did a paternity test, and Travis has always treated the boy as his own. They have two other children that are clearly theirs in wedlock.” Rose replies. “We still visit them from time to time when we can.”
“You still love them, don’t you?” I ask. Cassandra looks at me. “Some friendships never end.” She smiles. “We joined a large development project. It's made us all minor celebrities, going to conventions, attending gaming panels…”
Rose gives a grim smile. “Polygamy isn’t a popular topic. When it was just the four of us, we could get away with dating one another. Our friends were Okay with it and even supported us. But when we hit the main stage, telling the public I had a wife was one thing. People finding out I had two other spouses, and we raised our children together as one family… it was not good for publicity, so we - sadly made two formal families out of it.”
“But you still have other relationships.” I frown. “Diane is….”
“Her girlfriend, yes, but I’m not in the public eye. I’m a biologist. I happily stay out of the panels and conventions, I just can’t leave Rose, I love her too much.” Diane says looking at Rose affectionately. They briefly kiss and smile.
We’re distracted by Luna arriving with my bike. “Found it!” she says happily.
I get up and retrieve my phone from the waterproof bag, noting that the battery still has a decent charge. There are messages, a missed call from my troop leader, and several from my parents.
“Have they tried to reach you?” Rose asks behind me. I hadn’t even realized she got up and jump a bit at how close she is. I take a moment to compose myself. How do these people move around so quietly?
“A few times.” I read off the messages.
-= Supper’s ready, you coming home soon?
-= Well, we put your portion in the fridge, you can have it when you get home.
-= If you are staying at a friend’s place, you could at least tell us where you are.
-= The Smiths haven’t seen you all day. Where are you?!
-= Your troop leader just called and told us you’re missing from Scouts. Where are you?
-= Look, if you don’t want to answer your phone, you better have a good reason, or you are grounded!
“They sound more annoyed and angry than concerned.” I say with a grim smile.
“If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t be threatening to ground you, call them.” Rose says, putting a comforting hand on my shoulder.
“What am I going to say?” I say, in a combination of fear and doubt.
“Be honest about why you feel you needed to run away. They will either be open about it, want to talk about it, or disown you.” I give her a worried look at her last comment. “Either way, this is the time to find out how they truly feel about you wanting to be a girl.”
I nod and dial up my parents. It’s better to talk to them than try to sort this out via text message.
“Simon!” my mother answers the line. “Where are you!?”
“I’m.. Hmm.. At a friend’s place.” I say, I actually don’t know where Luna brought me last night, outside of me being at her place.
“Why didn’t you come home last night!?” she says in a worried and angry tone.
“Well, I was almost at Hillcrest when the storm hit, and it was too late to bike home in the rain, so.. I found a friend to stay with.” I reply. Luna gives me a smile and puts a comforting hand on mine.
“Hillcrest!?” My mother gasps on the line. “You biked all the way out to Hillcrest!? What are you doing there!? Who do you know in Hillcrest outside of your uncle Jim?”
“I made a few new friends.” I say with a smile. “They helped me get dry and gave me a place to stay for the night.”
“Simon, you are being even more vague that you usually are. What are you really up to?” my mother says in an annoyed tone.
“Mom, I was upset after our fight Friday night, and.. Well.. I was running away from home.” I say, slumping my shoulders. Rose gives me a comforting squeeze.
“Running away from home?! Why?” she says in a puzzled tone.
“I told you I want to be a girl, and you told me to stop it. You never listen to me when I tell you about how I feel lately! You just tell me to knock it off and stop being such a baby.” I can’t hide the upset in my voice, or the tear rolling down my cheek from the emotions that are pouring out.
“Is that why you ran away?” Mom sounds annoyed again. “Because you keep going on about being too girly, and you want to talk to someone about it? You’re a boy, Simon, you just need to get used to the fact that nature made you who you are.”
“But I have friends who are transgender, mom! My friend Kevin, he used to be a girl, and everyone accepts him for who he is!” I say in my defence.
“Trans what?! No no, just cause some tomboy wants to pretend she’s something else doesn’t mean Karen Smith can suddenly decide she’s a boy now, it doesn’t work that way!”
I look at the phone, disappointed. More that she knew exactly who I was talking about and she still didn’t believe that trans people exist.
“Mom, his name is Kevin, and yes, transgender people exist - whether or not you believe it. This is why I ran away! You refuse to listen to me! I’m not coming home till we can discuss why I want to be a girl.” I retort.
“You have school tomorrow, young man! You are coming home tonight whether or not you like it! I will not excuse you for missing classes for this foolishness!” My mother angrily answers.
“We can plan for schooling and look at transferring your grades.” Rose says calmly beside me. Has she heard everything my mother said?
“Who’s that beside you, Simon, is someone there coaching you with these answers?” my mother insinuates.
“No one’s coaching me with any answers mother, I’ve been trying to tell you about this for months now!” I say, annoyed.
“You are coming home!” my mother says annoyed. “Where are you? We’ll come and get you ourselves if you won’t come home on your own.”
“I… I don’t know where I am.” I reply honestly. “I don’t know where Luna’s family lives. It was late, and it was dark…”
“Let me speak to this girl’s parents.” My mother says angrily.
I nearly jump as Ashanna reaches for my phone. “Let me talk to your mother, luv.” When did she leave the couch?
I hand my phone over to her, and she talks to my mother.
“Mrs. Greenwood, my name is Ashanna Rasmussen, and I assure you that your child is perfectly safe here with us.” There is a pause. “No, I am not sending them home.” There is another pause. “Yes, there is a reason I am not using a gendered pronoun.” I can almost hear my mother, she’s yelling so loud on the line. “No, as per their wishes your child can stay with us, they are safe here, we’ll arrange schooling in the meantime. Till you are ready to discuss their transgender nature, I don’t see the point in discussing this any further.” I can hear my mother threaten to call the police. “You can make threats all you like, Mrs. Greenwood, but we are not holding your child here against their will.” Ashanna winces at my mother’s outrage. “I suggest you discuss this issue with your husband, and we’ll be in contact with you when you both will talk this over calmly and with reason.” I can hear my father’s voice now on the line. “No, you won’t able to track this phone after I hang up, as I will turn it off. We’ll call you in a few days and hopefully then you can be more reasonable.”
Ashanna looks at my phone. The annoyance on her face is clear. I can still hear my parents yelling as she hangs up the line. She turns off the device and hands it to me.
“Well, that could have gone better.” She says, disappointed. “Your parents can track your device, you are not to turn on your phone till we next reach out to them.” She says in a stern tone.
I nod in agreement, with no hesitation. I look at the people surrounding me. “Why are you doing this? Why are you helping me?” I say, confused.
“Everyone deserves a chance to be themselves.” Dee says, holding on to Rose from behind. “I had uncooperative parents and wasn’t able to transition till I left home and started University. Rose here was lucky, she had a supportive brother and could start transition early.” She gives Rose a hug. “We believe you need to live your own life - despite how young you are.”
“Thank you for believing me.” I say with relief. “My parents made it sound like I was being childish and needed to grow up.”
“We teach at a private school in Hillcrest.” Rose says. “We’ll talk to the school councillor and look at some options tomorrow morning.”
“Private school? I don’t think my parents would ever agree to pay for something like that.” I say hesitantly.
Ashanna reaches out for my cheek. Her touch is soft and comforting. “Worry not your pretty head over such matters, my dear, we’ll take care of that. And you can stay here while we sort out where to go from here. Would that be okay with you?”
Not knowing where else to go or what to do - only that I don’t want to go home right now - I don’t argue with her. “I get to stay here with you and Luna, in this beautiful house?”
“For as long as you like, child.” She smiles and rubs her thumb along my cheek gently before letting go.
Rose smiles. “We don’t want you to lose school credits, I went through that, and it’s annoying trying to catch up. I’ll come get you tomorrow morning, we’ll see about transferring your school credits so you lose no time. At most, you’ll only miss one or two classes tomorrow.”
“Thank you so much, for everything.” I say, still amazed.
What did I do to deserve the compassion, caring, and help of these people that I’d never met before? Since I woke up, I keep worrying that this is but a dream, and I’ll wake up any moment in my bed back home. Never in my life has anyone outside my best friends ever believed in how I felt. Yet these women have taken me at face value, without doubt, and the only questions they’ve had are to make sure this is truly how I feel. I stay quiet as Ashanna, Rose and Dee sort out details of what I will need to get me settled in the new school. I find myself lost in thought as I lose track of the where the conversation is going.
As if sensing my conflict, Luna sits beside me and puts her arm around my shoulder. I take a deep breath, shuffle closer and lean into her, sliding my arm around her waist. There is just something about her that makes me feel so comfortable, so calm. Am I developing feelings for this strange, exotic creature?