Gracie and I sat in the truck, staring at each other. “Do you want to go home?” I asked.
She shook her head. “No.”
“Where do you want to go?”
Neither of us said anything for a minute, before she asked, “Can I drive?”
I nodded, and we swapped places so she was in the driver’s seat, and I was riding shotgun. She took a deep breath, and we began to move. We sat in silence for about 20 minutes as she drove us around. I didn’t think we were going anywhere in particular, and was about to suggest I just take her home, when she pulled over by the side of the road, and got out of the truck.
I hesitated. It was around 11 now, and her parents would be panicking if they had realized she was gone. “Are you sure you don’t want-”
“Yup.” She cut me off. “I’m sure.”
I took a deep breath and followed her out into the world.
We were in a tiny park. A pitiful thing, really. It had two swings, a lone slide, and two seesaws. There were trees everywhere. It couldn’t have been more than a quarter acre. Gracie was already sitting on a bench when I caught up. “Hey.” I slid down beside her.
“That was weird, man.”
She cracked a smile. “Yeah.” No one said anything for a moment, before she added, “I don’t know. I guess I just thought we’d have… this big connection. That I could… I don’t know. It’s stupid.”
“No. It’s not.”
“What’s it like?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, living in your giant house, with all your servants and your cooks, and your TVs in every room?”
I hesitated, thinking, before answering. “It’s… strange. Because I don’t think I’ll ever… live like that again. I’ll go to college, and I’ll build a life, but… I’ll have to tell them eventually. I won’t inherit money like they did. I’ll have to earn it like everyone else and I won’t…. I don’t…” I pause. “I would give anything for your life, Gracie.”
The confession hung in the air, before she took a shaky breath and spoke. “But we don’t have anything. We get by, but we aren’t rich. We don’t have money on that level. Not enough to give you what you want.”
I laughed. “You don’t get it, do you?”
She doesn’t say anything.
“I don’t care about our money. I don’t want all of it I don’t want any of it. It feels like… too much like it’s part of me. You are more loved than I will ever be, even in the closet. Gracie you-”
“We all have our skeletons. Okay?”
We sat in silence for a second. “I wish I was straight,” I whispered into the night.
“Me too,” she responded. “Me too.”
I think we might have fallen asleep there, or at least into a strange half- sleep, because next I knew, it was one in the morning, and as far as I knew, neither of us had spoken. I stood, stretching. “We should go.”
She nodded, and stood, and I took her home without a word.
The first thing I noticed when I sat down at what was becoming my usual lunch table was that everyone is smiling at Olive, a quiet girl who sits with us- had I been their friend long enough to be an us?-who was grinning sheepishly back at them. The second thing I noticed when I sat down is that Olive is wearing a nametag that says Dakota on it. The third thing I noticed was that Olive- or Dakota- was wearing one of those little pins that says ‘They/Them’ on it in big, bold letters. It is bright yellow, a color I have begun to associate with Gracie’s kitchen. I don’t miss a beat. “Wow Dakota,” I unzipped my grey lunch box (I know, so boring). “You’re really brave.” They smiled at the mention of their new name, and I smiled too, because I like making people happy, especially with something as easy as using correct pronouns. “I would never be able to do that.”
Abbey, the girl who ‘didn’t’ like Gracie scowled at her meal, but the rest of them nodded in approval, which felt pretty good. “How’s it been?” Asked Sofie, a very cool girl with dark hair always slicked back into an extremely tight, high ponytail.
Dakota shrugged, glancing down to their meal, and their smile slowly faded from their face.
“Anyone I need to beat up?” I asked jokingly.
“Just like, all my teachers. Except Ms. Cryann. She’s cool.”
We all nodded in reference to the English teacher, who we all adore, because she’s young, energetic, and determinately libral. “Yeah,” Cecilia agreed, “She’s probably the best teacher I’ve ever had.”
There were various sounds of mutual agreement before the conversation returned to Dakota. “So why are we beating up all of our teachers?” I asked.
“It’s no big deal. They’re just deadnaming me. Calling me Olive and misgendering me.”
We all groan. Somehow, though it has been maybe five minutes that we’ve all been sitting here, already Dakota seems to fit them so much better than Olive.
“I correct them,” Dakota continued, “but they just ignore me.”
“That sucks. I’m sorry. I wish we could do something,” says Abbey, speaking for the first time since I sat down.
“Why can’t we?” Asked Gracie.
“What would we do?”
“We could… boycott school!” Dakota joked, and the table burst out laughing.
“We could call all of them by the wrong pronouns.” Said Cecilia.
“We could form a student union!” Gracie added.
We all quieted. “Too bad we can’t really,” Dakota muttered sadly, kicking the leg of the table.
“Why can’t we?” I hear myself say.
The whole table turns to stare at me.
“We can’t overthrow the school board, Jamie.”
“Because-” Gracie stopped. “Actually, it’s a good point. Why not?”
“Because- because-” One at a time, they all tried to answer, and fell short.
“Because four people isn’t a union,” Abbey said finally.
“There’s six of us,” Gracie corrected, “But yeah. We’d have to get other people to join too.”
“They never will,” says Dakota.
“You don’t know that,” I say. Suddenly I feel like this is my lifeline. Like if I can pull off this incredibly tricky stunt, this one particularly risky- was it a prank?- then I would be allowed to join the group, then I would finally be accepted. It was stupid, I knew. “We just need like, half the grade to join us. But it’d be better if we could get people from all the grades.”
“That’s a lot of people.” My mind was going so fast I didn’t notice who had spoken.
“Not that many. I bet we can do it. All we need is one key player.”
“What do you mean?” Dakota was staring at me with hope gleaming in their eyes.
“She means,” Gracie replied, and I realized we were all leaning in around the circular table, whispering, “she means we need Shay.”
People laughed nervously. “What do you live under a rock?” Asked Abbey, “Shay would never-”
She was interrupted by the lunch bell. I stood, grabbing my uneaten lunch and tossing it back into the bag. “You guys get anyone else you can. Leave Shay to me,” I said, and without another word, I walked off.