It was 11:39 when I pried my eyes open; pm.
Tanya’s car had pulled to the curb, and my neck was stiff from sleeping upright. Still, there were worse things, like the million and one aches, scratches and bruises scattered across my body. Hopefully the long skirt and cardigan could hide them; there wasn’t enough energy in reserve for answering questions.
The engine sputtered and groaned to silence while Tanya and I sat. What was there to say? Words didn’t compare to the night we’d just lived through; no matter how many times I would tell the story it wouldn’t cover the danger, the confusion, or worst of all the uncertainty of what would come the next day.
Was this the way things were going to be from then on?
Tanya leaned forward and rested her head on the steering wheel. “Are you okay?” she whispered. She knew the answer, of course, but you know how it is; sometimes you need to say things out loud.
“I guess so, yeah. You?”
She nodded. Her body collapsed back into the driver seat and she sighed.
My eyes were over by the front door of my home, or what remained of it. The lights were on and there was movement behind the living room curtain; thank the gods my parents were okay. No doubt I’d get inside and they’d tell me all about what happened, as though I hadn’t been there.
“Go on,” Tanya urged. “I’ll text you in the morning. We can do something real chill as a reward for saving the city; maybe go see a movie if there’s anything good on.”
I smiled and gave a nod. Tomorrow; gods, I had no idea what tomorrows even looked like anymore.
“Hey, before I go…”
“Yeah?” Tanya lifted her head and smiled a smile that was only half awake.
I paused, but then found the words. “Thanks for saving me,” I said.
She waved it off. “Eh, you would have done the same.”
“No, I mean for all the times,” I continued, “going back to grade school. Tonight was the first time I ever really stood up for myself, and… I don’t think I ever would have known how if I didn’t have you to show me. I know that’s cheesy as hell, but–”
“It is cheesy as hell,” she grinned, “but I know you mean it. You’re welcome, KC. I’ve always got your back, and now you’re strong enough to have mine.”
The corners of my mouth hurt from all the smiling; add that to the list.
I stepped out of the car and tapped the roof, giving Tanya the cue to go. She had a family too, and they were probably worried; though not as worried as mine.
My Mom was waiting at the bottom of the steps, beside herself in tears, while my Dad lingered in the doorway. She threw her arms around me and pulled me close, weeping, shaking, and squeezing tight enough to make my ribs burn. (I didn’t say anything, though.)
“Justin, thank god,” she gasped. “We were so worried; we thought he must have gotten you too! That man on the news, Dr. Vortex or what have you, who stole people out of their homes and–”
“I know, I saw it all,” I told her, “on TV. Thank the gods you guys are okay!”
My Dad stepped down to join the embrace, but not before he looked me over. At first he said nothing, but after a minute of joyful reunion he furrowed his brow and stepped back to get a better look.
“What’s with the getup, kiddo?” he pressed. “You’re either very early or very late for Halloween.”
Mom bit her lip. Was now really the time? She was about to say something, but I beat her to it.
“It’s because I’m a girl,” I told them; just like that, like it wasn’t a big deal, like it didn’t shatter the illusion they’d had about me since the day I was born.
“Justin’s just going through some things,” Mom tried to explain.
“No, Mom, I’m a girl,” I said again. “My name is Kaira, and this isn’t just dress up. I’m not gay. This is just… me. I’m trans. I don’t want to pretend to be a guy anymore. That’s not who I am.”
Dad looked to both of us, back and forth like he was watching tennis. “Maybe this is a conversation we’d best save for the morning,” he suggested.
“I’m just glad to have you home,” Mom hummed, and pulled me back into another hug.
I was glad to be home, and I was glad they were safe; but something told me this was a conversation we’d be having for months to come.
To be concluded…