It was 7:08 before I pried my eyes open, leaving less than an hour to jump out of bed, change and be at school.
I stopped, caught my reflection in the mirror and hated it before continuing the hurried routine. I tied my hair back, threw on some cargos and a t-shirt, filed my unfinished homework and textbooks into my backpack and ran down the stairs without greeting the parents.
Such was the life I lead wearing a daily disguise, trying to pass myself as the boy I wasn’t. It almost felt like it belonged to someone else. Then again maybe it did.
Nobody would have ever guessed that Justin Cade and the mysterious Miss Kaira were two sides of the same coin. How could they? Kaira was bold and outgoing; Justin was shy and reserved. Where one wanted to stand out in the world the other wanted nothing more than to fade into the background. One was a (sort of) wild, amazing woman and the other… he just wished he was.
At 7:35 I intercepted the beetle pulled up to the curb and climbed in the passenger seat. There sitting behind the wheel was Tanya, who some might call my best friend but whom I referred to as the goddess of awesome. She turned and grinned as she nodded along to some old band I’d never heard of playing from the back seat.
“You look like $#&%,” she laughed as I buckled my safety belt.
“And this sounds like $#&%,” I snarked back. “What the hell is this anyway?”
Tanya sneered and started the engine. “It’s the Specials. Just because you don’t have an ear for the classics…”
“It sounds like an elephant swallowed a tuba and is trying to play reggae.”
We stopped and considered each other a moment. She laughed, and so did I. So what if she had crap taste in music; even if she argued that the ‘weird rock’ I was into was for grandparents who thought strangeness made them ‘still cool.’ She had my back and the few times I wasn’t utterly powerless I had hers. That’s what friends are for, right?
As far as best friends went there was really nobody better than Tanya. Even in grade school she was the rough tomboy who looked out for me, and though I only thought she’d befriended me out of pity and bought her protection with candy we became ingrained in each other’s lives. We were so close that I’d practically been adopted into her family, and was frequently called to help babysit when Tanya’s mom and step-dad needed a night to themselves.
My mom on the other hand didn’t trust us and was sure we used that time to ‘experiment’ because we were ‘at that age’, though it wasn’t like that at all. We were platonic, and that wasn’t going to change anytime soon.
Cruising through the suburbs I took the opportunity to sit back and watch people as we passed them by, something which I probably did way too often. At a first glance they all seemed to be content in their lives. Every one of them had an identity they could afford to take for granted. It seemed like such a luxury to just be yourself. Didn’t they know how good they had it?
We hit a stop light and Tanya turned to brush a dark strand of hair from her sunglasses. She sighed. She knew my look: after all these years I couldn’t hide it.
“Stop that,” she said.
We’d gone through the same process nearly every day for the past three months since I’d come out to her, yet still I played along. “Stop what?”
“No,” I laughed.
“You’re… brooding, or whatever it is you do,” she explained. “That thing where you just kind of observe humanity and get really quiet and dark and… I don’t know; jealous, I guess?”
“Jealous of what?” I snapped.
“Everyone is just as @#$%ed up as you are, missy. So cut it out and enjoy the ride.”
She called me ‘missy’, I thought with a giggle. It always brought a smile to my face, and not the fake kind I wore ninety-nine percent of the time. With Tanya it was usually the real thing, and I think she knew that as well. Maybe that was why she’d put up with all the moods I’d been in lately.
“I’m not brooding,” I denied with what had to be the world’s worst poker face.
“Yeah you were,” she said and scanned the intersection. “You always get into a dark-ish mood when you’re stuck in boy mode for too long. What has it been, four days?”
“Six,” I told her, not that I was keeping count or anything.
“See? No wonder you’re going crazy. Maybe it’s time to take another trip to the Lovin’ Spoonful after school, see some familiar faces and let loose. What do you say?”
She may as well have offered me a one way ticket to Shangri La. That small little coffee house had become my refuge, the one place where I could be myself for any period of time.
“You know there’s that youth trans support thing whatever there tonight,” I told her.
Tanya beamed. “Well in that case we’re definitely going.”
At 7:52 we pulled into the student parking lot. Once more into the breach, it was suddenly time to face the same beast that threatened to consume nearly every seventeen year old on a daily basis: high school.
Not that Andrew Jackson High was all that terrifying compared to anywhere else, but from eight ‘til three it was the only obstacle between me and freedom. All I had to do then was endure just as I had every other day; hopefully without waking any dragons.
“Just one day,” Tanya said. “Not even that. More like half a day, then we’re out of here, sipping lattes, telling stupid jokes…”
“You sure we can’t just ditch?”
“Half a day,” she repeated, dangling it in front of my nose like a carrot.
“Half a day,” I echoed in turn, crunching every moment. It was only seven hours. I could survive that without any trouble, right?
To be continued…