Because I hadn’t gone to bed before ten since I was about eight, I did end up wide awake at three am after all. And because I was awake in the dead of the night and there was nothing else to do, I discovered I had two choices. I could either lie in bed and rehash yesterday over and over again until I felt like just cleaning up all the wine in my cupboard, or I could get up and work solidly on the framework docs and give myself a fighting chance at getting ahead. God, though, it was early and my eyes hurt as I got up and turned on my laptop. Fortunately, I was too tired to focus on anything except who was buying pink diamonds, so when the sun came up my first thought was, ‘Wait a minute, aren’t the days getting shorter?‘ It was seven-thirty, and, actually, I was nearly done with the statement.
I was also kind of hungry, but rather than interrupting my work I opted just to push through it and by ten I had the statement and the target consumers defined. After some deliberation I decided I didn’t have time to stress about whether or not Russia was the right direction; leadership was apparently about sometimes having to make risky decisions so I just needed to call it. After I’d set up the stupid encryption software on my laptop, I emailed the docs through to everyone’s private emails and cc:ed Jason.
I had sat down on my bed with the full intention of ordering room service to shut my stomach up, except somehow I fell asleep and woke up after midday. I sat upright, feeling fucking awful like I always did after daytime naps, and had the misfortune of catching sight of myself in the mirror. I looked like that chick out of The Ring if she’d been cast as a twenty-year old guy instead. I put my hair up so I didn’t look like I was ready to haunt anyone.
Swinging my legs over the edge of the mattress, I just sat there for a few seconds, slowly remembering everything that had happened yesterday. It felt really far away, like I’d dreamt it all. I hadn’t really run out on dinner with Sarah and Rob, had I? And that full-on conversation with Henry? All the adrenaline was gone and, even looking at myself in these clothes, I felt numb. Like I wasn’t awake enough to hate myself yet.
I looked so much like I used to in high school before I started wearing makeup. Without any of it on I seemed younger – a lot younger – I could easily have told people I was twenty, or even maybe eighteen and gotten away with it. I’d definitely get carded if I tried to buy alcohol looking like this. I swallowed. Younger, and, well, guy-er.
‘Bloke in a skirt’, Rob had said, and I’d felt that assessment like a tonne of bricks. I knew why, and for a second, I was scared to even think the question. I forced myself to.
Did I actually want to be a guy? Like really, not just, ‘Yeah, it would be cool’?
In finally just asking myself, I had kind of expected to get a really definite answer. I didn’t have one, and I couldn’t separate those questions from oh god what happens if I really do and Henry and Mum find out. My brain felt like scrambled eggs and as soon as I’d asked myself one question another twenty were waiting to be answered. I settled on, ‘I think so’, and then felt like an idiot for not knowing for sure. The best I could manage was that I liked how I looked in these clothes, I liked how I felt in these clothes, and it was a welcome change from hating myself and my reflection.
I stood up stiffly and got a better look at myself in them. Wow, I could seriously pull off ‘guy’, especially when I tried to. I experimented with different postures and expressions and, feeling a bit disconnected and scientific, analysed the results. I looked quite feminine when I smiled with my teeth – not that I did that very often. Also, the fabric from the t-shirt was brushing on my nipples and when they were hard it was a dead giveaway I was female, too. Men didn’t have nipples like this. I thought about that for a second. I actually used to wear a really tight crop-top to the gym downstairs to stop them from standing out so much. I probably still had it somewhere…
I actually did, and I found it when I burrowed all the way down the back of my underwear drawer. I put it on and put the t-shirt back on over it and my nipples were gone, and actually I looked a lot flatter, too. That felt better, I preferred there being absolutely no sign there was anything on my chest at all.
I wasn’t sure what to do now, though. What did people do when they felt like this?
I went to go get myself a drink of water and fantasised about living alone on a desert island and wearing whatever the fuck I wanted forever and not having to worry about it. I drank half the glass and gave the rest to the evil flowers. Well, I guessed there was no harm in just wearing this stuff around the house, as long as Henry wasn’t around. I kind of had been for years, anyway, I’d just never really understood what the appeal was until yesterday.
Ugh, yesterday. Just thinking the word was exhausting. It did remind me that my team would probably have replied to my email by now, though. I went and sat at my laptop and read through them; my colleagues were all giving me indications of when their components would be done and none of it was before Sunday. Jason had even sent me a one-liner: “I guess my book came in handy after all.”
“You fucking prick,” I said at the screen, conflicted as to whether I should be flattered by the fact he was saying I had good time management, or pissed off by what a snide bastard he was. At least he might give Diane good feedback about me for once; maybe I wouldn’t get demoted to admin after all.
While I was updating the timelines and really struggling to ignore my loud stomach, my phone went off next to me. I checked the screen: Henry. I hesitated before I answered, momentarily panicking about my clothes. Then, I laughed at myself. Min, you idiot, I thought as I answered it. He can’t see you, it’s a telephone call.
I put it to my ear. “Told you I wouldn’t kill myself.”
He made pained noise. “I’d prefer if you wouldn’t joke about that,” he said in his serious voice. “Are you alright, Min? You were in a pretty bad way last night. I hope you slept more than I did.”
I sighed internally; it looked like he wanted to talk again. Leaning back in my chair, I went to run my hand through my hair. It was something I used to do when I was fourteen, and it didn’t work because I had long hair now and it was tied back. My fingers got stuck near my hair-tie and I disentangled them from my hair as I answered. “I slept okay, considering.”
He didn’t say anything straight away, and there was an unspoken question that kind of hung in the air: he wanted to know what had been upsetting me. My immediate fear was that he’d figured it out and just wanted me to say it for confirmation. He had to have some idea, because I’d told him about high school and he did know what Rob had said that had upset me. What if he had guessed? Would he know what do to? Actually, that was a stupid question. He would know exactly what to do, he always did with this stuff. But this wasn’t just some client of his, I was his girlfriend. I could just imagine him politely trying to pretend he wasn’t upset about the fact his girlfriend had some strange desire not to be a girl anymore.
When he eventually spoke, he didn’t ask me what was wrong, he just sounded relieved. “Okay, well, you do sound a lot better. Fuck. You have no idea how many times I wanted to just get in the car and show up at your place just to make sure you were alright.”
It was completely left field, but at the mention of ‘showing up’ I smiled at the memory of Bree waiting for me with those awful flowers. “Don’t forget to figure out what you’re going to lie about to get in.”
“Min.” He didn’t sound pleased, which was actually a bit of a surprise. He usually would jump right into joking around with me. I felt a bit guilty.
“I’m sorry,” I said quickly. “That was kind of inappropriate. It’s okay. I’m okay. I only brought her up because she sent me something terrible before I went to sleep last night.”
There was a pause. “Terrible how? Is she crossing lines again?”
“No, actually,” I said, leaning back towards my laptop and opening Deviant Art. I copied the address and emailed it to him. “Click that,” I said. “She made it to cheer me up.”
I could her him thumping away at the screen of his mobile. “Shit, it says I can’t while I’m on call,” he told me. “I’ll do it in a sec.”
“Okay,” I said, still feeling guilty about joking around when he’d obviously been really worried about me. I would have been so lost without him last night, he’d been wonderful. I didn’t tell him how much I appreciated him often enough. I really should. “Look, Henry…” I began, feeling uncomfortable, “thank you for being there yesterday. I’m sorry I ruined our evening out by having a mini-meltdown.”
He chuckled. It was a quiet, gentle sound. “It’s my turn to sound inappropriate,” he said. “But I can’t hear the word ‘mini’ now without feeling pangs of hatred for everyone who calls you that.” I smiled at that. He sobered. “But, Min, regarding last night… I need to ask you something important. I went home and kept thinking about how you’d brought up killing yourself right out of the blue and just worried that the idea was already in your head. You’ve never mentioned it or joked about it before and it scared me. You’d talk to me about it if you had those thoughts, right?”
At least I could be completely honest when I answered him. “This time you are over-analysing me,” I reassured him. “I don’t have those thoughts. I just thought it was what you meant about not leaving me alone.”
“Okay,” he said, and then laughed a little nervously. “Just don’t you do it and leave me alone, okay?”
Don’t you leave me alone, either, I thought, looking down at the knees of my men’s jeans. God. Please don’t figure out what’s going on for me and just leave. “I won’t, Henry,” was all I said.
Fortunately he changed the subject. “Okay. Speaking of alone, I hope you don’t lock yourself up and work all weekend.”
I glanced at my laptop. “I can’t anyway,” I said. “Because unfortunately I’ve delegated stuff to my team and I have to wait until they send me their components before I can keep going.”
“Good,” he said. “Sean’s wife’s huge baby-shower is tonight, which I totally forgot about until Outlook reminded me this morning, and unfortunately I think I’m obliged to go. Would you like to come? It’s casual dress, apparently, so that’s something.”
I looked down at my t-shirt and jeans. How casual? Casual enough for me to rock up in this? Hah. “Yeah, I think I’ll give it a miss,” I said. “Have fun, though.”
He snorted. “Yes, ‘fun’, that’s definitely one word I associate with Sean Frost. At least his wife is quite nice. Well, you make sure you have fun, too, okay? Call your Melbourne friends or your Mum or see Bree or something. Playing multiplayer for twelve hours straight doesn’t count as social interaction, especially when you mute everyone.”
“Please, I don’t play for twelve hours straight,” I scoffed. “I stop for food. Actually, speaking of which, I’m really hungry now.”
He laughed. “I’ll let you get to that,” he said. “And I’ll listen to this ‘terrible’ thing Bree sent you. Bye, Min. I’m glad you’re okay.”
I didn’t feel very okay, but I did grin at the thought of him listening to Bree’s sound file. “Thanks again, bye.”
After he’d hung up, I decided to have another listen to Bree’s agonising singing so I could imagine what Henry was thinking as he was, too. I clicked the link on my laptop and played it again; god, it was even worse through proper speakers. It was all I could do to not just put my hands over my ears and try and sing over her so I couldn’t hear it. In the end, despite the fact it was making me laugh, I had to stop halfway through. The bridge of the song had some really high notes that Bree was just spectacularly missing and the pain was too great.
After a minute or two, Henry texted me, “Oh, dear.” I laughed. ‘Oh, dear,’ was about right. He followed it up with, “Oh, and thank her for the handbag tip on getting you to restaurants when you next see her. Much appreciated.”
I groaned. “I don’t think so,” I said at my phone as I closed media player on my laptop to open my browser. “I don’t want to give her any ideas.”
I decided to forgo room service in favour of an enormous cheesy pizza and a garlic bread from up the road, and before I’d ordered, I opened a new tab and was faced with Google.
I stopped for a second. I wanted to search about the whole man-thing, but I didn’t even know the terminology. Was it ‘transsexual’? Wow, okay, no, I was not searching for that. Fuck, I couldn’t even imagine saying that word to Mum, she didn’t even like it when I didn’t match my lipstick with my blouse properly. Whatever, it didn’t matter what it was called because it didn’t change anything. I was only going to be like this at home, anyway. Fuck. Time to drown my sorrows in grease.
After I’d ordered it, though, I had to wait forty-five minutes for them to bring it up. That wasn’t really long enough to get any serious gaming in, and I didn’t really feel like painting.
I stared at my laptop. I could just do that search.
Since I really couldn’t bring myself to type ‘transsexual’, I just typed, ‘I think I want to be a guy’, and hit enter. There were a lot of results from forums and blogs, and I clicked quickly through them. People asking themselves the same question… but they all seemed to be young teenagers. Even people answering their questions were teenagers. They were using the term ‘transgender’ or ‘trans’ which was happily less clinical, but when they started to discuss ‘transitioning’ and ‘coming out’ I could feel my pulse start to race again. Coming out? Fuck that, seriously. Never. When I read the words ‘medical diagnosis’ and ‘surgery’ and then saw some pictures of it that was the final straw – no. Just no. No doctors, no one was examining me or injecting me with anything and no one was cutting into me. I’d rather live in limbo forever than that. I closed the tab and sat back in my chair, taking a few deep breaths.
I was twenty-five, not thirteen like these kids. They all talked about ‘just always knowing they were men’. If that was the case, wouldn’t I have known by now if I was like them? I looked down at my jeans. Apparently not, because here I was wearing men’s clothes and searching the internet about wanting to be one. I had a sudden thought about how Mum would react if I told her and my throat tightened. She’d ship me off to every therapist in the fucking country, and, regardless of how often Henry sang praises to counselling and psychology, just no. I was done with counselling. Henry… fuck. Fuck. What would have happened last night if I hadn’t had him? God, and work. I would be infamous at work, I’d never live it down. It would be worse than high school. No, there wasn’t going to be any ‘coming out’. I was going to wear my fucking uncomfortable, fucking godawful work clothes at work and I could deal with whatever this man-thing was in the privacy of my own home.
I could feel my pulse in my hands, my heart was beating so hard. I was getting so sick of that feeling. Was I going to get like this every time I thought about it? I was going to need a hell of a lot more wine in my cupboard if that was the case. God, it was too hot inside.
I stood up and went out onto the balcony. It actually wasn’t any cooler out there because the sun was directly on it, so I came back inside and just stood restlessly in the centre of my living room. I’d lose all of this if work found out, I thought, looking at my home. I couldn’t stay living here if I left Frost. Thinking about that made me worry about my timelines again, and again I checked to see if anyone had sent me their components but my inbox was empty. I sat and refreshed my mail constantly for about five minutes before I realised that wasn’t going to make work magically appear there.
I was stuck until people emailed me their components; stuck stressing about work, Henry, Mum and whatever the hell was going on in my head.
When my eyes fell on those withered, evil flowers, I remembered what Henry had said and had a bit of an odd thought: I could invite Bree over. She was completely crazy and would definitely give me something else to think about, and I’d also be able to boast to Henry that I’d had human-to-human interaction. I hoped the shock wouldn’t cause him to drop dead on the spot. Plus she’d probably be ecstatic, and the idea of someone getting really excited about seeing me was actually kind of flattering. And, honestly? I’d enjoyed myself last time. She didn’t need to stay that long, either.
I’d picked up my phone to message her, but before I sent one I had second thoughts. Goddamnit, I’d need to change back into those other clothes. Could I be bothered? Maybe I should just watch a couple of TV shows I’d downloaded, instead. I probably shouldn’t be around people now; look at what I’d done last night with Sarah and Rob.
I went and flopped down on my couch with my phone, and just as I’d done so, it vibrated in my hand. There was a notification in the corner of the screen for Deviant Art. Really?
I selected it. It was from Bree. I’d started to think, ‘Great minds think alike’, and then laughed to myself about using the term ‘great mind’ to describe Bree. She probably wasn’t stupid, but ‘ditzy’ was understatement of the century. I opened it.
“uh so dont kill me but im in the city and i kinda thought i could come up and say hello??”
I frowned at the screen, she was asking? That was progress. Well, maybe she could come over for a bit after all; those pizzas were really big. “Okay. How far away are you?”
There was a knock on my door.
I sat straight up on the couch, my jaw open. Looking up at the clock, I realised it couldn’t be the pizza guy yet, it hadn’t even been half an hour. In case I was wrong, though, I jumped up and rushed over to the door, looking through the peephole, and there was a blue eye staring back at me on the other side of it.
I smothered a startled noise and stood away from the door, putting a steadying hand on my chest. I was about to have a go at her for breaking her promise and just showing up, but she beat me to it.
“I’m sorry…” she said meekly through my door. “I promise if you’d have said no I would have just snuck away!”
I groaned and ran a hand over my face. Min, you’d actually been about to invite her, I had to remind myself, ‘crazy’ is what you wanted, remember? I very nearly opened the door before I realised what I was wearing. I needed to change first. “You’re going to have to wait out there for a sec.”
I sighed at her through the door. “Because I need to hide the body and clean up all these bloodstains,” I said flatly, and then rushed off to my bedroom while she stood giggling in the passageway.
I rushed into my bedroom, pulled off the t-shirt and jeans and just stuffed them into a shelf in the wardrobe. Pulling on a blouse and my skinny jeans, I was just zipping up the fly as I closed the wardrobe door when I saw myself. My legs looked so weird in these stupid tight jeans. I stopped doing them up halfway, groaned, and then opened the door again to look for something else. I eventually gave up and settled on a cotton skirt because I couldn’t leave her out there forever.
I put on as much makeup as I could in a few minutes, and by the time I opened the door, Bree was standing there having a deep and meaningful with the pizza delivery guy, holding the pizza box in her arms.
She looked me up and down with a bit of a strange expression, but then gestured at the delivery guy. “This is Sandeep,” she said. “He’s a qualified dentist but Australia doesn’t recognise his qualifications so he’s delivering pizzas for a living.”
Sandeep gave me a bit of a pained look. I felt for him as I reached over and took a couple of notes out of my purse which was hanging by the door. “Don’t worry about the change,” I told him. I figured he’d earned it for keeping Bree entertained. He nodded and then looked at me with pity as he left.
Bree was still busy frowning at me. “Did you seriously go and spend fifteen minutes getting dressed and putting on makeup to eat pizza with me?” I didn’t know what to say to that. “Because, like, I’m flattered, but that’s really weird?”
I looked down at her. She really couldn’t lecture me on clothing. Being Saturday, she wasn’t in her school uniform, and she’d switched her pleated skirt for what I assume should be described as shorts, but I wasn’t sure there was really enough material to call them that. And not to say she was chubby – because she wasn’t, really, just short – but she wasn’t very slender like I was and her thighs had volume to them. That, in combination with her thin scoop-neck t-shirt, looked almost pornographic. How the fuck did her parents let her leave home like that? I felt uncomfortable just looking at her.
She noticed my line of sight. “Bit different than a Cloverfield uniform, yeah?” She was grinning. “How do I look?” She did a little turn.
Like you’re ready to lap-dance someone. “Older. But not old enough to wear that.”
She laughed. “I still can’t believe you made me wait out here while you put on makeup. That’s so hilarious.” Something occurred to her and she stopped giggling. “Not that you look bad or anything! Although that is kind of heaps of makeup. Can you smell that?” She looked down at the pizza box in her hands. “Oh my god, I can’t believe you invited me over for pizza! Let’s eat. I’m starving.”
She ducked under my arm on the doorframe, kicked off her thongs and then went straight into my kitchen. Chuckling to myself, I followed her in there to find her already banging around in my crockery cupboards. She had one of them open and was apparently planning on splitting our pizza between two plates, but instead of taking them she just kind of looked back at me.
“I can’t reach,” she said, perched on her tiptoes by an open door. “Who puts the big plates all the way back there?”
I gave her a smirk and then reached easily over her head, took two plates, and handed them to her.
“Show off,” she said, grinning, and then went to split the pizza. I leaned back against the counter and watched her trying to separate the slices. She was making a mess of it. “How many pieces you want? Because we can both try to do four each but these pieces are seriously huge and if I eat four of them I’m going to be really sick.”
I observed her take four slices, anyway. “Should I go and get the bucket?”
She handed me my plate which was laden with garlic bread and pizza, looking determined. “It smells really good. I have to try, I promise I’ll stop before I need a bucket. Let’s go and eat on the balcony!” She stopped on the way past to pet the evil flowers and then continued outside. I followed her, giving the flowers a bit of a measured stare as I went past.
She’d only taken a few bites of her pizza before she’d discovered the view. “Wow, I can’t believe you live here!” she said, and then took her phone out of her ‘shorts’ and did a panorama of the city. “Look, you can see the Harbour Bridge.” She pointed at it. I pretended to be surprised and extremely impressed, and she narrowed her eyes at me. “Well, it’s exciting to me, okay? I can see a brick wall through my bedroom window.”
She turned back towards the view and leant her stomach over the balcony. “Whoa, it’s really far down to the ground,” she said. “It makes me dizzy looking.” My grin faded a little; I didn’t like her leaning over the edge like that. I put my pizza slice back on my plate as she peered downwards. “Can you imagine falling off the edge? Like what it would be like sailing through the air and knowing you’re about to die?”
“Why don’t you lean a little further over? Then you won’t have to just imagine what it feels like.” I thought I sounded pretty casual, but Bree looked back at me as if I’d asked her to get down.
“You worried I’m going to fall?” she asked, looking amused. “What am I, like, six?”
“What you are is leaning over the edge of a twenty-sixth floor balcony.”
She watched me thoughtfully for just a fraction of a second, and then her foot slipped from under her and she lurched towards the railing.
Fuck, my heart stopped. I leapt out of my chair with the intention of trying to grab one of her limbs… and then realised that although the movement had been very sudden, it wasn’t something that was likely to propel her over the edge.
Bree stood up straight again and turned so her back was against the rail, giving me a very cheeky grin.
I opened my mouth and then closed it again. She didn’t. “You did that on purpose.”
Her eyes twinkled. “Did I scare you?”
I looked down at myself and then back at my chair. “No, I just suddenly needed to stand up,” I said flatly, and then sat back down in it and took a deep breath. Fuck.
She looked both delighted and pleased with herself, and then came back to the table and sat in front of her pizza. “So, like, not that I’m complaining at all because it’s awesome, but what made you invite me around? Just bored?” She carefully took a big bite.
I swallowed mine. I knew why I wanted her here, but I wasn’t going to tell her why. She didn’t need to know. “It’s all part of my plot to kill you.”
She laughed and said through her mouthful, “Nice try, but I saw you about to rush over and stop me from falling.”
“Of course,” I said. “Your body needs to stay in my apartment so I can feed it to the flowers.”
The next sound she made was alarmingly like choking, but then I realised she was laughing. When she saw me panic again, she just laughed even harder and eventually she needed to put her pizza slice down while she got ahold of herself. “Oh my god,” she said when she did. “You’re so awesome. I have no idea how you say all those things with such a completely straight face, it’s great. Those poor flowers, though,” she leaned back in her chair and looked at them through the open door. “I still feel so sorry for them. It makes me so happy that they found a good home.”
“So what brings you into the city?” I asked her since she’d stopped laughing at me. “Did you have something to do, or is it just really comfortable sitting against my door?”
She made a face. “It’s actually kind of a long story.”
I looked pointedly at my plate. I still had three slices and some garlic bread to go. “Well, I have rations. I can go the distance.”
Her nose was still scrunched up. “Nah. I just had a really shit day and the end of the story was that I wanted to see you.”
Well, I wasn’t going to push her to tell me, because I sure as hell wasn’t going to tell her why she was here. Instead, I held my arms out and looked down at myself. “And now that you can look upon me, is it everything you’d hoped for?”
She giggled again. “Oh my god, you crack me up! I still can’t really believe you let me come over. Like, I know you said you’d be friends with me and stuff but you’re so, like, I don’t know, ‘how dare you talk to me’, that I thought maybe you’d just said it to be nice.” She took another bite of pizza, looking very content. “You know when you imagine something really great and then it actually happens? Yeah.”
I snorted. “All I did was open the door and give you pizza,” I said. “If that’s what you were imagining, you’re really easy to please.”
Something passed over her face for a second. “Yeah, I am.” She actually waited until she’d swallowed before changing the subject. “Anyway, it’s my birthday tomorrow.”
Her birthday tomorr– oh, that’s right. When I’d first met her she had mentioned it was soon. “Happy Birthday for tomorrow,” I said automatically. “If you’d told me earlier I would have put candles on the pizza. You going to do anything special?”
She laughed bleakly, and in the process slopped cheese topping all over her t-shirt. Instead of looking distressed about it, though, she just peered down her front and casually scratched at it. “Some of my family is coming over,” she said, and then put the cheese she’d picked off her top in her mouth. She saw my expression. “What? I’m not wasting good cheese, and it’s not like this tee is gross or anything.”
I opted not to say anything about the cheese. “You’re not going to have a big party for your eighteenth?”
She shook her head. “My parents don’t like me having friends over.”
Something about the way she said that didn’t invite further questions, so I left it. I found it kind of weird that she apparently had strict parents when she went running around Sydney in little more than her underwear. Illustrating that point exactly, while I was watching her, she looked down her front and pulled her t-shirt out so she could inspect it for any remaining cheese. In the process of doing so, she showed me her stomach and the bottom of her bra, and the rest of Sydney far too much cleavage.
Jesus, did that girl have no concept of how she looked? “I can see what you’re spending today doing,” I said neutrally. “Celebrating your last day of childhood dressed in clothes you should have retired when you were five.”
She smirked. “I’m so not a child,” she said, glancing down at her breasts and grinning as she examined the grease stain from the cheese across the front of them. “And these are adult clothes.”
“You can say that again.” I watched her try and blot the stain with some serviettes. “Bree, are you sure that’s the impression you want to give people?”
Bree gave up on her grease stain. “I don’t care what impression people get,” she said easily. “You only live once, and I really like this top, it’s really cute and soft and it lets the air in.”
When she went to take another bite of pizza, I sighed. “You’re going to ruin your ‘cute’ top if you don’t get that grease stain out now,” I said, standing. “Cheese stains are terrible. Come on, I’ll lend you a top and we can soak that one.”
She put her pizza down. “You just want to dress me like a nun,” she accused me, but she followed me inside anyway.
I had only walked into the bedroom to find her a new top to put on so we could treat the t-shirt, but after I’d opened my wardrobe and turned to ask her if she’d mind sleeveless, she’d already whipped her top off and was holding it scrunched in one hand.
Her bra was too small, too, and her big breasts were spilling out of it. “Jesus, Bree!” I said, turning my head sharply away from her. “You could have at least waited until you had something to put on instead!”
She sounded indignant. “It’s not like it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, you’re a girl too!” she said, but as she said that, something occurred to her. In the reflection of the wardrobe, I could see her giving me a really weird look. I chose to ignore it.
I was busy sorting through my tops for something small enough to fit her and yet something she couldn’t accidentally ruin when she spotted something in one of my shelves and finally stopped staring at me. “Cool!” she announced and went for it.
Before I could stop her, she’d pulled out my men’s jeans and was holding them out to admire them. She was so short that the hips of my jeans came up under that pornographic bra of hers. The colour drained out of my face. Even if those jeans had had a big Mars symbol painted across them, they couldn’t have more obviously been from the men’s department.
She didn’t seem to care about that. “Wow, these are way cool. This is more like the stuff I kind of imagined you’d wear. They’re yours, right?” She looked up at me for confirmation.
On the tip of my lips I was about to say, ‘No, they’re my boyfriend’s’, but then I remembered how angry I’d been at her for lying to me. I considered doing it anyway, but I found myself at an impasse. I didn’t say anything, I just felt sick.
“Put them on!” she said, and I could hear the excitement in her voice. “They are so much cooler than that skirt. I don’t know why you dressed up for me, anyway. It’s stupid. I don’t want you to feel like you have to be super formal around me or anything.”
She walked up to me to give me the jeans. I didn’t take them from her. “Actually, I’m pretty comfortable now,” I managed to say. I wasn’t sure how convincing I was, though.
She wasn’t fazed. “Okay, well, do it for me? I want to see how they look. My brother would be so jealous, this is such an awesome brand.”
For just a second I was tempted; what she’d said earlier, the ‘you only live once, and I really like this top’ was fresh in my mind. But then I thought about what I’d Googled, and remembered all the surgery and doctors and psychologists and I… couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I didn’t want anyone to think I was like that, even if maybe I was. I felt like if I put them on it would be like opening a floodgate and just by looking at me she would know. But I couldn’t say anything, I just kind of stood there like a fucking idiot with this topless seventeen year old pushing men’s jeans into my stomach.
After a few moments, she gave up and stood back. She was directing me that really strange stare again, and I didn’t know what to make of it. She probably thought I was a fucking headcase, and she was right. Fuck. Why did I think it was a good idea for me to be around people, again? I needed to go be a hermit in a cave somewhere.
“Min,” she said carefully. Her eyes were dipping between mine and my chest. “I want to say something but I’m scared I’ll say the wrong thing and you’ll be really upset again.”
I felt numb. “Just say it.”
Her brow was actually shaking. “Are you, like, actually a guy? Like, is that your secret?”
I didn’t think I’d heard her right. “What?”
She looked uncomfortable. “You know, like, are you just pretending to be a girl?”
I just stared at her for a second. I didn’t know if she’d guessed or not, but I panicked anyway. “What makes you think that?”
She looked upset as she counted off reasons on her fingers. “Like, okay, on Monday I swear you had boobs. Like not big ones or anything, but definitely boobs, and today…” She looked at my chest; I was still wearing that crop top and it flattened them out. “So maybe you were wearing those chicken-fillet-type things flat girls wear. And you won’t hug me, and it’s like, what are you afraid of me feeling? And then you needed to go and spend like twenty minutes putting on a drag-queen-level makeup before you’d let me in and then I find these boys’ jeans in your cupboard, and you’re totally uncomfortable with me showing any skin and you won’t change in front of me…” She ran out of fingers. “And you’re really tall for girl, and you look so ultra-super girly like those pretty Thai ladyboys who are, like, way more beautiful than female women are…” She looked distressed for a second. “Was that a really awful word to use? ‘Ladyboy’? I never know the right way to say anything. Just pretend I said all of that but I used the right words, okay?”
I didn’t… I didn’t even know where to start. She thought I was physically a boy? Fuck, that would have made life a hell of a lot fucking easier. Female woman? ‘Drag queen’ makeup? God, it all hurt so much that it got to the point where it didn’t.
She took a step back, like she was afraid I was about to yell at her or hit her. “Because it’s okay if you are secretly a guy. I’m not, like, hardcore religious or anything, I don’t mind, I won’t tell anyone!”
It was just so fucking ironic that the only thing I could do was laugh, and that made her look even more scared. Fuck, all I could do was laugh!
“You’re scaring me,” she said, looking tiny. She was still just wearing that bra and those shorts.
I tried to stop laughing. “I’m sorry,” I said, sitting back down on the bed so at least I didn’t tower over her. “No, I’m not ‘actually’ a guy.” After I’d said that I decided it didn’t ring true to me, so I tried to think of a different way to describe it. “I mean, yeah, my body’s the same as yours.” She didn’t look like she believed me, though, because her eyes kept going back to my chest. “I’m not showing you, Bree,” I told her firmly.
“If it’s not true, then why are you being so weird?”
I closed my eyes. “I can’t even begin to tell you. Fuck,” I said, shaking my head. It eventually ended up in my hands.
I felt the bed give as she sat down beside me, and I could see us in the reflection of my wardrobe door. The only other person who’d been on this bed was Henry, and compared to him she was so little. Compared to me she was little. She didn’t give me much time to think about that at all, though, because she had already come up with another theory. “Well, did you, like, used to be a guy?”
I threw my hands up. “Oh my god,” I said, and then I started laughing again. “No. Bree…” I said, just… What do you even say to that? The truth actually seemed far less dramatic than everything she was coming up with. Even still, I couldn’t say it straight away. I was surprised I could even say it at all, since I hadn’t managed to say it to Henry. Henry didn’t often look so close to tears as Bree did now, though. She was hanging on my every word.
“It’s just that I think I’m supposed to be a guy,” I told her. I sounded far more definitive than I felt, though, so I added, “Maybe. I don’t know. It’s difficult to think about.”
There was a long silence. I didn’t look at her, and I didn’t look at the reflection in the wardrobe. I didn’t even know what was going to happen until I felt a pair of arms around my shoulders. “Oh.”
“’Oh’?” I asked her, looking across at her. She had her head on my shoulder and all I could see was a mop of blond curls that smelt like vanilla shampoo.
She looked up. “Well, I wanted to say something nice because I can see you’re really worried about it, but I couldn’t because I don’t see what the big deal is,” she said. “If you want to be a guy, just go for it?”
If only it were that simple. “But how do I ‘just go for it’? My life’s already set up. I can’t just, I don’t know, get some injections and then tell everyone I’m a guy and expect nothing except my voice to change.” And I wasn’t even sure I wanted injections, anyway, because then I’d get hairy and I didn’t like the idea of that at all. Fuck, maybe that meant I didn’t want to be a guy? Or was I just scared of making changes that would mean I wouldn’t be able to put on a skirt and keep pretending to everyone that everything was fine? There were just too many questions to even start to answer them. Where did you start with this stuff?
Bree’s eyes widened as she thought of something. “Are you going to get a dick?”
Those surgery photos, oh my god. My heart sped. “I actually don’t want to think about that now.” Or at all, ever. Instead of dwelling on the pictures I’d seen, I looked across at her next to me. She still had an arm around my shoulder, and she was deep in thought. “How are you okay with this?” I asked her. “It’s so fucked up.”
She looked surprised. “Uh?” she said. “It’s actually kind of interesting, and I told you, I’m not some psycho religious nut or something. If you want to be a guy, then que sera sera? And anyway,” she gestured at the women’s clothes I was wearing. “You looked better in the painting than in these. Not that you’re not a cute girl or anything,” she hurriedly added. “So are you going to put them on?” She put the jeans in my lap.
This time I took them from her, and sighed.
“And take off all that makeup, too,” she instructed me as she sat back. “It’s weird. I don’t like it.”
Bree. “Okay,” I said, and stood with the jeans. I grabbed the big faded t-shirt from the wardrobe and then pointed at it. “Just look in there and see if you can find something that will fit you. Nothing that looks too expensive, please.”
I went into the bathroom and slid the door shut. My reflection stared at me from the mirror.
Well. That wasn’t at all what I imagined would happen when I thought about telling someone; there wasn’t even any hint of disgust or judgement in her. It was actually a bit of an anti-climax. I wasn’t stupid enough to think that everyone would be like she was – fuck, the world would be a pretty scary place if everyone was like Bree – but it was at least a little bit comforting. I changed into the jeans and t-shirt.
Once I was dressed, I filled the handbasin with water, tied my hair back, and just washed all my makeup off. Then, drying my face and neck, I looked up at the mirror again. I wondered what her reaction to this would be. It was very different.
When I went back out into my bedroom, Bree had found my new comfy hoodie and put it on. Hilariously, on her it came down to her knees and the sleeves dangled almost as far. She was lying on my bed in it waiting for me, but she sat up as soon as I walked in. Her face lit up. “Yeah!” she said, leaping up and bouncing over to me, long sleeves flopping everywhere.
I felt a bit self-conscious. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” she said with conviction, and inspected me from all sides while I just stood there. “Wow, you really look like a guy, especially with your hair back. That’s fucking crazy, because like five minutes ago you were the girliest girl in Australia. Anyway, this is way better. I prefer you like this.”
Me too, I thought, and then stressed about Mum, Henry and work.
“So, like, you want to go for a test drive? We could go shopping or something.”
Fuck, no. “Not going to happen,” I said firmly. “I’m not leaving my home in these.”
She looked a bit disappointed. “Okay,” she said, and then shrugged. “I kind of want to finish my pizza anyway.”
After I’d put talcum powder on her stained t-shirt to soak out the grease, she lead me back out onto the balcony. We sat there and ate and chatted – about what I had no idea because I was running on autopilot – until I’d made my way through two slices and was attempting the third. Bree had barely managed two. “You might need to get that bucket after all,” she joked as she held up the third slice and looked apprehensively at it.
“You could just not eat it,” I pointed out.
She looked at me like I was crazy for suggesting such a thing. “I’m going to do it,” she said stoically. “I am.”
“Good luck, then,” I said and then laughed openly at her expression.
She didn’t end up taking a bite because she put her pizza down to stare at me. “You look really great when you’re not so uptight,” she said, and then out came her phone…
However relaxed I had looked, I stopped looking that way immediately. I threw up my hands in front of my face and looked away from her. “No, Bree,” I told her as she pointed it at me. “No photos, not of this. Please.”
“But I want to show you how good you look now,” she said, sounding a little disappointed. “I think you’d really like it.”
I probably would, but I really didn’t want anyone having any sort of photographic evidence of this. A painting was one thing, actual photos were another, and Bree seemed like the sort of person to make bad choices about who she showed them and where she uploaded them. I couldn’t risk anyone finding out. “Bree, no.”
“I won’t, I won’t, I’m sorry,” she said a little forlornly as she sat back. “I’m sorry.”
When I saw her expression, I winced; you’d think I’d just run over her new baby kitten. Listening to her sing had nothing on how painful it was to look at her when she was upset. I could hardly bear it. I leant across the table and did a ‘gimme’ motion towards her phone. Perhaps I could do something else for her, instead.
Looking surprised, she passed it over to me and I fiddled with it. She watched me. “What are you doing?”
I pressed a button, and then looked up at her and waited.
In the living room, my mobile rang. “Happy Birthday,” I said easily, cancelling the call and handing her phone back to her with a smug grin.
Her disappointment transformed into delight in the space of half a second. She stood up to accept the phone from me. “Did you just put your number in my phone?” she asked, in the same tone as she might ask if daddy just bought her a sports car or her team just won the grand final.
“Don’t text me constantly,” I told her sternly, but there may have been a smile on the corner of my lips. “That’s my work phone, too.”
She wasn’t at the stage where she could listen to instructions yet. “Did you just put your number in my phone?” she asked me again, and then came to dance around me, shrieking. “Oh my god!” I couldn’t not laugh as she literally bounced around my chair. She stopped as suddenly as she started, though, and then looked extremely serious. “I have to hug you now,” she told me gravely.
“You hugged me before,” I pointed out. “That’s your quota for today.”
She swatted my face with an empty sleeve. “I can’t tell whether you’re joking!” she accused me. “It’s stressing me out. Just stand up so I can hug you!”
I rolled my eyes and stood, exaggerating my reluctance. I actually didn’t mind; she’d touched me so much already I think I’d begun to develop an immunity to it. As soon as I was up she flung her arms around my middle and squished the air out of me. I coughed. “You’re really thin,” she said into my ribs, her voice muffled by my t-shirt. “Like, really.”
She couldn’t talk, she was so short I couldn’t even return the hug properly. I had to rest my arms on the back of her shoulders. “That’s a pretty bold statement for someone who’s not even a whole person to make.”
“Shut up,” she said into my ribs. “It’s not my fault. My mum is like four foot ten or something. Besides, I only seem ultra-short because you’re huge.” She looked up, panicking. “I didn’t mean it like that!”
I expected it to hurt, but it didn’t. I just pushed her head back into my stomach to shut her up, anyway. “If you’re not careful I will feed you to the flowers.”
As she giggled into my t-shirt, I was struck for a moment by how normal this all was. We were just joking around like we had been before, and the fact that I now looked like a guy and was wearing guy’s clothes didn’t matter. It didn’t even matter that I had no idea what I wanted to do with what was under my clothes, either. The sky hadn’t fallen in, the world hadn’t stopped turning. Though Bree was hardly Henry, or Mum, or anyone at work, it was still reassuring. I was suddenly really glad she’d lied to me.
“You’re breathing funny,” Bree told me, and I looked down at her.
Probably, I thought, I’m high on pizza and garlic bread. I didn’t joke this time, though, I just tried to decide if I really wanted to explain to her why I was feeling so good. I might as well, I’d come this far, right?
“You’re the first person I’ve told about me.” And instead of being fucking horrified, you’re hugging me.
She hadn’t been expecting me to be serious, and the look she gave me… Wow. “Can today be my birthday instead?” she asked in this tiny little voice. “There’s no way tomorrow can beat this.”
I ruffled her curls and peeled her off me. “Come on, let’s eat ourselves into a stupor and watch bad TV,” I suggested. “If you’re really nice to me I might draw you an actual birthday present.”
“Oh my god, are you serious?” she asked, galloping after me as I took the rest of our pizza inside so I could set up my laptop. “Are you fucking serious? Just tell me what I need to do!”
I set myself up on the floor with the laptop and tablet and while I was scribbling away on it, Bree leaned over the edge of the couch and dropped crumbs all over me and into my hair. I’d drawn a rectangular shape and was choosing colours and levels when she realised what I was painting.
“You’re going to draw an actual present?” she said, giggling. “Like a wrapped present?”
I picked a few colours for the ribbon. “Yup,” I said. “What colour would you like for the wrapping paper?”
She brushed some of the crumbs off the top of my head. “Sorry,” she said sheepishly, and then answered my question. “I don’t care about the wrapping paper, I want to know what’s inside it!”
I held up the tablet so she could see it better. “What do you think’s inside it?”
She gave me a look. “You’re the artist, you tell me!”
I shook my head. “Don’t you know anything about art? It’s all about the viewer’s interpretation,” I joked, and then chuckled as she flopped me with a sleeve again.
“Fine,” she said, rolling onto her back on the couch so her head hung upside-down next to mine. She watched me down over her forehead. “I think you bought me some new clothes.”
I laughed at her, and we went backwards and forwards guessing what might be inside until I’d finished the painting. The suggestions got slowly more and more absurd until Bree was insisting that I was buying her a carpet python.
“That’ll go with the evil flowers,” I told her. “All I need now is a hairless cat and my collection of evil familiars is complete.”
I pulled the laptop onto my actual lap to upload the painting to Deviant Art, when I noticed an unread email icon down the bottom of my screen. It was from one of my team members, and it had an attachment.
My heart sank. I had work to do.
For about ten seconds, I considered not mentioning it and not doing anything about it. I was enjoying myself and didn’t actually want to start working again just yet… but then I remembered yesterday. Yesterday I’d been practically having a breakdown about my workload and how behind we’d been, I didn’t really have the luxury of leaving the docs a couple of hours so I could be silly with Bree.
“I thought you were uploading the painting?” Bree asked me, sitting up.
I took a deep breath and then released it. “I just got an email from someone at the office,” I told her, feeling myself deflate. “I’m going to need to do some work now.”
“Oh…” That girl could put so much emotion in a single syllable. She sounded so disappointed. “I’m going to have to go, aren’t I?”
I nodded slowly. “I’m sorry, Bree. Work is insane at the moment.” I pushed myself up off the ground and put my laptop on the table. “Thanks for coming, though.”
“Thanks for having me,” she said automatically. “And thanks for the pizza and the carpet python in a box.”
I grinned, ducking into the bathroom to see if her t-shirt was doing okay. “If you’d given me more warning I could have bought you a real present,” I called back to her. The talcum powder hadn’t soaked up all the oil yet, and her top probably should be washed properly. I could get room service to do that.
That made her perk up. “Really? You’d buy me something?” she asked me as I went back into the living room.
“Sure,” I said, looking out towards the balcony. “I’ll give your t-shirt back to you next time I see you, it’s not done yet. It’s still light, are you okay to catch the train home? I can always drive you if you’re not.”
She stood up, still in my hoodie. “Yeah, I probably won’t go home straight away,” she said, and then pulled the hoodie off to give it back to me. She wasn’t wearing anything except the bra underneath, and it was still a shock seeing that much of her. I didn’t say anything about it this time, though, I just went and grabbed her the first cotton top I found in my drawer. I handed it to her and she pulled it on, being uncharacteristically quiet. It was so big on her it covered more of her thighs than her ‘shorts’ did.
“Happy Birthday for tomorrow,” I said to her at the door as she put her thongs on. “We can have a drink next time I see you, right?”
“Hah,” she said flatly, and the stood in front of me. “At least you have to see me again,” she told me “You promised to buy me a present and you have my t-shirt. You have to give it back.”
I shot her a half-grin. “Yes, that’s definitely the only reason I’d want to see you again, Bree.”
She actually blushed. “Okay,” she said, giving me a quick hug. “Don’t actually buy me a carpet python, though.”
I laughed. “Got it. It would probably just eat you anyway,” I said as I showed her out and we said our goodbyes.
Once she was gone, I sat down in front of my laptop and just stared at the email. I really didn’t feel like working, but I also didn’t feel like having any more meltdowns over being behind in the project, either. Not with everything else I had going on for me.
I downloaded the component and read through it. It was from that young guy in the team, and the quality of it was terrible. I put my head in my hands for a moment or two. It was going to be a long night.