Part VIII: My New Normal
The teacher wasn’t racist, being black themselves. I sat with Tyler again, everyone had apparently decided it wasn’t worth the effort to acknowledge my presence now which was an improvement. I could still feel glares from Allison though. When class ended I decided to check out the library where I spotted a noticeboard about various clubs in the school. I spotted one about the choir and hesitated. I looked around but no one was paying attention to me. I’d actually got used to strange array of students by now. I ripped off a contact details slip and put it in my wallet. I checked a computer and found the section on human rights. I blinked at the person I found looking in the same area. She was dark-skinned with braided black hair, her back to me. I could hear the sound of pages turning and wondered what she was reading.
“Hi,” I said with an awkward wave. She had looked normal enough from behind so I was startled when she turned and I saw small horns either side of her mouth. I immediately recalled my mum saying the Tzari were about as demonic as an alien could get and shook my head slightly, looking downwards.
“Yes, I am female,” she immediately said.
“Do people ask a lot?” I blinked.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Huh,” I murmured. I always assumed long hair meant girl. Although I guess Sage had shown me gender wasn’t that black and white.
“Can I help you?” she asked, closing what looked like some kind of law book, heavy reading material for an alien.
“I was just looking for, erm, history on, erm, LGBT stuff?” I wasn’t sure if I got the acronym correct. She smiled and motioned to a shelf of books near her. I nodded my thanks and approached them, trying not to feel self-conscious about the person behind me.
“I didn’t expect to see a Tzari here,” I said, trying to sound casual. I suspected it hadn’t worked based on the side-glance she sent me, regarding me calmly.
“In the library or Ravenhold?” she asked, surprising me.
“Oh, erm-” a short girl or boy – another Sage? – rounded the corner of the shelving before I could continue.
“The book isn’t here Shekaree, someone else must have gotten it out already. I’ll need to ask the librarian if there’s an electronic copy so-” they paused, realising I was there. “Hi, newbie?” I blinked at him.
“Yeah, my name’s Allen,” I said.
“Well, welcome to Ravenhold I’m Sasha,” they said, grinning. Something about them reminded me of Jaeger, only they were a much nicer version. “Is this your first time meeting a Tzari?” they asked. Had they overheard our conversation?
“Y-yeah,” I replied, feeling embarrassed. Shekaree looked unphased however, she must be used to this.
“Ah, well there’s plenty of interesting characters I’ve met so far,” they said before checking the time. “We better go, or Harley will complain for a week how we never make dinner on time when its our turn.” Shekaree laughed at the comment and nodded.
“I hope you settle in okay,” she said before following Sasha. I took a moment to process the encounter before turning to look at the books. A lot where help books on things like coming out. The book on understanding LGBT for dummies was probably a good idea but I couldn’t see anything that stood out as being about intersex individuals. I really didn’t want to ask a staff member about it so I decided I’d look again later. Maybe the books were already out. The internet was always there but as my step-dad would always say, the internet is full of “sourced” articles that are only backed up by other “sourced” articles.
When I walked in I found Caroline on her own in the kitchen, a helper short for once.
“Do you always make the food here?” I asked, remembering Sasha’s comment. In their house there was some kind of rota in place I guessed.
“Eh, pretty much. Cooking is like my number one passions and so I cook a whole lot at home too. Kind of helps me wind down after a long day too.”
“Maybe I could help?” I offered, expecting a ‘hell no’.
“Sure, help is always welcome,” She answered with a smile, surprising me. “Do you cook often?”
“Yeah, my mom works at night a lot so I make dinner for myself often. Fresh food is better than frozen crap, y’know,” I said.
“Yeah and that’s cool, Do you know how to make fresh pasta? ‘Cause that’s what’s for dinner.” I blinked at her.
“No… You make your own pasta?” I said, admittedly impressed.
“Heck yeah, my grandma’s Italian and she thinks premade pasta is of the devil. We also make some of our own cheeses, sausages, grow our own veggies, the works really.” I choose not to explain what my mum thought were the works of the devil.
“You’re Italian?” I asked.
“Quarter Italian, quarter Scottish and half French Canadian actually. Although I only learned the French part recently,” she explained.
“You only learned about it recently?”
“I’ve never met my father, I was raised by my mom and grandparents. My mom always avoided talking about my father for complicated reasons to say the least.”
“Oh I see…” My dad was a deadbeat living in Texas last I’d checked. I wonder how he would react to all the new types of friends I’d made recently.
“But now; Pasta time,” Caroline said, disturbing my line of thought. I let her guide me through making the dough, glad for the distraction. It was more involved than I expected, no mixer or bowl, all from scratch.
“Congrats, you’ve made your first dough,” she announced when I finished. “Looks great too, trust me my first was nowhere as good looking as this.” she said with a smile. She held up a hand and I hesitantly gave her five. “Now we just gotta wait a few minutes for the dough to rest before we make it into pasta.”
“That was pretty cool,” I said, going to the sink and washing my hands.
“I’m glad to have had you at my side. If you ever want to cook with me, just ask. Charlie sometimes tries to help, but just between you and I? You’re a thousand times better than Charlie at this.” She said with a laugh. “She’s a ninja when it comes to superhero stuff, but give her a chef’s knife and she’ll probably lose a hand.” I laughed at the comment and began filling the sink to wash the tools we’d used. I kept glances back as she worked but there wasn’t really any outward sign in her appearance that she was trans. It made me wonder who else I might know who was actually trans.
“Alright, I can see you’ve got questions you’ve been wondering about all day, you can go ahead and ask them.” She said turning toward me. “But if you ask me about my junk, I’m going to throw you out the window.”
I stopped mid-washing, soap running down my arms. I hesitated before grabbing a teatowel to dry my hands, using the moment to mentally word my questions.
“So eh… How did you know you were trans?”
“I think people think about being transgender the wrong way. It’s not about being a boy and wanting to be a girl or vice versa. It’s more like you know what you are but everyone else insist that you’re wrong, sometimes violently so…
I knew I was a girl since I was little. To me being a girl was what felt right, the very idea of being considered a boy felt so horribly wrong and grossed me out. But everyone told me I was a boy because of how my body was and it got in my head to the point I started believing it and did everything I could to try to make it fit, but it didn’t… The more I tried to be a boy, the more I hated myself, wanted to mutilate my body and just die.
When I finally transitioned and started presenting and being seen as a girl, it was like years of pain went away. I finally started feeling comfortable in my skin, sure, it’s not perfect, but I don’t hate myself or my body anymore because I don’t let it define who I am.”
“I guess it’s something you can only tell me about and I’ll never really ‘get’ it.” I said, surprised by the long explanation but it made more sense than I expected. “I’m glad you’re happier.”
She nodded and checked on the pasta. I chewed my lower lips and decided if anyone was going to be trustworthy enough to talk to, it was probably Caroline.
“Do you know about intersex stuff?” I asked.
“I’m afraid I don’t know much on that front. Why?” she answered, an understanding already in her eyes.
“It’s not important…” I murmured, wanting to change the subject. I saw the pasta machines and jumped on the opportunity. “Should we roll them out?”
“Eh it’s better to wait some more, letting the dough rest will make it less rubbery and it’ll be softer too. But it’s five on a Thursday, we can definitely watch power chef in the meantime.”
“It’s a cooking competition for parahumans. You’ll see, it’s awesome,” she said. She opened the TV by the kitchen and set it to a channel called ParaTV. It had everyday TV shows only with parahuman hosts and guest stars and everyday parahuman civilians. I glanced at the TV schedule briefly and decided I’d have to watch more of it later.
“That’s so weird…” I mumbled, watching a contestant use his abilities to slow-cook a brisket for hours within their assigned forty minutes. Another female contestant used duplicators – that sounded like a much more useful power than walking timebomb.
“You’ve never watched ParaTV?” Caroline asked.
“No. We have cable at home, but not this channel…”
“It’s one of my favorite network, people focus so much on superheroes and villains that they forget that we parahumans aren’t all about violence. Our powers are useful for so much more; whether it’s to be creative or help others.” I nodded. The only everyday use for something like my power would probably be free nuclear energy. I didn’t really like the idea of spending my life cooped up in a big metal box underground though.
“I think the dough’s rested enough. Ready to make pasta?” Caroline asked.
“Yeah… Sure.” I said, returning to the present. It was nicer than the gloom future I was thinking about.
“Oh and Allen?” She said, making me frown.
“If you need someone to talk to, about anything. I’m here, okay?” I blinked at her words. She was the only person around here who seemed to actually give a damn about me anymore. Sage was there but it was on probation rather than an actual friendship.
“Thanks. I’ll erm… try to help in return. You’re smarter than me though, probably won’t need my help,” I replied, trying to settle the heavy atmosphere with self-depreciation.
“You never know,” she replied. We got to work making dinner, Caroline continued to find amusement in my reactions to the various abilities on show on ParaTV. After food was in the oven I went back upstairs, wondering where Sage had been. They were on their bed, notes from class with them on the bed. I blinked at them. No make up or skirts, instead they were wearing jeans, a shirt and hoodie. They looked much better like this.
“Hi,” Sage said. “Did you take notes from history? I’m stuck something.”
“Erm, yeah,” I said. I walked to my side of the room and grabbed my notepad from my bag. I flipped it to the last filled in page and handed it over.
“I didn’t know you could draw,” they said.
“I don’t,” I replied, confused by the question.
“Maybe you should, you’re not half-bad,” they said, motioning to the lazy doodle I’d made the margins. “You don’t use your pad for note taking so you obviously enjoy it.”
“Drawing is for girls,” I said, splaying onto my bed. The phrase coming from my step-father out my lips.
“Drawing is drawing. You can’t gender an activity,” Sage replied, sounding annoyed. I sighed at them, feeling burnt out from the past few days.
“Yes you can. You can gender everything. You wear skirts when you feel girly, right?” I shot back.
“I wear skirts because I like wearing them. The fact society generally sees them as feminine is society’s issue,” they shrugged.
“Well you would have a lot less issues if you dressed as you are now, just saying,” I shrugged back.
“Actually, I’ve barely ever encountered issues. I surround myself with accepting people. The only person who has ever given me real grief about being myself is sitting across from me.” I sat up, surprised. I began to reply and stopped. They took this so seriously, I couldn’t even have a jokey debate. I’d been trying to compliment them actually but it clearly had not been received.
“I wasn’t trying to-” I stopped, realising there was no point trying to make excuses. Sage was beginning to strike me as being a very ‘militant liberal’ as my step-dad would say. “Sorry,” I murmured.
“I’ll study downstairs actually,” Sage said. Now they were just being immature.
“Dinners ready, by the way,” I said. They nodded, not pausing in their stride as they left. No point in sitting up here on my own feeling bad. I grabbed a quick shower and change of clothes. I joined the others in the living room, staying quiet as conversations went on around me. Ahti sat next to me and I pushed away my inner recoil. I needed to make this work, and truth be told they were all nice enough people. This was my new normal, as abnormal as it seemed.