Spencer’s morning went to hell when some asshole on a dirt bike swerved in front of Mom’s Subaru.
Mom slammed on the brakes and flung her arm across Spencer’s chest, despite the fact that he was wearing a seat belt, and even if he weren’t, it’s not like her arm would keep him from hurtling through the windshield and becoming sausage meat.
At least she’d already finished her coffee. The last thing he needed was to spend all day smelling like the inside of a Starbucks.
“Is everyone okay?” Mom twisted around to check on Theo in the back seat, but his eyes remained glued to the nature show playing on his tablet. Spencer was impressed by how nothing seemed to faze his little brother.
“Maybe we save the vehicular manslaughter for tomorrow,” said Spencer. He didn’t want to be known as the kid whose mom ran over someone at drop--off. He wasn’t sure he wanted to be known asanything. As far as he was concerned, the less he stood out, the better.
Mom ignored him as she steered the car more carefully up the tree--lined drive and parked at the curb. “Promise me you’ll make an effort today. Talk to people. Smile sometimes.” She tugged on one of his earbuds, pulling it out of his ear. A muffledda--da--da--dun--da--da--da--dun from the song he was listening to trickled out into the car. “It wouldn’t kill you to be more social.”
Mom’s jaw clenched. “That’s not funny, Spencer. Not after last year.”
“Too soon?” said Spencer. If he turned it into a joke he could pretend that he didn’t still wake up in the middle of the night, heart racing, drenched in sweat thinking about The Incident. He called it “The Incident” so he wouldn’t have to remember it all in excruciating detail: the threatening email, the picture of his face in crosshairs stuffed in his locker, the call to the school that prompted a lockdown, huddling in the corner of a dark classroom, the cold tile leeching heat from his body, and knowing that if someone got hurt, it would be all his fault.
“I’m serious, Spence. We don’t have other options if this doesn’t work.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” The back of his neck grew hot and prickly like it had whenever he was awakened in the small hours of the day by the creak of the staircase as Dad crept up to bed after spending all night preparing for the extra college courses he was teaching that summer to pay for Spencer’s tuition.
Even with the extra work, it didn’t take a math genius to figure out that Dad’s paycheck was barely enough to send one kid to private school, let alone two. So after two years in a Montessori program his little brother, Theo, who was autistic, had to go to public school for the first time.
Theo had spent his summer stretched out on the living room carpet in front of the TV watching anything and everything with the wordplanet in the title. Spencer wasn’t sure how well an encyclopedic knowledge of the mating behavior of amphibians (calledamplexus, according to Theo) would go over with other eight--year--olds.
“Hey, what’s with the face?” asked Mom. “This is going to be a great year. For both of you,” she added, reaching around to pat Theo on the knee.
Spencer picked his backpack up off the floor and squeezed it to his chest. He reached out to open the door when Mom said, “Are you sure you want to keep that there?” She pointed at theI’m here, I’m queer, get over it pin on the front pocket.
Spencer’s fingers brushed over the pin. He’d had the same conversation with Aiden over the phone last night.
“Think of it as a test,” Aiden had said. “If someone makes a big deal out of it, you’ll know to steer clear. Besides, how else will you find the other queers?”
“I’m just saying,” continued Mom, “it’s a bit . . . provocative for your day one. Why don’t you wait and see how the QSA meeting goes first? That’s today, right?”
Spencer nibbled his bottom lip. Last night he had agreed with Aiden, but now, seeing the glittery, rainbow letters sparkling in broad daylight, the idea of walking into the building with it on felt like sticking a target on his back. Sure, Oakley might brag about being the most liberal school in the county—-after all, that’s why they’d chosen it—-but it was still in rural Ohio, where just that morning they’d passed by half a dozen churches, one of which had a sign that said:Don’t be so open--minded your brains fall out.
He undid the clasp and tucked the pin in his backpack, hoping Aiden didn’t ask him about it when they debriefed after school.
“All right, do you know where you’re going?” asked Mom.
“I think so,” he mumbled.
“If you’re not sure, you need to ask for directions.”
“I know.” He tried to keep the tinge of annoyance out of his voice. When Mom got anxious, she tended to treat him like a baby. But this was a big day for all of them.
“Here,” said Mom. She rolled down Spencer’s window, and leaned over him, calling, “Hey, you with the bike!”
Spencer slouched lower in his seat as several kids, including the boy on the dirt bike, turned to stare at them.
“Mom, what are you doing?”
The boy on the bike reversed, rolling backward to the car and stopping outside Spencer’s window.
“I’m sorry about cutting you off earlier, ma’am. I didn’t want to be late.” His voice was low and gravelly and muffled inside his retro motocross helmet.
“That’s quite all right,” said Mom, clearly charmed by his slight Appalachian twang. Her own accent, courtesy of a childhood in West Virginia, came out stronger. “This is my son Spencer. He’s new this year.”
“Nice to meet you.” The boy stuck a gloved hand through the window. The worn leather was as soft as a lamb’s ear against Spencer’s palm.
“Do you think you could show him to his first class?” asked Mom.
The helmet visor hid the boy’s expression, but Spencer imagined the amusement in his face at being asked to play babysitter. “It’s okay—-” he began, longing to turn around, go home, and try again tomorrow, but then the boy lifted off his helmet and Spencer’s words died in his throat.
He was cute—-all farm boy tan in a navy polo and Wrangler’s. But what really made Spencer’s insides feel like he’d just been dematerialized and rematerialized in a transporter was that this kid, with his brown eyes and megawatt smile currently aimed right at Spencer, was a dead ringer for Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Spencer’s nightly ritual was watching Star Trek with his dad, who would disown him, not as a son but as a fellow Trekkie, if he knew that the only reason he put up with the cheesy special effects was because of his teeny--tiny crush on acting ensign, wunderkind, Wesley Crusher.
Mom gave him a little nudge. “I have to go put Theo on the bus. Have a good day, sweetie.”
Spencer climbed out of the car, careful not to trip over himself, and slammed the door behind him. Did she have to call him sweetie? In front ofhim? What was wrong with bud? Or sport? Bike Boy’s parents probably didn’t callhim sweetie, especially not at school.
He waved them off, watching the Subaru disappear around the corner, and trying to ignore the hollow feeling in his chest.
“So, what grade are you in?” asked the boy, parking his bike and waiting for Spencer on the sidewalk.
Spencer’s thoughts became all tangled up in his head as he tried to shape them into words.
“Are you a first year?” Bike Boy prompted.
“No,” said Spencer, a little too forcefully. He pulled himself up to his not very tall height of five feet. He wasn’t insecure about it, not really, but it would be a long year if everyone,especially cute boys, thought he was a middle schooler who got lost on his way to class. “I’m a sophomore.”
“Cool, me too.”
He followed Bike Boy up the path to the gated entrance. On the way the boy waved to a couple kids and high--fived another, but he didn’t introduce Spencer. Then again, what would he say?This is the kid whose mom almost ran me over and then made me walk him to class? Not exactly the first impression Spencer wanted.
“Let me guess, you were kicked out of your old school for talking too much.” Bike Boy shot Spencer a wide grin. His two front teeth overlapped slightly, which Spencer found oddly endearing considering that most of his friends had been put in braces as soon as they hit double digits.
Spencer searched for something witty to say back. Something to show Bike Boy that he wasn’t a complete weirdo, but his words got lost again.
The smile on Bike Boy’s face slipped off. “Wait, were you actually kicked out? I’m sorry, I—-”
“I wasn’t kicked out.”
“It was just a joke.”
“I know,” said Spencer, growing frustrated that even the most basic of conversations left him flustered.
Not wanting to prolong the agony, he made a decision when they reached the entrance. He knew where he was going. Sort of. He had taken a tour earlier that summer when signing up for classes.
“So what’s your first class?” asked Bike Boy.
He opened his mouth to respond when someone going past pushed him from behind, and he fell into Bike Boy, who reached out a hand to steady him.
Spencer pulled back his arm like he’d been burned. “It’s okay. I know where I’m going. But thanks for your help.”
Bike Boy searched his face as if trying to see if he was telling the truth. “Are you sure?”
Spencer nodded, scuffing his foot against the floor.
“All right, then. I’ll see you around, I guess,” said Bike Boy, his voice lilting slightly like he was asking a question. He hitched his backpack higher and turned to join the swarm of students on their way to class.
Spencer watched him leave, not with relief, but with something that felt a little like guilt. Maybe he should be a touch nicer to the guy who had offered to help him, despite narrowly escaping death at the wheels of his mother’s Subaru. Hell, Spencer didn’t even know who he was.
Before he could stop himself, he called out, “Wait, what’s your name?”
Bike Boy turned and flashed Spencer a smile. “Justice. Justice Cortes.”
Justice Cortes. Spencer silently mouthed the name before another wave of students knocked into him. He shook his head. The last thing he needed was to think about Justice Cortes, or any boy, really.
What he needed was to keep his distance. If he didn’t get too close to people, they wouldn’t find out his secret. If they didn’t find out, they couldn’t use it against him. Nobody at Oakley knew he was transgender.
Spencer needed to keep his head down, study hard, and escape Apple Creek, population 1,172, where the only traffic jams were caused by tractors and Amish buggies.
But first he’d have to survive PE.
• • •
After a few wrong turns, he finally found the locker rooms just as the warning bell rang.
When he opened the door the nauseating stench of body spray mixed with floral air freshener blasted him in the face, invading his nostrils and making him light-headed.
Spencer hovered awkwardly at the door as a few stragglers in various stages of undress glanced up at him from the wooden benches lining the room. Maybe he should change in the nurse’s bathroom like Ms. Greene, his guidance counselor, had suggested. Private stall, a door that locked, and nobody who’d snap him in half like a twig if given the chance. But then someone might wonder why he didn’t change with the rest of them. First rule of passing: Don’t be different.
He found an empty corner and untied his shoes, avoiding eye contact. He wiggled his toes as a chill from the concrete floor seeped through his socks. After a minute the only sounds in the locker room were the thumping of his heartbeat and the dripping of a leaky faucet.
Alone at last, he jumped into action, wriggling out of his jeans and pulling on shorts from his backpack. He tugged on his T--shirt, grateful, not for the first time, that he hadn’t needed top surgery or to suffer through wearing a binder. Starting hormone blockers at thirteen prevented too much growth and almost one year on testosterone replaced whatever fat there was with smooth muscle.
The late bell rang and he slipped into sneakers, shoved his clothes and backpack into a locker, and hurried out the door.
With its towering oak trees and ivy--covered walls, the Oakley School looked impressive on the outside. But inside, the lemony scent of disinfectant and the squeak of his shoes against the linoleum as he jogged down the hallway connecting the locker room to the gym told Spencer that this was more like the charter school Miles Morales attended than the Xavier Institute. The hallway, which had teemed with the hustle and bustle of chattering students five minutes ago, was empty. He snuck into the gym, where a dozen or so boys were flinging foam balls at each other. One sped toward his face, forcing him to duck. Where was the teacher?
Spencer jumped and twisted around to see a man in a baseball cap standing beside him. The man wore saggy sweatpants and a ridiculous--looking cardigan with a hood—a hoodigan?—-and had a toothpick dangling from his mouth.
“Are you Coach Schilling?” he asked, slightly out of breath. “Sorry, I—-”
“Name?” Coach Schilling cut him off.
“Harris, eh?” He surveyed his clipboard, rolling the toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other.
Sweat pooled clammy and moist under Spencer’s armpits. The principal, Mrs. Dumas, had assured him that his school records would have the correct name and gender, but that didn’t stop the panic rising in his chest. If someone had made a mistake, he’d be outed in his very first class, and all of it—his dad working overtime, Theo switching schools—would be for nothing.
“You’re new,” said Coach Schilling. It wasn’t a question. With a school this small, new students must be easy to spot. “Make sure you’re on time tomorrow.” He pulled a magazine from the back of his sweatpants and began thumbing through it.
“Could you tell me what’s going on?” Spencer sidestepped as another ball hurtled toward him.
Coach Schilling, preoccupied with uncovering the secret to getting rock--hard abs in thirty days, barely glanced up from his magazine and said, “Dodgeball.”
“Right,” said Spencer. “But what should I actually be doing?”
Coach Schilling raised a bushy eyebrow and gave three sharp bursts of his whistle. A hush fell across the gym. Spencer’s face burned as all eyes turned on him. Coach Schilling picked up a loose ball and shoved it in Spencer’s hands. “Take this and throw it over there.” He pointed across the painted line in the center of the gym. “No head shots, no crotch shots. Got it?”
“Good. Have fun.” Coach Schilling blew his whistle to start the game then went to sit on the bleachers with his magazine.
Spencer’s knees knocked together as he joined his teammates. At least if it was a total disaster he could probably duck out after attendance tomorrow and Coach Schilling wouldn’t even notice.
After a few minutes of playing, Spencer’s pent--up anxiety about the first day of school dripped away with the sweat. He might be small, but he was nimble on his feet. He ducked, dived, and even got in a few hits himself, until he was the last man standing on his team and found himself outnumbered, two to one.
His first opponent, a tall boy with shaggy brown hair, chucked a ball at him. Spencer did a clumsy pirouette and it whipped past. He grinned as his teammates called out encouragement from the sidelines.
His second opponent threw a ball, which Spencer caught. His team erupted into cheers as the player moved to the sidelines, out of the game. Now it was Spencer and the shaggy--haired kid.
The boy launched the ball into the air. Spencer used the ball in his hands to deflect it back, then threw his second ball, forcing the kid to defend both shots simultaneously.
To Spencer’s shock, his opponent reached out with hands the size of Spencer’s face and caught both balls. Spencer was out.
Coach Schilling blew his whistle. “All right, game over.”
Spencer threw his head back. He didn’t consider himself a sore loser, but he disliked losing enough to make sure it didn’t happen very often. When it did, it was like a kick to the shins: incredibly painful, but unlikely to cause any real damage.
He forced his grimace into a smile as his opponent approached him, hand outstretched. “Nice moves out there, Twinkle Toes.” He winked at Spencer.
Spencer’s cheeks ached with the effort of keeping his smile from falling. He took the kid’s hand, squeezing it limply. He couldn’t tell if he was making fun of him or not.
As the kid turned around and started walking back to his buddies, Spencer’s pulse raced. He imagined him telling them what he’d just called Spencer and the nickname spreading around the school. His eyes fell on a ball in front of him, and before his brain caught up with his body, Spencer pulled his leg back and let loose. The ball made a perfect arc in the air before smacking the kid in the back of his head.
The kid whirled around, his cheeks flushed and eyes flashing. Spencer’s brain finally caught up.Oh, shit.
“Who did that?” shouted the kid.
All eyes turned to Spencer. Even the girls playing badminton over on the other side of the gym with their own teacher stopped their game.
The kid rounded on Spencer.
“Did you throw that at me?”
Spencer couldn’t exactly lie, not with a room of witnesses. “No, I kicked it.”
“With your right foot or your left foot?” asked the kid.
“I— What?” asked Spencer, wondering what the hell that had to do with anything.
The kid took another step toward Spencer, who found himself backed up against the wall. “That shot. Did you make it with your right foot or your left?”
“Left. My left.”
To Spencer’s surprise, the boy smiled and turned to Coach Schilling. “Did you see that, Coach?”
Coach Schilling was also staring at Spencer with a curious look on his face. “That I did, son, that I did.” He paused, looking thoughtful. “Macintosh, why don’t you head to the nurse and get an ice pack. You.” He pointed his whistle at Spencer. “Harris, right?”
“Yes, sir,” said Spencer.
“You’re coming with me.”
If there were a record for fastest expulsion, Spencer had crushed it. Maybe he could do online classes or Mom could homeschool him again. That is, if she didn’t kill him when she found out what he’d done.
He followed Coach Schilling into a dingy room the size of a broom closet. A whiteboard with scribbled, half--erased plays was stuffed in the corner.
Coach Schilling squeezed himself behind a tiny desk and indicated for Spencer to sit on a metal folding chair. Spencer was so cramped that his knees collided against the front of the desk, which was bare except for a framed photograph of a boy with a toothy grin holding a baseball bat, and a placard that said Luck is for the Unprepared, which wasn’t helpful, as Spencer wasn’t feeling lucky, nor prepared.
Coach Schilling steepled his fingers together and eyed Spencer. “I’ve got one question for you,” he began, a huge grin spreading across his face. “Where the heck have you been all my life?”
“I—-uh—-what?” Maybe private school handled discipline differently.
“I’ll give it to you straight: I need a player like you on my team.”
“Your team?” He’d figured “Coach” was some sort of honorary title bestowed upon PE teachers after a certain number of years forcing kids to climb ropes and run a timed mile.
“Soccer, football, the beautiful game. Whatever you want to call it. Surely you’ve played before. I was watching you in dodgeball. You’re agile and have an innate intelligence for finding space. And the way the ball collided with Macintosh’s head tells me your shot has accuracy and power.”
“Yeah, I used to play midfield.” Thinking of his old team brought back warm memories of playing cards during long bus rides to games, and monthly chili dinners at his coach’s house.
“We’re neck deep in football country, which means I don’t even have enough players for a separate JV team because they’d all rather get concussions fighting for a pigskin. I need someone like you if we have any chance at winning the League Cup this year.”
Framed team photos lined the wall behind Coach Schilling. Row upon row of boys stared back at Spencer, the passage of time measured by their hair getting shorter and their shorts getting longer. He recognized his opponent from PE wearing the goalie kit in the most recent photo, which explained how he had blocked Spencer’s shots. Then he found another familiar face in the lineup.
“That boy, there. He’s still on the team?” he asked, doing his best to sound casual.
Coach Schilling followed to where he was pointing. “Ah, that’s Justice Cortes. Sophomore. Scouted him myself. He also plays midfield.”
Well, shit, that was just what Spencer didn’t need. He’d barely been able to string two sentences together when he spoke with Justice earlier that morning, and that was when they were both fully clothed. He’d probably become completely comatose if he had to change in front of him.
Coach Schilling watched him expectantly. The thing was, he knew he was a boy, but he didn’t know if he belonged on that wall of players with their broad shoulders and narrow hips. None of them had to worry about getting changed in the locker room or where to hide their tampons in case they started their period.
Besides, being on a team again and getting that close to people had risks. Worst of all, if everything went haywire, it wouldn’t just be him who’d be affected. There was Mom, Dad, and Theo to think about.
On the other hand, that twenty minutes playing dodgeball was the first time in a long time that he felt like he belonged to something bigger than himself, like other people had his back. It was a nice feeling.
“I don’t know,” said Spencer.
Coach Schilling scratched his days--old stubble. “Well, you signed the handbook, so I assume you’re familiar with our zero--tolerance policy for violence. Maybe Principal Dumas will be lenient on you since you’re new, but zero tolerance generally means, well, zero tolerance.”
Okay, that changed things. “And if I join?”
“When I fill out the incident report, I’ll call it an accident.”
Getting blackmailed by his PE teacher hadn’t been part of his plans, but Coach Schilling’s offer had to be better than whatever his parents would do to him.
“Can I think about it?”
Coach Schilling handed him a piece of paper. “Have your parents sign this. Tryouts are tomorrow after school.”
By lunchtime, Spencer’s brain was fit to bursting with all the information he had to remember from his morning classes: how to get to them, the names of his teachers, the page numbers for the homework he’d been assigned, even though it was only day one.
He slipped past the cafeteria, which sounded like it had been taken over by wild animals, and instead made his way to the classroom where the Queer Straight Alliance was meeting. He double--checked the number by the door, making sure it matched the one that Ms. Greene had sent in an email a few days ago. If he couldn’t wear his pin, Spencer figured this was the next best method of meeting other queer students.
He steeled himself, then opened the door.
Inside, the desks had been arranged in a semicircle. Spencer counted six other students. It looked like he was the last to arrive.
A boy in a deep V--neck shirt and a pair of skinny jeans so tight they could have been painted on looked up at the sound of the door opening. “Here for the QSA? Come on in. we’re about to do names and pronouns.”
Spencer took a seat at the desk nearest to the door.
“I’ll start,” continued the boy. “My name is Grayson Condon and I usehe and him. This is my third year at Oakley and my second year as president of the QSA.” He turned to the kid slouched in a chair to his left.
“I’m Riley.” Chin--length blond hair with purple streaks peeked out from under the kid’s hoodie.
“And your pronouns?” asked Grayson.
Riley stared at the floor. “I . . . I don’t know. I’m still figuring everything out.”
Grayson leaned forward. “Hey, this is a safe space. You can use whatever pronouns you want here.” He gave the kid a reassuring smile.
“They, I guess.” Riley uncrossed their arms and sat up straighter.
“Okay, then, they it is. Let us know if anything changes.”
Spencer nodded at Riley encouragingly. Coming out was never easy, even when it went well.
The first time he came out was in a Kroger parking lot when he was thirteen.
He had endured awkward puberty talks from his parents and his health teacher, and intellectually he knew that one day he’d grow boobs, and hips, and look like the women he saw on TV. But there was part of him that thought,What if I didn’t.
Before he went to bed each night, Spencer would pray that he would wake up as a boy.
It never worked.
Then, one day when he was in eighth grade, one of his teammates came up to him after soccer practice. Even with a strand of hair stuck to her glossy lips, she carried herself with a sort of unself--consciousness that Spencer had never felt before. She was like everything a girl should be, and everything that Spencer wasn’t.
“Look,” she said, “this is awkward, but maybe you should think about wearing a sports bra. You can borrow one of mine if you want,” she added, trying to be helpful. “I think it will really improve your game.”
A red, hot tingle started to prickle Spencer’s scalp and crawled down his back. There was no meanness in her comment, but the idea that someone had been inspecting his body, especiallythat part, made him feel sick. If she had noticed he needed a bra, then other people did too.
So, Spencer didn’t show up for the next game. Then he skipped a few practices and stopped going to team sleepovers. He stopped doing much of anything.
One day Mom dragged him out of the house to the grocery store. As they were leaving, her phone rang. She pulled back into their parking spot to check the caller ID.
“Mom, can we go home? The ice cream is going to melt.” He didn’t really care about the ice cream, but he wanted to be back in his bedroom, the only place where he could truly be himself.
“You know I don’t like talking and driving. It’s your coach. This will only take a minute.” She answered the phone.
Spencer took out his own phone to lose himself in an endless scroll through social media but was brought back when Mom’s voice rose.
“Excuse me, what?” Mom swiveled in her seat to look at him. “I’m going to have to call you back.” She hung up and frowned at Spencer. “Coach Ireland says you haven’t been going to practice.”
Spencer avoided her eyes. “Can we talk about this later?”
“No, we’re talking about it now. Do you know how much money we spend for you to be on that team? I’m talking about your kit, gas to drive you to games and tournaments, that summer camp you went to. And you can’t even be bothered to show up for practice? What’s going on with you?”
Silence filled the car.
Mom spoke again. “Do you not want to play anymore?”
It was as if an ice cube were stuck in his throat. He shook his head.
“Then why didn’t you tell me you wanted to quit soccer?”
“I don’t want to quit soccer.” Spencer’s voice came out raspy. “I just don’t want to play on that team. I want to play on a boys’ team.”
Mom drew in a breath. “I have to say, I’m disappointed. You know that girls play just as hard as boys.” Leave it to Mom to turn his coming out into a speech about feminism.
“No, it’s not that. It’s just, I just—-” He paused, unable to continue. “I don’t think I’m supposed to be a girl.” He stuffed his hands under his legs to stop them from shaking.
Mom stared straight ahead. “I don’t understand.”
He took a deep breath. “I don’t want boobs.”
“Sweetie, lots of girls feel that way. It’s natural to be uncomfortable about your changing body.”
“It’s not just boobs. It feels wrong when I get my period.”
“You got your period, when?”
“A couple months ago.” He’d stuffed his underwear with a hand towel and thought that if he ignored it, it would go away.
She didn’t say anything for a long while. Spencer’s chest felt tight, like a cord had been wrapped around it. Then she said, “Thank you for telling me. I want you to know that I’ll always love you, whether you feel like you’re a girl or a boy or whatever.” And the cord around his chest loosened.
A week later, they went to Supercuts for his first short haircut. Examining his fresh fade in the mirror afterward, he finally looked more on the outside how he felt on the inside.
One evening, not long after, Mom went out and Dad said she was meeting a friend. She came home late and knocked on Spencer’s door. He was on his bed, his laptop on his thighs. She entered the room.
“Can I sit?”
Spencer moved his laptop, which had gotten too hot for his legs, and pulled his knees up to his chest.
“I went to a support group for parents of transgender and gender non--conforming kids. That’s what you are, right?”
“There were a lot of nice people there who gave me some great advice. This is all new to me, so tomorrow I’m going to make an appointment for you to see a therapist who specializes in these types of issues and get you the support you need.”
She put a hand on his knee. “I’m not going to make you grow up into someone you’re not meant to be.”
“Name and pronouns?” asked Grayson.
Spencer realized that the room had grown quiet and looked up to see everyone staring at him.
He swallowed; his throat felt like sandpaper. “I’m Spencer—-”
“Can you speak up?” interrupted Grayson.
“Sorry,” he said, louder. “My name’s Spencer, I use he, him, his.”
“Awesome, thanks Spencer,” said Grayson.
When everyone had introduced themselves, Grayson took the floor again, sharing a bit more about the QSA and the different programs they did each year.
“We have to do something for National Coming Out Day in October. Then in November there’s Transgender Day of Remembrance. And we always do something big for Pride before school ends in June. If you want to take the lead on planning anything, let me know.”
The rest of the meeting passed smoothly, a welcome oasis from all the chaos that morning, and Spencer grew hopeful that maybe he’d found a place at Oakley where he could belong.
Still, Spencer was glad when the meeting ended early since it gave him the chance to use the bathroom before everyone else exited the cafeteria en masse. He even managed to find a stall where the toilet wasn’t completely covered with pee. He quickly took care of business, then left, almost bumping into Riley outside the door.
“Sorry,” he said, holding the door open for Riley.
Riley hesitated. Spencer read the anxiety in their face.
“There’s nobody in there, if you want to go in now,” he said.
Riley still looked unsure.
“I can wait outside and tell anyone who tries to go in that there’s a leak or something.”
Riley cracked a smile. “You’d do that?”
Spencer shrugged. “Of course.” He leaned against the wall and waited, nodding awkwardly at people as they passed by. His anxiety spiked each time it was a guy. Still, it felt good to use his passing privilege to help Riley.
To Spencer’s immense relief, no one tried to use the bathroom, and after a couple minutes Riley came back out.
“Thanks,” they said, hanging their messenger bag across their shoulder. As Riley started down the hall, Spencer noticed a patch with Aiden’s band name sewed to their bag. “Wait, you know The Testostertones?” he called out.
Riley turned back. “They’re like my favorite band.”
“No way. Aiden Nesbitt is one of my best friends,” said Spencer excitedly.
“Yeah, I met him . . .” Spencer trailed off. He’d met Aiden at a two--week sleepaway camp for trans kids. But he wasn’t ready to come out, not yet, even to Riley. “I met him this summer.”
“Is he as awesome as he seems online?”
“Better.” To be honest, Spencer often suspected that lots of people considered Aiden to be their best friend. That’s just who he was. It helped that he was the drummer in a punk rock band, ran an active YouTube channel documenting his transition, and had an internship at a popular online queer zine.
“If you want, I could introduce you sometime,” said Spencer. “His band has a few gigs coming up. I could see if he can get us tickets; we could all hang out.”
“That would be amazing,” said Riley.
“Cool. Give me your number and I’ll let you know.” Spencer couldn’t stop the smile spreading across his face as Riley punched their number into his phone. Maybe this whole making friends thing wouldn’t be so hard after all.
Copyright © 2021 by Isaac Fitzsimons. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.