Today went off the rails yet again, but it felt right. I have to keep reminding myself that slow moments are good. Readers need them to get to know characters more. Heck, I need them to get to know characters more. I’m just not a still person. Hopefully it turned out okay, though.
I don’t quite believe Oliver, but I guess telling the truth wouldn’t hurt. Maybe that way he’ll drop the autumn student showcase topick for good. “The last time I got up in front of people, it did not go…well. It was sixth grade English. We were reading this book and we had to present the characters with awards. “Best Supporting Character,” “Best Antagonist,” stuff like that.”
I note the way Oliver pulls into the Novel Spell parking lot and turns off the car, but doesn’t move to get out.
“Anyway, I had this awesome gray dress with sequins on it. It was a few years old, so it was probably a little small, I’ll admit, but I loved that dress. It was one of the few things I felt beautiful in, so I wore it for this ‘award show.’
“Some kids in the back of the class started snickering the second I got up in front of the class. We had this super intense teacher, so the minute she glared at them, they shut up, but I saw them passing notes. I tried to ignore it, but every flick of paper across the desks, every sneer distracted me.
“I was the last presentation for the day, so everyone got their stuff and left while I packed up my presentation. I saw one of them throw away the note and, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess,” I chuckle, trying to distract Oliver from the heavy atmosphere that’s settled over the car, “I fished the note out of the trash. I know I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t help it. I had to know what they were saying.
“It said, ‘She looks like a sparkly walrus.’ I didn’t read the rest of the note. I didn’t need to.”
Oliver stares at the steering wheel, his hands tight on either side of it. His stillness makes me nervous, so I keep talking to fill the gap.
“It was stupid. I shouldn’t have let it bother me. I don’t even know where those kids are anymore and that was years ago. I should be stronger than that–”
“You’re human,” Oliver finally says. He shakes his head. “No, you simply have a soul. You’re allowed to hurt. I’m sorry if I brought up any painful memories.”
“It’s okay. You didn’t know.”
“No, it’s not. I should have known better.” With a sigh, he leans back against the headrest. “Middle school was hell all around I guess. People liked to tease me for ‘dressing like a boy.’ Got called ‘dyke’ a lot. Henry Smith tried cutting my hair in art class back when I wore it long. He got suspended for that.”
“Good. Henry was always a little shit. I didn’t know you were the one he was picking on, though. Guess I was too wrapped up in my own attempt to disappear.”
Oliver shrugs. “So was I, until I got a good handle on my magic and started using it to deflect people.”
I remember the beach party and how confident Oliver had seemed in his binder, not looking for anyone to fight him about it, but not hiding either. Just being. Just existing.
“Is that why you’re so comfortable being out?”
“Some of it. The rest is the fact that I can only carry one secret: being trans or being fae. Carrying both nearly smothered me to death, so I made a choice.”
“That’s really brave of you.”
Oliver shrugs again and opens his door. He hesitates, one foot on the asphalt, his eyes darting across my face, making me squirm. “For what it’s worth, I’m sure you looked dazzling in that dress.”
My face gets hot for some stupid reason, so I scramble out of the car before he can notice. “Thanks. And, for the record, you’re a lot cuter as Oliver than when you were pretending to be Alice, and that’s coming from someone who likes girls.”
Oliver snorts and follows me towards the entrance. “Thanks, I think? And, Gia…”
The way he says my name makes me pause.
“Thanks for saying I was pretending to be Alice, not that I was Alice.”
Why does he have to look at me so intensely some times? I hate it. It makes me have to face the fact that I really truly exist, in this body, of all things.
I leave the door for him to catch so I don’t have to meet that gaze for too long. “Eh. It’s just the truth, but enough of this sappy stuff. We gotta save Miguel or whatever.”