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1313 cherry st

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The first person Tim actually meets in town is the glowstick green haired gas station cashier who misgenders him and then gets all weird about it when he IDs him for cigarettes and sees the M gender marker and realizes he fucked up.

“Shit,” the dude says, turning around to grab a pack of reds off the wall, “I’m sorry man--”

“Whatever,” Tim says. He rips the cellophane off the pack with his teeth before the kid is finished even ringing him up. “Least you corrected yourself. Damn.”

“You moving into town?” the kid asks. Gestures to the UHaul in the parking lot.

“Nah, just rented a truck for shits and giggles,” Tim deadpans. The kid looks at him. “I’m fucking with you. Consider us even.” The kid laughs tensely, and Tim glances over when the other gas station employee comes out of the walk-in beer fridge in the corner and he stops dead in the doorway, staring at him. The kid is cute. Tattooed, couple job-stoppers on the hands, neck blasted even though he doesn’t look a day over twenty. Big nose. Doe eyes. Lip piercings. Tim grins at him, mouths a cigarette, turns back to the cashier to get his card and his ID back.

“Hope the move in isn’t too bad,” glowstick kid says, and Tim gives him a cursory nod.

“Thanks, ma’am,” Tim remarks, scoffing a laugh at him, and he heads back out to drive the truck the last half mile to the house.

Tim hasn’t actually met any of his new roommates, which. He should probably be more worried about that than he actually is. He’s talked to Paul on the phone a handful of times. He bartends at the club Tim’s ex dances at, and John’s never steered him wrong, even when she realized she was a lesbian dating a closeted man. He knows there’s three other roommates than Paul, but one of them is also trans and her boyfriend is also queer and Paul’s queer and the last roommate whose name is Shawn apparently never comes out of his room. Has multiple deadbolts on the door. Basically a cryptid. So. He’s not too worried about it. Worst case scenario he installs a deadbolt in his own door too, which he knows how to do on account of he used to ID as a butch lesbian. So.

He parks in front of 1313 Cherry Street, which -- 1313 is the most goth house number of all time probably except maybe 666 but he also thinks it would be cool to live next door in 1312. He drops himself onto the asphalt and looks across the street at the park on the other side and by the time he comes around the cab there’s somebody coming out of the house, hoodie, enormous grin splitting his face.

“Hey, Tim!” he calls out across the yard, and Tim rushes over as quick as his little girl legs can carry him. “What’s up, man? I’m Paul; we talked on the phone--”

“Yeah,” Tim says, smiling, on account of Paul’s gap-toothed grin is infectious. “Nice to finally meet you. Hope John didn’t give you too hard of a time trying to convince you to rent me the room.”

“She’s a sweetheart,” Paul says. “Come in; I’ll give you your copies of the keys and me and Corey will help you bring boxes in.”

Corey’s on the couch when they walk in, some superhero movie on the TV and a bong on the coffee table with a bunch of flowers in it. Corey practically bounds off the couch, goes to shake Tim’s hand but then hugs him anyway.

“We’re roommates now, dude, we hug each other in this goddamn house--” he’s saying, beaming, just talking his damn head off. Telling Tim about how his girl told him Tim’s also a Sagittarius, which, he’s not sure how Jim even got that information but then again maybe John sent his social media over to prove he’s not a fed.

“Gimme the keys to the truck; I’ll pull a couple boxes in,” Paul says, and Tim remembers the fucking cat.

“My cat,” Tim says, tossing his keys over. “His carrier’s in the passenger seat and he has a harness and a leash but he’s an asshole--”

“I heard there was a cat,” a voice says behind him, and Tim turns around to see Jim, who’s definitely well over six foot and oh right this is Corey’s girlfriend. She’s got her hair up in a bun and is wearing a tank top with a guillotine DIY stenciled on the front so clearly this is Tim’s new best friend.

“His name is Robert Smith,” Tim says, and Paul is already out the damn door. “I hear you are fellow former prisoner of gender who also chewed through the bars.”

“I tattooed GENDER IS FAKE on my own ankle,” Jim says.

“Fuck yes,” Tim says. “Wanna give me a dumbass tattoo someday?”

“All I do are dumbass tattoos,” Jim says.

“She won’t tattoo SLUT on my ass,” Corey says. “She’s full of shit.”

“I will not be responsible for that,” Jim says.

Paul reappears with the carrier and Robert Smith is hollering out the front grate. Tim takes it and Jim coos, squatting down to look in, and Tim lifts it a little so she can see in better.

“Oh my god,” Jim says. “He looks like a soot sprite from Spirited Away.”

“I know,” Tim says. “He’s basically a dust bunny with eyes.”

So then they get to work on helping Tim bring his shit in.

They order pizza to celebrate the new roomie and smoke a bunch of cigarettes and talk about themselves. Paul’s got two boyfriends, Sid and Chris, who he assures Tim he’ll meet soon enough. He also shares that he peed in the fountain outside the local Mexican place so many times they had to remove it and tells a couple stories about John fighting people in the middle of the strip club floor and managing not to lose a pastie. Corey’s in a band called The Rejects and Jim works at the garage cuz she loves working on cars. The one out front is her baby though, a red early 70s pickup. She tells Tim if he sees any radical graffiti around town that she did it and they also plan to join horrible forces for evil to tag together. Corey says mostly they just hang around and loiter at the Circle K cuz there’s two kids that work there that are cool, and Tim honks a laugh.

“Glowstick hair and throat tattoo even though he’s like twenty?” Tim asks. “Glowstick called me ma’am and apologized so many times I ma’amed him back and throat tattoo looked at me like he’d never seen a five foot four punk in a battle jacket before.”

“They’re both queers too,” Jim says. “There’s only so many of us. Gotta stick together.”

“Glowstick’s Justin,” Corey says. “Tattoos is Chris. He works nights a lot so if you start going on midnight gas station runs with me I’m sure you’ll end up talking to him. Chris is friends with some other trans kid who’s like 17, what’s his fuckin’ name--”

“Ricky,” Paul says.

“Right, yeah,” Corey says. “You should meet him cuz he’s tryna get on the man juice last Chris told Jim and it’d be cool for him to meet another trans guy--”

“Yeah?” Tim asks. “Chris is kinda cute. Deer in the headlights lookin’ ass though.”

“Probably wigging out cuz there’s another weirdo in town,” Paul remarks, lighting up another cigarette.

“That or he saw you flagging and wants to try to get his gay little hands on the only unclaimed top in this shithole,” Corey says.

“Oh my god,” Tim says, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Gay little hands isn’t even a joke,” Jim says. “Dude has KISS BOYS tattooed on his left hand cuz he’s an idiot and got KISS KISS and LOST BOYS on each set of knuckles--”

“Jesus Christ,” Tim says. “How did nobody notice?”

“I think he’s getting the top set lasered with his graveyard shift money though,” Jim says. “I keep telling him I’ll redo them for him but I think he’s afraid of me.”

“You’re six six and a witch,” Corey says. “I’m dating you and I’m afraid of you.”

“Good,” Jim says. “Keep it that way.”

“Maybe I’ll go bother him later and give him some shit about it,” Tim says.

“Sagittarius flirting,” Jim remarks.

“Hey,” Corey says, sounding wounded, and they end up talking astrology for a few cuz Jim’s into it mostly for witchy reasons. She offers to show Tim her collection of tarot decks and Tim tells her he’ll show her his collection of dead stuff and they’re best friends automatically by default at this point.

They bullshit till about one, which is when Corey and Tim decide to hoof it to the Circle K to grab some slushies and get Jim one of those individually packaged pickles and Paul gives Corey cigarette money and Tim figures he might as well tag along if Chris is probably gonna be there. He’ll buy a Monster or something like the crusty asshole he is.

Sure enough when they walk in, Chris is sitting in a folding chair behind the counter on his phone, which he is clearly not supposed to be doing if the way he bolts up and pockets his phone as soon as the door beeps indicates anything.

“What’s up man?” Corey says, and Chris relaxes visibly when he sees it’s him. Chris somehow looks cute even in his horrible red work polo. He has a little spiral drawn on his name tag.

“Fucking nothing,” Chris says, offering his fist, and Corey bumps it with his own. He looks at Tim and Tim grins on account of Chris looks nervous again which is cute.

“You still here?” Tim remarks, and Chris huffs, sighs.

“I was just starting my shift when you were in here earlier,” Chris says, turning around to grab the appropriate packs of cigarettes off the wall. “How do you guys know each other?”

“I just moved in with them,” Tim says. “My ex girl works at the club Paul works at and they had the extra room, so. Here I am. Corey, grab me a Monster—“

“Gotcha bud—“

“I’m Tim.”

“Chris. Hey, so,” Chris says, “sorry about Justin, he—“

“I don’t care, man,” Tim says. “I’m five foot four and still have the butch lesbian haircut. I get it.” He grins and Chris laughs once, relaxes a little.

“My best friend is a couple years younger than I am and just starting out transitioning, so—“

“Corey mentioned,” Tim says. Corey appears next to him at the counter, unloading an armful of junk food and nearly spilling his slushie. “Speak of the fuckin’ devil.”

“Watch it, short shit—“

“Oh come on, you have a Y chromosome, at least I have an excuse—“

“Well we can’t all be over six foot okay—“

“How tall are you?” Tim asks Chris, who’s piling Corey’s snacks into a paper bag.

“Huh? Me?” Chris asks. “Oh. I’m six foot two.”

“You got any scratch paper?” Tim asks.

“Uh,” Chris says, his face suddenly flushing pink, “I got some extra receipts—“

“That’s fine,” Tim says. He plucks a pen from the holder and scribbles his number down on the back of the receipt Chris gives him, flicks it back across the counter at him. He cracks open his Monster, grinning as Chris looks at the paper and realizes it’s his phone number. Corey fucking wolf whistles so Tim elbows him on their way out the door.

Chapter Text

ANYWAY IT’S A PUNK HOUSE AND THEY’RE ALL STUPID AS SHIT DUDE WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT FROM ME

Tim’s new in town which means he’s the odd one out but Paul’s a friend of a friend & has been living in this spot for like four years now or something, and if he says it’s cool then it’s probably cool and like, rent is insanely cheap. Like, less than a car payment would be cheap. Like Tim couldn’t lease a four-door Kia for less money so like, let’s fuckin’ do this.

And he’s enamored when he first moves in, cuz the house is awesome. Like, way better than any other place he’s lived. Despite a bunch of trash creatures living there it’s pretty clean and they have a skylight in the bathroom and Jim says to just ignore the cracks in the ceiling cuz the foundation is sinking, probably, and they don’t have a real basement it’s just kinda...a hole under the kitchen floor (please don’t open it, they’re not sure what lives down there but surely it can’t be good but y’know, her and Corey use it for extra storage but they also put their shit in locked plastic tubs, so) and there are scorch marks on the floor of Tim’s room and weird brackets up around the ceiling (nobody knows why, but. Probably a sex thing) and no closet, but y’know. There’s a wardrobe the last roommate left and it’s fine. The light in there’s amazing and the fridge has magnets on it that somebody’s made spell out SHAWN SUCKS COCK FOR MONIE (cuz the letter magnet set doesn’t have a Y, Tim’s looked) and the roommates are cool and like, whatever.

Paul’s the one Tim knew beforehand. They’re both friends with this disaster femme named John who out-shreds them both and is really obsessed with monster movies and takes a thousand years to get out of the house any time they want to hang out. She lives across town with four other roommates like everyone in town seems to, but she’s also got a bunch of weird naked cats and works at the strip club, but the city’s tearing their building down to expand some dumb vanity project of a park that’s already knocked down half a neighborhood but people never go to cuz it’s in the hood, and really she’s just angry about that and a lot of things but it’s a quiet sort of simmering rage and Tim loves her dearly for it.

Jim, on the other hand, is a barely-contained ball of rage. She has swords. She will fucking kill you. Her and Corey (her boyfriend, who also lives there but in a separate room cuz--quote--“I do not want his garbage near me”) most recently got almost-arrested for screaming “NOTHING MATTERS, YOU STUPID FUCK” at a cop when they got stopped for kicking over Bird scooters in town but then Jim was taller than him so they just fucking ran and hid in an alley over by the bagel dumpster and managed to not get arrested. Jim’s usually the second one out the door when something’s afoot, but only because she has to grab house keys because Corey will forget otherwise and get them both locked out in the cold and Paul’s really bad at answering his phone.

Corey’s a fucking manlet. Whereas Jim has a mattress on the floor and Tim has a loft bed like a nice sane person and Paul built himself some sort of weird sleeping platform out of milk crates and plywood in lieu of paying even the $15 at Salvation Army for an actual bed frame, Corey has a reverse loft. Corey built a weird-ass platform (with the help of Shawn, who Tim has still only witnessed a handful of times and never actually spoken to, but y’know. He’s allegedly a welder or a fabricator or something but Tim doesn’t actually believe that) in his weird closet of a bedroom (it actually used to be a laundry room, so he also gets the weird room that would be a mudroom if they ever used the back door as a bonus room for his $200 a month to make it fair) (the former mudroom/Corey Bullshit Dumping Ground has “DEAD HOOKER STORAGE” stencilled on the door, which John does not find funny at all but Corey thinks is hilarious because he’s literally the worst, but nobody knows who painted it there and they don’t actually care enough to paint over cuz it’s just like. Part of the house at this point, along with the postcards still tacked up over the kitchen sink addressed to people that moved out three and a half years ago minimum) and somehow hauled this Cold War era desk up onto it and then stuffed his bed underneath and he sits in there clacking away on his dumb historical fiction and weird political/satire zines and bad spoken word, and Jim absolutely refuses to sleep in there cuz she’s convinced the whole business is gonna come crashing down on their stupid fucking heads. She won’t do it. Also, Corey’s room is literally just big enough for a double bed and the shelves he’s built at the foot of it, so like. It sucks to hang out in there, anyway.

Sometimes Tim thinks Paul is like, the only sane man (because Shawn’s a cryptid and a rumor and they only ever experience him in the form of burning smells at 3:30 AM & weird crashing & banging noises, which keep getting repeatedly explained away as “he makes art films” but they all know it’s just sex tapes with weird lighting & props, let’s be real) but one time he tried to make weed butter in the rice cooker and they had to throw the whole goddamn thing away so like. Maybe not. Paul’s a trooper though. He’s got the unheated bedroom by the front door, the one with patio sliding doors instead of normal people doors that he’s screwed half of shut & has a shower curtain hanging above for privacy, but which accidentally gets left open half the time so everyone’s definitely witnessed him receiving/giving mad head to one of his 800 simultaneous partners at least once and that’s just kind of a risk of doing business. Like hello MTV, welcome to my Crib, please disregard the dude with the lip rings on your right receiving the blowjay to end all blowjays in his Great Glass Hellevator of a bedroom. We obviously did not know about this habit before moving in or perhaps we would have reconsidered the offer.

At night, the trains go by on the other side of the long scrubby skinny park across the street, the one that’s just a couple baseball diamonds nobody ever uses but Corey & Jim (she played baseball in high school cuz it was a thing to do and likes to hit balls at her boyfriend because it’s funny and a good way to blow off steam) & a homeless camp the city tried to tear down in the treeline next to the tracks even though it’s on railroad property & not even Parks Department property to begin with, and Tim trailed behind and smoked cigarettes from twenty yards back when Corey saw what was happening and threw his jacket on and raced over there to shout them away from it and when they said they were “just following orders” Corey called them bad people, said he hoped they can’t fucking sleep at night, and then Jim tugged on his shoulder til he walked away looking defeated and then the cops came by to officially tag it for removal and had the audacity to park in front of the house so he stood at the top of the front steps twirling one of Shawn’s baseball bats and glaring at them until they went away. That’s just Corey, though.

You know that anarchist soup tweet about how everyone’s afraid of the big scary anarchists but all the anarchists everybody knows spend 90% of their time making soup for the homeless? That’s them. They’re the main house that does Food Not Bombs--aka serving free homecooked meals in the park once a week, rain or shine, because on Sundays there’s nowhere in this town to receive a meal past cold breakfast and especially in the winter that’s not cutting it--and Tim’s read all the literature cuz he definitely went to college. His first week out he’s like “wait, where’s our Information Table?” and Corey nearly slaps the taste out of his mouth.

“We feed people, motherfucker, that’s political enough. Shut up.

Corey doesn’t believe you have to proselytize at people to help them. Actually, he believes you shouldn’t proselytize at them period. You should just help them. For the sake of helping. So the world is a less shitty place.

Corey’s been homeless, and their chapter of FNB doesn’t have an Information Table because they’d rather make sure everyone has handwarmers in the winter and cooling towels in the summer and that’s a more important use of funds for people on the streets than a zine written in academic-speak about why we need to abolish democracy. He also definitely didn’t go to college, though, and he’s smart but he can’t understand that shit because nobody can understand that shit and anybody trying to pretend they do is lying to seem smarter than they actually are and like who are you trying to impress out here, motherfucker.

(Jim went to tech school for a single week, which she lords over Corey constantly cuz he’s the one with the academic ambitions--he wants to be a history teacher someday, but he’s busy doing...nothing that would put him on that path right now--and she went to college. And every time Corey’s like “YEAH. TO BE A MECHANIC. FOR A WEEK.”

She dropped out because she wasn’t learning fast enough and it was boring and not what she expected, and Tim dropped out of art school because he got sick of doing graphite studies and charcoal life drawings when he just wanted to paint stuff and build things and make art that would move people. He lasted longer than a week, though.)

Paul did an apprenticeship right out of high school which is how he got his electrical job, which is how he met Chris--his Chris, not to be confused with Baby Chris with the badly-conceived knuckle tattoos that works at the Circle K. (And Shawn for that matter, who gained all his skills through nepotism because he’s the worst.) And then there’s Sid, who did not go to college and lacks any useful skills and thus works at the only video store in the tri-county area & is always on the verge of being fired & sells weed under the counter, fully supported in his himbology by his smart skilled-trade boyfriends. Sid’s kinda got it made.

Chapter Text

JIM’S GOT A DICK AND SHE DOESN’T CARE WHO IN THE TRI-COUNTY AREA KNOWS IT.

Jim didn’t always drive a truck, and she didn’t always used to be a girl.

Once upon a time, she was a boy. She did boy things. She played baseball in high school, and went to tech school for a week to be a mechanic, then dropped out of tech school after a week cuz she wasn’t learning fast enough & was bored & didn’t want to make it past the Love It In Ten Days Or Your Money Back guarantee and forfeit all that money for classes she’d inevitably quit going to in less than a month and certainly not receive a fucking technical certificate for due to, y’know. Not attending.

Once upon a time, her name was James, and that’s where the nickname came from. So now even though her ID says Holly Elizabeth Root (because she asked her mom one day--months before bringing it up to her therapist, months before The Skirt Incident, months and months and months before she finally got on the titty Skittles & came home from the clinic to a house full of her friends & her friends’ friends & a potluck on the back porch, Christmas lights strung through the trees & karaoke in the kitchen & a cake dyed pink with food coloring with “JIM HAS GIRL COOTIES ♥” written on top and she cried cuz she was overwhelmed & loved & had just slammed her first dose of estrogen mere hours prior with yesterday’s cold gas station coffee left in the cupholder of her fucking Subaru--which is a lesbian car, like, officially, so how did anybody not tell her she was a girl sooner--what she would’ve been named, y’know. Had she been born a girl, lol, just for giggles. Just wondering and her mom kept hulling strawberries like it was no big deal--cuz it wasn’t, it’s a perfectly normal question to ask, kids are curious about these sorts of things even when they’re nineteen years old--and just said,

“Well your dad wanted to name you Blayze--with a YZ, B-L-A-Y-Z-E, but I said ‘there’s no way we can put a kid in public school with that name, somebody will call the cops on us’ and, well, you know, we compromised on Elizabeth. It’s your great-great-great aunt’s name on your dad’s mother’s side. If we’d had another one we would’ve used that. No idea if it’d been a boy though, we would’ve had to think fast.”

And kept hulling strawberries, because it was no big deal and Jim’s mom didn’t think anything of it at all until Jim came to her months later like “Ma? Can I talk to you?” and ended up crying and snotting all over the place about her case of switched identity with her face smashed into her mom’s sweatshirt with the Mucha lady on it that she’s been wearing since Jim was in preschool, and maybe that’s when Jim’s mom connected the dots) and her coworkers at the garage call her Holls or Princess or just hey Root, Corey still calls her Jim when he’s not calling her angel or sweetheart or babygirl or gorgeous. Paul still calls her Jim. Most of her friends and trusted non-work acquaintances call her Jim, cuz there’s no better way to throw the cops off your true identity when you’re a six-and-a-half-foot-tall woman with a commitment to petty mischief and general chaos than to adopt a male name for concealment purposes.

Nobody has to know that it used to be yours for real, y’know.

 

--

 

So once upon a time, before that. Jim was not a girl. Jim was a nineteen-year-old fuckup with a scraggly chin beard and a baby face with limbs too long for her body & no idea how to handle them and a job at fucking Taco Time that Corey got her before he quit to go work at the nasty shop and abandoned her, because she wasn’t a mechanic yet cuz she’d just dropped out of tech school. She had hair practically down to her waist and no words for the feeling that made her tug at any clothes she wore to the point where she was asking herself if maybe this is some kind of nerve condition, y’know, why does everything that touches her skin make her feel bad?

And like so what if she watches a lot of fucked-up porn that she’d never tell her friends about--even though her best friend in the whole wide world works at the porn shop out by the highway, because he jumped ship and left her to fucking rot at Taco Time--and can’t get off to it regular anymore, only when she lets herself dream about y’know. Being like them. Bailey Jay with her cute bangs and great boobs and looking so happy to get railed, be held, have people’s hands on her. Smooth skin, curves everywhere, being fuckable & desirable & confident. Feeling good about her body, even with having a dick. Being proud of herself.

She tells her therapist that first, when she can’t seem to hold it in anymore. When it feels like it’s dragging down her whole face just walking around turning the sentence over in her head 24/7.

I’m jealous of the girls in the porn I watch and I can’t tell if it’s just because people wanna fuck them & I’m lonely or if I want to actually be...”

And then she doesn’t finish the sentence, cuz it’s a pretty big sentence.

She probably wouldn’t be running her selfies thru FaceApp “just to see” and stealing one single, ugly pair of three-for-ten bin underwear from Target to lay on her bed in with the door locked & her heart doing backflips and jerking off to the idea of maybe one day getting to feel the weight of her chest in a cute bra & the way her skin would move different with different geometry underneath & all the places her body would curve instead of angle if she was simply lonely, but. It’s still a big sentence.

By the time she gets to The Skirt she’s pretty much got it figured out, but she just wants to be sure. Just in case things go bad and this isn’t her after all.

(At some point she started calling herself herself in her head--her head--and it didn’t even thrill her. It was so mundane, so natural she couldn’t make herself stop.)

It’s a dry run. A test. Jim showing up at Corey’s house for their regularly scheduled Call Of Duty match to get high & microwave some chicken pot pies the same way they do every Thursday, except now it’s With Skirt. The celestial-themed skater skirt she found at Salvation Army and stuffed into her backpack in the linens section because fuck Salvation Army but also she wouldn’t be caught dead buying a skirt yet. Not until she’s sure.

She gave Corey the heads up via text before she left her house like,

>>I’m trying something, don’t use boy words for me & don’t be weird

And Corey just texted back,

>>k

So she thought that was that & they were good, but then when he opened the door his eyes got all wide and Jim felt like she was going to throw up, like this was some huge fucking mistake. The Skirt, the ponytail, the eyeliner. The crossed bobby pins over her ear. Her bare legs and ratty sneakers. Everything.

She wanted to die.

But then once upon a time, something clicked in Corey’s stupid Todd brain and he wiggled his eyebrows, leaning against the doorframe to coo,

I think I need to get my glasses checked, baby, I ought to know a bird when I see one--shagadelic baby, yeah~ me-oww~

in his best Austin Powers impression, which is the very antithesis of “don’t make it weird” in Jim’s book. But that’s just the way Corey is.

 

She sat on the couch cross-legged, and he touched her knee all bare and smooth like it wasn't a big deal but to Jim it was a pretty fucking big deal. An absolutely monumental deal. Corey's hand on her skin. Just casual.

 

(“I swear this isn’t me making it weird,” he said when she went to leave, absolutely fucking exhausted from the overwhelming experience of sitting on Corey’s couch sharing a blunt and playing COD in an otherwise empty house While With Skirt. “I just wanted to tell you--you just. Look really pretty.

Jim smiled, closed-mouthed and tight, feeling how tired her eyes felt; too muzzy & brain-heavy & still stoned to handle much more at that point than going home to faceplant into her bed and breathe the smell of her shampoo from her pillows.

“If you have to say it’s not weird it’s probably weird,” she’d said, because Corey being weird is something she can handle in her sleep.

“Well, I swear this isn’t weird, but if you’re gonna be a girl now--that means it’s cool to kiss you, right?”

She was still trying to figure out how to handle that new development when Corey kissed her. But she kissed back on reflex, her fingers knotting into his hair. His hand on her waist was so gentle she felt delicate, sweet, wanted despite her status as James The Genderfucked Giant, and they kissed themselves breathless. Until she forgot. Until everything clicked. Until it all felt right, and then one more for good measure. Stoney and buzzing and a little messy, Corey's fingertips pressing into her sides.)

(“Cool, now never ask me again,” she’d said when they broke apart, and he just looked up at her & said he promised with this dopey dreamy look on his face and she knew instantly there was zero chance of him keeping that fucking promise.)

(Then she went home to wheeze for a hundred calendar years & lay on her stupid bed in her stupid panties, rubbing her thousand feet of alien-smooth legs together like a grasshopper.

Basking in that split second memory of Corey’s mouth & feeling wanted.)

 

--

 

AND COREY DOESN’T BRING IT UP DESPITE BEATING OFF TO THE MEMORY SO OFTEN THE REST OF HIS ELABORATE FANTASY LIFE IS PRACTICALLY IN CRYOGENIC STORAGE CUZ HE KNOWS THIS IS A THING FOR JIM & HE DOESN’T WANT TO MAKE IT WEIRD CUZ THEY’RE BEST FRIENDS BUT ALSO GOD HE WANTS TO CLIMB A BITCH LIKE A TREE. PUT HER TOGETHER & TAKE HER APART LIKE IKEA FURNITURE. CAUSE IRREVERSIBLE STRUCTURAL DAMAGE TO HIS OWN IKEA FURNITURE WITH ENTHUSIASTIC COITUS. HE MIGHT HAVE TO BUY A REAL GROWN-UP BEDFRAME & IT MIGHT GET EXPENSIVE BUT HE DON’T GIVE A FUCK. HE JUST WANTS TO SEE JIM BE HAPPY. AND ALSO PUT HIS DICK IN HER EVERY WAY THE BIBLE FORBIDS AND A BUNCH OF THE WAYS THEY HAVEN’T EVEN THOUGHT UP YET. HE READ A ZINE ABOUT THIS AT A STUDENT ART SHOW ONCE, HE’S FUCKING READY. HE WISHES TO KNOW HER. CARNALLY.

Paul says, “If you love her so much then why don’t you marry her?” in his best Pee-wee’s Playhouse impression, cuz they’re packing Paul’s room so he can move back to California again to be with a girl like he does every fourteen months or so and Jim’s not helping, cuz it’s a Saturday and she’s out with her other friends, and Corey hasn’t shut up about it. He throws one of Paul’s own shoes at him.

“Maybe I will!”

“You won’t,” Paul says, heaving a box onto the stack that’s already threatening to keep the door from opening, cuz they do this every fourteen months and they still don’t know how to pack a room and the amount of shit Paul owns somehow never decreases. Corey thinks he’d like, lose a box occasionally, y’know, just the hazards of multiple long-distance moves, but he’s never so lucky.

Rude--

“No, rude is having to listen to you run your fuckin’ gums about how much you want to lick my best friend’s taint--”

“She’s my best friend too!”

“So am I! But you don’t want to lick mine--

“That’s different--!”

“Sure, bud, keep telling yourself that,” Paul laughs, plopping down on his bed to pack a bowl and making Corey open the window for him even though he’s got two perfectly good arms that work and he could do it his damn self.

Then he kicks Corey out so he can smoke weed and get Wendy’s and take a trashbag of shit to Goodwill in peace, and Corey goes to the mall cuz he’s got nothing better to do and he abandoned a CD on hold at FYE like three weeks ago that he’s hoping they haven’t put back yet. It’s Saturday so of course there’s no parking available over by the main doors and he’s not gonna park out behind the fuckin’ Sears Auto Center where the bus picks up (he could’ve just taken the bus if he wanted to deal with that trek, thankyouverymuch) but there’s always parking in front of the Forever21 (it used to be a Borders, then it was a Spirit Halloween for a season, then Forever21 moved in) because men in Iowa fear that parking in front of a retailer primarily catering to girls aged fifteen to twenty-seven makes you gay even if you’re just cutting through on your way to Bass Pro Shop and don’t touch a single pair of jeggings or whatever the hell it is that girls buy there. Luckily Corey made peace with his personal predilection for wearing women’s clothes and making out with the occasional dude a long time ago and now he can park wherever he wants. Heteroflexible status confirmed.

He’s just cutting through minding his own business when he sees the flash of purple hair somewhere in the realm of a good foot over his head out the corner of his eye and his brain short-circuits cuz there’s only one exceptionally tall purple-haired person running around in the greater Des Moines area (that he knows of) and y’know. It’s his best friend. It’s Jim. (The purple was a 2 AM decision fueled by dysphoria & vodka Red Bulls--a private dance between her & god that her manager at Taco Time hates despite it being--in Jim’s words--cute as shit.) In the Forever21, y’know, cuz she had plans with other friends and couldn’t help pack Paul’s shit for the fifty-seventh time which apparently meant going to the mall.

And he wants to yell “HEY JIM!! ASSHOLE!! HEY COME HERE” but also like!! She’s with one of her girl friends!!! She looks really pretty!! And he might be stupid, but not stupid enough to yell her decidedly male nickname at her across a mall store packed with teens in the middle of a fucking Saturday because not only might that make her feel bad, but teens can smell disruptiveness from a mile away. The last thing he needs is to clue the middle-school piranhas into the fact that there’s a six-and-a-half-foot-tall dyke with purple hair over there looking at discount pleather pants. Jim would hate him forever.

About nine things happen at once. Jim’s friend--Amanda, the cute pansexual girl from work that jumped ship two months ago but she’s stayed friends with & Jim doesn’t blame cuz they met at work, it’s not like when Corey dragged her into this godforsaken job and then split almost immediately when she was just fine before at fucking PetSmart--looks up and elbows her, says something like “Hey, isn’t that your friend---” cuz Corey is a loud presence even when he’s trying to be nondescript. Jim looks up and goes “what??”. And Corey’s like “HEY J---” and the word gets stuck cuz he fucking bluescreens, he fucking chokes, his prefrontal cortex spits about like four names at once and he literally splutters out “JAMEY------!” at a volume better reserved for pro football games as his stupid little legs are carrying him in her direction and his voice cracks because apparently he’s fourteen again, there’s something in the fucking air. Forever21 germs. It’s cursed. He’s going to die.

Half a dozen sets of eyes, minimum, turn to Corey then notice where he’s aimed and then they’re looking at Jim. God, they’re fucking looking at Jim.

Jim wants to melt into the floor.

She doesn’t say anything at all at first; keeping her mouth shut until some of the stares drop away, willing herself to breathe & her cheeks to stop burning as she forces herself to calmly flip through thirty pairs of pants that aren’t remotely her goddamn size like another pair of anything in size Tall will materialize if she just re-checks the rack six more times cuz she wants the ones with the zippers on the thighs and all they have in her size are the ones with ankle zippers and fake moto detailing, which isn’t fucking fair. She’s gonna have to take a picture of the tag on the ones she wants and look them up online when she gets home and hope they’re not sold out and then there’s still no guarantee the fit’ll be the same between styles. Being tall sucks.

“I’m busy, Corey, what do you want?” she says quietly, not wanting to draw even more attention to herself cuz she’s suddenly aware of how she sounds and no amount of messy bun and mascara can save her. Fuck.

Corey leans up against the other side of the rack she’s looking through like he owns the place and it almost rolls out from under him but Jim catches it with her foot, saving his dumb ass from certain death as is apparently her calling. “Nothing, Paul just fuckin’ kicked me out...I was headed to FYE to see about that Anthrax re-release--I just saw you and felt morally obligated--as your best friend--to say hey y’know.”

“Oh,” she just says. Amanda looks between them, then looks at Corey, then rolls her eyes so hard it can be heard in Argentina and yeah, Jim feels that. “Well. Hi Corey. I’ll see you later.”

Apparently his social cues detector is broken today cuz he presses on. “If you’re still here when I’m done with my stuff we should go to Krispy Kreme. Did you drive?? If you got a ride it’s no big deal cuz like, I drove, so I can give you a ride home if you need to--it’s just across the parking lot, y’know, we don’t even have to drive there, it’d be faster to just walk--y’know, fuckin Saturdays--the parking situation in this place is ass--”

He’s babbling. He’s full-ass babbling and he can feel himself being stupid and Jim’s looking at him like he’s sprouted a second head and he’s carrying on and making a fool of himself but he also can’t stop. “Your friend can come too!! It’s not a big deal. It’ll be fun, we can all hang out!! It’ll be good, y’know, what with Paul leaving again and everything--”

And Jim looks at Amanda and Amanda looks at Jim and they share one of those stares that until she figured this gender shit out she thought meant she was just really in-tune with women’s emotions cuz she’s a Libra, and her mouth makes some sort of excuse about catching up to him in a few minutes when they wrap it up here even though her eyes say We Are Absolutely Not. Her & Amanda.

That seems to satisfy Corey though cuz he slaps the top bar of the rack and jostles it against Jim’s foot again and says “great!” and wanders out toward Cinnabon with an extra spring in his step & the two of them crack up as soon as they see him step into the corridor like they’re novelty innertubes and Corey’s grand exit’s a ten-year-old with a pocket knife.

And Amanda says, “dude.

And Jim says, “I know.

And they crack up again, even though the rack has failed to produce another pair of pants in Jim’s size no matter how many times she’s looked.

 

--

 

Amanda splits like a fucking traitor ten minutes later with some half-baked excuse about a paper that she has due for organic chem on Monday & a sadistic cackle along the lines of “have fun with Corey byeeeeeeeee” and leaves Jim in the checkout line with the pleather pants that aren’t even the ones she wanted but she’s buying anyway cuz by some miracle they did fit even if they’re a little bit short in the ankles cuz she’s too fucking tall to be picky. Maybe things would be different if she lived in Chicago or L.A. or some other big city but this is Des Moines and the option for girls her size are limited. And she really, really wants pleather pants.

She wishes Amanda hadn’t bailed though cuz at the register she can feel people looking at her, seven foot tall weirdo with dumb hair and shoulders too broad for her own good buying bras and pleather pants and the largest size stripey sweater in stock with a credit card that says James D Root cuz now there’s no pretending she’s some kind overly-involved gay best friend. She’s up there alone. These are clothes for her.

By the time the receipt prints she’s ready to spontaneously combust and the sheer force of her blind panic pushes her out the door back into the mall corridor like some kind of bad decision missile whose coordinates are set to Corey fucking Taylor and she breezes into GameStop without thinking when she sees him through the window, feeling instant relief like she’s not a purple-haired goblin fifteen feet tall wearing fucking glitter. Like this isn’t a place she comes all the time in boy mode. Like they don’t fucking know her.

The magnitude of the bad decision hits her like a truck. She’s careful to angle away from the counter when she touches Corey’s shoulder and mumbles real quiet, “hey, I’m gonna wait outside, ok?”

And usually Corey would make some sort of huge production out of it cuz he’s Mr. Great Big Mouth but he sees the worry written in Jim’s face and just says softly, “cool, yeah, I’ll be done in a minute” and Jim scrambles out faster than she came, parking on the bench across the way and dropping her head into her hands to wheeze. Her Forever21 bag crinkles between her feet and she kicks it under the bench like it wronged her. Stupid. Fucking stupid.

 

--

 

Corey takes so long in GameStop Jim has time to go buy a whole-ass smoothie to calm herself and she’s back on the bench outside drinking it and playing on her phone by the time Corey finally reemerges from the inner geek sanctum to drop down next to her, his sneakers squeaking on the tile.

“Sorry, that was more than a minute. Do you still wanna go get donuts with me?” he says and Jim doesn’t bother pointing out that she never actually agreed in the first place but yeah, she’ll go. It’s better than sitting here alone getting ripped from anxious leg bouncing or going back to her apartment to get ungodly high and sit on her bed in one of her five pairs of cute underwear with the door locked and blast Bowie albums until she cries, which was her post-mall plan before Corey showed up.

“Yeah, sure, lemme just put my bag in the car first, y’know, I don’t wanna be carrying it--”

And Corey says, “oh.

And Corey says, “it’s okay, I can carry it.

And Jim whines at a pitch that maybe only dogs can hear cuz the only thing she can think of more publicly mortifying than carrying a bag full of girl clothes into the Krispy Kreme personally is Corey carrying her bag of girl clothes into the goddamn Krispy Kreme for her and she’d rather crumble into dust and blow away across the parking lot, thanks.

But Corey’s just like “c’mon, we all know I’m your bitch. I can carry your stupid bag” and just takes it before she has a chance to argue.

Jim would never admit it cuz that might give him too much power, but it’s the nicest thing anybody’s done for her in weeks.

She blames the autumn wind for the way her cheeks flush when he holds the door of the donut shop open for her too; his gentle smile and a cheeky “m’lady”. The days are getting shorter and when Jim gets out of work at night it’s dark-dark and not just twilight, a little bit more every day. It’s starting to get cold out.

 

--

 

Jim pays for her own donuts and fumbles a coupon out of her wallet to comp her burnt-tasting latte. Corey swipes a sheaf of napkins thick enough to staunch a gunshot wound and when Jim snorts a laugh he says “what? I made a purchase!!” and then mumbles something about being out of toilet paper & too lazy to make a separate trip.

They sit at the stools lining the window that manage to be both too tall and too short at the same time and shoot the shit like nothing’s ever changed and in a way it hasn’t--Paul’s still running off to California again to chase a girl, they’re both still working shitty dead-end jobs, Jim’s band’s still talking about breaking up--all the queer stuff is just background noise, the “Call Me Maybe” of the Taco Time muzak that she’s learning to tune out until somebody bumps the volume knob either accidentally or on purpose.

Corey walks her to her car after cuz he’s a gentleman who also parked by Forever21 and lingers after she shuts the door. Watches her dig her cigarettes out of the center console and try to light one before she even gets the window down then give up; rummage around under the seat & come up with one of those travel packs of baby wipes, start wiping at her eyes. He wonders if it stings. If she’s used to it, y’know. If she does it a lot when he’s not around.

She notices him and hits the automatic window button, dropping the wipe into the mess of disposable coffee cups and receipts and wadded-up Taco Bell bags on the floorboards as the window comes down.

Can I help you?

“I’m--y’know. Sorry. About the name thing,” Corey says. “I don’t know if that was right. I panicked. And I just don’t want you to feel weird about it or whatever.”

She taps her cigarette (still not lit) against the steering wheel, staring off into the outer reaches of the parking lot and for once in his miserable irritating life Corey doesn’t say anything, just waits.

“I dunno what’s right or not. I’m trying to work on it, y’know.”

And Corey’s just like. Yeah.

He’s kinda leaning on the window frame, his fingers well within smashing range and Jim could just push the power window button and roll his hand right up in it but she’s feeling merciful and also like she might actually cry so she doesn’t. And Corey’s not irritating for once, and for a long moment neither of them say anything. Jim looking down at her ragged cuticles in her lap.

And finally Corey just taps the window frame twice and goes “welp” and that seems to snap her back into action, and she says “yeah, I’ll catch you later man” and it’s like her whole energy shifts and then he’s looking at a different person.

She’s not looking at him, she’s looking at the outer corners of the parking lot and even then not really, it’s like she’s staring right through it as she pulls her ponytail out, slides the bobby pins out from over her ear with clumsy fingers, redoes the whole business ten inches lower. Drops the bobby pins into the center console and slams the lid. Steadfastly not looking at Corey; her mouth set in a tight line.

AND COREY JUST!!!!!! DUCKS DOWN TO LOOK IN HER WINDOW BETTER!!!!!!!!!!

And says with his entire heart,

You look cute today.

And Jim just snorts, touches his hand and is like,

I’m not gonna kiss you, you can stop any time dude.

And Corey’s like “what?? Who’s trying to kiss?? It’s true--” y’know, as he’s trying to lean in the window of her Subaru like a fucking gremlin.

But y’know. Hypothetically. If I were trying to kiss. Like. What’s the chances on that, you think?”

Jim’s eyes hitting the back of her skull can be heard across the parking lot and she opens her door and whacks him with it and then leans out a little, gets one foot on the pavement to steady herself, and fucking kisses him.

It’s not good, it’s not sexy, it’s merely a shut the fuck up Todd kiss but it feels right and his head is spinning, he’s a fucking goner when she pulls her mouth away and plops back into her seat and says “you can go now,” retrieving her cigarette from the dashboard and finally lighting it. Pulling the door shut. Clicking on her seatbelt. The whole world winding back up to full speed & Corey’s dumb ass stood there next to his best friend’s car, his head full of cotton candy & sugar clouds & cherubs & rainbows.

He’s so heart-eyes he blurts out something like “k babe drive safe” and Jim honks a laugh at him & drives off and he doesn’t even care that she’s laughing at him, she touched his mouth with her mouth first. He’s gonna be messed up about this for the next 38 years.

God. Girls are so good. He fucking loves girls.

He’s gonna crank it about this til his dick flies off.

 

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