Rachel Cole surveyed herself in the full-length mirror on the back of her dorm room door. She was in faded hip-hugger jeans, her favorite brown leather boots, and a light blue T-shirt, and over that, a blue and white flannel with the sleeves rolled up and the bottom tied taut at her waist. She thought the look was perfect for open mic night at her favorite café, which was owned by a fabulous hippie lesbian couple—Tiff and Al—who hosted something every weekend. The crowd was almost always populated with other twentysomething lesbians like herself, as well as old-school lesbians, some in granny skirts and some in leathers, there to enjoy the show or to perform. It was a great place to cruise, and it was currently Rachel’s favorite weekend distraction. She hadn’t had anyone to warm her bed all semester and the semester was already a month old, but she was hopeful. Sometimes she thought that since this was her last year in the grad program at Prairieland State, she should just concentrate on her studies and forget about dating. Some things were more important than sex, after all, such as getting out of Illinois and moving as far away from her parents as possible. She pulled her hair back in a ponytail, applied just a little lip gloss and her favorite scent, took one last look at herself, and let out a breath. Then she grabbed her keys and left.
Half an hour later, Rachel sat alone at a table for two, nursing a latte and wishing the café had a liquor license. It was always much easier to ask a girl out when she had a little liquid encouragement. She took a look around the room at the crowd—mostly regulars. The few new faces she saw all seemed to be coupled up except one—a hot little butch off to her left, also alone at a table for two, with earbuds in and her eyes closed and her hand keeping the beat on the table. She must be performing tonight, Rachel thought, preparing for the show.
Rachel wondered just what kind of voice that sexy creature would have. If her voice matched the rest of her, something sensual and smoky.
After listening to three performers, two of whom were angst-ridden poets Rachel hadn’t cared for and one singer who had been decent, the sexy butch across the room took the stage and Rachel paid close attention. The girl grabbed a stool and adjusted the mic to her sitting position, then pushed her hat back, a blue and white check similar to Rachel’s flannel, that looked as if she was wearing it askew on purpose.
Normally Rachel hated such purposeful affectation, but this girl made it work. Her jeans were ripped at the knee and she had a tank top on under her unbuttoned denim shirt, which revealed that she was flat chested. Rachel didn’t mind. Boobs could be fun to play with, but it was the nipple that brought the most excitement anyway, so big boobs had never been a priority for her. This girl was hot and Rachel promised herself that she wasn’t leaving the café until she had this girl’s name, number, and arm around her waist.
“Evening everyone. I’m Bobby Layton. I’m going to do a little Bonnie Raitt for you tonight. It’s a song called ‘I Will Not Be Broken.’” Then she paused, looked down, and gave a slight nod to her right to the house band, and the music started and she began to sing. Her voice was deep and soulful, full of sorrow, yet determined.
Rachel could tell that Bobby felt every word and that she must have gone through hell but had come out of it all still fighting and still sporting a cocky grin, which Rachel was sure she often wore when she wasn’t singing the blues. When the song ended, the room erupted in applause and cheers, Rachel’s among them. She let out a loud whistle of appreciation. Bobby looked in her direction and smiled and nodded. Rachel inclined her head slightly indicating the empty seat at her table. Bobby’s smile got bigger, and she walked through the café, stopping at Rachel’s table. The applause died down as the next performer took the stage.
“You were amazing! I felt every word.”
“Thank you. I’m glad. What’s your name?” As Bobby asked, they both took a seat.
“Oh, sorry. My name’s Rachel. And you’re Bobby Layton. Why does that sound familiar?”
Flashing what Rachel was sure was a flirtatious grin, Bobby said, “Well, maybe we’ve met before.”
“I don’t think so—I would have remembered. No, something about the name itself is familiar, but I can’t put my finger on it.” Rachel cocked her head to the right with a curious smile.
Bobby leaned closer and spoke softly, forcing Rachel to lean in to hear. “I’ll tell you a secret. Layton isn’t the name I was born with—I changed it.” Bobby leaned back again.
“I just wanted to distance myself from my family. So I chose the name of someone I admire.”
“And who would that be? So who was the original Bobby Layton?”
“Not was, is. He was popular before I was born. Awesome blues singer. He hasn’t recorded in years though. I just identify with him.” Bobby shrugged.
“So, I’m unfamiliar with his music. Sing me one of his songs.”
“Sing you one?”
“Yeah. Do your namesake proud.”
“I don’t know if I could do it justice.”
“Oh my God, are you blushing?”
“Nah. Okay, I’ll tell you what, I have something more appropriate in mind. Not one of Bobby Layton’s songs, but someone else’s. Something just for you.” Bobby winked and grinned, then started to sing an older song called “Wild One.”
When it was over, Rachel leaned back in her chair with one arm draped over the back of it and looked at Bobby with a cocky grin of her own. “I don’t know the song, but that seems an interesting choice for someone your age. Sounds kinda dated, don’t you think? Besides, you think you can tame me, huh?”
“Not sure I would want to or should.”
“Then why’d you sing that to me?” Rachel asked, in full flirting mode now.
Before Bobby could come up with a response, however, one of the owners, Al, came up and put her arm around Bobby’s shoulders.
“Hey, sorry to interrupt, but Bobby, my man, I need a favor.”
Bobby looked up at Al and smiled but not, Rachel noticed, the flirty grin she’d been enjoying.
“What can I do for you, Al?”
“Well, the ladies are all asking me if you’re going to perform again tonight. They really want you to. Can you do this for me?”
Bobby shot Rachel a questioning look.
Rachel cocked an eyebrow. “Go ahead—I’m not going anywhere.”
Al patted Bobby on the back. “See, she’s not leaving. What’s one more song?”
“I only prepared the one song.”
“Sing a Bobby Layton song,” Rachel said, somewhat mischievously.
“Oh, I like that,” Al agreed. “I’m sure we have women in here tonight who would love it. Come on.”
Bobby sighed and looked apologetically at Rachel. “Okay. I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll be here.”
Bobby smiled at her before taking the stage amidst more applause and whistles. Bobby didn’t grab a stool this time, just took the mic off the stand, turned around and whispered to the band, and then turned back around to speak to the audience. “All right, I’m going to do something a little different than I did last time. Some of you are cool enough to know the original Bobby Layton and so I’m gonna do one of his songs now.”
Bobby definitely had Rachel’s attention and she couldn’t take her eyes off her as she moved across the stage with ease. Every so often Bobby’s gaze would find Rachel and Rachel would catch a wink she was sure was meant only for her. She felt like a total fangirl and told herself to calm down.
When the song ended, Bobby bowed and said, “Thank you ladies,” then threw a kiss out into the audience.
As Bobby left the stage and made his way back to Rachel, Al took the stage and said, “Bobby Layton, ladies and gentlemen—give him a hand.”
The audience obliged, except for Rachel, who stopped clapping, confused. Did Al just refer to Bobby as him? Or did she just mishear amidst the applause?
When Bobby came back to their table she took a closer look to see if she could see anything different than she did before, though she wasn’t sure what that would be.
Bobby made no move to sit. “So…”
“You’re a guy?”
“Yeah.” He said cautiously, as he stood there with his hands in his pants pockets, casually waiting for her response.
Rachel nodded. “My bad, I thought you were a girl. I think my gaydar’s broken or something.” Then she laughed somewhat nervously.
“It’s okay, happens all the time. I’m trans.” His expression showed nothing and she wasn’t sure how he felt about her mistaking his gender.
“I see. So that’s why you changed your name.”
“Partly. I also really did want to distance myself from my family. My parents aren’t exactly cool with all this.”
“Uh-huh.” Rachel leaned back in her seat, almost in a daze, not sure what to say.
Bobby sat finally, a look of concern marring his features. “Are you okay?”
Shaking her head, Rachel said, “Yeah, sorry. Didn’t mean to freak out.” She tried to smile as she sat up straighter and no longer leaned away from him.
“It’s okay, I’m getting used to it. You’re not the first person to react this way and I’m sure you won’t be the last.”
“Sorry. But this doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.” Rachel attempted a smile.
Bobby chuckled derisively. “Friends?” He suddenly sounded bitter and angry. “Yeah, cause that’s totally why you invited me to your table, to be friends. And this is why I don’t date lesbians.” Abruptly, Bobby stood up from the table, knocking his chair back in the process as he stormed out the front door.
Under her breath, Rachel said, “Wow, what an ass.” As she said it however, she wasn’t sure if she was referring to him or herself.
Rachel left the café shortly thereafter, still uncertain about everything. She had really liked Bobby, thought he was hot when she thought he was a dyke. So why was it different now, she wondered? Because I’m not into dudes, it’s just that simple, she thought. Rachel knew eventually he would lose the roundness in his face and his body would square off and lose its softness—all the things she found attractive. Should she feel guilty for only being attracted to women? It was something she had known and accepted about herself since high school.
So why do I feel guilty? She had just never been attracted to men, period. Butch lesbians, sure, but that was different. Underneath the boy clothes and the short hair was still the softness and curves of a woman. There was just nothing about the male body that appealed to her. She couldn’t explain the laws of attraction any better than anyone else could; she just knew what she liked, not why.
Coupled with that was his overreaction to her comment about being friends. It was totally uncalled for and showed him to be a jerk. He sounded bitter and angry about something that really had nothing to do with her, and though she didn’t know what he had gone through with other lesbians to warrant that kind of attitude, she didn’t deserve to take the heat for whoever might have treated him badly in the past. She just didn’t need that kind of bullshit in her life.
Focusing on his negative attitude helped some to relieve the guilt she felt.
As she turned into the parking lot next to her dorm, she scanned the lot looking for an open spot as close to the door of the building as she could get. Finding a spot three rows away from the front door, she parked and got out. It was too bad, really. Bobby had been really hot. Too bad he’s an asshole, she thought.
As she made her way up to her room, she worked on putting her game face back on. By the time the elevator opened on her floor, her smile was in place and she walked with a self-assurance she did not feel. She and Rory, her best friend who’d moved to Minnesota over the summer after falling in love with one of their professors and causing a minor campus scandal, used to refer to walking down the hallway after a night out as walking the gauntlet, since there were bound to be other people milling about, looking on in judgment.
Sure enough, just as she passed Rory’s old room, the door next to it opened and Lori popped her head out her door. Lori was someone she sometimes hung out with and slept with when the mood struck her, though they hadn’t hooked up in months. Lori had started to become clingy and possessive and hadn’t been able to handle just keeping things casual. When Rachel told her she didn’t want to continue sleeping with her anymore, Lori took it hard for a while but she seemed to have gotten over it and they had worked their way into a tolerable friendship.
“Rach, you’re home early.”
Rachel stopped to chat, making sure the smile was firmly in place. “Yeah, slim pickings tonight. Everyone was already coupled up. No single ladies.” She said the last in the style of Beyoncé and Lori smiled.
“I see why you left early. Come in, Molly and Lanie are here—I made Jell-O.” Lori’s eyes danced mischievously and probably a bit drunkenly, Rachel thought.
“I don’t like Jell-O.”
“Everyone likes Jell-O shots, silly.” Lori tugged on her arm.
“Jell-O shots? Why didn’t you say so? There’s always room for Jell-O shots.” Rachel allowed herself to be pulled into the room with the other girls. She knew if she played her cards right, she could have Lori sleeping in her bed before the night was over, but she also knew she didn’t want to go down that road again. She wasn’t that desperate. Maybe she would just drink a few shots and go back to her room, alone.
On Saturday, Rachel decided to stay in and once again found herself in Lori’s room. Tonight, it was Jagerbombs. Not Rachel’s favorite at all—she hated both components of the drink. She politely declined, preferring just soda for once. She let the chatter surround her head like a dense fog. When one of the girls, Molly, she thought, suggested pizza, she came alert enough to put her two cents worth in the vote for toppings.
It was agreed they would order from the place closest to campus and Rachel zoned out again. She had thought about calling Rory earlier in the day, but to say what? Yeah, I made an ass of myself in front of this person I think is really hot, even if he is kind of a jerk and he probably hates me now. How was your day? But she’d decided against it. She wasn’t sure how to explain the fact that she might be attracted to a guy.
When the knock came a half hour later, Rachel was the one sitting closest to the door, so she answered it. For a moment, she thought her mind was playing tricks on her. Then she remembered that she was stone-cold sober. Standing in front of her, with a leather warming bag in one hand and a receipt in the other, was Bobby, still as hot as he had been the night before, the red and black uniform not distracting from his attractiveness at all.
Rachel couldn’t speak for a moment and it looked like Bobby was surprised as well, but he recovered first.
“Hi—I got one pepperoni and sausage and one cheese, medium. That’ll be $25.84.”
“Oh, yeah, here.” Rachel pulled out her wallet from her back pocket and called, “I got this, guys,” to the group over her shoulder, which had all gone silent staring at Bobby. She handed him two bills and said, “Keep the change.”
Bobby’s face was unreadable. “Thanks.” He took the money from Rachel’s hand and handed her the pizza. “Actually, I’ll give up my tip if you give me your number instead.” Bobby grinned and the girls behind Rachel could barely contain themselves.
“Seriously? You didn’t just seriously ask me for my number?”
“Yeah, I did. I probably should have led with the apology first, dammit.” Bobby looked away from her.
“Hold that thought.” She turned and set the boxes on the chair she had been sitting on, then stepped back into the hallway, ignoring the looks from the other girls, and closed the door behind her, positive her friends would immediately go quiet so that they could eavesdrop. “Okay, apology time.”
“I was kind of a jerk to you and I’m sorry.”
“Kind of a jerk? You were kind of an asshole, actually. I liked you and I didn’t deserve that.” She crossed her arms in front of her chest defiantly.
Bobby looked down at his shoes again. “I know. I would like the chance to make it up to you.”
Rachel sighed. “I don’t know. I mean, putting your rudeness aside for the moment, there’s also the fact—as you obviously know—I’m a lesbian. That’s the only reason I backed off flirting with you. Not because of some bullshit anti-trans thing or whatever you’re thinking. I just don’t date guys, whether they were assigned that way at birth or not. I’m sorry.”
“Look, I’m not asking you to change your identity, just your mind.”
“And forgive you for putting me in the category of all the bitchy lesbians you know?”
“That’s a lot to ask.”
Rachel ran her hands through her hair and sighed. “Dammit to hell.”
“Don’t look so confident. I’m not giving you my number because I’m suddenly straight or because I suddenly forgive you.”
“Then why are you giving me your number?”
“I never said I was.”
“But you’re thinking about it.” The playful smile never left Bobby’s face.
“You think you’re charming, don’t you?”
“Baby, I know I’m charming.”
“Oh my God! You are fucking exasperating is what you are.” Rachel rolled her eyes.
“That’s one of my better qualities.”
“Does this charm thing you’re trying to do actually work? I mean, are girls actually impressed by this?” Rachel asked.
“I’ll let you know.”
Neither one said anything for a moment. Finally, Bobby set the warming bag down and held the receipt against the wall and proceeded to write something down. As he wrote he said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you my number and if you think you can forgive me and might want to just get to know me better and see what happens, you can call me. It’ll all be up to you.”
He stood back from the door and handed Rachel the receipt. With a smile, she reached for it but at the last second, he folded his fingers, moving the paper out of her reach. He wasn’t as tall as Rory but he was still taller than her.
“You gonna call me?”
“Maybe. I haven’t decided if I want to forgive you yet.” With a quick move, Rachel jumped and snatched the paper from his hand, then opened the door and ducked back into the room. She wasn’t sure what was worse, the cocky grin on his face or the questions she knew the girls were going to ask.
As Rachel had expected, the girls in the room wanted all the details, and the questions started as soon as the door closed and came in rapid-fire succession.
“How do you know her?” Lori asked.
“Him,” Rachel stated.
“She’s gorgeous,” Molly gushed.
“His name is Bobby.”
“Did she just ask you out?” Lori again.
“He kinda did.”
“Wait, why do you keep saying he?” Lainie asked.
“Because he’s a guy.”
“What? Really? No way!” Molly again.
“Yes, he’s trans.” Rachel regretted saying it as soon as it was out of her mouth.
“And he just asked you out? What’d you say?” Molly seemed almost overeager for details.
“What do you think she said? She said no. She doesn’t date guys,” said Lori, with her arms crossed over her chest.
“That’s true,” Molly agreed. “Too bad, he was sexy though. Did you see those eyes? Gorgeous.”
“Wait, so he’s only cute when you think he’s a she?” Rachel demanded. “Are you saying his gender determines his hotness? I don’t get that, please explain that to me.” Rachel was starting to get annoyed, though she wasn’t sure why. They weren’t acting any worse than she had the night she’d met Bobby. Maybe I’m mad at them because I still feel guilty for the way I acted. Geez, paging Dr. Freud.
“Well, you know, he’s a guy…You should know by now what the definition of lesbian is.” Lori stood over Rachel, still with her arms crossed, as if she was challenging Rachel to defy her logic.
Rachel stood up and faced her. Lori might have had her in height by a couple of inches, most people did, but Rachel knew she could be more intimidating. “Since when does the definition of lesbian include narrow-minded and prejudiced?”
“You sound like you’re considering going out with him. That’s quite a surprise. The Rachel I know only dates, or fucks, girls.” Lori sneered at her.
“Lori, don’t think just because I’ve fucked you that you know me. You don’t know shit.”
“Obviously. So, what are you saying, are you bi now or something?”
“No. I’m still the same person I always was.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Fuck you, Lori. Actually, unfuck you. I really wish that were possible.” With that, she slammed out of the room and went back to her own. She was pissed at how the whole confrontation with Lori had gone down. She needed her best friend.
It was still kind of early, not even ten, so she didn’t worry that she would be bothering Rory. Since Rory was so far away, a phone call was the best she could manage. Before she had left, Rory had told her that she could call whenever she wanted, and if she wasn’t busy, she would always answer. So hoping Rory and Maggie weren’t on a date or something, Rachel hit speed dial.
“Hey, how’s my BFF?” Rory asked.
Rachel was amused. “Since when do you use current slang?”
“You’re right, it’s not me, is it?” There was the usual humor in Rory’s voice and it put Rachel at her ease.
“No. Just go back to being outdated. I like you better that way.”
“Fine. Being trendy is too much work anyway.”
“That’s why I ignore trends and just do me. So, am I interrupting anything?” Rachel asked sincerely, but hoping Rory would say no.
“No, I can take care of Maggie and talk to you at the same time.” Rory snickered.
“I don’t know whether to be grossed out, offended on her behalf, or impressed.”
This time Rory laughed out loud. “Get your mind out of the gutter. I just meant that she has the flu.”
“You jerk. You did that on purpose.”
“I would never. So, why’d you call, anyway?”
Rachel told her about how she had been attracted to Bobby when she thought he was a girl, but then made an ass of herself after she found out the truth, him being a major jerk, then the accidental meeting over pizza and how he had apologized and given her his number. She told her about the girls’ reactions and her response to them. Rory listened to it all, only muttering assurances that she was still listening.
“Okay. That’s why I called.”
“Rachel—screw them.” Rory sounded indignant. “If you like him, nothing else matters. Maybe ask him why he reacted that way to you. I’m not trying to excuse him, but there’s bound to be a reason.”
“Yeah, but putting that aside for the moment, I’m not bi or pansexual or any other new term. I’m just plain old boring gay. I can’t pretend I’m not.”
“Did he ask you to?”
“Well, no. But it wouldn’t be right.”
“In what way?”
“In a lot of ways, but Rory, think about this. The more he starts to look like a guy I’m probably not going to think he’s so cute or want to date him. I know that makes me shallow and small-minded, but that’s just how it is. Like I told him, it’s not an anti-trans thing, I just don’t date men, period.”
“Well, let me ask you this. Rachel, do you like him?”
Rachel sighed. “It all comes back to that, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does. That’s the only thing you should think about.”
“Yes, but, what if it’d been you instead of me? Would you have gone out with him?”
Rory took a moment before she responded. Then, “I know the right thing to say is yes, but to be honest, I can’t say for sure. I understand where you’re coming from, I do. I mean, I want to be the type of person who says I would only date someone I truly connected with and their body and their label wouldn’t matter. I wish I could say that, but that’s just not me and it doesn’t have to be you either. Attraction should not be based on political correctness. That being said, you just gotta go with your gut on this one. I wish I had a better answer for you.”
Rachel sighed. “No, that makes sense. Let me think on it some more.”
“I’m sorry I don’t have better advice than that. Just don’t take too long. The hot ones get snatched up quickly.”
“Oh, like you’re an expert. I’m sure Maggie would have waited for you, had you foolishly been dating someone else.”
“You’re assuming I’m the hot one in this relationship. Rachel, I’m attractive…but Maggie’s gorgeous.”
A silence fell between them.
Finally, Rachel broke it. “I’ll take your word for it. Thank you—thank you for answering.”
“Anytime. Just relax, think it through, and don’t worry about living up to anyone else’s expectations.”
“I know. I guess I should let you get back to Maggie now.”
“Yeah. The doc needs some doctoring and much TLC. Keep me posted.”
So after having spent the night thinking it over, Rachel decided to give Bobby a call. But not before she got up, brushed her teeth and her wild hair, and made sure her voice didn’t sound sleepy. She hadn’t actually read what he had written the night before. Now she smiled as she studied the receipt. Call me, Wild One. I promise, I won’t try to tame you.
Rachel laughed and shook her head. “You are such a dork. What the hell.” She took her phone off her desk and dialed the number written on the receipt.
“So, is Wild One my nickname now, or something? Cause if so, I need to know so that I can live up to it.”
Bobby chuckled. “Good morning, Rachel. And who says you haven’t already?”
“Really? What have I done that’s so wild?”
“Well, you called me, for one.”
“And that makes me wild?” Rachel asked, somewhat incredulously.
“It might to some people. Like your friends,” Bobby said quietly.
“Fuck ’em. They don’t make my decisions for me. If I want to get to know you better and see what happens, that’s my business.”
“Fair enough. So does this mean that you forgive me?” Bobby asked sincerely.
“On whether or not you will judge me based on how other girls have treated you. I’m not an asshole to people—at least, I try not to be. I may be wild sometimes, as you claim, and I have been told I don’t have a filter, whatever the fuck that means, but I do my best to treat people with respect. Now I will get off my soapbox long enough to say, if you can take me as I am, I will do the same for you. I want to hang out with you today. I don’t know if I’m ready to call it a date or not, but pick me up and we’ll see what happens. Fair enough?”
“Yeah, more than fair.”
“Good. Now get over here.”
Chuckling, Bobby said, “Yes ma’am.”
They decided to take a walk together and the place they chose was the campus lake, though it was more like a pond, really. It was a lovely setting, surrounded as it was by trees, the occasional bench, hills, and about two dozen ducks, who were currently eyeing Rachel and Bobby to see if they had any food to offer. When the humans made no attempt to offer them anything, the ducks went away disappointed.
Rachel was amused that they were dressed similarly in jeans and flannel, owing much to the fall weather. Bobby walked with his hands behind his back, as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
“You know if you’re curious, you can ask me things. If you’re worried about getting too personal, don’t. If I don’t want to answer, I’ll say so.”
“Okay. There is something I’ve been wondering.”
“Why…why pick some guy no one remembers as your idol?”
Bobby laughed. “That’s what you want to ask me?”
“Yeah. I mean, what’s the appeal?”
“Well, I like his songs. And you’re right, no one remembers him and I think that’s sad. Heck, he’s not even dead.”
“Do you write your own songs?”
“Yeah. I haven’t sung them in public in a while though.”
“Ah, you know how it is.” Bobby unclasped his hands and let them fall loosely at his sides as he kicked at a clump of dirt.
Rachel thought he was suddenly shy and she found it adorable. “No, I don’t know. Maybe the real question is, do you want to spend the rest of your life singing someone else’s songs and living with someone else’s name, or do you want to make a name for yourself singing your own songs?” She brushed a strand of hair which had fallen in her eyes away from her face.
“Wow, the questions you ask, Rachel Cole.”
“Wow, the questions you evade, Bobby Layton.”
Bobby laughed. “Touché. I do want to sing my own songs. What, you don’t like my name?”
“Oh, I think it’s fine and I have no business telling you to change it. I was just making the point that if you’re going to be a man, be your own man.”
“You pull no punches, I’ll give you that. Don’t you have any questions about my transition?”
On impulse, Rachel grabbed his hand. He looked at their clasped hands and smiled but didn’t say anything. “I had considered it, but I figured that’s probably all you’ve talked about lately. Thought you might like a change of pace.”
“I suppose that’s true. People seem to forget I have other interests.”
“So, tell me about some of your other interests.”
Bobby stopped walking and looked into Rachel’s eyes. “I’m interested in you.”
Rachel smiled. “Well of course, that goes without saying.”
Bobby laughed, then leaned down and very gently kissed her on the lips. Then he stepped back to look at her face. “You okay?”
She wasn’t sure what she expected kissing him to be like. She had no frame of reference for kissing a guy. She supposed it was a good thing that his face wasn’t scratchy with beard stubble. All in all though, it was just a nice, sweet kiss. “You have nice lips, Bobby Layton.”
“Thank you, Rachel, so do you. Can I kiss you again?”
She surprised herself by saying, “Yes.”
Instead of kissing her, however, he stepped away. “Good. Maybe later.”
“You’re a dork, but you’re also a very sweet boy.”
“Does this mean you forgive me?”
“Don’t know yet.” On impulse, Rachel dropped his hand and put her arms around his waist. She suddenly wanted to feel him next to her. He seemed somewhat surprised but obliged by putting both arms around her waist as well. Rachel put one hand on his chest and felt the flatness but felt something else also. “How many shirts are you wearing?”
“Under the flannel I have a T-shirt, a compression shirt, and a bra.”
“Compression? Does it hurt?”
“Sometimes. Especially if I wear it longer than I should, which is most of the time.” He gave a lopsided smile, then brushed a strand of hair off Rachel’s cheek.
“Why do you do it?”
“Because I don’t want to be a guy with tits. And it’ll be a while before I can afford the surgery.”
“You mean a double mastectomy, don’t you?”
She threw her arms around him and hugged him. He returned her hug and buried his face in her hair. She wasn’t sure why she was suddenly getting emotional, but she knew she hated what he must have to go through to feel comfortable in his own skin. After a moment, she pulled away and said, “Come on Sweet Boy, I’m hungry.”
“So, how’d it go?”
After Bobby dropped Rachel off at her dorm with a nice, long, slow, sensual kiss, she called Rory. Rory asked her question before Rachel could get out anything more than hello.
“How’d you know I went out with him?”
“Because I know you.” Rachel could hear the humor in Rory’s voice and could picture the grin on her face.
“What do you mean by that?”
Rory chuckled. “I know you like him and when you like someone you don’t give up.”
“That makes me sound like a hunter hunting my prey.”
“If the Day-Glo orange vest fits.”
“See, I could never be a hunter. I could never wear something as horrid as Day-Glo orange or camouflage.”
“That’s true. So, give me all the details,” Rory asked, sounding amused.
“Ugh, now you sound just like the girls down the hall.”
“Do I? My apologies. I guess I’ve been hanging around you too long.”
“Do you want to hear this story or not?”
Chuckling, Rory said, “I’m sorry, go on.”
“Thank you. Okay, anyway, first off, I gotta say, after giving him a second chance I can say that he is actually one of the sweetest people I’ve ever gone out with, but also a big dork.” Rachel immediately felt like she was gushing but couldn’t help it and really didn’t want to stop.
“So you have a lot in common.”
“Aww, you think I’m sweet. Now stop interrupting.” Rachel told Rory all about the date, concluding with the kiss.
“You left out the best part.”
“No, I told you all the juicy details.”
“You didn’t mention if you’re going to see him again.”
“Oh, that. I’m not sure yet.”
“After all that, you’re not sure? How can you not be sure?”
At the moment, Rachel wished that she had been born earlier because she really wanted a phone cord to twirl around her fingers right about now. It was hard to show nervous agitation when talking on a cell phone. She settled for twirling a pen from one finger to the other with her free hand. Somehow, hemming and hawing was easier when you had something to do with your hands.
“Come on, Rachel, you can tell me. No judgment here, I hope you know that.”
“I do.” Rachel sighed. “Okay, here it is. I just don’t know if I’m up to this. Do you know the life he has in front of him?”
“I’m beginning to. He told me he has to be on hormone shots for the rest of his life. Plus, he could wait for years to have the surgeries he needs because insurance won’t pay. In the meantime, he has to be physically uncomfortable because of all the crap he has to wear just to feel comfortable in his own skin. To say nothing of stupid people like me mistaking his gender.”
“First of all, you’re not stupid, you made an honest mistake. The fact that he still wants to go out with you means that it didn’t bother him, so don’t beat yourself up over it. The really stupid people are the ones who deliberately call him and others by the wrong gender.”
“People are assholes.”
“Not all, but a fair amount,” Rory said reasonably.
“So how do you know so much about it, anyway?”
“There’s a social justice group I’ve become involved with up here. I’ve met a lot of great people. Several of them are trans. I’ve learned a lot. And you’re right about his road ahead—it won’t be easy. He’ll need a good support system behind him.”
“Yeah, and I just don’t know if I’m strong enough.” Rachel sulked.
“Why do you think you’re not strong enough?”
“Rory, I couldn’t handle the thought of all he goes through just to flatten his chest. How am I supposed to handle everything else?” By now Rachel was pacing back and forth.
“Well, I do commend your caution. The last thing he’s going to need is someone who flakes out on him.”
“But, that being said, you’d be surprised what you can handle when you care about someone.”
“That sounds almost like a Christian platitude. That’s not like you.”
Rory laughed. “Okay fine. How about this—get your shit together and don’t make that sweet boy wait too long before you let him know either way.”
“Now see, that’s advice I can use.”
“I meant it about no judgment. Just don’t be an ass.”
“Okay, that’s enough practical wisdom for one day,” Rachel said matter-of-factly.
Monday arrived, and Rachel hadn’t called Bobby but she’d texted him a few times in response to his inquires—whether or not she was okay, and when she wanted to get together again. She had put him off with a vague reply about having a lot of work to do and she would get back to him, which she was sure he saw through, but he didn’t push the issue, for which she was grateful. But she couldn’t help it. She didn’t know what to do. She liked him but did she like him enough to go on his journey with him? Did she like him enough to allow others to make assumptions about her identity? It was bad enough that as a femme lesbian people already thought she was straight. If she was on Bobby’s arm it would be a constant fight to keep her identity in place against an ignorant, narrow-minded society who thought their view was the only right and true one.
Monday afternoon Rachel walked into her stage combat class, the one she and Rory had been planning to take together, barely there, her mind full of thoughts of Bobby. The stage combat class was her favorite class, and she was discovering that she really liked sword fighting and the artful dance that was the well-choreographed fight scene.
Class was held in one of the multipurpose rooms in the theater building, as most days they didn’t need desks, just open space for sparring. They had met the first day in the same classroom in which Rory had met Maggie, which was fitting, considering that the class was taught by Maggie’s replacement, Dr. Louise Silver. Dr. Silver was quickly becoming Rachel’s favorite professor, though not in the same way Maggie had become Rory’s. Not because she wasn’t attractive, she was. Rachel had always been a sucker for curls, and Dr. Silver had a head full of honey blond ones. But she just didn’t go for older women. She did, however, adore Dr. Silver for a reason that had nothing to do with her looks. She was a total badass and knew what she was talking about. Plus, she was funny.
On the first day of class she had said, “Hello, everyone. I’m Dr. Silver and I’m your new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.” The class had laughed appreciatively. Dr. Silver ruffled through the papers she had brought, pretending to look confused. “Wait, is that right? Am I in the wrong class?”
Rachel had muttered, “Great, she’s probably a Death Eater or something.” Some of her classmates chuckled.
Dr. Silver cocked her head and grinned. “I prefer to think I’m closer to Professor McGonagall than one of those, but I guess only time will tell, won’t it?”
Rachel liked that she could joke around with her professor—so many of her professors seemed to be more on the conservative side, and joking was not something they did. Plus, her referencing Harry Potter proved to Rachel that she was probably a big geek, and though she wasn’t one herself, Rachel could appreciate geekiness. Rory was kind of a geek and was often making references to geeky things that Rachel knew nothing about.
Now, with the fifth week of class starting, Dr. Silver was teaching Rachel and the rest of the class how to be just as badass as she was. Or, at least, that was Rachel’s goal. She knew Dr. Silver knew her way around a sword and was confident the woman could hold her own in a fight—a real one, not just onstage—even though she didn’t look the part of a fierce warrior. She looked like the academic she usually was. She wasn’t much taller than Rachel, maybe five-foot-six or so, with dark blond curls that went every which way if she didn’t batten them down during class. And when she referenced something geeky, which she often did, her face danced with such delight, it was just hard to believe she was capable of kicking anyone’s ass.
Dr. Silver had suggested to the class that they study types of movement in their spare time that she wouldn’t be covering during the semester, but that might be beneficial to their stage-fighting toolkits. All her recommendations were activities that involved coordination and flexibility, such as dancing, rock climbing, yoga, and martial arts.
Dr. Silver practiced a style of kung fu known as Wushu and had shown the class some videos of herself and others doing some of the movements. Rachel thought it looked lovely and more like dancing instead of fighting, it was so elegant. What really captivated her, however, was the fierce look on Dr. Silver’s face during her routines. Though her body was doing delicate things, her face was set in a determination that said, Don’t fuck with me. That’s the kind of badass Rachel wanted to be.
But all that being said, she wasn’t sure how these extracurricular activities would help with stage combat.
“Sensei, why should we learn this?”
Dr. Silver gave her the biggest of grins. “If you are going to use martial arts terminology to refer to me, please be sure to use the correct one. What you want to say is sifu. And to answer your question, Rachel, because it will teach you to be light on your feet. Plus, it’s just a really cool thing to know.” Dr. Silver cocked her head to the side, almost in a way that invited a challenge, but Rachel knew better.
“Just to be clear, did you say sure food? Cause that sounds more like a grocery store than a term of respect.”
“Close, Shǎguā, but drop the d.”
“What did you call me?”
“Shǎguā. It’s a Mandarin term. Look it up.” The grin never wavered from Dr. Silver’s face as she walked away from Rachel, who could only stand there looking puzzled.
“Mandarin? Geez, how many languages do you know?”
Dr. Silver turned and gave her a look she couldn’t read. All she said was, “Enough,” then turned back to the class. Rachel wasn’t sure if Dr. Silver was answering her question or admonishing her.
When Dr. Silver had her back turned, Rachel quickly pulled out her phone and typed a phonetic spelling of the word she had been called into the internet search bar but nothing came up in the search. “Hey, Dr. Silver, how can I look it up if I don’t know how to spell it?”
Dr. Silver turned around with an amused sigh. “Ah, the question students have asked throughout the ages. How’d you spell it?” Rachel turned her phone around and showed her the screen. “Ah, I see what you did there. You have to put U in there.”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re insulting me?”
“Rachel, I am a respected professor and well thought of in my field. I would never insult my students, all of whom I have nothing but respect for.” Then she winked.
Just as Dr. Silver was walking away, Rachel found the proper spelling of the word and cried out, “Hey! That wasn’t nice!” Yet she couldn’t help but be amused. She had been acting silly and figured she kind of deserved the insult.
With her ever-present grin, Dr. Silver faced Rachel and bowed and said something else in Chinese.
“You knew that one, huh?”
“Figured it out.”
“Good show, Rachel, good show. Now can I get back to the rest of class?”
“Go ahead, don’t let me stop you.”
They shared a smile as Dr. Silver walked away. Rachel’s thoughts briefly returned to Bobby again and she realized that she should stop avoiding him and just call or text him. She really had had a good time with him and he was a really good kisser. Dr. Silver’s right. I am a simpleton. Even though she knew she should be paying attention to what Dr. Silver was saying, something about a war fan, whatever that was, she couldn’t wait any longer. She pulled her phone back out and texted Bobby. I’m sorry I’ve been unavailable the last couple of days. Forgive me? Can we get together one day this week?
The reply took several minutes. Just when Rachel was about to give up and put the phone back in her pocket, her phone vibrated and the notice appeared on her home screen that Bobby had replied. Forgiven. I understand you’re busy. I don’t expect or need constant contact. Yes. When?
Rachel could feel the grin on her face she couldn’t suppress. She replied, I have no classes tomorrow. Are you busy then?
I have to work tomorrow night at six but I am free until then. What do you want to do?
Fast forward through the twenty minutes where we ask that question back and forth and get to the part where I just say I want to hang out with you. Talk. Ask you more embarrassing questions.
LOL. Okay. How’s one or so?
Rachel jerked her head up at the sound of her name and quickly put her phone in her pocket before she tuned back in to Dr. Silver trying to get her attention. “Yes? What?”
“I know for a fact that this class costs more than your cell phone plan, so one would think you would want to be in this moment, with the rest of us, instead of with whoever is on the other end of that conversation. I am requesting your attention for another thirty minutes, at least.”
“Sorry Dr. Silver. Won’t happen again.”
Bobby had shown up at her dorm an hour ago, and now Rachel was lounging with her back against her headboard, her knees drawn up to her chest. Bobby was lying at the end of the bed, in the far corner, looking at her with a mysterious smile on his face.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
The smile didn’t waver when he said, “No reason,” and just shook his head.
“I think I know what that smile means.”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“What’s it mean?”
“I think you’re thinking about the fact that I let you on my bed and you’re wondering just how much more I’ll let you get away with.” She flashed him a smile of her own.
“No, I wasn’t thinking that.”
“Okay, then what were you thinking?”
“I see the embarrassing questions portion of the day has started.” Bobby shifted and readjusted himself in the corner. His movement made Rachel laugh.
“Well, how embarrassing could it be if you weren’t thinking of taking advantage of me? And why weren’t you thinking of taking advantage of me?”
“Too early for that.” Bobby didn’t sound like he was teasing. “I mean, early in the sense of knowing you.” Bobby shrugged.
“Aww.” They shared a smile. Rachel extended her legs and poked him in the knee with her toes, which was the only part of her body she could reach with if she didn’t want to change position, and she didn’t, and asked, “So, seriously, what’s going through that head of yours?”
“Nothing, really—I’m just glad you texted, Rachel. I was wondering if you would. I mean, like I said, I’m not the type of guy who needs to talk to you every day or who gets worried if it takes all day for a text back. But I know you’ve had your issues with me and I respect that too.” This time, Bobby gave her a soft smile and put his hand on top of her denim-clad leg.
“It’s not so much that I have issues with you, but I’d be an idiot if I let some bullshit label stand in the way of getting to know you better.”
“And your friends?”
“What about them?”
“I got the impression they were, at the very least, fascinated by me, and at the most, probably nosy as hell.”
Rachel laughed. “Yeah, that’s putting it mildly. As I said before, I don’t care what those nosy wenches think. They don’t control what I do and they’re not really my friends. They’re just people I get bored enough to hang out with sometimes. I really only have one true friend and she and her future wife moved away over the summer. And I know they support me and have my back.”
Bobby looked concerned. “So you’re alone here, then?”
“Well, in a way, but Rory, that’s my best friend, she and I talk a lot. That’s your heads-up, by the way. If you’re going to be a part of my life, you have to know how much she and I talk.”
“She sounds very important to you.”
“She is. She’s awesome. I hope you get to meet her. She’s a big reason why I called you in the first place, you know?”
“Yeah. She told me to stop being an ass.”
Bobby laughed. “She sounds very wise.”
“And you love her very much.” Bobby looked at her askance.
“Yeah, like I said, she’s my best friend. I mean, she’s definitely someone I could see myself dating—we’ve always had a great connection. But that kind of relationship was just not in the cards for us and that’s okay.” Rachel shrugged, looking almost wistful.
“Rachel, it’s okay if it’s more than that. Well, not okay in the sense that I want to compete with her, I mean, just okay in the sense of, I understand.”
“I think you mean that.”
“I do. I just try to take people for who they are and not expect them to be something they’re not. That just leads to disappointment when you realize people aren’t who you thought they were.” He shrugged.
“You’re like Zen or something. Do you meditate?”
Bobby gave a surprised laugh. “I do, actually, but I’ve also spent too much time wishing people were different. One day I just realized that I need to accept them for who they are—once I know who that is—and make a quick decision if who they are is someone I want to know or not. There’s very little about a person I can’t tolerate.”
“So what can’t you tolerate?” Rachel asked.
“You know, the big stuff—violence, bigotry, racism, hatred, sexism, homophobia. That kind of thing.”
“But those aren’t personality traits, those are beliefs or behaviors.”
“Exactly. Why should I care if a roommate doesn’t always do all their dishes or leaves their socks on the living room floor if they’re nice to old people and puppies?”
Rachel laughed. “Old people and puppies?”
“Yes. Let the little shit go and concentrate on what really matters.”
“I think I get it.” They said nothing for a moment, and then Rachel cocked her head to the left and said, “Bobby, come here.”
Bobby said nothing. He just slowly climbed on top of her, putting one hand on either side of her, and reached up before she could say another word and kissed her softly on the lips.
Rachel put her arms around his neck and scooted down lower so she was now underneath him. “It would be really awesome if you just stayed here and did that for the next several hours.”
“So now am I forgiven?”
“We’ll see. Shh.” Rachel pulled him back to her, and before he could respond, she was sucking his bottom lip into her mouth and he moaned against her. Though the kissing intensified and Rachel knew for a fact she bore visible evidence of the make-out session on her neck, she was somewhat surprised when Bobby seemed content to not breach the barrier of her clothing. But it made her feel good at the same time. It was her own libido she had to restrain instead of fighting off his. It was a nice change of pace. She relaxed into the moment and loved every second of it.
She still wasn’t sure what this meant about her sexual identity, but at the moment, she also didn’t care. Fuck labels.
Once Bobby left to go to work, Rachel retrieved her cell phone from the floor where it had fallen while they were kissing and saw that she had missed a few messages from Lori, which she ignored, and one call from Rory.
“Hey, the prodigal lesbian returns my call!”
“What did you just call me?”
“Which word is tripping you up, prodigal or lesbian?” Rory quipped.
“Allow me to respond to your not so clever jibe with an eighties retort. That was so funny, I forgot to laugh.”
“Whatever, Shorty, I’m hilarious. You know it.”
Rachel retorted with a line from a Bette Midler classic.
Rory groaned and said, “Great, now I have to resist the urge to start singing. Thanks for that earworm.”
“You’re welcome! So, anyway, why’d you call?”
“Yeah, I just wanted to check in and see how things were going with BobbyGate.”
“There you go being clever again. How Maggie can stand living with you and not just laugh herself silly all day long, I’ll never know.”
“Amazingly, she somehow manages.”
“I know, right? So tell me,” Rory said, serious for the first time since she answered the phone.
“What can I say? So far, I’ve managed to keep my clothes on.”
“Wow, you must really like him.”
Rachel sighed. “Yeah. But, more importantly, he really likes me. He’s actually a nice guy and it’s not about how great of a kisser he is, though he is really skilled in that area.”
“It was never about that.”
“No, no it wasn’t. Rory, he’s just super nice and kind of shy and he accepts all my craziness. And still comes back for more.”
“Good. You deserve someone nice.”
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still have my hang-ups, those aren’t gone, but I want to explore this.”
“Maybe you’ll find out something about yourself that you never knew before.”
“What, that I like guys? I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think he’s just an exception to the rule.”
“Anything’s possible, but that’s not exactly what I meant.”
“Okay, so what did you mean?” Rachel asked, confused.
“I just meant that you are able to look beyond the surface and see a person for who they really are and if they are worth knowing.”
“Holy shit, that was freaky.”
“Finally, after years of trying and failing, I’m dating you. Holy shit!”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Well, Bobby said something really similar earlier about seeing people for who they really are. It just weirded me out hearing you say basically the same thing. I mean, I know you’re not exactly alike, but I had no idea you guys were alike at all.” Rachel was smiling, happy at the revelation.
“Oh my God, does he have curly red hair too?”
“Fuck you, Merida, that’s not even funny. Ginger women are gorgeous, ginger men not so much. Don’t even joke about that.”
Rory was laughing. “I think you’re being a little too hard on the Ron Weasleys of the world, don’t you?”
“No, I do not. Okay, I should let you go for now. I’m sorry if I interrupted dinner prep or something.”
“You did not. I’m not cooking tonight. Maggie is teaching until ten, so it’s leftover night. I was just sitting here reading.”
“Got it. I’m sorry that I never ask you about your classes or your relationship. I’ve been selfish lately.”
“No, you haven’t. You’ve just had more going on than me. My life is busy but pretty settled. I’m enjoying my classes and my relationship is awesome. There, all caught up.”
“God, you guys just ooze cuteness. Have you even had an argument yet?”
“Yeah, actually, our first argument was before we left Illinois. We came really close to breaking up, all over a stupid misunderstanding. Since then we really don’t fight. We talk to each other if we feel like something is bothering us. We don’t let things fester. That being said, we still get annoyed with each other sometimes. But when we do, we try to quickly realize that by the time we get annoyed with each other it’s because other things from outside stressors have just piled up, and me leaving my dirty dishes on the coffee table since breakfast is just the last thing Maggie needed to see that day. We give each other the space to be annoyed because we know that’s going to happen. We’re not the perfect couple—we just know how to handle our shit.”
“Wow, you sound like a mature adult or something.”
“And it’s gone.” Rachel chuckled.
“Whatever. But in all seriousness, I hope this works out for you.”
“Thank you. Hey, Rory?”
“I really am happy for you too. I’m glad you have Maggie.”
“I know you are.”
Rachel smiled. “Talk to you later.”