Dad is very unhappy that I’ve used all the hot water. He complains at my door for a couple minutes before he stops, knocks again, and asks if I’m ok. He should’ve asked twelve hours ago.
I get up from my armchair, wrapped in blankets, to open the door a few inches and stare at his throat.
“Is something wrong? Are you sick?”
I shrug, and glance at the drying vomit on my rug. Everything feels wrong, like all of reality has been replaced with a cheap imitation.
“You look very pale. Should I call the doctor?”
“I don’t know. I’m tired.”
His brow is wrinkled up in genuine worry. “Okay, I’ll give your teacher a call, you take a sick day and rest.”
I nod very slightly.
“And Lucas…” He pauses when I wince. Why can’t he listen? “Uh…Luca…I’m sorry.”
I’m a little surprised. No detail, but it sounds like an honest apology.
Then he continues. “I shouldn’t have said those things last night. I stayed up late reading about, um, transgender…gender dysphoria and everything. I don’t want to hurt you. I just don’t understand.”
Now I’m really surprised. Even with family therapy, the year since Mom died has left us drifting apart, and we were never close to begin with. I hoped coming out might change that, and those hopes have been revived.
“I need to leave for work now, can we talk more when I get home?”
I nod again, still don’t make eye contact.
“Take care of yourself, text if you need anything.” He pats my shoulder, and then says goodbye and hurries out the front door.
Returning to my armchair, I stare at the open pocketknife on the table beside me. Slowly I pick it up and fold the blade shut. Instead of falling off a cliff, now I feel like I’m hanging onto a ledge. Maybe I’m catastrophizing. The therapist did warn me about that.
My phone buzzes with a notification and I grab it off the table. It’s a text from Aylen.
Where u at?
Regular sick or anxious sick?
Idk. I’m freezing cold and I can’t get warm. Last night was weird. I puked and then passed out on the floor, and this morning I used up all the hot water in the shower and I’m still cold.
Wtf? Ur always too warm
Yeah, right? Also my window randomly broke and there’s glass all over the bed.
Are u hurt?
Srsly Luca, are u in pain?
Is ur dad home?
He went to work.
I’m on my way
I’m ok, you don’t need to skip school.
I’ll be there in 30 min
If Aylen says she’ll do something, she does it. Half an hour later she rings the doorbell and I let her in, still swaddled in my blankets. She’s breathing heavily after riding her bike over from school, and her hair is a fuzzy mess.
She squeezes me in a hug through my insulation and then we sit in the living room. “So what exactly happened last night?” she asks. “What hurts?”
I tell her how I tried on the clothes, decided to come out to Dad, and how bad it went. She curses at him but relaxes a bit when I tell her what he said this morning. I try to explain what happened in my room, and the pain that’s finally starting to fade, but I kind of downplay it because in the daylight it sounds so weird. When she’s caught up, we go back to my room.
“Watch out for the vomit on the rug,” I warn.
She barely pays it any attention and steps around it. “What breaks a window like that?” she asks. “It looks like someone bashed it in from outside.”
“All I can think of is wind.” A fir tree in the backyard stands relatively close to the house, but none of its branches can reach the window. “Or maybe a bird. I didn’t see anything though.”
Aylen gathers the blanket on my bed from the edges to form a sack with the broken glass inside. Then she climbs on the mattress on her knees, and looks closely at the window frame and jagged remnants of glass. She leans out, and jerks back inside with a shout of surprise.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Put your head through!”
I climb up beside her and poke my head through the window, careful to avoid the broken edges of the glass pane. Immediately I’m surrounded by cold misty air and the sound of pounding water in a dark, enclosed space. I’m looking out from a small cave behind a waterfall, which splashes into a rocky pool in the forest.
I pull my head back into my room, and the sound of the waterfall vanishes. I give Aylen an incredulous look.
She reaches her hand through, and it comes back dripping wet. “What the fuck, Luca?”
“I don’t have a clue.”
“This is literally magic. Your window has become a portal to somewhere. You saw that, right?”
I shudder as my mind finally makes the connection. “Yes. And I’ve seen that waterfall before. I know that place.”
I tell her about my recurring dream. By the time I get to the end she looks horrified, and a sense of dread is rising in my gut.
“We’ve got to tell someone about this,” she says.
“Who do you call about unexpectedly magical windows and disturbing nightmares?”
She stares out the window. “I am at a complete loss, but Grandma might know something.”
I’m feeling a bit warmer so I shrug off my blankets. “I’m going to grab some rags and soap and clean up the rug. I just need to do something and stop thinking about my nightmares.”
“Ok, show me to the vacuum and I’ll get the rest of this glass.”
It takes us a few minutes to clean up my room. Then I get some boards from the basement, Dad’s cordless drill, and screws. Hopefully covering the window will keep any forest critters or other entities from coming through.
By the time that’s done I’m exhausted and I flop down on the bed, face-up. “It feels like my bones are aching.”
“That doesn’t sound good.” Aylen lies beside me and touches my arm. “You still feel cold. Maybe you should see the doctor.”
“The sharp pain has stopped, I think I’m ok.” I turn my head and we lock eyes. I want to say something else but it slips away and I can’t remember it. Her expression seems frightened. “Are you ok?” I ask.
Her face softens and she smiles. “I’m doing great. I just want to know you’re safe.”
“I don’t know if I am.” I glance at the boarded-up window. “I definitely don’t feel safe sleeping next to that.”
“I wouldn’t either. Is there another room you can move to?”
“Maybe, I’ll have to ask Dad about moving some storage out of the basement. I’d have more space down there too, which would be nice.”
She looks at her phone. “it’s almost eleven, if we hurry we can still catch lunch in the cafeteria. Do you feel well enough?”
“Not really. I could make you some mac and cheese.”
“Mmm, you’re an angel.”
After lunch, Aylen triple-checks to make sure I don’t feel like I’m going to drop dead or hurt myself or anything. I assure her I feel fine and she should go back to school, and I offer to drive her. But she says she likes the ride and needs the exercise, so I wave from the door as she leaves on her bike.
I spend the rest of the afternoon trying on all of Mom’s clothes, most of which fit me, and then watching YouTube videos of people painting amazing art in weird ways. I’m curled up on the couch in Mom’s baby blue silk pajamas when Dad texts me.
How are you feeling?
A lot better now.
I’m glad. Wanted to let you know Denise is coming over for dinner tonight. We’ll bring takeout from La Gula. I thought you two could have a proper introduction and get to know each other.
Do you need anything?
Um, love and acceptance?
I love you sweetie. We’ll talk.
I keep re-reading that last message. He’s never called me that before, or anything close to it, and I can’t stop smiling. Maybe it will be okay.
When he texts that they’re on the way with food, I run back to my room to choose an outfit. I decide on a black cami and short shorts, under a long flowy open shirt that ties in front, a nice lilac color with black flower embroidery. With my sock-filled bra in place it all fits me well, and a bit of that euphoric feeling returns as I look myself over in the mirror.
I hear Dad’s car and wait nervously by the door, hands clasped behind my back and bouncing a bit on my toes. He’s been dating Denise from work about three weeks now, and I briefly met her once when Dad left his wallet at home and I stopped by to give it to him. She’s a tall woman with an impeccably maintained strawberry-blond updo, deep blue eyes, and a nose as sharp as her attitude. I don’t think he could’ve found someone more unlike my mom, but I try to be nice.
Dad opens the door and steps aside to let Denise enter first. She is clearly a bit shocked when she sees me, but recovers quickly and gives me a hello and a smile. Dad steps inside and shuts the door, and before he can set down the bag of takeout I give him a long, tight hug. He chuckles and hugs me back with one arm.
“So, Denise,” he says, “it’s new to me too but my child is going by Luca now.”
“Lovely,” she says. “Where’s the restroom?”
Dad points her the way, and then he and I go to the kitchen with the food. He sheds his jacket and hangs it on the back of a chair while I pull foil-wrapped burritos, tacos, and side dishes out of the bag.
“I don’t think she likes me,” I say.
“What? She’s hardly gotten to know you. She just needs some time.” He looks over my outfit. “Hell, I need some time.”
There’s a difference between ‘needing some time’ and ‘refusing to deconstruct gender norms’, but I don’t say that. Maybe he’s right. Maybe I’m too sensitive.
Dinner goes well enough, I suppose. Neither of them say anything too offensive, although both use masculine pronouns for me all night, and I don’t feel comfortable enough to try correcting them. When Dad leaves to drive Denise home, I collect my blankets and pillows and build a nest on the couch, planning to talk to him about the window and other topics when he gets back. But I fall asleep almost immediately. When he comes in, I only wake enough to be vaguely aware of him saying goodnight and kissing my forehead.
The nightmares don’t molest me this time, and I get the most refreshing sleep I’ve had in weeks.