After lunch break, he met with Josephine at the library where she already had a stack of books in front of her on the table.
“Hi. Before you sit down, could you grab me one more book I forgot to bring with me real quick?”, she told him, when he arrived.
He went to the shelf, she described to him, and looked for the book.
“Since this seems to take longer”, a voice said right next to him “, would you mind if I grab that book right in front of your nose?”
“Sure … I mean, no, I won’t”
When the boy, the voice belonged to, grabbed the book, their eyes met. His were green and looked kind. As fast as they glanced at each other, the moment was over.
“I have to run,” the boy explained. “Maybe, we see each other again here.”
“Maybe …,” Gareth whispered to himself while the boy left the library and Gareth returned to Josephine's table.
“So, what’s up?”, he emphasized his return and put the book on top of the stack. Josephine had already written the introduction and some bullet points. They agreed, that he researched things while she tried to figure out how to connect the bullet points to a speech.
The next day he was talking to Dylan, the boy from the library walked past them.
“Wonder why he’s back,” Dylan commented.
“He was here before?”
“Of course. Are you sure,” Dylan said and pointed to Gareth's head “, everything is fine in there?”
“It is. Maybe, he just looks a little different. That’s probably it,” Gareth lied.
“Some sort of unfinished business,” Dylan answered his own question and ended their conversation.
They walked down the hallway to the math class, until Dylan stopped at the bulletin board.
“Look! There’s a drama club this year again. I never understand why people like to pretend to be a character in front of an audience whose lines are scripted by someone else. But since you’re into such things, maybe you like to,” Dylan informed him.
“Why didn’t Mrs. Fetcher mention which play she chose?”
“Maybe she wanted it to be a surprise.”
“Well, makes it harder to decide …”
“Just go, you can still say ‘No’.”
The two friends continued heading to the math class. Before they reached the classroom door, Dylan looked at his phone and stopped.
“That’s hilarious!” he laughed. “Did you see this?”
“It’s Corey. You’ll see in a minute. That’s so dope!”, Dylan told him.
The moment, the bell rang, they entered the classroom. Dylan instantly pointed to a person with some makeup on and something that looked like a blouse. He suppressed the intention to ask if that was Corey and just assumed it was. Not just Gareth and Dylan were staring at their classmate—the whole class did.
“Just because Corey wears something … inappropriate. I will not cancel my class for you to continue staring at him.”, declared the teacher as bringing back the attention to the front of the classroom.
“It’s her and Stella, Mrs. Thompson,” the called mumbled.
They continued with the lesson and Stella was visibly unsatisfied with how her classmates and teacher treated her. It was like Gareth could feel that something was off. Stella raised her hand twice but Mrs. Thompson still called her by her deadname.”
The lesson was over and Mrs. Thompson tried to drown out the bell: “I’d appreciate it if you could postpone your self-expression stuff as well as the surrounding discussion to your spare time after school. Here is not the right place for newfangled experiments.” No-one wanted to be the last student in the room. When Gareth already passed Mrs. Thompson, she held him back: “Gareth, please stay a little longer—you can surely spare five minutes of your break for your grades.”
The last student left the room while his teacher continued: “Your grades in my class are on the brink of a precipice—I anticipate, you’re already aware of that. I recommend that you do a small presentation. Will you do that?”
He agreed and hurried to get to the schoolyard as well.
The first thing, he noticed, was Co… Stella in a corner with some boys. They stood in a semicircle around her; behind her were the walls of the school building. He went closer to see what the gathering was.
“A boy with paint on his cheeks—looks like a clown, doesn’t he?” Logan laughed and looked into his friends’ faces to see how good his joke was. When his friends joined in, he felt encouraged to continue.
Gareth vaguely remembered that he once was with Logan and his friends with whom he had made fun of someone together. But this time was somehow different. He didn’t know why, but he felt not only sympathy with Stella but also something else he couldn’t quite explain.
“Hey!” he shouted at them before he really thought this through and walked more confidentially towards them than he actually was.
“What are you doing?” he asked harshly.
“Talking to Corey, as you can see,” Logan replied. “Wanna join?”
“Ehm… no” All his courage was gone, and therefore he didn’t know how to react. Fortunately, the bell took that off his hands. But instead of following the other students inside, he approached Stella.
“Are you okay … Stella?” It felt odd to call her by that new name.
“I am, thanks. Guess, I’ll have to deal with that more often. That’s the price of being true to yourself.”
“No offense, but I still don’t completely understand: Are you a boy or a girl? But you used to be a boy, right?”
“I was never a boy,” she corrected him calmly but determined. “I might have the same body as you do, but I was always a girl. Anyway, I have a class now and don’t want to be late.”
So they said goodbye, and he headed home with more questions than he got answers to.
The next day he opened his locker to change his books and heard the sound a head makes when it hits metal followed by the sound of a voice: “Are you blind!? Oh, it’s you. You always break everything!”
Before Gareth could apologize, the green-eyed boy from yesterday already moved along.
“Always? I thought, you barely knew each other,” commented Dylan, whose locker was next to Gareth’s.
“I am as confused as you are. I don’t know what he was referring to.”
Then, it hit him. He remembered dreaming of that particular guy last night—but why? If it was a memory, he must have known him—but he still couldn’t remember.
The school day dragged on like it would never end. In the lunch break, Dylan rated girls' bottoms and Gareth still couldn’t figure out by which criteria. He sure could tell if a girl had a nice face but why their bottom? Even in terms of sex, this wouldn’t be the most interesting body part. Since he didn’t want to look stupid, he didn’t ask Dylan to explain that to him. Instead, he tried to show him that he paid attention by making noises that—at the same time—couldn’t be mistaken for agreement or disagreement.
Gareth was very relieved when it was finally time to go to the drama club. When he arrived, he looked around and noticed some familiar and some unfamiliar faces.
“I know, not everyone is here yet and there’s still some time left,” a woman said, “but since this is the first meeting of the drama club this year, I think, we can already slowly start. Casey, can you please put a copy of this on each of these chairs in from of the stage?”
She handed a stack of papers to a boy and then went on with some warm-up exercises.
“Okay,” Mrs. Fetcher said, “Now, we will do a little introductory game. In this club, we’ll mostly play someone else but for this icebreaker, you’re going to play yourself. We’re not the psychology class, so I don’t expect deep insight.”
She went on to explain the game rules when the green-eyed guy entered the room. Not him again!
“I hope, I’m not too late,” he said.
“No, that’s fine. Go ahead and introduce yourself, so we can start with our icebreaker.”
“I’m chaise. Hi!”
After everyone introduced themselves, Mrs. Fletcher told them to go to the chairs in front of the stage.
“You can now flip the playbooks over. This year’s stage play is …” She imitated a drum roll. “Geography club. Has anyone heard of it or read the book it is based on? No-one? Okay. It’s about queer characters …”
“A faggot play!” a boy shouted and threw the playbook on the floor sneeringly.
“As I can see,” she went on, “I surprised some of you. Good. That’s an essential part of theater and there’s another one: Going out of your comfort zone. And keep in mind one other important thing: You are not your character. The most loved actors are oftentimes those who accomplish to play roles convincingly that are so different from how the actors actually are. Oh, one thing that just came to my mind: Queer people often play roles and wear masks in real life, too, to pretend they are straight. If you don’t know how to do that, we can visit the GSA next week to get some insight.”
For this chapter I have to thank two friends of mine who looked over this particular chapter. One of them is @2BD. He's the reason, the character Stella even exists because he thought, the first chapter could be interpreted as Gareth being trans. That made me come up with the idea of Stella, who will appear in some more chapters. 2BD also did a great job as an editor.
The other one is trans. He checked the storyline around Stella for me in terms of content and topics like transphobia. If you're not familiar with that but want to understand that storyline and/or the character of Stella a little more, here are some more information:
Stella came out to the class off-screen two weeks ago and told them her real name "Stella" and her pronoun "she". The teacher still ignores that and instead deadnames and misgenders her. A deadname is the name given to a trans person at birth by the parents while they are unaware that their child is trans. A lot of trans persons choose a name that fits to their actual gender and don't like to be called by the name they were given at birth because that is considered hurtful. Misgendering is similar, it works the same just with pronouns.