It was exactly 5:43 in the afternoon on a cloudlessly blue April Thursday in Astergate City, and I was in love. I know because I dropped a ten-pound box of flower food on my foot, nearly tripped over an extension cord, got my sleeve caught in the back door, and basically made a total fool of myself. If that wasn't a sign of being hopelessly in love, I don't know what is.
Only an hour beforehand, it was a perfectly normal Thursday. I knew it was Thursday because my boss, Mrs. Eisenton, handed me the shop keys and told me I was in charge until she got back the second I walked through the door, then dashed out to pick up her son Dante from ballet. Thursday hadn't quite registered in my mind until then, as I'd conveniently neglected to jot down my Literature test the following day in favor of watching Supernatural for four hours straight. Thank God for Dante's ballet practice, or else I would've forgotten to study and promptly failed the test.
By this time it was around fifty-four minutes before I fell head-over-heels, and I'd sat at the counter with my nose in University English Literature III. The shop was empty, as Mrs. E hadn't yet returned with Dante in tow, and Isaac, the only other employee, was on pest-killing duty in the greenhouse. Mrs. Eisenton refused to use pesticides. Afternoon sunlight poured in through the big front window, allowing me a view of the slow foot traffic outside along East Marine boulevard. The shop was filled with the scents of dozens of flowers on display, mingled with the scent of flower food and fresh dirt. My headset produced constant static noise, keeping all the other sounds at bay.
Besides the white noise, the shop was quiet. I watered the displays and cleaned the windows, and even remembered to change the stairwell lightbulb like Mrs. E told me to three days ago. I can get a lot done with the right level of static.
Quiet never lasts, of course, as the shop's bell jangled when it was pushed open. I snapped my head up, alert, and glanced towards the glass front door with the shop name, Rosey's Flowerbox, lettered in green on the outside. I shut my textbook and stood up to get the door for Mrs. E and Dante, who jumped happily over the store's threshold.
"Hi Nat!" he greeted me cheerfully, plopping his elbows on the counter. Dante was short, for five, but if he stood on his toes he could reach it fine.
I reached out and ruffled his short, dark hair, giving him a grin. "Hi, Dante," I replied. "How was practice?"
"It was great!" he says. "We learned third position! It was hard." He frowned at that, but quickly perked back up. "Do you have any candy today?"
"Dante, you just had ice cream," Mrs. E chided gently, setting the Peter Pan bag Dante uses to carry his ballet things on the counter. "If you eat candy now, you'll ruin your dinner."
Dante heaved a huge sigh. "Fine," he said in resignation, dropping his elbows off the counter.
"Oh, Nat," Mrs. E said suddenly, as if she'd just remembered what she were about to say. "There's an important customer coming to the shop today, looking to commission us for a major project. Where's Isaac?"
"Upstairs," I replied, shoving my textbook into my duct-taped backpack. "He's got pest duty."
"You've kept up on orders?" she checked. "Given exact change to customers? Watered the displays? Changed that lightbulb? Studied for your tests?"
I nodded. "Don't worry, Mrs. E, I've got everything under control."
"Did you change your headset batteries?" she continued. "I don't know how many people will come in, it may get noisy, and I know that isn't good for you."
Nod nod nod. Mrs. E never lets me forget to change the batteries, and I never forget anyway.
"Did you take your pills this morning?" she adds.
"Really, Mrs. E, I took care of everything," I promised. "Pills, batteries, flowers, and all."
Mrs. E sighed in relief as she led Dante upstairs. "Good job, Nat. I'd hate for something to happen." Especially while the important customer is here. She didn't say that, but I knew she was thinking it. So was I. I had a pretty clean record of no incidents in front of customers, and I wanted to keep it that way. How embarrassing would it be for both me and for the whole shop if my headset died and I had a migraine attack in the middle of a conversation with a customer?
Then the store's bell rang. It had to be the important customer Mrs. E had mentioned, so I turned around to greet them.
He was short, rectangular, and married, judging from the ring on his left hand and bags etched under his eyes, which were a shade of red-brown I hadn't thought was possible in eyes. He walked and spoke quickly, marching right up to the counter I stood behind.
"I'm here to see a Mrs. Eisenton about a very important matter," he quipped, looking me up and down. "I'm pretty sure that's not you, so go get her. Don't be slow about it, I'm a very busy man."
"Yes sir," I said politely, going upstairs to notify Mrs. E.
She quickly stood up from the apartment kitchen's table and combs her fingers through her hair and straightens her dress. "Oh, I hope we make a good impression," she said anxiously, dumping a box of flower food into my arms. "Could you put that away, Nat? When we spoke on the phone, Mr. Tizri just said something about it being very urgent and it would require a very large amount of flowers."
"He seems rude," I muttered without thinking. Mrs. E shushed me as we walked down the stairs.
She pushed open the door and hurried over to the customer. He was short, but Mrs. E was still shorter than him. She's a short lady.
That's when I first saw the love of my life.
She was beautiful. The shop's lighting glanced perfectly off her deeply tanned skin and made it shine with a healthy glow. Her hair, dark brown, was wavy and lightly mussed, as if tossed by the wind. Her features knit together beautifully on her face. High, strong, arched eyebrows colored chocolate brown gave way to lead down her wide, unobtrusive nose bridge to the little downturned button nose placed strategically in the center of her face. Her glossy pink lips were resting in a small, lightly bemused smile. Her eyes, large and a shade of turquoise only seen in island postcards, focused on the clipboard perched upon her bare forearm. They flicked upwards occasionally, looking at Mrs. E and Mr. Tizri speaking to each other. She wore eyeshadow, an understated fuchsia that complimented the latte-brown of her skin and the brilliant blue-green of her eyes perfectly. She was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen in my life.
She looked at me, smiling politely, and I realized I'd been staring. I looked away quickly, praying my cheeks weren't bright red, and moved to put away the box. That was when my foot snagged on the extension cord on the floor. When had that gotten there? I turned to detangle my foot and lost my grip on the box. Ten pounds of powdered glucose dropped from the crook of my arm straight down onto my other foot. I held in a yelp and caught my balance on the slightly opened door, which of course meant the sleeve of my shirt snagged in the hinge and effectively got me stuck. At this point, I was 100% sure my face was the same shade as the poppies in the display window and wishing the floor would just open up and swallow me right there.
Mrs. E hadn't noticed. Mr. Tizri hadn't noticed. But she noticed, and that was about fourteen thousand times worse. I didn't even know her name and I'd already made a complete fool of myself. I'd be forever ingrained in her memory as the idiotic flower shop employee with the ridiculous cat headphones that got herself stuck in a door at the least opportune moment possible.
Oh. Oh, man, she was still looking at me, like she was deciding whether or not to go over and help me out. She didn't do that, because she had a job to do, so I took it upon myself to get unstuck. I did, eventually, the only wound being a big fat bruise on my pride. I probably looked like a total idiot. Scratch that, I was a total idiot. I was the most idiotic idiot to ever walk the face of the planet. I'd just mortified myself in front of the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen in my life and she probably thought I was an idiot. And what if she didn't even like girls? If that were the case, I think I was going to drop another box on my foot. Maybe it'd knock some sense into me and I'd let this stupid love-at-first-sight thing go.
I put the box of flower food away, praying my face wasn't so red anymore, just as Mrs. E and Mr. Tizri started to move around the store. Something about a wedding. I guess Mr. Tizri was a wedding planner, and apparently needed an assistant.
"Nat, could you show Marina the stock of what we have?" Mrs. E requested. "Upstairs. And while you're at it, check the status on the orders of the geranium seeds."
"Yes ma'am," I nodded. Marina must be Mr. Tizri's assistant. Marina must be the name of my new hopeless infatuation. What a lovely name.
"I take it you're Nat?" she asked, her sandals slapping on the linoleum floor as she walked over to me.
I prayed I wasn't still blushing and nodded. "The flowers," I said dumbly. "They're upstairs."
She looked at me with concern etched into her features-- her beautiful, beautiful features. "Are you alright? I saw you trip a minute ago, and that box sounded heavy."
"I'm fine, don't worry." Aside from being mortified beyond belief, that is. I scowled at myself as I opened up the door that had previously held my shirt sleeve hostage and led Marina upstairs to the gardens.
"Everything's grown here?" she questioned, her pen poised over her clipboard. Her fingernails were round and healthy and the same fuchsia-pink as her lips, and her hands were soft and smooth. I imagined holding one of them in my own as we walk together, or my pale, freckly hand with stubby fingernails resting next to hers on a café or restaurant table, or placing my lips upon her slender knuckles as I tell her how beautiful she is, every word coming out of my lips as true as the existence of the moon above our heads. Then I shook myself out of my little fantasy. My face was probably red again and I probably looked like a fool.
"Yeah, all by hand," I answered, holding open the door for her as light from the third-floor garden windows hits my eyes. She brushed past me, and I smelled chlorine and fish food. I hadn't been expecting that, but it wasn't repulsive or anything. "It's a lot of work keeping up with it all, but we manage."
Marina looked mildly impressed, and nodded, jotting that down on her clipboard. "They seem very healthy, too. You must have a way with them."
It took me a second to realize she was referring to me. "Me? Nah, Mrs. E's the one with the magic touch," I said with a shrug. "I just do what she tells me and keep orders from getting backed up."
"You seem to be doing a very good job of it, then," she said, looking at me. Her eyes sparkled in the afternoon sunlight and she smiled at me, the corners of her painted mouth turning upwards. It was a polite smile, restrained, but I felt heat rise to my face as if someone had just turned on a faucet. Wow, I was an idiot.
"Yeah," I stammered. "Yeah. Um. Thank you." There you go, Nat, that's the right way to accept a compliment.
"How many bunches of carnations can you have by November?" she asked, glancing down at her clipboard. "We'll also need... poppies, and hydrangeas too."
"However many you need, if we plant them now," I answered, a little uncertainly. I wasn't entirely sure we could do that. But I'd seen Mrs. E practically bring perennials back from the grave, I bet we could do this.
"We'll need around forty-two dozen of each," she answers. "It's a large wedding. The colors are yellow and light blue."
"That can be done," I replied. That I was sure of.
"How much?" she asked, looking delighted that the numbers are working out on her clipboard.
Hm. How much would that be? Math had never been my strongsuit. "You'd better ask Mrs. E," I ended up saying. "Pricing isn't my department."
"Well, it's good to see all else is working out," Marina replied. "Oh, and if you don't mind my asking, what are the headphones for? I've never seen any affixed with cat ears before."
"Hearing... issues," I lied. "And, uh, concentration. They're white-noise generators. Without them, I can't really, er... focus, I guess." Without them I have mental breakdowns from feeling like knives are being driven into my ears, but she doesn't need to know that.
"Hm, well, they're very nice," she commented. "Sorry to hear about your concentration issues."
"It's not really a big deal," I said, a little embarrassed while at the same time glad she asked politely. Typically when people ask they're much ruder, or try and pull them off my ears until I show them my disability card stating that I'm medically allowed to wear them. Some places are funny about that. But the cat-eared headset combined with my five feet and ten inches of gangly height left over from high school makes it easy for Mrs. E or Dante to spot me in public.
Marina must've noticed my embarrassment, because the next thing she did was cover her mouth and apologize. "I'm sorry, was that out of line? I suppose I just kind of blurted it out. I'm sorry."
"No, no, it's okay," I reassured her. "People ask about these things all the time. You're not being rude, I swear."
She didn't seem entirely convinced, but she let it go and I led her back downstairs to the main floor, where Mrs. E and Mr. Tizri were still discussing business negotiation. Mrs. E was smiling, so I guessed it was going in her favor.
"Mr. Tizri?" Marina cut in, gently tapping Mr. Tizri's shoulder in an attempt to get his attention. "They can have the flowers by November."
"We certainly can," Mrs. E said proudly. "All fifteen hundred of them." Fifteen hundred. Jesus Christ, weddings had a lot of flowers.
"And how much will that be?" Marina asks, pursing her pink lips and looking at Mrs. E.
Mrs. E took a moment to crunch the numbers. “Around five thousand dollars sounds about right. Nat?”
I picked up a calculator and checked her math. “$5,292,” I said decidedly. “Will that be okay?”
Mr. Tizri hmm-ed as he wrote out a check. "And now I know who to come to in the future with my floral needs," he said, giving Mrs. E a little smile.
The deal made, they shook hands. Mr. Tizri waved goodbye and left the store with Marina, marking the end of my awkward, fantastic encounter with the love of my life.
"Oh, this is wonderful, isn't it, Nat?" Mrs. E said happily, looking at the check.
"Yeah, she is," I murmured dreamily, my eyes transfixed on the exact location Marina was when she turned to smile thankfully at me for the last time that day.
It was official: I was in love with a girl I'd known for half an hour. Over the next several weeks, she was on my mind constantly. Marina's lips, Marina's hands, Marina's voice, Marina's smile. Marina, Marina, Marina all day and all night long. Mrs. E could tell I had a crush, but she didn't address it, which I appreciated, because I wouldn't've known what to say. April turned into May and May into June, which meant summer flowers in season and the fruit trees on the roof shedding their flowers and budding little green fruits. Dante's team won its last soccer game of the season and Mr. and Mrs. Eisenton celebrated their seventh anniversary, and finals came and went with the rest of the school year. I greeted summer with open arms, welcoming the extra time outside the flower shop sprawled on the floor of my apartment dozing in the sunlight, art supplies strewn everywhere and static in my ears. I love summer.
Then one day in the middle of June, a hot, clear day without a cloud in the sky, Marina came into the shop again as I was getting ready to leave for the day.
"That looks nice," she said, only I didn't know it was her at the time. She was craning her neck over my sketchbook, looking at the window to a half-done scene of a family sitting on the banks of a lake. Her hair was braided loosely over one shoulder, and her skin had gotten tanner. There was a pink hibiscus tucked behind her ear, the same shade of pink as the stripes on her tank top, and her nails were the same turquoise as her eyes and the loose, flowing skirt she wore over a black swimsuit bottom. Maybe she'd just come from swimming, to... pick up flowers? I didn't care about that though, she was here and she was complimenting my drawing.
Oh. My. God. She liked my drawing.
"Uh," I stammered like the idiot in love that I am, my face heating up. "Uh. Thank you. Er... Marina, right?"
She looked up and smiled at me, adjusting the white-framed sunglasses on her head. "That's me, and you're Nat, right?"
"That's me," I echoed, a little goofy grin spreading over my face. She remembered my name. (Of course I was wearing a nametag but shh.)
"Hey, do you go to ACU?" she asked, pointing at the Astergate City University sticker on the cover of my sketchbook. "I go there too!"
"No way," I said incredulously. "What's your major?"
"Marine biology," she replied. "Let me guess, you're in fine arts?"
"You'd guess right," I grinned a little. "What gave it away? The sketchbook?"
"Yeah, the sketchbook. So," she said, looking at the counter and smiling a little self-consciously, playing with the bangles around her wrists. "Sorry if this seems awkward, but would you like to get ice cream with me? My brother, Hayden, just opened up a shop, and I promised I'd get him customers, so..."
What was this. What even was life. She was asking me out for ice cream. Can I get a hell yes?
"Absolutely," I agreed, turning still redder. "Is it, uh, like..."
"A date?" she finished for me, her tanned cheeks blushing. She looked so cute when she blushed. "Well, uh, no, I don't even..." she trailed off, moving one hand in the air as if trying to pluck out the words.
My face fell. Of course she wasn't a lesbian. Of all the gorgeous girls who are also lesbians in this world, she wasn't one of them.
"I don't even know you that well," she finished, making my heart and sexuality leap up in hope. Maybe she did like girls! Or whatever it was that I actually was, because I sure wasn't a girl. I'd have to tell her about that, wouldn't I? Here's hoping she wouldn't be repulsed, or murder me, or anything like that.
"Well, I guess we'll get to know each other now," I managed, which is impressive for me, considering the sheer amount of blood being redirected from my tongue and brain to make my face the same shade as the poppies in the window.
She laughed, an honest laugh that showed her pearly white teeth. "I guess so, huh?"
She was beautiful when she laughed. Her nose wrinkled up and her cheeks dimpled when her eyes squeezed shut, long, dark eyelashes resting on her skin and displaying her fuchsia eyeshadow. She was gorgeous, and I was a fool in love.
The bell rang, and Isaac, braces glinting, marched down from upstairs and gave me a nudge. "My turn," he said. "You can go on your date now, Nat."
I laughed nervously and hung my apron and nametag on the peg by the door. "Yeah. Yeah. Thanks, Isaac."
"Have fun," he called after me, handing me my backpack. "But not too much fun."
By that time I was 100% sure my face was a shade of red never before thought possible by science. "Yeah, thanks for that," I managed. Marina giggled. I hoped at least I was amusing her, and not embarrassing myself.
Once Marina and I were safely out of the dorky-co-worker-zone, I sighed in relief. "Sorry about that."
"Don't worry about it," she insisted, resting an arm on her purse. It was yellow, and looked almost like it was made of straw. but you can't make purses out of straw, so that puzzled me. "Was that your little brother?"
"Nah, just my co-worker," I said with a shrug. "Kinda like a brother, though. A dorky little brother."
"I know the feeling," she laughed lightly. "I think all little-brother-figures are dorky."
"I think you're beautiful," I said without thinking and internally kicking myself in the shin. That was beyond idiotic, that was just plain creepy. Who even did that? Who just casually dropped the fact that they thought someone else was beautiful in the middle of a conversation?
"Oh," she said, her gorgeous face flushed. "Really?"
She sounded like no one had ever said that to her before, a fact I couldn't believe. "Of course you are," I replied. "I mean, wait. That's creepy, isn't it? Sorry."
"No, no, no, it's alright," she insisted. "Gosh. It's just, no one's ever really called me that before."
"They should, because it's the truth," I said plainly, because it was obvious. Honestly, to me, she was the most beautiful woman I'd ever laid eyes on. Mr. E always said that about Mrs. E, but I'd always thought he was just being nice until now.
She smiled, looking ahead of us at the sidewalk. "You're really sweet. Did you know that?"
"Sweet as the flowers I grow," I replied jokingly, and she laughed. Her laugh sounded like ocean waves and the feeling you get when you were with someone you really loved. Did that make sense? I thought it did.
"Why do you work at the store?" she asked curiously.
I shrugged. "I'm a family friend," I said carefully. It's actually because I nowhere else will hire me, and I need a job to pay for college and for my apartment and for gender reassignment surgery, but I wasn't about to just say that, it was dangerous. I felt awful keeping that from her, but I'd tell her someday. She deserved to know, and I deserved to tell someone besides the Eisentons.
"We're here," she said out of the blue, and I turned my head to the large cafe-style windows in the shop, glancing at my reflection in the semi-tinted glass. A tall, freckled, effeminate, lanky twentysomething college student with cat headphones and a yellow polo shirt that swore up and down they were a girl despite having fewer curves than a rosebush and going by 'Nathan' for the first half of their life before realizing that just didn't fit stared back at me. That description sounded about right.
"It looks nice," I commented, looking beyond my reflection at the small shop and the ice cream counter, and a few people sitting at the little cafe tables inside and out. A hunky blond guy with Marina's features stood at the register, ringing up the purchase of a dozen cones for a group of uniformed girls from the private academy just outside the city. That guy had to be the brother she mentioned, Hayden. He was kind of hot, I admitted, but Marina had definitely won the looks lottery in that family.
Marina stepped aside for the group of girls to walk out, holding open the door for me when they're gone. As the door swung shut, I felt a blast of cold air from the AC, going at full blast.
"Afternoon, Nee," Hayden called. "Who's your date?"
Marina took my arm and led me up to the counter. I tried not to turn yet more shades of red when she unexpectedly touched me. Her hands were every bit as soft as I'd thought they'd be.
"This is Nat," she said. "We're not on a date, either. We just met. You wanted customers, right?"
He shrugged, the kind of boy-shrug where he only raises one shoulder while lowering the other. I'd never realized how many guys did that. "If you say so, sis. Nice to know you're not dating guys after knowing them for less than a minute, at least."
"Actually, I'm a girl," I cut in, hoping my voice didn't crack like it always did when I corrected someone on the matter of my gender. "My full name is Natalie." Legally, it's still Nathan because I haven't changed it yet, but he doesn't need to know that.
Hayden raised an eyebrow but let it go, and I sighed silently in relief. Another stranger interrogation avoided. "What'll it be, then, on this not-a-date? Strawberry for you, I take it, and for your not-date?"
"Um, pistachio," I decided. Pistachio was my favorite. I'd never pegged Marina as a strawberry type, either, but I suppose you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.
"No discount for your favorite little sister?" Marina asked teasingly.
"Oh, my mistake," Hayden corrected himself. "Eight-fifty."
Marina reached over the counter and punched him in the arm. "Douche."
"Douche and proud," he smirked, scooping out two cones of pistachio and strawberry ice cream. He dabbed some whipped cream and a pair of cherries on top, undoubtedly a family bonus. Score, I loved cherries.
"I can pay, if it’s extra," I offered.
"Oh, he's just being a doofus, as usual. I'll pay for it," Marina replied, taking the cones and handing them to me to pull the appropriate change out of her purse.
Hayden balanced the ice cream scoop on his nose as he took the money-- $7.50 in quarters. "I resent that remark and counter by saying that you are the doofus, it's you. Only a true doofus would pay entirely in quarters."
"I thought you might need some extra change," she teased. "Anyway, we should go. Thanks, Hayden!"
"Anytime," Hayden waved with one hand as Marina and I left the shop and sat outside, in one of the cafe tables shaded by the turquoise awning.
"He seems nice," I ventured, handing over the cone of strawberry to Marina.
"Hayden's a douche, but he's my brother, so I have to love him," she shrugged, licking off a slightly-melting daube of ice cream from the cone. I wondered if the lip gloss interfered with eating at all, because she expertly avoided accidentally eating some. Lip gloss isn't lethal, but it can't be healthy for your stomach in large quantities.
"That's true enough," I replied, smiling with a corner of my mouth in recognition. The ice cream was incredible, creamy pistachio with just a little bit of nut. Probably some of the best ice cream I'd ever tasted.
"Sorry about the whole... guy-girl thing," Marina said, a little awkwardly. The conversation immediately took a turn for the slightly-uncomfortable, at least it did if you asked me.
"It's cool," I said, and I hoped my uncertainty didn't creep into my voice. "It happens a lot." More often than I'd like, to be honest, but I supposed that was one thing that wouldn't stop anytime soon.
"No, really," she insisted. "Sorry. I guess Hayden wasn't really paying attention."
"Hey, don't worry about it, alright?" I tried to reassure her. "How's the ice cream?"
"It's great," she said simply, giving a little shrug and looking at the chunks of frozen fruit swimming in pink. Great. My gender issues had ruined my date. At this rate, she'd probably just figure the whole thing out before I told her. I guess that was better than having to steel my nerves and tell her myself. Boy, I'd sure won the lottery of life, hadn't I? Everyone knew that trans people had difficulty on dates, because you never knew who'd be okay with it and who wouldn't, and if it ever got, like, intimate, and it hadn't been mentioned before, who knew what would happen? No doubt that the other person was expecting someone with equipment that matched the packaging. No matter how well I could pass for a girl, because I'd always been kind of girly-looking, even before I started the hormones, nothing would change the fact that physically, I was not a lady. If Marina only liked ladies that knew they were ladies and had the right junk for a lady, we were going to have a few problems. I mean, I know I'm one of the luckier ones, but that fact only makes me more nervous that something's gonna go wrong.
Of course, I wasn't sure if Marina was strictly a lesbian. Maybe she also liked guys! Of course, maybe she only liked guys-born-guys and girls-born-girls for whatever reason, either not having heard of transsexuality or being a transphobe, or some other reason I couldn't think of, in which case I was out of luck. So close, yet so far. I doubted she'd want to even be just-friends if I'd kept this big a thing from her.
"Your full name isn't Natalie, is it," she said out of nowhere. I felt a knot start to twist in my stomach.
"No," I mumbled. "It's Nathan. I'm a guy."
"You're a crosdresser?" she asked. "Or... Wait, you called yourself a girl."
She was being calmer than I'd expected about this. "Yeah, yeah, I am. I mean, I think I am. It feels right."
"I think you're a girl, too," Marina decided. "And frankly, it's kind of a rotten thing to do to insist someone else is something that they know they're not."
"I can see how that would be kind of bad," I agreed, feeling like a weight's been lifted off my chest.
"Natalie is a cuter name, anyway," she said, taking a bite of her ice cream. "It suits you."
"You think so?" I asked. "I prefer Nat, personally. It has a nice ring to it."
"They're both lovely, and so are you," she said, a sweet little smile on her face. I decided I liked that smile.
I smiled back, though I was sure I was blushing. Again.
“You know, this is kind of nice,” Marina decided. “Maybe we should do it again sometime.”
“Oh, yeah, maybe lunch,” I suggested. “Like a date, kind of. If, uh, if that’s what this is. Can something retroactively be a date?”
“I don’t see why not,” she replied, lifting her tanned shoulders nonchalantly. “A lunch, say, at the Cheesecake Factory, would be our second date, then?”
“I guess so,” I said with a little smile on my face. “I’m free Saturday.”
“I’ll pick you up at eight, then,” she concluded. “Sounds like a plan to me.”
“A date,” I mumbled, smiling goofily. Me. A date. With someone that wouldn’t try to kill me. I almost felt like the normal girl I wanted to be, sitting at the cafe table with Marina’s hand in one hand and pistachio ice cream in the other, talking and laughing about whatever came to mind. I didn’t feel trapped or uncomfortable. It felt right.
I suppose I should say something pithy about the meaning of life or something to close out, like in one of those young adult novels about pretentious teenagers with superiority complexes and say things like preferring the smell of old books to the taste of alcohol, but I don’t really want to do that, because that kind of makes me gag. Instead I think saying that I’m happy, really happy, for the first time in ages, because I’ve met someone I like that likes me back and that doesn’t think I’m a freak or unholy or something because I was born in the wrong body. It’s a rare thing to find someone like that.
In conclusion, it was exactly 6:27 in the evening on a beautiful June Friday in Astergate City, and I was more in love than I’d ever thought possible. Not bad, for someone like me.