Chris is sprawled across the end of his bed with his hoodie still on. The strap of his backpack is still wound around one hand, the rest of it on the floor where he'd tossed it. He's supposed to be doing calculus homework, but he fell here as soon as he came home from his appointment with Thérèse and it seems that moving is now impossible.
From the bottom of the stairs, Chris's mom calls: "Chris!"
He says "what?" loudly, but she doesn't hear. There's a silence. Chris doesn't get up, doesn't move. "I'm up here!" he shouts, after a couple of seconds, but of course she doesn't hear that either.
"Christine!" she says again, closer, halfway up the stairs already. There's a big heavy sigh, and then she comes the rest of the way up, leans around the halfway-open door. "What's this?"
It's a box, a small cardboard box, all wrapped up in postal tape, with a shipping label made out in his name, and without a return address. She's holding it like she's pretty sure there's pornography inside or maybe a bomb, which is funny, but Chris doesn't laugh.
"Well?" she says.
He sits up, pulls the box out of her open hand. "It's a thing that's supposed to, um. Help me pee. Standing up. In a men's room."
She blinks. "Oh," she says, and then frowns, like he said something in a language she doesn't understand.
He shifts, uncomfortably. "I, uh. I ordered it. Because. Um, part of the thing you have to do before they let you have any kind of surgery is pass as a guy in public for a couple of years."
There's a silence, and then she laughs, a short sharp bark of it, claps a hand over her mouth and then moves it up to swipe at her eyes. "Oh, Chris," she says. "Oh for heaven's sake."
He sighs. "I'm serious," he says, like he always does.
She shakes her head, that hand still pressed to her forehead, like she's doing her best to will the knowledge away, and then she smiles all tight and fake, with her eyes still pressed closed. "Well," she says. "I'm going to get something ready for dinner. Are you. Are you going to eat with us?"
Chris puts the package on his bed. "Um," he says. "No, thanks. I'm, I better." He waves a hand at his backpack, the desk. "Thanks, though."
She nods again, and then she pulls the door all the way closed. He can hear her feet retreating down the hall.
He looks at the package. It looks back at him. Downstairs, he can hear his family gathering for supper in the kitchen, the clatter of pots and pans and cutlery on the table, his mother's raised voice. He sticks the box unopened into the top of his backpack and heads sock-footed down the stairs. "Where are you going?" he hears his mom call as he shove his feet into his sneakers. He pauses, but he doesn't answer. He can't think of a good way to explain this, why it's important, what it all means. Thérèse gave him this pamphlet once: Telling your parents: A Guide for Teens. But there wasn't a section in there about what to do if your parents didn't want to hear. He let the door close behind him instead.
Outside, the sky is grey and swollen. It's hot. He rides the bus into the city and the driver yells at people: Keep it down! This isn't a goddamn football game! Christ in Heaven! It's packed and close and loud on the bus and Chris thinks maybe people are going to see a football game or something; everybody seems buzzed, anyway. He keeps his iPod on and folds himself around his backpack, tries to keep his elbows out of people's way.
This time, for the first run, he thinks it's probably best to play it safe. He's going to go to La Francky's, where okay, maybe there aren't rainbow flags in the window or anything, but everybody knows that the guy who owns the place is a big queen himself, so it's safe, a place they can go to hang out. Chris gets a booth in the corner by a window, where he has a clear view of the restrooms, and orders some fries and a coffee because they're the cheapest things on the menu. He keeps the package in his bag for now—it'd be weird to go straight for the restroom, wouldn't it, before his food even comes? Plus, he isn't even sure if he could pee.
Instead, he spends a little while making a new playlist on his iPod: songs for when it's raining. He pulls his calc text out of his bag and reads a few of the problems and puts it away again. He draws a girl with crazy hair in the corner of his notebook.
Ludo texts him: your mom says u went out where are u shes worried.
The door to the men's room swings open and closed. It's busy in here, tonight. He's definitely not going to get it to himself when he goes in there.
He texts Ludo back: at franckys.
what for? Ludo asks him.
He hesitates. eating. whatever. dont want to be home.
The waitress comes with his food, then, sets the steaming platter down with a bottle of vinegar, pours him some coffee. His phone hums with a new message but he doesn't check it until the waitress has gone; he already knows what it's going to say, anyway. stay there im coming too.
He's still picking at his cooling fries when Ludo comes up the sidewalk from the direction of the bus stop, all skinny legs in black jeans and dark, weird-shaped hair, a bright pink hoodie that looks like it was made for an eight year old girl. Chris has been to Pride in Lyon; he's been in the school's LGBTQ alliance for years. He has met his share of freaks and outcasts, is the thing, and still, he has never seen anybody who beats his buddy Ludo.
Ludo's still across the street when s/he looks up and catches Chris watching through the window. Hir whole face splits into a wide grin and s/he waves, dorky and small, lifting up a little on hir toes. Chris waves back. He can feel himself grinning in spite of everything. Ludo has always sort of had that effect.
A minute later, s/he's sliding into the booth across from Chris, already reaching for a fry. Hir eyes are on Chris's face, though, dark and serious despite the grin. "So?" s/he prompts.
Chris shifts. "What?" He pushes Ludo's hand away, earns another grin.
"So what's up? What's bothering you? Why are you suddenly all—" s/he waves a hand "—all emo?"
Chris scowls. "Shut up. You're one to talk." Ludo grins, open-mouthed, around hir bite of fry. Chris sighs. He pulls the package out of his backpack, uses his house-key to split the tape on the top. Ludo gives him a sharp look, then reaches in through the layer of styrofoam beans to pull out the package inside. S/he holds it up between them, just a regular cellophane thing like you'd get in any kind of regular store, only inside is a thing so totally retarded-looking neither of them can even laugh. Chris pokes it. Ludo just stares. Introducing The SheWee! says the package, in bright green, girly font.
"They can't be fucking serious," Chris says. He takes it from Ludo, turns it over, checking for...what? Some hint of non-seriousness, maybe. But there isn't one. "Wow."
"Do you think it'll actually work?" Chris asks.
Ludo snorts. "Well, it better," s/he says.
They prop it against the napkin dispenser. For a little while neither of them says anything. Ludo draws a heart on the corner of Chris's notebook and then fills it in, thick black ink in diagonal lines, one after the other. "You go see Thérèse today?"
Chris nods. There's a crumb of burnt potato on the table in front of him and he presses his finger onto it, tries to get it to stick to his skin.
"She going to let you see the endo?"
Chris presses his lips together. The stupid crumb, it won't stick no matter what. Leaves a little divet in the tip of his finger but won't lift from its spot of grease on the table. Maybe the grease is stickier. He lifts his head. Ludo is still looking at him. "Nah, she. I guess haven't seen her the whatever-number-of-times it says in the manual, so she wants me to come back for two more appointments first." He ducks his head, scrubs at his face with the heel of one hand. "Which is so fucking stupid, because I would've seen her a bunch of other times by now, except she cut me back to once a week."
Ludo just keeps on watching him and that's weird, and talking about this is weird because it's the only time Chris ever feels like a freak around Ludo, is when he has to allude to the fact that medically speaking, he sort of is still a girl.
"She's just doing her job or whatever. But I don't want to wait anymore, man. If I'm doing this, I want to fucking do it, you know? I'm sick of getting stared at no matter which...fucking bathroom I try to use."
Ludo lets out a long breath. "I get that," s/he says.
Chris shoves a hand through his hair. His other hand's still playing with the stupid crumb on the table, picking at it like an obsessive freak until finally, Ludo reaches across and flicks it away. Hir fingernails are painted today: bright red, kind of punk. S/he has a fake tattoo that looks like it came from a box of Frosties on the back of hir hand; if you look closely, you can see that it's Pam in the picture, her fairy wings spread out all pale pink and blue. Ludo loved Pam when s/he was a little kid. S/he wasn't allowed to have any Pam dolls or whatever, but s/he had this pathetic little collection of paper cut-outs which s/he made from the toy sections of department store catalogues, and s/he used to make Chris play them with hir, moving them around like they were little people in their own little pastel-coloured world...and suddenly Chris feels kind of bad. Because yeah it sucks to be stuck in between when the whole world is set up for Column A or Column B; Ludo probably knows that better than anybody, seeing as how s/he lives there. Chris breathes out, shakes his head a little. "Sorry, I...that was dumb."
Ludo smiles at him, leans one long leg into Chris's jiggling knee, underneath the table. The normal noises of the restaurant happen all around them: plates and cups and conversation, the low hum of music on the kitchen radio. Chris lowers his head, feels Ludo's gaze on the top of his head, all warm and concerned. Backing him up.
"I'm going to do it," Chris says.
Ludo lifts hir eyebrows. "Like, now?"
Chris nods. He tears open the package and pulls the...the-thing-he-is-never-ever-going-to-be-calling-a-SheWee out, slides it into the pocket of his hoodie. Under the sweaty skin of his palms, the edge of the table feels sharp and cool. He meets Ludo's eyes.
"I'm coming with you," Ludo says.
Chris grins, and Jesus, this is ridiculous; he's all trembly, feels like he's out of breath. But. "Okay," he says, and they step down from the booth.
And so the thing is, it doesn't matter that he maybe leaks a little piss into the leg of his jeans before he figures out that you have to angle the stupid thing, or that Ludo has to pass the phys ed sweats from Chris's backpack over the top of the stall door while guys at the urinal pretend not to be staring. It doesn't matter that he's making a fucking spectacle out of himself. Because that's the thing about a spectacle: it's tough to pull off if you're the only person in it, but if there are two of you? It's fucking performance art.
All of that means that Chris is laughing way too hard to pay the bill by the time they get to the cashier at the front, so Ludo does it. S/he knows Chris's PIN anyway. And as soon as the payment goes through, Chris pulls Ludo out of there, fingers curled in the stupid pink sweatshirt. They make it all the way to the bus stop before they have to collapse on the bench inside the enclosure. Chris still can't stop laughing; he's getting the hiccups already.
Ludo thumps him on the back and then leaves hir hand there, between his shoulderblades. "That was awesome, Delvigne," s/he says. "Very smooth."
Chris shoves hir. "Shut the fuck up. It's way harder than it looks."
They grin at each other. At the top of the hill on Place de Jaude, Chris can see their bus, its route name scrolling, all lit up in the twilight. It's stuck behind a passing train. He sighs and then hiccups again, leans against Ludo, lets his forehead fall to hir shoulder. S/he scruffles his hair. "We might be here for a while, it looks like," s/he tells him.
He nods. "Yeah," he says, without lifting his head. "I know." He doesn't mind.