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I Wish You All The Best

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An alternate cover edition for 9781338306125 can be found here.

When Ben De Backer comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they're thrown out of their house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas, whom Ben has never even met. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents' rejection, they come out only to Hannah, Thomas, and their therapist and try to keep a low profile in a new school.

But Ben's attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan's friendship grows, their feelings for each other begin to change, and what started as a disastrous turn of events looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life.

At turns heartbreaking and joyous, I Wish You All the Best is both a celebration of life, friendship, and love, and a shining example of hope in the face of adversity.
 
卷:
1
年:
2019
出版社:
Push
语言:
english
页:
329
ISBN 13:
9781338306125
系列:
I Wish You All The Best 1
文件:
PDF, 1.52 MB
下载 (pdf, 1.52 MB)

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15 comments
 
Simon
This book is so, so good. As a nonbinary person, I don't see a lot of representation in media, so this was a really important read for me.
23 September 2020 (06:23) 
milktea
I love this book, it's a really good representation of being a LGBTQIAP+ youth with anxiety and a plethora of other mental problems. Plus, any book that references Yuri on Ice gets points in my book-
03 December 2020 (18:48) 
Salvatore
Recently I got to know the meaning of what non binary means. This is my second book about non binaries and it has been educational and romantic.
13 December 2020 (12:34) 
Chimba
Such an amazing book. Each page was filled with so many emotions. MUST READ
28 January 2021 (07:39) 
MONSTAR
Save your brain cells. This book just drained my brain.
So annoying .That immature dialogue construction ; the annoying, insufferable back and forth between the characters just drove me over the edge . But I didn't give up the reading because once I start reading me and the book are in a committed relationship but anyway; Mason Deaver ; 1 out of 5 Goodreads stars from me.
That being said ; I loved Ben's introverted representation .An extremely likeable person and had we met in real drab life I would have begged to be their friend. I personally loved how life worked out for them, sincerely felt happy and proud for their well deserved happiness and pinned for them and Nathan all through the story. Also can we just take a minute to admire Ben's big sis ?
Good non binary representation but as a work of fiction though ; this just failed to meet my standards . Frustrating. The only time I perked up was at the honorable mention of the miracle that is Troye Sivan. I almost fan girled. Wonder if Troye knows.
03 April 2021 (19:07) 
MONSTAR
Alright, that hit a wrong meaning, What I meant was I wonder whether Troye knows he is in this book ?
04 April 2021 (06:20) 
Itz Salonika
It's okay and interesting keep it up
02 June 2021 (16:07) 
Ava
i havent read this book yet but it mentions troye sivan (the lyrics to lucky strike are my background) so im prob going to read it :) lol
04 June 2021 (05:18) 
Ava
i read it, its super good. ben is a super likeable character, and their big sis is def my fav. just-... read it ok?
08 June 2021 (06:29) 
ells
good book to get out of a reading slump. I finished it in a day, enjoyable.
09 June 2021 (11:24) 
shreya
i was in a reading slump for months and read this yesterday night - i started this at 11 pm and finished at 2 am - and got out of my reading slump! i loved this book :)
16 July 2021 (04:22) 
Jaz
best book i’ve absolutely ever read in my entire life it’s so captivating just read it right now
19 August 2021 (02:04) 
Kush
ama cry....its so beautiful felt like l watching a movie the whole time. Fell in love with aurhor too....I wish you all the best?
01 September 2021 (02:09) 
Kush
also got a deeper understanding of non binary...love love it
01 September 2021 (02:11) 
Jae (they/them)
This book represents how being non-binary means no matter the dysphoria regarding your body, whether amab or afab, you can understand the pain of being constantly gendered. In the end, it doesn’t matter what gender they assign you. What they say isn’t who you are. It’s hard. This book made me feel a lot less alone and yet envious of Ben for his sister, even if imperfect. I wish I had someone who would look after me without having to break myself for them. Being non-binary in a household that doesn’t understand is isolating. I’m thankful for what I have even so. This book gave me so many emotions. It also accurately depicted some fears of those attending therapy for the first time.
16 October 2021 (06:00) 

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“Heartfelt, romantic, and quietly groundbreaking. This book will save lives.” —Becky Albertalli,
NewYork Times​ bestselling author of ​Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda
“Tender and bursting with humanity,​ I Wish You All the Best​ tells a heartwarming queer love
story without compromise.” —Meredith Russo, Stonewall Award–winning author of ​If I Was Your
Girl
“A beacon of hope in a broken world. We all need this book.” —Nic Stone, ​New York Times
bestselling author of ​Dear Martin
“Emotional and heartfelt … This is the sort of novel that goes beyond being important; it has the
potential to save and change lives.” —Kheryn Callender, Stonewall Award–winning author of
Hurricane Child​ and ​This is Kind of an Epic Love Story
“A truly unique and beautiful debut.” —Adi Alsaid, author of ​Let’s Get Lost
“Profoundly poignant and often swoon-worthy … a stunning gift to the world.” —Jay Coles,
author of ​Tyler Johnson Was Here
“Animportant and inspiring debut about identity, acceptance, friendship, familial relationships,
and the people who become your family.” —Sabina Khan, author of ​The Love and Lies of
Rukhsana Ali
“A soft, sweet, and incredibly important story about a nonbinary teen finding their voice. This
book is going to be so important to so many people.” —Alice Oseman, author of ​Radio Silence
“A welcome addition to the growing body of LGBTQIAP+ literature.” —​Booklist

“Ben, honey, are you feeling well?”
Mom plucks the plate from in front of me, with most of my dinner still on it, untouched. I’d taken
maybe one or two bites before it fell into my stomach like a rock and what little appetite I’d had
to begin with was gone.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I tell her. Always easier to just tell her that. It’s better than having her pull out
the thermometer and every bottle of medication we have in the cabinet. “Just a lot on my mind.”
There. Not a total lie.
“School?” Dad asks.
I nod.
“You aren’t falling behind, are you?”
“No, just a lot going on.” Again, not a total lie. Is it really even a lie if I’m just withholding c; ertain
information?
“Well,” Mom starts. “As long as you’re keeping your grades up. When does your report card
come in?”
“Next week.” It’ll be all As, except in English, which will probably earn me a “We’re not angry,
just disappointed.”
“Are you sure you’re feeling okay? You know these temperature changes have always gotten to
you.” Mom walks back over to me and brushes the hair away from my forehead. “You do feel a
little warm.”
“I’m fine.” I shake her hand away. “I promise, just tired.”

And I think that’s enough for her because she gives me this little smile.
“All right.” She’s still staring at me as she walks away. “We should schedule you a haircut, it’s
getting too long in the back.”
“Okay.” I sip some water to give myself something to do. “Did I tell y’all that Gabby Daniels had
to drop out as Art Club president?”
“No, did something happen?” Mom asks.
“I think it was just too much for her, she’s in like every other club at school. But that means that I
get to take over for her!”
“Oh, honey, that’s great!” Mom says from the sink, washing off the plates before she slides them
into the dishwasher. “Are you going to have to do anything extra for the club?”
“It’s mostly organizing events and trips. I was already covering for Gabby most meetings, so it
won’t be much different.”
“You sure that won’t interfere with studying?” Dad chimes in, a grimace on his face. “Remember
our agreement: If your grades slip, you have to quit.”
“Yes, sir.” I can feel that light pressure in my brain, like something’s getting tighter against my
skull. I look at Mom, hoping she might say something, but she doesn’t. She just stares at the
floor like she normally does when Dad gets like this. “I know.”
Dad sighs and walks into the den, while I grab the last of the dishes on the table and take them
over to the counter, before pulling out the Tupperware to pack the leftovers.
“Thanks, honey.” Mom doesn’t look up from the dishes.
“No problem,” I tell her. “How was work?”
“Oh, you know.” She shrugs. “Dr. Jameson keeps handing off his paperwork to me instead of
doing it himself.”
“Doing his own paperwork?” I tease. “What a concept.”
“Right?” Mom chuckles and gives me this wide-eyed look. “One day I swear I’m going to tell him
off.”
“Don’t you tell me to never burn bridges?”
“Yes, that’s true. But I’m the adult here, and I can do what I want.” Mom giggles to herself and
sets the dishes aside. “So, what did you do today?”

“Nothing really. Drew a little bit, worked on a few projects that are due after break, nothing too
exciting.” Again, just withholding information.
Mostly my day comprised absolutely freaking the fuck out about what I was about to do,
rewatching videos on YouTube about how people did this, rereading old messages from
Mariam, and almost throwing up the peanut butter sandwich I’d made for lunch.
You know, typical, everyday stuff.
Mom sets the last of the dishes on the drying rack just as I’m stacking the Tupperware in the
fridge. “Are you sure you’re okay? You didn’t eat anything weird, did you?” Mom reaches up to
touch my forehead again, but I manage to avoid her.
“I promise, I’m totally fine.”
Liar.
“If you say so.” Mom carefully folds the dish towels by the sink. “You still up for the movie?”
“Yeah, sure, I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Maybe he won’t make us watch Home Alone for the twentieth time,” Mom mutters, mostly to
herself I think.
“It’s a classic,” I tease, and she smiles at me, grabbing the little baggie of peppermint bark she
made a few days ago, before she disappears into the living room.
When she’s gone, I drape over the sink, bracing myself in case my dinner comes up. I can do
this, it’s going to be fine. Everything is going to be okay and this is most definitely the right thing
to do. I know my parents, they know me, they deserve to know this thing about me as well.
And I want to tell them, I really, really do.
So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
“Ben, bring me the popcorn,” Dad calls from the den, and I feel my insides clamp up again. I
grab the huge tub from the counter, the kind with the four different flavors that Dad always buys
at Christmas, and migrate my way into the den, except it’s like my feet are covered with cement
blocks.
It still looks like Christmas in here. Mom and I actually agree that people don’t appreciate the
holiday nearly enough, so she tends to leave the tree and decorations up until the first of the
year. I’m not really sure if that’s how other families do it, but it’s my favorite of her mom-isms.

She’s already decided that Elf is the movie for tonight, except we don’t own a copy of it, so it’s
my responsibility to find somewhere we can rent it.
“We can watch Lampoon next.”Dad crunches on a piece of popcorn.
After a little exploring, I find it, enter Mom’s credit card information, and settle in. It’s weird, I
usually love this movie to death, but tonight? It’s almost irritating. But I don’t think that’s actually
the movie’s fault. I feel uncomfortable, no matter how I sit, it’s like I have to escape my body
somehow.
And then the movie gets to the weird scene where Will Ferrell’s character is singing with Zooey
Deschanel while she’s in the shower, and I get that his character is supposed to be naïve or
whatever, but it still creeps me out a little.
“Now, that’s a woman.” Dad chuckles, feeding himself another piece of the chocolate-covered
popcorn. “Right, Ben?”
“Right.” I try my best to act like I’m in on the joke, even though that couldn’t be further from the
truth. I wonder if they’ve ever seen through that disguise, if they’ve ever entertained the idea
that I was anything other than their perfect son.
I don’t like lying to him.
Or Mom.
I’m basically always living a lie. They don’t really know everything about me.
And that’s what I’ve been working up to tonight, or really, the past few weeks. It’s the reason I
didn’t have an appetite, the reason why I couldn’t really focus on anything over the past week.
Christmas break seemed to glide by at a snail’s pace because I promised myself it’d happen
now, at some point over the break. Tonight feels like the right moment, even though I can’t
really explain why. Maybe I’m riding some magical Christmas high.
’Tis the season, I suppose.
Too bad I don’t feel very jolly right now. Maybe I should’ve donned some more “gay apparel” to
lighten the mood.
Some commercial starts playing, and a car company is running a sale for the “Ho-Ho-Holidays,”
and out of the corner of my eyes, I see Dad shake his head.
“Ain’t right,” I hear him mutter.
Mariam walked me through this half a dozen times; I just have to wait for a good moment, a lull
in the night, when we’re all feeling pretty good.

It was going to be fine; Mariam kept telling me that.
Everything was going to be fine and I was finally going to get this huge thing off my chest and it
was going to be great and they’d respect what I was telling them.
And it was all going to be fine.
I keep telling myself that now is the right moment. Over and over again as the movie keeps
playing and commercial breaks keep coming. But every time I open my mouth, the words fail
me, and I can’t force them out.
I shouldn’t be scared.
But for some reason I am, no matter how much I’ve willed myself to not be. I can’t get over this
feeling. Maybe it’s an omen or something. A sign that I shouldn’t do this. Except I have to do
this. I can’t explain it; I just feel it inside me. And underneath all that, I really do think it’ll all be
okay.
It’s cheesy, but I wait until the end of the movie, when everyone is together and happy and I see
a smile on Mom’s face.
Dad looks indifferent, but he pretty much always looks that way.
It has to be now. I can actually feel it.
“Hey, I wanted to talk to you two about something,” I say, my voice really dry.
“Okay.” Mom leans back on the couch, tucking her legs underneath her and balancing her head
in the palm of her hand. “What’s up?”
Dad reaches for the remote and turns the volume on the TV down.
“I …” I can do this. Just keep breathing.
There’s that tightness in my stomach, like something is just twisting and twisting and it won’t let
go until the moment is over. And everything will unravel, and I’ll feel free.
“I wanted to tell you two something.”
Dad looks at me now.
This is it.

It’s kinda funny actually; the script I wrote for myself, the one I typed in Word so I’d cover
everything I wanted to, it’s just totally gone from my memory now. Like someone zapped it all
away.
Maybe that’s for the best; maybe this is how I’ll be the most honest with them.
If it just comes from me and not some rehearsed version of myself, maybe that will help; maybe
that’ll be better?
I tell them. Slowly.
At first, relief floods over me. I think I can actually feel myself relax.
I just wish that feeling could’ve lasted longer.

“Please pick up. Please pick up,” I whisper into the receiver of the pay phone, bracing against
the sharp chill of the night, watching the glow of Christmas lights still hanging in shopwindows,
even though it’s New Year’s Eve.
Just an hour, that’s all it’d taken for my life to crumble around me. And now I’m here, walking
around downtown without any shoes, calling collect to a sister I haven’t seen, let alone spoken
to, in a decade.
“Hello?” Hannah’s voice sounds tired, but it isn’t even that late yet. At least, I don’t think it is; I
don’t have a watch. And my phone is sitting at home on my nightstand, charging, because the
battery is total crap.
“Hannah, it’s me.”
“Who is this?”
“It’s me,” I whisper. Of course. She wouldn’t know my voice, not anymore. Hell, she probably
wouldn’t even recognize me. “It’s Ben.”
There’s a slip, or noise, or something on her end. “Ben? What are you—”
I cut her off. “Can you come get me?”
“What? Why? What’s going on?”
“Hannah.” I look around. The sidewalk is totally empty, probably thanks to the sinking
temperatures. Everyone else is inside, somewhere nice and warm. And here I am slowly losing
the feeling in my toes, trying my absolute hardest not to shiver from the sharp gusts of wind.
“Ben, are you still there? Where are you?”

“Outside Twin Hill Pizza.” I tuck my hands under my armpits, balancing the phone between my
cheek and shoulder. There’s some more rustling on her end, and the sound of someone else
talking.
“What in the actual hell are you doing there? It’s like thirty degrees outside.”
“Mom and Dad kicked me out.”
The line goes silent, and for a second, I think the call dropped without warning. Oh God, I don’t
know if calling this way will work a second time.
“What?” Her voice almost seems emotionless, the way it’d get when she was truly, needlessly
enraged. Usually with Dad about something that didn’t call for it. “Why would they do that?”
“Can you please just come pick me up?” I try to breathe on my hands. “I can … I can explain
everything later.”
“Yeah, of course, just wait for me. Okay?”
“I’m going to the Walgreens down the street.” I can see the bright red sign from here, just a
block over. I give Hannah the address, listening closely to whatever is going on in the
background.
“Okay, I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Hannah lives in Raleigh, an hour drive at least, maybe forty-five minutes if she speeds. So I’ll be
waiting for a while.
At least no one inside the drugstore seems to care that I’m no longer abiding by the “no shoes”
part of their two most basic rules. The cashier behind the counter doesn’t even look up as I
weave my way into the farthest corner of the store and take my seat in one of the chairs near
the pharmacy waiting area.
My legs ache, and I’ve already torn a hole in one of my socks. I wrestle the filthy, soaked things
off my feet, and start rubbing at the numbed skin. I hope I can at least get some of the feeling
back. None of my toes are blue, so I’m taking that as a good sign.
At first, I don’t even notice I’m crying. Maybe it’s because my face already feels raw from the
wind outside, or because crying is something I’d been doing for nearly two hours straight before
I made the phone call. My vision goes blurry as I start to cry again, staring at my naked feet. I try
my best to wipe the tears away but the skin under my eyes stings so badly.
Jesus. I’m a fucking disaster.

I felt so numb on the walk over here, trying my best to get to the one place I knew had a pay
phone. Everyone at school liked to joke it was probably the last one in the country. Because
who needs pay phones anymore, right?
I pull my knees in tight, trying to keep quiet. If any of the employees notice, or see me, they
don’t say anything.
“Get out of this house.”
I didn’t even know it was possible for Dad to look at me the way he had, it was …
Terrifying.
At first, it was calm. Almost like they wanted to hear me out. They let me talk, and then I was
done. Mom never took her hands off her necklace, the cross, the one she told me Grandma
gave her when she was seven.
Dad spoke up first. “That’s a good joke, son.”
Except the way he said it told me he didn’t think it was a joke. His voice was flat, like there was
nothing to it.
“Dad …”
“You should take it back,” he added, to pretend like nothing had ever happened, that the
conversation was dust that could just be wiped away.
But it couldn’t.
And even if that was possible, I wouldn’t want to.
I don’t think I would at least.
“Mom.”I looked at her, and she kept looking from me to Dad and then back to me, not saying
anything. “Please?”
But she didn’t say anything. And Dad kept getting angrier. He never actually yelled at me. Dad’s
voice was that scary sort of calm. We all just sort of sat there. “You’re our son, Ben. This just
doesn’t make any sense.”
“Dad, I can—”
“Get out of my house, just get out of here.”
“What?”

“You heard me.”
“Please.”I begged them both. “Don’t do this.”
Dad led me to the door, and Mom followed on his heels. I just kept begging and begging, but
they never did anything.
“Mom! Please!”
“God doesn’t want this for you, Ben.”
I begged her not to say that, and then I started crying. But that must not have been enough. The
door closed, and I wanted it to open back up. I wanted this to be some cruel joke on their part.
One I could forgive them for later. I tried the knob, but it was locked, even the spare key they hid
under this fake rock didn’t work because they’d locked the dead bolt too.
I stop myself from rocking back and forth in the stiff chair, hoping, praying that Hannah can find
me.
What could I even do now? They wouldn’t take me back, would they? Would I even go back?
Would Hannah have some answers? I don’t even know what the hell I’m supposed to tell her, or
if she’ll even be able to help me. God, what if she’s as bad as Mom and Dad? She can’t be, can
she?
If only I’d just kept my goddamn mouth shut.
I don’t want to believe that, but it’s been ten years. Since she graduated, since we last talked to
each other, since she left me alone with them. She could be a totally different person. The kind
who hates who I am. But then again, I thought Mom and Dad might not either.
“Ben?”
I jump at the voice, not daring to look up.
“Benji?” It’s been forever since someone called me that. “Come on.”
It seems impossible for Hannah to already be here, but who knows.
“Hannah?” I murmur. My throat feels like it’s full of something. It’s harsh and prickly.
“Come on. These are your socks, right?” She picks them up carefully. The disgust on her face is
humiliating.
I nod. “They’re ripped.”

“They’re wet too.” She balls them up and throws them in her purse. “Let’s get you home.”
I shake my head. “Don’t want to.” I feel like a child, but the thought of going back there—I can’t
go back there.
“I meant my place. Come on.” Hannah puts her hand on my shoulders so she can grab under
my arm and help pick me up. I guess I have been sitting here for an hour, because all the blood
starts rushing into my legs again, filling them with that television-static feeling I hate. We walk
out slowly, each step sending a sharp sting up my spine. I’m silently praying that the cashiers
have found something else to do so they won’t see us.
Hannah’s car is still running, thankfully. When she’s finished helping me into the passenger’s
seat, buckling my seat belt for me, she bolts across to the driver’s side. “I should’ve turned your
seat warmer on, sorry.”
At least the car is warm.
“You feeling okay?” Hannah puts the car into reverse and backs out of the parking space,
glancing between me and the rear windshield.
“Yeah,” I say, even though “okay” might be the thing I’m furthest from now. What the fuck am I
supposed to do now? Everything is … it’s gone.
“Are you hungry?”
I don’t reply. I’m not though. Mom had made chicken for dinner, but since I’d been planning this
for weeks now, months even, my stomach had been churning all day, so much that I knew I’d
never keep down whatever I ate. Even now on an empty stomach, my appetite is nonexistent,
and the thought of any sort of food makes me feel sick.
“Ben?” Hannah says my name again, except this time she feels a thousand miles away. Then I
hear her mutter, “Taking you to the hospital.”
“No.” I grab her arm, as if that’ll stop her from making the U-turn. “I’m fine, I swear.”
“Benji.”
“Just, can we go back to your place? Please?”
She looks at me with the same brown eyes I have, the ones we both managed to get from Dad.
“Okay.” She finds another turn lane, her blinker clicking in the deadened silence of the car. “You
don’t want to talk about it, do you?”
I shake my head. “Not right now.”

“Okay, try to get some rest or something. I’ll wake you up when we get there.”

We ride in silence, the only real noise the low volume of the radio playing Top 40 songs. I try to
sleep, or to ease my mind, to relax, to not think about what I’ve done. But it’s impossible.
Because I said those three little words.
“I am nonbinary.”
Mom and Dad both sat there speechless for a few seconds. Dad was the first to react, asking
for an explanation. That was fair, and maybe a good sign. I wasn’t quite sure but was willing to
take whatever was thrown my way at that point.
Dad used the T-word, and it came like a slap to the face. I’d never heard him use that word
before. That was the moment my stomach sank. I tried to explain the differences, what being
non-binary meant, but it was like every time I tried to speak, the more I wanted to cry. Then the
yelling started, and everything was moving so fast. I couldn’t talk or make any sense of what
they were saying.
“You need to leave.”Dad pointed right at me.
“Ben?”
I must’ve fallen asleep at some point because my eyes are heavy, my mouth groggy and gross,
and my limbs tight.
“We’re here.” She puts the car in park but leaves the engine running, vents still spewing hot air.
I stare at the house. The brown bricks and the green siding. I’ve seen it before, never at night,
but in Facebook photos and posts. The only way I’d been able to keep up with what was going
on in Hannah’s life.
“You can sleep in the guest room, okay?”
I nod and follow her through the garage, my feet going frigid at being exposed to the cold of the
pavement again. Hannah unlocks the door quickly and leads me up the steps, flipping on the
light switch of the guest room. “Bathroom is across the hall, if you want to take a shower or
anything.”
I stare at the bedroom: There’s a huge queen-sized bed, plenty of pillows. Definitely nicer than
my room at home, but emptier too. There aren’t any pictures on the walls, or little toys on the
dresser.

“Here.” Hannah folds back the mirrored doors of the closet and grabs a stack of blankets. “Get
some sleep. We’ll figure things out in the morning, okay?”
I nod again and stare at the bed. Hannah looks like she wants to add something else, or hug
me, or tell me it’s all going to be okay. But she doesn’t do any of those things.
Guess even she knows it won’t be.
She closes the door behind her, leaving the room even emptier.
I undress down to my boxers and pull back the sheets, crawling into the soft, unused bed. I toss
and turn, but after a few minutes it’s obvious I’m not going to be sleeping tonight. Every time I
close my eyes I see their faces. So vivid, right there in front of me, yelling. And when I open
them, there’s nothing but the dark loneliness of the bedroom. I reach over to the remote on the
nightstand and flip through a few of the channels on the TV, my eyes settling on a rerun of The
Golden Girls.
Because I can’t be alone right now. Not tonight.
Thanks for being a friend, Betty White.

Yesterday actually happened.
It takes me more than a few minutes to realize it wasn’t some super vivid nightmare, or a fever
dream or something. It was really real.
I came out to my parents, and they kicked me out of the house.
To think I’d been ignorant enough to believe it’d go well. I really did. I thought that we could still
be this happy family, no secrets between us. I could actually be me. And I should’ve known
better than that.
And now everything is over.
Everything.
I don’t know whether to cry or scream or do both. It feels like I’ve done more than enough of
both. And it feels like I haven’t done enough.
And at some point, I know I’m going to have to crawl out of this bed and pick up the pieces, but
right now it can be just me. Just me, these four walls, and this bed.
The universe doesn’t have to exist outside this bedroom, and that’s perfectly okay.

“I still can’t believe them.” I hear Hannah’s voice echo through the house as I make my way
down the stairs, because there was only so long I could stay in my own little universe.
“He just called from a pay phone?” That voice I don’t recognize, but it’s deep and gruff. I’m
guessing that’s her husband. Thomas?
There’s only so much you can learn about someone on Facebook without actually friending
them. That probably sounds a little creepy, but I couldn’t risk Mom or Dad going on my profile
and seeing “Hannah Waller” on my friends list.

“When it was thirty fucking degrees outside.” Hannah drops something into the sink so hard that
I’m guessing she’s broken whatever it was. I rub my eyes, unsure of what time it is as I try to
guess where the kitchen might be.
“Hannah?” I call out, glancing around the hallway filled with pictures. There are a few I
recognize from Facebook. Some from what looks like their wedding day, others while her and
Thomas are out on a boat. They look happy together.
The door at the far end of the hallway swings open, Hannah pushing through, dressed in an
oversized sweater and dark jeans. “Good morning.” She smiles, crossing her arms.
“Morning.” I run a hand through my hair, trying to make the curls in the back lie down.
“We made breakfast.” She leads me through the swinging door into the kitchen. The white guy
from all the photos is at the table, empty plate pushed to the side. He’s sporting a beard and a
shirt with a logo for a sports team I don’t recognize.
“Good morning. Sleep okay?” is all he asks me.
“Yeah,” I lie. My body must’ve finally shut down, because one minute I remember trying to laugh
at something on TV and the next the sun was shining through the thin curtains of the bedroom.
I’m guessing this is what being hit by an eighteen-wheeler feels like.
“Oh, Ben, this is my husband, Thomas.” Hannah nods to the guy at the table. It’s weird to think
there’s this brother-in-law I have now, one that I’ve literally only ever seen pictures of.
Thomas raises his mug to me. “Nice to finally meet you. Hannah’s told me a lot of stories.”
No doubt I was a kid in all of them. Hannah offers me a seat at their super tall bistro-style table
that sits in the far corner, the windows letting in way too much light for so early in the morning.
Though a quick glance at the microwave tells me it’s nearly noon.
“Ben.” Hannah takes the seat next to Thomas, her hands folded. “Can you tell us what
happened?”
I suppose there really isn’t any avoiding it, and I do owe them an explanation of some kind. The
problem is I don’t even know where to begin with this. I mean I know where to start, but it’s like
my mouth doesn’t want to work, like it’s stuffed with cotton or something, and I know whatever I
say probably won’t make much sense.
“I’m going to go upstairs. Maybe you two should talk alone.” Thomas takes his mug and pushes
his chair under the table, stretching his legs. I watch the kitchen door swing on its hinges after
he leaves, back and forth until it steadily slows, and the door settles into its natural place.
“Please, Benji, talk to me.”

Okay. I can do this. I did it last night. Those three words and this whole thing could be over. But
do I really even know my sister? Can she even help me? Maybe this was all some huge
mistake.
But she might be my only shot at some kind of normalcy, at least for now.
“I’m … nonbinary,” I finally spit out. I even manage to make it two words instead of three.
Hannah leans back in her seat, sort of staring at me and not staring at me at the same time.
This was a mistake. I’d found somewhere to go and now I’ve fucked it up all over again. Jesus,
where could I go after this? Mom will have definitely called Grandma, probably Aunt Susan too.
And I can’t exactly show up at any of my classmates’ houses. Besides, how would I even make
it back home without paying for a taxi or something? I push back in my chair, preparing to go
upstairs and get my things before I remember I don’t have any things with me.
At least that means a straight shot. Right out the door. There’s no way I’ll remember how to get
home, so I’ll have to stop at a gas station or something, get directions. How am I even supposed
to walk that far without shoes or socks?
“No, Ben, wait.” Hannah grabs my wrist, and I almost pull away. Her grip is too tight though.
“Sorry, I just wasn’t expecting that.” She looks at me. First at my face, then the rest of my body,
as if I’ve somehow transformed right in front of her. “So, Mom and Dad kicked you out for that?”
I nod.
“Figures.”
“I thought they’d understand.” I really, really did. I mean, I’m their child. I thought that might
account for something.
“I’m sorry, kiddo.” She nods to the chair. “Sit back down. Please.”
I eye her before I take my seat again, rubbing my sweaty palms on the knees of my jeans. I
haven’t showered yet, which makes me feel that much more disgusting. Like I’m covered in a
film I’ll never crawl out of.
“You’re eighteen, right?”
I nod.
“Have you graduated yet?” she asks.
I feel like the answer should be obvious, but I have to remind myself again. She’s been gone for
ten years. “No.”

“Okay, this is a question I already know the answer to, but do you want to go back there?”
Even at the idea my stomach clenches, like there’s a fist slowly closing around it. “No. Please,
no.”
“Okay, okay. It’s all right. We’ll need to talk about some things, okay? Like school, new clothes,
everything else you’ll need. I’ve already talked with Thomas, and we don’t mind you living here.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, kid.” She runs a hand through her red hair, a dye job, I’m guessing, since no one in our
family has red hair. And the chances of her hair suddenly turning red naturally seem bleak. She
hasn’t changed much since she left. There’s still no mistaking us as anything other than siblings.
Same eyes, same pointy nose, same pasty white skin, same mess of hair. I wonder how
different I look to her. “Sorry, I’m trying to think. Not really sure where to start with this stuff.”
I can’t even look at her. “Sorry.”
“Hey, don’t apologize, okay? This isn’t your fault.”
I know that. Deep down, I do. But right now it’s hard to swallow. To accept it.
“So, what are your pronouns?” she asks.
The question strikes me. Not in the bad way. It’s just weird. Hannah is the first person to ask.
The first person who had to ask. “They and them,” I say, trying to sound confident, but even I
can tell I’m failing miserably.
“All right. Well, it might take some getting used to, so I want you to correct me when I mess up,
okay? Do you want me to explain everything to Thomas?”
I nod.
At least that way I won’t have to.

Hannah gives me some of Thomas’s clothes to change into after I get out of the shower. “He’s
about two sizes bigger than you, but I’ll need to wash these before you wear them again.” She
bunches up my clothes in her arms. I drown in Thomas’s shirt, but at least the sweatpants have
a drawstring. “We’ll go out shopping later, okay? Get you the basics,” she adds.
“Thank you.”

“Thomas and I talked about getting you into another school. He teaches at North Wake High
School, called his principal this morning to see what we’d need to get you switched over. We,
um …” Hannah sighs. “We also looked into therapists in the area, someone you could talk to.”
On the list of everything I want to do right now, that is near the very bottom. Probably
somewhere between fighting an alligator and jumping out of a plane. “Do I have to?”
“Well, no, you’re an adult, technically. But I think it’d help. There’s one my friend Ginger and her
son saw after he came out. Dr. Bridgette Taylor. Maybe she can help, she specializes in kids
like … kids like you.”
“You mean queer kids?” I say.
Hannah acts like she’s waiting for my actual reply, my agreement, but when I don’t say anything
else, she just sighs again. “Think about it, okay?” And then she’s gone.
I sit there in the silence of the room, not sure what I’m supposed to do now. Like, what do you
do when your parents kick you out of your house? When your entire life is upheaved, all
because you wanted to come out, to be respected and seen, to be called the right pronouns? I
almost reach for my sketch pad before I remember it’s in my backpack, at home. I can’t even do
the one thing that might comfort me.
So instead I make the bed, hoping it’ll give me enough of a distraction, maybe let my mind
wander for a few good minutes. But it doesn’t really help, so when I’m done I walk downstairs.
“What’s up?” Hannah’s still at the washing machine, hidden behind these folding doors in the
kitchen, basket of newly dried clothes in her hand.
I offer to take something, but she shakes her head. “I got it. Something wrong?”
“No. Do you have a computer I can use?”
“Sure.” Hannah leaves everything on top of the dryer and walks back into the kitchen and
through another door. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to follow, but I do anyway.
Their living room is smaller than the one at home, but it looks lived in, comfortable. Hannah was
always a bit on the messy side, but it seems like she’s found a nice middle ground now. Or
maybe this is Thomas’s handiwork.
“Go ahead and set up your own account so you can log in to your texts and stuff.” Hannah
grabs her laptop from its spot between the end table and the couch, disconnecting the charger.
“If you have any questions, just ask, but I’m sure you know more about this thing than I do.”

“Thanks.” I take a seat on the huge couch. I’m already at home with the laptop, since it’s exactly
like my old one. I type in my email address and password, so that I can read or respond to any
texts I’ve gotten. There aren’t any yet, but Mariam is probably still asleep.
I still haven’t figured out exactly how I’m going to tell them about this. I almost log in to my
Facebook, but I have to stop myself. Or actually, Thomas stops me.
“Ben?” he calls.
“Yeah?”
Thomas is dressed up more than he was at breakfast. Collared shirt with a dark gray sweater
thrown over it and matching gray pants. “I talked with my principal. She said she wants to meet
with you, get you enrolled.”
“Today?” I ask.
“If you’re okay with that. I’m not sure yet if we’ll need to go to your old school. They should be
able to send over your records no problem.”
“Oh.”
“We don’t have to right now, but the sooner we do, the less you’ll miss.”
“No, I mean, that’s fine.” I glance down at my sweatpants. “Just, do you have anything else I can
wear? I don’t think Hannah’s done with the laundry.”
Thomas chuckles and nods toward the stairs. “Come on.”
Fifteen minutes later, I’m sitting in Thomas’s car, wearing the still too-big shirt, jeans that are so
long I have to roll them up three times, and socks that are slowly pooling around my ankles.
But it’s something at least. The hoodie Thomas gave me hides most of my discomfort, I think.
And the shoes fit me, which must be some kind of miracle. Or maybe Thomas just has really
small feet? He even says I can keep them.
“I can’t tell you the last time I wore them.”
“Thanks.” We pull out of the driveway and onto the road, and immediately everything is so
awkward. What do I even say to this guy? What are we supposed to talk about? Would it be too
awkward to ask him a bunch of questions? Eventually I spit out: “So why aren’t you at work
today?”
Because that’s totally normal. Really hit it out of the park with that one, Ben.

“I called out when Hannah woke me up last night. Figured this was more important.”
“Oh.” I fiddle with the fraying hem of his hoodie. “What do you teach?”
“Chemistry.”
“That’s cool.” I wait a few seconds longer than I probably should. “I like chemistry.”
“It’s interesting, to say the least.” Thomas turns on his blinker. “I guess it’s weird that we’ve
never really met.”
“Yeah.” I stare down at the shoes.
“Did your parents talk about your sister a lot? After she left?”
I shake my head. “They sort of had a no-talking-about-Hannah rule.” I pull another of the loose
strings, balling it up in my fingers. “How long have you two been married?”
“Four years last September.”
“Oh, that’s great.”
“Yeah.” Thomas sighs. “Hannah talks about you a lot. She’s really missed you.”
Thomas’s words sit sort of heavy in the air, and for a few seconds, there isn’t a word between
us. “Yeah, I missed her too,” I add quietly.
I don’t think Thomas fully realizes what he’s said, not that there’s really any reason for him to.

North Wake High is definitely nicer than Wayne.
Wayne High was built in the sixties, with only slight updates here and there when needed. North
Wake is all new, with floor-to-ceiling windows, and slanted roofs, and chrome. Even the parking
lot is filled with shiny, expensive-looking cars.
Everything looks so bright and new and put together. Like everything here has a place and
that’s exactly where it belongs. And I’m the extra piece that doesn’t fit in. Thomas pulls into the
parking lot, parking near the front entrance of the school. “Here we are.”
I stare at the front doors of the school. Unmoving.
“You know we don’t have to do this, right?”

“Might as well get it over with,” I say quietly.
“Are you sure? You don’t seem too thrilled. We can look at different schools, I just thought this
would be easier.”
“I don’t want to tell them,” I blurt out. “That I’m nonbinary.”
Thomas’s hands drop from the wheel. “Are you sure? You know that means everyone’s going to
call you by the wrong pronouns?”
Like that wasn’t obvious. “I don’t care.” I’m used to it by now.
“And you’re sure about this?”
“One hundred percent certain.” And I am. I don’t think I can handle actually being out right now.
Not unless I absolutely have to be.
“Okay. We’ll have to lie and say it was something else. This sounds harsh, but if Principal Smith
knows you were kicked out, that’ll help.”
I shrug. “Whatever.”
“All right.”
Thomas leads me through the huge glass doors at the front of the school. There’s a group of
kids hanging out near the front, and each of them waves to Thomas as he passes by. I guess
their Christmas break is already over. Back home we still had another week left to go.
“Thought you were sick today, Mr. Waller?” one of them says.
Thomas waves back at them. “Nope, just had some stuff to handle.”
I try to follow far enough behind Thomas so maybe the other students won’t make a connection
between us, but the way their eyes drop from him to me tells me that they already have. He
leads me through another set of glass doors into the front office, waving at the secretary behind
the desk. “Hey, Kev.”
“Hey, Thomas. Principal Smith’s already waiting for you,” he says.
“Thanks.” Thomas turns to me. “You wait out here for a second. I’m going to explain the
situation to her.”
“Okay.” I take a seat in one of the plush armchairs up against the glass dividers of the office.
“Don’t tell her. Please?” I say under my breath.

“I swear,” he assures me, and something about the way he says this tells me to believe him.
I watch Thomas as he vanishes around the corner, waiting to pull my phone out of my pocket,
before I remember it isn’t there. I’ll need to talk to Hannah about getting a replacement, though
I’m not really sure how I’m going to pay for it. Maybe I can get a job somewhere, start saving up
too. I don’t really know what Hannah’s offered. If she’s only planning on letting me stay until
graduation, or as long as I need to.
Then there’s college, and the letters that’ll decide my entire future. Letters that’ll be delivered to
Mom and Dad’s house because that was the address I put on all those applications. I wonder if
there’s anyone I can talk to at the schools, ask to be sent another letter. Or maybe I’ll have to
apply all over again.
God, I don’t want to even imagine having to pay for it. I can’t ask Hannah to do that; I don’t want
Hannah to do that for me. Maybe that’s some kind of blessing in disguise, Mom and Dad were
definitely more excited about me going to college than I was.
Maybe now I don’t have to worry about it anymore.
I guess we still have a lot to discuss, but how am I supposed to basically ask my sister when
she’s planning on kicking me out?
I’m getting antsy, and now isn’t the time to think about this stuff, but I can’t get my mind to focus
on anything else. Every time I glance up at the clock above the door, it’s like time slows down,
which is only adding to the torture.
And then the door swings open, and a boy walks in.
He’s tall—much taller than me, tall enough that his legs are the first things I notice—with a
skinny frame and dark brown skin, black hair buzzed shorter on the sides so the top sticks out a
little more.
“Hi, Kev,” he says with a smile.
“Hey, Nathan.” The secretary behind the desk smiles back. “Not in any trouble, are we?”
“I knew my street racing days would catch up with me.” This kid, Nathan, laughs like it’s his
favorite thing in the world to do. “Principal Smith called for me.”
“You specifically?” Kev raises an eyebrow. “Must be some special occasion.”
“Maybe my status as a model student is finally getting recognized.”
“Hilarious.” Kev doesn’t laugh. “Well, she’s in a meeting right now, so just take a seat, shouldn’t
be too much longer.”

“Cool.” Nathan takes the seat next to me, crossing one long leg over the other, and rests his
hands in his lap. It takes just a few seconds for him to break the silence. “Are you new? I don’t
think I’ve seen you around.” He adjusts the way he’s sitting so he can sort of face me.
“Yeah, um, just moved here.” I shuffle my feet, my socks falling farther down the backs of my
feet.
“Nice. I’m Nathan.” He sticks out a hand.
I take it slowly but don’t shake, and I don’t really know why. It’s like my brain is falling behind the
rest of my body. “Ben.”
“So where are you from, Ben?”
“Here.” I answer before I realize what I’m really saying. “Or, not here, but I am from North
Carolina,” I sputter. Dammit, I can’t even get this right. “Goldsboro, I’m from Goldsboro,” I finally
say.
“Oh.” To his credit, he doesn’t laugh at how much of a walking disaster I am. “So not too far
out?”
“Yeah.”
“Ben.” Thomas saves me from any further embarrassment. “Principal Smith’s ready to see you.”
“Hey, Mr. W!” Nathan perks up in his seat. “Thought you were out today?”
“Hey, Nathan, just helping Ben with something.” Thomas tucks his hands into his pockets.
“What’re you doing here?”
“Principal Smith called me in.”
“Oh,” Thomas says, looking a little confused before he glances my way again. “Come on in,
Ben, she’s waiting.”
“Good luck, Ben, hope to see you around.” Nathan grins at me.
“Thanks,” I say, giving him a quiet smile back before I follow Thomas down the hallway.

Principal Smith has a slow way of explaining things that I really appreciate, because all this
information feels like it’s going in one ear and out the other.
There are about two dozen documents to read over and fill out. Forms to get me back into my
classes, authorization for a school ID, cafeteria account information, classes to sign up for.
It’s all so confusing.
“Will Ben still be on track to graduate?” I can tell Thomas is watching his pronoun use, which I
appreciate more than he probably realizes.
“We won’t know until we get his transcripts and grades, but I’m guessing he will be. Our school
system operates similarly to his former one.”
His.
No, I can’t be angry, or upset. This was my choice, and that isn’t allowed, not right now.
“How soon could I start?” I ask.
“Tomorrow if you wanted, provided the papers are faxed over in a timely manner. Thankfully it’s
the start of a new semester, so you won’t have too much trouble catching up in your classes.”
“Ben’s a smart kid.” Thomas pats my shoulder. I want to take the compliment, but we’ve known
each other for all of about two hours in total now.
“So, what do you say, Ben? Would you be okay with that?” Principal Smith asks me.
I nod. “Yeah.”
“Good.” She pulls out a manila folder and stuffs inside all the papers she’s laid out for me. “If
you two want to review the documents real quick, fill them out, and just sign where each page
tells you.”

“Come on, we’ll go to the teachers’ lounge, should be empty.” Thomas takes the folder.
“Oh and, Thomas? Can you send in Nathan, please?” Principal Smith asks.
“Sure thing.” Thomas holds the door to the office for me. “Nathan, Mrs. Smith is ready for you
now.” Nathan’s typing away on his phone when Thomas calls for him.
He gives Thomas a mock salute and jumps out of his seat, giving me a smirk and a wink as we
cross paths. Yep. He’s definitely taller than me, at least a full head, and maybe more. I try to
smile back, but I’m sure it comes off as creepy more than anything else. I follow Thomas down
the hall to a door just outside what looks like an empty cafeteria. He types a code into this
keypad, and there’s a distinct click before he pushes it open.
A hell of a lot fancier than Wayne.
Filling out paperwork is even more tedious than it sounds. There are questions I don’t know the
answers to, some that make me feel totally useless, some I’m worried I’m answering in the
wrong way because the wording is confusing. If Thomas wasn’t here to help, I would be up a
creek. But forty-five minutes later, we finish and march right back to Principal Smith’s office.
“Excellent.” Mrs. Smith takes the papers. “And I’ve contacted your old school, and they’re going
to fax over the rest of your papers today. I’ll call you tonight if there are any problems, Thomas,
but it looks like Ben is North Wake’s newest student.” Mrs. Smith sounds way too excited about
this, but I guess I should be grateful she didn’t turn me down without question.
Thomas puts a hand on my shoulder.
“Thank you,” I say.
“Oh, and I’ve assigned someone to help show you around. Nathan Allan. He said you two met in
the waiting room?”
“Yeah. Sort of.”
“He’s going to meet you here in the office tomorrow morning, so get here a little earlier than you
normally would.”
“Got it. We’ll be here bright and early.” Thomas moves toward the door. “Thank you, Diane.”
“No problem. And, Ben, welcome to North Wake.”

I don’t talk during the drive home. Thomas wants to, apparently, but he gets the message pretty
quickly.
“You can take the bus, or you can ride with me if you want.”
Nothing.
He chuckles awkwardly. “You’ll have to wake up about an hour earlier if you want me to take
you though.”
I don’t answer him. Really, I don’t mind either way, but I’d prefer riding with Thomas. Buses
suck.
But I just don’t feel like talking. Not right now. Thomas probably thinks I’m some asshole. He
takes me in, gets me into a new school the day after my parents kick me out, and here I am,
ignoring him.
Maybe Hannah is right. Maybe I do need counseling. I just feel so … drained.
By the time we make it back to their house, Hannah is gone, her spot in the garage empty. “I’m
going to work on some lesson plans. You can relax in the living room or do whatever. There’s
food in the kitchen if you get hungry. Nothing’s off-limits, so don’t hesitate.” Thomas drops his
keys in a bowl by the door.
I retrace my steps back into the living room and take the same seat on the couch as before,
pulling out the laptop. A few seconds after booting it up, the notifications start going wild. It’s
Mariam.
Mariam:Benji???? What’s up???
Mariam:Don’t go ignoring me kiddo, don’t tell me you got your phone taken away again???
Mariam:Helloooooooo?
Mariam:Is everything okay Benji?
Mariam:B E N J A M I N????
That’s Mariam for you.
Me:Hey
I figure out the time zones between North Carolina and California in my head; at three hours
behind they’ll probably be getting out of bed by now. Mariam is a total night owl, which usually
means they are up by ten at the earliest.

Mariam:How we doing today???
Me:Not good.
I consider lying to Mariam, no reason to make them worry. But they’d figure it out one way or the
other. If not now, then the next time we FaceTime and they don’t recognize my new bedroom.
Mariam:Are you okay? Do you want to talk about it?
Me:I came out to my mom and dad.
Mariam:Oh no…
Me:They kicked me out
Me:I’m with my sister now
Mariam:Fuck…
Mariam:The sister that your parents hate?
Me:The very one.
Mariam:Ben, I’m so sorry, I don’t even know what to say.
Mariam:So what’s the plan?
Me:I have no clue. I got enrolled in this other school, but other than that…
Me:Just trying to figure things out, get going again.
Mariam:Oh Ben… I feel so useless. I wish I knew what to say to you right now.
Me:It’s fine, there’s really nothing you can do.
Mariam:No, it’s not fine. I’m so… angry, sad.
Even trying to make a joke feels empty right now, but before I can stop myself, my fingers are
typing it out automatically.
Me:I think they call that smad.
Mariam:Don’t make me laugh right now, please.
Mariam:Oh god, okay

Mariam:Listen I have to go get ready for a meeting. But I’ll message you the second I’m out. I
love you Benji. So much. <3
Me:Love you too.
I close the laptop and tuck it away, ignoring the growl in my stomach. Thomas said to help
myself to food, but I don’t think he realizes just how awkward that’ll be. I can wait.
If I have to.
I try to waste time flipping through the channels on the TV, but nothing’s catching my eye. After
another hour, I check my messages again, but Mariam hasn’t responded, so I pull up their
YouTube channel and pick a video at random, watching with the volume low since I don’t have
my headphones. Doesn’t matter, they caption all their videos.
I feel myself relaxing. That weird weight on my chest feels a little lighter right now. Like I can
actually breathe for the first time in hours. I found Mariam’s channel on a message board for
trans and nonbinary teens after I’d started questioning my own identity and spent a whole night
binging their videos and vlogs. Mariam talked about pretty much anything and everything. From
immigrating to the United States from Bahrain, to coming out to their family, to dating as a
nonbinary person.
Their videos are the reason I know what I identify as, and when I finally mustered the courage to
come out to someone, it was Mariam. That was a super awkward night. In fact, I made a Twitter
account just to talk to them. But they worked me through it, and we just kept talking until we
realized we shared a mutual love for Steven Universe. Hell, they’re one of the few people who I
let call me Benji.
I can hear the door swing open, and Hannah comes barreling through from the garage, plastic
bags hanging from her fingers and wrists. “Ben? Thomas? Y’all back yet?”
“In here,” I say, but I don’t think she hears me.
From the sound of it, she’s moving down the hall right into the kitchen. I hear her grunt, and then
something lands on the counter with a thud. What in the fresh hell? I slip past the still-swinging
door, staring at everything Hannah’s laid out.
“What is all this?” I ask, staring at the bags sporting the big red Target logo.
“I went out, got you a few things.” She starts unpacking the bags. There are packs of
underwear, socks, a razor, some deodorant. I can’t help but notice the last two items are lacking
in the “For Men” category. I don’t know if Hannah did that on purpose, but God, I love her for it.
“Oh …” I stare at everything laid out for me.

“I don’t really know what kinds of clothes you’re into.” She starts balling up the empty bags. “We
can go shopping together this weekend if you want, but I figured I could get you the essentials
for now.”
“Thank you.” I can actually feel myself smiling.
“No problem, kiddo.”
“You get everything?” Thomas asks, strolling in from his office.
“Close to it,” Hannah says. “How’d enrollment go?”
“They’ll start tomorrow.” Thomas is grinning, looking at everything on the counter.
I’m still looking through the things Hannah bought for me. “Thank you,” I say again. I don’t want
to let go of any of it, scared that it might slip away from me at any moment.
“It’s no biggie.” She starts rubbing my shoulder again. “You’re going to be okay.”
I start nodding, and I really hope I’m not crying or anything.

“Ready for your first day?” Thomas asks me the next morning, mug of coffee already in hand.
“I guess.” I look around the kitchen. “Do you mind if I have a cup?”
“Oh, yeah.” He moves over to the cabinet and pulls out this mug that says “Donut Tell Me What
to Do,” along with a picture of a half-eaten donut. “Creamer’s in the fridge.”
“Thanks.” I pour my cup slowly, savoring the smell of the coffee for a few seconds.
“Nervous?”
“A little.”
“You’ll be okay.” He chuckles. “Nathan’s a good kid, though I can’t really speak for his
tour-guide abilities.” Thomas takes a sip from his mug, leaving this awkward silence. “You’ll
need to go to the office first thing and get your schedule.”
“Okay.” I wonder what classes they’ll put me in. Hopefully the same ones I was taking at Wayne.
I also can’t help but wonder if any of my classmates back home will even realize I’m gone. I
wasn’t exactly super popular there, and I didn’t really have anyone I could call a friend. But
someone has to notice, right? At least my teachers. One of your students can’t vanish over
Christmas break without you realizing it.
Thomas drives us to school with some local talk show blaring over the radio. He chuckles at a
joke every few minutes, but other than that, he seems quiet. Until he isn’t.
“Hey, Ben.” Thomas turns down the radio.
I guess we could only go for so long.

“Yeah?” I say.
“How long has it been since you’ve seen Hannah?”
Out of everything he could’ve asked, I wasn’t really expecting that. I also feel like he should
already know the answer to that. “About ten years, why?”
“You don’t know much about her, do you?”
“Not anymore.”
“Did you even know we were married?”
“Kinda,” I say, and he waits for further explanation. “I found her on Facebook. Your wedding
pictures were up there.”
“Oh, makes sense.”
“You said that Hannah talked about me a lot?”
“Yeah.” He laughs like he told a joke with himself. “She’d tell me stories about you two all the
time, the trouble you’d get into.”
I don’t particularly remember getting into a lot of trouble with Hannah. Most of my memories of
her involve loud music, slammed doors, yelling. Sometimes at Mom and Dad, sometimes at me,
but okay I guess.
I want to ask Thomas if Hannah ever mentioned coming back for me, or even wanting to come
back for me, but that feels like an inappropriate question for the brother-in-law you really just
met.

My classes are almost exactly the same as they were at Wayne High: English 4, Chemistry
Honors, Calculus Honors. The only difference is Art 4. I don’t really know what that is though. In
Goldsboro we just had normal art classes.
North Wake has different lunch times too. They’re scheduled closer to actual lunch instead of
being spread between ten and eleven thirty in the morning.
“You can just wait here for Nathan, I’m sure he’ll be here soon,” Kev the secretary tells me. I
wonder if his name is actually Kev, or if it’s just short for Kevin, or maybe something else? I take
the same seat I had yesterday, still wishing that I had a phone to kill time with. Hannah
promised me we’d go get a replacement this weekend.

For now, I’ll just have to settle for staring at the clock, awkwardly smiling at anyone walking into
the office who I happen to lock eyes with, until Nathan finally gets here.
“There he is.”
He.
I try my best not to let my face show anything, because this is something I need to get used to. I
wanted this. It’s simpler. And I can’t be mad at him for it.
Nathan claps his hands eagerly. “You ready for the grand tour?”
“Yeah,” I say, grabbing my backpack. Another Hannah purchase.
“Got your schedule yet?”
I hand him the folded piece of blue paper and listen to him read off the classes. “Nice, we have
the same homeroom, and the same Chem class, so we’ll be in the same lunch period too!”
“Oh, nice.”
“Let’s start with English.” Nathan leads me down this sterile white hallway, with lockers against
the walls that alternate between dark blue and a dull gold. “You’ve got Mrs. Williams. I had her
last year and she’s tough, but if you do your best and need some extra credit at the end of the
year, she’s usually good for it.” He points to the empty classroom, filled with desks; hopefully I
won’t have trouble remembering which classroom is which.
There isn’t much to distinguish it from the others, save the “Room 303” marker above the door. I
repeat the number in my head. 303, 303, 303.
“Calculus?” Nathan asks. Clearly I’ve missed his question.
“Huh?” I shake myself out my trance. “Sorry.”
He smiles again. “You’re in Honors Calculus? Pretty advanced stuff.”
“Oh. I like math,” I say.
“Really? I have to say in all my seventeen years, that’s a first.” He grins.
“Well, I don’t like it really,” I correct myself. “But I’m good at it.”
“You’ll have to be more than just ‘good’ for honors classes here, even with the transfer.” He
adds, “We don’t get too many new kids, so you’re going to be a hot commodity around here.”
“Really?” Great. Just what I need.

“No worries. As long as you keep your head down around the rough and tough football team,
you should be good.”
I don’t know what to say next, so I keep quiet.
“Oh, and stay away from the bathrooms near the music room, the band kids aren’t afraid of
PDA.” He shivers a little. “Some things you’ll never unsee.”
“Hmm,” I hum, hoping he’ll take that as an answer.
We stay mostly quiet as he leads me to Chemistry. “The thing about Chemistry is that it’s at the
back of the school, so you really have to run to the cafeteria if you want the edible stuff. Mr. W’s
pretty cool though, he’ll let us out early sometimes.” Nathan reads over my schedule again. “Do
you know him? I saw you two in the office yesterday.”
“He’s my brother-in-law.”
“Oh, wow. I’m surprised they let you into his class.” I don’t mention it, but I have a feeling
Thomas orchestrated that. Nathan knocks on Thomas’s open classroom door. “Morning, Mr.
Waller.”
Thomas is sitting at his desk in the far corner of the room. “Morning, Nathan, still showing Ben
around?” he asks, scribbling something down.
“Yeah.” Nathan leans over the long counter at the front of the room, balancing one knee on a
stool.
“Is he as good of a tour guide as he claims, Ben?” Thomas marks something on one of his
papers before spinning his chair to face us, hands propped up on the armrests like some sort of
supervillain.
“Yeah.” I gaze into this small aquarium situated on the counter at the front of the room, where I
watch the biggest tadpoles I’ve ever seen swim around in the murky water.
“He’s not a talkative one,” Nathan adds.
“No, Ben isn’t.” He sighs. “You two better move along, you don’t have much longer.”
“Right. Guess we’ll see ya in a few, Mr. W.” Nathan waves, leading me back into the hallway.
We walk toward the cafeteria next. I’m seriously doubting I’ll ever bother coming here; I never
did in Goldsboro. “So, do you have any questions? Concerns? Thoughts or opinions?
Complaints? You haven’t really said much.”
I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Of course, my brain is so rattled right now. Last night I
passed out around midnight, but woke up about two hours later, unable to fall back asleep. So

far this doesn’t seem that much different from my old school. But with the way Nathan is looking
at me, I feel like I need to ask something. “Are you a senior too?”
His face sort of twists, like the question surprises him, but he just laughs it off with a grin and the
shake of his head. “Well, I meant about the school.” He tucks his hands into the pockets of his
hoodie. “But yeah. I am.”
“Oh.”
“So, what do you do in your free time? You’re in Art 4, so I’m guessing you like to draw?”
“Sometimes.”
“Oh, nice, you’ll like your teacher. Everyone loves Mrs. Liu. I’ll show you your Calc class next.”
We cut across this walkway outside. From here I can see the parking lot already filling up. “Don’t
you want to ask me another question?”
“Is that what we’re doing?” I ask.
“If you want to. It’s only fair, Benjamin …” He unfolds my schedule again. “De Backer?” He
reads off my last name. And he gets it right on the first try. “How about that? A question for a
question, answer for an answer?”
“Okay,” I say.
“Is that last name German?”
“Belgian. I think.” Mom and I actually spent a good amount of time tracing our last name. She
was really into that genealogy sort of stuff, so when Hannah and Dad were having one of their
huge arguments, she’d take me to the library, and we’d sit and read all the books they had
about our family. After a few visits, we ran dry though and just started finding names and
making up backstories about them and what they were doing now.
Then one day we sort of just stopped going. Guess it wasn’t fun for her anymore.
I stop walking, my heart twisting in my chest.
Nathan gestures to me. “And now it’s your turn.”
“Huh? Oh, are you from here?”
His mouth folds into a smile. “Nothing more interesting?”
I shrug.

“My family moved here the summer before I started middle school.”
“Where from?”
“Nuh-uh.” Nathan wiggles a finger back and forth. “I get a question.”
I wonder if there are any limits to the kinds of questions he’ll ask. “All right.”
“What do you like to draw?”
“Oh, um.” And suddenly everything I’ve ever drawn just vanishes from my brain.
Poof! Gone.
“Um, anything really, I guess.” I have a few characters I like to draw; landscapes are always fun
to paint too, but I hardly get a chance to do that.
“Anything?” Nathan raises an eyebrow like that’s supposed to mean something. “Maybe I could
take a look at your sketchbook one day?”
“Yeah …” I rub my arm. “Maybe.”
Definitely not going to happen. Not in a million years.
“Excellent! Now come on.” I feel Nathan’s hand on my elbow. “Let’s go to the art room, I have a
feeling you’re going to freak!” He leads me outside and we walk along the breezeway to the
front of the building. “Technically it’s its own building, they added it on a few years ago, and
before that, it was where the drama room is now. Mrs. Liu is really cool too.”
“Yeah?”
“Definitely, there’s no way I should’ve passed last year. Even my stick figures are hideous. But
she passed me anyway. Guess Mrs. Liu could tell I was trying at least.” Nathan stops at this
outside door, propped open with a huge can of paint. “Oh, Mrs. Liu,” Nathan sings, tapping on
the door.
There’s a loud crash somewhere near the back of the room. I try to rush to help, but Nathan
hangs back, so I figure I should too.
“Oh, crap in a basket!” someone hisses, followed by a long groan and the sound of approaching
footsteps. Mrs. Liu is a short Chinese American woman, with her hair tied into a messy knot and
a pen tucked behind her ear. The apron she’s wearing is stained with paint splatters, and so is
the white blouse underneath. At least it looks dried.

“Nathan!” She rushes toward us when she realizes who’s here, wrapping Nathan in a hug.
“What are you doing here so early?”
“Showing the new guy around.” He hugs her back. “Ben, this is Mrs. Liu.”
“Nice to meet you.” I hold out my hand.
She shakes it so quickly that I’m pretty sure my arm’s going to pop right out of the socket. “It is
so good to meet you too! How are you liking North Wake so far?”
“It’s fine,” I say.
“Well, I look forward to having you. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough kids for an Art 4 class
this year, so you’ll pretty much be by yourself.”
“By myself?” I ask.
“At your level, you’ll pretty much have free rein, after I get to know you a little better, of course.”
She beams. “But I’ll be teaching a freshman class in here. And—” She motions for Nathan and
me to follow her through this small hallway. On the other side there’s another classroom. I can’t
tell if this one is bigger since there aren’t any desks, but it feels that way. “You’ll be working
back here.”
“Oh.” I take it all in. The walls are covered with paintings, cabinets left wide open, showing off
tubes of paint and racks upon racks of canvases and easels. It’s all sort of marvelous. We
probably had about half of this back in Goldsboro. “Wow.”
“Impressed?” I hear Nathan ask me.
“Yeah.” I nod slowly, taking it all in. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.

First days are weird, especially when you’re the new kid. Walking into class isn’t this super
awkward moment where everyone goes silent and just stares me down. But I do catch a few
strange looks, and the people sitting beside me do try to talk to me. But I guess they give up
when they realize I’m not as interesting as I seem.
Thankfully none of my teachers make me introduce myself to the class. They just pretend like
I’ve always been here.
When the bell for lunch rings in Chemistry, I hang back in Thomas’s classroom, heading in the
opposite direction of the cafeteria once the hallways are clear. There’s this really nice quad area
that sort of resembles an amphitheater at the back of the school. A crowd of kids is already

huddled at one end, but no one tells me to get lost when I take a seat at the other side, and for
the first time in a long time, I can draw in peace and quiet.
Out here I can breathe.
Not that I don’t appreciate everything he’s done, but Nathan can be a little … suffocating. In a
good way. If there really is a good way to suffocate. He just seems so eager to do everything.
And Thomas decided to seat me next to him in Chemistry. So every day I’ll be getting at least
an hour-and-a-half dose of Nathan Allan.
I flip open the brand-new sketchbook, a gift from Mrs. Liu after I said I lost my last one.
It’s weird to think this one is totally empty. My previous drawings and doodles and notes all
gone. Probably forever. I stare at the first empty page and try to think of what I can draw.

“I can pay you back, when I get a job, I mean,” I whisper to Hannah when the guy at the store
goes into the back to get my new phone.
Hannah just rolls her eyes. “Don’t worry about it, br—” She stops herself short. “Ben. Can I call
you bro? That’s not okay, right? I should find something else.”
On the message boards, I found many enby people asked their brothers and sisters to call them
sib, short for “sibling.” I liked the idea myself but had never really played with the notion that
someone might actually get to use it for me.
“Sib is good,” I say. “Instead of bro or whatever.”
“Sib. Got it. Well, sib, you don’t have to worry about paying me back, it’s fine.”
It feels good to have a phone again, even if I can’t help but feel slightly guilty. “Hey. I know what
you can do to pay me back.” Hannah sort of looks at me funny when we get in the car.
Uh-oh.
“Just go to one meeting with Bridgette.”
“Bridgette?” I ask. I don’t remember any Bridgettes.
“Dr. Taylor. The psychiatrist I told you about?”

“You can have your phone back.” I pull the box out of the bag and hand it back to her.
“Ben, please.” She pulls the car out onto the street. “Just one meeting.”
I slouch down in the seat. “Hannah—”
“Just one. I really think she could help you.”
“Why?”
“Because this hasn’t exactly been the easiest time for you, and I think that talking it out with
someone could help you.” She almost spouts all of this in a single breath. I’d be impressed if I
wasn’t getting so annoyed. “Just one appointment,” she says again. “That’s all I’m asking.”
“Only one?”
“One, I promise. After that, you can decide if you want to keep seeing her.”
“Fine,” I say, resisting the urge to unbuckle my seat belt and roll out of the car. At least that’d
buy me a few weeks in a hospital without having to meet with a therapist. Though Hannah’s
case would probably get stronger if I did that.
“I’ll call her when we get home, okay? Maybe she’ll have an opening next week.”
“Great.”
“I just think it would help, maybe talk out the things that happened at home.”
“Yeah.” I stare out the window, carefully watching everything we pass by. I want to ask her if she
went to some kind of therapy, but in my head that sounds like an insult.
“Did they ever get any better?” Hannah asks. And I can feel that knot in my stomach slowly
crawling up my throat.
“They didn’t really change,” I tell her.
“I’m … I’m really sorry …” Hannah stares down at the wheel. “For leaving you like that. I just
couldn’t stand it anymore, and when I found my chance, I took it.”
I glance over at her, the guilt on her face obvious. She left just after her graduation. We were
supposed to go eat lunch, but Hannah never showed. And when we got home, her room was
completely empty. Mom and Dad both tried to call her, but she wouldn’t answer her phone.

It took me almost a week to find the note hidden in our bathroom, the one with the name of her
college and her cell phone number. Telling me to call her if I needed anything. I think it was
supposed to be comforting, but really, it just made me mad. Because she’d left.
She’d left me with them, to fend for myself.
After that, Mom and Dad changed. I sort of became the punching bag for all of Dad’s issues. He
didn’t actually hit me, but overnight, I essentially became an only child. The focus of anything
and everything. If I did something wrong, it was blown way out of proportion. It was almost like
they’d seen what’d happened with Hannah and were determined to make sure I didn’t turn out
the same way. Except I don’t know how getting more frustrated with me over school and chores
was supposed to change that.
“Hey, you okay?” She nudges me.
“Just thinking,” I say. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“I should’ve … I just …”
I shrug. “Whatever.” I don’t want to have this conversation. Not right now.
And if I have the choice, not ever.

Sunday is a day of nothings. I sleep in way too late, not recognizing my room when I open my
eyes.
“Breathe,” I tell myself out loud, and for a second I don’t recognize my own voice. My heart
pounding in my chest. “Just breathe. This is Hannah’s house, you live with her now.” I will my
hands to unclench from around my sheets, but I can feel the sweat in the small of my back. I
don’t remember what my dream was about, but Hannah was there, and Mom. “Breathe.”
I spend most of the day in my room, sort of in this haze. I eventually try to draw something,
anything, really, but any time I so much as pick up my pencil, it’s like my hand refuses to
cooperate. After that, I try to watch TV with Thomas and Hannah, just doodling in the corners of
the paper. Nothing too elaborate.
I waste the rest of the day chatting with Mariam for a bit, trying to catch them up with everything
that’s happened this weekend, before lying down. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been a
week since that night. It feels so impossibly long ago. My alarm comes way too early Monday
morning. For the first time in a while, I’ve managed to get a full night’s sleep and I can’t even
enjoy it that much.

Then I remember my appointment with Dr. Taylor. Hannah took care of setting it up for me, but
there was only one slot open, at noon today, so she is going to pick me up from school early
and take me. I sit up with a groan and walk to the bathroom. Try as I might, there’s no avoiding
my reflection while I wait for the water to warm. I eye the faint stubble that doesn’t belong. I still
haven’t found the time or the energy to shave, even though I hate the way it makes me look.
And then I notice the bags under my eyes, the way my hair falls over my forehead, and the
scars my acne has left behind.
Such a contrast to the other nonbinary people I’ve seen online. Their smooth, hairless, acneless
faces, their trimmed hair that always seems perfect. These things I could never be. Because no
matter how hard I will it, my body isn’t how I want to see myself. Not that there’s anything wrong
with those kinds of enby people, I just … it’s hard to describe. Bodies are fucking weird,
especially when it feels like you don’t belong in your own. But it’s too late for things like puberty
blockers, and surgery isn’t something I want.
Hell, even my name isn’t very “neutral.” It’s a boy’s name, even if there really isn’t such a thing.
But changing it is long, and complicated, and I don’t even know what I’d change it to. I’m Ben;
that’s just who I am.
I don’t know what I really want, but it isn’t this body. It’s almost like it knows, with the way it
taunts me. It takes everything I have not to climb back into bed, even though I know Hannah
won’t let me miss this appointment. “What is wrong with me?” I whisper.
I just need to make it through half a day. That’s it. Hannah’s going to pick me up before lunch
and take me to the appointment. But even half a day feels like it will be too much. I breathe in
and out. I can do this.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I whisper to myself.

“So where are you going during lunch?” Nathan leans over the counter, head tilted to the side
like a puppy.
We’re sitting in Chemistry. Thomas finished the lesson early today, so I decided to get a jump
on all the homework I’ve been given. It’s a lot to handle after just a few days, especially since
I’ve apparently missed the deadline on a few things. I also have to play catch-up in a few
classes. I’m pretty much good in Art and Calculus, and Thomas promised me he’d help me
catch up in Chemistry. But I can already tell I’m going to need a tutor for English. I’ve never
been good at the whole paper-writing thing anyway. Too many rules that are too hard to
remember.

“What do you mean?” I rub at my eyes. All this stuff is starting to blend together. Dozens of
signature lines and trying to figure out how much everything is going to cost me here. Or, I
guess, cost Hannah.
“I mean, we have the same lunch period, but I haven’t seen you there once.” Nathan sticks up
his hand.
“I go somewhere else,” I say, not really interested in this conversation.
But clearly he is. “Where?”
“Does it matter?” I sigh, shoving all the papers back into my bag, zipping it up with a little too
much satisfaction. It hasn’t taken me long to figure out the quad is the “official-unofficial”
smoking area. What they smoke varies between them all apparently, but they leave me alone
and I leave them alone. It’s quickly becoming one of the best relationships I have at this school.
I did the same thing at Wayne, except there wasn’t a courtyard or anything like it, so I used the
back entrance of the gym. The one no one really thought about. There, I could be alone. I never
had to worry about someone finding me or bothering me or asking me what I was working on.
“I’m just wondering. Plus I’m your accountabilibuddy.” Nathan cracks a smile.
I just stare at him with a blank look. “My what?”
“I’m supposed to look out for you.”
“You were just supposed to show me my classes.”
“Are you okay? You seem a little irritable.”
“I’m fine,” I lie.
“Okay, Mr. Attitude.” Nathan chuckles.
“Please don’t call me that.” I rub my eyes again, like I could just wipe away the tired, burning
feeling inside. I don’t even know if I’m talking more about the “Mr.” part or the “Attitude.”
“It’s okay, man.”
I think I sound angrier than I mean to. He’s just asking a question, after all. I guess I’m just
stressed out about this appointment.
To Nathan’s credit, he doesn’t look offended. “You should come to lunch with me sometime, my
friends want to meet you.”

“I’ll think about it.” I lean forward, burying my head in my backpack, already actively planning to
never think about it. This morning has been a mess, and I’m sure it’s not about to get any better.
“Doesn’t matter today though.” The phone on Thomas’s desk starts to ring, probably the front
office.
“Why?”
“I have a doctor’s appointment. I’m leaving after this period.”
“Oh, urologist?” he asks with probably the straightest face I’ve ever seen.
“What? No,” I sputter. “And why was that your first guess? Never mind.”
“Relax, man.” Nathan starts to pack up his own bag. “I’m playing with you.”
“Yeah.”
“Ben.” Thomas hangs up the phone. “They’re ready for you in the office.”
“Good luck,” Nathan whispers when I push my seat under the counter. A few of my new
classmates glare at me as I make my way to the door, backpack thrown over my shoulder.
Thankfully Thomas avoided any lengthy introductions, which probably means that everyone
here is still wondering about this weird-ass kid who’s randomly been put in their class.
“Ready to go?” Hannah grabs her purse as I push through the doors of the front office.
“Yeah.” I’m not really, but I figure it’ll be better to go ahead and get this over with.
“Had a good day so far?”
Hannah’s got her car pulled up in front of the building. It’s unseasonably warm outside today,
but it’s the first day I haven’t needed three layers, so I don’t plan on complaining. “So far.”
Hannah spent the last two nights showing me reviews from past patients of Dr. Taylor, assuring
me she is one of the best in town, which really only made me more nervous to talk to her. I
wonder how much Hannah’s told her exactly, if anything at all.
I’ve been mentally preparing myself to come out all over again, but I’ve been doing that for a
while now. That was one of the things I realized early. If you’re queer, your life has the potential
to become one long coming-out moment. If I ever want to be called the right pronouns, I’ll have
to correct people and put myself out there first and who knows what could happen.
“Are you nervous?”
“To have someone poke around my brain for an afternoon?” I buckle my seat belt. “I’m thrilled.”

Hannah shoots me this look, that sort of brows-pointed-down “you need to chill out” look. “Okay,
sassy britches. I just think it will help, and it’s a short meeting. Only forty-five minutes.”
“Hmmm.” Forty-five minutes too long if you ask me.
“I haven’t told her anything.” Hannah’s car rolls to a stop. “About you being nonbinary. I didn’t
know what you’d be okay with.”
“But she knows Mom and Dad kicked me out?”
“Couldn’t avoid that detail. Sorry, sib.” She glances around to check for the traffic before she
pulls out onto the road.
“It’s whatever.” I sigh and rest my head on the cool window, not knowing whether to feel relieved
or angry that she shared that with a stranger.
The doctor’s office is a part of this long row of complexes, the ones that look like an apartment
building but are really just filled with offices. In this one alone, there’s a place where you can get
your teeth cleaned and get a few X-rays done if you want, all while checking to see if you’re
pregnant. I glare at the way they all seem to tower over Hannah’s car.
I really want to ask Hannah if we can reschedule or something. I’ll even go back to school if I
have to. Just anything to not be here. Do I really need to see this woman? Can I air out all my
problems to a complete and total stranger? My eyes fly from the ground back to the buildings,
my stomach clenching. There’s nothing for me to let out, but I can feel the bile rising.
“Her office is on the third floor.” Hannah locks the doors of the car and stuffs her keys into her
bag.
I make it as far as the entrance, reading the board of names for the offices. There’s an entire
block worth of counselors, their titles, their office numbers. I try my best to focus in on Dr.
Taylor’s name, but it’s like my eyesight goes blurry for a split second. I close my eyes and pinch
my brow, trying to calm myself.
My hands get that same clammy feeling they did in the Walgreens that night. It’s this sudden
feeling like I’ve been punched in the gut, like I can’t catch my breath.
“Hannah?”
“What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Hey, hey, hey. It’s okay.” Hannah closes the space between us, grabbing my hand, and it takes
everything in me not to pull it back. “It’s all right. Listen. It’s going to be okay. Dr. Taylor is going
to help you, all right?”
“What is she going to do?” I try not to breathe too deep. I feel like I should be crying, but there
are no tears, just this pocket of air in my lungs that I can’t get out.
“She’s just going to talk to you about what you’re feeling, what you’re going through.”
“What am I supposed to tell her?”
“You tell her whatever you want, but it’ll help her to know at least what you identify as. That’s the
first step.” I try to nod, but I still feel like I’m going to be sick. This was exactly how it felt before I
told my parents.
I can’t do this again, can I? I can’t come out all over again, not here, not right now.
“I don’t know if I can do that.”
“Okay.” Hannah sighs, brushing the hair from her face. “Try this. You told me once already. Just
keep telling me. That should be easy, right?”
“What?”
“Just keep repeating it back to me. It’s like that thing where words lose their meaning after a
while.”
“Do you really think that’ll help?” I ask. I mean, I guess it makes sense. In theory, at least.
“If you get used to saying it, it’ll get easier. I think that’s how this works?”
I take a deep breath and force the words out slowly. “I’m nonbinary.”
“Again.”
“I’m nonbinary.”
“Come on, keep doing it.”
“I’m nonbinary. I’m nonbinary. I’m nonbinary.” It’s silly, standing in the middle of a lobby,
repeating back the same words over and over again. But it does feel easier with each time I say
it, despite the heavy feeling in my stomach. “I’m nonbinary. I’m nonbinary.”
“One more.”
“I’m nonbinary.”

“Good, you’ve got this.” She presses a hand to the small of my back and leads me to the
elevators. “Just picture me if you have to, okay?”
I nod. Just get there. Get in there so there’s no turning back.
“And I’ll be in the waiting room if you need me. If you want to leave early, if you need me to sit in
there with you, anything at all.”
“Okay.” The elevator doors slide open, and we walk in together.

I’m not exactly sure what to expect. Maybe stark white walls, ugly tiled floors, and an
inescapable medical smell. But Dr. Taylor’s office looks just like what it is. An office. The walls
are a light blue and decorated with colorful paintings. The furniture is bright too, and the floor is
a warm hardwood.
“Hello! Ben, right?” She smiles and opens the door wide for me.
“Yeah.”
“I’m Dr. Taylor, but you can call me Bridgette if you’d like. You can take a seat right on the sofa.”
Dr. Taylor points to this hideous mustard-yellow couch that sits against the wall. By some
miracle, it fits the look of the room though.
“So.” Dr. Taylor grabs a small notepad and pen from her desk. “Your sister called to tell me
about a few things.”
She’s older than I thought she’d be. Maybe midforties? She’s pretty short too, with brown skin
and short, tight curls.
“What did she tell you?”
“That you’d been kicked out of your home.” Dr. Taylor takes a seat in the chair across from me,
folding her legs over. “And that you might need someone to talk to.”
“That’s it?” I ask, a little surprised. I know Hannah said she didn’t tell Dr. Taylor anything else,
but I didn’t really believe her. And now I feel bad for thinking my sister might out me like that.
“That’s it. I thought it wasn’t appropriate to discuss anything further without your knowledge.”
“Oh …” I’m not sure what to say. “Thanks, I guess.”
She nods. “So, can you tell me why your parents made you leave?”

I close my eyes, rubbing my knees. Here we go.
“You don’t have to, but it might be a good starting-off point,” she says.
“No, it’s …” I shake my head, picturing Hannah. Just say the words. Two little words, that’s it.
“I’m … I’m nonbinary.”
“Oh.” I hear the distinct sound of a pen being clicked, and then something being written down.
Opening my eyes slowly, I watch her move. She doesn’t seem surprised, or horrified, or like she
misunderstood me or didn’t know what I was talking about. “Did Hannah tell you that I work with
a lot of LGBTQIAP+ youth?”
That pit in my stomach is still there, but I can feel my hands relax. “You can say ‘queer’ around
me, it’s fine.”
She chuckles at that. “Sorry, a few of my clients aren’t comfortable with that word. So, you’re
nonbinary?”
I nod.
“Can I ask what pronouns you use?”
“They and them,” I say. It’s still weird, for some reason, to be asked that.
“And so what’s the connection there, between you being nonbinary and your parents?”
“I came out, or I tried to. They both sort of freaked.” I’ve never felt smaller than in that moment.
The way Dad stood over me, his hand raised. I thought he might actually hit me or something,
but no. He just pointed at the door.
“Where do you want me to go?”
“I don’t know, just get out of this house.”
I’d never seen that look in his eyes before.
“Can you tell me how they behaved? As parents.”
“Like parents, I guess,” I say. “I don’t really know.” As far as I know, they were mostly normal.
But I don’t exactly have another set of parents to compare them to.
“What was Hannah’s relationship with them like?”
“She got along with Mom, for the most part. But she’d fight a lot with Dad.”
“And you? What was your relationship with them like?”

Better than whatever their relationship was with Hannah, but still rocky. And it only got worse as
time went on, the fights getting more and more frequent. “Fine, I guess. Things got worse after
Hannah left.”
“When did Hannah leave?”
I sigh. “The night I called her, that was the first time I’d spoken to her in about ten years.” My
fingers find the little balls of fuzz on the couch and can’t resist picking at them, twisting them
together until they get too big. I just leave them sitting there when I’m done.
“I see. Are you comfortable staying with your sister right now?”
“Is there an alternative?”
“Do you want one?”
I shake my head. “Just wondering. This all stays between us, right?”
Dr. Taylor uncrosses her legs and leans forward in her chair, the leather squeaking underneath
her. “You’re my patient.” She points to the door with the end of her pen. “I won’t discuss
anything that happens inside this room with anyone but you. Not only am I legally required to,
but the privacy and safety of my patients is important to me, Ben. We could go over informed
consent if you’d like?”
“Informed consent?”
Dr. Taylor walks over to a filing cabinet in the corner of the room, sifting through the rainbow of
folders situated there. “It’s an important procedure, where I lay out everything I’ll be going over
with you, the limits of what we’ll be discussing, as well as the benefits of treatment, and, more
importantly”—she walks back across the room and hands me the stack of
paper—“confidentiality.”
I take a deep breath through my nose, trying to read through everything the documents entail.
Sure, there’s the Hippocratic oath and everything, but I don’t even know if that’s supposed to
apply to therapists, or if that’s just the surgery sort of doctor. This woman hasn’t given me
anything to base a level of trust on.
But the papers lay it all out, or at least they seem to. “We can go over each part step by step if
you like.” Dr. Taylor leans in closer. “But I swear to you that unless I think you are an immediate
threat to your own life or someone else’s, I’m not going to tell a soul what goes on in here.”
“I … I’m sorry.” This weird sense of shame creeps up my face.

“You don’t have to be sorry, Ben. I realize it’s scary, I can only imagine what you’ve been going
through these last few days, even months.” Dr. Taylor speaks quietly. “But that’s what I’m here
to do. I want to help you, help understand what you’re going through.”
“Thank you.”
“It’s what I’m here for. Do you want to go through the forms?”
“If we’ve got time?”
“Sure. We can review them while we talk.”
It’s a lot. There are some things that are simple or self-explanatory, but there’s even more that I
don’t understand. Then Dr. Taylor says, “So are you out to your sister?”
“Oh, um …” I flip through the next page and read briefly over what it says, sign my initials where
Dr. Taylor tells me it’s needed.
“We don’t have to talk about it.”
I try to breathe. “I mean, I’m out. To her. And to Thomas. I sort of had to be, didn’t I?” I try to
laugh, but even to my own ears it sounds forced.
“Are you comfortable with that?”
“I have to be, don’t I?”
“No. Of course, circumstances were out of your hands. I know in this scenario, telling them why
you’d been forced out of your home was the easiest option, and maybe the only one. But that
doesn’t mean you have to like it.”
“They’re trying. Hannah and Thomas correct themselves when they use the wrong pronouns.”
“That’s good. And what about at school? Are you adjusting easily?”
“I mean, it’s school. I’m not out, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Uh-huh.” Dr. Taylor clicks her pen and adds that to her notes. “Do you want to talk about that?”
“Nothing to really talk about.”
“You think so?”
“Doesn’t exactly feel safe.”

“That’s a fair point.” There’s this shine in her eyes, and I expect her to fight me on that, but she
doesn’t.
“But?” I say.
“No ‘but.’ Have you met anyone at your new school? Any new friends?”
“No.”
“Really? That’s a shame. No one at all?”
“No,” I repeat. “No one.” We’ve reached the last of the forms. I read over it quickly before I sign
my name. Dr. Taylor flips through all of them one more time before she gathers them all up.
“Was there anything else you wanted to tell me?”
“Like?”
She shrugs. “Anything you feel that may help me know you better. Or anything specific you’ve
been dealing with?”
“I don’t think so.” There’s Mariam, but that feels like a private thing, something I don’t need to
share here. Not right now, at least.
“Okay.” Dr. Taylor stands up, tossing her notepad on her desk.
“Okay?” My eyes follow her all the way to her desk. “Is that all?”
“For today.” She slides open a drawer and grabs a small pamphlet. “I’d like to keep seeing you,
Ben, if you want to, that is. But I also have something here.” She holds the paper out for me to
take.
“What is it?” I flip it over in my hands, reading the header, which is in bright multicolored letters.
“It’s a support group for kids on the LGBTQIAP+ spectrum.”
I open my mouth to speak, but she sticks up a finger to silence me. “I know, but not all the
members use ‘queer’ to identify with. I’d like you to think about attending. It’s mostly young
adults and teens. I really think it could help.
“They usually meet every other Friday around six thirty. Just think about it.” I eye the pamphlet,
reading the contact information and address for the meeting on the back. “Would you be open to
seeing me again?”

I consider it for a second. I mean, I don’t really feel any better, but am I supposed to after just
one meeting? I really just sort of want to go home, crawl into bed, and wait for tomorrow. “I
guess.”
“You don’t have to,” she adds.
“I can meet again,” I say. That’s probably what Hannah wants.
“We’ll try for next Thursday, okay? I’m free in the afternoons, and that way you don’t have to
keep missing school.”
I stand up, folding the pamphlet to slip it into my back pocket, knowing I won’t be going to this
support group thing. If I could hardly face coming out here, how am I supposed to come out to a
room full of strangers?
“I’d also like to talk with Hannah briefly, if that’s okay.” Dr. Taylor eyes me.
“Why?”
“I’m not telling her anything we haven’t agreed to. I just want to make sure she understands
everything, if she has any questions.”
“Oh, okay.”
“So you’re comfortable with that?”
Not really, but maybe it would be easier for Dr. Taylor to handle this instead of Hannah grilling
me in the car ride back home. Dr. Taylor pokes her head out the door and says something,
Hannah trailing in right behind her.
“Everything okay?” she asks.
“Just fine,” Dr. Taylor says. “I just wanted to talk about a few things regarding Ben’s
appointments.”
“Okay.”
“Ben and I will meet on Thursday; every other week should suffice unless Ben tells me they
want to change the frequency of the appointments.” Dr. Taylor says this about as
straightforward as I can imagine someone can. “I’ll be communicating with them directly and
won’t be sharing any information unless Ben signs a release form.”
“Oh” is all Hannah says, and I can’t look at her right now. I wonder how it feels, having the
woman you’re paying to treat the sibling you just took in tell you that you don’t have a right to
know anything that goes on in here.

“I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be able to discuss any details about their
appointments besides when they will occur.”
“No,” Hannah says. “I mean, yeah, of course. No, I totally understand.” She seems a little jumpy.
Maybe from the knife I just stabbed her in the back with. “Was there anything else you needed
to talk to me about?”
Dr. Taylor looks my way. “Ben?”
“I’m done.”
“All right, I’ll see you next Thursday.” The last thing Dr. Taylor does is grab a small card from her
desk. “Here’s the contact information for the office, just call if you need to change the times.”
I tuck the card in alongside the brochure.
“Thank you, Dr. Taylor.” Hannah and Dr. Taylor shake hands. “You ready to go?”
I nod and eye the clock on the wall. It’s only one in the afternoon, but it feels later than that.
“Want to stop and get some lunch?”
My stomach lurches, totally empty, but I shake my head. I don’t think I have it in me to keep
food down right now.

“Interesting.” Mrs. Liu eyes the painting, and I’m trying not to feel self-conscious. A task I’m
failing at miserably. “I like the empty space here, and the choice of colors, especially the dark
blues. What made you pick that?”
I just picked blue because I like blue. Isn’t sky supposed to be bluish anyway? “It felt right,” I say
instead. I don’t think my other answer will win me many points. Mrs. Liu is an interesting
teacher, to say the least. Over the last two weeks, she’s been circling over me like a hawk while
I work, even if it was just a sketch. So far she’s had me at the wheel making this hideous clay
pot. And before that, she gave me a bag full of wire clothes hangers and told me to make
something out of them.
Yesterday, she gave me an easel and a canvas and told me to paint the first thing that came to
mind. Mariam had been texting me about cardinals during lunch, and how they’re Mariam’s
favorite bird. So that was the first thing I blurted out.
And I painted a cardinal, just like I’d been told to.
“It’s a nice contrast, especially with the red,” she tries to joke. At least I think it’s supposed to be
a joke. “Do you like painting, Ben? You’re very good at it.”
“Yeah.” I actually enjoy it more than drawing. I guess maybe it feels fresher, since I can’t do it as
much as I want to. I couldn’t exactly drag out paint sets at home, and at Wayne, art classes
weren’t much to write home about.
Not that they were worse, and I learned a lot. Things were just definitely stricter there.
That’s when the bell decides to ring. I scramble to get my paint and brushes into the sink. “Oh,
take your time, kid.” Mrs. Liu pats my shoulder.
“Sorry, wasn’t paying attention,” I say, my hands already stained with the watery orange.
“It’s okay. I wanted to ask you something anyway.”
“Yeah?”

“I noticed you’re going out to the courtyard during your lunch.”
Jesus, I’m ready for everyone to stop being obsessed with where I go for my lunch break. “Oh,
yeah, not a cafeteria fan.”
“Well, if you ever want to come in here and work …” Mrs. Liu pulls a small key out of the pockets
on her smock.
“Are you serious?”
“Of course. I’ve got a good feeling about you, Ben.” She slaps the key down on the counter. “But
just a warning, I don’t give too many chances.”
“I’ll be careful. I swear.”
“You better.” She winks at me and goes back to her office. Near-unlimited access to the art
room? Most definitely not a bad thing.

It’s an uphill climb to Friday, but I get there. Between homework and trying to catch up on all my
classes, it’s nice to just have a night to myself. Hannah and Thomas both decide they want to
go out to dinner; I decline the invitation, figuring they probably want some time to themselves
after everything I’ve put them through.
Plus, this way I can draw without interruption, and I don’t really have to worry about walking in
on them or intruding on their space. Nights alone at home were rare, and normally I reserved
those times for more drawing or marathoning Mariam’s videos.
“So, what’re we doing tonight?” Mariam’s voice echoes through the speakers on my laptop.It’s
been way too long since we’ve had a night like this. Just me and them, talking while we both
work. It’s actually relaxing.
“Nothing special. What’re you working on?” My eyes drift from the TV to my computer to my
sketchbook. I’ve been sketching so many ideas for paintings over the last few days.
“Speeches. I’ve got to get ready for this conference. And I’m looking at dates for the next
tour.”They show me their notebook. Even just a single page is crammed to the margins with
their messy writing. It never fails to amaze me that Mariam can speak in front of hundreds, or in
some cases, a thousand people, without a care in the world.
“Sounds like a fun time,” I say.

“Yup.” They pop their lips. “What about you?”
“Drawing.” I show them the sketch pad.
“Nice, when are you going to give me a new header for the channel?”Mariam leans on their
hands and bats their eyelashes.
“That would require the right tools, my friend.” Some kind of drawing program on the laptop,
probably a drawing tablet too. Too much for me, especially since those things cost money.
Mariam just rolls their eyes, the master of the eye roll. “Want to see my latest haul?”
I smile. “Always.”
“How about new scarves?” They lean back to show more of the scarf wrapped around their
head in the frame of the webcam. It’s hard to tell from here, but the material looks glossy, and
the bright red really goes well with their lipstick.
“I love it.”
Mariam and I have had long conversations about being religious and nonbinary. For Mariam
though, their hijab represents comfort, security, a connection to their faith. They could spend
hours talking about how it made them feel. In fact, they made a whole series on their channel
last year, what being Shia Muslim and being nonbinary meant to them.
For a second, I remember what Mom told me that night. How God doesn’t want this. Mariam’s
the only reason I can’t believe that.
“I bought a few more, but this one is my favorite. Oh!”They reach off-camera for something.
“And this sweater.”Mariam stands up quickly, pushing their desk chair out of the way, and twirls
in front of the camera. It’s one of those that sort of looks like a cloak, but it’s cut so it won’t fall
off you or anything. The kind I was always sort of jealous of when I saw them in stores, out
shopping with Mom.
“Oh my God.”
“I know, right?” Mariam twirls again. “I’m never wearing anything else. Thirty percent off too!”
They do a little dance. “Not that I’ll have much of a chance to wear it at home. The lowest it gets
here is like sixty degrees, if we’re lucky. But maybe on tour.”
“I’m jealous.”
“You’ll get there one day, Benji. I promise. When you’re designing logos and painting
masterpieces, no one can tell you what to wear.”

“Yeah, right.” Technically no one could tell me what to wear now, but I know exactly what would
happen if I dared to go out in public dressed like that, or in some of the cool-looking polka-dot
dresses I’ve seen online, or maybe in calf-high boots I know would never fit my feet.
I settle into the couch and go back to my drawing. I’ve been thinking about portraits for a while
now. There’s always been something about faces that just feels so interesting to me. I spent the
last few days saving photos of various models I found online, their smooth faces and sharp lips,
eyebrows perfectly plucked and eyes like they’re piercing you.
I heard a car pull into the driveway. Instead of the headlights dimming and the engine cutting off,
it just sits there idling.
“Weird,” I whisper to myself.
“Huh?”Mariam asks.
“Nothing.” I resume drawing. “Hannah and Thomas just got home.”
“So how are you liking the new school?”Mariam’s in front of the camera now.
“It’s fine.”
“Any new friends threatening to take my spot?”
“None so far.” Nathan kept trying to get me to come to lunch with him, but once Mrs. Liu let me
in the art room, any hope of that was crushed. He didn’t seem too bothered by my rejections
though. It was almost like it was becoming a game to him or something.
I glance back out the window. The car is still there, just sitting in the driveway with the engine
running and headlights shining through the curtains.
“Everything okay? You seem a bit spacey tonight.”
“Hannah and Thomas are just sitting outside in their car.”
Mariam starts laughing to themselves. “Maybe they’re making out.”
“Gross.” I crawl toward the window, pulling back the curtains as slowly as possible. The
driveway isn’t that long, but it’s still too dark to really tell the color or make of a car. Not that I
would’ve known anyway. There are cars, trucks, and SUVs. That’s pretty much the extent of my
car knowledge.
But my stomach sinks when I realize that this car definitely isn’t Hannah and Thomas’s large
black SUV. That much I can tell, even in the dark. No, this car looks an awful lot like Dad’s.

“No.”
“Ben?”Mariam’s voice scares me. I’d already forgotten they were here.
Panic fills my chest as I pull back the curtains and run to the front door to check the locks. Mom
and Dad can probably see my shadow running from one end of the house to the other, but that
doesn’t really matter right now. I grab my phone and keep my thumb hovered over Hannah’s
number.
Mariam’s voice keeps echoing through the hallways. “Ben? What’s going on? Hello? Ben?”
I hover at the top of the stairs, making sure I can just barely see the glow of the lights through
the dense curtains, ready to sprint to my room if I need to. But after a minute, the headlights turn
off. I run back to the window, brushing past the curtains. It’s still there, the engine no longer
running.
Then there’s a knock at the door.
They’re coming. Holy shit. They’re coming for me.
“Ben? What happened?”
“I need to call you back!” I shout without meaning to.
“Ben!”
“I think my parents are here,” I choke out. I can hear the crack in my voice. I don’t wait for their
response, I just close the laptop and grab everything. I run back to the guest room, taking the
steps so quickly that I almost fall at the top. I make sure to lock the door behind me.
They can’t be here. Right? Do they even know where Hannah lives? Why would they even be
here? They didn’t want me in their house, so there’s no reason for them to be here.
My phone starts to ring in my hand. I’ve been holding it so tight that I managed to switch it off
silent mode. It’s Mariam, texting me, and trying to restart the FaceTime call.
No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to calm my breathing, can’t take my eyes off the stark
white bedroom door. I have to listen closely, for a car coming up the driveway, or the front door
opening and shutting, the sound of feet coming up the steps.
Then come those unmistakable sounds. The door swinging open, then closed, quiet chatter that
I can’t make out. It’s Hannah and Thomas. It has to be; it’s their voices. They gave me the only
spare key they had. They even told me that themselves. And the doors are locked. It has to be
Hannah and Thomas. But is that really what they sound like? Is that their muffled voices? Their
footsteps?

What if it’s not?
One set of feet, two sets, slowly approaching the top of the stairs. “He’s probably in his room,”
someone says. Hannah?
At least, it sounds like