Written by Gaia Amman
My horoscope warned me this would be a shitty day.
I’m squished behind the counter with my boss Adam and the new girl in training. Petite and all curves, the newbie bats her eyelashes at Adam like a Disney princess.
The espresso machine hums and hisses under Adam’s expert hands. When a guy owns a company that roasts its own coffee beans, you’d better not screw up his cappuccino.
Cafe Chiquito opens in an hour, and dawn filters through the two windows that take up the right and back wall, by the door. The six black, tiny tables scattered on the cement floor project nebulous shadows in the dim gray light. Colorful daisies in small white vases remind the chilly Buffalo morning that it’s spring. The fireplace crackling on the left did not forget.
The new girl chuckles, blue eyes like oceans.
“Ryan!” Adam calls, startling me out of my glaring fest. I resume polishing the black counter like a maniac, almost knocking over the iPad on the pastry display. It’s tight back here, with my butt against the sink and my fifteen elbows everywhere else. Adam smiles. “Can you finish Trisha’s training?”
Fuck me. “My pleasure,” I lie, tucking the towel, fragrant with grounds, in the pocket of my black cargo pants.
Of course, the princess cannot stop staring at me. Pretty people are bold like that, and I hate her already. Those curves, though…
He? She? Ryan’s baby face is a canvas for huge eyes, almost yellow like a tiger—mesmerizing… and harsh. Gangly, square-shouldered, light brown skin darkened by black stubble, short black hair, and breasts, Ryan says, “Can you please stop staring?”
I stop breathing. Despite the brash tone, Ryan’s voice is so soothing, it could be Rachelle Ferrell’s after six packs of cigarettes.
“I—I…” I will myself to say something—anything. “Are you… um… young? I mean, how old…”
Ryan arches a black eyebrow, in between amusement and annoyance at the question I did not dare to ask. “Twenty-eight. Not old enough to put up with your bullshit…”
O-kaaay! That went well.
Adam grins sheepishly and shrugs, disappearing through the back door.
I huff. “So, Trisha, this is the menu.” It’s a tight dance behind the counter. The only place she can fit is in my arms, which does not help either of us focusing on the task at hand. A faint note of lilacs tickles my nose. I reel in my lust and explain the small plate options, but she does not hear a word I say. Story of my life.
People don’t see me—they stop computing at the clash between the teenage-looking boy and his breasts. I add, casually, “… And this is where we cook the meth.” She stares at my chest. Enough. “Do we have a problem?” She turns so red she might burst. I hope she will. If she starts a religious tirade, I’m out of here. She opens and closes her mouth, but no words come out. There might be a God after all.
Get your shit together, girl. Like… right now!
Ryan glares at me, and I can’t breathe. I should be listening but our closeness squeezes the air out of me. The light cologne he/she (?) wears gets to my head. I can’t focus. This is ridiculous. No boyfriend ever made me this stupid. My nose is an inch from Ryan’s black System of a Down t-shirt. I step back and utter, “I—No. No problem. I’m sorry. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but… are you… a boy or a girl?”
“No.” Ryan exhales, fists clenching. The many silver rings with skulls and mystical symbols are foreign on the hands of someone who could pass for an angel.
“Excuse me?” I ask.
I’m the main character of an old movie, and I hate my script. “I’m not a boy nor a girl,” I reply, drained by the refrain. “Just Ryan, okay?”
The princess blinks, her wide eyes blue pools of conformity, and I bet split ends sprouted at the end of her blonde, shoulder length, coiffed hair. I sigh. “Listen, it’s not like you’re my type anyway, okay? So chill out and move on.”
I love who I am and resent she makes me want to be someone she’d like instead.
I nod, willing my features to ice. Ryan turns around talking about the register. I’m an idiot. Time to woman up. I reach for Ryan’s elbow and pull. Ryan turns around, startled. My hand lingers, skin on skin, burning. I let go, scalded like the teenager I’ve never been. You could sear eggs on my face.
I swallow. “Well, that’s too bad, Ryan.”
“What? That I don’t fit into your binary world of bullshit?”
Deep breaths. “No, that I’m not your type,” I murmur.
I can’t believe I said that!
I bring a hand to my mouth and Ryan’s opens in a small O.
Well, shit. “Excuse me.” I make a quick exit to go hyperventilate in the bathroom.
I stare at her ass, shell-shocked and intrigued. Did the epitome of cheerleading just come on to me? Bullshit. She just covered her blunder. At least she’s smarter than I thought.
I fill the water carafe, set up the glasses and silverware at the end of the counter, and then unlock the front door. Trish comes out of the bathroom, beaming at me.
She asks, “So, um… is there a pronoun you prefer?”
I study her, but she does not make eye contact. I say, “They, them. That’ll do.”
Days pass. I did not think Trish and I would become friends, but she is hard-working, fun, practical. She’s a badass and makes me laugh. Routine forces us to get used to each other—except the way she looks at me. Like I’m warm bread, an angel, Angelina Jolie on steroids, ha, ha—no, for real. She’s only curious, but as long as it’s a game, I can be the idol for a change.
I have it so bad, I’m in trouble. Ryan gives zero fucks about anyone—including me. I want him—them. I want to be them, unapologetically unique.
Adam greets the people trickling in for the spring art opening, offering drinks since he got a day license for the event, and I slice bread by the sink and arrange it in the toaster while Ryan washes dishes beside me, humming along with Adam’s electro swing playlist. The word Ometeotl tattooed on Ryan’s bony wrist is barely visible beneath five worn leather bracelets. This became our space, too small for two people, and yet it would be empty without Ryan. Their heat warms me, and the air between us vibrates, or is it me? I melt into a puddle.
Burnt toast. Shit!
I scramble back to human form and drop the spatula on the floor, cursing.
Ryan chuckles. “Suburban klutz.”
Awwww. “And yet you came to love me…” Oh, shit! That’s not what I meant! Ryan smirks, slightly amused.
Sizzling and smoke—it’s not me but the burning toast. I think. Probably both.
Geez! The grill!
This has got to stop or I’ll lose this job, and my grades are taking a nosedive, too. I can’t focus. I throw away the ruined food, sidle by Ryan, and lower the dirty spatula into the sink. It’s a split-second type of decision—Thelma and Louise driving off a cliff—but I deliberately brush my hand against theirs.
Ryan stops washing, takes their hands away from the sink, and dries them, ignoring me.
Her stupid crush has gotten old. I don’t want to get hurt, and this is more teasing than I can take. Meanwhile, people fill Chiquito Cafe with chatter and laughter as they mingle.
No one orders coffee with free booze available for the day, and Trish and I are stuck idling together behind the counter. It’s like avoiding each other in a shower. Adam nods our way and says, “Take a break guys, have a beer or two.”
I nod, grateful, pour myself an IPA, and grin. It’s bittersweet, like me. Trisha asks for a wheat beer.
“White and insipid, like you,” I comment. She flinches and I blurt, “Shit, sorry. It was funnier in my head.”
“You really don’t like me, huh?” Her voice is melancholy, deep like the Marianas Trench.
So much for the Disney princess.
She sips her beer in silence beside me, her head level with my shoulder. I close my eyes, smell lilacs, and dream.
She tortures the empty plastic cup in her hand, which crinkles, calling me back to reality. People move around the room, but the two of us remain stuck behind the counter, held back by the things we need to say and can’t.
I nudge her. “Hey, you alright?”
She leans her head against my shoulder. “Ryan, I really like you, you dufus. I mean—”
She stops mid-sentence, and it has nothing to do with my startled reaction, which I downplay.
“Are you drunk, already?” I tease. She shrugs, hiding a nuclear blush behind her smooth blond hair. I sigh. “Trish, you’re curious, that’s all.”
She snaps her face up, and her angry blue eyes crucify me in place. She hisses, “You know everything, huh? From the day I walked into this place, you dismissed me as some shallow bimbo.”
Touché. “I’m sorry. I—”
“Ryan, I’ve never felt this way, and I don’t care if you’re trans—”
“Stop,” I blurt. She flinches. “I’m not. I’m intersex.” Trish’s bewilderment is amusing. Not.
I hate this—killing her idol to present her with a freakishly tall Mexican angel of doom with breasts and sideburns.
“You’re what?” She frowns.
I frown in turn. “Aren’t you studying to become a doctor or something?”
“PA,” she confirms, her brow still bunched like the hood of a car after a massive collision.
I exhale so deeply, I’m surprised the crowd doesn’t fly out the door, which is propped open to let in the spring breeze.
I say, “Well, it sucks they don’t teach this in school, but quite a few people are born in between male and female.”
“What? We study all sort of syndromes, one in ten-thousand type of things. How common is this?”
“Some say as high as one in fifty.”
Her eyes are so big I could fall into them and disappear. I try.
“Okay,” she says. “And… would you go out with me?”
I choke on my IPA. “No, Trish.” Her features droop.
What would happen once we got naked? Agony: noun, pl. agonies—explaining the complexity of the real world to a straight person. Comparing my genitals to a school book would be like comparing David Bowie to Queen Victoria. “Trisha, I can’t have children, I don’t… I’m not what you imagine your partner should be.”
Her little hand takes my bony one, rough and dry from washing dishes. She says, “Ryan, if you don’t like me just say so, but you’re exactly what I wish my partner would be.” Oh, God, her fierceness makes my blood boil. She adds, “You’re funny, strong, cynical, smart, and… Well, you’re hot as hell.”
I rub the back of my short hair, maybe to hide my face. It’s hot in here. “I’ll think about it,” I say, but for some stupid reason I cannot stop grinning.