Heroes Of The Green City Chapter 9: In Which Something Damn Scary Happens

Alex was feeling pretty great. This was a bit unusual for them. Their dad had started calling them “sad sack” lately. Alex hated the nickname but didn’t tell him. The less they talked with their dad the better. He probably thought they were going through a phase or some bullshit like that. He hadn’t found the makeup as far as they knew. But they supposed it was only a matter of time before they did. They should probably talk to Jane about moving in with the rest of The Freak Clan so they didn’t have to change and do makeup in the upstairs library bathroom at school.

That’s where Alex was walking now. It was 10 in the morning and they’d have enough privacy to change and put makeup on before going to their first class. They leaned their giant clipboard and two giant pads of paper against the bathroom wall farthest from a toilet, urinal, or sink. They took off their nondescript black shirt to reveal a pink Strawberry Shortcake t-shirt. Then they grabbed the dark gray skirt and leggings from their bag. They put on their lacy hat and lacy fingerless gloves.

Next came the jewelry. A black beaded bracelet with an ankh because Alex thought Neil Gaiman’s Death character was super cool. A pink Hello Kitty necklace and matching bracelet. Three friendship bracelets: one pink, one with the colors of a bisexual flag, and another with the colors of the pansexual flag. Clip on dangly lightning bolt earrings.

Last bit was makeup. Purple lipstick. Rainbow eyeshadow. They thought they were getting pretty good at makeup. Now with the pink-burgundy they really thought their style was coming together.

Ok, they were done, and no one’d come in to bother them. It probably would’ve been ok if they had. Alex had a hot girlfriend and a hot boyfriend. They were like, double in love. How can that not make you feel good? How can you not feel confident as fuck?

Art class was boring. The teacher did a long lecture on renaissance painting and sculpture. They didn’t get any drawing in until the last few minutes of the period. Creative Writing was just reading each other’s stories. That’s always cool. Next was Algebra, which was also fun.

Alex remembered when they’d told Jane they actually liked math classes. “Really?” she’d said, “But you’re so artsy!”

“You don’t get to tell me what to do!” Alex stuck their tongue out. Then they gave Jane a quick kiss on the nose. They were snuggling like always. “Do you want coffee? I want coffee!” asked Alex as they jumped out of Jane’s arms and legs and the blanket that’d been covering them and off of the couch.

Terry, another resident of the apartment and member of The Freak Clan in good standing, was sitting cross-legged in front of the TV playing a racing game. As Alex walked to the kitchen she asked him if he wanted coffee too. “Yes please.” His eyes were locked on the screen.

Alex got out the kettle and all the other coffee-making paraphernalia. They got out the beans and ground them. Jane picked up a controller. “Video games good, math bad” she said.

“I used to think so” said Alex, “but then I started reading about math outside of class. I kept running across mathematicians that would use aesthetic language. One would write that a proof was ‘beautiful’ or that some other thing was ‘elegant’. I started to read an old, I mean really old, geometry textbook called Euclid’s Elements. I don’t understand a lot of it but I’m starting to see the appeal.”

The kettle whistled and Alex poured the water in to the press, pressed it into a cup, dumped the grounds, dried the press, and repeated the process two more times. She got out the milk and chocolate syrup.

“Terry, my girlfriend is a giant nerd.” she was racing Terry across the streets of San Francisco. Said streets were fortunately free of pedestrians or pesky police officers.

“That’s cool” he replied.

“I know! So what about algebra? Is algebra beautiful?” asked Jane

“It’s fun. Like a puzzle. I wouldn’t say it was beautiful.” Alex replied.

“You’re beautiful m’dear” said Jane. She blew Alex a kiss “Mwah!”

Terry rolled his eyes. “I’m gonna get diabetes over here” he said.

“Then I guess you don’t want this choco-coffee or these cookies” Alex said.

“I’ll risk it” he replied.

Alex moved over a small short table next to Terry and Jane, then brought a plate of some of the homemade cookies Terry had made yesterday. They then placed three tall mugs next to the plate. One was yellow. Another was white. It a cartoon picture of Wonder Woman and her lasso spinning above her. The last was the tech company mug Terry’s boyfriend’d brought back from a conference. “Terry, you’re yellow, I’m Wonder Woman, and you my love are Synergy Systems.”

Jane paused the game, took her cookie and mug, had a bite and then took a drink. “Mmmmmmm, tastes like angel investment money.”

Alex had a cookie in their mouth and said, in a muffled voice, “Mine tastes like female empowerment.”

Back in the present, Alex was reliving the moment with Jane and Terry in her mind. Now they wanted coffee before algebra. They checked their phone. Actually there was enough time to put this bulky clipboard and art paper back in their car before going to the coffee shop at the building where math was scheduled to happen. A few minutes later Alex was in line with only their backpack. The coffee shop was full of shiny black wood furniture. The wooden floor was also stained black and shiny. The counter was stained the same. Black was everywhere, as well as shiny stainless steel and glass. Cheesecake and brownies and croissants beckoned behind the display case.

Two guys in gym t-shirts and shorts wearing baseball hats were in front of Alex in line. The guys were talking about sports and women. Alex tried to filter out the dude-bros and their casual misogynic conversation out of their mind.

One of the guys looked at them and did a double take. It made Alex nervous. I feel like a deer who’s just been spotted by a couple of fuckin’ wolves. They knew that the likelihood of getting hurt by these dudes was pretty low. It was a public place after all, but the thought didn’t make them feel any better.

The bros ordered their drinks and moved aside. Alex moved up and put away their phone. “Uh… large mocha and a brownie.” They felt a little dazed as they walked to an empty table to wait for their drink. The day wasn’t normal anymore. Alex couldn’t help but think about Matthew Shepard. That kid in the 90s who’d been beaten to shit, tied to a fence, set on fucking fire, and then left to die of exposure. Alex had watched a movie about him as a kid. True fuckin’ story. It sounded so awful. I’m probably being unfair, most people aren’t violent like that.

“Alex?” called out the barista. Hoping those dudes were gone or just ignoring them, Alex grabbed their drink and walked away without looking at anyone. Then they were pushed into a table by one of those muscleman dipshits. Alex’s hands grabbed the table but it wasn’t attached to the floor and Alex knocked it over with their momentum. The napkin container fell to the floor along with Alex’s hot cup of coffee, their brownie, and Alex. They’d hit their lip on a nearby chair, which was also knocked over.

“Clumsy faggot” said one of the dude-bros.

Alex was gripped by fear. They looked around the coffee shop. Most of the patrons were ignoring what’d just happened. Others were looking at them without an atom of sympathy. The guys who’d pushed Alex weren’t in the shop anymore. There was hot coffee all over Alex’s jacket and strawberry shortcake shirt. They couldn’t stop the tears from flowing as they half-walked/half-ran out of the coffee shop.

A few minutes later Alex was in their car. They were still crying, and occasionally sobbing. They had enough self-control to keep the sobs from being too loud. They didn’t want anyone to notice them. They wanted to disappear. Alex thumped the dashboard. “Fucking assholes” they whispered. After a few minutes they were calm enough to drive away. Fuck school. Fuck algebra. Fuck those assholes.

After driving a while toward the apartment that was Freak Clan Headquarters Alex parked at another coffee shop and had a look at their face in the rear view mirror. Their makeup didn’t look that bad and didn’t take long to fix. Eyes were a bit red and puffy. The lipstick needed a bit of repair too. There was probably some purple lipstick left on the table from the impact. Alex’s lip was a little swollen. Again, not too badly.

After sitting silently in their car for a while, just collecting themself, Alex took a deep breath to calm and went into the coffee shop. I want some coffee and a goddamn brownie. Actually, if there’s a chocolate cheesecake I want that instead. There was, as it happened, a slice of chocolate cheesecake available for purchase. The cheesecake and the choco-coffee made them feel better.

When Alex got to the apartment Terry was sitting on the couch playing a video game. “You’re here a bit early.” he said in a friendly tone.

Alex walked past without saying anything and went directly to Jane’s room, which was empty, (Jane wouldn’t be home until this evening) and then closed the door. It wasn’t a door slam, but it was a very firm and definite closing of a door.

Terry wasn’t one for noticing nonverbal cues, but even this one got through. He paused the game, walked over to Jane’s door, and softly knocked. “Are you ok Alex?”

“I need to be alone for a bit Terry” Alex said.

“Ok,” Terry wasn’t sure if things were ok or not, “I’m happy to talk with you any time you feel like it. I’ll be out here. Let me know if you want some frozen pizza or a soda or anything.”

“Thanks Terry.”

Terry waited to hear if Alex would say anymore. After a few moments Terry went back to his game.

“I just need to calm the fuck down” Alex told themself. They were sitting up on the bed, legs straight out. They put on their headphones and played some electro swing. Happy music to relax and improve their mood.

Jane’s bed was in the in one corner of the room. She had a nightstand with a hula dancer lamp. Next to the lamp was a short stack of magazines. Half of them were what Alex thought of as girly magazines for lesbians. Thinking about Jane, about how good it felt to snuggle with her, how good it was to have sex with her, how caring she was. It made Alex feel better. They also thought about John. He was good to snuggle with too. So warm. He always smelled good. Always clean. Always wearing man-perfume. John smiled whenever she said that. “When it’s for boys they call it cologne” he’d say in a pretend-hurt tone of voice.

John was at work now or Alex might’ve called them too. They didn’t want to worry either of them. It’s not like this was a hate crime was it? Although they’d mostly avoided being bullied in high school, Alex’d definitely dealt with worse than this before. It’s just that they’d kind of expected things to be different once they got into college.

For the most part things were better. College seemed to be a time for people to discover themselves. It seemed to Alex that more queer people found the courage to come out once they left the mandatory education system. Everyone who didn’t want to go to school anymore just wasn’t going to be there. The people who remained were more mature and intellectually curious.

But those assholes were pretty much like all the jock dipshits Alex had encountered in high school. People like that were why they’d never felt safe coming out as nonbinary back then. Other people were terrifying.

Alex was looking at a girl’s skateboarding magazine. They could hear the sound of video game tire screeching in the living room. They were safe. “I’m alright” Alex said to themself. They were looking at a girl doing an upside down handstand at the top of a cement skate ramp. One hand held her up while she kept the board to her feet with the other. It was pretty impressive.

There was another knock on the door, then it opened a crack. “Are you alright Alex my love?”

Alex put down the magazine. “Jane? I thought you were still at work!”

Jane opened the door all the way, revealing John behind her. Alex hugged and kissed both.

“Terry emailed us,” said John, “He was really worried about you.”

Alex sighed in mock exasperation and completely sincere relief. Then they walked over to Terry and kissed him on the head. “Thank you Terry dear. You’re a very sweet and good boy.”

He continued to play his game. “You’re very welcome Alex. You’re part of the family now. We’ll be there for you.” Alex hugged him from behind before sitting on the couch next to John. They took his hand. Alex could see he was concerned but didn’t want to pry. Their relationship was still very new and he didn’t want to screw it up by being too nosy.

Jane was always nosy. She popped open a root beer for Terry, two beers for John and herself, and a cider for Alex. Then she said “Suppose you tell us all about it my dear?”

Terry had said they were family. I love them all, they thought to themself.