David rang the bell to Clary’s door, wishing he’d never agreed to pick her up, wishing he’d never even invited her. He wanted her with him, but he wanted the Clary he had known before, not the one that made him feel sick.
A girl opened the door, not Clary. Her sister. She was a few years younger, slightly shorter, and a lot more ‘womanly’. It wasn’t something he would have noticed before, but these days David found himself eying girls a lot, not for someone he found attractive, but to find the differences between them and Clary. He was confused as to why he hadn’t noticed how different she looked to other girls when he first saw her, and why people around him were still unaware.
It was because he knew, and now everything was becoming so apparent. Clary was taller than most girls her age, thinner, less voluptuous. Her face was more chiseled than round, with sharp edges and points, like a man’s face. But she didn’t look manly, she looked elegant. Sort of like a model.
But her sister was everything he would expect to see in a girl. David could see the resemblance between them. She had the same natural waves in her hair, which was a few shades darker from blonde, their eyes were of the same blackness, and her cheeks were constantly a vibrant pink against her pale complexion, just like her older sister’s, just like Clary. But the smile wasn’t there. David noticed her expression, hard and angry.
"Is Clary ready?" David asked, feeling so unwanted.
"What are you doing here?" She demanded, confirming his suspicions. David felt uncomfortable, wasn’t the answer obvious?
"Picking her up."
"You’re lucky our parents aren’t here."
He wondered what she meant. Did her parents know that he knew her secret? "Can you tell her I’m here."
"You shouldn’t be here." She eyed him angrily, her dark eyes searching for something. "You hurt her."
David was surprised to hear the sudden softness in her voice. Clary’s sister was just being defensive, not angry like he thought. David felt suddenly guilty, as though he had been the one in the wrong.
"Well, she hurt me too," he confessed, seeing the flash of surprise in her gaze.
Clary came up behind her at the moment, worry evident in her features. She could sense the tension, and acted fast to diffuse it.
"Should we go?" She asked quickly, forcing a smile. She gave her sister a quick goodbye kiss on the cheek before sliding past her through the doorway. David noticed what she was wearing, a large woolly jumper that came down to her knees despite the heated weather. She never used to cover up this much, Clary had always been comfortable in showing skin. But it seemed that her revelation had knocked some confidence out of her, or maybe it was David’s reaction that did it.
"You look nice," he decided to compliment, ignoring the hateful stare from her sister still watching. But his tone lacked any truthfulness. It wasn’t that she didn’t look nice; it was just that she didn’t look like herself.
"Thank you," she returned with a forced smile. Her speech was formal, strained, emphasizing how uncomfortable they both felt. "Where are we meeting everyone?"
The walk was just over half an hour. Last time they went out David had asked his mum to drive them. He and Clary had sat close together in the backseat, with his mum eying them suspiciously through the mirror. It had resulted in the awkward ‘birds and bees’ talk when he returned home, which made him want to cringe now. His mum liked Clary. He wondered what she would think about what she really was. He had a feeling his mum would feel ashamed by his reaction, but David couldn’t be too sure.
The prospect of sitting in the backseat of a car together now was too terrifying, and so David decided a walk would be the safer option. The silence was thick and awkward, and he struggled to break it with fluent conversation. It was midday, and the sun shined directly down on them. He noticed that Clary’s hair had a slight redness to it beneath the intense light, streaking color through the blackness. David liked how Clary looked in the brightness of summer, everything he had previously found attractive was emphasized, making her appear more beautiful than ever.
"What?" Clary asked when she caught him staring. David had to remind himself of what she was.
"Nothing," he reassured her. But he couldn’t disguise his slight smile. "You just look nice."
"You already said that," she reminded him harshly. David couldn’t blame her for feeling angry. His constant shift between wanting distance and closeness must have been confusing. He was sending out mixed signals. He wanted to badly for her to be the girl he thought she was.
"Because I mean it."
Clary said nothing for a long while, hugging her waist protectively with her arms as she walked. David wanted to hit himself when he saw her previously confident walk was now slow and hunched. He had broken her.
"I’m sorry for how I’ve acted," he said, surprising Clary. "It was a shock. But I’m getting better." David watched for her reaction, worried when she still didn’t speak. "And I want to know more, I want you to tell me about it."
"You're sure?" Clary asked, making it sound almost like a warning. He nodded, unable to verbalize whether or not he was sure, because in truth he had no idea how he felt. "Okay, what do you want to know?"
"About before," he told her uncertainly. "Before you realized you wanted to change."
A group of people from their school passed. They both fell silent, waiting for them to move out of earshot. David couldn’t help but feeling slightly afraid of being seen with her. He instinctively took a few steps away from Clary’s side. She noticed, but didn’t say anything.
"There was no before," she spoke softly. David took a moment to remember the question he had asked. "I have always known what I wanted. There was no time I felt differently."
"Not even when you were small?" He didn’t like thinking of Clary as a little boy, it was too frightening.
"Never." The finality to her tone was hard to argue with, despite his difficulty in believing it.
"What happened when..." David struggled to say the words. "When you made the change. How did people react?"
"Badly," she admitted. He noticed Clary close her eyes for a moment, as if drawing on her painful past experiences. "People were really horrible."
"What did they do?" David noticed how defensive his voice sounded, and then remembered that he too had been horrible to her. Clary looked as though she didn’t want to answer.
"I got beaten up a lot by some boys," she said. She struggled to remain composed and David felt himself getting angry. It was true, at one point he too had wanted to hit her. But he hadn’t. She was so kind and had done nothing to hurt anybody else. The thought of people hurting her was appalling. "And my sister was picked on a lot too." She paused for David’s reaction, but he had nothing to say. "I remember one day coming home, and finding that someone had completely trashed our house, and spray painted words on the walls."
He could only imagine what words they had used, and was too afraid to ask. "Is that why you moved?"
"Yes," she sighed. "But then I ruined it here as well," she glanced in his direction briefly before looking back down at the ground.
"You haven’t," David reassured her. He wasn’t certain if he was just trying to make her feel better, or if it was what he truly felt. "You can’t blame me for being surprised, and even angry. But I’m starting to feel better about it."
"I’m here with you aren’t I?" When they were alone it was fine. It was just others he had to worry about. What would they think if they discovered the truth? "I want to be here for you," he was aware of how intense his voice sounded, and was worried she might get the wrong impression. "As friends," David quickly added, unsure if that was entirely what he meant.
"I’d like that."
He tried to act normal around his friends, talking with Clary like how he used to. But it was difficult, like trying to hide his discomfort behind translucent paper. Clary sensed it and so backed off a little by deciding to spend more time with the group of girls who came along. And the others noticed it too, as much as he tried to act as though everything was alright, he couldn’t fully disguise that it wasn’t.
But things were changing now. It wasn’t Clary he was finding uncomfortable to be around, or even her secret, it was the others. David couldn’t act how he wanted to act with Clary as long as they were there, watching, waiting for whatever they were hiding to surface.
"I haven’t seen her around much," his mum observed when he told her he was late because he walked Clary home. The walk hadn’t felt as difficult as the first. Talking was easier. They spoke about school, about books, about what was on TV, anything and everything apart from the secret. And David liked it like that, it was like it had been before - almost.
The only difference was that they weren’t intimate, physically and emotionally. David wasn’t talking about kissing or anything like that. It was the simple things, like holding hands, or even a slight rub of the shoulder during conversation. Those friendly gestures were casual before, but now they meant something more, something David couldn’t understand. And it made him feel guilty because he knew that he would like to hold her hand, and that liking it would make him angry with Clary because he shouldn’t like, which would ultimately upset himself.
"We haven’t really been hanging around together recently," David answered his mum, careful not to reveal too much. He slouched down into a chair at the kitchen table, watching as his mum prepared dinner by the counter.
"No," he assured her. "Just a bit busy."
"Do you like her?"
This was the only thing David didn’t like about his mum, how upfront she was, how she always wanted to know what was going on in his life. She didn’t understand privacy. "We are friends," David told her sternly.
"I was under the impression you were something more."
David felt his cheeks redden. Was it so obvious that even his mum knew? If so, then it meant the whole school probably thought the same. David couldn’t have that, he couldn’t risk ruining everything when people found out about her. And people would find out, it was only a matter of time. They lived in a small town, secrets never stayed secrets for long.
"Well, we’re not," he worked hard for a nonchalant effect, but his mum didn’t believe his act for even a second.
"Invite her over," she smiled, slicing through an onion as she spoke. "For dinner next week."
"I don’t think she would want to," David said quickly. Too quickly. His mum eyed him suspiciously. "She was complaining about how much work she had to do."
"Ask her anyway, you never know."
David wanted to tell his mum. He needed to talk about it, to get it off his chest, to have reassurance. He liked Clary, with or without the secret. But he was afraid. He wasn’t willing to defend her publicly. And what did it make him? What would he be branded as? He needed advice, he needed to be told he was making the right decision. And his mum had always been good at telling him what was right and wrong. But David was worried how she would react to this, it was hardly a conversation they could have over tea and biscuits. It was damaging.