To ensure that every club member bonded they were supposed to dedicate an hour (minimum) to another at least twice a month. Bonding was critical since these were the people that you would be beating others up with, so trust and respect were important.
So that is two hours per member and there were five (not including themselves.)
Kat (she/her) and Riley (they/them) typically went to her yoga classes, or a restaurant Riley has been meaning to check out.
Riley and Vikas (he/him) usually spent their time gaming or watching some show they can agree on.
Riley and Charles (he/him) usually spent their time at Charles’s place, talking about whatever picked their fancy. Or cooking. Or doing chores. There was never anything set, just a determined destination.
Riley and Lonnie (she/her) usually just left school together and let their feet lead them from there. It was a guaranteed adventure.
But, if they had to choose, they liked tea time with Asia the most. Maybe it was because Asia put so much effort into preparing the tea set and the little cookies and cakes which made it all seem like more of an event. Or because Asia was a good gossip buddy. They just knew that they always looked forward to tea time.
“Riley, you know I love you but you need to lose that beanie.”
They watched her pour them and then herself a steaming cup of tea. Unsure of what they needed to say, unsure of what she needed to hear.
“If the beanie goes, I go.”
She offered them the teacup before settling into her own seat as her answer.
Riley used to hate tea. Used to sip at their cold cup for the sake of sipping. They used to focus their attention on the little cakes and cookies that Asia would lovingly set up for what must be show because she only ever touches one if any. But somehow what used to be so offensive to their nose was soothing, and instead of holding their breath, they inhaled the scent like a weirdo.
“Remember how we first started having these little dates?” She asked them, stirring her teaspoon idly. “You hated tea then, remember? You’d make a face every time but you’d still come and you used to eat all the cookies on the plate.”
Riley wished they could whip out their phone and snap a quick photo. It would be so pretty. The white porcelain bright against her dark hands, the sunlight lighting her black dreads with a glow. Her long lashes cast shadows over her smooth cheeks. They knew for a fact that Kat would appreciate having a copy, might even slip them a few bucks for it. But more than that they wished that Asia would just say what she obviously wanted to say.
“I remember. You almost gave up on me and tried to give me boiled lemon water.” They snorted, taking a purposefully dainty sip of the drink. “The indignity of it all.”
She took her own sip, “I distinctly remember you liking that one the best.”
“Before, those were dark days, Asia. Before.”
“Right, well… how have you been? I saw your match with Vikas went a little weird. Usually you-”. She stopped talking to shove a cookie into her mouth, downing some tea to then swallow and reach for another cookie. They let her do the same cycle, between conversation bits, a few more times before sliding the tray out of reach.
“Is this really what you want to talk about right now? Charles’ birthday plans?”
She looked at them like a deer caught in headlights.
“Listen,” they put their hands up placatingly, “we don’t have to talk about what you obviously want to talk about but we also totally can. If you wanted to. Which you obviously do. I’m just saying that stalling won’t really do anything for me.”
They took a hearty swig of tea to stop their word vomit.
How was it that being on the receiving end of the coming out was just as terrifying as coming out? Was Riley even this terrified when they told their family that they were agender? They vaguely remember them being frustrated with the idea of slipping up, insisting that they were just used to calling them by their past pronouns or what is in their pants.
“Just imagine me as a mighty swarm of bees,” they had told them. Somehow, they felt that that line would not work twice. “If what is in my pants is who I am, pretend there are a bunch of bees there instead.”
It was just the idea that pushing too hard or not enough will have Asia in another downward spiral of denial. And the first one was painful enough (to watch). Maybe this is why people said to never rush someone out of the closet, lest they retaliate with the unnecessary urge to act straight.
“Talk?” She laughed inappropriately loudly. “Me? Stall? To you? About…what?” She dragged the ‘ah’ of the what too much to know that she can get away with seeming innocent.
She was obviously nervous, they shouldn’t push her.
“Okay. If that’s how you feel then we can just talk about…” They waited for Asia to reach for another cookie before saying, “Kat and her new girlfriend.”
Okay, don’t hate. She is obviously ready to talk! If she actually wanted to deny anything then she would respond with anger and not just nerves.
They blink innocently at her as she chokes on cookies. “What? We can’t have tea time without any actual tea.”
She looked at him, looking vaguely wary and full of anticipation.
“Spill, sister. Spill the tea. How did our Kat end up with little Ms. Opera Star?” Riley said, in their best impression of one of Asia’s friends.
“They’re dating?” Asia murmured, setting down her teacup. As if she didn’t know. “What do you mean?”
Or maybe she actually didn’t know. Oh… that would be… awkward.
“As if you don’t know.”
“I literally don’t.”
“How? It’s in her Insta bio. And constantly on her private. Where have you been?”
Asia tossed her long dreads over her shoulder, “Oh, I dunno, how about coming to terms with the fact that I am not straight?”
Point to Asia.
They gave an uncomfortable shrug. “Well, sorry babe. You're going to have to find a new girl to be not straight for because Kat is in a committed monogamous relationship.”
She gives them a weird look, “Why did you say it like that?”
“That is exactly how it’s phrased in her bio. I thought it was weird too, figured it’s a lesbian thing. Is it not a lesbian thing?”
“I’m not a lesbian! I like men, but also, y’know,” she shrugged, “women are, like, really hot.”
There was a beat of silence when finally she spoke again.
“It actually said that?” She whipped out her phone, tapping even as she talked. “You’re not joking?”
“No, not joking. She might have changed it because I was a little nightmare but I have screenshot proof. Did she change it? Did she?”
They vaguely remember screenshotting and bombarding Kat for details while simultaneously tormenting her for her wording.
“She did,” Asia cleared her throat. “Now it just says, ‘My girlfriend is prettier than your girlfriend, she’s (@) pamela.hernandez’.”
They eye her, she was staring at the phone with an uncomfortable expression. It was uncomfortable because they could tell that she was trying really hard to not give anything away. They watch as her face hardens and she keeps swiping, fingers flying over the small bright screen. Her acrylics tap her case impatiently. They see her phone go yellow and they know she is checking Kat’s private story.
Sure enough, they watch as her hard expression is chipped away. As she taps for the older ones. Her face is becoming a little less neutral and more…what? What was that expression on her face? Not anger, not jealousy. It looked… they startled as she jerked out of her chair, abandoning it and heading straight to the bathroom, where she proceeded to throw up.
They follow her, getting there in time to help her keep her heavy dreads out of the way.
Riley didn’t leave as soon as the time said they could. After throwing up Asia had excused herself and locked herself in her room. Riley didn’t really know if Kat was actually posting pure gf fluff on her story, that is just what they heard from an exasperated Vikas but at seeing Asia’s reaction they had to guess it was tooth-rotting.
Determined to find out for themselves they checked. And then proceeded to dial their dentist.
It was that bad.
On the most recent, there were Kat and Pam’s legs, thin and twined together. Their feet donning matching fuzzy socks. Before that, Kat was looking at the camera with the back of her hand pressing a tanned hand pressed to her lips. Before that, there was a picture of drinks. Before that, just Kat asking for an opinion on what she should wear for her date. And before that, her oldest update, a small video of Kat stealing pecks on camera. Laughing. It was audioless and they couldn't read what she was saying but it looked absolutely cheesy. They tapped out and checked her regular story to see that there was the same kissing clip there, except the chorus of ‘I kissed a girl' by Katy Perry played in the background.
Kat looked absolutely smitten. She was definitely acting like it. Riley didn’t even realize till their tea date just how seriously Kat seemed to be dating the Pamela girl.
Because… How could she? When just a week ago, her eyes would follow Asia out of the room. When just two weeks ago, they were found making out in the corner of the party! Both of them were a little tipsy but not enough to be able to claim they didn’t know what they were doing. Can a person fall out of love that quickly? Did Kat ever even truly like Asia? Or was it lust?
That would be the worst, wouldn’t it?
Riley settled outside the door, waiting for a bit before calling. “Wanna talk about it?”
“Nothing is wrong! I’m fine!” She sounded fine like she hadn’t just spent the last five minutes ugly sobbing and vomiting into a toilet.
“Yeah,” they heard some clattering and shuffling in the room. “And while I’m at it, straight. I’m so straight.”
“I don’t know if that’s how it works,” Riley admitted.
“I know that, Riley,” she snapped. They heard a pause, the voice becoming clearer and softer as she drew near. “But isn’t that how you…?”
Usually when someone asked Riley to explain it was because they were eager to find a flaw in their logic, desperate to insist that they couldn't just not be a gender. Usually, they brought up the famous question, ‘well, what’s in your pants?’. No matter how many times they tried to explain the difference between gender and sex they just didn’t get it.
But Asia would try to. Just like their family did. Even if she was only asking so she didn’t have to think about her own little crisis.
“Not quite, b. See, dear Asia. I knew, from the moment I was born, that I was beyond mortal male and female.” They dropped the British accent, determined to take this seriously. “I never really liked the idea of being a ‘girl’ or a ‘boy’. It felt like it didn’t fit. When they called me a boy, it felt like…” They pull their little speech, the one they prepared for people who would actually listen. (It was startling and beautiful, justice to the words they never got to share.) “It was like being told to put on shoes that I knew wouldn’t fit right. It was uncomfortable, and the longer I wore them the more it went from discomfort to plain pain. It was just so wrong.”
She was quiet so they kept going.
“For some time, I thought that maybe I was just a girl. It was a desperate thought, I think. I never dreamed of being a girl, just about not being a boy. To me, at the time, it felt like the only alternative. And, you have to understand Asia, I was so sick of being a boy. I was so convinced that I came out to my brother as a trans girl. I was 12 at the time. Still had no idea about the gloriousness of agender. Being an ignorant 16-year-old he laughed, thinking I was joking. That really pissed me off so I then acted in the most stereotypical girly way, so much that it convinced him,- and eventually my entire family- to call me by female pronouns.”
“Like before it felt like I was trying to fit into the wrong shoe.” They cleared their throat, suddenly aware of her silence. “Does it make sense?”
“So far, yes. Please keep explaining?”
“Sure, ah. Right,” they closed their eyes, trying to remember. “Well, it felt like I was wearing the wrong shoes. Like before I was wearing tight sneakers and, well, at the time it felt like I was a little kid wearing my mom’s heels. I felt clumsy and indignant and eager to prove that the shoes fit. That I wasn’t filled with hot air. That I wasn’t speaking out of my entitled ass.”
“Then I learned about agender and asexuality. Before I would be a little huffy when people tried to fit me into a shoe -I mean, label- but then. Just knowing that what I was was… right? Like, not some weird phase but something people, a lot of people, can feel? It was absolute vindication. Of course, my family was a little weird about me changing my pronouns again. And they gave me a lot of bs. They were like ‘sure…kid’, whatever’. Like this wasn’t everything to me, when I was telling them to call me ‘they’, they were really weird about it. I think they thought I was taking my demands too far, but they love me. So they call me by the right pronouns, though they do slip up sometimes. My dad used to slip a lot when he asked my brother to get me by saying ‘go get your brother’, and he’d get all annoyed when he realizes his mistake. But it’s getting easier, now he says ‘go get the kid’ or ‘summon the demon’.”
Asia’s light laugh breaks through and they inch closer to the door, glad that it was there because they aren’t sure they can say what they are saying without it.
“And sometimes my mom wants to go shopping but doesn’t know if shopping in a specific section will upset me. I assure her it doesn’t as long as the item is my style but still, it’s hard. And, almost always, when I introduce myself and my pronouns, I can see people scan me. Looking at my chest and hips, trying to find my sex because they think it’s more important than my gender. And it sucks, and I can’t say that being bisexual, or demisexual, or pansexual or-”
“Wait,” she said. “Slow down, first tell me what’s demisexual?”
So they did. And eventually, she opened the door, and let them into her room and onto her couch where they sat there, and listened to her talk to every single thing, from liking Kat to coming out. And how she wasn’t entirely sure of what she was and how the very idea of committing to a term scared the crap out of her.
Where they said, “That’s not what labels are for though. They aren’t supposed to freak you out, they aren’t supposed to make you feel like you are wearing the wrong shoes. You deserve to figure out what you are, and if you decide to never take on a label then that is no one’s business but your own. You can still like girls or just Kat. You can still like men.”
“I can’t imagine liking another girl.”
“And that’s fine, she can be the only girl you ever have the hots for, and it wouldn’t discredit or invalidate what you felt for her. You just need to accept the new pieces you are learning about yourself, don’t stress yourself about a label when you don’t want to.”
She pulled her knees to her chest, burying her face between them. “I feel like I’m cheating.” She lifts her head, “like at this gay stuff. I feel like I’m cheating by thinking myself part of the community when there is a possibility I will only ever like Kat, like she’ll be the only girl I’d ever want that way.”
“I used to think that. That I’d be cheating if I want a romantic relationship with someone but no sex, but I don’t think that anymore. And you shouldn’t either. You are part of the lgbqt+ community, whether as an ally, undefined, or whatever you think you are. We don’t have any laws, the whole point of us is to be open to all. You don’t have to go to pride or like rainbows, you just have to consider yourself a member.”
They slide an arm over her shoulder, “Did I talk too much?”
“No, it was perfect. I needed that… Can we go back to talking about how Kat has a girlfriend now and it sucks?”
“Should I get another pot of tea?”
“If you don’t mind,” she said. “Can we stay here?”
“Of course,” Riley said. They stared at each other in silence before they couldn’t stand it and said, “but can we still get snacks?”
That brought a proper laugh from her. “You are terrible.”