“Woohoo!” someone shouted over the loud music that blared through Luke’s house. The floor thumped from the jumping of his guests dancing in time to the latest mainstream hit to become a staple at the local nightclub after Luke’s ex-boyfriend performed a show-stopping lip-sync to it during his latest drag performance.
Luke internally groaned from how many times he’d heard that song. And then he frowned when he saw that the door to his workroom was cracked open, despite the sign on the door that said DO NOT ENTER. He assumed it was said ex-boyfriend trying to get a glimpse at his dress that Luke was still making him for a coming pride event. Sure, they had ended their bedroom relationship, but Luke wasn’t about to stop the best collaboration of his career as an aspiring costume designer over some awkward feelings.
"Erik?" he asked as he poked his head in.
Instead he found Flynn, a freshman wearing an ill-fitting cotton button-up that looked like something a fifty-year old man would wear on a vacation to Palm Springs, staring in awe at the big unfinished dress in front of them.
"You aren't supposed to be in here," Luke said as he shut the door before someone else decided to come snooping.
Flynn quickly turned around, their face red and eyes wide with what looked like fear. They were also red and puffy, as if Flynn had been crying. "I'm sorry!" they squealed. "I just... I just wanted to... I just needed to get away for a minute. I'm sorry! I didn't mean to-"
"Are you okay?" Luke asked softly. "It's fine. I'm not mad but I... I will have to make you sign a nondisclosure agreement, Erik's policy - not mine - before you leave," he said as he walked over to the work-table where his files were.
"I'm... fine," Flynn said with a shrug.
"Seriously," Luke said as he turned around and faced them, raising a dubious brow. They still had a red solo cup in their hand, which he couldn't discern the contents of, that they were clutching to their chest. "What's wrong? Did something happen?"
Flynn bit their lip as they studied Luke, as if they were trying to decide if they could trust him.
"Did someone hurt you?" Luke whispered, which prompted Flynn's eyes to widen with fear. "Flynn... you can trust me. I don't want assholes in my house so if something happened I need to know about it so I can kick them out and not let them back in. I want this to be a safe place for people."
Flynn swallowed. "Nothing... bad happened. Like that," they added with a fearful shiver. "It's just..." They started nervously tapping their foot and their free hand started picking at the hem of their shirt that Luke couldn’t help but notice needed to be ironed. "Someone misgendered me. It's not really his fault but... I got weird and it made me uncomfortable and then I just felt like going home but I... I didn't want to leave because it's still early and-"
"Who misgendered you?" Luke asked.
"It's fine, really, he didn't know!" Flynn said quickly.
"Flynn," Luke said with a sigh, "I know you well enough to guess that it wasn't as simple as accidentally misgendering you. You look really upset. Are you sure you're okay?"
Flynn bit their lip again before letting out a heavy sigh. "Mateo... he was talking to me and..." they looked down into their cup, "he implied that I was a girl so I corrected him and said 'I'm not a girl', but I guess I should have said I was non-binary or something because then he gagged and said, 'dude, you have a penis?' and then he..." They trailed off as they started to cry and sniffle.
Luke took a couple steps closer and tried to get them to look up at his face but they kept avoiding his eyes.
"I kinda freaked out and then he kept insinuating a bunch of things and asking a bunch of questions that I wasn't comfortable with," they continued in a quick exhale of breath. "I didn't know what to do so I just said I had to go to the restroom and then accidentally walked in here because I'm kinda confused and this drink is making everything kinda fuzzy. I've never drank this much before and I don't know how much is too much to drink - Jessica just put this in my hand and told me to drink it so I did cause I thought I could trust her but now I'm scared and this whole night has been a complete disaster!"
They were fully crying now so Luke hesitantly reached out to pat their shoulders. They took this cue to fall into his arms and start sobbing into his chest.
"Shhh," Luke cooed as he caressed their hair. "It's alright. You're okay. You're safe," he said as he reached down to pry their drink away. "Let's put this down," he said as he sat it on the table so Flynn could relax a little in his arms now that they were no longer holding the cup. "It's okay. I'm sorry that happened. Mateo can be an ass sometimes. I honestly shouldn't have invited him, especially since Sadie and Natalie are here. He's gotten worse since they got together. He and Sadie used to date and it was a whole thing. But anyway, I'm very very sorry that happened and I'll make sure he's not invited back here-"
"I don't want you to get mad at your friends!" Flynn cut him off as they looked up at his face. "I'm not trying to cause problems!"
"Look, if he was being an ass-"
"He was taken off guard!" Flynn interjected. "He didn't know I was nonbinary and I look like a girl still so-"
"It doesn't give him the right to be cruel, rude, or any number of things," Luke argued. "Flynn, he shouldn't have assumed anything or been judgmental and rude about your body. Period. You don't have to tell anyone what kind of body parts you have. They don't need to know. I don't need to know. Erik doesn't need to know. Mateo doesn't need to know. That is your information and only you should get to decide who knows what about it. Luckily you were smart enough to remove yourself from the situation and that's how you should try to handle this sort of thing if it happens again."
Flynn pulled a hand away to wipe their face with the back of their sleeve. "I was just so excited for tonight," they said through a choked voice. "I sometimes have worried that I... that I'm confused or wanting attention. Or that I'm just fooling myself. But... if I could get rid of these feelings... if I could not be trans..." they buried their head in their hands as a sob escaped their lips, "I wouldn't!" they cried out. "I don't want to have to live like this!"
Luke put an arm around their shoulders with one hand and took their face in his other, forcing them to look up into his eyes. "I know I will never understand what you're feeling," he said intently, "I want you to know though, that you're going to be okay. It does get easier and things are getting better and better everyday for queer and trans people. I know it’s hard in this town to feel like you can be yourself, and that sucks. And Mateo is just one asshole who isn't even worth a second thought. You're finding your people, your circle, your family and those people will love and accept and celebrate you. You're getting there and you are an extremely brave person for embracing your identity so fully at your age and claiming your space in the world."
"Or I'm incredibly stupid," Flynn argued.
"Stupid people don't think they're stupid," Luke said with a raised brow.
Flynn smiled and a small giggle escaped their lips. "I just... I want to... I want to date and figure that out. I think it will help... other things make sense."
Luke nodded. "Probably," he said as a smile formed on his lips and he started to giggle. "I could see how sex would help with understanding your body's sexual organs."
"I was hoping I would get up the courage to kiss someone tonight," Flynn admitted, their face turning red.
Luke giggled. "You're adorable."
Flynn groaned and plopped their face in their hands again. "I'm so lame! I'm already a freshman in college and I haven't had my first kiss yet!"
"You're young," Luke tried to comfort them. "I had my first kiss when I was... well, I suppose if we wanted to count Madeline in the fifth grade I was 11 but my first real - and by real I mean gay - kiss was when Erik and I played Lumiere and Cogsworth Freshman year."
"I don’t remember Lumiere and Cogsworth being a couple,” Flynn said with a look of confusion on their face.
“Well, they aren’t canonically. We just made out backstage all the time.” Luke giggled. "Do you like boys or girls? Or non-binary people? Both? All?"
"I don't care about gender," they said with a shrug. "I guess I'm pansexual. But I don't really know because I haven't even had sex yet."
"You don't need to have sex to know who you want to have sex with," Luke argued. "Got any crushes?!" he asked excitedly. "I can teach you some tricks on how to flirt," he said with a wink. "Who do you like? Who were you wanting to kiss tonight?!"
Flynn's face grew even redder. "I don't know! No one!"
"Liar!" Luke scolded. "Tell me!" he begged. "I won't tell anyone, I promise! Or do you have a type maybe? Handsome blonde mascs,” he said with a self-indulgent smirk, “or curvy red-headed fems?"
Flynn groaned again. "No one!"
"How about I tell you who I was shamefully flirting with if you promise not to tell a soul," he offered. "You have to swear you won't tell because it could cause a lot of drama."
Flynn bit their lip in consideration. "I just have to tell you one person I have a crush on?"
"So there's more than one?!" Luke said with a smirk and a giggle.
"Ugh!" Flynn groaned in embarrassment.
"Okay, one person," Luke agreed.
"Why do you even care?" Flynn asked with a sigh.
"Because I want to be better friends," Luke said with a shrug. "And because it's fun and at least you aren't crying now because you're too embarrassed about this."
Flynn tried to hide their face again as Luke giggled.
"Okay," Flynn finally groaned as they looked up, their face still pressed between their palms. "I think Jessica is like, the prettiest woman in the world and... ugh, like, I would die.”
Luke giggled. "That's a solid answer. Unfortunately I cannot see her that way, partially because she's a lesbian but mostly because I hooked up with her brother once and that's just weird."
Flynn giggled at that. "So who were you flirting with?" they asked excitedly.
"You cannot tell anyone I said this," Luke qualified. "And by that I mean Erik because it was definitely his boyfriend and I couldn't help it even though I know that door is firmly closed and would be a huge mistake."
"Alex?!" Flynn squealed. "Really?!"
"Shhh!" Luke scolded. "It was just harmless flirting. I say harmless but he and Erik are clearly having problems right now and I need to watch it."
Flynn smirked. “I won’t tell a soul. You and Alex dated at one point, right?”
“We… the three of us hooked up once, my only threesome experience and to say it was a disaster would be an understatement,” Luke explained dryly. “I don’t recommend it.”
“Hey, we got five minutes till New York City’s ball drops!” someone shouted, their voice cracking on ‘five’, from the living room where music was still blaring and shaking the walls.
“It’s a shame yours still haven’t!” someone shouted back.
“Hey, I have the surgery scheduled, okay?!” the first voice, a transgender man Luke gathered from the context of the conversation, shouted back, prompting the room to laugh.
“This looks amazing by the way,” Flynn said as they motioned to the dress on the dress form in the corner by Luke’s sewing table. It was a big gaudy ball gown, with panels in the different colors of the pride flag, a corset with enough Swarovski crystals on it to cover a monthly rent payment and a hoop that was so wide the CDC would consider it safe for social distancing. “Erik will look stunning.”
“He better,” Luke said as he joined Flynn in studying the gown. “I’ve only spent two whole months working on it.”
“Why do you keep making him gowns if you guys aren’t together anymore?” Flynn asked.
Luke sighed as he stared at a photo of Erik in drag that was pinned on his cork board. Most people saw a beautiful person with a big curly wig, bold eyeshadow over sultry eyes, posing with a playful glance over his shoulder. Luke saw a star who was going to make it out of this small, shitty town and change the whole world. Of everyone in their college theatre group, Erik was the one who was going to make it big. Other than Luke of course.
“Because he’s a star,” he said with a shrug. “I would be a fool to walk away from him forever.”
“Three minutes!” a voice shouted from outside the door.
“We should go watch the ball drop,” Luke said as he nodded Flynn to the door.
Right as they turned to the door, the door opened and Jessica was there in her skimpy tinsel dress she had made from the set of this semester’s holiday production of A Christmas Carol that she had designed. “Flynn! There you are!” she exclaimed as she reached in and grabbed Flynn’s hand. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you! The ball is about to drop!”
Luke giggled and mouthed a quick, ‘Good luck!’ to Flynn as they were dragged away.
Luke walked out of his workspace and closed the door tight behind him. All around his living room people were coupling up as the newscasters on the television grew excited. A new year. Luke would graduate this year. Luke would move to the big city this year. Luke would start this unrelenting adventure called ‘real life’ this year. It all felt so close and so far away.
“Ten!” the room shouted in unison.
Luke watched as Flynn giggled as they held Jessica’s hands.
Someone popped confetti early on accident.
“Oh shit,” someone said as they spilled their punch all over Luke’s Lack Ikea coffee table.
Lady Gaga shouted about being on the right track from the speaker that had somehow ended up in a pot of pothos hanging from the ceiling.
Luke saw Erik across the room, glitter smeared across his face, his chest mostly bare save the straps of his lamé overalls.
Erik briefly caught Luke’s eye from across the room as he raised his glass of champagne high in the air.
Luke watched as Alex giggled from where he was holding Erik from behind, his arms wrapped around the other man’s waist.
Flynn was smiling as they chanted with Jessica, squeezing each other’s hands with excitement.
Luke was alone in that awful, suspended moment. He looked around as if he would grab the first person he saw who didn’t have a partner already. He wouldn’t. He knew that he would be ringing in 2023 alone. He knew that one day, he might have someone to kiss at midnight on the random day that humans had decided to start counting on. But that day was not today. Today, he would watch other’s fall in love. He would celebrate all their wins. But he was destined for something else. Something a little bigger. Something a little lonelier than the kind of love one found in a small liberal arts college in a small town in the south. And this small moment of pain and sadness was the cost one paid for having ambitions that reached past the white picket fences and pink or blue nurseys of suburbia.
Luke watched as Jessica kissed a very startled but very excited Flynn on the mouth and couldn’t help the smile that formed on his face.
And then he hated that his eyes drifted across the room to where Erik was kissing Alex. But Erik wasn’t looking at Alex. He was looking at Luke. As Luke stared into those eyes, he knew it was a promise. A promise and a shared understanding. Erik was the only other person in the room who understood the feeling that Luke was experiencing. And Luke could see in his eyes that his kiss to Alex on New Years Eve of 2022 was as empty a promise as Luke’s first kiss to that poor girl in the fifth grade had been.
“Happy New Year!” Luke shouted as he joined in with his friends, finding a flute of champagne and raising it to the sky.
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Woah. Very interesting plot Theodore. I really like it! Great job! :)