Audrey hadn't been the same lately. She was...distant, and not in her usual, quirky way. There was being socially distant like Audrey was, she didn't care for big emotional scenes, she disliked most social events, she was almost always watching YouTube or jamming out to music on her noise cancelling headphones, but this. This was different. I was one of her only good and loyal friends, and something between us just clicked. We just got along, and neither of us asked questions about it.
Our usual meetups went something along the lines of this: I would approach her, tap her on the shoulder, and she, after a few seconds delay, as she literally had to almost pry her eyes away from the screen or whatever she was looking at, would smile a small, shy smile, pull down her headphones and reference a meme or say something witty or weird, and I would either A) roll my eyes or B) do an ironic snort because it was slightly amusing.
This is what our meetups right now looked like: I would approach her, tap her on the shoulder, eagerly awaiting her catchy phrase and goofy attempt at breaking away from the video's reality (it was honestly priceless to watch) and say something, anything, but...nope. She would notice I was there almost immediately, tug down the headphones off her ears, and start talking, usually about something completely normal. Not that there's anything wrong with being normal, it's just...she didn't exactly seem comfortable talking about the subjects she chooses.
For example, she would usually ramble about some funny internet video, or some topical meme, or most commonly, bugs and reptiles, which was one of her favourite obsessions. But now, she asked how my day was, were there any funny things I saw, or how my mom was doing. Something just seemed off. There was a tenseness to her tone, a certain on edge vibe that vibrated from her vocal cords like coded music, waiting to be unscrambled.
I really wanted to ask her about it, but it just felt a little insulting to ask, hey, why are you acting like a normal person? Even a simple, hey, what's wrong, didn't seem to be able to be considered, much less actually be uttered. So the mystery lay unsolved, and the friendship's spark quickly began to fizzle instead of thriving and grow into a hearty inferno. Luckily, some hope soon came. After about a month after the awkwardness started, the unanswered questions seemed to be offering the answers to me by themselves, in the form of this lunchroom exchange:
Me (walking over to lunch table, sets down tray): Hey, Audrey! What's up?
Audrey (for once not wearing headphones) : Oh...hey. Nothing, really, I guess.
Me (faking a big smile, I didn't know what was coming) : Oh, well. That's nice. Better than being overworked, right?
Audrey (sighing and shrugging) : Yeah, I guess.
(Awkward silence. I start to eat my lunch, as Audrey just picks at it, her face darkened slightly by some sort of suppressed feeling.)
Audrey (breaking the silence, so I didn't have to, Thank God!) : There's...actually something really big going on. Mega big. Bigger than the day Mr. Peterson's wig blew off in PE.
(We both laugh. Things already seemed back to our quirky awkwardness, and I didn't even have complete answers yet.)
Me (I look up from my lunch, right side of my mouth puffy from storing some mushed up food) : So what is it?
Audrey (bites her lip, and her eyes kinda dart around) : I...I can't say here...let's meet up. After school.
So that's what we did. As the school day ended and we had all our things, backpack and books all tucked away safely in our arms or somewhere else on our body, we met up under a big, shady tree as we waited for our bus. She beat me there, and she looked ten times more scared than she did at lunch, which was impressive, because she looked downright terrified then.
"So..." I sorta drawl out the "o" sound, my eyes looking around our surroundings, double checking there was no one that could possibly overhear. I also try not to make it seem that I noticed how anxious she was, there was obviously enough pressure as is. "What is this little secret?"
I immediately cringe at how I worded it, it sounds so terrible and wrong to me, but I can't take it back. The almost summer breeze has grasped it away and brought the words to live in my friend's ears.
She looks around, and bites her lip down real hard. Her legs begin to shake a little, teetering back and forth a little like she was a video game character incapable of standing completely still. Our eyes don't meet right away, in fact, they don't meet for a rather long time, but when they do, they lock in a stiff fashion, like a magical spell. It's bound.
Her lip trembles as much as her legs are, and I notice that she has to bite down even harder to keep it from doing so. She has to release it to talk though, so when the conversation actually starts, her words are slurred and scrambled, not as cut and dry as words usually are.
"I...I..." she starts, and for a second, her eyes sort of drift downwards, then snap back up to meet mine. "I don't think I'm a girl."
So many emotions rush into me, as well as so many sensations. My gut feels like it's been punched a dozen times, and my lungs seem to explode in uneven bursts, as if a bullet has shot through them and they're still trying to function through the pain. It wasn't that I was transphobic, it was that I was surprised. Audrey? A man? I couldn't quite picture it yet, but I was still supportive, I'm not a scumbag.
"Audrey, that's..." I notice she tenses up. "...amazing, I'm...so proud."
She (or I should say he now) smiles and makes a relieved gasp noise, the kind that people make before they happy cry. We wrap each other in a tight hug, the one kind of hug that only best of the best friends can make. Before either of us have time to realize our eyes are welling up, we're both sobbing like maniacs into each other's shoulders, which doesn't hardly do anything to muffle our loud wails.
"I...I...just had to get that off my chest," he says, trying to breathe after crying for a decent amount of time.
I try to nod in the depths of his shoulder, and I feel a half numb smile cross my lips. "I was so scared our friendship was...was..."
He hushes me, and that makes me think he understands. "Me too...me too..."
Yeah. He totally understands.