Caitlin trudges up all the way to the Haus. She pulls the drawstrings on her hoodie a little more when she passes by the lacrosse house. She isn't in the mood to deal with more fuck boys today. She feels the need to hide like an itch under her skin. She woke up this morning feeling too tall, too hairy, and not pretty enough. She had to do extra laps this morning because her jump serves were shit.
Classes were dull at best until her gender studies class. Next thing Caitlin knew, she was fighting with this dude bro from the baseball team about whether dating a trans woman made a guy gay. Which of course it didn’t, and of course she wasn’t about to out herself in the discussion section of a one hundred level class. So after he’d thrown a lot of shitty words and casual transphobia around, she had to swallow her pride and listen to her shitty TA talk about facilitating freedom of speech and how to properly discuss controversial topics.
“Controversial my ass,” she murmurs as she pulls out the Haus key Nursey gave her last semester.
She locks the door behind her before practically running up the stairs. She goes through Nursey and Dex’s room because it’s closer. She throws her backpack down, practically ripping off her jeans, sneakers, and hoodie (not necessarily in that order).
She hears a whistle behind her.
“Hey, Cait,” Nursey says.
“Hi,” she mumbles.
“Not that I don’t love your cute self but—”
“Not right now, babe,” she says quietly. “I need a shower.”
She hears shuffling as she takes off her bra and panties. A hand touches her shoulder, she looks back, wide eyed and exhausted.
“Hey,” he says with a concerned frown. “What about you take one of my bathbombs and take a soak?”
Caitlin sighs, shoulder sagging. She lets him pull her into a hug. “That sounds really good right now.”
“C’mon, I’ll help you,” he offers.
She lets Nursey lead her into the bathroom. She sits on the lid of the toilet with her arms wrapped around her knees. She hears a quiet ping under the roar of the tub filling up.
“Dex is almost home,” Nursey says. “You want company?”
Caitlin bites her lip, sighing with a nod. She clears her throat. “Could you, uh—”
“Already did,” he says, bending over to kiss her head. “We got you, ok?”
“I know,” Caitlin admits.
“You wanna talk about it?”
“Not yet,” she says, “maybe later.”
He nods empathetically. Derek offers her a hand to get up. He kisses her hand reverently. He does the same to her wrist, and then her forearm. Up and up slowly until Caitlin's giggling at the feeling of his stubble tickling her neck. He kisses her cheek, and then nibbles her ear.
“You’re the most beautiful girl in the world,” Derek says. “You’re a field of poppies, lilacs, and daffodils. Aphrodite’s got nothing on you, baby.”
Caitlin giggles, kissing his nose and then his lips. “You’re such a charmer.”
“You make it easy,” he replies.
“I love you so much,” she whispers.
“C’mon,” he says nodding toward the tub. “Get in.”
She does, letting him drop the bath bomb in once she’s settled. He gives her another kiss before heading out. She closes her eyes, leaning back against the tub pillow Chris put there a few weeks back. In hindsight, they needed it more than she thought. There’s a soft knock on the door behind her.
“Come in,” she says loudly.
The door opens and closes behind her. There’s shuffling of feet before the person sits on the floor next to the tub.
“So who do I need to punch?” Dex asks with a tinge of humor in his voice.
Caitlin opens her eyes, smirking. “No one today.”
Dex huffs. “You sure about that?”
“Maybe tomorrow,” she admits.
He nods, clasping his hands in his lap. Caitlin thinks he might blow a gasket about feeling powerless. But sooner or later, Dex has to learn to trust her to pick and choose her battles. Tomorrow, she might go talk to the professor, or even the head of the department, about that guy from the baseball team and the TA. Maybe she’d ask Shitty for some help if nothing comes of going through the right channels.
“Want me to braid your hair?” Dex asks after some silence.
“Yea,” she says. “I’d like that.”
Dex grew up fixing long hair before dance recitals and gymnastics meets. He works slowly and meticulously; every once in awhile, he kisses her shoulder or the nape of her neck. He’s not the best with words, but Dex is tactile and observant. He murmurs here and there how gorgeous she is, and that makes Caitlin feel every bit lighter.
“You’ve got the cutest nose, and the best cheekbones, you know,” he comments when he’s almost done with her fishtail braid.
“I was on the phone with Claire yesterday,” Dex tells her. “She wouldn’t stop chirping me.”
“How a guy like me ended up with a girlfriend as amazing as you.”
She blushes. “You’re just saying that.”
“No I’m not, Caitlin,” he says seriously tilting her chin up gently so their eyes can meet. “You’re the most amazing, caring, loving woman ever.”
Part of Caitlin wants to push off his words, to tell him to stop spouting pretty words to make her feel better. But she knows Dex doesn’t mince words. So her smile wobbles a little. She leans over the edge of the tub, kissing him as her eyes dampen.
There’s a knock coming from the other bedroom door. Chris must be home. Dex gets up to him in. He and Chris kiss before he makes up an excuse about homework. Chris takes his spot on the floor as Dex closes the door behind him.
“Hi, Cait,” Chris says softly. “Heard you had a hard day.”
Because two of her boyfriends have already give her love, and lessened the intensity of her dysphoria, Caitlin can honestly shrug with a sad smile.
He leans over, catching her lips with his. She melts, loving how each of her boys kiss differently. Chris’ are like fresh ice cream, sunset car rides, and Fourth of July fireworks; Derek’s are like a gently breeze that morphs into flowing molten lava; and Dex’s are like salty waves lapping up on a white sand shore. She loves each of them differently, just like they do to her. They’re hers and she’s theirs; they never let her forget how loved she is.
“How about after dinner we cuddle up on the couch and watch Ugly Betty?” Chris offers.
The thing she loves about Chris isn’t how he always knows the right thing to say. It’s that he doesn’t pretend to be perfect, but always tries his best. Caitlin smiles a little harder, nodding as she slowly gets out of the tub. Chris wraps her in a towel and holds her for a moment. She loves how safe and loved she feels in his arms.
“I love you,” he murmurs. “We all do.”
Caitlin breathes a little easier, melting further into his arms. “I know. You always have my back.”
And that was the truth.