“Iwaoka, this is the third time this month you’re late for school! What’s wrong with you?”
“I-It’s not a big deal, guys,” Tetsu could feel his face turning bright red. “I moved, so it takes me longer to get to school. I’m still figuring out the timing with… yeah.”
Saito eyed him suspiciously. “If your family moved, my parents definitely would’ve known, and they’d tell me. What kinda joke is this, Iwaoka?”
“It’s not a joke! It’s-”
“Wait!” Kitamura jumped in, and Tetsu felt his heart leap into his throat. “ That’s what my parents were talking about! So, is it true? Your brother’s going full trans?”
Tetsu lay his head on his desk, hiding himself from the gasps and whispers around him. “Yeah, my brother’s moving out so he can starting living as a girl. My parents found out and… he doesn’t live there anymore.”
“But if your tranny bro moved out, and your parents stayed, does that mean… Oh my god! You went with him!”
His eyes went wide with fear as the class let out a simultaneous “Ooh…” “Guys, seriously, it’s not-”
“Ew! Why would you do that?”
“Didn’t you want him gone?”
“You’re gonna catch it now, Iwaoka!”
“Ugh, I’m not letting him change in the locker room anymore.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
Their voices grew louder and louder, and he curled in on himself, hiding from their strikes as attacks rained down. Smaller and smaller until no one saw him, no one saw how much he loved Satori, how he’d rather leave his parents than let him get thrown out and abandoned all alone, how he didn’t care that his brother was a girl on the inside.
And Tetsu would never be anything like him, but he’d walk through hell for his brother.
“Thanks for the snacks, Tetsu!” Mogumo ran ahead into their apartment, quickly stuffing the sodas into their mini fridge.
“Ah, it’s no big deal. I mean, we’re studying at your place, so, I had to bring something!”
“It’s a study date, you don’t need to bring anything just cause we’re dating. Or do you have some other motive, and you’re just trying to butter me up…”
“Mogumo! No!” His face burned as he quickly shut the door, not wanting neighbors to hear.
“I’m just teasing! Here, take a seat, I’m gonna change.”
After they started dating, they had decided it was a good idea not to pull what they did the first time he was over and change in front of him. Tetsu dropped his bag on the floor and started pulling out binders. It was still a bit weird that Mogumo called him by his first name, and he didn’t call them, but they hated their birth name, and until they could find a better one, their last name was the best option.
Mogumo stepped back out in a baggy t-shirt and skinny jeans, pulling their backpack over next to Tetsu and plopping down beside him. “Now, time to die.”
“Aw, don’t say that, class wasn’t that hard today.”
“Says Mr. At-least-a-B-in-every-class.”
“Says the person who got a perfect score on our last English test!” He nudged them playfully.
“Doesn’t matter when I can barely pass any others!” They shot back. They weren’t upset, but their cheeks were tinged pink in embarrassment.
Tetsu leaned over to kiss their cheek. “Come on, I’ll help you with math. Let’s start before we lose the will to do it at all.”
They fell into an easy silence, the scratch of pencil on paper filling the apartment, interrupted only by the occasional question on equations or grammar. The hours slipped by, and the sun barely peeked through the window when Mogumo slammed their pencil onto the table.
“Done!” They declared, falling back onto the floor. “Ugh, why do they give us so much work?”
“I know, right? Thank god Question is closed today, I can’t imagine doing all this after a full shift.”
“When you get home, tell Sacchan I’d die for her.”
Tetsu laughed, laying down beside them. “Sure thing.”
The pair lay there for a few moments, letting each other’s peaceful presence settle upon the room, before it was interrupted by the sudden burst of a loud pop song.
“ Ughhh… ” Mogumo groaned, dragging themself to their feet and digging through their bag, finally pulling out their phone. They gave it a quick glance to check the caller, before doing a double take and staring at the screen. Tetsu felt the temperature drop instantly, the obnoxious music filling the uneasy air.
Mogumo broke the silence. “It’s… my mom.” The words hung heavy in the air. They’d never spoken much about their family before, but given that they lived alone and the tense look on their face, he could only assume their relationship wasn’t the best. They continued to stare down, the song echoing, feeling far too loud as the scene remained still.
Tetsu felt sweat bead on the back of his neck, and fidgeted where he sat. “Should I step out or…”
“Yeah.” The reply was fast and short, and he quickly pulled himself to his feet and stepped into the hallway outside their apartment, shutting the door behind him with a bit too much force. His hands trembled, filled with nervous energy and no way to let it out. Fists clenched at his side, he turned to take a walk around the building, just to give them some space. Then, a muffled “Hey.” croaked through the door, and he realized how Mogumo could afford to live by themself.
It’s much, much cheaper to build thin walls.
Suddenly, he found his feet stuck to the floor. He knew he should walk away. Mogumo had asked him to leave, and he had no right to eavesdrop. But something told him the call wouldn’t be a pleasant conversation, and his heart wouldn’t let him leave his partner alone is distress.
“School’s fine,” they said, their voice strained and stiff. “Yeah, my grades are fine.” Tetsu could tell they were desperate to end the conversation. “Yes, I-” suddenly, their voice cut out, and Tetsu’s heart froze. Mogumo’s voice dropped to a whisper, and he had to strain his ears to hear the next comment.
“Sakura told you about my job.”
It was a statement, not a question, and Tetsu could hear the fear in their monotone response. The voice over the phone grew louder, and though he couldn’t make out any words, the yelling was clear from outside the room. Their parents knew about the café. And they weren’t happy about it.
“Mom, I- stop saying that, Sacchan isn’t- NO!” Mogumo shouted the last word, but he could hear the sadness in their tone, practically see the tears on their cheeks. His eyes burnt with the need to cry as well. He could only imagine the things their mother was saying about his sister, and the pressure behind his eyes swelled. He’d learned to drown out the rude comments and horrible names people called her on the street, just as she had, but knowing they were coming from Mogumo’s mom, and that they were trying to defend her, was too great for him to ignore. In the back of his mind, he felt tears running down his cheeks, but all his attention was on Mogumo’s words.
“Mom, listen to me! I don’t care what you think. Sacchan isn’t a man, and she isn’t trying to turn me into a girl, because I’m not a girl , okay? I’m not your son, but I’m not a girl.” They paused. “And don’t go on about how embarrassing it is for you, okay? I had to make my boyfriend stand in the hallway because I didn’t want him to hear you. Yes, mom, I have a boyfriend. He knows, and he loves me, and him and my friends at the café have made me happier than I ever was living at your house.”
Tetsu’s heart swelled with joy and pride at them as they spoke back, and his vision blurred with tears, sadness now mixed with joy.
“I’m doing great, mom. I’ve found most people will try, if you give them a chance. But you won’t. So just stop, mom. I’m not going back.” He heard a muffled yell from the phone before a beep cut it off, and left them both in silence. The call was over.
Tetsu waited, wiping the tears from his eyes as he listened for some sort of movement in the apartment. But the quiet only lingered, and he quickly panicked, rushing back inside to find Mogumo standing in the middle of the room, phone barely held in a slack hand, with silent tears streaming down their face. Tetsu tentatively stepped toward them. “Mogumo?”
They looked up at him, tears still running, and quickly pulled him into a hug. Tetsu froze at the sudden touch before reciprocating, holding his partner in his arms as a few more tears slipped down his cheeks. Together, they stood silently, treasuring each other’s warmth.
“Thank you for standing up for Sacchan,” Tetsu whispered, slowly pushing through the silence. “I was never very good at doing that.”
“I wasn’t gonna let my mom say that stuff about you guys,” Mogumo replied, muffled with their face pressed to Tetsu’s chest. “I’m used to her shit, but you guys don’t deserve it.”
“You don’t deserve it either.”
Tetsu pressed a kissed to their forehead. “I swear, when we’re older, I’m not going to let people say that stuff about you, or Sacchan, or Mei, or anyone else. If anyone tries to say stuff to my partner, they’ll get a fist in the face.”
“Noo, don’t go to jail over a transphobe, they’re not worth it!” They chuckled, stepping back and rubbing at the reddened eyes. “Wait,” they paused. “You just said ‘when we’re older’. Are you thinking about marriage, Tetsu?”
His face burned red enough to match Mogumo’s eyes, and he waved his arms frantically. “No! I mean, not that I don’t love you, but we’re high schoolers, we shouldn't even be thinking about that right now, and- why do you always put words in my mouth!?”
Mogumo giggled at his flustered flapping, before stepping on their tiptoes and kissing Tetsu on the cheek. “I can’t wait for that future.” Tetsu, still blushing, settled down, and took their hand, giving it a tight squeeze. They squeezed back. By each other’s side, they’d walk through hell to make the world a little better for people like them.