It’s strange how well things have gone so far.
Max considers each one as she pulls out the bottles from the plastic bag, treating each one like a ritual object as she places it on her dresser. They shouldn’t be in plain view, but she needs to make sure that they’re real, that they’ll stay.
Spironolactone. Her parents convinced the administration to put her in the girls’ dorm. It didn’t even take that much work; they’d sent something about “Blackwell Academy intends to be at the forefront of diversity and progressive initiatives.” Her real name’s on the attendance rolls, in the class registries. She is Maxine Caulfield and no one else.
Estradiol. No one looked twice at her when she moved all her stuff in here. She faded into the background like any other girl. There was that one girl, beautiful, blonde, leaning against the wall in the hallway with that feather earring dangling, but the way she looked at Max wasn’t prying. Just curious, friendly, and she was really pretty. She gave Max a smile that brought back memories of another blonde girl, long ago.
Progesterone. That’s the other good thing. Max is a year behind Chloe, always was, and this is her senior year. Chloe can’t be here. She’s probably out of town already, at some nice college where she’s getting an engineering major or something. And no one else could recognize her on sight like Chloe and her parents. No one here knows she was ever anyone other than Maxine Caulfield.
And of course, the pills in these bottles, themselves. Max unconsciously feels her chest, the tiny silicone forms she stuffs into her bra. Finally. It took forever to get off those expensive-ass blockers and into real puberty, but Max is more than ready for it. She may look like a girl in her clothes, may pass just fine, but she wants more, she wants it all. Maybe she won’t get taller, maybe she won’t have much at all in the end (her mom’s nothing to write home about in that department and Max sure did her research on what that means for her) but still. First dose tonight.
All right. Enough being happy. You’re at Blackwell now, you’re in school, time to pack your shit away. Last thing you need is getting outed before classes have even started.
She sighs as she stuffs them in a drawer, looking around her room and not particularly wanting to unbag her clothes and hang them up, or make the bed, or organize her school supplies on her desk. Everything’s going too well right now. Instead, her gaze lingers on the bare wall above her bed, then travels to her camera bag. She needs to fill that space. She left her old polaroids in Seattle; she said at the time, “I need Blackwell photos for my Blackwell wall.” Why not get started now? Her room can stay a mess for a while.
She takes the camera and straps it around her neck, taking a quick picture of her plant in the light of the window. She likes what pops out of the camera, the lonely little Lisa in a room that’s halfway to inhabited. A good start. She leaves it on her bed, then steels herself for the outside world.
She steps out of the door and beholds a tall girl with short blond hair dragging a fancy-looking white couch into her dorm. When their eyes meet, the girl loses her grip and drops it right on her foot.
“Fuck!” she hisses, shooting Max a dirty look.
“Oh, sorry!” Max exclaims, though she knows rationally it’s not really her fault. Still, those brown eyes could kill. The last thing she needs is an enemy. Max scans the hallway quickly and sees no parents ready to help her move in, so she offers, “Want me to grab the other end?”
“I got it,” the girl says through grit teeth, picking up the couch again and hurrying into her room. The door slams shut in Max’s face.
Good job, Max. One conversation into Blackwell and already you’ve messed up. She sighs, rubbing her forehead. Maybe she shouldn’t be out in public right now.
“Don’t worry about her,” a voice says beside her, making her jump. “That’s just Victoria. She’s...like that.”
Max turns to see that the girl from before has sidled up to her, leaning against the wall, her unbuttoned red plaid flannel hanging off her frame. She’s a touch taller than Max, but not by much; it’s the curves that really separate them. Max tries not to stare. She clears her throat and tries to look at her hazel eyes.
“New here?” the girl asks, like the answer’s not obvious enough.
“Uh, yeah. I’m Max.”
“Max.” Something flashes in the girl’s eye. “Cute name. I’m Rachel.” She grabs Max’s hand suddenly, shaking firmly. “So what’s with the camera?”
“Oh! Yeah, this,” Max says lamely, running her hand over the object in question. “I’m, uh, here on a photography scholarship.”
“Nice! So you’re not loaded, you’re just talented. I like that.” Did Rachel just throw an insult at Victoria? Victoria’s clothes were really nice. “And it’s perfect, actually.”
“Perfect for what?” Max asks. She feels dumb. She knows Rachel’s playing some kind of game with her, why else would anyone just start talking to the lame dowdy girl? She’s waiting for the shoe to drop. Does she know already? Is she just winding up to some joke on her?
“I wanna be a model, and like, I know the photography program here is good, but I always like working with new people. You planning to use that thing?” Rachel pokes Max’s camera, squishing it against her chest.
“Oh! Um, yeah, I was gonna go out and get some photos for my wall.” Rachel cocks her head, and Max starts babbling, “I, I like having a photo wall up in my room, but I wanted some new ones for a new place, you know, so I was just gonna—”
“That’s adorable!” Rachel coos, ruffling her hair. “Hipster chic. I love it. If that’s what you’re doing, why not start with me? I’m the best-looking thing in Arcadia by far.” She pushes off the wall, standing in the center of the hallway, hand on a cocked hip. Wow. She poses like a natural, and that’s quite a smile, and well, why not?
Max snaps the photo. “Oh my God!” Rachel cries as the film slides out of Max’s camera. “That’s so retro! I didn’t realize it wasn’t digital!”
“I like the instant film,” Max explains, feeling a little bolder now as she pockets the photo. “I can’t mess with it. I just have to shoot and hope it comes out right.”
“Live in the moment, huh?” There’s that smile again. Rachel’s infectious. “Me too. When can I see it?”
“It’ll be ready in a little bit.”
“I’m not gonna take it from you, but I do demand that you at least show it to me,” Rachel warns, holding a finger in the air. There is something about her that’s so Chloe it’s practically giving Max deja vu, but...well. Maybe that’s just the kind of person she clicks with. If this is clicking. Maybe Rachel’s just like this with everyone.
“You’ll get a nice long look before it goes up on my wall.”
“Kickass.” Rachel looks around and considers for a second. “I’m all moved in. Want me to show you some good places for photos? Bus’ll be coming by in a minute, we could hit the beach, or the lighthouse...”
“Oh!” Jeez, she’s really just adopting Max right now, isn’t she? Max wants to feel suspicious. She remembers people pretending to be her friend in Seattle just for a good laugh when the rug was pulled out from under her.
But no one here knows. And she’s nice. Maybe this could just be a friendly person who likes Max. It’s hard to believe that.
Max’s pause was definitely too long and awkward, so she rushes out a “Surewecoulddothat!” with her ears burning. The rest of her face follows suit when Rachel gives her a warm hug and a “Yay! This’ll be fun! I’ve been dying to get out of here.”
“Didn’t you just get here?” Max asks. “Move-in was just today.”
“Yeah, and now I’m bored. C’mon.” Rachel grabs at her hand and starts tugging her down the hall.
Max tries not to look down, she really does. But really. There goes the whole “I’ll be straight when I transition” thing, right out the window. Dammit. Like she needed anything to make her stand out. Like she needed anything to make her more like a boy.
She’s brewing in her thoughts too much to really notice her surroundings until they’re in the quad and Rachel stops in her tracks. “Max!” she hisses, pointing. “Cute alert.”
Max looks around, blinking. All she sees is a girl in a white blouse, black skirt and cardigan, rolling a cart in front of her down the sidewalk. “The girl?” Max asks, a little too fast. Jesus, Max, let your gaydar do its work , you don’t have to so obviously probe.
“Oh, yeah, her too, but look on the cart.”
Max should not think score and she should not get her hopes up, that’s stupid. Look at the cart.
The little cage sitting on top, with the black-and-white rabbit in it, makes everything click suddenly. “ Bunny ,” Rachel breathes, letting go of Max suddenly. “Max, hold on. I need to make a friend. I need that bunny on my tummy when I’m high.”
Max barely has time to question her before she makes a beeline for the girl, bounding up to her and saying hello as Max follows awkwardly. If Max is socially awkward, Rachel is awkwardly social.
“What’s his name?” Rachel asks, gently poking a finger through the bar of the cage as the girl gives them a good-natured smile.
“She’s Alice,” the girl says, the gold cross around her neck flashing. “I’m Kate.”
“I’m Rachel. This is Max. Max, you should totally take the shot.”
“Huh? What?” Max sputters. Rachel’s mind moves so fast.
“Everyone likes cute animal pictures, Max!” Rachel says.
Max suddenly realizes what she means and quickly snaps a photo of Alice, Kate giggling a little. She probably thinks they are so weird. And the cross around her neck makes Max nervous.
“Kate, I am totally dropping by your room later to check out that cutie in greater detail.”
“Oh!” Kate’s cheeks flush a little. “Um, okay. That sounds fun.”
“Right now we’re going on an adventure, though. Seeya, Kate!” Rachel waves a little goodbye as she grabs Max’s hand again, dragging her towards the bus stop.
“So, where d’you think? Lighthouse? You been there before?”
Uh. Max isn’t sure what to say. Yes, I used to go there all the time when I lived here? And then would come the questions, why she left, if she knows anyone here, and she can’t.
A white lie never hurt anyone.
“No, is it pretty?” she asks.
“Gorgeous,” Rachel replies as the bus pulls up in front of them, a strange quirk in her smile. “You’re gonna love it. It’s almost a cliche in the Bay, Blackwell kids going up to the lighthouse for photoshoots, but cliches are cliches for a reason, y’know? ‘Slike horoscopes. People don’t always perfectly fit their sign, but sometimes you get to know someone and you can just peg ‘em.” She places a foot on the first step of the bus, then turns her head to look at Max. “What about you?”
Rachel smirks. “I’m asking a cute girl her sign and she’s still not getting it,” she moans to the heavens.
“Oh! Oh. Virgo, I think.” Max rubs the back of her neck. Spirituality’s not really her strong suit, if she’s honest.
Rachel purses her lips. “Hm. Maybe you’re not so cliche. You’ll be interesting.” She hops up the rest of the stairs.
Max doesn’t see what she types out on her phone before she joins her at the back of the bus. Rachel’s very careful to hide it from her.
give me a week and i think i have someone who’s gonna rock your world
no spoilers XOXOXO