‘Cascade’, A.J. Fitzwater

Illustration © 2020 Fluffgar

 [ Goddess, © 2020 Fluffgar ] Déjà vu all over again.

Stix signs to himself in his lap: this sucks. He hates feeling like this. Doesn’t want to keep feeling like this. It’s not fair. Et cet err rah.

Bryn is leaning against the door frame, managing to make a floral jumpsuit look amazing. That was her superpower, looking good in anything.

Stix glances around the group hunched over their drinks. Nothing alcoholic, out of respect for Bryn. She’s flapping a hand like she’s telling them all not to be silly, have a beer for god’s sake, she’s fine.

But she’s not fine. She’s dead.

The silence squeezes them all so tight, Stix can barely breathe. What would he do to have Bryn back? Change the world, that’s all.

Gimmy is pissed off; they hate funerals. Scratchy and Noc look like they’ve frozen on video conference, but they’re there in the little movements, the twist of a mouth, the cut of an eye. Ray slumps in a corner, all out of jokes. Kal rubs at the freshest ink on her forearm; that’s a pain she can control.

“That was an awful service,” Gimmy says, a sacrifice to the silence gods. “Bryn would have hated it.”

Wasn’t what she laid out in her will, Stix signs. His throat is too tight, near to spasm, to trust his voice.

“Or her note.” Gimmy scowls harder. “And who were all those people. I didn’t recognize them.”

Her family. Stix makes a hopeless gesture. At least they had the courtesy not to misgender her.

“Oh, now they fucking turn up. Didn’t give a shit for fifteen years when she was couch surfing or roughing it. Didn’t give a shit when the psych ward kept turning her away. But gave a shit when they could control the narrative of her death. Oh, our poor darling!” Gimmy clasps their hands and makes a voice warbling with practised sorrow. “She was so sad inside that body. We did everything we could! But now she is with God, blessed be, barf.”

Noises of disgust. Stix catches a little of Gimmy’s anger. Feels better than sheer hopelessness.

They all sip at their drinks, eyes failing to catch each other. Except Ray, who is sizing everyone up for… something. Not clothes. Maybe an altar? Yeah. Look at the bloody pieces of us.

Awkward small talk about how everything is different with Bryn gone. Except everything is exactly the same. Another trans woman that’s just a number.

To stop his eyes flicking towards the doorway, to avoid awkward questions about his mental health, Stix directs the conversation towards Kal’s new tattoo.

“You should really reconsider getting work done.” Kal rubs her jewel-coloured arms, finding a smile even in the depths of despair. “You have such beautiful skin. You’d be a masterpiece.”

I can barely stand to stick myself with T. Punched rapidly thousands of times with needles? No thanks!

The laughter fades rapidly. Everyone fidgets. Gimmy lifts their chin, the sure-fire tell they’re about to poke the wound again.

Sure enough. “I’m so sick of this shit. Feels like no matter how loud we scream, nothing changes. Aren’t you all tired? I’m tired. I could sleep for a hundred years. Let this fucking world sort itself out.”

A standard post-funeral Gimmy speech. Nodding ensues. Except Ray. Who has gone very still. Looking into the depths of zir glass, like the answer can be found in orange juice.

“Just what would you do to make change,” Ray says, echoing Stix’s thoughts of before. Not a burst of extinction level. Zir voice is always cool and calm, the counsellor all the losties love.

Tableau freeze, like some cool old painting. Bryn shifts from foot to foot, the mote in the corner of an eye.

Gimmy glares. “What do you mean? What would I do to bring Bryn back?”

“Anything,” Scratchy murmurs, rubbing her eyes. Noc leans in to kiss her.Anything, to bring them all back. She’s the second suicide this year, and I’ve already lost count of this year’s trans murder rate. Feels like I’m crying every fucking day. My skin can’t take it.”

Ray leans forward, forearms on thighs, like ze’s sitting with a new load of losties at the co-op. “What if we could change the whole world. So we don’t have to make everything a fucking fight. So we could walk down the street in peace. Shit, find some joy.”

“Build a time machine.” Kal grunts a laugh. “Fix all the big gay fuck ups in history.”

“Yeah. Like, kill Hitler or Reagan. Vengeance ninja!” Gimmy’s karate chop gestures and laugh are too big for the ratty upstairs loft, and Stix flinches.

Ray shakes zir head. “We don’t kill people. We’re better than that.”

“But Hitler fucking deserves it,” Gimmy mutters.

“But how does a little queer co-op build a time machine? We can barely get enough funding for our tea and coffee,” Gimmy gripes. “And time machines are such wish fulfilment bullshit anyway. Thousands, millions of stories just like ours. What makes us any different? We’re not masters of the fucking universe.”

“And everyone has a different interpretation of time travel theory.” Noc’s into this. Takes her mind off the next policy battle in parliament. “Is it a single timeline where every minute change has a butterfly effect we can’t predict, and we end up being people we might not like being? Is it branching multiverse timelines, and our branch doesn’t see appreciable effect, so what’s the point?”

Isn’t that like what we’re working on anyway? We might not see huge change now, but that’s what the they said twenty, thirty, fifty years ago, and look how far we’ve come since Stonewall, same-sex marriage, declassification from the DSM.

Ray nods. The shit ze has seen is written in the map of zir skin. “Imagine if colonization wasn’t the destructive force it was. What we could be, now.”

Stix doesn’t like the direction the conversation is going, but at least it’s taking people’s mind off the Bryn shaped hole in their lives. Easier than going further into the red for therapy.

“So, what?” Gimmy’s mood has swung towards enjoying the Game of Bullshit. “How do we go back in time to make sure Hitler has a terrible teenage bicycle accident, or Hinckley aims better? Fly really fast like Superman around the sun, make the Earth turn backwards? Shoot ourselves from a laser cannon at CERN? Bitch, I can barely keep my makeup and wig on at the best of times. What makes ya think this hunk of flesh will hold integrity at the speed of light?”

Laughter, just like Bryn would want. Bryn rolls her eyes, twirling a strand of mahogany hair between her long fingers.

Ray’s mouth is set at an odd angle. “These fragile flesh vessels aren’t meant for time travel. We’re only just figuring out long-term space travel. What if… no, hear me out… what if there was something, someone, made up of all the strongest parts of ourselves, who could do it for us.”

“Time Travelling Space Goddess!” yells Noc.

“Looks like Frank N Furter!” bellows Scratchy.

“More like Frankenstein’s monster,” Gimmy says. “If they’re made up from parts of the many.”

Mary really should have given that guy a name, Stix signs, hands stiff with indignance. He got a dick for free.

“Did Ol’ Frankay say anything about giving Herman a dick?” Gimmy says. “He could have been intersex for all we know.”

Bitch, please. Mary loved the D. She totally would have written Frank Monster slash.

“People! Focus!” Ray claps zir hands. “If we’re building this time travelling deity then what part of you would you give up to create Their Whole?”

“Not my hole,” Scratchy giggles, and Noc shushes her.

“That’s easy.” Gimmy nods. “I’d give up my tits in a flash. I don’t have to fork out for it, right?”

Ray points. “Nice pun. And, nope. They’re a deity. Snap of the fingers. Healing time taken care of.”

“Nice,” Gimmy whispers.

“They can have my dick. Absolutely. Yup. Do it.” Kal’s eyes glaze over. “But losing it so easy doesn’t sound right. Not fair for those who have gone before.”

“Get a tattoo on your new pussy then.” Gimmy rolls their eyes.

Scratchy would give up her right arm; she was a lefty anyway from a stroke five years previous. Noc would give her uterus; she was sick of fighting doctors who questioned her fertility decisions. Ray said her left ear; plastic surgery was too expensive for the old fight wound.

Stix’s throat loosens slightly. “My. Tongue,” he croaks.

“But how will you taste anything?” whoops Gimmy. “Or lick up lucky people?”

Stix touches right index to left. Interconnects fingers, flick stiffens for repeat. E. W. W.

“Alright, alright. Ray, there’s only six of us here though” Gimmy continues. “How do we make a whole deity out of boobs, dick, an ear, ute, tongue, and arm?”

“Good lord, fam,” Ray frowns in the way that makes them all smile. “There were so many more that came before us. Taking some pieces from the living would like, you know, kill them.”

Defeating the purpose.

“Exactly. I’m sure there are plenty of past sibs who would gladly give up pieces of themselves now they don’t need them.”

Kal rubs her hands together, skin rasping like old paper. “Creepy grave robbing, but okay.”

Ray pulls out zir tablet. “Suggestions. And, go!”

“Freddie Mercury’s vocal chords!”

“The blood spilled by all them gays fighting Nazis!”

“Helen Keller’s hands!”

“Shit, can you get Helen Keller’s hands, love?”

“Don’t be vile. She was a great woman.”

“Amelia Earheart’s inner ear fluid.”

“Was she bi, though?”

“In my dreams, she is.”

All the hair of black trans women that’s been washed down the drain.

“Fucking A-plus deity afro, friendo.”

Big as a mother fucking galaxy, bitch. We will see them coming.

They continue in this way until Bryn wanders away from the party and Stix breaks out the cheap bourbon. By the time the darkness has risen, Ray has a hefty shopping list to work with.

What can this deity do? Stix must concentrate to make sure everyone is following his words. Do we just point and shoot along the strings of history and say Kill Hitler?

“I’d love to scrub despots from history as much as the next person, but that’s not how causality works,” Ray says, nodding with approval at the shopping list. “We have to be more strategic. Eliminate one person and another will just take their place. Always plenty of genocidal assholes to deal with. Our Queer-As Deity would never get anything else done.”

“That’s depressing,” mutters Gimmy.

“Choose events small enough not to create a tsunami in the oceans of the universe, but big enough to create cascade effects that’ll nudge the cosmic tides.”

For an atheist, you’ve really thought this out.

Ray wiggles zir well-shaped eyebrows.

“So, we have to decide the outcome before we choose the cause,” Kal says, stroking the pastel colours on her neck. “That’s easy. Peace, love, and an end to the gendered hetero-patriarchal hegemony!”

Ray pinches the bridge of zir nose and takes another sip of bourbon.

“Nah nah, my good bitch,” Noc flaps her hands, sending the camera wobbling. “That would require completely wiping out all of humanity and starting again back around single celled organisms.”

Scratchy shrugs. “Doesn’t sound like a bad plan to me. I for one welcome my algae overlords.”

Think smaller, Stix signs. A pathway to worldwide socialized healthcare that incorporates gender reassignment, mental health care, sex education, and resources for AIDs and STDs and the like.

“You call that small?” Gimmy laughs. “Why not eliminate AIDs all together? No epidemic. No lost generations. Or go further back. Make it so we don’t have to fucking fight at Stonewall and every little piece of legislation that wears us down like water on stone. Trans people walking freely without a target on our backs. How does our Deity make that happen?”

You can’t just eliminate an entire disease. There are too many cascade factors in its evolution to be sure you get all of them. Like picking all those Nazis off.

“Butterfly farts,” Noc hiccups.


“And we’d have to be careful about what things we choose to change, because not all our history is available to us,” Scratchy says, sober because of her blood thinning medication. “Or it’s been warped by cishet perception.”

Stix sits forward on the cushions of the broken old loft couch, hands stiff. The Sexualwissenschaft purge.

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Ray says.

“Save the whole institute before the purge,” Noc says. “Get them to open it somewhere else. Switzerland.”

Bitch please, nowhere was safe. There’s still Nazi gold in those Swiss banks. And the Germans were doing amazing work on gender and sexuality before those Nazi fucks came along. Don’t take that from their history.

Ray nods. “Right, think smaller.”

“Give them a warning to move the institute archives to safety before it was burned in ‘33,” says Kal. “Then we don’t have to start so much from scratch.”

Stix takes another sip of bourbon. Was this conversation for real?

“That’s the first thing,” says Ray. We need two more.”

Why just three things? Isn’t a Deity all powerful? Once we get a handle on how our changes have affected the world, we can send them back on another round.

Everyone is warmer now, and it’s okay for Ray to clasp Stix’s shoulder. “Because like ourselves and those before us, our deity is only made of stardust. And because we all die in threes.”

Ray is definitely drunk. It makes sense. And it doesn’t. But it didn’t matter. They have a plan. Save the Sexualwissenschaft archives. Get Jimmy Carter elected to a second presidential term. Convince the authors of New Testament gospels to chuck in a few good words about homosexuality because the polyam co-op who had been Jesus surely meant more when they said Love Thy Neighbour.

Stix goes to be bed warm. Yeah, they were being ridiculous to keep the pain at bay a little longer. Maybe, for just a moment, it didn’t matter he’d wake up dehydrated to a world as it had always been. A world without his best friend.

A world without a Deity that could give a fuck.

An alert pops up red on Stix’s screen. A vid conference with Kal. Too many red alerts lately. Shit, someone’s sick? Been attacked?

With a hitching sigh he flicks tabs. Fighting the council grants process for the co-op will have to wait. One can say the same thing a dozen different ways, only to be denied a dozen different times.

Kal’s face is lit up with excitement as five of them check in; Scratchy’s still down at the deli getting lunch. Stix glances mournfully at his squidgy cup of ramen, then at Bryn, collapsed artfully on the loft couch, who doesn’t need to eat anymore.

“The funding for my study trip to the Shakespeare Institute has been approved,” she squeals, face blurring. “Three months in Stratford-On-Avon, fondling original manuscripts, being mentored by THE Doctor Peter Vibrant!”

Everyone cheers. Stix screws up his eyebrows. It was impossible to not be intimately acquainted with everyone Kal adored in the Shakes-sphere, but Vibrant was not a name he recalled. Maybe he forgot; he was like that when in a Mood. He opens another tab and searches.

You’ve decided on your thesis topic? Stix signs.

“Only like a year ago!” Kal squishes her eyebrows together and pulls her head back. “So hard to think of something original. Every queer and their cat has a theory about just how bi Billy Shakes was.”

Stix glances over Vibrant’s credentials. Pre-eminent Queer Shakespeare Scholar. That… that was a fully-fledged and funded field of study? Wow, he’d really been doing Kal a wrong the last few months.

Bryn shrugs. She’s wearing the op-shop kaftan he got her for Christmas two years back, very 70s swish.

Kal rattles on as Stix takes slow bites of his cold noodles. The meta-text of pansexuality and transgender characters across Bill’s work? Bit of a stretch. He’d done subtext and het-cross dressing at best so he didn’t get read for filth by Liz The Original.

Stix tries not to look at Ray’s panel, but zir eyes seem to be boring out of the screen. He’s relieved once all the enthusing is over and they make plans for celebratory drinks later that week.

Feet on the creaking loft stairs, soft, slow, a green alert. Ray.

Ze leans on the doorframe. Just the way Bryn used to when bringing Stix tea or a cola. Stix signs him to enter, to leave that Bryn shaped space alone.


“How’s this round of grant applications going?” The old couch accepts Ray’s tall frame with a creak, sitting where Bryn had been only a moment ago. Ray thinks ze is so clever sitting lower in Stix’s sightline.

Good. Will be all done by the end of the day and will have the report to the committee by tomorrow.

“No rush.” Ray brushes the air with a big hand. “We have plenty to tide us over into the next month.”

That’s a lie.

You’re doing that thing, he signs.

“Guilty.” Ray holds up both hands with a smile. “You were preoccupied during that call.”

Preoccupied. Stix gestures at his screen. Hungry.

“That’s not it. You started to disassociate.”

Stix shrugs. Sorry. Good news caught me off guard. It’s been… his hands fall into his lap.

“Don’t need to apologize to me. I’m always here to talk. Just make an appointment to make it official, eh?”

Or go see Maisey.

“Or go see Maisey. It’s been too long, my good dude. Seems with the funeral and everything it might be a good idea. You’ve been putting it off.”

Stix shrugs again, glances back at the half dozen applications begging from his screen. He knows all the Ts and Cs and provisos and no-goes by heart, but he tries anyway, in case he hits a sympathetic evaluator just once.



“Yeah, you’ve been checking out a bit, friendo.” Ray sits forward, gentle for zir size, reaching out a hand. “I know you worry about the cost, but it’s okay, really. I insist you take your allotted co-op therapy hours.”

Stix stares at his friend. A friend he’s known longer than any of the fam. The oldest of them. Not necessarily the wisest, but perhaps the staunchest. Sometimes it’s like ze’s forgotten how to cry, but joking about something so fraught as health care? That’s just not fair.

What do you mean?

Ray scrunches his eyebrows, a mirror of the amused look Kal just performed. “I mean what I mean. Go see Maisey. Get your bloods redone, check your T balance is good. That sort of thing. The co-op healthcare plan will deal with it.”

But… it’s not easy calling out Ray for being such an asshole.

“But what?” Ray is laughing now.

That’s just mean. His eyes are gritty with unshed tears. He was wrung so dry, it felt like he was crying straight salt. You know I can’t afford Maisey. Especially after we drained a lot of the coffers for Bryn. You’re joking.

“No, I’m not.” Ray folds zir hands on knees, and Stix can’t help but appreciate zir instinct for when he doesn’t want to be touched. “Why would you think I would do something like that? Because you’re right, that’s just mean to make a joke out of hope.”

You did that thing at Bryn’s wake. Stix’s hands fling the words. The joke about the deity.

Ray tilts his head.

We were drunk, and we made that—Stix’s hands fumble—time travelling god-thing out of spare body parts.

“Figuratively I presume, not literally.”

You don’t remember? Stix’s heart is beating way too fast. Where’s Bryn? Where did she go? Where does she go?

“We were pretty drunk, so no,” Ray shrugs. “But if you say so. It sounds like something we’d do at a wake. We’d all like to imagine we could have circumvented Bryn’s cancer.”

Stix’s body becomes stone. He tries and fails to taste the air.

His gestures are so small and fast Ray has to ask him to repeat.

Bryn didn’t have cancer. She killed herself.

“Well, you could put it that way. She chose euthanasia rather than suffer so much pain. But it was still cancer in the end. Hey, let me get us tea. You don’t need to talk about it. But I think you need someone to sit with you for a bit. Okay?”

Stix nods. Things are fuzzy around the edges. He grips the edge of the desk, polished wood rough under his blue painted nails.

Euthanasia? Illegal. Cancer? Maybe Bryn had kept the diagnosis to herself, but that didn’t seem like her. Queer Shakespeare? Fucking government allotted mental health care for the big ol’ gais?

Maybe he was having an episode.

It has been years since the last. He tended to ignore the signs.

Not mad. Just stressed. Ask for help. That crazy list Ray wrote will be right there, just a simple search.

But no matter how rational the words are, they won’t imprint on his irrational mind.

“You’re not going crazy, Stix. And even if you were, we’d deal with it and make sure you get the support you need.”

I’m not having a break, I’m confused. I don’t think you told me about your surgery.

Gimmy’s flat was cleaner than Stix recalls it being in a while, westering sunshine streaming through unfogged windows. Gravity is definitely on normal mode.

Gimmy gives him a big hug, and he hunches into it. She lets go at the mandated time and finishes preparing their dinner.

“Okay, my bad. I was a fluff head. I should have put it in your calendar when I joined the waiting list for my chest reconstruction so an approximate date reminder would pop up. Things got a little hectic when Bryn happened so fast, and I had a billionty papers due at uni. Same with Kal and her phalloplasty and getting wrapped up with trip planning. I know, I’m a walking contradiction, but I’m not angry with you! I can get a nurse on wheels.”

But they’re so expensive!

Gimmy puts the plate of nachos on the table between them and gestures to dig in. Bryn reaches for a corn chip, fingers scooping through the mess, and she settles back into the corner of the kitchen booth, eyes flicking between the two. Today she’s reading The Stonewall Reader, the last research book that had been left on her bedside table. She had been so close to her PhD.

“I can get a few hours a week through the system as part of the surgery. Anything else, that’s what my Helping Hand fundraiser was for. The good old trans ten dollars doing the rounds. And mum can always pop in on the weekends.”

Stix licks his hands clean of chilli beans and sour cream. Your. MOTHER? He looks to Bryn, but she’s been washed away by the sunshine and history.

“Yeah, why not?”

You and her… never mind. I was just projecting.

Gimmy smiles. “I understand. You got us.”

Stix keeps his hands busy with food.

Bryn visits Stix in his dreams. A lot.

Sometimes she’s just like he remembers her, upright, efficient, holding a schedule tablet like she used to when bossing the kids around or finding one more bed for a lostie. Other times she’s covered in luminous paint, like she’s just experienced a beautiful disaster with the art therapy group. Always something pulses gently in her abdomen, too low for a heart.

She talks, but he can’t recall the exact sound of her voice. While her words make perfect sense in the dream, he can’t remember them when he wakes. He’s left with the feeling she’s just exited the room, a dent where she sat on the edge of his bed.

She is more Bryn than before. The shape of her is malleable, the twisting core of a galaxy and the shadow-shape of many that surround her. Her skin is the same, with a smattering of scars along her arms and inner thighs. She has a crooked ear and crooked arm. Stars glitter in a big afro puff. Parts of her blossom with light, supernova under her skin.

She looks behind her and smiles.

Stix sees nothing of what she knows.

Stix slides up to Scratchy and Noc in the common room. They’re hot desking for a few days, paperwork covering every surface, before heading back to parliament for a round of inter-agency meetings, bill submissions, and working committees.

Do you have some painkillers and a mini pad? Stix keeps his hands low, directed more towards Noc because she’s diligent about this stuff. I don’t want to break into the bathroom stores.

Noc palms him some ibuprofen with a wry smile. “No pad though, love. Not something I’ve needed to carry for twenty years.”

Stix blinks, blinks again. She’s always complaining about… no.

“Thought you didn’t get periods anymore,” Scratchy murmurs.

I don’t. Stress spotting. A little cramping. That’s all. He shrugs.

Scratchy scrabbles in her bag with her prosthetic hand. Stix wants to say that’s new, but it looks well worn, comfortable, and vaguely expensive.



She finally finds a crumbled pink packet. Holding it close to his body, Stix scoots off to the toilet.

He sits in there for a long time, trawling through Ray’s public co-op intranet files on his tablet, but he can’t find the deity body part shopping list. Ze would have saved it to their jokes folder, but it was also like zir to delete extraneous files.

Stix stares at the toilet tiles for another long time.

The city slides smoothly by a few metres below. The warm sun and expansive sky above. Endless cups of tea at hand. The easy-hard splendour of the co-op at his back.

The first-floor balcony is the perfect place to work on a Friday afternoon.

It almost feels like a different world compared to the days surrounding Bryn’s death. The workpeople relining and carpeting the new bunkrooms have gone for the day, and it’s quieter. A double carriage from the city’s new light rail hums by, and there seems to be more electric scooters and cars than Stix recalls. The air even smells clearer. People wave up at them.

Sucking up the courage to go see Maisey had made a difference. He wasn’t having a break. He’d had memory glitches before, his brain’s way of protecting him from the hurt.

He hadn’t told Maisey about his dreams, though.

There is still that spike of loss when they laugh about Bryn’s wild exploits and all the places she’d been. Sometimes Bryn favours him with that lopsided smile he adored. Stix rescues one of her shirts and keeps it tucked in a plastic bag to preserve the spicy-sweet perfume, bringing it out to cuddle only on the darkest of nights. Then she sits with him until he goes to sleep, fingers light in his hair and along his neck, just like she used to.

“Hey, here’s an interesting one.” Scratchy sits up, beanbag rustling, trying not to disturb the co-op cat nestled in the crook of her neck. “The annual Decolonizing Sexuality conference is accepting abstracts. Ohh, this one’s for you Stix. Workshops on NGO resource management with a focus on accessibility.”

“Where’s it being held this year?” Noc asks, not looking up from her screen, finishing up a submission on the adoption bill.


“Cool. I enjoyed the one I went to. Few months before Katrina. Got to see New Orleans before the full rebuild.”

UGANDA? COOL? Stix throws his hands in the air, and his own lap friend leaps up and stalks away, indignant. What in the actual Bejeezus?

Ray pokes zir head through the bifold doors. “What’s the matter?”

“Stix is getting excited about the idea of the Decolonizing Sexuality conference. It’s in Uganda this year,” says Scratchy.

“Did you want to go, Stix?” Ray reads over Scratchy’s shoulder. “It would be a great trip.”

Scratchy scrolls through the specs. “Scholarships too, for those who have to travel long distances.”

“And I’m sure there’s gotta be one of those government grants we can hit up,” Ray nods. “You’d be able to figure out which one, Stix. Maybe you could present a paper on the app you designed for the non-vocal clients.”

You and I designed, Stix signs rapidly, trying to cover for his shaking hands.

“I’m sure we could come up with specs for making it global in time,” Ray says, as if such a use of time and resources was no big thing.

But it’s UGANDA!

“A long way, I know,” says Ray.

“I always wanted to visit one day,” sighs Noc. “Lovely place. Only got as far as South Africa when I was travelling after I finished uni.”

Stix’s head grows very tight, like his scalp is too small for his skull.

“’Sides, if we got the funding, we could make it a twofer.”

Beanbags rustle as everyone stares at Ray. Ze’s secret plays out in zir little grin. “Okay, I was gonna hold off telling anyone until potluck tonight, buuuut… I’ve been invited to present my thesis on Oceania mental health welfare for low income queer people to this year’s archival intake at the Sexualwissenschaft’s anniversary celebrations!”

Noc and Scratchy cheer and leap up to hug the grinning Ray. Cats mingle about looking disgruntled.

Stix takes a moment longer. He opens a new search tab, closes it. He inspects the scarf bundling Ray’s thick black locs off zir face. How long has Ray been growing zir locks and wearing a scarf to cover zir ears? Stix can’t remember. But that’s okay.

It’s gonna be okay.

Stix offers a hug. Ray is surprised and delighted, takes the embrace for just the right amount of time.

Stix swallows, nods to show he’s about to vocalize so the others stop to patiently listen. He tries to say ‘congratulations’, but it gurgles in his throat. The muscles are loose, the imperative is there, but his tongue is not co-operating. He shrugs and signs instead.

Maisey has suggested he returns to speech therapy only if he wants, but hey, there are lots more ways to communicate than just by speech.

When Scratchy and Noc rush to get beer o’clock started, Ray grasps Stix’s shoulder for a moment. And only a moment. “Everything okay?”

The backyard vegetable boxes need prep for winter. Their bed numbers licence needs upgrading because there’s been an influx of queer refugees from Chechnya and the Syrian war. It’s a constant struggle to keep on top of the hate graffiti and broken windows. Ray could use another counsellor on zir team. One of the cafeteria cookers has broken down. Their art and craft supply is woefully tatty. And then there was the funding round for the solar panels

Yeah, he signs. Couldn’t be better. I’m proud of you, friendo.

Ray blushes, something Stix hasn’t seen from zir in… well, maybe ever. “Thanks. That means a lot.”

Stix couldn’t wait to dream of Bryn that night, to tell her all about it.

© 2020 A.J. Fitzwater

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