Class started the next day. Fern and Sue Ellen had algebra together. They didn't have any other classes together. Even in algebra they didn't speak. Fern was too depressed to speak. Sue Ellen wondered if she was really okay. She knew from high school that Fern had anxiety. She'd cut herself as early as middle school. She had problems Sue Ellen didn't understand, but she did want to help her.
Sue Ellen knew to keep her distance. She went to her first LGBTQ meeting alone. Sue Ellen felt lonely even though she knew Prunella. She'd get to know the others, especially the funny Donnie. She'd earn her place at Metro-U. But she wanted the same for Fern.
A week later, Sue Ellen invited Fern out for Chinese again. Fern refused. Sue Ellen asked again. Fern said no. Sue Ellen sighed, "You haven't left here and days. I haven't seen you in the caf either. Please, I want you to come. I'll buy. You need to eat." "I'm a vegetarian," Fern said. "I'm a Vegan," Sue Ellen countered. "You can't win this argument. Let's go."
"Fine, but it'll just be us, right?" Fern asked. Sue Ellen nodded, "Who were you expecting? I haven't met up with Prunella and Donnie outside of meetings again. Or—" "It's not important," Fern muttered. She put on her jacket. It was still 80-plus degrees outside but Sue Ellen didn't argue.
At the Chinese place, they both ordered the veggie stir fry. They took a booth by the window. They started eating when Prunella came in with Donnie and Q, a trans boy from the group. Fern tried to hide in her seat.
"If you don't want them to sit with us, you can just tell them you'd rather us be alone," Sue Ellen whispered. Fern shook her head, "It's fine. It's just that Amanda said a he-she told her parents. I wonder if it was her." "Q likes to be referred to with male pronouns, and it wasn't him. Amanda came up in the meeting. They were sad to see her go. They all knew but kept it quiet. We can all look out for each other."
"Hey, girlfriends, can we sit with you?" Donnie asked. Sue Ellen looked to Fern. Fern nodded for him to sit down. "Whew, thanks girl," Donnie sighed. He opened his box. He'd gotten the beef stir fry with extra beef. Fern cringed. "Oh, another animal lover. Sorry, dear, but this queer eats beef."
"Hey, is it okay if we join you?" Prunella asked. Fern and Sue Ellen nodded. Prunella sat down and Q pulled up a seat. They both got chicken meals. Q looked at Donnie's order and grimaced, "I thought we asked you not to get that with us around." "Yeah, well, whatever. I'm starving! I already had a test in biology earlier and I am beat."
"Sue Ellen, are you still vegetarian?" Prunella asked. "I'm Vegan actually, but Fern is vegetarian," Sue Ellen explained. "Donnie, that is pretty inconsiderate then," Prunella grinned. Donnie scoffed, "Must I go sit in the corner then?" "We're just teasing," Q said, "Unless the girls do mind. Fern, are you okay?"
Fern stayed silent. Sue Ellen answered for her, "She's getting better slowly. I made sure it was okay before you guys came over. I don't think she wants to talk though." "That's fine," Prunella said. "Take all the time you need, and if you need help, let us know." "I want to know who told," Fern said. She eyed Q. Q noticed and pulled back, "I heard the rumor too but it wasn't me. I'm not the only trans around here who chose to be a guy. You can't even tell with some of them."
"Do you mind giving her hints? It's really bothering her," Prunella whispered. Q nodded, "I heard it's a guy she had lab with last year, a skinny kid with blonde hair. He doesn't go here anymore. But he failed when they had lab and he knew her little secret. No offense, but you aren't her first—"
"Q, no," Donnie warned. Q stopped short and obeyed, "I just want you to know we're here for you. Mandy got the short stick on the parental front, but so did some of us. Do you know how hard it is to go home and be called Carly Jane again? It sucks. But, we do what we have to."
"I thought you were out at home," Prunella said. Q nodded, "I thought so too but my granny has Alzheimer's and thinks I'm my sister Carly Jane," Q said. He turned to Fern and Sue Ellen, "She's my baby sister who ran off to join the circus when she was 15. Cliché, I know, but the girl hasn't been back. Last I heard, she was the bearded lady in backwoods Louisiana. I think your classmate Ladonna said she saw her."
"Ladonna's here?!" Fern gasped. "Calm down, sister, she left as soon as she came," Donnie said. "She came for summer classes before going to Auburn for vet school. She told cool stories and caught my attention, so I asked her to come to group for some fun storytelling. She thought Q looked familiar, told us about his sister, and that was that. Don't get so jumpy."
"Sorry," Fern muttered. Sue Ellen eyed her. They were all done eating. They left the restaurant separately. Back in their room, Sue Ellen asked Fern why Ladonna gave her that reaction. Fern shook her head. "Fern, I know it's hard for you to talk, but you should be honest with people. I want to help you."
"Ladonna and I hooked up after junior prom. She likes boys though. She just did it for fun, for the story. I found out later and it hurt me," Fern sighed. "I don't know why I just told you that. I swore I'd never tell anyone."
"It's because you know deep down that you can trust me," Sue Ellen smiled. "Ladonna tells people she hooked up with Anna, the foreign exchange student from Ireland. She's never mentioned you and we talked a lot. You're good."
"Then why does everything feel like it's falling apart?" Fern cried. Sue Ellen moved to comfort her. They hugged. Sue Ellen felt tingles run up her spine. Fern felt the same sensation and pulled her closer. Her tears faded into silence. A moment later, the girls looked at each other. Something clicked in their eyes. They gently kissed. Sue Ellen blushed and pulled away. Fern did the same.
The girls awkwardly went to bed in silence. They didn't want to forget the moment but they didn't know what to say about it either.