He walked into the classroom and all eyes turned to him. The bruise on his cheek was barely hidden by his makeup and the tear tracks on his cheeks weren’t hard to miss. But they all just glanced and then began talking again amongst themselves once more. His teacher looked at him and shrugged, it wasn’t her problem.
It was like that every day he started school, although he could only imagine the lecture he would be getting at lunch. As he made his way to his seat he felt eyes on him and then something hit the back of his head and a few chuckles were let out.
“Girls that’s enough.” The teacher barked as the class settled and began. “Jillian phone away, now isn’t the time.”
“I’m sorry Miss but that isn’t my name.” he answered, still tucking away his phone.
“Well that’s what it says on my attendance sheet so that’s how you’ll be known in my classroom.” The teacher snapped and he looked at the floor in shame. “Now, if we can please begin our lesson, textbooks out.”
The silence that followed was usual, and the teacher turned to the board to begin to write out the lesson for the day. One of the boys glanced over at him and sighed.
“I would like to see everyone’s homework out, please be prepared to answer any of the questions assigned last night.”
A shuffle of paper and books echoed around as the students rushed to find their homework, and the teacher moved around the class tapping her foot impatiently.
“Jillian, Andrew, Emma. To the board and fill out the problem.”
“Excuse me miss, my name is Julien. I’m a boy.”
Julien wasn’t normally one to fight any of his teachers, but it had been a particularly long night and now he was frustrated. His mother had cried all night because he had finally decided to throw away most of his old clothes which consisted of skirts and bright coloured t-shirts and stockings.
The teacher stared hard at him as he shuffled awkwardly in his seat. It was silent in the room, and all eyes were on the teacher.
“Jillian, please go to the board.”
As the teacher turned around, a long screeching sound was heard as one of the boys stood up, letting his chair drag on the floor.
“Julien, you’re not a boy.”
The eyes shifted to the guy standing, and Julien looked at the floor ashamed.
“You’re a man, like all of us. If she doesn’t have the guts to respect you for who you are then don’t let it get to you.”
Julien’s eyes widened as he looked back up at his fellow student, and then around the classroom at the others who all smiled and nodded, watching as the teacher’s face turned an ugly shade of red.
“Both of you, to the principal’s office now. I will not tolerate this nonsense in my class. Get out.”
They both rose from their seats, taking their bags with them as they left the classroom and walked down the long hallway to the main office.
“I feel like I’m back in elementary school, being sent to the office like this.” the boy muttered, and grinned at Julien who chuckled lightly at the comment.
The pair continued on in silence, until Julien stopped suddenly and looked up at his sudden rescuer.
“You know you didn’t have to do that, I can deal with her. Honestly, I wouldn’t have fought her if I wasn’t so done with everyone’s shit today.”
“Well I did it, and you don’t have to thank me or anything like that. I actually really respect you, for doing everything you’ve done and putting up with so much judgment. Like you knew that coming out as transgender would mess up your life but you still did it. And you’re more of a man than half of the dudes in this school.”
Julien blushed and looked at the floor. Before he could utter a thank you, the boy was pulling him along into the office, where the secretary looked at Julien with a sad smile and then the other boy with an odd look.
“Just sit there boys, the principal is in a meeting. She’ll be out soon.”
The chairs were uncomfortable and Julien shifted awkwardly to find a comfortable spot. When he was settled, he glanced back up at the other boy.
“I just realized…I don’t even know your name-”
“James, it’s James.” he responded with a little smile.
“Oh, nice to meet you James. Thank you so much for everything, I wouldn’t be in such a cheery mood right now if things had panned out differently.”
The taller boy smiled down at the tiny frame of Julien and laughed.
“I said don’t thank me. But you’re welcome.”
A loud slam alerted the boys to the principal’s arrival as she rushed down the hall and stopped just in front of her office door. It took her a moment to turn around and see the boys staring at her. She immediately started to fix her hair and smooth down her skirt before opening her mouth to speak in that professional tone all principals tried to hold.
“Mr. Evans, and Mr. Edwards. Please join me in my office.”
Both boys rose and followed the tall woman into the room, lined with bookcases and photos of her young family.
“It’s alright for you to call me Julien.”
“And me James.”
“Very well then, Julien. I hoped I wouldn’t have to see you in here again. But James here I’m surprised to see. What trouble have the pair of you gotten into?”
Julien glanced at James, slightly afraid to open his mouth and tell what had happened.
“We were just in calculus, and Mrs. Porter refused to acknowledge Julien as a boy, or even as Julien. She kept calling him ‘her’ and Julien ‘Jillian’. So I just stood up to speak for him, since it’s not fair when he’s worked so hard to come out and set a name for himself.” James started, not even worrying about Julien who was gently tugging at his sleeve and had the most scared look. The poor boy looked like a deer in the headlights of a large truck.
“I see, Julien is this true?”
The smaller boy bit his lip and nodded quickly, not wanting this confrontation to last any longer than it had to. James nudged his arm and gave him a reassuring smile.
“Uh…y-yeah she did.” he mumbled out and the principal nodded.
“I will have a talk with Mrs. Porter. You know that you are respected and accepted here Julien, don’t let this get to you.”
James grinned and bumped Julien’s arm again. The smaller boy winced and tried to hide the pain. The principal let them go and as they left James took Julien to the side.
“I’m sorry if I hit you too hard, I saw the pain on your face.” Julien shook his head and tried to shake it off. But James gently put a hand on his shoulder and the smaller boy stopped. “What happened then?”
“Oh, nothing. Just not used to-”
“Julien I’m not stupid. Do I have to make you take off your sweater?”
The small boy looked up in absolute fear, and James gently moved his hand to the zipper of the hoodie Julien was wearing. Before James could touch him, Julien slapped his hand away and backed up against the wall. His eyes widened slightly when he realized what he had done and he moved to apologize.
“It’s alright. I pushed the limit I’m sorry.” James muttered, and Julien slowly moved his hand to his zipper. “Hey, it’s ok man. You’re allowed to keep your privacy.”
His hand tugged down the metal, letting the sound echo slightly as he pulled it off and showed his bruised shoulder, the dark ugly purple and green curling down his arm to his elbow. James’ eyes widened as he saw the damage done, and tried to hide the guilt from his eyes.
“I don’t want your pity.” Julien muttered as he pulled the sweater back onto his shoulder and zipped it back up. James pulled Julien into a soft embrace, gently patting the smaller boy’s back.
“I’m so sorry Julien. Let me help…in any way you need.” Julien gripped James’ jacket, trying to suppress his sniffles as his emotions all hit at once and he felt like falling to the floor or curling into a ball.
“Can you…could you walk me to class? Like each one, just so I know I’m not alone.” James smiled and nodded, taking Julien’s slim hand into his own. They walked down the hall in silence, until they arrived back at their calculus class. “Thank you James, for being so understanding.”
“Of course Julien, now come on. Let’s make it through this period.”
Julien found it hard not to crush on James. The smaller boy had always been looking for someone who would help him through his daily struggles, and that was exactly what James was doing. Each day he began meeting him at his classes and locker, making sure no one said anything rude or insensitive.
He had also started eating his lunch with Julien and his group of friends, although he also would take some time to go see his own group and chat about their upcoming sports game or just anything that they had watched or played. Julien didn’t really know, he didn’t care about the group, only James.
Classes had gotten a lot easier too, as he had finally changed his name on the attendance list at school and was being correctly named in each of his classes.
After James’ display in calculus, other people had began stepping up for Julien as well, and he felt much safer in school than anywhere else. And most of that was due to his new friend.
Except he was more than a friend. And that was what bothered Julien, because he could see it, he just wasn’t sure if James himself could see it. He often flirted with the smaller boy, teasing him and making little comments about how cute he could be or how handsome he looked in an outfit.
Surely he knew what he was doing, at least Julien hoped. He didn’t want to be played on top of everything else. But every time he tried to talk to James about it, his words would jumble, his cheeks went red and eventually he gave up.
But not this time, Julien had to know. He tapped his pencil on his desk impatiently, not hearing a word of his teacher’s lecture on the importance of math in one’s future. He planned to go in a more art driven direction than anything else.
Finally, the bell rang through the school. The sharp trill broke Julien’s thoughts and he began to pack up all his things. When he exited the classroom, James was waiting across the hallway.
Julien walked next to him and followed the taller boy to his locker. “How was your day?”
“Not bad, could have been better but you know…”
James’ voice faded into the back of Julien’s mind, his thoughts were spinning too much to concentrate on anything.
What if he’s just playing around? What if you’re just reading too much into things? He’s probably not even gay who are you kidding? What if he looks at you as a girl that he’s attracted to, like a tomboy? There’s no way he likes you now. You’re barely a boy. He hasn’t told you anything like that, he’s probably got a girlfriend and is just boosting your ego, being a good friend. He’s just a nice person who-
“Julien? Hey are you okay? You just zoned out there, what’s bothering you?”
The smaller boy blinked and looked at James, his bag in hand and a concerned look on his face. It was now or never.
“Do you like me?”
“Of course I do, you’re a great person.”
Julien pursed his lips, his eyes squeezed shut as he clasped his hands behind his back before speaking again.
“I mean, like, as more than a friend.”
James blinked, momentarily stunned by the question. The smaller boy began to panic at the look on his new friend’s face.
“I’m sorry, just you’ve been like flirting with me and complimenting me and I realize now you’re just being nice. I’m so sorry, my mistake, it’s fine. I’ll just go home alone, promise it’ll be okay. You just go and I’ll see you-“
“Julien you have to let me answer, no?”
James’ words made Julien’s rambling come to a halt. He blinked a few times before looking once more at the taller boy, whose eyes held such warmth and kindness.
“Yes Julien, you’re right.”
It was his turn to look shocked, his mouth falling open slightly. James chuckled and looked away sheepishly, bringing his arm up to scratch the back of his neck as he stared at the smaller boy.
“Oh…well, sorry for the outburst.”
“No, it’s okay. I understand if you don’t feel the same way. I’ll stop if you want me to.”
Julien blinked before taking in James’ words.
“No!” James gave him a questioning look. “I mean, I don’t want you to stop. I like it honestly.” He stared down at his shoes, admiring the new dirt patches on them to distract from the boy in front of him. “I like you a lot, honestly.”
He whispered the last sentence, but it was loud enough for James to hear. Julien felt large arms embrace his small figure, and he melted into James’ embrace.
“I’m sorry if I led you on, and for not telling you directly.” James whispered, running his hand up and down Julien’s back in a comforting manner.
“I’m sorry for not asking sooner.”
The boys pulled apart and smiled at each other. “Would you like to go get coffee?” James muttered, running his fingers through his short hair.
“I would love to.”