"Aw, kiddo, don't cry. I wasn't good with needles for a long time, either. Even when I was older than you, your dad had to do my shots for me for years."
"I still do your shots for you."
"Yeah, 'cause injecting my own ass involves a level of contortionism I will certainly not be achieving at this age."
My hands won't move. This is supposed to be easy. Just a little pinch, and for the first time in my life, it's a shot I actually want to do. Just go. Move. Come on.
Down a little.
I did the prep fine, exactly like the nurses at the clinic showed me. No air bubbles in the syringe, swabbed my skin and the top of the vial with alcohol wipes, bandaid ready on my other thigh so I can grab it right after. Easy. I'm a fucking pro at that part of this, but it doesn't actually matter when there may as well be a physical barrier between the needle and my leg.
The common room door opens, followed immediately by the familiar noise of Craig practically flinging his backpack off and onto the floor, then kicking off his shoes. Shit.
"Hey man, wanna order pizza toni—"
"IT'S NOT DRUGS," I blurt out.
Craig stands there, looking at me, head tilted. I am suddenly very, very aware of my hot cis male roommate seeing me with my boxers rolled up to my inner thighs, and how smooth and… feminine my legs are, and I want to throw up. Too many thoughts go racing through my head at once. My hands are trembling.
But Craig's eyes light up. He always smiles with his whole face. "Oh, dude! Are you doing your shots yourself now? That's so awesome!" And then he seems to notice that I'm about two seconds away from bursting into tears.
"I can't do it. I can't make my hand move. Like, I physically can't."
"Oh… you scared of needles?"
I nod. "When I was a kid, doctors had to get nurses to hold me down for shots. That scared."
"Ooooh," he says, running a hand through his shaggy black hair. "That's… rough." The two seconds of silence are entirely too long for me. "Do you want me to help?"
Craig crosses the living room and takes a seat next to me on our shitty blue couch, practically sinking into the too-soft cushions. "If you tell me what to do, I can do it for you? If you can't make yourself do it." He smiles at me again, a little nervously this time.
I wanted to do it myself. I wanted to conquer my fear on my own. To be tough. But I'm just sitting here torturing myself. It's not helping even slightly.
"Yeah, okay." I gently pass the syringe over to Craig, who holds it more gently than I've ever seen him do anything in his dipshit life. I point to the spot I've swabbed down on my thigh. "There. Push the needle in all the way, press the plunger down, pull it out and put a bandaid on." Even talking about it makes me dizzy. I turn my head away. No way am I watching. "Don't fucking count down, either, I hate that so much, just—OW."
"Haha, sorry, bro," he says, and a few seconds later he grabs the bandaid off my other leg and smooths it over the injection site. I immediately flop bonelessly onto my side. He can probably see my ass hanging out of my boxers like this. Whatever. He'll live.
Following my woozy instructions, he properly disposes of everything, and then brings me a glass of water.
Craig ruffles my hair. I can't even muster up a fake glower in response. "Hey, you didn't cry!" he says cheerfully, and from anyone else it would feel condescending, but he's so fucking earnest, like an oversized puppy, and I know it's sincere pride in his voice.
It's the first, but not last time I feel an indescribable urge to be held by him.
"God, it was so funny - one of our friends, not Smashley, uh, shit, who was it—"
"Yeah, her. So, we're having a party one night, Craig's telling everyone how much he loves his bros, you know, like any other night. And Molly is like—'you know dude and bro aren't gender-neutral, right?'"
"Which is fair, honestly."
"Right, yeah, but she was looking at me when she said it. And, since I was a clueless dipshit, I was like… 'hm, I feel really sad over the thought of Craig not calling me his bro anymore! I'm sure that doesn't mean anything significant!' And I think I tripped over myself to like, beg you to keep calling me that?"
"I always knew you were a bro, dude."
"You know dude and bro aren't gender-neutral, right?"
Molly is right, and that's the problem. Probably not in our current circle of friends, but sometime, Craig's gonna hurt someone's feelings. He wouldn't mean it, I know that. It's the human version of a friendly but very large dog accidentally knocking someone over out of excitement to see them. But it doesn't matter when someone calls you a word you've been actively trying to distance yourself from.
"But, like… everyone's my bro," Craig says, a little too defensively, gesturing with a half-empty can of Narragansett in his hand. I don't know what album is playing, but God, it's loud—it's one of Ashley's picks, and I tuned it out almost instantly. "Gender has nothing to do with it, y'know?"
Molly's talking, and so is Craig, and it's blending in with the other voices in the party as I stare at my own can of beer. I'm drunk, and I would have said pleasantly drunk until a minute ago. There is something inside me trying very hard to claw its way to the surface. A revelation, dangerously close to a concrete thought. I beg it to keep hiding, just for a little longer. Not right now.
"I guess you're right," I hear Craig say over the other conversations, sounding a little defeated, and I fucking panic. I feel like I'm about to lose something precious, but I don't know what it is yet. There's a completely unreasonable desperation bubbling up at the back of my throat.
"Can I still be your bro?" I ask, and even though I know I'm slurring a little, I can tell it comes out way too urgently. Too late to stop now, though. "I don't mind. Like, I really don't mind? I still want to be dude. I like being dudebroman."
I will look on this later with disbelief and laughter—that I somehow didn't know yet, and that I was so fucking close to saying it, but in the most dumbass way humanly possible.
Craig laughs and messes up my hair. "Yeah, man, don't worry about it. You're always gonna be one of the boys."
Neither of us understand the full extent of how good that feels to hear.
"Yeah, it was hard for me when I came out. Your grandparents… I wish they'd taken it better, but it is what it is. But I'd just told them, gotten that reaction, and wanted to tell everyone at school when I got back from break. So I think I was going in expecting the worst."
"I thought you were gonna tell me someone had straight-up died, dude. The look on your face, you poor thing."
"Craig and I sat down and I was like… 'listen, I have to tell you something pretty major about me, this isn't easy to say, but—'"
"I was sitting there thinking, like, oh fuck, did you kill someone?"
"And I SAID, honey, sweetie, dearest who doesn't interrupt this important life lesson to our children, I said, 'I understand if you don't want to be friends with me anymore, but—'"
"Okay okay okay, but, one more interruption? Last one?"
"That made me so mad. Not, like, at you. Obviously. But… it made me so sad that you would've just… been okay with that? Or given them an easy out, I guess? If someone didn't want to be friends with you for something like this, you should've been ready to kick them to the curb. Sorry. Continue."
"You're right. But yeah, I just made myself spit it out. 'I'm transgender, I'm a gay dude, etc etc.' Your dad was… perfect. He reacted so well. Just… asked what he should call me from now on, what I needed from him. To be clear, it's not like—I didn't expect him to be shitty! But… well, actually, after my parents, I guess I kind of did. People can surprise you. For better or worse."
A gentle kiss.
"I love you, man."
"Oh my god, can you two get a room?"
It's like something out of a romantic comedy. It's a contrived fanfiction plot device. Oh no, we're camping and I forgot to bring my sleeping bag! I guess… there's only… one thing we can do… to keep warm…
I feel like a nervous teenager again, dancing around what I really want to say, what—I think—we both want to happen here. "We could share it," I say, trying to sound casual and completely failing.
"Fine with me," Craig says, and I can just barely see him smiling in the dark. "You're the little spoon, though."
I snort. "Duh. You're a foot taller than me. I'm not sleeping with my face wedged into your spine."
He wraps his arms around me, and my face heats up instantly. Thank God he can't see. How can someone this jacked still feel so… soft? I don't want to move. My nose itches so fucking bad. I ignore it. If I move, I feel like some precious spell will break—like maybe he'll turn around and go to sleep and I won't ever get to do this again. I know he can feel my heart pounding. Hell, he can probably fucking hear it, too, with how quiet it is out here.
"You alright?" he whispers, and I wish his voice wasn't so husky, and I definitely wish he wasn't talking into my hair, that I couldn't feel his lips moving against me.
Or, I mean… I do wish that, but not on the back of my head.
"Good," he says, and nuzzles the back of my neck, just a little, and it's enough to make all the hair on my body stand on end. I hope he didn't hear the tiny noise I made, but I know he did. Am I reading too much into this? Does he know what he's doing? Does he know I want him to do more? Is this really happening?
What if everything changes?
Suddenly emboldened, I wrap my fingers between his and bring our hands to my mouth, kissing his knuckles.
Change is good.