He had bought a ticket to go west. A one-way ticket to freedom and open skies. Sitting on the train, sitting by the window, he kept his cap pulled down and hoped no one would see the soft curves of his face. They would see the heavy work pants and shirt and the cap and never once think anything but young man. His eyes were on the skies now, on the low clouds that hung over the prairies. This was his new home, this place where the sky went on forever. Here, he would be free.
Stepping off the train, his rough boots touched the ground and he pulled his cap down again. Freedom would still have a price. Anonymity. But it was a price he was willing to pay. No one would ever know what had happened to the precocious daughter of the Greenbriar family and no one would ever know where Michael Green had come from.
Cyn sat in front of the mirror, the prom invitation on the desk and let the tears fall. There was a pounding on the door and she turned, quickly wiping her face on her sleeve. The door opened before she could say a word and she gulped. Her step-mother stood in the doorframe, hair pinned and tortured in curlers in preparation for the evening out she’d been planning.
“I left a list of chores on the fridge for you, Aaron. They’d better all be done before your father and I get home. Do you hear me?”
Cyn just nodded, keeping her head down.
Her voice caught and she winced. Her step-mother was walking into the room, striding with purpose as she looked at something.
“What’s this?” She flicked the invitation off the desk and a cheshire grin crossed her. “Is it prom season already? Well, that’s exciting, isn’t it? It’s not every day a young man gets the privilege of escorting a girl to their senior prom. Your father will take you for a tux, of course. Have you got a date yet?”
Her mind had gone blank, her veins turning to ice the moment the damnable piece of paper had been taken from her. Young man. A tux. She was freezing from the inside and she couldn’t look up anymore.
“N-no, Ma’am. Not yet.”
“You’ll find someone soon. Don’t you worry? Have you thought about asking one of the nice girls from church? I bet they would just love to go.”
Cyn’s step-mother tousled her hair and then turned to return to her preparations. For her part, Cyn waited just long enough for it not to be rude, closed the door tightly and dropped to sit hard against the door. She was shaking and the tears streamed down her face once more. Not for the first time, she wondered what it would be like to claw her own skin off, to take the parts of her she didn’t like and just be rid of them.
There’s a place out in the hills where there’s a tree bent to form an arch, just by a pond. That was where I met her. She was sitting by the water quietly playing an old acoustic guitar. I had been out for a hike, my pack still on. I was looking at my GPS when I heard the sound. It had started to go on the fritz about five minutes prior and I’d been worried I’d get lost out here without it. When I heard the music, I slipped the device back into a pocket and held my hand up in greeting.
She turned, startlement clear on her face.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wasn’t expecting to see anyone else out here.”
She stood slowly, setting the guitar on the rock, and stepped towards me. It wasn’t until then that I processed that her ears came to long points and that her eyes were a pure gold.
“Hello, mortal boy.”
I gulped, not sure if maybe I wasn’t more dehydrated than I thought. I could be hallucinating. She reached out to touch my cheek, a smile on her face.
“You seem scared, pretty mortal boy.”
I took a breath, trying to get my racing heart back under control.
“I’m…I’m not a-”
She looked me up and down in a way that was half curious and half flirtatious.
“Not in body, but you are in your mind, are you not?”
I took a step back. How had she known that? I hadn’t told anyone yet. That’s why I was out here alone, trying to figure out how to tell them.
“Stay with me, pretty mortal boy, and I will sing for you and you can be happy with me.”
It was tempting, oh so tempting.
“What about my…family? My friends?”
She shrugged, clearly not caring.
“No doubt they will believe that the girl-you-are-now died in the woods alone. So sad. And you would stay here as my prince.”
I shook my head fiercely.
“I can’t do that to them.”
She laughed coldly.
“Did you not come here to kill the girl you are?”
I clenched my fists.
“Not like that.”
“They will hurt still.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I know mortals, pretty mortal boy. I remember the fires.”
I shoved her back.
“You don’t know anything.” And then I spoke again. “I won’t stay here. I know what I need to do now and I’m doing it.”
I turned on my heel and strode off, half expecting her to stop me. Instead, I heard her speak softly, a smile in her voice.
“Wise choice. Though, I imagine you would have been delicious.”
The three children walked across the moorlands of Faerie, each one leading a mount behind them. The sky was just starting to lighten, the sun rising slowly. The Prince of Knives and Thorns glanced at his two companions, waiting for the human amongst them to finally say what had been on her mind for so long, what had been weighing on her. He noticed it more and more of late, especially in their classes on etiquette and those on swordplay. Finally, she looked down, squeezing her eyes shut.
“Is it so hard to begin?”
The Princess of Fallen Leaves and Falling Stars rested a hand on Alycia’s shoulder, trying to reassure, only to have it shaken off.
“It is. I’m…afraid.”
“Is it something dangerous?” The Prince asked the question with a touch of excitement in his voice. “May we help?”
The laugh that came then was strained.
“I don’t know if it’s dangerous. I just know that it’s important.” For a long moment, she was silent. Then the words began to come, quietly at first. “I haven’t felt right about a lot of things lately. It’s hard to explain, I just have. Like I don’t belong in my own body. Like it’s wrong, like it isn’t right for me. I don’t…I’m not…I’m not a girl.” Then just slightly more confident, a little louder. “I’m a boy.”
The Prince shot his friend a relieved smile.
“Oh! Is that all? I was starting to worry you might be trying to say you were under a curse. And that would just be awkward.”
Blinking a few times, the young human finally pulled his fist back and socked the Prince as hard as he could.
“You ass! I was worried you were going to freak out or treat me differently or something!”
“Why should I? You’re still my friend. And now you’re just my brother instead of my sister. Nothing’s changed.”
The Princess wrapped her arms around the young boy and kissed his cheek.
“I think you were very brave to tell us, scared as you were.”
He blushed brightly and ducked his head as she continued speaking.
“Let us go home and we can get you new attire, to befit who you are. And speak to Mother about what can be done to help.”
Reaching up, the young changeling tugged at his ponytail.
“And a haircut, I think.”
Note: I know, I know, I hardly ever leave comments on my own writing. In this case, though, I had to. I want to clear up a few things for my dear readers, particularly those who might be alarmed or confused, about the use of pronouns in this story. You may be familiar with how important it is to never misgender someone and you may also have noticed that the pronouns used for the young changeling change partway through the story. That’s because this story isn’t from his perspective. The other characters simply don’t know, particularly the Prince who’s perspective this is. Once they know, the narration switches to the correct pronouns. I hope that helps to clear things up. Thanks 🙂