Terry stared down at the table she could no longer see, holding library books she could no longer read. She couldn’t tell if Zach and June remained across from her—they sat silently, if they sat there still.
What had she even said?
“What did I do?” Terry asked aloud. “Did I deserve this?”
“I suppose not,” said Zach. “My wife acts—unjustly, sometimes.”
“You people,” Terry said quietly, looking up in the direction of Zach’s voice, “have such power—and she uses hers to punish me for saying something she doesn’t like. Or so I have to conclude.” She paused. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to use that power on each other, and settle your bet that way?”
Zach laughed. “Perhaps it would.” A silent moment. “I cannot undo her work. However. May I grant you a gift, to make amends for your loss and in hopes you forgive us for my wife’s theft from you?”
“What sort of gift?” Terry asked suspiciously.
“You’ll see,” said Zach. “You will see.”
Terry thought about that—about the weight of the particular words Zach had chosen. If he could not undo what June had done, then ‘see’ meant something different, surely? Words like ‘dark’ and ‘light’ at this moment held no real meaning…
But any sight would be better than none, would it not?
“Yes,” said Terry. “I will accept your gift.”
Zach’s hand—large, warm, strong—took hers.
Something sizzled through her brain.
It wasn’t at all like the time she’d tripped over two snakes when out hiking around the pond—back when she was Terence, not Teresa—that had been a burning through her whole body, and a twisting, and a changing. This was confined to her head, her unseeing eyes; it had the sound (if it had a sound) of drops of water splashed on a hot metal pan, though less evanescent.
The face of a young man with mid-brown skin and features not unlike Zach’s (though Zach, like June, was olive-toned) swam before Terry—he was extending his hand for a shake. “I’m Paul,” he said. “My father asked me to help you.”
“You’ll be all right,” said Zach, as Terry blinked the—was it a vision?—away. “You’ll learn to cope quickly enough.”
“I’m not sure what you mean,” Terry said.
She could almost hear his smile. “You’ll learn. Perhaps we’ll meet again.” The creaks of a wooden chair as the weight on it shifted.
“You’ll understand,” added June, and she too was gone.
Terry sat there a long while, afraid to stand. Her books—her precious books, shelf upon shelf that she owned and row upon row in this library. Would she still be able to work in this library? There were audiobooks, but not as vast a selection as hardcopy books—and that was all geared for patron accessibility, not for library clerk accessibility.
“Hey there,” said a half-familiar voice. “You must be Ms. Terry—or is it Mr., or Mx., today?”
“Ms., thank you,” Terry said, turning her head toward the voice—how did he know? “I’m sorry, I can’t—”
“I understand,” he said gently. “I’m Paul. My father asked me to help you.”
“Oh,” said Terry blankly. Yes. The same voice. If his voice was coming from there in the vision and here in reality, then his hand should be—
She reached out, and her hand met his.
“I’ll help you get home,” Paul told her. “If you trust me to drive your car—and about that, I’ll see about getting my brother to sort things out for you,” he added. “If you want. Mark is, ah, sneaky and conniving about everything, but he’ll make certain things work out how you need.”
“I suppose I’ll have to sell the car,” Terry said. She certainly wouldn’t be able to drive it anymore—not safely and not legally.
“Mark can take care of that,” Paul assured her. “Or find good people to take care of it for you. Why don’t you stand up, now? Leave the books, I think—it’s your day off, I understand, so it isn’t your task to put them back, I believe.”
“No,” Terry said. “It wouldn’t be.”
She was going to stand on his foot or trip down the stairs or—
She got to her feet, her hand still in Paul’s. Felt around for her bag; slung it over her shoulder, made sure it was clasped shut by feel. And followed his gentle tugging away from the table.
“I’m going to guide some of your vision for a little while, if I may,” Paul said quietly. “To show you how to guide it yourself.”
“…sure,” said Terry.
“Careful there,” said Paul, and the wavering image of a much darker woman—a familiar library patron, Keisha—halted before a collision; the motion of the image halted; Keisha moved out of the way. “Sorry,” she said.
“Careful there,” said Paul. Terry stopped walking.
“Sorry,” said Keisha’s voice.
“And forward,” said Paul.
Had Terry felt how Paul had called this? She felt for that sensation, as though poking a sore spot; tried to feel what that sense was telling her, as though listening—the display of Rich and Lorde and Moraga ahead that she had put out herself at the start of the month: ahead, and approaching, and abruptly stopped; her own hand, olive-brown, reaching out to touch the Rich volume—if she wasn’t mistaken, that was in six more steps, five, four, three, two, one, stop and reach—
Her fingers brushed the edge of a book cover.
“Very good,” said Paul, sounding surprised.
Terry turned her head to the left, where Paul stood, and smiled. Then turned her head to the right, and tried to sense what was coming from that direction. From here she’d have to go around the railing, then hang a left at the reference desk and try not to fall down the stairs.
“You know replacing your eyesight isn’t all you can do with second sight, right?” said Paul, and standing beside that same display, he grinned.
Terry turned his way, startled.
“Second sight isn’t always as reliable as you might want,” Paul told her. “The future changes, you know, with every choice someone makes. For instance, just now I chose not to ask you a question.”
Terry frowned at him, in lieu of a glare.
“Think about that,” he advised.
Terry turned to the right and tugged him in the path around the railing to the stairs.
They got down the stairs without incident, avoiding one patron ascending the steps as they descended, and got safely outside to one of the benches spaced in a circle around what she knew was a modern-art sculpture at the center of a small round green. Terry collided with the bench she’d expected to be another two steps away, swore, and sat down.
Paul weighed down the bench beside her. “Have you figured it out yet?”
Terry thought about that. “I see things coming,” she said slowly. “But not everything, and not reliably, and it never happened that you told me there is more I can do with this…”
Paul stayed silent.
“Is there more I can do with this?”
“Think about how you’ve used your new sense so far. Compare it to the senses you’re used to.” From the sound of his voice, Paul was smirking.
The scent of cigarette smoke drifted past Terry’s nose. “Somebody is smoking,” she observed, raising her voice. “Somebody is less than twenty-five feet from the library building. Somebody must not have seen the No Smoking Within 25 Feet Of Building sign. Somebody had better move away from the building, or else put out the cigarette.”
“Make me,” somebody said, and he was definitely smirking.
“I’ll deal with the obnoxious teenager,” Paul said, sounding disgusted. “He isn’t even legal. Stay here and think about that first sentence, okay?”
In solitary silence, Terry thought. ‘Somebody is smoking.’ As opposed to ‘somebody is walking’, or ‘somebody is standing’?
—No. ‘Somebody is smoking’, at the moment Terry sensed it. ‘Somebody will be walking through where I will be walking’, moments after Terry sensed it.
And Paul, who was Zach’s son, who had—Terry knew, somehow—much the same power that Zach and June had used to pull Terry’s gender identity and genital configuration every which way to settle their drunken sex bet, to the point that she fully expected she would be a he tomorrow and perhaps an ey on Wednesday, as she had been an ey on Sunday, and she might have a penis today and might again on Thursday but that didn’t mean she would necessarily have it on the intervening Tuesday—
Paul had told her, in a vision that hadn’t come true, that there was more she could do with this sense.
She was sobbing quietly when Paul returned. “Why do you cry?” he asked.
“There’s a woman,” Terry said. “Consuela Martinez. She’s going to die.”
“Is she?” Paul asked, sounding curious, not dismissive, not sympathetic.
Terry opened her mouth.
He hadn’t told her what she had foreseen him telling her—
—The future didn’t have to come true.
“How do I save her?” Terry asked instead.
“Very good question,” Paul said, cheerily. “Ah, Aunt June!”
“Paul,” answered June. “Terry.”
“Ma’am,” Terry said.
“I’ll leave you two be for a moment, shall I?” said Paul, and was gone.
June settled onto the bench beside Terry. “I imagine you’re angry,” she said.
“Yes,” June said. “Understood. Certainly justified, in both instances. But—and perhaps you understand this—I have to be devious and contrary.” The tone of her voice lightened, as though she were smiling. “I have a reputation to maintain, after all.”
“What do you want from me?” Terry asked.
“Do your best,” June said simply. “You are not obligated to ensure the best possible future is the one that comes to pass—but you have already understood how to begin.”
“Consuela,” said Terry.
This woman—this trans Latina woman, for whose benefit the No Smoking sign stood outside the library because otherwise she might be unable to enter the library safely, and who was dangerously close to trusting a particular cis man enough to open herself to him tonight, only for him to bury his knife in her heart tomorrow—
Original-model Terence would hardly have cared.
“Consuela,” June agreed.
How do I save her? Terry wondered, and tried to look.
Consuela walked down the street, past City Hall. In a few more moments, she turned left, down the slight incline towards the library doors—right past the bench where Terry sat.
“A gift, if I may,” June continued. “You asked for none of this, after all, and you gave us a gift today.”
“I…” Terry paused. “What sort of gift are you offering?”
“Control,” said June. “We have been unfairly changing your body and mind—if you accept, you may change either as you will.”
Terry blinked several times and thought about the past several years: a long list of names and faces, and her experiences with each one all carefully noted down in a Scrivener project entitled “little black book”. She’d had sex with many of those people on more than one occasion, in different physical forms, and there were—as she had honestly told June and Zach—pluses and minuses to sex in both ovarian and testicular forms. And the quality of any given sexual experience tended to increase with one’s own skill and certainly improved with that of one’s partner’s or partners’.
But being able to change from one form to the other as she herself pleased—
“I’ll take it!” Terry said.
“I am glad,” June said, and Terry’s whole body tingled, presaging the burning of transformation but dying away before it got that far.
She had another two minutes, she thought, before Consuela would come her closest. “What gift did I give you?” Terry asked.
June winked one sky-blue eye. “‘Lesbian sex is usually the best,’” she quoted, “and you suggested we experiment with transforming one another as we did you.”
June said nothing at all.
“Oh,” said Terry, and stomped hard on the impulse to burst out laughing. She could do that in twenty minutes, after Paul had driven her home. Or in two hours, while Mark was reconfiguring her computer for accessibility she hadn’t previously needed. Right at this moment, she had to look like a sensible person, to better the odds she could save Consuela.