When someone finally notices something's up, Luci's waiting in the alcove window, sitting on the bench and staring out at the road around her family's old home. Watching for cars and cursing her ride for being some twenty minutes late. She leans against the windowpanes, presses her cheek into the freezing glass, and smoothes out the wrinkles in her jeans, just for the sake of feeling the denim rub against her hairless legs. She brushes her fingers along her too-sharp jawline, tries to discern if there's any stubble she missed while shaving. Thankfully, there isn't, but she could still damn her body to Hell for how quickly she's gotten facial hair.
There aren't any cars, either, much less the car that Luci wants to see. Because of course, she has to wait even longer than she already has. Long enough that preemptively wearing her coat just exacerbates everything. Even when she takes it off, Luci can't cool down. Each tick of the clock hits her ears like gunshot, makes her feel hot and sick and more inclined to tear her own skin off than she feels most days.
Luci's leaving home tonight, barely four days before Christmas. She decided this two weeks ago, with the help of her best friend. Lila Beth Fremont should've been here and driving Luci to the bus stop already—but she must've gotten hung up at home, stuck putting her baby sister, Emily, to sleep or something. Maybe there's ice on the roads. Maybe she's having car trouble—it doesn't really matter. Luci's still stuck in this prison of a home, entombed with the history that's built up since her paternal grandparents first moved into the place ages and ages ago. Staring out at the tree she's going to climb down when Lila Beth gets here and she can leave.
Luci's saved up money for months without knowing exactly what she'd ever need it for—and her parents didn't bother taking it when they confiscated her stash of panties and padded bras, skirts and corsets, tight jeans and special underwear to tuck her dick away. She's stolen all of those things back, stuffed them in the suitcase waiting for her outside, and she's found a cause to spend her money on: a bus ticket to Chicago, then some food and maybe somewhere nice to sleep once she gets there, if she's lucky. It's an expensive city, but she'll find something else to do once she's there. She has no idea what but she'll have to find something. Her choices are stay here and probably kill herself before she's twenty, or run away to survive.
She got a Christmas miracle when she talked Mother and Father into not sending her away until after Gabriel's birthday. But she doesn't trust them not to haul her off after they all choke down cake and ice cream. She doesn't trust them not to decide they've waited long enough, then shove her in the van and drive her some several hundred miles to a Good Christian Clinic that Pastor Adler told them about, one that's dedicated to "helping" people like Luci. All because she's not a boy named Samuel. All because she loves her family but refuses to accept it when they say she is, or to accept their dictates about what her penis means and how she'll never be rid of it, or to accept anything they say about how she's their son or their brother or not a girl, so stop saying that already.
All because she'll be eighteen in five months, and they're running out of time to control her decisions, and if she doesn't leave now, she'll get stuck trying to break out of a secure hospital. Which sounds just about impossible. A truly, purely impossible feat—even for the Milton sibling who's been a pain in the asses of countless authority figures, in her time. Especially for her parents.
The sad thing is, for them? They don't even realize what they're doing. Because Michael might toe the line perfectly, but Luci can look at her younger siblings and she knows: there's no way in Hell that she'll be the last one to abandon the family because Mother and Father are too rigid and too unaccepting. Because Mother and Father refuse to love their children on any terms but their own—which are more impossible than breaking out of a secure hospital.
Occasionally, Luci tosses glances back down the corridor to her siblings' rooms—Michael, who's nineteen going on twenty and home on winter break from his Good Christian University; Gabriel, who's turning sixteen in fifteen minutes, and who might never forgive Luci for what she's about to do; Anna, who's thirteen and just last week started her first period, something her older sister will never experience; Cassandra, aged eleven, who just doesn't understand people, or so Luci concludes; Balthazar, who's nine, which is old enough to hate his name, and Luci doesn't blame him, not really; and the opposite rooms down at the far end, housing Rachel and Valentine, the seven-year-old twins. Luci lets her eyes trace up and down the corridor, and she thinks about the people she's leaving behind so she can save herself.
She expects one of them to notice that something's amiss. She expects one of them to notice faster, anyway. She expects Gabriel and Anna to find the notes she hid in their rooms and take it upon themselves to make her stay. She expects one of her siblings, any of them, to come after her and beg her not to leave. She just never expects it to be Cas.
Luci never, ever would've put money on this—Cas is much too much the good girl, the daughter who follows rules, unlike Anna (who's followed Gabriel and Luci into full "troublemaker" status) and unlike Luci (whom no one acknowledges as a sister anyway). There's no way that Cas would get out of bed after her bedtime, much less to talk Luci into staying. Not when she always calls Luci, "Samuel," and not when she's the first to jump up and correct Luci's behavior, if Michael's not around to do it himself.
And still, she finds herself blinking down into her little sister's huge blue eyes and permanently mussed up hair. Watching as Cas hugs that threadbare teddy bear she loves so much. Certain that she's dreaming when all Cas does is tilt her head and ask where Luci's going—not least since Cas calls her Luci. This must be the first time Cas has done that… or, at the very least, Luci can't remember Cas ever using her proper name, not even in some bit to tell her that her name is Samuel. …Something must be going terribly, terribly wrong.
Maybe Michael's lurking somewhere, eavesdropping, using one of the babies as his mole so he can figure things out, then inform their parents. That would be so horridly Michael. It'd fit right in with the rest of his wheelhouse, between, "telling Anna that only lesbians play soccer after the age of eight, in some half-baked (and failed) attempt to make her stop," and, "calling Gabriel a faggot over finding a tube of bubblegum lipgloss in his coat pocket, which turned out to be his girlfriend's anyway, not that this stopped him from wearing it."
"Please tell me where you're going, Luci?" Cas insists—Luci must've been too quiet for too long.
"Chicago," Luci says without any further explanation, keeping things vague in case she's right about Michael and how low he'll sink. She huffs, shrugs, tries to play this cool instead of demanding anything. If they get too loud, Luci might get found out and forced to stay. "After that, though? I have no idea where I'll go. I'll go wherever I can get a job, I suppose."
"Take me with you?" Cas says, throwing on her pleading kitten face, whispering with an urgency Luci's never heard in her before. "I've been saving my allowances, I think I have a lot, and I can pack my backpack really quick—"
"Why would you even want to come with me?" Luci hisses. She's got an urgency of her own now: a set of headlights round the corner, pull up in front of the house and flash three times before turning off. Lila Beth's here—and Luci stares back down at Cas. Repeats herself, so the runt will get it through her head to respond already.
"Because I do," Cas whines. "Because… if you're a boy who wants to be a girl, then why can't I be a girl who wants to be a boy? Can't I be that? Aren't there people like me, too?"
Luci sighs and starts nudging the window open. "I can't just kidnap you, brother," she says. "We'd both get in trouble, and then I'd still get sent away. My advice?" She throws on her black jacket, picks her backpack up from the floor. "Know exactly who you are and don't tell our parents until you're eighteen and they can't legally do anything to hurt you. Once I'm out of here? If they've got any reason to believe you're like me? You're their new Public Enemy Number One."
Which isn't exactly the best way to say goodbye, but Luci has to get a move on—she turns around and starts working her way out of the window. "And just…" she adds, once she's secured her feet. She might as well try saying something else, so the kid might actually get some sleep tonight. "If you can't keep it quiet, then don't listen to them, if they ever, ever try to tell you that you're sick, or broken, or wrong. Because they're the wrong ones. Their whole attitude is wrong, and everything they think is wrong. They're just as bad as those guys on the FBI's most wanted list, but worse. Because what they think kills people but nobody notices and nobody cares…"
Cas whimpers quietly, pulls a face like he's about to cry. Luci stops in her tracks. She never expected to be this bad at reassuring. "Our parents might be serial killers, Cas," she tells him, "but the only way they might hurt you is trying to send you to the clinic, and telling you that you're broken or wrong. But you aren't. Nothing about you or me is broken or wrong—and I know it's a lot to handle? But this might be the last thing I get to say to you, little brother, so… please remember it, no matter what they ever tell you otherwise. You're not broken. Neither of us are."
Cas doesn't argue, just pads along the floor, peers out the window as Luci starts climbing down the trellis. He looks completely lost, and Luci can't exactly blame him for that. Luci probably made that exact scrunched up face at Lila Beth when she told her the same stuff. "But if I'm not broken," Cas calls down at her, "then what am I?"
Luci pauses in her climb, but only for long enough to look up and tell her brother, "Transgender, Cas. Not freak, or transvestite, or whatever other words they want to use. The word for us is transgender—and never forget that or let anyone use it against you."