When you are eight, your family moves to Leadworth. The new house is nice and you get your own room, and you like it better than the old flat, where you'd had to share with your older sister. She has recently graduated to lipstick and declared that she needs her own space, and your parents have listened and it means you get your own room, too, so it's been brilliant.
"I don't want to share a room with a girl," you tell your mum when she says she's pregnant again. "It better be a boy."
Mum looks down at you, frowning slightly. "Rory," she says patiently, because this isn't the first time she's had to remind you of this, "you're a girl."
"That doesn't mean I want to share a room with one," you say. It makes perfect sense to you, but your mum won't see it that way and you know she isn't going to. And it's probably a girl. Otherwise, mum would have said. It's not fair.
Sulking, you walk out the front door and head down the road. It's a pretty nice day overall, if only you weren't about to get a baby sister on top of it. You kick a stone along as you walk and when you look up, it's to notice a red-haired girl you've never seen before sitting on the grass on a hill, ripping a leaf into shreds.
"Hello," she says. "I'm Amelia." She sounds very Scottish.
You flop down on the grass near her, and wish hard that you'll get grass stains on this dress so badly that your mum will never make you wear it again. "Rory," you say. You open your mouth to give the wearied explanation about how, no, it can be a girl's name too, sometimes, when adults want it to be, but you're getting a baby sister and will probably have to wear a dress every time Gran comes around to coo over the baby. You aren't explaining yourself to anyone today. "Are you new here?"
Amelia nods and then, horrifyingly, her eyes well up with tears. She rubs the tears away angrily and takes several deep breaths and tells you about Aunt Rhonda and the funeral and moving to England and how it's all terrible and she wants to go home and everyone here talks with an accent and she doesn't know anybody, and you promise to be her friend always, her best friend, and the two of you hold hands on the hill, watching the clouds, until your mum calls you in for dinner.
When you are nine, Amelia makes everyone start calling her Amy and starts going off to her psychiatrists every week.
When you tell Amy that you're a boy, she nods and makes you dress up like the Doctor. It's not, you consider, entirely fair, but Amy hasn't run hiding yet or called you a liar or punched you or called you stupid, so you can live with things not being fair. You'll take all manner of things to not be called a stupid silly girl, and so you accept dressing up like Amy's ideal man. Just so long as you and Amy are still friends and you're not one more thing she has to talk to her psychiatrists about.
"We're the village freaks," she says, doing up your tattered tie, "somebody has to be."
You grimace, but play along. You learn to like ties and Oxford shirts and it has its advantages. Playing dress-up with Amy is probably the only thing you do that your mum approves of.
"And it's good that it's us," Amy says. "After all, we know us. We know we're not scary."
You have a little sister and you're sharing a room with a girl, but Amy is crazy and has an imaginary friend who ate all the food in her kitchen, and you are a boy who can't tell anyone about it, so maybe Amy is right and if someone has to be the village freaks, it's good that it's you and Amy. You know her and she knows you, and you know there's nothing scary about the two of you.
And it's not so scary, being the freak, when you have someone to be a freak with.
Amy isn't like everyone else: she's Scottish, for one, and she spends every Easter out in the darkness, under the stars and sometimes the rain, just waiting.
When you are thirteen, Jeff asks you to get ice cream with him. You invite Amy to come along, and it's only when Jeff asks you again, later, when Amy isn't around, that you realize it was meant to be a date.
The whole thing seems strange to you, because Amy is so obviously the pretty one. You aren't sure if you're tall for your age or short; you slide back and forth between feeling one way or the other, depending on who you're with. Jeff makes you feel tall, your mum makes you feel very short. Amy makes you feel like yourself, not gangly or stubby, just yourself.
When you and Amy get ice cream, Mr. Harrison remarks on how nice a day it is, asks you both how you're doing at school. When you finally get there with Jeff, Mr. Harrison gives you and Jeff a steady look and then gives you more ice cream than usual.
"Alas, childhood is ending," Mr. Harrison says, giving you some sprinkles, too. "Enjoy it while you can."
Jeff gets an assessing look, but after a long moment, Mr. Harrison sighs and gives Jeff more ice cream, too.
By the time you are fifteen, you've done enough dress-up as the Doctor to decide that you're going to be one, some day.
"Do you have the grades to be a doctor?" Amy asks. You nod. That's one thing you've made sure of. It's bad enough being a girl, you're not going to be stupid on top of it. Amy's not stupid, either, but she's pretty, and that's almost worse. You're glad you're a boy; if you weren't, you'd be a lesbian, and that would be terrible.
"But wouldn't you rather be a nurse?" Amy's aunt asks. Amy's aunt is a nurse at the hospital. Last year, during the flu epidemic, she had worked so many shifts that Amy had mostly moved in with you and your family for the duration. You are still picking long red hairs out of your carpet.
"I want to be a doctor," you say, sure of yourself. You don't look at Amy or say I want to be your doctor, but maybe some day you'll be able to say that to her. Maybe some day she'll understand. Maybe some day, you can be that for her. Playing dress-up has taught you that you can't be him for her, but he's imaginary and you're not. You can be a doctor and you can help people, and you can show Amy you're good enough, that being born a girl doesn't make you less of a man, that you can be her hero and her magic man. Some day, one day, you can be that for her. Some day, one day, you will.
You start transitioning at nineteen. You expect it to be hard as hell and are not disappointed. Two days in, Amy publicly announces she's done with psychiatrists in an attempt to get everyone talking about something else. You're both the freaks of the village, but Amy was right, it's not so bad. The crazy beautiful girl and the ugly girl who thinks she's a boy. It's not so bad. There are two of you, and you have each other.
You joke to Amy that the two of you should start a band and really give the old ladies something to gossip about. Amy punches you on the shoulder for it and you both laugh, sharing a joke outside the post office. It's almost Easter.
For the first time, you sit outside with her, watching the stars travel overhead, and Amy says, "this is the last time I am doing this, I'm not going to wait anymore" and while you want so much and so hard to believe her, you both know she's lying to herself. But you'll be there for her next year, and the year after, whenever she wants you to be, because you swore to be best friends and, more than that, you have been in love with her for a long time.
Amy dates Jeff, briefly. It takes Jeff about six months to even be able to look at you without blushing. Jeff's not the smartest one, but he's decent; he comes around.
You go on T and you learn to like shaving and, even more, you like forgetting to shave and feeling the rough stubble against your fingers, feeling each hair and thrilling in it, and you love the feel of it and, more than that, you love the feel of Amy's soft breaths up against it before she kisses you for the first time and she laces her fingers in yours and she holds your hand in hers, and then she rubs her palm into your wrist and it begins from there.
You become a nurse. It's not as bad as you'd thought it would be.
When you are twenty-one, the Doctor drops out of the sky and into your life. And before you can even really do more than blink and try desperately to catch up with what the hell is going on and the Doctor is real and Prisoner Zero is real and the world is about to be destroyed, the Doctor is gone again, and Amy is left crying, sobbing on the grass, and you think, well, this is familiar.
You put your arm around her shoulders and hold her until she can't cry any more, and then you take her inside and tuck her in. You call her aunt, now up in Manchester, and say, "the Doctor came back", and slam the phone down so hard, the handle cracks, and then you crawl into bed with Amy and hold her all night. You don't sleep, but she does, and you call that a victory.
The next morning, Amy's aunt arrives from Manchester and she hugs Amy so hard she leaves little red blotches on Amy's skin, gripping her tight. Because Amy's still there, still safe, hasn't gone running off into the stars with her starman.
Later, after Amy's been tucked back upstairs with all the blankets in the house piled up on top of her, Amy's aunt looks you in the eye and says, "I have never been so glad Amy's a lesbian."
Your mouth drops open, but before you can protest, she pats you on the shoulder. "You're a good girl, Rory. I'm glad you're here for her."
When you are twenty-two, you rub your sweaty palms against your suit pants and then dig into your pocket. The ring you pull out isn't too expensive, but it's the best you can afford, and Amy isn't obsessed with size and color and jewelry the way so many girls at school were.
"What do you say we be freaks together?" you ask at the end of the long speech you'd prepared, and you blush, because that wasn't part of the script, but Amy claps her hands and kisses you on the cheek and then on the lips.
"I love it," she says, and she puts the ring on her finger herself and you both laugh that it's a little too big, not the perfect size, but you can get it resized. Three days later, you do, and the store clerk looks at you and Amy holding hands and smiles, and it's all perfect, so very perfect. You've never been happier in your life.
When you are twenty-three, your older sister rushes up to you on the day of your wedding and at first you think something's the matter, and all the horror scenarios run through your head, but she laughs and she says, "Amy had a small emergency with her shoes, but we're on schedule, keep smiling."
You marry Amy, with you in polished dress shoes and her in converse that have been hastily spray-painted white. You kiss the bride and then pull her tight for a hug and you can't help but laugh and spin her around, because you did it and it happened and it's really real and it's perfect and out of the corner of your eye, you see the Doctor, standing to the back, beaming at you and Amy.
The Doctor slips away as you watch. You rest your hands on Amy's waist and kiss her again and she laughs and the most beautiful sound in the world is the Doctor's time machine starting up and leaving, and the most beautiful sight is Amy. Amy staying, Amy smiling, Amy resting her chin on your shoulder and whispering:
"I'll tell you all about it later."