“I don’t know what I’m doing! I don’t know what I’m doing! And you think that I don’t know that? You think that I’m not scared? I’m terrified! I’m terrified and worried all the time and . . . . it’s like even though I know who I am and who I should be, it doesn’t matter! But it does, and I . . . man, I just don’t know. I don’t. Know, Tom.”
Marco felt like she was staring down the barrel of a gun as every single word poured out of her. Every word, every tear rolling down her face, every flail of arms and flap of hands. Every breath that became caught in her throat and hitched. Every squeak and crack of her voice.
It was almost all too much for her and not enough at all. For Marco, the last two years leading up to her sixteenth birthday had been - to say the least - interesting enough and never had a dull moment. Between helping Star, maintaining a social life at school, and now dating the one person she never in any life times thought that she could end up falling for, life was seeming to turn on its own head. And more often than not, Marco herself felt powerless to stop any of it.
Star always told her to just ‘go with the flow and let things happen’ , as did Jackie countless times. The thing about your best friend dating your old crush was that both of them liked to gang up on you every now and then to try and get you to relax and breath. Which usually caused more stress for poor Marco.
But Tom? Tom was different. Tom knew anger and stress and frustrations. Tom would be one of the only people in any dimension from Earth to the Underworld who would be able to listen to her and know exactly what she meant and felt. It was weird, the bond they had. From enemies, to friends, to what they were today as a couple. It seemed as though each and every year that passed, they just grew stronger together and as individual people. It was new for Marco, but it was a new feeling that she had come to embrace.
Besides all of that, things were different more than ever. Just short of her sixteenth birthday was when Marco decided to let herself be known to the world. Staring with Star was easy; starting with Jackie and Tom was easier. Starting with her parents had been nothing short of a cakewalk; starting with herself was a completely different story.
The thing about hiding yourself away for so long is that it begins to seem a little terrifying, being your true self, after a while. For Marco, it had only been a few short months since the news spilled out in stammers and sputtering hand gestures. But for Marco herself , it had been years. Two of them, to be exact . . . or maybe even longer than that. She wasn’t exactly sure, but she just knew it was a long time. She’d felt like this for a long time.
And now that it was out there, in the open, within her grasp . . . she was terrified. This was so much bigger than just donning a princess dress and a ponytail. It was so much bigger than she had imagined. Though exciting, it was terrifying and Marco never thought that she would get this far.
It was almost like saying yes to Tom’s dating proposal all over again.
But there she stood now, fists balled up at her sides in front of Tom with her breathing catching and stopping with every word she shouted. Tears rolling down her face and her eyes squeezed shut. Head bowed down as if her long bangs would hide her face. As if her now shoulder-length hair would hide the tear stains on her cheeks.
Nobody said anything for a while, Tom standing at the foot of his bed where Marco stood just mere inches away almost a crumbling mess. The only sounds were her ragged breathes and the lava fall just to the left of them.
It had been a rough week for Marco; having been to three separate therapists to start her journey. Two doctors and three letters later, she was well on her way with her first dose of hormones. Then her second. Then her third . . . all the way up to a year now. And the changes - boy, the changes - were never easier than the last dose. Never easier than the last month. Even after a year, Marco was still getting used to the moods, the feelings, the outbursts, and the physical changes.
It was a bumpy road, but one that she had waited so long for.
And for a while, Tom didn’t know what to say. He was still new to this whole dating Marco thing. And dating in general. And he was definitely new to the whole transitioning thing. But in the way that when she hurt, he did as well. He had gotten better over the last two years with his anger management, that was a given. But he was still learning the ways of comforting people and being the shoulder to cry on. With Marco, it had become real easy to adjust to. But whenever she came to him like this, it was unexpected for the most part. And more often than not, Tom didn’t know where to start. Not that it was his fault, or hers . . . sometimes his brain short circuited before he could get the chance to jump to his girlfriend’s side.
But then reality would set in and Tom would feel the ache in his chest. The same ache that Marco would show him. The same ache that haunted them both. And it would be in that moment that Tom could move forward from his short circuiting and properly help his girlfriend. He felt, well, human in those moments. And that was exactly what he needed to feel.
“Marco,” Tom started out slowly, all three of his eyes looking down towards his feet, back up at her, then over towards the lava fall with a soft sigh. “Baby, I know you’re afraid. I know that . . . that all of this in a short time is - well, a lot. It’s a lot for you and a lot on you and to be honest, I don’t you know, expect for you or Star or Jackie or your parents or even me to just look at you and act like the world is all the better now.”
He paused then for a moment, stepping towards Marco who looked about ready to crumble onto her knees in a flood of tears. A gentle hand reached out to her, Tom resting it onto her wet cheek, wiping away the still falling tears with his thumb. “It’s okay to not know what you’re doing all the time. Didn’t you teach me that? And that it’s okay to have these moments? These moments of self doubt and - and confusion and worry? Those are all the things that make you human, right? Like you told me. Humans are, well, complicated. I know that. And- and with all that’s going on both good and bad for you, it’s going to happen. A lot, I guess.”
Tom smiled softly, now holding Marco’s head into both of his hands as gently as he could. Marco was still crying, her brown eyes squeezed shut as the tears ran over Tom’s thumb. After a moment, Marco’s hands found their way around Tom’s wrists; her shiny blood red nail polish glowing under the lights Tom had in his room.
“I just want to stop feeling so back and forth all the time,” Marco nearly choked in mid-sob. “I want to feel balanced and normal and like . . . like I know where I am and who I am and where I’m supposed to be and that all of this is totally okay and completely normal and-!”
“Hey, hey, princess, shhh,” Tom slowly lifted Marco’s head, hoping that she would open her eyes to look at him. “It’s okay, princess. Listen, these are totally normal and okay. Remember? Star, Jackie, and I told you that from your very first week. It’s never not going to be hard, but it’s always going to get easier. Look at you, Marco. You’ve already come such a long way. Why stop now?”
Swallowing hard, Marco slowly began to open her tear filled eyes to look to her boyfriend. Those damn pet names always got to her and Tom knew exactly how to play those exact cards right. Tom was as gentle with her as he was ruthless in video games. The amount of contrast her boyfriend had never surprised Marco and it made for his character.
“Tell me how to fix her,” Marco’s voice came out small, barely above a whisper but enough to hear the ache and cracks traveling through her vocal chords.
Tom felt his heart sink and fall into the bit of his stomach at the words. That definitely wasn’t something he had expected to hear, and he knew that Marco didn’t mean it. At least, not in the long run. She wanted to fix the here and now, not the last two or so years. She wanted to fix how she was feeling right now. Which usually meant that she wanted a distraction from her emotions and raging thoughts. She wanted some kind of relief that was going to give her a sense of belonging and a release of the cage she so often held herself up in.
But Tom also knew exactly what she wanted to hear.
“I can’t do that, Marco,” he spoke softly, still holding onto his girlfriend’s head. He made sure that they were eye level. It was important that they were on the same level, he had learned that after a few times from both Star and Marco. “And you wanna know why I can’t do that?”
Marco shifted her gaze down away from Tom for just a second before looking back up at her boyfriend, a soft bite down onto her bottom lip. She didn’t want to ask the obvious question, but of course Marco knew better than to try and skirt around Tom. If he was anything like Star - and sometimes he was just that - Tom wouldn’t just leave it alone.
“ . . . why?”
“Because,” Tom said with a small smile growing on his face, as if the answer was obvious in his eyes. “There’s nothing to fix. You’re great just the way you are, Marco. Perfect, in fact. I don’t need to fix her - fix you - because as far as I’m concerned, there’s not a thing to fix.”
She couldn’t help it; Marco felt the corners of her mouth slowly tug up into a slow smile, though a small one. Apart from Star and her mother, Tom always knew what to say, it seemed. Even back before they started dating, when they were nothing more than just best friends, Tom was always the one to know what to do, how to say what everyone needed to hear the most. It was like a talent for Tom, and Marco wondered just how much of that talent came with being a prince.
Though Marco knew Tom was right, she still couldn’t quiet down that small piece of her mind. The one that was telling here there were things that she needed to fix; and that she needed to fix them right now.
“You are,” Tom continued with the grin slowly growing as he cupped Marco’s chin into his hand. “The most amazing girl I’ve ever met. As strong and smart and brave and resilient as any princess I’ve known. Besides Star, of course. She’d kick my butt if I didn’t include her, but would agree with me.”
He laughed then, thinking about the many different ways Star would pop him on the head, then turn to comfort Marco. That got a little more of a smile out of his girlfriend. “Don’t think about then and what you had to do then. Think about now and what you have done and how far you’ve come. The Marco today is not the Marco you knew yesterday and if anything, she’s stronger, smarter, more beautiful, and more courageous than ever before. And I’m lucky to have her, and her friends are lucky to know her. All of those princesses you helped? They’re lucky to have and to know her, too.”
Tom paused again, but this time to remove his hands from Marco’s face, going to tuck a strand of short brown hair behind her ear. “Yeah it’s been a tough road for you, and a lot of changes have happened in the last two years. A lot has gone on, and not all of it bad, but not all of it good, either. That’s just, you know . . . how life works sometimes. And all of it is part of being who you are. Human. And in a way, we both have come a long way. I mean,” he laughed again, the memory coming into view before continuing on, “think about it. When we first met, you chopped my hand clean off! And from there, things didn’t really pan out for us. But . . . . but then it did and I worked harder on myself. To be a better person and a better prince. Not just for myself, but for you, for Star, for everyone who counts on me everyday as a friend and leader. And look at me now. Smarter and stronger and way more level headed, if you ask me.”
Now it was Marco’s turn to laugh. It was light and warm, just as it always has been. And just like always, it made Tom’s heart leap back up to his chest and into his mouth. Making his cheeks feel warm, and having every single urge to just kiss her right then and there.
“See? There you are,” Tom cheered softly. “There’s my princess. These things that happen . . . they’re just little bumps in the road that you can eventually drive right over. You’ll get there. You just have to keep going, you know?” Another hand came up to stroke at Marco’s cheek as Tom gently pressed his lips against her forehead.
“I don’t know how you do it,” Marco rubbed the heels of her hands against both tear stained cheeks. “But you always end up knowing how to make me feel better.”
Tom laughed, shrugging. “Ah, well, call it a gift or call it hanging out with you and Star a lot. Either way, I’m glad that I can, you know, help people more now rather than hurt them.”
“You’ve done pretty great yourself, then,” Marco smiled a little wider now, showing signs that she was coming back around. After pushing the sleeves up on her usual red hoodie, Marco smoothed out some of the ends of her black above-the-knee skater skirt before shooting a thousand watt smile in Tom’s direction. “Thanks, by the way. For, you know. Keeping up with me after everything.”
“Hey,” Tom grinned as he put an arm around her shoulders, a kiss placed softly onto her cheek. “That’s my job, as a good boyfriend.”
“Would a good boyfriend let me win at ping pong this time?” Marco suddenly changed her genuine smile into a devious smirk, brown eyes squinted to match.
That got a loud, fun laugh out of Tom. Tears actually formed in his two bottom eyes as an arm clenched around his stomach. “You’re still going to hang that one over my head?!”
“You bet I am!” Marco playfully punched her boyfriend’s arm, leaning over on her toes to give the demon prince a kiss on his cheek before tearing off towards the ping pong table. Picking up a paddle, Marco turned on her heel with a wiggle of her hips and a short wave of the paddle. “Come on, Tom. Show me your best backhand.”
Four rounds and six Love Sentence songs later, Marco had Tom beat eleven to five.