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Hannah Harris is not a girl.
He knows this as well as he knows that he likes dogs and cats, his sisters all suck to varying degrees, and Mr. Lim, who teaches fourth period Social Studies to the seventh graders at Riverside Junior High, hates kids, and Hannah especially.
Hannah is a boy.
He's known it since third grade, when Hannah J brought her Mom's special book to Show and Tell and read it to the class. Or, at least, she started to read it, before Miss Jackson stopped her. Hannah doesn't remember much about the book, except that there'd been a character who was a Girl Who Wasn't a Boy. It had made sense to Hannah that if there could be Girls Who Aren't Boys, then there could be Boys Who Aren't Girls.
When he'd tried to ask his mom about it, though, she'd sent him to his room without dinner. It'd been his favorite sister, Jean, who was the second oldest, and who only sucked sometimes, mostly, who'd snuck him a bit of toast that night explained that Such Things were Too Hard For Adults and Best Not Talked About.
She hadn't said anything about Hannah thinking, though, or talking it over with Declan, who's his Imaginary Best Friend, and also Best Not Talked About. Soon enough, he'd moved on from knowing some people could be One That Isn't the Other, to knowing, deep down in his bones, like Declan says he knows machines, that he, Hannah, is a Boy Who Isn't a Girl.
When he'd tried to bring this up with Alicia, who was fourth grade best friends with Hannah J, who'd brought The Book to school, and so must understand, she'd only laughed at him, and got all the other kids to laugh too, and to ignore him at recess. That was when he'd realized that some things were Too Hard For Kids, too.
That was okay, though. Hannah still had Declan.
It was Declan who brought up the idea just last week that, since Hannah's a boy and not a girl, his name couldn't be Hannah, since Hannah is meant to be a girl's name, and maybe if he has a proper boy's name, people won't laugh, and maybe even talk to him again.
Hannah is still thinking this over – 'ruminating' Ellie, who's the youngest, Hannah's least favorite sister, and always sucks, calls it – when he enters Mr Lim's class and sets his bag carefully by his desk, mindful of his packed lunch – bologna and cheese, his fourth favorite sandwich. He's about to sit down when his teacher taps his ruler against his desk three times – the signal for everyone to Shut Up and Listen.
“Hannah, you're needed at the front office,” Mr Lim announces in the drawling voice he saves for answering questions and reading about the Pilgrims, not looking up from his class notes.
Hannah J, who sits two desks in front of Hannah, and has done since third grade, rises, her brightly beaded rows clattering cheerfully. Again comes the triple knock.
“Hannah Harris,” Mr Lim clarifies, “you're needed at the front office. Take your things.”
Hannah glances between Hannah J, Mr Lim, and his bag, before shaking his head. He heaves his bag back onto his shoulder, and tries not to listen as Hannah J leans over to whisper to her neighbor.
“Her name's Hannah, too?”
Only technically, he doesn't say. Not for long.
Maybe I'll be Steven. Or John, Hannah thinks, as he hurries from the classroom. Or maybe James. I always liked 'James.'
He reports to the front office, only for the lady who works at the window, Mrs Acevedo, to tell him that 'his party' has already checked him out, and is waiting for him in the parking lot. He heads in that direction, ignoring the fluttering in his gut as he exits through the front gate before classes are over for the day.
Hannah pauses for a moment, shoving the escaped strands of his long brown hair out of his face and back towards his messy ponytail. He spots what he's looking for not far away, light brown eyes landing on a well-used white car idling at the curb. His eldest sister, Emily, who usually sucks but not always, is in the driver's seat, tapping out an arrhythmic beat on the steering wheel.
Hannah hurries in her direction, shifting his bag higher on his small shoulder, and is very nearly to the passenger side door when she rolls down the window.
“Hannah, hurry up!” Emily calls.
Hannah reaches the car not thirty seconds later and jiggles the door handle, which is, as usual, still locked.
“Is something wrong?” he asks, knocking pointedly on the door. “Why'd you pull me outta class?”
Emily rolls her eyes, unlocking the door with a flick of her fingers. “Mom's got a bug up her ass about something, says we have to come home.”
Hannah frowns, pausing in the middle of letting his bag slide off his shoulder. He glances back at the entrance gate he's just come through.
“Did she say why? Only, I got a Spanish test this afternoon.”
“Please,” Emily scoffs with all the teenaged derision at her disposal. “The entire conversation consisted of her screeching at me to 'get your sister and get home!' and hanging up.”
Hannah ignores the familiar sour twinge of hurt-irritation-guilt in his stomach brought on by her word choice and shifts his bag back onto his shoulder, reminding himself it's not really her fault he hasn't told her he's Not a Girl yet.
“Would you just get in already?” Emily interrupts, opening the door for her sibling. “We gotta go.”
Hannah looks one last time towards the entrance gate and sighs, finally letting his bag slide from his shoulder and swing into the car.
Before he can follow it, however, or even release the strap, he feels a sudden tug at his midsection that jerks him back –
one step
and then, with one last desperate, pleading, terrified look to his big sister -
Hannah vanishes into thin air.
Emily is frozen for a moment, hand still outstretched to take her brother's bag, mouth half formed around some now forgotten word. A moment later, she bursts back into life, scrambling over the center console to exit the door her brother'd failed to enter. She searches for him, beneath the car, beneath and behind and around the cars nearest, all the time screaming his name hoping against hope that this was some sick attempt at a prank from a brother who'd never shown any such inclinations before.
“Hannah! Hannah, this isn't funny! Hannah!”