John lay in the grass on the quad, trying to get his breath back. One of the football team goons – a huge guy with no discernable neck – had punched him in the stomach. He strained to pull some air into his lungs, one arm wrapped around his aching stomach. There were tears in his eyes, and ringing in his ears, and he felt completely humiliated.
He thought he heard the word nerd, which didn’t make much sense because the jockstrap had called John perv right before he threw that punch. But then John became aware that someone else was standing there, very close to the jockstrap, and was yelling right in his face.
“…Rodney McKay, asshole!”
McKay. How did John know that name? Was he the one they talked about, who once took Kurt Wallace’s car apart and reassembled it in his dorm room? The one who’d changed the grades in the computer system so the whole football team got suspended for failing English?
“You don’t hit girls! Ever! Do you have rocks for brains?”
“He’s not a girl. He’s a pervert.”
John turned his face into the grass. He’d thought things would be different once he went to college. He’d thought he could be himself, without having to worry about what his father or his brother or his friends would say. But he’d been wrong.
“Did he make a pass at you?” McKay snapped.
The jockstrap didn’t say anything. John knew he wasn’t going to admit that he’d been the one to make a pass, before he realized that the girl in the black dress wasn’t a girl at all.
“That’s what I thought. Get out of here, moron. And if I hear that you so much as look in this guy’s direction, there will be consequences.”
“I’m sorry!” The guy said. “Please don’t –”
John heard the jockstrap walk away, and then a shadow fell over him. He turned his head just enough to see that McKay was squatting down next to him, arms resting on his thighs. He was slender, with an angular face and really big, blue eyes. John was a sucker for blue eyes.
“You okay?” He’d sounded snappish with the football jerk, but now he seemed concerned. “Can you get up?”
John nodded, and McKay held out his hand. After a moment’s consideration, John took it and let himself be pulled to his feet. His wig had gotten pulled out of place during the altercation, and he hesitated before pulling it off and running a hand through his hair. He felt even more exposed.
“Come on. Let’s sit down.”
There was a bench under the nearby tree, and John followed McKay. When he sat down he smoothed his dress over his knees. There were probably grass stains on it, and there was no reason that should’ve made his eyes well up with tears.
“That guy won’t bother you anymore. Don’t even worry about him.”
John just nodded, and tried to get himself under control. He’d suffered enough humiliation for one day.
“Hey. It’s okay.” McKay put his arm around John.
“You’ve got a funny idea about what’s okay,” John said. His throat was tight.
“What’s your name?”
“Are you…I probably shouldn’t ask. Like, that’s really rude, right? To ask if you’re trans? I’m not trying to be rude.”
John shook his head. “I’m not trans.”
“It would be totally okay if you were, I want you to know that. I’m not morally against that or anything.” McKay paused, and John thought about moving over, putting a little distance between them, but it was kind of nice, having McKay’s arm around him. “So you just like wearing girl clothes?”
There was no way John could explain it, not without sounding like an idiot. He knew there was probably something wrong with him. He wasn’t a perv, but it wasn’t normal, dressing up like he did. Back home he’d had to be really careful about it, like wearing women’s lingerie under his regular clothes. It made him feel more in control, especially when he was always fighting with his father about the life Patrick Sheppard wanted him to have, a life John didn’t want for himself.
“Well, duh,” McKay said. He didn’t seem to care that John hadn’t answered his question. “Of course you like it, or you wouldn’t do it. I mean, this isn’t some fraternity pledge thing, is it?”
John shook his head.
“Well, I hate to break it to you, but you don’t make a very feminine woman. That being said, I think you look really nice. In the dress and the makeup.”
John burst into tears, and what a perfect way to cap off a shitty morning. To his surprise, McKay pulled him into a hug and let John cry all over his frankly garish green shirt. So much for the eyeliner he’d painstakingly applied just an hour ago.
“I’m sorry! Whatever I said, I’m really sorry!”
“You didn’t say anything.” John sat back, his breath still hitching a little, and wished he had some tissues. He probably looked like a rabid raccoon.
“Oh. Because I’m not really good with people most of the time. I always say the wrong things.” McKay’s hands flailed around when he talked, and his mouth had an intriguing downturn on one side. He was pretty cute, really, and John found himself blushing again.
“Could’ve fooled me,” John replied. He was more than grateful that McKay was being so nice to him. “I’m the one that’s sorry. I’m not usually so…emotional.”
“Well, you’ve had a pretty traumatic morning. Although I’m missing Physics 301 right now, which means old man Heller is going to have my ass.” McKay sighed.
“Sorry you missed your class.”
“I’m sorry that guy was a jerk.”
McKay was being so nice that John couldn’t help confiding in him, just a little. “It’s my first time fully dressed,” he said softly.
McKay looked confused for a minute, but then he snapped his fingers. “Oh, I get it! I hope you won’t let that moron keep you from doing it again, if you want to. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it. Cross-dressing.”
“Sometimes I just don’t want to be me,” John blurted out, and then stared at McKay with wide eyes. He’d never said that out loud before.
McKay looked around surreptitiously, and then murmured, “My first name is Meredith, and my parents are assholes. I know just what you mean.”
John couldn’t help it, he burst out laughing. McKay tried to scowl at him, but his mouth kept twitching up.
“That’s how you laugh? You’ll never pass as a girl with a laugh like that. You sound like a sick donkey.”
“Did you really take Wallace’s car apart?” John couldn’t help asking.
“That’s the least of what I’m going to do to that brainless asshole that punched you,” McKay said darkly.
John was overwhelmed by McKay’s anger on his behalf, and his cool acceptance of the cross-dressing, which is probably why he leaned in and kissed McKay, a quick peck on the lips.
McKay gave him a speculative look. “You want to get some lunch? Since I missed my class I may as well do something productive.”
“Oh.” John was caught up in a wave of uncertainty. “I should probably go back to my room and change.”
“Well, you definitely need to wash your face. You look deranged. But you don’t have to change on my behalf, or anyone else’s. It’s your first day dressed. You should enjoy it.” McKay stood up and waited for John to do the same. “And I’m not exactly Queer Eye for the Transvestite Guy, but if you’re looking for some feedback, I’d leave off the wig.”
He held out his hand, and John took it, slotting their fingers together.
Maybe college wouldn’t be so bad after all. With a friend like McKay, maybe John could finally find a way to be comfortable in his own skin.