She looked at the other students across the hall; she was young, but not the youngest, that was Alma LeFay Bentham, the youngest student Miss Avocet had ever taught. She was here with her brothers, oddly enough.
“Miss Avocet,” she said, catching the attention of her mentor. “Are Caul and Myron Ymbrynes?”
Miss Avocet shook her head. “No, Caul and Myron are Syndrigasti like their sister, but remember Loretta, only girls can be Ymbrynes.”
Loretta nodded. “Of course, how could I have forgotten. They are the only boys here anyway.”
Miss Avocet nodded. “And only so they are not separated from their sister, those poor misguided boys.”
With that, Miss Avocet was off to continue her work, leaving Loretta to contemplate the two boys amongst all the Ymbrynes.
“Me? In charge of a loop?” Loretta asked, shocked at the mere thought. “But I’m so young compared to the others.”
“Older than Alma,” Miss Avocet reminded her. “And you are strong and capable, I am sure of it after all this time.”
Loretta was speechless; she didn’t feel ready, not by a long shot, but loops were needed now more than ever, and she doubted she would ever be ready.
“From this day onward, you will not be Loretta Agnelli,” Miss Avocet said. “You will be Miss Cardinal.”
Loretta nodded; she wasn’t sure if it was because of this sudden responsibility or something entirely different, but she didn’t feel like a Miss Cardinal.
She looked at herself in the mirror, specifically at her dress, standard for the time and place, 1950 in Italy. It was plain and black and really rather nice, accentuating her curves. Her hair was done up in curls as well. She looked nice, objectively.
But she could barely look at herself, crossing her arms over her chest, putting a hand to her hair; it looked off, something was terribly, terribly wrong here, but she didn’t know what. All the other women on the street looked like this, she had grown up in dresses, but she couldn’t stand the image before her.
She whipped around, not wanting to look anymore, but she couldn’t shake that feeling that something was wrong.
“A new loop?” Miss Cardinal asked, looking at her old classmate.
Miss Peregrine nodded. “With Barron becoming stronger and going after Ymbrynes again, we need to find new loops to keep the children safe.”
She checked her watch. “What year is your loop?”
“1950,” Miss Cardinal said instantly. “December 1, to be exact.”
Miss Peregrine nodded, placing her watch back in her pocket, pacing to the other side of the room. “I suggest doing a completely different year, say, 2016 in the United States. A much different time than 1950.”
Miss Cardinal nodded. “Okay. I will return to my time and gather my children.”
She embraced Miss Peregrine briefly. “Good luck, Alma.”
“Good luck to you, too, Loretta.” Miss Cardinal could hear the smile in her voice.
They parted, and Miss Cardinal went on her way. She had not heard that name in years, and after all this time it just sounded… Wrong.
“What year is this?” Miss Cardinal looked down at the young boy, Adriano, who looked out in wonder at the completely different time period.
“2016,” Miss Cardinal stated simple. “It’s July 16.”
She turned to call to everyone else. “Come along children, we have to unpack and get everything ready. This may be our home for a very long time.”
As they children walked up to the new house, luggage in tow, Miss Cardinal kept track of them. Adriano, 14 years old. Bianca, the oldest at 16 years old. The twins Eleonora and Claretta 11 years old. Fiorenzo, 14 years old. And finally little, Nerio trailing behind, eight years old. She sighed with relief, following behind Nerio into the house. She looked around as she did so, watching the people on the bustling streets. Everything looked so much different, not just from the time period, but from Italy as well. She hoped it would be a good change.
When she looked at herself in the mirror, she saw someone with a tight ponytail, skinny jeans, and a plain blouse. This looked… Better than before.
But it still felt off.
She bumped into someone walking down the street; on the busy sidewalk, it was hard not to.
“I’m so sorry, Miss.” She stopped, looking at the person before her.
They looked like a girl in body shape, curvy and chesty, but their arms went around their chest to hug themself, just as she did every time she caught her reflection. They had short, dyed hair, and some stubble growing in as well, and they looked so lost for a second.
“I’m not… I mean…” They stumbled over words, looking awkward and almost scared. Then someone stepped up, glare on their face.
“He’s trans,” the other person said with a little vehemence. Miss Cardinal was taken aback; she had no idea what that meant but the two of them seemed upset, so she simply apologized and continued on her way, resolving to find out what it meant later.
One of the advantages of living in such a modern setting was the computer they were allotted. She sat down at her desk and opened the iMac, typing the word “trans” into the browser.
The first thing that showed up was the Google Translate function, but as she delved further into it, she discovered what it really meant; to be transgender, when a person’s birth assigned gender was not their true gender identity. She read about issues, identities, and most importantly of all, she read about gender dysphoria.
She felt her hair, and her clothes, thought back to when she would look in the mirror and want to throw up at the sight of what she saw, wanting to rip off the clothes and curl up on her bed and never move again, when she almost felt pain in the parts of her body that always made her think she was a girl.
She slumped back in her chair, staring at the computer screen that held the secret to all her troubles.
My name is Lucas Cardinal. I use he/him or they/them pronouns. I am a demiboy.
He leaned back in his chair, letting the words he had just written swirl around in his head. It felt liberating for a second, the idea of being a demiman, the idea of dressing a different way, the idea of being Mx. Cardinal. It made him smile for just a second.
Then it hit him that it would never happen. He could never present himself as a demiman to other people, never tell them, for only females can be Ymbryne.
But he was an Ymbryne, had been one all his life just as he had been a demiboy. But that’s not how being Peculiar worked. He was peculiar in a different way, one he could never speak of.
But maybe he could do little things for himself to make life a little easier.
He couldn’t order a binder, the resetting of the loop would keep it from ever arriving.
He looked down at the duct tape in his hand, biting his lip lightly, battling with himself. Finally, he ripped his shirt off, looking at himself in the mirror.
His mind reeled with what he saw; seeing his chest made everything worse, but he needed to see what he was doing. He pulled on the strip of tape, and began to bind his chest.
It was a lengthy and difficult process, wasting a lot of duct tape in the process as it bunched up, but he was finally able to cover his entire chest, effectively flattening it. He could barely breath, and the edges of the tape was digging into his skin, but when he put his shirt back on, he looked better. Next thing on the list was a haircut.
“Miss Cardinal.” Lucas looked over from his coffee, noticing little Nerio standing next to his chair. “Are you a boy?”
He began to panic at the question, doing his best to play it cool as he set his mug down with a shaking hand.
“No, Nerio, why do you ask?” he asked of the young boy, clearing his throat slightly.
“Because you got a haircut,” Nerio explained.
“Sometimes girls have short hair and boys have long hair,” Lucas said. It was not untrue, he knew, but it pained him to have to lie about what was going on to little innocent Nerio. He hated lying to any of the kids. “And besides.”
He took in a deep breath, practically bracing himself for the words he was about to say. “Only females can be Ymbrynes.”
“Oh yeah,” Nerio said, seeming to remember. “Okay. Thanks Miss Cardinal.”
With that, little Nerio was off, probably to find the twins. Lucas had a foul taste in his mouth that his coffee wasn’t fixing.
Lucas leaned over the bathroom sink, tears streaming down his face, breath coming quickly and painfully. He took off his shirt and began to remove the tape. He felt relieved at first, being able to take deeper, albeit more painful breaths, but as soon as he got to the tape stuck to his skin, he knew he had made a dreadful mistake.
It burned as he pulled it off, taking skin and hair with it; he swore it was going to take off his nipples.
Once it was gone, he threw the tape in the trash, and forced himself to look in the mirror.
His skin was red with patches of pink, bruises around his screaming ribs. He couldn’t continue like this, he couldn’t fight like this, and what was he going to do if Barron or any holos came and tried to hurt his kids when he could barely breath, barely move from the pain?
He turned his head from the mirror and dropped down on the toilet seat, tears running freely.
After that incident, Lucas bought a couple of compression sports bras instead. It wasn’t as binding, but it was safer for him and he had to be in good health if he was going to protect his children.
But baggier jeans and a men’s dress shirt instead of a blouse, and he felt a lot better. Some of the other kids thought he was a boy as well, but he told them otherwise. He wanted so badly to tell them the truth, but he couldn’t risk other Peculiars finding out, especially the other Ymbrynes.
“Come on, it isn’t safe here!” He turned to see Emma tugging along the children. Holos were coming and they had to get out of there as quickly as they could.
Lucas grabbed Nerio and went to join the rest of the children, watching as Jake kept an eye out for holos.
“Are all the kids okay?” Jake asked.
“Yes,” Emma said. “They’re all here and all safe.”
“What about their Ymbryne?” Jake continued, never taking his eyes away from the horizon. “He seemed a little shook.”
Lucas reveled in the pronouns for a brief moment, letting himself feel that same liberty he felt when he first discovered his identity. He probably should have been panicked at the risk of being found out, but nobody else had called him a he before. It felt good, it felt right.
But the feeling was cut short.
“He?” Emma asked in disbelief. “Miss Cardinal is a woman, remember what Miss Peregrine said, only females can be Ymbrynes.”
“Oh right.” He turned his head ever so slightly. “Sorry Miss Cardinal.”
Don’t be, Lucas wanted to say, putting a hand to his still sore ribs. But he held his tongue.
“It’s okay,” he said. And hopefully, it would be.