Story:Before and After - Desi
Before and After - Desi
Written by TriangleDelta
Desi kicked hard, her tail lashing behind her as she rocketed forward beneath the ice. A few people turned to stare after her: the aquatics who were out manning booths running along the base of the canal's walls; the aquatic tourists who were browsing or just enjoying the views; and the few braver surfacers who were dressed up in thick wetsuits and snorkel gear. Most of these last group were gathered around the raised sections of ice that made air bubbles above the water, catching their breath before dipping back down.
The yellow perch mostly ignored all of them as she kept up her aggressive pace, cursing herself again and again. As she drew closer to parliament, the canal was getting more crowded, forcing her to slow down. After having to swerve around a beaver who was kicking clumsily in her wetsuit, Desi bit her lip, then let herself skim closer to the frozen surface. The light slid over her in clumps, as the shadows of skaters slid by overhead. She could just hear the scrape of their skates' blades on the ice, echoing down into the insulated water. This close to the surface, the cold of the world above was more noticeable, reaching down into her scales. She ignored it, though.
She was late. She was so fucking late.
At last, she saw one of the holes in the ice up ahead. She made a beeline for it, but then stopped dead in the water just before she reached it. She stared at the hole. She was late. She had to go in. She just had to fucking go in and get changed. All she could think of, though, was stepping into the change room in the chalet up there, and all of those eyes on her. She clenched her eyes shut and forced away the echoing voice in her ears, the words that asshole had spoken to her right before she'd gotten into the water.
She was late. She had practice.
The perch kicked forward, and then swept up through the hole in the ice. She had enough momentum to lift half out of the water and into the warm air. Her arms shot out, and she grabbed the sides of the wooden chalet floor around her. She yanked herself up in one clean, practiced motion, and then stood up straight. The top of her frill almost touched against the roof of the chalet. There were a few people seated around the hole in the floor that led through the ice and into the water. One or two were staring at her. It was just because they were surprised by her sudden arrival, she told herself. That was it. They were just surprised. Desi tried to ignore them as she started walking towards the women's change room. She was already working her vacuum-packed messenger bag around from behind her, and fiddling with seals and zippers. It inflated some as she popped the seal, and then she began digging through the bag. She pulled a towel free, and began wiping the moisture from her scales and her swimsuit.
Once she was in the change room, she kept her gaze low and avoided eye contact from everybody. She didn't even bother removing her swimsuit. She rationalized it away as her wanting to be quick - besides, having the suit on under her clothes wouldn't make that big of a difference. She was still conscious of the occasional looks being shot her way - towards her broad shoulders and powerful muscles, her towering frame. She forced herself to focus on getting her workout gear out of her bag, and sliding it on over the swimsuit. After that, she yanked on a coat, some mitts, and a hat. She didn't pause until she had to slide her boots onto her feet. Once she had them, she walked at a brisk pace out of the change room.
She passed by a row of people seated at benches on her way towards the entrance to the chalet. These were almost all walkers - surfacers, she reminded herself - pulling skates onto their feet in the warm shelter. A few of them shot looks her way, too, but she tried to brush that off as she hurried through. Soon enough, she was out into the open, cold air of Ottawa. She hurried up the metal grating towards the sidewalks that bordered the Rideau Canal, wanting to be out of the frigid wind tunnel that the canal made. People were milling around the canal, but she shouldered through them as she made her way towards the campus of the University of Eastern Ontario.
Once she was free from the crowd, she broke into a run, threading around the occasional clump of people. She bit back a few colourful words whenever gusts of cold air found her exposed scales, immediately stealing her heat. Sure, Ottawa wasn't as cold as Black Bay in the winter, but that was no comfort in the middle of February.
"Should've just stayed off the fucking shore, Desi," she muttered to herself. "That's where all the trouble fucking started."
She was still running when she got into the athletic centre. She didn't even bother flashing her membership badge to the staff - there weren't many fish her size in the city, let alone the university. They all knew her by sight. She jogged down hallways, stripping off her winter clothes as she went. By the time she reached the basketball team's women's locker room, she was down to just her workout gear. She tossed her things onto a bench, not even bothering with a locker, and then slowed to a comfortable walk as she approached the court. The perch forced herself to take a couple deep breaths, and she tried to push away that voice still echoing in her ears. Then, at last, she stepped casually out onto the court. If she acted like nothing was wrong, then maybe-
She flinched at the sharp voice. She took a moment to push away the thoughts that voice brought up, of that equally sharp and angry tone an hour beforehand, and then slowly turned to face a tall gorilla with greying fur. The gorilla was gazing at her with a flat, neutral expression, her foot tapping on the hardwood surface of the court. She held her clipboard under her armpit, and Desi swallowed a groan. Every member of the UEO basketball team knew that wasn't a good sign.
"Hey coach Gutierrez," the perch said. She considered trying to continue with some sort of casual added comment, but thought better of it as she sized the gorilla up.
"What time is it, Iverson?"
Desi gulped, and her eyes flicked over to the scoreboard, before going back to her coach. "Uh… 2:06, coach."
"And what time did practice start, Iverson?"
"Two o'clock, coach."
The gorilla didn't say anything after that - she just kept giving Desi that same, level look. It was far from the first time that Desi had received a lecture from Gutierrez, and she was used to the quiet glare. It felt worse than usual, though. Her mind was filling the silence with that outraged voice, those righteous eyes.
"Well then," the gorilla said, snapping Desi's mind back to the present moment. "Given that you've already wasted 6 minutes of your practice time, don't you think you ought to get ready, Iverson?"
"I'm ready to go, coach."
Gutierrez fixed her with that look again. The perch met it evenly, though there was some panic building in the back of her mind. At length, the gorilla inclined her head ever so slightly.
"I somehow doubt that the custodial staff will be happy with you playing in that particular attire."
Desi blinked, and then followed Gutierrez' gaze. She groaned when she saw that she was still wearing her boots, dirty with the slush and snow of the UEO campus.
"Sorry, coach, I can-"
"Go change your shoes Iverson, and then get back out here." The sharpness of the tone drew another flinch from Desi When she looked back to the gorilla, Gutierrez' expression had changed, though her gaze was still every bit as intense. "What is it, Iverson?"
The gorilla kept eying her, and then took her clipboard back into her hand. She turned to face the rest of the team, who were running drills. "See me after practice."
Desi reached up and rubbed at her forehead. She clenched her eyes shut for a moment, then barked out, "Yes, coach."
She turned and headed back towards the change room, biting back more curses.
Desdemona kept her head down and powered her way through the rest of the practice. Towards the middle of the session, she finally started to slip into her stride. The familiar motions, the exertion, the sounds of her feet and the ball on the court, they all combined to sooth the stinging that she'd felt earlier. It always did that, though. If she went hard enough, she could make the world fall away until it was just her and her body.
After they'd wrapped up and the other players were headed over to the change rooms, the yellow perch hesitated. Gutierrez hadn't repeated her earlier order to come and see her after the practice - in fact, the gorilla had just headed over towards her office right after practice. Desi could probably just leave if she felt like it. It was tempting - she was already feeling drained and raw from her confrontation earlier, and she didn't want a dressing down from her coach to push her over the edge.
She sighed, though, and made her way over towards the gorilla's office. Probably best to not push her.
The door was shut when she reached it. Desi took a deep breath to steady herself, then reached out and knocked.
"Iverson?" The gorilla's voice emerged through the door.
"Come on in."
The perch opened the door. Gutierrez was sitting at her desk - a large custom piece that took up a good chunk of the space in the office. The gorilla was alternating between tapping at a computer and flipping through pages on her clipboard. She let Desdemona stand in the door for a moment, before giving a small nod, not looking up at her. "Close the door, Iverson."
Desi sighed, then turned and closed the door. While her back was turned, she heard Gutierrez give a couple taps on her computer. By the time she looked back, the gorilla had turned the screen to face her. "Care to explain this email?"
The perch leaned forward, confused. As her eyes started scanning through the email, from one of her professors, she cleared her throat, and then sat back. "Right."
Gutierrez finally looked up from her clipboard, and fixed Desi with her gaze. She waited a long moment, and then muttered, "What's going on, Iverson?"
"No, not nothing. I may not know you well off the court, but I know that you're smart. I definitely know that you're smarter than consistently showing up late for practices and getting marks like this." She gestured at the computer screen. "So what's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong, coach." There's nothing you can do, so stop fucking asking.
Again, Gutierrez looked at her for a long while in silence. Then, she shrugged. "Okay, nothing's wrong. This is just the best that you can do. So what's plan B?"
Desdemona blinked. "Plan B? I don't… have one?" She waited for the gorilla to speak, but was met with only silence. Finally, she cleared her throat and muttered, "I try focusing on my classes. Like, I do. I know if I could just keep my head stuck on my studying, it would be easy. I just can't, though. I'm always thinking about either basketball or…" She trailed off, and then shrugged. "I'm trying."
Gutierrez didn't react to this. She flicked through a few papers on her clipboard. Desi was never sure if the gorilla was actually checking anything when she did this, or if it was just a distraction tactic. If so, it always worked.
At last, the gorilla looked up and met Desdemona's gaze. "Ms Iverson, let me be frank. You are among the most talented players I have had the pleasure and frustration of coaching." That caught the perch off guard. Gutierrez was… guarded in her compliments, at the best of times. "That said, you are also inconsistent. Your performance during games is always… acceptable. Every now and again, though, you manage to be excellent. It's that potential for excellence that I was hoping we could unlock when you started here. This past year, though…" The gorilla made a helpless gesture. "You're on and off. You're frequently late for practices, and it sometimes seems like your mind isn't even here when you do make it on time.
"I was betting on you this year, Ms Iverson. You were my gamble. Between you and Abdoulaye, we should have been fine. On those rare occasions that you manage to pull it all together, I still see that potential. As it stands, though, we'll be lucky if we don't come in last place this year.
"So what is it? What do you need from me and from this team for us to get you there?"
Desi kept eying Gutierrez, her mouth hanging open. Then, at length, she cleared her throat again, and said, "I'm fine."
There were a few very long, awkward moments of silence.
"Fine." Gutierrez shook her head. "Well, barring us managing to scoop up some basketball wunderkind this coming summer, we're still relying on you and Abdoulaye next season."
Desi eyed her coach for a long few moments. Then she cleared her throat. "You can count on me, coach. We can do this."
Gutierrez let out a long sigh, and shook her head. "I hope that's true, Iverson. If you're really alright, though, then as it stands…" She shrugged. "I'm not holding my breath." The gorilla let the words hang in the air for a few long moments. Desi did her best to not clench her fists too hard. "You're dismissed."
Desi gave a stiff nod, then turned and walked out of the room. She closed the door behind herself, and then made her way back over towards the change room. Once she was in, she took a quick look around to ensure that nobody else was there. Then she walked over to one of the lockers, and slammed a fist into it.
Stinging pain radiated up her arm from the point of contact, and her breath came in deep gasps. "Fucking hell."
She shook her hand out, then glanced over at the bench, where all her winter clothes were still strewn about. The perch wandered over, and began sliding them on, taking her time. She could've been on time. Of course she could have. If she'd just ignored that fucking asshole when she'd gone into the change room at the chalet, she could've been on time. Hell, she still would've been on time after that if she'd just forgotten his dumb words after that, instead of procrastinating and obsessing over how people would look at her while she was getting into and out of the water.
She slipped off her shoes, and then pulled on her boots. She glanced down at herself, and sized up her mostly bare legs. It would be about a half hour walk back to her dorm through the cold. She would definitely not be able to feel her legs by then. She really should take the quick run back to the canal, and then swim it. It would be faster, warmer, she wouldn't get Ottawa's stupid brown salty slush all over her scales…
Go. Walk into the fucking change room at the chalet. The looks would only be because she was tall. Just because she was tall. She could almost hear Simon's voice in her head. "You'll have to get used to it eventually."
She fished her phone out of her pocket and glanced at it. There was a missed call from Braydon, but she could respond to that later. If she sent him a message, she knew he would just send her back something well-meaning and supportive. That wasn't what she needed. She swapped over to her message history with Simon, and glanced at the dozen or so texts she'd sent him over the past month without receiving any reply. He was the one she needed. She needed the person who was going to sit her down and tell her that those assholes were always going to be there, no matter what, and she had to learn to just deal with it. Hell, she needed the person who would offer to help her beat the shit out of anybody that gave her a hard time. But he wasn't there. He was never fucking there anymore.
Desi sat on the bench for a short while, beginning to sweat in her boots and puffy jacket. She stared at the point where she'd hit the locker - there was a small dent in the thin metal. It was just one of many in the surface.
She forced herself to take a few deep breaths, her eyes narrowing as she considered. Fuck it. Fuck this.
Braydon would tell her that it was okay, that she was was safe. He would try to calm her down.
Simon would tell her that he would back her up, that he would beat the shit out of anybody that gave her trouble. He would tell her to get angry and fight.
Neither of them got it. Nobody else would ever get it.
She took another deep breath, and then got up. She made her way out of the locker room, and then further on out of the athletic facility. Her steps were slow but steady. She was careful to dodge around the clumps of snow that had been melted by salt, not wanting to make her scales feel raw.
When she reached the chalet, she ducked into the women's change room again. With her effeminate coat on, most people didn't pay her much attention, other than to look at how tall she was. She slid out of her winter clothes and her workout gear, leaving her in just her swim outfit. As she stuffed all of the other clothing into her drybag, she tried to keep her eyes focused straight forward, and not dodge glances around at the eyes that were no doubt eying her broad shoulders, the muscles across her back and chest and arms. When she'd been 13, nobody could tell. Now, after years of working out and practice, they could tell. They could see. Of course they could see.
Desi turned and walked by the others getting changed, and then out the door past the walkers sitting on benches and tying on their skates. She headed over to the hole in the centre of the chalet that had been cut through the ice, and then slipped in.
It always took her a moment to let the shock of cold roll over her, and another moment after that for her to remember to relax her gills and start breathing through them. She kicked herself lower, closer to the warm water at the base of the canal. She was still using the swimming outfits she'd had in Black Bay - the generic, gender neutral ones that were preferred in Lake Superior's dark, murky depths. All around her, there were other fish wearing their own variations on the swimming clothes that had more colour and more deliberate cuts to them. Desi kept her eyes forward as she swam, keeping to the deeper sections of the canal as she wound through Ottawa beneath the ice.
Once or twice her eyes flicked up, and she couldn't hold in a grin as she saw the thin lines moving along the surface of the ice as skaters passed by. She and Simon used to freak people skating on the ice of Lake Superior out by abruptly pressing up against the underside of the ice. Here, of course, they would probably be expecting it.
Finally, she reached her own stop. She pulled up out of the water into a heated changeroom, got herself changed, and then took the quick walk along the icy streets to get to her dorm. She kept her eyes low all the way. She didn't want to get distracted by anything. She needed to stay focused - had to keep her nerve.
Fortunately, her roommate wasn't home when she got into their dorm room. She took a few moments to gather herself, and then picked up her phone. She didn't let herself hesitate as she dialled the number, then sat at their table and waited for the other line to pick up.
"Hey dad. Yeah, hey, it's me. Uh, I know that we'd talked about me coming home for the summer, but I was thinking of changing the plan." She reached up to rub at the bridge of her nose. Braydon would probably be annoyed. That was fair. Simon would… well, who knew with Simon? She would send him an invitation to come and see the canals. "I think I want to stay here, and do some more training." She hesitated, then added. "Also, uh, they've actually got a couple, y'know, clinics here. No, dad, not a… frig, you know what I mean. One of those clinics."
She waited for a few breaths, anticipating the moment it clicked in for her dad on the other end. She couldn't help but roll her eyes when he suddenly began speaking very quickly, tripping over himself. He really was a dork. She waited for him to finish, and then spoke. "Uh… yeah. I think it's time. And like, I don't want to do it in Black Bay. Yeah." She let out a very long breath. There were the things she shared with Simon and Braydon, and then there were the things she shared with her parents. Simon and Braydon might have guessed, but they wouldn't get the full extent of why she didn't want to do this in Black Bay. But her dad, well… "Yeah. There was another one today. No, it's fine. I'm just… Shit's bad in Ottawa sometimes, but in Black Bay it just sucks." At least here, the comments were the exception to the rule. In Black Bay, they'd almost become habitual during the few months between her coming out and moving for school. She cleared her throat, and went on. "I'm just so fucking tired of this."
On the last weekend before the CFIS tournament started, Desi's teammates finally managed to convince her and Abdoulaye to go out to a bar. They all knew that it was the last week that they'd be able to go out and party for a while. Hell, when they got back, they'd be jumping right into their exams, so odds were good they wouldn't be able to go out much afterwards, either. A few of the members of the team would be graduating after that, so the odds of them spending much time together were low. Desi and Abdoulaye, well… they both had other plans.
After the disastrous previous season, both players had buckled down. Desdemona had remained in Ottawa for the summer, and subjected herself to Gutierrez's most intense workout and training regimens. That had been most of her summer - working her ass off at the gym or the athletic centre for hours every day, then swimming back through the winding Rideau Canal towards her apartment to get ready for work.
When the effects of her hormone therapy started showing themselves, Desdemona had gritted her teeth and asked Gutierrez to ratchet up the training intensity. One of the side effects was supposed to be a loss of muscle mass, which she couldn't afford. She powered through, and often found herself flitting home along the canals, her tail having to compensate for the exhausted weakness of her arms, core, and legs.
The weeks leading up to the season starting were rough. She was having to relearn how her body moved in new, subtle ways. It kept throwing her off, and for a while she was frightened that all her hard work was going to be for nothing. When the season actually started, though, and she stepped out onto the court, well…
She felt like an entirely new person. It was the same intensity that she'd always possessed out on the court, and the same feeling of everything else falling away. Before, when she was out on the court was the only time that she felt like she fit inside her own scales. The muscle and the height that had come so naturally to her body had a purpose during those times, and it all felt right.
Now, though, when the games were over, and she was finally able to wander off the court and into the change room, and she saw herself in the mirror… The feeling didn't always stick around, but sometimes it did. And that was enough.
She and Abdoulaye dominated the court that season. That was all there was to it. After the intense disappointment of the season prior, UEO was now going into the CFIS tournament with serious potential of winning the whole thing. With that kind of exposure on the team's two stars, Desi and Abdoulaye had each come to their own decision to declare for the FBA draft that year.
So one night, early in the spring, a few of her teammates managed to drag the two of them out to a gay bar in Gatineau that was holding an open mic night. After a few bad experiences the year before, Desi hadn't gone to many gay bars - she mostly stuck to the occasional punk or metal concert. Still, the temptation to go out had been strong. After they'd told her that it was just going to be a laid back open mic night, she'd relented. She slid on a dress, and pulled her leather jacket over her broad shoulders, and then met up with the others to head across the bridge to Quebec.
Once they arrived, Desi's teammates prodded and cajoled her for most of the night, trying to goad her into stepping up to the mic. Desi was able to refuse them for a good chunk of the night. She was tired from her aggressive training schedule. She told them again and again that she'd never been the singer in her band, that she didn't have any of her own songs that she could perform solo, that she'd barely been playing the piano lately.
She managed to hold steady to her denials until about two hours into the evening. Her teammates had bought her a number of drinks by this point, and she was starting to feel loose. There came a moment where nobody else was taking the stage. The host, an arctic fox who had enough glitter in his fur that he'd probably be leaving a glittering trail for weeks, cast his gaze around the club desperately, hoping for somebody else to step up. He made a few half-hearted jokes about how they didn't want him to have the stage for the rest of the evening, but nobody was biting.
Maybe it was the drinks, or the awkward silence, or even the desperate look on the fox's face. Desdemona didn't know. All she knew was that suddenly she was standing up, and a few hands were pounding on her back as she walked by her teammates, and there was a smatter of polite applause from the rest of the crowd as she strode up to the stage. She skipped the stairs, instead just using her height and muscle to hop up onto the stage itself. She heard a few catcalls as her dress swished with the movement, but she didn't care at the moment.
The fox shot her an appreciative look, and then spoke into his mic. "We have a saviour!"
Desi raised her voice, and called out. "Yeah but I only know, like, one song, so after that you're SOL."
That drew a few laughs from those closer to the stage, and confused gestures and looks from those further back who couldn't hear her. The fox spoke. "So you're a singer?"
"Oh hell no," she laughed. "I'm a fucking basketball player. You guys got a keyboard for me?"
The fox gestured offstage, and a few members of the club's staff set about bringing up and setting up a keyboard for her. The fox then glanced to her, placed a paw over his mic to muffle it, and asked her, "What's your name?"
"Cool." He hesitated for a long moment, eying her. At length, she raised an eyeridge at him, and waited. He sighed, then spoke. "Look, I get if you're nervous, but like, it's open mic night. Nobody's going to care if you can't sing, and people get way more into it if you do."
She went to correct him, to let him know that wasn't the problem. She stopped herself, though, and cast a glance out into the crowd. She waited a breath or two.
"Alright, fine. You're the one that'll have to suffer through it, though."
The fox flashed her a glittery grin.
Soon enough, Desdemona was sitting at the keyboard, a mic set up just in front of her mouth. She was trying not to shake as she tested a couple keys. This was stupid. This was really fucking stupid. She was going to kill her teammates for bringing her here. Sure, Desdemona could put on a show out at the court, but this was something completely different. She wasn't her mom, or Simon. She wasn't built for this.
She took a couple deep breaths as the fox announced her. She intended to start playing right away, but she hesitated for a long, awkward few seconds. Oh… fuck it. She leaned forward to the mic.
"Hey, fair warning. I've got a dick, so you're gonna hear my voice drop a couple pitches as soon as I start singing."
She didn't wait to hear if anybody laughed at her crudeness, or coughed uncomfortably, or muttered anything to their neighbour. Instead, she leaned forward over the keyboard and began to play. It was a song she'd gotten stuck in her head over the summer - a cover of LCD Soundsystem's America Dreaming by Emily Haines. It was normally a simple enough cover, using just a keyboard and a drum machine. Desi felt naked without the rhythmic, echoing pounding of the drums, but she forced herself to focus on her fingers pressing against the keys.
She actually clenched her eyes shut when she leaned in to the mic and started to sing. Her own voice rolled back to her through the speakers, a rough, almost growling tenor. She always adjusted her voice while speaking, but she just couldn't do it when she was singing - well, unless she decided to just be an idiot and go into a ridiculous falsetto. That felt wrong for this version of the song, though. It was something about the lyrics combined with the driving rhythm of the piano, a sort of stumbling vulnerability that turned itself into force.
The song was written for a soprano, and Desi could feel her voice topping out shy of hitting some of the notes. She felt each missed key press like somebody jabbing her in the side. She soon grew anxious for the performance to be over, and she had to force herself to keep calm and go slowly with the measured music.
When she finally finished, she immediately cleared her throat, then muttered into the mic, "Thank you." She stood up, and was almost to the steps going down from the stage before the applause started up. She forced herself to meet the looks of the people she passed on the way back over to her friends' table. They were mostly thumbs up or smiles and nods of acknowledgement. She made herself nod back.
She collapsed into her chair at the table, and there was a round of congratulations and compliments from her teammates. She only responded to jokingly tell them that they owed her another drink, and they fetched it for her.
It was about half an hour later, after a few other people had hesitantly wandered up to the stage to perform karaoke covers or play some clumsy songs they knew on guitar or piano, when Desdemona got up to head to the restroom. She was washing her hands, and taking the opportunity to splash some water onto her face, when the door opened. Footsteps made their way into the room, the door closed, and the footsteps stopped. Desdemona was already tensing when the voice spoke.
"Hey." Silence for a few moments. "You're Desdemona Iverson, right?"
Desdemona looked into her own face in the mirror. They knew her name. Probably some student from UEO, then? Fuck, she shouldn't have said that stupid line about having a dick. She'd seen some of the Facebook comments about her on the team's page, before moderators quickly cleared them out.
The perch cleared her throat, still not looking over at the other woman. "Yeah. What about it?"
"Oh, uh…" The voice floundered. "Look, I just wanted to say, that, um… that was really good out there."
Desi blinked. She finally glanced over at the other occupant of the restroom, and her eyes settled on a dormouse, about her age. She had her headfur dyed purple, and more than a few piercings were glinting in her grey fur. The dormouse was looking up at her with an expression that seemed… almost terrified, really. Even from there, Desi could see how heavily she was breathing, and how her eyes kept darting around, never quite meeting the perch's gaze.
Desi opened and closed her moth a few times, trying to decide what to say. At length, she just settled on, "Uh… are you alright?"
"Yeah! Yeah, yeah I'm good." The dormouse let her eyes flick up to meet Desi's for just a moment, and then she looked down again. "Uh, sorry, I'm being a total spaz. I just, uh, didn't expect to meet you here."
Desdemona gave a very long, slow, blink at that answer. "Oh? Where did you, er… expect to meet me?"
"Oh, uh, sorry," she gave her head a shake that sent that purple headfur bobbing. "That probably sounded weird. I just mean that I uh, I didn't know that you could sing or play piano or…" She trailed off at the look Desdemona gave her - a slightly concerned, raised eyeridge. "Uh… right." The mouse cleared her throat. "I just know you from basketball. And like, I get that you're just another student like me, but it never felt that way, y'know?"
"I, uh… yeah, I guess," Desi responded. She was keeping herself guarded - she still wasn't sure what was going on in this situation, and she was increasingly wishing that the mouse would step into the bathroom, just so that she wouldn't be blocking the door.
"I guess I'm just sorta trying to say, uh… thank you?" There was a very long silence after the mouse said that, while she finally looked back at Desi expectantly, and Desi just stared back at her in utter confusion.
Finally, Desi cleared her throat, and said, "Um. You're welcome."
"I mean, you're the reason why I came to UEO." The dormouse kept looking at her, like she was expecting her to clue in. At length, though, she glanced away again, and said, "I dunno, it just seemed like… if they could put somebody like you in the spotlight for their basketball team, then maybe, y'know, people in Ottawa might just be a bit more… cool. About me."
Desdemona kept staring at the dormouse for a solid five seconds before she blinked. "Oh. Oh! Uh." She glanced around surreptitiously, and then muttered, "Fuck, dude. Dudette?"
The dormouse shrugged, and mirrored Desi's surreptitious look around the bathroom, though they both knew it was empty. "Dude."
"Right." Desi nodded, and cleared her throat. "Uh… huh."
The two of them just stood there for a bit, staring at each other, neither quite sure where to go from there. Desi finally broke the silence.
"So like… are you out, or…?"
"No, no." The dormouse shook his head. "Not yet. Like I said, I hoped that coming here, like to Ottawa, to a bigger city would make it easier. Hell, university's supposed to be a place to discover yourself, right?"
Desi snorted back at him. "Yeah. Nobody ever tells you what a load of shit that is."
Both of them shot each other rueful grins, and lapsed back into silence. It was the dormouse that broke it this time. "I mean, I'm still planning on it. Which I know is stupid, and if I just keep planning, it's never going to happen, but like… I just really thought it was going to feel easier once I was here. But people…" He trailed off, and shrugged.
"Yeah. People are assholes everywhere." Desi tried to sound confident when she spoke next. Sure. "Dude, it's, like… it's as fast or as slow as you want, whenever you want. It's hard as fuck."
"So is this the moment where you tell me that it gets better after this?"
Desi snorted. "Fuck no." She was about to laugh, and then she saw the look on his face - clearly intending to laugh back, but really just looking tired. She cut herself off, and then muttered, "Like… I dunno, man. I've only been on this whole path for, like, five years? Six? And I've only really been open about it for the past two, and…" She trailed off. The dormouse was still meeting her gaze. At least that was something. "It's fucking terrifying. I don't know if things are getting better, like, out there." She made a vague gesture around herself. "But, y'know… some parts of it suck, and are going to keep sucking. There's always going to be somebody that's waiting to punch you in the gut when you aren't expecting it. But like, every once in a while? There's a good part. And those good parts are really fucking good, man."
"Worth all the bullshit?"
"Fuck I hope so."
The dormouse snorted, and Desi let herself smile back at him. He cleared his throat, and then muttered, "Alright, I should let you get back to your teammates."
"Right, right," Desi nodded. "You, uh… are you here with anybody, or do you want to come hang out with us?"
"No, I'm here with friends."
"Cool. Uh, any that, y'know, know?"
"Nah. Not yet."
"Right. You, um, you got your phone on you?"
The dormouse nodded. They each fished their phones out of their pockets, and they exchanged numbers. Desi went to leave after that, but was drawn up short when the dormouse spoke.
"It helps, y'know? Watching you play. Seeing you out on the court and stuff. Up on that stage, too. So, uh… thanks."
He walked by, and stepped into a stall without another word. Desi walked out, and closed the bathroom door behind her. She leaned back against it, then, and forced herself to take a few deep, heavy breaths. She finally moved when she heard somebody else coming down the corridor towards the bathrooms. She pushed herself off from the door, set her gaze, then turned and walked out.