By Morgan Givens
Travis stood before the classroom door, late, knuckles wrapped so tightly around the strap of his leather satchel that they threatened to burst forth from his skin. Leaving him with more than the problem of being the new guy entering his junior year at a school where friendships had already been forged, barriers erected, crossing them into acceptance made harder by the two years of bonding he missed. He ran a hand down his t-shirt, hoped it struck just the right cord of being woefully unimpressed with the opinions of other people. Needed it to sell the lie well. Knew that his sponge brushed high-top fade could make up for whatever his outfit lacked. “Do the dudes here even know what a sponge brush is?” He muttered to himself, screwing up his courage to enter the classroom, and immediately found himself caught in the cross-hairs of at least three other young black guys with fresher cuts than his, and groaned. “Guess they do.”
The black kids weren’t the only ones staring, every set of eyes in the classroom all turned towards him. The relief at the blessed moment of silence was evident in the voice of the teacher at the front of the classroom. A harried looking white man whose belly had just begun to soften with middle age, hairline beginning the slow retreat from his forehead to his crown, “Ah, you must be Travis…?”
“Boshman. Travis Boshman.”
“Oh,” one of his new classmates leaned forward, repositioning the hair tie that strained to hold her thick, thick hair at bay, a move she had somehow perfected so that the act of securing her curls was beautiful, “his voice is way deeper than yours Devon.”
“Ain’t nobody ask you, Tracy.” Devon shot back, glowering under his brows. He pulled the hood of his jacket up in annoyance, slumped down into his chair. His shoulders broad, though his voice still had the creaky groan of one trapped between adolescence and the perceived freedom of adulthood.
“I mean,” Travis began, loosening the grip on his bag, “my voice? It’s pretty deep, man.”
“Ain’t nobody ask you, either. New boy coming in here popping off at — ”
“Enough!” The teacher’s voice cracked through the room, his hand coming down to slap the nearest desk, the students jumping at the sound.
“You are really doing the most Mr. E, and on the first day, too. ” Tracy rolled her eyes, leaned back, arms folded tightly against her chest.
“Mr. Eyrie. Not Mr. E. Mr. Eyrie. ”
“It’s a term of endearment, okay? Or do you want us to hate you? Cause we can absolutely do that, too.”
He sighed, shaking his head, “I — we’re not getting into that today, okay? We’ve got a new student at the school, and this isn’t the type of impression we want to make as a class. So, settle down and let Travis introduce himself.” He turned questioning brown eyes to Travis who stood suddenly immobilized before them all. “Tell us a little about who you are.”
He froze. Felt their eyes roving over him, wondered if they knew, if they could tell what others had thought of him before, if they knew who he was without him even beginning to part his lips to explain. The rising and falling of his chest quickening, his eyes darted around, seeking a life preserver, someone to reach out and keep him from opening his mouth and blurting out the truth of himself right there, in front of people who barely knew him. People who would see him only as transgender first, and Travis second. A pariah in this new land. His mouth dried, tongue heavy between his lips as he parted them to speak, “Um, I’m Travis.” Wrung his hands around the strap of his bag, “born and raised in California. I’m mostly into video games, like, the fantasy ones where you can — ”
“Fantasy? Like with elves?” Devon piped up, laughing as he did so, “y’all hear this. New boy like playing with them Game of Thrones elves.”
“Ain’t no elves in Game of Thrones, but I guess you’d know that if you could read or afford HBO.”
“What you saying to me?” He stood from his desk, shoving it away as he came to his feet, took a step forward.
“I said that — ”
“Are y’all serious?” Mr. Eyrie stepped between them both. “I think we’ve heard enough for today. Thank you Travis. I hope you, uh, take care of plenty of orcs on your next digital outing. Now, if you’d please take a seat so we can finish going over this syllabus.”
“Where?” Travis waved his hand at the room. All the seats were occupied, leaving no space for himself.
“I — ” the teacher’s face scrunched together in brief concentration, before he sighed, walked to the corner of the room and dragged the stool over to him. “you’ll just have to sit here.”
“You don’t have a desk for me?” His voice incredulous, eyebrows raised in annoyance.
“Just sit down. I’ll make sure you have a desk tomorrow. Please.”
“You can sit next to me, if you want.” Tracy piped up, smiling towards him.
“Uh, yeah. A-aight. I guess.” Travis dragged the stool towards her, grimacing at the screeching of steel on tile, plopped himself down and tried to ignore the sudden lurch of his stomach at the smell of her shampoo, perfume with hints of honey and cocoa, when she leaned over to share her syllabus.
“Since you were late and all.” A mischievous grin crossed her face, “apparently he doesn’t accept late homework.”
“I give him until second quarter when everybody’s failing before he changes that. ” She giggled, pressed her hand to her mouth as he cut his eyes towards her.
“Flirt on your own time.” Mr. Eyrie stared pointedly at them, before casting his gaze down to the paper before him, “as you call can see, at the end of the year you will owe me a twenty page research paper, on an approved topic of — ”
“Twenty pages? Mr. E you can’t be serious.” Devon stared incredulously, “I haven’t even read twenty pages of anything since I was like, five maybe?”
“Way to confirm that you’re the dumb jock stereotype.” Travis muttered under his breath causing Tracy to laugh again as she lifted the paper attempting to shield her face from view, shoulder rising and falling as she did.
“It’s the first day of school. Are you both kidding me right now?” Mr. Eyrie hands were pressed to his hips, brows furrowed, lips tight with exasperation.
“Sorry.” Tracy mumbled.
“Yeah, my bad.” Travis shrugged.
“As I was saying a twenty page paper is due during the fourth quarter.”
Travis’ gaze turned towards the notebook on the desk, watched Tracy’s hand scribble out a quick note:
You want to have lunch with me and my friends? Yes or No?
He stared at it, thoughts racing, churning against the current of his mind. Against things that cautioned he keep his distance, learn his place in this new social ecosystem. Cautioned that he should work to cause the least waves, leaving a ripple of nonexistence in his wake, picked up her pen and circled “yes”.