(Content notes: Story starts with transphobia and betrayal)
Angela hummed a song by Jackson Browne as she surveyed the damage. The smells of sweat, beer and marijuana mingled in her nostrils and she was left with the perpetual question, “How does this much junk even get in here in the first place?”
She couldn't compare her fans to anyone else's, because she'd never had to pick up after anyone else's fans, but she dreamed of a day when either the fans would pick up after themselves, or the band would be successful enough to hire someone to clean out the venue afterward.
Every so often they were able to book a place with its own cleaning staff, but more often the played in smaller spots, half the time they seemed to be in a high school gym, and part of the deal was that they'd leave it as good as they found it.
Which meant going from playing music in front of a cheering crowd, to picking up the garbage said crowd had left on the ground because, apparently, they had some kind of problem with trash cans. She loved their fans, and understood that they weren't playing easy listening, but the mess was always annoying as hell.
Browne was right; the only time that seemed to short was the time that they got to play.
The other members of the band were loading up their equipment while she was looking around the venue and trying to work out the best plan of attack for the ensuing clean up.
And that's when she heard something she shouldn't have heard.
The crowd had already left, everyone was supposed to be gone, it was clean up time. She shouldn't be hearing another human being. And certainly not a sobbing one.
She followed the sound to a spot that wasn't quite dark and wasn't quite a corner, but was close enough to a dark corner for people to walk right by without noticing the ball of sadness slumped against a wall in it.
At first she thought that it was a woman, maybe college age, about their standard demographic, but as she approached she wasn't so sure. The long dark hair was falling off the person's head, revealing shorter blonde hair underneath. The person's shirt was ripped, and a bra cup visible through it was empty. Whatever had been stuffing it, and based on the other one, still hidden under the shirt, something had been, was gone.
The person's face was indeterminate. Makeup had been applied at some point, but it was a mess now. Tears and snot had both stained the face, and the sobbing was only broken by gasps for breath.
Angela decided that until she was told otherwise the person was a girl. Otherwise she might be siding with whoever left her in this state. The girl hadn't noticed her, Angela walked right next to her, put her back against the wall, and then slid down to the disgusting sticky floor.
Angela put her arm around the girl, who still had yet to notice her, at least based on surprised flinch when Angela did. Then she asked, “You ok?”
The girl didn't look at her, she just said (in a fairly masculine voice), “Do I look ok?”
“Well not to me, but I think anyone who wears those silly plastic shoes doesn't look ok, so who am I to say?”
The snort that produced somehow mixed a laugh and a cry. The girl finally looked at Angela. She said flatly, “My first impulse is to say, 'Oh my god you're-'”
“Angela,” Angela said.
“-in a really excited voice. But I'm sort of out of excitement at the moment.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
The girl just looked at her.
“On second thought, let's get you cleaned up,” Angela said. “You good for standing?”
“Probably,” the girl said, her voice still flat, “but I make no promises.” For the briefest of moments after saying that she had what was almost a grin or a smirk, but then it disappeared.
The two got up and Angela led the college-girl, whose name she still didn't know, to the nearest restroom. She sensed some resistance to going into the female restroom, but it passed before a word was said and the two went in.
Angela said a silent prayer of thanks that there was still a paper towel dispenser, she'd been in plenty of restrooms where they had been entirely replaced by hand driers of the blowy nature. She got some, got them wet, and began to clean the girls face. When the wig got in the way the girl took it off. Angela thought she looked pretty without it.
“So,” Angela started, “Care to tell me what happened?”
“I was betrayed by the only people I thought were my friends.”
“Ok... That sucks but it leaves a lot of blanks to fill in and unless you give me some help I'm going to need to fill in those blanks with terrifying space monkeys.” Angela was glad to see that that did get a half smile. Improvement was being made.
“Alright,” there was a pause. “Uh,” another pause. “Where do I start?”
“I find that the beginning is a good place.”
“In the beginning there were the dinosaurs, but they got too big and-”
“That's probably too far.”
“In the beginning I was born.”
“Probably still too far.”
“No. It's not.” It was the most forceful thing the girl had said, and Angela simply waited for more. “I was born wrong. I was a perfectly healthy baby boy, and no one saw any problem with that but me.”
The college-girl took a deep breath, “It took me years to figure out that that's what was wrong, and for years longer I hid it from everyone because I was afraid of what they'd do if they found out.
“Then... then finally... Then I went to university. I was surrounded by completely different people who didn't have any expectations about me, and I made friends with a group of girls my age.
“I thought we were good friends, I thought I could trust them. After a while I thought I could trust them with anything. So I told them. I told them that I wasn't supposed to be male and at first they were shocked, but then they seemed to be accepting and supportive.
“And uh... and we're on break right now and they suggested that we go on a road trip to see... to see you. We'd spend the break following you from stop to stop, no one would know me but them, so I could spend the whole time being female without having to worry about being found out because it wouldn't matter if a stranger found out.”
She stopped talking.
Angela said, “I'm guessing things didn't go to plan.”
“Oh they went to plan, just not mine,” her anger was evident.
“You know,” Angela said, “I don't even know your name.”
“Jesse, that's a nice name.” Angela paused for a bit, then asked, “What happened tonight?”
“Tonight was our first stop. As far from home as we were ever going to be. So we came out here, started to enjoy the music, and then,” Jesse sniffled, “and then they outed me in front of everyone within hearing distance and told me what they really thought about me.”
“And I'm guessing that it wasn't all complements on your storytelling,” Angela said.
“They ripped open my shirt, my favorite shirt, just so that everyone could see what they were saying was true.” Jesse started crying again. Not sobs, just tears running down her face. “So everyone could see what a freak I am.”
“I don't- look at me. Look me in the eye so you can see I'm telling the truth. That's better. I don't think you're a freak.”
“You don't?” Angela wasn't sure if she heard doubt or gratitude.
“I don't,” Angela said firmly. Then, more casually, she added, “But we can't have you going around in that ripped shirt.” And there was a simple solution, Angela had been raised in a fundamentalist church that thought any kind of social justice was godless socialism but it had also idolized the Bible, which led her to actually read the thing. Someone was in front of her who didn't have a good shirt, she was wearing two -a black outer one and a red inner one- clearly God wanted her to give one away.
Angela took off her outer shirt and said, “Here, it's sweaty as all hell and probably a bit small for you, but it's in one piece.”
Jesse looked confused.
Angela explained, “It's a shirt, you put it on,” and after a pause added, “but before you do you, might want to adjust your... your uh... your boobs. We can't have you walking around with one boob.” Actually they could, Angela thought, who would object?
Soon the two of them left the bathroom, each wearing one shirt, and Jesse appearing to have two equal sized breasts. Angela was carrying Jesse's torn shirt and trying to figure out what to do next. As Jesse had put it, amid more tears, she'd been left, “without money, or id, or a way to contact anyone three states away from home.” The simplest solution seemed to be buying her a bus ticket. And initially that was what Angela planned to do. It was two steps before she abandoned that plan.
That girl all alone on a long trip in this state of mind? Bad idea.
Three steps more and Angela had made up her mind, “Do you want to tag along with us?”
Jesse was shocked, “What?”
“We've got some extra space and we're headed that way. It'll be slow because we're not exactly taking the most direct route, and you'll be late for your classes by the time we get there, but it wouldn't cost you anything and...” Angela was trying to find a way to make this convincing without saying, 'and you're in such a fragile state I'm afraid to leave you on your own.' She didn't need to.
Jesse said, “Yes! I'd love to.”
And then all that remained was to sell it to the rest of the band.
“Where have you been?” Isa asked as soon as Angela came into sight. All three of the other band members were waiting.
“Making a new friend. Everyone this is Jesse, she's going to be tagging along with us for a while.” That no objections were immediately raised had to be a good sign. “Jesse, these are Isa, Kaki, and Cassy. Don't get the two with the ka- names confused, they hate that.”
“I know,” Jesse said, her voice more feminine, less than ideal but passable, “I'm trying very hard not to be an annoying fangirl right now.”
“Keep trying,” Isa said, “Don't ever stop trying.” There was a pause. “Do that and we'll probably get along. Though I make no promises.”
Angela smiled, Jesse had said almost the exact same thing. She had a feeling they'd get along.
“What?” Isa asked.
“Nothing important. We've got a lot of cleaning to do.” She threw Jesse's shirt to Cassy, “Afterwards could you see if you can fix that?”
“Sure,” Cassy said.
Kaki walked up to Jesse and said, “Come on, I'll show you what we need to do,” and led her away.
Isa came in for a private conversation with Angela, “Why are we becoming a taxi service?”
“I'll tell the whole story to everyone once we're done here, or Jesse can, but the short version is that I don't think she can make it on her own.”
Isa nodded. “If she plays nice, I'll play nice.”
Then they all got to cleaning.