You’re Cordially Invited to Crossroads Station — Chapter 16

by Mary E. Lowd

An excerpt from You’re Cordially Invited to Crossroads Station. If you’d prefer, you can start with Chapter 1, return to the previous chapter, or skip ahead to the next chapter.

“…the three kits seemed to have entirely settled the matter, right before Anno’s eyes without any interference from parents at all.”

Loi seemed entirely unfazed by her earlier fear and how it had caused her to miss out on the bulk of an outing her two siblings spent the rest of the day talking about.  And somehow, with the sheer force of her personality and determination, she seemed to almost convince Mei and Darso that they’d missed out by not spending a couple extra hours at the playground they’d already spent hours playing at the day before.  Kids are weird.  Their priorities make no sense.  But Anno had faith Mei and Darso would remember their spacewalk for years to come, even if today, they weren’t sure if Loi was right and they’d have been better off skipping it.

Kya convinced Anno to invite the rest of their family to meet up at the same playground the next day.  Very few of them actually showed up — just the ones who lived on the space station and also had kids, so T’reska and Iko — but Anno’s kits were thrilled that they got to play with cousins again, and for the next few days, Anno’s family fell into a comfortable routine — they explored the station, checking out shops and galleries and anything interesting that caught any of their eyes, followed by afternoons at the playground where kits played with cousins and adults ostensibly chatted, but mostly were too busy monitoring the kids to talk about much, and finally take-out dinner in their small rented quarters.

It was both strangely pedestrian, as life often is while dealing with the everyday needs and concerns of kids, and also totally foreign and exciting.  Anno and Drathur were still basically living life, caring for their litter, but they were doing it in a different place and that made everything different.  This had been day to day life for Anno as a child herself, but now, it was other peoples’ day to day life… and for her, it was an exotic vacation.

Anno exchanged messages a few times with Am-lei and Jeko, but mostly, the two brides sounded too busy with their own families, other visiting friends, and last-minute wedding preparations for much contact.  She got a brusque message from Lut, saying that he, his wife, and husband had previous commitments helping another family with their clutch of eggs for the entire month and regretted they wouldn’t be able to visit the station to visit her.  It wasn’t a surprise.  He was clearly still hurt by the way she’d disappeared for eight years.  Which… well, it was fair.  It still stung, and Anno let herself cry a little over it, though she hid her tears from everyone else, even Drathur.

At least, finally, the communication channels were open again between Anno and Lut, and maybe by exchanging messages, being pen pals with her brother, she could eventually earn his trust and friendship back.  It had taken years to push him this far away though, so it might easily take years to pull him back.  Anno would simply have to walk through time as it passed and see.

When it came time for their next big outing — cloud surfing on New Jupiter — once again, Kya was the only member of Anno’s extended family who chose to come along.  When Anno had planned this trip home, she could never have predicted the ways it would turn out while it was actually happening.  She’d hoped to spend time with the brothers she’d been closest to as a child — Lut and Jurnan — instead, she’d found herself distanced from them and close to a sibling she’d mostly squabbled with and tried to avoid as a child.  And yet… even if it wasn’t what she would have expected, it was turning out really nice.

On the intra-solar-system ferry ride between Crossroads Station and New Jupiter, Kya helped Anno explain to Drathur and the kids — who’d never been cloud surfing before — everything they’d need to know.  Then while they all sat and enjoyed the view of those creamsicle clouds growing larger and larger in the wide ferry windows, Anno watched one of the most fascinating conversations she’d ever seen in her life unfold between her sister and the child she’d always thought of — at least until now — as her son:

Darso’s pointed ears flipped between perky tall and distressed flattening as the child said in a slow, halting voice to Kya:  “How did you know you were girl and not a boy?”

Kya had been watching out the window, attention split between the varied chatter happening among the several groups crammed into the ferry and the view out the window.  But when Darso asked that question, she turned away from the view completely and gave the distressed child her full attention.  “That’s a big question,” she said, keeping her own pointy but shorter ears completely forward.  Completely focused on Darso.  “Partly, I just looked at my mom and my sisters and my brothers and all the other people I knew from school and life and also the ones I saw in videos and I thought about which ones I felt I was most like.”

“But you can be like someone without being the same as them,” Darso objected.

“That’s true,” Kya agreed.  “My sister T’reska is a s’rellick — she’s got scales instead of fur, and she’s coldblooded and doesn’t even have any eye lids.  And yet, in many, many ways, she’s more like our mother, Clori the Woaoo than any of the rest of us.  She always has been.  That’s just something that’s true about her heart and her personality and who she is deep down.  It doesn’t have to do with gender or species or anything else that’s easy to measure or see about a person by looking at them.”

Darso’s voice got really small, and Anno had to strain to hear it over the other conversations happening in the ferry.  “Is gender easy to see on a person by looking at them?”

“Only if they want it to be,” Kya said.  “And even that isn’t always true — some species don’t have different genders, or their different genders don’t look different.  And for other species, well, like mine–”  Kya gestured at herself with her gray-striped paws.  “–there are physical signifiers, like my fluffy mane, but way way waaaaaay back when we didn’t have any technology and all lived on planets instead of space stations–”

“I live on a planet!” Darso objected.

Kya smiled.  She’d clearly expected the objection and been leaving room for it.  Now that it was out of the way, she continued.  “Yes, of course, some people still live on planets, but in the past, EVERYONE like us lived on planets, and we didn’t necessarily have the medicine and surgeries necessary to make people’s bodies on the outside match what they could feel about themselves on the inside.  There was a lot of technology that just hadn’t been invented yet.”

Darso nodded very solemnly.  This was a big topic for a little kid — not the gender stuff, that wasn’t such a big deal, but thinking about the past like that?  The idea that there was a time before now?  That’s hard for any person to truly grasp at a deep level, let alone a five-year-old.

“These days, it’s not so hard to turn your body into anything you want it to be,” Kya said.

“Like a robot?” Mei interrupted.  “I’ve decided that if I can’t be an asteroid, I’d like to be a ROBOT.”

Kya and Darso both ignored Mei’s interruption.  She seemed unfazed by being ignored, especially since Loi jumped in and the two of their imaginations were suddenly off and running at a million words per minute on the subject of what kind of robots they’d like to be.

“One of the ways a person can tell if they’re trans sometimes,” Kya said, continuing to talk very seriously with Darso, “is if their body doesn’t feel right to them — like it just doesn’t fit you quite right.”

Darso’s ears flattened, and their shoulders rolled, like the child was taking stock of what it felt like to live in their little fox-like body.  “I don’t feel like that,” Darso finally said.

“What do you feel like?” Kya asked, very gently.

“I don’t know… but maybe… like I might be a girl too.”  Suddenly, Darso’s attention drifted from Kya, where it had been so firmly anchored, and they looked with big, round, troubled eyes at Anno.  “Is that okay?”

Anno smiled and nodded.  “Whoever you are is okay,” she said.  She elbowed Drathur who was sitting beside her, lost in the view of the creamsicle clouds.

“What?” Drathur asked, startled.

“Darso wants to know if it’s okay if they feel like maybe they’re a girl,” Anno supplied, catching her spouse up.

“Oh, yeah, of course,” Drathur said.  “Whatever you feel like is fine.  Would you like us to call you ‘she’ and ‘her’ when we talk about you?”

Darso’s eyes narrowed like the child was thinking very deep thoughts.  Then they — she — nodded.  “And maybe… maybe call me Darsy?  It sounds more like a girl name.”

“Sure, Darsy,” Anno said, relieved that her child had picked a new name for herself that would be easy to remember and transition to using.  “Would you like to pick out something different to wear to the wedding?”  Most of what the kits wore was pretty gender neutral — comfortable shirts and pants.  Bright-colored clothes that were easy to run around and play in.  But of course, each kit had a special outfit laid aside for the wedding.

“Yeah,” Darsy said.  “I’d like a dress… like Mei’s.”

Mei’s dress was a cheerful, shimmery yellow thing.

Suddenly, despite every sign of being deeply engrossed in a nonsensical conversation about robots, Loi looked up and said, “What about my dress?  I’ll trade you — I can wear your suit then.  It’s fancy.”  She had been really enamored with Darso’s — well, Darsy’s now — little vest and tie.

“Uh…” Darsy hesitated.

“Wait!” Mei exclaimed, also reappearing from the imaginary world populated by possible robot avatars for herself where she’d been lost.  “Does that mean I could have Loi’s PINK DRESS?  I want to wear Loi’s pink dress.”

“Okay!” Darsy agreed.  “You take the pink one; I’ll take the yellow; and Loi can wear that stupid gray tie.”

Anno thought the muted gray tie and slightly darker gray vest had looked really nice in contrast to her kit’s bright, fiery orange fur, but then, apparently she wasn’t alone in that since Loi prized it so highly.  It was kind of dizzying for her kits — who’d spent HOURS deliberating over what they wanted to wear to the wedding — to suddenly all trade with each other.  But hey, at least it meant she didn’t have to squeeze in a dress-shopping trip during their final day before the wedding.

The kits’ sudden clothes swap was only possible because, being the same age and species, all three were the same size and build.  Anno and her siblings had never experienced the same convenience as children — clothes designed to fit a Heffen girl with her fox-like build require substantial alteration before they’ll fit her winged brother — and even more alteration before they’ll fit an avian child with two sets of wings, like her even younger Eechie sibling.  Fabrics that are smooth and comfortable against plush fur often caught and snagged against T’reska’s scales.  And the range of feet from paws to talons to hooves among Anno’s siblings simply made hand-me-down shoes impossible.

“Wait!” Mei exclaimed again.  “If Loi’s wearing Darso — I mean, Darsy’s old clothes, and those clothes made Darsy a boy, but now Darsy’s a girl, does that mean Loi is a boy?”

“No,” Loi said.  Simple.  Not offended or defensive.  Just a statement of fact, and that statement was good enough for all of them — the three kits seemed to have entirely settled the matter, right before Anno’s eyes without any interference from parents at all.

“I guess this means we have three daughters now,” Anno said, quietly, to Drathur, once the kits were busy arguing about robots again.

Kya overheard and said, “Maybe you always did and just didn’t know it.”

“Maybe,” Anno agreed.  Privately, she wondered if Darsy just felt jealous and left out, being the only boy in a litter with two girls.  Or maybe if Darsy were trying to emulate a cool new auntie she looked up to.  But then, maybe those things were just emotional triggers that had caused Darsy to realize a truth that had been lying deep beneath the surface for a long time now.  Anno wondered if this would just be a phase, whether Darsy would outgrow it.  But even if it was an impermanent phase, that didn’t matter.  Everything in life — life itself even — is a phase.

Being a girl called Darsy was what Anno’s child wanted — and needed — right now.  It didn’t hurt anything to give it to her.  It was the absolute least Anno and Drathur could do for supporting their newly re-gendered daughter.

Continue on to Chapter 17

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