Cover art by Jeanette Eileen Widjaja
(Note: The text that appears below is a pre-release preview which is taken from a version of the manuscript prior to final proof reading and formatting. As such, it may contain minor errors or typos which will be corrected in the final version of the novel.)
NAOMI HUMMED QUIETLY TO herself as she slid the stylus across the screen of her tablet, putting the finishing touches on the drawing she’d been working on most of the morning. She glanced over at her phone, taking one more look at the picture she was using for reference, then looked at the tablet. She frowned, not quite sure if she was happy with the piece.
“You’re done,” Dillon said.
Naomi looked over at him. “What?”
“You’ve got that look on your face.”
“What look?” Naomi asked.
“The one that says, ‘I’m done, and I know this is a fantastic piece of art, but I won’t be happy unless I spend at least half an hour wallowing in my insecurities.’”
Naomi narrowed her eyes and held up her stylus threateningly. “Are you looking to get stabbed?”
“No, but we’re already in the hospital, so I’m willing to risk it,” Dillon said.
Naomi laughed and turned back to her tablet. She switched out of editing mode and tucked her stylus back into the case. “I suppose if I don’t like it, I can touch it up after the surgery.”
Dillon scoffed. “It’s amazing and you know it.”
“You haven’t even seen it,” Naomi said.
“Come on,” Dillon said. “All your drawings of Anika are amazing.”
“How do you know I’m drawing Anika?”
“Because you won’t let me see it,” Dillon said. “Duh.”
The door opened and Naomi tensed up for a moment, but when she looked, it was just Donna coming back from getting her and Dillon coffee.
“Just so you know, I’m going to stab your son,” Naomi said.
“Go ahead,” Donna said. “I’m sure he deserves it.”
“Hey!” Dillon said.
Donna shook her head as she handed him his coffee, then sat down in the second armchair that was pulled up next to Naomi’s bed. “I’ve told you to stop teasing her about her crush on Anika.”
“I don’t have a crush on Anika!” Naomi said.
Donna gave her a pitying look. “Keep telling yourself that, sweetheart,” she said in a gentle tone. “You know, you could just ask her out.”
Naomi frowned and turned back to her tablet. “Maybe after,” she said.
“Well, it would have to be, unless you’re going to call her right now,” Dillon said. “What time is it, anyway?”
“9:50,” Naomi said. “They should be in soon.”
“Are you okay, sweetheart?” Donna asked.
“Yeah,” Naomi said. “Just a little nervous.”
“You know you don’t have to go through with this, right?” Donna asked.
“I want to!” Naomi said. “I do. I’m just…”
“Scared?” Donna asked.
“Terrified,” Naomi said.
Donna reached out and took Naomi’s hand in hers. “You’re going to be okay,” she said. “And Dillon and I will be right here when you’re done.”
Naomi squeezed Donna’s hand. “Thanks for being here,” she said.
“Where else would I be?” Donna said. “You know you’re my favorite.”
“You know I’m sitting right here?” Dillon asked.
“Oh, please. You know I like her better than you,” Donna said. “It’s true, you know. The day he brought you home, I was like, ‘finally, a kid worth having.’”
All three of them laughed, and Naomi couldn’t help but smile. Her own parents might not have wanted anything to do with her since she’d come out, but honestly, Donna and Dillon had always been more of a family to her than the one she’d been born into. It didn’t keep the fact that her parents hadn’t spoken to her in five years from hurting, but it did make her life bearable.
The door opened again, and when Naomi looked over, she saw the nurse leading in an orderly. She reached up and picked up her phone and tablet and handed them over to Donna.
“Are you ready?” the nurse asked.
“Yeah,” Naomi said.
“No,” Naomi said. “Whatever gave you that idea?”
The nurse looked down at the foot of the bed, where Naomi’s foot was shaking back and forth under the blanket.
“Okay, maybe just a little,” Naomi said.
“It’s okay,” the nurse said. “Everybody’s nervous going into surgery.”
Donna stood up, then leaned over and kissed her on the forehead, before looking up at the nurse.
“You take good care of my daughter,” Donna said.
“Yes, ma’am,” the nurse said as she moved aside the tray table.
Dillon stood up. “See you on the flipside,” he said.
“Sure,” Naomi said. “I’ll still kick your ass at Mario Kart.”
Dillon flipped her the bird, which brought a smile to Naomi’s face as the nurse and the orderly unlocked the wheels on her bed.
Naomi wasn’t sure what to expect when they wheeled her into the operating room. She’d been through all the details with Dr. Campos. The procedure was a new, less traumatic version of gender confirmation surgery. The procedure was carried out by nanites. Millions of tiny robots that would rebuild her body cell by cell. No knives, no stitches, no scarring, no long recovery. She’d known all of that, but she hasn’t expected something that looked like it came out of Kenneth Branagh’s version of Frankenstein. The space where the operating table should have been was instead occupied by a large metal tub, and a platform was suspended above it, hanging by chains from a crane that sat off to the side of the tub.
Dr. Campos came over to her with a smile on his face. “How are you doing today?” he asked.
“A little nervous,” Naomi said.
“That’s perfectly normal,” he said. “I know this must all look scary, but I promise that it’s perfectly safe.”
Naomi took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I trust you,” she said.
“Good,” Dr. Campos said. “Let’s get started, shall we?”
One of the nurses came over and helped her out of her gown. She felt a bit awkward, being naked in front of a room full of strangers, but given what she was there for, they were all bound to get a look anyway, so she just went with it. One of the nurses swung the crane around, so the platform was next to the bed, and Naomi shifted from the bed to the platform. Once she was on it, two nurses held the platform steady as it was shifted back to its original position above the tank, and the crane was locked into position.
A woman stepped up next to her head, holding a mask attached to a long hose in her hand.
“I’m Dr. Wilder,” she said. “I’m the anesthesiologist. This mask will provide you with oxygen while you’re in the tank, and it will carry the anesthetic that will keep you asleep.”
Naomi nodded, and Dr. Wilder carefully fitted the mask on her and started the oxygen flowing, then tightened down the straps. The mask covered her nose and mouth but left the rest of her face uncovered.
“Can you breathe okay?” Dr. Wilder asked.
Naomi gave her a thumb’s up as Dr. Campos stepped up next to the tank.
“The tank is filled with a saline solution that’s held just at about a hundred degrees. It should feel like a warm bath,” he said. “You ready?”
Naomi gave him a thumb’s up, and the platform started to lower into the water. Saline solution. Whatever. Campos was right, though. It felt like a warm bath. It took a minute before she was on the bottom of the tank, but when she was, she looked up and saw Dr. Wilder leaning over. Dr. Wilder gave her a small wave, and a moment later, darkness took her.
Naomi groaned and scrunched her eyes closed tighter, trying to keep out the light that was making its way through her eyelids. It was too early for the sun to be up, and she was planning on having some very pointed words with the laws of physics about the fact that her eyelids weren’t one hundred percent opaque.
She grumbled and scrunched up her whole face.
“I know where you sleep, you little turd,” Naomi grumbled.
Dillon laughed, and Naomi opened one eye to glare at him, only to find herself staring at Donna.
“I swear you’re both still five years old,” Donna said.
Naomi blinked and finally opened both eyes. She looked around for a minute, wondering where she was before it came back to her that she was in the hospital. She felt an odd weight on her chest. Nothing too heavy, but something, so she looked down.
“Oh,” she said. “Those are new.”
Naomi frowned. “Is that my voice?”
“Yeah,” Dillon said. “It’s kind of trippy, actually.”
Naomi sat up a little. At least, she tried to, but she was as weak as a kitten, and fell back against the bed.
“Here,” Donna said. She picked up the control box for the bed and passed it to Naomi. Naomi took it and raised the back of the bed up.
“Why am I so weak?” Naomi asked.
“Dr. Campos said that you’d be weak for a few days, remember?” Donna asked.
“Not really,” Naomi said. She’d tried to pay attention during all the pre-surgery consultations, but she’d been too nervous and excited to absorb a lot of the details. It was one of the reasons she was so grateful for Donna. Donna had gone with her to every consult, and probably knew more about the procedure than Naomi did.
“I figured,” Donna said. “That was the day he asked you what size boobs you wanted.”
“Oh,” Naomi said. “Yeah, no wonder I don’t remember.”
“This is why I tell people you’re my useless lesbian sister. Someone mentions boobs and your brain turns off,” Dillon said.
“Oh, like you don’t eat at Hooters at least twice a week.”
“I like wings!” Dillon said.
“Then why on Earth are you eating at Hooters?” Donna asked. “Their wings suck.”
Naomi laughed at the betrayed look on Dillon’s face.
“You always take her side,” Dillon whined.
“You’re just mad because Mom loves me best,” Naomi said.
“Naomi, don’t say that,” Donna said.
“Ha!” Dillon said.
“It may be true, but it’s not nice to rub it in.”
Naomi laughed as Dillon’s face fell, but after a moment, she went silent and looked down at the swell of her chest under the thin hospital gown. She was tempted to reach up and touch them, just to make sure they were real, but she didn’t want to explain to Dillon and Donna why she was squeezing her brand-new boobs.
“You want to see your face?” Donna asked.
Naomi looked over at her, fully intending to say yes, but the words got stuck in her throat. She’d waited so long for this moment, but now that it was here, she wasn’t quite sure she wanted to look. Every moment of doubt she’d had in her life came rushing back. What if she looked in the mirror and hated what she saw? What if being trans was all in her head, and she wanted to go back? What if her parents were right and it was all just a phase?
Her stomach twisted inside of her, and she was glad she hadn’t had anything to eat in the better part of a week, because if she had, she was sure it would be coming back up. She wanted to say yes, but she was terrified. Donna, God bless her, seemed to understand, and like always, seemed to know exactly what she needed. Donna reached into her purse, pulled out Naomi’s tablet, and passed it to her. Naomi took it, set it on her tray table, and pulled up the camera app. The screen filled with a nice view of her blanket-covered feet and the wall in front of her. She reached out, hesitating for longer than she cared to admit before she hit the icon to switch to the front facing camera.
A face appeared, and Naomi gasped because she knew that face. She dreamed of that face. She must have drawn that face at least a thousand times. It was the face she’d longed for. The face she had wanted ever since her body had started betraying her with broadening shoulders and a deepening voice.
“It’s me,” she whispered reverently as she felt the weight of the person she wasn’t and had never wanted to be lifted off her shoulders. She took a deep breath and looked over at Donna and Dillon. “It’s really me.”