Content Warnings: homelessness, transphobic relatives
"Light As A Feather" by A.E. Ross
2,100 words, Short fiction
CW: homelessness, transphobic relatives
The ebbing light filtered into the small gas station where Wren Yu stood, fingers drumming on the worn plastic of the counter as she reflected on what it meant to want. More than ever, Wren knew that there was nothing in the world like wanting. It was overpowering, like the sugar rush that accompanies the first slurpee of summer. She felt the sweetness in herself, running roughshod through her veins, decaying her joints and bloating her brain until all she could think about was the feeling of dark lipstick smeared across her skin. She crystallized, like rock candy, at the thought of those lips, as if she was about to shatter into a million sugar-sharp shards. By the time the light finally ran out and left the town of Moscow, Idaho, in darkness, all that would remain of her was a fine dust of Lick ‘Em Aid. Of this, she was certain.
The scrubby stubbled check-out kid scanned Wren’s supplies as she ran her tongue across her bottom lip. The skin there was cracked and sharp, a symptom of the unseasonably cold weather that had wandered into Moscow despite the summer having just descended in a haze of pollen. Her eyes lingered on a small display of chapstick next to the register. If she bought some, it would draw attention to the fact that her lips were chapped to hell. The clerk might take notice, might judge her for looking ragged and frayed. The anxiety in the pit of her stomach solidified into a hard lump as she snaked out a hand to grab a tube of mocha balm, dropping it onto the counter next to her protein bars and instant coffee. The kid looked up at her, and she instinctively looked away, pretending to be interested in the candy selection. She had seen him around campus, she was sure of it. Probably a sophomore or something. Movies make it seem like people in flyover towns all know each other but in Moscow some types tend to keep to themselves. The Yu family weren’t an exception to that by any stretch. Wren pulled a battered twenty out of her jeans pocket and handed it over to the clerk, trying not to flinch at the bright ding of the register. Waving off the receipt, she snatched the plastic bag from the counter and headed out, past the pumps and across the street towards the cemetery.
She wrenched open the sliding door of the airbrushed camper van parked at the curb, tossing her supplies onto the seat. A couple of empty soda bottles rolled onto the floor, coming to a gentle stop beside the cardboard tube that contained her college diploma. She hadn’t bothered to have it framed or even unroll it; there was nowhere in the van for it to hang, and no one to see it. Wren grabbed a blanket and slid the door shut again, turning away from the bright lupine eyes that had been lovingly pressure-blasted on the chrome. The last sliver of sun sank down out of sight as she stalked across the lawn, rows of headstones passing her by in gentle concrete waves.
Wren spread her blanket out onto the astro turf before sinking down to sit, spreading and contracting her fingers to feel the fleece between them. She tipped her head back to rest against the headstone as reality fell like a long shadow, leaving her cold and sober. The flipside of that candy crush feeling was the knowledge that just because you wanted something, it didn’t mean you would get it. On the other side of the stone at her back, her best friend was lying six feet below the soil. Wren and Vivianne were not easily separated. This was easily the longest they’d ever gone without seeing each other. And it wasn’t that Wren didn’t know what she had until it was gone: she could still remember the sleepover party years ago where she and their other friends had stood around Vivianne where she lay on the kitchen table, hoping to levitate. She could still feel two fingers on each hand tucked beneath the soft skin of her best friend’s hip, and while Vivianne didn’t rise, something in Wren did.
Above her, the moon hung in the sky, a reluctant caretaker. Wren’s dark brown eyes flashed gold as she changed form, soft skin becoming a brown-grey pelt that kept her warm while she slept through another cold summer night.
The damp dark dirt pressed down onto Vivianne Vincent’s eyelids as she thought about the difference between wanting and needing. She had made it halfway out of the coffin in a surge of newly-born bloodlust, tongue plucking at her emerging fangs; sharp strangers in her mouth. Once that first burst of need wore off, she just lay there pressed between pine and dirt, lungs sagging empty without any urge to be filled. This was the point at which most baby vamps gave up, somewhere between desperate hunger and the desire to maybe just sleep forever instead. Only ten percent of the freshly turned ever made it out into the moonlight, or at least that’s what the blood-drunk frat boy had told her as she sliced open his skin with an acrylic nail, immortality close enough that she could smell the copper.
Vivianne snorted sharply as a curious beetle tickled her nostril on it’s journey from forehead to chin. She was so tired. She could feel the half-windsor knot of her polyester tie closing in around her throat and that made her feel exhausted. Because, of course they had buried her in a suit. Worse, she knew that when, if, she finally made her way to the surface, the name on the tombstone would be deader than she was.
Dying had been a calculated risk, one that first came to her as she was half-drunk on Versed, coming out of anesthesia after her most recent colonoscopy. The inflammation inside of her was no worse or better than it had been two years prior, and in another two years time she knew she’d be right back in the same place: waiting for the nurse to bring her apple juice and trying not to think about the lube in her asshole as the world came back into focus. The more she read and researched, she knew: she needed this. Yes, even if it meant that four years of estrogen was all she’d ever get, breasts resigned to be as humble as those of the poet Shakira. More than anything she just wanted to have a social life, one without stomach cramps and urgently cancelled plans and the sight of blood, bright in the bowl. If she had to be dead to live, then so be it. The classmate who’d turned her was more than happy to oblige.
Vivianne winced as she sliced the tip of her tongue on one fang, dizzy at the taste of her own blood beading to the surface. She wanted more. Pulling her legs out of the coffin one at a time, earth pressing in from every side, she used the unbroken half of the lid as leverage, propelling herself upwards. Arms stretched over her head, Vivianne crawled through dirt and loam, lips and eyelids pressed tight to keep the onslaught at bay. She had expected the cold air on her hand to feel jarring. What she hadn’t prepared for was the warm palm that found hers as soon as she broke the surface. Before she could brace herself, Vivianne felt herself being pulled from the ground like a beetroot, red and raw right out of the grave. Collapsing on the grass, she stared up at the figure standing over her, silhouetted by the full moon that hung high overhead.
“That was the longest two weeks of my fucking life.” Wren said, and Vivianne surprised herself, choking back a sob at the familiar gravel in her best friend’s voice. Wren bent down over Vivianne, the rough warmth of her skin pulsing with life as she smoothed the hair from her dirt-stained brow, tucking an ombre strand behind Vivanne’s ear with a deft flick of the thumb. If her heart could still beat, she knew, it would be loud enough for all of Moscow to hear.
“Wren, I—” she started, realizing her vocal chords had become stiff and sore from disuse. Before she could try again, Wren produced what looked like a Gatorade bottle, but it’s contents were darker and thicker than any sports drink.
“I know, you’re hungry. My brother dated a vamp, remember?” Passing the bottle to Vivianne, she looked away. Vivianne gave into the hunger pangs without a second though, draining the bottle in under a minute. It tasted warm and bright. She could feel it flooding her body like electrolytes, the ground beneath her starting to feel more solid by the second.
“Was that—who was that?” She asked, tongue greedily searching her lips for any lost remnant. Wren looked back, uneasy.
“A deer.” She didn’t look disgusted, she looked uncertain. It was a distinction Vivianne had learned to identify the past few years, for her own safety. “Come on,” Wren said, holding out a hand to help Vivianne up. “I brought you a change of clothes.” Her stomach dropped as she reached out to take Wren’s hand, but not because of the blood; because of Wren. It was the softness in her tone. The warmth in her grasp. The way she couldn’t seem to meet Vivianne’s eyes, and for the first time in their friendship, Vivianne found she couldn’t look away.
Vivianne let Wren lead her across the cemetery lawn, their fingers still curled together, palms pressed tight. She was not willing to let go. At the edge of the grass, Wren’s uncle’s camper van was parallel parked, poorly. Wren opened the sliding door nodded to the back seat where Vivianne could see her old backpack sitting, stuffed full.
By the time Vivianne climbed back out, the ill-fitting suit swapped for one of her favorite summer dresses and a soft, faded hoodie, Wren was sitting on the curb, staring at her hands. Using a couple of napkins and a little spit, Vivianne tried to wipe the dirt from her face. Pulling out a tube of plum lipstick, she angled up the van’s side mirror to see nothing but a sky full of stars.
“Right.” she said, rolling her eyes. Turning back to Wren, she reached into her pocket for an elastic and pulled her pastel hair into a high ponytail. “I can’t believe they didn’t try to cut my hair…and they kept my nails?” She looked down at her hands, tutting. “I mean this manicure is useless now, but still.” Wren laughed, wry and sad in the same breath.
“I just told them how much they cost.” She said, pulling herself up to stand at her full height, a fair few inches shorter than Vivianne.
Vivianne leaned back against the van. “This your new digs?” she asked. Wren nodded. “So your parents didn’t take it well, then.” Vivianne said.
“They did not.” Wren confirmed with a sigh. Vivianne raised an eyebrow.
“I thought you were going to wait till—”
“Till I had a girlfriend, I know.” Wren cut her off, eyes on the ground. Vivianne’s bare feet were immaculately clean from the tight dress socks, unlike the rest of her, which was still covered in a light layer of earth.
“No, you said you weren’t going to tell your parents until you were in love, you fucking romantic.” she said. Wren looked up at Vivianne, brown eyes serious even as the dark swoop of her bangs fell down across them.
“In that case, I should have come out to them six years ago.” Wren said. Vivianne wanted to step forward and take Wren into her arms. Wanted to fold herself around her best friend like a shield; to keep her safe.
Instead, she said “Your lips are chapped.”
Wren blinked once and moved forward, eyes flashing yellow as she pressed Vivianne back against the cold chrome of the van. She could feel her friend’s breath, warm against her chest. “May I kiss you?” she asked, in a low, serious tone.
“You’re not afraid?” Vivianne asked, uncertain. Wren looked up at her, held her gaze sternly.
“Only of losing you again.” The moment that Wren’s lips pressed against hers, throat tipped up and vulnerable, Vivianne could swear she felt her heart beat again. The truth was, she was the one who had been afraid. She did not regret the decision she had made, but she was terrified the path she had chosen would be one she walked alone. As Wren drew back, the corners of her lips tipped up in a grateful smile, Vivianne exhaled an empty breath.
“Thank you.” she said. “I needed that.” Wren reached out to grab her hand, entwining their fingers once again.
A.E. Ross lives in Vancouver, B.C. with one very grumpy raincloud of a cat. When not writing fiction, they can be found producing and story-editing children’s cartoons, as well as producing & hosting podcasts like The XX Files Podcast. Their other works have appeared on Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Netflix (and have been widely panned by 12-year-olds on 4Chan) but the projects they are most passionate about feature LGBTQIA+ characters across a variety genres. A.E. Ross's debut novel, Run In The Blood, was released in 2017 from NineStar Press.