“Hey, Kyle, I—I screwed up, my interview is in like five minutes, would you mind hanging out here ’til I’m back?”
Kyle blinked, looking over his glasses to see his twin sister, Lily, in a tizzy.
“Yeah sure,” Kyle smiled, leaning back in the food court chair.
This was in fact ideal for Kyle. He had already lodged himself perfectly in the middle of the food court between Burger King, Sarku Japan, Panda Express, and Charlie’s Grilled Subs. From this clutch vantage point, he could easily observe the going-ons at each chain, finding the perfect moment to strike.
“Can you hold my new dress? Sorry,” Mia chattered, tossing the dress onto his face, readjusting her wardrobe to look more professional.
“Yes,” Kyle said, his voice muffled by the dress. He lifted it off his face and took a moment to look at it. The plan was to go shopping with his twin sister until her interview at a Starbucks downstairs came by.
However, ‘shopping’ for his sister meant showing Kyle around the various stores, trying to fit him into something presentable for once. Lots of stiff dress shirts and monochrome ties. Of course, that wasn’t really Kyle’s scene and she got frustrated after an hour of it, and treated herself to something nice, and while Kyle wasn’t sure how she would take it if he said it out loud: he thought the dress she picked out was really cute.
“Thanks, you’re the best,” Mia smiled, untying her tight ponytail and combing her hair down. Kyle blinked in amazement as his sister transformed into an older professional with just a stroke of the brush. He gave her a thumbs up as she hurried off to the escalator.
Kyle immediately flinched as he absent-mindedly looked over to the opposite side of the mall, spotting a group of kids from his high school.
A mixture of hot sweat and anxiety sweat dragged him to a halt during gym glass a few days ago. He had come to class that day, determined to hold onto a jog the entire duration of the mile long run. He wanted to push himself, show everyone that he was one of the guys.
Instead, laughs and jeers from the jocks nearly brought him to tears. Guess he was a faggot for trying. Or a loser for running by himself.
What had he done wrong? Why was it him that they singled out?
If they turned their big dumb heads to see him, what would they think? Look at the loser eye-fucking the Burger King menu! Haha! Gaaaaaaaaaaay!
Fortunately, the jocks entered a sports supply store and Kyle breathed a sigh of relief, able to set his eyes back on the prize: the Burger King menu.
He scratched his meticulously clean-shaved cheek as he took in the details.
Whopper…$6.09…yep…Whopper Jr…$4.49 oh huh, guess they boosted the price on that hm interesting…um…Extra Long Cheeseburger…$5.69 wait why would you not get that?
Kyle frowned. He needed no ruler to identify that buying the Extra Long Cheeseburger made more sense; more beef for less bucks. The thought that Charlie’s Grilled Subs dared to even compete with this fantabulous offer was a lark, a misstep that would surely bring ruin to the esteemed fast food chain.
Charlie Subman eat your heart out.
Kyle reached into his skinny jeans and searched for his wallet. Yet all he felt was thin pocket liner being pushed into his hairless legs. His finger on smooth skin; his little secret. If he showed off his legs in gym class, the jocks would just make fun of him even more.
Show off your legs? Wow, Kyle, c’mon. Come back to Earth. You’re just a scrawny loser.
Wait, he knew where his wallet was: on his desk. Yep.
Already having known that his sister would not let him wander into a Game Stop and buy another one of those Amiibos for his collection while on her watch, he defiantly left his wallet behind.
And capitalism wept that day. As did a rare Rosalina ® Amiibo that had been taken in by a nonbeliever.
The way the wallet would cling to his thigh, pushing against his flesh with every step, made his blocky body so tangible to him.
Hunched over, some of his blond locks fell into his face. Blowing them back up, he threw his head back. His hair had grown quite a bit in the past few months. Long enough to tuck behind his ears. He used to be a buzzcut only kind of dude but having long hair softened his pointy puberty face. Sometimes he would even see himself in the mirror and smile at the person staring back at him.
But alas, no wallet meant no money which meant no food. But his brain was already prepped up to eat! Maybe it wasn’t too late to reverse the—
His stomach rumbled so loudly it startled a child strolling past him.
—and then the Lizard Brain kicked in.
He needed a free sample. Didn’t matter what it was, he needed one. Now.
Charlie’s Grilled Subs had a girl with a platter of sandwich samples out front. Perfect! He made a silent prayer to the Big Charlie Subman Up in the Sky to forgive him for his transgressions, and charged towards the girl, his sister’s dress still in hand.
“Hey, welcome to Charlie’s—“
Grab. Bite. Chew. Swallow.
Kyle looked up at the girl. He was so close to her. She looked a little harassed, but still managed to pull off her work outfit with style, overcoming that standardized look and coming out cute and petite. Blushing, he felt a twinge of jealously. He always looked so frumpy in his 7-11 uniform. He wanted to ask her what her secret was to looking so trim when the rest of the mayo and mustard lodged in his throat finally made their great escape to his stomach,
With no food rumbling about in his mouth, there was nothing gluing him there, and suddenly his staring at her began to transform into something uncomfortable. “Oh—uh—sorry—I—I gotta go!”
The girl desperately reached out to him and cried, “Wait I need to ask if you liked the—ah forget it,” but it was no use. Kyle was already on his way back to the table
Aw jeez, Kyle! You can’t talk to people like that! he thought as he rigidly marched back to his table. Crashing back into his chair, he tried to observe the people walking through the mall, but it quickly became boring. But that could only mean…
…the Lizard Brain was still activated. His stomach was still crying out for him.
He was at the precipice of his starvation. Just one more free sample would put him over the edge and rescue him but—he had been so rude to that girl. No way he could show his face around there again. At least not during this round of free samples.
But that was the only place offering free food. Anyway you sliced it, he needed that bitlet of sub.
Leaning back in his chair, gears went into motion. How could he get another free sample without being ID’d as the brutish man who nearly choked on a tooth pick minutes earlier?
Looking down, he realized he had been clenching his sister’s dress, wrinkling it.
Alright Kyle, no need to worry, it’s just going to take a minute. In and out, no one will know the difference.
Kyle walked with his chest puffed up as he made his way towards the bathroom, trying to capture the man who knew what was up. But upon thinking over what he was about to do, he attempted a more wistful walk cycle, swaying his hips back and forth.
Clapping his hand to his forehead, he groaned out loud and resumed his usual unintentional slouch.
He had never worn a dress before but he wouldn’t deny it—it had crossed his mind once or twice.
Girls would walk down the school hallways, seeming so free and liberated in their dresses that would spin and twirl in the breeze.
God, this was such a stupid idea. If anyone from school recognized him, he’d be humiliated forever. Kids already drove by him on his way home just to scream “Faggot!” at him.
Oh whatever, those kids were garbage anyways. All that mattered right now was the blessed offerings from Charlie’s Grilled Subs.
He skidded to a halt as he reached the bathrooms. If only this mall had a Gender Neutral bathroom, but they weren’t woke enough yet. This left Kyle with two choices.
This question of who he was inside was not one he wanted to confront today.
Was he a desperate man in need of some free grub?
Or was he a top-of-the-line female spy masquerading as a man?
It would be better for his cover if he were to go into the women’s restroom. Oh, but what if security found out he was—oh screw it! Let the Lizard Brain drive!
Throwing a hand up against the right side of his face, Kyle stormed into the women’s restroom, wrestling with a panic attack as he rounded the corner to where all the stalls were. Not daring to look past his hand.
His rigid movement through the bathroom would make some of the more observant bathroom dwellers believe he was performing some sort of experimental tribute to Michael Keaton’s iconic Batman performance.
Twisting his whole body towards the first stall on the left, Kyle aggressively rattled the door handle but it would not budge. Groaning, he pressed his entire body against the line of stalls then quickly sidestepped down the aisle, pushing hard until a door finally swung open for him. Slipping into the stall and slamming the door behind him, he breathed a sigh of relief.
Immediately he began disrobing, tossing his ugly plaid shirt into the corner. He unzipped his jeans and tried pulling his feet through the legs without bothering to remove his shoes.
After this effort, he found himself standing in the stall in only his boxer-briefs and sneakers. A chill passed over him; women were swarmed all around him and the second he came out in his thin disguise, they would eliminate him.
He couldn’t explain it, but he knew he was going to screw something up. Maybe it would be his scent that would lead to his downfall. A smelly boy wandering through a women’s restroom.
Sitting on the toilet, he let his hands fall onto his baby smooth legs; they helped him focus.
There were so many women around him. Maybe he would give off telling pheromones by accident, ultimately leading to his eventual humiliating defeat.
He was really in for it this time.
Fortunately, there was a way out.
He slid the dress off of the hanger. A cute summer dress with a floral pattern. He felt one of its shoulders. It was like the blankets on his bed, so soft and welcoming.
Gritting his teeth and trying not to think about it too much, Kyle slipped the dress over his head It immediately encased him in its comfort. It was as if his own sister was there holding him.
He paused, letting the dress hang off his shoulders, his bare legs sticking out.
This mission to retrieve the second free sample had suddenly become attainable, even for an amateur spy like himself.
The dress was so freeing, wavering from side to side every time he shifted his weight. The buzz of the mall around him faded as he became aware of his skin pressed up against the fabric; he felt himself for once and knew he could pull this off.
This was just what he needed to focus.
Reaching behind his back, he searched for the zipper. Blushing, he pulled the zipper up gently, terrified of tearing the dress. Mia didn’t deserve that.
Halfway up his back, the zipper stopped. He tried twisting his wrist to push the zipper up more, but that was as far as he could drag it with one hand. Maybe if he reached over his back with his other arm, he could bring it up the rest of the way?
He reached down with his left arm and felt a tip of metal slide against his finger. Just out of reach. So was it impossible then?
He had to get that free sample.
Grabbing the zipper again with his other hand, he hopped up and down, hoping his momentum would force the zipper up. Eventually it worked, and he jammed the zipper up into his waiting fingers which gently carried the zipper the rest of the way.
The hardest part was over…well…the objective difficulty was done. There was some subjective material he was going to need to digest within a second.
No, he could avoid that. Just keep your eyes on the floor and away from the mirror…
Bundling his boy clothes under his arm, he pressed his ear against the stall door, and like Solid Snake himself he waited until it was all clear to open the door.
And as he did so, he passed by a mirror, a mirror he had hoped to avoid.
You live your whole life identifying as a boy so you expect to see one thing gazing into the mirror after putting on a dress: A stranger.
But the person in the mirror was someone Kyle recognized all too well: he saw her.
A her that suddenly made sense after sixteen years of slouching.
Straightening his back from his stealthy crawl, he got closer to the mirror, finger touching his cheek, testing to make sure this was all real and happening.
He didn’t even notice when his jeans and plaid shirt fell to the wet floor.
Everything he had experienced up to this point, everything he had felt was so dirty. Rumpled. Crinkled. Slouched.
Every reflection he had seen stroll by him, every picture of him out there that existed, were all wrong. That was the stranger, the mysterious person that occupied his life.
She looked at herself for the first time.
This was her. This was the person she dreamed of, the person she longed to become.
The door creaked. She nearly jumped out of her sneakers, flinching. A woman in business attire passed by her. Kyle looked up from under her arm at the woman. The woman smiled at her and went into the bathroom stall.
Kyle’s mouth hung agape as she processed that. Looking back into the mirror, she examined herself. Really took it in.
The way her sister’s frilly dress hid a perfect gap in her broad shoulders. Her puffy cheeks that were so much like her mother’s. Her thin legs attached to narrow hips. Thick eyebrows that brought out her blue eyes. Messy hair born from laziness that hugged her face.
Tears swam in her eyes and she began sobbing uncontrollably.
She froze immediately because the deep intonations of her cries did not bode well in a lair of mostly classically cisgender females. Eyes widening slowly, snot leaking onto her hand, she heard the dreaded, “Wait? Who’s in here?!”
Keeping her hand clamped to her mouth, she sprinted out of the bathroom, leaving her things behind. Gasping for air outside of the stall, she brushed more tears from her eyes.
Her sister was back! Mia must have been looking around the food court for her—him—don’t think her right now, Kyle, you can’t afford to…
“You’re not a girl,” she whispered to himself even though it stung. “Y-y-you’re…just some perverted loser.”
She rubbed his head against the wall, fingers drumming against her neck.
“I’m not a girl—and I’m not a boy—I’m just hungry,” she said to himself, drumming the wall with her knuckle. “Okay. I came here for free samples and I’m getting them.”
Once again, he would need to harness the power of Solid Snake. Once again, she would need to sneaky-sneak past a woman and take what was rightfully his.
“But Solid Kyle,” Colonel Campbell’s wise old voice echoed in her mind. “You can’t be female AND male. You could create a time paradox!”
“Fuck your archaic gender binary, Colonel Campbell!” Kyle shot back venomously.
Mia was coming his way. She didn’t see her yet it looked like, but he only had seconds to get out of the way.
Slipping past Mia, Kyle breathed a sigh of relief, heart threatening to burst out of her chest any second now, and did the smartest thing someone could do while under enemy surveillance: run as if the dogs of war were nipping at your heels.
Kyle ran up to the free samples girl and snatched another sample right off her platter with such agility and grace that the girl didn’t even have enough time to greet her.
But alas, many customers had been blowing off the Free Sample Girl that day at the mall and she really needed some customer feedback. Grabbing Kyle by the shoulder, she started “Hey! I hate to bother you but I’m supposed to—“ and froze upon seeing Kyle’s wide eyes. “Wait, hey, didn’t you—didn’t you already get a sample earlier?!”
Kyle shook her head, mouth full of delicious sandwich, pressing his finger against pursed lips as she backed up behind a pillar in the mall.
“Mmmmmmm!” she cried through the crumbs in a panic.
“You did!” the girl spat. “Well, ya look good! A+ for style.”
Heads were starting to turn. He would be surrounded soon—oh, if only she had a sword to fall onto.
Then the tears that she held back earlier began to fall again.
“Whoa—uh—hey, hey, it’s not a big deal,” the girl whispered carefully.
Kyle’s knees started to give out below him—screw it—her, might as well die with the truth on her lips.
“I-I-I’m s-sorry,” the girl cringed. “D-do you w-want me to—“
“It’s cool, I’ll take it from here.”
Kyle’s heart plummeted into her stomach, dragging the rest of her organs with it, hollowing out her body so that a mere gust of wind would crumple her into dust.
Mia threw her hands on her hips, sizing up her sister with a smirk. “If you wanted another free sample, you could have just asked me to—“
Kyle tried forcing a smile on, but she really couldn’t right now. She really couldn’t hold it together like this, this was all way too much. A slow summer’s day bouncing from chain store to chain store had erupted into a cacophony.
“—hey, um, hey, what’s wrong?” Mia asked, gently grabbing Kyle’s bare arms, thumbs sliding onto her wrists. Never before had anyone ever really touched Kyle—too off-put by her baggie hoodies and awkward jokes. Now her sister was holding her hands so sensitively.
Kyle buried her face into Mia to muffle her cries.
“Hey, please don’t cry,” Mia said in a shaky voice. “It’s okay! D-d-don’t be embarrassed!”
“Don’t tell Mom,” Kyle said in a voice that she desperately wanted to be a whisper.
“I won’t, I won’t, I—y-you look really beautiful in my dress.”
Kyle drew her head back to see that cocky smirk she always thought of when she pictured her sister and instead found tears that almost rivaled her own.
“I just want you to be happy, okay?” Mia choked, burying her face into Kyle’s. “I love so goddamn much and I’m gonna be here with you every step of the way, okay?”
Kyle tried to bury her face into Mia but quickly found out that was a difficult maneuver with a face already buried into her, and the two promptly collapsed to the floor, still holding each other.
“I’m scared,” Kyle squirmed into Mia’s embrace, winning the battle of who could be the least dominant in this situation.
“I’m here,” Mia squeaked, running her hand through Kyle’s golden hair.
Kyle shut her eyes and let her sister hold her, and finally that cacophony fell back into calm.
“Hi!” the girl from Charlie’s Grilled Subs interrupted. Mia and Kyle snapped awake, looking up at the server. “I’m supposed to survey what people think of our sub samples.”
Kyle perked up and thought about it for a good long time, then burst into laughter. Mia laughed through tears, holding Kyle ever tighter.
“Um…” the sub girl allowed a flicker of a smile before getting back to business.
Kyle looked up from Mia and with the brightest smile she had ever made, and said “It was life-changing.”