TITLE: Having Her Back
COVER ARTIST: Lori Witt
LENGTH: 64,000 words
PAIRING: Heterosexual, Transgender
GENRE(S): Young Adult, Sweet Romance
RAINBOW AWARDS - BEST TRANSGENDER BOOK
1st place, Lesbian/Bi/Trans Young Adult
IPPY AWARDS - Bronze Medal, Young Adult/Juvenile Ebook
eLit Book Awards - Silver Medal, Young Adult/Juvenile Fiction
Trevor Larson is a Navy brat. He’s used to moving every few years, and thanks to social media, he can stay in touch with the friends he leaves behind. But shortly after he leaves Okinawa, his best friend, Brad Gray, cuts off contact and disappears.
Four years and two bases later, Brad resurfaces—and announces his family is coming to Trevor’s base in Spain. But a lot’s changed in four years, and Trevor is stunned to find out Brad is now Shannon. Their reunion isn’t quite what either of them had hoped for, but they quickly find their footing, both relieved to have each other back.
Except nothing is ever all sunshine and roses. The military is a small world, and there’s no keeping Shannon’s transition a secret. Parents warn their kids away from her. She can’t attend school on-base for fear of harassment or worse. And although her parents try to hide it, being ostracized by their only social circle while they’re thousands of miles from home is taking a toll on them too.
More and more, Shannon leans on Trevor. But she’s also drawn to him, and he’s drawn right back to her, feeling things he’s never felt for anyone before.
Trevor’s scared, though. Not of dating a trans girl. Not of damaging his chaplain father’s career or reputation. After finally getting his friend back, does he dare take things further and risk losing her a second time?
Chapter 1 : Trevor
So my dad has orders to Rota.
A “holy shit!” almost flew out of my mouth, but I stopped it. Good thing, too—cussing at church was never a good idea, especially when you’re the chaplain’s kid.
“Trevor!” my mother snapped. “What are you doing?”
I quickly shoved my phone in my pocket. “Sorry.”
She glared at me. “I’m serious. No phones at church.”
“I know. Sorry.” Even out here in the vestibule, where everyone was milling around before the service, my parents didn’t like me using it. Usually I was better at being sneaky about it and could steal a glance at my e-mail when Mom’s back was turned.
She shot me another look and then went back to chatting with some of the other wives while they drank coffee from Styrofoam cups.
Next to her, I fidgeted and tugged at my collar. At least Dad didn’t make me wear a tie anymore. I still had to dress nice and all of that, but outside of December through February, Spain was too hot for ties even with the A/C inside the church.
Across the vestibule, Dad was talking to the Catholic chaplain and tugged at his own collar. He didn’t have a choice—he still had to wear his uniform when he did his sermon—but he’d put his foot down and refused to make me swelter like he did.
“I want him to enjoy church,” I’d heard him telling Mom one summer on Okinawa. “If he’s sitting there being miserable, he’s going to hate it.”
Okay, so I still didn’t really enjoy church, but at least I wasn’t melting.
While Mom continued chatting, I wandered away and took a couple of cookies from the box by the coffeepots but didn’t really taste them. I was too busy thinking about that e-mail. I’d been hoping for it for months now, ever since families had started trickling into the base after the Navy had reassigned three ships from the States to Spain. It wasn’t all that unusual for people I knew to transfer to the same base. It’s one of those things with being a Navy brat; sometimes you move away from your friends, and then sometimes you wind up at a base with people you knew from another one. Three of my other Okinawa friends were already here.
And with the ships moving a few thousand people to this base, it was the like a duty station jackpot.
But there’d been one person I’d wanted to hear from, and that was Brad, my best friend from Okinawa. He’d dropped off the face of the earth after I’d moved away four years ago, and I’d been holding out hope that he’d show up here sooner or later.
So my dad has orders to Rota.
I’d been hoping for the e-mail or even just a sign of life on social media or somewhere, but then it showed up and startled the hell out of me. Like I’d been praying for it for so long, I couldn’t believe it had actually arrived, and now I didn’t know what to think.
I glanced over my shoulder to make sure Mom was still busy and then took out my phone and read the e-mail again.
So my dad has orders to Rota. I’ll be there next month. Are you still stationed there?
Short and to the point, which Brad’s e-mails usually weren’t, but he was talking to me and he was on his way here. We could catch up on everything else when I e-mailed him back. Or when he got here.
When he got here!
I tucked the phone back in my pocket, and couldn’t help grinning like an idiot. Man, I hadn’t felt this giddy since one of my other buddies from Okinawa moved here last year. Brad was on his way to Spain! Next month! How the hell was I going to wait that long?
Someone tapped my shoulder. I turned around, and my mother nodded toward the sanctuary. The service was about to start, so I followed her to our usual spot in the front left pew. As other people filed in and the organist played the songs I’d memorized a billion times over, I didn’t dare take out my phone—my mom would make sure I never saw it again—but my brain was all over that e-mail. And the more I thought about it, the more the giddiness faded away. In its place, a knot started growing in the pit of my stomach.
How did he know I was here? Had he been in contact with someone else? Maybe lurking on the base youth Q&A board?
But more importantly, why was he e-mailing me now? His family was on their way next month, which meant they’d had orders for a while. Like six months at least, unless his dad had gotten slam orders, and most people got slam orders to shitty places like Norfolk or Nebraska. And if he was coming with one of the ships that were going to be home-ported here, then he’d definitely known. My other friends who had parents on the ships had been posting about it on Facebook for the better part of a year.
But Brad wasn’t on Facebook anymore. He wasn’t on Twitter or Tumblr. His e-mail still seemed active—none of my messages had ever bounced—but he’d stopped responding a few months after I’d left Okinawa. One day, we were instant messaging and joking around on Facebook. The next, his account was gone. Nobody else had heard from him either. I’d even e-mailed his mom to make sure he was okay, and at least she’d written back and said “Bradley’s fine,” but she hadn’t replied when I’d asked her to pass a message on to him. After that, I didn’t hear anything from anyone. No one did.
And now this.
So my dad has orders to Rota.
I fidgeted on the pew, trying not to make the old wood creak and draw attention to myself. From the pulpit, Dad glanced at me. He didn’t miss a beat, but we made eye contact, and I cringed. I hoped this wouldn’t be one of those times when he grilled me in the car to make sure I’d paid attention during his sermon. He was pretty easygoing about most things, especially compared to most of my friends’ dads, but God help us if I screwed off during church. How many times had Brad and I gotten chewed out by our dads after church on Okinawa? I couldn’t even count. Mom had even tried to forbid us from sitting together because we distracted each other.
Kind of ironic that Brad was the reason I was distracted now. He was probably thousands of miles away—I had no idea where his dad had been stationed after Okinawa, or if they’d ever left the island at all—but he was definitely screwing up my attention span.
Why had he disappeared like that? We’d promised to stay in touch, and yeah, not everybody did after they changed duty stations, but we’d been tight since fourth grade. We’d fought like anybody did, but it was never over anything really bad. And whenever there’d been major stuff in our lives—like when our dads came back from their combat tours—we’d been rocks for each other. When he told me he was gay and thought his parents would flip out, I’d gone with him to tell them. A year and a half later, when I’d stupidly tried Spice and freaked the hell out, he’d had his older brother drive me straight to the hospital and then called my parents, and he’d stayed with me the whole time until the hallucinogenic effects had worn off and I’d started to calm down.
Six months after the Spice incident, I’d left Okinawa, and…that was it. He was gone so fast, he might as well have been one of the giant screaming spiders the drug had convinced me were there—they’d seemed absolutely real even though they were nothing but a figment of my imagination.
I was excited to see Brad when he came to Rota, but the more I thought about it, the more I worried about it. Had I done something wrong? Had he just outgrown me and now wanted to meet up again since he didn’t know many people here? How long until he outgrew me again?
All the way through the rest of Dad’s sermon and all the way home as I stared out the window of my parents’ car, I felt weirder and weirder about Brad. I wasn’t quite so excited anymore. I didn’t really know what I felt.
Dad unlocked the gate to our villa, and we filed inside. As I stepped through the gate, though, he stopped me. “Hey. Trevor.”
I halted inside the gate. “Yeah?”
He didn’t say anything right away, and my stomach flipped. He was waiting for Mom to go inside. Dad nudged the gate shut with a metal clang, and then he led me onto the terrace where we were out of the sun. There, we both sat. He’d changed out of his uniform and into shorts and sandals—we lived off-base, so he had to be in civvies when we left—but still had on his chaplain face. That kind of stern, kind of gentle expression he used when he was giving a sermon.
“Listen to me, but talk to me,” as he always said when we had serious conversations.
Finally, he said, “I noticed you were staring off into space during church.”
My gut twisted, and I dropped my gaze. “Sorry.”
I thought he’d give me that sigh and then start lecturing me, but he didn’t. He just kept watching me. After a minute or so, I looked up at him. “What?”
Dad tilted his head. “Something on your mind?”
“What do you mean?”
“Trevor.” He leaned back and pulled his foot up onto his other knee. “I can tell when you’re daydreaming, and I can tell when you’re preoccupied. I don’t think you were just daydreaming this morning.”
I avoided his eyes.
I chewed my lip and finally said, “Brad e-mailed me this morning.”
“Oh really? You haven’t heard from him in quite a while, have you?”
“No. Not since we left Okinawa.”
“I see.” He paused. “So, what did he have to say?”
I lifted my gaze. “He’s moving to Rota.”
“Is that… Is that a good thing?”
“I don’t know. I don’t…” I blew out a breath. “I mean, I miss my friend like crazy, but he dropped off the face of the earth. Now he’s just back? Out of the blue? What am I supposed to do with that?”
“Has he said anything about why he disappeared? Or if he wants to hang out again?”
“No. He just said he’s coming to Spain and asked if I was still here.”
Dad pursed his lips. “Maybe he just needed to grow up a bit. He might’ve realized he misses you.”
“But why did he disappear in the first place?”
“Don’t know. That’s probably something you should ask him.”
I sighed. “Yeah. Probably.”
“Trevor.” He put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed gently. “We both know the military life is tough. Even with the internet, it’s hard to stay in touch with people, and sometimes…well, people lose contact. But whatever the reason, he’s reaching out to you now.” He took his hand back. “So my advice would be to give him a chance. Once you’ve gotten a feel for him, then maybe broach the subject and find out what happened before.”
“Okay. I can do that.”
“Good.” He rose. “We’d better get inside. I think your mother’s got a list of chores for all of us.”
I groaned as I stood. “Again?”
He just chuckled and herded me into the house.
Brad: The thing is… I’ve changed. A lot.
I read and reread the line from Brad’s instant message. We’d been IM-ing back and forth for a few days, mostly about what it was like in Spain and how many of our friends had also moved here. And now this.
He’d be here in two weeks. I was already counting down the days until I’d get to see him again.
And now… this.
Gnawing the inside of my cheek, I wrote back.
Trevor: How do you mean?
Brad: It’s hard to explain.
Well, that didn’t help much.
Okay. Had he changed religion or something? Some of my friends were weirded out when they found out my dad was the chaplain. Like they thought I’d try to convert them, or my dad wouldn’t let them come around if they weren’t Protestant.
Brad knew better, though. Right?
Trevor: Like, you look different? Or what?
Brad: Kinda. Yeah.
Trevor: Look, it’s all good. It’ll just be cool to see you again. It’s been a long time.
Silence. He started typing. Then stopped. Started again. Stopped. I lost count of the stops and starts before a message finally appeared.
Brad: It’ll be cool to see you too.
Brad: I just really don’t know how to explain all this.
Brad: But I wanted you to have a heads up.
Before I could start typing, two more messages followed:
Brad: I really want to see you again.
Brad: But when we meet up, please don’t freak out.
Freak out? What the hell?
I stared at the message. Read it over and over and over again. Why would I freak out? I started to type a response to ask him what he meant, but he beat me to it.
Brad: gtg – movers are here. ttyl.
And then he was gone.
I sat back and exhaled. I had no idea what the deal was, but at least I’d get to see my friend. After four years of wondering where the hell he’d gone, that was all I cared about. Freak out? Not a chance.