Nervous didn’t quite cover how Nat was feeling. Nervous was wondering whether a loose button might come undone at an inopportune time. This was definitely more.
Two hours before, Nat had stared into the mirror and tried to make xir hair look longer by brushing it in every direction. It had never been long back when Sam had known xir, but a pixie cut was very different to a boy’s cut and shave up the sides.
Xie had considered xirself a moment longer before going into xir bedroom and finding the largest hoop earrings in xir jewellery box.
Then xie walked back to the bathroom and shaved as close as the skin would let xir, but was still convinced that a five o’clock shadow was evident. Given xie couldn’t exactly shave any closer without gauging off skin, xie had instead gone to looking at old photos of the two of them together. Nat and Sam, from more than ten years before.
And then xie had wondered at the very obvious differences between then and now that had nothing to do with how close Nat did or didn’t shave.
Even if it hadn’t been for xir time on testosterone, there would have been difference – time did that. HRT just emphasised those differences ten-hundredfold.
Okay, it probably wasn’t quite that extreme, Nat told xirself, listen to your more rational side. Xie decided to call an Uber to help xir to the café where xie and Sam had decided they would meet so xie wouldn’t be late there. Neutral territory, even if Sam now, apparently, had a car.
It was hard to imagine Sam driving. He’d practically lived on public transport when they’d been together; been so proud that he could basically get anywhere he needed to go, despite regular ribbing.
All thoughts of the past disappeared when Nat stepped into the café and saw Sam sitting at a table across the room. Nat felt thrust squarely into the present of the moment, of the here and now, of the seeing Sam in the flesh for the first time in ten years.
He wasn’t looking at xir, hadn’t seen Nat just yet, so Nat got the opportunity to gaze on him without it being weird or downright unwelcome.
He’d gotten dreadlocks done, but they were starting to grow out at the roots. That was still evident regardless of the fact that he had the dreads tied back in a low ponytail. His light brown, Papua New Guinean skin had made Nat’s own pale English skin jump out of every photo they’d ever been in together. And those lips. Xie watched as he took a sip from his mug, which drew attention to his plump lips; lips that Nat had compared to at least the next two people xie’d kissed.
Was it hot in here? The air a little thick? Was Nat blinking xir eyes too many times for it to be normal?
“Excuse me, do you have a booking?”
A waiter suddenly appeared out of nowhere, looking at xir as though they were trying to figure out why Nat was stuck standing in the same spot for several moments.
Nat opened xir mouth, not sure what kind of a sound or pitch was going to come out of xir mouth when xie tried to talk. And, drawn by the movement in the periphery of his vision, Sam’s head turned. He looked straight back at Nat. Brown eyes. The same brown eyes that had once looked at xir with such certainty, such love and devotion ten years ago.
“Uh, I’m meeting a friend.” Nat’s voice felt choked. It kind of felt like xie was drowning. What did drowning feel like? What a weird and foolish way to feel without any particular frame of reference.
Sam was standing now, xie saw. Stepping back from the table and coming towards xir and the waiter.
The waiter saw Sam headed this way and stepped aside. Nat realised xie had about three seconds to get over whatever the heck xie was feeling at this strange meeting. Xie took a sudden deep breath, then almost spluttered. Too much air. Not calming at all.
“It’s good to see you.” Sam spoke first. His voice was richer than Nat remembered.
“You too,” Nat replied. So far, so good. At least Nat’s voice hadn’t broken on the words. Wouldn’t that have been a spectacle.
More slowly, less surely than Sam, Nat started xir way towards the table. Sam went back to the drink he’d been nursing. Nat did xir very best not to look at his lips again now.
Think of something, xie thought. Think of anything else to say. Something else to notice. Quickly.
“Oh,” Nat said, wonderingly as xie smelled a bit of sweetness coming off his drink. “Don’t tell me you still drink mochas?”
“Are they still the best hot drink out there? I think so!” Sam replied quickly.
“As long as that’s the case, I’m gonna be drinking mochas. Do you want one?”
Nat shook xir head. “Caffeine makes me jittery these days.” And that was the very last thing xie needed right now.
Clearing xir throat was a dead giveaway of some feeling, so Nat tried desperately to swallow around the terrific lump that had formed in xir throat. It took three tries, but then it was done.
“What can I get you?”
Thank god for waitperson and their sudden great timing.
“I’ll get a chai latte? Spiced chai, if you have it?”
The waitperson nodded before looking to Sam.
Sam lifted his already half consumed mocha as he looked at her. “Another one of these babies, please.”
Clearly only one of the two of them were worried about the jitters. Somehow, Sam’s complete casual nonchalance made Nat even more jittery.
After the waiter went to get xir order, Nat realised xie had no idea where to look.
“I hope you weren’t waiting long?” xie asked, finally looking back at him again.
Only to find that he was staring at xir with something like… was it horror? on his face.
Nat’s lips parted. Had he finally noticed the differences xie’d been obsessing about in the mirror since this morning? Xie didn’t think of Sam as the type of person to get weird about an ex looking heaps different to when they had dated, but xie’d been wrong before.
Xie just didn’t want to be wrong now.
“What is it?” Nat asked in a very small voice.
“What was that … thing you just ordered?” he asked.
Nat’s brow furrowed. “Huh?”
“The ‘latte’?” He lifted his hands to perform inverted commas around the word. “Chai isn’t coffee.” Sam looked judgemental and mockingly disgusted at the same time.
Oh. Ohhh. Nat wanted to laugh in relief and understanding. This was the way they’d talked about pancakes and any food preferences they’d disagreed about once upon a time.
“Oh, quiet you,” Nat said, settling more comfortably into xir chair finally.
“At least I’m not drinking exactly the same order after ten years.”
“Oh! It’s like that, is it?” Sam ran his tongue over his teeth as he sat back and considered xir.
Nat didn’t shy away from it this time. Xie didn’t even fluster when xie glanced down at his mouth again. This was exactly where xie was meant to be.
About the Author
Nicole Field (he/she/they) writes across the spectrum of sexuality and gender identity. They live in Melbourne with one of their partners, two cats, a whole lot of books and a bottomless cup of tea. They can be found on WordPress: nicolefieldwrites.wordpress.com and Twitter: @faerywhimsy.