Bender shuffled down to the cafeteria. Poptarts and three cartons of milk sat on the tray as the room was scanned for familiar faces. Bender got lucky — there was Nina.
Quietly, Bender sat next to her. They opened the pack of poptarts and started nibbling the icing off one edge, trying to figure out what to say. “We’re still cool, right? About… stuff?”
Busy plotting her next escapade with the local civil rights activists, if she can just get past the Vice Principal’s watchdogs, it took Nina a second to realize she had a dining companion.
“Hey! Cool…oh, yeah. Of course. Although why do you want to keep your powers hidden? They were super useful in that fight…er…after-school activity we participated in the other day.”
She peeks over at the pop tarts. “Hey, what are those? Are they food?”
Looking to see if it’s ok, she breaks off a corner and tastes a bit, trying to identify the flavor. “Are you sure this is a fruit?”
The incandescent heat of Bender’s blush swelled up, even as they retreated further into the ubiquitous hoodie. The shrug was barely noticeable. “They were out of the cherry ones.”
It was far easier to talk about poptarts than powers. And neither of those were the reason Bender had sought out Nina. Not that the other topic was any easier. “You said, um.” Bender risked a glance over. “Something about conformity.”
The Mohawked gray elf perked up immediately, all her attention on the new student. Her red eyes glowed with sudden passion, mixed with something else, something difficult to parse out.
“Conformity. It’s poison. There’s less of it here than in my home world, but its influence is still everywhere. I hate it.”
She tilts her head, curious at both the subject and the body language of the asker. “Why do you ask?”
Bender shied away from that sudden attention. That always led to questions and often, to far worse. But the elf had been kind and had a reputation for standing up to injustice. “Because I don’t. I was kind of wondering… Does it get easier?” So far, the only perk to being non-binary was not having to share a room.
“I don’t know about here. But yes, in some ways. The friends I’ve made here don’t have to hide themselves as much. There’s one student, Toxin, whose skin is poisonous and who has to wear a containment suit all the time so she doesn’t kill everyone around her. She has friends who work hard to get her out of her shell in both ways. Let her know that who she is is more important than what’s different about her body. I just met Lady Liberty, one of my heroes. She was a male human who transitioned to female. She might be able to tell you more about this world and if it gets easier.
“Where I come from, to be different, to be like me…I would be imprisoned if my family didn’t get me a spot in this school.”
Nina dropped her eyes for a moment, lowered her voice.
“I miss them. But they never understood me, except my grandmother, and they were afraid. And what they were doing with their fear was killing me. I ran away this summer instead of returning home. In some ways it gets easier. But not all ways.”
Bender listened, nodding. It helped, knowing there were others who were different. “Thanks. For telling me, I mean. Makes me feel like… I kinda fit in, you know?” That many words were difficult to string together at once. Bender reached into their pocket and pulled out a paper clip sculpture. This one was formed into a small bird, simple in form but recognizable. They put it on the table next to Nina. “For you.”
Nina picked up the bird clip / clip bird and smiled. “Thanks. And I still think your powers are really cool. I can kind of levitate, but to be able to fly like a bird…that’s got to be so awesome.”
The alarm tone, both somehow soothing and annoying, signaled the end of lunchtime. Schism teleported her trash to the waste bin and gathered up her books, ready to make the jump to history class.
“Have you met Checkmate yet? He has a culture club he does every week where we watch movies and stuff and learn about this dimension. It’s a lot of fun and I can usually sneak some booze in. You should come to it tomorrow night.”
A smile spread across Bender’s face at the praise. Of the forms, the bird wasn’t so bad. They started to shake their head, but then nodded. “Sounds cool.” And it might be, learning how people from other dimensions viewed this world. This ordinary, boring world where people with differences were viewed with suspicion. “Guess you’re never late to class.” Unlike Bender who often was late enough to consider changing forms to slip in unnoticed. Considered, but never did.
Nina grinned and winked. “Only when I want to be,” she said, before blinking out.