Any time she heard the word normie, she had to wince. And in her circles, she ended up doing a lot of wincing. It wasn't their fault for the most part. It was a useful word, a good coded word. Said a lot without spending too much time saying nothing at all. But there was something about the way it sounded. The way the r fell into the m slid into the ie. And that's not even touching the displeasure of no.
Dahlia hated walking to the post office. Her campus was small. Quaint small. The post office was a five to ten minute walk from where she lived if she felt like moseying. And Dahlia tended toward moseying. It was in a small town, and to be honest, most of the town was the campus. If not the entire town itself. Being in a small environment like the one she was in made her lazy. It made her resent having to walk up a hill to go to the dining hall. It made her resent her weird roommate who looked at her like she was an alien, and it made her think it was more of a pain in the ass than it was worth it to go to the post office and get her birthday presents.
Her hands jammed in her pockets, black coat kept tight against her skinniness, she wondered and wandered. Her boots were getting covered in salt and slush, but that was what boots were for. Still, they were black and nice and new and just from Christmas.
When she came into the post office, she tried to shake off the slush, stomping on a sad, wet mat that got caught in the door every time it was opened.
“This is someone's fetish,” she said, and a townie looked at her with even more growing horror than usual.
Really, she wanted to like them. Just because someone was rural didn't make them bad. Her grandparents had been farmers, and they still lived in Bumfuck Nowhere, Ohio, just in a different part of the state than her own personal slice of Bumfuck Nowhere.
The PO Boxes were small. Way too small. Most of them were for the students, rented out by year. Most of them were filled with junk mail. Most of them clearly hadn't been checked in a while. Her box was one of countless in rows and columns, with just a hint of glass and some nice old timey brass. It looked quaint. She turned the knob set in the wall, and it made her think of her high school locker. Gym class. Towels around waists and that weird move dudes did when they tucked their balls between their legs and tricked people to look at their weird thigh gap.
“That was the first time I saw tucking.” She said to no one. For no one. Art is over. One billion million dead.
When she unlocked the box, she pulled out a hefty amount of junk mail, some actual addressed letters, and three slips to get something too big to fit into the little cubby. She sighed, shoved the rest of the mail that actually mattered into her canvas bag and marched through the doors into the extremely small town post office.
Really, it was a guy behind a desk with some mail behind him. That didn't strike her as a post office. Sure, she could mail stuff and get stuff, but what sense did it make to call something so small a post office? A mini office, maybe, if anything.
The old man behind the counter gave her the same awkward, unsure smile when he saw her that the people around the town always did. Guy clearly wasn't sure what he was supposed to call her. That was the way it was with old people. But at least the post office general or whatever his position entailed was nice enough not to drop some slurs or anything. Of course, that didn't mean he was going to use any pronouns, either.
“Well, hi there.” A perfectly polite man. She wondered if he would think of her as a faggot or something as soon as she left. She tried not to let it bother her. If she wondered if everyone she saw thought she was a degenerate, she wouldn't have time for other, more serious forms of self-loathing.
“Yeah, I got a package here. Uh, three packages. Three. Here.” And she put the slips on the counter, holding her arms at her side. She wondered if that was all she had to do, all she had to say. She stuffed her hand into her bag and said, “Do you wanna see my ID?”
The old man waved her away without looking, eyes on the tickets. He picked them up and walked deep into the post office's mail room. Which was actually only a few feet away. In fact, she even watched him bend over and pick up three packages. One was thick, in a big white United States Post Office envelope type thing, probably fit to burst. The other was a cardboard box covered in enough duct tape to probably fix a bridge or something. But, like, a big bridge. The other was a small box. Kind of shaped like a ring box. She hoped it wasn't a ring. She loved Andy, but Dahlia wasn't exactly the type of girl to get married. Anytime soon, at least.
Did people mail proposals? People probably didn't mail proposals. But she didn't think that Andy would be aware of or care about such convention.
The envelope, though gigantic, fit in her canvas bag, along with the small box. She had to hold the gigantic duct-taped monstrosity in her arms. Who the fuck would give her something like that? Dahlia thanked the post master office sergeant or whatever his title was and toted the box through the doorway into the cold.
It'd suck to have to drop off her shit before her next class, but whatever. At times like this, going to a small, small college were great. Still, she wished she was magic. Like a character from Hunter X Hunter. Wasn't that what they were like? She wondered if Jude could fuck up enough and accidentally spec all of his magic wrong. Could Armand do nen?
Could they ever use up all their magic? Was it like a a JRPG with an MP gauge? Did they have to give something up to be able to get stronger? Not like Fullmetal Alchemist shit, because she was pretty sure equivalent exchange was out the window, but could limiting the magic make it more potent?
It didn't matter, though. Not like she could do anything special. All she could do was carry the giant ass gift some idiot best friend of hers got her and the heavy fucking shitty canvas bag and climb up to her dorm, and in that moment, as one of so many, she wished that she was like her friends. She wished that she wasn't such a fucking normie.
And into the cold, the skinny girl, in her heavy black coat and ever fashionable black tights, trudged back to her dorm.
Women in Early European History. It was a two-hundred level class. Maybe a three-hundred level? It didn't matter. It was easy, and it counted toward her Gender Studies minor. And besides, it probably would fill some weird anthropology requirement.
It went off without a hitch, as usual. Sure, there were only about twelve other people in the course, but it was lecture-based. The professor was a nice woman, but she was old. And Dahlia knew, deep down, that she wasn't sure what to do with her. She didn't exactly have a Janice Raymond tattoo on her neck or follow Cathy Brennan on Twitter or anything.
But she stared at her sometimes, when they spoke about womanhood. When they spoke about manhood. Was that the paranoia? Sometimes, she thought she read too much into nothing. Looks didn't necessarily always have to be pointed. Maybe she was just engaging with one of the few students who seemed actively interested in the material.
She was lucky that her roomie was gone by the time she reached her dorm. The girl was nice, but she, too, didn't seem like she knew what to do with Dahlia. She wasn't, like, scared to get undressed around her, like normal roommate things, but Dahlia always assumed the worst. And besides, she wasn't exactly into her whole crowd. A volleyball player. She didn't know college had jocks, but sometimes, small liberal arts colleges started to feel like high school with more drug use.
The cardboard box resplendent in duct-tape had called out to her since she took it from the post office. It was the biggest, so it had to be the best. She could barely read anything on it, so it had be from Armand. Truthfully, she was amazed it had gotten there considering how illegible it was. But fucking with the US Mail System probably didn't take much magic.
It was hard to tear through, given all the tape. But when she managed to get the thing open, it was filled with packing peanuts. Digging through, she pulled out a letter, covered in a scrawl so illegible as to be endearing, and the ugliest thing she had ever seen in her entire life.
It was a statuette of the banana thing from peanut butter jelly baseball bat song or whatever. It was pure grey and smooth. She couldn't tell what stone it was made from, and she didn't really care. She put it on her desk and stared at it, eye-to-eye. Was this a troll? What the fuck was he trying to say?
The note was nearly impossible to read, but she was able to glean meaning after a few reread. If she kept it at her desk, it would make people react to the, well, anomalous things that her other gifts might cause to be ignored by the regular people. Theoretically, he said it could also let her get away with doing weird things, same magic used in Mr. Normie.
It was nice. But why did it have to be so ugly? He probably thought it was funny. It kind of was.
After that, letters seemed safer. A lot of cards from relatives. The grandparents, the parents. Some of them even called her Dahlia, which was nice. Both grandparents still called her Jason, which was kind of a kick in the teeth, but she tried to focus on the positive. Like the fact that she got around two hundred dollars all in all from them. Money was the best gift, really. Especially from people who still called her Jason and probably wondered why she wasn't living as a man anymore.
Two letters were from internet friends. Based on the completely blank nature of the first, she assumed it was JJ. Only he could get an unlabeled letter to her PO box through weird luck bullshit. The other was from PIC, which was nice. She assumed he would have forgotten.
JJ's was a scratch-off lottery ticket. Unscratched, but she knew it was a winner. The message was simple and sweet. A happy birthday wish and telling her to spend it all in one place, as an order. She scratched it, and it was three thousand dollars. A winner. Not too big to get her on any luck radar, she assumed, but big enough to be a wild present.
JJ was the fucking best. She held it to her chest. That was good. She needed the savings. School wasn't cheap, even after the scholarships.
PIC's included a decal. A large, hideous transgender symbol done in the transgender flag colors. Her eyebrows shot up. It was certainly, well, nice of him? Maybe? But it was a bit ostentatious. Normally, Dahlia liked to just pass and maybe when she didn't just skirt under everyone's noses. But this was, well, this was a thing.
The note said to put it on her laptop. He wouldn't tell her what it was, but it was connected to Andy's gift. He wouldn't say what. She sighed, wondered if Andressa knew that he put his magic on such a gaudy weird sticker, and affixed it to the back of her computer. It was the size of her fist.
“Jesus Christ.” It had better be worth it.
She moved back to the boxes after that. The envelope was from Eli. And of course, it was filled with every textbook she needed for her next semester. All new. Quite a bit of money. She wondered how it afforded that kind of thing.
The note was simple:
Your desire to learn reminds me of my best friend. It is the quality I have always admired the most in you, too. I will buy you any textbooks on the subjects you desire if you ask me. Books are much too expensive. Knowledge is important.
I am glad you were born.
Cute. It always said things so clearly, didn't it? She loved Eli, really. And it was that kind of thing that made her appreciate the big weirdo. Didn't it say it was a satellite? Who said shit like that? Maybe it was an auto-responder thing, like Li'l HAL. Only sometimes, though. But when would it be which? Whatever.
The other box, surprisingly, was from L_G. She tore it open, and inside, there was a keffiyeh. Or, like, a scarf, really. Thin. The material was thin, and it was colorful. A lot of shapes. It was hard to look at. A lot of clashing colors. But more than that, she had to wonder, who put a scarf in a box?
At the bottom, L_G left directions, more than anything. She wasn't big on ceremony. No birthday wishes from her, but still, the gift said it all.
Wear this when you have a big test or something you'll get graded on. If the tester is there, and they see this, you are guaranteed a good grade. Theoretically, this may work in job interviews. I don't know.
Do not wear it more than twice for one person. I am dead serious here. They will probably get brain cancer, or worst case scenario, they will go all Scanners and explode in the head.
Dahlia kept the scarf in her hands for a moment, trying to understand the swirls that didn't make any sense. Did she sew this? Why would you give someone a gift that could give people cancer?
She shoved it into her desk. Maybe she'd wear it one day. But right now, she didn't want to think about it. It was, well, a bit too much.
Mail gone, she popped open her laptop to get the other kinds of gifts people sent her. Loads of wishes on the GAW channel, of course. She smirked. They renamed the channel topic Hetcopogg's Birthday Palace. She wasn't in the mood yet, of course.
She opened her email. Two. One from an address that looked gobbledygook with an attachment. It didn't hit the filters, so it was probably from Jude or something. The second, of course, was from Andressa.
She opened the one presumably from Jude first. Inside was an image attachment called hbd.jpg, which she immediately opened. The image was a cake with nineteen candles, taken with a bad cellphone in bad lighting.
Immediately, on her lap, there was a letter and an extremely fragrant blunt. It was wrapped green. Was that weed, too? There was a wrapper on the end, like on a cigar. It was the letters B and F done in ridiculous filigree. It looked like Jude had made it with a label maker or something. Did Jude have a labelmaker? Did magic people need those? What a fucking dork.
The weed smell filled up the room quickly enough that she grabbed her roommate's air freshner and sprayed the room down. It still didn't work, so she put it in a baggie and then into her mini-refrigerator. That only sort of worked.
Only then did she remember the letter. She unfolded the white stock and marveled at the handwriting. All in pencil, but it looked like it had been printed on a computer. Jesus, Jude really must be tidier than he came across. And then, she read.
Happy Birthday, Dahlia. At least, I hope this is you. I got kkrule to help me attach this shit to an image. You could theoretically be, like, anyone who looked at it, I guess, but you should probably delete it hardstyle when you're done so, like, some janitor doesn't get to read the birthday wishes I'm about to give you.
I hope the guys gave you some good shit. Don't get offended if bones didn't get you anything. Sometimes it just forgets human things. Even though, I think I'm kinda sure it's a human? Maybe sometimes a robot. But who isn't? L_G told me about her gift, actually. Kinda wild. I don't know if you need it, though. You've always been the most level-headed out of all of us. You're smart is what I mean. To be honest, I don't know what level-headed is supposed to mean. That and even-keeled. Like who fucking is level. No one's level.
Sorry. Started rambling. Kind of got a speech to pencil thing going here. I didn't want my gift to you to be all magic and shit, but I also wasn't exactly feeling writing a whole bunch. My handwriting's horrible. Like you saw harmpit's, right? Fucking wildstyle bad. Imagine that but worse and also it's in cursive. That's me. Yeah, welcome to hell is right.
And then I started rambling again. Sorry.
Listen, Dahlia. I think, out of all of them, you're the most like me. And I'm so happy you've decided to stay with us. I'm so happy you've managed to find what seems to be pretty serious shit loveways with a person who's really cool. We're all insufferable show-offs who make bad jokes, but yours have always been the best. Because they're honest. They're homemade and, well, rooted in a place that isn't a magic dickwaving contest. I've always appreciated that about you. You've kept us grounded more than you could ever realize.
I thought real hard about what to give you for your birthday. I thought about maybe giving you The Surgery magic ways. I mean, I've done it before in reverse. It was on myself, but like, it's gotta be pretty much the same thing, right? But that's, like, wild invasive. And kind of weird, right? I'd've asked of course, but like, fuck. I wanted this to be about you. I wanted you to give you something made by me that took actual effort. Not just some handwaves and an idea about how you want to live your life.
Besides this letter. But like I said, I've always been really bad at the whole handwriting thing.
The weed is really good. I bought it. I don't make weed, because it never tastes right. Or maybe I don't think it tastes right. Sometimes, my magic doesn't make sense. I got the wrap from the store. It's weed wrapped in weed. I could tell you what the strain is called and everything, but that's just about as dickwavey as if I had magicked it.
I rolled it for you. They used to call me The Roller, you know, in my life before. I don't smoke a lot of blunts anymore. Which is funny, because you know, the name. I've always been told mine were the best though.
There's no magic on it. Be careful where you smoke it. Keep your head down. I don't want my gift to get you in trouble. But I also want you to be able to relax. You do a lot of work keeping us all grounded. And I think having the moodiest significant other in the world (no offense of course to the beloved GCM) entitles you to get real high on a night of your choosing.
You're special to all of us, Dahlia. I'm happy you stayed, and I want you to know that I would bend the earth and the sky if you ever asked it of me.
For the longest time after she read it, Dahlia stared at the computer in front of her without seeing. She didn't cry, but she wanted to. Jude thought highly of her. She knew, deep down, they all cared about her, but to see it always made her feel so good.
And they were the same, weren't they? In so many ways. Magic or not, gender assignments at birth were bullshit, and that was something they could always agree on. She made a note to thank him, to thank all of them, but first, she had to see what Andressa had gotten her.
The email was blank. A single attachment. An executable file. It was a string of letters and numbers. She clicked it, opened it, and ran it.
Her screen went wavy. She bit her lip, hoping Andy didn't fuck up the hard drive on something stupid again. The screen dissolved into darkness, as though turned off, but the surface rippled before giving way to an extremely untidy bedroom. The window was open. Breeze blew in, and there, sitting at the desk and staring at the computer, was Andressa.
“Happy birthday, Dahlia! I love you.”
“You got me full-screen skype for my birthday?”
Andy only smiled. And that was when they reached forward through the screen and took hold of Dahlia's hand. Dahlia, of course, screamed, and then she fell hard on her ass, and then she laughed.
“This is like a stand,” Dahlia said. “We have a stand.”
“PIC helped me out. I did the tech shit. He did the magic.”
“He put the magic on a giant trans flag sticker, my dude.”
Andressa laughed and managed to stick their face through screen. Their lips touched briefly, before Dahlia pulled back. A portal. She had a portal to her significant other. Anytime she wanted. Sure, she couldn't fit through it. But it was so nice and thoughtful. And so magic.
“I'm so happy to see you,” Andy said. “I mean, we've seen each other. But fuck, girl, your hands are so cold. Get some fucking gloves. Damn. Your hair looks better in person.”
Dahlia blushed and punched the skinny hacker through the computer screen. Gentle, but Andressa wasn't exactly tough. “Not everyone is lucky enough to live in a place that isn't a winter shithole.”
“In no world is it lucky to live in New Mexico.” But they were smiling. “I'm glad you're happy. I wanted to give you something not, you know, weird, like this. But I knew you'd like it.”
“I love it.” A pause. “I love you.” And another pause, “Can you hold some weed for me?”
“Yeah, Jude gave me this huge blunt, and I'm afraid to keep it in my dorm. Your mom's cool with that, right?” Dahlia took it out of the freezer and tossed the gigantic thing through the screen into Andy's hands. They smelled it, made a noise of appreciation, and tossed it onto the nightstand next to them.
“He doesn't fucking skimp, does he?”
“No, he doesn't.” And Dahlia leaned forward to kiss Andy as her roommate walked in.
Andressa looked out in fear at the doorway. Dahlia only shook her head and mouthed the word “harmpit.”
Her roommate, however, only blushed. “Oh gosh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to butt in on anything, honest.”
“It's okay. I was just going. Talk to you later, Andy. I got my anthro class in twenty, and I gotta get some food. Oh, by the way, this is Andy. Andy, this is Daisy, my roommate.”
“Hi!” called Andressa from the computer, sticking their hand out to offer Daisy a handshake. She took it, as though it was a natural thing. “See you, girls. Have a good one!”
Daisy smiled, and Dahlia gathered her books for her next class, slid on her coat, and made her way outside her dorm into the cold.