Nico & Tucker, p.1
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Table of Contents
Other Books by Rachel Gold
About the Author
The decision can’t be put off any longer.
A medical crisis turns Nico’s body into a battleground, crushing Nico under conflicting family pressures. Having lived genderqueer for years, Nico is used to getting strong reactions (and uninvited opinions!) from everyone, but it is Tucker’s reaction that hurts the most.
Jess Tucker didn’t mean to hurt Nico, but she panicked.
And after the worst year of her life, she’s hanging on by a thread. Forget recovery time and therapy, she needs to put the past behind her and be normal again. But when her relationship with Nico becomes more than she can handle, she cuts and runs.
In this riveting sequel to Just Girls, comes a love story about bodies, healing, and knowing who you really are.
Copyright © 2017 by Rachel Gold
Bella Books, Inc.
P.O. Box 10543
Tallahassee, FL 32302
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, without permission in writing from the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
First Bella Books Edition 2017
eBook released 2017
Editor: Katherine V. Forrest
Cover design: Kristin Smith
Front cover photo copyright: chaoss
Back cover photo copyright: Nejron Photo
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
Other Bella Books by Rachel Gold
My Year Zero
I have tremendous gratitude for my devoted early editors: Steph Burt and Lin Distel, you fixed so much about the structure of the story. Major thanks to Vee Signorelli whose help with the themes of this story changed the face of the novel for the better. And huge gratitude to Shuvani Roma for ideas, support and magic.
Thank you to:
Alia Whipple for unfaltering alpha reader encouragement.
Elyse Pine, MD, Trans Youth Lead Physician, Gender JOY, Chase Brexton Health Care for detailed help with all the medical information.
Sean Saifa Wall, intersex activist, collage artist and TEDx speaker for input, ideas and great information.
Kim Nguyen for feedback and brainstorming.
My brother, Dan Gold, for loving Thailand, moving there, and sharing his knowledge of Thai culture.
Erica Abbott for answering legal questions.
Ha’Londra Dismond for inventing “soul Thai.”
Axel Kohagen for roleplaying Tucker’s therapist with me.
Allison Moon for the consent exercise Nico uses later in the book and framing the way I think about sex education.
My writer’s group the AoPers: Juliann Rich, Aren Sabers, Dawn Klehr, Vee Signorelli, Eva Indigo, Heather Anistasiou.
Editor Katherine V. Forrest for writing the best editor letters and enhancing the voice of this novel.
A big thank you to a special someone who logged in one of my game accounts to level my character while I finished drafting this novel. And lastly, thank you to the current generation of teens who are going places with gender in the US that my generation barely dreamed of.
About the Author
Raised on world mythology, fantasy novels, comic books and magic, Rachel Gold is the award-winning author of multiple queer and trans young adult novels—including Being Emily, the first young adult novel to tell the story of a trans girl from her perspective. She has an MFA in Writing from Hamline University and is an all around geek and avid gamer. For more information visit rachelgold.com.
For the real life Sharani—you’re wonderful!
And for all the real life Nicos.
Getting out of my house should’ve been easy. Only my grandmom, Yai, was home and she was used to me sweeping through the house on my way to dance. She sat in the eating nook sipping a cup of tea with a bunch of theater brochures fanned out on the table in front of her. An old radio gave off the low buzz of an NPR talk program. I waved on my way in from school.
Up in my room, I changed into my party clothes and grabbed my duffel bag. I had spare outfits in case I changed my mind during the two hour drive about what to wear. I was giddy nervous because I hadn’t seen Tucker in a while and it was Valentine’s Day.
Since I’d met her four months ago, she’d been on my radar. When her life got torn apart last fall, we grew closer; she needed somebody to talk to who wasn’t at her school.
The more we talked, the more I liked her.
Liked her so much that I decided it would be worth the awkward conversations I had any time I tried to actually date a person. She was very cool on trans issues. I wanted that to mean it would be easy to talk about me too.
Lately Tucker had been sounding like she might be ready for dating. I so wanted that dating to be with me. But I couldn’t ask, too jumpy, so I said I’d come up for this party. The queer and trans student group at Freytag University was doing a big Valentine’s Day bash.
I’d skipped my last class of the day because I wanted to get to the university early and have dinner with my best friend Ella. When Ella had been outed as a trans girl, the administration put her in a two-room suite with no roommate. Tucker asked to move into the other half of the suite. They were in and out of each other’s room endlessly, so Ella would h
And I had to be early because Ella would want me to help pick her outfit, which always took forever. Though, to be fair, choosing what I was wearing took forever too.
What do you wear to show that you’re interested and available, but maybe not exactly what the other person is expecting?
I picked orange. Nothing rhymes with it, right? So that’s got to say, “Expect the unexpected.”
Plus it gave my skin a warm, dark golden color that went well with not wearing makeup. I’d been skewing more into the boy territories of my genderfluid map. Tucker was lesbian. Maybe she wouldn’t even like how I looked anymore.
I almost went back upstairs to change my outfit. But I had spares in the bag. I’d be okay.
I dropped my duffel in the hall and turned into the kitchen to see if there was anything worth drinking in the fridge. On the way, I stole a peek at Yai’s theater brochures. She now had half the table covered with them and was writing dates and times on a legal pad—planning her spring 2014 theater season attendance.
Her teal sweater was a pretty casual style, but she had on earrings and a necklace like always. I’d caught her in a sweatshirt and earrings before—and they were nice earrings.
“Where are you going?” she asked, putting down her pencil.
“Freytag for that party, remember? I’m staying over.”
“Don’t you have class now?”
I ducked my head into the fridge instead of answering and heard her gravelly laugh. Yai is completely Thai and completely American and awesome.
Yai met Grandpa Bolden when he was serving in the US Military in Thailand decades ago. She swears that she fell in love the minute she saw him. He never pushed her to Americanize. No matter what people said to him, he made sure that Thai culture had as strong a place in their house as black culture. Their daughter, my mom, loved that about her childhood.
Yai came to live with us when I was nine, after Grandpa Bolden died. I loved having her here. Nobody else combined her level of no-nonsense practicality with a fanatical love of the arts. She was the biggest nerd in my life, except for me.
When I was eleven, she started taking me to the theater. Every year she bought a season ticket to every tiny local theater—even the one in an old garage with a sketchy heating system. She went to every production at least once, and returned to the ones she loved best. She even came to every dance performance of mine. I could gaze out over an audience of queer, trans, nonbinary, genderfluid wildness and there in the middle would be a short, elderly Thai woman her white hair up in a bun.
“How are you doing in this class you’re missing?” Yai asked.
“Great, it’s Biology, Ella helps me.” I leaned against the counter between the kitchen and the eating nook and opened the orange juice. The corner of a theater program caught my eye and I pulled it out of the mail pile. “You missed one.”
“They sent me two.” She tapped the duplicate on the table in front of her.
I half-heard her answer because an attorney’s return address caught my eye. I moved the thin, nasty-looking envelope out from the bottom of the stack. It was addressed to my mom with her full name.
“He was supposed to drop the suit, the shitbag,” I grumbled.
Yai clicked her tongue. You were never supposed to disrespect your parents even if they were incredible shitbags.
I held the letter up to the light, trying to see inside. If Yai wasn’t watching me, I’d have slit it open. It looked like a single page, not a lot of writing. Probably a court date being moved or a request for information.
My dad had started this lawsuit against my mom and my doctor before I turned eighteen and somehow he was managing to drag it out, even though I was legally in charge of my own body now—and even though he had less than no right after everything he’d done.
He wanted me to be a boy. Or, failing that, a girl. Not a fantastical genderfluid person. He thought it was malpractice or even abuse that my mom and my doctor didn’t force surgery on me.
He was the one who had forced surgery on me when I was four. Took me in for “masculinizing genital correction” while my mom and Yai were out of the country. Only Mom’s quick intervention kept me from being mutilated from dozens of unnecessary surgeries.
Could I counter-sue him? I should figure out which legal organization to call and ask.
“That’s not for you,” Yai said firmly. “Put it back. Go have fun with your friends.”
“I don’t want Mom to have to keep worrying about this. I’ll talk to him again.”
“It can wait a few days.”
I pushed the envelope back to the bottom of the pile and went to kiss Yai’s cheek. She patted my arm. Despite what she’d said, I knew the next two hours would be nothing but me obsessing over what to say to my dad.
I wished I could go back to obsessing about Tucker.
Getting up on a ladder to hang anything, no problem. But this much pink was killing my dyke credibility. At least we were doing the setup early enough that Nico wouldn’t see me like this. I had pink lights in one hand and pink streamers in the other, trying to pin the lights to the top of the ladder with my knee so I could wield the hammer.
“Cal, this is nuts,” I grumbled around the nail I was holding with my teeth.
“It’s beautiful,” he called up to me. “I’ll get the hearts.”
Cal had frosted his short blond hair pink. With his face red and sweaty from party prep, the hair made him look like a molding tomato. Despite being built like a football player, Cal had zero endurance.
“There’s no room for hearts,” I told him, wishing he’d sit down for a few minutes and give us both a break.
“Where’s your sense of romance?” he yelled cheerfully, heading back into the house.
Cal shared the bottom of a duplex with a roommate I’d seen twice last semester. The place was effectively Cal’s. And it was the heart of the campus queer and trans student group. We had a tiny resource center on the third floor of the student union, but Cal’s living room was so much more comfortable. Most of the meetings happened there, and all of the parties.
Like the party last Halloween, just after I’d broken up with Lindy and she…and things got bad. Too bad to think about.
I used to love this house, but now it creeped me out to be inside. I kept seeing Lindy on the back porch inviting me back to her apartment, her tall, skinny frame dressed as some famous painter. I saw Lindy moving through the people in the living room to wait for me out front. I could smell her inside the house. Impossible, I know. It made me choke. When people arrived for tonight’s party, they’d fill it up with new memories. I’d be okay. I had to be.
I pounded a nail through a streamer, looped the lights over the nail, moved along as far as I could reach, pounded in another. Climbed down the ladder, moved it a few feet, climbed up again. One nail, another nail, down, move, climb.
The motion calmed me. I liked the burn in my shoulder from the swing of the hammer. The cold air swirled up under my jacket and sweatshirt when I raised my arm and it felt delicious on my sweaty stomach.
Cal handed me a bunch of shimmery pink and red foil hearts on cardboard backing and I didn’t even complain. I nailed them at intervals with the streamers. Maybe I could fit a second row of lights along the edge of the gutter. I found a package of picture hanging hooks in Cal’s junk drawer and went back up the ladder to see if they’d fit the side of the gutter.
I heard Summer’s voice from down the sidewalk before I could make out the words. I was not looking forward to being at this party with her. She was one of the officers in our queer and trans group, angling to be its president next year when she was a senior. As far as I could tell, she wanted to run everything. She was stuffing her resume for law schools and internships.
She wouldn’t be happy until she was the first Latina U.S. president. I’d for sure vote fo
I didn’t like Summer’s politics and I did not trust her.
“…let’s say I accept that ‘they’ is a singular pronoun,” Summer’s words clarified as she got closer. “Do you say ‘how are they?’ or ‘how is they?’”
She had to be talking to Tesh, who’d come out as nonbinary over the winter break and started using they/them pronouns. Sure enough, I heard Tesh’s voice answering her, “Good question. Technically the second one’s correct but the first one sounds better.”
“You get how this could feel made up to me, right?” Summer asked
“People make up language all the time, bae,” Tesh told her.
Summer laughed. “Point taken, but if all the girls turn nonbinary or into trans men, who’s left to date?”
“So it’s over? You’re single again?” Tesh asked.
I held very still on the ladder and turned my head to watch. Neither Summer nor Tesh had seen me. The ladder stood at the corner of the house, halfway behind a tall pine tree. They were coming from campus, which put the tree between me and them.
Through the branches, I saw Tesh first, wearing a long, black coat and carrying two grocery bags. Summer had one hand wrapped around Tesh’s arm at the elbow and the other holding a heavy bag over her shoulder.
Best friends for the last two years, why they’d never hooked up I didn’t understand. They clearly adored each other. Now that Tesh wore drab, masculine clothing, the two of them would be a super cute couple. Summer’s bright colors made them seem more solid together, and Tesh’s short blue hair emphasized Summer’s thick, dark, shoulder-length curls.