Late Christmas

Clothes are just clothes, right? It's all just a joke, right? For Miles Carlson? Maybe. Maybe not.

Late Christmas
By Marissa Lynn

As far as conventions go, this one was going well, at least Miles thought so. He picked up some cool finds and was getting compliments on his costume.

For something different, he was dressed as Asuka from one of his favorite anime series, "Sun Runner."

His oldest sister, Andrea, who was somewhere around here dressed as Ellen Ripley, helped a bit with the costume, but he'd done his own makeup after practicing at home. A guy needs to be able to do things for himself, right?

It wasn't the best cosplay there, but he'd gotten his share of compliments. As the day was winding down, he found himself near a beverage concession, oblivious to a not unattractive Han Solo behind him.

"Nice Asuka, kid."

Miles turned around, "Kid? You look like you're the same age I am." ("Why is my voice higher?")

"Probably, but the point still stands."

"Thanks, I wanted to get it right. You carry Solo well."

"Well, it's not like it's as involved as your costume."

"No, but you seem to have the attitude for it."

"I do try. I'm not a scoundrel in real life, Princess, but I could play one on TV."

"Princess? I think you might be overestimating your chances."

"Never tell me the odds."

Minutes later, Miles and Han had found what passed for a more secluded area, the conversation having grown more flirtatious.

"Well, I am supposed to have a roguish quality," Han said.

"I don't know if I'd go that far."

"Oof."

"But you still have a certain charm," Miles said, moving forward to kiss him. ("This is nice")

"Ah-ahem," came a nearby voice.

"Oh, um, hi, Andrea."

"Look, sis. Sorry to break things up, but you know Mom and Dad if we show up too late. Cody's on his way to the car."

"I'm so sorry, I've got to go, um-"

"Han is good enough. Safe travels, Princess."

Andrea tried to give Miles the third degree before they met up with Cody, Miles' twin brother who'd stuck with jeans and a Daredevil T-shirt.

"What was that about? You were kissing a guy?

"Well, it felt like it was in character."

"They aren't even in the same franchise. How would they even meet?"

"It was just a little fun. It didn't mean anything."

"Fine, just fix your lipstick. You don't want that grief from Mom and Dad."

"What grief? I'd probably get a second 'Stay Safe' talk."

"Especially if they knew you were kissing a-"

"Look, I kissed a boy, but in character. I'm still straight, okay?"

Andrea wanted to say more, but thought better of it, waving at Cody as she approached and Miles redid his lipstick.

The Present Day

"Okay, I think we've given people enough last minute shopping," Erica Davis said. "Lock the doors and be ready to let the stragglers out."

"Got it," Luke said. "You check to make sure nothing's out of place, Miles?"

"Already working on it," he said, giving the vinyl section a once-over. He glanced to make sure nothing was obviously in the wrong section, as tempting as it had been yesterday to leave that Kid Rock album in the Comedy section.

He paused to straighten out a Florence & The Machine album, thinking, "I really like that dress, it wouldn't look good on me, though. And even though I haven't got it cut in a while, my hair isn't nearly long eno-"

"Hey there, Carlson. What's on your mind, besides not getting us out of here?" Mikayla said.

"Um, nothing."

"I just cashed out my last customer. Let me help you."

Mikayla Hinrichs was, along with Luke Castino, Miles' two best friends at The Orchard, the music store Erica owned where they all worked. Mikayla was tall, dark-haired and beautiful in that effortless way. She could have been one of those Queen Bee types in high school, if their grade school equivalents hadn't taught her in her awkward years that life's too short to be a jerk.

If you looked up the word "amiable" in the dictionary, you'd see the definition of the word "amiable", which certainly fit Luke, a guy with brown hair that got wavy when he didn't cut it for a while. He and Miles enjoyed gaming together, but he didn't know how much his friend enjoyed the cosplay. Miles thought it would overplay the joke if he did.

"Hey! How about this outfit?" Mikayla asked, holding up the cover of some recent pop record. "Think I could pull it off?"

Miles pondered. "Oh, yeah. Maybe a different belt, but totally. More than I could."

"Oh, really?"

"I mean, for one thing, I'm not in high school anymore. For another, I don't have the legs for it. And third, I'm a guy, remember?"

"Clothes are clothes, Carlson. You know that right?"

"I do, but come on, me as a woman? That's hilarious."

Mikayla nodded politely, moving on to the CD section, figuring it was better to do that than to push the matter, or ask Miles what ladies section he got his jeans from.

Satisfied that things were taken care of, Miles, Mikala and Luke made their way to leave. "Alright, you three, great job today," Erica said. "Now, I want you to enjoy the rest of the day and the holiday tomorrow. Don't even think about this place. Until you get back on Tuesday, that is."

On their way through the parking lot, they discussed their holiday plans with their respective families, although Miles was lying about his. He was going to beg off from going home. He loved his family, but they could be a lot this time of year. He got in his car first, wishing them a great day off.

"Well, Mikayla. Hope you have a good one, too. Going to your boyfriend's place, too?"

"No, Tevin and I figured it was best to do New Year's with them. At least you don't have that problem."

"Not now, anyway. Maybe next year."

"You know, maybe your problem is that you're too picky."

"It's not being picky. It's being selective."

"Okay, fine. It's just you deserve a little happiness, you know. Have a good one!"

Miles dragged himself, scraggly-haired, but otherwise immaculately groomed, to his apartment. He had the place to himself as Heather, his new roommate, was out of town. He followed through on his plans for a quiet night -- dinner of ramyun from H-Mart doctored up with egg and leftover rotisserie chicken and absentmindedly watching TV and occasionally looking at the internet on his phone.

"This is the glamorous life," he laughed to himself as he finished a Sapporo to wash down the last of the ramen, "Hashtag goals."

He fell asleep in the chair, phone plugged in, the tab open to Googling "LGBTQ therapists in my area" because that would be funny, if, you know, right?

Christmas

"I suppose I should get dressed at some point," Miles thought.

He'd successfully feigned being under the weather, so he had the day to himself. Still, spending the day in shorts and a Sun Runner T-shirt seemed a little lazy, even if the highlight of the day was probably going to be a little gaming.

As a matter of fact, not a bad idea, fire-up one of his favorite first-person shooters and play as Shira. She had the most accumulated gear and was a fun character to play.

Absent-mindedly, he made himself a sandwich. He took a bite, realizing his mistake. "Girl, you forgot the mustard," he joked.

Coming back with the condiment, he took the corner a little too sharply, starting to trip over the couch. As he tried to steady himself, he lost grip on the jar, which proceeded to hit the floor. Broken glass and mustard splattered all over the sweater and jeans he intended to wear.

"Shit! Now I need to do laundry. Forget it, it's Christmas. I can do it tomorrow night, since I still have something for work."

As Miles cleaned up the mustard and made sure the glass was picked up, he thought, "No reason not to get dressed anyway."

Much of what he had wasn't practical for hanging out, but there was that Peggy Carter costume. That could work, maybe pair it with the Jean Grey wig.

It wasn't his first choice of outfit, but it didn't take long and Miles had the look done, from the smart skirt to the sharp hat and the red matte lip. "Get yourself a man who can do this," he quipped as he looked in the mirror.

He fielded a few phone calls ("Yes, Mom. I've got chicken noodle soup") and texts from family, then he got bored with the video games.

His thoughts turned to the very family he was avoiding. His parents, Elizabeth and Eddie, were pretty standup, roll with it types -- Mom, an American history teacher, Dad, working in banking. Andrea, ever patient, went into social work. Kristen felt like a female version of him, only a lot freer. Cody? He could never get a read on his fraternal twin. They always got along well enough. It's not like he was a stereotypical jock. He ran cross country and track, but was more interested in his music and with the travel that entailed, they didn't talk much these days.

"And here I am, the square peg in the round hole."

He couldn't have Cody's goatee, the hair removal took care of that.

"And what's the problem with caring about grooming?"

I mean, sure, the lack of facial hair made the costumes easier to pull off, the better to get in character. Clothes are clothes, right? And so are skin care products and shampoos. The ones with the pretty packaging work and smell better. No big deal.

Why be close-minded?

It's why he volunteered when he could at the local LGBTQ center and helped out at Pride last summer. They were pretty much all friendly and relatable, especially Tonya, the woman running the trans group's booth.

"She even said if I had questions, I could just ask. I didn't, but it was nice of her to offer and it was almost like hanging out at a chill family gathering."


Later that week

"Miles, can you step into my office for a second?"

"Sure, Erica. What's up?"

"Look, you have some paid vacation days left. You know they don't carry over, right?"

"I don't have a problem with that."

"Well, I do. Miles, you're doing great work. But I can tell you need a little more time off, whether you admit it or not. So, I'm ordering you to take from the rest of today until next week off. I've got your shifts covered."

Miles started to protest, but thought better of it. As he went to go to the back room to clock out and grab his coat, he saw his younger sister, Kristen.

"Hey, Miley! I'm just here to get something for Dad for his birthday. Your buddy Luke has graciously offered to help me find it," she said.

"Cool. Erica just ordered me on vacation the rest of the week, so I'm off the clock."

"Perfect timing! Mom and Dad have been saying that they want you there for New Year's Eve, since you missed Christmas. Congratulations on your miraculous recovery, by the way."

"Ugh. I'm not getting out of this, am I?"

"Nope. I believe Andrea and Cody are under orders to kidnap you."

"Fine, it's not that I don't love you all. I just need some time to be myself, I mean, for myself. I'll be there. You can call off the Carlson family extraction team. See you then."

"Good luck, Miles. Maybe it'll go better than you think," Luke said.

"Maybe. Catch you later."

One day alone with his thoughts was one thing, but Miles really didn't need four more. He only needed to do laundry once, which it's not like he could wear the Carter-Grey outfit all week. He'd need more clothes like that. Isabella, the roommate he'd had before would have gone shopping, offered him tips. Maybe Heather could-

"Don't be silly, Miles."

Sleep became harder to come by as he got closer to being back home. His schedule hadn't been any worse than normal, but he felt like he'd been asked to run a marathon backwards.

New Year's Eve

"Hey, Miles! What's up?"

"Unnnnh. Heather? You're early."

"And you're wearing a skirt. Nice choice. Might want to clean the mascara off a bit better though," she said before going into her room and closing the door to change.

"Oh, um, it's just something for fun. I do cosplay sometimes."

"God, could this be any more awkward?" Miles thought.

"Oh hey, sis. And you must be Miles."

"Is that...Han?"

"Yeah, um. Hi," he said, sitting up, straightening out the skirt and reflexively crossing his legs.

"The people we were hanging out with had a sudden change of plans, so I thought I'd let my sister drop off a few things. I'm Ian, by the way."

"Hey. Yeah. This is embarrassing.'

"It shouldn't be. I mean, it's not like it's the wrong color on you or anything," Ian said, pausing before adding in a quieter voice. "You chose well, Asuka."

"Oh, God. You remember."

"Well, it's hard to forget a pretty princess, especially when that's not something that happens to me every convention. Or any other one, for that matter."

"And you knew that I was-"

"I suspected it, but I didn't mind. It wasn't a deal breaker, since someone's gender doesn't matter when I'm attracted to them. Honestly, I thought you were farther along than this, given how natural you were at it."

"Yeah, um well, it's just for fun or was just for fun. I don't know anymore."

"That's okay. Sometimes, it takes people time to figure things out for themselves or get to the point where they accept the answers. We're all different. You'll get there."

A more casually dressed Heather emerged with an overnight bag. She said, "I see you've met my brother. Don't worry, I won't try to set you up, he's not single. You're welcome to join us."

"Actually, I'm going to my parents' place, since I missed Christmas."

"Cool. Well, we're off. And Miles, if you need any tips or you want to go shopping, I'm in!"

As she walked out the door. Miles heard a flush, followed by the sound of water from the faucet.

Ian emerged from the restroom as Miles stood up.

"It was great meeting you. Again," he said.

"Heather was right. She does have a cool roommate," Ian said as he turned the handshake into a hug, quietly adding, "Don't sweat the other stuff too much. The answers will be there when you're ready."

As he pulled away, walking towards the door, he said, "As someone wise I knew once said, 'Do or do not, there is no try.'"

Miles rolled his eyes and started laughing. "Real original, Pan Solo."

"Ha! Well played, Princess. Guess that's canon now. Later!"

Miles got ready to meet the family. The skirt was out, too impractical for this weather and, because, um, reasons.

He settled on clean jeans and a brown sweater from the same section of the store ("The neckline feels less restrictive. It's a comfort thing," he'd reasoned at the time).

Playing music at a higher volume than usual and lip-synching along to the likes of Caroline Polachek kept Miles occupied enough on the drive to keep any other thoughts at bay.

Upon arrival, Miles was hit with small talk, food and greetings from the family and his parents' cats, Simba and Luna. He was relaxed, to a point, when Elizabeth said, "Alright, we've postponed your Christmas long enough. Let's get to the presents, handing her husband the first one.

Eddie spoke first. "Well, Miles. I just want to say that it's very good what you're doing for yourself."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I'm very proud of you and, well, here."

Miles opened the box, revealing its contents to be a luxurious bathrobe in pastel pink.

"Uh, thanks, Dad. It's very nice."

"My turn," Cody said. "I feel bad we haven't talked as much lately. But you've always supported my music, which I hope you'll do when it comes time to make the Employee's Picks section. Seriously, though, I've always been glad to have you as a sibling and glad we weren't identical,so we didn't get forced to dress alike." As Miles opened the box, Cody added. "Speaking of which..."

Miles pulled out a nice floral pattern dress, eking out a pleasant, but quiet "Thanks, Cody."

"What the hell's happening here?"

Kristen couldn't wait. "Here, Miley! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! figured you were overdue."

Miles, in a mix of confusion, discomfort and anticipation, tore off the paper to reveal an eyeshadow kit with a Sephora gift card attached.

"Thanks, sis"

"Breathe. Just breathe. It's just a joke, right. Unless it's not. It's not. Shit. Breathe."

Before Andrea could go next, Simba came sprinting into the living room, deciding now was a good time to try scaling the Christmas tree, which went down in Cody's direction, startling him into spilling cocoa on to himself.

Simba had somehow snagged one of the presents on its collar and took off for the kitchen. The closest to him, Miles got up and gave chase. As he was about to corner the felonious feline, he hit a spot where an ice cube had melted and began to slip. He tried to break his fall, but slipped backwards.

He landed in a seated position, having landed against the bottom cupboards with enough to tip a large bowl over on top of him, a bowl that hadn't been empty as it contained a frosting Elizabeth was making.

Miles was more stunned than hurt, as he couldn't see. The bowl was now an oversized hat, its contents all over him.

Cody arrived next: "Miles! You okay?"

As the others followed, they were greeted by the vision of Miles, removing the bowl from his head, dissolving into uncontrollable laughter. Elizabeth's unfinished strawberry-coconut frosting was everywhere, including covering him from his head down in pink goo.

When Miles was finally able to stop laughing, the words came out: "Yeah. I'm fine. I get it, universe. You got pink all over me. You win. I'm a woman," she said before laughing even more.

Cody and Eddie helped her up and got her to a chair at the kitchen table. Andrea brought over a towel.

"Got it!" Eddie said from the living room, having gotten a hold of Simba long enough to get the present (a necklace) away from him.

Kristen spoke up. "You serious? You're not just saying that? You're out?"

The weight of what Miles had said hit her as hard as the relief. "Yeah, I did. HoIy shit. I can't believe it took me making myself a dessert to crack my egg, but here we are."

Cody said, "I thought she already was. Wasn't that the point of all this? Oh, no. I'm sorry, sis."

Miles said, "It's okay, Cody. No, I wasn't out. I mean, I was thrilled with the presents, but it was kind of scary. I know I've passed all this stuff off as a joke, but..."

"Oh, Miley. I'd hug you, but, you know. Oh, who cares?" Kristen said as she leaned in to hug her recently pink and sticky sister.

"Love you, Kristen. Just one thing. I can't lie. It felt nice when you called me Miley, but, for the record, it's Milla."

Andrea flashed back to another convention costume her sister wore, asking, "Are you sure it's not Alice?"

"That's the character. I'm me," Milla said, not even thinking to add "just joking" anymore.

Elizabeth said, "Well since my daughter teamed up with Simba, I have to come up with something else for the cake. I'll clean up here and get started on that. Andrea and Kristen? Why don't you take Milla upstairs and get her fixed up? The rest of the presents should help with her look. And, by the way Milla, there are a couple gift certificates to help you augment and if you don't mind your mother tagging along..."

"I think I'd like that, Mom."

"Right," Elizabeth smiled. "Now, go on and get ready. Oh, and just to be sure, pronouns?"

"She/her, thanks."

"I just said that out loud. It feels right, but what is my life?"

Before they started, Andrea took Milla aside. "Say, my girlfriend and I have talked about you. She said there might be a time you'd need this and I think it's now."

Milla read the card, which said,"Dana McCray, LGBTQ-friendly, Specialty: Gender Issues" with a number.

"By the way, Tonya says Dr. McCray is really good."

"Tonya? That Tonya?"

"Yes, that Tonya. The only reason you didn't know is because you've been keeping more to yourself these last few months."

All things considered, it didn't take long, once Milla showered off the goo. Thanks to Andrea, the sizing was right. The dress proved to be a flattering choice, especially with the breast forms, paired with stylishly comfortable flats. Milla did her own makeup, stopped only a couple times by Kristen to keep her from veering into overdone cosplay.

"Get yourself a girl who can do this," Milla thought.

Kristen and Cody had cleaned up by the time Milla had finished, so there were lots of photos to be taken -- the twins, Milla with her sisters, with the cats, the whole family together.

"Oh, I should text Mikayla and Luke."

Milla messaged Mikayla first, sending her a photo of herself with Andrea and Kristen.

"Hey, do me a favor, please. Update your contacts. Change "Miles" to Milla."

"OMG! You're joking, right?"

"No. Not this time."

"Milla! About f-ing time!"

"Thanks!"

"Girl, we have to catch up. But I suspect you're busy with fam. Talk soon. Happy for you. Congrats!!! And updated, Milla!"

The doorbell rang. "I've got that!" Kristen said.

Milla turned her attention back to her phone, about to text --"Luke?!?!?"

"Hey. It turned out my plans for tonight fell through and your sister said I could come over, if that's cool with you?"

"Yeah. I guess so, but-"

"Great. I haven't seen all your cosplays, but this one's new."

"Actually, I'm not-"

"Wait. I've got it. You're dressed as Milla. And it's not a costume."

"Oh, you jerk! How'd you know?"

"Kristen texted me, remember? She thought it would be good to give me a heads up. By the way, I got you something. Sorry I wasn't able to wrap it."

She opened the box, revealing three pairs of large hoop earrings.

He said, "I know you don't have your ears pierced yet, but you will. Your game characters always had them."

"Thanks that's really sweet of you ("How'd he notice?")

By this point, the two had the room to themselves. Truth be told, Milla was glad to have a friend with her, too, even though the atmosphere in the room felt different.

"Are you okay with this? I mean, isn't this a little weird to you?"

"Not really. I mean, you finally being out is a new wrinkle, but it's not weird. I mean, clothes are clothes and all, but come on, I mean, if I suspected, anyone could."

"But I always said I was a guy."

"You did and I respected that. All of us at the Orchard have, because it was up to you to tell us different. But there were signs. When was the last time you cosplayed as a guy? And the games. You always choose a girl fighter."

"But-"

"Come on, when we played Madden, you always had a created player on your team named 'Ima Girl.'"

"That was just a joke."

"Some jokes have some truth to them, like they're jokes, but not really? And besides, you were 'just joking' a lot. Like, a lot."

Milla sighed, "I suppose I was. I figured if I kept saying it, it was true, that I could convince myself it was. I did. For a while."

With that, the dam burst. Shields down for the first time in forever, tears flowed. Unsure at first, Luke moved over and sat next to Milla to comfort her. She instinctively moved into an embrace, crying into his arms.

Calming down, she pulled away, saying, "Sorry."

"No need to be. I've never had issues with my gender, but I imagine if I did and I'd kept it to myself, that would be pretty tough."

"It's not if you ignore it enough, but it's hitting me how much of a weight I was carrying. God, I must look like a rabid trash panda now."

"No, you still look good, but you might want to do a little touchup."

"Yeah. I can fix that up."

As she repaired her makeup, Elizabeth came in. "Are you okay, Milla?"

"Yes, Mom. I am."

"Okay, just checking. We're going to have some snacks ready soon when you and your...friend are ready to join us," Elizabeth said, giving Luke a look.

Focused on makeup repair, Milla missed her mom's tone, saying, "Great! We'll be out soon." A short time later, she was pleased.

She turned around. "There. What do you think?"

"Well, you looked beautiful before, but you do clean up nicely."

"I so wasn't. My eyes were a mess and-"

"Not that. Before. Look, maybe you're not the only one who took a while to realize things. It's just, I've always liked hanging out with you and maybe we can go out to dinner or something."

"Are you sure you want to do that? People might think we're dating. Haha."

"Yes. And?"

"You're serious?

"Why wouldn't I be? We've enjoyed hanging out before, Milla. Why couldn't we do it on a date?"

"But I've only been a woman for less than a day."

"You've only been OUT as a woman for less than a day. Not that it mattered. I was preparing myself to ask Miles out. But I don't have to now. And besides, I thought you were going to cut back on 'just joking.'"

Milla smiled, sighed in relief and said, "Point taken. I think I'd very much like the idea of dating you, Luke. There's just one way to make sure."

"What's that?"

She stepped forward to kiss him on his left cheek as he instinctively thought she was going to kiss him on the right, meeting in the middle in a lingering, happy accident.

Looking quite relieved himself, Luke said, "You seem pretty convinced."

"I am, of a lot of things. I mean, after all, you're not picky, you're selective."

"I am, but how'd you- Mikayla told you?"

"Girls talk," Milla winked. "Look, what do you say we join my family before they start talking."

"They probably are already. I'm good with that. You?"

"Definitely. And I'm serious."

As they made their way to join the others, she smiled to herself. "I kissed a guy. I'm still straight, just not in the way I thought."

The rest of the day was a blur of good spirits. Elizabeth salvaged the cake with some candied pineapple to go with the coconut. Tanya arrived later, of course wanting details from Milla, and teasingly calling her Little Miss Humpty Dumpty before reassuring her about Dr. McCray.

The whole time, Milla had been so caught up that she hadn't realized that she didn't need to remind herself to breathe.

It was indeed clear to the rest of the family that Milla and Luke were well on their way to becoming an item, given the hand-holding and her putting his head on his shoulder as they watched one of the New Year's Eve shows.

She resolved to learn how to put better costumes together, because soon enough, she'd have to adjust them to the physical changes. But that was a small part of the big picture. She was going to make this her truest, best year yet.

No joke.



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