By Maya Lionne
On Tanya’s nineteenth birthday, on a chill autumn Thursday, Tanya, Nicolas, Bridget, and Alexa came back from the night’s work selling the house’s homemade erotic calendars and magazines to find the renovated Hotel d’Souza where they lived abnormally quiet.
Alexa agreed to search the bottom floor, the light from her cell phone illuminating dark rooms in the basement. Bridget set about searching the offices and rooms on the ground and second floors, her dancer’s body gliding past rails and desks like a wraith in the early morning dark. Nicolas racked the slide on his handgun, replacing it in his brown leather jacket before accompanying Tanya in a search of the third and fourth floors.
No one could be found, and the house showed no signs of disaster – all the rooms were in order, nothing was knocked down, and there was no sign of a fight. When she finally got to the fourth-floor room she shared with her girlfriend Galina, Tanya all but kicked the door down, shouting Galina’s name in a panic.
The lights came on, revealing every member of the house crammed into her room, backed by a banner reading “Happy Birthday Tanya!” Tanya was aghast, even as Galina kissed her, party favor and glass of sparkling cider in hand. She gave a glass to Tanya, who took it without removing the disbelief from her face.
“How?” Tanya asked finally, after the cheers had died down, and everyone waited expectantly for her to say something.
“Dinah,” Galina said, motioning to Dinah, who was near the front of the crowd, having changed from her usual fortune-telling dress and accessories into a simple skirt and blouse. “She’s good at reading birthdays. Who knows how.”
“It’s in the eyes,” Dinah said with a smile. “There are cues in behavior and style, but the exact date, well…it’s a trade secret.”
“Thank you,” Tanya said, between sips of cider. “I really…that is to say…I never had many friends as…you know, as I was before I began transition – as Tolya. Nobody’s ever thrown me a surprise party, and…” Tanya wiped a tear from her eyes, and tried to keep from bawling. All she succeeded in doing was suppressing the choking joy in her throat. Olivia, the self-designated house cook, came forward with a tray of mini cakes, offering one and a hug to Tanya. She took them, enjoying the warm sweetness of the cake, and the duality that ran through her arms, the muscle of athletic years gone by surrounded by the softer years of a pastry chef who loved to eat.
“We may not have much,” the house mother and Vegas-glam queen Ulyana began. “But we’ve all come together and made something for you, in light of how much time we all know you’ve spent reading in the last few months while you’ve been helping us rebuild our home.” Tanya giggled, then gasped as Ulyana handed her a large, heavy object, wrapped in old newspapers.
“I think she’s read every book in the workroom,” said Alexa.
“Very nearly,” Pepper chipped in from the back, old leather biker’s jacket scrunching audibly as he leaned through the crowd. “You’d think she was trying to get educated or some shit.”
“That’s why,” Lucy the movie star impersonator added in a distinctly refined tone one would expect from Audrey Hepburn, as Tanya removed the wrapping, and beheld a hard bound book entitled The LaCroix Diaries. “We made you something new to read.”
“I took care of the printing,” said Patch the tall, lanky, and ambiguously-dressed andro-queer from the back over everyone’s heads. “But we all added our stories.”
“Boring as they may be,” Mars the house bodybuilder added. “But we hope you enjoy them.”
“I will,” Tanya said, rushing forward for a huge group hug. “Thank you so very much!”
A few more bottles of sparkling cider and a few bottles of grocery store champagne popped open, and everyone began mingling, Tanya making her way to everyone, thanking them for their stories, and spending a few minutes chatting with them before she was compelled to move on, usually by Galina, explaining the individual contribution of whoever was next in line to speak to her. As the morning wore on, a few people went to bed, and Olivia suggested they move the party down to the kitchen, as it was nearly breakfast. Those who didn’t call it a night joined her in a feast of scrambled eggs, waffles with freshly whipped cream, and crisp bacon, all liberally garnished with hash browns and maple syrup. And while Tanya had eaten a great many meals in the company of house LaCroix, it was the first time, amid frying pans and on a greasy, repurposed card table, that she felt like she was eating with her family. And while Bridget busied herself with harping on Olivia for how much fat was in the meal or on Dinah for how much candy she ate, Alexa and Lucy carried on a spirited debate over whether Audrey Hepburn or Audrey Tautou was prettier. Tanya listened to every conversation at once, her ears bombarded with the names of films she’d never seen but sounded interesting, tips for cutting calories out of meals that were quickly dismissed, and reasons why it was perfectly acceptable to indulge in a chocolate bar every few hours. She listened with such love, such rapt attention that she barely noticed that Galina paying attention to nothing but her. She turned to Galina, saw her evergreen eyes staring right back at her, her smile glowing in the bright kitchen lighting. She looked beautiful, Tanya thought, even with dark spots under her eyes from waiting up all night for her, even with her hair done up in a hastily-wrapped ponytail, and still dressed in the sweat pants and thread-worn t-shirt she wore as pajamas. I love you, Galina said without speaking.
When breakfast was done and even Bridget, the consummate night owl, was beginning to fall asleep, the party dispersed. Tanya and Galina walked back to their room, hands remaining locked the entire way, right until they pulled the covers up over each other.
“Tanya, Tanya, Tanya,” Galina said, brushing Tanya’s hair away from her eyes. “I just can’t help it. I’m crazy about you, girl.”
“I’m crazy about you, Galina.”
Galina hesitated, watching Tanya close her eyes.
“Yeshevsky,” Galina said. “My given name is Valery Yeshevsky.”
Tanya opened her eyes again, leaned forward, and kissed her.
“You’re Galina LaCroix to me,” Tanya said. “You always will be.”
Maya Lionne is a genderqueer author, staff contributor for Paper Tape, and professor of writing, currently living in Portland, Oregon. Their work has appeared in The Pitkin Review Literary Magazine, Paper Tape, and Soul’s Road: a Fiction Collection (although you might not know it was them.) They enjoy musty old books, giant robots, and model tanks.