Bo brushed their hair back from their eyes, knowing it was a nervous habit but unable to stop themself. It was weird being back in Riverside, after spending so many years abroad finishing their doctorate. Bo had begun to feel like there was literally no place like home.
And make no mistake, this wasn’t it. Not exactly. But this was first place where Bo had been themself, out and open, without anyone to remember them any differently. Now, standing in the receiving line in a light cotton sundress with hair that brushed their shoulders, Bo had the strange feeling of coming home and having overshot it by a few years too many. Bo was dressed for another uncomfortable family dinner, not a reunion with their first y’den.
No one made you do this, they reminded themselves, stepping forward as the line moved. You liked the little yellow flowers on the print. And your hair looks good this way. You can always cut it again if it really makes that much of a difference.
Bo had been cultivating a very deliberate sense of androgyny when they’d moved to Riverside to start their master’s degree. Out from their mother’s thumb for the first time, Bo had taken the freedom and ran with it, exploring sides of themself they’d never been allowed to before. Honestly, they were still exploring now, reaching the edges of “everything else” and approaching feminine with new and eager eyes. Now that it was on their terms. Now that it wasn’t a costume.
The bride and groom looked relaxed and happy as their received their guests, loose with perhaps a few too many toasts, but aglow with genuine love and not just champagne. Bo was happy for them. Deidra had been the hardest nut of all to crack during Bo’s first year of mentoring. Their first assignment as an ei’den had been more than a little sink or swim. They were happy to see that all their first y’den were doing well.
Bo spotted James and Trish lingering near the chocolate fountain, James looking incredible in his deep purple suit. Bo smiled, pleased that he’d retained his daring sense of fashion. And his girlfriend. Trish had been just what James had needed. And apparently still was.
The line moved, Bo along with it, and again their hands ran through their hair. Ugh, they were going to have to cut it, if they couldn’t stop touching it. Messing with it this much was only going to bring back the grease and acne of their years on T.
Step, step, shuffle, fidget. They should have brought a date. But so freshly returned to town, Bo hadn’t had time to look anyone up. Honestly, it had been a miracle that they’d made it back in time for the wedding. They sagged under the weight of jet lag, smile only buoyed by pure determination. It really was good to be back.
At least they were at the front of the receiving line, offering the groom a too-masculine handshake for the outfit their were wearing. Oops. Deidre though, Dei would get a full hug.
“Hey! So glad you could make it!”
Dei’s tone didn’t match her body language, as the pair embraced in that awkward half-hug half-pat that came from misreading signals. Bo smiled, trying to hide their hurt. The look had been a mistake.
“You don’t recognize me, do you?”
Dei frowned, and Bo felt it move through them with the habit of memory, a thousand frowns chased away under their time as her ei’den. They felt James and Decklan both look up, each from different corners of the room. Con hadn’t made it, then. Bo hoped she hadn’t fallen back on old habits.
James was right behind them, looking past Bo to try to find them. They smiled and shook their head, turning to greet James with their famously bad Korean.
James and Dei both stared, knowing what their auras were telling them but brains not catching up. Stomach dropping, Bo pulled their hair back with one hand and threw a peace sign with the other. Eyes widened as both of their former y’den recognized them at last.
Dei threw her arms around them, bashing James across the face with her flowers. James just laughed and clapped Bo on the back in an easy “bro hug”. Bo couldn’t help but laugh as well, delighted that the dress and hair hadn’t done anything to change James’s mind.
“Thude! You look good!”
James gave Bo a quick up and down, appraising but not consuming. Just approving. Bo warmed, and relaxed. Especially at the ridiculous “gender neutral” greeting.
“I didn’t recognize you with the hair,” Dei said, running her fingers through the soft strands of it. “I got so used to the blue.”
Oh. Right. It had been six inches shorter and sporting blue streaks. And they’d been gone for the better part of two years, without much contact.
“I guess I should have RSVP’d, huh?”
Dei snorted and hip checked Bo as she stepped back onto the small dais with her new groom.
“You still got no manners, ei’den,” she said fondly, linking her arm through her husbands. James draped his over Bo’s shoulders.
“C’mon, lets go dip things in fancy chocolate while Dei stands there and smiles.”
“Save some for the rest of us! Bo, make him save some!”
“I can’t tell him what to do anymore,” they said, still smiling.
“Once our ei’den, always our ei’den,” James said beside them, turning them towards the table. “C’mon, come catch us up on all your wild adventures. Trish will be so happy to see you.”