title: strong inside but you don't know it
warnings: The central theme of this piece is gender issues, so if that might be triggering to you, please read with caution. Additionally, it includes descriptions of bullying.
pairing: Noguchi Satoshi/Terakawa Maya (Shiritsu Bakaleya Koukou)
word count: 7,313
author's note: Somehow, Maya has become my favourite character in Bakaleya. The title is lyrics from Madonna's "What it Feels Like for a Girl."
summary: Maya learns the difference between girls and boys when he's two years old.
Maya learns the difference between girls and boys when he's two years old. It's not so much an issue about gender as it is about the fact that he's a two-year-old; he asks questions of his mother, his older brothers all the time about the way the world works. It's a simple question with a simple answer, and so once his brother has explained to him that it's an issue of body parts, Maya is placated. He doesn't think about the differences between he and his brothers beyond that; after all, he's two and he's far more interested in creating adventures for his pony dolls than wondering why it is that he wears pink and has pigtails when none of his brothers do.
It's almost a year before the issue of clothes comes into play; advertisements on TV (before and after Pretty Cure, Maya's favourite show), photos in magazines, the large box of dress-up play clothes that sits in the corner of Maya's bedroom all add up, and eventually, he asks to go shopping with his mother, so that he can pick out his own things. She agrees, but when they arrive at the department store, Maya is a little surprised to find that everything that appeals to him-- anything with ribbons or sequins or even a scrap of pink-- is all in the section for girls. He's a boy, he knows, but he's completely horrified by the prospect of wearing all that blue and red and grey, and he expresses as much to his mother, who smiles back at him and responds that it's okay for him to pretend to be a girl for right now.
It's a little weird-- Maya isn't sure why he has to pretend when it's always been perfectly normal at home for him to be a boy and like pink (his mother knows he's a boy, after all, and has always bought him pink things and done his hair up with ribbons and encouraged him to play with dolls)-- but his mother continues that even though he's a boy, she wants him to be her daughter, and well, if it will make him happy and his mother happy, then Maya isn't complaining. He goes home with six brand new shirts, two skirts, and one pair of knee socks with pink ribbons at the top, and he doesn't think he's ever been happier before in his life.
Maya wasn't completely aware of what "pretending to be a girl" was going to entail when he first agreed back at age three. Everything is fine and well up through pre-school, where Maya makes friends with plenty of little girls who never question his gender to begin with, but things get complicated when first grade begins suddenly, the rhetoric that girls do thisor boys do that is everywhere. "Boys are gross," Maya's friends shriek, running away from some of their male classmates during morning break, and he runs with them, because he isn't sure what else to do. But his friends have never thought that he's gross, so he doesn't quite understand and though it seems silly enough, for some reason, it bothers him for the rest of the day.
He asks his mother later that night, when she's checking his homework. It makes her frown, and for a moment, he's terrified he's said something wrong and that he's made her upset. Maya never wants to upset his mother-- since his father hasn't ever been around, his mother has to work really hard to take care of Maya and his brothers, he knows, and even then, she always has time for him, always cooks him dinner and checks his homework and helps him pick out clothes for the next day before she tucks him into bed at night. But luckily, after a moment, she smiles at him and puts a hand on his head comfortingly and replies that Maya is different from other boys, and there's no need for him to tell anyone that he's not a girl. "You like pink, right?" she prompts, poking his cheek affectionately, "And you're not gross."
Something seems a little bit off about the whole situation, but her logic is pretty impeccable, and Maya can't really argue. And so the next day, when his best friend announced that boys have cooties, Maya readily agrees, and when she later admits that boys might have cooties but actually she sort of likes Yamada-kun, Maya nods along that he seems okay, and it's easier than he thinks it is. Besides, Yamada-kun is pretty cute.
Maya doesn't know what to do when, suddenly, everything goes to hell in fifth grade. The past four years of elementary school have gone along fine; he has plenty of friends and gets good grades, and by now, he's completely unfazed by the fact that everyone in school thinks of him as a girl. Maybe he thinks of himself as a girl, too, at least a little, because even if there is the issue of body parts, he's way more like a girl than he is like a boy, at any rate.
But by the time fifth grade rolls around, body parts are becoming more of an issue. One by one, all of Maya's friends begin wearing bras, and he begins to get more and more self conscious, though over what, he's not quite sure. His friends assure him that Matsushima-kun (the boy Maya has had a crush on since the beginning of fourth grade) certainly finds him cute despite the fact that he's still flat-chested, but he's not sure how to respond when he's fairly certain that he's always going to be flat-chested, because actually, when you take everything else away, he's a boy underneath it all.
It's just a little bothersome at first, a niggling worry at the back of his mind, but it gets bigger and bigger each day, despite how hard Maya tries to ignore it. He tells himself there's no reason to get upset when he's just as pretty as all of his friends and even with their restricted budget, his mother makes sure he at least has a decent few cute outfits and hair accessories. What does it matter if he's skinny and flat-chested? But somehow, somewhere in the back of his mind, it does matter, and each day, it seems to matter more and more until one day, a particularly prying question from one of his friends about his body leads him to admit in a humiliated mumble that he's not actually a girl at all, but a boy.
He's not sure why it happened, to be honest, when he's never felt the need to correct anyone's assumption that he's a girl for the past five years, but it almost feels as if he can't contain it anymore. His face is hot and his throat is tight, but the words are there, nonetheless, out of his mouth and then weighing down the atmosphere around him as his friends stare at him, not quite sure what to make of what has just happened. Maya isn't, either, really, and afterwards, he doesn't even really remember the fallout-- he's too much in a daze, too confused over what has brought him to this point. But he remembers arriving home with bruises and in tears after word got out to first the entire class and then the entire grade that Maya was in fact a boy who looked like a girl, and worst of all, he remembers his mother's scolding words when he tells her the story. "You shouldn't have told," she snaps at him, handing off the bandages and antibiotic ointment to one of his brothers, and Maya has never felt more lost and alone before in his entire life.
Maya had thought that the first day was bad, but it only gets worse. The next day, the people who had just a day previous been his friends want nothing to do with him, deem him "weird" and "gross," and while Maya knows that this has been their stance on boys for years, he doesn't understand how the knowledge that he's a boy has changed that much about him in one day. The boys are worse, however, calling him names throwing things at him at the best of times and shoving him into the ground, kicking him and pulling his hair and laughing all the while at the worst, and Maya comes home in tears again, caked in dirt and dried blood.
His mother watches tight-lipped as one of his brothers washes away the blood and bandages his wounds, and Maya feels guilty even though he's the one who's been beaten to the point that he's bleeding. But of course his mother doesn't want to see him suffer, his mother has always done everything she can for him, and all Maya has done now is cause trouble. He wishes he could take it back-- whatever discomfort he was feeling before, nothing could be as bad as this-- but he can't, and so all he can do it hope it will blow over. Eventually, people will lose interest, he thinks, or forget, and he can go back to being a girl, just like normal.
But people don't forget, and after a week, two weeks, a month, nothing goes back to normal. The girls still want nothing to do him, the boys still seem to take some sick pleasure in seeing him suffer, and every day, he comes home beaten and bruised, cheeks stained with tears, his classmates accusations of freak and weirdo ringing in his ears. And then things have gotten so tense at home with the advent of the issue, his brothers either avoiding him or babying him so much that Maya can barely breathe, his mother looking tense and tired every day. It's just too much for Maya to handle, and after a month, he doesn't think he can take it anymore. Not knowing what else to do and knowing now that he can't go back to being a girl, he turns to the only other option: becoming a boy.
It's a terrifying thought, because he's never been a boy before, and he's never really wanted to, either. Or rather, it's never bothered him that he's a boy who likes girl things, who acts like a girl, who looks like a girl, and so now, finally understanding that for some unfathomable reason, he can't be a boy but live like a girl, he doesn't know what else to do. He can't change what he is, so he'll have to change what he does and likes. There's no other choice, as far as he can see, and besides, after years and years of hiding that he's a boy, there's some part of him that wants it to be known, wants to scream it from the rooftops. It's the outlet of the frustration that led up to this point, maybe, and while Maya wishes that he could proclaim his maleness while wearing pink and ribbons, it seems that's out of the question, and he, he thinks, there's no choice but to change.
He voices this idea to his mother a little more than a month after the initial incident. He wasn't sure what he was expecting, but it goes over anything but well, ends with both Maya and his mother in tears. "I don't understand why you're doing this to me," his mother sobs, and suddenly Maya doesn't understand, either, doesn't understand why he didn't just leave things be, why he had to ruin everything. The guilt is enough to choke him, and so he goes to school each day in skirts and pigtails just like always, even though it means he returns home in tears.
Somehow, Maya makes it to sixth grade in this manner, dreading school in the morning, being bullied all day, running home at night with red eyes and sullied clothes and bruised skin. The teachers are forced to move his desk away from the other children and off into a corner; he not sure if it's out of any sympathy for him or because the consistent need to be taunting him was causing the other children to disrupt class, but at any rate, it gives him a brief reprieve every time class begins, for the most part. Still, it's not really enough; anytime the teacher isn't around (and sometimes when the teacher is) the girls sneer at him, the boys shove him and throw things at him and jeer at him that he's girly, girly, and so somehow, over the course of fifth grade, the words he had always accepted to describe himself-- feminine, cute, pretty, girly-- become the worst sort of insult, become weapons against him the cut into him every time his classmates hurl them at him. But what can he do? They're true, after all, and if Maya wants to make his mother happy, they'll be true forever.
But then in sixth grade, Maya finally snaps. He doesn't know what it is, but one day during noon break, while the boys are shoving him and calling him names, he suddenly can't take it anymore. It's been the same for a year now, so he doesn't know what it is, doesn't even think, really, but when they say that he's girly, something inside Maya breaks, and before he knows what he's doing, he's yelling, "I'm not a girl" and punching one of the boys right in the face.
He doesn't remember it afterwards, but his teacher tells him gravely, a look of harsh disapproval in her eyes, that one of the boys has gone home bruised and bleeding and the other is in the hospital with a broken nose. At first Maya, suspended from school and chewed out for a second time by his mother, feels awful, feels like he's failed yet again, but that day, something changes. He doesn't realize right away, but once he's back at school, the girls aren't quite so quick to talk about him while he's in earshot, the boys aren't quite so quick to hit him. The bullying continues, but somehow, in some unexpected accident, Maya has proved that he's not to be messed with.
He doesn't know how to handle his new infamy, but he knows one thing: breaking boys' noses isn't girly, and there's something that he really, really likes about that. And so the next time a group of boys corners him against the playground fence, he doesn't hesitate to let loose all the anger that's been bottled up against his classmates after all this time. He doesn't enjoy it, really, doesn't like hurting people or getting into fights or hating everyone around him, but it's better than being bullied and, he comes to think, it's better than being called a girl.
Junior high school changes everything for Maya. For one, only a small percentage of his elementary school classmates follow him to junior high, and the groups who formerly bullied him are pulled apart by different feeder patterns or different life ambitions or whatever has sent some of his classmates to other junior high schools-- Maya doesn't care, really, as long as they're gone. For another, despite multiple phone calls, some screaming, and some tears, the school refuses to allow Maya's mother to dress him in the girls' uniform, and with the beginning of the new term, Maya emerges into the world for the first time dressed as a boy. Or, mostly as a boy, anyway; his mother insists on doing his hair in pigtails that morning, and she's been so upset about the whole ordeal, looking at him in his uniform with cloudy eyes, that Maya doesn't voice any complaint; this issue, he thinks, has possibly been harder on his mother even than on him, and he wants to do anything he can to please her. And besides, wearing pants is certain to go a long way to raise his position in the world, Maya thinks.
He's not so sure that things are off to a good start, however, when before he's even made it into the school building, a cluster of boys from his old school find him and start up as if nothing has changed. They jeer at his clashing image now, pink ribbons in his hair going against the boy's uniform, but Maya isn't going to take it, not now, not when he's been given a second chance. He punches the ringleader in the stomach before the boy has a chance to touch him, and there's a sick sense of satisfaction as he doubles over in pain, the other boys scattering. It's not that Maya likes violence, but he hopes that at the very least, if he sets a precedent now, others will know not to bother him.
What he's not expecting, however, is for onlookers to bother him because of the fight. To be honest, he wasn't even really aware that there were onlookers, but then, after first period, suddenly there are two boys leaning over his desk grinning at him. Maya's defenses leap up, adrenaline rushing through his veins; boys approaching him in groups has never been a good sign, at least not in the past year or so, but there was something about the way these boys were grinning that didn't seem aggressive. Maya wasn't sure what to make of it, but what he definitely wasn't expecting was for one of the boys to sit on his desk, give him two thumbs up, and proclaim, "You're awesome!!"
Maya nearly jumps out of his skin in surprise, then blinks up at the boys, unsure of what's going on. The boy who spoke is the shorter of the two, quite small, actually, with a round face and a cute smile (Maya couldn't help but think, had been trained over the years to think). He has some sort of product in his hair to make it stick out from his head at odd angles, and his jacket doesn't fit right; it's a little too big, perhaps to make him look bigger than he is, or perhaps as a fashion statement. The other boy is a little taller and a lot skinnier; he's gangly and narrow-faced, and there's something about the look in his eyes that makes it seem like he's not all there. He wears a lime green t-shirt under his jacket instead of the uniform shirt, and when Maya takes a moment to look at these boys as a whole… they're awkward and pre-teenage just like the rest of the boys in their class, but they look like… well, thugs.
But he doesn't have that much time to think, because the first boy is continuing, his grin turning lopsided as he offers a hand to Maya. "I'm Sakuragi Tatsuya. My big brother is Sakuragi Ren, in third year. He's pretty famous, so you might have heard of him!" he proclaims, derailing onto a tangent about his brother as he shakes Maya's hand. And Maya isn't sure what to make of this boy with the round face who wears clothes that are too big and talks too much, but when he and his friend (whose name, Maya learns later, is Satoshi) go out of their way to sit by him at lunch and then to ask him to hang out at the conbini with them after school, he thinks that even if they're sort of awkward, they're not that bad.
But then a week later, when Tatsuya introduces Maya to his "pretty famous" brother, he introduces Maya as his pal, and as Maya's heart feels like it's going to swell out of his chest, he can't help but think they're more than just not bad. In fact, they might be the best thing that's happened to Maya in a long time.
Over the course of middle school, Maya's life develops into a new normal. He spends his days with Tatsuya and Satoshi doing things he'd never imagined doing before but that have become everyday to him now, things skipping class or showing up to school late or sneaking off to sit on the roof and smoke the cigarettes Tatsuya managed to beg off of his brother that weekend. Maya's grades have always been good in the past, and even now, they're not bad, really, but there's something liberating to the knowledge that he doesn't have to do as well as would be expected of a girl.
Because finally, it seems, he's managed to break free of that image. Every day, he lets his mother do his hair in the morning just so that, three blocks away from his house, he can pull it free and tie it back into a ponytail, which looks sort of badass anyway, he thinks. He doesn't want to disappoint his mother, who's health and emotional state seem to still be up in the air even years after Maya's original problems, would never, ever want to disappoint his mother, and so he leaves his hair long and lets her do as she pleases, but he can't bear to show up for school in pigtails anymore, especially not with his current image.
Because even if Maya had been a little skeptical that Tatsuya's brother was "pretty famous," it turns out, Tatsuya wasn't altogether wrong. Sakuragi Ren has a reputation around town as the strongest middle school boy around, and Tatsuya seems determined to follow in his footsteps. At first, the prospect of fighting frightened Maya, but Tatsuya insists that Maya is the strongest boy their age he's seen, and the first time Maya is forced to defend himself from more bullies with Satoshi and Tatsuya by his side, fighting together with them, winning together with them is exhilarating and exciting and such a good feeling that Maya can't really argue when the three of them begin to be the ones picking fights, rather than just defending.
And so, alongside Tatsuya and Satoshi, Maya goes from being a girl to a thug. But really, it's the fighting that's easy; Maya is good at hitting people. He's not as good at being a boy when he's not in a fight, at sitting with his legs apart and eating messily and saying ore and da ze. It all feels awkward and unnatural, and while he thinks as hard as he can about it, before he realizes, there he is sitting cross-legged and eating slowly and daintily as he punctuates his sentences with desu was. He beats himself up whenever it happens; it makes Tatsuya and Satoshi look at him oddly, because Maya hasn't told them about his problems, never wants to tell them about his problems, not when they're the only friends he has now. And so he forces his voice to be rough, forces himself to chew with his mouth open and to slouch back in his seat, but it feels all wrong all the same, and he hates that.
But how is he supposed to be able to make that transition, really, when at home, he's still a girl? It's the only way to keep his mother happy, he knows, and so he's never complained, but it's so hard to try to make boy behavior into habit when, once he's home, it's out of his uniform and into blouses and skirts and knee socks, earrings and ribbons and lip gloss. He spends more time getting ready for after school than for school, which is a bit ridiculous, he thinks, but to make his mother happy, he knows he has to. And it's all fine while he's at home, because no one besides his mother and his brothers have to see, but then, occasionally, his mother sends him on errands, to the conbini or the grocery store, and then Maya lives in terror of the day that Tatsuya or Satoshi or any of Tatsuya's brother's friends or their classmates will see him and then everything will be all over…
But no one sees him, and life continues on as normal, and, Maya thinks, he can deal with being a girl at home if he can be normal at school, if he can have normal friends and do normal things and be happy. And he is, with Tatsuya and Satoshi, he is, and so he really can't complain, especially when, despite how much he wishes it were otherwise, he can't help but feel just a little more comfortable at home, in girl's clothes, behaving like a girl…
But he's a boy, he's always been a boy, and he always will be a boy, and there's nothing that can be done about that. So he does his best to ignore the feeling of discomfort that comes along with acting like one and concentrate on moving with Tatsuya and Satoshi to the top. After all, when Sakuragi Ren graduates at the end of the year, they'll have big shoes to fill, and Maya is looking forward to the challenge-- it's the first thing he's had to look forward to for the future in a long time.
First and second year of junior high school go by in the blink of an eye compared to the torture that was the last two years of elementary school for Maya, but fate throws a wrench in the works during the middle of third year when suddenly, Asada Tetsuya appears on the scene and Tatsuya has eyes for little else. Over the past two years, Maya had become closer and closer with Tatsuya and Satoshi, spending almost every waking moment with them whenever possible, meeting up on the way to school with them in the morning and cutting class with them in the afternoon and hanging out outside of conbini or getting into fights with them in the evening. From the beginning of second year, the three of them had established themselves with relative ease as the top of their school, which earned them respect from most everyone who mattered and challenge from the rest, but the challenge was the fun part, really, meant they got to fight and win together, the three of them. And they fight boys from other schools, too, and their names get around, and by third year, just like Sakuragi Ren had been two years prior, they're "pretty famous." It's mind blowing to Maya, to be known around two as one of the strongest junior high school students out there, and to never really have his gender questioned by anyone, because girls don't hit people and Maya does. Sure, it's still awkward to try to walk and sit and act and hold himself like a boy for the most part, but it's easier to forget that frustration when Maya really has a place in the world again, and this time as a boy.
But then partway through third year, their class gets a transfer student, and everything changes. At first, Maya thinks it a little odd but not particularly noteworthy; they haven't ever had a transfer student before, but the guy seems quiet and not particularly interesting, so it doesn't really cross Maya's mind to care until he notices during second period that someone else is caring a whole lot. He can't figure out why, but for the majority of the day, Tatsuya gazes at the new guy with a lovestruck look in his eyes, as if he's never seen anyone so wonderful before in his life, and Maya doesn't know what to make of it when this new kid transferring from some prep school seems anything but interesting or wonderful to Maya. And after all, Maya has evaluated his fair share of boys by their looks before, and in Maya's opinion, this new guy definitely isn't anything to write home about.
But Tatsuya clearly thinks otherwise, because on that first day, he ditches Maya and Satoshi after school to leave together with the new guy, and the next day and the day after that follow suit. He still cuts class with them during the day and joins them for fights when need be, but as time goes on, more and more of his free time seems absorbed by the transfer kid, as does more and more of his attention. "Tetsuya this" and "Tetsuya that" become the only things he ever talks about, even more it seems, than he talked about his brother in the past, and Maya doesn't know what to make of it, what to do. It's clear that Tatsuya has a raging crush on the new guy, "Tetsuya," that's for sure, but Maya can't help but think that they're doomed if Tatsuya loses focus in the face of a cute boy. After all, more and more boys from other schools are coming for them after classes, attempting to prove they're stronger, and while Maya never had any concerns when they had Tatsuya to lead them, fending them off with Satoshi alone is a bit more of a challenge.
But Tatsuya pays it no mind and continues to flutter away after school with Tetsuya by his side, and after a few weeks, Maya decides he's had enough. He mentions it to Satoshi, who seems, for some reason, completely oblivious to the fact that Tatsuya is clearly head over heels over Tetsuya (but then again, Satoshi isn't the brightest bulb in the box, Maya knows) but agrees that this is all a little suspicious and more than a little annoying, and so, one day after school, they decide to follow Tatsuya and Tetsuya after school to see what it is they're up to.
Much to Maya's dismay, however, it seems that Tetsuya and Tatsuya spend most of their time together doing absolutely nothing, because Satoshi and Maya tail them for over an hour as they walk in circles around a local shopping mall before finally giving up. The same thing happens the next day, and then the next, until finally, by Friday of that week, Maya sighs heavily after the first half hour of following them and whines that they're never going to get anywhere with this, to which Satoshi responds that they might as well go get food together then, right?
Maya doesn't really understand the logic behind it to speak of, but then again, he's never really understood Satoshi. He likes Satoshi just fine, of course, since they've been friends for almost three years now, but to be honest, Satoshi has never really been the focus of his attention. It's more that they're both friends with Tatsuya, and therefore friends with one another, too, but when Maya really thinks about it, if he had still been a girl, he barely would have been able to call Satoshi his friend at all, with how little they really talked or interacted one-on-one. Sometimes, Maya honestly finds Satoshi a little annoying in his stupidity, enough so that he might have refused the offer another time, but with Tatsuya out of commission and only his clingy and depressed mother to go home to, Maya finds himself agreeing despite himself.
And to his surprise, the dinner is… well, fun. They go to nearby chain burger place and eat junk food, Satoshi shoving three burgers into his face in quick succession while Maya nibbles on his fries, and for maybe the first time, they talk. The conversation is about nothing, really, Tatsuya and school and fighting, inconsequential things that don't really matter. But yet, by the time their trays are empty and they're heading home for the evening, Maya feels like he knows Satoshi better from the past three hours than he has for the past three years.
And so it happens again. When their efforts to follow Tatsuya and Tetsuya prove fruitless, they bail together again once, twice, three times, until really, they're just going out together rather than tailing Tatsuya at all. Or at least, that's how it feels, but they never say it that way, always have to phrase it as a fallback plan to the stalking, and while Maya isn't quite sure why, the idea of asking Satoshi to eat straight out is uncomfortable to him, too, and so he goes along. Still, the meals are fun, and despite his annoyance at Tatsuya ditching them for some boy (who's not even that cute), he starts to look forward to his dinners with Satoshi.
They don't ever really talk about anything of substance; occasionally, Satoshi will mention his older siblings' cute kids or their family dog or something of the like, but all in all, mostly, they just chat about this or that or the other thing, and it's a nice distraction from real life, from things that matter. But then one day, Satoshi notices the way Maya eats, holding his fries delicately with the tips of his fingers just so, and says in passing, "You eat kinda weird."
And it's stupid and small, but something inside Maya seizes up, because, he realizes, he's forgotten that he's supposed to be acting like a boy, a weakness that he hates in himself, and on top of it, Satoshi has noticed, has come terrifyingly close to uttering the words that Maya has learned to hate over the past few years. And so, "I'm not a girl," he snaps before he can think, a knee-jerk reaction that's come along with his years of suffering. It's not something he can recall ever having said to Tatsuya or Satoshi before; he's never had to, but the words are out of his mouth before he can even think, his heart squeezing in his chest, his stomach knotting inside of him as he braces himself for the fallout-- because whenever he has this reaction, there's always a fallout, somehow.
But Satoshi only blinks at him, staring at Maya as if he's spoken another language for a long moment before replying, "Obviously…?" as if Maya would have to be crazy to have ever thought that such a statement needed to be made.
And somehow, despite all of the time he's spent with Satoshi in the past few weeks, the past few years, really, it feels as if something new is starting all over again.
By the time they're a month into high school at Makada, Maya's life has been completely rebuilt into something new and wonderful. His little trio with Satoshi and Tatsuya has grown into a real group, now, their own little gang-- somehow, they've managed to absorb Tetsuya relatively painlessly after the long, strange limbo in which Tatsuya would run off with him after school for seemingly no reason, and then they've teamed up with two kids from different junior high schools, Satonaka Yuuki and Jinbo Makoto, who are pretty damn strong, as well. The six of them make a neat little team, and even in the past few months, Maya has come to like each of them individually, come to feel as if each and every one of them are his friends, really friends. It's enough to make him forget his lingering regrets about elementary school, to forget the girls who used to consider him a friend, the classmates who stopped acting kindly towards him when he was revealed to be a boy. Even if there's definitely still lingering awkwardness, even if it's still hard to remember to drop the was and scarf down his lunch at light speed, there's no girls at Makada for Maya to be mistaken for, no bullies to throw things at him and call him names, not what he's as strong as he is and definitely not when he's friends with the little brother of Sakuragi Ren. Four years after everything went to hell, somehow Maya has managed to put his life back together into something maybe even better than it was before, and it's the best feeling in the world.
But with it comes a feeling of foreboding, a weight in the pit of his stomach, because now more than ever, he's terrified of losing everything. After all, none of his friends know about his old life, none of his friends know that, a little over four years ago, Maya was a girl full-time, and that even now, once he's home for the day, it's back to dresses and jewelry and makeup. It almost seems like it should be comical, that he goes from hanging out by the train station or outside of the Family Mart where Makoto's mother works directly to putting on a frilly apron and cooking dinner for his older brother and mother, who's far too exhausted after work to do much of anything, but it's anything but funny to Maya. His neighbors, brothers' friends, the employees at their local supermarket only see him as a girl, and all it would take to ruin everything Maya's worked so hard to put together is for one word to leak out, one photo to go on facebook, one Makada kid to turn up while Maya is in the check-out line…
But he's managed this long, and so despite feeling tense and anxious while he's out in the evenings, he thinks, maybe he can keep this up. In fact, since he's managed from first year of junior high school until now, he even starts to get his hopes up that maybe this is going to work out, maybe he can just make high school work this way and then after that he'll be home free, he'll be able to move out just like his oldest brothers have and then he'll never have to worry about his friends finding out and hating him for dressing like a girl--
--Except that, in mid-May of his first year of high school, Maya is scouring the displays at the grocery store for the cheapest brand of rice when he hears an incredulous voice from behind him asking, "Maya…??"
And the pit of Maya's stomach drops when he realizes that it's Satoshi's voice, which means that Satoshi is here and Maya is dressed plain as day in a short, lace-trimmed skirt and a pink puff-sleeved blouse and polka-dot over-the-knee socks with a ribbon in his hair and mascara and lip gloss on his face, and there's nothing he can do to hide it. In the warm spring weather, he's not even wearing a jacket, something with a hood to hide his face or long enough to hide his clothes, and he knows that he can't simply pretend to be someone else-- after all, Satoshi is nothing if not persistent, here Maya is, plain as day, dressed completely and totally as a girl. His throat feels tight and his head is spinning as he turns to face Satoshi with tears forming in his eyes, and he feels utterly pathetic, because really, crying is the icing on the girly cake, but everything in his life is ruined, and Maya simply doesn't think he has the strength to start over again.
But to his surprise, Satoshi doesn't look disgusted, and Satoshi doesn't jeer or point or laugh. He looks surprised, to be sure, but when he realizes that Maya is going to cry, a look of panic more than anything else plays across his face, and before Maya can find words, Satoshi grabs him by the wrist and drags him out of the grocery store and down the block to a relatively isolated alley. There are a few old crates leaning against the wall-- they're disgusting, and Maya doesn't want to soil his clothes, but when Satoshi gestures for him to sit, he does, because really, what does it matter now. He doesn't understand what's going on, but he's certain that, in a few moments, everything is going to go to hell just like it did in elementary school, and then he'll be all alone again. And so, when Satoshi begins, "So, uh… this is kind of a weird question, but… why are you wearing a skirt…?" Maya figures there's no point in doing anything but tell the truth.
And so for the first time ever, he starts from the beginning and tells someone outside his immediate family exactly what has happened for his entire life, from watching Pretty Cure at age three to having all female friends in elementary school to how it got out that he was actually a boy to being bullied in sixth grade to meeting Satoshi and Tatsuya and how everything had turned around since then. It practically hurts to say it, he thinks as he gets to the end, practically burns his tongue when, soon, he's going to lose it all again, but Satoshi doesn't look disgusted as he hears Maya's story. He doesn't really look much of anything, really-- Satoshi's face often betrays just how little he has going on in his head, but his brows are furrowed and he seems to be thinking so hard it hurts.
And when Maya finishes, he remains quiet for a moment, clearly still deep in thought, before finally replying, "Well… that kind of sucks." It's a bit of an understatement, honestly, but Maya is more focused on the fact that he's not hitting Maya or spitting at him or calling him princess, faggot, girl-- it's not what he expected, and so he isn't sure what to do but wait and watch as Satoshi seems to attempt to overcome the mental hurdle that Maya's story has clearly become. He can't help but fidget under the pressure-- everything in his life is in the balance of Satoshi's response, after all, and so he plays with the hem of his skirt, the ends of his hair, the rings on his fingers. Eventually, though, the silence becomes too awkward, and finally, Maya can't take the wait anymore. If he's going to lose everything, he wants to know, and so sniffs back his tears and starts, "If you hate me now--"
But Satoshi looks so alarmed and befuddled that Maya can't find the rest of the sentence, and falls silent as Satoshi replies, "Well, I mean… the shit with your mom sucks and all, but…" And then he laughs awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck, and the lightness of his mood startles Maya, because he can barely breathe with the life-and-death feeling of the situation, and here Satoshi is laughing, like it's no big deal at all.
But he doesn't have much time to think on it as Satoshi continues, "I mean, it doesn't matter if you're a girl or a boy, right? Because you're still you."
And Maya doesn't know what to do, doesn't know what to say, because no one has ever said anything like that to him before, no one has ever even close to insinuated that his gender isn't the be all and end all about him. His mother, his childhood friends, everyone he's ever met, really, they've only liked him so long as he fit into the mold of either "girl" or "boy," and the thought that anyone in the world might think otherwise is enough to send Maya tumbling back into tears.
At the end of the day, after Maya has smeared mascara all of Satoshi's t-shirt and then gone back home and tried to act as if nothing had happened at all, he isn't sure what's happened, what's changed, if anything. It's all so overwhelming that he can't really wrap his mind around it, but even when they parted, Satoshi had been all grins and see you tomorrows, and so tentatively, Maya thinks, maybe they can forget this ever happened.
But when, the next day, Satoshi treats him the same as normal and no one else seems to know, when it seems like honestly, Maya could forget it ever happened, he can't help but think something small has changed inside of him, can't help but think that, after all that's happened and everything he's been through, maybe the difference between boys and girls is really just body parts, after all.