Author’s Note: Janey’s pronouns are they/them/their. It is possible I’ll screw that up; in the writing sometimes pronouns get squirrely in my head, becoming something of a pronoun superposition of every applicable pronoun over a characters’ entire existence. This being a rough and rushed first draft, I might screw it up. It’s not through malice, and I apologize in advance if it causes anyone discomfort (or even if this disclaimer does). But for whoever needs to hear this (and I think I do, as much as anyone else, these days): I love you for exactly who you are; this world we built does not deserve you, but I hope, through effort and empathy, it one day will.
.03 The Janes
“We’re going to need a team to pass a message at a dead drop,” Jezebel continued. Lisa’s eyes were already glazing over, but it seemed at least she knew what she needed to do. “We’re going to need to check our bolt-hole and possibly the extraction site. I’d like to use two teams for this- that way they can take turns watching to see if the other team picks up a tail. We’re not worried about losing locations- anything we touch with this operation is burned, but we don’t want anyone tracking home fleas. We need at least two people.”
“Agreed.” Anna cast her gaze across the room, stopping on the youngest two women in the room. Both had short, curly brown hair, and every time conversation stopped, they’d turn to one another, a grin slowly forming on one of their faces before being mirrored on the other’s. You’d be forgiven for assuming them siblings, until they kissed. “How about the Janes?”
At the mention of their names, a coincidence, they both insisted, they stood to attention, the slightly shorter Jane snapping off a crisp salute that was sincere enough no one knew if she meant it. “We need two volunteers. So naturally I thought of you.”
“They’re too young,” Mitchell said gruffly, running his fingers through his beard, before smoothing down his blue scrubs. “Alone they’ll fit the profile. Young women alone get extra scrutiny from gender crimes. Together they can giggle and bubble and flirt safely- that will get most police off their backs. I’ll be the second team, and if anybody asks, I’m just a filthy old sex-pest following around a pair of ingenues- which is somehow much more legal than the truth.“
“Yeah, I’m not letting that happen,” Ellen said, adjusting her glasses so they caught the light, hiding her eyes. She milked the moment, cracking her neck from side to side, sliding her fingers down her white lab coat. “Not only do I refuse to lose my nurse, but inside his head is knowledge on virtually every one of the patients we’ve seen since he got here.”
“Maybe,” he said with an impish grin, “but I’m a man. They won’t bat an eye at me. Happens all the time. Other men just assume their attitudes come with the tackle; they don’t even question whether or not I agree- and that assumption is inversely proportional to how medieval their ideas are- the more misogynist the guy, the more certain he is that you’re on board.”
“As much amusement as I garner watching mommy and daddy fight,” Anna said; Ellen immediately flipped her off, and Anna pretended it was a kiss she caught on her lips before depositing in the breast pocket of her shirt, “I think we need him. Male privilege can cover for a lot of sins and fuck-ups, and it’s possible we’re walking into a morass here. If things go wrong, he’s got the best chance of extracting the Janes- and let me say, top priority for everyone is getting out. Helping who we can help along the way is a close second, but if we can’t do that, throwing more bodies into the thresher only makes our job harder going forward. But I think Mitch should play ‘daddy,’ instead, wrangling his precocious but willful daughters.”
“Pervert will play better,” Mitch insisted. “On the one hand, they’ll get it. And on the other, they’ll have to retrain their focus on me, rather than admit to themselves where their real loyalties lie. Which keeps the girls safe.”
“Plus he has experience in the role,” Ellen said, her lips pursed into an angry smile.
“Now you’re just being a sore loser,” Anna said. “Mitch is valuable enough to the op to take the risk- I’ll agree to that much. But play the fucking ‘daddy’ card. You can protect them better without a truncheon up your ass. You’ll nurse better, too; we can’t spare you, so don’t be a hero- be a dad. And start thinking that way now- give them a ride to the bus stop. And take Hyde, so we aren’t a rolling convoy leaving.”
Jezebel finished detailing assignments, and the two Janes followed Mitch out to his truck. He held the door for both of them. “Daughters,” he said. “Don’t think I’m old enough to be their father,” he grumbled, walking around to the driver’s side.
“What was that about bulletholes?” Janey, the broader, taller of the two asked nervously.
“Bolt-hole,” Mitch said, starting the engine. “Comes from a hole in a den an animal can bolt through to escape danger. Safe-house, might be a more general term. I think some of us shy away from it, because calling any place ‘safe’ feels like tempting the gods. Kids want some music?” He switched on his stereo, and they drove through a few old country-inflected pop songs before reaching the bus stop. Mitch checked his watch. “Right on time. You girls have bus fare?”
“Uh,” Janey said, patting their pockets. “They told us anyone not driving should leave anything identifying behind. I didn’t even think…”
“S’okay,” Mitch said. “I’m playing poppa.” He pulled out his wallet, and handed them some small bills. “This should do it.” He handed the cash to the slighter Jane.
“Thanks,” she kissed his cheek, “dad.”
“It’s going to be okay,” Mitch said. “We’re all getting through today. I’ll be with you every step.”
There was enough wind that Jane tucked herself under Janey’s arm for warmth as they waited for the bus. “I haven’t ridden a bus like this in years,” Janey said.
“Not even a school bus?” Jane asked.
“Not since elementary school. We lived close enough to walk to middle and high school. I could leave later, and pick up a donut on the way- and it was enough of a walk I burned through it without getting doughy myself.” Jane smiled at them.
The bus pulled up, and Jane led Janey by the hand inside. She paid their fare, and escorted them to the rear of the bus. Janey shifted uncomfortably a moment, staring at the trees they passed. “You think,” they swallowed, “this will be enough to earn my wings?” Their voice was trembling. “I mean, I appreciate the hormones…”
“It’s really not like that- it’s not transactional. If Ellen were that kind of doctor, she’d operate in a heartbeat. But she’s not going to half-ass your surgery. And I know what it means to you, but that’s why it’s worth waiting to get it done right. And if Ellen and Anna say they think they can swing a favor, they’re working on it, not just stringing you along. But in the meantime,” Jane rested her head on their shoulder, “I think you’re perfect the way you are.” She kissed Janey sweetly on the lips.
“But what if I want to be more perfect?” they asked.
“Then you’ll be even more perfect,” she said, and stroked their cheek.
“And you’ll still want me?”
“How was it I heard it? I’m in love with the taste of the wine; it doesn’t matter the label or the shape of the bottle. Those change. But who you are,” she pressed her palm flat against their chest, “that’s who I love. And hormones or no hormones, different wrapper, different shape, none of that changes the person you are.”
“Wait,” Janey said with wide eyes, “are you saying I can get fat? No more hours jazzercising?”
Jane chortled. “I’m not encouraging it; you’re hot and I love that you’re hot… but some day I would cherish the chance to get old and fat with you.”
“Wait,” Janey said, with a teasing smile, “you’re going to get old and fat, too? I don’t think I agreed to you being able to age.” They nuzzled her nose, and she nuzzled back.
“Time makes fools of us all, then. And I think we’d be cute old and chubby- a couple of gray pill bugs.”
Janey sighed heavily. “I’m just so scared of everything. A part of me needs change; I’m closer to who I’ve always felt like I was than I’ve ever been… and at the same time, I’ve never felt so loved, so supported. And I’ve seen what previous changes cost me. My dad…” they stopped themselves, and thought better of it. “I’m happier than I’ve ever been. But it also means that I’ve got so much more to lose.”
“You’re not losing me,” Jane said, and nuzzled into their neck.
The bus made several stops, before the automated voice over the speak announced their destination. Jane rose first, and Janey followed. On the sidewalk, Janey looked from left to right, trying to get their bearings. “It’s this way,” Jane said, taking their hand and leading them down the street. She turned right, and they walked several more blocks, before finding the park.
She led them on a looping path through the grass and trees. “My Bubbe lived in this neighborhood when I was little, and she used to take me to this park.”
“Oh,” Janey say, their shoulders relaxing, “I thought I was just crap at following directions. Wait, used to?”
“Oh, she’s still alive,” Jane said. “She just moved to a senior community. Still feisty as ever.”
“Cool. You think,” they gasped shallowly, “not to push…”
“I think she’d adore you. I just don’t get to see her often. Even before we went into hiding, it’s not like I’ve got a car. But I’d love for her to meet you. You’re my two favorite women.”
“You’re going to make me blush, or cry, or… I should be watching for someone following.”
“No you shouldn’t,” Jane said. “Just act naturally.”
“You mean like we aren’t breaking discriminatory laws trying to rescue another gender-criminal who we know for a fact is being hunted as we speak?”
“Exactly. Like we’re two normal, lovestruck girls enjoying the park. This is it.” Jane sat down on the far end of a bench made of curling wrought iron and faded wooden planks.
“Okay, so this is lousy timing,” Janey said, as they planted themselves on the bench next to her, “but I’ve just realized that ‘dead drop’ is just ‘drop dead’ reversed.”
“God, that is lousy timing, as is you sharing it right now,” Jane deadpanned. She nudged one of the bricks at the base of the bench with her foot, and it gave. “Throw an arm around me and keep an eye out.” Janey did, and Jane doubled over, pantomiming tying her shoe. She pulled a small, folded piece of paper out of it, and slid it under a coin under the brick.
She brushed a few crumbs of Earth from her fingers, and pushed off the bench. “Ready to go?”
“More than,” Janey said, rising. “You’ve got an admirer, and since he noticed you he’s been moving this way.”
“Trouble?” she asked, taking their hand and pulling them in the opposite direction.
“I’m not sure. Not to defend leering, but you are very eye-catching today, and he could just be, uh, smelling the roses.” Janey winced, uncomfortable with their own metaphor.
“No, that’s completely the right reaction,” Jane said with a smirk.
Janey glanced over their shoulder, and started; the man in the gray trench coat was closer. “He’s still coming. Should we run?”
“Our cover is we’re innocent, walking through the park. We hide behind that until we can’t anymore. But we can walk a little faster,” she said, speeding her pace.