Y Negative

By: Kelly Haworth
This would be one of those days, I could tell. One of those days when clients would underpay me, the hot water would run out before I could shower, or some masc would decide I’m looking at him funny and bust my lip to teach me a lesson. It was the stink in the air, that acidic humidity. Made people irritable.

“Hello, this is Ember Dawson, from K Street Repair and Upgrade. Your console will be ready to pick up from the hours of ten to seventeen. Thank you!”

I took off my headset and dropped my head to my hands, my thumbs cupped under the short beard on my chin. Come on, it’s too early to wallow. I can get on with my life; that’s what andros do.

At least it was time to work out. “You ready to go?” I called, shoving myself to my feet and hefting my gym bag.

“Yeah, just a second.” Niche’s reply came muffled through his door.

Standing at the desk I had sandwiched between the couch and the hallway to the bedrooms, I downed a glass of water mixed with nutritional supplement. Ugh, so bitter. But at least it would sustain me through the workout.

“Let’s go.” Niche popped an earbud into one ear as he walked past me.

I grabbed my Common and earbuds off my desk and followed Niche out, scanning the hallway for mascs. It was vacant, thankfully, except for the damp, bitter-smelling air. Niche hummed to the song playing in his ear, his unused earbud swinging against his chest. He was wearing his old surrogacy shirt, which hung loose on his frame. I didn’t get why he still had his; I had burned mine.

“Let’s do three miles today, okay?” He bounded down the stairs to the first floor of the apartment complex.

“If you don’t want to go the whole distance, you can wait for me.” I pushed open the door at the end of the hall that led straight into the next building over, which was more apartments.

“So I spend the last ten minutes admiring your abs. I see how you like it.”

Not this again: complimenting my body as if it made me feel better. “How many times have I told you it takes more than running to get these?”

We passed through another doorway into the gym, masc perspiration pleasing my senses. Continuing past the free weights, I ignored the men staring at us as they lifted.

“Right here.” Niche jogged ahead of me and bounced onto a treadmill. I stepped onto the one next to him, stretching as I tapped at my Common. What was I in the mood for . . . Dirty Code has some good beats. I started a playlist, and met Niche’s eye.

“Ready?”

He grinned, hand poised over the start button.

“Go!”

We ramped up our treadmills, and the bass line in my ears drowned out his laughter.

Within a few minutes, my body eased into the exercise. Next to me a masc left his treadmill, shooting me a harsh look as he moved to one farther away from us. Whatever, masc, see if we care. I increased my pace, reveling in the exertion, then Niche did the same to match my full run.

My pale-blue eyes stared back at me from the gym’s mirrored wall. Sweat soon plastered my shirt to my chest. And for the thousandth time I analyzed every inch of myself that I could see—the shape of my jaw, the breadth of my shoulders and rib cage; they mocked me. Five years at the gym and thousands of wattcreds in testosterone in an attempt to bury the origins of my body under muscle. If only that could be enough.

Fatigue caught up to me as I ran. I glanced at Niche, who had already slowed to a walk, a hand on his side. He met my gaze and shrugged. I forced myself onward, mouthing the words that my mind screamed at the mirror. I want to be a masc . . . I want to be a masc . . .

When I hit my goal, I stumbled off the treadmill, panting and running my hands through short brown hair, then flicking sweat off my fingers. I scanned the gym. A few men wore wide smiles as they traveled from one group of machines to the next, their conversation lost to the music in my ears. One masc performed multiple pull-ups on a high bar, and the effortless working of his arms, the serenity of his demeanor, was beautiful. What I wouldn’t give to look like him. What my body wouldn’t give to be under him— No, wrong. I couldn’t think that.

Niche’s hand rested on my shoulder, and I pulled out an earbud. “Weights next?”

I tore my gaze from the glistening muscles of the masc on the high bar. “Yeah.”

We settled at a bench, and I led Niche through our regimen. We lifted, and I focused on breathing steadily, and the comforting strain in my muscles.

A pair of mascs left their machines and started toward us. One of them was Loren, who I had ogled the past several months, his shorts revealing sculpted thighs and calves, his shirt hiding what I knew were perfect abs, the kind I wished I could have. He smirked right at me, malice shaping his cheekbones and sweat spiking his light-brown hair.

“What do we have here?” he said to his comrade. “Two little andros pretending to be men.”

I couldn’t say the same for Niche, but there was nothing little about me. Loren and I were almost the same height and build. I put down the weights and stood.

“Let’s check out the high bars, Niche.”

As I turned from them, Loren grabbed my arm. “Leaving before we get to say hello?”

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