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based is in the eye of the beholder


by el tucker


Cassandra hated the way her clothes fit her body. She was wearing an Amazon-sourced leather corset, a black crushed velvet dress with a long V for a neckline, and a messy [read: unwashed] bob. Her eyeliner was accentuated by the smudged remains of yesterday’s. She looked like that emo girl wojak, she thought to herself, if the emo girl wojak was at least thirty percent more of a femcel. She was out in front of the club—her last chance to turn back.


She almost didn’t come tonight. She could’ve been curled up in bed, Switch in hand, Evangelion in the background, munching on Goldfish and pizza rolls. But no, she just had to force herself to come out for goth night at the local queer joint. Whatever.


She approached the bouncer, who asked for ten bucks cash and a driver’s license. She showed him her non-driver’s ID. She never learned how to drive out of fear of hurting someone else - a noble excuse for an embarrassing problem. What embarrassed her more, though, was the six year old picture of herself. Post-coming out, pre-transition. That moment in her life when she covered up her insecurities with hyperfemininity was so different than now, where she was… doing anything but that. Her corset felt tighter somehow as the bouncer handed back her ID. Cassandra felt his eyes assess her features, comparing them to who she once was, and it made the most distinguishing ones—nose, forehead, jaw—burn against her skin. She held out a lanky wrist, and the bouncer wrapped a band around it. Inside the club, she was immediately assaulted with a wall of noise, a sea of black, and the smell of sweat and cheap alcohol. A DJ to the right was playing a barely legible remix of a track ripped from a Bauhaus B-side. A bar to the left was serving up overpriced drinks. And off to the back was a raised stage, where eyeliner-clad faux-goth college students were bouncing violently to the beat. She submerged herself in the pulsing crowd.


In the crowd she was confronted by a mass of writhing bodies, none of whom seemed to know the definition of personal space. Instinctively, she compared herself to all of them. She noticed someone else, someone ‘like her,’ and clocking them sent ice-cold contractions of self-hate through her spine. Her mind scrambled at a relevant reference to tie in, trying to distance herself from her body. She couldn’t find one in time, and instead had to wait for the chill to thaw. The crowd wasn’t a bad place to wait it out. Who cared if her body hurt, if her clothes didn’t fit, if she felt like a mockery of herself? The music was bumping, the alcohol was flowing, and the people didn’t pay her any mind, too lost in their own rhythm. She forced herself to dissociate, plastering over her self-perception with rigid dance moves.


And dance she did. Until her eyes landed on a guy standing away from the crowd, hands in his pockets, head bobbing to the beat. He had shaggy blond hair and the beginnings of a goatee. He was clad in full mall goth ensemble: Tripp pants, oversized sweater with an ironed-on patch, platform boots. He had an eyebrow piercing. Was it ironic? Post-ironic? Cassandra couldn’t really tell for sure. He wasn’t dancing, but he wasn’t… not-dancing. She couldn’t tell if he was enjoying himself. Moreover, she couldn’t tell why she cared. He caught her eye, quirked his head to the side, as if to ask some sort of question. She was too new to the club scene to understand what he meant, and she froze up attempting to derive an appropriate response. She was split between nodding with a smile and shooting finger guns at him. Both could be seen as cringe in a certain context. She didn’t choose one in time. He looked away, and kept nodding to the beat.

She kept her eye on him as she moved throughout the crowd. It was easy enough: he didn’t move around, so finding him again whenever she got lost within the sea of people was always pretty easy. She should approach him. Probably. Or would that seem too needy? Or would it seem needy, but in a way that made it obvious that she knew how it would seem but didn’t care? Damn, she really needed to stop spending so much time on /r9k/.


He was leaving. Or maybe not. No, he was going out the back, which meant he was probably planning on coming back. Cassandra followed him out, almost tripping over her Docs. When she got there, he was pulling a cigarette out of a half-full pack. American Spirits. They were in a small alleyway, dank and dark. The music blared from inside until the door shut, and then it was quiet. She stared at him, wide-eyed, before forcing her dissociative-detached mask back on. “Um.” she said, leaning against the wall. He put the cigarette in his mouth instead of responding. “Borrow your light?” she asked. She fidgeted against her will, playing with the band tied around her wrist. Wordlessly, he lit his cigarette, and then offered the lighter to her. Taking it, she followed up with: “And a cig?” which made him laugh and choke on his. He pulled another cigarette out of the pack, holding it by the end. She reached out to take it, but he moved past her hand, hovering the filtered end by her mouth. She paused, blinking, before taking it between her lips. She was suddenly hyper-conscious of the way her body fit together again. She felt gangly and totally unbecoming of this situation. And then he lit the cigarette for her, and it turned her on, and she breathed it in, and she forced the building cough in her chest down as she exhaled the smoke. It was similar to the joints she usually smokes, but a little harsher. And it tasted worse. He smiled at her.


“Finn.” he says, his voice a little raspy. “Short for Finnegan.” Looking closer at his face, she can’t tell if she’s attracted to him or not. He looks like shit, but in a way that makes her wonder if it’s on purpose, if he was trying to do something with it. She settles on yes. Underneath all the guyliner and mild cystic acne, he was pretty cute.


“Cassandra.” she replies, forcing down her disgust at the name she chose for herself, as though it was damaged by her ownership of it. “But you can call me Cassie.”


She opts for a “I like Finn, too.” It makes him smile. “Do you come here often?” she asks. God, she sounds like a normie. >boringsmalltalk.exe.


“Not really. Just on goth nights. I like the excuse to dress up a bit.”


“Me too. Gets me out of the house.” Anything that gets her out of the house is a godsend.


“I know what you mean.” No, he doesn’t. She’s a social reject, an antisocial loser, a faggot in a skimpy dress. He’s normal by comparison. Probably.


“Yeah, well.” Yeah, well? Seriously? C’mon, keep the conversation going Cassie. “Um. Do you play—”


“I like your Docs,” he interrupts. It’s a little basic (half the people inside are wearing Docs), but she can work with it. “Wait, shit, were you saying something?” She was, but it didn’t matter anymore. It was a shit line, anyway.


“No! No, it’s okay. I like your… um… face.” Cassie desperately needed practice in real-time conversations: her mind was scrabbling for the backspace key to replace that with something a little more polished. Actually, wait, scratch all that, is he blushing?


“Um.” He takes another draw from his cig. She reciprocates by drawing from her own. They stand there for a while, taking turns smoking. He steps a little closer. “I saw you looking at me out there.” Her mind was slowly starting to melt. A few seconds of silence pass. Finally, he asks, “Can I buy you a drink, Cassie?”


“I’d like that,” she says. He rubs out his half-finished cigarette on the wall, and puts it back in the pack. He opens the door for her, and the alley is filled with noise once more.


She followed him inside. She wanted to keep talking to him (for some reason, even after that disastrous performance, she still trusted her mind above her body), but the noise made it impossible, and she didn’t really want to drag him outside again. They sipped on their drinks by the bar. Eventually, they both had their fill, and she went back to the dance floor. He followed close behind. He finally started dancing with his hands out of his pockets, and Cassandra was struck by how cute it was to see him emerged from his shell and actually having a good time. It was a stark difference from the somber figure that she saw at the back of the club: he was throwing his body around to the music, completely uncoordinated. The vodka pushed her to do something she wouldn’t normally even dream of doing: she grabbed him by the hips and pulled him in (leaving about two inches, of course, between their waists). His eyes widened for a moment, lips falling open, but he reassembled his cool and confident mask fairly quickly, and smiled. He was a little bony, but the warmth emanating from his body, and the smell of his sweat—god she loved boysmell—made her eyes flutter. She took inventory of the current situation: she was at the club, all dressed up, dancing with a cute femboy who bought her drinks and gave her cigarettes and seemed pretty damn into her. She couldn’t wait to tell all 171 of her mutuals about this. Finn brought her back to reality with a hand on the back of her neck. Fuck. Okay. That’s a bit too fast, maybe. She wasn’t really ready to kiss him yet. But on closer inspection, he didn’t seem like he was moving in for one. They just kept dancing. After a while, his hand dropped to her side. She smiled at him, signaling that this was an appreciated change.


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Finnegan was having a good time tonight. He wasn’t really expecting to meet anyone. He reasoned that, sure, one went to the club to meet new people, but he didn’t actually go with the expectation that he’d find someone like Cassandra. But she caught his attention from across the room (it was the hastily-done eyeliner that had endeared her to him), and when she joined him for cigarettes, he could barely hold a conversation. He’s glad they were back inside. Dancing was so much easier than all that. God, he wanted to kiss her. But he saw the look on her face when his hand grazed her neck, and he knew it wasn’t time yet. But the way she looked him up and down, grabbed at his hips, smiled at him… she was, simply put, intoxicating. Her breath was at least fifteen percent cranberry juice. She tightens her grip on his hips, and pulls him in a little closer. She says something that he can’t hear. He smiles and nods anyway. She kisses him. She pulls away. She smiles sheepishly. He pulls her back in, and this time, she doesn’t pull away. He’s getting tired of dancing—his legs aching, toes cramping up. He jerks his head towards the door. She follows happily.


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After a brief discussion of where to take things, they settle on her place. Cassandra isn’t really excited to show someone her den, but Finn has roommates, and she really doesn’t want to be judged by anyone new tonight. In the rideshare that he called, she rests her hand on his thigh. They don’t kiss (the driver is right there, and she feels incredibly awkward). She squeezes his thigh at traffic stops, and she can tell that it’s making him flustered. She tries to hide her slowly growing bulge by crossing her legs and leaning forward. Finn doesn’t notice: he’s staring straight ahead at the car seat headrest (ha!) in front of him. They’re almost home.


Cassandra lives in a small studio apartment on a very gentrified corner of Greenpoint. It smells surprisingly clean, given that the boxes of last night’s takeout are still on the counter. Finnegan takes a second to marvel at the setup: a snazzy PC sitting in the corner, a red and black gamer chair nestled against it. Mounds of junk food fill the desk on the right, stacked high with towers of BBQ Pringles cans and Dr. Pepper 6-packs, little figurines of anime characters (Nendoroids of assorted JoJo’s/NieR characters). It was the kind of mess that made you wonder what sort of undiagnosed neurodivergencies she had running under the hood.


“Holy shit, is that a Gundam?” Finn asks, attention captured by a 3-foot tall winged mecha dual-wielding machine guns. Cassandra nods, blushing deeply. The walls are taken up by posters of Lain, Asuka, Miku, Jotaro/Kakyoin, and the bookshelf shows off her surprisingly neat record collection, all sourced from /mu/, including a rare pressing of No Love Deep Web. A few series of her favorite manga—most notably a full run of Chainsaw Man, and Junji Ito’s assorted works—filled the rest of the shelves, with a bong and an eighth resting on top, surrounded by a handful of empty pill bottles and a bar of Old Spice Fiji. Dirty laundry is piled on a chair, and a box of tissues is on the nightstand, alongside a mass of tangled jewelry. A well-loved shark plushie holds dominion over her bed.


“It’s not normally this messy,” she explains. A lie, but he doesn’t need to know that. “I wasn’t exactly planning on bringing anyone home tonight.”


“This is… awesome.” he finally replies. “I mean, you have it all figured out.”


Her face burns red. “Shut up and get on my bed already.”


“Yes, ma’am,” he replies. He sits down, and begins unlacing his platforms.


“So, um… before we do all this, there’s something I kinda have to tell you…” she starts. It’s awkward in a way that makes it obvious that she’s rehearsed this before.


Finn laughs. “Stop. You don’t need to. I mean, you have a poster of Hatsune Miku on the wall. And a BLÅHAJ. I knew as soon as I walked in. I am, too. It’s fine.”


She stops in her tracks. “You’re a virgin?”


He’s taken aback. “What? No, I just thought you were gonna say that you’re trans.”


“Oh. Well, that too. Wait, you’re a…?” she trails off, not exactly wanting to finish that sentence.


He lifts up his sweater, flaunting his scars. “Yeah.” He tosses it onto the laundry pile. She admires his bare chest for a while, before realizing that he probably expects her to reciprocate. She sits on the bed beside him, and starts unlacing her corset. She fumbles around with it enough that he takes pity on her. “Let me.” It only takes him a minute of pulling and unlacing for it to come off. She lifts her dress up, revealing plain black panties (home of a small bulge) and a plain black bra (home of small tits). Finn sucks in his breath.


“Um,” she says, unsure of how to proceed. She realizes that her Docs are still on - a reason to delay things a little further.


She spends the next minute fumbling with her laces before finally pulling them off. Finn smiles. “So… maybe you can get underneath me? Or on top of me? I’m not really sure how you wanna do this. It’s up to you, really. It’s your first time.” She was getting redder and redder. “I don’t wanna freak you out or anything. I should probably shut up. Right? I’ll shut up.”


“I… think I need to smoke first.” She gets off the bed, grabs the bong and her grinder. “It’s nothing against you, it’s just-”


“I get it, don’t worry. Can I join?” he interrupts, which makes her feel significantly better.


“Be my guest.” She loads the bowl with weed and puts it back in the stem. “You first.” He takes it, placing it against his mouth. She lights it for him, and the chamber fills with smoke. He pulls the bowl away, takes it all in, and pulls her in for a kiss. She closes her eyes, drawing the smoke from him, and then pulls back to breathe it out. “That was… fun. Nobody’s ever… um.” She takes the bong from him and takes a hit of her own. She tries to replicate his maneuver, but it feels so awkward now that she has to initiate it.


“Feeling better?” he asks, smiling.


“Much.” She puts the bong away, and climbs onto the bed. He follows suit. She desperately tries to remember all the things she’s read about, but everything feels useless now. He pulls her in for a kiss, and presses his hand against her thigh, squeezing at it. Woozy, she grabs at his hand, pulling up higher and higher, until it settles between her thighs. She can feel him smile into the kiss. He climbs onto her thigh, riding it slowly while he kisses her. The denim of his Tripp pants isn’t exactly pleasant against her skin, and he notices it.


“Um. I’m gonna take these off.” he says, getting off. He undoes the belt and fumbles with the zippers and laces for a while, and then finally steps out of it, kicking it to the ground.


“Get back on, please.” she says. It’s the most forward thing she’s ever said.


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The night was long, the bed was sweat-soaked, their makeup was ruined, and yet, at the end of it all, Cassie felt weightless.


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She wakes up the next morning curled against Finnegan’s nude body. Her arm is across his chest, and her legs straddle his thigh. She nuzzles her head against his neck, and breathes in his scent. It was a strange combination of tangerine and sweat. The cologne from last night must’ve washed off by now - was that what he naturally smelled like? She goes in for seconds to try and confirm her hypothesis, waking him up. He laughs, and runs his hands through her hair. She feels safe.



El is a creative writing student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. They specialize in experimental fiction, exploring themes of reflections, vampirism, and peri-apocalyptic situations. They have recently re-read Kafka's "Metamorphosis", and have been very annoying about it.


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