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Amir was stealing around the bed, until he had reached where Reggie’s left hand lay very fresh and vivid on the coverlet. Reggie thought that Amir looked so guilty that it was as if he was suddenly an intruder in his own apartment and that it was instead he, Reggie, who more properly belonged here. Amir gently kneaded the phone into Reggie’s hand until it was fastened within his fingers. Reggie then silently raised the phone until the screen had appeared before his face and it was fixed there in incredible clarity, rather like an item that had entered below the lens of a microscope.

Do I like what I am seeing?, Reggie wondered. In the single photo on the screen, Amir was smiling with two boreholes of anguish in his eyes. His smile looked dislocated and it might have been held in place by a piece of cardboard that had been tucked in behind it. His shoulders were hunched in such a way as to suggest that his body had frozen up several seconds before the camera had come down on it for good.

Reggie had absorbed this image’s distress long before he had understood what he was in fact supposed to be looking at. The scarlet that ran in a mud road around the mouth, some strange, silken gloss over the eyelids… well, Reggie could not read even the most rudimentary A B C of makeup, he had never needed to before. But this makeup had seemed to have pounced into Amir’s face, where somehow it could not manage to cling on and gain any reliable foothold.

What should he say? Panic was beginning to dart and flicker across Reggie’s thoughts. He was irked that no words were flowing automatically from his lips by now. Usually he was competent in embarrassing situations and he could usually issue some words that would sound charming and unfazed however stunned he himself was. Yet it was almost as if this photo of Amir had floated before him as an unsolvable philosophical problem, one that all of his normal fluency would wash helplessly over.

Reggie realised that he was about to demand of Amir outright: is this really you? Simultaneously, he had sensed that Amir did not want or anticipate his acceptance. There was a kind of defiance in how this photo was being shown to him. Amir was insisting fiercely that, yes, this really was him, though at the same time this was a tragic, woebegone insistence.

“You like putting on makeup?” Reggie asked at last, noncommittally. He was well aware that he should be smiling by this point, but instead he was still gazing at the alternative Amir as though it was something that was being exhibited on a mortuary slab.

“I think that I like it,” Amir told him solemnly. “Perhaps I don’t think that it is possible for me to continue anymore… To identify as a man anymore, I mean. It feels like the glue is coming unstuck.”

Reggie quickly swallowed the shrill voice that had wanted to bleat out that he was being disrespected here and that this wasn’t fair on him. As if he could appeal to some original contract that had once existed between them. Reggie had been seeking relief from femininity in what had been hitherto this spartan, purely physical relationship. Now he suspected that he was being taken advantage of, that he had just pulled away the covering from some contraband that was being smuggled in under his nose.

Amir was speaking very simply and solemnly. “When I don’t see myself as male, or act as male, it is like a weight has been taken off me and I feel much freer, much more calm. And maybe I should ask, why do I need to carry this weight? I am still exploring, I have not come to a decision yet. But when the weight is taken away, I feel like I am a new person, that all of the people who had known me in the past now have never met me. And it feels like the feminine is waiting for me, ahead, and I will fit into it much better than I ever did into this old self.”

Reggie was about to explain, in a fair but a not unkind voice, that he was not at all interested in hearing this. Instead, he listened to another voice laughing abruptly and whooping. “‘The Boy Detective’? This is you?”

He had been swiping across the photos on the old phone. One had come up that showed a poster, with a cartoon of a kid with brown skin and spectacles dressed up as Sherlock Holmes.

Amir was annoyed. “Please don’t look at my pictures.” He reached expectantly for the phone and after snatching a final, greedy glimpse, Reggie returned it. Only now was he shocked by how he had been briefly tearing through private chambers.

“It was something I did when I was at school,” Amir added. “I find it boring now.” He tried to remember what he had been explaining to Reggie but, on being left alone for a moment, this mountain had jumped a dismaying distance into the background. It was impossible that he could ever get back to where he had been concentrating so fixedly, even a minute ago. And Reggie’s legs had kicked through the bedsheets in a flurry to land scrabbling on the floor. “I have to go, I have a tutorial in twenty minutes,” he called over his shoulder.

No breakfast? No shower? Amir sat down on the bed and he watched Reggie dressing.

Reggie nonetheless could not leave it there. He would have to bunch some formal words together. “Good luck with the makeup,” he proposed evasively. “It sounds like you are taking it too seriously though. Maybe just pop a couple of the old chill pills, my friend.”

Amir nodded.

“Ciao Bella,” Reggie had made it to the door. He rattled down the stairwell, a bit too quickly than was seemly perhaps, for once he had burst out of the front entrance he could still picture Amir gazing betrayed and sorrowful after him. Outside, Edinburgh welcomed him as though with a bottomless cheer, as though he had been away for many months. There was a verve or current in the air that seemed to reassure him that everything morbid had been dispelled from the city and that he had a million chances today, that there were a million threads lying on the ground for him to pick up and follow.