“Come sit down, son.”
Those were the first words I heard as I walked into my house. In the morning. After being out all Friday night.
The sad part was Will and I hadn’t even had time together. I’d woken up with a blanket over me on the couch and his hand on my shoulder.
“Hey, sorry but I have to get Alia back to Kate this morning, and you should probably head home, huh?”
It took me a moment for my mind to catch up. “Shit,” I’d said, abruptly sitting up. “Sorry, sure. I’m up.”
Will had offered me coffee and hadn’t rushed me, but I’d tried to move quickly. When I got home I was still feeling a bit foggy headed and hearing Dad’s voice—in that tone—right off the bat made my stomach sink.
All I could do was nod and sit while Dad offered me coffee, eggs, and toast. That was pretty much the most he ever cooked. I couldn’t even imagine how painful a discussion he planned if he’d cooked.
“So,” he began after we’d been eating a few minutes, “you were out again, this time the whole night.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry I—”
“Lost track of time?” he said, surprising me with a friendly smirk.
“Look, Cass, I’m not mad.”
“I’m not stupid either.” He shrugged. “I know how it is, when you’re young.”
Oh god, where was he heading with this?
“I’m not sure…” I started.
“Son, I may be old but I haven’t forgotten what it’s like when you meet someone.” I was shaking my head, my throat dust dry. He went on. “Don’t look so surprised. You’ve been happier lately—and it’s good to see you happy. But,” he raised a finger, “I want to meet this young lady you’re spending so much time with.”
It was like a support beam had been ripped out of place and my world tilted at his words.
“Dad, I don’t know if—”
“It’s not up for discussion,” he said, shoving eggs into his mouth and effectively ending our talk, or lecture, or whatever it had been.
I pushed aside my plate. Eating was the last thing on my mind now. To my relief, Shaun called me and I had an excuse to leave—the table and the house.
“Dude, you look awful.”
“Thanks, Shaun. Tell me what you really think.”
He laughed and patted my back as I stepped inside his house. We went straight for the basement and I was met with a breakfast beer and a video game controller. “Shaun,” I said, breaking open the can of Pabst, “you’re a good man. Have I told you that lately?”
As I sank into the old couch, he chuckled. “A good man about to kick some zombie ass!”
“Call of Duty again?”
He gave me a look like I was whining about being given gold. I shrugged. “I’m not huge into zombies.”
“Yeah, well when the zombie apocalypse comes, I’ll be the one savin’ your butt.”
Groaning, I drank and prepared to deal out death—well, second death?—to a bunch of brain dead maniacs.
It was actually pretty fun. I forgot how invested Shaun got in video games, so just listening to him was pretty damn hilarious—especially when a more of the guys showed up later and Deck decided to deliberately fuck up the game to rile Shaun.
It was good to hang with them. I’d been so wrapped up in Will it had been too long since I’d spent time just shooting the shit with friends.
Although they did ogle every scantily clad female character as we switched through games. Shaun knew I was gay, but the rest of his crew didn’t. After a while my mind went straight back to all the issues building around me by living inside a closet. It was getting claustrophobic.
I wasn’t playing, so I pulled out my phone to see if I’d gotten any messages. Nope. I could text Will. He was probably free now. Though hadn’t I just been thinking I should enjoy just being with my friends? Even if most of them were more Shaun’s friend’s than mine.
“Hey, did you guys hear what happened in California this week?” Deck asked, before taking over the controller from Shaun.
“Another wildfire?” Shaun asked, only half paying attention.
“No, it—Martin, you jackass! You didn’t even give me time to sit down before starting it up?” Martin shrugged unrepentantly.
I wondered if it was too early to leave. Usually we all stayed until sundown and ordered pizza or went to a bar. I didn’t want to do either because…well. I was just antsy. My restlessness didn’t have anything to do with Will.
“See you guys later!” I called, heading to the stairs.
“Hey, man! Wait a sec!” Shaun called, following me up.
He waited until I was pulling my coat on at the door and asked, “You ok, man?”
“You were kind of off in your own world today. And you look like you haven’t slept. Is your dad being an ass again?”
Shaun was one of the few people who I’d told about Dad’s occasional drinking problems.
“No, he’s been ok. He’s just…” I sighed and shrugged.
Shaun shook his head. “Hang in there, man.”
As I walked to my car, I checked my phone again. Nothing. Why didn’t I just called Will? Why was I being all weird about it? But in the back of my brain I knew why: if I contacted Will I’d just do it to distract myself from dealing with my dad.
I didn’t think I was ready for that. Turns out, fate already had plans.
Once again, the second my foot hit the floor inside of my house, I was hit with unpleasantness.
“Oh, Christ. Not this again.”
That was the voice of my dad’s pal Kevin. It wasn’t often that Dad invited anyone over. When he did it was usually one of the guys on the construction crew. Some of them weren’t bad, but Kevin…
“California needs to just break off and sink into the sea already,” he said, shaking his head. My dad chuckled.
“Hey, Dad.” He grunted in reply.
“Hi, Cass.” I nodded at Kevin to be polite. “Kev.”
“Son, grab yourself a beer, we were about to put on a movie when the news came on.”
“Ha-ha!” Kevin cried with a grin, “Prop 8 passed! Maybe California can stay in the union after all.”
“It passed?” I cried, before I could stop myself, staring at the TV. Jesus, it had, and on Tuesday. How the hell had I gone all week not knowing?
“It took long enough,” Kevin huffed.
“I cannot believe this.” Without looking at Kevin, I said, “How can anyone be happy about this?”
Dad looked at me with an arched brow. “It’s a good thing, son. Don’t feel sorry for those queers.”
Oh my god, I could not stay here. Why didn’t I smoke? Then I could say I needed a smoking break and head straight back out the door. What other excuse did I have if I’d just gotten home?
My brain spun, but the best thing I could think of was to mutter. “Gonna eat something,” and head to the kitchen.
I heard Dad and Kevin talking in lowered voices and clenched my fists, taking a deep breath. No doubt they were discussing what a pussy I was. Maybe they’d put on their movie in a minute and I could sneak out the back.
Instead, I heard more mumbling and Kev call out a farewell. I remained hiding in the kitchen, opening and closing cabinets in a search for something to eat, though I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t want to even think. I wanted to dig a not little hole and burrow until spring.
Footsteps sounded behind me as Dad came into the kitchen. “Kevin left,” he said, as if I didn’t know. “You were a bit rude to him.”
“Excuse me?” What I wanted to say was Are you fucking kidding me? “I didn’t say anything to him!”
“You didn’t have to. You practically ran out of the room, just because he was expressing his views on some fags.”
I froze. Everything changed in that second. I felt it shift as if it was happening outside of myself, as if it was something I had no control over.
“I am one of those fags.”
I thought it would be like pulling teeth to admit I was gay in front of him, but the words fell from my mouth without conscious choice—like a river that had slowly eaten at a damn and one moment broke free. Inevitable.
Then I was back in real time, and my dad was staring at me with a face contorted in confusion, bewilderment, disgust.
Please don’t do this to me! My heart silently pleaded.
“Don’t say such a thing. I know you’re just trying to make a point but—”
“No, Dad. I’m not trying to make a fucking point. I’m gay.”
“Don’t curse.” He rolled back his shoulders and lifted his head, as if straightening every vertebrae in his back would somehow give him power and height enough to make all this go away. “And don’t lie to me.”
“That’s the whole point, Dad! I am finally being honest with you. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before, but…” I spread my hands. What could I say?
“How? How would a son of mine become a fag?” It was his turn to spread his hands and be at a loss for words.
“God, could you stop using the word ‘fag’?” I sank down into one of the chairs, head in my hands. Oh yeah, this was why I hadn’t done this earlier. Fuck.
“That’s what you’re telling me you are, right? If you don’t like the word, maybe you shouldn’t have chosen to be one.”
His words were defensive but there was a tone of exasperation there too. He thought I was simply being “difficult”. I realized then he didn’t have a clue about the sexual spectrum. I was just a kid acting out. Christ, was that better or worse than seriously condemning me?
Eyes staring at the floor, I heard rather than saw him take the chair next to me.
“What’s making you say all like this? Does it have to do with your mom leaving? You’re falling for a girl and you’re scared she’ll leave someday too?” He chuffed. “Swearing off women isn’t going to solve your problems, son.”
Shit, as misdirected as he was, the fact he was still trying to be sympathetic made it that much harder.
“No, Dad. It’s not like that,” I said, keeping my head in my hands.
“Give yourself some time to think about it, Cassidy. I know it might be tough.”
Finally, I righted myself and looked him in the eye. “It’s not like that because there isn’t a girl I’ve been seeing. I’ve been seeing a man.”
That threw him. He sat there gaping, then shook his head. “Ok, so it’s worse than I thought. It’s ok, son. We can still fix this.”
“Christ, Dad. I don’t need to be fixed.”
“It’s times like this you have to trust those who know better. You’re confused. You’re lost. You have to let me help you.”
“Dad, you don’t get it. This isn’t sudden. I grew up knowing I preferred guys.”
“You knew this before you’re mom left?” He asked the question in a very give-me-a-break kind of way, and I had to let out a deep breath before I said something I’d regret.
“Mom leaving has nothing to do with this. Trust me.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t believe that, son.”
Ok, so he was in a state of denial. Fine. “Well, we have very different views on this, then. Why don’t we each give each other some time?”
He nodded and I thought I’d earned a respite.
“All right. Take whatever time you need, but you will be going to church with me every Sunday from here on out. We’ll also have some private bible study.”
“I can’t do that, Dad.”
“You can and you will. It’s not up for negotiation. Think whatever you like, but trust me that I know what’s best for you.”
I was losing patience. “What is it you have in mind? Read and pray over the bible until I’m ‘cured’?”
“If that’s what it takes.”
“This is bullshit,” I muttered as I stood, though I’m sure he heard me anyway. He followed me as I stalked down the hallway to my room and began opening drawers.
“What are you doing?”
“Like hell you are.”
He started shutting my drawers, violently.
“Look, you’re right. Let’s each think what we want to. Whatever, fine! But I’m not living with anyone who thinks me loving someone they don’t like is a sin. Got it?” I don’t think I’d ever yelled at my dad before. Hell, I’d rarely ever spoken back to him. So it took him aback, but he recovered quickly and his face collapsed in a red rage.
“Fine! Go! If you want to be a little faggot go have fun you little shit!”
With that lovely bomb dropped, he spun around and swept out of the room. I heard his feet stomping through the house, then the front door slammed and his truck engine roared to life.
I couldn’t move. My body was stalled between bright anger and the urge to sob. My fists crumpled the shirt still in my hands and I grabbed my duffle, stuffed it with whatever the hell was within reach, and left.
Once I was in the car I paused again. Where the fuck was I going? Will’s? I bit my lip at fought back tears at the thought of running to him and wrapping myself around him. I could bury myself in his arms and maybe everything would seem ok.
But I couldn’t.
I was too raw and I wasn’t ready to unpack what had happened with my dad yet. Will would want to know everything. He’d be justified too, but I couldn’t open myself like that yet. I needed to go somewhere less complicated.
I couldn’t seem to form words. Uncle TJ just hugged me and ushered me inside.
Within minutes I was sitting on his sofa with hot chocolate in my hands, my bag already in his extra room, and TJ sorting through his dvds. Sometimes there was nothing like family.
“I Am Legend?” he suggested.
Shaking my head, I told him, “I’ve had enough zombies for today.”
“Gotcha. How about… Have you seen Hot Fuzz?”
“No, what is it?”
TJ smiled. “It’s hilarious, is what it is! Made by the guy who did Shaun of the Dead. Though no zombies in this one—promise.”
I couldn’t help smiling. With anyone else I would’ve been annoyed to be treated like a kid with the hot cocoa and movie marathon suggestion, but I knew Uncle TJ didn’t think of me that way. So I went with it.
“Should I ask Will to come watch it with us?” He asked casually, but it would hardly be inviting Will to a casual movie night.
TJ sat down on the sofa and shook his head. “Why not?”
All I could do was shrug. How could I explain this? “I can’t… My mind is a mess. I’m a mess—I can’t even think. I need time to decompress. Plus, I don’t want to bring him into all my drama.”
“Cass…” I held up a hand to stay him. “Look, I know. I have to talk to Will. And I will, just…not this second, ok?”
TJ sighed and patted my back. “Whatever you need.”
I knew he wasn’t going to let that rest for long, but at least I could sit back and veg out before I dealt with reality again.