The thing about life altering decisions is, once you make them, they don't exactly put the rest of your life on hold.
"What about a shiny red shirt?" Luis asked, looking critically at Juan. "Maybe with the top buttons undone and a pair of tight, black jeans?"
Juan groaned and I shot him a sympathetic look. It was Friday after school and since there was no way I was gonna miss another Saturday with Owen after the Brandon Incident, I was at Juan's house trying to figure out the rest of Operation Woo Cheryl. The problem was, we kinda stalled on the Grand Romantic Gesture, got desperate, and now Juan's parents were helping us.
Oh and I do use that word in the loosest possible way.
"It's a school dance, not a gay bar," Antonio said in that no nonsense way he had. He was wearing jeans and a very tight t shirt, definitely a contrast with Luis' sweater and dress pants, and for probably the fiftieth time since I'd met them I wondered how two people so different could fit together so well. "Juan's never going to a gay bar." He looked at Juan. "Don't ever go to a gay bar."
"Papa," Juan groaned. "I'm not gay."
"I don't care," he said. "No gay bars."
Juan sighed. "Fine, papa I won't go to any gay bars."
Antonio's eyes narrowed. "Or clubs."
"Or clubs," Juan said impatiently.
"You either," he said, suddenly looking at me.
I swallowed. He was...scary, when he looked at me like that. It didn't help that he was pretty built and his shirt was REALLY tight and I might have developed a tiny crush on the way his arm flexed when he took a sip of his beer, so I was feeling guilty about possibly cheating on Owen too. Does that count as cheating? I think it does. God I'm a bad boyfriend.
"Y-yes, sir," I squeaked out.
"Good," he nodded, then took another drink.
"We met in a gay bar," Luis said archly, smirking at Antonio.
"Exactly. And don't think I forget about what happened five minutes after we met. No way our son is gonna be exposed to that. Or get drunk enough to do it himself," he said.
Luis' olive cheeks flushed a faint red and he giggled, but all he said was, "I still think the shirt would work."
"I don't think girls like the slutty twink look, dad," Juan said, rolling his eyes.
"How do you know that word?" Antonio asked, shooting me a suspicious look. I blushed of course.
"I have the internet and all my friends are gay or bi, can we please get back to helping me, please?" Juan said.
My face got even redder. And that was another thing, they both knew I was gay. Which is nice because I don't have to worry about whether they know or not, but it was also a bit disappointing because I was thinking about maybe coming out to them just to see if I actually could.
"It's almost too bad you aren't gay Juanny," Luis said, taking a long sip of wine. "You could be rolling in guys."
I let my hair fall in front of my face and hoped everyone would just forget I was there. Luis seemed a lot more normal the last time I was here, even with the cursing at the soccer game thing. But I was pretty sure the mostly empty wine bottle on the table had something to do with that. Seriously, what the hell is with adults and wine anyway? Can they just not handle it? Antonio had been drinking beer steadily all night and he seemed perfectly normal.
Oh, oh, he's doing it again.
Dreamy, guilty sigh.
"Yeah, I know, it sucks doesn't it," Juan deadpanned. "Can we PLEASE get back on topic here? Dance, girl, me not crashing and burning? All things we could be talking about that are way more important than gay bars-"
"And clubs," Antonio said.
"-and clubs, and me being a homo magnet."
"Ok, ok," Luis said, holding up his hands. Even the one with the wine glass in it. "No shiny shirts or tight jeans. Andy, what kind of clothes does this girl find attractive on boys?"
Just as I was getting the last one under control, I flushed slightly as everyone focused their attention on me. So much for not being noticed. At least the subject was getting changed.
"U-um," I said, brushing my hair back just enough so they could see my lips because I couldn't seem to force myself to get any louder. "She...I dunno? Um, normal stuff, I guess. Shirts and shoes and...um, pants?"
Luis raised an eyebrow. "And you've known her how long?"
"S-since birth," I said quietly, feeling all kinds of stupid for not thinking to ask in the last fifteen years. The only guy she'd ever 'dated' was Brandon and I didn't think mentioning that would do anything for keeping the conversation away from dressing Juan up like he was going to a gay bar. Or club.
There was a very, very pregnant silence, but thankfully no one called me out on being a terrible friend.
"Well," Luis said. "What's the dress like for the dance? What are people going to be wearing?"
"Um, nice things? Like, s-suits, and stuff," I said. I already had mine. My mom and Aunt Karen got way too excited when they found out we were going and bought us new clothes and made them match, even though we weren't going 'together', together. I barely looked at what they got. I think it was black. Or blue. Or some kind of color.
"Andy, dear," Luis said a few seconds later. "You're not really good at being gay, are you?"
I shrugged awkwardly.
"Luis, don't harass the poor kid. Not every gay guy needs to be a fashion expert," Antonio said, gesturing pointedly to himself.
"I'm just joking!" Luis said after taking another sip. "Andy, I don't mean anything by it, you know I'm just teasing you, right?" he asked, touching my shoulder lightly.
I knew NO such thing, but I nodded anyway. Luis smiled at me.
"Good!" he said. Then he turned to Antonio. "Besides, I gave up on getting you to dress yourself properly years ago. Andy's still young. He can be taught."
Antonio let out a sigh. "He can dress the way he wants. If he wants to wear jeans and a long sleeve, there's nothing wrong with that." He gave me a once over. "Although, maybe something less bland, with a picture or a logo? How about AC Milan?"
"Andy isn't your doll! Stop playing mental dress up," Juan cut in exasperatedly. He huffed. "Can we get back to focusing on ME maybe?"
"Are you SURE you're not gay?" Luis teased.
"Dad!" Juan yelled.
"Alright, sorry," Luis said. He went to take another sip and seemed surprised that his glass was empty. He shrugged, then poured some more from the bottle and took a drink. "So we'll just get you a suit, something elegant and tasteful. Good, so that's settled. Now, what's next?"
For a second I thought Juan was gonna argue, but he just let out a small, relieved breath. "We need more than a suit, we need, what did you call it dude?" he asked me.
"Grand romantic gesture," I said softly.
"Yeah, that," Juan said with a nod.
"And what would that be?" Luis asked.
"I dunno, something romantic. And grand."
Luis shot me a questioning look. I shrugged awkwardly.
"What he said," I said lamely.
Luis took another drink. "You guys don't have much."
"We're stuck!" Juan said. "That's why we got you to help!"
"Ok! Ok!" Luis said.
"Don't yell at your father," Antonio said sternly. "Apologize."
Juan let out a frustrated sigh. "Sorry, dad."
"It's ok," Luis smiled. He went to brush his hair off his forehead, missed, then got it on the second try. "So, grand and romantic? Ok, what about if Juanny gets lowered from the ceiling, like an angel? He can have a white suit and flowers and-"
"How about we keep it on this side of realistic, eh?" Antonio cut in.
Luis paused, then held the back of his hand up to his mouth to stifle a giggle. "Oh. Um, ok, yeah. Sorry. I'm getting a little carried away," he said sheepishly. Then he took another drink.
Juan shook his head, but didn't say anything.
"What about if Andy takes, what's the girls name again?" Luis asked.
"Cheryl," me and Juan said at the same time.
"Right. Cheryl. What if Andy takes Cheryl out to the front of the school to wait. We can hire a limo for Juan and have it pull up right in front of her. We'll get some doves and when he opens the door they'll fly out and he'll get out and walk up to her, then present her with a single white rose and gallantly offer his arm, thus securing her love and winning her eternal devotion," Luis said, beaming.
We all just stared at him.
"I think," Antonio said slowly, "it's time to put this away." He reached over and slid the wine bottle away from Luis.
"How about," Luis said, reaching over with exaggerated care, picking up the bottle by the top with two fingers and placing it down right in front of him, "we leave that right there."
Antonio shook his head ruefully. "Ok, but don't blame me tomorrow when you're hung over and embarrassed."
"I make no such promise," Luis said primly.
I leaned over towards Juan. "Is this normal?" I whispered in his ear.
"He's not even done with the first bottle. Trust me dude, this is tame," he said.
"Ok, if doves and limo's are out, then what CAN we do? What do we have to work with?" Luis asked.
"Me," Juan said.
"We have the suit for that," Luis said.
"It's still all we have," Juan said. Then he bit his lip thoughtfully. "Well, I guess Owen knows some people in the A/V club and they're setting up all the, you know, electric stuff for the dance so maybe we could have, lighting or something?"
"That's right!" Luis exclaimed. "I completely forgot about Owen."
He turned to me and narrowed his eyes.
"Don't you break Owen's heart," he said. It would have been threatening if he didn't jerk his hand too hard and slosh wine on the table. "We like Owen. Don't we?"
He looked at Antonio. "We like Owen, right?"
"We like all of Juan's friends," Antonio said patiently. He finished off his beer -I was too insulted/guilty/resentful/ashamed-at-how-close-I'd-come-to-breaking-Owen's-heart to actually enjoy it. But I was grateful that he seemed to be done with the drinking.
"Right," Luis said with a nod. He finished off his glass and poured another. "What was I saying?"
"You were threatening a boy you just met last week, about another boy you just met this week. It was dramatic and effective, and now we can move on," Antonio said. He shot me a quick smile that I think was supposed to be reassuring.
"Oh," Luis said frowning. "Good." He took a large gulp of wine. He picked up the wine bottle and tipped it up over the glass, frowning harder when nothing came out. He shook it a bit, but only three tiny drops dripped out. He seemed confused for a second, then gave a really exaggerated shrug.
"I need more, um," he held up the empty bottle. "This."
"In the wine cabinet," Antonio said.
"Right," Luis said. "Um..."
"Basement," Antonio said, pointing towards a door.
"Right," Luis said again. "I shall return! Then we'll teach Juanny how to dance!"
And with that he got up, slowly, and walked very deliberately out of the room.
"Ok, while he's gone let's figure this out," Antonio said.
"Thank God," Juan muttered under his breath.
"Don't be hard on your dad," Antonio chastised him. "He had a bad day at work and you did spring this on us out of nowhere. He's trying to help the best he can considering..."
"His toxic blood alcohol level?" Juan suggested helpfully.
"Yes," Antonio said. Then frowned at Juan. "But don't say things like that."
"Ok, ok," Juan said sullenly.
Then Antonio looked at me. "I'm sorry, by the way. About Luis' behavior. He isn't usually like this, especially when we have guests over. But like I said, he had a bad day so... I apologize. And I know Luis will apologize the next time you come over too. If you still feel comfortable coming over, that is."
"O-of course!" I said without even realizing I was gonna say anything. "Um, it's ok I mean. Um, my parents do the same thing. With wine I mean. So, it's not, like, something I haven't seen before? This one time-"
I snapped my jaw shut, cutting myself off. I felt my face heat up slightly at what I almost said. The less said about Virginia Beach Almost Naked Wine Bowling the better. I think the next three generations of my family are still banned from that bowling alley. What was really surprising though was that I felt comfortable enough to almost blurt that out. There was something about Antonio -something more than the way he drinks beer I mean- that was kind of calming. Even if they don't seem to share any interests besides soccer, I guess I can see why Luis fell in love with him. He seemed steady and dependable. Kind of like Owen, actually. Maybe that's why it's so easy to like him.
The tight shirt doesn't exactly hurt, either, I guess.
I am a horrible person.
"Um," I said. "Yeah. So, it's no big deal."
"It is," Antonio said. "But I'm glad you understand. It took so long for Juan to invite any of his friends over, I'd hate for either of us to make him too embarrassed to invite you back."
"Papa," Juan said with a slight frown. "You know it wasn't because you guys embarrassed me-"
"I know," Antonio said. He gave Juan a quick, warm smile.
I felt my chest tighten. Would my dad ever smile at me like that after I come out? God! Am I gonna feel like this every time I see someone elses warm, father-son moment? Thankfully, a crash and a loud, Spanish curse from downstairs broke up the mood before I could start moping.
"Ok," Antonio said. "We don't have much time, so let's try to figure this out."
He looked at Juan, who nodded. Then, to my surprise, he looked at me. Since being included in anything is still new enough to make me blush, I did that, then nodded too.
Antonio nodded back to both of us. "So, here's what I was thinking...."
His idea was actually pretty good. Realistic, doable and didn't involve birds or ceiling harnesses. We'd need to work out some stuff and get Owen to talk to the A/V people he knew though. If he couldn't convince them to go along, the whole thing would be shot. But by the time Luis made his way back up from the basement -with two bottles of wine- we had a decent plan outlined that I thought would probably moisten Cheryl's panties.
Ok. Ew. Images that will never leave my head.
Antonio walked over to Luis and talked to him softly. I only heard a few words of Spanish, but after about five minutes they both went into a different room together instead of trying to help us, so I figured that was one of the things he said. Me and Juan talked about The Plan. Me asking if he was SURE he wanted to do it, and him worrying about whether Owen would be able to pull off his part. I defended my Owen of course, even though I really had no idea.
After a few minutes Antonio came back into the kitchen.
"Ok, he's in the living room and he's probably gonna end up passing out on the couch. It's getting pretty late, so, Juan, you're going to have to stay here and make sure your dad is ok while I drive Andy home," he said with an apologetic smile.
"Papa," Juan whined. "I-"
"No arguments," Antonio said firmly.
I swallowed. "Y-you don't need to drive me home. Um, I walked here so I can walk back."
"Don't be ridiculous. It's pitch dark outside. I'm not letting you walk home and get run over," he said. "I can't afford another one of those lawsuits."
He said it so seriously that it took several seconds and Juan rolling his eyes and saying "Papa, your jokes are crap" for me to realize he was kidding. I forced an awkward laugh.
"Come on," he said. "Let's get you home before your parents start to worry."
The drive home was short, but I'd had enough time to think something over and when he pulled up in front of my house I didn't get out. It was the best opportunity I was gonna have for something like this and I could definitely use some advice from someone who'd, probably, gone through it before. No matter how hard it was to ask. In the end, the only way I could convince myself to do it was by thinking of just asking as practice.
"Um, M-Mr-" Shit! What's his last name!?
"Didn't I tell you to call me Antonio?" he said mildly.
"Oh, um, A-Antonio, c-can I ask you something?" I asked.
"Sure," he said. He smiled reassuringly, but for some reason that just made me more nervous and I glanced away.
Oh God, I can't ask this.
Jesus Christ Baxter, if you can't even ask him then how the hell are you ever gonna tell your dad-
"H-how did you, I mean, um, come-did you, come out, and, uh, how?" I asked, blushing harder at every word.
He didn't say anything at first, and I started chewing on my lip. "Are you asking in general?" he asked finally. "Or about someone specific?"
I swallowed. "P-parents," I said softly.
I heard him shift slightly in his seat, but I still couldn't look at him. "Are you not out to your parents?" He asked gently.
"N-no," I whispered.
"But you want to be?" he asked.
God, that was so much more complicated than 'yes' or 'no', but I nodded anyway.
"And, are you just worried about telling them? Or do you really think they'll react badly?"
"M-my dad," I managed.
He was silent for what seemed like three eternities, more than enough time for me to regret asking but not enough to get up enough courage to tell him to forget about it, then he sighed.
"My father didn't take it well either," he said finally. "I told him when I was a lot older than you, and that was the last time I ever spoke to him. The rest of my family...some are ok with it, some came around, and some won't speak to me. My mother was one of the ones that came around eventually. She tried to talk him into at least calling me, but he never did. He...died, a few years ago. I couldn't even bring my husband and my son to the funeral because I heard that it would have been 'insensitive' to flaunt myself like that. I ended up not going. So I'm probably not the best person to ask for advice about this."
Great. And now I felt horrible for bringing up something that painful. "I-I'm sorry!" I said, looking at him in horror. "I didn't mean to-"
"It's ok," he said, smiling gently. He gave my shoulder a brief squeeze. "You didn't know, and it's important to ask these things. You seem like a nice kid though, smart and well adjusted and cared for. For what it's worth, I don't think anyone who raises someone like that would ever completely reject them."
Even ignoring the 'well adjusted' thing because, obvious reasons, I didn't know whether I should let that make me feel better or not. It was a nice thought, but the wrong kind of hope could be dangerous. Antonio didn't know my dad. I needed to be prepared for the worst, and listening to the pain in his voice when he talked about his dad dying never even trying to make things better with him was a pretty good 'worst' to prepare for. Could that really happen to me? I blinked away tears.
"It's not all bad though," Antonio went on. Kinda quickly I thought. Like maybe he was regretting saying that and making me cry in his car. "I lost my father, but I got a new family. Luis and Juan, Luis' parents, his brother, they're all closer to me than my own family ever was. And my mother visits sometimes too. I can tell she doesn't really understand it, but she loves Juan, and that's more than enough for me."
Hurried, guilty, add on explanation or not, it did make me feel a little better. I thought of Owen, and Nurse Amy's easy acceptance. I thought of a future with a house and a dog or three and maybe a tiny little Owen running around, costing us money and taking up our free time and making us a family. It was a nice image. It would be a lot better with a grandpa willing to take the little Owen for a weekend every now and then, but it could probably survive without one.
"Thanks," I said softly. I gave Antonio a small, quick smile.
"I'm sorry I couldn't be more help," he said.
"You helped," I said quickly.
He looked at me for a few seconds, probably trying to tell if I was telling the truth, then nodded. "Look, if you come out to your parents and it doesn't go well, you can always come stay with us for a while."
I blinked. "Wh-what?"
He smiled. "You're Juan's friend. We'd feel terrible if you got kicked out and were living on the streets when we could offer you a place to live. Besides, we have to do something to pay you back for pimping your best friend out to our son."
Again it took me a second to realize that last bit was a joke, but when I did a short, wobbly laugh forced its way out of my throat.
"Th-thanks," I said. I couldn't say anything else. As shocking as it was that someone I barely know, the dad of a friend I just MADE for fucks sake, would offer to let Andy the Hated One stay at his house, I still wanted to turn him down. I wanted to say that it was unnecessary -even if it did make him one of my favoritest adults ever- because Owen and Nurse Amy would take me in and I could live there. But I didn't even know if that was true. She seemed perfectly happy with us being together, but she doesn't want us together behind a closed door so would she want me living with them? Even if I had nowhere else to go? I had no idea. So I didn't say anything.
Antonio didn't seem like he took it as a rejection though. He just gave me another shoulder squeeze. "I'm sure it will work out for you though. But we're here if you need us."
I swallowed around the lump in my throat, and nodded. "Thanks," I said again. "Um, I should get..." I pointed to my front door.
"Of course," Antonio said. "Good luck. And thank you for helping Juan find a girl. We'll see you back over soon, yes?"
I nodded again. "Sure," I said.
"See you later then," he said.
I waved, then got out of the car and walked into my house.
Saturday was surprisingly good.
It was terrifying at first of course, I did the whole 'standing out in front of the house waiting for it to eat me' thing. The only thing that got me up the stairs was telling myself that this would be a million times less horrible than being out at school, so I should think of it as like a vaccination or something. When I finally got the balls to ring the bell, Nurse Amy seemed happy to see me and Owen pushed her out of the way and gave me a hug and a quick kiss, right there in front of her.
I blushed for almost an hour.
But, after that, I started to relax. Owen was always touching me -not like that!- just little touches like holding my hand or leaning against me or resting his head on my shoulder and each one made me wanna pass out a little bit less. Made me look forward to the next touch a little bit more. Even if Nurse Amy made a point to walk through the room we were in at least once every twenty minutes.
We never went up to Owen's room. I didn't know if that was a Nurse Amy rule, or a way for Owen to get the maximum amount of 'being a couple in front of someone else' time, but it didn't really bother me either way. We mostly stayed in the living room and watched movies. We finished up the end of Alien -I blushed almost the entire time- and then started on Aliens. Not exactly the most romantic movies ever, but Owen needed to "fill the gaps in my movie education", or something. But the weird thing is, halfway through, I started to feel romantic.
I could actually see why Owen would wanna be open. After the potential for strokes went away, it was kinda nice to have Nurse Amy see Owen holding my hand and just smile slightly and go on with her life. It made me feel...normal. Like I wasn't something to make fun of or hate. It was kind of addictive.
Eventually I started touching Owen back. Hesitant, small touches at first. But pretty quickly I was grabbing Owen's hand on my own and resting my head on his shoulder and when Owen put his arm around my shoulder right as Nurse Amy walked through the room I just snuggled up close to him and let out a tiny, happy sigh. Owen kissed the top of my head and held me and I could practically feel the blinding light of his smile warm the room just a little bit.
If I hadn't already decided to come out, that would have done it.
The movie ended and Owen reluctantly let me go to lean over the arm of the couch and grab the remote.
"So, what do you wanna watch next?" he asked. "We can do Alien 3 even though it's kinda meh or we can start with the Predator mov-"
"I'm gonna tell my dad!" I blurted out. I blinked. Wow. Did I just say that? I wasn't even planning on telling Owen, but seeing him this happy and feeling it too and knowing that when I left his smile would be just a little less bright and a little more forced, was too much. I wanted him to know that he wouldn't have to wait three years to feel like this every day. Even if it just put more pressure on me to do it fast.
"About...the movie?" Owen asked with this adorable, confused frown.
"About, um, us," I said softly.
The remote thumping softly against the carpet was the only sign that Owen heard me. He was completely frozen. Is that how I look when that happens to me? Because it's kind of weird. But kinda cute-
After a few seconds Owen blinked rapidly. "What?"
I licked my lips. "I'm telling my dad," I said, stronger this time. It was the first time I actually said that whole sentence out loud and it wasn't as terrifying as I thought it would be. It felt...kinda good, actually.
In a terrifying sort of way I mean.
"Are you serious?" he asked. I still couldn't tell how he was reacting. I thought he'd be really happy, but his whole face was kinda closed down.
"Yes." I nodded.
Owen opened his mouth, but Nurse Amy walked in before he could say anything. He scowled at her.
"Mom, me and Andy need to talk. I'm taking him up to my room," he said, standing up and grabbing my wrist.
"Wait!" Nurse Amy said. Owen had already half pulled me up from the couch when he froze again. I was all off balance and almost fell, but then he pulled me up and turned to face his mom.
"Why do you need to go to your room to 'talk'?" she asked, cocking her eyebrow.
"Mom," he groaned. He didn't blush even a little bit at the skeptical eyebrow thing, which was ok because I was doing enough of that for both of us. "It's important. And private."
"You want private time in your room?"
"No! You're-we just need to talk and we can't do it here with you walking in and listening to us. It's about something important that has nothing to do with you and we're just going to talk, I promise."
"What do you have to talk about?" she asked.
"It's. Private," Owen ground out.
Nurse Amy looked back and forth between both of us. It didn't do anything for my blushing, and I was pretty sure that wasn't helping convince her that this was all innocent. Finally she sighed.
"You know I'd rather you stay down here," she said.
"God, mom, seriously. It's not like we're gonna have sex with you right down here," Owen said.
"That didn't stop you befo-"
"MOM!" Owen yelled. This time his face got a little red, but I couldn't tell if it was from embarrassment or anger.
Still embarrassment for me though.
"Sorry," she said sheepishly. I guess she realized that was maybe going a little too far. "Ok, you can go. Just keep your door open and remember the rules we talked about, ok?"
Oh God they talked about this!?
Ok, I guess of course they talked about it. Owen told me they did. But still.
They talked about this?!
"Ok, yeah," Owen said. "Come on."
He grabbed my wrist and pulled me upstairs with him. When we got in his room he turned around like he was gonna close the door, but brought his hand back at the last second, muttering something about stupid parents. I brushed my hair out of my face as he turned around and looked at me. Then he started pacing. But almost as soon as he started, he stopped and walked over to me, coming to a stop less than two feet away.
"Why?" he asked, biting his lip. It was a LOT sexier and more distracting than Antonio's arms, and I felt relieved.
"What?" I asked stupidly.
"Why are you telling your dad?" he asked. "Is it because of me?"
"Yes," I answered, smiling.
Instead of smiling back, he sighed. "Andy, I don't want you doing this for me. I don't want you to do ANYTHING for me, not unless you want to, but especially this."
My smile faded. God, I thought he'd be happy about this. Except, of course I should have known better because Owen's always hated me doing things just for him. But this wasn't like that.
"I do!" I said. "I mean, I do wanna do this. I WANT to tell him."
"No, you don't. You're a terrible liar Andy," Owen said sadly.
I huffed. "Fine, ok, maybe I don't wanna tell my dad. But I DO wanna come out and I can't do that and not tell him. It'll get back to him somehow, so I need to tell him first."
Owen stared at me. I started chewing on my bottom lip, scared that he was gonna say I was lying again because I had NO idea how I was gonna convince him if he didn't believe me.
"You wanna come out?" he asked slowly, disbelievingly.
"Yes," I said. I surprised myself with how sure and clear I sounded. I never thought I'd actually want this, but today showed me how it could be.
"You wanna be like a regular couple? In school?" He still sounded skeptical. Which was gonna make him like my answer even less.
"No," I said, smiling. I'm sure that confused him just as much as my answer.
"But I DO wanna be a regular couple everywhere else," I cut him off. "I wanna be able to hold your hand when we're walking in the mall, or cuddle up with you when we're at the movies, or sit next to you in restaurants instead of across from you. I wanna be able to smile at you in public without caring if anyone sees or what they think. I wanna just, be WITH you. And I want everyone that sees you to know they can't be, because you're already mine."
I blushed slightly after admitting that, but for once I didn't let it distract me.
"And there's no point in being that way with you everywhere but at school. People are gonna know and find out." I swallowed around the lump in my throat. This was the one thing I hadn't thought of a way out of. But, without even thinking about it, I realized that I'd already decided. I'd decided that if Owen was willing to take the risk, then I couldn't let my own fears keep him from living life the way he wanted to. "And, they're gonna say things, whether we're out at school or not. So, we should just do whatever makes us happy and deal with things when they happen."
Owen didn't say anything. My sudden confidence and sureness started to wilt a little. Was he gonna tell me not to do it? Was he gonna sacrifice what he wanted to do what he thought was best for me, even though we both really wanted the same thing?
Then, slowly, he smiled at me.
"Andy," he said softly. "Is that really what you want?"
I let out a relieved breath that I hadn't even realized I was holding, and smiled back. "Yeah," I said. "After today, more than anything."
His smile got wider. "I can't believe it. I never thought-but we don't need to do it at school. I still don't want you doing things just for me. We can-"
I cut him off with a frustrated growl. "Dammit, I WANT to do it for you. It's....you do so much for me and relationships are all about doing things for the other person even if you might not wanna do them yourself and I'm doing this for you so fucking deal with it!"
I tried to glare, but the blush was probably killing the effect. God, did I really just say that? Apparently I did, judging by Owen's shocked look. I swallowed nervously. "Um, please?" I added hastily.
That got threw to him. He chuckled lightly. "Well, since you asked so nicely."
"Shut up," I groaned. Owen just laughed again.
It died quickly though. He looked me in the eyes wonderingly. "I just can't believe you'd do this for me. You're...perfect."
"I'm doing it for US," I said, flushing a bit and smiling stupidly at his praise.
He took a step closer, and suddenly my face was heating up for a whole new reason. "I love you," he said solemnly, and then he kissed me.
I kissed him back, of course. With all the swooning and heart racing you'd expect, even for a kiss that didn't last all that long.
"I wish you didn't have to tell your dad though," Owen said after the kiss. "I don't want you to lose him because of me."
I sighed, and sunk into his arms. "It was always gonna happen someday. It's just...sooner than I thought."
"Still," Owen said, holding me tighter. "Do you...want me to be there when you do it?"
I smiled, even as I had a tiny heart attack thinking about that. "No. Not that I don't appreciate the offer! But, um, it'd probably just be a million times worse if you were right in front of him when I tell him."
Visions of blame and possibly at least an attempted murder flashed through my head.
"What do you think he'll do?" Owen asked.
"I dunno," I said softly, assuming he was talking about what my dad would do to me, not what he'd do if Owen was there. "Yell, probably. Maybe-" my voice hitched and I swallowed heavily. "Maybe th-throw me out, or, I dunno. It won't be good though."
"You know," Nurse Amy said. "If he throws you out, you could always stay here."
I screamed -loudly and probably way more high pitched than anyone with boy bits ever should- and jumped back away from Owen.
"MOM!" Owen yelled, wide eyes. "What the fuck?!"
"Language," she scolded, poking her head around the doorway. Then she smiled sheepishly. "And, sorry. For listening in."
"You were listening!?" Owen yelled.
"Well, of course," she said defensively, stepping fully into the doorway. "You didn't really think I believed that you were just gonna come up here and talk, did you?"
"That's all we did!" he yelled.
"Well, NOW I know that," she said.
"Oh my God, mom, this is seriously screwed up. Have you ever HEARD of privacy? Or maybe trust? Or maybe even just not telling us that you were listening in and, how long were you there anyway?!"
"I followed you up," she said. Then she sighed. "And I really am sorry. You're right, I should have trusted you and not listened in. But I'm glad I did because maybe I can help."
She turned to me.
"Andy, do you want ME to be there when you tell your dad?" she asked.
I choked on the breath I was trying to take. "Ack! N-no!"
"I could help," she went on. "I could talk to him about what it's like raising a gay son-"
Owen snorted and muttered something under his breath that no one payed attention to.
"-and tell him that you're still the same person you were before. Maybe get him to see that it's not the end of the world?"
I shook my head. "I-n-no. Um, none of that is the problem. It's...it's not something you can help with."
"Mom, no, you need to leave," Owen said.
"I'm just trying-"
"Mom," Owen said sternly. "Listen to me. You're not helping. We're both embarrassed and you can't help Andy. Just do what you should have done in the first place and trust me, ok? I'll tell you about it later just leave now. Please."
Nurse Amy looked like she wanted to say more, but in the end she reluctantly nodded. "Alright. But if you need my help with anything, I'm here, ok? And Andy, the offer to stay here is open, ok?"
I nodded shakily. "Th-thank you."
She smiled at me, then walked out of the room. Owen ran to the door and pushed it shut behind her.
"Can't expect me to keep the door open after that crap," he muttered softly. Then he spun around to face me. "God, Andy, I'm so sorry about her. I had no idea she would do something like that. And I promise I won't tell her anything. That was just, you know, lying."
I couldn't even try to smile for him.
He walked over and pulled me into his arms. "Are you ok?"
I thought I probably should have been a little bit upset that he apparently thought I was gonna fly apart just because his mom was listening in to our whole, very personal, conversation, but since I was kind of shaking and more mortified than I'd ever been in my life, I just soaked up the comfort of his arms and told my little bit of pride to deal with it.
"I am now," I said. I winced slightly at the cheesy line, but Owen just tightened his arms and that quickly became the only thing I cared about.
After that he just held me. Which was beyond nice. I still couldn't believe that Nurse Amy heard our whole conversation. Being close to Owen though, made it not seem so bad. I briefly wished that he could be there, doing this when I told my dad, but that really would just make it a lot worse. Not to mention kinda make the whole 'telling' part completely unnecessary. Maybe-no, no, don't you even start thinking it. Just enjoy being in his arms and keep your stupid ideas buried.
I burrowed closer to Owen.
When the heart piercing embarrassment faded a bit, I thought about what Nurse Amy said. She actually offered to let me stay with her if my dad threw me out. Just like Antonio. I wonder if that's what he meant when he talked about getting a new family. If so, I could kinda see where he was coming from. I didn't wanna think about my dad throwing me out of the house, but if he did it was nice to know I had two places to go. Even if there was only one I'd choose. It might even be nice, living with Owen.
Except, I actually had to tell my dad first. And that was the next problem.
How the freaking hell do I do that?
Surprisingly, I didn't have to wait that long to get an answer.
It was Sunday, and I was starting to get twitchy. Probably less twitchy than I would have been if Owen hadn't thought he could pull off his part of the Juan Plan, but still. Ever since I decided to come out to my dad, I had a hard time being in the same room with him without feeling anxious and nervous. I didn't know how to tell him, and I didn't know how he was gonna react, but I knew time was running out. If I didn't do it soon I'd either have a legit heart attack from all the stress or Andy out and give up on telling him. So, being trapped at a dinner table with my whole family on another 'Uncle Russel visits and everyone gets drunk' night wasn't at all what I wanted to be doing with my night.
Except that was what ended up solving my problems.
I was upstairs on my computer, reading email. I'd asked Nate and Vicky for advice about coming out a few days ago, and it turned out to be one of those things that seems really smart and forward thinking when you're doing it and then you seriously regret it later. Nate sent me two, really long, rambling emails that made no sense. All stuff about religious dads mixed with what I guessed were science fiction allegories and about thirty different ways of saying 'don't ever come out at dinner'. The one, much shorter, email from Vicky was better, he just apologized for Nate's emails and said that he was sorry but he never actually came out to anybody on purpose so he didn't have any advice for me, but it was about as helpful. I sighed and closed down my Hotmail tab.
I was officially out of ideas. Not that I had a lot of people to ask, I guess. The only other one was Kenny and he wasn't even sure what his sexuality was, never mind even thinking about telling anyone. Plus every time it got brought up he just said he didn't wanna talk about it and changed the subject. I had nothing. The only example of coming out I had was when me and Owen told his friends, but that was more Owen than me. I guess I could just do exactly what he did, but my dad doesn't play video games, so I'd have to improvise. Maybe while he's watching the news?
I sighed again. I'm so hopeless.
"Andy!" my dad yelled from downstairs, making me flinch in my chair. "Russel's here! Come down and say hi!"
I slumped. Great. I was so not looking forward to watching adults get smashed on wine again. There should be, like, a legal limit on how many times in a seven day period you're allowed to go through that. Maybe I should just wait until Uncle Russel gets drunk and then ask how he came out.
Actually...that wasn't that bad of an idea.
I bit my lip, then winced at how raw it was from all the chewing I'd been doing since Friday, then started biting my thumbnail and thought. Ok, so, maybe the getting drunk part wasn't good because he stays with my parents until he passes out, but maybe I could talk to him before? My heart sped up and about four different neuroses started hyperventilating, but it was the only idea I had left, and I was desperate enough to latch onto it. It would even be better, because he's known my dad forever and out of anyone he'd be the one to know how he'd react too! I started to get a bit excited. Even if it was bad, at least I'd know, you know?
I nodded to myself. Ok. That's what I'll do then.
It took me five minutes to talk myself into walking downstairs.
When I finally got down there they were all in the living room, sitting on the various furniture, talking. My parents were on the couch, and Uncle Russel was sitting in the recliner across from them, saying something stimulating about the weather.
"Hey, kid," Russel called when he noticed me slink into the room. "What's up? Kids still say that these days, right?" he added, with a teasing smirk.
"No-I mean, yes, nothing, I mean..." I moaned softly to myself as I flushed. So smooth. "Um, I'll just, sit here."
I took a seat on the end of the couch my parents were on. Everyone looked a little surprised that I actually stayed -but not at all surprised at how much of a verbal loser I was, of course- and I started to feel a little self conscious.
After a few seconds, Russel started in with the usual adult small talk questions; how have you been, how's school, got any girlfriends yet. I managed to mumble out answers to all of them, even the girlfriend one, more or less coherently and eventually they all just started talking about whatever again. After a little bit, they all got up to move into the dining room.
"Um," I said, tugging at Russel's sleeve as he walked by me. "C-can I, um, talk to you? For a second?"
I hoped it didn't seem too suspicious, I'd talked to him about stuff on my own before so it really shouldn't, but, massive paranoia problem, remember? Completely unnecessary paranoia, because my dad absently nodded when he overheard and said dinner would be ready in ten minutes.
"So, what's up?" Russel asked easily when we were alone.
"Not here," I whispered, totally aware of how bad spy novel I was sounding, but not at all caring. "Let's go somewhere more private."
"Okay," Russel said, sounding amused.
I led him upstairs and into my room, closing the door firmly behind me. I turned around and he raised a questioning eyebrow.
"Um," I said, licking my lips. Great. I had no idea what to say. It suddenly hit me that this was gonna be the first time I actually ever came out to anybody by myself. My palms started to sweat. Could I actually do this? Oh God, I don't think I can! And if I can't come out to Uncle Russel, how the hell could I ever tell my dad?
I almost told him to forget it, that it wasn't important and I could ask him later and the he'd get drunk with my parents and completely forget about it. But then I remembered all the reasons I needed to tell my dad. Not just for Owen, but for me to.
"Can I ask you something?" I said quietly.
"Sure," he said. He sounded more serious, maybe even tiny bit concerned, like maybe he was picking up on this being Something Important. "Ask away."
I took a deep breath, but what came out wasn't what I meant to ask. "How did dad take it when he found out you were gay?"
Russel seemed startled, whatever he was expecting obviously wasn't close to that. "That's...an odd question."
I shrugged awkwardly and fought not to look away.
"Why do you wanna know?" he asked gently.
"I..." My throat closed up. God, this was so much harder than I thought it would be. How is that even possible?
"Is this about your friend? Owen?" he asked. My heart couldn't decide whether to start pounding or stop completely. Did he know? How could he know? Dammit this means I STILL haven't come out to anybody! "Are you and Cheryl covering for him?"
I blinked. Huh?
Russel smiled reassuringly. "I thought the whole 'you asking a boy out for Cheryl' thing was a bit strange," he said knowingly. "Are you hiding that he's gay because you're worried about how your dad will react? You shouldn't. You know your dad won't care, right? He'd never have a problem with you hanging out with anyone as long as they weren't bad people."
Oh God. Misconceptions.
"It-it's not-I...." I said softly, then swallowed hard. In the end, I was so preoccupied with worrying about saying it that I almost completely missed when I did. "It's not just Owen. I-I mean...it's m-me. Too. Um, also. I'm...gay."
It was so weird how the world didn't actually end.
"Oh," Uncle Russel said, shocked. Like, really shocked. Which was kind of nice, knowing that there was at least one person in the world besides Brandon who didn't automatically look at me and think 'homo!'. But what he said next pretty much ruined the niceness.
"Oh Andy," he said, his voice full of an awful, terrifying sympathy. "I'm so sorry. Your dad..." He trailed off and winced.
And there it was. Confirmation of everything I'd ever been scared of. He couldn't even bring himself to say it. It felt like there was this cold, heavy ball in the middle of my chest, slowly growing bigger and bigger, making it almost impossible to breathe.
"He's gonna hate me. Isn't he?" I asked quietly. I almost sounded calm, even though I was anything but.
"No," Russel said immediately. "He's not gonna hate you. He-"
His denial sparked a tiny flash of hope, but it was quickly smothered by reality. "Yes he is. He's gonna hate me because I'm not gonna get married and I'm not gonna make more Baxters, not the way he wants, and it's the only thing he's ever wanted from me and I'm not gonna do it and he's gonna HATE me."
I was practically hyperventilating by the time I was done babbling. I barely even noticed that there were hands on my shoulders until they shook me slightly.
"Andy," Russel said calmly. "Look at me."
I blinked a few times, then focused on him. He'd squatted down so we were eye to eye and he was looking at me more seriously than I'd ever seen him.
"Your dad is NOT going to hate you," he said firmly.
He sounded so sure that I wanted to believe him, but... "But I can't carry on the-"
"Don't," he cut me off angrily. "Don't give me that Baxter name crap. Jesus! I can't believe he's pushing his shit onto you like that. I told him-" He cut himself off with a growl.
I blinked, startled. "What?" I wasn't even really sure what I was asking. I was beyond confused. But he seemed to take it a certain way. He let me go and stood up straight before going over and sitting on the edge of my bed.
"Sit down," he said, gesturing to my desk chair. I slowly walked over and sat down. Russel sighed.
"I shouldn't even be telling you this," he said. "It's not really my place, but I never in a million years thought he'd go this far or that you'd end up being gay...you are sure about that, right? God what a stupid question, of course you are if you're thinking about telling him." He paused. "You ARE thinking about telling him, right?"
Russel sighed again. "Ok. Are you sure you want to? Because it might be easier if you-no, that's stupid because you'd have to tell him eventually anyway."
I nodded again, but I don't think he noticed.
"Your dad told you about your grandpa, right? His dad I mean?" he asked. I nodded yet again. "What did he tell you?"
I blinked. I had no idea what that had to do with anything, but I answered anyway. "Th-that he was the first Baxter to make something out of himself. That he did something and made money and told my dad how important it is for Baxters to be, like, special and put the family first and stuff."
It was the best I could summarize it without repeating my dad's speeches word for word. I definitely didn't wanna do that right now.
Russel let out a disgusted snort. "I can't believe him."
A thought suddenly popped into my head. "Was he lying?"
"No," he said, almost reluctantly. "Your dad isn't a liar. And neither was his dad. He really did 'make something' out of himself. Your dad though..."
He shook his head. "Did you know your dad used to hate getting the 'great Baxter family' speech? I've known Drew since we were kids and I can't even count how many times he complained about it and then when he got older how many times they fought about it. Drew hated that his dad wanted a perfect clone of himself, hated hearing about all his 'responsibilities as a Baxter' and everything else Drew III used to go on about."
That...didn't at all sound like my dad. But I didn't think Uncle Russel was lying. He sounded too angry. "What happened?" I asked hesitantly.
"We were at college," Russel said. "Drew had finally-God, I'm not even telling this right. I'm skipping around. Um. Your grandpa had a textile factory that he built up from nothing. That's how he made his money. He wanted Drew to take it over from him when he got old enough, but Drew hated the idea. He also hated the whole idea that Baxters were somehow special just because they all named their kids the same damn thing. They fought about it all the time. In the end, the only way Drew even got to college was with scholarships and a graduation check from his mom, his dad didn't even show up to our graduation since Drew had made it pretty clear that he wanted nothing to do with his company or the family name.
"So, college. They hadn't talked for almost four years when your grandma called and told him that his dad had died. Drew didn't take it well. As much as he resented his dad for trying to run his life, he still loved him and hoped that they'd have a better relationship one day. I think that was even part of the reason why he went to college. To show his dad that he could be successful on his own, just like he'd done. It was even worse when he went home for the funeral though. Your grandpa had been sick for a while, too sick to run the company, and it turned out that the guy he'd trusted to run it for him had been stealing from him the whole time. By the time anyone found out it was too late to do anything. They'd already spent everything that wasn't tied up in the company on your grandpa's medical bills and in the end they had to sell the company to some foreign corporation. Not to mention their house. When Drew got back, your grandma was living in a nursing home by herself.
"The point is, Drew blamed himself for all of that. His dad had always said that he couldn't trust anyone but a Baxter with his company and Drew had always called him old fashioned for that, but he thought that if he'd just done what his dad wanted then they wouldn't have lost everything. It was stupid, I don't even think there's any textile factories in this country anymore, but I couldn't talk him out of thinking it was his fault."
Russel sighed again and ran his fingers through his hair. "I wish I'd tried harder though. I knew he felt guilty and I knew he wanted to keep the Baxter family traditions going to honor his dad, but I didn't know he was doing the same damn thing to you that his dad did to him. But, you have to know that your dad loves you. He loves you more than anything. He's just been putting his own issues on you for so long that he's not gonna take it well when he finds out you're gay. But don't for a second think he doesn't love you."
Tragic pasts. Those are always a bitch. And they seemed to be a parental theme this weekend. I didn't even know how I was supposed to feel. I guess it explained some things about my dad. But it was weird thinking that the guy who'd given me lecture after lecture on 'what a Baxter does and doesn't do' and how important it is to always live up to the Baxter name could have had the same thoughts I do about that stuff when he was younger. I couldn't even picture him that way. The only thing I really was sure about was how it feels to disappoint your dad, or knowing that you're gonna disappoint your dad. I knew it could mess with you, make you scared of things, make you act a certain way. If I came out to my dad and he had a heart attack and died from the shock, I didn't know what I'd do. But it wouldn't be that hard to imagine me doing everything he'd ever wanted me to, just to make the guilt go away.
In the end, all I knew for sure was that there was only one part of what Uncle Russel had said that I needed to worry about right now. "Define, 'not taking it well'," I asked softly.
"I don't know," he said. "He'll definitely be upset."
I laughed shakily. "I kinda figured that out on my own."
Russel frowned slightly. "Are you ok? I know this is a lot to deal with, especially when you're already dealing with so much."
"It doesn't matter," I said, ignoring how stupid of a question that was. "All that stuff about my dad, it's nice to know, but he's still gonna react exactly how I thought he would."
"That's not true," he said. "You thought he wouldn't love you. But I'm telling you he will. No matter what he says or does. Eventually, he'll get over it. Because you're still the most important thing in his life."
I smiled slightly. I guess he had a point. If I was believing everything else I had to believe that too. I was still terrified, but that actually did make me feel a bit better. Maybe someday the tiny Owen will have a grandpa after all.
"Yeah. Still, the 'eventually' is gonna suck," I said.
"I know," Russel said quietly. "Do you want me to be there with you, when you tell him?"
Not doing this alone would be awesome. And, as bad as this makes me sound, I don't care if my dad takes it out on him nearly as much as Owen. I nodded rapidly. "Yes please."
"Ok," he said. He smiled at me and ruffled my hair. "Whenever you're gonna do this, just give me a call and I'll come over, ok?"
"Ok," I said, standing up. "Let's go."
"Wait, you're gonna do it now!?" he exclaimed.
"If I don't, I'll just think about what you said and I'll get terrified and never do it. I need to do it. And I need to do it now," I said. I was totally surprised at how calm I sounded. Even more surprised at how calm I felt.
He's still gonna love you. I held that thought in front of me like a shield.
"Andy, maybe you should think-" he started.
No way. Thinking was my biggest problem. It was time to just do.
"Let's go," I said again. I turned around and quickly walked out of the room. Russel got up and fast walked after me, but thankfully he didn't try to stop me.
We walked downstairs and into the kitchen. My mom was in the dining room, setting up the plates and stuff, so my dad was the only one there. His back was to be as he checked whatever was in the oven. My heart started to pound. This was it. I was really gonna do it.
He's still gonna love you. Owen needs this, and so do you. Shield and sword. There we go. Let's do this.
"Dad," I said. "I need to talk to you."