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These past eight weeks have taken a toll on me physically and mentally. My anxiety about moving has morphed into loss of appetite, insomnia, weird dreams, and migraine headaches. I’ve tried everything to change my parents’ mind to let me stay here in South Hill, but I’ve gotten nowhere. It’s left me feeling defeated and miserable. It seems the only time I feel like myself is when I’m with Slade. I only have four weeks left with him, and I’m going to make the most of them.
Today is my 18th birthday. I wake up with a bright smile and a fluttering heart. Slade doesn’t know about the small picnic that I have planned for us tonight at our spot down by the dam, or that I’m telling him I love him for the first time. It also helps that the rest of his family is at his Uncle Nathan’s this weekend, if things were to progress for us tonight.
However, those plans are on hold because my parents are throwing me a huge barbeque. Most of the neighborhood is here to celebrate. I watch everyone. Dad works the grill while he laughs with his friends. Ma makes her way through the crowd to see if everyone is okay. Candace points at boys with her friends. Groups of people are talking, dancing, and swimming in our above ground pool.
Slade and I lock eyes and he gestures towards the house. I nod. We haven’t had time for a proper hello since he arrived an hour ago. He goes in first and I follow a couple minutes later walking directly to the laundry room. Stepping inside, I can’t help smiling at him. I click the lock behind me.
“We only have a few minutes,” I tell him.
“Get that cute ass of yours over here then.” He pulls me to him by my shirt, and I lock my arms around his neck, kissing him with renewed enthusiasm. I lift him up and set him atop the washing machine, and put my head on his shoulder. He sighs quietly, “Happy birthday, baby, you’re officially an old man now.”
Laughing, I take a step back to look at him. “Excuse you. You’re five months older than me, so you’re the old man here, not me.”
“Whatever,” Slade says; rolling his eyes melodramatically, and drapes his arms over my shoulders. “Bad news. Your gift hasn’t arrived yet, but should sometime this the week, okay?”
I clap my hands together, jump up and down, and ask, “Whatcha get me? Whatcha get me?”
He covers my mouth and laughs. “I’m not telling you. You’ll just have to wait and see.”
I titter softly when he kisses my chin. “I’m so happy you’re here,” I whisper, hugging him, and trying to suppress a yawn.
He glides his hands down my arms, back up to my shoulders, and he looks concerned. “Aar, did you get any sleep last night?”
I press my forehead to his. “About four hours, but I’m fine. You know, this wouldn’t be happening if my folks hadn’t decided to blow my life apart. Can you believe it, I’m officially an adult who has no say in where I live?” I state bitterly.
Slade smiles sympathetically, lightly holding the sides of my neck. “Baby, don’t even think about it. This is your day. Don’t let anything or anyone get you down, okay?”
I nod. “You’re right. You’re right. I’ll let it go. But do me a favor?”
His brows furrow questioningly.
“Hold me,” I whisper.
Neither of us speaks, as he wraps his arms around me, and I breathe steadily, feeling at peace and content in the arms of the man I love.
The music has me in a great mood. I walk over to my mom and pull her amongst the others dancing. She laughs as I twirl her around. We settle into a groove and I’m enjoying myself, until I catch Slade out of the corner of my eye, and it quickly changes my happy mood to a sad one.
“Are you okay, sweetie? You sad ’cause you’re an old man now?” Ma laughs, giving my chin a soft tap.
I mockingly stick my tongue out at her. “I’m not old. Why does everyone keep saying that?”
“You put that tongue away, young man.” We laugh. She rubs my back. “All kidding aside, you’ve been a little down lately. Talk to me, what’s up?”
I shrug. “I’m fine, Ma.”
“Don’t try to b-s me, Aaron. You can talk to me.”
Letting out a huge sigh, we continue to dance, and I answer, “I don’t want to move and leave everyone.”
“You don’t want to leave everyone or leave Slade?” Ma asks quietly.
Shocked, I lean in. “Why wouldn’t I want to leave Slade?”
She pulls me in close and whispers, “Because I know about the two of you.”
I freeze. My heart beats faster than I’d ever felt it beat before, and the pulse in my neck throbs achingly. She gives my hands a firm squeeze. After a few seconds I finally ask, “What do you know?”
Ma holds me tighter. “Aaron, you’ve got nothing to worry about, ’cause I came to terms with your sexuality, and your relationship with Slade some time ago.”
The jig is up. There’s no way I can talk my way out of this. I barely get out the words. “How long have you known?”
We continue to dance as the song changes to a slower tempo.
“For about a year, I saw you making out in your truck. You were completely oblivious to anyone who might be canlı bahis şirketleri happening by.”
The thought of my mother seeing us in an intimate moment is shocking. What’s more shocking is her keeping it to herself for a year.
She continues, “I honestly didn’t know how to handle seeing you two together. I wanted to put a stop to it, but I walked away instead. I knew if I had confronted you, I would’ve said something in the heat of the moment that I never would’ve been able to take back.” Ma pauses and sniffles. “I planned on talking to you after I’d calmed down, but I obviously didn’t go through with it. Do you know why I didn’t?”
Ma’s eyes glisten in the sunlight and she smiles.
Words fail me. I swallow hard and shake my head.
“A couple days later, I was going out to the freezer, and heard you two out on the back porch. Through the window, I saw you kissing, and I was going out to stop you, when I saw it. It stopped me dead in my tracks. You had and still have this look in your eyes when you look at Slade. A look I’ve seen from your father since we’ve been together – love. You’re in love. I knew then I had to let go of whatever hang up I had and work on accepting the fact you’re gay.”
I whisper, “At accepting me.”
Ma looks almost guilty at hearing me say those words. “Sweetie, you’ve gotta understand. I might not be a Bible thumper who lives a hundred percent by the Book, but the church taught me that homosexuality is wrong. After I prayed, I had my answer. I trust God, ’cause He doesn’t make mistakes. You are exactly who He wants you to be.”
The tears pool in my eyes. I want to speak, but are unable to.
Rubbing my back, she says, “Nothing can change how much I love you, Aaron. I want you to be happy. After having seen what you look like when you are, what kind of mother would I be to deny you of it?” She pauses. “You’ve been so distant and sad these past few weeks. I knew why and it broke my heart to watch. I couldn’t say anything without giving up that I knew. But watching you just now I couldn’t take it anymore. I’m sorry I took away the chance for you to tell me yourself.”
“That’s okay.” Nearly breaking down in her arms, I whisper, “Are you really okay with me being gay?”
“Yes, I am.”
I look over at Dad joking with his friends. “Does he know?”
Ma follows my gaze. “No, but I’m sure when the time is right, and you tell him, it won’t be an issue,” she tells me confidently.
I avoid her eyes. “It’ll never be the same once he knows.”
“Aaron, look at me. Look at me,” she says firmly, lifting my chin. I see my light brown eyes reflecting back at me. They’re warm and full of love. “If you keep this part of yourself hidden from everyone you love, you’ll be miserable. Your dad wants what’s best for you. Don’t underestimate him.”
“What would be best for me is to stay here. Every time I try to even talk to Dad, he shoots me down.”
“There’s a tight bond between the two of you. He’ll never admit it, but he worries about you. Do you know when you were sick I’d find him watching over you while you slept? Do you know he still does sometimes?”
I smile faintly. “He does, really? That’s actually kinda creepy.”
Ma smiles and says, “No, not really. We worry about you ’cause we could’ve lost you. You and Candy mean the world to us. We want to make sure you’re both safe. We know we can’t protect you from everything, but we try. No matter how old you kids get, we’ll always want to do our best by you. It may not seem like it now, but this move will be good for all of us. We’re not trying to separate you from Slade out of spite, but keep us a full time family for just a little while longer. Things will never be the same once you go to college next year. So, we want to spend as much time as we can with you. Do you think you can be apart from Slade long enough for us to have this precious time as a family?”
I never thought about the separation factor from my parents’ perspective. I have been selfish by thinking only of what I wanted. I ponder her question. As much as I hate leaving Slade, I think I need to relent in order to give myself some peace of mind. In the end, maybe, it will all be okay. “Can I come back for Thanksgiving?”
Nodding reassuringly, she smiles and says, “We’ll talk. I’m sure we can make arrangements for you to come down a few times, and for him to visit us too. I love Slade. I especially love you. I think you’re good for one another. Oh, this is gonna have to be the last song for me. My hip’s starting to hurt.”
I give her a big hug. “What you said, I needed to hear more than I thought I did. I love you, Ma.”
“That’s what mothers are for. I love you too, sweetie,” she sniffles. We dance to the rest of the song, and I walk her over to an empty seat for her to sit down. As I’m walking away, she calls me back. “There’s just one thing I’m concerned about,” Ma pauses. “Are the two of you safe?”
I feel the heat of embarrassment cover my face at her unexpected question. “What are you asking me?”
“I’m canlı kaçak iddaa asking if you’re being careful, that’s all.”
I look around us. “Not that I’m comfortable talkin’ to you about this, but we haven’t had sex yet, okay?”
Ma leans in closer, and whispers, “Oral sex is still sex, so be careful, and with actual sex be extra careful by protecting yourself and him. It’s bad enough I worry about your health as it is.”
She gives my hair a slight ruffle.
“Ma, quit it.” I walk away quickly before she says anything else.
I can’t believe my mother has known about my carefully guarded secret for a year. I contemplate whether I should tell Slade, or keep him in the dark.
Slade’s hanging with a couple of our friends, Randy and Josh. Walking over, I hear the tail end of a story Josh is telling, “…you swallow that thang.”
They erupt in laughter.
I stand next to Randy. “What’s so funny?”
“Josh was telling us a joke he’d heard in some movie,” Slade answers, taking a sip of his root beer.
Randy slaps my back. “Happy birthday, man, I would’ve gotten you something, but I lost my wallet.”
“Thanks, Ran, considering you use that excuse every year, when it comes to anyone’s birthday,” I tell him. Slade and Josh’s laughter fill the air.
“You are cheap, man. I remember when you gave Tammy that $50 gift card, and it had about $13 on it. Then you got mad when she gave it back to you with nothing on it,” Josh howls.
Randy puts his hand to his chest and groans. “Aw, man! That gift card was a mistake I gave her the wrong one. I’m not cheap. Can I help it if I lose my wallet all the time?”
“Yeah, sure,” I reply, rolling my eyes.
“You can’t consider a wallet lost if you leave it at home,” Slade retorts. He looks at me, licks his lips, and gives me a subtle wink.
My eyes widen slightly. What is he thinking doing that in front of them?
“That’s not cool man,” Randy comments, as he laughs.
“Whatever,” I chuckle. “Jones, I gotta grab some more ice. I need help loading them. I volunteered you.”
“Me? Now? Your dad said the ribs were almost done,” Slade replies, pointing towards the grill.
“Yeah, now. The sooner we leave, the quicker we get back. Let’s go.” I almost reach for his hand, but shoot down the impulse, and give him a pleading look.
He rolls his eyes with a deep sigh, “Fine, let’s go. See you guys in a few.”
“Yup,” Randy says. He holds up a small tin. “Oh, can you get me some tobacco? I’m runnin’ low.”
I shake my head. “Nope, not gonna have your mama yelling at me for getting you that shit.”
I shudder at the memory of the one and only time I’d tried chewing tobacco. I turned a pale green and vomited the whole day, and vowed never to do it again.
“Don’t be such a goody-two-shoes,” Randy laughs.
“You calling me names ain’t gonna work. Buy it yourself.” I head over to my truck where Slade’s waiting. I pull away from the house, and when we’re a little ways down the road, I say, “I have something to tell you, Jones.”
He surfs through the radio stations. “Oh yeah, what is it?”
I clasp the stirring wheel tight and take in a huge gulp of air. “You have to promise not to freak out ’cause I’m freaking out enough for the both of us, okay?”
I must look like a crazy person because he looks panicked. He smooths my hair back, and his hand rests at my neck. “Baby, what’s wrong?”
When we’re further down the road, I blurt it out. “Ma knows about us.”
Slade gasps and coughs a few times. “Miss Dani knows about us? How?”
I pull to the side of the road. “She saw us making out a year ago.”
He puts his head in his hands. “She’s known about us for a whole fucking year!?”
I hate seeing him so upset. “I didn’t want to tell you, but I thought you should know. Now that Ma knows… maybe we should think about tell…,” I trail off, knowing that telling anyone else is not an option for either of us. When I take his hand, he pulls away, resting it on his lap.
He sits there silently before saying, “I don’t know what you want me to say, Aaron. I can’t deal with this right now. We gotta get the ice and get back to the party.”
Saddened, I mutter, “I lied about the ice. I needed to get you alone so I could tell you about Ma.”
Slade turns to stare out the window. “Get the ice anyway, so we cover why we left.”
Having not resolved the reason for us being here, I’m reluctant to pull off, but I do. We drive in silence. I try to take his hand a couple of times but he won’t let me. When we reach the store, he refuses to look in my direction. I let the engine idle, and run inside to grab the ice. He helps load the truck, while still not looking or talking to me. We arrive back at the party; he quickly gets out the truck leaving me alone.
I want to cry, but don’t. I have to pretend everything’s okay, and be a good host to everyone else here celebrating my birthday. I do try to talk to him several times, but he either walks away, or ignores canlı kaçak bahis me. After an hour, I give up exasperated with the whole ordeal. Now, both my head and heart are hurting.
Sometime later, I see him walk over to my mother, and take her off to the side. There is a lot of head and hand gestures. Then they hug. Ma cups his face in her hands. She says something and he smiles nodding repeatedly. He kisses her cheek and walks away. I know he sees me walking into the house, and I wait. A minute later, he walks in to find me sitting on the stairs.
“I thought you’d be in the laundry room,” he says softly, closing the door behind him.
“Didn’t feel like going in there,” I state coolly, pushing my unruly blond hair back from my eyes. I turn the varsity ring on my finger repeatedly. “What were you two talking about?”
“You and me,” he answers timidly, kneeling while trying to get me to look at him.
I clasp my hands tight, resting my elbows on my knees, and I look in his eyes. “What about you and me?”
He rubs my forearms. “We talked about a few things but mainly about the move and I understand now why they want you with them. She apologized for her first reaction to us ’cause she likes us together.”
I ignore the familiar touch of his hands. “So, what, you’re okay with her knowing about us?”
“Not really,” Slade says, taking my hands in his, and kisses them. “Baby, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
All the hurt I’m feeling is close to breaking free. My voice trembles, “Yeah, well, you did.”
“Aar, I…,” he starts, but the sound of footsteps and laughter interrupt him. He quickly snatches his hands away, stands up, and takes several steps back, as the door opens.
Candace and her friend walk inside. She smiles, walking towards the kitchen, and says, “Hey, guys. I guess you had the same idea to beat the heat.”
Smiling at both girls, I say, “Yeah, squirt, I guess we did.” I stand up and say to Slade, “We’ll talk later.”
I sidestep him when he reaches for me and walk out the front door.
Dad turns off the music and announces, “Everybody, y’all gather ’round. It’s time for cake and presents.”
Thank, God! People should start leaving within an hour of me opening my gifts. I only have to save face for a little while longer. I stand by the designated cake table and wait for my tone-deaf family and friends to sing a crazy remix version of ‘Happy Birthday’. They finish singing; I pause to make my wish:
When we lose our way, let Slade and me always find our way back to each other
I blow out the candles and smile faintly as applause erupt around me.
I get a butt load of great gifts. Some of them involving Boston but overall it’s a good haul. I bring them inside and pack them away. I sit at my window and stare down at everyone. I see Slade sitting with his feet dangling in the pool. His eyes drift up towards my window, and we lock eyes. I know he wants to come up but I can’t. Instead, I back away from the window, and head back to the party.
I’m making a plate of food for myself, when I hear, “Aar, can we talk?” Slade asks softly, shielding the sun from his eyes.
Shaking my head, I take a bite of chicken. “I don’t want to talk to you until after the party, Jones.”
He takes a step closer and whispers, “Baby, please?”
Scoffing, I angrily hiss, “No! I tried to talk to you earlier. Do you remember what you did? Here. Let me remind you.”
Turning around, I walk over to Josh, and we talk about the baseball season so far. The plans I had for tonight are officially on hold, and I don’t know if I’ll get another chance, or if I want one.
The party breaks up slowly but surely. By 7pm, it’s just me, my family and Slade left cleaning. We finish a majority of the heavy moving and trash removal in an hour. I use the bathroom, and come back out to find Slade with Candace at the pool; she’s giggling about something.
“What’s goin’ on?” I ask, climbing the stairs.
“Slade was telling me about Richmond, when y’all got sushi, and you throw up. You’re such a dork,” Candace replies, laughing and pointing at me.
“Well, it takes one to know one, squirt.” I pick her up off the lounge chair, drop her in the pool, and jump in to dunk her several more times.
“Asshole,” she sputters, breaking the surface. She swims to the side of the pool and flips me off. She climbs the ladder, but I pull her off, and get out ahead of her. I look down at her wet blonde hair plastered to her face and can’t help laughing.
At fifteen-years-old, Candace is your typical run-of-the-mill, pain in the ass younger sibling, but she is also the best, and I adore her.
We look so much alike people think we’re twins. The only difference, she has dad’s hazel eyes, while I have mom’s light brown. She’s still getting use to her tall stature after having grown from 5’5 to 5’10 in a year and a half. I was protective of her before, but now, I’m even more so. She hasn’t realize how beautiful she is. My friends have taken notice though, which had me putting them on notice, if they even thought about touching her. The girls at school tease her because boys like her more than them, but it doesn’t faze her. Her confidence is unparalleled and something I wish I had in myself.
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