Free Me

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August, Senior Year

Three years since I discovered I’m gay, still only my sister knows. My parents are oblivious thanks to my genius deflection.

Three years of my dad getting on me about when I’m going to bring some nice girl home, and my mom yelling that I shouldn’t rush, that the right girl will come when the time is right.

Yeah, let’s see how that works out.

The first day of my last year of high school is tomorrow, August 19th, and honestly I think I’d rather dive into a pit of venomous snakes.

Living in Waco, Texas isn’t easy. Or at least in my case, Waco can be awesome when I try hard enough to forget that I’m as straight as a spiral staircase. Even still being in the closet I feel the pressure and how unwelcome it it to be gay.

Arriana is losing her mind with excitement and I wish I could relate. She has plans to meet her friends before school and go to Starbucks and gossip in the morning. Today she’s going with her friends and go to Richland Mall for a new outfit and to get her nails done and what not.

When she first found out I was gay, she thought it meant I was going to always want to shop with her and help her with her girl stuff but the reality of the situation didn’t meet her expectations.

I sit on my bed and stare at my wall, begging tomorrow to never come, when Arriana knocks on my door.

“Caira will be here in ten minutes, it’s not too late to decide you want to actually look decent tomorrow. Maybe even get a haircut?”

“What do I get out of it?” I look her and sit like a super villain, stroking my chin.

“Get a hair cut and get some decent clothes and I’ll get you Chick-fil-A and Dippin Dots.”

“Define decent.”

“A six out of ten on my scale.”

“Deal,” I jump up and grab my shoes, phone, earbuds, and wallet. My sister knows me too well. She knows my weaknesses!

I walk out of my room to find my mom “folding” at the foot of her bed as she pretends not to eavesdrop. She’s been begging me to get out of the house all summer, it’s just been harder for me as it gets harder to hide such a big part of myself.

“Josh! Honey, you’re out of your room,” She jumps up and comes darting toward me, “Are you going with your sister to the mall? It could be fun, you might even see your friends there.”

“Yeah, I’m going,” I shove my hands into my jean pockets and try to avoid meeting her piercing grey eyes, “She thinks I need a haircut and new clothes, but I just want the food.”

She jumps over to her desk like a freaking ninja and grabs her wallet. She hands me forty dollars with probably the biggest grin I’ve seen since Arriana and I were really little.

“I think she’s right, you’ve just sat at home the past two months. You are such a good looking boy, and your hiding it inside with your hair covering your sweet eyes and old clothes hanging.”

She pouts and puts her hand on my cheek, “Mom, come on, I just wanted to chill this summer. I’m fine,” when she doesn’t seem convinced I try to give her a real smile, “Really, I’m fine.”

I pull her hand down and she pulls her arms in close to her narrow shoulders.

“I worry about you Josh, something seems different. If something is going on you can tell me honey,” she comes closer and pushes back her light, hazelnut brown hair, “I just want you happy again.”

I pull her into a hug, only now realizing how things really have changed. Freshman year, I was maybe an inch taller than her, now it feels like I have a whole foot on her. Freshman year, I would have told her everything and did, now... Now I just settle for small talk when I see her at home.

“I love you mom, and as long as you love me, I am happy.”

She pulls me back and wraps her hands tightly around my fairly thin arms, “I will always love you, and don’t you dare ever think otherwise. You will always be my little boy and nothing could ever change how a mom loves her babies.”

God I hope she’s right.

I give her a kiss on the cheek and rush out to the living room to find my dad rummaging in his briefcase for his keys. Again.

I reach over to the small bowl on the counter and whistle to get his attention. As he looks up I toss him the keys.

“Thanks champ! I can never remember where I put the damn things,” he clips them to the bag and stomps over, pulling me into his signature dude hug where he crushes me with his tall frame and broad shoulders, “You ready for tomorrow?”

“Are you?” My dad leaves for a business trip to San Antonio tomorrow morning. He hates them but he’s damn good at them. He’s been in insurance sales for almost 15 years now and is gone almost every other week.

“No, I want to see you off to your final year of high school, not stuck on some stuffy plane for two hours. But I will promise you that I will be here for your graduation.”

“Thanks dad, but I think you’d much rather be home when Arriana brings her Prom date over.”

His face goes stiff, “I’ll be sure to leave the shotgun where you can get it. Make the twerp piss himself.”

I laugh and hug my dad as my sister comes out bouncing around. She looks like a chihuahua that had a shot of espresso.

“Caira is here, come on lets go before you change your mind!” She grabs my hand and yanks me away from my dad and out the door.

I see her so excited and can’t help feel my heart warm. She tries so hard to keep me involved in life but I rarely give her the chance, and now seeing her tiny honey colored eyes sparkling with joy. For the first time in months I get to actually see her smile enough to show her dimples. She has my mother’s physic and shape like her size and cheeks but got her hair and eye color, as well as her dimples, from my father.

Her grey knit dress hugs her carefully and bounces with her in her sparkly wedges. She’s even wearing the earrings I got her for Christmas.

As we get into her friends car they all look at me in shock.

“You’re actually alive? We were starting to think Arriana was in denial and you were rotting in your room,” Her friend Tempe looks at me in awe as she chews her bubblegum.

Arriana smacks her as we leave. Tempe has never had a filter, she once asked me if my dick was broken and that’s why I never went out on dates. I never liked Tempe around my sister, she met my sister at a party and got Arriana so drunk I had to hold her hair when she came home.

The short drive feels like forever listening to Caira and Tempe googoo over boys and talk about what their classmates have done over the summer.

Out of nowhere, for the first time since I met her, Tempe says something that catches my attention, “That idiot Cupcake got his ass handed to him outside of Walgreens last week. Dumb shit thought he could take on Conrad.”

“Tempe, you really shouldn’t call him that,” Arriana cringes at the sound of that awful nickname as she fixes her shoe strap, “He does have a name, and honestly no one has the right to call him any names.”

“Yeah right Arri, like anyone is going to give that fruit loop more than five seconds to punch him,” Caira adjusts her poofy hair in her rear view mirror, “He should just move his perverted ass back to hell.”

I see the wheels in my sisters head turn before she opens her mouth, “You know Caira, about sixty years ago people would have spoken similarly about you.”

We all freeze, Caira is black and looks so shocked that much of the color leaves her face.

“Are you seriously comparing me to him?” She takes on a dangerous tone, the kind that tells Arriana to choose her words carefully.

“Honestly Cee, it’s just something to think about.”

I’ve never been more proud of my sister, she’s always been big on embracing everyone, but has never voiced it so openly until today.

Caira shifts in her seat, wrapping her delicately decorated hands around the steering wheel, puckering her lips in agitation.

I squeeze my sister’s hand and smile at her, getting a caring smile in return.

By the time we arrive at the mall, all has been forgiven between the three girls and they start excitedly going into shops, dragging me along into American Eagle Outfitters.

The first hour is them shoving clothes at me to try on. Tempe and Caira try to put me in preppy, brightly colored stuff before Arriana comes in with colors and clothes more suited to me. I agree to a few new pairs of plain dark jeans and a bunch of shirts that Arriana liked. I sit there at the register listening to her going on about Dip Dye and Heathered shirts and the colors when really I just want to get these and get food.

After we leave, the girls shove all their bags of clothes and shoes at me while they strut into Chick-fil-A. I don’t really go inside anymore, Arriana used to work there but didn’t really agree with a lot of their beliefs so she left and came to work with me at Church’s Chicken.

I sit on a bench outside listening to music for close to twenty minutes before Arriana comes out with a lemonade and spicy chicken sandwich for me. She smiles and sits next to me.

“We would be out of there but Conrad showed up and you know Tempe is determined to conquer him like all the other guys in school,” She looks so grossed out and I don’t blame her, Tempe has slept with just about every guy in school, at one point there was a rumor she had brain damage that affected her sex drive.

“She does know that Conrad has a girlfriend right? Even if she is at a different school in a different city.”

“I really don’t think she cares,” my sister shrugs as she snags my lemonade, she looks me over carefully, “Are you ok? Did Caira get to you?”

I shake my head and smile, “No she just reminded me why I try so hard to hide.”

“I hate when she calls Zayne ‘Cupcake’, it’s so mean,” my smile disappears and she scoots closer, “But I’m really glad you came today, even with her commentary, I miss hanging out with you.”

“Me too,” I pull her in and kiss the top of her head, “I miss hanging out with you too. Now let’s get your friends out of there before Tempe starts stripping for him.”

She smiles and looks over to the nail salon near by. She runs to tell the others that nails are on her today and they come out quicker than I thought possible in heels.

I watch as they disappear into the salon and I settle onto the bench again. I start to people watch, just passing the time when I force myself up in shock.

I see Zayne walking into the Hot Topic near the salon, his head stays down as he runs his hand through his pink, frosted hair. His eye is swollen and lip split. He comes back out not even ten minutes later with a bag in one hand, his phone in the other, and a big plush toy of some blue creature with big ears and big black eyes. I think it’s from some Disney movie but that was never my thing. He stands there typing on his phone for a bit before leaving the mall, getting dirty looks on his way.

I envy his courage, but not the consequences.

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