Free Me

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Incognito

I sit in bed listening to my mother on the phone with my dad until after nine and start to wonder if I’ll be able to sneak out or not. I didn’t even tell Arriana that I’m meeting Zayne, all I told anyone is that I had a long day and wanted to go to bed early.

My mom didn’t question it after seeing how exhausted I was this morning. Arriana gave me a suspicious side glance but shrugged it off as the day had a rough start.

Once the house falls silent I slip on my shoes, shove my iPod and phone in my pocket, and slowly open my window. I climb out carefully and make my way to the front of the house. I wait until my mom’s light goes out before mounting my bike and taking off, I check my watch and it says it’s 9:38.

I try to keep a steady pace but my need to sleep slows me down. What normally would only take ten minutes took closer to fifteen, cutting my arrival time really close to ten o’clock. Zayne is already there sitting on the swing set.

His pink hair pokes out from under his hoodie as he slowly swings back and forth, kicking the floor while he swings.

“You know,” His head jerks up when he hears me, “I could push you, get you more than two inches in the air.”

He adopts this sly, crooked grin as he leans over the side of the swing, “My hero.”

As I walk behind him to sit on the other swing, I give him a quick push and he laughs. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him laugh or seen a genuine smile. He came out in middle school, and the day he came out was one of the last days he really seemed happy.

“Do your parents know you’re here?” He gives me a skeptical look.

“No, I snuck out my window after my mom went to bed. And I didn’t sneak out for the reasons you think.”

His face doesn’t change and my smile grows.

“I promise it’s not because I’m embarrassed to be seen with you or because I’m doing this out of pity.”

“Ok, then why? Why be out here with me?”

“I admire you.”

His skepticism vanishes and his mouth drops open slightly as his eyes widen and his entire body relaxes.

The silence stretches out farther and neither of us move. Neither of us know what to do or say. We’re both helpless in shock.

I watch as his lips dry out from his mouth hanging open. He is the first to move as he licks his lips and turns to the empty playground in front of us.

“Zayne, you live in a place that isn’t really going to express what I just said even though you deserve to hear it. You have the courage to own who you are and even when they beat you, tear you down, and belittle you, you don’t give into them. It would be so easy for you to just give it to every beating but you fight back. You could have dropped out or transferred schools and pretended to be straight but you stay in the place you know and stay true to you. You have a lot about you worth admiring.”

He looks over at me, his jaw clenched and his eyes shinning, “I don’t think you could grasp how much I needed someone to say something like that. And to top it all of, I can’t figure out why you did.”

I feel my heartbeat in my teeth, and my stomach fills with knots. I start to wonder if I’m going to puke. I sit there for a few minutes as I try to gain the courage to say what I came here to say.

“I... I admire you for having the strength to do what I still can’t. I envy your ability to be honest about who you are.”

His entire demeanor shifts, he straightens up and his face softens, after a few minutes of silence he says, “Are you saying that you’re gay?”

I shrug, “Only my sister knows. And every day something happens that makes me so badly want to tell someone else but I never seem to be able to. And... If I’m being honest, I think about you a lot; what you go through, how strong you are. I just really want to know you, I feel I can be honest around you, and I want to offer the same.”

He shoots up from his swing, surprising me into standing with him. I don’t know what I was expecting him to do or how I expected him to react but I wasn’t thinking anything like this.

He comes up and pulls me against him, hugging me tightly. It softens me, my heart stops hurting, my body relaxes, and my stomach stops aching. I feel understood in a way I’ve never felt.

We sit there swinging next to each other for a couple hours, just talking. I tell him how I came to find out I was gay and he tells me his story.

“It was seventh grade, and I went to spend winter break with my cousin in Seattle. I had been struggling since the start of the previous year and my parents thought some time away might help. While I was staying with him, we went out to events and stuff, one of them was a LGBT+ support event a club at his school was holding. They handed out pamphlets with information on sexuality and gender identity and hotline numbers for people who were confused or having trouble accepting themselves. I talked with my cousin about it and the girl handing out pamphlets even though it all sounded so crazy. After he went to sleep that night I used his house phone and called one of the hotlines, just trying to understand. I spent three hours talking to a rep, and after that call it all fit. Why I always felt nervous in the locker room, why I never wanted a girlfriend, why I couldn’t focus on anything, I finally understood.”

“And then you came out at school, I had the flu that day. I saw you in the nurses office waiting for your mom.”

He tenses, “She wasn’t happy that day. She hated that nothing was really done about it and hated I didn’t talk to her first.”

“What about your dad?”

“He... He struggles with it. I guess it’s better than him disowning me and kicking me out but it’s still really hard on us. There are days I wish I was straight just for him.”

I understand that, part of me wishes for the same thing just to avoid hurting my parents and to avoid Arriana ever getting back-lashed for who I am.

When I look and see it’s almost one in the morning, I tell Zayne I need to head home, “You should too. Unless you plan on ditching your second day, we have to be up in the morning.”

He smiles, “Yeah, you’re right. My mom is probably up waiting for me, I should go so she can at least sleep some tonight.”

I hug him and hesitate to let go, I feel him do the same. I don’t think either of us are used to a support system.

I bike home and quietly crawl through my window. Climbing into bed, I don’t feel any pressure or fear.

I grab my phone and see texts from my sister.

I heard you open your window.

Where did you go?

Those are from over an hour ago, I hope by now she’s asleep and elect to ignore her text.

I feel happy in a new way, happy enough that instead of sleeping I set up all my stuff for school including picking out one of the shirts Arriana got me. I organize my already hectic binders and prep to turn in the syllabi my mom signed.

By the time I lay down and actually close my eyes it’s been almost an hour and I can feel the exhaustion pulling me deeper into my mattress. I fall asleep thinking of how Zayne reacted when I said I admire him, and all we talked about. As I delve deeper into sleep, my mind starts focusing on when he licked his lips, and how his hair peaked out barely from his hoodie.

Peaceful sleep.

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