Russell couldn’t remember a thing from the previous night. Other than a few rounds of beer pong. How did he end up in his own bed? He thought he and Sal were going to spend the night somewhere together. And where were his clothes? All he had on was a pair of sweatpants. He struggled to recall what had happened, but only managed a few glimpses. Sal begged him not to drink. There was the beer pong. An AMF from Adam. A lake. Terry. Sal angry at him. A police officer… A police officer! “Shit!” Russell said out loud. Something must have happened involving the police, and Russell’s parents must have picked him up. That’s how he ended up home.
He gnawed at his fingernail, since both his thumbnails were currently worn down too far to chew. His parents were going to kill him. Not only that, but he would never see Sal again. At least not outside of school, and they were graduating in a month. He supposed he could sneak around and lie, using work as an excuse. He sat up slowly, holding his pounding head. Why didn’t he listen to Sal, and stop after one beer?
The door flung open. “Jack Russell Cox! You are in so much trouble!” his mother shouted.
Russell held his hand over his head, wincing. “I already knew that.”
His mother slapped him across the face. “Don’t get smart with me.” She held up a phone that looked suspiciously like Sal’s, and dropped it in his hands.
All of the messages between him and Sal were on the screen. His mother had scrolled to the top, meaning there was a high chance that she read every message they ever sent to each other. And their very first text conversation might as well have been sexting. Especially that picture of Sal shirtless, which Russell had saved to his own phone and spent many nights admiring. He swallowed. “We were just… joking.”
Russell lowered his gaze.
“I suppose all those complaints about me and Dad are a joke too? All those horrible things you’ve said about us, after everything we’ve done for you.”
Russell struggled to think of everything he’d texted to Sal in regards to his parents, but came up blank. He absentmindedly scrolled through the text messages, and saw a rather nasty insult he said about his father. Then, came across a conversation where Russell made a suggestive comment about Sal’s body, which he probably didn’t pick up on.
His mother noticed it. “And that’s a joke too?”
Russell chewed at his fingernail.
“I don’t believe it. My son, my own son is… gay.” She winced at the word, and sat on the edge of the bed.
“Pan,” Russell corrected, fingernail in mouth. But his mother didn’t seem to have heard him.
“What is our family going to think? And everyone at church?” She buried her face in her hands, and let out a sob.
“What’s all this yelling about?” Russell’s father entered the room, looking like he just woke up.
“He’s brought shame to our entire family.”
His father sat next to his mother, and patted her shoulder. “Now, I already yelled at Russell about the incident after I picked him up from the police station.”
So Russell had ended up at the police station, and his father had picked him up.
“It’s worse than that. Far worse.” His mother took the phone from Russell, and handed his father the phone. “Look at it. Look at it all.”
Silence filled the air, Russell trying to control his breathing. His head pulsated, but the tension in the room distracted him from the pain. After a minute or two of his father scrolling, he gave Russell a hard stare. “We’re going to have a serious talk.” His father looked at his mother. “Alone.” Russell pulled his knees to his chest, and his mother left the room, wiping at her eyes.
“First, get your finger out of your mouth.”
“Why would you do something like this?” his father asked. “Did you not think your mother was upset with you enough?”
“Those messages were from long before last night,” Russell said.
“And she’s been worried about you long before those messages. You’ve been acting out, doing poorly in school-”
“That was one B-minus,” Russell said quietly.
“Among many B-pluses. Your A’s are in danger of becoming B’s.” He looked at him again. “And then that nonsense about you wanting to be a teacher.”
“I always wanted to be one.”
“And last night I got a call from the police. Now, I find out you’re dating a boy, doing God knows what with him. You’ve gone too far.” He stood up, facing him with crossed arms. “Your mother and I are going to have a long talk. In the meantime, you are to stay in this room and do nothing.”
Russell watched him snatch his laptop from his desk, and a wave of nausea hit him. “Can I at least leave to throw up in the bathroom?”
“You can leave to wash that crap off your face,” his father said, gesturing towards his eyes. Russell remembered the eyeliner, along with all his other accessories. He spotted the gloves and necklace on his desk, and the rest of his clothes on the chair. The belt was still on his pants. Good.
His father noticed it as well. “Where did you get all that?”
“Borrowed it from a friend,” Russell said quickly. “For the party. It was rocker-themed.”
“From that Sam?”
Russell shook his head. “Stewart. He’s the one who invited us.”
His father studied him for a moment. “You need better friends. No wonder you’ve been acting like this.” With that, he left.
Russell hugged himself, longing for Sal. Hopefully he was okay. But one thing was for sure- he wouldn’t see him outside of school ever again. And they graduated in a month. Tears formed in his eyes, and he wiped them away. The last thing he needed was for his father to see him cry. He’d never hear the end of it.
An hour or so later, both of Russell’s parents entered his room. Russell’s headache was finally starting to subside. But only a little.
“Your mother and I discussed your punishment,” his father said. “You are grounded until you leave for college. No phone, no laptop.”
It didn’t surprise Russell.
“You are also not allowed to see that Sam boy.”
“Sal,” Russell corrected.
“You are only to leave the house to go to school or work. Your mother or I will drive you.”
“I can’t drive my car?” Russell asked.
“No. You can’t drive my car,” his father said. “It was never yours to begin with.”
Russell pulled his knees to his chest, resting his chin on them, as his father continued.
“We can’t find a way to fix your unnaturalness legally, but we’ll figure something out.”
Thank God they lived in California. “I don’t need to be fixed,” Russell said. “I’m fine.”
“You need to be fixed,” his mother said, dabbing at her eye. “You’ll end up in Hell if you don’t.”
As if Russell believed in Hell.
“You should be grateful we’re not kicking you out,” his father added. “But if you put one more toe out of line, that’s it.”
“And don’t mention your perversion to anyone,” his mother said. “Especially to your grandmother. At her old age, the news could kill her.”
“I was keeping my perversion to myself until you snooped through my boyfriend’s phone!”
His mother winced at the word “boyfriend,” and his father pointed a finger at him. “This is exactly the sort of behavior I was talking about. You’re out of control.”
Russell spent the rest of the weekend locked in his room. But locked in a figurative sense, as his parents forbid him from shutting his door. Privacy gone, phone gone, laptop gone, no way to contact Sal. He couldn’t wait for Monday. School was the only time he could see his beloved.
He was quick to get ready. It was unfortunate that his mother would be driving him instead, or else he’d try to leave even earlier to try to catch Sal before school.
However, his mother seemed to have thought about that part. “It’s a little early, isn’t it?” she said, as soon as he walked into the kitchen to tell her he was ready.
“I wanted to stop at the library first, to check out a few books for a paper I have to write.” Russell chewed what little thumbnail he had.
His mother raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
Russell ran his fingers through his hair. “Yeah.”
She set her coffee mug down with more force than necessary. “Do you think you can fool me that easily?”
“What do you-”
“You’re only leaving early so you can spend time with him.” She looked at the clock. “We’ll leave in ten minutes. Also...” She gestured towards the counter. “I found a sweatshirt in the car that I believe belongs to somebody else.”
Russell walked over to investigate. It was definitely Sal’s. He picked it up. “This is mine,” he said, keeping his voice level. “I bought it last week to wear to the… you know.”
His mother frowned at it. “It looks old.”
“That’s the style.” Russell slipped it on, and when his mother wasn’t looking, he sniffed at the sleeve, breathing in Sal’s fresh pine scent.