Russell stood on the front doorstep of his house, or what used to be his house. Sal’s parents had taken no issue with Russell staying temporarily, and welcomed him with open arms. And Russell was allowed to dress however he wanted. Decked out in goth attire, eyeliner included, Russell held his trembling pointer finger over the doorbell, but didn’t press it.
“Just do it,” Sal said.
“All you have to do is ask for your stuff. That’s it.”
Sal leaned in front of him, and pressed the doorbell.
Russell’s breath caught. “What’d you do that for?”
“My feet hurt.”
Footsteps approached from the inside, and the door opened. “You’ve returned,” Elizabeth said calmly. “I knew you would.”
“I haven’t returned,” Russell said in an equally calm voice. “I’m here to pick up my stuff.”
Elizabeth sneered down at Sal. “Why did you bring him?”
“I needed the help.”
Elizabeth opened the door wider. “Watch him. And if something goes missing...”
Russell shouldered her aside and walked towards his bedroom for the last time. Sal’s arm linked with his comforted him. A familiar ache settled in his chest. Russell longed to cuddle him, but there were more pressing matters at hand.
Armed with boxes and garbage bags, Russell scrounged his entire bedroom for his belongings. Sal focused on boxing up all his books.
After clearing out all his drawers, Russell moved on to tackle his closet. He shoved his shirts in a bag, and went through what was left. Just his weights, and a couple other boxes. He set the weights near his bags of clothes, and pulled out one of the boxes wedged deep within.
Sal sat down next to him. “What’s that?”
“Things my parents would die if they knew I had.” Russell opened the box, revealing tarot cars, a couple books on spell-casting, and a Ouija Board, among other small items. “I went through this phase in middle school. Right after I was done with religion.”
Something shiny caught Sal’s eye, and he reached into the box, pulling out a dark-purple crystal. “Amethyst,” he said breathlessly.
“It’s supposed to have healing powers or something of the sort.” Russell watched Sal examine it closely. “You can have it.”
Grinning, Sal wrapped his arms around him. “Thanks!”
“I’ve got a bunch of other gemstones you can have- when we get back to your house,” Russell said firmly, pulling the box away from Sal before he could make a mess. He slid it over to his pile of boxes and bags.
There was one last thing in his closet; a small box. “More books?” Sal asked.
Sal picked up one of the books, and read the title aloud. “Left Behind.”
“And they’re getting left behind.” Russell stood up, tugging at Sal’s arm. “Let’s load up the car.”
Sal remained seated, his jaw slack. “You’re leaving books?”
“They’re Christian books. My parents got me those as a middle school graduation present. I’ve never even read them.”
“There’s books you’ve never read? Book worm poser.” Sal thumbed through the book, and something dropped out of it. Frowning, he picked it up. “A graduation card?”
“Yeah, I probably shoved it in there.” Russell snatched it out of his hand before he could open it. “And what did I say about snooping?”
“Fine.” Sal shoved the box back in the closet. “We can load up now.”
Russell didn’t hear him, for he had opened the card, and started to read.
Congrats on graduating with straight A’s! We’re so proud of you and all of your accomplishments. We know you’ll do just as well in high school.
Mom & Dad.
It was a typical, generic message, but for a second, one split second, Russell hoped his parents would come to their senses. That they’d remember how much they loved him. And they’d accept him for him, and change their minds about Sal. Yeah right. Russell tossed the card in the nearest box, and stood up to find his parents at the doorway.
“Russell, sweetie,” Elizabeth said, in a comforting voice she used to use when he was sick. “You don’t have to leave.”
For another split second, Russell thought she had come to her senses after all. But he knew better now, and narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?”
“We love you, and the good Lord loves you. And we want you to be happy.”
“Bullshit,” Sal muttered.
“Pastor Dave knows someone who could help you work through your feelings,” Elizabeth said. “He can help you see the error of your ways.”
“Him, for starts.” Elizabeth jerked her head towards Sal, who took a few steps closer to Russell.
“If you think for one second I will ever break up with Sal, you’re out of your mind.”
Sal beamed up at him. “Really?”
Elizabeth closed her eyes, and put her forehead in her hand. “Not just him, but any others. This therapist can fix you.”
A knot formed in Russell’s stomach. “Conversion therapy is illegal.”
“Only for minors,” she said. “You’re an adult now. You can make the choice-”
“So now I’m an adult? I’m an adult when it’s convenient for you, but other than that-”
“Don’t raise your voice at your mother,” John said.
But for once, Russell disobeyed, and continued raising his voice. “Why can’t you accept me the way I am? I love Sal, and-”
“You love me?” Sal clasped his hands together, pressing them to his chest.
“You love him?” Elizabeth said at the same time.
Like. Russell meant like, and he opened his mouth to correct himself. But Sal’s wide, glowing eyes and smile stopped him. It was clear that his slip up had made his day.
Though his slip up had the opposite effect on Elizabeth. She sat on the bed, hand over her chest. “We’ve been over this already with that Terry girl. You are too young to experience love. It’s infatuation.”
Russell took another look at Sal, and a longing ache settled in his chest. Like wasn’t a strong enough word to describe the feelings that arose when he was with Sal. Infatuation belittled it. No wonder Sal would get mad whenever he’d dismiss his declarations of love.
“Especially with another boy. It’s not real,” Elizabeth continued.
Except it was real. Russell cared about Sal more than anyone else. Why else didn’t he want Sal to move with him? He worried about what would happen to them if they didn’t last. Not to mention that if he stuck with Sal forever, he would most likely die a virgin. But that didn’t matter to him. At all.
“I’m not infatuated with him.” Russell gazed at Sal, and came to the realization that he would do anything for him. Anything at all to make him happy. “I love him.”
Sal looked ready to tackle Russell into a hug, but somehow managed not to. Good. They would soon have all the time in the world for tackle hugs. Russell gave Sal a half-smile, and Sal focused on the box containing the stones, pink-faced.
Elizabeth was also pink-faced, but for a different reason. “You don’t.”
Russell made a move to pick up a bag, but John interrupted.
“Do you want your laptop and phone back?”
Now that Russell hadn’t been expecting. He’d already accepted the fact that he’d never see those items again, and would have to buy a new laptop and phone. “Yeah, I could use them.”
“I’ll give them back to you if you stop acting ridiculous, and agree to get help.”
The catch didn’t surprise him, and Sal was more important to him than material objects. “Keep them then.”
“You’re throwing your life away if you do this,” John said. “You’ll regret this one day.”
Russell ignored him. He picked up several bags, Sal grabbed the box containing the stones, and they walked out of the room, to the car. Thankfully they didn’t have far to walk, as the car was parking in the driveway, several feet away from the front door. It took several trips, but eventually they emptied his room of everything except furniture.
After setting the last box in the trunk, Russell shut it and took one last look at his former parents. They stood at the doorstep, looking back at him.
Elizabeth took several steps towards him. Perhaps she would apologize, or try convincing him to stay again. Or preach to him about God, and how his relationship was a sin that he would be going to Hell for. But she didn’t say any of those things. Instead, she said something that made Russell’s mouth drop open.
“We’ll see you on Thanksgiving then.”
That was the last thing Russell had expected her to say, and he was too surprised to respond.
“Everyone will be expecting you, of course. Just don’t say a word about him.” Elizabeth jerked her head in Sal’s direction, Sal looking how Russell felt.
“And we’re keeping your condition a secret,” John added.
Russell slumped his back against the car, pinching the bridge of his nose with his eyes squeezed shut. He breathed in deep before looking back at Elizabeth. “After all that’s happened, you want me to show up at family gatherings and act like nothing’s wrong?”
“What else am I supposed to do? Do you know how embarrassing it’ll be, for everyone to know-”
“Embarrassing!” Russell shouted. “The only thing embarrassing, is having you two for parents. Come on, Sal.”
“Russell!” John shouted, but Russell turned away and got in the car.
“I’m so proud of you,” Sal said, once Russell had pulled out of the driveway. “My doormat has finally grown a backbone. Don’t you feel better now?”
And Russell did. “I’m always better when I’m with you.”
“Gross. Do you want butter with that corn? Speaking of which, what’s this about you loving me?”
“That slipped out.”
Russell ran his thumbs against the steering wheel, trying to find the words to say it. Like he should have months ago. He glanced over at Sal, who had been staring at him.
“I’m sorry for dismissing your love for me all this time,” Russell said.
“You already apologized for that.”
“Yeah. But this time, I understand.” Russell smiled. “I...”
Sal returned the smile. “You what?”
The words came so easily in his bedroom while arguing with his mother, but now they refused to leave his lips. He slowed to stop at a red light.
“I love you,” Sal said.
“I… me too.”
“It’s a start.” Sal leaned over and kissed Russell’s cheek. “Just wait. You’ll be saying it every day in no time.”
“For the rest of our lives?”
“Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves,” Sal said. “We still have to make it through your first year of college.”
Something in Russell’s chest swelled up, and he felt weak at the thought of spending the rest of his life with Sal. “We’ll beat the odds.”
“That’s all I ever wanted you to say.”
As the light turned green, Russell drove further away from his old house, his old life, his old self. Who knew what the future would bring. Would he still be with Sal? Would they ever marry, or adopt children? With Sal working retail, and him being a teacher, Russell wasn’t sure if they could afford one. But his parents weren’t around anymore to criticize his life choices, so for the first time, he felt free to do whatever he wanted.
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