The Boy I Knew

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A Mother Knows

Aiden didn’t think he’d been happier than the almost year that he and Kellen had been together. He woke up to messages from Kellen sometimes, saying goodnight usually since Kellen hated waking up early. It made him chuckle every time Kellen was barely able to string a sentence together when it was too early, his texts full of spelling errors or his words slurred if he’d slept over. Aiden wondered multiple times by now how Kellen hadn’t managed to hurt himself sneaking out the window in the morning.

He was happy with Kellen. He was doing well with baseball too, and had already started talking with a few recruiters now that it was spring again. Things were going well. Aiden’s only problem was that he wasn’t sure if it would last.

It started with his dad. Aiden knew that his dad didn’t mean it, but that didn’t make his simple comments any less worrisome.

“Now, don’t worry about your mom and I. I know those schools are a little far, but they have a great college baseball program.”

“We’re so proud of you, Aiden. At this rate, you’ll definitely make it.”

“College is a great time to get out there too, date a little. You’ve been so serious in high school that we’ve never even met any girls you like!”

His dad said the last one that night at dinner. Aiden tried not to slink into his chair as he put on an awkward smile, but to his surprise, his mother didn’t join in on his father’s joking. She only frowned at his dad with a look that said to stop bothering Aiden about that topic. Looking back, that was the first time that she refused to talk to Aiden about girls he might like. Aiden only realized it years later.

“I uh, don’t know if I’ll have much time to date,” Aiden mumbled out. The next bite of his chicken was hard to swallow.

His dad only nodded sagely. “Well, there’s a lot more pressure in college. Especially since you’ll be preparing for the minors.”

Comments like that were what scared Aiden. Those were the comments that made him wonder if he could make it in the minors, let alone if he could still be with Kellen when he did.

It didn’t make it any easier when Aiden looked up how many gay professional sports players there were. The number was small, but that wasn’t what bothered him: the problem was how their personal lives were plastered all over the internet. Aiden’s heart clenched when he read a story about how people protested a football player being in games just because he was gay. If it was a battle keeping that guy on the team as a gay man, Aiden could only guess that it would be even more difficult just getting into the minors as a gay man.

It made his stomach clench uncomfortably. Aiden knew that Kellen understood that something was wrong too, but he hadn’t said anything to his boyfriend yet. He didn’t know how.

For his part, Kellen tried his best to cheer Aiden up. When Aiden was practicing alone one day after school, swinging until his arms hurt, Kellen grabbed him and did a little dance with him. The simple swaying motion had made Aiden relax into Kellen’s arms.

“You’re stressed,” Kellen said simply. He had his arms around Aiden and was carding his hand through his black hair calmly. It was times like these when Aiden was glad that his boyfriend was slightly taller than him; it was easier to lay his head on Kellen’s shoulder like this.

Aiden let out a breath. “Yeah. I’m sorry.”

“No need to be sorry for that,” Kellen responded, kissing Aiden on the temple. The simple gesture made Aiden’s heart feel too big. “But you can talk to me if you need to, Aiden.”

“It’s just… baseball. I feel a lot of pressure to do well,” Aiden said. It was the truth, but really, it was only part of the truth. He couldn’t bear to bring up the fact that he was even more frightened about being gay.

Kellen didn’t push him to say more, but said, “I know, honey. It’s a lot.” He put his hands in Aiden’s, squeezing them as he swayed the two of them back and forth. “You’re wonderful though. You’re more than capable of getting into the college you want on that sports scholarship.”

That was the problem: if Aiden did what Kellen believed he could do, then Aiden would be far away. Then Aiden wouldn’t be able to be with Kellen in public, because the world would be watching. He didn’t think he was ready for that yet.

He surprised Kellen by squeezing him tightly in a hug. Kellen didn’t question it; he only rubbed his hands along Aiden’s back to calm him down, keeping up the calming swaying motion. “Thank you for believing in me,” Aiden said after a while.

“I’ve always believed in you, and I always will,” Kellen mumbled into the side of his neck. “Even when you don’t believe in yourself.”

Kellen was always saying things like that. They always made Aiden feel loved in a way he hadn’t felt before, but that time, he hated the way his heart clenched with guilt. They were approaching their one-year anniversary and Aiden was beginning to wonder if it would even possible for them to continue their relationship outside of high school, in the real world.

His fears only got worse when he started touring colleges and spoke more seriously with recruiters. This was really happening. Aiden was really getting the chance to go somewhere with his baseball career. A part of him never thought that it was possible, but now here he was, so close to what he’d always wanted.

Aiden was so happy, and so proud of himself, but he didn’t know how he could balance it all. He didn’t know how he could be Aiden the baseball player and Aiden, Kellen’s boyfriend.

He did know that he had to talk to Kellen though, and he had to do it right away before they made it to their one-year. Kellen apparently had the same idea, since he didn’t seem too surprised when Aiden began the conversation that he’d remember for the next seven years in sharp relief.

Aiden hadn’t gone into that conversation thinking that they’d break up. He hadn’t planned it. If he had been braver or surer of himself, he never would have broken up with Kellen.

But he couldn’t expect Kellen to wait around for him until he was ready.

That didn’t make it any easier for Aiden to sink into bed that evening alone, muffling his cries into his pillow so his parents wouldn’t hear. He’d gotten used to texting Kellen all the time, to being around him and falling asleep with him at night. Aiden didn’t sleep a wink that night. Apparently, neither did Kellen.

Aiden felt his heart drop when he saw Kellen in school looking like he hadn’t slept in days. He didn’t hear Kellen laugh his usual laugh for a while after that. It hurt more than anything to see how much he hurt the other boy, but not being able to hold Kellen’s hand or kiss him was a close second.

Aiden worked even harder to get the scholarship he needed. He needed to prove to himself that he’d made the right decision to break up with Kellen. He couldn’t fail now.

He knew that his mother was worried about him. It was no wonder with how he was moping around the house, but Aiden didn’t care.

He got the scholarship. He got into the college he wanted, and into the minors. He convinced himself that it would all be worth it.

^^^

Aiden’s heart was practically beating out of his chest. This was it. He was going to do the thing he’d been scared to do since he was sixteen: he was going to come out.

Well, to his mother anyway. Aiden figured that it was best that he started small. His mother was a smart and understanding woman, and if she accepted him, it would give him the courage he needed to tell the rest of his family.

He only wished that his stomach didn’t feel like a knife was being stabbed into it as he stood on his parents’ front porch. Aiden had to work to take a breath as he used his key to get in, shutting the door silently behind him.

He could turn back now if he wanted to. His mother didn’t know that he was here yet. Aiden knew that it was time though. It was now or never as he called out, “Mom?”

There was a pause before her familiar light footsteps resounded and she peeked out from around the corner. She was in her comfort clothes, so she was working from home that day. “Aiden, sweetie!” she said happily. Her blonde hair bounced as she jumped forward to greet him with a warm hug.

The hug didn’t calm Aiden’s nervous heart or settle his stomach, but it did make him feel loved in a way that only his mother could make him feel. “Hey, mom,” he said quietly.

His mom pulled back, a concerned frown on her face. “Not that it isn’t wonderful to see you, but what are you doing here? Did you say that you were coming over and I missed it?”

“O-oh no, don’t worry; you’re not going senile yet,” he joked. His mother was always so on top of things that the day she forgot a visit from one of her kids would truly be the day she lost it. “I, uh, I actually wanted to talk to you. Is dad here?”

The worried look didn’t fade from her face at his nervous tone, but she still said, “No, he’s working on a project right now. But I can call him and tell him that you want to talk—”

“No!” Aiden said too quickly, too loudly. Reigning himself in, he went on more quietly, “I mean… I really just want to talk to you. Alone. If… you’re not busy.”

The blonde patted his arm lovingly. “I’m never too busy for one of my sons. Is everything okay, sweetie?”

“I hope so,” Aiden murmured, leading his mom up the stairs. She followed quietly until they sat in his old bedroom, side by side on his bed. Aiden thought that this was the best place to have a talk like this. He could close the door in here, and didn’t need to worry about his dad or anyone else suddenly walking in.

If only he knew how to start the conversation. They sat in silence for a few moments before his mother took mercy on him. “As much as I love you, I know you didn’t drive an hour down here in that car you barely use just to sit with me.” She patted his leg gently to match her soft words.

Aiden took a deep breath. His stomach felt like it was in his throat. He was almost surprised that he hadn’t made himself sick already, but he knew that it was only a matter of time at this rate. As it was, he’d barely stopped himself from throwing up before he left. Swallowing around the heavy beating of his heart, Aiden began, “I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time, but I didn’t know how.” Taking another breath, he said, “I’m gay.”

The second those words left his mouth, Aiden felt a mix of emotions. Worry was at the top of the list, and yet weirdly enough, there was also a sense of relief. He’d carried around this secret for so long. No one in the world knew that he was gay except for Kellen, technically B and Olivia, and now his mother too. There was a sense of freedom that came with her knowing, even if she might not react the way he hoped that she would.

Aiden could feel his heart beating quickly. He couldn’t meet his mother’s eyes. He was looking down at his lap when his mom grabbed his hand and patted it. “Oh, sweetie, I know.”

She said it so casually, so lovingly too. He turned to face her so quickly that he almost strained his neck. “You know?” he asked. Not that he hadn’t wondered if she’d known before, but it still shocked him. Aiden hadn’t thought that he’d been so obvious. “How did you know?”

His mom looked at him with understanding eyes. “Sweetie, I’ve known since you were seventeen. You know that we’re alike, that I get anxiety too,” she started, meeting his gaze, “so when you kids were still here, I would get up in the middle of the night sometimes to check on all of you. I did it up until you all moved out.”

“I never knew that you did that,” Aiden said softly. He knew his mom had similar problems with anxiety, but just like he didn’t tell her about his stomach troubles, she never told him about waking up in the middle of the night.

“I didn’t want to worry all of you. Your father knows, of course, but that’s getting off topic,” his mom said, patting his hand again. “Anyway, I would get up in the middle of the night to check that everyone was breathing, even when it was only you after your brothers moved out. It’s silly, but it made me feel better. And when you were seventeen, I went to check on you one night and found you sleeping in your bed with another boy.”

Aiden felt his ears, and probably his whole face this time, go red in embarrassment. He thought of all the times he’d had Kellen in his room at night without his parents knowing, or so he thought. He could only imagine how much his mom knew about what he and Kellen used to do when they thought no one knew anything.

“Oh, come on, sweetie, don’t make that face,” his mom said flippantly. “I wasn’t weird about it. I just checked that you were okay, and your sweetheart too while I was there, and closed the door.”

Aiden had a moment where his mind caught on the fact that his mom had called Kellen his sweetheart, but that wasn’t what was important now. “You knew for all this time and you never said anything?” He couldn’t figure out if he felt relieved, disappointed, or something else.

His mother huffed. Aiden couldn’t figure out her expression, but it looked like a mix between guilt and worry. “Maybe I should have. I know it’s not fair of me to say this, but if you had a girl in your room, I would have punished you. You knew from the times I’d gotten on your brothers about their girlfriends that sneaking people over wasn’t allowed,” she said more sternly, giving him a motherly look. Then she signed, her shoulders dropping. “But I never said anything.” She shook her head as she got her words together.

“Aiden, if I had punished you for having a boy in your room, your father would have wanted to know why you were in trouble. Even if I lied to him, you would have known why I punished you and, to be honest, I didn’t think it was fair of me to make you feel like you had to tell me that you were gay just because I happened to check in on you one night. That was your secret to tell me, not mine to force out of you.” Her voice was soft and sad. “I didn’t expect it to take you so long to say something, but I wasn’t going to out you.”

Aiden was looking at her in wonder. “You… knew the whole time. I can’t believe it,” he murmured. His ears were still red in embarrassment, but his heart was filled with warmth. His mother didn’t say anything about him because she knew how important it was to him. She respected his decision not to come out.

He had to swallow past the emotion in his throat to keep talking. “And that’s why you never bring up me dating?”

She gave him a little smile. “I never wanted to pressure you. Over the years, I tried to loosen up your dad you know, suggest to him to read up on the gay community and all that, but I could never get him off of the idea that one of his sons may not be straight. The least I could do was to stop him and your brothers from making you feel bad about all of it.”

A surge of gratefulness ran through Aiden at his mother’s effort. All these years, she had known and she had been supporting him without him knowing it. He picked up her hand and squeezed it. “I can’t believe you did that for me,” he said in awe.

“I’m your mother; of course, I did. Aiden, I love you no matter what. You’re my son. And if my son likes men, then well, when you find the one you want to be with, then I’ll have four sons instead of three. That’s all there is to it.”

Aiden was struck by the fact that his mother and Kellen were actually somewhat alike. They were both full of personality and had a way with words that made everything so simple. His mom had accepted him as if his sexuality didn’t matter one bit. To her, it didn’t. And that’s what made Aiden wish that he’d been braver sooner.

He chuckled at her, relief flooding through his veins. “I wish I’d said something now.”

“Oh, sweetie, that must have been a lot to carry around. Especially when you and your sweetheart broke up back then.” At his questioning look, she went on, “Give me some credit, Aiden, I’ve never seen you so heartbroken in your life. You were moping around, you weren’t eating, and I could tell you weren’t sleeping.”

He blinked, remembering that time more clearly. Through the haze of heartbreak and the self-imposed pain of training even harder, a few more details returned to him. “You made me cake like every day for a week.”

His mother laughed and clapped once. “Yes, that’s right! Cake is the easiest way to heal the soul, sweetie,” she said jokingly. “In all seriousness though, you’re like me: you don’t eat when you’re sad or upset. Even if it was just cake, it was refreshing to see you eating something.” After a pause, she said softly, “You must have really loved that boy.”

Aiden swallowed. “Yeah, I did.” His voice cracked slightly. He took another deep breath. “Before, you said that you’d love any guy I loved like another son. Actually… um, I messed up, mom.”

It felt strange to tell his mother about him and Kellen. Their relationship had been a secret between only the two of them for so long, but it was like unloading a heavy weight from his shoulders to finally tell someone about how much he’d loved Kellen, and how seriously he’d messed up. Not to mention about how he’d met Kellen again and had no idea what to do about it.

“And that boy is Nikki’s dance teacher now? Oh, the cute one with that loud laugh, right?” his mother pinned down expertly. Not that it took too much effort; Kellen was the only male dance teacher that Nikki had.

Aiden flushed at his mother calling the guy he liked “cute.” His face would be permanently red after this. “That’s him. Kellen.”

“Kellen,” his mother repeated as if testing out the name on her tongue. “Well, sweetie, to be honest, if you still love him, I think you need to be the one to say something. It sounds like Kellen has always tried to keep your feelings in mind, and he wouldn’t want to cause problems with your career by saying something.”

“I know, mom,” Aiden said quietly. “That’s why I wanted to come out to everyone. I think it’s important if I ever want to get anywhere.”

She nodded at him. “I think so too. Have a little faith in everyone; they’ll still love you.” She gave him a one-armed hug. “But you’re coming out for you, right? I know you love Kellen, but this is still your decision, sweetie.”

Aiden chuckled at her concern. “I know, mom. It’s for me too, don’t worry. I don’t even know if Kellen would want to be with me again. I mean, I hurt him back then. And now if we did start dating, he’d definitely be bothered by all the media nonsense.” He tried not to let the uncertainty bleed into his voice, but his mom picked up on it right away.

“Now, you don’t know that,” she said supportively. “Don’t assume that he’ll say no before you talk to him. And you do need to talk to him,” she said sternly. “I know it’s scary, but miscommunication is a big problem in relationships. Be straightforward, and if he does say no, then the rest of us will always be there for you.”

Aiden pulled her in for a hug, wrapping his arms around her smaller frame. She returned the hug with just as much force. Aiden laughed when he pulled back. “I can’t believe that I could have told you this entire time.”

“You can always tell me anything. You know, I’ve spent a lot of time reading up on gay and lesbian relationships over the years, just to be prepared, and so I know a lot about—”

“Mom, no,” he deadpanned.

“Oh, but you and Kellen were already intimate, so—”

“Oh my god, mom, stop,” he whined, hiding his red face in his hands. He should have guessed that she was itching for clearance to talk to him about this, especially since she’d apparently been waiting seven years, but it was still embarrassing.

But it was nice too. Freeing. Knowing his mom had his back made Aiden feel lighter than he had in years. Now he needed to tell everyone else.

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