Aiden sighed as he stepped out of the bathroom for probably the tenth time that night. The nervous pain in his stomach wouldn’t abate no matter what he did, so by this point, he knew that everyone had noticed his frequent trips.
“What, did you eat something bad?” Isaac asked when Aiden sat back down at the table. They were all there for the dinner that their parents were cooking. Well, really Aiden’s mom was the one doing most of the work, but he had to give his dad some credit for trying. The man at least had a knack for placing all the table settings just right, and folding the napkins in unnecessarily fancy shapes that amused Nikki to no end.
“Something like that,” Aiden mumbled, a hand on his stomach as he huffed. He looked up when Letta placed a glass of soda in front of him, the ice cubes clinking when she set it down.
“Here, try this,” she said with a concerned look on her face.
Aiden gave her a small, grateful smile. “I’m okay. Really,” he said, even as he took a small sip. More than the drink, the gesture made him feel better. These people cared about him. They took care of him in small ways. They were his family.
He hoped that meant that they would accept him when he came out to them that night. They’d all been staying at his parents’ place for a few days over the New Years’ holiday, which made it the perfect time for Aiden to tell everyone all at once. And since he was heading home the next day and had his car with him, he could always duck out overnight if something went wrong.
Aiden was trying not to let his thoughts wander in that direction though, even if it was nice to have an escape route planned out just in case.
His mother came to stand behind him, putting her hands on his shoulders in a relaxing gesture. “Only about ten more minutes, kids,” she said, rubbing her hand along Aiden’s back. She was the only one who knew why he was so nervous, and while she was trying her best to relax him, her heartfelt efforts could only go so far.
“You sure you’re going to be able to make it through dinner, Aiden?” Isaac asked dryly.
Aiden rolled his eyes at his brother. “If I have to stare at your ugly mug the whole time, probably not.”
Ian laughed aloud at that one. Letta shook her head at them while Lyla laughed. “He pegged you just right!” Lyla said in between chuckles.
“Hey! You’re my girlfriend; you’re supposed to love me!” Isaac whined, turning to her.
“And what’s love if it doesn’t include siding with your siblings every now and again?” she said, still laughing. She leaned down to give him a kiss on the cheek. Isaac pouted, but it was clear that he was satisfied.
Aiden smiled at the two of them. Now that he was coming out to his family, maybe he could have that too. His boyfriend could come to these dinners they had and joke around with everyone else or give him those simple kisses. Aiden’s mind supplied an image of Kellen laughing loudly at something one of his brothers said, but for that to happen, Kellen had to agree to go out with him again. And first, Aiden needed to be brave enough to come out.
His mother patted him on the back again before she stepped away to get everything out of the oven. Aiden got up to help her, passing his dad as she gave him the order to get everyone together in the dining room.
“Need any help, mom?” Aiden asked, ignoring the unhappy noise from his stomach.
His mother gave him a sympathetic look. “Sweetie, you need to try and relax. I know that you’re scared, but it’s going to be okay.” She walked over to put a hand on his arm, looking up at him. Aiden had a flash of a memory when she used to have to look down. “Do you want to tell everyone before dinner instead? It’s still a few more minutes.”
“I-I don’t think I can do that…” Aiden mumbled nervously. “If it goes bad, we’ll all have to sit and eat dinner in some kind of awkward silence.”
“Never,” his mom said with a reassuring smile. “You know that I can whip up a conversation out of nothing.” Despite her kind words, there was still concern shining in her eyes.
Aiden swallowed. “I’m going to be okay, mom. I promise.” He put on a smile that she easily saw through, but she said nothing as Aiden grabbed a pair of oven mitts to help her carry the food over.
Dinner went well enough. Everyone was laughing and joking around, enjoying the night before they all went back to the city and Nikki had to return to school. For once, Aiden was glad that Nikki didn’t sit with him that night; he’d barely made it through dinner without running off to the bathroom another few times, and that was without an excitable seven-year-old jumping on his lap. As it was, he had to force himself to eat half his dinner, which was disappointing considering how delicious the food actually was.
Aiden didn’t know how to do this. His heart was practically beating out of his chest when dinner started to wind down. Could he just say it? Or maybe he should wait until everyone migrated to the living room to watch a movie or something.
But then he worried that he would never get up the courage. That, or he would end up stuck in the bathroom for the rest of the night and miss his chance entirely. Aiden took a deep breath and looked up to his mom, who gave him a small and encouraging smile.
“Hey guys?” he said over the dregs of chatter. When they all quieted, everyone looking at him expectantly, Aiden went on, “I have something I want to tell everyone.”
He was quiet for a few moments, trying to think of how to form the words. His eyes cut to the others. Aiden saw his dad looking at him with some concern, while his brothers frowned at his serious tone. Letta and Lyla were staring with rapt attention as Nikki quieted down.
His mother gave him a little nod, and when he was quiet for another moment, she said, “You can do it, sweetie.”
Aiden saw his father give his mother a questioning look, but she didn’t look at him. She kept her attention on Aiden as he finally said, “I’ve wanted to tell you guys for a while, but I, uh, didn’t know how. But I’m… I…” He swallowed, his heart beating much too quickly in his chest. It was almost hard to catch his breath. “I’m… not interested in women. At all. I like guys. I’m gay,” he got out as if the words were torn from his throat.
The same sense of relief hit him as when he told his mom. It was impossible not to feel it when he said the words that had been caught in his throat for the past eight years. Now they all knew. They knew, and Aiden felt like he could breathe again. Up until he remembered that there were seven sets of eyes on him all digesting what he’d admitted.
He didn’t expect Lyla to say, “I so knew it,” with a self-satisfied smile.
“What?” Aiden and his brothers said at the same time.
Lyla looked at them one by one, her eyes eventually landing on Isaac. “Okay I didn’t know for sure, but I had a guess.”
“And you didn’t say anything?” Isaac asked with a frown.
She held her hands up in surrender. “Like I was going to suggest it and make your brother uncomfortable. By the way,” she said to Aiden, “you being gay is alright in my book.”
“Oh, Aiden,” Letta said, getting up quickly to lean down and wrap him in a hug. He got up to return it as she said into his shoulder, “You’re fine just as you are.”
“Yeah, you definitely are,” Ian said, getting up after his wife to wrap him in a bear hug. Aiden let himself relax as his brother squeezed him lovingly, patting him on the back before holding him at arm’s length. “Is this what you were so nervous about?” he asked, a sympathetic look on his face.
“Wait, seriously?” Isaac asked as he got up too, clapping Aiden on the back and wrapping his arm around his younger brother’s shoulders. “You do know that you could have told us right when we all got here and then you could have avoided spending half the night in the bathroom, right?”
Aiden rolled his eyes at his brother’s well-meaning teasing, accepting the hug Isaac gave him. “Yeah, yeah, make fun of my nerves,” he said with no real heat behind it.
Breathing was coming easier to him. His heart was still beating a little too fast, but Aiden didn’t feel like he was suffocating anymore. The only thing that worried him was that his dad hadn’t said anything yet, and was looking at him with an odd expression. It wasn’t angry, but it wasn’t sympathetic or happy like his siblings.
Nikki was looking confused. “I don’t get it,” she said with an innocent frown.
Ian turned to her. “Baby, it just means that your Uncle would want to kiss guys rather than girls,” he said with that smile that he always wore when it came to his daughter.
Nikki tilted her head. “Well, I know that. But I don’t get why he had to say anything. Why does it matter if he likes boys? Isn’t it just important that he’s happy?” She looked around to them, as if expecting someone to chime in and explain it to her.
Aiden felt a surge of affection for his niece. His adorable, innocent niece, who hadn’t yet been exposed to how unfairly cruel the world could be to people who were different. If the world was made up of people like her, moments like these would be so much easier.
“Letta, we’re good parents,” Ian said right away, pride coloring his voice.
Letta rolled her eyes, but there was a prideful smile on her face too. “Nikki, baby, you’re absolutely right. All that matters is that your uncle here is happy.”
Nikki still didn’t look like she entirely got why it was all such a big deal, but she smiled anyway, getting up to give Aiden a hug in support. Aiden picked her up and swung her around like usual, making her laugh as he held onto her.
He only stopped and put her down when he noticed his father get up, an awkward smile on his face. “That’s right. But uh, if you’ll all excuse me for a moment.” He walked out of the room quickly, heading up to his own bedroom upstairs.
Aiden felt his heart plummet. He supposed this outcome was better than his dad yelling at him or freaking out, but his dad saying pretty much nothing didn’t make him feel much better. This was his dad they were talking about. The man who had supported him his entire life, and who had now walked out of the room without saying more than a few words. Aiden had to swallow his disappointment. He never thought of his dad as homophobic, but some parents could say they were fine with the gay community until they were talking about their own kid.
His mother got up with a sigh. “I’ll go talk to him. You kids relax and I’ll be right back.” She stepped out after him, her footsteps soft as they hit the stairs. No one said anything until they heard her close the door upstairs.
Aiden released a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. “That could have gone better,” he muttered.
Ian looked after their dad with a put-out look mixed with anger, but only said, “Don’t worry about him, Aiden. Mom’s up there, so it’ll be alright.” Aiden hoped that it was that easy, but even his mother wasn’t a miracle worker.
“Speaking of mom,” Isaac said, “Why did she seem to already know what you were going to say?”
“Because I told her? Although she’s known for seven years, actually,” Aiden said to himself. He’d actually wanted to tell Kellen that to see his reaction, but he wanted to be able to follow that with a confession rather than awkward laughter.
“Seven years?” Lyla asked, handing Nikki the book she’d been reading so she could scamper off to the living room.
Aiden had no choice but to explain. He didn’t give them the details about what he and Kellen used to do, because Aiden wasn’t here trying to die of embarrassment, but he told them that he’d been in a relationship and that their mom caught the two of them in bed together. And yes, they really had only been literally sleeping. He didn’t think he’d seen Isaac laugh so hard in a while. Lyla at least was trying to be polite as she covered her mouth and laughed anyway.
Aiden groaned into his hands. “You jerks,” he mumbled.
Isaac kept laughing, unbothered. “Your first relationship and she caught you and you didn’t even know it! That is gold, Aiden.”
Letta nudged him to try and get him to calm down. It didn’t work, but Aiden appreciated the effort. When she looked at him with bright eyes, he wasn’t sure if he appreciated it anymore. “But now we know why you never wanted us to set you up. I have guy coworkers too—”
“Oh, yeah, I’m sure we could find someone—” Lyla put in.
“No,” Aiden interrupted. As sweet as it was of his pseudo-sisters to offer, there was only one guy on his mind. “I’m not into setups. I already like someone anyway.” He didn’t know why he said that. They knew he was gay, so there was no reason for him to say anything about his long-lasting feelings for Kellen. Aiden looked away for a moment, wincing at the four sets of interested eyes that looked his way.
“Actually… the guy I like is the same one I was with in high school. As it turns out… he’s one of Nikki’s dance teachers.” Aiden’s ears went red, but he was smiling like a goof. He knew it too. He was only happy that his brothers didn’t tease him about it.
Letta’s eyes lit up. “Oh, the hip-hop one?” She paused, realization flashing in those eyes. “That guy that danced with you at the Christmas thing! That’s why you looked so happy.”
Aiden had almost forgotten that the whole family had been there to see that. He saw the rest of them nod as they remembered it too, clearly putting the pieces together. Isaac shook his head with amusement. “Your life is such a damn mess, Aiden,” he said not unkindly.
Ian nodded along with him. “You have a relationship in high school, break up with him, don’t see him for years, and then come back to find that he’s teaching your niece. And that he’s… I don’t know, objectively more attractive than he was in high school.” He frowned as if he wasn’t sure if he worded that right.
Aiden raised his eyebrow at the description, especially when Letta and Lyla nodded and hummed in agreement. Ian looked at his wife curiously, but she shrugged. “He’s adorable. Good with kids, bright personality, energetic. Those types of things are attractive.”
“Plus, he spun the ballet teacher around like she was nothing,” Lyla said, sounding impressed. “The guy’s no slouch.”
Aiden had to hold back his own laughter at the bewildered looks on his brothers’ faces. He couldn’t resist messing with them. “You have no idea,” he added, much to the girls’ amusement.
“Okay, I’m not ready to hear about how attractive the guy is,” Isaac said before anyone else could add anymore. “But, so are you going for it? His name is Kellen, right?”
Aiden felt the amusement drain out of him as he frowned, leaning back against the wall. “I want to. But I messed up pretty badly. I… don’t know if he’ll want to deal with me again. Especially since I’m gone half the time for baseball season.”
“You’ve done the hard part, Aiden,” Letta said sagely, coming up to pat him on the arm in the same motherly way his own mom had mastered. “You came out to everyone. If you love Kellen, it should be easy to get your feelings across to him. Whether he accepts those feelings and returns them is out of your hands. But you’ll never know if you don’t tell him.”
There was a beat of silence. Aiden felt some of the tension he’d been carrying around dissipate slightly. Letta had told him almost the same thing as his mom did: sitting around wondering and worrying wouldn’t get him anywhere. If he wanted his feelings answered, then he had to go for it even though he was afraid.
He gave Letta a grateful look, but he wasn’t the only one looking at her. Lyla shook her head. “Damn, you’re so ready for when Nikki starts dating.”
“No, I don’t want to think about that,” Ian complained. He looked over to his daughter, who was drawing something with intense concentration in the other room. Aiden could only imagine his reaction to Nikki’s first boyfriend or girlfriend. That poor girl.
Somehow though, Ian and Isaac were able to lighten the conversation as Isaac teased Ian endlessly. It was just like when they were kids in some ways.
Aiden felt like a weight had been removed from his chest, although he hadn’t unloaded all of it yet. His parents still hadn’t returned by the time he gave his siblings the excuse that he was tired and slinked up to bed. Not that he slept. His mind was too worried about his father’s reaction, his heart full of the acceptance from everyone else.
His stomach drowned out both his mind and his heart when it growled loudly at three in the morning. Aiden groaned to himself. He’d almost forgotten that he’d barely eaten anything all day because of how nervous he was. He couldn’t sleep anyway, which is how he ended up sitting in the kitchen eating a plate of leftovers he and his brothers had packed away hours before.
That was how his dad found him.
Aiden bit into his meatball sub at the same moment he heard light footsteps, like the person was intentionally trying remain unheard. He didn’t pay it any mind. There were a lot of people in the house; it was probably one of them coming down for water and trying not to make a lot of noise.
He hadn’t expected to hear his father’s voice say hesitantly, “Aiden.”
Aiden jumped heartily. He had to put his hand over his mouth to stop himself from spitting food everywhere as he convinced his throat to swallow. Coughing into his fist, Aiden only looked up when a glass of water was set in front of him and his father’s hand landed on his shoulder.
His dad was looking at him with concern. “Sorry, son, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Aiden coughed and grabbed the water. “S’ok,” he murmured in a scratchy voice. His coughs were the only noise between them as his dad took a seat in the barstool next to his, resting his forearms on the counter.
The silence was palpable between them in a way that it wasn’t usually. Aiden had never had much of a problem talking to his father. It wasn’t like they talked about everything, obviously, but Aiden remembered many afternoons he spent with his dad playing ball. When he moved out, his dad used to call him before every game to offer a few words of encouragement or to give him small updates on what was going on at home.
Now they were both silent, and Aiden didn’t know how to fix this.
He was wondering what he should say when his dad finally said, “I’m sorry, Aiden.” His quiet voice was somehow loud in the silence of the night. The man swallowed. “I made you feel badly before. I… please understand: I’m not mad at you, and I still love you just as much. I just… wasn’t expecting you to, er, be gay, and I guess it caught me by surprise.”
Aiden’s eyebrows rose at his father’s stuttering yet heartfelt apology. “It’s… okay, dad,” he said quietly. He wasn’t sure what else there was to say.
But his dad shook his head. “It’s not. I didn’t know how to react and I walked out. I shouldn’t have done that and I’m sorry.” He chanced a look at Aiden nervously. “I guess it was stupid of me not to consider that one of my sons might not be straight. It never crossed my mind. Maybe I’m more closed-minded than I thought,” he said regretfully, guiltily.
Aiden turned to face his dad, forgetting his food on the counter. “You said you still love me just as much, right?”
His dad turned to face him with a look like he’d been struck. “Of course, I do—”
“Then you’re not stupid or closed-minded,” Aiden interrupted. “You’re just… surprised,” he finished lamely. “I mean, I tried my best so that you wouldn’t know. I made up stories about girls I’d been with and I never really contradicted anyone who mentioned girls to me.”
“But you… you hid such a huge part of who you are,” his dad stressed with distressed eyes, “And… I didn’t know. All these years, I made stupid jokes and comments and pushed you into getting a girlfriend. I put so much pressure on you without taking a minute to think about how you might feel.”
Aiden frowned in his father’s direction. He could see how much this was hurting his dad and it made his own heart clench. “Dad,” he said seriously, his stern voice making his dad turn to look at him. “I won’t lie and say that it wasn’t hard sometimes to pretend to be something I’m not. But I still love you, just like you still love me. Nothing’s changed. Nothing really, anyway.” He shrugged. “The only difference is that I’d bring a boyfriend home instead of a girlfriend.”
His dad looked uncertain for a moment before he smiled softly. He leaned forward to wrap Aiden in a tight hug that Aiden returned forcefully. There was no way that Aiden could doubt how much his father loved him with a hug like that communicating everything the man wasn’t sure how to say.
“My son; of course, I love you,” his dad murmured into his ear. Aiden thought he felt his eyes prick, but he blinked away the emotion when his dad pulled back. “Your mom talked to me. She said she’s known for a long time now.” He chuckled to himself. “I shouldn’t have expected anything less from her.”
Aiden laughed a little too. Really, he had no idea why any of them were still surprised at how shrewd their mother was. She’d be 80 and would never stop being a force to be reckoned with.
His dad took a deep breath. “But… please be patient with me, okay?” he pleaded with Aiden. “It’s going to take me a little time to get used to you with a guy.”
“I can do that,” Aiden reassured his dad. This had gone a lot better than it could have gone. Some people had parents who kicked them out of the house, or who screamed at them that there was no way they could be gay. Aiden considered himself lucky that he had a father who loved him so deeply, and who was willing to look at himself and accept what made Aiden happy.
His heart felt lighter. Aiden breathed out easily before he tilted his head in confusion. “Wait, you do know that I might not even end up with a boyfriend right away, right?”
His dad might have flushed in embarrassment as he cleared his throat. “Actually, your mother said that there was someone you liked already. I, uh, that’s all I know about it, but if… if you ever want to bring him by to say hello, I’ll try my best.”
“That’s all that I ask, dad,” Aiden murmured. He smiled lightly at his dad, affection thrumming through him.
The more comfortable silence that fell between them was interrupted by Aiden’s stomach growling again. “Ah,” he mumbled, sure that his ears had gone red in embarrassment.
“What, you’re not eating now?” his dad joked. “I worry about you enough, Aiden. I don’t need to worry about if you’re eating or not.”
“You worry about me?” Aiden questioned, picking up his sandwich to take another bite.
“I worry about all my kids. I’m just not as obvious as your mother,” he responded quietly, a small laugh in his voice.
Aiden thought this was nice as he finished his food, his dad grabbing a snack too. They talked like they always did, quietly with the overhead lights dimmed above so as not to wake anyone else up. Aiden fell asleep right away when he went back upstairs.
Now he just had one thing left to do.
His heart beat quickly in his chest, but not out of fear. He was excited to be himself now. He was looking forward to what came next.