Just Kiss Me

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Marianne (Extra)

Vincent was being weird lately—Marianne would know after a whole life of living with him.

Her usually quiet but kind, intelligent but awkward little brother was now sullen and avoiding all of them, which was probably pretty tough considering how many of them there were. Then again, she and Bella had gone to college, so that was two less people.

Maybe that was it: Vincent was lonely now that they had gone off to school. Marianne tried to spend even more time with him, but he shrugged her off and fidgeted and locked himself in his room.

“Still trying to figure him out?” Bella asked idly from their place in front of Vincent’s door.

“I mean, I’m not a guy, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not seventeen-year-old-boy angst,” Marianne said matter-of-factly, rocking back and forth on her feet.

Bella frowned, crossing her arms. “Maybe there’s something going on at school?”

“It’s not like we would know if there was,” Marianne said honestly, “Luce still isn’t in the same school as him, and I don’t know any of his friends.”

“Would you two stop talking about me?”

Marianne didn’t feel guilty at all when Vincent appeared at his door with this disgruntled look on his face. She didn’t show it through her casual smile, but she actually felt worried. Vincent looked more tired than usual, messier, and even the shades in his room behind him were closed.

She sidled up to him effortlessly. “Nah, we like to talk about you too much. If you told us what was bugging you, we wouldn’t have to.”

Vincent looked entirely unimpressed. “You would find something to talk about even if I did tell you.”

Marianne took a moment to feel jarred by the fact that her baby brother was so tall and thin now, maybe too thin if she wasn’t mistaken.

Bella pointed out shrewdly, “So, there is something bothering you?”

Vincent wore this “I regret my whole life” kind of expression. He didn’t answer, pushing his glasses up his nose instead.

Marianne turned to Bella. They’d always been just a little over a year apart in age. They always understood each other, and Vincent, the best.

Which is why Bella only had to nod for Marianne to help her push Vincent back into his room and lock the door before his cries of “Hey! What the hell?” could reach their parents or little sisters.

“What are you doing?” Vincent exclaimed, falling back into his bed as Bella pushed past him to open the blinds.

“We’re figuring out what’s up with you,” Marianne said easily, squinting at the light in the room now.

Some part of her always thought Vincent was a little lucky: as the only son, he had always gotten a room to himself while she shared with Bella and Luce shared with Gracie. Then again, she knew enough about guys—at least based on the ones that she’d dated—to be grateful that Vincent had his own room.

Then again, Vincent was never like them. Like always, her brother’s room was clean and quiet, with books in the corner and no dirty underwear lying out.

He stood with an angry huff. “Look, it’s fine,” he said, “It’ll… I’ll get over it.”

“Doesn’t sound like it,” Marianne refuted, not flinching back from his frown. “You’ve been weird for months now, Vincent.”

“Did something happen?” Bella asked, coming to stand in front of him. “School? College applications? Girlfriend?”

“No, nothing,” Vincent said much too quickly for it to be believable.

Marianne shared a look with her sister, now properly concerned. She looked back to Vincent. “Vincent, you can tell us. It’s not like we’ll tell mom and dad if it’s not like suicide-level stuff.”

He gave her this horrified look. “Okay, no, it’s not suicidal thoughts or anything like that,” he was quick to say, something for which Marianne was grateful. “It’s just… it’s nothing,” he settled on again.

“Vincent,” Bella said in a tone that was far too much like their mother’s, “We’re worried about you. You’ve been sullen and moody—”

“I’m seventeen.”

“—you’ve been avoiding everyone—”

“I’ve had a lot of work to do.”

“—you won’t talk to any of us—”

“It’s none of your business.”

Marianne actually felt a little bad for Vincent. Bella could be a real force when she wanted to be, and he was looking increasingly under pressure.

“You’re not acting like yourself, Vincent!” Bella pleaded, finally letting her concern show in earnest.

Vincent swallowed and Marianne followed the line of his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat with her eyes. She let her smile relax. “Vincent, we really mean it. It can just stay between us.”

Marianne thought that maybe she and Bella had pushed too far when she saw her brother fidget uncomfortably. It was just so frustrating to watch him struggle and to be completely unable to help him—to not even know what was wrong.

She thought about apologizing and leaving him in his room when he ran a hand through his dark hair in agitation and said loudly, almost as if the words were painful, “I’m gay.”

Marianne blinked at him for a second. She couldn’t say that it felt like a great surprise now that she’d heard him say it, but she also couldn’t say that she’d known.

She could say for sure though: Vincent was still her brother, and she still loved him.

“Oh, Vincent,” Bella said kindly, pulling him close for a hug. He seemed to fall into it tiredly, not that Marianne could blame him; this must have been keeping him up for months.

“You’re still our brother,” Marianne said, leaning in to hug him too. “Oh, this is so much more fun actually! I can totally help you find a cute guy.”

“No!” Vincent said quickly, nervously. “You can’t do anything. No one knows! No one… except you guys…” He took a breath. “You two still…?”

Bella smiled softly up at him. “We still love you, Vincent. We’ll always love you.”

“Yeah, I mean, you could be one of those weirdos that dates inanimate objects and we would still love you,” Marianne offered.

He shook his head at her, but he was smiling now. “Every guy I’ll date will be completely human and alive—no mannequins,” he joked.

“Good, because those headless mannequins at the store are real assholes,” Marianne drawled, pleased at her ability to make the tension flee her brother’s shoulders.

Bella rolled her eyes at the two of them. She let out a breath and focused back on Vincent. “You haven’t told anyone?”

He nodded hesitantly, all business again. “Please don’t tell mom and dad? They can’t know.”

“Vincent, they wouldn’t hate you,” Bella tried to say, but Vincent shook his head vigorously.

“I… I can’t risk it,” Vincent said, his voice shaking.

It was in that moment that Marianne genuinely felt bad for her brother. Not in a pity kind of way, but in a sympathy kind of way. She couldn’t imagine what it must feel like to wonder if her parents would still love her after telling them something about her.

Well, they probably would have yelled themselves hoarse if she’d ever come home pregnant, but she was actually pretty confident that they still would have loved her and taken care of her. She hadn’t heard her parents talk enough about gay people to really know how they might react to Vincent though.

“We won’t tell them,” Marianne promised him, “but this is why you’ve been struggling so much lately?”

Vincent nodded. “I shouldn’t… it’s not… why can’t I just like women?”

“Because men are hot?” Marianne suggested, earning a glare from Bella and a half-hearted smile from Vincent. She tried again, “Because you are who you are—and if that means gay, then that’s okay.”

Bella appeared mollified with that answer, but Vincent mumbled, “It’s not because… because I have so many sisters?”

“No,” Bella was quick to say, shutting that down immediately, “It’s because you like men, because that’s you, not because you’re surrounded by women eighty percent of the time.”

He looked relieved to have that reassurance. Marianne reached over to hug him again. “It’s okay, bro. We promise not to say anything, but when you’re ready, I will be the best ally ever.”

When he chuckled, she could feel it in his chest. “Thanks, Marianne. Don’t tell mom and dad, Bella?”

“Of course not,” she said easily, hugging him too.

Marianne didn’t like the idea of Vincent being forced to keep hiding himself, but she resolved never to tell their parents until her brother told them first. She didn’t even bring it up with him after that, letting Vincent move at his own pace.

He seemed to become increasingly antsy though. Marianne noticed him accidentally knocking down dishes without meaning to over the next few days when all five of them were home—hers and Bella’s summer started earlier than the others—and saw him looking green and unhealthy whenever he ate. She wasn’t sure if he was eating at all really, which is why she started secretly leaving snacks in his room that wouldn’t upset his stomach. Bella chipped in on the snack fund.

On the fourth night of pushing food around on his plate without really eating it, Marianne shared a look with Bella across the table, seeing the obvious concern in her sister’s eyes too.

“It’s just so ugh,” Gracie was saying very animatedly for a ten-year-old. “I have to get in trouble for that guy pouring milk all over me?”

“Why would you get in trouble for that?” their mother asked curiously, her eyes cutting to Vincent. She was obviously aware of the fact that he hadn’t been eating lately. Maybe that was why she had made a light chicken and noodle dish.

“Well, I smashed his lunch into him after he poured his milk on me, so,” Gracie said too casually.

“Gracie!” Luce admonished at the same time as their mother.

“They can’t prove I did it on purpose, so I’m not in trouble!” Gracie maintained.

Marianne knew how to manipulate people, but she had to say: Gracie was much more of a rebel than she ever was. Or maybe she had taught Gracie all of that. Oops.

Their father shook his head at them, sitting comfortably next to their mother. “You shouldn’t waste food, Gracie. Or start trouble,” he added almost like an afterthought.

“I mean, it was school cafeteria food,” Gracie shrugged, and even Luce couldn’t refute that. Marianne personally had to agree as well; she had never eaten the burgers at the school because she had never been able to figure out what kind of meat they were made of.

Gracie took another bite of chicken, saying, “Vincent’s the one who isn’t eating anyway.”

Marianne winced for Vincent’s sake, watching him tense up at the newfound attention of their parents.

“Baby, is your stomach upset? Are you sick?” their mother asked, getting up immediately to check his forehead. He didn’t protest, mostly since they all knew that it would be futile. “You’re not warm,” she murmured.

“I’m fine, mom,” Vincent said with this very sad, strained smile. “Just not hungry.”

“You haven’t eaten much lately,” their father observed, shifting so their mother could sit back down. For a gruff, no nonsense kind of man, he was surprisingly observant. Marianne had always hated how easily he saw through all of her schemes.

Vincent looked down and away. His food might have tasted like cardboard based on the face he made when he forced himself to take a bite. “It’s nothing, really. Probably just stress from school.” He didn’t look at either Marianne or Bella when he said it, but they looked at each other.

Their mother took a breath. “I hate asking this, but you’re not on drugs, right?”

“God, mom, no,” Vincent said emphatically.

She put her hands up in surrender. “Alright, alright. I just needed to know.”

“Not that we ever think that you’d take drugs,” their father clarified, “To be honest though, your mother and I did experiment when we were younger, although never with any of that dangerous stuff—”

He was interrupted by this varied chorus of “Dad!” from the five of them. Marianne was grateful, as she never in her life wanted to know what her parents had done when it was just the two of them and they had lowered inhibitions.

“Raymond,” their mother admonished, although there was a distinctly fond note in her voice.

Vincent looked more or less like he wanted to die for being the cause of that tangent. He forced down another bite, perhaps in an effort to literally disappear—and to force their parents to stop looking at him in vague concern while Luce told them about a new project she had been assigned at school.

Marianne only listened vaguely to Luce, watching Vincent fidget instead. She looked to Bella pointedly—kindness and concern and all that were more in her wheelhouse. Bella rolled her eyes in return, unable to say anything while they were all at the table.

“I think I’ll start tonight,” Luce was saying, “Mom, do we have any posterboard lying around?”

“There might be some in the closet upstairs,” she answered idly.

Marianne raised her eyebrows when Vincent stood suddenly. She would have thought that her brother was just going for some water or something if he didn’t stand there for a solid second, long enough that the conversation died out.

One of their parents might have asked him what was wrong again if he didn’t blurt out on his own, “I’m gay.”

Silence. Even the sound of their forks clinking on their plates had stopped. No one said anything, and Marianne could see both of their parents looking at him in surprise.

Vincent didn’t give them a chance to either accept or reject him. He abruptly left the table. A second later, his door slammed upstairs.

Gracie was the one who asked, “So, he likes guys, right?”

Their parents shared a look. Neither Marianne nor Bella waited for them to speak, both of them getting up to race after Vincent. Marianne could have picked the lock on his door—don’t ask her why she knew how to do that—but Bella said that she thought he was crying. They both agreed that it was best to give him some time alone.

Marianne would have preferred to say that she didn’t see Vincent for a few days because she was super busy with friends or work or something, but really, she didn’t think that he had left his room except to use the bathroom and escape to school.

“Has he showered?” she asked Bella on day three. “Because honestly, he doesn’t need that reputation at school as the guy who doesn’t shower.”

Bella sighed and took a sip of her drink, relaxing back into the couch. “I don’t know.”

Marianne nodded. “I hope he shaved though. You remember the time he thought having a mustache would be cool?”

Even Bella had to smile at that one. “God, that was horrible. I don’t think he’d have a full mustache after three days though.”

“I don’t know. I once dated this guy—dude was hairy, Bella. Honestly, I’m so glad I never saw him with his clothes off,” Marianna quipped, listening to her sister chuckle.

They both looked up when their dad stood beside the couch. “Time for dinner,” he said in a voice that was too serious for those three words.

Marianne looked to Bella, but her sister just shrugged and got up to help their dad move dishes to the table. As always, they set a place for Vincent, even though he hadn’t been down in days to eat.

“Vincent!” their dad called from upstairs. “I want you out of your room and down here for dinner now.”

Marianne barely ever heard their dad use that voice—the “you’re in super big trouble so don’t push it” voice. She turned to their mother, who set a pan of pork chops in the center of the table. The woman shook her head, deigning to share what she and their dad were thinking.

“Mom,” she tried, but her mother gave her a stern look.

“We’ll talk when we’re all together,” her mother said idly, shutting down any of her complaints.

Marianne looked helplessly at Bella, and tried again, “But you guys are cool with Vincent, right? I mean, it’s not like—”

“No, Marianne,” the woman said firmly, “You’re not charming me on this one. Sit.”

Marianne pouted, taking her seat silently. Bella, Luce, and Gracie did the same, along with their mother. Their father marched Vincent in, watching him as if to make sure that he wouldn’t try to run back to his room.

He looked exhausted. The bags under his eyes made it clear that whatever he had been doing in his room for the past few days, it certainly hadn’t been sleeping. His hair was messy as if he had been lying down though, and his clothing was wrinkled. His glasses were the only part of him that appeared mostly clean, not that he used them to meet any of their eyes.

He didn’t have a mustache or any of that patchy stupid facial hair that some guys thought looked cool, which Marianne at least thought was a good sign.

When they were finally all sitting, their father adjusted himself in his chair. “Vincent,” he said firmly, and Vincent seemed to shrink under their father’s gaze. There was a second of profound silence. “No boys allowed in your room.”

Vincent looked up, confused. “Huh?”

“Your sisters aren’t allowed to have boys in their room,” their father explained, “and that rule now extends to you too. Is that understood?” Their father said nothing even when Vincent stared in shock and confusion for a second.

“Um, yes,” Vincent finally said. His voice was hoarse, like he hadn’t used it at all in the past few days.

Their parents nodded in satisfaction. Their father turned to all of them with a serious gaze. “In this house, we are accepting. I don’t want to hear any of you ever doing anything but giving your brother unconditional love and support. There’s no room for any homophobic bullshit in this house. Understood?”

He said it in a way that made it clear that he wasn’t to be challenged, but Marianne had a feeling that none of them would have wanted to challenge him anyway.

He turned back to Vincent. “Your mother and I love you, son. You’re gay, and you’re still my son—and you’re growing into a pretty amazing young man.”

Marianne smiled sympathetically when Vincent tried very valiantly not to cry in front of all of them. He wiped his eyes surreptitiously, failing at that whole “not crying” thing.

Their father got up to pull Vincent up bodily into a hug, making it obvious that Vincent had grown taller than him. At the same time, their mother stood to pile food onto his plate and to give him a solid hug herself.

“Now, you’d better eat,” she said to him firmly when she pulled back, pushing him into his chair. “Your dad cooked tonight, and he worked hard on this.”

“So, Vincent,” Gracie started when Vincent was in fact eating. “Any dudes you have a crush on, or…?”

Their father gave her a look. “Why do you want to know? You’re too young for boys.”

“I can’t be curious?” she asked, looking back at him.

Vincent had been eating so quickly that he needed to swallow before he could speak, “You’d be better off asking Marianne or Bella honestly.”

Gracie really did turn to them. Marianne shook her head at her. “Hey, I’m not with anyone now. We should all be asking Luce, who has been suspiciously quiet during this conversation.”

Luce, her easily embarrassed younger sister, jumped predictably. “Not me! I’m too shy for that.”

“Good,” their father said. “Too young.”

Their mother rolled her eyes and patted his hand placatingly. Marianne hid her smile behind her cup of water, sure that any man that Vincent did eventually bring home was going to have a hell of a time with all of them there to make his life difficult.

She saw Vincent finally eat that night, but she wasn’t surprised to find him eating leftovers in the kitchen when everyone else was already upstairs.

“Hungry?” she teased, taking a seat beside him.

He shrugged, swallowing. “I didn’t really eat for like a week. Sue me—I’m starving.”

Marianne picked at the porkchops herself, ripping a piece off with her fingers. “You should have tried one of those seven-day cleanse things. Would have cleared your colon right out.”

“Ugh,” was all he said, taking another bite.

“I’m glad you told them,” she said sincerely, picking at her food.

Vincent smiled over at her. “Me too. Did you see what mom put out?”

Marianne laughed way too loudly when Vincent grabbed the very classy little pride flag that their mother must have procured from somewhere to place in the decorative vase that usually sat on the dining table. Leave it to their mom to just put it there without saying anything to anyone or even acting like it was a big deal.

She was proud of her parents, actually, because even though the adjustment must have taken them some time, they treated Vincent no differently, and gave his boyfriends the same treatment as they would any of her boyfriends.

Vincent didn’t find a guy who would stick by the time Bella had Amber seven years later, but then again, neither did Marianne.

Not that it bothered Marianne all that much. She had always known that she was more of a free spirit, and that she definitely and most certainly didn’t want her own children. Miracle of life and all that, but even before she’d heard about Bella’s first, second, and third experiences with pregnancy, Marianne was very sure that children weren’t in her future.

Vincent understood when she told him, not judging her for being one of those women who had no intention of having children. He simply said that Bella would have enough children for all of them, which Marianne actually figured was true by the time Bella was pregnant for the fourth time.

“Do you think Vincent’s sort of new boyfriend will be a freak?” Marianne asked, leaning against the counter while Bella made the food.

Despite being seven months pregnant, Bella’s only sign of any discomfort was the hand on the small of her back. “This Nick guy must be pretty great if Vincent wants to bring him over,” Bella said cautiously, “but it is weird that the guy thought he was straight for most of his life.”

“Maybe Vincent just ignited that bisexual-ness in him,” Marianne suggested.

“Or maybe this guy is messing with him,” Bella murmured, leaning over the stove.

Marianne shook her head at her sister. “Aw, you’re totally going to scare the guy away. Like for sure, because you’re most scary when you’re pregnant.”

Bella punched her arm teasingly, rubbing her hand over her large belly. “Very funny. I promise that I’ll be nice when we meet him though.”

“Good,” Marianne said casually, “because Vincent sounds head over heels for this guy. He’ll be pissed if you scare him off.”

“He’s not worth it if I can scare him off,” Bella said idly.

Privately, Marianne agreed, but she said nothing. She had to wonder whether this Nick guy could actually appreciate Vincent like his past boyfriends had failed to do. And whether he could handle the fact that her brother was just terrible in the morning—seriously, Vincent was at the same level of grumpiness as Gracie in the mornings, and that was saying something.

When she heard Vincent walk in with his new boy, she turned to Bella and teased, “Don’t scare him,” walking around the corner to prevent getting something thrown in her direction.

Nick seemed nice enough. Tall guy, jovial, good at coming up with clever responses. Marianne knew that Bella couldn’t hate him either when he and Vincent set up the paper airplane thing with the kids.

“Do you trust him now?” Marianne asked, watching Nick give her brother a little kiss. It was sweet.

Bella hummed suspiciously. “He doesn’t seem like an asshole at least, but I’d like to talk to him.”

“Leave that to me,” Marianne assured her, grabbing Vincent to drag him away when he happened to have water in his hand. He ended up with water all over his hands and splatters along the floor, along with some on his shirt. Oops.

“Jeez, Marianne,” Vincent huffed, frowning at her and grabbing a napkin to wipe his hands.

Marianne simply smiled at him. “Well, you’re spending so much time with your man—I had to drag you away somehow.”

He gave her a deadpan expression. “As if I’d leave him all alone with you and Bella on the loose.” He looked in the direction of the kitchen, and Marianne knew that Vincent was smart enough to figure out why exactly she’d grabbed him.

“Do you notice or do you not care?” she asked suddenly. When he looked at her in confusion, she clarified, “Nick doesn’t really use your name.”

Vincent smiled. “The ‘honey’ thing? I notice. I like it.”

Marianne smiled in return. “You seem like you really like this one. So, what’s wrong with him? There has to be something.”

“He’s too nice to my sisters,” Vincent said, unable to keep his expression serious. “Nick’s a genuinely good person though. I’ve never been with a guy who’s so happy just to hold my hand or is okay with how much I like to read.”

She looked over him curiously. “So, he’s not weird about the fact that he thought he was straight?”

“Not anymore,” Vincent shrugged, “He’s actually been relaxed about the whole thing, more than I thought he would be. He…” Vincent paused, as if he was considering his words. His mouth quirked up into a smile. “Nick is a real special guy. If he’s not ready to tell everyone in his life about us yet, then I’m okay with waiting for him.”

Marianne realized it then: her brother was in love with this guy. She didn’t point it out though, just in case he didn’t realize it.

All she said was: “Don’t get hurt.”

Vincent smiled over at her. “I don’t plan on it.”

Marianne scuffed her foot on the floor. “I’m not Bella. It’s not really like me to be all involved in your life. But I do worry for you. I hope Nick doesn’t give me another reason to worry.”

She accepted his hug, squeezing him tightly as he spoke. “I appreciate it, Marianne, but I don’t think he will.”

Marianne genuinely hoped that he was right. She smiled at how easily Nick kissed her brother, like he didn’t worry about being open about them, and jumped up behind them when they were all in the kitchen again.

She was glad that Nick—named for Santa Claus and oh my god she couldn’t stop laughing—lasted until Christmas. Vincent had come a long way from being seventeen and so far in the closet that he couldn’t see the light outside.

“Wonder when the wedding will be,” Marianne smirked to herself, chuckling at the very thought.

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