The Smile Has Left Your Eyes

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Chapter Seven

Aspen

What did I just do?

The second those forbidden words spilled from my mouth, the joint fell from my fingers and dropped through a hole on the platform.

I averted my gaze from Isa, my body frozen and rigid with wide, startled eyes.

There was no way I just said that...

I slowly raised my eyes to gauge her reaction. She was the only other person I truly considered a friend besides Rafe.

Her brownish-pink upper lip pulled up, her eyebrows knitted, and nose wrinkled.

A look of disgust.

“Wait—” I reached my hand out in a panic, but she flinched away from my touch.

Isa paused for a second before rushing to her feet. She glanced at me one more time before she shook her head in disapproval and descended the structure.

Regret. A suffocating, all-consuming regret. Even in my drunken state, I recognized the unsettling feeling making its way into the back of my mind and the pit of my stomach.

Oh shit… Oh shit! What possessed me to think I could say that to someone who was openly homophobic?? Dammit!

I watched her body disappear down the street. I wanted to run after her and make up some lie. I wanted to pretend it was a joke or at least ask her to not tell anyone, but my energy was spent and I could barely move. She was too far away and walking too fast for me to catch up.

I let out a shaky breath. Why did I do that? Why did I say that? Why would I... Fuck! I’d spent years trying to keep my sexuality to myself. I let my brother fucking torture me… yet some measly alcohol messed everything up. Years’ worth of nothing but pain and hurt, and I’d thrown it all away because I got drunk…

It wasn’t even my first time, so why? Why now? Was it because I couldn’t take it anymore? Because I’d hit my limit and was just so sick of keeping everything to myself?

Her silence afterward only made my discomfort spike. The uncertainty surrounding how she would handle that information tormented my mind.

I chewed on my torn-up lip, warm liquid spilling into my mouth and coating my teeth in a red film. Was she going to tell everyone at school? Would she post about it on social media or send a text to our group chat? Or on the off chance, would Isa keep it to herself? Probably not…

It was all utterly ridiculous, this whole situation. Why did the people here care so much about who I slept with? It had nothing to do with them and affected no one but myself. Was it because I couldn’t have kids? The world was already overpopulated. If anything, I’d be doing people a favor. That and I didn’t want any in the first place, which had nothing to do with who I’d like to share my bed with. Because it was unnatural? Who the hell decided that? What was unnatural about it? Because it was against their religion? Now that was a crap excuse. People who used their religion as an excuse to oppress, discriminate, and hate against others were worse than the very people they deemed sinners.

It was laughable. It was fucking laughable. I couldn’t help the twisted smile that formed on my mouth. I began to snicker.

I was fucked.

And the reason was absolutely ludicrous.

“Fuck!” I smiled with a full-hearted laugh. I laughed so hard I started to wheeze and hiccup. Those hiccups were soon accompanied by sniffles. I couldn’t breathe, and suddenly, warm liquid spilled down my cheeks. I lowered my head to look at my legs. They were bent in an uncomfortable position, but I couldn’t move them. If it was because I was drunk and out of my mind, or if the cold had numbed me to the point where I physically couldn’t feel the appendages, I wasn’t sure. I simultaneously laughed and cried because there was nothing else I could do. I threw my head back, banging it on the cold, hard metal pole over and over again.

Why did I do that? Why did I do that? I want to take it back…

Maybe—maybe it wasn’t too late. If I went home now and called her and told her I was kidding, then maybe…

I made up my mind, clasping one of the many bars behind me and hoisting myself up. I left the bottle and joint where they were. My walk home started off full of anxiety and trepidation, my slow pace giving me enough time to sober up.

I quickly stumbled through my front door, hanging on the doorknob as I struggled to close it. Shifting my weight, I allowed myself to lean against the door. I blew out a breath of air, exhausted from the trip home. My body hurt… my mind hurt… why did everything always hurt?

A sudden noise had me snapping my head up to the dining table. My heart dropped out of my chest and the air was sucked from my lungs. Sitting at the table next to the kitchen was none other than the person I’d accidentally told my secret. Isabella stared at me with a cup of tea in her hand.

The corners of her mouth dipped downward and she abruptly stood. “Mrs. Ace, Mr. Ace, thank you for the tea. I should head home now.” She looked behind her toward the kitchen and slightly bowed her head. She stomped toward me, harshly knocking into my shoulder on her way out.

No. No, no, no, no, no. No way… please...

My eyes that had been glued to the table slowly shifted to the scowls of my parents leaning against the counter, keeping an uncomfortable distance from me—as if they would catch a disease.

I stopped allowing oxygen to flow through my chest. I held my breath, and even though I was aware of that, I couldn’t stop. My thoughts paused, my mind no longer working. The room was suffocating with deafening silence, yet loud static filled my head.

The arm clutching my abdomen began to violently shake. I hastened it behind my back to hide the erratic movement, trying to ignore the increased pain with the absence of pressure.

“Wh-why are you home?” The whisper barely escaped my mouth.

My mom’s blonde eyebrows furrowed, her arms wrapped tightly around herself, my dad’s hand protectively holding her waist. “We finished earlier than planned. What happened to your face—” her words were cut off when my dad squeezed her side and shook his head.

My gaze darted to him, fear taking over. My skin paled and became cold to the touch, sweat trickling down the back of my neck despite the night’s cold weather. My chest felt clogged and my eyes, stinging with tears, opened as large as they could to keep the water from spilling. I knew I shouldn’t have, but I sucked my bottom lip into my mouth and bit it, chewing it harder than I ever had. The large scab fell off and I felt the rough, soggy dead flesh on my tongue. The taste of iron filled my senses. I didn’t know if it was the biting that calmed me down, the taste of my own blood, or the slight jolts of pain being sent through the nerves around my mouth.

Both my parents were silent, blank looks on their faces.

“What,” I had to pause, the lump in my throat making it difficult to speak. “What was Isabella doing here?”

My mother pursed her lips and turned her head up, her chin held high. “Your friend told us something… She came to us because she wants to help you. She wants you to get the help you need.

My lips quivered and my eyes darted around the room, eyelids blinking in a flurry, unable to focus on anything, my jaw trembling along with the rest of my body.

“We can help you, Aspen.” She placed a hand delicately over her heart.

“Help?” my voice broke. “I-I don’t need any help.

“You do! You need help, Aspen. You’re sick. It isn’t natural! It goes against everything we stand for.” My mom’s artificial curls bounced, her blonde hair swaying as she used her body to express herself.

My mouth parted, but no words came out.

“I know a friend,” my mom started, looking straight at me, but I couldn’t bring myself to raise my eyes to meet hers. “He runs a camp upstate. He helps people like you, Aspen. He can set you back on the right path. You have strayed from the direction God intended for you, but it’s not too late.” She nodded aggressively, not only trying to convince me, but herself as well.

“Madeline,” my dad said sternly, causing her mouth to shut quickly.

I stared at my feet, my nails scratching uncontrollably at my arms behind my back.

“Madeline, you know therapy doesn’t work. He’s already parted from the path of God. He’s already chosen what he wishes to be,” the green-eyed man’s voice boomed, echoing throughout the room.

“But—” I interjected, panic written on my face.

“Aspen, I will ask you one time,” my dad interrupted. “Are you a homosexual?”

“N-no, I—” the front door slammed roughly into the same shoulder that Isabella had shoved earlier—the same one that still hadn’t healed from weeks ago.

Alex pushed past me, closing the door and pausing in place right next to me, noticing the obvious tension in the room. He stood there, looking between me and our parents.

My dad cleared his throat, directing my mom’s attention back to me. “Are. You. A. Homosexual?” he spit.

“Oh?” Alex chirped in surprise. “They finally found out? Did you tell them yourself?”

My head shot up, and I grabbed the bottom of his sleeve near his elbow with a shaky hand. “You… you promised. You promised not to tell,” my voice was broken, tears slowly falling down my face.

He ripped his arm away from me, my hand falling back to my side while my eyes begged him for help. He leaned in to whisper in my ear. “I kept my promise. I didn’t tell anyone you’re a faggot. But remember...” The tone lacing his voice was enough to make me abruptly aware of the vile smile I knew he was sporting. A chill went down my spine, his words like ice. “I also said I would never lie for you.”

He pulled away and addressed our parents with a lighthearted voice. “You’re home early.” Alex grabbed a glass of water from the fridge. He leaned against the silver box and sipped his drink leisurely, waiting for things to unfold.

“I won’t have a homosexual son.”

“That’s why we should send him to that camp—” my mom started to explain.

“No! I will not have a bitch for a child!”

The tips of my brows were raised and streams of water fell from my eyes. “But nothing’s changed! I haven’t changed! I’m the same as before, I’m still me!” I pleaded with a quavering voice.

With a contorted face, my dad’s piercing eyes drilled holes into me. Green veins protruded from his increasingly red face and his jaw shook from its tight clenching. “Get out.”

“What?” I asked breathlessly, unable to process.

“Get. Out,” he repeated.

“Now hold on, Garret.” My mom placed a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s not rush things. He can still be cured—”

“Get out! GET OUT!” He threw his arm into the air, his index finger pointing at the front door. “I will not have a gay son. Get out of my house, you good-for-nothing piece of shit!!”

“Mom?” I croaked, panic rising.

She simply looked at me, shaking her head from side to side. She can’t help me… Or maybe she wouldn’t.

My jaw fell open, jutting out in an awkward position as the most painful pang coursed through my chest. I clutched at my heart, tears escaping my eyes; there was so much that they began to drip from my nose, making my entire face look wet and sweaty.

“S-so that’s it?” I tilted my head. “You’re-you’re kicking me out…” I picked at my arms, feeling yet another scab fall off. Blood dripped down onto my hand, falling from the tips of my fingers.

“If you don’t leave right now”—the fire in my dad’s eyes emitted a different type of fear in me, one that even Alex hadn’t invoked—“I will make you leave.” It wasn’t just a threat, it was a promise. A promise of affliction and anguish worse than anything I’d experienced. A promise to act on a level of hatred I couldn’t comprehend.

I searched my family’s faces for something, anything. My dad was cold, unattached, but he always had been. Alex smiled as if this was a long time coming. And my mom, she was neutral. She didn’t seem to agree with my dad’s decision, but she sure as hell wasn’t against it.

I guess that’s it, then.

The world slowed as I turned on my heels. I reached for the doorknob with a shaky hand, holding my breath as I twisted the metal. I didn’t want them to see me break completely. I refused to give Alex the satisfaction.

I stepped into the brittle air, looking up at the shining stars lighting up the black sky. They were so bright, completely filling up the emptiness encasing the world above me.

What I would give for that… to feel empty. To be empty. To be nothing.

Everything. I would give it all.

I’d gladly give my life if it meant I could finally join the stars in their eternal peace. Eternal nothingness.

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