How To Be Straight

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Empty Smiles

I sat in the shower, not moving, but shivering beneath the freezing water. I glanced at my watch. I had been here for an hour. It was five. I should get up, and get dressed. I should do my homework so it would be done by dinner time and I could retreat back to my room for some time to think.

Five more minutes. I shifted on my legs, tired from standing too long. I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the wall of the shower. I had at least twenty pages of history reading, plus two pages of writing for english, and another three for french, and two pages of math problems. I had to get going. I sighed, and, despite the four more minutes I had previously allowed myself, I turned off the water, and grabbed the towel. It had my first initial on it, a swooping, gentle J that was as elegant as the rest of the bathroom. In other words- very.

Until I was about five, I had never understood that we were rich compared to most people. I had gone over to a friend’s house, and I think I actually asked why their cook was so bad. God, so embarrassing.

Until I was about ten, I had thought that my parents would love me unconditionally. No matter what. But then came that one fateful dinner. I had sat on my chair, which was higher than that of my mother and father. “How was your day, sweetie?” My mother smiled at me.

“It was good,” I responded. “You can come to my wedding.”

My parents had glanced at each other with a hint of confusion and a little bit of kids these days. “Oh? Who’s the lucky boy?” My father had finally managed through a small burst of laughter.

A little alarm might have gone off in my head then, but I had ignored it, if there had been one. What could they mean? It must have been an honest mistake… right? “Emily. She is in my class and...she…” My cute voice pittered out slowly into a hesitant, “What’s wrong?”

Then they were both standing up, and screaming. The only words I had remembered were gay and wrong. If you had set work from the 12th grade calculus class I was taking then in front of me, I would have been less confused.

“What?” I asked again, this time with more force. “I don’t understand.” I had been so sheltered for so many years. I had never heard the word gay as meaning any thing but happy. Never seen two women holding hands, much less kissing.

“Sweetie, there are people who are serious about that. It isn’t a joke. It is not ok. Like joking about murdering people.”

“Well, of course we are not really going to get married. It’s only pretend.”

My mother relaxed slightly, but my father’s posture didn’t change. “Because you will marry a man.” I had only stared up at him with big eyes. So innocent. So confused. “There are women who marry women and men who marry men but it is not ok. It is bad. Those people are wrong. OK?”

My 10 year old self had nodded automatically. I had felt like I was watching myself in a movie. A fictional movie. It had to be fictional. Pretend.

All my life I had believed my parents to be right about everything, but here, now, I knew I was wrong. Because I knew they were wrong. My father had said that there were people who believed that I was okay. But he was not one of them.

I had closed my eyes. I had decided then and there that I would hide. Because if I didn’t hide, they would hate me. And as much as they would hate the real me, I still loved them. I always would.

“Hi, Mom.” I came downstairs, kissing my mother on the cheek. I wore a yellow blouse and black leggings, an outfit I would never wear to school, but my mom liked it, so I could deal with it for one dinner.

“Hey, sweetheart. How are you?”

She had been out all day running errands and doing work. Yes, despite how rich our family was, she still worked. When she and my dad got married, she had warned him that she never wanted to lead an aimless life, and that she would be working no matter how much money our family had. He had agreed without thought. I wondered if he ever regretted it.

“I’m well. I got coffee with Shay and Vicki after school.”

“Oh?” mused my father.

“Good,” said my mother, giving my father a look. We all knew he didn’t approve of my coffee habits. “It always makes me happy to see you getting out and being social. How is Shay doing? It’s been a while since her mother and I had tea.”

“She’s well,” I say simply. “She wants to bring another girl into the group.”

“Oh?” My mother looked at me, her eyes brightening. “Who?”

“A pretty redhead. Grace something. Williams? That’s it. Grace Williams.”

I glanced at my mom, expecting her to take over the conversation with facts about the family, but she didn’t speak for a full minute.

She just looked at me. Finally, she said, “Jamie, I don’t want you anywhere near that girl, you hear?”

I shouldn’t have, but I was curious. “Why?”

“Just say, Yes, Mom.

I smiled dryly. “Yes, Mom. Why though?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Catherine, tell her why. I’m curious, too. She sounds perfectly respectable.” My father leaned forward in his chair.

“You don’t know anything about her!”

“Catherine, what do you know about her?” My father looked gruff, and, as always, the expression pushed me towards laughter.

“Jamie, you are excused. I need to speak with your father.”

I nodded, stood up, and quietly excused myself from the table. I left the plate where it was, with most of the food untouched. The help would pick it up. I hurried up to my room. I still had some homework to get done, but instead, I pulled out my phone and clicked on Shay’s name.

My mom doesn’t want me to hang out with Grace, I wrote.

I set the phone down on the desk, and started working on the math. I got through one problem before it dinged.

Neither does mine, Shay had written.

Do you know why? I was getting distracted too easily. I turned on do not disturb, and pushed my phone into my desk drawer, making myself finish three more problems before looking.

Y, was all she had said, and, I noticed, she had not said it immediately. Instead it had just come in, about ten minutes after the first question was sent.

I was annoyed with her for withholding information like that, not telling me why, making me ask, but that was just how Shay was. Why, then???

I finished my last math problem, there had only been two more, before looking again, but, to my annoyance, she had not written back. She hadn’t even seen it. I turned off do not disturb before tucking my homework into the respective folders, and flopping onto my bed, turning on the TV with a remote I kept in the nightstand drawer. It wasn’t until an hour later that my phone dinged again. Suddenly nervous, I pulled it out of my pocket, and, taking a deep breath, clicked on the message.

I can’t tell you.

What the hell? Now I was angry, and my hands shook a little as I wrote back. Why the hell not?

I didn’t let my phone sleep. I just kept staring at it. Luckily, her answer came right away. But the answer itself wasn’t very lucky.

Because then you’ll want her even more.

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