How To Be Straight

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Only Child

“Hey sweetheart.”

“Mmm.”

“How was your day?”

“Nnn.”

“I’m sorry. Can I help?”

“I’m fine.”

“Okay. What do you want for dinner?”

I ignored her and headed towards my room, towards my comfort, towards my hazy land of pink and frivolous things and endless planning.

I lay on my bed for what felt like forever, trying to remember why I was even here, and why I loved Jamie so much, and how my world had fallen apart so quickly.

I took out my phone, and clicked all the buttons that I pressed so often it had become routine.

Malcolm picked up on the 3rd ring.

“Hey. Can’t talk for long. How are you?”

“I’m okay. I think. I just wanted to hear your voice. How are you?”

“Oh, you know. This and that. Alex and I are renting an apartment.”

“Really? That’s awesome! Tell me about it!”

I heard him whisper, “it’s Shay,” to someone on his end before continuing. “Anyway, it isn’t big, but it has this awesome view and it’s only 10 minutes from the campus and-”

I listened to my brother talk, flopping onto my beanbag as I did. Despite having said he had no time to talk, he spent a good 15 minutes describing every inch of his new apartment while I thought about the day he left.

He and my parents are estranged. They hadn’t talked in 4 years. When he was my age they had a fight about who knows what, (they still won’t tell me) and Malcolm moved out. He started working every second he wasn’t in school to pay for his share of an apartment he split with two college kids. I visited him often, but not enough. That was in March of his senior year. He kept that up for a while, but got a full scholarship to a fancy school in California and moved away. I knew he was working his ass off there, trying to build a better future for himself and his girlfriend Alex. He said I could come visit him any time I wanted. He never visited though. Said New Redmen wasn’t for him. I wasn’t sure if it was for anyone, but it hurt that he never visited. I hadn’t seen him in person in 4 years. It wasn’t that he didn’t love me- he did. He just hated mom and dad more. Which was fair. I wasn’t sure I was ever gonna talk to them again once I left, and I sure as hell was never coming back to New Redmen, but I wouldn’t have left my little sister. Not for anything. I didn’t have a little sister, but I still knew I wouldn’t have left her.

But Malclom was born into a world of hate, and for the first four years of his life hate was imprinted upon him. When I was born he became the supply of love that every normal child gets from their parents, and when he left I was left alone. Every older sibling leaves, it’s part of the ritual of life, but I wasn’t ready, not for a couple more months, and I had been expecting him to be returning regularly and…

He was the only person I ever told I was bi, and the only person I had ever intended to tell until Jamie, who I had not even technically told. But he had left shortly after, and then gone to California and…

“Malcolm?” I interrupted him.

“Shay?”

“What happened to you and mom and dad?”

I may not have seen him in a long time, but I had watched him closely for many years, and was able to sense rather than hear when he shrugged, and then a second later remembered I couldn’t see him. “I don’t know, Shay. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Malcolm. I want to know. You know I’ll just assume the worst.”

“To assume is to make an-”

“Mal!”

“I don’t know what to tell you Shay. We had a fight. I left.”

“But- but how could you leave me?” My voice broke, sounding weak, pitiful. I dug my nails into the palm of my hand. “I was your sister.” Don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry.

“You are my sister. But…”

“Tell me.”

“Shay…”

“What did you fight about?”

He hesitated. Despite knowing him inside and out, I had no idea what he was going to say. “You.”

“M-me?”

“After you told me you were…”

“Bi.”

“After you told me you were bi, and made me swear I’d keep it a secret. Then they were being their usual bitchy selfs and I just snapped. I started yelling about how they didn’t deserve you. How you were scared of them, how you couldn’t talk to them, how they barely loved you now, how they would throw you out if they had an excuse.” I could tell he was pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “I was so mad. Anyway, they said that I didn’t love you, and that I wasn’t welcome here, and since I was over eighteen, it was legal. So I left.”

“Oh.” Probably the lamest response ever, but I couldn’t think of anything better.

“So if I hadn’t told you I was,” I heard footsteps outside my door and hushed my voice. “Hadn’t told you I was bi, then you would still be…”

“I wasn’t happy there, Shay.”

I nod, not wanting to talk about this anymore, and then remember he can’t see me. “Okay.”

“Are we okay?”

“Always.”

“Okay, hold on like one more minute, Shay, I’ve got to go.”

“Okay.”

“Bye.”

“Love you.”

The only response was a dial tone as he hung up, back to his life in Sunny California. Back to his life without me. I wanted to go see him. I remembered the feel of his sandy blonde hair, of his strong chest embracing me, picking me up, even when I was in eighth grade, and probably too old. Him entering this very room and sitting next to me and saying in a hushed voice, “tell me a secret.”

And I did. I did. And if I hadn’t then he might be here. He might be here now, or at least, I would have seen him recently. Would be seeing him soon for Christmas or Thanksgiving. But he had gone. Had disappeared.

I pulled out my phone and scrolled through my contacts, most of them I had never texted. I had, over the last couple years, managed to obtain almost every one in our grade’s phone numbers. I would casually ask them for it, or for one of their friends, or read people’s notes, and then let them forget about it. It’s shockingly easy to get people’s contact information. Like taking candy from a spoiled 12 year old.

I found the name, Abbey Davis, and texted her.

Hey Abbey, I wrote.

Abbey: Who is this?

Me: A friend.

Abbey: Who is this?

Me: I know you like Grace.

Abbey: Who is this?

Me: I’m pretty sure everyone knows.

Abbey: WHO IS THIS?

Me: We’re on the same side. Will you help me?

Abbey: I’d rather just block you.

Me: You won’t do that.

Abbey: Since you know me SO WELL…

Me: Well enough

Abbey: Who is this?

Me: Grace likes Jamie, right?

Abbey: Uh, yeah. Ya think? Who is this?

Me: Are they together?

Abbey: No.

Me: Good.

Abbey: Do YOU like Grace?

Me: No.

Abbey: Do you like Jamie?

I hesitated. Yes.

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