How To Be Straight

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Dancing

Shay approached the counter, and, without bothering to ask me what I wanted, put in a request to the poor boy working there. His name tag read Kyle. “We want two double mocha vanilla frappes, and a blueberry orange scone to split.”

“First of all, I hate scones. Second of all, there isn’t any blueberry orange scone on the menu, and third of all, you hate scones too.”

“Your name, miss?” Asked Kyle, ignoring me and the strangeness of the request.

“Shay Miller. And, could I have the bathroom key please?”

“Sure.” He smiled and winked at me. “Here.” Shay took the piece of wood with a key hanging from it, and dragged me to the back of the building. Glancing behind her, she unlocked the door and pulled me inside.

We hurried down a metal staircase as quietly as possible and into a poorly lit basement.

Shay flickered on a single fluorescent light, and began browsing. I was shocked by how many books there were. I opened a book at random, and flipped through it, refusing to wince as the bloody images invaded my mind.

“Look at this,” Shay muttered, and at first I didn’t realize that she was talking to me. “There’s only about 15 gay books. Not nearly enough considering how many crackpots must be writing them.”

“Mmm,” I muttered, too entranced to care about perfecting my answer.

“I’m ready,” said Shay, materializing at my shoulder. “You want that book?”

I took a breath. “Hell no. What’d you get?” Her face told me her answer before she spoke. “Right. None of my business. Sorry,” I quickly added. “Now can I have some coffee?”

Shay took a breath and then smiled timidly at me. “Sure. Come on.”

We walked up the stairs, her slightly ahead, holding the key and a bag with a book in it to her chest. We broke into the crowded room, and took a seat by the window. Kyle came up to us, and asked for our order. Shay let me go first, but not without adding a piece of cake to my order when I had finished. When Kyle left, we sat there in awkward silence for a minute, before I made an attempt at conversation.

“What is this place?” I didn’t really think she would tell me anything, but her reaction could help me put together the pieces.

She only raised an eyebrow. “I told you.”

“Tell me more.”

“What more is there?”

“What book did you get?”

“So, what do you think grandma and grandpa should wear?”

“Shay…”

“Jamie, stop. Honestly. You’re driving me nuts. Just answer my question.”

“I don’t know.”

“Jamie. Answer. Come on.

I relented. “I don’t know. For grandpa? Maybe like jeans and a plaid shirt?”

“Suspenders definitely.”

And that was about how deep our conversations got throughout the night. There was no are you gay. There was no what the hell did you mean that day. There was no mention of Grace. It was all about Halloween. Then the food. Then music. Then we were loading ourselves back into the pickup, and starting the long drive back.


It was about 11 when we got back, and we walked carefully up to her room. I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I knew it was from Snapchat; normal texts made a sound. I ignored it. I knew that someone else was likely to answer it though, so I prepared myself for a series of distractions.

“Whadaya want to do?” Shay plopped onto the bean bag chair and looked up at me.

I hesitated as I felt another vibration, but shook my head slightly and ignored it. “Uh- how about some music?”

“Sure. Alexa, Play some music we would like.”

The little black box glowed for a second, thinking, then turned on, playing some popular song. She got up, and started dancing, so I did too. It seemed unlike her, but I didn’t question it. We danced to a few songs I half knew.

She sang every word in a nice, but not particularly special, high pitched voice, and I joined her for the refrain, until a song I knew came on.

At first I almost said, Oh! I know this one, what is it again? But then I realized what it was and decided without a second thought to keep my mouth shut.

Why is this song on Shay’s account? How does Shay even know this song? whispered a little voice in the back of my head, but I ignored it. Shay danced around, not singing, but I knew that she would turn it off when it got to the chorus and she figured out what it was. I kept my mouth pressed into a thin line, afraid I might sing with it if I opened my mouth.

The chorus came on, the slightly raspy female voice singing in a peppy tune about how much better girls were to boys, how she liked girls instead of boys, how she thought this would be okay. .

Deep breath, Jamie. I wanted to leave so badly, but I couldn’t stop dancing now. My phone vibrated in my pocket. I had to ignore it. It was just one song. I could get through one song.

The music continued. Talking about how it felt right, even though she knew it was wrong.

I looked at Shay, my eyes wide in a feigned, what is this morbid song innocence. She shrugged in response, laughing. “I play it to piss off my mom,” she called over the music. I nodded. One three minute song.

The chorus returned again, the same refrain I had pumped through my headphones, had never dreamed to sing out loud to, even when it was only at 3am on sleepless nights.

And then back to the refrain. I loved this song, but I didn’t want to hear it now. In fact, all I wanted now was to get out of here. But I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t run to the bathroom and lend more credibility to her theories.

Finally, there was a bridge, the part of a song that sounds different from the rest. It was almost done. Almost done. Almost-

“Alexa, stop. And don’t play this song again.”

I spun, my arms and legs still lifted awkwardly, in a pose designed for dance, not just standing. I turned toward Shay, who was looking in bewilderment at a tired Mrs. Miller, who had appeared in the doorway wearing a pink, fluffy robe. “Shay!” She scolded, “look at the hour! And this music is terrible. I said I didn’t want it in my house and I meant it. Now you two need to go to bed. I’m so sorry you had to listen to that terrible song, Jamelle. It won’t happen again.”

I shook my head, relieved. I took a moment to gather my thoughts before speaking“It- it’s fine. If you ignored the words, it was actually a p-pretty cool song. I don-don’t mind at a-all. And, I-I prefer Jamie. Remember?”

“If you say so. I’m glad you’re okay.”

“You are dismissed,” Shay said to her mother, not even looking at her. Like a maid.

“You girls go to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.”

She left, leaving me and Shay, staring at each other for the count of one, two, three, four…

And we burst out laughing. “That,” I managed, “was priceless.”

“Yup. Works every time. Sorry. I know that song makes you a little uncomfortable, but I just wanted to get her angry.”

I nodded. Of course she thinks that song makes me uncomfortable. Why wouldn’t she? I’m a homophobe, in her eyes. Maybe. Hopefully?

I realized that she had spoken. “Huh? What did you say?”

She laughed. “Do you wanna watch a movie?”

I was fairly sure that that was not what she had said, but I was too scared of what she had said to question it. “Sure.”

All night I had been on edge, scared of what she would say, when she would bring it up. The anticipation was worse than if she had just answered my question on the spot. What do you mean? I had read somewhere that most people would rather kiss their favorite movie star in two days than on the spot, because of love of anticipation. On the same principle, waiting for a bad thing was worse than the actual thing. I would rather just experience it now than wait around for it forever, thus saving myself the anxiety. But as we crept downstairs to the kitchen to gather armloads of junk food, got comfortable in the family room on a couch that lined the corner of the room under a shared comforter, and turned on the movie, I felt a strange sense of relief. I was done being watched. I didn’t have to put on a mask any longer. I was done being on edge. She knows. She doesn’t know. She can know. If she doesn’t accept me, then fine. For a few hours, I could just be another girl watching a movie. One of millions, perhaps even billions of people just sitting in a living room, enjoying this modern convenience.

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