A hard pat on the back almost made me trip, if not for my great sense of balance. A sharp glare was thrown to the owner of the hand, but he just grinned and made a peace sign.
"Do you want to kill me, Arthur?" I screamed at my best friend, not minding that my voice echoed down the hallway because the chattering of the students was able to drown it.
Today is the posting of the results for the final exam of the Accounting Department. I just received my test booklet and I am so disappointed in myself that I spaced out, staring at the paper, in front of my locker.
Arthur rolled his eyes and placed his backpack--scratch that-- empty backpack inside his locker. He's a huge believer in auditory learning, so he doesn't bring anything, except a pen and a few sheets of paper. I don't know how he's able to retain the lessons. I have a feeling that my friend is secretly smart because he has never failed a single test, even in those classes where he had few attendances.
"Stop exaggerating, Jesse. Even if you tripped head first onto your locker, a bump on the forehead won't kill you," Arthur responded with a dismissive tone and received a hard punch on the arm from me. "Ow! That hurts!"
"It could, dumbass. What if I get a brain injury? I will haunt you in your sleep if I die, Arthur."
I rolled my eyes and rubbed my hurt fist. I need to remind myself that Arthur is a muscled mass, as a result of his strict training regimen, being the ace goalkeeper of the university's soccer team. This big jock is also the reason why I was able to keep the bugs away. He may act as my bug spray and tends to tease me most of the time, but I love my friend, not romantic-styles.
With my backpack on my shoulder, I walked away from the locker, with my friend beside me. "Why are you in such a bad mood anyway?" I shoved my test booklet at him with a troubled sigh. "Wow, two mistakes? This amazing result got you acting like a bitch?"
I clucked my tongue and snatched my booklet with an angry hiss. "You know my parents, Art. They expect me to be perfect. Having two mistakes in a test I'm supposed to ace is not helping with my situation."
"Stop overcompensating, Jesse. Cut yourself some slack. They're your parents. They will accept you, no matter what." Arthur caught his teammates down the hall, in their uniform, getting ready for practice.
I'm not overcompensating. If only you know, Art.
"Hey, Jesse. Sour mood? You also flunk the test huh?" Brandon, the team's striker, offered me an understanding smile.
"No way," Kenneth interjected, also one of Arthur's teammates. "Jesse is the top of the class for our department, dude. That's never gonna happen." Oh yeah. He's also my classmate.
"Two mistakes and he feels like it's the end of the world," Arthur mocked and the team huddled around me to take a peek at my booklet, all of them astounded when they confirmed Arthur's words.
"Wow," Kenneth turned to me with wide eyes. "That's the hardest exam our terror professor gave, and you only got two mistakes? I'm speechless, man. Hashtag Respect," Kenneth added with a bow. The others also did it, making me smile. Somehow, I feel a bit better.
"Oh please. Will you guys cut it out? I am doing a brain simulation of how everything will go once I get home. I'll go ahead. Good luck with your practice."
Arthur nodded and offered me a brief hug. "Don't be too hard on yourself, Jesse. I just want you to be happy. I had never seen you with a carefree smile since fifth grade."
A small pang crossed my chest and with a shaky breath, patted him on the back. "I will be alright, Art. Thank you." Arthur nodded and proceeded to the covered path on the way for the soccer field, while I waited for a cab.
Fifth grade, huh? I miss myself too. I want to go back to the time where I'm not pressured to adhere to society's norms; back to the time when I am not being crushed by my parent's intergalactic expectations. I want to be able to make my own decisions. I want to celebrate almost having a perfect test, not get depressed about it.
I'm the only child of Lynn and David Anderson. Both my parents are devout Christians, so I live in a pretty strict conservative household. Even if I was not forced to attend prayer meetings and enter a Christian school, my mother drilled into my head that I have to be the best. I had no problem with it when I was a kid.
I enjoyed their praises when I became the top of the class back then, but these past few years, it has become a burden. One mistake and they will reprimand me as if I failed my test. I have to always win academic activities and competitions because they don't want to get embarrassed for having an incompetent son.
That is totally unfair. I have been working my ass off to be the best I can be, but they can't allow me to have one or two mistakes? I'm only human, not a supercomputer. Suddenly, living has become so tiring. Not only that, I am also weighed down by my two biggest secrets that have always got me on guard. I know that my parents will do more than disown me. My father will kill me.
For someone who speaks the word of his creator, he is extremely judgmental towards the LGBTQ community. Every single day, he will remind me that a man should only be with a woman. A deviation from the norm is a mortal sin. But I know better. I know who I am. I want to express my true self, but my home is the epitome of hell. My home is the incarnation of society that is bent on straightening up the anomalies.
I stepped inside the cab and told him my address. A heavy feeling dragged my chest down, and the unpleasant knots in my stomach began to form. Ever since I realized I was gay, I had been scared of coming home. I always have to keep myself in check; making sure that I am acting by their standards of how a man should act.
Forcing yourself to be someone you're not is mentally, physically, and emotionally draining. I have to make sure that my clothes are the color a man would wear. My interests and hobbies should align as to what a man should like. As years go by, "Jesse" is slowly fading away. I'm afraid that when I wake up one day, I am just a product of my parent's expectations, beliefs, and imposed standards.
I could run away, but my father is an influential man. This entire community is under his command. If he found out that one of the families has a gay son, they will be evicted and nasty rumors will fly. Arthur is the only person who knows that I'm gay, and he is pretty naïve to think that my parents will accept me. Arthur is being deceived by the façade my parents created to manipulate the people around them.
I could run away, except that I couldn't. Every corner of our town is littered with snitches and father's minions. One imperfection would immediately be sent to his ears; even the results of my exams. What made him even scarier is the punishments he gives for every failure I make. After all, he has to make an example, so the community will obey him.
It has been three years since I received a punishment; it's when I failed to win first place in a 100m sprint by a hair. My mother kept on lecturing me of how an embarrassment I am, but what father did was the worst; he gave me ten whips on the back, with my mother taking video of the punishment, because she will send it to her friends and to let the community know that my parents do not favor me.
It was at that time that I felt so betrayed. No parent would ever punish their son just because of a human error. I'm not the Flash. I'm not a superhero. I'm a normal, gay person who wants to live without care of society's opinions. I want to do the things I love without being restricted or labeled as an abomination, just because I enjoyed flower arrangement and event organizing.
When we arrived at our destination, I paid for the cab and stepped out. Our two-story modern house became even more terrifying because I know what's going to happen when I enter. My body began to tremble with each step I took, my grip on my backpack becoming tighter.
The feeling was so dreadful as if I'm walking towards death's door. Every step forward was heavy and painful. My eyes darted around, ready to make an escape, but before I could do that, the gate opened, and the stoic expression of my father welcomed me. I took a step back absentmindedly.
Father is lean and has an average body build. He is wearing a formal suit, which was quite unusual. I also noticed that he was not scowling, considering that he might have already heard about my exam results. However, I did not let my guard down. This is my father we're talking about. Something is off.
"D-Dad. I'm home."
He nodded and turned his back against me. "Get in. We have something important to talk about."
My chest tightened and I almost collapsed to the ground. This is not a mere talk. The topic could turn my life upside down, and I was never more correct. When I entered the house, I heard new voices chattering in the living room. I also heard mother's cheery tone, the one she uses when she's about to curry favor with someone.
Oh no. My heart instantly dropped and all my life was drained out of me when I saw a blushing girl being praised by my mother in a very affectionate way. I know what is happening, and the realization was killing me. I want to run away, but I won't make it through the door alive with my father behind me, staring at me with daggers.
When my mother saw me, her expression lit up, contrary to her usual countenance.
"Jesse! My dear son! You're finally here. Come and give your mother a hug," she said with a giggle, making me freeze in my tracks. A hug? Don't I repulse her? Doesn't she hate me? Isn't that the reason why he lets my father punish me for small mistakes?
An acrid taste exploded in my mouth when I noticed how she rolled her eyes, and the subtle wince that crossed her face told me that she was just being her usual fake self, but for the sake of keeping up appearances, she is trying her hardest to be the sweet and kind mom she paints herself to be.
When she realized that I had no intention of moving an inch, she smiled at the visitors and strode towards me with an annoyed expression. Her lips were pursed and her fingers clenched. Yeah, that's more like herself. She pulled me in for a hug but made sure that her long nails would dig deep into my skin.
"You brat. How dare you disrespect and shame me in front of everybody? Do that again, or I'll make your father think twice about the punishment for your incompetence, you stupid animal."
I released a soft gasp when my arms stung, warm liquid trickling down. Thankfully, I was wearing a navy-blue long sleeve, so the visitors will not notice the blood dripping down.
"Oh. I put more force than necessary. You shouldn't disobey me, Jesse. You owe me your life, so you should follow my every command. Without me, you wouldn't be here. Learn your place," she finished and leaned back, then wiped the lone tear that escaped from my eye. "Don't be so dramatic. You're a man. Act like one."
Her words were nothing new. She has never missed a day in making me feel how I should drop to my knees and worship her for giving me life.
"Lynn, don't make the guests wait. Attend to them," my father ordered and she nodded, but not without giving me a threatening glare. I gritted my teeth and rubbed the open wound in my right arm. When my father stood beside me, I had to hold my breath. "Don't disappoint me, Jesse, or you will receive twenty whips for those two mistakes you made in an easy exam. I don't want the community to think that I have a stupid son."
I can feel my body getting colder, as their spiteful and lashing words pierced through me. Every cell of my being wanted to defend myself, but I know what will happen next if I defy them. I kept on wondering what I did in my past life to make me suffer like this. Why did God give me homophobic, abusive, and controlling parents? Why did God give me to the people who never wanted to have a child in the first place?
As I watched them converse merrily with the visitors, my heart squeezed tighter and my nails broke the skin of my palm, where it started to draw blood. Fake. Everything is a lie. The scene is making a mockery of my misery; of how fake my parents treated me. It was a huge slap in my face—that I would never ever have that kind of happy family.
"Jesse, come here," Dad ordered. "You should spend time with your fiancée. You will be wed in two weeks' time after all."
The loud thud of my bag dropping to the floor echoed and caught everyone's attention. My lips parted in shock, and everything stood still, just as my heart stopped breathing. All I could see was my mother's threatening glare, my father's stern face and clenched jaw, the girl's blushing face, and her parent's smiling expression.
Helplessness. Helplessness and always being in the backseat when it comes to my life and my choices was what drove me to fly out of the house, despite Dad's terrifying voice calling out for me. I did not mind the burning in my legs and calves from the unexpected stretch. I did not mind the pain in my chest from lack of oxygen. The spurt of confidence and the taste of freedom... it's nearby.
I can already feel it. I don't know what was scaring me in the first place. That they will disown me? They treated me like trash for the past few years. Maybe, somewhere in my heart, I was hoping that they will change how they treated me. That they will come to love me. I just can't understand their behavior towards me—as if I'm not their son.
Never mind. All I need is to escape from this hell. I don't care if I sleep in the streets or in the gutter, as long as I can get as far as I can from them. Please, God. If you can hear me, please help me.
My lungs constricted and my skin prickled with so much energy, but I was not the athletic guy; that's Arthur. I'm the nerd to the "nerd and jock" combo, and I am pretty committed to my role.
I could hear the commotion from behind me and I know that Dad already mobilized his men to capture me. The cold breeze pushed past my face, and despite the adrenaline coursing through my veins, my body is so close to giving up. I slammed a fist against my chest. You can do it, Jesse. You can do it.
If I had known I would have this newfound bravery, I would never refuse Arthur's gym invitations. Had I known that I would have enough courage to defy my parents, I would have formulated a good plan, and that included commuting and not running for my life. My soles are starting to hurt, and the lack of oxygen was making me heady.
It's about seven in the evening, and the lights on the porches of the houses were switched on. It looks like my sufferings are about to end. I can see the bus stop three meters from my location. Before I could even celebrate after seeing the end of the tunnel, I hid behind a bush when I caught a glimpse of a group of people waiting by the bus stop.
Dad's men. Of course. He knew I would be aiming for the bus stop. Stupid Jesse. Now what?
I looked around the street and caught a familiar black car parked in front of a restaurant. Come on, Jesse. That kind of model is common. Is it? It looks so expensive and I think it's a limited edition. I have never seen that kind of car being owned by one of the residents here.
Whatever will be, will be. I would rather take my chances here than have my ass hauled back home and forced to marry a girl I don't even know. How about school? I don't have money to pay for my tuition and other expenses. Fuck, I'll cross the bridge when I get there.
In the most inconspicuous way possible, I crossed the street with unimaginable speed for someone like me and so much concentration, then knocked on the car window. "Come on. Open it." I knocked a few more times and even tried opening the door, but it's locked. My eyes widened and I immediately ducked when I saw some of Dad's men across the street, my breathing was still labored and the feeling of fear heightened it.
"Hey, did you see him? David will kill us if we don't find him."
"I haven't seen him yet. Did you check the bus stop?"
"We are also checking all of his friends; in case he went to them for help."
"Don't worry. He won't get far. There's only so much you can do without money, and the residents are loyal to David."
Bit by bit, my confidence diminished and the spark in me started to abate. My body started to tremble and cold sweat pooled in my palm and back. My heart rate spiked and my eyes started to sting from unshed tears. It's over. Dad will punish me, I will be forced to marry that girl they chose, and my life will be over.
"H-Help me. Someone... please help." I covered my ears and curled against the car, making myself as small as possible to hide from them. Tears started to flow and I bit my lips to stifle the sobs.
It's just so frustrating. Being helpless with no way of escape... It's the worst feeling. I feel like no matter what I do, I always end up doing what my parents have planned. I'm stuck in a loop and there's no escape. Learned helplessness—that's what they call with my current situation. Because no matter what I do, the result is always the same.
I held my breath and my tears stopped almost instantly when I noticed a pair of black designer shoes in front of me. When I lifted my head slowly, praying and hoping that it's not one of my father's men, I was met by familiar amber eyes, wide as a saucer. I could see the instant flash of worry in his face as he crouched down to my level.
"Jesse." I won't even ask how he learned my name. I know he has his ways. "What happened? Why are you crying? Who did this to you?" He asked with gritted teeth, but my head began to throb and my eyelids become heavy.
Is he angry? Why is he frowning? Though he still looks so attractive with a deep frown. I don't know how he was able to manage that. Good-looking people have it good.
"Mr. Stalker. Help me," was the last word I remembered before darkness consumed me from intense relief. I don't care if he's a stalker. I would always choose him over my parents.
TO BE CONTINUED
Also available in: Wattpad (MistressElle)