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Driving like a possessed maniac, I find myself asking the same two questions over in my head: What in the hell am I doing? What good could possibly come from me confronting his parents? Despite everything, Slade’s family means a great deal to him, and he’d never forgive me for driving a bigger wedge between them. I’m not willing to take the risk at confronting his parents and lose him in the process. The closer I get to his house, the calmer I become. I start thinking of my father. He’s always taught me to be the bigger man, and to take the high road, no matter what. In this instance, he’s right.
The passing headlights blind me to the point where my vision blurs. I pull off to the side, grasp the steering wheel, and lay my head down to collect my thoughts. Unfortunately, the look of fear on Slade’s face is all I see, and it replays continuously in slow motion. Jesus, what have I done? I choke out a sob.
A gentle rapping on my window startles me. Slade stands outside. He looks relieved yet sad at the same time. I gesture for him to get in the truck. He waves to my parents who have pulled up behind me. Hastily, I wipe my face as he climbs in slamming the door. I hear every shaky, controlled breath he takes.
Feeling unworthy, I avoid looking him in the eyes, and ramble out my apology, “Jones, I’m so sorry. There’s no excuse. It was impulsive, stupid, and reckless. I was so mad at them for hurting you again. All I saw was red, but I didn’t do it, I stopped.” Nothing I say makes sense so I stop talking. I reach for his hand, but he pulls away, crossing his arms over his stomach.
In an even, crisp tone, he says, “My heart dropped when you drove off the way you did.” He roughly wipes his face, leaning forward, his hands formed in prayer against his chin, and each word gets louder and angrier, as he continues, “Pa could’ve hurt you last night, and you still ran off to confront him. What the fuck were you thinking? That sonofabitch would’ve claimed self-defense ’cause you went over there trying to play the goddamn hero. The whole ride over, I thought I’d be too late… now that I know you’re okay, all I want to do is kick the shit out of you for scaring me.”
Ma approaches on passenger side. She flicks her hair from her face, points at me, and yells, “Boy, if you ever scare me like that again, you’d better start running ’cause it’s gonna take Jesus Christ himself to keep me from kicking your ass. Do you hear me?”
I can feel their disappointment and it makes me feel worse. The only thing I can do is nod and say, “Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry. It pissed me off that they had you do their dirty work. It wasn’t right, Ma.”
Ma turns to Slade. “You can handle this one,” she sighs, turning to me, “but you and I are gonna have our own little talk later, capisce?
I acknowledge with a nod, and she walks back to the car. Slade’s melancholy and quiet as I turn around to follow my dad back to the house.
Five minutes goes by when he says, “Aar, I understand why you did what you did, but it doesn’t make it okay, not by a long shot. I’m not some helpless child who needs you to fight the monsters under the bed. I don’t need you to protect me.”
Taken aback, I defend myself. “I know you don’t need me to protect you, but that doesn’t mean I won’t. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be with your family. Being gay isn’t some contagious disease. I had to tell them they’re wrong about you, Jones.”
Slade hisses angrily, “You don’t get to decide that. They’re my family not yours. I told you they’d kick me out and they did. You scared the hell out of us for nothing. If you’d pulled back on your impulse, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”
Sighing heavily because I have no good defense, I reply, “You’re right. I overstepped. I’m sorry.”
“Damn, right, you fucking overstepped. And stop apologizing you’re just pissing me off more,” he says annoyed. I place a hand on his thigh but he pulls away.
Surrendering, I say, “I am going to tell you I’m sorry ’cause it’s the truth. Sorry for the way your parents are treating you. I’m sorry for everything I can’t fix. I’m sorry, Jones.”
He looks out the window without saying another word. We pull up in front of the house. Ma looks back before heading inside, but Dad remains behind. Unable to stand the silent treatment, I climb out the truck, and walk over to him.
Dad smiles faintly and says, “I keep forgetting how fast you are. Listen, you probably already heard it from your mama and Slade, but what you did was beyond stupid, and you could’ve been hurt.” He gives my shoulder a firm squeeze before pulling me into a massive hug. He whispers, “I don’t care how old or how big you get, if you do something like that again, I’ll tan your hide. Understood?”
I know he means it, and I answer accordingly, “Yes, sir, understood. You don’t have to worry about me.”
“Kiddo, believe me, I understand wanting to protect those you love, but don’t go in half-cocked,” he says hugging me again.
“I’ll remember,” I answer distracted when I hear Slade approach.
“See bahis firmaları that you do,” Dad says, winking before he walks inside.
Awkwardly, I look behind me and ask, “Wanna talk out back?”
Slade walks past me, and I follow him out to the secluded part of the back porch. He sits on the railing, staring at me with such sadness that I can hardly breathe. I’m the reason for putting it there, not his parents, but me, and it’s all because I acted out of anger. In shame, I walk over with my head hung, shoulders slumped, and hands in my pockets.
He stares up at me, exhales gradually, and says, “The adrenaline’s wearing off.”
Sniffling, I say, “Jones, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I know you didn’t, Aaron,” he exhales slowly, “but you did.”
With my five-inch height advantage over Slade, I feel only about a foot tall as I stand before him. Taking a step closer, I ask, “Are we gonna be okay?”
“We’re gonna be fine. I won’t hold this against you, just like you didn’t hold our fight on your birthday against me,” Slade announces.
Fidgeting, I rock side to side. “Slade, they’re not the same thing. What I did was… you have more of a reason to be pissed at me. Can you ever forgive me?”
Earnestly, he replies, “You know, all it would’ve taken is just a split second to have my entire world destroyed. And that was all I could think about when we went after you. That feeling isn’t something I want to hold onto, but it’s still to fresh in my memory to stop thinking about. I know I can forgive you, but it’s not gonna happen right now.”
Feeling dejected, I ask, “Do you want me to leave you alone? I can sleep in my room tonight.”
“No, you don’t have to,” Slade replies quietly. “I just want this night to be over.”
Going for broke, I reach for his hand, and he doesn’t pull away. Placing my other hand on his neck, I graze my thumb across his cheek, and he puts his forehead on my chest. When I wrap my arms around him, he cries softly, and I hold him tighter. A few minutes later, he steps back wiping his face, and I wipe my own.
He leads me over to the couch, we plop down, and I clasp my hands between my legs while he has his on his lap. I start to retell him, “I had my blinders on tonight. I didn’t think I was putting my life in danger. All I could think about was telling them how wrong they are to treat you so badly. Then, I started to think about how I didn’t have the right to go there. I didn’t want you to hate me for making things worse for you, but instead you hate me for making you think the worst could’ve happened to me.”
Shifting his position, Slade moves the hair from my eyes, and says, “I don’t hate you. I could never hate you.” He grabs my hands; our fingers link, and he places a tentative kiss on my lips.
The kiss begins growing in intensity when he jerks slightly. Concerned, I ask, “What’s wrong?”
“Someone’s calling me,” he responds, taking his phone from his back pocket. He answers hesitantly, putting the call on speaker. “Hello?”
“Bro, I’m sorry, Pa has us on lockdown. He took the landline and all of our cellphones,” Kevin says desperately.
Shocked, Slade asks, “Whose phone are you using now?”
“Shelly’s. I asked her to meet me in your room before he could take my phone.”
“So Shell knows?” Slade asks upset.
“Yeah, she knows, but she promised not to tell anyone,” Kevin confirms. “She had to know why it was so important for her to meet me now at this time.”
“Hi, Slade, I swear. I won’t tell nobody,” a little voice says in the background.
“Thanks, Shelly, I appreciate it,” he replies thoughtfully.
“You’ve got to come back home,” Kevin pleads.
Slade clears his throat. “They kicked me out, Kev. They obviously don’t want me there or around you and the others.”
“Mama wants you home, but she’s afraid of Pa. He said some things last night that’s the only reason why she’s sending you to Auntie Bernie,” Kevin reveals.
Shocked, Slade and I look at each other with open mouths. He asks in a confused whisper, “Mama wants me home?”
“Yeah, of course she does,” Kevin states, and continues his voice full of anxiety. “Man, you have no idea what it’s been like since you left. Pa’s been reading from The Bible. Jules hasn’t left Mama’s side. She cries and asks when you’re coming home. The others are too scared to make a sound. You can’t leave us here with him.”
Slade shakes his head and says, “I don’t wanna leave you guys, but it might be better if I go back to Norfolk. Pa’s never gonna accept me being gay. With me, being out of sight, out of mind, it’ll be better for all of you.”
“That’s bullshit! You have every right to live at home. I don’t look at you any differently, and neither does anyone else. You’ll always be my big brother. I love you, man. We all love you,” Kevin declares.
“I love all of you, too,” he replies, wiping his tears, and resting his forehead on my shoulder. I caress the side of his neck, and place a kiss to top of his head.
“How are we going to kaçak iddaa get you back home then?” Kevin asks.
He sniffles, “I honestly don’t know, man.”
“Do you wanna talk to Mama?”
Slade looks to me. All I can do is offer a slight nod, he sighs, “I don’t know if I should.”
Desperate, Kevin says, “Pa leaves in fifteen minutes to work his overnight shift. I need to sneak back before he realizes I’m gone.”
He closes his eyes and mutters, “Call me after he leaves, and tell Mama I wanna talk.”
“Will do,” he replies happily.
“Thanks, bro, you helped me more than you could possibly know,” Slade says, gripping my thigh.
“We’re family. We’re supposed to stick together. I’ll call you back ASAP. Bye.”
The call ends. Slade places his phone on the arm of the couch. He stares at the ceiling of the porch, and his chin quivers. “For 24-hours, one whole day, I thought my family didn’t love me or want me anymore. You said they did, but somewhere in my mind, I couldn’t let myself believe it, and I was so wrong, especially about Mama. She does want me.”
I think about the blunder I almost made on his behalf. I really would’ve messed things up by going over there. He grasps my thigh, pulling me back into the moment. He shakes his head. “Don’t think about it.”
I smile at him and say, “Jones, you could be back with your family tomorrow.”
Slade smiles briefly but soon looks restless. “I have no idea what I’m gonna say to her.”
Blinking multiple times, I say, “Tell her the truth. Tell her you want to go home ’cause you love your family, and want to be with them.”
He shakes his head. “It won’t be that easy. There’s going to be an ultimatum. She’ll want me to breakup with you. As much as I want to go home, I won’t do it.”
“Maybe, you should, if she does bring it up… uh, I want you to agree to it,” I tell him sadly.
Slade sits up in an instant, and asks, “What? This isn’t about what happened earlier, is it?”
Closing my eyes, I shake my head. “No, it’s not. But if you tell her you’ll breakup with me, you’ll be back with your family.”
He forcefully states, “I’m not breaking up with you. Not happening, so forget it.” He rests back against my shoulder and whispers, “There has to be another way.”
“If you weigh all your options, and factor in everything, you’ll get your answer,” I tell him softly. “I’m gonna give you some time alone.”
“No, stay,” Slade says, grabbing my hand as I stand. “I want you here.”
I give his hand a firm squeeze of support. “Believe me I want to be here with you, but you need to talk to her alone. I don’t want to influence you. I’ll be at the pool waiting for you.”
“Thanks, Aar,” he says with a half-smile.
I place a kiss on his forehead, nose, and lips, and tell him, “I’ve got your back, Jones.”
He holds me close for a couple minutes before finally letting me go.
It’s after midnight, and there’s still no sign of Slade. I wonder if he and Miss April have come to an understanding. God, I hope so because he really needs his family. With my thoughts on him, I don’t notice Ma until I hear the lounge chair beside me move. She looks worried. “I saw you sitting out here. You okay?”
She has a knack for showing up when I need her the most. Shaking my head, I sit up and answer, “No, ma’am, not really, can we talk?”
Leaning in closer, she says, “Yeah, sure, what’s going on?”
“I wanted to apologize again for earlier. I hope you can accept my apology,” I offer wholeheartedly with my weariness barely disguised.
“Yeah, of course I can, but that’s not what you want to talk about. What’s going on?” Ma asks again, patting my knee.
Looking into her eyes opens the floodgate. I tell her only the vital parts of Slade and Kevin’s conversation. When I finish, Ma’s mouth opens and closes, but she says nothing.
Nodding, I say, “Yup that was pretty much how we reacted too.”
“If she had any sense, she’d kick Terry out for threatening her child, and not the other way around,” Ma says, looking towards the house. “Slade has been through the emotional wringer. It’s a lot to deal with in such a short period of time. He’s still standing because he has you beside him.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t help matters either,” I mutter sourly.
“No, you didn’t. But he’ll forgive you,” Ma predicts taking my hand. “It’s just gonna take some time.”
“He said that too, but three weeks isn’t enough time. I need to be here to make up for what I did. He thought his father was gonna hurt or kill me tonight. How do I come back from that?” I wrap my arms around my legs, and rest a cheek on my knee.
Ma moves over to my lounge chair, puts an arm around my shoulder, and kisses the top of my head. Feeling her love and security calms my nerves. “Slade tried hard to hold himself together. I could see how much you running off upset him. I heard every prayer he muttered to God about keeping you safe. You have a long, winding road ahead of you. But if you keep talking to each other and kaçak bahis be honest, you two can handle anything thrown at you, even getting past what happened tonight.”
“It’s not just tonight that has me worried. I’ve been having these weird dreams. They’re about Slade falling in love with someone else, or he disappears and I can never find him, or the distance is too much for him to handle and he breaks things off,” I tell her my voice cracking. I search her eyes as I say, “What if these dreams are a prediction of some sort? What if we don’t end up together after everything we’ve been through?”
She sighs sympathetically. “Oh, sweetie, have you told him about your dreams?”
Shaking my head, I answer, “No, but he knows I have them.”
“Aaron, you should tell him. These dreams are probably some form of separation anxiety. The longest y’all have been apart is a week. Did you stop to think that he might be feeling the same way?”
Somberly, I reply, “He took a long time to decide if he wanted to keep being my boyfriend. Maybe he is having doubts about our future.”
Shaking her head, she says, “Don’t do that. Don’t go putting words in his mouth.” She pauses. “Everything will work out, the way it’s supposed to, if you have faith.”
I laugh lightly, pulling her into hug, and say, “Cliché, Ma, real cliché.”
“Well, it’s true for every relationship that experiences disruption. There will be times when you’ll miss each other so much that it’ll hurt and you won’t know what to do. Your father and I went through a rough patch when we were missing each other, but we came out stronger in the end,” she reveals.
Shocked by her revelation, I release her and ask, “What happened?”
Ma sighs, “Some skanky, butt troll tried to take your father from me when he was in graduate school. I won’t go into details, but you know our long distance worked out for us. I know our situations aren’t quite the same, but it will work out for you.”
“What about Auntie Marsha? She and Uncle Tommy didn’t survive their long distance,” I state sadly.
“True. But they didn’t really work together to keep themselves together either.” Ma clarifies, “Well, your auntie didn’t. Your uncle tried his hardest, but when she stepped outside their marriage, there was no coming back from that for him.”
“I couldn’t ever cheat on Slade. I’d rather stab myself in the eye with a hot, rusty spoon.”
She fakes a smile. “What a nice visual, sweetie. Listen, you and Slade are going to be fine, but only if you’re willing to put in the work.”
“I’m definitely willing.” Leave it to Ma to give it to me straight. I kiss her cheek. “Have I told you that you’re the best mom a son could ever have?”
“No, but it is good to hear. And you, you’re the best son, even when you’re lying, starting brawls at bars, and running off trying to confront your boyfriend’s parents,” Ma says with the rise of a brow.
Blushing, I ask, “You’re never gonna let me live those down are you?”
Ruffling my hair, and hugging me tight, she states simply, “Nope.”
“Thank, Ma. I’ll talk to Slade about everything.”
“Make sure that you do. Well, I’m off to bed. Let me know what happens later. Love ya, sweetie.”
“Thanks for your help, Ma. I love you, too.”
“Aar, wake up,” Slade whispers in my ear as he lightly shakes my shoulder.
I stretch out, focusing on him, and ask, “Are you okay? What happened?”
He slaps his arm, and flicks the bug he squashed off his arm. “C’mon, let’s get inside these bugs are crazy tonight.”
A glance at my watch, it’s a little after one. I let out a huge yawn as Slade pulls me to my feet, and say, “I need to wake up.”
“How cold do you think it is?” He asks before shoving me into the water.
When I break the surface, I stammer, “You suck ass, Jones!”
Slade laughs but it’s not a real laugh. I swim to the edge, pulling myself out of the water. He hands me my towel; I wipe down, and sit with him on the lounge chair. “Sorry for pushing you in.”
“Don’t worry about it. So, what happened?” I ask again cautiously.
There’s a long pause before he answers. “We talked for a while. I told her that I loved her, the kids, even Pa, and that I wanted to come home. Mama said she loved me too, but coming home wasn’t an option. She’s protecting me by sending me back to Norfolk. I asked her, if there was anything, I could do to change her and Pa’s mind.” He clears his throat and holds my gaze. “She said I would have to renounce being gay and you in front of Pa, if I wanted to be welcomed back in the house. I told her I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it. That denying who I am or how I feel about you would be a lie. She cried a lot. We kept going back and forth. She doesn’t understand, and I don’t have it in me to make her.”
Slade’s head hangs in defeat. I pull him in closer to me, and he releases a deep breath.
“Aar, I wanted to go home. I really did,” he says softly, “but not at the expense of everyone else’s well-being. Pa will make all our lives miserable if I stay. So, no more family dinners, or watching TV shows, or playing stupid board games, or hanging out in each other’s rooms for me. Jules turns seven next month and I can’t even celebrate it with her. She’s gonna forget about me.”
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