Brae
by Kieron Connors

 

Chapter 12 

I mentioned my plan to Cash (leaving out any mention of possible future romantic entanglements) on our way to dinner. Cameron, Kenner and Reed had tagged along so the six of us grabbed a table together and embarked on an eating ritual that had the rest of the dining hall watching in disbelief and revulsion. There was an audible moan from our onlookers when Kenner got up and ordered his seventh hamburger. He smiled cheekily and walked over to the buffet counter to load up on condiments, purposefully goading his audience.

Kenner’s act was topped when Cash demonstrated the depth of his love for mayonnaise by eating it plain, much to the horror of everyone at our table. He just shrugged at our cries of disgust and noisily slurped on another spoonful with a foppish grin from ear to ear.

“Dude!” Cameron said, heaving slightly. “You are setting off my gag reflex. That shit is foul!” he exclaimed, his eyes tearing slightly from gagging.

Laughing, I scanned the surrounding tables looking at the various reactions to Cash’s display when I noticed Skip across the dining hall sitting down at a table on his own. Even from across the room, I recognized the slight head tilt and pursed lips that indicated that he was upset.

‘Leave it be,’ I told myself. ‘He isn’t my responsibility anymore. He doesn’t want anything to do with me. He’s made that clear. Just leave it alone.’

Of course, I couldn’t. Seeing Skip looking so world-weary put a damper on my revelry. Tate seemed to notice the sudden shift in my mood and judging from the glance he gave Skip’s table, it seemed he put two and two together pretty quickly.

“You want to go over and say hi?” he asked, as we picked up our trays and prepared to head our separate ways.

“Nah, we don’t have to,” I replied.

“Yes, we do,” Tate said quietly. “You’ll never get it off your mind otherwise.”

“Probably,” I admitted.

“I wish you didn’t open yourself to needless rejection like this, but I guess its part of what makes you the incredible person you are Brae. I just want to shield you from the world though.”

My heart melted a little bit and all I wanted to do was jump into Tate’s arms in front of everyone. Instead, I gave him a shy smile and let my hand linger on his lower back for a second. My thumb gently stroked along his spine, as we waited in line to deposit our trays in the refuse bin.

Tate followed me over to Skip’s table and I was grateful for his support.

“Hey Skip,” I said awkwardly, my shoe squeaking against the linoleum floor as I stopped across the table from him. I rested my hands on the back of one of the empty chairs, unsure whether or not I should sit down.

“Uhh… hey…” he said quietly, looking around shiftily.

‘Probably looking out for Drake and his goons,’ I though to myself, anger boiling in my chest.

“Hey Skip,” Tate echoed from behind me. Skip glanced over at him but didn’t verbally acknowledge Tate’s presence.

“How’s it going?” I asked cheerfully.

“Fine.”

“You, umm, you sure?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he replied, forcing a wide smile onto his face. It didn’t have any of the spirit or sparkle I’d seen in the Skip I’d met only weeks before.

“Everything going okay with Drake?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“Okay…” I replied, suddenly feeling overwhelmed by how awkward the situation had become.

“We were just going to go up to our room to play Wii for awhile. You wanna join us?” Tate cut in, his voice sounding smooth and confident.

Skip reluctantly looked over at him, now forced to acknowledge his presence. It was clear he harbored some sort of distaste for Tate. I don’t know if Drake had been poisoning him against us, or if he maybe even felt bitterness at Tate for being the catalyst of our situation. It was obvious that Skip looked at Tate as though he were some kind of lower life form (something that I couldn’t observe without feeling pained).

“Nah. I gotta get crackin’ on some readin’,” he finally answered.

“All right,” Tate replied. “Well, feel free to drop by anytime. I know Brae misses seeing you around.” It was clear that if Skip wasn’t willing to climb down off his pedestal than Tate wasn’t going to indulge him further. I felt a tug in my gut, but decided that Tate was probably right.

“Yeah, it’d be nice to catch up. I guess I’ll see you around,” I said.

“’Kay,” Skip replied.

My disappointment flowed out of me in one long sigh as I followed Tate out of the cafeteria. He looked back at me with a sympathetic look.

“People can’t always be what you want them to be Brae,” he said, tugging open the door to the stairwell and holding it for me as I passed through. “Sometimes they disappoint you.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I admitted reluctantly, feeling like I was betraying Skip a little bit or banishing him to some place of innate inferiority.

“You’re from very different worlds. I don’t know that either of you could ever have totally understood each other,” Tate continued. “And I know that that sounds negative and mean, but I just don’t want to see you getting hurt like this. It’s possible that you want something from Skip that he, because of his upbringing and whatever else, isn’t going to be able to give you.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” I sighed, beginning the lengthy trudge up the seemingly endless flights of steps up to our room. “I mean, I definitely feel like we have a level of understanding about each others’ lives that I probably couldn’t have ever reached with Skip.”

“Yeah,” Tate agreed.

“But, I could have loved Skip, I really could have.” Tate’s face looked a little pained and I reached out to give his arm a squeeze. “Sorry, I know you don’t want to hear that,” I apologized.

“It’s all right.”

“But you’re right. As much as I could have loved him, I think that issue would always have existed and there would always have been something a little off about us,” I said, taking a quick breather as we reached the second landing. “And I think you hit it on the head. Skip and I were just from such different worlds and I don’t know if it ever would have been possible to completely bridge that gap. I always felt, I dunno, like, self-conscious all the time… like I felt like I could never talk about money or material things and I was always afraid he’d think I was being ostentatious or condescending or something. And it’s not like that with you,” I said, looking around for a second to make sure that the stairwell was clear and then grabbing his hand in mine. “You just get my world. This is easy and natural and just… it’s right,” I finished, leaning in and kissing him softly, one hand in his, the other resting on his muscular chest.

“Thanks Brae,” he said with a glowing smile, his ice blue eyes, slightly glazed over. A door slammed above us and the two of us immediately jumped apart. Tate flashed me a goofy grin, rolled his eyes and the two of us continued up the stairs.

***

I called Rhett when we got back to the room and while he seemed disappointed that I wasn’t going to be around, he did seem enthused about having Cash show him around. We spent a few minutes catching up on things and (after a nudge and an expectant look from Tate) informed him that I was dating someone. He seemed intrigued, but a perhaps little afraid to divulge the full extent of his interest, and I didn’t offer any further details. He definitely didn’t seem too happy at the revelation, but it certainly put a smile on Tate’s face, which was all that really mattered to me. I gave Rhett all of Cash’s contact information and told him that Cash would be expecting his call.

“Thank you,” Tate replied coming over and wrapping his muscular arms around my shoulders, the ligaments and tendons shifting erotically under his creamy skin. “I guess I should get used to people lusting after my gorgeous boyfriend.”

“Ha!” I scoffed.

“It’s true!” he laughed nuzzling his stubbly chin into my neck. “I’ll try and abate the jealousy, but I don’t trust this Rhett character. Who could enjoy a piece of you and not come back for more?” he teased, suddenly licking up the side of my face with the tip of his tongue, before going to work on my ear lobe.

“You going to keep stroking my ego all night? Cause I can think of something else I’d rather you got to stroking,” I whispered.

“Ohhh, you’re bad Braeden Davenport!” he laughed, grabbing me by the shoulders and steering me towards his bed. “Very, very bad,” he said roguishly.

***

Wednesday evening was the girls’ much-anticipated ‘White Party.’ Finding a pair of white pants to wear ended up being more of an ordeal than I could ever have anticipated. Tate was insistent that I try one of his pairs (which—as predicted—did not fit), he then attempted to help me comb the town of Carrington for a pair in which time. We discovered that we are not compatible shoppers (‘get in and get out’ being a foreign concept to Tate), before eventually calling his father to have a pair over-nighted from his Newbury Street boutique — a prospect I found mortifying since I would have preferred to have at least met my boyfriend’s father before shaking him down for free clothes.

The girls were hosting a pregame at their apartment before the actual event and Tate and I were obviously expected to attend. Things between us were a little tense while we rode the elevator up to their apartment together, as Tate finally seemed to have caught on to my irritation over the whole pants issue. At the end of the day, I knew Tate was only trying to help, yet I couldn’t help seeing the whole episode as him being a little overbearing and controlling. I couldn’t quite pinpoint why it bothered me as much as it did and I felt ashamed for feeling as I did. It was petty and I knew that if I tried to vocalize it, I’d sound like an ingrate.

“Uh oh. Trouble in homo heaven,” Nicola announced as she opened the door for us, her cleavage literally spilling out of the tightly-corseted mini-dress (slash marvel of modern engineering) that she was wearing. “Don’t you two look glum.”

“What do you mean?” I asked evasively, brushing past her into the apartment.

“We brought you guys a bottle of wine… white, obviously,” Tate said, handing her the bottle and following me inside.

“Don’t I even get a kiss?” Nicola whined. “You know Nicola Bolt’s date is expected to put out,” she said breathily.

“He is officially on loan to you for the evening,” I replied, walking into the kitchen to pour myself a drink. Tate gave me a confused look and followed her into the living room.

Colin was hard at work at the blender making some kind of murky white concoction when I walked in. “Hey,” he said with a wide grin.

“Hi. What’s that?” I asked.

“Piña coladas… at least in theory…” he replied. “Why I, of all people, was drafted into this is beyond me. Will you be my guinea pig, brave one?”

“Sure,” I laughed, accepting a proffered cup of his chunky, not-quite-blended concoction.

The burning sensation was instantaneous and I immediately felt tears rush to my eyes. I sputtered, coughed, and somehow managed to avoid shooting the better part of my sip out of my nose.

“What is this?!” I choked when I finally recovered enough to speak.

“A piña colada?”

“You realize that piña coladas are made with rum, not vodka, right?” I said. “And there is definitely supposed to be a smaller alcohol to mix ratio. You’re an engineering major, this should be simple science!” I said with a laugh.

He shrugged and gave me a helpless smile.

“I’ll take over,” I chuckled, “though this really is a skill you should master by the time you graduate.” I grabbed the blender from his hand and chucked its contents in the sink. “Shame to waste good alcohol, but I think that concoction was closer to Drano, although, at least my sinuses are cleared out now.”

Luckily, the girls had purchased enough mix to annihilate an army of diabetics, so I had more than enough to work with.

“Well hello my dapper date!” Lottie’s voice rang out from behind me, over the groan of the blender as I put the finishing touches on my first batch. I turned to say hello and was greeted by an absolute vision. Dressed in a stunning Herve Leger dress that looked painted on and with her hair blown out into voluminous waves, Lottie looked as though she had stepped out of a men’s magazine.

“Damn, I am going to be getting a lot of dirty looks tonight,” I said with a smile, extending my free arm to give Lottie a half hug. She laughed and leaned her delicate frame into me. “You know its sort of a shame that you’re going to be the hottest one there tonight and your date isn’t even going to be trying to get in your pants. You sure you wouldn’t rather bring Carl?”

She waved her hand in the air dismissively. “I want to have fun tonight. Although… you know that two other girls asked him tonight and he said ‘no’ to both of them?” she said, unable to suppress a smile.

“These are your sorority sisters right?”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t they know about you and Carl?”

“Yeah,” she replied with a shrug.

“Wow. Carrington: city of sisterly love.” Lottie laughed. “Although, I don’t think it’s particularly fair for you to test Carl like this either.”

“Don’t start with me Brae,” Lottie said with mock severity, pointing a stern finger in my direction. “Those piña coladas ready yet?”

“Think so,” I said, turning off the blender. “Will you do the honors?” I asked, pouring her a sample.

She gave me a fearful look and took a cautious sip. “Mmm good!” she said with a wide smile. I poured each of us a healthy serving. “Shall we join the party?” she asked, taking the pitcher from my hands and heading towards the living room.

***

The pregame ended up feeling more like a photo opportunity (with alcohol) than a party. There were endless pictures with dates, without dates, sophomore girls only, Kappa officers only, ex-roommates’ pictures, last year’s Spring Break crew pictures — more or less everything imaginable. Somehow the fifteen or so girls at the pregame managed to organize themselves into at least a dozen sub-group pictures, while their dates stood around and drank and got into the occasional picture when summoned.

“How fun is this?” Nicola asked sarcastically, coming up to me between takes.

I laughed. “At least you’re keeping plied with booze.”

“Exactly,” she said, grabbing my glass and taking a long chug. “We have to take the pictures now, because half an hour from now we’ll all be too plastered to take a decent photo, or we’ll probably have lost our cameras.”

“Well at that pace…” I chuckled, watching in awe as Nicola downed the rest of my (very, very strong) drink in a long gulp.

“Kappas don’t play Brae,” she replied with a wink.

“I can see that.”

“So what are you and my gorgeous super model date fighting over?” she asked coyly.

“We’re not fighting,” I said, exasperated.

“Oh?” She arched a brow.

“I’m just annoyed at the moment…” She gave me an expectant look. “…About my pants.” I continued, knowing that I sounded rather foolish.

“The ones he searched high and low for and then called dear old Papa Vallette to get you?”

“Uhh, yeah.” I replied, looking down at the perfectly tailored, gleaming white linen pants he’d gotten me, and nervously stroking the seam of the front pocket. ‘Fuck I sound like such an ingrate,’ I thought to myself. ‘At least Nicola is the kind of person who will call me out I suppose.’

But she didn’t. To my surprise, her insights were pretty spot-on for someone who prided herself in avoiding relationships like they were some sort of plague. “So what you feel stifled? You think he’s mothering you?”

“I dunno… I guess… something like that,” I said evasively, not really wanting to talk about the subject. It was embarrassing, although I couldn’t quite pinpoint why.

“Ohhh. You feel emasculated and you’re too embarrassed to admit it,” Nicola said matter-of factly.

The second she said it, I knew she was right. “What!?” I spat. “No I don’t!” I said, unconvincingly.

“Okay, you don’t.” Nicola shrugged. “Cause I’m sure if you did you would have already communicated that to Tate, like a mature adult, and the whole thing would be easily resolved. I mean it’s a fucking pair of pants that he could have off of you in two seconds,” she said with a wink. “You know make-up sex is the best. Oh! More pictures!” She handed me my (now empty) cup, patted me on the shoulder and joined Emmie, Lottie and the other girls.

Nicola had hit it right on the head. I hadn’t wanted to admit it to myself but the pants episode had left me feeling pretty emasculated. Which was stupid, because it was just (to quote Nicola) “a fucking pair of pants,” but something about the whole ordeal left me feeling kinda impotent. I didn’t like being fussed over or that Tate just assumed that I couldn’t provide for myself and thus took the situation into his own hands. I wanted to be in an equal partnership, not a wimpy dependent. Tate was setting himself up to be the provider and I didn’t like it.

“Still mad at me?” Tate asked, interrupting my thought process. He had sidled up next to me at some point during my musings.

“I’m not mad… just annoyed.”

“I’m sorry,” he said with a playful pout which, while adorable, was not helping his cause. “I noticed Nicola cleaned you out, so I brought you a refill,” he continued, handing me a Solo cup of something strong-smelling and (to his complete oblivion) further stoking the flames.

“I could have gotten it myself. I don’t need you to get things for me,” I snapped.

Tate started and looked at me in surprise. “I was right by the alcohol table. It wasn’t a big deal,” he replied.

“Do you even know why I’m annoyed with you?”

“The pants?” he asked.

“Okay, obviously this is about more than a pair of pants Tate!” I retorted.

“Okay,” he said slowly, confusion etched on his face.

‘Great I sound like a crazy person and am scaring my boyfriend. Wonderful work Braeden,’ I thought to myself. “Look, I don’t need you to take care of me. It’s emasculating. I’m your boyfriend, not your girlfriend!”

“Emasculating?!” Tate stuttered.

“Yes. I don’t need you to provide for me.”

“Provide for you? Brae, it’s a pair of pants.”

“The pants are not the issue!” I hissed, doing my best to control my volume, although a cursory glance around the room revealed that at least the girls had noticed our bickering and were watching with concern.

“The pants are totally the issue,” Tate replied, sternly. “I noticed you don’t like shopping, my dad works in fashion, I figured I could take care of it for you.”

“That’s emasculation. I don’t need you to do things for me.”

“No Brae,” Tate said, a little sadly. “That’s a favor. And I’m sorry if I got a little crazy and overbearing about the pants… You’re probably a little bit more low-key about that kind of thing than I am. I just like to get stuff like that taken care of right away. I don’t like leaving things unresolved. But seriously, it was just me helping you out. I mean, I respect the way you feel, but seriously, emasculation? It’s not like I went out and bought us a house or something!”

“I just want to feel like this is an equal partnership.”

“It is an equal partnership,” Tate replied earnestly.

“Well I don’t feel that way. I feel like you’re trying to take the reins.”

“But I’m not!” he insisted.

“But I feel that way.”

“Okay, well in the future I will make a more concerted effort not to. How is that?”

“That feels like a cop out,” I replied.

“Brae, I don’t know what you want to hear from me,” he said.

‘Neither do I,’ I thought to myself. ‘I have no idea what I’m even looking to gain from this fight. What is there for him to concede?’

“But I really don’t want to fight. Especially not tonight,” he continued. “Isn’t it enough for me to say I’m sorry and that I’ll try not to overpower you anymore? What else can I say?”

“I dunno,” I groaned. “I feel like an idiot. I’m embarrassed I feel the way I do, I know it’s stupid.”

Tate shrugged. “It’s not stupid, it is what it is. And you can’t help the way you feel. At least you told me about it…”

“Under duress,” I replied with a small smile.

Tate put a hand on my shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. “I’m sorry I made you upset. Honestly, I just wanted to help you out because I knew you have a lot on your plate at the moment. But I think I understand how you feel and I promise to make more of an effort. And next time, you can handle our costumes!” he said, a reassuring smile lighting up his beautiful face.

“No,” I laughed. “That is all you. And, uhhh, thanks for listening and not thinking that I’m crazy.”

Tate smiled and started to stroke my cheek before remembering where we were and quickly dropping his hand and looking around nervously. “This is your first go at this Braeden and it’s a big deal. I’m sure that there are going to be a number of things like this that get under your skin. It’s just important that you communicate them to me.”

“And vice versa,” I smiled.

“You guys can use my room to kiss and make up,” Nicola’s voice whispered from behind me, causing me to start. “We’re leaving for the buses in 15 minutes,” she said, giving us an appraising look. “That should be more than enough time.”

***

To give them their credit, as lame as the pregame was, when it came down to it, the Kappas knew how to throw down. The club Emmie had found, had a sleek and modern design. Elaborate light fixtures that hung like icicles covered the entire ceiling, and it was something I would have expected to find in New York or Los Angeles, or maybe Boston, but not a second-rate Massachusetts city. To top it off, all of the club’s décor was white, complimenting the evening’s theme and providing the perfect backdrop for the elaborate light show, rippling like waves across the thousands of glass fixtures.

“This reminds me of a rave in Madrid or something,” Tate said, taking in our surroundings as the group of us entered the club.

“Like white night?” Emmie slurred, teetering slightly and glaring at Colin defiantly when he reached out to steady her.

“Hope nobody is epileptic,” Colin said sarcastically, staring up at the light fixtures.

“Let’s dance!” Emmie squealed, grabbing Colin’s hand and dragging him towards the dance floor at the rear of the club.

“Booze it up bitches!” Nicola yelled. “Buy me a drink!” she demanded, pounding on Tate’s chest with her small, but forceful fist.

“Uhh, okay,” he said. He gave me and Lottie a look that said, “this is probably not a good idea,” as he accompanied her to the bar. His large hand rested on the small of her back, emphasizing Nicola’s tiny proportions.

‘Christ she drinks a lot for someone so small,’ I thought as they disappeared into the growing crowd to get to the bar.

“Shall we?” I asked, turning to Lottie and nodding towards the (basically deserted) dance floor. It seems most of the partygoers had (understandably) prioritized alcohol over dancing. Nonetheless, Emmie had managed to enlist a few of her drunker sisters-in-bonds to join her and Colin looked as though he was struggling to keep up with the group of them.

“I think our assistance would probably be appreciated,” Lottie said with a chuckle. “Poor Colin, he’s such a good sport.”

The next time we saw Nicola, she was up on the bar, dancing provocatively with a bottle of Grey Goose that she’d managed to wrestle out of the bartender’s (rather impressive) arm. Her shoes were missing and her dress looking precariously close to riding up to explicit heights. Somehow, despite her obvious intoxication, she was able to lithely avoid both Tate’s and the bartender’s efforts to get her down. She managed to make several trips up and down before Tate managed to apprehend her. He dragged her away before the bartender could unleash his wrath on her.

Not surprisingly, Nicola was sent home shortly thereafter by the Kappa risk management officer. Colin, the sport of the evening, agreed to take Nicola home. He was already bringing Emmie home after a rather nasty bathroom puking session, the evidence of which was all over her dress and in her hair. That meant Tate got to stay and enjoy the rest of the evening with Lottie and me.

The three of us hit the dance floor with a vengeance and the throngs of people even provided enough cover for Tate and me to touch occasionally or sneak a quick grind against each other without notice. Of course, we were careful not to neglect Lottie, as I would not have it said that I was anything other than a chivalrous date. By the end of the night we were all drenched in sweat (that judging from the odor, probably had a proof value) and my feet throbbed, but I was riding gleefully high on endorphins.

The three of us shared a seat on the bus ride back to Carrington. Lottie was stretched across both of our laps, her bare feet dangling in the aisle.

“That was fun,” she sighed sleepily, her head resting back against the window.

“Yeah,” Tate agreed.

“And I got the package deal tonight. The two hottest dates on record,” Lottie laughed. “Everyone was quite jealous.”

“Oh really?” I replied, skeptically.

“Well Carl was quite jealous.”

“And that’s all that matters, huh?” Tate chuckled.

“Yup!” she chirped with a self-satisfied smile. “Will you unzip the back of my dress?” she asked, leaning forward to expose the back zipper.

“Words I never thought I’d hear,” I laughed, easing down the zipper of her skin tight dress.

“That is sooo much better,” she gasped.

“Props to you on outlasting your roommates,” I said. “Thanks for not making me take you home.”

“Well, some of us just understand the concept of pacing. Poor Colin, I hope he made out all right.”

“He certainly had his hands full,” Tate muttered groggily. His eyes were shut, his head was craned back awkwardly in a position that could not have been comfortable for his neck, and spastic jerks every few seconds indicated that he was dozing off.

The bus soon lulled the three of us into an alcohol-induced slumber that it was nearly impossible to drag ourselves out of when we got back to Carrington. Somehow we managed to sustain consciousness long enough to get Lottie back to her apartment and stagger back to our room, only to pass out on top of each other—fully clothed.

***

Practice was rough the next morning, particularly on Tate, whose liver just wasn’t nearly as good a sport as mine was and seemed intent on making him suffer any and every time he indulged. Luckily for Tate, Drake seemed even more intent on proving that he and his goons had had the wildest night of all, despite not being invited to what I was beginning to understand was considered the social event of the quarter, and his antics provided enough of a distraction for Tate’s hangover to go unremarked upon by Timmy.

Tate went back to bed after practice, opting to skip his only class of the day, announcing that sitting through his fashion class today would be the “bendy straw that broke the alcoholic camel’s back.”

“I will let that slide since I know you’re feeling unwell,” I said, as I headed out the door to what was sure to be a torturous morning in economics.

“What? Me skipping class? You’re such a narc!” Tate mumbled from his bed, where he had sprawled out on his stomach in just a tantalizingly tight pair of briefs.

“No, the pathetic attempt at humor,” I shot back, licking my lips at the view of his muscular back and the tightly-stretched cotton hugging his glutes, before forcing myself out the door and across the insultingly bright quad to class.

Somehow I survived my classes and afternoon practice without collapsing from exhaustion and Tate and I spent the rest of the evening relaxing before calling it an early night.

***

Friday flew by and before I knew it I was dropping Tate off at the airport Saturday morning on my way down to the cottage to spend the weekend with my parents.

“So you nervous yet?” he asked taking a sip from the fancy autumnally-themed coffee drink (with a shocking amount of whipped cream) that he had insisted we stop to get as soon as we passed a Starbucks. A filmy white residue of cream had begun to accumulate on his top lip and, as we were stopped at a light, I leaned in, pulled his face to mine, and licked it clean.

“Yuck!” I spat, my taste buds insulted by the odd mixture of cinnamon, pumpkin and dairy exploding on my palate. “How do you drink that shit?” I asked, grabbing my breakfast tea in an ultimately vain attempt to erase the flavor from my mouth.

Tate shrugged. “Mmmm delicious,” he moaned, breaking into a Cheshire-cat grin. “So, you nervous?” he repeated.

I sighed. To be honest I didn’t really know how I felt. I don’t know whether I had just been too distracted or my subconscious had suddenly become really effective at avoidance techniques but I hadn’t really given this weekend much thought… hardly any at all recently. Even now, trying to make myself think about it, I found that my mind jumped to other subjects like Elise’s visit or next weekend’s meet (two subjects that were very much eating on my nerves already). But the whole idea of coming out to my parents was still very surreal and while I knew I would make myself go through with it, I still somehow wasn’t able to think that it was really going to happen or even begin to ponder the possible consequences.

“This is going to sound weird, but not really,” I admitted. “To be honest, I’m a lot more nervous about meeting your sister next week.”

Tate laughed and reached his arm up to squeeze my shoulder. “Don’t worry, she is going to love you. Trust me, I know Elise.”

“Wish I could be so sure.”

“Well I think it’s a good sign that you’re more nervous about that than your parents.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he replied enthusiastically. “I think it shows that deep down you know that you have nothing to worry about because you know that your parents will accept you for who you are and they’ll be okay with it.”

“Yeah I was just thinking it may just be avoidance techniques, like a defense mechanism or something. As much as I would like to share your optimism…”

“I’ve never known you to be one to avoid a problem Brae,” he replied, his thumb affectionately stroking my neck.

“Yeah, okay, please don’t start the ‘my hero’ bullshit again,” I groaned, suppressing a smile.

“Okay, well I really think its going to be okay,” he said. “And I know for sure, absolutely 100%, that Elise will love you.”

“All right, all right, “ I laughed, checking my mirrors and pulling into the lane for the departures terminal.

“So will you miss me?” he asked, his voice dripping with mock sentimentality.

“The way you hog the bed?” I said sarcastically.

“Hey!!” he laughed, playfully punching me on the shoulder.

“Oh yeah, attack your driver, real smart.”

“Oh,” he mused. “Good point. You’re such a fragile thing.”

“Shut up,” I laughed.

“So you’ll miss me? Me and my hot and sexy bod?” he laughed again.

“Get over yourself,” I groaned, pulling in next to the curbside check in.

“Come on, say you’ll miss me” he goaded.

“Dude, if you want me to pick you up again on Tuesday you should probably stop pushing your luck,” I retorted.

“Fine,” he replied with a resigned sigh. Then he flashed me a bright smile, grabbed me firmly by the back of my head and pulled me into passionate kiss, causing my foot to slip off the brake and the car to lurch forward. “Jesus!!” he yelled grabbing the park brake as I slammed my foot down on the brake. “Ever heard of putting it in park?!” he said with a chuckle.

“Well I was hardly expecting you to molest me like that!” I replied, my heart still racing a mile a minute. “Fuck, we’re lucky no one was around. We seriously could have hurt someone.”

“Well I wouldn’t have kissed you if anyone had been around. That was close though. You okay?” he asked giving me a concerned look. He reached his hand out and placed it over my heart, making it thunder all the louder. “Sorry I scared you,” he said.

“It’s okay,” I replied, forcing a smile. “It’s not your fault. Besides, no harm no foul.”

He looked down at the park brake as though to double check everything was secure and then he leaned in and kissed me again, more tenderly this time. “I’ll miss you,” he said softly.

“I’ll miss you too,” I said, giving him another couple of pecks. “See you Tuesday,” I continued, pulling away.

“Okay,” he replied, grabbing his bag out of the backseat. “I’ll call you when I land. And I want a full report on how things go with your parents tonight.”

I nodded and he flashed me another brilliant smile before opening the door and climbing out of the car.

“Good luck! Everything is going to be fine!” he said as he closed the door and headed towards the terminal, turning back to wave before disappearing inside.

***

I exhaled sharply as I pulled back onto the turnpike and tried to pump some saliva into my suddenly dry mouth. Somehow my relative ease up until this point had been shaken. The incident by the curb, minor though it was, had left me rattled and I couldn’t shake the feeling of impending doom as I headed down state towards the cottage. It suddenly struck me just how much I had to lose.

As much as I wanted to give my parents the benefit of the doubt and I knew that they were open-minded and loving people, how could you ever know how they would react in a situation like this? Would their liberal beliefs hold firm when things got personal? Or would my coming out bring things a little too close to home? I couldn’t help but think of Skip’s situation with his parents and wonder if I was headed towards something like that. What if they disowned me? I could lose everything! Not just my parents and my family; what if they made me leave Carrington? I’d lose Tate.

Cash texted me halfway into my drive to let me know that he’d met up with Rhett, which at least provided me with some distraction. I forced myself to muse over what the two of them might get up to over the weekend. I hoped throwing my mind into trivial wanderings would help me shut out the growing doubts that were festering there. But like a leaky boat, the anxieties started creeping in again and before I knew it I felt like I was sinking, drowning.

As I pulled off the highway and turned down the familiar street leading to the cottage, I felt something like a prisoner heading to the gallows. It was a struggle to breathe and it was all I could do to hold down the contents of my stomach. I realized I hadn’t really given the situation or the conversation I was planning on having with my parents enough thought. Well, really, any thought at all. I had no idea what I was going to say, how I was going to broach the subject, or what my plan of action was if they should react badly. Was I going to tell them about Tate? Somehow that seemed like it might be too much too soon.

“Deep breaths Brae,” I said aloud as I turned into our driveway, more than a little alarmed that breathing was something I had to actively think about doing. “Don’t panic. Just breathe. Breathe. Breathe.” I repeated. ‘Fuck, I should probably pull over,’ I thought to myself, feeling a flush of panic exploding across my chest and up my neck, slowly asphyxiating me. “Christ, I’m breaking out in a fucking rash,” I said, looking down at the conflagration of rosy red bursts across my chest and probably up my neck. I slammed on the brakes and put the car into park, taking a few minutes to close my eyes and catch my breath.

Suddenly feeling horribly constrained, I pulled off my seatbelt and my track jacket and leaned my forehead forward so that it rested against the steering wheel. I focused on taking deep breaths and was relieved to find that leaning forward seemed to be relieving my light headedness. I could feel the blood returning to my head.

A sudden, sharp rap at the window snapped me back to reality and I looked up to see my dad peering in at me with concern, his brow furrowed over his dark blue eyes. I exhaled slowly and rolled down the window.

“You okay?” he asked, reaching into the car and patting me affectionately on the shoulder.

“Uhh, yeah, just got a wave of nausea. I’m a little hung over,” I lied, with amazing clarity.

“Knew those leather seats were the right choice,” my dad laughed. “Do you want me to drive it in for you?” he asked.

“Uhh, no. I’m fine. I just needed a minute to compose myself. Didn’t want you and mom to think I’m a total lush,” I continued. ‘Why am I lying?!’ I screamed inside my head. This certainly did not seem to bode well for my planned confession.

“Okay,” he chuckled. “Don’t worry. I remember what it was to be young. This will be our little secret,” he said. “See you back at the house,” he continued, giving the car a quick pat and then stepping back so I could pull away. I shifted the car back into gear and then slowly crept down the rest of the driveway.

By the time I’d dragged myself out of the car and retrieved my bag from the back, my dad had caught up with me and I followed him into the house.

“You have a good drive up, all things considered?” he asked as we stepped into the foyer.

“Uhh, yeah.”

“Listen, your mom and I want to have a little talk with you,” he said, his tone suddenly shifting to something a little more serious.

Alarm bells immediately went off in my head. ‘He knows. They know. Fuck. They know. Well… if they know then I won’t really have to tell them… Just confirm it. Could be easier. But they might be mad that I didn’t say anything. Mad that it somehow got back to them. I bet it was Beau, or maybe even Drake. I wouldn’t put it past him to do something like this. I wonder if they’re mad. Does he look mad?’ I wondered, surveying my dad’s appearance. He was put together perfectly (as always) but there was definitely something distracted about him. I managed to gulp some kind of a response to my dad and I followed him robotically into the den where my mom was napping, wrapped up in one of the arm chairs. Our entrance roused her and she broke into a broad smile.

“Brae!” she exclaimed, gracefully climbing out of her chair and extending her arms to embrace me—but I couldn’t help notice that there was something cumbersome about her movement. Her delicate arms wrapped around me as she pulled me into a warm hug.

“Oh my god!” I yelped, jumping backwards in shock as my body connected with what was a discernable bump in her midsection.

She looked over at my dad with a glowing smile and gave me a little shrug. “Surprise!” she laughed.

“Wh-wh-what? But— ” Some how my mind just couldn’t formulate the thought nor my mouth find the words.

“Brae, you’re going to be a big brother,” my dad said with a foolish grin, wrapping his arm around me tightly. “Much bigger than most I suppose.”

“Fuck.” I finally managed. My dad roared with laughter, while my mom’s nose scrunched in the way that let me know I was offending her sensibilities. “Sorry,” I mumbled quickly. “Y-y-you’re pregnant?”

“Five months,” my mom replied. “They’re due beginning of March.”

“THEY?!?!” I spat.

“Twins!” My dad boasted with boyish glee.

“H-how?” I sputtered.

“What do you mean how?” My mom asked. “Brae, I’m 40 years old. Women far older than me have babies.”

“Uhh, I guess.”

“So,” my mom continued, “how do you feel?”

“Umm, shocked,” I replied, walking over to the couch and flopping down in a heap. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

“Well,” my dad answered, grabbing a seat next to me and resting his hand on my knee. “It’s a high risk pregnancy just given our age. And I think you probably know that we’ve had some problems in the past…”

“Uhh, yeah,” I nodded.

“We just wanted to be sure we were through the woods, so to speak, before we told anyone,” my mom finished. “We actually weren’t sure if we would have to tell you before you left for school because I was over three months, but my stomach didn’t really pop until just after we dropped you off. But, anyways, the highest-risk period of the pregnancy is over and everything looks good. The babies are very healthy.”

“Okay, uhh, good,” I said, still far too in shock to fully wrap my mind around what they were telling me.

“But we wanted you to be the first to know,” my dad said with a smile.

“Well, Nana knows,” my mom cut in.

“Right,” my dad grinned. “Second to know.” His face was totally alight and he looked bowled over by excitement. I knew this was something they’d both wanted for many, many years.

“Wow,” I finally said. “I-I can’t believe it. But it’s great, really great.”

“Yeah, so, don’t plan on going anywhere for spring break,” my dad said throwing an arm around my shoulder and pulling me in for a squeeze. “We expect you home and on diaper duty!”

“Oh, uhh, okay.”

“Brae, he’s kidding,” my mom smiled.

“Oh, yeah, but still, I will want to come home and stuff.”

“Well obviously,” my mom said. “And we’re going to try and schedule the birth for a weekend so that you can come down for it.”

“Schedule?” I asked.

“C-section,” my mom said matter-of-factly. “I’ve been through labor and I don’t ever need to experience that again. Besides once you have one,” she said, referencing the one that was forced on her with me after 30 hours of labor, “they don’t let you do a natural birth after that. You can pop your stitches.”

“Sick,” I replied.

“Yeah,” she agreed.

“You okay with all this Braeden?” my dad asked. “You seem a little rattled.”

“Yeah, I am. I mean, I’m okay with it. And kind rattled also. I uh- I-” I continued, figuring that now was as good a time as any (at least they were in a good mood), and steeling myself for what was sure to be a difficult conversation. “I wanted to talk to you both, actually, about something…”

My parents gave each other a knowing look that made my stomach drop. “You want to quit the swim team, don’t you?” my mom asked earnestly.

“Listen-” my dad cut in, “we really think that you should stick this out, you’ve been swimming for-”

In my confusion, their words just seemed to wash right over me and it took me a moment to figure out exactly what they were saying.

“What?! No. I don’t want to quit the team,” I said.

“Oh,” my dad replied, sounding confused. “Because we thought you sounded–”

“—No. Just let me finish,” I snapped, a little harsher than I’d intended. I clenched my fists and adrenaline seemed to radiate up my arms. I clenched my teeth, straining the tendons in my neck and sucked in a shallow breath. “What I want to tell you both, is that I’m gay.”

Gay. The word seemed to hang in the air, suspended in time, and my parents seemed to ponder it for a moment like some strange foreign entity, which, I suppose, it was.

“Oh,” my dad said softly.

I felt as though the air had been sucked out of the room. The silence was deafening and seemed to stretch out infinitesimally. I could hear my pulse pounding in my skull and noticed the coppery taste of blood in my mouth from where I had just bit my tongue in nervous tension.

“I’m sorry,” I finally managed, my voice barely above a whisper.

“Well, I suppose we knew this was coming, I just don’t think we expected it today,” my dad said.

“Who told you?” I asked softly, looking down at my hands in my lap and picking at the dirt underneath a couple of my nails.

“Nobody told us Brae,” my mom replied, getting up out of her easy chair and coming over to sit next to me, positioning herself awkwardly on the arm of the couch. “We’ve known — or suspected — since you were little.”

“What? You have?!”

“Yeah,” my dad confirmed.

“But, how?”

“Little things,” my mom said. “But it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you know that we love you no matter what and we support you completely.” My dad nodded his agreement and wrapped his arm back around me to give me another squeeze. Relief washed over me and I felt my muscles slacken as all of the fear and anxiety left my body. “Obviously we have some concerns about the kind of lifestyle that you’ll probably be encountering and we want to discuss all of that with you,” my mom continued. “But first and foremost I think its important, and so does Dr. Liploft, for you to hear that this doesn’t change the way we feel about you at all, you’ll always be our son.”

“You talked to Dr. Liploft about me?!” I groaned, a little mortified that my mom had brought me up to the wife of one of my dad’s colleagues, who happened to be an extremely well respected child psychiatrist.

“When you were younger,” my dad chimed in. “And Brae, I just want you to hear from me that I stand by everything your mom says. This doesn’t change how I feel about you at all, I love you no matter what. And we’ll always be proud of you.”

“Thanks,” I replied, getting a little choked up.

“All we want is for you to be happy,” my mom said with an affectionate smile.

“And safe,” my dad countered.

I was pretty sure I knew where this was headed and I wasn’t feeling quite up to a safe sex discussion in that moment. I decided to steer the conversation in a different direction before we headed down what was sure to be an awkward path.

“So you guys said that you’ve known since I was little. How? Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Well when you were little, preschool age, you used to have crushes on boys. You’d come home and babble on and on about Bobby Freemont or Grant Vett and your dad and I thought it was something a little bit more than platonic. And you were always such a sensitive child,” my mom continued. “All the other boys were into guns and fighting and you never liked that. It used to bother you. I mean you loved sports and were very athletic…” my mom’s voice trailed off.

“And as you grew older you never had girlfriends or expressed any real interest in girls,” my dad said, picking up where she left off.

Well what they were saying made sense, it was hardly a full fledged argument for suspecting my homosexuality and I suspected they were holding back potentially embarrassing stories from my formative years that I was more than happy not to dredge up.

“Why didn’t you say anything earlier?” I asked. I felt almost angry that my parents had let me struggle with this so long when they knew, or suspected, what I was going through.

“Well we talked to Julie,” my dad replied.

“Dr. Liploft,” my mom cut in, a stickler for formality, especially when it came to giving women their due title.

“Dr. Liploft,” my dad corrected himself. “When you were maybe four or five, she said that we should just let you be.”

My mom elaborated. “Dr. Liploft said that while it was likely you’d be gay, we should let you come to your own conclusions and figure things out in your own time. Obviously she pointed out that we couldn’t actually be 100% sure about something as subjective as your sexuality at that point.”

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense,” I replied. “I mean, I think it would have made it a lot easier for me if you guys had said something earlier, but I get it.”

“Has it been a trouble for you at school?” my mom asked.

I shrugged evasively.

“Skip moving out had to do with it didn’t it?” she asked perceptively.

“Yeah,” I admitted reluctantly. “It’s fine now. It worked out for the best.”

“He was a good kid,” my dad said. “I’m sure he’ll come to his senses eventually. He comes from a very different world than you do,” my dad observed. “I’m sure that coming to school alone was a huge adjustment for him and throwing in a gay roommate might have been too much.

“Yeah,” I agreed softly.

“So does anyone else at school know?” my mom asked.

“Yeah. Like everyone does.”

“Oh,” my mom said, surprise ringing in her voice. “So you just decided to come out for college? I think that’s very brave.”

“Well it just sort of happened, it wasn’t really a conscious decision. But I think it was for the best.”

“What do you mean?” my dad asked.

“Well I didn’t set out to come out, I guess. There was this guy on the team who was being ragged on—for being gay—and I stuck out for him, so it kinda came out that way.”

“Well that was a very brave and admirable thing to do,” my dad said with a smile. He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and gave me a hug. “Have you had any problems since then?”

“No, not really. Skip took it the worst. Most of the guys have been pretty okay with it. My friends are all cool with.”

“Well that’s as it should be. Anything else would be practically medieval at this point,” my mom said assertively.

“Uhh, I guess. It’s been fine.”

“You’ll let us know if there are problems?” my dad asked. “I know that you don’t wanna wail on the guys, but if there are problems we want to know about it.”

“Gay teens are the victims of violence all the time,” my mom said.

“I know mommmmm,” I groaned, suddenly getting embarrassed.

“Well there are a lot of crazies out there and we just want you to be safe,” my mom said.

“Exactly,” my dad said with a smile. “Now I think that’s enough of all this for now. Brae you’re probably tired. Do you want to nap for a bit or are you ready for some lunch?”

“Lunch would be good,” I said with a sigh of relief.

***

Over lunch my dad managed to steer conversation away from my sexuality for all of ten minutes before my mom was on my case again.

“So Brae, are you sexually active?” she asked, dropping a sizzling grilled cheese sandwich from her spatula onto the plate in front of me.

I started, a little uncertain that she had actually just asked what I thought I’d just heard her ask.

“Brigette!” my dad said, exasperated.

“What?!” she replied defensively. “If he is I want to know. It’s okay if you are Braeden, I just want to know that you’re making safe and informed decisions,” she said earnestly, brushing a wisp of her blond hair back behind her ear. “I want to be sure that you know the health risks involved with your lifestyle and that you’re safeguarding against them.”

“Okay, but you don’t need to lecture him over food, Brigette,” my dad continued.

“Now is as good as any. So?” she asked again, looking at me intently.

I didn’t know what to answer. I didn’t want to lie to my parents, especially after they had just been so supportive and taken my admission so well. To lie would feel like doing them an injustice. At the same time, my level of sexual activity was still pretty fuzzy. Did I really need to admit to being sexually active when Tate and I hadn’t even gone all the way yet? Didn’t I still sort of, technically, qualify as a virgin? I figured that my mom probably wouldn’t think so. I just decided to come clean.

“Sort of,” I replied, looking down intently at the quickly hardening cheese dripping out of my sandwich. My mom despised American Cheese and always insisted on using Jarlsberg or Mozzarella.

“So you’re dating someone…” she said leadingly. Fuck. She had trapped me. I now either needed to admit that I was indeed dating someone (although the prospect of telling them about Tate was little bit too much to wrap my head around) or risk sounding like some kind of slut. I could feel her eyes beating into me. I forced myself to avoid her gaze, picking languidly at my sandwich. What did I do? If I told her about Tate there would be no end to the questions all weekend, but I was also certain to get more lectures about safe sex and teen promiscuity if I didn’t. Both options were unbelievably heinous, but I couldn’t bear the thought of suffering more in their esteem so I decided to come clean.

“Yeah,” I admitted. “I am.”

“It’s your roommate isn’t it,” she said accusingly.

“What?!” I replied, genuinely shocked.

“Sweetheart, I know how to google and, let’s face it, Tate Vallette is hardly your average eighteen year-old. I found plenty of reading material.”

Fuck, from what Tate had told me about his experiences with the press this past summer, this could not be good.

“Mom—you know most of that stuff is made up.”

“Yes Brae, I was hardly born yesterday. I know how the media works,” she replied.

“He’s a good guy,” I continued. “If you met him, you’d really like him.”

“I’m sure I would, he’s from a good family and I’m sure he’s a nice boy. Still stories like those don’t manifest themselves out of nowhere. They have to start somewhere, even if it is just poor decisions about who to associate with.”

“Mom! That’s not fair. Anybody could make that mistake!”

“All I’m saying is that you need to tread carefully Brae. Really, I’m not worried half so much about that as I am about the fact that you’re 18 years old and you’re living with your boyfriend.”

“But–”

“Your mom is right,” my dad cut in. “Neither one of us are comfortable with that. You’re just too young.”

“But–”

“It’s too much of a potential distraction,” he continued, his voice plowing over mine. “Not to mention it has the potential to become totally disastrous. You’re not mature enough to handle this kind of thing yet.”

“Your father and I are going to contact the school about getting you a roommate switch. Or maybe we can get you into a single or something. This arrangement isn’t going to work.”

My mind whirled in shock, horror and confusion. Were they serious? Desperately clutching at straws, I blurted the first thing that came to mind.

“He’s not my boyfriend!”

I regretted the words as soon as they left my lips. I knew I was about to bury myself deep in a pile of lies I’d have a hard time getting out from under later on, but it was all I could think of. I couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from Tate.

“He’s not?” my mom asked, surprise ringing in her voice.

“Uhh—no. He’s just my best friend,” I replied. “I just get a little defensive I guess… a lot of the guys on the team give him shit.”

“Oh? Then who is your boyfriend?” my mom asked. I could tell she was skeptical and probably didn’t believe me just yet. I was going to have to paint it on this. My mind spun, like a Rolodex on crack, as I tried to give them a viable candidate. Should I just make someone up? They were likely to do their research. A brief flash of inspiration hit and the name was out my mouth before I could think twice.

“Cash,” I replied, instantly regretting my choice. Tate was not going to be happy about this when I told him.

“Cash who?” my mom asked.

“Cash Crawford. He’s a sophomore on the team but he red-shirted last season. He’s a backstroker. He came to me after I stuck up for Tate and told me that he was gay too and, I dunno, things just grew from there,” I said, not really having the heart to develop the lie much further than that. I hoped my parents would just assume that the rest of the details as I didn’t want to divulge further details for the sake of their sensibilities. Actually, if I was really honest, I hoped they’d call my bluff so that I could just come clean. I was less than a minute into this lie and I already regretted it and felt the heavy consequences bearing down on me.

“Oh,” my mom replied. “Well where is he from?”

“Palos Verdes.”

“Hmm,” she replied, it was obvious that she felt a bit thwarted.

“Well that’s great Braeden,” my dad replied. “I’m sure he’s a good guy. You should have him come down with you next time. Your mother and I would love to meet him.”

“Yeah, maybe. I dunno if we’re quite at that point yet.”

“Oh, right. Well, whenever you guys are ready.”

“Okay, sure,” I said, taking a large buttery bite of my sandwich.

***

After lunch the three of us relaxed in the den and watched the Yankee game. I got the sense that they had made the mutual decision to get off my case for awhile on the gay/boyfriend issues, but I was sure that the barrage of questions was far from over with.

Confident that the Yankees would close out a resounding victory, I excused myself in the bottom of the eighth and went upstairs to get a nap in before dinner. Tate called as I was snuggling into bed and we spent a couple of minutes catching up. His voice rang with excitement and he sounded like a little boy. I could tell he was ecstatic to see Elise.

“How did it go with your parents? How did they take it?” he asked, his voice an odd combination of concern and exhilaration.

“Well, I did a bad thing and I think you’re going be mad at me,” I said softly.

“You didn’t tell them? That’s okay, I’m not mad. All in your own time.”

“No, I told them. It went okay. It’s something else.”

“You told them?!”

“Yeah.”

“And?”

“And it went well. They already basically knew and were just waiting for me to be ready to tell them I guess.”

“Yeah, I think that’s often the case. Parents are a lot sharper than we give them credit for.”

“Yeah I guess.”

“And then did they do the whole, ‘we have concerns about your health and safety’ thing?”

“Yeah,” I said with a laugh.

“So predictable. Let’s hope you don’t get the pink-sock talk. That was one of the low points of my existence. My mom sprung that one on me at a restaurant and I had a panic attack,” Tate laughed.

“Fuck!”

“Yeah, I nearly passed out. I had to put my head between my knees. It was so humiliating.”

I chuckled at the idea of my hunky boyfriend rendered powerless by a little rectal-health talk with his mom. “Poor thing,” I cooed.

“I am still scarred. Permanent psychological damage.”

“Yes, you seem very damaged,” I teased.

“Hey!” he laughed. “Okay well, I’m glad you survived ‘the talk.’ Elise is pulling me out the door so I have to jump. She says ‘hello’ by the way

“Oh wait, I didn’t get to tell you what I did,” I said.

“Tell me later. Or better yet, fix it,” he replied. “I uhh—I, well, I’ll talk to you later.”

“Okay,” I replied, a little disheartened. I had really wanted to unburden myself to him, but at the same time I had the feeling it was the kind of thing that he might take seriously enough to let spoil his weekend so I figured I should just let things lie until we were back at Carrington. “Bye.”

“Bye!”

***

My parents decided to have a picnic dinner on the boat so that we could enjoy the sunset on what was sure to be one of the last warm evenings of the year. The mood was meditative and the three of us seemed content to simply enjoy each others’ company and to drink in the spectacular views. Watching the brilliant explosion of orange in the sky offset by the changing leaves was almost sensory overload. My parents were cuddled up together on one of the large round loungers with my dad’s hand resting protectively on my mom’s stomach, a reminder of things to come. They looked serenely happy.

‘Fuck, I am going to be a big brother,’ I thought to myself, taking a moment to think about the monumental news that had somehow slipped off my mental radar on what was certainly a day for the books. I couldn’t believe I had forgotten to mention that to Tate, but honestly I hadn’t really had much time to mull over it myself.

This was something I had always wanted pretty desperately, and I couldn’t believe that it was happening now, of all times. ‘Maybe I should have gone to Columbia after all,’ I thought to myself, panged at the idea of being so far away from my siblings in their formative first few years. I didn’t like the idea of being an absentee brother one bit. ‘At least this takes some of the pressure off of me… My parents will likely get grandchildren. I mean they’ll be older, but they’ll still get them,’ I mused. ‘I hope they’re girls,’ I thought, imagining my parents’ joy at having two little girls to fuss over and (in my mom’s case) doll up. I was never especially receptive to her efforts to dress me up, instead insisting on wearing my Power Rangers pajamas every day (even to school) for close to a year. It was hard to believe that it was only going to be the three of us for another few months or that my parents were about to basically start from scratch. This was practically going to be like having a second family for them. How would I fit into it all?

“So Brae,” my mom said, interrupting my contemplation.

‘Crap, here it comes again,’ I rolled my eyes, expecting another onslaught of questions that sounded more like accusations.

“Tell me, because I’ve been curious for years– you and the Gable boy…”

I started with surprise. Wow. So they really had been on to me.

“Uhh, yeah?” I asked innocently, unable to stop a blush from rising to my cheeks.

“Oh come on,” she smiled, flashing her perfect white teeth. “You guys had a thing going on right?”

“Mom!” I protested, embarrassed. Still this was better than being interrogated further about Tate or Cash.

“Brigette leave him alone!” my dad chided.

“He doesn’t mind, do you Braeden?”

“Uhh,” I managed, swallowing nervously.

“Leave him. So how is your IM coming Brae? Are you going to be swimming it in the first meet?” my dad said, coming to my rescue.

“Okay… I don’t think I’m going to compete until mid-season at the earliest. Tate’s been helping me a lot with my fly and Ca-uhhh…” I stuttered, not wanting to talk about Cash again if I could avoid it. “C-Coach Timmy has been working with me a lot on my backstroke. I don’t think I’ll be all that competitive in the IM this year. But maybe next season… if I really work at it.”

“How do you like the IM?” my mom asked.

“I don’t. It’s long and it sucks,” I groaned.

“That’s the spirit!” my dad said with a chuckle, raising his bronzed arm to tip me a salute.

“Well as long as you’re giving it your best effort that’s all anyone can ask for.” my mom said.

“I mean, not in collegiate swimming mom,” I laughed. “They expect results. Especially at Carrington.”

“You can’t all be Carl Franke,” my mom pointed out.

“Says who?” I laughed. “Timmy and Jimmy would beg to differ I bet.”

“I’ll bet,” my dad laughed.

“So I wonder if the babies will have the same affinity for swimming,” I said.

My mom groaned. “I hope not. I can’t take another 20 years of chlorine. That smell haunts me. Although obviously we support you 100% Brae,” my mom replied.

My dad and I both laughed.

“Well I wouldn’t miss shuttling them off to all those early morning practices,” my dad continued.

“Well, gee, sorry I was such a burden,” I laughed

“Nah, whatever they want to do, we’re okay with,” my dad laughed.

“Speak for yourself,” my mom cut in. “I was serious,” she said resolutely, folding her arms across her chest for emphasis, but unable to keep her lips from creeping into a tightly pursed smirk.

“There is always tennis,” I suggested.

“Or golf,” my dad chimed in.

“Golf is murder on my allergies,” my mom giggled.

I rolled my eyes.

“You know, I’ll bet that if I ever taken them out places people will think I’m their father. How weird is that?”

“Yes, we thought of that too. Kind of amusing,” my dad smiled.

“Well luckily an unplanned pregnancy is something we won’t have to worry about with you,” my mom joked.

I flinched. I wasn’t sure why the comment felt like more of a jab than a joke, even when I knew there wasn’t any malevolence behind it. My dad grimaced and an awkward silence settled over us for a few seconds as we let her comment drift away on the evening breeze.

I finally cleared my throat. “It’s, uhh, getting a little chilly,” I said.

“Yeah, we should probably be heading in,” my dad replied, restarting the boat’s engine and turning the wheel towards shore.

***

‘Well that was a surreal day,’ I thought to myself as I snuggled deep into my covers with my back pressed firmly against the wall, an old habit from growing up. As a kid I had always found something a little creepy about sleeping up here. I don’t know if it was the quiet stillness or the darkness, but somehow I felt helplessly alone. And yet a nagging fear deep in my gut told me that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t quite so alone as I thought. That if I rolled over I might find some ghastly, monstrous creature laying beside me. And so, being an industrious child, I began sleeping with my back pressed tightly against the wall so that nothing could sneak up on me. My paranoia passed with age and I came to love my little bedroom at the cottage, but somehow the tendency stuck. ‘Still makes me feel safe, grounded,’ I sighed.

The rest of the evening had passed uneventfully. I suspected that my mom felt bad about her throw-away comment and thus decided to let me off the hook for the rest of the evening. We settled in the den and watched Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, another one of my mother’s favorites (apparently pregnancy meant that her word was essentially law for the next four months—not that I don’t enjoy the movie because it is one of my favorite). My dad made us his legendary, impossibly thick, hot chocolate that used to remind me of molten lava as a child. We chatted amiably about the movie and how ridiculously attractive both Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman were. It was a strangely normal end to what had been an anything-but-normal day.

‘I’m out. Fully and totally out,’ I thought to myself. ‘I should feel different. Not accomplished or anything like that, but different. Everything feels the same. This was one of the biggest days of my entire life. Everything is kinda different but basically the same. And fuck am I ever up shit creek with this whole Cash thing! That was a dumb-ass move. Fucking stupid. I dunno how I am going to get myself out of that one. Tate is going to be furious.’ I already had the sense that he could be a little possessive and this seemed like just the kind of thing that would get his goat. ‘But if I come clean they’re going to separate us,’ I thought to myself, turning the conversation with my parents over in my mind. While I understood some of their concerns, I couldn’t help feeling that if they knew Tate they would feel differently. I didn’t want this incident to prejudice them against him at all, when really he was blameless.

What I really wanted was to talk to Tate. I had tried to call him after the movie but his phone went straight to voicemail. A quick check of my watch confirmed that Elise probably had him drunkenly stumbling through the posher establishments of the meat packing district. I left him a quick message saying good night and I remembered to share the good news about the new little Davenports who would soon be gracing us with their presence. That was a whole ‘nother thing that I just couldn’t wrap my mind around. No matter how many times I told myself I was going to be a brother, it just didn’t ring true. It was hard to even feel excited about something that seemed so improbable. While ten years ago I would have gone tearing through the house with glee, the pronouncement now felt enigmatic. ‘Things were a lot simpler back then I guess,’ I mused. ‘Okay Brae, sleep,’ I thought, closing my eyes tightly and pressing my back more tightly against the wall.

***

We had breakfast on the reading balcony the following morning and my mom insisted on discussing the books I was reading in my Brit Lit class. Since her pregnancy left her with so much down time, she took it upon herself to read selections off of my syllabus and came up for our weekend trip fully prepared (with notes!) to discuss Villette, Vanity Fair, etc. My dad retreated into the sports page, resurfacing only to resurface for the discussion of Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, a personal favorite of his.

Again, I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was just a little bit too normal. While I knew that my sexuality shouldn’t change anything about our relationship, I was somehow surprised that it really hadn’t. At the same time anxiety about the Cash/Tate situation gnawed at the pit of my stomach and I was unable to suppress a groan when my mother finally brought him up. She timed her attack for when my father went downstairs for more tea, leaving me defenseless and vulnerable.

“So, Cash is certainly an attractive young man.”

“Oh,” I cleared my throat awkwardly. “Umm, yeah. he is.”

“I wonder if you can get him to do something about that hair of his though. He isn’t in California anymore and really that shaggy look is most unbecoming.”

It was all I could do not to roll his eyes. “I am not going to harass him about his hair mom. Besides, I think it works on him.”

“Well, I would think that the coaches would have said something to him by now. It must slow him down considerably.”

“Mom, he wears a cap. It’s not a big deal. All of the girls have long hair.”

“Well he is not a girl.”

“Mom, drop it. It’s his hair, I’m not going to say anything.”

“Fine. So how does he feel about you living with Tate?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, swallowing nervously.

“I mean he probably isn’t thrilled the idea of you living with another attractive young man.”

“He’s fine with it mom,” I said, exasperated.

“He doesn’t feel like it’s a possible temptation? You don’t feel that way?” she asked leadingly. She really wasn’t letting this go.

“Tate is my best friend,” I said, hoping she’d let me leave it at that.

“So, lines can get blurred very easily. Things could get complicated and awkward very easily Brae. You need to think about these things.”

“Mom, things aren’t going to get complicated! It isn’t like that! We are just friends. Tate and I don’t feel that way about each other. Besides he has too much history for me to think about getting involved with him.” Oof. This was getting out of control. All I wanted was for everything to stop: her to stop pushing, me to stop lying, my dad to stop taking his sweet time and get back up here, time to stop moving. All of this was grossly unfair to Tate and yet things were snowballing out of my control and I didn’t know how to push it back uphill. “I didn’t mean that,” I quickly said, blushing.

“I think that’s the first sensical thing you’ve said on the subject,” my mom countered.

“Mom he is a good guy. He hasn’t done anything wrong. And there is no reason why we shouldn’t be friends, or why I shouldn’t even date him.” She glared at me with hawk-like eyes, shining ice blue in the early morning sunlight. “You are not going to dictate who I can date or who I am going to be friends with. You are just going to have to trust my discretion. If you raised me right, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.”

“Of course not Brae,” my dad’s voice boomed form behind me. “We trust your judgment completely. I think that what your mother means is that we are always here for you should you run into problems and we want you to know that. Right Brigette?”

“Well you can’t blame me for being a little bit over-protective. I AM his mother.”

“Still, it’s Brae’s decision who he associates with and I’m sure that Cash is a nice, upstanding, genuine guy.”

“He is,” I replied.

“And I certainly don’t have any objections to you dating him. I mean, it’s not as though you’re living with him.” I cringed. “It’s normal that Brae is going to want to date, Brigette and we just have to get used to it.”

“Still, Carrington is the best of the best. I can’t help but feel that there is a better option for you.” My mom continued to beat what my dad was trying to tell her was a dead horse.

“Mom, you don’t like his hair. Seriously. That is ridiculous. And so superficial of you. Honestly, I’m kinda shocked and disappointed,” I snapped. Even if Cash wasn’t my boyfriend, he was still one of my best friends and I had strong objections to hearing her rag on him in such an unmerited manner.

“Well fine,” she said, smoothing out the baby blue cashmere throw that was draped across her lap. “But I want to meet this young man—make that both of these young men—asap.”

“Brigette–” my dad cut in.

“Next weekend,” she announced with finality.

“But we have a meet next weekend,” I groaned. “Away meet.”

“I know. Princeton is a lot closer to us than Carrington is. This will work out perfectly. We can take the three of you out after the meet.”

“Mom, I’m sure that the entire team does something after the meet. I mean it’s our first one.”

“Fine, then we will take everyone out,” her brow furrowing with stubbornness.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” my dad interrupted. “We are not going to interrupt their revelry. We’ll meet the boys when we meet them.”

“Brighton, my travel window is closing,” she replied, finally whipping out the biggest weapon in her arsenal: the pregnancy card. “But if you feel so strongly about it, then why don’t we go on Wednesday.”

“Fine,” my dad groaned. “We’ll go up for Wednesday and Thursday.”

Panic seized me. This was notgood.

“Uhh, what about work dad?” I pleaded, my voice almost squeaking.

He waved his hand dismissively. “It’s the 21st century Brae, I can work from anywhere. Besides, this is a slow week for me anyways.”

“Oh,” I croaked. “Umm, Tate’s sister will be visiting,” I said in a last ditch effort to sway their decision.

“Oh how lovely,” my mom replied, her voice singing out with a pleasant ring that sent shivers down my spine. “Well then it’s all settled,” she smiled, brushing a stray wisp of her blond hair behind her ear and picking up the well-worn novel on her lap.

***

The rest of the afternoon passed awkwardly and conversation centered around the babies (I was to be the godfather), the baby shower, the baby register, nannies, the nurseries, schools, and an endless array of other matters that I could barely get myself to focus on. My chest felt tight, my esophagus burned and I felt like I might vomit.

I begged an early exit, claiming I didn’t want to have to drive in the dark and that I had a lot of homework still to finish. My dad gave me a reassuring pat on the back and a small shrug as he walked me out to my car.

“Sorry buddy,” he whispered. “You know she just cares about you. I promise it won’t be too bad. I won’t let things get out of hand. We both love you very, very much.”

“Thanks dad,” I replied, unable to keep tears of frustration and fear from springing to me eyes. While the weekend had gone much better than I expected in many respects, I couldn’t help but feel that I was standing on a land mine of my own creation, facing inevitable detonation no matter which way I turned.

 

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