Length: 43,199 words
Publisher: JMS Books
On the scale balancing his self-esteem on one side, and the love of his family on the other, Mike has to decide which weighs more. Is Mike being fair to his parents by not giving them the chance to know his real self? When the delicate balance of his life is disrupted, he decides he's tired of living a lie. Will Wes understand his concerns, or will their fledgling relationship crumble under the strain of Mike's uncertainty?
I walked down the narrow aisle with a book jammed under my arm and holding my carry-on bag in front of me as I focused on the labels for the rows. Due to the effect my nerves were having on my stomach, I was beginning to regret the meal I’d eaten during the two-hour layover in Houston.
I found my aisle seat, but it was occupied. Nobody sat in the window seat. This leg of my trip used a smaller plane—Wichita was hardly a bustling hub—and there were only two seats on either side of the aisle.
My shoulders stiffened, waiting for the request. My guess was he had a traveling companion, but they’d booked their flight too late to get two seats together. I’d be willing to trade, but I hoped it would at least be to another aisle seat. I wasn’t claustrophobic at all, but I preferred the freedom an aisle seat provided.
I stopped in front of my row and looked at the man, my eyebrows raised questioningly. He stood and stepped into the aisle. I opened my mouth, but wasn’t entirely sure what to say. He hadn’t moved on. He stood as if waiting to sit back down after letting me in. “I’m sorry.” I held up my boarding pass. “Apparently, there’s some confusion. This is my seat, here.”
“You don’t mind, do you?”
My whole body tensed at his tone. As if he simply assumed I’d switch seats for no obvious reason beyond he preferred mine. Which frankly—dammit—was likely to happen because I was non-confrontational and this wasn’t worth the fight. But it pissed me off that he wasn’t asking, acting like it was a done deal, and he didn’t even try to offer justification. He also had the kind of smile you see on people trying to sell you a load of crap, be it a used car or a dubious political position.
“Is there a problem?” The inquiry came from behind—a male voice with a polite but firm tone.
“No problem,” the man in front of me said. The slick politician smile that had come so naturally to him now seemed strained, or rather, a mild sneer supplemented it. “We were just switching seats.”
“Sir, do you want to switch seats with this gentleman?” the flight attendant asked.
“Gentleman” was a generous term for the jerk, but points for diplomacy. I was sure the answer was obvious. I’d booked an aisle seat because that’s what I preferred. But I imagined that wasn’t the real question. I wasn’t sure if the flight attendant would rather, like me, avoid a confrontation, or if he’d like to see the pushy bastard put in his place. I knew which I’d rather see if I were a random spectator, but I wasn’t.
“I’m willing to switch.” But I refused to say I “wanted” to. It was a cop-out, but it would be miserable enough sitting next to the guy for the next couple hours without adding the possibility of his simmering hostility to the mix.
I hefted my carry-on bag into the overhead bin and sidled across to the window seat. I sat with my book in my lap and stared out the window at the tarmac, hoping it was clear I wasn’t interested in making small-talk and wished to be left alone.
The man parked himself back in the seat that should have been mine, and the flight attendant made his way toward the back of the plane.
“Jesus H. Christ. We had it under control,” the man muttered.
Apparently, being left in peace was too much to wish for. As my dad liked to say, you could wish in one hand and—
“Don’t know why that faggot felt he needed to stick his nose in our business.”
My grip on the book tightened and I spun without thinking toward the man. “Excuse me?” My tone oozed with aversion. I didn’t try to hide my feelings, so I’m sure the incredulous disgust I felt at his use of that word showed on my face as well.
Was it Wes’s influence or was I more likely to stick up for someone else than for myself? I wasn’t sure which, but I found I couldn’t let that go without expressing my repugnance at his shameless and vocal bigotry. I didn’t even know if he was simply using the word as a general derogatory insult or if he’d assumed the flight attendant was gay because of his career choice.
His lip curled as a soft snort puffed from between his thin lips. “I said, I don’t know why that fellow felt he needed to stick his nose in our business.”
That wasn’t what he’d said. I hadn’t imagined it. But I wasn’t going to pursue it. If nothing else, at least he knew his prejudice wasn’t always going to be accepted when aired in public. The more people realized it was bigotry that needed to be hidden in a closet, not the targets of it, the better the world would be. Yeah, Wes’s activism was influencing me.
I turned back to the window, closed my eyes, and counted to ten before reopening them. This was the last thing I wanted to deal with on the flight home to come out to my parents. My gut was churning enough without this added stress.
I’d been rather proud of how I’d managed to push aside my uncertainties the past two weeks and return to being my regular normal self. Right up until it had been time to head to the airport, anyway. I’d studied Wes’s pamphlets, and Greg had taken a set of them home, too, so he could be prepared on my behalf. That alone had taken a huge share of the weight off my shoulders.
Even so, now that the big moment was looming, it took a concerted effort to not be that jittery guy on the plane that everyone kept an eye on, waiting for them to crack and brandish a nail file that had slipped by security. Sure, there was a good chance everything would be fine. But there was still a possibility that my relationship with my parents would never be the same, and there was a huge sliding scale of degree for that potential unpleasantness.
Would my dad react similarly to the man sitting next to me? Under pressure, faced with his son admitting to being gay after he’d spent years talking about how wrong he felt that was, would he crack? He’d never used that word—“faggot.” He’d never used any kind of derogatory word.
Thinking back, I knew Greg was probably right about Dad’s apparent angle during his campaign to convince me it would be wrong to be gay. It all boiled down to the motivations behind his efforts. Was it as simple as he’d convinced himself I was making a choice, and wanted the best possible life for me, or did he think there was something intrinsically wrong—sordid, contemptible—with being gay?
Would I lose his respect? His love? Would holidays forevermore be tense? Helen was on my side, thank goodness, but what if Dad were to become convinced that I couldn’t be trusted around her two young children? I shifted in my seat, trying to get comfortable, but it couldn’t keep my mind from picturing him mining for all his arguments from only websites that were biased against LGBTQI+ people and not seeking the truth from a fair balance of sources. If that was the case, then there’d be a good chance he’d bought into a lot of the bullsh*t they were peddling. The fact he’d held off saying the more disparaging claims didn’t mean he hadn’t read them and thought there might be something to them.
The plane taxied down the runway and took off, and I turned my gaze to my book. I’d brought Andy Weir’s The Martian because I’d read it before and loved it, and I’d figured I might be distracted, so it’d be best not to try to follow a new story.
I opened the book, read the first three lines with the character thinking he was “pretty much f*cked,” and closed it again. I didn’t believe in omens, but that summed up how I felt. It was just a question of degree.
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