I once read that if you change how you look at the world, the world around you will change. Honestly, when I first read it I rolled my eyes. It just makes change sound so easy. But the reality is change isn’t easy, and we all know that. These past few weeks, they’ve been fun, but it took everything in me to survive them. It took everything to get through the nights I cried myself to sleep, but I stuck with it and now, well now I’m falling asleep with Dizzy in my arms.
When I woke up the next morning I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. Sure, last night was a big night for me. But todays a big day for me too! It’s my birthday! It’s not like I expect a big celebration or anything, but I don’t know, I guess I’m just turning sixteen in style!
“Good morning.” Dizzy forced a smile as he woke up in my arms. “How are you feeling?”
“Amazing.” I smirked, holding him tightly.
“I wonder why that could be.” He provoked, falling quiet and letting me hold him for a little bit longer.
“Today’s just a special day I guess.” I finally spoke, breaking the temporary silence.
“Then let’s start it right.” He teased, breaking from my grasp and turning back over.
Just like last night our bond seemed to strengthen as we lay together. This time there was no nervousness or hesitations. We’ve crossed the last barrier between us, and now we’re closer than I ever could’ve hoped.
When we finally made it downstairs I couldn’t help but let out a sigh as I saw a note on the kitchen table. I knew he was going to go to work today, but I don’t know, it would’ve been nice to have him around.
“You know the drill. Have a good Saturday and text me if you go out. I’ll be home later.
That’s it? That’s all he wrote? I guess he doesn’t know what today is. I mean, why would he? He just took me in. Plus he has a lot going on, between work and Bradley, I guess he’s focusing on getting himself back on track.
“What’s wrong?” Dizzy asked as he noticed the look on my face.
“Nothing.” I forced a smile. “Just zoned out for a second there.”
“Weirdo.” He teased, before jumping on the couch and turning on the X-box. “Game of Thrones?”
“Set it up!” I encouraged in a loud voice before sitting close to him.
“You sure you’re alright?” He checked as he pulled me onto him.
“Just fine.” I answered with a forced smile.
“You can talk to me if somethings bothering you.” He offered as our eyes met.
“I know,” I nodded my head. “but nothing’s wrong.”
“You’re such a bad liar.” He groaned, but started the episode anyway.
We spent the whole morning and afternoon just watching T.V. and talking. It really is interesting to see what he has to say. It’s like his mind works so different from anyone I’ve ever met. He doesn’t wonder about things the way I do, he just takes action.
Yet no matter how much we talked, I never told him about my birthday. I just don’t want it to become this whole big thing. Besides, I can give up one birthday. The world doesn’t revolve around me!
“Alright,” Dizzy finally stood up as the afternoon began to tick away. “I better get home before my Mom starts freaking out.”
“She worries?” I asked in a curious voice.
“Every minute of the day,” He complained, leaning in and planting a kiss on my lips. “but she’ll be happy to hear I was just with you.”
“She likes me?” I pried, nervous what his answer would be.
“I think so.” He happily nodded.“But it could just be because you brought her donuts.”
“That’s alright. I think that’s why you like me too.” I teased as he raised his eyebrows.
“It’s just an added bonus.” He smirked, making sure to slow his pace as he approached the front door. “She really does like you though.”
“Good.” I felt my smile grow. “So then I get to see her again soon?”
“We’ll see.” He swayed his head.
“We’ll see?” I repeated in a laugh.
“That’s my Momma you’re talking about.” He warned, not putting too much thought into his words. “You know where I’m coming from.”
“I guess,” I shrugged. “you just take protective to a whole ‘nother level.”
“She’s had enough people hurt her in her life.” He explained in a serious voice. “She doesn’t need anymore.”
“Is that why you don’t like her boyfriend?” I dared to asked but got a blank stare back.
“I’ll see you tomorrow Artie.” He forced a smile as he pulled the door open.
“Not tonight?” I teased.
“Maybe tonight.” He admitted in a sigh before shutting the door behind him.
I sat in silence for a few moments before finally pulling out my phone and texting ‘S.O.S.’ to Charlotte. I made sure to tell her it wasn’t a real emergency, but she insisted on coming by as soon as possible anyway! Before I knew it a fast paced knocking sounded out from the front door.
“What’s going on?” She demanded as I pulled the door open. “Are you okay?”
“I’m great.” I shrugged as I led her to the couch.
“Then what’s S.O.S.?” She asked in a concerned voice.
“I told you it’s nothing bad.” I couldn’t help but giggle as I saw the intense look on her face.
“You’ve been spending too much time with Dizzy!” She whined. “This is just cruel!”
“Alright, Alright.” I tried to comfort. “I, I slept with Dizzy last night.”
“Slept like, sex?!” She exclaimed in a loud voice.
“Yeah.” I felt a blush overtake my face.
“Is he as crazy as everyone says?!” She asked, nearly jumping on top of me in excitement.
“I don’t know,” My blush grew. “I don’t kiss and tell.”
“Well you just told!” She shouted. “So you better explain!”
“He’s a little crazy,” I admitted in a giggle. “but he took it slow.”
“How did you feel about it?” She prodded, knowing there was no barrier to how much I would share with her.
“It was good, but this morning was better.” I teased, causing her to jump in the air.
“That’s my best friend!” She encouraged as I began to open up. I tried my hardest not to share too much, but deep down we all knew I would tell her, Dizzy included! She was just as supportive as I hoped she would be. She even told me about her first time with a guy! It was a few months ago with an ex-boyfriend that goes to another high school, or so she says!
Yet as Adam walked into the front door our conversation immediately stopped. He gave us a weird look but didn’t say anything.
“Charlotte, right?” He finally spoke, breaking the silence.
“Yup.” She forced a quick smile. “It’s nice to actually meet you Mr. Price.”
“You can just call me Adam.” He dismissed, walking over to the stairs and dropping his bag. “Dizzy’s not here?”
“Believe it or not, I don’t spend all of my time with him.” I defended, looking back at him.
“Sure you don’t.” Adam played along. “So you won’t be hanging out with him tonight.”
“Probably not.” I shrugged, not knowing what the night held.
“Actually,” Charlotte began. “I was going to ask if you wanted to sleep over at my house tonight.”
“Can I?” I excitedly asked, looking back to Adam for permission.
“I don’t know,” He hesitated. “it’s nothing personal, I’ve just never met your parents and I don’t know where you live or,”
“Come on Adam.” I began to pressure. “It’s just Charlotte, it’s not like I’m straight!”
“Yeah, but, I don’t know.” He stuttered, trying his hardest to think it over.
“I live right over in the Lower Pacific Heights, it’s just like, ten minutes away.”Charlotte began to work him over. “My Dad’s a financial advisor and my Mom’s a therapist. I can call them if you really want me to.”
“No, I, its fine.” He finally caved. “You can sleep over.”
“Yeah?” I asked with a wide smile.
“Yeah.” He exhaled. “Go pack your backpack or whatever you want.”
“I’ll tell my Mom we’ll be home in time for dinner!” Charlotte exclaimed as I jumped to my feet. “Mind if we leave soon?” She asked looking over to Adam.
“Go for it.” He tried to encourage, but I could tell it was bothering him.
I’ve slept over at few friends’ houses before, but never with a friend as close as Charlotte, and never with a girl! But considering how I spent last night, well, a sleepover with Charlotte is probably something Adam should be rooting for!
When I finally packed my bag and headed downstairs I couldn’t help but feel my heart begin to beat faster.
“Alright, I, I’ll be home tomorrow morning I guess.” I forced out as Adam locked eyes with me.
“Okay, text me if anything changes, or if you forgot anything,” Adam began to ramble. “or if you just want to come home. I don’t care what time it is, just, text me if you need something.”
“I will.” I nervously accepted. “I, if you want me to come home tonight, you can text me too.” I offered as he nodded his head. “But you should maybe have Lindsay over for some drinks, or just go out and maybe, maybe invite Mason.”
“Maybe.” He repeated before falling quiet and just staring into my eyes. “Behave, remember your manners,” he finally began once more. “anddon’t stay up too late.”
“I won’t.” I forced a smile as I finally began to walk towards the door.
“I love you Artie.” He forced out, surprising both of us.
“I love you too.” I replied, trying to fight off a wide smile.
I noticed Charlotte watching me closely as we left the house and made our way to the bus stop. “I didn’t realize you two were so close.” She finally said.
“We’ve just spend a lot of time together since he took me in.” I admitted, staring straight ahead. “I don’t know, it might be kind of hard not to be with him tonight.”
“It’s alright,” She tried to comfort. “you’ll be with me, and I guess, if you do get homesick I can have my brother drive you home.”
“Thank you Charlotte.” I forced a smile as the bus pulled up.
It didn’t take long to get to Charlotte’s house, but when we pulled up I was surprised to find a house very different from Dizzy’s. It was a similar style to my own, but a bit wider and sat on top of a large garage.
As she led me up the stairs I felt nerves sweep over my body. How much has Charlotte told her family that they’re okay with me sleeping over? I mean sure, I’m gay, but they don’t know that’s the truth! For all they know I’m lying to spend the night with Char!
“Mom!” Charlotte called out as we walked through the front door. “Artie and I are home.”
“Okay,” A female voice responded. “go wash up, dinner should be ready soon!”
We did as instructed and before I knew it I was entering the dining room of Charlotte’s home. It all really was like my own. The only difference is that they seem to have a lot more space!
I couldn’t help but gulp hard as two men nearly half a foot taller than me walked by. “Artie, this is my Dad and brother Jamaal.” Charlotte happily introduced us as they turned to look at me.
“Good to meet you sir.” I greeted as we shook hands.
“Nice to meet you too,” He reciprocated. “especially after hearing about you nearly every day for weeks.”
“It’s almost like you’re more than friends.” Jamaal couldn’t help but tease, taking the chance to push his sister’s buttons.
“Don’t be stupid.” Charlotte warned with a serious look.
“We’re just friends.” I tried to defend. “Trust me, I-I’m not into girls.”
Mr. Charles nodded his head, but I could tell he had some suspicions of his own. “Leave him be.” A woman who looked like an older version of Charlotte warned. “He doesn’t have to defend himself to you Jamaal.”
“Mom, this is Artie.” Charlotte happily began once more as her Mom entered the room.
“He is cute.” She remarked as our eyes connected. “No wonder Dizzy’s crazy over him.”
“Mom!” Charlotte hushed, as I began to see just how much she shared with her mom.
“Woh, woh,” Mr. Charles began. “you’re dating little Ryan Armstrong?”
“You know he hates that name.” Charlotte warned in a serious look.
“It’s his God given name.” The man shrugged. “He’s sixteen years old, I think it’s time to leave silly nicknames behind.”
“it’s more than a nickname.” She continued to argue.
“It’s fine.” I forced a smile. “Dizzy’s my boyfriend.” I confirmed.
“Then God bless you.” The man remarked.
“He’s a sweet guy.” I shrugged, trying my hardest to fight off a blush.
“Yes, he is.” Mrs. Charles agreed.
“Well I know his wild side.” Mr. Charles complained.
“Because there’s no way Charlotte got a few detentions from her own actions.” Jamaal rolled his eyes.
“No, there’s not.” Mr. Charles warned. “She was covering for Ryan. I know she was.”
“She’s been covering for that boy since they could walk, and so has Ky.” Mrs. Charles dismissed. “That’s what you do for family.”
“Preach Mama.” Charlotte encouraged, leading me to the dinner table and pulling out a chair for me. “Besides, Artie’s changing Dizzy. He’s actually starting to calm down for a change.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it.” Jamaal chuckled, making sure to look me up and down once more.
“Me too.” Mr. Charles agreed, taking a seat at the head of the table.
“Enough about Ryan.” Mrs. Charles tried to dismiss. “I hear you’re an athlete Artie.”
“Yes ma’am.” I nodded, happy with the change in conversation. “I’m on the school baseball team.”
“You know Jose?” Jamaal quickly asked, drawing another nod from me. “That’s my boy right there.”
“He’s really cool.” I agreed as a smile began on my face.
“Jamaal played baseball growing up, but moved onto basketball when he entered High School.” Mr. Charles explained as his wife left the room to retrieve dinner.
“A real man’s sport.” Jamaal couldn’t help but tease.
“Don’t be a jerk.” Charlotte warned.
“I’m just playing around.” Jamaal defended with a smirk. “I’ll tell Jose to look out for you.”
“How about you look out for him?” Charlotte pressured with a serious look.
“I will.” Jamaal nodded. “I see you guys around school from time to time.”
“I, uh, why do I need people to look out for me?” I nervously asked.
“Just good to have people in your corner.” Charlotte forced a smile. “Plus you’re an athlete now, so it’s like a stupid guy thing to root one another on.”
“It’s not stupid.” Mr. Charles cautioned as he shot his daughter a serious look. “They’re building a team across all sports.”
“We get the picture.” Mrs. Charles silenced as she reentered the room with a tray of what looked like pork ribs. “Now Artie, I hope you like barbeque. My husband has spent all afternoon grilling these up.”
“Nice and slow.” He proudly bragged.
“I love barbeque.” I confessed with a smile. “I’m from Texas.”
“Well I don’t mean to toot my own horn,” Mr. Charles began.
“He does.” Charlotte interrupted.
“but I’m a pretty good cook.” He continued, staring down his daughter once more. “You’ll have to let me know how it compares to Texas barbeque.”
“Gladly.” I accepted as Mrs. Charles passed around some ribs.
“You a religious man?” Mr. Charles asked me once we all received our food.
“Yes sir.” I answered with a proud nod.
“Well then why don’t you lead us in prayer.” He offered as everyone around me began to connect hands.
I nodded once more and held their hands as I began to pray the way my Mom had taught me. For the first time since I left, it felt like I was right back at home. Like God was with us as we prayed.
“You know Artie,” Mr. Charles began. “If you’d like you can join us in church tomorrow morning.”
“You don’t have to do that.” Charlotte tried to offer me a way out.
“I want to.” I quickly accepted. “Thank you sir.”
“Of course.” The first real smile all evening began on his face. “You’re welcome to join us every Sunday.”
“I might just have to take you up on that.” I teased, surprising Charlotte even more.
The rest of the night went a lot easier than the start. Sure, Mr. Charles and Jamaal still gave me a hard time every now and again, but it was only because they cared about Charlotte. They wanted what’s best for her, and I really can’t blame them for that.
After we helped them clean up Charlotte’s parents let us go hang out in her room for a while. It was a lot girlier than I initially expected, but flashes of who Charlotte really was proudly showed along her walls in the form of her artwork.
Just like at my house we spoke about everything and anything until finally I fell quiet for a little while.
“Alright,” Charlotte sighed, sick of my one word answers. “What’s going on? Do you want to go home?”
“No.” I shot down with a quick shake of my head.
“Okay, then what’s wrong?” She asked with a serious look.
“Nothing.” I lied as the weight of the day began to hit me. I know I said it’s not a big deal, I know I said I could pass on one birthday, but I don’t know. I guess I did want to celebrate it a little bit. It would’ve been nice to have cake with Adam and my friends. I don’t even want presents! I just want, well, to be a normal kid again.
“Artie,” She pressured as she moved closer to me. “do you want Jamaal to drive you home?”
“No.” I tried to reject. “I’m good here.”
“Then tell me what’s on your mind.” She insisted. “So help me God I’ll text Dizzy.”
“It’s my birthday.” I finally confessed in a sigh.
“What?” She asked as shocked filled her face.
“It’s my birthday.” I dejectedly repeated.
“Why didn’t you tell me?!” She exclaimed, reaching over and grabbing my hand. “Is that why Adam didn’t want you sleeping over?”
“He didn’t know.” I shook my head. “No one did.”
“I’m so sorry Artie.” She apologized as our eyes met. “I, let’s do something tomorrow. You, me and Ky.”
“No.” I tried to reject. “It’s fine, I, I’d rather leave it be.”
“Artie,” She began once more.
“I’m serious.” I insisted. “Besides, I am doing something for my birthday, I’m hanging out with you.”
“And you got some birthday sex this morning.” She tried to encourage.
“And I got some birthday sex.” I began to smile.
“Happy Birthday Artie.” She reached out and hugged me. Something about that embrace just helped the night to go on a lot easier. It reminded me just how close the two of us were. That she was more than just a friend. That she had become family.
The next morning I got a strong reminder of that as I sat next to the Charles’ in mass, they even took me to lunch after! Mr. Charles is strict and disciplined, but behind it all was a big heart for his family. He wanted what was best for his kids, and for the friends they hung out with. In a lot of ways he reminds me of the country men I grew up around. Just a lot more, friendly.
There was something special about that morning and afternoon. Something about renewing my faith with my best friend. Somehow I swear it pulled us even closer. It was as though it was what God had wanted for me. Whether I believe that or not, well, it was a powerful thing.
“Alright Artie,” Mr. Charles began as we pulled up to my house. “I’ll see you next Sunday for mass?”
“Yes sir.” I happily agreed.
“It was nice having you last night.” Mrs. Charles encouraged. “You’re welcome over whenever you’d like.”
“Thank you for having me.” I smiled as I slowly got out of the car.
“I’ll be home later.” Charlotte suddenly explained as she followed me.
“It’s a school night,” Mr. Charles began to warn.
“Let her go.” Mrs. Charles argued with a smile. “The years almost done.”
“Be home early.” Mr. Charles warned as she joined me on the curb.
“Are coming in?” I asked as she shut the car door behind her.
“I just need to talk to you about something.” Charlotte shrugged, happily following me up the stairs to my house.
“We’ve been non-stop talking since yesterday.” I began to laugh.
“Well I think a lot.” She dismissed, but as we reached the front door I heard some hushed talking from the other side.
“I know they’re here!” I heard Adam quietly shout. “No stop before they hear us.”
“I’m not the one talking!” that sounded like Dizzy arguing back.
“What’s going on?” I skeptically asked as I forced my keys into the door.
“Nothing’s going on.” She smirked as I finally got the door open.
“Surprise!” A group of Adam, Ky and Dizzy shouted as I turned the lights on.
“Happy Birthday!” Dizzy shouted out as our eyes connected.
“I, what,” I paused, looking over to Charlotte. “What’d you do?”
“I just texted Dizzy that maybe we missed your birthday yesterday.” She shrugged. “He took care of the rest.”
“I knew something was bothering you.” Dizzy teased as he walked over and pulled me in close. “Happy Birthday babe.”
“Thank you.” I exhaled holding him close.
As I pulled away from him I felt Adam pull me in close. “Happy Birthday Artie.” He began. “I am so sorry I forgot.”
“It’s alright.” I quickly tried to comfort him before he could feel too bad.
“It’s not.” He rejected. “You deserve better than that. I need to be better for you.”
“Don’t say that.” I insisted in a strong voice. “I promise you’re doing an amazing job.”
“Well just in case I’m not,” He let me go and reached behind the couch. “Happy Birthday!!”
As he pulled out a baseball bat and glove I couldn’t believe my eyes. “This is what you wanted, right?”He asked as I stood there speechless. “I saw you looking at a few on your phone, and Dizzy said he did too.”
“I, they, they’re perfect.” I finally let out, taking a long look at the glove as he handed it over to me.
Without warning I reached out and pulled him in for another big hug. It’s not that I wanted presents. It’s not that I was looking to get anything. It’s that Adam cares enough to remember the little things. That with a day’s notice he could remember what I was looking at on my phone screen and try his hardest to track it down. Now I know he didn’t forget my birthday, he just never really knew it. And that, well it’s something he’ll never do again. I just know it.
My little party was full of playing around and laughter. Just like at the Charles’, I felt nothing but love. Adam tried to give us as much privacy as possible, but would come down and spend time with us every now and then. Dizzy tried his hardest to make Adam feel welcome, but I could tell a group of sixteen year olds wasn’t exactly Adam’s scene.
Finally I received a phone call that pulled me away from the party for a little while. “Sadie?” I asked as the call connected and I slipped up to my room.
“Happy late birthday Artie!” She shouted from the other end of the phone. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get through to you yesterday.”
“Thank you, it’s alright, I was sleeping over at my friend’s house.” I explained but paused as a few different thoughts raced in my head. “Did you have time to think about what I said to you the other day?”
“Yes.” She responded in a sigh. “If it means I get to keep my relationship with you, I, I’ll accept Adam, but that doesn’t meant I’ll like him.”
“Why not? He’s a good guy.” I insisted in a whine.
“He was a jerk when we were kids! He ripped the head off of one of his sister’s dolls on Halloween!” She explained, trying her hardest to hold back a laugh.
“That does sound like Adam.” I giggled.
“Well that aside,” She began once more. “I dug up more photos of you and Sarah. I shipped them a few days ago so keep your eyes open, okay?”
“I will, I, thank you Sadie.” I let out, trying my hardest to keep away my emotions.
“It’s no problem, if I find any more I’ll send them.” She cheerfully let out, but suddenly I could feel her breathing turn serious. “There’s uhm, something else.”
“What?” I asked in a nervous voice.
“I heard that your grandparents, they’re, well they might be pursuing a lawyer for custody.” She began, drawing a small gasp from me. “But don’t worry. I’m doing what I can to discourage it.”
“But how can they do that?” I asked as my voice began to tremble.
“I don’t know, something about what the hospital told them.” She tried to recall. “But that doesn’t mean they’re right. Her will said you belong with Adam, and if that’s what you want there’s no way they’ll take you from him.”
“It is what I want.” I answered without hesitation.
“Then I promise you, you have nothing to worry about.” She tried to comfort. “Just make sure you let Adam know, okay?”
“I will.” I accepted. “Thank you Sadie.”
“Of course,” She replied. “I’ll keep you updated the best I can. I love you Arthur.”
“ I love you too.” I let out before the call disconnected.
My Grandparents can try whatever they want, I’m not going anywhere. This is where my Mother wanted me. This is where I want to be. No one will take me away. No matter what anyone does. No one will take me away.