The longer we spent looking at pictures, the more in my own head I seemed to fall. I’m working on it all, but tonight, well, I might have to take one step forward and two steps back. Sure, looking at these pictures brings back good memories, but it also makes me miss my mom so damn much. Even now I still just feel so, so, blindsided. It was like one minute she was here and the next she was gone.
“Time for a new picture.” Dizzy announced in an attempt to snap me out of my mind. “Right Adam?”
“Yeah.” Adam quickly agreed. “We need something to hang up around here.”
“Alright.” I accepted, forcing a smile as Dizzy pulled out his phone. He quickly snapped a group picture before taking a step back and taking one of me and Adam.
“Alright Adam, what’s your number?” Dizzy teased with a smirk. “I’ll send it to you.”
“I’m not giving you my number.” Adam quickly shot down.
“Then I guess you’re not getting the pictures.” Dizzy giggled, swiping back and forth between them. “That’s a shame too, they look good.”
“Don’t be stupid.” Adam warned in a stern voice.
“Uh oh Artie, Adam’s getting strict again.” Dizzy encouraged, trying his hardest to get me to lighten up.
“Just send them to me and I’ll send them to him.” I exhaled as I slowly rose to my feet.
“Alright,” Dizzy accepted in a cautious breath. “and where are you going?”
“Call Sadie and get ready for bed.” I explained as I started to walk towards the stairs.
“Oh, okay.” Dizzy accepted, quickly looking over to Adam. Adam glanced over to me before looking back to Dizzy and signaling that it would be okay. “You really should give me your number though.” Dizzy began once more.
“Why should I do that?” Adam asked, redirecting his attention to the T.V. as he turned it on.
“Well I’m staying here for a little bit aren’t I?” I heard Dizzy begin to argue as I reached the top of the stairs. “So, what if something goes wrong?”
“Nothing will go wrong.” Adam dismissed, but I reached the top of the stairs before I could hear any more of their conversation.
As I shut my bedroom door behind me, it took everything in me to stop tears from falling. I have to keep it together. This, it’s not what my mom would want from me. She wouldn’t want me sitting around feeling bad for myself. I know she wouldn’t.
I took another deep breath before taking out my phone and quickly calling Sadie.
“Hey Artie.” She happily greeted as the call connected. “How are you doing?”
“I’m good, I, we just got the envelope you sent.” I explained, trying my hardest to straighten out my thinking.
“Oh good!” She exclaimed in an up-beat voice. “There were so many! I forgot just how many pictures Sarah actually kept!”
“Yeah.” I exhaled, thinking it all over once more.
“You alright?” Sadie asked as concern began to enter her voice.
“Yeah, I just miss her is all.” I confessed in a sigh.
“Me too.” She tried to comfort. “Today I went to the shops for the first time without her, and it, it just didn’t feel the same, you know?”
“Nothing feels the same.” I agreed in a quiet voice.
“She’d want us to keep our heads up though.” Sadie reminded me. “It’s okay to feel sad, just remember that.”
“I do.” I forced out. “I think Adam was really surprised she still had pictures of him.” I began, eager to shift the topic elsewhere.
“Yeah, I guess I was a little surprised at first too. But looking back, I guess she never stopped missing him.” Sadie admitted, talking openly about their relationship for the first time in my life.
“Then why didn’t she reach out?” I couldn’t help but ask.
I noticed Sadie hesitate as she struggled to find the words. “It wasn’t that simple.”
“To reach out to him?” I pressured, tired of being left in the dark. “My Mom loved writing letters, she couldn’t’ve found him and wrote him one?”
“Artie,” Sadie began but paused once more. “the whole thing is just complicated.”
“Why?” I continued to question. “That’s her brother, if she missed him she could’ve reached out to him! Just because he’s gay doesn’t mean you have to exile him! How can you say she missed him if she never spoke about him?!”
“Because she did reach out!” Sadie finally snapped.
“What?” Was all I could manage out.
“Look,” She sighed. “I’ve already said too much. It’s not my place to tell you, if you really want to know, well you can ask him.”
“He’ll never tell me.” I exhaled in a defeated voice. “For once I just want answers.”
Sadie let out a deep breath as she heard the distress in my voice.“It was a little while after she had given birth and he had been kicked out.” She confessed. “She tracked down the place he was staying at and sent a couple of letters, I’m pretty sure she even sent a picture of you.”
“And?” I led, eager to know what came next.
“That’s it.” She replied, unsure how much more to tell me. “He never wrote back.”
“Why not?” I asked without thinking.
“That’s something you’ll have to ask him.” Sadie answered, not willing to share any more.
“Maybe he never got the letters.” I tried to excuse.
“Maybe,” She repeated. “but Sarah was pretty confident she had found him.”
“Oh.” I exhaled, unsure what to be feeling about the new information. “He misses her a lot too.”
“I’m sure he does.” Sadie said as she thought something over. “He’s taking good care of you, right?”
“He made me try sushi tonight.” I complained in a sigh. “But yeah, he’s been good at this whole thing. He’s always there for me when I need it.”
“Good.” Sadie quickly replied. “Because if he’s not I’ll come over there and kick his butt!”
“What do you think of him?” I forced out without thinking. “Aside from him being gay. What do you honestly think of him?”
“Well, he teased us a lot growing up, but I guess that’s just what little brothers do.” She complained. “But when we became teenagers, I don’t know.”
As her silenced filled the air I felt a million questions hit my mind. “You don’t know what?” I pressured, eager to hear more.
“He just changed.” She hesitated once more. “He was always there for people. If you were bored and wanted to talk, everyone knew you went to Adam Price. He always had some crazy idea that he could go on about for hours,” She explained as a smile began to cross my face. “or he’d want to go on some adventure that’d always get everyone involved in trouble.”
“You were friends with him, weren’t you?” I asked in a surprised voice.
“We grew up together.” She answered, side stepping the question.
“And because he’s gay, you guys let that all fall apart?” I couldn’t help but question.
“You know how serious that is.” Sadie tried to remind me. “I’m starting to worry you’re losing your faith.”
“I’m not.” I confidently answered. “I’m just gaining a new understanding.”
“Now you sound like him.” She complained in a sigh. “But that wasn’t the only reason. He was just too, too, outspoken. Always talking about what God should be, always questioning His existence. Sunday school with Adam was a nightmare. It all just turned him off to us.”
“And who’s us?” I asked once more. “You, my Mom, and that other guy from the picture?”
“Other guy?” Sadie repeated as she thought it over.
“There was a picture of you guys outside some barn, and there was another guy with you.” I quickly explained, eager to get my answer.
“Oh him, he’s no one.” Sadie quickly answered in a lie. “Just someone we grew up with.”
“Then what’s his name?” I pressured in a serious voice.
“That’s really not important.” She insisted. “Why don’t you ask Adam about this? Maybe he’ll be able to give you a better answer.”
“I thought he was no one. Why does Adam have a better answer about no one?” I continued to question.
“Adams rubbing off on you in all the worst ways.” Sadie complained, but I froze as a soft knocking began on my door.
“Can I come in?” Adam asked as the knocking stopped.
“Uh, yeah.” I accepted, nervous about how much he had overheard.
“Oh, sorry,” he apologized as he pushed the door open. “I didn’t realize you were still on the phone.”
“Yeah, I-I can put it on speaker if you want.” I offered. I could tell they both went to reject the idea, but I clicked the button before either could say anything. “Say hi Adam.”
“Artie,” Adam clicked his tongue. “I don’t think this is really necessary.”
“Why? Can’t say hi to an old friend?” I provoked, seeing how he would react.
“What have you done to my sweet Artie?” Sadie finally spoke up. “He was so well mannered when he was here.”
“That good old school Texas repression wore off.” Adam teased as he took a seat on the edge of my bed.
“Don’t fill his head with that.” Sadie warned. “You had a great upbringing Artie. Nothing was wrong with what we taught you here.” Adam rolled his eyes and made a face, causing me to let out a short laugh. “Adam!” She exclaimed.
“What?” He groaned. “I didn’t say anything.”
“I know you made a face!” She called him out. “You haven’t changed!”
“Neither have you.” Adam shrugged. “Sadie was always scared when we did anything.”
“Because you always got us in trouble!” She pointed out, but I could tell she wasn’t taking it too seriously.
“You always needed the push.” Adam smirked as he thought back to his past.
Sadie let out a small laugh before catching herself. “You better be taking care of him.” She warned in the strictest voice she could manage. “He’s a special kid. He was near the top of his class here.”
“He’s alright.” Adam teased, looking over to me. “Got a smart mouth though.”
“Not my Artie.” Sadie defended. “Maybe he just doesn’t like you.”
“That’s probably what it is.” I played along, finally starting to ease up.
“See!” Adam exclaimed. “I’m gonna wash your mouth out with soap.”
“You already did that with sushi!” I exclaimed drawing another laugh from Sadie.
“You’re such a whiner.” Adam remarked with a playful smile.
“As much as I would love to hear you guys fight I think I should let you both go.” Sadie interrupted, having had enough for one night. “Make sure you call me again soon, alright Artie?”
“I will.” I answered, turning off speaker phone and pulled the phone back up towards my ear.
“Good, I love you Artie.”
“I love you too.” I replied, before clicking off the phone and looking back to Adam.
“Feeling better?” Adam asked as our eyes connected.
“Yeah.” I swayed my head.
“It’s alright to be upset every now and then over it,” Adam began to comfort. “but if you don’t talk to us, we can’t help.”
“I just needed some space this time.” I shrugged, not wanting to get into it.
“Alright.” Adam slowly nodded. “I can respect that.”
I fell quiet as I struggled to build up the courage for my questions. “If that’s all then I’ll let you get ready for bed.” Adam instructed as he went to stand.
“Why are you keeping secrets again?” I finally forced out, drawing his gaze right back at me.
“What secrets am I keeping?” Adam asked, letting his weight fall right back down to the bed.
“Just, stuff.” I hesitated, unsure on how much to push.
“Is this because Sadie told you we were friends or something?” He groaned. “Because I didn’t think that was too much of a secret. We grew up together after all.”
“With her amongst other people.” I tried to pressure.
“Artie, if you have something to say you should just say it.” He instructed in a strong voice.
“Nothing in particular.” I lied as I noticed Dizzy approach the open doorway. “Do you have anything about your past you think I need to hear?”
“Me and your Mom used to go to early morning mass so we wouldn’t have to be seen with our parents.” Adam shrugged. “I guess that’s a fun old story.”
“Gee,” I sighed as he danced around the topic. “thanks.”
“Anytime.” He remarked, standing up and approaching the door. “You sure you don’t have anything to say.”
“Positive.” I let out, but we both knew I was lying.
“Alrighty then.” He shrugged, redirecting his attention to Dizzy. “You have five minutes up here, then I expect you right back downstairs. And the door stays open!”
“We got it, we got it. Dizzy dismissed as he took a few steps inside. He hesitated for a few seconds but as he heard Adam start descending the stairs took a long look at me. “You’re never going to get answers from him that way.”
“I know.” I complained. “I just want him to share because he wants to, not because I’m forcing him to.”
“And you think that’ll work?” Dizzy asked, taking a seat where Adam had just been.
“I don’t know.” I answered, struggling to put a solid plan together. “It’d just be nice for him to let me in for once. It feels like every week I find out he’s hiding more and more from me.”
“Maybe it’s for a good reason.” Dizzy suggested as he began to move closer to me.
“So now you’re taking his side?” I complained, breaking eye contact and looking over to the pictures on my nightstand.
“I’m not taking any sides,” He quickly tried to clarify. “just thinking out loud. Maybe he’s waiting for you to be in a position where you could understand it better, or when you’re a bit more, stable.”
“Stable?” I repeated, quickly looking back over to him.
“Maybe that’s not the best word for it.” Dizzy let out as he thought it over. “I’m just trying to say, you’ve been through so much these past couple of months. Maybe he wants things to calm down before he starts throwing more curveballs at you.”
“Maybe,” I agreed, carefully running through it in my head. “but then he could tell me that.”
“That’s true.” Dizzy nodded. “What do you want to know anyway?” As I hesitated I felt Dizzy start to lean against me. “Come on, you share and I’ll share.”
“Well Sadie told me my Mom reached out a little after they both got kicked out.” I began in a heavy breath. “He never wrote back to her. But what if he did? What if he did and he talked her into moving out here? Then maybe, well, forget it.” I backed off as a blush started to form on my face.
“She’d still be here?” Dizzy asked in a brave breath.
“Yeah.” I admitted as I broke eye contact. “Not that I’m putting that on him, it’s not his fault, just, what if?”
“What if he wrote back and they didn’t get along?” Dizzy provoked as he tried to regain eye contact. “What if Adam wasn’t in a good place and they started fighting. What if that made her put custody of you with her parents.”
“Yeah.” I let out as it all began to race around in my head.
“I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just saying what if is a slippery slope, you know?” He asked, finally sliding up enough to where I could lean my head against his shoulder. “I’m sure Adam has a good reason for not writing back, and I’m sure he’ll tell you when he’s ready.”
“Yeah.” I let out once more. “He’s also keeping that old picture a secret.” I complained. “The one of him as a teenager. Sadie wouldn’t tell me who that other guy was either.”
“Well maybe there’s a good reason for that too.” Dizzy tried to support. “I know what you’re thinking, but do you really want to know?”
“If that’s my dad?” I asked, finally saying the idea out loud.
“Yeah.” Dizzy exhaled, put off by the idea.
“I want to know.” I nodded my head. “I’ve always wanted to know.” I quietly admitted.
“Careful, he might not be what you expect.” Dizzy warned in a serious voice. “You’re lucky with Adam. He, he’s such a good guardian.”
“I am.” I quickly nodded my head, not wanting to seem ungrateful. “That’s why we’re still going through with that dinner plan, right?”
“Have you called Lindsay yet?” Dizzy asked, already knowing the answer.
“I’ll do that tomorrow, today was just too crazy.” I lied, knowing it had completely slipped from my mind. “Anyway, what were you going to share?”
“Eh, it’s not too important, it’ll just make you forget to call Lindsay again.” He teased with a smile.
“Come on!” I pressured in a whine.
“Alright,” He sighed. “I’m worried I was a little too hard on Ky.” He confessed. “Not that what he said to you was okay.” He quickly clarified.
“I get it.” I nodded my head. “He was just worried about you.”
“Yeah.” Dizzy thought it over once more. “He just has to learn to accept your role in my life. That I’m not going to go to him to fix everything anymore. That’s kind of what I like about you.”
“That I fix things?” I asked, not understanding his point.
“No,” He quickly rejected. “that you’re so thoughtful, and sweet, and you treat every problem like it’s your own. You just always get where I’m coming from and I don’t know, it makes me only want to go to you.”
“Then maybe you should tell him that.” I encouraged. “Just not exactly in that way.”
“That’s the hard part!” Dizzy exclaimed. “My best friend still has feelings for my boyfriend! And anything I say just makes it feel like I’m rubbing that in his face!”
“I know.” I supported, trying to keep a calm voice. “It’s a hard conversation to have, but you have to have it. Even if it feels like you’re rubbing it in his face. He has to know you’re taken care of.”
“Will you be upset if I go hang out with him for a little while after school?” Dizzy asked in a cautious voice.
“You don’t need my permission.” I couldn’t help but laugh. “Besides, I have baseball practice.”
“Maybe we’ll come watch.” He teased with a smirk.
“Alright boys!” Adam called out from down the hall. “It’s time for Dizzy to come back downstairs.”
“But we haven’t even spoken about important stuff yet.” Dizzy complained in a groan.
“Like what?” I asked as he slowly pulled away from me.
“Like how you were acting before.” He forced out. “It, it was concerning.”
“I just needed some space is all.” I shrugged. “It’s all still kind of hard for me.”
“I know.” Dizzy accepted as he gently grabbed my hand. “You can talk to me about it whenever you need.” He offered in a caring voice.
“I will.” I quickly nodded my head.
“Good,” He forced a smile. “and no checking on me tonight. Get an actual good night’s sleep, we have school tomorrow.” He complained.
“Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.” I swayed my head.
“Dizzy!” Adam shouted again.
“I’m coming! I’m coming!” Dizzy yelled back as he finally crawled off my bed and to the hall. “He may be a good guardian, but he hates fun.” Dizzy groaned as he disappeared out of my doorway.
I smiled at his words before eventually getting up and ready for bed, making sure to stop downstairs to give Dizzy a proper goodnight. Something that Adam made sure to loosely monitor from the kitchen. He can put on the strict act all he wants, I know he’s thrilled with me and Dizzy. I know he’s happy to have Dizzy staying here. To have someone who cares so much about me around.
That night sleep came easy, but the dream I had, well it left me stunned. There I sat in the passenger seat of our old jeep, driving through the empty Texas desert with my mother. Reliving one of the last few memories with her I had.
“So,” I began as I watched our small town starting to disappear in the distance. “where are we off to?”
“I don’t know.” Mom tried to play dumb. “You tell me.”
“Dallas?” I guessed with a hopeful smile. “You’re finally taking me into the city?”
“You wish.” She laughed, glancing over to me then back to the road. “I’m not sure you’re too ready for a big city.”
“Yeah.” I accepted in a sigh. “But soon?”
“Soon.” She nodded her head. “For now, we’re going to go enjoy nature.”
“So the mountains then.” I guessed in even more excited voice.
“Something like that.” She smiled. “I promise it’ll be worth the trip out.”
“Alright.” I accepted, looking down at the book I was holding. “Why didn’t we bring Sadie?”
“You know she’s not a big fan of the outdoors.” Mom pointed out. “Besides, I like spending the evening with my best friend.”
“Me too.” I agreed as I felt my smile grow. I noticed her watch me out of the corner of her eye as I played with the book in my hands.
“I still don’t understand how you don’t get car sick from that.” She observed as I found my place in the thick novel.
“What can I say? I’ve got an iron stomach.” I teased in a laugh.
“That’s such a lie.” She shook her head. “You can barely handle anything remotely spicy!”
“That’s because your food either doesn’t have any spice, or it only has spice!” I jokingly complained. “That stuff should come with a warning!”
“You’re a southern boy.” She shrugged her shoulders. “You need to learn how to handle your spices.”
“No thanks.” I shot down as I made a disgusted face. “I’m good with the whole farming thing for now.”
“You do really like that.” She nodded her head. “Think you’ll be a farmer when you grow up? You are really good with animals.”
“Maybe.” I swayed my head. “But I, I think I want to teach. I could even teach biology and stuff, I could teach about animals.”
“Arthur Price I think that’s a fantastic idea.” She encouraged in an excited voice. “Don’t rule out teaching English either. Imagine getting to read books with your own class.”
“That’d be so much fun!” I exclaimed as I caught onto her excitement. “And I could always just keep a chicken coop of my own or something like that.”
“I’ll even help you build it.” She supported. “So long as you stay around here. Don’t let no pretty girl pick you up and whisk you away from me.”
“Never.” I quickly agreed.
“Even the prettiest girl in Texas?” She asked, glancing over to me.
“Even the prettiest girl in the country.” I nodded my head. “Besides, I don’t want a girl that would make me leave my Mom. What does that say about her?”
“I don’t know,” Mom answered with a proud smile. “but I think it means I’ve raised you right.”
“You did an alright job.” I played along before looking down and finally starting to read.
“Woah, Woah,” Mom called out. “You know the rules, if you’re going to read around me, you’re going to read out loud.”
“Yes Ma’am.” I happily agreed before starting to loudly read the words off the page.
Time seemed to fly by from there. It’s funny, I know she doesn’t care for fantasy books, but not once did she stop me. Mom let me read as much as I want, for as long as I wanted. Until finally, we reached an open field near the mountain she wanted.
“You’re taking me star gazing again, aren’t you?” I asked as we pulled into a dark field.
“You know it.” She cheerfully answered. “Why? Disappointed?”
“Not at all!” I exclaimed as she threw the car in park. As we both went to get out she made sure to hand me the bag she had tried her hardest to keep secret from me.
“Set it up little man.” She encouraged, eager to see if I would do it right.
I froze up a bit at first, before snapping into action and setting up the blanket the way I had seen her a thousand times before. First the lantern on the ground, then the big old tattered blanket and finally the bug spray and radio!
“You’re forgetting something.” She provoked, gesturing back towards the bag.
“Am I?” I asked, reaching back in to find a plastic container at the bottom. “Of course.” I couldn’t help but smile as I pulled out a package of chocolate chip cookies.
“You’re favorite.” She smiled, taking a seat on the blanket.
“Thank you.” I couldn’t help but let out as I took the seat next to her.
“You deserve it.” She supported but hesitated as she saw the short sleeve shirt I was wearing. “Did you bring a jacket like I told you?”
“I’m alright.” I lied as the cool night air began to take over.
“You’re so full of it.” She shook her head, before pulling me in close. “I guess I’m stuck keeping you warm.”
“I guess so.” I shrugged, comfortably laying into my Mother. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” She said without hesitation as we looked up to the star filled night sky. We both grew quiet as she turned on the radio, but I never bothered to scoot away from her. Most boys my age wouldn’t be caught dead this close to their mother, but not me. She’s always been there for me, and I’ll never be embarrassed of that. Besides right now, well, it’s like heaven.
“Time to wake up!” A voice shouted, ripping me out of my dream as the bed under me began to shake.
“No!” I exclaimed in a panicked voice, before I could even piece together what was happening. “No!” I grumbled, as my body started to force me awake. “No.” I exhaled one more time in a defeated voice.
“Woh,” Dizzy backed off as he heard the pain in my voice. “you alright?”
I stayed quiet as I looked over to the hand drawn picture of me and my Mom then buried my face back into my pillow. “Come on Artie,” Dizzy tried to encourage. “talk to me.”
I took another few moments before finally picking my head back up. “There’s nothing to talk about.” I dismissed as I slowly sat up in my bed.
“It doesn’t feel that way.” Dizzy said, watching me closely. “Was it a bad dream?”
“Something like that.” I mumbled, getting to my feet and heading over to my dresser.
“You’ve got to give me something here.” Dizzy pleaded as his concerns began to take over. “Or, or I’m calling Adam.”
“You’re going to tell my uncle on me?” I asked in an unamused voice.
“I don’t want to.” Dizzy argued, trying his hardest to force eye contact. “But if I have to, I will.”
“It was just a dream alright?” I began to snap as I finally looked at him. “For once could you just give me a little space?”
“I, yeah,” Dizzy hesitated as he took a few steps back. “sorry, I’m, I’m just gonna go sit downstairs and wait for you.”
I let out a deep breath as he quickly made his way out of the door and down the hallway. My dream seemed to haunt me as I got changed while guilt slowly dripped into my mind from yelling at Dizzy. Good job Artie, way to take it out on one of the people that have been there for you since you got here! I made sure to take a few more minutes to calm myself down before finally making my way down the stairs.
“Sorry.” I began as I saw Dizzy quietly sitting and staring off. “I didn’t mean any of that, I’m just, overwhelmed.”
“It’s alright.” He quietly let out. “I get it.”
“No, seriously,” I began to insist. “I really didn’t mean that.”
“It’s fine I can be a lot,” He started to put himself down. “I’ll work on it.”
“Don’t.” I comforted, taking a seat on the coffee table across from him. “That, it’s what I like about you. I like always having you around. I just, I took something out on you I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.”
“Can you at least tell me what it was?” Dizzy asked, looking up into my eyes.
“I had a dream about my Mom.” I finally confessed. “But I really don’t want to talk about it.”
“I understand.” He nodded and rose to his feet. “We should leave before we’re late.”
“Wait.” I let out, before quickly standing up and pulling him in close. “I’m sorry.” I repeated once more. “I’m really sorry. I really like you. Everything about you.”
“It’s okay.” He accepted as he held me tightly. “Sometimes I forget this all just happened to you. You just seem to take it so well most of the time, that I guess I don’t realize you could use some space.”
I nodded and let my head rest on his shoulder for a few moments. “I wish you could’ve met her.” I finally spoke.
“I do too.” He agreed as he slowly pulled away and grabbed my hand. “We should get going though, I don’t think she would want you to be late for school.”
“You really want to go to school today.” I teased as I grabbed my bag with my spare hand.
“I really don’t want detention today.” He corrected. “Besides, how would your coach take it if you missed practice for detention?”
“Good point.” I accepted as we both began to move a little faster. Yet, as we walked through the park we both couldn’t help but slow down. We fell quiet and just let the city speak for us.
When we finally made it to school we had a few minutes to spare. Sometimes I really don’t know what would happen if I didn’t live right around the corner! As we walked through homeroom I noticed Ky’s head immediately shoot up.
“Sorry.” He began before anyone could say anything.
“It’s alright.” Dizzy accepted, taking a seat next to him as I sat with Charlotte. “I’m sorry too, I, we were all just on edge.”
“Way too on edge.” I agreed, turning back to look at them both.
“We shouldn’t be taking this out on each other.” Dizzy lectured in a confident voice. “So, we’re sorry too.”
“Let’s all just forget about it?” Ky asked with a hopeful look.
“Yup.” I happily accepted.
“Why don’t we hang out after school?” Dizzy asked as he focused his attention on Ky. “Just us.”
“Yeah?” Ky asked, caught off guard by the question. “Artie can come too if you guys want.”
“Eh, he get’s annoying after a while.” Dizzy teased, lightly pushing my seat forward with his foot.
“You guys have a nice afternoon to yourselves.” I encouraged. “I have baseball anyway.”
“So, then I get left alone?” Charlotte complained as I looked back over to her.
“You really want to put up with them?” I asked, knowing exactly what the answer would be.
“Shut up Artie.” She playfully dismissed. I went to say something but had to flash her a wink as Ms. Mowry started homeroom. She doesn’t know everything that’s happened over the past couple of days, but I’ve texted her enough to piece it together. Don’t get me wrong, I totally respected Dizzy’s privacy, but I needed someone to vent to! Besides, she probably just thinks he fought with his mom and needs a place to stay for a bit.
Out of all my school days so far, somehow this one seemed to be the calmest. A few people asked Dizzy about the bruises on his face, but he just turned it into a joke. At first, he told people he got a little too handsy with me, but I shot that one down before it could get around! Eventually he settled on the story he had originally told me and Adam. He was out tagging and ran into the wrong people. Just as I had thought, no one questioned it, and honestly, I don’t think anyone actually cared. They’re all too concerned with their own appearances to be worried about Dizzy Armstrong’s.
When baseball rolled around it was a welcomed change. I left everything behind and just practiced. The dream about my Mom, snapping at Dizzy, Adam keeping secrets, none of it seemed to matter when I was out on that field. The only thing that was on my mind was getting better. When Jose talked me into joining the team he said it was just for fun, but that’s not how I see it now. We may not be that great a team, but I want to win! It’s a huge longshot we’ll make it to the state championship, but if we could at least qualify for the playoffs I’ll be happy!
I took the walk home from practice a little slower than usual. I’ve needed some quiet time to really think things over, and I guess this is my best chance! Yet even then, I just couldn’t keep my thoughts straight. I know I was thinking a lot about my Mom last night, but did I really have to dream about her? As if this hasn’t been hard enough, my head has to go and make it even harder?
“Hey,” Adam greeted as I finally made it home. “how was practice?”
“Fine.” I answered, looking at him then away. “Dizzy’s not home yet?”
“No, should he be?” Adam asked, as I watched him slowly grow concerned.
“He’s with Ky.” I shook my head. “I just didn’t know how long they were hanging out for.”
“Oh, that’s good.” Adam nodded. “Everything with you okay?”
“Yeah,” I cautiously answered, worried that Dizzy had actually reached out to him about this morning. “why?”
“You just seem more worn out than usual.” He observed, starting to watch me closely. “Why don’t you come hang out for a little while?”
“I should probably shower and start some homework.” I exhaled, trying to find the best excuse possible.
“Just come sit for a little bit.” Adam insisted, keeping his eyes on me. “I have something I want to talk to you about.”
“Alright.” I reluctantly accepted, finally looking into his eyes.
“Still mad at me?” He asked with a small smile as I took my usual seat on the couch.
“I’m not mad.” I shrugged. “I just don’t know why you’re still keeping secrets.”
“And I don’t know why you won’t just ask what you want to know.” He pressured, but I stayed quiet. “Because that’s kind of what I’m hoping to get to the bottom of right now.”
“Then that’s up to you.” I replied, refusing to give in.
He let out a deep breath as he continued to watch me. “I’m not a mind reader.” He finally began. “I can’t just magically predict what you want to know, and last time I waited for you to come forward with stuff. Well you kind of had a breakdown.”
“I didn’t have a breakdown.” I lied, looking away once more. “And it’s not like I didn’t ask stuff before that. You just refused to answer.”
“I know, and I’m trying to learn from that. So, here’s your chance.” He explained, but I stayed quiet. “So, then what’s the plan here?” He asked, refusing to let up. “Sulk around here angry at me for questions I don’t know?”
“It’s been a long day,” I began in an unamused voice. “and you’re really pushing my buttons right now.”
He let out a short laugh as I grew serious with him for the first time, but quickly covered it up. “I’m sorry, I just,” He paused to think it over. “I don’t say anything, and you get mad at me. I give you the chance to ask things and you still get mad. It’s like I can’t win with you right now.”
“Fine,” I grumbled as I looked back up at him. “it’s shitty that after we had that whole big talk about letting each other in, that you left me on the outside again. That it even had to get to this point for you to finally let me ask things.” I began to rant. “I mean you always tell me about how everyone in Texas left me in the dark, but here you are doing the same thing!”
“That might be the first time I’ve heard you curse.” He observed as my words bounced around his head.
“Forget it.” I groaned, but as I went to stand up he reached out to grab me.
“Sit.” He instructed, finally starting to take me seriously. “You’re mad that I wasn’t up front with you about something right away?” He asked as I nodded my head. “I’m sorry,” He apologized. “but you have to understand that’s just how I am. It wasn’t anything personal, and it’s not like I don’t trust you. I just, I want to keep you safe, you know?”
“Yeah.” I finally began to relax but kept my eyes down.
“From now on, when you feel you’re ready, come to me and I promise I’ll be more open. I mean it this time too.” He insisted but let out a deep breath as he thought over his next few words. “If I had to guess what your question is about, it’s about that old picture of me and your Mom outside that barn.”
“So you did know the question?” I asked, looking back up at him.
“I had a feeling.” He confessed. “But I wanted to hear you ask about it before I said anything.”
“Why?” I couldn’t help but let out.
“It’s just a big question I guess.” Adam stalled as he began to anxiously tap his fingers against the couch. “I mean, I’m amazed Sadie even included that picture in the first place. I don’t know if she didn’t see it or what, then again I could’ve been less obvious about the whole damn thing.”
“Stop stalling.” I warned, just wanting my answer already. “Who was that man with you?”
Adam hesitated, but as I finally looked up locked eyes with me. “He’s your dad.” Adam confessed. “His name is Ezra, and we all grew up together.”
“Oh.” I exhaled, getting the answer my mind had already come to. “What was he like?”
“He was a good guy growing up.” Adam swayed his head. “Could be a little manipulative from time to time, but he and I were pretty close.” I nodded my head but stayed quiet. “He showed his true colors when he found out Sarah was pregnant though. Said he’d stick around then just up and left with no warning.”
“You hate him for that?” I couldn’t help but ask.
“Yeah.” He confessed, breaking eye contact with me. “He left you and Sarah when you guys needed him the most. I can never forgive him for that.”
I gulped hard as it all raced around in my head. “I don’t think I can either.” I finally spoke up.
“You have every right to feel that way.” He supported as he looked back at me.
“Would you have been there if she asked you to?” I forced out as my heart began to race.
“If I could’ve been.” He nodded his head.
“Then why didn’t you write back?” I asked, finally speaking the words that had really been bothering me. The truth is, I only cared about learning who Ezra was. I always knew what my feeling about him would be. I always knew, name or not, I couldn’t forgive him for abandoning us. But Adam not writing back after my Mom reached out? It just makes me feel, betrayed.
“What?” Adam let out, shocked by the question.
“When my Mom wrote to you,” I managed out in a shaky voice. “why didn’t you write back?”
“Who told you she wrote to me?” He asked, but I refused to answer. “Artie, I, is that why you’ve been mad at me?”
“I meant it when I said I didn’t like you keeping secrets,” I explained as my eyes fell once more. “but this, I, it’s just bothering me.” I exhaled. “Like, a lot.”
“Okay.” He quietly said but grew silent as he leaned back in his seat.
“I shouldn’t’ve’ asked.” I started to back off as I saw how hard the question was hitting him. “Just, forget I said anything.”
“No, it’s alright.” He replied, trying his hardest to snap out of the spell he had suddenly fallen under. “I just, I forgot she sent letters I guess.”
“You forgot?” I repeated, surprised by what I was hearing.
“Yeah.” He confirmed in another soft voice. “When I got those letters, I, I wasn’t the brother she knew.” He began to explain, trying his hardest to phrase it the best way possible. “I was changing, a lot. I had just moved in with the Rites, and I, I just wasn’t doing good.” He finally confessed. “Everything sucked. Sure, I wanted out of Texas, but I was getting thrown out. It just, wasn’t easy.”
“You don’t have to…”
“It’s okay.” He interrupted. “I want to answer your question.” He insisted, starting to finally find his rhythm. “Because I felt rejected from my family, and that meant by Sarah too. When I got the letters I expected an apology, and I guess I kind of got one, but she also told me I could still change. She insisted I could still be straight if I found God again, and I, I just couldn’t keep hearing that.” He exhaled in a heavy breath.
“I never stopped loving your Mom, but I needed space from her thinking. Just until I could find who I was again.” He explained, now confident in his words. “And when I finally got there, I just figured she was too busy with you to want to hear from me.”
“She wasn’t.” I shook my head, fighting off all the emotions swirling around within me.
“Hindsight is twenty-twenty.” He said, now trying his hardest to keep eye contact with me. “I’m sorry if you feel like I ignored your Mom, or if you feel like I ignored you. I just, I had to focus on myself for a while.”
“I shouldn’t’ve doubted you.” I decided as I began to piece it all together. “I, I’m sorry she rejected you.”
“Don’t be.” He quickly dismissed before I could say anything else. “She was the only person from Texas to reach out and see if I was okay. Everything she did was out of love, and that’s how I got you. I don’t know if she made peace with my sexuality or not, but she trusted me with you, and that’s the most love she ever could’ve shown me.”
I nodded but struggled to fend off yet another question. “How soon after getting kicked out did you leave Texas?”
Once more he took a moment to think. “I only had to stay a day or two, but it was enough for word to get around.” He clarified. “I’ll never forget that. Everywhere I went, people just gave me the most disgusted looks. Stores and restaurant wouldn’t even let me in. The only reason the hotel did was because they needed the money.”
“How did you handle that?” I let out without thinking.
“Not well at first,” He shook his head. “not well for a while actually. But eventually you have to make an important decision. Are you living your life for them, or for yourself? They can judge me all they want, this is my life, and I’m going to live it how I want.”
“I’m sorry,” Was all I could think to say as I realized how hard it must’ve been. “and thank you, I, I don’t know where I’d be without you.”
“Well I don’t know where I’d be without you.” He reflected as he forced a smile. “I’m sorry you felt like I don’t trust you. I,” He let out a nervous laugh as once more he found himself hesitating before he spoke. “I don’t exactly let people in easy, but you, you broke down that wall faster than anyone else in my life.”
I nodded my head as I realized just how close we had grown in just over a month. I know I just met him, but I’d be completely lost without him. “Well you picked me up when I was at my lowest,” I began, growing nervous myself. “I owe you so much for that.”
“You really have to stop saying that.” He shook his head. “You don’t owe me a damn thing.” He rejected, standing up and stepping forward to give me a hug. Without hesitation I accepted.
It’s funny, a few weeks ago we were so awkward about hugging one another, but right now it feels, it feels like what my dream felt like. If I thought I was going to give him a good dinner with Mason before, well now I’m going to give him the best of his life! Because he deserves to be happy. He deserves a good boyfriend. He deserves to be taken care of, instead of taking care of everyone else.