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Beards - 12. Chapter Eleven

Ava stirred beside me. After having our talk, I decided to just spend the rest of the night here. Going home wasn’t worth the struggle. Mom wouldn’t notice until breakfast anyway. Snoring softly as she tossed around, Ava cuddled close to me. I hadn’t been able to sleep. My mind wouldn’t stop racing. Her clock on the nightstand shone brightly in the dark room. 5:25.

Ava’s warmth radiated through my body. I gently placed my arm around her. If only it would be this easy. Having a girlfriend and being normal. My family would see a girl by my side and think that everything was okay. No need for an escape plan. Just living out my days in Meadowbrook with a wife and kids and a job I hated.

I wish it could be like that. I wish these feelings would just go away. The kiss would just become a figment of my imagination. Rob would truly be just a friend. Nothing more. Everything would be okay again.

But it wasn’t like that. I didn’t chose to be this way. No one would. Not in Meadowbrook. Ava understood that. Eventually my parents would have to. I was their kid. Whether they hated me or not, I needed to be honest with them. Tell them who I really was.

Oh God. I felt like I was going to throw up. Just the thought of telling them made my stomach turn. Everything started spinning. Sweat dripped down my face. I couldn’t be in this bed anymore. Or in this house. This town. I needed to get away.

Carefully pulling myself away from Ava, I hopped out the window and ran down the street. My feet padded against the concrete, echoing between the houses. The sun had barely began to rise. A soft glow of warm orange and pink filled the sky. Still I ran. Past my house. Past the diner. Past Rob’s. Past the Now Leaving Meadowbrook sign. I kept running until my feet wouldn’t take me any further.

Pink faded to blue as the sun inched higher in the sky. I plopped down in the grass on the side of the road. No cars drove by. No birds chirping in the branches of the oak trees. Not even a bug crawled by as I laid there.

“What should I do?” I don’t know why I expected some kind of answer. “God? Anyone?" No one was out there. Completely alone in the world. My phone vibrated.

Mom: Where are you!?

“Just lying on the side of the road wishing I was dead. Don’t worry.” If only I could say what I really thought. Moms are sensitive creatures.

Me: Went to Ava’s. Sorry, Mom. Be home as soon as I can.

Her response was instantaneous.

Mom: Okay. Just tell me next time please. You know I worry.

She must have been genuinely concerned about me last night. Sometimes I forgot that they were actual caring people not the monsters my mind turned them into. Muscles ached as I dragged my feet back home. What seemed like minutes earlier, now felt like hours as I made the journey through town. The diner was already picking up for the early bird breakfast rush. Cars filled the parking lot, including Rob’s in the back.

My feet guided me to the front door as my mind protested. No! He doesn’t want to see me. Still they didn’t listen. My fingers wrapped around the handle and pulled the door open.

“Hey, honey. What are you doing here?” Pauline gave me a big hug as the door snapped shut behind me. “You’re not working today.”

My heart pounded hard as I saw him behind the counter, rushing through the kitchen. I almost forgot Pauline was standing in front of me.

“Just needed some breakfast. No one else at home was awake so I figured I stop in.” Pauline led me to a table in the back. She was one of Dick’s oldest employees, serving with him since the diner opened. She was like a second Mom to all of us.

“Don’t worry sweetie. I’ll make sure you’re taken care of. Want me to tell Rob you’re here?” Oxygen seemed to be in short supply. My lungs could barely get enough. Just hearing his name almost killed me.

“No!” Pauline looked taken aback. “No, that’s okay. You guys are busy. I’ll just take some coffee when you get a free minute.” Rob was in the zone. He moved from station to station running circles around the other cook. I could tell just watching his head bounce around the window.

Pauline smiled warmly, easing some of my anxiety. “I’ll always make time for you.” She squeezed my shoulders and bustled through the dining room like a pro.

All the customers loved her. We all did too. She treated all of us employees like we were one of her kids. Birthday cards on our birthdays. Having the right medicine when we got sick at work. Listening to our problems. She was the best.

“Creamer, Bryan?” Her voice carried through the dining room and kitchen. Rob looked up for a split second. His eyes immediately found me. My face burst into flames. Then he looked away. Acting like I didn’t even exist. Like I was some stain on the chair.

“Yes, please.” I was determined to fix this somehow. Just get him to talk to me. Or look at me without disgust. Steam rose from the cup as Pauline set it in front of me. She even added some whipped cream and chocolate syrup to the cup. “Thank you, Pauline. You’re the best.”

“You’re welcome. You looked like you needed it.” She gave me a knowing look, setting her tray down and sitting across from me. “You want to talk about it?”

My stomach fluttered as I took a sip. Coffee felt good as it warmed my whole body. Filling me with energy. Something I desperately needed. No sleep was starting to take a toll as I sat. “Yes. And no.”

“Come on, baby. There’s nothing you can tell me that I probably don’t already know.” She smiled reassuringly, straightening the silverware on the table. “Mothers know everything.”

“It’s a big secret. Only one other person knows about it.” I don’t know what I was thinking. My mind was a thousand minutes ahead of where I was. Somehow this felt like the moment. “Well, two I guess.”

“You can tell me anything.” My heart raced. I wasn’t sure if it was the coffee or my fear. Or a wicked combination of both. It felt like it was working in overdrive.

“Pauline, I-I’m gay.” Pauline didn’t say anything. Just smiled and chuckled to herself. “What’s so funny?”

“That’s your big secret?” I nodded my head, not able to look her in the eye. “Oh child, please.” She pushed my head up to face her. “I’ve known that since day one.”


“Honey, come on.” Still in shock, I couldn’t think straight. Pun intended. “It’s just part of you. Not a big deal.”

My mind battled between feeling relieved and horrified. My deep, dark secret was a known fact to someone who barely knew me. Did other people know? Rob figured it out. Ava figured it out. Now Pauline? Was I the talk of the town?

She watched me cautiously as everything played out in my mind. Everyone talking about the gay kid. Nasty things were probably thought about me. Like those guys the other day. “Bryan, listen honey. You’re perfect. Being gay isn’t wrong.” Says who? “Sure this town is a little backwards but that doesn’t mean everyone in it is.” Yeah, sure. “Give people a chance.”

As Pauline talked me off the ledge, Rob watched us both from the kitchen. His expression steely. Eyes fixed on me, daggers flying. “Thanks Pauline. I’m sorry I just dumped this on you.”

“You’re fine, dear. I’m glad you opened up to me.” She pulled me into a strong hug, cracking my bones as she squeezed. “Maybe you should go say hi to Rob.”

Something in her voice and expression made me think she knew something. The little wink and mischievous smile.

“Yeah, maybe I will.” Rob turned away as I waved at him. “On second thought, maybe not.” Pauline laughed, waving bye as she fluttered around the dining room again.

Time to man up. This wouldn’t get any easier. Whether he hated me or not, I was going to talk to him. Hopefully, I didn’t throw up.

Copyright © 2017 robertlee; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments

What a way to burst Bryan’s bubble!  ;-)


Of course Pauline knew! Your coworkers see you in lots of unguarded moments. Sometimes, you spend more time with them than your own family!  ;-)


They see who you react to – and how you react. They see you interact with your other coworkers. They also see how your coworkers react to you when you’re not paying attention!  ;-)


Pauline will be less surprised than most when Bryan and Rob finally deal with their issues and start dating…  ;-)



Oh, and a link to a series of photographs showing what people looked like when they were drinking heavily and what they look like now that they’ve quit.

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Come on, Bryan. Don't listen to your brain so much. In this case listen to your heart. It is always fun to have the kids from Meadowbrook drop by. Thanks.

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The things our minds do us...and the tricks a mind can play when we're stressed.


We've all been there one way or another, causing us to make choices that aren't necessarily rational.


Not always easy to man up n fix em


I'm enjoying your story with these short unusual chapters :hug:

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