Gus glanced down at the tiny clock on the corner of his monitor and watched as the time changed from 3:11 to 3:12. Please, stay out just a little longer. He thought desperately. Stay with your friends. Just leave me alone.
For the past few years, whenever his sister came home from school, she ended up spending much of her time with her best friends, Joel and Mei. When he was a bit younger, Gus would almost feel jealous at all the attention Jocelyne gave her friends over him. Doesn’t she know I miss her just as much as they do? He used to wonder.
But everything was different now… and not just because Jocelyne’s friends were expecting a baby boy in a few months. With everything he’d been going through, the last thing Gus wanted was attention. He’d tried to be better lately – act more normal. Anything to get his family to stop prying.
But nothing seemed to stop them. They were still being way too nice to him. Asking him how we was doing. Giving him endless “I’m here if you ever need to talk” speeches. It was driving him crazy. If he’d wanted to talk to them, didn’t they know he would have done it by now?
And ever since Jocelyne arrived home the day before, the way she’d looked at him made him nervous, and uneasy. She’s not gonna drop it. She’s gonna bug me about it too. He knew she would.
And sure enough, the sound of a soft knock reached his ears. Jocelyne was back, right on time.
“Gus?” His sister’s soft voice was muffled slightly by the door. “Can we talk for a minute?”
A feeling of dread washed over him at the sound.
Clara walked the length of the living room again and again as the minutes ticked by. Where the hell is she? Lena was nearly twenty minutes late already. Quit banging your girlfriend and come see me!
When Clara had first told Lena that she’d be attending uni nearly three hours away from Windenburg, her friend was quick to express her displeasure. “You’re abandoning me? Wow, thanks bitch. I love you too.” Even years later, Clara still got a hearty laugh every time she thought of it.
But everything changed about two years ago, when Lena met Ashlyn one weekend on a visit to Falkenburg. All of a sudden, Lena didn’t mind the distance so much anymore. It was rather convenient having her girlfriend and best friend in the same place.
And usually, it was convenient for Clara too. She got along really well with Ashlyn, and the three of them often went out together during Lena’s visits. Sometimes they even let Jocelyne tag along with him.
But days like today, when Clara needed her best friend – just her – it didn’t feel so convenient anymore.
At last, Clara heard the sound of the opening front door.
“Honey, I’m home!” A loud, joking voice called from around the corner.
Clara felt a wave of comfort wash over her at the sound.
Gus shifted uncomfortably in his seat and watched as Jocelyne feigned interest in his fish tank.
“How’s the Fellowship doing?” She asked.
It was all he could do not to roll his eyes. Jocelyne may have been a skilled actress, but Gus could always tell when his sister was lying or hiding something.
“Still going strong.” His own smile was just as forced as hers. “Gimli had some kind of weird scale thing last week, but Opa Diego bought these special drop things for the water. I guess it helped.”
“That’s great! You’re lucky his office is so close to that exotic pet store.”
“Yeah… Real lucky.” Gus hated this forced small talk, and something told him his sister was getting sick of it too. He watched as her smile very slowly faded from her face.
“Gus… What’s going on?” She asked at last.
He could feel all the blood drain from his face. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He replied much too quickly as he rose to his feet and turned away from her.
“Yes, you do.” Jocelyne insisted. “You haven’t been yourself since the summer. And I can tell this is way more than being bummed about Emma. We all know it, Gus. This has been going on for way too long. We’re all so worried, and we want to help you. But you need to tell us what’s going on. Please.”
“Just leave me alone, okay?” Gus snapped angrily at her. To his surprise, he felt his eyes begin to well up with tears as he spoke. “I’ve told maman, Papa, Oma, Opa… I’ve said it a thousand times.” His voice grew louder and louder with every word. “Are you all deaf or something?! I’m fine!”
Jocelyne remained calm, despite his sudden outburst. “Gus, do you even hear yourself?” She asked gently. “You’re not fine.”
Clara had to blink back the hot sting of tears from her eyes as she finally broke away from her friend’s embrace. “God, I missed you so much.” She said seriously.
“Me too.” Lena agreed. “I’ve been working like a freaking dog ever since summer… I would have visited sooner, if I could.”
“I know. It’s fine. I’m just so happy you’re here – you have no idea.” She paused for a moment, looking her friend up and down. “Did you seriously dye your hair? Again?” She laughed.
“Oh, and who are you to talk?” Her friend teased. “I’m pretty sure you’ve been through every color of the rainbow… Twice.”
“No, still no green. Or blonde!” Clara corrected her with a small wink as they headed toward the couch. Just having Lena there with her was already making her happier than she’d felt in weeks.
Unfortunately, her happiness was short-lived.
“Clara, what the hell are you wearing?” Lena looked down at Clara’s outfit as though noticing it for the first time.
She shrugged. “Clothes?” Lena raised an eyebrow at her words. “I don’t see why it’s a big deal. It’s comfortable.” Clara forced a smile and hoped she sounded casual.
“Yeah, and it makes you look like a fucking whale. Or… have you actually…? No offense or anything.” She added quickly. “But… wow. I thought Americans called it the freshman fifteen, Clara. Aren’t you a few years late?”
Under any other circumstances, Clara would have taken the teasing in stride.
Instead, she burst into tears.
“Jesus, Clara! What the fuck?!”
I’m such a goddamn pussy. Fuck these hormones! Somehow, the thought simply made her cry harder. It was a good two minutes before she’d calmed down enough to choke out “It’s nothing. I’m fine.”
“Bull. Fucking. Shit.”
When Gus remained silent, Jocelyne drew closer to him, smiling softly. “Gus, someone very special to me told me something really interesting.” She continued. “He said that we keep secrets when we’re afraid. Sometimes, we even keep them from the people closest to us. And I can tell you’re hiding something, Gus. I can tell you’re scared.” The girl paused for a moment, her smile fading slightly. “You’re not telling us what’s really going on, are you?”
Gus still said nothing as his heart began to pound harder and harder in his chest.
“So, if you’re afraid, I need you to know that you don’t have to be. I love you. And whatever’s going on, I’ll help you through it.”
The young boy just shook his head. “No one can help me.” His voice was barely above a whisper. “No one.”
“Why not? What’s wrong? You can tell me. It’s okay.”
Gus bit his lip. It’s now or never. Just do it. Don’t keep it in anymore. A tiny voice seemed to whisper in the back of his mind. He took a slow, deep breath and spoke the words aloud for the very first time.
“Jocelyne… I’m gay.”
“You are so fucking far from fine, Clara.” Lena continued, the irritation apparent on her face. “I’m supposed to be your best friend. So don’t you sit there and lie to me!”
Clara sniffled softly as she wiped the last of her tears from her eyes. Jocelyne had already weaseled the truth out of her a few days ago. So much for keeping this under wraps until I tell Florian… There’s no point in trying to hide it any longer, is there?
She took a slow, deep breath. “I’m pregnant, okay?” Her voice was so quiet, Clara almost struggled to hear it herself.
“I’m pregnant.” She repeated.
For a moment, Jocelyne’s eyes widened in surprise. Clearly that hadn’t been the answer she’d been expecting.
Gus felt like he couldn’t breathe as he waited for her to say something, anything.
“Come here.” She said at last, closing the distance between them and wrapping her long, slender arms around her brother.
Gus felt a sudden rush of so many emotions crashing down on him. Fear and shame… But happiness too. Relief. He buried his face into his sister’s shoulder and wept.
She held him for a long time, whispering gently in his ear over and over again. “I love you. It’s okay.”
When the tears finally stopped, Gus and Jocelyne ended up sitting on his bed together. His sister said nothing, and almost appeared to be waiting for him to speak. So he did.
“I’ve never said it out loud before.” Gus almost laughed. “That actually felt pretty good.”
“I’m so happy.” His sister replied seriously. She reached out and gave his shoulders a small squeeze. “I’m glad you told me, Gus. Don’t ever be afraid to just be you, okay?”
He nodded. “It’s a little easier said than done.” Gus admitted, though he relished in the feeling of the weight that had been lifted from his shoulders. “But… Thanks. For not like, freaking out, or judging me, or…” He shrugged slightly, his cheeks growing warm.
The more the thought about it, the more ashamed he felt at imagining that his sister would react with anything but love and acceptance. She’s not like that.
“I would never.” Jocelyne smiled. “And neither would Luc, or Clara, or maman and Papa, or Oma and Opa… Don’t be afraid, Gus. We all love you. No matter what.”
“I know. It’s just really scary. I’m still kinda figuring it all out and stuff.” Gus felt his embarrassment returning. “It’s not exactly easy to talk about… And I guess it’s not really them I’m most worried about.” He confessed.
Jocelyne could tell in an instant exactly who he was talking about. “Of course. That’s why you broke up with Emma.” She said slowly. “But she doesn’t know, does she?”
“What the fuck?! No way! No fucking way!” Lena was practically beside herself. “You’re joking. You’re not serious.”
“I am.” Clara replied seriously. “How do you feel about being Tante Lena?”
Her friend’s eyes simply widened. “Well, shit. I don’t know!” She confessed. “Am I supposed to be panicking? Or excited?” For a moment, she appeared to be searching Clara’s face for some sort of clue.
“Maybe a little bit of both?” She said at last. “Oh, and by the way…” Clara hesitated for a moment. “It’s twins.”
“Oh, come on! Now I know you can’t be serious!”
“I swear to God, Lena. Two babies.” Clara shook her head slowly. “They’re even due around my birthday… More April babies.” She smiled slightly. Clara, Mari, Jocelyne, and Lucas were all born in April. And now I guess my kids will be too… Her smile widened at the thought.
Lena just laughed, then leaned forward to give her friend a quick hug. “This is just… crazy. Like, fucking nuts. Oh my God, Florian must have died when you told him!” She was practically shouting now, finally letting her excitement show. “How’s he feeling about being a Papa?”
The smile vanished instantly from Clara’s face. And moments later, Lena’s did the same.
“Oh God, he didn’t take it well, did he?” Her friend asked softly. “I was afraid of that…”
Clara shook her head. “N-no, it’s not that…” Her voice trembled slightly as she spoke.
It took only seconds for Lena to read her like an open book. “He doesn’t know?! Jesus fucking Christ, Clara!”
Gus did not even bother replying to his sister’s question. He knew it was rhetorical – of course Emma didn’t know.
“Oh, Gus.” Jocelyne sighed softly. “I know it’s not easy… But you really need to tell her. She has to know.”
He nodded slowly. “I know she does. And I wanna tell her. I really do. I just… can’t.”
“Emma loves you.” Jocelyne replied gently. “And I know you love her too. She’s your best friend. She’ll understand. She has to.”
“I know, I know, it’s just…” A small sigh escaped Gus’ lips. “I guess I’m kind of afraid she’ll think it’s like… her fault, or something. Like, she made me this way?” He shrugged helplessly. It sounded so ridiculous, but he really meant it. “I just can’t stand having her hate me any more than she already does…” Gus almost felt his tears returning.
“You’re so brave, Gus. I’m so glad you opened up to me.” She said seriously. “But if you’re not ready to talk to Emma yet, I get it. Just… Think about what I said, okay?”
Gus nodded. “I will.” He promised. And then, for just a moment, he actually smiled. “I guess if she does end up hating me, I’m not much worse off than I am now, huh?” She already wasn’t talking to him. How much worse could it get? It was a thought that made him want to laugh and cry at once. But this time, the laughter won.
Jocelyne let out a small laugh as well. “I guess that’s one way to look at it?” She replied with a smile. “You’ll figure it out, Gus. I know you will. Just… take your time.”
The boy’s smile slowly melted away. “I’ve taken enough time already.” He said softly, shaking his head. Before he even knew what was happening, the decision had been made. “This isn’t fair to her. I know it isn’t.” Gus closed his eyes for a moment and took a slow, deep breath. “I need to do it. I need to tell her.”
Clara felt a burst of anger rise up inside of her at Lena’s words. “You’re right, he doesn’t know.” She snapped. “Not that it’s any of your business… Because it’s not, Lena. So just stay out of it, okay?”
“I’m not gonna sit here and let this go. Why the hell haven’t you told him?!”
“I’m going to. I swear to God, I am.” Clara sighed, her expression softening. “Just… not yet.”
“That still doesn’t answer my question. Lena crossed her arms across her chest as she spoke.
She’s really gonna make me do this again, huh? Clara had already explained herself to her niece, who she’d failed to convince, no matter how hard she tried. Something told her Lena’s reaction would be even worse.
“Look, I just… I wanna tell him in person.” She said at last. “You know how Florian feels about kids. He’s never been too crazy about the idea. Not this soon.” Clara sighed. “And you know how important the band is to him. How’s he supposed to practice or record or tour with two screaming, slobbering babies to worry about? These kids are gonna fuck everything up for him.” Clara paused for a moment, her tears threatening to return.
“He had all these dreams, y’know? We both did. Traveling with the band, seeing the world… I’m basically destroying the poor guy’s life by keeping them…” She paused for a moment, shaking her head.
I’m letting him down… For the first time in my life, I’m letting him down. All Clara had ever wanted was to make Florian happy, to give him everything he wanted… Just like she knew she should. But this time, she’d put herself first. She’d thought only of what she wanted… Which was to have these babies. He’ll never forgive me.
“He loves me. I KNOW he loves me. But that won’t stop him from resenting me and these kids for the rest of his life. There’s no happy ending to this one, Lena. So yeah. Not exactly a conversation I want to have over the phone.”
For a moment, Lena almost looked disgusted. “What is wrong with you?! Yeah, he might flip. That’s a big possibility. But guess what? He’s gonna flip even worse when he finds out how long you waited to tell him!” She cried. “You said it yourself — He loves you, Clara. And if you really love him, you’ll tell him – now. Not later. And yeah, doing it over the phone will probably suck. But it’ll suck a hell of a lot less than waiting!”
Did she seriously not hear a word I said?! “You don’t get it, do you? I –”
“No, you don’t get it, Clara. This is a mistake. You have to see that! You need to trust him and you need to tell him the truth. Please.” Lena’s voice was pleading. “You’re better than this, Clara. I know you are. Even if your brain’s all fucked up with hormones or some shit, I know you can see that… Can’t you?”
Clara said nothing for a long time. She wanted to shout or scream or cry… But it was no use arguing. What good would it do?
After all, Lena was absolutely right. And so was Jocelyne, much as she hated admitting it. When she told him didn’t really matter, did it? She’d already let him down, maybe even ruined his life… Why make it worse by waiting?
“Goddamn it.” Clara sighed softly. “I’ll do it, okay? I’ll tell him.”