His mother rolled her eyes and sighed. “Okay, maybe I jumped the gun there. Didn’t let you come out on your own, but I figured this was what all the drama was about, right?”
She was right, mostly. Ethan bit his lip. This wasn’t how he wanted to announce it. Actually, he had never really thought of a way. In time, he thought he’d find a romantic partner. They’d start spending time together, and everyone would figure it out on their own without any uncomfortable scenes. After all, no one ever has a big scene to announce heterosexuality.
“Half-way, I’m getting some grief at school about not being masculine enough. Then Nana tells me some cryptic prediction about a glorious outcome, but first I have to remove obstacles and walk through the valley of death, or something. It didn’t make much sense.” He slowly shook his head, realizing half the things Nana said never made sense on the surface.
Clarity usually came after you’d experienced them, which was usually a tad too late. Sometimes, her predictions were akin to reading Nostradamus’ writings. They could mean anything, depending on who was interpreting.
His mother sat across from Ethan, looking concerned, but not disturbed. It didn’t matter to her if he was gay. He never thought it would matter due to her participation in the Pagan Community. There were groups within the network exclusively for Pagan males who were also gay. Most people would assume it was some sort of hookup club. Some men probably did date, but a gay Wiccan or gay Druid needed an entirely different type of support as opposed to being just being gay or just Wiccan.
His mother opened her mouth, then closed it, then gave him an apologetic look before mumbling, “I know what you mean. Mother utters these pronouncements with such certainty; I’m unwilling to ask her what she means. It always seems as if I should know.”
It amazed him to hear his mother’s words. He’d always assumed his mother understood Nana’s cryptic messages. They always sounded like lines from a poorly translated horror movie. Beware the one-legged man who swims at night. Take cover from the giant turtle that flies at high noon. It was hard to know if a person should be peering into bodies of water for a one legged man or if the message was symbolic. If so, what would it symbolize? He probably should ask his grandfather.
“Is grandfather home?” he asked, half-rising from his chair.
His mother stood quickly, grabbing his arm, possibly sensing his exit. “Not so quick, we aren’t done talking.”
Ethan shrugged his shoulders as he sat. “What is there to say? You’re cool with me being gay, and Nana gives out weird predictions that no one understands.” He hoped he struck the right level of casualness to calm his mother. Her eyes narrowed. That couldn’t be a good sign.
She folded her hands and leveled her sternest gaze on him. It was the ‘I’ll know if you are lying to me’ one. As a small child, he always believed his mother could see right through him like glass. He had told enough fibs to test this theory. She always knew. Perhaps she had magical abilities, maternal instincts, or he could just be a bad liar. It was probably a combination of the three.
“Tell me about the bullying. Does it happen online? Have you reported it to the school officials?” She reached for her purse and dumped it out. Finding her cellphone, she turned it on and began to search for a number.
Sweet Goddess, it was exactly what he’d feared. She’d call the school. Gripe at the principal. Tell him he wasn’t doing his job. He’d pull the bullies out of class and threaten them with expulsion. Why that would bother them, he had no clue. It wasn’t like any of them were shining stars at school. Still, they’d want retribution. He had to stop her.
Jumping up, he grabbed for her phone. “No.”
His mother started and jumped, as his leap for the phone sent both him and the phone crashing to the floor. Oomph. What else could he do to himself?
His mother kneeled beside him. “Are you okay?”
She seemed to be making a habit of that today. His abrupt landing rattled his teeth, making his head ache a bit more, but other than that, he was fine. Better than the phone though. The medium blue phone had split into two pieces. Maybe his mother wouldn’t notice.
Her eyes followed his gaze. “My phone!” Her shriek of dismay filled the kitchen. His cheek rested against the linoleum as he watched his mother try to reconnect the parts without any success. He certainly hadn’t meant to break her phone.
“Nora had sent me a text earlier about her and Clayton’s hand fasting. After a quickie courthouse wedding, she’s finally going to have a traditional ceremony. She asked me to look for a certain type of ribbon for her. I think that text was the ribbon photo.” Her mother stared at the phone as if wishing it whole again.
“I didn’t hear it chime.” Twisting to sit, he realized from his unexpected close inspection that the kitchen floor wasn’t as clean as he assumed. The phone was broken, losing the ribbon text. What else could go wrong today?
His mother placed the broken parts on the table. “Maybe your father can fix it.” Her expression looked doubtful.
Pushing to his feet, he wondered how to discourage his mother from talking to school officials and taking his life from moderately hazardous to downright scary. As much as he hated to do it, he’d have to bite the bullet. “Is Dad cool with me being gay?” He dropped back into his seat as if it was an everyday question, rather like ‘can I borrow twenty bucks for the movies?’
His mother’s absorption with her broken phone changed into the demeanor of a cornered animal. She did not want to talk about it. Well, he didn’t either. The alternative was his mother stirring things up at an already dysfunctional school. Their school mascot was a rebel running with a rifle. It could easily be mistaken for a redneck. Often opposing teams referred to it as just that. Instead of being offended, it usually pleased the students. One of the cheerleaders would usually yell a cheery reply such as, ‘This redneck is going to crush you.’ Ah, and to think his mother wanted to wade into that morass, quoting new laws and anti-bullying guidelines. So far, no one at the school knew his family was Pagan. His goal was to keep it that away.
“Well, your father…” his mother started. She wrung her hands and looked miserable. A person would think she’d lost her last friend.
He hated seeing her like this. “Stop, don’t say anything else.”
“I have to.” Her lips shut in an unyielding line.
If they were English, he’d make some comment about his mother keeping a stiff upper lip or soldiering on. Fifteen years taught him when his mother decided to do something she was doing it, no matter if it pained her.
“I think you know,” she tried to start again, gulping audibly. “Your father loves you, but he was brought up very strictly. They were not even allowed to play on Sundays.”
He’d heard the stories from his father. Currently his father’s father was little more than an aging hippie who made his own beer. Far away from the fire and brimstone preacher he used to be. He even joked about his former ‘stick up his butt’ attitude. “What of it?”
She cleared her throat again. It had to be something bad if it took that much throat clearing. “Well, he was raised that way. It rather took root in some ways. He tends to think of some things as just not being right.”
He always found it odd that his serious father had wooed a witch, but he did. Even though he married her, he still held onto his rigidness as if it were a lifejacket. The man tolerated his family’s unusual practices. Wait a minute. He got what his mother was trying to say.
“Oh, I get it. He thinks I’m bad because I am attracted to other guys.” He suspected as much. His behavior at the Pagan Pride Festival spoke volumes.
His mother’s mouth took on a pinched expression while the lines in her forehead deepened. “Not bad, exactly. Just, not right, not normal I guess. Whatever that means.”
He sighed since he knew exactly what it meant. “All those times he signed me up for various sports teams, he wanted me to be some super athlete. Why? Dad was no athlete. He’s not even that tall. Why do I have to be everything he wasn’t in school?”
He shot both hands through his hair, inadvertently hitting his bump. Inhaling deeply, he stifled a whimper. Wouldn’t that be exactly what a gay son would do? A straight son could take a knife to the thigh and not wince. He didn’t believe it for a second, but other people did. Stereotypes always seemed to carry more weight than reality.
His mother rubbed the bridge of her nose and muttered behind her hand. “He didn’t want an athlete as much as he didn’t want a gay son.” She sighed, placing her hands on the table. “It’s easy to judge your father harshly, but let me try to present his side. He didn’t really grow up until college. He was the quintessential short nerdy kid with glasses and no athletic skills, except for one.”
His father was athletic? His shock showed. “What skill?” He expected a solitary sport like archery or bowling.
His mother raised one eyebrow, stalling, messing with him.
“Archery? Bowling? Lacrosse?” he guessed. He would have said chess if it could have been classified as a sport. A sport of the mind, maybe.
“Lacrosse? What type of school do you think he attended? A prep school?” She shook her head as if her words didn’t already negate his guesses. “He could run fast. It was the only way to stay away from the bullies. Apparently, the slowest target got the swirly, got trapped in his locker, or was on the losing side of a wedgie.”
The thought of his father sprinting everywhere made him realize they were more alike than he originally thought. The larger, heavier bullies would not be able to keep up. He had probably hid a lot, too. “Well, at least we have that in common.”
His mother cradled his hand in hers. “He didn’t want you to have that in common. He wanted you to be this tough kid no one would hassle. It was especially important when he realized you weren’t going to get Grandfather Buell’s height. Boys tend to pick on smaller boys.”
“Some girls do, too.” He remembered the angry British girl who had given him a bloody nose and a black eye. It may have started over an argument about fairies, but ended when he had called her a ginger beer. It didn’t matter that he only repeated what she said, unaware of the meaning or the repercussion of his words.
Her fingers tightened on his, perhaps remembering the incident. “He wanted things to be easier for you. As Pagans, we’ve been victims of discrimination. Even dancing in a circle in the yard to welcome spring caused one landlord to cancel our rental agreement. He told us he was going to sell the house, but he never did.”
“That’s against the law.” Anger at the unknown landlord rushed through his veins. He never knew why they moved so much, but he did recognize that no one ever seemed eager to go.
His mother snorted her response. “It’s only illegal if you can prove it. The landlord could say he had a buyer for the house and it fell through, which forced him to rent the house after we moved out.”
His mother released his hand only to tick off reasons. Holding up her index finger, she declared, “Being a Pagan, or better yet, not a Christian, would make you an easy target most places.” Her middle finger joined the index finger. “Then there’s the disadvantage of being smaller than the other boys. Good news is you’re attractive and friends with the girls. The bad news is the bigger boys don’t like those traits.”
Ethan crossed his arms and ankles. “I noticed that.”
His mother brandished three fingers under his nose. “Not good at sports. A boy who isn’t good at sports or obsessed with sports sticks out like a two-headed calf. It’s better to just to be average.”
She waved the fingers slowly. “Three things against you. Three targets on your back. It is enough to make your time in school into an extremely long prison term. Your father noticed the signs probably before anyone else. He tried to suppress them by forcing you into masculine activities. You probably hated them.” His mother waited for a response.
“Majorly. Although, I did like sailing.”
“Figures, that’s one of those ‘on the line’ sports that usually the wealthy engage in, somehow making it less manly because your average Joe can’t do it. Your father wanted you to escape the bullying and abuse he went through. He wanted you to have a better life than he did.”
The way his mother presented it didn’t sound too bad. He always felt his father disapproved of everything he did and who he was. Maybe all he wanted was for him to have an easier time. Then again, his mother could be making it up so he wouldn’t feel bad. It wouldn’t be the first time she had tried to smooth things between him and his father.