Mike’s life is carefully compartmentalized. He’s deep in the closet to his family back in Kansas, but lives life honestly and openly in Austin. He’s unnerved when Wes, his old university crush, turns up at his door in answer to a roommate advertisement, but quickly sees the potential ... benefits of the arrangement. Wes has never doubted nor denied his sexuality. With the support of his family he’s an out and proud LGBT activist.
On the scale balancing his self-esteem on one side, and the love of his family on the other, Mike has to decide which weighs more. Is Mike being fair to his parents by not giving them the chance to know his real self? When the delicate balance of his life is disrupted, he decides he’s tired of living a lie. Will Wes understand his concerns, or will their fledgling relationship crumble under the strain of Mike’s uncertainty?
Muted voices sifted through my sleep-clouded head, and I blinked a few times as my eyes adjusted to the bright light filtering through the curtains. After multiple washings, and without any blinds behind them, they weren't particularly good at blocking the morning sun.
Speaking of which, that sun appeared rather high in the sky. I groaned and rolled to check the time on my phone, then muttered, "Crap," because I'd wanted an earlier start so things wouldn't be rushed this morning. Extended family wouldn't descend until mid-to-late-afternoon, but who knew how much time might be needed for Mom or Dad to recover their equilibrium after my big reveal.
I laid a forearm across my eyes. "Get up," I mumbled. "Suck it up and get this over with."
I sighed, sat, and rubbed a hand over my face. Finally, I stood and rummaged through my bag, then headed to the bathroom with clean clothes in hand. In no time at all, I was showered and physically -- if not mentally -- ready to face the day.
No one was in the living room as I slogged down the stairs. Mom had redecorated that space shortly before I'd moved out. I wasn't sure where I'd gotten my own personal sense of style, but I did know it hadn't been from her. No doubt this space would be a real estate agent's wet dream with all the neutral shades, but if I weren't hampered by the limitations of apartment-rental living, my walls sure as hell wouldn't be painted whatever this was. Light mud?
The furniture also ran the gamut of neutral tones. It was new and trendy stuff -- certainly all better quality than mine -- but the style was so not me. But what about Wes? If he were furnishing his own place, would it more closely resemble this or our apartment?
Greg must've heard me coming down since he stepped out of the kitchen to meet me. "Hey." He looked over his shoulder and kept his voice low. "You okay, man? I heard you getting sick last night."
"Yeah, I'm fine now." Not anywhere near as bad as last night, anyway. The fluttering had returned, but it felt as much like a stomach protesting its emptiness as it did nerves run amok. "I just let the stress get to me last night."
"I don't want to see you making yourself sick over this. Seriously, I've got this if you want to take a back seat, or even if you've changed your mind and want to let me handle it after you leave."
I shook my head. "I just need to get it over with."
"Okay." He patted my shoulder and cocked his head toward the kitchen. "Helen's here. You ready to go in?"
"Ready as I'll ever be." At least that was the truth.
In the kitchen, Helen stepped away from whatever she'd been chopping at the counter to give me a hug. "I heard you were sick. Are you better now?"
"Yeah." I cast a quick glance at Mom and Dad. "Must've been that airport food. I'm okay."
Mom stood at the counter, and Dad sat at the table with a newspaper folded in front of him, working a crossword puzzle. Mom smiled, taking my assertion that I wasn't ill at face value. Dad's expression barely changed. Nothing a casual observer would likely note, but having grown up in his house, I recognized a subtle change around his eyes that expressed his dubious confidence in my statement. He saw through me, I was sure of it. He didn't think I'd been ill, either, but he wasn't buying my excuse about eating something that hadn't set well with me.
Helen's "don't worry, it's going to be fine" smile only moved Dad's appearance into a more obvious range. Greg's shrug directed at Helen didn't help, either.
Mom asked, "What do you feel like eating, honey? You should eat something." She opened the refrigerator, as if ready to drop everything to fix me a big breakfast.
"I can get it, Mom. I'll just have a bowl of cereal."
She paused, looking thoughtfully at me before nodding. "You're right. That's probably best under the circumstances."
She set the milk on the counter, I pulled a box of cornflakes out of the pantry, and Helen handed me a bowl and spoon. I poured a good-sized helping because I was pretty darned hungry after emptying my stomach last night. Besides, a little fortification couldn't hurt, right?
Dad looked up when I sat across from him. "What's a ten-letter word for 'brave'? It ends with an 's.'"
It sure as hell wasn't "Mike Evans," and not simply because it was only nine letters. Crosswords had been our shared thing, growing up. I didn't get into them on my own, but Dad loved them, and he pulled me into his games. I'd always enjoyed the closeness.