After being kicked out of his house for being gay, Clay is now living with his older sister. He’s in a new town, a new school, and he’s trying to adjust. He makes friends the first day and he’s excited about what the new year will hold.
First Clay turned over in bed, ignoring the bright sunlight streaming in through his open window. He sighed as he checked his email on the phone his sister had bought him last week. It’d been a birthday present and more than he’d ever expected to receive. He knew money had been tight for her, even before he’d shown up on her doorstep, but she’d always been generous when it came to family. What he’d really wanted though, maybe even needed, was a note from his parents. But they’d let the day go by unnoticed, and though it had been a whole summer since they’d told him he wasn’t welcome at their house anymore, he still checked his email every day hoping to hear from them.
“Time to get up! You’ve got school today!” His sister’s shrill voice made him cringe. The first day of school always sucked. Always. Last year it had sucked in Minnesota. Today it would probably be just as bad in Georgia. He could count on the sun and humidity to be out, though. He threw back the blanket and forced his tired body to move. As usual, he’d been up too late reading. He’d probably have to get that under control if he wanted to do well in his junior year. His book, an old copy of Fahrenheit 451 that had been his sister’s, called to him from the chair he’d left it resting on sometime around three that morning. It was nearly done, he only had about a hundred pages left. He could go to bed on time tomorrow. Tonight it would just be him and Ray.
He showered and dressed quickly, his sister updating him repeatedly about how late he was going to be if he didn’t move faster. He stumbled downstairs, tripping on socks that were barely on and sneakers that he hadn’t bothered to lace up.
“Here, eat this,” Sarah said, stuffing a piece of peanut butter toast into his mouth before gathering up her purse and keys. “I drew you a map of how to get to the school, I’ll be at the shop all day if you need me. Try to stay out of trouble. I packed your backpack, made you a lunch and—I did too much, didn’t I?”
Clay shook his head and smiled as he stuffed down the last of his toast. “You did great,” he said, hopefully easing her fears. She was only six years older than he was, much too young to be playing mom to her teenage brother. He brushed his arm across his mouth, getting rid of the crumbs before he leaned over and give her cheek a peck. “Wish me luck!” he called back as he gathered up his things and got on his bicycle.
It was a little too small for him, but he liked it because Sarah had bought it for him. The morning after he’d shown up, she’d gone to all the thrift stores in the area until she’d found him one that would work before he’d even gotten out of bed. Trust her to remember how much he liked riding. He’d had to leave his bicycle back in Minnesota. Well, he’d had to leave a lot of things there, but he missed his bike the most. He was just lucky he’d had enough saved up to buy the bus ticket that had brought him here to the tiny town his sister called home.
He’d thought his parents would be different. He had friends that had accepted him after he’d come out. More or less. They’d never treated him quite the same, and he’d tried to make it work for the last few months of sophomore year. By May, though, he’d figured out pretty quickly that they’d started hanging out with him less, and weekly movie nights and taking their bikes to the lake on Saturdays had turned into maybe getting pizza on a Friday night. Usually not even that. He’d tried not to let it hurt as much as it did.
What stung though, what really tore through him, was when he’d told his parents the last day of school. He’d waited until summer vacation, knowing that they’d be less busy then and hoping that he’d have time to talk to them. He didn’t know how much Sarah knew about that night. He’d heard her arguing on the phone a few times, especially that first week after he’d shown up, but she’d never told him who she was talking to. And he’d been too afraid to ask.
He knew he was lucky to have her. Not everyone got a great sister with an extra bedroom and a warm hug to run to when their parents turned against them. No, he supposed that wasn’t entirely accurate. They’d just told him to leave. Nothing angry. He couldn’t even remember anyone yelling. He’d actually thought they’d been joking at first. But then Mama had started crying, and Dad had taken her out to dinner. The last words he could remember his dad saying to him were that he didn’t live there anymore.
Clay hadn’t been there when they’d come home, whatever time that’d been. He’d taken the few hundred dollars he’d saved from mowing lawns in the neighborhood that spring, money he’d been saving to buy a new computer, and gathered up whatever he could fit into his backpack. He’d stopped crying as the bus had pulled up to take him to the station where he then boarded another bus. A few days later, hungry and alone, he’d found himself in Georgia.