So, every now and then I veer away from whatever novel I’m working on to write a short story. I have tons of them, most unpublished. I write them for fun. I get an idea and I want to see it on the page. So today, for lack of anything else to say, I’ve decided to share one with you. I hope it’s not too dated. Enjoy!
Amy plucked a bunch of asparagus from the refrigerator, her attempt to shut the fridge thwarted by the partially open vegetable drawer. Sighing dramatically, she kicked the drawer closed with her toe-ringed foot then, with a harried wrist, pushed back a feral strand of salt and pepper hair, and griped for the zillionth time: “Today! Not a word until today. Seriously. She must have known for at least week and she only tells me today? Now we have nowhere to put them.”
Sydney kept her mouth shut. No matter what she said, her wife was going to be impossible until her sister Katherine’s visit was over. That the neighbor had reneged on her promise to house Katherine and her son, Adam, Amy and Sydney’s beloved nephew, was just the latest crisis surrounding the looming visit.
Amy ran the asparagus under the faucet then whacked it onto the counter and began snapping off the woody ends. “Seriously, wouldn’t you say it’s common courtesy to tell a neighbor, who’s promised you the use of her house while she’s gone, to say: “No…” Snap! “as it turns out…” Snap! “Bruce and I have changed our minds and now are not going to Arizona to watch the Giants’ off-season practice…” Snap! “So, what I said?” Snap! “…about your scary conservative sister and your sexually-confused nephew using our house during their visit?” Snap! “…well, it’s not going to work out.” Snap! “Isn’t that just common courtesy?” Snap! “I mean…” Snap! “Isn’t it?”
“You told Lynda-with-a-Y all that? About your sister? And Adam?”
“Of course not. The last thing we need is for Lynda to come over here and bray to Katherine: So, you’re the conservative sister I’ve been hearing so much about! And you must be the nephew Amy thinks is gay! Do you think I’m nuts?”
Best not to touch that one, Sydney thought, and shifted in her chair at the table where she was sifting through the day’s mail for something worth opening. Her hip was killing her. It was the damn faculty meeting; it had gone on forever, robbing her of her thirty-minutes of yoga. Of course, there was nothing stopping her from doing her yoga now— nothing but old, ready-to-retire bones.“Hey, look!” she said. “You got a letter from Robert Redford! He wants you to help him out with the national parks.”
“Would you please take this seriously?”
Sydney tossed the letter into the red recycling bin. “We can do like we do with my family. Put Adam on the shiatsu mat, Katherine on the couch. It’ll be fine.”
“I won’t get my alone time with Adam. If we’re all here all the time.”
“You’ll find your moments.”
The sleeping arrangements were the least of Sydney’s concerns. While Katherine may have intellectually “come to terms” with her sister’s sexual preference, a simple hug between Amy and Sydney created so much tension in the room, it was barely worth it. True, Katherine had come a long way on the “gay issue” since that first Christmas twenty years ago when she’d pulled Amy aside and asked, “Is it because you don’t think you’re pretty? Is that it?” But not far enough, in Sydney’s opinion.
It had to be Katherine’s karma that her one and only child, the “little miracle” that sixteen years ago had convinced her commitment-phobic boyfriend to settle down and make a family—Mr. Self-Proclaimed “Lone-Wolf,” the middle-aged divorce lawyer whose passions included excruciating hikes, micro-breweries, mustache wax, and pointing out fat people in public—that this child, his son, had been showing signs of being gay since his fourth birthday when he’d blown off his gift of a baseball mitt in favor of adorning himself in its colorful wrappings and ribbon. “Don’t I wook bootiful?” he’d said, to the utter horror of Katherine and the Lone Wolf—who, among other annoying quirks, refused to eat any food on a stick lest he might appear gay.
“Why are they coming out again?” Sydney asked. “Just her and Adam?”
“God knows. Because Adam’s on spring break? She’s sick of snow? They want to see the university, I know that. Knowing her, though, there’s more to it. Something I couldn’t possible figure out. Or she’s fighting with Frank again. Let’s hope it’s not that. God! Remember last time? How she kept calling him? Locking herself in the powder room and calling him?”
Sydney did. Between Katherine’s use of the powder room and Adam’s twenty-minute teenage showers, she’d had to sneak out into the backyard to pee by the fence—more than once.
Amy tossed the asparagus in the steamer and turned the flame to high. “So, we put my sister on the couch, Adam on the shiatsu mat. Shit! We don’t do this kind of intimacy in my family. We don’t know how.”
“I thought you and Katherine shared a room growing up.”
“More like we occupied the same room. And please don’t bring it up. She’ll tell the story about the time I snuck Josh Logan in through the window.”
“Seguing into how you didn’t used to be gay.”
Amy shot a look over the rim of her dime-store glasses. “Exactly.”
“I guess a motel room is out.”
“Are you kidding? Have Katherine tell the rest of the family we wouldn’t put her up?”
Much as her hip protested, Sydney forced herself out of the chair and over to Amy where she wrapped her arms around her wife’s waist and nuzzled her neck. “It’s going to be okay. You know that. It’s only three days.”
“So you say.”
* * *
Day one of the visit progressed smoothly enough. They did the requisite beach walk. Avoided talking politics. Learned that the Lone Wolf had an internet porn addiction that was destroying Katherine’s marriage. Could barely get two words out of Adam because he was glued to his cellphone. Ate Mexican (Katherine barely touching hers because she was determined to lose a few pounds). And went to bed early because Katherine and Adam were on east coast time.
Day two went similarly, though, instead of the beach walk they did the redwood walk. Instead of Mexican they ate Thai. Adam retreated further into his phone, causing Amy to up her attempts to connect with him, causing him to retreat to the powder room, causing Sydney, once again, to have to pee in the back yard when Katherine was in their bathroom showering. There was also the grating moment when Katherine, referring to “the whole gay wedding thing,” rolled her eyes, then denied doing so. And the embarrassing moment when, using her chopsticks to gesture at her barely touched Kang Ka Ree, Katherine told Amy and Sydney’s favorite waitress that back in Virginia their Thai restaurant served hamburgers as well as this stuff, boasting: “It’s a real win-win in our family. My husband’s not big on foreign menus,” which elicited a groan from Adam, and a shared glance between Amy and Sydney who later confirmed they were thinking the same thing: God forbid someone might think the satay made him look gay. Other than that, the day went better than expected.
Until Amy couldn’t sleep. And since she couldn’t sleep, Sydney couldn’t sleep. And so they did what they usually did when they couldn’t sleep: they smoked pot, only they had to do it in bathroom because it was pouring rain outside. To be extra careful, Amy rolled a towel under the door, cranked the double window wide open, and flicked on the exhaust fan. Sydney thought it was overkill. If Katherine or Adam needed the toilet, they would use the powder room off the living room.
Usually pot had a calming effect on Amy. Tonight, though, it was having the opposite effect. “Can you believe how much she drank at dinner?” she spat-whispered. “I thought we were going to have to carry her out of the restaurant. And for all her complaining, you know she won’t leave Frank. It can’t be good for Adam to hear her dissing on his father like that. Not that I’m taking up for him. He’s an A-1 asshole, but still…”
The frog racket from the neighbor’s pond drifted through the open window. Sydney picked a bit of ash from her tongue, wondering if, when applying for a medical marijuana card, a person could submit in-laws as an ailment. “Yeah, well, Adam seems to be doing okay.”
“Are you kidding? He barely looks up from his phone!”
“Normal behavior for a kid his age.”
Amy crossed her arms against Sydney’s logic. “It just hurts. I haven’t seen him in a year and he barely says two words to me.”
It was true. Since they’d last seen him, Adam had turned from a sparkling, somewhat nerdy goofball who loved nothing more than colored markers and glitter-glue into a trench-coated brooder hiding behind a tumble of long auburn bangs. It was a worry. One heard so many stories about gay kids getting cyber-bullied, committing suicide…
Sydney took a hit off the joint and handed it to Amy. What time was it? 1:00 AM? 2:00? She was going to be a wreck for tomorrow’s sight-seeing at the university if she didn’t get some sleep. She prayed the rain would stop by then. Otherwise, they’d all be stuck in the car together.
Amy brought the joint to her lips then just held it there without toking. “I just feel that, as his gay aunt, I have a responsibility.”
Across the alley the neighbor’s upstairs light could been seen flicking on then off again. A nearby barn owl screeched. Sydney settled onto the edge of the bathtub, leaving Amy by the window. Her wife’s sense of responsibility knew no bounds.
“And I’m his Godmother. Doesn’t that mean something?”
“That your sister was drunk when she made the decision?”
Amy thwacked her. “I’m serious!”
“So am I. Handing over the spiritual well-being of her one and only son to her pot-smoking, lesbian sister, when she herself can barely utter the word lesbian without it sounding like some kind of crotch disease, and who, just tonight, referred to pot as a gateway drug for heroin, well, it seems a tad delusional to me.”
“I know, right? So how, with all these negative messages, is Adam supposed to blossom into the gorgeous gay man he’s destined to be?”
“His alleged sexual preference.”
“Thank you, Ms. Lawyer. His alleged—” Amy froze. The antique glass doorknob to the bathroom was turning. She leapt from the window and threw her body against the door. The ancient brass lock hadn’t worked for years. “Occupied!” she yelped. Then jabbed the towel at the door’s base with her foot, mouthing, Why isn’t he using the powder room??????
Eyes wide, panicked, she mouthed, Adam!!!!!! as if that wasn’t obvious.
“Are you smoking pot in there?” Even whispering, he sounded loud. Incredulous. As if the idea of an old lady like her smoking pot was so out of bounds it hurt his teenage head.
“Yes. No. Yes,” Amy stammered. “I mean…. Do you have to pee?”
“I forgot my mouthguard when I was in there showering. It’s in that little red bag on the sink.”
Amy waved at the smoke toward the window. “Is your Mom awake?” she whispered.
“Don’t think so,” he whispered back. “Can I come in?”
“This could be your chance,” Sydney said.
Amy didn’t respond, just took a deep breath and cracked the door to let Adam in.
He wore lavender pajamas, his blond, gelled hair sticking out in every direction. He had his cell phone. No doubt he was planning some late-night texting. He recoiled at the smoke. “Wow. I’m surprised you didn’t set off the smoke alarm.”
Sydney gave a cool nod. “Hey, Adam.”
“Hey, Auntie Sydney.”
Amy pushed the rolled towel back into place. “I have a medical marijuana card, FYI.”
“So you’re hiding because…?”
“She doesn’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers,” Sydney said.
Amy nodded. “More or less, yes.”
Sydney held out the joint. “You want a hit?”
For the second time that night, Amy thwacked her. “Sydney!”
“You’re corrupting our nephew.”
“Like the kid has never seen pot.”
Adam seemed equally offended by Amy’s assumption, crossed his lanky arms in front of his hollow chest. “It’s cool, but toking makes me too introverted. Plus, I read that teenage brains are still developing. I’d hate to hamper the process.”
“No.” Amy took the joint from Sydney and butted it out on the toothbrush holder. “You wouldn’t want to do that. Of course not!”
“But it’s cool if you do. I have lots of friends that do. And I’ll probably try it sometime. Just not yet.”
Sydney bit back a smile. He was a good kid. Always had been. Even if he was going through a snarky phase.
“I was done anyway,” Amy said. She leaned against the sink, sending the toothbrush caddy tumbling to the floor. “I’m a one-hit kind of gal.”
Sydney picked up the spray of dental products. One-hit. Right. Still, it pained her to see her wife trying so hard, especially to win over a kid who seemed so self-absorbed. But it was Sydney’s job to ride shotgun. “So,” she said. “Your coming in here is kind of fortuitous. Your Auntie Amy had something she wanted to talk with you about.”
Amy crossed her arms. Uncrossed them. Crossed them. “Ah… well… yes I do.”
He sat next to Sydney on the edge of the tub. Then he crossed his arms too—and his ankles. It made him look as if he were in a straight jacket. “Go ahead. I’m listening.”
“Well, um, it seems to me…” Amy ran a hand through her hair. “Let me start again. Perhaps you’ve noticed, our family can be kind of…”
“Stuck in the dark ages,” Sydney offered.
“Is this about Mom refusing to text?” Adam broke in. “Because I’ve talked to her about it and I think she’s coming around.”
“Fantastic!” Amy said, brightly.
Sydney prodded: “But that’s not what she wanted to talk to you about.”
“Oh.” He rolled his shoulders, folded his hands around his cell phone. “Okay. Shoot.”
Amy took another deep breath. “Right. See, here’s the thing. It seems to me that you’re…exploring a lifestyle that maybe your mom and dad aren’t open to.”
“O-kaaaay.” He drew out the word as though it might keep her next ones at bay.
“And that as your gay aunt, I have a responsibility to talk to you about it.”
Sydney bit her bottom lip. There was no turning back now; Amy was going for it: the transmission of gay knowledge from gay aunt to gay nephew was finally happening.
Outside the rain picked up.
“What I want to say is…” Amy said cautiously. “Something you probably won’t hear from anyone else in the family.
“And that is?” Sydney prompted.
Amy all but vomited out: “That I hope you’re gay.” This followed by immediate and furious backpedaling. “Or rather, it would be okay with me if you were gay. Not that I’d like you any better. I mean, it’s fine if you’re not. I’m going to love you no matter what. But if you are gay, or even thinking about being gay, I just want to say that it’s fine. Great, really.”
“Yes,” Sydney said. “You have a safe harbor in your Auntie Amy.”
Amy seemed not to have heard her, so Sydney piped in with the sound of a foghorn. Amy glared at her.
Adam just stared at his sleeping iPhone, his beautiful heavy-lidded eyes shutting them out. “Okay. How do I say this without freaking you out?”
“Just say it,” Amy said. “I know it can be hard to come out. Don’t forget, I did it too. Albeit, many years ago.”
“Make that many, many years ago,” Sydney added. “I think there were still a few dinosaurs roaming the earth at that time.”
Adam smiled a pained smile. “I know you mean well, Auntie Amy, Auntie Sydney…“
Sydney sat up straighter. Why was he including her in this? She wasn’t the one who—
Amy’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh my God. We’ve made a terrible mistake! You’re not gay!”
Wait. Amy was including her too?
Amy sputtered, “I’m so sorry. I hope this little talk hasn’t scarred you for life. Because of course we’ll love you no matter what. And you are very manly, now that I think on it. Do you have a girlfriend? Because we could talk about that too. I’m very good with relationship advice. I—”
Sydney snatched up a damp washcloth from the edge of the tub and hurled it at Amy. “Would you listen to the kid?” The washcloth hit Amy in the leg then dropped to the floor.
“Right.” Amy pressed her fingers to her lips.
Adam looked from Amy to Sydney. Then back again. “You’re right. I’m not gay.”
Amy dropped her head and groaned.
Sydney would have too, but she was too flabbergasted. Not gay? Really? But you seem so gay.
“I’m pan,” he went on.
Amy looked up from her hands. “Huh?”
“Pansexual,” he repeated.
Sydney searched out Amy’s eyes. Did she have any idea what he was talking about? “You might need to define what that means for your old biddy aunties,” she said.
“It means that gender isn’t the big decider for me when I have romantic feelings for someone.”
Sydney glanced at Amy. I got this. “So, you’re bisexual.”
“No, Auntie Sydney, gender plays no part in who I date. In fact, the person I’m currently dating is non-conforming.”
Amy sounded out the word like a third-grader at a spelling bee. “Non-con-form-ing…”
“Which means?” Sydney said.
“Zie’s biologically a man—”
“His name is Zie?” Amy said.
“No, zir’s name is Loren.”
“But you just said—”
“Zie is Loren’s preferred pronoun. Some non-conforming people prefer the pronoun ‘they’—there are other pronouns, too—but Loren goes with ‘zie.’”
Amy’s brow furrowed. “So you’re dating a…”
“Loren. I’m dating Loren.”
“And he’s—zie’s!—a guy.”
“Like I said, biologically.”
“So, he’s—zie’s!—wanting to transition.”
“No. Loren doesn’t want to be female.”
“Or male,” Amy clarified.
“Right. Zei’s gender queer.”
It was time to come to Amy’s rescue. If Sydney could just figure out how. “So this Zei…”
“His name is Loren, not Zei,” Adam said.
“Right.” Sydney mentally kicked herself. “Sorry. Loren is kind of…both… or neither.”
“Exactly. Non-conforming refers to gender identity not sexuality.”
At that moment, Sydney decided it was best to leave the interchange to Amy. She was totally lost.
“Does your mom know?” Amy asked.
“About your pan-ness. And the whole zie thing.”
Affronted, Adam shot back, “Why would I tell her? Or dad? They’d freak out.”
“Good point.” Amy bent down to pick up the thrown washcloth. “I mean, what do they know about these kinds of things?”
“And,” Sydney added. “Why would you want to talk to them when you have your incredibly open-minded and informed aunties?”
Amy laughed. “Enough, you!”
Sydney tossed her a kiss.
“So is that it?” Adam asked. “Can I grab my retainer and go back to bed?”
“Of course,” said Amy. “You sure you don’t have to pee?”
“No. I’m fine.” He stood, still clutching his cellphone, snatched up his bathroom bag, and left.
Sydney let a few seconds pass then let out a slow, “Wo-ow.”
“I’ll say, wow. Zie? Zir? Are you kidding me?”
“It’s another world.”
“How do they do it?”
“Like he said, their young brains are still developing while ours are—”
“Stuck in the mud. Thanks.” Amy edged past Sydney to secure the rolled towel against the foot of the door.“Still, You’ve got to admire these kids. They’re forging territory we never imagined.”
“Changing the language.”
Sydney took the few steps over to her wife and wrapped her arms around her, eyes lingering on the Celtic knot tattooed onto her own tanned wrist. What had once seemed so daring now just made her feel old. “I’ll tell you one thing, for parents everywhere, the birds-and-the-bees talk just got a whole lot more complicated.”
Amy kissed her lightly. “I say we relight that roach. Kill off a few more brain cells.”
Sydney slid her hands down Amy’s back and patted her tush. “I’m all over it, Auntie.”