Byron Leighten’s grin could have reached the sky, if he weren’t walking on clouds already. He’d woken at peace, something that hadn’t happened in months. His first day at MeShoes had gone well. And after that, when he went to Pink Laces to buy a pair of lace panties for a non-existent girlfriend, he hadn’t stuttered to the clerk over there. Nothing could compare to that feeling of pure happiness.
Silence reigned when he arrived home, as his calls for his sister went ignored. He assumed she was with friends or listening to loud music. Two years had been enough to change his sweet little sister into a twelve-year-old rebellious teenager.
Then his father appeared from the kitchen, holding Byron’s washed-out black backpack. The last time his father had looked that red and puffy Byron had broken the window of his father’s beloved car. He was seven at the time, and that face still scared Byron to the bones.
“Don’t you fuckin’ call me Dad.”
Byron stepped back. His voice was smug and confident, but he didn’t feel as such. “What have I done this time?”
One twist of fate and the day had turned sour.
The slap stung, but not as much as the act itself. His father was known to anger easily and violently, but never against them. The wall, sometimes, but never Byron, Amber or their mother, while she still lived.
“Get out of my house.”
Byron stopped listening to his broken pride and implored him. They had moved after his mother’s death, just before college. He had nowhere to go, knew no one in the neighborhood.
His father got very close, very fast, and his breath smelled strongly of bourbon. Byron’s body tensed in expectation of a slap that didn’t come. “Get out of my house, faggot.”
His first reflex was to deny it. He wanted to deny it. He did it for twenty-two years, one more wouldn’t hurt. Hell, two days ago he would have denied it.
The words stuck in his throat.
That morning, for the first time in months, years, he had accepted he was gay. And now he was forced out of the closet.
He closed his mouth without saying anything.
His father leaned in. Byron’s reflexes kicked in, and he squeezed against the wall. If he hadn’t moved, the edge of the door would have hit him in the shoulder when his father opened it.
His father grabbed him by the shoulder and pushed him outside. Byron stumbled out the door where he was able to stand in the wild garden instead of crashing onto the cement.
His father slammed the door.
Byron knocked furiously, calling for his dad, even calling him “Daddou” like he hadn’t done in years.
“Please, let’s talk about it.”
After a while, he accepted that his father wasn’t going to answer. He stepped back and caught Amber looking at him. Her hand rested against the window as if she wanted to reach out.
He blew her a kiss for comfort, as tears began to pour down her face. She opened the window.
“Don’t go. Please don’t go.”
“I’m fine, Gem.” He even used her childhood nickname, hoping to make it better. “Don’t worry about me.”
He saw his father go into her room and force the window closed. Just before he lost contact, he heard his sister yelling that she didn’t care, and that she loved him.