It Gets Better

I’m not like other girls.

I don’t listen to radio pop, I listen to alt rock.

I don’t wear skirts, I wear zebra print skinny jeans.

I don’t watch Teen Wolf and Glee, I watch anime and Doctor Who.

I don’t read Twilight, I read yaoi.

I don’t whore around, wear makeup, or date normies like other girls my age.

Wait, that’s not right.

I’m not a teenage girl at all.

I’m a twenty-six-year-old gremlin who lives in the basement.

***

Hart sat in the back of a coffee shop, impassive gaze tethered to his phone, his Americano, the top of the table–anything but the people around him. The dark circles under his eyes might as well have been tattoos, and his mouth was set in such a way that it always looked like he was frowning. That frown, coupled with those sullen eyes, had earned him “cheer up” and “smile” from strangers more times than necessary.

Hart’s roommate worked at this cafe, but she wasn’t in that morning. He was only there because as he was passing by the rich and sensual smell of fresh coffee took him by the hand, seduced him, and tenderly pulled him inside.

It was sitting there silently that, for some reason, Hart remembered something he’d heard a lot growing up.

It gets better.

That was the campaign for LGBT+ teens struggling with finding acceptance in an intolerant world. Hart had let the moment pass him by, drawing into himself and his escapist fantasies as he willingly–wishfully–let the world around him fade. There was no first gay crush, no boyfriend, no coming out.

Thinking about it all now, Hart felt jaded.

His identity was maybe the only thing that felt right; He had a father he could never please, crippling depression, and crushing, soul-sucking disillusionment.

No, it definitely gets worse.

There was a hottie at the counter and he was ordering an iced latte. Cold coffee was a sin–the Bible says so–but Hart could excuse it this once.

Maybe it’ll come together one day, like a young adult novel. Maybe I’ll find out I have hidden powers and I’ll be a key instrument in saving the world. Or maybe this is a romance and I’ll meet a nice guy and he’ll fly me to the Caribbean and make a man out of me on the sandy beach under the moonlight.

But for now, he wanted to get out of there. He’d stayed maybe twenty minutes and his mental battery was already at half.

Hart stood up, slipped his phone back into his pocket, and then felt his elbow crash into another person.

It was the hottie with the tight ass and iced latte. Or what was left of the iced latte, as most of it was now a swimming pool for ants.

What if this is it? What if he smiles nervously at me and apologizes–which would cause me to counter-apologize and then offer to buy him a new drink. What if we sit down and start talking and we have this beautiful moment and he ends up being the guy who fucks me in Bermuda?

“Oh, shit. I’m sorry, man.”

“Nice one, jackass.”

No, definitely not the one.

***

Back home, Hart retreated to his safe haven: the basement. The rental originally had only two bedrooms, but when his friends convinced him to move in they turned the basement into a third. Hart loved the secluded space. When you had video games and wifi, nothing else mattered; Friends were unnecessary, love was unnecessary, family was unnecessary.

It’s not my fault they fill the drinks up to the very top of the cup.

He had just settled into his unmade bed when his phone rang. Annoyance and indignant anger shot through him. He picked up, in the end.

“Mom? …Hey, are you crying?”

***

It was a heart attack.

Standing alone at his father’s hospital bed, Hart couldn’t produce even a tear. Even as death lay before him, unconscious, eyes shut, and wearing a respirator mask, he felt numb.

Do I tell him I love him? Do I apologize for being a fuck up? Do I tell him I’ll look after mom?

“See you in hell.”

No, that was too harsh. Take two.

Sighing, Hart pulled a chair up to the bed and sat down.

“I know I’ve kept this from you for a long time,” he said, “but I guess you should hear this before you die.” He wet his lips and paused, as if he expected his father to stir. “Dad… I’m, uh, I’m gay.”

As soon as the words left Hart’s mouth, his father’s heart rate went flat. The piercing buzz of the ECG went off.

As hospital staff rushed in, the world moved in slow motion and all noises were blocked out except for the persistent scream of the machine. His mother pushed in past the huddle of nurses and threw herself at her husband’s bedside, tears welling up in her eyes. The doctor shook her head, defeated. Someone scribbled something on a clipboard. The wife turned away.

Mr. Johnson was dead.

Through it all, Hart had been frozen in that chair–but now there was a grin slowly breaking on his sad mouth, betraying a joy he could not contain.


Hart is a character you’ll probably see regularly here. This is just one variation of him. In other stories he might be professional gamer, or an assassin, or a farmer who likes to deal with homophobia using his trusted shotgun. (Non-leathaly, of course.)

Photo by Skitterphoto at Pixabay.

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