I stared at mom's back as I shifted nervously from one leg to another, contemplating whether to tell her or not. I decided on it and was about to speak out before she turned and looked at me.
"Honey, what are you still doing in that uniform? Go change into something comfortable. Dinner's ready if you're hungry." She returned her attention back to the oven.
"Mom, I've got something to tell you."
"Is it important? I want to finish the dessert before your father comes home."
"Kind of. Maybe I should change first. I'll talk to you later." I got somewhat relieved having to put off telling her, and headed upstairs.
But she must've sensed something in my voice because she walked into my room still in her apron before I could finish changing.
"Nicole, what's the matter? Did something happen at school? Did someone hurt you? Or more likely did you hurt someone and get called up by the principal?"
I chuckled at that. You know, what they say is true, mother knows best. I get into a lot of fights at school. Though I never start a fight, it's often me who finishes it. Despite being a girl, when it comes to brawling or anything of that sort, I'm kind of good, all thanks to my uncles and of course my grandpa.
But this isn't about school. Quite far from it, to say the least.
"No mom, it's about my," uhhh.. fuck it, "my sex life."
She gasped. Not good, Nicole, not good at all. But what she said was utterly unexpected.
"It's okay. It's perfectly fine." Is she saying what I think she's saying, or is it just me?
"Who's the father?" She asked, not averting that observant gaze from me. Confounded, I could only mange a "Huh?".
"It's Ian, isn't it? You've been hanging out with him a lot more lately? When did it happen? How long have you known?"
"Mom, what are you ..?" then it dawned on me and I burst into fits of laughter.
She looked at me incredulously and said, "Don't play dumb now, young lady. Just because I said I'm fine with it doesn't mean it's to be taken lightly. Now pull yourself together and tell me the whole story."
Out of the corner of my teary eye, I saw she's quite serious and apparently annoyed by my reaction. Seeing she's still not sharing the fun, I had to put a brake to my laughing and explained, still not with a straight face.
"It's not what you think, mom. I'm not pregnant, or never will be, for that matter."
"Then what were you trying to say?"
Her mood softened a little but I felt that lodge say hi to my throat again.
"It's just.. I don't' like boys."
"What do you mean?" she seems to be getting impatient by the stalling I've made.
"I'm .. I'm gay." I said, with my eyes fixed on the pillow in my lap. I didn't look up expecting something like a shout or at least a gasp.
"I know, I'll be asking too much if I ask you to forgive and accept …"
"Honey, look at me."
And look up I did, to see those chestnut eyes boring into mine.
"You are something, you know that?"
I looked for any expression in her smile and only found what I needed, understanding and love.
"You mean, you are not mad?"
"I'd be mad if you try to hide who you are. I'm only proud of you, sweetie."
I felt compelled to hug her but she beat me to it. I nestled into the crook of her neck and cried those happy tears.
"You are perfectly fine just the way you are. Don't you let those who say otherwise get to you, you hear me?"
I pulled away to look at her and found sincerity in her eyes that confirmed that she meant every word. She cupped my cheeks and brushed away a wayward tear.
"Those eyes are definitely not for crying."
I chuckled, still teary-eyed.
"But someone said I look stunning when my blue eyes are filled with tears." She said that when I had to leave to live with grandpa when I was about 9 and was crying.
"I said beautiful. And yes, azure does go well with tears. But don't let those be of sorrow, understood."
I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand and hugged her again.
I thought it'd take even her some time to accept me, which makes me admire her all the more.
"So care to tell me the whole story while we have that now overcooked dinner?"
The relief and courage I've found after I knew how mom stood in my current situation simply washed away the moment I saw dad walked in the front door with mom. I didn't go to the airport to pick him up, I was just too excited, no, nervous would be the right word. I noticed his usual expressive face didn't tag along with him but an unusually good mood found him, easing my nervousness a bit. His cheerful attitude continued during and after dinner, which is saying something because we rarely heard him talk about his activities this ardently. Since we lost Danny, that is.
"So I met with McGovern when I was in London." He said, sitting down on the couch opposite us.
"Chris? Elena called, he got back a day earlier than you. How was he?"
"Good man, cheerful as always"
Knowing Ian's dad well, I smiled. He really is a nice man. His son, Ian, and I are best friends.
"We were having just a small talk, you know, about business, this and that when suddenly he asked me how I've planned my kid's future."
I could feel he turned to look at me, which I deliberately avoided fixing my gaze on the TV acting like I was 'Dancing with the stars'. After a moment, he turned back to mom to continue the talk, most of which I didn't catch. It's not like I'm not interested in adult things, well I'm not. But nothing bores me like the future thing. Besides what can he possibly have planned for my future? After all, it's mine and hence my responsibility.
The mention of Ian brought my thoughts to his cousin, Maggie, who is the reason I've been going over his house these past few days. She is quite pretty. I was relishing the memory of the last time I went over Ian's and found her alone. We spent some time together. It was a pretty good memory. But of course he had to interrupt my thoughts.
"You are friends with Ian, aren't you, Nicole?" he asked, facing me now.
"Yeah, dad." I hate it when he asks something the answer to which he already knows.
"So?" He asked expectantly.
"You didn't hear anything your mother and I just said, did you?"
"Umm, guess not."
I gave him a sheepish grin and looked at mom, who looked anxious. I frowned but dad continued.
"I talked to his father about your future."
Oh, please. "Such as?"
"We've decided to get you two engaged by the end of this academic year."
That explained mom's anxiety.
"I .. I don't know."
"Is there any reason to turn him down? Do you have a boy friend?"
He looked me up and down and knowingly answered for me, "No." Ouch.
When I didn't respond, he went on.
"Our families know each other quite well, not to mention you two are good friends. He's pretty well-off but that's not a big factor. What's important is Ian himself admitted he'd ask for your hand in marriage, with my blessing, of course."
"What? He said that? When did you talk to him?"
"On the phone. Two weeks ago."
I should've known. He's been giving me these weird looks whenever I came over and yet never said a word about this. Bastard.
"I can't agree to that."
"Care to enlighten me with the reasons," he asked, His cheerful demeanor washing away, telling me to get ready for he's about to get his way.
"I'm not ready for a commitment. And friendship is quite far from love."
"Why do you think we've only planned the engagement? And I'm sure you'll grow to love each other in the long run."
Though quite startled, I stood my ground, still not sure I should spill everything out and tell the whole reason why I'm refusing his arrangement.
"I doubt it. I'm not sure I'll be sitting here had mom given in and married the man Grandpa chose for her."
"Nicole!" He hissed. But I refused to waver under his acrimonious glare.
"I'm not going to get engaged, let alone marry him, or any man for that matter."
"Ed, why don't we calm down and talk in the morning?" Mom spoke out, desperately trying to prevent a fight which we knew won't end well.
But dad being in the terminator mood refused to give in like he usually does. But what he asked next caught me off guard.
"What did you mean by 'any man'?"
"Surely, she said anyone. Honey, come on, give her a break. You're getting her nervous," mom intervened, anxiety obvious in her voice.
"No, mom. I think it's time he knew."
"Knew what?" By this time, we all were standing.
"Nicole! To your bedroom. Now." She shouted, trying to pull dad away, in vain. In fact, I thought of listening to her and going upstairs but I decided against it. Now was the time, I felt sure.
Silence filled the air but it wasn't long till the slapping sound was heard from his hand hitting my cheek. I felt the tears rolling down my face as I lay face down on the floor with half of my face burning. Though it was what I expected but still it hurt like hell. I heard loud bumps ascending upstairs and felt hands embrace me. I slowly drifted into unconsciousness not merely from the impact but from the immense pain growing in my heart.
I just finished dinner when he entered the kitchen. It's been two days since that night. He never spoke to me this whole time but when he saw me this time at the table, he started towards where I was now getting up to leave.
"Do you have any plans tonight?" He asked, fixing his gaze on my eyes. Not knowing where this was going, I just shook my head.
"Good, you'd have to cancel it if you did anyway."
He averted his gaze and looked me up and down.
"Make yourself presentable."
And with that, he turned on his heels and walked away without another words.
I heard the front door open and close and as I ran upstairs, I heard his car pull out of the driveway. What's he up to now? I found mom in their room but it turned out she knew nothing about it. I guess it's best to prepare myself for what's to come this evening.
Mom and I were in my room when I heard chattering and laughter downstairs. We both rushed down to find the most unexpected guests. The McGovern's are here.
Dad looked up at me from talking and gave me a "don't-do-anything-stupid" look but it did little to stop me from what I was about to do, after all he's the one crossing the line here. I'm not gonna sit around like a puppet when he's trying to control my life. This is no longer my dread. It's soon to be his. I deliberately avoided Ian's stares and trailed behind mom who looked quite helpless.
I just sat there beside mom when the two fathers talked. Elena seemed to notice the tension in the air but her idiot of a son didn't stop trying to get my attention, which I was more than willing to keep to myself.
Although he was talking to Chris, I knew dad kept glancing my way. Then came the moment I've been waiting for, to confirm the engagement. Everyone seems to be enjoying the moment, except mom who was trying to make small talk with Elena, and of course, myself.
Dad said to Ian he could back out if he wanted to and unsurprisingly he didn't. I really never noticed him having feelings for me. I mean we've been best friends since we were little but I don't feel anything towards him whatsoever. I turned to him for the first time this evening and gave him an apologetic look. He looked back at me confused. Seriously he didn't think I was going to marry him, did he?
Christopher turned from his son, smiling, and asked me the same dad did Ian.
Mom looked at me anxiously as I stood up slowly. I felt all eyes were fixed on me, but I was not going to back down now.
"I'm sorry Mr. and Mrs. McGovern but I can't agree to this." I cast a glance at Ian whose face fell. I couldn't care about that at that moment and held my chin up, not bothering to look at dad, already knowing what expression has taken over his face.
" I do have great respect for you, Mr. and Mrs. McGovern. But I'm refusing this arrangement not because I don't feel anything for Ian. I love him but only as a friend. But another reason is that I can't , .. won't marry .. a man."
Is it just me, I don't know but it felt like the room fell silent, much more than it had already if it was even possible. I suddenly felt I should've stopped at 'being friends' reason.
"Nicole, stop this nonsense and sit down."
Dad said angrily but I wouldn't budge.
Even Chris seemed shocked by this, well so was everyone except Mom who was smiling at me with teary eyes, a reassuring smile, which was all I needed at the moment. I turned to look at my father who I thought would be fuming now but surprisingly calm. Calm just like it will be before a storm.
"I'm sorry, Chris, but I'd like a word with my daughter." He said the last part with such disgust that I winced internally at that. He nodded to Elena and Ian who looked quite shocked and turned to mom.
"Marilyn, will you see our guests out?"
He said his eyes never leaving mine. Mom squeezed my arm and hastened to show the guests out, who were already anxious to leave the moment I last spoke. I didn't even turned to look at Ian because he would be hurting a lot by now and also because I didn't want to break away from looking at dad and give him the impression that I could be reasoned with.
"No matter what, you'll marry him. You will apologize to Ian and his family for that little show you put on back there. I'll see to it that it happens by the end of your freshman year." He said coldly, anger quite evident in his eyes. I didn't say anything back, knowing that that alone would do to let him know that I'm not changing my decision.
"Damn you. Do you have to be like this?" he said, his voice somewhat softened.
"That's what I should be asking."
"I'm doing what's necessary, what's good for you."
"No, Dad. You are doing this for your own damn good. Please tell me you really think you forcing me into this is going to make me happy."
"I won't force you into anything if you take back what you said yesterday and just now. I'll give you time."
"And then what? Get married to another man. I'm not hiding who I am. And I don't see any reason why I should."
"There's a thousand. It's the our family name you are disgracing, for one." He said, his voice becoming stern again.
"I don't understand why this has to be a disgrace, me being the way I am. Mom loves me and accepts me for who I am, I'm sure Danny would have."
"Don't you get Danny into this, you hear me? And I doubt my real daughter would love you for the … thing you are claiming to be." He said, coldly yet full of bile.
"Your real da"
"I'd rather it'd been you who was taken from us. Maybe I would have missed you."
I opened my mouth but nothing came out. I couldn't believe he said that. And to think he could actually mean what he said was too much for me to take. He seemed to realized what he's done from the look of regret in his eyes but I didn't care anymore. I ran out the door, brushing past mom who was rushing in but I didn't stop. I spotted dad's car through my now tear-filled eyes and ran for it. I pulled the door open and got in. I sped out just as mom came running to the window to stop me.
More tears streamed down as what dad said replayed in my mind. But I was snapped out of my thoughts as a loud sliding sound came from behind and a sports car came into the rear-view mirror. My heart raced as I saw it was dad's Lamborghini. But instead of stopping, I went on.
My mind was clouded with his words and my eyes with tears that I didn't foresee the light turning red as I approached the crossroads. But I didn't stop, kind of wishing I could grant dad's wish. With some dumb luck, I made it past the red light, only with a narrow escape. But my heart stopped when I heard the sound of collision. I didn't even know how I stopped the car and got out.
My heart was racing as I ran to the scene of the terrible accident. No matter what he said, I wasn't ready to lose him. At least, not like this, when he had nothing on his mind but to catch up with me and ended up like this. It didn't help at all the pain to see that dad's car was hit with enough force to get flipped over and landed on four wheels again. As I scurried around and looked to see through the now smeared window that if he was alright, the sight before me shocked me to my core.
In the driver seat was mom with blood all over her face and the white blouse she had on since this evening. All the time I tried desperately to get her out, she was smiling feebly at me. I noticed that she didn't put the seat belt on but I couldn't care about it at the time. I tried my best to get her out as gently as I could.
Even with all the pain she must be feeling right now, she didn't lose that smile she always has. I'd stopped crying by this time. I guess I didn't have any more tears. I tried to get her comfortable in my lap, but when she winced and made gasp,I stopped and looked at her as she tried to say something.
"Mom." I answered shakily, not wanting to believe what I'm seeing.
"You can do this. Even without me."
"No, mom." I sobbed.
"I'll always be with you, you know that, right?"
I nodded shakily.
"Never let that light in those eyes die."
She trailed off and before I could do anything, the very light in her own eyes faded, taking away with it my very own.
My back was aching where it hit the wall and the blood seeping didn't show any signs of stopping but those are the least of my concern at the moment. I slowly got up and faced him. Apart from some grey hair, he hasn't changed a bit.
"What happened to you? You look like a mess."
I scoffed and noticed someone in the room.
"Who is that?" I asked, nodded to the woman standing beside Rina. Crap, Rina's still here. And she's holding her. Weird.
"That is .. she's…" His expression changed from confused anger to nervousness, which I haven't seen all 18 years of my life.
"What's she doi.. "
"We are married." Suddenly the music in the background faded. Even everything surrounding me slowly disappeared. The only thing on my mind was a smiling face trying to tell me to be strong, to not lose hope. But how could I not when he kept running over just when I got myself up. The thoughts of mom only brought more pain to my heart.
"This is Rina, your new sister."
That was all I need to hear, all I could take.
"Shut the fuck up."
He tried to stop me but couldn't when I ran downstairs and out the door.
I didn't bother trying to stop the tears as I came running out the house, slamming the door behind me. He outdid himself this time. I thought he's hurt me to a point that I wouldn't be able to feel any pain any more but, surprise! He remarkably, tremendously and superfluously broke me. The only thing on my mind now was to get to her. Talk to her, cry into her as she would tell me to be strong, to do what I think is right. I ran and ran, in hope of hearing her sweet voice tell me it's all going to be all right, despite knowing full well that isn't possible. Not anymore. And to think it's all my fault is …….