Keeping You A Secret Page 26

’’Dear Holland,’’ she\d written on the flowered stationery I\d given her for her birthday. ’’We need to talk. Why don\ you call me to arrange a convenient time.’’

A convenient time? I lunged for my phone and started punching in numbers. I hung up before finishing the sequence. Instead, I called work and told them I\d be late.

***

It felt weird having to ring the doorbell at my own house. In the background, I could hear the TV blaring. The whoosh of the front door startled me.

Mom stood framed in the threshold, balancing Hannah on her hip. I smiled. ’’Hi.’’ She didn\ move to unlock the storm door. I wondered if she was going to make me stay out on the porch, or shut the door in my face.

She twisted the latch and stepped back.

I let myself in. ’’I got your letter. It was sort of on my way so I didn\ call first. Are you busy? Am I interrupting something? I could come back another time. Tomorrow. Or later tonight. A more convenient time.’’ Was I babbling? Why didn\ she answer? Why were her eyes tearing up?

Oh, Mom. I reached for her.

She shoved Hannah into my arms. ’’Would you like something to eat or drink? I need a drink.’’

’’No, I'm fine.’’

She headed for the kitchen.

’’Hannie. Hey, Sissy.’’ I held my baby sister close and breathed her in. The fragrance of baby powder, shampoo, laundry detergent. The ginger snap all down her onesie. ’’God, I've missed you.’’ l kissed her silky head.

I carried Hannah to the kitchen, where Mom was leaning over the sink, downing a tall glass of water. I wanted to open the fridge and check out the leftovers, see if there was any fried chicken. I\d been craving Mom\s fried chicken.

’’How are you?’’ she asked, wheeling around. ’’Your hair\s getting long.’’

’’Yeah, I\m thinking of letting it grow.’’ Since I can\ afford to get it cut, I didn't add.

’’I always liked it better long.’’ She set her glass in the sink and brushed by me, returning to the living room. I trailed with Hannah. Mom lowered herself to the sofa and remoted down the sound on the TV. I knelt on the carpet and propped Hannah in front of me, hoping she\d crawl. As if on cue, she motored across the floor like a tiny tank.

Mom and I laughed.

Good, that was good. Broke the tension.

’’Where are you living?’’ she asked. ’’With that girl, I presume.’’

I bristled. ’’Her name is Cece Goddard. And no, I'm not living with Cece. I have my own placed.’’

’’How can you afford that?’’ Mom sniped.

Made me mad, like she knew I couldn\ . Like she expected me to be living on the street, begging for handouts, bemoaning the day I disappointed her. ’’I manage,’’I said evenly.

Mom's head dropped. ’’I\m sorry. That was uncalled for.’’

My anger dissipated.

’’I promised myself Iʼd never do to you what my parents did to me. That I\d love you no matter what. But this -’’ Mom raised her head and met my eyes. ’’I won\ let you throw your life away on that girl.’’

A burning sensation streaked through my gut. ’’Her name is Cece. And what makes you think -’’

’’Let me finnish,’’ Mom interrupted. ’’You have so much talent. So much potential. Iʼd like to believe I had something to do with that. You can do anything you want, Holland. You have your whole life ahead of you.’’

’’Yeah, I do,’’ I said. ’’With Cece in it.’’

Mom exhaled irritation. She stood and hustled across the room to retrieve Hannah from the corner, where a fuzzy pacifier was finding its way into her mouth. ’’I don\ understand this. I don\ understand you. I thought you had more sense.’’

My insides smoldered.

Mom flipped Hannah around and headed her in the other direction. ’’I suppose it\s some kind of phase you\ e going through, or an identity crisis. I don\ know. It never happened to me.’’

’’That's because you're not me. It isn't a phase.’’

Mom straightened. ’’I know you, Holland. You\ e not...thatway.’’

Say it, I thought. Stop denying the truth. ’’Yes, Mother, I am. I'm gay.’’

’’She did this to you!’’ Momʼs voice shrilled. ’’I don't know what she did, but I told her mother to keep her sick daughter away from you. She's perverted, and she\s preying on innocent girls -’’

’’You told Kate that?’’ Oh, my God. ’’How could you?’’ I scrambled to my feet. I had to get over there, apologize to Kate. Oh, my God.

’’Where are you going?’’ Mom said at my back. ’’Holland, I want you to come home.’’

That stopped me. How many times had I longed to hear those words? How many nights had I cried myself to sleep, holding the phone to my heart, praying it would ring?

’’Please, listen to me,’’ Mom\s voice softened. ’’You don\ know what you're doing, honey. You haven\ thought about the consequences, what you\ e throwing away. Your future. Your self-respect. I'm your mother. I know you better than you know yourself.’’

I might\ve laughed. ’’You donʼt know me at all, Mom.’’ I turned around. ’’All you see is this person you want me to be. And I can\ be her. I\m not her. I can't live my life for you.’’

She spread her hands at her sides. ’’Please. Come home.’’

My eyes pooled with tears. Did I want to come home? Yes, more than anything. Not to the physical walls and floors and unlocked doors. Not to move back. But to the comfort, the security in knowing I'd always have a home. Everyone needs a home.

’’And Cece?’’ I asked. ’’Is she welcome here?’’

Mom\s eyes slit. ’’She has a home.’’

So that's it, I thought. A parents unconditional love - what a myth. Hannah crawled over to my feet and hoisted herself up right, clutching my leg in her strong little hands. I lifted her high into the air and captured a mental image to draw before handing her over to Mom. ’’Bye,’’ I said.

’’You\ e not getting a penny of that college money. None of it. It'll all go to Hannah.’’ Mom snapped. ’’In fact, I may give it to Faith.’’

I shook my head at her. She didn\ get it. She didn\ understand at all. I loved Hannah. Faith, too. I\d be happy for them to have that money, have anything of mine.

I closed the door behind me, feeling sad for my mother. Sorry for her. Yeah, I\d made sacrifices;I\d experienced loss. But she had no idea what this was costing her. Because she was losing me.

Chapter 26

’’How much docs it cost to rent a tux?’’ I asked.

Cece blinked up at me. ’’Are you serious?’’

’’I am. I think we should go to the prom.’’

Her eyes lit up. ’’l\ve always wanted to. I\ve dreamed about it.’’

It had been preying on my mind. I didn\ know why I should have to give up my senior prom. I shouldn\ have to give up everything.

I touched her face. Her gentle, golden face. ’’What would you wear?’’

Cece bit her lip. ’’That green dress. It is sooo gorgeous.’’

I smiled. ’’You\d look awesome in it.’’ She would, too.

Her expression grew serious. ’’But Holland, at Southglenn? I don\ know. We could go as a group maybe. Safety in numbers. Brandi sort of likes this girl -’’

’’No,’’ I said. ’’If we go, I\d want it to be just you and me. Our special night together.’’

Cece held my eyes for a moment, then flung her arms around my neck. ’’I love you,’’ she said.

’’I love you too. You and only you.’’ I kissed her.

Our dance mix CD skipped and we both cursed. It was getting a little worn from overuse. Cece jumped off the bed to restart it.

’’What is Leisure Arts?’’ I called to her.

’’Is that a major?’’ She slid out the CD and put on this Norah Jones we both liked. ’’Sign me up.’’

I flipped a page in my Metro catalog. I was propped against the wall where we'd shoved Cece\s bed so we'd have more floor space to dance. Since I spent so much time here lately, Kate had relaxed the house rules a bit, allowing us to hang out in Cece\s room as long as the door was open. Now the battle raged over the definition of ’’open.’’

Cece sprawled backward on the bed, settling her head in my lap again. ’’Wow, they have an aviation technology major,’’ I said, my fingers trailing absently through her hair. ’’I could learn to fly.’’

She slid her hand up my shirt. ’’I could teach you that.’’

I slapped her away.’’You already have.’’

Cece grinned. Reaching up, she removed my glasses and slid them onto her face, then stuck her hands under her head, watching me. Making it extremely difficult to concentrate. I set the Metro catalog aside.

’’You going to invite me to your graduation?’’ she asked.

’’No, I\m going to make you rent the videotape.’’

We sneered at each other. She added, ’’Mom wants to know because Greg\s graduating and she\d like to celebrate yours with his. Throw you both a party.’’

My eyebrows arched. ’’You\ e kidding.’’

’’Would I lie to you?’’

I just looked at her.

’’Serious,’’ she said. ’’She didn\ want you to miss out on your big day.’’

Why did that make me feel like crying? ’’That\s so sweet. I really love your mom. Your whole family.’’

Cece looped my glasses back over my ears and rolled off the bed. ’’I was supposed to wait to give you this, but you know me. No self-control.’’ She dropped to her knees and scrounged under the bed. ’’Donʼt look.’’ She straightened, twisting away. ’’Okay, here.’’ She thrust a package at me. ’’It's from all of us. Happy graduation.’’

’’Cece -’’ It was so pretty, all gold and blue. Southglenn colors.

’’You\ll have to wrap it back up,’’ she said. ’’And act surprised. Like this.’’ She framed her face with her hands and mimed a squeal.

It made me laugh. I slid off the satin ribbon and unwrapped the gift. It was a case. On the top was an engraved insignia of two knights on horses, jousting. ’’FABER-CASTELL,’’ it read underneath. What was this, cigars? I unlatched the hook and opened the lid.

’’Oh, my God,’’ I gasped. Inside were trays of drawing supplies - pencils, chalks, pressed and natural charcoals. Dozens and dozens of water-color pencils. ’’Cece, this is unbelievable.’’ I dug out a yellow water-color pencil and felt it come alive in my hand. What I could do with this: sunshine, roses, Cece.

’’I had to promise Mom and Dad you\d draw a life-size nude of me so they could hang it over the mantel,’’ Cece said.

I snorted.

’’My own personal and extremely private present is coming later.’’ She blew me a kiss. It made me wish later was sooner. ’’Oh, I have something else for you.’’ Cece spun around and wrenched open a dresser drawer. She tossed me a T-shirt. ’’You can send this to your mother.’’

I shook it out and flipped it over. ’’I LOVE MY LESBIAN DAUGHTER,’’ it read on the front. Tears sprang to my eyes.

’’Oh, no, Holland.’’ Cece lunged at me. ’’It was a joke’’ She wound her arms around my neck. ’’I\m sorry. I\m sorry.’’

’’It\s okay.’’ I peeled her off me. ’’It\s funny. Really.’’ I wouldn\ send it, of course. Maybe one day. Cece told me to never give up hope.

She ripped the shirt out of my hands and tossed it into the closet. ’’I\lI give it to my mom. She can add it to her collection, since I give her one every year for Christmas. Has she ever worn it? No.’’

’’One of these days she\ll surprise you,’’ I said. ’’She\ll have her own coming out.’’

’’Oh, yeah. She\ll be marching in the Pride Day Parade.’’ Cece rolled her eyes.

Kate bellowed up the stairs, ’’What are you two doing?’’

Cece hollered back, ’’We\ e doing the nasty.’’

’’No, were not,’’ I volunteered. ’’We\ e just having se*.’’ We mock-laughed at each other.

’’WelI, hurry it up,’’ Kate said with a smile in her voice. ’’You\ e both going to be late for worked.’’

’’She doesn\ know how late.’’ Cece took my hand and kisser my palm.

Shiver city. ’’Better get changed,’’ I said in a sigh.

Cece slipped into her work jeans and tied her bandanna on her head, while I finished the Metro Urban application. All but one question. Wow, they had a great art department. I could get a degree in graphic arts, or line arts, or even art education. Did I want to teach? Did I even want to go into art? There was so much to choose from. Too much. And too much I didn\ know about myself, too many possibilities to explore. Who knows what direction their life will take? You can\ plan that.

I scanned through the list of majors again, then made my decision. Let nature take its course. On the last line I printed, ’’Undeclared.’’


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