A few days later I came home after training, it wasn't that late so my mom wasn’t there yet. I took the opportunity to start making a simple beans and sausages casserole which I let simmer while I worked on my homework, my mom arrived about an hour and a half later and we sat down for dinner.
It didn’t matter if it was crap food or real food that I’d made the one part of dinner that hadn’t changed was the awkwardness of sitting at a table with someone you didn’t share any interest or like all that much. Someone like my mom.
“How has school been going?” She asked me after a minute or two of silence.
“Okay, I guess. I got a B in math in last week’s test. I haven’t got my grade on my latest English essay, but I’m optimistic about it, less so about my Spanish homework, I kind of did it in a frenzy between classes.”
“What about work?”
“It’s kind of a routine there, I’m still nowhere comparable to the other young guardians, but I’m improving, slowly but steadily. Oh I forgot, I started taking a first aid class. What about you, how’s work?” I didn’t mention I was also shooting a gun almost every day.
“Pete’s been giving me grief, says I should smile more to customers and be faster taking orders, I think he should pay more more and we argued.”
“I see.” I didn’t really know what to say, my mom worked full time as a waitress and she wasn’t exactly earning the big bucks.
The conversation died for a few minutes, the silence was awkward but less awkward than the small talks. I just quietly shoved spoonfuls of the stew I’d made into my mouth and my mind wandered.
“So… How have your friends been doing?” My mom asked, breaking the silence.
“Good I guess, Kenzie and I have been working on a Geometry project and spending a lot of time together.” That was code talk for making out on couches and her bed. “I’ve also been getting closer to Victoria and she’s letting me brush her fur which is really nice, I mean she looks kind of a little odd at first, but when you get to know her she’s really super nice and friendly and it’s an interesting bonding experience.”
“What about that Chinese boy? Chen was it? He seemed really nice.”
This was definitely mom speak for: I think you should be sucking face with him.
“His name is Chuan and he’s Thai, not Chinese”
“Well, what do you think about him?”
I thought about saying I thought he was cool and funny, because he was, but the words didn’t leave my mouth.
“Okay, I can’t handle anymore of these talks anymore.” I said. “Mom, I don’t want to get a boyfriend at all. Please stop pushing me on that topic.”
“Don’t be like that, I’m sure you’ll meet a boy you like and change your mind.”
The idea of just needing to find the right boy made my stomach turn. I could have just grumbled something incomprehensible and continued shoving food in my mouth. But that would have been the smart thing to do. I wasn’t that smart.
“Let me explain and this is a really complicated subject so listen close; I’m really really really fucking gay. I’m a flaming fucking dyke. My latin name is Queerus Maximus. I want to fuck girls and eat pussies. I think boys are gross and thinking about dating or having sex with one disgust me and it makes me gag. Is that clear or do I need to go on?”
She slammed down her fork on the table.
“Paige, go to your room. Now.” She sighed.
“Fine.” I slammed my hands into the table as I got up. and I left my dinner there and slammed the door of my room shut behind me. I needed to hit something so I started smashing my pillow. I was so angry that my armor formed.
Once the adrenaline was over, I didn’t feel that much better. I started aggressively running my hand through my hair and pacing. I held back tears. All I could think of was that my mom hadn’t taken the news well. I didn’t feel safe at home anymore… I didn’t want to hear or see how she’d react after the initial moment was over, I couldn’t handle her rejection.
“Paige?” My mom called over the door. “I--”
“Shut up! I fucking hate you so much!” I screamed, my anger flaring back up, I threw something at the door, making a dent in it and she left me alone.
I sat down on my bed and started to cry.
I had to get out...
Ignoring the tears, I opened my closet and took out the old sports bag that had been buried in there. I opened my drawer and tossed what I thought was important into the bag; spare clothes and underwear, my computer, my two favorite books. I had my IDs and wallet with me already, all that was left was my school bag which I mounted on my other shoulder.
I was ready to go… I took a pen and paper and agonized for a few minutes as to what to write.
I can’t stay here anymore, it hurts too much. It was short but I couldn’t think of anything else to say...
I opened my window and slipped through it, setting foot on the emergency staircase. I closed the window behind me and started walking down the stairs and then the city. All the way to the DDA Headquarters, the only place I could think to go... I could have gone to Kickback and Molecular’s condo but I didn’t want to intrude on them…
On the way I cried a little and when I wasn’t crying I drove my nail through my skin, letting the pain drown out my emotions.
Halfway into the trip, my phone started buzzing. I knew it was my mom, I didn’t pick it up.
I passed the security and made my walk to the Guardians’ building, climbing the stairs two at a time. I came into the Lounge, Stan, Chuan and Kenzie were watching TV, the former while he was reading from a tablet. Jessie was sitting on the ground with Victoria, helping her to paint her claws.
“Paige? What are you doing back here?” Kenzie asked after she turned around and saw me.
“Is it okay if I stay here for a while?”
“Of course, what’s wrong?”
Everyone had stopped what they were doing and now were paying attention to me.
“My mom was nagging me about getting a boyfriend and I came out to her… She didn’t take it well. She sent me to my room and I just ran away...”
“Oh my God.” Kenzie hugged me and practically dragged me to the couch, laying my head on top of her laps and caressing my hair.
“Do you want us to prepare a room for you?” Stan offered.
“Please.” I looked at Kenzie. “I need a place for myself, that’s okay, right?”
“Just because we’re dating doesn’t mean you can’t have your privacy.” She leaned down a kissed my forehead.
Stan, Chuan and Victoria left and soon came back, carrying linens and other goodies putting it in one of the spare rooms that was currently not in use. I lost track of what they were doing, just focusing on Kenzie’s touch.
“I know what will cheer you up.” Victoria said once she was done with hauling things. She came closer and presented her neck. “Come on, you know you want to. Come on.”
I didn't protest. I extended a hand and starting lightly stroking her fur. It was soft and silky, I let it pass in between my finger. It was probably a little demeaning for her, but she didn’t show it. The repetitiveness of the movement was oddly soothing.
“She’s smiling!” She announced. “No bout of sadness can survive me. Hug?”
She sat down and opened her arms, giving me a gentle squeeze, making me sink into her fur coat. She was really warm, soft and cuddly. She really was a human teddy bear.
“Thank you Victoria.” I said. “You’re a great friend.”
“That’s one advantage of being protean. I’m the undisputed champion at cuddles.”
I spent a good part of the evening, being almost catatonic, not even crying or angry, just numb. Until I retired to my room with Kenzie.
The room they’d prepared for me was simple and spartanly decorated; a bed, a dresser, a night table, a computer desk with a chair and a television hanging off the wall. They’d picked red linens for the bed. The walls were bare and a simple white.
I unpacked my bag, there wasn’t much, I’d only brought the bare minimum to get me through the next few days. Once I was done, I sat on the bed and Kenzie sat down with me, wrapping her arms around me.
“I love you.” I said, my eyes about to tear up.
“I love you too.”
“Can you stay here tonight? I don’t want to be alone.”
In the panic, I hadn’t thought of bringing my self harm kit from home so there wasn’t much I could do, but yet I didn’t trust myself to be alone.
“Of course. Let me get something to change into.”
She left for a minute and came back. She climbed into bed with me, removed her braces and pants before she slipped on a set of pajama pants under the sheets. We just watched TV until she fell asleep, the two of us pressed one against the other, with me still wearing my clothes.