“Warmth”

Amber White


I skipped Mom’s Friday night dinner the week I turned 23, so the week after, I dressed up nice and arrived early. My girlfriend April was at my apartment waiting for me to get home. I’d told her where I was going and to expect me to be upset when I returned – she’d sighed and given me her usual lecture about coming out to my mother.

 I walked in to the warm house and slipped my heels off in the entryway.

“Molly?” My mother’s voice echoed from the kitchen.

“Yeah, Ma,” I yelled back, smoothing my dress down and stepping farther into the house. When I reached the dining room I could see her face, red from the heat. I painted on a smile.

“Oh, Molly,” she said, coming out of the kitchen with a large bowl of spaghetti. “You look so pretty. Would you grab the plate of garlic bread? It’s on the stove.”

I said yes and when I returned she was already scooping noodles onto my plate.

“Is Anthony coming?” I asked, noticing there was no place set at the table for my brother.

Mom’s smile dropped. “No.”

“Oh?”

Mom sighed heavily. “He’s with Jacob and…” She paused and I knew who she was going to say before she said it. “Chris.”

I didn’t respond, but my stomach knotted up. The smell of garlic and oregano wafting through the house suddenly made me nauseous.

“You don’t have any friends like that, do you, sweetie?”

I swallowed air and began to choke. I sipped some water, cleared my throat, and said, as calmly as I could, “No, Ma, I don’t have any gay friends.”

“Good,” Mom said, nodding to herself. “Now eat your dinner.”

I twirled spaghetti on my fork, wincing at the scratching sound it made against the glass plate. I wasn’t hungry. A weird, vindictive part of me couldn’t wait to get home to tell April the exact words that had come out of my mother’s mouth. The scathing tone with which she talked about my brother’s gay friend. Something in me said, that’ll show her.

I arrived home and saw April lounging on my couch, the television on a low, muffled volume. The fight started slowly, but before long she was standing in the doorway and I was sitting on the couch, head in my hands, asking for the hundredth time why telling my mother was so important to her. She shook her head at me, talked about marriage, and how we don’t have a future if I can’t even tell our coworkers that we’re together. I didn’t know what to say. She was right. She asked if I ever planned on coming out to my mom and I looked away, frowning. She laughed coldly, said “You’re the most selfish person I’ve ever met” and walked out the door.

I decided to visit Anthony, and spent the half-hour drive in silence. I was still wearing the same dress from dinner, but my heels were rattling around on the floorboard. It struck me as I pulled into the parking lot of his complex that I hadn’t called to make sure he was home. I felt frustrated tears building behind my eyes at the thought of driving all this way for nothing, but then I noticed Chris’ car and I knew it meant Anthony and his friends were home. I wiped under my eyes, sure at this point my mascara was smeared from crying, and slipped my shoes on, heading to Anthony’s door. He answered quickly, in sweatpants and an old t-shirt.

“Molly!” He exclaimed, opening the door for me to slip in. “What’s up?”

I ignored his question, looking at his two best friends, Chris and Jason, sitting on his couch playing a video game. “Did you really miss Friday night dinner for this?”

Anthony shifted guiltily. I rolled my eyes. His guilt didn’t last long. “Whatever, you’re here now! Everything good?”

“Yeah, you look like you’ve been crying. What happened?” Jacob asked. He pressed pause, dragging an annoyed “Dude!” from Chris’ lips. Anthony had been friends with the two boys since the fourth grade, and over the years I’d come to see them as my friends, too.

“Um,” I said awkwardly, looking at Anthony’s friends. Anthony was the only one who knew about April, and while I knew his friends wouldn’t judge me, it still took me a few moments to get the words out. “I have a girlfriend. Or, used to. I’m not sure.”

“I knew it,” Chris said happily, as though this were good news. I rolled my eyes.

“What’s her name?” Jason asked, and I told them. “So what’s the problem?”

“She wants me to come out.” I began picking at the hem of my dress awkwardly. I was suddenly aware how itchy the fabric of the chair was against the backs of my legs. I looked down, dreading the response. What if they told me how selfish I was?

“Well that’s bullshit,” Anthony exclaimed. I felt good, until Jacob began laughing and I followed his gaze to see Chris cringing.

“I mean –” Chris started, and I wanted to shrink into myself. “Listen. It’s not that crazy. I’d never get with a closeted dude. Too much hassle. That’s shit you gotta figure out for yourself.”

“So,” I paused awkwardly, feeling lost. “What do I do?”

“There’s no right answer. You just gotta –” he paused. “You can’t come out for anybody but you. You gotta be ready for what comes with it. Anybody who’s pressuring you to do it when you aren’t ready, isn’t good for you. But you also gotta think – how much is it hurting me to be in the closet? ‘Cause for me, it hurt a lot. Like a thousand-pound weight on my chest every day.”

I nodded, letting the words wash over me. I felt part validated, part guilty. It felt good to hear my feelings were valid, but I wondered if I’d been holding April back. I left Anthony’s apartment that night dreading the next conversation I was going to have with April.

It happened on Monday. The break-up was quiet and quick. She hadn’t fought it, but her arms were loose when she hugged me goodbye and the smile on her face was pinched.

I hated that we ended, but it felt inevitable. It made it hard to work together, though, and eventually I began looking for a new job a few towns over and I found one quickly. The day I moved into my new apartment, Anthony, Chris, and Jacob joined me to assist with carrying boxes and then left me to unpack. I felt refreshed, like I was a new person, in a new place where I could be whoever I wanted to be without the judgement I’d felt plagued with at home. It was later that night, as I was unpacking boxes in my new, already cluttered kitchen, that someone knocked on my door. I opened it, and smiled at the woman on the other side of the door frame.

“Hi,” she greeted warmly, holding out a hand to shake. Curly brown hair fell into her almond eyes and she shook her head to move it back. “I’m your neighbor, just wanted to welcome you to the complex.”

Her hand was soft and warm when I shook it. “Thank you! I’m Molly.”

“It’s nice to meet you Molly,” she said. “I’m Lindsey.”

I smiled at her, biting my lip and glancing down at the floor.

“So, um,” Lindsey said, and I brought my eyes back up to hers. “Do you need any help?”

I shook my head. “I’m almost done, just the kitchen and bathroom left to unpack.”

“Well if I can’t offer labor services, can I at least offer some wine and good company?”

I grinned, my cheeks heating up as she leaned against my door frame, smirk on her face.

“Yeah,” I agreed, stepping aside. “Come on in.”

Six months later, I tried to kiss her. We’d become instant friends, having movie nights and going out on weekends and going to brunch when we were feeling fancy. I had feelings for her right away, but after April, I didn’t feel comfortable moving forward until one night, after a chick flick and too much wine. We were on her couch, the room dark and quiet. I’d leaned in, intoxicated on both the wine and Lindsey, but she’d leaned back, a coy smirk on her face, and told me she only dated girls that were out of the closet.

“Have you ever been in a relationship with a girl?” I asked. Lindsey nodded, and asked me the same question. “Yeah. We broke up, because I wasn’t out.”

Lindsey wrapped an arm around my shoulders. She smelled like cinnamon and my skin tingled where it met hers. “You’ll come out when it’s right for you, you’ve just…” she trailed off. We were close, close enough that I could feel her breath on my face. She leaned in, nose brushing my cheek. “You just gotta find somebody willing to wait for you,” she finished, placing a soft kiss on my cheek.

We never talked about that night, and I watched as Lindsey casually dated other girls while we maintained our friendship. I put my focus into work, making excuses most Friday nights about grading and paperwork so that I wouldn’t have to face my mother, and going through the motions of a functioning adult. Days blurred into weeks which blurred into months, and it felt like I’d slept through six months of my life. Some days I wondered whether coming out would be worth it, if it would help get rid of the fog that had settled over me, but the thought of everyone around me knowing made my skin crawl, and I laid in bed one Saturday afternoon with tears in my eyes. I was trying to picture what it would be like to be out to everyone, and it felt like my skin had been peeled back and everyone could see my insides. I could feel disapproving stares while I was alone, and realized that the only judgment I felt was my own.

It took a week for me to gather the courage to call Anthony, but when I did he came over immediately, a Hershey’s chocolate bar in hand.

“I know chocolate usually helps when girls are sad,” he explained, handing me the candy. I chuckled softly, thanking him. “So what’s going on? Finally going to tell me why you’ve been leaving me to fend for myself on Friday nights for the past, like, year?”

“It hasn’t been a year,” I said petulantly, opening the candy bar. “And I was going to before you started being an ass.”

Anthony grinned at me, plopping next to me on my bed and making himself comfortable. “That’s what little brothers are for.”

I sighed and took a bite, closing my eyes as the taste of chocolate filled my mouth.

“See, chocolate makes you happy. It’s like, endorphins, or serotonin, or something –”

“Thanks, Anthony,” I interrupted, giving him a side-hug. We sat in silence while I finished my treat, and then eventually I said, “I wish I wasn’t gay.”

Anthony visibly startled at the words, his eyes wide, so I continued talking.

“I think I hate myself a little bit for it. I don’t know if it’s Mom or if it’s society or if it’s just me, but sometimes I think about it and I feel sick.”

Anthony breathed in deeply before letting out a long sigh. “I’m sorry,” he said sincerely. “I don’t really know what to say.”

“That’s okay,” I answered, looking down at my lap. “I kind of figured it out about a week ago. I’ve spent so long freaking out about how Mom’s gonna react that I ignored my own reaction which was not good. But I want to go to Mom’s house. I want to tell her.”

“Really?”

I nodded confidently. “Yeah. I want the worry about Mom to be in the past so I can focus on how I feel about myself.”

“Okay,” Anthony agreed. He called Mom, and I could hear her excited squeal over the phone and grimaced. Mom told Anthony she would make us dinner. I didn’t know how I was going to eat. I felt too nauseous to even speak.

I walked into Mom’s house behind my brother, slipping my sandals off at the front door. Anthony toed off his sneakers and I wished I’d warned him to wear shoes that were easy to put on as it was likely I’d be running out the door by the time our visit was over.

“Anthony? Molly?” Mom’s voice was loud, echoing through the house.

“It’s us,” Anthony called. He began walking to the kitchen, and I reluctantly followed, hating how warm the house was. Mom was at the stove, stirring something that smelled cheesy, but she gasped when I walked in the room, running to hug me as though she hadn’t seen me in a year. I patted her back, a wave of nausea rolling over me. I pulled away quickly to sit at the table.

The next few minutes passed in a blur of Anthony and my mother’s voices participating in small talk as Mom finished cooking.

“I was going to put the leftover soup in the fridge and take it for lunch this week but this is so much better!” Mom smiled, setting a bowl of baked potato soup in front of Anthony and me.

“Thanks, Mom,” I said softly, picking up a spoon and twirling it in my bowl, pushing around a chunk of potato.

“Dear,” Mom said to me, “you haven’t been to dinner the last few weeks. Are you okay?”

“Just busy at work,” I lied, looking over at Anthony. He smiled encouragingly, so I took a deep breath and said, “There’s actually something I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Oh?” Mom’s eyebrows raised, a giddy smile plastered on her face. “Has someone got a boyfriend?”

“I’m gay.” Silence rang in my ears. I stared at my bowl of soup, and Anthony squeezed my hand under the table; I hadn’t realized it had been shaking. I suddenly felt terribly aware of my own body: the heartbeat in my ears and neck and wrist, the shallow bursts of air escaping my nostrils as I breathed, the stinging in my eyes.

“I’m sorry?” She said. I didn’t want to say it again, so I just looked at her.  Her face was red, lips pressed in a thin line. If she were a cartoon character, there would’ve been steam pouring from her ears. Instead, acid poured from her mouth. “That’s not true, Molly.”

“Mom,” Anthony cut in, and I let out a breath of relief I hadn’t realized I’d been holding.

“I’m talking to your sister,” she snapped, eyes on mine. “Where did this come from?”

I wasn’t sure what to say. God? Satan? I sure as hell didn’t know. But she apparently wasn’t expecting an answer.

“I raised you so well,” she continued. “I don’t understand why you would do this to me.”

“I’m not doing anything,” I whispered.

“You’re sinning,” she said, eyes narrowed. “Your daddy would be rolling in his grave -“

“Mom! Anthony exclaimed angrily. I blinked and tears slipped down my face.

“No daughter of mine will be like that,” Mom finally declared, standing from the table.

“Mom, don’t say that,” Anthony pleaded, standing as well. I numbly stood up too.

“Molly,” my mother said, walking around the table and standing in front of me. “Are you sure? You’ve never dated boys, maybe you just haven’t found the right boy yet –”

“I don’t like boys,” I told her, and my voice came out stronger than I expected.

My mother’s face was still red, and now fat tears were dripping down it. She sniffed loudly and I felt a jolt of anger. How dare she cry, as though she were the victim?

“You just have to fight it, sweetie,” she said. “You know this is the devil whispering in your ear, you’ve just got to fight it – “

“It’s not the fucking devil, Mom,” Anthony said, stepping between us and grabbing my arm to pull me away. “She’s gay, not possessed.”

“You’re not gay,” she whispered, almost to herself. I sniffled, wiping under my eyes. “Molly, we can get you help.”

“I don’t want help!” I exploded. “I want a mom that accepts me for who I am!”

My mom was silent. I couldn’t remember ever seeing her so cold as she wiped the tears from her cheeks and looked me in the eye. “Then I guess I’m not your mother.”

The words hit me like a physical blow. I choked on a sob, pushing past Anthony to the front door to retrieve my shoes.

“Guess you’re not my mother then, either,” I heard Anthony say furiously. He held my hand the entire drive back to my apartment.

About a month later, I sat in my apartment grading papers, music playing softly in the background, when I heard a small crash from Lindsey’s apartment, followed by her laughter. The sound made me smile, and suddenly, I stood from the couch, walking with purpose to the front door. I took a deep breath to calm my nerves and knocked on Lindsey’s door. She opened it moments later, curls piled in a bun on top of her head. I could see an overturned chair behind her and wondered if she’d tripped. She greeted me happily.

“Hi,” I said breathlessly, stepping closer to her. I was hit with the warm smell of cinnamon. “Did you mean it? When you said you’d wait for me?”

Lindsey’s brown eyes widened, and a shocked laugh escaped her lips. She didn’t need to answer to the question. I already knew.

After our first kiss, I knew I wanted to marry Lindsey. It took two years together before she proposed, lying in bed one night, wrapped up in our comforter and each other. I couldn’t stop smiling for weeks. It was probably the giddiness over the proposal that led me to do it. I sat on the couch in Lindsey and I’s shared apartment and found her number.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Mom,” I said. “It’s Molly.” I could hear her sharp intake of breath.

“I was calling to invite you to my wedding,” I announced finally, when she didn’t say anything. “It’s in July.”

Mom paused before she spoke, her voice timid. “Is it – are you – “

“Her name is Lindsey,” I interrupted her, biting back a scathing remark.

I could hear the breath leave her lips, as though the fight was suddenly drained out of her after two years. “Okay. I don’t – I don’t know, but I’ll – I’ll see, Molly, okay?”

“Okay, Mom,” I answered softly. “I’ll send you an invitation in the mail.”

That night in bed when I told Lindsey what I’d done, her lips curled up into a smile and she wrapped her arms around my shoulders, pulling me into a hug. I didn’t realize I was crying until we pulled apart. Lindsey brushed away my tears with a soft fingertip and placed a dry kiss on my lips.

“I’m proud of you,” she told me, and I nodded, curling up on my side of the bed. I reached out and grabbed Lindsey’s hand, tangling our fingers together, feeling myself smile when Lindsey’s fingers began playing with my engagement ring. I settled into sleep, warm.

Fiction piece by Amber White