02: Facing the Inquisition of Friends and Family

02:  Facing the Inquisition of Friends and Family

 

The next morning, Tuesday, Cate and I were ready early. I insisted on driving after the show the girls had provided the day before as I figured I didn’t need to call any more attention to myself. I had a beat up older car I managed to afford that I could drive to school. My parents were already paying for several children attending college, and I’d quit my part time job because I couldn’t get anyone to sub for me over the popular spring break, so I certainly didn’t have the kind of money to spring on anything fancier. But it got me where I needed to go, and that was all that really counted in my book.

It was a beautiful day, though it was cooler than Louisiana had been. I tried to prepare myself for the day ahead of me, as I was anticipating the worst, waiting to hear the kids all rail me for kissing someone’s grandmother. But that paranoia didn’t last long in the clear light of day. What the hell! I thought as I climbed out of the car once we’d arrived at school, throwing my book bag over my shoulder. I now had responsibilities for multiple people that I cared for deeply, and that made all the cares and concerns of these kids laughable. Well, maybe not all of them, as I was sure that several of the kids had some serious problems in their lives, but worrying about who I did or didn’t kiss wasn’t one of them. Still, I was responsible for a group of women who had turned their entire lives over to me, trusting that I would protect them. Minus one if you counted the one I’d missed, but you also had to figure there’d be any number that I was yet to meet. I had better things to worry about than being teased by people who had already seen their best days pass them by. So I strode purposefully into the school, Cate hurrying along behind me.

Yet, for as much as I worried about a potential scene, no one approached me. Sure, several people watched me fairly intently, but they mostly just seemed curious, not confrontational. Regardless, I started whistling while I walked, just for the hell of it. Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl”—which had been playing on the radio on the way in—just because it was fun, a seemingly innocent tune while actually being quite suggestive. This, of course, caused even more looks.

Mike gave me an odd look in Home Room before he finally came up and sat beside me.

“Hey, Alex, is it true you kissed a whole bunch of women after school yesterday?” he asked, as if he couldn’t believe anyone would kiss me. The idea of a whole string of people doing so was simply beyond belief.

“Yes,” I sighed, figuring it was most fitting that your own friends would make a big deal over something embarrassing, even if total strangers didn’t. “I kissed several friends after school yesterday,” I replied in what I hoped was a calm, neutral tone. “What of it?” I tried to make it sound like I didn’t think anything of it myself, since I knew my response to it would affect how others viewed it as well.

“Was one a big black chick and the other an Oriental?”

“She’s not that big and she’s Jamaican. The other’s not Oriental, she’s Vietnamese. Well,” I corrected myself after considering the message I was expressing, “they’re both American, but those are their nations of origin at least.” That was clearly more information than he was looking for, I was sure, but I thought it necessary to add, since Anh’s lack of English would certainly affect how others viewed her.

“And you arrived in the morning in an expensive convertible, driven by a hot red-headed chick with a killer body?”

“Yeah, Allison was nice enough to give Cate and me a lift yesterday. Your point would be?”

“Man, you’ve changed since last week,” he observed, looking at me strangely.

“Maybe a little,” I conceded. “Anyway, they’re just some friends we met in N’Orleans.”

“And they followed you back here?” he asked, stressing the fact this wasn’t a typical event in the life of a high school student.

“Well, kinda. It’s more complicated than that. They’re staying with my family,” I tried to briefly explain.

“But they came to school and made out with you in public,” he stated.

“Well…, we hardly made out. But yes, we did… and…?”

“And this guy that punched you, the fisherman, he’s Vietnamese too?” I had to give my friend his due, he didn’t miss the obvious. Either he’d witnessed the entire thing, or he’d been very attentive to the kinds of gossip he normally wasn’t privy to.

“Yeah, that’s what I said,” I replied simply, not wanting to tip the conversation either way. I hated not being upfront with him, but I was still hoping to keep the entire episode under control. I knew that any details I added to it would just feed the whole cycle.

“What? You get in a fight over that one lady and he attacked you?”

“It was hardly a fight,” I downplayed the statement I made yesterday. “He threw a punch while I was distracted. We later talked and parted, well, not quite friends but with a better understanding.”

“And you made out with Vicky Siegel?” he pressed, building up plenty of evidence for a point he had yet to make.

“It was hardly a make out session. It was just a single kiss. I also kissed my sister,” I pointed out, starting to get defensive. I didn’t like the direction this conversation was taking. “Want to make a big deal about that?”

“No, no,” he begged off, raising both hands in a gesture of surrender, “I’m just juggling a few facts.” He was quiet the rest of Home Room, but he kept shooting me odd looks.

In Physics class my lab partner was there, but Alice’s wasn’t, so I waved my partner off; he really didn’t need the help during a review anyway, and I spent the class with Alice. Again, most of it was spent reviewing what we should have remembered.

At lunch, I again noticed the Watcher that I’d seen the previous day. It seems she was waiting for me. I waved her off, pointing at my watch then making eating motions. I hoped she got my message. I decided to try a different table, since yesterday’s experiment had gone so well. This time I went over to the Intellectuals’ table, the “A” student’s table, my sister’s table. I asked Cate if I could sit with her friends. She instantly moved over and motioned for me to sit. The various kids all nodded at me.

“Hello, Alex,” Vicky practically purred, smiling widely.

“Hello, Vicky, and how is your beautiful face today?” She blushed and hid her eyes, which pleased me that I’d affected her so much. I knew the affect that I had on the people in New Orleans, but that wasn’t because of my actions—it had been beyond my control—and knowing I could affect a cute girl on a personal level still brightened my day.

“Hey, Alex,” asked a tall skinny kid with acne, “is it true you’re living with four women you met in New Orleans?” It seemed that the people who didn’t know me from Adam the previous week all knew me personally this week. I leaned back and rolled my eyes. Cate tried to shush him but I motioned her off. I figured it was better dealing with these things as they arose rather than trying to deny them—especially since it seemed that everyone was already discussing the details behind my back.

“Yep, it’s true,” I told him, looking him straight in the eyes, something I wouldn’t have been able to do before our fateful vacation. “We met them down there. My parents agreed to take them in. One, Anh, is Vietnamese and is staying with us until she can find a job or learns to speak enough English to make do on her own. Shaniqua is a Jamaican-American girl who’s only staying with us until she can move into an apartment in town. The other two are hoping to get into Southern Illinois University, so they’re here trying to get a late admission worked out. They were relieved to discover someone who lived in the area.” The questioner looked at the other kids and Cate glared at him. I saw another kid nod and the first one went on.

“And this Ann character, you beat up her son, a fisherman who takes fishing boats out every day, over her?” he pushed, as if such a thing was unthinkable.

“First of all, her name is Anh. I realize it might be difficult figuring out similar but clearly different names, but if you’re going to talk about her you should at least get her name right. Secondly, geez, that’s a bit much. I hardly beat him up. He punched me. Once. When I was distracted. Afterward, we talked and we left as friends. It was her son. He was worried about her.”

“What was he worried about?” asked another girl. I was beginning to feel like I was before a congressional inquiry, answering a series of questions posed to me in rapid sequence from a variety of different sources.

“He was just worried. That’s all,” I answered, trying to limit this line of thought.

“Was he worried that you were taking advantage of her?” asked the girl.

“I’m not going to address that. That’s his concern, not yours.”

“And how does this Vietnamese woman communicate with you?” I just glared at her a moment, not saying anything. She continued. “I heard that you translate for her. How’d you ever learn Vietnamese?”

“She speaks a lot of English. I took to studying Vietnamese as a hobby years ago and a couple of phrases stuck with me. She and her son helped me perfect my language skills.” I had to invent facts to support my position as we went.

“What other languages do you speak?” she pressed, trying to corner me. I knew better than to respond to that one. If I mentioned one someone at the table happened to speak, they’d hammer me until they tripped me up.

“No, Virginia,” I deadpanned, in reference to the original ‘Dear Santa’ letter that was trudged up every Christmas season. “Jamaican is not a separate language. They speak English like the rest of us.” They all laughed. They clearly prided themselves on knowing more than anyone else, so any chance to show they knew more than someone else was like a red cape flashing before their eyes. “In fact, the more educated probably speak better than any of you,” I returned their challenge, knowing just what would tick them off.

“You learned Vietnamese on your own as a hobby?” another student asked, sounding skeptical.

“I also studied Egyptian Hieroglyphics because I wanted to read the original Egyptian Book of the Dead. It’s not much use other than keeping a bored kid busy. I also don’t speak that worth a damn either.”

“You don’t speak a dead language well?” he asked, effectively challenging my claims. I just looked at him without speaking.

“Look, what’s this really about?” I finally asked, putting my fork down on my plate, and glancing at one after another. “I sit down, trying to be friendly, and you all jump on me with a bunch of rumors that have no bearing on any of you. What difference does it make? Do any of you want me to translate for an ancient Egyptian Aunt? Anyone want to hear Anh’s son’s side of our disagreement? How about Shaniqua’s GPA?” They finally looked a bit sheepish. With that I just grunted and stood up, taking my tray, my food virtually untouched.

“And here I thought you guys were supposed to be more intelligent? It’s no wonder you have such problems getting along with people!” and with that I walked off.

I wanted to make a statement so I tried to storm forcefully away, but it took a moment to remember where that girl was. I had to stop and reorient myself a bit, but I waved to her and headed her way. She wasn’t sitting with anyone today, which I thought was strange. I got to her table and said hello, introducing myself, and was preparing to sit when I heard “Alex, wait up. Please?” I turned to find Cate running to catch up with me.

I didn’t let the girl’s presence bother me. At the moment, I figured she was probably the only one in the school I could count on to not spread rumors about me. “What the hell was that about, Cate?” I demanded, rounding on my sister. “You’re trying to get me in trouble? You’re telling your friends all of my secrets? Are you really that mad at me for what happened on Tuesday?”

“I didn’t tell them that,” she protested, surprised I’d turned this back onto her. “Most of it they got it from other kids around the school.”

“They heard that I translate Vietnamese on the street?” She hung her head.

“What’s really going on here, Cate?” I challenged her, beginning to work up some anger over what I’d been experiencing this morning. “If you’re really that pissed at me then just tell me to fuck off. Otherwise shut the fuck up. I don’t need this kind of reputation if I’m going to do what you convinced me I needed to.” Her whole body seemed to sink in on itself. She started to sniffle. I finally set my tray down, glancing at the girl waiting for me to sit. I acknowledged her before turning back to my sister.

“Look, don’t start crying. If you want to talk, just talk. You know I’ll fall apart if you cry because you know I care for you tremendously. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re trying to make my life incredibly complicated.” She looked up with difficulty. She almost looked like the other women in my life in that she couldn’t look me in the eye, something that I found incredibly annoying. I could understand why the other women couldn’t but it still bugged me, but it bothered me much more when someone refused to look at me.

“All I did was talk you up to Vicky,” Cate responded in a shaky voice, finally gazing at me through tear filled eyes. “I really didn’t reveal all that much. I was hoping to create a buzz to attract more girls’ interest in you. Vicky and her big sister Susan are pretty, smart and fairly popular. I wasn’t trying to hurt you.” Her tears finally started streaking down her face so I took her in my arms and held her against me as she started to cry. Looking over her shoulder I noticed we were attracting a bit of attention, so I guided her to a seat at the table. The girl sitting there seemed ill at ease, so I mouthed ‘You’re fine’ to her while I continued holding Cate.

“Hey, kiddo, don’t worry about either you or me fitting in. It really isn’t important. We’ve got more important things to do than fit in.” She just nodded wordlessly against my chest, holding on tightly.

“And no more talking me up, OK? Pretty soon people are going to start accusing me of walking on water.”

Once she seemed a little more settled I finally released her and turned to the new girl. She seemed nice enough and I could tell she was definitely interested in me, but I already knew I couldn’t pick her for my new girlfriend. I was sure all my women would object since she was just like the others. They wanted me to find someone who’d appreciate me for myself, not because they felt obligated to me.

This girl was attractive in an offhand sort of way. She was heavier set with somewhat chubby cheeks and a larger bosom than most girls her age. Because she looked at me reverently, it made it hard to see just then, but she had the traditional laugh lines showing how she normally reacted to things.

“As I was starting to say, I’m Alex and this is my sister Cate. I noticed you watching me. You’ve likely noted your fascination with me, but you don’t understand it, correct?” She simply nodded, unable to find any words, so I continued without waiting to ask her name. Cate hadn’t made the connection yet, but I knew she would soon.

“You are part of a group I’ve labeled ‘Watchers’, because that’s what you do. You watch me because you can feel the power I give off, but you can’t detect it well enough to figure out any more than that I’m fascinating. What you don’t realize is that I carry and give off a large amount of energy, which only you can detect. That’s why you feel you can trust me without knowing anything about me.”

“Oh, I know who you are,” she responded proudly. “You’re Alex Jennings, a senior. I’ve been watching you the whole time I’ve been here, but I’ve always been terrified of speaking to you. I’m Betty Taylor, a sophomore. I’ve found out as much about you as I could. I’ve also heard the rumors about you yesterday and today. I always knew you were amazing, I’m glad you’ve finally discovered it yourself.”

“You mean she’s…?” Cate began, finally wiping her eyes and regarding Betty seriously.

“Yeah, she is. I noticed her in the lunchroom yesterday. Apparently she’s been here the whole time but we never noticed her because we were never looking. It also means there are probably a few others around as well. We’ll have to keep our eyes open for others who have been surrounding us all this time.” Turning to Betty I addressed her again.

“Betty, Cate and I have an amazing little story to tell you, both about myself and about you and your people. You belong to a group that no one ever realized was a separate group until I discovered them.” Cate and I continued to brief her for the rest of the lunch period. Well, actually I let Cate take over so I could finally eat my lunch. After all, there’s only so much time available to eat before the next period’s bell rang.

Betty was fascinated by the information, probably because it tied her to me, but the information was pretty compelling in itself. As the lunch period ended, we got up and I escorted them to class, speaking quietly the whole time. We kept getting glances, but no one wanted to intrude on our private conversation, so that was fine.

After that, plenty of people kept watching me, but I just smiled and kept going. I certainly wasn’t going to humor them by answering any more inane questions. I also made sure I sent a strongly worded mental message to my girls to NOT stop by after school.

When school was out and everyone streamed out of the building, I held back. When I came out the door I was relieved to see no one’s car waiting for me. As I continued on, Vicky suddenly appeared out of nowhere and accosted me.

“Alex, look, I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you, but I was just so amazed at what I saw yesterday. I guess I blew it when I started bragging to my friends. I’m sorry and I won’t do it again.” I smiled and gave her a quick one handed hug.

“It’s alright. I already talked to Cate. She should have known better than to put you into that position. I really don’t want the attention. I’ve survived this far by avoiding the spotlight. I don’t need it this late in my high school career. I’m just hoping to keep a low profile until I graduate. That’s all I need out of life,” I lied to her. She didn’t need to know any more than that.

“Thanks, Alex. I’m really glad you forgive me. I would’ve died if you hated me,” she insisted, surprising me with her intensity.

“Vicky, you wouldn’t have died. No one dies from someone else’s disapproval. They just aren’t worth it. Just be yourself and be happy with what you are. Now give me another hug and let’s head home.” She gave me my hug, for a bit longer than I thought appropriate, then walked me to my car where we found a still embarrassed but excited Cate. I could see she was interested in talking about Betty, but couldn’t because of her friend. I grabbed her head in my arm and gave her a pretend noogie, then released her and kissed her cheek. She looked at me a little oddly but the grin on her cheek told me she felt better. Vicky hugged us both, told us she was glad we were so close to each other and took off.

In the car on the way back Cate gave me an appraising look. “What’s with the cute older brother kissing me on the cheek nonsense?” she asked.

I smiled at her. “What? You want a French kiss in the middle of school?”

“No, certainly not,” she blushed, “but I thought we were closer than that. I don’t want you kissing my cheek like I was only seven,” she protested.

“You’re forgetting how pissed you were at me this past week,” I reminded her.

She frowned. “I wasn’t mad at you,” she explained, “I was upset with myself.”

“Yeah, I know,” I smiled. “It’s not you, it’s me,” I responded.

Cate looked at me oddly again. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

I immediately realized I’d mistakenly said the wrong thing, and thus hurriedly tried to backtrack. “Nothing, I was just kidding.”

“No, that’s the kind of thing a girl tells a guy when she’s breaking up with him to let him down easy. What’s it supposed to mean between us?”

“Nothing, Cate, it was a stupid joke that fell flat. That’s all.”

“No, it’s not. You meant something by it.” She sat and thought about it a minute.

“You think I’m trying to let you down easy? What am I letting you down from?” she asked, curious about my motives now.

“Forget it, Cate, it’s nothing,” I insisted, trying to think of some way of diverting this train of thought before it ran aground a short distance ahead. “Say, what do you think about the idea of there being more people like Betty at school?”

“No, seriously, don’t try to distract me. This sounds like it’s bothering you. You think I’m trying to blow you off? You think I don’t value you as a brother?”

“No, absolutely not,” I said, trying to head off any further discussion. “I love you unconditionally and would do anything for you.”

“What do you mean by ‘unconditionally’?” she pressed, starting to pick apart every single thing I said trying to pry my hidden thoughts loose a word at a time. “Why would your love be conditional? What’d I do that’d keep you from being able to love me?” I decided it was time to just shut the fuck up in order to keep from inserting my foot any further into my mouth.

“You keep mentioning Tuesday. Is this about when I got upset? You think I’m mad at you? Still, after all this time?” I took a deep breath, preparing to respond when she cut me off. “No, don’t answer. You’ve adopted that ‘quiet suffering’ persona you always pull when you don’t want to admit something that will upset someone. Am I unlovable because I got mad at you? That doesn’t sound like you, Alex. It’s gotta be something more than that. You think I’m unlovable because I kissed your girlfriend? No, that doesn’t sound like you either. You didn’t complain when we all hugged and kissed yesterday. You don’t think I’m queer do you?” I frowned at that.

“That’s not a good word to use, Cate. I don’t want to hear it again. OK?”

“That’s what I figured. You wouldn’t be upset because someone experimented once.” She sat thinking silently for a bit, quietly chewing her lip. I was thankful that we’d arrived home by then. I figured I might just make it if I hurried.

“It was nothing, Cate,” I said as I kissed her nose, hoping to placate her so I could dash inside the house.

“There you go again, kissing my nose of all things. No hug. Wait, you were avoiding hugs for several days until I started hugging you again. You’re afraid I’m going to react badly. I’m not going to yell at you just because you hug me.”

“You visibly flinched anytime I moved towards you,” I informed her, remembering the events specifically.

“OK, so I was still upset. But why would you still be careful around me now? I thought I showed you I was past all of that. What are you afraid I’ll do? I’m not flinching now am I? What’s different?” she continued to press.

“Nothing, Cate, leave it alone,” I warned as I climbed out of the car, hoping maybe I could bully her into backing down.

“No, I’m not going to. Something’s bothering you. You don’t seem to be angry about anything, so you’ve got to be concerned about me somehow,” she reasoned, applying that damn analytic brain of hers. It was useful when she applied it to a problem bothering me, but it was downright annoying when she used it against me.

“I’m going inside now, Cate. Then I’m going to have a quick snack, kiss the girls and we won’t discuss this anymore,” I said as I opened the door to the house. As I walked in Allison and Shani were waiting for me, Allison enveloping me in a hug.

“Shani, what’s up with Alex?” Cate demanded. “What’s he trying to protect me from?” Shani’s expression practically gave the whole game away. Her face dropped and her eyes opened wide, so I quickly released Allison, grabbing and kissing her, hard! You’d think someone who knew how to communicate telepathically would think to apply it in a case like this, wouldn’t you?

“You know!” Cate exclaimed. “You’ve talked about it. Do you know, Allison? Do Mom and Dad know? Does everyone in the house know except me?” I grabbed Shani’s elbow and Allison’s hand, quickly hurrying them across the room heading for the stairs.

“What the hell are you all saying about me?” she cried at us as we ascended the stairs. We managed to turn into my room, closing the door and leaned against it before she could catch us. We heard her running up the steps and pause before our door. We just stood there and held our breaths. Finally we heard a sigh and her quiet footsteps fading away.

“It’s not over is it?” Shani asked.

“Nope, Cate’s too damn smart. She’ll hound this until she figures it out, and she’s not that far off as it is.” I turned and kissed Shani again, taking my time now that we could let our guards down. She responded to me and I was finally ready to relax and just enjoy myself again.

“What was she going on about?” Allison asked, perplexed. “Have you been keeping something from her?”

I pulled back and looked at Allison, then turned back to Shani.

“I figured you’d told them about it, you all seem to share everything between yourselves,” I commented.

“No, I didn’t. I didn’t want to worry about anyone reacting the wrong way and accidentally letting the cat out of the bag.”

“Well it’s officially out of the bag now,” I complained, before turning back to Allison.

“Shani told me,” I whispered, leading her away from the door, “after my fight with Cate on Tuesday that she thought it was due to Cate’s being gay and not realizing it. The idea was that Cate was attracted to you girls, but when she tried kissing me, she was upset that she didn’t get the same sensations from kissing me. That explains why she ran off and why she’s had a hard time relating to me since.”

Allison looked thoughtful for a few moments.

“You know, that makes a lot of sense. It does explain a lot.”

“It does, doesn’t it?” Shani asked, relieved to finally have someone to talk about it with.

“Hey, let’s not get distracted here!” I warned, wanting to keep the discussion focused.

Shani turned and regarded me, cocking her head. “Hard day at school, aside from the problem with Cate, that is?” she asked.

“Yeah, apparently stories about me are already starting to spread around the school.”

“What kind of stories?” she asked. I rolled my eyes and used my best put-upon voice.

“Oh, I don’t know; maybe about how about I went to New Orleans, picked up a sexy adult Jamaican-American, a cute Vietnamese grandmother, a hot girl in a red hot convertible, and that I’m so damn sexy they all followed me back after giving up their jobs and family. Oh, yes, I also fought one’s huge son for her honor before sweeping her off her feet, and, oh no, I also happen to be quite proficient in Vietnamese despite never having studied it a day in my life.”

They both broke out in laughter. I was upset. Here I was, trying to explain why I was so upset, and they thought it was hilarious!

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Shani told me, resting her hand on my arm in a calming gesture, despite Allison’s mildly concerned looks behind her. “They don’t know anything. They’re just wondering who this sexy, mysterious guy is they never got to know before, and why all these women are so dedicated to him. I can see the whole girlfriend thing isn’t far off.”

“I don’t think it’s so cute,” I complained. “We’re revealing too much information. We have too much to lose by being careless. I don’t care what anyone thinks about me. Well, not any of the kids at that school at least,” I added as I kissed Allison, since I hadn’t in all the excitement.

She hugged me tight and whispered in my ear.  “I’m not so sure. I’ve been involved in keeping secrets for years, and I know just how dangerous a little information can be. I think you may need to do something to head anything off.”

“Nah,” Shani assured us both, “The attention span of teenagers is notoriously short. They’ll forget all about it in a few days. Besides, the girls think you’re sexy as hell and all the guys are wondering what you’re made of. They don’t know anything dangerous. The bit about translating was a bit careless, but you had to expect it. How else do you explain having a Vietnamese woman in the house? And you can’t blame it on your parents,” she countered what I was already thinking. “You’ve got to be the translator. Otherwise it just doesn’t make any sense.”

I turned and kissed her this time. “Thanks for explaining it all to me so patiently,” I said. “Here I was getting upset. You’re right, of course. It had to happen, and I was just upset having my privacy invaded. I’m really not interested in being famous. I guess I’m not much of a 21st century man. I belong in an earlier century.” They both kissed me again.

“So what’ll we tell Cate?” Shani asked.

“I don’t know. I suppose we’ll eventually have to tell her the truth. Hopefully she’ll have worked out what she thinks about herself before she figures it out, though, otherwise we’ll have an angry, closeted, defensive person on our hands. You know she quoted me the word ‘Queer’ during our discussion?”

“No,” she gasped, thinking about what that might imply.

“Yeah,” I continued, “she’s probably still in denial, so watch out for any sudden homophobic comments and try to head them off. The last thing we need is her making some silly comment she’s eventually going to be embarrassed about.”

“You’d better warn Anh and Natalie. We abandoned them in the kitchen,” Shani warned me. I was starting to think about contacting them when we heard the door rattle. When we turned to watch the door we heard a gentle knock.

“Hello? Aren’t I allowed to visit my co-boyfriend anymore?” We all recognized Natalie’s voice.

“It’s OK, we were just … indisposed for a moment,” I called out, signaling for Allison to get the door. While they were busy I thought at Anh for a minute. “Oh, and by the way,” I told Shani, “don’t say ‘abandoned’. I’m still feeling guilty about leaving that poor girl all alone in Memphis.”

“She’s not all alone,” Allison said as she guided Natalie into the room, closing the door behind her. “She’s got her family and friends, just like before.”

“So why was the door—?” Natalie began before I waved her off.

“In a second, Natalie, let me finish something first. Who can possibly understand her situation like we can?” I replied, thinking of all the support we couldn’t give the mystery girl.

“There is that,” Allison conceded. There was another knock on the door and Shani let Anh in.

“What’s up?” she asked. “I was wondering where you all disappeared to.”

“Cate’s on the warpath,” I informed her. “She’s figured out I’m babying her and she’s trying to figure out why. I’m assuming you already know what Shani and I think, since you’re the most poker faced of all of us. Natalie, the other girls will explain everything when we’ve finished the immediate discussion. We don’t think she’s ready to know what we all think yet, so we’re trying to hold her off as long as possible, but she isn’t likely to be put off for long. I’d give it 20 minutes, tops.”

“You no think she handle it well?” Anh asked as Shani and Allison brought Natalie up to speed.

“I’m guessing she’s still struggling with who she is,” I explained my thoughts on the matter to them. “I think she’ll go directly into denial, say a bunch of things she shouldn’t, and hurt a few people who don’t deserve it to prove she’s not who she is. I wish we could have let her coast along a bit more, but she’s just too damn smart for her own good.”

Anh just laughed. “I just pretend I no speak any English,” she smiled. “She never have clue.” We all laughed and then girded each other and headed down for my snack, watching out for any signs of Cate on our way down.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs we heard voices, fairly strained, coming from the kitchen ahead of us.

“… idea of what you’re talking about,” my mother said.

“According to Alex, the whole family is trying to protect me from something they think it better I don’t know,” Cate argued, fairly heatedly. “I feel humiliated that I have to drag this out of all of you and that you wouldn’t trust me with whatever it is.”

Shani looked up at me questioningly, while Anh had trouble with the words but could pretty much guess their meaning. She looked to me for direction as well. I think Natalie was still trying to wrap her mind around the whole thing.

“Well, I don’t know what he told you, but he hasn’t told your father or me anything. We know the two of you had some sort of disagreement over the weekend, but we stayed out of it. It’s your business what you choose to fight about. That has been and it remains our position. We aren’t involved in your personal squabbles unless you specifically come to us and ask for our advice. I suggest you discuss this with Alex directly. If he wants to discuss it with you, he will. If not, he probably has his own reasons for not doing so. You know he wouldn’t hurt you if he could help it.”

“Mooooommmm!” Cate groaned, and I could imagine her eyes rolling back in her head in that exaggerated way she likes to act so put out when our parents were being perfectly reasonable. “He and his girls are keeping something from me, and it affects all of us. It’s important that you tell me what it is so he doesn’t keep trying to manipulate me and my life without my even knowing about it.”

I’d had about enough of this discussion. I marched into the kitchen intent on defending my mother.

“Cate, Mom and Dad have nothing to do with this.”

“Cate,” Shani started behind me, “actually—”

“Actually, I’m the one who made the decision that I did,” I insisted, cutting Shani’s confession short, “and I’m not discussing it with you because you’re clearly not ready for it yet. I’ll speak with you when you’re willing to be reasonable, but until then please attempt to treat the rest of the family civilly.” She spun around as we began and was now openly glaring at me.

“When you’re all talking about me then it’s—”

“I don’t think you need me for this,” my mother stated, taking the opportunity to make her exit.

“Cate,” I interrupted her, “in case you’re not listening, it’s not between you and anyone else. What I do is my own responsibility. If you’re pissed at me, please take it up with me. Don’t go dragging innocents into this so you can try to prove how clever you are.” I could instantly see that this really got her goat, as steam seemed to be pouring from her ears.

“What is it you’re hiding from me then?” she demanded, putting her hand on her hip and waving her finger at me. “What is it you think I can’t handle? Sure we had a tiff, but that’s all past. What’d I do that you think….” She looked pensive as she again reviewed what had occurred.

“Wait, we were all there, I was getting ‘friendly’ with Shani… You think I’m a lesbian, don’t you?” she accused.

“Cate,” I tried to warn her.

“I’m obviously a bit bi, given what happened, but why would you think…?” she lapsed into thought again. I reached over to grab Allison and Shani’s hands in order to make our escape, figuring Anh was safe, when she rounded on me.

“You think I’m a bull dyke lesbian that hates men, don’t you?” she asked, running around us to confront me head on, face-to-face. “That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Why else would you be afraid to talk to me or touch me. You think I’m a full-fledged lesbian who’s afraid of men but hasn’t accepted it yet. Who is still trying to fight it, and that I’d get upset if confronted with it? Is that what you’ve been trying to hide from me?”

“Cate, don’t get upset,” I gently told her, stepping towards her in order to keep the other girls out of it. If she wanted to attack me then I could fend for myself, but I wasn’t going to have anyone else suffer for my own decisions.

“Alex,” she sighed in exasperation, all her anger suddenly evaporating, “clearly I liked making out with Shani, but that doesn’t mean I’m not attracted to guys. I wasn’t rejecting you because you’re a guy. I got carried away licking your face because it seemed like an easy way to see if I liked the taste of girl cum without actually having to go down on Shani. For a first time experience, I just wasn’t ready for that yet. When you suddenly kissed me I was just unprepared. I can see how you’d think I was coming on to you, as I was laying all over you licking your face, but I was just trying to test out my reaction to facing the taste of a strange girl’s cum.” She turned to Shaniqua, “Sorry Shani, I don’t mean you’re strange, just that….” Shani nodded that she got it, so Cate got back on track.

“Anyway, Alex,” she continued, grabbing both of my arms for emphasis, “I reacted so badly because it was you kissing me. I certainly find you attractive and sexy as hell. Watching you with your women turned me on incredibly. But when you kissed me like that it just freaked me the fuck out.” I was glad Mom had decided to leave us to discuss this privately. Well, somewhat privately, there were still six of us here. Still, I could just imagine Mom’s reaction to this whole conversation. We’d have had to pick her up off of the floor.

“Watching you all fool around got me wound up, and I expressed it by experimenting with Shani, but I wasn’t ready to make out with my own brother. I’m sorry, but incest is a big taboo for me. Maybe I’ll be able to get over it in time, maybe I won’t, I don’t know. But at the moment I just wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t rejecting you as a guy; I was rejecting you for being my brother! I’m definitely NOT a lesbian, and especially not a flaming, angry, man-hating dyke!”

“Well, that’s definitely more than I ever wanted to know,” my father announced from the entranceway, causing us both to spin around. Apparently he’d slipped into the house unnoticed while we were arguing with each other. “I take it this is about that nonsense between you two last week?” he asked without waiting for a reply. “I can understand the arguments, but could you please leave out a few of the more intimate details. As a father, I really don’t need to know that my youngest daughter was licking ‘girl cum’ off of my son’s face.” He made a face at that which got us all grinning, despite the burning embarrassment.

Cate buried in her face in her hands, unable to even glance up, but we could all see the deep blush extending below her hands covering her neck and upper chest. “Sorry, Dad,” Cate apologized, mumbling through her hands since she refused to drop them in order to face our father directly. “We weren’t aware you were home yet,” she said before finally lowering her hands slightly. “But I was just trying to figure out why Alex has been treating me with kid gloves recently. Apparently he decided—based on my reactions from the other day—that I thought he was disgusting. He concluded that I’m some crazy man-hating lesbian that’s disgusted to be around him. I was just pointing out that it wasn’t the case, that it was something specific that happened that freaked me out. It had nothing whatsoever to do with him.

“Well, I guess it had a bit to do with him,” she smiled, finally raising her head to enjoy her own joke, “but not the way he was thinking.”

“Yeah, yeah, I got that,” Dad responded, rolling his eyes, demonstrating that while we kids think that we invented it, adults really have much more experience with the expression. “You still secretly lust after your older brother, but when he actually kissed you, you freaked out. Is that about right? Geez, why can’t you kids have normal adolescence problems like promiscuity, drug abuse or self-mutilation? It would make our lives SO much easier.” He groaned in mock despair. Again everyone laughed. What can I say; the whole family shared the same perverse sense of humor which was now infecting my girls as well.

“Well, personally I’m glad you worked all that out. Just like I told you, by talking it over with each other,” my mother called out, walking back into the room and standing beside my father. It made me wonder just where she’d been. True, it was likely she had just come back downstairs to find my dad, but the chance she may have been hiding, listening to us was just a bit too disturbing to contemplate for long.

“And I’m especially glad you still like guys,” she continued. “It means there’s a chance we’ll still have some grandkids. Granted, they might end up being mutant, telepathic grandkids of an incestuous relationship with your brother, but mothers can’t always be choosy about their grandkids,” she laughed, demonstrating she was at least moderately up to date on what we’d been discussing.

“Hey, at least if Alex and I fool around, there’s twice the chance we’ll come home to visit for holidays,” Cate teased, finally recovering enough to joke about it. “After all, incest is only relative, right?”

“You see?” Dad asked, looking me in the eyes. “Your sister didn’t say, ‘Uck, that’s disgusting, get away from me.’ Instead she says ‘I’m really freaked out by incest right now, but check back in a couple of weeks and see how I feel about it then’.” He smiled at me as his words sunk in. “But, just let me add something real quick,” he continued, looking sternly at us both. “Cate, I’m disappointed in you. I know it sounds hypocritical to not chide Alex as well, but so far, he’s been behaving very reasonably given the circumstances. His high sense of morals helps keep his actions in check. That’s why I’m assuming this was mostly a case of you throwing yourself at him. You should know by now that your brother will do almost anything for you, and he probably just reacted to your expectations, not wanting to embarrass you. But I don’t want you to put Alex into a difficult position where he feels he has to do something he isn’t comfortable with, just to keep from disappointing you. Am I making myself clear?”

Cate was looking at the floor. “Yes, Dad, I understand. I’m sorry I let you down. As you know, I’d do anything rather than upset Alex or screw up what he may be able to achieve.”

I considered this lecture that seemed to not directly involve me, despite being all about me. I had to give it to my father; he seemed to know just the right notes to hit to play my sister’s emotions. Telling her she was taking advantage of me would play directly on her preoccupation she’d been abusing me. I didn’t really understand it, but it was a weak point for her. Also, stressing she was behaving immaturely was surely designed to embarrass her before me, as she’d always attempted to act older than she was, just so she could spend more time with me. I think it had long lasting effects on her as a result. Lastly, by suggesting that she’d personally hurt me by continuing in this vein was sure to score points as well, since Cate seemed to feel she was my own personal protector, always watching out for me. However, I wondered just how much good it would have, even though I felt secure that her reservations about fooling around with me were strong enough to prevent anything from happening between us. It’s hard to get over Cate’s ‘yuck factor’!

“Good, I’ll leave you two to continue to work this out, but we’ll sit down and have a slightly updated ‘sex talk’ in the next few days. Once I can find a handy parenting guide that will tell me how to talk to kids about how to handle incestuous tendencies,” he groaned. Meanwhile Mom kissed Cate on the cheek and left with her arm through Dad’s, both of them laughing gently at the looks on Cate’s face.

“Geez, that was embarrassing,” Cate moaned as she wrapped herself in my arm, unconsciously seeking my comforting solace without being aware of it. “I’m glad they’re both so cool about it.”

“Yeah, I can’t picture any other parents being so relaxed about a conversation like that,” I echoed Cate’s sentiments, still thinking about my father’s implication about my potential mind-control abilities as I enveloped Cate in my arms, glad we’d gotten through that.

“So,” Cate began, turning and looking up at me but not moving away. “Are we OK now? Are you still afraid I’m going to go on a man-hating binge?”

“Cate, I never thought you were going to be, as you say, a man hating bull dyke. I was just afraid you might be confused and might need some space to figure things out for a bit. Is that too much to expect from a brother? That I’d respect your choices, even if unspecified, and try to protect you from over reacting when faced with something you weren’t ready for?”

“Ahhh,” she continued teasing, “you were afraid I’d commit seppuku while wearing a flannel shirt and Birkenstocks, quoting bad poetry about the lost loves of Sylvia Plath? Weren’t you?” With that she reached up and kissed me, long and deep, though not expressly sexually.

“That’s just to let you know I’m OK with you as a guy. OK?”

“Yeah, kiddo, we’re OK. I’ll stop trying to protect you. By the way, don’t mind us if we end up running into the shower while you’re getting ready in the morning. After all, I wouldn’t want to ‘protect’ your fragile sense of privacy or anything.”

“Hey,” she laughed, “if it’s OK for me to dive into your private showers, then it should be OK for you to invade mine as well.”

“You’re just too cute,” I told her, and we all laughed before Cate turned serious again.

“Listen, Alex, part of the reason I eased up on you on the trip back wasn’t so much that I was OK with everything yet. It was more a result of your women giving it to me. Basically they cornered me and took me to task over how I’d been treating you. I wasn’t really aware of it, but I’ve really been abusing you for years. I’ve been distant, I’ve always put you down in my teasing, and you’ve gotten so used to it that you don’t even complain when I do it. I want to apologize for all of that, and I promise I’ll try not to do it anymore. You deserve better. You’re a great guy, and any girl would be blessed to have you,” and with that she leaned into me, kissing me again and throwing her arms around me, giving me a long, firm hug.

Finally I understood why her hugs had so recently changed. I also had to admit I really liked it when she hugged me now. It just felt good, natural and potentially more honest. I hoped we could continue to grow our relationship. Just as I thought that, a few unbidden thoughts popped into my head about how we could ‘grow’ our relationship, but I quickly suppressed them. If something eventually developed as a result of us growing closer, then I’d deal with it when it occurred. Until then, she was still my sister and I cared for and still wanted to protect her as much as I could.

We eventually broke our hug. Cate gave me another chaste but heartfelt kiss, then goosed me before running off, giggling as she went. I had to laugh; it was nice to have my sister back again. I finally managed to find my after school snack. I don’t know what it was, but by this point in that day, I was always starving, although I also got that way just before bed as well.

Shani stopped me once we were out of Cate’s sight. She reached up and kissed me. “You really didn’t need to protect me from your sister. I wasn’t afraid of letting her know it was me that started that whole train of thought.”

“No, it wasn’t germane to the discussion. It was a stand that I took and, as a result, I was the one responsible for the decision. Her issue was with me. Telling her you had the original idea would only have confused the point.”

She kissed me again. “That’s one reason I love you,” she sighed, “You like to protect those you love.”

That evening, after everyone had gone to bed and I’d taken the time to show my girls my affection for them, Cate snuck into my bedroom. I awoke when I felt the bed shifting slightly. She carefully climbed over several bodies and lay on top of me; we’d taken Mom’s advice about not having too much activity at once. While we still all made love together, we’d decided to only sleep 3 to a bed. I guessed that Cate had only come in once Shani and Anh had retreated to my other sister’s bedroom they’d been using on alternate nights.

Seeing I was awake Cate gently whispered to me, “I just wanted to demonstrate that I think of you as a sexy guy, and that I’m now going to try harder to respect you a little more by not invading your privacy. But I still love you, and it means a lot to have you hold me, just as it does the rest of your girls. So I thought, if you didn’t mind, I’d just lay here in your arms for the rest of the night. I’m not expecting anything, but I’ll forgive you if you pop a woody or something,” she said, smiling at me. I just hugged her, and felt the two girls on either side of me hugging me as well.

“You’re always welcome here, Cate. Whenever you need some affection from your brother, we’ll understand,” Allison answered. I thought that a strange thing to be saying, all lying entwined together in the middle of the night, but I tried not to read too much into any of it and just enjoyed the feel of the various women I loved cuddling up to me as I fell asleep.

 

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