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The Shapes of Love
“Come on, Veronica! Just jump!”
“Yeah come on!”
“I don’t know girls. I-is this safe?”, I asked, wincing at the tremble in my voice.
“Of course it is, Veronica! We all did it, and we’re fine! Just hurry up and jump already so we can head home!”
Before I could second-guess myself (again), I jumped, the air from the mere 5 feet of the top of our school’s outdoor stairwell swiftly rushing past me just before I landed with a thud! on the concrete that led out of our school’s courtyard.
My three friends who stood before me clapped in congratulations as I stared incredulously up at the top of the stairwell where I had just jumped from. As shocked as I was that I actually did it, I was more shocked by the realization that the only reason I didn’t just bail out the last second and take the stairs was because of my best friend, Leola, who smiled warmly at me and gave me two big thumbs up before I finally relented and jumped.
The same best friend who clapped the hardest when I landed and who was smiling the biggest as we headed down the trail that led to the bus station.
“Nice job, Veronica!”, Brianna said as we entered the local bus station, her clicking heels echoing in the nearly-empty station, “You finally conquered that ridiculous fear of yours.”
“Uh, ridiculous?”, I asked, a little in awe that Brianna was congratulating me, “And I wouldn’t say that I conquered my-“
“Which reminds me!”, Brianna declared, her chestnut brown hair flying in the wind as we stepped back outside to catch our bus home, “Scott’s throwing a roof party tomorrow night! His parents are going on a trip to New York and he’s inviting all of his friends which includes”, she spun on her heels dramatically just as our bus stopped right behind her, the swinging doors adding to the theatrical announcement, “all of us!”
Selma clapped and shouted “Woo hoo!” as we stepped inside the bus and Brianna promptly handed the bus driver her debit card, resulting in a puzzled expression on the bearded driver’s face.
Brianna frowned, “Is there a problem?”, she asked the confused bus driver.
“I only take cash, ma’am”, the driver replied in a Southern dialect.
Brianna turned towards us with an expression that said can you believe this? and motioned with her free hand for us to take our seats while she dealt with the driver.
I couldn’t make out the exact words that were exchanged between Brianna and the driver as we took our seats at the back of the mostly-empty bus but I was fairly certain it involved a lot of “Do you know who I am”s and “I’m sorry, miss”s.
“Wow, can you guys believe that we’re invited to Scott freaking Thurgood’s party!?”, Selma gushed, her bulky glasses sliding down her nose as she trembled with excitement.
“I know right! I’ll have to let my parents know about this but I definitely want to go!”, Leola exclaimed, her words adding a bit of pressure as I decided what to tell Brianna.
“Cool!”, Selma said, pushing up her glasses as she finally noticed they were falling off her face, “Oh! Here comes Breezie!“, Selma pointed out a smug-looking Brianna who was making her way down the bus aisle as the vehicle started to move (making me question how the hell she managed to walk in those 6-inch heels).
“Sorry about that. Had to have a little chat with our bus driver.”, she said with a sigh that was half-satisfied half-exasperated, “So. What do you guys think about the party? You guys coming?”
“Absolutely!”, Selma declared immediately, her long arms hitting the top of the bus with a thump! as she tried to dramatically wave her arms.
“Sure”, Leola said with a nod as she and everyone else looked at me for my answer.
I had a bad feeling about this party from the start. I really did. High school was almost over and my parents, my little brother and I were packing up for our annual visit to our grandparent’s farm for the summer and I did not like how Brianna wiggled her eyebrows when she said “roof party”.
I could’ve told them that I couldn’t go, that I was busy packing, that I had a sick relative to take care of, anything.
But instead I tried for a nonchalant-looking shrug and said, “Why not?”, resulting in an “Excellent” from Brianna, a smile from Leola and a session of enthusiastic applause from Selma.
Peer pressure can be a cruel thing.
“Oh this is perfect! This is going to be so much fun!”, Selma gushed after she had finished clapping and jumping in her seat, “I gotta figure out what I’m gonna wear, what I’ll tell my parents and Oh! Who I’m gonna take as a date-“
“Uh, what?”, I asked, my voice rising an octave or so, “I’m sorry what? Date?”
Brianna chuckled, ”Well of course you have to bring a date, Veronica. It would be embarrassing if you didn’t. Come on, isn’t there some guy you’ve been crushing on at our school?”
“Not really”, I muttered, pretending to look out the window as I tried not to make eye contact with anyone, “I mean, nobody at the moment but I-“
“Oh! Then I can set you up with one of Scott’s friends. I’m sure any one of them would jump at the chance to go on a date with one of us”, she said as she dramatically flipped her long brown hair in my direction. As Selma laughed though, I saw something in Brianna’s eyes, as if she were in the process of planning something…
“Uh, sure? We can talk about it later and-“, I cut myself off as I noticed we were driving up to the bus stop near my house, “Oh! Guess this is my stop, talk to you guys later, bye!”, I said, my words jumbling together at the end so it sounded more like talktoyouguyslaterbye! I hurriedly slung my backpack over my shoulder, practically ran - almost tripped - down the aisle and steps of the bus and walked up the side of the road to my house, not even stopping or turning around as the bus made its way four blocks over where Leola and Selma lived.
Okay, I may have rushed that goodbye a little but when the universe gave me an opportunity to say au revoir, sayonara, bye-bye to that conversation, I didn’t hesitate to act on that chance.
While walking up the front steps to my house, my fingers started to shake as the conversation on the bus finally caught up to me – as if my brain needed ten minutes or so to process what just happened – and I hastily turned my house key in the lock of our front door.
“Mom! Calvin! I’m home!”, I announced, closing the door and practically running up the stairs. I knew my dad wouldn’t be home for another hour or so and I didn’t want to talk to anyone in my family until I got my thoughts straightened out.
I rushed to my room, slammed the door shut – accidentally – and threw my backpack and myself (face-first) onto my bed.
I moaned, groaned and made other incomprehensible noises into my pillow until my eyes watered and my nose got stuffed up. I turned onto my side, pulled my phone out of my backpack, went online and awaited the minute Leola’s status would turn green so I could talk to her about the party.
Ugh, just thinking about it made me shudder and sweat. It wasn’t enough that this party happened to be on a roof, already triggering my intense dislike of heights – as I preferred not to refer to it as a fear per se. It wasn’t enough that I would have to get dressed up for this event – something that I had little-no patience for to begin with. It wasn’t even enough that this party was just that, a party. Something that I swore to myself since my middle school graduation that I would never attend again.
My 12-year-old self would scream if she knew what I had just agreed to.
Not to mention the fact that I had to bring a date.
Oh god, a date.
I guess now is the time I should explain why I got so worked up over having to bring “a date”. Why the word date – unless referring to the fruit – caused chills to run down my spine and a fiery ball of nerves, anxiety and all-around discomfort to form in the pit of my stomach. Why, whenever someone asked me “Who do you like?”, I would immediately lower my head, avert their eyes and reply with “No one…at the moment” or “I like my family and my best friend” (saving that last comment for when I was feeling extra bitter).
The truth is I’m aromantic and asexual (commonly referred to as aro-ace).
Now you might be having mixed thoughts and feelings at the moment. You might be asking yourself “What’s that?” while scratching your head in bewilderment. You might be saying to yourself “Wow! That’s a thing now? What will those crazy kids come up with next?” (in which case I’d like to politely show you to the door).
Or, like me, you might know what these mean and feel yourself connect and identify with them, feeling like you suddenly found the missing piece – or one of several missing pieces – and snapped it into place in your mind, heart and soul, forever cherishing the fact that you can say you belong.
But in case you’re apart of the majority of people who in fact do not know what these strange terms mean, I’ll briefly explain them to you.
When someone says they are aromantic, that means they feel little-no romantic attention towards others. When someone says they are asexual, that means they feel little-no sexual attraction towards others. I say “little-no” in both cases because there is always a gray area where a person can experience limited romantic or sexual attraction for others, depending on a number of factors that I don’t care to get into at the moment.
Would you believe that I dreaded the day where I’d have to explain these terms to anyone?
Would you also believe that I hadn’t actually had to explain these terms to anyone because I hadn’t actually come out yet?
So, because I kept this revelation about myself hidden since the 8th grade from my brother, my parents, even Leola, and because I now had to bring a date to a party that I had no reason to go to other than the fact that I wanted to impress the popular girl that I had somehow managed to befriend three months prior, I was in somewhat of a sticky situation.
To say the least.
Now you might be asking yourself, “Why didn’t you come out to your friends? They’re bound to understand, right?”
And the truth is, I wasn’t sure.
I knew my family and Leola would most definitely take my coming out a helluva lot better than Brianna and Selma would – as I knew for a fact that Brianna was the most narrow-minded and bigoted homophobe I’ve ever had the displeasure of associating with and Selma was no better since she seemed to always agree with anything and everything Brianna said and did. My parents would probably support me. My little brother, Calvin, would probably be confused, then excited, and then forget about it the next day (which was a fine reaction by my standards).
And I knew Leola. I’ve known her since the 6th grade - ever since she asked to share my lunch on the second day of middle school, we’ve been the best of friends. I knew that she’s the sweetest, most honest, most understanding human being there is out there and if I could entrust anyone with my secret, it would be her.
Yet I still didn’t know if I could bring myself to tell her as I waited for her status to flash green. Not because I didn’t trust her or think she’d take the news badly, but because if she found out that I was 110% uncomfortable with the idea of going to this party, then she’d find a way – some excuse or justification – to bail me out of this situation and break it to Brianna and Selma that I couldn’t go because she’s sweet and stubborn that way and wouldn’t let me go through with something that I was not okay with.
But the truth is, I needed to go to this party. Not for myself – well maybe a little bit for myself since it would be my first actual party. But I mostly needed to go to this party to prove to Brianna and Selma that I could be one of them. How the hell that was important for me and my life in the long run, I had no idea. I just had this urge to prove to them that I wasn’t just some awkward, scared tag-a-long of a friend.
I’m Veronica Larson and I’m going to this party, I thought to myself.
Just as I had determined this, my heart leapt into my throat and my phone jumped in my shaking hands as I saw that Leola simultaneously came online and was now requesting a video call with me.
I took a deep breath, wiped my eyes against the sleeve of my shirt – so that she didn’t think that I was crying – and clicked “accept” on the video call request.
“Hey!”, I said, trying to sound as enthusiastic as possible. Her back was facing me for a moment before she turned her head and I caught a glimpse of her face – her dimples, her hazel eyes, and her thin lips framed nicely by her short, dark-brown hair.
“Hi Nica! Boy, you really ran out on us earlier!”, she exclaimed, her smile practically taking up half of my screen.
“Yeah…sorry about that. I just kinda got a little, um-“, I sputtered, trying to come up with an excuse on the spot.
“Nervous?”, she suggested, “It’s totally fine. Brianna and Selma were a little weirded out, but I think the fact that you actually agreed to go to the party-“, she cut herself off noticing the waver in my smile, “Nica, is everything okay?”, she asked gently.
“Oh yeah, everything’s great.”, I said sarcastically, forgetting about trying to fool Leola with fake smiles (I knew her better than that).
“What’s the matter?”, she asked, moving her phone as she sat up in bed, “Are you having second thoughts on coming? ‘Cause if you are I can totally tell Brianna-“
I cut her off, “No. I mean yes I’m having second thoughts on going but I just-“, I took a deep breath trying to quickly gather my thoughts, “I just have to go to this party, L. I want to show Brianna and Selma that I’m not a stick-in-the-mud like they think I am”, I told her, refraining from telling her exactly why I was uncomfortable with going (I figured I didn’t need to since she was probably assuming I was nervous about the whole “roof party” theme).
The way her mouth turned upwards in a half-scowl told me that she was 110% uncomfortable with me going to a party that I was uncomfortable with and the look in her eyes suggested that she knew I was hiding something from her. But she didn’t state any of this outright as she sighed in defeat and simply said, “Alright, Nica. If you’re determined to go to this party just so you can prove something to the girls, then I’ll support you. I don’t like it, but I’ll still be there. Even though I was planning on cancelling-“
“Wait what!?”, I exclaimed, realizing I had interrupted her again, “Sorry. Just-what!? I thought you were excited to go?”
“Um, I may have been exaggerating a little”, she said, her cheeks turning a subtle shade of red, “I mentioned it to my parents and they aren’t crazy about me going but I think if I tell them you’re coming they’ll let me.”
“Oh”, I said, not sure what else to say. One of the reasons I was so pressured into going was because Leola had already basically agreed. But now that I knew that she actually wasn’t interested in going-
No, I needed to do this.
“Oh, by the way”, Leola said, breaking the silence before I could, “Leola texted me that she found a date for you to take to the party. Some guy named Theo Walters”, she said, making a point of eyeing me as she said the word “date”.
I tried not to give anything away from my expression or tone of voice as I simply replied, “Oh, cool. So I guess I’m not meeting this guy before the party?”, I asked, deducing this from the fact that it was a Friday and the party was the next night.
“I guess not. She just said to ‘show up in your best dress and try not to puke all over the guy when you get on the roof’”, she said forming air quotations with her hands.
I tried not to puke all over my phone as I tersely said, “Will do”. At that moment, I heard the front door open and clinking plates and glasses from the kitchen downstairs and guessed that my dad had just come home and that dinner would be ready soon so I said, “It sounds like dinner’s almost ready so I gotta go, Leola! I guess I’ll see you tomorrow night at Scott’s place?”
“Yup! I’ll text you the directions to his house- it isn’t much farther from Brianna’s. Talk to you later!”
“Yep! Bye!”, I said, hurriedly clicking off the video call as if my life depended on it and fighting back the urge to cry as I made my way downstairs and wondered how the hell I was going to bring this up to my parents during dinner.
“And this party is where?”, my dad asked, clearly very concerned for my well-being as his large eyebrows were impossibly scrunched together and he didn’t even seem to notice the fact that his bulky glasses were sliding down the bridge of his nose (reminding me unenthusiastically of Selma back on the bus ride home).
“On Scott Thurgood’s roof. His house isn’t very far from Brianna’s house”, I said, keeping my hands clasped beneath the table, praying to whatever divine entities that happened to be paying a listen to please let my parents be okay with this.
“And you want to go to this party? A party that’s on a roof?”, my mom asked for what seemed like the twentieth time, her plate of spaghetti barely touched, making me feel a twinge of guilt for spoiling her appetite.
“Yes. Brianna said we’re all invited and Leola’s going so I thought I could go too…”, I said, spinning the truth as my voice trailed off when my dad began to speak.
“How late is this party?”, he asked abruptly.
I tried to fight the urge to scream.
We’d been at this for at least twenty minutes. After Calvin had swiftly finished his spaghetti – somehow finding room in his tiny nine-year-old stomach for two servings of pasta – he excused himself, clearly fed up with how long this conversation was going on for and by the fact that he didn’t get a chance to talk about his win at his soccer tournament.
Because I didn’t know if or when I’d be able to squeeze in the topic of the party during dinner, I anxiously (and stupidly) brought it up almost immediately after everyone sat down. Since then, my parents had asked a range of questions varying from “How late is this party?” to “How well do you know this Scott Thurgood?”, my answers varying from “It starts around 8 PM, but I promise to be home by midnight” to “He’s the star player of our school’s football team and Brianna’s boyfriend sooo pretty well?”.
At last, after I could tell that my parents were running out of questions to ask and excuses for me not to go, my dad relented and sighed, “I guess you can go. But please call us to pick you up by midnight, okay?”
I beamed, I couldn’t freaking believe it, “I will! I love you guys so much!”, I said, getting up and giving them both a hug and a kiss on the cheek before running upstairs and collapsing on my bed in exhaustion.
My mind was reeling with different worries and concerns but the thought that trumped the rest of my doubts echoed at the front of my mind as I somehow drifted off to sleep.
I’m going to the party…
What a night it would be.
I dreamed of neon lights and beer. The sounds of the party – odd music, laughter, and dozens of people guzzling down drinks and shuffling about on the dance floor – echoed in the night, some of the deeper beats from the music seeming to resonate in my bones.
“Hey”, someone said behind me, their hands grabbing my shoulders and turning me around so I faced them.
A boy stood before me, tall, dark and mysterious – just like in the movies. He was mysterious in the sense that I couldn’t see his face – it was masked by a thick layer of darkness.
“Kiss me, girl”, he said leaning closer, his hands now wrapped firmly around my waist.
My eyes went wide in terror and I pulled away from him, accidentally knocking into Brianna who had the biggest sneer I had ever seen her wear – and that was saying something.
“What’s wrong with you, Veronica? Why won’t you kiss him?”, she said, her arms suddenly around Scott Thurgood’s neck – whom I could’ve sworn hadn’t been standing there a second before.
“Yeah, Veronica”, Selma said from behind me, pulling her lips away from some boy with round glasses and a cleft chin, ”What’s wrong with you?”
“Veronica!”, someone shouted angrily at me. I turned around and saw Leola - who hadn’t looked more angry and disappointed in me since I broke her favorite Hello-Kitty earrings in 7th grade, “Why don’t you kiss Theo? Is there something seriously wrong with you? Just kiss him!”
“Yeah kiss him!”, Brianna and Selma freakily shouted in unison from behind me.
Theo suddenly appeared before me - his face no longer shrouded in darkness, but his facial features still a blur - making an expression that I guessed was supposed to make me want to kiss him.
Instead I felt like throwing up.
“Ugh fine!”, Leola shouted, even louder this time as the sounds of the party seemed to be drowned out by her words (or was the party just getting farther away?), “If you won’t do it, then I guess I’ll have to do it myself!”
I didn’t get the logic in that, but suddenly she was facing Theo and she vigorously pressed her lips against his, making a real show of it.
The two girls behind me applauded Leola’s demonstration and all of the sudden I was being shoved against a wall – a wall that I was pretty sure hadn’t been there before.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Why can’t you be normal?”
The barrage of insults rang out in my ears and I felt the floor sway beneath me before I crumbled to the ground, tears falling down my cheeks before I had a chance to stop them.
Suddenly I was screaming in pain as the girls turned to violence and started kicking me and a wave of nausea overcame me before I was swept away in a surge of darkness…
I woke up with a start, my palms sweating and my side hurting.
The nightmare I had already seemed to be fading from my mind, yet I felt a ball of discomfort and unease forming in the back of my throat and I was starting to ask myself probing questions – such as What if the party actually turns out like that? or What if Theo tries to kiss me? or What if the girls find out? – as I got dressed for a half-day of packing for our family summer trip.
Because I seemed to have woken up an hour early, I decided to spend the extra time picking out what to wear for the party.
I thumped through the back of my closet where all my dresses were hung – some of them actually coated in a thin layer of dust emphasizing just how little I actually wore dresses – until I picked out a violet slip dress that I – numbly - thought would go nice with my tan complexion (that, and it had pockets!)
I still couldn’t shake my seemingly meaningful nightmare from my head as I laid down and waited for my parents to call me down for breakfast.
It’s probably no surprise to anyone reading this that I was 110% insecure with how I identified.
My insecurities – my fears, uncertainties and utter doubts - were the reason that I – at 16 years of age – had not come out to anyone. They’re the reason I felt so isolated all the time and why I never thought of being aromantic or asexual as a positive or something to be proud of – to embrace. Instead, I found myself wishing that I could be “normal”. That I could actually love like everyone else. Romantically. Sexually. Instead of being stuck in a body that couldn’t love like that.
In the weeks following the October night in 8th grade when I stumbled upon the names of how I identified - on some random Tumblr page – I found myself associating actual shapes with the different types of love.
There were geometric shapes. Shapes that were symmetrical - perfectly even on all sides. I associated those with the love between family members. I seemed to associate a perfect square with my family, as if each vertex were a family member and the perfectly straight lines that connected each member represented our love for one another.
Then there were half-shapes. Half circles and crescent moons, for example. Now you might be thinking, Half-shapes aren’t a type of shape! And you’re right. But 13-year-old me found shapes like half-circles to appropriately represent the love between best friends, specifically my love for Leola. I don’t know exactly why, but the way the two vertexes in a half circle were connected by two lines – a curved one on top and a straight one on the bottom – felt, well, fitting to describe the love between best friends.
Finally, there were organic shapes. Shapes that followed virtually no rules. They were a mess of curves and straight lines - outsiders from the geometric shapes. I associated those with romantic love. Something that followed almost no rules, just like how love followed no rules. It was spontaneous, erratic. And even though I knew then that I’d never experience that type of love with someone, I somehow knew and understood how erratic and spontaneous that kind of love could be.
All day – as I jumped up in bed when my mom called us down for breakfast, as I spent the day shuffling through my wardrobe, closet and desk drawers for things to pack for our trip, even as we ate an early dinner – I felt numb, distant. As if my mind were lying in wait for the big event of the day to come so it could wake up.
My mind ended up waking up from whatever daze when my mom entered the kitchen as I was washing the dishes and said, “Getting ready for your party soon, Veronica?”
That perked me up. My eyes snapped up towards our wall clock: 7:15 PM.
“Oh!”, I exclaimed, almost dropping a glass in the sink, “I gotta get dressed!”
My mom smiled knowingly and put her palm out, gesturing for me to go upstairs and change while she finished the dishes (because she was amazing that way).
“Thanks mom!”, I said pushing the glass and towel into her hand before basically stumbling up the stairs, knocking over a box that was in front of my bedroom door, grabbing my dress, stockings and black 2-inch heels from my bed and heading to the bathroom to change.
I may or may not have cursed as I eagerly pulled on my dress and stockings and looked at myself in the tall mirror that hung in our upstairs bathroom.
Too tight, too tight, too tight!
While the metallic violet color of the dress actually was a good color on me, the dress seemed to wrap tightly around my waist and midsection, slithering its way down my thighs.
While it wasn’t horribly tight, the shock of how it hugged my form combined with the ball of nerves inside of me equaled a mini panic attack as I opened the bathroom door and gathered my things, praying that my parents wouldn’t be scandalized the minute they saw what I was wearing.
I put on a light pink color of lipstick and grabbed my phone, checking the time as I did so – 7:35 PM.
I made my way down the stairs where my parents stood at the front door. For one heart-leaping second I thought my dad was going to yell at me and tell me to go back upstairs and change or – worse - that I couldn’t go to the party, but his expression immediately shifted to a mere raise of his bushy eyebrows and I smiled awkwardly as my mom tried not to laugh.
“Interesting”, was all he said towards my attire. He wrapped his arms around me in a tight hug as my mom took a photo of us on her IPhone.
“Well you better get going kiddo!”, my dad told me. He hugged me once more and I kissed him on the cheek before my mom opened the front door and we stepped outside.
“Wait!” I heard a squeaky voice shout from behind me. I turned around and Calvin knocked the breath out of me as he pulled me into a bear hug.
I smiled warmly and rubbed his hair affectionately, “Sorry, Calvin! I almost forgot to say goodbye!”
“It’s okay”, he said, smiling so I could see the gaps in his mouth where his two front teeth should’ve been, “I made you something to take to the party though!”, he told me, holding up a small bracelet with blue and purple beads on it.
I gasped and turned it around in my hand, noticing that some of the beads had letters on them that spelled out PARTY GIRL.
I’ve got to admit, I was a little speechless at that point. I even felt my eyes tear up a bit. But instead of sobbing right there on our front porch, I smiled as big as I could, slipped the bracelet on – noticing how it perfectly matched my dress - kissed him on the cheek and said, “I love it so much! Thanks, Calvin.”
And I swear I’d never seen that kid smile brighter.
“We’re gonna be late, Veronica!”, my mom said, breaking up our moment.
I waved another goodbye to my dad and Calvin as we strapped ourselves into my mom’s white mini-van and backed out of our driveway, heading down our street as we followed the directions Leola had texted me the night before.
It only took us about fifteen minutes to get to Scott Thurgood’s street. I had just received a text from Leola that said Just got 2 the party! with a picture of Scott’s house, making it easy for my mom and I to find it amongst the mansion-like households that dominated the community.
My mom parked in front of one of the biggest houses on the street, colorful lights and music coming from the flat roof of the building. Even though I knew it was the right house, its towering pillars and large front door made me think it looked more like city hall than where some high school party was taking place.
The high school party that I was going to.
“Oh god”, I murmured as I hesitantly unbuckled my seatbelt and grabbed my bag.
“Everything okay?”, she asked and, when I swallowed and nodded, she continued, “Remember that it’s just a party. Let loose a little, have fun. And make sure to call your mother to pick you up before midnight so that she doesn’t have a heart attack”, she said, trying to make me laugh.
Instead, I could only muster a smile as I unlocked the car door and watched her give me a reassuring thumbs up – reminding me with a pang of Leola the previous day at school - before driving away.
I took a deep breath and made my way up the stairs, my heels clicking ominously against the cement steps.
I rang the doorbell, the chiming bells sounding louder than I expected making me cringe at the thought of how loud it must’ve sounded from the inside of the house. I waited at least five minutes, actually contemplating to just go inside since I was invited to the party.
But as soon as I managed to steel myself enough to head inside and upstairs on my own, I heard a faint click and the large wooden front door swung open, revealing Brianna and a tall, broad-shouldered boy – who I guessed was Scott Thurgood as Brianna had her arms wrapped around him in a way that I thought must’ve been painful.
“Hey Valerie! Welcome to the party!”, Scott said, with a tipsy smile (making me think – no know – that he had already had one too many cheap beers).
“Uh, it’s Veronica”, was all I could muster as I was distracted by how straight-up gorgeous Brianna looked. Her silk green dress fluttered in the breeze that came from the open door, and her hair was tied up in a fancy updo that I knew Selma must’ve helped her with (Selma was a wiz with hairdos). Her face was masterfully painted with make-up, the contouring accentuating her high cheekbones and her false lashes making her eyes look somewhat doll-like.
The way she had put herself together made me feel more-than-slightly self-conscious of my hastily applied - or lack thereof - makeup and my skin-tight dress, but I plastered a fake smile on my face as I put my hand up and said, “Hey Brianna!”
“Hey! I’m glad you actually came”, she said with a mischievous grin, “Well come on up!”, she said, grabbing my wrist – making me almost trip over my heels – as she and Scott led me into the foyer of the house and up the (long) flight of stairs that led to the roof.
The walk upstairs was quiet as I trailed behind Brianna and Scott, the only sound that could be heard being the click! click! of Brianna’s six-inch heels as we walked. After we reached the second floor and continued up another flight of stairs, I was all of a sudden aware of the fact that Selma wasn’t with Brianna, as she so often was.
“Hey..Brianna?... Where’s…Selma?”, I said, my words coming out in between quick gasps of breath (I seriously needed to work out or something).
“Hm?”, she said, her mind clearly on something else as we rounded a bend in the flight of stairs, “Oh, Selma? Her lame parents forbade her from coming since Scottie’s party here wasn’t going to be ‘supervised by adults’. What a joke, amiright?”, she said, shooting an almost knowing expression my way as we continued climbing.
“Oh, uh, yeah…I guess so.”, was all I said. We walked the rest of the way up in silence.
By the time we got to the top of the stairwell, my feet ached and when I saw the large door that led outside onto the roof, well, let’s just say the breath was knocked out of me.
This is happening. This is happening. This is happening.
“Sooooo the bathroom’s on the second floor, first door on your right”, she said pointing down with a perfectly manicured fingernail, ”and when we get outside I’ll go fetch Theodore so you and him can party it up!”, she said with a another flashy grin. I found it odd that she was the one doing all the talking considering that Scott, the boy who lived here and the host of this party, was standing right there – albeit in his tipsy state.
“Cool!”, I said, my voice pitching slightly, “But before we go out-“, can I just have a few more minutes out here to breathe?, but before I could finish my sentence, Brianna grabbed my wrist - yet again - pushed open the door, and led us out into the mess of colored lights, beer and shuffling bodies.
I may or may not have thought Is it too late to call my mom and get the hell out of here? once or twice or seven times as Brianna led me through the swarms and swarms of warm, sweaty bodies, craning her long neck over the crowd to look for Theo.
We had lost Scott at some point but Brianna seemed more focused on the task of introducing me to my apparent date – something that bugged me and made a lurking feeling of suspicion crawl down my spine. Her eyes were narrowed and she was still smiling creepily, making me pray that we’d run into Leola before we found Theo.
“There he is!”, Brianna said, her voice almost drowned out by the insistent pounding of the music.
I looked ahead of us to where she was leading me and saw a boy a head taller than me with a shaggy head of long brown hair and a long, bony face.
You’re kidding me, I thought, that can’t be him-
We had made it to the far side of the roof where he stood and the look on Brianna’s face when she saw my appalled face almost made me want to run back through the crowd and hide in the bathroom for all eternity.
“Veronica, Theo. Theo, Veronica!”
The guy was at least – at least – five years older than me. His hair was a ratty mess, he had a freaking goatee growing on the end of his chin and his cheeks were so hollowed out – his eyes so deep-set – that I knew he must’ve been smoking something before making his way to some high school jock’s party.
I felt like throwing up. I had imagined one of Scott’s football buddies. Heck, I even imagined Brianna hooking me up with one of the nerds that followed Scott around like lost puppies – like Selma did with Brianna – just for laughs. But I did not for the life of me expect that she’d pull something like this.
I was pissed and more than a little embarrassed.
And I wanted Leola more than ever to appear beside me.
And I wanted to go home.
But, I somehow found an ounce of will and dignity left in me to slap on another fake smile, hold out my hand, and politely say, “Nice to meet you, Theo.”
The guy hesitated a second, then took my hand, shaking it hard – making me think that he wasn’t used to shaking people’s hands – and I could almost imagine the kind of jokes Brianna and Scott were about to share as she left with a “Toodle-loo!” and left me alone with this college senior.
“Sooo what school do you go to?”, I asked to fill the awkward silence, raising my voice slightly so he could hear me over the ever-increasing volume of the music.
“I dropped out of college last year”, he said in a raspy, dead-pan voice, his eyes looking me up and down, making me feel as if I were being inspected.
Make that a college drop-out.
This was going to be a long night.
This was probably the most awkward part of the night. This was also the part of the night that I remembered the least of but I’ll try to do my best to sort out the sequence of events.
I remember asking him a few more questions about himself, some of these questions being: “Do you like sports?” (Answer: “Yeah. Golf.”); “What’s your favorite book?” (Answer: “I don’t read.”); and “What do you like to do in your free time?”
For that last question, he smiled – smirked actually – and he seemed to hesitate a bit before responding with a shrug, “Playin’ video games and sleeping.” Then, he promptly held up his hand for a moment and walked away towards a table - that I guessed had drinks on it - without another word.
I took a deep breath of cool, night air – ignoring the traces of beer and cigarette smoke - to calm myself as I fought the urge to shudder, thinking god-knows-what that guy did in his free time. I came up with a contingency plan, telling myself I’d run, lock myself in the bathroom downstairs and text my mom to come pick me up if things went wrong.
Here’s where things start to get blurry. I remember him walking towards me holding two tall plastic cups filled with a light gold-colored liquid. I didn’t register that he had two cups of beer in his hand right away, as I was more so focused on the fact that his expression had somehow changed.
His lips were turned up into a creepy smile – creepier than Brianna’s – and his eyes suddenly looked alive as if he had woken up from whatever daze or stupor or high he was in a few moments before and was just realizing that he was at a party talking to a girl.
I didn’t know if I was supposed to feel flattered or wary.
He held out the cup of beer and I (automatically) took it from his large – and hairy – hands. I don’t know what we talked about after that, if we even talked at all. I only know that, at some point, the awkward silence – well, “silence” referring to the lack of conversation as I couldn’t really describe the atmosphere around us as silent – as well as the way he stared at me with wild, almost hungry eyes made me beyond nervous. I kept swallowing, looking up at the starry sky – which was not a good idea because it reminded me of how high up we were - down at my black dress shoes, to my left and right - where all I could see were people and lights and drinks – anywhere other than that guy’s face where I knew I’d be a hit with a wave of awkwardness and discomfort.
I felt a droplet of sweat creep its way down the back of my neck and my throat felt itchy and dry. Without thinking, I took a sip of the beer in my hands.
It was surprisingly refreshing, its lemon-y flavor and light, bubbly texture along with how crisp and cool it was satisfying my thirst.
I took another sip.
“Hey, want to move over to the dance floor?”, Theo said, jabbing his hitchhikers thumb to my right, where the dance floor apparently was.
It was also the place where the most people were gathered.
I don’t know why I nodded. For the life of me I can’t figure out why I thought it would be a good idea to move to the place with more people, more shuffling bodies, more smells and sights and sounds.
Nevertheless, the millisecond I bobbed my head up and down, he abruptly grabbed my wrist – I flinched at his touch – and dragged me over toward the crowds and lights.
The music was louder here – probably because the DJ was just across from the small platform where the neon lights were set up. Where the crowds were moving their bodies to the heavy beats of the music that seemed to be shaking me to my bones.
The closer we got to the crowd – the brighter the lights became and the more the volume of the music increased – the more sips I took of the chilled liquid in my hands, my fingertips digging anxiously into the sides of the cup as if the cup was the only grounding thing left in the world. At some point – when we had finally reached the center of the dance floor - I tipped my head back to drink only to realize there was nothing left in the poor plastic cup.
“Here have mine”, Theo said, pushing a second cup into my hands before I had a chance to protest.
I didn’t know what to do now that we were on the dance floor. Should we have danced? Talked some more? We didn’t do either of those. Instead, Theo just stared at me with those wild eyes of his as I downed my second cup of beer.
My eyes suddenly felt very heavy - my mind foggy - and there were so many different sounds and colors and shapes around me that I was having trouble concentrating…
Something grabbed me. Someone. Their large hands were around me, roughly grabbing the back of my sweaty neck, the waist of my skin-tight dress and, at one point, the back of my right thigh.
It happened so fast that I didn’t have a chance to react or step back and focus my eyes on the person in front of me. Before I could understand what was happening, I felt something push up against my lips.
Suddenly I felt like I was suffocating. I couldn’t breathe. Someone else’s lips and tongue and teeth and sweat pushed down against my lips and nose and face until I felt like I was being smothered by a pillow – except I couldn’t raise my head to breathe.
At least not as easily. Whether it was a few seconds or moments or hours, I don’t know. But, at some point, my brain decided to pop in for a visit as I finally had the realization that Theo was kissing me.
The thought sent a shock through me and I backed up with a loud gasp, startling him so much that he didn’t react quick enough before I could duck under his large, hairy arms and step back at least five feet, trying to get my bearings.
“What the hell, girl!?”, he shouted. At least, I thought he shouted it, as everything seemed to swell in loudness and brightness. The reds and blues and greens and purples of the lights around us turned neon. The music was so loud it jarred my brain and made me question if the ground beneath me was actually quaking. I heard sounds from other people, their laughs, their inhalations of smoke, their lips pressing up against each other in joy and bliss. In a confused moment, I wondered why I couldn’t just let Theo grab me and kiss me, just to go against what I thought I couldn’t do and try to be normal.
But I quickly snapped out of that daze as he was suddenly right in front of me, breathing down hard on my sweaty face. I tried to run past him but he pushed me back into a wall.
Where did that wall come from? I didn’t know how we had gotten to this part of the roof. He was trying to lean down and kiss me again but I wouldn’t let him, ducking or turning my head whenever he so much as moved a muscle. Suddenly he went ballistic. If I thought his eyes looked menacing and crazed before, he looked like he could commit bloody murder now. His face was screwed up into the ugliest face and he suddenly pulled – yanked – something off my right wrist, giving me only a second – one precious second – to scream as I realized what that something was before he ripped it to pieces and the beads of the bracelet Calvin had worked so hard on to make spilled to the floor.
Something inside me broke. My mind flashed to the quiet evening an hour or two or three before when Calvin had looked up at me with his toothless grin and I felt like the luckiest person in the world to have a brother like him. I screamed and screamed and screamed until my voice felt raw and my eyes teared up.
People turned and murmured and whispered as soon as I stopped screaming and fell to my knees, clearly taking notice that something was amiss – to say the least. Theo backed up at least ten feet, clearly shell-shocked by how unexpectedly I had reacted to him breaking my bracelet. The plan – the one I had cocked up when he had stepped away to get drinks – flashed before my eyes and I hastily grabbed as many beads as possible – probably looking like a desperate, wild animal in the process - and ran. Ran away from him. Away from the grabbing and the yelling and the snapping and the whispers. Away from the lights and the music and the people and the voices.
Just as the sounds and lights started to recede and I was gradually weaving my way towards the door and stairwell that led inside the house, someone appeared right in front of me and I slammed into them, unable to control my momentum as I ran.
“Ugh! What the hell!”, a shrill voice shouted into my ear as I backed up to see who I had ran into.
Brianna stood before me, absolutely fuming as the front of her silk green dress was drenched in beer, me having spilled it on her when we collided.
“What. The. Hell. Veronica.”, she said, emphasizing each word as her face twisted and her piercing eyes seemed to burn their way through me.
“S-sorry Bri- I just-“, my words tripped over each other as my brain scrambled to come up with an excuse as to why I was running.
“Where’s dear ol’ Theodore?”, Brianna asked with a tone that was suddenly sugarcoated, pursing her lips dramatically.
I don’t know what came over me at this point. Maybe my nerves were still frayed from moments before or maybe I was just tired of lying and pretending everything was peachy.
Whatever the case, I told her what Theodore did (or tried to do) to me, stuttering and taking anxious breaths along the way.
After I was finished, she merely shrugged and sighed melodramatically as she said “Ah, boys. What’cha gonna do?”
I twitched. I actually twitched. “Are you freaking kidding me? That’s it? That’s all you have to say?”, I shouted, making her flinch a bit (which I felt pretty good about in the moment).
Brianna looked visually uncomfortable - which is unusual for her since she tried to keep her composure 110% of the time – and I wasn’t sure if it was from the wet beer stain on the front of her dress that was slowly trickling its way down her belly or from the way this conversation was going. Her face started to flush but she just turned her head to the side and said, “Well it’s not like it’s my fault he acted that way. I thought I’d hook you up with him for a bit of fun that’s all-“
“Fun!?”, I snapped, finally fed up with her excuses, my voice seething in anger, “It’s not fun to be pressured into going to a party! It’s not fun to be forced to hook up with anyone! You wanna know what would be fun? If I was able to tell people the truth about me without always being so damn afraid that they’ll judge me for being asexual!”
My eyes widened in shock as I realized what I had just said. I didn’t mean for that last part to come out of my mouth, I really didn’t.
Her face transformed so many times over the course of that next second that it was almost like seeing a robot glitch out like in all of those sci-fi movies. She looked offended that I dare talk to her like that, then confused - her brain finally catching up to what I had just confessed - then disgusted as she made a repulsed noise in the back of her throat.
Before I knew what was happening, she splashed whatever else was left in her plastic cup of beer onto the front of my violet dress and I gasped in shock.
I was shaking then and I felt the long-awaited tears coming so - before she could see me fall apart - I ran past her, but not before hearing the insult that she hissed viciously into my ear as I brushed past her in that millisecond.
I didn’t stop for anything then. Not when I knocked into people - actually knocking a tall, Black girl over at one point.
Not when I slipped and broke the heel on my right, black shoe, struggling to get up and grab the broken piece in my trembling hands.
Not even when I heard Leola’s unmistakable voice as she called out my name, “Veronica! Nica, wait!”
I didn’t turn. I didn’t waver. I didn’t stop. I just kept running until I reached the doorway that led inside the house, yanking the door open in an anguished groan as I stumbled down the steps of the house – miraculously not tripping again and breaking my neck.
When I made it to the second floor, I (also miraculously) remembered Brianna’s directions to the bathroom, the large white-tiled room seemingly unoccupied (another miracle).
I slipped and almost tripped again at the doorway of the bathroom but managed to right myself as I slammed and locked the door shut, slid my back against the wooden door, put my head in my hands and cried and cried and cried, my sobs being the only thing I could hear – the only thing anyone could hear – in the deafeningly silent bathroom.
I sobbed until my breaths started to come out in rasps, my throat felt raw and the beads of Calvin’s bracelet and the piece of my shoe were swimming in small puddles of tears in the palms of my hands.
After my crying fit, my hands were trembling and my breathing was raspy and labored. I managed to take some deep breaths until my breathing started to sound somewhat normal, planning on calling my mom to ask her to pick me up. However, I decided to just text her because no way in hell did I want to talk to anyone right now in my fitful state, let alone my mom.
I pulled out my phone, miraculously not dropping it on the tiled floor, and glanced at the time as I texted my mom, my ears ringing: 11:03 P.M
At least it’s not past midnight, I thought bitterly as I clicked “send”.
My heart leapt into my throat and my phone almost jumped out of my hands and onto the floor, when the door behind me shuddered with a bump bump! sound.
Someone was knocking on the door.
“Veronica, are you in there?”, Leola called, as she banged on the wooden door with what sounded - and felt – like all of her strength.
I’m not sure why I suddenly felt like talking to anyone. Maybe because I was tired. Maybe because it was Leola for God’s sake. Whatever the reason, I reached up and unlocked the door and quickly backed up – like a freaking cornered animal - towards the shower, which was ten feet in front of the bathroom’s entrance.
The door immediately swung open, revealing a disheveled-looking-Leola who looked as if she had gone to hell and back to find me.
And I soon realized that she had.
“Nica!”, she gasped out, crouching down next to me, “Where have you been? I got your text saying you were at the party and I searched the perimeter of the roof but I couldn’t find you so I-“, she cut herself off, her expression morphing – reminding me depressingly of Brianna moments before - as she took in the state of my dress – soaked and smelled like beer – shoes – my broken right heel sat sadly in my palm - and face – from what I could see in the low bathroom mirror, my lipstick was smeared, my hair was a frizzy mess, and my watery eyes and tear-stained cheeks made me look as if I sat in the bathroom crying for actual hours, which wasn’t far from the truth.
“Veronica, what happened?”, she asked, her voice suddenly quiet and teetering on the edge of horrified. Before I could open my mouth to respond, she held up her hand, crossed the room towards the door, locked it shut and crouched down next to me again, wearing an expression that said I’m listening.
Something inside me broke – again. To see Leola sitting there looking so ready to hear me out and listen – a shocking contrast to Brianna – made my heart start to feel a little bit warmer - a little fuller – as I told her – tearfully - the events of the party, how Calvin’s bracelet got broken, how Brianna reacted when I told her what happened – avoiding the part where I accidentally came out to her - and why I had stormed out of there in a fit of emotions.
“Nica…”, she said, her tone an mixture of awe and sadness, “I had no idea. I thought “Theo Walters” would be some nerd with retainers not some…”, she didn’t bother finishing that sentence. Instead, still crouching, she leaned in close to me and wrapped her arms around me in a somewhat-uncomfortable-but-still-very-thoughtful hug.
I felt a little better after telling her what had happened and just seeing how she acted so supportive and gentle gave me that final push to tell her the secret that I’d kept hidden for way too long.
The secret that would hopefully set me free.
“Leola…I haven’t told you everything. The main reason why I was so hesitant to go to this party - especially after Brianna had talked about bringing dates – is because…I’m aromantic and asexual.”, I said, the last part of the sentence spewing out of my mouth, as if my body could physically not take to hold in the truth anymore.
She put a hand up to her mouth – a gesture not out of disgust or horror, but out of surprise and shock, “Veronica! Why didn’t you tell me? If I had known, I would’ve never gone to the party! We could’ve stayed at your house, made popcorn, watched a movie-“
“But that’s just it, L!”, I said, a little louder than I meant to say it, “I wanted to prove to Brianna that I wasn’t some stick-in-the-mud. More importantly, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this and go to a party and have dates and be normal-”, it’s like a dam had cracked in my mind and suddenly all my deepest insecurities were spilling out of me.
“No, Veronica! No!”, Leola said, waving away whatever I was going to say next, “Don’t say that! Just because you don’t feel comfortable going on dates doesn’t mean you aren’t normal! What gave you that idea?”, she asked softly.
I felt more tears making their way down my cheeks but I was past the point of caring, “I always thought everyone would think of me differently if I ever told anyone, so I never did. Not until up at the party when my nerves were frayed and I accidentally told Brianna and-“, I choked up at the memory, the word freak echoing in the back of my mind.
Leola must’ve seen it on my face how bad Brianna must’ve reacted because she wrapped her arms around me a second – harder – time and said steadily into my ear, “Listen to me. It doesn’t matter what your sexuality is. It doesn’t matter what Brianna said or did when you told her. She is a hateful person. You are an amazing person. You’re funny, you’re smart, you’re beautiful, you’re sweet, you’re Veronica freaking Larson and you’re my best friend. Nothing will change that. And you should never listen to people who tell you otherwise. Those kinds of people are just a waste of your time.”
My heart felt so full that it probably would’ve burst, but instead I sniffed, nodded repeatedly at her words and whispered, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”
She pulled away from me and looked me in the eye, her dimples showing on her reassuring, smiling face, as she said, “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you told me and-”
I knew what she was going to say next was going to be something along the lines of and you should probably tell your family too but, just then, the door banged - making my heart leap into my throat once more - as voices surged from behind the locked door.
“Hey, open up!”, said a high-pitched female voice.
“Anyone in there?”, shouted a girl with an rich, accented voice.
“Yo! I gotta take a dump!”, a boyish voice called out.
Leola and I looked at each other, amusement dancing in our eyes, as I got up and quickly splashed water in my face (to wash away any smeared makeup and tear stains), flushed the toilet (for pure theatrical purposes), and Leola unlocked and opened the door to a group of annoyed-looked teenagers.
The boy who had shouted went in first as me and Leola slipped past the ever-growing line of people, hardly able to contain our giggles as we walked downstairs.
We descended in comfortable silence. I had taken my shoes off on the second floor – so as to avoid any more accidents - and was now walking in mere stockings, cradling my half-broken pair of shoes in my hands, along with the remains of Calvin’s bracelet. I anxiously wondered how Calvin would react when he saw the bracelet he worked hard on broken in my hands, but I pushed the thought of his heartbroken face aside, as I tried – yet again – to sort out in my head what the hell happened tonight.
I went to the party.
Some guy almost kissed me.
I will probably never speak to Brianna again and it’s for the better.
I came out to Leola.
I was still in a daze when we crossed the house’s foyer and pushed the heavy door open to make our way outside, the cool night air that blasted me in the face feeling momentarily refreshing.
The rest of the night somehow felt dreamy as Leola and I sat on the curb of the sidewalk waiting for my mom to arrive. I laid my shoes down next to me and slipped Calvin’s beads into my dress’s pockets as I let out a heavy breath and stared up at the starry horizon.
For one reason or another, my mind drifted to the odd comparisons of love that I had made when I first discovered who I was.
How geometric shapes corresponded to familial love – symmetrical and even on all sides.
How crescents and semi-circles corresponded to the love between friends – always anchored on both sides.
How organic shapes correspond to romantic love – always erratic, spontaneous, and followed no rules.
I don’t remember when Leola had slipped her hand into mine, but the next time I looked over at her, I realized we were holding hands and I realized then that I couldn’t have felt more grounded and safe.
She smiled at me reassuringly – her hazel eyes shining - and I smiled back, though I knew she could tell my mind was elsewhere, as she didn’t instigate any conversation in the minutes that followed.
Soon - about five minutes later – I squinted at the oncoming headlights from my mom’s white mini-van and Leola and I stood up as my mom stopped ahead of us.
I grabbed my shoes, walked to the van and opened the door to the passenger seat, gasping a little when I saw Calvin sitting innocently next to my mom.
“Calvin! Hi!”, I said, trying to make my voice sound as cheerful as possible and craning my neck to see my dad in the backseat, “Dad!”
“Hey, honey! Have fun at the party? Get your fair share of drama and dancing?”, Dad asked with a good-hearted chuckle, seemingly in great spirits.
You have no idea, I wanted to say. Instead, I walked around to the backseat, opened the door and asked, “So what are you and Calvin doing here?”
“Oh, well your mother and I thought it would be great for us to go out for some ice cream to celebrate Calvin’s big win at his soccer tournament yesterday!”, Dad exclaimed, smiling proudly at the small figure at the front of the car.
“Dad!”, Calvin whined, “It’s not that big of a deal!”, he said, though I could tell he was loving the attention.
“Sure it is!”, my dad replied, “and, besides, your sister is graduating high school so why not a little celebration?”
“Leola!”, I heard my mother exclaim, everyone in the car suddenly turning to see Leola’s head poking into the car next to mine, “Goodness, dear are you heading home early too?”, she asked.
“Uh, yeah, I am!”, she said, glancing at me, “Would it be okay if you dropped me off at my house, Mrs. Larson?”, she asked my mother.
“Oh of course dear, strap yourself in!”, my mom said. Leola promptly buckled herself in next to me and closed the door as my mom turned the car around.
I was surprised no one commented on my broken shoes as I tucked them away underneath my seat (though I knew someone would eventually say something). I suddenly remembered the beads in my pocket and fished them out as I tapped Calvin on the shoulder.
“Um, Calvin? Your bracelet kinda…broke at the party.” I said, showing him the beads in my palms, suddenly realizing with a flood of panic how few beads I had managed to save, “I am so sorry. I tried picking them all up but the lighting was weird and I-“
Calvin cut off my flustered apology by picking the beads out of my hands with his small fingers and saying, “It’s okay! I have more beads and elastic at home! I’m just glad that you wore it.”, he said simply, giving me a toothy grin that made my heart melt all over again.
“Thanks, Calvin.”, I said meekly, sitting back in my seat with a sigh.
At that point, my eyes seemed to be looking at the moving white van’s passengers from a distance, as if I were watching a beloved movie.
I saw (and heard) my dad peppering Leola with questions about the party and stories about his few - but significant - frat parties in college, his bushy eyebrows moving up and down his face in excitement and his large glasses rolling down his nose.
I saw my mother happily tapping her fingers against the side of the car’s steering wheel to a catchy song she was humming along to and my little brother Calvin at the front seat, swinging his legs and happily humming along with her as looked down at the beads in his hands, smiling to himself.
I saw Leola happily answering – and sometimes dodging – my dad’s many innocent questions about the party and I realized we were holding each other’s hands once more as she smiled up at me, her hazel eyes shining.
I realized that in that very moment, I couldn’t have felt more grounded or safe. Here with my loving family and my awesome best friend.
And then, it came to me, and I could almost see the gears clicking into place.
Love couldn’t be categorized. It couldn’t be sorted into different shapes – geometric or half-shapes. What it could be categorized into was organic shapes. Shapes that followed no rules. Because love was all-encompassing. It included all types of love. Familial. Philia. Romantic.
Love was always changing, growing. Every person loved differently. Like how some people liked people of a different sex. Like how some people liked people of the same-sex.
Or like how some people – including me – didn’t like like that.
And so, in that moment of realization, surrounded by the people I loved the most, I decided to give myself a chance and try to understand and finally embrace my sexuality. Because it was my way of saying that I was different and unique.
And I also decided that, after we had dropped Leola off at her house and I had said goodbye to my best friend for the night, I would come out to my parents and my brother, my family.
And I knew, I knew, that - no matter what - they would wholeheartedly support me.