Heya, everyone! Here's my latest short story. It's in present tense, which is a bit odd, but it fitted the story a lot better than I thought it would, although some sentences are still awkward. Anyway, this piece started as a random scribbling in my writer's notebook. I knew I wanted to write about a girl whose mother was dying, and... well, this story was born. Please review, it will be very appreciated.

This is a part of the Rainbow Book series of short stories, so look for more short stories in the future!


Dying Secrets

I walk through the living room, blinking past the glare of the low sun in the window. She is in her chair, facing the other way. The light catches in her hair as I watch her, and I wonder how long she's been sitting in here alone. She spends so much of her time by herself, trying to distance herself, but it doesn't take away the hurt.

"Mom?" I slip across the dark carpet to the arm of her chair and rest my fingertips on her wrist. She turns to look up at me and I see the tired wrinkles at the corners of both eyes, the worry lines creasing her forehead. Her skin is tight over her sharp face, and her lips are cracked and thin.

Six more months, the doctor said when he sent her home. Maybe a year. She looks so tired, old before her time, but I still can't imagine her dying. I can only pretend that she's fading, her edges becoming less and less defined. "Tess," she says. She is totally drained of color, but there is still life beating in her, barely.

"I have to tell you something."

Maya. I have to tell her about Maya. I've been waiting for so long to share these feelings with her, but until Maya, they had only been suspicions. Now, I'm sure. I'm in love and I want my mother to know.

"You tell me things every day."

"This is important," I whisper, looking into her eyes. She smiles weakly, the still, sad mask of her face cracking for a moment. My heard aches as if it's been carved right out of my chest and torn to pieces.

"Tell me."

I swallow to loosen the lump in my throat. I can't do this to her. It's not fair of me to ruin the last few months of my mother's life with this. I can't bear the disappointment. "Never mind," I mumble lamely. Neither of us says anything for a long time.

"What should I cook tonight?" my mother finally asks, trying to fill the emptiness hanging between us.

"I already made lasagna," I say. All of us take turns cooking so that she doesn't have to, but we all pretend that it's just a one-night thing, that she'll be the one getting everything ready tomorrow.

"Thank you, honey," she says quietly.

I'm sorry, Mom, I think quietly.

ooo

Later that day, I drive over to Maya's apartment. She's sitting on the living room sofa, watching a soccer game and scribbling something in a notebook. My eyes linger on her thick lips, her rich, dark skin, and her beautiful, thick mane of wiry hair. I love looking at her.

"Baby?" she says, turning to look up at me. "You look like shit. What's wrong?"

"I feel like shit." I walk over to the couch and bury myself in her arms, holding her as tight as I can. I haven't told her about my mother, or the rest of my family. She senses the way I tense up when she asks about them, so she's learned not to bring it up.

"Can I do anything?"

"No." I squeak from somewhere inside her shirt.

"Is it about me?"

"Sort of, but you're not part of the problem."

Maya pulls my shoulders back and looks at me, running her fingertips over my red cheeks. I see warmth in her eyes, and some of the hurt goes away. It always does with her. She's like an anesthetic for my heart. "You wanna talk about it?"

I shake my head no. Maya is honest and strong. She'd want me to tell. She wouldn't understand why I can't... why I have to protect my Mom before she leaves me forever. I can't bear the thought of her leaving this world hating me.

"I want to move in with you in a few months," I tell her suddenly, settling comfortably against her. I can feel the smile bursting inside her before it lights up her face. She makes a small, adorable sound in her throat and squeezes my small body against her chest, hugging me for all she's worth.

"You mean it? You're finally going to move in with me?"

"Yeah. I have to take care of something first, but after, I promise." I stand up and grab her hand, pulling her off of the couch and towards the front door. "Come on, I want to go get shit-faced."

"Fine by me," Maya says. She gives me a worried look, but the idea of having me move in has her too giddy to worry too much. I had hoped it would. Besides, once my mother is dead, why shouldn't I move in? It's been the only thing holding me back.

I push thoughts of my mother out of my mind and concentrate on the thought of alcohol. Anything to lose my sanity for a while.

ooo

I stumble into the hospital bathroom, bracing myself against the sink and staring into the mirror. I look demented. My hair is sticking up wildly and my eyes are puffy and my face is flushed. I look just like a younger version of her.

I reach out. Touch the mirror. Is it me or my mother I'm looking at? Maybe I'm dreaming. My fingers slide down the cool glass. I think I'm going crazy. "Oh God," a voice says. It's me. The sound echoes hollowly in the bathroom. "Oh God, oh God, oh God…"

I reach into my pocket. Grab my cell phone. I have to leave. My mother's body is in the next room. All of the guilt is building and building. I rush into the nearest stall, dialing blindly as I fall to my knees.

"What? Hello?" someone says. I cry. My stomach heaves and I vomit into the toilet. The voice is coming from my hand. No, the phone. I lift the phone to my ear.

"What?" I choke, shuddering at the taste in my mouth.

"Tess? Oh my God, Tess, where are you?" Maya. I dialed Maya's number.

"At the hospital. Come get me. Please come get me." I hang up the phone and fall onto the floor, breaking out in a fresh round of tears.

She's gone. I lost my chance. It's finally over. The months of waiting, wondering if today was going to be her last day on earth. How had she felt, knowing she was going to die soon, but not knowing just when? Do any of us know when?

Seconds or minutes or hours pass. Someone pulls me up. Two nurses. And Maya is crushing me against her, stroking my hair. I don't understand what she's saying, but she's crying, and I'm crying, and all I can think is that it's finally done and I can't believe I didn't tell her.

ooo

I invited Maya to the funeral. Well, actually, she invited herself. I let her come because I felt guilty about keeping secrets from her. And so, here I am, standing next to her in a cold wooden pew and watching a balding minister in black robes talk about the person my mother was. Was. Past tense.

Maya reaches out to me, wrapping her thick fingers around my wrist. I feel some of her strength pour into me, but the pain is still there, eating away at me from the inside out. Worst of all is the guilt and the secrets. I kept my mother a secret from Maya, I kept Maya a secret from my mother, and she's still a secret from the rest of my family.

The minister keeps talking, telling everyone what a beautiful person my mother was, how it wasn't fair that she was taken from us so soon. Tears build up, but I hold them back like I always have. She was too young, I think to myself. Too precious. I still can't believe that she's gone.

"Are you okay to stay?" Maya asks softly, rubbing her thumb over the back of my hand. I lift her hand to my lips and kiss the center of her palm. Its light, such an interesting contrast to the rest of her skin. I look at her fingertips, losing myself in the details. It's so easy to think about simple things like Maya's hands instead of complicated things like being gay and losing my mother.

"Yeah," I whisper, letting her hand fall back down, but keeping hold of it. We're in the back pew, so no one can see us anyway. My two brothers are farther up in the church with their wives and children. I asked them not to sit with me, telling them I wanted to be alone. They couldn't bring themselves to question me.

"You sure?"

I look at the minister again and realize that I'm not ready to say goodbye yet. I don't want to be here. I need to go. "No... let's leave..." I say, wondering how Maya knew that I had to get out of here before I did.

"Okay." Quietly, we slipped out of the pew and pushed our way through the nearest side door, hurrying out to her car. She got in the driver's seat, since she doesn't like me driving her 'baby' unless I absolutely have to, and I settle into the passenger's seat. "Thanks," I mumble, buckling up automatically.

"Where do you want to go?" Maya asks. There is no forcefulness in her voice, only tender concern.

"I want to go back to the apartment." I trace my fingers over the bare skin of her arm. She looks wonderful in her short-sleeved black dress. She looks down at me, knowing exactly what I'm thinking. I know I shouldn't, not after my mother's funeral, but...

"No, Tess. You can't use sex as a coping mechanism."

I stare at my heels and sigh. "I know."

"We can go back to the apartment, but not for that. Maybe we should talk instead."

Suddenly, I want to talk. I want to tell Maya all about my mother. About how she used to sing to me, about how she always made fresh banana or pumpkin bread during the fall, about how our family used to play cards on Saturdays and go to church together on Sundays.

"Okay," I say. Maya nods and turns the keys in the ignition. My heart feels lighter as we pull out of the church parking lot and into the sparse afternoon traffic. One less secret.

ooo

I hurry over to the pantry to get more pepper for James' spaghetti. He puts everything on it- my home made sauce, salt, pepper, parmesans cheese, and anything else on the table. I hand it to him and sit back down as he shoves an enormous meatball into his mouth with his fork.

"You're such a pig," Taylor whines, twirling his spaghetti neatly and lifting it to his mouth. He chews, swallows, and turns back to James. "Take smaller bites."

"Stop bickering," I order. Maya raises one eyebrow at me, and I hand her the parmesans cheese. She loves my spaghetti sauce, but only with parmesans cheese. Parts of our relationship are automatic. We've fallen into simple, endearing habits with each other. I always thought knowing your lover too well made them boring, but with Maya, it feels right.

"Are you going to eat, Tess?" Maya asks, staring at my full bowl. I poke at the noodles with my fork and wrinkle my nose.

"Not hungry," I mumble, tempted to push the bowl away from me like a fussy child. But I don't. I'm too old for that sort of behavior. Thinking about what I have to do has completely spoiled my appetite. Luckily, James seems to be enjoying his meal, and I watch him shove more spaghetti into his mouth while Taylor glares at him.

"Nervous?" Maya asks softly while James swallows and makes faces at Taylor across the table. I nod, poking at my spaghetti again. Now or never, I think, and take a deep breath.

"Um, James? Taylor?" Both of my brothers turn to look at me, one with sauce dripping down his chin. I hand him a napkin and point, and he starts wiping his face. "I have something important to talk to you about."

"God, Tess, you look like a child about to get a shot at the doctor's office. Taylor and I already know you're a dyke, it's not a big deal."

Taylor's fork clatters into his half-empty bowl and he turns to look at me, his eyes bulging. "We did?" he snaps, glaring over at James. "What are you talking about?"

"I thought you knew!" James protests, throwing up his hands to block his face just in case Taylor tries to hit him. "It's kind of obvious. I mean, why else would she ask us to have dinner with her and a friend alone?"

"James is joking, right, Tess?" Taylor asks, looking straight at me. I wince.

"He's not joking. I've been dating Maya for over a year. I didn't mention it because, well..." A long silence stretches out between us. It's obvious why I didn't talk to them about it. We all think it, but none of us say it.

"I'm... surprised..." Taylor says quietly after a few moments. "I guess I'm not as perceptive as... I mean... I'm sorry if I came off as rude." He shifts uncomfortably in his seat, not sure what to say.

"I'm sorry..."

"Don't be sorry. You've done well for yourself, little sis." James grins at Maya, and she gives him a cool stare.

I clasp Maya's hand under the table and turn to smile at her. "I have," I say to myself.

ooo

Maya's hands settle on my hips and she tucks her chin over my shoulder, spooning against me from behind. "Still awake?" she asks, her breasts pressing further into my back every time she breathes.

"Yeah." I sigh, snuggling back into her even though it's already warm. "We should change the flannel covers soon. It's already June."

"What are you really thinking about?" Maya whispers in my ear. Something stirs in me, and I have to fight to hold back a sob. I hadn't even realized I was sad until Maya brought it up. "Is it your brothers?"

"No," I say honestly. "My mother."

"Baby, there's nothing you can do about it. You just have to forgive yourself."

"I wonder if I'd feel just as guilty if I had told her," I say to myself. "Would I be beating myself up anyway for ruining her life?"

"Tess, you wouldn't have ruined your mother's life. From what you've told me, she sounds like a loving, caring person. You enhanced her life, you didn't destroy it."

"Aren't you tired, Maya?" I blurt out. "It's..." I squint at the alarm clock until the blurry image comes into focus (I don't have my contacts in). "12:07."

"You have no tact," Maya yawns. "You never know how to change the subject gracefully. We don't have to talk about it anymore, but remember what I said."

"Thank you," I whisper, rolling over and hugging Maya's naked form tightly against me. She smiles and kisses my forehead.

"Go to sleep."

"Mmm." And finally, I can sleep, because I know what I have to do.

ooo

I kneel in front of the headstone, feeling the grass scratch the skin of my knees. It has been cut recently, and the air still smells sweet, bringing back memories of firefly-catching with James and Taylor just before sundown.

This is the first time I've visited my mother's grave since I left the funeral early. It seems less threatening now that I'm actually here. It's just like every other headstone in the cemetery, except that it has my mother's name on it. The grave, the reminder that my mother wasn't ever coming back and that I had lost my chance, had grown in my imagination. I don't know what I had been expecting- maybe some enormous monument looming over the entire place, intimidating all trespassers.

"Hi, Mom," I say, my voice catching. "How have you been?" I don't know what to say next, so I sit there, listening to the hum of evening crickets and smelling the earth. She always loved summer evenings. Sometimes, we used to eat outside if it was warm enough.

"Maya and I have been good. Maya is..." I pause. "Maya is... my girlfriend. We've been dating for a year and two months." I pull my jacket tight around my shoulders, squeezing my eyes shut to hold back the tears, and tuck my chin against my chest. "I couldn't tell you before. I tried to, but I didn't want to hurt you while you were sick. I couldn't throw something like that on you."

A light wind starts blowing through my hair. I shove my fingers through the tangled mess and press them into my scalp, gritting my teeth. My chest is tight and sore, and it's hard to breathe. "I'm sorry, Mom," I force out. My voice cracks and I finally let myself cry. I've been desperate to cry for months, but I always stopped myself. I pull my hands out of my hair, smearing my tears across my face as I try to wipe them away.

I have to do this, I have to say it. I have to say those three words that have been controlling my life for years. Even if she's not alive anymore, maybe she can hear me. That one small hope gives me enough courage to keep going.

"I'm gay, Mom. I'm in love with Maya. I wanted to tell you, but I couldn't." I push myself up, the toes of my sneakers digging into a patch of dirt next to the grave. I think a quick prayer, hoping that wherever my mother is, she can hear me and forgive me. I turn away from the grave and press my lips together tightly. "I love you, Mom, and I know you love me, too."

I drag myself back to the car, emotionally exhausted, but at peace. Maya is waiting, her elbows resting on the steering wheel. She pulls me into her arms and I collapse against her chest.