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Sealed With a Kiss

Chapter 26

I felt like I was on pins and needles waiting upstairs in my room. There was a huge part of me that wanted to crack open the door and listen to the conversation going on downstairs, but I knew somewhere deep down that I needed to trust Phillip would find a way to help our mom with the news.

I chewed on pens and successfully managed to make teeth indentations on all my pen caps - that was going to go over well at school. I tore a piece of paper from my notebook and proceeded to systemically rip it to shreds - that just resulted in me having to pick up all the pieces off the floor which was super fun. I put in my earbuds and listened to music - that only made me more antsy and aware of the time passing. I tried to do homework - that was the stupidest idea of the bunch. I basically tried everything and anything to get my mind off of the most important thing - how my mom was handling things and whether Phillip would manage to get her to an "okay" place.

Eventually, I laid down on my bed, crossed my legs at the ankles and closed my eyes. I decided that silence and darkness was my friend in those slow-moving moments. I tried to allow my mind to go blank but every time I tried, one thing would filter through the darkness - Bree. A sigh would escape my chest and I would envision her smile, her laugh, the way she would play with my hair… and suddenly, everything would go quiet inside. She was my calm in the storm.

I heard my phone vibrate on the nightstand next to me and opened my eyes. When I swiped it open, I found a text from Bree and had to smile - it was like she knew.

Bree: How'd it go with Phillip?

Me: It actually went really well. He's downstairs right now with my mom.

Bree: Oooooh…. You're going crazy, aren't you?

Me: Immensely.

Bree: Well, I got something that will take your mind off your mom.

Me: What's that?

Bree: Dinner with my parents. They've requested you come over Thursday night at 6. You game?

I felt my breath catch in my throat. She was right about one thing - it was taking my mind off of what was going on downstairs. Instead, I was freaking out about meeting her parents. Thursday night was just a couple of nights away. Why couldn't it be next week? I suppose that would just make the anxiety worse. Alright, let's get this over with quickly.

As I agreed to dinner and continued texting with Bree, I found the best distraction was more than just Bree herself - it was talking to Bree. So much so that when there was a slight knock on my door, I didn't hear it. It was only when the the door opened and I saw movement out of the corner of my eye that it registered.

I quickly threw my phone aside and sat up on my bed, warily and eagerly watching Phillip enter and close the door behind him. "How'd it go?"

Phillip hesitated, glancing at the floor before meeting my eyes. "Well… first of all, it's really weird to have a conversation with Mom. I almost forgot what she was like when she was lucid."

I smiled a little. "It's kind of a beautiful thing, isn't it?"

He nodded. "Whatever you're doing with her, keep it up. It seems to be working."

I bit my lower lip, unable to wait any longer. "Phillip, how did it go?"

He walked over to sit down on the floor in front of me, crossing his legs Indian-style. "Well… I think it went as well as we could have expected it to go." He paused, looking around the room again in hesitation. "She's just sad. She'll work through it eventually."

"What did she say?" I asked quietly, even though a part of me knew the answer.

"She feels like she lost her daughter." As I opened my mouth to protest, Phillip quickly held up his hand to stop me. "Let me continue. In a way, she did. She lost the daughter that was going to marry a nice, young man. That was going to produce little ones for her to spoil." He looked at me meaningfully. "She lost the daughter that won't have to deal with discrimination, injustice… and hate."

I blinked a few times, processing the last line he said. My mouth opened but it took a moment for sound to come out. "I mean... it's 2018. How bad can it be? We live in different times than even just five years ago."

"Do we?" Phillip asked with a raised eyebrow.

A quick flash of the many news stories on television or my phone came to me in a split second. A president who tried to find ways to act like gays don't exist. A government that continued to try to steal their rights - my rights. Protests from people with hateful signs and hateful eyes, just waiting for something or someone to trigger their need for violence. Maybe it wasn't all that different after all.

Phillip nodded as he saw the recognition in my eyes. "It's scary, Ken. She worries about you - about your life, about you being discriminated against, even possibly you getting hurt. There are people out there that we can't protect you from. People that want nothing more than to bash you or worse. It scares the living crap out of her and I can't say I blame her - it worries me too."

As I watched his face, I knew it was true - there was a part of him that agreed with our mom. Even if he was okay with it, even if he still loved me no matter what, fear was king in this moment. I realized that maybe it would always be there no matter what - somewhere in the back of his mind, my mom's mind. Maybe it should be.

I lowered my head and watched my hands as I played with them in my lap. "I'll be honest, I try not to think about it. I know you're both right - I may never be safe again." I paused as my brows creased and I raised my eyes to him. "But then again, was I ever really safe in the first place? I could be bashed for being gay. Or I could be raped for being a woman. Or shot just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Phil, there's always going to be the possibility of me getting hurt. I can't allow myself to live in that kind of fear or else I'm no longer living."

Phillip studied my face for a moment and then a small smile curled up the corner of his lips. "You sure you're seventeen? Jesus, you sure are wise beyond your years."

"Some things make us grow up quicker than we'd like," I replied with a heavy heart as I thought about the last year.

"That's true." Phillip nodded his head and then reached out to squeeze my calf. "Hang in there, kiddo. Mom will get there. She still loves you. She gets that you can have kids or get married still. I just think the fear of something happening to you… after everything with Dad… that's what scares her most."

I nodded slightly. "That makes sense." I gently kicked my foot against Phillip's and smiled. "Thanks bro, I knew I could count on you."

"What are big brothers for?" Phillip grinned and quickly stood up. I followed suit and he wrapped his arms around me and squeezed. "Feel free to call if you need anything or just need to talk." He pulled back and looked at me with a raised eyebrow. "You can even call if Mom is on the rails. Just try not to make it a common occurrence."

I laughed. "You've got it."

Phillip looked over his shoulder at the door. "Is Kaylie already asleep? I'd like to stop in and see her before I leave."

"You tell me." I picked up the baby monitor on my nightstand and turned the volume up. At first, all we could hear was loud static but after a moment, the cutest little cooing echoed in our ears. My eyes met my brother's and we both grinned. "I'd say she's still awake. My good night story must not have worked on her tonight."

A twinkle entered Phillip's eyes and he hopped up from the floor. "Do you mind if I spend a bit of time with her before leaving?"

"Of course not. She's your little sister after all."

"She's our last hope. I need to train her to be a way better sister than you," Phillip joked.

I laughed. "Good luck with that one. I'm already teaching her the ways."

"I'll let myself out after seeing her. Love you, sis." Phillip smiled as he placed his hand on the doorknob and opened the door.

I smiled in return. "Love you too, bro." I watched as he exited my room and then looked at the baby monitor to listen as he entered Kaylie's room. His voice was utterly adorable around her - I was pretty sure that it went up a few octaves each time. After listening to them for a few minutes, my smile slowly fell - I knew that I needed to go downstairs and see how my mom was doing.

I pushed myself off the bed and slowly headed down the stairs. When I reached the end, I paused and peered into the living room hesitantly. I found my mom watching me curiously and smiled a little at her. "Hi Mom… I'm glad the talk with Phillip went okay."

My mom tilted her head slightly as she continued to study me. It took a moment before she responded. "I love you, Kendra. No matter what."

I felt my heart warm and had to hold myself back from running over and wrapping my arms around her. "I love you too, Mom. You okay?"

"I'll be okay."

"Okay." After a moment of silence, I smiled and started to head back up the stairs.


I paused on the third step and turned back to look at her. "Yeah?"

"Let's not make her a stranger, okay? I want to get to know her." There was a film of tears threatening to venture out of her eyes, but I could see behind them how much she was trying for me. It only made the warmth in my heart surge all the more.

"Absolutely. Bree would love that. So would I."

"Good. Good night, sweetheart."

I smiled. "Good night." My smile refused to fade as I turned and headed back upstairs to bed. While I understood my mom and Phillip's fears and why they had them, it was so encouraging to see that they were both still trying and willing to venture into the unknown with me.

I threw a cautious glance Jodie's way as we observed Bree's group of friends from a safe distance. "You sure you're okay with this?"

Jodie smirked. "Trying to back out?"

"Shut it," I mumbled. The fact that I'd never met Bree's friends let alone even really inquired about them was fairly disconcerting to me. Was I really that self-centered? I knew that was one question I would never actually ask anyone aloud. It was also in that moment that I realized how much I stayed within my group of friends and never ventured out; it made me incredibly nervous to do so. At the same time, I think I was anxious because I worried that Bree's friends wouldn't like me or would have already judged me on my previous lack of interest in them. I know I would have.

Inhaling a shaky breath, I nodded both to myself and Jodie. "Let's do this."

As we got closer, I saw Bree laughing with one of her friends and watched as a few of their eyes raised and focused in on us. A big smile spread across Bree's face and she quickly stood up to embrace me. Just feeling her arms around me gave me a measure of strength. As I sat down next to Bree at the table, Jodie followed suit and sat beside me.

"Everyone, this is my girlfriend, Kendra, and her best friend, Jodie," Bree announced, gesturing at each of us as she introduced us.

I tried my best to smile in a way that didn't seem forced and waved my hand pathetically. "Hi."

"Cheers, mates," Jodie replied in a botched English accent. I couldn't help but smirk at her and how even in the face of meeting people, she still insisted on breaking out the English accent.

"Cheers!" One of the guys said wholeheartedly as everyone else laughed at him. He pushed his dark brown locks out of his face and his blue eyes sparkled with mischief.

Bree grinned. "That asshole would be Justin." Justin grinned in response, completely satisfied with himself. Bree then proceeded to go around the table in a counter-clockwise fashion to introduce all of her friends. The brunette with gold highlights and hazel eyes was Valerie - it was hard not to notice how she was studying me like I was the newest specimen to dissect in Mr. Landry's Biology class. The light red-haired boy with ice-blue eyes was Dan - he appeared to be just as jovial as the other male counterpart in the group. The girl with short, spiky, black hair and dark brown eyes was Kris - out of everyone, I got the the feeling that she was most likely gay… and that she may even have a hankering for Bree based on the glare she gave me. Bree moved past her to introduce the last person in the group - the blonde with green eyes - her name was Treena and thankfully, she appeared to be the friendliest of the girls in the group. I appreciated her genuine smile.

"It's great to meet you guys," I said with enthusiasm. Maybe too much enthusiasm. Shit.

"Then why didn't you care to meet us until now?" Kris asked sharply, her eyes throwing me daggers in the process. She tapped her fork against the table.

"Kris…" Bree said just as sharply as her head lowered and she glanced sideways at her.

"Shit got real quick," Jodie said quietly to me under her breath, hidden by a cough.

I reached over to place my hand on Bree's arm and shook my head. "It's okay, Bree. It's a valid question." I turned my attention to Kris, not willing to be bullied. "Well Kris, coming out does one hell of a mind-trip on someone. Honestly, if I had been dating a dude, this would have happened way sooner but I guess I'm still figuring everything out."

Kris raised her eyebrow and tilted her chin up in response, keeping her eyes on me as she took a bite of her spaghetti.

"Didn't you used to date Tyler Hamilton?" Valerie asked. One look at her confirmed she hadn't ceased her dissection of my internal organs.

"They don't mess around, do they?" Jodie once again mumbled under a cough next to my ear.

"Valerie..." Bree pleaded, obviously unhappy about losing control over her friends.

"It's okay," I assured Bree as I kept my eyes on Valerie. "Yes, for two years. He's a great guy. But he's no Bree." It didn't get past me that I saw a small smile creep up one corner of Valerie's lips.

Treena glanced between the group hesitantly before venturing forth. "Who wouldn't fall for Bree?" She smiled apologetically to Bree. "Well actually, I wouldn't since I'm straight but she is pretty fantastic."

A relieved smile graced Bree's face - it was obvious that she was happy at least someone was being nice to me. "You're more fantastic, Treena. I think Dan would agree." She winked in Dan's direction and his sheepish smile quickly revealed that the two were in an early courtship.

"She ain't half bad," Dan replied as his cheeks turned a shade of red. His eyes lingered on Treena a moment too long before he took a bite of his burrito.

"So, you're telling me that I not only have to deal with these two lovebirds but now I gotta deal with you and Kendra too?" Justin cringed.

Bree raised an eyebrow and leaned in to purposely give me one slow kiss, then turned her head to eye Justin. "Was it really that bad?" I felt my cheeks turning a fiery red - I wasn't sure if I was ever going to get used to Bree's comfort level with PDA.

A grin crept up Justin's lips. "Actually, it was pretty good. Can you do that again? I've always had this fantasy of two girls-"

Kris quickly reached across to smack Justin against his chest. "God, you're such a boy."

Justin smirked and arched his eyebrows in challenge. "Like you didn't like it either."

"I didn't," Kris snapped.

Just like that the mood once again shifted and almost everybody looked uncomfortable. Almost. Not Jodie though, good ole Jodie. Instead she cackled happily. "Bloody hell, you guys are a trip. You're way more interesting than Kendra. I should hang out here for lunch more often."

I quickly turned and gave Jodie a glare. Jodie puckered her lips up at me. "Kissy boo boo?"

"Oh for the love of Pete," I muttered with a laugh as I playfully pushed Jodie.

Jodie laughed in response and then turned back to the group, leaning on the table in a conspiratory manner. "So, tell me… who is with who? Who wishes they were with who? Or who just wants to fuck?" She wiggled her eyebrows.

Oh my God. Please tell me she didn't. As I glanced quickly from each shocked expression around the table, I knew my ears were not deceiving me.

Justin quickly took the bait and leaned in towards her, wiggling his own eyebrows. "I just want to fuck. You interested?"

Jodie smiled casually with a dismissive wave of her hand. "You couldn't handle all this, lamb chop."

He grinned even more and I watched as he became even more interested in my best friend. This was what she did. She reeled them in with her charm and woman-balls, then she cut them loose because she wasn't remotely interested. She just liked being interesting.

"So, spill," Jodie urged.

Justin eyed her up and down and then turned toward his friends. "Obviously, Dan and Treena here are doing the dating dance. They're obnoxious. Now Valerie, well, she wishes she was with me."

"Ha, you wish." An amused grin spread across Valerie's face.

"And Kris…" An evil grin crept up Justin's face. "Kris wants to fuck Bree."

Even though I had assumed as much, I couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at Justin and then turn my attention toward Kris to watch her reaction. The way she was gripping her napkin like she wished it was Justin's throat quickly displayed the truth behind his words.

I felt Jodie nudge me in the side. As I glanced quickly at her, she nodded toward Bree beside me. I turned to look at Bree to find her biting the inside of her cheek a little too hard and her face steadily becoming redder. I wasn't quite sure what to think about that as I knew Bree blushes so rarely; it was disconcerting to see one of those rare blushes popping up at that exact moment.

Kris took in a deep breath, keeping her eyes on Justin. "Mind your own fucking business."

"And there it is. The truth." Justin leaned back with a satisfied grin and a shrug. "Jodie asked. I had to oblige."

Even Jodie looked a little uncomfortable - I don't think she ever expected anyone to answer that part of her question. "Um, thanks… I think."

Amongst all of this, I only really had eyes for Bree. For someone that I know talked a lot and exuded confidence, she was quiet and one would even say rattled. She either stared down at her lunch or occasionally glanced up at Kris with a curious expression. One of those glances eventually turned into a resolved expression as the reality of the situation hit her and she grimaced. I took a small comfort in the fact that she didn't seem happy by the news.

"Kris, can we talk for a sec?" Bree asked quietly.

Kris frowned and looked off into the quad. "Yeah, sure."

Bree quickly turned back to me and squeezed my hand under the table. "I'll be right back."

I nodded slightly and watched as they both got up from the table and headed off to a quiet section of the quad to talk. Bree's arms were crossed while Kris kept her head low, unwilling to meet her eyes. A voice pulled me away from their conversation.

"I wouldn't worry about that, Kendra," Treena reassured me. "Everyone knows about Kris - she's a little obvious - but we also knew Bree wasn't remotely interested. I don't even think she noticed."

"Of course she didn't notice. Why would she when she's been pursuing Kendra here?" Valerie agreed as she took a bite of her sandwich. For once, I didn't feel like she was dissecting my every move. Somehow despite being jarring, the Kris revelation managed to break the ice and the others seemed more comfortable around me.

"Can't blame her for that one," Dan piped up with a reassuring smile. He quickly glanced at Treena apologetically. "But you're way hotter, babe."

Everyone laughed and Justin held up his hands in exasperation. "See! That's what I'm talking about, man!"

Jodie smirked. "You like it. It wouldn't bother you so much if you didn't."

"I'd like it better if I could do the same with you," Justin flirted with a grin.

I couldn't help but roll my eyes. Every. Single. Time! Damn, Jodie's got game.

"Who wouldn't?" Jodie replied with a non-committed shrug.

I grinned and then found my eyes venturing back over to the conversation between Bree and Kris. Kris had finally raised her head to look Bree in the eyes and they were having a real conversation at this point. I couldn't really tell what was going on, but eventually Bree pulled her in for a hug and then they started heading back over to us. I quickly averted my eyes and focused on the banter between her friends.

Justin grinned as they sat back down at the table. "Get all that pent-up sexual tension taken care of?"

Bree glared at Justin. "Shut it, Flannigan."

Kris kept her eyes on her lunch and resumed eating it without another word. Her face was devoid of any kind of emotion to betray what kind of conversation the two may have had.

A sigh escaped her chest and then Bree turned to give me a tired smile and whispered, "Great first lunch, huh?"

Her tired smile made me want to wrap her up in my arms and give her a place to rest. It also told me everything I needed to know - there was no threat in the relationship between Bree and Kris. I smiled softly and leaned in to place my forehead against hers and whisper back, "The best." The twinkle in her eyes and warm smile was all the reassurance I needed. Bree Crystal clearly only had eyes for me. While her friends may have been an eccentric bunch, I knew I would be spending many more lunches with them… and eventually they would know without a shadow of a doubt that I only had eyes for her too.