Brian's acceptance letter from UC Berkeley arrives in late spring. He's already received letters from other colleges, colleges close to home. But this one is the one that matters.

Brian calls Rafa as soon as he reads the first line. "I got in!" he says. "I got accepted."

Rafa chuckles. "Congratulations, honey."

"We should go out and celebrate. You got your letter, and now I've got mine."

"Of course. But, honey...have you told your parents yet?"

The paper crumples a little in Brian's hand. "No, not yet."

"Okay."

"I will soon."

"Brian, it's all right. You don't have to rush into it."

"Okay..."

"You still want to go out, right? Let's go to Lucky Star."

Brian smiles. "Okay. I'll meet you there in an hour?"

"Yeah."

"Okay. Bye, Rafa. See you soon."

"See you soon, honey."

*

Brian met Rafa in third grade, when Rafa commandeered Brian for his team in a multiplication tables contest.

"You're really good at math," Rafa said, seating Brian next to him. "So help us out, okay?"

"O-Okay."

Brian had no idea how Rafa knew he was good at math. Before the competition, Brian would have said Rafa didn't even know he existed. Rafa had never talked to or even looked at him.

Their group won the contest. Rafa grinned at Brian and said, "Good job, Brian. I knew you were awesome at math."

"You--you know my name?"

"Well, yeah. We're in the same class, aren't we? Hopefully you know my name, too."

"Yeah," Brian mumbled. "Rafa."

After that, Rafa seemed to make it a point to talk to Brian--or rather, to interrogate him. Brian answered all of Rafa's questions with one word, and never asked any questions of his own, even though he was curious. He would never tell Rafa, but he liked him: Rafa was easily the smartest boy in class, and he knew it. He liked to challenge everyone's opinion, even the teacher's. And he was, even if Brian didn't admit it then, very cute, with wavy brown hair and firm, long-fingered hands.

"Geez," Rafa finally said one day, "you don't like talking a lot, do you? Am I annoying you? Do you want me to go away?"

"N-No! You're not annoying. I'm just, umm..." Brian looked down at the ground. "It's just kind of hard...to talk..."

"To me?"

"To people."

"Well, what's something you like to talk about?"

"Comics," Brian mumbled.

"What?"

"Comics."

Brian expected Rafa to laugh at him. But instead, Rafa said, "Hey! I love reading comics, too. Which ones do you like? How come I've never seen you with any?"

As it turned out, Rafa loved X-Men and Spiderman, too, and before Brian knew it, he was drawn into a long conversation about favorite characters and story arcs.

"You know," Rafa said, when Brian finally ran out of breath," that's the most I've ever heard you say."

Brian blushed. "Sorry. Did I talk too much?"

"No! I'm glad you talked. I thought maybe you were scared of me or something. But I guess you're not."

"No, of course not," Brian lied.

"Okay, good," Rafa said, "because I think you're pretty cool. We should be friends."

"Really?"

"Yeah, really." Rafa smiled and held out his hand. "So, friends?"

Brian reached out hesitantly and took Rafa's hand. "Friends."

*

"Brian, over here!"

Brian turns toward the voice and sees Rafa pushing his way through the crowd in front of Lucky Star. Brian smiles: nine years, and Rafa is still as pushy as ever.

"Hey," Brian says, hugging Rafa.

"Hey, sweetie." Rafa kisses Brian, and like always, Brian feels lightheaded.

He rests his head on Rafa's shoulder for a moment. "I'm glad to see you."

"I'm glad to see you, too. I already got us a table." Rafa takes Brian's hand and steers him through the crowd, into the restaurant and over to their table."

Brian sits down and takes Rafa's hand when Rafa holds it out across the table. Rafa runs his thumb over Brian's palm.

"How are you?" Rafa asks.

"I'm good. Excited. Nervous. A little guilty."

"Guilty?"

"I love you," Brian says. "I love being with you. I just wish I could have told my parents a long time ago."

Rafa squeezes Brian's hand.

Their waiter brings the menus, smiling at them. "Hi," he chirps. "Welcome to Lucky Star. My name is Zach, and I'll be your waiter for tonight."

Rafa flips through the menu. "Do you want to get the sushi boat and split that?"

"Sure."

They place the order, and Brian smiles at Rafa. "How's your play going?"

Rafa rolls his eyes. "I haven't really gotten the hang of the characters. They're not talking to me. But I'll figure it out eventually. Have you been practicing for The Music Man?"

"Of course. My sisters are coming to see it."

"All eight of them?"

"Yeah."

"Jesus." Rafa laughs. "It's always weird when I remember that you have eight sisters. Are your parents coming, too?"

Brian sighs. "I don't know. Maybe. They think it's a waste of time." He bites his lip and stares down at the table.

"Brian?"

Brian looks ups. "Yeah?"

Rafa smiles. "Don't worry so much. I'm here for you, okay?"

*

In eighth grade, Rafa confessed to Brian.

"I like you," he said, ears red. "I know it's weird and awkward. You're my best friend, but you're...you're more. I really want you to like me back, but if you don't, it's--" He swallowed. "It's okay. I get it."

Brian stuttered, "I. W-Well...um..."

"It's okay if you don't like me back."

"No! I mean--it's not okay. I...need some time. To um...figure stuff out."

"Okay..." Rafa scrutinized Brian's face. "How much time?"

"I don't know..."

"Okay. Well... I'll wait." Rafa nodded. "I'll wait until you're ready."

*

When Brian comes home from Lucky Star, his parents are waiting for him. The letter from Berkeley lies on the kitchen table in front of them.

"Mom. Dad..." Brian trails off, car keys dangling from his fingers.

"It was lying on your desk," Brian's mom says. "I thought you said you would only apply to local colleges."

"Why did you--" Brian bites his lip. There's never any point in arguing with his mom about going through his things. It makes no difference to her. Brian says, "I was going to tell you."

"How did you even pay for the application?"

"Rafa paid. I paid him back."

"My god." Brian's dad rubs his forehead. "Brian, let me just ask you: do you plan on going to UC Berkeley?"

Brian tries to answer, and finally a soft, "Yes," escapes his throat.

"And is Rafa going to pay for room and boarding, too?"

"I qualify for financial aid and work study."

Brian's mom says, "It says you've applied as a theater major."

"Yes."

"You told me you wouldn't."

Brian looks down. He doesn't try to ignore the guilt; it has never worked. "I'm sorry."

"Is this because of Rafa?" Brian's dad asks.

"What?" Brian says.

"Do you want to go to UC Berkeley because of Rafa? You said he was going there."

Brian swallows and dries his hands on his jeans. "Yeah," he says. "Kind of. But I also...I want to live there. In the Bay Area. And I've always wanted to do theater, too. I--"

"No!" Brian's dad cuts him off. He stands up, chair scraping the floor loudly. "You want to do theater because Rafa wants to do it. You're just following that useless, radicalhippie, and you're going to ruin your future--" He doesn't finish, only starts pacing back and forth.

Brian's head snaps up. "My boyfriend is not a useless hippie," he says quietly.

Brian's mom looks up, and his dad stops pacing. "What?"

"My boyfriend is not a useless hippie," Brian repeats, more loudly. "And I am not doing theater to follow him. He wants to write plays. I want to act. And I've always loved it. I've been in drama since elementary school. I--I can't make my life revolve around numbers and cells, like you want me to. I want to act. I want to be in theater." Brian swallows, voice drying up. He forces the last words from his throat: "I will be."

Brian's dad shakes his head. "You called Rafa your boyfriend?" he asks, his voice as quiet as it was loud earlier.

"Brian..." his mom whispers.

Brian fights the urge to look at the floor, to back away from his parents. He stills his shaking hands by curling them into fists. "Yes. I've been dating him for five years."

"Goddamnit!" Brian's dad slams his first against the kitchen counter. Brian winces. "All those years, you lied--telling us you were only hanging out--"

"Wait," Brian's mom says. "Let's just...talk about this--"

"We are talking! We're talking about how Rafa did something--turned--convinced Brian that he's gay. What, did he tell you that the same way he told you to do theater? And you just said, Okay, I'll follow you, without even thinking--"

"Shut up."

"What?"

"I said, shut up!" Brian yelled. His hands were still shaking, so he clenched them even more tightly, the keys biting into his skin. Words bubbled up again and dammed his throat, but only for a moment. "How dare you. I'm gay. Nobody turned me gay, least of all Rafa. He's kind and compassionate, and he loves theater, like I do. That's why--" Brian bites his lip. "That's why I'm dating him. Why I love him."

Brian's parents both stay silent for a long moment. Then Brian's mom says, "Oh, honey, it's probably just a phase. You just--we'll just talk about it."

"You're going to see a psychiatrist," Brian's dad says. He's rubbing his face with his hand, but his shoulders are set.

Brian squares his shoulders, too, and shakes his head. "No. It's not a phase, and I'm not going to see a psychiatrist." He starts walking away, up the stairs, ignoring his father's order to come back.

Gina is sitting at the top of the stairs. Brian smiles a little at his sister. "Hey, you. Don't tell me you've been sitting up here, listening to all that."

Gina runs a hand through her hair. The bangs sweep back across her forehead. "They're full of bullshit," she whispers. "A phase. A psychiatrist. What the fuck."

Brian ruffles her hair. "You know they're like that."

"It's depressing."

He sighs. "I know."

"Well, congrats on finally getting angry, at least. It only took you eighteen years to tell them off."

"There's a reason why I haven't before. It's tiring, and it doesn't make anyone feel better."

Their mother's voice floats up the stairs. "Brian? Please come back downstairs."

"I'll be in my room," Brian says, and stoops down to kiss Gina on the forehead before stepping past her.

"You should go in and say goodnight to the others," Gina says.

"I will."

Brian stops by his sisters' rooms. All of them are asleep, except for Bella, who is reading a book underneath the covers. Brian takes the book from her.

"I know Harry Potter's great," he says, stilling her lips when she starts to protest. "But you have to get some sleep."

"Couldn't sleep with you guys yelling downstairs," she grumbles.

"I'm sorry, sweetie, but it's quiet now."

Bella snuggles under the blanket. "Okay... Brian?"

"Yes?"

"Don't break up with Rafa, okay?"

Brian blinks. "Of course I won't. Why are you worrying?"

"Just 'cause... I like him. He's cool. And I think you guys are cute together."

Brian chuckles. "Thank you. I won't break up with Rafa. Now go to sleep."

"Okay. Night, Brian."

"Goodnight, Bella."

*

It took Brian two weeks to give Rafa an answer. Not because he didn't know it already, but because he was afraid of what would happen once he said it.

"I like you, too," he told Rafa. From the beginning, he added silently. I've liked you always. He blushed. "So..."

Rafa grinned. "Really? No kidding?"

"Yeah, really."

"I'm going to kiss you, then," Rafa announced, and proceeded to do just that.

Brian closed his eyes, clutched Rafa's shoulders, and kissed him back.

*

Brian's parents keep trying to talk him out of going to UC Berkeley and dating Rafa, so Brian notifies Berkeley of his decision and spends most of his time at Rafa's house. Visiting Rafa's house always cheers Brian up. Rafa's parents call him their son-in-law. Rafa's mom always presses food onto Brian, and his dad talks to him about movies and plays he's seen recently.

"So Bella thinks we're cute together?" Rafa asks.

Brian is standing at the kitchen counter, stirring brownie mix. Cooking and baking help him relax, and Rafa's mom doesn't mind letting him have the run of the kitchen. "All my sisters do. They adore you."

"All of them?" Rafa raises an eyebrow.

"Well, maybe Rose is too young to know we're a couple. But yes."

"So how are your sisters doing? All eight of them."

"They're doing fine. Gina is still upset with my parents about wanting to send me to a psychiatrist--"

"Which is bullshit, by the way."

"That's what she said. But she has a girlfriend, who seems like a very sweet girl. Rose is just learning to read. The twins are starting to hate wearing matching clothes. Bella is still obsessed with Harry Potter..."

"How's Lily doing in Spanish?" Rafa asks.

"She's doing great, but she keeps using Chilean slang. It drives her teacher crazy."

Rafa laughs. "Oops, guess that's my fault. And Kim and Ariel?"

"They both have boyfriends. Kim's really enjoying high school."

"Tell her to milk it for all it's worth. Junior year's going to kill her."

"She'll be fine. And don't go telling her horror stories about junior year, or she'll be asking me every ten minutes how often she should study and if she can borrow my old notes."

"Okay, okay," Rafa says. "I won't." He studies Brian as Brian pours the brownie mix onto a pan and slides the pan into the oven. "What about you, honey? How are you?"

"I'm okay."

"Just okay?"

"My parents are still upset." Brian wipes his hands on a towel absentmindedly. "I don't know what they're more upset about, really. Me being gay or wanting to act. Probably a combination of both."

Rafa gets up and walks over to Brian, hugging him from behind. He rests his head on Brian's shoulder, and Brian strokes his hair. Rafa says, "Well, if you ever need anything, even if it's just someone to talk to, I'm here. My parents, too, although they'll probably just force you to eat until you pass out."

Brian laughs. "I love your parents."

"I do, too, but it's a pain in the ass not gaining ten pounds around here."

"I can tell," Brian says. He pinches Rafa's side. "Nice love handles, honey."

Rafa hits Brian's hand. "I do not have love handles."

"Of course not."

Rafa nuzzles Brian's neck. "I'm going to ignore you ever said that. Want to read The Sandman with me while we wait for the brownies?"

"Okay."

"Okay. I'll go get it." Rafa pulls away, but before he leaves, he says, "Brian?"

"Yeah?"

"I love you. Okay?"

Brian reaches out and takes Rafa's hand briefly. "I love you, too."

*

"Dad, I'm not going to go see a psychiatrist." Brian sets down his glass and starts to get up from the table.

"Brian, sit down."

Brian sits down. "May I be excused?"

"Brian," his mom says. "Please. If you refuse to talk to us, we can't fix the problem."

"You can't fix the problem," Brian says. "You can't fix me to not be gay, or to not want to act." Brian stands up again, and starts collecting his sisters' empty plates.

"Brian, we're not done here," his dad says.

"I'm not going to see a psychiatrist."

"What does a psychiatrist do?" Rose asks.

"Nothing useful," Gina says.

"Gina." Brian's mom glares at her.

Gina rolls her eyes.

"Don't you roll your eyes at me, Gina."

"Don't take your anger out on me because Brian isn't the perfect son you want him to be," Gina snaps.

"Well," Brian's mom says. "You're far from the perfect daughter, yourself."

"Guess I am."

"All of you, stop," Brian says. He stands there, plates stacked in his hands. "Please. Don't do this."

"Maybe if you weren't dating that boy," Brian's dad says. "We--"

"You're upset that I'm gay," Brian says. His voice is quiet, but his dad stops talking. "That's all right. You don't want me to be an actor. That's all right, too. But don't...insult my choices, or the people I love. Just let me go."

"Let you go?" his mom says. "You're our son. We love you. How can we just let you go? Or watch you fall down?"

"Maybe I'll fall down," Brian says, biting his lip. "Or maybe not. But you can't keep me from trying to fly."

"You don't know what's good for you," Brian's dad says.

"I know what I need," Brian says, and leaves the dinning room, to set the plates down gently into the sink.

*

Brian finds his mom sitting in the living room, watching TV after dinner.

"Hi, Mom," he says, sitting down next to her.

His mom looks at him, then back at the screen.

"I know you're upset with me. And that you think I've changed."

His mom continues to stare doggedly at the screen.

"Maybe I have. But it wasn't recent." Brian looks down at his hands, and for a moment, the chatter from the TV fills the silence. Then he says, "People change. Things change. But I love you, and that--that's the same." He stands up, kissing his mother's forehead. "I love you, Mom. And I love Dad. Regardless of how I choose to live."

He starts walking away, but his mom catches his hand. He looks back. She says, "I love you, too, Brian. I just don't--I just don't understand."

Brian holds his mother's hand tightly. "But you love me?"

"Of course, honey."

Brian lets out his breath shakily and kisses his mother's forehead again. "Okay," he whispers. "Okay."

*

Rafa graduates valedictorian of their high school and delivers the commencement speech.

Still the smartest boy in the class, Brian thinks as Rafa concludes his speech. He smiles, and Rafa, catching his eyes, smiles too.

Brian's family goes to the graduation. His father shakes his hand, stiff and formal. His mother hugs him briefly, awkwardly, holding him close.

Brian's sisters swarm Brian and Rafa. "I loved your speech," Bella says to Rafa. "I hope I give a kickass one like that when I graduate."

"Focus on getting into high school first," Rafa says, thumping her head. "I hear you've been ignoring school for Harry Potter."

"But Harry Potter is awesome. I want to be in Hogwarts."

Rafa chuckles. "True. When I was a kid, I wanted to be in Gryffindor."

"Can I have all your old notes?" Kim asks Brian. "I mean, I'll probably be taking the same classes as you, and I know I'm going to need them. Rafa says--"

"Ignore Rafa," Brian says. "But yes. You can have my notes."

Gina pulls Brian, who's holding Rose in his arms, away from everyone else. "You think it'll be an even bigger shitstorm when I come out?" she asks.

"What's a shitstorm?" Rose asks.

"Nothing important, Rose. Don't repeat it," Brian says. He looks at Gina. "I don't know. But if you ever need help, or someone to talk to, you can come to me or Rafa."

Gina smiles. "God, it's like you're already married."

Brian blushes. "That's a little ahead of our plans."

"Screw plans," Gina says, laughing. "Just do what you need to do. What you love."

Brian laughs, too. "Well," he says, "that is the plan."

*

The night before they drive up to UC Berkeley, Rafa and Brian go to Lucky Star, then take a walk on the beach.

"I'm going to miss this place," Brian says. "It was a good place to grow up in."

Rafa nods. "Yeah. But now it's time to leave."

"Yeah." Brian squeezes Rafa's hand. "I'm glad I'm leaving with you."

"Yeah?" Rafa smiles. "I'm glad I'm going with you, too."

Brian kisses Rafa, and the cold, salt air blows by, making his hair flutter in the wind.

*

additional notes

The song for this chapter is, "Tea for Two," by Tohoshinki (DBSK/TVXQ). I'll probably be writing more about Rafa and Brian, and about Brian's sisters. There's a lot as yet unexplored with these two. And yes, you can laugh at Brian having eight sisters all you want (he's the oldest). And yes, orz, I know it's been a long time.