The Long Way Home: Chapter Seven
He ignored the teacher commanding him to come back. He ignored the secretary shouting after him as he ran through the main entrance. He ignored the angry beeping of the horn of a car he had just run in front of without even bothering to look to see if the road was clear. He ignored the elderly woman’s scolding when he accidently ran into her by the cashpoint machine. He just needed to get home. Fast.
This was it. The bullying had gone on for several days and only now had he got to this point where he realised enough was enough. He had to stop the hiding. He had to keep his promise.
He nearly fell through the door, stumbling in his melancholic state. The tears he had been fighting so hard to hold back now began to flow freely, and several small sobs escaped from his throat. His heart was racing as memories of today swam freely in his mind. The bullies. And Daniel. He let out a growl of frustration as he remembered how the boys had been tripping him up and taunting him all the way to his English Literature class (he hadn’t been walking with Daniel since he didn’t have the same class previously), being called the usual “faggot”, “gay”, “queer” he had been ever since they first started on him. A note had been put on his back with some snide comment, making others laugh along as well at his own humiliation. They had continued to laugh even more so when Daniel entered the classroom.
“Hey, Danny boy!” a boy had called to Daniel. “I’d watch your back if I were you – that queer will be mounting you if you’re not careful.”
Daniel had said nothing, simply guiding Kris away from the jeers and removing the piece of paper stuck to his back. Kris hadn’t known what to think; the green eyes that were usually like an open book were firmly shut to any emotion. They had come about cold, hard, steely, and Kris had felt his heart beat rapidly against his chest. A million and one questions had found themselves running frantically through his mind: What was he thinking? Why couldn’t he read him like he usually could? Was he going to freak out?
He had realised he didn’t want to find out. He had raced out of the classroom despite his teacher’s demands for him to come back when he bumped into him on the way through the door. He didn’t stop until he was home, and he shut the world out before breaking down. He sat, curled up in a ball against the door, as painful sobs left his throat. He couldn’t do this anymore. How could he expect his parents know his secret if this was the way people reacted to it? What if they already knew? Did they know and have chosen to ignore it? He closed his eyes as the thoughts and the tears and the sobs took over, wracking his body in waves as he gasped and cried and choked. He tried taking deep, shuddering breaths in an attempt to calm himself down, but it was no use. The tears kept falling and the sobs kept coming. He’d never felt so alone in his life.
“Kris? Is that you, honey?”
His head snapped up to the doorway leading to the living room in time to see his grandma and uncle walk through it. They took one look at him and before he knew it they were at his side, quizzing him about the tears that trickled down his now blotchy cheeks.
“Kris, whatever’s the matter?” his grandmother asked, only he couldn’t answer for the sob that threatened to dislodge itself from his throat. Watery blue pools of sorrow stared into grey eyes filled with concern, and he found himself opening his mouth to utter words.
“I have to tell you something.” His voice came out calm. “Both of you,” he added, looking to his uncle.
“What is it?”
He couldn’t do it. The lump dislodged and before he knew it he was choking on tears, the memories of earlier that day resurfacing. He was weak; the stereotype. He sobbed and sobbed and inside his head a voice taunted him: Poof. Faggot. Weak...
“Tell you what, son,” his uncle suggested, “why don’t you go up and clean yourself up, huh? Then we’ll talk.”
Kris nodded and started his way past his concerned relatives and up the stairs to the bathroom, silently cursing himself for every sob that left him. Poof. Faggot. Weak... Climbing into the shower, the water struck him cold, and every icy drop held an insult upon his shaky frame. However, the warm spray that eventually followed soothed and calmed him, and as he thought under the droplets, he found a form of potency within him that he had already come to the conclusion wasn’t present. His breathing slowed, his eyes slipped closed, and he allowed himself to embrace this new inner strength, holding – clinging – onto this new lifeline. He knew he had to do this. And he knew he could do it.
His legs didn’t feel like jelly as he walked down the staircase to meet his grandmother and uncle. In fact, he felt pretty calm, as if the words he was planning to utter weren’t to contain the most important syllables and pronunciations to come out of his mouth, as if he wasn’t someone about to make his true identity known, and risk the turning backs of society, that possibly including the people he loved the most. He crept down the hallway, his breathing starting to become deeper, heavier, faster. For every step he took towards the door leading to the lounge, the closer he was to his destiny, whatever that was to consist of. He was already resigned to the fact that he had to do this, and he had to do it today, and he knew that he was not going to chicken out. But that didn’t help slow the beating of his heart which was currently racing. He felt his toes twitch each time they came in contact with the cold tiling of the floor, and his mind suddenly started to spin when he finally reached the door. He realised now that he wasn’t as calm as he had initially thought: his well rehearsed lines had vanished from his memory, and as he lifted a hand to rest it on the doorknob, he noticed it was shaking violently, so much so that the doorknob rattled beneath his touch.
“Kris? Is that you?”
“Come on in, kiddo.”
He was no longer able to pretend he was not there; they knew he was. He opened the door, and exposed his fear in front of them.
“Kris, darling? Whatever’s the matter?” his grandmother asked as soon as she noticed the tears that now prickled in the corners of his eyes, threatening to fall. He wanted to turn back around and run from the room, but he didn’t, instead swallowing the quivering lump in his throat.
“I erm... I need to tell you guys something.”
The look on their faces was one he found impossible to read. Was it a look of surprise? Concern?
“Sit down then, son.” His uncle was the first to speak, gesturing to the space on the sofa between them. But instead Kris sat opposite them, on the floor, as an indication of the importance of this conversation and also as a way for him to protect himself if they were to reject him, for he knew it was possible. He’d read enough stories where people like him had been rejected by their families, and he could only hope it wouldn’t happen to him.
“There’s something you don’t know, that I haven’t told anyone about,” Kris said, closely observing the looks upon their faces as he spoke, seeking a trace of realisation to make itself known upon their features. No such trace came. “Something you don’t know about me,” he elaborated.
Suddenly the front door opened and his mother and father entered the lounge.
“Coo-iee!” his mother called, the sound of the front door slamming coming after her last note. “How is everybody today?”
“Gosh, you’re in a good mood!” his uncle laughed, getting up to give her a peck on the cheek.
“Aren’t I always?” his mother asked.
“Nope, you can be a real moody mare sometimes!” his uncle joked, earning him a small slap on the shoulder followed by a stern “George!” from his sister.
“How was work, dear?” Kris’ grandmother asked.
“Oh, same old, same old. Got a new receptionist, so I’m in charge of showing her the ropes. She is absolutely useless!”
“Yeah, I called in and asked to speak with you and she forwarded me on to your boss!” his father chuckled. They all laughed, oblivious to the frustration and exasperation radiating from the youngest person in the room.
“Mom, Dad, I’m glad you’ve come,” Kris said. “I need to tell you all-”
“Oh, Kris! Honey!” Before he could finish his sentence he found himself enveloped by his mother. “How are you, my baby? I’m sorry I dumped the kids on you again this morning. This offer at work has been so hectic! It won’t be much longer, baby, I promise.”
“Mom, that doesn’t matter right now-”
“Anyway, I hope this will make it up to you. You know that book you’ve been going on about? Well the author is coming to the city next weekend and we can get you it signed by him. How’s that, pumpkin?”
“Mom, I need to talk to you. All of you. It’s about-”
The doorbell rang, and it took all his willpower to stop the irritated groan that threatened to leave his throat. “Hold that thought!” his mother said, and ran to open the door to none other than Daniel Howard himself. This day was just getting better and better.
“Oh, Daniel! How nice of you to come by!” he heard his mother exclaim.
“I just came to see if Kris was alright. He was a bit upset at school today – some guys have been really getting to him and-”
“You’ve been bullied?” his mother cried, rushing to him. “Oh, baby!”
“Who’s been hassling you, son?”
“Dad, it doesn’t matter.”
“I think I should go see the principal. What do you think, Mother?”
“Why yes, of course.”
“I’m sure Kris can handle it, Mrs Sutton.”
“But you said he was upset, Daniel. How bad was it?”
All conversation died away, and all pairs of eyes focused on the trembling figure that was namely Kris. Kris ignored the shocked expressions as a result of his outburst, focusing his energy on keeping his voice steady as he spoke.
“I have to tell you guys something,” he said. “Now. Before I chicken out again.”
No one uttered a word, and Kris slowly licked his lips as he tried to find the words he so desperately had to voice.