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For The Fans: Chapter 30


@Backwardz_Avi: I’d give up candy for the rest of my life for one more kiss… He’s all the sugar I need.

Here’s how I know sexuality isn’t a choice.

When I was eleven, I played peewee football. I was good, even back then, which is what led me to believe if I kept pushing myself, getting better, I could make it to the NFL someday. The dream became tangible the more I played, the more I learned about the game and how to develop a synergy with my teammates.

One of our receivers was a kid named Cody. Cody was also very good for his age. We were young, yes, but there was a distinguishable difference between us and the kids who were playing because their parents didn’t want to deal with them and forced them into after-school sports.

That might be part of the reason mine got me into football, but regardless, it turned out to be the best negligent decision they ever made. But I digress.

The carefree side I used to have slowly fell away the more I was pushed into the Catholic faith. After I began to fear God, my subservience took shape, and even though I hated the image my parents projected to everyone else of our good Catholic family, I really tried to do as I was told, while still holding on to my individuality as best I could. Because all I cared about was getting good at football and not being sidetracked by other things. So I followed their rules. I took communion, I served as an altar boy—only a few times until I begged my dad to let me stop—and I went to church camp. Because I had to.

Where does Cody fit into this? you might be asking… Well, I’ll tell you.

Cody and I played well together. We had a sort of chemistry that you wouldn’t think would apply to peewee football, but for us, it just happened naturally. He was always there for a pass when I needed him, and it wasn’t long until we became friends.

One day, after a rousing game in which we schooled Malden Catholic thirty-one to three, we were in the locker room, getting changed. Cody and I were joking around about a few of his catches, and he playfully shoved me.

It was something that happened often; it wasn’t new or distinct in any real way. But for some reason, this time, his hand lingered a little on my chest before it sort of swooped down and off of my body.

Now, I know this doesn’t sound like anything shocking, and yes, I was still pretty young at the time. But apparently, I was old enough for my brain to send a signal to the rest of my body. The receptors that distinguish good things you want more of versus bad things you don’t care for pinged to life and told me… yea. I think I like that.

That part of me was always there. But like a perennial seedling, it only pops up when it’s the right time to present itself. And from that point on, my brain began to water and nourish it with thoughts and contemplations.

It was all completely innocent. I was still too young to really be thinking about sex at all, though I knew how it worked and what it was for. But the only sex they ever taught us about was between a man and a woman. Sex between two men wasn’t something that was supposed to happen, according to our school, and my parents, and the church, and pretty much everyone I knew directly.

And despite the fear of God in me, I couldn’t find it in myself to discourage my feelings. Because the way I saw it, God had made me. If he didn’t want me to feel excited by a playful shove in the locker room from another boy, then he shouldn’t have wired my brain that way. Simple.

I spent the next year of my life subtly looking at my fellow students, both boys and girls, in an attempt to figure out if this feeling was real or just a fluke. But the more I did it, the more I was leaning toward verification. I was too young to find interest in expressing my attraction… The thought of actually telling a boy I liked him, or God forbid, kissing him, still made me sort of nervous. But I knew, deep down, that it was what I wanted eventually.

When I was old enough, I would date a boy…

And my parents would hate me for it.

That notion was a little overwhelming, but still, I wasn’t devastated by it. I figured that if my parents couldn’t see this wasn’t something I was choosing for no reason, like deciding on what cereal to have for breakfast, then they clearly didn’t love me, nor did they truly understand God’s plan.

And honestly, if they thought my attraction to boys was a choice, then they were probably pretty stupid, too. My entire upbringing was based on the idea that boys should like girls. Being a boy who wanted to be with another boy, despite all of those ideals that are drilled into your head from the time you’re an infant, would mean there’s no possible way it’s a choice, right?

I mean, who would choose something knowing it directly contradicts their biological nature?

Anyway, over the course of that year, I also grew to really hate church and all of its forced activities for us Catholic kids. Because it didn’t even feel real. It was like almost everyone was just going through the motions. It was an image they wanted for themselves, like a banner that screamed to the rest of the world, hey, look at me! I’m a great person! While simultaneously using it as an excuse to be judgmental and sometimes even downright nefarious.

Case in point… the man responsible for my trauma.

Father McAdams.

I never liked being around the man. He’d always given off a yucky vibe, but the problem was that there was no evidence of his wrongdoing. Not yet, anyway. It was just a feeling, like when there’s a gas leak. You can’t see anything, but you know it’s there, and you know it’s very harmful.

Father McAdams had taken a shine to me, and was always saddling me with new responsibilities, acting like they were special and only tasked to the best kids. But really, it was just busy work. Moving things in his office, helping him set up before mass. The only thing that made it slightly tolerable was that a few of my friends were there too, including Cody.

I caught Father McAdams watching Cody and me once, after we’d been talking and joking around, as we did. And the feeling of him staring at me stood all the hairs on the back of my neck on end.

The summer when I was twelve was understandably my last time at church camp. I had already been planning on asking my dad if I could stop going, seeing if maybe there was a football camp or something I could do instead that would be more in line with what I actually wanted, and not six weeks spent listening to the same stories being told over and over again by the hive-mind of our counselors.

It wasn’t unusual for some of the local parish priests to make appearances at camp, for special services and whatnot. But when Father McAdams showed up on the last night to observe our youth prayer circle, I knew right away something didn’t feel right.

He’d been coming at me more and more lately with all the things I now recognize as grooming, in a way. Paying special attention to me, offering me things, trying to get me alone. It was easier to rebuff when other people were around.

But on that last night, he managed to corner me when I was alone.

There are a lot of reasons why it hurts to think about these things… Why remembering it all, and so vividly, causes me an emotional pain so strong I can actually feel it in parts of my body; like the way it turns and clenches my stomach, burns like acid in my throat, and triggers stiffness in my knees and my back.

But the main reason is knowing how badly my trauma fucked me up. How far back it set me, mentally.

That man stole the comfort I’d had in myself. The experience stunted my self-awareness. It was like one big explosion that leads to the collapse of an entire city. The abuse, me telling my father and his denial, my family’s deterioration… it all buried me, the real me, in years of rubble.

I knew who I was, and I was ready to grow into that person. But he stole my identity. He, and my father, forced me into shame and remorse that wasn’t mine.

And so, like a form of fight-or-flight response, I ran away from the truth and recoiled into the image of a new Kyran Harbor. The straight boy who focused on only school, and girls, and sports, becoming popular as a means of control. A mask to wear, one so believable, even I began to feel like it was the real me.

I stuffed my truth down for years, fought against it tooth and nail. Even after Avi and I started our business, I told myself repeatedly that it was just that; a means to make money. But the whole time, in my bones, I knew it was a lie.

Being with Avi… being close to him, seeing and feeling and breathing with him, all those things we did together… it’s what set me free. He was the shovel, slowly scooping away the debris to uncover the real Kyran from where he’d been buried alive.

It was never a choice, and I know that now because despite everything I did to cover it up, it still came back to me. I came back.

I don’t want to lie anymore. I don’t want to run anymore…

Which, yes, sounds idiotic coming from someone who’s literally running away as we speak. But this time, I’m not running. I’m driving.

Driving on new roads, to clear my head and find myself. So that the next time I knock on his door, there won’t be a shred of doubt.

The real Kyran Harbor wouldn’t be alive without Avi Vega.

He’s my reason, my rescue.

Slow down, broken boy… and let him catch you.

What a difference a week can make…

When I left Somerville, after packing up my stuff and moving out of the Walsh dorms at BC, I wasn’t really sure what I planned to do. All I knew was that I needed to get away and prepare myself for some major internal reorganizing.

I knew I wanted to be alone for a while—at first, anyway—to get my thoughts together before the next part of my plan. So I rented a Mercedes SUV for the drive, just like the one I got when I took Avi to the drive-in. And no, that’s not a coincidence.

I wanted to feel closer to him throughout this process, knowing full-well I’d be forcing myself to ignore his calls and texts the entire time.

It’s been killing me not to talk to him… but I know it’s necessary.

Getting the real Kyran back is work I need to do myself. I can’t put it all on Avi. Sure, in many ways, he saved me, and I want him to know that. I hate the idea that he might think I left because I don’t love him… I do. His love is what’s kept me driving when so many times I thought about turning back; giving up on this mission to fix myself and just going back home.

But I don’t want to return to him half-hearted. Because the real Kyran is still a stubborn control-freak in a lot of ways. He’s a determined motherfucker. Sets his mind to something and makes it happen.

No more hiding. No more doing what I think will look the best.

When I come back to Boston, it’ll be because I’m ready to face the world as me.

Gay. In love with my stepbrother. Sexual assault survivor. Football quarterback. Okay, that one didn’t change. But now I’ll be doing it for myself, instead of as a means to make my father less disgusted by me.

For the first few days on the road, I just drove. I wasn’t going anywhere in particular, just clearing my head and deciding on my next move. And a lot of it was intense, but also cathartic. I kept the music off and just cruised the streets with my own thoughts. I let the stuff out that I never think about, and when things got heavy enough, I spoke the words out loud.

I cried. I laughed. I screamed. I pulled over a few times to get my bearings before I drove myself into a tree.

But as torturous as it was at times, I came out of it feeling a lot better.

It prepared me for the next part of my plan.

Two days ago, I ended up at a hotel near the Berkshires, which is a quaint and quiet place, especially in winter. I remember coming here on a camping trip when I was little. It was a lot of fun, and thinking back on the solitude of the mountains made me wish Avi was here even more.

We’ll have to go camping here in the spring.

That is, if he’s not still mad at me for leaving.

I have to assume that when Avi finds out how much good I’m doing for myself, he’ll understand. He’s always been that way, after all. He’s patient and caring, loving and supportive. Everything I need from my real family. And everything I need to understand why my actual family couldn’t give me that.

Settled in my room with a bag of fast food as my dinner—no more football until training camp, so I get to splurge—I allow myself to decompress from the day.

I had my first honest to God therapy session today, with a nice counselor named Anna. She’s very easy to talk to, which I appreciate. It was the first time I’ve ever opened up to someone face-to-face, regaling them with the entire story of my abuse.

I talked to someone on the phone my second night on the road, from the RAINN hotline. Honestly, I forget his name, because I was just so wound-up, almost manic, spilling my guts for the first time ever. And I’m talking all the details… The ones that still haunt me, coil me with nausea and anger and make me want to retreat into myself.

But I didn’t, and I’m proud of that.

It was after that conversation that I almost broke my rule and called Avi. I just want so badly to hear his voice. To tell him what good things I’m doing and hear his smile when he tells me he’s proud and he loves me.

But then I don’t want it to feel like I’m doing this stuff for his approval… Because I’m not. I’m doing it for me. So that I can have a relationship with him, and share things with him without being scared.

I’m still afraid it’ll terrify him. I know it’s dumb to think that, because of how supportive he’s been. But I just can’t help feeling like the idea of your boyfriend being sexually abused as a child and the reality of the gritty details are two very different things.

I also know that I don’t have to tell him anything… He made that clear the night before I left. But I want to. I don’t want to hide or be ashamed of it.

Still, it’s like Anna said earlier… it’s a work in progress. My own acceptance comes first, and after that, I can worry about my partner’s, in however much time that takes.

Hesitantly lifting my phone from where it’s been resting on the bed, I power it back on. I’ve been keeping it off for the most part, because I don’t want to be tempted to read Avi’s gut-wrenching texts, or answer the phone when he calls. But more importantly, I’m purging myself of the desire to snap miscellaneous pics for Instagram… one of the coping mechanisms that’s kept me wrapped up snug in denial for years.

I’m not saying social media is bad… It’s just not real. My entire account was full of pictures I posted to fit the fake image of myself. Shirtless workout pics, smiles and kisses with girls I didn’t really care about, sunsets and food… The happy, glamorous life of someone who never even existed.

I deleted them all.

I still have my account, but there are no current posts. Someday I’ll post something again… And when I do, it’ll be the truth.

Imagining posting a picture of Avi and me kissing sends a flutter to my gut, and I bite my lip. I wonder what he’s doing right now…

Tapping on Instagram, I search for Avi’s profile. The one with only a handful of random posts, that I still believe he used mostly to cyber-stalk me. The thought has my lips curling into a smile that feels really freaking good.

I miss smiling for Avi. I miss laughing at his dumb jokes, and forcing scowls at him to cover up how truly witty and adorable I think he is.

When I pull up his profile, I find that he changed his name… From AviVega420 to Backwardz_Avi.

I purse my lips. I guess he’s just embracing it now… The Fans.

As far as I know, his Twitter is still inactive, and so is the OnlyFans. But this name change has me wondering if maybe he’ll start it up again, now that he doesn’t have school to worry about.

He wouldn’t… find a new business partner… would he?

Swallowing down that icky feeling, I scroll over his bio, which just says, Art is love, and I find a recent post from yesterday. It looks like a wall of some kind, maybe concrete, spray painted with a black background and a yellow frowning face.

The caption reads:

I am alone. I am utterly alone.

I blink at the screen a few times, wondering why that sounds so familiar… And then I remember. It’s from Beetlejuice… One of his top five favorite movies ever.

Grabbing the TV remote, I flick around all the available streaming services, searching for Beetlejuice. It’s on Amazon Prime, so I turn it on, letting it play in the background while I stare at the picture.

I’ve never known Avi to spray paint, but then he’s an artist. He can use anything he wants as his canvas, which I think is pretty cool. I just wish in this one case it wasn’t something so depressing.

Swiping Instagram away, I open my text chain with Avi, looking over all the messages he’s sent me since I left California. And there are a lot.

Aside from the ones he sent me that day, after I vanished, he’s sent me at least three a day for the last week. Everything ranging from…

Avi: I love you baby… please come back to me


Avi: I’m just gonna be honest… I know you’re hurting, but it’s pretty messed up that you won’t even RESPOND to me. *annoyed face emoji*

And even…

Avi: Robin misses you. She just meowed and it sounded like she was saying “Kyran”. I’m not even kidding.

The most recent one is just a screengrab from the video of our first makeout session, in Theo’s bathroom. But the actual video, not the one with my face blurred out.

It squeezes the air out of my chest to see it, sending all the sensations rushing back. I remember how afraid I was… Because of how amazing his mouth felt on mine. I couldn’t stop shaking.

The picture captures it perfectly. It’s like I’m falling for him, even then, and I both love it and hate it at the same time. I just wish I hadn’t wasted so much time pretending.

Typing out a text to him, I hesitate for only a second before hitting send.

Me: Hey, baby. I know this might hurt, but push through it for me. I’m fine and safe and I promise I’ll be back soon… Knocking on your door for good this time. I love you, angel. Thanks for saving me.

Then I turn my phone off. Because I have to.

“You know that I’ve seen you… Looking at the other boys.”

My knees are sore, and my back is stiff.

“It’s alright, Kyran. Don’t be afraid. God loves you. He made you this way.”

There’s a black rosary wrapped around his hand.

The one I dropped when he came into the room and locked the door.

“But you’ll need to beg His forgiveness for your lustful ways. I can help you…”

The white cloth of his robe brushes on my face as it lifts.

“This is you, Kyran. This is who you are.”

“But I haven’t done anything… I don’t w-want to,” I whisper with fear in my voice.

“God sees everything, you know. He can tell that you’re lying.”

My head shakes, again and again, but he holds it still. The scents of smoke and oil fill my lungs.

“Plead salvation with your body, Kyran. Loud enough that He can hear you.”

My eyes shoot open with my gasp, and I sit up in bed, glancing around the unfamiliar space.

Oh, right. I’m in a new hotel room… back in Boston.

Cambridge, to be exact.

I spent a month at that hotel in the Berkshires, seeing my counselor Anna and working through a lot of difficult stuff I’ve let fester for eight years. And after weeks of rough, emotional reconstruction, I decided it was time to come back to Boston. To do something very important…

Confront my parents.

Anna said I can keep seeing her over Zoom, or she can refer me to someone here, whatever I prefer. I still haven’t decided what to do, but I think I like the idea of sticking with her. Speaking face to face is cool, but I’ve already built a rapport with her. And as nice as the Berkshires are, they’re not home.

It’ll be hard to be in the Boston area without seeing Avi. But honestly, I’m really fucking sick of being away from him, anyway.

My trauma will always be with me, no matter where I’m located. It’s a part of who I am, and as I’ve learned in these past weeks, I just have to make room for it inside myself. Work on acceptance, and giving myself the time and space to heal.

I want to do that with Avi.

At this point, the nightmares are already getting less scary. The rage and hopelessness are still there, but I’m learning to cope with it; I think because I’m no longer using all my energy to bury them with denial.

I’ve also been reading a lot, listening to music. I started meditating and doing yoga. The last five weeks have been like a form of rehab, to kick my habits of avoidance, and I finally feel ready to get back to life.

But mostly, I want to get back to Avi. I miss him like crazy.

Sliding out of bed, I wander into the bathroom. After splashing water on my face, I gaze at myself in the mirror… and I remember all the times I’ve done this. When I would stare at the stranger gazing back at me and wonder if I would ever recognize him again.

I don’t feel like that same, terrified twelve-year-old boy anymore, struggling to breathe over the knowledge of what had been done to him. Running my fingers through my hair, my lips quirk, because I finally look like me again.

And I recognize this person, this real Kyran. I’ve seen flashes of him before. With Avi.

I blink at my reflection. “You deserve better parents. But you’re stuck with the ones you have. So you’ll go, say your piece, and close that chapter. No matter what happens, you’re here. This is you.”

Hours later, I’ve showered, dressed, and I’m heading downstairs to meet my parents for lunch. It’s almost crazy how difficult it was for me to get them both together in the same room. Even after knowing that I left school and home because I’ve been struggling so badly, it still took several texts and phone calls of convincing.

But eventually, they agreed to come to lunch at the restaurant in the hotel where I’m staying. I reserved a booth in the back for privacy, and it should be fine.

When I walk into the restaurant, the hostess looks up, and I just tell her I’m meeting someone, sauntering by and making a beeline for the back booth. I can see that my mother is already here, but not my dad.

Pausing, I take in a steady inhale, reminding myself that I can’t control how other people react to things. I can only control my own actions.

“Mom,” I murmur politely as I wander over, taking a seat across from her at the table. “It’s been a while…”

My mother gazes at me, smiling. Elena Harbor-McLaughlin is still a beautiful woman. Blonde hair, green eyes, fair features. She looks just like she did when she was still actively my mother, just with a few more lines around her eyes, and a sort of vacancy that only really popped up after my confession that tore our family to shreds.

“Kyran, sweetie… I’ve been so worried about you,” she says in her familiar tone, that of a waspy Boston wife with a rich husband. “Since your father’s company went under, I’ve been meaning to reach out to you.”

“Then why didn’t you?” My head cocks.

She looks momentarily uncomfortable, straightening the silverware on the table. “Kyran, you know it’s difficult between your father and me. All those bad memories…”

Ah, the making Dad out to be the monster routine. I remember it well…

“Mom, it would have been as easy as picking up the phone. Just being there for me,” I rumble calmly. “But you weren’t. Not now, and definitely not back then.”

Her forehead lines. “Ky… I don’t…” She pauses to shake her head. “I don’t really know what to say.”

Folding my hands on the table, I lock eyes with her. “Oh, don’t worry. I have plenty to say. I needed a mother. To protect me, and console me. Tell me everything was okay. But instead, you focused strictly on your shitty marriage and then disappeared on me. And still, I’m always the one who’s expected to come to you. For holidays and occasions… I mean, Jesus. You didn’t even call me when I won the fucking Rose Bowl…”

Shaking my head, I slump back in my seat, the anger and depression over voicing all these truths weaving through my limbs. And I let it.

I don’t try to stuff it down or ignore it. I just sit, buzzing with tension, reminding myself to breathe.

“I’m so proud of you, honey,” she whispers, and my eyes fling up to hers. “I am. I know I haven’t been there for you. But just seeing how well you’ve done… how far you’ve come. No matter how much your father and I screwed up, you still turned into such an incredible man.”

I swallow, my chest swelling at her words. I hate the fact that I have to drag this out of her, and that it’s taken this long to even get it. But at least it’s something.

“I just want to know that you’re okay, Kyran,” she goes on. “Leaving school and taking off like that… it doesn’t seem healthy.”

“But that’s just it, Mom,” I mutter. “I’m not okay, and I haven’t been healthy. Not emotionally… That’s why I left. Because sure, it looks like I’m winning on the outside, but inside, I’m still scared shitless.” She cowers a bit, fussing with her hair, likely because she knows where this is going. Leaning forward on the table, I whisper, “It wasn’t all Dad’s fault. You’re equally to blame. Because I was abused by someone you both considered a man of God, and you did nothing.”

My mother gasps, her hands covering her face. In shame, in remorse, yes. But also, because I know she hates hearing about it. She still wants to pretend it never happened.

Deny. Avoid. Bury it all six feet deep.

At that moment, my father strides over to the table. Perfect timing.

We both glance up at him, watching his eyes flick back and forth, likely to figure out where he should sit. He obviously doesn’t want to sit next to my mother, or at least he doesn’t want her thinking he does. But I’m at the edge of my seat and I’m not moving over.

Sit down next to your ex-wife, Pops. So you both have to look me in the eye for this.

Finally, my mother concedes and scoots over, allowing my father to reluctantly plop down beside her. They share a brief, unenthused look, and my father mumbles, “Elena…”

To which she sighs, “Tom.”

I roll my eyes. Parents are fucking insufferable.

My dad glances at me from across the table, his face etched in his usual stern, unforgiving lines. Only he looks much more exhausted than usual; beaten down and almost desolate. His facial hair is grown out a bit, his clothes slightly rumpled. He looks like shit…

I guess he’s been working at some new job I know next to nothing about, so that could be part of the reason why he looks miserable. Or he’s also been dreading this little encounter.

“Kyran, I’m glad to see that you’re alright,” he rumbles. “I was worried…”

“Were you?” I huff. “So we’ve established that you were both worried, but not enough to actually do anything about it.”

“Don’t be this way.” He frowns. “I called you and asked you to come home. Why would you leave school, son? You need your education, no matter what.”

“Dad, we both know I’m going to have to choose…” I straighten. “Between football or business school. It’s highly unlikely I’ll be able to do both…”

He makes a face as if he knows this is true, but he doesn’t want to admit it. “Either way, you need to be in school. It’s far too important to leave behind so you can go off gallivanting—”

Gallivanting?!” The word comes out with an incredulous scoff. “So you think I left just to run around, fucking off like some irresponsible moron??”

“That’s not what I meant,” he grumbles, but I don’t want to hear it.

Now I’m fucking pissed.

“Okay, let’s just get this out of the way. Because I didn’t ask you both here to talk about football, or business school, or whatever the fuck I decide to do with my future.” I attempt to control my anger, channeling it into finding my words. “We’re here because I’ve been seeing a counselor, talking through my issues, finally, after eight years of stuffing this shit down. And I realized that I’ll never be able to move on if I don’t tell you both exactly how I feel.”

My parents share a nervous look, but I don’t give them time to deflect.

I grip the edge of the table and growl, “You fucked me. Almost as bad as he did.”

“Kyran—” my dad starts, but I cut him off with a hiss, as quietly as I can manage.

“Both of you! You are supposed to love and protect me. You’re supposed to listen to me and support me… You were supposed to stand beside me no matter what, and you should’ve wanted to fucking decapitate that motherfucker for what he did! But instead, you acted like it never happened.”

My eyes zero in on my father. “You told me I was overreacting. You accused me of making it up. You made me feel like I was sick for being raped!”

My mother is shuddering through hushed sobs, and my father’s eyes have never been wider. He looks like he’s going to be physically ill… And it serves him fucking right.

Now you know how I’ve felt every day for eight years, Dad.

“And you.” I glare at my mother. “Your mouth was conveniently shut, any time it wasn’t gulping back Xanax and Pinot. You never said a goddamn word to me, never asked me if I was alright, or if I needed to talk to someone.” A furious laugh puffs from my lips. “No, I’m sorry. You said something… You said, ‘You have to just move on, Kyran. Dwelling on it will only give it power.’ Great advice for a twelve-year-old who just told you his goddamn priest stuffed a cock down his throat.”

“Kyran!” My father slams his fist down on the table, rattling the plates. “That’s enough! I understand that you want to punish us. I get it… We fucked up.”

Fucked up doesn’t even begin to describe—”

“I know!” he roars. “I know, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I didn’t believe you. I’m sorry that we’re to blame for bringing that piece of garbage into your life! I can’t tell you how sorry I am for what you had to go through, but it’s over. It happened, and it’s done.” He pauses while I stare at him, shocked, and so deeply enraged I want to lunge over this table and strangle him to death. “I will have to live with the way I handled that for the rest of my life… But I don’t want you to also. I want you to be able to move on, son. Your mother was right… Dwelling on it does give it power. Don’t give it any more.”

Grinding my teeth together, I close my eyes, breathing and focusing on who I am. The real Kyran, not the Kyran they think they know.

When I reopen them, I pin my father with a look. “I want you to say it.” I witness him gulp, and I lean in. “Say the words, Dad. Out loud.”

He shakes his head subtly. “Kyran, I don’t—”

Say it,” I growl. “This is the reason why I can’t move on. This is the reason I’ve been stuck for so long, stuffing the truth down, pretending to be someone else… Because you made me feel like the truth made me sick, diseased, or damaged. It happened, Dad. It fucking happened, whether or not you wish it didn’t, it did. You can’t pray it away. God doesn’t fucking care about your Hail Marys or your penance. Say the fucking words out loud, because they’re true, or so help me, you’ll lose your son. I will walk out of this restaurant, and you’ll never see me again.”

My father rakes his hands through his hair, visibly unsteady as he breathes out slowly. The air around us is thick with heightened tension, silence covering us like a big tarp.

It takes a minute, but finally he looks up, his eyes gripping mine. And he mumbles, “He sexually abused you. Father McAdams… a man we trusted. He did horrendous, disgusting things to you, Kyran. And I did nothing.”

The sincerity in his gaze gives me some solace. Hearing the words, finally, from his lips takes even more weight off my shoulders. Weight I didn’t even know was so heavy until it slips away, and I can finally breathe better. Much better.

No more hiding.

“I’m so sorry, Kyran,” my mom whispers shakily. “I am so infinitely sorry that it took those other boys coming forward for us to listen. And even then, it wasn’t enough.”

I nod, my voice creeping out. “No. It wasn’t.” They both just stare at me. “I didn’t want money. I wanted you to give a fuck… I wanted to be acknowledged, not to feel like I was hiding some illness that needed to be locked away and covered up by this image of the perfect, unsullied son you wish you had.”

They both nod, rubbing their faces, appearing generally worn out. And I know I shouldn’t delight in their anguish, but I like it. It feels good that they’re finally reacting the way they never did back then.

“I just want you to know…” my father croaks, “we never thought you were damaged, Kyran. It just… it hurt to admit that something like this happened when we were supposed to protect you. You didn’t deserve it—no one does. But even more, you didn’t deserve how we made you feel about it. I’m so sorry that I made you feel unseen…”

Emotion claws up my throat, and instead of swallowing it, I let it out in the form of a gasp, chewing on my lip while we all just stare at each other.

My eyes flick to the waiter, who’s hovering a few feet away like he’s been itching to come over and see if we need anything, but didn’t want to interrupt. I simply wave him off, because not that I have an appetite right now, but even if I did, I don’t think I could tolerate an actual meal with these people. Not yet.

We might get there in the future… Hopefully, we will. But it’s still too fresh.

Taking out my wallet, I remove a twenty and drop it on the table for the waiter and his troubles.

“There’s one more thing I need to say,” I murmur. “And then I’m gonna go, because it’ll probably wrestle up some new bullshit that I really don’t feel like dealing with right now. But just know that I do appreciate you both coming here, and listening to me. This was… really helpful.”

They blink at me over wide eyes. And I purse my lips, mainly at my father, because I’m sure he’s about to flip his lid.

“I’m gay.”

Man, that feels fucking great. Wow.

My parents’ expressions are frozen solid. It’s sort of comical.

My lips quirk, and I huff a small chuckle, shaking my head. “More importantly, I’ve always been gay. I was born this way, and it’s just a fact. Also, I’m in love with Avi, and I want to be with him. So… yea. That’s that.”

Standing up, I cast one last look at their shocked faces, grinning as I pat my father hard on the shoulder. “See ya later, folks.”

Striding away from the table, I feel renewed. Refreshed.

Yes, it’s an ongoing process, but I feel like I took a huge step today, and I’m proud of myself.

I need to go find Avi.

Because fuck all this heavy shit. I just want to kiss the crap out of him right now.

Outside on the curb, I pull my phone out of my pocket to order an Uber. I really miss that Mercedes SUV, but as soon as I returned to the city, I had to give it back. It was not cheap, and I can’t keep burning through my OnlyFans savings. Especially if I still have school to worry about…

I’m entering Frankie’s address into the app when a hand grabs my shoulder.


It’s my father’s voice.

I spin to face him, gawking in surprised confusion. But before I can recoil at the idea that he might punch me in the face, he launches himself at me, pulling me into his arms.

Hugging me… My dad is hugging me.

I’m stunned into a statue for a solid four seconds, my arms dangling by my sides while my father crushes me to his chest, squeezing me as tightly as he can.

Pressure wells up behind my eyes, and I allow my arms to circle his waist, hugging him back. He’s sort of sputtering… He might be crying, and I’m freaking the fuck out.

What is happening right now??

“I love you, Kyran,” he whispers hoarsely. “I love you so much, and I’m so sorry.”

Oh damn… This is embarrassing.

Now I’m fucking bawling into his chest, and I can’t hold it back. Gripping him and shaking while all the walls between us come tumbling down. Brick by brick.

We stand like this for a while, until we finally snap out of it and let each other go, quickly wiping our eyes, trying hard to stifle the visible emotions, because it’s in our nature to cover it up. It sucks, but it’s the way we were both raised, and it’s a hard thing to overcome.

My father blinks at me, and I at him, biting the inside of my cheek because I don’t know what to say.

“I’m happy for you,” he says, still sounding like his usual stern self. But the words he’s saying are sincere. He means it, I know he does. “For you… and Avi.”

My lips quirk. “I thought you’d be mad… because he’s a guy. And your stepson.”

He chuckles, shaking his head, and I snort a boogery laugh. “I don’t get it. I won’t even try to act like I do… But if this is you, son, then don’t ever change.”

Tears well again, and I stare at the ground while I blink them away.

“You’re strong, Kyran. A hundred times stronger than me, and you always have been,” he says surely. “You’ve grown into an amazing man, and you did that all on your own. That is worth being proud over.”

I nod, smiling at him. “Thanks, Dad.”

“And I wouldn’t worry about Avi being my stepson…” His grin slips away. “Because he won’t be for much longer.”

My brow furrows. “What do you mean?”

“Hannah left me,” he sighs. “We’re getting a divorce.”

Um… what?!

“Really??” I gasp, mouth hanging agape in disbelief. “Why?”

“Let’s just say, I’m as bad a husband as I am a father,” he grumbles.

“No… Dad, that’s not—”

“Kyran, it’s true.”

I gulp. “Okay, it is. But still, you can fix it! Go fix things with her like you are with me.”

He smiles sadly. “I think I also have some working on myself to do.” He pats me on the shoulder. “You’ve inspired me, son.”

My heart is literally bursting out of me, I’m so happy. I can’t even believe what I’m hearing, but it feels amazing.

I think I might have a real father… Only twenty years into my life, but whatever. Better late than never.

My dad gives me a puzzled look. “So Avi didn’t tell you? About the divorce?”

“I um… haven’t spoken to him in, like, a month.” I rub the back of my neck.

“Why not?” His head tilts.

“I left him… so I could figure this stuff out,” I sigh. “I didn’t want to bring all this emotional baggage into a relationship.”

My father’s eyes shine with regret, and I know it’s because he’s finally recognizing that he’s responsible for a lot of my issues. “But if you really… love each other.” He chokes on the words a bit and it makes me laugh. “What?? Forgive me, I’m trying.”

“I know,” I sigh. “You are. It’s okay to not get the gay thing right away, Dad. I don’t need you to…”

He gives me a stern look, though he’s smirking. “All I’m saying is Avi doesn’t seem like the kind to turn his back on something good just because it might be difficult.”

“You’re right,” I hum, going back to my phone. “I’m gonna go see him now. It’s time.”

“You need a ride?” he asks, and I peer at him. Who is this man?? He just chuckles and nods. “Come on. Let’s go.”

Alright then.

Following my dad to his car, I hop in with him and he drives us to Brookline. My head is really spinning right now, so many different things bounding around inside me. I’m excited—ecstatic, really—with now things are going with my dad. And I’m anxious to see Avi again, for the first time in over a month. So much so that I can’t stop moving. My knee is bouncing rapidly, fingers twisting up in my lap as we pull onto Frankie’s street.

My dad makes a sound like a small laugh, and I peek at him. “What?”

“You’re obviously really excited to see him.” He grins. “I’ve never seen you like this.”

Slumping back in my seat, I murmur, “I’m nervous. What if he’s mad about me taking off?”

“That doesn’t seem like Avi,” he replies. And I nod, because he has a point. “I’m sure he’ll just be glad that you’re doing well.”

I point out Frankie’s building, and he pulls up along the curb.

“Dad, I really appreciate this,” I tell him, unbuckling my seatbelt. “It feels good to be able to talk to you… Like a real father and son.”

“I know.” He nods. “I just want you to know you’ll always have a place in our home… If you wanted to move back. For any reason.” He rubs the back of his neck, and I grin. “You could even bring Avi, if you… wanted to…”

I laugh softly. “Yea, I’m sure you’d love that.”

“Ky,” he mumbles as I open the door. “God loves you, no matter what. Know that. He isn’t the God I used to think he was… He’s so much better. Caring and sympathetic. Don’t let what happened steer you from having real faith. Not the stuff I used to push on you. Faith in yourself is faith in Him.”

Nodding, I smile at my dad, hopping out of the car and waving him off before I jog up Frankie’s stoop. I’m not sure I’ll be able to have a relationship with God, after everything… But I also thought that about my dad, and now look at us.

All it takes is finally opening yourself up to it.

Maybe he’s right… Maybe faith is just belief. Belief in yourself and your own strength; in the complex human life, and your ability to love and persevere.

Maybe God is just us, believing.

Outside of Frankie’s apartment door, I pause to breathe before knocking. My heart is in my throat, anticipation bubbling in me like a pot boiling over.

I can’t wait to see his face… I just want to see him again.

But when the door whips open, I’m met with vibrant teal eyes and bright pink hair.

“Oh, hello.” Frankie squints up at me, her lips curving into a small smirk. “I knew you’d show up eventually.”

“Hi…” I mumble, peering over her head inside the apartment. I immediately spot Bea, Zeb, and Micah. “Is he… here?”

“Don’t let him in!” Zeb calls out. “He’s the reason my friend is shuffling around like a zombie right now.”

I scowl at him, then glance at Frankie. She’s just standing there with her arms folded over her chest, hip popped out and everything.

“Frankie, come on. I just need to see him.” She says nothing, so I push past her, stalking inside. “Avi??” I’m looking everywhere, frantically stomping around like I expect him to pop out of a closet or something. “Avi?!”

“He’s not here,” Bea says, brows knitted in concern. Micah elbows her, and she squeaks, “What?? He’s obviously upset about them splitting up.”

I pause and gawk at them all. “So… he told you that we… broke up?”

“Not in so many words,” Frankie croons. “But yea, he told us you ditched him in Cali because you needed some space.”

My heart…

I’m not sure why I thought Avi might’ve told them why I left. He’d never betray my trust like that. So he just told them I dumped him, and now they all think I’m the bad guy. Great…

My lips curve, but I smother it. “Where is he? I need to see him…”

“He’s preoccupied.” Zeb smirks at me.

My heart falls, and I gulp. “Is he… with someone?” My face whips in Frankie’s direction. “Is he dating someone??”

Frankie pouts, and shakes her head. “You’re so sweet. No, pumpkin, he’s not dating anyone. He’s wallowing… in his new place.”

New place?? “Avi got an apartment?”

“He’s subletting a place in Brighton with his mom,” Micah says.

“I need the address,” I demand. They all stare at me, and I roll my eyes. “Please.”

“It’s 501—” Bea starts, but Zeb slaps his hand over her mouth.

My patience is wearing thin. “Okay, listen… You guys don’t know the reason why I left, so I understand you’re just protecting your friend, because you think I broke his heart. And why wouldn’t you?? I’ve been bullying him and running from him for forever. But the truth is that I’m in love with him. I’m so crazy in love with him, and I just want to be with him… To hold his hand, and buy him Twizzlers, and listen to him talk about reptilians. I want to support him like he’s supported me, and I want to see his eyes sparkle when he’s excited. I’m in love with Avi Vega, wholly, truly, un-fucking-deniably.” I bend to make eye contact with Zeb. “So I’m gonna need that address… Because I don’t want, I need to kiss him right now. More than I need air in my lungs.”

Zeb blinks at me, his forehead lining as his hand slips away from Bea’s mouth. “That’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

“It’s like a romance novel!” she squeals.

I peek at Micah, who grins. “It’s 501 Chiswick Rd. Apartment 4F.”

A giant smile hijacks my lips as I turn to face Frankie. She breathes out slowly, then pinches my chin. “Not your baby, my ass,” she sneers, and I chuckle. “Go on, baby. Go get your boy.”


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