To Be With You

Chapter 3: To Make You Smile

August, 2007

Matsuda Bakery, Shinjuku

There's a knock at the side door of the bakery, making all three of us look up from dinner.

"Who could that be at this time of night?" mom asks.

"I'll get it," I say, standing up quickly. Whoever it is, thank you. It's been three days since dad gave me that, uh, "talk" and I still can't look him in the eye. Any excuse to get away is good enough for me.

Still, mom asked a good question. Who would be coming by now? Especially without calling first. Might be Hirokazu; he's done that sort of thing before. Well I'm about to find out. I open the door at the far end of the bakery kitchen and standing on the other side is… Uh-oh.

"Jen?" I ask.

He doesn't look like himself; he's all stiff and looking down at his feet. "Can I come in?" he asks quietly.

"Yeah," I say, standing back to let him in. "What's wrong?"

He doesn't say anything, just shambles in. Damn it. Something bad must have happened. It's like he barely even knows I'm here when I shut the door behind him.

"Who is it?" dad calls from the dining room.

"It's Jen!" I answer, not looking away from him. "What is it?" I ask him quietly.

He doesn't even look at me. "Sorry," he mutters. "I don't want to intrude. I… had to get away for a little while."

"Don't worry about it," I say while keeping one eye on the open archway leading to the rest of the bakery. "Tell me what happened."

"My parents…" he says before going silent again. Damn it. I don't think I've ever seen Jen like this. He looks broken somehow, sort of like he wants to cry but can't. What's this about his mom and dad? They were supposed to get back from Hong Kong today; Jen told me so when we were talking on the phone last night. What could have happened to make him so…?

Shit.

I lower my voice to a whisper. "Do they know?" Jen gives a single nod. "Damn it." I can tell how it probably went from him being here, acting like this. This is exactly what I've been so afraid of all this time. I'm sorry, Jen. I am so, so sorry. What do I do? "Go up to my room," I say, trying to stay calm. "I'll be right up and we can talk about this, okay?" He nods again.

I make my way back to the dinner table as I hear Jen slowly making his way up the creaking stairs. My heart is pounding. This is bad. This is really bad. Just… just try and stay calm. Deep breaths. They don't know anything is up. Hold it together, Takato.

"What does Jenrya want?" dad asks as I peer around the corner.

"N-nothing," I squeak out, my voice cracking. Real smooth. "He, uh, needs to… ask me about something." I swallow. They're both looking at me. Crap. This is hard. "For school, I mean. Y'know, when it starts again. So, uh… I'm going to go, um, talk to him. Upstairs. In my room." They keep on staring at me. It doesn't seem like they suspect anything at least. That's a good sign, right? "So I'm… going to go do that."

"Is something wrong?" mom asks.

"No!" I say quickly. "Nothing at all. Everything's fine. How are you?"

Okay, now they're both giving me weird looks. "Should we put your dinner in the fridge?" dad asks.

"Yeah. Sure," I say.

I don't move for a few seconds. I'm waiting for another question, holding my breath, but it never comes. They don't say anything. Or do much of anything. They go back to eating. That is a huge relief. Looks like I'm in the clear.

Oh. Yeah. I forgot. Now I have to go talk to Jen about this.

Maybe mom and dad want to know more about—screw it. Go on, Takato. Your boyfriend needs you. He really needs you. Now would be a really good time to be there for him. Put one foot in front of the other. There you go. Good start. Now let's get that other foot moving. One step at a time. Up the stairs we go. Nothing to it. Focus on what you're doing right now. Focus on walking. Whatever you do, don't even think about how freaked out Jen must be at this very second. Don't think about how his whole world must be falling apart. Don't think about how his mom and dad know about him and, in all likelihood, know about you too. Don't think about how, if they reacted this badly, they're probably going to tell your mom and dad. Don't think about how your mom and dad could react exactly the same way.

Damn it, Takato! I told you not to think about that!

I've made it to the top of the steps at least. My door is still open and the light's on inside. It's quiet, except for the sounds of mom and dad talking downstairs. Deep breaths, Takato. You can handle this. Besides, Jen needs you. That's all that matters.

I can't believe this happened to you, Jen. If it had to be one of us it should have been me. You don't deserve this. I'm so sorry, Jen.

He's sitting at my desk, facing away from me when I close my bedroom door. He's rubbing his chin the way he always does when he's thinking hard about something. It's like he didn't even hear me come in. I go up behind him and wrap my arms around him. He needs this right now. I know I sure would.

"Thanks," he says quietly.

I hug him tighter and rest my chin on his shoulder. What can I possibly say to make this any better? "I'm sorry."

He finally lowers his arms and places his hands on top of mine. "It's okay," he says. "I need to think is all."

"Do you want to talk about it?" I ask.

"I don't know," he says, shaking his head.

"It'll be alright," I assure him, even if I don't quite believe it myself. I rub my cheek against his to try and drive the point home.

He doesn't say anything. Neither of us does. I listen to the sound of both of us breathing. At first I think Jen's breathing is strangely calm for how upset he must be, but it slowly dawns on me that it's because he's doing a breathing exercise. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Slow and steady. Five seconds in, five seconds out, rinse and repeat. His chest rises and falls under my arms.

I wish there was something more I could do for him. Anything. I can't stand seeing him like this. This is different. Since I first met him if he was ever upset about something it was pretty easy to tell. He'd get angry or frustrated, but he'd let it out and start feeling better in no time. This though? I've never seen him shut down like this. What is he thinking? What is he feeling? He never holds back like this with me, not since the day he came out. I only want to help.

For right now I have no idea what to do for him. I'll be here though. No matter what I won't leave his side.

"I screwed up," Jen says after what seems like a long, long time.

"You'll be okay," I say to comfort him.

He shakes his head. "I don't know…"

"Tell me what happened," I say to him. "I want to help."

"You can't," he says quietly. "Nobody can. I'm… This is my fault."

"It's not," I say. "You didn't… Jen, you didn't choose this."

"I know, but—"

"And you tried to keep it secret," I remind him. "If anything it's because of me."

"No it isn't," he says soothingly. "This isn't because of anything you did, Takato."

Sure it is. If I didn't spend the night… If I wasn't going out with him… If I wasn't around he could have kept his secret forever. "Let me help," I insist.

Jen shakes his head. "I've got to handle this myself."

I hate it when he gets like this. Doesn't he realize he can't do everything alone? "Please," I beg. "I have to help, Jen."

He sighs and finally seems to relent. "Sorry about this."

"Don't be," I tell him once more. "Now what happened?"

He takes in a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "Alright. You know how Rinchei and Jaarin… know about us?"

I nod. "Uh-huh."

"Well, my parents got back from visiting my grandparents today. We were… We were all having dinner together. Me, my parents, and my brother and sisters. We don't get to do that very often these days. It was nice."

After talking to Jen the other day I didn't think there was any way that Rinchei or Jaarin would ever out him, at least on purpose. They even promised Jen to keep it a secret. Then again, look where we're at.

"My dad asked what happened while they were gone," Jen continues. "I said I didn't do much, but then my mom asked if…" He trails off, going silent again like when he first showed up.

"If what?" I ask to prod him along.

He clears his throat. "If I went out with you." He shakes his head a little. "At first I was worried she meant, you know, on a date. But then she pointed out that we hang out all the time so she thought it would be weird if I didn't see you while they were away."

"Yeah. I guess we do see each other a lot these days. Even more than we used to." Crap. I thought we were being sneaky, but if Jen's mom noticed how much time we've been spending together she's probably not the only one. And if they've noticed that, what might they think? "What did you say?"

"I told her we hung out a little. I didn't want her to think anything was up. But when I said it, Rinchei practically choked on his food. He was okay, but… I don't know. He said it was nothing. Jaarin still kicked him under the table."

"I'm sure he didn't mean to."

"I know, but he's… My brother has never been great with secrets."

"I wouldn't think so after how he reacted the other morning," I say. I can still barely even think about that without blushing. Most embarrassing day of my life.

"Anyway, my dad asked Shiuchon about what she did," Jen continues. "She mentioned staying over at her friend's and…" There he goes again, trailing off.

"Keep going."

He sighs. "Promise you won't get mad?"

"Why would I get mad?" I ask.

"Just promise," he says. "Please."

"Okay, I promise I won't get mad," I assure him. "Now tell me already."

"This is really embarrassing," he begins again. "See, it was sort of my idea for Shiuchon to spend that night at her friend's."

"Your idea?" I ask. Why would Jen want to—oh. Oh! Ohhh. Jen, you mean you… "You were… expecting that we might…?"

"No!" he says quickly. "Not expecting. But maybe kind of hoping. Or in case we wanted to have a quiet, romantic evening at my place. Not necessarily that but…"

"I know." Trust me, I know. I guess this is a relief. I wasn't the only one who had that on his mind all along. "Believe me, Jen, I understand completely."

"So when Shiuchon was talking about staying at a friend's place, she thanked me. I, uh, kind of offered to pay for everything. Movie rental, pizza, whatever they might need."

"So you bribed her," I say. I guess I wasn't the only one of us who was pretty desperate for a little alone time.

He nods. "She thanked me for the money and all that. My dad gave me a weird look. Rinchei… He had to excuse himself from the table in a hurry. Judging from how he looked it was a miracle he was able to get the bathroom door closed before he started laughing uncontrollably."

"Crap. I'm really sorry," I say.

"My mom said that was really nice of me," Jen adds. "I tried to play it cool but I don't even know what I said. I was nervous enough anyway, you know? But that whole conversation wasn't exactly helping me feel any better."

"So what happened then?"

"Jaarin tried to change the topic as Rinchei got back from the bathroom," he says. "She started talking about what she was up to while my parents were in Hong Kong. She said she'd had a night on the town with some of her old friends from high school. Unfortunately, my dad asked which ones."

"Why unfortunately?" I ask.

Jen sighs. "You wouldn't know this, but Jaarin had this one friend: Hideki. He was pretty much her best friend in high school. He was one of the ones Jaarin said she was out with. My dad asked…" Jen pauses and shakes his head. "Damn it. He asked why she and Hideki never dated. My sisters, my brother, and even my mom all laughed."

"Why?"

"You'd know why if you'd ever met Hideki," he tells me. "Jaarin told my dad that she 'wasn't Hideki's type.' When my dad didn't get it, my mom had to spell it out for him: Hideki is very, very gay."

"Ohhh." That can't have done Jen any good.

"My dad couldn't believe it. I don't know how he could have missed it though. Even Shiuchon knew."

"Well at least it seems like your family doesn't have a problem with it," I point out, trying to stay positive.

"Yeah, but that's not what I was thinking then," Jen says. "All I could wonder was why Jaarin had to bring up Hideki of all people. I don't like it when this topic comes up. Especially now."

I worry about Jen sometimes. I know what he means, and I don't like the idea of my mom and dad finding out about us either, but I get the feeling he still has a hard time dealing with being gay. I've tried talking to him about it, but he says everything's fine. I don't want to think he's shutting me out, but he won't share what he's going through and I really think it bothers him.

"Anyway, they kept talking about Hideki," Jen goes on. "Jaarin especially couldn't believe dad never noticed. Rinchei made a few jokes about Jaarin and Hideki dating. I couldn't believe they'd keep on talking about that, especially…" He sighs.

I pat Jen's stomach to remind him I'm still here. "It's okay," I whisper.

"Looking back, I think they were helping me," Jen says. "They were acting like there wasn't anything different, like they had no idea about me. And maybe they wanted to see how our parents would take it. But… right then, that's not what I thought."

"Jen—"

"How could they?" he asks suddenly. "Th-they said they'd keep it a secret, Takato." He hangs his head and runs a hand through his hair with a heavy sigh. "I thought… everything would be cool. But—I don't know. It was one thing after another and… and I trusted them. So when they kept talking about it…" He takes a deep breath and starts again. "I know they weren't trying to out me. But sometimes I can't stand them. I get so angry and when I do, I… I can't stop myself. I hate it."

I hate it too, Jen. I hate seeing you like that, but this might be even worse. I wish there was something I could do for you, something I could say. I'm bad at this sort of thing.

"It's my fault," Jen says. "It's all my fault. Damn it. Why couldn't I just keep my mouth shut?" He stops suddenly. He must have heard the same sound I did. "What was that?" he asks.

"Sounds like the back door," I say. "It's probably my dad taking out the garbage or something."

That's when I hear my mom calling from downstairs. "Takato! Could you and Jenrya come down here please?"

I look at Jen. His eyes are bugging out and he's looking down at the ground. He's clenching his hands so tight that his knuckles have turned white. This can't be good. "Be right down!" I call back a little timidly. "It'll be okay," I assure him. "I'm sure it's nothing."

He shakes his head. "I shouldn't have come here. I can't believe I got you involved in this. I'm sorry, Takato."

"Jen, I'm involved no matter what," I say. "After I left your place the other day I… I felt terrible. I can't believe I left you there to face your brother and sister all alone like that. I should have been there for you."

"No, Takato. They're my family, not yours. I have to deal with them."

"But I want to be there for you," I say, "no matter what. Jen, you're… I love you."

He looks back at me, his fear melting into a sad smile. "I love you too, Takato."

"You don't have to handle this alone. I'll be there for you Jen, even for the bad stuff. I won't leave you."

Jen lets his head hang and sighs heavily. "You promise?"

"I promise." I kiss him on the forehead to drive the point home. "Now come on. It'll be okay." I don't really believe that myself, but Jen needs to hear it. Maybe I need to hear it too.

He nods and stands. He takes a deep breath and his face is back to normal in no time. It's actually pretty amazing how much control he has; I know I probably look like more of a wreck right now than he does. He even leads the way down the stairs.

Don't worry. It will be okay.

Everything will be fine.

Because I'll be with Jen no matter what.

At the bottom of the stairs he turns toward the dining room and freezes. That can't be good. A second later I step beside him and follow his gaze.

We're screwed. I don't know what I was expecting, but it couldn't have been as bad as what I'm actually seeing right in front of me. There are my mom and dad and next to them are Jen's mom and dad, all of them looking right at us. None of them look happy. Not mad, but… not happy.

I can do this. This is going to suck but I can get through it. We can get through it together. I've thought about how bad this might go. I've thought about it a lot. I love my mom and dad, but I love Jen too. If I lost any of them, I…

"Jianliang, we were worried," his dad said.

His mom bows slightly to my parents. "Thank you for watching out for him."

"We're always happy to have Jenrya over," my mom says with a weak smile.

"We're sorry to have bothered you," Jen's dad says. "We'll get out of your hair now. Jianliang… we'll talk back home."

Jen looks down at the floor. He's scared, but he nods without a word. He's… he's actually going to leave with them. He's going to go and I don't know what will happen. They seem calm enough right now, but he was so upset when he got here. I can't let him leave. What if they won't let me see him ever again? I can't risk that. I can't lose him. "Wait," I croak out.

All eyes turn my way. "It's okay, Takato," Jen says softly.

I look him in the eye. "Don't go." I promised him I'd be there. I promised I wouldn't leave him to face this alone. I'll always choose to be with you, Jen. No matter what. I said that to him at dinner the other night and I meant it. "If you need to talk you can do it here."

My parents look a little surprised. Confused, too. Jen's parents look almost sad. I don't want to focus on any of them, though, only on Jen. I'm here for him. He needs to know that. Whatever happens, we're in this together.

Jen's dad clears his throat. "Takato, that's really not—"

"It's alright," I say. "Really. Anything you can say to Jen you can say to me."

"Is something wrong, son?" my dad asks.

I have to tell them. I have to. I have to get them to understand what's going on. They might be angry but they're still my mom and dad. They won't throw me out or anything. They can't. Not over this. They'll always be my mom and dad. So why can't I say it? Two little words: I'm gay. That's all. But I can't make myself say it. Even admitting it to myself was next to impossible. Telling Jen was a nightmare, even though I knew he couldn't possibly disapprove. This is so much harder than I ever imagined. I can't say it, but I have to. It's… it's… Damn it. Why can't I say it?

No one's said anything in a few seconds. I can't look at them, so I shut my eyes. I can't say it. I don't know why not, but I can't. I don't think I could ever do this if it was just for me. But this is different. This is for Jen. Even if I can't say it, I still have to do something. So I take his hand.

I can feel Jen's hand shaking in mine. It's cold and clammy, but his fingers slide between mine. I'm holding it way tighter than I ever have before. This time I'm holding on for dear life. He tightens his grip to match mine. I needed that. He won't let go either.

I glance at my parents. I don't want to see their expressions. I have to say one thing to them though, two little words. I wish I didn't have to. "I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry too," I hear Jen say. He's looking at his parents.

My mom and dad don't say anything. I hope that means they understand what I'm trying to tell them. That thing I can't say out loud, no matter how hard I've tried. I wish I could say this any easier with them knowing, but if anything I'm more scared now than before. It's out of my hands. I can't take it back. I can't keep it hidden. I can't believe I did that. I can't believe it.

"Jianliang, we're not mad," Jen's dad says. "But we do need to talk to you."

"We're worried," Jen's mom cuts in. "The way you ran out at dinner—"

"I'm really sorry," Jen repeats. "I shouldn't have gotten so mad."

"No you shouldn't have," Jen's dad agrees. "But that isn't important right now."

"You didn't even give us a chance to say anything," Jen's mom adds. "After you blew up like that you stormed out before we could get a word in." What? So Jen…? And he didn't even wait to…? Oh.

"I know," he says meekly. "I didn't mean a lot of what I said. I was so angry and I… I'm sorry." Suddenly I feel like a huge idiot. Jen's parents didn't freak out. Jen lost his temper and that's what broke his spirits. That's what he was so ashamed of. That's why he showed up here tonight, not because his parents threw him out or anything like that.

And now my secret's out. Mom and dad aren't saying anything. They're looking at us, at Jen's parents, and at each other.

"Jianliang, don't worry about it right now," Jen's dad assures him. "It's okay. We just want to talk to you about this."

Jen takes a deep breath and nods. "Okay."

"We want you to be safe," Jen's mom tells him. "This isn't… Have you thought about what this could mean for you?"

"Are you sure this is what you want, Jianliang?" his dad asks.

Jen sinks a bit. "I never… I didn't choose this, dad. It just…" He glances at me, his eyes looking so sad. This sucks. I wish there was more I could do. "It just happened," he goes on after a few seconds. "And… I'm glad it did." I'm glad too, Jen.

Jen's dad shifts his weight a bit. "Do you want to see someone about this?" he asks. "Some kind of professional or…?" I feel Jen's grip tighten on my hand and see an angry frown cross his face for a moment. I don't blame him. I feel the same way. Jen and I, we… we don't need to see a shrink or something. We're not crazy; we're not screwed up. If anything we're better now than we ever were before we could face this.

Jen's grip relaxes a little. "No," he says simply.

"We want to make sure you're okay, son," Jen's dad says. "We don't want to see you make a mistake."

"It's not a mistake," Jen says, his voice hoarse with frustration. "I'm not mixed up or anything. I'm… I'm…" I squeeze his hand to remind him that I'm here for him. It seems to calm him down enough that he actually manages a smile. "I'm happy: happier than I've been in a long time—since Terriermon was still here."

Jen's dad hesitates when he hears that, like those words cut right through him. That might have been playing dirty on Jen's part, but if it was me I'd have said the same, because it's true. Losing Guilmon was really hard on me. Being with Jen... It's been a long time since I've been this happy. I wish they understood that.

Jen's mom shakes her head. "I'm sorry, Jianliang, but this isn't something we saw coming. We never… What kind of mother would ever want this for her son?"

"It hasn't been easy for me, mom," Jen says. "I'm sorry, but this is who I am."

"It's not that," she tries to explain. "No matter what we'll love you the way you are, honey."

Jen breathes a little easier and some of the tension fades from his grip. "I'm glad," he says.

She shakes her head before speaking again, sounding like she's barely holding it together. "It's that… there are a lot of people out there that might have a problem with it. It can be dangerous and there's so much that could happen to you. No mother wants to see her children in danger. How… how can I accept that?" She takes her glasses off to wipe her eyes.

Jen drops my hand and I let him go. In a heartbeat he's standing with his mom, giving her a hug to try reassuring her. His dad puts a hand on Jen's shoulder. It's not over yet, I know, but that wasn't too bad. It's not great, but at the same time it could be a lot worse. I hope they can accept him. I hope things get better.

"Takato, can we see you in the other room for a minute?" mom asks quietly.

Oh shit.

I don't have Jen to hold onto anymore; the emptiness in the palm of my hand aches. I can't believe this. They know. My mom and dad know about me. And now they're going to talk to me about it. This has to be a bad dream or something. There's no way that I actually came out to them. But at the same time, it's all real. It's really happening. I can't even speak; all I can do is nod once. It feels like I'm a thousand miles away, watching my body walk itself out to the front room like it's on the way to the guillotine.

The store is all locked up for the night. The unsold bread from the day is already gone, the register is shut down, the windows and the door are covered. No getting in or out. This is not good. This is so not good. I stand by the counter, arms folded in front of me and trying not to look directly at mom and dad. They're standing by the archway leading into the bakery kitchen. I can feel their eyes on me.

I wish I had Jen here.

Mom is the first to speak. "How long have you…?"

How long have I what? Been gay? Known I was gay? Been with Jen? It's… it's complicated. How do I explain all this? Even I'm still struggling with it. If she doesn't finish her question, how can I answer? She must not want to. She doesn't want to know. Or she doesn't want to ask. Even if she asks, I don't think I want to tell her. "A while," is the best non-answer I can come up with.

"You're sure about this?" she asks.

Would I be doing this if I wasn't? I'm doing this. I can't believe it. This is actually happening. I feel like I could throw up. "Uh-huh," I say with a nod. I'm sure. I've never been so sure of anything.

Mom sighs. I knew it. She's disappointed. I… can't even look her in the eye. I'm sorry. "Is there something we could have done?" she asks.

Damn it. How do I make them understand? There's nothing wrong with me. I'm just… not quite what they expected. I'm happy with Jen. I'm happier than I ever was when I denied this. I'm just not all that happy at this particular moment. This isn't their fault; it's nobody's fault. Nothing's wrong with me. Nothing. But I'm sorry anyway.

It's exactly like the time I told them I was going to go to the digital world. I'd spent so much time hiding Guilmon from them, making sure they didn't know what I was up to. They didn't know how much danger I was in sometimes. But they had to know what I was going to do.

They had to know why.

Culumon was our friend. I had to help him. I had to be strong. And part of that was telling my mom and dad everything.

Jen is much more than a friend. I love him. If I could do that for Culumon, I can do this for Jen. I take a few deep breaths to calm myself down, but it doesn't work.

"Why didn't you tell us?" mom asks, wringing her hands.

I finally hold my head up and look her in the eye. "I'm gay," I say as clearly as I can. I wish I could have said that before now. The words feel heavy on my tongue, but I've got to keep going. "And I love Jen. That's all that matters."

"Stop it, Takato," mom says with a sob. "You don't know what you're saying."

My gaze falls a bit, but I keep going. "Please let me do this," I beg. "Please let me stay with Jen."

"But you're still so…" Mom's having a hard time with this. I knew she would, but I hate seeing her so upset. "You're still my little boy."

I look up at her again. "I'm still your son. This doesn't change that."

"But why?" mom asks. "Why did it have to be you?"

"I don't know," I admit. I used to ask myself that question a lot. "But I'm… happy. I'm happy being with Jen." Being able to say that somehow still manages to bring a smile to my face.

"It's too much," she says, shaking her head and wiping her eyes. "I never saw this coming. I… Takato, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I never wanted this to happen to you. Whatever we did, I'm sorry."

I let out a sigh. I can't stand seeing my mom like this, especially knowing it's because of me. "You didn't do anything wrong," I say. "It'll be okay, mom." Please don't try to change me. Please try to accept this. Please stop crying.

Mom doesn't say anything. She leans against dad, still wiping her eyes. I'm sorry. Damn it. Dad's… standing there. He hasn't said a word this whole time. If anything that's even worse than how mom's taking this. I want to ask him what he thinks. I want him to say something, but I know if he does it probably won't be good.

I wish I had Jen here with me. I know it's stupid and selfish, but I want him. I want him to help me keep going. I want to know that no matter what happens I'll still have him. I don't want to feel so alone.

Dad puts an arm around mom and gives her a hug. It seems to comfort her a bit. After a few seconds dad lets go and mom leans against the wall. Dad looks at me; he's not mad, at least, but there's something… almost sad in his eyes. He sighs, then looks away.

Dad, I… I knew you'd be disappointed. I hoped you could accept me, but this was how I figured it would go. At least with mom I thought she might understand. This was a mistake. It was all a big mistake. Why did I have to get myself into this mess?

Dad picks up the broom and dustpan leaning against the wall. Just like every night after we close up he goes to sweep the floors. He doesn't even have anything to say to me. Does he even still care?

"What are you doing?" mom asks him.

"Sweeping," he says like there's nothing wrong.

"Can't you do that later?" she asks. "How can you stand there sweeping during all this?"

He takes a deep breath then plants the broom firmly on the ground in front of him. "What else am I supposed to do?"

"Say something to your son," mom says.

"Takato's plenty old enough to make his own decisions," dad tells her.

She looks at dad, then back to me. "But he's only…"

"I know," dad says calmly. "But he's grown into a fine young man. We both trust him to do what's best, don't we?"

Mom nods, still looking at me. "We… we do."

Dad finally looks my way. "Takato, this might take a little getting used to, but I'm still proud of you. You know that, right?"

I… I can hardly believe I'm hearing this. "I know," I say with a slight nod.

"You're happy with Jenrya?" he asks.

I nod again, more emphatically this time. "Yeah."

"All we ever wanted was for you to be happy," dad says.

Mom nods along with that. "That's true," she says. "I'm worried though. I can't look out for you like I used to, Takato. You're all grown up now. I don't want to see you get hurt."

"Neither of us does," dad adds. "But you're a good kid. We trust you, and if you need us we'll always be here to help, okay?"

Holy shit. I've never felt so relieved in my life. I think I could cry right now. "Thank you. And of course I still need you guys. Y-you're… the best parents I could ever ask for."

They're smiling. They're actually smiling. And now I'm crying too, but I don't care. This wasn't easy and I know there's still a long way to go, but things are going to be okay. I know they will. As soon as she sees I'm crying mom comes over to me and wraps her arms around my shoulders. Dad joins us a second later, and I hug both of them back. I'm still scared how much things might change. I know things are going to get weird after this. But even if they see me differently, they still see me as their son. That's all I could hope for.


It's been two days and I'm happy to say things have calmed down a bit. There's still a little tension in the air around here, but I think the worst is behind us. For the most part things are back to normal, although my bedroom door does have to stay open when Jen's over now.

"You really don't mind?" Jen asks.

"Stop moving around so much," I have to remind him for the third time. This is the first time he's ever fidgeted so much.

"Sorry," he says, trying to resume his pose on my bed where the light coming in from the window hits him at just the right angle.

"It's okay," I say. "And of course not. I love having you over."

He shifts his weight a bit. It's almost like he's doing it on purpose at this point. "I know, but, uh… I'm not sure your parents are so thrilled about it."

"They'll get used to it," I tell him as I work on the hair that's hanging over his ear. "Give it some time."

"I guess," he says. "I mean, I'm still getting used to being 'out' too, so I can't really complain."

"Yeah, it feels a little weird still," I admit. "Although that might be because I can't really look my dad in the eye right now."

"Still?" Jen asks. "That 'talk' you two had is still bugging you?"

I sigh. "I wish. He, uh, gave me another 'talk' yesterday. This time it was the gay version."

"Holy crap," Jen says, looking a little sick. "I'm so, so sorry. How'd it go?"

"Not. Fun."

"I bet. I'm glad my parents haven't tried that on me."

"You haven't even heard the worst part," I say. "About half way through I realized I knew a lot more about it than he did. Especially after… the other night."

Jen turns a little red on hearing that. "Yeah, that was… quite the learning experience."

That's one way to put it. "I don't think we'll have the chance to do that again any time soon," I point out, nodding toward my open door.

"That reminds me: I don't think you're going to be able to spend the night at my place for a while," Jen says. "It was my dad's idea, but I think he's probably right. We should try to keep things a little low-key until they adjust, don't you think?"

"Definitely," I say quickly. "I think we've given them enough to worry about for now. Probably best not to make out in front of them or anything."

Jen laughs. "Yeah, that might be a bad idea. But for the record we can still make out when they aren't looking, right?"

"Oh absolutely." I give Jen a big grin. "And so you know—and I'm not saying it's likely to happen any time soon—if we did somehow get a chance to, uh, do that again…"

There's that blush again. "I wouldn't object," he says.

"Neither would I," I tell him.

"Hey Takato," Jen says, quickly changing the subject, "I was thinking, since we don't really have to hide anymore, maybe we can eat someplace a little closer next time we go out."

"I'd like that," I say.

Jen keeps fidgeting and I keep sketching. Even though it's a little weird, this is actually kind of nice. If anything the open door reminds me that we're not hiding anymore. It's not a secret. If I wanted to I could hold my boyfriend's hand in public without worrying about it getting back to my parents. I guess I got my wish. No more hiding for us. I still worry about what our friends might think. We'll deal with that when the time comes though.

"Takato?"

"Yeah, Jen?"

"Thanks for everything the other night," he says. "When I came over, I mean. You really helped me. I still can't believe you told your parents for me."

"Why not?" I ask. "I love you, Jen. I'd do anything for you."

"Oh…" Jen beams at that. I hope he holds that smile long enough for me to get it down on paper. I love seeing that smile, and I want to remember it forever.

I was worried about whether things would work out between us before. I still don't know everything that might happen, but I do know one thing. I know that no matter what I will always choose to be with Jen.

To Hell and Back