"Great job, everyone! We'll see you here the same time next week."
Adam bowed alongside Rocky, facing their group of students. He was tired, but it was a good tired.
He watched as parents arrived to pick up their children, and as others left to take the buses from the nearby station. As he waved them off, he couldn't help but feel pleased. Summer was coming to an official end—school started in less than a week on Monday. It was amazing, he thought, how quickly time flew by. They had gotten the dojo up and running with minimal difficulty, and as Adam had anticipated, they were still far from making a profit. However, he wasn't going to let that thought bother him. Both he and Rocky had other jobs lined up for the fall which would help keep them afloat just as their summer jobs had done.
The dark haired boy glanced around their small space, smiling. It had taken some work but the dojo finally looked just right. They had a wall of mirrors to help teach proper form, and on the other side, several decorative scrolls with long-standing mantras written in ancient Japanese script. With a bit of work, Adam had even managed to get one or two written in Korean, thanks to his aunt. They had comfortable, affordable mats in place on the floor, as well as seven or eight chairs wrapping around the front of the entry for waiting parents and kids.
All in all, they had done well by themselves. Adam couldn't have been prouder.
"Let's get out of these keikogi and head back to your place," Rocky said, a smile on his face. "We've got a few hours before your mom and dad get home."
Adam was all too aware of his parents' schedule. It had not been his desire to stay at home as long as he had, but he was thankful that his parents were letting him stay. However, because he'd still not told them about him and Rocky, they had to work around their schedules, making alone time difficult. Sure, there was Rocky's house as well, but they were far more limited there, given the amount of people mulling about.
Adam and Rocky changed back into their street clothes in the back room. They normally had another class later in the evening, but for the sake of back-to-school weekend they decided to move it to after school on Monday. The two of them would have to fiddle with the schedule here soon, Adam thought, given that the majority of their students would now be in classes.
The two boys locked up their dojo and headed to the parking garage, hopping into their respective cars to drive back to Adam's house. He parked in the garage with Rocky's car in the driveway behind him. Together they headed into the house, taking off their shoes and setting them in the doorway.
"Can't believe it's already September," Rocky said, following Adam into the kitchen.
"I know. Can you believe we graduated three months ago? Time flies."
Adam opened the refrigerator and grabbed both him and Rocky bottles of water. From a nearby cabinet he grabbed two health food bars, one of which he tossed to the other.
"Come on, let's go watch some TV."
As he stepped into his part of the house, Adam yawned. He remained standing for a minute, drinking from his water bottle, while Rocky move to lie down on the couch.
"Hey, what about me?" Adam asked.
"You can lie right here next to me," Rocky said with a grin.
Although some part of Adam thought it might be uncomfortable, given that the couch wasn't wide enough for the both of them, he watched as Rocky pressed himself into the back of the couch to make room. That made Adam smile.
"All right, if you say so."
He put his water bottle and food bar on the coffee table, lying down on the couch beside Rocky. He felt the other's hand wrap around his waist. Adam glanced back and up at him.
"Just wanna make sure you don't fall."
Adam said nothing, but he kept smiling. He grabbed the remote from the coffee table and flicked on the television. COPS was playing—a perfect show to relax to without having to pay complete attention.
Rocky laughed. It was loud in Adam's ear. "Ah, man, COPS! Awesome!"
The dark haired boy yawned again. He didn't realize that stopping and resting for a minute would make him so tired. Then again, their classes, combined with his three shows this week at the amusement park, had exhausted him. Somewhere in the back of his mind he thought that the icing on the cake would be a Divatox Detonator, but he stopped that thought cold in its track.
"You tired, babe?" Rocky asked. He ran his fingers through Adam's wavy hair.
"I guess I am," Adam replied, yawning again. He nuzzled his head into the pillow against the side of the couch, closing his eyes. The gentle gliding of Rocky's fingertips across his scalp sent tingles down his neck and back. He gave a quiet murmur of approval.
"Why don't you take a quick nap?"
That sounded very appealing. Adam opened up his eyes long enough to look at the wall clock hanging above the TV. His parents wouldn't be home for about two hours. If he napped for a quick half-hour, then he would be right back up and running. Statistics proved that a short nap during the day could increase productivity and energy, which was exactly what he needed.
"Will you wake me up in a half-hour?" he asked Rocky, who nodded in agreement. "If I sleep for too long, I'll get a headache."
"I know." Rocky continued to stroke his scalp. "Just go to sleep. Relax. I'll wake you up."
Adam took in a deep breath, letting himself drift off.
He remained peacefully unaware of the world around him until he was awoken some time later by the jarring sound of his living space door creaking open. He thought he heard his name, but what shocked his system into functioning was a sudden outcry.
"Oh! Adam! What!"
His eyes shot open. Standing there in the doorway was his mother, her hands covering her gaping mouth.
His blood ran cold.
Adam scrambled to get up from the couch. He was horrified to feel Rocky's arm wrapped so firmly around his body. It was impossible to deny what she had seen so far, but his mind was already trying to come up with plausible reasons for it.
"What are you doing?" she shrieked.
All of the commotion roused Rocky. Adam looked down at him from where he was standing, wanting nothing more than to teleport him out at that moment while his mother looked away in surprise. That would be the only way he could deny what she had seen.
But to his misfortune, all that happened was Rocky stumbling to sit up as well. Unlike Adam, however, even fear itself couldn't make the poor boy wake up any faster. His hair was matted in a strange shape from how he'd fallen asleep on the couch, and he had lines carved into his face from the couch material.
He'd fallen asleep. Rocky had fallen asleep.
"It was n-nothing, Mom!" Adam stammered, bringing a hand up and running it through his tangled up waves.
"Like hell it was nothing, Adam! He had his arm around you! You two were sleeping! What has been going on in this house when we're not home?"
His mother's words cut through him like the sharpest of blades. Adam had no defense against her own two eyes—and the thought of what she might be imagining made him ill.
She continued, "I can't believe you! How could you not tell us this?"
"Mrs. Park, it's not what—"
Rocky was cut off by a quick and severe grunt that left Adam's mother. Adam hadn't heard that sound in years, not since his father had crashed into the garage by mistake when backing up their new car.
"Rocky, I want you out of this house this instant."
Adam and Rocky looked at each other, eyes wide. She had never spoken to Rocky like that before.
"Really, if you just let us explain," Rocky pleaded. He tried to smile encouragingly.
"No! Out! And you had best believe I will be calling your mother about this!"
Rocky blanched. He started to reach out to touch Adam, who recoiled subconsciously from the touch. That made the brunette look even more trampled upon.
"You gonna be okay?" he asked.
"Y-Yeah, fine, just…go," Adam replied, feeling ten sizes smaller. "I'll talk to you later."
"OUT!" Mrs. Park shouted.
Rocky passed by her with his head down. Adam heard the front door slam not but a moment later, which only made his stomach knot up worse. The other boy was probably just as irritated and frustrated as she was, but for entirely different reasons. This never would have happened at his house. Not with his mother.
Adam's mortification quickly turned into anger. How dare she yell at him like this?
"I'm an adult," Adam said suddenly. "I can make my own decisions. What I do in the privacy of my space is my business, Mom."
"Not when you live in my house, it isn't, Adam. Sit."
She pointed at the couch. At first Adam found himself moving without question, but he soon stopped. He had been taught at an early age that disobeying his parents—his mother, especially—was the worst thing he could do, second only to shaming them. In one fell swoop he had managed to do both. He could only imagine what she was keeping inside of her.
"Adam, if you don't sit right now," she began, letting her threat linger.
"You can't talk to me like that anymore," Adam replied, although quietly at first. With more gusto, he said, "What I'm doing is not wrong."
"If it isn't wrong, Adam, then why didn't you say something to us?"
Because I knew you would react like this! Adam thought, offering no verbal reply. Even though his mother was a good three inches shorter than him and far more petite, she held such authority in her stature and stance that he felt like a little kid again. The severity of the look in her eye seemed to dare him to offer an answer, which he knew she would tear to pieces.
"Because you knew it was wrong," she said in his place. "You knew it was wrong, and you kept it hidden."
"It's not wrong!" he shouted. He was surprised by the sound of his own voice. Quieter, he said, "It's not wrong. Rocky and I are in love, and we—"
"In love? Adam! You're eighteen! You know nothing about love! You don't even date!"
Her words felt like punches to the stomach. Despite his every attempt to become an adult, his mother impeded him each step of the way. Unless he did things her way, there was no proving that he was a rational, capable adult.
"What you two boys are doing is wrong," she reiterated. "Your father will be so ashamed, Adam. His only son, fooling around with boys. How could you do this to us?"
How could you do this to us?
There it was: the shame. Even though Adam felt so incredibly angry with her, he couldn't help but feel guilty on some level, knowing that what he had done had made his mother react so negatively. The idea of his father finding out made him even sicker. He loved his father, but the sudden realization that he would likely react similarly to his mother was terrifying.
Adam felt hot tears building up in the corners of his eyes—tears of frustration, disappointment, embarrassment.
And he hated himself for them.
"I didn't do it to shame you. I—"
His mother held up her hand. "No more. I don't care why you did it. All I know is that it's going to stop right now, if you know what's good for you."
Anger boiled inside him once more. "And what if I don't?"
"Then you deal with the consequences."
Adam reached up and quickly dragged his wrist across his eye. He wouldn't cry. No, he didn't want to give her that satisfaction—didn't want to give her the ammunition to say he was acting childishly. He was an adult. He stood beside his decisions.
"You're my mother," he told her acidly. "You're supposed to support me no matter what."
"And you're my son. You're supposed to come to me for anything. If you were having these thoughts before, I would have helped you. I would have—"
She began to cry. Adam's insides tore from the inherent guilt that came from making her do that. He quickly told himself it wasn't his fault, but it was. He was the reason she was crying. He was the reason she was so worked up.
"I need to be alone," she said. "Leave."
Adam blinked in surprise. What was she telling him to do? Leave?
Her voice broke. "Adam, go."
He didn't need to be told again.
. . . . .
Rocky fidgeted worriedly with a piece of string he'd nicked from his sisters. They had been doing arts and crafts in the kitchen when he got home after the incident. He'd given everyone a distracted greeting prior to descending the stairs and holing himself up in his room, coming up only briefly for dinner before heading right back down.
You had better believe I will be calling your mother about this!
Though he wasn't so much worried about what his mother would say—she knew, after all—he was worried about how Mrs. Park would react to finding out she had been aware for quite some time. Not only that, but he worried how his mother was going to respond to the discovery that they had not told Adam's mother as she'd suggested months ago.
Every time the phone rang over the course of the next three hours, Rocky's heart skipped a beat. Each time, however, it was somebody else—a friend of Marcos'; one of his dad's business partners; his aunt Sofia.
Each time Rocky started something to distract himself, he could only manage to focus on it for a few minutes before giving up completely. His nerves were shot and his attention-span dangerously short.
He was concerned about Adam. Rocky had only dealt with staying in the closet for his sake, knowing how his parents would react. Of course, their fears had never been justified until the incident earlier, but it didn't take a genius to tell. Neither Adam's father nor his mother had ever given decent inclination to believe that they approved of homosexuality. Adam had told him time and time again that telling his parents would only incite trouble. Because he loved and cared for him, Rocky followed blindly.
If only he hadn't fallen asleep…
No, he thought. He couldn't blame himself. What he and Adam had done was not wrong. How his mother had reacted, however, was.
Where was Adam? Why hadn't he called?
Rocky stood up, cracking his knuckles. It took him a minute to realize he was doing it, and he promptly stopped.
Such a bad habit, Adam would always tell him. You're gonna give yourself arthritis when you're older.
Despite his worry, he smiled at the memory.
As he stepped out into the hallway, Rocky heard the doorbell upstairs. He felt his heart fall into his stomach. What kind of visitor showed up at nine at night?
He bounded up the stairs, stopping just shy of the entryway. His mother had gotten there first, pulling back the door to reveal Adam standing there. His eyes were red and puffy, and his skin flushed. He was obviously upset. Rocky wanted to reach forward and pull him into a hug, but he stopped himself—Marco, Lucy and Nora came over to see what the commotion was all about.
"Hi, Mrs. DeSantos," Adam said, his voice raw. "I, um. Can I come in?"
Rocky could tell his mother knew something was wrong. "Of course, mijo, come in, come in."
She ushered Adam into the house and shut the door behind him. Maria shooed her other three children away, leaving just her, Rocky and now Rocky's father, Ricardo, who had just walked in from the study.
"Everything okay?" he asked.
"Sorry to bother you all so late," Adam said. He tried to smile, but it just looked so pitiful. It hurt Rocky something fierce.
"M-Mom, Dad, can I—" Rocky began.
"Let's go into the study and talk, all right?" Maria suggested. She kept her arm around Adam, who understandably was leaning in to the embrace. To her younger children she said, "Stay in the living room!"
Rocky knew they wouldn't. They never listened. But right now, he didn't care. Adam was clearly distraught and needed attention. He went along with his mother, father and Adam into the small, rectangular study, shutting the door behind them. Maria guided Adam over to the loveseat placed beside the bookcase, taking the seat beside him. Without so much as a single word she brought him close and held him comfortingly.
"What happened?" she asked him, running her fingers through his hair. Rocky couldn't help but notice the usually beautiful wavy strands were matted and knotted, as if he'd gotten into an argument with a brush.
"Um, just…just an argument, with my parents," Adam said. He was sniffing profusely. When he pulled away from Maria, Rocky saw that he was also crying. Such a rare sight made his throat constrict and his eyes burn.
Adam never cried. Never. In the entire time he'd known his best friend, his partner, he'd only seen Adam cry once. That had been thanks to the bully that Rocky had eventually defended him against. After that point, Adam had said he would never let anybody make him cry again.
It frustrated Rocky to know that not only was that now broken, but that the person to do it had been his own parent.
"About what, dear?" Maria probed.
Adam didn't say anymore. Rocky couldn't blame him. It must have been traumatizing if it had made him this upset.
Naturally, his mother looked to him. Rocky blinked, feeling the knot in his throat tighten.
"Rocky, do you know what about?"
It didn't seem fair to his dad, Rocky thought, to beat around the bush any longer. He'd been there for Rocky through every mess in his life, always ready to lend a helping hand. In truth, he was feeling the guilt of months of secrecy now sitting upon his shoulders. He looked from his dad to his mom before sighing.
"She found out."
"Found out about what?" Ricardo asked.
Before his mother could say anything, Rocky turned to his dad and said, "About us, Dad. Adam and me. We're together."
Ricardo looked confused for a moment, but when it dawned on him, his eyes momentarily widened. Rocky felt a surge of adrenaline pump through him; why he had never told his dad upfront, he didn't know. All that mattered now was that it was out.
"Can't say I'm entirely surprised," Ricardo said. He scratched the side of his head. "You two have always been closer than most boys your age. Your mother had mentioned in passing that she might have thought something. Guess you were right, huh?" He looked at his wife and chuckled.
Maria simply smiled. She turned her attention back to Adam.
"She, um. She told me to leave," Adam admitted, wiping his nose with the hem of his sleeve. Maria shook her head and handed him a tissue from the nearby end table. After wiping his nose once more, Adam continued, "I didn't know where else to go."
"Shh, mijo, it's all right. You're always welcome here." Maria brushed her fingers over Adam's hair. "Mi casa es tu casa, remember? I told you that when you were a child. The only Spanish you should never forget!"
Adam gave a genuine smile, though it lasted only mere moments. "I know. Thank you."
Rocky couldn't help but wonder. "Did she say you needed to leave permanently?"
The Asian boy shook his head. "No. She didn't say. Just told me to go. So I left."
"Not what you should ever do to a child," Ricardo said, shaking his head. "We'll have to talk to Jinghee and Hochul about this."
"N-No!" Adam exclaimed suddenly. He turned red. "Please, don't. I need to talk to them first."
"Are you sure?" Maria asked.
It was strange to hear Adam plead. Moreover, it was strange to see him so visibly distraught and to not be able to do anything about it. Rocky folded his arms tightly over his chest to keep himself composed. The more he thought about it, the angrier he grew with Adam's mother. How could she?
Rocky looked at Adam. His mom had found them when she had gotten home, which was typically around the time they prepared dinner. If Adam left beforehand…
"Did you eat dinner?"
"Yes," Adam said. "I got something."
Rocky breathed a sigh of relief. He didn't know what Adam had eaten, or where, but he knew the other wouldn't lie to him about something like that.
"Why don't you go ahead and go with Rocky to his room?" Maria suggested, rubbing Adam's shoulder. "We'll get some blankets from the linen closet and you can sleep on the couch tonight."
"Why can't he sleep in my room?" Rocky asked.
"We still have to explain this to your brother and sisters," Ricardo said. "Adam usually sleeps on the couch when he stays here, anyways. If he sleeps in your room, there will be a lot of questions."
Tempted though he was to start an argument on that, Rocky ceded. He nodded. At least his parents were being kind enough to let Adam stay after dropping such a bombshell. His father was handling it far better than he ever thought he would, which helped ease Rocky's discomfort. He promised himself that he would tell him more tomorrow, given that they had the weekend to spend together.
"We'll get everything figured out, Adam, don't you worry. In the meantime, go on, spend some time with Rocky. He'll cheer you up."
Maria moved Adam to stand, guiding him lightly into Rocky's embrace. Though it felt awkward to do it in front of his father, Rocky hugged Adam tightly and then started for the door. Unsurprisingly, as he turned the knob, he heard three distinct sets of feet thudding across the wooden floor as they escaped back into the living room.
Rocky ignored them.
"Come on, babe. Let's go downstairs."
They had some talking to do.
. . . . .
"Start from the beginning."
"The beginning? What, after you left?"
Adam rubbed his eyebrows. The last thing he wanted to do was relive his argument with his mother, especially now that he'd gone and run to the DeSantoses to help him. His mother would probably take that as a slap to the face. How would she and Maria get along now? How was that friendship going to continue?
God, so many things destroyed by one stupid move, he thought.
Thankfully, Rocky was giving him space. Adam needed it right now. The two of them sat on opposite ends of the other's bed, legs crisscrossed. Aside from the hug earlier, Rocky had left Adam to his own accord.
"I told her I was an adult," he began. "She told me I wasn't. Said what I was doing was wrong, why did I hide it from her, so on…"
Her razor sharp voice entered his head, making his throat constrict. If it wasn't wrong, why did you hide it from us?
That led him to admitting the one thing that had cut through him like a hot knife through butter. He couldn't look at Rocky as he spoke. It was just too embarrassing.
"She…she said I shamed them."
Rocky crawled across the bed and pulled Adam into his arms. Adam didn't fight it, though he made no move to curl up in the touch as he usually would. He felt dirty, felt wrong. The guilt and shame he had been conditioned to experience had tainted what he felt for Rocky, at least for the moment. Though the embrace was welcome, Adam did not dare reciprocate for fear that he might cause even more trouble.
Adam spoke, voice slightly muffled by Rocky's nightshirt. "Then she told me to go. So I left."
"That was hours ago, babe, wasn't it? Where did you go?"
"I got in my car and drove. Nowhere, really. Not at first."
Adam recalled zooming down the residential streets, dozens of thoughts bombarding his head. Was he homeless now? Was he parentless now? Would they ever forgive him? Could he ever forgive them? Maybe he needed to take Desert Thunder for a ride. No, that would be abusing his powers. He was hungry. Where to eat? What about Rocky? What did this mean for them?
His fingers curled in the cotton fabric. "Went to a grocery store. I ate from their food bar with some money I found in my wallet."
Rocky's voice was soft, inquisitive. "Where did you go after that?"
"Drove around again. Thought of seeing Tanya, maybe Kat, but decided not to. When it got dark outside I realized I needed to find a place to stay, so…I drove here."
He sighed, closing his eyes. It worried him that he hadn't been able to tell from his mother's tone whether her order to leave was temporary or permanent. He told himself he would go back tomorrow morning, even if it meant trouble. His parents appreciated a lazy Saturday morning; however, if he didn't get there by ten, then they would be up and gone, running errands and doing their own thing. Not to mention he had work tomorrow afternoon at the amusement park.
"I'm going back tomorrow before work," Adam said. "I need to get my work clothes, anyway."
"You want me to come with you?" Rocky asked.
"No," he replied quickly. "No, this…it has to be me. I gotta figure out where we go from here."
"I can't believe she'd talk to you that way. Your own mother. God, how cruel." Rocky's tone hardened.
What felt worse was that he was beginning to have a hard time blaming his mother as time went by. The shame he would bring upon his parents…it would never end. His grandmother and grandfather would be mortified. No grandchildren. He could hear them now, cursing him in Korean for taking away the one thing that he knew would have redeemed him in their eyes.
He couldn't cry anymore, wouldn't cry anymore, he told himself. His eyes were red, his throat sore. His body was exhausted. He needed to sleep.
"I can't believe this happened," he muttered miserably.
Rocky ran his fingers through Adam's matted hair, carefully untangling it in the process. "We're gonna figure it out. Don't worry."
Adam could only hope.