An interesting thing happened to Melissa the other day. The twenty-six-year old had just gotten adjusted to living with her new husband Paul in a nice three-bedroom home on the outskirts of the city, away from the cold, uninviting grittiness she’d come to associate with such a place in the past. That didn’t necessarily mean she’d lived there, but she did grow up very close in a small suburb nearby with her little brother, Ian, and their two parents and she had formed a type of stigma against it from every visit there. She seemed to take a liking to living in this new area, however, glossing over some more minor details that negatively reflected some of the less appealing aspects of it, such as the amount of dogs in the neighborhood that howled after dark, or how the lack of streetlamps made it virtually impossible to go for a walk at night; something she did to clear her mind and feel at ease in her old neighborhood, but she researched the crime rates and found it to be safe, thankfully. She convinced herself these minor setbacks were worth it, especially with how close they were to a promising-looking elementary school. They didn’t have kids yet, but it put her at ease knowing she was prepared for when the day finally came, which was the essentially the reason buying a house with a third bedroom was necessary. She convinced Paul it would be a guest room, not wanting to fully spring the idea of children on him just yet, though they both knew it was only inevitable that she would one day become blessed with their first child.
Before that day had yet come, however, something interesting did indeed happen to the twenty-four-year-old interior decorator as previously mentioned. It was on that day she had gotten a phone call from her younger brother, Ian. The phone call itself wasn’t really the interesting aspect of the situation, but what he had said to her that warm spring afternoon.
“Melissa, it’s Ian,” the younger sibling in his late teens quavered in a low voice through the speaker.
She immediately sensed something was distressing him but didn’t want to press on too much at first, knowing how much Ian would deny anything’s wrong if she brought up her suspicions too quickly. “Hey, little bro. Long time, no chat. What’s up?” She tried to maintain a warm, comforting air to her voice. He didn’t call very often in the past, but it was usually when he wanted to complain about their father or he needed someone to vent to about his usual high-school drama issues. Melissa didn’t mind though because she found herself doing the same thing at times, though not nearly as often as Ian had begun to in the recent weeks, like when he recently began going off on his own in his car and coming home late. Melissa had almost forgotten about it all after moving out and into the new house.
“Oh…” He trailed off, not really knowing how to put his thoughts into words. “Not much I guess,” he sighed. “How are you and Paul doing in the new place?”
Melissa really wasn’t prepared for such a mundane question especially with how his tone of voice earlier indicated a slight hint of alarm as though he was eventually leading up to something. “We’re doing pretty well. It’s been quite a month getting everything unpacked and arranged around the house. We even went furniture shopping last week to get some of the nice matching sofas to go with the rug mom gave us,” she smiled into the phone, hoping her normal banter would ease him from whatever was burdening him.
“Oh,” Ian exclaimed almost with surprise, “That’s cool…” he trailed off as though he was at a loss on how to continue.
“Something’s troubling you, isn’t it?” As soon as the words left her mouth she heard a pause on the other line and heard Ian go from his light-hearted placid mood back to a state of unease as he sighed wearily.
“Yeah, it is. Look Mel. I kind of got myself in a bad situation right now. Well… by ‘kind of’ I mean a really bad situation,” he muttered shamefully.
She clutched the phone a little tighter. “What is it, Ian?” Her mind began to race with all sorts of dramatic scenarios but came to a halt when he began to reply.
“So last night Dad and I got into another fight and… well, he kicked me out of the house…”
“Dad kicked you out of the house? Why?! What happened?” she asked, confused as to what would make their father go to such extremes. She knew they would get into petty arguments, sometimes over trivial things, like when Ian would stay over at his friend Anthony’s house late without calling, but none of these family squabbles ever drove him into doing something so drastic. She paused when a thought came to her mind that she almost didn’t want to believe. “Ian, were you doing something illegal?” she asked suspiciously.
“What? No! Melissa, you know me! I’m not into drugs and partying and all that crap.” He hesitated before going on. “Look, it’s not important why right now. I promise I’ll tell you later. I just… have a favor to ask of you.” Before he continued she already had some idea of what he was trying to ask and braced herself. “I was wondering, you know, since you have a spare bedroom and all, if I can stay with you and Paul for a while. Just for a little while until I can convince dad to let me back in the house.” He mumbled the last part and she could feel the shame in his voice resonating through the receiver in her hand.
“Ian…” she sighed with a slight hint of caring frustration. “You know I wouldn’t say no to you. Of course you can stay with us.” She felt a little uneasy not knowing the full details of the argument, but she made a promise to herself to always look out for him no matter what problems were to arise and she trusted him.
She also hoped Paul wouldn’t be too upset about the decision, however. For one thing he and Ian really didn’t know each other very well, only really seeing each other at occasional family dinners their mother invited him to and the wedding, of course. She would bring the up with him later today and hope for the best. Ian was grateful and they decided to discuss the terms even further after she got home from her errands. She really hoped she wasn’t making a big mistake doing this but Ian had said he would stay at his friend Anthony’s house until she was ready to have him over. Paul wasn’t the type to overreact, but she envisioned him becoming angry or upset at her, probably because she tends to worry too much. “It’s just until he can get back on his feet,” she whispered to herself. Her obligation to her family was important to her, but so was her commitment to her new husband. Hopefully When Ian called back later that night he would be able to explain more about what happened to help her get a better perspective.
Later that night after Paul had come home from work, Melissa brought up the subject of her family at the dinner table. “My mom really took a liking to you, especially after the birthday gift we sent her.”
Paul grinned and chuckled. “I knew she’d love the bromeiliad plant to add to her giant collection of awesome plants in her yard. She needed something a little more exotic to make them stand out more.”
Melissa giggled. “I bet that was your plan all along, wasn’t it?”
He raised his arms in a “you-got-me” stance and smirked.
She brushed her sandy blonde hair out of her face and looked up from her plate. The question burned on the tip of her tongue and she cleared her throat. “So, Sweetheart. I know we just moved in here together and things are going great so far, but I wanted to ask you about something that’s come up.” She didn’t want to scare him off by making it sound dramatic; she wanted to ease him into it and be as casual as possible. “You of course know my little brother Ian. Well, I got a phone call from him earlier today.” Slow and easy, she thought to herself. “He got into a little a bit of a disagreement with our dad. I guess things got a bit out of hand and he ended up kicking him out of the house despite my mother’s wishes.”
He looked a little surprised. “Ian? I thought he was a good kid. What did he do?”
“I’m not really sure, but it seems like it was some misunderstanding or something. I do trust him enough to know he didn’t try anything stupid. Right now, though, he doesn’t have a home so he asked me if he could use the spare bedroom while he straightened everything out.” Melissa waited to hear his response as her bright azure eyes became transfixed to her plate of half-eaten pasta below. “I just don’t want him to feel like he has to go through this alone and we’re hoping to talk our dad into letting him back in the house.” She had laid out the cards. Hopefully now she had a winning hand. Paul studied her a moment.
“How long are we talking about, Melissa?” He didn’t seem upset, but she still felt tense.
“Maybe a week or two at most.” Truthfully she wasn’t sure but she figured she could talk things out with them and get it all worked out. “Probably less.”
He seemed to be mulling it over for a moment then finally agreed. “It’s okay with me, ‘Lissa. I trust you know what you’re getting into,” he added with a chuckle. His humorous reply put her at ease.
She breathed a small sigh of relief. “Honey, relax. It’s just Ian, after all. I know how to handle my own little brother, even if he is just a seventeen-year-old kid. He wouldn’t just be hanging around either. I can have him help out around the house a bit too.”
After the agreement at dinner the phone rang and she knew it was Ian.
“Mel, it’s me.” He sounded urgent.
“Ian, what’s wrong?” She immediately asked, fearing something else had happened.
“Oh, um… I was wondering if you talked to Paul about it yet.”
“I have and he said it was okay.” She heard him sigh heavily in relief.
“Oh, thank God. I owe you guys so much, you have no idea. Thank you so much, Mel. I promise I’ll try not to be a burden on either of you.”
Melissa felt a sudden feeling of elation from Ian’s words. Just the fact that he was so grateful about her decision made her feel content.
It was only a few days later after that phone call that Ian was now standing at her doorstep with a backpack and two duffel bags.
“I hope you don’t mind if I park there,” he said eyeing his dark blue Subaru in the driveway. “No, come on in.” He stepped in and was greeted to the light scent of lavender in the air. The inside was bright from the large glass sliding doors and ivory, tan, and mossy green furniture. It was much different than he was used to.
“This is really nice,” he mumbled in awe.
He was knocked out of his trance when he felt Melissa latch onto him in a tight hug. “Baby brother,” she giggled as she embraced him for the first time since she moved out.
“Hey, whoa,” he laughed along. “Can I at least set my stuff down?” He tried to hug back, but was immobilized with all the belongings in his arms.
“Let me show you to your room. Hurry up!”
She grasped one of the bags from his hand and led him down the hallway to the empty room on the left. Inside the walls were a light cream color and cardboard boxes were stacked along the wall. The window opened up to a view of the backyard which was lush with green grass and newly planted tulips along a wooden picket fence. “Sorry it’s kind of a mess in here. We’re still getting everything cleaned up and we’ve been using this room for storage in the meantime. There’s a futon in the corner you can sleep on and I can bring one of the lamps from the living room in here if you need more light.”
Ian smiled warmly to his sister’s hospitality. “This is more than enough, sis. Thank you.” He placed his duffle bag and backpack next to where she set his other one and gave her a proper hug now that his hands were free. “Thank you,” he whispered.
She hugged him back and laughed awkwardly. “You can stop thanking me! It’s getting embarrassing now.”
He released her and grinned. “I can say it a million times and it still wouldn’t be enough!”
His bright blue eyes twinkled with a gentle glow, and she knew he sincerely meant it. “Ian, I wanna know what happened with you and dad. Why did he kick you out? Why did mom let him?” She felt his uplifted mood sink as the smile faded from his pale, lightly freckled face. She motioned for him to sit down on the firm Ikea futon.
He looked down at his wrists and held them close to his stomach almost as though he held some kind of deep fear. “Last week dad found me and Anthony smoking pot in my room…”
Melissa had to wait a moment to let the thought of her brother doing drugs sink in. “H-he kicked you out of the house because of that?” She didn’t think he would flat out banish him from their home over just that. “You said earlier that you didn’t do drugs though.”
“Hey! Marijuana’s not a drug,” he shot back defensively. “…And besides, that was only part of the reason he kicked me out of the house,” he murmured while resuming his previous state of despondency. As if that wasn’t difficult enough to admit, now there was more to the story than she had previously thought. His breaths became short and shallow as he tried to swallow the forming lump invading his throat. “He… found out about me and Anthony... That’s why he kicked me out.” He slunk low into his seat and tightly shut his eyes.
“What do you mean ‘found out’ about you and Anthony? What are you talking about?”
Ian took in a shaky breath before going on, reluctant to continue. “He found out Anthony’s my boyfriend,” he softly replied.
Melissa didn’t really know how to respond but her brain began filling with questions like “Why didn’t you tell me,” and “Dad’s a homophobe?” but she sat speechless for a moment.
“You’re gay…” she said barely above a whisper.
How did I not see it?
Ian didn’t move, like he was trying to suppress all emotion. She knew he needed her right now. She pulled him in close. “Ian, I’m here. I’ll do whatever it takes to help you, little bro.”
He smiled again at her promise to protect him. “Thanks, sis.”