Ol' granpa Fred never did like me drinking apple juice. Too close to the tools that Satan used to trick Eve and the Whore of Babylon, he'd say. Better stick to milk and orange juice, produce that grew closer to home. That's what boys like me should like. I never questioned his logic, though I found it confusing. Mama and Pa would look away whenever they saw that nasty rebellious, spirit start pulling at my forehead, creasing my skin with curiosity. They always knew when I was bout to get me into some cowpie with my contentious tongue. Near most times I was able to hold it. And near most times I was able to keep my questions at bay.
That was before granpa died, though. It wasn't too long ago. A month or two. It seemed so strange to not have him here anymore, all of a sudden. To make them signs against the fags and soldiers, parading up all the funerals and concerts that came through town without him. Westboro boys had to keep them traditions alive, Mama told me. And I believed her too. It's all I'd ever known. And with her at the helm, I sure as good marbles wasn't going to disrespect her.
But something strange happened maybe a few weeks after granpa had left us. Meg and Grace invited me over for a steak dinner one night, and even though Mama told me they weren't family any more than my baby teeth were part of my mouth, I snuck out to meet up with them. Siblings are siblings, right? That's what I told myself. I missed them so much. We had grown up so close that their leaving felt like a hole somewhere deep inside my body. I could feel my heart pounding through my chest. My fingers shook when I turned the ignition. Mama would hear me for sure, and I hadn't told her I was going anywhere that night. But I drove off through the dipping sunset way out to their new place and finally made it before dark.
They both share a car, but as I drove up I noticed there was another one in the driveway, a bright red Chevy that I didn't recognize. I got out and went up to the door with my palms all sweaty to ring the doorbell. I felt like a criminal to be out of the house without Mama knowing; but she wouldn't mind when I told her where I'd been, I hoped. Finally after what felt like hours, Meg opened up the door, but my eyes couldn't believe what they were seeing. There, plain as day in the living room, were two men sitting all crosslegged too close to each other on the couch.
"Zach! Wait!" Meg screamed at me.
But I was already running away. Nobody's not going to make a fool out of me. I ran back to the car, trying to get my keys out of my pockets, but those damn clammy fingers of mine slipped, dropping the damn jangling keys down onto the dusty gravel driveway.
"We just wanted you to meet some of our friends, Zach!" Grace had come out now, too. She was standing right next to Meg. I could see through the open doorway that the two men were looking out with their eyes turned down all low at me. But it ain't my fault my sisters didn't tell me their intentions. "Can you please wait a minute for us to talk to you?"
I looked my sister in the eye, breathing in that cold April air. She had her arms pinned on either side of me against the car.
I sneered as hard as I could.
"They're not going to hurt you," she said, her voice trying to be calm. "Their names are Colin and Brett. They're really nice, and they're part of the reason we left WBC, Zach. Remember all those talks we had when we were younger? About why Grandpa said all the things he said and why we were the laughing stock of the entire country? How the things didn't jive with what we knew about the Bible? Remember all that? Grace and I went out and met some of the people we were rallying against, and it turns out they're really nice. We just wanted you to meet them; that's all."
My stomach felt like fire and my fingernails bore deep into my palms. My sisters. My own flesh and blood. Lying to me to get me interacting with the heathens. I was glad at least it was getting dark because my eyes were starting to wet. They didn't know see though.
"You left Mom and me," I said through my clenched teeth.
"We had to, Zach. Don't you think doing the right thing is more important than making Mom happy?"
I wanted to slap her, but I knew I couldn't. My stomach grumbled, and she heard it too. I didn't know what to do. I was so hungry, and I was all the way out here already. So I put my keys back in my pockets. I wiped down my face with my sleeve when they wasn't looking and walked back inside to meet Colin and Brett.
I thought about that night a couple weeks later. The way Colin had his arm around Brett's shoulders. The way he didn't seem to mind all the hateful things we had said about his people, just responding and saying sometimes people get scared and confused. It was weird. Really weird. But it was also nice. I don't remember a time when granpa had ever been like that with granma around the dinner table. Mama and Pop loved each other. But not like that. It just seemed different. I don't know. Different in a good way.
I wanted to talk with them more, which, yeah, was crazier than a pregnant mule, but I had so many questions. That damn curiosity of mine. My parents were probably right about me all along. Too much of a thinker. But sometimes you just gotta know, right? So I finally got my nerve up to get their number from Grace. I was in my bedroom whispering really low when I dialed Colin's number and asked if they would like to get some dinner again with us. He said they'd love to. I asked where and he recommended the Olive Garden. I started laughing.
"What?" Colin asked. But I didn't tell him that Mama had never let us go to Olive Garden as kids.
It was a couple days later when Grace, Meg, Colin, Brett and I all went out. An odd party of five if I'd ever seen one. We were sitting around the table, Colin and Brett in nice sweaters and plaid shirts, me in my hoodie, Meg and Grace looking like they're moving to St. Louis or something. We were waiting for more breadsticks. I couldn't help myself any longer.
"But why do you have to be gay?"
They looked at each other and smiled, one of those grins you give to children who don't know any better. I felt stupid. Meg and Grace gave each other eyes too. But I knew they weren't making fun. I was really just curious.
"Why were you born your father's son, Zach?" Brett responded.
Well what kind of a question was that? I didn't say nothing for a while. How'd that have to do with anything? Meg said something small as I grabbed the tongs to take some salad. I was glad when the waitress came by so I could order a coke with my alfredo or whatever. All of it tasted too good to be true. But I knew it wasn't the food I had come for.
"But you both seem so normal," I said.
"Zach!" Meg yelped.
"No, no," Brett replied, "it's alright. Do you think we aren't normal, Zach?"
"Well...I mean, don't you...?"
"But does that make us abnormal or just uncommon?"
I hadn't ever really thought there was a difference.
"We know that we're part of a group of people that isn't like the majority," Brett went on. But that's never made people abnormal. We're perfectly happy, perfectly loving, perfectly Christian men. It's just we're different in some ways that your grandfather and your family don't agree with. But those differences are character traits we never chose. And they're things, that, frankly, don't matter in the long run, right? We want to have our own family some day. Colin's working on that business deal right now. I'm finishing up my masters. We're just normal people, Zach. Like the rest of the world. We just want to have friends and be loved and grow old like anyone else. Is that so wrong?"
I looked back as my dinner came. I didn't know what to say.
"Why do we hate you then?" I finally muttered. Meg and Grace both looked away. But it was all I could think about.
"I don't think you do," Brett replied.
The words sounded so real.
I finished everything on my plate after asking for more breadsticks. Colin and Brett ended up paying for the dinner, which I couldn't believe. All my stupid questions; I must have sounded like an idiot. They were really nice, and even though I tried my hardest to find a reason to hate them, I couldn't. They were right. It was so easy once I had taken the time to look at the facts straight. Ha! Straight. After that it just seemed like a no brainer. I decided then and there I wasn't going to hate anymore. Not them. Not anyone. Well, at least try not to.
Colin and Brett invited us out for drinks afterwards. Just a round or two. Meg and Grace said they were getting a little tired and didn't know how much partying they could do on a weeknight. They offered to give me a ride home, which was really nice of them, but... I wasn't ready to have someone speak for me again.
"I'll stay out," I said.
"Are you sure?" Meg asked.
"Come on," I replied. "It's no big deal."
Meg smiled as she and Grace got in their car and headed back home. I, however, got to hop in the back of Colin and Brett's Chevy. The three of us decided to go to a little hole in the wall they knew that I had never heard of before. I'm sure it's but one of millions of things I've never heard of before. That's for sure. When we got there, they kept going on and on about what brought them to Topeka. Crazy how so many reasons can bring two paths together. They're really funny actually. I couldn't stop laughing. We were only there for an hour or so, but I don't remember having such a good time. For the last round, they bought strawberry daiquiris and asked me if I wanted one. I laughed. I usually only drink beer, I told them. But they insisted. And I'm happy they did.
It tasted like candy.