Warning: Contains homophobia and rejection of a child, and mentions the possibility of child sexual abuse.
I never really experienced Thanksgiving before my fifteenth year. My family embraced many aspects of American culture, but somehow, that holiday got left by the wayside, reduced to a day home from school with a moderately-nicer dinner than we’d have usually. Maybe it was because all my aunts and uncles and cousins live in Egypt, or because there’s debate over whether observing it is even allowed for Muslims. Whatever it was, it seemed as if my parents were just going through the motions as part of their quest to make sure my siblings and I had American childhoods.
My father would always start our Thanksgiving meal by reminding us that we should show gratitude every day, not just that one. I understood his point, yet it was hard to be thankful while I was also jealous of the huge celebrations I saw on TV and heard about from friends. The ones with a house full of people, a turkey so big it hardly fit in the oven, and maybe a game of flag football in the backyard. Still, I didn’t truly understand what I was missing until I moved in with Seb.
Seb’s family DOES Thanksgiving. In a huge way. The party they hold every year is legendary in Santa Cruz. They don’t have turkey or any other kind of meat, but the feast is so delicious that I’ve never heard the guests (of which there are many) complain. Seb swears the governor of California came once.
First, though, the entire extended McKenna Crews clan pitches in to prepare and cook the food under his mother’s direction, while the parade plays on the TV. Then, before the doors are thrown open to all, they sit down for a private family dinner. That’s my favorite part. The warmth of multiple generations gathering together to make and eat a meal, share news, count their blessings, laugh… Even the arguments are full of love. It’s truly the stuff of Norman Rockwell paintings.
It’s also the part where Seb can get overwhelmed. Later, when the farm is crowded, it’s easy for him to slip away and not be missed. But his family is too close-knit to let that happen if it’s just them, all in one spot — or at least, not without much greater difficulty. They also insist on the horror of horrors: talking to him. And asking questions.
I’m only partly joking. He’s an introvert, and shy to boot. An entire day interacting with loads of people does take it out of him, even when he knows them well. Add to that diabetes, which is always trickier to manage on holidays, and it’s a recipe for an unhappy habibi.
My Seb-senses started tingling later than usual this year, around two. I was at my assigned prep station, cutting potatoes, and the way he crossed one forearm over his stomach as he stirred vegetable stock caught my eye from the other side of the room. Putting my knife down on the counter, I dodged around two Crews cousins to come up from behind and envelop him in a hug. As I’d suspected, his muscles were taut.
“Hey,” he said, not looking up from what he was doing.
“Bet you taste better than anything we’re making,” I said, and then licked his neck. He had to use the arm he was hiding behind to elbow me in the ribs. I grabbed it and squeezed his hand twice. He didn’t return the secret signal, either with two squeezes of his own for ‘I’m good,’ or with one for ‘get me out of here.’ Instead, his gaze flicked just briefly to mine over his shoulder. The split-second was all I needed to see how worn he looked. Definitely time for a recharge.
“Oh no!” I exclaimed, loud enough to get the attention of everyone in the kitchen area. “Guess what I forgot when I was grocery shopping yesterday?”
Seb somehow managed to roll his eyes and simultaneously shoot daggers out of them at me. “Zain,” he whispered, “don’t–”
“French-fried onions! What will our green bean casserole be without them?” I lamented. “Would any store have them at this time of day, do you think?”
Maeve turned from her command post at the oven and said, “Go now. Sebby, you too. You can split up and check more stores that way. Hurry.”
“Yes, chef!” I said, saluting her as I towed Seb out of the room.
Behind us, I could just make out his sister, Quinn, saying, “I petition once again to not let him do the last grocery run, since he always seems to conveniently leave something.”
“Uh-oh, think they’re catching on to our scheme, babe?” I asked, under my breath.
He huffed. “They’re catching on to you. It’s not my scheme.”
“Hmmmm, might have to come up with something different next year.”
At the door, he tried to snatch the car keys off the hook first. We were far enough to be out of earshot of the kitchen, so I swatted him as I took them instead. He muffled his yelp and glared at me. Sticking my tongue out, I grabbed his bag and dropped the strap over his head before leading him into the garage.
While we got in the car, he said, “I do not need an escape route! Or my family thinking we don’t like being around them!”
“Pretty sure they’ll just assume we’re sneaking off for some nookie,” I said, grinning. I buckled my seat belt, checked the mirrors, and started the engine. “And how’s that worse than you disappearing without any explanation, which is what was gonna happen in about an hour?”
“It was not.”
His face twisted adorably. Getting to see that in person, after so much time away from him in Annapolis, was one of the highlights of my short leave.
As we waited for the garage door to open, he asked, “What are you going to do if we can’t actually find French-fried onions?” A valid concern, since we’ve struck out on my ‘forgotten’ items in the past.
“I paid for them and left them at the customer service desk at Target. We’re just going to pick them up,” I said, backing the car out. “Now hush and meditate.”
He sighed, but closed his eyes.
Target was attached to Capitola Mall, about twenty minutes away. I monitored him with frequent glances during the drive over. Gradually, his fidgeting fingers stilled, his shoulders lowered, and his breathing evened out. I drove the long way around the parking lot once we arrived, slowly, to give him an extra five minutes. Then I pulled into a space near the entrance.
“We’re here, habibi.”
He blinked and looked over. “Thanks. Sorry about… before.”
Smiling, I leaned across the console to give him a kiss. “You can grump at me any time you want, babe. C’mon, let’s get the onions.”
We made our way inside, and right to the customer service desk, where the same employee I’d spoken to the day before saw us coming and pulled out the canister of French’s from beneath the counter, wrapped in a plastic bag.
“You’re back!” she said. “We’ve all been trying to figure out why you wanted to put a hold on only this and take the rest of the groceries with you. Care to satisfy our curiosity?”
“Oh, it was just a contingency plan,” I said, taking it from her.
She frowned between me and Seb, who now wore a faint blush. “Like, in case you didn’t have enough at home?”
“Something like that,” I agreed. “Thanks for keeping it safe for me. I hope you’re not working all day?”
“I’m off soon,” she said, brightening. “I get to just show up to eat dinner without having to pitch in on the cooking, so it works out.”
“Well, have a happy Thanksgiving!”
“Thanks, you too!”
Seb started to head directly for the parking lot as we turned away. I caught his hand and tugged him in the opposite direction, saying, “I think Art of Santa Cruz is open.” He usually can’t resist taking a peek inside the gallery of local artists that operates in the mall, conveniently right next to Target.
“Zain, my family is waiting.”
“We won’t be long,” I promised.
The windows of the gallery were brightly-lit, and the door stood wide. I’d checked their holiday hours yesterday and knew there wasn’t much time before they closed, but it would be enough.
All the resistance went out of Seb as we walked in. “Oh, there’s a new…” Trailing off, he dropped my hand to cross to a wall of watercolor paintings.
I smiled. I love watching him look at art. He sees all the skill that went into it, the nuances of meaning and emotion, the subtle allusions that connect it to a wider context. More than that, the expression of pure awestruck happiness he gets when he’s standing in front of a favorite work is amazing.
He wandered, with me trailing behind, for about ten minutes before the gallery attendant politely let us know they were closing. We wished her a happy Thanksgiving and left. Once again, Seb started towards the exit. “Hang on,” I said, “I want a pretzel from over there.”
With an incredulous tone, he said, “You’re going to be eating half your bodyweight in a couple of hours.”
“Always room for–”
I broke off abruptly. A group of teenagers had appeared from around the corner by the pretzel stand, laughing and holding shopping bags. At first I wasn’t sure of what I was seeing. When they turned towards us, though, I got a direct view of the boy in the middle’s face.
It was like a reflection in a mirror that showed how you looked six years ago.
My mouth formed his name without conscious intervention, soundlessly at first, and then calling across the distance between us. “Omar!”
He glanced around, clearly unsure where the shout had come from. I raised my hand in a tentative wave as my heart pounded. The moment he saw me, the confusion grew stronger for an instant. Then recognition overtook it, and shock, and a hint of anger, its icy, jagged edges cutting and freezing me in place.
One of the other boys in the group noticed he’d stopped walking, and looked at me before asking him a question. Omar shook his head. After saying something to the rest of the group, he spun around and strode away from me, leaving them scrambling to catch up.
My hand was still raised by my shoulder, fingers curled slightly. I dropped it to my side and swallowed.
“Z?” Seb asked, from right next to me.
I hated how his voice sounded, and how my own threatened to crack as I said, not looking at him, “Actually, I don’t want to ruin my appetite.”
“Yeah,” I confirmed. Clearing my throat, I turned back to Target. “C’mon, let’s go home.”
He was silent until we got to the car, where he said, “I’ll drive.” I surrendered the keys and got into the passenger seat without comment.
The last time I saw Omar, I’d been fifteen, a year younger than he was now. He’d been eight, nearly nine. Despite the time that had passed, I could still picture how frightened and lost he and Aliya both looked when I said goodbye.
Did my parents ever tell them the full story? Did they know about the cards I’d sent on their birthdays? I had never gotten any form of response. From the way Omar reacted in the mall, perhaps he was still ignorant of why I had to leave. If he knew, and believed as my parents did, disgust would be a more appropriate emotion than anger.
An old, familiar nausea filled my stomach and mouth as I remembered the worst day of my life.
“Mom, Dad? I want to tell you something. Can we sit down?”
Nerves make my hands shake. I’m doing it. I’m going to disappoint them so much. Will it ever be worth it? No, what am I doing? I can’t!
But then I think of Seb, blushing as he hands me a lemon snow cone, watching me across the boardwalk when he thinks I’m not looking, laughing so hard at my stupid jokes on the Ferris wheel that the car we’re in rocks back and forth.
I tell them.
Mom doesn’t seem to comprehend my words. She makes me repeat myself over and over. Dad is silent and grim-faced for a long time. When he speaks, he says, “Go to your room. Do not talk to your brother and sister.”
I pace around my bed for ten minutes, twenty, an hour. I can hear them talking, not what they say. I want to creep down the hallway and eavesdrop, but no sense in making this worse.
Finally, they come in. Mom says, “I have called your uncle Mohammed. He agreed Omar and Aliya can go to live with him, so you can stay here and get well.”
That makes no sense.
“What do you mean? He lives in Egypt. You’re sending them to Egypt? Why? And what do you mean, ‘get well’? I’m not sick, Mom.”
“You ARE,” she says. I flinch. I’ve never heard her raise her voice like that.
Dad says, “You have an illness, my son, and you will see a doctor who can fix it, and they will go where they are safe until you’re cured. It’s okay. It isn’t your fault.”
“No!” I say. “It isn’t an illness, it’s who I am. They can’t catch it from me!”
“Omar cannot stay here!” Mom says, ugly with pain. “Aliya will go with him so he is not alone.”
“I don’t understand,” I say, experiencing what she probably did right after I told her. “Why can’t he stay?”
She sobs, and I feel my heart breaking. Dad answers. “His room is just down the hall. We cannot watch you all day and all night. We must keep each of you safe. This is the best way.”
The realization of what he means chokes me, makes me feel sick.
“You– you think I would–?”
I turn away and puke on the carpet. As I’m straightening up, Mom tries to hug me. I fight her. I don’t want either of them near me right now. She lets go, lets me run down the hall and into the bathroom, where I lock the door and bend over the toilet, dry-heaving.
There’s silence when the spasms stop. I brush my teeth, splash water on my face, and go to find them. I need to explain again. I didn’t do it right the first time, is all. They’ll understand once I clarify things.
Mom’s alone in my room, on her knees, scrubbing the carpet with a brush. Her tears fall and mix with the foamy mess.
“Mom,” I say. “I would never hurt Omar. I’m his big brother. I protect him and Aliya. You have to believe me.”
She doesn’t look up. “I believe you think that you wouldn’t hurt him,” she says, “but you are ill. You need to be cured. We love you, and we will cure you.” Standing, she wipes her face and nods to the stain. “Let that soak awhile.” Then she goes out, shutting the door gently behind her.
I lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling. This can’t be happening. It can’t.
Crying starts from Aliya’s room first, and then Omar’s. I hear their voices.
“I don’t wanna live in Egypt! I don’t wanna leave my friends!”
“Why does Zain get to stay, Baba? It’s not fair!”
“Why, Mama? What did we do?”
Seb is online when I wake up my computer and log into Facebook. I open a chat window with him and type, I came out. My parents are freaking.
He replies immediately. What?? How? Are you okay???
They think… I delete it. I can’t even write what they think. They want to send my little brother and sister to Egypt. To protect them. I don’t know. They want me to go to conversion therapy. They keep calling it an ‘illness’ and saying they need to ‘cure’ me.
This time, there’s a longer pause before he says, Come live with me.
I stare at the words. Could I? If I did, would my parents let Omar and Aliya stay here, with everything they know and love? I have to try. I have to protect them.
Your mom and dad wouldn’t mind? I ask.
We have a guest suite, he says. There’s plenty of room.
Go ask them, I write. I need more than that. Please.
He’s gone for a few minutes. From the noises and protests floating through the house now, they’re packing up my siblings’ things. We have to move fast.
I see the indication he’s typing again, but when the message comes through, it says, Zain, this is Seb’s mom, Maeve. Are you hurt?
No, I tell her. They wouldn’t hurt me.
Ok, she writes. Of course you can live here with us if you need to, but do you think it would help for Seb’s dad and I to come over and talk to them, help them understand, so you can stay at home?
I shake my head and type back, They won’t listen to me. They want my siblings to leave NOW. I have to go, and then they’ll let them stay.
We’ll pick you up, she says.
They arrive as I finish throwing all my most important possessions and some clothes into a backpack. I go answer the doorbell, and my dad comes out of Aliya’s room and finds Maeve and Charlie both in the entranceway.
“What is going on here?” he asks, looking between us in distress. “Zain?”
“Dad,” I say, standing up as tall as I can, “I’m not going to a doctor. I’m not sick. I’m not going to hurt myself or anyone else because I’m gay, but if you can’t see that, then I’ll go live with Mr. and Mrs. Crews so you don’t need to worry. So Omar and Aliya don’t need to move to Egypt.”
I don’t see Mom at the end of the hall until she says “No! You will not go with strangers!”
“They’re not strangers,” I say. “They’re the parents of my friend, Keegan.” I hope and pray they don’t recall that Keegan’s little brother is really the one I’m closest to, or they could freak out even more. “I’ve been to her house before, remember?”
“You need to see the doctor,” Mom insists, “so you can get better!”
I flatly refuse, and that’s the start of a long argument. Mom cries again. Maeve and Charlie both defend me, while also showing a small degree of sympathy to my parents — not to their position, but to their fear of losing their son. They promise they’ll make sure I’m safe and well-fed, that I’ll stay in school and keep my grades up, that they’ll let my parents know how I’m doing. They also refuse to take me to conversion therapy.
My dad comes around first, and joins them in convincing my mom this is the best way. Finally, she agrees as well, sobbing. He takes her to the kitchen alone to calm her down. That’s when I go to say goodbye to my siblings.
Both of them are in Aliya’s room. “Zain!” Omar cries when I come in. “What’s happening? Baba said we had to move to Egypt, and then told us to stay in here.”
At twelve, Aliya understands a bit more than he does about what’s going on, I think, but not everything. I’m glad for that. “You don’t have to move,” I say. “I’m going to go away for a little while.”
“Whhyyyy?” Omar wails. Aliya and I both hush him before my parents can overhear.
“It’s not for long, little man,” I say as I pull him into a hug. “Only until we figure some stuff out. I bet I’ll be back in time for your birthday next month, okay?”
“Are you gonna get me Legos?” he asks.
“Nah, I thought I’d get you socks,” I say.
He laughs. “No, Legos!”
“Okaaay, Legos,” I agree.
I hear my parents coming back from the kitchen, so I give them both another huge bear-hug, and kisses on their foreheads, and leave them.
I don’t know if he ever got the Lego set I left, wrapped and with a note, on the doorstep. After I rejoined the adults in the living room, my parents told me their one condition for me moving out was that I didn’t see Omar or Aliya “until you’ve gone to the doctor.” Or they would be sent to Egypt. Maeve looked furious, but when she started to argue, they threatened to renege on the whole deal. I quickly interrupted and swore I wouldn’t.
When I dropped off the present, I was terrified they’d see it as breaking that promise. Charlie told me that my siblings were still in the US and doing fine, though, according to my parents, whom he kept in touch with as agreed. I figured that meant birthday cards would be okay. I didn’t want to risk pushing it further. Even when Aliya turned eighteen last year and could no longer be forced to go anywhere she didn’t want to, I kept my distance. I hadn’t seen her since the worst day, either.
“Z? You okay?”
We were pulling into the driveway. I could remember nothing of the trip. Seb looked over worriedly as he parked the car in the garage, and made no move to get out after killing the engine.
I glanced down at the canister of French-fried onions in my lap. “I’m… hungry.”
With a frown, he said, “Quint would tell me that’s a physical state, not an emotional one.”
“Gonna tattle on me?” I asked, but he didn’t seem amused. I sighed and sobered my voice. “It can be emotional, too. When it means ‘longing.’”
“It’s been seven years,” he said. “How many more will this last?”
“That’s not up to me, habibi,” I said.
He unbuckled his seat belt to reach way over the console, almost climbing into my lap, and kissed me. I took the offering of strength in it, hugging him around the shoulders.
“Alright, we’ve got a green bean casserole waiting,” I said as I released him.
All through dinner, he kept checking on me with little glances. I was aware that I wasn’t up to standard with my usual chatty cheerfulness, and it was attracting odd looks from the rest of the family as well. Maeve asked if I was feeling okay.
“He’s just tired,” Seb said, before I could answer. “He doesn’t get much time to rest at the Academy.”
If I didn’t watch him, he was going to turn his bad habit of deflecting worry off himself into deflecting it off both of us. Still, I really didn’t feel like discussing what had happened right then, so I let the excuse stand.
He went missing at some point during the party prep after we’d all eaten our fill. I noticed he wasn’t making punch like Maeve had asked and walked through the entire lower floor looking for him. He was nowhere.
However, just as I was about to go check the usual hiding places, I spotted him descending the staircase into the living room. I went and casually stood at the bottom of it. The second he saw me, his feet faltered. Tipping my head, I smiled at him as he came the rest of the way down, slower. At the bottom, he tried to sidestep around me, and I pinned him up against the final baluster, my hands on the railing blocking him in.
“Why are my Seb-senses tingling again, d’you reckon?” I asked in a low, amused voice. I got nothing but the Bambi eyes in response. With a peck of my lips on the tip of his nose, I settled in to wait.
“…I did a thing.”
That surprised me a little, only because it sounded like the start of a confession to some misdeed, and I was expecting something more stress-related. “‘Kay?”
He swallowed. “Um, I found Omar’s Facebook profile and sent him a friend request with a message explaining who I am and asking him to come to the party.”
Now I was approaching ‘shocked.’ Seb is really not the type to do something like that without discussing it with me. My immediate concern was for him. What if Omar reacted badly? “What did he say?” I asked.
With a shake of his head, he replied, “He accepted the friend request but hasn’t responded to the message. I’m sorry, did I make things worse?”
“No, habibi, of course not!” I said, giving him a hug and speaking into his ear. “You were trying to help. And he accepted the friend request. That’s a good sign.”
I had to believe it was, and not a mistake. The best way to find out might be to send him a friend request myself. If he rejected it, though, did I really want that clouding mine and Seb’s Thanksgiving any more? I decided to wait until tomorrow.
Seb stuck close to my side as the party guests started arriving. It was a pleasant change of pace, actually, from having to convince him to let me look out for him at events like this, even when I knew it was because he was looking out for me. I ran interference on the few predictable busybodies trying to tell him what diabetics could and couldn’t eat, while he alternated between watching me like a hawk and glancing at his phone for a return message from Omar. It worked nicely.
Then the evening began coming to a close, people leaving for their own homes once again. The tiredness had also returned to Seb’s eyes. I was dragging him upstairs to his bed, ignoring all objections about needing to help clean up, when Dax called from the front door, “Hey, Zain! I found you a mini-me!”
I stared down at Omar, standing in the foyer.
He ran one hand through the mop of curls on his head, from back to front. “Hi.”
Neither of us moved for a moment. Then Seb was rushing to the bottom of the staircase, saying, “The study. You can talk in there.”
I followed him, gesturing for Omar to go ahead of me. As I passed Dax, he whispered, “That’s your brother isn’t it?”
I nodded, knowing the entire family would be informed within five minutes. They’d probably all be waiting outside the study door when we emerged.
As I entered, Seb flicked on the floor lamps to either side of the desk and then said, “I’ll go and leave you two alone.”
“No, babe,” I said, getting in his way. “I want you here. You’re the one who made this happen.”
“Yeah, I know you guys have this party every year, but I wouldn’t have come otherwise,” Omar said. His voice was so deep. I blinked as my eyes prickled.
“You grew up, little man.”
He shrugged and sat on the edge of the desk. “That’s what happens when you leave a kid for years and years.”
“Zain didn’t leave you!”
“Shh, it’s alright, babe,” I said, brushing my palm over Seb’s lower back. “Omar, I didn’t want to leave you. Do you remember the day I moved out?”
“I remember you said you’d be back for my birthday, and you weren’t.”
“I thought I would be,” I said. “Did you get the Legos I left? And the cards?”
Snorting dismissively, he shook his head. “I didn’t want Legos and cards, I wanted my big brother. You never bothered to drop by, say ‘hello, how you doing, bro?’ I only came to tell you it’s too late now.”
“I couldn’t,” I said, fear that I was losing my chance rising in me. “Mom and Dad… what did they tell you about why I left?”
“Nothing,” he replied. “Aliya and I stopped asking years ago. We figured they didn’t know, either.”
“They knew,” Seb said, darkly. “It’s them you should be pissed at.”
His eyebrows collided together. “What do you mean?”
I sighed and went to sit in one of the chairs facing the desk. Rather than taking the other one, Seb rested lightly on the arm of mine. To Omar, I asked, “The day I left, do you remember Mom and Dad saying you had to go live with Uncle Mohammed in Egypt?”
“…Vaguely. Yeah, actually, I do, because Aliya was upset about it making her miss some event at school. Then they told us to unpack and acted like it never happened.”
“Because I left,” I said. “They wanted to separate us. I got them to agree to me going so you guys wouldn’t have to.”
He looked so confused, and so young again, like that day. “You’re lying,” he said. “Why would they send us to Egypt to separate us?”
“Because I came out,” I replied, glancing to Seb.
“So what?” he asked. “You’re gay. It’s hardly a big deal around here.”
Relief washed over me, even though it was clear he still had doubts about my story. Seb squeezed my shoulder as he explained, with a touch of anger, “Your parents accused Zain of wanting to molest you.”
Hearing it flat-out like that roiled my stomach. But it worked. Omar’s mouth dropped open. “They did?” he breathed.
“Not wanting to, exactly,” I said. “They just seemed to think it was inevitable, and that they had to send you away to protect you until I was ‘cured.’ They told me if I tried seeing you, they’d ship you off to Egypt. Don’t let them know we met like this, alright?”
Omar absorbed that for an endless few seconds, and then nodded. “I won’t. Zain…” He trailed off, looking down at his lap.
Before I knew it, I was on my feet and pulling him into a hug. He was actually an inch taller than me, I realized, feeling old. “We’re never going to get those years back,” I told him. “I don’t want to miss any more.”
He clung to me. “Neither do I.”
“How long can you stay?” asked Seb.
“My curfew’s in about an hour.”
I drew back enough to smile at him. “Wanna have some pie and catch up?”
“Got any pumpkin?” he asked.
“Do we have any pumpkin,” I repeated. “You have the nerve to come into Maeve McKenna’s house on Thanksgiving and ask if she has pumpkin pie? Little man, you are about to experience the best pumpkin pie that has ever or will ever grace your tastebuds with its presence, okay?”
He laughed, stepping out of my arms. “Where is it?”
“In the kitchen,” I said. “First, though, babe, could you…?” I jerked my thumb at the door, and he nodded and opened it just enough to slip around. There was the sound of footsteps scattering in all directions.
Poking his head back in, he said, “All clear.”
“Awesome,” I said. “Oh, also, Omar, meet your future brother-in-law, Seb.”
They shook hands. “Thanks for inviting me,” Omar said.
“Thanks for coming,” Seb replied, smiling, as they followed me out the door.
We talked about everything we could think of while he ate pie. I found out he still played with Legos, though now he’d advanced to using them to build robots, which he entered into competitions with a team. It sounded like he had a crush on a girl on the team. His Arabic was still horrible, despite having now visited our Egyptian relatives more than I had. To Seb’s delight, he took French in school. Aliya was studying abroad in Scotland. He’d tell her the real reason I left and try to arrange a meeting when Seb and I came back for winter break. I thanked him for that, but cautioned him to be careful. I didn’t want my parents finding out.
When he had to leave, we walked him to the door, all promising to stay in touch on Facebook. And then with one last hug, he was getting on his bike and coasting down the driveway.
Seb and I went upstairs to his room. He was the wrong kind of quiet as we got ready for bed. I waited for him to crawl under the covers next to me and then rolled over on top of him.
“‘Sup?” I asked.
He bit his lip. Swooping down, I pressed my own to it until he stopped.
Right when we parted, he asked, “Z, do you ever wish you hadn’t come out to your parents when you did? That you waited until Omar and Aliya were grown?”
“No,” I said, instantly. “I wish Mom and Dad reacted differently, but there’s nothing I can do about that. If I hadn’t come out to them then, I wouldn’t have been able to start dating you so soon after. If I had to wait for Omar to grow up, I still wouldn’t be dating you now, come to think of it. So yeah, no. You’re worth it, habibi.”
“Even though I’m diabetic and neurotic and I meddled–”
I cut him off with my palm over his mouth. “Really don’t want to have to spank you here, brat. Finding quiet implements is a pain in more than one way.”
His eyes widened and his cheeks heated under my fingers.
Figuring my warning worked, I let go and continued, “Yes, even with every so-called negative label you can possibly apply to yourself, and your ‘meddling’ — which got me the one thing besides you that I’m truly thankful for this year, by the way — you’re worth it. Got that?”
He nodded and curled up into me. “Yeah.”
He was more than worth it, actually. Thinking about it after he fell asleep, I decided I would go through a hundred repeats of the worst day of my life for an average day with him. And Thanksgiving was definitely an above-average day.