This story is by Z.L. Dali and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
She had screwed up. There was no better way to describe it. Lailah sat on the park bench, only the lamp post above providing the ability to see the note clutched in her fingers. For the fifth time that night, she re-read the note.
“I can’t do this anymore. Goodbye. -Ally”
She left. Lailah didn’t blame her.
Flashbacks flickered through her mind from the past few days. Everything had been going great. Friday, they had gone to see the old black and white movie Ally loved; Lailah even made sure to smuggle in their favorite popcorn from the shop down the road. Ally had mouthed along with each word, a side effect from 25 years of re-watches. That night- she had thought- was going to be perfect.
Lailah took in a shaky breath, shifting on the park bench. She squeezed the note, begging the pressure to make it disappear like a bad dream. A nightmare that, any moment, she would wake up from. Eyes closed, she begged the cosmos for help. If only she could rewind time. She would give anything to go back and redo their last dinner. If the universe was kind, it would allow her to stop them from ever stepping foot into that damn restaurant ever again. A car honking in the distance threw her back into reality.
Dinner had been a disaster. The plan had been to have a beautiful dinner and walk home to a candle lit apartment for a surprise. Nowhere in the itinerary did it call for Lailah’s mother to show up. For the woman to sit down – uninvited – and plan to eat with them. For the biggest secret between Lailah and Ally to finally be revealed.
“I’ve been telling my coworkers about you two.” Mother had sung.
“Oh?” The question leaving Lailah’s mouth before she had a chance to swallow it down.
“Yes.” Ordering a glass of chardonnay from the enthusiastically waved down waiter, she continued. “They love that the two of you are living together.”
The smile emanating from Ally in that moment would be short lived. Lailah had known it then, too. The universe sending physic signals their second year anniversary was about to come crashing down.
“We had all been nervous at first, but the two of you have been doing so great.”
Ally was eyeing the onion petals being placed in the middle of the table. “Why were you nervous?”
“Well, you know what they say about friends who live together…”
Ally’s hand stopped it’s trek to her mouth. “I’m sorry, friends that live together?”
“Yes.” Mother managed to mumble through the onion pedals stuffed in her mouth. “They say that friends usually split up once having lived together after a while. The two of you, though.” She pointed admiringly at the both of them. “Strongest best friends I’ve ever seen. I could never live with Shelly and we’ve been friends since the 80’s.”
Lailah remembered, vividly, the look in Ally’s eyes as they glazed over before she mumbled, “Strongest best friends you’ve ever seen…”.
The rest was a blur. Angry glances. Shrimp scampi. Garlic parmesan chicken. Mother’s pointless rambling. It had all been a preamble to the argument they both knew was coming. Lailah could have used that time to come up with a better defense argument, but she had none. The two year long lie was finally out and there was no going back.
Rain began to sprinkle down around Lailah and the park bench, tiny droplets bouncing off her shoulders in a symphony of dejection and misery. The memories wouldn’t stop even if she wanted them too.
“Ally wait!” Lailah had yelled, running down the sidewalk in her old and battered Converse.
“No, Lailah.” Ally barked back, power walking like her life depended on it.
Lailah had eventually caught up to her, huffing a bit from the unexpected jog. “Ally, please. I’m sorry, just wait.”
“You lied to me.”
“I know. I know and I’m sorry.”
“I told you I didn’t want to be in a closet again. That was the only stipulation of us starting to date! You promised you wouldn’t keep me in one and now I’ve been, unknowingly, thrown in a closet for the past two years.” She shook her head, the motion taking her into another angry tromp down the sidewalk.
“I tried, I did! But you know how she is. How I am.”
Ally stopped, fuming in anger like she always did when she held herself back. “Are you ashamed of being gay?”
Lailah stared back in shock. “I – what?”
Ally pressed on, eyes filled with an emotion Lailah hadn’t seen before. “Are you ashamed of being gay?”
She remembered just blinking. A part of her had known, at that moment, everything was going to fall apart. “I…” she swallowed hard, “I don’t know.”
Ally’s brows rose in disbelief. “Why?”
Ally crossed her arms, shoulders squared in a way that screamed ‘lie to me, I dare you’. “Is that why you refuse to go to any of your family’s gatherings together? You’re ashamed of us?”
Lailah took a step towards her, arms outstretched. Ally took a step back, shaking her head. “Ally, please.”
“No.” She commanded, shaking a finger in the air with one hand. “I need you to tell me the truth. Are you ashamed of us?” Their eyes met, time stopping with anticipation.
“Not in the way you think.” Lailah’s emotions began pouring through the surface, spilling over in waves she had attempted to keep tamed over the years.
“I’m ashamed of being gay, okay. I’m ashamed that I like things that I’m not supposed to. I’m ashamed that I’m not the perfect religious daughter my family wanted me to be. I’m ashamed of my own life.”
“Are you ashamed of me?”
The question had slammed into Lailah like a freight train. No, she wasn’t ashamed of Ally. She loved Ally with everything she had.
“…of course not. Ally, I love you. I love you so much.”
“But not enough to be honest with me.”
“How am I ever supposed to trust you again?”
Lailah’s heart clenched in her chest, her hands shaking with fear. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying…” Ally started, voice shaking. “I think we need a break.”
“Don’t say that, please -”
“I’m going back to the apartment to get my things. I’ll stay with Todd for now.”
“Ally please, let’s talk about this…”
“We shouldn’t have to.”
With that, Ally was gone.
Now, Lailah sat in the middle of a park bench outside her parents neighborhood, soaked from head to toe as the rain continued to fall. Two choices were staring her in the face; Continue to live in a lie and lose the love of her life, or, come out of the closet like she had promised and earn Ally’s trust back.
A Mackerel tabby scuttered from under the bench, taking refuge under a parked car. Like her, it was attempting to hide through the night unscathed. Both had failed, each one soaked to the skin. No matter what path the cat took, it continued to get wet. It scurried and jumped and hid, but in the end, it was still raining.
“Just make a decision.” Lailah thought. Whether the thought was directed to the cat or herself, she wasn’t sure.
Her mother would tell her to follow her heart. To search deep within and find peace. “If your choices don’t hurt other people or yourself, then what is there to be afraid of?” she’d say. The lying was hurting people. People she loved very much. She had known a long time ago that her choices wouldn’t end well, and yet she still made them.
“No more hiding” She thought. “It’s time to make things right.” Taking a deep breath, Lailah stood, making her way down the familiar sidewalk.
Lailah knew what path she wanted. She also knew that the path would be the hardest journey she’d ever been on. What that journey would be, she still wasn’t sure, but the possible reward was worth more than the risk. If she was lucky – very very lucky – Ally would take her back. Then, hopefully, her family would welcome her fiance with open arms. If they didn’t, it would be their loss, not hers.
With one last deep breath, she walked up the porch, and knocked on the door.