This story is by Katie Borley and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A year ago today I made one of the stupidest decisions ever. One I don’t think I could ever top.
It only took a second to ruin my brother’s life. One stupid comment and he was gone forever.
You know those days where you wake up and you just know that the universe is conspiring against you? It was one of those days. It was the first – and only – time I’ve skipped class. I just had to get out of there.
Bryce was there when I got home. “Mom and Dad got a call from the school,” he said. “Just thought you should be prepared.”
As much as I hated to admit it, he was probably right. I still remembered how much Mom and Dad freaked out when I got my ears pierced without telling them. “Next you’ll get a nose piercing, then a tattoo – what’s next, are you going to become a crack addict?”
I knew exactly how this conversation was going to go. I’d lived it a thousand times. I knew better than to talk back when they were getting on my case about something, but sometimes I just couldn’t help it.To make it worse, Bryce was always there in the background, not taking a side, with this serene look planted on his face while he patiently waited for the screaming to stop. My stupid, perfect brother.
Or at least they used to think so.
Soon enough, Mom and Dad were home. They said hello to Bryce, leaning nonchalantly against the kitchen counter, and sat across from me at the table, like it was a military interrogation.
“Do you know why we’re upset?” Mom said. She always started with that. A lot of times, I had no idea what “wrong” I’d committed.
I let out a heavy sigh. “I skipped class.”
“Not just one, but *three*. How could you? We put a roof over your head, feed and clothe you, and this is how you show your thanks? Do you think rebellious kids who don’t go to their classes will get scholarships? Have bright futures? We raised you better than this.”
“It’s not like I make a habit of it.”
“Habits have to start somewhere, young lady,” Dad chimed in.
That was when I did something insanely stupid. I looked between the three of them and their smug faces, full of disdain, clearly judging me for some horrible crime I’d apparently committed just by existing. And then a horrible thought popped into my head and before I could stop myself it was tumbling out of my mouth. I’ll never forget the look of pure betrayal and fear on Bryce’s face.
“Yeah, well, Bryce is gay!”
I don’t even know where the thought came from. That was what all the rumors at school were about; I’d never believed them before but suddenly it was the only thing I could think of to take the heat off of me. I regretted it as soon as I said it, but the damage had already been done. The look on Bryce’s face made me burst into tears.
Tears flowed silently down his face, too, and he stared at the kitchen table like he’d just been sentenced to death. “Why would you tell them that,” he whispered. And suddenly I had the horrible realization that the rumors were true.
The kitchen grew deathly silent aside from the sobbing coming from both of us. At first, my parents just stared at him. The look of shock and hatred in their eyes was palpable.
“Is it true?” Dad’s voice was shaking with rage, but at the same time he was eerily calm. They’d already made up their minds about Bryce.
Bryce could have tried to deny it but his reaction had already given himself away. Dad’s question only made him sob harder.
“Get your things,” Dad said grimly. I opened and shut my mouth several times but couldn’t think of a single thing to say to make this any better. “I want you out by tomorrow.”
Over the course of the next year my parents hardly mentioned his name; they simply pretended they had never had a son. I became an only child. If they did acknowledge him, it was only to condemn him and his choices. The more they talked about it, the more I started to believe it, too.
I didn’t know why the anniversary of him leaving felt so important, but suddenly he was all I could think about.
Afraid of incurring my parents’ wrath, I hadn’t skipped school once in the past year. I hadn’t even been late. But today, I had to find Bryce.
I hid in the school library, searching for him on social media. I’d looked at 20 different profiles for a Bryce Tanner but none of them were him. Could he have changed his name?
Finally I found him. He was Bryce Hanover now, but the profile picture was definitely my brother. The best part? He was only two hours away. I could be there before dinner.
I was a nervous wreck the whole way over. Was he still mad at me? Would he even want to talk to me?
Finally I reached his house, a little window into his new life. He lived on one of those city streets where each house is unique and colorful. The garden was full of bright flowers and lined with an adorable picket fence. I couldn’t imagine my brother living here, but after what happened between us, I wasn’t sure I knew him as well as I’d thought.
As I stepped onto the porch I caught a glimpse of him through the window. He was talking to someone else in the house that I couldn’t see. He looked… happy. Like I’d never seen him before.
I knocked on the door and waited. My heart hammered in my chest, almost drowning out the soft click as Bryce unlocked the door and pulled it open.
All the way here I’d thought about what I’d say when I saw him, but all of that went to shit. I burst into tears, but he didn’t respond, instead grabbing my hand and leading me inside.
The inside of the house was just as cute as the outside. A red-haired man stood in the kitchen, seemingly waiting for Bryce to make the first move. Still holding my hand, he led me to the table and sat down beside me.
“Tea?” His voice was just as serene and irritating as I remembered, but this time it filled me with relief.
“I’m s-sorry,” I stuttered. “For everything.”
“I didn’t ask if you were sorry. I asked if you wanted tea,” he said plainly, but I could tell even without looking at him that he was smiling.
“Tea sounds great. I didn’t realize you drank tea,” I added.
“I’m sure there’s a lot you don’t know about me.”
For a few seconds I just sat there, not even sure how to start. “Are you… are you mad at me?” I said at last.
“I was, for a while. But Dom helped me put things into perspective.” He reached for the red-haired man’s hand and gave it a squeeze.
Bryce seemed to sense my question before I’d even asked it. “Those rumors were about us.” Suddenly his tone grew serious. “What you did wasn’t right, and we both know that. But I understand why you did it. I know you didn’t mean for it to hurt me like that. As painful and difficult as that time in my life was, it turned out for the best. I spent eighteen years living under Mom and Dad’s tyrannical rule. I think I learned better than you did how to keep my head down and just be who they expected me to be. It kept them off my back, but it was killing me inside. I had to constantly worry about what they thought of me, what they knew, what my story would be if someone saw me with Dom. I never really realized how much of a toll it was taking on me until I left. And you know what? I’ve truly never been happier. I’m not going to say thank you for what you did, but I want you to know that it was ultimately for the best.”
I set my mug down and reached across the table, hugging my brother tightly. Nothing I could have said would have conveyed my feelings any better.
“Can I stay the night?” I mumbled into his shoulder.
“Can I just stay?” I felt the words pouring out of my mouth without really thinking them through. I hadn’t expected to stay here more than a couple hours, but suddenly I never wanted to go back.
Bryce squeezed tighter. “Of course, Sarah. We’re family. You’re always welcome here.”
“Family,” I repeated. This is what family is supposed to be like. Not me vs them, not them vs him, but us together.