“She’s lying! I’m not a lesbian!”
The features on Abby’s beautiful face fall and Riley’s heart crashes into her stomach. She’s brought back to high school. Everyone realizing that she was gay from the girl that supposedly loved her oh so much. The weeks of her parents not meeting her eye, the whispers in the hall. Sure, her parents had come around eventually. They put their pride flag on their Facebook photos in June. They were inclusive in how they spoke of her future partner. But it didn’t change that for 7 weeks, 3 days and 5 hours, her father didn’t say a single word to her.
Nothing will excuse Harper being outed in front of pretty much their entire circle. But Riley cannot focus on her feelings right now. Instead, she’s looking at Abby. The girl who forced herself to celebrate Christmas for Harper. Who’s put up with the Caldwell’s insanity for her. Who’s lied and hidden who she was, all for Harper. And now…this girl can’t even claim her.
Abby wordlessly slips out the door. John rises and Riley rushes over to him, putting a hand on his arm. “I’ve got this.”
He looks at her curiously, but nods. Riley grabs her coat and locates Abby’s, the very one she complimented at the other party they attended just days ago. She slips into the freezing cold winter’s night. Her eyes dart around the caravan of cars, straining her eyes that so badly need glasses.
Less than a minute of searching and she locates her. Standing behind a black SUV, mascara leaking from her seafoam green eyes. Abby’s clutching her gray suit jacket over her barely buttoned dress shirt. It’s probably one of the gayest outfits Riley’s ever seen. How no one has been suspicious up to this point is a mystery. Abby looks up, her face pitiful.
“Wanna get out of here?” Riley asks.
“Oh God, yes.”
It’s how they end up back at that same bar, a couple of beers in front of them. Abby doesn’t touch hers, her mind clearly a million miles away as she stares into space.
Riley sets her beer down. “Where are you?”
Abby cocks an eyebrow. “In a dive bar?”
Riley rolls her eyes. “You know what I mean.”
Finally, Abby takes a sip of her beer. “Yeah, I do. I just…God.” She lets out a breath. “I knew it was going to end. In the back of my mind, I always did. I wanted this so badly, to give her everything. But she…”
“I get it, I do. Coming out is terrifying. And after meeting her family,” Abby makes a face as she takes another sip of her beer. “It’s understandable why she feels they’d never get it.” She glances at Riley. “You know them better than I do. Am I missing something?”
“Sadly no. It’s just how parents are around here.” Riley shrugs, shaking her head. “They expect perfection, because any less will get their kids and themselves gossiped about.”
“She said that she had to earn her parents’ love,” Abby mutters into the top of her glass. “I can’t imagine that.”
“Because you had decent parents. And I don’t necessarily think that Tipper and Ted are bad ones. They’re just a product of their environment. This is how their parents were and so on.”
“Are your parents like that?”
Riley is quiet for a moment. “They were and still are in some ways. I get Harper’s fear about coming out, I had it.”
“But your parents are accepting.”
“Now. They never threatened to kick me out or send me to conversion therapy, but my father didn’t talk to me for a while. My mom refused to acknowledge it.”
“I don’t know, honestly. All I know is that at one point, things were better. But they still put a ton of pressure on me and I think part of it was out of fear. Yes, we’re white and rich but being gay…they didn’t want me to get hurt.”
“My mom was like that too. She didn’t care if I came out but she still told me to be careful.”
“It’s a hard line to walk. I was nearly an adult when Harper outed me, but in some ways I was still a kid. They had to protect me. For Harper, she is an adult. They have no obligation to her. Losing your parents…isn’t easy.”
Abby nods, but still has a faraway look about her. Riley knows that this doesn’t help. Abby had great, supportive parents, so she doesn’t understand having to earn your parents’ love. It’s hard coming out, even to amazing parents, let alone ones that already judge your every step. Yet, that doesn’t change that Harper has treated Abby like shit this past week. She chose her ex-boyfriend over her. She allowed the family to talk down to her and exclude her from events. And to protect herself, Harper shoved Abby back into the closet. None of that was fair. Harper’s history only adds context, not a band aid to the situation.
“Still doesn’t change that she treated you like crap,” Riley continues and Abby meets her eyes once more. “She’s been through her own stuff, but she doesn’t get to closet you or treat you horribly.”
“She’s going through a lot…”
“Doesn’t excuse it. She was going through a lot when she outed me to our friends and it doesn’t mean it was okay.”
Abby looks back at her. “Did you forgive her?”
“Yes. It took time, years even. I was so mad at her and wanted a chance to yell at her, have it out. And then I realized I was carrying so much anger, it only hurt me. So, I forgave her, not for her. But for me.”
Abby partially smiles. “That sounds nice.”
“It doesn’t mean I’d ever give her a second chance. She hurt me, badly. And I’m not saying that this has to be it for you two. If you can forgive her, if you can work past it, that’s great. But also think about it if she can really change, if she wants to. Or if you’re always going to be her secret every time you come to town. Because you deserve more than that, Abby.”
Abby’s smile slowly grows. Riley matches it and gently clinks her glass against hers. They sit there in silence for a bit longer, listening to the performers and the mindless chatter of those who have no one to go home to for Christmas. It’s nice, peaceful. Different than Riley’s usual Christmas Eve, but she wouldn’t change it.
And then Abby’s phone dings.
Abby looks down at her phone, raising an eyebrow. It’s Harper.
She strains her eyes to look out the window and frowns when she finds her ex-girlfriend standing there. Abby glances back at Riley, who shrugs.
“Up to you,” she whispers.
Abby reflects on Riley’s words. She understands Harper’s world so much more and yet she’s still so hurt. She’s not sure if she’s ready to forgive Harper yet, if ever. Can she find the peace Riley has? She supposes she’ll only know if she tries.
Abby forces her jacket over her body and walks out of the bar into the bitter Christmas Eve air. “How did you know where to find me?”
“I tracked you, John taught me.”
Of course. “And what are you doing here?”
“You…you’re my family,” Harper says, pressing her hands to her chest. “You are the love of my life!”
“You haven’t acted like it.”
Harper sucks back a breath. “I know. I’ve been terrible and I wish that I could undo everything.”
But you can’t, Abby thinks to herself. She can’t just take back this past week. How she acted, how she let others treat her. And it’s weird to think that until this week, Abby thought they could move past anything. Now, she’s not so sure.
“But if you give me a second chance, I promise you, I’ll do better.”
Abby bites her lip. “But wasn’t this already your second chance?” Harper tilts her head, looking ridiculously, hatefully adorable and stupid. “You did the same thing to Riley.” Harper’s cheeks burn and she briefly ducks her head. “Made her think she hung the moon and then you ripped it all away, denying her just like you denied me.”
“I…I’ve made a lot of mistakes. But I don’t want to anymore. I promise you, I can make this up to you, I want to spend the rest of my life making it up to you.” Harper grabs hold of Abby’s hands. Her mittens warm Abby’s fingers, but a part of her still feels chilled. “I told my parents. I don’t care what they think or how they handle it. All I want is you.”
And that should mean something, shouldn’t it? That Harper found the will to come out to her parents, that she put aside her fears. Yet, it comes after so much pain that Harper inflicted. Abby saw a side of her this past week that she isn’t sure that she likes. Coming out doesn’t fix that.
There’s eagerness in Harper’s eyes, ready to start over. Pretend like nothing happened. They can return to their apartment and go back to their lives. At least this time, they’re both out and can share the world.
Abby just isn’t sure if she wants to. The engagement ring burns a hole in her suitcase. It’s something she’s wanted to present to Harper on Christmas morning. Except, she wanted to give it to the Harper she knew a week prior. The one who didn’t hide her, who was proud of her. Who didn’t act like…well, how she had. Abby wants to believe that she can make up for it, that she can be the girl that Abby wants.
Yet, the past is a good indicator of the future. This is the second time that Harper has hurt someone because of her own issues. She doesn’t need a girlfriend, she needs therapy.
Abby slowly pulls away from her, watching the hope drain from Harper’s face. “I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I just…I can’t.”
“I’m so happy that you were honest with yourself.”
“I came out to them. It’s over.”
Abby shakes her head. “Closeting us both wasn’t the only issue and you know it. I’m so proud of you and I love you…but I can’t be with you anymore. I…” She goes to apologize, but stops herself. She’s got nothing to be sorry for. “This is just how it needs to be.”
“Please,” Harper’s voice breaks, a single tear falling down her face. “I’ll do anything.”
Abby shakes her head. “I’ll be out of the apartment by the time you get home.”
She turns around, so Harper can’t see her own tears. Abby makes it back to the table, dropping down and rubbing furiously at her face. She digs her phone out and asks John to grab her stuff, saying they can get a motel for the night.
“I take that it didn’t go well?” Riley pipes up.
Abby glances up. “It went pretty well, actually. I finally put myself first.”
Riley smiles, rising her glass. “Well, cheers to that.” She glances down at the phone. “You don’t need to get a motel. You and John can stay at my place.”
“Seriously. I have a guest room, not in the basement.”
A loud, rippling laugh breaks out from Abby’s lips. She hadn’t realized how badly she needed to laugh.
“Okay.” She sends a new text to John. “If you don’t mind spending Christmas with a couple of gay misfits.”
“You’ll be in good company.”
And maybe it’s the smile on Riley’s face or the beer, but suddenly Abby is the one renewed with hope.