Eli's Promise Ch. 03byPS_Lopez©
After showering, Piper had dressed and gone, explaining that she had laundry to do. I wasn't sure how true that statement had been, but she hadn't asked me to accompany her, so I hadn't suggested I do so. At least she'd spoken to me, which I took to be an indication that she wanted time alone but wasn't so upset with me she was breaking things off early. I was infatuated enough to be glad for this small indication of her continued willingness to participate in our farce.
And that infatuation was why I was at a jewelry store. I'd been to about six so far, not including this one, looking for a charm bracelet and charms. But not just any charms. I wanted them to mean something.
"She has a big wrist," I told the employee who was currently helping me out here.
"Well, these are the largest we have," he said, taking out three bracelets, all held at full length on display boards by bits of elastic. There was one I'd been hoping would be large enough, wrapped around a dainty display wrist, but that was apparently too small.
I pulled the first bracelet free of its display board with care and wrapped it around my own wrist. Piper was a bit more delicate than I was, so I'd measured my wrist as a guide. This bracelet's ends wouldn't meet. They came close, but not quite. I shook my head; when I tried to reattach it to its display board, the employee took it from me and did so. I pulled the next one free.
This one had a length of smaller links from one end of the bracelet. I was able to actually close this one around my wrist, but with nothing to spare. I shook my head and passed it back over before trying on the next one. This one didn't have that extra length, and it didn't close around my wrist. I sighed and passed it back.
"Is this a Christmas gift?" the employee asked.
"Yeah," I said. "Kind of last minute, I know, but I just realized that she'd probably really like a charm bracelet. All she has right now is costume jewelry."
"Hm," he said, putting the bracelets back in their display case. "Come with me."
I mirrored his walk around the cases to one displaying necklaces with large links similar to those the charm bracelets had consisted of. He took out four of the smaller necklaces on their boards.
"Perhaps if you got a necklace and cut it to size. You could use the end with the clasp."
I looked at him and smiled. "You're right," I said.
He smiled. "I know it'll be more expensive, but you'll have extra links this way if the bracelet breaks. Too many charms can get heavy. That's why I selected these chains; they're the strongest."
I nodded. "Thanks," I said, looking at the chains again. By careful examination, I saw where the links closed. Two had links too thick to be easily opened, but the other two I could probably work with. One was a length of single links, but the other consisted of doubled links. I chose the double-linked necklace. "This one."
He put the other three away, arranging them so the fact that one had gone missing wasn't obvious, then picked up the one I'd chosen.
"I'll go box this. Would you like a bracelet box for wrapping?" he asked.
I nodded. "Sure," I said. "Thanks."
My phone rang as he walked away, and I pulled it out. Mom. Great. I tried to remember how long ago Alec's visit had been, but the days kind of blurred into one another as if I hadn't slept since he'd tried to take me away. It had to have been at least a couple days; it took a good two days of travel from here to Sea Spring, if the driver wasn't speeding and actually slept at some point.
"Hey, Mom," I said, walking back to the display cases where the charms lay.
"Hi, Eli," she said, and I could tell by the tone of her voice that she was in her no-nonsense mood at the moment. "Could you tell me why Alec refuses to discuss you? He won't even say your name."
I sighed. "Because I refused to make a Christmas visit," I said. "I've been looking for work." It was barely truth; I hadn't been out to put applications in places since Piper had returned.
"You're allowed to take a break, you know," she said.
I chuckled a little. "Yeah, I know," I said. "And I am, but I'm also putting in applications." I reached the charms and examined each in the case.
"What did you say to him?" Mom asked.
"I basically told him to shove what he wants up his ass," I said.
"He needs to grow up and get a life, Mom!" I said. "He's selfish, self-centered, and a user. Why do you put up with him?"
"We love you both, Eli."
I sighed, leaning close to the glass to get a closer look at a particular charm. "Aren't you tired of him living off of you?"
Mom sighed. "I won't say we're not upset with him, but we don't want you two to be apart like this."
"He's the one who caused it, Mom," I said. "He wants me to be something, somebody I don't want to be. I'm tired of giving in to what he wants. I want to do what I want for once. After what I did when he came up here to drag me home, I don't trust myself to associate with him. I'll do something else stupid, and I've already ruined what little happiness I could have had."
I knew I was saying too much, but this was Mom. I wouldn't tell her Alec's secret, but I needed to talk to somebody about this. At least as much as I could.
But I wanted to tell her everything so much. I wanted to tell her that I was gay. I wanted to tell her about Piper and how happy Piper made me. I wanted to tell her everything I knew about Piper.
I wanted to tell Mom I was in love.
"What do you mean?" Mom asked. "What did you do that ruined your chance at happiness?"
I sighed. "I promised him I wouldn't tell you something," I said. "You'll have to ask him what it's about. If I tell you and things go the way he expects them to go, he'll be pissed off at me forever."
"I'll certainly do that," Mom said. "Aside from job hunting, how's your vacation going?"
The store's employee returned, smiling an apology for having left me alone for so long. I tapped the glass.
"That one," I said. "It's going okay, Mom."
"Are you busy right now?"
"Just doing a little shopping," I said. "Nothing too strenuous."
We both chuckled. The jewelry store's employee pointed at charms, his hand in the case, until I nodded when he pointed to the one I wanted. He brought it out. I pointed to another while Mom and I chatted a bit. She talked about her work, about Dad's ulcer acting up because of holiday stress, Alec's behavior since his return home and Alec's new girlfriend being a needy, whiny bitch.
We ended the call as I left the store with the necklace and two more charms. In my car, I took out everything I'd bought, wondering where to go for something to work the necklace's extra links free, and reviewed my purchases. Eleven charms. Well, any more, and I suspected the bracelet would break under its own weight, never mind it being double-linked.
At a hardware store, I found the tools I needed, and I took the lot back to my room. I wanted to call Piper, but decided to follow her lead for a while longer. If she didn't call by the time I had the bracelet finished and wrapped, I'd call her, but not before then.
It was a good thing that nail polish was idiot-proof, because Piper had just pushed the little bottle into my hand and dropped onto my bed without saying a word. I wasn't sure what to think at the moment, though she was back. After doing her laundry, she'd stayed in her own room and told me she needed some time alone.
I set the bottle on the nearest windowsill and examined Piper's left foot. The toes on her right foot looked like crap, but then, I wasn't very experienced with this.
"Have you always been this way with your brother?" she asked as I painted her big toenail. "I mean, such a doormat?"
I gave a soft chuckle. "Yeah," I said. I swallowed, trying to ignore the anger I felt at myself for being that way. "It's an old habit."
"How did it come about?" she asked.
I retrieved the nail polish and dipped the brush. "Not really sure," I said. "It just sort of happened over a number of years. Seeing him afraid makes me uncomfortable, and I never really saw myself as important enough to stand against him, I guess. It was always easier just to appease Alec than it was to resist."
"Has he always been such an asshole?"
I chuckled. "It really started when we turned fourteen," I said. I set the bottle back on the windowsill and pinched the bottom of Piper's next toe.
"What happened then?"
I sighed and painted the nail of the toe I held. "It was because I wanted to come out to Mom and Dad," I said. "I didn't realize then why he was so upset, but it didn't take me long to figure it out. I can understand his fear. Mom and Dad have never really said anything about homosexuality either way, and Alec's always been a bit chicken shit about things. What about you? When did you come out?"
"When I was thirteen," Piper said. "Jocelyn egged me into it. She knew all about me, figured me out when I was eleven, maybe sooner than that." She laughed a little. "It was so nice to have someone like her. You know, when I refused to tell our parents, she brought Harry in on it?" She laughed again. "And Harry was all for it--not upset at all that I was queerer than the sun at midnight, and I did my best to turn him away, too."
"What did you do?" I asked, now on another toenail.
"I flat-out told him I was gay, then when he was okay with that, I told him that I wanted to dress in girls' clothes. You know what he said?"
"He asked me what size dress I wear."
"Then he and Jocelyn helped me figure out what girls' sizes I was. Everything. Tops to shoes. Then they went out and bought me a girl's outfit. It was great."
I could hear the grin in her voice and smiled. "How did your parents take it?" I said.
Piper's feet shifted and I sat up a little, taking the opportunity to stretch. I watched from where I sat in the chair between the beds. When she settled again, I returned to my duty.
"That was terrifying," she said. "Jocelyn had me dress up in girls' clothes for it, too. She said she'd kind of asked around the issue to test Mom and Dad and things looked okay. So, I went out and Jocelyn came with me and Harry had come over, too. Mom and Dad looked absolutely stunned when they saw me dressed up with makeup on. I stopped just at the end of the hall and went back to my room to hide. Jocelyn and Harry took care of it after that, and I skipped supper. I could barely make myself leave my room, even in boy's clothes, the rest of the day.
"The next morning, before school, Mom came and woke me up and told me she and Dad didn't understand but that they still loved me. Then she praised me for being courageous enough to do what I did, even with Jocelyn and Harry pushing me into it." Piper sighed. "Eli, do you think your parents would really dump you and your brother out of their lives?"
I frowned, closing the bottle of nail polish, and thought about that. Like I'd told Piper, I couldn't recall any instances where Mom or Dad had said anything at all about homosexuality. Nothing good, nothing bad. If I'd had any courage when I'd lived with them, I would have asked, but after Alec shut me down about coming out, I'd just totally ignored the issue. It had been easier that way.
"I don't know," I said, shifting to sit with my back against the back of the chair. I tugged on Piper's ankles.
She sat up and scooted down the bed to settle in my lap, tucking my pillow beneath her head. She wore a pair of jeans and a Tinkerbell tee, and I slid my left hand up under the tee to rub her abdomen.
"It's hard to tell with Mom especially," I said. "She can be flaky about some things--like with me and Alec being twins--but there's a no-nonsense side to her as well. I dread being met with her flaky attitude if I ever get a chance to tell her, but it's almost scarier thinking of facing her no-nonsense side. That's the side of her that would mean the end. When Mom's no-nonsense, she expects things to happen, and it's rare that it indicates she's in a good mood.
"Sometimes I can keep Mom from browbeating me into things." I snorted a little. "But that's only when I'm able to turn her after Alec, and that's a rare opportunity."
"Why is that?" Piper asked.
"He behaves himself very well for the most part," Eli said. "Even with me. He never tested my limits as far as he did the day he showed up here. I think he thinks that if he messes up in any way with Mom and Dad, they'll figure out the truth. The life he's living isn't easy for him."
Piper folded her arms under her false breasts and frowned. "Well, he deserves it."
I sighed, shaking my head a little.
"You're still doing it," Piper said.
"What?" I asked, looking at her. "Being a doormat?"
"It's a hard habit to break," I said. "And it's something I don't quite believe I can really do sometimes. He's still my brother, and as angry as I am at him for being the way he is, I still love him. Can you hate your older brother for being the way he is about you?"
Instead of replying, Piper got out of my lap and went to sit in my desk's chair. She hunched there, arms folded as before, sitting like a guy with her head bowed for a couple minutes.
"No, I can't hate him," she said. "I'm angry at him because he's being so stupid about it, but I can't hate him." She sat silently for a couple more minutes. "He's really the reason why I stay here. He won't go to holidays with Mom and Dad if I'm there, too. All last summer, he didn't visit, didn't even call Mom and Dad, because I was home. He told them he wouldn't for that reason.
"But where else can I go for summer? I can't go to Harry's, and Jocelyn's working and she and her husband live in a teeny one bedroom place that's little more than a studio. All my friends here have families they go home to, and I don't really know any of them well enough to feel comfortable asking if I can stay with them."
I stood up and crossed the room to rest my hands on Piper's shoulders. It was all I could offer, this little bit of comfort. She sighed and rested her head against my right arm, shifting her own arms so her hands covered my fingers.
"When would you have come out to your parents, if you hadn't promised your brother?" she asked.
"Yesterday," I said. "Mom called, and I wanted to tell her then."
"What did you tell her?"
"I told her to ask Alec about what had upset him. It'll just upset him more, but at this point I don't care." I squeezed Piper's shoulders. "I think he deserves to be put on the spot, but I don't think he'll tell Mom. He'll think up some other reason, lie, or something, but he won't come out."
"I was angry yesterday," Piper said. "At you."
I nodded and kissed her head. "That's okay."
"Can we have more time, Eli?"
"No, Piper," I said. "The limit I've given is too long as it is."
She sighed. "You're probably right, but I don't want to cut it. What-what day, exactly, will we break up?"
"Karl comes back on the eighth, so probably the seventh." I leaned against the back of the chair. "I'm going to tell him I'm gay. Let him decide if he wants me to remain as his roommate. If he doesn't, I'll find my own place to live. I have enough saved. I'll find another job right away, too. I'll deal."
"Can we see each other? I mean to like hang out. As friends."
I squeezed her shoulders again. "I don't know, Piper," I said. "It depends on how we feel after we break up." I remembered telling her that we could, but I wasn't sure that would be wise now. I had a feeling that Piper was as deeply into this as I was. We'd both hurt at the end of this.
"I'll still want to see you," she said firmly. "That won't change. I'll need to see you, even if we can't date."
I smiled a little. "We'll see." I pulled my hands from beneath hers and plucked for a few seconds at the shoulder straps of her bra. "Come on," I said. "Put your boots on, I want to go out to eat."
I left her to fetch my own boots from my closet.
"What restaurants are open on Christmas Eve?" Piper asked, but I heard the chair scrape back.
"Fast food, Pizza, and Chinese, so the selection sucks. If we don't go now, we'll be down to just Chinese."
She chuckled. I closed the closet door and sat in my desk's chair. She dropped into the chair at Karl's desk.
"Eli, what's the use of us even doing this? What's it really going to get us?"
I looked at her. I had an answer, but I didn't want to share it. "I don't know, Piper, but I don't want to cut it off any sooner than we have to either."
She looked at me, expression something close to despair, then nodded and sighed. I sighed as well.
"Would you change what you've done if you had it to do over again?" she asked.
"Depends," I said. "I wouldn't make that promise to Alec. I don't know if I still would have suggested this. Would you have?"
"Honestly? Part of me says 'yes,' the rest says 'no.' Do you regret it?"
I tugged the laces of my left boot. "Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Really only when I stop to think about it. Do you?"
"Same," she said. "I try not to think about it too much."
I chuckled a little, a bit of a sad sound. "Me, too."
Piper tucked himself into the corner made by the headboard of my bed and the wall after I got up. I let him sit there. I'd finally gotten around to introducing him to bookmarks, and he closed my book over the one I'd passed to him after we'd gotten done with this reading session. I dug into my closet, looking for the bracelet, which I'd wrapped and capped with a large bow, found that it had fallen on top of my dirty clothes, and grabbed it. I took it over to where Piper sat, wrapped in the blankets we'd been snuggled under before I'd gotten up to go to the bathroom.
"What's that?" he asked.
I held out the package as I sat on my bed facing him. We both wore boxer briefs and his hair was still a bit damp from his shower a while ago. He pushed it back over his shoulders and accepted the jewelry box from me.
"Merry Christmas," I said.
He looked at me. "You got me a gift?" he said, voice flat.
"Yeah," I said. I smiled and held out my hand again. "I could return it if you don't want it."
He pressed it to his chest, crushing the bow against his skin. "Oh, no," he said, grinning. "I'm not about to turn this down." He lowered it and looked at it. "What is it?"
I chuckled. "You'll have to open it to find out."
He palpated the box, turning it around in his hands. "Is it breakable?" he asked.
"Not without putting some effort into doing so," I said.
"Cool," he said, grinning, and raised it to his ear to shake it.
I chuckled. I'd made sure to tuck the chain into the cuts in the display form so it wouldn't move around. I watched Piper's brow furrow in a slight frown.
"Huh," he muttered, lowering the box. "It must be packed pretty tight."
I laughed. He looked at me. I just smiled at him, leaning forward to prop my elbows on my knees, and clasped my hands. He frowned at me.
"Aren't you impatient?" he asked.
"No," I said. "I'm sure you'll get around to opening it."
My response made him chuckle and he shook his head, looking at the gift. He plucked the bow off the top and stuck it on top of my head, grinning, then tore the paper open to reveal the red velveteen box. His gaze rose to meet mine again.
"This is a jeweler's box," he said.
I nodded. "Yeah."
"What did you get me, Eli?" he asked, now totally serious, wagging the half-dressed box at me.
"Open it," I said.
He sighed and tugged the blanket closer to his shoulders with one hand, then finished tearing the paper off the box. After a brief glance at me, he opened the box, and his jaw dropped.