Let's Make Love Bloom
My first few hours at June’s apartment were quiet, spent curled on her couch, just calming down. It was a nice place, but I was in no mood to appreciate the decor—hell, it took me a whole hour just to notice that the two big bookshelves in the living room were filled with nothing but movies, likely of the spooky variety. Really, that should’ve been the first thing I noticed, but to be fair, I was a complete mess.
I was a little amazed that June had been able to parse anything I said over the phone when I first called her, let alone act on the request to please come get me, I need help. I’d been a sobbing mess, and I could hardly understand my own words. But not ten minutes after I called, her car peeled up to the curb where my legs had taken me: the middle of a neighborhood some blocks away from my place, though it was an area I’d never before explored. I don’t know, I had just run; my goal had been distance, not a particular location. At least I could only be found by me telling someone exactly where I was.
I don’t know how much of the story I managed to convey to June on the car ride over, what with my sobbing and all, but I think she got the gist of it. As I spoke, she took my hand (even while driving) and did everything in her power to make sure that I knew I wasn’t alone. Everything she spoke to me was comforting, sweet reassurances that everything would be okay.
But everything wouldn’t be okay. I’d lost the love of my family, after all. How could everything possibly be okay after that?
When we got to her place, she led me arm-in-arm to the couch and lay me down. Sitting beside me, keeping an arm over me, she stayed still and present as I brooded and cried. There we stayed for I don’t know how long; hours, for sure. I was just as much a mess on the inside as I was on the out, and I don’t think my thought process made it far past grief.
I hadn’t been prepared for how much it hurt. I don’t think any amount of warning or preparation could ever have made me truly ready. As likely and predictable as the outcome was, I had still hoped against hope that I would be able to find some way around it; maybe I could’ve convinced them to accept me. But no, that was never going to happen; all my mother would ever cling to was her twisted idea of love.
And that hurt too: she really, genuinely believed what she was doing was an act of love. She had it in her head that trying to force me to become who she wanted me to be was somehow proof that she loved me. And it hurts so much to think that her idea of love is so lacking in empathy and affection that it’s blinded her to reality. She can’t even comprehend the existence of her own daughter.
I’m not even real to her. Just a doll with an ugly patch that needs to be sowed up. Nothing could ever make that okay, not even time. This wound might eventually fade, but it would never heal. The scar it would leave will haunt me for the rest of my life, the occasional, unpredictable flare never letting me forget today’s pain.
Eventually, I was roused from my stupor by an odd chiming sound from the door: a doorbell. Hadn’t heard one of those for a while. Ours had broken years back, and once it broke it never got fixed. I’d always hoped I would hear it again one day. And now I never will.
“I’ll get it,” June said, and with a pat on my arm she rose from the couch and went to answer the door. At some point, June had become an unconscious though warm presence, and I immediately felt her absence. As soon as she stood, it was like my body temperature dropped five degrees. I couldn’t deal with that, oh no, not after everything else. As she reached the door, I shot up from the couch, dashed over, and hugged her arm. I clung as though I feared that if I let go, she would disappear forever. As I grabbed on, I felt her stiffen up, relax, then run her free hand through my hair.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she said, and before I could respond she opened the door.
“Hey, Ju—whoa,” came a strange woman’s voice from the other side. Standing beyond the open door was a woman carrying bags of takeout food. I’d never met her before but she seemed familiar. She was the shortest of the three of us, had lighter hair, tanner skin, but still: she looked like June.
“Hey, Liv,” June said, and my brain must have been returning to some sort of functional state because right then I was able to put two and two together: this was Olivia, June’s sister.
“So this is her, huh?” Olivia said, cocking her head as she looked me over.
“Yep,” June said, giving a half smile as she patted me on the shoulder.
“Goodness gracious. Sara, you look absolutely dreadful.” I had no idea how to react to that blunt (yet honest) assessment. Moreover, I had no idea to react to Olivia showing up at all, apparently on friendly terms again with her sister. The hell was going on?
“You haven’t let her clean herself up yet?” Olivia asked.
“We… just haven’t gotten around to it,” June said, muttering. “She’s had a really bad day.”
“And standing around being nasty is not helping her, believe me. Here, take this.” Before I knew what was happening, Olivia had thrust the bags of food into June’s hands, grabbed me by the wrist, and pulled me back deep into the apartment—into the bathroom, in fact.
“You just sit right there,” she said, sitting me down on the edge of the bathtub. “I’ll get you fixed right up.” Before I could think to protest, she broke out a washcloth, some soap, and her own makeup kit, and got to work on my face. June appeared in the doorway, arms folded as she leaned into the doorframe, watching over us as Olivia cleaned me up. By that point I had resigned myself to this, thinking “sure, this might as well happen.” In just a few minutes, June’s suddenly-not-estranged sister had all the nastiness cleaned off my face, and then she had it moisturized, applied a new foundation, and went through a whole host of other steps beyond what was normal for me.
“There,” she said, putting me in front of the mirror as she ran a comb through my hair. “All better. Now aren’t you the handsomest devil?” And to her credit, the lady knew what she was doing. I looked almost unrecognizable, like I’d never cried a tear in my life. And damn, how do you manage to do eyeshadow like that?
“Thanks, Olivia” I said, marveling at myself.
“Think nothing of it, just doing my job! And please, call me Liv.”
“She’s training to be a stylist,” June said.
“Training? You sure she doesn’t already know everything?” I asked.
“You flatter me,” Liv said. “But come on now, I’m hungry. Let’s talk over dinner.” If nothing else, this bizarre turn of events had calmed me down; I no longer felt nothing but miserable. In fact, as it turned out, I was quite hungry. I’d just been too busy sobbing to realize it.
“Sounds good to me,” I said, and like that we all reconvened in June’s kitchen-slash-dining-room for dinner.
Now that I was calm enough to take stock of my surroundings, I found that June’s apartment was, while not spacious, plenty cozy. The living room, which greeted you as soon as you entered through the front door, was around the same size as the one I was used to, only with softer, brighter furniture and a larger television. Just to the right of the living room was the kitchen, separated only by a large marble counter which served as the dinner table. In lieu of normal chairs, around the counter were small wooden stools with leather-bound cushions like you’d find in a bar. Luckily for us, there were exactly three.
The food should have been nothing special—just burgers from a fast food joint. But after the day I’d had, it was the most delicious burger I’d ever eaten in my goddamn life. I almost felt like crying again; in fact, the only thing that held me back was a desire to not ruin Liv’s beautiful handiwork.
“While we were on the couch,” June said, “I realized that I didn’t have enough food, so I texted Liv to something over.”
“Oh,” I said through a mouthful of burger. Well, that explains that. After getting a few bites in me, I asked the one most pressing question on my mind: “If you don’t mind my asking, I thought you two were, uh… you know. Estranged.”
“We were, yeah,” June said after swallowing her latest bite. “But at dinner on Sunday, well, we made up.”
“And when she says ‘we made up,’” Liv said, “what she really means is I got on my knees and groveled before her, apologizing and begging for forgiveness.”
“You did not grovel.”
“Well, sure, but it makes for a fun image, doesn’t it?” June just rolled her eyes at her sister’s teasing and leaned in to whisper something in her ear. I didn’t pick up on what it was (the sound of my own mouth munching on fries probably didn’t help), but whatever it was, it got Liv talking.
“It… it took me a long time to really understand how bad I messed up,” she started. “As shameful as it is to admit, for the longest time I didn’t even think being gay was a real thing, not until it was staring me in the face. And even then I did everything I could to deny reality and maintain my own. I’d never met a gay person—or at least, I didn’t think I had—and if I didn’t see it, clearly it didn’t exist. It was an absurd mentality, a childish one, but nonetheless I bore it. I couldn’t even tell you how that notion got stuck in my head in the first place, and I swear, if I could find the person who got me thinking like that in the first place I’d—!” Before she got any further, Liv cut herself out with a cough. She been working herself up there, and for a second I thought she was going to get actually angry.
“Sorry about that,” she said, and cleared her throat again. “What was I saying? …Right. Regardless of my idiocy, I always felt certain of one thing: that I knew everything about my sister. After all, she was my best friend, the one person who was always there for me. If my life was only to ever have one constant, it was going to be her.
“So imagine my shock when I learned that I didn’t actually know my sister as well as I thought. Irrational though I know it to be now, at the time I thought of it as a betrayal. Like she was deliberately doing it to hurt me, or something silly like that. I don’t know. My memories of my thought processes at the time are a bit of a blur.
“She didn’t betray me, of course. I betrayed her. And nothing can ever make up for me so much as thinking otherwise. But, as I am now, I am determined to do everything I can to try. It was my own narrow worldview and stubbornness that caused the whole mess between us, nothing but my own selfishness, my own problems, and the only who could fix those problems was, well, me. So I did everything in my power to fix myself and make amends, and I think I’m the luckiest girl in the world to have a sister who’s willing to give me a second chance.”
“Plus,” June added, “now that my girlfriend’s sitting right there, you can be damn certain that no guy’s ever going to get all up in my business.”
“Right, of course.”
“What was up with that one guy you set me up with, anyway? I forgot to ask last time, but he was such a creep.”
“Was he? He always seemed so sweet in class.”
“Yes, oh my God, you have no idea.” And the sisters continued to chat; June told Liv about how awful the guy was, Liv agreed to cut him from her life, and as they spoke, I couldn’t help but envy them. I was glad for them, of course, but at the same time their bond stung, because unlike theirs, I knew that my bond with my mother was forever shattered. As long as she held onto her beliefs, we would never be able to rekindle what we’d lost like these two had, and as that realization came over me, so too did the tears return.
“Oh, dear!” Liv said as soon as she noticed, whipping out a handkerchief and starting to wipe the tears away, pulling away some of the makeup with it. Oh damn, I’d made her hard work go runny. “I’m sorry, did I say something to upset you?”
“No, no, you’re fine,” I said. “I’m happy for you two, really. It’s just… my mother…” I couldn’t make myself say the rest, but I didn’t need to. As I spoke, June scooted her stool closer to mine and wrapped her arm around my waist.
“I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that,” June said. “But it’s behind you now. We’re here for you now. I’m here for you. And I promise, I won’t reject you like she did.” Unable to hold back the tears anymore, Liv’s makeup ran all over the place as my cheeks turned to rivers and I leaned into June’s embrace, letting my head find rest in her shoulder.
Liv hung around just long enough to help me clean up again—though this time, seeing the futility in applying a fresh coat of makeup, she settled for just making sure my face was wiped clean. She made sure to keep smiling as she worked on me, telling tales of the sisterly antics she and June had gotten up to over the years in an effort to keep my spirits up. And she did get a few chuckles out of me, so her efforts weren’t in total vain. Just before she left, she pulled me into a big hug and rubbed my back.
“You’re going to be okay,” she said. “Don’t you worry about a thing.”
“Thanks,” I said as she pulled away and stepped out of the door. With a promise that she’d be by to check on us tomorrow, she disappeared down the hallway, and June closed the door behind her.
“So… what now?” I asked. “I don’t want to impose on you for too long. I can—”
“Oh, hush,” June said, and pulled me into a hug. “We can figure all that stuff out in the morning. Right now, you need to get some rest. You can take the bed, I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“No, don’t,” I said. “I’ll take the couch. It’s fine, really.”
“No, I insist, the couch is mine.”
“No, really, you don’t—”
And we might have continued this very heated and deadly serious debate for another few minutes if we weren’t interrupted by a knock at the door. We exchanged a look, equally confused as to who the hell could be knocking this late at night. Taking a careful step forward, June leaned down to look through the peephole and get a look at who was outside. She looked back at me and shrugged: no idea who it was.
“Yes?” June called out. “Who is it?”
“Excuse me, miss,” a familiar tenor came from the other side, and my breath caught in my throat. My surprise must’ve been plain to see, because as soon as she got a look at my face, June reached down and grabbed my hand, reassuring me just with her touch that everything was going to be okay.
The voice belonged to Padre.
“I’m sorry for calling so late, but I’ve heard that a friend of my daughter’s lives here, and I was wondering if you’d seen her or if I could ask you about her?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” June called back, “but I think you’ve got the wrong address.”
“Is that so? I’m so sorry if that’s the case, but let me just check something real quick.” There was a quiet moment as I struggled to keep my breathing under control, lest my loud panting give us away.
And then my phone rang.
“Shit!” I hissed as I dug in my pockets to try to fish it out and shut it off, but it was too late. He’d heard it ring.
“Sara? I know you’re in there. Please open up.”
“With all due respect, sir,” June said, “that’s not going to happen, and if you try anything I will call the cops.”
“Miss, please!” Padre’s voice didn’t sound angry—if anything, he was desperate. “I promise you, I am not here to cause trouble. I just want to talk to my daughter.”
“You can talk from over there,” I said, putting every effort into holding back as much emotion as I could manage.
“I understand, I understand,” Padre said, sounding relieved to hear my voice. “We’ll just talk, and then I’ll go, okay?”
“You… you don’t want to bring me back?” He was quiet again, and for a moment I wondered whether he had walked off.
“I do want you back,” he finally said, and I had never heard his voice so hoarse. “But I realize it’s far too late for that. I talked to your mother, and… well, I say talked, but really it was more like a shouting match.” He tried to chuckle, but his laughter ended up devolving into a series of coughs. He wasn’t lying—his voice was spent. “Point is, I know, vaguely, what happened. And all I wanted to say is… I’m sorry.”
I couldn’t help but gasp when I heard those words. Tears started to flow again; somehow, I hadn’t yet run dry. I gripped June’s hand tighter, probably too tight, as I kept my gaze locked on the door, imagining Padre leaning back against it, looking exhausted as his gaze drifted toward the ceiling.
“I’m sorry for how your mother reacted, and for what it’s worth I’m sorry for how we’ve treated you over the years. All we’ve ever done is push you away, huh? I guess what they say about hindsight is true. All either of us ever wanted for you was to live your best life, and we always did what we thought was right in order to make that happen. But I realize now, far too late, that our idea of what your best life could be was… outdated, to say the least, and not at all what you wanted for yourself. I wish I had wisdom to see that before, and the courage to talk to you about it. But… I guess I got comfortable in what I expected, and that blinded me to what could be.”
“Padre…” his words were shocking, to say the least. After the fiasco with mother, I had assumed that he would follow her lead. But to hear him say that was more than I could handle. After getting a nod from June, I undid the latch, unlocked the door, and slowly pulled it open. Standing in the hall was Padre, looking more disheveled than he had ever been. When he saw me, he gave me a smile.
“Hello, Sara,” he said.
“Padre… since when were you that eloquent?” I forced a smile as soon as I spoke, and it had its intended effect: Padre burst out laughing, and this time he didn’t descend into a coughing fit.
“I might’ve been practicing on the way here,” he said, and before he could say any more I rushed into the hallway and wrapped my arms around him, squeezing myself into his big old beer belly. For what felt like the very first time, I hugged my papá.
We ended up inviting him inside and, after getting some water down his throat, he told us how he found us. Apparently, after seeing the photo of June kissing me, mother had visited her Facebook profile, realized it was the same June from middle school, and got in contact with June’s parents via an old PTA contact. And once she had June’s current address, she demanded that Papá go and drag me back home. Give her credit, the woman’s tenacious.
“I’m not going to do that, of course,” he said. “But that’s basically what happened. And boy am I in for another shouting match when I get home.” He shivered as he spoke, and I rubbed his shoulder. Taking another sip of water, he turned his attention to June.
“Thanks for looking after my Sara,” he said. “I feel terrible that I wasn’t there when you needed me, little one.”
“Well, you’re here now,” I said. “And that’s better than I hoped for.”
“So what made you change your mind about the whole gay thing?” June asked. She’d hardly left my side since Papá came in, still a little weary and protective. A girl after my own heart, she is. “I was under the impression that you were… you know, against it.”
“Look, I’m going to be honest,” Papá said with a sigh. “I don’t really get it. My whole life I’ve been told that love is between a man and a woman, and it’s hard to just throw out such a deep-rooted belief at the drop of a hat, you know?”
“Because whether or not I get it doesn’t matter in the damn slightest. What matters is I love my daughter and it’s my life’s mission to make sure she has the best life possible.” He turned his attention to me and took my hands in his. “It’s taken me too long to see it, but I do now. You’re a woman grown, and it’s high time we stop holding you back and let you live your life. So now, I make you this promise: as soon as I walk out that door, I am out of your hair until the moment you want me back in it. I trust you and know that you’ll do what you need to do to keep yourself happy. Okay?”
“Okay,” I said, nodding.
“But before I go,” he said, “could I get in one last request, as your father?”
“Can I get another one of those hugs?”
“Oh…!” And of course I hugged him again. For now, my mother may be out of my life, but at least I still have him.
“Thank you, Papá.”