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Paul smiled warmly at John. Then he turned more piercing eyes to Beth. “Rich and Judy have been nothing but kind and supportive of John and me. No one could ask for more understanding parents or better human beings than his entire family. But that’s not the real world, is it? And I suspect you know that. That’s the reason why you hesitate to tell your mother about us. You don’t anticipate she’ll react so well.”
Beth dropped her eyes, feeling cowardly and caught out. “I know.”
“I’m not judging, Beth,” Paul added in a gentle tone that made Beth’s head jerk up. “I’m the last person in the world to give advice on this point in particular. The best I can tell you is that you’ll find the right words in the moment. But neither the words nor the moment might turn out the way you planned.”
A hard, stony look replaced the momentarily tender one he’d shown to her. “Like I told you before, it was no mystery to me what would happen when I told my family. The LDS faithful don’t tolerate sex outside of a very narrowly defined version of marriage. I could commit murder, and it wouldn’t be any worse than being in love with John.”
“Paul…” John said softly.
“She deserves to know, John,” Paul snapped. “Not everyone grows up in a fairy tale perfect family like you did. The majority of us are damaged goods, the products of shitty childhoods spent in dysfunctional families.”
John ground his jaw but didn’t respond. Beth sensed this was a very old point of contention between the two of them.
Paul spun glittering, angry eyes toward her. “I called Jude and Lynn in time to tell them so they wouldn’t waste the money coming down here for my graduation. I believe the exact words I used were, ‘Dad, I’m gay.’ His response was to hang up the phone. Haven’t spoken to any of my family since.”
Beth’s eyes began to sting for his pain. “Paul, I’m so sorry—”
“Don’t be,” he retorted, though she could see he was working to rein himself in, trying like hell not to lash out at her or John. “They were the right words at the right time. It wouldn’t have mattered if I’d said it any differently. The reaction would’ve been the same, no matter what. And I was done denying myself—to them, especially.”
“Your grandmother still sends you a card on your birthday,” John pointed out.
Paul’s face softened slightly. Then he got up, left the room for a few moments, and returned to set a small stack of greeting cards on the table. “Go on,” he instructed them, his voice oddly stressed. “Read them.”
Reluctantly, John and Beth obeyed. The one Beth opened bore a generically masculine birthday sentiment on the cover: For my Grandson on his birthday… Inside, in a prim, schoolteacher-ish hand, there was a written note partially hidden by a twenty-dollar bill:
I love and miss my precious baby Paul so much! I pray every day that you will see the Light and turn away from evil. Put your faith and trust in Heavenly Father’s love, Paul—not this sinful world, no matter what it promises you. Know that I’ll welcome you back with open arms when you do.
Love you always,
“Jesus,” John softly exclaimed, staring at Paul with disbelieving eyes. “You never told me.”
Paul snorted. “Why would I?” After a moment’s pause, he continued. “They’re all the same, every year. But you’re right, John. At least my grandmother still acknowledges my existence, even if I’m bound for hell in her eyes.”
He turned to Beth. “If you’re waiting for the world to understand, it’s never gonna happen. Do what you need to do to live with yourself, Beth, and let the rest go fuck themselves.”