A/N: So, confession—this chapter isn’t going to move Jo’s story forward very much because it’s focused on what has been going on back home. Sorry! It may be a little self-indulgent on my part, actually, because as I got to know James’ and Candice’s kids I just felt REALLY inspired to get their stories written out, so I did! I regret nothing though because I seriously LOVED writing this chapter and I know many of you wanted to get to know Gemma, Augustus, and Tobias more anyway so…hopefully you’ll still like it.
As usual, the chapter will, of course, still be told primarily from Joanne’s point of view, but it will switch to Candice’s, Augustus’, Gemma’s, and Tobias’ where indicated. I hope you all enjoy getting to know everyone as much as I did because I seriously had a blast creating this.
The track for this chapter is, well, Home by Flyleaf. The lyrics fit so perfectly I nearly cried, lol. Happy listening and reading!
Don’t give up yet
Stop trying to pretend
You’re never gonna change
That might be true
You’re gonna be a better you
Oliver improved greatly after our conversation, making a more conscientious effort to spend more time with me. The result was many dinners together, a few more passionate nights, and many more stolen moments with one another in which we would simply enjoy each other’s company.
Despite this though, I found that I couldn’t quite keep my mind off of what I’d discovered, and the more we talked, the more I realized just how important the idea of our future was to Oliver. He brought up marriage, and how he’d always thought it would be ideal after he’d graduated from college; he brought up children and how he’d always wanted to have a big family; and of course, he mentioned me, and how much he wanted to have those things with me. Each time I smiled and seriously considered his words, and each time I couldn’t help but think: our ideal futures look nothing alike.
In my ideal future, I’m a star, of course. Marriage and kids, yes maybe, someday. Later. Always much later. In my ideal future, I’m a star first…and it isn’t until late in my life that I ever even consider settling down.
Looking for signs
In the corner of your eyes
Take a breath and step outside
Don’t hide the light inside of you
Then I’m lying beside Oliver on his bed though, gazing into his lovely blue eyes and running my hands through his soft blonde locks, and I wonder if maybe my ideal future could allow for this dear sweet boy so much earlier than I’d intended, but in the end, I just don’t know.
As for Hannah and I, our friendship was actually on a bit of rocky ground ever since our argument. She apologized—mumbling something about being jealous that I have someone that loves me as much as Oliver does, but we were still kind of awkward around each other.
We mostly kept to ourselves, honestly, only really hanging out to practice our set as neither of us had wanted to give that up. There was no denying that something integral had broken between us, and I wondered too if that would ever be mended.
One step closer
We’re looking out for brighter days
One step closer
We’ll find our way back home
Time to go home
As weeks passed though, the end of the semester came upon us and soon enough we were all receiving our first final grades and preparing to visit home. I’d come away with a mixed bunch of As, Bs, and Cs, and kind of wished I hadn’t gotten the Cs, but also couldn’t bring myself to care much more about it. After all, I’d done decently, and that was more than enough, in my opinion. It wasn’t like I was studying to be a doctor, or even a scientist, like Oliver. He’d gotten straight As.
What did draw my interest though was the prospect of home. I’d already missed so many birthdays, so many day to day events, and I was so eager to catch up—eager to see my family smiling in person and smothering them all in hugs and kisses.
That was exactly what I did too. As soon as I arrived in Starlight Shores, Oliver dropping me off at my parent’s house, I raced toward the door and knocked frantically, my heart nearly bursting out of my chest. I hadn’t felt so happy and exhilarated in ages.
Of course, as soon as the door opened and I saw my father with a few extra lines on his face and a sprinkling of grays in his ordinarily chocolate expanse of hair, I burst into tears, hugging him so tightly that the choking noise he made might have actually been genuine.
“I missed you so much!” I wailed like the stupid baby I was.
“I missed you too,” he said with a bit of a strangled laugh.
As soon as I pulled away from my father, both of our eyes shining, my mom came rushing up to hug me and then I was crying all over again.
I swear I was an absolute mess by the time I was in the house and got through all of my siblings, marveling at just how much they’d grown over the past months.
“Oh, Gemma, you’re so pretty! And Augustus god, look at you! I’m sure you’re the biggest heartbreaker at school. And Tobias!!! Oh my gosh, the last I saw you your head barely even came up to my knee!”
It was perhaps unsurprising that my siblings found me pretty embarrassing by the end of it all, but I didn’t even care. I was home, finally, and I was going to enjoy every second that I had here.
Every change we take will lead us
Through the unknown
It turned out, however, that that was actually kind of difficult. Mom worked a lot, Dad spent countless hours typing away on his laptop, Augustus was suddenly and uncharacteristically so moody, Gemma was always tagging around Gus despite his apparent displeasure for the world, Grandpa wasn’t even home, having gone to China for the week, and Tobias was always outside looking at various rodents and reptiles and then researching what they were on Mom’s laptop.
It seemed that in the months that I’d been gone they, obviously, had learned to get on quite well enough without me.
Not that that stopped me. No, not at all. I followed Tobias once on his little journey, played chess with Gemma on the rare occasion that she wasn’t with Augustus, watched a movie with my sulky sibling when he’d finally felt up to it, and of course stalked my parents in the evenings when they usually relaxed.
It may not have been my favorite method of spending time with them, but it worked, and honestly, that was all that mattered to me.
Tears stain your eyes
But you didn’t give up the fight
“You and Mom are challenging to grab a moment with,” I stated one evening, sitting down at the dining room table with my dad and a cup of tea.
Dad laughed, his hands wrapped around his own mug of tea, presumably decaffeinated. “Sorry, Jo. Been pretty busy.”
“What’s this new book about anyway?” I asked, sitting back in my chair.
“That’s classified,” Dad said with a maddening smirk. His eyebrows were raised, and I knew it was useless to push it. He was always so secretive about his work.
I frowned, scrunching up my nose. Frowning, however, vaguely reminded me of Augustus. “Do you know what’s up with Gus?” I asked, changing the subject. “He’s been so…moody.”
“I’m not sure,” Dad said with a frown of his own, staring at his cup. “He keeps insisting he’s ‘fine’.” He tapped his fingers on the table, the thought clearly making him anxious. In general he seemed a little more on-edge lately, or perhaps that was just because he was so into his current novel.
“Are you okay?” I couldn’t help but ask, taking a slow sip from my mug to try and appear casual.
“Yes, Jo,” he assured me calmly. He clearly wasn’t buying my act. “I wish you wouldn’t worry so much about me.”
“Sorry,” I mumbled, a bit embarrassed as I ran my fingertip around the edge of my mug. “Is it still…difficult? To manage I mean? …like the anxiety…and stuff….” And by stuff I mean drinking….
“Hmmm,” my Dad mused, glancing up at me. He knew what I was saying even if I didn’t speak the words. “It’s not…easy, but it’s not difficult anymore.” He sighed, taking a sip from his mug and then setting it down. “Every morning when I wake up, there’s always a small part of me that thinks, ‘it’d be really nice to have a drink right now,’ but I just—you know, ignore it. The voice isn’t loud anymore…so it’s not too bad.”
I made a face, feeling a little incredulous. “You say things like that and then you tell me not to worry?”
Dad laughed, shaking his head. “Well, yeah. It’s been…how many years now? And I haven’t given into the voice yet. Doesn’t that earn me a little faith?” he asked, glancing up at me with a bemused look on his face.
“I guess so,” I admitted. “But…I’ll probably still always worry. I mean…you’re my dad,” I said, feeling my throat get a bit tight.
“I know,” he admitted, and then looked up, his eyes lighting up as he saw something behind me. “Hey,” he said with a wide smile.
I turned to see my mom, smiling, but looking a little worried. “Hey,” she said quietly. “Sorry. You just—hadn’t come up to bed yet.”
I looked back at my dad, giving him a pointed look. See, I tried to tell him with just my eyes, she worries too.
“Yeah, yeah,” Dad said to me out of the corner of his mouth, having clearly picked up on my silent message, and then turned back to Mom. “I’ll be up in a second. Promise.”
“Hmm, you better be,” my mom said with the sort of smile that you should never see your mother give your father.
“Oh, don’t!” I groaned, feeling completely awkward now. They both laughed, and the next thing I knew my Dad was standing next to me, ruffling my hair. “Hey!” I cried out, trying to stop him from messing it up.
He laughed again, shaking his head. “Good night, Jo,” he said with a smile.
“Good night,” I said quietly, and then watched him head into the kitchen to put away his mug.
I took a sip from my own, finishing it off and then setting it back down on the table. Was it really so bad to worry about the ones you loved?
I didn’t think so.
And now the fear won’t paralyze
So leave your broken satellite
“She seemed worried…again,” I noted as soon as my husband walked in the door. I’d just finished changing, thinking back to seeing the lines on Joanne’s face when she looked at her dad. Pfft, and she didn’t even know….
To my surprise, James chuckled, shaking his head as he shut the door behind him. “You’re one to talk. I was what, 15 minutes late to bed?”
I scowled, hating to feel stupid. “I blame you! You’re the one who’s been so determined to quit taking your medication,” I muttered.
“Which I am doing under the careful guidance of both my psychiatrist and my therapist,” James interjected calmly. “Plus, I’m not actually off it yet—just on a lower dose,” he reminded me, pulling his shirt up and over his head. I couldn’t help but get distracted. Even after all these years, seeing him wearing nothing but a pair of fitted jeans was enough to make me want to jump his bones right then and there.
“It’s still stupid,” I pouted, tearing my eyes away from the definition of his hips. “Do you even remember the last time you went off of them?”
James winced and I suddenly felt like a complete bitch. “Kind of hard to forget,” he said in a way that made me want to kick myself in the mouth for even bringing it up. I forced myself to plow forward though, taking a quick intake of breath.
“Okay, so then you’ll know this situation is beginning to look pretty damn similar, isn’t it?” I asked, my hand traveling automatically to my stomach. James tripped about midway through taking off his jeans and he cursed softly, kicking them away and then looking at me. I felt my belly swoop—an action that had nothing to do with my current status.
“I’m over that,” he reminded me gently. “I thought I proved that with Tobias.”
“But you were on the medication then,” I said, my throat suddenly feeling tight. Ugh, goddamn hormones!
“Mmmm, technically still am,” he said, and then came up to me, taking my hands in his. His lavender eyes met mine, and I could feel myself slowly turning to pudding under his gaze, which was frustrating, to say the least. “Look,” he said softly, his voice melting me further, “if it becomes an issue, I go back to the original dose. No big deal. This is just something I want. I’m sick of being…dependent on it. I want to be strong for once in my damn life.”
“You’re already the strongest person I know!” I protested.
James laughed out loud. “Right,” he scoffed. “I’m many things, Candice, but not ‘strong’.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but he held his hand up, pleading for just one more moment. I let my mouth fall shut, but I wasn’t happy about it.
“If I don’t do this,” he explained, “I’m going to risk getting addicted to the damn pills instead. I already have to take way more than I used to in order to get the same effect and if I ever don’t take them it’s a whole fucking withdrawal process all over again. Hence, why I want to get off them. But I’m doing it with help, not alone, and it’s a really gradual process they have planned out so please, stop worrying and just let me do this.”
I felt temporarily at a loss for words. I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d expected him to say, but it definitely wasn’t that. The thought of another addiction made me sick. “You—you never told me that,” I finally managed to get out, feeling pained.
“I know,” he admitted, and his face looked pained as well. “I just didn’t want you to worry even more. I already worry you enough,” he said with a short, nervous laugh.
I tried to smile, but failed, worry still putting me ill at ease. James must have sensed this because he closed the distance between us, gently pulling me into his arms. I wrapped my own around him tightly, burying my face in the crook of his neck and taking in his scent—honey and soap. He felt so warm and safe. I needed to trust him in this.
“Okay,” I said quietly. “Just….be careful. I love you so much…I-I don’t want to see anything bad happening to you. Not again.”
“I love you too,” he murmured, planting a soft kiss on my forehead. “And you can definitely trust that I’m going to be careful. You think I want a repeat of before?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
I shook my head and then pulled away a bit. I forced a bit of a smile. “So,” I said, trying to lighten up the mood, “when do you want to tell the kids our news?” I smiled again, this time genuinely as I rested my hands against my still-flat stomach.
James smiled softly, placing his hands gently on top of mine. “We’ll tell them tomorrow. After we get some rest.”
“Oh, I don’t think I want to rest quite yet,” I said with a sly smile pulling at my lips.
“You have no idea how glad I am that you said that,” he said a grin….
….and then pulled me in to give me the kind of kiss that made me doubt that I even still existed in reality because seriously, how could reality possibly feel so good?
Every breath is a chance to know yourself
And show them what you’re made of now
Forgiveness is the sweetest sound
“Just please…promise me you won’t tell them! Not yet!” I pleaded, giving my twin sister a desperate look.
“Yes, all right,” she sighed. “I promise, Gus, but this is completely illogical.”
“Not everything can be boiled down to simple terms of logic, Gemma.”
“Sure it can,” she said smoothly, a small smile teasing her lips. “The world is completely logical. In fact, anything illogical is only classified as such because people refuse to accept that fact, or refuse to actually recognize the logic within it.”
“Could you just be human, for like, five seconds?” I asked, already growing irritated.
“I am,” she replied, looking offended.
Gemma sighed, leaning back against the sofa and looking bored. “They’re not going to care. You do realize that Mom and Dad’s best friends are a homosexual couple, right? Or have you just completely forgotten that Uncle Mitch and Uncle Chris exist?”
I winced and then looked around the room hastily to make sure no one had overheard her. “Would you lower your voice?” I whispered angrily, my heartbeat fast even after I’d clarified that no one else was in the room.
“HOMOSEXUALITY! GAY! TWO MEN LOVING EACH OTHER!” Gemma called out, one hand cupped around her mouth to amplify her voice. “UNCLE’S MITCH AND CHRIS ARE TOTALLY GAY AND SO ARE Y—” I tackled my sister in a rage, covering her mouth with my hand to cut off her last word.
“Are you fucking INSANE?” I shouted, hot tears filling my eyes. “You just don’t get it! It’s one thing to have a friend who’s…who’s…gay,” I said the word quietly, my heart beating at a million miles per minute, “but a son?” I finished through gritted teeth.
I took my hand off my sister’s mouth, backing away from her and slowly feeling as if I were coming apart at the seams. She would never understand what I was going through right now. Never. Why had I thought that she would?
Gemma looked at me in surprise, her lavender eyes wide. “Gus, they’re seriously not going to care,” she whispered. “They love you. I love you. We all love you and it’s not like being gay is a bad thing anyway so I don’t understand why you’re treating it like it is!”
“You wouldn’t, would you!?” I growled through gritted teeth, my temper finally boiling over. “You never understand anything! You’re a fucking robot, Gem! Nothing ever gets to you, does it? Well, I’m not like you, okay, so just leave me the fuck alone!” I snapped, and then turned away from her.
“Augustus!” I heard my sister cry from behind me, but I ignored her, walking out the back door and then slamming it behind me.
I didn’t know where I was going until I finally found myself in our sprawling basement, surrounded by ancient relics from far off places that I doubted I’d ever see. There, I found an old training dummy and just beat the shit out of it, angrily punching and kicking at every fucking splinter of wood I could see.
I didn’t know how long I hit it before my energy left me, my arms limp and heavy by my sides as I breathed heavily. Angry tears fell freely from my eyes. If my own twin sister didn’t understand me, then no one was going to.
One step closer
We’re looking out for brighter days
One step closer
“I am not a robot,” I muttered to myself as I stormed upstairs. If I were a robot, I wouldn’t be feeling so angry and frustrated by my completely illogical brother right now. If I were a robot, all of this would be infinitely easier, that was for sure.
Whatever though. If Augustus wanted to tear himself apart over such a tiny matter, then far be from me to stop him. What did it matter if one was gay anyway? Perhaps ironically, people so overcomplicated human sexuality by trying to place it neat little boxes. The truth is that humans are just pathetic social creatures who are in dire need of affection and yes, sex, and in the end will pretty much turn to anywhere to get it and who cared anyway?
I certainly didn’t. While I preferred the intimate contact of males, I could just have easily preferred that of females and I don’t think it should have mattered either way.
I finally reached my destination up on the third floor, a small well-ventilated room in which I had my chemistry set. Once only containing a stock of a few simple substances to toy around with when I was a child, the lab consisted now of a multitude of compounds that I could manipulate for hours.
I set to work right away, grabbing my lab coat and goggles for protection and then picking up where I last left off.
I was currently working on a new paint for Dad—something that would dry slower and allow for more time to blend while the colors were still on the canvas. I loved Dad’s paintings, and he always seemed so peaceful when he was working on them. It wasn’t that he didn’t look like it otherwise, but painting seemed to transport him into another world, which was fairly fascinating to observe. Especially fascinating was when the worlds came to life in his books, the subjects walking along their pages and the colors just as vibrant if not more so.
I’d tried dabbling in both arts myself, but I never could get the hang of them. Everything always came out so…flat.
I sighed, mixing together two chemicals unthinkingly. Maybe I was a bit of a robot. I hadn’t exactly been very sensitive toward my twin, had I?
Mom was going to kill me.
We’ll find our way back home
Time to go home
Every chance we take will lead us
Through the unknown
Blarina carolinensis—the southern short-tailed shrew!
I laughed, watching the furry little animal run around. Even though Starlight Shores had a lot of people living in it, there were lots of animals that you could find if you just took the time to look for them!
Bungarus candidus—the Malayan krait snake. It must have been someone’s pet!
“Run!” I called out to the shrew, stomping my foot. The shrew made a weird noise and then ran up a tree. I felt bad for scaring him and probably losing the snake his lunch, but I didn’t exactly want to see that.
I walked further away from the house, trying to keep it in sight just as Mom and Dad had asked me to do. They didn’t mind if I went out exploring, but they made me promise not to go too far and to them, not being able to see the house anymore meant that I’d gone too far! I didn’t mind though. There was plenty to find out here!
I went exploring a lot, especially lately. Everyone at home has been so weird. Mom and Dad are all mushy-gushy and Gemma and Augustus aren’t talking to each other. They usually hang out all the time! Jo is okay, I guess. She seems nice, but I don’t know her very well, so she makes me feel shy.
“Oh my gosh!” I cried out. There was something really bright up ahead!
I snuck up on it extra quietly. I didn’t know what species this one was! Maybe some kind of chameleon? I’d have to look it up on the computer right when I got home!
Oh man, this thing was so cool! I watched it for a really long time, but it was starting to get dark and I knew I’d have to get home soon. I didn’t want to leave the lizard though, so I had an idea—I could take it home with me!
I crept up closer to the lizard and then grabbed it super-fast! It crawled around in my hands like crazy, which kind of tickled, but I didn’t mind. This little guy was going to be the coolest pet EVER.
I ran home quickly, racing through the front door with my hands still cupped.
“There you are!” I heard my mom say as soon as I got in. I jumped and dropped the lizard, turning in surprise to see my mom just leaving the dining room.
“I can explain!” I cried out in a panic.
“Explain what?” Mom asked, raising an eyebrow at me. “You came in right before the sun set, just like you’re supposed to.”
“Oh…right. I—I thought I was late,” I lied, feeling really bad. I didn’t like to lie to Mommy. She was so, so nice.
“Right…okay, well, we’re having a family meeting tonight after dinner, so don’t go running off again, okay?”
“Okay,” I said quietly. As soon as Mom was gone I looked around frantically, but I couldn’t find that darn lizard!
Oh great…my parents were going to kill me!
The time has come to take our chance
Fire, let me see you dance
One step closer
I was the last to come downstairs, finding my family already all sitting around the fireplace. My first impression was that everything felt rather…tense. Not my parents, who looked happily and ecstatically in love, but their children…that was a different story. Gemma and Augustus were sitting on opposite sides of the living room, which was odd on its own, and Tobias kept looking around the room all nervously, as if he was expecting something to suddenly pop out at him.
“Are you okay?” I asked him as I sat down, raising an eyebrow at my youngest sibling.
“Yeah,” he said shyly, averting his gaze from mine. Well, that was convincing.
“Okay! So this will be pretty quick, actually,” Mom said as soon as I’d settled. She and Dad were standing before us, seeming barely able to contain their happiness. “We just wanted to share the news with everyone at once.” She smiled at Dad, who smiled back, and then turned to us again. “We meant to tell you all sooner, but well, you guys are going to have another little brother or sister!” she beamed.
“Oh, that’s so great!!” I cried out, feeling surprised, but truly happy for them. After my outburst though, I noticed that everyone else in the room had remained rather quiet. I looked around at my siblings, feeling confused. They all looked horribly distracted. “Uhh…isn’t that nice, guys?” I pressed, feeling uncertain now. Did they know something that I didn’t?
“Yes!” Tobias piped up quickly, looking like he felt bad for not responding right away. “I always wanted a little brother or sister. It’s just—oh man, I’m so sorry!!! I brought home a chameleon and it jumped out of my hands and now it’s loose in the house somewhere!” he cried out, looking panicked.
“A chameleon?” Mom asked questioningly. She quickly looked down, as if expecting to see it suddenly crawling up her leg.
“I blew up the extra bedroom up on the third floor!” Gemma blurted out then, continuing the train of confessions. “I’m really sorry too! I didn’t mean to! I mean, it’s not that bad—but the walls are pretty scorched….”
“You what!?” Dad exclaimed, both of my parent’s attention snapping to her now.
Augustus stood up then, distracting us all. “I’m gay,” he said flatly…and the entire room went silent. He hadn’t even spoken all that loudly, and yet in that moment, none of us could hear anything else. I looked at my brother in surprise, vaguely aware too that everyone else was doing the same. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered miserably as the unbroken stares continued. Tears appeared in his dark brown eyes, causing them to glimmer like fathomless pools.
One step closer
We’re looking out for brighter days
“Oh, honey,” Mom said softly, breaking the silence. “That’s nothing to be sorry about!” She swooped down on Augustus, pulling him into a tight hug as he broke down into tears in her arms.
Dad immediately came over too, placing his hand gingerly on August’s shoulder. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that,” he said quietly, looking pained at even the idea that Gus would think there was.
“You guys are just saying that!” Augustus groaned, pulling away from Mom and wiping his eyes in frustration.
“Hey!” my Dad cut in firmly, his hands on Gus’ arms now to look him in the eye. “We’re not just saying that and don’t you dare think otherwise! Say sorry when you’ve made a mistake; say sorry when you’ve hurt someone; but don’t ever be sorry for being you. I’m pretty sure I raised my son better than that!” he finished sharply. I remained frozen to my seat, surprised to see Dad reacting so strongly. He was usually so…contained.
Augustus looked up at Dad in surprise too, his dark eyes still shining with tears no matter how many times he tried to dry them. “I…I haven’t…failed you then?” he asked haltingly, and I swore I could feel my heart breaking for him. How could he possibly think that he had failed? No wonder he’d been so miserable lately. My eyes filled up with tears. I could hear Gemma beginning to cry on the other sofa.
“God no,” Dad said, his voice laced with incredulity. “Why would you ever think that? You’ve only ever exceeded my expectations and that hasn’t changed in the slightest.”
Augustus looked at Dad once more, as if trying to find a lie in his eyes, but of course, he found none, so he broke down into tears all over again, this time though, tears of relief.
Dad said something that I couldn’t quite make out and then pulled Augustus into a tight hug, my brother like a child again as he held onto him and cried. Mom also murmured something as she pulled them both into a hug, and soon Gemma had gotten up as well, joining the hug. I stood up then too, followed by Tobias, and then we were all hugging each other and crying.
To anyone walking in it probably would have been the strangest, most pathetic thing that they’d ever encountered, but to me, it was the most beautiful.
“I love you guys, too,” Augustus whispered after a while, and I knew then what my parents had said to him.
I really did have the best family, and the thought that I would be pulled away from them once again, only to be thrown back into the confusing mess of my relationships at school tore at me.
I didn’t want to disappoint them though. I was, after all, the first Winters to ever attend college.
They’d all done so much for me—the least I could do was succeed in this. For now, however, I’d savor these moments.
.…there truly was no place like home.
One step closer
We’ll find our way back home