Christmas, 1992

I haven't talked to my parents since the semester started, and now I'm paying for it. I've made too many friends, joined too many organizations, messed around too much without their permission. It's over now.

Imagine coming home with a bag over your shoulder and a vague smile on your face. You're looking better - healthier, saner, more human - than you ever have before. Now imagine the door closing behind you with a familiar creak, looking out into the living room. You're searching for joyful faces and delighted 'Welcome Home's...

And you're met with stony frowns as your father and your brother turn to face you, mother staring down at her hands and sister gesturing you frantically away. They shift, your father crooks one finger in your direction and your smile disappears completely as you're gestured down into an empty chair, bag falling to the floor with a thud.

The terror begins to kick in. Whatever is wrong, it's your fault, and while you might be almost a foot taller than any of these people, as well as being better educated and having a better feel for the real world, still you remember when this woman sent you into the corner, this man threw you over his knee and hit you until you were raw, this brother teased you until you cried. So you look to the girl, fingers curling tightly against your knee, and her expression is one of heartbreaking pity.

" '...we hope you parents will be proud of the daring members of our queer' - " your father's voice turns to a snarl as he reads the word, mother winces and chews on her lower lip, "- 'community who have agreed to discuss their experiences with any freshmen who have questions of fears as to how'..."

The room fades into silence again, his face has gone almost purple with fury. You're frozen in places, hoping and praying that there won't be any names, that all of this is some kind of huge misunderstanding. They can't know that you chose the school because it had such an open, accepting atmosphere. Because, when you visited at the beginning of your last year of high school, your host spoke openly about his boyfriend, there were two girls making out on a bench in front of your tour group, because the place had a gay studies program.

But, of course, the letter is shoved into your face, your name half-hidden by a thick finger, incriminating. And it's even worse than you thought - not only is your name on the list of officers but a copy of the newsletter is included, an issue with one of your stories in it.

Slump back in your chair and take a deep breath. Whatever they do to you now, it's too late. It's a month, less, until your nineteenth birthday. You're an adult in your own right, educated, and you're a talented writer. Much of the world has the same opinion as these bigots before you, but you've learned that there are others who are more accepting, who won't treat you like you're diseased, or like there's something wrong with you.

"What do you want me to do, dad?" The annoyance and frustration depends your voice despite your efforts. Fingers twitch against your knee and shoulders hike up protectively about your shoulder. You've never spoken back before. "What's done is done. I can't go back in time and - "

"I'm not paying any more money."

And there's a long, pregnant pause. You're too stunned to respond, mind is racing in search of some way to convince him. You can feel the one place where you've fit in, where people haven't edged away from you [or poked fun at you or beat you to a bloody pulp] slipping out from between your fingers. You can't pay for it yourself, you're barely making enough money at the library to buy your own food, to pay for gas.

"If you still want to go to college, you can find a nice, normal one. Close enough that you can live at home and get a real job and commute. Otherwise, you move back in here and start going to church again and stop your...stop being unnatural."

He's thrown the newsletter down, and he's waving a finger in your direction. Mother is wringing her hands and looking up at you hopefully. Your brother's eyes are narrowed to slits, it seems like he'd quite enjoy pounding you into the ground. Your sister's expression is wide-eyed and apologetic. It was here duty to intercept any incriminating mail, and she failed...

It's useless. There's no teaching them, I can't even pretend it's ignorance anymore. They enjoy their petty prejudices; my father is proud of his close-mindedness and wears it like a badge on his sleeve. I need to call Teague, but they won't let me near the phone. He'd be able to help me, to figure out some way to go back there, some way that I could avoid moving back into this stifling house.

If I can't get in touch with him, I'll drive up there tomorrow. I never want to see these people again.