In The City of the Nightmare King [...

Chapter 4 New School

In the bathroom mirror the next morning, I gave myself a quick scan. This was it. 11th grade at a new school. Not that I really cared about school anymore, but it felt like a fresh start. Maybe here, I could at least try to be normal. Then the worries struck like a tidal wave. Would I need to come out? Would staying in the closet only make things more uncomfortable? Maybe I needed to be brave and own it this time. 

It was weird that a dream could inspire such courage in me. I’d had plenty of dreams where I was the hero of my own fairy tale, but when I closed my eyes and saw Hunter’s cute little squinty eyes, his lips pressed tight into a smile, I felt invincible. But I also felt pain, a sting like a thorn nestling deep into my heart. It made my stomach queasy. 

I wish he hadn’t have been a dream.

But it made sense that such a perfect boy–perfect for me, at least–was only a dream. 

Dad was already waiting for me in the car by the time I got downstairs. On the ride to school, dad kept glancing at me like a finicky meerkat. Watching me chew my thumbnail to bits with my eyes fixed outside the window, he must’ve thought I looked like a mess of nerves.  He patted my shoulder and gave me a reassuring smile, so I quirked the corner of my lips at him. 

“You worried, buddy?” dad asked me.

I wondered what to say: “Hey, dad, do you think I should come out my first day at this new school? You know, maybe show up on a big pride float shaped like a unicorn, covered in rainbow balloons, with guys in white thongs and angel wings dancing on it?” 

I smiled to myself thinking of that.  

“What’s that smile for?” dad asked, cheering up at the sight of me temporarily rising from my pit of despair.

“Do you think I should tell everyone I’m gay?” 

Dad got quiet. I knew me being gay was awkward for him to talk about because he couldn’t relate.  in high school, he had been a semi-jocky comic book nerd who spent his weekends with his straight guy friends plotting how to lose their virginity. Nothing like me. He shot me another easy smile, but I could tell he was faking it. “I think you need to do what’s right for you, Ry. I can’t tell you how to be you.”

Shit answer. Thanks. Sometimes, I wished he’d just be honest. I pressed my lips together and went back to looking out the window. 

This was going to fucking suck. 

Out in front of Misthaven High, a traffic circle looped around an island with a few benches, an old sycamore, and a raised American flag. Across the street from the circle stood a gravel parking lot for students and faculty. Dad pulled up behind a Scion inching its way around the loop.

Once he had an opening, dad stopped the car near the curb around the circle. “Hey kiddo,” he said, “I love you.”

I didn’t hear him at first because I was too busy watching other students get out of their parents’ cars, climb up a short flight of steps, and head to a concourse in front of the school. Overhead, the clouds covered the sky like a slate-colored cotton roof, foretelling stormy weather. Nothing new for Misthaven. But how would I know? Theoretically, I’d never been here before. 

It was all just so . . . strange.

When his words finally sunk in, I turned and said, “Love you, too, dad.” I opened the car door and followed the students to the concourse. Walking through the entrance, I wasn’t surprised when nearly every eye in the hallways homed in on me. Normally, my shyness would’ve had me cowering under all those scrutinizing eyes, but I didn’t want to be like that anymore, so I marched forward up some rubber-treaded steps like all the nosy kids weren’t even there. 

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