A little bit of self discovery
The lake was calm first thing in the morning. He could see the gentle fog hovering over the still water. If he had his camera or even his phone next to him, he would have taken a picture. He liked taking pictures of moments in his life. They reminded him to slow down and contemplate the moment. After the shot was taken, normally, he’d breathe in and slowly let it out, still watching the same scene and memorizing it.
Was it because Frank didn’t know his—their authentic self that Joe grew frustrated and left?
Frank just wanted answers. To see where they went wrong. They wanted to know. So they weren’t flying high and dry.
“Frank, what are you doing out here?” Joe. He was here. He hadn’t left. “Have you been outside the whole night?”
“No, not all night. I just couldn’t sleep. The lake calms me. Did I wake you up?” Frank turned his head slightly to catch Joe’s appearance. His former partner looked as bad as Frank felt. His blond hair was messy as though fingers tugged and pulled on the soft strands. His blue eyes had dark circles and he looked unkempt, something Frank would never say about Joe.
“No, no, of course not. You know me, out like a light when my head hits the pillow. I worry about you, Frank.” Joe came over and stood shoulder to shoulder with Frank. “This change… I knew it’d be hard but, sweetheart, it’s not that bad, is it?”
“You want to leave. You need a change and I’m not sure I’m ready for such a big one,” Frank shortened their fight down to three small points. Joe winced at all of them.
“I want to leave Ontario. It’s stifling and I have a chance to broaden my horizons in Nova Scotia. I want that and I want you with me.” Joe took their hand, without the slim silver band, and flinched. “Where’s your ring, Frank?”
Frank rolled a shoulder toward the cabin before delicately pulling their hand out of Joe’s grip.
“Come on, Frank.Talk to me. I told you, this wasn’t a break-up or even a break. This was me scouting a place out on the East Coast.” Joe tried wheedling but when that didn’t work, he huffed dramatically. Frank gave Joe a side-eyed glare but kept staring at the drifting fog. A loon called for its mate in the distance. “If you won’t even acknowledge me, then what’s the point? I’ll… I’m going to Bob’s place for the day. You— do whatever makes you happy.”
Frank shrugged again and blinked at the tears building up in their eyes. Why were they crying? This was nothing. Just a conversation. Something Joe and they did all the time.
They slumped in the deck chair facing the lake, their legs too weak to hold them up. Too many secrets were building up, but Frank was too terrified to speak them out loud. What if this was the straw that broke Joe’s back? What if Joe was the one who couldn’t deal with change?
Frank shook their head and hauled himself out of the Muskoka chair. He felt like an old person as they hobbled up the short flight of stairs to their rustic one-floor cabin. The kitchen was mostly up to date with a small stove and fridge. A wood stove heated the cabin on frosty nights when summer took a break.
Joe had made coffee and left enough in the pot for Frank to have a mug. With coffee in hand, Frank fell onto the couch and sighed dramatically.
Steps on the front deck and the door squeaking open had Frank leaping up. They stood in the living room, unsettled while holding their mug.
Such a small word but so mighty. So troublesome. How one or two words could change a person’s perspective and life was terrifying.
Frank was they. And the mantle settled on their shoulders, conforming their body, lifting their spirits.
And immediately their mood plummeted. What would Joe say? Did Joe have an inkling? Is that why Joe was unhappy?
Frank wrestled all day with their thoughts. Lunch came and went. The heat of the midday sun burned the fog away, leaving the water clear as glass. Voices bounced off the granite cliff faces as friends greeted one another yelling from one cabin to the other. It was so familiar and comforting.
Frank’s stomach growled, reminding them they hadn’t eaten all day. All they’d been subsisting on was coffee and water. Making food didn’t enter their head at all. Their worry and their panic made everything else dim.
They made a peanut butter and jam sandwich and poured themself a tall glass of whiskey before heading back to the dock where the water called their name.
The childhood memories associated with the sandwich smoothed some of the jagged edges but there were some that still bothered Frank.
The whiskey burned their throat as they sipped. A good sign. They still could feel something, even physical.
“Frank? Have you been out here all day?” A concerned neighbour. Time to put the game face on.
“I went inside earlier. Thought I’d come down for the evening. It’s good.” Frank explained airily. They didn’t want to be bothered unless it was Joe.
“Frank, do you need to talk to someone? Joe said you were—“
“Bob, Joe wants to move to the East Coast. How would you feel?” Frank interrupted before Bob could really get started on questions about Frank’s state of mind.
“I know, Frank. He’s been talking about it for a while.” Bob sighed.
“Not with me. He never discusses anything with me. We—we’re… just I’m fine.” Bob didn’t need to know about the worries clamouring in Frank’s mind. He only had to know one issue. Joe’s need for moving. Not Frank’s identity crisis.
“Janie and I’ll throw a steak on the barbecue for you, Frank. We’d love to have you over tonight.” Bob offered. Frank considered saying no, but their stomach rumbled loudly, reminding Frank that they’d only had one sandwich all day.
“Yeah, that sounds good.” Frank gave in. Bob waited until Frank stood leading them through the narrow path between cabins. The whiskey made Frank’s head swim and their stomach lurched unhappily.
At the edge of Bob’s property, Frank saw the deep blue of Joe’s small SUV. His vision blurred and he refused to move another step.
“What’s going on, Bob?” Frank demanded. He—they didn’t like Bob’s machinations or attempts at fixing whatever ailed Frank and Joe.
“Frank…” Bob paused at the base of the steps leading up to a well-maintained deck. Janie stood at the top, wringing her hands anxiously. “We decided you and Joe need—“
“No. We don’t need you butting in.” Frank shook their—his head and returned to the path. They didn’t need to see Joe right now.
Fuck, why couldn’t they get their own fucking pronouns right? No wonder Joe didn’t want to be around them anymore.
Tears filled their eyes, making the walk back to their cabin almost treacherous. The danger root almost tripped them up and normally Frank could easily avoid it but today, as with everything going wrong, his sandalled foot caught the edge, sending a wave of pain up their leg.
Swearing viciously and turning the air around them blue, Frank limped back to the cabin, their big toe aching fiercely. They went to the outdoor shower and turned the spigot on, needing to clean the wound of debris. Sitting on the tiled floor felt good and the water was heated. Frank stared at their toe, unable to see through the film of tears.
It was like the dam of Frank’s stoicism cracked, opening them up to every emotion they had tried to pretend they didn’t have. They sobbed into their legs, trying to muffle the sound so no one heard.
“Frank? Where are— Frank? Baby, what’s wrong?” Joe came. Joe wasn’t on an airplane. Joe followed him—them, fucking hell. They. He was a they, dammit.
Joe turned the water off and curled himself around Frank’s body. His warmth and weight offered protection from the outside world. “Dammit, Frank. You have to talk to me. I can’t help you.”
“I don’t want you to hate me,” Frank mumbled. They turned their head and studied Joe tiredly. His nice expensive shirt was soaked and a bit stained with grit from the bush. He seemed determined.
“Frank, I’d never hate you. You’re my best friend. You know that?” Joe said, kissing the side of Frank’s head. “I could never do that.”
“I’ve been hiding something.” Frank started, meeting Joe’s startled gaze carefully. Their lower lip wobbled as they thought of how to say the words.
“Okay. This has nothing to do with anything, does it?” Joe asked shrewdly. Frank slowly shook their head. “Okay. Okay then. How about we dry you off, dress your toe and sit down at the dining room?”
“Can we do it on the dock?” Frank pleaded. The comfort of the water and the sound of the loon call would protect them from Joe’s disappointment.
“Yeah sure.” Joe stood up and helped Frank into a standing position. He grabbed a towel and briskly dried Frank down before leading them inside.
Once the toe was bandaged and they were in dry clothes, Joe poured them each a snifter of whiskey. “Bob told me you smelled like you had enough but I think we’ll need this.”
Frank nodded. The dock with their chairs called to them. Sitting down, he gazed out at the deepening twilight. The sky was a rich palette of reds, pinks, and purples reflecting off the water. No human noises could be heard as most people were inside now, likely eating dinner.
“Talk to me, Frank. What’s going on?” Joe asked, sitting on the edge of his chair. His legs were turned toward Frank. Joe was wearing his superhero sleep pants and it made Frank chuckle a tiny bit. Joe rested a hand on Frank’s knee. “Frank?”
“This is hard and you’re going to be so upset. Or disgusted. I haven’t decided.” Frank said slowly. They quickly glanced at Joe’s face, seeing only confusion. They weren’t making themself clear.
“Frank, don’t decide for me.” Joe reprimanded them gently. “Just say it. Rip off the bandaid.”
“I—I don’t… It’s hard, you know. Being forty some odd years on this planet and finally deciding that maybe words don’t work anymore. That things don’t apply. I don’t want you to be angry with me.” Frank splayed their fingers out and studied the knicks and cuts along the knuckles. Gosh, they were clumsy.
“Frank, I can’t be angry with you if I don’t know what to be angry about.” Joe laced his fingers with Frank’s and brought it up to his mouth to kiss. “I’m listening, sweetheart.”
Frank flicked their eyes at Joe before returning their gaze to the lake. “I think maybe. There’s a chance… that… I can’t explain it. What if—“
The sharp tone of Joe’s phone startled them both, causing Frank to retreat. Their forehead was dotted with sweat and their chest was going a mile a minute. Confessions were never good for the soul. Whoever said otherwise lied.
Joe’s conversation was brief and almost terse-like, something Joe never was. Frank swallowed and took a deep shuddering breath. Joe turned his phone to silent and gazed at Frank with worried eyes. “Sorry, that was business. It’s Sunday. No business on Sunday right?”
Frank nodded. Their momentum from the conversation was gone. They didn’t want to say anything, not anymore. They wanted to sleep away the confusion.
“Frank, you were going to say something. Tell me. I’m listening.” Joe brought their hands together and held tight. Frank could feel a slight tremor in Joe’s hand. Joe wasn’t as steady as Frank thought.
“This has been on my mind for a while and it just kept building and building. I’m sorry if I took it out on you,” Frank plundered on, apologizing first as they should have done. Joe nodded but encouraged Frank to continue. “I don’t think… I’m not… well I am. But fuck.”
“Take a breath, sweetheart. One breath and let it out.” Joe held their hand tight. Frank took their breath and tried again.
“I don’t think I’m a man. I don’t know how to explain it. But the um, there’s something inside me that says that the masculine words don’t quite fit. That when… that when…” Frank’s head wobbled and they couldn’t see anything. It was all sparkles and rainbows. The only thing connecting them to the real world was Joe’s hand gripping them tightly.
“I see. I see. But you don’t think you’re a female? Like she?” Joe asked lightly, his blue eyes were fierce. Frank tasted the feminine on their tongue and shook their head.
“I don’t think so. It’s they? I feel like a human.” Frank trailed off, feeling stupid for the comparison. Of course, they felt like a human. They were one. God. “You know what? Never mind. This is stupid. We don’t have to worry about this.”
“Frank, calm down. I think we do need to talk about this. I didn’t even realize you were thinking about this sort of thing. How long have you been struggling?” Joe’s hand was sweaty as it held Frank’s, giving Frank something else to focus on. Joe was nervous.
“I don’t know. It just was always there you know?” Frank rolled his shoulders and gazed out at the still lake. The water was a deep almost black colour reflecting the twilight sky.
“And you worried about me?” Joe asked, kissing the back of Frank’s hand. “That you’d disappoint me?”
“Because you’re gay and I’m–I’m not… you know.” Frank whispered. They curled over themself and rested their head on their knees. Their biggest worry and fear were out in the open.
“What? No! No, no no, honey! No, it doesn’t work like that. It’s not like that. Oh, Frankie. Oh, come here.” Joe left his seat and draped himself over Frank’s back, squeezing them tightly.
Frank wrapped their arms around Joe’s middle and breathed in the familiar scent of spicy cinnamon and coffee. Being surrounded by Joe helped but Frank’s brain still struggled. They didn’t want to leave this cocoon of safety ever.
They held onto each for a long time, until the stresses of the day, the gob stopping amount of alcohol Frank drank and the unburdening of their heart bore down on Frank. Their eyes drooped and they felt themselves drifting in and out of sleep.
Joe noticed immediately and hustled Frank inside their cabin where Joe pressed a damp cloth against Frank’s eyes and forced a glass of water down Frank’s throat. He manhandled Frank into bed and sat there, still and quiet. Joe’s presence solved some of the pressing problems.
“We’ll continue this talk in the morning, okay? I’ll make pancakes for us.” Joe whispered in Frank’s ear. “Can you stay?” Frank grabbed hold of Joe’s hand, worried their lover would vanish in the night.
“Sure, scooch over.” Frank opened their arms and Joe rolled into them, his ass nestled against Frank’s groin. Any other time, Frank would take that as an invitation. They’d kiss Joe’s neck, and caress Joe’s belly but were they allowed now?
“Frank,” their name was drawn out, Joe gripped Frank’s forearm. “Try to sleep. Try to relax. I know that’s a terrible thing to ask right now. But for me? I love you, Frank.”
Frank closed their eyes and attempted to turn off the brain. The warmth of Joe in his arms soothed them and brought sweet dreams. The morning would be better. Nothing could be worse than today.
Frank woke up flat on his stomach alone in a cold bed. He—they stretched their arm out and felt a cold bed. They went hot and cold as every possibly terrible thought raced through their head.
Joe couldn’t stand their lies and left.
Joe was squicked out by Frank’s confession and took off.
Joe was tired of Frank’s wishiwashiness and didn’t want to have anything to do with Frank anymore. That seemed to be the most logical of Frank’s wayward thoughts.
They buried their face in the pillow and bit back the fear that threatened to swallow them whole. Bloody hell, what were they going to do now?
Their bones ached and they wanted to sleep forever, but Frank needed to make sure they were alone first. They needed to confirm that Joe had indeed left the small cottage. Sniffling, they stumbled out of the bedroom to the kitchen where a small pot of coffee burbled. The scent of rich deep roast coffee filled the air and it reminded Frank of home and of peace.
But there was no Joe.
Frank stood in the centre of the kitchen, alone and lost in their thoughts. God, what could they do without Joe?