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The Beginning After by Kiersten Modglin (31)

Thirty-Seven

PEIGHTON

Peighton was speechless. It was as if she’d run straight into a brick wall, all of the air sucked out of her lungs in an instant. She looked into her son’s eyes, the bright blue eyes she’d looked into so many times. His face was full of pain and an expectation of more pain to come.

She squeezed his hands, the hands that had once fit perfectly around her pointer finger but that now had outgrown her. When she still couldn’t find the words to say what she wanted to, she pulled him into a hug, surrounding him with her body wholly, and wishing she could pour the love from her heart straight into her son’s.

He wrapped his arms around her after a moment of shock, the first real hug they’d shared in years.

“I’m sorry,” she said finally, not nearly enough.

He pulled away, his face still afraid. “You’re sorry?”

“Yes, Kyle, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I ever made you feel like this had to be this big of a deal. I’m sorry that I ever let you feel like I wouldn’t love you just as much or that this would change the way I felt about you. I’m sorry, Kyle. I’ve let you down if you thought that you being gay would ever, ever, affect anything between us.” She took his face in her hands, her eyes glistening with tears. “You are my son. You’re a part of my heart, sweet boy. You’re my entire world. I love you. That is so much bigger than anything you could ever do or say or…be.” She pulled him to her, placing his head on her chest and rubbing his hair. “I love everything about you.” She laughed. “I made you. And if you’re gay, then that means I made you that way. I love you so much, Kyle. I love you more than you could ever possibly understand.” She kissed the top of his head.

“I love you too, Mom,” he told her. His voice had lost a weight that she hadn’t noticed was there. He seemed lighter somehow, the weight of his world no longer on his shoulders.

They hugged for a while longer before she let him go. He sat up, rubbing his eyes with the backs of his hands.

“Why didn’t you think you could come to me? Have I made you feel like you couldn’t trust me?” she asked, the tears still falling down her cheeks.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Dad didn’t want me to tell anyone,” he said softly, his eyes low.

“What?” she asked, touching her collar bone. “Your father knew?”

“I came out to him last year. I was planning on telling both of you, but Dad didn’t want me to. He said I should keep it to myself.”

“You—” She looked up to Frank, a question in her eyes.

“Todd told me,” he confirmed. “It wasn’t my place to say anything.”

Fury filled her, white hot rage bubbling in her belly. “Why would he tell you not to say anything?” she asked, trying to remain calm.

“He said that small towns are tough when you’re…like me. He told me it would be easier if I just kept it to myself until I was old enough to move away.” He paused. “Or change my mind.”

She leaned back, an evil grin filling her face. “That bastard,” she said, her vision growing blurry with anger.

“Peighton,” Frank warned.

“No,” Peighton said adamantly. “No. I’m done, Frank. I’m done with this. With all of it. That…that bastard. It was bad enough that he felt that way. It was bad enough that everyone else had to put their entire life on hold because he was so terrified. But no. Not my son. He asked him to keep quiet? Seriously? He knew that pain. He knew what it would do to him. He knew I would’ve never stood for it. That’s why he didn’t tell me, isn’t it?” She was rambling now, not really asking for answers from anyone in particular. “Because there’s no way I would’ve kept it a secret if he’d told me. There’s no way I would’ve asked that of Kyle. It was all about that damn campaign. Always. Always about the campaign. Never about the safety of our child. Our child who just came home with a bloody face because of him.” She stood up, pacing the floor. “That…oh!” she screamed, venting her frustration. “I can’t believe him. I cannot believe him. Oh, I could kill him. I could just—” she stopped, looking at her son’s face. His utter confusion and general fear broke her heart. She sank back to the ground. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I shouldn’t have done that in front of you.” She kissed his forehead. “But, Kyle, your father should have never asked you to keep any part of who you are a secret. It wasn’t fair of him.”

“It’s okay, Mom, really,” he assured her.

“It’s not, Kyle.” She took a deep breath, her eyes flickering to Frank for a millisecond.

“Peighton—” he warned, but it was too late. She’d made up her mind.

“It wasn’t okay, Kyle, for anyone to ask you to keep that piece of you a secret. But, it especially wasn’t okay for your dad. And that’s why it makes me so angry.”

“He just wanted me to be safe, Mom. That’s what he told me.”

“He was lying to you, Kyle. He was lying to you because he loved you, but also because he was scared. He’d been scared for much longer than you. He’d been hiding who he was too.”

Kyle’s eyes lit up, and behind her she heard Clay inhale a sharp breath as she revealed the secret she’d sworn to take to her grave. “Your father should’ve never asked you to hide being gay because he knew firsthand how that felt, baby. Your father was just like you.”

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