Ellen was gay, which was not good.
She supposed she could blame her mother for birthing her that way. Or maybe she could blame God for deciding gay was a thing. Or maybe she could blame the populace of women at large because let’s face it, the world is very attractive right now.
Models in posters, thongs on hot brunettes, bright-colored tube tops and bouncing breasts lead to a very sexual combination that could make her sweat in a New York winter. It was seriously a problem.
"So," said her father. "Gay."
Ellen smiled from the front of the table. "Yep."
"Quite a lot to take in," her father growled. "It's different than what we would have hoped for. Disappointing." He grunted and stabbed his brisket with a fork. "I was hoping to see little grandkids running around."
"There's always adoption, Dad."
"It won't be the same," her father sighed.
Together they looked at Tigger the dog curled on the floor around George, the also-male dog. The two animals were watching with big, doe-like eyes. Evidently they knew they were being talked about.
“I dunno,” her father said. “It still seems weird to me. Can dogs really--?”
“According to vets,” said Ellen. “Problem with it?”
Ellen watched him carefully, letting her food grow cold on the plate. For almost four months, she’d been analyzing how to tell her parents she was gay. She’d brought up little facts about sexuality, introduced the topic into conversations, casually brought up articles about it when she visited. Her father either grunted annoyance or threw something. Her mother would go “Hic!” and put one hand over her mouth like the thought was making her ill. The numbers didn’t match for a satisfactory reaction.
But this could be the moment. Right here, right now. If her father gave his approval…
“Nah,” her said father proudly. “I guess it doesn’t matter all that much.” He smiled at Tigger. “You do you, little buddy.”
Ellen exhaled, relief slumping her shoulders. “That’s great. Because actually--”
“I suppose it isn’t as bad with dogs,” her father interrupted. “Dogs can’t get married or whatever.”
“I agree,” her mother said. “Personally, I still find it a bit abnormal. But I suppose we can learn to ignore it. In this case anyway.”
“In this case,” chorused her father. They clinked glasses in a toast. Ellen held back a sigh.
“So,” her father said, leering at Ellen from across the table. “Seeing any young gentleman?”
Ellen Robinson had an analytical brain, a mathematician’s brain, a top-of-every-class brain. She’d graduated from Harvard when she was twenty-three years old (valedictorian, naturally) and spent the next four years running a company in New Delhi. When she came home, she was 2.5 million dollars richer, had a Ph.D, and had been on the news exactly 11.5 times. The point five was when she had food poisoning and had to leave halfway through, but d*** it if Ellen didn’t wait until they were off the air before she vomited into her briefcase. It was called common decency.
In Delhi Ellen was the boss. Everyone was simultaneously afraid of her and wanted to be her best friend, which in Ellen’s professional opinion was exactly the relationship a boss should have with her coworkers. She cut ribbons, kissed babies, gave speeches, dated ridiculously attractive people and flew a private jet whenever she had the hankering to visit somewhere new. And yet, when she came home, she was reduced to pet names like “honey,” and “sweetie,” by her parents, who had made it abundantly clear that Ellen could not be exactly what Ellen was.
It was unfair. Ridiculous and unfair that someone should have that kind of hold over her.
She walked home mad in her high heels and stormed up the stairs in a nice, dramatic fashion. It used to hurt because Ellen never wore heels shorter than six inches, but over time the pain seemed to have molded to her feet.
She slammed the door and on the couch Sloane jumped. “Jesus.”
“Sorry,” Ellen told her. She slung her purse off one shoulder and threw it into the corner. “Stupid night.”
Sloane yawned. “Bringing up the dog thing didn’t work?”
“Not one bit,” Ellen said bitterly, flopping down next to her. She stole a piece of popcorn from the bowl Sloane had made. Around her, the living room was strewn with tubes of paint, brushes, paper towels and suspicious little splashes on Ellen’s expensive carpet. A large easel announced Sloane had been working on her painting of David Bowie.
“I’m not surprised,” Sloane said. “That was a weird idea.”
Ellen frowned at her. “You said I should try it.”
“That’s because your other idea was to bring a transvestite person over for dinner. Out of the two, gay dogs was better.” Sloane leaned against her. “I still say to go with my plan of just telling them.”
“Honesty,” Ellen said crisply, “is only the best policy when the numbers add up.”
“You and your numbers.” Sloane shook her head. “You know math isn’t the solution for everything. Sometimes things just have to roll. Be what it’s meant to be.”
“You sound like a hippie.”
She smiled. “You know I’m right.”
“You’re not always right.”
“I’m usually right, and I’m right about this.” She pinched Ellen’s nose. “Time to tell Mummy and Daddy, for real. Come on. You can do this.”
Sloane was like an exotic bird Ellen had found-- well, okay, Sloane found her-- in the streets. She was completely, utterly different than Ellen; wild and hilarious, chaotic and emotional, loving and kind and amazing. She could be a perfect dear, then tell a dirty joke that made scotch come out of Ellen’s nose, twice as funny in her posh Indian accent.
They’d been dating for almost two years now. They met in Delhi Ellen’s first week living there, but it took her another nine months to first realize she was gay, find out she was attracted to Sloane, pursue Sloane, and finally start dating her.
Okay, maybe Sloane was the one who kissed her first, or the one who decided the lunch they had together was a date, no matter how noncommittal Ellen had tried to be. But still. In her mind, Ellen had initiated the relationship. The numbers added up.
“The numbers don’t add up,” Sloane said. “They never will. You’ve worked too hard at this, and it’s time to just rip off the bandaid.”
“I suppose,” sighed Ellen. A pause. “I love you.”
Sloane kissed her cheek. “I love you too, darling. And I know you’re--”
“I wasn’t done,” Ellen interrupted. “I love you, but if you get any more paint on my rug I think I’ll have to skin you to make a new one.”
Sloane grinned. “You’ll miss my pretty face.”
“I’ll get to step on it every day instead.” Ellen curled into her side, hiding a smile. She’d never admit how much she loved those paint stains.
Ellen’s father Bruce reclined in his chair on a Sunday afternoon, sipping beer and watching the Vikings take down the Green Bay Packers. He chuckled merrily to himself. “Serves the dogs right.” To the kitchen he yelled, “Honey, you’re missing a great game!”
“Sorry, dear,” she called back, “but someone has to do the dishes, right?”
Bruce frowned. Lately she’d adopted a passive-aggressive tone that he didn’t quite understand. “Suppose so.” he said.
His phone pinged with a text from Ellen. It read: Can I come by for dinner again on Friday? I have a friend for you to meet.
The reaction was instantaneous.
Bruce’s eyes bulged out and his face turned purple with excitement.
“Lucille!” he yelled. “It’s happening! Our little girl is finally getting married!”
I’d like to interrupt this story for a quick lesson on the phenomenon called Parent Brain.
Parent Brain, or parentius cognitius, is what happens to a pair, usually a married pair, when their child, or offspring, is grown. “Grown” relates to a number of years depending on the time period, from fifteen to twenty-one.
It is then at this ripe age that the offspring begins to feel increasing pressure in the form of questions like, “When will you get married?” “When will you give me grandchildren?” “Who are you dating?” or,“Darling, there’s a lovely boy just down the street…”
Parents want babies, plain and simple. Since they’re too old for babies it is the offspring’s job to have said babies.
Ellen’s parents, though subtle about it, were experiencing the Parent Brain in all its glory. The main reason for their discomfort with the LGBTQ+ community-- though unknown to Ellen-- was merely because they fostered the extreme paranoia that Ellen wouldn’t give them a child if she was, indeed, a lesbian. Deep down, Ellen’s mother Lucille suspected there was a reason for the stories Ellen told them, the articles she shared, the hints she dropped, but she would never admit to herself that there was any chance Ellen wouldn’t give her a grandkid. Mark her words, Ellen would have a baby if Lucille had to drag it out of her with her bare hands.
This attitude, though horrifying, is commonly adopted by parents experiencing a Parent Brain.
Singles, good luck.
“What’s the best look to impress your parents with?” Sloane called from the bathroom. “Slutty and respectable, or girl-next-door with a rack?”
“Why are all your ‘looks’ so revealing?” Ellen flipped through the documents on her desk, frowning.
“My love, when you have a body like mine, you have to showcase it! When I was a child--”
“That’s perfectly fine,” Ellen interrupted, “but context clues. My mother is a devout Christian and my father hasn’t seen anything more exciting than the Dallas Cowboys winning the Superbowl for the last twenty years. You’ll give them both a heart attack.”
“Admit that you’d enjoy it.”
“You’re a monster.”
“Fine,” came Sloane’s voice. “Give me that boring blue thing you never wear.”
“I hope you know I never wear it because you called it boring.” Ellen handed her the dress through the bathroom door, along with a fistful of jewelry. “Wear these. It’ll make your hair sparkle.”
The idea of bringing Sloane over for dinner was one that popped into Ellen’s head at two in the morning. She figured if her parents liked Sloane enough that could lead to more conversations and more dinner nights and then, once they loved her (it was impossible not to) Megan would break the news. It was foolproof.
Sloane had complained about the long game she was playing, but when Ellen broached the question of Sloane telling her own parents (terrifying Hindus whose life goal was to sell Sloane off like a cow) she’d gone ashen and started stuttering that a long game wasn’t such a bad idea. Sloane’s real name was actually Saalihah, meaning ‘a pious woman’ but Sloane had decided to change it when she moved to New York. She still hadn’t even told her parents that, so Ellen wasn’t sure how long it was going to be before she got up the nerve to reveal her sexuality.
Which reminded her.
“Be brave,” Sloane said, as though she could read Ellen’s thoughts. “Don’t do that worry, overanalyze, the ‘numbers don’t add up’ crap-”
“But what if they don’t?”
“Stop being such a chicken-s***!” Sloane opened the bathroom door, gorgeous and perfectly dressed. “How do I look?”
Her dress dips down a little bit and her shoes are probably an inch too high, but that’s just Sloane. The sooner her parents know her, the better. Ellen smiled. “Perfect.”
Three things were happening at once as Sloane and Ellen approached her parents’ front door.
One: Ellen’s mother was in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on a three-tier mountain of whipped cream and strawberries, and preparing the bottle of champagne to be popped after the ‘big announcement.’ (This is what the Parent Brain does, singles: once the Parent gets their hopes up, nothing will entertain the possibility that things will not be what they think it is.)
Two: Ellen’s father was squinting through the curtains to catch a glimpse of his future son-in-law.
Three: Sloane had a pebble in her shoe and had stopped to get it out. As she bent over, Ellen’s father caught a glimpse of her bosoms and turned into a gaping fish.
Before he had time to recollect his thoughts, the doorbell was ringing, the mother was hurrying to fetch it, the damage was done. The night was doomed before it even started.
Ellen’s mother opened the door, and Sloane’s first thought was that it was Ellen with gray hair and way more makeup. Then the face stretched into a smile-- albeit, a startled one at that-- and Sloane caught the difference. Ellen didn’t smile.
“Hi!” Sloane said, smiling herself. “I’m Sloane. It’s so nice to meet you.”
Lucille just stared for a moment, first at Sloane’s face, then at her dipping dress, before travelling to her feet hovering in their five-inch shoes. Finally she made the journey back up and smiled. “Hi… there. So nice to meet you. We were expecting a young gentleman, I confess!”
“Well, uh.” Sloane gestured. “I brought cookies.”
“Delicious!” Lucille took the bag, that fake smile still plastered onto her face. Her eyes and lips were smeared with a whitish-yellow makeup so it was hard to tell she had a mouth at all. Sloane found it definitely creepy.
“Lucille!”barked Bruce. “Don’t make them stand out there in the cold!”
“Come in, come in.” Lucille waved them inside, her eyes following Sloane all the way.
(Kids, the Parent Brain makes adults do some crazy things. Like what Bruce did when he first saw Sloane. A word of advice; don’t be single. Single bad.)
“Whoa, y-you-- you’re a girl!”
“Dad!” Ellen shrieked.
Bruce went bright red but didn’t say anything. “We- we didn’t expect--”
“Yes, Mom made that abundantly clear,” growled Ellen, grabbing Sloane’s arm and marching her into the dining room. “So nice that you two know how to be civilized. God!”
Her parents followed sheepishly and Lucille fluttered off to get the food. “Sorry, Elle,” mumbled her dad. “We thought you mighta been ready, to- you know--”
“Get married?” Ellen’s voice was a snap. She sat down and Sloane, a little nervous, followed suit.
Bruce sat down, too. “We just want you to be happy, darling. Sloane, I'm sorry.” He nodded to her. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Sloane nodded but she was still insulted, at least on Ellen’s behalf. No wonder she had needed the perfect plan to tell her parents.
They ate dinner quietly, having light conversation about sports, jobs, the usual ‘how did you two meet?’ It was very slow. Sloane glanced at Ellen. This evening didn’t seem to have the impact she’d been hoping for.
“Hey Sloane, do you have a tissue?” Ellen asked.
Lucille came waddling back into the kitchen with the massive dessert, as Sloane began digging around in her pockets. “I think so. Right--”
Her fingers closed on a velvet box and she froze. Brought it out. Stared and couldn’t speak.
Bruce froze when he saw it. The bite of food stopped halfway to his mouth. Lucille stopped in her tracks, her makeup-smeared jaw dropping.
Only Ellen was calm, watching for Sloane’s reaction, chewing a piece of turkey.
“What do you think?” Ellen said after a moment. She put down her fork. “Sapphire and diamond, your favorite combination. 24-karat gold. I got it from one of those vintage shops you love.”
“Are you serious?” Sloane whispered.
Sloane laughed, disbelievingly beautiful. “Yes, of course. Yes!”
Ellen grinned and slipped the ring on her finger. Behind them, Lucille screamed and dropped the custard as her arms flew into the air. It hit the ground with a smack and suddenly they were all doused in pudding.
There was more screaming and laughing as Lucille jumped up and down. “Wait,” shouted Bruce. “Wait, Ellen, you’re gay? Why didn’t you tell us?”
“I tried, Dad!” Ellen yelled over the sound of Sloane sobbing. “The dogs, remember? The gay dogs!”
“You’re an idiot,” Sloane wheezed.
It took another hour before they finally left, tipsy on celebratory champagne, Bruce and Lucille still giddy with joy. Sloane kept smiling at the ring on her finger, catching it in the light. She couldn’t believe it. Ellen had always seemed too cool for marriage, above it, like she was a goddess and all of them mere mortals. And yet-- and yet--
Ellen linked her arm through hers. “You like the ring?”
“Love it,” Sloane said primly. “It’s beautiful.” A pause. “Wait, was this your plan for the evening all along?”
Ellen smiled, looking guilty.
Sloane shoved her with a laugh. “Don’t say it--”
“The numbers added up,” Ellen said defensively. “They would be happy at the news of any marriage. It’s only once we’re up at the church will they finally notice that you’re a girl and therefore cannot give them grandchildren.”
Sloane smiled, shaking her head. “You and your numbers.”
“I’ll probably drive you mad,” Ellen agreed.
Epilogue (every good story needs an epilogue!!)
They did have children, after insistent pestering on Lucille’s part. Both of them gave birth to two boys, who Lucille and Bruce fostered endless affection on. Sloane told her parents-- they didn’t take it well. Then she got married, and they took it even worse.
The Parent Brain phenomenon, as it turns out, doesn’t just mean grandchildren. It is the all-powerful, frantic, terrifying scrabble for something that will make the child happy-- and only once that something is found will the Parents be cured. It’s a logical explanation. It makes sense.
The numbers add up.