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LGBTQ+ Fiction

Warning: this story contains brief mentions of homophobia and homophobic language.


The box stashed in the top of the closet was so innocuous, at first Chris almost missed it.


It looked like any of the other dozens of boxes his late mother Anne had stashed throughout her house. She’d liked to keep nearly everything she’d received in her life; clothes, letters from friends and family, business cards from every professor she had in college, postcards from everywhere she'd visited, and of course, lots of pictures. Pictures from her childhood, her husband's childhood, her childrens and grandchildrens lives. All carefully packed in neat boxes and labeled in her delicate, spidery handwriting with the year they were collected. Since her death only a few weeks ago, Chris had seen dozens of these boxes as he and his sister helped their dad clean them all out.


This box, however, caught his eye for one reason. He’d never seen it before.


Anne had never exactly been upfront about her past, but she'd never stopped Chris or Bethany from asking her questions or going through her mementos. Chris had thought between him and Bethany they’d gone through all the things their mother had collected, knew every story and memory.


It was shoved back in a corner of his mothers closet; Chris had to stand on his toes to get it. It clearly hadnt been touched in a while, probably not since his mother had gotten sick. The lid was covered in a thick layer of dust. The label read ‘College, 1973.’


Carefully, Chris set the box down and lowered himself to the ground with a groan to go through it. He knew 1973 was the year his parents had met, and he knew they’d met in college. This would probably have pictures of them together, maybe with some old college friends. 


The box was half-full of letters and old Polaroids. At first glance, they looked to be normal; Anne smiling on a couch next to a pretty brunette, his father George sitting on Anne’s other side with his arm around her shoulders, wearing party clothes with a Christmas tree in the corner. Anne on the same couch, no tree this time, books and papers spread out on the coffee table in front of her. Unfamiliar handwriting labeled the picture ‘Studying.’


Chris flipped the Christmas picture over. The same unfamiliar handwriting labeled it ‘Christmas 1972.’


The brunette was an old college friend, Chris guessed. His mother had never talked much about college beyond meeting his dad there, but she had to have made a few friends.


More pictures: Anne and the brunette at the beach. The brunette reading on a bench. Anne dancing with George. Anne and the brunette dancing. Anne and the brunette at what looked like a park. Anne and the brunette…


Chris dropped the last picture with a gasp. It fluttered to his lap, still looking up at him: Anne lying across the brunette's chest, arms extended out of frame to take the picture, kissing each other full on the mouth.


Chris stared down at it, almost afraid to touch it. What was this? 


With numb, tingling fingers, Chris grabbed for the other pictures in the box and combed furiously through them. All included the brunette in some way, and looking through them, he noticed that in all of them, even the ones including his father, the brunette and Anne were always next to each other. He found another one of the two of them alone, of his mother sitting on the same sofa with the brunette's head in her lap, in the process of combing her fingers through her hair, both of them looking at each other in a way Anne had never looked at Chris's father. The brunette was smiling at Anne like she had never seen anything like her, arm held up to take the picture.


Shaking, Chris returned the pictures to the box.


The letters he picked through. There were twelve of them, still in their original envelopes, all addressed to Anne and dated between 1970 and 1973. There was one in the very back not in an envelope, edges curled from years of handling. Chris gingerly pulled that one out first.


It was folded in three neat sections. Anne's handwriting dated it June 15th, 1983.


My Lainey,


I will not be sending this letter. We said no more correspondence ten years ago, but I felt I needed to write this.


I have been married nine years. George is a good man. He treats me well. We have a lovely home with a garden. We have two cars and two children, Christopher and Bethany. Chris is three and Bethany was born only a month ago. They are both napping as I write this.


I told you when we parted that I feared the suffocation of the future, the weight of wifely duties and motherhood. It is a burden I still feel ill-suited to carrying, but as you said, I always somehow manage.


I miss you more than I thought possible. I think of you every day. I do love George and I love my children, but it is a different sort of love than what I felt with you. 


I wonder if you are in San Francisco. Are you working in Ward 86? Were you at the National AIDS Forum in Denver? In this epidemic we find ourselves in, both those places seem to be a place you would be, as fiercely compassionate as you’ve always been.


I love my life, Lainey. I’m not happy (can anyone really be happy when they are suppressing a truth?) but I’m content. The truth remains; as long as I live, I will always love you.


Yours, 


Anne.


Chris wasn't sure how long he stared at the letter, mind buzzing and fingers numb.


How was one meant to process this? Had his mother been gay? Looking at the letters spanning a three-year period, and the loving words of the letter he held, he supposed that answer was pretty obvious.


A memory fluttered up from the back of his head: an Easter dinner with his grandparents, his grandfather bitching about ‘fucking queers’ after one too many drinks. His mothers face: statue-still and silent, sipping a little too often from her own glass of wine.


Another memory: June 2015. The White House lit up in rainbows. His mother, again with a glass of wine, smiling at the screen. Thinking about it now, he wondered if the sheen in her eyes had been the result of too much pinot grigio or tears.


He looked back down at the letter on his lap, then turned to the others.


Sorry, Mom. I have to know.


He opened the first letter.


The first was relatively short, in that same unfamiliar handwriting, and dated 1970.


Dear Anne,


It was lovely meeting you at that party, and I look forward to being your classmate this coming year. What's your bag? What kind of music are you into? 


Best, 

Elaine.


P.S. Call me Lainey!


Chris combed through the rest of them in a sort of trance.


It appeared Lainey and Anne had become friends in 1970, and at some point in 1971 had become lovers. The letters Lainey wrote were passionate and full of love, and there were several sentences that let Chris know his mother was the one insisting on secrecy.


Something this true can't be wrong. Lainey wrote in a letter dated August 1972.


In March 1973, Laineys letters took on a curt, desperate tone. With a sinking feeling, Chris realized that must have been when his father came into the picture.


I love you, Anne. Why isn't that enough? was written in another letter dated May 1973.


The eleventh one was long, and in it Lainey asked Anne to run away with her.


We'll go to San Francisco. She wrote. We'll find somewhere safe. You'll make me the happiest woman in the world if you say yes.


The very last letter was brief, and Chris read it with teary, blurring eyes.


My darling Anne,


While I agree with you on many points, I disagree on this: that I will find someone else, someone who isn't a coward and can love me like I deserve.


I will love you forever, Anne. That's a promise.


Love,


Lainey


It was dated December 1973.


Chris put the letter back in its envelope and pressed his hands to his face, trying to muffle sudden tears. His fingers were starting to smell like dust and old paper.


He thought back to every memory he had of his mother, trying to see if there was anything that showed she had been keeping this level of a secret. Nothing jumped out at him. 


What am I supposed to do now?


His mother being gay was not the issue. The lie Chris felt like they had all forced her to live was. What would his father think? His sister?


His father called to him, and Chris heard his footsteps start down the hall. 


Chris looked again at the boxes contents. At the secret his mother had taken to her grave. 



Six months later, the box sat open on the kitchen table. 


Chris, George, and Bethany all sat around it, pretending like they weren't watching the clock. Today was a big day, after all.


The doorbell rang, and George and Bethany both turned in near unison to look at Chris. He gulped, then slowly got up.


The front door had a frosted glass window along the side of it, and Chris could see a person shoulder silhouetted through it.


He opened the door to a woman in her mid-seventies, nervously twisting her fingers together. Her eyes snapped to Chris when he opened the door and one hand went to her chest, tears filling her eyes.


“Oh.” she said softly. “You look so much like her!”


And whatever tension had been there faded.


Chris held out a hand, which the woman immediately grasped with both of hers.


“Hello, Lainey. It's nice to meet you.”


April 03, 2024 06:42

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3 comments

Jack Conlan
12:13 Apr 11, 2024

I absolutely adored this story. The pacing was just right, building the secret, revealing it and then letting us see how Anne lived with it. Truly I would have enjoyed this as a novel. Maybe you start with the letters and the letters pace us through? Consider writing it. This was wonderful. Well done!

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Kristi Gott
21:09 Apr 10, 2024

Sensitive and well told! The complexity of the characters' lives interwoven together makes this story engaging and interesting. The details and descriptions are skillful. The use of discovering the letters to tell the story works well. Good job!

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Trudy Jas
11:59 Apr 07, 2024

Elizabeth, this is fantastic! I had hoped they had found Lainey. What a wonderful first submission. Welcome to Reedsy.

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