I agonized for hours, flitting from one meaningless task to the next while my mind churned. Thank God for the breathing exercises my mom taught me, or else I would have been panicking again at the thought of Max leaving. But I tried, I really did try, to see it from her point of view. After a long Skype call with Lissa, I came to a decision.
My feet were silent on the hallway carpet as I padded over to Max's room. It was going on eight in the evening, but knowing her she would still be up.
I knocked quietly with my knuckles. "Max?"
There was some rustling behind the door before it opened, revealing my older sister with sleepy eyes and mussed hair. The black from the funeral clashed a little with the natural dirty blonde, but now wasn't the time to be judging her hair dyeing choices.
"Ella? What's up?" She yawned and rubbed her eye with a fist.
"I… I think I'm ready. To tell Dad."
Max straightened up so quickly her back cracked. "Right. Yeah. Of course." She glanced once over her shoulder, probably at Fang, but didn't speak before she stepped out into the hall and shut the door behind her. "Let's go."
I trembled as we turned towards the stairs. Max, standing as close to me as she was, felt the tremors and wrapped a tentative arm around my shoulders. I relaxed into her side, and her muscles loosened in response.
I'd always looked up to her. She was always the brave one, the one willing to fight and protect, and it felt nice to have that protection again. Dad couldn't hurt me when Max was there, that was for certain (despite how much I wanted to believe he wouldn't want to).
Angel and Gazzy were in the living room when we entered, both looking up curiously when we came in. Angel glanced at me and raised a pointed eyebrow, but I felt Max shake her head and neither of the siblings said anything as Max pulled me across the room towards Dad's door.
The shaking only grew worse. I pressed my icy hands together to try and stop it, but it did nothing to help the nausea. Dread was coagulating in my gut. Only Max's presence kept me from giving up on the idea altogether and bolting back up the stairs.
Max knocked, dull, harsh thunks against the white painted wood.
Thunk, thunk, thunk.
A slightly wondering voice called from within, "Yes? Come in," and Max squeezed my shoulder.
"Are you ready?"
Was I? No, not really. I was terrified, weak knees and all, but I had to do this. I wanted to see my girlfriend without having to sneak around like Max had to. I wanted Max to be able to leave when she wanted to without me holding her back. I didn't want to hide who I was from my father.
Max pushed the door open with a foreboding creak.
Dad was in his pajamas already, perched on the edge of his mattress with a Bible open across his lap and reading glasses perched on his nose. He looked up when the door opened, an expression of pleasant surprise appearing on his face. It didn't help the anxiety.
"Max, Ella. Is everything alright?"
"Ella has something to tell you," said Max, pushing me forward by my shoulders. She remained behind me, her hands gentle and reassuring as I wrung mine in pure stress. With curiously raised eyebrows Dad closed the Bible and set it on his nightstand, followed by his reading glasses, before turning and giving me his full attention.
I swallowed down acid and opened my mouth, but at first nothing came out. Max rubbed soothing circles on my back.
How was I going to say this? How was I supposed to tell Dad what I was when i didn't even know myself, yet? Why in the hell had I decided to do this tonight?
"It's ok, Ells," Max whispered. "It's ok."
I forced a deep breath into my lungs, and the words tumbled out on the exhale.
At first he didn't react. He paused, blinked, tilted his head. His thinning hair fell over his forehead and it kinda hurt how much he and Max looked alike. Unfair, even.
"You mean… a friend who's a girl?" The tone of his voice was naive hope- he was hoping I would say yes, that's all I meant, and my throat tightened but it was too late to turn back.
"No. I mean… a partner. A girlfriend. Back home."
He stared blankly, and suddenly all the words came pouring like a waterfall without my permission.
"I still like boys, I think, I just like girls too, at the same time, you know, and I don't exactly know what I am yet but I really like her and I think you'd like her too if you met her and I just-"
Max squeezed my shoulders and I fell silent, trembling, blood replaced with ice water. My heart echoed like a drum in my torso.
"Well?" Max snarled after several seconds of silence. "Are you gonna say anything?"
Dad leaned his elbows on his knees, folding his hands and pressing them to his mouth. He wasn't looking at me anymore; he was staring contemplatively at the carpet as though lost in deep thought. Tears beaded in my eyes and I couldn't tell if they were from fear or hope or despair or maybe all three at once.
"What's her name?"
My mouth opened, then shut with an audible click when I registered what he'd said. He turned and gave me a look I couldn't read, so I swallowed my heart back to where it belonged and tried my best not to sound as terrified as I felt when I spoke.
"Lissa," he said softly. "I'd like to meet her."
The dam broke and I burst into loud, passionate tears. Dad darted to his feet, only to freeze when Max pulled me back and into her embrace instead. But I kept facing my father even as she hugged me close.
"You're- you're not m-mad at me?" I blubbered, and Dad bit his lip.
"No, Ella. I'm… a bit shocked," he chuckled nervously and rubbed the back of his neck, "But I'm not angry. I'm not sure what this means, exactly, but… God made you like this for a reason. And God doesn't make mistakes."
The tears came harder, and I wrestled myself away from Max and held my arms out to him. When my father swept me into his arms and held me so tightly I thought my ribs would break, it felt like a sunbeam was rising in my chest.
Things had been broken for a long time.
But maybe they could be fixed.
(A/N Uh... hi? I have absolutely no excuse for how long this took me all I can hope is that y'all won't eat me before I can finish the story.