**This excerpt has not yet been edited and is subject to change before final publication.**
May 14, 2015
“You sure you’re okay, Lizzie?” The tears tracking down her cheeks completely belie the subtle nod of her head. For the last few months, I’ve been meeting with Lizzie, a high school senior whose best friend was bullied so badly after he “came out” that he felt the need to run away. She received a letter from him this morning and she was more than a little shaken up over it, so she called me.
Swiping at her face, she looks up at me, her eyes red and puffy. After taking a deep, shuddery breath, the kind you take after crying for far too long, she grabs a tissue and blows her nose. With the renewed determination that’s usually on her young face, she sits up a bit straighter in her chair. “Yeah, I am okay, actually.” I think her words shock her more than me. “It sucks that Cane’s not here with me, that those guys were so mean to him that he had to leave, but he’s safe and that’s what I have to focus on. I’m trying to convince my parents to let me go visit him once school is over.”
“I think that would be great for both of you.” I glance over her shoulder at the clock above my office door. Shit, I’m really late. I’ve definitely missed the graduation ceremony and if I don’t get my ass in gear, I’ll miss the party too.
Lizzie stands from her seat and I walk around my desk to escort her out. “You can call anytime. I’m here for you.” She awkwardly wraps her arms around me. After a quick hug, I can tell she feels better after having talked things out. This is why I love my job. Even though kids get bullied every day, and there’s no way to eradicate all of the ugly meanness in the world, I know that when I counsel a kid who’s struggling, I am doing something good in the world.
“Thanks, Mr. Hopkins. I really appreciate it.” She grabs her bag from the floor where she dropped it rather unceremoniously when she barged in here two hours ago. “I’ll tell Cane you say hello.”
After Lizzie leaves, it takes me less than five minutes to get my crap together and close up the office. I check my phone once I get into my car and I’ve got three missed calls and one angry text from Reid. He knows I’m a workaholic, so being late to a family event shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, but this is a big one. And I wasn’t even supposed to be at work today, either.
Dude, where the hell are you? Don’t bail on us again. This means a lot to Maddy and me.
Knowing they’re from Reid, I don’t even bother listening to the voicemails. Reid is my first boyfriend’s brother. We were childhood friends who lost touch for far too long. But in some twisted way, we found each other again. And now, Reid has become family to me – something he should have been a long time ago. Today, though, I’ve let him down. It’s his wife’s college graduation and I put work first. I don’t think Maddy will be too pissed, but apparently that’s not the case with Reid.
The party is at Lucy and Evan’s house. Maddy moved in with her and her daughter after her aunt died during her senior year. Maddy’s parents died in a car accident when she was ten, so for all intents and purposes, Lucy is Maddy’s mother. Luckily, Lucy and Evan’s house isn’t all that far from The Bridge, the Gay Straight Alliance counseling center where I work. When I pull up in front of the house, I can hear the music playing from the backyard. Smoke is billowing up from what I’m assuming is the grill. Must mean Reid is cooking.
I take a minute in the car to put on my “family face.” We all have it – the one you carefully slide into place when you want to hide what’s really going on, when you want to look like you don’t have a care in the world, even though the exact opposite is true.