Raised in a conservative Christian family, Leah's older brother, Shane, gets kicked out of the house when he comes out to his parents. 9 years later, Leah finds herself in a similar situation, and struggles to cope. Will Shane be able to pull her back from the edge?
The Brightest Beacon
If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Leviticus 20:13.
This is the exact verse my parents quoted from the Bible the day they kicked my older brother, Shane, out of the house. I was 7 years old at the time. My brother, 19 years old, barely into college, and my parents cut him off from everything. They threw him out on the curb with a single suitcase and a backpack, not even offering him a ride or directing him to a safe place. I didn’t see him for 6 years, until I found him in the phone book at 13, and dared to bike across town to his address. I spent the next 3 years meeting up with him in secret, not letting my parents know about the secret rendezvous with their forsaken son and forcing Shane to remain silent about it, knowing that my parents would cut me off from him if they knew.
I was 13 when I thought I fell in love. She had dark hair, as dark as a raven’s. Emerald eyes. Black skin. She was beautiful. And I was barely a teenager, thinking I knew what love was and having nothing else to compare it to. But I was a girl. And girls weren’t supposed to love girls. I sat in church and listened to the priest when he told us that the world was coming to an end and that this was the first sign. First, they will allow the gays to marry, and then, slowly, the end will come. I believed him when he said that what I felt wasn’t love… it wasn’t emotion… it was sin.
I ran to Shane, anyway. 6 years had passed and I hadn’t heard from him, hadn’t seen him. But I ran. Because who else would understand? I ran and I found a 25-year-old man, happy, with a college degree, a career, a house and a husband. Surely, that should have cleared things up. Being gay wasn’t a sin… and I could really have a normal life. But Shane wasn’t a part of my life. He was a secret cove that I disappeared to when I wouldn’t be noticed. He was a forgotten branch of the family tree. The one link in the genealogy that years from now, my descendants wouldn’t be able to find. And his normal life didn’t comfort me, didn’t give me hope. I only saw that he had it because he was separated from us and from me.
But I was 13, and for the first time in my life, I had met someone that caused my lungs to explode and my heart to palpitate every time she walked by. Maybe it wasn’t love, but it was more than I could say for any boy I had met.
That terrified me. I spent the next 3 years trying to hide it from my parents, talking about boys I didn’t care about, fangirling over boy bands that I had no interest in, going to movies just for the hot shirtless guy once I got in high school, when all I wanted to do was kiss the girl with emerald eyes, dark skin and raven hair, who had become my best friend. I never told Shane what I was feeling, until one day, shortly after my sixteenth birthday, when I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
“Shane, I think I’m gay,” I said, sitting across from him at the island as he was preparing dinner. His husband, Anthony, was sitting next to me, reading a novel in preparation for the class he had to teach the next day.
My brother looked up, briefly, and went back to cutting the celery, clearly not phased in the slightest by this revelation. “Okay, Leah. What makes you think you’re gay?”
I stared at him. What did he want me to say? “I don’t know,” I snapped. “Do I have to have a reason?”
“No. Do you want to talk about it?”
“I guess not.”
“Anthony and I love you and support you no matter what,” he answered, sliding the celery off the cutting board and into the pot of soup. “You have a safe place here, no matter what. You know that, right?” I looked down, avoiding his eyes. “Leah, look at me.”
“Yes,” I whispered.
“You have to know that. No matter what happens, we are here for you. We love you. Okay?”
“Dinner should be ready in about half an hour. Get your homework done so mom and dad don’t wonder what you spent all your time at the library doing.” He dried his hands on a dishtowel and set a timer.
I sighed, shaking my head at him and going to finish the English paper I’d been putting off all night.
I don’t know how it happened, or where it came from. My parents were watching Fox News and the news anchors were discussing the tragedy that had befallen America that gay marriage was spreading like wildfire and Christians were being persecuted. My parents started complaining, yelling at the TV in agreement with Bill O’Reilly and whoever else was on there.
“I think they should just lock ‘em all up, keep them away from the kids, so they don’t influence them,” my mom said.
“Abominations is what they are,” my dad answered in agreement. “Nothing worse than a homosexual. Just as bad as rapists.”
I’d listened to this my entire life. There was nothing different about this conversation. Nothing particularly noteworthy, but I snapped anyway. I started shouting at them.
“Why do you care so much anyway, Leah?” my dad asked.
“Because I’m gay, dad,” I said. “Because I’m gay.”
I knew I’d cut them off, then and there. Within moments, my parents were giving me half an hour to pack up what I could and to leave. I saw my brother, at 19, on the side of the road, nowhere to go, kicked out of the family, taken away from me. And here I was, at 16, homeless, rejected by my parents, in the exact same position as Shane. I didn’t even know for sure if I was gay. But I knew that when I heard them shouting and arguing and talking about gay people as if they were the worst thing to walk the earth, that I’d never felt so much anger in my life. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, or beat them into oblivion. I wanted to run until I couldn’t run anymore.
I grabbed my bike and my luggage and rode to Shane’s house. It was almost midnight by the time I got there and it had gotten cold outside. My brother opened the door, saw me standing there and although he looked shocked, I know he knew exactly what had happened. “Leah, honey,” he whispered. “Get inside, get out of the cold.”
I put my bike in the garage and spent my first night as an orphan curled up in a bathtub, crying myself to sleep.
My brother spoke to my parents on the phone the next day, telling them that I was safe with him, trying to talk them into being more reasonable. They wouldn’t listen and hung up the phone. A month passed, and my parents still weren’t speaking to me. My brother’s attempts to mediate the situation were futile. He’d told my school that he was temporarily left in charge of me while our parents were handling a family emergency. Eventually, my brother just showed up at my parents’ door step, telling them they needed to be parents, to be responsible, to love their daughter even if they didn’t agree with whatever she might be feeling. They still didn’t listen. A week after that, they called. I had hoped it was to apologize, to welcome me back. But they were only calling to say that they thought it would be best if Shane took custody over me. My brother didn’t have to fight for me. My parents handed me over. After the paperwork had been filed and the proceedings finished, I never heard from them again.
I was an orphan when they kicked me out. Now, it was official. My parents were dead. My brother and his husband had taken their place. They were there for me. They loved me. But it didn’t matter how much they loved me or took care of me or what they did for me. They were a poor substitute. There is no worse feeling than knowing you are unwanted by your own parents.
I spent another month moping. My grades dropped. I stopped talking to Nora, my best friend, the girl I thought I’d loved. I’d lie down on my bed, staring at the ceiling for hours, until Shane or Anthony would tell me it was time to eat. Then, I’d go sit with them, eat the bare minimum it took to get them to leave me alone, and lie down again, until they’d tell me I needed to do my homework… and I’d sit for hours, barely able to concentrate, writing sub-par trash for essays and filling in random numbers as answers for my math homework. I didn’t care. I didn’t care if my grades dropped, or if I stopped being an honors student. Hell, I didn’t even care if they kicked me out of school. What use was it? The people who were supposed to love me the most didn’t. What worth did I have if my parents couldn’t see any at all?
Then one day, I started talking to a boy online, Erik. I’d met him in a chat room. We’d stay up all hours of the night, talking, flirting with each other, and playing out these sex scenes. Maybe I wasn’t gay. Maybe I was bisexual. Or maybe I’d mistaken my feelings for Nora as love when all it was, was friendship. One night, I was talking to Erik and we decided that he was going to drive to Louisville. We’d meet on Saturday at a local park and spend the day together.
batterboy84: see you this weekend, babes?
librarybabez93: this weekend. : )
batterboy84: sleep tight, babes. don’t let the bed bugs bite.
librarybabez93: : )
I smiled going to sleep that night. In two days, I’d be meeting him. I’d spend the day with him and I’d be back home before Shane or Anthony could suspect anything. Of course, I wasn’t going to tell them. They wouldn’t let me go in a million years. But they’d be thrilled if they knew I was spending the day with some of my friends, or at the library, or somewhere other than the house. They wouldn’t question it. My plan was foolproof.
When I woke up the next day, I actually spent some time getting ready. I put on make-up and wore a dress. I even curled my hair. When I went downstairs, Anthony looked up from his newspaper with wide eyes. “Wow, looks like somebody’s feeling better,” he said. “Look, you’re actually smiling.”
I blushed. “Shut up, Anthony,” and grabbed a banana from the counter, “don’t you have a class to teach?”
“Yeah, but not for another couple of hours.”
“Oh, right,” I muttered through my mouthful of banana.
At that moment, Shane came down the stairs, adjusting his tie. I don’t know exactly what he did; just that he managed an office downtown somewhere. “Good morning,” he said, kissing Anthony and then looking over at me as he adjusted the cuffs of his sleeves. “You’re looking happy this morning, Leah.” A look of relief came over his face.
“I figure I have to get better at some point. Why not now?”
“That’s a good attitude to have. Do you want me to drive you to school?”
“Leah, do you have any laundry you want done?” Anthony asked. “I’m going to put a load in before I head out to work.”
“Yeah, there’s a little bit in my hamper. You can do that if you want. Thanks.”
“Sure. Have a good day, you two.”
“We will, babe.” Shane kissed Anthony on the cheek. “Good luck with your classes today. I love you.”
When Shane dropped me off at school, he leaned over, kissed me on the cheek and said, “It’s good to see you smiling, Leah. Keep it up.”
I didn’t expect Shane to be home when I was dropped off by the school bus. He normally wasn’t home until about 6 every night. Sometimes he got home at 5, but never earlier. When I saw his car, I panicked, wondering why he might be home. Did the school call him for some reason? Did they have some policy regarding grades that I didn’t know about? Like informing guardians about failures? Did I do something wrong I wasn’t aware of? Did someone die? Had my parents called?
I opened the front door, “Hello?” I said in a questioning tone, peering my head into the living room from the entryway. Anthony was sitting on the couch. Shane stood next to him, arms crossed. “You’re not going,” he said sternly.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, shaking voice, trembling hands, as I walked towards them and dropped my backpack by the recliner. I knew exactly what they were talking about. But I hoped I was wrong.
Shane handed me a piece of paper, printed out from my computer, part of my conversation with Erik. “Anthony found this on your computer when he went into your room to get your laundry. You left the conversation up. Sit down, Leah. We need to have a discussion about this.”
I sat. “How long have you been speaking to him?”
“A month, maybe. Maybe more. I’m not sure.”
“It’s stopping today. Do you understand me? You don’t know who this guy is. You don’t know what he wants. You don’t even know what he looks like.”
“Shane, it’s not like that. He makes me feel safe!”
“Well, I can tell by your conversations that he’s not a guy you should be meeting. How much information did you give this guy?”
I sat silently, my brother peering down at me, arms crossed. I felt like I was 5 again, being scolded by my father for crossing the major street outside our neighborhood alone.
“Leah Marie McCutcheon, I expect you to answer me when I ask you a question. How much information did you give him? Did you talk to him on the phone?”
“No, just through my computer.”
“Well, he could track the IP address if he wanted to. So that’s not much comfort.” I looked up at my brother briefly, only to see him shaking his head. “Leah, it’s one thing to talk to people online, but you have to be careful about where you go and who you talk to. This guy hasn’t given you an ounce of his personal information other than his first name. Meanwhile, I can see that you’ve given him your full name, and the city you live in… and the park down the street. I couldn’t even find any information on his profile, at all. And look at this username, batterboy84? Leah, you’re smarter than this!”
“Shane, you don’t understand! He makes me feel safe!”
“That may be so. But it doesn’t mean that what you did and what you were about to do are any less dangerous. You knew it was wrong. You knew it wasn’t safe, otherwise you would have come to me to talk about it.”
“Leah, Shane and I have decided to take your computer away from you for a few months, until we feel we can trust you again,” Anthony said.
“How will I do my homework?”
“You will use the computer in the living room, so Shane and I can monitor what you’re doing at all times.”
“And you’re grounded until we feel we can trust you again. You’re not to leave this house without one of us. If you go to a friend’s house, we will drop you off and we will pick you back up. But we are to know exactly where you are at all times and there must be a trusted adult with you,” Shane added. He paused. “And to deter you from doing this again, you’re getting a spanking.”
“A what? I’m 16. You can’t do that.”
“We need to keep you safe, Leah,” Shane said. “I know you’re struggling. I know you’re having a hard time coming to terms with all of this. With mom and dad. With your sexuality. But that doesn’t mean you can go off and do reckless and dangerous things to deal with it. If you’re having issues, if you don’t know how to deal with something, you come talk to me or you talk to Anthony. Or somebody you know and trust. You don’t go to the internet to talk to some guy you don’t even know, whose identity you have no proof of, have internet sex with him and then go meet him in a park.”
“You need to understand how dangerous this is, Leah,” added Anthony.
“You’re wrong,” I muttered, looking up at my brother and his husband through tears.
“We’ll see about that,” Shane said, uncrossing his arms and pointing to the stairs. “Go to your room and wait for me.”
Climbing the stairs as quickly as I could, I reached my room and pulled out my phone, hoping to instant message Erik, but I couldn’t get internet service… or phone service in general for that matter. “Fuck,” I muttered, sitting down on my bed. “Shane fucking cut me off.”
I heard a knock on the door. Shit. and fumbled around, eventually putting my phone on my desk. Shane opened the door and sat down next to me on my bed. I turned my head away from him so I wouldn’t have to see the disappointment in his eyes. “Leah, look at me.” He gently pulled my chin back, so I was forced to look him in the eye. “I love you. So much. Anthony loves you. You can talk to us if you’re confused or hurt. There’s no reason to go running in the opposite direction. I was here 9 years ago, but I didn’t have an older brother or sister to go to. And you do. So please, don’t be afraid to talk to Anthony or me. Just don’t run into dangerous situations when you don’t have to.”
“Shane, I didn’t. I didn’t run into a dangerous situation. He helped me.”
“You’re not thinking clearly, Leah. I know you think he cares about you and you think he loves you and wants the best for you. But he doesn’t.”
“How do you know?”
“Because men like this, they’re predators. I read your conversations. All he wants is to take advantage of you and to hurt you. He’s a pedophile, Leah. And you’ve got to understand that.”
I shook my head. “You don’t understand.”
Shane sighed. “I know you can’t see my side of things right now. But you will.”
I looked at my brother, arms folded now, eyes dried up, and threatening to spill tears again. “Are you still going to spank me?”
“I need to make sure you’re going to make wiser choices from now on. Yes, Leah, I’m still going to spank you.”
“But I’m 16.”
“Frankly, I don’t care how old you are. You’re my baby sister and you’re my responsibility. I’m not going to let you throw yourself into dangerous situations like this. I care about you too much.”
“Shane…” I whined.
“This conversation is over. Come on, Leah, over my lap,” he said, patting his lap.
“No…” I whined, shaking my head.
“Yes. Come on. The sooner we do this the sooner it will be over with,” he answered, gently grabbing my arm and pulling me over his lap.
Though I disagreed with my brother, I also felt guilty. And yes, I knew it was wrong. I knew I’d done something stupid and reckless and dangerous. But Erik made me feel something when I felt nothing. He gave me attention when I felt like no one else would, like everyone else who mattered had left me. Somehow, I thought he was helping me. But I was confused and I was hurt and I was lost. And the brightest beacon was the one I went to. I was too afraid to turn around and see that maybe I wasn’t alone. Maybe there was a brighter beacon in my own harbor. So out of guilt, and shame, and humiliation, I succumbed to my brother’s punishment for me. Maybe I knew I deserved it, even though I didn’t want it.
Shane lifted the hem of my dress and pulled down my panties. I reached my hand back. “Please, hold my hand,” I begged. He grabbed ahold of my hand and squeezed it tight, then rubbed my back with the other. “I love you, baby sister. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t.” Patting my bottom, he lifted his right hand up and smacked it down, countless times, growing in force and intensity as the seconds passed slowly by.
I know I was screaming, and crying. Probably kicking too. But Shane never let go of my hand. And I squeezed his as tight as I could. That’s what I tried to focus on, amidst the screaming and his palm cracking against my ass over and over again, I tried to focus on his hand, not letting go, no matter how tightly I squeezed it.
He kept spanking me, maybe for 5 minutes, maybe for 10 or more. I’m not sure. In retrospect, it wasn’t that bad a spanking. He just wanted to send me a warning. That was it. And then we were done.
“Shh, Leah,” he whispered, rubbing my back as I sobbed. “It’s okay, baby girl, I’m done. I’m done.” He brushed the hair out of my eyes, and pulled me up to sit on his lap.
I threw my arms around his neck. “I’m sorry, Shane. I’m sorry,” I sobbed.
“It’s okay. Just don’t do anything like this ever again, okay, baby?” he stroked my hair and kissed my head.
I nodded and hugged him tighter. “Thank you,” I whispered.
In that moment, although my parents had disowned me and although my ass hurt like hell, I knew I’d been wrong about Erik being the brightest beacon. There was one right in my own harbor, but I was too busy looking in the wrong direction to notice.
Maybe my parents didn’t want me, but Shane and Anthony did. And that was something, right?