Dressed in his satin pyjamas, Howard hopped onto his bed, his room lit only by the green glow of the light sabres crossed on the wall. He settled in and closed his eyes.
When he opened them again, a tough, young blonde woman was laying next to him.
“So, my dear,” Howard greeted her, “we meet again.”
“Hello, Howard,” she smiled, “I missed you.”
He smiled back. “I missed you, Katee Sackhoff.”
“One question,” she asked.
“Why am I wearing my Battlestar Galactica flight suit in bed?”
Howard shrugged. “Why are you in bed with me? I mean, if we start to question this it all falls apart.”
“Sorry,” the imaginary Katee Sackhoff said, clearing her throat and continuing flatly, “Oh ravish me, Howard. My loins ache for you.”
“Okay, if you insist.”
Howard shuffled quickly under the covers, when his mother shouted at him from downstairs. He rolled his eyes, hollering back at her, not really caring what inanities she was going on about.
“Leave me alone!” he yelled, then turned back to his bed-mate. “Now where were we?”
“I believe you were about to rip off my uniform with your teeth.”
Howard started, jumping back at the much higher voice that spoke to him - Katee Sackhoff had been replaced.
“Bernadette! What are you doing here?”
“Well if I had to guess I’d say I’m here because you saw me earlier this evening and you’re still hung up on me.”
“No, I’m not!” Howard protested. He was contradicted by Katee Sackhoff, who reappeared, lying on his opposite side.
“Clearly you are. Otherwise, based on past experience we’d be done by now.”
This wasn’t going as usual. Howard couldn’t understand why his own imagination was insulting him. Or why his ex-girlfriend was popping up in here. Or why it was all happening now.
“Okay,” he admitted, “I’m a little confused here...”
“Oh!” said another voice. “Maybe I can help!”
Standing jauntily beside his bed, hands on hips, was George Takei. This was really too much.
“Not that kind of confused!” Howard proclaimed firmly.
“What’s George Takei doing here?” asked Bernadette.
“Howard,” Katee inquired, “do you have latent homosexual tendencies?”
“No, of course not!”
“So you say, yet here I am!” George Takei gestured broadly, and gave a wide smile.
Howard felt himself turning red. As much as he wanted to believe in his fantasies, he knew they weren’t real, and he wondered why he was asking himself these questions. He didn’t know why he was embarrassed even in front of his own imagination.
“Katee and Bernadette are here, too!” he retorted.
George Takei raised his eyebrows.
“No, they’re not.”
Howard checked both sides of the bed frantically. Both women had disappeared entirely. Panicked, he looked back up at George Takei, who sat himself down on the edge of the bed. Howard shrank back. The smile faded from George Takei’s face, and he looked sad.
“Howard,” he began seriously, “are you sure you're telling yourself the truth?”
Panic rose in Howard’s chest, making it harder to breathe, speeding his heart rate. His palms felt clammy. Where had Katee and Bernadette gone, and why weren’t they back? He shut his eyes tight, hoping that everything would resolve itself. After counting to ten, he opened them again. George Takei was still sitting on the edge of the bed.
The Truth. So simple, so straightforward, so direct. It was the question he’d wanted people to ask him, so that he could say something out loud, so that someone else could let him know that he wasn’t crazy, so that he could be himself and no one would mind. But no one had ever asked, and he had avoided asking himself, except for now. Was he telling himself the truth?
Sure, he was upset that he had broken up with Bernadette, and that it was over something as ridiculous as cheating on his girlfriend over MMORPG sex. For all these weeks he hadn’t been able to explain to himself why he had done it, but it had given him an excuse to break up. He was embarrassed about it, and thought people would judge him, and he wouldn’t tell them. Well, that wasn’t entirely true - he had told Raj. But why Raj?
It wasn’t true that he thought Raj wouldn’t judge him just because they were such good friends. In fact, it was the opposite - he was terrified every time he told Raj something stupid that he’d done, or was going to do, in case one day he would cross the line and do something that would make Raj leave. He just kept pushing and pushing, and through all of it, Raj still hung around. He would be devastated if he ever left him for any reason. That had to be more than friendship...
Telling himself the truth...
“No,” he whispered, finally.
The word barely made it out of his throat. He wished he hadn’t said it. This was too much; it was making his head spin. He wanted to throttle the imaginary George Takei who was making him face this. He wanted it all to go away.
“I can disappear if you want me to,” he offered, with a sad look on his face, “and never come back.”
Disappear. This could all disappear, go away, there wouldn’t be any more George Takei looking at him dolefully, and he could just force himself to sleep thinking about anything else but this. He wouldn’t have to worry about how his life would be different, about how he’d definitely have to move away from home, might never have to shout back and forth to his mother again, might never even get to speak to her again... About how to start dating or where to go to find the person he needed, or worry about actually dating to find someone he loved and wanted to be with, or worry about telling Raj that... He wouldn’t have to think about how he felt about Raj. And he wouldn’t have to worry about coming out to his friends... or worry about coming out to Raj...
“It’s your choice...” George Takei reminded him.
Howard closed his eyes again. It was his choice to make, now. It could be so easy, he could make all of this go away with a simple thought. Nothing would have to change, and he could go back to making stupid mistakes with women, and stumbling around like an idiot trying to be interested in something he wasn’t, trying to talk himself out of pining for men, convincing himself that his attraction to them was made up and that he was just jealous of the men he stared at, that he wanted to be like them, not with them. Wouldn’t that just be easier to deal with? And all he’d have to do was settle for some nice girl, somewhere, who could stand him, and it didn’t matter if he ended up ruining two lives, His & Hers, just like the towels say, just so long as no one found out. And who knew, maybe he’d be lucky and find a repressed lesbian, and they’d live together happily ever after just like they felt they deserved: completely miserable.
Howard squeezed his eyes tight for one last second, then, finally, opened them.
And there in front of him, like the gay parent that every gay kid wanted to have, still sat George Takei, on the edge of the bed, smiling warmly at him. It was too much for Howard, and he started to cry. George Takei put his hand lightly on Howard’s knee.
“How long have you known?”
Howard sniffled before answering.
“I don’t know. I’m still not sure. I don’t know if I want this.”
George Takei sighed.
“I wish I could tell you that this was it, and that once you’ve come this far, everything afterwards will be easy, but it won’t. You’ll still have days where you’ll wonder if you’re actually certain, or if you’ve made a mistake. They might lessen, it might just be a moment once in a while that you’ll doubt yourself. It might go away completely; it might never go away. I’m sorry it’s still like that.”
The tears kept on streaming down Howard’s face, even with George Takei patting his knee comfortingly. This whole thing was a lot more anticlimactic than he had ever let himself imagine, or, rather, tried not to let himself imagine. He cried out his fear, and his self pity, and losing them both made him tingle ever so slightly. There weren’t fireworks or an instant sense of self, but there was relief, and maybe the rest would come, one day.
“But,” George Takei continued, “you’re going to stop being alone in your own head - you’re going to find that you can fight against those feelings of self-doubt, especially once you’ve found someone, whoever you choose, and who chooses you back, to share your life with.”
Without thinking, Howard leaned his head on George Takei’s shoulder, and was patted on the back. After a while, he stopped crying, and took a breath. He sat back, and was startled again.
“Raj? Where’s George?”
Raj smiled at him. “He didn’t need to be here anymore.”
“Then,” Howard stammered, “what are you doing here?”
“Do you even need to ask? I mean, come on, you have, like, a massive crush on me.”
“I know, but what good is that?” Howard asked, distractedly picking at a nail. “I don’t want you to stop talking to me if I tell you and you’re totally creeped out.”
“Dude, if I do that, you can totally dump me as a friend.”
Howard blinked. For the first time in his life, he knew what confidence felt like. There was an easing in the tightness in his chest, like he was standing on a diving board, and suddenly the height didn’t scare him anymore. He felt like he would soar when he jumped off.
“Besides,” his imagination-Raj asked, “would you rather live without me knowing some of the most important things about you?”
Howard nodded, shutting his eyes. When he opened them again, he was finally alone. The house was so quiet that he could hear the high-pitched ringing in his ears. As he reached for his phone, he could start to hear his heart pounding in his ears, too. Just before it exploded, he texted the most terrifying words he’d ever typed to Raj in his life.
What would you say if I told you I was gay?
He put the phone down, and waited.