Ruth stews at the kitchen table, long after Noah disappears up the stairs. She doesn’t know what Noah was thinking, ruining dinner with such a preposterous claim. Julie had definitely understood what Noah was claiming, and then Noah had actually argued with Ruth about it. Argued about it, as if it is something he really believes about himself!
Ruth sits at the table long after Noah disappears up the stairs, and she’s still sitting at the table when he comes back down the stairs, his backpack stuffed full of something and his duffel bag in hand, equally full. His guitar case is in his other hand, and he doesn’t say a word to her. He doesn’t even look at her or look toward the kitchen, just drops a piece of paper on the coffee table and walks out the front door.
Her impulse is to jump up, as soon as the door shuts, and see what the paper says. She wonders if he’s waiting for that, though, waiting outside the door as if she might run after him, and Ruth doesn’t move. She doesn’t move until Julie calls down the stairs from her room.
“Ma? Can I have my bath now?”
“Just a few minutes, Julie,” Ruth calls back, and she forces herself to stand up and walk towards the coffee table, picking up the paper lying there unfolded.
Going to Finn’s for a few nights at least. You have Carole’s number. I’m not leaving for good, just figured we both needed some breathing space.
It’s unsigned, and Ruth closes her eyes. Noah’s probably not wrong, because she certainly still feels like screaming. Still, she wonders if Noah running off to Finn’s means that Carole knows and supports it, or if Finn and Noah have Carole thoroughly in the dark. She marches to the phone without thinking, and her hand is wrapped around the receiver before she stops.
If Carole doesn’t know, telling her now, with both boys in the house, won’t help any of them. And if Carole does know, then Ruth isn’t really ready to talk to her.
“Ma?” Julie asks during her bath. “Where’s Noah?”
“He’s spending the night with Finn,” Ruth answers without thinking, and Julie immediately giggles.
“Finn and Noah, sitting in a tree,” Julie chants.
Ruth frowns, angry with herself for not realizing what she was saying. “Don’t, Julie,” she says sharply.
“Why not?” Julie demands. “You didn’t care when I did it last year.”
Ruth sighs. No, she hadn’t really cared when Julie had sung about Noah and one of the girls at temple. None of them had taken it seriously. But Noah claims to be gay, now, claims to be dating Finn or something, and that’s entirely different. “That’s different,” she says out loud to Julie.
“Because it is,” Ruth insists. “Your brother’s experimenting, I think.”
“Like in science.” Julie nods solemnly.
Ruth sighs and nods; she shouldn’t have said that about experimenting. “Don’t mind me, Julie, I’ve just had a shock. I don’t know if your brother’s experimenting or not,” she says, even though she’s fairly convinced in her own mind.
“Oh, okay,” Julie says happily. “Can we read two chapters tonight before bed?”
“Sure,” Ruth agrees. The earlier excitement is apparently easily forgotten for Julie, and she listens to her two chapters before going to bed easily. Ruth kisses Julie’s forehead and tucks her in, then leaves Julie’s bedroom, flipping off the light.
Monday passes without any contact from Noah; on Tuesday, Ruth gets home to a blinking light on the answering machine, and when she plays it, it’s Noah, leaving a short, terse message that he’s fine, and maybe he’ll be by Wednesday or Thursday evening to talk to her. Ruth sighs and decides not to erase the message, even though she’s pretty sure she already has it memorized.
Ruth can’t even articulate why, exactly, she’s so angry. She is angry, though, and specifically angry at Noah. She feels embarrassed, too, like she’s somehow failed as a mother, just as she’s always secretly suspected that other people think. She’s always had hopes for Noah, from the moment he was born, and even though Ruth isn’t a fool, she still hopes Noah gets out of Lima, if that’s what he wants, and has a good life, no matter where he lives, without kids who qualify for free lunch and without worrying about which bills to pay when.
And somehow being gay doesn’t figure in to the hopes Ruth has for Noah. She doesn’t know how it can, how he can grow up and have a family. How can he even get through high school? Ruth remembers what McKinley was like, remembers how the girl two years ahead of her was taunted daily with the word ‘dyke’ and the boy a year younger than her was shoved into lockers and ceaselessly called a ‘fag’. Ruth doesn’t think that Lima or McKinley has changed enough in fifteen years that things would be very different for Noah. Oh, Ruth can admit she actually wondered about their new friend, Kurt, but Kurt isn’t her child, has an involved and caring father, and what Ruth thought were two straight and somewhat popular friends to help protect him. How can anyone protect anyone else if they’re all gay, Ruth wants to know.
Ruth never planned to have a gay child, and she can admit to herself that she doesn’t want one. She doesn’t want any of things that come with having a gay child, doesn’t want to spend her time fighting on Noah’s behalf. Part of her thought that her days of fighting on Noah’s behalf were done the day he started high school, and she’d been ready to focus on Julie. Now Noah’s bringing her an entire new set of issues, and Ruth isn’t sure she’s up for them.
It’s not a reason to make Noah leave home, though, and Ruth knows that, too. They’ll have to talk about some ground rules, Ruth supposes; she’s not going to be so dumb as to forbid Noah from going to Finn’s, but Finn doesn’t have a little sister down the hall the way Noah does. Ruth shudders a little at the thought of what Finn and Noah might have been doing just down the hall from Julie, and just down the hall from Ruth herself. And Ruth can’t handle it for Noah if his being gay causes problems at school. She can’t, and she doesn’t know if that means she’s recognizing her limits or if she’s taking an easy out.