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to be unbroken or be brave

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“Hey, Schneider?”

Schneider looked up from the model train he was laying out in his parlor, and over to where Alex was playing video games on the couch. He had come upstairs an hour ago complaining that Elena was hogging the TV at home. 

“Yeah. What’s up?”

“I need some advice.”

Alex’s game was silent now, on pause. Schneider was pretty sure Lydia was his go-to for important discussions, followed by Alex’s friends and then maybe Elena, so he wasn’t sure what advice Alex would come to him for--but he knew it must be important.

Schneider got up off the floor and joined him on the couch. “I’m totally here for you, man,” he assured Alex, aiming for cool and landing somewhere in the realm of awkward stepdad.

“Thanks. The thing is...” Alex bit his lip, thinking it over before he continued. “I got asked out by somebody I really like.”

“That’s great! Is there a problem?”

“Kind of. You know how my mom is, she’s super strict about me and Elena dating. Even now that Elena’s been with Syd for like, forever, I practically had to give Mom an itemized list of every date thing I might do with Chloe before she would let me go.”

“Chloe was your first girlfriend, though,” Schneider pointed out. “And you were only fifteen.”

“I don’t think my mom is going to see sixteen as being all that different from fifteen.”

“So, are you looking for a way to get her to loosen up? Because I hate to let you down, dude, but your Mom is who she is. I don’t see that changing. And I definitely don’t think she’s going to take advice about her dating rules from me. She’s pretty comfortable being in charge of you solo at this point.”

“No, I know. I don’t need you to talk to my mom. I just need help figuring out how to tell her.”

“You told her about Chloe. I’m not seeing the hard part.”

Alex took a deep breath and let it out, slowly. “Okay. The thing is, I got asked to the movies by Spencer.”

“I thought Spencer was...oh.” 

Alex watched Schneider catch up, trying to figure out what he was thinking from his expression. His face was usually pretty easy to read, but Alex couldn’t get more than mild surprise from it.

“Spencer’s your friend, right? The new kid?”

“Yeah. My friend, who’s not a girl.”

“Well, you have mentioned him a lot,” Schneider thought out loud. 

“I really like him.”

“And he asked you out! So he likes you back. Way to go, man.” Schneider fist-bumped him with a grin, and Alex relaxed a little. He knew coming to Schneider was the right idea. 

“Yeah. Yeah, he does. Which is awesome. But if I want to actually go out with him, I have to tell my mom. And then Elena and my Abuelita will know, and I’m not sure if I’m ready for that.”

“So--wait. Nobody knows?”

Alex shook his head. “My friends do. But nobody in the family, until now.”

Referring to Schneider as family was always guaranteed to distract him from the actual conversation, but he only got that goofy happy look in his eyes for a few seconds before he focused back in. “You know, your mom and Lydia are totally cool with Elena being gay.”

“I know they are. But gay isn’t bi. Abuelita would support me if I came out as gay...I’m not sure she knows what bisexuality is. And my mom, she’s great about Elena, but girls liking girls isn’t the same as guys with guys. People don’t treat it the same. Plus, just because I like Spencer doesn’t mean I’ll end up with a guy, but if I date a girl, that doesn’t mean I’m straight...it’s just so much more complicated.”

“Alex, your mom is good at complicated. I promise you. And I’ve never seen anyone love another person as much as your Abuelita loves you. But I get it--coming out is tricky. You’re the only one who knows if you’re ready.”

Schneider tapped his fingers against his knee. “Since you asked for my advice, I think you should be honest with your mom. Give her a chance. It’s the quickest way to a date with Spencer,” he added encouragingly.

“Yeah.” Alex sighed. “I knew you would say that.”

“That’s because it’s excellent advice,” Schneider joked. “Seriously, though, I’m honored that you felt like you could confide in me.”

“You were so cool about Elena,” Alex said. “You didn’t make it weird, and you treated her the same...and you didn’t tell my mom. You waited and let Elena do it.”

He heard the unspoken question and smiled. “Of course I did. Just like I will for you. I told you, I get it. Nobody should be able to choose for you. Your whole family is gonna be there for you, when it’s time, I’m telling you. But until then, you can come to me if you need to. If you have questions.”

“If I have questions about what?”

Schneider scoffed. “About guys, obviously. About being a bi guy.”

“No offense, Schneider, I know you’re ‘super woke’ and all, but I think that’s a little outside your area.”

“Think again, Alejandro.

Alex rolled his eyes at the way Schneider liked to use--and slightly mispronounce--his full name. Then it hit him, mostly because of the unusually serious look on Schneider’s face.

“Wait. What? Are you saying that you...”

“Tried to start a band in college called The Bi Guys, of which I was the lead singer and the in-hindsight-objectively-terrible songwriter? Yes.”

“I don’t get it. Why didn’t you lead with that? Also--it’s been four years! Why didn’t I already know that?”

“An excellent question. Maybe you should spend a little less time focused on this,” Schneider said, pointing at Alex’s face, “and a little more focused on this.” He spread his hands to indicate the world around them, which just made it seem like he was trying to tell Alex to pay more attention to his enormous apartment.

“Don’t get me wrong, I really like women. I always have. Compared to that, I’ve only been into a few guys, my whole life. And my first relationship with another guy, I was at Pepperdine and it was before I got sober....I was kind of a dick. So, you know, I try to be more respectful now, more on-the-down-low. But it’s never been something I hide or anything. I guess it just doesn’t come up that much in regular conversation.”

“It’s never come up at all.”

“Maybe not. Then again, why would it? I don’t go around talking to you or your sister about my sex life.”

“Does my mom know?”

“She’s never asked me about it, but I think so. Yeah.”

“And she’s...cool?”

“The coolest. Alex, she may be old-school, not nearly as with it as I am--hey, stop laughing!” 

Despite his protest, Schneider elbowed Alex lightly, taking the teasing in the easygoing way he usually did.

“Your mom always comes through. You’re lucky that way.”

“Yeah.” Alex smiled, a little bit sheepish. “She can be really a lot sometimes, but I am lucky.”

She can be a lot? Have you seen your Insta feed?”

“Whatever, dude. Have you seen yours?”

Alex’s smile faded. “I do want to tell her. It sucks keeping it a secret. But when the whole family knows, it’s just going to be...”

“Intense. You don’t have to tell me that, I’ve seen them jump on your Homecoming pictures like sharks scenting blood. It’ll be a relief, though, too. Being honest usually is, even when it’s hard. So when it comes down to it...what are you really worried about?”

He frowned, hesitating long enough that Schneider thought he might not answer at all.

“Elena,” Alex admitted finally, and Schneider leaned back, surprised.

“Elena? She’s out and proud! Like, way, way out. No way is she going to have a problem with you being bi.”

“Oh, I know. She’s not going to have a problem with it. But I spent so much time, after she came out, telling her how straight I was--I don’t think I can take the I told you sos and the aggressively supportive vibe. I can already picture it: she’s going to sneak into my room during an away game and redecorate the whole thing in bi pride colors or something.’

“Bi pride colors kick ass, but go on.”

“I’m not like her. I don’t want my whole life to be about me liking guys, when I like girls too. I just want to be able to like Spencer. Without her turning it into a huge deal. She has no chill.” 

“Chill is overrated, you know.” But Schneider nodded, thinking it over. "I can’t help you with the whole ‘my sister is too supportive’ thing. That’s kind of the best problem to have, when it comes to coming out. As for the 'I told you so’s? Look at it this way. Why did you feel like you had to deny it so much? Was it because Elena kept asking?”

Alex thought about it, and shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. Maybe. She can be so pushy, you know? It just got on my nerves.”

“That’s the joy of siblings,” Schneider agreed. Alex was pretty sure he’d never heard him talk about any sisters or brothers before; he thought Schneider was an only child. He tucked that curiosity away for another time. 

“So maybe,” Schneider continued, “Elena had her reasons.”

“Besides being her usual level of annoying?”

“Besides that.” Schneider shook his head, amused. “She’s your big sister, Alex. And she’s gay. You might consider the possibility that she kept asking because she was expecting a different answer. And if she was, then you telling her now won’t be a surprise. It could even be...welcome.”

“Huh.”

“I didn’t have a big sister like Elena,” Schneider explained, “when I was figuring out who I was. There’s such a difference, being alone with it.”

He paused and let that sink in. 

“And Elena never had an Elena either.”

Alex's worry transformed into understanding. “She was hoping I was like her.”

“Maybe. It was rough for her, especially with your dad. I’m sure it occurred to her over the years that being different together would’ve been less lonely.”

“I never thought about it like that before,” Alex admitted. “I know it was hard, but she’s so loud and proud now...you really think it might make her feel better?”

“There’s only one way to know for sure.”

Alex nodded, his mouth firming into a resolved line. “Can I finish my game later?”

“Sure. I’ll hit save for you.”

“Thanks.”

“Do you want me to come with you?” Schneider asked as Alex got up, no longer looking weighed down by worry. 

“It’s really more of a one-on-one conversation--no offense, but that would be weird. Thanks for everything, though, Schneider. I think I can handle it now.”

“Okay. Cool.” Schneider was already turning off the video game and settling in to watch a Netflix documentary about Austrian yodelers. “Just remember, I’m right upstairs if you need anything. Door’s always open.”

“Literally. I know.” Alex stopped in the doorway to grin back at him. “You know you’re awesome, right?”

“The awesomest,” Schneider agreed, smiling back. 

“I’ll have to ask my mom,” Alex added, “but if she’s cool with it, you and Elena and me, we should go to Pride this summer.”

“I can show you my favorite booths!” Schneider almost bounced out of his seat, instantly excited. “Deal. And your mom will say yes, if I have to talk her into it myself. I bet I can get her to come with us.”

Alex narrowed his eyes. “I seriously doubt it. Between the crowds and the noise, there’s no way. If you weren’t in GA, I’d put money on that.”

“You have so little faith in me,” Schneider lamented. “You’ll see. I’ll buy her a flag to wave and everything. We’ll make it a family affair.”

“Abuelita will end up on a float!” Alex ducked his head, still laughing when he left. 

Schneider missed the first three yodelers’ segments entirely, waiting for the text from Penelope he knew would arrive soon. He estimated ten minutes for the talk, ten minutes for her to get the sentimental crying out of her system, and five more for her to lay down the rules for Alex’s next date. A half hour, tops.

It only took fifteen minutes. 

But she didn’t text. 

Penelope let herself into his apartment without even knocking first, just opened the door and headed straight for Schneider--a petite, Cuban, him-seeking missile. 

She was in his arms before Schneider had the chance to draw a breath, getting a tiny ‘oof’ out of him when she squeezed.

“I have the best kids,” Penelope half-sobbed into his chest, and he rested his cheek on top of her head, squeezing back. 

“You really do,” he agreed. He listened to her sniffle for a moment, waiting while her breathing settled down.

“So, Pen...wanna go to Pride with us?”