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Round the Corner Straight

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When school and the kids there get to be impossible, Michelle runs away, this time for good, taking Stephanie's old Barbie suitcase packed full and her school backpack with nine ham and cheese sandwiches, five bottles of water, and the money from Grandma for turning fourteen. She stuffs her hair in her Giants cap and heads downtown to the bus station.

Michelle pretends that Joey's not following until he buys a ticket, too.

"Go away," Michelle tells him. "I'll tell people you're a pervert. They'll arrest you."

"And the police will call your dad," Joey says, leaning back and looking all parental in a way that Michelle hates. "I won't take you home. But I'm not going to let you be alone."

Michelle's chin wobbles with anger, unable to even look at him. If he says anything in a Popeye voice, he's going to get a fist in the mouth.

Instead he says, like Michelle should know this, "I, personally, do not give a fuck about how queer you happen to be."

It's a shock; Michelle's never heard Dad or Joey or even Uncle Jesse swear on purpose where the kids might overhear, and the laugh that escapes makes Joey look offended.

"What?" Joey says. "It's the year two thousand. Time to shake things up."

"I guess," Michelle says, and adds, "For now. But you have to call me Glen."

Joey's eyebrows go up, and he nods, and then because he can go longer without air than he can without a bad joke, he starts singing Oh Danny Boy under his breath (from glen to glen, get it, come on, it's a little funny, right).

So they end up just going an hour away and finding an apartment there, instead of taking the bus all the way to Seattle.

The first two years, Glen doesn't want to see his family at all, not even cousins or people related by marriage. Joey jokes that he called in his debts, making his voice all Godfather-y, but Glen's pretty sure he actually had to go and explain things to Dad, and that there was a whole bunch of trouble involved. Joey takes him to a center where he has to talk to a therapist and see a doctor, and enrolls him in a new school under his new name. Glen's still in the habit of skipping classes, but at least in the new school no one calls him names or tells him to be like his sisters. Joey buys him undershirts that hide his chest, and he joins the soccer team the second year.

One morning the third year, over breakfast, Joey mentions that Uncle Jesse needs someone to work at the club for their teen nights.

"Do I look like a bouncer to you?" Glen asks, sprawled out on the sofa and not even looking up from the dumb comics in the newspaper.

Joey grabs the box of Froot Loops and starts tossing them one at a time across the room at him.

"We'll get ants again," Glen says, scraping them up off the sofa and munching them.

"You come from a very heteronormative family," Joey says in the same pedantic voice Smokey the Bear uses to explain forest fires. Glen glares at him, the glare of death, but that just earns him a Froot Loop in the face. "But Jesse's got a ton of gay and lesbian friends. And that guy in the Monkey Puppet band, he was trans."

"Are you gay, too?" Glen asks. He sits up. It's hard to know when adults will treat him like a real person, and when he'll get blown off for being just a kid. It's even harder with Joey, who has like some allergic reaction to being an adult himself. Glen can ask Joey anything about Batman, but they both squirm when talking about sex.

Joey waves his arm through the air. "I thought I was straight, then I was bi. But I never really got what other people got, and I'm too old to care about faking it for appearances, you know? Your dad. . . when he asked me to raise his kids, that was what I wanted. Being part of a family."

"I screwed that up for you, huh," Glen says, and grabs a cushion to curl himself around.

"No," Joey says. "I mean, yeah, when you dye your hair and the whole bathroom purple, I think, Mama mia, what have I done to deserve this?" Glen shoots him with his finger, and Joey does the whole help me routine. "But your family knows and they love you and if you can't go home to them, they can come here."

"Dad would hate this place," Glen says. He points to the piles of comic books, and the laundry on the armchair, and Joey's Wonder Woman outfit hanging on the back of the bathroom door. "He'd call it a biohazard."

"He calls you Glen on the phone."

Ow, ow, low blow. Glen rolls his eyes up to the ceiling and huffs out a breath. "I used to be his baby girl." He kicks his feet up on the coffee table; talking about his father always brings out the urge to screw up, somehow. "If I work for Uncle Jesse, they're all going to ambush me."

"We'll make it a rule, no ambushing. Though you know the twins are going to be getting their Hogwarts letters soon."

Glen thinks about being an uncle and throws the sofa cushion half-heartedly to Joey. It lands on the floor and skids under a chair. "You are such a dork."

"I'm the dork who taught you the six secret rules of urinals, and don't you forget it, kid." Joey shrugs. "I don't feel like you're still running away. And they want you in their lives. It strikes me as a peanut butter and chocolate kind of situation." He glances over at the clock and slaps his hands to his face like The Scream. "If you're late for school again it's big trouble for you, Mr. Tanner."

Glen gets up and grabs his bookbag, slinging it over his shoulder. "I'm fast," he tosses over his shoulder as he snags his keys from the hook. "You better tell Uncle Jesse I don't want minimum wage." He lets the screen door slam behind him as he vaults the steps and hits the sidewalk running, legs pumping, sneakers slapping the uneven pavement. He guesses Joey was right. He doesn't need to run away; he's got places he's running to these days.