Family Outing

by James Merkin

“Travis is doing it again, Mother.”

“Shut up, Re-gret.”

“Doing what, Margaret? Travis, don’t call your sister names.” Their mother turned to look into the back seat.

“He’s picking his nose.”

“I’m not!”

Travis buried his face into his book.  Surreptitiously he wiped his finger on the seat beside him.

“Travis, sit up straight.  Margaret, don’t tattle.”

“He’s wiping it on the seat.”

“Shut up. Jeez…”

“Language, Travis.  That’s enough, Margaret.”

“Butó”

“I said enough, Margaret.”

It was one of those Sunday drives in the country that had become established as a family ritual. Roger did it to please Elaine, though he’d much rather be watching football.  His wife Elaine did it because she believed it was important for a family to spend some quality time together, though goodness knows she had plenty to do when they got back home. Travis, their thirteen year-old son, sat sullenly in the back seat.  If he’d had any voice in the matter, which he didn’t, he’d be sitting in his room with the door locked.  The only one who liked these drives was Margaret, who was fifteen and found them to be a wonderful opportunity to tell the family what she thought, since no one else ever seemed to want to talk.  The only thing she resented was having to share the back seat with her brother.  Couldn’t her father see that she should be in the front seat instead of her mother, since they all depended on her to lead the conversation?

Today Margaret was focusing her attention on Travis.  This was not unusual, for she believed that her brother was always in need of advice and guidance and as far as she could tell neither her mother nor her father offered him much in that regard.

“Isn’t your class having a Valentine Dance, Travis?”  Margaret didn’t think her parents knew about the dance yet.

“Shut up.”

“Oh, Travis, a dance!  You didn’t tell us about that.” His mother turned halfway around. “Have you asked anyone?”

Travis buried his head further into his book. “I’m not going,” he mumbled.

“Not going?  Why ever not?” Margaret rolled her eyes while watching her mother’s reaction.

“Don’t want to.” Travis said softly.

“Of course you do, Travis,” his mother said emphatically.  “What a wonderful opportunity for you to meet and make new friends.”  His mother was on one of her favorite topics with Travis.  “Why, you can dance with all the girls!”

Travis groaned, while Margaret smiled with satisfaction.  She said, “I think he should ask Sally Anne Shaffer.” Sally Anne was in Travis’s class, and lived next door.  Sally Anne adored Margaret.  She was the one who had told her about the dance.

“I’m sure Travis can find his own date for the dance,” Elaine said.  She didn’t much like Sally Anne, who followed Margaret around like a puppy.  “You should call someone as soon as we get home, to make sure the girl you choose won’t have already agreed to go with someone else.”

“But Mom, I don’t want to go.” Travis slammed his book shut and glared at Margaret.

“Nonesense. You must begin to expand your social circle, Travis; after all, you’ll be in high school next fall.” His mother was emphatic.

“I have a social circle, Mother, and it includes the friends I want.” Travis was getting a little agitated.

“Oh, yeah,” said Margaret sarcastically.  “Raymond, and Bruce, and those fantasy-gamer guys. Why, Raymond should be your date, he hangs around you so much.”

“What’s wrong with that? I don’t like girls!” As soon as Travis realized what he’d said he sat back, his face white.  He bit his lip and twisted his hands together.

“Travis! Are you gay?” Margaret practically shouted, her eyes wide.  “Did you hear that, Mother? Travis is gay!”

“Oh, shit!” Travis blurted, then looked up to see his father’s eyes staring intently at him in the rear view mirror.  The boy covered his face with his hands and began to sob.  He felt the car slow and come to a stop.

“Travis can’t be gay!  I’ll be ruined!” Margaret wailed. She opened her door and jumped out of the car.  The door slammed behind her. 

Travis heard the other doors opening and his parents getting out.  “They’re leaving!” he thought.  He sobbed harder. 

Then the door beside him opened and he heard his father say “Move over, son.”  Travis flinched and shifted over as his father sat down beside him and put his arm around the boy. 

“It’s all right, son.” His father gave him a hug.  Travis looked up uncertainly. “It’s going to be all right.”

“Aren’t you angry?”

“No, Travis. I love you, boy.”

Travis tried to wipe the tears from his face. “Butó“

“Shh.” His father put a finger on the boy’s lips.  “We’re your family, Travis.  I had a gay roommate in college, and I think I can appreciate what you’re going through.  Danny had a terrible time when he was about your age, and I won’t let that happen to you.”

Travis let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.  He leaned against his father and looked up as his mother and Margaret returned to the car.  His mother got behind the wheel and told Margaret to sit up front.  Margaret looked furious but didn’t say a word. 

His mother turned toward Travis.  “Don’t worry about Margaret, Travis.  She’s agreed that we will keep this in the family until you decide otherwise. Isn’t that right, Margaret?” 

Margaret scowled. “Yes, Mother.”

“Tell it to Travis.”

Margaret grimaced and turned toward Travis.  “I won’t say anything.”

“Thank you, Margaret,” Travis heard himself saying.  His dad gave him a hug. Margaret looked surprised, and confused. “But…”

“But nothing, Margaret,” Roger said.  “Travis is our son, and he’s your brother.”

“How long have you known, Travis?” His mother asked.

Travis flushed, then stammered, “Since last year, Mom.”

“Have you had anyone you could talk to?”

“No.”

“I think I’ll give your Uncle Ralph a call and see if he can come down.”

“Uncle Ralph? Why?”

“He’s gay, and he can probably explain a few things we can’t.”

“Uncle Ralph’s gay?” shrieked Margaret. “When did this happen?”

“He’s always been gay,” her mother said gently. “Get over it, Margaret.”

“Uncle Ralph?” Travis said weakly.  “But he’s a cop!”

“I think both of you kids have some stereotypes to overcome,” Roger said. “Isn’t it time we headed home, Elaine?”

“This has been some Sunday drive,” said Travis. For once Margaret had nothing to say.

_____