Dad yanks me outside the house while the rest of the firefighters clear out the kitchen. I stand there awkwardly, not daring to look up at him as I rub the back of my neck. Fifteen and I still don’t know better. Fire and accidents are just attracted to me; matches practically beg me to light them, and before I can really think about it, napkins are blazing and I’m waving my arm around like an idiot because my sleeve’s on fire.
“What the hell were you thinking?”
“Nothing,” I say. My eyes are locked on the grass, and it isn’t until I hear cake tins inside being shoved to the floor that I look into the kitchen again where the tins have a loud, and unpleasant greeting with the tile. I wince at the noise and a nervous chuckle shudders its way out of me.
“Yeah, seems like it.” My dad glances back at the kitchen window where dark smoke continues to billow out. His brows are furrowed, and his mouth is turned downwards into a scowl. “You set napkins on fire. In the kitchen. Are you stupid, or what?”
“Only when there’s matches, or any other hazardous things within my reach.”
My dad doesn’t crack a smile like I hoped he would—like he normally would. “First you catch the toaster on fire, then the stove, you bust the microwave, and now you’re just begging to set the house a-freakin’-blaze after you play around with matches in the kitchen.” He’s trying his hardest not to yell as he rubs away the wrinkles from his forehead. “Where all your mother’s catering things are. That’s really smart, Jack.”
“Sorry, I’m just impulsive,” I say with a sheepish grin, hoping he won’t kill me.
My dad straightens up, so he’ll tower over me with his six feet, five inches. “Believe me, I know. And it’s not covering your ass. Not anymore it isn’t.”
I can’t look him in the eye.
“Do you know how ironic it is—how embarrassing it is for me to put out fires at my own house?” he asks. “First time, okay, I understand. Second time? You’re pushing it. Third time in the past two months? I’m getting ready to kill you.”
Finally, I look up, only to see a face covered in soot that’s nearly identical to mine. Green eyes, dark brows, defined jaw, the same nose. But there’s this look he has that I just can’t seem to place.
“I won’t do it again, Dad.”
The look doesn’t waver. He takes off his helmet and crosses his arms, still staring down at me.
He’s disappointed. Someone just shoot me already.
“Since when is it okay to set napkins on fire in the house?” He pulls off his blackened gloves and throws them to the ground. “How many times have I told you not to set whatever the hell you want on fire?”
“Too many to count,” I admit, picking at the charred holes in my sleeve.
“Right,” he scowls again and throws his helmet to the ground next. “Too many to count. You’d think it’d sink in by now, huh?”
I don’t say anything this time.
“Do you know how upset your mother is?”
She’s sobbing, or was sobbing. Pretty hard, actually. Not just because the kitchen was on fire and it’s full of all her catering things, but also because my sleeve caught fire too and that’s a bit too close to my skin. It’s happened more than once—my sleeve catching fire, I mean. But I still don’t like seeing her like that. And yes, I do feel guilty.
“You listening?” he asks, clearly not amused.
I watch as he rolls his eyes. With a subtle push to my chest, he has me sit down on the bench outside on the patio. He goes back into the kitchen where the smoke is still pouring out the doorway and the windows. Then he’s back outside with a wet towel and some bandages for my face.
“I just don’t know what the hell to do with you.” he says as he hands me the towel.
I wipe the soot off my face and wince. “Yeah, me either.”
“Your mother and I tell you not to do something, and you do it anyway.”
“I told you,” I crumple the towel in my hands. “I’m really impulsive. Just like Jackie.”
He shakes his head and runs a large hand back through his blonde hair. “Your sister’s a different kind of impulsive. She’s the, ‘I’m going to tell you what the hell’s on my mind’ kind of impulsive. But you,” he says with his other hand pressed against the side of his face, “You’re the kind of impulsive who sets off matches and attracts accidents just about everywhere you go. Actually, you’re a time bomb just waiting to go off. And you’re clueless.”
“Thanks,” I say a bit flatly; my shoulders slump and I narrow my eyes a little.
Dad reaches over to stick a bandage on my cheek. “Well, what else can I say? Did that get through to you, or do I have to do something drastic?”
“Physical force,” he says with a shrug. “I’ll fight you.”
I make a face at him and he finally smiles.
“Look, I just . . . really need you to stop this shit, alright? Try that for me.”
I exhale and shake out the towel, noting how tired my dad suddenly looks. “Sorry that I’m clueless.”
He shakes his head, pats my back, and takes the towel from me. “You’re not clueless, just impulsive.”
“But you just said—”
“I know what I said. Ignore that.”
We sit there in silence for a moment as he wipes the soot from his own face.
“I’ll admit,” he throws the towel aside on the patio. “I was the same. Maybe not accident-prone like you are, but impulsive. Hell of an impulsive kid.”
“See?” I ask. “There you go. I get it from you. Not my fault.”
“Then again, I guess I was pretty clueless myself.”
I let out an exhale and just smile. “So, we’re clueless, impulsive idiots with impressive height.”
“I have the impressive height. You’re still growing.” He nudges me and gets to his feet when he sees one of his co-workers lead my sister and mother around back towards us. “But I’m no longer clueless. And I don’t set shit on fire, I put it out.”
“Didn’t I tell you to only set things on fire when I’m around?” My sister jogs up to me, her long black hair bouncing back and forth in her ponytail. “Or to only use appliances, matches, or anything flammable, so long as I’m there to stop you, or at least supervise you?” She gives my arm a playful punch and I just break into a grin.
“But that wouldn’t be any fun, now would it?”
“C’mon,” she quirks an eyebrow and crosses her arms. “I’d be the best superviser.”
“Guys,” my dad’s tone has lowered, warningly, and we look over at him. “I think Jack has something to say to his mother?”
I turn to my mom and I see that she’s holding a fist against her mouth, her eyes bloodshot and glassy, looking right at me. She sniffles here and there, and hugs herself with her other arm as she shakes her head a little.
“Mom,” I take a couple steps towards her, the weight of guilt heavy in my chest. “I’m really sorry.”
She shushes me and closes the gap between us, wrapping her arms tightly around me. Her words are muffled against my shoulder as she begins crying again. I hold her and tell her just how sorry I am and how I can’t help myself. I tell her that I’ll pay for whatever I damaged in her kitchen, but she insists that all of that doesn’t matter.
“Y-You’re going to be a p-pryo!” she says between sobs.”A-A pyromaniac in-in a firefighter’s house!”
I raise an eyebrow and give my dad and sister a questioning look. “A pryo?”
My mom quickly nods her head against my collarbone, and her shoulders heave.
“Mom,” I shake my head and smile softly, stroking at her hair. “I’m not going to be a pyro.”
Her words are incoherent as she rambles on, both in English and in Japanese, not aware that she’s switching languages as she grows more upset.
I sway her a little and try to comfort her. “I promise you. I’m just the clumsiest, goofiest, and most clueless son you’ll ever have. And it’s not your fault, it’s just how I am. I promise I won’t become a pryo. I’m just . . . I dunno.”
“He’s upset,” Jackie says.
My mom blinks away the tears and looks up at me. “U-Upset?”
I swallow hard and glance over at my sister who’s motioning me to spill it all. “I guess so.”
“A-About what? Honey, you can tell me anything.” My mom holds my face in her hands and gently caresses my cheeks.
I shrug a little and look away from her.
“Jack,” my sister gives me a skeptical look and crosses her arms.
She knows just as well as I do that she’s a part of this too, but she doesn’t want to tell them because she knows it’s mostly about me.
“I want to transfer schools.” I bite down on my lip.
“Transfer schools?” my mom asks. “What for? Did something happen?”
“Nothing really happened exactly—”
“Something definitely happened,” my sister says. “And it’s still happening.”
“What?” my mom asks, looking up at me, directly in the eyes.
A sigh escapes me and I look away. “I told people.”
“You told people,” she repeats, resting her hands on my shoulders, sounding puzzled. Her lips purse and she furrows her eyebrows, so frown lines blemish her otherwise kind face. “Sweetheart, I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”
“That I’m,” my shoulders slump and I let out an exasperated sigh. “You know.”
I glance over at my dad; he has no clue.
“Oh,” my mom says, “Oh, that! That, that that. ”
“Yeah, that,” I say with my voice cracking.
She smiles up at me a little, letting out a sigh. “People didn’t react well?”
I snort a bit, and shake my head as I try covering up any sign that I’m upset. “No, they really didn’t.”
“Okay,” my dad walks over to us, looking even more confused. “What’s going on? We’re not talking about the fire anymore, are we?”
My mom looks up at him and opens her mouth to say something, but stops herself. She takes a breath and offers him a smile. “No, we’re definitely not.”
“Dad,” my sister steps forward. “Sometimes a person—a person like Jack—happens to be interested in women. And men.”
My dad just stares at her.
She rolls her eyes. “Jack’s bisexual.”
“Bisexual,” my dad repeats. His eyes wander over to mine and I know he wants to hear it from me.
“Dad,” I take a breath and twiddle with my thumbs a bit. “I’m bisexual. AndIdidn’ttellyoubecauseIwasn’tsurehowyou’dreact.”
He stares at me.
“Sweetheart,” my mom rubs my shoulder, and her voice eases—it softens—trying to calm both my nerves and my dad’s. “I don’t think he caught that. Again, please.”
“Okay,” I take another breath and subconsciously pick at the bandage on my cheek. “I only told Mom and Jackie because I felt like they’d understand. And I didn’t tell you because I wasn’t sure how you’d react.”
I watch as my dad stands there with his arms crossed, thinking it all over. It’s funny seeing a really tall, in shape, huge guy who’s covered in soot with the most puzzled look on his face. He stands there just staring off into nowhere like he’s been told that he’s actually a woman. In fact, I like to think that’s how he’d react if he was told exactly that—that he’s a woman, I mean. It would be hilarious.
“That,” he raises both brows and rakes his massive hands back through his hair. “That explains a lot, actually.”
I resist the urge to laugh; I wasn’t really expecting this reaction from him. I was expecting another disappointed look.
“Remember the Little Mermaid cake on our eighth birthday?” Jackie smirks.
“I wondered,” my dad says, still looking dumbfounded.
My mom smiles, walks over, and reaches up to stroke my dad’s cheek. “The little princess dresses he’d want to wear?”
“Figured,” my dad says.
“His giant man-crush on Freddie Mercury and Queen?” Jackie says with an all-knowing look.
It all clicks in my dad’s brain. “Makes sense now.”
“Point is,” I say, my face starting to flush, “I came out to the people at school and I don’t think it was the best idea.”
“You had to do it sometime,” my sister says. “I mean, don’t be one of those guys who keeps it secret until they’re forty. That sucks.”
“Well, now I’m kind of regretting it.”
“They’re picking on you?” my mom asks, her tears long gone. “Do you want me to call the principal? Their parents?”
“No, Mom,” I say with a sheepish grin, “I just want to transfer schools. That’s all. New slate.”
“Jack’s running away from this one,” my sister adjusts her ponytail, pulling it tightly. “And I don’t blame him. We’ve been stuck with the same douchebags—excuse my French, Mom—since first grade. It’s time to move up.”
“We were never buddy-buddy with any of them to begin with,” I say. “They’re all in that really annoying middle school hate-fest shit still.”
My sister shrugs. “And, to be honest, I’m their best player on the soccer team. If I leave, it’ll kill them. I’m just saying, I’ll be happy to see them suck ass when they don’t have me anymore.”
“Conceited, are we?” I ask, snorting at her.
“I won’t lie.” she says with a smirk, nudging me.
“Language, kids.” Our mom pouts at us and shoots us a warning look.
“Okay,” my dad eases back into the conversation. “So you’re telling me that Jack’s bisexual, neither of you like any of the kids at your school, and you both want to transfer to a different one. And we’re having this really off-topic discussion because Jack set some napkins on fire and nearly burned down the kitchen.”
“That’s right,” my sister and I say with a shrug.
“You couldn’t have just asked to have a talk, like normal families do?” he says. “We could have had this discussion over dinner. Like normal people.”
“Dad,” my sister looks up at him and rocks back on her heels. “I wouldn’t really call us normal. I mean, for god sakes, we deck out our entire house in scary decoration crap for Halloween, we have accidents once every month,” she starts holding up fingers. “Nearly burning down the house seems to be taken pretty lightly, and you have two perfectly amazing fraternal twins for children. That’s not normal; it’s a blessing.”
My dad doesn’t say a thing. He presses a hand against his forehead and stays like that for a long moment, my mom stroking his arm.
“Jeeves!” a firefighter comes out from the kitchen. “You done with your family dispute, or what, Jeevan?
“Still processing,” my dad says, not lifting his head.
“Give him a moment, Zelus,” my mother smiles at the firefighter in the doorway.
I watch as Zelus tips his headgear at her and returns the grin, wandering back into the kitchen.
“Okay,” my dad finally pulls his hand away from his face. “I’ve gotta go. We’ll talk more about this later.”
“How much later is later?” my sister asks with a quirked eyebrow.
“As soon as I get home,” he turns to her and points, “I also do not take nearly burning down the house lightly, okay? That’s serious, and you guys could have been hurt. I’m not joking, there’s no kidding here; I’m aggravated about all of this, so you should expect to hear some yelling when I get back.”
“Okay,” she shrugs and swipes a loose piece of hair behind her ear. “Weren’t my matches or Jack’s matches though, Dad. Pretty sure they were yours.”
Our dad gives her a look. “Jacqueline.”
“No, I’m just saying,” she laughs and shakes her head. “It’s true.”
He exhales, looks at me. “Jack, everything that’s been damaged is going on your tab. Again.”
“Understood.” I say, rubbing the back of my neck.
“Next time,” he lets out a giant sigh. “Use words, not fires. For everyone’s sake. Or I will kick your ass.”
“This wasn’t how I planned on telling you, just so you know!” I say as he gives my mom a kiss and walks back around the house with her where the rest of the firefighters are waiting.
“He took it really well,” my sister comments. “The fire and the bisexual thing.”
“He did,” I agree. “I mean, he’s not done talking about the fire, but yeah, that was pretty good. And you didn’t have to say I was upset.”
She shrugs. “Well, you wouldn’t have said anything. Besides, I want to transfer just as much as you do. If you haven’t noticed, I’m up for better things, and the dumbasses at our school aren’t offering those things.”
“Yeah, well, once we transfer everything will be better.”
“Just stop with the matches though, okay?” she says. “And it’s kind of funny, actually. The whole, you coming out to the entire student body thing ignited, caught fire, and crashed and burned, just like you did when you lit the napkins; your sleeve caught fire, you fell to the floor to crash and burn.” She laughs and bumps into me. “Funny, right? Almost symbolic. Metaphorical. That’s real beauty right there.”
I roll my eyes and try to smother my embarrassment with sarcasm. “Ha. Ha. You’re hilarious.”
“Oh, I know.”