**Challenge number 4. I saw this the instant the challenge was issued, though it’s a bit darker than I usually write. But I have to say, damn, I’m loving this game.**
With each mile that slipped under the tires of the Greyhound bus, the knot of dread tightened in Austin’s stomach. He stared out the window, watching the scenery rush by. Each flash of tree was another step closer. Austin swallowed hard. He tried not to think about it, but it was impossible.
The bus began to slow and within a few minutes, pulled into a rest stop on the thruway. Two hours from his destination, the last stop before he would disembark at home, and Austin was nearly in tears. As the bus came to a stop, he stood, and without a word, picked up his back pack and got off the bus. He kept his head held high and walked with as much confidence into the bathroom as he could muster. He didn’t acknowledge the looks or the comments. He headed straight for the handicap stall, locked the door behind him, and set the bag on the ground. With a deep breath, he bent down to dig inside.
The tears threatened as he pulled out the cargo shorts and t-shirt. His hands shook as he reached for his zipper. The sound was loud as it opened down his back. He swallowed hard, forcing back the tears, as he slowly pulled off his dress. It was his favorite sundress, with spaghetti straps, a full skirt, and a sweet pattern of tiny roses all over. Carefully he folded it, and pushed it into the bottom of his bag. After that he was quick to pull off his strappy sandals, and put on his shorts and shirt.
It was unfair. He was male, and he liked being male. But he liked wearing dresses too, and he hated that society said it was wrong. He hated even more that his parents didn’t have a problem with the fact that he was gay, but couldn’t understand that sometimes, he preferred more feminine clothes. He couldn’t wear his dresses at home, and he knew that he shouldn’t have even worn it this far. But he couldn’t face them without the strength it provided. He had to feel like himself until the last possible second in order to get through the next week at home.
Darren was waiting for him when Austin emerged from the bathroom. Without any pretenses or worry, Darren took Austin’s hand in his. He squeezed tightly and looked Austin straight in the eye.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Darren rumbled quietly.
Dear, sweet, wonderful Darren. How Austin had lucked out and found a man who understood that he sometimes needed to wear dresses, he’d never know. But from the moment Darren had found out, the man had been completely supportive. Austin gave him a watery smile.
“Yes, I did.”
Darren shook his head. His intense gaze bored into Austin. “If you wanted to walk into your parents’ house in that pretty dress, you know I would have been right there with you. I would have held you up.”
Austin nodded fast, even as his eyes filled again. He blew out a shaky breath. “I know. But I can’t do that to them. And I can’t—” A little sob escaped. Austin worked to get himself back under control. “It’s too much for them to handle. They’d never speak to me again.”
Darren grabbed him, pulling Austin into a tight embrace. The bag fell from Austin’s hand as he clung back.
“I love you, just as you are,” Darren whispered fervently in his ear. “We could face that together.”
Austin drew strength from his man. After several deep breaths, he pulled back and looked Darren straight in the eye. “Maybe next time.”
Darren considered him for a long moment before he nodded. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Another long moment of silence between them, then Austin bent and picked up his bag. He took a deep, steadying breath, clutched Darren’s hand tightly in his own, and headed back out to board the Greyhound.
Next time for sure.