“You invited us over but didn’t think to have food?” Brendon grumbled as he moved into their parents’ living room.
Ethan didn’t bother to respond. At the moment, he was doing his best not to panic and run out of the house. So, worrying about whether Brendon was going to starve to death wasn’t high on his priority list.
“Chill, bro,” Sawyer added gruffly as he moved around the room and dropped into their father’s recliner. No one generally sat there except for Curtis, so Ethan had to figure his parents weren’t going to join the conversation. That was all right with him. The less the better in his opinion. And his six brothers were certainly enough at the moment. Considering he could see his mother moving around the kitchen and his father sitting at the kitchen table, he took solace in knowing they were there if he needed them.
Once everyone was seated, Ethan sucked in a deep breath, trying to form the words that he’d been rehearsing for the last twenty four hours, ever since he called his brothers to arrange this meeting.
“What’s up?” Travis asked, when he took a seat on the arm of the couch.
“I, uh,” Ethan began, still having a problem with words. His chest felt too small to contain his pounding heart and his throat felt a little too constricted.
Making this a formal event hadn’t been the brightest move on his part, now that he was facing all six of his brothers. Although Travis, Kaleb and Sawyer looked keenly interested in what he had to say, he fully expected Zane and the twins to give him shit. It’s what they did.
“Dude, you’re sweating,” Zane offered, reclining into the sofa as though he didn’t have a single care in the world.
Taking a deep breath, Ethan figured it was now or never. “I’m gay.”
Ok, so he hadn’t planned to say it quite like that. There should’ve been more words on either side of those two. A lot more.
“Well, we knew that,” Braydon added. “So, what’s the problem?”
Ethan stared blankly at Braydon. He didn’t even know what to say. It wasn’t that he didn’t think his brothers knew; they weren’t oblivious. But, for them to be so easily accepting took him a little by surprise. Why he had no idea.
“What the dumbass is trying to say is that we’re cool with that, E,” Zane added, sounding surprisingly mature. “And I’m sure they’ll have other questions, but I’ve only got one.”
Ethan swallowed hard, waiting to address whatever Zane was going to throw at him.
“Why’d you think you needed to hide it from us? Have we ever given you the impression that we would hold it against you?” Zane asked the question as he glanced around at the others before he returned his gaze to Ethan.
“I wasn’t hiding,” Ethan argued. “I didn’t want to put y’all through the shit I’ve been through.”
Zane sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “And what shit is that?”
Ethan shook his head, not wanting to go into detail.
“You wanted to talk, E. If you trust us enough to come out, you need to trust us enough to know we’ve got your back.”
Ethan stared at Zane. He understood what he was saying. Honestly, of all of them, he hadn’t expected to be pelted with questions from Zane. Then again, Zane was already clued into what was going on because he was Beau’s friend. Since Ethan and Beau were officially living together, keeping his brothers in the dark didn’t make much sense anymore.
“When I was nineteen, I was beaten pretty badly…” Ethan shut his mouth abruptly. He clearly needed to be careful how he told the story because the way all of his brothers sat up straight made him realize just how much they supported him.
They might be brothers, and they might give each other a hard time, but that was because they were family. When it came to outsiders who wanted to do them harm, even Ethan knew they’d stand together. Which was ultimately the main reason Ethan had kept his secret for so long. It wasn’t that he didn’t think they would support him. He knew they would. But the lengths they would go through to do that were what had worried him.
“Who did it?” Braydon asked, his voice gruff with what Ethan assumed was anger.
“That doesn’t matter,” Ethan stated firmly. “What matters is that my life changed at that time. I’d come to accept who I was, but in an instant it was taken all away from me. Just like plenty of others, I deal with snide remarks from assholes all the time. I didn’t want that to come down on y’all.” Ethan held up his hand to stop Zane from speaking. “Right, wrong, or indifferent, I did what I felt was right for this family. I knew you’d have my back. And that’s also the problem.” Glancing over at Travis, Ethan continued, “I know some of you might go off half-cocked. I didn’t want to risk that.”
“So why now?” Kaleb asked.
“Why now what?”
“Why are you sharing this with us now?”
Ethan found his throat closing again. This time it was because of the excitement that bubbled up within him. Thinking about Beau and the fact that they would be spending the rest of their lives together completed Ethan in ways he’d never expected.
“Are you getting married?” Zane asked with a huge grin.
No one said anything for long seconds, including Ethan. He was trying to figure out just how to tell them. No, there wasn’t a wedding date. In fact, he hadn’t even proposed at this point, but he fully intended to sometime in the very near future.
Meeting Zane’s inquisitive gaze, Ethan said, “Not quite yet. But yes, one day I hope to get married.”
He knew he wouldn’t need to explain how that would work because Travis, Kylie and Gage had already made it a possibility.
“To Beau?” Zane asked, this time his grin was more a smirk.
“Yeah,” Ethan answered easily. He still wasn’t sure how it was that Zane had just made this fairly painless for him. The man never ceased to amaze him. Not that Ethan was going to think Zane had turned a corner because he knew his younger brother would be up to his normal antics at any moment.
“So, when are we gonna celebrate?” Braydon asked.
“I say we head to Moonshiners this weekend. Do it up right,” Brendon tacked on.
Ethan wasn’t exactly excited about going to Moonshiners to celebrate, but he didn’t have it in him to argue. Not to mention, if he did, his brothers would continue to question him. Right now, he was just content that he could finally be himself and not hide from his family anymore. He didn’t want to cause any undue stress by letting on that there were still some people he tried to steer clear of.
“Moonshiners it is,” Ethan finally agreed.
“Fan-fucking-tastic. Now it’s time to go give Beau a hard time,” Zane announced pushing up from his seat.
“Wait,” Ethan groaned. “Don’t –”
“Dude, chill,” Zane laughed. “You’re still kinda uptight, you know that?”
Ethan wanted to punch Zane.
“I won’t say anything,” Zane added quickly. “At least not until the celebration.”
Well that was about all Ethan could hope for. For Zane to keep his mouth shut for any amount of time was considered a win.
Ethan turned to see Sawyer standing behind him.
“I’m hoping you can forgive me for telling Dad,” Sawyer said softly, his eyes churning with emotion.
“Forgiven,” Ethan said easily. With all the ways his life had changed in recent months, Ethan didn’t have room to hang on to the anger he’d let eat at him for so long. It was time to move on. Bigger and better things were on the horizon, he knew that much.
Sawyer gave a small smile as he stared back at him and Ethan was thankful that his brother didn’t get more emotional. Today had been hard enough. Then again, he hadn’t expected it to be easy. As his father had told him already, nothing worth it ever was. Knowing that he had the full support of his brothers and his parents, and the love of one man who without a doubt was the absolute best thing to have ever happened to him, Ethan knew that life would only be uphill from there.