“Your mother’s brother Tomas,” he said, then stopped.
Even on edge about what Papi might say, I couldn’t help smiling a little. I loved Uncle Tomas. He was a lot younger than my mother. He’d only been about ten when I was born. When Mami had brought me to visit her parents, Uncle Tomas had always let me play in his room, even though I usually broke things.
When I was eleven, he’d moved to Las Vegas, and I’d only seen him twice since. He didn’t come back east even for holidays, and we couldn’t afford to go see him. The day he’d moved, we’d helped him load his car. He’d handed me a shoe box and told me not to open it until I got home.
I still had the seventy-dollar set of watercolor pencils he’d put in that box. They were in the corner of my room with the sketchbooks I’d bought over the past few years.
“Tomas likes men,” Papi said. “That’s why he left. His mother didn’t mind. He was her baby, so anything he did was okay with her. His father, different story.”
I nodded, staying quiet because I had no idea what to say. I’d sort of recognized Tomas was different from the rest of the men in my parents’ families, but I hadn’t caught on that he was gay. By the time he’d left, I had realized I liked boys, and now I wished I’d kept in touch with Tomas. Having someone who understood would have been awesome.
“Your grandpa didn’t want a gay son,” Papi said.
“So he made Tomas leave?” I clenched the fist Papi couldn’t see because it was under my leg. Grandpa—my mother’s parents insisted their children and grandchildren use only English around them—didn’t take much crap, but he loved his family. I couldn’t imagine him throwing someone away.
Now I had more reason than ever to make sure no one found out I was gay. Even if by some miracle Papi accepted it, Grandpa wouldn’t. And I had no idea about the rest of my family.
“He didn’t make Tomas leave exactly.” Papi sighed. He looked tired. “He made it impossible for Tomas to stay. Called him horrible names. Tomas waited until he was an adult to tell the truth because he knew how his father would react. He had work ready for him in Las Vegas, and when his father did exactly what Tomas had expected, Tomas left.”
“That sucks.” I glanced at him. He was studying the art supplies on my bookcase.
I held my breath. Liking to draw didn’t mean someone was gay. Being friends with a guy who dressed like a girl sometimes didn’t make someone gay either. But the way the conversation was going, I was afraid Papi would put pieces together and come to the right conclusion.
“Family is family, always.” It was one of Papi’s favorite sayings. “Your uncle doesn’t see his father at all. He hardly sees his mother and the rest of the family. It isn’t right. He should want his family, and they should welcome him with open arms.”
“It was partly their choice,” I said. “Grandma could have defended Tomas.”
“She did. He was her baby.”
She hadn’t done a very good job of defending him, or he wouldn’t have moved across the country. I kept that to myself. We didn’t say anything against our family, not ever. Especially not our grandparents.
“Your friend Evan’s parents don’t mind him?” Now he looked at me with a pleading expression.
Begging me not to say I wasn’t like Tomas and Evan. At least that was how I took it.