Exes and Ohs - 2. Chapter 2 A United Front
A United Front
The rest of the drive to Ottawa turned out to be enjoyable. Jimmy was effortlessly amusing, and stories about his family kept Drake entertained. Naturally, they talked a little about work, and the great opportunities for advancement available. The mishmash of feelings occurring whenever Jimmy touched on their past, settled down somewhat. It would be nice when he got to the point it was no longer a sore spot, or something to be avoided. Whoever ended up with the guy would be lucky; it just couldn’t be him.
Pulling up to Drake’s mother’s house, Jimmy whistled. “Money much?”
“Your parents loaded?”
Drake frowned as he took in the stone façade, lit to best advantage. “It’s all about appearances with them, but yeah, they’re comfortable.”
“No, comfortable is my parents’ house. A three bedroom suburban home that looks like all the others in the neighborhood.”
“It’s just a house, Jimmy… Dean… a little gaudy maybe.”
“Gaudy, no. It’s beautiful.”
“Yeah well, don’t let it fool you. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. I always hate this part. Sorry.”
“Hey, what’s the apology for?”
“For whatever is about to happen. That’s my brother’s Lexus beside us which means he could be here for the whole weekend.”
“Meh. He won’t bother me. This is supposed to be fun, remember? So, are we getting out or are we going to sit here all night?”
That crooked grin was exactly what Drake needed to see. He returned it with a sheepish one. “I don’t mean to be so dramatic, but you don’t know Preston. You might like my mom, though. She can be charming when she wants to be, especially when my dad isn’t around. Let’s go.”
“Should we take our stuff in now?”
“Oh no, that isn’t done,” Drake said in a pompous tone, and then laughed. “I’m just kidding. We’ll come out and get it later.”
One of the double entrance doors opened as they walked towards it. Preston stood there, smirking. “Mom,” he called out, “Your long-lost other daughter has arrived.”
The hand gripping Drake’s tightened almost painfully, and he felt Jimmy’s immediate tension. Damn, what a way to begin the weekend. “Don’t be a jerk, Preston. Dean, this is my brother. He thinks he’s a comedian.” He held his breath, waiting to see how this was going to go. He was relieved when Jimmy released his hand and stuck his own out to the still-smirking man.
“You never could take a joke, Drake.” Preston turned his attention to Jimmy and slowly took the offered hand. “So, you’re Dean? I didn’t expect you’d show up.”
“Pleased to meet you, Preston. I thought you’d be taller,” he said, smiling politely at the much shorter man. “Why would you think I wouldn’t come?”
Preston’s expression became icy, but he didn’t have a chance to respond. Drake felt relief again when his mother breezed up, the familiar scent of ‘White Diamonds’ wafting towards him. He could see Cathy, the dutiful wife, standing well back at the doorway to the front parlor.
“Now, Preston, behave yourself,” his mother said brightly as she moved past him to hug Drake. “Come in, come in. Welcome home. Was traffic bad… you’re awfully late?”
“No, it was fine. I told you I wouldn’t get here until nine at the earliest, Mother.”
“Oh, yes, I suppose you did. Now, introduce me to this handsome friend of yours?”
Drake was instantly annoyed at the ‘friend’ distinction, but he swallowed it down. He was about to make the introduction when Jimmy took over.
“I’m Dean, ma’am. Drake’s boyfriend. So very nice to meet you.” He held out his hand, which she took while giving him a speculative perusal.
“Of course. Boyfriend, yes. Welcome to my home. Please, call me Dot… Dorothy is so formal. Would you like to freshen up after your long drive?”
Drake shot Jimmy a warning look. That was an attempt by his mother to get Drake alone, for what, he had no idea, but there was something.
Jimmy seemed to understand when he smiled sweetly and answered. “No, Dot, I’m fine. Our trip didn’t seem long at all. Your home is beautiful.”
“Thank you. Drake can give you a tour later.” Her attention went back to her son. “The blue room has been prepared for you, and the green room is ready for Dean.”
And there it was. It was an astonishing thing to hear, given that Callie and her boyfriend had been sleeping in the same room for a year, and he sputtered as it sunk in. “Why… why both, Mom? I… we—”
“I expected you would each want your own privacy while you were here,” she answered dismissively.
Drake’s bullshit meter rose immediately, and he noticed his brother’s obvious glee at this awkward moment. What the hell? As much as it would make things simpler for the weekend on a personal level, he hated this blatant proof any relationship he might have would not be taken seriously. He sighed, accepting the slight. It was more of the same, yet his mother’s words were a new and belittling rebuke he hadn’t expected.
Jimmy obviously had a different idea. “We appreciate the gesture, ma’am, but that won’t be necessary. We’ll only need the one room... unless you have some objection?”
“Objection?” Her eyes flicked to her son and back. “No, well, no… I suppose not. Drake has never brought someone home before… so… no, no objection at all, if that’s what you wish.”
“Mother,” Preston said sternly. “What kind of example will that set for your grandchildren?”
Cathy chose that moment to step forward. “Oh, they’ll be fine, Preston. We always restrict them to the main floor anyway, so they won’t even be aware.”
Aware? Of what? The dirty secret they were being viewed as? Drake felt ill.
“Yes, Cathy’s right. So, there’s really no problem, is there?” his mother asked, indecisiveness written across her face.
“If you’re asking me, then yes there is. There definitely is,” Preston answered while glaring at his brother.
Drake felt his hand being reclaimed and looked up and over to see anger behind those usually kind eyes. He felt his own rage build while his mother stayed conspicuously silent. “I’m sorry, Dean. Even I didn’t expect this. I had no idea this would be how our relationship would be welcomed—”
“It’s fine. There are lots of hotels in Ottawa. We passed a string of them no more than ten minutes back. It was nice to meet you all.” His voice took on an unmistakable edge. “Preston, what you teach your children is your business, but we’ll be teaching any we might have to be respectful and accepting of others, and we certainly won’t expose them to any kind of bigotry. Ready, babe?”
“I am.” Ignoring his brother’s scowl and huff, Drake delivered a weak smile to Jimmy, though his heart was hammering in his chest.
His anger was unabated, but there was incredible satisfaction at finally taking a stand and seeing the expressions on his family’s faces; especially the scarlet indignation on Preston’s. He held no sympathy whatsoever for his suddenly distraught mother. “Goodbye, Mom. No doubt we’ll cross paths at the wedding. Dean and I will see ourselves out.”
“Goodbye, ma’am. Preston.” Jimmy nodded to Cathy before turning and leading the way back to the door.
As it opened, Drake heard his brother mutter, “Good riddance.” He steeled his shoulders, forcing himself to not respond. It wasn’t worth it.
“Preston, be quiet!” His mother had finally found her voice. “Drake? Stop this... please!” He hesitated at the shrillness, but then continued following Jimmy through the doorway and out into the warm evening air.
“Oh, let them go. I don’t see why they got so pissy. It’s your house.”
“I told you to be quiet, Preston. Shut up this instant!” she commanded from the front portico, and Drake was surprised at the anguish she displayed when she turned and addressed him. “Drake, please, this is your home.” Coming from his mother, it counted as a wail.
He had no inclination to fold, though. “Is it? Because it certainly doesn't feel like it. We’ll be staying at a hotel tonight and maybe Dad’s place tomorrow.”
“But you can’t.”
“Yes, Mom, we can.”
“Dean, please… help me here. I’m very sorry you were made to feel unwelcome. That was never my intention. I was only trying to keep the peace.”
“Even when it was the wrong thing to do?”
She had taken a few more steps toward Drake’s car, but her gaze stayed on Jimmy. “Yes, I suppose it was the wrong thing to do.”
“You suppose, Dot? Really?”
Turning her attention to Drake, he witnessed what appeared to be shame. It was a first in memory. Not even when her affair was disclosed had he seen shame. Only anger and defiance. “Yes, it was absolutely the wrong thing to do. I’m so sorry, Drake, truly sorry. You finally bring someone home who’s important to you and I don’t consider your feelings first. That was wrong.”
“Preston is right about one thing… it’s your house. You can make whatever rules you want, but I don’t have to accept them. Callie and Luke sleep in the same room yet you’ve never had a problem with that, and she’s two years younger than I am. And if you’re concerned about appearances over us not staying here, don’t worry. I won’t breathe a word.”
His mother looked like he’d slapped her. Tears, real ones, made an appearance. “I deserved that. If you want, I’ll ask Preston to return to his home. He need not be here.”
Drake looked over at Jimmy and received a shrug. He was leaving this all up to him. “Tell me something… are you ashamed of having a gay son?”
“Oh, my, is that what you think? No, dear, I’m not. I’ve always tried to show you that.”
“Then why do you allow Preston to say the things he does?”
“Preston is just being Preston. You know how he is, and you two have fought for your whole lives. I try to stay out of it.”
“Yeah, well, you certainly do stay out of it.”
“He’s just trying to be funny, Drake.”
“Funny? Seriously? He just called me your long lost other daughter for God’s sake, which is far from the worst thing he’s said to me. And he said it in front of my boyfriend the first time he meets him. All you said was for him to ‘behave,’ and that showed me how little you care.”
“I’m so used to you two—”
“No, Mom! Not ‘you two.’ It’s all one-sided. I don’t attack him, not ever. It was one thing when we were kids, but we’re adults now. He’s a bigot and you allow him to be, ever since you and Dad split up. You’ve always overlooked his insults while you say you’re okay with me being gay. How do you think that makes me feel? Do you even want to know?”
“I… of course I do. How does it make you feel?”
“Like I’m always on the outside. If it weren’t for Callie, I wouldn’t feel part of this family at all.”
“Oh, Drake. I’m so sorry. I’ll ask Preston to go home.”
“Mom! No! You’re missing the point. We’re not children you can send to different corners. I need you to take my side in this. He attacks who I am. He ridicules gay people and makes assumptions about how I live my life, and if you accept that in any way then you don’t accept me. Don’t you get that?” He hadn’t even noticed Jimmy walk around the car until he felt strong arms encircle his waist from behind. It was a demonstrative act of possession and support, and it was exactly what he needed. He watched his mother take notice as she stammered.
“I… I don’t know what to say. How do I fix this?”
“I can’t answer that because I’m not sure you can. It’s gone on too long and he isn’t going to change. It’s easier just to keep my distance.”
She looked like he’d slapped her again. “Please, please don’t say that. I don’t want you to ever stay away.”
“Why not? I’ve been doing it for years,” he said, suddenly deflating. He didn’t want to hurt his mother—he just wanted to leave. The anger drained away, but bitter disappointment replaced it. Truth be told, he was feeling embarrassed as well. “I won’t ask Jimmy… Dean… to stay anywhere our relationship isn’t respected.”
“But I do respect it. I can see how close you are, and I had no idea—”
“You asked me to help, ma’am, so here’s my two cents.” Jimmy tightened his embrace as he cleared his throat. “Maybe you can start by letting your sons know what you will or won’t accept in your own home. Seems to me you let Preston decide whether we should be allowed to stay in the same room. And, he used your grandchildren as pawns when you changed your mind. I don’t mean any disrespect to you, but personally, I find that despicable, not to mention manipulative.”
“I never thought of it that way, but yes, I suppose it is.”
“One more thing. If the issue was that you weren’t comfortable with your unmarried children sleeping in the same room as their partners, I’d have accepted that with no problem. But already knowing from Drake you had no such rule for your daughter meant it could only be because we’re a gay couple, and that, Dot, is something I could never accept.”
“And you shouldn’t. Thank you for being so candid.”
“No problem… I usually speak my mind, but what I care about is how my partner feels. It’s his decision, but I’m okay with staying here if we are treated, by you, like any other couple.”
He looked pointedly toward the open door and spoke louder. “Preston’s opinion means diddly to me, but I’d have to be a fool not to see how it affects my boyfriend.” He finished by planting a light kiss on Drake’s neck, as if to put an exclamation mark on his words. It was unexpected, and caused Drake to shiver.
“If you stay, I’ll make sure there is no more disrespect in my home. Drake? Can you forgive me? I should have paid more attention.”
“Mom, I’m really tired. I don’t want you to send Preston or my niece and nephew home—I’m not the bad guy here—and I don’t want any more drama. This isn’t fair to Dean. I think it would be better to book into a hotel for the night.”
“Don’t worry about me, babe,” was spoken into his ear.
“Please, Drake? It’s getting late, and you’re already here. Dean’s fine with it, and you can go straight up to the blue room and rest if you like. You won’t have to deal with any drama from anyone, I promise. If you leave, it will break my heart.”
Ugh… mom guilt. Drake twisted to face Jimmy. “Are you sure?”
Jimmy grinned. “Frankly, I’m thinking your mom’s pretty cool after all. I believe she means what she says, so yeah, I’m sure.”
Drake looked at his mother. “And you won’t ask Preston to leave?”
“Not if you don’t want me to, but I am going to have a talk with him.”
“By all means, say what you want as long as it comes from you, but you might be surprised at the Preston you think you know. He’ll likely leave on his own if he doesn’t like what he hears.”
“Oh, he is not going to like what I have to say. You’re right about it being time I was on your side. I’ve been turning a blind eye for too long, and somewhere along the line we sacrificed our family decency. So, will you come back inside?”
Drake studied her, noticing for the first time how his perfectly coiffed and beautiful mother was aging. He also saw there was still a measure of anguish in her eyes.
“You know, since we’re being honest, for the first time in years I feel like you see me, and… ah, never mind. I guess what I want to say is I’ve missed you, Mom. Is Dean right? Can I trust you really don’t have a problem with us sharing a room?”
His words caused more tears. “I made a mistake… I realize now I’ve made a lot of them, but when my child or his choice for a partner do not feel welcome in my home, that is something I will not have. I’m sorry it happened in the first place. I can see the love between you, and I think it’s wonderful.
“I’m glad you brought this fine man home. I know we’ve just met, but you’re exactly what I want for my son.” She smiled through her tears at Jimmy.
“Thank you, Dot. Believe it or not, I’m glad I came, family fireworks notwithstanding.”
She laughed, but it sounded more like a sob. “Oh my. I need some tissues.”
Jimmy stepped around Drake and handed her some crumpled ones. “I used to be a boy scout. Don’t worry, they’re clean.”
She laughed again, and proceeded to delicately blow her nose. Once finished, she again focused on her son. “Have you reconsidered?”
“Yes, Mom. We’ll stay tonight.” His emphasis on ‘tonight’ let her know he wasn’t completely convinced. ”We’ll just grab our stuff.”
It didn’t deter her enthusiasm, though. “Oh, thank you. Now, come on back in. We have a wedding to rest up for, and it’s after ten already. There’s lot of prepared food in the kitchen if you decide later you want something to eat. You make yourself at home, Dean.”
“I will, Dot. Thank you.”
Going back through the open door, with luggage in hand, Preston and Cathy were nowhere to be seen. After saying good night to his mom with hugs, they went up the curved grand staircase. Neither man said a word until they closed the door of the blue room behind them.
Drake was first in, and he dropped his suit bag on the carpet before turning around and embracing a chuckling Jimmy. He didn’t say anything. He just squeezed as he breathed in the man.
“Are you okay?”
Finally, he released his hold, pulling back and placing a quick kiss on a startled Jimmy.
“What was that for?”
“I guess it was for being you. That was awful. I’m so sorry.”
“Let me clarify here. Are you saying kissing me was awful?” His crooked grin made an appearance.
“You know what I mean. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
“Aw, it wasn’t so bad. I thought it was kind of fun.”
“Right. What part of that was fun?” He suddenly felt awkward holding onto his friend. An intimacy between them had come out of the blue as they faced his family, and he’d run with it—it felt completely natural—but now….” He released him and stepped back. Something flickered across Jimmy’s face as he let go of him, and Drake suspected it was disappointment.
“Ah, that would be the part about putting Preston in his place.”
“Okay, that part was hilarious. You have no idea how pissed off he was when you said you thought he’d be taller.”
“Oh, yes I did. Apoplectic comes to mind. I think a few veins in the man’s head might have burst.” He chuckled, but then became serious. “I didn’t overstep, did I?”
“Hell, no! You were perfect. That thing about what we would teach our kids was inspired. You couldn’t have done any more damage if you’d punched him in the face.”
“Yeah, well, he deserved it. Fucking bigot. I was so angry… I shouldn’t have said that about leaving and staying at a hotel, though. I should have left it for you to decide what you wanted us to do. Sorry.”
“Jimmy, seriously, you don’t have to apologize for anything. That was the first time I’ve stood up for myself like that, to my mother or Preston, and it was all because of you.” He hung his head for a few heartbeats.
"I don't know why I’ve taken it in the past… I know there’s nothing wrong with being gay, but somehow I feel diminished when I’m with my family, even when Callie is there. It’s stupid.” He raised his head, meeting a commiserating gaze. “You gave me the courage to stand my ground. I was just following your example, and I have to say you are one hell of an actor.”
Jimmy frowned as he spoke. “Remember when we talked about feeling outnumbered?”
Drake took a few seconds, and then nodded.
“You just needed someone to have your back, and I do.”
Drake mulled over the ‘outnumbered’ part. “You mean someone else who’s gay?”
“No, not necessarily… or maybe I do in this case. I know we’re not really partners, but it felt like it, didn’t it, while you were making your stand?
“It did. I never would have even considered walking away from my mother like that before, but following you out the front door was easy.”
“The courage was always there, Drake. You didn’t act for yourself… you acted for me.”
“Maybe,” Drake mused.
“And, as far as being a good actor, I never acted once. It was all genuine.”
“I know exactly where we stand, you and me, but showing how I care about you fit me like a glove. I wasn’t duping anyone. You’re the one who deserves the Oscar.”
“I don’t know exactly what happened, but I wasn’t acting either. It all felt very real, the ‘you and me’ thing, while it was happening.”
“I’m not saying anything has changed, but I never once felt like we were lying to anyone. I feel like I should have, but I didn’t. I… I didn’t feel confused at the time, but now…?”
“I think I get it. We got caught up in the injustice of the whole thing, and despite our history, I know you care about me, right?”
“I’m sorry, Jimmy. I can’t… I didn’t want to send any mixed messages—”
“Don’t. I know what you’re going to say, and you don’t need to. Please don’t go there, and don’t apologize. Yeah, maybe it is a confusing situation, but if it helps set your family straight, it’s worth it. There’s no harm being done… not to me, okay? Trust me?”
“Okay. I do trust you. You realize you may have single-handedly turned my mother around?”
“I really do. She can be dismissive of anyone she doesn’t know, but she wasn’t at all with you. She likes you, and she listened to every wise thing you said.” He grinned as he considered the serious man staring back at him.
Was there any harm being done? Should it be Jimmy he worried about? He was beginning to wonder… he could still feel how caring those arms were when they wrapped around him in the driveway, and what that had meant to him at the time.
“Well, I am wise.” Now the lopsided grin was back, and it helped dispel some of Drake’s trepidation. “I’m glad I could help, because that’s what I’m here for. You realize you slipped up once and called me Jimmy?”
“Oh, shoot, I did, didn’t I.”
“Don’t worry… your mother was so upset I don’t think she even noticed.”
“Probably not. I’m surprised I didn’t slip up a few more times.” Drake began to feel awkward again, and covered it by picking up his suit bag and taking it, and his rolling suit case, into the walk-in closet. “You can hang your stuff in here,” he called out, but he didn’t need to. Jimmy was right behind him.
“Nice digs. This is one kick-ass closet.”
“Yeah, it’s a pretty cool house. I think my mom set out to outdo my Dad’s new one, and she accomplished it. Wait till you see the pool. Here, pass me your suit bag.”
“There’s a pool? You didn’t tell me there was a pool. I would have brought trunks.”
“Don’t worry about it. I have a couple in the dresser. One pair is really baggy on me, so they should fit you.”
“Awesome. Hey, is this your room?”
“Kinda, yeah. I’ve never actually lived in this house, other than parts of a couple of summers… my mom didn’t sell our first home until after I went to college. But, this is always my room when I visit.”
“So, is your dad like ‘Richie Rich’ rich?”
Drake laughed. “No, not even close. But his company does very well. Preston works for him, and thinks he’s a big deal, but I never wanted that for myself. It’s my mother who comes from money.”
“Really? You know, that doesn’t surprise me. Dot has this air about her.”
“You mean snobby?”
“No… no, I don’t. She’s quite elegant. You look like her, you know.”
“I’ve heard that a lot. Callie looks like her too.”
“So Preston looks like your dad?”
“No, not really. Mom says he looks like her grandfather.”
“So, her grandfather looked like he had a stick up his ass too then?”
Drake snorted, and then full-out laughed. “Man, I could have used you around when I was growing up with that jerk.”
“Well, I’m here now.”
“Yes, you are. Um, are you ready for bed or do you want to grab a snack first?”
“I could eat. Something small.”
“Okay, let’s go see what’s in the fridge. Carla always has some good stuff in there.”
“Carla? Who’s Carla?”
“The housekeeper. She’s like a part of the family.”
“Oh, wow, a housekeeper. Does she live here?”
“Ah, no. She’s always had her own home, and she doesn’t work many hours anymore… not like when we were kids. She only works on the weekend if Mom absolutely needs her. There is a maid’s quarters on the main floor, though, and that’s where Preston, Cathy and the kids stay now, whenever they’re here.
“Mom expanded it for them, when my nephew first started walking, by adding the den to it. They used to have the green room, on the other side of the hall—Callie’s is the one beside this one—but Cathy was worried about Patrick figuring out the gate and falling down the stairs. He’s a busy little guy.”
“And your niece’s name is Laura, right?”
“Right. They’re cute kids. Preston watches me like a hawk when they come near me, so I tend to avoid them unless it’s just Cathy around. It’s sad, because I love them, and they love me.”
“Let me guess. He thinks gays are pedophiles?” Jimmy shook his head in disgust.
“He’s never actually said it, but….”
“That’s sick. What kind of mind does that man have?” Jimmy began pacing. “He’s fucked up.”
“Hey, calm down. You’re right, but what can I do? They’re his kids.”
“Yes, they are, and he’s depriving them. Argh. I want to punch something.”
“Welcome to my world. Are you okay?”
“Uh huh. Right as rain. There will always be people like him in this world. We can only hope… ah, forget it. He’s isn’t worth thinking about.”
“No, he isn’t. I figured that out a long time ago. Let’s go raid the kitchen.”
Thanks for reading. I hoped you liked Jimmy and Preston's first encounter. As always, thanks to my editor, Timothy M., Robin to my Batman. Please leave a comment if you're able.
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