I really hated coming to these family dinners. Once a month the entire family from my mother’s side met to catch up with each other and have dinner. Each month it rotated on who’s house would host, but everyone was included: aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. It hadn’t been so bad when I was younger, but ever since my coming out, the older relatives essentially ignored me, including my parents.
I don’t think it would have bothered me quite so bad if it wasn’t for the simple fact my favorite uncle had shown nothing but disdain for me since he found out I was gay. Not everything was unbearable though. The majority of my cousins, having grown up in a different generation, were at least accepting. The most accepting, and the one I knew had my back, was my cousin Josh. He was a few years older than me and the oldest of the cousins. Many of them, myself included, tended to follow his lead when it came to dealing with the family.
“Hey, man! Where you been hiding?”
I felt arms wrap around me from behind and suddenly I was lifted off my feet. Now, I’m not a small guy by any means. At twenty-three I was a respectable five foot ten, but my cousin Josh was bigger than me by about four inches and probably had a good forty pounds on me. I laughed at his greeting and elbowed backward. I grinned when I heard him grunt, and I was set back on my feet.
“Is that any way to greet your favorite cousin?”
I turned around and chuckled at the sight of him gingerly rubbing his side. I hadn’t put much force behind it and knew he was just giving me hell. I shook my head as I watched his antics.
“Who said you were my favorite cousin?” I felt the sides of my lips twitch upwards as he mock glared at me.
“Damn Reece, I’m wounded, I really am. After I went to all the trouble of finding you the perfect guy!” Josh smirked, and I instantly knew I was in trouble.
“Please tell me you didn’t.” I really didn’t want to beg, but I could just imagine the kind of guy my straight cousin would think was perfect for me. He’d pestered me right after I came out about meeting a friend of his that had been out since just before college. I’d been putting him off and had been convinced he’d let the subject go. That is, I’d been convinced until he’d mentioned the perfect guy.
“Would I get your hopes up and then let you down?”
“My hope would be you not trying to set me up, so the only way you’d let me down is to try and set me up.” As much as I loved my cousin, sometimes I wish he wasn’t so accepting. Out of all of my family, he was the only one who even attempted to match me up with people. “I can find my own guy, you know.”
“Yeah, ‘cause you’ve done such a great job of it up to this point.” Josh gave me a friendly punch on the shoulder. “You can at least meet the guy. I mean, really, what do ya have to lose?”
“My dignity.” I thought I had muttered quietly enough Josh wouldn’t hear me, but my hopes were quickly dashed.
“You would have to have it to lose it.” Josh turned and started to walk away, and just to prove how much of a fool I am, I fell into step beside him. “I promise, if you and Dave don’t hit it off, I’ll quit trying to set you up.”
I grinned at the thought. I had no doubt my well-meaning cousin had no clue what I might look for in the guys I date, and once I met this friend of his, I was going to hold him to his promise. No more blind dates. No matter what.
“So, when and where do I get to meet this perfect guy of yours?” I stressed and finger quoted around those two words, perfect guy. I honestly didn’t believe any guy could be perfect. Maybe I’d eventually be proven wrong, but it was better to expect less and not be disappointed in the long run.
“How about here and now?” Josh grinned as we walked up to where his sister April was talking to some guy.
His back was to me, which was lucky for me, since my mouth had dropped open. I hadn’t expected Josh to bring a guy to a family gathering—especially knowing how some of our family treated me. The fact he’d subject another guy to our family kind of pissed me off. No guy deserved that. I was two seconds away from berating Josh when the guy turned, a smile lifting the corners of his full lips and his eyes travelling up and down my body as my breath left me.
The guy wasn’t drop dead gorgeous, but he was definitely hot and definitely my type, chocolate brown hair and eyes and only an inch or so taller than me. I’d always hated dating someone much taller than me; I hated feeling like a shrimp. I felt Josh elbowing me and turned to glance at him with my eyebrow raised.
“See, what did I tell ya? Do I have good taste or do I have good taste?” He looked awfully proud of himself, and I knew he’d be congratulating himself on this one for a long time to come.
“Maybe so, but gloating about it is in really bad taste.” I turned back to his friend and shrugged my shoulders at the amused smile on the guys face. “Ignore him; he never learned how to be socially acceptable.” I grinned and stuck my hand out. “Since he’s also seemed to have lost all his manners, I’m Reece.”
“You mean he actually had them to begin with?” He grinned back at me and reached out and took my hand in his. “I’m Dave.”
“It’s nice to meet you.” I forced the words past suddenly dry lips and it took me a moment to realize I still held Dave’s hand in mine. The moment was effectively broken when my Aunt Leslie walked up to us.
“Hello Reece, do you have a moment?” The tone of her voice told me whatever she wanted did not bode well for me, but I nodded and released Dave’s hand. She led me off to the side and instantly started in on me loud enough I knew Josh and Dave could still hear her. “Really Reece, it is quite rude of you to bring somebody with you without even the courtesy of letting us know.”
I was speechless. This was exactly why I never brought anyone with me to these things. Not only would I not subject a possible date to my family, but I didn’t want the grief it would undoubtedly bring me. I glanced over at Dave and Josh and found both them and April watching us. Josh’s face looked like a thundercloud, and I knew he was ready to explode. Dave and April just looked shocked. I turned back to my aunt and grinned.
“That may be, but I don’t see as how it’s any worse than you berating me for it in front of your guests. And for the record, Dave is a friend of Josh’s.” I wanted to make her look like a fool for jumping to conclusions. With any luck she’d feel embarrassed, but I doubted it.
“You were holding hands. It is quite obvious he is here with you.” Her attitude had nothing to do with the fact I supposedly hadn’t informed her of an extra guest. If any of my other cousins had brought a date unannounced, it would have been fine. Room would have been made at the table. No, the entire problem here was it was supposedly me that had brought a date; an unacceptable occurrence in my aunt’s eyes.
“Actually, I just met Dave. What you saw was me shaking his hand.” How she could misconstrue it I had no clue, since it was pretty obvious. “You saw what you wanted to see.” I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at her. “Tell me Aunt Leslie, just how long did it take you to jump to the wrong conclusions? What would have been acceptable to you? Just a nod? Or wait, me just talking to someone who’s a man and who’s not family would have probably prompted the same reaction.”
I didn’t get the chance to hear what my aunt had to say as Dave’s voice spoke up from behind me.
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear. Since my presence is such an inconvenience, I’ll gladly leave.”
“You’ll do no such thing.” Trust Josh to insert himself back into the middle of it. “I invited you.”
I turned to look at both of them and found Josh glaring at our aunt. I knew he had come to the same conclusion I had about why Aunt Leslie was so upset. The way his jaw was clenched I knew he was, at the very least, as pissed as I was.
“No, really, Josh. It’s fine.” Dave turned to me and smiled. “I’m sorry we won’t get to visit with each other tonight, but would you like to grab dinner with me one night?”
“I’d love to. In fact, how about tonight?” I heard my aunt’s gasp from beside me and ignored it, choosing to only focus on Dave.
“That would be great. Since Josh had invited me here, I didn’t make any other plans for the night.”
“What?!” My aunt started spluttering next to me. “You can’t leave. You have to stay for dinner.”
“No, actually, I don’t.” I turned to my aunt and hoped she could read the contempt for her in my eyes. Over her shoulder I saw more of my family crowding into the doorway, including my parents.
Despite everything, I loved them, which was the only reason I had continued to come to these things. I’d kept hoping all they needed was time. I should’ve known better after my parents refused to help me when I’d been short on rent a couple of months after I came out. The only reason I still had a place to live was because my landlord was willing to work with me. My own parents would rather see me on the street than help me out. The fact they didn’t speak up for me, even now, drove the point home. I bit back the pain and once again faced my aunt, but my words were meant for everyone.
“I come to these every month despite wishing I was anywhere else. Your treatment of somebody you thought was my guest has shown me just how unwelcome I really am. Don’t worry, Aunt Leslie, you won’t be bothered by my presence at these dinners anymore.” I turned to Josh next, an idea already forming in my mind. “Josh, if you wouldn’t mind, talk to all the cousins tonight before they leave. All of them are invited to my place for a barbecue next weekend.”
“Sounds great, I’ll talk to them and then let you know.” Josh looked around at all the cousins spread around the room. “Though, on second thought, your place is a little too small to hold all of us if the weather gets bad. How about having it at mine instead?”
“Works for me.” I turned back to my aunt, and even though I knew most everyone would be able to hear me, I directed my comments to her. “Please give everyone my apologies, though I’m sure it will be a relief to most to no longer have to suffer through my presence.” I made a show of turning to Dave and holding out my arm. “Shall we?”
“What? Where do you think you’re going? You can’t leave!”
I heard my aunt’s words, but I really didn’t care what she had to say. All her little blow up had managed to do was give me a chance to get to know Dave better, without my family around to ruin it.
I knew I was going to hear about this later, there’s no way my parents would let it go, but I no longer gave a damn. I had put up with my family’s horrendous treatment of me for long enough. I was done. I was determined to stick by what I had told my aunt—I wouldn’t be coming to any more of these dinners. It seemed pointless to continue to put myself through it. It was obvious time wasn’t going to change the elder generation’s opinion of me, and the only ones who really even wanted me there were my cousins.
They didn’t even wait until we were out of the house before I heard the argument erupting behind me.
“What the hell, Aunt Leslie. How dare you run off a guest I invited to dinner.” I couldn’t believe he was talking to our aunt that way. It only served to show just how pissed he really was about her behavior.
“I thought Reece…”
“What, Aunt Leslie? What would it have mattered if Reece had brought someone to dinner? I’ve brought people before, and so have many of the others.” Alice’s voice carried to us as we reached the front door. I hurried to open it. I ushered Dave through before closing it and blocking out the raised voices from inside.
“Sorry about what happened back there.” I felt the need to apologize as we hurried down the walkway. I didn’t know if he was just trying to keep up with me, or if he was just as eager as I was to put the scene with my aunt behind us.
“Not your fault. Are they all like that?”
“Most of the cousins aren’t, but my aunts and uncles, even my parents….” I paused as the extent of what had just happened hit me. “Yeah, yeah they are.” I stopped when we reached the sidewalk and looked around for a vehicle I didn’t recognize, but didn’t see anything. “Where are you parked?”
“I rode over with Josh.”
“Guess you’re riding with me then.” I chuckled and led him over to my car, an older Ford Escort. It wasn’t extravagant by any means, but it was mine, and it was paid for. I unlocked his door and opened it before moving around to the other side and doing the same with mine. “So, any preference on where you want to eat?”
“Hell, after that little scene, I think I’m in the mood to be spoiled. The steakhouse sound good for you?”
I mentally went through my finances. I wasn’t well off by any means and there were times I struggled to make it from paycheck to paycheck. I might have to eat a little cheaper for a few days, which was fine. Macaroni and cheese and ramen noodles never hurt anybody, and it wouldn’t be the first time I’d lived on what was essentially dollar meals.
I had always been able to count on at least one good meal that didn’t cost me anything other than my pride, but now even that was gone. I wouldn’t ask my parents for help again. They had made their position perfectly clear. It was ironic considering they’d been more than willing to help before I came out to them. I glanced over at Dave. Spending time with him and getting to know him just might make it all worthwhile. Even if nothing came from it besides having a new friend, Dave was the catalyst which had finally allowed me to grow a backbone and refuse to accept my family’s treatment of me. That alone made it worth it.
“The steakhouse it is.” I started the car and put it in gear. Within moments we were on our way and silence filled the car. I only hoped I could find something to talk about during dinner. I was shocked I’d taken the initiative with Dave back at the house, though it could’ve been in part because my aunt had gotten my hackles up. I wasn’t the most social of people, and I knew it. I’d always kept to myself, worried the secret of who I really was would get out. Luckily for me my social ineptness hadn’t extended to my close family, like my cousins. By the time I came out, I had virtually no social skills, which made it difficult for me to meet new and like-minded people. I was sure that was part of the reason Josh was so hell bent on trying to set me up. If this didn’t end up being a complete disaster, which I really hoped it didn’t, I might even have to consider thanking Josh for his meddling.
Now that we were alone and in an enclosed space, I could smell something that could only be Dave, and holy hell did he smell good. It made me want to bury my nose closer and take a good long whiff of whatever cologne or soap he used. I mentally shook my head at my thoughts. If I wasn’t careful I would scare him away before I even had a chance to get to know him.
“So…” Dave finally broke the silence, and I glanced over to see him sitting somewhat sideways in his seat looking at me. I turned back to the road, feeling slightly self-conscious. “Josh only told me he had this cousin I just had to meet. He’s been pretty closemouthed about you otherwise.”
“Yeah?” I chuckled. That sounded like Josh, not give his friend time to come up with an excuse to avoid meeting me. “Though, it’s about the same as he did with me.”
“I take it you didn’t know I was going to be there tonight?”
“Nope, he didn’t say a word. Probably knew I would tell him no.” I cringed and clamped my mouth shut as I realized how that sounded. Why did I never think before I spoke? I quickly tried to explain so he wouldn’t draw the wrong conclusion. “I mean, nothing against you, but I know Josh and I’ve seen some of the women he dated before he got married. I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted him trying to set me up. Not just that, but you saw my family. No way would I put any guy through that. I’d like to throttle Josh for doing it to you.”
“Actually, he warned me there might be some issues, but it would be worth it.” Dave smiled, and I hoped he didn’t end up disappointed. “So far he’s been right.”
I shifted in my seat, a bit uncomfortable with the remark. I wasn’t convinced I was anything all that special, but even if I was, having to deal with my family could easily be a deal breaker for any guy. I glanced at Dave out of the corner of my eye. I had to give him credit. Josh had warned him what he was walking into, but he’d still showed up and survived relatively unscathed.