I pulled into the steakhouse just as my phone rang for the third time since I had left my aunt’s house. I glanced at the screen and groaned when my mom’s name was on the display. I really didn’t feel like talking to her but it was probably better to get it over with.
“Can you give me a minute?” I was pretty sure I didn’t want him to hear my side of the coming conversation.
“Yeah, I’ll go see how long the wait is and use the restroom.”
I waited until he’d gotten out of the car and closed the door before I hit the button and lifted the phone to my ear.
“Reece. What do you have to say for yourself?” My mom was practically yelling through the phone and I held it a couple inches away from my ear and could still hear her ranting. “You need to come back here and apologize to your aunt and the rest of the family for making a scene.”
“I’m not the one who made a scene, Mom.” I didn’t know why I bothered. My mom wouldn’t actually listen to me or care. “Aunt Leslie is the one who should be apologizing.”
“Don’t try to put this off on your aunt. You should have asked permission before you brought a man into your aunt’s home.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I was past caring that it was my mom I was talking to. Enough was enough. “First off, Dave was there as a friend of Josh’s. I didn’t know he was going to be there and had never even met him before tonight. Secondly, even if he had been there with me, none of the other cousins have ever had to ask permission to bring someone to dinner.”
“What is wrong with you, Reece? I don’t know why you persist in flaunting your lifestyle like you do.” I could hear my mom sigh into the phone. “I taught you better than this. I expect you to apologize to your aunt before the next dinner, and don’t even think about bringing him with you.”
“Don’t worry, Mom, you won’t have to worry about me bringing Dave or anyone else to a family dinner.” I looked towards the restaurant and saw Dave looking towards the car and held up my hand to tell him to give me just one more minute as I listened to my mom.
“Well good. I’m glad you have regained whatever sense you misplaced.”
“No, you misunderstood. You won’t have to worry about me bringing anyone else to dinner, because I meant what I told Leslie.” She didn’t deserve the title of Aunt. “I won’t be coming to anymore family dinners. I have to go; enjoy your dinner.” I hung up before she could respond and dropped my phone into the cup holder. I had little doubt she’d call back, but I was done dealing with it for the night. I climbed out of the car and hurried to join Dave.
“Yep, better to get it out of the way now or my phone probably wouldn’t stop ringing for most of the night.” I rolled my eyes. “Hell will freeze over before I’ll apologize to that woman.”
“Sorry my being there caused problems.” Dave actually looked it, and I couldn’t let him go on thinking the scene back at the house had anything to do with him.
“It actually had very little to do with you. My aunt, and I’m sure many other older members of my family, have just been waiting for a reason.” I made sure I was looking in his eyes so he would hopefully be able to see I was telling him the truth. “What happened back there has been building for a while and if it hadn’t been you, it would have been something else, it not tonight, then soon. Don’t worry about it.” I grinned. “Besides, look at it this way, I no longer have to go to family dinners.”
“I guess there’s always a silver lining.” Dave smiled and held the door open as the little square pager started vibrating in his hand.
We walked inside, and he handed the pager to the hostess who quickly led us to a table. The place wasn’t as busy as I had thought it would be, but it was by no means a quiet night. The hostess set our menus on the table, and we both thanked her as we pulled out our chairs and sat.
“Your waiter will be with you shortly.”
“Thank you.” I smiled at her and waited for her to leave before turning my attention back to Dave.
I knew better than to get too deep into conversation before we’d ordered. It never failed, as soon as you started talking the waiter would appear. Instead, I opened my menu and looked for their steak selection. “So, what’s good here?” My stomach nearly growled as I looked at some of the descriptions. I couldn’t remember the last time I had steak.
“I really like the Parmesan Shrimp Sirloin. It’s a good size steak and the sauce is really good.”
I looked for the steaks and noticed the small picture of the meal he described. If it tasted even half as good as it looked then I was definitely in for a treat. Small scampi style shrimp and a white sauce covered a thick steak and was served with a potato and vegetables. I nodded and set my menu aside.
“I think that’s what I’ll have.” I looked up to see Dave watching me, his menu already laying on the table. He looked like he was going to say something, but just then the waiter stopped at our table and filled our water glasses before setting the pitcher on the table.
“Sorry about the wait. I’m Jordan, and I’ll be your server tonight. Can I get you gentlemen something to drink besides water?” He was a good looking kid but had nothing on the guy sitting across from me.
“I’ll take a Bud Light, in the bottle please.” If I was going to splurge on steak, I was going to have a beer, maybe even two, as well. I reached for my wallet before he could even ask and pulled my license out and handed it to him.
“Thank you.” He glanced at it and handed it back before turning to Dave. “And for you, sir?”
“I’ll have a Jack and Coke, please.” Dave handed over his own license.
“Very good, and are you ready to order, or did you still need a minute?”
“I think we’re ready.” Dave looked at me, and I nodded. “I’m going to have the Parmesan Shrimp Sirloin, medium, with a baked potato, no sour cream, and what’s your soup tonight?”
“Cheddar and broccoli.”
“I’ll have a salad with ranch.” Dave handed over his menu before the waiter turned to me.
“I’ll have the same, except mashed potatoes.” I handed the waiter my menu as he finished writing.
“So I have two Parmesan Shrimp Sirloins, both medium, one with a baked potato, no sour cream, one with mashed potatoes, and two salads, both with ranch.”
“Sounds good to me.” I took a sip of the cold water and saw Dave looking at my lips as I licked the water from them.
“I’ll be right back with your drinks.”
I barely even noticed as the guy picked up the water pitcher and left our table. I was too focused on trying to think of something to say.
“Thanks for having dinner with me.” Dave took a drink of water, and I found myself watching the way his throat worked as he swallowed. I forced my attention back to his face.
“I should be thanking you.” I realized I was fiddling with my glass and forced myself to pull my hands back.
“I’m glad Josh talked me into coming, even if the start of the evening was a bit more exciting than I expected.” Dave laughed, and I chuckled with him. Exciting was too mild of a word to describe the way the evening had started. I would’ve used a word more like disaster. I was saved from answering when the waiter arrived with our drinks.
“Your salads should be out shortly. Can I get you anything else while you’re waiting?”
“I think we’re good.” I looked to Dave for confirmation, and he nodded and took a sip of his drink. It must have been good since he smiled. He seemed to smile a lot, but it worked out pretty well, considering I really liked his smile.
“So…” I took a swallow of my beer and looked across the table at Dave. “I wasn’t kidding when I said Josh didn’t tell me hardly anything about you, just that I needed to meet you.”
“Guess he figured it would give us something to talk about if he managed to get you to agree to the date.” He seemed relaxed as he sipped from his jack and coke and met my eyes across the table. “May as well start with the basics. I’m twenty-five and grew up around Seattle. You?”
“You’ve got a couple of years on me then. I’m only twenty-three and was born and raised around here.”
“So, I know you came out to your family about six months ago, but after meeting them tonight, I have to ask, why did you?” He set his drink on the table, and I could see I had his full attention.
I fidgeted in my seat, though I wasn’t really sure why. I mean really, these were the types of questions I should’ve expected. It wasn’t like he was asking me anything out of left field. I took another drink for courage.
“The easy answer?” I didn’t wait for him to answer, instead I plowed ahead. “I was tired of hiding who I was. They were my family, and I wanted them to know the real me. So, I told my parents first. Figured if it went okay, then I’d take my time and come out to the rest of my family.” I shook my head at how naïve I had been to think my parents, my mom especially, would be able to keep a secret of that magnitude.
“It didn’t go well?”
“I guess it could have gone worse.” I took another swallow of beer as I thought about how to describe my parent’s reactions. “My mom just sat there crying and saying she didn’t know where they had gone wrong. Dad, he was much more vocal. I won’t repeat everything he said, but to say he was displeased would be putting it mildly. I didn’t stay long after my announcement, but I have no doubt my mom was on the phone within seconds of me leaving to spread the word about her deviant son.”
“Based on tonight, I assume most of them didn’t take it well?” He really did seem interested.
“What you saw tonight was about as bad as it’s gotten. Most of my cousins are fine, it’s the older generations with the problem. I mean, they didn’t kick me out of the family, but now they tolerate me more than anything.” I shrugged as though it hadn’t hurt, but the truth was, it had hurt like hell. I tried not to let it get to me, but it was easier said than done. “How about you? How’d your family take it?”
“I came out to them shortly before my junior year of high school. My mom had the biggest issue with my being gay, but everyone seems to have come to terms with it by now. My biggest supporter was my oldest brother.”
“Mine was Josh.” I shook my head at the memory. “The first family dinner after my parents called everyone, I walked into the house, and I swear, you could have heard a pin drop with how quickly everyone shut up. It was obvious they’d been talking about me, and I’d never been so tempted to just turn around and leave.”
“So, why didn’t you?” Dave paused for a moment but before I could answer, he answered himself. “Josh.”
“Yeah, Josh. Everyone else could barely bring themselves to look at me, but not Josh.” I smiled as I remembered. “He walked up, clasped a hand on my shoulder and led me into the backyard. He told me he didn’t give a damn, and neither did most of the rest of the cousins, and if anyone else had a problem with it, fuck ‘em.” I smirked as I recalled the last bit of our convo. “Oh yeah, then he told me he had someone I just had to meet.”
“Sounds like Josh. He’s a good guy.” Dave chuckled, and I wondered what was so funny. “Sorry, I was just thinking it was about that time he started hinting he had a cousin I needed to meet.”
I was saved from answering when the waiter arrived at our table with our salads.
“Can I get you another beer?” The waiter set our salads on the table and took my empty bottle away.
“No, thanks. I’ll just stick with water for now, but I’ll have another one with my dinner please.”
The waiter nodded and walked away without offering Dave another drink. I glanced at his glass and noticed it was still half full.
“Not a big drinker?”
I hadn’t expected the question and didn’t know how to answer, so I shrugged. I wasn’t about to tell him that, while I enjoyed having a few beers, at a place like this I was pushing it to afford the one I’d already had. Plus I planned to have one with my dinner. I’d probably buy a case after payday; thank god it was only a couple days away. I pointed at his half-full glass.
“You haven’t drank much yourself, besides, I’m driving.” I looked down at my salad rather than meet his gaze. I wasn’t a big salad person, but I was even less a cheddar and broccoli soup kind of guy. The salad was the lesser of two evils. We fell silent as we ate, and I managed to choke down half of my salad before pushing the plate away.
“So Reece, what do you do?” Dave set his fork on his plate and slid it off to the side. His undivided attention was once more on me and I shifted in my seat again.
“I work freight at Hewitt’s and take online classes.” It was a good thing I hadn’t been expecting a comment about my dead end job because I’d have been disappointed. Dave just kept looking at me like he was interested. Even so, I felt the need to defend what I did, like I had countless times before. “It’s not the best paying job, but it keeps a roof over my head and food on the table. It doesn’t hurt they’re really good about working with me whenever I have to go to the outreach center to take tests.”
“What are you going to school for?”
“I’m just about done with my core classes, and then I’ll decide on a major.” I shrugged. “It didn’t make a lot of sense for me to go into something I wasn’t sure I wanted to do only to change my mind. I’d have lost credits and it would have taken longer and cost more to finally get a degree.”
“Not a bad idea. Believe it or not, a lot of people switch majors part way through. I did. If I’d done the core classes first, like you’re doing, I would’ve lost hardly any credits when I switched.” His hands had been resting on the table but he moved them as the waiter once more approached the table, this time a tray with our meals was balanced on his hand. He set our meals and my beer down before tucking the tray under his arm.
“Can I get you gentlemen anything else?” He glanced at Dave’s nearly empty glass. “Would you like another drink?”
“I’ll have a Bud Light, thanks.”
Our waiter nodded and disappeared, only to reappear within moments. He set Dave’s beer in front of him, and after being assured we didn’t need anything else, he left us alone. I continued our conversation where it had left off.
“What did you major in?”
“I started out in secondary education, but about a third of the way through I decided teaching wasn’t for me and changed to business management. I thought about getting a degree in web design because you can get a certificate for that in like eighteen months or something, but I’m not overly creative.”
I cut up my steak as we talked, not really interested in the food as much as I was in the company. Not that it didn’t look delicious, it did. I should be savoring every bite considering I’d be living on ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese until payday, but I was enjoying the evening too much to care.
“Which would make that type of career a bit difficult.” I thought about it for a minute. I enjoyed working with computers and web design might be something for me to look into. At least it would give me a basis to actually make a career out of.
“Yeah, and business management isn’t too bad, but it does get a bit tedious at times.”
“Trust me, I know all about tedious.” I couldn’t believe I’d said that and took a bite of steak to keep me from spewing out anything else resembling a ‘poor me’ remark.
To my dismay that seemed to be the catalyst and we turned our focus to eating; only sharing occasional tidbits of information between bites. Despite eating slowly, it seemed like very little time had passed before our waiter was back asking about dessert. We both declined and he laid our check on the table in one of those little black receipt books and cleared away our plates.
Dave grabbed up the check before I even had a chance to look at it, and I reached into my back pocket for my wallet only to be stopped by him.
“I got this one.” I opened my mouth to object, but before I could, his voice washed over me once more. “After all, I invited you. You can get the next one.”
The next one. Sure, I’d hoped he’d want to get together again, but I hadn’t let myself get my hopes up too high.
“Maybe you could join us for the barbecue next weekend.” I clamped my lips shut and forced myself to breathe as I realized what I’d just said. I had to keep reminding myself it was just the cousins, and only the ones who accepted me. There wouldn’t be a repeat of the disaster at my aunt’s house.
If the raised eyebrows were any indication, he must have seen my panic. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Yeah. It’s just going to be the cousins, none of my aunts, uncles, or my parents. I’m done with the big family get togethers with everyone—they never end well.” That was the understatement of the century, but if an argument didn’t break out when all the family got together it was a damn miracle. I always left those stupid dinners feeling like the biggest failure, like I was something one of my aunts or uncles had scraped off the bottom of their shoe. I was amazed I’d managed to stick it out as long as I had.
“As long as they’re not like your aunt was, I’d be happy to join you. Though”—for the first time, Dave looked unsure—“I did hope maybe we could get together again before next weekend.”
“I have Tuesday off. It’s not gourmet or anything, but I’ll probably make spaghetti, if you’d like to join me.” Once again, my mouth was faster than my brain.
I really did want to see him again, but my place was tiny. It was actually a mother-in-law house built on the same lot as my landlord’s home. The bedroom was just barely big enough to hold a full size bed and my dresser and the rest of the house wasn’t much better. The kitchen might have been decent size if it hadn’t been for all the storage in there. There was maybe, if I was lucky, about sixteen square feet of walking space. I didn’t even have a table because there was no room for one. The only room with any size to it at all was my living room and with my couch, television stand, and other odds and ends there still wasn’t much room to move around in it.
“I’d like that.” Dave was smiling again, and I only hoped he was still smiling after seeing how cramped my place was. He slipped his credit card in with the check and handed it to our waiter and in no time at all he was signing the slip. We were headed back to my car.
Other than him giving me directions, the ride to his house was made in silence, but it was a comfortable silence. I pulled up in front of a modest house and put the car in park. I didn’t shut off the engine as I was sure this was the end of the date, but Dave continued to surprise me.
“How about a movie?”
“Sounds good.” I glanced at the clock on the dash, which I probably should have done before I answered. It was only a little after eight, so I should be okay. I had to be up at around four, but I could function on very little sleep. Well, at least for a day or two. I shut off the car and climbed out. By the time I got around the car he was waiting for me at the end of the walkway. Before I could say anything he slid his fingers down my arm and twined them with my own as he led the way to the house.