On the day he expected company for dinner, Aidan went about his business as usual. Although a tiny smidgeon of anxiety bubbled up every now and then, he managed to tamp it down within minutes by distracting himself. He had a busy afternoon anyway with a couple of skype meetings lined up with his prospective clients. So it wasn’t too difficult.
As he ended his last call and shut down his laptop, he heard Mrs. Hutchinson moving around the kitchen preparing to dish up a three-course meal for dinner as planned. She knew exactly what everyone in Aidan’s familyliked—another reason why she’d been working with him for so many years.
Aidan gazed at the wall clock and realized he had an hour before his parents and Aaron would arrive. His thighs and calves hurt badly, and he took slow steps making his way toward his bedroom. It was leg day at the gym, andhe had challenged himself with more squats and other leg exercises than he usuallydid. He thought of taking a hot bath before getting dressed for the evening.
He found Bratty stretched out alone on their queen-sized bed taking a nap. On the other hand, Rick looked a lot more distressed about what to wear. Although the guy had initially seemed pretty cool with the idea of meeting Aidan’s parents, he seemed to be freaking out more by the second. Aidan had to help him pick out a set of clothes to wear before he went for a bath.
The hot water in the tub was soothing, and he lay in there, eyes closed and cut himself off from the world. He stayed like that longer than he’d expected and might have even dozed off. Aidan realized how late it was only when he heard the doorbell chime.
His parents were here.
He quickly stepped out and drained the tub. After he hurriedly got dried and dressed, he walked into the living room overhearing his mother having a conversation with Rick. “So, you’re from Missouri?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Rick was about to say something more but stopped when he saw Aidan approaching and smiled.
“Aidan, sweetie.” His mother and his brother stood up to greet him. He hugged them both and waved at his dad, who simply raised his glass of wine and said, “Son.”
“Hey dad, how’s it going?” he asked, feeling slightly intimidated by his presence as usual. The Ross family was amongst the richest crowd in the city, and his dad always lived up to those standards. Even for an informal dinner at his son’s place, he was dressed up in one of his best suits. His hair had greyed, but it was styled perfectly—not a single strand out of place.
His old man smiled, and the wrinkles on his face deepened. “It’s going well. You took a while in there. I was beginning to think you weren’t too keen on meeting your old man.”
Aidan shifted his weight from one foot to another. “No, I’m happy to see you.” He exchanged quick looks with Aaron and then Rick before looking away. Fortunately, Mrs. Hutchinson came to his rescue and announced that dinner could be served whenever they were ready. “Let’s eat,” he said before she could finish and ushered everyone to the dining table. “I’m starving actually,” he explained.
Rick looked up at him, amused but didn’t say anything. As they settled around the table and the food was dished out, Aidan nervously watched his dad engaging Rick in a conversation. “I’m not sure if Aidan mentioned it to you, but I grew up in Missouri too.”
“No, he didn’t,” he gasped and looked at Aidan briefly. “Where exactly, Sir?”
“We were in Waynesville. I was an army brat, and we moved around a lot back in those days. But Waynesville was where I was born, and I spent most of my childhood there.”
“That’s interesting. Waynesville, you said, Sir? That’s where my dad was born too. You see, my grandpa was a serviceman at Fort Leonard, and my dad’s family lived somewhere around that area.”
Aidan’s father gazed up and looked at Rick for a minute. “You don’t say. What did you say your last name was?”
Rick sat up straight when he said, “Mahoney, Sir.”
“Mahoney, Mahoney…it does sound familiar to me.” He repeated the name a couple of times under his breath. When it looked like he couldn’t recollect, he carried on with his dinner.
Everyone at the table ate quietly. Aidan’s mom exchanged a smile with Rick. “I know I said it already when we arrived, but it’s really nice to finally put a face to the name, Rick. Aidan hardly ever mentions anyone he dates, but he told us all about you back when you started working for him.”
“He did?” Rick and Aidan’s dad both said simultaneously.
That’s when Aaron butted in. “He did not just tell us about you. He gushed. ‘Oh, Rick is perfect. Rick is way beyond how my imagination could portray an ideal man!’” he mocked and laughed out loud. Rick’s face turned beet red.
“Aaron! Stop it, man. Not cool!”
“When did this happen? I didn’t even know about Rick until Mrs. Hutchinson told us.” Mr. Ross looked at Aidan who squirmed in his seat, looking everywhere but at his father. He could not answer.
Thankfully, his mom came to his rescue. “Honey, it was during one of the dinners. For some reason, you weren’t around that time.”
Like every other time? Aidan thought to himself and took a bite of the tuna from his plate. When he looked up, everyone was staring at him wide-eyed. That’s when he realized he’d spoken out loud.
“Son? What do you mean by that?”
Aidan recovered his senses and finally dared to look directly at his father. “What? Don’t act like you don’t know anything, dad.”
“Aidan, please.” Rick’s eyes begged him not to continue, so he shut up and continued eating recklessly. His nose flared as his mind worked overtime reminding him of his memories of his absentee dad.
“Are you saying…are you saying it’s my fault you didn’t tell me about Rick?” his father asked. He didn’t reply.
“Darren, honey, let’s just eat, okay? Now’s not the time.”
“No, Beth,” Aidan’s father said, “I want to know. I want to know why my son won’t ever tell me anything about his life.”
“Oh, really, now?” Aidan dropped the fork noisily. “After all these years, now’s the time you realize you have no idea what’s going on in your children’s lives? Well, dad, happy realization!” He clapped his hand twice. “But you know what? It’s too late.”
The tension around the table rose. Aidan couldn’t take the words back, and he didn’t wish to either. It felt good to get it off his chest, but he hated the sadness on Rick’s face. The dinner was ruined, all because of him. He quickly excused himself and headed toward his room.
However, he’d least expected his father to follow him, and he stopped him midway. “Stop right there, young man. You’re not going anywhere until you tell me what’s going on. I always found it odd because you acted so distant with me. I felt you were angry about something…but I couldn’t be sure.”
“You couldn’t be sure?” Aidan laughed sardonically. “Your son can’t talk to you about his life…can hardly even look you in the eye most of the time. And you say, you couldn’t be sure I was angry?”
“Why, son?” A look of hurt crossed his face. “What did I do to make you so mad at me?”
He reached out to hold him by his shoulders, but Aidan stepped back. “Forget it, dad. I don’t want to talk about it. You’ve ruined everything.”
“No, he hasn’t.” Aidan turned to find Rick pushing his wheelchair while his mother and Aaron followed. “Aidan, you can’t blame your dad for something he didn’t do.”
“But that’s the point, Rick.” Aidan shook his head. “He didn’t do anything. He wasn’t there to help me through school, he wasn’t there when I graduated, he wasn’t there when I was stressing out about what I was gonna do with my life. He wasn’t even there when I landed my first client for my paintings and wanted to celebrate my happiness with my family.”
“That’s not true, Aidan. He did a lot more than you can imagine.”
“Stop defending him, mom!” he yelled, exasperated. “You always had an excuse for why he wasn’t around. That first time…when I painted your portrait. I wanted to show it to him when he got home that night. But before I could mention it, he’d gone to bed. I still remember that feeling of abandonment and let me tell you, mom, it was the worst feeling I have ever experienced.”
“Aidan, bro…don’t you think you’re over-reacting slightly?”
“No, Aaron, I’m not.” He sighed as a single tear escaped his eye. “You wouldn’t know about it because you were the lucky one to get all of his attention. I moved out, and he retired. You had him around whenever you wanted. I wasn’t so lucky. Maybe he hated me…maybe he thought I brought shame to our family name and reputation by being bisexual…or…or…like choosing a queer career by becoming an artist.”
“I never said any of that.”
Aidan turned to his father. “No, you didn’t. But you didn’t say a word when I came out to you. What was I supposed to think?”
“I was shocked. I didn’t see it coming. I know I should have shown you my acceptance—” Aidan barked out a sarcastic laugh interrupting his father mid-sentence, and the room fell silent.
“I think it’s better to call it a night,” he finally said.
“No, wait…” Rick desperately said. “It’s not fair, Aidan. You have to give him a chance to explain.”
“Forget it, sweetie.” Aidan watched his mom glaring daggers at her husband. “It won’t do any good…I know my husband.” She took cautious steps toward him and touched his shoulder. “Do you see it now, Darren? What I’ve been trying to tell you for years!” She sounded exasperated. “You have to keep an open conversation with the kids to avoid a situation like this.” Aidan’s feeling of anger replaced itself with confusion as he looked at his parents. His father turned his head away, but he could see the tears glistening at the edge of his eyes. His mother looked back at him for a moment, then turned to Rick. “You see, Rick, Aidan’s father…he is what they call—a man of few words. He’d rather let his actions speak for him rather than his words.”
Standing behind her husband, she let her head rest on the small of his back and continued with a faraway look when she said, “We were high school sweethearts. I got pregnant with Aidan when I was only nineteen. Neither of us had any idea what to do. We didn’t have jobs and Darren put all of his savings from the odd jobs he did into a joint venture with his best friend. He worked all day…even nights at times to take on the responsibility of our baby and me. I know he hardly had time for us but what Aidan doesn’t realize…and I know it…he was the best father he could be to both our kids. No exceptions.” Her voice cracked.
Aidan managed to find his voice and said, “But sometimes money is not all a kid needs.”
His mother raised her head and looked at him with tear-filled eyes. “You don’t know anything. All those things you said that he didn’t do…believe me, Aidan…you have no idea what he has endured for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“The time when you were graduating? He was in Germany…in a hospital…he’d had his first heart attack, and he was advised not to travel.” Aidan listened, struck with shock. A horrible feeling crept up his spine. His dad palmed her hand and asked her to leave it. “Wait, Darren. He has to know. Your father made me promise not to tell you anything because he didn’t want to ruin your big day. He wouldn’t even let me get on a plane to be by his side because as per him, he had a well-trained hospital staff to take care of him, but you only had one of us here to share your happiness. He even called to congratulate you, but you were too busy being mad at him.
“You remember getting your first client…but do you remember how much you struggled before that? Darren was as sad as you were. He even told me that he saw himself in you…back when he started out in his line of business…Oh God, Aidan…if it wasn’t for him…You got your first client because he put me up to giving you the idea of displaying your work at a local art shop. He spread the word around for his art-loving business associates to go check out your work during that exhibition. But he didn’t want you to know he had anything to do with it. He knew what it would do to your self-esteem if you found out how you met Mr. Kirsch. That’s why he didn’t risk coming to your party because you’d invited Mr. Kirsch and he was afraid you’d see them talking…they were close friends…it was so stupid, but…”
Every second of silence after that killed Aidan a little more with embarrassment. He thought he’d always been such a good judge of character. How could he have been so wrong in judging his own father’s intentions? Guess, he was more like his father than he realized. He wouldn’t openly confess what he felt very often. And that’s why all these years, his anger kept piling up with petty things which seemed so stupid now. It reached a whole other level of anger; so much it blinded him with rage and hatred toward the man.
Hearing everything his mother had said, however, made him see things much more clearly. Her face softened, and she smiled. “You’re an artist, Aidan. How could you forget…to an ordinary eye, they are only colors spread across a canvas, but the vision tells you the story behind it all. Your eyes saw your father coming in late, exhausted every night when you wanted to show him your paintings. But you never saw him when he’d wake up the next morning…the first thing he’d do was look at your paintings. He told me they gave him the inspiration to go on with his day.”
Aidan let out a sob. He’d tried to hold it back for far too long. But he couldn’t after that moment. He ran straight to his father and threw his arms around him. “I’m sorry,” They both said and kept repeating. His mother took a step back to let them have a moment.
After the heartfelt apologies were exchanged and the father-son duo made their amends, Aidan’s family gathered around the table once again to finish dinner. This time, though, the environment had changed. Everyone had a smile on their faces, and Aidan felt very relieved.
As they sat in the living room, later on, catching up, his father said out of the blue, “Bill!”
“What?” Everyone looked bewildered at him.
He pointed at Rick excitedly. “William Mahoney. He was in my school. Col. Arthur Mahoney’s son! I knew that name sounded familiar. Are you related to any of them?”
When Rick recovered, he had a look of amusement on his face. “Yes, Bill’s my father and Arthur’s my grandfather, Sir. I’m surprised, you know them?”
Aidan’s dad laughed so loud the sound echoed through the room. Aidan had never seen him like that, and it made him happy to see this side of his father. “Know him? Bill was one of my best buddies! The crazy things we did together back in the day…” He laughed. “How’s he doing? Is he here? In LA, with you?”
Rick shot Aidan an uncomfortable glance before turning to his father and said, “He died when I was seventeen.”
“Oh, how awful!” Aidan’s mother uttered.
“That’s terrible! What happened?” he asked.
“Pneumonia. We tried to treat him the best we could. But he didn’t survive, sadly.”
The old man patted Rick’s hand twice. “I’m sorry for your loss, son.” He then turned to his wife and told her, “Such a good man he was. Kind and helpful soul.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
He waved his hand. “Enough with the Sir,” he said dismissively. “From now on, you call me Darren.”
“And you can call me Beth.”
“O-Okay,” he stammered with wary eyes. “If you insist.”
“We do,” Aidan’s father said, “And while you’re here, if you need anything…anything at all, you can call on us. William’s son is like a son to me.”
“Uh…dad,” said Aidan, “Not to ruin the moment or anything. But I’m kinda dating him. Please don’t make it incestuous.” Aaron, who’d been quietly listening to the conversation, burst out laughing.
“Rubbish,” his father said but laughed along.
With two bottles of wine down, their eyes were beginning to droop when it was soon just past midnight. Mrs. Hutchinson had cleaned up after their dinner and had left them to it. “I think it’s time we left, honey,” Aidan’s mother said.
“You can stay for the night if you want. I’ll prep the guest rooms for you guys.”
“Don’t think that’s necessary. Our chauffeur will make sure we get home safe and sound,” his father assured.
As they all stood up, he watched his mother go to Rick and bend down to hug him. “Thank you, Rick,” she said and pulled back smiling wide.
“You fixed my family. You managed to do something I’ve been trying to do for years. And I owe you for that.” Aidan exchanged a smile with his father, who looked so much more relaxed.
Rick blushed. “You owe me nothing, Beth. I didn’t do anything.”
“The hell you didn’t.” Aaron was the next to hug Rick, and he made it quick. “You’re such an awesome boyfriend to my crazy bro. We’re lucky to have you in our lives.”
It made Rick giggle, and he looked sheepishly at Aidan. They all said their goodbyes and Aidan walked his family out. When he returned, the sudden silence in his house overwhelmed him. He closed the door behind him and watched Rich with narrowed eyes. A smile still played on his lips.
“Yes, Mr. Ross?” He batted his eyelashes.
“Looks like you finally got what you wanted.”
“Aren’t you glad how things turned out?”
Aidan sighed and plopped himself back on the couch rubbing his face. “I am.” He reached his hand out. “Come here.” Rick brought his wheelchair over beside him and with a little help from Aidan, sat on the couch, scooting closer. They held hands. “It’s just…ever since you came into my life, a lot has changed. I’ve changed…for good, of course. And now I keep thinking, how awful my life would be without you in it.”
Rick raised his head and kissed Aidan’s neck. “Believe me, Aidan, my life would be much worse without you in it. I don’t know where I’d have ended up next…after my brother in law kicked me out…if it hadn’t been for you...” He began to say something further, but the phone’s ringing interrupted him. They both looked up.
“Who’s calling you at this hour?” Aidan went inside to fetch Rick’s phone for him. He took a look at the caller ID and announced worriedly, “It’s Jenny.”
“Thanks,” he said before he received the call and put it on speaker. “Hey Jenny, you’re on speaker. What’s up?”
Her heavy breathing on the other end gave the first sign of trouble before her panicked voice filled the living room. “Rick, help! Help me, please…Victor’s going to kill me…”