Mixture of different emotions ran through Luke finding his dad at the doorstep. A part of him was excited and happy to see him; the other part was anxious and afraid to know why he was here. For more than a minute, both men stood staring at each other emotionless and in utter silence. That is until Holden broke it first as he coughed and said, “Hello son.” His tone was deep as usual but there was a hint of warmness in it that Luke could pick up on. “I ...uh ...”
“Um ... why don’t you come in?” Luke gestured his hand inside nervously as he stepped aside to let his father enter.
Holden nodded and strolled inside, letting his eyes wander around the small house. “As expected”, he mumbled.
“Excuse me?” Luke, who was right behind him, frowned at the choice of words.
His father turned around baffled before he explained, “Oh ... the house ... it is ... nice.” He said looking around again.
“Really?” He was surprised, totally not able to believe it.
“Yes, nice and suitable for someone like Noah Mayer.” Holden stated, “Just not fit for my son.”
Luke tried hard not to roll his eyes at his father and decided to ignore that statement. Kindly, he asked him to have a seat. “Should I bring something for you? To eat or drink?”
“No I am good. I am not here to visit you.” Holden said getting comfortable on the couch while Luke chose to keep standing.
He crossed his arms readying his mind to face his father. “So what are you here for?” He asked although he sort of knew what the reply would be.
“I am here to take you back home.”
Luke looked funny at him. “And you think that I would go with you after all that has happened?” He shook his head. “If I clearly remember, you told mom that you wanted no association with me anymore.”
“I was angry, Luke. What do you expect? You ran off with him! You chose him over us – your parents, your family. You left us.” Holden accused him.
“You didn’t even care when I was there” Luke scowled. “From the time I came out to you, you never talked to me properly. You weren’t there when I needed you the most.”
Holden was dumbfounded for a moment, then lowered his eyes in shame and whispered, “I know.” He gave a long sigh then continued in a serious tone, “I regret distancing myself from you. You are my son, no matter what. I suppose I needed some time to be reminded of that.” His face had softened. “Luke, all this time away from you, I gradually came to realise how much you mean to me. Although we are not connected by blood, we still have something stronger than that. I love you, son. I have seen you grow up in front of my eyes. How can I stay apart from you?” Luke swallowed a huge lump in his throat. “To tell you the truth, when you came out to your mother and I, I didn’t know what to think. And we were about to go off on a trip for three months. I just thought you didn’t want us to go and you came out only to get our attention.”
“You did say that.” Luke nodded.
“Yes, because that is what I thought. I was angry thinking you’d take such an extreme step.” Holden elaborated. “So I kept acting sternly over you thinking you’d drop it. But you never did.” He sighed again and rubbed his face before explaining further, “And then the whole drama happened after we came back. Luke, it is okay to be gay, but dating a guy much older than you, let alone a teacher?”
“You wouldn’t understand!” Luke frowned and looked away feeling hurt.
“You are right; I would not and I don’t want to either. I just want my son to come back home, back to his family. Your mother misses you, your grandmothers, your sisters, brothers, friends - everyone misses you... I miss you.”
Luke stared into Holden’s eyes. They were full of love and he could see sincerity when he had said that. Then he asked, “What about Noah?”
“What about him?” Holden’s expressions changed and displeasure could be seen on his face at the mention of Noah’s name.
“I cannot leave him, dad.” Luke stated. “I am sorry. I do want to come back home, but I can’t just shrug off my love for Noah.”
“Damn it, Luke. Noah can’t give you the happiness that you deserve. You would never be happy or safe with him.”
“What gives you the idea that I am not happy with him? And as you can see, I am safe and sound here.” He smirked.
“Happy? In this house?” Holden was furious, “You don’t even have a decent couch to sit on. Look at you, Luke. Since when did you have to settle for things lesser than your desires? All your life you got everything you wanted and Noah isn’t taking care of that.”
“Dad you are ...”
Luke began to counter but Holden wouldn’t stop to listen to him, “And you say you are safe here? Really? I wouldn’t think so after what happened.”
“What do you mean?” Luke looked at him sceptically.
“I know Luke.” He frowned as he said, “I know you were almost raped by some asshole and that’s why I ...”
“Wait,” Luke was appalled, “How do you know this? Who told you?”
“I told him.” Luke turned towards the voice that came from behind and saw Noah standing at the door. “And I called him here so that you could go back with him. He is right; you are not happy or safe here. You wouldn’t be. So it is better ...”
“Better my ass. You fucker ... how could you?” Luke yelled out his agony. “You want me gone? Fine! I will not be a burden to you anymore.”
“Luke, you don’t ...”
“We are through; if that’s what you want. You keep assuming things about me. Did you ever think even once of what I wish for? Fuck you!” He shouted at the peak of his voice and stormed inside with tears streaming out of his eyes.
“What are you doing with my daughter?” Marie gritted her teeth and angrily snatched away Angel from Dafna’s hands.
“I didn’t ...” Dafna was too shocked to say anything. She kept looking between Angel, Marie and her son with a fearful look.
The lady officer was confused and came forward to clear it all up. “Mrs. Brannan, this woman is the one who found Angel. She brought your daughter here. It’s because of her that Angel is safe today.”
Cedric and Marie were dumbfounded and continued to stare at Dafna with emotionless faces. While Cedric softened at the information, Marie’s anger didn’t subside.
She laughed with sarcasm and accused, “This woman? You have no idea officer, what she is capable of. I am sure she had this all planned in her mind. But I tell you, my opinions about the likes of you will never change.”
“Plan? What plan?” The officer looked lost in this whole conversation. She wondered if she did something wrong by bringing these people face to face.
“Oh, she just wants to break my family. She and her son took my son away from me and now they want to take Angel from me too. So she kidnapped my little girl.” Marie shivered with tears flowing down her face and anger blazing through her eyes.
“Mom, please ...” Joe was getting tired of this now.
“You stay out of this, Joe. I am not going to tolerate this bitch anymore.” She gave him a warning look and turned to Dafna again, who seemed like an intimidated rabbit. “I know what you are up to, you filthy blooded trollop ...”
“Enough!” Gust yelled at the top of his voice, not able to take it anymore and stepped in between Marie and his mother. “My mom isn’t saying anything to you, doesn’t mean you should go on and on with your shit.”
“Gust, no” Dafna scolded him, looking sternly through her tearful eyes.
“She isn’t saying anything because she is guilty as charged.” Marie snapped.
“No I am not! I didn’t kidnap your daughter as you claim. She was all alone outside the store and no one knew who she was with, so I just brought her to the cops. That’s it. I didn’t even know she was your daughter!” Dafna defended herself.
Joe’s mother rolled her eyes, “Taking the liar’s way out now?” She snorted. “You say you didn’t know she was my daughter? I might be getting old and forgetting things lady, but not all. I do remember our families meeting each other that time when you visited us. It wasn’t that long ago, so I guess you could have easily recognised her.”
“Uh ... Marie,” Cedric flinched as he cleared his throat, “That time, they didn’t really see Angel ... she was in her room... sleeping.”
Marie looked at him over her shoulder and couldn’t say anything more.
However, Gust’s anger had started to boil over and he couldn’t control himself. He gave out a sarcastic laugh. “What, Mrs. Brannan? Cat got your tongue now?” He hissed, “You accuse my mother of awful things like kidnapping your child, and you think you can easily get away with it? You owe her an apology.”
“Apology?” She laughed humourlessly, “Believe me, she doesn’t deserve one.”
Gust frowned. “You are so ungrateful. She brought your lost daughter to you, for God’s sake.”
“Why?” Marie glared at him angrily. “Her son took away my son from me. Why should I believe she didn’t try to take away my daughter?”
“Mom, will you stop it now?” Joe exhaled frustratingly.
But before he could finish, Gust yelled, “Why can’t you just admit that you failed to be a good mother to your children?” And everyone went numb by those words. Marie was taken aback, Cedric’s eyes went wide and Joe had no different reaction. No one could believe Gust had said something like that. However, oblivious to what he was doing, he continued taking out his anger on Marie, “You kicked your son out just because he chose to love me. You left your daughter in the middle of nowhere, not my mother. It was all you, not me, not my mother ... but YOU! Do you even care about your children? I mean ... seriously, do you even have a heart? Because if you had one, you wouldn’t have left your son on his own just to feed your ego ... and what kind of mother are you forgetting about your child like that? A mother without a heart of course because ...”
And like he had been woken up from some kind of trance, a slap across his face shook him out of the anger rush he was experiencing. He held the part of the cheek which was stinging now and looked up at his angry boyfriend in a panic. “Nobody talks to my mom like that, asshole.” Joe yelled.
“Joe, I am so-” Gust began to apologize.
But the officer quickly came forth and pulled Joe away from him. “Hey, no hitting anyone unless you want to end up behind bars.” She warned, “And keep your family drama out of here. Mr. and Mrs. Brannan, you have your daughter back. I believe our work is done here. You may leave.” She said in her stern voice.
Joe was the first to leave the place and Gust ran out behind him. “Joe, wait ...” He put his arm over his shoulder to stop him but it was shrugged off harshly.
“I didn’t expect this from you Gust. You don’t know shit about my mom.” He gritted his teeth. “She means the world to me.”
Gust looked at him, hurt. He nodded slightly. “And my mom means the world to me too.” As he said this he put his hand around his mother who had come out of the police station by this time, and took her away.
Joe stared in the distance as Gust drove his car off in a rush. He could feel the pain in his heart and wondered if this was the end of them. He didn’t want it to be like this.
A hand touching his arm broke his trance and he turned to his mother’s hopeful green eyes. “Let’s go. Are you coming with us?” Cedric stood behind her with Angel in his arms.
The forlorn boy looked down at the ground and nodded, “Yeah.” Then there was a long pause before he looked up at her again. This time his face was firm and his voice cold when he asked suddenly, “Who are you?”
Marie frowned at the question, “I am your mother, Joe. What is wrong with you?”
Joe shook his head and took a step back from her. “No. You can’t be my mother. I have known my mother to be a very kind and accepting lady. She was the one who supported me throughout my coming out to everyone, she defended me, told everyone that I am a person and they shouldn’t see me any different. But I don’t recognise this lady standing in front of me anymore.”
“I am your same old mother, dear.”She sobbed staring in shock.
“No you are not. My mother would never be so narrow-minded and discriminate people by their religion.” He angrily snapped at her and looked away. “Just ... I wish I could get my mother back. But I think ...” He faced her again to say, “I have lost her somewhere.” His eyes became blurry as they dampened with emotions overwhelming him, and he rubbed his face feeling tired all of a sudden. “We should go.” He said to his father and quietly got inside the car.
Luke was burning with anger as he put his clothes away ferociously. He was angry at Noah for acting like a jerk. ‘I was going to make it all good today and he just had to go do that? Why does he have to be so ... so ... himself? Ugh!’
A coughing sound behind him caught his attention and he turned to find a guilty Noah standing dangerously close to him. In any other circumstances, he would have felt warm but right now he was hot in his head. Luke didn’t say anything and just waited for Noah to start explaining.
Noah seemed to be gathering his thoughts before he wanted to speak up, and Luke wanted to hear his thoughts. When the brunette was ready, he made a move to hold him by his shoulders. However, Luke stopped him by holding his hand up. He didn’t feel like having any body contact because a part of him was afraid that it would somehow influence his decision. But the man appeared hurt by that and frowned when he said, “You see ... this is why I had to take this step.”
Luke made a face. “What do you mean?”
“This whole attitude you pulled with me for an entire month. You wouldn’t talk to me, or even let me touch you.” Noah sulked.
“I have every right to be angry with my boyfriend, so don’t bullshit me with that excuse.” Luke hissed. “Every relationship has their problems but that doesn’t mean you have to run away from them.”
“I never ran away from our problems Luke. You were too stubborn to let go of the matter.” Noah tried to keep calm. He had to, when Luke was so boiling with rage. “I tried, Luke. I said sorry for Christ’s sake, so many times. I tried to make you understand but you wouldn’t budge. And last night, when I told you about my father and that horrible time of my life with him, I expected more than a cold silence Luke. I thought you would understand.”
“I understand, Noah.” Luke certainly did. “But you need to give me some time to think it over. You took me by surprise when you told me that and to be honest, I didn’t know how to react. A part of me wanted to forgive you but a much bigger part was hurt that you only shared that with me now.”
“If I keep hurting you, why do you want to be with me?” Noah angrily snapped.
“You know if you stop thinking about why I would want to be with you, and think about other things, things would get a lot easier. Give yourself some credit Noah, and most importantly, give me some credit. When I said, I love you – what part of it did you not understand?” Luke asked, totally ticked off. “We can fight Noah. We can have arguments, but that wouldn’t make me love you any less. Tell me, did you stop loving me after last night?”
Noah stared for a moment and then shook his head.
“Then why Noah? Why would you think I would stop loving you either?” Luke’s voice had calmed down but the agony he was going through came across in his voice.
“Bu-but you wouldn’t even look at me this morning.” Noah tried to reason with him.
“I couldn’t face you, goddammit. I felt bad for not reacting the way I should have last night. My thoughts were beating me up inside for being so cold towards you.” Luke explained and then got agitated suddenly, “But you are so fucking silly. If you thought I didn’t feel like we belong together, couldn’t you try a bit harder to get back your love? You never stand up for what you want Noah. You don’t want to fight for what is yours.”
“That is not true.” Noah’s eyes widened at the accusation.
“Oh no, it is. When Chris tried to break us up, you did what he wanted. When dad tried to tear us apart, you did what he wanted. And now when you assumed ...” he air-quoted the word and gave a snort at it, “that I didn’t want to be with you anymore, you did what you thought I wanted. What about what you want Noah? Do you ever think about that?”
“I ... I want to be with you.” Noah uttered and smiled slightly.
Luke smiled sadly. “I want to be with you too, dickhead.” He joked and said, “So why don’t you do something about it? Fight for what you want ... stand up for yourself, for us.”
And as if something had pushed him, Noah grinned and pulled Luke into a deep, passionate kiss. Luke was hungry for this one and he kissed back, more than desperate. Maybe that is why he was displeased when his boyfriend pulled back and looked him in the eyes.
Noah took his hand firmly and led him into the living room. Luke saw his father stand up from the couch as they came back into the room, walking hand in hand. There was no doubt he had overheard the whole conversation between him and Noah. Holden’s eyes travelled down to their held hands and back up to their contented faces.
“Mr. Snyder,” Noah began with a respectful voice. “I am glad that you came by on such a short notice but I ... I have to apologize. I can’t let you take Luke away from me.” He turned his face to Luke who stood by his side and smiled, “He is what I want and he is all I have, sir. I certainly wouldn’t let him go. It was a mere misunderstanding that I thought Luke didn’t want me anymore, but he loves me as much as I love him. And I don’t want to ...”
“Say no more.” Holden stopped him with a stern voice. He looked between the two of them with no expression on his face. “I think I am not needed here. I will leave.”
“Dad ...” Luke called out, his voice cracking as he watched his dad turn to leave. Noah let their hands go, but only to put his arm around Luke and squeeze his shoulder in support.
Holden reached the door and turned, “By the way Noah, I have dropped all the charges on you. So you don’t have to work here anymore.” A small smile formed on his face and Luke couldn’t believe his ears. “I believe if my son decides to be with you, you should be able to support him with what you earn.” Noah nodded smiling at that. Holden then turned to Luke. “And you stubborn kid ...” He chuckled, “I guess I shouldn’t call you that. I see you are not the same little, immature Luke anymore. But still stubborn...” They all laughed at that and Holden sighed happily. “You can come back to Oakdale, Luke ... with Noah. Your mother will be happy to see you. Can you do that for this old, bad dad of yours?”
Luke sprinted and lunged at his father, landing right into his father’s arms. He felt so happy, so free from all the guilt he felt back then when he left his family behind and ran away to be with Noah. And this happiness surged out of him through tears. He hugged his father tight, loving this feeling. “You are not a bad dad. I love you.” He cried.
‘Finally!’ He thought, ‘Things are about to get better.’
Joe’s head was pounding and he cringed at the desperate knocking on his door. He couldn’t sleep the whole night and he had no intention of getting out of his bed today. He just wanted to be in his room drowning himself in his melancholy.
“Joe, please open the door.” He heard his dad tapping the door harder this time. He had stayed over at his parents’. He didn’t want to. He wanted to go back to his grandma’s where he didn’t have to face his mother. But his father and his grandmother talked him into staying over for the sake of his mother’s health, and they agreed that Angel needed her brother too.
Joe pulled his sheet over his head. “Leave me alone.”He yelled, immensely irate as his father knocked again several times.
“Joe, please open up.” Cedric’s voice was full of panic. “It’s about your mother; she isn’t here.”
When he heard that, he didn’t initially think it was a big deal and frowned. But then he threw the blanket off his body and took a peek at the clock. It was 8 AM. He quickly hopped off the bed and hurriedly began to put on his clothes. “What do you mean she’s not here?” He asked as he opened the door and came face to face with his father’s frightened appearance.
“I don’t know. She is not in her room. When I woke up, I didn’t find her beside me. I thought she was in the kitchen working, but she wasn’t there either.” He explained.
Now Joe was starting to worry. “Did you check Angel’s room? What about Angel?”
Cedric nodded, “Angel is still sleeping in her cradle. But your mother ... I am afraid she went out because the front door was left unlocked.”
“Maybe in the neighbourhood,” Joe tried to think of places where she might have gone. “Did you check at Mrs. Lauren’s?”
“It’s too early in the morning, Joe. Your mother wouldn’t go there.”
Joe shrugged. “Doesn’t hurt to check... I mean, they are the best of friends.”
Cedric nodded in agreement and Joe quickly followed him downstairs. As they reached the living room, they saw the front door open slowly and the sight of Marie coming in relieved them both. “Marie, where the heck have you been? I woke up and you were gone, nowhere around the place. You had me worried, honey.” He hugged her possessively.
“Where were you mom? We were just about to go to Mrs. Lauren’s to see if you were there.” Joe told her, his anger over her subsided at that moment.
“I wasn’t there ... I ...” She hesitated to say and stepped back from her husband’s embrace. She looked deep into her son’s eyes and said, “I went to meet the Rivera’s and ... and talk to them... to make amends.”