“Uh, morning,” I managed, staying safe in the doorway.
Uncle TJ sighed and set down his mug. “For christ’s sake, come and sit down. I’m annoyed, not mad.” I stepped over slowly to the coffee maker first, and didn’t miss when TJ sent a side glare at Will and muttered, “You, friend, are another matter.”
Will just snorted and gave a smirk, which unwound something inside me. He probably knew TJ better than anyone else, so if Will could relax, I guess I could too. With a hot mug in hand, I sat down between them. “Well, this is awkward,” I said before taking a sip. Will nearly spit out his coffee and TJ shook his head, but they both chuckled.
“Way to break the morning-after ice,” Will said, patting my shoulder as he coughed.
Uncle TJ rolled his eyes. “Lord, you two are going to be trouble together.”
“I am sorry,” I said. Fucking in a guest bed really had been rude, no matter what a state I’d been in.
TJ shook his head again and squeezed my shoulder. “I’ll let it slide this time, but—and you’re making me age as I say this—there’s rules if you stay in this house. First is no overnight guests.” It was a fair rule for me, but his eyes were on Will as he spoke.
“Yes, sir.” I gave a mock salute and earned a snort. Then we just drank our coffee, in a little circle at the table. The situation felt oddly…domestic. Maybe that wasn’t the right word. Sitting there drinking coffee with two other guys in the quiet of the morning felt mature, adult. A little boring, but good.
“What are you grinning about?” asked Will.
“How you guys are sitting there nursing your coffees like a couple old men.”
“Ah!” Will laughed.
“We’re not old.” Will straightened his back with a playful glint in his eye. “We’re mature.”
“So says the old guy.”
“Did you just call my nephew a wiener?”
Will grinned. “Yep.”
“And on that note, I’m going to get dressed and watch the morning news.”
Will chuckled as TJ left and then it was just us. The air pressure shift, warmer with a touch of electricity.
“You feeling ok?” Will sounded so concerned, I had to smile.
“You kidding?” I chuckled. Aside from putting on an audio show for Uncle TJ, us fucking had been one of the single best moments I could remember as an adult.
“Yesterday was, well, rough for you. I just want to be sure you weren’t overwhelmed by what happened between us.”
I reached a hand up and cupped his cheek. “No. It was just what I needed.”
“Ok.” The anxiousness eased from his eyes as he stood. “Why don’t I make breakfast before I have to go?”
“Do you have to leave already?” He nodded, which I almost missed since he was bent over looking into the contents of the fridge, and his fine ass was staring right at me. I gave him a quick smack.
“Don’t be a tease.”
Will lifted a carton of eggs. “Yeah, ‘cause scrambled eggs are hot, huh?”
“Your ass bent over to get them is,” I replied, earning a blush. Oh, that was priceless, he needed to do that more often. Then he cleared his throat.
“Um, yeah. Anyway, breakfast. Eggs, toast…?”
I hopped from my chair to one of TJ’s cabinets and pulled a box out. “Eggs and cereal!”
With a burrowed brow, Will said, “That’s sugar cereal. It’s dessert at best, not breakfast.”
I clutched my chest. “Blasphemy!” That earned a laugh and, ignoring my pain, Will turned around and began cracking eggs.
“What are you two arguing about?” TJ asked, towel drying his hair.
“I thought you were watching TV.” I eyed him suspiciously. He had a sixth sense when it came to his cereal.
“Shower, then dress, TV—and cereal first.” He snagged the box from my hand.
“Kill joy. I get it after you.”
“Oh, you think so?”
Will looked over his shoulder and shook his head at us.
“Come on, Uncle TJ.”
Grabbing the milk and a bowl, TJ maneuvered around Will and sat down. “What ya gonna do for it?”
I folded my arms. “No way. I’m an adult now.”
“Suit yourself.” With that TJ shrugged and filled his bowl. Will piled a heap of scrambled eggs onto a plate. How had he cooked them so fast?
“I could have a beer for breakfast if I wanted, you know.”
That made them both chuckle. TJ just started eating and told me with food in his mouth, “Not if it’s my beer. Still sure you want to stay here?” He was teasing, but the words took the wind out of my sails.
I sat down and grabbed a fork for the eggs. “It is ok I stay for a while, right?”
TJ looked at me like I’d grown another head. “Of course.” He paused as Will took a share of the eggs onto his own plate. “And grab a bowl, ya sulky kid. You get cereal.”
I grinned and grabbed a bowl, pushing it over to him and hopping around.
Will chuckled. “What’s all this about?”
“Oh, Dad won’t buy this stuff. I was never allowed to eat it, but TJ would sneak it to me sometimes.”
“Did he?” Will gave TJ a lopsided grin.
“Oh, shut it,” TJ threw at his look.
“And what did you make you do to earn it?”
“Usually he made me sing one of the songs from Annie,” I scoffed, snagging my now-full bowl.
“And dance,” TJ added. I muttered, “Bastard,” and tucked into my sugary bowl of bliss.
Will just smiled, enjoying himself, until he had to clean up and head out. I stopped him before he left and pulled him close. “Yours tonight? Can I stay over?”
His eyes had more concern than desire, which annoyed me, but I tried to be understanding as he gave my cheek a kiss and replied, “I want to, but let’s see how the day goes, ok?”
I blew out a breath and nodded. “Alright. I’d rather wrap myself around you like a snake and remind you of all the reasons for me spending the night at yours, but…I’ll refrain. See how mature I am?”
With a laugh, Will left to pick up his niece. I’d talked with him right after breakfast about his plan for today and offered to watch Alia with him. He’d almost said yes, but then stopped himself. “I have to take her out with me to run errands. Having you with me would be fun, but…it’s Sunday. I’m guessing Doug’s been to church, and he may have told people about your situation. So maybe it’s a good idea to relax today before facing judgmental strangers?”
Though I was damn skeptical that would happen, I definitely didn’t want to deal with that if it did. So, I sucked it up and stayed in the house with TJ. He did his best to entertain. More movie marathons. Homemade pizza. Video games.
I had to admit, he managed to get my mind of off things—both Will and my Dad. The good and the bad.
Unfortunately, things didn’t stay that simple. In the early evening, before we were about to start the pizzas and after I’d beaten his butt on Mario Cart, I went to the basement to grab us some beers. As I was stepping up the stairs, I heard voices. Not strangers, it was TJ and another voice I immediately recognized. Dad. Good grief.
“Doug, why don’t you give both you and Cass some time?”
“I need your help, TJ.” TJ sighed. A chair scraped the kitchen floor. “Let’s talk out in the back, Doug.”
Dad, predictably, ignored him.
“Is that bastard here?”
“Your pal, Will.” I heard Dad’s St. Michael necklace jingle as he must’ve shaken his head. “I knew from the start that son of a bitch was trouble.”
“Look,” TJ returned, a bit sharply, “if you want to talk, that’s fine. Let’s just do it out back.”
“I don’t know what to do, TJ. I don’t know where I went wrong with him.”
Besides kicking me out? I bit my tongue. I wanted to hear what he’d say.
“You didn’t ‘go wrong’, because there’s nothing wrong with Cass. He’s a damn good kid. A good man.”
“But…this lifestyle he’s chosen.”
TJ let out a long breath, mirroring the exasperation I felt rising inside me.
“It’s not a ‘lifestyle’. It’s about love.”
“It’s about sodomy. It’s about sin.”
“I don’t think it is. A lot of people don’t think it is.”
“Look, the Bible is pretty clear on this.”
“It’s pretty clear on not eating shellfish, but that doesn’t slow you down at Red Lobster.”
“I’m serious about this!”
“So am I!” TJ shot back with some heat. “Cass isn’t hurting anyone. He’s not breaking any of the ten commandments. He’s just a kid who’s kind and thoughtful and who loves you.”
Dad sighed now. “I don’t know. I can’t approve of this.”
“Hate to break it to you, but Cass is grown now, he’s going to do a lot of things you don’t approve of. If it wasn’t this, it would be something else.”
“Why does it have to be this, though? My own son, a fag.”
“Don’t use that word.”
But he had used it, and it speared me through the chest. I’d heard it before and shrugged it off, but coming from my old man, yeah, it fucking hurt.
“What am I supposed to do, TJ? Let him bring men home and fuck them under my roof?” He was on a rant now, his temper stoked, and every word hit me like shrapnel.
“Jesus, Doug! Would you let him screw girlfriends at home? No. So don’t take things there.”
A long pause descended. I let my forehead rest on the wall beside me. I couldn’t slip away without being heard, but I really didn’t want to hear anymore.
TJ broke the stand-off. “Look, Cass wants what you want—he wants love and support. He deserves it. No one’s free of sin. I don’t think loving men is one, but even if you believe that—“
“Even if you believe that,” TJ pushed on, “it doesn’t mean you should reject your own son.” Even from around the corner I felt Uncle TJ pause before he said, “You’ve done the best you could, Doug, but you haven’t been a perfect father. Cass isn’t a perfect kid, but he sure as hell took the reins when Margaret left, didn’t he?”
“Don’t bring that up!”
“It needs to be said!”
Fuck, I hated shouting.
“She left you both. She was a Christian and she always had her Bible on hand, but she left you. She left her husband and her son. So what if Cass doesn’t hold to everything in the damn Bible? He’s been there for you. He was dealing with being abandoned by his own mother and somehow managed to help his dad through losing his wife!”
“We’re done here.” I heard Dad’s chair scrape back, heard the gravel in his voice.
“Damn straight we are,” TJ muttered as footsteps headed toward the front door.
I let out a breath, but softly. Though I didn’t think TJ knew I was around the corner, I sure as hell didn’t need him finding out—or acknowledging it, if he knew. So taking a breath and pulling everything inside, I started up the stairs again, calling out, “Got the beer! Might have started without you!” Then I chuckled as I handed him his beer.
“Great,” TJ said, trying for cheerful and managing strained. “Let’s get the pizzas going!”
The rest of the night was uneventful. Monday was downright boring, since I called off work. For the foreseeable future. The site manager was less than pleased with me, to put it mildly. But I preferred taking his ranting and cursing over budgets and timelines than the silence—or slights—about my personal sexuality. The situation of basically being unemployed did put my future plans into high relief, though. I could hardly stay with TJ forever and staying with Will wasn’t an option. Our relationship was too new, too unsure. I wasn’t certain where that left me; I just knew my future was in my hands and no one else’s.
A knock came at the door Monday afternoon. TJ wasn’t due home for another hour and I hadn’t heard from Will. Maybe he thought I needed time to myself to ponder matters over. Maybe he was busy with Alia. No, the one text he had sent was asking if I could help watch her later in the week. I guess Uncle TJ had clued him in that I wasn’t working.
In any case, as much as I wished that he was the one at the door, that was unlikely.
“Son, are you there?” came Dad’s voice through the door. At least there weren’t any windows beside the door and he couldn’t see inside. It gave me time to gather myself before finally stepping up to the door. Jesus, he must’ve left work early to get here before TJ. He never did that.
When I finally opened the door between us, Dad stood there, shifting on his feet. He look as discomfited as I’d ever seen him. Good, that made two of us.
“Dad.” I didn’t invite him in.
“Son.” Wringing his hands, he asked. “Can we talk?”
I supposed we had to, but for some reason I didn’t want him inside the house.
“Fine. Let’s go to the truck.”
He blinked as I shut the door and stepped passed him. To his credit, he merely nodded and followed me, not remarking on the snub.
I took my place in the passenger seat beside the driver. Being there, the place I’d sat on countless mornings and evenings exhausted and spinning my brain over how to come out to him, felt completely foreign now that I had. If I’d felt like an imposter before, somehow it was worse now. Now I knew what he really thought of me. A sinner, someone who was sick and depraved. Christ, my own father.
“How are you, Cassidy?”
I looked over at him, barely having heard the door close behind him.
“You want the honest answer?”
He shrugged, eyes leaving mine as I felt him grow defensive. “I’m asking, aren’t I? I’m here.”
“Fine. It’s a bit crap.”
When he nodded, I wondered if he actually understood. “I thought it might be.” He took a breath. “That’s why I’m here.”
Not knowing what to make of this, I simply sat back and waited. It didn’t take him long to go on.
“I hope you know I just want the best for you, son.” My eyes narrowed. He kept his eyes on the steering wheel. “And I wish you had told me everything earlier, and privately. Maybe we could’ve handled all this better.”
Now his eyes came up. “Yes, better. For starters, you hid a huge part of your life from me. I don’t even know how long all this has been happening, or how it started. You pushed me out of your life and I didn’t even know it.”
The conversation was veering into muddled waters. I tried to think of how to reply, but he went on. “Do you understand what you put me through? Are you even sorry for what you’ve done?”
“Excuse me? What have I done?”
“You lied to me, son. God only knows for how long.”
“You DID!” He paused enough to gather his breath before moving on. “A lie of omission is still a damn lie.” He raked a hand over his face. “Cass, I love you. I just want to do right by you, help you.”
I had to strain myself to hold back a groan. He went on.
“If you were doing drugs, I’d push you to go to rehab and lock you in your room until you detoxed.”
“And now?” I had to admit, I thought he’d just toss me out and be done. I wasn’t sure which was worse, being told you were weren’t loved for being who you are, or being told you are loved for being someone you’re not.
“You have a choice, son. We all have choices. God knows I made enough mistakes when I was your age. I wish my own dad had cared enough to say something, to stop me. He just used his fists to do the talking.”
I blinked. This was news. I didn’t really know what to make of it. I knew grandpa was rough with him, but Uncle TJ had never mentioned anything like this. I was still processing the info when he went on.
“So I’ll give you time to make your choices. The right ones.”
“What if I choose a path you don’t approve of?”
“It’s not my approval you should be worried about, but the lord’s.”
Of course. The lord’s.
“And…?” I prodded.
“If you want to choose sin, son, there isn’t much I can do. You’ll have to go your own way then. But the door will always be open for you to come back, and join me and god again.”
Well, shit. What was I supposed to do with that?