'Dad', Mason said. 'Thomas, thank you for coming.'
A large bottle of coke sat sweating fat, glistening drops in the afternoon sunlight. It was franked by four round glasses. Raw carrots and cauliflower were neatly arranged on a platter alongside bowls of crisps, nuts, crackers and several sweet dips.
'You're welcome', Thomas answered kindly. He had a question in his eyes, one he'd apparently decided not to voice. Ray sat next to him at the kitchen table, hands resting on his knees. He'd been racing around the house earlier, dusting out furniture, setting the table, cooking steak and pouring juice. It was a rare feat for Mason to invite someone over for lunch. It was even more of an exception for him to look so elated at the occasion. Naturally, Simon was his best friend. Coincidentally, the formality of the occasion hadn't registered at first. Moments before, Ray had been pumped. Now a creeping feeling of foreboding was rising in his chest. He didn't exactly know why he was feeling this way, had always been a bit paranoid when Mason was involved...
Simon was a nice-looking kid. He was taller and sturdier than Mason, with short dark hair and a large mouth. He had a healthy tan from working outdoors. His hands were big and his eyes a bit slanted. Upon entering earlier, he'd respectfully taken off his baseball cap.
There were things Ray hadn't noticed before, like how nicely Simon was dressed, how his shirt was neatly pressed, how he'd taken the time to tie his shoe laces instead of just stuffing them into his sneakers. There were the sneakers and the baseball cap, yes - but there was also the dress shirt, the sleek black trousers, the perfectly coiffed nape. Simon was fidgeting, shooting glances at Mason.
Ray was starting to feel a bit hot. When he glanced at Thomas, he saw the man was grinning sheepishly, giving Mason the sort of look that meant he had a pretty decent idea of what was going on, but was waiting for the boy to put it out there himself. Thomas always had things figured out. Ray felt his head spin. For some reason, the situation struck him as very unfair.
'So Mason', Thomas said. 'Tell us why we're all here today. What did you wanna talk about?'
Ray wanted to call for a timeout already. Mason took a deep breath.
'Dad', he said. 'Thomas. You've met Simon...'
Simon gave a small wave. 'Hi...'
'Hi', Ray parroted, not really feeling his cheeks. Thomas threw him a look.
'So Simon and I have known each other for a long time', Mason quickly continued, not really giving himself the time to think. 'We met in high school, he was in the art club. I joined because I wanted to get to know him. We got talking, and, uh...'
'We sorta have the same hobbies', Simon supplied helpfully.
'Dad', Mason said, half-smiling. A firm blush had spread over his cheeks. Ray realized his son had been clutching Simon's hand all along.
As if on cue, Simon gave the hand a squeeze and pulled it into his lap, looking all the more determined.
Ray was watching all of this with growing trepidation. He sat stiffly, squirming every so often, things raging through his stomach and chest. They were large whirls of emotion, hard to dissect due to their constant shifting. One word, though, rung louder than the rest. It was a fast, incessant chanting that threatened to burst past his lips.
'Dad...' Mason spoke softly. 'I've been wanting to tell you this for a while. Uhm, Simon and I, we, uhm, we've sorta been-'
No no no no no no no no no no no no-
'- going out', Mason finished breathlessly, visibly relieved the sentence was finally out of his throat. When no one reacted, he looked up through thick blond lashes. 'Dad?'
'We've been taking it slow!' Simon cut in hastily. 'We started dating our senior year so it's only been going for a short while, really, because we wanted to be sure.'
'We love each other', Mason concluded, involuntarily startling the whole table.
Right about the time Ray was about to start bawling his eyes out, Thomas let out a very forced cough.
He was covering his face with one hand. The other was crossed stiffly over his chest, as if to make his frame shrink. Only his eyes were peeping out, graced by their trademark furrow, but more intense, more urgent. The look in them was a mix of embarrassment and shock. His short hair didn't do a good job of covering his ears, which were so red it seemed they were shining. With his broad shoulders hunched, he made the impression of a big brown bear trying to hide.
As everyone at the table stared in bafflement, Thomas looked away.
Ray had been too busy hyperventilating to notice the shift in his partner's mood. At first, he'd no idea what was going on. Never in his life had he seen his best friend act like this. He looked upset, but certainly not for the same reason Ray was. Ray knew Thomas; contrary to his own angst accepting anything Mason-related, Thomas usually was so easy-going they ended up picking fights over the matter. Not today. It seemed as if Mason and Simon's words had knocked Thomas off his feet.
'What is it?' Ray heard himself ask, a scratch in his throat. Thomas didn't even look at him. Worry washed over Ray like a storm. If it hadn't been for Mason's next whisper, he would've almost forgotten his son was even there.
'Thomas?' Mason asked, quiet like a mouse. The tremble in his voice made Ray tear his eyes away. Mason's face had fallen, his eyes were sad and wide. 'Are you… Is it really so... hard to accept? That we...'
'No!' Thomas cried, horrified. 'No, goodness, Mason. I'm happy for you!' He cleared his throat. 'I'm very happy for you guys. Congratulations.' Prone to calm and reason as he was, Thomas recovered in seconds, brushing the imagined dust off his shoulder.
Ray stared long and hard at the handsome man beside him. Curiously, the shock from before had dulled. All he wanted at that moment was to screw open his lover's skull and find out the reason for his reaction. Wasn't Thomas the one who rolled his eyes and moved on with an easy grin?
Finally Thomas looked at Ray. The look on his face was extremely unconvincing. They kept on staring for a while. Eventually, Thomas gave up.
'Well', he said, smiling a very fake smile. 'I guess I'm just... kinda jealous of you guys.'
Mason winced painfully. He shot a quick glance at his father. Simon looked everywhere but at Ray. All Ray saw was Thomas, who was now blushing a fierce shade of red.
And the guilt he felt was overwhelming. Even more than that, Ray felt stupid.
He felt like a failure.
Ray took a deep breath. 'Mason', he said, and everyone grew still. 'Simon, congratulations. I'm... very happy for you guys.'
The words tasted rather weak, but Mason didn't seem to notice. His face brightened as if a switch had suddenly been turned on. He jumped across the table and crushed Ray in his arms.
'You're the best!' he said, laughing out loud. 'I love you.'
'I love you too.' Ray was crying again. It was the shock. He wasn't feeling as happy as he should. Nonetheless, he made sure to hug Mason back warmly. Because his son was being honest, that was the most important thing.
'Mason', he said, after everything had calmed down. Everyone stared in silent amazement, because it was that time in the story; the moment had come, and they knew it, only it was hard to imagine Ray would muster up the courage after all these years.
Ray's cheeks burned. Slowly he turned his palm, resting it on Thomas' knee. It was filled almost instantly with a familiar warmth. He looked down at their intertwined hands. This, he decided, felt right. At the same time, it felt like his carefully constructed scaffold of secrecy was collapsing from underneath his feet. He was terrified of what might happen next, felt like all had failed even though nothing had even been decided yet.
He felt small. Ray swallowed the bile in his throat. Next to him, Thomas shifted in his seat.
'Mason', Ray said. Already on the first syllable his voice faltered, then broke: 'Thomas and I, we...' He sucked in the air through his trembling lips: 'Thomas and I...'
The words stopped. And right then and there, Simon decided it was time for a break.
'So!' he said, clapping his hands together, laughing loudly, nervously. 'That was a lot to take in, wasn't it?' The look of discomfort was clear on his face.
Mason seemed to be in a trance. His eyes hazy, his lips slightly parted, he looked to be thinking deeply about something, looked to be grasping a concept so foreign it left him speechless. Simon's hand landed heavily on his shoulder.
Mason blinked. 'Yeah', he said, sounding very much in awe. 'You're probably right.'
'Why don't you guys head out for a while?' Thomas offered, managing to keep the immense relief everyone was feeling out of his voice for the most part. 'We'll continue this talk later.'
Mason nodded wordlessly. Simon reached for his coat. 'It was good to see you again, sir', he said, and then, to a shellshocked Ray: 'I'd like to visit again next weekend, if that's okay with you.'
'He's okay with it', Thomas blabbed.
'See you in a bit!' Mason cried and waved as the door fell shut behind them.
Ray and Thomas were alone again.
Finally, after an instant of eery silence, Ray scraped the bits and pieces of his soul together and dragged his limp body over to the couch. He fell down with the grace and dignity of a tired dog and promptly burst out crying.
Thomas went to fetch a box of tissues. He carefully sat down next to Ray, mentally preparing himself for what he knew was about to come - which was a long, long wail of agony.
'Mason!' Ray cried, blowing snot everywhere. 'Mason! Ah!' Clinging to Thomas' arm, his wet eyes gleaming, he said: 'Thomas, tell me, is it my fault? Is it?!'
'You're going to have to be more specific', Thomas answered dryly.
'You know what I'm talking about! Oh God... oh God! I did not see this coming... Mason!'
As Ray's voice rose to hysterical levels, Thomas decided it was time for a few soothing words. In his language, that meant sarcasm.
'You want him to find a nice girl?'
'Yes! I just want him to live a normal, happy life!'
'Normal means marrying a girl?'
'Normal means normal! Just- ah! Life would be so much easier if he found a nice, caring woman...'
'Like you were happy when you found a nice, caring woman?'
'You know what I mean, Thomas!' Ray said, glaring. 'You're smart, do the maths.'
Ray stiffened. He opened his mouth and suddenly, a look of dread came over his face.
'I'll have to tell him about sex with men', he blabbed.
The hand Thomas dragged down his face stifled his pained groan. 'What the hell are you thinking about at a time like this?'
'I don't think I'm ready to have that conversation', Ray said, gasping. 'I don't think I'm ready at all...'
Thomas scrunched his forehead in thought, all of a sudden remembering something. 'Not that it matters,' he said, 'but I'm pretty sure Mason wants to wait until marriage.'
Ray jerked his head. 'What?! Who told you that?'
'Mason did', Thomas said, shrugging apologetically. 'It was a while ago. I think you should still have that talk, though...'
Ray stared into the distance. 'Huh…' He fell silent, and for a long time, the only noise that could be heard was the occasional sniffling of a snotty nose.
Eventually, Thomas knew, Ray would come to a conclusion. He always did. This time, fortunately, it only took him a few minutes.
'I want what's best', Ray said resolutely. 'If Simon is what's best for Mason, then so be it.' For a moment his face crumpled; however, to Thomas' surprise and relief, Ray sucked it up and gave a firm nod. 'Yeah.'
'You're awfully compliant today', Thomas said. 'What happened?'
Ray clicked his tongue in annoyance. 'My son told me he loves me, how else am I supposed to react?'
'He tells you that all the time.'
'Today was special.'
'I tell you', Thomas said, all but growling. 'All the time.'
Ray looked at his hands. When he spoke again after a long silence, there were new tears in his voice.
'I'm sorry', he whispered, burying his face in his hands. 'I'm such a loser.'
'You're alright.' Thomas gently clasped Ray's neck, his fingers soft. Slowly, Ray leaned in for a long, tender kiss that left them both flustered. Thomas looked into his partner's eyes until he couldn't stand it anymore, then looked away.
'It is your fault, though', he grumbled.
'What?' Ray blinked, momentarily heartbroken. 'What do you...'
'Mason's a good kid. He found a steady boyfriend he's happy with.' Thomas tried to hide his flaring cheeks behind a frown, failing miserably. 'Your fault.'
He heard Ray suck in a deep breath, predictably followed by a flood of fresh tears and a few pathetic wails.
'Mason's such a good kid, right?' he howled, sobbing hot, salt tears. 'Right?!'
AN: Mostly unedited, sorry. But it's a self-made present so it can be a bit sloppy:) Hope you're happy to see that Ray is still a mess when it comes to Mason!