It was Christmas Eve and I was wondering why everybody in the family, except Ben, Michael and Hunter, had declined my invitation. All of them said they were doing something else this year.
Brian, I didn't speculate about too much; he hadn't been to Christmas dinner for the last two Christmases either.
The girls had been here the year before, but the first year after they moved to Toronto, they said they had other commitments.
Emmett had been living with me the last two Christmases, and had therefore, of course, been here. This year he had somewhere else to be. He had moved in with Drew Boyd six months ago. Drew had grown up a lot faster than anybody would have guessed, so he and Emmett had found each other again only nine months after breaking up.
Ted and Blake had been as steady as Ben and Michael from the time they met at the ski resort. They moved in together after about a year and had been here for Christmas the last two years.
It was going to be a very subdued Christmas at the Novotny-Horvath house this year. I couldn't understand why all of them had other places they would rather be at the same time. I did kind of feel that I was being punished for something, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what it was.
Fortunately, they had all agreed to come to lunch on Christmas Day. Brian had even said he wouldn't be coming alone. I had been happy for him and told him it was good that he was moving on. That it wasn't healthy for him to be alone, and since Sunshine was long gone, it was a good thing he had found someone new. Brian had looked at me like I had said something horrible, but he hadn't said anything.
Christmas Day, Emmett, Drew, Ted, Blake, Michael, Ben, Hunter, Mel, Lindsay and the children were all gathered in my living room when the doorbell rang. I was a little surprised. Brian would never ring the bell, and he was the only one missing.
When I opened the door, I saw Justin standing on the other side. I gaped before pulling him to me in a huge hug. I hadn't seen or heard from the boy for almost three years.
"Sunshine, what are you doing here? Are you sure it's a good idea? Brian will be here soon and he told me he wouldn't be alone. Are you sure you want to see him with someone else?"
"Justin, what was the fucking hurry. Couldn't you have waited for me? I just had to finish the fucking cigarette."
My head snapped up when I heard Brian's voice. I was very confused. I didn't know that they were even on speaking terms, let alone coming to Christmas lunch together.
Just then, Gus barreled out and jumped into Justin's arms.
"Papa, where were you? We left the house a loooong time ago."
"Sorry, Gussy. Your father had to make a pit stop; something came up."
Now, I'm even more confused. When the fuck did Gus start calling Justin, 'Papa'?
"What the fuck is going on here?"
I snap, and Brian levels me with an even stare. I can see a lot of anger in those eyes. I have no idea why. Then, I look at Justin, and in his eyes I see a lot of hurt.
"What do you mean, what is going on here? I thought we were invited for Christmas lunch."
"I mean what is going on with you and Justin? You haven't even seen him in close to three years and now all of the sudden you come here together, and Gus is calling him Papa."
"Of course I have seen him the last three fucking years. We almost got fucking married. The only reason we didn't was because he had to go and pursue his career in New York. We never broke up."
I was so fucking confused that I could do nothing but stare at the two of them.
"I didn't know."
"You never bothered to fucking ask. You just assumed. Assumption is the mother of all fuckups, Deb; you know that. Why the fuck would you assume that anyway?"
"Well Michael said…"
"Michael doesn't know shit. In fact, the whole Novotny clan are the only fucking people who don't know; everybody else kept in touch with Justin once he left."
I could both see and hear the accusation. He was right, of course.
"I just thought it would be easier on all of us, you know? I never thought you would come back, Sunshine."
"And that makes it alright? What if I had decided to follow him to New York and open up an office there? Would you have stopped speaking to me, too, then?"
"What? Of course not. How can you think that?"
"Because you did it to me, Deb."
Shit, Justin sounds so broken. Fuck.
"Sunshine, honey. I did what I thought was the best for Brian. You had left him and I didn't think he would appreciate being reminded of you all the time."
"You had no problem keeping in touch with him after he left me for the fiddler. How come this time was different?"
"Because you had finally admitted to loving him. You were getting married. Last time, you had pushed him away, and he left to try and find what he thought he needed."
"You're right; we were getting married, but it was a mutual decision that he go to New York. And even if it hadn't been, I thought Justin was one of your boys, one of your sons, just like the rest of us."
"I don't know what to say. I honestly thought that it would be too hard on you. The way Michael talked about you, you were devastated, and barely holding it together. I didn't want to add insult to injury."
"Yeah, well, when are you going to learn that when it comes to my relationship with Justin, Michael has his own ideas, and they are almost always wrong?"
Brian was glaring at Michael, who looked shell-shocked.
"What do you mean? I'm your best friend; I know you better than anybody."
"No, Michael, to both those statements. You don't know shit about me anymore. We hardly ever see each other. We are both busy with our respective partners and our businesses. And Justin has been my best friend for quite a while now. He is the one who knows me better than anyone."
"How can you say that? I'm the one who had to pick up the pieces after he left you. I'm the one who got you to rebuild Babylon. Of course I know you better than he does. I knew you needed to get back to being the man you were before he came along."
"As for rebuilding Babylon? I did that to prove that the assholes hadn't won. And there were no pieces to be picked up. I was not falling apart. I missed Justin, sure, but I knew that I would see him the next weekend. In fact, we have seen each other every other weekend since he left, and we have been to Toronto once a month. Do you know that your daughter calls me Daddy, and Justin Papa, just like her big brother does?"
"What? Why the fuck would she do that? I'm her father, not you, and definitely not him,"
Michael spat, and I have to admit that I was a little surprised by what Brian had told.
"When was the last time you saw her, Michael?"
He looked down and had a mutinous expression on his face.
"What are you talking about, Brian? Michael goes to Toronto once a month or every two months at the least."
"What? He told you that?"
Mel sounded incredulous.
"Yes. Hasn't he?"
I was starting to get worried.
"No, the last time Michael visited us was a little over a year ago. He calls regularly and talks to JR on the phone, but he doesn't visit."
Ben, Hunter, Carl and I looked at him with our mouths hanging open.
"Then where the fuck have you been all the times you said you were visiting the girls?"
Ben is losing his immense patience fast. Michael wasn't looking at any of us, and I starting to get a really bad feeling about this.
I am really curious now. If Michael has told his mother and his husband that he has been to Toronto when he hasn't, it means that there is something not kosher about this whole thing. Not that Deb is off the hook; she has fucking hurt Justin more than even I have ever done, and that is saying a lot.
Michael is still humming and hawing and Ben is getting more and more red in the face.
"I've been going to Portland to visit David."
SHIT; that might just be the last thing I expected him to say, and Ben looks as shocked as I feel. In fact, everybody in the house looks fucking flabbergasted at that.
"He called me around Thanksgiving last year. He had some problems with Hank and begged me to help him. Hank and I had gotten along really well, and David thought he might listen to me. I had always felt that it hadn't been finished right between him and me. We had fought and I had run home. And then Brian didn't even have time to talk to me properly when I came home."
"What the fuck? So this is somehow my fault?"
"If you could have taken a few hours to spend with me once in a while, instead of spending all of your time with him."
He shot daggers at Justin, like this was somehow all his doing.
"You have got to be fucking kidding me, Michael. Do you honestly think that Brian should have spent more of his time with a 30-year-old man who had left his asshole boyfriend, instead of an 18-year-old who had just been the victim of a violent crime that almost claimed his life? Are you completely insanely self-centered?"
I was dumbfounded. I had not in my wildest fantasy ever imagined that Mel of all people would say something like that, about me, AND to Michael.
Michael looked as stunned as I felt.
"Seriously, Michael. Justin almost fucking died. All that was wrong with you was your own stupid decision to leave with that overbearing, condescending asshole in the first place. Then, when you came home, you were not the center of attention in the family because someone actually needed us more."
I'm fuming. He is so not putting this on either Justin or me.
"But if he hadn't been around, you would have had time to talk to me. We could have figured out what I should do."
"When the fuck did it become my job to decide what you should do with your life? It's your fucking life, Michael. It has absolutely nothing to do with me. And even if Justin hadn't been around, like you say, I still would have told you that."
He looked stricken, like he never even contemplated that it could have been his decision to make all on his own.
"Have you and he been sleeping together?"
Ben almost whispered, and he looked fucking broken. I really felt for the guy. I actually thought that everything was going great between them, since I hadn't heard Michael whine about him for a very long time.
"What?" Michael's head shot up. "Of course not. I have just helped out with the problem with Hank, and we have been talking, nothing else."
"Then why didn't you tell me?"
"Because I didn't tell you I was going to see him in the first place."
"And why didn't you tell me that?"
"You would never have let me go if you knew where I was going."
"I can't tell you what to do and not do, Michael. I'm your husband, not your jailor. Do you seriously think I wouldn't have understood if you had told me what you just told us now? That you wanted to help with Hank, and that you needed closure where David was concerned? I'm a fairly intelligent man, Michael, and I have been very understanding about your obsession with Brian; why would this be any different?"
"I don't have an obsession about Brian. He's my best friend."
"Yes, you do,"
everybody said at almost the same time. Michael just looked around at all of us like he didn't know who we were.
"Actually, Michael, you have had an obsession with me since the aborted hand-job when we were 14."
He blushed, but then he got a mutinous expression on his face again.
"That still doesn't make it alright for my daughter to call HIM Papa. I'm her father, no one else."
"Then fucking be there for her, Michael. Brian and Justin have been there for her; they have been at all the important events in her little life. They were there for her first day of pre-school and all of her birthdays. Where were you all those times? Trying to get 'closure' about a relationship that ended almost 7 years ago?"
Mel was furious; that was quite obvious; she hated to say anything nice about me and she had just said that I was a good father for her daughter.
"Well, we are not going to solve this today and definitely not in front of the children, so let's eat; lunch is ready."
Deb tried to get us all to bury the hatchet for now. All of us went to the table and sat down to eat.
"So, where were all of you last night?"
Hmm, Deb, good of you to ask.
"We were all at Britin. It is Justin's first Christmas home, and he wanted to have a family dinner, so we did."
She looked like I slapped her face.
"Wait, what? You were all together last night and didn't invite us?"
"Yes, Deb. You hadn't invited Justin or me for Christmas the last two years, so we didn't think you wanted to spend the night with us."
She is almost crying now. Good, now maybe she has an inkling about how Justin had felt all this time.
"Of course I wanted to spend the night with you. If I had known, I would have invited you."
"But you didn't want to know, Deb. If you did, you would have fucking asked me or Justin, but you never did. You took Michael's words at face value. Never bothered to find out for yourself. The first year he was gone, Justin actually had a show that opened on Christmas day. Mel, Linds and the kids came to New York to spend Christmas with us and go to the show, but you never asked where they were going for Christmas, just sulked that they wouldn't be here."
"You went to New York your first Christmas away?"
She sounds like she is close to tears.
"Yes, Justin invited us to his show, and since Brian was going to be there, we figured it would be nice to have Christmas with them."
Lindsay tries to sound soothing, trying to stay calm.
"What about me? I wanted to celebrate Christmas with my daughter."
Michael looks like a petulant child, arms folded across his chest and everything.
"Yes, and we wanted to see Justin's first show. If we had gone to Pittsburgh that first year, Brian wouldn't have seen Gus. Gus was so much older than JR and he understood what Christmas is. He would have missed his father more than her."
Mel is still royally pissed at Michael; that much is quite obvious. Not that I blame her. He went to Portland to help his former boyfriend with his son, instead of visiting the daughter he fought so hard to get custody over. That is just fucked.
"That was a good Christmas. My mom, Tucker and Molly came up to join us."
"How is your mother, Sunshine?"
"She's fine. Wondering why her friend abandoned her, but other than that, she is doing great."
Deb looked like he had just slapped her in the face. Maybe now she understands how many people she hurt with what she did. It wasn't just Justin. It was me and Jennifer, too.
"I already told you why I did that."
"Yes, but I'm sure you could still have talked to my mother even if you didn't want to talk to me anymore. You still had Pflag together and you all but ignored her at your meetings. She told me that she has stopped going, because she didn't feel like being ignored by the president of the chapter, which was conducive to doing good work. She actually started a new chapter in the small town where Britin is. She thought it was a good idea to have the town ready for me and Brian when I decided to move back home."
He and I smirk at each other. That had been one of the weirdest conversations we had ever had with Jennifer. But on the bright side, the chapter was actually doing great things in the county. As it turned out, there were quite a few fags and lesbians in the area. They were so grateful to have someplace they could send their family for information and support. It is a very successful chapter.
"Wait. Jennifer started the Green County chapter?"
"Yes, I'm so proud of her. They are doing really great things down there."
Justin was beaming and I couldn't help but smile at him.
"Yes, I had heard that they were doing really well. She has done so well."
Deb sounded proud.
"Yes, well she thought that if she wasn't welcome in the Pittsburgh chapter, she would start her own."
Deb's face fell when Justin said that.
"Jennifer has always been welcome at the Pittsburgh chapter."
"She didn't feel that she could keep going to meetings there when the president of the chapter wouldn't even talk to her."
Justin was getting a little bitchy, but I didn't really blame him. Jennifer had been devastated when she had told us that Deb just walked away every time Jennifer tried talking to her.
"I'm really sorry, Sunshine. I really thought that I did what was best."
"By freezing out my mother? How is that the best for anything?"
Justin was close to tears again, and I was cursing Deb in my head. We were almost done with lunch and I couldn't fucking wait to get out of that house. There was too much hurt to be mended by just one lunch. The only reason we had come today was to let Deb know that we were not at all impressed with the way she had handled things.
As soon as we were done eating, we got up and got our coats.
"Are you leaving already? I haven't even heard how Sunshine has been doing in the big city."
Deb was clearly disappointed.
"You could have known anything you wanted to, Deb. All you had to do was keep in touch with me. I sent you a letter a week the first 6 months. When you never answered a single one of them, I decided to give up on you. Not that it didn't hurt, but that was 2 years ago. I have moved on."
Justin opened the door, and we were halfway out the door when Gus called after us. I remember when he told me, after the first month, that Deb hadn't answered a single one of his letters. He was trying so hard not to cry, but I could see the hurt in his whole body. It was like she had broken something deep inside him. When he decided to give up after 6 months, he was devastated. He didn't understand what he had done wrong, what he had done to her. It didn't matter what I said; he was bound and determined that he must have done something wrong for her to cut him out like that. It fucking broke my heart. It was in that instant I figured out that the Novotny family was not at all like I had always thought they were. I decided that one day Deb would find out how much she had hurt him.
"See you at home, Dad and Papa."
"See you later, Gus."
Deb yelled after us.
"Can I come see you sometime?"
"Maybe we'll see you at the diner sometimes. Don't push, Deb."
"Ok, kiddo. Are the girls and the kids staying with you?"
With, that we left. When we came home, we sat on the couch looking at our beautiful Christmas tree and the fire in the fireplace.
"That was as hard as I thought it would be,"
"I know, Sunshine, but now it's done. She knows what she did was wrong and we found out why Michael hadn't been to visit in Toronto."
"Yes, what the fuck was that? Going to Portland and not telling Ben. Man, if I was Ben, I'd be seriously pissed."
"Me too. I have no idea what the fuck was going through his head when he did that."
"Well, no more about the Novotnys, tonight. Other than today, it has been a great Christmas. I love that we could have it here and that they all came."
"I do too. It was so great having Gus here."
"Man, he cleaned out. JR did too. I don't think I have ever seen so many presents in one place before."
"We didn't do too bad either. I love the painting you did for me. I think it would go well over the fireplace. What do you think?"
"If you're sure. I think it would look great."
"Then that's settled. Let's enjoy the last couple of minutes before the kids come home and start making a lot of noise."
We sat back and relaxed, just looking at all the Christmas lights. We sat there until the girls and the kids came back. They all joined us, and we sat for a little while before the kids wanted to go play with some of their new toys.
"That was some Christmas lunch,"
Mel said, once the kids had left to go to their rooms.
"It had to be done. She had to know that what she did was wrong,"
I told them, and they both nodded.
"You're right. She did need to know. I just hope that you'll be able to forgive her at one point and the family can be united again."
Lindsay, always trying to make nice.
"I'm sure we will, but it is going to take some time. It wasn't just me; it was my mother too. One thing is not wanting to upset Brian be keeping in contact with me, but cutting my mother off like that is close to unforgivable."
"I know. I really don't get it. And what the fuck is wrong with Michael?"
Mel looked like she didn't know if she should laugh or cry.
"I have no idea, and no intention, of getting involved in that little drama."
"Nope, me neither. That one is all his."
Mel is really pissed that he stopped visiting their daughter. She shrugs her shoulders and lifts the glass of wine Justin just gave her.
"Well, anyway, Merry Christmas, everybody."