I had been working on part of Cloak and Dagger’s inventory, making sure to enter a few new collectibles I had managed to track down a few weeks ago, when there was a knock at the office door. It was early afternoon, sunny and warm on this particular summer day, though you wouldn’t have been able to tell from being in the back office. Natalie was on her lunch break and normally costumers didn’t wander back into the office, so the only person I could think it could be…would be Jake or maybe Angus.
Sure enough, upon peeking over the top of the laptop, I saw Jake standing in my doorway. He was dressed in a short sleeved, tight black shirt that showed off his impressively toned arms and chest, his long, strong legs enclosed in his much loved Levis.
I had just seen him this morning, when we had parted at Cloak and Dagger for work, me at the store and he just next door, working on paperwork for his most recent espionage case. The sight of him made me giddy. I smiled, but it faded when I saw the expression on his handsome face. Forehead slightly wrinkled, those kissable lips drawn in a frown. I blinked.
“Hey…you got a minute…?” he asked. I nodded, saving the information in the spreadsheet and gently pushing the laptop aside.
“Yeah, of course. What’s up?” I asked, offering my hands across the desk. Jake came into the office, closing the door behind him and came up to the desk. His large, warm hands rested over mine, holding them. His palms were damp and my brows furrowed.
Jake and I had been living together for a while now, nearly ten months in fact, five of those spent in the Porter Ranch house. It felt…pretty amazing and living in the big house was working out pretty well for the both of us, especially when we wanted to be together but have our own spaces.
“Jake…what’s wrong…?” I asked, concerned. He took a breath, looking at the far wall in thought.
“My mom called…” he started slowly, turning his tawny eyes to mine. I was in shock and it showed. Jake squeezed my hands, taking a breath.
“What, um, what did she say…?”I asked softly. The last we had heard from Jake’s family…had been during Christmas, nearly six months ago. We knew his family, well, at least his mom, had been trying to reach out to us…actually…just reaching out to Jake. I didn’t know where my standing was with Jake’s old-fashioned, Catholic family. I didn’t really care if I was honest. I could give a rat’s furry butt what the Riordan’s thought of me…but I knew how much his family’s opinion mattered to Jake. He was good at hiding it…but I knew it bothered him that, since coming out, they had shut him out.
Going forty years in the closet and suddenly coming clean to a conservative family was…a difficulty I wasn’t sure I would ever understand. But I wanted to be there for Jake and support him. I’d do whatever he needed me to.
“She invited us over for dinner,” he said softly. I blinked, staring and swallowed.
Jake nodded, squeezing my hands again.
“Yeah. It’s um…family dinner, a barbeque…my parents and siblings…their spouses and kids will be there,” he said softly. My eyes widened.
Jake nodded again.
I tilted my head, squeezing his hands.
“Did she really invite us both or…?” I asked. I had a feeling the invitation had not extended to me. I wasn’t mad about it…but I sort of wish Jake tried not to do that. Saying we were both allowed to tag along, when in fact, I wasn’t welcome at all.
Jake sighed, releasing my hands and rubbing his temples.
“I said I wouldn’t be there unless you could come, too…”
I told Natalie that Jake and I were going for a drive and I would be gone for the rest of the day. I didn’t need to explain a thing…my face must have said it all. She told me she had everything under control and the two of us left to take a drive just out of town.
We went by the beach, bought some ice cream and went for a walk.
“You wanna talk about it…?” I asked softly, our bodies brushing gently as we walked slowly.
Jake had been so quiet, concentrated and it made my heart ache in a completely unrelated way to my open heart surgery.
“I don’t know what to talk about,” Jake said honestly, shaking his head. He ate his ice cream, sighing. His broad shoulders sagged a little.
“I have no idea what to expect. It’s my entire family. The only one I’ve talked to is my mother…and even that’s a tough time. I don’t know if she wants us to come or…she’s just being nice and hoping we’ll opt out…” he said.
I felt a flare of anger. Jake didn’t deserve to feel this way…to have to walk on eggshells around his own family. And yet…it was so strange. It made sense. Why Jake had done what he had done, with Kate, with the clubs…with me. It hurt and it made sense. I’d had time to come to terms with it but it was still a shock that his mom had reached out in such a big way.
We knew this would be a thing…it was so odd that it was happening now…maybe because I was hoping it wouldn’t happen at all. We had had ten months of…wonderful, swoon-worthy, electric romance. I mean…it wasn’t perfect, by any means. Jake worked late and sometimes so did I. We argued a little. But every day was a new adventure. We were happy…in love.
We were in love.
That sentence alone was enough to make me want to face all the bigoted, silly, pretty arguments and hate the Riordan’s could throw our way.
I stopped walking.
He stopped and turned, looking at me. His face was soft, curious…sad. His hair was a beautiful mix of blond and silver. He had smile lines and crow’s feet…high cheek bones and a strong jaw. Jake practically glowed in the sunlight. He was breath taking. And he was mine.
He came closer, watching me, waiting. I didn’t speak. I leaned up on my toes, in front of all the people walking by the water, eating their ice cream or hot dogs, talking, and kissed him. It was a soft, sweet kiss, full of love. No one batted an eye. The world didn’t end. It was wonderful. He tasted like the moose tracks ice cream he was eating.
“I love you,” I murmured, “whatever you decide to do about your family…I support you one hundred percent…”
Jake stared at me for a long moment…and I wasn’t sure if I shouldn’t have kissed him or if I had said the wrong thing…which I don’t know what that could have been.
‘Listen Jake, I think your family should take a flying leap…’
And then suddenly, strong arms had wrapped around me and warm, firm lips were grinding into mine. I wrapped my arms around Jake, closing my eyes. Very old Hollywood…but wow…what a kiss…
I had a chocolate cake in my lap while Jake drove to his parent’s house, a bottle of merlot at my feet.
I had suggested not going…if that might make things easier on Jake while being around his family, but he had vehemently refused. He wanted me to be there. I deserved to be there. It…surprised me and warmed my heart. I didn’t really need any reassurance about Jake loving me, but…it was still nice.
Anyway…the cake had been a disaster at first. I had suggested bringing something other than the wine and so was stuck making cake. I could not cook worth a damn…and well…baking wasn’t any better.
In the end, Natalie and Jake had to come to my rescue before I accidently burnt down the apartment and Cloak and Dagger. They both finished making the cake and I was relegated to the couch until it was done.
So here we were, making our way to the Riordan’s…and I was filled with nervous energy. Jake didn’t seem to be fairing much better.
“Listen…I don’t know how everyone is going to react so just…” Jake started. He was gripping the steering wheel with both hands, eyes straight ahead. I was prepared for anything and everything; from a relatively peaceful, if somewhat awkward evening to a full out fist fight. I was suspecting that I would probably get most of the, disagreeable attitudes, maybe even ignored but…I didn’t really care. I was dating Jake, not his family, and it didn’t matter to me what they thought.
I rested my hand on Jake’s thigh, smiling softly at him.
“It’s okay. Whatever happens happens. I’ll stick to you like glue if you want me to or I can keep a little distance if that’ll be better…whatever you think,” I said. Jake glanced at me, the corner of his mouth tilting up a little.
“I want you close,” he replied, “I’m just…sorry in advance…”
I shook my head and patted his knee.
“Don’t, Jake. We’ll see how this plays out. It’s alright, no matter what,” I said and I meant it.
We pulled up in front of a nondescript, white and blue shingled house in the suburbs of South Pasadena. It smelt like barbeque and a couple of kids ran into the front yard, chasing one another and laughing. Jake’s nieces and nephews no doubt.
Jake took a breath after turning off the car, squaring his shoulders. I unbuckled my seatbelt and he unbuckled his. He turned to me and I leaned in, cupping his cheek and kissing him. He kissed me back.
“Baby,” he murmured softly and my heart fluttered like a bird. I smiled softly, stroking his cheekbone as he reached up to brush his thumb over my bottom lip. This was probably the most intimate we would be able to be before we got back to the Porter Ranch house. That made me a little sad.
“I love you,” Jake said, his hazel eyes seeming to take me all in. I kissed his thumb.
“I love you, too,” I murmured, pausing, smiling reassuringly at him, “ready?”
He kissed me once more, nodded and we got out of the car.
Things started out pretty well. Jake was attacked by the kids running through the yard, two pretty blonde girls and cute red-headed boy. His nieces and nephew. Angela, Margaret and Joseph…or as they liked: Angie, Maggie and lil JJ.
I wasn’t a big fan of kids…but they loved Jake…and it was obvious Jake loved them. He had all three of them in his arms; swinging them around and making them screech and giggle. It…warmed me to watch him with them and I smiled. He set them down and introduced me. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was introduced. I would have been okay with just being Jake’s friend…but to my sincere surprise…he introduced me as his boyfriend. Not partner, not friend…boyfriend. I was floored and proud…and I would have loved nothing more than to jump his bones right there and then.
Six pairs of eyes stared up at me and a chorus of hellos echoed from three small mouths. I smiled and waved, letting the little ones know that it was very nice to meet them and how much I had heard about them. And I had. Jake loved these kids. Angie, the eldest of the trio, piped that there were several children in her class who had two mommies and two daddies and then she turned to JJ, pressing her fingers to his arm and screamed, “YOU’RE IT!” and started running away. Maggie and JJ screeched and laughed, running away from us and chasing after one another again.
I turned to Jake, blinking at him and smiling. He smiled back and jerked his head toward the gate that was open and led to the backyard. The real test then.
Jake placed his hand to the small of my back as we headed into the backyard, adult voices and laughter and the smell of barbeque wafted from just around the corner. The gesture was intimate but subtle. We had to play this carefully. I tried not to place myself on guard right away…but I couldn’t help it. These people started giving us a hard time…I certainly wasn’t going to take it.
The adults were a lot less…warm than the kids had been. There were a few much younger children back here, two toddlers and an infant. Jake’s father was behind the grill, his youngest brother, the one I had seen at the hospital what felt like several lifetimes ago, was standing by him, a beer in hand. Two sisters-in-law, the middle brother, and Mrs. Riordan, were sitting down in plastic lawn chairs around a picnic table with a red and white checkered plastic tablecloth.
“Jake,” Mrs. Riordan said, standing. She had a young face and a slim figure. She had the blonde hair that Jake and his siblings had all inherited, though it was much more silver than blonde now and Jake had her mouth. He was definitely his father’s son though. Mr. Riordan was a big man, much more round than he probably had once been…but Jake had inherited his body type. Tall and broad. In fact, all the Riordan men were.
There was a strange silence after Jake returned the greeting. I smiled a little, heart hammering with nerves.
“You must be, um, Adrien,” Mrs. Riordan said, coming around the table toward us. I nodded, offering a hand to shake.
“Hi. It’s nice to meet you,” I said.
She took my hand, giving me a little, forced smile. Her handshake was a bare squeeze of my fingers. Like if she touched me more, she’d catch whatever I had. Well then. She said nothing in reply, except to please call her Suzanne.
“I’m Becca,” one of the sister-in-laws said, standing up and coming over, “I’m Tommy’s wife.” She shook my hand, firmer than Suzanne’s, and made eye contact, smiling softly and gave Jake a hug and kiss on the cheek. She was pretty, with big blue eyes and strawberry-blond hair, a trim figure and soft features. The other brother, Tommy, followed after his wife. Danny, the youngest brother, stayed by Mr. Riordan, who hadn’t said a word, he simply continued cooking. They were both especially stiff. Susan, Danny’s wife, gave us a soft, polite, hello.
I was introduced to the last of the nieces and nephews, twins William and Nicholas and the infant Siobhan.
“Jim,” Suzanne said softly, having moved to the grill and touched Mr. Riordan’s arm. Jim just shook his head, still flipping burgers. Jake looked at his mom and lifted his chin. No skin-off his nose…but I knew he hurt.
“Um…we brought wine…and chocolate cake…” I said softly, smiling and holding both offerings up.
“Here, I can take those. Would you like a glass…? We can open this…we only have beer right now,” Becca said, hands open for the bottle and cake.
“Oh, thanks. No, beer is good. We just didn’t want to come empty handed,” I replied. She smiled, taking the cake and wine.
“Thank you,” she said, “I’ll put the cake with the other desserts. The kids will love this…”
“What kind of beer you drink, Adrien?” Tommy asked, opening a cooler. He had pulled out a Harp, obviously for Jake.
“Whatever you got,” I replied, not wanting to be picky at this point.
“Bass, Harp, Guinness, Bud light, Amstel, Yeungling…?” he rattled off.
“Yeungling is good,” I replied and he nodded, pulling out a bottle for me. He opened them and handed them over to us.
Things got a little better after that.
I was mostly listening to conversation, since it revolved around sports and Jake’s PI work. I didn’t mind. Jake stayed close, checking up on me with glances and touches. I would smile, return his brief touches. I was okay. This was okay. I wanted Jake to be okay, too.
Tommy and Becca asked about me, my job, hobbies. Talking about Cloak and Dagger and my books and writing seemed like enough fodder for conversation and it was pretty pleasant conversation at that. The kids came around, looking to play and with subtle acquiescence, I let Jake go. Who was I to hinder him? He hadn’t seen his family in months and he needed this more than I did.
I watched Jake with the little ones for some time. He was really good with them, humoring them with a game of Catch and Duck-Duck-Goose. Their laughter and shrill cries of joys filled the backyard.
Danny and Jim steered clear of me, which was fine, for the most part. Suzanne seemed to make an effort to get them to talk to him and briefly chatted with me herself. No progress was made with the Riordan patriarch or his youngest.
Becca and Tommy were the most accepting of the clan. Becca softly explained about their neighbors and kids’ friends whose parents were gay or lesbian and that they didn’t discriminate. They were happy that Jake was happy. They were surprised of course, but thought that I was quite a nice guy and…as long as Jake was happy. It was weird, but, I was content in that I wasn’t getting sucker punched and at least they were trying. Six months ago…we were both sure we’d never hear from Jake’s family again. I think he deserved better and more…a lot more…but this was much better than I had thought.
The night wasn’t as great as it had seemed though.
It was late. The kids were stuffed with dessert and, after about forty-five minutes of sugar induced mayhem, they were inside, watching a movie and/or sleeping while us adults were sitting around citronella candles, drinking bourbon and whisky and the merlot Jake and I had brought.
Jake wasn’t drinking much and neither was I. I had decided to be the DD of the night, but I think he was playing it safe. We sat close…but not quite…couple-y…too soon for that.
I had a weird feeling…like this whole night had been too good to be true.
Sure enough…I was right.
Danny had gone to the bathroom and Jake had gone back into the house a moment later to grab a water bottle for me. The shouting started just a few minutes after. I was out of my chair in a flash but Becca caught my arm. Suzanne was trying to slow down Jim and Tommy was first into the house. I was on his heels, breaking away from Becca.
By the time I got into the house, Tommy was trying to separate Danny from Jake, yelling at him to ‘knock it off’ but before he could get a good handle on him, Danny got in a hit right to Jake’s face. I gasped, stunned at the sound of fist hitting bone. Jake grabbed his face, breathing heavily. Blood was seeping through his fingers and onto his mother’s tiled kitchen floor. His brother was bended over holding his hand. Tommy was standing between the two, blocking them. If Danny wanted another hit, he would have to get through Tommy, but by the way he was rocking and holding his hand…he wouldn’t even try.
“Jesus Fucking Christ, Jake! The hell is your face made of?!” Danny yelled. Suzanne was a flutter, coming up next to me and then rushed into the kitchen, trying to attend to both sons at once. Susan was at Danny’s side, trying to look at his hand, and Becca was settling the kids.
I was frozen for a moment, trying to take it all in before I grabbed a roll of paper towel and was at Jake’s side.
“Dish towel,” Jake said, his voice more nasally since he was bleeding all over the place…from his nose. I hoped it wasn’t broken…but it might have been. I dropped the paper towels and looked around, grabbing a dish towel out of Tommy’s hand in the chaos. I pressed it over Jake’s hands and he took it, pressing it to his face.
I knew I would find out what had happened later and I wondered if we might need to go to the ER.
I had a hand on his back, standing close to his side, protective and watchful. My first coherent thought was…where was Jim?
“Get the hell out of my house,” said Jim’s disembodied voice. He wasn’t shouting…but his deep, authoritative, slightly inebriated voice quieted the noise in the kitchen. Everyone faced him, standing at the opening of the kitchen.
“Jim please,” Suzanne begged softly. Jim stepped passed her, into the kitchen and up to me and Jake. He glared at Jake. I realized then…that I simply didn’t exist.
“Get your homo, faggot ass out of my house right now,” he breathed. Jake stared, toe to toe with his father. He was a few inches taller, much younger. He lowered the dish towel. His lower face was smeared with blood and I could tell there would be bruising. My heart pounded painfully…it made my scar ache. You could cut the tension in the air with a knife.
“Dad…” Tommy tried, reaching for Jim but he shrugged him off forcefully. Danny was crowded in a corner with his wife, a bag of peas over his bruised and battered knuckles.
Jake took a deep breath and let it out slow. He didn’t back down, didn’t look away.
“Yes, sir,” he replied through gritted teeth. He reached down and took my hand, shouldering past his father and out of the kitchen, pulling me with him. He didn’t look back.
I spared a glance to Tommy and then to Becca, who were standing in the living room off the kitchen, looking stricken, before facing forward and following Jake. His hand was sticky with blood and so was mine.
For a moment, I was filled with rage. I wanted to go back in there and pick a fight myself. Not that I would stand a chance. Who the hell cared who Jake was sleeping with? Who he loved? It didn’t change who he was. But I calmed, slowly. This…wasn’t my fight. It wasn’t even really that. Jake had told a lot of lies, had hid for a long, long time. That kind of stuff didn’t just…go away. There was a lot of resentment there.
We grabbed up our things and made our way back to the front yard. Jake gave me the keys and we got to the car.
“Uncle Jake!” called Angie from behind the glass of the front door. She ran out of the house and Jake went to meet her, his face looking slightly less grizzly. He scooped her up and held her close, murmuring to her softly and she clung to him. Tommy was on the stoop and came over slowly. I watched…my heart breaking.
Tommy and Jake spoke softly and Tommy squeezed Jake’s arm before Jake handed Angie over to her father. He turned and came back to the car, head down and the dish cloth pressed back to his face.
I watched him, unlocking the Honda and we got in, starting it up. We sat with the car running for a few moments to catch our breath.
“Nearest hospital is two miles…I’ll direct you…pretty sure my nose is broken,” Jake said nasally.
“Okay,” I replied, driving down the street, “you okay…?”
“Yeah,” he replied.