“Mom!” Frank grits out, trying not to yell at her as she chatters on and on about this nice young man she met at the dog park and how she thinks he’d be perfect for Frank.
“…and he’s not very tall, Frank, so you won’t feel short—maybe that doesn’t bother you, but being far too short for my guy always bothers me. His dog is a total sweetheart, she’s just the—”
“MOM!” he snaps. “Stop trying to set me up with people!”
“I just want you to be happy,” she says, sounding hurt. “And he is very nice.”
Time for evasive maneuvers. He hates to play this card, but it’s all he can think of right now. “Mom, my last break-up was three weeks ago. Give me some time!” He winces. That sounded… kind of pathetic.
“Oh, baby, I’m sorry. I didn’t think—well. I’ll give you his number, anyway. Give it a try when you’re ready?”
Frank closes his eyes, counts to five. “Okay.”
“How did it go?” his mom asks as soon as he answers the phone the following Thursday. It’s been two days since he admitted to her that he’d called Dog Park Guy. He’s actually kind of surprised she waited this long.
“Well…” he says.
“I didn’t go out with him! We talked on the phone and it just felt weird.”
She sighs, pauses for a moment, then begins, “Well, I met this young woman—”
Frank resists the urge to throw his phone, but can’t stop himself from interrupting her. “Jeez, Mom, I can get my own dates!”
“Apparently not,” she snaps back.
“I can get dates when I want them,” he says. “Right now? Don’t want them.”
His mom is quiet so long he checks to be sure she hasn’t hung up on him. Finally, she says softly, “You seem so lonely, baby. I don’t want you to be lonely.”
“I’m not lonely!” Frank paces around the living room, running his free hand through his hair. “I have work, I have friends, I don’t need a boyfriend or a girlfriend, would you please let it go?”
“I’m sending you Renee’s number,” she says decisively, ignoring him. “I think she’d be good for you.”
Frank goes to Jamia’s on Sunday. He cooks lunch, then they curl up on her couch for a movie marathon. They don’t even get half an hour into the first movie before Frank pauses it to rant about his mom and her unending quest to find his True Love for him.
“It’s getting worse!” he says, gesturing so broadly in his frustration that he nearly knocks over a lamp. He fumbles to catch it, then turns back to Jamia. “This week alone she’s given me numbers for three people. She just won’t stop.”
Jamia pulls him down so his head is on her shoulder and pets his hair. She doesn’t say anything. He closes his eyes for a minute, letting her soothe him.
“I know she’s doing it because she loves me, but it’s making me crazy.” He sits up. “I mean, I think at this point the only thing I can do to get her off my back is invent a significant other.”
“Can’t be me,” Jamia says immediately, because she has freaky psychic powers or something and knew what he’d been about to ask her. “I doubt she’d buy it. We’ve been friends too long.”
He flops back against the arm of the couch. “Yeah, I know.”
“And if she did buy it, she’d tell my mom and then I would never hear the end of it.”
Frank rubs a hand over his face. “Yeah. And they’d both bug us about grandkids, too.”
“I can just imagine. ‘When are you and Frankie going to cook something up?’” Jamia says, in a perfect imitation of Frank’s mom. Frank giggles.
“Yeah, obviously, no, I can’t tell her we’re back together.” They sit in silence for a while. Finally, Jamia shrugs.
“Pretend boyfriend or girlfriend,” she says. “Still might work. Just. You know. Not me.”
“I’ll just be vague,” Frank decides. “Never mention a name.”
“You might hold her off for two whole weeks this way,” Jamia says. She reaches for the remote. “Now can we get back to the explosions, please?”
“I just met—”
“Mom, I have a boyfriend,” Frank interrupts.
“Since when? Why didn’t you tell me?” she cries. “Oh, baby, I’m so happy for you! I want to know everything!”
Shit, he didn’t think this through. He improvises, describes the first person who comes to mind: his friend Ray, from across the hall. She doesn’t know Ray. “Uh, well, there’s not much to tell yet. We’ve only gone out twice. He’s nice… tall… a little older than me… He’s a musician, too.”
“Oh, that’s so wonderful.”
“Yeah, it’s new, but it’s pretty great.” Wow, he is lying to his mom. And she’s buying it. He’s relieved, but also feels awful. Lying. To his mom.
“Well, I’m happy that you’re happy. Gotta run. Bye, Frankie!”
If he knows his mom, she’s off to the gossip chain to tell her friends all about his new imaginary boyfriend. Great. He’s got a bad feeling about this.
Frank spends the next week dodging his mom’s calls, listening to his voice mail and calling her back when he knows she’ll be busy or asleep, leaving vague chipper messages about his fake boyfriend. But on Friday she answers the phone even though he’d thought she’d be at work.
“You caught me on my break!” she says, and she sounds so happy he feels an overwhelming urge to confess his lies to her. He doesn’t, because he’s a coward.
“So, how are things with Ray?” she asks.
“They’re good. How are you?”
“No, no deflecting,” she says. Sometimes he hates how quick she is. “I’m happy I caught you. I want to meet him. Bring him by for dinner on Saturday. I’ll make your favorite.”
Oh. Shit. Shit shit shit. “Uh, I don’t know if he’s free.”
“Well, ask him and let me know! If not this Saturday, how about next weekend? We can do lunch if you have plans at night.” He can almost hear her waggling her eyebrows at him.
“Mom!” he cries. His mom is way too invested in his sex life. Ugh.
“I’m happy for you!” she says innocently. “But I’m serious. I want to meet this man of yours. If you don’t bring him to me, I’ll have to come to you.” She pauses, then says in that tone of voice that terrifies him, “Do you want me to come to your place?”
“No! I’ll bring him around!”
She laughs. “All right, then. Let me know when you’re coming!”
Frank steels himself, takes a deep breath, and knocks on Ray’s door.
“Hey, Frank!” Ray says. “What’s up?”
Frank fidgets. “Can I come in? I have a favor to ask.”
“Sure,” Ray says, backing away from the door. “I can’t talk long, I’m meeting Mikey and Gerard for a movie. Hey, you want to come with us?”
“I—maybe. Um, listen.”
Ray turns back to him. Frank can’t believe he’s going to do this. Fuck, he should just get this over with.
“Okay, so I’ve told you about my mom and how she’s always trying to interfere in my life, right?” Ray nods. “And lately she keeps trying to set me up with people she knows or meets on the street and it’s driving me crazy and I decided the only way to get her off my back was to make up a boyfriend and my made up boyfriend is you and my mom wants to meet you and so I was hoping you’d do me the biggest favor of all time and be my fake boyfriend and come to my mom’s place for dinner.” Frank pants, trying to get his breath back after saying so much so quickly.
Ray blinks at him. “What?”
“I… was hoping you’d help me out and pretend to be my boyfriend for a night so my mom’ll get off my back,” Frank says, looking at his shoes. Oh god oh god Ray is going to kick him out and never speak to him again.
Ray doesn’t say anything for a long time. Frank stands there, staring at the floor, twitching, then finally can’t take it anymore. “Fuck, forget I said anything, I’ll just—” he bolts for the door.
Frank freezes. He hears Ray come up behind him, then Ray’s hand is on his shoulder, gently pulling him around. Frank looks up.
“When are we going to your mom’s?” Ray asks.
Frank’s mouth drops open. “You’re—you—wha—you’ll do this for me?”
Ray shrugs. “It’s one night, and if it’ll get your mom to leave you alone, sure, why not?”
“Oh my god, you are the best friend ever!” Frank hugs Ray. “You are a life-saver. I’m going to owe you so big.”
“When is it?” Ray asks.
“Saturday night, if you’re free.”
“Saturday works. So, hey, movie?”
Frank shakes out his hands and bounces on his toes, letting some of his nervous energy out. “Yeah, sure.”
Frank is actually pretty relieved that Ray looks nervous, too, when they meet in the hall on Saturday. Ray’s wearing jeans, but he’s traded in his usual t-shirt for a button-down and Frank thinks Ray actually ironed it. Damn.
“So hi,” Frank says, because he can’t think of anything else.
Ray just smiles at him, a little weakly, and motions for Frank to lead the way to the stairs.
Frank tries to tell himself this isn’t a real date and he shouldn’t be this awkward. Ray’s one of his best friends. They’re just going to hang out.
With Frank’s mom, who thinks they’re dating.
Yeah, this is totally weird.
“So,” Frank starts, as they step out of the building and head for Frank’s car. He stops, because he doesn’t actually know what he was going to say.
Ray says, “We should—” and then stops.
They both start laughing. “Wow, this is not a great start,” Frank says. “Can we start over? Hey, let’s go play a trick on my mom and see how well we can be fake boyfriends. You in?”
“Let’s do this,” Ray says, but puts a hand on Frank’s arm before they get in the car. “So I think, if we’re going to convince your mom we’re dating, we should…” he trails off and rubs the back of his neck nervously.
“We should what?” Frank asks.
Ray opens his mouth, closes it, takes a deep breath, and says, “We should probably kiss. Now. Before we have to do it in front of your mom.”
“Oh. Yeah. First kiss there would be… awkward,” Frank says. He’s abruptly nervous. “Yeah, good idea.”
And then before Frank can second-guess it, Ray’s leaning down and kissing him. And wow, holy shit, Ray is a really fucking good kisser. Frank gets lost in the kiss, and doesn’t even realize that Ray has him pressed against the car until Ray pulls back, looking a little embarrassed. “Think that will convince her?” Ray asks.
Frank only just stops himself from saying, “Shit, that convinced me,” and instead says, “Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Um. You’re good at that.”
Ray laughs. “Thanks.” He gives Frank another quick kiss. “I think we’re good,” he says.
Frank blinks. What the hell is going on? He gives up trying to find words and gets in the car, leaning over to unlock the passenger door because he’s had a car with a key fob for two years and still forgets this car doesn’t have manual locks like his old piece of shit car did.
He leans up and buckles in, not looking over as Ray gets settled.
Frank takes a deep breath. “Thanks for doing this, man,” he says, and starts the car.
Frank tries to remember all the lies he’s told his mom, giving Ray a rundown of their fake history while he drives. Ray just nods, asks a few questions for clarification, and acts like he’s studying for a test. Which, Frank thinks, is kind of true.
When Frank pulls into his mom’s driveway, Ray flashes him a grin. “You going to be a gentleman and open my door for me?”
Frank blinks. “Should I? My mom’s going to be watching. Am I that kind of boyfriend?”
Ray pats him on the shoulder. “I think you are.”
Frank blows out a breath. “Okay.” He gets out, walks around, and opens Ray’s door. When Ray climbs out he gives Frank a quick kiss, turns his head completely away from the front of the house, and does a silly face that makes Frank crack up.
“You ready for this?” Ray asks.
Frank feels like maybe he should be the one asking that question, but he nods. “Come on,” he said. “Showtime.”
Frank’s mom comes out before they get to the front door. “Frank!” she cries, and envelops him in a hug. She steps back. “And you must be Ray,” she says, and hugs him, too. Ray hugs back gently.
“Hi, Mrs. Iero,” he says.
“Call me Linda,” she says, beaming. “Well, look at you two.” She puts her hands on her hips, then turns to Frank. “Do you feel short?”
She giggles. “Kidding, I’m kidding. Come on in, boys.”
Ray leans down to whisper “What was that about?” in Frank’s ear.
“Tell you later,” Frank whispers back.
Linda feeds them salad in the kitchen and starts firing questions at Ray while she finishes cooking. Frank wonders if he’s taking all of Ray’s panic for him, because Ray just chats easily with Linda, making up stories on the spot and acting like this isn’t the most terrifying and mortifying thing ever to happen. Frank isn’t nearly as articulate when his mom asks him questions.
She laughs at his stumbling attempts to answer her and gives him a one-armed hug while she whispers, “Don’t be so nervous, Frankie, he’s wonderful.”
He gives her what he hopes passes for a grin. She pats his cheek and orders him to go set the table. He narrows his eyes at her, not wanting to leave her alone with Ray, but she just raises an eyebrow back at him and makes shooing motions. He leans up to whisper “Evasive maneuvers!” into Ray’s ear on his way out of the room.
It takes him longer to set the table than it should because he has to decide who’s going to sit where. Does he put his mom at the head of the table, with Ray facing him? Or does he put Ray at the head of the table and face his mom himself? Or sit at the head of the table and have his mom and Ray facing each other?
It’s going to be awkward no matter what. Having Ray next to him will help a little. He hopes. So Frank puts his mom’s glass on one side of the table, his opposite, and Ray’s at the head.
He prays this won’t be horrible.
When he steps back into the kitchen, he finds that Ray’s still perfectly at ease, a big smile on his face, telling his mom about the song they’ve been working on and how he thinks if they can convince Mikey and Gerard to listen to it, maybe they’ll want in. Frank stops, because yeah, they’ve talked about that, but he hasn’t told his mom about his music in a long time, because it hasn’t seemed to be going anywhere, it’s just a hobby, and he’d gotten tired of answering her questions about it. But hearing Ray describe it, that dream almost sounds possible, sounds right.
“I know Mikey and Gerard are happy with their comics career and a band really isn’t what they want to do right now, but I want them to consider it, at least,” Ray says.
“I wish I still had Frank’s old guitar here,” Linda says. “I want to hear this song of yours.”
Frank clears his throat. “I have the rough cut on my phone,” he offers.
“Well, play it!” Linda says. “And Frank, take these to the dining room?”
So Frank cues up the song, puts his phone on the counter, and hurries to carry the food to the dining table.
His mom’s eyes are shining when the song’s over. “I had no idea,” she says.
Frank shrugs. “Hasn’t been my priority.”
She hugs him, says in his ear, “I don’t know why you stopped talking about your hobbies to me, but I do care and I do want to know, all right?”
She steps back and claps her hands. “All right, let’s eat!”
Somehow, sitting at the table where he can catch Ray’s eye while Ray’s making up a story—or telling a real one, with minor adjustments—helps Frank relax a bit. He can almost pretend the stories Ray tells are true. (The one about them locking both sets of keys in Ray’s car during a rainstorm, sprinting to their building’s door, and having to wait outside in the rain until Mikey could bring his spare apartment key so they can get into Ray’s place to grab his spare car key sounds ridiculous enough that Frank wants to ask Ray if that actually happened to him.)
Linda has a soft smile on her face throughout dinner, and Frank finds himself smiling, too, because Ray is just… Ray. His stories are sweet and funny and sometimes romantic and Frank wonders if that’s what dating Ray would actually be like. He tries to remember the last time he didn’t have to be the romantic one in a relationship and he thinks it may have been with Jamia back in college, since she’s as much of a sap as he is and kept trying to outdo him when planning dates. Man, he misses that.
But Ray’s not his boyfriend, this is just pretend, and although Frank is charmed and getting a fluttery feeling about all this, it’s not real, Ray’s just doing him a favor. He has to keep reminding himself of that.
His mom gives him a sidelong look that he thinks she intends to mean “good choice, Frank” and that hurts a little. This is all a lie and she’s going to be furious and hurt when she finds out. Except, he guesses he can give it a few weeks and tell her they broke up, but then he’d be back where he started.
“You remember that, Frank?” Ray asks and Frank shakes himself.
Ray laughs. “You’ve been awfully distracted tonight,” he says, and reaches out to hold Frank’s hand. As if they’re actually boyfriends. Frank hears his mom sigh and when he glances over sees that she’s smiling and resting her chin on her hands.
Frank blurts out the first thing that comes to mind. “The song,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about the bass line. Sorry.” He squeezes Ray’s hand, but doesn’t let go. It’s nice, holding hands. It’s been a while.
“Show me later?” Ray asks.
“Yeah, when we get home.”
Ray turns back to Linda and asks her about her work, shifting a little in his chair to face her better. He doesn’t let go of Frank’s hand.
When his mom gets up to clear the dishes and pull her pie out of the oven where she’s been keeping it warm, Frank drags Ray down the hall to the bathroom, shuts the door, and sags against it.
“Ray, you—” Frank’s cut off by Ray kissing him. Ray pulls back after a moment and Frank blinks up at him. “What was that for?”
“Been wanting to do that for a while,” Ray says with a shrug.
“No, really.” Frank eyes him suspiciously. “She doesn’t have cameras in the bathroom. What?”
Ray rubs a hand over his face. “I thought you would’ve figured it out by now,” he says.
“Figured what out?” Frank demands.
“I like you, Frank.” Ray shrugs, ducks his head. “I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to ask you out for months, but I thought it would be weird.”
Frank’s jaw drops. “You what?”
Ray rubs the back of his neck sheepishly. “I really like you, Frank. Can we make this pretend dating real dating?”
“Depends,” Frank says. “Those stories you were telling, about our dates. Can we do those things?”
“You want to?” Ray smiles shyly. “You didn’t think they were too sappy?”
“Are you kidding me?” Frank holds up his hands, pointing first at his HOPELESS tattoo and then the ROMANTIC one. “I would really, really like to do those things.”
They stand there looking at each other for a long moment before Frank starts laughing. “Would you fucking kiss me already?”
And Ray does.
They’ve barely gotten started when Linda knocks on the door. “Dessert time, boys. You can make out later. It’ll taste better after apple pie, I promise.”
They break apart, laughing. “Be right there, Mom,” Frank calls, and takes Ray’s hand. “So. Real boyfriends?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Ray says.
When they get to the dining room, Frank blinks at the empty table, then leads Ray into the kitchen. Linda smiles at them and hands Frank a pie keeper. “I want that back next week,” she says. “You’ll both come for dinner again?”
Frank looks at Ray, who nods. “Yeah, we’ll be back,” Frank says.
“Good.” Linda kisses Frank’s cheek, then Ray leans down so she can kiss his cheek, too. “Have a good night, boys,” she says. Frank winces when she waggles her eyebrows at him.
“Mom!” he protests.
“Oh, like I don’t know you’re going home to have sex,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Be good to each other. Have fun!”
Frank drags Ray out the door before he can die from embarrassment. “Bye, Mom!” he shouts without looking back. “Oh my god,” he says to Ray when they reach the car. “I can’t believe she said that.”
“I like your mom,” Ray says.
“I don’t want to think about her right now,” Frank says, putting the pie in the back seat and sliding into his own. “I want to think about the sex we’re going to have when we get home.” He starts the engine. Ray is still standing there with the door open. “Ray? Get in the fucking car.”
“You know your mom is watching us through the window?” Ray asks as he gets in.
“Don’t care,” Frank says, and kisses Ray quickly. “Home. Sex. That’s what I’m going to think about.” He peels out of the driveway, but not before he sees out of the corner of his eye that his mom is doing some kind of victory dance in the living room.