They’d known each other for three seconds, and they were already in a stalemate. Timothy stared down at the pint-sized superhero standing on his front step, an obviously well-loved stuffed tiger clutched in one yellow-dishwashing-glove-encased fist. Yellow galoshes matched the gloves and a yellow belt but clashed amusingly with black shorts—with red underoos on the outside—and a red shirt with black stripes. Perhaps most startling, however, was the red pillowcase that had been modified into a cowl and cape. Defiant eyes glared up at him from the cut out eyeholes, and he couldn’t help feeling he’d been weighed and found wanting.
“Um,” Timothy said. “Hello… Calvin?”
“Hmph.” The kid clutched the tiger a little closer. Timothy wasn’t even sure he knew he was doing it. “You may call me…” There was a dramatic pause. “Stupendous Man.” Behind the pillowcase-cowl, those eyes narrowed suspiciously. “And who might you be? An evil frog-man in disguise?”
Now really. Max had warned him that his six-year-old nephew was—what was the word he’d used? Precocious?—but no one had warned him he’d be getting called an evil frog-man. In disguise.
“Not a very good disguise, huh, Stupendous?” And speaking of, here was the devil now. Max grinned at Timothy over Calvin’s head, arms full of luggage. Timothy tried to give him a cold glare, but he was distracted by Calvin poking his thigh, the rubber gloves squeaking.
We’re having frog’s legs for dinner!” Calvin crowed with unholy glee, and Max didn’t even try to hide his dirty snicker. Timothy took a deep breath. This whole visit was already out of hand.
“Maybe tomorrow night,” Timothy said, trying for a reasonable tone. “I thought we’d have hot dogs and macaroni and cheese tonight.” There, that was a good, kid-friendly meal, right?
“Hmph.” Calvin turned his nose up in the air. “Trying to win us over, I see. Well, it won’t work. C’mon, Hobbes. We need to go plan our strategy.” Dragging the tiger behind him, Calvin shouldered past Timothy and into the house.
Timothy could hear him thundering up the steps, and he spared a moment to hope the next thing he heard wasn’t something breaking. Max took a moment to lean in, kissing Timothy briskly on the lips. Timothy couldn’t help the reflexive nose-wrinkle at the tickle of Max’s moustache, and Max rolled his eyes.
“Fine,” he said. “I’ll shave it tomorrow.”
They’d been arguing about Max’s moustache since he’d grown it, although Timothy had long ago let his arguments settle into significant silences and raised eyebrows. He smiled and started to say thank you, but then Max kept talking.
“It’ll probably really freak Calvin out. I look just like his dad without it.”
Timothy sighed and closed the door as Max followed Calvin up the steps.
Timothy was cooking dinner, such as it was, when Max came in to check on him. Timothy peeked around Max but saw no sign of the six-year-old superhero or his sidekick.
“Where’s Stupendous Man?” Timothy asked.
“Oh, he’s watching TV. Last I saw, he was switching between Rescue 911 and reruns of Doctor Doctor.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little… mature for a six-year-old?” Timothy frowned.
Max just snorted. “Paramedics would run screaming from the inside of this kid’s brain. He was telling me zombie stories on the way home from the airport.” Max shuddered, and Timothy rolled his eyes. “He’s definitely my brother’s kid.” Max came up behind Timothy and hugged him, hooking his chin over Timothy’s shoulder. “Hot dogs and mac-and-cheese, huh? I can’t believe you’re not force-feeding him local organic vegetables from the co-op.”
Timothy sighed. “I’m at least using white cheddar and whole grain macaroni.”
Max laughed and kissed the side of his neck, and Timothy tried to hide his wince at the raspy moustache.
“All right,” Max sighed. “I’ll go shave now.” He nuzzled under Timothy’s ear. “After all, some of us would like a chance to eat frogs’ legs after dinner.”
“Oh for fuc—oh, hi, Calvin.” A cold chill went through Timothy. He and Max hadn’t discussed whether they wanted to explain their relationship to the kid or not, but he would have liked to have more control over the situation than having Calvin walk in on them canoodling.
Calvin, still in his homemade superhero outfit, didn’t seem to notice. He looked down at the tiger he was still dragging around with him and asked in a loud, imperious voice, “Who is this ‘Calvin’ of which the frog-man speaks, O Terrible Tiger?”
“Sorry,” Timothy said, relieved. He couldn’t decide whether he wanted to laugh or sigh, but very carefully did neither. “I meant Stupendous Man. You startled me.”
Calvin’s eyes narrowed at him again. “That’s Mr. Stupendous Man to you, Frog-Man.”
“Going to shave now,” Max whispered before escaping from the kitchen. Timothy shot daggers at his back, but Calvin was still standing in the kitchen doorway.
“Did you need something, Ca—Mr. Stupendous Man?”
“My heroic sidekick and I require a perch from which to observe the workings of this unfamiliar city. Your roof will serve our purpose… for now.”
Timothy couldn’t help the way his eyebrow twitched up. “How about you go get Max to show you his comic book collection, and after dinner we’ll see what we can do.”
Calvin’s eyes went a little wide behind his mask. “Comic books? C’mon, Hobbes!” The clatter of feet on the stairs sounded like an entire class of first graders, not just a boy and his stuffed tiger. From upstairs, he heard Calvin shriek and then, “RUN, HOBBES! It’s a clone! Of Dad! Augh!”
Timothy laughed and shook his head, staring down at his whole-grain-macaroni-and-white-cheddar-cheese as if it could tell him what to do.
And then it did.
Calvin’s face may have gone a little pale behind his mask. Timothy was starting to wonder if he was ever going to take the cape and cowl off or if he was planning on trying to take a bath in them.
“What…” Calvin poked at the mass on his plate as if it might rise up and eat him at any moment. “What is it?”
“It’s brains casserole,” Timothy answered cheerfully, and Max gave him a skeptical look across the table. “It’s a specialty of mine.” He leaned across the table to stage-whisper at Calvin. “It goes really well with fried phalanges—fingers and toes.” He pointed to the cut-up hot dog on Calvin’s plate beside the slimy-looking pink macaroni and cheese. Just a drop of red food colouring in white cheddar could do amazing things.
Calvin stared at his plate open-mouthed for long moments, and Timothy started to worry that he’d overestimated the kid’s appetite for weirdness.
“Wow!” Calvin’s face split into a wide grin. “That’s even cooler than frogs’ legs!” He gave Timothy a look of awe bordering on worship.
Timothy smiled at the kid. “Frogs’ legs just taste like chicken, anyway.” He kicked Max under the table before that could go any further.
Calvin’s mouth hung open, revealing a disturbing mess of half-chewed brains-and-phalanges. “You’ve eaten frogs’ legs?”
“Uh… yeah. There’s this French café in—”
“You’re a cannibal?”
“What?” Timothy blinked at him until he remembered the kid’s nickname for him. Frog-Man. “Oh. Um, not—”
“Awesome! You’re a pretty cool dude—for an old guy.” Max snickered, and Timothy kicked him again. Just because he was older than Max by three years… “Say, how did Uncle Max end up with someone as cool as you anyway?”
“I…” Goddammit, why hadn’t he and Max discussed more thoroughly how they wanted to handle telling Calvin about their relationship?
“You guys are gay, right?”
Timothy dropped his fork, hearing it clatter against his plate and splatter pink-cheddar brain juice across the table. Max suddenly choked on a stray phalange.
“Where…?” Max couldn’t seem to get the rest of his sentence out, though whether it was because he was still choking on the hot dog or because he couldn’t figure it out, Timothy couldn’t tell.
Calvin waved his fork airily, and Timothy could already feel himself itching to throw Calvin’s superhero costume in the washing machine. Maybe the brain juice would help convince him…
“It’s no big deal,” Calvin announced. “I saw it on TV. Dr. Stratford’s brother is gay.” Calvin’s confidence faltered for a minute, and Timothy had a feeling Calvin didn’t know exactly what gay was other than maybe having a roommate of the same sex. He was pretty sure ABC hadn’t shown Dr. Stratford’s gay brother kissing anyone, much less having sex. Thank goodness. There were some things a six-year-old didn’t need to know.
“Oh you did, did you?” Max said, apparently having found his tongue before Timothy did. “Do you know what that means?”
Timothy kicked Max under the table. Don’t antagonize him. He tried to communicate this through telepathy—and a significant look—but Max was being thick-headed. Probably on purpose.
“Sure,” Calvin said, but Timothy knew it was a bluff. His suspicions were confirmed when Calvin stabbed his “brains casserole” viciously, scooping up a bright pink bite. “It means you live together.”
Timothy could feel his hands shaking and put them in his lap, squeezing them between his knees. They’d dodged a bullet there. Just when he was starting to relax, Max spoke up.
“It means Timothy is my boyfriend.”
Timothy glared at Max, who significantly wasn’t looking at him. Shaved or no, you won’t be eating any ‘frog legs’ tonight, buddy, Timothy thought at him, and maybe his telepathy was working now, because Max flicked an uncertain glance at him.
Or maybe that was just because he knew what was about to happen.
Calvin stared at Timothy for a moment. “Boyfriend? Like that guy my babysitter is always talking to on the phone?” He snorted. “Your boyfriend is way cooler than hers, Uncle Max. She’s not dating Frog-Man.”
Timothy was just about to explain to Calvin that he and Max were more like Calvin’s mom and dad than his babysitter and her boyfriend when Max took his next step toward the doghouse.
“Your babysitter probably didn’t meet her boyfriend in prison, either.”
“Max, really, that’s—”
Calvin turned a wide-eyed look on Timothy. “WHOA. In prison? Do you have any tattoos? Can I see them? Who’d you kill?”
Glaring at Max, Timothy answered, “Ask me again in five minutes.”
Undeterred, Max went on, “We were protesting outside the—”
“Protesting? Like, with signs? On strike?”
“Yes, now shut up and let me finish the story.” Max waited until Calvin had subsided, and Timothy sat frozen, waiting to hear how Max was going to tell this story. “We were protesting outside City Hall in San Francisco—”
Timothy sucked in a sharp breath. How to explain 1977, Anita Bryant, and the Briggs Initiative to a six-year-old who hadn’t even been alive then? “Because they called us garbage,” he said quietly, and Calvin must have heard something in his voice, because he didn’t ask any more questions.
“Anyway, things got a little… crazy, and the police arrested the protestors.” Max smiled fondly at Timothy across a forgotten plate of pink mac-and-cheese. “I met Timothy while we were waiting to be processed.”
Calvin was weirdly quiet and thoughtful through the rest of dinner and his bath—which he only mildly protested. As Timothy and Max were tucking him into bed, his stuffed tiger tucked in beside him and his Stupendous Man costume in the washing machine downstairs, Calvin blinked up at them sleepily.
“I don’t think you’re Frog-Man anymore,” Calvin yawned, obviously indicating Timothy. “That was just your disguise. Your real identity is Pretty Cool Dude.” Timothy could swear he felt his heart physically warm, as if he’d cozied up next to a fireplace. Calvin yawned again, his eyelids drooping. “And if anybody calls you garbage ever again, they’ll have to answer to Stupen…dous… Ma…”
Calvin was asleep before he finished talking, and Timothy couldn’t stop himself from leaning over to kiss the kid on his forehead.
Later, as Max slid into bed, Timothy turned to him and said, “I want one.”
“A kid. Like Calvin.” He scrunched up his nose. “Okay, maybe not exactly like Calvin, but…”
Max chuckled and kissed the tip of Timothy’s nose. “Hold that thought, babe,” Max said, snuggling up close. “Let’s see if you still feel that way by the time he goes home.”
Timothy grinned. “Okay, fine. Maybe we’ll just have him visit more often.”
Max closed his eyes and groaned. “We’ll talk about it, okay, Frog-Man?”
Timothy stuck out his tongue. “I’ll have you know, I’m actually Pretty Cool Dude.”
“For an old guy,” Max reminded him with a laugh. Timothy huffed and turned over, presenting Max with his back.
“No frogs’ legs for you tonight,” Timothy said haughtily, fighting back a smile when Max spooned up behind him and dropped a kiss on the back of his neck.
“You’re probably right anyway,” Max murmured. “Can you imagine if Calvin walked in on that?”
Timothy froze, staring at the wall in horror at the very thought. “That’s it,” he said. “As long as Calvin’s here, you’re keeping your phalanges to yourself.”