When Scotty had told him about Bertha, about the way that his own family had talked to him, the anger and outrage had tightened in his chest. He watched Scotty talk, mouth moving under eyes that were clear, and totally lacking in guile, and he felt a pang of guilt for even noticing that occasionally his own family struggled with his orientation.
But sometimes it felt like it might even be worse, those occasional stinging moments of rejection, because Scotty was primed and ready for disappointment and heartbreak. Kevin's family were like a comfortable, rough old blanket, and sometimes the draft it let in slashed his skin like a knife.
He had been meaning to trade his car up for a while.
If he was ever going to make partner then he needed something impressive than his current ride. He wanted something that his colleagues could covertly admire in the parking lot, wanted to take part in the bull sessions around the water cooler about Porsches versus BMWs versus something American like a patriot would drive.
Selling his old car to Kitty seemed like a brotherly thing to do, he rationalised. She got a nice car with a perfect service record. And she got to avoid dealing with car salesmen, when she had so much else to do to settle into her new-old life in California.
The air was singing with the promise of heat on the morning that he dropped the car off at the house, and he was ushered into the kitchen for lemonade. His mother's perfect lemonade, juicy and tart, and he ran his finger across the moisture on the outside of the glass, as she told him about the weird conversation that she'd had with Justin.
"You think he's using again?" Kevin could feel his brow furrowing, feel the trickle of anxiety sliding down into his stomach.
His mother looked at him, brown eyes wide. "I don't even know that, Kevin. I have no idea how to reach him." She looked past him, eyebrows peaking. "Kitty. Do you want some lemonade?"
Kevin twisted round in his seat, so he could see his sister standing there in a navy blue linen suit. "Hey, Kitty. The car's outside." He slid the keys off the kitchen counter. "I have the keys here. You want to run over the service logs now?"
She stepped forward to take the keys out of his hand, shaking her head. "I need to get over to the studio. I still have to prep tonight's show. Do you need a ride home?"
"I'll do it," Nora said, her eyes still locked on Kitty's stiff face. "I need to go out to the market and I can take Kevin back to his apartment."
"Thanks," Kitty said, her tone clipped. "I'm just going to go drive around for five minutes. See if I have any questions about which lever does what."
"Sure." Kevin smiled at her.
He heard the front door snick shut and turned back to his mother. "So, you two are getting on well then?"
His mother shook her head, and sipped her lemonade. Kevin said nothing. He had always felt incapable of commenting on the intricate intensities of Kitty and his mother's relationship, and it was always bizarre to him that two people he loved so much spent so much time staring at each other from opposite sides of a crevasse.
Kevin looked at his watch. "Do you want to head to the market soon? I have a couple of briefs to work on today."
Nora put her glass down, and it made a wet ring on the counter. "It's Saturday, Kevin."
"I know. It's just that I need to boost my billing hours a bit." He smiled at her. "I know that if I spent more time in my office talking to my clients, rather than my family, then I might get more achieved."
Nora gathered her purse. "Oh, yes, I'm sure that we're the worst family in the world for occasionally wanting to talk to you during the day."
He was smiling when they stepped from the cool of the house to the heat of the day, but the sight of Kitty made the smile slide from his face.
She was standing, leaning over the back window of the car, picking off the PFLAG sticker he'd stuck there. Scraping her nails over his identity.
Nora, following on his heels, followed his eyeline. "Kitty?"
Kitty looked up. "What, Mom?"
Nora's mouth was set in an unhappy line.
Kitty looked from Nora to Kevin. Looked away. "You know I support PFLAG, Mom. I went to that fundraiser with you." She scratched the end of her nose, delicately. "It's just that I'm a Republican pundit, and I think that having this sticker on my car will be – confusing for people."
Kevin licked his lips. "It's okay, Kitty."
Nora looked up at him. "It is?"
He swallowed. "Yeah."
It was Justin who teased him while Tommy walked on eggshells, and there was something warming about the blithe way his youngest brother pointed out hot guys, and guys who were giving him the eye, and guys that Kevin could never, ever score with in a million, billion years.
He didn't know what to expect from his teenage brother after he came out, but it wasn't the easy physical affection he got. The bubble of personal space around Tommy had grown almost imperceptibly wider, but Justin was still like a puppy, all loose limbs and warm hands. He threw his legs over Kevin's when they were watching TV, slung his arms across Kevin's shoulders, and hugged him as fiercely as he ever had.
It wasn't just Kevin who was on the receiving end of Justin's seemingly indiscriminate affection. Justin had a rotating group of friends and acquaintances, and if the house wasn't full of kids hanging out, he was on the phone. More than Kitty, his father had said with a faint sneer in his voice, and Sarah and Kitty had exchanged looks at the dinner table.
"So, I'll meet you underneath the bleachers?" Justin was lying on the floor of the den, feet propped on the wall, and curling the phone cord around his fingers.
He listened. "No, man. Don't bring Tim."
Kevin watched him, amused. Justin, puppy-dog Justin, could bust out the mean as much as any kid.
"Nah, man. He's a faggy douche." Justin said it like it was nothing, but Kevin's face was suddenly on fire.
It had been one of those archetypal Walker days, where there were too many people in the kitchen at his Mom's house, and too many plans and complications and upsets, and as soon as he was truly, properly rich he would pay for a scheduler to keep them all in line.
He smiled at Scotty, over the madness, and felt a swell of pride and appreciation as his husband smiled back. Because Jesus his family could be annoying, and Scotty was just packing the last of the products from he and Nora's baking session into plastic containers, slowly and deliberately, like seven people weren't all talking at once.
Cooper and Paige were running around the house, and Sarah was pushing her hair behind her ears and trying to work out how she was going to get Paige to her karate class when Joe was picking Cooper up in forty-five minutes and was her Mom sure that she left a message saying she was going to a meeting with Kevin and Tommy at Ojai?
"Yes, Sarah." His mother looked mutinous. "I'm completely sure."
Sarah licked her lips. "Yeah, I'm sorry Mom. I just haven't had time to check my messages today."
Scotty wrinkled his nose. "I can stay with him."
Sarah turned around. "What?"
Scotty shrugged. "I have nothing to do right now. I was just going to go home. I can stay here until Joe comes to pick him up, if that works."
"That would be awesome, Scotty." Sarah smiled. "If you're sure you don't mind." But she was already pulling her keys out of her purse, looking for Paige.
And that would have been it, another quotidian moment in a long chain of such moments, if Kevin hadn't caught the look on Tommy's face as Scotty spoke. It had been mistrust, and concern, and he'd smoothed it away almost as soon as it had appeared, but it twisted in Kevin's stomach like a knife.
He had never mentioned it to Scotty, didn't even know how he would form the words to explain that on some level, no matter how instinctive, Tommy thought that Scotty might hurt Cooper. But sometimes he took the memory of Tommy's expression out and looked at it, poked at it, just to see if it still made his flesh icy-hot. It always did.
It wasn't that he didn't understand that Saul was afraid, dazzlingly afraid like a nuclear blast had torn across his life.
He'd seen films. Documentaries, that Scotty had dragged him to, about craven, closeted Congressman fucking the whole community, and religious bigots wanting everything they hated obliterated in a Biblical plague of blood and gore. Mainstream movies like Philadelphia, that had a kernel of the bleached bones of the awful truth in the middle of saccharine moralising.
He knew that there weren't words for the crash of misery the virus had brought on his community. He knew that Saul had been there in the days when there was no hope, only a grey mist of fear and desperation.
But Saul had to know that that wasn't now. That he and Scotty were family, but they were also community, and that they should be inside the circle and not outside.
It made him a terrible person. A selfish, self-absorbed, self-involved, wrong-headed little prick. But the lie almost stung more than the truth.
It was almost convincing, the idea that his mother loved him so much that she'd wanted to give him space to figure it all out for himself. And the raw horror of what he'd done that night at Ojai was so overwhelming, that he couldn't stand to think that something else he'd always thought was true was pitching and tossing underneath his feet.
But there was something that didn't quite make sense in Nora's account. That felt like the lid of Scotty's blue plastic storage container, the one that never quite fit snugly, but always popped up along one edge.
Because if she had seen the doubt that was at the heart of Kevin, wouldn't she have said something about gay people, about coming out, about how there was nothing he could do to stop her loving him? He'd scanned conversations for references to gayness almost before he realised what he was doing, and until he was talking to Kitty on the floor of the den, no one in his family ever said a single positive thing about being gay.
After he came out his mother had been amazing. Running interference between him and his father, and, he had always suspected, between him and Tommy. Asking about boyfriends, and flirtations, and dates. But had it all been too self-conscious? Was it ridiculous to even criticise his mother for that? The world had changed a lot since she was young.
He'd tried to talk to her about it once, but she hadn't understood what he meant, and it was too humiliating to ask the things he wanted to ask. Would you rather I was straight? Does my sex life disgust you?
The idea that his mother was performing tolerance, acceptance, maybe even love, curled under his skin like smoke.