Some parents have trouble getting their kids to leave the nest; others of us can’t get ‘em to come home. Ain’t no shame in loving them from a distance, though, ‘specially if they be like my young’st boy. Every once in a while that maternal urge kicks in again, but I get over that real quick because the good Lord hath given us telephones.
Still, it does a child good to come home ever now an’ then, be around folks that care about ‘em. Usually I accept whatever explanation Shelly gives for skipping the annual Cooper family reunion, but this year I put my foot down. I’ve been in the family so long, I don’t bat an eye over the fact that I’m attending a reunion for the in-laws with George being called back home and all. Of course Shelly protests, but he know better than to talk back to his mother. He’s a smart boy, after all.
Shelly arrives an hour before the reunion is set to start with his little friend, Leonard. Although he hadn’t mentioned bringing his friend, I wasn’t all that surprised. Somehow Leonard shows up every time Sheldon comes home. Leonard’s a sweet boy. Tries to help, bless his heart, but usually ends up being more in the way than anything. I finally had to chase him out of the kitchen so I could get my casseroles out of the oven.
Now, my boy was raised to have manners. Too bad he’s got this thing about germs which makes him weird about people touching him. Being accustomed to his ways, I didn’t think much about it until we got to the reunion and I see he’s using his friend as a human shield, maneuvering Leonard in between himself and his family. Leonard doesn’t look like he’s minding, though. Shelly’s got his head bent down, whispering the names of relatives in his friend’s ear as they approach, and Leonard accepts the greetings, hugs and handshakes with a smile. Them older folks, their memory isn’t that great so they don’t remember that Leonard isn’t part of the family. I’ve always known that Leonard’s family is the type that don’t believe in affection, and it hurts my heart to see how messed up it made him. No one looks that happy to be hugged by walking clouds of perfume, cat hair and peppermints. I adore most of my in-laws, but lord knows the elderly have their own unique smell.
After Shelly uses Leonard to fend off the relatives, he heads straight where all the other males go: the buffet line. Leonard’s sticking real close to Shelly even though everyone’s friendly here. Aunt Margret got a little caught up with supervising the children and puts a big serving of a dish in Leonard’s plate. Leonard kept his mouth shut, but Shelly jumps right in and begins to lecture Aunt Margret on dietary restrictions. Leonard turns all red and almost trips over the concrete blocks weighing the table down. Between Leonard’s not eating dairy, Howard not eating pork and that Taj Mahal boy not believing in hamburger, all of Shelly’s friends have broken the food pyramid. Thank goodness only Leonard was here, or else Shelly would be spending the entire evening getting his friends something they could eat.
Still, I’m grateful that my boy has a friend like Leonard. When he was growing up, he didn’t run around with his cousins much when we had get-togethers. Always sat alone, staring at the grass. Now, as the young people played badminton and the elderly struggled to stay awake, I look over to see him and Leonard sitting together on the porch, empty plates set off to the side. They both have their cell phones out, looking like they may be arguing, but over the years I’ve learned that’s just what really smart science-y people like to do with their time. Especially Shelly.
Some of the folks done drove for hours to get here, so we have a meeting after it gets dark to decide who’s going to stay at whose house for the night. No use bothering to come to a reunion if you can’t spend more’n a few hours with family, right? Might as well make a weekend of it, though to tell you the truth, one day with the in-laws were enough for me. I’d done my duty, bringing the food and putting up Great Uncle Max and Aunt Etta in the house. They took Missy’s bedroom, Missy took Junior’s room, and that left the couch for Leonard. I could tell he weren’t too pleased about the situation, but he didn’t let out a peep of complaint.
“Ya sure you got enough kiver*, boy?” Great Uncle Max shouted down at Leonard.
“Um, I… well…” Leonard stammered in reply, brows drawn. Looking confused, he began to wring his hands in that nervous habit of his. “I think… I do?” he offers hesitantly, shooting a glance towards Sheldon.
“Leonard’s small and compact enough that one blanket is sufficient,” Shelly announces. Leonard turns red again. Didn’t I tell you my boy has an opinion on everything?
I steer Uncle Max and Aunt Etta upstairs to show them their bedroom, leaving Shelly to deal with his friend. I guess they got everything sorted out because I hear Sheldon coming up the stairs a few minutes later. Eventually the house quiets down and we all turn out.
The next morning I get up early in order to go start breakfast. I never mind having company, but I have to admit I’m looking forward to a simple dinner and supper. On my way to the kitchen, I notice the blankets on the couch have been pushed aside. There’s a definite lack of person. I figure Leonard’s in the little boy’s room, so I make my way towards the bathroom to find out what he’d like to eat. To my surprise, even the bathroom is empty.
When you become a parent, Jesus gives you these internal alarms so you can sniff out trouble brewing. Well, right about then my alarms kicked in and I head upstairs to ask Shelly if he knows where his friend’s run off to. I stop outside his door, listening real hard to see if he’s up. There’s nothing but silence, so I crack open the door. First thing I see is a curly head under the covers, lying more on Shelly’s pillow than his own.
Leonard’s in bed with Sheldon.
I take a deep breath. Force myself to look around. This could all just be innocent, you see. Smart as they both are, they have childlike qualities. You wouldn’t expect two nearly thirty year-old men to share a bed, but knowing them it wasn’t so farfetched. Leonard’s red robe is hanging on the back of the chair and his slippers are carefully placed by the bed. … No, it didn’t take a scientist to see that this was planned. I know all the signs of my boy having a nightmare and Leonard wasn’t rescuing him from one neither. Against everything he is, Sheldon allowed Leonard in his room. He even moved over a little bit to make room for Leonard in the bed.
This… was something they’ve done before.
I quietly back out of the room, making my way downstairs back to the kitchen. I read the Word a while, praying for Jesus to give me the wisdom to deal with this right. I came to terms a long time ago that I weren’t getting no grandchildren from Shelly. I wasn’t prepared for this, though.
Not too long after, Leonard came padding quietly down the stairs all sneaky like. I hear him head towards the bathroom and position myself outside the door. When he comes out, he looks surprised to see me for a moment, but I could tell he doesn’t suspect nothing.
“Good morning, sweetie. You’re the first one up. Come into the kitchen and get some breakfast,” I say. He returns my smile, following me into the other room. He sits down at the table while I get busy putting bread in the toaster.
“Have some toast, Leonard,” I say sweetly, bringing a plate and glass of water over to him, watching as he obediently took a bite of breakfast. “Now tell me, how did you end up in Sheldon’s bed last night?” Leonard chokes and reaches for his glass, draining the cup while staring at me with wide eyes. Why yes, dear, you are quite busted. Ain’t no one getting away with anything under my roof!
“W-what? You saw…? Oh, I just... It’s not like that! We were just… we weren’t… Sheldon doesn’t…” he stammers, beet red.
“While Sheldon may not, it doesn’t explain the fact that you were in bed with him, Leonard,” I admonish. “Is there something you would like to tell me? Perhaps explain what you mean by ‘it’s not like that’?”
Leonard stares down at the table for a while like he’s trying to think up a story. I just give him a Look once he finally makes eye contact. He swallows. Geniusness is no match for motherhood.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Cooper… I-I know you don’t approve of… this,” he manages to say quietly. Well. No more beatin’ ‘round the bush.
“What I approve of is of little concern. It’s what the Lord approves of that’s gonna make trouble for you,” I remind him. If possible, Leonard grows a little paler, yet he sets his jaw in that stubborn manner.
“No disrespect, Mrs. Cooper, but I’m more worried about what you think. I-I don’t want Sheldon to lose his family. He doesn’t act like it, but he would be devastated if he lost you or Memaw… I don’t want… to stand between you. I can’t… stop loving him, though.” He whispers the last part to the placemat.
Loving him. Lord. My boy has found love. In this pipsqueak of a man, no less.
I take another breath. Leonard just continues to stare down at the table. He’s a good boy. A real sweet person who has dealt with Shelly for the last seven years and somehow managed to stick with it. He certainly has his faults, though. Shelly doesn’t always have the best judge of character since he’s so shy and a pigheaded know-it-all, yet if he’s stuck with Leonard just as much as Leonard has stuck with him, well… that says something.
“You realize what a relationship with Sheldon is going to be like, don’t you?” I can’t help asking. I realize the foolishness of my question as soon as it leaves my mouth. He’s Shelly’s best friend… Leonard knows my boy just as well as I do.
“Yes, I do,” Leonard murmurs softly. “I know it’s going to be hard sometimes. All relationships are. What we have is worth it, though.”
“Shower’s free,” Shelly announces, suddenly appearing in the doorway. Both Leonard and I jump, staring up at him. Sheldon shuffles over to the cabinet to get a plate, ignoring Leonard’s embarrassed look.
“Fine. You can go, Leonard. I have to talk to my son now,” I say firmly. Sheldon finally looks up, glancing from his friend to myself. He’s reevaluating the situation; it doesn’t help that Leonard bolts from the table like a cat on fire.
“Sheldon Lee,” I begin. “You sit down right this instance.” First and middle name—he knows this is serious.
“Yes, ma’am,” Shelly replies, sitting down next to Leonard’s abandoned chair. He stares down at his toast as if it’s been sent by Christ himself.
“When were you planning on telling me that you and Leonard weren’t just friends anymore?” He twitches, a sure sign he’s nervous.
“What aspect of our relationship dynamics are you specifically referring to?” Sheldon hedges.
“The part where you and Leonard end up sleeping together,” I bluntly reply. He doesn’t appreciate my answer, grimacing down at his plate.
“We are not ‘sleeping together’ in the colloquial sense. Yes, we cohabit a bed in addition to standard living space now. We’ve been doing so for the past six weeks; the first week was an experimental dry-run. After careful consideration of all the factors of our relationship, we have mutually agreed to reestablish the perimeters of our friendship. As for your initial question, I’ve been researching the proper protocol to use in order to inform you of this modification but I have found none that seems appropriate for the situation.”
I let his words sink in for a minute, shaking my head. What a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. My boy likes to hide behind nonsensical words, like I didn’t understand what he was saying.
“Do you love him?” I ask him point-blank.
“I… I appreciate his gestures of friendship. His insistent and frequent overtones of affection are meant to assure me of my good standing in his mind, although unnecessary… I enjoy the fact that we have similar interests and that he can hold his own fairly well in an intelligent conversation. Certainly, there are a lot of advantages to our acquaintance, from transportation to…” he rattled off.
“Sheldon Lee Cooper. Do you love him, yes or no?!” I interrupted.
“Leonard has a long history of futile relationships,” Sheldon responded after a few minutes of silence. He was back to staring at the table. “I don’t want to be another statistic.”
Oh, Shelly. The Lord doesn’t make your life easy, does He? Or mine for that matter, having to deal with this… No matter; the Lord never gives you more than you can bear.
“Shelly… I think we need to have a little talk, then. When a man and a wo-…” Well. Can’t use that no more, could I? “When two people love each other,” I plowed on, determined not to let him see me flustered, “They act like a couple. They get to experience things together that they don’t share with any other person.”
“Mother, please. I’ve already heard this lecture, and I assure that I have no interest in…”
“I’m talking about affection, Sheldon Lee.” I give him another Look. “Sometimes you’re gonna have to show Leonard how much you care about him if you want him to stick around. I know you don’t have much tolerance for it, but you got to let him hold your hand sometimes. He may want to hug you, or…”
Lord, forgive me. This was not the way I had imagined the morning turning out.
“You just act like a gentleman, Shelly. Let Leonard court you when he wants to. Understand?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he mutters. I study his bent head, finding myself relaxing. I know my boy; he don’t become too attached to anyone on purpose. Wasn’t his fault he fell in love with Leonard. I guess it wasn’t anyone’s fault. Love is a blessing given by the Lord, after all.
“Good. I’m glad that’s taken care of. Now, I’m going to go get your Aunt and Uncle up, maybe make some pancakes,” I declare.
When I come back downstairs from waking up Max and Etta, I see Leonard’s out of the shower and sitting with Shelly in front of the TV. As I’m watching, Leonard puts his head on Shelly’s shoulder. My boy says something I can’t hear that gets a chuckle out of Leonard. Now there’s a sight to warm the heart. Ain’t no decent parent in the world that could find fault in the behavior of those two. Which reminds me… I wonder if Leonard’s parents know about him and Shelly.
My prayer list just got a little longer.