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She’s always felt like she’s known. Always known her youngest little baby was so much more different as he grew up. He never shook away that little childish, youthful nature. His teen years rolled around and he managed to stay the same polite, sweet mama’s boy - none of the backchatting or the terrible rebellious tantrums she’d known teens his age to show.

For a little while she’d assumed that she’d gone ahead and done the best parenting of the century; a gold star for Mrs Lester for raising two perfectly lovely boys in her home.

Her suspicions grew as the secondary school years grew to a close. Five years of mingling with children his age and not once had he brought home a girl or asked his dad to drive him up to the cinema for a date.

She never pushed it though, never really cared that Phil would much rather go out and play in the fields rolling around with ketchup on an old shirt with his sweet little friendship group with their camera. She never really minded that her son much preferred to stay at home and watch Buffy with his dad than go out to the parties she knew the kids were throwing.

She wasn’t one to smother her children, but if they were happy at home, then she was happy with that.

Sixth form comes to a close, and she watches her son very humorously take his Sarah Michelle Geller cardboard cut out to prom instead of an actual real girl. But Kath doesn’t mind, she doesn’t mind when Phil’s friends pull up on the drive and howl with laughter as Phil attempts to stuff his ‘date’ in the back of the limo they’d rented out, without making a crease across her perfectly printed 2d face.

She waves him off, happy and smiling as he giggles off into the sunset, riding away with friends that make him happy. Friends that mean more to him that a simple date for one night probably could.

And when her son is off to university, does she feel sad for the first time. She kisses him on the cheek outside his shared house, in front of new people, uncaring that he just got kissed by his mother whilst his new peers watched, and she makes him promise he’ll call him later on once he’s settled.

And true to his word, he does.

When Phil comes home from uni he’s different. He’s still the same Phil she knows; she knows her boys more than she knows the air she breathes, and when he walks through the door with his bag slung over his shoulder and his hair a touch too shaggy, she can’t help but fling her arms around him as much as she can, and engulf him in the tightest hug.

And like nothing had ever changed, he hugs her twice as tight back.

Once Phil is settled home things fall back into place. Phil laughs at her jokes, makes dinner, helps with the dishes and is the beaming example of a good son.

She reaches out on day and cups his cheek with her palm. She can’t remember when he got so big and so tall and so handsome and older - but when he smiles, it’s still the same wonky smile he’s always had, with crinkles by his eyes and his tongue between his teeth.

Phil doesn’t talk about girls from uni, only the friends he’d made, talking about his mates in the same band of people. Kath doesn’t mind, she thinks, as she listens to one of his university stories as they sit and eat dinner together. Nigel laughs at something and Phil laughs back.

Phil is quiet and reserved. He’s always been like that. Always been a tad shy but makes up for the confidence in how loveable he is. At least, that’s what Kath thinks, and that may be a little biased in her opinion, but she can’t help it. Phil is shy, and that’s what Nigel tells her one night.

That Phil is shy, and he probably needs a little more confidence in talking to girls. Kath hums, only half agreeing. She’s not sure at what point in her life she’s starting feeling like this, but she supposes it’s grown. She turns and kisses Nigel on the cheek before whispering a goodnight and turning off her bedside lamp and gets under the covers.

Phil has a friend online. He’s not so shy about this friend. He talks about said friend at dinner conversation and at random intervals in the day when his brain must be reminded of it.

His phone pings one evening and Kath catches him smiling wide enough to power a city on the moon. Phil looks up, catching his mother’s gaze and smiles back at her. He tells her he’s going upstairs for a minute, and will be back down in an hour to do laundry. She happily lets him go.

Phil spends a lot of his time talking in his room. She can never tell which is which anymore; if he’s talking to his camera for a video, or if he’s talking to Dan.

Dan, is his name, they all learn. Phil lets it slip one evening whilst they’re watching a movie, and Phil can’t help but blurt out that Dan had already seen this movie and how much he’d enjoyed it, when his cheeks soon blush pink and Nigel asks if Dan is the same friend he’d been talking about these last few weeks. Phil nods a yes and that’s all that’s said for the night.

A few days before her and her husband are planned on taking a week long break, Phil springs it on them that he’s having Dan over. Kath is sceptical at first, unsure of how safe the corners of her son’s part of the internet are, but Phil assures her everything is fine, and he’s practically pushing them out the door when they’re leaving.

When they come home they can tell something is different. Phil is happy, beaming almost like he’s won the lottery. He’s almost giddy, and it seems the last week he’s spent with this friend of his hasn’t yet worn off, and Kath goes to bed that night with a fluttery feeling in her chest.

Halloween night and Phil is heading to London. He has his costume, nothing like when he was a child with long robes and witches hats on his head, but he does spend a great deal doing his hair in the bathroom mirror, and he’s rushing so fast out the door, worried he’d be late to catch the train that Kath has barely any time to kiss him goodbye.

She instead stands in the kitchen, thinking of the days she’d take her boys out trick or treating and now here she was alone as both her children lived their own lives. Nigel comes through the door with an array of chocolate boxes and goodies and offers up a good movie and sweets. She can’t say no, not when it helps rid that weird sad feeling she’s feeling right now.

Dan comes back a little while before Christmas. He’s tall like her boy and has an almost similar haircut and the first thing Kath thinks as she watches Phil shove him through their front door to escape the cold, all whilst giggling and smiling, is that they seem a good match.

Dan is polite and sweet and has an accent that sounds posh and smart. Phil lets them know at dinner that Dan is going to study law, and when Nigel smiles and tells him he must be clever, Dan ducks his head down, hiding a blush, bites the inside of his cheek and tells him he’s not that smart, not really, and Kath is quick to notice how quickly Phil is to defend him, playfully shoving him and announcing that Dan is in fact very clever. Dan’s blush only grows a deeper shade of red.

Kath doesn’t miss the stumbling of two pairs of feet that clamber up the stairs that evening. She listens out to the sounds of giggles that soon disappear behind a locked door of her son’s bedroom, and she quickly pays her attention to the tv where she sits with her husband. Her heart does something strange in her chest, and she wonders if Nigel feels that too.

That night she hears the hushed whispers of Phil and Dan through the wall. They talk, and giggle and it goes quiet. Nigel sleeps soundly beside her. She listens out to the silence for a while, and soon after, she falls asleep too.

The next day, when both boys are out with their camera, Kath walks past Phil’s room, her laundry bin under her arm ready to scoop up any forgotten pants off his floor. She stops in the doorway when she looks across at her son’s unkempt bed. The sheets are rumpled and there’s a pillow on each side, each one looking used and slept on. The little sofa bed Phil has in his room is untouched. She can’t help but smile.

Dan intertwines with her life more than she could imagine. Dan stays over, and Phil stays at his, both boys probably too old ‘just’ for sleepovers. Phil talks about this boy like if he won’t he might as well explode, and Kath loves him all the more for it.

Phil talks about how he wants to take Dan on holiday one night at the table. Nigel looks up at him, and there’s silence. Phil swallows down his chips. Nigel asks where, tells him Portugal is nice and Kath watches her boy practically melt away all the tension and anxiety he holds in his shoulders, and laughs, and tells him that Portugal does in fact sound good.

One night in bed, Nigel is reading his book and Kath is sat up, her own book is long forgotten on her bedside table. Phil has been acting like a kicked puppy all week, complaining that India is far too far away for someone to be, and it doesn’t take a genius to add two and two together; Phil missing Dan, and it being Valentines.

Kath is chewing the inside of her cheek, a habit she supposes she passed down to her son, as she stares blankly at the wall ahead of her. She can hear Phil talking in his room, and assumes it’s probably for another video. There’s no way Dan would be awake in India right now, especially since she’d had to have listened to Phil complain all day about timezones, and she’s listening to the muffled far away sound of his voice when she asks her husband if he thinks their son is gay.

Nigel sets his book down and pushes his glasses off his nose to look at her. When he says nothing she asks him if he thinks Dan is more than just a friend.

Nigel says nothing for a moment, and guilt and sadness brews in her stomach as her brain starts to spiral a little, but it all seems to stop when her husband smiles sweetly at her, and nods.

Phil doesn’t ever really come out to them. Months of dating turn into years and one shared flat turns into three homes and family holidays are with another plus now. Shared rooms and one bed things aren’t something Phil has to hide anymore. Phil’s room becomes their room and shared looks from across the table become real touches and eventually within the span of a few years, it’s a quick chaste kiss on the lips with a smile

Friend goes from Dan to mate to boyfriend to partner to the love of his life. Phil misses Dan when he’s home for Christmas, once Dan has gone home of course, because these days, Dan can’t help but fly along with Phil to come spend time with them all. 

Dan makes Nigel laugh with his jokes, and when he succeeds, his whole face lights up and it looks as if the boy has hit gold. Dan is as kind to Kath as he was that day in December, maybe even more so, and these days, Phil laughs and teases him and tells them all that he’s only doing it to suck up to his in-laws.

They fall asleep on the sofa together during movie nights and have the perfect banter between them when playing their board games.

She cheers them on during both tours, tells them how proud she is of them in every which way. 

When Dan’s video is posted, all of it’s forty five minute glory, she calls him with tears in her eyes and lets him know how much she loves him. He cries with her, Phil in the background too, and reminds him that no matter what, he’s always family.

Two weeks later when Phil posts his own video, she calls him and tells him he better be planning on flying over soon so she can wrap him up in hugs and kisses for the pair of them.

She leaves them be for a while, let’s them happily bask in their new found happiness. She goes to bed that night, feeling pride and happiness in knowing how good and safe, and happy her boys are. She can’t help the tugging of her lips that form the widest smile as she settles into bed, feeling that same fluttery feeling she’d been feeling in her chest all these years, finally understanding what that was now.

Nigel kisses her goodnight and they turn off the lights. 

She smiles. It was a mother’s pride.