Here we are… Parts 3 & 4 of Better Than Candy! Only 2 days till the official 1 year anniversary of Matt & Aaron’s story!! Woohoo! I included this photo in an earlier blog. He kinda looks like Aaron. What do you think? Remember, comment to win! Best wishes and Happy Sunday xo… Lane
Better Than Candy by Lane Hayes
Chapter 1 cont…
Later that night, we lay naked together in bed talking. It was late and both of us were drifting to sleep. I was about to turn off the light when Aaron asked a question that brought my mom’s little news flash back to the fore front of my mind.
“So, did your mom ask why you were making dinner? I mean, wasn’t she a little surprised?”
“It would be more accurate to say she laughed and asked if you liked Cheerios for dinner. Yeah, she was surprised. She figured I was making an effort for someone special. Her words, not mine. I mean… you are special. I’m just repeating… never mind.”
Aaron laid on his side facing me, his head resting in his hands.
“What you’re trying to say without saying it is that she assumed you were wining and dining a girl. Correct?”
I let out a deep breath and rolled to face him, running my hand down his toned arms and over the curve of his hip.
“Yes, that is what she assumed, but not what I told her.” I put a finger over his lips, signaling that I wasn’t finished speaking. “I have something to tell you.”
He waited unmoving. He may have even been holding his breath, he was so still.
“She’s coming to visit in ten days. I’m going to tell her about us.”
“Are you going to say anything?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I am. I’m… it’s time. I don’t want to go on like this, with them assuming one thing and me not correcting them because it’s easier that way. I want to be honest.”
“You don’t have to do it for me. You know that, right?”
“I’m doing it for both of us. We talked about this already. I’m ready to do it… to come out to my family. But yeah… I’m scared.” I smiled wanly sliding my fingers through his dark hair. “What was it like for you? How old were you?
“Oh please! You don’t think my parents caught on quick about me? I mean, seriously! I used to sneak into my parent’s closet and play dress-up in my mom’s high heels and jewelry. I talked, walked and dressed just a little more fabulously than other boys right from the start. I think my family would have been more shocked if I said I was straight.”
“So how old were you? A teenager?”
“I didn’t say the words “I’m gay” to them until I was eighteen. I left for college and when I came back to visit my parents for the first time, I finally felt the desire to say the words in plain English. Or maybe it was Spanish? I don’t remember. I’m gay. They knew. I think my mom hugged me and my dad asked me to move aside and not block the television. Once the words were said I felt better for it.”
“You know this won’t be that easy for me.”
“I know, Matty. I know.”
I didn’t know how this would go down, but I wasn’t going to kid myself into thinking my mom would accept my revelation without issue. I dreaded emotional scenes. All I could do was hope for the best.
Why is it that time always moves at a glacier pace when you’re anxious for something to happen and like a freight train when you would give anything to put a few minutes or hours, back on the clock? My mom called me when her flight landed to let me know she was taking a taxi directly to her hotel. The plan was for me to meet her there for a drink and then dinner. She was sure to extend the invite to Aaron. Well, she meant Erin. I told her it would just be me tonight, but that maybe she’d meet Aaron another time.
I was a jumble of nerves when I first walked into the opulent hotel lobby with its crystal chandeliers and dark oak paneling. I checked my reflection in one of the massive mirrors flanking the reception area and decided my pressed khaki pants and blue Oxford shirt would do as I made my way to the bar area. I spotted my mom sitting alone at a table near a window nursing a glass of chardonnay.
My mom was a pretty woman. She had a no-nonsense fashion sense, but she took care of herself. Her hair was a light brown with blond highlights, like mine. (Although she assured me she paid for her blond.) She wore it parted to the side and straight to her shoulders. She’d never been much for anything other than basic cosmetics, lipstick and mascara maybe. For a woman in her early fifties, she was often mistaken for ten years younger.
Her maternal senses must have sensed my approach because she turned a second after I’d spotted her and jumped to her feet to greet me. She wrapped me in one of her signature mom hugs that had me gasping for air.
“Oh honey! You look so handsome!”
She signaled a waiter and pulled me back toward her table, pointing to the chair across from her. Once my order was placed, she turned her full attention back to me. I smiled and wondered if it looked as weak as it felt. If I wasn’t careful, she would think something was wrong. Nothing was wrong, I assured myself. This would be okay.
“So… how have you been?”
“Great. This is such a treat to come back to see you on my own! And I’m looking forward to visiting my sister too. A mini vacation!”
“Dad was too busy at work to join you?”
“Yes, we’ll come another time with your sisters. Aunt Jill and I had planned this visit a while ago. There is never a good time to take time off really. Your dad will be fine. The girls will take care of him.” She grinned, inviting me to share the inside joke. My twin sisters were trouble. Not bad trouble, just mischievous. I smiled in return. That was the funny thing about family…I had just seen everyone at my graduation and at the time I couldn’t wait to see them off, but now I missed them all over again. I’ve always known I was lucky to come from a tight-knit, loving group. They were good people.
I hoped I didn’t lose them. The thought made me feel nauseous.
“So, you’re busy studying?”
I nodded in response, taking a sip of my vodka tonic and glancing around the still quiet bar. It was late afternoon so the crowds wouldn’t begin to gather for another hour or so. We made idle conversation about her flight and the hotel. I didn’t mind keeping it up for as long as possible.
“What does your friend do? Did you meet her at school?”
“Oh, yes. Um…right.”
“Did the dinner go well? Did she like it? Please tell me I’ll get to meet her. Will she join us for dinner tonight? You were sure to extend the invitation I hope. Well, did you?”
“Whoa… geez, mom.”
“Sorry. Just interested in my son’s life.”
We were both quiet for a moment while the waiter delivered my mom’s second glass of wine to our table.
“Mom… I have something to tell you.”
Fuck! I couldn’t even look at her. This was unbelievable. This was my opportunity and I was already playing this all wrong. I could feel myself wanting to drop it and change the subject. I suddenly didn’t know if I could go through with it. I took a deep breath and looked over at my mom, hating the concern I saw in her eyes.
“What is it, honey? Are you okay?”
She had an expression on her face that seemed as worried as I was feeling ill. I tried again. I looked her in the eye, opened my mouth and nothing came out. Nothing.
“Matthew. You’re scaring me. What is it? Honey, look at me.”
I shook my head. Oh boy.
“Whatever it is, we’ll figure it out. Is she pregnant?”
“What? Who?” Oh brother. She was so off base, it should have been funny. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
“Erin! Or is it someone else? Or are you sick? Or…”
She stopped and looked carefully at me, giving me that mother stare. The one that says she would figure this out with or without my assistance. Your choice, Matt.
“Well.” Come on, Matt. Spit it the fuck out. Tell her. You are torturing both of you now.
“Matthew. You can tell me anything. Please know that.”
Her expression was so kind, so earnest that I honest to God, felt my eyes prick with tears. I firmly held them at bay. This was ridiculous. I was a twenty-four year old former jock. I didn’t do tears. I did the consoling if necessarily but I wasn’t a crier.
“Yes. Thank you, Mom.” Another deep breath. “Okay…here goes. Mom, Aaron is a man.”
“My special someone that you want to meet is a man, not a woman. Mom, I’m gay.”
I did it.
Wow! That was really fucking hard. But I did it. I said the words out loud to my mom. I had done this with Curt, Dave, Jason and even some coworkers, but this was my mom. This was bigger. I felt proud of myself. Until I looked across the table and saw the utter confusion written all over her face.
“Gay? Matt, you aren’t gay. You’re twenty-four, twenty-five this year. You’ve had girlfriends and… Are you playing with me? Is this a joke?”
“No. No joke.” I looked around the bar to gauge how much of this conversation was going to reach the tables around us. We were good for now.
“I…I don’t understand.”
“Mom. I am and always have been attracted to men as well as women. I’ve just never before acted on my attraction to guys.” (She did not need to know about the incident back in college.)
“Why now? Who is this person? Are you even sure? I mean, maybe it’s a phase or something like that.”
“If it’s a phase, I hope it lasts a lifetime, Mom. Aaron’s amazing. A really great, sweet, wonderful guy. So am I sure? Yes. I’m very sure about him.”
I wasn’t as good at reading her as she was at reading me, but my guess was that she was completely stunned. She didn’t seem to know what to say.
“I’m sorry, Matt. I just…this wasn’t what I was expecting. At all.” She looked out the window, her fingernails tapping against her wineglass.
“I know. I’m sure you’re surprised.”
“Surprised would be an understatement. Who is he? How did you meet this person? I just don’t understand how you can suddenly decide to like men instead of women. Is it possible?”
Now she’d taken on an air of something akin to anger. Toward whom, I wasn’t sure? Me? Aaron? Herself for not knowing like a mother should?
“Look. You are asking me so many questions at once. Slow down. I…look, I didn’t just decide I like men. I always have. You just didn’t know I felt that way. I didn’t tell you, because it was irrelevant to who I was at the time.”
“Did you actually like your girlfriends? Like Kristin. She was the one you broke up with around Christmas, right?”
She sat back as though suddenly rocked by a realization.
“You broke up with her because of this man!”
“First of all, his name is Aaron. Second, no. I broke things off with her because it wasn’t working. I wasn’t interested. Being with her felt like a chore.”
“Because you were interested in him.”
“Partly, but I didn’t start seeing him until January. Actually, he insisted on moving slowly, so really since February.”
It’s July. You’ve been involved with a man for months and this is the first I’ve ever heard of it. Oh my…”
“Mom! Seriously, I… what did you think I would do? Call you after our first date? This hasn’t been easy for me. I’ve had to come to terms with a lot of things that I’m frankly still trying to get my head around. But Mom… I’m still me. Nothing about me… nothing intrinsic about me has changed. You do know that, right?”
The silence was thick now and it was hard to breathe. When she finally spoke, I was on the verge of passing out from lack of oxygen. Geez, maybe Aaron’s flair for the dramatic was rubbing off on me.
“Matt. I love you. Nothing changes. Ever.”
And just like that, I could breathe again.
“I won’t lie and say I’m happy to hear all this. The truth is, I don’t know what to say. But please never doubt that I love you, sweetheart.”
Tears were threatened again as I chanced a glimpse at my mom’s face. I almost lost it when I saw the moisture in her eyes. She gasped as emotion caught her and put a hand over her mouth to cover the sound. Of sadness, confusion? I fought back my own emotions knowing we weren’t feeling overcome for the same reasons. Perhaps she was mourning the man she thought I was while I was mourning someone I could never be. Not anymore. I wanted my parents to be proud of me… to accept me. I’d always been a “pleaser”, but I couldn’t play that part if it meant losing Aaron.
We quietly composed ourselves and I signaled the waiter for another drink. I needed it.
“No, I’ll stick with this one for a bit longer.” She tilted her head toward her half full wineglass.
“So, tell me about Aaron. He must be special if… well, he must be special.”
I smiled and finally ended up laughing. Relief does that I suppose. I knew this was a beginning of sorts, a sputtering start, but it still felt good. Good to have the words spoken aloud, good to start afresh.
After a couple of months I had to admit my “coming out” fresh start was more of a non-start where my family was concerned. There was no theatrical showdown with tears and ugliness. No one disowned me. They just ignored my revelation entirely. At first I didn’t notice. I was frankly too busy and when you factored in the geographical obstacle of Pittsburgh being over two hundred miles away from DC, it became a matter of out of sight, out of mind. I didn’t begin to clue in until after I found out I’d passed the bar in late October. It was a major milestone and my parents were extremely proud.
“Oh honey! We’re thrilled!” My mom was practically screaming in my ear. I could picture her jumping up and down in elation.
“We’re very proud of you, Matt. When will see the new family lawyer next? Will we have to wait till the holidays?” Dad was on another line and the connection sounded a little weak.
“Probably. I was just assigned to help out on a new government contract one of the partners is preparing.” I smiled into the phone when I heard my mom squeal on the other end. “The thing is… there’s a deadline which may make it difficult for me to come home for Thanksgiving.”
There was a stilted silence on the line for a second longer than normal. My dad filled it in quickly with a comment about not working too hard, but he was obviously trying to avoid any awkwardness. He signed off claiming he had something pressing to take care of in his home office, leaving me to my uncharacteristically silent mother.
“You there, Mom?”
“Yes. If you can’t come home, where will you go for Thanksgiving?”
“Aaron’s parents’, probably.”
And that’s when the proverbial light bulb went on.
I’d noticed in past conversations when I brought up his name in a general sense like “Aaron and I went to…” or “Aaron made dinner and…”, the topic was changed. I figured it was a matter of time and they weren’t ready to hear about Aaron and me in any detail.
The holidays were sacred to my mother…an extremely important traditional season for family gatherings. She wouldn’t be able to ignore Aaron’s presence in my life during this time. If a showdown was imminent, this was most likely when it would occur. I sighed deeply and massaged the bridge of my nose hoping for the best.
“Honey, I understand you’re busy, but… the holidays are for family and since he is a new friend of yours maybe…”
“Mom. This is a weird conversation to have over the phone, but I’m going to try… I…” I stopped and looked out the huge picture window in Aaron’s small apartment. He’d gone out for a run and if I wanted to finish this conversation before he returned I needed to figure out how to firmly but kindly deal with someone I loved and respected without causing unnecessary hurt. I was like a bull in a china shop when it came to important emotional exchanges, so chances were good I’d fuck it up somehow.
“Mom, Aaron is my boyfriend. He isn’t a random friend. I don’t know what the holidays will be like with my work schedule but…”
“Okay, I understand. I have to hang up now. I have something on the stove. I love you Matt and I’m so very proud of you. Bye hon.”
What the fuck? Her “I understand” was definitely code for exactly the opposite, but I didn’t know how to handle it.
I turned at the sound of a soft Southern infused voice. It was Jay, Aaron’s best friend and the look of concern on his handsome face told me he’d heard some of my conversation with my mother.
“Sorry to barge in.” He jiggled a set of keys and then tossed them in the orange bowl on the small kitchen table. “I knocked but you didn’t hear. I told Aaron I’d drop these off. He said you needed a spare and… what’s troublin’ you, honey?”
Jay was a lot like Aaron in many ways. He was an out and proud confident gay man with a joie de vie. He was also smart, funny and really good-looking. If anyone told me he modeled for Ralph Lauren ads, I’d believe them. Jay was a couple of inches taller than me with a slim toned swimmer’s body. He was always friendly and easy company, but he was extremely protective of those he loved, like Aaron. Thank God he liked me.
“Family shit.” I shook my head as I walked over to greet him.
“Matt, I sympathize darling. No disrespect intended here, but you know Peter’s mother’s a shrew… so if you need any advice on how to deal with difficult mommas, I may not have all the answers but believe me, I’ve learned a few tricks over the years.”
I laughed. I’d heard some funny stories about Jay’s long-time partner, Peter’s wacky Italian Catholic mother. No doubt he did have some experience to draw from.
“My mom’s not that bad. She’s just not used to the idea of me being… with a man. I knew this wouldn’t be easy but I have a feeling it’s harder than I thought.”
“It’s difficult. Certainly. But you have to keep your life separate from theirs. Ask yourself if you’d be happier living the life they want for you…”
“That’s just it! No one talks about this shit where I’m from. No one asks what you want out of life unless it’s in a general way… you know, what do you want to be when you grow up? Where do you want to live? The rest… it’s assumed, expected. Me telling my mom about Aaron has upset some kind of balance and I don’t know how to get it back. Or if I ever will.”
Jay nodded solemnly before heading toward the small galley style kitchen. He pulled out a bottle of wine and held it up in question. I smiled wanly and sat at the table while he poured us each a glass of chardonnay.
“Maybe your mom is more like mine… with the big difference being that I came out at eighteen and while I wasn’t overt like someone else we know and love, it wasn’t a giant surprise I was queer either. Your mom needs to meet him, Matt. She needs to see you two together, see how happy you are, but even then… it will take some time.”
“Are things better with Peter’s mom? I mean, has it gotten easier with time?” I took a sip and almost spit it back out. Jay’s expression was comically hysterical.
“She’s a dragon. A five foot two witch. My personal nightmare come to life. Thank God she lives in another state! The truth is I’m never going to win her over. It kills me on one hand because I’m so good at mergers and acquisitions of a friendly nature, but I will never win against her old religious doctrines. So I’m as kind as can be. Occasionally I feel like I can taste blood in my mouth from biting my tongue so hard and other times, I can laugh. But I love Peter. I won’t give him up to make her happy. It’s that simple for me.” Jay stood to take the bottle of wine back to the kitchen.
He and Peter had been together for years now. Both were strikingly handsome and tall, but after that, it was a matter of opposites attract. Where Jay was friendly and open, Peter was intense and serious. I was pondering the many ways Aaron and I were different when I heard a rattling noise.
“What the… Where did you…?”
The conversation candy hearts. Oh. I could feel my face heat at the memory of what we’d done in the kitchen the last time the ubiquitous candy box appeared out of nowhere. Jay’s wide, knowing grin told me no explanations were needed. He took a sip of his wine peering at me over the rim thoughtfully.
“That boy is a hopeless romantic.”
“I know Aaron. I’m thinking he saved these from last Valentine’s Day… that’s all.”
“He said he found them but…”
“No way. He doesn’t save crappy candy from a holiday rendered meaningless if you don’t have someone to share it with. These are a good luck charm.” Jay expression was a touch smug but there was a bit of warning in his eye. He was silently letting me know if I broke Aaron’s heart, candy or otherwise, he’d kick my ass. “I wouldn’t be surprised if these lasted until your first real Valentine Day together.”
Jay quickly changed the subject and although I was grateful for the topic change, I loved the sentiment behind his words. I knew Aaron loved me but was afraid to say the words aloud. Our beginning as a couple was slightly clouded by the specter of my “coming out” and all indications were that until something was resolved with my family, Aaron might not trust that we’d make it in the long run. Maybe Jay was right about the candy hearts being a silly talisman to ward off real life issues. We started seeing each other romantically around Valentine Day, so it oddly made sense that Aaron would superstitiously keep a memento of hope for our future in a heart shaped form. The sweet vulnerability of the thought alone made me love him just a little bit more.