Happy Valentine’s Day! <3 Hope everyone is having a wonderful day. Here is Part 3 of Better Than Candy. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled Blog Tour bonanza for The Wrong Man on Monday!
*Once again, if you ‘re familiar with the Better Than books this will need no introduction other than to remind you it takes place shortly after Better Than Good ends. If you’re not, it’s still a standalone story. Enjoy!
Better Than Candy by Lane Hayes
The first time I gave half a thought to Valentine’s Day was the actual weekend we moved in, which was the Saturday before our towel shopping expedition. It happened to also be Super Bowl Sunday weekend.
Aaron gave me a blank stare when I reminded him of one of my own personal high holidays. I had to explain in depth why it was significant to a sports fan and particularly to a football fan.
“But the Steelers aren’t in it, are they?”
“Ouch. Go ahead and add a little salt into the wound, why don’t you?”
“Oops. Sorry, honey. Not to worry. We’ll do all the moving on Saturday and Sunday will be your day of rest. I’ll unpack boxes and you can go watch The Super Football with your friends. Deal?”
“The Super Bowl.”
“That’s what I said.”
“No, you said Super Football.”
“Oops again. Once we have the heavy furniture where it needs to go and boxes where they need to go, I can take over. The hard part is the actual moving.”
“The painting was kind of hard too.” I reminded him. He just rolled his eyes. No sympathy would be coming my way.
Richie and Dean had agreed to lease us their Dupont condo for one year, beginning mid January. Additionally, Aaron got Richie’s okay to paint whatever he wanted. Aaron explained that was because Richie understood Aaron had exceptional taste and was a perfectionist. There would be no sloppy paint job to worry about with Aaron on the job. Oh yeah…and me too.
Painting with Aaron proved to be fucking exhausting. In a way, it was our first test as a couple, especially a couple who was planning on cohabitation. He wanted my opinion, except… not really. He wanted my help, except… he had very exacting rules about painting procedures. The prep work alone was draining. And we hadn’t even picked the colors… plural. Once he had Richie’s permission, Aaron decided white was out and a whole new palate was called for. He pored over colors with names like Charcoal Pinstripe and Revere Pewter. He would ask my opinion and almost immediately disagree. I understood that was part of his own creative process, but it was tiring to say the least. It took us two weekends to finish the job. The next weekend was move in day. Frankly, I was really looking forward to getting away from the new condo for a day. Super Bowl Sunday couldn’t get here soon enough.
We hired movers rather than jeopardize friendships, so the actual day went relatively well. I helped Aaron clean and clear crap from his old place so he could concentrate on our new one while I was busy on Sunday. And with a clear conscience and a hall pass, I showed up with a twelve pack of beer at the apartment I’d just vacated the day before. Curt, Dave and Jason were sprawled on the furniture watching preliminary commentary as they knocked back Bloody Marys. I was met with a round of cat calls and good natured teasing.
“So Matt, tell us about your first night as a married man!” Jason teased.
“Did you get some for all your troubles, man? Wait, don’t tell me. I can’t hear that stuff.” Dave chimed in.
“Speak for yourself! You can tell me all about it, Matt.” Curt, my gay former roomie added. “Half time, though.”
“Yeah yeah. You guys are hilarious.”
We settled down to watch the game and hang out. It was kind of funny to realize I no longer lived there. I examined my thoughts, wondering if I should feel nostalgic or even worried that I’d made a huge mistake. I felt neither. My friends would always be my friends no matter where we lived, but Aaron was my future. I wanted to live with him and build a life together. No question necessary.
At half time, Jason and Dave headed out to the market for more snacks. I stayed back with Curt who was glued to the television anxiously awaiting Madonna’s upcoming live performance. Funny, you wouldn’t know Curt was gay at all until he said shit like, “You’re kidding, right? Madonna is the halftime entertainment. You three figure out who’s going to the store. It damn sure ain’t me.” The rest of us shared a look, but refrained from saying anything. What could I say anyway? It was just another example of how un-stereotypical people could be. Another “don’t judge a book by its cover” moment.
I handed Curt a beer and took a seat at the opposite end of the sofa. He raised the bottle in a toast and gave me an apprising once over.
“So… everything good so far?”
“Well, since it’s technically been less than twenty four hours, I guess I’d answer yes. So far so good.”
“Technically maybe. But the fact is that you’ve basically been living together for, what?… six months?”
I nodded in acknowledgement.
“You really are gay then, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“It’s really kind of unfair. I’ve known I was into guys since I was thirteen and I’ve never been in a relationship for as long as you and Aaron have already been together. It’s been like a year, right?”
“A year almost exactly.” I smiled, and figured that was a good sign.
“Hmm. You don’t seem to have any issues with the gay life, that’s for sure.”
“What is that suppose to mean?”
“Nothing bad.” Curt looked surprised at my sharp tone. “I just meant that you spend a lot of time with Aaron’s friends, who are all either gay men or women who love gay men. Right? It seems funny in a way that you never seemed to know any homos beside myself and now you’re practical surrounded. That’s all. Is it weird?”
I didn’t know how to answer him because part of me wasn’t sure if I was being insulted, but that didn’t make sense. Curt was out and proud. He was simply making an observation. I didn’t think he was trying to send a message that he didn’t approve of the company I was keeping.
“I don’t know how to answer that.” I replied truthfully. “Aaron is all I care about. Don’t get me wrong. I love my friends and my family. I’ll always want to hang out with you guys and watch games and stuff Aaron doesn’t appreciate, but… fuck! I don’t know. I work so much now, and I want to be with him every chance I get. Maybe that’s how it starts. Who knows? I just know I’m happy and I really like the company I keep, gay, straight… whatever. It’s all good, Curt.”
Curt looked surprised at my candor. My words weren’t particularly poetic, but the point was made. Aaron was my number one. It wasn’t like me to share my feelings, but there had always been something about Curt that made it easier for me to confide in him. Hell, just over a year ago I was telling him I was crazily attracted to a man, and that for the first time ever I was willing to do something about that attraction.
“Well, that’s good then.” His grin was lop-sided but sincere. “So, what are you doing for Valentine’s Day?”
“Matt, come on. He’s going to want to do something or get something special for hearts and flowers day! Just cuz you’re with a guy now, doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. I guess you could always just go for candy and flowers… kind of boring, but…”
I tuned him out. Hearts and flowers? Valentine’s Day? Fuck. I hated made up holidays. It was just a vehicle for commercialism I thought. But damn, Curt was right. Aaron would probably like some acknowledgment of my affection. I wasn’t off the hook at all. I sighed deeply and decided to forget about it for the time being. My mother was visiting soon. We needed to get through that bit of fun first. Thankfully Madonna successfully diverted Curt’s attention and the subject was dropped.
My mom was due to arrive in DC in the late afternoon. I had every intention of being home in time to meet her, but I ended up being pulled into a last minute emergency meeting. Aaron told me not to worry. He said he wanted to leave early to get a start on dinner so he’d be there if I was delayed. When I opened the door to our condo later that evening I hoped for the best, but wasn’t sure what to expect. Things were stilted with my folks and I couldn’t help but be nervous about my mom finally meeting Aaron in person.
The open living area looked inviting with bright pillows strewn decoratively on our comfy sofa, the warm glow from candles placed strategically throughout the room and soft jazz music playing in the background. The delicious scent of Aaron’s cooking wafted through the room making everything seem homey and welcoming. I spotted Aaron chatting animatedly behind the island, his hands moving in rhythm with his speech, and I felt my shoulders relax. My mom, who was perched on a barstool across from him, laughed at something he said and I thought… maybe this would be alright after all. I took a deep breath and closed the door announcing my arrival.
“Oh honey! I’m so happy to see you! Aaron’s been keeping me company. I love your new place. Very grown up!” My mom hopped from her seat and gave me her customary “mom” hug. I returned her embrace while looking over her shoulder at my boyfriend to gage his mood. Was everything as good as it seemed? He smiled, but it looked a little guarded.
“How was your flight?”
“Oh fine. I have something for you! I put my bag in your room earlier. I noticed it seems a bit more sparse than normal. Be right back.” She danced around me heading toward the guest room.
I headed over to the chef and snuck a quick kiss before she returned.
Aaron smiled weakly.
“You okay?” I ran my hand down the small of his back while trying to read his expression.
“Fine. But don’t…”
“Here you go. Your grandfather said you forgot this book at Christmas.” My mom reclaimed her spot at the island and took a sip from the wine glass at her elbow. “Where do you want to go to dinner honey? Aaron was kind enough to offer but I don’t want to impose and…” She let her words drift while she took a look around, as if finally letting herself see her environment.
“Uh, mom. Aaron made dinner. So…”
“Oh… I didn’t realize you were cooking for all of us…”
“It’s okay. If you’d rather go out, I don’t mind.” Aaron turned away as he spoke.
I looked back and forth between them. What the fuck? When I first walked in they were laughing. I was thoroughly confused.
“You’re obviously cooking… it smells amazing, by the way…” Aaron lifted his head to give me a small smile. “…so we’ll stay here. What did you make?”
Aaron set a glass of pinot noir in front of me and this time his eyes lit up. “Chili Verde.” My favorite. My grin was instantaneous. When I turned toward my mother to explain why I liked that particular dish, I caught her casting a wary glance between us. Something was definitely up, and I was never good at reading this sort of undercurrent.
“That’s a little spicy, isn’t it?” My mother commented casually. Even I got the barbed quality to her observation. What was she doing?
“No not re….”
“It can be a little spicy. Matt, if your mom wants to go out for dinner, this will keep. I can freeze it. No problem.” Aaron’s voice was painfully bright and cheerful. And completely phony.
“There’s an Italian place I noticed when the taxi first dropped me by that looked nice. Want to try it?” My mom’s voice was overly animated. She looked across at Aaron as if he were an afterthought. “You’re welcome to join us too.”
You know that sick feeling you get when you think you’ve dodged a major hurdle only to find you’re actually under it? I was stuck between my mom, who seemed to have lost … her mind. And my boyfriend, who was hurt and trying to deal with a difficult situation without the benefit of knowing the nice lady with the dagger aimed at his heart.
“Are you ready to go, Matthew? I’ll go grab my purse. It’s so bare in your room, sweetheart… maybe we should go shopping and do a little decorating while I’m here.”
Oh God. She’d basically insulted his cooking and his decorating skills in the fewer than ten minutes since I’d opened the door. I couldn’t believe it. She would have killed me for acting the way she was behaving. It was spiteful and petty and I didn’t know what to do. I was at a complete loss.
“I’m gonna go for a run. I’ll see you two later.” Aaron gave that awful too cheery smile again and made a beeline to our bedroom.
They both looked at me like I’d lost my mind. I probably had. I took a deep breath and sent up a quick prayer I wouldn’t fuck this up.
“What the fuck is going on here?”
I was aware of the soft music and glowing candle light. Everything looked so beautiful but this was so fucked up. Aaron had worked hard to make a good impression for my mom and she didn’t seem to care that she hurt him.
“Mom. Look…” I shoved my hands through my hair in frustration. I didn’t have the words and I needed to gather them quickly. “Aaron obviously made dinner for us and…”
“Yes, but…” My mom gave me a confused “we’ve already been through this” look.
“Matty… I…” Aaron skirted around the island and side stepped my outstretched arm to get to our room.
“Why are you doing this?” I hissed at her. Fuck trying to find the right words. I lost it. “Don’t you see everything he’s done?”
“Matt, you’re being silly. We…”
“No! I’m not! You have no idea how hard he’s worked to make this place a home in less than two weeks. I’ve looked at more paint swatches, towels, pillows and had my opinion asked about what…”
“You’re roommates. Of course he’s going to ask your opin…”
“No!” I shouted angrily, surprising us both. “He’s not my roommate, Mom!” I shoved both hands through my hair in frustration as I paced away from her. “Aaron is my lover, my boyfriend, my best friend… he is my… everything. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to accept, but I asked you to try… for my sake. Mom…” I walked toward the window and stared unseeing at the lights of the city below. I turned to face her, seeing her confusion and maybe her own frustration, but I would have my say first.
“I get this isn’t what you thought I’d have. Truth is I didn’t either, but I’m happy. Really happy. I am so…” Again I hesitated, hoping the right words would come. “so in love with him. Crazy head over heels in love and I never want to lose him. If you can’t accept it then…” I shrugged and turned back to face the night outside.
“Matt?” Her voice was shaky and filled with emotion.
I looked over my shoulder and felt sad for the tears in her eyes. I was sorry in a strange way that I wasn’t who she thought, but I couldn’t be something for her if it meant losing Aaron. I was through placating, through pretending.
“I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry. I don’t have any….” She held her arms out and then dropped them in a gesture of hopelessness.
We both turned when the master bedroom door opened. Aaron came out dressed to run. He’d reached his own personal limit and he was dealing with it the way he did best. He gave us a quick glance and made to move toward the door when I grabbed his arm as he passed.
“Don’t go. Please.” I pleaded, heartbroken to see him so upset.
The three of us stood in an awkward triangle while John Coltrane played soothingly in the background. My mom was the first to speak. She sniffed once and offered a tepid smile.
“I apologize. To both of you. Aaron, I… you’ve taken me for surprise. I hoped I wouldn’t like you, but of course I did. I do. I panicked when Matt got here. I don’t know how to do this. How to be… just okay with everything. Because you’re right, honey. I didn’t expect you to fall in love with a man. Not in a million years. I’ve never been anything but supportive of gay people, gay rights… you took me by surprise.” She closed her eyes briefly and then gave me a piercing look. “I love you Matthew. I love you and I’m sorry. And Aaron, I don’t know you, but I do like you. If Matt loves you, you must be something special. Please accept my apology.”
Aaron sprang forward and gathered my mother in his arms, hugging her breathless. I stood back for a moment and let them be. I knew there would be other challenges ahead and this wouldn’t be our final obstacle, but this was a significant moment and I wanted to relish the sweetness. When he released his hold on her, he threw himself at me. I held him close, sensing he needed my strength and would take what he could while the mood permitted. I leaned over when I heard him whisper something meant only for my ears.
“I love you.”
I crushed his body close, instantly overcome. I buried my face in his neck and whispered the same words back to him.
When I woke up on Valentine’s Day morning and groggily made my way out to the kitchen for my first cup of coffee, I was met with the delicious sight of Aaron wearing boxers and nothing else as he flipped heart shaped pancakes. I smiled in greeting and was ordered to take a seat at the small kitchen table. I pulled out a chair still gazing at the sexy chef when I noticed the entire table was littered with candy hearts. I laughed out loud and picked one up. My grin faded when I noticed the inscription. I picked up another one and it said the same thing. In fact every single one had the same saying …
“I Love You”.
I looked up at Aaron and gave him a slow smile that quickly took over my whole face. He sauntered to the table and set a heart shaped pancake in front of me and then perched his cute ass on my knee.
“Happy first Valentine’s Day.” I opened my mouth to speak but Aaron gently placed his finger over my lips. “Shhh. Let me talk. I’ve known it for a while, and I should have said it sooner. I love you, Matt. I believe you when you say you feel the same way. You show me every day and… well, I heard what you told your mom about me. You’re my everything too. Everything. And I love you.”
Sometimes words fail you. It happens to me all the time. It’s good to know Aaron understands.