Here it is! I wrote this story a few years ago. It was part of a larger book of never ending tales that feature little glimpses into Matt and Aaron’s life. I wrote them because I fell in love with the characters and simply had a hard time saying good-bye. I eventually learned that I didn’t have to leave them. I could expand the series and share already written shorts. Win win! <3
This particular story takes place a year after Better Than Friends ends and a year and a half before Better Than Safe (which will be released Sept 25!) begins. The guys are in a committed, monogamous relationship and are dealing with things we all go through when families try to adjust to change. Disclosure: This has not been professionally edited. Please pardon any typos or punctuation errors. 😉
Enjoy! Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.
Better Than Family… Part 1
Families were difficult. There was no kind way to put it. And the crazy thing was I considered myself a lucky man. We had our share of oddball aunts or wacky cousins, but we were a strong group. My core unit, my parents, brother and sisters, had always had my back. I never questioned their love and unconditional support. We’d been through a lot over the years. Divorce, a new dad and built in brother took some getting used to. But we made adjustments when needed and we made it work, because when push came to shove, Sullivans could count on each other.
Or so I’d thought.
Lately, the cracks in that solid familial foundation were harder to ignore. They made me wonder if I really could count on the people who’d been major influences to me growing up. I didn’t know my place anymore and I had to wonder if it wasn’t them. Maybe it was me. After all, life had changed dramatically for me in the past three years. I’d graduated from law school at Georgetown and had a fantastic job at a prestigious law firm. However, the most important change and the crux of my family’s issues was that I’d met the person I planned to spend the rest of my life with. You’d think they’d be ecstatic, right? Hell, Aar and I even bought a condo together! It was the perfect starter home for a young professional couple. These were all things my folks claimed they wanted for me. With one major exception. My significant other was a man. Aaron.
My family never guessed I was bisexual. It wasn’t something I’d talked about and it never would have come up if I hadn’t met Aaron. But once I did, life as I knew it changed. Aaron Mendez was the most incredible person I’d ever met. He was funny, smart, self-confident and very fucking beautiful. The fact he was a guy was a hurdle for me initially too, but once we were together, I knew I wouldn’t be happy without him.
I didn’t expect everyone to understand. But I’d hoped my family would get there. Eventually. Every time I thought they were close to accepting that I was in a great relationship with a man, I ended up being disappointed. They weren’t overtly unkind to Aaron but they were cool. And Sullivans weren’t cold people. Granted, they were nothing like Aaron’s family. The Mendez clan were Puerto Rican. They were warm, welcoming and endlessly generous. Sometimes, they were a little over the top. But in light of my own family less friendly attitude, they were a godsend.
Actually, I was being unfair. My younger twin sisters loved Aaron. My brother, Sean hated him. Dad didn’t seem to have an opinion. And Mom was just… disappointed. She said she was trying and it was important that I give them time to adjust. It had been close to three fucking years, so I wasn’t sure how much more time was required. It was exhausting. The only person who hadn’t met Aaron yet was my older sister Shelly. And that was about to change today.
We’d spent Labor Day weekend in Provincetown with our friends, Jay and Peter and Curt and Jack. It had been a relaxing long weekend with good friends, good food and wine and no particular agenda. We rode bicycles, body surfed and sat under the stars singing campfire songs and telling ghost stories like a bunch of kids before falling into bed. I wasn’t looking forward to getting back to the grind on Tuesday morning, but I was excited to see my sister before we caught our flight home to DC.
Aaron couldn’t wait to meet her. He asked dozens of questions about Shelly as we stood on the ferry deck enjoying the mild September morning on our way from P Town to Boston.
“She’s not like Sean, is she? God, a female version of him might be hard to take.”
I chuckled at the thought. Aar met Sean when he came to DC for what he called an “intervention” after my mom told my brother I was dating a man. Needless to say, it wasn’t a good memory.
“No. Shel is just Shel. She’s easy going and nice. You’ll like her.”
“She’s nice? That’s all you have? Matty, we have got to work on expanding your adjective repertoire.”
I rolled my eyes and let him chatter on. As his hands flew in time with his rapid speech, I realized he was nervous. For some reason, I found that impossibly sweet. This would be okay. If not… I might just need to give up.
We agreed to meet at a bistro on Newbury Street for lunch. Aaron talked nonstop all the way there. I gave the hostess my name then turned to get a good look at my man. He was dressed in a crisp white button down shirt and colorful pair of plaid shorts. Knowing him they were expensive. I brushed my hand through his dark hair and slid his aviator sunglasses down his nose to get a good look at him.
“What are you doing?” he scowled as he pulled his glasses off and looked around the restaurant like a kid on a serious sugar high.
“Babe, relax. She great.”
“That’s what you said about Sean.”
“I know, but Shelly doesn’t have the same hang ups. Besides, she knows about us. There’s no surprises and—”
I turned toward the sound of a familiar voice and grinned when I spotted my sister weaving her way through the slow moving pedestrians on the sidewalk in front of the bistro. Shelly was tall with long light brown hair. She’d gone the bohemian route since she’d come to Boston to work at MIT. Her long flowing skirt and basic white T-shirt spoke to her desire for comfort rather than style. She spent more time working with students than she did worrying about fashion, but she still managed to look put together. Growing up, she was the kid who insisted on wearing a fancy dress she promised not to get dirty, but she was the first one to chuck off her party shoes and wade into the water when we went looking for frogs. Shel was the perfect mix of tomboy and girly girl.
As she neared the outdoor podium, I felt a strong wave of affection for my sister. Shelly was pretty, super smart and very fucking cool. I squeezed Aaron’s shoulder before greeting her with a giant hug. She giggled then gasped dramatically for breath as she pushed me away with a smile.
“Hi there, stranger. It’s been a while. Christmas?”
“Yeah, I think so. I—” I stopped at the sound of someone clearing his throat loudly beside me. Without looking at him, I slung my arm over Aaron’s shoulder and pulled him against me. “Hey, I have someone I want you to meet. Aaron, this is my sister, Shelly and Shel… this is my boyfriend.”
Aaron smiled shyly and offered her his hand. She looked at his hand then shot a look between us before launching herself at him. She was easily two inches taller than Aaron’s five foot eight so there was something kind of funny about the exchange. But it was sincere and that was what counted. Aaron returned her fierce hug and when he turned to me just as the hostess announced she was ready to seat us, I could have sworn his eyes were wet with unshed tears. I laced my fingers through his and squeezed his hand in a show of silent support. The one thing I’d learned over the past couple of years since I’d come out was not to take anything for granted. Love, support, recognition, equality… they were qualities often promised but rarely delivered without a price. I’d learned the hard way not to expect acceptance or empathy. When they were received without asking, I was grateful.
Conversation was a little stilted in the way it can be when two people are meeting each other for the first time. I played the part of moderator as they fielded “get to know you” questions at each other. “How do you like Boston?” morphed into a discussion about Shelly’s work at the university and her Back Bay townhouse.
“I love it here. The rent is high and the winters are harsh, but this is where I want to be. I’m happy. Tell me about your place. From the pictures Matt’s shown me it looks amazing!” Shelly gushed. She sipped her iced tea then sat back in her chair, indicating it was Aaron’s turn to share.
“Thanks. We love it!” He gave her a detailed description of our condo’s amenities before adding, “You should visit some time. We have a second bedroom and plenty of room. It would be nice to have a friendly Sullivan around.”
“I’m a friendly Sullivan,” I said, giving him a playful nudge just as our salads were delivered.
“You are, darling.” He opened his mouth then closed it again as though he’d decided silence might be a better option than telling my sister what he thought of the rest of our family.
“Aaron, I— I’m sorry.” Shelly set her napkin in her lap then twirled her straw in her glass until the server stepped away.
“Sean. Our parents. I know they haven’t made things easy for you guys, but it’s not because they’re bad people. They’re just… confused.”
Aaron stared at her for a moment then shrugged and picked up his fork. I started to do the same, but something stopped me. It wasn’t fair to blast Shelly with my frustrations but it was hard to ignore studied indifference when I saw how much it crushed Aaron. He’d done nothing to deserve it. And the idea of a lifetime spent with low expectation of the people who used to support me unconditionally didn’t sit well with me.
“The best way to erase this perpetual confusion is to get educated. I’m tired of this shit. It’s not fair and frankly… I’m done making excuses for bad behavior. Aaron doesn’t deserve—”
“Hey! I’m on your side, Matt. I’m on both your sides. I’m not trying to make excuses. I’m— I don’t know what I am. I just want you to be happy. And you seem really… fucking happy. That’s a good thing,” she said, raising her iced tea in a toast. “To happiness.”
We clinked our glasses and quietly agreed to set aside sticky family discussions. The weather was gorgeous and the company was pleasant. There was nothing to be gained by talking about what we couldn’t change. Conversation turned to Aaron’s job as at a prominent DC fashion magazine. When it moved on to a reality show about cupcakes, I tuned them out. It gave me a chance to sit back and observe. I could tell Aaron was comfortable with Shelly. His hands moved as he spoke and leaned across the table, making eye contact with her in a way that surely told her she had his complete attention. Aaron was a social genius. He could talk to anyone about almost anything, but as we knew, family was different. It was great to see they’d moved past the initial weirdness and seemed to enjoy each other’s company.
“Earth to Matt. Hello? We promise to stop talking about Project Runway,” Shelly teased.
“Oh, do we have to?” Aaron whined, nudging my elbow.
“Sorry, my mind wandered. We should head to the airport, babe.” I checked the time on my phone, catching my sister’s eye as she mouthed “babe” with a wink at me. I rolled my eye and fumbled for my wallet.
“Listen, Matt, before you go… Mom called me this morning. Maybe I should have mentioned his first, but I didn’t want to put a damper on things and I told her not to bug you ’cause you guys were on vacation but—”
“What is it?” My heartbeat had already begun a rapid tattoo as Shelly’s face clouded with worry.
“It’s Grandpa. He fell last night. They took him back to the hospital for observation. He hit his head pretty hard. She said they’re running some tests and—”
“Jesus Shel! You should have called me or told me right away.” I knew I was being unreasonable and attacking the messenger, but geez… I felt blindsided. Aaron set a hand on my knee under the table to calm me.
“I’m sorry. I just didn’t… it’s not fair to Aaron. I mean this is family stuff and …” Her voice caught, she was obviously distressed.
“Aaron is my family, Shel. You can say anything in front of him.”
I didn’t know where that came from. Though once the words were said, I had no regrets. It was the truth. Shelly and Aaron both wore almost matching comical wide-eyed expressions. Shelly’s probably stemmed from the fact I’d never referred to anyone I’d been involved with in anything but the most casual of terms. Aaron’s surprise was probably due to me declaring my feelings in front of my sister. He knew I loved him. I told him all the time. What I’d never done before was refer to him as my family.
Shelly recovered first. “Um, okay. I’m sorry. That really is all I know. Call Mom when you get home. I know you saw Grandpa a few months ago and probably talked to him recently too, but maybe you should…”
She let the words go unsaid, but I heard them loud and clear. Call him while you still have the chance.
Talk about the proverbial dose of reality. I had gone to Pittsburgh for a weekend visit back in May to see my family and attend a Pirates game with Sean, Dad and Grandpa. I’d asked Aaron to join us, but he politely said he had socks to sort, but the truth was neither of us wanted to deal with a potential scene. It had been a short but sweet visit. The game was a blast and everyone was on their best behavior. Sean razzed me at one point about becoming an Oriole fan, which was of course a dig at Aaron’s hometown. My dad gave him a stern look, but my grandfather surprised the hell out of me, by pulling me aside.
“You know, Matthew, love comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. When it comes your way, seize it. No question. It may not be the shape, size or color you expected, but I guaran-damn-tee you won’t be sorry.” He shook his forefinger at me repeatedly, then winked and doddered away leaving me staring after him with my mouth open. He was giving me his blessing.
Aaron successfully diverted our mood back to a happier one in that easy way of his. I ran my hand over the top of his thigh in a silent gesture of thanks. My grandfather’s condition concerned me, but there was nothing to be gained sitting at a café in Boston grilling my sister for details she did not have. I would call our folks when I got home.