Gordon enters the kitchen quietly, hoping to sneak up on Alek and instigate a tabletop romp, but Alek’s damnable hearing, acute as a dog’s, detects Gordon before he can wrap his arms around him in a hug.
“Gordon?” The surprise is only a small part of the anxiety Alex feels upon seeing his husband. “You’re home early.”
“You’d think that was a bad thing,” Gordon says. Not daunted, he reaches for his lover’s waist and pulls him in for a deep kiss.
“Umm, that was nice,” Alek is always thrilled when his husband reaches for him longingly, “but now is not the time.” Alex gestures to the elaborate mess of a gourmet meal in the making on the countertop behind them. “I’m preparing for supper.”
“Forget it, we’ll do take out.” Leaning in for another kiss, Alex pushes him away.
“No, no, no, not tonight,” then reconsidering, “after, maybe.” Pushing Gordon away gently, “But not now. Dean is bringing his boyfriend home.” Smiling, he adds, “We finally get to meet this mysterious young man.”
Gordon steps back, “Humph, so he really does have a boyfriend, then.”
“Yes, he does. And his name is William. William S. Middleton, the high school B-ball player everyone is talking about, but Dean says he just wants to be called Will.” Gesturing now with Jazz hands, “The Pride of Pride High.” Giggling in delight, “I can’t believe our little Dean is dating the most popular boy in high school. It’s just like when I chased captured you.”
“Caught,” Gordon corrects him, “we say caught.”
“Who cares. Dean caught a boyfriend. A FABULOUS boyfriend!” Overjoyed, he ejaculates, “I LOVE it!”
“Okay, calm down!” The only time Gordon like Alek in such an ecstatic state is when he is cooing over him. Hearing him go on and on about Dean in like manner is annoying. “It’s not the same thing. The Middletons are far from a wealthy family. The only thing that boy’s got going for him is talent on the B-ball court.”
“Oh, yes! They say he’s going to get the sports scholarship to Antiny U.” Alek’s accent always comes back in full force when he is excited or angry.
“It’s Antinous Uni, Alek. Speak properly, it’s not like you’re only learning the language for the first time.”
“Why are you so cruel? I’m happy. You should be happy. Dean has a boyfriend, something you said would never happen.” Tapping Gordon on the chest with his index finger, he adds, “You say he is straight, but he is gay. He is gay, he has a boyfriend. That proves it. Be happy for your son.”
Stepping back, feigning innocence and jocularity, Gordon acquiesces, “You’re right. I’m happy.”
Alek is not fooled. “Humph.”
“I’m happy.” Returning to his former amorous mood, “How about you put down that knife,” reaching forward, he grabs the utensil from Alex’s hand and, as he leans in for a kiss, says, “and we celebrate this good news.”
Alek reciprocates, but not enough to satiate Gordon’s desire for sex. Still, he appreciates the attention, “Oh, you are a sick man. You want to sex to celebrate your son’s new boyfriend. No. Not now. Maybe tonight, I say, but now, now I am preparing Dean’s boyfriend’s favourite dishes.”
Accepting defeat, Gordon sits down at the table musing regretfully over the maple tabletop he had hoped earlier to have sex on. “So, what does a strapping six-foot-six-star B-ball player like to eat?”
“How exactly are hamburgers gourmet?”
“My hamburgers are always gourmet. Mama got me Saskatoon berries to mix into the meat.”
“It’s May, my love. Saskatoons aren’t in season yet.”
“She gave me a jar of her preserves.”
“Only that woman would preserve Saskatoons.”
Alek ignores the insult against Destiny, he has acclimatized himself to Gordon’s caustic comments when it comes to his mother. Adeptly changing the topic, he shares his special recipe; only Gordon and Destiny are entitled to know the full ingredients and their amounts minus one in Alex’s homemade creations with, of course, Gordon ignorant of Destiny’s acceptance into Alex’s confidence. “I add some peppercorn, an egg, dry oatmeal, finely chopped onions and mushrooms, Grey Poupon, a dash of salt, and a little hint of something special.” Gordon knows these burgers. They are plump and juicy, a pure culinary delight. “With it, I will serve air-fried yam fries. I am a little nervous. This is my first-time air frying. Mama promises to help me, though.”
“Wait! Hold it right there. Mother can help you all she wants, but she is not joining us for dinner!”
Rolling his eyes, Alex has to endure this fight every time he invites Mama up for a family event. “She is having dinner with us, and you are going to behave. Dean wants his boyfriend to meet you and his grandmother! You may hate her, but the rest of Hadrian adores her. Do you think the boy isn’t looking forward to meeting her? She is a Founding Parent. Daughter to the Founding Parent! Everyone in Hadrian wants to meet her.” Seeing the usual moody, sulky look darkening Gordon’s eyes, “Everybody in Hadrian wants to meet you, too, Founding Family Member! Sheesh! What are you so jealous about?”
“I am not jealous of that woman! I put up with her. I let her live her because she helps you and that’s all! I can’t believe I put money in her pocket.”
“She works for every penny.”
“So, you say.”
“Enough! She is coming to dinner! Dean wants her here. Dean’s boyfriend wants her here. Enrico wants her. And I want her here. You will keep quiet and be a good boy. You hear me.”
Gordon sighs. Talking as he turns, “I’ll be upstairs, call me when supper is being served.” Turning back, he adds, “And not one second before!”
When Will Middleton arrives everyone is jovial, Alek is so thrilled to meet Dean’s boyfriend he practically bubbles all over the young man, “Oh, young Mr. Middleton—”
Alex continues to gush, “oh, my handsome young boy. So handsome. So beautiful.” Turning now to extend his joy Dean’s way, “Oh, Dean, you catch yourself a real beauty. Antinous himself would be jealous.”
Will smiles, he is used to people cooing over him. One doesn’t get to be Hadrian’s top b-ball star without learning to adjust to all the extra attention, especially from other men and the few women who actually have the nerve to say, “If I were straight, I’d risk my citizenship for the likes of you.” And with a few, he actually did risk their citizenship, and his. Extending his hand to Dean’s Papa, he replies cordially, “Thank you, Mr. Rivas.”
Taking Will’s hand into his own, Alek avoids the traditional handshake. Instead, he lifts Will’s hand to his mouth and kisses it. “My beautiful, young man,” Alek insists, “you must not call me Mr. Rivas. Too formal.” He takes Will’s arm in his and leads him from the front door into the living area. “No, no, no.” Each ‘no’ coupled with a gentle pat on will’s arm. “You must call me Papa Alek. All Dean and Enrico’s friends call me Papa Alek.”
Will, pleased with the reception, agrees. “As you say, sir—I mean, Papa Alek.” Will takes a moment to admire the room; he cannot believe his eyes. There is so much glass. Very few people can afford glass windows, even in Hadrian, where the average family income is over 60,000 credits. But one whole wall of the Stuttgart living room consists of ceiling-high windows, glass shelving extending almost as high and as wide across with more plants than Will has ever seen, even in his own backyard. Involuntarily his eyes widen.
Enrico smiles in pride, “My father loves his indoor garden.”
“Yeah,” Dean agrees, “No one knows plants like Papa Alek.” Dean reaches his hand out to hold Will’s.
Will, knowing the image they are to project, takes Dean’s hand and wraps it around his waist. Under the guise of leaning in for a kiss, he whispers, “We’re more than just friends, remember.” Will then moves in for a second kiss, this time on the lips.
Enrico leans into his father and says, “Every boy at Pride,” laughing, he adds, “at all the other high schools, too, I bet, want to date Will Middleton, but he’s Dean’s no one else has a chance!”
This is delightful intelligence to Alek, who looks knowingly at Gordon. “And you,” he says to Enrico, “you little minx, you’ve known about them all along.”
Enrico laughs, “they started dating in grade ten.”
With feigned scolding, Alek turns to Dean, “Three years. You have been dating for three years?
Will laughs and answers for Dean, “Yes, sir.” Looking at Dean, feigning a nostalgic, whimsical eye, “We met in the cafeteria in the first week of October. Remember, Dean?”
Dean blushes, “yeah. On my birthday. You wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
Alex slaps Will on the shoulder, “Good for you.”
Gordon eyes Dean sternly, “since grade ten. Interesting. And the only one you told was Enrico. Did you think we wouldn’t want to know?”
Will, sensing the need to rescue Dean, answer, “I asked him not to.”
Gordon’s stern eye moves over to Will, who, if he hadn’t had a powerful sense of self-worth, built from the fame of the past few years, would have cringed beneath the glare. “Did you think we wouldn’t approve of you?”
“The Middletons hardly travel in the same circle with the Stuttgart’s, sir.”
“True enough,” Gordon replies, but before he can pursue this line of talk, Will turns his back on the man to admire more of the room. Alek motions a warning to his husband to let the subject drop.
The sight before him is so stunning and unexpected, Will can’t help but blurt out his astonishment, “I thought real books were illegal.” To his right, the wall, like the previous glass one, is floor to ceiling, but in this case, lined with bookshelves, every shelf filled with real books.
Alex giggles. Enrico beams. Dean blushes. Gordon replies. “Indeed, they are, but these books date before that particular law was put in place. Many, in fact, belonged to my Grandparent, Gaylord-Lynne Stuttgart.” Just the mention of the revered name creates the necessary hush Gordon had anticipated.
Will, turning now to Dean, remembers himself. “That’s right. You’re descended from Hadrian’s first citizen.” His smile is genuine and filled with all the necessary awe, and respect Gordon likes to see in others concerning his lineage.
Alek simply cannot keep from gushing, “Look at that boy’s smile, Gordon. Look how handsome.” Taking a moment to judge the young man’s physique, he adds, “and that well-formed body.”
Riding on the high created by the mention of Gaylord-Lynne Stuttgart, Will plays along with Papa Alex. Knowing tonight’s dinner is all about convincing Dean’s father Dean is gay Will eggs Dean’s Papa by twirling for him as if he was on the catwalk; his attire ideally suited. Wearing tight-fitting jeans and a t-shirt designed to accent his muscles, now matching the look with a coquettish smile, Will says, “I’m glad you approve. It’s not easy keeping a body trim and fit.”
“Oh, but you do so good at it.”
“Thank you, Papa Alek.” With a wink and two fingers climbing up Alex’s chest, Will adds, “If you weren’t my boyfriend’s Papa—”
Dean is shocked by this display of flirtation. Will may very well be the best at convincing everyone around him he is gay, but to openly flirt with his Papa and in front of him and his dad! “Will!”
Will responds appropriately to Dean’s outrage, “Sorry, babe.” He leans in and kisses him.
“You owe my father an apology, too,” Dean insists. Then, turning to Papa Alek adds, “You, too.”
“You worry too much, son,” Gordon says. “I married an intolerable flirt. I knew that from day one.” Smiling now at Alek, a smile only Alek can interpret as angry, “That’s how you won me, isn’t? By being an intolerable flirt.”
Alek ignores his husband’s sarcasm, acting as if Gordon is perfectly fine with the way he and Will are teasing one another. “Of course,” he says tickling Gordon under the chin, “We’d never be married if I hadn’t been an ‘intolerable flirt.'”
Will’s laughter cuts through the tension, and Alex uses this opportunity to corral everyone into the dining room. “I wanted tonight’s dinner to be special, so we are eating in the dining room. And, since this the first time Dean has brought a boy home, I have—” Gordon looks at the long mahogany dining table and laughs. Not because Aleksander has taken out his great-grandmother’s Royal Albert Silver Birch China and her silverware for the occasion, nor because the napkins have been folded to look like white and black swans, Gordon laughs because Alek went so far as to make name setting. “What?” Alek inquires. “You don’t like my table setting?”
Gordon stifles his laugh long enough to say, “It’s beautiful, darling. I just never expected to have my seat chosen for me.” Seeing a look of warning in Alek’s eyes, Gordon condescends, “But, as you say, this is your dinner, and I promise to behave. Where have you placed me?”
Alek, pleased, informs Gordon that he has the head of the table. On his right will be Alek and Enrico; on his left, Dean and Will. “Mimi,” he says, “will sit directly across from you.” Gordon smiles. Alek frowns. “What?” He asks.
“I spoke to Mother before coming down. She sends her apologies. She is not feeling well.”
Dean looks crestfallen, as does Will. He has been waiting over two years for Dean to keep his promise of introducing him to their Founding Mother, and now that opportunity has been swept away. Dean promised to bring him home for a family dinner the first time Will asked him out. But it didn’t take long for Will to realize that Dean and his father did not get along. Considering how much the two clashed, Will expressed no regret when Dean cancelled invite after invite. In fact, Will was half expecting this latest invite to fall through, too, and when it didn’t, he really got his hopes up that he would meet her. Everything Dean ever said about his grandmother, his Mimi, convinced Will she was a progressively minded lady. Over the years he’s been dating Dean, he has watched every archived episode of It’s Our Destiny and is convinced by these that she would never disown a family member who isn’t gay. Not getting a chance to meet her after waiting so long, to not be able to talk to her, even if briefly, about the political state of Hadrian, was a crushing blow, disappointment marring his handsome features.
Alek was instantly touched, “Oh, no, no, no, no. She promised me she would come. You, you sit down, boys. I’m sure Gordon is mistaken. You go back and ask her again, love. I don’t want to disappoint our guest.”
“Do you want to give our guest whatever it is my mother has?”
“Don’t be silly,” Alek says while gesturing towards the hall leading to Destiny’s suite, “I’m sure it was just a simple, little tummy ache. No doubt it is gone already. Go get her.”
“I’ll get her,” Dean volunteers, not waiting for anyone to try to stop him. He knows Mimi isn’t sick. The fact that his father despises Mimi has been painfully apparent to the boy since he was still a “toddling brat” who clung to his grandmother’s skirts to avoid punishment.
Arriving at the door to her suite, Dean calls out. “Mimi.” Impatient to wait for an answer, he calls out again. “Mimi, please. Please come out. Please come to dinner. I really want you to meet Will, and he really wants to meet you.”
“He’ll get over it,” Mimi’s voice is resigned. Gordon made it perfectly clear he wasn’t in any mood to pretend; not even their usual polite indifference was going to work, so she had best stay in her room and pretend to be sick. “If you really want Dean to have a good first dinner with his boyfriend and family, you’d best stay out of it because nothing good will come out of you and I sitting at the same table together. Besides,” he said, “it’s not like we really need you around here anymore.” Mimi sighed. Gordon never did know how to give subtle hints. She knew her days living with her grandsons were numbered. If missing a family dinner would help keep her around for a little while longer, maybe at least until Dean graduates, she could hide away like the family pariah she knows she is in her son’s eyes.
“Mimi, please.” Dean can’t believe his ears. “I promised Will he could meet you.”
“I’m sure he’ll get over the disappointment.”
“No, he won’t! You’re our founding mother. Will’ll be hurt, and it’ll be all my fault. I promised him, and now I can’t keep my promise.”
This hits Destiny hard. She has always impressed upon the boy about the importance of keeping one’s word. Reluctantly she opens the door. “Dean, you know your father, and I don’t get along.”
“I know. I also know that’s why you’re pretending to be sick when you’re not.”
“Does this boy really mean a lot to you?” Her eyes reveal to Dean, she knows.
“Yes, he does. He’s not just a boyfriend, Mimi, he’s my best friend.”
Looking into Dean’s eyes, Mimi uncovers the truth. “He’s like you, isn’t he?”
Dean isn’t ready to come out to Mimi, even though he knows she will accept him completely. Dean isn’t ready to come out to anybody but Will, who is playing the same hiding game as him. “He’s my boyfriend. He’s my best friend.”
“Well, then, Mimi says, “I will come to dinner, for the sake of your best friend.”
Dean throws his arms around Destiny, nearly knocking her over with the exuberance of his gratitude. “Thank you, Mimi.”
Dinner is all politeness and is felt stingingly by everyone present. Alek and Will, the evening’s honoured guest (“William S. Middleton,” Dean using Will’s full name to introduce him to Mimi), did all in their power to project a stunning atmosphere, both acting for Dean’s sake. Gordon did nothing to ease the tension; the constancy of his hard stare at Dean is enough to determine discomfort for all. Destiny, having given up the ghost of benign indifference, has taken to extending her glare in his direction. Gordon hardly notices, having demoted his mother to peripheral vision the moment she entered the room. Dean, of course, would insist she attend dinner, to meet his so-called boyfriend.
There is no way, Gordon is convinced, this young man, Sir William S. Middleton, he muses, b-ball star of Pride High, chosen for the sports scholarship at Antinous Uni, loved and revered by all, is his son’s boyfriend. The young man’s mother is poor, unable to put her son through Uni; only his b-ball skills garner him such high respect. No doubt, Gordon believes, Dean has offered the young man a generous sum of money to be his boyfriend for the day, just long enough to come home to meet the dads. And why not? Not only would it be decent pay, enough even to buy a new pair of running shoes, remembering now the size of the boy’s feet, but the young man is also tall, huge – custom made running shoes are costly; that coupled with the opportunity to meet a Founding family – the Founding family. He’d have been a fool not to take up the offer. No, Gordon reminds himself, my son is straight. I know it, he knows it, and I’m sick to death with all this pretending. So, just as Will is to take another bite into his second of Alexzander’s gourmet burgers, he asks, “Top or bottom?” Will freezes, the burger hanging mid-air between his fists, which clench squeezing many of its toppings out, dripping them onto his plate. “Go on, then, speak lad,” he says as if this is a perfectly normal everyday conversation one would have with their son’s boyfriend. “It’s an easy enough question.”
“Hardly appropriate, Gordon.” It is Destiny, the first to recover from the shock, who responds. Alek is too stunned to say anything. Dean hides his face in his hands.
“Shut up, mother.” Will drops his burger. Alek closes his eyes and sighs. Dean sinks even lower in his chair. Enrico, used to the other family half’s stupid politics, ignores everything, continues to enjoy his burger and yam fries. Gordon persists. “Top or bottom?”
Having recovered his composure, Alek asks, “What does it matter?”
“Really?” Alek cries. “I’m bottom. Is that bad?”
“No,” Gordon suddenly realizes his mistake, not in his taunt of his son, but rather, how it has backfired by reflecting on his husband, “that’s not what I mean.”
“Then what do you mean?”
“I just want to know if my son is really—”
“Really, what? If he’s bottom, he’s not gay?”
“No, of course not.”
“I should hope not! Because that makes no sense. That would mean I’m not gay. Am I not gay, my love?”
Enrico decides to deflect the impending argument between his fathers by chiming in to support his brother. “Maybe they’re both. Jerry and I are both.”
Enrico’s admission to an active sex life only irks Alek further. “I don’t think sex is appropriate to talk with children.”
“Seriously, dad,” Enrico is enjoying playing his father, “Dean and I are hardly children. We graduate in June. I’m off to the army for my two-year tour, and these boys are off to Uni on their high flying scholarships.”
“We don’t know if Dean will win the academic scholarship, yet.” Gordon finds it very difficult to acknowledge any of Dean’s accomplishments.
“Oh, he’ll get it,” Will replies, grateful to have something other than sexual positions to discuss with Dean’s father. “He’s got the highest average at Pride.”
“That doesn’t mean he has the highest average at all the high schools.”
“Surely, the Stuttgart name stands for something?” Will teases.
Gordon remains dry. “We don’t go in for favouritism,” turning his acerbic gaze on his mother for the first time, “do we mother?” Gordon was offered the Antinous Uni academic scholarship upon his graduation. Still, Destiny knowing Gordon’s 93% could not possibly be the highest high school average, insisted on a review of all candidate results. The scholarship went to a young woman from Virginia Wolf high school with an average of 98%. Destiny, feeling the sting of Gordon’s rebuke, refuses to respond.
“I doubt anyone else has a 98.5, rounding him up to 99,” smirking at Mr. Stuttgart, Will asks, “Do you?”
Gordon’s eyes never leave his mother’s. “You. Never. Know.”
“Well,” Will smiles at Dean, cupping his hand under Dean’s chin, he raises his head, helping him to hold it high. “I believe in my man.” Confident now Dean will not shy away under his father’s glare, Will looks back at Dean’s father, “I know he will win! And,” turning now to smile upon Mother Stuttgart, “and win it fairly.”
“I’m sure he will.” Destiny smiles in return.
Wiping his hands on his napkin, Will looks to Mr. Rivas. “Thank you, sir, for this wonderful dinner. Turning now to Destiny, “and Mother Stuttgart, it was a real honour to meet you. What you have done for our country, the stand you take on equality for everyone, it’s inspiring.”
“Thank you, son.”
Turning now to Gordon Stuttgart, “Sir.” He stands, extending his hand across the table. “It is nice to finally meet you. After three years of dating, I swore Dean was never going to keep his promise to introduce me.”
“Three years is an intolerably long time to wait to meet the family,” Gordon says as he stands to shakes Will’s hand. “I’m surprised you put up with it for so long.”
Will knows Mr. Stuttgart has not forgotten his admission earlier, he knows now the man simply refuses to believe it. Will also knows the real reason Dean has waited for so long. With Mimi’s support, Dean was hanging onto the hope, he truly believed he could one day come out to his father. Will had finally convinced him his dream was futile, leading to this dinner invitation. Taking a moment to study Dean’s father’s, he comes to conclude the man is nothing if not impenetrable. At least Papa Alek shows signs of pleasure, mixed with displeasure. No doubt, he would have liked to have learned of their sham relationship sooner. Turning now to tease his Dean, and to remind his father of his earlier testimonial, “Ashamed of me, I dare say.”
“No, no,” Dean expostulates.
“I know, sweetie,” Will smiles, leans down and kisses Dean full on the lips. “I’m just teasing. Walk me to the door?” Dean nods, stands and exits the dining room with his boyfriend. As they stand just outside at the door, Will notices Mr. Stuttgart leaning back in his chair to better observe them. “Humph,” he whispers, “he’s watching us.”
“He knows I’m straight,” Dean whispers back.
“No, Dean, he thinks your straight. Knowing and thinking are not the same thing.”
“I don’t know. It just feels like—”
Will stops him with another kiss. Laughing now, he pulls Dean in closer. “Since he is so intent on watching us, let give the old bastard a show.” Their kissing becoming heated makes Dean very uncomfortable, but he avoids showing any discomfort as his father is watching. Will laughs mid-kiss. “That old man of yours is right something.” He turns to look back at Dean’s father. He waves. Kissing Dean one last time, he pulls him in for a hug. “We graduate soon. Next year we’re at Uni. Who gives a fuck what he thinks after that? Determined to irk Dean’s father, he elects to kiss his ‘boyfriend’ one last time. When he finally lets Dean go, he chirps for all to hear, “See you Monday, at school.”
But he doesn’t see Dean on Monday. In fact, he doesn’t see Dean again for another four months, and that was only due to the efforts of a man named Geoffrey Hunter.
The Family Dinner – Full Chapter – Revised Version