A/N: Part five of the 'holiday series'; will probably make a little more sense if you read those first. Happy St. Patrick's day!
"Cole, hey, calm down," Gavin said after his boyfriend nearly stalled the car out for a third time.
"I'm calm," Cole said, tightening his grip on the gear stick. "Why wouldn't I be calm?"
They were driving out of the city on a long rural road that occasionally met with intersections of other long rural roads, and every time Cole stopped the car at a sign and started again, he was grinding the gears and sending them into jarring lurches forward. Even though the Celica was now officially his car, and had been for a while, he could still barely drive it when he was nervous. But it was the only car they had between them still, and Gavin still wasn't very good at driving stick and avoided it if he could.
"You're nowhere near calm," Gavin said, as evenly as he could. No reason to get Cole worked up even more, especially when he was at the wheel. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Kind of. No," Cole said. "Fuck."
"It's not really going to be that bad—"
"I've never met anybody's parents before. You're my first actual boyfriend ever. I'm twenty-fucking-four years old!" He sucked in a hard breath, hands tightening on the steering wheel. "I don't—even—think I can do—"
"Pull over," Gavin said.
"The side of the road!"
Cole wrenched the wheel over and the car bumped off the edge of the road and into the dirt shoulder at the side, into the shade of the trees. He killed the engine and sat back hard in his seat, hands braced on the wheel. Silence ticked around them for a few long moments, the sound of the car settling and both of them breathing. Cole didn't look at Gavin at all, but after another couple seconds he spoke, quietly.
"What if they—I mean, shit, what if they just don't even like me? What if I can't—what if I'm just not good enough?" Cole clamped his mouth down into a thin white line and stared at his hands.
"Turn around," Gavin said, and Cole made a begrudging sound and turned to him. Gavin shook his head. "The other way."
Cole gave him and odd look, he he did turn as much as the seatbelt allowed, facing the window. Gavin rested his hands on his boyfriend's shoulders, and pressed his thumbs into the muscles of his back. Cole tensed, arched and inhaled, then slumped down in his seat. Gavin kept rubbing his fingers deep into Cole's muscles.
"You're going to do fine," he said. "I mean it. My parents are nice people."
"No, yeah, I'm sure they are, just—fuck. I'm nervous, okay?"
"Yeah, I see that," Gavin said. He leaned forward and pressed a kiss to the side of Cole's neck. "It's okay, it's okay to be. Just don't take that into freaking out, all right?"
"Yeah, trying," Cole said, and leaned into Gavin's touch. "Just keep doing that and I'll be cool."
"You're sure you want to have a hickey when you meet my parents?"
"Never mind, definitely stop doing that," Cole said, and Gavin laughed and sat back, reaching for the seatbelt buckle.
"Okay. Now get out and switch seats with me."
Cole turned around. "What?"
"I'm driving. I'm not going to let you kill us both because you're afraid of my parents." He gave Cole a gentle shove in the shoulders. "Go on."
"I'm not afraid of your parents," Cole muttered, but he slung his own seatbelt off and climbed out of the car. Gavin got out on his side and they met around at the front of the car, where Gavin pulled Cole close for a second and kissed him firmly.
"They'll like you," he said. "I promise."
"You can't promise that, you have no idea if they'll—"
"Oh, just shut up, okay?" Gavin said, and kissed him again, stepping close and sliding his arms around Cole's waist. Cole stayed tense and uneasy against him, his return kiss halfhearted. Gavin wasn't sure if it was all from nerves or from where they were—even if they were completely alone on the side of a tree-lined country road and hadn't seen another car for at least ten minutes.
Cole's sandy-blond hair ruffled in the brisk breeze and Gavin smoothed it down, gave him one last kiss and then went around to the driver's side. As he got in the car he watched Cole squeeze his eyes shut, rake his hair back into a ruffled mess, and then finally come around and drop into the passenger's seat.
"It's going to be fine," Gavin said, and Cole just pulled the door shut and leaned back without a word.
Gavin's parents' house was far enough out of town to really be in the countryside, outside of the city limits. There were a scattering of other houses along their road, all at least a mile apart from each other, and their driveway was like an entire short road itself, leading up to a round car park in the front. Gavin circled around and parked the car under the shade of a large oak tree growing at the left side of the driveway, to avoid blocking the garage.
Gavin had figured his sister and brother-in-law would have already made it here before them, since they were almost always early to things and probably hadn't had to stop for side of the road pep-talks, but there was no sign of another car in the driveway. Just his mom's usual parade of green pinwheels lining the brick planters and the walkway up to the front door. The bay window that looked into the living room had dangling shamrocks hanging on the outside of the curtain, inside the glass. All the same decorations that had been going up every year since he could remember. He was pretty sure his mom only still did it for him and Moira, but he was glad she did.
"What's with all the...blarney?" Cole said, staring at the pinwheels, and Gavin laughed.
"It's St. Patrick's day," he said. "My mom likes to decorate. A lot."
Cole lifted his eyebrows. "Are you that Irish?"
"My name is Gavin Ross," Gavin said. "My sister is Moira and my dad is Patrick. Yeah, we're that Irish."
"How the fuck didn't I know that," Cole muttered.
Gavin laughed again and got out of the car. Cole didn't. "Cole, come on. I'm not going to baby you because it's not going to help."
Cole finally got out of the car, but he was dragging his feet and looked so anxious that he was losing color in his face. Gavin understood nerves, and would have been worried if Cole hadn't had any at all, but Cole was starting to actually look ill. Gavin hadn't forced this, the meeting-his-parents idea, it had only been a suggestion that Cole had taken up without any hesitation. He had no idea what was going wrong, now, but it was too late to go back on it.
Gavin pressed the button for the doorbell, and soft chimes echoed somewhere inside the house. Cole stared at him.
"You ring the bell?" he said.
"Well, I don't really live here," Gavin said with a shrug. And never had—his parents had moved here somewhere in the middle of his college years. With both children moved out they'd wanted a smaller place that was more scenic. And they'd definitely found one; with the house nestled at the base of the foothills, overlooking a rolling landscape of grapevines and patches of orchards.
"I never ring the bell," Cole muttered, jamming his hands into his jacket pockets. "They probably wouldn't let me in if I did."
Before Gavin could even try to say anything to that, there was movement through the frosted glass panes around the door. The door swung inward and his mother was there, wearing a white ribbed sweater and jeans, thick brown hair twisted back and held in place with sticks. There was an emerald-green shamrock pin on the collar of her sweater.
"Ah, boys!" she said, and opened her arms up and swooped in on Gavin. "Hi, honey."
"Hey, mom," Gavin said. When she let him go, he noticed that Cole was hanging back a few steps. Gavin made a tiny come on gesture to him that he hoped his mom didn't see.
"Mom, this is Cole," he said, as his boyfriend edged slowly closer.
"It's so good to finally meet you—we've been hearing about you for ages," his mom said, with a slight edge of reprimand in her voice aimed at Gavin. Usually it didn't take him nearly a year and a half to introduce his parents to someone he was dating. But, because of his last boyfriend, he'd been more hesitant about it this time. His parents hadn't liked Barrett at all, and they'd been right not to. He was much more sure about Cole, but now there was a small, unreasonable fear that matched with Cole's—that his parents wouldn't like him. Realistically, he couldn't imagine that, but the thought was still there.
"So, I'm Irene, please don't call me Mrs. Ross," his mom was saying meanwhile. Cole just stood rooted in place and didn't do anything, not even offering his hand. They were still stuck in his jacket pockets.
"Hi," he said, in an oddly thick voice. "I. I, uhm. Um."
Gavin stepped in, circling his hand loosely around Cole's wrist and giving it a brief squeeze. "Sorry, mom, he's just really nervous."
"Don't tell her that!" Cole said, even more color washing out of his face. His arm, under Gavin's, was vibrating with tension.
"Nerves are good," his mother said, taking Cole's other hand and shaking it firmly. If she noticed the trembling, she didn't show it. "It means you care."
"Mhgn," Cole said faintly. Gavin hooked his hand into Cole's elbow because he was starting to be afraid that Cole was going to faint or fall over or something.
"Are you okay? Really?" he whispered against Cole's ear, and his boyfriend only nodded stiffly and followed him as he led the way into the house. Gavin's mom shut the door behind them, and then looked them both over.
"Your boy here doesn't seem to be wearing any green," she said with a smile, and Cole's eyes flickered around.
"I didn't know it was a big—um, deal," he said. Past grade school, he didn't add, but Gavin could practically hear it in his thoughts, and tried not to smile too much. He was wearing a pine-green shirt himself, and he had mentioned to Cole that he might throw on some of the color too. But Cole, forever opposed to most things about any holiday, had worn mostly black. He always looked good in that, but it still seemed rather bleak.
"Well, we'll fix that," his mom said. She unpinned the shamrock from her sweater and stepped close to Cole to attach it to his shirt instead. Cole had tensed when she'd touched him, and Gavin could see his throat rolling as she pinched up his shirt and stuck the pin through.
"There; perfect," she said, stepping back. Cole touched his fingers to the edge of the pin, something strange and sad going over his face before his expression went back to the same tense nervousness from before.
"Now you're not wearing green," Gavin said, making pinching motions at his mom and trying not think about how Cole was making his heart ache.
"Oh, yes I am," she said, and winked. "But that's only for your father to see."
"Arg," Gavin said, and shook his head. "Mom."
His mother laughed and headed out of the sunlit atrium into the kitchen, and Gavin went after her, catching hold of Cole's wrist again to make sure he came along. He honestly wasn't sure if Cole would have, otherwise.
The kitchen was warm and steamy and smelled of slowly cooking meat; the large pot on the stove holding the corned beef and potatoes and carrots that his mom made every single year. The cabbage was sitting in a colander in the sink, waiting to be thrown in at the end. Gavin leaned on the dark tile counter near the stove and took a few seconds to let the familiar smell wash over him, remembering years of childhood.
"So where's Moira and Dave?" he asked, after a minute. "I thought they'd be here long before us."
"Actually, they're not coming," his mom said. "Dylan came down with something yesterday, kept them up all night."
Dylan was only five, and Gavin winced in sympathy. "Is he okay?"
"Seems to be now, but they didn't want to risk bringing him or leaving him with a sitter. So just the four of us today," she said, and then leaned closer and said in an un-quiet whisper, "frankly I'm glad I don't have to baby-proof the house again. That boy puts everything in his mouth."
Gavin laughed, but there was a small part of him that was almost glad his sister wouldn't be here today. Before he and Cole had ever really gotten together, Moira hadn't been thrilled with the idea of it. She lived next door to Cole's parents and had gotten something of a bad impression of him, even if they'd never really met in person. Gavin knew Moira would have been perfectly nice to Cole today, but it was just an extra thing to add to his anxiety and probably would have just reminded him of his problems with his own family.
And right now, Cole was standing at the edge of the kitchen island, hands still in his pockets and looking more uncomfortable than Gavin had ever seen him. He'd barely managed ten words since they'd arrived and Gavin had no idea what to do, how to shake him out of this or reassure him or do anything to get his real boyfriend back. This hollow fidgety shell wasn't who he'd been telling his parents about for over a year. Cole wasn't the most naturally charismatic person, but he was genuine and likeable when he was trying.
Gavin kept trying to catch his eye across the counter, but Cole wouldn't even look up until Gavin's mom disappeared into the pantry to fetch something, and even then all he did was mouth what? and look away again.
Gavin was trying to come up with something—anything—to say to him, when he eard heavier footsteps heading up the stairs that came into the kitchen from the garage. The door opened and his dad came through, shedding his work gloves that he was never supposed to wear inside the house but always did anyway. He was a tall, lanky man with floppy black hair, a couple of sweeps of grey shot through at the temples. And usually a thick but well-trimmed beard, except that today his face was smooth and clean-shaven.
"Hey, dad," Gavin said, catching the man's attention and getting a wide grin from him. Creases that Gavin wasn't used to seeing showed up at the corners of his dad's mouth. "What happened to the beard?"
"Your mother made me shave," his dad said, rubbing a thumb along his jawline as his wife said you bet I did from somewhere in the pantry. "Said I should smarten up for company. Speaking of," he added, turning to Cole and giving him a wide smile. "This is the boyfriend?"
"That's him," Gavin said. "Dad, this is Cole. Cole, this is my dad, Patrick."
"Hello, sir," Cole said in a croaky voice.
"Hey kiddo, don't sir me. Makes me feel old. It's Pat, or if you can't handle that; Patrick's swell."
Gavin laughed. "Swell. Dad, it's not the forties."
"Hey, I can't keep up with all the terms you cool kids use these days. Do you even say cool anymore?"
"You aren't that out of touch, hon," Gavin's mom said, coming back in to the main part of the kitchen, holding a couple of spice jars between her fingers.
"Well ain't that just the bee's knees," he said, swatting at her with the work gloves.
"Ugh, you get those dirty things out of here," she said, bumping him away with her hip.
Gavin watched his parents goofing around and smiled against the back of his hand, then glanced over at Cole. Who was also watching them, but with a different kind of expression on his face.
"He looks exactly like you," he said faintly. "Just...older. Damn."
"You've seen his picture before," Gavin said, amused. He'd been told by more people than he could count that his dad looked like an older, taller, and hairier version of himself, so it wasn't that odd to hear from Cole. They'd even been mistaken for brothers sometimes.
"It's different in real life," Cole said. "And he always had a beard."
Gavin laughed and caught Cole's hand, which flinched and twisted in his before settling down into a fidgety hold. Even though he knew Cole was nervous, and none of this was natural for him, it still hurt at how much Cole was pulling away from him. Family was a touchy thing for Cole, but it was mostly his own family, and he'd been okay with the idea of meeting Gavin's. But actually doing it seemed to be breaking him down.
They all moved into the living room after that, sitting down in chairs and couches after Gavin and Cole had shed and hung up their jackets in the entryway closet. Gavin was busying trying not to think about how good Cole looked just then, in his dark jeans and shirt with the bright green glimmer of the shamrock pin above his heart, his blond hair just slightly ruffled into his face.
"So, Cole," his mom said right off, and Cole startled. "Gavin's mentioned things about your job, but we're old fogeys and we don't really know what a graphic designer does."
Cole looked surprised at the question, and he swallowed a few times before he managed to answer.
"Well, um, I. Work for a motion design company, and we get contracted by other companies that need graphic work done. Usually for TV—bumpers for shows or, uhm. Commercials. Sometimes. I—" he broke off, closing his hands into fists against the armrests of the chair. He was still nervously pale, but his cheeks were fading into a splotchy, uneven pink. Gavin shifted closer, meaning to take his hand or touch him or do something, but before he could Cole abruptly rose to his feet.
"Sorry, I—where's the restroom?" he said, and Gavin's mom pointed towards the hallway.
"Second door on the left," she said, and Cole heel-turned and practically fled the room.
"What a fidgety kid," his dad said, and Gavin laughed despite the worry rolling around in his stomach. Everything was going completely fine, as he'd expected, but the fact that it was only seemed to be making Cole worse and worse. It was almost as if Cole wanted it to go badly.
His mom was looking worried too. "Was it mentioning his job? I thought you said just to not mention his family."
"I—no, I don't know," Gavin said, pushing his chair back. "Let me just—I'll be right back."
He headed down the hallway after Cole, pausing in front of the closed bathroom door. He could hear his parents' quiet voices out in the living room, quietly concerned together. Gavin knocked the back of his hand gently against the door, just twice. There wasn't any answer from inside—or any sound at all—and when he put a hand to the handle, it turned. Unlocked.
Gavin pushed the door open and edged into the blue and white painted bathroom. The window on the far wall was half-open, a breeze blowing the pale curtains in. Cole was sitting on the edge of the bathtub, feet planted part and palms to his temples. He was breathing slowly, tightly controlled, and didn't seem to notice Gavin was there.
"Hey," Gavin said quietly, leaning against the edge of the sink. Cole's head came up sharply out of his hands. Gavin had been afraid that he was crying, but he wasn't. Just miserable and defeated looking. "Um. Asking if you're okay doesn't seem to be working, so...what's wrong?"
Cole lifted his hands, then let them drop helplessly back against his legs. "I don't know what to do with this," he said. "I just don't."
Gavin crept closer, and sat down on the edge of the tub beside him. "Do with...what?"
"This! Your parents, just being so...I mean, you told me they were fine with it, but I really didn't think they were—fine with it," Cole said. He rubbed his hands down his face. "Christ."
Oh. That was what was going on. He felt a little stupid he hadn't figured it out before, but Cole was always good at skating over the real issues. "Yeah," Gavin said, leaning his shoulder lightly into Cole's. "I know, it took me a while to get used to how well they actually took it. I think I was fifteen when I came out to them and I expected some kind of blow up. Instead they joined PFLAG."
"Are you serious," Cole said, and laughed a little. "That's…wow. Amazing."
"It wasn't when I was fifteen," Gavin said. "It was really embarrassing, actually. Like really embarrassing. My mom wore shirts and pins and everything."
"I can't imagine that," Cole said. "I mean—my parents. Actually supporting me, especially for that." He went quiet again and Gavin put his hand to his back, rubbing between Cole's shoulder blades.
"No one's ever treated me normal, after they knew," Cole said, after a minute or so. "It was like—I didn't go to school, or have a job, or interests, or anything. I was just Gay, with a fucking capital G. And that was it, the only thing I was, to everybody. But your parents, it's like...they don't care."
"They don't care," Gavin said, touching a hand lightly to Cole's hair. "Well, no—of course they do, but you know what I mean. It really doesn't matter to them, who I date, as long as I'm happy. And as long as it's not Barrett."
"That stupid asshole," Cole muttered.
"Yeah. They didn't like him—but that was because he was a dick, not because he had one. Okay?"
Cole laughed then, shakily, and rubbed his hands over his face. "I only know how to handle people treating me like shit," he said. "How fucked up is that?"
"I'm sorry about your family," Gavin said. "I really am. Nobody deserves that. But...could you please just give my parents a chance? Just try. Please. They really want to know you too, because you're important to me."
Cole dropped his hands and nodded. Then he reached out and took Gavin's hand, winding their fingers together in a much firmer and reassuring grip than before. Gavin felt something wobble in relief deep in his gut, and he gripped back hard and leaned into Cole's shoulder.
"I'm so goddamn high maintenance," Cole said then, running a thumb over the back of Gavin's knuckles. "Why do you put up with all of my stupid shit?"
"Because you only do this on holidays," Gavin said, smiling against his shoulder. "And because I love you."
Cole's entire body tensed against him, and his fingers went entirely still and stiff. Gavin held his breath, his heart beating harder against his ribs. The quiet in the bathroom was deafening.
"I—um. Shit. Really?" Cole said, and then sucked in a breath and added quickly, "not that I'm like, questioning your feelings or anything, but I just—that's kind of...new."
"Does it freak you out?" Gavin said, leaning back. He hadn't planned on saying that, not for the first time, sitting on the edge of a bathtub in his parents' house, but it had just felt...right. The words had been trying hard to come out for a while anyway—it wasn't new at all—but he just hadn't stopped them this time.
"No," Cole said, slowly. Then, firmer, "no. It's the best thing I've—it's amazing."
"Oh," Gavin said, feeling his neck and face warm. "That's good, then."
"Fuck, it's amazing," Cole said again, and pinned Gavin back against the cold tile wall of the bathtub and kissed him fiercely. His hands curled around Gavin's wrists as his perch on the edge of the tub unsteadied and slipped; they caught at each other, throwing out arms to brace against tile and porcelain. They tipped back together until Gavin was on his back along the slope of the bathtub, one leg sticking out over the side, foot dangling. Cole was on top on him, chest to chest, hands curled protectively around the back of Gavin's head. Their noses bumped and Gavin's hair flopped into his eyes, Cole's breath hot against his cheek.
"Shit, you okay—?"
"Yeah, yes, you—?"
"Mmph," Gavin said as Cole kissed him again, threading fingers roughly though his hair and tugging. The porcelain was cold against the back of his neck and through his shirt, and Cole was pushing just so against his thigh, in a way that was fairly inappropriate for being in a bathtub in his parent's house.
"Cole," he said, getting a fistful of his boyfriend's shirt and catching his face with the other hand. "Cole, we—"
"Yeah, I'm stopping," Cole said with a sigh. He lowered his head to Gavin's shoulder instead and rested there, lying still. His fingers curled into the collar of Gavin's shirt and Gavin could feel Cole's heart beating hard against his own. He was still a little afraid of what he'd said and if it might change things somehow, between them, but for now everything seemed all right. He curled an arm around Cole's shoulders and held him close, closing his eyes.
Minutes later, a knock came on the partially open bathroom door.
"Boys?" That was his mom's voice. "Everything all right?"
"Fine," Gavin said, and Cole's head lifted up, dragging his hair up Gavin's cheek and crackling static along his skin.
His mom poked her head around the bathroom door. She didn't seem surprised at all to find them curled up together in the bathtub.
"You two need anything in here?" she said.
"I think we're okay," Gavin said, feeling himself going warm. He'd never been this...intimate, with anyone, in front of his mom—and it wasn't even that intimate, but holding hands had been about the limit of demonstrativeness with any boyfriend before this—and he was sure Cole wasn't all that comfortable with it either. If the way he'd hidden his face back against Gavin's neck was any clue. "We'll—um, be back out in a minute."
"All right," his mom said, but she was smiling as she stepped back out of the bathroom. Leaving the door open. Gavin listened to her footsteps go back down the hall, then her muffled voice and his dad's, talking in the living room and then moving further away, into the kitchen.
Cole was still clinging to him, face pressed between Gavin's neck and shoulder. He was starting to feel heavy, and Gavin's back was cricked at a strange angle against the side of the bathtub.
"Let me up?" he said, nudging at Cole's shoulder.
"Not yet," Cole said, his voice muffled.
"Well," Gavin said, "we can't have dinner in here."
"Oh. Yeah, right," Cole said, and drew himself up. He braced his hands on the floor of the tub and levered himself off Gavin's chest, then glanced around like he was just realizing exactly where they were.
"Is this like...normal for you, or something?" he said, trying to gesture at the tub with his head. "Your mom didn't even say anything."
Gavin shrugged, but thought about all of the things a bathtub had used to be to him—pirate ship, racecar, diving bell, space rocket—and smiled to himself. Maybe it really wasn't that strange for him mom to see him back in there again, even at twenty-three.
"You're good?" he asked Cole, who was in the middle of awkwardly climbing backwards out of the tub.
"No," Cole said. "Not really. But I'm gonna try to be."
Cole was better, after that. Not fine, or perfect, but better. He managed to hold an entire conversation about his job with Gavin's dad, who was generally impressed whenever computers and technology were involved and later on in the kitchen he even managed one with his mom about the apartment he and Gavin were going to move in to together when the lease on Gavin's current one ran out in April. He'd flushed badly through most of it, but Gavin had assured him many, many times before this that his parents were not fussy about living together before marriage and that his sister had even been pregnant before marriage and it was even less of an issue than the gay thing.
He was still not fully relaxed by dinner time, but he was at least more recognizable as the person Gavin wanted his parents to know. He'd never had corned beef and cabbage before, which led Gavin's mom on a nostalgic waxing about home cooking, and that she'd have to teach the both of them to cook now since she'd already been trying to interest Gavin in it for years with no luck.
"I set the stove on fire when I was eight," Gavin said to Cole off to the side. "Kind of put me off of the whole cooking thing."
Somewhere near the end of dinner the mention of Gavin and Patrick's similar looks came up, and Gavin's mom said to Cole with a laugh, "now you know what Gavin will look like in a couple decades—no surprises."
"That's fine with me," Cole said, and then colored and looked away. Even Gavin wasn't sure what his dad was going to think of that, but he only laughed and said he was glad he still had some appeal to the younger generation. His wife had swatted him and told him not to get any ideas, and Gavin had taken Cole's hand under the table.
It was later than Gavin had expected it to be by the time they left—the last two or so hours after dinner had gone past much faster than he'd thought. Cole had almost fully pulled himself together by then, enough to give Gavin's mom a hug when they left and shake his dad's hand.
"He seems very sweet," his mom said into his ear, when she gave Gavin a hug goodbye. "Maybe just a little high-strung."
"So fidgety," his dad had said again. "But I like him."
"Thanks," Gavin said, only a little surprised at how much irelief/i went through him, hearing those words. "I—I'll call you next week, okay?"
He and Cole were halfway back home before Cole suddenly swore quietly and put his hand to his shirt.
"Shit, I forgot to give this back to your mom," he said, fingering the shamrock pin that was still attached there.
"It's okay," Gavin said. He'd been half asleep in his seat—the heat was going full blast and that tended to do that to him. "She told me she wanted you to keep it."
"Oh," Cole said, blinking a few times and curving his hand over his chest, bunching his shirt up in his fingers. "That's...nice of her."
"She liked you," Gavin said. "They both did. You did fine. Really." I'm really proud of you, he almost said, but didn't. It seemed too patronizing.
"I still can't believe how...normal that was," Cole said. "Other than my goddamn panic attack, but I almost felt like a straight guy for once. Like, you know. Just normal."
"You are normal," Gavin said, and Cole just frowned slightly at the road ahead. "You know, I don't think you've ever told me how you came out to your parents."
"During an argument," Cole said. "I was trying to say anything that would shock and awe them into shutting up, I guess. I just yelled anything I could think of that they wouldn't like. That was one of them. Bad move, in hindsight."
"But they didn't kick you out or anything that bad. Right?"
"I was twenty, I'd already moved out. Otherwise they would have."
"Yeah. My dad doesn't even like me being in the house now, even for a couple of hours at fucking holiday parties. It's like he thinks I'll get the dirty gayness all over everything, I don't know. I just—it's awful. Fucking awful. I didn't think people like your parents really existed."
"I guess I didn't really think that people like yours did, either," Gavin said slowly. "I almost can't imagine it."
"Yeah, I really see that now," Cole said.
"I really didn't get why this would be hard for you, especially—I mean, if you've never really experienced anything else."
"I flipped my shit because they were nice to me, that's not a good reason, that's incredibly screwed up. That's gotta be some kind of psychological thing, I mean, maybe I should getlooked at or something."
"Cole. You're fine," Gavin said. "Your family's the one with the problem. There's nothing wrong with you and I just wish you could know that like I do."
"It's easy to fucking say that. You don't know them."
"So. Maybe I should."
Cole tensed up, but not terribly. "I don't want you to meet them," he said. "I really don't. They'd just be assholes and I can't—you don't deserve that. Even if they were pretending to be okay with it, they wouldn't be. It'd be a nightmare."
"I just want to understand," Gavin said. "Even if it's bad. Your family is part of you, and—well. Today helped you get part of me, right?"
"Yeah," Cole said, but didn't sound altogether convinced. "Yeah, I guess so."
"That's all I want. I don't need them to approve, or like me, or be nice to me. I wish they would, for you, but...I want to know."
"You think it's not really as bad as I always make it sound," Cole said, grimacing. "It is, believe me. I don't make this shit up. You're already judged and packaged and labeled before they even meet you. They won't care what you're like, what you mean to me."
"Cole—" Gavin started, but Cole ran right over him.
"You have no idea what most people would give to have parents like yours," he said. "It's like one in a fucking million chance. You have no idea how lucky you are."
"Yeah," Gavin said, and slid his hand over Cole's knee and squeezed. Cole gave him a quick startled look. "Yeah, I do."