a/n: Couldn't get Michael's full side story to kick off, but I found a compromise in this Epilogue!
Epilogue- Michael's POV
"Big bro! Wow, you're actually a few shades darker. You obviously had a good time," I commented slyly as I regarded my brother's lightly tanned face.
I had my brother Seth on FaceClock, since he had recently returned from his honeymoon with his husband Liam. I didn't want to steal too much time away from him, and I certainly would have stolen way too much if I had gone to see him in person. The two of us shared that close of a bond.
"Little bro! Yeah, it's been amazing," he admitted with a grin that reached his blue-gray eyes.
Wow, look at that smile. I couldn't remember the last time I saw my brother smile so carefree like that. Must have been years, really. I had to remember to find Liam a pretty good Christmas gift as thanks. The guy was really upholding his end of the bargain in terms of making my brother happy.
"Is that Mike?"
Speak of the devil, the redhead was suddenly on the screen waving at me. "Hey, new bro," I greeted.
"When are you coming over so that I can beat you at another round of Cards Against Society?" Liam taunted.
I sent him an exaggerated pout. "You can't win all the time, Liam," I warned. The two of us had a friendly competition going, but the brown-eyed man won a lot more games than he lost.
"Which is why it's awesome whenever I do win," Liam countered.
"Yeah yeah," I drawled. "Just let me have my brother for a few more minutes."
"I'll give you forty-five minutes," my in-law conceded. "After that, I'm not going to be responsible for what you may or may not witness."
I made a disgusted face. "TMI, man. TMI."
I heard his laughter through the speakers of my tablet even as he stepped out of the room. When he was gone, I couldn't help but smile. The redhead had really integrated himself seamlessly into the family.
"It's been months, so I'm sure you have a lot to rant about," my brother mused.
I nodded. "I was groped twice from behind before they realized I was a guy," I relayed. "Vivi got into three fights. And I have another interview on Tuesday."
Seth nodded, hearing me out patiently.
"The only solid job offer I've gotten thus far is this small company that barely pays above minimum wage," I continued. "And I'm not sure if I should take it or not, since I still have five other places that I've yet to hear from."
"Does the position have anything to do with technology?" my brother questioned.
"Yeah, it seems to be some basic IT work," I replied.
"Then, I'd say go for it," Seth suggested. "Build up your experience there, even if it's only for six months, and it'll definitely help you land more interviews later on."
"I dunno...the pay's so low I'll probably end up staying at mom and dad's for the entire six months," I pointed out. "The whole point of going to college in the first place was to help pay them back, not to continue living off of them."
"You have to start somewhere, Mike," Seth replied. "The family will understand."
I let out a big sigh. "We'll see. If it comes to that, I'll do it," I concluded. "I really missed you, Seth. But, I'm glad you've been having fun."
A small glint of mischief lit up my brother's eyes. That usually spelled out a world of trouble for me, but at the moment, I couldn't be more relieved that he got his old spark back. "Don't think I've forgotten all of your teasing with Liam. You're going to know just how it felt when you bring someone home yourself," he warned.
I winced at the thought. He sure knew how to pick his battles. "What if I never bring anyone home?" I prompted. The sentiment was part bluff; part truth. Though I had promised myself to not be distracted by romantic relationships in college, I was surprised with how hard it was to actually find free time to even look at any possible prospects. Since I was already hunting for a job, I felt my window of opportunity in terms of romantic relationships was steadily dwindling.
"Michael," Seth responded. "You're a Slater. You'll bring someone home soon enough."
"Why does that sound so daunting when you say it?" I whined, which drew forth laughter from Seth. Though I didn't pick favorites between my siblings and generally got along well with all of them, I knew that I was Seth's favorite and we got along just a bit better than the others. Seeing him happy made me happy. "Anyway, let me let you go before Liam really does come back and scar me for life. I'm glad you guys are back."
"We'll see you soon!" he promised.
As much as I wanted to see Seth in person, I figured that it would be best to avoid him for a few more days. When the two of them started working again, I'd surely have less of a chance of seeing something I'd rather not see. The reason I had so quickly moved out in the first place was due to catching unintentional glimpses.
In the meantime, I continued to apply to job openings and spent some time with my best friend, Vivi. Vivi was a lesbian. She was fearless the majority of the time. But, when it came to communicating with her parents, she couldn't even pull herself together.
"No, absolutely not," I hissed as I turned down my best friend's outrageous request.
"But, just look at you!" Vivi insisted as she shoved a mini album in my face. The image was of my younger self dressed as a maid in a school play…a female maid.
"Vi," I countered. "I was still a teenager, of course I could easily pass as a girl back then. Don't I look much manlier now?" I questioned as I straightened up, lifted my chin, and placed my hands on my hips in what I felt was a heroic pose.
"Mike, all you need is some make-up and a collar," Vivi responded back in a dry tone of voice. "You don't even need a wig."
I scowled at that, feeling my shoulders slump as I cursed my androgynous looks once again. "Why can't I just go as I am?" I questioned. "I could even pretend to be a temporary boyfriend."
"My parents know for a fact that I've been dating Natalie for two years. They refuse to remember her name," Vivi responded. "And they still try to hook me up with their company underlings. But, I'm not bringing her there for her to get all pawed up by other people."
"So, you'd rather subject me to be pawed up?" I argued.
"Oh please, like you'd let yourself get pawed up if you're too paranoid about getting caught," Vivi pointed out. "Just do this one thing for me. I swear I'll never ask again. This is the day I get it through to my parents that they either have to accept me as I am or they're not gonna see me again."
I took a deep breath when I saw the determination on her face. As much as I hated to admit it, it seemed really important to her. What were best friends for? "Alright, so let's say I actually go through with this…" I prompted. "Wouldn't they check IDs for guest badges in the first place?"
"Gotcha covered!" Vivi said with a wide grin. She handed me an impressively realistic fake ID. The picture that was used was one where I had longer hair. It had my address and birthdate….
"Wait, Natalie?" I complained. "Are you serious? Couldn't it at least have been a more fake name like Michelle or even Melanie?"
"So, it's settled, then!" She announced. "Thanks so much, Mikey, you're the bestest friend anyone could ever have!"
I let out a groan and face-palmed. Vivi had really gone through a lot just to set up this strange, strange meeting with her parents. A feeling in my gut told me that we weren't going to come out of that dinner in one piece. Just what had I gotten myself into?
"Wow, Mike, if you were a real girl I'd have totally tried to get into your skirt for sure," Vivi commented as she looked me over.
I wore flat, rounded slip-ons on my feet and managed to get out of shaving my legs by wearing a pair of thick, black leggings. The baby blue gothic Lolita skirt on top of the leggings had me blushing. It had a waist corset that was thankfully not tied tightly at all, and the skirt nearly reached my knees. Beneath it was a black petticoat with so many layers that it held the skirt wide all around.
The many layers were both a relief and a fright. I didn't have to tuck myself in, but the fact that I was in downright frills made me feel quite embarrassed. The wideness of the skirt also gave off the illusion that I had hips, which drew the attention away from my broad shoulders. I wore a white, long-sleeved blouse with ruffles on the wrists and the collar. The collar was held closed with a thin black kerchief to hide my Adam's apple.
She had attacked me with make-up, though the colors were soft. She also added an elaborate hair clip to the top half of my hair, keeping the strands from falling on my face. I didn't want to look at myself in the mirror, but when Vivi shoved me in front of it, my blush darkened. I was a firm believer in everyone wearing whatever they wanted. But, the fact that the illusion was so successful made me feel like I had no right to be in such feminine clothes…not if it meant deceiving others.
I never liked the idea of deceiving others. Halloween parties, plays, and pranks were one thing; especially since I always made it clear that I was a man in women's clothes. But, to actually pretend to be a woman was an entirely different thing. Even if it was for my best friend's sake, I hated having to lie.
Vivi, on the other hand, had on black slacks with matching loafers. She wore a white button-down with short sleeves, a black bowtie, and a vest in the same blue hue as the skirt I wore. Her short blonde hair, which was usually tousled into spikes, was slicked back.
"Vivi…I can't disguise my voice," I reminded. "And my sign language is very limited."
"Easy," Vivi replied with a grin. "You screamed yourself hoarse during a concert we went to last night. No one will question the huskiness and they'll back off from getting you to speak."
I frowned. "Just how long have you been planning this?" I questioned.
"Would you look at time, let's go!" She stated quickly as she tugged me by the elbow.
"But, Vi…what if I have to go to the bathroom?"
I finally let out the breath I was holding the entire time we went through the ID check at the front lobby. We were printed out sticker-badges and then led to a ballroom. A bar and a few bartenders were near the wall and round tables surrounded a dance floor. The other side of the wall featured live musicians.
Vivi urged me over to the table were her parents sat. I felt their eyes on me as I sat down. When I chanced a glance, I saw them frowning at one another.
"Vivian, this surely isn't the Natalie you spoke to us about," Vivi's mother stated as she motioned an elegant hand towards me.
"What do you mean?" Vivi questioned. Though her face was shooled into a mask of indifference, I could tell that she was panicking by the furtive glance she sent me. She clearly didn't plan for her parents to figure out her plan so fast.
"You've spoken of nothing else for the last two years," Vivi's father insisted. "And yet you bring us someone else?"
"Someone else?" Vivi countered. She was trying desperately to feign ignorance.
I had a bad feeling in my gut. By the tones of their voices, they knew. Somehow, they just knew.
"Oh, honey," Vivi's mom called out as she placed a hand on top of hers. "We had Natalie investigated within the first few months of you dating her. We had to assure that you were safe."
"What!" The two of us burst out nearly at the same time.
"I think that a family meeting's in order," Vivi's dad suggested as he shot me a glare. "A private one."
"If that's the case, then I'm going to head out now," I told Vivi as I stood up. "Call me if you need my help with anything."
"Ok," Vivi responded dejectedly. "Thanks for trying, Mikey."
I nodded. As I walked away, I heard the surprised tone in Vivi's mother's voice.
"Was that really your friend Michael?"
I let out a groan and resisted the urge to facepalm as I walked out of the room. I needed a place to hold my tablet and cell phone, so Vivi had placed a satchel-like purse across my shoulder. As I unzipped the outer zipper to pull out my phone, I couldn't help but admit that the bag was quite useful as a carrying case.
By the time I changed the settings on the phone back to normal from silent, I found myself outside of the building. Vivi and I had arrived there by use of a public bus. I didn't want to inconvenience her parents by asking for a ride back, so I decided to walk. As I turned the corner of the block, I realized that my brother's work building was in the same area. That meant that Seth's house was around five minutes away by car. Granted, that meant I had to walk around half an hour to get there on foot, but it was better than trying to go back home, which was much further away.
I frowned most of the way there. My intentions really had been to allow Liam and Seth privacy for their remaining time off. But, I didn't want my parents to see me dressed like a girl, and I knew I had a change of clothes at Seth's place. Vivi had left me with few options.
When I finally reached the edge of the street of my brother's neighborhood, I let out a sigh of relief. Though I was wearing flats, they hadn't been broken in. I was sure to have odd marks on my feet where the material dug into my skin. I was still about ten houses away. As I paused under the shade of a tree, I shot a glance towards Seth's house and immediately tensed at what I saw.
As my brother nonchalantly walked over to his mail box and carded through the envelopes, the unsavory figure of Kris Locklear crossed the street and headed straight for him. For a moment, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. But, as soon as I saw him grab my brother by the hair, I dialed 911 on the phone.
I lifted my shoulder to hold the phone in place as I dug through my side bag for my tablet and turned it on. "Yes, I'm reporting an attack on my brother," I informed the operator. I set my tablet to record as I rushed over. "Forget assault, it's downright 'battery' at this point!" I cursed as I saw him punch Seth, who didn't dodge fast enough and took the impact on his shoulder. "2420 Lemongrass Lane!"
"Ok, I'll stay on the line, just hurry," I hissed into the receiver as I struggled to keep my hands steady as the ipad continued to record. "This is Kris Locklear," I narrated as he knocked my brother down and tried to kick him, though Seth started blocking his blows. "The guy on the floor has a restraining order on him. He's clearly violated it."
I was out of breath by the time I got within hearing range of them. "Seth! Hold on!" I called out, which immediately drew the attention of Kris. I stopped and saved the video and began to e-mail it to myself.
"Michael?" Kris asked, looking properly confused at my attire.
"Yeah, take a good look," I scoffed as I hit the send button and lifted both arms up in a thuggish gesture, which must not have been the slightest bit intimidating considering the fact that I was wearing such a feminine blouse. "You're not gonna have much to smile about in prison, now are ya?"
"I've had enough of your blackmailing bullshit!" Kris growled as he made his way towards me. I quickly shoved my phone and ipad in my bag and took off.
"Mike!" I heard Seth cry out. But, I knew I had to keep the crazed man on my heels if I wanted the police to get there in time. And I sure as hell wasn't going to allow him to continue beating on my brother.
Kris had definitely seen better days. The hair he usually had styled to his shoulders had been cut short, emphasizing his big ears. He also wasn't wearing the fancy modeling clothes he used to in the past. I kept having to glance over my shoulder just to see if he was catching up to me.
I felt the air knocked right out of me as I was tackled to the ground. I let out a groan when my back hit the sidewalk. As the corset dug into my back, I realized that it didn't matter how loose or tight it was, it was an evil article of clothing. I didn't even have time to dwell on how I even managed to land on my back in the first place because the next thing I felt was the force of his fist against my thigh.
"Ow!" I growled.
Naturally, I went and kicked him on the side of the head. He managed to clamber on top of me. I blocked my face with my arms and waited for the blow that I expected to come, when I felt his weight off of me. I hadn't even heard the sound of the police sirens when they arrived.
"Ma'am are you hurt?"
I slowly lowered my arms and found an officer hovering over me while another placed Kris in handcuffs and ushered him into the back of a car. I pulled myself up to a sitting position and glanced around. One of the neighbors had a phone in her hand and was describing what she saw to another officer across the street. She must have tried calling 911, too. Seth seemed to have good neighbors. I wonder if she liked donuts. We should gift her donuts.
My rambling thoughts were once again refocused as the police officer tried to gain my attention again.
"Are you alright?"
I finally focused on the man's face and was surprised at how young he appeared to be. Subconsciously, I reached out for the hand he gave me to help me up and instantly regretted it. The soreness in my thigh made me stumble against him. It did, however, allow me to see the name printed on the pin above one of his breast pockets.
He had green eyes, brown hair, and bronze skin. I was fascinated with the small dark mole he had just next to the corner of his lip. I myself had a few moles here and there, but none were a near-perfect round "dot" like his was...
"Damn it!" I heard the familiar sound of my brother as he rushed over. "Are you ok?"
I then felt a sharp sting on my ear as he sharply twisted it. "OW!"
"Don't you ever do something like that again!" Seth hissed in the most fatherly tone of voice he could muster. "Do you have any idea how badly you scared me?"
"How badly I scared you?" I practically squeaked. "What about when I saw you on the ground about to be kicked around by that asshole? You didn't think I was scared for you, too?"
There was a moment when we stopped and glared at each other before we both moved in for a tight hug. "I'm sorry," I whispered.
"I'm sorry, too," Seth responded. "When I saw him tackling you to the ground…"
"I think it was officer Meza and his partner that pulled him off me," I realized as I turned towards one of the men in question. "Thank you."
"No thanks are necessary, ma'am. I'm just going to need you and your husband to give a statement."
"Wait, husband? Ma'am?" Seth responded. "This is my younger brother."
When officer Meza turned to gave me an incredulous glance, I felt my face heat up. I just knew that I must be red all over in embarrassment. "I never wear these kinds of things," I explained. "But, that's a whole other story. Seth! The restraining order papers!"
"Right! I'll bring those right out," Seth replied as he rushed back into the house.
"That guy you caught was my brother's crazy ex," I told officer Meza as I pulled out my ipad from the bag once again. In the fall, the tempered glass broke, but the screen itself wasn't even scratched. "He violated his restraining order and I recorded it all on my ipad."
"That was some quick thinking on your part, Mister…"
"Michael," I replied as I extended my hand. "Michael Slater."
"I'm officer Marcos Meza," He said as he shook my hand.
"Marcos…" I mused aloud as I tried not to stare too hard at the taller man's green eyes.
"Here they are," Seth announced as he caught back up to us.
I didn't realize I was still holding onto officer Meza's hand until I felt him stiffen at Seth's return. I quickly pulled my hand back as I fought down another blush. The look on my face drew Seth's attention, but I diverted it back to the subject at hand.
"What's our next step, then?" I asked Marcos. "To ensure that Kris won't have another chance to terrorize my brother?"
"And he…" Seth recounted as he paused to take a breath between his laughter. "He kept calling him ma'am and swore that we were husband and wife."
I let out a sigh as I fought down a blush. As much as I wanted to blame Vivi for my brother having ammunition to use against me, I couldn't. Had it not been for her crazy scheme in deceiving her parents, I would have never been there in time to help out Seth, and I would have never met Marcos.
He helped us every step of the way until we were able to ensure that Kris was sent to prison. Liam was a great help in helping Seth deal with the after effect. He supported my brother just like Marcos supported me.
The two of us had been dating for two months before I found the courage to bring him to see my family. It wasn't that I was ashamed of him or our relationship. It was that I knew my siblings were going to take every opportunity to get me back for all the times I teased them about their relationships.
"I was stricken by 'her' beauty," Marcos added, causing my blush to darken. "Imagine my surprise to know that not only was she not married, but she was really a he."
"Why don't you tell them, Marcos, the one about the Halloween party?" Liam urged.
"I think we've heard enough," I interceded.
"I, for one, have been dying to talk about the Halloween party," Cara instigated. "Marcos, would you like to tell us more?"
"Yes, absolutely!" Marcos immediately responded.
I rolled my lips in until they were a thin line, much like my brother Seth did whenever he was aggravated, but couldn't do anything about it. Then, I let out a sigh. My brother really got me back, just as he promised he would.
I still loved him, anyway.