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A bit of a shorter chapter this time, but it’s kind of intense, so I hope that makes up for it.
No sex again—sorry about that. I hope you’re enjoying the story nevertheless!
As a side note, I realized I tend to write Thanksgiving into my stories a lot, which is ironic since I’m not really big on celebrating it in real life. LOL.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions, so please comment!
Copyright © 2018 by Hudson Bartholomew. All rights reserved. This story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Embracing the Tension – Chapter 4
Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, Erik brushed his fingers through his hair and grimaced as the unruly strands fell back across his forehead. He needed a haircut.
Out in the kitchen, Ryan was making noise, helping to get dishes prepared for Thanksgiving dinner. Not that Ryan cooked—he insisted he was useless in the kitchen—but he had been running up and down those stairs all day helping his mom and his sister as they worked away downstairs.
Erik had yet to meet them; Ryan had made good on his promise to keep Erik to himself all weekend. But Thanksgiving Monday was here, and the thought of meeting Ryan’s family gave him butterflies in his stomach—so much so that the delicious smells wafting through the air made him slightly nauseous.
He gripped the edge of the sink tightly. It’s not like he had never been to a Thanksgiving dinner before. And it wasn’t even as if he hadn’t met the family of a guy he was seeing. But this was different—because Ryan was different.
Ever since that day at the aquarium, Erik had known that this thing, this spark, between them was something unique and special. It wasn’t just that they were attracted to each other, Erik had been attracted to many different guys. It was their shared experience, the ability to make subtle references to the past that didn’t need explanation, that made it so easy to talk to Ryan. And that was scary.
What if Ryan’s family didn’t like him? What if Ryan decided after this weekend that their relationship wasn’t worth pursuing? It had been difficult to let go of Ryan the first time they parted; it would be that much more difficult this time. Because this time, Erik wouldn’t just be losing a love interest, he’d be losing a friend.
Not living in the same city naturally placed restrictions on how their relationship had progressed. Rather than jumping into bed at the first hint of sexual tension, as Erik typically did, they had just talked. And talked. And talked. Erik had never talked so much with a guy before fucking him. He probably had never talked so much with any of his boyfriends before.
Erik stopped himself, because “fucking” didn’t feel like the right word to describe what he and Ryan had done in bed that weekend. It was much more than just fucking. But going all the way to making love was too scary to dwell on. Why wasn’t there something in between? But just the fact that his brain was rushing to put a label on it had implications that Erik didn’t want to acknowledge.
“You look great.” Ryan’s sexy, gravelly rumble of a voice spoken from behind him, out of Erik’s line of sight, reminded him of their late-night phone calls, and he smiled.
Turning, he saw Ryan leaning against the bathroom doorframe dressed in smart jeans and fitted black button down. His longish hair, curling around his ears, was mussed as if he had run his fingers through it several times over the past hour, and Erik found he wanted to repeat the action himself.
“So do you.”
Those chocolate eyes darkened, and the air became charged with a zing of anticipation that Erik could feel skittering over his skin. It suddenly became more difficult to breathe, as if the atmosphere was physically heavier than it had been a moment ago. Unconsciously, Erik took a step closer to Ryan, pulled to him like opposite ends of a magnet. They didn’t touch, but he could feel their desire for each other surge back and forth between them, generating a heat deep inside.
Ryan unexpectedly took a step back, eyes closed, chest heaving, hands clenched by his side. The air around Erik immediately felt colder.
“If I kiss you now, I don’t think we’ll make it downstairs for Thanksgiving.” Ryan’s voice sounded raw and rough, a mirror of what Erik felt. When Ryan opened his eyes again, they were still hazy, dark whirlpools of desire, and Erik wanted nothing more than to kiss him, Thanksgiving be damned.
But Ryan was right. They couldn’t bail on Thanksgiving. Especially not when Ryan’s sister and mother had stashed half of the dishes in Ryan’s kitchen and they would surely come looking for them.
Finally finding his voice, Erik croaked, “I’m going to need a minute,” mersin escort and glanced down at his pants. The bulge earned him a lecherous grin from Ryan.
“Take as much time as you need.”
It turned out that Erik didn’t need that much time at all. All it took was the sound of Chloe running up the stairs, yelling, “Uncle Erik!” Apparently, she remembered that he was coming for Thanksgiving.
Erik came out of the bathroom just in time to see Chloe pause inside the doorway, looking for him. When she spotted him, she ran and launched herself into his arms. “You’re here!”
“Hey, Chloe.” Erik couldn’t help but laugh at her exuberance. “I said I’d be here.”
“I’m so happy you’re here!” She squeezed tightly around Erik’s neck to emphasize her point.
“Clo, don’t strangle Uncle Erik.” Ryan came out of the kitchen with an aluminum foil-covered dish. “Erik, do you mind grabbing one of the dishes in the oven?”
“Sure.” Erik put Chloe down, and she immediately ran to the kitchen ahead of him. “Do you want to carry this?” Erik held out a bowl of cabbage salad, and Chloe carefully took it from his hands. He grabbed the remaining dish, and they headed down the stairs together.
The table had already been set up: a sizable turkey sat on one end, surrounded by roasted root vegetables, mashed sweet potatoes, and a charcuterie board of meats and cheeses. Empty spaces on the table sat waiting for Chloe’s bowl of cabbage salad and Erik’s heavy, cast iron pot. After he set it down, Erik took a peek under the lid and found a rich-smelling, deep-dish pie covered in a beautifully browned egg-washed pastry top. At each place setting were carefully ladled bowls of split-pea soup.
The abundance of food suddenly reminded Erik of his own family’s Thanksgiving dinners. The smells weren’t exactly the same, nor were the decorations, but the sounds of people chatting and laughing translated across countries, cultures and tradition. This was Thanksgiving; Erik felt it in his bones. It might not be exactly the same as Thanksgiving in Salt Lake, but it was Thanksgiving all the same. He missed his family.
“Hey, you okay?” To his embarrassment, Ryan had noticed his sudden shift in mood, and Erik forced himself to put aside his own sense of loss. This may not have been his own family, but it was a wonderful family who had been generous enough to invite him into their home. The least he could do was be thankful for their hospitality. But before he could respond, people bustled in from the kitchen.
“Hi! You must be Erik.” A female carbon copy of Ryan appeared with a big smile on her face under a head full of curly brown hair. “I’m Rachel. We’re so glad you’re here!” She invited herself into a hug and planted a kiss on both of Erik’s cheeks.
Ryan had warned that he and his sister were different, but the difference was a little startling at the first introduction.
Another woman breezed in from the kitchen with the same chocolate eyes as Ryan, but instead of Rachel’s rich brown curls, the older lady’s curls were a snowy white.
“Ah, hello! Welcome!”
Erik detected a hint of a French accent right before she, too, claimed a hug with kisses on both cheeks.
“Uh, Erik, this is my sister, Rachel, and my mom, Marie.” Ryan introduced them with his lopsided grin. “And this is Rachel’s husband, Tom.”
“Hey.” A tall man, about the same height as Erik, came over and offered a handshake. When he smiled, Erik could see where Chloe got her smile. “Glad to have you here.”
“Thanks, I’m glad to be here.”
“Okay, sit, sit!” Marie waved people into their seats. “Before everything becomes cold!”
Everything was delicious, and every time his plate was cleared, Marie and Rachel would try to pile more food onto it. By the time dessert came out, Erik didn’t think he could eat one more bite. And yet, with great determination, he did. Dessert was a maple-walnut layer cake, a sugar pie, and a lemony mousse. They, too, were delicious.
Conversation around the dinner table was lively, with Rachel and Marie leading the charge and Marie slipping into French every now and then. They asked Erik about his work, about his life in New York, and about how he had met Ryan. That last topic had Erik sneaking glances at Ryan for help; how much did his family know about his past career choices?
He settled on the standard “we met through friends” story and tried to change the subject. But not before he caught a look exchanged between Ryan and his sister; it was brief, a quick question asked and answered before both glanced away. So perhaps someone else did know about Ryan’s past.
That minor blip notwithstanding, Erik felt entirely comfortable around Ryan’s family, forgetting at times that they had just met. Their French-Canadian background was fascinating to Erik, and when he asked, Marie was quick to explain that French Canadians don’t all celebrate Thanksgiving, but her late husband had escort mersin been an anglophone and insisted they keep the tradition. She then went on to explain the origin of each of the dishes they ate, and Erik begged for recipes; he told Marie that he felt sure his mom would love them.
The instant that comment left his mouth, Erik regretted it.
“Tell us about your family, Erik.” Marie asked.
“Um, well.” Memories of last Thanksgiving with his family flashed through his mind.
It had started out the same as every year, him laden with gifts for the kids, waiting excitedly at the airport for his brother, Dean, to pick him up. He had suspected something was off the minute he got into the car; the atmosphere was chilly, and Dean hadn’t been able to meet his eyes.
When they got home, the house felt the same as it always had: warm. The kids were in the den playing, men in the living room watching football, and the ladies were in the kitchen, cooking and arguing over the best way to make mashed potatoes.
Erik’s first stop had always been the den with kids to give them their toys, and that scene played out the same way it always had. They loved him, and he loved them. He hadn’t noticed the way Dean hovered at the door, arms crossed, watching.
It hadn’t been until he went into the kitchen to say hello to his mom and sisters that the situation became clear. The room had fallen silent when he entered, and all eyes had turned to him, assessing, as if seeing him for the first time. His mom had greeted him with her customary hug and kiss, but it didn’t make him feel as if he’d come home. It made him feel like he’d walked into a parallel universe where everything looked and smelled like home but wasn’t actually home.
Everyone else treated him with that same polite-but-distant attitude, and by the time they finally sat down to dinner, Erik felt sick to his stomach, and every bite of food tasted like ash. It wasn’t until after dinner that his parents had cornered him and asked him if it was true: did he do gay porn? What could he say? Deny it? It was easy enough to find online if they really wanted to look for it.
When he had admitted to it, the questioning quickly turned to, “Are you… gay?” Yes, he had confirmed that as well. But rather than the sense of relief that many people said came with finally coming out of the closet, Erik felt like a little part of himself died. The look in his father’s eyes, the look that had always been filled with pride and approval, suddenly turned to disgust. His mother had burst into tears. They hadn’t spoken one word to him since.
His brother, Dean, had offered to take him to a hotel by the airport. The offer had been delivered politely, even with a hint of regret, but the message was more than clear. In front of the Holiday Inn, Erik had sat in the passenger seat, dazed and unwilling to get out of the car. Dean, to his credit, didn’t rush him.
“Listen, buddy, I’m sorry, but… You know, if it had just been the porn, maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad.”
Erik hadn’t been able to believe that. “What do you mean, ‘just been the porn’?”
“Well, you know. If you needed the money or something, I guess they might have been able to understand that. But you know that you could always ask Mom and Dad for money if you needed it. They never would have said no.”
“You make it sound like the porn wasn’t that big of a deal.”
“It could have just been a means to an end, you know.”
“So, if I had been straight but doing gay porn, they would have been okay with that?”
Dean had shrugged and looked out the window, and Erik had his answer.
“Just fucking fantastic—”
“They don’t care that I’m a fucking porn star with millions of people lusting after me. But the fact that I like guys, like having sex with guys, want to fall in love with a guy—no, that’s unacceptable.”
“Erik…” Dean had sounded so much like Dad in that moment; it was the voice he used when warning an errant child that he was wandering very close to the out-of-bounds line.
Erik had laughed then, laughed because he had not been capable of any other reaction. It was a bitter laugh, though, one that upturned everything he thought he knew about his family.
And now that he sat around a different Thanksgiving table with a different family, one that knew he was gay and yet had welcomed him without question, Erik couldn’t help but laugh again. He tried to keep the bitter out as much as possible. It helped that Ryan’s hand landed on his knee and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
“Um, well.” Erik tried to figure out what would be the least painful to share. “I’ve got a pretty big family: three sisters and a brother. They all live in Utah, not far from my parents. They’re pretty close-knit.”
“And you have Thanksgiving dinner like this?” Marie asked. Either she hadn’t pick up on the slight tension Erik felt in his voice or he mersin escort bayan was a better actor than he gave himself credit for.
“Mama, you know Americans have Thanksgiving, too.” Ryan jumped in. “It’s just in November, but it’s pretty much the same.”
“Ah, and why is it in November?” Marie asked. “That’s too close to Christmas.”
The conversation turned, to Erik’s relief, and they launched into a discussion about the nuanced and not so nuanced differences between Canadians and Americans. They didn’t revisit the topic of Erik’s family again, and for that he gave thanks.
Clearing the table after dinner was a lot more difficult than setting it. Even though everyone had eaten more than their fill, most dishes looked like they had been barely touched. They were going to be eating leftovers for the better part of a week.
Movement was slow as everyone fought the immediate desire to curl up in a ball and nap for the rest of the day. But somehow they managed to transfer food into sealable containers, load up the dishwasher, and even put the kettle on for some tea.
Tom turned the TV to a football game played by teams Erik had never heard of. Thanksgiving and football—just like in the US.
“You watch the NFL?” Tom asked as Erik settled himself onto the couch lethargically.
“Not really.” Erik admitted. “Just the Super Bowl usually.”
Tom nodded, eyes glued to the screen. “This is Canadian football. Same premise as what you guys play in the States, but our fields are bigger and a couple of rules are different.”
Chloe saved Erik from having to respond when she ambled in with her giant stuffed jellyfish and climbed up on the couch next to him. Without a word, she cozied up to Erik, tucked the jellyfish under her chin, and watched the screen with heavy eyelids.
“Oh, sorry about that.” Tom turned from the screen just long enough to see his daughter using a stranger as a pillow. “Chloe—”
“No, it’s okay.” Erik waved him off. “It’s fine.”
Tom smiled. “You’re sure?”
“Yeah, it’s not like she’s weighs much.”
“Thanks for that jellyfish.” Tom nodded at the magenta toy. “She sleeps with it every night. Always talking about how Uncle Erik bought it for her.”
“Oh.” Erik laughed lightly. “It’s really not a big deal. I’m just glad she likes it.
Another nod from Tom, then back to the TV.
Erik half-watched the game, most of his attention on the little girl curled up by his side. Back home, he had a reputation as the fun uncle who lived far away and bought toys for everyone. He loved showing up at holidays laden with stuff for the kids, and he usually spent the better part of his visits playing with them until they all ended up in one giant Uncle Erik pile-on. Here was just Chloe, just enough to set off the bittersweet longing in Erik’s heart for his own family.
He wasn’t sure when he fell asleep. But when he awoke, he found Chloe using his lap as a pillow, while he was using Ryan’s shoulder as a pillow. He didn’t even remember Ryan joining them on the coach. Erik blinked the sleep away from his eyes and stretched carefully so as not to wake the little girl. As he moved, Ryan moved with him, as if seeking to maintain as much physical contact as possible. Erik’s heart did a little flip.
He didn’t get a chance to examine the feeling. Rachel knelt in front of the couch with an apologetic smile and gently coaxed her daughter awake. “Chloe, dear. Come on. Let’s get you to bed.”
The little girl reached blindly for her mother, eyes still shut, acting solely on instinct. As Rachel carried her away, Erik felt the man beside him sigh, the light exhale of air brushed against his neck.
“Let’s go upstairs?” Ryan’s low, gravelly voice was made lower and more gravelly from his post-Thanksgiving dinner nap.
Not trusting his voice, Erik simply nodded.
Leaning against the door way of Ryan’s bedroom, Erik nursed his steaming cup of coffee while watching Ryan sleep. It was a funny thing, watching someone sleep. They’re at their most vulnerable, most unguarded in their sleep, and Erik thought he should feel a little weird just standing, watching. But he didn’t. He liked watching Ryan sleep. He liked the gentle rise and fall of Ryan’s chest and the way the thick, dark lashes fanned out across his cheeks. He especially like the way Ryan pouted in his sleep, those lips just begging for a kiss.
As if hearing his thoughts, Ryan stirred and reached for the empty spot where Erik had lain for most of the night. Erik couldn’t help but smile at the frown on Ryan’s face when his hand was met by cold sheets.
“You’re up.” Ryan said it like an accusation.
Erik laughed. “Yeah. I made coffee.”
Groaning, Ryan turned his face into the pillow and held out one arm. “Come back to bed.” The words came out muffled.
Who was Erik to argue? He placed his coffee on the nightstand and dutifully crawled back under the covers. Immediately, he was pulled into a tight snuggle, arms and legs hooking into increasing familiar nooks and crannies until their bodies fit together as if they were made from matching molds. Erik felt Ryan sigh in contentment.
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