Cool
By Tim Mead




Chapter 10



As it turned out, there was more fuss over what Dan was to wear to Thanksgiving dinner than over his being gay.  There might have been trouble if he'd told his parents what he was planning to major in, but he deferred that to another time.


He and Casey had had breakfast together on Wednesday morning.  Then Casey, obviously eager to get back to Parma to see his grandmother, had put his bag on the back seat of his old car and the carrier with Urijah on the floor.  

They'd hugged.

"Be careful, Cool."

"You, too, Case."

"I guess I'll see you sometime Sunday?"

"Jeez!  I can't see sitting around home all that time.  I'll be back sooner than that, most likely."

"Great!"

He'd put off leaving until after lunch.  There was no point in rushing home.  He didn't know what his parents had planned for the day.  His mother had said to be there for supper.

As he drove down I-75 Dan felt strange about going home.  During his time as a fighter, he'd been more or less persona non grata with his parents.  Or at least with his mother.  He'd spent holidays with friends sometimes, but he knew what it was like to be alone on holidays, too.

Now that he was going to college as they'd always wanted, they made clear their expectation that he'd be home for Thanksgiving.  But except for a few weeks that summer, Dan had lived away from his parents' house for nearly two and a half years.  In just a couple of months he'd come to feel as if he belonged in Colby, rather than in Loveland.

On the other hand, his mood might be caused by the task facing him:  that of coming out to his mother and father.

It even felt strange just walking in the front door without knocking.

His parents were in the family room having drinks.  Both stood when he walked in.

His father gave him a tight hug and slapped him on the back enthusiastically.  His mother offered her cheek to be kissed.

After they'd asked questions about his trip that afternoon, his father said, "We're just having salad and a chicken casserole for supper, since we're going to feast tomorrow.  Would you like a glass of chardonnay?  This isn't bad.  Or now that you're a college man, would you rather have beer?"

"I'd love some chard, actually.  But I'll get it.  You two sit down, and I'll be right back."

When he returned with his wine, he sat, wondering whether this was the time to bring up the topic.

He raised his glass to his lips but didn't drink when his mother said, "Your scar seems to be fading.  But you'll need a good plastic surgeon eventually."

"I forget about it unless someone reminds me," Dan said.

His father shifted uncomfortably and asked him something about his courses.  They chatted with less strain after that.



After supper when they were gathered around the fire in the family room, Dan asked,
"So, do you both have gigs this weekend?"  He knew if the Symphony was playing on Saturday night, he'd be expected to attend, along with his father.  And he wouldn't mind.  It had been a long time since he'd heard the Symphony play.

"Your father does, but I don't.  We have a regular set of concerts next weekend, and Messiah in mid-December.  Of course we'll go to hear your father and his choir on Sunday morning."

"Of course."  Dan grinned.  "But not both services, I hope."

His father chuckled.  "No, you can both sleep in and just come for the 10:30 service.  But we're doing some special music for Advent, and I think you'll enjoy it.  We have an excellent guest contralto."

"It's Beryl Bream," Dan's mother added.  "She's a member of the Symphony Chorus and frequently does solo work with them."

Dan tried not to grimace.  He had come to love a lot of the orchestral literature, and he didn't mind choral music, but contraltos and sopranos grated on his ear, no matter how good they were supposed to be.  Still, he'd long since learned to suffer in silence.  And it had been a long time since he'd been to church.  He was all the more resolved to get away on Saturday even if the coming out went well.


The contretemps over clothing occurred the next day when Dan came downstairs wearing a button-up shirt and khakis.

"Daniel, you can't go to Thanksgiving Dinner at the Golden Lamb wearing those clothes!" his mother said.

"Sorry, Mom, this is the best I have."

"But you know you and your father and all the other men wear jackets and ties to The Lamb.  Isn't your blazer in your closet?  Or what about your black suit?"

"I suppose they're still there.  I didn't look.  But they won't fit."

To placate his mother he showed them that he'd bulked up just enough in the shoulders and chest that both the blazer and the suit jacket looked ridiculous.

"How about one of your father's jackets?"

"The sleeves would be too long, dear," his father commented.

"Then you can probably wear one of your father's shirts.  And a tie.  And his navy cashmere sweater.  But you're going shopping Friday for a new blazer and a new suit.  Then you'll have something to wear to church Sunday."

"Mother, I'm not gonna fight the crowds on the day after Thanksgiving to go shopping for clothes.  And besides, they wouldn't be able to get them altered before Sunday."

She sighed.  "All right, dear.  But you're going to have to get some new things before Christmas.  Haven't you needed to get dressed up at

school?"

Dan shook his head.  "No.  Not so far."

"You haven't been going to church?"

"I haven't been to church since I had to, uh, since I left home."

"Oh!"


Dan wore the borrowed shirt, tie, and sweater, feeling like a geek.  All he needed was a pair of glasses with dark plastic frames.

The meal at the Golden Lamb was excellent, as always.  As their website noted, they'd been doing Thanksgiving dinners for over 140 years.

And it was a longstanding family tradition of the Cole's.  Diane Cole had said she wasn't about to spend all day in the kitchen slaving over turkey and the other traditional foods, so she, her husband Charles, and their son had been going to The Lamb from the time
Dan had been able to sit in a high chair.

Hoping to keep his folks in a good mood, Dan didn't comment that the other two guys his age at the restaurant this Thanksgiving were wearing sport shirts, one with dark slacks, the other with khakis.

~~~~~

On Friday Dan slept late.  After showering, shaving, and dressing, he fixed his own breakfast.  His father seemed to have gone out, and he could hear his mother playing her viola in the music room.

He left a note saying he'd see them for supper.

He stopped by the Kroger's where he used to work, but Cheryl wasn't there.  He'd hoped to see her.  Disappointed, he got back in his car and called her on his cell phone.  

She answered, and was pleased that he'd called.  But there was a considerable racket in the background.

"Got lots of family there?"

"Sure do, sweetie.  The more the merrier.  Are you at home?"

"No.  I'm in Cincinnati, going to the gym."

"When are you going back to school?"

"I'd like to go tomorrow, but they expect me to go to church with them Sunday."

"Well, while you're home at Christmas, you've got to come and see me."

"Maybe I could take you to lunch some day if you're not working."

"No way, cupcake.  You'll come here and let me feed you!"

Dan knew better than argue, so he agreed he'd like that.


He spent the afternoon at the gym, working out and visiting with Frank, the other trainers, and several of the guys who used to be his training partners.

He heard on the car radio as he drove back to Loveland that a winter storm was expected to hit late Saturday and continue dropping snow overnight and into Sunday.

His parents had another fire going and were having wine when he got home.

May as well do it and get it over with, he thought.

He said hello, used the downstairs bathroom, and came back to the family room.

"The cabernet is on the kitchen counter.  Help yourself," his dad said.  "Then come back and tell us about your day."

He followed his father's suggestion and returned to where his parents were sitting.

"Have you guys heard the weather forecast?"

His mother winced at the word "guys" but didn't say anything.

"Yeah," his father said.  "Storm coming."

"Well, I think I'd better leave tomorrow after breakfast so I can get back to Colby before it hits."

"We hate to see you cut your visit short, Danny, but you're probably wise to do that," his mother commented.

Dan took what was more a swallow than a sip of the wine.

"Um, Mom, Dad, there's something I need to tell you.  He almost said "you guys."

"Problems with your grades, son, or with your roommate?"

"Or maybe," his mother said glancing at his father, "he has a girlfriend."

"The grades are mostly B's, and Casey's great.  This is, well, maybe important, even though it shouldn't be."

Neither parent said anything.  Instead they looked at him expectantly.

"Okay.  I may as well just say it.  I'm gay."

His mother and father looked at each other and then back at him.  He couldn't read their faces.

"Are you sure?" his mother asked.

"No question about it."

"How long have you known?"

"Since I was twelve."

"Oh!" his mother said.  "All that time and you never told us."  She paused.  "That boy you live with, is he your lover?"

"No, Mother, he's just a good friend."

But I'd like him to be more than that.  Dan was surprised at the thought.  It was the first time he'd explicitly admitted anything more than a sexual attraction for his roommate.

"Are you out on campus, Dan?" his father asked.

"Yeah.  I thought it would be a chance to start off right, without hiding who I am."

There was more silence.  So far they'd been calm, but he had no sense of what was coming.  He'd been a disappointment to them, well, to his mother, and he expected she wouldn't be happy about this, either.  The question was just how she'd express her disappointment.

Dan hadn't realized he'd been holding his breath and clenching his fists until his father said,  "Relax, Dan.  It's okay."

He took a deep breath and then looked at his mother.

"Your father's right, sweetheart.  It's all right."

"You're not upset with me?"

Again the elder Coles exchanged looks.

"No," his mother continued.  "Not upset.  Surprised.  I mean, you were into your wrestling in high school and your, what do you call it, fighting after that.  You dated.  It never occurred to me that you might be gay.  You are sure?"

"Yes, Mother."

"Danny," his father said, "As musicians, your mother and I have many friends and colleagues who are gay.  We understand that being gay isn't a matter of choice.  We have no moral issues with homosexuality, none at all.  So if you were afraid we were going to reject you, you need to get past that."

Dan took a deep breath and then another.

"But what about grandkids?"

His mother smiled.  "Well, at least we needn't have worried about you getting some girl pregnant.  Besides, gay couples can adopt children in many states.  So grandchildren aren't out of the question."

"But that can wait until you've finished at the university.  More important for now is, are you being safe?"

"Absolutely."

"Promise us you'll always use protection," his mother said.

Feeling greatly relieved, Dan made an X on his chest.  "Cross my heart."

"Try some of the Stilton on a rice cracker.  It's pretty good," his father said.

Dan knew the subject was closed.

"But, Daniel," his mother said, "I'm not giving up on the new clothes.  As soon as you get back for your Christmas break, your father is going to take you shopping at Nordstrom's."

Later, as they were having dinner, she asked, "Do you have a steady boyfriend?"

"No."

"And your roommate is just a friend.  Is he a good friend?"

"His name's Casey, Mom.  And, yes, he's a good friend.  In the non sexual way.  I like him a lot.  He's been kind of like a big brother to me."

"Why don't you bring him home with you at Christmas?"

"He works at a restaurant, so I don't know how much time he'll have off.  But I'll ask him."

"Which restaurant?  One of the chains?"

"No.  Was Adrian's there when you were at Colby?"

"It most certainly was, but it was too expensive for us to go there often in our student days."

Charles smiled.  "Back then we thought it was pretty stuffy.  But our tastes have changed.  Now we go there whenever we're in Colby.  The food and the service are excellent.  I think Adrian's son runs the place?"

"He does, and he's grooming Casey to go into management."

Diane raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything.  Dan sensed she didn't approve of a career in restaurant management and worried what she'd say when he told her his own career plans.

"Have you eaten there?" Charles asked.

Dan grinned.  "Actually, I got to have lunch in the kitchen once.  But it's a bit pricey for me, and I haven't had a special occasion to celebrate, so I've never been there as a paying customer.  Still, I get to eat a lot of their food."

"What do you mean?" his father asked.

"Casey and Albert, the head chef, are good friends.  Albert sends home what he calls 'care packages' with Casey all the time.  So we can usually pull something wonderful out of the freezer and nuke it when we're eating in."

"I'm glad to know you're eating well, dear," his mother said.  "And speaking of eating, would you gentlemen like to help me get dinner on the table?

~~~~~

The next morning after breakfast Dan put his bag in the car and said his goodbyes to his parents.  

He got a warmer than usual hug from his father.  And a hug plus a kiss on the cheek from his mother which was surprising, since she wasn't normally a hugger.  He found that reassuring.  Apparently they were dealing with his being gay.

"Be sure to persuade Casey to come with you at Christmas time.  We'd love to meet him," his mother said.

"I know you'll drive carefully, son," his father added.  "Call or email when you get there, please."

"Sure, Dad."

And he was on his way back to Colby.

~~~~~

When Dan arrived at the apartment, Casey was in the living room reading, Urijah curled up beside him on the sofa.

"Hey, Cool!  I didn't expect you back until tomorrow."

He stood and gave Dan a crushing embrace.

My day for hugs, Dan thought.  But he wasn't complaining.

"Well, there's a storm coming."

"So they say."

"I used that as an excuse to leave a day early."

"Things didn't go well at home?"

Dan sat on the edge of the couch.  Urijah rolled over onto his back, exposing his stomach for petting.

"They went better than I expected, actually."  He rubbed the cat's belly as he talked.  "The `rents were amazingly cool about the gay thing."

"Of course they were.  You're the Cool family, after all."

Dan chuckled.

"They want you to come home with me at Christmas time."

"Do they think we're together?"

"That was one of the first things my mother asked.  I told her no, that you were just my best friend.  In a non-sexual way."

Dan couldn't quite decipher the look on Casey's face at that point.

"So, do you think you could come?  I could show you Cincinnati, such as it is."

"I'd like to, bud, but it will depend on my work schedule."

"And you'll want to see your grandmother."

"Oh, Gran's going to Florida for Christmas.  She's spending it with her younger sister in Lakeland."

"Where's Lakeland?"

"Fuck if I know."

"Can you take a break?"

"Yeah, in a minute.  You had any lunch?"

"No, I drove straight through.  And I gotta whiz!"

"Do that, and I'll be with you in a minute."

In the kitchen, Casey asked, "Could you face a turkey sandwich?"

"Sure."

"Gran and I fixed a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey, and she made me bring all the leftovers with me.  I couldn't face them yesterday, but we can either make a sandwich or heat up all the stuff.  Except for the cranberry sauce, of course."

Dan chuckled.  "Warm cranberry sauce.  Eww!  But a sandwich would be good."  

As they munched, they talked about their brief visits with their families.

"You don't have any other family in Cleveland?"

"My parents live there, but they don't want to see me.  So it's just Gran in Parma."

"Oh, yeah.  You've told me that.  It must be tough being rejected by your folks."

"Yeah.  But I've dealt with that."  He grinned.  "I figure it's their loss."

Dan felt a lump in his throat.  How could anyone reject their own kid just for being gay?  Especially someone like Casey?  But then he realized that his own parents, well, his mother mainly, had rejected him because he'd insisted on being in MMA instead of coming to college.

He reached across the table and put his hand over Casey's.  

"Man, I'm so sorry your family's the way they are.  I've been so worried about what mine would say.  And I know a bit about what it's like to be cut loose.  You're right.  It is their loss!"

Casey turned his hand palm up and squeezed Dan's.

"Thanks, Cool."

"So.  You think you could come home with me for Christmas?"

"I can't spend as much time there as you will.  Let me check my work schedule with Adrian.  Maybe I can come down for an overnight."

"That wouldn't give us time to do much."  

"I'll see what I can arrange with the bosses."


The two friends watched football on television until Casey had to leave for work.

Dan called Arnie's land-line phone and got no answer.  He tried his cell, but that was turned off.  As promised, it was beginning to snow.  He hoped his friend would make it safely back to campus from Akron.

He wondered what he'd do with his evening.  He could go to Nellie's, but he was afraid there'd be some awkwardness if Bernie was there.  On the other hand, he might run into someone else he knew.  It wasn't so much a matter of getting laid; he just didn't want to spend the evening alone.

Just then, providentially, there was a knock at the door.

It was Seth.  His watch cap and shoulders had a layer of snow on them.

"Hey, Seth, come in.  It must be really coming down out there."

"Yeah, it is.  I won't come in and get snow on your floors.  But if you don't have other plans, why don't you come up and have supper with me?  In fact, you can help me make it."

"Sounds great.  Do I have time for a shower?"

"Yeah.  Come anytime you're ready."


When he got there, Seth offered him a glass of pinot grigio, which he accepted, though he found the taste a little astringent.

"I didn't expect you back until tomorrow.  Or, I should say, Casey didn't expect you back until tomorrow."

"I decided to get here before the storm hit.  We do have weather forecasters in Cincinnati, you know."

"Oh?"  Seth grinned.  "Do they look at the entrails of chickens?"

Dan shook his head.  "Nah.  Quit doin' that a couple of years ago."

Seth gestured toward his coffee table, on which were a bowl of pita triangles and a smaller bowl of something chopped up and brownish.

Dan was suspicious of the look, but, not wanting to offend his host, spooned a small bit of the stuff onto a piece of the bread.

"Mmm.  That's good."

Seth chuckled.  "You're a brave man, Daniel.  What you mean is it isn't as yucky as it looks?"

"Well, maybe.  But it is kind of good.  What is it?"

"Caponata."

"Maybe I should have asked what's in it?"

"Lots of stuff, but mostly ripe olives, celery, bell pepper, capers and eggplant."

"Maybe it's just as well you didn't tell me," Dan said, as he helped himself to more.  "You didn't go away for Thanksgiving?"

"No, not enough time."

"Where is your family?"

"Dad's in Boulder, where he teaches.  Mother's in Scottsdale, where she plays golf."

Dan got the picture.

"No special person to visit when there's time?"

Seth swallowed the caponata and cracker he'd been chewing, took a sip of wine, and said, "Yeah, there is.  He's in Atlanta.  Got a job there after we graduated from Indiana."

Dan felt a strong sense of relief.  He'd been wondering what went on between Seth and Casey when the two were together in Seth's apartment.  

"What's his name?"

"Julian.  He's a graphic artist and landed a great job."

"If he's special, it must be tough being apart."

"He is, and it is."  Seth smiled.  "But I'll be spending the entire Christmas break in Atlanta, which is a lot better than here."

"No side trips to Boulder or Scottsdale?"

"Not this year."


After they'd finished their wine, Seth asked, "What say I pour us refills and we get started on supper?"

"Sure, what do you want me to do?"

"Like I said, you can make the salad if you're up to it."

"Let me at your fridge!"

While Dan cut up vegetables, Seth turned the heat up under a large pot of water that had been on low flame.  When it came to a rolling boil, he added pasta.

Then he poured a bit of olive oil into a skillet, added crushed garlic, and heated it.  He tossed in chopped bell pepper, bay scallops, and popcorn shrimp, which he sauteed briefly, adding a splash of the wine.  When the pasta was ready, he said, "Let's serve ourselves from the stove."

They filled their plates, helping themselves to salad on smaller plates when they got to the table.

Seth topped up their wine glasses, and they ate.

"Hey, I can't believe anything this easy could be this good.  I've never seen little scallops like this.  I think I like `em better than the ones that look like marshmallows."

As they ate, Seth asked if Dan had had a good time with his parents.

Dan told him about coming out to them.

"Sounds as if it could have been worse."

"Yeah, a lot worse.  I knew they had gay friends, but having a gay son is something different.  I honestly wasn't sure how they'd react."

"But they're okay with it?"

"I'm sure my dad is.  And my mother says she is.  I was surprised, actually."

"About what?"

"Oh, I dunno.  With her it's like I never measured up.  I wasn't a brain in high school.  Didn't run with the elite social group.  They knew early on I didn't have any musical talent, at least not enough to go into music as a profession.  But I think they wanted me to go into one of the more respected professions.  Mom was really unhappy when I went out for wrestling in high school.  And when I said I was going to give MMA a try she got really balky.  If I wasn't going to college, and we all understood that college meant Colby, then I could move out."

"That's pretty cold."

"I suppose it was her version of tough love.  But she's been a lot happier since I came home with my tail between my legs and asked if the offer to come to Colby still stood.  But I was pretty worried that the gay thing would give her another chance to let me know how unsatisfactory I am."

"Maybe you're being too hard on her, Dan.  She did say she's okay with your being gay, didn't she?"

"Yeah.  She seemed to act like it wasn't an issue."

Dan chuckled.

"What?"

"She made more of a fuss about the clothes I wanted to wear out to Thanksgiving dinner."

Seth looked puzzled.

"I've outgrown the suit and blazer I had in high school.  Never needed anything like that when I was fighting.  So I was going to wear just a sport shirt and khakis to the restaurant.  But she made me wear one of Dad's dress shirts and a tie and his cashmere sweater.  And she says he has to take me clothes shopping as soon as I get home for Christmas."

"Don't they trust you to shop on your own?"

"It's not what you think.  I'm sure Dad will make me buy more stuff and better stuff than I would on my own."

"Parents can be funny.  But it doesn't sound to me like yours are so bad.  They're helping with your bills here, aren't they?"

"Pretty much the whole thing, actually."

"Then I'd say you're pretty lucky."

"Yeah.  I realize that when I see how hard Casey works, with his job and his classes."

Seth gestured toward the bowls of food.  "Have some more."

"Thanks.  I think I will.  Maybe I'll trying making this to surprise Case some evening when he's home for supper."

"You won't surprise him.  He's already had it.  He liked, but he said if he were making it he'd leave out the scallops and just have the shrimp."

"Thanks.  I'll remember that."


Later, after Dan had said his thank-yous and was getting ready to leave, Seth asked, "How are things between you and Casey?"

"They're great.  Why?"

"Just wondered.  Casey's a decent guy."

"Don't I know it!  He's been like a big brother to me ever since we first met."

"I'm glad you appreciate him.  But he's lucky, too.  He's mentioned you often, and he thinks well of you."


The wind was howling when Casey got back to the apartment.  He'd worn a watch cap, a parka, and gloves, but his ears and nose were red.

"Damn, it's nasty out there!"

"Get out of your coat and things and come here."

When Casey had kicked off his shoes and divested himself of his outer wear, Dan grabbed a throw from the back of the sofa and wrapped it around his friend.

"Sit there.  I'll get you some dry socks."

"Thanks, Cool.  There's a pair of wool ones in the second drawer of my dresser."

When Dan came back, he took off Casey's wet socks, dried his feet with a towel he'd grabbed in the bathroom, and put on the heavier ones.  Then he sat next to Casey.

"Here.  Swing around and put your feet in my lap."

Casey grinned.  "Seems to me you take awfully good care of my feet."

"My pleasure."  There's more of you I'd like to take care of.

He rubbed the body parts in question.  "Are you thawing out?  Maybe you need to take a hot shower.  Or soak in the tub."

Casey leaned over and ruffled Dan's hair.  "I'll be okay, Mom.  But I think I need to go climb in bed and snuggle under the covers."

Dan clamped his jaw shut to keep from asking if he wanted company.


Later, in his own bed, Dan thought back over the evening.  Wonder just what Seth meant when he said Casey "thinks well" of me?


TBC
 

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