“I’m not sure having me here is a great idea,” Cynthia is trying to chicken out on me. Give it up, girl. We’re in my kitchen, preparing jambalaya, one of Justin’s favorite dishes. He says Brian likes it. I suspect Brian would eat it just to make him happy.
“If you think I’m taking all the blame for this, think again,” I tease her as I refill our glasses with this exceptionally good merlot I found on sale at my favorite wine shop. I think we’re a little east of tipsy, which is making this whole cooking thing more enjoyable.
“Here’s to a successful beginning, anyway,” Cynthia taps my glass with hers. We drink. I add a little more Tabasco to the brew in the big wrought iron pot.
“They’re in the same room,” I observe. “They had a couple days alone together after they found each other, as I knew they would. We can’t live their lives for them, and make the right decisions for them, they have to do that. But at least we got them in the same vicinity through a little careful planning.”
“And then nature took its course,” she says with a smile. “Maybe I should turn my shitty love life over to your manipulations.”
“Forget it,” I say with a sigh. “Look at my own.”
She begins slicing a baguette to add the butter and garlic seasoning. We’ll then wrap it in foil until it’s time to put it in the oven. “Do you think you’ll ever get married again, Jennifer?”
“I’m in no rush to marry, and I really don’t think I need to be married. But I would like someone to date. I miss having a man in my life. So long as he isn’t Craig.” We both giggle, a sure sign of too much good wine. Molly comes in with her usual adolescent scowl. What makes adolescents so nasty anyway? Little do they know how good they have it. Youth is truly wasted on the young.
“I’m not eating that,” she dismisses the jambalaya with a glance.
“Why not?” Cynthia asks, unclear on the concept of teenaged girls and their moods. It’s been awhile since she was a nasty teenaged girl, and way longer than that for me. Molly narrows her eyes at the pretty blonde.
“Because it’s rank. It smells funny and it’s too spicy.”
“Then you can eat salad and bread,” I inform her as she opens the freezer and glares at the myriad of “lite” pre-packaged meals.
“I’ll fix something for myself and eat in my room.”
“Molly, your brother and his partner are coming to dinner. You will join us and you will act human.”
She turns to look at me. “Brian is coming?”
I nod. She slams the refrigerator shut and storms out of the room, proclaiming, “You could have told me! I have to change!”
Cynthia and I share a look and I shrug. “His charm extends beyond the boys of Babylon.”
She laughs. “Don’t I know it? I went through my crushing on Brian stage.”
“Oh sure. When I was his assistant at the other firm. My first day on the job, I was telling my friends, ‘I’m going to marry my boss’. I used all my little tricks on him. Flinging the hair back, short skirts, glittery lip gloss, a black bra under a white blouse, but he was a brick wall. Then one day he said to me that we were having a very important client meeting the next day and suggested I wear my Ellen Tracy suit, that it looked good on me. And instead of the Ferragamo’s I usually wore it with, try the Jimmy Choo slingbacks since they sexed it up subtly. Ding, ding, ding, it finally got through that Mr. Metrosexual wasn’t so metro after all. He was gay.”
I laugh. “It is difficult to tell with Brian. He comes across as straight, unless you happen to see him with my son, and then there’s no doubt. I raised Justin, and I always suspected he could be gay. He’s just effeminate enough to broadcast that fact, but Brian is a tough read.”
“He has his queenie moments, believe me. He may not be effeminate, but he can queen out with the best of the drama monarchs.”
We both giggle. “I hated Brian, at first,” I admit. “I felt like he was taking advantage of Justin. He was too old, too sophisticated. I knew he would hurt him, and he did. But then I saw how he stood up to my husband and that started me thinking. Later, when Justin got bashed, I blamed Brian. I felt he shouldn’t have gone to that prom, that he set him up for the trouble that came. Looking back, I know it was a loving gesture, his showing up there at that prom, and very courageous. I’m firmly convinced of how much he loves my son. Brian’s very vulnerable, beneath all that egomania. I think I’ve transferred some of my protective mama feelings to him.”
“God knows he needs it, given that she-wolf who gave birth to him.”
“At least he has Debbie.”
“Don’t get me started on her.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean from watching Debbie interact with Brian, I’m reminded of a shit sandwich. It looks fine on top and bottom but in the middle, it’s still full of shit. She’s so inconsistent in her feelings for Brian. She goes from loving him or appearing to love him, to treating him like shit in five minutes flat.”
I realize I’ve seen that happen. But that’s Debbie. She’s so volatile. The front door opens and I hear Justin say, “We’re here.” We meet halfway between the kitchen and the living room. Brian isn’t with him, but he’s holding his partner’s coat, so I assume he’s here somewhere. I kiss his cheek as he sniffs the air. “Jambalaya?”
I nod. “Where’s Brian?”
“Sitting down. I’m getting him a Coke. He’s not drinking at the moment.”
I walk past him and see Brian sitting rather stiffly in the suede chair with the matching ottoman. He doesn’t attempt to get up. I can read his discomfort in his pallor and his pose. He offers me a half smile and a salute, but I lean over to kiss his clammy forehead. “How badly are you hurt?”
“I’m sidelined for the Super Bowl. There goes the Steelers last hope for a win.”
I laugh at that. “I made a nice raw veggie and ranch dip? Want some?” I pick up the tray, but he waves it away.
“No thanks. I’ll save myself for dinner.”
“Brian, do you want to lie down? You look miserable.”
“It’s that damned Corvette, Mom,” Justin re-enters and hands Brian a can of Coke. I try to tell him to please pour it in a glass but he never hears me so I’ve given up. I think drinking out of cans is tacky. “It’s so low, getting him in and out of the car was a torture, and the shocks on that thing are ridiculous.”
“Don’t dis my car,” Brian grumbles. “It’s not the car’s fault I’m banged up.”
Justin flops down on the couch and sips his beer from a bottle. He beams at Brian and replies, “Yeah, whose fault is that again?”
“If you give me a minute, I can find a way to make it your fault, Sunshine.”
I smile at one man and then the other. They’re interacting again. Cynthia joins us. “Hi, boss. Justin.”
“Didn’t I fire you?” Brian glares at her and she laughs.
“Billing system, remember?”
He continues to glare as my son says, “Both of you were wrong to do what you did. It was manipulative and interfering and could have blown up in your faces. You don’t have the right to pull games on us. This is our relationship, not yours.”
“You’re both so stubborn and prideful that you sat in your separate cities and were separately miserable. Friends, and moms, don’t let friends be miserable if they can help them.” I explain. Cynthia high fives me.
“You know what they say about the best laid plans, right?” Brian contributes.
“At least it’s a plan, Brian. You two didn’t seem to have one, now did you?”
Silence. Brian laughs. “Who knew women would be making an effort to restore order in my miserable love life?”
Justin leaned over to kiss the top of his head, bringing a grimace from him. “Maybe that’s what was missing. The feminine touch?”
“Really? You mean you aren’t feminine enough?”
I watch Justin elbow him and Brian groan as if in more pain than he is. The obvious affection between them makes me feel warmer than any wine. Any Tabasco sauce. Anything.
“Hi, Brian,” Molly’s voice comes from the stairs. We all look over at her. She’s gone from glum adolescent in sweats to Lolita in short skirt and tummy revealing top. She’s obviously unclear on the concept of gay, but then she still has time to learn. Justin leans back against Brian, staring at his sister as Brian says,
“Uh, hi, Molly. Nice belly button.”
She beams as her brother drops his head on Brian’s shoulder, muffling his laughter in his lover’s sweater.