The prompt was:
While MC1 is visiting his parents for a family crisis, his boyfriend MC2 comes to support him. MC1 hasn’t told his family about him, though. Awkward!
Here’s my contribution:
“I have to go home. I’ll call you later,” said Jeff quickly, his hand on Max’s office door. He was holding his jacket, obviously on his way out.
“Are you sick?” asked Max.
“No, it’s my dad. I have to go home. My mom called me.”
“I’ll drive you. I was almost finished here anyway,” Max got up from behind his desk and grabbed his jacket.
“No, it’s alright. I’ll take a cab,” Jeff said, already walking away.
“Wait!” yelled Max. “I’ll drive you so we can talk.”
In the car, Jeff looked out the window while Max drove towards Jeff’s parents’ house. He had never been there. They didn’t know about him. Jeff hadn’t even told them he was gay. He suspected they already knew.
“So what happened?”
“They found a tumor yesterday during a routine check-up. Today he found out he’ll need surgery fast and it might not be enough. My mom is freaking out. She called my sister too.”
“I’m so sorry.” Max reached out and grabbed Jeff’s hand. Their fingers curled together. “Is there anything else they can do?”
Jeff chocked on a sob. “They have to meet the oncologist in two days. I’ll know more when I get there,” he sniffed. Max squeezed Jeff’s hand. They rode in silence the rest of the way.
“Just over here, the red door,” Jeff said, pointing to his parents’ house.
“Good luck. I’ll wait in the car.” Max let go of Jeff’s hand and turned off the motor.
Jeff just sat there, his hand on the door handle. He looked so sad it broke Max’s heart.
“Can you come in with me?”
Max was surprised by the question. “Uhm… is that a good idea? What are you gonna say?”
“That you’re my friend and you drove me. I don’t care. I just need you.” Jeff looked up at him with watery eyes.
“Of course I’ll come in.”
They both got out of the car and headed towards the door, which opened as soon as they reached it.
“Jeff, I’m so glad you could come” said the person who had to be his mother. Jeff walked into her open arms and they hugged. Max stood a couple of steps behind him, feeling a bit awkward.
“Oh, hello, come on in,” said Jeff’s mother when she saw him.
“Hello Mrs. Peters,” Max said, his hand outstretched.
“Mom, this is Max. He drove me,” said Jeff. “Max, this is my mother.” They shook hands.
“Call me Julia. Come on in.”
As they entered the house, they could hear voices in the kitchen. Jeff was following his mom and he stretched his hand out behind him for Max to touch. Max brushed Jeff’s fingers lightly.
A man looking distraught sat at the kitchen table, presumably Jeff’s dad. A tall, pregnant woman with the same blond hair as Jeff was pouring coffee in mugs at the counter.
When they walked in the kitchen, Jeff’s dad got up and hugged his son. Jeff started crying on his father’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Dad,” he sobbed.
Max stood in the doorway, not knowing what his role was. This was an intimate family crisis and he felt like the intruder that he was. He had never met these people. They didn’t even know he was in a serious relationship with their son. Watching Jeff break down in his father’s arms, he realized they needed to have a serious talk about where their relationship was going. But this was not about him, he knew that. He was here for Jeff, whatever Jeff needed. If he required him to act like just a friend, then so be it. There would be time for revelations later.
When they disengaged, Jeff’s dad noticed Max and was startled. He took a step away from his son, seemingly embarrassed.
“Oh, Dad, this is my friend Max. He drove me,” Jeff explained. “Max, this is my dad, and this,” pointing to the woman with the coffee mugs, “is my sister Kelly.”
“Hello Max,” said Jeff’s dad softly, uncomfortable that a stranger had witnessed his emotional reunion with his son.
“Hi Max, it’s nice to meet you,” said Kelly, coming to shake his hand.
“It’s nice to meet all of you. I’m just sorry it’s under such sad circumstances,” said Max, shaking her hand. “I’m sorry, Sir, if there’s anything I can do,” he said, turning to Jeff’s father.
“Thank you, Max, for driving Jeff. We really appreciate it.” Jeff’s dad still looked uncomfortable. He turned to his son. “Jeff, why don’t you walk your friend out. I’m sure he’s got more interesting things to do tonight,” he said, smiling faintly. Julia smiled wanly at Max, twisting her fingers.
“Of course. I’m sorry for intruding, Mr. and Mrs. Peters.” Max quickly turned around and headed back down the hallway. He knew this was a bad idea.
“Max, wait!” Jeff called out. Turning to his parents, he said: “Mom, Dad, Kelly, there’s something I have to tell you. Max isn’t only a friend.”
Hearing those words, Max stopped in the middle of the hallway, his heart in his throat.
Jeff walked up behind him and took his hand. “It’s alright, baby. Come on,” he said softly.
When they came back to the kitchen, both Jeff’s parents looked stunned and his sister was smiling.
“Max, would you like some coffee? I was just pouring some,” Kelly said to Max with a twinkle in her eye.
Max just nodded, not sure what he was supposed to do. He was just going to follow Jeff’s lead.
“Jeff?” his mom asked, her face wide with surprise.
“I know this is an awful time to bring it up and my timing sucks, but Max is my boyfriend and I really need him with me. Is that alright?” Jeff looked to be on the verge of tears again. Max just looked at the floor, waiting for someone’s reaction.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Kelly said in a sing-song voice. She brought a tray of coffee mugs to the table and sat down. “Come on, the coffee’s getting cold.”
Julia was the first to recover from her shock. “Please, Max, sit down,” she said, pointing to a chair. “Jeff, we’ll talk about this more some other time, but for now I’ll just say I’m happy you found someone.” She looked at her son with determination and, yes, a hint of affection.
Jeff’s father, on the other hand, was not so forthcoming. He just stood there, stunned and angry.
“Are you trying to tell me you’re gay and this is your boyfriend? On the day I find out I have cancer?” His voice was raised by the time he finished.
Max just stood there, not moving. He noticed Kelly’s eyes rolling. Jeff looked crestfallen.
“Stan, calm down,” Julia said to her husband. She walked up to him and put a hand on his arm. “It’s not so surprising, is it? Come on, we have more to talk about,” she said gently.
“Yeah, Dad, it’s not like we weren’t expecting it, is it? Come on, tell us what the doctor said. That’s what I want to talk about,” Kelly said.
Stan sighed, shaking his head. “You know, Jeff, we suspected for a while now that maybe girls weren’t your thing. But to spring this on us at a time like this, I have to say I’m disappointed. You could’ve told us before. How long has this been going on?” he asked, still standing, staring at his son.
Jeff turned towards Max. “We’ve been together six months now. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. I was afraid you’d be mad,” he said sheepishly.
“I can’t say I’m thrilled, but cancer pretty much stole your thunder, son,” Stan said. He finally sat down, took a cup of coffee and started fixing it with sugar and milk. He looked up at Max and said: “Come on, sit down. Have some coffee,” he gestured to the mugs.
“Thank you,” muttered Max. This is not how he thought they’d come out to Jeff’s parents. He felt terrible. “I’m sorry we’re springing this on you at such a bad time,” he apologized. “If you’d prefer for me to leave, just say so,” he added.
“No, please, stay,” Jeff said, grabbing his hand. “It’s okay, right?” he asked his parents.
“Sure, sit down, Max,” offered Julia. Both guys sat next to each other. Jeff reached for Max’s hand under the table. Just knowing he was there made him feel a little better.
Julia sat next to Kelly and pulled a mug toward her. “I’m sorry Max, I know this is awkward. I wish we would’ve met before this,” she said, pinching her lips.
“We’ll grill him some other time,” Kelly said, smiling. Turning to her father, she asked: “Okay, what did the doctor say?”
They talked about the tumor; the urgency of removing it and the possible treatments but much was up in the air still until they met with the oncologist.
The whole time, Max remained silent, letting the family talk. He rubbed Jeff’s hand with his thumb to comfort him, but that was the extent of his involvement. Observing Jeff with his family, he noticed the brother and sister had a warm, affectionate relationship. They were both on good terms with their parents or, if not, differences were put aside for the time being. Max had never seen Jeff so vulnerable. His questions betrayed his worry and anxiety and the answers weren’t reassuring much. Kelly seemed the calmer one, taking the information for what it was, not more, not less. Her attitude leaned more toward not worrying about stuff they didn’t know or couldn’t control. Sometimes she would catch Max’s eye and wink or smile at him. This made him feel a little less uncomfortable.
When there was nothing else to say about Stan’s health, Julia put both her palms down on the table.
“Okay, who’s hungry? I have a huge frozen lasagna I can stick in the oven,” she said, looking around at everyone.
“I have to get home. Bob’s waiting for me to put Kyle to bed,” Kelly said. She stood up, putting a hand at the small of her back. “I’ll go with you to meet the surgeon if you don’t mind,” she said to her dad.
“Sure, that’d be great,” Stan said, smiling for the first time in a while. “Thanks,” he said, getting up and pulling her in a hug.
“I can go too. I’ll ask for the time off,” Jeff said.
His dad turned to him. “Great, I’d like that,” he said, smiling at his son.
Jeff turned to Max. “Mr. Stevens won’t mind, do you think?”
“Just tell him why you need the time, I’m sure he’ll accommodate you,” Max assured him.
“You guys work together?” Julia asked.
“Yeah, that’s where we met,” Jeff smiled, looking at Max fondly.
“They don’t frown on that?” Stan asked.
Jeff’s back stiffed. “No, Dad, they don’t frown on gays,” he answered tightly.
“I didn’t mean because you’re gay, Jeff. I meant they don’t have a non-fraternization policy or something like that?”
Jeff’s shoulders’ dropped. He didn’t meet his dad’s eyes. “Oh. No, they don’t care as long as you do the work. The president and the office manager are a couple, so…” he smirked.
“Is anyone up for lasagna?” Julia asked.
Jeff turned to Max. “Do you mind if we stay?”
“I’d love to,” Max smiled at him. “If that’s alright with you,” he added, turning to Julia.
“Of course it’s alright. It’ll give us a chance to chat and talk about something else,” Julia answered, smiling. She went to the freezer and started preparing dinner.
“Are you a programmer too?” Stan asked Max. They started discussing work so Jeff walked his sister out. She grabbed his arm. “I’m so happy for you! Plus he’s hot,” she whispered in his ear.
“Yeah, he is. He’s great. I’m glad you met him,” Jeff said, hugging his sister.
“Will you be alright?” she asked him, a concerned look replacing the joyful one.
Jeff felt his heart stutter. “Yeah. I’ll be fine. I just feel bad for Dad. He’s not gonna have fun anytime soon.”
“Call me if you want to talk and try not to worry about what you can’t help,” Kelly said, squeezing his hand.
“Yeah, thanks. Kiss Kyle for me.”
“Will do. Have a nice dinner with Max and the folks,” Kelly said, then left.
Jeff walked back towards the kitchen, hearing Max and his dad talking. Relief fought with worry inside his gut. His dad was really sick, but at least he wasn’t going to deal with it alone. He had Max.