Traffic was light outside the city, but by the time we were off the highway and into the surface streets, the residents were already stirring, and early morning workers were starting to clog the streets. Mauricio's apartment building was fairly modern and had a banner on the front welcoming students back. The sun was still deciding if it really wanted to rise, and we said goodbye to Mauricio at the curb. There were admonitions to call, a reminder to me to take care of his siblings, and then we were back on the road.
“You okay to drive?” Bry asked.
“I'm not letting you behind the wheel,” I said with a tired grin.
“I am more comfortable where I'm at,” he said, with Marina leaning on him.
By the time we got to my grandparents', the sun had made its decision. It was late enough that the dew was gone from the grass, and coffee was nothing more than a way to make myself more jittery.
My grandparents' home was a bit deceptive. It looked small from the outside, but it had a lot of switchback staircases inside that stacked a surprising amount of room inside the walls. We gathered our stuff and headed for the front door, pausing only while I dug the spare key out from my gramp's idea of a great joke – he had a garden gnome with a crack in its butt, and, yes, that was where the spare key was - up a gnome's ass.
Opening the door, I was hit with the smell of cooking breakfast, and my stomach pulled in with a sudden feeling of hunger.
“Gramp? Gram? I'm here,” I called out.
“Rion? What a nice surprise!” Gramp said, coming in from the kitchen. “Oh, is this a hostage situation, or did you tell everyone we were making breakfast?”
I smiled tiredly. “Things went bad. We needed to leave.”
“Well, I always wanted more grandchildren.” He pointed at Bry. “I think I know you.”
Bry smiled at him. “Hi, Gramp.” Bry looked at Claudio and Marina. “Just call him gramp – trust me, it's better all around.”
My gram entered the room and wasted no time on introductions. “Come on, let's get you guys fed – Bryson, please show your lady friend to the restroom upstairs. Rion, you can head downstairs, and this handsome creature can follow me – I'm sure you all need a minute.”
We dropped our bags in the hallway and divided up to hit the bathrooms and get our faces washed and stuff – just to try and wake up long enough to eat before we crashed. Soon we regrouped around the kitchen table, and my grandparents were learning names and making jokes and not asking questions. They were full of compliments, like my grandmother saying I could have warned her Claudio was so handsome and telling Bry he'd better treat this girl right, since she was clearly his equal.
After we'd eaten, the exhaustion really hit hard.
“You all are drooping,” my gram said. “Let's get you to some bedrooms so you can recover. Come on, Marina, I'll show you to the spare – Rion, you and Claudio will be downstairs?”
“Yeah, thanks, Gram,” I said, standing with everyone else.
“I guess I should call my mom,” Bry said in a leading tone.
“Oh, shut up,” Marina said with a roll of her eyes. “Of course I don't want to be alone.”
“You should still tell her where you are,” Gramp said. “I'd leave out the pretty girl, though. At least right now.”
Bry grinned at him and texted before we grabbed our bags and separated.
The basement was finished, and the bedroom down here had always been my favorite. It's an unusual space. because it's a basement room. I liked the long windows near the ceiling, the shaggy carpeting and the big bed that dominated the room. My grandparents didn't like TVs in bedrooms – they liked rooms to have a primary purpose and to focus on that, especially when it came to sleeping spaces.
Claudio had dropped his bag with mine on the floor and was looking at the bed. I moved beside him and placed my hand on his arm. With the long drive and the drama of that had set us on our path, we really hadn't talked at all about what had happened and what we were going to do next outside of running to my family. “Stupid question, but are you okay?”
He sighed. “I don't know. 1 feel so many things under the surface, but I'm so tired.” He turned his face toward me. “But one stupid thing came into my head right now, and it's that...I always thought if I really got to take you to bed, it wouldn't be to sleep.”
I chuckled softly. “Yeah. Well. Have to save some things to look forward to.”
That was how something that could have been, should have been, very sexy turned into something low-key erotic as we dressed down and climbed into bed. We nestled in tightly, making small adjustments to get us comfortable and used to being in bed together. My brain was mush, but that didn't stop the next awkward moment in our relationship.
To be clear, and hey, maybe an incoming tangent my gramp would recognize, I like dicks. I like my own, I like other guys', and I'm not really shy about that. I've watched porn. I've followed social media and signed up to see everything some 'content creators' put together. I'm kind of fascinated with them – large, small, thick, thin, hard or soft. But there is one universal truth about all dicks that you can't find evidence of in any physiology book or that any doctor will tell you, and that's that every dick has a mind of its own.
Guys can back me up. Underwear too tight or too loose? Your dick might think that's a fine reason to chub up. Have to pee really badly? How about a nice piss boner to delay your relief? Locker room? Boy, you better not be looking, because the only thing between you and your dick pointing out the hot guys is the fear of your dick pointing out those hot guys.
That's trouble enough on its own, but the other thing is that your body has this weird wiring system where only one brain gets to decide what your body is going to do. Now your dick brain seems to have control over things like heart rate, sweat glands and much of your nervous system. The brain in your head has control over whether or not the rest of your body acts on that, but here's the thing. Those parts your dick has control of? They all think it's a great idea to tell the brain in your head what would be a really good idea.
So your dick brain is all about feeling good while your head brain is all about preservation – like of your life in a room full of half-naked guys in a locker room in high school. You want to live to ogle another day. Meanwhile your dick brain is all YOLO, FOMO and thinks more like a sexual kamikaze.
So yeah, I was tired – exhausted. Jittery. I'd been drooping and yawning at breakfast, but now? I was still all those things, but I was also hard, because my dick brain had decided Claudio was rubbing up against some parts of my body, and my dick brain really wanted Claudio to rub up against other parts.
“You okay?” I asked.
He rolled toward me, and I realized we both had the same dick brain problem. “I'm wiped out. I'm mentally exhausted, I'm physically ready to drop, and on top of that I have a full stomach and when I sleep, I'm not going to wake up until dinner time.” He shifted his gaze to my eyes. “But I'm in bed with my boyfriend. My hard boyfriend. I have no idea what tonight will bring, what tomorrow will bring, and I'm afraid. For the first time in my life I know exactly what existential dread feels like, because I don't have the security of my family behind me, and I really need to be able to forget that and get some rest, so my mind can have a chance to...consider all this.” He moved slightly closer, and I could feel the heat of his body and a shiver of excitement ran through me as his knee pressed between my legs, pressing our hardness together.
“Right now I think I need you. Right now I can't sleep knowing you're here, and I think if we...if we can love each other a little bit and use up the last of that energy – because the energy that's keeping me awake right now is completely sexual – then maybe we can get a better grip on what to do next.”
So, no, it wasn't the ideal time to make love. I hadn't shaved or cleaned out or any of those things – Christ, I hadn't showered just before. All those things would have been in my head to make this moment between us perfect. But instead, we were perfectly imperfect. We each had the taste of breakfast on our breath, and it took a hot minute to find some lube, but what we did wasn't hooking up or getting dicked down or even just getting laid.
It was a need fulfilled. He needed me intimately, physically, and I met him in that rarefied space.
We got up around four o'clock and got showers in and a change of clothes before heading upstairs. My grandparents were watching TV, but turned it off when we entered the room.
“Feeling a bit better?” Gram asked.
“Took the edge off, but still tired,” I said.
“Shall we order a pizza? Maybe make some coffee for you guys? Bry and Marina are still asleep as far as I know,” Gramp said.
I glanced at Claudio and then back to them. “I could eat. Any word from my mom?”
“Oddly, no. If I were you, I think I'd let that lie until tomorrow.”
“I'll go check on Marina,” Claudio said, excusing himself and going in search of this sister.
“Okay. Fill us in,” Gramp said, pointing to a chair.
It was fairly short to describe the night before, the confusion and the clarity that were mixed together in that situation. They accepted this quickly and didn't ask for clarification or make noises about Claudio's family.
“We figured it was something like that, but, Rion...tell us the good stuff! How did you meet this guy, and what's he all about?”
“Oh,” I said, surprised that this was the information they were really after. I guess knowing we'd come to them the way we did had let them know there was trouble at home for him, and that was all they needed to know for now. But they wanted the good parts of Claudio, too.
“Well, he picked me up on the beach with this corny routine where his grandparents' dog knocked over my iced coffee,” I said with a little smile. “He bought me a new coffee, and we ended up spending the day together – and honestly, it just kept getting better. We hang out, we talk. His family has a restaurant in that little vacation town, and he knows how to make all these foods that have been part of his family's culture, and he was teaching me, too.”
“It sounds like you have a nice relationship started, there,” my gram said with a smile. “What's your next move?”
“I'm not sure, yet,” I admitted. “I guess I have to make a decision about school first.”
“What sort of decision?” Gramp asked.
I pressed my lips together and nodded. “So. A lot of my ideas about college were wrapped up in how Bry and I would experience them together.”
“You guys have always been close,” Gramp said in agreement.
“Right. But he got into a different school, so we won't be living together or even seeing each other that much. To be honest...I'm not really sure that going to school is the right thing, because I have no idea what I want from an education right now. I was thinking it's just what I should do, but now I wonder about it being a waste, because I have no direction...and then there's Claudio.”
My gram leaned forward. “And what about him?”
I tangled my fingers together. “His family is very important to him. He was planning on going into the family business, running their restaurant. Now...he's probably not even started to feel the whole loss of leaving everything behind because of...us. Me.”
“I have.” Claudio entered the room and ignored my grandparents to come stand before me. I stood, feeling awkward at the discussion and wondering how much he'd overheard. “My family is still my family, even if we're fighting right now., Even though they are turning their back on me right now. I have...some hope, some faith in them, that things will change. I'm...furious and embarrassed and hurt that they are doing this, but you're not responsible. I was gay before you got there. You can't accept any guilt for this.”
“In fact, imagine if I'd put my heart out to the wrong person? What if I was still in my parents' house, but instead of having someone in my life who stayed for something hard, I was surrounded by adults I've loved all my life telling me how wrong I am, and as proof they'd point to you leaving me behind.”
My jaw shuddered with nerves. “I...could never have left you.”
“I know that.” He reached out and took my hand just by my fingertips. “You're right that I'm feeling the loss of my family. That...closeness and trust I had with them is broken, maybe in both directions. I don't know how long that will take to heal, and all I can do right now is hope that it will. But you can't let this stop you from going to school and being able-”
“Uh, no,” I said, shaking my head. “I'm just going to stop you there. I wasn't sure how much you'd heard – and it's not like I wouldn't have told you – but I've had my doubts about school. I think in the long term there may be something for me to focus on with school, but I know in the short term I need to be where you are. Because we're facing this thing together.”
He shook his head. “My family-”
“Is our problem. Right now, I'll share my family with you. I hope we share family for a long time.” I put my hand to his cheek. “I feel like I know you so well, and also like there is so much more to know – and I want to. Know.”
“Okay,” my gramp said, startling us into remembering we weren't alone. “Sit down. Let's get a few things on the table.”
Claudio glanced at me, and I pulled him down on the couch beside me.
“Firstly, Claudio, you should know our grandson is such a treasure to us that I can't think of a thing I wouldn't do for him. The great thing is that it's not because we're doting grandparents who spoiled him, but that we have the kind of relationship where he comes to see us on his own and values us as much as we value him – which is rare. That you guys are valuing each other and your feelings is really, really encouraging. So we want you to take some time. You're welcome here. There's nothing wrong with taking some time to sort things out, no pressure, and when you're ready to make a move – let's talk about it. School. Work. Rion's right – you have more family than you thought, and we are so thrilled to get to know you.”
“If, ah, not in all the ways Rion is so excited about knowing you,” Gram said with a prim smile. Ugh, let me just slide into a hole in the ground.
“That,” Claudio said, glancing at me and back to them, “is really generous. I feel awkward about accepting, but my options are limited, and I'm grateful to you.”
“We’ll help you with your mother about school, though I don't think she sent the money for this semester yet, so that may work out,” Gramp said. “Plus, you can take a few classes at the community college and get your feet wet. Hey! I bet they have classes on hospitality! If you guys like cooking, that could be a starting point.”
Bry and Marina made an appearance then, joining us in the room, and we had an exploratory conversation about our potential next moves. It was lifting a weight off my shoulders to even talk about paths forward when last night had felt like so many things were closing up and ending. The more we talked, the more invested my grandparents showed themselves to be, interested in the fortunes of the next generation. Of course there wasn't just my future or Claudio's, but Marina's plans for accounting classes and the fact that Bry was leaving for school in another city.
We kind of lost track of time between settling things with my grandparents that their home was basically turned into our base of operations, looking at community college classes and jobs so we can make things work overall and...hope. It was hope. Hope so big we didn't order food until later on. Hope that stayed in place until my mother awkwardly showed up with Bry's mom around ten at night.
Gram had led them to the dinner table, where we were still engaged in conversation, and I was a little surprised to see my mom – partly because I'd kind of forgotten about her – but even more so to see Bry's mom. My mother cleared her throat, with a quick glance to Bry's mom, looked at us all around the dining room table.
“So. We all do some...impulsive things. When I heard about what was going on last night, I was furious. I've never been so angry in my life,” she said. She looked at Marina and Claudio. “My son and I look at the world drastically differently. I love him more than life itself, and I think that has to be the reason I do at least half of the weird things I do. Fair warning.”
“Uh.” That was all I had. Mom wasn't much for admitting she did weird shit.
Pulling chairs over, the two women sat down, and we shifted around to make space for them.
“So I called Bry's mom, and we exchanged information as we knew it, and safe to say we were beyond enraged.” Looking right at Claudio and Marina my mom said, “You two have to be the most special people on the planet. I want you to know, like it or not, I'm – we're – behind you a hundred percent.”
“Um. What did you do?” I asked, somewhat horrified at the potential options.
Bry's mom looked at me and said, “We went down to see Claudio and Marina's family.”
“You what?” Marina demanded.
My mother raised her chin. “We did. It was...frustrating. And illuminating. Heartbreaking. Hopeful.”
Clearing his throat, Claudio said, “Those words...they don't really go together.”
“You wouldn't think so, no,” she replied. “But after what I'd heard, after what I'd put together to get a picture of what you both were dealing with...I couldn't just sit on my hands. Your family...they are good people, and I knew that would be the case, because my son just doesn't continue to give his time to unworthy people. He's learned the hard way about when to walk away from people...probably something he's thought about doing to me from time to time.”
I didn't want to admit there was some truth in that. I love my mom, but boundaries...they're a thing.
“So we went down to understand the situation and what the possibilities were after all this had happened.” She cleared her throat. “We disagreed, a lot. We did find some common ground. I think it will take some time, but I believe your parents will financially support your education. I think they were still in shock and confused as to how things got to where they were so quickly, but I also had the sense that it won't last forever.”
Claudio shook his head. “They threw me out. They thought that was the right answer, unless I made a 'choice' to not be who I am.”
Bry's mom nodded her head and said, “And they are wrong. I told them about my experiences watching Rion grow up and how he's just as capable – as much of a pain in the ass – as any other boy.” Looking to me she continued, “Your mom was able to give them the perspective of a parent who has gone through the coming out process and dealing with some of the things that a parent has to deal with when something they never anticipated happens, like this. The questions you might ask yourself about why and how and what influenced this development.”
“That's when we started to make some headway,” my mom said, picking up the story. “It's why I came away hopeful that things will be mended over time.” She fixed her gaze on Claudio. “You have every right to be angry and hurt. I feel that way, and it didn't even happen to me, so I can only imagine what you're going through. Whatever it is, I want to reassure you it's valid and I'm here for you to talk to.”
“Um, kind of my territory there, Mom,” I said.
“You know I'm just going to squeeze you for it, so he may as well tell me,” she said with a grin, then her expression sobered. “Seriously, I'm your biggest advocate. The more I know, the more I can do. It's not all about being nosy, like you say – even though I freely admit a need to know.”
Things were quiet for a hot minute as we four looked at each other. If there was some kind of silent communication, my receiver was broken.
“So. School,” Bry's mom said.
“Yeah. I know. I'm not thrilled to be leaving right about now, but I know,” Bry said. Looking at Marina he continued, “But I can come home on weekends.”
“And you?” my mom asked.
I sat up straight. “I think me going where I was accepted is a mistake. My heart wasn't really in it, because Bry wouldn't be there and...I'm still not sure what I actually want to do.” I glanced at my gramp, who nodded in encouragement, and I turned back to my mom. “I think it would be better if I got some general stuff down at the community college until I have a better idea where I want to focus.”
My mom nodded a few times and then said, “Thank Christ.”
She smiled. “That school was expensive, and I could see your heart wasn't in it, but education is usually the way to go – especially since you don't show any interest in working with your hands.”
Claudio cleared his throat.
“Not like that,” my mother said.
Claudio looked around in confusion.
“Okay. Well. Marina needs an accounting program, and Claudio may need some culinary classes,” I said.
“We have a few ideas sketched out,” Gramp offered. “We considered a lot, even porn careers.”
“Gramp!” I gasped. “You said not to tell mom!”
“No, no,” he said around the laughter at the table. “I said wait until you make some good money to justify it!” There were some groans and more laughter. “Okay. So. We have some plans, some good ideas. Let's get some rest, and tomorrow...let's flesh these things out.”
“Really, Gramp? Flesh?”
As one o'clock rolled around, Claudio's breath passed over my chest, his arm thrown over me and his warmth up and down my side. The future was terrifying, and I never really had an appreciation for just how out of control things could really get. But maybe tomorrow or next week Claudio and Marina would talk to their family. Maybe things would heal over time. I had to hope so, for their sake.
At the beginning of the summer I was madly in love with Bry, hooking up with random guys who didn't love me or want to keep me around. One spilled coffee and one kiss on the beach later, and you end up making pupusas with someone you love. Life is fucking strange, but I'm here for it – and I'm not alone.