“Mom, I found a couple of random people at the airport and brought them home,” Chris’s sister Laurie says as she walks into her mother’s house with him and Erick following closely behind.
Chris’s mother, a tall, slender woman of a certain age, walks out of the kitchen and into the living room wiping her hands on a dish towel. She wears faded jeans, a dust rag on her head and an old shirt with fresh stains on it from an afternoon of cooking. Dark brown hair hangs from the dust rag and stretches down the back of her neck to her shoulders.
“There’s my baby boy,” Chris’s mother says as she walks over to give Chris a hug and a kiss.
“It’s good to see you, Mom,” Chris replies.
“How was the trip?” Chris’s mother asks.
“There was some turbulence here and there, but the landing was smooth,” Chris answers as he uses his left hand to simulate a descending plane.
Chris’s mother takes notice of Erick standing being Chris. “And this must be Erick.”
“It is,” Chris says proudly as he reaches back and brings Erick into the conversation. “Mom, this is Erick. Erick, this is my mother.”
Erick extends his hand. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Ms. Russell.”
“I went back to my maiden name,” Chris’s mother informs him. “So it’s Ms. Reilly.”
“That’s right. I’m sorry. Chris did tell me that,” Erick responds.
“Why don’t you just call me Cindy,” Chris’s mother suggests to Erick as she extends a tentative hand in his direction.
“Thank you, Cindy.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Only because Chris talks a lot about me,” Erick jokes with a sheepish chuckle.
Cindy stares at Erick for a moment before turning her attention back to Chris. “I figured you and Erick would be hungry after the flight so I made some food for the two of you. It’s almost ready,” she informs them. She takes another dubious look at Erick before walking back into the kitchen.
Erick looks at Chris for a hint as to what to make of that exchange with Cindy but Chris only offers a shrug.
“I think she likes you,” Laurie chides Erick with a playful smirk on her face.
Chris takes his coat off. “What’s with her?” he asks.
“Remember when she turned 40?” Laurie asks as she sits down on the couch and turns on the television.
“That’s when I stopped trying to figure her out.”
Chris reaches over to take Erick’s coat but he’s still wearing it. “Aren’t you going to take your coat off?”
“I’m not sure I should.”
Chris laughs, walks behind Erick and helps him out of his coat. “Don’t worry about my mother. She’s still hoping I’ll bring home an Erica.”
“And the only way I see that happening is if you yourself become an Erica,” Laurie adds.
Chris puts an arm around Erick. “And I certainly wouldn’t want that. You’d be missing a key part of why it’s so much fun to be a gay,” he piggybacks with a wink.
Cindy pokes her head out of the kitchen. She sees Chris with his arm around Erick and tenses up. “The food’s ready,” she says pointedly before going back into the kitchen.
Laurie gets up and takes the coats away from Chris. “You guys go on in. I’ll hang these up in the hall closet.”
“Thanks, Laurie,” Erick says.
“My mother will be in a much better mood once we’re all fed and liquored up,” Chris says reassuringly. He places his hand on the small of Erick’s back as they walk into the kitchen together.
“Something smells good, mom,” Chris comments as he and Erick enter the kitchen.
“Thanks. I made some of your favorites – chicken fried steak, red potatoes with green beans and german chocolate cake.”
“A lot of these are my favorites, too, Cindy. It all looks so good,” Erick remarks as he takes a seat.
“Thank you,” Cindy replies rather coldly.
Chris sits down next to Erick. “You didn’t have to go through all this trouble, mom.”
“This was nothing. I had more trouble convincing Rebecca Johnson to come by here and see you later tonight.”
“Rebecca Johnson?” Laurie asks as she walks into the kitchen.
“Yeah. You remember her, don’t you?” Cindy asks Chris.
“I do, but why is she coming over here?” Chris asks even though he knows why.
“You two were such good friends in high school. Her mother and I thought it would be nice for you two to see each other while you’re both in town,” Cindy answers innocently.
Chris holds his mother’s gaze for a moment. “So what was the trouble in getting her to come over here?”
“She wasn’t interested in being set up. We told her it wasn’t so much a set-up as it was a mini-reunion between longtime friends. Then she tried to tell us you were gay.”
“I am gay, Mom.”
Cindy bursts into a fit of laughter. Chris and Laurie exchange confused glances. Laurie shrugs it off and continues eating. Cyndi abruptly stops laughing. “No, you’re not.”
“My boyfriend here begs to differ.”
“He’s not your boyfriend,” Cindy replies.
“Then what is he?”
“He’s just the latest in a phase.”
“I’m 37. Phases don’t last seventeen years.”
“You’re just being stubborn. Now eat up. Rebecca’s going to be here in less than an hour.”
“That’s fine, mom, but you’re going to be disappointed AGAIN and Rebecca is going to be really embarrassed.”
“Does any of this have to do with the fact that Erick’s black?” Laurie charges.
“This is none of your business, Laurie,” Cindy responds.
“Okay, Mom. Now I’m asking the question,” Chris chimes in.
“I don’t appreciate such an insinuation from either of you. He could be darker than night for all I care and it wouldn’t matter to me,” Cindy replies softly but deliberately. “Now let’s finish eating so we can be ready for dessert when Rebecca gets here.”
Erick observes Cindy for a moment and sees a hint of sadness on her face as she continues eating. He looks over at Chris, who shakes his head in disappointment and picks at his food. Laurie catches his eye and gives him a warm smile.
“Cindy, I love your son,” Erick says randomly to break the silence.
Chris smiles without looking up. Cindy looks up at Erick with a blank face.
“And Chris loves Erick, mom,” Laurie adds. “It’s in his voice when we talk on the phone. It’s in his text messages. And if you look, it’s in his eyes."
“You don’t need to be okay with this, Cindy,” Erick continues. “My mother isn’t all that thrilled with this either but I’m okay with her not being okay.”
There’s a knock on the door. “That must be Rebecca,” Cindy says as she gets up and walks out of the kitchen.
Chris starts chuckling to himself. “Mrs. Johnson must be in the same state of denial as Mom.”
“Why do you say that?” Laurie asks.
“Rebecca’s a lesbian.”