“Jayson Molenski, stop fussing over me!” Fran swatted away his boyfriend’s hands and knotted his tie himself.
“It’s crooked and your mother will fuss. Now whose hands do you prefer all over that buff body of yours?”
Fran sighed. “Mother will be too busy grieving to fuss over my tie.”
“That’ll be the day,” Jay muttered under his breath.
“You don’t know her,” Fran replied, obviously frustrated.
“And whose fault is that?” Jay said sharply. He toned it down almost immediately, though, and gave Fran a compassionate smile to smooth over his harsh words.
It had been their bone of contention for the past twenty years. Almost before they were convinced they were a couple, Jay had introduced Fran as his boyfriend to everyone who wanted to hear, and that included his extended family. In fact, the first time they’d had full-blown sex was in front of the fireplace at Jay’s parents’ winter cabin while the rest of the family was honoring their long tradition of going caroling in the village square. Jay had promised that they’d hear his family coming from miles away, but they hadn’t counted on the fact that their rigorous sex would leave them both sound asleep in front of the family hearth. Luckily Jay’d had the brilliant idea of covering them both up with a quilt; otherwise everyone from Jay’s grandparents to his one-year-old nephew would have been privy to the glorious sight of their bare asses.
It was still one of those stories that got told late at night after everyone had ingested too much eggnog. It never ceased to embarrass Fran, but deep down he was eternally grateful that it had been the surefire way of getting accepted into his boyfriend’s family. The following morning Howard, Jay’s father, had slapped Fran on the back with a heartfelt, “I guess you can call me Dad from now on, Son,” and that had been the end of the ordeal. Everyone had accepted that Fran was Jay’s boyfriend and had simply expected them to be together forever. Libby, Jay’s mom, often commented on how Jay had struck it lucky and how she felt she’d at least done something right with one of her kids, since the other two barely managed to show up with the same partner two Christmases in a row.
Fran looked at his boyfriend and saw the frustration in Jay’s face. He knew how much it hurt Jay that Fran still hadn’t introduced him to his family. But could Jay blame him?
Fran’s father was an evangelical minister who preached fire and brimstone to his flock when it came to homosexuality. When they were young they’d been paraded around as the epitome of the perfect family, complete with exemplary children, so in the eyes of his father, Fran was severely flawed. He’d tried to come out, but his father had dismissed it. Sometimes Fran wished that his father would just throw him out, but no, that didn’t fit with the perfect family. Fran had to be saved from the wrath of God, which was certainly going to come down over the whole family if Fran didn’t amend his ways. So Fran endured the few family visits he couldn’t get out of and waited for the moment he could return to the man he loved.
Now the agony was over.
Pastor Galloway, Fran’s father, had keeled over during a particularly fiery sermon and was dead by the time he hit the floor of his pulpit. Now they were getting ready for his funeral, and Jay had insisted on coming along. It wasn’t that Jay had never met the Galloway family, but to them, he was just “Franklyn’s friend from college” and recently “Franklyn’s business partner.” On the rare occasions that both men were in the same physical location as the rest of the Galloway family, Jay had to be hyperaware of how he acted around Fran and had to make sure he refrained from the little gestures and touches that would give them away.
Fran looked in the full-length mirror to check his suit and tie. He was satisfied with his look, his dark, curly hair cut short to meet with his mother’s approval. He closed his eyes when Jay wrapped his arms around Fran’s frame. After all these years, it was still his boyfriend’s touch that gave him the most reassurance and calm.
“Jay, you know I love you more than anyone in the world.”
“I know,” Jay replied, resting his chin on Fran’s shoulder. Jay was still as handsome as the day he’d walked into one of Fran’s first college classes twenty years ago. He sported the same beach bum look, with the long blond hair and tanned skin he’d had then, and had only gained muscle over the years, unlike Fran, who was still a tall, skinny runt.
They looked at their reflections, and Fran felt nothing but pride. The conviction that he wanted to grow old with this man was one that had set in over the years, and everything they’d been through had only added to that assurance. Even the resistance of Fran’s family had added to that resolve. Fran knew Jay hated the secrecy and lies, something they’d successfully banned from their own lives by living openly and honestly, but instead of making a big deal out if it, he only occasionally brought it up. Jay had stuck by him through it all, and Fran appreciated it more than he could ever put into words.
Although Fran wanted to have Jay close for a little while longer, he didn’t protest when Jay pulled away. “I think we should go,” Jay suggested. “I’m wearing my best poker face. Let’s not let it go to waste.”
Fran grabbed his boyfriend’s face with both hands and kissed him passionately.
“Oh Fran,” Jay lamented theatrically. “Now I’ll have to do my make-up all over again.”
“Fag,” Fran replied, slapping his boyfriend’s ass as Jay turned around.
“That’s me,” Jay flirted. “And I have a fag for a boyfriend too.”
“Thank God for that,” Fran replied with a laugh.
For Fran, any family function was fraught with tension, since the Pater Familias had always dominated all the goings-on. Any opportunity was good enough for him to lecture his youngest son about his duties as a Christian man and how the Bible condemned homosexuality. Even the occasional presence of Jay never deterred the old man, which was the reason Jay usually stayed away. Only this time, he couldn’t.
Galloway Senior’s death was both a relief and a source of grief to Fran. He wanted the support of his boyfriend at the funeral, and at the same time, he hoped to test the waters on whether there was a chance Jay would be tolerated by the family now that its most dominant member was no longer holding the scepter. To be honest, Fran expected that Jay would kindly be asked not to attend the funeral. Jay had brought a book he could read in the car just in case.
The street where Jay parked was full of people on their way to the church, so all they could do was squeeze each other’s hands just before they exited the car and started walking along with the rest of the crowd. Nobody paid them much attention until a fresh-faced young woman stepped up to Fran.
“Uncle Frank!” she shouted excitedly, using the abbreviation of his name Fran loathed. She smiled at him and then looked at Jay before politely nodding and returning her gaze to her uncle. “Dad wanted me to come get you as soon as you arrived. He wants to talk to you before the service.”
Fran looked at Jay, and Jay urged him on with a nod.
“Alone,” she added, clearly to make sure Jay didn’t come along too.
“Tell him I’ll be there as soon as we find our seats in the church,” Fran said with surprising command in his voice.
“Oh, you’re up front with the rest of the family, of course. Your friend will have to sit in the back. There’s only space for family up front. ”
Fran bit his tongue, and Jay put his hand on Fran’s forearm. He didn’t speak until the girl was out of earshot. “Fran, it’s okay. Don’t cause a scene at the funeral. I’ll be fine.”
“It’s not okay, Jay,” Fran hissed. “You’re more family to me than they ever were. If you can’t sit with me up front, I’m sitting in the back with you.”
Jay shook his head. “I’m here for you, but you need to sit with your brother and your mother.”
Fran sighed. “I’ll go talk to my brother first. He’s probably going to tell me he’s the boss now and we have to dance to his tune.”
“Just listen to him and then do exactly what you want. In that respect nothing will change, but I hope he’s a little more mild to his baby brother than your father was.”
Fran huffed and left Jay at the back of the church. Despite his boyfriend’s soothing words, Fran was still seething when he left to meet his brother. Leonard Galloway was ten years older than Fran and as impressive as their father had been. Compared to his brother, even at six foot one, Fran was a shrimp. They’d never been close, partly because of the age difference, partly because Leonard was their father’s favorite and Fran was the thorn in his father’s side.
Fran spotted his mother talking with the women’s guild and simply smiled warmly at her when their eyes met, knowing that even in her darkest hour those women were her biggest support. His brother was standing to the side.
“Franklyn,” Leonard greeted Fran with all the warmth of an industrial freezer. He held out his hand and squeezed Fran’s until Fran thought he felt bones crunch.
“Leonard,” Fran answered as calmly as he could. His brother still made him feel like a ten-year-old who always got in the way.
“Lindsey tells me you brought your… friend.”
Fran took a deep breath in and thought of Jay’s words. Don’t make a scene. They were standing in the church, at the back and side, and Leonard continued greeting people who came up to him to offer condolences. Fran knew better than to raise his voice, but he was sick and tired of lying. “He’s my partner, Len. We’ve been together for twenty years.”
Leonard nodded, and Fran knew his statement would be ignored. “How’s business going?”
“Booming,” Fran answered, his eyes narrowing. “We have five crews working full time, mostly doing maintenance on the gardens we designed, and all Jay and I do is meet clients, design their gardens, and draw up estimates.”
“Who would have ever thought there’d be money in puttering around a garden,” Leonard replied, smiling at an old woman who passed by them.
Fran bit his lip because he so wanted to give his brother a piece of his mind, but he knew it wouldn’t solve anything. Don’t make a scene. Fran looked out over the crowd and spotted Jay standing where he’d left him. Jay smiled softly when their eyes met, and in that moment, Fran knew it didn’t matter.
“We make good money, Len. In fact, Jay and I just bought a house in a much nicer neighborhood, and the refurbishing will be done just in time for Thanksgiving. Why don’t you come over with your family? Jay will be cooking, and he makes the best turkey.” It was a little white lie to involve Jay in the conversation, but it got Leonard’s attention. Before his brother could reply, Fran lowered his voice. “And I’m giving you a choice, Leonard. Either Jay sits with me and the rest of my family, or I sit in the back with him.”
“Franklyn, you can’t possibly expect me to allow—”
“No, I didn’t think so,” Fran replied, leaving Leonard behind as he made his way over to where Jay was still standing. On the way, he met the older lady who had greeted Leonard and whom he recognized as a very well-regarded member of his father’s large congregation.
“Mrs. Green, you haven’t aged a day. Thank you for coming this morning. My father would have appreciated it very much.” When Fran saw her struggling for the right way to address him, he helped her out. “I’m Franklyn, remember? Pastor Galloway’s youngest.”
“Oh, yes, of course. You used to come with your mother to help fill the charity baskets for Christmas!”
“The one and only, Mrs. Green.” Fran heard the crowd settle down and knew service would start soon.
“Give my regards to your mother and tell her I’ll talk to her after the service,” Mrs. Green said in hushed tones.
“I’m not sitting up front with her, but I’ll tell her as soon as I see her,” Fran replied, purposely ignoring her stunned expression as he made his way to Jay’s side.
“How did it go?” Jay whispered.
Fran took his boyfriend’s hand and squeezed it. He’d kept a brave face up to now, but he felt his strength crumbling. He couldn’t answer and knew that Jay would understand. They continued holding hands throughout most of the service, and Fran didn’t care who saw them like that. He’d done enough hiding.