Compassion hinted in Teri Reeves serious expression. “Then who is he?” she asked as if it were a given next option.
Hell, maybe it was. She had lived with his father for eighteen years, knowing he was gay for most of that time.
Technically, her question should have made this easier on Chad, but it didn’t. With all the mean-spirited harassment he’d received from the kids in his high school when his father came out, and the untold amount of bullshit he’d had to deal with when their private family affairs began to be splattered all over the local news, made talking about a long-term relationship with another man anything but casual…
Whoa. Step way back.
Wait a damn minute. Long-term relationship? That thought had struck him like a blow from out of nowhere.
Wow, what a moment for an epiphany. He ran unsteady hands nervously through his hair. A long-term commitment from Ducky? Is that what he wanted?
Ducky had never given him any clue that he was anything other than a straight man. Not any of those telltale signs indicating interest in the same sex. The bigger problem was that Ducky hadn’t spoken to him in days. Not one word to all of Chad’s texts apologizing for his unguarded comment.
His heart dipped then fluttered, sending a shiver from his head to his toes and racing back up his spine again. He didn’t like Ducky ignoring him, not one damn bit. Anyone but Ducky.
“Ducky,” he finally whispered. Funny how saying the name out loud seemed to validate his feelings, giving him an inner boost.
His mother blinked then opened her mouth to speak. No words came as she blinked again, closing her mouth. Her head tilted quizzically, and her hand lifted about six inches from her head. She shook her fingers. He took it to indicate Ducky’s mop of curls.
First smile in days. “Yes. Except he’s changed, but I’m really into those curls.”
Chad reached for the cell phone in his back pocket, bringing up an image of Ducky that he’d saved from The Game Awards. He turned the screen to show his mother Ducky’s new look.
She pretty much had the same reaction he had. A moment of pure confusion as she stared at the screen before she took the phone from his hand, using her fingers to zoom in on Ducky’s face. “This is him? He’s very handsome, Chad.” Her brow wrinkled as she glanced up. “You two have similar coloring, but your hair’s darker now.”
Chad nodded and looked down at Ducky’s photo still on the screen. “He and I talk all the time. Mostly online and text, but it’s moved to phone calls now too. We’ve never met face-to-face, but he’s my best friend. I share almost everything with him, yet he didn’t tell me he’d made these changes to his appearance. That’s why I said it wasn’t him during the podcast. It caught me off guard.”
“Because you’re attracted to him?” she asked, looking at the screen again, tapping it to keep the photo up.
“I was attracted to him before he did all this. He’s a really good guy, Mom. Smarter than anyone I know. We’ve been friends since we were on Xbox Live together in early junior high. I think he surpasses Dad with his knowledge of code. Ducky can hack into anything. We’d all be online together and watch him do it when we were younger.” Chad took his phone from his mother, drawing her attention back to him. She needed to hear what he planned to say. “I’ve been dealing with my attraction to guys since way before Dad came out. Ducky was the first guy I was into. I’ve never stopped being into him. He’s funny in this unintentional way, but he laughs at himself. He’s real. The most real person I’ve ever known. I’ve never met anyone else like him.”
“I never had any idea you had these feelings. When I asked the question, I didn’t really expect this response,” his mom said in that way only mothers used when they spoke of the regret of missing something so big. “You were young. You must have been afraid and unsure.”
“Hell no, I wasn’t afraid. Sorry,” Chad said, ignoring the critical arching of her brow at the use of the swear word. “Do you think any child you raised could be afraid of anything?”
He pushed off the counter, tucking his cell phone back into his pocket. “I’ve been with guys, Mom. Lots of ’em. And that’s all I’m going to say so don’t ask me any questions.” He couldn’t contain the shiver running through him at the awkwardness of admitting even that much to his mother about his sex life.
“You’ve been with women, too. Right?” His mom stammered, clearly questioning everything she knew about Chad. “Don’t answer that. It doesn’t matter. How have I never known these things about you before? I tried to be an observant, present mother for your whole life. I love you.” She looked pitiful, causing Chad to give a good laugh as his mother took her seat and lifted her glass of iced tea, taking several long gulps.
“Mom, all of us are very well-adjusted. You and Dad are great parents. Kids don’t tell their parents everything. You know that. And it wasn’t easy on any of us to have Dad’s sexuality splashed out for the world to see. I get that social media doesn’t hold weight, but when your father owns a social platform that’s bought by a technology giant like Wilder and then those two men become a couple…the children involved are gonna get some backlash.”
“Oh, I need something stronger than flavored tea.”