“Are you sure you’re okay with this, Jason?
Definitely not the response he expected. “Stop already! Yeah sure. Do I look nervous?” He flashed Peter a big grin, hoping to show how relaxed he felt.
“You looked pretty freaked out when I asked you. I just want to make sure you’re okay.”
“Pete.” He put a hand on Peter’s leg. “I’m fine. It was just a bit of a surprise.”
“No worse than your dad asking us to dinner.”
He squeezed Jason’s hand until it was needed to shift gears. Putting his hand back, Jason said, “True, but that was a surprise to both of us. Tonight, I wasn’t expecting to see you until after nine o’clock. We were supposed to have a quiet night together. Then you surprised me at my door and say, ‘let’s go to dinner at my mom’s house.’ How did you expect me to look?”
“Are you mad?”
When they got to a light, Jason pulled Peter’s hand to his lips. “Stop worrying. I’m excited to finally meet your mom.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to spring it on you like that.” Peter didn’t try to pull his hand back. “I was getting ready to surprise you by being so early and my mother called to asked what I was doing. I suppose with you being gone, she got used to me coming around more often.”
Jason thought he heard a hint of guilt in Peter’s voice, but didn’t comment.
“When I told her I was going to see you for dinner, she suggested we come to the house to eat. She said, ‘it’s high time I met this Jason you are dating.’”
“Your mom has a British accent?” Jason noted Peter was finally relaxing.
“No,” he laughed. “But she does enjoy those British sit-coms, especially Keeping Up Appearances.”
Something in what Peter said made Jason realized he didn’t have anything for Peter’s mom. “I don’t have anything to bring.”
“You don’t need to bring anything, I’m bringing flowers from us both.” Peter motioned toward the back seat.
“That won’t work,” Jason said absently. He couldn’t buy wine so that limited his options considerably. “I guess I’ll need to go find some candy. Does your mom like chocolate?
“Thought you said you weren’t nervous.”
Peter’s voice broke his concentration. “What did I do now?”
Peter leaned over to kiss him on the cheek. “You’re babbling, something you only do when you’re nervous. But seriously, Jase, you don’t need to bring anything.
“If it ever got back to my mother that I showed up for dinner without bringing something, she would be horrified.” Jason gave Peter a look to let him know he was being serious.
“C’mon Jase, your mother won’t find out, she isn’t speaking to y . . . ” Peter froze. “Oh Jason, I am SO sorry I said that. It was so wrong.”
Jason laughed, “Actually, it’s pretty funny.”
He pulled into a small strip mall that had a candy store. “She hasn’t spoken to me in months so why am I still worried about how she will react?”
“Jase. . .” Was all Peter could get out.
“However,” Jason ignored the apology he knew Peter was about to make. “Just because she isn’t speaking to me doesn’t mean I can forget my manners. C’mon, let’s go find something your mom will like.”
Peter kept looking at his clothes, something he rarely did, the entire walk from the car to the door.
“Pete, chill. This is your mom, not St. Barbara the Impossible.”
“I know.” Peter tried to smile. “Did I mention you are the first person I ever brought home to meet my mother?
“Only four or five times.” Jason never saw Peter this nervous.
“I really want her to like you.” Peter gave Jason a kiss on the cheek before reaching for the door knob.
“Great.” Jason froze. “Nice way to amp up the pressure on me. It wasn’t enough that you were nervous; you need to get me anxious too.”
“What did I do?”
“Oh nothing, just told me you REALLY want your mom to like me.” Jason over stressed the word ‘really’ for effect. “That shouldn’t make me stress, should it?”
“Sorry. I’m just nervous.”
Jason hugged him from behind before they opened the front door. “I promise to do my best not to embarrass you, so she’ll like me.”
When he crossed his heart and pretended to stick something in his eye, Peter finally laughed. His smile seemed more relaxed than before.
“Just be yourself, Jason.” He nicked a last kiss. “That way I know she’ll love you.”
Peter let them in before Jason could answer. “Mom? We’re here.”
“In the kitchen sweetie, just finishing up,” a woman called from somewhere in the back of the house.
Peter slipped off his shoes, so Jason followed his lead. “Good thing I wore the new socks I bought at the back to school sale. First impressions are so important.” His joke earned him an elbow in the ribs.
They were both smiling when Peter led them into the kitchen.
“Peter.” Mrs. Gregory kissed her son’s cheek while they hugged. He quietly showed her the flowers then put them on the counter while she moved toward Jason.
Jason guessed she was mid to late forties, brown hair like Peter’s only with more than a few gray hairs. Neither skinny nor fat, Peter did not appear to inherit his lean, wiry build from her. When she smiled, he saw the same melt-your-heart smile her son flashed.
“You must be Jason.” Not waiting for Peter to make an introduction, she held out her hands for a hug. “Every time he is here it’s Jason this, Jason that.”
Jason was surprised by the kiss on the cheek. The irony of his boyfriend’s mother being more affectionate than his own was not lost on him.
“How are you, Mrs. Gregory?” He accepted the hug with a smile.
She waved her hand at him. “Amanda, please.”
“No ma’am.” He shook his head. “I don’t think I can do that.”
Still smiling, he presented the box of candy to his hostess. “I wasn’t sure what to bring, so I figured chocolates were safe.”
“Oh my.” She made a face at him, then frowned at Peter. “You weren’t supposed to bring anything.”
She set the candy on the counter near a basket of fruit before returning to whatever she was working on when they arrived.
“Sorry mom, I tried to stop him, but he insisted.” Peter could not keep a straight face. “Said, ‘a proper gentleman always brings candy when visiting a pretty young lady.’”
A touch of pink brightened her cheek. “Flatterer.” Using both hands she cradled his cheeks and kissed his forehead. “It one of the many reasons I love you so much.”
Peter always spoke well of his mom, but seeing them together made him smile. Instinctively, his thoughts turned to his mother, killing his good mood. Sadness and a touch of envy colored his thoughts as he realized this bond was something he and his mom would never share again.
“And you,” she pointed a wooden spoon at Jason, breaking his introspection. “Such a gentleman you are. Your mother must be so proud of you.
Jason felt his jaw clench. “Yeah, so proud.”
He didn’t mean to inject so much sarcasm, especially not when he was supposed to making a good impression. She didn’t know the dynamics between Jason and his mom. So why did it hurt so much? If he hadn’t been feeling sorry for himself just then, he could easily have laughed it off.
“Mom!” Peter snarled at her. Jason caught the end of the scathing look he gave her.
“Oh, sweet Jesus, Jason.” Her face turned nearly white. “I am so sorry sweetie, I didn't mean to say that.”
She appeared torn between giving him a hug and hiding behind the counter. Jason reached out and forced her decision. “Please.” He did his best to laugh it away. “I know what you meant. Thank you for the compliment. As highly as Peter speaks of you, that is an award all in itself.”
His smile was real, he really did like Peter’s mother. Of course, he was inclined to like anything associated with Peter, but she was different. This was Pete’s mom; his bedrock of support. How could he do anything except like her?
For a moment Jason wasn’t sure she was going to break the embrace, but when she did, he thought he saw tears. “That was such a heartless thing to say.”
“Mom.” Peter tried to get her attention. “Jason already said to forget it.”
Peter quickly moved closer to Jason, squeezing his hand. Such a little thing, but it instantly improved his mood. It reminded him how happy he was since he’d met Peter. His mother’s reaction still saddened him, but it didn’t hurt quite so much around Peter.
“Dinner smells great.” Jason figured he was best suited to break the tension. “Is it rude to ask the cook what’s for dinner?”
Her nervous laugh told him she was still embarrassed. “Of course not. We’re having chicken, with white wine, sun dried tomatoes, onions, garlic, a hint of thyme and no mushroom. Peter said you don’t like them.”
Sure he made a face, he shook his head. “Not at all, but I could have picked them out if everyone else likes them.”
“Nonsense.” She gave another small wave of her hand.
The theatrics of her wave made him laugh. “Am I allowed to be a terrible guest and ask to see the house where Peter grew up?”
He was dying to snoop and find embarrassing pictures of Peter in his grade school outfits, or as a teenager going on a date or whatever.
“I don’t know.” Peter gave his a smirk. “Depends on whether you want a guided tour or not.”
“Oh Peter,” she shook her head. “For heaven’s sake, show him around. Dinner isn’t for another fifteen minutes.”
Remembering his manners, he asked, “Can I help with anything? I am a terrible cook, but I carry things well.”
“Just say, ‘no,’ to Jason, mom.” Peter piped in. “Terrible in the kitchen, simply the worst.”
“Hey!” Jason said in mock protest.
“GO!” She ordered them, smiling again. “Just don’t close any doors, I need to see what you two are up to.”
Peter turned red before Jason understood what she meant. When he saw Peter blush he got the joke. “Oh, wow. Did she just . . .”
As his face got red, Peter began laughing. “C’mon, let’s go.”
He rolled his eyes at his mother who blew him a kiss before happily going back to her cooking.
“I love your mom, Pete.” He said when they were out of earshot. “She’s so cool.”
“Really?” Peter gave him that, ‘are you serious’ look. “Cool? Mom?” He couldn’t keep a straight face. “Yeah, I know. She’s really great. I’m glad you like her.”
“What’s not to like?” Jason tried to take in everything as they walked down the hallway toward the bedroom. “The real question is will she like me?”
“Considering how she treated you, I’d say you already passed the test.”
The first room they went to was clearly Peter’s. Blue walls, pictures of him with his mom, Erin, Master Lee and other people, his high school year book, and of course martial arts trophies and ribbons everywhere, left no doubt this was his childhood room.
He knew he had a goofy smile on his face, but Jason couldn’t help it as he scanned the room trying to image a young Peter doing all the things a kid would do in his room. Playing with his toys on the floor, reading comic books on the bed, doing homework at the desk, practicing his Tae Kwon Duo in the open space. When he looked over, Peter was staring at him.
“What are you doing?” He laughed.
“Trying to imagine you in your room.” Jason shrugged. “I keep seeing little Peter running around the room doing this or that.”
Jason spied a picture of what looked like a pre-teen Peter. Grabbing it before his boyfriend could stop him, he held Peter off, so he could get a good look.
Dressed in his white robe, his hair much longer than it was now, Peter beamed at the camera. At first all Jason focused on was his face. Adorable, innocent, and so happy. A younger Master Lee stood behind him, hands on Peter’s shoulders. Clutched in his hands, the large trophy appeared an afterthought to the little boy whose eyes peered up at his teacher.
“My first trophy.” Peter gently took the frame from Jason’s hand. “Master Lee kept telling me how proud he was of me.”
Jason saw the fond look in Peter’s eye feeling almost like an intruder. “That’s an awesome picture, Pete.”
“It was a great day,” he said, putting the frame back. “C’mon, let me show you the rest of the place before mom calls us for dinner.”
Before they could go, Jason leaned across to give Peter a kiss. What was meant to be a quick show of affection, turned into a passionate, lingering kiss that left Jason nearly breathless.
“Wow,” he said softly. “What was that for?”
“Do a need a reason?” Peter smirked. “Don’t answer that.”
Taking Jason’s hand, he led them to his bed. “When I first realized I like guys, I had the hugest crush on Kenny Tucker; huge.”
Talking about his high school crush brought a grin to Peter’s face. “I used to dream of the day when he would come over, we would go into my room, this room, and he would ask to kiss me. Needless to say it never happened. None of my fantasy crushes ever came over for us to make out here.”
“So I’m the consolation price to Kenny Tucker now?” Jason laughed, not offended in the least.
“No,” Peter’s face got so serious Jason wondered what he did wrong. “I remember lying here for years wishing one of the cute popular guys would come over so we could, I don’t know, kiss, make out, get naked, whatever. Even if they never spoke to me again, it was always a dream to be with that guy. And now I am.”
Jason wanted to say, ‘whatever,’ that he wasn’t ‘that guy,’ but something told him to not ruin this for Peter. “Glad I could be that guy for you.”
“Me too, Jason.” Peter took a last look around his old room, smiling at whatever memories they dredged up. “Me too.”
Peter was showing Jason the back yard when they heard a car pull up. Since it was getting close to dinner, they ended the house tour to help get dinner ready.
“Someone parked a kick ass BMW in our driveway, Mom.” Erin stared at Jason.
Not realizing she was joking, Jason started looking for his keys. “Sorry, am I in your spot?”
“No, but you can’t go home until I say so. I parked you in.” She walked over and gave Jason a hug. “Good to see you again, Jason.”
“I feel like I’m always invading you private space; the restaurant, here.” Jason smirked. “At least here you don’t have to be nice to me.”
“Yes, she does!” Peter and his mom both said at once.
“As if!” she protested, swatting him in the process. “Didn’t I tell you he was a hottie, mom?”
Jason was so red his ears felt hot. Peter was no help, he nodded to his mom as if to say, ‘see? Didn’t I tell you so?’
“That’s enough, both of you,” Mrs. Gregory said. “Jason why don’t you go wash up first. The bathroom is down the hall to the right.”
“I’ll show him.” Peter pushed Jason in the right direction before his mom could stop him.
“Was I as red as I felt?” Jason asked when he reached the bathroom.
“Did you think you looked like a fire engine?” Peter laughed. “Aw, come on Jason. You know I think you’re adorable. So does Erin, why does it embarrass you?”
“Why did it embarrass you when I said you were so damn hot in front of Ethan and Anthony?”
“Okay.” Peter held up both hands before motioning for Jason to go first. “I’ll tell her to can the ‘he’s a hottie’ comments.”
Rinsing the soap from his hands, Jason shook his head. “No, don’t do that. If she thinks it bothers me, she’ll just keep doing it.”
Peter handed Jason a towel before he washed his hands. “Yes, it’s SO terrible being told you are hot. ‘Oh no Erin don’t keep telling me I’m so cute, it makes me uncomfortable.’”
Water flew everywhere when Peter raised his hands to his face, mocking Jason. At first he tried not to laugh, but when they looked at each they could stop themselves.
“I said wash up for dinner, not goof around!” Mrs. Gregory yelled from the kitchen.
Drying the walls quickly, they were still laughing when they returned to the kitchen.
“Honestly!” Her attempt to sound exasperated was foiled by her smile. “Just sit down, both of you.”
“Can I help? I’m sure Peter told you I’m a gifted bowl carrier.” Jason avoided looking at Peter or he knew he would start laughing again.
“Fine.” She nodded toward the bowl of rice. “Put that on the table and sit down.”
“Yes ma’am.” Doing as directed he took the seat next to Peter. He was so nervous, he was certain he would knock something over.
“Jason.” Erin’s voice drew his attention. “Are you okay? You don’t look well.”
Nodding he forced a smile. “I’m trying not to knock anything over. When I get nervous, I’m a terrible klutz.”
Mrs. Gregory brought the last of the food over at the time he finished speaking. “What on earth would make you nervous here?”
“I did.” Peter grabbed Jason’s hand giving it a squeeze. “Right before we walked in I said I really wanted you to like him. Now he’s trying not to embarrass me. Which is really kinda sweet, but I made him unnecessarily nervous.”
“Jason dear.” Amanda sat down across from him. “Knocking over a few things would help you fit right in.”
With everybody fussing over him, it only made his anxiety worse. They meant well, he knew that, but he couldn’t shake the feeling he was being watched. Squeezing Peter’s hand once, he knew he needed to push past it.
“I’ll be fine.” He sounded more confident than he felt. “This is just the first time I ever met someone’s family for dinner at their house. I mean someone I was dating.”
“You two are dating?” Amanda jerked her head toward Peter. “Why didn’t someone tell me?”
“Mom!” Erin shook her head. “That’s not helping.”
“Yes it is.” Jason laughed, looking down at Peter’s hand in his. Tightening his grip ever so slightly, he smiled at Peter. “I’m fine.”
“Good,” Amanda smiled at him. “Let’s eat before it gets cold.”
Once he got over his initial spate of nerves, Jason managed to feel at home with the rest of Peter’s family. Peter and Erin took turns telling embarrassing sibling stories that only reinforced for Jason how close they were. Their mother would weigh in here and there, siding with one or the other to provide the definitive view point.
More than once Jason found himself smiling at how similar dinner at Peter’s was to dinner at his mom’s. The way they set the table, the type of food, how it was set out, even the order it was served.
“When does soccer start, Jason?” Amanda picked up the platter of chicken, offering it to him.
“No thank you.” He held a hand over his plate. “Practice starts tomorrow. Darryl saw the schedule, our first game is away the Wednesday after Labor Day. Our first home game is that Saturday.”
“Oh good,” She set the plate down. “You should be free the weekend before to come to State College with us for Peter’s Tournament.”
“Tournament?” He stared blankly at Peter. “He never mentioned he had a tournament coming up.”
“Um yeah, I was planning to talk to you about that later tonight.” Peter scowled at his mother. “It was supposed to be a surprise.”
Amanda gave her son a look that said, ‘sorry.’
“Anyway,” Peter rolled his eyes at his sister, “since the secret is out, if you're free the weekend of the 29th and 30th of August, did you want to go with mom and Erin to watch the tournament?”
Jason wished they hadn’t put him on the spot. More than anything he wanted to go, but he knew he had practice that day. Given Coach Slewman’s stringent policy against missing practices, it was unlikely he could go until Sunday.
“Wow, don’t answer too fast,” Erin joked.
“Sorry.” Now he felt foolish. “I don’t know yet. Coach almost never grants an absence from practice unless your folks are dying, your kid brother needs your kidney or you’re hurt. Short of faking an injury, the odds don’t look good for Saturday, but Sunday for sure.”
“If I’m still competing that is.” Peter didn’t hide his disappointment.
“C’mon Pete, of course you'll be still in it.” Jason tried to sound positive. “If for no other reason than so I can be there to watch.”
Still not looking happy, Peter said, “That definitely is motivation. I just wish you could be there both days.”
“Don’t give up yet.” Jason reached for his hand. “Coach has surprised me before. I’ll ask tomorrow.”
Will he or won't he? Can Jason convince the Coach to give him a day off to make to Peter's tournament. And if he does, what will it cost Jason for such a boon?
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