You know that smell, the one that hits you when you first walk into a house where a turkey has been cooking all morning and the stuffing is done and the smell makes your mouth water while memories wash over you, filling your mind of previous times you have been in the vicinity of that same smell? There is something so utterly comfortable about allowing that to happen and getting lost in those memories.
When I walked into the Maclean house that Thursday afternoon, two steps ahead of my dad who was carrying a few bottles of wine, it was Linda who gratefully accepted the dinner rolls and pies I was holding, but not before she took full advantage of the situation and hugged me, kissing me on the cheek, before doing the same to my dad.
“Hey guys! Happy Thanksgiving,” she said greeting us.
Her smile was warm and inviting, just like her home, and as much as I may have acted like she was catching me at a time when I couldn’t defend myself properly, I secretly allowed myself the comfort of her hug under the fašade that it was a holiday and that’s what was expected and the perfect curls she had at the bottom of her brown hair fascinated me as they brushed past me. The way they seemed to never be out of place or absent even though the rest of her hair hung straight down past her shoulders.
“Julianne is hiding out in her room honey… if you’re interested. I think all this football is driving her a little crazy, then again, it could be the way he keeps threatening to come through the TV and take out that ref,” she said pointing to her husband who was seated on the couch, fully engulfed in the game and grumbling. “Brian… Steve’s here,” she called over her shoulder on her way into the kitchen.
“Football?” my dad offered as he headed for the couch also.
“Nah, I think I’ll go see if she needs some help,” I told him before I followed her into the kitchen and toward that mouth watering, comforting smell.
“Stephen,” Linda said when she saw me walk into the kitchen, “it’s alright if you want to go watch with the boys.”
The woman definitely seemed to have a system, as she moved methodically around her kitchen, stirring here, basting there. A stack of cloth napkins sat atop a linen tablecloth on the countertop, along with enough place settings to fill the large dining room table they had, and the floral centerpiece and some candles seemed to be what was intended to complete what I was sure would be a beautiful table.
“Can’t a guy offer some help to a special lady on a holiday?” I joked and that earned me a thoughtful smile.
“Sure, where is he?” she retorted and I playfully rolled my eyes at her.
”Fine! I can tell when I’m not wanted…” I said pouting and she grabbed me into a hug.
I loved her hugs, even if I did seem to have to trick her into giving them out these days, and I briefly wondered when that had happened. Maybe she thought I wouldn’t appreciate them as much, or that she would be cramping my style, but it was at those times when I was in her arms, that I felt like I didn’t have to be all grown up, even if only for just a little while.
“Oh please… we both know you’re only in here because your nose led you in here… and besides, you like hugging me,” she said knowingly.
“I do,” I whispered and as I finally pulled away I asked, “now what can I do to help?”
“You really want to help?” she asked skeptically, her eyes challenging me.
“Yeah, I do… so give me something to do okay?” I replied genuinely, and she smiled sweetly.
“Alright, how about you go find that daughter of mine and you two can set the table? How does that sound?”
“I think I can handle that,” I agreed before I went off in search of Jules.
I knocked on the white painted door with the sign hanging from it, the wooden letters spelling out her name, painted in shades of purples and lavenders when the door swung open with Jules standing on the other side of it smiling and I walked into her room. It was so much different than mine was, or any boys for that matter, with a vast amount of clothing choices hanging in the closet, and if possible, even more shoes.
“When did you get here?” she asked shutting the door behind us in an effort to block out the yelling that could still be heard, even all the way upstairs.
“A few minutes ago,” I answered. “Your mom wants us to set the table.”
“Okay,” she said as she sat down on her bed as if she didn’t have any intention of doing that anytime soon. “So, has anyone said anything yet?”
“No, not yet, but it’s only been one day so… whatever. I’m sure it’ll start soon enough knowing some of the idiots we go to school with,” I sighed.
“Well, you’re right, they are idiots… and besides, I think it was almost the sweetest thing I’ve seen in a long time,” she grinned.
It was pretty sweet, I had to admit, but that didn’t change the fact that this was high school, and the kids were… kids. I knew better by now than to expect everyone to react as I would or to be mature and not judge me, us, based on this new piece of information they had about us, me… they already knew about Jesse… I wondered if that would make this easier or harder on me in the long run.
I decided it didn’t matter though when I thought about Jesse and his amazing smile, and his perfect hugs, and the way his blond hair was just long enough to make every look he gave me seem seductive in its’ own way. All of that though, was icing on the cake to me. Looks are definitely a huge part of a first impression and a major part of what attracts one person to another, but Jesse had this heart that would never falter, never let me down, never let go, and that was something so much better than how totally gorgeous he happened to be.
“C’mon, we better go set the table, it’s almost time for everyone else to get here,” she laughed, and I realized I had sort of spaced out thinking about Jesse and how completely perfect he was and how thoroughly happy he made me.
“Okay…,” I agreed as I stood up to follow her. “Wait. What did you say?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You just said, ‘before everyone else gets here’. Who else is coming?” I asked.
In all the years that we had been coming here for Thanksgiving dinner, it had always just been us, my dad and I, and Jules and her family, so it was surprising to say the least, that we would have more guests this year. It was fine with me though, I mean, the more the merrier right? Besides, it’s not like this was my house and I got to decide who was invited or not.
“Yeah. Mom said she invited some friends this year,” she shrugged.
“Cool, sounds fun,” I decide, and we headed down stairs to set the table.
Our dads were still so involved in the football game on TV when we got downstairs that they were oblivious to the additional people in the room. Linda had moved the maroon table cloths and napkins along with all the dishes onto the buffet counter in the dining room and we managed quite nicely, having the table cloths smoothed out over the long oval table and the napkins folded and placed just to the left of each dinner plate.
Jules and I had been doing this for so many years now, that we had a system down and it didn’t take us long at all to have it almost finished. We were on our way into the kitchen in search of wine glasses and silverware when the doorbell rang.
“I’ll go get that while you get the stuff we’re missing,” Jules decided before she turned around and headed for the door.
I made it into the kitchen only to find that Linda had already left enough glasses and silverware sitting in the same spot the dishes and napkins had been earlier. She was organized, that was for certain, I thought, as I collected the things and made my way back around to the dining room. Linda always had been though, she was the big planner, the leader of this organized chaos we called a family, and we always followed what she said with no arguments. We all knew better, we had all learned at some point along the way not to argue with her or try to disrupt the plan she had already set in motion, usually by trial and error, but we learned none the less.
“Hey man, what’s up?” I heard as I was placing the last glass at the top right corner of the last place setting. Sean was watching my efforts and seemed somewhat impressed that I knew what I was doing.
“Hey! I didn’t know you were going to be here,” I said as we each nodded in the direction of the other. “Cool.”
“Yeah, Jules’ mom invited me since my family always celebrates on Friday instead at my grandparents’ house,” he told me.
“That’s cool. Linda is really sweet about stuff like that,” I agreed as Sean watched me place a fork to the left side of each plate atop the napkins Jules had folded into some triangular shape, and a knife and spoon to the right.
“Yeah, she seems really nice, but then again, you’re like family, and I’m the evil, scary boyfriend,” he replied rolling his eyes, and I couldn’t decide if he was kidding or not about that.
“Are they really treating you like that?” I asked him unconfident in his last statement.
“Well, they’re getting better… I think,” he hesitated. “I think they were just really worried about the first boyfriend, you know, but it’s cool now as long as we’re home on time and keep the door open,” he laughed.
It only took me a second to figure out what they might suspect was going on behind that closed door, and I could see their reasoning, but Sean was a nice guy, a good person, and I knew he would never do anything to hurt Jules, and more than that, Jules was a headstrong girl with a personality to match, and there was no way that she was going to let some guy do something unless she wanted it. Not that that was at all their concern, but it at least provided me with some comfort.
“That sorta sucks. I mean it would for us, big time,” I stated truthfully regarding Jesse and I. “It almost seems like it’s easier when it’s two guys then huh?” I said thinking out loud. “At least the parents aren’t thinking that something could be going on, unless their out anyway.”
At this point I had ten perfect place settings, each one identical to the next, and I was getting hungry, but when I asked Linda if there was anything else I could help with, she adamantly refused any further assistance and promptly ushered Sean and I out of her kitchen. So instead of helping, we went to find Jules and hang out for a while until it was time to eat.
She was back in her room when we found her again, and I immediately took a seat on her bed like always, while she kissed her boyfriend. I thought it was cute, but more than that, it occurred to me just how much I loved kissing mine and I found myself thinking of his soft lips and the way his soft blond hair almost created a curtain that hid our kiss from the rest of the world as he would lean toward me, or how his hands always seemed to find the place on my body that would give me the greatest sense of comfort and make me feel totally lost in his kiss at the exact same time.
Downstairs I heard the door bell ring again, but there were three of them down there who could get the door, so none of us thought to go, and at some point that smell, the homemade Thanksgiving dinner smell, had managed to waft its’ way upstairs and I realized I was seriously hungry. I don’t know why I do it, but I do it every year; I don’t eat all morning, thinking I’m saving room for all the great food to come that afternoon, and then every year I end up starving, and in some mouth watering panic for just one taste of something succulent.
Apparently I was getting better at controlling that reaction, or at least smarter, hiding out in the furthest room from the kitchen, but I was more than ready to eat when Jules’ dad came in to let us know it was time to come down. The four of us all followed, one right after the next, until we were down the stairs and headed to the dining room table.
It didn’t take more than a second, but as soon as my head appeared around the corner, I heard Lily almost scream with excitement, “Stephen! Happy Thanksgiving!” as she practically jumped up into my arms to collect her hug, not that I minded one bit, but Kathy came over to retrieve her youngest child and then I saw Jesse, smiling at me, and finally figured out who our extra guests for dinner were this year.
I can’t explain it, but the feeling of having my family and his family, and Jules’ family too, all sitting there watching us look at each other in that ‘I missed you so much and I really want to kiss you right now’ way was a little intimidating suddenly, but thankfully Linda took care of that, instructing me to take my seat in between my dad and Jesse. She always seemed to know just what to do to make the situation better, or at least easier.
“Thanks so much for inviting us Linda,” Jesse’s mom, Kathy, said, perhaps trying to take the focus off of us for a moment, “everything looks so great! The table is just beautiful,” she praised.
“It is, isn’t it? Stephen and Julianne deserve that thank you though,” she replied winking in my direction.
Once all the food had been passed around, and everyone had a full plate and a drink, we said a brief grace before we started eating; my every expectation exceeded as I savored the wonderful dinner Jules’ mom had spent a majority of her day preparing. It felt like home, sitting here with the people I loved and respected, and who loved and respected me, just as I was, and I savored that feeling more than the food I had waited for all day.
I almost jumped out of my seat though, when I felt Jesse’s palm land on my thigh and then proceed to slide upward until his hand was nestled comfortably in my lap. The thought didn’t escape me, as I felt myself thicken with just a touch from him, that we were sitting at a table full of people, and I was next to my dad, as I shifted to my left in an effort to hide Jesse’s hand further under the tablecloth that hung down over my lap.
I caught Jesse’s eyes, as they seductively found mine from behind his golden hair. He was toying with his fork and some mashed potatoes as he toyed with me too, and his playful smile gave him away as I looked incredulously at him. As much as I wanted to feel his touch every second of every minute of the day, I was pretty sure this wasn’t the time or the place for him to be feeling me up, but when I silently shot him a look that said ‘what are you doing?!’ he just shrugged and rubbed my leg once more.
I sighed, apparently losing the fight, although it seemed I wasn’t fighting all that hard anyway, and just tried to remain calm as Jesse’s fingers danced lightly up and down my inner thigh as he smiled almost slyly, like we had a secret no one else was in on, or at least I hoped they weren’t. Dinner seemed to wind down and everyone agreed they were too full for dessert at the moment so Jesse and I offered to take Lily outside and play ball for a while, while Jules and her mom along with Jesse’s mom cleared the table and the rest of the guys reclaimed their seats on the couch for more football.
Sean seemed to feel out of place, as he looked from the couch full of dad’s to the kitchen with full of women, to us outside, before he opted to come outside with us and Lily. I was busy teaching her how to use her arm, and the force that it came with, to throw the ball further and Jesse was chasing it all over the yard since her aim was still pretty off.
“Lily, what hand do you write with in school?” I asked her.
“This one,” she said, as she proudly displayed her left hand.
“Well that might just be the problem,” I decided out loud, causing her to frown.
“It is not!” she insisted. “My mommy says being left handed is special!”
“Well, she’s right,” I agreed smiling. “I just meant that it won’t help you any if I’m trying to show you how to throw it as a right hander if you are a south paw.”
“A what?” she asked. “I do not have a paw,” she stated adamantly.
I laughed at that, but only for a minute before I realized she didn’t find it at all funny. “Lily, your mom’s right. Left handers are special, and in baseball, left handed pitchers are so special, they have a special name for them too, south paw,” I explained and she beamed.
“Are you a south paw?” she asked.
“No,” I pouted for effect, “but I can show you some tricks anyway if you want me to.”
“Yes please!” she said excitedly.
Jesse walked over to where I was squatted down in front of Lily and his hands came down on my shoulders as he squeezed gently and said, “Lily, did you know that Stephen is a really good pitcher? He is the best in our league at school.” Lily looked at me in surprise, and I just grinned, letting my boyfriend praise my abilities.
“Can I ask you something else?” Lily wondered aloud.
“Sure,” I answered her.
“Is your other friend Julianne’s boyfriend?” she almost whispered out, giggling.
“Yeah, Sean and Jules are boyfriend and girlfriend. Why do you ask?” I asked in return.
“Cause, she stares at him like you guys do, and she likes to hug him and hold his hand like I saw you guys do,” she told us.
Jesse and I looked at each other and I decidedly backed off a little from the conversation because I wasn’t sure just how much she understood about our relationship or what it meant to be gay or if she knew that her big brother was gay, so I let Jesse handle it as I stood supportively next to him with my arm around his waist.
“Well… do you remember when Mom and I talked to you about what it means to be gay?” he asked her and she nodded.
“Yes. You said it’s when a boy likes a boy or a girl likes a girl right?” she seemed to be double checking her information.
“Exactly,” Jesse agreed. “So I guess, you’re old enough to understand that Stephen is my very special friend, my boyfriend,” he explained.
She giggled right before she proudly said, “I knew it!”
“You did?” I questioned her, surprised by her level of excitement over this.
“Mmm hmm, I did,” she stated, “see, like right now, Stephen has his arm around you.”
“Yeah, he does,” Jesse agreed smiling, nestling his way closer to me. “What do you think about that?”
“I think… I’m glad you’re friends with Stephen because he’s really fun, and he plays with me, like you do,” she admitted.
“Good, because I am too, but, I need you to do me a favor. Do you think you can do it, cause it’s a big one?” he asked her.
“I’ll try,” she answered seriously.
“Well, Stephen really is my boyfriend, so you can call him that, if you want to, and if you have any questions ever, will you promise to please ask me?”
“Yep, now can we play some more?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said smiling, “but, can I have one of those great hugs first?”
“Sure,” she replied as she started to walk over, right before Jesse jumped in front of her and hugged me tightly, laughing. “Jesse!” she whined, “He was asking me,” she insisted as he giggled into my neck.
“Oh? He was?” Jesse teased as she stomped her foot.
“Yes!” she argued, exasperated by the whole thing,
“Okay, okay,” he conceded to the blond haired little girl, “you can hug him too,” and so, she did.
We played around a little while longer before the cool fall air began to get a little too cool for comfort, but by the time we headed inside in search of some pumpkin pie and apple cobbler, Lily was throwing that ball like she meant it. That little girl had a huge amount of determination and strength in those little arms of hers, I decided.
Dessert was much more casual, as we all just sat around with our plates in our hands, enjoying the perfect ending to a perfect meal with the people we loved. It was starting to get later in the evening when Kathy and Jim decided they had better take Lily home to bed, so naturally, I volunteered to bring Jesse home later, not totally unselfishly though. I’ll admit I had been thinking of spending some alone time with my boyfriend, and it was like I could still feel his fingertips walking their way up my thigh under the cover of the tablecloth.
Jesse’s parents thanked Jules’ mom and dad for the invitation and for the great meal as they shuffled a tired Lily out the door, but not before she hugged me tightly once more and made me promise to come over and play sometime soon. We helped load Lily, and some leftovers Linda insisted they take with them, into their car and said goodbye.
It didn’t take us long to find Sean and Jules hiding out in her room, the door standing halfway open, and while they both assured us that we weren’t interrupting what we walked in on, we knew we were, and more than that, we knew we wanted to be doing that too, so we said our goodbyes to them and headed back downstairs where I found my dad, seemingly stuck on the couch with Jules’ dad, and told him I would be home later, after I dropped Jesse off at his house, before we headed out.
Jesse and I walked side by side down the sidewalk, the two houses over to my house, and to where my truck was parked. I reached around him to unlock his door; his body so close to mine, I could smell him and that scent that is just him as I teasingly looked in his eyes. I wanted to kiss him so badly right then, but I decided that I would wait, as a mischievous smile played across my lips and he seemed to wonder what I was smirking about as he watched it dance across my face momentarily.
Instead, I just walked around to my own side of the truck and climbed in as Jesse did the same thing on his side, and we drove away. The roads were pretty empty as we drove around and talked and I was content to sit and listen to his voice as I drove. It occurred to me that he hadn’t once asked where we were going, or what the plan was, he didn’t even seem to care, he was just as content riding along side me and talking as I was listening.
We turned off onto the same side road he had brought me down once before when he planned that picnic, and eventually, I found a place that seemed secluded enough for my tastes and stopped the truck. It was warm in the truck with the heat on, but I shut off the engine anyway and reached over the seat to grab the blanket I always kept there before getting out of the truck. Jesse didn’t seem to object as he climbed out too, and followed me to the back end where I opened the tail gate and spread the thick blanket out before we both climbed in. The fall air was crisp as we got settled and while we were adequately clothed for a cool fall day, it was getting darker now and his hands felt cold in mine.
“I’m really glad you came today,” I told him as my fingers stroked gently over his knuckles.
“Me too,” he offered, pulling his eyes up from where they were watching our hands and fingers playing together and meeting mine. “Besides, the look on your face at dinner was so worth it,” he laughed.
“Oh! You mean when you were busy trying to feel me up in front of my dad and the whole family!” I said accusingly, but the truth was I wasn’t mad at all, in fact I could still feel his hand on me, there, high on my thigh, only hidden by the tablecloth.
“Aww, don’t be mad baby, I just missed you,” he pleaded, but it didn’t matter, because I wasn’t really mad at all.
Instead of arguing or continuing the charade of me being at all upset about it, I kissed him, his cold nose along side mine as the warmth of his mouth contrasted with it in a way that made me want to warm him up fully, from the inside out, if that was even possible. I heard him moan against my mouth in a way that told me he had been waiting way too long for this same kiss.
I pulled him down over me and soaked in the feeling of his body fully covering mine as I grabbed the edges of the blanket and wrapped us up, his forehead resting on mine for the moment.
“I love you,” he whispered, and as his words floated softly on the night air, like a song made only for my ears to hear, I felt the truth in those same words deep inside.
“I know,” I whispered back. “I love you too Jess,” and kissed him again, grateful for this time we had together and thankful for the amazing person I had for a boyfriend, the one that loved me.