I sit on the couch and stare at the letter in my hand for the fiftieth time in the last week. It's no use; there's no way around it. I'm going to have to ring her. Crap.
The letter is from my mother. Most of it is, by anyone's standards, fairly nondescript. There are no terrible revelations about the family, no one's died, I don't have a long lost half brother… It's just general news and gossip, and I'm not worried about that. What I am worried about is in the second half of the letter. It's an invitation. To a family gathering. For me and my partner. Sigh.
Yes folks, it's the dreaded "meeting the parents" scenario. I lean back and stare at the telephone, which not-surprisingly sits there and refuses to do anything amusing. It's not as though I didn't know I'd have to deal with this sooner or later. Heck, I've already met Hartley's parents; we had dinner at their house (though 'mansion' would probably be a better word for it). I remember sitting at an enormous table eating obscenely expensive foods. His father discussed the latest share report, I sat there nodding and trying to look as though I understood what the heck he was saying, and Hartley sat at the end of the table looking like an eager student trying to impress his favourite teacher. Afterwards we sat in the drawing room while his mother showed me embarrassing baby photos and I tried to make my retail job sound a lot more interesting than it actually was. The whole thing was a complete nightmare. It was terrible. And it was one of the best "parent meetings" I've ever had the pleasure to attend. When it comes to this, I've had a rotten record. I can only hope that this one goes as well, and I know for certain that it won't unless I ring her up and at least warn her beforehand. I've been trying to gather the courage for the last week.
I sigh again. The phone still isn't doing anything interesting, I've just read the letter over for the fifty-second time and I've been sitting here for nearly half an hour without achieving anything. That's it. To say I'm not actually relishing this conversation is an understatement, but I've got to get it over with sooner or later. I stand up, lift up the handset and dial the number.
The phone seems to be ringing an awful long time. Maybe… and then there's a click. Darn.
Don't let how nervous you are show. Just act natural…
"Hi Mum, It's James…"
"James! It's wonderful to hear from you! Honestly, we haven't talked in months. What have you been doing with yourself? Did you get my letter?"
"Yes, yes, I got it. It's nice to hear you too Mum, honest. I'm sorry I haven't rung, I've been awfully busy."
"Too busy to talk to your poor old Mum" I can hear her tutting. "I tell you, children these days…"
I allow myself a small smile. At least she seems to be in a good mood.
"Actually mum, your letter was what I've actually rung about. The family dinner and everything…"
"Oh yes. You can come? I'd love to see you dear, and I haven't even met your current beau…"
And here we go.
"Uh, yeah, I actually wanted to talk about that, Mum."
A note of puzzlement… "Yes?"
"Well, I sure we'd love to come to the party and all, there's just, well, there's just something I feel I should probably tell you about beforehand…"
She cuts in with a slightly chastising tone. "Now honestly James, if this is about the fact that you're, well, that you're practicing a homosexual lifestyle, I've already told you, you're my son and I'll stick beside you whatever your decisions are…"
"No, Mum, it's not that. I mean, thanks but it's just, it's more…" Oh great, how am I going to put this? "Err, listen. You know the Flash, right?"
Now she really sounds puzzled. "The Flash? Well of course, I mean… Good Gracious! You're not going out with him. I didn't even know he…"
Arrggghh! "No, no Mum! I didn't mean that. I'm not, he's not… No, Wally's quite happy with Linda at the moment. I didn't mean it like that…"
"Wally? You sound as if you know him…"
Bing! And here's another thing I've conveniently not told her yet.
"Umm, well actually I kinda do."
"You know the Flash!? Well that's marvellous! Gracious James, why on earth didn't you tell me?"
"Well, it's kind of messed up with everything else and I…" I think I'm beginning to sound a tad desperate at this point. "Look Mum, just… just listen, okay? Look, if you've heard of the Flash, you've heard of his Rogue's Gallery too, haven't you?"
The puzzlement has come back in spades. "Err, yes."
"Right. And you've heard of the Pied Piper? You, know, the one who used to use all the musical instruments."
There's a slight pause. "I… Yes. James, what are you…"
I take a deep breath. And here it comes. "Well, he's kind of, I mean he's totally reformed now, and he's been using his skills for good and he's really a nice guy, honestly, and I kind of met him a few months ago and we really hit it off and, well… that's who my partner is Mum." I bite my tongue and cross my fingers and wait.
The pause is a lot longer this time. "…So. What you're basically trying to tell me James, is that your current boyfriend is an ex-supervillian."
"Very ex. Really, really, totally very ex. There's no way that he'd ever do anything… I mean, honestly, totally, I promise."
Another pause. They're really beginning to wreck my nerves by this point. "Well… well… Is he… nice?"
Despite everything, I manage a small smile. "He's great Mum, honest."
"And is he good to you?"
"Very. The best."
There's another awkward pause and then I hear her take the deep breath of someone who's just been told something totally bizarre and who is going to pretend that they aren't at all disturbed by it even though in actual fact it's going to take at least a week for them to fully come to terms with the whole situation. I've heard it before. Don't ask.
"Well then. So. Has he got any dietary problems that I should take into account when I'm making the dinner?"
Dietary Problems.I can't help it. I start to laugh, partly out of relief and partly because that's such a typically motherly thing to say it's absurd.
"Now James, don't tell me you're laughing at your poor old mother." There's a touch of humor behind her voice. Thank goodness.
"Of course not Mum, I'm just, I…" I'm smiling like a loony at the moment, but that's beyond the point. "Mum?"
"Have I told you lately how much I love you?"
"Not lately dear." Then softer. "I love you too James. Whatever you do with your life. Remember that." I can hear the emotion behind her voice. I dearly wish she were here, just so I could hug her.
"I know Mum. Umm, listen. I have to go now but I promise we can catch up properly at the get together. I'll be there with Hartley. No problem."
"Well then, I'll see you there. I'm quite looking forward meeting him. He sounds… interesting."
"That's an understatement. Bye Mum, and Mum?"
"What are mothers for? Goodbye, dear. I'll see you there."
Then she hangs up. I did it. I did it and she didn't freak out or go nuts at me or anything like that. Good lord. I'm practically dizzy with relief. I throw myself back on the couch and lean back and close my eyes. Talk about a weight off my back.
I'd been lying there for all of 2 minutes when there's the sound of a key in the lock. I open my eyes. Perfect timing.
"Oh hi. You were being awfully quiet. I would have rung the doorbell if I'd known you were home."
I cover a smile. Hartley hates silence. You can guarantee that whenever he's home there will either be an insidiously loud appliance, radio channel or experimental device that you probably don't want to touch on somewhere about the house. Since that's what he always does, he tends to assume that if there's no sound in the house there can't possibly actually be anyone in it. "Jeez, sorry for not resting in a louder manner. How was it down at the shelter?"
"Oh you know, average. Fistfights, starving people, cute kids whose mothers can't afford to provide them with proper hygiene."
Ouch. It must have been a bad day. He looks exhausted.
He sighs and flops down on the couch next to me. "So how was your day?"
"Much better than yours, it sounds like. How would like to meet my parents?"
"Really? Cool. What's the occasion?"
"Oh, you know, just the standard get together. It's on the 18th for lunch. A few hours drive, but we should be able to get there and back in a day with no problems. Hang on, here's the letter." I fish it, turn it to the pertinent bit and watch as he skims it over. "Mum's looking forward to meeting you." Okay, it's not exactly what she said but…
"It sounds great. I'm in." Then he looks up and grins at me. "You know, I can't help but notice that this is dated a quite a few days back. This wouldn't be the reason that you've been acting so jumpy the last few days would it?"
Oh crap. I hate living with someone who's so observant. How am I supposed to tell him that I've been so nervous about admitting to my family that I'm in a relationship with him? I mean, lets face it, it is pretty insulting.
I don't need this, especially not just after the phone call with Mum. At least with her I actually had some idea of what I was going to say. And he's bound to be offended by it, he's so sensitive like that.
I know I should be honest about the whole thing, but my mind goes blank, and I end up blurting out, "Well of course not. Why would I be jumpy about introducing them to you?" That was smooth. Like he's not going to know I was lying about that.
He raises an eyebrow and looks skeptical. Darn, darn, darn. It's times like I wonder I'm putting so much effort into this whole relationship.
And then, just when I think the day's gone on a downturn for the worst, he smiles at me, winks and says, "Well gee, I don't know. Whatever was I thinking?" And then he leans forward and kisses me.
And all I can think is Oh yeah. That's why.