Interfering - by Sara's Girl
AN – Greg goes to see his parents in California, some time after Fannysmackin' (Annika knows he is a CSI). I named her in deference to one of my favourite writers (geekwriter, who used the name first), though she is nice in this story! As far as discoveries go, I think both Annika and Greg learn some stuff here. Reviews delight and inspire me :)
I don't own Greg, Nick or any member of their families.
"I can't believe you did that!"
Greg slammed the front door behind him and staggered into the hallway of his mother's house.
"Just then! You really showed me up in front of the neighbours, Greg."
Greg's anger flared. He bit back at his mother in harsh, staccato tones, shot through with sarcasm.
"I – was – trying – to – help – you."
He stormed into the kitchen and dropped the shopping bags on the counter with a crash. "Jesus."
"Help me?" Annika was infuriated. "Gregory Sanders, what is the matter with you at the moment? Really, you need to – "
"Leave it out, mom."
"I will not! Since you got here, you've been – "
"I haven't been anything. Would you please just le-"
"Leave it? Yes, I keep hearing that one." Her voice was cold.
"Then please just do it, for god's sake!" Greg spat, ripping the lid from the orange juice carton and tipping half the contents down his throat in one go. Wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
Annika Sanders started at her son with a mixture of anger, exasperation and a surprising twist of affection. Standing there, hanging onto the fridge door, dark eyes boring into hers as if defying her to take the matter further. Hair all over the place, dripping juice carton dangling from his fingers. She felt transported back in time 16 years. Suddenly Greg looked, not like the accomplished thirty-year-old man that he was, but like the seething, defiant teenager he had been. The one who had spent years using anger and defensiveness to hide his insecurity, as she supposed all teenagers did. Annika also remembered all too well that the attitude would kick up a few notches when Greg was worried about something, or – more specifically – worried about hiding something.
She remembered when he was fourteen years old and she had first realised that her son was gay. Or at least, that he was a good deal more interested in men than he was in women. She had been surprised when she found the magazines under his bed, but she had put them back where she found them and made a decision not to confront Greg but to wait for him to come to her. She could only imagine that it was a very hard thing to do, coming out to your mother, and she made a promise to herself not to make it harder for him. He had certainly been difficult to live with at that time. She remembered doors slamming and loud music and getting her head bitten off if she asked where he was going, or who with.
Still, she had resolved never to push the matter. She sometimes regretted that promise she had made to herself, though, as 16 years later, she and Greg had never had 'the conversation'. He had never chosen to bring anyone home or even mention anyone special. She wondered, at times, whether she should feel hurt by this and contemplated bringing it up on several occasions, though each time she decided against it. She was often the one quieting other family members when they made concerned noises at Greg's lack of a girlfriend – or even a wife – he was thirty years old, after all.
"Leave poor Greg alone," she'd say. "He's a young man yet, he's probably not ready to settle down."
Over the years, her instincts continued to tell her that this – at least in part – was true. She didn't think her son had anyone special. She knew he could probably have his pick. He was a handsome, charming, clever man, even if she did say so herself. Sometimes she hoped he would find someone. And until then, she would go on not mentioning it.
After he had left home for college and then later moved to Las Vegas, she saw him less frequently. When he did visit, he seemed calmer. Happier. He lost that defensive, hunted light in his eyes. She supposed he didn't have to hide himself as much as he used to, and that made her happy; but still she wished Greg would just talk to her. After all, she wasn't going to mention it. She had made an art form out of not mentioning it.
"Hello?" Greg's voice cut through her reminiscence and she realised that she must have been silent for some time, immersed in her thoughts. He was waving one hand in front of her face slowly and deliberately, and his voice was dripping with sarcasm.
"Earth to mother? My god, where did you go then?"
Annika's eyes refocused on her son. He had moved, had replaced the juice carton in the fridge and was now leaning on the kitchen counter with his arms crossed protectively over his chest. His dark eyes were sharp and his usually smooth forehead was creased into a deep frown. It was as though 'keep your distance' was seeping out of every pore. It was classic adolescent Greg. She wondered now, what he was hiding, what had precipitated the return of his long-abandoned attitude problem. Maybe he's finally met someone, she mused, dismissing the thought almost instantaneously.
"Seriously, what's the matter with you? You keep zoning out." He rolled his eyes to the ceiling and sighed irritably.
Watching him, the thought pushed back into Annika's mind and would not disappear. Slowly, she smiled. There really was no other explanation. Oh god…with growing horror she realised that Greg was staying for another three days. If he kept this up, she would positively strangle him. 16 years, Not asking. Not mentioning. Maybe it was time to break the silence, if only for the sake of her own sanity. What was the worst that could happen?
She took a deep, steadying breath.
"Greg? Have you met someone?"
His eyes widened and a small sound of disbelief escaped from his throat. Then he was silent for a long time. Crossed and uncrossed his arms. Jumped up onto the counter, fidgeted and then slid back down.
"No," he replied flatly, after some time.
"Please, Greg. Talk to me."
She knew her voice sounded slightly desperate but she would not release him from the trap of her gaze. She held him captive in it, waiting. "Come on, Greg, I'm your mother."
He sighed. Rubbed a hand across his face, covering his eyes, like he used to when he was a little boy and wanted to hide from the world. Annika wanted to give him a hug, but she maintained her position, waiting, silently urging her son to just come out with it. Finally, he spoke.
"You have never asked me that before." The word 'never' seemed to echo with incredulity.
"I know. I'm asking you now."
Greg inhaled sharply and hung his head. Several dirty blond curls fell into his eyes. He made no attempt to brush them away. When he spoke again, his voice was small and it seemed like every syllable was an effort. Annika's stomach twisted in knots, knowing, feeling her son's anxiety as though it was her own.
"Thing is mom, well, you don't know this but…um…well, I have met someone, and it's a guy. I like men. You know, I'm…well…I guess I'm gay."
He faltered over the last few words and her heart went out to him. He didn't move, his usual frantic energy stilled. He just looked at his shoes and exhaled slowly.
Annika tentatively stepped towards him and rubbed his arm gently.
"Doesn't matter to me, Greg. Not one bit."
He looked up slowly to meet his mother's calm gaze. His eyes were enormous. She pulled him to her and hugged him tightly, pressing her lips against warm, damp hair as he dropped his head onto her shoulder. She inhaled the scent of him greedily like she would when he was a small child, and found that it still comforted her.
"Who is he then?" She couldn't help asking, releasing him finally. The real question. He frowned again.
"Hang on, that's it? No shock, no questions, no disappointment, no…nothing?"
"I don't get it. Isn't it a big deal?"
Annika cursed herself inwardly. She should have at least tried to look surprised. Greg was an investigator now, after all, he was going to figure out the truth. She suddenly, uselessly, wished that she had not waited so long to do this, and hoped he would understand that her intentions were pure.
"Ok," she ventured reluctantly. "I knew."
"Since you were fourteen. I'm sorry. I wanted to wait for you to tell me yourself, but..well…it's been a long time, Greg. You're acting like you did back then, so I thought…"
She trailed off, lifting her hands in a placating gesture. All Greg said was:
She watched him process this information, his usually laughing face serious. His posture conveyed disappointment, confusion and relief simultaneously.
"Who else knows? Dad?"
She turned and started sifting through the abandoned shopping bags, trying to give Greg time to think. After five whole minutes passed in silence, she gave up.
"So…who is he then?" She repeated casually, gathering up salad vegetables and transporting them to the fridge.
Greg regarded her for a moment, watching her shake tomatoes into the crisper. Wordlessly, he reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet and flipped through it. Handed her a photograph and watched her with anxious eyes.
Annika looked down at the dark-haired man in the photograph. He stood with his arm slung around her son, half turned away from the camera and smiling into Greg's delighted face. Unexpected recognition flooded her body and her breath caught in her chest.
"Well now," she exhaled. Surprised, and yet not really surprised at all.
She looked from the photograph to Greg, who was gnawing anxiously at the skin on his fingers. An old habit.
"Don't bite your nails, Greg," she said automatically. The hand dropped.
It had been a long time since she had last laid eyes on the man in the photograph, but she never forgot a face.
"This is the man from the hospital." She smiled at Greg but his eyes were clouded with confusion.
"This man, in the photograph. Your, um, boyfriend? I figured it was a new relationship, since we last saw each other, but obviously not. Wow, that has to be what, four, five years ago now?"
Her son's face was blank. Annika sighed, frustrated. Why was he making this so difficult?
"Mom? What are you talking about? You've totally lost me."
She spoke slowly, emphasizing every word.
"When you were in the hospital after…after the explosion? At work? We came to see you every day, remember? We were in Vegas for a couple of weeks."
Greg nodded, equally slowly, as though she was mad.
"This man – " she held up the photograph. "He was there too. Every day. I never got chance to speak to him, he seemed to disappear whenever we arrived, but I saw him in your room a few times. Saw him talking to the nurses a lot." She paused, smiling a little but with a creeping sadness. "I suppose I didn't expect you to have been with someone so long and kept it from me."
Greg crossed his arms again, hugging himself, frowning even more now.
"You must be mistaken, mom. Nick never came to see me in the hospital after the lab exploded. We were just friends back then, not even very close ones at that. We've only been together a couple of months. He didn't even really see me back then." He sighed, looking a little sad. Annika ached for him.
"You know what, and I feel really weird saying this to you, but I don't even know if he'd come now, if I was hurt. I'm not sure it's a bedside vigil kind of relationship, y'know? We have fun, sure, but I don't think he feels the way I…oh, god, shut up, Greg." He stopped abruptly and looked now both embarrassed and humiliated on top of the sadness.
Oh, lord. He didn't even know. She wondered if she had put her foot in it, but supposed it was too late now. She wondered how she already knew more about her son's relationship than he did. How she understood his partner, even though they had never really met. How she could make Greg understand that this man was special.
She had, after all, watched him every day for those two weeks, though he had been unaware of her noticing him. Noticing, but saying nothing. Doing nothing. It wasn't her job to interfere, after all, that's what she had always told herself. But seeing Greg's face right now, she was losing faith in that idea fast. Not interfering had resulted in 16 years of being shut out of an important part of her only son's life. Not interfering meant allowing her son to believe that this man, this Nick, did not care about him enough. Hindsight was a wonderful thing, Annika decided, and hindsight was telling her that interfering was what she should have been doing all along.
"Nick?" she repeated softly. "Is that his name? The nurses used to call him…what was it now…he's a Southern gentleman, isn't he? Mr Stokes, that was it. Always Mr Stokes."
Their voices floated back to her, as she remembered her frequent but fleeting glimpses of the man over the course of that gruelling fortnight.
'Yes, he's a little better Mr Stokes, but he's sleeping now.'
'No change since this morning, Mr Stokes.'
'You should go home and get some rest, Mr Stokes.'
The soft twang of his accent, little snatches of conversation she overheard when she had watched him, unseen. His soft, brown, concerned eyes fixed on Greg, sometimes sitting at his bedside, motionless, sometimes walking up and down the hallways, back and forth. The slump of his shoulders as he sat in a cold plastic chair. Not once had she spoken to him, but she knew now, that this man had loved Greg. Had loved him four years ago. She looked again at the photograph still in her hand. It was obvious. How could her clever son not see it?
She was dragged out of her thoughts by Greg's expression. He looked as though he might cry.
"I don't get it," he choked. "Nick was there? I was there for two weeks and he came to see me…and I never saw him? I never saw him. I thought he didn't come. Why would he come? Why would he come and not speak to me?"
The words tumbled out over each other in a torrent. His eyes were shiny with tears now.
"You really don't remember, do you?"
He shook his head slowly.
"Only when you were sleeping," she whispered, realizing. "Maybe he didn't want you to know."
Greg moaned softly and covered his face with his hands. Leaned heavily against the counter for support. He looked as though he was experiencing actual physical pain.
"He never said," he whispered finally from between his fingers. "He never told me he was there, even after we got together. I don't understand."
Annika understood. Her voice was gentle and she laid a soothing hand on her son's shoulder.
"Do you love him, Greg?"
He said nothing, just buried his face further into his hands and nodded slowly, almost imperceptibly.
"Have you told him?"
Greg was staring at her now, that look of derision creeping back into his eyes. She noticed, though, that his cheeks were tear-streaked despite the hard expression, and his shoulders were trembling ever so slightly.
"Of course not."
"Greg, what am I going to do with you?" She grabbed both his hands and clasped them between hers, gripping hard.
"It's too soon. I don't think he wants…I don't know any more."
"Try to understand, kjaere," she whispered, not releasing his hands. "You may not have seen him, but I did. You were hurt and he couldn't bear it. Could not stand to be away from your side, even if it meant hiding around corners whenever me and your father showed up. Maybe the reason he didn't want you to know is that he still isn't sure if you feel the same way. I'll bet he's a proud man, isn't he?"
"And stubborn like you. Together but not together. Held back from happiness by fear? It's no way to live your life, Greg. You of all people should know that. When you really want something, you don't think about the fear, like when you wanted to be a CSI. I was scared, but you weren't. If you want it to be real, then one of you has to take a chance."
Annika let go of her son and took a step backwards, slightly shocked at herself for speaking so openly, so candidly and for having interfered so completely in Greg's relationship without even having to meet the other party involved. She was unaccustomed to speaking her mind on matters emotional after so many years, and it felt like a release, though she could not shake the wraith of anxiety that snaked around her as she worried that she had gone too far.
Greg was taking quiet, rapid, shallow breaths and raking a hand through his hair distractedly. Just at the moment that it was becoming too much for Annika, and she was wondering what she could say to make him forget the whole thing, he bolted, stumbling slightly, from the room, mumbling under his breath.
"I have to make a phone call."
She stood alone in the kitchen now, tapping her long fingers on the counter top and watching the steam rising from the coffee pot. She inhaled the rich scent gratefully, smiling at her son's devotion to his gourmet coffee, and his willingness to share it with her. She had started making a pot as soon as he left the room, and was now wondering how long she should wait before going to look for him.
It was funny, she thought, all these years not asking and not getting involved in his personal life, now she had started, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. She had no idea now how she had been so quiet and patient for all of those years. She wanted her son to be happy more than anything, and if she had to give him a few nudges in the right direction, then so be it. She was his mother, after all, surely it was her prerogative.
Picking up a large, scalding hot mug of the bitter, dark liquid, Annika padded quietly around the house, glancing into each room in turn, looking for Greg. Finally, she found him in the back yard, hearing his voice drifting in through the open lounge window. He was sitting, hunched over on a tatty old lawn chair, elbows resting on his knees and his cell phone glued to one ear. She hovered in the open doorway, undecided as to whether to stay and listen or give her son his privacy. Who was she kidding. She tiptoed forwards, straining her ears to hear Greg's side if the conversation.
"…can't believe you hid from me like that! Why couldn't you just be honest with me?"
Oh dear. He sounded angry.
"Yeah well, it does matter."
"Because it does! No…no I won't forget about it. NO! Things are not fine as they are!"
There was a long pause then, and she watched him, watched the tendons in his forearms tense and release in his frustration.
"Because, for fuck's sake, Nick!" She raised her eyebrows slightly at his choice of language. Gripped the coffee mug tightly even though it was burning her fingers. "Because I love you!"
Annika grinned. That's it.
"Yeah, well I didn't expect to say it either, just so you know. Yeah. I know. I've been holding back, yes, but so have you…it was pretty screwed up that my mom knew you loved me before I did. Were you afraid, Nicky?"
He sat back then, heavily, the worn fabric of the chair groaning under his weight. Closed his eyes, a smile playing on his lips. It was a small but genuine smile, and it warmed her to see it.
"It's ok. It's so good to finally hear that…so good."
Even his voice was different now, all the tension seemed to have melted out of him. Realizing that actually, she didn't want to interrupt his moment of peace, she impulsively darted forwards, seizing her chance while his eyes were still closed, and set the cup down on the peeling wooden table beside him. She could be safely back inside the house before the aroma reached his nose.
"I can't wait to see you either," he whispered.
She was turning to creep away when she felt a hand close around her wrist. Glancing automatically down at Greg, she saw he had not opened his eyes. He carefully covered the mouthpiece of the phone with his free hand.
That was all he said before releasing her and returning to the phone and Nick. He didn't look at her and the words had been soft, almost inaudible. She reached out and stroked his hair briefly, ruffled it a little like she used to many years ago. He wasn't a child anymore, she knew that. He was a strong, brave, kind, grown-up man who always got what he wanted, eventually. There was nothing wrong with a little help, though, she thought, smiling and turning her face to the sunset. She could grow to love interfering.