PFLAG: Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
Charlotte Hayes descended the stairs, crossed the hall, and entered Peter's office. He was behind his desk flipping through a folder or something. He looked up after a moment, knowing that Charlotte was in the room. His jaw tensed and the look in his eyes was one of defeat.
"I'm leaving now," Charlotte said. She wasn't normally one to carry a grudge, but it was hard to keep the venom out of her voice. It had been more than two weeks now, and Peter still hadn't come to any sort of decision. Neither had she, but she was done sitting around waiting for the moment her world would start making sense again.
"Are you sure you want to do this, darling?" he asked.
"All I'm sure of is that I don't want to lose what little is left of the relationship I have with my son."
Peter swallowed and ran his hands down his face. "When will you be back?"
"I'm not sure. I think there are some leftovers in the fridge from yesterday. You can have that for dinner." Charlotte took a deep breath and it sang with finality. "I really do wish you would come with me." As she said the words, she knew she couldn't change Peter's mind.
He walked around the desk, but not before he picked up a thin envelope. He held it out to her. "This is all I can do for now."
Carefully, she took the envelope and ran her fingers along the edges. It felt like the paper would break into her skin. It was a poor substitute for what he could do, but she couldn't make the decision for him. She had tried, but it had been fruitless.
With her heart and mind set, she left. She had never felt distant to her husband, but as of now there was a large crevice building between them.
About fifteen minutes later, she looked at the GPS and double-checked again to make sure she had the right building. Well, at least it was much nicer than were Connor used to stay. Charlotte had always hated that place.
At the top of the stairs, there were four doors. One was ajar with voices slipping through the crack. She didn't pay attention, but studied the nametags instead. Next to the open door, a pair of muddy running shoes was thrown aside. She recognized them along with the name on the door.
Just as she was about to knock, she couldn't help but listen to the conversation coming from inside.
"Please would you stop stalling and take that damn shower. You're filthy and you stink."
Laughter rang out. She recognized it was Connor's. No doubt about it. "I do not stink, but now that you ask so nicely, I'll get right on it. I was thinking, do you want to go to the movies tonight?"
Charlotte caught a swift movement inside the apartment and gave it no more thought. It was now or never. She needed to act now or she would lose her nerve. This was for her son and she could put away her discomfort to have a conversation with him. She knocked with three swift and nervous raps.
The following second made her heart pound. It was Ben, who opened the door. Her mouth felt dry, and his eyes widened.
"Mrs. Hayes," he said, surprised. His eyes turned apprehensive and he glanced over his shoulder. Behind him in the hall, a mess of boxes was littering the floor and a surfboard lay on its side against the wall. "It's nice to see you again."
She forced a smile. It wasn't because she didn't want to nice to Ben, but more that she was somewhat ashamed of how she had acted the last time she had seen this man. Amongst her inconsiderate words, she had accused Ben of doing this to Connor. She had blamed him for taking her son away and leading him into damnation. Oh, how she wished he wasn't about to bring that up. Despite how she felt about the mess her family was in, she was ashamed of the way she had treated this man.
"I'm sorry to come by unannounced like this," she hedged and clutched her bag. "Uh…" She looked down, trying to collect the words that were running wild in her head. She had always been articulate, but now that was just a faint memory.
She watched as Ben inclined his head and his gaze softened. He really was a handsome young man. "Oh, that's all right," he answered and smiled. "Connor will be glad to see you."
Charlotte swallowed, much the same painful way Peter had before she left. Her mouth was so dry. She had received a few texts from Connor since he came to the house, but he hadn't called, which she knew he wouldn't. His message had been perfectly clear. They had to come to him once they were ready, not the other way around. Connor was stubborn and had stuck to his word. She hadn't answered his texts or called either.
"Mom?" Connor said, when he came into view behind Ben. His eyes were wide with ambiguous fright. Connor was the tallest of them. She hadn't noticed that before.
"Why don't you come in," Ben offered. He looked back at Connor and they shared a strange moment that didn't contain any words.
As Charlotte looked around, she tried to find a place to set her foot down without stepping on something.
"I apologize about the mess, we were just…" Ben trailed off and didn't finish. This time, he looked a little uneasy.
Charlotte noticed that Connor didn't come any closer or hug her. He used to hug her and kiss her cheek whenever he saw her. He had his arms folded across his chest and he looked back at her, somewhat surly. She couldn't help but smile a little. He looked so much like the sullen teenager he had been at times. Now, he was splattered with mud and had green splotches of grass on his pants. It was raining and he'd probably been playing football or participated in something else rowdy. Charlotte couldn't count the times he had ripped his new jeans or she had to throw his pants in the trash because the grass stains wouldn't come out. Some things just never changed.
Perhaps that was the way to help her accept the reality that had come crashing down on her. This was what she could deal with and not the fact she was in the home of her son's boyfriend. It was strange to deal with something she found so profoundly wrong, but it was the only way to keep her son. She knew that. However, omitting a few facts made the whole situation a little easier for her to deal with.
When Connor had made the announcement at their house two weeks ago, she had felt like Botox had been injected into her entire body. She had been paralyzed by the news. Sure, during the past few years she had noticed he had had less than no interest in dating, but she figured it was mostly a choice for the time being. That was Connor's prerogative. Little did she know that he was dating and that he was leading this secret alternate life of which his family was absolutely no part. She knew whom to blame for that, and it was none other than herself.
Charlotte looked around the apartment. It wasn't large, but it had the essentials, and it was homey, surprisingly so.
When they were in the kitchen, the silence was heavy. It felt suffocating, like she was inhaling smoke from a fire. "I thought we could talk," she suggested carefully and looked at Connor. Oh, how she had missed him—her sweet boy.
"Sure," he shrugged, like it was no big deal. His eyes betrayed him though. He was suffering. That was clear. They were all suffering. Peter barely spoke to anybody but his employees, and that was only out of necessity. Lucy cried a lot and didn't want to talk about anything other than the new baby. She ignored the facts at all cost. Jared had tried to mediate, but that was when Charlotte clamped up. They had all turned their backs on Connor. They had sent him out into the cold and left him there. How could she blame him for his chilly mood?
The guilt had been consuming her. She was losing her son. It had to end. They needed to find some sort of middle ground.
"I'll go shower first. I stink," Connor said. Ben repressed a smile and cocked a brow at him. Connor narrowed his eyes in return and made a snide face. "I'll be like ten minutes, Mom."
"Take your time," she said. She was grateful that he was willing to talk to her.
"Please have a seat, Mrs. Hayes. Would you like something to drink?" Ben politely asked.
"I wouldn't mind some coffee?" Her voice quivered slightly and her knees were trembling as she sat.
"Uhm, we don't have coffee. Neither Connor nor I drink it. Tea, Mrs. Hayes?" His tone was somewhat shy.
"Sure. Call me Charlotte, Ben. I think we can stop the formalities and pretenses given the circumstances." She let out a slow heavy breath. When she looked up again, Ben was studying her.
"I know this isn't easy for you either, Charlotte," Ben said kindly. "I want you to know I never wanted any kind of fallout between Connor and your family. I wish it was easier for him."
Charlotte blinked back tears. "Yes, so do I." Right at the tip of her tongue was the solution to what would make this whole disaster disappear. If my son wasn't gay, there wouldn't be a problem.
"How has he been?" she asked instead.
Ben looked down at his feet. His eyes were sad when he lifted his gaze. "You're going to have to ask Connor about that. I can't speak for him."
Charlotte nodded. That was an honest answer. She could appreciate that much. They studied each other without any shame. Ben let her, and she knew that, because he could easily have busied himself with something and turned his back to her. Personally, there wasn't much to dislike about him. He seemed like an honest and goodhearted man. That much had been clear from that fateful Sunday Connor told them the truth.
Physically, they were completely different types. Ben looked much more refined in his sleek tailored dress pants combined with his slim fit shirt and slipover. He was tall and lean and his hair was long at the front and the texture of it was glossy. Connor could, on a rare occasion, be persuaded to wear a button down, but that was about it for dressing up. Jeans and t-shirts were his thing, though she had tried to influence him. Connor's hair was kept fairly short and it was always messy on top.
"I see you got the cast taken off," she said mostly to avoid the silence.
Ben broke into a huge smile. "Yes, finally. I still wear a brace, though, but it's so much better now."
"So everything is all right?" she asked.
"Yeah. I have a lot of scars, but in return I have an arm. That's not a bad deal."
She chuckled. "That is a good deal. I'm glad you're feeling better."
"Ben!" Connor hollered from the bathroom or bedroom. It was hard to tell. "I can't find my green and white striped Ralph Lauren polo. Do you know where it is?"
Closing her eyes, Charlotte couldn't help the laughter that bubbled up her throat. "He's still… uncaring with his clothes, I see."
Ben snickered. "I would use the word slob, but that wouldn't be nice. Excuse me," he said as he left the kitchen. She could hear their low voices from somewhere, but she couldn't pick out the words. A few minutes later, Connor appeared looking fresh as a daisy. His face was clean and his hair was damp. She picked up the smell of his body wash or cologne that she didn't know, but it was pleasing. Was this the kind of thing Connor noticed too? How other men smelled? She pushed the thought aside.
"We can talk out on the terrace. We'll be safe from the rain."
She followed Connor, noticing he had clearly found the shirt in question. She tried to bite back her sadness at their distance. In some dark corner of her mind, she had naively hoped nothing had changed and perhaps it was all just a bad dream. It wasn't though. This was as real as it got and she was here to make amends.
Connor pointed to a chair for her to use. He used to pull it out for her, as he had good manners, but not today. She sat down. Connor mirrored, stretched his legs out in front of him and crossed his arms over his chest again. Classic self-defense pose, she thought.
"I'm not sure where to start." She sighed, as she sifted through several scenarios she had planned out in her head. None of them seemed relevant right now. Not when Connor was angry and upset. Her hand went to her purse and to the letter from Peter that was burning a hole in her heart. Then she picked her beginning, and it was nowhere near any of the things she had thought to say. "Your father and I have always prided ourselves on teaching you and Lucy to be honest, so I thought it was time we were honest with each other."
Connor snorted. "Great, where's Dad?"
Charlotte looked away, scanning the buildings in view of the terrace. It was cloudy from the heavy downpour. This was not going to be easy. She hadn't expected Connor to be so closed off. He had never been like that before. "He's not ready yet." She fumbled the letter out of her purse. It was probably best he read this now instead of later in case he wanted to talk to her about anything that letter said.
Apprehensively, Connor leaned forward and snatched the envelope. He unfolded it slowly and the crisp paper crackled. She studied him as he read it. He pressed his lips together hard and his chin trembled. When water pooled in his eyes, he looked into the rain. He folded it up and placed it on the table. He didn't look at her.
"Uhm, tea?" Ben placed two mugs on the table. His eyes were on Connor and his hand landed on her son's shoulder. Ben's thumb was just above the collar of the Ralph Polo shirt, and touching his skin. "You okay?" he asked so softly that Charlotte could barely hear it. Without out a word, Connor picked up the letter again and held it out to Ben. He sat down and read it. What amazed her was the closeness between them. There was no arguing if Ben was entitled to read a private letter from his father. It was just assumed. There was a beauty in that.
Connor sniffled and wiped his face on his sleeve. Ben put the letter down. "Do you want me to stay?" He was clearly waiting for Connor's word on what to do.
Connor shook his head. "It's okay. We'll talk about it later." He gave Ben a tiny smile and the man left again.
"How is Ben taking all of this? Is his family supportive?" Charlotte asked. That seemed like a good place to start.
Connor looked back with a startling expression. "Ben doesn't have a family for the same reasons I haven't spoken to either you, Dad or Lucy for more than two weeks. As for Ben, he's absolutely amazing. You would see that too if you gave him a chance. He understands what all of this means to me and he supports what I want. We're on the same wavelength and he makes me feel like I'm not alone in the world when I've never felt lonelier. He has been here for me every step of the way." His tone was cool. Charlotte inhaled sharply from what almost felt like an attack. Having Connor talk to her this way was like a knife through the heart.
"So this relationship, is it serious?" Cautiously, she took a sip of the tea. It smelled fruitier than it tasted, but perhaps her mouth would feel less arid if she took a sip.
"Those are my moving boxes that you stepped over out in the hall, so what do you think, Mom?" She pinned Connor with a measured glare. He sighed. "Yes, it's serious and we've moved in together. I wish you could have been a part of it, because it's pretty big deal to me. It breaks my heart that for the rest of my life you probably won't want to be a part of the milestones in my life. It makes me feel like all that you and dad ever instilled in Lucy and me was all just a big joke. I've always been proud of you as my parents, but I can't say that anymore. Well, at least, not right now."
Charlotte looked down. "I can't say that either. I understand that this is hard for you, but it's hard on all of us. I appreciate the time you've given us to think about this, and that is why I'm here now. About a week ago, I contacted PFLAG, because I was desperate to talk to someone who understands. I've met Mary through the organization and she has helped a lot, because I don't know how to deal with this. So for today, I came up with a plan. It may change tomorrow, but it works for me today," she said as she tried to follow the advice she had been given.
"Okay, what's the plan?" Connor asked.
"I thought we could have an honest conversation. I have questions and I hope you will answer them."
"Okay, you can ask me anything," he said and his tone softened.
Charlotte sighed. "First of all, I don't think it's fair that you accuse me of not wanting to be a part of your life. You dropped this bomb on us two weeks ago and it's been a difficult one to handle. I admit that. However, apparently you've had big plans for your future, but how do you expect any of us to participate in anything you do when you don't even tell us about it?"
Connor shrugged and suddenly he looked so youthful, exactly like the boy she had raised. His eyes were filled with humor. "Uhm… I see your point." As he looked back now, his face was softer, and a little kinder. "Did you have questions?"
"I do. I don't want to offend you in any way, but I have things I am wondering about," Charlotte began.
"Shoot," Connor said and leaned forward. He didn't touch his drink. Did he even drink tea? Charlotte had no idea.
"Are you one hundred percent sure that you're homosexual?"
"Yes," Connor deadpanned. Charlotte waited for him to roll his eyes… and there was a hint of the reaction she expected. Yes, she was aware that some of her questions were stupid, but so be it. She needed to ask them and hear his answers.
"Do you wish you weren't?" she continued.
Connor looked a little surprised before he answered. "Not anymore. I did when I was younger, before I understood myself. Now that I know who I am, I'm not ashamed of it. It may seem that way because I didn't tell you, but I feared ending up in a situation like this more than anything."
"I see. Lucy mentioned a man named Drew, is he…" she paused, trying to find the right way to phrase her curiosity.
"An ex?" Connor filled in. "Sort of. It's in the past though, and now he's just a friend I'm helping out."
Charlotte continued unabashed. These were the questions she had asked Mary from PFLAG, but there was only one person to answer them. "When did you find out that you were attracted to men?"
"Well, aren't we blasé?" Connor teased. Then he sighed. "I figured it out around when I was fifteen. I tried to talk to Dad about it at that time, but he wouldn't hear of it. He told me not to mind my head with such nonsense."
Instantly, that sharp pain she had felt so many times now, slashed through her. Connor had tried to talk about what he was feeling and had been shot down. The thought of having caused her son harm was repulsive, even if it was inadvertently. For now, she continued down her list of questions.
"Do you have a first love?" Her throat felt a little tight. "I feel like I should know this, but I realize that I don't have a clue."
"You can know these things, Mom, if you want to. Yes, I do have a first love. It's Ben. I've never been in love before I met him or even been in a relationship."
"Okay, what about the all the girls you dated in high school. Didn't you have feelings for any of them?"
"I cared for them as friends, but it never went any deeper than that. I dated them, so I could hide behind them," he explained. He looked a little ashamed at that. Well, he should be and he hadn't been nice to those girls, Charlotte thought. Then she tacked on.
"Are you happy, Connor?"
He cocked a brow at her. "Happy, as in general or happy with Ben?"
"Both, I guess."
"Well, I'm very happy with Ben, but in general I'm pretty fucking miserable, Mom."
"Language, Connor!" she snapped out of habit.
"I thought you wanted us to be honest. I'm only being honest and it is how I feel. I wish more than anything it wouldn't be such a big deal that I like men, but it is and it hurts like you wouldn't believe that you can't accept that. As I see it, that merits a fuck."
Charlotte tried to repress her smile, but it was hard. Oh, how she had missed her son and his persistence. He had always been stubborn. "Well, I hope you can do me a favor then."
"What?" Connor's brows shot up.
"I need to understand and get used to this situation. It's not easy for me, so I'm asking you to just be you… with Ben. I think I need to see what your life is like now. On some levels, I feel like I don't even know you at all."
"You do know me. You know me precisely the way you did two weeks ago. I haven't changed. You just learned something new about me, but I'm still exactly the same person," he answered.
"Well said, then perhaps I'm the one who's changed. Whichever is right, I hope you will help me understand. You told us two weeks ago that you didn't want to hide anymore, so I'm asking you not to do that. Be who you are and don't cover up how you feel."
Connor's gaze shifted from guarded to astonished within the blink of an eye. "You know what, Mom, you're pretty fucking amazing. Before you berate me about the language, yes, I said fuck again, because I mean it. So sue me." Connor paused. "However, I don't think it's going to be that easy."
Charlotte took a large slug of her tea when her mouth started to feel dry again. She was testing her limits and stretching herself thin. "I know it won't, but I need to learn how to keep an open mind. Hopefully, that can smooth the way."
"What about the rest of the family? Have you told anybody?" Connor slouched back in his chair. She was about to remind him of posture when that just struck her as ironic. Here she was asking him to be who he was, and that probably meant watching him slouch.
Charlotte shook her head. "Uhm, we weren't sure what to say or do, or even if it was our right to say anything at all. Have you?" She frowned. "What about the public?"
Connor narrowed his eyes. "You haven't read Dad's letter," he stated. He picked it up and held it out to her. She held up her hand in a dismissive gesture.
"That is between you and your father… and Ben. You can tell me what that says, but I do not wish to read it. It wasn't written for me."
Connor smiled, but it was a sad smile. "Well, basically, he asks for more time before we talk, because right now he can't accept that I'm gay and my relationship with Ben. However, he's giving me my freedom, so to speak. His publicist will help us deal with the media when I come out publicly and he will support whatever I wish to do, but for now, he can't be a part of it." His voice got weaker and he cleared his throat. "I guess I'm grateful for the indirect support, but I wish he had come here with you."
Charlotte reached across the table. "So do I, honey." She patted his hand. "Maybe in a few months."
Connor looked down and he turned his hand folding it around his mother's. "What about Lucy?" he asked quietly.
"I just don't know. She's in denial. She won't talk to me about it at all."
"She ignores my calls. I only talk to Jared," Connor said and then he chuckled. It was sardonic and humorless. "I actually thought she would be the first one to understand, but perhaps she will be the last, if at all?"
"I'm sorry, darling. I really am. If it makes you feel any better, I'm really glad I came tonight. I missed you so much and I'm thrilled to see that you're all right." She smiled a little and then said something she never would have thought she would say. "I'm glad you have Ben to help you through this."
Connor's brows shot up. "Oh." Then he flashed his lovely boyish smile that made his eyes light up. "Would you like to stay for dinner? I was going to help Ben cook, and I'd like for you to stay and eat with us."
"I'd be delighted, son." She paused. "Wait, you cook?"
He made a face at her. "Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Come on into the kitchen with me and you can get to know my boyfriend."
Charlotte's breath hitched and her stomach lurched. Oh, she was going to have to learn to control this. She had asked to see for herself what Connor's life was like and this was it. Somehow, it was almost like she had made a deal with the devil.
Charlotte followed Connor through the living room and into the kitchen. She was glad she had brought the tea because it felt like the only stable point in her existence at the moment. She understood and knew what to expect from a simple cup of tea when she took yet another sip.
She had no clue what was waiting for her in the kitchen. What if they kissed? Was she supposed to look or look away? Had she bitten off more than what she could chew? God, she hoped Mary had been right and that she could handle this.
Nervously, Charlotte sat down at the kitchen table. She felt like she should offer to help with something, but with what? She felt misplaced, like she was making a cameo in a world that made absolutely no sense to her.
She watched as Connor snatched a wedge of raw potato from where Ben was peeling them into the basin. He hopped up onto the counter. "Mom's staying for dinner. We have enough, right?"
Ben's brows shot up and he looked over his shoulder. "Of course. We're only having Shepherd's pie, but it's no trouble," he said and it sounded like an excuse. Ben turned and smiled at Connor. Once again, they shared a strange gaze where words were needless. They didn't kiss, though Charlotte wasn't lost to the potential of the moment. She would never admit to anything, but she couldn't be more grateful that she didn't have to endure a kiss right now. She was edgy enough as it was.
Charlotte held up her hand. "I don't want to impose."
"Mom. Stop!" Connor said and then he smiled. His eyes were sparkling and Charlotte knew it was the right decision to stay. It made her son happy, and what was more important than that? "Wine?"
She frowned, but quickly masked it. Connor didn't drink, did he? "Only, if you're having," she answered. She watched as Connor pulled an already open bottle of white wine from the fridge and poured two glasses, one for her and one for Ben. He still didn't drink. Perhaps, she did know her son after all.
Taking a careful sip of her drink, she watched as Ben did most of the cooking and Connor talked endlessly. So this was how he cooked. That made sense, she thought to herself.
Charlotte Hayes spent the next two hours getting acquainted with the life her son now led. Ben was honest and answered all the questions she kept firing at him. She felt ignorant, like a novice, but wasn't it like that with every new experience? She had to learn, she had to find her footing in this unfamiliar world. The only way to do that was to keep her eyes and heart open.
She could easily see that Connor was absolutely crazy about this handsome man who seemed so gentle and was so soft spoken. A person would have to be deaf, blind and mute to miss that Connor's feelings were repaid in full. Ben was attentive and charming when it came to Connor.
If she was being honest with herself, the night wasn't bad at all. Charlotte wasn't sure what she had expected when she had left home, but she was happy to see this… dedication between them. Seeing them together had brought a new perspective. She had seen with her own eyes that Connor hadn't turned into someone she didn't recognize. No, he was still her son. Yes, things could be easier, but spending an evening in their company brought hope for reconciliation, and a hope that their family could heal in time. They could learn to grow together, and stay a family. Nothing was more important than that.
As a coping mechanism, Charlotte kept the training wheels on and chose to consider Ben and Connor as close friends and not pay too much attention to the rest.
"Goodnight, Ben, and thank you for dinner again," Charlotte said was standing in the cluttered hall. She was about to leave.
"You're quite welcome, Charlotte," Ben said kindly. When he walked out of the hall, he was smiling softly. Then Connor hugged her and kissed her cheek.
"I'm proud of you, Mom," he whispered when he held her tightly.
She squeezed him back. "It was good to see you." She clutched onto her son considerably longer than she normally would have. "We'll get through this somehow. I can't bear to lose you, darling."
Connor pulled back and tilted his head to the side as he regarded her. "I wish Lucy and Dad felt the same way."
"Oh, they do. They just don't know how to show it right now. Rome wasn't built in a day," she sighed.
"What?" she asked.
"Ben always says that. Please don't be a stranger. Come by anytime," Connor offered.
"Thank you, darling. I love you."
"I love you, too. Goodnight, Mom."
Connor closed the door and locked it. He leaned against the door for a moment while he gathered his thoughts. He let out a massive sigh. Then he sauntered in to the living room. Ben was on the couch. His pretty brown eyes were following his every move. Feeling a little emotionally overwhelmed, Connor sank into the couch. He couldn't help smiling like a fool.
"How are you feeling?" Ben asked.
"Pretty goddamn amazing. I can't believe she came." Connor stared out into nothing while feeling a little light-headed. Did this really happen? Had his mom made the move to start paving the road to reconciliation? God, he hoped this was the solution.
Ben held his hand with the brace out. "Come here, baby." Connor leaned against his chest and Ben kissed his forehead. "Let's watch a movie."
With a wicked gleam in his eye, Connor peeked up. "Let's watch a movie and make out. I'm in serious need of a good make out session." Ben laughed loudly, when Connor grasped the back of his thighs and yanked him down on the couch roughly.
"You're on!" Ben challenged.
Connor weaseled his way in between Ben's spread legs. "I love you. Fuck, I love you!" he said as relief flooded him. This was the olive branch he had dreamed of for two weeks solid. Every day when he woke up, he begged for the sign that he wasn't left without a family for the rest of his life. This was it. Today had been the day. He felt lighter than air.
Whew… now that has been said and done. So what are you thinking? Good, bad or… let me know, hit the comments.
Thank you all so much for reading.
As always Chartwilightmom, AnnaLund and Dazzled Eyes22 lend me their expertise, especially the latter kept me on my toes and made sure she brought out the best of Charlotte. Thank you.