Castle Roland

Everything Will Turn Out Alright

by Cy-Kun


Chapter 30

Posted: N/A

Road trip movies are made of lies.


They all make it look like long road trips are filled with wacky adventures and interesting locations and quirky but loveable people. But it's bullshit. A real road trip goes exactly like this.

You get in a car. You drive. You get on the highway. You drive. You stay on the highway, driving. You stop to pee. You drive. You spend like 4 fucking hours going through Pennsylvania, the most boring state ever. You drive. You stop for lunch at the small town you barely made it to because you waited until the last gallon was left in the gas tank before looking for a place to stop. You drive. You practically explode from the pee you've been holding in because you fell asleep and your mom missed the "last exit for 40 miles" sign. You drive. You hit an hour fucking delay because a whole lane of the highway was closed down for SEVEN MILES because two guys are digging a five foot hole in a work area that's only 100 FUCKING FEET LONG. You drive while listening to your mom curse. You drive through back roads for half an hour because your mom thinks she knows a better route than the GPS and promptly gets you lost. You drive. You start to have a horrible suspicion that you forgot to pack pants. You worry, while driving.

By the time we finally got to New York, three hours later than we wanted, I totally understood why people went on killing sprees. How an eight hour drive on mostly major US highways can have more shit go wrong than a three day drive through fucking Canada I'll never know. But, even with the tiredness and the acheyness and the new found desire for mass murder the second I saw the unmistakable skyline of New York in the distance a smile spread across my lips and I started bouncing in my seat. Vicky was in there, somewhere, and I was so close I could practically smell him.

"You're looking . . . . better." my mom said hesitantly. I could understand why she wasn't eager to talk to me. For the last three hours all I did was whine and snap at her and make bitchy comments about everything. Not to mention the brand new dent in the dashboard where I might have kicked it during a small, insignificant, not even really worth mentioning temper tantrum/nervous breakdown.

But all that was behind us now. I grinned. "Yep." I said happily. "We're almost to Vicky. Wow! Those buildings are huge!"

I turned a wide eyed gaze out to the skyscrapers as we got closer to the city, but out of the corner of my eye I noticed that she was still giving me a worried, cautious look. I rolled my eyes. Ok, yeah, I get it, but, come on that was like, MINUTES ago. I'm totally fine now.

And people say I don't know how to let things go.

It was a good thing she turned her attention back to the road though because one stereotype about New York that's apparently not really all that exaggerated is the way people drive. Even though we weren't actually in the city yet it was pretty bad. Speeding, cutting us off, passing on the right, not to mention that no one seems to have working signal lights up here. Or maybe it's just too hard to use them with a cell phone in one hand and a drink in the other. Strangely enough the worst drivers all had New Jersey license plates. Weird.

As we got closer to the city itself my jaw dropped and I let out a tiny gasp. The skyscrapers were even bigger up close! Ok, I know, duh right? But they're really really huge. I mean, I KNEW they were huge, I've seen New York in movies probably a million times but the biggest city I've ever been in was Chicago and that was back when we moved to Cooper from Alaska. And I slept through it. So I was shocked at how insanely huge everything was. It was almost enough to give me a whole new height complex.

As we got closer I started recognizing buildings. "Look!" I said pointing. "The Empire State building! That got blown up in Independence Day. Oh! And there's the Chrysler Building! It got hit by a meteor in Armageddon. I wonder if we'll see that weird corner building that they made into the Daily Bugle in Spider Man?" Yeah, I was rambling, but I didn't care. This was so awesome!

"Maybe we can get Jack to show us around before we leave." my mom said. "Son of a bitch! Why does everyone cut me off the second I put my turn signal on?"

As we finally got into the city itself I gave up trying to talk about anything and just settled for staring up with my mouth open like a beached fish. I wonder if I'll ever get used to seeing giant ass buildings that just keep going up and up? I doubted it. And it was ever weirder looking at the streets. So many people! And not a single one of them seemed to have any problem stepping out in the middle of traffic.

"Nate," my mom said suddenly, making me jump a bit. I'd kinda forgotten she was there. "Can you look in the glove box and get the piece of paper in there out and read it."

"Kay." I said. I got it out and looked at it, then frowned in confusion. "Directions?"

"Jack gave them to me. He was worried about the GPS taking us into dangerous areas by accident."

"You mean like, gang areas and stuff?" I asked, wide eyed.

My mom shrugged. "Probably."

I grinned. "Cool! Maybe we can see a gang war! Or an actual crack whore!" I said excitedly.

My mom gave me a weird look. "Or," she said slowly. "We could use the directions and not get killed right away. That would be good too."

"I guess." I said reluctantly, which got me another look. I guess she was having trouble figuring out if I was serious or not. Wow, I must have been in a really bad mood before if she's that confused about my mental state. I didn't tell her I was joking though. This was definitely one of those times when I was gonna enjoy being the one fucking with her for a change.

I did read her the directions though. As cool as it would be to see a gang shoot out or a crack whore I kinda wanted to see Vicky more. We drove through awful city traffic for about another half hour before we started getting into an area that had actual houses way too close together instead of apartment buildings. I guess we were still in the city, technically, but it was a lot more like a neighborhood I'd be familiar with, not someplace filled with giant, concrety awesomeness.

The houses were nice though.

It wasn't until we actually pulled up next to one of them, in what was probably an incredibly improbable open space that my mom immediately declared we weren't moving from until it was time to leave, that I started to worry about something that I probably should have thought of before.

Who the hell am I here as?

Am I here as Vicky's boyfriend? Just his friend? The son of the woman who's dating his dad? I tried really hard to remember if Vicky ever told me if he was out to the rest of his family but I don't think we ever talked about it. Was I gonna have to go into "parental stealth" mode around him so no one knows we're together? Would we even be able to sleep in the same room? That last one caused a tiny bit of panic. We were staying until Sunday and we've already went through how much I can't fucking sleep without Vicky on the weekends.

Suddenly, the weekend didn't seem as awesome as it did a few seconds ago.

"Come on." my mom said as she shut off the car. "We're late enough, we can come back for the suitcases later." I just nodded and followed her out of the car.

And was immediately smacked in the face by a solid wall of freezing air.

"Fuck!" I said and hugged myself for warmth. "It's cold!"

My mom just rolled her eyes and walked towards the door. You'd think with the whole "born in Alaska" thing I'd have a much better tolerance for cold but, no, I'm a summer boy, always have been. Winter is my mortal enemy and with living so far south I'd completely forgot that weather could even GET this cold.

And of course I didn't pack a single fucking jacket.

By the time we got to the door I was a shivering mess. If they had a fire going I was gonna throw myself in it and happily burn to death with a smile on my face. My mom rang the bell and after a few, agonizing seconds someone FINALLY got off their lazy, no doubt way warmer than mine, ass and opened the door.

The girl standing in the doorway looked like she was probably in her late teens, maybe a few years older than Michelle's sister. She had long, dark brown hair that was a bit curly and hung a little bit past her shoulders in a slightly frizzy ponytail. She was about Jason's height, which annoyed me on general principal, and was wearing a pair of gray sweatpants and a warm looking sweater that I wanted to rip off her and live in for a year. I was suddenly glad I didn't over dress.

Before we left I had kind of a mild panic attack trying to figure out what to wear. That in itself was enough to put me in a bad mood, I'm getting really sick of having to actually think about what I'm wearing. I didn't know how formal (read: stuffy and uptight) Vicky's family was about Thanksgiving. We'd always just wore slightly nicer clothes that normal but I had no idea what I was gonna be walking into. Would it be like suits and ties? Business casual (whatever that is)? Nice, pressed shirts? Jeans and T shirts with a football game in the background? I had no idea. In the end I decided that looking too nice was better than looking too messy but I only had the one damn nice shirt and the one damn nice pair of pants. And I really didn't wanna wear the same thing AGAIN. Even I'd feel weird about that. In the end, after obsessing over my clothes way more than any thirteen year old boy ever should, I decided just to wear a black T shirt with no picture on it under my dance shirt, which I left unbuttoned, and pair of black jeans that weren't too tight on me. I did pack the tight jeans though. At least I think I did, if I did pack pants, which if you'll remember is still in doubt.

Oh and my mom was wearing dark blue slacks with a dark blouse(?) like thing if anyone cares.

The girl smiled widely when she saw us. "Hi!" she said in a loud, cheery voice. "Julia and Nate, right?"

My mom smiled back. "That's us. Sorry we're so late, the construction in Pennsylvania is ridiculous."

The girl waved her hand dismissively. "Don't worry about it. You're not even late, really. Uncle Jack and grandpa just stopped yelling at each other about the turkey twenty minutes ago so unless they ruined it again it'll probably be another half hour before dinner's ready anyway." she smiled at us again, then gasped as her eyes widened. "Oh my God! I'm being so rude! Please, come in. I'm Sarah, Jack's niece." she said and shook my mom's hand as she walked in.

I barely even heard her. The second I heard the words "come in" I pushed past my mom and practically ran into the warm cocoon of the wonderfully heated house. I'm pretty sure my mom gave me a look and I was probably gonna get another "don't be rude" lecture at some point today but I didn't care. The only important thing was that I was no longer in danger of dying of hypothermia.

Sarah closed the door behind us and laughed as I stood there shaking and huddled in on myself. "Not used to the cold, huh?" she said in that annoying way people have of stating the obvious like it's some huge fucking talking point.

"It's unnatural." I said, shivering. Ok, so, MAYBE I was exaggerating my shivers just a bit but I had a point to make. Weather this cold was wrong and the sooner everyone realized it and stopped living anywhere north or south of the equator the happier the whole world will be.

Sarah laughed again. "Yeah, it's kinda hard to get used to. I was born in Florida so it took a while for me too. You should at least have it easier since you grew up in West Virginia."

"Alaska." my mom deadpanned.

"Huh?" Sarah asked.

"He grew up in Alaska." my mom said.

Vicky's cousin looked at my mom, then back to me. "Seriously?"

"Yep." my mom said. I nodded.

"Oh." she said, looking bemused.

I shrugged. "I'm a summer boy." I said.

"NATE!" A very sexy and familiar voice cut off any response Sarah might have had to that. My head shot up just in time to see a grinning Vicky running full speed towards me. I didn't even have time to smile or realize that I suddenly wasn't at all cold anymore before he leaped at me, flung his arms around my neck and kissed me hard.

Well, I guess I don't have to worry about keeping my hands off Vicky this weekend.

It had barely been two days since we'd last seen each other but devoured his kiss like I hadn't felt his lips in years. It was one of those awesome and insanely romantic moments where nothing exists outside of Vicky and me, more specifically the parts of us touching, and time stands totally still. I licked at his lips and my hands may have started to go to some of their favorite places when someone close by cleared their throat loudly.

We stopped kissing, but even though I was in a house filled with people I'd never met I didn't jump back or bother getting too embarrassed. Over the last few months with Vicky I'd pretty much stopped being bothered by being all lovey in front of people, mostly. I looked over and saw my mom and Sarah standing by the door with almost identical amused smirks on their faces. Warning bells started going off in my head, the same kind that I had when Luke and Jason first met, and while I didn't think this would end with one of them having a crush on the other one they suddenly seemed way too much alike for me to ever wanna be left alone in a room with them.

"Aww, aren't they cute?" Sarah asked my mom.

My mom's smirk widened and I knew without even the littlest bit of doubt that she knew she found a kindred soul. "They have their moments." she allowed. "As long as Nate keeps his potty mouth shut sometimes he can even be adorable."

"Mom!" I yelled, horrified. Great, I'm going to be slandered before I even get to know anyone here.

"He can't possibly be worse than Vicky." Sarah said casually. "I don't even know what some of the stuff that comes out of his mouth means."

"Sarah!" Vicky shouted.

"Vicky?" my mom said, ignoring us completely. "I can't believe that. He's always been a perfect gentleman around me."

Sarah snorted. "Are you sure you're talking about that kid right there?" she pointed to Vicky.

Vicky flushed and I knew my face wasn't any better. "Can we just get out of here?" I asked him, taking a page out of my mom's book and ignoring them.

"Yeah, let's-"

And of course that's when the rest of the family decided to come over and meet us.

They swarmed. Which was a bit scary itself but me and Vicky still had our arms around each other. It made the "Oh, hi! You must be Jack's girlfriend" which trust me was bad enough on it's own, at least for me, from a woman who I assumed was Vicky's aunt trail off into a surprised "Oh" and a slightly awkward silence. I felt my face get even hotter. It wasn't that I was embarrassed to be seen holding Vicky, not really, it was more the fact that we were the cause of everyone just standing there looking at each other weirdly, and they all knew it. I HATE being the center of attention like that.

Finally, mercifully, the tall, old guy standing behind the small crowd of newcomers let out an annoyed huff. "For Christ's sake Anne, it's not like we didn't know the boy was bent. Stop gawking at them." he pushed past Jack, the woman, Anne, and another guy who was probably Vicky's uncle and thrust his hand out to my mom. "Timothy Clarke." he said brusquely.

My mom didn't even hesitate, she shook his hand, one of those firm-grip two-pump things that redneck comedians like to make jokes about. "Julia Ellis, it's nice to meet you." she said with a small smile.

Vicky's grandpa, Timothy, had thick salt and pepper hair, a stiff, straight back and was very tall. Taller than Jack even, and he towered over my mom. He was probably too close for someone who just introduced himself and his whole posture was a little intimidating, but it was subtle enough that if you called him out on it he could act like you were the one being weird. My mom didn't say or do anything though, she just looked him right in the eye as the silence dragged out past the comfortable point. Everyone was watching and I was pretty sure none of us were breathing, I know I wasn't. This guy was judging my mom and it kinda scared me. Annoyed me too but I'm not sure if it was because I was being protective of her or because I would have liked to see her squirm a bit instead of doing the calm, professional woman VP thing.

I know. I'm a shitty son sometimes.

Finally, Timothy just nodded once, dropped her hand and turned to Jack. "Better than the last one." he grunted.

"Thanks dad." Jack said dryly.

Timothy just grunted again and turned all his attention towards me.

I won't lie. Peeing myself and running did, briefly, cross my mind. The guy was incredibly intimidating and his steel gray eyes, like Vicky's but a lot harder and a little darker, seemed like they could see every flaw you've ever had or ever would have. Principal Alomar's got NOTHING on this guy. I might have done the whole peeing and running thing too if Vicky didn't give me a quick, covert wink and a reassuring smile. It was only on his face for a second before he took a step back from me. Before I could panic though he took my hand and stood by my side, seeming completely unconcerned with the roiling miasma of judgment and disapproval that was focusing all it's attention on us.

Timothy walked over to us and the only thing, besides the bowel clenching fear, that kept me from running was Vicky's confident grip on my hand. If he wasn't worried or intimidated then I could at least try to pretend I wasn't. Like always, Vicky was my strength in situations like this. Which is why I wanted him at the custody hearing. But, whatever, that's over with and I'm not gonna start bitching about it again. He did the same thing he did with my mom, thrusting his hand out and crowding my personal space, before speaking in that same tone. "Timothy Clarke."

Vicky was on my right side, holding my right hand, so I was gonna have to let him go to shake Timothy's hand. And I totally would have, but when I started to let go Vicky tightened his grip almost to the point of hurting and wouldn't let me. And that was when I started to freak out just a bit. Oh god! He's gonna think I'm being rude or disrespectful or something for not shaking his hand! He's gonna tell me I'm not good enough for Vicky and cast me out into the freezing death cold of New York's fall! He won't let my mom see Jack and she'll hate me for ruining her relationship!

Wait! Maybe I could still save myself. If I just introduced myself like my mom did maybe he wouldn't hate me. I took what was supposed to be a calming breath (two guesses if it worked) and said with as much calm and confidence as I could, "N-nice, um, Nate. I-I'm Nate. Ellis. Nathan Ellis. Nice to me-et. You." I winced. Oh. My. God. I am such a fucking loser. There's no way he doesn't hate me now. Hell, I hate me now. If he threw me out on my ass I deserved to freeze to death.

Timothy's eyes narrowed ever so slightly. "Are you trying to be cute?"

"I think he's cute." Vicky said in a perky voice. I blushed so hard I was pretty sure my face could have warmed me up in the frigid wind outside better than a jacket at this point. What the hell was Vicky-then he leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. "Very cute."

He's trying to get me killed, isn't he?

Timothy harrumphed. "Well you would, wouldn't you." But even as he said it he leaned back just enough to stop crowding me and the intensity of his look died down a lot. "Well," he said slowly, to me this time. "You're too pretty. And a little on the short side. But for some reason my grandson seems to like you, probably a queer thing, so I'll overlook your no doubt many flaws and let you eat at my table." He stepped back and gave me an expectant look.

I . . . had no idea how to react to that. My heart was still pounding and everyone (mom included) was just staring at me like I was supposed to DO something and I had no idea what. Did this scary old guy want me to thank him for oh so graciously allowing me to eat in his house after insulting me? Was I just gonna let him get away with that?

"Thank you." I said quietly.

Yes. Yes I am. Because I believe I already mentioned the scary part and deep down inside I'm kind of a big wuss.

Timothy grunted and turned back to my mom. "Dinner'll be ready in twenty minutes. Maybe next year you can cook because my son's hopeless. Happy Thanksgiving." And with that he walked out of the hall and into what I assumed was the living room.

I caught a quick glimpse of Jack rolling his eyes at Timothy' back and walking over to my mom before the other two adults descended on us. The woman, Anne, was Vicky's aunt just like I thought. She was a little on the short side and more than a little on the pudgy side but she wore it well. Her light brown hair was cut in a bob of all things and hung around her roundish cheeks in a way that actually made her cute more than pretty. For a woman anyway. She seemed nice enough, shaking my hand and smiling a knowing smile. At first I thought maybe the smile was some kind of "don't worry, even though I almost had a stroke when I saw you groping on my nephew I'm modern and enlightened and completely down with the gay thing" look but after Vicky's uncle introduced himself as Jack's brother I figured it was more over a shared "experience" with Timothy.

Vicky's uncle was actually named Timothy Jr, but he liked to go by his middle name, Will. I didn't blame him. I wouldn't wanna share a name with Old Man Death either. He was taller than his wife but shorter than Jack, but only by a little bit. I wondered how the hell Vicky ended up the size he did with all these tall men in his family. Then I had the horrible thought that maybe they all started out small and grew when they got older and really, REALLY hoped I was wrong and Vicky's mom was like a midget or something. I think if Vicky got that much taller than me I'd actually cry. Will's hair was the exact same color as Sarah's and was in a really short Ceaser cut so I couldn't tell if she also got her frizzy hair from him or not. He shook my hand after introducing himself to my mom and me and I got a much warmer smile and a "It's nice to finally meet you, Vicky hasn't stopped talking about you all day" that made my face turn red all over again. Then he said he'd love to play me in Street Fighter 4 before I left and I decided that he was my new favorite adult.

After that they all started to make their way into the living room(?) but me and Vicky held back. When they were all gone I whirled around to face him. "What the hell is with your grandpa?" I hissed.

Vicky just chuckled. "Don't worry about it, he's actually really sweet, he just does that every time someone brings a boyfriend or girlfriend over. He's kinda . . . "

"Evil?" I supplied.

Vicky laughed. "No. Well, maybe. But he loves people who don't get scared or intimidated by him. That's why I didn't let you shake his hand." Vicky narrowed his eyes playfully. "Which you completely ruined by the way."

I groaned. "So, he hates me now?"

"No. If he hated you you'd definitely know. He hated my mom and my dad won't tell me what he said to her when they met but it was enough to make her run crying from the house and keep my dad from talking to him for like a year." Vicky let out a snort of laughter. "It's actually kind of a family legend."

I opened my mouth to say how completely fucked up that was, then an image of my dad flashed in my mind and I paused. "I guess it's not as bad as having a religious nut, ex alcoholic dad."

Vicky smiled. "True." He kissed me quickly on the cheek, which brought back something else that I'd been worrying about.

"Is your family really ok with, you know, you and me?" I asked hesitantly.

"Of course." Vicky said.

I shot him a skeptical look. "Even your grandpa? I mean, he called you bent and queer . . ." And I'm completely leaving out the part where if I had any balls at all I would have told him off for insulting my Vicky like that. I'll be feeling shame over that one for a long time.

Vicky shrugged. "That's just how he talks. He says 'colored people' and 'guido' too. He doesn't mean anything by it."

"If you say so." I said doubtfully. "He still scares me." I mumbled.

Vicky pulled me close for a one armed hug. "You don't need to be scared Nate." he lowered his voice and whispered in my ear. "I'll protect you, if you want."

I rolled my eyes and shoved him away, which made him laugh, but I couldn't help the warm smile that crossed my lips because while he was joking, he was also totally serious. And honestly it made me feel better knowing that I could count on Vicky to stand between me and his grandpa.

He caught my smile and returned it. "I'm really glad you're here." he said. "I just can't believe you're in the neighborhood I grew up in. I wanna take you around and show you everything and-well, if you want to that is." he finished shyly.

I know I've probably said it a million times by now, but Vicky is SO cute when he gets all shy like that. As much as I love the idea of him protecting me, Shy Vicky makes me wanna protect him just as much. "Of course I want to." I said warmly. "I wanna know everything about you and that definitely includes seeing where you grew up."

Vicky lit up. "Really? Awesome! I've always had a bit of a fantasy about showing you around the city and you being all in awe of everything and stuff."

"Really?" I asked, fighting to hold back the smile because I didn't want him to think I was laughing at him. "You fantasize about that?"

"Well, yeah." Vicky said with a sort of self conscious shrug. "Not all my fantasies are sex fantasies."

I ignored how he may have said that just a bit louder than I was comfortable with considering where we were. Instead, I remembered all the day dreams I had about cuddling with Vicky or going to Virginia Beach with him or kissing him at the top of a really tall building or having a romantic dinner at an expensive restaurant and maybe even one or two about us living on the Millennium Falcon together and this time I couldn't hold back the smile. "I know exactly what you mean." I said softly.

Vicky just grinned back at me. "You'll have to tell me yours sometime."

"I will-"

"Hey guys!" Jack called, cutting off what could have been a pretty smooth line. "Come into the dining room, dinner will be ready soon!"

"Ok dad!" Vicky called back. I took a deep, steadying breath and tried to keep from getting all nervous. Going to spend time with Timothy the Evil One was not something I was looking forward to. I'd much rather stay here and tell Vicky all the romantic things I wanna do with him. But, instead of making the one I just had about him grabbing me and taking me away to, I dunno rainbows and puppy dog land or something-I never got that far in it, Vicky took my hand and lead me towards where Jack shouted from. "It'll be fine." he said and gave my hand a squeeze. "I promise."

And you know what? I actually believed him.

We walked through the living room (I was right. And insanely jealous of their massive TV by the way) to get to the dining room. Vicky's grandpa was at the head of the table with his back towards a window with a surprisingly nice view of their small backyard. On his right was Jack and next to Jack was my mom. There were two seats next to her so me and Vicky took those seats. I half expected some kind of comment about that but everyone there barely noticed we'd even sat down. Next to Vicky at the other head of the table (seriously what the hell is that called?) was Will and to his right was Anne. Sarah sat across from me. Next to her was an empty seat with no plate in front of it and for a second I thought that it was because no one but Jack wanted to sit next to Timothy but then I noticed that everyone else seemed to get this sad little look whenever they looked over at it and it hit me. That had to be Vicky's grandma's seat. I felt a pang of sadness for him and squeezed his leg under the table. I dunno if he knew why I did it, but he patted my hand and smiled at me so I decided to believe that he did.

The table was covered in typical Thanksgiving food. Baked potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, stringy vegetable things, potato salad and, of course, a huge ass turkey. Everything smelled awesome, even the stuffing which I usually hate, and my stomach suddenly remembered that it hadn't had any food in it since we stopped for lunch back when we thought we wouldn't run into the Construction Site of Doom and let out a loud gurgle which of course happened during a lull in the conversation, so everyone heard it and laughed. At least I got another hand squeeze from Vicky for my embarrassment.

"Hungry boy?" Timothy asked.

Ok, so, usually a question that stupid would get the full force of my sarcasm turned on the asker but, yeah, still terrified of the guy so I just nodded meekly and hoped that he'd stop talking to me.

"Well," he said "Fill up on something that isn't the turkey. It's undercooked and I don't want you getting sick on the table."

"Dad," Jack said with that special kind of exasperation reserved for people telling their parents something they've tried to explain a million times. "The turkey's fine."

"You didn't preheat the oven long enough."

Jack sighed. "Dad, it's an electric oven. You don't need to heat it up as long as a gas oven. The turkeys done just as much as it always is."

As they argued I took a piece of turkey and carefully bit into it. Perfectly fine. Actually, really good. I inhaled the whole piece so quickly I can't even be sure I chewed and turned to Vicky. "The turkey's great."

"It always is." Vicky said with a small eye roll. "Grandpa does this every year."

"Every year?" I asked. "When did they get a new oven?"

"No idea." Vicky said with a shrug. "They've had the same one my whole life."

"Mine too." Sarah cut in. "but every year it's the same thing. Well, except last year when dad made the turkey and actually DID undercook it-"

"Sarah, don't bring that up." Will groaned.

"-and grandpa got sick and forbid him from ever cooking anything ever again." she finished with a mischievous smile. Yeah, definitely way too much like my mom.

Will shook his head but couldn't quite hide the amused smile he had. "I don't think I've ever heard so much swearing coming from a bathroom."

Vicky giggled. "I learned half of the swear words I know that day."

"Wow." I said with a smirk. "So that potty mouth actually came from the bathroom?"

Sarah burst out laughing then quickly covered her mouth. Will and Anne just smiled.

Vicky rolled his eyes. "You don't complain about my mouth when-" his eyes shot open wide and he cut himself off with a little squeak and blushed furiously.

It took me a second to catch up but when I realized what he almost said I felt my face heat up too. Holy shit! Did anyone know where that was going? Judging by the way Sarah's face turned red with all the laughing she was holding in with her hands and the awkward looks Vicky's aunt and uncle were giving each other I'd say yeah, pretty much everyone. No way in hell was I gonna look down at the other end of the table.

"Well," Anne cleared her throat awkwardly, then seemed to realize she didn't have anything to go with after than and paused before practically spewing out a rushed, "How's school going for you boys?"

Ok, ok we're ignoring it. Awesome. I can definitely get on board with that. We made some small talk that got less forced as dinner went on until Jack and his dad finally stopped arguing about the turkey. After than dinner went really great. Everyone was laughing and joking with each other and it was really clear that they were a really close, happy family. Accepting as all hell too because I never once got any impression that anyone there was uncomfortable with Vicky bringing his boyfriend to Thanksgiving dinner. Even Timothy seemed to lighten up, or at least what I'd assume light for him is, like Vicky said. And if his jokes seemed a bit meaner and his laughter more mocking no one seemed to care and after a while I realized that Vicky was probably right. That was just how he was. Not an asshole, just painfully himself.

I could kinda relate.

The funny thing was, most of the conversation was focused on my mom. Accepting or not I would have expected most of the subtle, probing questions to be directed at me, the guy who's after Vicky's (hilariously wrongly assumed) virtue. But nope, they were all too busy trying to figure out if my mom was right for Jack to bother worrying about me and Vicky. About halfway through dinner the questions stopped and it seemed like my mom had won everyone over. And it was more than clear how much she cared about Jack. She was always finding some excuse to touch him or bring up something amazing he did at the hospital so she could gush proudly about it or lean close and whisper in his ear. Kinda similar to the stuff me and Vicky were doing to each other. It was weird, I always thought that I'd be totally grossed out watching my mom act like someones girlfriend, especially since I could see so much of how I act with Vicky in it, but instead I couldn't stop smiling. Every time they touched or whispered or acted like a couple I got this . . . warmth in my chest that made me really, really happy. After everything she went through with my dad she deserved to be in love. Even though she'd probably never admit that she was actually in love yet, say it was too soon or something like that, I knew she was.

Kids can be a lot smarter about these things than adults sometimes.

By the time we finished dinner I was totally stuffed, and not in the good way that involves Vicky and privacy. Actually I was so full that the amazing reunion sex I'd been dying for all day seemed very much up in the air. Which it could be seeing as it didn't have five pounds of dinner weighing it down. I didn't get a chance to get to depressed about it though, because as soon as everyone finished eating Timothy spoke up.

"So, for all you new people, we have a tradition in this family of going around and saying what we're thankful for after Thanksgiving dinner." he said gruffly and even though he made it sound like a big inconvenience the smiling looks everyone else gave me and my mom made me think that maybe there was some undertone I was missing. But I was too busy being surprised that people actually did this outside of Hallmark movies to try and figure it out.

Vicky squeezed my thigh and I looked over to see a giddy grin on his face that kinda made me think I was right about that. "That means he likes you guys." Vicky whispered in my ear happily. "He said 'this family'. That means you're in." He squeezed me again.

I probably would have made some dumb comment like "so we joined the mafia or something?", after the shock of Vicky's grandpa maybe actually liking me wore off of course, but before that could happen he was talking again. "Since Sarah thinks it's funny to laugh about the time my other son almost killed me with cooking, she can start." he said with a narrow eyed glare that was completely at odds with the tiny, amused smile on his lips.

Sarah didn't seem to put out by the "punishment". "Ok." she said calmly. "I'm thankful that my parents can still afford to send me to college after that solar company my dad invested in tanked."

"Sarah." Anne said chidingly.

She sighed dramatically and rolled her eyes. "Ok, fine." she paused for a second and then her expression got soft. "I know we said we weren't gonna talk about it but I'm thankful that grandma isn't in pain anymore. I know that sounds bad, like I'm saying I'm glad she's dead, but it was so hard watching her lay in bed and struggle to find enough energy to say hello to us." she looked down at the table. "I'm just glad she doesn't have to go through that anymore." she said softly.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw my mom slip her hand into Jack's and give it a reassuring squeeze before smiling sympathetically at Sarah. Across the table I saw Anne doing similar comforting to Will. I felt another pang of sadness for Vicky -Jesus he'd just had the funeral yesterday!- and found myself taking his hand and squeezing it, trying to send all the comfort I possibly could through my touch. He turned and smiled at me, but I thought it was more from being happy that I was comforting him than him actually needing it. He didn't seem as sad about his grandma as everyone else did, and I guess I understood. I don't really see my grandparents on my mom's side that much and if one of them died, yeah it'd suck, but it wouldn't really hit me the way it would if it was Vicky or my mom or even Jack.

"Sorry for being a downer." Sarah said with a little self-deprecating laugh.

"Don't be, sweetie." Anne said and Will and Jack immediately agreed. Timothy didn't say anything but he did give her a smile that on anyone else I'd say was almost reassuring. "Well," Anne continued trying, and actually succeeding, in sounding cheerful. "I'm thankful that Sandy finally got laid off this week." she said with a little laugh. There were several knowing smiles around the table but I was lost. A quick glance at my mom's polite but sorta confused smile showed she didn't know who the hell Sandy was either. Which, I mean, why would she, right? Anne must have seen the looks, or maybe she was just considerate, because she immediately explained. "Sandy has, had, the office next to mine at work. The walls are really thin and she'd spend hours every day talking to her boyfriend on the phone."

I raised my eyebrows slightly. Ok, that doesn't sound all that bad, except for the personal calls at work thing I guess.

Now it was Will's turn to see my confused look and try to explain. "The calls were . . . explicit." he said with a smirk.

My mom let out a small, delightfully scandalized gasp. "Oh my God. You mean . . ."

"Oh yeah." Anne said with a nod. "Sometimes they even had full on phone sex. God, those moans . . ." she mock shuddered and laughed. "Drew, the guy who was on the other side of Sandy's office, was practically in tears when she left."

Everyone shared a laugh at that.

"The things you miss out on when you work in a hospital." Jack said wistfully, which got him a playful elbow in the ribs from my mom and another laugh from the table, including Jack. "Ow." he said, rubbing his side.

"My turn I guess." Will said. "I'm thankful that Jack could get back for Thanksgiving, and that he brought such a beautiful woman with him." he grinned playfully, completely ignoring the eye roll from his wife. "You always liked Cooper a lot more than anyone else did growing up and I thought that once you got back there it would swallow you whole." he laughed. "Although there weren't any women like Julia there when we were kids so maybe I should give it a second chance." he couldn't ignore the slap on the shoulder than earned him from Anne though.

"She's from Alaska dad." Sarah said.

Anne and Will shot identical "seriously?" looks toward my mom, who nodded. "Born and bred." she said with a small smile.

"Oh." Will said. "Well, there's no way I'm going there. So I'll just have to settle for the beautiful creature at my side." he said with what was probably supposed to be a charming smile at Anne.

"Oh." she deadpanned. "Thank you. Such a heartfelt declaration of love makes my knees weak."

We laughed again and suddenly it was Vicky's turn. I was kind of expecting him to make a joke out of it so I was more than a little surprised when Vicky took my hand in both of his and turned to face me with a smile. "I'm thankful for you, Nate. Being here brought a lot of stuff back. I remember really hating my life for a while and thinking that I'd never be happy again. Then I met you, and everything got amazing. I have someone who loves me, great friends, my dad's happier than I've ever seen him, and it's all because of you and a five minute conversation we had at the pool. You're amazing and wonderful and perfect and I love you so much." He pulled my hand up and gave it a kiss. "And I'm thankful that you're here so my family can see how happy you make me."

"I love you too." I said softly. God, I was crying like a girl after that but I didn't care. As comfortable as we'd gotten with the PDA stuff Vicky'd never really explained to anyone else how he felt about me before and the fact that the first time he did was here in front of his whole family was probably one of the most romantic things I've ever been a part of. There was no way I was gonna ruin that by pretending it didn't effect me as much as it did.

And it was about then, somewhere in between realizing that I was staring into Vicky's eyes with a goofy smile on my face and feeling the eyes of everyone else at the table focused on us, that I suddenly, horribly, realized it was my turn. So, to recap our lesson on Nate: being the center of attention %2B not knowing what to say %2B being around people I don't really know = PANIC. Which I did. I felt a sudden fist of pressure clench at my heart and I knew I needed to say something, something heartfelt and romantic like Vicky, something that shows everyone how much he means to me without coming off like a complete dork, something that makes everyone who may still have doubts about me know for sure that I'm the right boy for Vicky, something that-

"I'm thankful for Dinner and a Movie!" I blurted out suddenly. I winced, outwardly and inwardly. Great Nate, way to go. It's the pressure, I can't deal with it! You idiot, stop talking to yourself and SALVAGE THIS. "It-it was a show." I said haltingly. "On TBS. I used to watch it when I was a kid. Um, it was hosted by these two people and they showed a movie and between commercial breaks they'd show you how to make a meal that was kinda like a pun about the movie. Like, um, for Interview With A Vampire they made a Nosfera-tuna melt." Getting off topic, people are confused, focus! "Um, anyway, one day I was watching and they had something, I can't remember what, that sounded really good so I tried to make it. I was, like, seven or something so I can't remember what it was but I know it said that I needed vinegar and we didn't have any vinegar so I got the only thing I could find that looked like vinegar, a lemon lime Power Ade. I know, stupid, but what was even stupider was that I actually ate the thing when I was done. I think I threw up for a whole hour, it was horrible, the worst feeling ever, and after that I couldn't even look at a Power Ade without feeling sick. So, I needed a new drink, and that was when I had my first Gatorade. I never looked back. A few years later we moved and I discovered summer and Gatorade go really great together and started spending all my time at the pool where I could be with both of them." My throat was a bit dry and I was rambling so I paused and took a quick drink. "And that's how I met Vicky, standing in front of a Gatorade machine, trying to figure out what flavor I wanted. And it was special. I couldn't stop thinking about him that whole summer and I practically LIVED at the pool hoping I'd see him again. And I know that if we met at school it would have been different. Vicky was sweet and beautiful and new and the popular kids would have ate him up before I ever got enough courage to say hello to him. So, I'm thankful for Dinner and a Movie, because without that show I never would have met Vicky and we never would have fallen in love and I don't even wanna think about how my life would be right now if I didn't have him."

There, done. I let out a huge relieved breath and slumped down a little bit in my chair. I have, quite possibly, never made a bigger ass out of myself than I just did. And that's saying something. But you know what? It doesn't matter. I could ignore the awkward smiles and strange looks I was getting because the whole time I was going through that rambling, barely coherent speech Vicky was grinning happily at me, amused at my dumbness but still totally touched because he GOT what I was saying. And that's why we're perfect for each other. Not only does my weirdness and occasional stupidity not bother him at all, he actually LIKES that about me. Even if I ever someday wanted someone other than him (yeah, right) no one would ever fit me the way he does. I'm totally ruined for anyone else. And I wouldn't have it any other way. I smiled back at Vicky and took his hand again. We squeezed at the same time and that made us giggle softly. A bit of hair fell in front of my eye and I went to flip it back with a head motion the same time as Vicky reached over to brush it off my face and I jammed my forehead into his fingernail. Our giggles turned into shy, embarrassed smiles.

It was a perfect moment.

When we turned back to the table, still holding hands, everyone was giving us weird looks. Kinda like they couldn't decide if we were cute or needed psychiatric help. Well, except for Sarah, she was just laughing behind her hands again. Finally cute won out though because the smiles turned warmer, if not exactly understanding. Which was ok. People don't really need to understand me. Only Vicky.

"Well," my mom said and gave me a 'you are so preciously weird' half smile. "My turn. I guess I'd have to be thankful for Dinner and a Movie too, since if Nate never met Vicky I never would have met Jack." she turned and, I assume since I could only see the back of her head now, smiled at him. "And I'm very thankful that I met Jack."

Then they kissed. And, wow, even though I didn't get a good look it was still a weird feeling. I'm still happy for my mom and all but she just KISSED someone in front of me and not just anyone but my BOYFRIEND'S DAD. It's . . . . gonna take a while to get used to that. Me and Vicky exchanged looks but apparently we were the only ones who were weirded out by it because there were "awww's" from the rest of the table and a bit of brotherly teasing from Will.

"Alright! Alright!" Jack laughed, holding up his hands. "You people act like you've never seen people kiss before."

Sarah snorted. "Not even the first time today." she muttered and gave me and Vicky a tiny smirk.

"I'm thankful," Jack started. "That we're all here, together. I really do miss you guys." he paused and looked at Will. "Well, most of you." Everyone laughed. "And I'm thankful for meeting Julia and Nate. It hasn't been that long but I already can't imagine my life without you two in it." he smiled at us and I had to fight really, REALLY hard to keep from tearing up. "And," Jack continued with a small, sad smile. "I'm thankful that mom's last Thanksgiving was here, surrounded by laughter and family and dad cursing up a storm in the bathroom and not wasting away in some hospital bed."

I instantly felt bad for Vicky again. I know, it's obvious that Jack's more upset about it than Vicky is and I should really be feeling bad for him, and I do, but Vicky's the one who has to sit back and watch his dad hurting and not be able to do anything about it. I knew exactly how he must be feeling, because I felt the same way. I'm not saying that I suddenly started thinking of Jack like he was my dad or anything, despite what I said before it's way too soon to even start getting into that mess, but . . . . he loved my mom, and he cared about me enough to put himself in the middle of a totally avoidable awkward situation when I came out to my dad just because he wanted to be there for me. That was way beyond what anyone would be expected to do for just their son's boyfriend or their girlfriend's son. So, even if I wasn't ready to jump in his arms and call him dad he was already more of a father to me than my own had been in years. Maybe even ever. So I felt pretty crappy about not being able to make him feel better right now.

But then again, maybe he didn't need me or Vicky right now. My mom seemed to be doing a better job of helping him out right now anyway. I dunno, maybe it's not Vicky's or my job to make him feel better anyway, maybe that's something my mom's supposed to do now. I hate to go all 'broken home childhood' but I'm really out of practice on normal, healthy two parent family dynamics. Still, I gave Vicky's hand a squeeze anyway, just letting him know I'm here for him if he needs it. That IS my job, I know at least that much.

Thankfully Vicky's grandpa started his turn and kept me from thinking too much. Although that was mostly from numb surprise since his first words were "I'm thankful that you're all happy." It wasn't so much the words, although I didn't expect them from him, but that he said them in the same, brusque tone he'd used all night. "It's been a long time since at least one of you wasn't miserable at this table and it's nice to see the whole family happy for once. I know Rita would have loved it." And that was it, short, abrupt, to the point, almost businesslike even but I swear to god when he was done he blinked away a tear or two. That, more than anything else, shocked the hell out of me. I wouldn't have guessed that he even HAD tear ducts. "Alright!" he said with a loud clap of his hands that made me jump in my seat, "Who wants dessert?"

There was a chorus agreement from the table and I was a bit surprised to find myself saying yes too. The whole being thankful thing had taken like an hour and somehow my stomach had made room for cookies and cake. Like dinner, dessert was great and I ate way too much while I soaked up the holiday family atmosphere. At one point Vicky and I started stealing food off each others plates and when my mom saw what we were doing she teamed up with Vicky and started stealing from my plate too which caused Sarah to reach across the table and steal from my mom's plate and pretty soon everyone was stealing from everyone else, even Timothy got into it when, after Jack took a huge chunk of cake from him, he just reached over and took Jack's entire plate and ended up eating everything on both plates. It was probably the best Thanksgiving I'd ever had, and definitely the best time I'd ever had with adults.

After dessert everyone went into the living room and put on the football game. Apparently another Clarke family Thanksgiving tradition. There were plenty of couches and chairs but I still ended up sitting curled up with Vicky in a leather recliner, our arms around each other and my head on his shoulder. We barely got a second look from anyone, which was a huge and amazingly comfortable difference from the purposefully "I'm not seeing this" avoidance we get from most people at school and the squeals of girly glee we get from the fangirls. I honestly don't think I'd ever been this comfortable in a group of people in my entire life.

I didn't watch the game. Aside from not giving a shit and having no idea what the hell was going on anyway I was too wrapped up in all of Vicky's little touches. His fingers trailed across my arms and then up to my shoulders and my face. He spent a good ten minutes running his fingers through my hair. I closed my eyes and got so wrapped up in the sensations he was causing that I didn't even know I was hard until his hand ghosted down past my stomach and brushed against it. I hissed and my eyes shot open, looking around to see if anyone saw, but they were all to wrapped up in the game to bother with us.

I looked in Vicky's eyes and the love and need there was probably mirrored in my own. I didn't care how full I was or who's house I was in, I needed him, and I needed him now. "Can we-" I started.

He nodded eagerly. "-upstairs-"

"-now." I finished.

We got up, hand in hand, and barely managed to keep from running full speed out of the room.

No one even noticed us leave.

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