Authors: Jenna Jones
Tags: #M/M Contemporary, #Source: Amazon
Two days before his wedding, Jeff Whitacre showed up on the front porch of his best man’s house with an overnight bag and a forlorn expression. “I’ve been banished,” Jeff said plaintively when Delany Beckett opened the door and let him inside. “Marianne says I’m in the way, so I’m banished.”
“You won’t be in the way here,” Del assured him and took him back to the guest room. He’d been expecting this, actually -- he’d offered the spare room to Marianne if either of them needed some time alone.
Jeff sat despondently on the bed and then moved when Del shooed him aside so he could put on fresh sheets. “Everywhere I look there’s someone stringing beads on a necklace or taping rosebuds onto pins or sewing buttons onto a dress. Even my mother’s gotten into it and she’s about as domestic as a bottle of Cabernet. And of course, Jesse is getting into everything. How come he’s not banished?”
“Because he’s two,” said Del, amused, and bent to make hospital corners with the top sheet. “I bet he’s having the time of his life, with all those aunties around.”
“He is,” Jeff said gloomily. “Grandmas, aunts, great-aunts, and his mommy, and no daddy to deal with. So Oedipal.” His cell phone buzzed; he checked the number and sighed. “Excuse me a second.” He stepped out of the guest room and into the hall.
“Sure,” Del said. He occupied himself with spreading the comforter over the bed and putting on the pillow cases as Jeff’s phone conversation grew increasingly louder.
“You were supposed to make hotel reservations when you made the flight reservations,” Jeff said, coming back from the hall. “That’s how you plan things. I can’t put you in my house -- I’m not even staying there, Marianne’s family is. My mom’s place is full with her family.” He sighed again, heavily this time, and said, “Hold on a second.” He held the phone to his chest. “It’s Theo. My numbskull half-brother.”
“And he forgot to make hotel reservations,” Del finished for him.
“Bingo. He remembered to make reservations at the Lodge, but not for tonight. And his flight lands in three hours and I’m supposed to pick him up, and I just --” He made an aggravated growl. “Can he have the couch?”
“Yeah, of course, tell him it will be fine.”
“Thanks, man.” Jeff said into the phone, “Del says you can have the couch. Yes, yes, I’ll tell him. All right, see you when you land.” He hung up and shook his head. “He says thank you and to tell you,” he winced, “you’re a rock star. He’s so flaky it’s unbelievable. I bet he forgot the wedding was this weekend until this morning.”
“But he’s still coming,” said Del and sat on the freshly-made bed. “That’s good, right?”
“Yeah,” Jeff said and sat beside him. “This is nice. It’s firm.”
«It’s better for your back. You need to take better care of your back, boyo.”
«I take care of my back.» Jeff lay back and stretched his arms over his head. “I haven’t seen Theo much since my dad’s -- our dad’s -- funeral.”
“That’s a long time,” Del observed. “Ten years, right?”
“Yeah.” Jeff was quiet a moment, and Del didn’t press it. Jeff was often reticent on the subject of his father. “I wish he could have known Jesse.”
“I bet he’d be glad you’re finally making an honest woman out of Marianne,” Del said and grinned at Jeff, who nudged him with an elbow.
“Hey, that’s my woman you’re talking about. Show some respect.” He added softly, “He loved Marianne. They were pretty good friends.” He looked back at the ceiling. “They got along better than he and I ever did.”
“If my dad up and left when I was a teenager I’d be pretty pissed off at him, too.”
“I should have been over the teenage rebellion a long time ago.”
“At least you’re trying to be friends with your brother,” Del said. “That’s something.”
“I thought about asking him to be my best man but he’d probably lose the rings.”
“He can’t be that bad.”
“He can be much worse,” Jeff said. “This is the kid who forgot to pack any clothes for summer camp one year.”
«Kids don’t think about stuff like that.”
“He remembered his Game Boy and his catcher’s mitt. Just nothing practical like underwear or socks. This is also the kid who never remembers birthdays or anniversaries, got into two different car accidents because he didn’t switch out of reverse, and had a different boyfriend for every day of the week during high school.”
“He survived the accidents, buy him a datebook, and teenage boys are like that. I doubt you dated the same girl for long in high school, either.”
“But I didn’t date ten different girls in one year.”
“That’s not a new one for every day of the week.”
“Well, you get what I mean.”
“Yeah, I do. But no matter how flaky he’s been in the past, this is the kid who’s your younger brother,” Del said and Jeff smiled, still looking at the ceiling.
“I’m glad he’s coming, anyway. He’ll meet Jesse, meet my friends, meet more of the family...” Jeff nodded to himself. “It could be worse.”
“That’s a ringing endorsement there, bud.”
Jeff laughed and pushed himself up. “I have other things to worry about than my dopey half-brother. Like, does my actual best man have the ring?”
Not offended, Del said, “The box is on the dresser in my room.” Jeff just needed reassurance, and he was happy to give it.
“And the speech?”
«Written out on index cards and next to the rings.”
Jeff whistled. “I’m impressed. How about the bachelor party?”
Del laughed. “We’re still going fishing. Look, I promised Marianne no strippers, so it’ll be a good, tasteful time. Your flaky half-brother is welcome to join in.”
“I don’t think that boy has been fishing in his entire life,” said Jeff. “I think he’d enjoy fishing as much as he'd enjoy strippers. What is it with gay guys not getting the appeal of a naked woman?”
“Well,” Del said comfortably, “we’re gay. So, while you look at naked breasts and think -- well, nothing, basically, because your brain has turned off -- we look at naked breasts and think, ‘Yawn. When’s Project Runway on?’”
Jeff laughed, as Del had hoped he would. “You know, when Theo came out I didn’t freak out only because I knew you already. He should thank you for that sometime.”
“Glad to have been of service,” Del said, and Jeff nudged his foot.
“You helped demystify things for me. That’s practically a good deed. Think of the karma points.”
“I’m sure my karma is full up,” Del said and pushed himself off the bed. “I’m going to make up the couch for Theo. He’ll probably be tired from travelling when he gets here.” Jeff got up too and followed Del to his linen closet, so Del put a set of sheets and a coverlet into Jeff’s arms. “Make yourself useful and put those on the couch, please.”
“Yes, sir.” Jeff carried them into the living room and put them down, and Del followed with pillows and pillow cases. “You don’t have to go to a lot of bother for him.”
“He’s a guest, too,” Del said as he spread out the bottom sheet. “Tuck that under the cushion, please. I won’t make as big a fuss over him as I will you, since you’re the groom and all --”
“And banished,” Jeff reminded him as he tucked.
“And banished,” Del said, “but I can’t not make a fuss over him at all.” He laid out the top sheet with a snap and Jeff smoothed it down at the end of the couch. “Besides, I think it’ll be fun to get to know your brother.”
“I don’t know about fun,” Jeff said as he helped Del spread the coverlet. “Maybe it will be. A lot can change in ten years.”
“And his father had just died,” Del said. “Nobody’s at their best under those circumstances. I’m sure you weren’t.”
“I wasn’t,” Jeff admitted. “I was kind of a mess.” Del handed him a pillow and a pillowcase, and he obediently followed Del’s example of stuffing the pillow into the case. “Things were said... I'm not surprised my stepmother isn’t coming to the wedding.”
“Did you invite her?”
“Yeah. I thought it would be a nice gesture. But she’s sending Theo instead, which is the best I can hope for.” He gave the pillow back to Del. “And maybe we’ll reconcile this family after all.”
“Also the best you can hope for,” said Del.
They took Jeff’s truck to the airport in Bakersfield, since Jeff said the three of them would never fit into Del’s Beetle. They got coffee at the airport coffee shop and watched the lone luggage carousel where Theo had said he would meet them. The airport was tiny and mostly deserted, which Del thought would be true even for a major hub at this time of night, and Jeff said Theo would be easy to spot.
“He’s enormous,” Jeff said. “One summer he was this tiny, little runt and the next he was almost as tall as I was. Then he was taller.”
«Is that him?” said Del, pointing to a young man who was walking in from the tarmac. Del could see some family resemblance between him and Jeff as he squinted in the yellow fluorescent light: his hair was not quite as dark as Jeff’s, and his face was missing Jeff's craggy lived-in lines, but like Jeff he was solid and tall as a sequoia tree, his shoulders and chest broad. Del was often the tallest person in the room unless Jeff was present, but he thought this kid would tower over him.
“That’s him,” Jeff said and tossed his coffee cup into the trash. “Theo!” He waved, and the kid grinned and waved back before ambling over to join them. Theo dropped his garment bag and backpack, and then Jeff and Theo hugged each other awkwardly, slapping each other on the back a few times before letting go. “Nice to see you, kiddo,” Jeff said. “This is Delany. He owns the couch you’ll be sleeping on.”
“Delany, hi!” Theo exclaimed, showing bright white teeth in a disarming smile. His eyes were hazel in this light, much lighter than Jeff's deep brown. “Thanks so much for putting me up. It’s so nice of you when you don’t even know me. I was at work all day and then traveling and I thought I remembered everything, but I realized halfway here I’d never gotten a hotel room for tonight and we’re not checking into the other place until tomorrow, and I thought, Oh, fuck, a hotel on a summer weekend, on short notice, in a little town like Tehachapi?”
“Hi, Theo,” Del said, a little taken aback by Theo’s verbosity as well as the sheer brilliance of his smile. “Just call me Del.”
“Okay. Del. Okay. Nice to meet you.”
“We have hotels,” Jeff said dryly, steering them both out to the parking lot. “Not many but we have them. And if I were feeling really mean I would have told you to get a room here and rent a car to drive out.”
“I’m glad you weren’t feeling mean, then, because I haven’t driven here since I was sixteen, and I don’t remember the way to Tehachapi from here or where anything is once I got there, if I got there. Well, I could probably find my way to the high school again, and your mom’s house, and where my mom used to live. But I have no idea where your house is. Or Del’s. Where’s Marianne and the baby, Jeff?”
“Home, putting the wedding together,” Jeff said and glanced at Del, who was just listening in amusement. Jeff liked to talk but Theo, apparently, loved it. “Though I’m sure Jesse is taking things apart as quickly as his mom gets them finished.”
“She’s doing it herself?” Theo said, sounding surprised.
“With help from her sisters,” Del put in. “Marianne’s very craftsy.”
“That is so cool,” Theo said. “I thought girls nowadays had wedding planners to do everything, like in the movies.”
“Marianne is thirty-five,” Jeff said. “She’s not really a girl anymore.”
“Sorry, the ladies,” Theo said. “The womenfolk. Oh, hey, you got the truck you were talking about!” Jeff unlocked the doors with the keychain remote and Del took Theo’s bag to hang it in the back of the extended cab. He clambered in after it, and Theo climbed into the passenger seat. “I love this truck,” Theo said, running his hand over the dashboard.
“It’s a fine one,” Del said.
“I don’t have a car at home,” Theo said. “It’s just not practical, and public transit in Austin is pretty good so I don’t mind taking the bus and stuff. What do you do, Del?”
“I’m a physical therapist,” Del said as Jeff got into the driver’s seat. “That’s how I met your brother.”
“Oh, okay,” said Theo. “I thought maybe you worked at the restaurant, too.”
“Nope. I dated one of his chefs for a while, though. Jeff busted a knee about seven years ago -- it was seven, wasn’t it?”
“Yup,” Jeff said and started the engine.
“Seven years ago,” Del said. “Playing pickup basketball. I helped him put it back together.”
“Awesome,” Theo said. “I love professions like that, when you’re really doing something or making something. I think I’d go crazy if I had a job where you never saw a result no matter how hard you worked.”
“I take it you’re not a stock broker,” Del said, and Theo threw back his head to laugh a big, hearty laugh.
“Not even. I teach elementary school. Hey, Jeff, we need to stop by your house and get your guitar. Marianne said I could borrow it.”
“Theo,” Jeff told Del, “is singing at the wedding.”
“Oh,” Del said, “okay.” It sounded to him like Marianne’s way of including Theo in the ceremony. He hoped Theo could actually sing. It was hard to tell from his speaking voice, rich as it was.
“We’ll stop by the house.” Jeff stepped on the gas and they sped up to get onto the freeway.