Trevor, seated on the living room sofa reading, looked up from his book when the doorbell sounded. His wide camel-brown eyes sidled the clock on the mantelpiece. Twelve minutes past eleven on Saturday morning and he wasn’t expecting anyone. He kept reading until he heard the thunder of feet barreling down the staircase and shifted his focus to the front hall.
“Oh, how marvellous,” the nasal voice said. “You’re home.”
Trevor closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. Oh, dear Lord … not today, was his silent supplication. He opened his eyes, folded down the top corner of the page to mark his spot and closed the book. He shook his head when the tall brunette entered the living room, offering that goofy smile that even after four years still made him feel buttery inside. “Oliver —”
“Look who’s here,” Oliver said nervously when the silver-haired woman appeared at his side.
Trevor placed his book down on the coffee table, stood and crossed to the woman. “Always a delight, Phyllis.” He kissed her lightly on the cheek.
“You’re a terrible liar,” Phyllis said dryly, then turned to Oliver. “Could I trouble you for a cup of tea?”
“Sure,” Oliver said and bolted for the kitchen.
“You know how I like it,” she called out after him.
Trevor thrust himself back onto the sofa. “With a dash of cyanide.”
“Ha-ha.” Phyllis lowered herself onto the other matching sofa. “We should try to get along, especially if this thing between you and my son is going to go on for a while.”
“You mean we should pretend to get along.” Trevor reached for his book and flipped it open. “I’m okay with not liking each other. That’d mean we wouldn’t have to speak to each other, right?”
“I don’t understand why you don’t like me,” Phyllis snapped.
The book slipped through Trevor’s fingers and onto his lap. “You don’t understand why I don’t like you?”
“I’ve been nothing but kind —”
“Kind?” Trevor howled. “That from the woman who said to Oliver, when he first brought me home to meet you, ‘Why are you dating a black man?’”
“Well, I … it was a shock.”
“Was it still the shock when you organized a surprise party for Oliver’s thirtieth birthday and didn’t invite me?” He rolled his eyes as Phyllis just sat there, her shifty ice blue eyes roving the room. “We’d been living together for two years.”
“That’s not how I remember it,” Phyllis shot back.
Trevor sucked his teeth. “Of course not.”
“My other sons and daughters-in-law adore me.”
Trevor, trying to tamp down his urge to laugh, dropped his head.
“Just the other day Laura told me that I was her favourite mother-in-law.”
Trevor looked up, an eyebrow raised. “How many mothers-in-law has Laura had?”
“How droll.” Phyllis adjusted the silk scarf around her neck. “How come I’ve never met your parents?”
Trevor bristled. “Would you want to? I mean, they’re black like me.”
“Trevor!” Oliver cried as came into the room.
“If you’re serious about meeting them,” Trevor said, trying to suppress his smirk, “they’re in the urn on the mantelpiece.”
“Trevor…” Oliver sounded exasperated. He handed the teacup and saucer to his mother. “Just the way you like it.” He moved around to the other sofa, sat down next to Trevor and stared questioningly at his mother. “So?”
“It’s delightful,” Phyllis said after sipping her tea.
Oliver scratched his forehead. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Oh…” Phyllis blinked magnificently. “Well, sometimes, that man is impossible.”
“Ha!” Trevor slapped his hand on his thigh and couldn’t stifle his cackling laugh.
Oliver drove his elbow into Trevor’s side. “What did Dad do this time?”
“Do?” Phyllis shook her head violently. “He doesn’t do anything but sit in front of the TV. So I left. Now I need a place to stay.”
Oliver swallowed repeatedly. “You want to stay here?”
“Your other siblings…” Phyllis’s voice cracked. “They said it would be … inconvenient.”
“Ha!” Trevor leaned forward, his sides cramping and tears in his eyes.
“Stop that,” Oliver said through gritted teeth.
Phyllis set the cup and saucer on the coffee table. “It’ll probably be inconvenient for you, too.”
“Mom…” Oliver touched his hand to Trevor’s thigh. “Of course you can stay with us.”
Trevor sat up straight, his eyes wild and locked on Oliver. “Really?”
“She’s my mother,” Oliver said in a whisper. “I just can’t —”
Trevor waved him off. “I need a drink.” He stormed out of the room.
“I’ve never really liked him,” Phyllis said when she was alone with Oliver.
Oliver flicked his eyebrows. “I think the feeling’s mutual.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Trevor warned, yanking out the cork from the bottle of Lagavulin. He poured another generous amount into the crystal tumbler, jammed the cork back in and returned the bottle to the counter with a hard clank. “You’re not my favourite person at the moment.” He felt the weight of hands on his shoulders, then started to squirm as the wet tongue traced the curve of his ear.
“You love me,” that gravelly voice said. “Don’t fight it.”
That voice … it was what had hooked him, had his manhood stirring with the simple, “Hello,” that Oliver greeted him with on their first date. Now wasn’t the time to be nostalgic.
Trevor twisted out of Oliver’s grasp and shot off the stool. He looked in Oliver’s direction but not right at him. This was his time to be strong, to stand his ground. He wouldn’t cower to Oliver’s dreamy, sapphire blue eyes. Not this time. “She can’t stay here.”
“I can’t throw her out tonight,” Oliver said, taking a step forward.
Trevor took a matching step backwards. “I can.”
“Trevor…” Oliver rushed Trevor, who didn’t have time to react, and held him close. “She’s my mother … what do you expect me to do?”
Trevor tried to break free, twisting and turning, but Oliver held on.
“Stop fighting and just listen,” Oliver said, almost shouting.
Trevor struggled for another twenty seconds, then stood there absolutely still. When he felt Oliver’s grip relax, he pushed away violently. “I’m your partner. That should count for something.”
Oliver, after making an unsuccessful play for Trevor’s hand, folded his arms. “You’re not making this easy.”
“I’m not making this easy?” Trevor massaged his temple. “You do understand why your mother and I can’t be under the same roof, don’t you?”
“No, no,” Trevor said, waving his hand in disagreement. “She doesn’t get a free pass for what happened last week. Maybe you need a reminding…”
Trevor felt his chest tightening as he recounted the events of last Sunday. It was their turn to host the monthly family dinner that had long been a tradition in Oliver’s family. More of a cook than Oliver, Trevor spent the day before preparing for the meal and the mob set invade their home. And just before their first guest arrived Oliver, sporting that goofy smile that always made Trevor swoon, told him everything was perfect.
While Oliver showed off his new R1 motorcycle to his brothers, Trevor was alone in the kitchen cleaning up. He didn’t want any help. He wanted to be on his own, have a little peace. When he was almost done, he went to return the oversized turkey platter to the sideboard in the dining room. He heard the hushed voices and stopped outside the sliding doors, which he’d left slightly ajar. He immediately recognized that nasal voice. Phyllis! He discreetly looked into the room to see his ‘mother-in-law’ who, standing by the patio doors and with her back to him, had Oliver’s younger sister Andrea cornered.
“I’ve always thought Oliver could do better,” Phyllis said. “He seems happy—”
“Oliver is happy,” Andrea said firmly. “God, don’t you see the way he and Trevor look at each other? It’s like they’re the only ones in the room. Theo and I stopped looking at each other that way after two years.”
“I don’t understand…” Phyllis cut herself off, her exasperation gaining dominion. “I raised him better than that. If only the South had won that war things would definitely be different. Especially here in Halifax.”
Trevor pushed one of the sliding doors open so hard that when it bounced in the frame the entire house fell silent.
Phyllis spun around, her face twisting in shock. “Oh, Trevor, I was just telling Andrea —”
“‘If only the South had won that war,’” he said slowly, a way to tamp down the anger flowing through his veins.
Phyllis let out a forced laugh. “Oh, it’s just a manner of speaking.”
“‘A manner of speaking,’” Trevor repeated caustically.
Phyllis, unsure what to do with her hands, clasped them behind her back. “Well, back then … it was just the natural order of things. It made things simpler.”
“Mom, I think we should go,” Andrea said, panicked. She tried to nudge her mother out of the room.
Oliver appeared and, when he saw the disbelief raging in Trevor’s face, slumped against the door. “Mom, what did you do now?”
The phone rang, and Trevor rolled his eyes as Oliver sprinted to answer it. God, some days he’s such a momma’s boy. He crossed to the island counter, picked up his scotch and drained it. Oliver was back and before he could say anything, Trevor threw him a warning look. “Who was that?”
“Dad,” Oliver said, tapping his foot. “He said he … had the locks changed.”
“That’s it!” Trevor started for the door. “This isn’t a one-night thing. And I’m not going to be miserable in my own home. She can go to a hotel.”
Oliver grabbed Trevor by the arm. “Trevor —”
“I’ll make it simple…” Trevor jerked his arm away. “It’s either her or me.”
Oliver slammed the door and marched into the living room. “We need to talk.”
Phyllis, seated on the sofa reading Maclean’s, looked up and smiled. “I’m so glad you’re home. It’s been horrible having no one to talk to.” She tossed the magazine onto the coffee table. “Tell me all about your day.”
“Mom, I’m not seven years old,” Oliver said brutishly. “I don’t want to talk about my goddamn day.” He lowered himself onto the sofa, clasped his hands together on his lap and locked his gaze on his mother. “Don’t you realize what you’re doing?”
Phyllis bristled. “All I did was ask my son about his day and he bit my head off. I didn’t raise him to speak to me like that.”
“You don’t think you deserve it?” he asked, unable to check his surprise.
“I most certainly do not.” Phyllis stood and went to leave the room.
“Sit down, Mom,” Oliver said, almost shouting.
Phyllis spun around. “I won’t stand here and let you talk to me like I’m … a two-bit hussy.”
Oliver bounced off the sofa and charged across the room, grabbing his mother by the arm as she started again for the door. “I’m not talking to you like a ‘two-bit hussy.’ I’m talking to you like a…” He censored himself before he could say the word that would have taken them to a point of no return. He shepherded her back to the sofa and forced her to sit. He drew in a deep breath, held on to it a few seconds, then pushed it out violently through his nose. “You’re my mother, and I love you. I don’t know if you’re being like this because of what’s going between you and Dad, or —”
“Being like what?” Phyllis interrupted.
“Insufferable!” Oliver said with emphasis. “You’re being mean, and the things you say … I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but you keep hurting me.”
“Hurting you?” Phyllis’s voice pitched high with disbelief. “How am I hurting you?”
“Really?” Oliver ran his hand down the side of his face. “Are you going to sit there and play dumb?” There was a silence. “I love Trevor. He’s my light. When I’m sick, he makes me homemade soup. He makes me laugh by hogging the blankets when we climb into bed because I steal them in the night. Or so he tells me. When I lost my job two years ago because of cutbacks, he said, ‘Don’t worry … I’ve got this.’ That let me take the time I needed to find the next right thing. He’s been … he’s good to me. I thought you of all people would appreciate that.”
“I don’t know…” Phyllis, dodging Oliver’s gaze, reached for the Maclean’s magazine. “I don’t know how you ever got mixed up with those people.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” Oliver barked and snatched the magazine away. “All you see is the colour of his skin. I see who he is.” He dropped his head and bit down on his lip. “This isn’t just my home. It’s Trevor’s, too. That’s why … you can’t stay here.”
“Where am I supposed to go?” Phyllis asked, indignant.
Oliver rose. “I don’t know and, frankly, I don’t care. But you being here … you’re tearing my home and my world apart. It has to stop.”
“Oliver, I’m —”
Oliver raised a hand. “Please just pack your things and go.” He strode out of the room and down the hall to Trevor’s office. He stood in the doorway and waited to hear the clickety-clack of his mother’s high heels against the hardwood floor. He’d finally stood up to her — stood up for his life and his worth.
As his gaze fell on Trevor’s desk where the laptop used to be, he felt the tears pooling in his eyes. He could still hear the savageness in Trevor’s alto voice. “I’ll make it simple … it’s either her or me.” Oliver had said nothing, watching as the rage in Trevor’s camel-brown eyes turned to disappointment. And he remained silent when Trevor sprinted up the stairs. He thought it was a bluff until Trevor appeared at the front door with his suitcase and satchel. He knew Trevor waited for him to say something, but he just stood there with his mouth agape. Then Trevor slipped out of the house, and the life he’d imagined was in pieces.
A loud bang made Oliver jump, and he looked up at the ceiling. “What’s she up to now?” He pulled out his phone and dialled Trevor’s cell number. After the fourth ring, it cut away to voicemail. He hung up without leaving a message.
Then came the thud of the front door closing. He raced into the living room and stood in front of the window. He watched as his mother got into her silver Volvo and felt, for the first time in almost a week, relief. He pulled up Trevor’s number again on his phone and dialled. Still no answer. But this time, when prompted to leave a message, he said the only two words that mattered, “She’s gone.”
Was it enough to convince Trevor to come home?
God, he hoped so.
And when his phone rang five minutes later — Trevor’s name lighting up the screen — he was about to find out.
Trevor went to jam his key in the lock when the front door swung open. He did not — could not — move as those dreamy, sapphire-blue eyes bore into him. Something was different. It wasn’t Oliver’s usual intent look of desire that could have them devouring each other before they made it to the bedroom. No, it was something worse. Disappointment.
Oliver stepped forward and reached for Trevor’s suitcase, dragging it into the house. He set it by the foot of the staircase, then slipped his hands in his pockets. “Are you going to come in?”
Trevor stepped into the house and closed the door. The dominant silence that followed, broken only by the tick-tock of the wall clock, had his chest tightening. It was like, all of a sudden, they didn’t know how to speak to each other or how to act.
“So what happens next?” Oliver asked with an edge.
“I’m not sure,” Trevor said quietly, his gaze held to the floor.
“Do you want to stay?”
Trevor looked up. “What?”
“Do you want to stay?” Oliver repeated brutishly. “Or do you just want to … end this. I mean, you won’t look at me so maybe you didn’t want to come back here after all.”
Trevor levelled his gaze at Oliver. “I didn’t know what I was coming back to.”
“I told you when I called that my mother was gone.”
“It took you four days to get her out of this house,” Trevor said, almost shouting, “out of our house.”
“She’s my mother,” Oliver countered. “She was upset. What was I supposed to do?”
“Stand up for me. Stand up for us.” Trevor folded his arms. “She has ridiculed me since you took me to meet her. All she’s done is make me feel like I’m second-rate because I’m black. And it’s always been clear that she’d rather you be with anyone but me. And you’ve never stood up to her, always telling me, ‘She grew up in a different time. Things were different then.’ Fuck, Oliver, it’s 2016. Maybe … maybe you’re ashamed to be with me.”
Oliver’s eyes went wide. “I can’t believe you just said that.”
“Then maybe I shouldn’t be here after all.” Trevor adjusted the strap of his satchel on his shoulder. “There you go again, not saying anything. You’re still defending her.”
“I kicked my mother out of the house two days ago,” Oliver spat, moving to intercept Trevor. “I told her to leave because she kept hurting me, hurting you in our home … and that it had to stop. Two days, I called you, told you she was gone. Why…” He blinked rapidly to force back the tears banking in his eyes. “Why didn’t you come home then? Why did you wait so long?”
Trevor looked down. He’d waited because he needed time to think. When Oliver had invited Phyllis to stay, without them discussing it, Trevor was no longer sure where he belonged. After he left, he wasn’t sure if this house could ever be home again. He felt the warm hand envelope his and raised his head. Was it the touch, or Oliver’s dreamy eyes? Trevor didn’t know, but he felt his lips curling into a smile. “Your nostrils flare when you’re angry. I never noticed that before.”
“That’s because this is the first time I’ve ever been mad at you,” Oliver said, smirking.
Trevor, chuckling, matched Oliver’s pressure. They’d never really argued, never let things stick to them. Four years after their first date, they were like newlyweds who couldn’t get enough of each other. Life was perfect. Absolutely perfect. At least until his mother-in-law’s last visit.
“Your mother’s a battle-axe.” Trevor pulled his hands out of Oliver’s loosening grasp, then set his satchel on the floor. “Maybe I should have come back sooner. Maybe I shouldn’t have left at all, but your mother … she’s —”
“Impossible,” Oliver broke in, making a play for Trevor’s hand. “It took me a while to see that.”
“‘Impossible’ isn’t exactly the word I was going to use.”
“I know.” Oliver winked, wrapped his arm around Trevor’s waist and led him into the living room. They sat down on the sofa, their legs touching. Oliver placed his hand on Trevor’s knee. “I am not ashamed of you,” he said with emphasis. “I hope you know that.”
Trevor shook his head. “I know. I’m sorry I said that.”
“You’re the man I love.” Oliver leaned in and pressed his lips to Trevor’s, held them there briefly, then pulled back. “And no matter how angry my mother makes you, or if I do something that pisses you off … please don’t ever leave like that again. I was sick every night not knowing if you were going to come back.”
“Then let’s make a deal,” Trevor said.
Oliver brushed his dark wavy hair out of his face. “A deal?”
“I won’t leave again, if you don’t ever invite your mother to stay the night without discussing it with me first.”
Oliver held out his hand. “Deal.”
Trevor, accepting the handshake, found himself being pulled forward. The next thing he felt was Oliver’s mouth on his. As their tongues danced, he wrapped his arms around Oliver and drew him tight. Their bodies shifted and, working to stretch out on the sofa, they fell onto the floor and started laughing.
Oliver climbed on top of Trevor. “We’re good?”
“We’re good.” Trevor touched his hand to the side of Oliver’s stubbly face. “I love you.”
“I’m glad because…” Oliver leaned forward and whispered into Trevor’s ear, “Mom’s coming over for dinner.”
Trevor shoved Oliver off him and shot up off the floor. He charged into the foyer and stabbed his feet into his shoes.
“Trevor…” Oliver rushed to Trevor and pinned him against the wall. “God, I was kidding.”
Trevor raised an eyebrow. “You think that’s funny?”
“Kind of,” Oliver said, smirking.
Oliver smiled. “That’s why you love me so.”