Booty Chaser Pt 5

He reaches out and covers my hand in his and squeezes, “Please, Griffin.” There’s a vulnerability in his voice that I’ve never heard before. He looks me in the eye- in the middle of this restaurant- in the middle of this town and for a second, it feels like it’s just me and him.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

*****

Chase and I are outside of a small cafe a few blocks from campus. It’s a bit of a weekend tradition for us to get breakfast together on the days we don’t have anything else going on. Last night, he insisted on this new place he found on the way back from a class visit to the Digital Arts museum downtown. And so here we are, up a full two hours earlier than I would have liked to be on a Sunday morning, waiting around for some jazzed up versions of pancakes and a breakfast sandwich.

He’s just come back from the restroom, eclipsing me for a few seconds with his shadow before sitting down and stealing all of the sunlight for himself. He looks good today- then again, I can’t think of a day when he doesn’t. Even on the drunken nights when I’ve held him up by the toilet as he literally spews his guts out, he looked good: dirty t-shirt, messed up hair, near life-less body and all. But today, he dons a jean jacket that brings out the blue in his eyes that are framed by the thick black glasses he just got a few weeks ago.

He leans into the wooden chair, resting his forearm over the top edge before looking at me. “So I have a bit of a proposition for you.”

I raise an eyebrow, having no idea what he could be talking about.

“I’m driving up to see my parents next weekend and I really don’t want to go by myself.” He leans in, taking hold of his glass of ice water, and my attention. “I was hoping you’d come with me.”

Chase and I have been friends long enough for me to know that he doesn’t have the best relationship with his parents- so this request isn’t exactly out of left field. It’s almost November now which means it’s just about three months since he last saw them- somewhat odd considering he lives under two hours away. I saw him the day he came back after summer and my question about how things were at home was met with a simple “meh”. He didn’t offer up any additional info after that, and I didn’t ask. But still, the idea of coming home with him to meet his parents seems too coupley for me, given the circumstances. I know Chase doesn’t see it like that, but as my feelings grow stronger, there’s a part of me that desperately wants it to be real.

“You don’t want to bring me home to meet your parents.” I say, shooing the idea off like it’s a fly on my plate.

“Who else would I want to bring?” He asks as I take note of want as the key word.

“I don’t know, maybe your boyfriend.” I say, hoping there’s no venom in my voice.

Chase raises his hands, “It’s waaaay to early for that.” He sighs, “My dad is just coming around to the fact that his son is gay. I’m not gonna ambush him with this guy I’ve been seeing for only a few weeks!”

He shakes his head, “Come on Griff. I’m asking you. Just pull out some of that southern charm on my mom and you’ll be all set. And my dad- he loves football! Hell Griff, he’s even a Seahawks fan like you!”

I sigh to him, “I don’t know, Chase.”

He reaches out and covers my hand in his and squeezes, “Please, Griffin.” There’s a vulnerability in his voice that I’ve never heard before. He looks me in the eye- in the middle of this restaurant- in the middle of this town and for a second, it feels like it’s just me and him.

“I don’t think I can get through a visit by myself.”

I let the clanking of silverware and humming of nearby cars fill the silence before I respond.

“Of course”, I say, correcting my previous answer. Chase’s smile widens as he leaps up to hug me, nearly knocking over our drinks in the process.

“Thanks Griff. You’re the only way I see this trip turning out okay.” He says, holding onto me.

In my head, I know I should try and find a way to get out of it. But Chase needs me and if I care about him as much as I say that I do, then I’ll go with him. Still, I know it’s a bad idea.

***

The next Saturday, Chase and I are headed back from the convenience store as the afternoon sun sits high in the sky. He tells me it’s only about and hour and forty five minutes, yet he’s managed to fill up an entire basket with a few bottles of iced tea and an array of snacks that would make any junk food deprived child happy.

We’re chatting like we always do, with our conversations winding through topics like a rollercoaster that’s gone off the rails- one minute we’re talking about the new Disney+ app and the next, he’s asking my opinion on Rex Orange County. We’re taking our time strolling down the street as I look at my watch that reads 2pm. We were supposed to leave a half hour ago, but I get that feeling that he’s stalling so we’re left with less time to spend at his house.

After a stop at his room, we fill up a large backpack with our snacks and take a short bus ride to a nearby Zipcar lot that his mom set up. He rolls his eyes when we get there, telling me how his parents insisted we drive- not wanting to trust that the buses could get us there and back ok.

We slip inside and get comfortable as he looks over to me, admitting, “I guess it’s better than being cramped on an old bus.” I nod in agreement as we drive off.

After a few minutes, we’ve seen the last of the narrow city lanes as Chase turns onto the highway. He rests back in his seat, finally at ease that he can leave a single hand on the steering wheel and cruise.

I look over to him, “So what’s the occasion anyway?”

“Nothing” he replies. “My mom’s just been on my ass about how I don’t visit that often and how I’m so caught up with everything except them.”

I shake my head, “I got the same lecture from my mom the other week, so at least you’re not alone in this.”

He smiles, “See that I get. I mean they’re two states away- not two hours!”

Chase is doing this thing where he tries to hide his annoyance with humor. Any person who doesn’t know him that well will continue on with the punchlines, but we’ve been friends long enough for me to know that it’s his way of inviting me in.

“How were things the last time you were home.”

He’s picky with his words, replying, “Better- but certainly not where I want it to be.” He admits. “It’s been over a year since I came out to them and I still feel like I’m living in that damned closet.” He looks at me, “Mom seems to have come around, but my dad- that’s another story.”

I put my hand on his shoulder, “Well if anyone’s gonna get through this weekend. It’s us.” I change my tone, “We’re like the fucking Wonder Twins.”

He laughs and for now, all of his tension seems to be diffused. I lean into my seat, “You know Adam told me last week that our mom invited her new boyfriend over to have Thanksgiving with us.”

“Is this the dentist- the one who you said definitely dyes his hair?”

I shake my head, “No, she dumped that guy two months ago.” I chuckle a bit, remembering the guy he’s talking about and how he seemed to have black stains all over the back of his collars. “Apparently this guy is divorced and trying to win us over.”

Chase shakes his head, “You two don’t need a new dad- especially not when you grew up with a mom like that.”

I smile when I think of her, as crazy as she is. “Yeah, you’re right.”

A little while later, Chase gets a text which cuts right into Blink 182’s “I Miss You”- arguably one of the best songs ever made. I was holding onto my phone like a mic and singing along as Chase drove us through the long stretch of road. I groan, looking back at him with a glare as the moment is not only killed, but buried and set to rest forever.

He rolls his eyes at me, “Can you at least tell me who it is?”

I grab his phone and enter the pin, shaking my head at all the times I told him that the numbers of his birthday is a terrible passcode.

“It’s Caleb” I say, nearly forgetting his entire existence. He looks at me and lifts his hands, “Oh, he said to have a good trip and to be safe on the way back.”

He shakes his head with a smile, “He doesn’t even drive, you know.” Chase handles the wheel with one hand, “He’s lived in big cities all his life and so he’s convinced that any longer than an hour in a car would put him to sleep or in this case, me.”

“Well I’m here, so there’ll be no sleeping at the wheel on my watch.”

He turns back to me, “I kinda told him that I was driving up alone.” He says, plainly.

“Why?”

Chase shrugs, “I don’t know. I told him that I was gonna make this a solo trip. If he knew that I couldn’t do that, he’d probably feel pressured to come with me.”

“But what if he didn’t?”

Chase makes a face, “What do you mean?”

I lay out for him, “Say it wasn’t too early for you guys and he didn’t feel pressured to come. Would you rather have him here or me?” I easily regret asking that question the second it leaves my lips. I know at this point that I’m fishing; a rod in hand with enough bait laid out in hopes I’ll land that killer whale of a truth that I so desperately need.

“Probably not” Chase says, without thinking.

“Why’s that?” I ask, pushing my luck even further.

He does that boyish grin and chuckle that makes my heart skip four consecutive beats. “It’s different with you, Griff.” He gives me a playful shove, “It’s easier.”

“What do you mean by easier?”

“I mean that I know you.” He turns to me, “Like if we went to a new restaurant, I could look at the menu and order for you and know that you’ll love it. Don’t tell me you couldn’t do the same for me.”

I see his point, “Yeah I definitely could.”

Chase nods, “That’s what I mean. I know that you care about me enough to take this whole thing seriously. And so I’ll spend less time worrying about what you’re gonna do and more time focusing on trying to not self-destruct.” Chase’s eyes widen as he makes a mock explosion sound.

I try not to read too much into what he’s saying, but it’s hard not to. In the grand scheme of things, all I hear is that Chase chose me- and that if given the chance, would choose me every time.

I laugh with him, “Don’t worry man, there won’t be any self-harm of any kind tonight.”

“That’s exactly why I wanted you here.” He looks at me like he’s just explained elementary math, “So does that answer your question, Mr. Hypothetical?”

I roll my eyes at him, “Yeah- yeah it does.”

“Good. Cause we have about fifteen minutes left- which leaves only five more songs of Griffin Daniel’s famous karaoke show.”

I retake his phone and pull open the Spotify app, forgetting about Caleb as I look for another song to play for him.

***

CHASE

It’s not until we make it to my hometown that I realize how much I downplayed this trip and why it’s so hard for me. That welcome sign just off the highway exit serves as a reminder of the last time I was here and how those two whole months home felt like I was staying in a hotel I was only partially welcome at.

My parents, god bless them, are as traditional and conservative as they come. My dad’s retired from the Marine Corps and my mom is a housewife who spends her free time teaching Sunday school at our local church. We’re one of those idealistic American families- right down to the gay son.

The last time I was home marked exactly a year since I mustered enough courage to come out and things have only inched their way towards better- a difference from the miles I thought my parents would have made. My mom tries and, apart from the occasional slip about grandchildren, seems to have bounced back to some semblance of what I knew her to be. My dad on the other hand is like a gambler who put all his money on the slowest horse. I won’t be winning races for him anytime soon.

I don’t want to make it seem like they’re intolerant because it’s nothing like that. The first thing my mom said after I told her was, “It’s gonna take some adjustment, son. I’m just not used to this.” I’ll admit those words stung when I first heard them, but now I realize that she is trying. And with baby steps, so is my dad. I guess last summer, I just hoped that he’d make more of an effort to connect, but we just feel like two people who have to live under the same roof with no relation whatsoever. It’s like we both speak two different languages and neither of us is willing to learn for the other.

As we pull up to the house, I think about the last thing my mom said before she dropped me off back at campus. She held onto my wrist and looked me in the eye, saying “He’s really trying Chase. Just give him time.” I turn off the car and breathe for a second, hoping for all of our sakes that she’s right.

We walk up to the front door that opens before I can even reach out and give it a knock. It’s my mom of course, and her face is so full of joy. I swear that woman could cry at this moment and I wouldn’t even be surprised. She pulls me into a hug and I nearly trip on the threshold.

“My boy!” She says, like I’d just come back from war.

I hug her back, saying, “Good to see you too, mom” as she frisks us away into the living room.

Once she’s had her fill, I see my father stand up out of the recliner in the corner of my eye. He walks over to me and for some reason, it feels like he’s moving at half speed. When he’s inches away, he too pulls me into a hug which catches me completely off guard. At first I just stand there, not knowing what to do with my hands and then my mind clicks and I wrap them around him, reciprocating that embrace that I’ve wanted for so long. I’m not stupid- a hug doesn’t suddenly make everything better. But it’s a damn good start.

“Glad to have you home, son” he tells me, in a quiet voice that I’m sure only I can hear. And yet those are the only ears that it needs to reach.

My mom breaks whatever little moment this was when she turns to my friend, “And you must be Griffin. We were thrilled Chase decided to bring his best friend up today.” She walks over and gives him a tight hug, shielding him from that blush that creeps over my entire face. There’s no doubting that Griffin is my best friend, but hearing it from someone else seems almost like we’re a couple.

“Yes ma’am.” Griffin replies, flashing those pearly whites to my mom who, thirty years ago, would have been completely smitten. “Thank you for having me.”

He then turns to my dad and meets his hand with a firm handshake. “Nice to meet you, sir.”

My dad gives him a pleased grin, “You as well, son.” He’s always been a sucker for good manners.

Mom soon disappears back into the kitchen, telling us that dinner will be ready in about an hour. I look over at Griffin and motion towards the couch as my dad reclaims his recliner like a king returning to his throne. I sit there, awkwardly before Griffin saves me when he looks over to the TV that’s just come off mute.

Griffin takes notice of the screen, asking, “Did you catch the Seahawks game, sir? These highlights don’t do it any justice.”

My dad raises an eyebrow, “Sure did. I had to tell Amy right before the game that I was not to be bothered.”

Griffin laughs, “I was almost late to my class because of that interception at the end. I don’t think my professor would have excused that.”

My dad joins in, “She wouldn’t, but I would.”

I sit there for a little bit, like a piece of debris caught between two magnets. I was right in my assumption that Griffin and my dad would hit it off, and though I have no idea what they’re talking about, it sure beats the silence that I’m used to with him.

Before I get too deep in my thoughts, Griffin nudges me and looks back towards my dad, “I’ve been trying to get Chase to come with me to one of the games downtown.”

I take my cue, “Yeah Griffin’s been giving me the basics. Makes me wish I paid attention to all the times you tried to teach me.”

My dad gives a pleased smile, “Is that so? Well next time we come down, I think the three of us ought to get some tickets. It’s one thing to watch it on this screen and another to actually experience it.”

“Yeah, I’d like that.” I say, trying not to get caught up in the emotions.

My dad gets up for a drink and comes back a few minutes later with three bottles of old-fashioned root beer. He hands them to us and we loudly cheers, just as Russell Wilson makes a near perfect throw to the endzone. I nudge Griffin with my knee and mouth a “Thank you.” He smiles, offering me a wink.

Once all the highlights are done, my mom comes out of the kitchen, announcing that dinner’s ready. My dad gets up immediately and, after kissing her on the cheek, makes his way to the dining room. I look over at Griffin who’s still catching the tail-end of the show and realize that we’d been sitting so close since we both sat down. I pull away slightly and the air rushes to the warm part of my thigh where it was pressed against his. I didn’t notice and apparently neither did her or my Dad.

We leisurely make our way into the dining room, save from every stop that Griffin makes to gawk at all the god-awful pictures my mom has plastered up on the walls. He points towards the one I was most embarrassed of- a school picture from Sophomore year. I physically cringe, looking at my old wire-rimmed glasses glory. It was like an American version of Harry Potter that Griffin pulls off the wall to get a better look.

“I can’t believe this is you.”

I try to grab the frame from him, but Griffin’s too fast for me. “I was getting braces that year so I set my appointment for after Picture Day, but the school had to reschedule…”

“No” he says, covering his mouth.

“Yup. This was two days after my appointment and I couldn’t even smile cause they were so uncomfortable.”

He sets the frame back and turns to me, “It’s not that bad man. At least you got this little dorky cuteness about you.” He winks at me, again. “You should see mine.”

I brush it off, knowing that he’s full of shit. “Oh yeah, then show me.”

Griffin immediately reaches for his phone and pulls up Facebook. I see him search up his mom’s profile and scroll through all the old timeline photos- past all the homemade pies and high school graduation pictures that she seems to have stored up. Then he stops on one and shows it to me. “This is from the same year” he says, closing his eyes.

I look to see a scrawny kid with a mop of brown hair cut by an inverted bowl and a face that’s dotted in a mix of freckles and acne. Young Griffin has this weird smile plastered on his face like this was the hundredth take and his mouth had gone sore. I’m still convinced that mine is worse but his comes so close.

“Puberty hit you like a fucking truck.”

Griffin laughs as he pats my shoulder, “It hit both of us dude.” I catch him, out of the corner of my eye, looking at me from head to toe. He doesn’t know that I see him doing it, and I choose not to say anything.

He puts his phone away as I ask, “Do you think we would’ve been friends if we went to the same school?”, not really sure where that question came out of.

He nods without hesitation, “Definitely.” He gives me a half hug which I return, “Though you probably would have been sick of me by Senior Year.”

I give him a shove as we enter the dining room. Mom and Dad are seated next to each other so I motion for Griff to sit next to me, across from them. Before my ass even touches the chair, my mom reaches over and hands us two plates that she’d completely packed in with her famous pot roast and a generous helping of mashed potatoes. There’s even a few sautéed carrots and green beans in there, which my dad would say is mostly there for color.

I nod to Griff and we both start eating. I have to stop myself from audibly moaning as I take in a few bites- not missing the campus cafeteria food one bit. Even though my last visit was less than stellar, I could always count on mom’s homemade meals to break through any awkwardness that lingered in the house. I look over at Griffin who’s meekly eating through the plate in small bites. I laugh to myself, knowing that if it were just the two of us, he’d have scarfed the whole thing and asked for seconds. But it’s clear that he’s trying to be the most respectful version of himself- which I’m more than grateful for.

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