* Note– short ficlet, drabble maybe, involving Jackson and Ellery from Fish Out of Water and Red Fish, Dead Fish
Jackson started out Thanksgiving morning curled up on the corner of the gigantic white couch in Ellery’s mother’s sitting room. Ellery had woken him up in time for a brisk walk around the block, then they’d gotten back to the absurdly large house in the prestigious Boston neighborhood and showered.
Because Ellery’s entire family was sleeping somewhere in this giant old rabbit warren of a house, and Jackson wasn’t sure if his dick would ever work again. Instead, Jackson had sent Ellery ahead and told him to start breakfast, but Jackson wasn’t feeling hungry.
He hadn’t felt hungry, in fact, since he’d gotten out of the hospital, really. Food–one of his most favorite things in the world had lost its appeal in the last two weeks, and given that he’d gotten out right before Thanksgiving, his life had turned into a long boring game of pushing food around the plate and trying to convince people he was stuffed.
He wasn’t stuffed. He didn’t want to be stuffed. He was afraid. There was a feeling in the hospital, of the entire concrete building pressing against his chest, of being trapped underneath it and not being able to breathe. He was afraid if he ate too much, he’d feel like that.
He’d eaten while he was there and enjoyed it. But food or no food, that oppression would squash him against the bed, so he might as well eat.
But out of the hospital…
It was irrational.
Jackson knew it.
He didn’t want to tell anybody.
Ellery and his entire family were rational as fuck. It was almost creepy. Ellery’s sister Rebekah was there, along with her husband Ira and their two adorable, terrifyingly well-behaved children. They sat at the breakfast table and weighed the pros and cons of going out to play in the cold, or staying inside and getting a beneficial amount of exercise from the video game their grandmother provided, or, possibly, having an obliging adult drive them to the mall so they could all the corridors of the mall which, they’d estimated, were a full mile, if walked front to back, twice.
And those were the children.
Ellery’s mother and father actually discussed the sodium content of turkey and the amount of water that was necessary to preclude any bloating in the extremities after that much salt.
Jackson couldn’t face them. He told Ellery he’d meet him downstairs, put on his sweats, and found the sitting room, which was sort of out of the way. Jackson found the remote and would have clicked for a game, figuring nobody in this household would actually watch football, but it was too early. He found the parade instead, mildly surprised that he was watching it in real time. He was there, ducking his head below the back of the couch, when Ellery’s father found him.
Mr. Cramer (Jackson wasn’t sure what his first name was. Everybody but Jackson called him “Dad” or “Daddy”,) was a lanky man with thinking gray hair wet combed back from a widow’s peak. He had a knife-blade nose much like his son’s, and lower cheekbones, with a firm chin and sort of an average jawline. He didn’t look like a Marine or a scientist or someone who led armies.
He looked like a lawyer–which he was–and a father. The father thing seemed to be his favorite.
“Oh! The parade! How wonderful!”
Jackson gave him a sideways look and nodded. “I enjoy it,” he said quietly. He and Jade and Kaden used to wake up early on Thanksgiving to see it. Jackson kept memories like that to himself, though. He wasn’t sure how much Ellery’s parents and family knew about him. He was used to wearing his past on his sleeve, proudly, almost offensively so.
But these were Ellery’s parents. He couldn’t offend them. He was terrified of that happening.
“Well excellent. I’ll be right back then.”
Mr. Cramer disappeared, and Jackson let himself be absorbed back into the couch.
* * *
“Well?” Ellery demanded when his father came into the kitchen.
“Let me bring out some food,” Sid Cramer said patiently. “We’ll just sit and eat together. No pressure.”
“Can the kids come and watch the parade?” Rebekah asked, looking at her perfect children to make sure that was all right. Both kids nodded back soberly, and Ellery grimaced at his dad.
Jackson had put on a good face about the kids, but Ellery could tell–sometimes he’d open his mouth to be real, to finally say something not excruciatingly nice and terrifyingly polite in front of Ellery’s family, and one of the kids would come in. Jackson’s eyes would get big and he’d clamp his mouth shut.
It was silly–Jackson had a niece and nephew back home. Diamond and River, Kaden and Rhonda’s children, bless them. Ellery had seen him–not a week ago!–playing, razzing, wrestling with River, telling Diamond firmly that nobody had better try to kiss her without her permission. He was great with kids.
But Rebekah’s kids seemed to scare him shitless.
Sid looked at them assessingly. “Hm… one at a time, I think. Sarah, you come in about five minutes after I set up. Simon, wait here for another five minutes. Come in, sit quietly at my feet, don’t say anything. We’re going to let him pretend we’re alone.”
“Can we eat?” Simon asked practically. “I know dinner is at four, but I’m starving!”
“Of course we can eat!” Sid ruffled Simon’s curls–much like Ellery’s, before Ellery had learned the trick of straightening his hair and gelling it back.
“But he never eats!” Simon hissed. “It’s rude to eat in front of a guest who’s not eating!”
Ellery sighed. “Well, we won’t get him to eat if we don’t eat, so I need you to be rude while he’s here, is that okay?”
“What’s wrong with him?” Sarah asked bluntly, grabbing a pita square from the basket Sid was making. “He looks like he’s afraid we’re going to bite.”
Ellery grunted. “He’s had sort of a bad–” month, year, lifetime “–time. He’s was sick in the hospital and it wasn’t easy on him.”
“Should we bring him flowers?” Rebekah’s daughter had wide, limpid brown eyes, and Ellery had a hard time looking at her and telling her no to anything. But Jackson, hardened PI and tomcat, was not really the flower loving–
“I think that would be a lovely idea!” Sid said happily. “You think of the best ways to cheer people up!”
Ellery did a slow pan. “Dad?”
“So how is this for a plan. I take the snacks out for the table, Simon comes out five minutes later, and Sarah goes out to the side of the house and cuts the last few mums to put in water for Jackson. Is that a deal!”
“But wait!” Simon wailed. “What can I give Jackson! I want him to like me too!”
Ellery sighed. “He likes you very much,” he said, pretty sure it was true. Jackson was usually great with kids. Kids, small animals, women with a pulse, gay men with eyes–Jackson was sweet to those people. Cops, doctors, bosses, bullies, authority figures of any kind, and lawyers with sticks up their asses not so much.
Ellery fit into a strange gray area– he should have been Jackson’s least favorite life form, but somehow he’d become one of the few creatures Jackson cared about unequivocally. Which possibly explained why poor Jackson was so freaked out about Ellery’s family.
“You will sit on his lap,” Sid decided. “You will give him a reason to stay in the same room. How’s that?”
“That’s a good job, zayde,” Simon approved, and Ellery’s father took the tray of pita bread, hummus, and vegetables that he’d been saving for h’ors d’oevres that afternoon into the living room at nine-thirty in the morning.
Ellery watched him go and fought the urge to call after him, “What do I do, Dad? C’mon, I want a job!” He hadn’t realized that taming his feral boyfriend had become a family enterprise.
Sarah said, “I’m going to go get flowers. Make sure Simon doesn’t go early,” and then she disappeared out the back entrance to behind the house before Ellery could so much as remind her to wear her scarf and gloves.
“Is it time yet?” Simon asked, like he was a spy about to run the op.
“No,” Ellery said, trying not to be short with his nephew. “Just wait a minute, okay?”
“What are we waiting for?” Ellery’s mother asked, walking into the kitchen cradling an empty coffee mug. “And where did the tray of appetizers go?” Unlike the other times when Jackson had seen her, Taylor Cramer’s holiday attire consisted of soft cream colored leggings and long cream colored tunic sweaters that hung gracefully past her hips. For Jackson, seeing her in her casual clothes must have been like seeing his cat shave itself while dancing to pop hits. Ellery totally understood why the poor man had been dodging out of rooms the minute she’d entered for the past two days.
“Isn’t it exciting, Nonni?” Simon asked, looking at his grandmother with wide eyes. “We’re trying to get Ellery’s boyfriend to stay in the room and eat!”
Ellery grimaced and Simon tugged his sleeve. “Now?”
“Yeah. Sure. Go ahead.”
His mother cocked her head while venturing to the coffee maker. “Is this what we’re doing?” Taylor asked, pouring her generously sized mug and adding sugar.
Rebekah looked over the windowsill to outside. “Well, it’s why Sarah is on the side of the house, butchering the last of the mums.”
Crap. “It was all Dad’s idea,” Ellery mumbled, cheerfully consigning his father to the bus. “Now hush, or he’ll think we’re talking about him.”
“Ellery!” Sarah called breathlessly, running back into the kitchen. She had a passable handful of bright purple mums in her hand, that she shoved into his grasp. “You have to prepare them. I can’t just give them to him–they need rinsing, and wrapping and–“
“Yeah, yeah,” Ellery mumbled, his heart beating every second of Jackson’s exile in the TV room as slow as it could. He rinsed of the flowers, recut the stems, and put them in one of his mother’s plainer ceramic vases. “Here, Sarah. Go in, set this on the end table by Jackson, and then sit between him and grandpa.”
“This is more thoroughly planned than my dinner,” Taylor mused. “Is Jackson just sitting there, waiting to be smothered in your relatives, or did you drug him and he’ll wake up later?”
“He’s watching the parade,” Ellery told her shortly. “And after that, I’m pretty sure there’s a football game. We’re anesthetizing him with pop culture and children, do you mind?”
Taylor lifted an elegant eyebrow. “I don’t mind in the least. Whose idea was it?”
“Dad’s,” Ellery mumbled, and Rebekah — who looked most like their father, with a sweet round face and little point chin laughed quietly.
“Of course it was. Dad can charm anybody. Are the flowers done yet, Ellery? We need Sarah to go play her part before Jackson skitters off like a stray cat.”
Ellery put the vase firmly in Sarah’s hands and shooed her off. “You say that like it’s not a possibility, Bek.”
Rebekah snorted. “That man is devoted to you. I saw the way he looked at you last night at dinner. You were talking about some case he’d solved with a couple of good questions somewhere and he just… his mouth dropped open. It was like you were standing at the portal of heaven and gesturing him in.”
Ellery shuddered. “Sure,” he mumbled. His mother knew the story, but he wasn’t sure how much she’d told the rest of the family. “He was probably wishing for death.”
Bek laughed and Taylor said kindly, “Or he could just love you, and be feeling vulnerable right now, Ellery. Don’t be dramatic.”
Ellery grunted and looked at the clock. “So, how long do we have before I go in?” he murmured.
“Now is good,” Rebekah said softly. “You shouldn’t be timed, Ellery.”
“Go,” Taylor told him. “Rebekah and I will bring more food in a little while.”
“But won’t he spoils his dinner?” Bek asked, and it was all Ellery could do not to hiss, “suck up!” in her general direction.
“Mmm…” Taylor shook her head. “Let us see. We may have to… change our idea of what dinner should be,” she said. “Let’s just see how things feel, shall we?”
Ellery raised his eyebrows. “See how things feel?”
HIs mother, the woman who had planned his and Bek’s every last moment as children had just announced that during a major holiday–one, for which, he knew for a fact, his father had been cooking for two days–would now be served according to how “things feel”.
He was almost afraid to go take his place next to Jackson.
But only almost. His palms actually itched with the need to go sit at his feet, wrap his hand around Jackson’s calf reassuringly.
He cast a look over his shoulder at his mother and grimly hoped she knew what they were doing.
* * *
Ellery came in and sat on the ground in front of the couch, leaning his head against Jackson’s knee, and Jackson was so comfortable he managed to bury his hands in Ellery’s non-moussed hair and stroke his head once or twice before just resting it on his shoulder. The little boy, Simon sat on his lap, head back against his shoulder, snoring softly. He’d just clambered up there before Jackson could complain, and Jackson wondered if the late night card games he’d hear the boy having with his sister had finally caught up with him.
The girl had walked in on the other side of the couch.
“Here, Jackson. I brought you flowers. Is that okay?”
And seriously– what kind of asshole scared a little girl about bringing in flowers, right?
She’d set the flowers down on the end table and then scooted to the middle of the couch, between Jackson and Ellery’s father. Sid Cramer had wrapped an arm around her shoulders and was pointing out the giant Snoopy balloon going down 5th Avenue.
So there Jackson was, surrounded by the sweetest people with big brown eyes, just like Ellery and nothing to do but watch the parade– what was he supposed to do?
“Here, Jackson–I’ll take him.”
The parade was almost over and Ellery’s sister–who looked spookily like their old man– pulled the little boy off his lap–and then sat down in the space between Jackson and her daughter, Simon curled upon her arms.
He tapped Ellery on the shoulder. “It’s a good thing I don’t have to pee,” he mumbled.
“Do you?” Ellery asked, all solicitousness.
“No. But I’m sort of all squished in if I did.”
Ellery shrugged. “I could move and let you out.”
“I’ll let you know.”
So peaceful, there, in the press of bodies, the quiet conversation between the adults and the children. The parade ended, Jackson got up to go to the bathroom, and when he got back, there was a cup of coffee and a tray of food by the flowers on the end table. Rebekah had laid Simon in the adjoining love seat, and he was awake now, playing quietly on a tablet, while his father drank coffee next to him. Somebody–Ellery’s father?–had pulled up the pregame coverage for the Niners game.
Lucy Satan, Ellery’s mother, was nowhere to be seen.
Ellery had pulled up to the coffee table and was munching on his own plate of appetizers. He looked at Jackson incuriously as Jackson sat down.
“The game’s going to start,” he said softly. “Want some rolls or oatmeal or something?”
Jackson shook his head and grabbed the plate next to him. “Won’t I wreck my appetite?” he asked.
“Frittata and fruit, Jackson. It’s hardly a chocolate covered lead pipe.”
Jackson grunted and started eating, lulled into submission by the peace in the room.
* * *
Ellery very carefully didn’t watch him eat. When Ellery himself was done with pita bread and hummus in front of him, he crawled into Simon’s vacant position on the couch and leaned his head against Jackson’s arm, pretending to watch the game, and he stayed there until Jackson closed his eyes in sleep.
His father got up quietly, holding his fingers to his lips, and his mother sat down the same way.
“Asleep?” she asked, voice low.
“He ate,” she said.
“Should we bring Thanksgiving in here for him?”
Ellery looked at her, curious and aghast. “You’d do that for him?”
She looked back, biting her lip in an uncharacteristic display of vulnerability. “That young man would die for you.”
Ellery shuddered. He almost had. Twice. “Yeah.”
“Small rituals are a small price to pay,” she concluded. “Your father started the preparations already. Let us know.”
She got up, leaving Ellery leaning on his sleeping boyfriend.
Jackson didn’t eat enough. He hardly slept. Ellery thought it would take a miracle to get him to do either thing without an excess of nagging.
Not a miracle. Just the combined force of his incredibly reasonable family.
Ellery listened to Jackson’s breathing and wondered if his father’s Thanksgiving dinner tasted more or less wonderful when it was eaten on the couch, next to Jackson. He just might have to find out.