I promised y’all, right? Here’s the first road trip ficlet from Regret Me Not.
* * *
“Huh,” Hal said skeptically as he piloted his CR-V through the little suburban street.
“You sound disappointed.”
“And you sound tired,” Hal said, giving him a once-over at the light. The house was small and unassuming, and Hal wondered what he was doing here, when so much about himself was big and assuming a lot.
But Pierce’s family was here, and he loved them, and Hal loved Pierce, and family was always sort of a test, right?
Hal really wanted to pass this test.
They’d talked non-stop from Tampa to Orlando, making plans, tentative timetables, hotel arrangements. Pierce was pretty handy with his phone, and Hal was forced to remember he was a computer engineer with lots of business cred under his belt. He’d certainly organized their next month and a half to within an inch of its life.
But they’d agreed–they’d mapped out the trip, they knew how long they were staying at Sasha’s and about how long it would take them to get to Hal’s parents and even had reservations for a week in New York City.
Pierce wanted to see the statue and Hal wanted to see Hamilton and Pierce wasn’t sure he could get those tickets, but they had almost a month so he said he’d try.
Pierce, excited and planning their journey in the seat next to him wasn’t any less wonderful than he had been when he’d ventured up the stairs to knock on the door and ask Hal to come with him forever.
But now they were here, at an average sized suburban house, green, with a shady oak tree in the front yard and probably a pool in the back. Possibly an alligator in the pool–Hal had always hoped to see one.
But he was more excited about Pierce, green eyes fluttering closed, reddish-toned brown hair flat against his head as he fought off the effects of an eventful morning–and a really awesome night.
“Pierce? We’re here.”
Pierce sat up quickly and winced, then gave a self-conscious smile. “Here. Let’s get the presents out, and my overnight bag and one of your suitcases–“
“Here, Uncle Pierce,” Hal said with a wink. “Let me get the presents out and you can go say hi to that scary woman with the apron and the spoon.” Her hair was a mane of curls–thank you Florida because nobody was safe– and the spoon was covered in cookie dough, and Hal sort of loved her already.
“Sasha!” Pierce’s face lit up like Hal had seen when he’d been on the phone, and he had a moment’s wistfulness for siblings he’d never been granted. He got out creakily, and Hal had a moment of hesitation. Did he need help? Would he stumble? A month of watching Pierce rehabilitate himself from someone wiped out with an hour in the water to somebody who could make it through almost a whole day and much of the night, and Hal still had moments of panic:
This person spoke to Hal’s heart in a way no man ever had. God, let him be okay.
But Hal needn’t have worried.
Sasha was small but just as fine-boned as her tall, lanky brother. Pierce wrapped long arms around her shoulders and hugged her tight and she waved the spoon over her head so she didn’t get gunk on him.
“You made it! We started without you–I hope that’s okay!”
Pierce pulled back and smiled, part of his mouth twisting higher than the other as he bit his lip self-consciously. “Is that cookie dough? Cause if that’s cookie dough, I want that.”
Sasha had a gamine little smirk, the counterpart to her brother’s goofy grin. “It’s amazing,” she promised, and gave Pierce probably four-hundred calories of cookie dough in one swallow.
His eyes actually rolled back in his head, and Hal decided that yes, he’d be fine while Hal got the luggage.
“Wait!” Pierce said, disentangling himself. “Here–let me help. At least let me bear the gifts!”
Hal chuckled, and Pierce grinned and for a moment they were just them. “Yeah, yeah,” Pierce filled in, “since we know your gift is a bear…”
Hal let loose an actual laugh and met Sasha’s smiling face. “I can get it all,” he said, but Sasha shook her head.
“Nope. You’re a guest too.” She turned toward the still-open front door and cranked her voice up to Mom-volume with a single inhale. “Kids! Marshall! Come help get stuff! Pierce needs to go inside.”
Pierce grimaced. “I’m really much better–I swear, Sash, I didn’t just curl up and die there.”
“I can vouch for that.” Hal pulled the last of the bags, making a tidy little pile on the lawn. “Swimming, walks–the works. He was a good boy.”
“Well, he always was,” Sasha said softly. Behind them, a tiny herd of elephants clattered across the porch and down the stairs, and Hal lost Sasha and Pierce as a medium sized man and two smallish children came tumbling across the yard.
Fifteen minutes later the kids had carried the gifts and put them under the tree and Marshall had helped Hal with the bags to the tiny guest room with a queen-sized bed.
“You’ll both be staying here, right?” Marshall was a completely average caucasian man–brown hair, hazel eyes, skin that would tan with sunblock and burn without. But he didn’t bat an eyelash when he asked that question, and Hal was a fan.
“So, Sasha said a week, right? We’ve been looking forward to Pierce’s visit–I hope that’s okay.”
“Yeah–we’re moving on to my parents’ the day after New Years–we sort of put together a schedule.”
Marshall laughed and looked behind his shoulder, like he was imparting a secret. “Look, between you and me? Don’t let him get too hooked on his schedule, okay? This thing with you? That’s as spontaneous as I’ve ever seen Pierce. Keep it up!”
And Hal had a friend.
An hour later, Pierce and Sasha and Marshall were all talking in the kitchen about jobs and markets and things that made Hal’s eyes glaze over. He stole a couple of cookies and wandered into the front room where Darius and Abigail were playing with their own Legos and looking with awe and respect at the Lego tree Hal had made from random blocks.
“Did you make this?” Darius demanded. “I don’t see the schematics!”
“I made up the design myself,” Hal said smugly. “Want to do another one with me?” Because he still had Legos in HIS box.
“Yes!” It was unanimous, and an hour later Pierce wandered out of the kitchen, moving slowly. Hal turned and patted the couch cushion behind him.
“Here–sit down,” he said, trying not to fuss. Their whole relationship had been built on him cheerleading instead of fussing. But now there were people–kind, beautiful people, but other people–who didn’t seem to be cheerleading him in the right spots. He should have been urged to sit in the kitchen. Maybe a lie-down before all the socializing. They’d stopped to eat on the way, but all the sugar wasn’t good for–
“I’ve got some veggies and bean dip,” Pierce said softly. “There’s more in the kitchen, but you disappeared.” He held out the plate and Hal took it gratefully. Building Legos was hard work.
“Look, Uncle Pierce!” Darius cried. “Hal’s been teaching us how to make trees! Mine has pirate heads for decoration!”
Pierce snorted. “That’s amazing, D. I think you should show your mother that–she’ll be so excited!”
“Mine has shoes!” Abigail cried, not to be outdone. Hal beamed at her. She’d pulled out an entire box full of Barbie shoes and he’d helped her run sewing thread through them and put them up as tiny ornaments too.
“That’s truly amazing,” Pierce agreed. “Go show your mom, and then they said we could watch some TV.”
The kids got up and disappeared, and Pierce sighed and sank back into the couch. “Get up here with me,” he said softly.
“Why?” But Hal was already scooping the Legos into piles and putting them away.
“Because I miss you. I know we got all involved but I didn’t mean to drive you out of the kitchen.”
Hal finished scooping Legos and stood up, plate of bean dip in hand. In the other room he could hear the kids chattering excitedly and being rewarded with cookies.
HIs irritation disappeared and he sank gratefully into the couch with Pierce. “Your family is nice,” he said, but that seemed inadequate. The kids had been a charming disaster, squabbling, one-upping–but also playing. Helping. Darius had praised the shoe idea to the skies. Abigail had helped him decapitate fifteen Lego pirates.
“I wasn’t ready to leave our little bubble,” Pierce told him, leaning against his shoulder. “I had you to myself for a month. It was heavenly.”
It was…it was exactly how Hal felt.
“Your family loves you,” Hal said as graciously as he could, remembering Sasha and the cookie dough and Marshall telling him not to plan and the kids getting excited because Uncle Pierce presents were the best.
“You love me,” Pierce murmured. “That’s still magic you know. We just said those words this morning.”
And the disappointment at seeing the small suburban house faded away. The alienation of the grownup talk about jobs and income and taxes melted away. That feeling–that terrible feeling of being exiled from his lover’s side to the kids table–it was like it had never existed.
“And you love me,” Hal said, because he was right. The words were magic. And some magic spells had to be repeated before the magic became fully real.
“Course.” Pierce snuggled against him. “The Barbie shoes were classic, by the way.”
“All your niece.”
“Heh heh–all Sasha.”
But as Pierce’s breathing got even and he sank into a much needed nap, Hal had to wonder. For all Marshall’s warning, Hal had seen Pierce play, had seen him be spontaneous. Maybe the pirate heads and the Barbie shoes were a quiet gift from Pierce as well, just nobody saw it but Hal.
The thought gave Hal another layer of warmth for the man practically laying in his arms.
He melted into the couch a little more, finishing off the veggies and putting the plate on the end table so he could wrap an arm around Pierce’s shoulder.
By the time the kids came out, Pierce was asleep against his chest, and he didn’t stir when the kids turned on cartoon Christmas specials.
Hal was completely immersed in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas when Darius and Abigail crawled onto the couch too, Darius on one side of him, Abigail in his lap. For a moment, he sat, stunned, wondering why a child might possibly do such a thing.
But he remembered that Pierce loved these children, and they’d welcomed him when he’d been uncertain.
An hour later Sasha came out and had everybody wash up for dinner. The kids were put together a few hours later, with snacks and hugs and Pierce reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with just enough drama for Hal to wonder if he’d ever dreamed of being on stage.
And finally, they were alone together, in the tiny bed in the tiny guest room, listening to the unfamiliar noises in the unfamiliar room.
“What if we want to change the schedule?”
“You’re not going to ask how?”
“No.” He was still tired.
“You’re not curious?”
The chuckle in the dark reassured him. “I’m very curious,” Pierce said, propping himself up on his good arm and facing Hal. “I mean, the kids sat down with plain old Legos and came out with pop art masterpieces. What can you do with an Atlas and a cell phone. I wait in awe.”
Hal smirked. “But some of that was you!” he protested. “Those kids were bent long before I got here.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Pierce declared airily. “I never watched Coraline with them when their mother said no, and I certainly never played pirate execution last Easter when I was down here for a visit.”
Hal frowned then, because Pierce had still been married. “Did Cynthia let you do that?” Oh, Hal didn’t like his ex wife.
“No,” Pierce said, voice sober. “Because I asked her not to come.”
“Because, baby. This is my family. And I know they’re a little bit suburban and boring to you–but I don’t let anybody near them I don’t trust. And I was starting not to trust her by then.”
Oh! And this made it all worth it. “But you trust me?”
“Very much. You were…” Even in the dark, Hal could see Pierce’s face go soft. “Amazing. After you left, we must have paused half-a-dozen times, just to hear you play.”
Not exiled to the kids table. Not forgotten. Listened to. Appreciated. Trusted.
Hal had to swallow against the lump in his throat. He kissed Pierce instead, open mouthed, carnally, because it was Christmas Eve, dammit, and all he’d wanted for Christmas for his whole life was a Pierce.
They necked, kissing fiercely, until Pierce pulled away, grimacing. “Uh… Hal?”
“You don’t want to have sex in your sister’s house on Christmas Eve?”
“Do you mind?”
“No. But it might cut our stay short. Do you mind?”
Pierce’s teeth glinted in the dark. “Do I mind that you want sex with me? No. No I don’t mind that at all.”
“But it will kill your schedule.”
“I already said that’s okay.”
“But how will you know when to stick to the schedule and when not to?”
Pierce spread his hand on the base of Hal’s throat, almost a neanderthal move from a guy who’d been willing to follow. “You’re my star, Hal. I’ll follow you. I can’t go wrong that way, you think?”
“I’m your star?” Oh Jesus. His throat practically closed up.
“Yeah. My guiding star out of mediocrity and complete averageness.”
“So… your schedule, your phone–I’m more important?” As he’d never been to his parents. Either of them.
“Didn’t we cover this idea this morning?” Pierce asked, swallowing a yawn. “The whole I love you? Save me from myself? If myself isn’t on the track that gets sex with you, then by all means save me!”
Hal pushed gently at his shoulder. “Shift over,” he ordered. “So I can spoon you.” Because Hal was the bossiest and got to be big spoon.
“Fine.” Pierce yawned again. “Is this a magic Christmas spoon that’s as good as sex? Because you kissed me and got me all het up.”
“And you didn’t offer so much as a hand job, you prudish bastard.” Pierce rolled over and Hal wrapped his arm around his middle, squeezing tightly. “And it is a magic Christmas spoon that’s as good as sex, because you are a magic Christmas unicorn and just being with you is Christmas even when I’m exiled to the kiddie Lego room and you get to talk about death and taxes with the grownups.”
“You know, you left early. How do you know we didn’t start talking about cartoons and DisneyWorld?”
“Please. If you’d said one word about DisneyWorld, those two lovely angelic children would have been all over your ass with bribery and blackmail.”
Pierce chuckled softly. “Well, maybe we can come back sometime and take them.”
Hal kissed him between the shoulder blades and settled down to being sex-less but Pierce-ful for the next seven days. “I’ll do that,” he said, not because he couldn’t live without kids like Pierce apparently couldn’t, but because he was invited, and trusted and appreciated.
And because he was Pierce’s guiding star, and Pierce loved his family. Hal vowed never to steer him away from them, because this moment here was maybe the best Christmas he’d ever had.