Steve didn’t know who was more exhausted, him or Jesse. His lover had been running around like mad, straightening their already tidy home in preparation for his paternal grandmother’s visit. Steve had tried to help, but had to step aside when he realized that he was in the way more than anything else. He’d gotten tired just watching Jesse, though, and worrying about the state of panic the woman’s visit had caused in the normally easy-going young man.
The house was momentarily silent, Jesse being occupied in taking a last minute shower before their guest arrived. Steve took a quick glance at the mirror and made a minor adjustment to his tie. He caught himself doing it and grinned.
“Now he’s got you fussing,” Steve said to his reflection.
A soft thump distracted him. Jesse was out of the shower and had walked into the doorframe, made clumsy by the fact that he was trying to tie his shoe and walk at the same time.
“Hey, slow down, babe,” Steve caught him before the nervous young man could bounce off the door and walk right into the back of the couch.
“Thanks, Steve,” Jesse smiled up at him and Steve felt his heart turn over at the concern in those blue eyes. “I’ve got the champagne chilling for the mimosas and the quiche is almost done.” Jesse’s attention was caught by something behind Steve. “Oh, man. Gotta fix that.”
And he was off again.
Jesse hurried over to the coffee table and fussed with a perfectly neat stack of magazines. Steve sighed. He didn’t care if Grandmother Travis was the nicest woman in the world or not, he was already looking forward to this brunch being over.
“Try to relax, Jess.” He advised the younger man. “This is your grandmother, not the Queen of England.”
“You don’t know Nana Travis,” Jesse shook his head. “Believe me, Queen Elizabeth is a pussycat next to her.”
Steve gave up on trying to get Jesse to settle down. He’d tried doing that earlier, asking for a hug and then just refusing to let go until Jesse at least caught his breath. His plan had backfired, though. Jesse had gotten even more agitated at the lost time and Steve had reluctantly let him slide out of his arms.
The doorbell rang and Jesse just about jumped out of his skin. Sheepish, he glanced at Steve under his eyelashes. “I guess she’s here.”
“I guess so,” Steve stopped Jesse as the shorter man scrambled to answer the door. As Jesse opened his mouth to protest, Steve kissed him until he felt Jesse’s body relax a little. Pulling back, he observed Jesse’s dazed expression smugly. “Just remember, Jess, she’s your grandmother.”
Jesse’s face was sad as he regarded his lover. “I know, Steve, but you just don’t understand. That’s part of the problem.” The doorbell rang again and he sighed. “I guess it’s time to face the music.”
Steve stood back and watched as Jesse opened the door to greet his grandmother. He didn’t know quite what he expected. Jesse was short and cute as a bug’s ear, but his father was more suave, not to mention taller. Having met Jesse’s mom too and not seeing much resemblance there either, Steve was thinking that maybe Jesse took after one of his grandparents. Remembering his own grandmother fondly, Steve was expecting someone of Jesse’s height and with his lover’s dancing blue eyes, maybe smelling faintly of freshly baked cookies.
He was wrong.
Nana Travis was tall and lean, with frosty white hair pulled back into a bun, not a strand of which dared to be out of place. She was wearing a perfectly tailored periwinkle-colored suit. As Steve got a closer look, he saw that the fabric matched her eyes, but instead of twinkling with humor, those eyes were cold.
“Hello, Nana,” Jesse greeted her. He leaned up to kiss her cheek, which the old woman allowed before dabbing at her face with a handkerchief. “Welcome to our home.”
“From the length of time it took you to answer the door, I expected it to be bigger,” Nana Travis sniffed as she came in. A younger woman, about Steve’s age, trailed in behind her. “You remember my assistant, Adeline.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jesse responded obediently. He smiled at his grandmother’s helper. “Hello again, Adeline.”
Steve could have sworn that he saw the other woman start to smile, then look almost fearfully at Jesse’s grandmother before the expression slipped from her face. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Dr. Travis.”
Nana Travis cleared her throat and looked pointedly at Steve. The detective stepped forward, doing his level best to keep his instant dislike of the woman from his face.
“Nana, this is Steve Sloane,” Jesse introduced him. Steve smiled openly at the obvious pride in Jesse’s voice. “My life partner.”
Steve wasn’t at all surprised to find that the woman’s hand, when he took it, was cold. “I’m honored to meet you Mrs. Travis,” Steve said as warmly as he could. “Jesse’s told me a lot about you.”
“He has, has he?” Was all she said.
There was an awkward silence and then Jesse gamely tried to move things along. “Would you like to see the rest of the house? Brunch will be ready in a little bit.”
The next few minutes were downright painful. The couple had bought the house together and it was clear for anyone to see how proud Jesse was of it. It was a beach house and, although it wasn’t as nice as the one Steve’s dad owned, it was all theirs. Steve thought they’d fixed it up pretty nice, but from her comments, apparently Nana Travis didn’t agree.
“I suppose with the real estate costs in California, this was the best you could afford,” she said when the tour was near completion. “I would have expected, Jesse, that you could have decorated with more sophistication. I thought you people were supposed to be good at that.”
“You people?” Steve repeated in a deceptively mild voice.
Nana Travis gestured vaguely. “Gays. Queers. Whatever it’s fashionable to call you nowadays. I was under the impression that skill at decorating was part of the package.”
Steve’s hands clenched and unclenched at his sides, but he didn’t say anything, mostly because Jesse looked like he wanted to sink through the floor and disappear.
“Nana,” Jesse said in a small voice. “Dad said that you were okay with my. . . lifestyle.”
“Aberrations occur in the best of families,” the old woman explained loftily. “At least it’s not as big a stigma anymore.” Unaware or uncaring of Steve’s growing ire, she blithely continued. “And if there’s a Travis that doesn’t reproduce, it might as well be you. You’ve always been so much shorter than your cousins.”
“That’s it,” Steve announced, walking over and grabbing the old woman by the arm. “You’re done.”
“Unhand me, young man,” Nana Travis exclaimed.
“Not until your bony butt is out of my house,” Steve growled, pulling her towards the door.
Adeline looked horrified as she moved to follow, but Jesse seemed torn between hurt and relief.
“Do you have any idea to whom you’re speaking to?” Jesse’s grandmother demanded in haughty voice.
Steve stopped just short of the front door and loomed over the old woman. “A friend of mine has a female pedigree poodle; she can trace its lineage back to the damn Stone Age.” He glared at Mrs. Travis. “Guess what? Pedigree or no pedigree, that dog is still a bitch and so are you.” He opened the front door. “Now get out.”
Nana Travis lingered to adjust her suit and then swept through the front door as though it was her idea to leave. “Come along, Adeline.” She didn’t spare so much as a glance at Jesse.
Adeline hurried to follow, but paused before leaving. “Jesse, I am so sorry,” she whispered hoarsely, apparently not being sorry enough to risk her job by the old woman hearing her. The mousy woman looked up at Steve and then suddenly stood on her tiptoes in order to kiss him on the cheek. “That was just wonderful, Mr. Sloane. God bless you.” Then she left.
The door shut with a resounding click in the suddenly quiet house. It occurred to Steve that he’d just thrown his lover’s grandmother out of their house without so much as asking for Jesse’s opinion. Suddenly apprehensive, Steve turned to look at the other man. Jesse was standing there, pale and looking shell-shocked.
“Jess. . . .”
“I-I need to get the quiche out of the oven,” Jesse stammered. “Before it burns the house down.” He whirled and fled to the kitchen.
“Damn,” Steve cursed under his breath. “Damn, damn, damn.”
He sighed heavily and rubbed his hands against his face. No one was cruel to Jesse Travis, no matter how old she was or how she was related to him. Steve didn’t regret defending the young man, only that it had been necessary in the first place.
Steve gave Jesse a few minutes to compose himself and then followed the younger man into the kitchen. Jesse was leaning against the sink, his back to the door. Steve walked up behind him and wrapped his arms around his lover’s shaking body.
“I’m sorry, babe,” Steve said softly. “I can see why you were so worried about her visiting.”
Jesse’s sigh was a bit moist-sounding. “I don’t know why I thought this time would be any different, even if I am a doctor now and own a house and have a great guy that loves me. I’ve never been good enough for her. Not smart enough, not attractive enough, not tall enough.”
“That’s her problem, not yours,” Steve reminded him. “You know that, don’t you?”
”I guess so,” Jesse replied, but his voice sounded far from sure.
Steve kissed the nape of Jesse’s neck, causing the other man to shiver. “Come with me.”
Jesse let himself be led back to the living room.
“Shoes,” Steve directed, getting rid of his own. Jesse followed suit.
“You are a doctor at one of the most respected hospitals in the state of California. There are dozens and dozens people alive today because you were in the ER when they were brought in,” Steve stated in a conversational tone as he removed Jesse’s suit jacket. “You have friends who love you dearly and would do anything for you. My dad considers you his second son.” He kissed Jesse gently as he removed the younger man’s tie and then made short work of his own jacket and tie. “And, last but not least, I love you.”
“That’s not least,” Jesse said softly. “That’s not least at all.”
Steve smiled. “Good.”
He took Jesse’s hand again and led him to the big easy chair in the corner. Buying it had been an indulgence, but one Steve was glad of now. He sat himself down in it and gently tugged the younger man until Jesse was curled up on top of him.
“If I’m so great, then why can’t my own family love me?” Jesse asked plaintively.
“I don’t know, Jess,” Steve answered. “Sometimes people just can’t appreciate what’s right there in front of them.”
He rubbed soothing circles on Jesse’s back, trying to offer the physical comfort that he just couldn’t seem to find the words to express. Steve didn’t get it himself, so it was impossible for him to explain. Jesse Travis was a great guy; smart, compassionate and funny. His family should be cherishing him, not brushing him aside.
With the possible exception of his sister, Carol, Steve had a great family. Some were more eccentric than others, but they were all decent people who cared for each other. In fact, until he’d met Jesse, Steve had never really appreciated just how lucky he’d been in his own family.
“I should have known when Dad told me that Nana was okay with me being gay that something was wrong,” Jesse admitted. He laid his head on Steve’s shoulder with a sigh. “It was too easy. I just don’t know how a man intelligent enough to be an international spy can read his own mother that badly.”
Dane Travis was not Steve’s favorite person. The man had all but abandoned Jesse when Jess was growing up and then when he’d come back into Jesse’s life, had put his son into almost immediate danger. After meeting the man’s mother, though, Steve’s estimation of him raised a notch. If he’d been raised by that cold bitch, it was a miracle that Dane Travis was able to have any sort of parental feelings.
“Well, she is his mother,” Steve admitted. “Maybe he just doesn’t want to see what an unpleasant woman she is.”
“Maybe,” Jesse responded. He snuggled closer into Steve. “I’m just glad you were here.”
Steve tightened his grip on the younger man. “Me too.”
They lapsed into a comfortable silence, which Jesse broke by chuckling.
“What?” Steve asked him.
When Jesse looked up at him, all the sadness was gone from his eyes. “You called my grandmother a bitch.”
Steve flushed, having been raised to respect his elders, but refused to apologize. “Well, she is.”
“I know, but I doubt that anyone ever called her one before. Not to her face.” Jesse’s grin got wider. “Did you see Adeline? I thought she was going to faint.”
“I hope that Nana Travis is paying her a lot, because she deserves it,” Steve muttered. “Working for that woman warrants hazard wages.”
“I’m just glad Mark wasn’t here,” Jesse sighed. “He’s been so good to me; it would have been embarrassing for my grandmother to act like that in front of him.”
Steve snorted. “Believe me, Jess, you shouldn’t be embarrassed by that woman’s behavior, she should.” He gave it a moment’s thought. “I think Dad would have kicked her out too. You’re part of our family now and us Sloans are awfully protective when it comes to family, especially you.”
“I noticed,” Jesse said happily. Then, he added in a softer voice, “And I like it.”
“Well, you’d be better get used to it,” Steve warned him. “I have no intention of stopping any time soon.”
“Good,” the younger man replied. “Now, what are we going to do with the rest of our day, since we don’t have to entertain Nana Travis?”
Steve got a firmer grip on his lover. “What’s wrong with staying right here?”
“Mmmm. . . I could learn to like that too,” Jesse replied in a voice laden in contentment. He wiggled even deeper into Steve’s arms. “Sounds like a plan to me.”
After kissing the top of Jesse’s head, Steve settled in for a nice, long snuggle. Family. You couldn’t choose your blood relatives and sometimes that was a damn shame. You could choose your real family, though, those individuals that touched your heart the most. Jesse’s last name wasn’t Sloan, but he was part of Steve’s family nonetheless and for that, Steve was profoundly grateful.
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