The Theory of the Moment
This short story originally appeared on The Subclub Books blog, a fantastic online book blog all kinksters and their sympathizers should frequent.
The Theory of the Moment
By Tiffany Reisz
story takes place the day after Michael’s collaring at the end of THE ANGEL
Melissa hadn’t even set foot in the restaurant yet and she already regretted this idea. It had seemed the right thing to do at the time, the motherly thing to do. But now as she walked into Benno’s, a restaurant so fancy it didn’t even have its name on the outside, she felt foolish and out of place. Less mother on a mission and more lunatic on a rampage. But she had to do this—for Michael’s sake if not hers.
A waiter in all black greeted her with a smile but with some suspicion in his eyes. Could he tell her dress and shoes were borrowed? Even the necklace was a loaner from a friend whose husband made ten times what she did. If the waiter could tell, it didn’t seem to matter much as he ushered her to the back of the restaurant and to a table where a man already sat perusing a menu.
“Oh hey,” Griffin said, standing up. He waved the waiter off as he pulled out her chair for her. “Glad you found the place.”
“I would have never found it. The driver did.” She sat down and pulled the chair up to the table. “Thank you for sending the car, by the way. You didn’t have to do that. This lunch was my idea.”
“Yeah, but the restaurant was mine. I’m kind of in love with this guy, and I’m trying to impress his mom by bringing her here. Do you think it’ll work?”
Melissa smiled at him.
“Fancy restaurants aren’t really what works on worried mothers.”
“Damn. I should have stuck with plan A—McDonald’s.”
“I could have at least worn comfortable shoes there.”
“Me too,” Griffin said, wincing. Even wincing he was still remarkably handsome in a somewhat unconventional way. Longish and spikey dark hair, a good tan, a wicked smile. Erin would faint the minute she saw him. Unfortunately it wasn’t her daughter this handsome older man was dating. “These shoes are killing me. Would they kick me out if I took them off?”
“You’d look a little strange in that suit with no shoes on.”
“The suit’s weird too. I think the last time I wore a suit was to a funeral. Or was it a wedding?” He paused and rubbed his chin. “No, it was a funeral. I wore the kilt to the last wedding I went to.”
“You wore a kilt to a wedding?”
“I did. Suddenly I was getting invited to a lot of weddings. Even people I barely know. Anyway, shitty shoes or not, you look really nice.”
“Thank you, Griffin. I feel a little out of place.”
“Don’t. You belong here as much as anyone else. The food is great. I always bring my mom here when we’re both in town. Thought you’d like it.”
“They serve mom food here then?”
“Moms get their own menu.” He winked over the top of his menu.
The water came by for a drink order. Griffin said he would stick to mineral water.
“Only water?” she asked after the waiter had gone. “I’m Catholic, you know. Mostly non-practicing these days, but you can drink around me.” She wanted to see the real Griffin, not a part he played to impress her.
He shook his head.
“I don’t drink. But you can. Seriously, I hear they’ve got a good wine menu.”
“No alcohol at all?”
“Nope. I had a problem back when I was in college. Partied a bit too hard. I don’t do that stuff anymore—any of it.”
“I don’t know if I’m comforted by that or scared.”
Griffin scratched behind his ear and looked appropriately sheepish.
“It’s okay to be freaked out. I would be too in your situation.”
“And what is my situation?” She put the menu down, food the last thing on her mind.
“You’re a single mom with two kids, right?”
“You have a daughter living in California, yes?”
“Yes. She went to college there, decided to stay there after she graduated.”
“She got away.”
Melissa swallowed and nodded.
“She got away. Ran away. Escaped really.”
“Can you blame her?” Griffin asked, searching her face.
“No…I did at first. I was angry that she left. I felt abandoned in the house. My husband, ex-husband,” she corrected, “wanted a son more than anything. He got a daughter and then proceeded to act like she didn’t exist.”
“It gets better. When he got a son eight years later, he was obsessed with him. Father-son everything all the time. Little League, soccer, weekend fishing trips…’Go take Erin and go shopping, Honey. Mikey and I are spending the weekend doing guy stuff.’ Didn’t even once ask if I might want to go with them, or Erin. We were shut out. And then…Michael turned twelve and all hell broke loose.”
“The perfect son went weird on Dad?”
“Beyond weird. Something just happened. I don’t know what but it was like Michael woke up and decided he had to be someone completely different. He grew his hair out to his shoulders, started staying in his room all the time…he’d always been quiet but suddenly he completely stopped talking. Whole days would pass without us hearing a peep out of him. He quit Little League, quit soccer, the boy scouts. He started skate-boarding everywhere. And he started reading—not normal kids books. Adult books. Books that scared me when I found them in his room. I lost my son overnight.”
“That’s the thing though—you didn’t lose your son. Your son finally showed up.”
“What do you mean?”
Griffin sat back in the chair. A waiter stopped by and they put in their orders. Melissa was shocked Griffin ordered a salad.
“I’m a health nut,” Griffin explained. He must have seen the surprise on her face. “I spent age 16 through 22 trying to kill myself slowly. I have a few years of damage to undo.”
“It’s fine. Just…my husband never ate salads. Called them rabbit food. Real men eat meat.”
“I’m secure in my manhood enough to eat a salad. Your ex-husband’s not even secure enough in his manhood to have a son with long hair.”
The waiter returned with drinks and Griffin stared at her over his water glass.
“I’m not ignoring your question,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out how to answer it in a way that wouldn’t make Mick puke if he overheard us talking. I think the last thing Mick wants is for me and his mom to talk about his sex life.”
Melissa raised her hand and closed her eyes.
“Talking about my son’s…sex life,” she forced the words out, “is the very last thing I ever wanted to do either. I’m still trying to recover from some of things I heard in the kitchen…”
“Yeah, the 69-in joke was probably too much.”
“They don’t actually make brain bleach, do they?”
“If they did, my parents would own stock in the company. I get your point. No sex talk. Euphemisms will be our friends. Let’s not use words like gay or straight or bi or kinky or anything like that for a minute. Let’s just say Mick is an alien. He’s from…pick a planet.”
“Saturn—safe choice. This conversation was going to get awkward fast had you picked Uranus.”
Melissa laughed behind her hand. She’d come to interrogate Griffin. She didn’t need to be laughing at his jokes. He wasn’t completely in the clear yet.
“Venus didn’t seem safe either.”
“Great point. Okay, Saturn then. Mick was born on Saturn. He’s an alien. Somehow he made it to earth and ended up your kid. What he did was spend the first twelve years of his life trying to assimilate, trying to fit in with all these weirdo earthlings around him that he didn’t even begin to understand. He tried to learn the language, tried to breathe the air. By the time he’d spent twelve years on this planet, he was suffocating.”
“Suffocating. So he starts to revert back to what he really is—this alien from Saturn. Wonder what they’d be called. Saturner? Saturonians? Saturpudlians? Nevermind. The point is that when he became this thing you didn’t recognize, that was when he started to become himself again.”
“He did seem alien to me then.”
“Because he was alien. At least in that house.”
“I did everything I could to help him,” she said trying to keep the anger from her voice.
“I know you did. Mick told me. He told me you tried taking him to therapy, talking to him…he said you read at least a million books on the psychology of children and teenagers.”
“I’m a nurse. We see someone hurting, we do what ever we can to make him or her better.”
“But Michael wasn’t sick. That’s the thing. You were treating him like he was actually sick instead of what he really was.”
“And what was he?” she demanded, curious what this rich boy who’d known her son three months thought he knew about her child.
“He was homesick. That’s all. When Mick tried to kill himself, he didn’t want to die. He’d spent fourteen years of his life breathing the wrong atmosphere. When he slit his wrists, he was just trying to go back home, back to where he could breathe again.”
“He told you all this?”
“Believe it or not, your son and I do more talking than anything else.”
“That is hard to believe. He’s not a talker.”
“He talks to me.”
“Why?” She sat her fork down in frustration. “Why you and not me? I begged him to talk to me for years and got nowhere.”
“That’s a pretty easy answer. He talks to me and not you because I speak his language. You don’t.”
“I guess you’re from Saturn too?”
“Nope. Born and bred on earth. But…even though I’m an earthling, I never felt quite comfortable here. Something was off with me, something wasn’t right. I drank too much, did a lot of stuff I shouldn’t have done. Anything to drown that feeling that I was supposed to go somewhere, do something….I just didn’t know what or where. It was like a splinter I couldn’t dig out. Then…”
“Then when I was about twenty-two, someone from Saturn found me and said I needed to come visit. I went to the planet and decided to adopt it as my home. I’ve been living there ever since. That’s why I can talk to Mick and you can’t.”
“So…do I want to know what Saturn is like?”
Griffin twirled a fork between his fingers.
“It’s a lot like France actually.”
Melissa laughed as she started to pick at her food.
“It really is. There are good people there. Complicated but good. A different kind of good than this world is used to. Mick’s one of the Saturnites, and they take good care of him there. Things that make him stick out like a sore thumb in this world? Totally normal there. But the most important thing—when he’s there, he can breathe.”
“I want my son to be able to breathe. I used to…” she paused as her voice caught in her throat. “After he tried to kill himself, listening to him breathe became an obsession of mine. You do it when you’re a new mother with a baby. Babies…they’re awful people. They’ll stop breathing on you every now and then just to make sure you’re paying attention. They go so quiet and still that your heart stops. And here I was with a fourteen-year-old with scars on his wrists and scars in his heart, and the only thing I could do was make sure he kept breathing.”
“He’s lucky to have you. You cared. You tried. You did everything you knew to do for him. There are kids out there who were just like Mick and their parents didn’t give a damn when their kids were suffocating. They let them suffer, let them die. You kept him alive long enough to find his way home again. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
“You’re very kind to say that, Griffin. I want you to know I don’t dislike you. In fact, I like you very much. I’m so grateful that you were able to get my ex-husband away from my son and out of our lives. I want to thank-”
“Don’t thank me. Seriously. I don’t want you to thank me. Listen…” Griffin started to take a bite of his salad but he seemed to rethink it. He put his fork down, pushed his food to the side. “You know Nora Sutherlin, right?”
Melissa nodded an affirmative. She hadn’t quite come to terms with her feelings about the enigmatic Nora Sutherlin and her place in her son’s life.
“I suppose Ms. Sutherlin is also…from Saturn?”
“Ms. Sutherlin happens to be the Queen of Saturn. We also have a King and a Pope.”
“Very. But we like that sort of thing. Well, about Queen Nora…she has this idea. She calls it ‘The Theory of the Moment.’ She believes that every person is born for one single moment in their lives, born for one purpose. Basically the whole world is a stage, we’re all actors, and each one of us has a part in this play. And they’re all important parts—even if it’s one line or a starring role. She says we all get a chance for our ‘Moment’ and that moment is the reason we’re born.”
Griffin stopped and took a sip of his water. He sat the glass down and took a quick breath.
“Slamming your asshole husband into the wall to keep Mick from hearing his father calling him a ‘fag’? That was my moment. I know it in my soul. I know it better than I know my own name. I was born for that moment in your kitchen two days ago when I paid off your ex and got him out of your life, out of Mick’s life. I’m sure that fucker called Mick a fag before. He might even try to do it again. But that day, Mick didn’t have to hear it and it didn’t have to hear it because of me. I made sure of it. I just thank God I didn’t miss my cue.”
Melissa picked up her napkin and wiped the tears off her face.
“But you’ve had your moment now. What’s left? What now?”
“Everything’s gravy at this point. I delivered my line in the divine comedy that is life on earth. So what now? I think I’ll just hang out with your son for the rest of my life and watch the rest of the show. We’re both about half-gay…well, he’s probably about 70% at this point. We Nancy-boys love the theater.”
Melissa took a few cleansing breaths.
“Okay…” she said, nodding. “My son is gay. This is going to take a little getting used to. I can do it. I will do it. It’s just…give me a little time.”
“Look, gay and straight are just labels people use to make it easier to put human beings away in boxes. You don’t have to think of Michael as gay. He’s dating a guy. Who knows? He might end up with a girl someday. Probably not though. He finds some women attractive but because of what he is—a Saturner, I mean—a ‘normal’ relationship isn’t going to work for him. And you’re going to have to prepare yourself for that. He might get married to a girl someday. Probably not though. He might have kids someday. Probably not though. He might get a buzz cut and a job as a lumberjack or a stock broker.”
“Probably not though,” Melissa finished for him.
“You keep saying ‘he might do this, he might do that.’ All that stuff he might do…he would do it without you. Getting married, falling for a woman…”
Griffin pulled his plate back in front of him. If they didn’t stop talking, their food would get soggy. Didn’t matter really. Melissa cared much more about knowing who her son was than eating.
“I’m not an idiot,” Griffin said, wiping his mouth with the napkin. “He’s seventeen. I’m twenty-nine. On Saturn, big age difference relationships are pretty standard. Two guys, two women, poly-couples, open relationships, trios…we just do things a little different. But I know any couple faces the risk of a break-up.”
“I can testify to that.”
“Exactly. More relationships end than last forever. My father was married for fifteen years and had four kids, gets divorced and swears off women for the rest of his life. Then he meets my mom who was a nineteen-year-old Vogue cover model. Marries the model after knowing her one month, has me a year later. They’ve been together thirty years and are still happy, still in love, and it’s still gross to me. God damn, it should be illegal for parents to make-out in front of their children.”
“I can’t argue with your logic. My ex-husband and I are the same age, went to the same college, dated two years before getting married…we did everything right, everything the ‘normal’ way, and we see how well that turned out.”
“You got Mick out of that deal. You’ve got nothing to regret.”
“I try to tell myself that.”
“Listen to me, Melissa…is it, okay if I call you that?”
“Better than Mrs. Dimir.”
“Can I call you ‘Mom’?”
“Never in a million years.”
“Fair enough. Here’s the thing, Melissa…I don’t know for sure about this but there’s a damn good chance that this is your moment. There are kids out there just like your son who get destroyed by living on this planet. They can’t breathe the air around them so they find a way to leave this earth. Sometimes it’s drugs. Sometimes it’s booze. Sometimes it’s self-destructive promiscuity. Sometimes they cut out the middle man and blow their brains out on the kitchen floor. I know what I’m talking about. I had a gay friend in high school who came out to his parents. He tried to kill himself. He survived the first attempt. He didn’t survive the second.”
Melissa stared at Griffin unable to speak. She heard the warning in his words. As a nurse she knew the horrible truth that most people who attempt suicide and fail will keep trying until they succeed.
“Look…” Griffin reached across the table and took her hand in his. “You have the chance right now to accept your son. I’m not talking about ‘tolerating’ him. Tolerance is a slap in the face. You tolerate your noisy neighbors. You love your son You love him, you accept him, you cheer him on, and you don’t judge him for one second. You tell him God made him the way he is because that’s the part he’s meant to play. And when Mick’s onstage having his moment, you stand up and applaud. He loves me, he’s crazy about me. But that doesn’t change the fact you’re his mom. This is could be your moment.”
“You think it is?”
Griffin squeezed her fingers and let her hand go.
“Maybe. Maybe not. But if it is, trust me, you don’t want to miss it. Because if you hit it just right it feels like whole damn world is on its feet applauding you. And you get to keep that feeling for the rest of your life.”
“I won’t miss my cue, I promise.”
“I believe you.”
“But you have to promise me something too.”
“You can’t hurt my son. You can’t break his heart. You can’t break his spirit. I know I’m not a big part of the equation of his life anymore. It happened with Erin and now it’s happening with Michael. The first few years they can’t live without you. They hit sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, and suddenly they can’t live with you. That’s alright. Cycle of life and I know that. I also know if I told Michael he couldn’t see you anymore, he’d cut me out of the equation entirely. He starts college in a couple weeks and he’s on a full-ride scholarship. He doesn’t even need me to feed him or put a roof over his head anymore. But I don’t want to lose him. Two days ago when Michael hugged me and told me he missed me, that was the first time in five years I felt like I had my son back.”
“You’re not going to lose your son. You and I are Team Michael, okay? I know he’s not 100%. I knew he still has nightmares, still has bad days, still has flashbacks and fears. I know he was on meds for awhile and stopped taking them because of the side effects. The Prozac gave him insomnia. The Lexapro made a zombie. It makes me nervous that he’s off meds.”
“Glad I’m not the only one.”
“So I’m going to keep tabs on him. I have the world’s coolest therapist. He’s going to see her once a month just to be on the safe side. I’ve been clean and sober for over six years and I still go to see her. I got that part covered.”
“You go to a therapist?”
“Wasn’t my idea. My parents said ‘go to her or you’re cut off.’ They were right to make me go. She’s like a priest, you know. You can tell her anything and she just listens. Does it freak you out I have a therapist?”
“Sorry. My ex-husband…”
“Let me guess. Thought therapy was for girls and losers.”
“Those might have been his exact words.”
Griffin leaned forward and rested his arms on the table. Sitting like that, Griffin’s already broad shoulders looked even broader, his cocky smile even cockier, his large strong hands even larger.
“One question—do I look like a girl or a loser to you?”
For a single split second Melissa saw Griffin the way Michael did—strong, tough, sexy as Hell, and so completely comfortable with himself that every smile practically dared the world to have a problem with him. The world wisely kept its mouth shut.
“That would be a ‘no.’”
“So therapy, that’s great. What can I do?”
“Keep dad out of his life, out of his face.” Griffin leaned back again. “I don’t care if your ex-husband starts sniffing around again, apologizing, promising he’s changed. It’s bullshit and you know it.”
“Trust me, I know it.”
“You keep him out of Mick’s life entirely. If he gives you any trouble, any at all, you call me right away. Mick’s not eighteen yet and we’re having the biggest fucking party in the history of the world the day he turns eighteen just because it’ll mean dear old dad is, like you said, out of the equation forever. If he tries to get back in the equation, you call me, and I’ll call the lawyers.”
“I can do that,” she said, grateful to have a partner in this fight, someone on her side. Father Stearns had done everything he could for Michael but what would a celibate Catholic priest really know about a kid like her son with his sort of sexual proclivities? “What else?”
“Just love your son. Don’t freak out when he talks about me. I’m a fact of his life now. He and I will be spending a lot of time together, going on trips together…even if it bugs you, don’t let on. Just tell him to be safe and have a nice time. Make it safe for Mick to be himself around you.”
“Lot of time together…do I want to know how much time?”
“He’s going to stay with me on the weekends.”
“He could have gone off to college in California like your daughter,” Griffin said, giving her a stern look. “Could be a whole lot worse than Mick on the other side of the country. He’ll be in the city with me. And if you want to see him on the weekends, you can as long as Mick wants that. And I’m sure he does.”
“Really. I’m not stealing him from you. I’m inviting you into our life. And it is our life and you’ll be an honored guest in it if that’s what you want, if you can be the cool mom who is okay with her son having a boyfriend. If you can’t…”
Griffin’s voice trailed off and the threat hung in the air between them. If she couldn’t accept their relationship then she couldn’t see Michael. There it was laid out before her—the choice and the consequences. Michael belonged to Griffin now. She didn’t quite understand how or why but she knew it was true. So if she wanted to see her son, she went through Griffin. And that was that.
“I’ve never been the cool mom.”
“Never too late. Look at you. You’re a stone cold fox. You look younger than you are, you’re thin and pretty and single. I would totally fix you up with my half-brother Aiden in a heartbeat. He’s your age, rich, divorced, one kid about to start college too, super nice guy. He even puts up with me.”
“I think that could get…weird.”
“Weird is my middle name. That’s not true. It’s Randolfe. But I get it. Offer’s always on the table.”
“Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Griffin paid the check without even looking at the bill.
“Ready? Let’s get out of here,” he said as they got up and headed to the door.
“It was a lovely lunch. You didn’t have to buy. This was my idea.”
“I’m twelve years older than your son, and I’m a dude with tattoos and a history of drug addiction. This is only the first of many fancy ‘suck up to mom’ lunches.”
“That’s very sweet of you,” she said as they walked out onto the street. Griffin paused and they stood awkwardly looking at each other. She couldn’t blame her son for wanting to be around this man all the time, basking in his warmth, his light. She almost envied her son for having this guardian angel around. Angel… “By the way, the tattoos?”
Griffin winced. “Yeah?”
Griffin grinned broadly and for a moment his smile eclipsed the sun.
“See? Now that’s what the cool mom would say.”
“You’re a natural at this.”
A cab came by the curb and Griffin waved it off. He snapped his fingers and rocked back and forth on his heels.
“Something wrong, Griffin?”
“Still hungry. Why did I just order the salad?”
“You said you were a health nut.”
“Yeah, and I’m full of shit. Ice cream? That’s a health food, right?”
“If you get strawberry it counts as a serving of fruit. I’m a nurse. You can trust me. I’m a medical professional.”
“Melissa…” he said, linking her arm into his as they strode off toward Central Park. “I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.”