Menu Close

Holden and Ethan

I was prepared for dinner to be excruciating, but the awkwardness of sitting across from a silent, tight-lipped William, while Jessica tried to pretend nothing was wrong and Ethan stewed and scowled next to me, surpassed all expectation.

“Would you like more sweet potatoes, Holden?” Jessica asked brightly, her forced cheer managing to make the awkwardness of the situation so much worse.

It was clearly too much for Ethan. His fork clattered loudly to his plate, making his mother jump. “Can we please stop pretending everything’s all right? Let’s just get it out already.”

I sighed. Leave it to Ethan to force the issue, but then that was one of the many things I loved about him.

William put his fork down less dramatically than his son and sat back stiffly in his chair. “All right,” he said pleasantly enough, though I heard the steel underneath. “What would you like to talk about, Ethan?”

Before Ethan could respond, I found myself saying, “First of all, I’d like to apologize.”

That got both their attention, and their eyes swiveled to me. William’s heavy with hurt and accusation, and Jessica’s unhappy and confused.

The fact was, I deserved their reprobation. I wasn’t going to run from it. Not even when Ethan said hotly, “You have nothing to apologize for.”

“I do,” I said quietly, putting my hand gently on Ethan’s leg. Somewhat to my surprise, he subsided, settling for crossing his arms defiantly across his chest as I met his parents’ eyes. “I’m not sorry for falling in love with your son, but I am sorry for not telling you about the relationship. It was irresponsible and potentially dangerous. I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to lodge a complaint.”

At falling in love, Ethan had gone unusually still next to me, and I squeezed his leg to reinforce the message. I’d told him I loved him, of course, but I had the feeling Ethan would need me to say it a few more times for him to believe it.

I had no trouble doing that. I’d shout it from the rooftops if he’d let me.

“I’m glad you understand the gravity of the situation,” William said in a clipped voice.

“Oh my God,” Ethan burst out. “I am not some Victorian daughter whose virtue has been sullied. And Holden’s not some dirty lech taking advantage. I took advantage of him. Because he’s hot and amazing and maybe because I fell in love with him too.”

My heart swelled and I looked at him, wondering if he really thought all those things about me. His face was red at the admission, but he met my eyes steadily.

Jessica leaned across the table to take her son’s hand. “Honey, no one’s disputing that.” Her eyes flicked to mine. “Thank you for the apology, Holden, but I think you’re being harder on yourself than necessary. You did your job impeccably, and for that we’re grateful. And now,” she said, throwing Ethan a warning glance, “I think we can move on. Would you like more sweet potatoes?”

I declined. By William’s silence, unlike his wife it was clear he didn’t think my apology was enough. I couldn’t exactly blame him.

We managed to get through the dinner with Ethan’s mom forcing the conversation and Ethan adding the occasional sarcastic comment. I answered her questions politely even as my stomach sank at William’s continued silence. It would kill Ethan to be estranged from his parents. Did I really want to be responsible for that?

No. This was something I was going to have to fix.

When William rose and began taking the dishes into the kitchen to wash up from dinner, I steeled myself for the reckoning and volunteered to help.

William stiffly accepted, then disappeared into the kitchen. Jessica threw me a dubious look but didn’t argue. Ethan grabbed my hand and said in a low voice, “You don’t have to kiss up to him. We don’t need his permission to be together.”

I wove my fingers through his and kissed him softly on the lips. “Of course we don’t. But let me handle this, all right?”

Ethan sighed, but he squeezed my hand and let me go.

In the kitchen, William didn’t say anything when I came up to him at the sink and stacked the plates I’d gathered next to the ones he was rinsing off before putting away in the dishwasher. I filled the other side of the sink and took pans from the stove and island and put them in to soak.

After a few minutes of tense silence, William said tersely, “I’m not going to file a complaint.”

I was relieved to hear it, of course, but that wasn’t why I was here. The last thing I wanted was to open up the rift again between Ethan and his father. Ethan had told me about William visiting him in the hospital, and that they were both trying. I refused to be the reason for Ethan pulling back from him again.

“Thank you,” I said. “I meant what I said. It was irresponsible of me not to tell you, and I am sorry.”

William put down the plate he was rinsing and stared out through the dark window over the sink. “You said you love him,” he said abruptly. “Is that true?”

I realized that William didn’t care about how my relationship with his son might have compromised my ability to do my job. He cared about Ethan. He didn’t want his son to be hurt.

“Yes,” I said plainly. “I do. I asked him to move in with me, and he said yes.”

William glanced at me sidelong. “That seems quick.”

I shrugged. “Not when you know. Ethan is it for me. I hope I am for him too. I’m in this for the long haul.”

Some of the tension left his shoulders. He picked up the plate again to rinse. “You know Ethan and I haven’t always had the easiest of relationships.”

I said, “My biggest regret was that my parents couldn’t accept me for who I am. I know that’s not the issue here, but I know what it means to be estranged from family. I don’t ever want Ethan to go through that.”

William nodded. He finished rinsing off the dish and put it in the dishwasher. “All I ever wanted was for my sons to be happy and to get what they wanted out of life. Ethan seems happy. Thank you for that.”

All the dishes put away, we wiped off the counter and rejoined Ethan and his mom in the living room.

It was a start. William and I probably wouldn’t be going out for beers later, but maybe someday we would. All I cared about was that I wasn’t a barrier to Ethan’s relationship with his family. Anything else was a bonus.

Dessert was subdued but a lot less awkward. Ethan kept throwing me inquiring looks as his mom carried the conversation, but it wasn’t until we were back in the SUV heading back to the cabin that he blurted out, “So what did he say?”

I shrugged and glanced over at him, wondering what I’d done to deserve him, prickly spikes and all. Because I knew exactly what those spikes covered up. Someone I loved more than life itself.

“He loves you. He wants you to be happy.”

Ethan snorted. “That’s it? He didn’t chew you out for despoiling his son?”

I laughed. “I think you secretly like being portrayed as the debauched Victorian maiden.”

To my surprise, Ethan laughed too. “Take me home now and I’ll let you debauch me in all kinds of ways.”

I grinned. Now that was an idea I could get behind.

I hadn’t missed that he’d called the cabin home, either. As I turned down the drive, I reflected it was the first time in a long while I’d thought of any place as home. It wasn’t just the cabin. It was being there with the man I loved.

“Good Christmas?” I asked, as I parked in front of the cabin and we got out of the car, heading to the front door.

He smiled at me and took my hand. “The best.”