It was ten past six by the time Seth got home. The Bell Town neighborhood was in the heart of downtown Seattle, which was in the midst of that ethereal transitional period when the business traffic went home but the nightlife had yet to begin. Fog descended over nearly deserted streets, making what was normally a vibrant, frenetic part of the city feel homey.
He took the elevator to the fifth floor but stood in front of his apartment door for a long minute, key in hand, dreading entering.
It wasn't that he didn't like his apartment. He loved their home. And he loved Lars.
But he didn't love the idea of sharing their eight hundred square feet with Christian and Anne Marie Varga.
He hadn't even met Lars's parents, he reminded himself. Maybe they were charming people.
Charming people who, in the last three years, had changed the subject every time Lars mentioned Seth or anything to do with their life together. People who never mentioned their son's orientation to friends or family. They hadn't shut him out completely. But it hadn't been a very warm reception either.
Of course, Seth's own family's reaction had been a tinge frosty at the beginning, but within a few months they had rallied, even going so far as to join their local chapter of PFLAG and donate to the It Gets Better campaign. Seth was proud of his family's tolerance and distrustful of the Vargas's silence.
But he wasn't going to improve relations by hanging out in the hallway, so he pushed his key into the lock. Lars loved his family for better or worse, so Seth was going to have to make the best of it.
As he walked through the door, the smell of sauteing garlic and ginger filled the air. Elmore James played on the stereo.
He rounded the corner to the central kitchen. Lars stirred the contents of a pot, his normally pale face rosy from the heat of the stove and the half-empty bottle of wine on the counter. He wore a long-sleeved, dark blue T-shirt that was lightly dusted with flour from cooking, and a pair of dark blue jeans. His blond hair was slightly darker in the winter than in the summer when it bleached yellow, but it still brought out the brilliant blue in his eyes.
Lars smiled widely. "Hey baby," he said quietly. He nodded over to the living room.
Seth sighed and dropped his backpack in the hall, then made his way through to the living room. The view of Elliott Bay was obscured in twilight, but the lights of the city twinkled through windows steamed with heat from the kitchen, making the place feel exceptionally warm and intimate.
Then he turned to greet the stonily immobile couple sitting together on the red sofa in complete silence, and all the warmth of the room froze.
Seth stepped forward, offering his hand. "Mr. and Mrs. Varga, I'm Seth Bellski."
Mr. Varga shook Seth's hand but said nothing. He was an older version of Lars, still attractive in his seventies with a full head of silver hair and a lean figure. He wore a black turtleneck and charcoal slacks, and his leather belt and shoes were polished to a gleam.
Lars's mother, Anne Marie, gave Seth a little nod and smile, standing partially, before sitting back down without touching his hand. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer several years before and, despite being in remission, her health was still fragile, and it showed. She was bony, her long brown and gray hair brittle looking, and her skin pale. But she was dressed tastefully, and Seth could tell she had once been beautiful. Her eyes were as blue as Lars's. "Hello," she offered. She sat back and stared along with her husband.
Seth cleared his throat and sat across from them in one of two lounge chairs. He still wore his suit, although he'd removed his tie.
"How was your flight from Oakland?" Seth asked.
"All right," Mrs. Varga said.
"Not bad," Mr. Varga added.
Seth nodded vigorously. "Great! Have you been to Seattle before?"
Seth waited a moment. They offered no response. "What sights did you see last time?"
The looked at each other. "I don't remember everything," Mrs. Varga said.
"Some trees," Mr. Varga said.
"Did you go to Pike Place Market?"
Mrs. Varga shook her head.
"Oh, we'll definitely have to go there," Seth said. "And the Space Needle, of course."
Seth cleared his throat. "Do you want anything to drink? We have wine, seltzer, beer, juice, or I can make you gin and tonics...?"
"We're fine," Mrs. Varga said.
"No, thank you," said Lars's father.
"You sure? Or I can get Lars to make egg nog for you. His version is strong enough to make you think you're still flying."
They didn't laugh. "No, thank you," Mr. Varga said.
"No, thank you," Mrs. Varga repeated.
Seth gave them an opportunity to talk, which stretched into one of the most awkward extended periods of silence he'd ever experienced.
"Okaaay!" Seth clapped his hands together. "I should see if Lars needs any help..."
He jumped from the seat and dashed round the corner.
Lars had tears in his eyes.
Seth almost panicked, but then he noticed Lars was also cutting onions.
"Bread is supposed to stop the tears," Seth offered in a low voice. "But I don't know what to do about your parents."
"Bread works with them too." Lars shifted over a plate of sliced fresh bread and a bowl of oil and balsamic vinegar. "Want some wine?"
"Oh God, yes please." Seth leaned against the doorway while Lars deftly reached a long arm up and over the fridge to grab a wineglass. "Maybe I should go change."
Lars looked Seth over as he poured the wine. He didn't say anything, but his eyes glinted in that way that Seth recognized as arousal.
"You look fucking hot in a three-piece suit."
Seth winced. "Your parents might hear that," he whispered.
"I'm being quiet," Lars whispered back. He moved closer, running his hand over Seth's crotch as he passed the glass of wine. "You should wear it more often."
"I'll wear it to bed. How about that?"
"Until then, however, I think I'm going to change," Seth said.
"Go for it."
"Your parents won't mind, will they?"
Lars raised an eyebrow, hand resting on Seth's belt. "Do you think we eat in suits? What vision of my family life do you have?"
"Hell if I know." Seth lowered his voice even further. "They aren't talking."
"They're like that."
"Are they shy or annoyed?"
"Maybe a little of both."
"Well, what am I supposed to say?"
"I don't know." Lars sighed and turned back to his chopping board. "Tell them about your day. Tell them about that cat we saved last week. My mother loves cats."
"Cats. Right. Okay." Seth dashed down the hall to their bedroom to change.
It was another small room, made even smaller by the California king-size futon that dominated the space. It was the only bed long enough for a man of Lars's height, however, so they made do.
Seth changed into jeans, a white button-down shirt, and a brown sweater that Lars had given him last Christmas. He downed his glass of wine and got a refill before carrying the bread and oil out to the visiting statues.
They eyed him silently, expressionless.
"So Lars tells me you like cats," Seth said.
Mrs. Varga nodded.
"We were thinking of adopting this one cat," Seth told them. "She almost got hit by a car on First Avenue, but Lars jumped into traffic and saved her. I bundled her into a box, and we got her upstairs. We both adored her, but it turns out she belonged to someone in the building here and had accidentally escaped. Anyway, it made us think we wanted to adopt a cat."
"That's a nice idea."
Seth drank his wine. "You have pets?"
"Not anymore," Mrs. Varga said.
Mr. Varga glanced at his BlackBerry.
Holy shit, this was awful.
"So you're a lawyer as well, right?" Seth asked Lars's dad.
"Was. I'm retired now." He didn't bother looking up from his mobile phone.
"What kind of law did you practice?"
"Patent and trademark litigation."
"Aha." Seth swallowed. "I'm an attorney as well."
"Not a paralegal?"
Seth smiled tightly. At least they had paid attention to something Lars told them. "I was a paralegal back when Lars and I met. But I passed the bar in June."
"Well, congratulations." Mr. Varga gave him a bland look. "Welcome to the profession."
Seth swirled the contents of his glass. Big Bill Broonzy sang from the stereo, "I'm gonna lay my head on some sad railroad iron," and Seth really couldn't have agreed more.
How long was Lars going to be in the kitchen?
He hated it when Lars invited people for dinner but spent the entire night in the kitchen. That was the fate of any entertaining chef, and Seth was beginning to understand why Lars wanted to knock a hole between the kitchen and living room so he could see what was going on and interact while cooking.
But until they broke their lease and punched a hole in the wall, or until Seth learned to cook more than sandwiches, the brunt of socialization fell to him.
"You don't have a Christmas tree?" Mrs. Varga asked, her first question of the night.
"Nah. I'm Jewish, you know."
"Oh." That was a startled, disparaging oh as compared to the other noncommittal, neutral ohs he'd received so far.
"I told Lars he could put one up if he wanted, but he said it wasn't worth the trouble."
Lars's mother openly scowled at that.
"I do like Christmas lights, though," he added. "I put up the white lights around the office window. If they keep you up, you can just unplug them."
No comment. Seth felt like tugging his tie again, but he no longer had one. He was only conversationally strangled.
His cell phone rang, and he ran to it as if it were a buoy and he were drowning at sea. At last! Someone who might speak! he thought, but then he saw it was his mother and he almost didn't answer.
But after such a dramatic fetching of the phone, he could hardly ignore it. Besides, he had set Barbara Streisand's "Cry Me a River" as his mother's ringtone, and the song was clearly causing Mr. Varga stress.
"Mom!" Seth said quickly. He smiled and waved at the icy Vargas and turned down the hall and back into the bedroom. "What's wrong?"
"Does something have to be wrong? I can't call my son on the first night of Hanukkah and wish him a happy holiday without there being some sort of trouble?"
"Not when we spoke less than an hour ago and I told you I had a house full of guests."
Seth could hear an argument in the background, no doubt between his father and Aaron, Seth's brother-in-law.
"I just wanted to make sure you had enough to eat. I can drop off some leftovers. I made enough food for you and Lars, you know. I didn't know you wouldn't be coming over."
"I know, Ma, you told me." Seth rolled his eyes. "Look, give them to Aaron. He needs to fatten up."
His mother laughed at that. Aaron was overweight. "That's not nice, honey. How are the Vargas?"
Seth shut his bedroom door. "Cold."
"Cold? They're from California, you idiot. Turn on the heat!"
"No, I mean icy," Seth clarified. "Unfriendly."
"What, they don't like you or something?"
"I don't think they want to be here."
His mother made a tsking sound. "Well then let them eat out somewhere and come over with Lars."
"I can't do that," Seth said.
"Mom! How would you feel if you flew in to visit me and I left you to eat dinner with someone else?"
"That's exactly what you are doing!" she cried.
"No it isn't!"
"Look, you promised you'd be here--"
"Mother." Seth breathed through his nose. "Lars and I will be there tomorrow. I swear. We'll light the second candle with you. I'll even make Lars cook latkes."
He knew that would work. Ever since Lars learned how to make latkes at Seth's aunt and uncle's B&B in Whistler, they'd become a Bellski family favorite.
"Really?" his mother whispered.
"All right. Well, turn up the heat. Don't let them catch a cold. And tell Lars's parents that they're invited as well. We'd love to meet them."
Seth nearly choked in horror. "Okay, Mom."
"I love you, sweetie."
"Love you, Mom."
Seth hung up the phone and clenched it in his fist. He popped open the door and saw Mr. and Mrs. Varga hadn't moved an inch. They halfheartedly dipped their bread, limply shaking off the excess like sad seagulls in an oil disaster.
Seth returned to the living room and tried a few more attempts at conversation, but when Mr. Varga gave up all pretense and started texting in the middle of one of Seth's stories, he abandoned conversation entirely and just turned on the television instead. They sat watching the evening news in morose silence.
"Hey, Mom. I used Grandma's spaetzle recipe." Lars beamed as he came around the corner. Golden light from the kitchen set off his hair, and he looked like an angel. Seth realized he was doing this because he loved Lars. He had to endure. "You'll have to tell me if I got it right."
"Need any help?" Seth asked. Please, fuck, let me help.
"No, all good. We're ready to eat. Table's set."
"Thank God," Seth mumbled. Mrs. Varga scowled.
"Follow me!" Seth cried. Not like they needed directions to the dining room. It was attached to the living room and was separated by paint color alone.
The four crowded around Seth and Lars's small folding dining table. The tablecloth, napkins, and the white porcelain plates were all new, which meant that Lars had been shopping that afternoon. It was a sweet gesture, but it also unnerved Seth. He couldn't imagine feeling the need to run out and buy new dishes to entertain his family.
Lars's long legs crashed into his father's under the table, so he turned himself to the side, letting them stretch into the hall. This made him turn his back to Seth, which Seth felt was unnecessary.
The food was, of course, fantastic. It was the one arena in which Lars never let Seth down. At first he'd assumed Lars was incapable of culinary mistakes. Then he realized Lars erred often, especially with new recipes, but had the cooking genius to recover from each mistake and disguise it as all part of the plan.
It had become a game to Seth whenever Lars presented a new dish. What went wrong here? He would guess because one would never know by presentation or flavor alone. The dinner this evening was a celebration of Mrs. Varga's German roots, and there were a lot of carbohydrates going on, but the combination of seasonings and proportion of sauces still managed to convey a lightness often lacking in Teutonic victuals.
"The sauerkraut?" Seth whispered.
Lars turned and smirked. "No."
Mrs. Varga frowned, not following the in-joke, but Lars promptly distracted her by asking after a family friend. He was more successful in getting his mother to converse, but his father ate without contributing more than an occasional grumbled negative.
"Todd Rasek has started a new restaurant outside San Rafael," Mrs. Varga said.
"Rated B by the health department," Lars's father contributed.
"His wife just gave birth to fraternal twins, a boy and a girl," Mrs. Varga commented.
"Twice the cost," Mr. Varga lovingly added.
"The spaetzle's butter and sage sauce?" Seth asked under his breath.
"Wrong." Lars served his father more potatoes.
"Have any clients at your new business?" his father asked, tucking into his second helping.
Lars nodded. He was drinking more wine than usual, Seth noticed, but he couldn't blame him. "At the moment I can't turn down clients while I'm trying to rebuild my base, so I'm taking on two new cases this week, one contract settlement, which should be pretty cut-and-dried, and a client I'm taking on for a friend's legal firm."
"You should never have dissolved Finch and Varga," his father mumbled. "Ten years of building a business, only to start from scratch again."
Lars glanced at Seth briefly. "I'm not starting from scratch. Several clients transferred over with me. Besides, I have more freedom to take on a variety of cases this way."
Mr. Varga snorted derisively. Seth felt his blood begin to boil and looked at the remains of his plate so his anger didn't show.
"Who are you taking a client for?" Seth asked.
"Eric Klenger. Remember him? His firm doesn't do family law but one of his primary clients needs help."
"You don't do family law either," Seth pointed out.
"Not anymore, but I used to, before Adam and I specialized in corporate." Lars wiped his mouth. "I have more experience than Eric, at least, and his client is very specific about who he trusts."
Seth just shook his head. Even as an attorney, Seth realized he'd never be one of those people who couldn't switch off the job. He liked working forty hours a week. He liked not working. He had hobbies and truly enjoyed napping.
But Lars was one of those people who had to always be doing something. He ran religiously every morning, cooked every evening, worked out, practiced law, took wine-tasting classes, and when he wasn't doing any of that, he was watching movies with Seth or going out to restaurants. He stayed constantly active, whereas Seth preferred going home in the evenings and calling it quits with a good book.
Their domestic discussion was clearly alienating the Vargas, who looked away from the table as if what they saw disgusted them. Mr. Varga pushed his plate away and scowled at the perfect view.
Lars served dessert, some delicate gingerbread fantasy that had Seth baffled and caused the cold indifference in his mother's eyes to soften slightly.
"Oh! You made Mama's lebkuchen!"
Lars nodded, giving Seth an extra piece.
"Lebkuchen?" Seth whispered.
"Bingo," Lars whispered under his breath. "Completely fucked up."
Seth, Lars, and Mrs. Varga ate the cookies enthusiastically, but Lars's father tossed his back as if in a hurry and stood.
"Where are we sleeping? It's been a long day."
Lars went very still. He only did that when insulted or hurt, and rage filled Seth. It was one thing for the Vargas to be rude to him, since he was a stranger and they most likely saw him only as the man sodomizing their oldest son. But Lars was their child. How could they treat him with disregard?
Lars recovered quickly and gestured to their small office, off the dining room. "It's got a futon bed that we've folded out. Make yourself at home."
Mr. and Mrs. Varga unpacked while Seth helped Lars do the dishes.
"You already have too many cases right now," Seth commented as he handed dishes to Lars for the dishwasher. "You're too busy."
"Nah, being busy is good." Lars gave him a toothy grin. "We need the money."
"We don't need it so much that you drive yourself to an early grave."
"I like being busy."
"I know." Seth turned off the faucet. "But maybe you'd have more time so we could take that Spanish class like we've talked about."
Lars nodded. "Es la verdad." He started the dishwasher.
Seth heard the Vargas emerge from their room and decided he'd had enough with pretending to be charming for the day. He retired to the bedroom he and Lars shared.
He must have fallen asleep somewhere in the middle doldrums of his mystery novel because he startled awake at the touch of a cold hand on his thigh.
He jerked into consciousness.
"Shh, sorry, baby," Lars whispered. His lips pressed a small kiss against Seth's ear.
"Why are your hands so cold?" Seth complained.
"They aren't. You're just broiling underneath this comforter. How can you sleep under so much weight?"
"I'm used to you passing out on top of me."
Lars chuckled. He climbed on top of Seth's body, illustrating Seth's point. He was colder than Seth, but the weight felt good, especially as he settled between Seth's legs. Lars kissed him, and he tasted like red wine and pepper. Seth curled his hand in Lars's hair and held him in place, enjoying a long, lazy kiss.
"Doesn't it freak you out to screw in the room next to your parents?" Seth asked, voice barely a whisper.
"No, it feels like I'm back in high school. Just keep it quiet." Lars pulled Seth's boxers off. Seth lifted his hips to accommodate and pulled off his old T-shirt. As soon as he was naked, Lars slid his hands up the insides of Seth's thighs, bringing them together to grasp his hardening cock and palm his balls.
"Nice balls today," Lars whispered. "Low and droopy, just how I like 'em."
Seth laughed quietly. Lars dipped down and sucked Seth's balls into his mouth, and Seth arched his back, throwing his arm over his mouth to stifle any noise. Lars gave him a sloppy, wet blowjob that was so slowly paced Seth thought he'd go mad. He pumped his hips to speed the rhythm, but Lars maintained his idle approach, nuzzling Seth's balls and licking the skin of his perineum as if he had all the time in the world.
Seth reached down to stroke his own cock, but Lars gently pushed his hands away. He slid back up Seth's body to whisper against Seth's mouth. "Don't. I want you to fuck me with that."
"You want to fuck? Really?" Seth wasn't opposed by any stretch of the imagination, but he himself couldn't picture enjoying intercourse with his parents a wall away.
"Yeah." Lars had a weird look. "When I'm taking my parents around the city tomorrow, I want to feel where you penetrated me."
Seth ran his fingers over Lars's sharp cheekbone. "Anything you wish."
Lars reached over to the bedside table and pulled the lube from the drawer. As he did, Seth had a glimpse of his sculpted, muscular ass, and the pendulous hang of his testicles between his legs. He couldn't help but reach out and caress the soft, hot skin of them in the palm of his hand. Lars froze. Seth's hand crept forward, navigating the length of Lars's long, thick cock by feel.
Lars turned around and smiled so sweetly Seth felt his heart clench tight, a spasm of love.
But then Lars shoved the tube of lubricant into Seth's hands and that pretty much changed the tone of the moment.
Seth squirted some onto his fingers and worked it over his cock. They'd gotten tested years ago, and no longer needed condoms, and Seth reveled in the freedom every time he did this, stroking his sensitive skin, just the smell of the lube creating Pavlovian anticipation for what came next.
Lars leaned back against the sheets and used a pillow to prop up his hips. He shamelessly spread his long legs, all white expanses of skin and blond hair and hard need. Seth knelt between his legs, pushing them up so Lars's knees framed his face. He spread open Lars's ass and paused, admiring the view. "I want a picture of this."
"I'll frame one and give it to you for Christmas," Lars whispered. "I'll wrap it and you can open it in front of my mother."