By Any Other Name by L.M. Brown
A male/male short story
Kim opened the closet and swore under his breath.
“What’s up?” Ashley asked from where he was clearing some space in the chest of drawers.
“This closet ain’t big enough for the both of us,” Kim quipped as he judged the pile of business suits on the bed and the tiny space he was supposed to be able to squeeze them into.
Ashley joined him at the closet and yanked out several hangers and tossed them aside. “We’ll manage.”
“It’s going to be a tight fit until we get the rest of the place fixed up.” The house they had bought together was a renovation project they had hoped to work on over at least six months before moving in together. Unfortunately, their plans had gone pear-shaped when the recession had hit and they had taken the decision to sell their individual flats and move into their dream home earlier than planned. The only problem was that most of the house was still uninhabitable, including the master bedroom.
Kim continued to put things away as he considered another closet they had issues with, this one the figurative kind.
“What have you told your parents?” Kim asked as they made up the bed they would be sharing.
“Just that I was moving into the house this weekend with a roommate.”
“A male roommate?”
Ashley looked away as he answered. “I told them your name when they asked.”
Kim snorted and shook his head. “And they assumed I’m a girl, right?”
Ashley looked sheepish for only a moment. “Have you forgotten the Christmas card your parents wrote last yet?” he asked. “It mentioned looking forward to meeting Ashleigh.”
Ashley sighed. That was the problem with having names that were used for both boys and girls, sometimes people mistook them for a member of the opposite sex. Of course, they only had themselves to blame for not correcting their respective parents in their assumptions.
“Maybe we should just invite both our parents to dinner on the same day and get it over with once and for all.”
Kim’s suggestion was certainly one to consider, and Ashley found himself reaching for his mobile phone before he could change his mind. At least if things went badly, they were both going to be in the same boat.
* * * *
Kim paced the hallway as he checked yet again for any sign of their parents arriving for Sunday dinner. Ashley had kicked him out of the kitchen an hour ago, telling him he was driving him up the wall and to get out from underfoot.
“It’ll be okay,” Ashley said from the kitchen doorway. “Even if they all hit the roof, it won’t make any difference to what we have together.”
Kim knew it was true, but he still couldn’t get rid of the sick feeling in his stomach at the idea of telling his parents he was living with another man.
Ashley tossed aside his ‘kiss the cook’ apron and approached Kim cautiously. “It won’t make a difference to me,” he said. “If my parents don’t like it, then it’s their loss, since they’ll never get to know how great a guy you are.”
Kim folded his arms across his chest. “Easy for you to say. You said yourself, you think your mum might suspect you’re gay anyway.”
“You don’t think maybe one or both of your parents isn’t already suspicious and wondering why you don’t bring a girl home?”
“They think you’re a girl, though. Just like your parents think I am. Maybe we should just phone them and cancel.”
“How about we pretend we’re not home? The house needs so much work, they might think the place is still empty.”
“We could send them a photo of us together and let them find out that way.”
“No!” Ashley laughed as he pulled Kim into his arms. “They’ll be here any minute and it’s long past time they knew about us.”
Kim rested his head on Ashley’s shoulder and sighed deeply. “I’m sorry. I’m just scared.”
“I know. But just remember we’re in this together, and even if all our parents disown us, we’ve still got each other.”
When the doorbell rang a few minutes later, Kim jumped back from Ashley with a panicked expression on his face. “Who do you think it is? Yours or mine?”
Ashley shrugged and walked towards the door. “Only one way to find out.”
Kim hopped from one foot to another as he contemplated bolting from the room and hiding under the bed like he used to do as a child when he knew he was in trouble. The only problem with that plan was his mother would no doubt find him in under five minutes.
“Bloody British Rail,” a male voice boomed from the doorstep. “Couldn’t run a piss up in a brewery!”
“Hi Dad,” Ashley said. “Was the journey that bad?”
Kim was still poised to flee when he realised his own parents were on the doorstep too.
“Oh don’t mind him,” Ashley’s mum said as they all crowded into the hallway. “The train was only fifteen minutes late.”
“Ours was more than thirty minutes later,” Kim’s dad chimed in. “Nearly missed the connection altogether.”
Kim ignored his father’s grumbling. His eyes locked on his mother, wondering what she would have to say about Ashley now she knew he was a man. His mother didn’t seem inclined to put him out of his misery any time soon. Instead, she seemed to be swapping recipes with Ashley’s mother, who likewise didn’t seem too bothered about the fact her son was living with another man, or maybe she just hadn’t seen him yet. He was practically hiding in the shadows after all. Maybe he should just let them carry on until the penny finally dropped.
“I’ll email you my recipe for lemon sponge cake as soon as we get home.”
“That’d be wonderful. I’ll have to see if I can find my mum’s old cookbook as well. She had some great recipes, more than even I’ve tried.”
“Then we had to wait nearly fifteen minutes for a taxi.”
“Good job we’d all met up on the train and decided to share one. Is there only one taxi driver in this town?”
“I don’t think he knew where he was going either.”
“My specialty is casserole. Ashley makes a pretty good one too.”
“Kim doesn’t really like to cook. Can’t get him in the kitchen at all.”
“Have you got that car running yet, or will we need to book a taxi back this evening?”
“We’ve only just got here, dear.”
“I’m just thinking ahead.”
“Well, don’t be rude. I’m sure we’ll manage to make it back to the station.”
“Not if we have to rely on the taxi driver that brought us here. We’ll probably end up in Birmingham.”
“Oh, don’t exaggerate.”
“Ashley, aren’t you going to take your dad’s coat?”
“How’s the renovation going on the place?”
“I think it’s starting to rain. You don’t have any washing out, do you?”
“Dinner smells delicious. What are we having?”
“Is everyone here blind?” Kim yelled when he didn’t think he could take another minute of the general chatter.
“Don’t you raise your voice to your mother,” his father scolded.
Kim took a deep breath as Ashley moved to his side. “Are you okay?” he murmured.
Kim shook his head and leaned back against the wall. “Did I just step into the twilight zone or something? Our parents are here and they’re talking about trains and taxies and cooking and the bloody weather. Does this seem like a normal reaction to you?”
Ashley didn’t have time to say anything before Kim’s father stepped forward.
“Son, we met up with Ashley’s folks on the train. They saw us running across the platform and got the conductor to hold the door for us. We decided to sit together for the journey and the four of us have spent the last hour talking about how proud we are of our boys, and how pleased we were about them settling down with a couple of nice girls. Only, the more we talked, the more obvious it became that my son’s girlfriend, Ashleigh, was in fact our rescuers’ son, Ashley. And their son, Ashley’s girlfriend, Kim, was you.”
Ashley’s mother nodded her agreement. “We all thought perhaps it was our fault for not realising our mistakes. Though, from your outburst, I suspect it wasn’t quite the case. Ashley?”
Ashley rubbed his reddening nose as he struggled to meet his mother’s gaze. “I knew you hadn’t realised Kim was a man. I should have told you. I’m sorry.”
Kim nodded at his own parents. “I’m sorry too. I know you thought Ashley was female, and I was too scared of your reaction to correct you.”
“Scared?” Kim’s mother shook her head. “Oh, Kim, surely you know we just want you to be happy.”
Kim looked over her shoulder for his father’s reaction. “Dad?”
“Listen to your mother,” his father ordered, which was apparently his last word on the matter.
Ashley’s own mother had wrapped her son in a hug while his father looked thoroughly embarrassed by the displays of affection.
“Are we going to be eating soon?” he asked. “Only, I seem to remember someone promising to feed us if we came all the way out here into the middle of nowhere to visit you two.”
Ashley laughed and let go of his mother to go and check on dinner. “Give me ten minutes.”
Kim directed their parents into the dining room with a sigh of relief. On reflection, he didn’t think coming out to their parents could have gone any better than it had. Of course, it did help that neither he, nor Ashley, had really had to say much at all. Their gossiping parents had done the work for them.
For the full weekly package of Silver Shorts (ten stories in total this week) please click here to visit the Silver Publishing site where you can download your free copy.
And don’t forget to check back in the coming weeks for more free read anthologies. I will not be contributing every week but there will be plenty of Silver authors who are.