Being on the third floor of a city apartment, his kitchen only caught short glimpses of natural light. The winter made that time even shorter, but he had every light on in the place anyway. To be festive for the party. Mason’s sister, Harper, insisted it wasn’t a real cookie exchange without Christmas decorations from top to bottom, and for whatever reason, he let her run away with it. Where she got enough of those trinkets to deck her halls and his, he’d never know. But if he even hinted at being curious, she wouldn’t hesitate to regale him.
Shaking his head, smirk or not, Mason took the frosted cookies from the tin on the counter to put in a bag for Harper. That was her taste, not his. Gifting more free sweets was the bare minimum he could do for her after she put all this together. Probably for nothing. Again.
“So,” the woman herself popped up in the doorway, jingle bell earrings signaling her approach. Even the bright green of her eyes played into the Christmas hostess getup she had and loved every second of. If her hair weren’t black, she had the holiday spirit to spray it red and green for the day. Harper practically trotted in to lean against the counter next to him, bright red lips curling into a grin. “How’s it going back here?”
“I can put cookies in a bag, I promise.”
“Mmhm.” That was already dangerous, and she was nudging him before he could avoid the subject. “And the other thing?”
There it was. He only sighed, planting his hands on either side of the judgmentally chipper cookies. Mason had never felt so personally attacked by a plastic bag of candy cane and Christmas tree cookies, although his big sister’s stare over cat-eye glasses she didn’t even need overpowered that in a second.
“Party’s almost over.”
“I can call Dad into the kitchen to say bye,” she offered, pointing behind her to the hall and the living room where his father waited with Aiyden, the last guests of the night. Not that Aiyden was a guest. “Then I’ll drive around the block and come back. You’d have your chance, and I’d be right back.”
“Don’t do that.”
“Listen, Mason,” she tried, resting a hand on his shoulder and tilting her head to catch his eye. He wasn’t ready for that yet either. “You promised Aiyden, and you owe it to yourself.”
He went back to moving the cookies he didn’t want into her bag to take home, and she must’ve taken that as all the answer she was going to get. She was right, of course.
“It’s gonna be alright, you know?”
Zipping up the bag, he set that aside and closed the box. He never should’ve agreed to luring their father here with a party, out of everything. None of the other diversions and plans and schemes she whipped up with Aiyden worked so far. Why would a Christmas cookie exchange be any different?
“You don’t know that.”
“No one does.” Not one to stay put for long, Harper started pacing across the room and back again. Generous by nature, she found a way to toss an impatient gesture or exasperated look his way anyway. “The only thing you know is the inside of that closet, and all I know is that gay men in history didn’t rally for their rights so you could—”
“What do you want? I’ll just say, ‘Hey, Dad, you like the shortbread cookies? My boyfriend made them!’ No.” He snatched up the box, shoving it in a cabinet with spices and coffee and pretending that was where it went. Better than cutting across Harper’s path to keep them with the other snacks. “No, I can’t do that.”
“You can, I know you can!”
“You, uh,” Dad broke up the fight, just being there, not in the living room watching whatever was on TV or chatting with Aiyden about history or philosophy. In his sweater vest and striped button-down, he looked like he should be on campus for the next lesson—and definitely not in that door, finding out his son was gay by random chance. Holding up his cookie tin with a forced smile, he at least stuck with what he came to the kitchen for. “Want some extra cookies?”
“Dad, I…” The only words in Mason’s heads were swears. Running both hands up his neck and over his face, he turned away from his father and fought every instinct to run out of his own door. This wasn’t the plan but bailing now wasn’t going to put those words back into his mouth. Soft jingles told him that Harper had taken a seat at the breakfast table in his kitchen, so at least there was that part of their idea for Mason telling Dad that any grandkids were up to Harper. Or adoption.
Mason lowered his hands and glanced over his shoulder, finding a fragile hope in his father’s eyes.
“The shortbread cookies. I liked them.” Drumming his fingers on the side of an obnoxiously patterned snowman box, Dad nodded after a few moments of silence. He tried to keep it casual when he put the cookie box down and rested a hand on the counter’s curved edge. Mason could make out his sister’s apologetic look and mouthed ‘sorry’ past him, and maybe after, he’d see what he had to say to that. Their father just stared out the window and got one of his famous lectures going.
“But you know, not everyone likes—all cookies. Some people, they just know their favorite type and stick with them. They don’t…” He frowned, rubbing his chin and starting again. “They don’t need to try anything else. And some people, they don’t like cookies at all. There’s cake. Pie. Ice cream, too,” he tacked on, still nodding like he’d made some critical discovery. When he finally looked at Mason and not out his window, that wide-eyed delicate quality was still there. He might have to get used to seeing that, like he was some kind of stranger who came and replaced his father’s son. The complicated analogy said acceptance but also desperation.
“Or maybe they don’t like sweets at all. It’s no one’s fault, and it’s not a bad thing, they’re different.” He glanced to Harper and back to Mason for whatever he saw when he looked at his kids now. “Everyone’s different.”
“Dad,” Mason asked. “What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to—I don’t know.”
Once the first jumbled laugh lit up Dad’s eyes, Mason wasn’t long after. Was laughing over an awkward analogy a good sign? Harper’s quick thumbs up in the background was completely unhelpful in sorting that out. She thought a lot of things were good that he thought were awful, like that time she convinced him soap beads were candies. Then again, it could’ve gone worse.
Coming out to Dad in an argument with Harper, not the soaps. He’d never let that one go.
“Thank you, Mason. For telling me. I know it had to be tough, and with your mother gone,” he trailed off in a sad smile to the ground like he usually did when she came up. Years didn’t take the sting away, even with both of them living nearby for company. He figured nothing ever would truly take that hurt away. “She was good at this sort of thing.”
With a start, he came back to them, all seriousness. “What do you need from me? Does anyone else in the family know?” Another quick look at Harper, complete with her little wave, connected the dots for Dad. “Besides your sister?”
“No. I wanted to tell you before them.” Mason answered, studying his father. All the no-reason family dinners, out-of-the-blue trips to parks or museums, and he never pictured the conversation going this way. Awkward, for sure, but not so accepting. His father was book smart, not perceptive, and this should have come to him as a complete surprise. “You’re taking this well.”
He bet against himself that the tight smile from Dad would be the most natural one of their discussion. “Was it too much?”
“No, no, it’s good,” he corrected, wondering how his father went there, of all places. “I’m just surprised.”
“I can’t say I always knew or anything like that, and maybe that makes me a bad parent. Let me finish,” he cut Mason off by holding his hand up and giving him a pointed stare that brought somber talking-tos to mind. “But I love you. You’re my kid. I want you to be happy, and fall in love, and do all the things any parent wants for their child.” Patting the cookie box for emphasis or just to move, which could explain a lot about Harper, his father got to the heart of what all this had really been about. “That’s enough for me.”