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The Truth About Faking

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‘Hold on, you need me to do what now?’

Theo’s voice sounded amused on the other end of the line and Liam groaned, throwing his head back and tapping his fingers on the table. He should’ve known his roommate would react like this, knew he never should’ve asked him and just asked someone else instead, as Theo was a master in embarrassing him.

‘Don’t pretend you didn’t hear me,’ Liam shot back, as the embarrassment that Theo liked so much was definitely there now. ‘As the last single person in my family, I told them I met someone too so I wouldn’t get the pitying looks they give everyone who’s not in a relationship, and I need you to come to dinner with me.’ He flushed, coughing and straightening his back in the comfy chair that he had dived into out of self-pity after his untrue words. He wasn’t even sure whether his family believed him. ‘As my boyfriend.’

It remained silent on the other end of the line, Liam’s cheeks growing hotter by the seconds that passed, and just as he made move to hang up and throw his phone to the other side of the room, Theo cleared his throat and spoke up. ‘Sure.’

‘What?’ Liam’s head whipped up, and Theo chuckled, that rough, raspy sound that he was so used to. ‘I said sure. I’ll go to dinner with you. Unless you changed your mind.’

Well. That went easier than Liam expected it to. He sat up, letting his feet dangle over the arm rest. ‘I didn’t say I did,’ he replied, a wide smile growing on his face. ‘It’s on Saturday, 7 pm. Make sure you’re ready. And, eh, please put on a full outfit.’ Liam could only imagine the embarrassment Theo would bring to his family otherwise.

‘I don’t know what you mean,’ Theo shot back, his grin sounding through his voice, but Liam didn’t catch the second half of his sentence anymore. He had already hung up the phone.

*****

Saturday couldn’t come fast enough for Liam, as he thought the sooner dinner was over the better. He’d already dreaded this family get-together all week anyway, not looking forward to the questions his relatives would shoot in his direction about his private life at all. Admittedly, he could only hope Theo would be good and wouldn’t make a complete fool out of him, considering the way the boy had been teasing him for his little lie and nervousness for just as long, thinking that with that in mind he’d have been better off asking someone else to play his fake boyfriend. Though, deep down, Liam knew that his roommate was the best choice for the task. He and Theo had known each other for years now, had been friends for just as long as having been placed in a college dorm room together they’d clicked immediately, had a lot of fun together staying up late at night, even if that didn’t mean Theo was always easy to live with. His favorite things to do seemed to consist of leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor, eating Liam’s favorite breakfast food before he even woke up, and making an endless stream of jokes at Liam’s expense to tease him. Some nights he would even invite people over to stay the night without warning Liam about it, knowing that he was gonna be there and inevitably giving him a heart attack as he woke up and saw them there the next morning. Though lately, inexplicably, these occurrences had seemed to have become less and less frequent to Liam.

Liam couldn’t deny that these things were hard sometimes, seeing Theo having the time of his life was painful sometimes, as there was one thing Liam held hidden deep inside, a carefully kept secret he wouldn’t dare spill, out of fear of the consequences it would bring about.

It was the same thing that had him worried about this fake date thing, scared of letting the other boy too close and risking him finding out about his best kept secret. For three years since they’d lived together, ever since Theo had set foot in their dorm room for the first time, Liam hadn’t been able to deny his attraction. Since then, Theo’s other qualities had quickly become clear to Liam. Seeing how smart, funny and absolutely cool Theo was, sarcastic and always interpreting the school rules as literally as he could in increasingly creative ways, he hadn’t been able to stop himself from falling for the other boy. For three years after getting to know him Liam had managed to keep his feelings to himself, content with having Theo as just a friend if that was the way it was supposed to be, and if Theo were to find out now Liam thought the earth might as well swallow him whole. He wondered, for the hundredth time that week, if he had made the right decision with this course of action, his heart hammering in his chest and his hands stuffed in his pockets. What if he found it too nice, to have Theo this way? What if he realized how good it was and he didn’t want to see it end?

For the hundredth time he thought he should’ve asked someone else for the job, this time for a different reason than Theo’s inevitable, endless joking about his lie to his family, that he would never hear the end of.

Nervously, Liam tapped his foot on the doorstep, brushing over his clothes and pulling his shirt straight again for the umpteenth time to make sure he would make a good impression on his family, who he hadn’t seen in a few weeks already. Next to him, Theo shot him a skeptical look at his fidgeting, his eyebrows raised.

‘Stop,’ he started, the command sounding through his voice as he placed his hand on Liam’s arm.

Liam whipped his head up, surprise rushing through him, his cheeks heating up at the gesture. ‘It’s just your family, you can relax you know,’ Theo continued in a softer voice, a smile playing at his lips that had Liam breathe out softly as he relaxed his shoulders. ‘We’ll be fine.’

Liam nodded, taking in a deep breath in an attempt to calm a little. ‘I know,’ he sighed, as realistically he knew it was true, turning to Theo. ‘It’s more this that I’m worried about,’ he said, gesturing between them with his heart racing in his chest. What if they couldn’t keep this act up long enough for his family to fall for it, what if they didn’t believe them to be together? What if… What if Liam liked being with Theo this way so much that he wanted it to be real even more, and he would never want this to come to an end?

He sighed, pushing the unwelcome thought away as Theo interrupted his thoughts with a chuckle and turned towards him. ‘You sure have a way of making this sound worrisome,’ he said, his eyebrows raised. ‘Any family members you need to warn me about?’

At the question, Liam turned towards Theo, feeling a grin form on his face and the faint tension seeping from his shoulders, thankful for the change in subject. Theo sure had his way of making him relax when he was worrying, his own way. ‘Sure, let’s see,’ he grinned. ‘There’s my grandpa Bert, he’s very… Stern. But my grandma’s awesome, so it makes up for it. And… Oh, then there’s my aunt Nancy, she’s very religious and basically thinks there’s something evil about everything people our age do to enjoy themselves. She’s… Pretty stiff.’

He shuddered, and Theo frowned, biting his lip. ‘That’s, eh… Good to know.’

A snort spilled past Liam’s lips at his comment and he dropped his gaze, raising his eyebrows as it landed on the boy’s shirt. ‘Come on,’ he started, pulling at the collar of his flannel shirt until it had been straightened out. ‘You really are clueless when it comes to things like this, you know that? It’s truly something.’

Theo grinned brightly, his eyes twinkling. ‘Well thanks,’ he chuckled, his eyes meeting Liam’s as Liam pulled his hands back, dropping them at his sides. He swallowed, his nice sweater suddenly feeling real hot and his cheeks heating up, something in his stomach fluttering at the sight of the golden specks in the green of Theo’s eyes. The small smile that had tugged at Theo’s lips a moment ago, creating a small dimple in his left cheek, had disappeared, and looking at him Liam wondered if they always stood this close to each other. He could feel his heart beating out of his chest, eyes widening as Theo leaned closer to him. Was he for real? his mind raced. Was this really happening?

‘Uhm, should we… Should we go over the rules one more time?’ Theo asked, his voice a whisper as he stood close, carefully pulling back, the words taking their time to catch up with Liam’s hazy mind. His heart plummeted.

‘No kissing. Just act couple-y. And watch out for my aunt Nancy,’ he muttered, the words leaving a bitter taste on his tongue. He turned back towards the door, lips pressed in a thin line as he saw someone move in the hallway on the other side already. From the corner of his eye he could see Theo frown, nodding, but inside his chest, his heart throbbed. A lot of time to think over what went wrong, though, he didn’t have, and when his mom opened the door, ‘Liam!’ he plastered the biggest smile he could muster on his face.

*****

Liam glanced at Theo from across the table, something longing aching in his chest after the occurrence on the front porch, watching him sitting next to his giggling, slightly younger cousins Hannah and Avery and laughing along with them, simply including himself in their conversation as if he’d known them for years.

It didn’t come as a surprise to Liam, the other boy had always been able to fit in easily, his family being no different with how easy talking came to Theo, and it was still something to be amazed over, though each breath Liam drew added to the longing in his chest, triggering the memories of him doing the same with Theo. The image of the front porch flashing through his mind again.

Why couldn’t that just be enough, why wouldn’t Theo kiss him, what had he done wrong, how could he have dared to get his hopes up that much, that he almost missed his mom talking to him.

‘Liam?’

Startled, reluctantly, he tore his gaze away from Theo, whipping his head around to his mom and tuning back into the conversation happening at the table around him, telling himself to pay better attention this time around. ‘Sorry, what did you say?’ worrying that the twinkle in her eyes meant that she knew where his head had been.

Much to his relief, though, his mom just laughed, cutting off a piece of her food on her plate. ‘I said, if you and Theo…’ she repeated her question from earlier that he’d missed. ‘Have been together for long? I haven’t really heard you talk about dating someone before you announced that you were both coming here.’

Liam bit his lip, shifting in his seat as he could feel his heart speeding up in his chest, as this was what it was all about, making his family believe that this between him and Theo was real. He couldn’t deny that it made him a little nervous, both because of his own little discovery and his little lie, even though he’d told himself a hundred times that it would be alright throughout the past week leading up to this. To prepare for this, he and Theo had talked about this beforehand, getting their story straight, and catching Theo looking at him expectantly, Liam straightened his back in his seat, looking over at his mom confidently.

‘Almost a month, I think,’ he replied, like they’d agreed on, grateful that his voice came out normal and he appeared collected in front of Theo, not giving the boy the satisfaction of looking hurt after the porch incident. Had the thing on the front porch really made things that weird between them, the thought leaving a sting in his chest.

From the corner of his eye, he caught Theo’s gaze on him, the boy’s lips curled up ever so slightly into a smirk, and Liam’s cheeks burned, lowering his gaze fidgeting with his knife and fork on his plate.

‘Oh! Well, that’s great!’ his mom laughed, Liam’s head whipping over to her as she cut off a piece of her food. ‘It seems like a great opportunity that you brought him here for this, to meet us. So this could almost be an anniversary dinner for you guys!’ she chuckled, taking no notice in the weird atmosphere between them, the one Liam wished with all his might that would stop, and could go back to how it was before. It was his fault anyway, for actually believing he could have something like that, and making this task that much harder than it should’ve been as a result.

He coughed, shrugging as he met Theo’s gaze from across the table and turned away to look over at his mom. ‘Yeah, I guess so,’ he pressed out, managing a smile, as Theo spoke up: ‘I guess you could say that, Mrs. Dunbar,’ a small polite smile growing on his face, getting only a little bit wider as he noticed Liam’s eyes on him, his eyebrows raised at the boy’s tone.

‘Jenna, please,’ his mom replied warmly, and judging by the smile on her face in response, it was a good answer, and she liked him already. Liam couldn’t say that it came as a surprise to him, as Theo had never had any trouble with that sort of thing. Sighing softly, he leaned against the back of his chair, putting a bite of food in his mouth as the thought of how he should take that as a good thing for the sake of their cause swirled through his mind, even as he couldn’t bring himself to be completely happy about it.

Theo gave a nod, smiling, as he duck back into his meal, only interrupted and paused as he cut off a piece of his food, when Avery spoke up again next to him.

‘Liam’s never brought anyone home!’ she announced loudly, cheerfully, as she continued to talk to Theo excitedly, happy to meet a new guest who wasn’t a regular relative in their family dinners, and Liam froze at the words, as aunt Nancy tried to calm her down desperately, and avert the family’s attention away from them. ‘Ssh, honey…’ as she nodded at Avery’s plate, guiding her into finishing her food. ‘But I like that he does now!’ she called, grabbing hold of her knife and fork again.

Liam sat frozen, the words leaving him feeling exposed in front of the gazes of everyone at the table, an icy cold feeling in his chest, as this wasn’t really something he wanted to be brought up, and after that reveal, that surely must’ve made a strange impression of him on Theo, he thought he might as well fade into thin air. Sparing a glance in Theo’s reason, the boy chuckled, putting his knife and fork down, looking over at her at his side.

‘Is that so?’ he asked curiously, shooting a glance in Liam’s direction with amusement twinkling in his eyes, as Avery’s eyes shined happily at him for continuing the conversation, and once again, Liam regretted bringing Theo here for this, could basically see the silent question in his eyes; really? Never? and Liam felt his cheeks burn under Theo’s gaze. His family sure had a way of making jokes about each other, he was usually all too happy to participate in it, but he’d hoped to avoid just this. He guessed he should’ve known he wouldn’t be so lucky.

He bowed his head, pricking in his food pushing it around on his plate, just barely seeing the excited nod from Avery from the corner of his eye.

‘Well, you know,’ Theo’s voice sounded softer now, as he leaned closer to Avery. ‘Relationships are hard. Finding the right person to bring to family dinners isn’t easy.’

Liam glanced up at that, once again something longing burning in his chest as he saw how good Theo was with his cousin and how he fit in, just barely catching Theo’s gaze on him from across the table, a small smile playing at his lips, when his mom spoke up again, drawing Theo’s attention back to her.

‘So, Theo, what do you study?’ she asked.

‘Uh, marine biology, Mrs. Dun… Jenna,’ Theo looked up, his smile widening on his face, as Liam watched on, recognizing the sparkle in Theo’s eyes for what it was. Theo was smart, proud of the subject he was studying, and he loved to talk about it. His tone, though, came as a surprise to Liam, as it was meek, and not one he was used to from Theo. He guessed he should be appreciative that Theo tried to make his family like him, and that it was working for them, but this wasn’t how he knew the other boy. Theo was blunt, said what he thought, and was himself. If they don’t like me, then they don’t like me, that was what he always said.

Maybe if the circumstances were different, he’d appreciate his trying more… Though it was clear that his mom liked him already anyway, whether he was being blunt or not. Liam looked down at the thought, taking another bite of his food.

‘Oh, really, that sounds interesting,’ his mom continued. ‘What…?’ though her question was interrupted by his grandpa, as he spoke up along with her.

‘Marine biology? That sounds very specific. Do you think there’s a job for you in that industry?’

Liam glanced towards Theo, having warned him for the sternness of his grandpa. With a small smile playing at his lips, Theo looked towards him, waiting until he’d finished his bite before answering. ‘I think so,’ he replied confidently, and a breath escaped Liam, glad to see him back to being himself a little bit more again. ‘My grades are good and my uncle does the same thing, he’s offered to help me should I need it.’

‘Hmm,’ his grandpa hummed in response, an unhappy frown on his face as he cut off a piece of his steak. ‘You kids have it so easy nowadays. Don’t know what work is anymore,’ taking the bite off of his fork.

A bitter taste started in Liam’s mouth at the words, alarmed, and he shot Theo a look, wanting to see how he took the condescension. From the corner of his eye, he caught his grandma Elsie nudging her husband in his side, and Theo’s smile only wavered a moment before he recovered, letting out a breath.

‘Dad,’ his mom started, interrupting the moment of silence his comment had caused to hang over the table, expertly continuing the conversation. ‘Why shouldn’t Theo use the connections he already has? Isn’t that the smartest way to do things? I don’t see anything wrong with it.’

A breath escaped Liam, relieved at her words, and he watched Theo’s smile grow wider. From across the table he sent Theo a smile, a moment that happened between only them, and kicked his leg softly under the table.

Theo grinned, and something warm fluttered in Liam’s chest, a spark of hope and a wave of relief washed over him chasing away some of the aching that had seemed to settle there after the porch incident, and he hoped this meant they were closer to being okay again.

‘I never said he shouldn’t,’ his grandpa responded, looking up sternly. ‘But there’s nothing wrong with hard work to get to where you want to be.’

‘Right,’ his uncle Pete, complete with shaggy brown hair and leather jacket, spoke up on his grandpa’s other side with a chuckle, sending Liam and Theo a wide grin that had Liam brace himself. Whatever his uncle’s next words were gonna be, he knew they wouldn’t bring anymore peace to the conversation. They never did, after all.

‘Because you haven’t always taught us that hard work is the only way to get ahead in life, only for then to be revealed that you started your first job in your dad’s company.’

Something in Bert’s jaw twitched at the accusation and Liam bit his lip, waiting in silence along with his family members for a reaction, but nothing came. His grandpa dabbed his mouth with his napkin quietly, shooting his wife next to him a look as her eyes twinkled guiltily, and Liam bit his lip holding back a laugh.

Of course she was the one who revealed that, sometimes he took life too seriously, they all knew that, but at least his grandma made up for it, and knew how to handle it.

‘But,’ Pete continued, shaking a strand of hair out of his eyes. ‘You’re still young, you can worry about all of that later,’ and Liam rolled his eyes quietly, because here came the college tales again.

Sometimes he swore, uncle Pete was a guy who preferred to live in the past. ‘College is for fun, go to parties! That’s what I did when I was young.’ He grinned, looking up. ‘Just don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.’

Liam flushed at the words, and his mom coughed, checking again if anyone still wanted to eat something and putting down the empty pan again when the answer was no. ‘Right, well, that should give you some leeway,’ she commented, and uncle’s Pete grin turned even prouder.

A chuckle escaped Theo. ‘I’ll, eh, keep that in mind,’ he managed, and Pete looked pleased with the answer.

Quietly thinking to himself, Liam had to admit that he shared that sentiment. Looking at Theo from across the table, a small smile at his lips as his attention was caught by Avery again, and seeing how well he fit in and how well he learnt the right things to say to his family even after such a short time, Liam willed all his reasons to feel hurt to go away. If this was the only time he got to spend with Theo in this way, he wanted to enjoy it, not spend all of his family dinner sulking about something that might not work out at all. That was not how he wanted to remember it. He’d been fine with being just friends with Theo for so long, he could be again.

‘Ah well,’ his mom sighed next to him, turning to him with a twinkle in her eye, and Liam felt his smile fading faster than he could tell her to stop, as he saw the wistful look on her face. ‘Time flies though, it’s college already. I remember when you were still so young, and…’ Liam froze, his eyes widening and fear icily gripping around his heart, as he tried to plead with her not here, in front of everyone… In front of Theo. ‘And you kept blabbering on and on about Marie!’

Liam sat frozen, Marie’s name circling in his head on a loop, thinking back on his grandpa and Avery and uncle Pete and this coming on top of that, he wished he hadn’t seen the sparkle in Theo’s eyes in response to the comment, sensing another story he would eat up.

‘Marie was Liam’s best friend from childhood, she lived next door to us,’ his mom explained to Theo, gathering up the empty pans as Liam feared his heart was going to beat out of his chest. ‘Liam had the biggest crush on her, he always talked about her!’

And the smile on Theo’s face was like fuel to Liam’s fear, regretting that this dinner had ever happened. Abruptly, desperately feeling that he needed a moment to himself, he stood up, shoving his chair back hard over the wooden floor and making his relatives look up at him at the sound.

‘I’m just… Gonna step outside for a moment,’ he clarified, swallowing, before turning. He caught the concerned look on his mom’s face, apologetic, before he shrugged.

‘Should I come get you again for desert?’ Vaguely, Liam muttered a response that even he didn’t fully understand before making his way to the hallway, hearing his aunt Nancy’s voice behind him ‘Can I help you with that, Jenna?’ And a breath of relief escaped him when he did, pulling the front door open and stepping out onto the porch that had been the start of this bad dinner, and he welcomed the fresh air as he took in a deep breath.

Sitting down on the steps leading up to the porch, staring ahead before burying his face in his arms, Liam was sure that this was quite possibly the worst family dinner in the history of family dinners.

*****

‘I thought I could find you here,’ a warm voice said behind him, and Liam looked up slowly, lifting his head up from where it was still resting on his arms, wrapping his arms around his legs and hugging them against his chest.

‘I’m on my front porch,’ he pressed out, staring out over the street by his childhood home. ‘I said where I was going. Genius.’

A half-hearted chuckle escaped Theo’s lips at the comment and he let out a sigh, sitting down on the steps beside Liam and mirroring his position, staring ahead. ‘It is nice here, though,’ he said earnestly, and Liam looked over at him, his chest burning with the familiar ache.

‘I’m sorry about my family,’ he uttered, staring down to where he was fumbling with his hands in his lap, his cheeks burning in embarrassment as he thought back on it. He knew it was a shitshow, couldn’t even think about it without wincing. ‘They’re… Too much.’

Theo chuckled. ‘I like them,’ he confessed softly, and Liam looked up, unable to stop the sudden wave of confusion washing over him and the pained expression on his face.

‘What are you even doing here?’

Theo turned, a soft smile tugging at his lips. ‘You invited me,’ a snort escaping his lips as Liam groaned and pushed him towards the other end of the steps, giggling, and Liam’s heart picked up pace at the sound. Only when he recovered did Theo straighten his back, brushing a hand through his hair and turned, looking over at him with a pensive look on his face. Only hesitating for a moment before shuffling closer to him until their shoulders brushed.

‘You remember when I went to the movies with Brad, a few weeks ago?’ he asked.

Liam nodded, leaning forward as a sharp pang burned in his chest at the memory. He had never seen Theo so excited for a movie as in that moment.

‘Well,’ Theo started, carefully reaching out to tug a strand of hair behind Liam’s ear. Liam couldn’t help but wince at the touch, swallowing feeling exposed, after everything that went down. Theo sighed, turning to him with a faint smile. ‘I actually wanted to go to that movie with you.’

Liam went still, a brief moment as he couldn’t process it, his head shooting up quick in a way that almost caused him to headbutt Theo as he did. ‘What?’

Theo smiled, chuckling. ‘I’d been dropping hints that I wanted to go out with you for almost a week at that point,’ he said, leaning back. ‘But you… Your oblivious ass definitely did not notice, obviously. So I had to get a different date somewhere, last-minute. And then when you asked me to do this… Well. I couldn't exactly say no to that, now could I?’

At the words, Liam could only gape at him, the information almost too much for him to process in the moment, not quite believing what he was hearing.

He’d definitely never expected Theo to say anything quite like that.

Theo let out a laugh, shooting him a look with a nervous sparkle in his eyes. ‘You can say something now…’ he mumbled, resting his arms on his knees and looking up at him in a way that looked so adorable that it made Liam’s stomach flutter. Theo’s comment had him regain his senses, slowly, pulling him back into reality and he shook his head, tears of disbelief burning in his eyes.

‘You… You wanted to go out with me?’ he asked in a shaky voice, needing to get this clear, as he straightened his back. ‘But… You just see me as a friend, I know you do! All those people you’ve dated…’ He couldn’t help raising his voice, in frustration at the situation, and at Theo for never saying anything and giving him the wrong idea instead sounding through his voice. ‘I thought you simply saw me as a friend!’

Theo stared over at him, that same stupid smile he always had tugging at his lips, patiently waiting for him to finish ranting, and Liam turned to him with wet tear stains on his cheeks that had spilled during his outburst. ‘Obviously not,’ was his simple answer then, a smile forming on his face as Liam stared over at him with wide eyes, unmoving. Theo sighed, shuffling closer to Liam and reaching out, cupping his face and brushing his hair out of his eyes, Liam’s skin burning where Theo touched him.

‘I’m sorry for embarrassing you back there,’ he whispered, leaning closer. ‘I didn’t realize how bad it was. I should’ve. But… You’re an idiot,’ smiling against Liam’s lips, before closing the distance between them and pressing his lips against Liam’s.

Liam couldn’t help it. His stomach fluttered and Theo was kissing him and he liked him back and it was so much too much for him that it overwhelmed him in that moment, but he wrapped his arms around Theo’s neck as his hazy mind caught up with the fact that this was really happening, and he felt his tears drying on his cheeks. Three years he’d waited for this, and now it was finally here.

He would make damn sure that it would be worth all the wait.

Before he could really get into it, though, and enjoy it, cupping Theo’s face and pressing himself closer against him, the only thing that could interrupt them happened, a squeal coming from the right from his mother and Liam flew back with a start, putting distance between him and Theo and hitting his back against the wooden railing from the steps.

‘Mom!’

His head whipped up to where his mom was standing in the doorway, his aunt and grandma peering out over her shoulders, and what was presumably the rest of his family lined up behind them. ‘Finally!’ his mom called out, stepping out onto the porch and pulling her cardigan tighter around her, revealing what Liam feared and showing the people standing in the hallway behind her.

Liam groaned, hiding his face in his hands, as finally the worst startle of the moment faded and he realized the meaning of what she said, something not right settling in his chest. ‘What do you mean finally?’

At the question, his mom could only laugh, an apologetic look on her face as Liam’s cheeks grew hotter and he wished he would disappear into thin air, and he felt Theo’s reassuring hand on his lower back. ‘Oh sweetie…’ she sighed. ‘You’ve never mentioned that you had a boyfriend to us before. And I saw how you interacted during dinner.’

Liam could only gape at her, his heart racing in his chest his palms sweaty as the nerve-wracking realization washed over him: no amount of preparation and practice he and Theo did could make them look like a real couple, if that was not what they were. And along with that family dinner, Liam’s embarrassment was complete.

At least, until Theo coughed behind him, stepping forward. ‘The reason Liam brought me here, was to introduce his boyfriend to his family,’ he said, feeling like a rock by Liam’s side. Theo looked over at him, a smile that Liam could only describe as shy tugging at his lips. ‘If you’re okay with that, we can still do that, and get desert.’

The meaning of the question wasn’t lost on Liam. He felt his smile widening on his face, growing, until it hurt his cheeks. ‘Oh,’ he said, his heart racing crazily and his hands shaking faintly. ‘I’m okay with that.’

A breath escaping his mom’s lips at that had both of them turning their attention back to her with a start, and Liam blushed at his mom’s wide grin, happy for him, as she gestured for everyone to go back inside then where desert was waiting. Theo’s hand found Liam’s as they did and a hopeful feeling washed over him, hoping that the second half of dinner would be better and a breath of relief escaping him when it was.

Clearly, Theo had a talent of saving things. And he couldn’t be more happy about it.

*****

‘Theo?’ Liam asked as they lay together in bed that night, his voice sleepy and muffled by where he was pressed against Theo’s chest.

‘Yes?’ came Theo’s soft reply.

‘Can you promise me something?’ Liam freed himself from Theo’s embrace just slightly, leaning half up on his elbows as he looked into Theo’s wide, questioning eyes. ‘Could you please, for the love of God, stop leaving your wet towels on the bathroom floor?’

The other boy’s laugh was immediate, Theo falling back against the cushions with closed eyes as he cackled, clutching his stomach. Liam watched him, his stomach fluttering warmly and something calm settling over him, thinking that he could now in a completely different way, and only when he recovered did Theo open his eyes again, looking back at him and responding.

‘I promise,’ he said. ‘But only if you promise me something in return.’

‘What’s that?’

Theo’s eyes were serious. ‘That you never, ever lie to your family about anything ever again.’

At that, like Theo the moment before, Liam barked out a laugh, catching his breath. ‘I promise,’ lying back down in Theo’s arms again and closing his eyes, feeling completely at ease, as he thought back on the mess that their day had been.

‘Good,’ Theo whispered, brushing his fingers through Liam’s hair, though as they lay still, and as much Liam meant his promise, he couldn’t help but think that at least I got you out of it. And that was something he would never, ever regret.