"Theo. Theo, wake up. Come on, we're late."
The nagging didn't stop; if anything it was worse. What had started as a gentle coaxing, a hand resting lightly on his arm, had quickly taken on a much harsher edge. Without warning, he was shoved out of bed. He hit the unforgiving wooden floor, wincing as his elbow caught the edge of their bedside table.
"What the heck, Liam?!"
"I said get up." The calm, unfazed attitude only served to fuel his anger. Considering, Liam had just rudely awaken him and assaulted him for no apparent reason, the least Liam could do is apologise. He was less than impressed.
"Is there a reason you had to push me out of bed? At... 7 in the morning?!"
He'd have thought it were a dream, or rather a nightmare, had the clock not been right there; its bright screen projecting the time. What could possibly warrant getting up at such a ridiculous hour? On a Sunday, no less.
"We're having breakfast with my mum, remember?"
Shit. He'd completely forgotten. "Yeah, about that-?"
"Don't even think about it. You're going."
"Liam, I didn't get home until midnight last night. Can't we just reschedule?"
"You're meeting my mum for the first time, in less than half an hour and you want to reschedule?" He did not miss the underlying and unsaid, 'are you stupid?' Silent as it was, the words rung loud and clear.
"I'm sure you're mum will understand."
"Oh, I assure you Theo, she won't. if I cancel I will never hear the end of it.
It would be bad enough had she had notice, but this soon before? When mum will already be waiting for us? Pulling out now would be asking for a life of guilt trips."
There had to be some way to convince Liam to let him sleep in. The warm, soft blankets were calling to him. He wanted nothing more right now, than to curl up underneath them and sink in. "What if we postpone-?"
"I hadn't finished." Everyone knew he hated being interrupted.
"I know exactly what you were going to say. You want to go later and the answer is still no. We agreed on 7:30 and that's what we're doing. Now, get off your ass and get ready. We leave in 10 minutes." That was the end of the conversation apparently, seeing as Liam walked out without waiting for so much as a nod. Why had he ever agreed to meet for breakfast?
With great effort, he made his way to the bathroom. Fighting it would only require more energy than he had.
By the time he made it downstairs, Liam was geared and ready to go. "It's about time."
"Hey, you try to fit everything into ten minutes. I only had time to have a shower and get dressed; my hair's a mess." He was well underdressed for this. I mean it's Liam's mum, for goodness sake. How is he supposed to make a good impression, when he looks like he rolled out of bed?
"If you wanted to fuss, then you should have listened the first ten times I told you to move." Liam always had known how to push his buttons; Liam knew exactly how to test his patience the most.
"Theo, you look fine. Mum is going to love you. That is, unless you keep her waiting. Let's go."
There really was no way out of this.
Before he knew it, they were standing outside Liam's parents house. The sound of the doorbell ringing caused him to flinch. His heartbeat was threatening to spike, if given the chance and his chemo signals were equally uncontrollable. He hadn't struggled this much with masking them, since the Dread Doctors had first taught him how.
"You're going to be fine." If only he believed Liam. This could go very wrong, very fast. It's not like he had any experience with meeting someone's parents. Even as friends. The last person parent he'd met, had been Mrs. McCall. That of course, was in fourth grade, and we all know what she thought of him now. What if this was the same? What if Liam's mum didn't like him? What if she forbid Liam from seeing him? Liam wouldn't take it lying down, that much he knew. Liam would fight back, assert his right to choose who he dates. That would only lead to problems between Liam and his family, and that was the last thing he wanted.
Liam seemed to read his mind, as always, seeing as Liam just wrapped a hand around his own. He could do this. He could. This was hardly the most dangerous or life-threatening situation he'd found himself in. Yet somehow it was still the most daunting.
Suddenly, the door opened and he was met with the sight of a beautiful older woman. A woman who he could spot from a mile away. There was no doubt she was Liam's mum; the resemblance was remarkable. Her eyes, her smile... it felt so similar, he had to blink twice to make sure he wasn't imagining it. The one difference, was the certain twinkle Liam got, the way Liam's eyes would light up every time he smiled. It was that spark, that light which he loved the most.
"Liam. Good to see you made it. I was beginning to wonder."
He listened to Liam's laugh, letting it wash over him and ease his nerves. "Mum, it's only 7:40."
"Yes, which means you are ten minutes late. I didn't raise you to keep people waiting." Liam wasn't joking when he'd said his mum wouldn't let it go. He was really starting to wish he'd woken up earlier. "So, you must be Theo." Air seemed to desert him all at once, leaving his mouth dry. "H-hi."
"Come on in, boys."
Everything had been intensified; the sound of their footsteps, Mrs Dunbar's soft voice, his own heartbeat. It wasn't often that Liam was calmer than him; he was usually the one preventing an angry werewolf from attacking an unsuspecting victim. This just so happened to be one of the rare occasions, that he needed the support, the anchor. It wasn't something he liked to admit, at least not out loud. He had never liked the idea of depending on someone else; given his life up until this point, it was to be expected. He had, after all, relied on himself. There had never been anyone to help him, to show him it was okay to ask. Not since
Tara. Not since he killed her.
Was he-? He was. He was actually sweating. Not a lot but still. This was a joke. "You okay?" Liam leant in close, leaning a shoulder against his. It grounded him.
Which was good because without it, he might very well have run out of the house. Literally.
"Yeah. Of course."
"So." He was drawn back to the reason for his nerves as Mrs Raeken gestured for them to sit. This was it. He'd have to talk, and whilst that had never been a problem before, it certainly was now. He highly doubted his ability to form comprehensible words. It would most likely come out as nothing more than utter gibberish. He just hoped he won't make a fool out of himself. "Theo. How are you?"
"I-I'm well, th- thanks, Mrs. Raeken."
He was met with a warm smile; although it did little to ease his concerns. "You can call me Jenna, Theo. There's nothing to be scared of. I'm just glad to see Liam finally found someone."
"Hey!" He couldn't help but smile at Liam's affronted pout.
"Sorry, honey but it's true. You tend to come on strong. I think you've finally met someone who can keep up with you."
'Wow. Thanks for the confidence, mum."
"Anyway, Theo. How's class? Liam tells me you study photography?"
"I do. It's good. Our ah, our next assignment is to photograph an emotion in a different light." He'd found a passion in photography whilst repeating his senior year. It had started when he and Liam had been shopping for a present for Scott's birthday. They'd been at the mall for hours, (Liam could be extremely picky when he wanted to) and he just wanted to go home, when he saw it. In the window of a store called "Photos of the Wild", was a canvas. The photographer had captured an Arctic wolf atop a cliff, overlooking a river. It had been cast in a light, where the wolf looked at peace. The harsh edges of Winter had softened; the evening light offered comfort. It was captivating. The photograph held his attention, his gaze fixed on the wolf. It felt personal. As if someone had captured his own soul.
Eventually Liam had dragged him away, unaware of his internal battle; his reason and desire at odds. His logical self reiterated it was only a photo, that he didn't need it. The emotional, desire-driven side of him on the other hand, refused to give up. The urge grew into a sense of longing. Photo or not, he wanted it.
If only he could afford it.
As it turned out, he needn't have worried. He'd arrived home from work the next day, to find that very photo displayed on his wall. Liam had bought it for him. It was the best present he had ever received. It was at that moment, he decided he wanted to catch moments like those himself. "That's beautiful." Jenna cooed. It took him a moment to realise he'd been talking the entire time. Turns out Liam and Jenna had heard exactly what that photo meant to him. He could already feel the heat spreading through his cheeks. Despite how far he'd come since the Dread Doctors and hell, he wasn't used to being so open.
He'd never expected to simply come out with his thoughts, not unguarded. With Liam's sheer happiness and Jenna's acceptance, he found he wanted to continue. He wanted to let them in.
After that, he fell into the conversation easily. It was like he'd always done this, as though he'd always been a part of their family. Being here didn't feel like meeting a new person, like meeting your boyfriend's parents for the first time. Not anymore. Now, it felt like catching with an old friend or a family member you hadn't seen in a while. There was a slight hiccup when Jenna asked about when they first met. Apparently, Liam had neglected to tell her over the three years they'd been together. The reminder of that part of his life sent a wave of fear and guilt through his chest. He felt the icy fingers of panic needling their way closer to his heart. Panic which was seconds away from turning into an outright panic attack. Something he'd suffered for two years now. Something Liam knew all too well, and was there to pull him back from the edge. The warm touch of Liam's hand on his back helped stave off the cold. It drew him back into the present; where he was safe and had a life. A life which Liam would fight to keep him there. No matter the obstacle. No matter the threat.
There was no doubt in his mind that Liam would fight Tara if it came to that. Liam would do anything, if it meant he wouldn't have to go back there.
Liam's voice was the last thread in that reminder, and he took a deep breath to release the lingering traces of fear. "I told you we met at school. It wasn't what you'd call a conventional meeting, but we came around. It worked for us."
He met Jenna's gaze, which seemed to know something he didn't. Like she was staring into his soul. "I understand. It's not always easy. Especially when it comes to love." Jenna was still looking at him; every word directed at him. She didn't know. She couldn't know. So, why did it feel like she did? "I'm sorry if I brought up bad memories, Theo."
"It's okay. You don't have to hide it. I saw the pain in your eyes and I'm sorry I caused it. Just know, whatever happened, it doesn't shape who you are. Only who can do that."
It meant more to him to hear that than anyone knew. He couldn't begin to describe how much. Luckily, Jenna didn't appear to need an answer, if the way she smiled and continued talking to Liam was anything to go by. Returning the smile, he just listened for a while. Watching Liam at home, in the environment he grew up in, was peaceful to say the least, and he wanted to savour it.
Long forgotten was his bed and the fact he'd wanted to sleep in. He was glad Liam made him come... or he was, until he heard Liam's next words.
"I found Theo on the couch, book in hand-"
He nearly choked on his mouthful of water. He came so close to spitting it all over the table. "Liam!"
He did not, in fact, miss the slight smirk that rose in response. "Yes?"
"Don't yes, me."
"I'm simply explaining your love of vampire romance novels."
"Liam!" He had never been so red in his life; if he didn't know better, he'd think he might actually be burning. His flaming cheeks were only the beginning of his embarrassment. "You swore you wouldn't say anything!"
"I think you'll find I agreed not to tell Scott and the others. I never said anything about mum." There was no reasoning with Liam. It never changed the outcome. He was convinced Liam was out to get him; this had to be some twisted sense of punishment. If only he knew what he'd done. Before he could begin to find the words to speak, he realised Liam was talking again. "...shoved the book behind a cushion, and stared at me."
This was not happening. This had to be a dream. This had to be his stress playing through what could go wrong.
"Theo refused to answer, when I asked what he was reading. So, I took matters into my own hands."
"You mean you threw yourself on me, and ripped it from my hands. You practically clawed my eyes out to get it."
"Oh, don't be so dramatic."
"Besides, it was worth it. I never expected to see "Chosen".
If only looks could kill. Okay. maybe not kill, but at least silence. "I'll have you know the 'House of Night' series are amazing."
"They must be, seeing as you were on the third book."
They would have continued if Jenna hadn't interrupted. "You better believe they are. The third is by far, the best of the series." No. No, this was not happening. He did not just realise he reads the same books as Liam's mum. The shrieking laughter from beside him wasn't helping. This was not how he pictured this day going. "I think it's sweet. There is no reason a man can't like romance."
By the time they left, he didn't know how he was supposed to face her again. He cringed at the idea alone. It had never felt so good to climb into his truck; he needed a moment to breathe before he could even think about driving. "Did I do something?"
"Are you mad at me?"
He was met with a look of sheer confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"Back there. The story." He hardly noticed his fidgeting hands, or the fact he was shifting uncomfortably in his seat. "If you wanted to punish me-"
"What?!" He flinched, caught off guard. "Theo, I wasn't punishing you. Why would you even think that?"
"Why else would you tell her?" It was so quiet, his voice barely a whisper.
"I wanted mum to know you. To know who you are, what you like. I meant it when I said you didn't have to hide it. It's not like you're the only one. The entire Pack have secrets."
"You know what? You're right." That caught Liam's attention. He could see, and hear the nervous tick, the caution.
"Why are you smiling?"
"I can't smile, now?"
"Not when it's your 'I'm planning something' smile."
Liam knew him so well. It had been surprising at the start; he wasn't sure anyone had ever understood him as much as Liam did. It meant he couldn't lie anymore; not that he cared. He had no intention of lying. He had no need to. When he pulled into their driveway, Liam was almost sweating. It had been twenty minutes since he'd started driving. Twenty minutes since he'd last spoken, since he'd left Liam to stew in silence. It was time to put Liam out of his misery. Well, at least let him in on the plan. The answer wasn't going to be much better.
"Let's just say the next time we see Jenna, I might let slip about summer vacation." On his way inside, he heard Liam's choked gasp and haste to catch up; stumbling on the trucks' steps.
"Theo! Wait!" He couldn't stop laughing. "You wouldn't!"
"Oh, come on!"
It was time Liam learned an important lesson: 'Never mess with Theo Raeken'.