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Never Too Late

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“Uncle Patrick?”

Without opening his eyes or raising his head from the cushion, Patrick acknowledges the fifth small child of the hour.

“Mm?”

“How did you and Uncle David meet?”

From the other side of the couch there’s a stifled laugh. David is sitting reading a magazine with Patrick’s feet in his lap, anticipating the bare-faced lie that’s about to come out of his husband’s mouth.

“I was on a speedboat when a huge whale jumped up and capsized me. Your uncle David was a lifeguard who fought the whale single-handed and saved my life.”

“Oh stop it, Patrick,” Marcy tuts from the other side of the room, though she’s smiling.

Little Kyle gasps and runs off, his socked feet stamping hard on the Brewer family cabin’s floor. They can hear his voice shouting upstairs to the kid’s playroom before he disappears (“I knew it! David is the cooler one!” “No, Patrick is! He beat Uncle David at ice skating in the Winter Olympics!”).

“Honey, how many kids in this house are running around with different stories about how we met?” David says, patting Patrick’s ankle.

Patrick snorts. “I think that’s all of them now. If they ask what the wedding was like, I’m saying we got married on the moon.”

Having watched the whole interaction from the armchair opposite, Clint chuckles. He’s been sitting in the living room with some of the adults in the family for the best part of the afternoon, idly watching whatever has been playing on the twenty year old television set. His generous tribe of great-nieces and nephews have been charging in and out of the room, asking a sleepy David and Patrick questions that either affirm or disprove their which-uncle-is-cooler theories. Neither of them seem to mind.

It’s the middle of summer, and the entire extended family have come out to the old family cabin for two weeks. Two warm, peaceful weeks, where the only connection to the outside world is the outdated computer in the second living room. The only constant noise is the rustle of trees and the sound of children playing. Clint’s been coming here every other summer for as long as he can remember, and he always uses it as time to reflect. His family is solid and close-knit; it’s ever-changing with a rich, strong core. It’s a chance to spend time with new spouses and babies, as well as think of those who’ve passed on. Like Great-Grandma Muriel, whose last trip here was two years ago and now has her picture hanging on the family photograph wall in the dining room.

This year, Patrick has brought David along for the first time. Having only been married ten months, they’re pretty much physically inseparable when Patrick isn’t down by the lake playing catch or David isn’t touring the vegetable garden. They’re a gentle tangle of limbs and soft smiles and kisses pressed to temples. Clint’s never seen Patrick so relaxed in this cabin than when David’s here, and for the hundredth time he thanks whoever’s up there that they ended up in the same town.

“We saw a whale in Naples, didn’t we?” David says, circling back to Patrick’s fake story.

“Mm. I’m still annoyed it was too quick for a picture from the balcony.”

Patrick gets himself up from his lying position and David opens his arm to let him cuddle in.

“Okay, but you managed to get what is probably the best picture of me ever taken on the same balcony, so count your blessings,” David says. Patrick smiles and brushes his nose against David’s before leaning his head on his shoulder and paying attention to the documentary on TV.

Clint turns back to his book, but he’s really just looking rather than reading. In the very, very back of his mind, the absolute shadows of it, something feels like it’s been shifted out of place. What was it about that random act of intimacy between his son and his husband that felt so familiar?

Clint silently decides that it was probably because they haven’t taken their hands off each other since they got here, and therefore have done the same thing fifty times. He turns back to his book, flipping the pages and acknowledging the chapter titles, still not really taking it in.

* * *

It keeps happening.

For dinner the next night, Marcy and Clint’s brother have put together what is essentially a giant charcuterie board. It’s laid out in bits on nearly every surface of the cabin, so no matter whether they’re splashing in the lake or hovering in the kitchen all twenty-five Brewers are close by to a rich selection of prosciutto, soppressata, soft brie with crackers, savoury jams and kalamata olives.

David and Patrick are sat on the veranda steps, and Clint’s behind them on the wicker swinging chair that sits close to the door. It’s too hot for even David; he’s dressed down in a loose-fitting white shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Patrick is still drenched from a recent water fight that’s still being dragged out to the bitter end by the kids. Chilled rosé in one hand, David is feeding Patrick a crispbread loaded with soft blue cheese and fig. There’s nothing unusual about it, but Clint feels it again. That strange pull of recognition.

He feels it when David lightly ruffles Patrick’s hair as they’re walking through the woods that surround the cabin. And again when he sees them napping in the hammock in the garden, chest-to-chest, hands trailing lazily through each other.

At first, Clint thought he’d never met anyone like David, but now he’s not so sure.

Not in looks or mannerisms, maybe, but in the way he acts with Patrick. And the way Patrick acts with him…David reminds him of someone.

He puts it out of his mind for the rest of the trip, chalking it up to his mind’s strange way of communicating the relief and happiness he feels at seeing Patrick living so openly and so in love.

The night after he and Marcy return, Clint’s sunburn keeps him up. He’s sitting with a cool pack on his neck in the living room at one in the morning when something compels him to take out the dusty old photo album that’s been sitting on their bookshelf for years. He reaches for the one labelled 1976-1977 and opens it up.

As expected, there he is with his old hockey team. They’d almost made it to a state-wide league before Frank Thornton broke his ankle. There’s official team pictures, pictures of Clint helping to hold up a trophy, pictures of the day their uniforms had shrunk in the wash and they looked ridiculous in their mismatched sizes.

He chuckles to himself as he flips through, but when he reaches the middle of the book his breath catches in his throat.

There are photos of some party held, according to the messy writing scrawled at the bottom, on October 28th 1976. Clint’s not sure if it was a victory or loss party. They’d always had plenty of both.

There’s a lot of him in the photos, front and center. There’s also a lot of Brady Phillips.

Brady Phillips was a year older than Clint, a head taller than Clint, and a hell of a lot cooler than Clint. Or Clint had thought so at the time. Brady had always insisted Clint was the cool one out of the pair of them.

They were inseparable for a while. They’d been to the same elementary school, but they never really spoke until  high school when they both tried out for the Whiteoak Owls on a bitterly cold afternoon and eaten tomato soup together in the cafeteria afterwards. They lost touch once Brady went to college and never moved back from Ottawa.

In the picture, they’re sat on a couch together, Brady’s arm around Clint’s shoulder. His fingers brushing Clint’s hair.

In the next one, they’re posing for the camera more deliberately: Clint is holding a cupcake near Brady’s mouth, which is open and smiling for the sake of the camera. Clint remembers the camera moving away then holding the cake up more gently for Brady to bite.

In the third, they’re not the focus of the picture but he can see himself in the background, his head close to Brady’s as they talk in the corner. He might be imagining it, but he thinks he can see Brady’s hand resting on top of his.

“Can’t sleep?”

Clint lifts his head to the bleary voice of his wife, standing in the doorway. Her hair is sticking up at the same angle it always has. He smiles at the sight.

“Mm. This sunburn is a killer. I’ll be up in a minute.”

“Don’t bother, I’ve made some tea. I can’t sleep either,” Marcy says as she walks to the kitchen. When she comes back, two steaming mugs in hand, she looks at the photo album and says, “what year is this? The one with the chipped tooth or the one with the boyfriend?”

It takes Clint a second to compute.

“I – sorry, what did you just say?”

“The year with the chipped tooth? Where your mouthguard wouldn’t fit and you had to miss five games?”

“…I got that part, yes.”

Marcy frowns like there’s something she assumes Clint should understand.

“The year with the boyfriend.”

“What boyfriend?” Clint says, his voice rising in pitch a little with confusion.

Marcy shrugs and throws a hand out. “What do you mean, ‘what boyfriend’? Brady Phillips!”

Clint opens his mouth, then closes it again.

“Brady Phi – he wasn’t my boyfriend. Brady Phillips was not my boyfriend.”

Marcy stares at him like it’s the last thing she believes. “Clint. If that’s the case, how do you explain the – well, the everything?”

Clint scoffs and puts the album on the coffee table, where Marcy immediately makes a grab for it. “No, I can assure you. Absolutely not. I’m not – I’m not…”

Not what? He hears in his head before his wife has a chance to say it. He’s not sure. Not entirely. He’s just…he’s just not.

It’s not something he’s ever thought about very much before. Before Patrick came out and Clint started to research history and charities and local Pride events, he wouldn’t be surprised if he’d never even mentioned a thing about LGBTQ issues to Marcy or Patrick. He feels a little twinge of guilt when he thinks about it now, and often he finds himself wondering if Patrick would have had an easier time if Clint had talked about things like that more. But he knows he can’t blame himself too much. Patrick was with Rachel for years, and Clint didn’t know any queer people growing up so it’s always just sat in the back of his mind.

The same way this has been sitting in the back of his mind.

Clint watches Marcy flip through the pages of the photo album for a while before speaking up.

“So this whole time, you’ve thought I was…what?”

Marcy looks up, her expression neutral. She can’t quite see the tornado of emotions churning somewhere above Clint’s stomach right now.

“Bisexual?” she offers, and the little word hits Clint like a painless electric shock. He fixes his gaze on a point in the middle of the coffee table and mulls it over in his head.

The thing is, Clint Brewer’s head is a thing of absolutes. Of rights and wrongs, heres and theres. In the same hour he’d gotten home from Patrick’s surprise birthday party, he’d pulled up an online dictionary on his laptop to look up a generous amount of the LGBTQ spectrum and has half of the flags memorised. In his head, bisexual is filled in by a thorough read of a webpage and something David’s sister had said about “bi culture” at a family reunion last Christmas.

In his head, he didn’t think to make room for himself should he ever try and fit.

It feels like too much to think about now. Thankfully, Marcy picks up on his discomfort. She always does. Her face softens and she reaches out a hand and squeezes Clint’s knee.

“Come on, it’s late,” she says, picking up both their cups. “We don’t have to talk now. We can talk whenever you like.”

* * *

It takes him another few weeks to bring it up again. Marcy doesn’t press for a conversation, which Clint’s thankful for. But one night they’re sat up in bed and she does something that’s almost like pressing for a conversation, and Clint is equally as thankful for that. He doesn’t know if he would have had the courage to otherwise.

“Look who just showed up on my recommended friends,” Marcy says, pushing her iPad towards him. Her Facebook page is open with a list of names. Right at the top is Brady Phillips.

Clint takes the iPad and taps on the name. After scrolling down the page a little, uncertainty roiling in his stomach for some reason, he comes across a picture of a much older Brady with a man about his age and three small children in Christmas sweaters. It’s captioned, “Was a blessing for Martin and me to have the grandkids over for Christmas. Happy Holidays, all! Xx”

He’s not sure why, but something feels like it’s confirmed itself. Whatever it was that happened with them, the ghost of an almost-relationship that’s been brushing around him for decades, has a bit more shape to it now.

“He…you don’t think I hurt him do you, Marce?” he says quietly. “You don’t think he ever wanted something more?”

Marcy shrugs. “Maybe so,” she says. Then she turns to Clint and meets his eye, taking the tablet from him gently. “I’m sorry I never brought it up. I guess I didn’t want to mention it in case you weren’t ready.”

Clint smiles and rubs a hand up and down Marcy’s arm. “I know,” he says. “It’s okay.”

He knows it’s okay, deep down. He knows that no matter the outcome, he’s going to be fine. But for the first time, he thinks he knows what Patrick meant when he talked about the fear of admitting things you already know are true.

He calls his son the next morning. When Patrick appears on the screen, he’s wrestling with a tin opener and a particularly stubborn tin of cat food.

“Hi, Dad – sorry, you caught me at the wrong time, I’m just – Rose, get down!”

David and Patrick’s new cat, Rose, leaps into focus and jabs the food tin with her paw so that it flies out of Patrick’s grasp. Patrick glares at her before moving to pick it up.

“I swear she’s going to wake up with opposable thumbs one day,” he mutters as he comes back into view.

“You won’t believe me, but you actually did something just like that when you were little,” Clint says. “You used to hate this potato salad I made –”

“Still do.”

“And you’d come home from kindergarten crying one day, flung yourself onto the worktop and kicked the bowl right off.”

Patrick splutters with laughter. “I did not.”

“Ask your mother!” Clint retorts. They laugh and talk a while longer before Patrick redirects the conversation.

“So why’d you call?” he says, finally managing to deposit the contents of the tin and putting it down on the floor for Rose. “Is there something you wanted to talk about?”

“Um…”

Clint clears his throat, and that’s enough of a cue for Patrick to pick up his phone and go sit down at the table. He sips his tea, and Clint can tell he’s trying not to look nervous.

“It’s nothing bad, don’t worry,” he placates. “I just need some advice, I think.”

Patrick nods. “Go ahead.”

“It’s just I don’t think I’m…well, I think I might be –”

Why is this so hard?

Clint feels like it’s about to come out wrong, about to sound silly and bumbling and utterly Clint-esque, but it’s out his mouth before he can stop it.

“Well, I just don’t think I’m all that straight.”

There’s a second of delay, then the look on Patrick’s face is so loving and fondly amused that Clint wonders why he was ever worried at all.

“You know, that might possibly be the most Dad thing you’ve ever said,” he says.

Clint laughs with relief. To hear someone say that, to hear that there’s a way for him to navigate this that actually looks and sounds characteristic to him, brings a lump to his throat. He really is going to be okay.

“Thanks for telling me,” Patrick says. “I’m really proud of you.”

“I’m just not sure how to – to…” Clint falters, circling his hands around some invisible thing.

“Talk about it? Think about it? Yeah,” Patrick says. “It’s hard not to feel like you’re doing something wrong when you operate a little differently to everyone else.”

“I just feel a little stupid, is all. I feel like I should have worked this out years ago.”

Patrick shrugs. “By whose merit? I promise you, you are no less valid for having worked it out now than if you’d realised when you were ten. It’s just that things slip past us sometimes, and by the time we want to talk about them they’re too much to handle.”

“Us Brewers and our communication, eh?” Clint says.

Patrick raises his eyebrows over his cup of tea and huffs out a laugh. There have been a lot of moments over the past few years where Patrick and Clint finally talked through the things they never allowed themselves to before. Some conversations have been harder than others, but…they’re getting there.

“There are so many resources online for you to look at. If you want, I can look up support and event groups in the area.”

Clint smiles. “I’d really appreciate that.”

“And people we know, as well! There are so many you can talk to. Alexis, Ted, Moira. You’re not alone.”

“Thanks, son.”

They sit in companionable silence for a while, then Patrick says, “I mean it when I say you’re not alone. And that there’s absolutely no need to feel stupid about it. Life doesn’t have a deadline, Dad.”

Clint hears the hitch in his voice when he says it, hears the weight of someone still working through things for himself. He reckons it must move Patrick to be the one helping someone else through a late-in-life journey. He can really believe it as well, hearing it all from someone as content, strong and brave as his wonderful son.

After they hang up, Clint sits for a while longer, feeling a lot fuller than he did before. He doesn’t need some big, dramatic revelation. He doesn’t have to have had some life-changing experience. He’s just Clint Brewer, and he’s also bisexual.

That’s how Marcy finds him twenty minutes later, two coffees in hand as she plonks herself down on the couch with a sigh.

“The shops were manic,” she says. “I swear people think Black Friday lasts all year – are you okay, honey?”

Clint blinks away the tears filming his eyes and gives his wife a reassuring look.

“I’m just fine,” he says. Then he leans forward. “I know you already know, but I just felt like saying it myself.” He clears his throat, and Marcy smiles like she knows what’s coming. “Marce, I’m bisexual.”

She puts her hand over his, and Clint is reminded for the millionth time just how much and why he loves his wife. “If you feel it’s important that you say it, then it’s important for me to hear it,” she says gently. “I’m proud of you, love.”

Clint has spent a long time thinking that one day, his future would hit and that would be it. He’d thought his future had arrived when he got his first grey hair. When Patrick went to college. When he retired from the postal service. He didn’t accommodate for a whole new world at this point in his life, but it feels just as welcome than anything that’s come before. He’ll make time in his routine for coffee mornings at the local LGBTQ society. He’ll feel a funny little thrill when he logs into the Twitter page that he's had almost as long as the website has been around and write "Bi" in his bio. Patrick will buy him some small, subtle lapel pins for his birthday, a bar of blue and purple and pink, and it’ll bring him to tears. He’ll stop thinking in absolutes, because there’s so much more to him than he ever knew. 

He leans in and presses a kiss to Marcy’s cheek, then puts his head on her shoulder.

“Yeah, I’m proud of myself too.”