Joey sat down at the dinner table and cleared his throat nervously. "Could you pass the salad, please, dad?" he said, reaching out his hand. His plate was already loaded with lasagna and a thick breadstick, but he needed to add some green leafy stuff to appease his mother. It was the last dinner he'd be having with them before he left on tour, so the whole family was there.
He dropped a few pieces of lettuce on his plate and made a face, deciding that was enough. "You're going to have to have more than that," whispered Janine, "or mom's gonna kick your butt. You know she can."
He grinned at his sister and added a bit more. He was just glad she'd come over for dinner to see him off. He'd spent a lot of time with his brother on their last tour, and he always came home to see his parents, but his sister he saw the least.
And he needed her tonight, especially, knowing what he was going to be doing. He passed the salad on to his mother who looked at his plate approvingly. "You don't eat right on tour," she said. "I know you don't. Have some more lasagna."
"I have enough, ma," he said, beginning to pick at his food. Normally this spread would set his mouth watering, but he didn't have much of an appetite at the moment. He waited until everyone had food on their plates before clearing his throat again. Maybe if they were occupied, this would go a little smoother.
"Um, I have something to tell you guys," he said, laying his fork down on his plate. He forced himself to wait until he had everyone's attention before saying anything; it would be hard enough to do this once. Doing it four times would break him.
"Joey?" said his mother. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing's the matter, ma," he said, looking down. "It's just..." He had been ready to give them all five minutes of backstory on how he'd recently come to realise certain things about himself, but right now, in the heat of the moment, those words seemed pointless. "I'm gay," he blurted out.
He looked up when he was met with silence. Janine was staring at him with a combination of shock and pity; Steve's mouth was hanging open and his brow was furrowed; his mother was studiously looking away and his father...his father ended up being the first one to speak.
"Phyllis," he said, rising from the table. "Get me something to calm me down!"
She nodded quickly and stood up to go into the kitchen. "What do you want?" she asked mildly.
"Earl gray, hot," he snapped. "And bring it into the den. I don't want to be in here at the moment." He shot Joey a look full of anger and shock, but not disgust. Not hate. And Joey took that to be as much of a good sign as he could expect.
Joey sat in silence as his parents left the room, waiting for one of his siblings to say something. Anything. Instead, the two of them began eating again. He tried to stomach the dinner, but his stomach was in knots and he couldn't swallow a single bite.
"Say something," he whispered. "Please."
Instead of speaking, Janine put an arm over his shoulder and squeezed lightly. Joey let out the breath he'd been holding. "You're still my brother," she said. "No matter what. I've just gotta get used to this."
He snorted self-consciously. "I've still gotta get used to it myself," he admitted.
"Steve?" prompted Janine, when her brother didn't follow her declaration with anything of his own.
"I was watching TV the other night," said Steve finally. "And there was nothing on. I mean nothing. It was, like, three in the morning or something, and I ended up watching this Pan American Drag Queen Finals. And fuck, it was strange. All these guys prancing around on stage in these dresses with sequels sewn all over them--"
Janine reached out to smack the back of her brother's head. "They're called sequins, ya moron," she said. "And what's that got to do with anything?"
"Whatever," he said. "I was just...is that the kind of thing you're going to be doing now, Joey?"
"What the hell kind of crack are you on, Steve?" asked Janine. "He said he was gay, not a fucking drag queen. Not that there would have been anything wrong with that if you were, Joey," she added quickly, turning back to her other brother.
He grinned at her gratefully. "I'm not," he assured her. "Steve...I'm still me. I'm not gonna suddenly change."
"Yeah you are," he argued. "You just did. Fuck, Joey...you're the guy who used to play jump rope with the girls in the third grade just so you could get more kisses. Are you telling me you're that same guy?"
"I'm that same guy, fifteen years later," he said quietly. "And I'm gay, Steve. And that's not gonna change just because you can't deal with it. I'm sorry."
"I'll deal, I'll deal," he said, rolling his eyes. "But jeez, Joey. Shit. Fuck."
"I love you."
All three of them looked up to see their mother, standing in the doorway of the dining room. She looked a bit shaken up and had the remains of tears in her eyes, but she smiled at them anyway. At Joey.
"It's not what I would have chosen for you," she said, moving closer to him. "But you're my son and I love you, no matter what. So...is there someone special in your life?"
Joey shook his head, still staring in wonder at his mother. "Not yet," he said. "Maybe soon...if I'm lucky."
"I just want you to be happy," she said. "You're a wonderful, generous, talented boy, and being gay doesn't change any of that."
"You let me deal with your father," she assured him. "He'll come around. I told him, I said 'at least our boy's not in jail, or worse'. He'll finish his tea and come back in here. You'll see." She held out her arms to him and Joey stood up to hug her. He was much larger than her now, but he still felt like he was being wrapped up in her when she held him like this.
He blinked back tears and buried his face in her neck for a moment, then pulled away. "Thanks," he said, and sniffled involuntarily. "Just...thanks."
"So now that the drama's over, can we eat?" asked Steve, poising his fork over his plate. Janine shot him a dirty look but he just grinned at her, then at his brother. Joey finally felt comfortable enough to grin back.
"Eat, eat," said Phyllis as she sat back down in her own seat. "None of you eat enough. You should all come home more often, and with your families, too. Joey, maybe next time you come home, you'll bring someone special, too, hmm?"
"Maybe," he said, smiling as he dug into his lasagna. "Maybe I will, at that."