All Family Matters: A Family Matters short
This short features the now sixteen-year-old son of Travis and Denise who we last see when he was a newborn at the end of Family Matters. Now, he’s nearly grown up and dealing with problems no kid should ever have to be hurt by.
“Kyle, you don’t have to do this.”
Hi! I’m the aforementioned Kyle, last name Cook. If it sounds at all familiar, it’s because you might know my parents. Travis and Denise Cook, best friends of Patrick and Seth Clarke, who are the fathers of my uncle and aunt, Joey and Jenna. Well, not by blood, you see, it doesn’t matter how you look at it, we’re all still family.
“And what happens if I don’t?” I grumbled. “What are you going to do?”
He bit his lip and his eyes watered, and I couldn’t have felt more like an ass. Julian Dever had far too many things on his plate and needed me to take some of them off, not heap more crap on top of it all. And, again, this wasn’t about me. It was about Jules, who’d informed his parents that he was gay. He was 100% certain they’d tell him they loved him and it would bring them closer. He’d been 100% wrong. His mother had shrieked how disgusting he was and how she wouldn’t let him ‘infect’ his brother. His father had clenched his fists and told Jules to get the fuck out of the house.
He’d wandered around the park, stunned, for several hours, not answering my calls, which served to heighten my worry. I called Joey and Jenna, and they said they’d help me look if I needed them. They were at school, so no way could they be here, but I appreciated their offering. I tried calling his house and…well, let’s just say his father had a few choice words for me. Finally Jules called and when he told me where he was, I went and got him. Of course I did. I loved him.
“My dad is a doctor. He can help.”
“Can he make me not gay?” he snarled. “Because that’s the only way this whole mess will go away.”
No. And if he could, why would Jules want that? I thought he loved me and–shit, there I go making it about me again.
“You know there’s nothing wrong with you, right?”
“You didn’t see his expression. It was like he no longer saw me, but this disgusting thing. And when my mom said she thought I’d infect my–Kyle, I don’t know what the hell to do.”
I took him by the hand and pulled him along behind me. When I opened the door, the music reached my ear and I groaned. I’d forgotten Dad was having people from the hospital over. He’d told me he wanted me to make a good impression, because they held his future in their hands. Mom was off taking care of the other kids. I never understood how he could work sixty hours a week but the two of them found time to pop out more kids. They did, though. I was the oldest of six. You’d think as a doctor he’d know about freaking condoms. Regardless, none of us ever wanted for anything. Dad would come home and even if he was beat to hell, he’d make time for us, whether it was to play or to talk, he was there. Uncles Travis and Patrick would too. No one in my family ever doubted they were loved. Even if my sibs were annoying pains in the ass, I still loved them with my whole heart.
“I shouldn’t be here,” Jules whispered, turning to leave. I clamped a hand on his forearm.
“This is exactly where you should be. Stay right here. Don’t try to leave, because I’m going to find you.” I peered into his eyes as I stroked my fingers over his cheek. “Jules, I will always find you, okay? I love you.”
He smirked. “That didn’t sound at all creepy.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. “Just wait here, all right?”
He slumped against the wall. “Got nowhere else to go.”
I turned and went into the living room, where Dad stood with five other men. They all turned and looked at me, but when Dad saw me, his face lit up.
“Kyle! Excuse me, gentlemen.” He rushed and pulled me into a hug. Dad was a very huggy type person. “You doin’ okay?”
“Dad, I have a problem,” I whispered in his ear. He and Mom had only met Jules twice, which I wish now had been more. I gave him the short and dirty version of it and his fists clenched by his sides.
“Where is he?”
“By the front door.”
Dad stood straight, turned, and smiled at the men. “Guys, I’m afraid I’m going to have to cut this short. My son has a problem and he needs my help with it.”
The men, all older than Dad, stared at him, then they murmured something to each other. “Doctor Cook, this is your performance evaluation and–”
“And my son needs me,” Dad growled. “I’m a family doctor. What good am I doing if I can’t even care for my own family?” He pointed toward the door. “If this comes back to bite me, so be it, but my family will always come first in my life. Have a good evening.”
And they muttered to themselves, and I caught how inappropriate this was, but they left, passing my Jules. As soon as he’d seen the last person out, Dad turned to Jules and his whole face lit up.
“So you’re my son’s boyfriend?”
Jules’s eyes widened and I could see the fear in them. I slid an arm around his shoulders. “Yeah, Dad, he’s my boyfriend.”
Dad’s “face lit up. Excellent! Jules, thank you for coming to us.” He turned toward the stairs and bellowed, “Nee! I need you down here, please.”
A few minutes later Mom came down and as soon as she saw the three of us together, her brows furrowed.
I went through the story again, with Dad tossing in some angry snorts and growls, and when I finished, Mom grabbed Jules and pulled him into a hug. It’s funny how a hug from a mom can tear down anyone’s defenses. Jules burst into tears.
“What did I do wrong?” he wailed. “I thought… I thought they’d still love me, y’know? I mean, maybe it was a surprise, but to say I’d infect my brother?”
As he continued to sob, Mom held on. She gazed at Dad who nodded. I was always amazed at how easily they communicated like that. I wondered if Jules and I would ever be able to do it.
Dad stood up and smacked his knee. “I’m going to go pick up some ice cream.”
He totally wasn’t. I knew my dad, and I had a feeling where he was going, and no way would I let him go without me.
“I’ll go with him,” I said.
His eyes widened. “Maybe it’d better if you–”
“Go with you,” Mom said. “You’ll need his help to carry stuff.”
A slow smile spread over Dad’s face as he took in her expression. “Oh, yeah. That’s a good idea.”
He didn’t say anything when we got to the car, but as soon as we were inside he turned.
“You know where I’m going, right?”
“Jules’s house,” I said. “That’s why I want to go with. I know his parents, and though it doesn’t shock me, I won’t let them make Jules feel bad.”
Dad peered at me intently. “You really love this kid?”
Only with my whole heart. Since the day I met him, Jules had been a huge part of my life. Sure, we were only sixteen, but I felt with everything in me that he and I would be together for the rest of our lives. Heck, Joey met Micah when he was in kindergarten, and now at twenty-one they—along with Kayla—were living together and sharing one big bed. They were beautiful together. “Yeah, I do.”
He gripped my knee. “Excellent. I once told your Uncle Patrick that if any of my kids ever wanted to let me know they were gay they only needed to introduce me to someone.” He gave a quick glance in my direction. “You know there’s nothing wrong with it, right?”
Growing up, Mom and Dad drilled it into our heads that it didn’t matter if you were straight, bi, gay, or any of the other points of light on the spectrum. It only mattered you loved and cared and were a decent person. It was a lesson I took to heart, and why I never worried about telling them about me. The only reason I did this time was because it involved someone other than me. I knew they’d be cool. Plus, everyone in my extended family seemed to fall on the spectrum somewhere. Kayla, Joey, and Micah were bisexual, Uncle Patrick and Seth were gay, and Jenna wasn’t sure what she wanted from life. Right now she was focused on school, and had no time for exploring. She told us she was more interested in saving animals than dealing with people. Whether she was asexual or not was something she hadn’t shared yet, but I knew when the time was right, she would let her family know Jenna in all her glory.
“You know I’m proud of you, right, buddy?”
“Yeah, Dad.” And I did. My parents were always so proud of their children, except when we screwed up,. They were quick to lower the boom if we messed up, but they annoyingly did it with love. None of our friends believed us when we told them we had no complaints about our parents. If anything, the might have loved us a little too much, if such a thing was possible.
Nah. No such thing. If Jules and I are ever lucky enough to start a family of our own, I could only hope to be as awesome as my dad and mom.
“What are we going to do when we get there?” I asked.
Dad scrunched up his face. “We’re going to do what adults should always do. Talk to them. Hopefully we can make them understand.”
Jules’s dad was a stubborn ass. “If not?”
“Don’t worry. Your mom and I have a plan for that too.”
They had a plan? “How long have you been thinking about this?”
He just smiled, so I sat quietly as Dad drove us to Jules’s house. We got out of the car and headed up the path. We didn’t even make it to the door before Jules’s dad stepped out and stomped toward us.
“Get the fuck out of here, faggot!” he snarled at me.
“Mr. Dever, I’m Travis Cook, Kyle’s father and—“
I didn’t even see it coming. Jules’s dad lashed out, striking me on the cheek and knocking me to the ground.
“You made my son a faggot!” he shouted, spittle flying from his mouth. “This is all your fault!”
Dad went stone cold silent. One thing you need to know about my parents? They don’t do mad. At least not where anyone can see it. Right now? His face was a mask of anger as he grabbed Jules’s dad by the arm and pushed him back.
“That’s my kid, and if you ever lay hands on him again, you’re going to need a doctor.”
“Fuck that! You’re on my property, and I’m protecting my family from his disease.”
It was weird. I knew he was talking about me, but all I could think of was Jules, how he’d heard those words directed at him. Me? I didn’t care. My parents instilled enough self-awareness within me to know better. My cheek throbbed as I stood and wiped a hand over it.
“You know, Jules is way too good for this family,” my dad said. Well, growled. “If you don’t want him, then I’ll take him.”
“Fuck that,” Mr. Dever sneered. “Let him live on the goddamn streets where filth like that—“
Before he could even finish speaking, Dad had him in a headlock. Now my dad was no small man. Sure, in our house Mom wore the pants. We all knew it. Dad would bend over backward if she asked him. But Dad? He hit the home gym we had every morning, and his muscles were real and earned. He could snap this guy like a twig, but I knew he wouldn’t. My dad wasn’t exactly a pacifist, but he wouldn’t let someone hurt another person.
“You don’t talk about my boy like that,” he said, his voice deeper than I’d ever heard. “You don’t want him, so he’s ours. My mother is a lawyer, and she’ll draw up all the necessary paperwork. Know this, though. Once you sign it, you will never see him again. You’re going to lose your son over your own damned bigotry and hatred.”
If Dad thought that would rattle Mr. Dever, he was wrong.
“Fine. Take him, I don’t care,” he spat as he tried to move Dad off him. That wasn’t happening.
Dad took out his phone and pressed a button. A moment later, Grandma’s voice came over the speaker.
“What’s going on, Travis?”
“Mom, I have a man here who is about to sign custody of his son over to me and Denise. Cool?”
“What’s the reason?”
“His son is sixteen, gay, and he’s Kyle’s boyfriend.”
“He turned my son into a faggot!”
Grandma sighed. “I suppose beating him is out of the question?”
“At the moment, I’m seriously considering it, but I don’t want to tell Jules that his dad is a wuss who can’t take a beating like a man.” I knew Dad was egging him on. Trying to get him to start something. “He also hit Kyle in the face.”
And now it was Grandma’s turn to go quiet. She was super scary when she went silent. “Kyle? Are you okay?” Her voice had an edge to it. One I’d heard before. If Mr. Dever wasn’t afraid, he should be.
“Yeah, gramma. Mr. Dever hits like a wuss too.”
He struggled again, but Dad had a death grip on him. “Sir, I want to inform you that if you sign the paperwork I’m going to expedite to you, your son will no longer be—“
“Just get him off me.”
I put a hand on his arm. “Dad, let him go. He’s turning blue.”
“Let him go? Why? Blue’s a boy’s color, right? He should be fine with it.”
“Don’t make me call Mom.”
That sobered him. He let go and stepped back, brushing off his suit jacket. “You would, you little narc.”
“As I was saying,” Gramma continued. “Your son will no longer be your responsibility. He will be raised by my son and Denise. In essence, you will have no contact with him from this point forward, unless he chooses to contact you when he’s legally of age. This will also remove any responsibility you have regarding his housing, schooling, and medical concerns.”
“Whatever,” Mr. Dever said, but I detected a note of sadness there.
“I can’t believe you’re going to let your son go over something this stupid,” I said. “Remember when he won that debate award? Weren’t you proud of him? You looked like it.”
He cocked his head. “You saw that?”
“I was there,” I informed him. “I was proud of him too. He worked so hard. He and I went over questions for weeks, trying to get as ready as we could. You know the sad thing? He did that for you. He wanted you to be proud of him for something.”
“What? I was always proud of—“
“You have a funny way of showing it,” Dad snapped. “He was at my place, crying in my wife’s arms, because you told him to get out. What kind of father are you? Who gives a flying fig if he likes Kyle instead of girls? What’s wrong with my son? He’s been there for your kid because you couldn’t be. Don’t worry, though. I’ve got no problem being father to one more.”
It’s why we had such a huge house and why we were on the list of Uncle Seth’s cleaning service, Dust Bunny Cleaners. Dad always wanted room in case there were anymore kids. I suspected he was picturing he and Mom having them, but this wouldn’t deter him in the least.
“You said you were proud of him, but when he tries to be honest with you, to show you his true self, you lash out. Treat him like he’s a disease and will infect his brother. How do you think that made Jules feel? That his father, the one who’d always said he loved him, cast him aside after sixteen years because of one tiny, insignificant thing? It’s like your love is conditional, and if Jules doesn’t meet those parameters, he’s worthless to you.”
“That’s not… I mean….I love Julian, but—”
“Mr. Dever, is it?” Grandma asked. “Why don’t we try something different? I would really hate to see your family split up and then you regret it later when it’s too late to take back the harsh words. Why not sit down as a family with a therapist? Listen to them, tell them your fears. Don’t let hearts harden until they can’t be mended again.”
Have I ever told you how much my family rocked? Grandma’s tone was smooth, sweet, and nothing at all like the ballbuster I knew her to be.
“For now, Jules will stay with Travis and Denise. I’ll facilitate finding someone for you to speak with. But, and make sure you understand this, it’s something you have to be willing to do. It’s not going to be half-hearted. If you can’t put forth 100% effort, then we won’t even bother.”
“You said you love your son,” I reminded him. “Prove that now. Please. I’ll be honest, I think he’s better off far away from your toxicity, but for some reason he loves you and doesn’t want to lose you.”
A war of emotions played out over Mr. Dever’s face in the space of a few moments. “He’s my son,” he whispered.
“Who you aren’t treating like one,” Dad countered. “I would never kick any of my children out. We might disagree on things, but they are, first and foremost, my kids. A culmination of me and my wife’s love for each other. Would I toss her out? Hell, no.” He ran his fingers through my hair. I was sixteen and it was embarrassing as hell…how much I needed it right now, because I’d heard the stories of people who were tossed out of their families. The things that happened to them. Stuff they did to survive. Assuming they did survive.
A shiver ran through me as I pictured Jules in an alleyway, bleeding. Broken. Dead. Tears were instant.
“Don’t kill your son,” I pleaded.
“Kill him? What the fuck are you talking about?”
Dad cleared his throat. “Do you know the stats of gay kids who end up killing themselves because they were rejected by family? They’re staggering. At least Jules will have us, and you should be on your knees thanking any deity you can think of that he’s not going to be sleeping in the park or giving head to some stranger to afford a meal.”
“Thanks for that image, Dad,” I whined.
“Sorry,” he replied quickly. “It’s just…if you love him, he’s part of our family, and I won’t let go.”
“But he’s gay,” Mr. Dever protested, though much less vehement than previously.
“My best friends are gay. My nephew is bisexual and living with a man and woman. My son is gay. I’m straight. Our other kids haven’t made any decisions yet. My wife is…well, that’s open to interpretation.”
My mom was amazing, but she did seem to have an obsession with something that happened between Dad and Uncle Patrick when they were in college. I didn’t know, and didn’t want to find out.
“And do you know what I would do if any of them came to me and asked me for help? I would be there for them, I wouldn’t even question. That’s what a parent—what a family—does. No matter what else, family matters, and breaking one up should always be the option that’s off the table.”
“Greg?” came a voice from the door. I turned and found Mrs. Dever standing there, her eyes glistening.
“I don’t want to lose our son. I was angry, yes, but not enough that I would walk away from him. I didn’t think you would either.”
He blew out a breath. “If I agree to a therapist, can you promise me that he’ll be safe with you?”
“Safe a houses, as the saying goes. We’ll make sure he’s fed, clothed, sent to school, and does his homework every night so that one day he’ll get into a good college and—“
“He doesn’t want to go to college, Dad. He wants to do a trade school.”
Dad smiled. “Good. Need more tradesmen in our lives.”
“I was a tradesman,” Mr. Dever said softly.
“Why do you think Jules wants it so badly?” I countered. “He’s always trying to make you proud of him, if only you’d look and listen.”
He lips thinned out and I thought I detected a sheen in his eyes too. “Mrs. Cook?”
“Please find us a therapist soon. I want to work things out so that my son can come home.”
“As soon as we’re done talking,” Gramma promised.
Mr. Dever’s gaze flitted to me, and I saw him wince. “Kyle? I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have hit you.”
I smirked. “That’s okay, you hit like a wuss.” He didn’t though. My cheek was still throbbing. “But I’m not going to tell Jules about it. I don’t want his view of the man he loves being colored by him acting out of anger.”
Even in the dim lighting I could detect his own eyes watering. “Thank you. I’m… I’m sorry.”
He turned and went back into the house. Mrs. Dever came down the steps. “I’ll make sure we go to the appointments. I acted horribly, and I don’t know that Julian will ever forgive me, but I’m glad I’ll have a chance to try.”
“We’ll work this out,” Dad said, reaching for her hand. “I promise.”
After a few uncomfortable moments, she nodded and went back into the house. Dad put his hand on my back. “Let’s go. We need to stop and pick up some ice cream before heading home. I think we’re going to need it and a few boxes of tissues for Jules.” He pulled me close. “Let me tell you, no matter what happens here, Jules will always have a safe place to live. Okay?”
“What if he breaks up with me?” I asked.
“Jules will always have a safe place to live. If I have to talk to Gramma or to your uncles, I’ll do that. But I swear, I will make sure he’s always safe.” His face fell. “I wish I could do more.”
And that was my Dad. It was why he became a doctor. Why he was such a fucking awesome father. And why one day I hoped to be able to introduce him to grandkids and let them know with the generations and iterations of the Cook family around they will forever know they are loved.