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Subtle Signs

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“Dude, why don't your parents ever, like, act like a couple?”

Devon looked at his best friend. “What are you talking about?”

Mack looked up from her essay. “Well, you make it sound like they’re grossly affectionate when you talk about them. I just realised I've never seen your parents do anything remotely couple like. They act more like bros rooming together.”

“What? You're crazy” Devon said. “They always sit together when we watch TV. Then, Dad either is resting his head in Pops’ lap or on his shoulder or they're holding hands.”

“No, they sit straight and leave at least six inches between them…” Mack countered.

Devon shook his head slowly. “You're crazy,” he said again

“No, you're the crazy one. Watch while we’re eating dinner. I bet you they don't touch each other once.”

Devon just went back to his homework.

  ~*~*~*~*~*~

That night, Devon watched his parents at dinner. Mack had to leave early, so it was just him, his younger sister Maria, and his older sibling Eli with their parents.

“So,” Pops began, “how was everyone’s day?”

“Mrs. Jameson is the worst! She gave us another paragraph essay to do. I'm out of creative ideas. How am I supposed to come up with five hundred more words?” Maria complained.

“I warned you, Mrs. Jameson is mean. You should've taken Porter’s class.” Eli said in their “I told you so” voice.

“But Eli, hating the teacher isn't a valid reason for switching out of the class! How was I supposed to switch out of the class without a valid reason?”

As his siblings conversed about school, Devon observed his parents. As always, Maria sat beside their dad, Kurt, while Papa Blaine sat across from them. Dad kept staring at Pops until the other caught his gaze. Dad reached forward to brush something away from his mouth.

“Blaine, I swear you are a messier eater than any of our kids,” Dad teased.

“You love me,” Pops teased back.

“Yes, yes I do.”

Eli threw a napkin at their dad. “No PDA at the dinner table.”

Devon smiled because this was normal. His dads were affectionate and in love. He didn't know what Mack was talking about.

  ~*~*~*~*~*~

Two nights later, Mack joined them for dinner. Spots were mixed up a little bit so she and Devon could sit next to each other. This way, Dad and Pops were in whispering distance.

Yes, Devon would prove his best friend wrong.

Only tonight, Devon watched his parents. They sat apart, almost like two magnets repelling each other. Whenever Pops had something on his mouth, Dad just handed him a napkin. The only whispering done was when one wanted something passed to them or they had questions about adult stuff like “did you remember to pick up milk” or “did your dad call”.

It was… the strangest interaction between his parents Devon had ever seen. It was like they were mad at each other, but with no malice.

Devon didn't like it.

  ~*~*~*~*~*~

The next night, his siblings and Pops were watching the Reds play baseball.

Dad walked in and rolled his eyes, “You all always complain when they lose. Why do you keep watching when you know the outcome?”

“Well, sometimes they surprise you,” Pops said.

Dad walked over and laid down on the couch, resting his head in Pops’ lap. Devon watched as Pops started running a hand through Dad’s hair and took the hand resting on his chest. Dad looked like he could've fallen asleep, save for Eli’s shouts of how a call was unfair.

They looked content, happy, in love. Much unlike how they acted last night. Devon could even swear that Dad kissed Pops’ cheek when he went to bed.

Devon frowned. Something was off here.

  ~*~*~*~*~*~

A few weeks later, Devon forgot about his predicament.

That is, until Mack stayed the evening to watch a game of baseball.

Mack and he sat on the floor. Eli and Maria sat on the couch. Pops was sitting in the sole recliner of the room. Instead of sitting with Pops, as Dad tended to do, he just stood by the sofa.

Just… standing. He didn't greet Pops with a kiss. He didn't move to sit with him. He just… stood there, resting his forearms on the back.

Eli always knows what's up. He texted them a simple message to see if they knew what was going on.

Hey, what's up with the dads? Did they get in a fight?”

It took Eli less than a minute to reply. “Don't think so… they were fine this morning… why?

I feel like something is off.

Eli didn't respond. Nick Duvall decided to hit a grand slam.

Once again, Devon forgot about his predicament.

  ~*~*~*~*~*~

The next night, they watched a show of Dad’s choosing. Devon looked over to see Pops asleep in Dad’s lap.

Devon tore his gaze away from his parents when he felt his phone buzz. “They never fought last night. I would've heard them talk about it. What's up?

Devon looked over at Eli. They didn't look up from their phone.

Mack said something that got me thinking.

... what did she say?

Devon looked back over at his parents. Dad was tracing the features of his sleeping husband with a small smile on his face. It seemed as if only Maria was really watching the TV now.

She said that dads aren't affectionate when she's over. She's never seen them do anything PDA like.

Eli didn't respond to him. Instead, they looked over at their parents with an odd look.

“Are you two okay?” Dad asked once he noticed his two oldest children staring at him.

“Just fine,” Eli replied.

Kurt must have caught on to the fact that something was going on, but decided to ignore it.

  ~*~*~*~*~*~

“Dude, you're totally right. The dads act differently when someone’s over here.”

Devon’s head shot up from his Chemistry homework. “Say that last part again.”

“The dads act differently when someone’s over here,” Eli said slowly.

“That's it!” Devon jumped from his bed to grab his phone. “That's why Mack’s never seen them do anything couple-like! It's because they don't do anything like that. Have you ever noticed?”

“I guess not. I'm used to ignoring their PDA. Well… the P standing for private now.”

“But Mack’s been my best friend for ages!”

Eli shrugged, “They grew up in a different time. Everything may be fine and dandy now, but they're conditioned. Haunted, even. They probably don't want to take any chances.”

  ~*~*~*~*~*~

Eli’s words made Devon think for days. He watched his parents whenever he could without being creepy. They cuddled, laughed, held hands, everything basically G-rated. The minute someone outside of their family walked in, it was like they flipped a switch. They were always on the opposite side of the room. They only touched when necessary. Suddenly, they appeared to be more of pining teenagers than a happily married couple.

It was… sad. Of course, there had been times where they'd be in public and names had been called out at them. Eli used to get really upset, but their dads have always told them to let it go. Prejudice is just ignorance. You're the bigger man if you just ignore it and walk away. At the time, Devon didn't understand. Now, he just realises that it's easier for everyone to hide.

Devon wondered when the world would accept people for who they are.

  ~*~*~*~*~*~

One night, Pops came home in a bad mood. Pops doesn't yell or anything when he gets like this, but he's quiet and direct. Dad tries to help by talking quietly and holding him every opportunity he can.

Devon’s friends Tyler and James were over that night. It made everything so much more awkward.

Pops stayed in the kitchen as the boys worked on their government project. Dad emerged from the office and asked if he was home. When Devon told him where his father was, Dad quickly made his way to the kitchen and shut the door.

Tyler and James didn't ask what happened. Really, Devon didn't understand until Eli texted him later.

Someone at the office outed Pops. From what I know, he was talking to a very conservative man about a possible promotion when this asshole walked by and went “he's gay just so you know”. He was shook by it bc it reminded him of HS. How fucked up is that?

There was no feeling of satisfaction when his phone landed in the laundry basket across the room.

  ~*~*~*~*~*~

A few weeks later, Pops got his promotion. Devon and Mack were going to go to a movie but instead decided to go back to his place and play X-Box.

When they entered the living room, they found the two older men sitting on the couch. This time, they weren't feet apart. They were sitting like Devon was used to. Pops was resting his head against Dad’s shoulder, with Dad’s arm wrapped around his torso.

Mack stopped and gaped. Devon rushed her to his room before they noticed.

  ~*~*~*~*~*~

“Hey Dad, can I ask you a question?”

Kurt turned away from the stove and faced his son. “Sure.”

“Why don't you and Pops ever, like, do anything couple-like when someone’s over?”

Kurt sighed, knowing this conversation was going to come from one of his kids at some point. He'd just always thought Maria would be the one to bring it up.

He sat down across from his son. “When your father and I were younger,” he began, “the world was different. Cruel, even, to people like us. Your father was beaten up and put in the hospital. I was thrown into dumpsters and harassed. You don't forget things like that.

“One time, in particular, your father and I were out on a date. Without thinking, he kissed my hand. A group of guys walked passed us and said vulgar things, things that took us to a much worse time. Your papa has a panic attack that night. We became much more careful after that. Eventually, we came to a silent agreement that physical contact would only happen in places that we felt safe.

“I'm not saying that we don't trust your friends. They all seem like good people, but old habits die hard. We won't do anything that puts you or your siblings in danger.”

“Doesn't it hurt though? Not being able to express your feelings?” Devon asked.

Kurt smiled and put his hand over his son’s fidgeting hand. “There are other ways to express your love for someone. When Papa brings home dinner or dessert when I'm having a bad day, or when he knows just by looking at me that something is wrong, I know he loves me. I know by the way he never takes his wedding ring off or how he always knows what to say.

“Love is more than holding hands or kissing, Devon. Love is knowing someone as well as you know yourself, and then some.”

Devon was quiet while trying to process everything his dad told him.

He didn't talk for the rest of the evening.

  ~*~*~*~*~*~

“Pops, how do you know that Dad loves you?”

Blaine stopped boxing to look at his son. “What?” He asked, trying to catch his breath, “What do you mean?”

“Someone told me that love is more than physical affection. How is that true for you and Dad?”

Blaine nodded in understanding, then took a seat across from his son. “Well, I know your father loves me when he listens to what I'm not saying. When he knows what I need before I do. I know he loves me when he lets me come down here and box because God forbid sweat lands on our floor.” Devon laughed at that.

“I know he loves me when we talk, when he tells me exactly what's on his mind and doesn't judge me when I do the same. I know he loves me when after we fight, he's more than willing to talk about it and not let it happen again.

“I know he loves me because he has the patience to deal with me, and he's taken the time to learn who I am inside and out. Does that answer your question?”

Devon nodded and left without another word. Blaine went back to his workout.

 ~*~*~*~*~*~

His parents never kiss in front of his friends. They don't hold hands at student-teacher conferences or while walking in the park. They do, however, communicate. They respect each other and read the subtle signs the other won't voice. Devon thinks that means much more than a million kisses combined.

 ~*~*~*~*~*~

One night in the future, Devon brings his long-term girlfriend home. His family approves of her, and if things go right, she may end up with a ring on her finger by next Christmas.

Dad is tossing the salad while Pops is seasoning the chicken. Dad passes Pops on his way to the refrigerator to get more lettuce.

He puts a hand on his shoulder and kisses his temple.

“You know, I think that's the first time I've seen your parents kiss,” his girlfriend says.

He gazes at her fondly. She turns away, blush heavily decorating her cheeks. “I know what you're thinking,” she mutters, “and I can't wait for a future with you either.”

In that moment, Devon knows she is the girl for him.