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Follow My Lead

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“Hey so... I need you to meet my sister,” Mitch told Cam hesitantly as he sipped his coffee. They had been hanging out in this coffee shop after work for three days straight.

“Your sister? Okay sure. And your parents?” Cam was curious to see the people related to the man who orchestrated this elaborate story. It would give him an idea of Mitch’s backstory and why he resorted to a fake relationship narrative.

“Oh no. It was a mistake telling my sister, Claire. Usually, I only tell her I’m dating someone if I’m serious about the person. I slipped. I accidentally told her. And I’m a lawyer, I’m usually careful with my choice of words and my strategies.”

“That’s fine. People make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up. So... tell me about your family.” Cam smiled as he spoke.

“Oh, it’s just gonna be Claire, and her husband, Phil, plus their kids. My parents... I’ve only introduced them to one ex-boyfriend, Teddy.”

“Hmm...why?”

“Trust me, you don’t wanna meet my dad... and my mom. They’re horrible people. I mean... they have good traits of course, but... I don’t wanna talk about it.” Mitch replied as he remembered how crazy his parents were.

“Awww sorry about that,” Cam replied as he moved closer to Mitch to hug him when he stopped himself because he remembered they weren’t really that close, at least not yet. Mitch pretended not to notice. Cam continued, “Some parents are bad. I’m lucky, my parents are understanding enough.”

“Good for you. Is it a ‘storybook childhood’ you had? You usually use ‘storybook’ as an adjective. I mean, I noticed because of spending quite some time with you. We’re really good at doing research and getting to know each other.”

“It’s not ‘storybook’ exactly but it was good and happy enough. And by the way, I love this ‘research’ we’re doing.” Cam used his hands to signify quotation marks as he spoke about the ‘research’ they do.

“Hey... we actually do research. We need to make this believable. That’s one of the things a lawyer needs to do. So it’s good that we talk about ourselves and really get to know each other as we can use this--”

“As a material for future scenarios.” Cam finished Mitch’s thought. They both blushed a little. Cam felt awkward so he spoke, “The thing is, won’t your dad visit your sister’s house? I mean... we can’t hide this forever. Well, what I mean is--”

“Yeah, I know. We can’t hide this fake relationship from everyone. My dad doesn’t usually visit Claire’s house. He’s busy coz he’s been dating a woman named Gloria and we haven’t even met her yet.”

“Alright, just be ready, to be sure. We don’t know who we might run into and sell this story to. So I’ll meet you tomorrow?” Cam asked as he stood up.

“Yeah 4 pm tomorrow, see ya,” Mitch replied.

Mitch smiled as he stared at Cam walking in a jumpy, flamboyant manner. He enjoyed these coffee meet-ups for ‘research’ purposes.

***

“So... where is he?” Claire asked Mitch with a teasing smile.

“He’s getting something from the car--”

“And you left him? When you introduce a boyfriend to your family, you should be with him every step of the way. You can’t just leave him and let him enter the house alone.” Claire couldn’t believe how her brother was insensitive sometimes.

“Because he might be a serial killer and you just wanna protect your children?” Mitch jokingly asked.

“No. Well, yeah. But you have to be supportive. You know how Phil was so nervous meeting you and dad? Formally, at least. Dad met him long before the first official meeting. Although Phil played it so cool, he was going crazy.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll get Cam,” Mitch said as Cam entered the room.

“Get me what?” Cam asked as he was holding a bottle of wine.

“No, nothing. So, Cam, this is my sister, Claire.”

“Oh hello, nice to finally meet you. Mitchell’s told me all about you and...well your family.” Cam enthusiastically spoke.

“That’s nice. I didn’t think Mitchell was so proud of his family--”

“I wasn’t proud. I just told Cam all the crazy things we did, well you did, when we were kids.”

“No, it’s all good. Kids do crazy things all the time. I teach music at the local school and I know how kids can be mean sometimes. They just need a healthy outlet.” Cam replied and Claire thought that Cam could be a good father someday. She knew how Mitch could be too uptight, but why was she thinking about her brother starting a family? Her thoughts were interrupted when Cam added, “And don’t get me started on my childhood at the farm--”

“Oh, you grew up on a farm??” Claire asked while trying to mask her surprise.

“Yeah, I did. It was fun and an adventure in itself. Why? Are you--”

“No, it’s just something different from all the guys Mitch dated--”

“All the guys? I introduced you to one.” Mitch clarified.

“Awww, Mitch. You introduced me to one but I knew most of them.“

“What? How? Are you a stalker? You could have been a lawyer with your detective skills--” Mitch told his sister as he was shocked and a little worried with this revelation but not as much as when Cam chimed back in the conversation.

“I was a teenage detective once.”

“What??!!” Mitch and Claire spoke and looked at Cam at the same time as they were in shock. The conversation was starting to get ridiculous.

“That’s probably one of your exaggerations from your farm life,” Mitch exclaimed.

“Ouch! That hurts. To be accused by the man I... you know, you.” Cam paused as he was taken aback by what he said.

He then continued, “Why would you say something like that?”

Mitch couldn’t tell yet if this usually dramatic man was playing to be extra dramatic at that point or if he was indeed hurt, easily. Plus, what was that bit about ‘the man I...’? Mitch thought Cam was overselling this story.

Mitch replied, “That couldn’t be possibly true. I think people in the countryside must have been bored sometimes and you make up stories? There is no way there are teenage detectives anywhere in real life.” When Mitch finished his little speech, he saw Cam’s disappointed reaction and Claire signaling him in sibling telepathy that he was blowing this up.

“You were a teenage detective?!! Cool, how awesome is that? I have a detective uncle now!” Luke walked into the room and it somehow minimized the tension. Although it also added a different type of tension when this inquisitive boy hinted at Cam being his new uncle. Wasn’t it too soon to assume?

“I sure was! And who is this charming little boy?” Cam asked as he was relieved to have an ally and he, for the first time in this conversation, started to use hand gestures when speaking.

“Oh, this is my nephew, Luke. He is charming, yes. Luke, why don’t you let your new uncle Cam go meet your sisters, huh? Go ahead.” Mitch spoke as he gestured them to go to the tv room where Haley and Alex were hanging out.

When they were out of earshot, Claire immediately asked, “Uncle Cam? Luke might become too fond of him and he would be sad if... you know, you ruin this relationship, as you usually do. But please, don’t. I kinda like Cam, of all your boyfriends.”

“Okay, I’m still bothered by how you know about my exes but we’ll circle back to that later. So do you think I offended Cam with my comment on him being a teenage detective? I mean, it’s a silly story, right?” Mitch asked as he felt guilty but also he was ready to forget about this.

“How would I know? You’re the one dating him. Is he oversensitive? Was that a genuine reaction from him earlier? What other farm stories has he told you?”

“Well... I’ve been spending some time with him in the last week and... yeah I think he was offended by it. I’ll talk to him later. So you like Cam for me?” Mitch didn’t know why he asked his sister about this. It wasn’t as if he cared for the answer. At least not at that point.

Claire responded, “He’s...different and you need that. You need to loosen up and be crazy sometimes.” She then lowered her voice and whispered to Mitchell, “But thinking about it now, I don’t think this is gonna last. Maybe skip this one. Just enjoy it for now and move on later.”

“Whoa, that’s harsh?!! What if I actually like him and see myself spending the rest of my life with him, huh?” Mitch was surprised by his reaction. This was a fake story and somehow he was getting carried away.

“Uh... Mitch--”

Claire was interrupted when Phil walked into the living room. “Wow, will I hear some wedding bells in the future, Mitch? Congrats! I’d love to go and officiate your wedding someday. Cam already likes me, I can tell.”

“Okay, things are moving too fast--” Mitch replied with a slight internal panic attack.

“Well, you started it.” Claire teased her brother while getting a little worried for him.

“Started what?” Cam walked into the room with all the Dunphy kids falling into his charm.

“Nothing.” Claire, Phil, and Mitch answered in unison. That was awkward.

“Ooookay. That’s not weird at all. Listen, I wanna take the kids for ice cream. We should all go... so I won’t be accused of kidnapping them.” Cam spoke to ease the tension.

“You’re really funny.” Luke chuckled as he was getting something off his hair. He had a habit of getting stuck in things and getting things stuck in his hair.

Alex chimed in proudly, “And don’t worry, Uncle Cam, if they try to arrest you for kidnapping us, we’ll just tell them that our parents abandoned us and that you are our guardian. But of course, we need some paperwork for it to be believable which is what Uncle Mitch is for.”

“Oh, I would like that. Uncle Cam already recommended some great hair products to me and he loves my style. I can totally see him and Uncle Mitch as the parents I never had.” Haley added as she briefly looked up from her phone and then back at it afterward.

“Hey, I tell you about impeccable hair products all the time,” Phil responded as everyone in the room except Haley quietly reacted with their faces.

“Well... this has been great but Cam and I are supposed to hang out here with you guys.” Mitch tried to convince the kids but they were ice cream teased already.

“Why don’t you want Uncle Cam to go to the mall with us? You’re gonna be there too, Uncle Mitch.” Alex asked with a bit of suspicion.

Without thinking, Mitch replied, “Exactly. I’m gonna be there, and other people and...”

“Wait, so you don’t want to be seen with me in public? Oh, wait, because of your dad. Who knows if he wanders in the mall, in the afternoons, with Gloria. Yes, I know all about this new and younger woman that your granddaddy is dating.” Cam spoke with confidence.

“Grandpa has a girlfriend?” Luke asked. Cam shifted a little as he got worried if he spilled a secret.

Haley once again looked up from her phone, “Yes, he does. I stalked Gloria’s Facebook. She’s really pretty. Mom told us about this.”

“Oh good. I thought I overstepped my boundaries.” Cam said as he looked at Mitchell who was still adamant about going out.

“I want ice cream too. Let’s all go out.” Phil spoke as he looked for his car keys.

Cam moved closer to Mitchell and spoke tenderly, “It’s gonna be fine. It’s just ice cream. Whatever happens, happens. I’m sure your dad will be enamored by my charms. I’m really good with young and old people, you know.”

“Fine. Let’s go to my car.” Mitch replied when Haley suggested, “Aww but we kinda want Uncle Cam to be in the car with us.”

“He’s so funny. And is it really true that you are a clown?” Luke asked and Mitch couldn’t help but also ask, “Wait, you already told them about that? I was thinking of keeping that a secret.”

“And rob them of the joy of being a kid? I’m telling you, on Luke’s next birthday, I’ll be a clown if he asks me to.”

“Yeah, that would be cool! I have a detective and a clown uncle.” Luke replied. Mitchell wanted to roll his eyes but Claire told him not to, in front of the kids as they might imitate it.

They all went to the mall. Cam and Phil drove together along with the kids as they insisted on spending more time with Cam. Mitch and Claire drove together.

***
Claire and Phil ran an errand in the mall so it was Mitch and Cam who were taking the kids to ice cream. Cam was standing near the ice cream stall with the Dunphy kids as Mitch was looking for a table for all of them when Jay saw the kids.

As soon as Mitch found a table and sat down, he saw Jay walking towards him. He stood up to meet his dad.

“Dad, hi. What a coincidence that you’re here. Of course, this would happen.” Mitch started the conversation awkwardly. Of course, he did.

“What, you don’t want me here? It’s a mall. It’s a public space. Plus I was here earlier. Manny, Gloria’s kid, wanted ice cream.”

“Where is this Gloria huh? And she has a kid... how old is he? I thought you don’t wanna date anyone with a kid?”

“I thought I didn’t, but what do you know. She adores that kid and I adore her.”

“Oh Dad, don’t wanna hear about that.”

“Hey so, who is that man buying ice cream for my grandkids, huh? I mean you’re right here, you see him, right, so it’s okay he’s giving them ice cream?”

“Yeah, I know him. He’s fine.” Mitch replied casually.

“Who is he?”

Mitch hesitated for a moment, but he needed to answer, “Umm...my boyfriend.”

“A new one, huh. How long has it been since the last one?” Jay asked, with a bit of feeling uncomfortable as he was still trying to accept that his son was gay.

“You’re interested to know?”

“Well, I mean, you only introduced one to me and I barely saw him. I only know he’s a pretty stable guy. He’s a doctor. I don’t even know why you broke up. But nah, don’t tell me--”

“And there’s the father I know.”

“Come on. I’ve grown. If you’re gonna date, make sure he’s stable and dependable.” Jay replied sincerely but Mitch still took offense to it.

“It’s not an ‘if.’ Of course, I’m gonna date, dad. He’s... stable in some ways, I guess.” Mitch responded and a few seconds later, Jay’s phone rang. It was Gloria. It was a short phone conversation.

“Listen, I gotta go meet Gloria and Manny in the department store--”

“Wow, you’re already shopping for them, huh, she must be--”

“Don’t. I’m not. They needed to buy a gift for Manny’s classmate’s party. I offered to pay but she didn’t accept it. I’ll meet this boyfriend of yours some other time. He seems different from the last one.”

“Sure, dad.”

Jay left and a few minutes later, Cam and the kids joined him on the table.

“So my dad was here,” Mitch spoke hesitantly.

“What? Why didn’t you tell me? I wanna meet him!” Cam spoke more energetically that Mitch didn’t think was possible. So far, he witnessed how Cam could be dramatic but at that point, the sugar rush was already affecting Cam.

“He’s the one who said he’d like to meet you some other time. But can we not? If possible?”

“We can’t hide forever. We might not have to, who knows how long this is gonna last.” Cam casually replied and the kids faced their two uncles in a surprised but with a hint of sadness look.

“Oh no, Cam means...”

“Yeah, I just meant we might not even have to meet your grandpa as boyfriends because we might have eloped to another country already, to get married.” In his mind, Cam thought that the improv classes he signed up for years ago were paying off. Being quick-witted is a hallmark of a great actor, at least that’s what he believed in.

“Gay marriage is not allowed in most countries and even in America, it’s only allowed in a few states, so what do you mean, Uncle Cam?” Alex quipped back. She’s the observant and smart type.

“Oh Alex, he’s just being silly. Come on, you like fun Cam who tells questionable stories--”

“I really don’t appreciate you not believing my stories--” Cam retorted.

“Awww are you guys fighting?” Haley asked while texting.

“Don’t fight. I like to have two fun gay uncles.” Luke added.

“We’re not.” Cam and Mitch answered simultaneously. They looked at each other and they could see in each other’s faces how they’re both feeling guilty lying to the kids.

“Uncle Cam, can we go shop for accessories after this? I wanna buy myself a ring. Just something cute from a boutique.” Haley asked as he finished her ice cream.

“Why do you want a ring?” Alex dismissively asked.

“Why do you care? Just because you--” Haley replied but she was interrupted.

“Hey, hey, people express themselves in different ways, whether it’s through accessories or learning, both are fine,” Cam spoke calmly and Mitch couldn’t help but smile at how Cam was good with kids. He thought about how he would be a great father when he stopped and asked himself why he was thinking about this?

Cam continued, “I wanna look at some accessories too.”

“You guys should get rings. It would be cute!” Haley suggested.

“Yeah and how we’re like your kids, right?” Luke was adding fuel to the fire.

“It would be nice to not be a Dunphy for a day. I mean, our parents are great. They try their best but I always wonder how it feels to be part of another family, even for a day.” Alex chimed in.

“Oookay...let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Umm sure, if you guys wanna go shopping. I’ll call Claire to let them know where we are.” Mitch uttered. They all stood and left the ice cream place.

Mitch pulled Cam aside, and with worry in his voice, whispered, “Cam, are we taking this too far? The kids will be heartbroken if they discovered that you know, this is all fake.”

“You just tell them we broke up,” Cam replied casually.

“Oh yeah, because I’m gonna be the bearer of bad news and you just move on with your life.”

“Fine, we’ll tell them together. I mean... it’s not for a long time, right? I mean, you started this. What’s the plan, Mitchell?”

Mitch started to panic. “I don’t know. I’m starting to get stressed. I shouldn’t have told Claire. It should have been just with our snobby friends.”

Cam placed his hands on Mitchell’s shoulders, looked at his face, and spoke calmly, “Okay, deep breath. Relax. We’re good. Hey, look at me, we’re good right now.” Just like that, they had this direct eye contact for almost 10 seconds.

“Ooooohhhhh are you gonna kiss in the middle of the mall?” Luke’s words broke the illusory haze that the direct gaze of the two brought upon to this place if this was a fantasy novel.

Cam and Mitch realized they were looking intently at each other in the middle of the mall with Cam’s hands on Mitch’s shoulders when Luke spoke, so they broke it off and backed away from each other.

Cam, once again reassured Mitch, “It’s all okay. You’re fine. We got this.”

“Yeah, thank you.” Mitch responded sweetly to Cam, before facing the kids and told them, “Okay, who’s ready to shop for accessories? I’m in the mood for some rings.”

Mitch walked towards the kids, smiling at what he just said. Cam didn’t see it as he could only see Mitch with the kids walking towards a boutique. Cam also smiled at what he heard.