Robert’s lounging on the couch while Aaron is clearing away the clean dishes when Liv comes down the stairs. She comes to a stop right at the bottom of the stairs and looks from Robert to Aaron, as if she’s about to make an announcement.
Robert doesn’t think Aaron has noticed as he still hears the clinking of the dishes. Robert sits up and looks at Liv questioningly. She smiles a little and almost seems unsure which makes Robert frown slightly.
“Have you seen this show?” She asks then as she walks over to Robert. It’s not what he was expecting her to say.
Before he can say anything else she shows him her phone, he quickly scans the page and reads that the show Liv’s asking him about is called Heartstopper. The article opened on Liv’s phone calls it a queer show, with two young boys falling in love as its main plot.
“Uh no?“ He says, his own voice now sounding somewhat unsure.
Liv coughs before shrugging casually. “You should.”
Robert wants to ask why but suddenly Aaron’s standing behind the couch, his hands gently placed on Robert’s shoulders.
“What’s this show about then?” Aaron asks.
Liv opens her mouth before closing it again and instead of answering she gives Aaron her phone.
“I don’t know why you can’t just tell me.” He laughs before glancing at the screen.
After a few seconds he hands it back to her and Robert glances over his shoulders to gauge his husband’s reaction.
“It looks.. nice but a bit young.” Aaron says and Robert nods vaguely having come to the same conclusion as he had quickly scanned the article about the show.
“Yeah- I guess. But it’s really good and… positive. I’m just saying- and it’s really popular right now and all over the internet.” Liv says, rambling slightly. There are a few beats of silence and Liv suddenly looks uncomfortable. “I mean you obviously don’t have to it’s just- I watched it and thought of you two. That may sound weird but I don’t know.” She is looking slightly embarrassed now and Robert shakes his head. “Liv it’s okay. It’s nice of you. We will look at it.”
Liv smiles at him, genuine. “You honestly don’t have to I just-“ she shrugs again and then glances between the pair of them. “Yes, anyways I’m off now. This was very awkward.” She turns away and walks towards the door. “See you later!”
“Okay?” Aaron laughs before flopping down on the couch next to Robert.
“That was odd.” Aaron says, looking at him with an amused expression.
“Yeah.” Robert laughs softly, “I think she meant well though.” He says. He thinks he’s come across the show on Netflix before as it was, just as Liv had said, very popular at the moment.
“Maybe we should watch it.” He says before he can change his mind.
“Really?” Aaron frowns, “I think it’s about two schoolboys!”
“So, we were schoolboys once.” He says, thinks that this might be why Liv wants them to watch it. She had called it a positive show, one most likely showing a different experience of coming to terms with things like sexuality and love than either of them had had.
Robert can feel Aaron watching him, reading him.
“Sure, why not?”
They binge-watch the whole series in a couple of hours that afternoon since they both have the day off with nothing in particular planned.
Watching the character called Nick figure out and accept his bisexuality is somewhat of a weird experience for Robert. It’s like he’s looking at a younger version of himself. He remembers what it was like, liking a boy for the first time and being so incredibly confused about it. He remembers wanting to be close to Tom, the farmhand, wanting to touch him, wanting to know what holding his hand would feel like.
He also remembers trying to get hold of information about sexuality, anything that might tell him something about himself. It wasn’t easy though. Of course, the internet wasn’t what it is right now and he was scared of Andy or his dad being able to trace what he had looked at. The computers at the café or the school library obviously did not offer a solution to this either.
He did most of his research once he had left Emmerdale, then kept what he had learned mostly to himself and carried on pretending he wasn’t anything but straight.
He watches Nick be so confused after kissing Charlie, another boy, for the first time and it actually makes him tear up a little. He remembers his own emotions and feelings when that had been him. The panic, the loneliness. He wonders what it would have been like if he had had someone to talk to about it all back then.
He wonders what it would have meant for him if he had had access to all that information on the internet about bisexuality when he needed it. Despite him and Nick growing up in completely different worlds with regards to tolerance and acceptance, Robert finds himself relating to Nick’s experience.
The show gives an insight into what Robert’s experience could have been like, but most importantly, Robert thinks, it shows what this journey can look like for queer kids nowadays, and that makes him feel hopeful.
Throughout watching the show, Aaron squeezes Robert’s hand and strokes at his arm in comfort, clearly reading Robert well and realising that it’s bringing up memories for him and making him feel things that he can’t quite put his finger on.
When the credits roll on the last episode Aaron says, “so did Liv want us to watch this because this could have been us?”
Robert snorts, “yeah in a completely different universe, I suppose it could have been.” He says, voice trailing off slightly and Aaron looks at him, expression soft.
“It’s a bit-“ Aaron says, clearly searching for the right word.
“Bittersweet?” Robert suggests, because he’s realising that that’s what it kind of feels like for him. It’s amazing and beautiful that young queer kids get to watch this and feel seen, but he also wishes that he could have had this when he was younger. Or that he had been like one of the characters, comfortable and confident with his sexuality when he was a teenager.
“Yeah.” Aaron says.
“So much has changed in the last however many years- and so much still needs to be done but yeah- this was unthinkable when we were young.”
Aaron nods thoughtfully, a glazed expression on his face and Robert knows his husband is thinking about his own struggles coming to terms with his sexuality. He squeezes his hand, they’ve come a long way. Aaron squeezes back.
“Do you think it would have been easier?” Aaron asks after a few seconds of them both just reflecting in silence.
Robert says nothing as he looks at Aaron for clarification. “For you.” He adds then, watching Robert carefully.
“Um. I think- I think that everything would have been different you know?” He gulps, despite Aaron knowing everything about him it’s still not easy for him to talk about it. It annoys him really, because he feels like after this long he should be able to speak about it more easily.
“I mean- I think that I would have been better about it all if my dad hadn’t been- well you know and if he hadn’t-“
Robert wonders if it will always be this hard. He feels Aaron stroking his thumb across the back of his hand and it helps, it steadies him.
“It’s not an excuse for how I acted- everything I did to hide who I was but yeah I guess just the general opinions of people close to me would have made a difference.” He bites his lip. He hopes it would have made a difference but he doesn’t know- maybe he would have still hated himself and hidden that part of him. The thought makes him feel uneasy so he tries to forget it immediately.
Aaron nods in understanding. “I think it’s hard to compare.”
Robert wonders what it would have been like if they had met when they were in their early teens. It’s hard to imagine. He wonders if they would have even liked each other. He smiles at the thought.
“What are you smirking about?” Aaron asks.
“Imagine if we had met when we were young.”
“Excuse me- speak for yourself. I was young when I met you.”
Robert laughs, “I mean when we were in our teens.”
Aaron seems to think it over before answering, “It’s weird to think about. I can’t imagine it, dunno why. Not sure if I would have even fancied ya to be honest.”
Robert laughs at that because it’s just the remark from Aaron that he had expected.
This is something new- talking almost casually about their experiences being queer. It’s nice, Robert decides.
“I also think it’s about representation, you know.” Robert thinks out loud. “I never saw anything like this, not in books, not on television, not in school.”
Aaron nods, “that’s why this series and everything else that’s out there nowadays is so amazing.”
“Yeah- things have changed a lot haven’t they?”
He thinks about the scene where Nick comes out to his mum. Aaron had squeezed his hand during it, knowing exactly what was going through Robert’s head during that scene.
Deep down Robert knows having his mum with him would have made a huge difference, possibly even the biggest difference.
It’s hard thinking about how things could have been different because there had never been a time he could have controlled those things. It’s okay though, because things are better now than they were. Robert gets to have this life, he gets to be himself and feel safe- and all that in a village that at one point he could never see himself returning to.
Seb and Jacob get to be whoever they want to be in a world that is more tolerant than it was when he and Aaron were growing up.
Most importantly though, the people closest to them will never make them feel bad or unwanted for being whoever it is they want to be. Robert knows just how much of a difference that will make. He might not have been able to have that when he was young but he can be all of that to his own children. He can show them shows like Heartstopper and teach them about the world and everyone in it.
Robert might not be able to change his own experience of coming to terms with his sexuality but he can hold onto a brighter present and an even brighter future.