A/N: Two things. First: The gift art gallery is live! I’m still in the process of adding things to it, there’s quite a few pieces. It contains spoilers, so be aware of that.
Second: I put two Pride art prints in my shop (one of them is a spoiler, but like…if you made it this far, y’all know where this story is headed lol). They’re $6 each, and all proceeds will be donated to Equality Florida.
“Salut!” Roland greeted with a wave, and Mitch ran to meet him in the front yard. He was enveloped in a tight hug, and Roland’s fingers lightly stroked the back of his head.
“What’re you doing here?” asked Mitch. “I would have bought more groceries if I knew you were coming. Do you want to go to lunch?”
“No no, that is quite alright,” Roland chuckled, and steered Mitch back inside by placing a hand between his shoulders. “Forgive me for dropping in like this. I wanted to see you, it has been some time.” Something about Roland’s refusal to adapt to contractions caused Mitch’s heart to swell with fondness. He adored how his uncle always came across as a bit formal when he spoke English, as if being casual was a concession too far for Roland. Mitch himself lacked that tenacity, having put great efforts into assimilating when he as a teenager to avoid getting picked on by his classmates.
“I’m sorry, I’ve been meaning to visit. Life hasn’t been so great,” Mitch admitted. He stashed the cigarette pack into his coat pocket before Roland could see it, not needing to advertise more of his shame for consumption. Although his clothes must have reeked of smoke and nicotine by now.
“I understand,” Roland assured with a kind smile, then puttered about the kitchen and pulled out the kettle. After setting it on the stove, he pulled out a painted tin container and eyeballed it. “I see we need to stock up. Is chocolate mint alright? I believe this is left over from the herb garden at home.”
“Of course.” Typically, Mitch wasn’t much of a tea enthusiast, but he’d drink with his aunt and uncle. Per Roland’s suggestion, he sat at the kitchen table and lavished Juno with attention, whose tongue lolled and tail wagged in broad sweeps. Minutes later, Roland slid the mug with the leaf imprints in front of him, then took a seat across the table with a cup of his own.
As they shared their tea together, Roland took long glances at Mitch that were loving yet concerned. Like Marie, his hair turned gray, and his slender fingers were more knobbly and spotted than Mitch remembered them being. Still, even with the silver, he was handsome as ever; Mitch could only hope to look so good, if he ever reached that age.
“We have missed having you around,” Roland finally remarked.
“I’m sorry,” Mitch apologized once more. “I’ve missed being around, I just…” he trailed off and swallowed, then stared down at the steam that wafted from his cup.
“Just what?” Roland calmly asked, triggering Mitch to look away and grind the heel of his palm into his eyes.
He couldn’t very well avoid it any longer, he realized, and his chest seized up as terror gripped his heart and bones and turned his insides to ice. Something thrashed about wildly, perhaps his soul trying to escape for self-preservation purposes. If he died at that very moment, he wouldn’t need to address this.
But despite trying, he stayed alive. “I’ve screwed up so much,” Mitch spoke at last, his voice fragile as he tried not to choke. With each word, the cracks spread further out and compromised what little stability that remained. “You and Marie took me in, spent a small fortune to try to make me well. I repaid you by repeatedly fucking up.”
“Oh Mitch,” Roland started. “It is alright-”
“It’s not, though!” He cried out and slammed his palm down, startling Roland. “It’s not alright that I upended your lives and thanked you by pissing mine away. I’m such a disappointment, I can’t get my shit straight for the life of me, and you continue to give me these chances.” His arms folded onto the table, and he dropped his head onto them. A few moments passed, and he felt fingertips graze his hands. “I’m sorry,” he whimpered. “I’m sorry that I’m like this, that I’m not better.”
Roland exhaled. “Is that really how you see yourself?” He paused, and when he spoke again there was an uncharacteristic tremor in his voice. “A burden? A disappointment? How you think that Marie and I see you?”
“How could you not?” sobbed Mitch.
“Because we love you, Mitch.” Roland’s words only provoked more tears, more hysterics. “You have overcome difficult odds, but you continue to deny yourself support. I cannot imagine how difficult that must be, but it certainly hurts to see you hurt like this. Did we say something to make you think that you could not come to us in moments of need?”
“No!” Mitch’s head shot up. He wiped his eyes with his sleeve, then took a moment to collect himself to articulate as best he could. “God, never. That’s just it, you’ve done so much, and it’s wrong to take advantage of that over and over while I keep running into the same walls.”
A few moments of silence passed, and Roland’s thumb gently rubbed the inside of Mitch’s wrist. “Just so you know,” his voice was low, even for as soft spoken as he was. “We have never once been disappointed in you. I know you hold yourself to impossible standards, but never have we ever regretted bringing you into our lives.”
Mitch let out a wet laugh. “How? You both have doctorates, and I almost failed out of college.” He nearly spoke aloud the reason -the breakdown during his senior year and the habits that followed which nearly killed him- but stopped himself and swallowed it back, the suppressed words feeling like razorblades as they tore down his throat. Because it was a pain that his uncle didn’t need to relive, so Mitch spared him out of love. “I barely have a career, but you’re a professor. Marie runs an entire research laboratory for a university, for crissakes.”
“We were able to establish our careers when the market was favorable and the future was not so grim. It is hard to be a young person, I would know, I teach them.” Roland offered a sympathetic smile. “But we -I- have always, always been proud of you, and the man you have become. You have not had an easy path, and yet you still march forward. A lesser person would have crumbled by now, and still you somehow always persist. Your resilience is both terrifying and admirable, and despite that, you remain soft and kind.”
Yet, crumble Mitch did as he wept harder. Roland came around the table and threw his arms around him, and they stayed like that for several minutes until Mitch began to calm down at last. “I only wish you would come to us,” Roland said mournfully.
“OK,” Mitch sniffled, and the tension drained from his body. “I’ll do better, I swear.”
“Good,” Roland kissed the top of his head, then took the seat next to him, the rims of his eyes red and swollen. He cleared his throat. “Now then, could you tell me what brought you here?”