Prompt: I'd love to read about Ash and Cael going to brunch with Ash's mom. Thanks so much!!
“This is ridiculous.”
Ash scowled at himself in the mirror. He’d been at this for an hour now. He turned to Cael with a frown. He lay the gray tie over his charcoal gray shirt beneath his collar.
“Tie or no tie?”
Cael smiled warmly as he crossed the bedroom to stop in front of Ash. He placed his hand over Ash’s, his voice gentle when he spoke.
“Ash, do you think your mom’s going to be happier to see you or the tie?”
Ash blinked at him. “Well, when you put it that way.” He tossed the tie onto the bed then turned to draw Cael into his arms. “Thank you.”
“For what?” Cael cocked his head, and Ash chuckled softly. How could Cael not see how much his support meant to him?
“For being here. For coming with me.” Ash brushed his fingers down Cael’s cheek. “I don’t think I could have done this without you.” He swallowed hard, still unable to believe he was going to be having brunch with his mother. There wasn’t a whole lot that Ash really gave a shit about. Very little ruffled his mane, because that would mean it mattered to him. Yeah, he bitched and griped, but that was mostly things pissing him off in general, but really get to him, enough to make him nervous? No.
A part of Ash was hesitant, telling himself it was too little too late. Why hadn’t she stood up to his father years ago, when he’d needed her most? He’d just lost his brother, and then shifted for the first time. He’d been terrified, in need of the woman who’d hugged them close at bedtime, and told them stories. Where was she when his father turned on him? The man had been an asshole, always. He’d looked for any excuse to “discipline” him and Arlo, though Ash had done his bets to keep his brother away from their father’s belt.
“Ash? Talk to me.”
Ash shook himself out of it, finding Cael’s hand on his where Ash had it over his cheek. He’d been rubbing it without realizing.
“I got hit in the face once, with the buckle of my dad’s belt. He used the end with the buckle because it would hurt more.” Ash wrinkled his nose at the memory. “Usually it was where our clothes would cover the marks, but I'd made the mistake of talking back. Actually, I think I was pleading with him. If I talked back, I was insubordinate and needed discipline. If I surrendered, I was pathetic.” Ash walked over to the bed and sat on the edge of it, his head in his hands. “Maybe this is a bad idea. She didn’t just throw me away, she let him hurt us. I’m sure he hit her too. We just didn’t see it. Why didn’t she do anything?”
The bed sank down beside him, and Cael’s soft voice broke through his pain.
“Maybe she was too scared. Terrified of what he’d do if she left. Where would she go? Who would she ask for help? What if they thought she was too weak to take care of herself? Maybe it was all so terrifying, and overwhelming that she didn’t know how to help herself, much less her kids.”
Ash straightened, his heart squeezing in his chest at Cael staring down at his fingers. “Cael?”
“I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel how you feel, or that she couldn't have done more. I’m just saying I understand how scared she must have been.”
Ash drew Cael into his arms. He kissed the top of his head and ran a hand over his back, soothing him. “I’m sorry I dragged you into my drama.”
Cael pulled back, a deep frown on his face. “You didn’t drag me into anything, Ash. I love you, and I want to be here for you no matter what. This is about you, what you feel, and what you want. It’s not about me. What I feel doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me,” Ash replied firmly. “You are the most important person in my life, Cael. Don’t ever question that.”
Cael’s smile reached his big gray eyes. He threw his arms around Ash’s neck, and kissed him. Ash wrapped his arms around him as he returned Cael’s kiss. He was warm, soft, and tasted deliciously sweet. Ash was tempted to stay right here, in bed, with Cael in his arms, kissing him, making love to him.
As if reading his thoughts, Cael smiled against his lips. “We should get going.”
Ash huffed. “Fine.”
Cael chuckled, and stood. He held his hand out to Ash, which Ash promptly took.
“You look amazing.”
Cael looked down at himself, tugging on the end of his gray vest, and shrugged, but there was no mistaking the blush in his cheeks. “It’s nothing special.”
The dark jeans looked fucking sexy on his lithe frame, and the preppy gray vest over the fitted blue and gray checked shirt accentuated his slender waist. The top button of the collar was open, and the sleeves neatly folded up to his elbows. Ash was still amazed that Cael wanted to be with him. He was just so damned… beautiful.
Ash placed a kiss to the top of Cael’s head. “You’re something special.”
“You’re such a big softie,” Cael purred, standing on his toes to give Ash’s lips a kiss.
“Only for you,” Ash teased. Fuck, he really was turning into such a sap. As long as Dex didn’t get wind of it, he’d be fine. Besides, it wasn’t like Sloane wasn’t a total sucker for Dex, and he didn’t care who knew it.
Ash laced his fingers with Cael’s, and they headed for the door. The café they’d chosen near Central Park was cozy, and when they arrived, his mother was already there. She’d gotten them a table near the back which Ash appreciated. It offered them a little more privacy. A lump formed in his throat when she smiled at him. She stood, and made to move toward him but stopped herself. As if she wasn’t sure she should, so he took the initiative, kissing her cheek.
“Hi.” Her eyes were glassy as patted his arm. She smiled brightly at Cael, and gave him a hug. “Cael, it’s so good to see you again.”
Cael smiled sweetly. “It’s good to see you too, Vivian.” He took a seat across from her, and Ash sat beside Cael. The waitress came, and they put in their order for coffees and pastries. Food was the last thing Ash wanted right now. Cael and Vivian exchanged pleasantries until the waitress returned with their drinks and food. Cael thanked the young woman, and took a sip of his decaf coffee, the table falling into silence. Ash noted the way his mother absently shifted the cutlery, or touched her cup without picking it up. She was nervous. Finally, she looked up at him.
“Thank you for coming. I wasn’t sure you would.” She dropped her gaze to her lap. “I wasn’t sure why you answered my call to be honest. I wouldn’t have blamed you if you told me… to never contact you again.”
Cael pressed his thigh to Ash’s, letting him know he was there, and Ash found the courage to speak up. How was it he suddenly felt like a little boy again? How did she still feel like his mother after so many years apart? After she’d abandoned him.
“I wanted to give you a chance,” Ash admitted. “I think we both deserve a second chance. In all honesty, I was surprised you called, and even more surprised you’d left him.”
She nodded. “After seeing you… I couldn’t go back to the way things were. I missed my baby boy.” Tears filled her eyes, and Ash placed his hand over hers, doing his best to remain quiet and composed while she said what she clearly needed to. “I failed you in so many ways, you and your brother. Before and… after.” She shook her head, her bottom lip trembling. “I was so scared, and devastated. I couldn’t believe Arlo was gone, and then you… you shifted. I know that’s no excuse. I… I let him… hurt my babies.” She broke into tears, and Ash went around to sit beside her, pulling her into his embrace. She buried her face into his chest, and he kissed the top of her head as she sobbed. He had tears running down his cheeks, but he didn’t care. He focused on his breathing, and comforting his mother. he wanted to be mad at her, hate her for what she'd done, but he never did. Not really. He blamed himself. Told himself she left because he was an abomination. He'd had so much anger inside him for so long, he didn't want to go back to that. He'd changed. Maybe not completely, but where it mattered. He had so much good in his life now.
When she pulled away, she thanked Cael for the napkins. She dried her eyes and blew her nose. She wouldn’t look at Ash. “I don’t know how you can stand to look at me. I’m a failure as a mother. If I’d done something sooner…. If I’d taken you and Arlo, and left, Arlo might be alive today, and I’d have my boys.”
Ash placed his fingers under her chin, and turned her face so he could meet her gaze. So much heartache and pain in her blue eyes. “Listen, I know what it’s like to live your life steeped in regrets and what-if scenarios. Don’t. What happened to Arlo wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t yours either. The past can’t be changed, but we can have a future. A family. I’d really like for you to be a part of my life.” He reached across the table to take Cael’s hand in his. “Of our lives.”
She looked up at him with big wide eyes. “Really? You… want me in your lives?”
Ash nodded. “Very much.”
His mother threw her arms around him and squeezed him tight. He couldn’t help but wrap his arms around her. He turned his face into her hair, and closed his eyes. Her scent hadn’t changed. Still the soft rose scented perfume she’d always worn. Back then his arms just about encircled her waist. Had he really been that small? She felt so tiny and fragile in his arms, and a fierce sense of protectiveness washed over him. She’d been hurt too, by a man who’d vowed to cherish her and love her. Richard Keeler should have protected his family, loved them. Instead he wallowed in his misery, growing bitter, angry, and taking his pain out on his family. Not anymore. Not while Ash could do something about it. He pulled away, and wiped her cheeks.
“Where are you staying? Are you safe?”
“Yes. When your father—”
“Richard,” he corrected. “He doesn’t deserve that title.”
She nodded. “When Richard went out to drink with his friends, I went online and looked up organizations that might be able to help me. I found one whose mission included helping women in similar situations. I went to their office, spoke to a lovely Therian lady who listened to every word I said. I admit, I was afraid she would ask me to leave, knowing what I had done. I told her how much I missed you, and how after seeing you, there was nothing I wanted more than the chance to have my son back. She took my hands, smiled, and said she was glad I came to them. They helped me move out, found me a lovely apartment, a job, and an incredible divorce lawyer.” She smiled wide, and Ash couldn’t help his grin.
“I’m so happy for you.”
“I was terrified, but now… I’m happy for me too.” She gave his hands a squeeze. “For the first time in years, I feel like my own person, like I have a say in my own life.” She turned to rifle through her purse, removing a piece of notepad paper and a pen. She scribbled something down before handing it to him. “You already have my cell phone number. Here’s my address. Please come visit whenever you like. You and Cael.”
Ash took the paper with a smile, and nodded. He folded it up and put it in his wallet. Standing, he sat back down across the table next to Cael, and kissed his temple before turning back to his mom. “You can bet on it. And any time you’d like to come over, just let me know. The only reason you need to call is because my work schedule changes a lot, and I’m basically always on call in case of an emergency.”
“Of course.” Her smile grew sly as she looked from him to Cael and back. “Plus I wouldn’t want to barge in on you boys, um, enjoying each other’s company.”
Ash’s eyes went wide, his face all but spontaneously combusting while Cael giggled beside him. Ash arched an eyebrow at him.
“What?” Cael asked innocently. He leaned in, whispering loudly. “I like her.”
Vivian laughed, the sound filling Ash with warmth. When was the last time his mother had laughed? Ash poked Cael on his side playfully, making him squirm and laugh. Cael started chatting enthusiastically with Vivian, telling her how she had to meet the team, including his crazy brother who was the boyfriend of Ash’s best friend Sloane, then regaled her with tales of their team’s shenanigans, usually instigated by his brother. Ash was happy. He’d lost his family and found one in Destructive Delta, and now his family had grown again to include his mom. Maybe Sloane was onto something with this whole family thing. Ash was certainly happy to find out.