Loving Ruben Pacheco is easy. He's sweet, he's supportive, he keeps the bills paid and plenty of food on the table. Loving living with Ruben's parents presents more of a challenge. They're critical, overbearing, and openly rooting for Gabe to go home so Ruben might crawl back into the closet.
Gabe’s in love, but he’s getting annoyed -- Ruben's great and all, but is he worth all the hassle?
Note: This short story was originally published in the charity collection, Love Is Proud.
Ruben is as sweet as a guy can get. Especially to me. He encourages me as a writer, supports me as a roommate, and exults in me as a lover. He tells me I’m beautiful, defends me to his parents, and he smiles every time I walk in the room. Which makes it hard to be aggravated with him, but where there’s a will, there’s a way, and lately I feel like I can’t hardly wait for even the most veiled invitation to histrionics. I’m always underfoot, always in somebody’s way. I’m too loud when I laugh. I take up too much of the couch. I can’t put one foot right in my own home, so I’m always on the defensive. Especially because nobody but Ruben -- certainly not I -- would ever classify the castle-in-a-cul-de-sac that Pacheco’s Used Cars built as “my home.” After three of them in as many years, I’m through with entry-level service-industry jobs, so my bank account has nothing in it but cobwebs, but my mom and her boyfriend have a poorly carpeted split-level in the ‘burbs, too. Not everybody’s idea of “options,” maybe, but I’m getting to the point where The Hell Away From His Parents is the only place I can think about going, whether Ruben’s there or not.
In which mood I very nearly reject Ruben’s suggestion that we get cleaned up and go out. I’ve already opened a beer, a big bag of chips, and Netflix on my phone -- I’m wallowing here! “I’m not really up to it tonight.”
“Cuz you have what better to do?”
I don’t say lay around and watch TV, but I crunch a handful of chips by way of making sure it’s implied.
“Come on. You’re always looking for reasons to get out of this house,” he reminds me.
You have no idea, I think. “Meh, not tonight,” I say. Crunch, crunch.
“I don’t really want to chill here tonight,” he tells me.
His mom barges in. So focused on Ruben she barely remembers to toss me my disdainful glance. “Those pants don’t leave very much to the imagination, mijo,” she tells him. “Can’t you put on something a little less ... hip-hugging? I’d hate for Carmen’s niece to get the wrong idea.”
“Like she might think I’m a big queer? That’s not the ‘wrong idea,’ Ma.”
She loads plenty of disdain into this glance. She pointedly looks me up, down, then up again and says, “Well, it wasn’t the best idea you ever had.”
Maybe not, but his idea to beat feet out of the house before Carmen rolls in with some spinster niece is right up there.
“Just let me put on my shoes,” I tell him.
“Put ‘em on in the car.”
“But what will I tell Carmen’s niece?” frets Mrs. Pacheco.
Ruben shrugs. “Tell her if she can’t find a husband and wants to try looking for a girlfriend she can come meet us at the Ramrod.”
“It’s like you want to be gay!”
“See, you say that like it’s sinking in ...” Ruben takes my hand, I grab my shoes, and we go.