Please welcome Laura Lascarso with
The Bravest Thing
Meeting the Parents
In my new novel, THE BRAVEST THNG, there’s a scene where Hiroku invites Berlin to dinner with his parents. Because Hiroku is a recovering addict, he’s trying not to sneak around behind his parents’ backs or foster mistrust between them.
The two boys, who are both in high school, have a lot of differences between them. Hiroku is Japanese-American, from a big city, jaded, sophisticated and artistic, and a vegetarian. Berlin is a down-home country boy, church-loving and definitely not a vegetarian. Despite these differences, the two young men from a strong bond, and this dinner with the parents is Hiroku’s first real invitation to Berlin to learn more about his world. When Berlin arrives at Hiroku’s doorstep, his main goal is to make a good impression, but he ends up uncovering a lot more about Hiroku’s past than he expected.
These differences got me thinking about my own experiences “meeting the parents” and the careful dance we embark upon when we meet our significant others’ families.
I can recall my husband’s uncle (while in the pool, smoking a cigar) telling me I’d better not break his heart. It sounds pretty innocent, but he was very stern when he said it, and I got the definite impression that he’d be keeping his eye on me. The good news is that so far, I haven’t.
After a visit with one of my ex-boyfriend’s families, his mother said something to the effect of, “you can keep dating her if she agrees to become a Christian.” We went on to date for three years, but religion kept coming up as a point of contention between us. Sometimes faith is something couples can compromise on, but for us, we couldn’t bridge it.
So, yeah, there tends to be a lot of expectations when you decide to bring someone home or are invited to meet your SO’s parents. At the very least, it can be very awkward and strained, which is what I tried to capture in this scene and excerpt below. If you like it, I encourage you to check out the rest of THE BRAVEST THING, which launches with Dreamspinner press on April 17.
How about you? Have any “meet the parents” stories to tell? Share them in the comments below!
High school junior Berlin Webber is about to reap the fruits of his hard work and land a football scholarship—if he can keep his sexuality a secret from his best friend, Trent, and their homophobic coach. Then Hiroku Hayashi swerves into the high school parking lot on his tricked-out motorcycle like some sexy comic book villain, and Berlin knows he doesn’t stand a chance.
Hiroku is fleeing his sophisticated urban scene to recover from drug addiction and an abusive relationship when he arrives in Berlin’s small Texas ranch town. Initially sarcastic and aloof, Hiroku finds in Berlin a steady, supportive friend who soon becomes more. As Hiroku and Berlin’s romance blossoms, they take greater risks to be together. But when a horrific act of violence tears them apart, they both must look bigotry in the face. While Berlin has always turned to his faith for strength, Hiroku dives into increasingly dangerous ways of coping, pushing them in opposite directions just when they need each other most.
Two very different young men search for the bravery to be true to themselves, the courage to heal, and the strength to go on when things seem darkest. But is it enough to bring them back together?
When I get in from herding cattle with my dad the next afternoon, I notice a missed call from Hiro. He doesn’t usually call me—we mostly text—and I wonder if it’s about last night. I hope he’s not trying to end it with me. Still feels like we’re just getting started.
I’m in the barn where it’s dark and cool, alone except for the horses, when I call him back. His sigh is so long and miserable when he picks up, I think someone has up and died on him. “My mom wants to meet you,” he says instead of a hello.
A warm feeling spreads throughout my chest. I worry this thing between us is one-sided, with me only pursuing him, but this seems like a good sign to me. “Your mom knows about me?”
“I may have mentioned you in passing.”
I smile at that. “Only in passing?”
He chuckles. “Maybe more than just in passing.”
I’m not too scared of parents, though I do wonder if she thinks we’re just friends or something more. “When?” I ask him.
“Really?” He sounds like he doesn’t believe me. “I thought it’d be a lot harder than that.”
“Yeah, I don’t mind. I’m good with parents.”
“Tonight for dinner? It doesn’t have to be tonight, but she basically told me I can’t see you again until she meets you. Um, my dad too.”
I’m supposed to go to a party tonight with Trent and some of the other guys from the team, but I can meet them there later. I’ll have to tell my dad, but I’ll figure it out.
“Should I bring something?” I ask.
“Nothing that was once living.”
I laugh. “Do your parents know that we, uh….” I don’t know how to say it.
“Do they know that we what?” he asks all innocent-like. I can imagine the smirk on his face.
“That I’m, um, into you. Like that.”
“She knows I like you, like that. My dad would rather not know the details.”
Hiro gives me their address and a time and we hang up after that. Later that afternoon, while my dad and I are washing up in the barn, I tell him I made other plans for dinner. “A friend invited me over,” I say, hoping to sound casual about it.
“No, he’s new in town.”
My dad raises his eyebrows like he’s waiting for something more. “Your friend have a name?” he asks.
“Hiroku Hayashi,” I say, not meeting his eyes. It’s probably written all over my face.
“That’s a mouthful. Where’s he from?”
“Austin. He’s Japanese.”
“Oh.” He goes back to washing his hands.
“There’s something else.” Dad glances up at me. “Trent and Hiro don’t get along, so if Trent calls or stops by, maybe don’t let on where I’m at?”
My dad frowns a little but nods. Maybe it’s my imagination, but he seems to be taking an extra long time washing up. My stomach turns because I hate lying to him, and it feels like everything I say anymore is a lie.
“Anything else you want to tell me?” he asks.
I study the dirt under my fingernails. “No, sir.”
He shakes out his hands, wipes them on his shirtfront. The way he looks at me makes me think he might know something about what’s going on. I hold my breath. “Well, all right, then. Good work today.” He pats my shoulder, puts his hat back on his head, and saunters out of the barn.
I show up to Hiro’s house ten minutes early with a bouquet of sunflowers I cut from our yard, technically once living, but I think it will pass. A tiny woman who looks a lot like Hiro answers the door when I knock.
“You must be Berlin,” she says with a smile and a little clap of her hands. I like her immediately.
“Yes, ma’am.” I take off my hat and offer her the bouquet.
“Such pretty flowers. These are for Hiroku?” she asks, gathering them up in her arms.
I blush all the way to my toes. “No, ma’am. They’re, um, for you.”
“How nice. Please come in.” She opens the door wide and introduces herself. I don’t catch her first name, but her last name is the same as Hiro’s.
“Come in, come in. Sit down.” She motions to a small couch on delicately carved wooden legs. All the furniture is small and dainty like dollhouse furniture. If I sit down on it, it might break, so I sit awkwardly on the edge, trying to keep some of my weight off it.
“Be comfortable, please. You like tea?” She flutters around the room like a bird.
“Yes, ma’am. That’d be great.” I’m expecting something like sweet tea, but she comes back with a platter of tiny cups with no handles. They’re a little bigger than shot glasses, only they look expensive and breakable. She sets the tray on the coffee table and pours me a glass. Her hands are like his, long, graceful fingers.
“It’s very hot,” she says and hands me the cup. I hold it between my thumb and forefinger, blow on it, then take a sip. She stares at me expectantly.
“It’s good,” I say, though it’s kind of bitter. “Thank you.”
“You want sugar?”
Mrs. H nods and spoons some sugar into it for me. She says it’s jasmine tea. Kind of smells like Hiro’s hair. She pats my arm, then lifts her chin and calls for Hiroku like a bird trilling. She says it much more beautifully than I ever could. I really am screwing it up. There’s something else in the way she says his name. Affection, I guess. It reminds me of how my mom would call me in for supper when I was little. I get a little teary thinking about it.
Hiro appears a few seconds later. He seems nervous, hanging back in the doorway. I didn’t hear him come in. He wears all black, as usual, and his wet hair is slicked back. He could be a model with those full lips and angular jaw, eyes that pull me in like a target.
“He’s so big,” Mrs. H says to Hiro. I think she’s talking about me. Hiro grins and nods. He looks pleased by her observation. My size has utility on the farm and in football, but in a lot ways, it sets me apart from everyone else. People are usually intimidated by me. I have to be careful about how I move and speak so I don’t scare people off.
“Sit, Hiroku. Be a good host.” She pats the seat next to hers, and Hiro sits with his elbows on his knees, leaned forward like the three of us are in a huddle together. He still hasn’t said a word to me, just smiles a little and watches his mother and me with a shy look on his face. Mrs. H. pours herself a cup of tea, then asks me how long I’ve lived in Lowry, what my parents do for a living. I don’t go into it about my mom, just tell her we have a ranch and raise cattle. Hiro already told me they both work at UT Austin, his mom as an accountant and his dad in IT, so I let her ask the questions.
“You play football, Berlin?” she asks. The way she asks questions makes it seem like she’ll be delighted with any answer.
She points at Hiro and nods. “I’ve always told Hiroku to play sports. He’s very good at basketball, but he never wants to play for school. He’s too shy.” She swats at him affectionately and clucks. I smile at Hiroku. His head is in his hands, mortified.
She says something to him in Japanese, probably something like go set the table, because he rises quickly and goes out to the dining room. A few minutes later Mr. Hayashi appears in the doorway. He also has a silent step, broad-shouldered and slim-hipped like Hiro. I stand to greet him, nearly knocking over the tea tray. I catch it in time and only spill a little of the tea.
When I say hello and offer my hand, he seems reluctant to take it. I don’t think he’s happy about me being here. I’m not sure why.
He looks me over, seeming unimpressed. “You’re Hiroku’s new friend,” he says sourly, finally shaking my hand. His manner of speaking is formal and refined, like Hiro’s. His face is expressionless.
“You two spend a lot of time together?”
I’m not sure how to answer that question. Is he really asking me something else?
“Enough, I suppose.”
“Is Hiroku behaving himself?”
What a strange question. I’m completely thrown by it. Luckily, Mrs. H saves us from the awkward silence.
“Dinner is ready,” she says and herds us into their dining room, where Hiro is waiting by a table set for four. He pulls out a chair for me.
“Is this your sister’s seat?”
“She’s studying at Columbia University,” Mr. H. says, kind of arrogantly. “She’s going to be a doctor.”
I nod. “That’s great.”
“Yes, it is great.” He picks up his napkin, flicks it so it opens, then lays it on his lap. Formal dining. Okay, then. I do the same.
Mrs. H. starts passing around the bowls without saying a prayer. I take a little of everything. There’s a soup with noodles, a cold, stringy green salad, rice and deep-fried vegetables, and something else that’s rubbery and definitely not meat. I try not to inspect it too closely. I don’t want to be rude. Mr. H. eats with chopsticks. The rest of us use forks and spoons. Hiro keeps glancing at me from across the table with a nervous smile. I wish I could cancel my plans with Trent and hang out with Hiro without his parents.
Mrs. H. does most of the talking at first. Then Mr. H. starts asking me questions—do I have a job? No, but I help out on the ranch. Have I applied to any universities? No, I aim to be recruited this season and will see what my options are then.
“And how is my son adjusting at school?”
I glance over at Hiro, and he shakes his head slightly.
“He makes great videos,” I say, then remember the video of him and Seth. From the way Mr. H.’s eyes narrow to slits, he must be thinking of that one too. I worry Hiro will be mad, but when I glance over at him, he seems to be trying not to laugh.
“You think that’s funny?” his father snaps, followed by a string of Japanese. Hiro drops his smile immediately. Then Mrs. H. breaks in. She seems to be scolding her husband more so than Hiro, and suddenly I’m not hungry anymore. Mr. H. puts down his chopsticks and glares at me.
“You do drugs, Berlin?” he asks with a face like a human lie detector test.
“Just an occasional beer with my dad.” And sometimes one or two at parties, but I don’t get drunk. I don’t like feeling out of control. That’s the truth.
“Did you know Hiroku is a recovering addict?”
The way he says addict, like it’s a dirty word or an accusation, makes me feel bad for Hiro.
Hiro glares at his plate. “Dad, come on.”
“Oh, now you’re embarrassed?” Mr. H. says something else in Japanese, and Hiro responds. Another argument. I want to defend Hiro to his dad, but it’s not my place, and besides, I have no idea what they’re saying.
Mrs. H. lays her hand on mine. “Berlin, come help me with dessert.”
She leads me out of the room like it’s a combat zone and shuts the door behind us. “They’re so much alike,” she says. Her brow furrows. “They just nih, nih, nih.” She makes her two hands like ducks quacking at each other. Then her eyes light up. “You’re so tall. Can you reach the special bowls?” She points to a top cupboard, and I pull down four impossibly delicate bowls, holding them as if they were fresh eggs.
“So careful,” she says with a smile. “Hiroku needs someone careful. That other boy….” She shakes her head, her face clouding over. She must be talking about Seth. “He was not careful. Hiroku is very sensitive. He doesn’t like to show it, but he gets very sad sometimes.” She makes a sad face, then reaches into the freezer and pulls out a tub of ice cream. “You like ice cream?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I hope she’ll say something more about Seth, give me some clues as to what happened between them, but she starts talking about their move to Lowry and how hard it’s been on Hiro.
“I worry about him at his new school. It’s not like his old school. He’s a very special boy. You know.” She nods with importance. I wonder if by special she means gay, and I would know because I’m gay too. Strange that she knows this about me when my own father doesn’t.
“He’s very artistic,” I say.
She points to her temple. “His head is so smart, but his mouth is so stupid. I worry about him and the other boys.”
I worry too. Did his smart mouth get him into trouble at his old school?
“You’re a big boy, Berlin. Watch out for my Hiroku. Make sure nobody hurts him.”
“Of course, ma’am.” I take the oath seriously. I’ll keep Trent off his back, or anyone else who tries to mess with him.
Mrs. H. scoops ice cream into the four bowls. I don’t know much about Hiro’s life before Lowry, only what I’ve been able to piece together. When he jumped off the cliff at the quarry, it scared the shit out of me, but what worried me more was that he wanted to do it again. Was it only about the thrill, or does he really want to hurt himself?
Back in the dining room, Hiro and his dad are silent and sulking. Mrs. H. presents the ice cream, and Hiro asks if we can take it up to his room.
“Leave the door open,” she says. “None of that….” She makes kissing noises with her mouth. My face flames up hotter than the sun as I nod good-bye to Mr. H., but he doesn’t even acknowledge me.
Upstairs we sit on the edge of Hiro’s bed. His room seems so empty and cold—nothing on the walls, no trinkets or mementos. I know he likes to take pictures, but there aren’t even any of those. It’s so unlike the rest of the house. There’s a single bed with a black comforter, a dresser, and a desk. On the desk are three monitors hooked up to tons of electronics and gadgets, like the hub of some spy agency. Hiro sets his empty bowl on his desk, so I do too.
“I had a lot of band posters before,” he says when he notices me looking at the empty walls. “I had to get rid of them.”
“Did your parents make you throw them out?”
He glances over at me, seems to be thinking about how to respond. “No, they reminded me too much of Seth. I got rid of everything.” He swipes the air with his hands. “A total purge.”
I’ve never been in a relationship like that before. Kayla was more like a glorified friend, and since we broke up, I haven’t thought much about her. He must have thrown out everything he owned, because the room looks uninhabited. “Seems extreme,” I say.
His eyes focus on the floor. “You ever had your heart broken?”
“No,” I admit. “I don’t have much experience with that sort of thing.”
He nods. “I hope you never do.”
I feel bad for judging him. He’s coping the best way he knows how. Hiro’s like an old cottonwood tree with a whole mess of roots beneath the surface you’ll never see.
“So now you’ve met my parents,” he says, straightening a little. “Feel free to run like hell.”
“Parents don’t scare me.”
“Not even mine?”
“Maybe your dad. A little.”
He smiles and knocks shoulders with me. “You coming over makes things a lot easier. I’m trying not to sneak around so much.” His eyes lift to meet mine. He isn’t wearing any eyeliner, and it makes him look exposed, like he’s missing his armor. I rest my hand on his leg and give it a squeeze.
“I know it’s a big deal, having me over here.”
He shrugs and looks away. “I hope you’re not still mad about last night.” He must be thinking about it too.
“I’m not mad.” I wasn’t really mad at him then either. I was scared, then worried, and then angry at Seth for being so awful to him.
Hiro takes my hand and turns it over, traces the calluses on my palm. “Good, because I’m not sure what… well, that’s not exactly true.” He rethinks it and starts again. “I’m not always the most… stable person. But I’m trying to do better.”
I curl my fingers to hold on to his hand. “I know you are.”
“I was kind of worried I wouldn’t see you again after last night,” he says. “Not that you owe me anything. I like hanging out with you. And stuff.” He grins, and I think back to that blubbering string of text messages I sent him.
I smile, pleased with how open he’s being with me. All this time I’ve been waiting for some clue as to how he feels, and now, here it is.
“I invited you over next weekend,” I remind him. I leave out the part where he blew me off.
“You want to take it back?”
I flick his hair, which now hangs loose over one eye. “Not at all.”
He tilts his head back, tucking the hair behind his ear, and glances over at me. The urge to kiss him overwhelms me when he looks at me like that. The pressure is building down below, but we promised his mother.
“I should get going,” I say. I don’t want to leave, but I also don’t want to ruin the good impression I’ve made with his mom. And if I don’t meet up with Trent and the guys, there will be questions. I wish Hiro and I could just be together without all the sneaking around. Why can’t everyone be as cool as Mrs. H.?
Downstairs, we put our ice cream bowls in the sink, and I say good night to Mrs. H., who’s watching something on the television. Mr. H. is somewhere else.
“You’re a nice boy, Berlin. Come back anytime.”
“Yes, ma’am, I will.”
Out front, Hiro walks me to my truck, then leans against the driver’s side door with little smirk on his face. I press him up against the door, making sure we’re mostly hidden from view. He yields to me like a sapling. Maybe I should ask his permission, but I don’t want to mess up the moment with my stupid words, so I just reach for the back of his head and hold him like one of those impossibly delicate bowls. His lips part and I press my mouth against his. He tastes sweet, like ice cream. I could kiss him all night long. My hand creeps up his back, skimming along his bare skin. The muscles in his back tense and he pulls me closer, so I’m digging into him. There’s so much of him I haven’t explored, and I want to.
“Been thinking about that all night,” I say when I finally pull away to catch my breath.
“Me too.” He licks his lips, which makes me want to kiss him again, so I do, and I still want more. I’m hard enough to rip a hole in my jeans. I turn away and lean my tailbone against my truck.
He eyes my crotch with a mischievous grin. “I wish I could help you out with that.”
“Yeah, me too.” I’m getting used to his flirtation. He stands there silently, like he’s waiting to be dismissed, and I think about football until my body starts to calm down. “I don’t say your name right, do I?” I ask, straightening up.
He shrugs. “I didn’t mean what I said last night. I like the way you say my name. It’s like you’re being careful.”
His mother said the same thing about me. Hiro needs someone to take care of him, to protect him, maybe even from himself. I grab his hand and draw him close for a moment, then kiss his cheek. “I’ll be careful.”
He nods with a dreamy look in his eyes. “I believe you.”
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About the author:
Laura Lascarso strives to inspire more questions than answers in her fiction and believes in the power of stories to heal and transform a society. She lives in North Florida with her darling husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. Her debut novel, Counting Backwards (Simon & Schuster 2012) won the Florida Book Award gold medal for young adult literature.
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