players only. takes place in Mexico, while Alfonso is preparing for the stage production of Dead Poets Society.
"You're sure she won't want something bigger? More impressive?" Christos asks, nervously shifting the large bouquet of lilies to his other arm. He catches his lover looking at him and explains, "I could take or leave your father. But meeting your mother is important."
Alfonso laughs. "It's impressive enough and you'll have to tell her that," he says, nudging Christos's shoulder as he rings the doorbell. "She would love knowing you think she's more important than my father."
"Yeah, you tease. You don't understand what a big deal this is," Christos mutters, running a finger around his collar like it's suddenly too tight. His own mother was gone from his life much too early, much too young. Alfonso might have years yet with his. "She knows who I am? What I am to you?"
"Si, she knows," Alfonso says, leaning in to press a kiss to the corner of Christos's mouth as the door opens. "Perdon," he murmurs, eyes crinkling as his mother's housekeeper answers the door. "Yalitza," he says, reaching out to give her a kiss on each cheek. "You're looking wonderful," he tells her in English, for Christos's sake. "This is Christos. Christos, Yalitza, my mother's housekeeper."
"Como estas, Yalitza?" Christos manages, leaning in to give the diminutive woman a hug. Housekeeper. Money. Money everywhere. It's disconcerting to a boy who grew up on bread sandwiches. Raising himself to his full height, he gives her what he hopes is a warm smile.
"Estoy bien, gracias, ¿y tú?" Yalitza responds, beaming at them both. "Your mother and Pablo are in the living room," she tells Alfonso in heavily accented English, stepping back to let both inside and lock the door behind them.
"Pablo's here?" Alfonso's surprised. He thought they might see his brother later, for dinner, but he hadn't expected him to be here to meet them.
"Si, he stayed... anoche," Yalitza says, taking their jackets.
"Pablo is... your brother?" Christos hadn't been expecting to meet him already.
"Si, only, and younger by ten years," Alfonso says quietly as they head for the living room. "We didn't really grow up together. I stayed with my father, he went with my mother and we both shuttled back and forth."
"Ah." Christos nods. Then unbends enough to murmur, "Do I care what he thinks?" He only mentally prepared himself for Alfonso's mother.
"No, not really," Alfonso says, stepping into the living room. "Mama, Pablo, it's so good to see you," he greets them, his family rising to meet them. He hugs and kisses his mother and then turns to his brother, wondering what he'll find there.
"Hola, long time no see," Pablo says, pulling Alfonso in close and giving him a hug. "This must be Christos. It's good to meet you," he says, offering his hand to his brother's boyfriend.
"Pablo." Christos shakes his hand firmly, wondering at the man's lack of an accent. He certainly seems to speak English better than any of the rest of them. "Senora," he says, taking her hand as well, but simply holding it for a moment. "Mucho gusto."
Lucero smiles at Christos. "Mucho gusto," she returns, turning her attention to her son. "El es muy guapo," she tells him.
"Si, Mama," Alfonso says, feeling the heat in his cheeks. "She says you're very handsome."
Lucero reaches out and swats Alfonso on the arm. "You're not supposed to translate for me," she tells him. "I'll say it in English if I want him to know," she adds, eyes sparkling.
The exchange surprises Christos into a laugh, and he smiles at Lucero anew. "Gracias, senora. Thank you for welcoming me into your lovely home," he says, handing over the bouquet of flowers.
"De nada," Lucero says, accepting the flowers. She inhales their scent and smiles happily. "They're beautiful. Thank you. Yalitza? Un jarrón, por favor."
"Si, Senora," Yalitza nods, taking the lilies from Alfonso's mother. "Y bebidas?"
"Si. Would you care for something to drink?" Lucero asks Christos.
"Whatever Alfonso is having, thank you." Christos smiles, mentally tracing the subtle similarities of Lucero's face to his lover's. "I can see where he gets his good looks."
Lucero's smile deepens. "What do they say in English? Flattery will get you everywhere." She gives a soft laugh. "Cervezas para los hombres y una paloma para mi, por favor," she tells Yalitza who disappears with a nod and the flowers. "Please, have a seat."
"Thank you." Christos sits down on the couch she indicates, then takes Alfonso's hand in his. So far, so good — he thinks.
Pablo sits beside his mother on the couch across from his brother and his boyfriend. It's weird to see Alfonso holding hands with another man and he can just imagine how things went over with their father. "Is this your first time in Mexico?" he asks Christos.
"I've been to Tijuana and Merida, but this is my first time in Mexico City," Christos clarifies. "Alfonso has been showing me around. It's amazing here. So lively. So much going on."
"Has he taken you out to any clubs?" Pablo asks.
"No, I haven't," Alfonso interjects, squeezing Christos's hand. "We're not really club people, although I'll take him for some live music when we have the time."
Christos smiles at the squeeze, dropping his glance to their joined hands for a moment. "You must be very excited about his play," he says. "I mean, I am."
"You really think you can fill Robin Williams's shoes?" Pablo teases his brother.
"Stop that," his mother says. "He doesn't have to. He'll bring his own interpretation to the role."
"I've been running lines with him, and I've got to say that he's brilliant for the part," Christos tells them, pride in his smile. Misplaced pride, as it's got not a damn thing to do with him, but hell, he's the one Alfonso's running lines with after all -- it must mean something. "A different take, but just as inspiring."
"Will you make sure we have tickets?" Pablo asks.
"Por supuesto," Alfonso says. "You and Mama. Papa on another night." He grins.
Lucero laughs. "Si, keep me and your father as far away from each other as possible," she says. "How was he?" she asks Christos.
Christos shrugs lightly, uncertain what kind of dirt she's seeking. "Very polite," he answers, "although it looked like it was hard for him."
"At least he behaved," Lucero says with a soft sigh and a smile for Alfonso. "And that he had you both over in the first place."
Alfonso nods. "He mostly behaved," he agrees. "But I don't think we'll be going out of our way to spend time with him." Not that he ever has.
Pablo gives a soft snort. "He doesn't like my girlfriend. He thinks she's just after our money, even though we've been together for three years now and she's training to be a doctor."
Christos quirks an eyebrow, and a smile. "Is she just after you for your money?"
Pablo laughs. "What about you? Are you after Alfonso's money?" he teases back.
"I didn't know he had any," Christos answers with a chuckle. "But no, I have my own. I like him for himself," he says, turning his head so he can meet his lover's gorgeous dark eyes.
"And I like Christos for himself," Alfonso says, leaning in for a quick kiss, then glancing at his mother and brother, curious to see their reactions but there's nothing there but love and acceptance. "Papa suggested I could still get married and just keep him on the side."
Lucero curses softly, rolling her eyes and crossing herself. "That man..." she shakes her head, smiling as Yalitza returns with their drinks and the lilies in a vase.
Christos muffles a snort of laughter behind his hand, but doesn't try to hold back his smile. Apparently he has unexpected allies. "Do you work in the family business, Pablo? Or do you do your own thing as well?"
"My own thing," Pablo's quick to say. "I'm just finishing law school."
"Good for you. Law," Christos echoes, impressed. "You'll be a lawyer, and your girlfriend will be a doctor? That's quite an unstoppable team." He's still holding Alfonso's hand, discreetly running his thumb over his lover's knuckles as they talk.
Pablo's smile widens. "As soon as I've graduated, I'm going to propose," he says, smiling at Lucero, who already knows his intentions.
"Si?" Alfonso blinks hard. His little brother, getting married. "We'll have to meet her then," he says. "Will she be okay with this?" he asks, raising their joined hands.
Pablo nods. "Her brother is gay. He's not out because of their family, but she knows and she supports him."
"Excellent. Someone to pave the way for us," Christos murmurs with a smile for his lover.
Alfonso returns the smile, surprised by the wave of relief washing over him. He didn't really think it mattered to him what his family thought. He'd been prepared for his father's reaction. Been prepared to have his mother accept things because he's her son. But to have more than that? And from his brother too? "I need to use the washroom," he says. "I'll be right back."
Christos watches him go, eyes narrowed in a moment of concern before he transfers his attention back to Lucero and Pablo. He sips at his beer, relaxing back on the couch. "Were the two of you close as boys? Or was he an obnoxious older brother?" he asks Pablo with a smile.
"There's ten years between us," Pablo says, "and we didn't live together but we got along when we saw each other. He was never mean or anything."
"That's good. I had to live with my older brothers," Christos murmurs, although he jokingly rolls his eyes. "And now you can be friends."
Pablo nods. "We're not in touch much, but we get along when we see each other," he says. He smiles at his mother. "Maybe Isabella and I can take you guys out for an evening before Alfonso gets too busy with his play."
"That sounds great to me. Definitely catch him soon," Christos agrees. "I think his schedule will be brutal. You know, I haven't even asked," he adds as a thought occurs to him, "will he be doing press for the play like he does for TV shows?"
"I don't know," Lucero says, sipping at her Paloma. "He's done plays before but this is the biggest. I assume so. I don't know how much he's mentioned to you, but he's very well known here in Mexico."
"He's spoken a little of this. And when we were walking in the city the other day, I got to meet several of his fans," Christos says with a laugh. "Truly, the YouTube videos I watched didn't come close to the reality of the screaming." And as much as the situation made him anxious, he can't deny a basic approval for anyone who appreciates his lover.
"What screaming?" Alfonso asks, returning to the room and his seat beside Christos.
"All those girls the other day," Christos tells him, his eyes dancing. "I think my ears might have begun to bleed."
This time Alfonso does blush. "I keep telling myself I should feel blessed but it's hard in the moment."
"You're just irresponsibly sexy," Christos murmurs for his ears only, and hell, he's probably got the English wrong, but that blush is a killer. It makes Christos want to drag Alfonso into a corner and make him come, screaming.
Alfonso laughs, hiding the shiver that runs through him at Christos's breath on his skin.
"What about you?" Lucero asks Christos. "Are you working at all while you're here? Or is this a vacation?"
"I'm working. I work a lot on my laptop, so I can be wherever there is a strong internet connection," Christos explains. It wouldn't do for Lucero and Pablo to think he's a lazy leech, especially after he insisted he's not interested in Alfonso's money.
"Alfonso said you work in security," Lucero continues. "Like a bodyguard, or...?"
"Yes, I used to be a bodyguard," Christos says with a nod, "but now I do network security for the same company." It's mostly true.
Lucero frowns, the words unfamiliar. "What is network security?"
"Ah, protecting computers from hackers," Christos explains. "Keeping information safe from viruses and thieves. It sounds more dramatic than it is," he says with an apologetic chuckle.
"It's important work though, especially in this day and age," Alfonso points out. "Remember the hospital that was hacked last year?" he asks his family. "They should have had the kind of protection Christos and his company offer."
Christos watches Alfonso as he speaks, bemused by the praise. Sitting back he finishes off his beer — knowing that if he doesn't busy his hands, he's going to reach for his lover. Let him know just how much he adores him.
Pablo nods. "That's really cool. Is that how you met? Something to do with security?"
"No, we met at a restaurant. His date stood him up and I was alone, so I asked him to join me for dinner," Christos answers. It's pretty close to the actual truth.
"Your date stood you up?" Pablo laughs. "Someone ghosted the great Poncho Herrera." Taking way too much enjoyment in his brother's sort-of humiliation.
"I think it was more just a friendly sort of date," Christos amends, but he's tickled as well, squeezing Alfonso's fingers. "He was still great."
"It was a friendly sort of date, but go ahead, mock all you want," Alfonso tells Pablo with a smile for Christos. "Just remember - I'll be making a speech at your wedding."
"Ooh. Yes, best not give him any blackmail material," Christos says with a laugh. "You'll have that speech on digital film for the rest of your life."
"See? Apparently he is the mean big brother," Pablo says, but he's laughing too. Lucero as well.
"You asked for it," she points out, draining her drink, a nod to Yalitza as the woman steps back into the room. "Is everyone hungry?"
"I am, thank you," Christos answers with a smile. This has gone better than he'd thought it would, after Oscar. He's relieved for Alfonso's sake, grateful that he's got family on his side.
* * *
Back in the car, on the way home, the divider up between them and the driver, Alfonso reaches across the back seat, fingertips brushed along the side of Christos's hand. "That went much better, didn't it?"
"Much better," Christos agrees, although he's glad Alfonso said it first. "They love you very much."
"As does my father. He simply has a much harder time showing it," Alfonso says with a sigh.
That's curious. "But you know he loves you?" Christos studies his lover's face in the late afternoon sunlight. "It's good that you know that."
"He wouldn't bother with me if he didn't," Alfonso says softly.
Christos can't dispute that logic. "Do you think he'll come watch your play?"
"Not until he's certain it's a success," Alfonso says, shifting a little closer to Christos. "And if it's not, he won't."
Frowning at the coldness of that answer, Christos glances away, out the window. But he discreetly links their fingers together on the leather seat.
Alfonso squeezes Christos's hand, his lover's support meaning everything. "Do you want to come to the opening night?"
Christos looks at him in surprise. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," he says with a smile. "I'm very excited."
"I know and I'm glad," Alfonso says, giving his hand another squeeze, "but I usually make everyone stay away on opening night. It's already so nerve-wracking."
"Ah. Hmm." Christos's eyes sparkle. "If you told me to stay away I'd go anyway," he confesses, hoping it doesn't come to that. "I'd just keep it a secret from you. I'm good at secrets." All evidence to the contrary.
Alfonso smiles. "Well, I want you there," he says. "You're the one who's been running lines with me. You deserve to be there."
Pleased to hear he's an exception to the rule, Christos smiles back. "Are you working with any friends? Anyone you've worked with before?"
"No, everyone is new but I'm very excited about having Francisco Franco Alba as the director. He is amazing," Alfonso says. "Unknown in the States but very popular here."
"That's great. A great opportunity," Christos replies, simply watching his lover's expressive face. He adores when Alfonso lights up with enthusiasm. Squeezing Alfonso's hand he adds, "You're going to be wonderful. I can't wait."
Alfonso grins. "I love that you have such faith in me," he says, wishing he could put his head on Christos's shoulder.
"Always, astari mu," Christos says softly, and tilts his face towards the sunshine.
[feedback welcome. comments screened.]