The restaurant had valets, gilded menus, and quiet, attentive servers.
“Opulent” was the word that sat in the forefront of his mind, and every inch of the establishment made Raz want to cry with anger and exasperation.
Starters were over twenty dollars, main courses started at forty, and the bottle of wine that his father had ordered had set him back more.
They were treating their son to an amazing night out – whilst for the last few years, they’d often been unwilling to slip their disappointment an extra ten bucks during the months when bills had hit harder than expected.
His father lifted his glass and made a toast, celebrating Raz’s good fortune – first in English, then in Mandarin. Raz raised his glass to acknowledge the kind words, then lowered it and tore into a piece of bread.
His mother laid a hand on his arm – contact without consent, something the agency had made him unaccustomed to. ‘Hu, can you have alcohol with your medications?’
He nodded. ‘There’s no adverse effects with alcohol.’
‘You seem well,’ she said after a long moment, her hand still on his arm. ‘Better than you’ve been in a long time. Are you–’
Cured. She was going to ask if he was cured. It was the one c-word he hated more than the epithet that racists threw at him.
‘You’re managing well?’
‘My new doctors–’ He reminded himself to keep away from mentioning that the doctors were inhuman, twins, and lovers. With those aspects removed, there wasn’t a lot left of the Parkers that was worth discussing. ‘My doctors have come up with a good regime.’ He looked at each of his parents in turn. ‘I still have bad days. That’s never going to change. But– I’m better than I was.’
He looked back down at the menu, shaking at how much all of the food cost and how much that money would have meant to him, mere months ago. How much he’d wanted his parents to look at him with something other than disappointment.
‘Tell us about your job,’ his father said.
His mother hadn’t taken her hand off his arm. Her fingers were twitching, and he looked up to see tears in her ears.
‘I love you, Michael.’ Her mouth opened again, and she faltered for words.
‘I’m working for ASIO,’ Raz said, giving them the same line he’d given Jess. ‘We’re basically a processing office. Low-tier threats, paperwork, and backed-up lab work. That’s what I’m doing. Putting my degree to use.’
He tried to straighten his shoulders, but they still felt lopsided. ‘I have my own lab.’
Every tech had their own lab, but it was still an impressive-sounding achievement – something that his parents could cling to, something they could repeat to Great Aunt Fa and whoever else joined in on the weekly family Skype call.
‘How did you get the job?’ his mother asked, pressing her index fingers to the inner corners of her eyes, an attempt to press away whatever tears might have been falling.
This was the part of the story that was harder to translate into civilian-friendly terms. ‘I fell over their hiring manager.’ He was sure that Ryan wouldn’t mind being portrayed as such. ‘We had a conversation, and they found somewhere for me to be useful.’
Both of his parents stared at him, admiration shining in their eyes.
‘And are you enjoying it?’ his father asked.
He smiled, and he stamped on his negative thoughts – despite the context of the night, despite everything, this was what he wanted: proud parents celebrating a new job. It was a fairy tale with a sheen as thin as dew, but for a few moments, he would indulge.
‘I’ve always loved being in the lab,’ he said. ‘My boss is really great to get along with. He treats us all like family. I’ve made some friends, and–’
‘Any boys?’ his father asked. ‘Jessica is tired of me using my dad!jokes on Thomas. I need someone new to torture.’ He winked. ‘I don’t want to be out of practice before I’m officially a grandfather.’
Raz blushed and stared down at the menu. This was the one area where his parents were good – they had never shamed him for coming out, had never batted an eye about having a gay kid, had gone with him to Pride events, and had done their best to learn the lingo.
‘Come on,’ his father teased. ‘Anyone? In a suit that smart, you must have young men tripping over themselves to get to you.’ He let his voice take on his natural Hong Kong accent, rather than the Aussiefied one he’d developed over the years. ‘And a good Chinese boy, please – I don’t want your mother to win everything.’
His mother elbowed his father in the ribs, then kissed him. ‘You didn’t answer your father, Hu. Is there someone you’d like to introduce to us?’
Troy would likely come to dinner, play the boyfriend, and probably even have a good time doing it, but Raz wanted to see if they actually flirted off the clock before daydreaming about introducing a fairy to his parents.
‘No one yet,’ Raz said. ‘I’ve got another crush on a straight boy. I’m tragic like that.’ He smiled. ‘He’s important, though, and I’ve got the job of assisting him. It shouldn’t have gone to someone so new, but I’m doing my best to excel.’
His mother tutted. ‘Don’t let him break your heart, Hu. Try to be dating someone by Christmas – it’s always so depressing when you come alone.’
He forced a smile. ‘Jess will have a baby. Do you think anyone will remember anything but a newborn dressed in red and green?’