Joining the Family
Nick groaned at the sound of his alarm clock. He was pretty sure that he had fallen asleep just seconds ago, but his clock was blaring incessantly from his nightstand.
Reaching around blindly to get it, Nick could have cried when he accidentally knocked it to the floor. “Damnit, damnit,” he complained, ready to get up and get it before Vincent woke too.
He hadn’t even pulled himself out of bed though when the blaring of the clock came to a halt quite suddenly.
Nick forced open his eyes with a great amount of effort, confused for a second when he realized that Vincent was placing his clock back on his nightstand in front of him instead of groaning about waking up behind him.
“You’re… awake?” he mumbled, rubbing his tired eyes. Usually Vincent needed alarms every five minutes to entice him to get out of bed.
Vincent lips quirked into a smile. “I don’t usually wake up before you,” he agreed, “but I had something to do.” He stood up and went to Nick’s desk, turning around with a plate of eggs, sausages, and fruit that he placed on the nightstand next to the now-quiet alarm clock.
Nick was still too tired for his brain to understand what was going on, but then Vincent handed him a steaming cup of coffee and leaned down to kiss him on the forehead. “Happy twenty-eighth, Nickolas,” he said sweetly.
Looking from the cup of coffee to the food beside him, Nick murmured, “You remembered my birthday. And made me breakfast in bed.” He looked over at Vincent as the man climbed back in bed next to him. “You even got up early to make it.”
Vincent leaned over to pick up the plate and put it in Nick’s lap. “I did. I hope you like it.”
Nick swallowed heavily at the emotions in his throat. His brain was still somewhat sluggish, so he couldn’t quite think of the words to describe how much this gesture meant to him, but he could lean over to give Vincent a quick kiss.
Vincent chuckled, rubbing his thumb over his cheek. He looked adorably rumpled in his boxers and one of Nick’s sweatshirts, and had remembered his glasses this time. “You deserve this, Nickolas,” he said genuinely, kissing his cheek. “Drink your coffee now,” he added, plucking a piece of fruit from his plate.
“Share this with me?” Nick asked, holding out the plate between them.
Vincent simply grabbed a sausage and his book, snuggling into Nick’s side while they ate comfortably. Evidently, his mind wasn’t really on his book that day though, since he asked, “Does your job do those sheet cakes for people’s birthdays?”
Nick nodded, gulping down his coffee and taking a bite of the eggs. “They do, which we all tolerate because cake is delicious. Want me to bring you a square?”
“I’ll have cake later,” Vincent shrugged.
“So, there will be cake later?” Nick asked with a smirk.
“Well, I can’t have your coworkers outdo me,” Vincent joked, which Nick interrupted with a kiss.
“A sheet cake can’t even come close to this,” he murmured, kissing him again with more intensity. Nick groaned to himself. “I should have taken off today to spend it in bed with you.”
Vincent chuckle came out as a low vibration. “We’ll have all weekend for that, Nickolas.”
Nick genuinely considered calling in sick as he and Vincent kissed lazily, and moved to shower underneath the hot spray of the water. He did go to work though, and with a pleasant smile on his face that had more to do with Vincent than it did the prospect of work.
He was twenty-eight that day. Last year, on his twenty-seventh birthday, Nick remembered spending most of the day fielding “you’re old” jokes from Andrew and Jacob while trying not to think about the fact that he was slowly approaching thirty. He’d spent the day after his birthday sitting in bed and feeling both lonely and relieved that his birthday wouldn’t be coming again for another year.
Nick smiled to himself as he walked along through the cooler December air. He didn’t feel that sense of dread this year, probably because of Vincent.
But not just because Nick had a boyfriend and some reassurance that he wouldn’t end up alone. More because Vincent simply made him feel good about himself—about his age, his hobbies, his appearance. He felt intelligent and sexy when he was with Vincent, which already made this birthday much better than his last one.
Of course, what he and Vincent did that night helped a lot with making it a great birthday too, but that was beside the point.
On the day after his birthday this year, Nick woke with the man in his arms and a blanket of snow falling outside. He pulled up the comforter and drifted off snuggled against his boyfriend, humming sleepily at the warmth.
It would have been nice to hibernate all winter just like that, but it was fun—and slightly nerve-wracking—to go visit Vincent’s family again over the holidays.
His entire family, including the two sisters that Nick hadn’t met and Vincent’s parents.
“Just as a heads up,” Vincent said in the uber on the way to Isabella’s house, “When you meet my dad, he’s going to shake your hand too hard. Then my mom will come over to ‘rescue’ you as an excuse to ask you personal questions.”
Nick turned to him with his eyebrows raised. “I’m guessing they’ve done the same things to past boyfriends?”
“They’ve had a lot of practice with five kids,” Vincent said dryly. “It’s pretty much the same ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’ routine that they’ve been using since before they met Richard.” He picked up Nick’s hand, although sadly, they were both wearing gloves. “Just be ready for my dad to be kind of gruff for the whole day. He likes to intimidate every boyfriend.”
Nick wasn’t nearly as nervous to see Vincent’s family this time, seeing as he had already earned Isabella’s approval, but his heart did skip slightly.
Vincent touched his thigh to get his attention, sending him a sympathetic smile. “It’ll be fine. I’ll be with you, and in the worst case, I’ll send in one of my sisters or one of the kids. They’re all good distractions.”
Nick’s lips quirked up. “The benefit of having a big family.”
“Exactly,” Vincent agreed sagely, “There’s always someone to cause a scene.” He gave Nick a squeeze as they arrived, turning to thank their driver.
The moment they were out of the car, Nick shivered at the rush of the wind on his face. He hunched up his shoulders, staring out over the snow in front of Isabella’s very picturesque house. She and Richard, although probably mostly Richard, had put up fairy lights along the roof, and there were a few plastic reindeer taking up residence in the yard. Something that might have been a snowman stood off to the side, although it was more than a little misshapen.
Nick frowned at the snowman, sure that he had seen something move. It must have been the wind.
Vincent came up beside him and took his hand. “Ready to—ah!”
Nick definitely wasn’t imagining things. That snowman had just thrown a snowball right at Vincent, very accurately smacking him right in the face and smudging up his glasses.
“Wow, I’ve got a good aim!”
“Gracie!” Vincent yelled, shaking his head to get rid of the snow in his hair.
Nick helped push the snow from his shoulders at the same time Vincent’s younger sister emerged from behind the snowman with a huge smile on her young face. Her shoulder-length brownish hair whipped behind her as she trudged through the snow. As she drew closer, the tiny piercing in her nose glittered.
“Got you,” she said in a singsong voice. “And Luce said—no, no way!” She dodged out of the way to avoid Vincent retaliating, almost slipping and falling into the snow herself. Gracie was lucky that Vincent caught her arm.
“You’re lucky that I’m too nice to let you fall,” Vincent said, unable to hide his smirk even as snow dripped from his glasses.
Gracie smiled sincerely. “I appreciate you not letting me crack my ass on the ice. It’s good to see you, bro,” she said more calmly, giving him a quick hug and almost slipping again.
“I thought Luce was the clumsy one?” Nick hedged, grabbing onto her other arm to help level her.
“Aw, Vincent does talk about us,” Gracie said, looping her arms through both of theirs to drag them up to the front door, “He talks about you too. Nice to meet you, Nick. Bella says that she approves of you, so I’m already pretty impressed.”
Nick huffed out a breath, which fogged up the cold air in front of him. “I appreciate it. Gracie, then?”
“That’s me,” she confirmed, releasing his arm to open the door.
Nick sighed at the wave of warm air that hit him, and smiled sympathetically at the water still all over Vincent’s face. Carefully, he took his boyfriend’s glasses to dry them with his scarf, and handed the same scarf over for Vincent to dry his face.
He jumped when Gracie called, “Lucinda!” preventing the woman who had been not subtly watching from the stairs from retreating back up them.
The woman turned with a sheepish expression. “I guess you got him, Gracie?”
“No thanks to you, Luce,” Gracie pouted, not unkindly.
“I’m sure Nick is glad that I wasn’t there to throw a snowball at him,” Luce said dryly as she made her way down the stairs. With long hair like Isabella’s and a tan sort of skin tone, Lucinda was almost like Isabella’s younger twin. “I’m Lucinda,” she said kindly, “but you can call me Luce.”
“I’m Nickolas. Um, please call me Nick,” he responded, letting her take his scarf from Vincent to hang up to dry.
“What, you’re not a fan of your full name?” Gracie asked shrewdly. When she shifted, the piercing in her nose glinted.
“Only Vincent uses my full name,” Nick admitted.
Gracie gave a knowing nod. “Oh, like when you two are—”
“Please don’t finish that sentence,” Vincent requested, dry now, but with his dark hair sticking up.
She rolled her eyes at him. “I’m twenty-four. I obviously know that you have a sex life. Bella’s told us all about hers.”
“Yes, and I never wanted to know any of that,” Vincent objected. “When you have questions for Bella please use another group chat?”
Nick reached up to push back his hair, sending water droplets everywhere. Vincent turned to him with a small smile, fixing his glasses back on his nose.
“Well, I think it’s sweet that only Vincent uses your name,” Luce said, clapping her hands together. “Mostly no one uses my full name either because ‘Lucinda’ is kind of… old-fashioned.”
Nick nodded in solemn understanding, walking with Vincent into the kitchen and living area where everyone else was gathered. He accepted a serious squeeze from Marianne and a handshake from Richard before Isabella appeared to give him a one-armed hug—her other arm currently holding her newest daughter.
She smirked at Nick. “It’s nice that I didn’t have to drive down there and put my foot up your ass.”
He chuckled back. “Believe me, I’m pretty glad about that too.”
Isabella patted his arm, looking tired, but at ease. “And I’m glad that Eve gets to meet her Uncle Vincent,” she said, handing off the baby to Vincent, who clearly had practice by now when it came to holding babies.
Oddly enough, Isabella then shot Nick an apologetic look and grabbed Vincent’s sleeve to drag him away. “Yeah, sorry about this, Nick. I’ll send some relief in a minute.”
Nick didn’t exactly know what she was talking about until she pulled Vincent away and a man who must have been their father was standing in front of him.
The man was shorter than Vincent. Actually, he was probably about Isabella’s height, but he looked much more like Vincent with his dark hair and tan skin tone. While Vincent was lithe though, his father was much larger around the middle, with a thick hand that he held out to shake.
“You must be Nick,” the man said gruffly, not smiling underneath his mustache. “I’m Raymond Hernandez.”
Nick felt very much like a teenager again, and understood completely what Vincent meant when he did indeed shake the man’s hand. He had to work to keep his expression even when Raymond shook his hand hard enough to genuinely hurt.
“N-nice to meet you,” Nick said, stammering uncharacteristically at the stinging in his fingers.
The man narrowed his eyes. “Nick,” was all he said, and in the same way Vincent said his name like a prayer, this man spoke it like a curse.
Nick didn’t exactly know what to say, but he didn’t need to speak as a woman popped up beside him.
“Oh, don’t worry about him, Nick,” she said kindly, patting his hand. “My husband’s always been protective of all of us. I’m Victoria, Vincent’s mother.”
Victoria was indeed the same height as her husband, which left Nick looking down at her to meet her brown eyes. The light reflected off of the reading glasses that had been hanging in her shirt. When she smiled, it accentuated the smile lines around her mouth.
She released Nick’s hand to sidle up next to her husband instead. “Vincent’s told us so much about you, Nick. He said that you’re an accountant? And that you’re a good cook too?”
Nick had to give Vincent credit for knowing his parents’ routine so well. He smiled somewhat awkwardly. “Yes, I’m an accountant. I do pretty well with cooking too, I guess. Vincent likes it.”
He wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to say when faced with Raymond narrowing his eyes and Victoria gazing at him with pleased curiosity.
“I see,” Raymond said in a tone that was not pleased but not angry either.
“That’s lovely that you cook for him,” Victoria said. “I remember teaching Vincent a few of my recipes when he was younger. Has he cooked for you at all?”
“Oh, yeah. He made me breakfast for my birthday actually,” Nick confirmed, smiling lightly at the memory.
Raymond hummed. “Breakfast then. You two live together?”
“No, we just…” Nick started, not exactly comfortable telling his boyfriend’s parents, whom he had just met, that they often stayed the night at each other’s places—even though with five kids, the two of them could already surely guess that.
Needless to say, Nick appreciated Isabella for sending in the relief squad so quickly.
“Nick!” Amber said loudly in excitement. She immediately looked between them. “Did I interrupt? I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Nick said kindly, leaning down to speak with her. “Did you need me for something?”
Amber nodded with determination. “Uncle Vincent told me that you know how to make these paper origami things like the airplanes? Could you show me?”
Nick let his eyes drift over to Vincent and Isabella, both of whom smirked back before he returned his attention to Amber. “Yeah, I can show you. If your grandparents don’t mind, of course.”
“Oh, they won’t mind,” Marianne cut in with a wink, suddenly appearing out of nowhere to sling an arm around him. “Hey, show me too. I’ve always wanted to have some really impressive paper-folding skills.”
Nick wasn’t exactly sure that he had ended up making a good impression on Vincent’s parents, but Marianne waved off his concern as they sat down with Amber.
“Honestly, the fact that Amber likes you probably puts you up a few notches in their book,” she said simply.
Amber nodded seriously. “I do like you. You’re nice.”
“Thanks, Amber,” Nick said kindly, smiling through the prideful feeling in his chest. “Here—I’ll show you how to make a paper crane.”
In the time it took to show her all the steps, Vincent had returned to sit next to him, and the others were trickling in with snacks and food too. They were all leaning over each other and talking over each other comfortably, making noise in a way that Nick hadn’t grown up with in his own house.
“So, Nick,” Gracie started, “Do you hate your full name because it’s a basic white guy name, or…?”
“Wow, Gracie,” Vincent murmured, shooting her a look. She shrugged, unbothered.
Nick chuckled though. “Believe it or not, I hate my name because my parents literally named me after St. Nickolas.”
Marianne spit out her drink in laughter, barely missing the food set out on the table. “Oh my god! Your parents named you after Santa? Are you actually serious?”
Nick sighed. “Yeah, I’m serious. My mom said that I came late just so I could be born on December first. She and my dad had been fighting about names, and well,” he shrugged, “I guess they figured that they found the perfect one.”
Marianne continued laughing. She tried to get herself under control to ask, “Did all the kids make jokes about you when you were a kid?”
“Yes, actually,” Nick said dryly, “You don’t know how many St. Nick jokes I got every single winter. My friend Andrew still leaves cookies and milk outside my door every Christmas Eve, which believe it or not, does get old after eleven years.”
Vincent placed a hand on his. “Let’s figure out a way to get him back this year,” he said, which was the best support Nick could have asked for.
“Vincent understands,” Luce chimed in, leaning forward to grab one of the rolls on the table. “Back when that Jersey Shore show was super popular, people would call him Vinny.”
“We are not reliving that,” Vincent said emphatically. He looked as though the memory actually and literally exhausted him.
Nick switched their hands so that he was holding onto Vincent’s. “I’ll never call you that if it makes you feel better.”
“Yeah, you’ll just call him ‘honey,’” Isabella smirked from his left.
Marianne had finished wiping off the table. “Yeah, I mean, I think you use that more than his actual name.”
“Oh, that’s so sweet though,” Luce cooed happily.
Gracie huffed out a laugh. “Please, please call him something stupid like ‘honey-bunny’ at least once. I just need to see his face.”
Vincent shook his head at all of them. “Don’t tease him.”
Isabella was still smirking. “You just want to make sure that he doesn’t stop.”
Vincent gave her a “well duh” kind of look that made Nick chuckle. Despite the fact that they were currently surrounded by Vincent’s whole family, he leaned over to give Vincent a peck on the cheek. He could remember their conversation so long ago—about Nick sometimes being too much with the pet names and affection.
But Vincent had never even minded, even when Nick more or less replaced his name with a pet name.
He could only clutch Vincent’s hand tightly in front of his family, but from the way Vincent smiled, Nick knew that he understood at least some of what he was feeling.
He only really got a chance to kiss Vincent when everyone was running around to set up air mattresses and figure out sleeping arrangements.
Vincent looked somewhat dazed when he pulled back. “I was going to ask you if you were okay being crammed onto the couch with me, but I guess it’s fine?”
Nick smiled down at him and leaned against the couch so that Vincent was standing between his legs. There was the sound of children arguing upstairs before Richard seemed to break it up. “Did Isabella run out of air mattresses?”
Vincent placed his hands on Nick’s thighs. “It’s rare that we have everyone together in one place anymore,” he explained. “Sorry that it’s so rowdy. And for your probable back pain in the morning.”
“I think I can survive a night with your family,” Nick quipped. “You miss them, huh?”
Vincent nodded, tracing patterns atop Nick’s flannel pants. “I do.”
“Then I’m happy to be here,” Nick said easily, leaning to give Vincent a kiss. “Besides, your family is pretty fun. Did it sound like this when you were growing up?”
Something crashed and Marianne started laughing. Vincent nodded sagely. “Yeah, more or less exactly like this. It’s a wonder that the younger kids can sleep through it.”
He placed a hand on Nick’s chest and gave him a slow kiss, the type of kiss that wasn’t meant to be anything deeper, but that was still warm and comforting.
Nick wondered why Vincent pulled back so quickly and moved to lean beside him when he noticed the man’s father walking over purposely. He had a second to wonder if he really had made a poor impression when Raymond stood in front of him.
“Don’t cause trouble for my son,” he commanded in that same gruff voice, “but Victoria wanted me to make sure that you knew that we approved of you. Not that our approval is necessary.”
Nick blinked in surprise. His expression settled into something more relaxed. “Thank you—I appreciate it.” He slipped his hand into Vincent’s, pleased when Vincent smiled over at him.
“Where is mom, anyway?” Vincent asked his father curiously.
Raymond pointed upstairs. “Helping Bella with the kids. She has about three kids hanging off of her, so she sent me.” He turned back to Nick and went on, “Bella also tells me that she has a standing threat with you, which we know she would honor if necessary.”
Vincent shook his head in exasperation. “I wish you would stop with all the intimidation efforts, dad.”
The man actually smirked this time. “Well, your mother and I agreed that Nick here might be the last boyfriend of yours that we got to mess with. We couldn’t pass up the chance,” he said with a low chuckle, giving Nick a hard pat on the shoulder that almost sent him backwards and over the couch before returning upstairs to help his wife.
Nick turned to Vincent, who resolutely didn’t look at him in the few seconds of silence that followed. “So, I might be your last boyfriend?”
Vincent finally met his gaze. “They’re all hoping I’ll upgrade the word ‘boyfriend’ to ‘husband’ at some point. At some point,” he emphasized.
“At some point,” Nick agreed, smiling.
Vincent smiled in return, kissing him on the cheek and releasing his hand to lie down on the couch. “Well, come on. Let’s figure out how to squeeze in on this thing,” he prompted, his voice somehow both soft and loud in the comfortable silence that surrounded them.
Nick walked around the couch to lie down mostly on top of his boyfriend, squeezing into his side and trying not to fall off the couch. “This isn’t so bad,” he murmured when he had fit himself into place beside his boyfriend.
“I once slept on the floor of a car when we were kids. Trust me, this is much better,” Vincent said quietly, shifting.
“You must have been pretty small then.”
“Back when I was shorter than my sisters. You know, at that weird age when girls get taller first.”
Nick chuckled, closing his eyes and wrapping his arms around Vincent. He could hear it when Vincent’s breathing began to even out.
Some part of his mind—that corny, romantic part—wondered if he would hear Vincent fall asleep like this for the rest of their lives, just before he drifted off too.