Brian stepped out onto the back porch at Debbie’s. He pulled out his faithful Zippo lighter and lit a cigarette. He took a long drag. He needed that. “Family” could be overwhelming at times. Justin had convinced him to come for the barbecue that Deb always held on the Fourth of July. In the past he usually managed to put in an appearance at these functions, but he also escaped as soon as he could.

Today was different. Justin wanted to spend some time with the “family”. Which probably meant that his real agenda was to show Michael that they were together. Justin had plied Brian with mind blowing sex and promises of more when they got home – so here he was putting in time, and feeling the need for some space.

He flipped the top of the Zippo several times watching the flame and then snuffing it out as he snapped it shut.

“Daddy?” a little voice said.

“Shit!” Brian muttered as he dropped the Zippo over the railing of the small porch. He was surprised to be interrupted, but more so because it was Gus. He tossed his cigarette after the Zippo noting that he would have to retrieve the lighter after he dealt with his son. “Gus, what are you doing out here?” he asked the mini version of himself as he turned to face the little boy.

“Is it time for the fireworks yet?”

Debbie always bought a pretty decent set of fireworks for her party, but it wasn’t quite dark yet.

“When it’s dark, Gus. Soon.”

“I saw fire when I came out,” Gus noted.

“Oh, um, that was my lighter,” Brian admitted.

“Were you smoking, Daddy?”

“Just a puff or two.”

“You said you were going to stop,” Gus accused.

“I am … I just need a smoke … every now and then.”

Gus looked at his father skeptically. The eight year old had a way of viewing things that Brian found rather disconcerting. Maybe it was Mel’s influence on the child. Gus always seemed to be judging his father since they had all returned from Toronto. The long separation while the munchers were in Canada had created a distance between father and son. Gus seemed different than Brian remembered, but the boy had also grown up quite a bit, maybe more than he should have in the intervening years. Brian hoped that things between them would improve if they could spend some time together.

“You excited about the fireworks?” Brian asked. Gus shrugged. “I thought you came out here to see if it was time for them?”

“I like fireworks … okay,” Gus conceded. “I bet Grandma Debbie won’t have as good ones as they had in Toronto,” he added.

“Did you see fireworks in Canada?”

“Yeah, every year, at City Hall, but they do it on July 1st not the Fourth. That’s just wrong.”

Brian chuckled. “I’m sure you’ve been taught that Canadians celebrate Canada Day on July 1st , not Independence Day on July Fourth.”

“Yeah, I know that. But I like the Fourth of July better.”

“Is that right?” Brian asked with a chuckle. He had never felt particularly patriotic about this vast country filled with rednecks who hated gays.

“Where does Grandma shoot off the fireworks?” Gus asked.

“Over there, near the laneway.” Brian pointed to a clear spot at the back of the small yard.

“Is this the fireworks?” Gus pointed to a cardboard box on the porch.

“Yeah, I think that’s them,” Brian said. “Let’s go see if Grandma Debbie is ready to set them off. It’s almost dark.”

“I think I’ll look at the stars for a minute,” Gus said looking up as the first stars started to twinkle in the darkening sky.

“Okay,” Brian said giving his son a funny look. When had Gus become a stargazer? “I’ll go get the others so we can get this party started.”

Gus continued studying the sky as Brian went inside.

“It’s dark,” Brian said as he entered the kitchen at Debbie’s.

“Who made you the weatherman?” Debbie demanded. She was putting dishes away that had been washed up after the barbecue.

“I wasn’t reporting on the weather. I was telling you it’s dark outside.”

“What was it that George Carlin used to say? Weather forecast for tonight: dark!” Debbie cackled in her own inimitable style.

“Right,” Brian said, “so it’s now dark!” When Debbie didn’t seem to get the point, Brian added, “Fireworks? Time for fireworks.”

“Oh, yeah, I guess we can get started,” Debbie finally agreed. “Ben and Michael are going to let them off.”

“Great! Tweedledum and…”

Debbie elbowed him in the ribs before he could continue. “Keep your comments to yourself,” she demanded. “Michael, Ben, show time!” she called into the living room.

Everyone started to head outside. Brian nuzzled Justin’s neck. “Let’s get out of here,” he whispered.

“No,” Justin replied wriggling out of Brian’s grasp. “I want to see the fireworks. And you can spend some time with Gus.”

Just then a sharp, “Gus!” was heard from outside.

Brian’s head came up. It was Lindsay’s voice and he could hear the panic in it. He headed towards the back door immediately. He couldn’t get out the door as everyone had stopped on the small porch and seemed to be staring at something. Because of his height Brian stood on his tiptoes and was able to see over everyone’s heads that Gus was near the back fence of the yard, holding a large firecracker and Brian’s Zippo lighter.

“Put the firecracker down, Gus,” Mel commanded her son.

“I just wanted to let off one firecracker by myself, Mama.”

“Gus, firecrackers are dangerous,” Lindsay said. “Drop it on the ground.”

“But I want…”

At that moment Brian came barreling through the back gate of the yard. He had run around the end of the block and come in the back lane. He scooped Gus up taking the firecracker and tossing it away. He grabbed his Zippo out of Gus’ hand. He buried his face into Gus’ neck and finally was able to breathe again. He was sure his heart had stopped when he had seen Gus with his lighter and a firecracker that could easily have blown off several of his little fingers.

“Gus…Gus…Gus,” Brian whispered.

“I’m okay, Daddy,” Gus said. “I could have done it.”

“No, you don’t ever play with fire and you certainly never try to light firecrackers.”

“But I’m a big kid now,” Gus protested.

“You can let off firecrackers when you’re eighteen,” Brian said kissing his son’s cheek.

“Thank God we came out when we did,” Debbie said clutching at her bosom.

“How the fuck did he get a lighter?” Mel demanded.

“And the firecracker?” Lindsay added.

“The lighter is mine,” Brian said, finally releasing Gus from the death grip he had been holding him in. Gus ran over to Lindsay who pulled him into a hug much like his father’s.

“I might have known you’d be behind this, asshole!” Mel reacted.

“Well, the firecracker must be from the box on the porch where I left all of the fireworks for tonight,” Debbie said getting a squeeze of support from Carl.

“Nobody needs to be blamed,” Carl said hoping to diffuse the situation. “Nobody got hurt, and everything’s okay now. Let’s get on with the show.”

“I think we should take him home,” Mel said pointedly. She threw a death glare at Brian who threw one right back.

“I don’t want to go home,” Gus whined. “I want to see the fireworks.”

“Let’s go,” Brian said to Justin.

“But I want to see the fireworks,” Justin whined, sounding much like Gus.

“Then stay the fuck here. I’m gone.” Brian turned on his heel and headed out of the yard the same way he had entered.

Justin watched him go, listening to the nasty comments being made about Brian’s carelessness, lack of parenting skills and general ability to piss everyone off.

“You might remember that Brian was the one who got the lighter and firecracker away from Gus before they went off,” Justin said in a loud voice. “A thank you would have been nice.” He ran up the back steps, pushing his way past those who tried to stop him. He ran through the house hoping to catch Brian at his car before he took off.

He saw Brian getting into the car as he came out the front door of Debbie’s. Thank goodness the car was pointed in the direction to pass by Justin. Justin ran to the sidewalk and bent over sticking his ass out between the parked cars. He gave his ass a suggestive shake when he thought the Corvette would be approaching.

He heard the screech as Brian brought the Corvette to an abrupt halt. “That’s a new approach to hitchhiking,” Brian said as Justin jumped in.

“Works every time.”

“I thought you were staying for the fireworks.”

“We can make better fireworks at home,” Justin said with a grin.

“When you’re right, you’re right.”

Brian spun the tires just to disturb the neighborhood one more time before he headed for the loft.

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