Brian and Justin spent the next weeks getting reacquainted with each other. They spent their evenings either in the loft or in Justin's apartment. Brian found that he had grown to love the cozy warmth of Justin's place and more and more they tended to stay there. They went out to dinner a few times and to a play once. They took a few trips to Babylon and Woody's, but that seemed to be taking second place to the rest of their lives.
One evening as Justin's birthday approached they were curled up on Justin's couch watching a rented movie. It wasn't very interesting, and Brian decided this might be the time to broach the topic he had been wanting to discuss with Justin. He picked up the remote and shut off the movie. Justin looked at him questioningly.
"It sucked," Brian said with his tongue in cheek.
"You got that right. So what do you want to do?" Justin asked with a leer. It seemed like he could never get enough of his amazing lover.
"Down, boy," Brian smiled. "I actually want to talk."
Justin frowned. "Uh oh, is something wrong?"
"Why does it have to be something bad when I say I want to talk?" Brian questioned.
"Admit it; it's not your favorite thing to do."
"Maybe not, but this is good. At least I think it will be."
"So tell me already," Justin giggled. "This sounds interesting."
Brian took a deep breath. "I seem to be spending all my evenings over here."
"And the nights."
"Definitely the nights," Brian grinned.
"So … what? You want to spend more time at the loft?"
"No, not exactly."
"Spit it out, Brian. You're starting to scare me. Do you think we're spending too much time together?"
"No, on the contrary, I don't think we're spending enough time together."
"I think we should look for a place that will be ours," Brian said looking at Justin and holding his breath. When Justin didn't respond immediately, he added, "Your place is great but it's not really big enough for both of us, and my place…"
"What about your place?" Justin asked buying some time while he tried to get his mind around the fact that Brian seemed to be saying they should live together, that they could have a life together.
"My place is … not who I am anymore."
"You mean you don't want the ultimate fuckpad in your future."
"I mean that I want a home with you," Brian said sincerely staring into Justin's eyes.
Justin's heart leapt in his throat. "That's what I want too." He leaned against Brian and gently kissed his lips. "That is exactly what I want."
Brian pulled him close and kissed him completely. "I don't want marriage and rings and ceremonies, but I do want you … for as long as we can stand each other." Brian grinned.
"That could be a very long time," Justin whispered. "Would that be a problem?"
"Not for me. How about you?"
Justin smiled his million watt smile. "I can't think of anything I'd like better."
Brian kissed Justin again, but in the middle of the kiss he felt Justin draw back and apparently lose interest. He looked up and released Justin from the kiss.
"What happened?" Brian asked.
"I can't afford a house or a big apartment," Justin said looking crestfallen.
"I thought about that too."
"You did? And don't you fucking tell me that you are going to pay for everything. I've just gotten to the stage where I can take care of myself, and I'm not going to start living off you."
"I didn't expect you to," Brian said rather smugly.
"Oh?" Justin wasn't sure what Brian meant.
"I thought if I sold the loft and used that as a down payment, then we could each put in what you're paying for rent here. That would cover expenses and anything left over would go to pay down the mortgage or buy furniture or whatever we needed."
Justin smiled. He liked the sound of that. "Would that be enough to swing it?"
"I think so."
"But the house would be in your name," Justin realized since Brian was making the down payment.
"No, I thought maybe, since your birthday is coming up soon, my gift to you would be your name on the deed … right beside mine. That is, if you'll let me do that." Brian knew how sensitive Justin was about paying his own way.
Justin stared at Brian. How had he managed to reconnect with this wonderful man? Had his life really taken such an amazing turn for the better? "I think I could go along with that," he said slowly.
"Good, then we can start looking anytime you want."
"Like right now?"
"We could call some realtors … tomorrow," Brian agreed. "I don't think any of them would appreciate a call at ten at night."
"They might," Justin laughed. "Carly, from work, she was telling me that she bought a condo a few months ago. She was up one night till two in the morning negotiating. She ended up with a great deal."
"Maybe we should get her to negotiate for us," Brian smirked.
"Maybe I should ask her for the name of the agent she used. That would give us a starting point."
"Brian, I can't believe you want to do this … with me." Justin squeezed Brian into a hug.
"And who would I be doing this with?"
"Nobody … Dillon," Justin said looking thoughtful.
"Justin, listen to me. Dillon and I never got even close to that stage in our relationship. I think on some level we both knew it wasn't going to last. But this is different. You're different from your brother. You're very special to me … in a way that no one else has ever been."
Justin kissed Brian deeply and searingly. "You are going to get so lucky tonight, Mr. Kinney." Justin's whispered words held such promise of what was to come. "Let's get started," Justin said standing up and pulling on Brian's arm. He led his lover to the bedroom both having forgotten the awful movie they had been watching.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Brian pulled his Corvette up to the front of the Hilton in downtown Pittsburgh. All he had told Justin was that they were going downtown for his birthday dinner. He hoped his plan was going to work. A lot was riding on the outcome of his machinations. But it was Justin's happiness that was foremost in his mind.
"We're having dinner here?" Justin asked with a frown as Brian handed his keys to the valet parking.
Brian nodded. "You're pretty quick on the uptake tonight, Sunshine," he laughed.
"Asshole," Justin said swatting Brian on the arm. Brian merely put his hand on Justin's back and steered him towards the door. He hoped Justin wouldn't feel how tense he was. "I didn't expect we'd come to a place like this," Justin observed. "You usually like more intimate settings."
"If the evening goes well we can get a room and have all the intimate that you want." Brian raised his eyebrows suggestively.
"You're incorrigible, you know."
"I do my best," Brian chuckled.
They walked through the lobby and Justin expected to go into the dining room that was located on the ground floor. Brian kept moving towards the elevators.
"Is there a revolving restaurant or something?" Justin asked. Brian merely pushed "2" on the elevator panel and they started the journey up to the second floor. "Are we eating in our room?" Brian did not reply. He waited for the elevator to stop and walked out clasping Justin's hand in his so the young man would follow him. "Brian, where are we going?"
Brian led him down the hall to a closed door marked "Conference Room III". Brian pushed the door open and then stood back gesturing for Justin to enter. Justin had barely crossed the threshold when a round of "Surprise!" rang out.
Justin's mouth dropped open as he recognized Tom and Carly and lots of other people he worked with. "What's going on?" he asked.
"Haven't you ever heard of a surprise party?" Brian whispered in his ear as he gently pushed him further into the room.
"You did this?" Justin asked looking back at Brian. "Why?"
"Because I wanted to … and I thought you deserved it." Justin beamed at him. No one had ever done for him half the things Brian did.
"Happy birthday, honey," his mother's voice said from beside him.
"Mom? What are you doing here?" Justin asked with a frown.
"I invited them," Brian said quickly making it clear to Justin that his family had not crashed the party.
Jennifer gave Justin a big hug, soon replaced by Craig. Dillon and Chad stepped forward and Justin gave them a perfunctory hug when Brian pushed him forward.
"If I might have your attention," Brian called thinking that he needed to make things eminently clear to all in attendance. When everyone settled down, he signaled Justin to join him. Somewhat shyly Justin walked over and stood by Brian's side. "I wanted to thank you all for coming tonight to celebrate the birth of this fine young man." Brian leaned down and kissed Justin's cheek. When he straightened up, he could see smiles on everyone's faces including all of the Taylors. "Justin was truly surprised, and I'm sure you all want to wish him well individually, so help yourselves to drinks and the food that's laid out here. We'll do presents a little later." Everyone applauded and headed for the bar.
"Presents?" Justin asked.
"One or two."
"You shouldn't have done all this," Justin said feeling embarrassed.
"Yes, I should … and I wanted to. Now, I'll get you a drink while you receive all the well deserved wishes that are coming your way." Brian stepped away as Justin was surrounded by his co-workers who thumped him on the back or hugged him warmly. The Taylors armed with fresh drinks watched all of this unfold.
"Thank you for inviting us, Brian," Jennifer said as she stood by Brian at the bar.
"You're welcome. I'm hoping this will be a new beginning for all of you."
"We hope so too," Craig said joining them.
They stood and watched Justin interact with his co-workers. There was lots of laughter and hugs and kibitzing.
"He seems to be enjoying himself," Dillon said to Brian as Brian picked up the drinks for himself and Justin.
"Let's keep it that way," Brian said over his shoulder as he made his way back to his lover. He handed the drink to Justin who took a welcome sip. "Go easy, there's speeches later."
"What?" Justin chuckled.
"I'm not kidding," Brian said moving quickly away.
Justin felt his heart rate increase noticeably. He wondered what people would say about him, would his family speak, would Brian, would Tom? What could he possibly say in response? He was sure he would end the evening totally embarrassed.
People ate and drank and generally relaxed for the next half hour. Everyone except Justin who felt his anxiety level increase as each minute passed. He ate nothing and drank a few drinks trying to calm his nerves.
Finally Brian asked everyone to find a seat and get comfortable with another drink. When that was accomplished he called on Tom to say a few words.
Tom moved over close to Justin and cleared his throat. "Justin, I was so pleased that Brian invited me, and the rest of the Galactic staff to this party. It gives me a chance to compliment you on your fine work since you joined our company. You bailed me out over New Year's by setting up our new offices in Miami. They're running like clockwork. But enough about work," Tom laughed, and the staff applauded. "I asked Brian what you might like as a present and he told me a little secret that helped us decide to get you this. It's a gift certificate for one of our fine furniture stores. I think you may have need of it very soon. We all chipped in."
Justin looked at the envelope and was blown away by the sum written on the certificate. "This is so generous. Thanks so much, everyone," Justin said not knowing what else to say.
"We did much the same," Craig said stepping forward. He handed Justin another envelope. "All the best, son."
Justin looked into his father's eyes and wasn't sure what he saw there. "Thank you," he said softly. "This is sure a surprise and I really appreciate everything that all of you have done. You're all so generous. Thanks so much." Justin felt his throat choke up and he swallowed hard.
"We love you, Justin," everyone called.
Brian stepped forward and pulled Justin into a hug giving the young man a chance to compose himself.
"I never expected anything like this," Justin whispered against Brian's throat.
"You're very special to everyone in this room," Brian said sincerely.
"Yeah, right," Justin replied looking over at his family who watched with concern on their faces. "They probably think I'm a disgrace to the family, acting like some stupid little faggot, getting all weepy." Justin shook his head.
"There's one more present," Brian said getting everyone's attention. "This one's from me."
"You … you already gave me my present," Justin said.
"This goes with it," Brian said. He fished a box out from under the table and handed it to Justin.
Justin slid the lid off and looked inside. His eyes lit up and he grinned. "Thank you," he said softly as he kissed Brian.
"Show us what it is," Tom called.
Out of the box Justin lifted an exquisite little metal Christmas tree. It was lit with tiny little lights that ran on batteries. Everyone oohed and aahed as it flickered and glowed in the semi-dark room. Then Justin noticed something hanging from one of the branches. It was a key.
"What's this for?" Justin asked.
"Remember that house we looked at a couple of days ago that we both loved?"
"Yeah, but it was too expensive," Justin said.
"I got some training from Carly and they accepted my offer just before we left your place."
"NO!" Justin reacted.
Justin launched himself into Brian's arms almost dropping the delicate little tree which Dillon managed to rescue just in time.
"I love you. I love you. I love you," Justin repeated, hugging Brian so tightly it was a wonder either of them could breathe.
The two stayed glued together as people began leaving the room, tapping Justin on the back and wishing him a Happy Birthday as they departed. After a bit the only people left in the room were Brian and Justin … and a key … and a tiny Christmas tree.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Brian waited until everyone was gone before taking Justin in his arms.
"Did you enjoy your party?"
"Are you kidding? This was the best night of my life!" Justin exclaimed. "I love you so much and I can't wait to get you home."
"I can't wait for that either, but there's one more thing that we have to do first," Brian told him as he led the blond out of the room and towards the elevators, pressing the up button.
Justin was curious as to where they were going but didn't ask any questions. He knew that if Brian wanted him to know he would've been told. The elevator stopped on the fifteenth floor and Brian pulled a room card from his pocket. Justin happily followed along, figuring Brian had kept his promise of getting them a room. He was completely floored when he stepped inside room 1524 and found his parents and Dillon waiting for them.
"What the fuck are they doing here?" Justin demanded as he turned to face Brian with betrayal in his eyes.
"They want to talk to you," Brian replied softly. "Just hear them out."
"But I thought…"
"Hey," Brian said, placing a hand under Justin's chin and forcing the younger man to look up at him. "For me?"
Justin sighed, knowing that he'd never be able to refuse Brian anything. "Fine," he breathed, sounding more like a child that a man who just turned twenty-seven.
"Honey," Jennifer began softly. "Please come in and sit down. I think it's time we got a few things straightened out."
"I think I'll go wait downstairs. This is a family matter," Brian offered, trying to ignore the pained look Justin was giving him.
Craig saw the look on Justin's face and knew his son needed Brian there for his strength and support. "Brian, why don't you stay here? You're a part of this family and the reason we're all here to begin with."
Brian nodded silently and placed a comforting hand on Justin's shoulder before walking over and leaning against a far wall. He wanted to be there for Justin, but he had no intentions of getting involved unless he was needed.
The room was silent for a moment while everyone was scrambling for a place to start. Dillon was the one who broke the silence first.
"Justin, Brian told me how you feel. How you think that you're not enough for us. How you think you come in second to me. I was…I mean; we never realized that you felt that way. Why didn't you say something?"
"What would've been the point? None of you ever paid any attention to what I wanted or how I felt," Justin replied bitterly. "All I ever heard was Dillon this and Dillon that, or why don't you try to be more like your brother? Even back in grade school I remember being told that I should try out for sports because that's what Dillon likes. I guess after awhile I just realized that nothing I ever did would be enough when I had an older brother who was making our parents proud. I remember in seventh grade when I won the art contest in school. My painting was chosen out of all the others and I was so excited. I ran all the way home to show everyone but all anyone could talk about was how Dillon made the softball team again. How Dillon was going to be the star pitcher again. No one seemed to care about my achievement."
"Son, all we ever wanted was for you to be happy," Craig said softly.
"I was happy. I was fucking thrilled until Mom glanced at my painting and said 'that's nice, dear' before turning back to Dillon. Would it have killed either one of you to make a fuss over my painting? I was twelve years old for fuck's sake. All I wanted was for my parents to be proud of me," Justin said tearfully.
"We were proud of you," Jennifer said.
"No…you weren't. You were proud of Dillon. I was the disappointment; the one who had no direction in his life, the one who wanted to paint pretty pictures instead of trying out for the team. You never even came to the ceremony they had. You never even saw me receive my ribbon for winning that stupid contest." Justin was on his feet now, pacing the room in agitation. "You weren't there because it was opening day and you were too busy on the field watching Dillon throw the first pitch."
Jennifer's face paled as she let her son's words sink in. "But Dillon wanted us there. He was always seeking our support and approval. He needed our attention and you never seemed to want that."
"I needed you, too! All I ever wanted was for one of you, just one of you to show some interest in something that I did. I may not have begged and pleaded with you for your attention, but I shouldn't have had to. I was your son too, damn it! I shouldn't have had to beg because you should've offered it to me freely! What's wrong with me? Am I such a horrible person that my own parents, my own brother couldn't love me, couldn't accept me as I am?"
"Justin," Jennifer gasped. "Of course we love you. How could you even say such a thing?"
"Really Mom? Because I have to say, I've never felt it before. I've spent my whole life feeling tolerated. Feeling as if Dillon was the golden child and I was just an accident that happened that you were forced to live with. Dillon was the star player, Dillon went to law school, Dillon has a great career and money and a promising future. And then there's your other son. The one who got his business degree but didn't use it. The one who lived in shitty apartments and refused to settle down. The one who never had any money and always had to accept the hand-me-downs that everyone else gave him. Well I've got news for everyone. I used to think that I was second best and I hated myself for that, but not anymore. Thanks to Galactic and my success there, thanks to Tom for believing in my talent and giving me an opportunity to prove my worth, and thanks to Brian, I'm finally able to see that there's nothing wrong with me. I'm not Dillon and that's okay because I'm not supposed to be. I'm Justin Taylor and I'm proud of who I am and what I've become. And do you know what the best part of being Justin Taylor is? Knowing that I have someone as special as Brian to love me for who I am. His love has given me more happiness than anything else in my life and I wouldn't change one thing that I've been through if it meant that I wouldn't have him by my side now."
Brian stood back and watched Justin for as long as he could before making his way over and taking the shaking man in his arms.
"Second best?" Brian huffed in his ear. "Not likely, Sunshine. You'll always be first with me."
Justin allowed Brian's words to comfort him, giving himself a moment to calm down before pulling back and facing his parents again, this time with Brian's arms around him for support. He had everything he ever wanted in Brian, and that helped him to see it was time to put the past behind him. There was nothing he could do to change what had happened, but it was never too late to look towards the future. He looked at the shocked faces around the room and smiled inwardly. It was the first time he ever rendered his family speechless.
"Oh Justin," Jennifer said tearfully. "We never meant to make you feel bad. We do love you, more than you know. I'm so sorry for making you think otherwise."
"And son, we're proud of you. Not only for all you've accomplished but for doing it on your own without our help. I guess your mother and I had different views of what would make you happy. That's why we were always pushing you to follow in your brother's footsteps. But I think we both see now that we were wrong. I'm glad you were strong enough to follow your own path and not listen to us. I see how happy you are and that's all that really matters," Craig assured him.
"Your father's right. Do you think you can forgive us for all of our mistakes? I think it's long past time for us to become a family again," Jennifer said softly.
Justin wiped away a stray tear as he suddenly, for the first time in as long as he could remember, felt his parents' love. "I think so, too. Besides, we all make mistakes. I guess I should've tried talking to you about this years ago instead of holding it all inside and letting it build up to this. It's never too late to fix things."
Justin smiled as he felt first his mother, then his father pull him in for a tight hug. He relished the feeling of being accepted for the first time and pulled back, once again wiping his eyes. He laughed softly when he saw Dillon standing before him with a box of tissues in his hand.
"I guess I have you to thank for this. Going to see Brian, behind my back I might add, brought us to where we are now," Justin said as he held on tight to his emotions.
"No, I'd like to think we got here because we're a family. As screwed up as we are, we still love each other and would've come around eventually. I'm just sorry it's taken this long. Look little brother, I don't ever want you to feel like you're second best to me again, got it? We may be complete opposites, but I think we're both pretty special in our own way."
Justin reached out and pulled Dillon into a hug, feeling all his resentment slipping away. He missed out on so much by hiding himself from his family through the years. He had no intention of missing out on anything else. He finally pulled back and looked up at Dillon, noticing his brother's eyes shining with unshed tears. "Okay, enough of all this mushy stuff. Where's that boyfriend of yours? I think we should all go downstairs and have a drink to toast the new and improved Taylor family. What do you say?"
"I think that sounds like a great idea. Let's go," Dillon agreed as he started walking towards the door. Chad was waiting down there for word that the coast was clear and he was ready to join the man who had become so special to him. He was secretly hoping that one day he and Chad could have the kind of relationship that Justin and Brian had.
Craig and Jennifer followed Dillon out but Jennifer stopped when she realized that Brian and Justin weren't behind them. "Aren't you two coming?"
"We'll be right there, Jennifer," Brian replied as he waited for them to leave so that he could have a minute alone with Justin. Once the door was closed he turned to the blond and brushed a few stray hairs from his forehead. "Are you okay?"
"Truthfully? I've never been happier," Justin replied honestly. "Thank you for giving me my family back. This really is the best night of my life."
"Seeing you this happy makes it mine, too," Brian said as he placed a soft kiss on Justin's lips. "I love you, Sunshine."
Justin's heart skipped a beat as it always did when Brian called him Sunshine. "I love you, too. Now let's get going. My family awaits and I still can't wait to get you home. You are going to get soooo lucky, Mr. Kinney."
"I already have," Brian whispered. "I already have."
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