C'est la Vie
John and Justin were organizing suitcases and duffle bags when the gate alarm went off. Someone was driving through the gate but didn’t buzz the intercom.
“Could it be Brian with the kids?” John asked.
Justin checked his watch. “Too early.”
“Obviously whoever it is belongs here or Beau and his family would be going nuts,” John observed. “Maybe Emmett?”
“No, they’re staying in the city. He said since we’re not “doing” Christmas he might as well throw himself into his work,” Justin explained with just a touch of Emmett’s flair. They both rolled their eyes.
“Well, instead of us speculating all day, we might as well go look,” John wisely suggested. They grabbed coats then stepped outside.
“Ben,” they both said as they saw the car.
“He’s a little early,” Justin commented.
John just shrugged. “Why don’t we see if he needs a hand,” John suggested. Justin nodded as they headed down the lane to the log cabin.
“Hey Ben,” Justin cheerfully called out.
“Hi,” Ben said with a small smile. He was trying to balance a box of groceries while reaching for a suitcase.
“Can you use a hand?” John volunteered as he took the box. Justin went for a couple of small suitcases.
“We weren’t expecting you until later,” Justin commented.
“I was lucky. All my students were aware I’m taking the next semester off, so everyone turned in their papers early. All I had to do was clean off my desk and say goodbye to the Dean. Justin, I called Brian’s cleaning company. I paid this month’s bill.”
“You didn’t have to do that. You were barely there two weeks,” said Justin.
“I insist. You and Brian were very gracious to allow me to stay at the loft. It’s the least I can do.”
“Thank you. And I’ll let Brian know; he should be home soon. He went to pick up the kids from school. We’ll be leaving tonight.”
“Paris,” Ben said with longing. “I’ve never been.” John and Justin exchanged looks.
“Come with us,” Justin stated.
“Come with us. Do you have your passport?”
“Yes, I do,” Ben said sadly. “I wasn’t sure when I’d ever go back to the house so I took all of my important papers with me. I meant to rent a safety deposit box but I never got around to it.”
“Is it valid?” Justin asked.
“Yes it is.”
“Then come with us,” John echoed Justin’s invitation. “You don’t need a ticket. Liberty Air is getting a kick out of being the airline to the stars. They gave Brian a private plane to use whenever he needs it; we have plenty of room.”
“Who’s going?” Ben asked. Ben wasn’t sure he could handle a planeload of “family,” at this point in his life.
They had brought in the groceries and were helping Ben stow away the few perishables he purchased.
“Just us. Lindsay and Molly are already there to support Gus and Ray. We’re bringing the kids,” Justin began. “All the kids.”
“Bree, Patrick, Peter, and Ashley,” Justin explained with an exaggerated sigh.
“Hey, they’re all good kids. Besides, I’m going to help supervise,” John said.
“No Bobby?” Ben asked.
“No,” John said, shaking his head. “This is a busy time for him. Lots of charitable donations being made before the end of the year to take advantage of tax breaks,” John explained.
Ben nodded; that made sense to him. “I’m not sure. I wouldn’t want to intrude.”
“Who’s intruding?” Justin asked. “We’ve invited you. Think of it this way. We can use your help with the kids. I’ll be busy at the galleries. Brian will be babysitting me. Gus and Bree will be busy with Kinnetik business.” Ben gave Justin a look. “I know but believe it or not, the idea for this part of the exhibition was thought up by Gus and Bree. The gallery owners are all looking forward to meeting her.”
“That means it will be up to me to entertain three teens. Not something I’m looking forward to. You’re a smart guy, I’m sure you can help me keep the kids out of trouble,” John pleaded making Ben laugh out loud.
“You know, I’m tempted, I’m really tempted,” Ben admitted.
“Good. Let’s leave this for now. Come to the cottage with us and talk to Brian. I’m sure he’ll convince you,” Justin said with a flirty smile.
“Uh oh, watch it, Ben. Justin is turning on the Taylor charm. You know that’s hard to resist,” John warned in jest.
“I’ll take that under advisement,” Ben laughed.
The three friends walked to the conjoined cottages.
“Dada, look, Uncle Ben’s back!” Bree exclaimed. They had just come through the gate and were making their way up the lane when Bree spotted Ben with her daddy and uncle. Then she leaned in closer to her father. “Dada, I know it’s none of my business but Uncle Ben and Uncle Michael are having trouble, right,” Bree asked discreetly.
Brian not only had Bree, Patrick, and Peter in the car but he had picked up Ashley with her bags. Being a teacher, Ashley’s mom didn’t want to take the chance of a delayed return so she wasn’t joining them on this trip. However, Brian commanded that Susanna would be accompanying them to Paris this summer. Brian hath spoken!
“Yes, Squirt, unfortunately you are right,” Brian quietly confirmed as he maneuvered John’s Navigator next to their side door. It would make it easier to load up the suitcases. Bobby was going to chauffeur them to the airport later that night.
“We should take Uncle Ben with us to Paris,” Bree pronounced.
“Bree, we don’t know if he feels up to taking a trip like that or if he even has a passport.”
“Just ask him. Okay?”
“Okay, Squirt. You’re right. It doesn’t hurt to ask,” he said as they all got out of the SUV. The kids ran into the kitchen looking for snacks.
“Whoa there, pardners!” John drawled with a bit of a Texan twang. “Let’s rustle up some snacks in my kitchen. Head ‘em up; move ‘em out!” John ordered as he herded up the kids and led them over to his kitchen. John had the kids giggling and the adults shaking their heads. Before Bree followed along, she whispered something into Brian’s ear. Brian nodded.
“I think my brother was a cowboy in a previous life,” Brian mumbled.
“I’ve seen your brother on a horse, he is a cowboy,” Ben stated with a knowing smile. Brian agreed.
“How are you doing, Professor?” Brian asked as he put on the kettle then fixed himself a cup of coffee.
“Better, I think. At least I’m not angry all the time. Brian,” Ben began as he took Brian’s cup out of his hand so Ben could shake it. “Thank you again for allowing me to stay at the loft. You were there when I needed a friend. I really appreciate it.”
“You’ve always been a good friend to me, to both of us. I could do no less,” Brian sincerely stated. Ben released Brian’s hand as the kettle came to a boil. He and Justin prepared tea while Ben settled himself at the counter.
“Now, I have something to ask you. Why don’t you come with us to Paris?” Brian asked eliciting smiles. Brian looked back and forth from Justin to Ben. “Sunshine, do you have something to tell me?” Brian asked with an arch to his brow.
Justin replied with only a coy smile and a bat of his lashes.
“Uh huh. So, Professor, you ready to dust off your passport and join the party?”
“That’s Brian-speak for, would you like to come with us to Paris?” Justin explained to Ben then he turned to Brian. “John and I asked Ben to join us just before you got home.”
“I kind of figured that one out,” Brian snarked. “Well?” Brian focused his gaze on Ben.
“Yes, I’d love to join you,” Ben said.
“Good. Go home and pack. Think comfortable but classy. Bring back any food you think might spoil before we get back and Bobby will take care of it. We’re having dinner early and will be out of here by nine. You also have plenty of time to let Debbie know that you’re going with us,” Brian said with a poignant look.
Ben sighed as he lowered his head but knew Brian was right.
“I think I’ll go do that first.”
“Good idea,” Brian said with a wince. He gave Ben a few supportive pats to his shoulder as he walked Ben to the door.
“I’ll see in you in about an hour,” Ben said as he left the security of the conjoined cottages to walk to the thatched cottage.
“Will he be all right?” Justin asked as he began to take out the fixings for dinner.
“He’s a big boy, he’ll be fine,” Brian assured him as he walked to their bedroom.
“Hiya, honey, how are you? Is the semester finally over?” Debbie asked as she opened her door. Ben noticed Peter’s bags sitting by the door.
“I’m fine, and yes, I’m all done,” Ben replied.
“Would you like to stay for dinner?”
“That’s sweet of you to ask but I have other plans. Deb, can we sit, I have something to tell you.”
“Sounds serious,” said Carl as he joined them when he heard Ben’s voice. Debbie put the kettle on as they sat at the kitchen table.
“Brian and Justin invited me to go with them to Paris and I’ve accepted. I wanted to tell you myself before you heard it from someone else,” Ben blurted out then searched Debbie’s face for a reprisal. When none was forthcoming, Ben quickly continued. “I know you must be angry with us and at the very least disappointed in me, but Deb, I really need a break.” Ben made a noise that almost sounded like a sob as he scrubbed at his face. “I’m so tired, Debbie; just so very tired,” Ben whispered.
“Yes, I am disappointed, but honey, not with you or that asshole son of mine. I know you’ve done your very best. You worked so hard at making your marriage work. I’m just disappointed that the situation has gotten this far.” Debbie leaned over to give Ben a hug. “You go to Paris and have some fun. Don’t worry about anything else.”
“I don’t want him to be alone for Christmas; he’s always loved this time of year.”
“He won’t be, sweetheart. JR and Jacqueline have offered to host Christmas. Carl and I are helping. Hunter and Nick will be there too, and Melanie. We’ll make sure he’ll be all right. You still love him, don’t you, honey?” Deb asked hopefully.
“I care about him. I may even love him, but most times I just don’t like him. And I’m afraid I’m no longer in love with him. But it doesn’t mean I wish him any ill will.”
“Of course, you don’t,” Carl said when Debbie was at a loss for words. “We understand, don’t we, Babe,” Carl said as he gave his wife a nudge. Debbie could only nod. “Keep Peter out of trouble, okay,” Carl said with a smile, trying to lighten the mood.
“I promised to help John chaperone all the kids while Justin’s occupied with the galleries. I’m sure we’ll find some kid-safe activities,” Ben vowed.
“I’m sure you will,” Carl agreed. “Are you sure you won’t stay for dinner? We have plenty.”
“No, thank you, I have to repack. I’ve been instructed to bring things comfortable but classy. Whatever that means. Would you like me to take Peter’s bags with me?”
“No thank you, sweetheart. Peter will come for them before he leaves,” Debbie explained when she finally found her voice.
Carl and Debbie gave Ben a hug then watched him leave. He left standing a little straighter than when he arrived.
“Oh Carl,” Debbie cried into his chest. “Is it really over?”
“Don’t know, Babe. It’s one of those things we’re going to have to wait and see.”
“But what can we do?”
“Nothing, but we’ll be there for them. We won’t judge, and we won’t take sides,” Carl stated wisely.
“You’re right. I’ll try,” Debbie said as she dried her tears and sniffled a bit into a tissue. “Well, let’s not stand around here doing nothing. I have dinner to cook. And you should check what Peter put in those bags. Where is that boy anyway?” Debbie asked as she began taking out pots, pans, and various cooking implements.
“And what the fuck is comfortable but classy?!”
“Well, Sunshine, are you ready for your second Paris opening?” Brian asked.
They were standing on their balcony looking over the city. Paris was dressed up in all its finery to celebrate the season. The weather was brisk but clear. Justin was kept warm by Brian’s arms wrapped around him and by the excellent cognac they were sharing.
Justin turned in Brian’s arms to see into his lover’s eyes. Those expressive hazel eyes which were now a deep forest green and filled with love for only him.
“Thank you,” Justin murmured against Brian’s lips.
“For what?” Brian asked with a smirk and a twinkle in his eyes.
“For this, for us, for everything,” Justin said as he ravished Brian’s mouth.
“Whatever I’ve accomplished, whatever we’ve done, is because our life together makes it all worth it,” Brian whispered then he gently pecked Justin’s nose before drawing him in for a crushing hug.
“I love you, Brian.
“Love you, Sunshine. Always have. Always will.
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