C'est la Vie
Michael's eyes fluttered open and he blinked at the light coming through his bedroom window. He stretched his arm to the side and found an empty bed. He frowned as he sat up and looked around. It was just after eight o'clock. He knew Ben didn't have to be to the university until nine.
"Ben?" he said hoping to hear a reply from the bathroom.
All was silence.
Michael threw back the covers and went to the top of the stairs. "Ben?" he called again. Silence reigned throughout the house.
Michael went back into the bedroom and grabbed his robe. He threw it on and headed downstairs. He was alone in the house. He had wanted Ben to make love to him last night, but Ben feigned tiredness. He had simply rolled away from Michael and pretended to fall asleep. Michael was pretty sure it was pretend sleep, and he didn't like it one little bit.
He started making some coffee and put some bread into the toaster as he thought about where things stood between him and Ben. Michael had thought things would return to the way they had been once they were back in Pittsburgh together. But that had not happened. Ben rarely spoke to him. He was often gone in the morning when Michael woke up. Michael couldn't remember one time they had made love or had sex since they had returned. Something was obviously wrong.
Michael took his coffee and toast to the kitchen table and sat down. He took a bite of the toast. It tasted pretty ... tasteless. Everything was going wrong. This was not what he had wanted.
Outside the kitchen window he could see the tree in the backyard swaying in a stiff breeze. He dropped the remnants of his toast onto the plate and took a last sip of his coffee. He got up and dumped the rest of the coffee into the sink. Maybe he could stop at the diner and get some coffee and breakfast that would taste better than what he had just made.
But he couldn't even do that, because he had sworn never to go back to the diner. Damn Lacy!
He headed back upstairs to put his clothes on. He looked at the empty bed. He was tempted to crawl back into it and pull the covers over his head. With a big sigh he grabbed some clothes from the closet and wearily put them on.
JR walked into the diner. It was busy with a lot of people in for breakfast. JR stepped to the counter and caught Lacy's eye.
"Hey, JR," Lacy said cautiously. "Can I get you something?"
"A large coffee and a breakfast wrap, please," JR responded.
"Sure," Lacy said. "For here or to go?" she asked as she turned away to send in the order for the wrap.
"To go. I need to get the shop opened."
"Okay," Lacy agreed pouring the coffee into a paper cup. She handed it and a couple of creamers to JR. JR dumped them into her cup and put the plastic lid on top.
Neither woman wanted to confront the elephant in the room, namely Michael's attitude about Lacy and the diner.
In a few minutes Lacy reappeared with the breakfast wrap in a brown paper bag. "Seven dollars," she said.
JR handed her a ten and left a dollar tip on the counter when she got the change. "Lacy..." JR started.
"I don't like being on the outs with you. I don't agree with my father."
"I didn't think you did," Lacy replied carefully. "But you're stuck in the middle, so stay away if that works for you."
JR could tell that Lacy had been hurt by Michael's actions. "I'm here because I want to be. I intend to keep coming in," JR averred.
"Good," Lacy said. "I don't like conflict."
"Me either. I just wish my father felt that way too," JR said with a big sigh.
"Maybe it will all blow over."
"And maybe it won't," JR replied before she picked up her coffee and left the diner.
Ben raised the heavy dumbbell up to his chest. He had done who knew how many reps. He was drenched in sweat. He knew he should stop, but it felt good to put all his concentration into lifting. That way he didn't have to think about ... anything. As he raised the dumbbell one more time, he felt the muscles in his arms quiver. He knew he should stop. He lowered the weights and started to lift them again.
Ben was in another world, a world of lifting and sweating and straining and avoiding.
The sharp tone of the voice finally got through to him.
"Put the weights down, Ben," Glen said sharply. "Right now!"
Ben looked at him for a moment and then lowered the heavy weights to the floor.
"Are you trying to kill yourself?" Glen asked sarcastically.
"That wouldn't be so bad," Ben muttered.
"Hey, you need to chill," Glen said with a frown.
Ben shook his head. "I need a shower. I have to get to work."
"You need to talk to Alex too."
"It hasn't helped."
"I know it's discouraging, but don't give up."
Ben stared at his friend. "I think I have given up. I can't change Michael. I can only change myself, and that's not accomplishing anything."
"Sounds like you are ready to take the next step," Glen opined.
"That's for you to decide. But talk to Alex first ... please."
"Okay," Ben said resignedly. "I better get moving or I'll be late for my class."
"Try to stay positive," Glen offered.
"Yeah ... positive," Ben said as he walked away toward the change rooms.
Michael walked into the comicbook store carrying a Starbucks coffee. He hated paying six bucks for coffee but he refused to go back to the diner.
"Hey, Dad," JR said. She had finished her coffee and her breakfast wrap. The remnants of her meal had been safely stuffed in the garbage. She had a fleeting thought about why she hadn't wanted her father to know where she had got her breakfast. Maybe she didn't like conflict any more than Lacy did.
"Hey," Michael said lethargically.
"No Honeybun today?" JR asked trying to keep things light.
"I thought you didn't like me calling you that."
"Then why ask about it?"
"You usually call me that. It was strange not to have you tack it on the end of your reply," JR explained.
"Didn't feel like it today," Michael muttered.
"I don't want to talk about it," Michael stated.
"Fine, I'll go unpack the latest order that came in a few minutes ago."
"It's Ben," Michael said quickly.
"What about Ben?" JR felt a sliver of fear creep up her spine.
"He ... I shouldn't burden you with this," Michael said.
"Sounds like you want to talk about it in spite of what you said. So ... talk."
"He hardly talks to me. He's gone when I get up in the morning. He's too tired every night to..."
"Okay, I get it," JR said not wanting to hear about her father's love life.
"It's like he's not even there most of the time."
JR so wanted to say 'I told you so'. But she knew that would not accomplish anything. Instead she said," So, what do you think is wrong?"
"Maybe he's going through a midlife crisis," Michael said hopefully.
"Maybe..." JR agreed. She wanted her father to figure it out for himself. That was the only way he would ever own it. "Could it be something else?" she asked.
"Like what?" Michael asked defensively.
"I don't know. I'm just asking."
"You think it's because I wanted him back in Pittsburgh, don't you?"
"What I think doesn't matter. It's what you and Ben think that's important."
"I don't understand why he isn't happy. We're in Pittsburgh in our home. He's teaching again, which he loves. Why isn't he happy?"
JR sighed. She knew why, but it never worked when she tried to explain it to her father. It seemed pointless to say that it was Michael who was the problem. He would just get his back up and stop talking.
"Only you and Ben can answer that," JR said. "When did this start?"
Michael thought for a minute. "Pretty much after we got back here."
"Do you think that has something to do with it?" JR asked. "Maybe Ben really wants to be back on the lane writing his book."
"That stupid book is a big part of the problem."
"It's Ben's project. It's important to him."
"But it's about Brian and Justin ... mostly."
"I thought it was about all of the family on and off the lane," JR said.
"But mainly Brian and Justin. Brian is my friend, not Ben's."
JR shook her head. Michael was so possessive about Brian, always had been, apparently always would be. "Ben enjoys writing," JR said. "You need to give him room to do that."
"I give him room. I let him stay on the lane for most of the summer and fall. What more can I do?"
JR knew her father was not nearly as magnanimous about Ben's time and location as he liked to believe. "Maybe that's what you need to figure out," was all she said before she headed for the office to start unpacking the order. Michael needed to work this out for himself or he would never really get it. She had planted all the seeds she could.
Michael watched her walk away. She hadn't been any help at all. Maybe he'd call Emmett and see if he could get more help from his old roommate. He certainly didn't get much from his daughter.
Later on that afternoon, Michael wandered into Emmett’s bistro. The bistro was always good for excellent coffee and the best popovers known to man.
“Hi, hi, hi!” Emmett called out from behind the counter. He had a tray of fresh popovers in one hand while waving a coffee pot at Michael with the other hand. The coffee pot was indicating that Michael should take a seat at Emmett’s private table. Within minutes there was a basket of hot popovers on the table along with a carafe of fresh coffee.
“So what brings you out of your man cave, aka the comic book store, and down to my little place?” Emmett asked with a big grin.
“I think I need some advice,” Michael murmured as he picked up a popover, briefly examined it than took a bite.
“It’s mine to give but it would help to know the subject,” Emmett urged.
“Isn’t it always,” Emmett said with a faraway sigh. “Any man in particular?”
“Ah, that’s easy, Ben’s like an open book. He’s so straightforward. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, as the saying goes,” Emmett stated.
“Really?” Michael was truly astonished.
“It’s obvious,” said Emmett.
“Not to me. He never tells me anything,” Michael huffed.
“Oh honey, all you need to do is look at him to know what’s going on in his head. It’s written all over his face. Unlike some other tall, dark, and handsome hunk we all know and love but who shall remain nameless...” Emmett winked at Michael who pretended to know who Emmett was talking about.
“I still don’t get it,” Michael mumbled around another bite of popover. “Besides, how would I know anything about Drew?” Michael sneered as he totally missed the point.
“Not Drew, I meant, oh never mind but true enough, my Drewsie’s always on the road earning his keep but when he comes home, it’s like our honeymoon all over and over and over and...”
“I get it,” Michael said with a frown. “Ben and I like spending time together,” Michael said with an emphatic tone. Deep down in his heart, he just wasn’t so sure anymore. “We’ve been married longer than any of our friends,” Michael reminded Emmett, as if Emmett needed reminding.
“And how’s that working out for you?” Emmett said knowingly as he patted Michael’s hand.
“What the hell does that mean?”
“You came here for advice so obviously something’s gone wrong in paradise. Why don’t you tell your Auntie Emm all about it?” Emmett gave Michael a sympathetic smile.
“He never wants to do what I want to do,” Michael blurted out. “All he wants to do is write and he doesn’t want to do it at home. Says it’s better to write on the lane.”
“Edna’s Treasures Lane is very peaceful and very beautiful. It’s a wonderful place to go to when you want to think or not think and just relax. We’re very fortunate to have a sanctuary like that to go to.”
“Well, I don’t think so. I think Ben is supposed to spend his time with me.”
“Okay, so tell me what you like to do together. Do you spend time with the kids? Do you travel, see new places? Play games?” Michael made a face at Emmett’s last question. “Not those kind of games.” Emmett’s faraway look in his eyes was back for a brief moment. “I mean play cards or do puzzles together. Drew likes to buy jigsaw puzzles from each city the Ironmen play in. When he comes home we have fun putting them together. Sometimes we call up the kids, we make a bunch of munchies then we sit and all help to put the puzzle together.”
“And Drew likes to do that stuff?” Michael thought it was kind of lame.
“Of course! We love spending time with Richie and Candy. Just because they left the nest doesn’t mean we can’t spend quality time with them. We’ve also invited Hunter and his handsome Dr. Nick and the girls. Lacy and Katerina work so hard. A lot of times they have opposing shifts so I cook a little extra for them so they can just concentrate on catching up on sleep and other things.” Emmett winked. Michael winced.
“So tell me, what do you and Ben like doing together?”
“We go to dinner parties,” Michael stated with pride. “There’s at least one every week. And we like to host once a month.”
“Well that sounds nice. Does Ben invite his colleagues?”
“Why would he, the parties are for our friends.”
“But I know how close Ben is with his fellow professors; they’re in here all the time for a quick bite. In nice weather, sometimes they’ll sit out back grading papers and discussing the latest best seller.”
“I didn’t know that,” Michael said with a frown.
“Do your parties include the kids?”
“No, of course not, who would want to go to an adult party with your children?”
“Michael, in case you haven’t noticed, your kids are far from being children plus they lead fascinating lives. Same goes for their partners.” Michael gave Emmett a look.
“Sweetie, JR is twenty-one and her partner is one of the youngest and most successful business women in Pittsburgh if not the whole state. And Hunter is almost forty although he doesn’t look a day over twenty-five, the little…, be that as it may. Hunter and the Jason Kemp clinic have done so much for the community. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t read how the clinic has saved lives or reduced the statistics of HIV infection. Honey, your boy is a real superhero! Why wouldn’t you want to invite him to one of your candlelight suppers.”
“Our candlelight what?”
“Sorry, sorry, just a flashback to an old Britcom. The point is, sweetie, your Hunter and his Dr. Nick are adults and there’s no reason why you can’t spend quality time with them and introduce them to your friends.”
“What if my friends don’t like Hunter?”
“I can’t see that happening, but you’d get through it then learn for the next time.”
“And that Jacqueline, she’s too old for JR.”
“That’s your opinion, not JR’s. She loves Jacqueline and so far it’s been working for them.”
“But Ben likes spending time with me and my friends!”
“So then why are you here asking for advice? As I see it, if you don’t make some changes real soon, not only will you lose Ben, you’ll lose your kids too,” Emmett said as he got up to go back to his counter. There was a sudden influx of customers requiring assistance.
Michael was about to take another sip of coffee when he noticed the cup was getting cold. Just like his marriage.
“My life was fine before Ben wanted to write that book about Brian,” Michael grumbled. “Brian’s my friend not Ben’s.” Michael got up, threw some money on the table then stomped out.
“So what do you think?” Candy asked Lacy.
Candy had made some preliminary sketches for the Zephyr-Professor Ken issue and emailed them to Lacy. They set up some time to talk about them over the phone.
“I’m thinking, wow!”
“Yes, really. I honestly wasn’t sure about the whole Zephyr, Professor Ken angle but I can work with these sketches.”
“They’re very rough,” Candy said softly.
“I know and we have plenty of time to work on this. We’re in no rush. Besides, we should talk to Ben before we consider publishing this issue,” Lacy said.
“I was thinking the same thing. Maybe get Justin’s opinion as well. I know he’s not involved but this is different.”
“I agree. It almost feels like Michael thinks this issue will save his marriage. Uh, do you know if Michael and Ben are having problems? You saw them over the summer, right?”
“I don’t like prying, but there were a few tense moments on the lane.”
“Yeah, and the way Michael was almost insistent on this issue.”
“Maybe I’ll ask Auntie Emm; he knows everything,” Candy pointed out.
“Good idea. Let me know what he says.”
“I will. Um, Lacy, you really like the sketches?” Candy was still a little self-conscious about her drawings.
“I really do. Soon you won’t need me at all.”
“That’ll never happen.”
“Whoa, I think I prefer the naked women prancing in dirt,” Brian commented as they walked into the gallery. “It’s like a Salvador Dalí overdose on some really bad E,” Brian mumbled as he donned his sunglasses before carefully walking around.
“Shhh,” Lindsay cautioned Brian, giving him an elbow to emphasize the point. “Behave.”
“Oh god, don’t tell him that,” Mel complained. “You know he’ll do just the opposite.”
“No he won’t,” Justin stated. “He’ll be on his best behavior. Right?” Justin gave Brian a “don’t mess with me” look.
“Yes, dear,” Brian squeaked before making a locking his lips and throwing away the key gesture.
“Now, everyone, give me a few minutes to look around,” Justin commanded to his unruly entourage. Everyone took a step back as Justin began to wander.
“This is your fault, Kinney,” Melanie whispered as she wagged a finger in Brian’s face.
“My fault? What the fuck are you talking about?” Brian hissed.
“He was a sweet boy when he first came to us and now look at him; he’s like a mini you!” Mel growled. Lindsay and Molly wisely kept out of the test of wills.
“Oh no, you can’t blame this one on me. He may look all sweet and innocent but there’s a devil under that angelic façade,” Brian spat back.
At that moment the angelic devil began oohing and aahing over a statue that looked like it was melting into a pile of goo. Just then a gentleman approached Justin spouting off in rapid French. Molly quickly extricated herself from the cat fight to join her brother and help with any translation issues.
“Justin Taylor in my little shop, this is such an honor. I was able to see your exhibition in London. Magnifique! And the Simone Gallery, I must admit, I am envious. But please allow me to introduce myself. I am Louis Caron, owner of the Avante-Garde. How may I help you?”
Within the hour the Fractal Movie had a new home to be shown in, as well as several fractal paintings to be hung. Everyone walked away happy and satisfied with the arrangements.
“Now that wasn’t so difficult, was it?” Justin asked smugly as they were about to get into their hired car. Justin waved back at the enthusiastic gallery owner.
“I think it all went well,” Lindsay pronounced. Melanie sort of snorted. Molly just giggled.
“No comment from the peanut gallery?” Justin asked Brian.
“Do I have your permission to speak?” Brian snarked. Justin waved a princely wrist. The ladies held their breath waiting for Mount Kinney to spew forth.
Brian leaned down to place a sweet kiss on Justin’s cheek. Justin smiled brightly as they all piled into the car.
“Love you, Sunshine,” Brian murmured into Justin’s ear when they settled back for the ride back to the hotel.
“I know,” Justin said with a smile.
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