Close To You
After a relatively mild Christmas and New Year’s, weather-wise, Mother Nature decided it was time to show the eastern seaboard of the USA who was boss. Mid-January 2028, the blizzard of the decade struck. Fortunately, for our Sunshine family, the Great Mother gave a lot of notice before blanketing the east coast under several feet of snow. Every home on the lane, cupboard, refrigerator, freezer, and shed was filled to the brim with food, necessary staples, and household supplies including lots of batteries. The warning was so accurate that it gave Gus and Ray plenty of time to fly back to London. It was earlier than they had originally planned; however, Hudson had assured the boys that the first-floor flat was more than habitable. So, the boys packed enough for a long stay then flew out before the storm hit. The purpose of their trip was two-fold. First, to help set up their family’s new London home, and secondly, to consult with Shane and Pierre regarding a possible Justin Taylor exhibit in Germany. The boys relished the fast pace of London and dove head first into Kinnetik business. They also enjoyed being Brian and Justin’s representatives, taking on much of the responsibilities of new home ownership with the trusted help of Hudson and Cook.
Back on the lane, the pace of life moved much slower. The lane residents had no choice with the blizzard still raging outside. The boys checked on family and friends daily. Work continued as best as it could, including online learning for Bree, Peter, and all their friends. John and Bobby worked quietly in their attic office. Winter was John’s seasonal down time, this was his time to be creative, drawing up plans for modern buildings, his beloved cottages, as well as modest and affordable homes. Bobby had no problem working from home, loving the extra time spent with his spouse. Down below in the sunporch Justin was hard at work painting, or so it seemed, while Brian lounged on a chaise reviewing contracts and campaigns.
“Justin, if it’s your intent to create a painting that represents our current weather pattern, then you’ve succeeded,” Brian quipped. Justin had been staring at a blank canvas for the better part of an hour, nibbling the end of his brush. A habit long established by Justin and loathed by Brian.
“Hmm…what?” Justin mumbled around his brush.
“That’s your impression of the blizzard, right,” stated Brian as he pointed to the white canvas.
Justin scowled then loudly sighed.
“Come here, Sunshine,” Brian gently requested. Justin put down his brush, his face reddening with embarrassment as he noticed the wooden end riddled with bite marks. He stepped back from his blank canvas to join Brian on the chaise.
“Painter’s block?” Brian asked.
“Something like that,” Justin replied as he squirmed closer to Brian, making himself comfortable and warm. Brian covered his spouse with an afghan that old Joanie had made years ago.
“You’re trying too hard.”
“You heard me. Why don’t you start with something smaller?”
“I’ve done hundreds of miniatures.”
“Not what I meant.”
“Go smaller not miniature. Go back to basics, sketch for a while then maybe do the same picture in pastels then maybe a watercolor version or any other medium of your choice. You’re the artist, do what makes you feel happy,” Brian explained. “You can start out with old Beau over there,” Brian said, indicating the old dog peacefully sleeping on his large cushion in his favorite corner. “I bet John would love a study of the old flea bag.” Said flea bag snorted right on cue.
Justin leaned back to take in Brian’s face. “You never cease to amaze me,” said Justin.
“Of course, I’m an amazing kind of guy,” Brian crowed. “Does that mean you like my idea?”
Brian leaned down, pecked the pert nose then gently licked Justin’s lips.
“What was that for,” Justin asked. He was expecting a kiss.
“Checking for splinters,” Brian snarked. “Didn’t want to risk getting one,” Brian said with a smirk.
“Asshole,” Justin stated, giving Brian’s shoulder a little shove. Brian giggled then took Justin into his arms to give him a proper kiss.
“Better,” Brian asked after bestowing a myriad of kisses onto Justin plump lips.
“Much,” replied Justin as the lovers settled in for a cuddle. “Brian?”
“What about Michael?”
“Don’t go there.”
“He’s your best friend.”
“No, he’s not. He was when we were fifteen, but he hasn’t been for a very long time. You’re my best friend, Jus. Always you.”
“No buts. We’ll leave Mikey to St. Ben. I’ll always love him but aside from those two upstairs and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, you, my dear Sunshine, are truly my 'bestest' friend,” Brian said as he drew his bestest friend, lover, husband into his arms for a deep embrace. “Now what are we going to do about lunch? Unfortunately, Debbie’s half a hog in our oven is for dinner,” Brian asked when they came up for air.
“About that ham, how did it wind up here?” Justin asked.
“Debbie bought it but had nowhere to store it, plus it didn’t fit in her oven,” Brian explained. “I had it in the cooler by the side door. She called this morning asking if I could slow bake it in the blue beast. Then she told me to cut it in half, one half for us, the other for her. She also wants the bone. Said something about pea soup.”
“So, we’re having ham for dinner,” Justin surmised.
“You’re so smart,” Brian teased. “Question is, it’s still snowing. I won’t be able to get it to her for a few days. Why ask me to cook it today?”
“We can freeze her half,” Justin suggested.
“You won’t have to,” John said as he descended the stairs from his office with Bobby closely following. “The snow should stop tonight; we’ll have a few days to dig out before the next storm.”
“Next storm,” asked Justin, with a look of horror on his face.
“Unfortunately, yes, but it’s not supposed to be as bad,” John stated with authority.
“Okay,” said Brian with confidence in John’s weather prediction abilities. He got up off the chaise bringing Justin with him. “That still doesn’t answer the question about lunch. Someone will be hungry soon.”
All eyes gazed at Justin until a shout from above, “Daddy, we’re on lunch break, I’m hungry!” The eyes shifted upward.
“I made a tuna salad earlier,” said Bobby. “I’ll go get it.”
“Lunch is almost ready; help me set the table,” Justin called up to Bree.
“Okay, Daddy,” Bree called out as she saved all her work then came down the stairs.
As everyone settled down for a nice quiet lunch in the Kinney-Taylor kitchen, Bree loudly sighed.
“What’s wrong, Baby Girl?” Justin asked.
“I miss my friends and our club,” Bree whined.
“Remind me how long is your lunch break,” said Brian.
“An hour and a half,” Bree snapped with a roll of her eyes.
Ignoring Bree’s snippiness, Brian asked, “You have a group email, right?”
“Well, duh,” Bree snarked. Like all teenagers, Bree thought she knew everything and old people like her parents knew nothing. Especially anything to do with technology. Before Justin could remark about Bree’s rudeness Brian continued.
“Well, duh, send an evite then have lunch with your friends via Zoom. If it turns into a club meeting, record the meeting and log it. Make sure you announce that you’re recording the session,” Brian casually said as he stole a carrot stick off Bree’s plate.
Bree gazed up at her older father with renewed awe as she blushed with embarrassment. “Thank you, Dada,” Bree gushed as she jumped up to give Brian a strong hug. Justin quickly packed up her lunch and beverage making it easier for Bree to take upstairs. Bree sent out her evite, grabbed her packed up lunch then sprinted out of the kitchen.
Her fathers shared a look. A few seconds later Bree came back to kiss each father then ran out again and back upstairs.
“You knew that would happen,” Bobby commented with a look at Brian. Brian shrugged his shoulders. His long experience with blond Taylor teenagers was well known and didn’t bear repeating.
Their relaxing lunch continued pleasantly with light banter, plans for dinner, and dealing with the storm’s aftermath.
“Not to disparage your weather forecasting capabilities, but how the hell are we going to dig ourselves out of that?” Brian asked John pointing over his shoulder toward the snow, as they were setting the table for dinner. The boys decided to have dinner in the sunporch, buffet style using the larger table as the buffet and sitting at a smaller table. Brian then brought out the ham to carve.
“This hog looks like it grew in the oven,” Brian mumbled as he was trying to figure out where to begin. John took pity on him as he casually insinuated himself between Brian and the ham while gently removing the implements of ham destruction from Brian’s hands. There was a raised eyebrow response from Brian that elicited a corresponding raised eyebrow from John. Brian gracefully surrendered, acknowledging John’s expertise, as he placed a large serving platter closer to John and an equally large container for Debbie’s half.
“The path between the porch and the arbor is fairly clear. We can make it from here through the greenhouse and over to Deb’s. Carl said the wind has kept the snow in front of their cottage from getting too deep, but the back door is snowed in. Peter can easily handle that,” said John in answer to Brian’s original question.
“I’m very happy we invested in your new pickup with plow attachment,” Bobby stated as he stacked the plates and silverware on the table.
“Me too,” Justin added.
“Sunshine, your idea about attaching bicycle flags to the benches is a game changer,” Brian remarked.
Years prior, Pittsburgh decided to remove some of the benches that lined Liberty Avenue. John bought them and had them restored. He kept several benches for the lane, installing them at intervals along the lane and one strategically placed near the stream not too far from the thinking rock. Justin suggested attaching brackets to the benches then using the tall flexible bicycle flags to mark out the lane. John thought that was an excellent idea and immediately installed the brackets. The flags were flexible enough to withstand the wind and the brightly colored flags could be seen from his truck. And they could be removed to be stored until needed again.
“I’ll plow out the lane to our turn off, then the driveways. The next storm shouldn’t be as bad,” John commented.
“We hope,” grumbled Brian.
With dinner served up and Debbie’s half a hog cooling, the family sat at the table to enjoy their meal.
“Brian, did you see this?” Bobby asked. He held up his phone that showed an article about the strong possibility of Vanguard going bankrupt. Brian leaned forward to eyeball the article.
“Yeah, I saw it,” he replied.
“Are you going to do anything about it?” asked Bobby.
“Really,” Bobby asked.
“Really. What did you think I’d do, dance on Vance’s proverbial grave?” The boys expected something just like that. “I’m all for healthy competition. It’d be a shame if Vanguard went under but he made his choices, now he has to live with them or fix them fast.”
“I don’t understand,” Justin said.
“Vance has a formula that made him successful to a point; however, he never changed that formula. And he has a habit of bullying his employees into sticking with it. He gives them no leeway, no opening to independently express themselves,” Brian explained.
“Like orange is the new blue,” Justin commented with a smirk.
“Yes. And we all know I had no choice on that one, thank you very much,” Brian snarked as he threw Justin a glare. Justin grinned. “But it proved to be the right move. Vance won’t allow it; it’s his way or no way. Times change. What was acceptable then may not be now. What was considered edgy then may be the norm now. Kinnetik embraces change; my people think for themselves and aren’t automatons.”
“Wow, so tell me how you really feel,” Bobby teased. “What if he does go under, will you take on any of his people? Or his branches,” Bobby questioned with interest.
“There’s no easy answer to that question. But I’ve already sent out a memo to each branch director and HR. We stick to our hiring practices; everyone gets a six month trial period with regular evaluations. Pass, you stay, fail, you may get the boot or an extended probation, it depends on their potential. As for taking over his expansion attempts, that would be a big N. O. Unfortunately, for Vance, he didn’t do the research; he tried expanding in places that didn’t really need what he was selling.”
“You’re successful because you do the research,” Bobby began as he passed the salad. “I’ve seen first hand how you work and while I might think you’re nuts when you decide on a location, you do your homework. And you’re not afraid to consult with your best people.”
“I’ve been lucky, and I have no intention of taking over any of Vance’s branches or expanding Kinnetik at this time,” said Brian. “North America is covered; Isles and Rose can handle the European market just fine. If in the future, Gus and Bree decide to expand, then it’ll be their decision,” said Brian as he booped Bree’s nose with his index finger, making her giggle.
“Now, are we done talking business?” Brian asked in that tone that said he’d had enough. “Good,” he said without waiting for a reply.
“Speaking about expansion, did I hear you talking to Gus about Germany,” John asked.
“Justin’s ongoing exhibits in those small galleries in France have sparked some interest in Germany and Eastern Europe. The boys are going to work with Shane and Pierre to do a feasibility study with a couple of small galleries in Germany,” Brian explained.
“Does that mean we’re going to Germany?” Justin asked with a touch of worry in his voice.
“No, it doesn’t. The next time we exercise our passports it will be to London and that’s it. If Germany turns out to be serious, Lindsay and Charles will send over as many paintings as they want and then we’ll talk about it. For now, we have better things to do on this side of the pond,” Brian declared as he glared at the storm outside.
“Like my birthday,” Bree suggested. “It’s a special one this year.”
“Is it now,” Brian casually remarked as he stood and began clearing up the dinner dishes. Bree grabbed several more dishes then followed her father out.
“Yes, Squirt,” Brian replied as he started putting plates into the dishwasher.
“My birthday is on a Monday this year; can we have a family dinner here on the weekend before? Maybe Patrick can come back from Penn, and JR and Jacq, and Gus and Ray?”
“No fancy party?”
“No, Dada, just family, okay? I just want our family,” Bree said in a little girl voice.
“You got it, Squirt, just family,” Brian said as he wrapped his arms around his petite daughter. “Make a list of the people you’d like to attend.”
“Okay,” said Bree then she hugged Brian. “I miss my Patrick,” Bree whispered into her father’s chest.
“I know, but he’ll come home when the roads clear. We’ll see him soon,” said Brian. “Help me with dessert, somehow your Daddy found time to bake a pie,” Brian said with amazement.
“Mmm!” Bree exclaimed as she got the dessert dishes then brought them out.
After dinner the family all helped to clean up.
“Dada, can I call JR?” Bree asked.
“Did you finish your school work?” Brian asked.
“Go ahead, but make sure you’re not interrupting their dinner.”
“I will, thank you, Dada,” Bree said as she flew out of the porch and into her room to make her call.
“Does she want you to rent out the Plaza for her sixteenth?” John asked Brian.
“No, all she wants is a family dinner and hopes your son will be here along with her brother and sister,” Brian replied.
“Given enough notice, I’m sure Patrick would love to come to dinner. I’ll let him know to expect an invitation,” said John. “What’s wrong,” John asked his brother. Brian appeared rather pensive. “Getting cabin fever already? It’s only been a few days.”
Brian didn’t answer.
“Brian, you’re not worried about the new house or Kinnetik, are you?”
“But the news about Vanguard bothers you.”
“Not really, but when one of us takes a hit, we all do. Kinnetik needs to be careful,” said Brian.
“It’s not too late to conference with Cynthia and Ted,” John suggested.
“Yeah, and Gus. Excuse me,” Brian said as he went upstairs to his office.
“Where’s Brian?” Justin asked as he placed a tray with more coffee and hot cocoa on the table.
“Conferencing,” John replied as he looked up toward the office.
“He’s worried, isn’t he,” Justin surmised.
“I think so,” said John.
“Maybe it was the wrong time to buy that house,” Justin ventured.
“I don’t think so. Besides, Ted would have stopped Brian if he had any real concerns. Justin, I would never stick my nose into your and Brian’s personal business or finances, but I did ask him if I could look at the numbers,” John confided.
“I know, he told me. He also told me that you and Bobby are contributing and supervising the repairs. Thank you for that. I feel much more confident with you overseeing the contractors,” said Justin.
“Knowing Brian, I’m sure he has his eyes on everything. However, I do have a certain advantage, so with Hudson’s help, the house will be family ready in no time,” John proclaimed with a big smile.
Within a few minutes, a more relaxed Brian came down the stairs.
“Better?” John asked. Brian nodded then grabbed Justin’s wrist to confirm the time.
“Is there any more pie?” Brian asked with a smirk.
“Coming right up,” Justin replied with a laugh as he scrambled into the kitchen.
“Seriously, are you good?” John asked.
“Yes, Ted reassured me. As for Vance, Ted hinted that he knows someone who knows someone, who knows the firm that was hired to help Vangard turn themselves around. If he’s smart, Vance won’t lose his shirt.”
“That’s good to know, even if it does sound a bit unethical,” John replied. “But then I’m just a builder, what do I know about high finances?” John nonchalantly remarked.
“Uh huh. Remind me to throw you into a snow bank tomorrow,” Brian said.
“As if,” John retorted.
A potentially childish brotherly squabble was abruptly curtailed by Justin and his offering of more pie to John and Brian. The brothers graciously accepted the offering and silence reigned supreme except for the occasional, “Mmm, mmm!”
“What is that big yellow glowing thing up in the sky?” Brian asked early the next morning to no one in particular.
Brian was standing in the sun porch looking out at the beautiful morning sun reflecting off white hills and valleys of snow. It would have been a very serene sight if not for the fact that they all had to shovel it away from the houses. Fortunately, there were only three houses that needed shoveling for the moment.
“I have a faint idea, but it’s been so long that I’m not sure,” Bobby replied.
“Knock it off, you two, breakfast is ready and we need all hands on deck,” John commanded, the clomping of his heavy duty boots echoed off the glass.
“I’m ready, Uncle John,” Bree declared.
“Thank you, Princess. You may have an extra waffle,” said John as he walked back into his side of the cottage. Bree followed.
Brian and Bobby stared outside for a few seconds more then went in to breakfast.
“How are we going to attack this?” Justin asked as he helped himself to another waffle.
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” John replied. “I mean there’s a heck of a lot of snow but the way it drifted is in our favor. Most of it landed behind the houses on this side of the lane. The trees helped to shelter Molly’s house and the cabin. The meadow cabin is buried, so is Emm’s but we can tackle those later or wait till it melts,” John explained.
“How do you know all this?” Brian asked. John held up his phone then waved back and forth. “Did you set up cctv when I wasn’t looking?”
“Nope, better. But that’s a great idea, especially by the gate,” John said. “I have pictures from the drone,” John said.
“I forgot about that thing,” said Brian. “Wait a minute, were you flying it while cooking breakfast or were you up at sunrise?”
“Not me, Peter. He really has a knack for navigating that thing. I asked him to thoroughly check out each home on the lane and the tollhouse. That young man will go far someday,” John said fondly. “Anyway, the only victim that I can see is Emmett’s little greenhouse,” said John as he shared a link with the boys.
“Looks more like a lean-to now,” Bobby commented as he stared at his phone. “His poor plants.”
“Don’t worry Uncle Bobby, Dada and I moved all of Auntie Emm’s herbs into the big greenhouse in the Fall. His plants are all right,” Bree announced with a big smile.
“How fortuitous,” John stated. He was saved from making any further comments by his phone vibrating in his pocket. Bobby’s phone rang as well. “That was Carl, Peter’s already working on their front walk. Brian, Debbie and Carl shouldn’t be out there shoveling,” John said with concern.
“Way ahead of you, big bro. As soon as we clear a path, Justin and Bree will take the ham over to Deb’s. They can help make the soup and keep Debbie distracted,” Brian explained.
“And Carl?” John asked.
“He has more sense; he knows better than risking his health. He’ll help coordinate things and keep Debbie in line,” said Brian.
“You hope,” John mumbled. Brian sucked in his lips and shrugged.
“George and my sister are ready too,” said Bobby. “His front door is blocked but the back door is clear. They’re heading out soon.”
“Tom and Todd just texted; they’re fine,” Justin said with a relieved smile. “Todd said as soon as they clear around their house, he’ll start plowing toward the lane.” The boys were happy to know that Tom and Todd were safe.
“What about Ashley, Daddy?” Bree asked.
“Don’t worry, Baby Girl, I spoke with her mom just before breakfast. They’re fine. I’ll call them later,” Justin assured Bree.
“Remember, we’re not in any rush,” John warned. “Slow and steady with plenty of breaks.” Everyone agreed.
With plans for the great Edna’s Treasures dig out confirmed with the other homes, the residents of the lane got to work.
Back in the city, a crisis of a different sort was playing out.
“JR, is that you?”
“Yes. Oh, Auntie Emm,” JR cried. “My wedding is ruined!”