Michael stared at the door contemplating his options. His first instinct was to run after his mother to try to explain himself further, but deep down in his heart, he knew that Debbie wasn’t ready to hear him. When she got that way, the best thing was to let her calm down before trying to reason with her. Michael snorted.
“Sounds just like me,” he mumbled to himself. While he was considering his next move, the front door opened. “Ma?”
“Michael! Uh, what are you doing here?” Ben asked. Standing just behind Ben, looking over his shoulder, was a very attractive gentleman that Michael had never met.
“I live here,” Michael deadpanned.
“Gênant,” Armand mumbled.
Brian was heading to the B&B with an extra case of beer when he spied Debbie stomping and cursing her way to the thatched cottage.
“Shit, this can’t be good,” Brian mumbled to himself. He put down the beer then sprinted over to Deb. She had steam rising from her ears and flames shooting out from her ass…
“Assuming that for once this has nothing to do with me, what’s wrong?”
“Why the fuck do you think anything’s wrong?” Debbie snapped back.
“Hmm, let me think,” Brian snarked as he struck a thinking pose.
“I didn’t raise you to be disrespectful,” Debbie shrieked.
“True, but then you didn’t raise me at all. However, you did raise Michael.”
“He’s an ungrateful little shit just like you!” Debbie pointed a sharp finger at Brian’s chest.
“Put the weapon away and tell me what he did now,” Brian said as he stepped back from the offending digit.
Seeing all the fight in Debbie suddenly leeched out, Brian redirected her to one of the tables John had set up on the side of the lane. He waited for Debbie to speak as they sat.
“Where did this come from?” Deb asked when she realized where she was sitting and what she was sitting on.
“One of my brother’s little side projects. Now stop deflecting and tell me what happened.”
“Since when did you get to be so pushy?” Debbie asked.
“Since Bree was born and I had two Taylors to contend with. Now spill.”
“Michael invited me to the cottage to talk,” Debbie began. Brian waited. “And I thought I was paying him a compliment,” she said as she looked up at Brian. “He made it sound like it was all my fault.”
Brian rolled his eyes as he shook his head. After forty some odd years, it never got any easier with the Novotny’s. Making a giant leap, Brian attempted to decipher the Debbie/Michael puzzle.
“He wanted to talk, to tell you how he’s really been doing and feeling. Instead of just sitting back and letting him get it all out, you jumped in and that’s when it all went south,” Brian hazarded his guess. He knew he got it right when Deb’s face turned a similar shade of red to the wig on her head. Brian waited for the retaliation.
“How?” Debbie started to ask. Brian arched a brow.
“Should I go back and try to reason with him?” Brian narrowed his eyes.
“You’re right, that’ll only make it worse.” Brian’s eyes relaxed.
“He needed me, he needed his mother and I turned into a screaming shit.” Brian’s eyes reflected love and sympathy.
“I should have known better. JR and Hunter have told me about some of the changes he’s been making. You know he’s been volunteering at the Center. Some of the kids don’t read very good…well, I mean.” Debbie corrected herself when she saw a twinkle in Brian’s eyes.
“Michael brought over some of his comic books. He lets the kids choose their favorite superhero and then helps them read if they get stuck.” Brian’s Irish eyes were smiling.
“Why do we always argue?” Debbie asked. Brian thought it was obvious. “Wait, let me guess, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree,” Debbie concluded. Brian kissed her cheek.
“You’re a good man, Brian Kinney,” Debbie automatically said. Brian stayed quiet.
“That’s what I told Michael before he blew a gasket. I couldn’t understand why. I thought he needed my faith in him.” Debbie searched Brian’s soulful eyes.
“He needed more than me just saying words; he needed me to listen.” Brian’s eyes took on a look of determination.
“I should go back to the cabin, right now,” Debbie stated as she began to slide herself off the bench. Brian’s brow slightly arched.
“No, you’re right, we both need a little time to cool down. Besides, I have more salads to put out. This is a very hungry bunch,” Deb exclaimed as she pointed toward the yard with her thumb. Brian wore an amused smile.
“You really are a good man, Brian Kinney. And I love you.” Debbie kissed his cheek then gently patted it before hurrying back to the cottage.
Brian sat for a few minutes, smiling until his face took on a look of horror when he remembered the beer. Nothing worse than warm beer. He quickly slid off the bench then returned to the task at hand.
“Where are they?” Justin growled. “When I find her, I’m going to hug her then I’ll ground her for a year!” Susanna agreed.
Justin had placed a fresh pitcher of lemonade on a nearby table when Brian showed up. “Where have you been?” Justin snapped at his spouse.
“Whoa, easy thar, pardner,” Brian drawled. “What’s the problem?” he asked seeing Justin and Susanna so frazzled.
“We can’t find the girls,” Susanna explained.
“They haven’t been out front,” Brian declared, pointing toward the lane. “That’s where I’ve been spending most of my day,” he grumbled, not bothering to explain. At that moment Sarah carefully walked over. She couldn’t help but overhear the dilemma.
“I know where they are,” Sarah quietly said as she turned to Justin. “Your daughter offered her private powder room for my usage,” Sarah regally explained. “She is a dear, dear child. I was just taking advantage of her kind offer when I noticed that she and her adorable friend,” Sarah paused for effect as she smiled at Susanna, “were napping.”
“Napping?” both Justin and Susanna asked at once.
“Yes, I believe a bottle of wine may have been involved,” Sarah delicately went on.
“I’m going to ground her for life!” Justin burst out. He and Susanna turned and began to wind their way through the tables to their ultimate goal of the conjoined cottages. Fortunately for Brian, their journey was hampered by numerous family and guests.
Brian was just about to follow when Sarah stopped him. “Brian dear, don’t be too hard on Briana, she is becoming a young lady. And young ladies sometimes go awry. But she is a good girl so keep that in mind,” Sarah stated wisely.
Brian took the lady’s hand in his then brought it to his lips; his eyes flirted shamelessly.
“Oh my,” Sarah exclaimed as she sat at the nearest table and poured herself some ice cold lemonade.
“Justin, wait,” Brian called out. With his soccer skills, Brian successfully maneuvered around each obstacle to catch up with his fuming spouse and friend. “Let me deal with this,” Brian offered.
“Justin, you remember fourteen. You’re so close to being considered an adult when you don’t have to ask for permission anymore,” said Brian.
“That’s not…” Susanna was about to interject about responsibilities.
“I know that but the girls don’t. They see or hear their friends talking about drinking, or smoking, or getting high, or…”
“We get the picture,” Justin said with worry. He did remember fourteen. He also remembered what happened to Brian when he was fourteen. Justin also remembered seventeen when he was old enough in the eyes of the law to eventually become Brian’s stalker, the one that never went away.
“So what do you suggest?” Justin asked as the wind got knocked out of his sails.
“Let them sleep it off. When they wake up they’ll either be nauseous, hung over, or very hungry. At the very least, they’ll be embarrassed. Waking them up now won’t do any good. They won’t be in the right frame of mind to have a decent conversation. I’ll go in and check on them and when they’re ready, we’ll talk.”
Justin and Susanna were appeased, for now. Susanna smiled at Brian. She was still very worried but didn’t express her doubts in Brian. Justin leaned in for a quick kiss before they both went back into the fray.
“Justin, I know Brian is a very good father but are you sure about this?” Susanna had to ask.
“If there’s one thing I’m sure about, it's Brian’s ability to handle a teenager. Especially a teenage Taylor. It’ll be fine and he knows when to call for reinforcements. And then I’ll ground her for life!”
Ben had ushered Armand down the path to the Thinking Rock after their encounter with Michael. Silence had followed them, even after they were settled on the new bench that had been placed in the shadow of a large tree. The two men sat there not really knowing what to say to each other.
They looked at the sky, at the stream, at the trees; everywhere but at each other.
Finally Armand couldn't stand it any longer. "Ben," he said gently, "do you want me to go?"
"Yes, leave here and go back to Paris. I can be gone quickly, if that is what you wish."
"That's not what I wish."
"Then, you must talk to me. Tell me what is going on and what you are feeling."
Ben shook his head. "I don't know what I'm feeling," he muttered.
"Yes you do. Just tell me. It is important."
"I was shocked to see Michael here."
"He is your lover."
Ben shook his head. "He's my ... husband."
"This I did not know."
"I'm sorry, Armand. I should have told you right off, but Michael and I have been having problems. We've more or less been apart for months."
"More or less?"
"Mostly more. We've hardly seen each other. I went to Paris to get away from our problems. That's why I didn't bring up the situation when we met. I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't know what to say."
"Do you? I like you a lot, Armand. I enjoy our time together. I haven't enjoyed my time with Michael in ages. All we do is fight."
"But your reaction back there ... and his, tells me that your relationship is not over."
Ben looked sheepish. "Not yet anyway," Ben admitted.
"Then I should be leaving." Armand stood up.
Ben did the same. "Your leaving isn't going to solve anything, and it will ruin this holiday for both of us."
"Are you sure?" Armand asked.
"I want you to stay."
"Then I shall."
Michael sat on the back deck of his log cabin. His head felt like it was spinning ... or was full of cotton woolly stuff. It refused to focus, to give him answers, to let him deal with what had happened.
He drew in a deep breath and released it slowly. This was a technique Hunter had taught him. It was supposed to calm him down and help him deal with anything that was troubling him. It didn't seem to be working very well though.
He took about ten more deep breaths and then decided to let it all go. And surprisingly that seemed to work. His mind cleared enough for him to think back on what had happened when the front door of the log cabin had opened, and he had seen Ben with that ... that ... man!
What the hell did Ben think he was doing? How could he bring some strange man to his ... their home? And a Frenchman to boot! This must have been what Ben was doing when he stayed in Paris so long. Michael shook his head. He would never have believed that Ben could be unfaithful to him. Even though Michael had suspected that might be happening, he had never really believed it.
Michael realized that he had come to the lane to mend some fences and try to get his life back to normal. All that he had accomplished was to make his mother mad at him, to make Ben feel uncomfortable and to see his world disintegrate in front of his eyes.
He thought back to seeing Ben and that man coming into his home. His heart had leaped to his throat and then it had pounded so hard he thought it might force itself out of his chest.
Ben had made some perfunctory introduction. What was the name he used ... Armand. Yeah, Armand. Ben said he had met him in Paris and they had become friends. Friends! Yeah, right. Likely story. But why would Ben lie? It wasn't like he and Ben had been close over the last months. Ben could have easily called "Armand" his lover, his boyfriend, his god-knows-what.
Maybe they were just friends, but that didn't seem too likely to Michael. Ha hated to think of Ben being with someone else. He still believed that they belonged together - Michael and Ben forever. That had been his hope when he came to the lane. He thought maybe he and Ben could talk and start to make things better between them. And instead Ben had brought that man to their cabin.
Michael leaned his head back against the chaise he was sitting on. He tried to keep the tears behind his eyelids which he closed tightly, but he could feel them start to trail down his face.
"Fuck!" he muttered.
He stood up and wiped at his eyes. He wasn't going to wallow. He wasn't wanted or needed here. He'd go back to Pittsburgh. He could wallow just as well there, and he wouldn't have to deal with anyone bothering him. He wouldn't have to look at his mother's accusing eyes. Or Ben and his fancy man. Or Brian and his attitude. Or any of them looking at him with blame or worse yet ... pity.
Michael entered the cabin about to go upstairs to pack up, when he heard a tapping on his front door. He was tempted to ignore it and just keep going upstairs.
The knock came louder. He decided he might as well answer the door and tell whoever it was to fuck off. Slamming the door in someone's face might make him feel better.
Michael yanked the door open ready to shout his expletive at whoever he saw standing there. As he opened his mouth to speak, he felt himself pulled into a tight and overwhelming hug. Arms crushed him against the ample bosom.
"Ma," he gasped, "can't breathe."
Debbie reluctantly loosened her grip on her son, but she didn't let him go. "Better?" she asked.
"Better, but it would be great if you released me altogether."
"I can't," Debbie said in a whisper.
"Yes, you can."
"No, not until you forgive me."
"That's what I said."
"Do you forgive me?" she asked again tightening her grip some more.
"Okay, okay, I forgive you," Michael gasped. "Now let me go."
"See, that wasn't so hard," Debbie said with a smile as she finally released her son.
"Jesus, Ma," Michael said, "I think you cracked my ribs."
"I did no such thing. I just needed to get your attention."
"Well, you got it. What are you doing here?"
"We need to talk."
"We tried that already, and it didn't go so good," Michael said with a grimace.
"I'm admitting that a lot of what happened was my fault," Debbie said contritely.
"Okay, okay, all."
Michael smiled. He was through trying to be stern. "It wasn't all your fault," he admitted.
"I really do want to talk," Debbie repeated, "and this time I promise to listen and keep my big mouth shut."
"I'll believe that when I see it."
Debbie opened her mouth to contradict her son, but then she thought better of it. She made the motion of locking her lips and throwing away the key.
Michael raised an eyebrow. "Can I really believe that?"
"Okay, come in and have a seat," Michael said leading her into the living room. Michael sat in a chair and Debbie sat on the couch. "So what do you want to talk about?"
Debbie raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
"Right," Michael said. "I'm supposed to talk."
Debbie nodded and smiled encouragingly.
Michael drew in a steadying breath before speaking. "I came out here to try to set some things straight."
Debbie smiled slightly and nodded again.
Michael waited for some smart remark about being straight, but nothing came. "My life has kind of fallen apart lately. I ... I'm really lonely. I seem to have alienated just about everybody."
Debbie looked sympathetic to the best of her ability.
"I started going to the Jason Kemp Center to talk to Hunter and volunteer a little bit."
Debbie smiled her approval.
"Hunter has really helped me face some facts. I ... started to realize that I was pretty demanding in what I expected from other people, but I didn't expect to do the same for them. This cabin became the prime example. I expected Ben to leave here when it was the place he needed to be to write his book. I wanted him in Pittsburgh with me, but I never really considered what he needed. I blamed him for not doing what I wanted."
Debbie nodded in agreement.
Michael frowned. "Aren't you going to say anything?"
Debbie considered for a moment and then she said, "You are doing just fine without any input from me."
"Glad you think so," Michael replied with a small smile. "I want to show people that I can think of them first. I wanted you to know that I shouldn't be so hard on Peter. I'm going to try to handle that better."
"That would be appreciated."
Michael hesitated for a minute. "Where did you learn to do that nodding and smiling stuff?"
Debbie chuckled. "The inimitable Brian Kinney."
"Really? I haven't seen Brian do that before."
"Me either, but he used it on me after I left here. That's why I'm back."
"I'll have to try that," Michael said. "It seems to work."
"Yeah it does. But ... what are you going to do about Ben?" Debbie felt compelled to ask.
"I haven't the foggiest idea," Michael said sadly. "You don't know what happened after you left here."
"No I don't. So tell me."
Michael proceeded to describe the scene with Ben and the Frenchman. He tried consciously not to be too judgmental and he encouraged his mother to stay out of it. He had visions of Debbie confronting Ben and Armand and ripping both their balls off. Michael now understood that Ben would make his own decisions. It wasn't up to Michael to decide for him.
As the discussion continued, Debbie realized this was the first time she and her son had really talked honestly in a very, very long time.
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