Brian gently tapped on Bree’s door. He wasn’t expecting a reply but came armed with hundreds of excuses of why he was there. Not hearing anything from within her room, Brian tried the door knob. “At least it’s not locked,” he mumbled to himself as he turned the knob then quietly slipped into the room. Brian smiled as he spied the girls sleeping soundly on the bed. Someone was snoring; he suspected it was Bree. She sounded like Justin with a really bad head cold. He casually noted the differences between the girls. Bree, very fair, blond, and petite while Ashley was darker and appeared to be growing into her gangly legs. Brian never met Susanna’s ex but he surmised that he must be tall. Susanna was a bit shorter than Justin. No matter, the girls had been best friends from almost the moment they met.
As Brian looked around the room, nothing appeared out of place, if you ignored the nearly empty wine bottle on the dresser and the lemonade. He assumed the wine, not the best vintage, was not to the girls’ liking, hence the need to mix it with lemonade. He shuddered at the thought, “Have I taught you nothing?” Brian laughed to himself. He truly was a snob. Brian settled himself in the rocking chair in the corner of the room to wait until the girls woke up. He didn’t have long to wait.
The girls groaned as they woke, the results of their experimentation becoming evident. Ashley held her head in her hands as Bree dashed off to the bathroom. Brian waited a few minutes until he heard the toilet flush before he ventured forth.
“Hey, Squirt,” Brian softly called out as he rapped on the bathroom door. He entered when he heard a mumbled replied. Brian was greeted with the sight of his beautiful daughter hugging the porcelain goddess and moaning pitifully. He snorted as he smirked.
“This looks familiar,” he announced. Brian dampened a cloth and handed it to Bree.
“Wipe your face, you’ll feel better.” He dampened a second cloth, found a couple of aspirin to take to Ashley. After making sure the young lady was all right, Brian returned to Bree.
“Are you ready to face the music?”
“Yes, Dada,” Bree mumbled. Brian extended his hand which Bree took, and they went back into her room. She settled on the bed next to her friend.
“Well, ladies, aside from the effects you’re now suffering, due to your close encounter with the vine, don’t be surprised if you receive additional punishments from your father and your mother,” Brian stated with poignant pauses when he mentioned parents. The girls looked suitably subdued.
“And what the hell gave you the idea to mix wine with lemonade?” Brian realized that it was a stupid question but it was the first thing that popped into his head. Brian pulled over the vanity stool to sit in front of the girls. Not realizing the question was rhetorical, Ashley slowly raised her hand.
“The chair recognizes Ms. Ashley,” Brian quipped.
“The wine didn’t taste so good; we thought the lemonade would help,” Ashley murmured. Bree and Brian stared at Ashley.
“The next time you two decide to take up mixology, come to me first. And promise me that this won’t happen again until you’re legal or…” Brian qualified his statement at the girls’ huff of indignation. “Or, when you see me enjoying a nice glass of wine, you may ask for a sip. I’ll decide if you deserve it.” Brian glared at Bree; she knew her Dada was serious.
“As for you, Ms. Ashley, I leave you to your mother.”
“Dada, are you angry with me?” Bree asked meekly.
“That’s a difficult question to answer. I think I’m more disappointed than angry. But I remember what it was like to be your age. And I remember getting into trouble for my behavior. I had no one to ask. You have parents you can ask.”
“Ask what, Mr. Brian?”
“Ask for a taste of beer or wine or ask what’s it’s like to do drugs or smoke. And while I’m at it, ask about sex. The point is, before you decide to experiment on your own with chemicals or anything else, ask us first.”
“But that might make my mommy angry,” Ashley ventured.
“And this didn’t?” Brian asked as he made a sweeping gesture with his hand toward the wine. “Your mom couldn’t find you. It frightened her. Same with your daddy, Bree. You disappeared, one minute you were visiting with friends and family, the next your parents couldn’t find you. They were both scared. You’re lucky Sarah saw you first and warned me. I convinced your mother and Justin to let me talk to you.” Brian let that sink in a bit.
“A word of advice - grovel. Admit you were wrong, apologize for scaring the shit out of them then promise that the next time you’re curious about something you don’t think we’d approve of, you'll ask us.”
“But, Dada, how will we know when you won’t approve of something?” Bree’s violet blue eyes were open wide.
Brian stood, squatted in front if his daughter then pecked a kiss onto her nose. “If you have to hide to do it then you’ll know.” Brian stood up straight and gently poked Ashley’s cute nose with his index finger. He returned the stool to its rightful place then turned to leave.
“I suggest you clean up this room, clean up yourselves then come out to talk to your parents,” Brian said with a warning smile. “I’ll tell Justin and Susanna that you’ll meet them at the bench by the stream.”
“The bench?” Bree asked.
“You’ll see it when you get there,” Brian said as he opened the door to leave. He stepped out into the hall then backed up. Grabbing the wine bottle, Brian left the room.
The girls watched Brian leave then did as they were told.
Sam roared up to the gate that stood between him, Lindsay, and from what he was told, a hell of a lot of friends and family of one Brian Kinney. As he idled his motorcycle, Sam debated using the temporary code given to him by Lindsay. She had originally offered to drive him to the lane but the thought of a serious car ride with Charles turned his stomach. Sam declined the offer but tentatively accepted the invitation to the lane. His motorcycle rumbled beneath him as he punched in the code, waited for the heavy gate to open then slowly rumbled his way in.
“Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Sam murmured to himself as he slowly passed Emmett’s cottage. The artist in him was dying to sketch what he saw. “I don’t do landscapes,” Sam grumbled as he drove up to the thatched cottage. He pulled over, turned off the engine and removed his helmet.
“Where the fuck am I?” he asked himself. The clover lawn surrounding the thatched cottage was in full bloom as were the flowers closer to the cottage itself. The simplicity yet complexity of the structure nearly overwhelmed Sam. “Is this what inspires Justin Taylor?”
Before seeking out Lindsay, Sam couldn’t resist walking the lane. He began with Emmett’s cottage with its quaint white picket fence. It was just as endearing as the thatched cottage with unique features that drew him in. Sam circled back toward the greenhouse, almost missing the hidden driveway that led to the log cabin.
“Oh, they didn’t, did they?” Sam said as he spied the massive structure. The cabin seemed out of place yet against the trees and surrounding shrubs, the cabin fit.
Sam crossed the lane, heading toward the greenhouse bypassing the B&B and the thatched cottage. He knew of the greenhouse’s existence because of Justin’s nudes; many of which used the greenhouse plants and flowers as a backdrop.
“Hello, anyone home,” Sam called out as he entered the stone façade that led into the glass sanctuary. Not expecting an answer, Sam jumped when he received a reply.
“Only us chickens!”
Sam looked down the main aisle where he saw two men standing by what appeared to be a waterfall.
“Incredible,” Sam mumbled. “Brian?” Sam called out as he squinted to get a better look. His senses were overloaded with the sounds of the water flowing over the stone wall and by the fragrance of the flowers.
“Nope, just a reasonable facsimile,” Gus quipped. Ray laughed at his partner’s antics. “And you’re Sam Auerbach,” Gus stated as he met Sam halfway with his hand extended.
“You weren’t kidding,” Sam said when he got a good look at the younger version of Brian. They had almost met in Paris, but Sam had been preoccupied with getting Lindsay's attention rather than meeting the younger Kinney.
“Word of warning,” Ray began. “There are two more versions of Brian on the lane but one has very distinctive red hair.”
“I’ll take that under advisement,” Sam acknowledged.
“I’m Ray and the Brian clone is Gus,” said Ray as they all shook hands.
“Gus Kinney?” Sam asked.
“You know me,” Gus asked with a slight edge to his voice.
“I know of you, from your mother, but that’s not it. I know your work. The fractal exhibit; it's still showing in several galleries along with the paintings. It’s brilliant and you were just a kid when you created it,” Sam spoke with awe.
“Um, thank you,” Gus expressed as his cheeks pinked. “I had a lot of fun working with Justin on that project.”
“Do you collaborate often with Taylor?”
“To a certain degree,” Gus said.
“He’s being modest. Much of the Paris exhibit was Gus’ idea,” Ray boasted.
“You mean splitting up the pieces and showing them in the smaller galleries; genius,” Sam gushed.
“It really was a team effort,” Gus added.
“I’m sure it was,” Sam agreed, not pushing. He scanned the greenhouse then focused his attention toward the waterfall. “That is a waterfall, right?”
“Yes, it is,” Gus said proudly, relieved to have the attention removed from himself. “My Uncle John built it along with the greenhouse. My father and Justin went to Hawaii several years ago. They were inspired by a museum there and by the local flora. My dad wanted a greenhouse.”
“He sure as hell got one,” Sam stated the obvious. “No wonder Taylor is so prolific. He has an unending source of inspiration.”
“You sound jealous,” Gus observed.
“Maybe I am. I like large. Taylor’s style varies but his focus to detail is unwavering. His current miniatures are breathtaking. Yeah, maybe I am a little jealous,” Sam admitted.
“Show me around?” Sam asked after a while. The boys agreed and gave Sam the guided tour of the greenhouse and of the other homes that made up the Edna’s Treasures Lane.
“Just up that way is the latest cottage. It sits in the meadow and it's eco-friendly,” Gus began to explain until a large dog bounded up to them.
“Holy shit! Is that a wolf?” Sam shouted as the large dog looked over Sam with curiosity. They were soon joined by two more dogs. “Why do I feel like I’m suddenly in a Disney movie?”
“Don’t worry, Little Beau is a big mush,” Gus indicated the largest of the three wolf dogs.
“Little Beau?” Sam squeaked. “And Beau senior?”
“Beau,” Gus called out. Lucie and Little Beau made way for the leader of their small pack. Beau might be slightly smaller than Beau junior but he was no less regal or powerful. The older dog presented himself front and center. “Beau, this is Sam. He’s a good guy.”
Sam stood his ground under the close scrutiny from the dark grey dog. Beau finally gave his bark of approval as Sam passed Beau’s test. Lucie and Little Beau agreed with Beau’s appraisal then the three trotted off as they continued their rounds.
“What the hell just happened?” Sam asked when he was finally able to breathe.
“It means you’ve passed inspection,” Gus said with a smirk as he patted the older man on the back.
Ray chuckled as he saw the relief on Sam’s face. “I think you’re ready for a beer,” said Ray.
Sam agreed as the boys led Sam toward the gardens of the conjoined cottages and to Lindsay.
“Word of warning,” Gus said with a serious tone. Sam was all ears. “My mom and Charles are not that serious; neither one of them are prepared to give up their home continent. You, on the other hand, live here. Hurt my mom and you’ll have more than the dogs to contend with. Got it?” Gus’s glare was worthy of the originator.
“Got it,” Sam declared as he held one hand up and the other over his heart.
“Just as long as we understand each other,” Gus added as he continued to lead Sam to where Lindsay was sitting.
“There is much understanding,” Sam swore.
“Sam!” Lindsay called out with a smile when she saw the beleaguered artist.
“Sam,” Charles and Melanie repeated with sneers as they both spied the rogue artist. Charles and Melanie glared at each other.
“Be nice, you two,” Lindsay quietly admonished before she warmly greeted Sam with a hug and a kiss.
“I can be nice,” Charles and Mel grumbled simultaneously. Lindsay rolled her eyes as she then focused her attentions on Sam.
"How are you feeling?" Bree asked Ashley as they washed their faces with cool water and brushed their teeth. They had finished cleaning up Bree's room.
"Sick ... and scared," Ashley whispered.
"My mom is going to be so mad and disgusted with me," Ashley said as tears started to roll down her face.
"My dad too," Bree agreed as she pulled Ashley into a hug and held her as she cried. Bree felt a few tears escape her eyes too.
Ashley finally pulled herself away and wiped at her eyes. She grabbed a tissue from the bathroom counter and blew her nose. Bree did the same.
"We better wash our faces again," Bree said and the girls did just that.
"Now what?" Ashley asked as they finished drying their faces.
"I guess we have to go to the stream and face the music."
"I don't want to," Ashley moaned.
"Me either, but we have to."
"Couldn't we just run away?"
"Sure, let's do that," Bree replied sarcastically. "And how far do you think we would get out here? We're kind of in the middle of nowhere."
"I know. I'm sorry, but I'm in so much trouble," Ashley said softly. "Mommy's going to kill me."
"Your mother would never kill you, Ash," Bree reassured her. "But I bet we'll be grounded until we're fifty."
"That would be worse."
"Everything's going to be worse," Bree said, "but we might as well go face them."
"If we have to," Ashley gave in.
Bree took her friend's hand and they made their way out of the cottage. They crossed the backyard and headed past the Wendy house toward the stream. They were both surprised that no one stopped them or questioned them. Bree looked back over her shoulder. She wondered how much the people at the party knew about what they had done.
"Are you sure we can't run away?" Ashley asked as they walked along the path.
"I'm sure," Bree said steeling herself for what she knew was coming.
They were almost to the clearing. Both girls could feel their heart rates accelerating. Bree squeezed Ashley's hand.
Ashley looked at Bree, her brow wrinkled in distress. "I think I'm going to faint," Ashley whispered.
"You'll be fine. Stay strong."
Ashley looked like she was ready to throw up, but she trudged forward with her friend. They entered the clearing and saw their parents sitting on the bench that had been placed there.
"They're waiting for us," Ashley whispered.
"You knew they would be," Bree responded.
"Yeah, but I hoped they might have changed their minds or got sidetracked or gone to North Carolina."
"Well, somewhere else."
"No such luck."
"Here goes," Ashley said as they approached their parents. Ashley's stomach was doing somersaults and Bree's wasn't far behind.
Susanna got up and hugged her daughter hard. "You had me so worried when I couldn't find you."
"I'm sorry, Mommy. I never meant to worry you."
"And you," Justin said hugging his daughter as well. "I can't believe what has happened."
"I'm sorry too, Daddy."
"Sorry isn't going to cut it this time, sweetheart," Justin replied letting go of his daughter.
He and Susanna sat down on the bench with the girls standing in front of them. A heavy silence hung over them all, with the parents studying their naughty children. Bree and Ashley waited nervously. They studied the ground at their feet. Neither dared to speak until their fate had been decided.
"What do you think we should do with these two who should have known better? What they did was totally wrong," Justin said to Susanna.
"I have some ideas about what to do with them, but whatever it is we need to make an example of them so this never happens again."
"Daddy..." Bree began.
Justin raised his hand and Bree held her tongue. She waited. Justin whispered in Susanna's ear and she nodded in agreement.
"We think a punishment is necessary for what you have done," she said very seriously. "Alcohol of any kind can be a dangerous thing if you don't know what you're doing. You should not have tried it on your own. You're both lucky that all you got as a result was a sick feeling and a headache. There is something called alcohol poisoning. Drinking a whole bottle of wine at your age could have led to that."
"But, we didn't drink it all," Bree tried to defend herself.
"That's not the point," Justin said harshly, "and Susanna wasn't finished."
"Sorry," Bree said.
"We hope you understand the seriousness of what you've done," Susanna continued. "This is not something that can be forgiven easily."
"We're really sorry," Bree said. Ashley bobbed her head in agreement but didn't say anything.
"I'm sure you are, but mostly because you got caught," Justin said.
The girls stared at the ground not knowing what to say, especially since Justin was right.
"We think," Susanna said turning to Justin who nodded in agreement. "We think you two should decide your punishment. What you choose as punishment will tell us how seriously you take your actions. Is that understood?"
Both girls nodded.
"Do you want to discuss this between the two of you?" Justin asked. Both nodded again. "Go over to the big rock. You have five minutes," Justin stated looking at his watch.
The girls walked over to the big rock and climbed up.
"What should we tell them?" Ashley asked.
"We could ground ourselves for a week," Bree suggested.
"That doesn't sound very serious."
Ashley shook her head. "I think we should give up soccer camp this summer."
"No," Bree responded. "I can't do that. I'm supposed to be an apprentice with the main coach."
"But it would show we are serious," Ashley reminded her.
"Let's think of something else."
The girls went over a whole lot of possibilities, but had trouble deciding. Some things seemed too easy and others too hard. They knew they had to offer some hard punishments.
"One more minute," Justin called.
"So what do you think?" Bree asked.
"Let's use them all," Ashley said.
"All?" Bree replied. "I don't want to do all that we discussed."
"Neither do I, but then they'll know we're serious," Ashley reminded her.
"Okay," Bree said uncertainly.
"You tell them," Ashley stated. "You're better at that kind of thing."
Bree sighed heavily as they got down off the rock. This was going to be an awful summer. They walked over to the bench.
"Have you made a decision?" Justin asked looking very stern. The girls nodded. "Then tell us what your punishment will be, and it better be good."
Bree took a deep breath and looked at Ashley. Ashley nodded and Bree began, "We think we should not go to soccer camp."
"Really?" Justin asked in surprise. "Is that all?"
"No," Bree said reluctantly. "We should be grounded for a month, and we should clean our homes completely twice this summer and be responsible for clearing the dishes after every meal and doing the laundry all summer." Bree had said all that with one breath. She now drew in a long breath.
"That's quite a list," Justin said. "I have a problem with you missing soccer camp. Bree, you have some obligations at the camp. You shouldn't shirk them."
"We've already paid for both of you to go to soccer camp, so you should go. Right, Susanna?"
"The rest of the things you listed, we'll have you do," Justin stated. "Is that fair?"
Both girls nodded.
"Then run along back to the party, and no more liquor."
The girls left.
"Well that was interesting," Justin said.
"Yeah, I would have been happy with the grounding for a month," Susanna chuckled.
"Me too, but a little manual labor never hurt anyone."
"That's for sure," Susanna agreed as they both chuckled.
The girls walked along the path back to the conjoined cottages.
Bree's mind was going ninety miles an hour. "I think we gave them too much," she said.
"I'm just happy it's over ... and we still get to go to soccer camp."
"Yeah, that's something."
"Why are you sounding so down?" Ashley asked.
"We gave ourselves a shitload of work for the summer," Bree stated with a scowl.
"You shouldn't use that language."
"My Dada uses it all the time."
"We're in enough trouble as it is," Ashley reminded her.
"Yeah, but I think we got taken."
"We could have gotten away with a lot less," Bree informed her.
"I don't think so," Ashley said.
"You're so naive."
"Am not," Ashley retorted. "But I'm never drinking again."
"Me either ... until I'm of age, or there's a good reason to do it."
"A good reason? How can there be a good reason?"
"I don't know, but I'm leaving my options open."
Bree walked ahead at a brusque pace. After Ashley got over her shock, she ran after her seemingly unrepentant friend.
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