Brian sat comfortably in his garden, basking in the warmth of the day, surrounded by good friends and family. Even though his lane appeared to be currently inhabited by thousands of people, Brian found himself with little to do. John and his crew had the B&B grills going non-stop while Gus and Ray took over grills in the garden of the conjoined cottages. Emmett and minions kept refreshments flowing while the women in Brian’s life, took pride in making sure there were sides and other good things to nibble on throughout the day. The sitting arrangements started from the garden, extending under the greenhouse arbor path, toward the back to the greenhouse, ending at the B&B. John’s men had strategically placed two benches under the arbor which provided additional shade for anyone requiring a brief respite from the sun.
All Brian had to do was to sit back, enjoy himself, and prevent the occasional “fire”.
“Hey, Bri,” Michael called out as he approached Brian’s table.
“Hey, Mikey, need a cold one?” Brian asked as he waved his beer.
“Nah, I’m good,” Michael replied as he sat, waving his own cold brew.
“You speak to your mother?”
“Yeah, I did,” Michael said.
“Really?” Brian wasn’t sure if it was a productive conversation or just a continuation of their previous shouting match.
“Really. It was…nice.”
“That’s good, Mikey, I’m happy for you,” Brian sincerely stated.
“Yeah, me too.”
The old friends sat under an umbrella, breathing fresh air, catching snippets of casual conversation, laughter, and the sight of their vast family.
“Life is good, Mikey,” Brian threw out.
“Yeah,” Michael agreed with a contented smile. His life wasn’t perfect, he still had a lot to learn, but he hadn’t felt this good in years. Michael missed Ben but he realized that he had to fix himself before he could try to fix his marriage. And Michael was determined to fix it no matter what the outcome. He and Ben were always good friends as well as lovers. Michael planned on working hard to repair the damage he had caused. But for now, he was happy just sitting with his best and long-time friend, one Brian Kinney.
“Yeah,” Michael repeated.
They sat together in the garden in companionable silence enjoying the afternoon.
“Magnifique!” Armand exclaimed as did many of the French contingent of Kinnetik as Molly played tour guide. She led them around the lane explaining the thought behind each home ending with the grand finale at the greenhouse. Everyone was bowled over by the waterfall and koi pond.
“Brian created this?” Armand asked.
“In a manner of speaking,” Molly explained. “Brian had a vision and John brought it to life,” Molly said as she showed the group Brian’s original sketch and John’s transformation into proper architectural plans. John had preserved the drawings in a specially sealed framed to keep the moisture out. It hung proudly on the wall in the antechamber of the greenhouse.
“Incroyable,” someone murmured. Molly smiled brightly.
“Why?” Molly heard someone ask. She turned to face Gui.
“Why create something so elaborate? Is it to show off his wealth?” Gui said with a sneer. Molly was about to rip Gui a new one when another voice answered.
“Love,” Justin stated with emphasis.
“What?” Gui replied with a start. He was shocked to see Justin standing there, inches away from him.
Justin had come into the greenhouse seeking a few moments of calm. The greenhouse was always a peaceful refuge on the lane. It brought pleasure to the lane residents especially to Brian and Bree.
“Love,” Justin repeated. “Brian’s love of our daughter, his love of nature, and his love of gardening with our daughter.” As Justin was explaining the inspiration for their greenhouse, he could hear Molly translating in the background.
The group continued to follow Justin around the greenhouse, stopping with him as Justin examined each flower and plant.
“What do you see when you look at the flower?” Armand asked with almost an inner knowledge of what inspires an artist.
Justin gave him a serene smile. “I’m not sure how to explain it. Sometimes it’s very simple; I like what I see and my hand wants to draw. Sometimes I’m inspired to create something large and unusual. That usually gets me in trouble,” Justin said with a laugh. He then went on to describe what happened when he created his metal sculptures or the henge as Brian called it.
“It took weeks before my eyebrow grew back. Brian wasn’t too happy with me.” Justin giggled.
“Bree’s rose?” Armand asked as they walked passed a large ornate flower pot that contained the rose bush dedicated to Bree.
“Bree loves the color pink. Brian found this variety of rose and decided to grow it. He dedicated it to our daughter,” Justin said with a smile and a slight shrug of his shoulders.
Justin quietly stood in front of Bree’s rose for a few moments. The small plant that Brian had purchased years ago had flourished under his care. Justin shook his head; their daughter was growing up.
“Please excuse me,” Justin said finally breaking from his reverie. “I hope you enjoy the rest of your time on the lane,” said Justin before leaving the greenhouse and heading back to his guests.
The Sarah Kingsley sat under one of the big trees in the backyard of the conjoined cottages. She took a sip of her lemonade then gently fanned herself with a Chinese fan made of fragrant sandalwood. Her husband had brought it to her after one of his trips to the Orient. The intricately carved fan was one of her favorite possessions.
"Are you okay, mother?" Sharon asked. "You're not getting overheated, are you?"
"I'm fine, dear, although it is a warm day."
"Yes, and that's not the only heat someone is feeling," Sharon stated nodding towards the Wendy house.
Sarah turned toward the Wendy house and saw the glum faces of the two girls sitting on the porch. "I think that building is more a doghouse than a Wendy house at the moment."
"They do look pretty sad."
"I feel badly for them," Sarah said with a little cluck. "Briana's a lovely young lady, but I guess every child has to test the limits of how far they can go as they grow up."
"That's very philosophical of you, mother. I thought you would take a harder stance about the alcohol issue."
"Hmph," Sarah said, "I was young once. I can understand what the girls did, and why they did it. It's all part of growing up."
"So you don't think they should have been punished, which I assume they have." Sharon found her mother's comments about this incident very unlike her usual position on following rules of propriety.
"Knowing Brian and Justin, and looking at those faces on the girls, I'm sure they have been punished. Children have hard lessons to learn in life. Quite frankly, I'm surprised that their parents didn't make more of a public issue about them drinking that bottle of wine."
"Whatever their punishment is to be, it has made them pretty forlorn. I think it must be harsh enough without the whole world knowing about it," Sharon stated.
"I can see them keeping it in the family. Undoubtedly dear Brian and Justin did not want to spoil the party for the rest of their guests."
"Very considerate of them," Sharon agreed.
"Not everyone is so considerate of others," Sarah observed.
"What do you mean?"
"Haven't you felt the ripples of antagonism amongst some of the guests?"
"Like who?" Sharon asked with a frown.
"Really dear, you should pay more attention." Sarah fanned herself harder as Sharon sighed, knowing the conversation was over. She looked around at the guests wondering what she had missed.
"Hey, what's up with you two?" Patrick asked as he approached the Wendy house.
"Nuffin," Bree replied with a scowl.
"Sure doesn't look like nuffin."
Bree scowled harder. Patrick frowned, knowing something was going on.
"Ashley, what happened?" he asked, his voice full of concern.
"Bree's mad at me. She doesn't want to talk and neither do I."
"Are you mad at Ashley?" Bree nodded. "Why?" There was no answer. "Come on, Bree, you know you can talk to me. I'm going to find out eventually anyway." Patrick waited.
"Then you can just wait until that happens," Bree said in her most snarky voice.
"But I'm here with you now, and I want to help."
"Nobody can help," Bree groused.
"How do you know? Just tell me."
"You tell him," Bree ordered Ashley.
"I'm not saying anything," Ashley retorted.
"Oh, fu....dge!" Bree said. "Okay, so we drank a bottle of wine and fell asleep and Dada found us and we're being punished. Are you happy now?"
"Not in the least," Patrick said shaking his head. "What were you thinking?"
"See, there you go," Bree accused. "I knew you'd lecture us or tell us how stupid we were. We already know that, so go away!"
"Not going anywhere," Patrick stated. He sat down beside the girls on the porch of the Wendy house.
"Leave me alone," Bree ordered.
Patrick shook his head. "So what's your punishment?" he asked cheerfully. It couldn't be that bad, could it?
"It's all my fault," Ashley said mournfully. "I was too chicken and too stupid." She wiped at her eyes to get rid of the tears that kept escaping.
"It's not all your fault," Bree replied. "I agreed to it too." She put her arm around Ashley's shoulders and the two girls hugged. The silence was broken.
"I'm sorry, Bree," Ashley said, now crying outright.
"I'm sorry too," Bree said as she struggled not to cry. "I got us into this in the first place."
"We both decided to do it," Ashley stated. "I'm so sorry."
"I wish we hadn't done it. We were dumb."
The two girls clung to each other letting the emotions take over.
"Okay, enough," Patrick interrupted them. "Let's put an end to this pity party."
"Shut up!" both girls said simultaneously.
"Hey, I'm here to help," Patrick protested.
"Yeah, we heard that before. Fat lot of help you are," Bree declared finally releasing Ashley from their hug. Both girls wiped at their faces.
"I could help if you'd let me," Patrick said.
Bree drew in a long breath as she wiped away the last of her tears. "There's nothing you can do."
"What punishment did you get?"
"Daddy and Ashley's mom were real crafty," Bree said.
"They made us come up with our own punishment."
Patrick chuckled. "One of those."
"What do you mean?" Ashley asked.
"My dads pulled that on me a couple of times."
"Yep, and I see why you think they were crafty?"
"What did you do when they made you tell them your punishment?" Bree asked.
"I gave myself more than they ever would have thought of," Patrick admitted.
"Same here," both girls said.
"You did something wrong?" Ashley asked. She always thought of Patrick as perfect.
"Every now and then," Patrick laughed. "So, you guys punished yourselves too much?"
"Yeah," Bree said. "I think we could have got away with a lot less."
"What is the punishment?" Patrick asked.
"We said we shouldn't be allowed to go to soccer camp," Ashley volunteered.
"But it's already paid for, and you're an assistant, Bree," Patrick said looking horrified that the girls would offer to forego camp.
"That's what Daddy said. So, we're still going to camp"
"That's good," Patrick said.
"The actual punishment is worse," Bree declared. "We are grounded for a month, and we have to clean our homes completely twice this summer and we're responsible for clearing the dishes after every meal and doing the laundry all summer."
"That doesn't sound so bad,"
"Hmmpf," Bree responded. "Not so bad? I think it's awful."
"Look," Patrick said trying to show them the up side of their punishment. "We clear the dishes after most meals anyway, don't we?" Bree nodded and so did Ashley. "We do laundry occasionally." The girls nodded again. "So you just have to do it on a regular basis for a while."
"I guess so," Bree said.
"I'll help you clean, Bree, and we could go to Ashley's and help her clean when we get done here."
"You'd come to my place and help me?" Ashley asked in astonishment.
"Sure," Patrick replied. "I can't do anything about you being grounded, but it could have been worse."
"Yeah, I thought we might be grounded for life," Ashley said.
Patrick chuckled. "That might have been a bit extreme."
"Yeah," both girls said. Ashley beamed at Patrick for his offer. Bree even smiled a little bit.
"See, it's not so bad. You'll get through this," Patrick advised them.
"I guess so," Bree agreed. She did feel a little better.
Riley walked across the backyard of the conjoined cottages. He carried a bottle of beer and a glass of lemonade. He arrived at two chairs under one of the big trees. He handed the lemonade to his friend and partner, Danny. He sat down in the empty chair.
"Are you sure you don't want a beer or some wine?" he asked as he took a sip of his own beer.
"This fucking arthritis," Danny griped. "The medication helps some, but liquor of any kind doesn't mix well with it."
"Sorry you're not feeling too great today."
"I feel like this most days, but let's not talk about that," Danny said.
Riley nodded. "Have you seen Debbie?" he asked. Danny shook his head. "Michael?" Another shake of the head. "JR?"
"I said hi to her when she and Jacqueline first arrived. She said she would see me later, but so far, no sign of her."
"She'll pop by at some point," Riley assured him.
"You know," Danny said looking towards the heavens, "getting old is the shits."
"It ain't for sissies," Riley agreed.
"Been a sissy all my life," Danny chuckled.
Riley laughed out loud. "There's the Danny I know and love."
The two men looked at each other and smiled. Each sipped his drink.
After a minute or two Riley said, "I'm going to talk to Bree. Something's going on, and she doesn't look too happy."
"What can you do about it?" Danny asked.
"I don't know, but I feel like I should try." Riley handed Danny his beer. "Guard that for me until I come back."
"You got it, as long as you do come back."
"Of course I will," Riley said giving his partner a kiss on the cheek.
Riley walked over to the Wendy house. The two girls were still sitting on the porch. Riley had seen Patrick leave a few minutes ago. The girls didn't look quite as forlorn as they had before Patrick had talked to them, but they certainly weren't little rays of sunshine.
"Afternoon, ladies," Riley said, making a little bow.
"Hi, Mr. Riley," Bree said looking up at him.
Ashley managed a barely audible, "Hi."
"You two look like the world is crumbling around you. This is supposed to be a party," Riley advised.
"Don't feel much like a party," Bree said.
"Me either," Ashley agreed.
"I think music always makes everything better," Riley said. "How be we go play a little piano, Bree?"
"I don't feel much like playing, Mr. Riley," Bree stated with a sigh.
"If I'm feeling down, I often don't want to play, but..." He paused for effect. "When I do play, I always feel better."
"I don't know," Bree said shaking her head.
"Come on. Give it a try." Riley held out his hand for Bree to take it. Reluctantly she did, and Riley pulled her to her feet. "You too," Riley said to Ashley offering her a hand to get up.
The two girls trudged along behind Riley as they make their way into the cottage.
"What do you want to play?" Riley asked.
"I don't really want to play anything," Bree said sulkily.
"So, something sad, then?" Riley said with a chuckle. Bree just stared at him. Ashley sat down on the couch near them. Riley began to play Clair de Lune by Debussey. The girls listened as Riley played.
When he finished that piece, Bree said, "That was beautiful, Mr. Riley. You haven't taught me that one yet."
"No time like the present," Riley said before playing it again.
Bree had a great ear for music. She began to move her fingers over top of the keys following the pattern of Riley's fingers.
"Want to try the first part?" Riley asked her.
"Sure," Bree said positioning herself and her fingers as Riley stood up and let her take control.
Bree played the first few bars and then was lost.
"That was very pretty," Ashley said.
"That's as much as I remembered," Bree said.
"That was excellent without having the sheet music. I'll have to get that for you."
"I'd like that," Bree said with a little amile. Music did make you feel better.
They then played Eine kleine Nachtmusik, their tried and true favorite. Riley got Bree to play a piece all by herself, and then Riley played Roll Out the Barrel, a happy song for the two girls.
"Feel better?" Riley asked when he was done.
"Yeah," both girls agreed.
"The world is a better place with music."
Both girls nodded in agreement.
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