Chapter 7 - Epilogue
It was dark when Michael approached Pittsburgh and although he was a little sad that he left all his friends and family on the lane, Michael was experiencing a sense of peace. A peace that he hadn’t felt for a very long time.
“Maybe I’m finally on the right track,” Michael said to himself as he got closer to the city limits. “I’m also hungry.” He realized that it was several hours since his last burger. Michael had left the lane before the next massive round of grilled delights was served. What Michael needed to do was some grocery shopping but his stomach had other plans. The flashing neon lights of the Liberty Diner called to Michael and his stomach.
“Hi Jake!” Michael called out to the lone waiter. It was a slow night, most of the regulars were celebrating the fourth in their own backyards or down by the pier waiting for the fireworks display to begin over the Allegheny River. So Jake and the cook were holding down the fort.
“What’ll you have, Michael?”
“What’s the special tonight?”
“We’ve got the red, white, and blue, pink plate special,” Jake crowed.
“Roast beef, extra rare, with good old fashioned mashed potatoes and for dessert, blueberry pie!” Jake exclaimed with pride. Michael laughed but the special sounded good to his stomach. “The special it is.”
“You want a Pepsi with that?”
“Sure,” Michael confirmed as they heard the first few “booms” and loud “pops” signaling that the fireworks had begun.
“Isn’t it about time, big bro?” Brian asked John as he grabbed John’s wrist to verify the time.
“Time for what, little bro?”
“Uh, you know, boom,” Brian said as he made an exploding gesture with hands.
“Not sure to what you’re referring,” John teased. Brian glared, big time. John laughed. “Easy there, bro, just yanking your chain and yes, it’s just about time. However, I’ve consulted with the Great Mother and we’ve decided to do things a little differently this year.”
“What the fuck does that mean?” Brian had a little explosion of his own in response to John’s cryptic announcement.
“Brian, we had a nasty winter and a very wet spring but it’s been hot and dry since June. It would be irresponsible of us, not to mention dangerous, to explode fireworks over the meadow and trees. Just one spark…”
“I get it,” Brian interrupted John then heavily sighed. “She was looking forward to it,” Brian added softly.
John smiled. Brian’s heart held a deep love that only a few were privy to. “Don’t worry. Your son, the computer geek, and I have worked out something that I think will fulfill your promise to that sweet young woman,” John assured Brian as he wrapped his arm around Brian’s shoulders and gave a little squeeze.
“Come on, I’ll show you a little of what the guys have whipped up. We’ll be needing your organizational skills to get everyone assembled correctly. Okay?” John asked.
“Okay,” Brian conceded as they headed toward the sun porch.
“Jake, I got to hand it you, tonight’s special was great!” Michael said as he punctuated his statement with a belch. “Excuse me.”
“Music to my ears,” Jake said with a laugh. “Your sandwiches are ready when you are.”
“Thanks,” Michael said as he wiped his mouth with a napkin and took out his wallet. Michael had ordered a few sandwiches to tide him over until he had time to shop. Michael paid his bill and left a nice tip.
“Night, guys.” Michael waved as he left the diner, sack of sandwiches in hand then headed for his car. A noise in the alley by the side of the diner startled him.
“Who’s there?” Michael called out, trying to sound menacing. The sound of cans and other garbage clanging made Michael jump. “You better come out or I’ll call the cops!”
“No, please wait,” a small voice replied. Just then the sky turned all sorts of colors as rockets exploded over the river.
“What? I can’t hear you. Come on out here,” Michael demanded.
“I’m sorry,” the voice replied. Michael thought he heard crying as a young boy, skinny, dirty, barely in his teens came out from the shadows.
“What are you doing in the alley?”
“I was looking for…”
“You were looking for something to eat,” Michael said gently. The boy nodded and the tears flowed in earnest. “Are you hurt?” The boy shook his head. “Tired and hungry?” The boy nodded. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Michael.” Michael handed James the bag of sandwiches. “Go ahead, take it.” James slowly reached out his hand then snatched the bag out of Michael’s.
“James, have you heard of the Hunter-man?” Michael asked while James nodded as he carefully opened the bag. “It’s okay. I just bought them,” Michael said as he pointed to the diner. “Why don’t you eat one now while we walk over to where Hunter hangs out when he’s in the Pitts.”
“You know the Hunter-man,” James asked with awe. He unwrapped one sandwich then took a big bite.
“I know him very well. He’s a great guy and his place is open to any kid who needs somewhere safe to sleep, a meal and a hot shower. May I take you there?” Michael carefully asked.
James looked at Michael with suspicious eyes. “How do I know you’re not taking me to someplace bad or gonna try to hurt me?”
“I won’t come any closer than I am now.” James was standing just out of reach. “I’ll lead you to Hunter’s place. I happen to know there’s a nice lady there tonight. Her name is Karen. Hunter’s out of town for a few days but he should be back soon.”
“You really know the Hunter-man?” James slowly followed Michael toward the alley where the drop in center was located.
“Yes I do and as soon as we get inside and I know you’re safe, I’ll show you a picture of Hunter when he was just a little older than you.”
“Really. Don’t worry, we’re close. I promise, no one will make you do anything you don’t want to do. And if you want to leave in the morning, no one will stop you. But if you want to stay and get help to figure out your next move, Hunter and Karen will help you all the way.”
“Are there really nice people in there?” James asked as he looked at the door to the center. He was frightened, very tired and didn’t know who to trust.
“Yes, they are very nice in there. That’s what the center is all about. I promise, no one will judge you or hurt you. And you never know, you just might make a friend or two,” Michael said as he opened the door to lead James to a better life.
“Listen up, people,” Brian shouted, standing on top of a picnic table. “John informs me that we risk the wrath of Smokey the Bear if we set off fireworks during this dry spell. So for those of you who’d like to keep your bears happy,” Brian drawled, “let’s indulge my brother.” The crowd laughed as Brian exchanged places with John.
“What’s going on,” Justin asked Brian as he sidled up close.
“Not a fucking clue, Sunshine,” Brian said as he gave Justin a sweet peck to his temple.
“As Brian has so eloquently put it, it’s really too dry for a conventional fireworks show,” John began to explain.
“Since when does this family do anything conventional?” Debbie called out then cackled at her own cleverness.
“Never!” several members of their unconventional family shouted out. The family applauded.
“You’re right, Deb,” John agreed. “So with a little help from our friends and family, may I direct your attention toward the meadow.”
All eyes turned toward the direction of the meadow. Unbeknownst to the family a very large screen was set up along with state of the art sound equipment. With the touch of Gus’ nimble fingers on his tablet, the first explosion of sight, sound, and color was triggered.
It was about two in the morning when the last of the guests left the lane. The hefty wrought iron gate which helped to conceal their lane from the outside world, swung closed for the last time. The lane inhabitants, family and special guests were all tucked up in their rooms throughout the lane. Brian took one last look around his garden while enjoying his final beer of the night.
“Hey,” Justin quietly called out from the sun porch door. “Have you taken over Beau’s job?”
“What do you mean?” Brian asked with a smirk.
“You look like you’re on patrol.”
“Maybe I am. We’ve had a million people on the lane today, you never know if there’s a straggler or two hidden in the bushes.” Brian peeked under an azalea bush for effect making Justin giggle.
“Come here, Sunshine,” Brian murmured as the lovers met just outside the door. Brian gently placed two fingers under Justin’s chin to raise his face. Loving hazel eyes met shining blue.
“I love you, Brian.”
“Love you, Sunshine.”
They kissed then went to bed.
“Aaa-mazing,” Brian softly murmured when he was able to catch his breath.
“Yeah,” Justin whispered, wearing a smug smile.
“You’ve still got it.”
“We’ve still got it,” Justin corrected as his hand searched and found Brian’s.
“Do you think everyone had a good time today?” Brian asked.
“I know they did,” Justin confirmed.
“You don’t think Candy was disappointed.”
Justin climbed on top of Brian, resting his chin on Brian’s chest. “Brian, she was overjoyed. She just didn’t want to gush all over you.” Brian made a face. “Idiot,” Justin teased then kissed his suddenly vulnerable spouse.
“Before she and Richie went to Emmett’s, Candy told me that over the years she’s forgotten the sound of her mother’s voice. And that watching the fireworks, all the colors, and the loud noise, helps her to remember the good times she had with her mom,” Justin gently explained.
Brian nodded. The pain of losing old Joanie hadn’t completely healed although it was so much better.
“She loved them, Bri, and I love you so much, you big Smoosh.”
The lovers kissed and held each other tight; round two was about to begin.
“Bri, do you think Michael will be okay?”
Brian looked down his nose at Justin. “You want to talk about Mikey now?” They were indulging in playful frottage prior to the main event.
“Not really but being this close to you just made me think…he’s alone. And Ben’s…”
“With his French fry houseguest,” Brian snorted.
There was a moment of silent contemplation before furiously making love then coming together in an explosive frenzy.
“I’m yours forever,” Justin declared when he was able, collapsing in Brian’s arms.
“Faithfully,” vowed Brian as he held on.
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