After a fitful night’s sleep, Ben woke up miserable and more tired than when he finally fell asleep. His mishap with his towel did nothing to help the growing attraction he and Armand shared. Ben felt foolish and downright stupid. Michael had all but given Ben permission to “stray,” so why was he feeling guilty at even the thought of being with such a handsome and sophisticated man as Armand. They had so much in common, and to be honest, Armand had all the characteristics of the type of man Ben usually went for, tall, intelligent, quiet, a little mysterious.
“Holy shit!” Ben realized he not only described Armand but also Brian. Why did it always come back to Brian? Especially when Brian had nothing to do with what was happening to his and Michael’s marriage. “Okay, enough of this garbage. Nothing happened last night, he only needed a new light bulb,” Ben mumbled to himself. Of course, Armand’s eyes couldn’t help drinking in the sight of Ben’s naked body. And it became painfully obvious that Ben enjoyed said “drinking.” However, Ben quickly recovered himself and his towel, shut his bedroom door with an unnecessary bang then emerged suitably clothed in order to search for a spare light bulb.
Crisis averted, Ben and Armand went back to bed, their separate beds in separate rooms, for the night.
The next morning the loud whistle of Ben’s tea kettle lit a fire under his ass. He joined his guest in the kitchen where Armand was playing chef.
“I hope you don’t mind, I thought I’d make us omelets for breakfast. You’ve been doing all the cooking since my arrival,” Armand said cheerfully. Apparently last night's towel mishap was forgotten. Thankfully.
“That’s not necessary,” Ben politely said as the rich aromas of the savory egg mixture hit his nose as it hit the hot pan. “That smells wonderful,” Ben exclaimed. “I’ll set the table.”
“That was wonderful,” Ben said as he wiped his mouth with a napkin and allowed a small belch to escape. “Oh, pardon me.”
“Think nothing of it; it just means you’ve enjoyed the meal. I like cooking for a man who enjoys fine dining. Perhaps if we can find a nice piece of salmon, you’d allow me to cook you dinner,” Armand said with a bit of a purr.
“I’d like that very much,” Ben said without thinking. He stood up to start cleaning up the dishes and put the kettle on.
“Bon! Tonight, I cook you a feast,” Armand said as the kettle began to whistle.
The Thatched Cottage
“Hey. Babe, what’s John doing in the backyard?” Carl called out to Debbie.
“What?” Debbie yelled back from somewhere in the cottage.
“John. Backyard. It looks like a construction site.”
“Oh, stop exaggerating,” Deb said as she came into the kitchen to see what Carl was referring to. “Huh. Well you did talk to him about setting up a shed.”
“Yeah, but when I said shed, I was thinking of one of those big PVC prefab jobs not something that required a hammer and nails and all that equipment out there!” Carl pointed toward the yard with his thumb.
“Well, you know John Anderson, when he builds something, he builds it right.”
“Maybe I should go out and help,” Carl said.
“And maybe you should stay out of the way before you get yourself hurt,” Debbie countered with a glare. “Them’s the rules!”
“All right, you win, but does it say anywhere in your rule book that I can’t bring him out a bottle of water or an iced tea?”
“No, it doesn’t. That’ll be very nice of you.”
“Well, I am a nice guy.”
“Yes, you are,” Debbie said with a smile and a loving kiss. “But no hammer and nails.”
Just then Peter scurried for the back door.
“And where are you going, young man?” Debbie asked.
“John asked if I can help with the shed. Patrick will be helping too,” Peter explained.
“Aren’t you a little young to be doing manual labor?” Debbie scowled.
“Leave him be. It’s not like they’re building the Taj Mahal. It’s just a shed,” Carl stated reasonably before Debbie had a chance to object. “You follow John’s instructions and everything will be fine,” Carl added more for Debbie’s benefit than Peter. Peter promised before going out the door.
“He’s growing up,” Deb observed.
“Yes, he is, and he’s turned out to be a very nice young man. That’s all on you, Babe. You believed in him, saw his potential, and never gave up. That’s more than his own father gave him. Now he’s out there learning from a master builder. That young man has a real future.” Carl gave Debbie a peck on the cheek as they watched through the kitchen window.
John was taking measurements while Peter wrote them down. Soon Patrick had joined them, helping his father hold the tape measure in place while Peter jotted down the notes John and Patrick called out. Patrick had that Kinney height. Peter was not as tall, but he was taller than Michael. He still had a little more growing to do and had time to add more muscle. Carl and Debbie could see how relaxed Peter was now amongst the family. He easily joined in conversation and smiled readily.
Debbie could take pride in her latest lost boy.
“Do you want another cup of coffee?” Debbie called out to Carl. He had taken his morning paper into the living room.
“Yes, thank you,” Carl replied.
In a few minutes Debbie entered the living room with two mugs of coffee. She set one down on the small table next to Carl and another near her chair close to the front window. Debbie enjoyed watching their small piece of the world go by from her chair. It was a very quiet world on the lane, but after years of noise and stress in the city she found the quiet lane more and more to her liking.
“Little Beau is on patrol,” Debbie announced as she spied the big dog from her window. “Did you fill up his water bowl?”
“Yes, I did.”
“I wonder if the boys out back need water.”
“Peter will get it when they need it,” Carl said in a tone that told Debbie to stay put.
“You haven’t seen Ben and that man, have you?” Debbie asked as she sipped her coffee.
Because the log cabin was built further back from the lane and over the years the shrubs and trees had grown in big and bushy, the cabin was difficult to see. You practically had to stand right in front of it to see anything of the cabin itself. Plus, John had angled it slightly downward so that the loft floor wasn’t too high up. This gave the impression that the cabin was smaller than it really was. The cabin was designed to blend into the surrounding trees.
“I haven’t seen either one of them since the barbecue,” Carl said as he turned a page of his newspaper.
“I should go over there.”
“No, you shouldn’t. Ben and Armand are grown men. They don’t need you to meddle into their business.”
“Maybe I should call them to see if they need anything like milk or bread. I could bring them a tray of lasagna,” Debbie cheerfully said.
“Deb, honey, if they really need groceries, they know when to go shopping.”
“Well, if you’re sure.”
“I’m very sure. Now drink your coffee before it gets cold and mind your own business.”
“Don’t you tell me to mind my own business, Carl Horvath. Michael is my son, that makes Ben my business.”
“Sweetheart, if Michael isn’t overly concerned then you shouldn’t be either,” Carl said logically. He waited until Debbie had time to mull that one over, so he returned to his paper.
Debbie snorted then sipped her coffee.
"Okay," John said as he finished up the measurements and looked at the piece of ground they had marked out.
"What's next?" Patrick asked.
"We need to scout the forest for logs that are approximately the same diameter. Then we'll need some smaller ones to fill in potential gaps."
"That sounds complicated," Peter said uncertainly.
"Not so complicated," John said. "There's lots of trees available and we'll be really selective about winnowing out ones that are blocking smaller trees or vegetation. Any recent windfalls would be perfect. It won't take many logs to make the shed."
"How are we going to do this?" Patrick asked.
"Take these," John said handing Peter a bunch of pieces of thin rope with large tags attached. "You and Patrick can go into the grove of trees near the stream or across the lane close to the wall. When you see a likely looking tree, especially one that isn't looking too healthy, tie one of those to a branch."
"What are you going to be doing?" Patrick asked his father.
"I want to make sure my chain saw is working; I haven’t used it in a while."
"Oh, the power tool man," Patrick joked.
"That would be correct," John said with a smirk worthy of his brother. "After I check the saw, I'm going into Bridgeton to pick up a few things."
"Can we use the chain saw too?" Patrick asked.
"We'll see," John said.
"That would be a no," Patrick griped.
"It would be cool to use a chain saw," Peter offered.
"As I said, we'll see."
"Um, could I ask you something?" Peter said hesitantly. "How did you figure all this out?"
"I'm a problem solver," John said with a smile. "I've spent my whole life doing that."
"Wish I had," Peter said shaking his head.
"It's a learnable skill," John assured him.
"Is it?" Peter asked skeptically.
"Once I decided on the type of shed we were going to build, then I started working out all the materials we would need, how we could obtain them, and jobs that each of us could do."
"So, you needed a blueprint in order to work out what supplies you needed?"
"Exactly. You can't plan or problem solve until you know what you're dealing with. I did some research online and figured out what we had around here and what we'd have to buy," John said.
"Hm," Peter said.
Both Patrick and his father could see the wheels turning in Peter's head.
"Nice one, Dad," Patrick said with a wink for his father.
John merely smiled. "Grab some water and get started on your search. I'll head into Bridgeton."
The boys nodded and headed into Debbie's to get a couple bottles of water.
"Hey, you two," Debbie said as the boys entered her kitchen through the patio door. "How's it going? Has John got all his calculations done?"
"Yeah," Peter said with a frown. "He's so precise about everything. Good at figuring things out."
"I don't imagine you would be much of an architect if your measurements were off or if you hadn't foreseen all the possible problems or difficulties in a project," Carl offered.
"My Dad's the best at that kind of stuff," Patrick said proudly.
"He certainly is," Debbie agreed. "So, where's he gone?"
"To check if his chain saw is working and then to Bridgeton to pick up a few things," Patrick informed them.
"A chain saw?" Carl asked.
"What for?" Debbie wanted to know.
"To build the shed," Patrick said.
"But...?" Debbie started. "Carl, do you know what this shed is going to be made of?"
"Not really. I just told John I'd like some storage space."
"Do you two know what the shed will look like?" Debbie asked the boys.
"Sort of," Peter said. "It will be made of logs."
"It's called a living shed," Patrick added.
"What the fu... hell is that?" Debbie demanded.
"Um, I think you'll like it," Patrick said quickly. "I'll let my Dad explain when he gets back. We better get going," he said to Peter who was grabbing bottled water from the fridge.
The two boys beat a hasty retreat out the patio doors.
"Is this fucking shed going to be a major eyesore?" Debbie asked her husband.
"Does John Anderson build eyesores?" Carl asked.
That stopped Debbie's impending tirade. She thought about the first time she had seen the cottage that was now theirs. She had thought how different and unique she had found it. It was unlike anything she had ever seen before, especially the thatched roof. She had loved it from that moment. And John Anderson had built it in his own unique style. He was probably going to do the same thing with the shed. Probably... But, logs? What the hell was it going to look like? And why did he call it a living shed. Did that mean there were animals alive in it? Or, was John buying live trees to be a part of the shed. They certainly couldn't afford to buy a whole slew of trees. That would cost a fortune.
Debbie needed some answers, and she was going to get them as soon as John Anderson got back from Bridgeton.
"What have you gotten us into?" she asked Carl, who merely shrugged.
First, Peter and Patrick made their way into the woods at the back of Debbie's cottage. It extended behind most of the houses on the lane, toward the stream and beyond.
"Debbie didn't sound too happy about the idea of a living shed," Peter said as the boys walked through the trees. It was cooler and quiet in the glade.
"I guess my Dad didn't think there would be any objections to his idea of a living shed. He probably should have talked to Debbie and Carl about it first."
"What does that mean?" Patrick asked with a frown.
"It's just that ... I don't like it when Debbie gets upset. Nobody's happy when that happens," Peter explained.
"Yeah, I can see that," Patrick said. "Debbie's a powerhouse."
"You can say that again," Peter said shaking his head.
"You're not worried about ... what that might mean for you, are you?" Patrick asked with concern.
"I always worry that they might send me away," Peter replied honestly. "But not as much as I did when I first came to live with them. Back then I thought every day could be my last one with them. I felt like that for a long time."
"But you're not worried all the time now, are you?"
"Not like I used to be," Peter admitted. "But when things aren't going right... You know, it's kind of upsetting."
"I don't think you have anything to worry about," Patrick informed Peter. "They really care about you. They want you here."
"How can you be sure?" Peter asked.
Patrick realized just how insecure Peter was about his future. He could understand that, due to the fact that his father basically renounced all interest in his son and gave him to virtual strangers. That must have really cut Peter to the core. No wonder the kid seemed so uncertain all the time. Patrick couldn't imagine his fathers ever turning their back on him.
"Um, I just know," Patrick said rather lamely. "I see it in the way they deal with you ... in everything they do."
"Really?" Peter asked.
"You must see it too. They have your best interests at heart."
"I see it, and then a part of me starts to doubt it. How can they want me when my own father didn't?" Peter said sadly.
"I think Debbie and Carl are very different from your father," Patrick offered.
"You never met my father."
"No, I didn't, but I know Debbie and Carl. They're great people. Debbie has helped so many people before you, including Uncle Brian and Uncle Justin."
"They needed help?" Peter asked in amazement.
"Yeah, they did. Ask them some time."
"Maybe I will," Peter said thoughtfully.
"Hey, there's a tree that has come down," Patrick said pointing up ahead. "It must have come down in the storm a few days ago."
"Should we put a rope on it?" Peter asked.
"I think it's a likely one. We could get lots of logs out of it."
"Do you think we need to find any more trees, if this will make a lot of logs?" Peter asked hopefully.
"If we tag one tree and tell my father that, he'll send us out here in the dark to find some more. We need to find at least three, maybe more, and then some thinner ones."
"Okay," Peter said with a sigh.
The boys trudged on farther, all the time keeping an eye out for potential logs. When they didn’t find anything promising they decided to cross the lane toward the back of Molly’s cottage.
"Hey, Patrick," Peter said pointing off to one side. "There's a couple of trees over there that look a little sick."
"Where?" Patrick asked. He had been looking the other way.
Patrick walked in the direction of a bunch of trees clustered close together. There were two that had very few leaves, and the leaves that were there seemed brownish instead of green. The edges of the leaves were curled up too.
"Maybe these are getting crowded out," he said looking up at a larger tree that seemed to dwarf these. "We should tag the sick looking ones and maybe the big one too. It may be the source of the problem."
The boys tagged the trees and decided that with their finds they should have lots of logs for the shed. When they hit the stone wall they turned around to walk back.
"Let's cut through here," Patrick suggested. "We must be close to the lane, and it's easier to walk on the lane than in the woods. I'm starving."
"Me too," Peter agreed.
The boys hadn't walked too far towards the lane, when they realized they were going to come out at the back of the log cabin.
"I wonder if Ben and his friend are home?" Patrick asked.
"Does that matter?"
"It's just that they seem to want their privacy. Nobody's seen them since the Fourth."
"You know, they might be ... involved," Patrick said with a chuckle.
"Nobody knows for sure," Patrick said.
"I heard Debbie and Carl talking about them earlier," Peter informed Patrick. "I don't think Debbie's happy about the French guy being here. She's worried about Michael."
"Michael and Ben have had their issues lately," Patrick said. "I've heard rumblings around our place about Armand and whether he should be here or not."
"Is that his name, Armand?"
"It's not fancy, it's French," Patrick said with a laugh.
"Ooh, French," Peter chuckled.
"Hi guys, whatcha doin' back there?" Ben called from the deck of the log cabin. Ben and Armand were lying on chaises. They had shorts on and looked very content.
"At least they're not doing it on the deck," Peter whispered.
Patrick elbowed him in the ribs telling him to shut up.
"Sorry to disturb you," Patrick called back. "We were looking for some logs for my Dad and wanted to cut through to get back to the lane, if that's okay."
"Of course," Ben said, "come on through."
The boys quickly made their way past the log cabin and onto the lane. They breathed sighs of relief that they didn't get into trouble and that more questions weren't asked.
"Hope we didn't disturb them," Patrick said.
"Didn't look like they cared," Peter added.
"There’s Aunt Rachel,” Patrick said as Rachel’s car slowly went past. She gave the boys a wave. “Let’s help her with her groceries; I bet we’ll get a wonderful snack to eat."
“Wait a minute, should we say that we saw them,” Peter asked. Patrick pondered the question for several seconds before answering.
“We can’t lie, but it looks like Ben and Armand want to be alone. So, unless someone asks us about them, I think we shouldn’t say anything. Okay?” Patrick asked. Peter nodded in agreement.
They ran up the lane, quickly forgetting about their encounter with Ben and Armand.
Later that evening Ben and Armand shared a delightfully baked salmon with salad and a crisp summer white wine. With full bellies and full glasses of wine they sat in the living room listening to jazz. Ben hadn’t felt this relaxed in years. A few hours later Ben and Armand went to bed.
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