“I’m curious, why don’t you have a swimming pool?” Armand asked Ben as they were lounging in the backyard of the cabin.
“A pool?” Ben asked.
“Yes, isn’t that the American dream? A house in the country with a pool.”
“I don’t think it ever occurred to us to have a pool. We certainly have the room for one here,” said Ben as he looked over the yard. “I suppose we have the room in our yard in Pittsburgh. But pools are a lot of work. Even with a pool service.”
“Your children never wanted one?”
“Hunter was already a teenager when we adopted him and had other more pressing issues. JR was raised by her mothers. They may have had a kiddie pool when she was a baby but I don’t believe the subject of having a pool ever came up. Besides with a large family like ours, the kids have always been occupied with other pursuits,” Ben explained.
“And do you like to swim?”
“I did as a child,” Ben ventured an answer.
“And now?” Armand pushed.
“I have a tendency to sink in a chlorinated pool, I’m more buoyant in salt water,” Ben admitted.
“I don’t understand,” said Armand.
Ben, wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, made a muscle. “Muscle is denser than fat; in a chlorine pool I’d have to work hard to stay afloat. I’d have more luck in the ocean because the salt water would allow me to float,” Ben explained.
“I thought you were a literature professor not a physics professor,” commented Armand with a grin.
“I guess I’ve learned a few things lifting weights for most of my life,” Ben said with a faraway look. Lifting was part of his regime of living right, eating right, and fighting against HIV.
“I am sorry; have I touched upon an unhappy subject?”
“No, you haven’t,” Ben remarked as he reached out to touch Armand’s leg. “Not at all. I guess I was briefly ruminating about my reasons for lifting weights.”
“Good thoughts?” Armand smiled.
“For the most part, yes,” said Ben as he returned the smile.
“You have a beautiful smile,” Armand remarked out of the blue.
“Thank you,” Ben said as he unintentionally coyly smiled, looking up at Armand through his lashes.
When the moment was over the men leaned back in their chairs to enjoy the coolness of the morning.
The Meadow Cottage
“Babe, do you need anything?” Alex called out toward their sun porch. Glen was currently lounging on a chaise.
“I’m good,” Glen replied. Alex stood staring out into the porch.
This was the boys’ first full summer on the lane. Even though their cottage was built the previous year much of the summer was spent getting Craig Taylor up and walking on his own. This year Alex and Glen made it a point to wrap up anything pressing by June so they could enjoy a good long rest.
Alex was particularly concerned with Glen’s mental and physical health. Glen’s last client was a young lady who was badly injured as the result of a car accident. The teenager was a passenger enjoying an evening drive with her friends. Struck by a drunk driver, the girl was thrown out of the back seat and landed by the side of the road. Her spine was badly injured but not broken. Her doctors believed that if the swelling was gradually reduced, the young lady would regain the power to walk. Glen, the psychologist, worked his PhD to the max trying to gain the trust of the teen who, like all teens, thought she was immortal. Faced with her mortality and the chance of never walking again, the teen became very depressed. Glen was finally making progress when the girl’s family decided that the medical team was moving too slow. Her wealthy parents whisked her away to a private clinic. The teen didn’t want to go and Glen, who felt that they were making a breakthrough, didn’t want the girl to leave.
Both patient and therapist were devastated.
“You’re staring,” Glen stated from the comfort of the sun porch. With the specially tinted glass windows and the coolness coming from the main part of the cottage, Glen was quite comfortable even though it was hot outside. The ceiling fan with its large blades made a gentle breeze.
“Yeah, well, sue me!” Alex shouted making Glen sigh. “I love you, you idiot, and I’m worried about you.”
“Stop worrying about me!” Glen shouted back. The guys knew that this argument wasn’t going to be settled anytime soon. Alex stomped his way into the living room.
“What’s up with the kid?” Glen called back at Alex after a while. Alex had settled into an overstuffed chair with a good book.
“Can you be any less vague?”
“For the past few days the kid’s been scampering across the countryside lugging very large tree parts.”
“Tree parts? I truly wonder about you,” Alex stated shaking his head. “Could you be referring to branches?”
“Yes, branches,” Glen conceded.
“Apparently, John is building a living shed for Debbie,” Alex explained.
“A living shed. Wait! I think I know what that is,” Glen stated. Alex waited. “Nope, not there.” Alex shook his head again.
“A living shed has a rooftop garden; very rustic looking.”
“It certainly will fit in with the thatched cottage,” Glen assessed. “Speaking about tree parts.”
“Again with the tree parts,” Alex mumbled to himself.
“Do we have any idea what’s going on at the log cabin?” Glen asked with particular interest.
“No, idea.” Alex was not about to go there.
“I mean Armand is one hot Frenchman and I’ve seen Ben naked. He is one hunk of muscle-bound hunk.”
Alex rolled his eyes then gazed skyward for guidance. “Not going there,” Alex declared.
“Well you should.”
“I’m not having this conversation with you,” Alex sing-songed.
“You’re his doctor and his friend.”
“And if he approaches me as a doctor or as a friend then I’ll do whatever I can, but until then I’m staying out of it. And so should you!”
“I could go over there to work out. He has a great home gym.”
“You’re not the boss of me,” Glen shouted like a petulant child.
“And you’re acting like an ass. I know you love pushing those weights around but your doctor ordered you to lift nothing heavier than yourself. I also know that your director at the hospital is concerned for your mental health.”
“Some people should mind their own business,” Glen mumbled.
“I heard that and you are my business. I haven’t gone behind your back as you well know.” Alex put down his book then went into the porch.
“Babe, I love you. You are my life; I don’t even want to contemplate a life without you. But that’s what’s going to happen if you don’t rest your body and your mind.”
Alex pulled up a chair close to Glen’s lounger. He leaned over to give Glen a hug. Using the power of his upper body, Glen pulled Alex on top of him.
“Hey, you’re going to be squished,” Alex squawked. Glen held on tight. In a few moments Alex felt his lover silently crying.
“You’ll be all right. You are all right,” Alex murmured repeatedly.
"Mr. John," Peter said weakly, "my arms are killing me."
John looked at the lad and realized that he had been cutting pieces of log with the chainsaw for over fifteen minutes. "Okay, let's take a break," John said. "Put the chainsaw down and go ask Debbie for some water or lemonade. I'm going up to the cottage to grab a few things."
Peter and Patrick watched John walk away.
"I think my arms are going to fall off," Peter said shaking his hands to try to relieve what felt like the beginning of a cramp. "Don't your arms hurt?" he asked Patrick.
"Some," Patrick replied.
"I really do need to get some muscles. That damn chainsaw weighs a ton."
"I know," Patrick agreed. "Let's get something to drink."
Peter took a sip of Debbie's lemonade as he and Patrick sat at Debbie's kitchen table. He felt like shit, once again wondering why everything was always so hard for him.
"I can't believe John is letting you two use a fu... a chainsaw," Debbie griped.
"Dad's teaching us," Patrick said defending his father, "and we both asked to use the chainsaw."
"You asked?" Debbie repeated with a frown. "Peter...?"
"Yeah, I asked."
"You don't look very happy about asking," Debbie observed.
Peter said nothing. He was retreating into that safe place of silence that he had used for so many years.
"It's hard work," Patrick stated. "The chainsaw is really heavy."
"My point exactly," Debbie said. "You're both too young to be using a chainsaw."
"It's not our age," Patrick replied.
"I'm too weak," Peter muttered. "I'm no good at anything."
"You did just fine," Patrick told him. "You held that chainsaw as long as I did."
"And then I had to beg to put it down before I dropped it."
"That's the right thing to do," Patrick observed. "I was getting tired by the time I stopped using it."
"But not as tired as me." Peter shook his head. "I'm a ... weakling."
"No you're not," Patrick objected. "I have strong arms from baseball, and I have weights at home that I use every day."
"Yeah, if you want to be good at something, you have to work at it."
"Do you think I could get stronger if I used weights?"
"Absolutely," Patrick replied. "You can come up to the cottage and work out with me if you like."
"Can I?" Peter asked Debbie.
Debbie had remained silent while the boys worked through what was happening. She had wanted to jump in and tell Peter that everything would be just fine, but she realized that might not be true. She hoped the boys could solve this together, and apparently they had.
"Of course you can," Debbie said. "And I think maybe we could get you some weights of your own if you want them."
"Um, thanks," Peter said, "but it might be nice to have someone to work out with."
"Certainly," Debbie replied. "But if you need anything just ask."
"Okay," Peter said with a small smile.
"Got any more lemonade?" Patrick asked.
Bree finished cleaning the last kitchen cupboard. She heaved a long sigh and sat wearily down in one of the kitchen chairs. She was getting really tired of cleaning every day, every single day of her summer vacation. It was so unfair.
And Patrick had said he would help her, but he was gone all the time. He got to be out in the sunshine using a chainsaw as he had told her one evening a couple of days before. The boys were actually doing something useful and creative. They would have something to show for their work at the end of it. Not like housework - once you were done you got to do it all over again in a few days or weeks or months. Bree decided she really hated housework. When she grew up, she would have a great job and hire people to do housework and all the other things she didn't like doing.
"All done, sweetheart?"
Bree jumped. She hadn't heard anyone come up behind her. "Yes, Daddy," she said wearily.
"Good, then that's enough for today," Justin said.
"Yes, why are you surprised?"
"Dada always checks what I have done and then finds something else for me to do."
Justin chuckled. "And does your Dada ever find that you haven't done a good job?"
"No, because I always do my best," Bree affirmed.
"That's just what your Dada told me," Justin said with a smile, "so I don't see any reason to check your work. I'm sure it's perfect."
Bree smiled. "Thanks, Daddy, that makes me feel better."
"I was wondering if you felt like painting with me this afternoon?" Justin asked.
"Have you got a new idea for some paintings?"
"I want to try some abstracts based on wood grain," Justin said matter-of-factly.
"Wood grain?" Bree asked with a frown. "I don't get it. Isn't wood just wood?"
"Come into the living room," Justin said.
Bree followed her father into the living room where he approached the fireplace and pulled a piece of wood from the basket that held the wood for the fire. He held it out to Bree. "Patrick showed me this yesterday and it got me thinking."
"Thinking about what?" Bree asked as she studied the piece of wood wondering what her father saw that maybe she didn't.
"Look at the wonderful grain of the wood and how it almost makes a flower in the center."
"I was thinking I might like to use this as the basis for a series of paintings using different colors but basing the paintings on wood grains."
"That could be interesting ... and beautiful," Bree said as she finally got what her father was talking about. "I bet bark could be really interesting too."
"Of course it could," Justin agreed with a smile. "I thought I'd go to Debbie's where the boys have been using a chainsaw to cut up logs. Maybe we can find some more interesting pieces. Want to come with me?"
"Sure," Bree agreed. This day was beginning to sound a whole lot better.
A little while later they entered the backyard of the thatched cottage. John and the boys were sorting through the wood that had been cut in two inch slices.
"Hey, Justin, Bree," John greeted them. "Come to see what we're doing?"
"Partly, but I was really interested in the piece of wood Patrick showed me. I thought I might get some inspiration from the wood. Any interesting pieces that you've noticed?"
"This one I like," Patrick said as he scooped up a slice of wood he had separated from the rest.
"Hey, are you stockpiling pieces for your own use?" John demanded with fake ferocity.
"Just ones I like," Patrick replied with a grin.
John smiled at his son. "You can have anything that takes your fancy," he told Justin. "This pile is for building the shed." He pointed at a stack of wood pieces. "These are rejects." He pointed at the second pile. "I thought we could use them in the fireplaces in the winter."
Justin nodded. "Can Bree and I pick through them?"
"Most certainly, and if we notice anything interesting when we're cutting, we'll let you know."
They spent the next while examining chunks of wood. Bree picked out a couple and so did Justin. Peter even found one that was quite different. John added a few too.
"I think this should get us started," Justin said as John and the boys loaded the selected pieces into a wheelbarrow.
"Patrick, would you wheel these up to the conjoined cottages for Justin?" John requested.
"Sure," Patrick replied as he took the handles of the wheelbarrow. "Let's go."
Justin stayed behind to thank John as Bree and Patrick started up the lane.
Patrick noticed that Bree had not spoken to him since she arrived at the thatched cottage. "Are you mad at me?" he asked.
"You should know."
"I don't," Patrick said puzzled.
"You said you would help me with my summer jobs, and you're nowhere to be found."
"I've been cutting down trees and hauling logs in case you haven't noticed," Patrick protested. "What do you want from me?"
Bree sighed. "You said you would help me and you haven't and I have to work every day and it's hard and it's boring and I would like some help," Bree said in one breath.
"Sorry," Patrick replied not knowing what else to say.
"It's okay," Bree admitted. "I know you've been working too, but it's lonely cleaning all by myself."
"I'll help if I can," Patrick said hoping to make her feel better.
"I'll be all right. It's just not the summer I was hoping for."
They continued up the lane in silence.
Later that night, the boys in the meadow cottage decided to have an early night.
“Let’s go to bed,” Alex gently suggested.
“I want to watch the sun set,” Glen whispered.
“Come on,” Alex replied as he grabbed the handles of Glen’s wheelchair then pushed him outside.
“We could have watched it from the porch,” said Glen. He willingly gave up the control of his chair to his partner.
“I know but it’s better from outside. I want to hear it.” Glen looked over his shoulder at Alex and made a face. “You know what I mean.”
Alex pushed Glen’s chair onto the circular driveway. The crickets were singing in the meadow. The sunflowers were swaying in the breeze. And the colors in the sky as the sun slowly slipped below the horizon were mesmerizing.
“I’m glad we did this,” Glen said.
“Watching the sun go down?”
“Yes, that too. But I meant having this cottage built. It’s so beautiful here,” Glen said as he gazed up at the night sky. Alex slowly pushed him around the driveway. They took their time to enjoy the panoramic view. “I love you, you know.”
“We’re very lucky.”
“Yes, we are.”
“We’ve been together for thirty years.”
“Thirty plus. We survived so much. Watched close friends with solid relationships suddenly break up over trivial things.”
“And we’re still here,” said Alex as he leaned over the chair to plant a sloppy kiss onto Glen’s lips.
“Yes, we are.” Glen returned the kiss. “I thought we were going to have an early night?”
“We are,” Alex said as he pushed the chair faster toward the door making Glen laugh. Before they entered the cottage, Beau junior made an appearance. “Your pal is here.”
“His timing is impeccable,” Glen snarked.
“You get him a treat while I take a quick shower,” Alex suggested.
“Making yourself beautiful for me?”
“I’m already beautiful; I just want to be less stinky.”
“You stink? Never. I, on the other hand, am beginning to smell like a dog.”
“Well, I can take a slow shower while you send your pal on his way then you can join me.”
“What a brilliant idea!”
Alex started their shower while Glen got Beau junior his treat, a drink of water then sent him on his way. Glen smiled as Beau bolted out the door to continue his rounds. Glen began to strip off his clothes as he rolled into the bathroom and into the shower with his waiting spouse.
“The sunset here is so beautiful,” Armand commented as he and Ben watched the sun go down from the deck.
“The sunset in Paris is nothing to sneeze at,” Ben replied.
“One drawback of living in the city of lights is that sometimes the simple pleasures can be obscured. Here on your lane, you live simply and as a result, there is clarity.”
“I wish that were true,” Ben revealed. “I really wish that were true,” he said as he abruptly stood up, shaking the heavy deck chair. “Good night,” Ben growled as he left his shocked guest alone.
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