Epilogue – Decisions and Choices
Ben pondered the summer as he slowed to open the gates of Edna Treasures Lane. He knew his family and friends thought him insane, spending the entire summer with a stranger. Albeit a very good looking, sexy, and highly intelligent French stranger. Ben became painfully aware that it was time for him to pull his head out of his tight gluteus maximus and decide what the hell he was going to do with his life and his marriage. As the gates swung open, the proverbial light bulb went off over Ben’s head.
“Ben’s back,” Emmett said as he was pushing a cart laden with goodies up the lane. He and the kids were bringing all sorts of delectable things to eat to the B&B cottage in preparation for the Labor Day family barbeque. The kitchen in the B&B had a huge industrial refrigerator that was perfect for storing Emmett’s delicacies and plenty of cabinet space for snacks.
“And he’s alone,” commented Richie.
“What happened to Armand?” Candy asked.
“Good question,” Emmett grumbled as they pushed the heavy cart through the large cottage doors.
“Carl!” Debbie shrieked even though Carl was only a few feet away, comfortable in his favorite over-stuffed chair. Debbie was sitting in her favorite chair by the front window watching the life on the lane.
“What?” Carl shouted back, just because he could. Peter quietly snickered from the kitchen. Peter loved his new-ish and especially noisy family.
“Ben just drove up,” Debbie loudly replied.
“Shall I notify the Times?” Carl snarked behind his newspaper. Peter wisely kept quiet as he went out the kitchen door into the yard. “Is he alone?” Carl finally asked, ignoring the laser beam glare that he knew was boring a hole through his head.
“I think so. I wonder what happened to the Frenchman?”
“Met his Waterloo, I guess,” Carl mumbled then returned to his paper.
Peter stood outside in the yard admiring the new shed, the living shed. With Brian’s input, the top of the shed with its gentle slope was alive with greenery. Brian suggested they fill in some of the bare spots with hardy English ivy. Not only did the ivy take hold quickly, some of its tendrils were already flowing over the sides of the shed, softening the appearance of the edges.
“You should be proud of yourself,” John said as he came around the side of the house with a lasagna pan in his hand. He was heading for the kitchen to return the pan when he saw Peter.
“Whoa, there pardner, no self-deprecating remarks, young man. You did a lot, you both did,” John said referring to Patrick. “You both followed directions, you hauled ass, no one got hurt. And look at the finished product!” John pointed the pan toward the shed. “Is Debbie happy?” he asked.
“Very, but I think Carl is happier. All the extra jars and stuff are out of the yard and the kitchen. I have to admit there’s a lot more room in the kitchen now,” Peter said with a grin. John laughed as he nodded with understanding.
The lane had a never ending supply of fresh tomato sauce, various gravies and homemade soups. Now Debbie had someplace to store not only her gardening tools but in a separate part of the shed, her canning supplies. John also made sure there was a smooth path from the kitchen door to the door of the shed. Just in case Debbie just had to make a vat of soup for someone in the middle of a winter storm.
John put the pan down on a picnic table to give Peter a hug. “You did great, Peter. And if you’re really sure that building is in your future then I’ll be with you every step of the way,” John assured the boy. Peter smiled up at the man who showed such faith in him. “Here, give this back to Debbie with our thanks. It was delicious as usual,” John said as he handed the pan to Peter. Peter nodded as he took the pan inside.
“Is that Ben?” George asked Rachel who was doing a little weeding in her front garden that faced the lane. He had come out of the door to give his hard working wife a glass of water. She stood up to look down the lane as she took a good long drink.
“Yes, it is. He looks like he’s alone. What did Ben do with Armand?” asked Rachel.
“I’m sure Ben didn’t shove Armand under the bed or in a closet,” George stated.
“I wonder where he went?” Rachael asked as she finished off her water then handed the glass back to George.
“Well, wherever he went, I’m sure we’ll hear about it soon,” George said as he took the empty glass inside and Rachel continued her weeding.
“So are we staying for the barbeque or not?” Glen asked his obstinate spouse.
The boys were having a rather loud discussion regarding their return to the city. Alex wanted to leave the lane right after the barbeque to miss the holiday traffic while Glen wanted to stay for the after barbeque breakfast at the conjoined cottage. Right now the odds were in Glen’s favor especially when Glen turned on the pout and batted his eyes at Alex.
“Sometimes I regret encouraging you to get that psychology degree,” Alex grumbled. Glen burst out laughing and so did Alex.
The extended summer on the lane turned out much better than Alex had hoped for. Glen truly needed the time out to rest, relax, and recharge his soul. They were both ready to go back to the city and back to work with renewed energy.
“Alex, we can leave the barbeque early to drive back. I really don’t mind,” Glen conceded.
“No, babe, I’m being an idiot. Neither of us have patients until the following week. We can wait until Tuesday to go home. It’s not like we live that far away; we can even stay until Friday.”
“You spoil me,” Glen exclaimed with love in his eyes.
“Not at all. You put up with my nagging,” Alex said.
“And you put up with my bullshit,” Glen countered.
“Then I say we’re made for each other,” Alex said as he bent over to give Glen a loving kiss.
“Do we have to be anywhere in the next hour or two?” Glen asked against Alex’s lips.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Alex replied. “Although I did receive a very cryptic message from Emmett. Something about a missing Frenchman,” he said with a lovesick smile. Glen slowly rolled his chair backward toward their bedroom. Alex’s lips plus the rest of him shuffled across the floor in pursuit.
“I suggest we leave Emmett to worry about the Frenchman. We have more important things to do right now,” Glen stated with authority.
“How did you get to be so smart?” Alex asked as he followed his spouse into bed.
“All those psychology classes,” Glen said as he took control of the situation.
Brian, dressed in his gardening attire of overalls and straw hat, was in his garden wrestling with his own weeds. Not that his garden wasn’t already pristine, but Brian took pride in his blooms and shrubs. He felt it was his duty to make sure his garden was weed free for their annual Labor Day barbeque. And now that Bree was once again speaking to him, she was happily weeding and clearing up around the Wendy house. She was also in charge of the narrow flowerbed near the base of the cottage that edged the path from the front of the conjoined cottages to the yard.
“Dada, will Uncle Ben and Mr. Armand come to the barbecue?”
“I have no idea, Squirt. I haven’t spoken to Ben in several days,” Brian replied with a touch of sadness in his voice. ‘More like weeks,’ Brian thought to himself. He missed his friend and confidant. Brian was also missing Michael who had avoided the lane since early July.
“Have you called Uncle Ben yet? I saw him drive up to the cabin an hour ago,” Bree said while she dug up a small dandelion.
“Do you think I should?” Brian asked as he raked in fresh mulch between the pruned shrubs.
“Yes, Dada, I think you should,” Bree said as she stood up with her hands on her hips. Brian knew that look; he had seen it often enough through the years on Justin’s face.
“Understood, General Squirt,” Brian said with an amused expression and a salute. “May I finish weeding before I call Ben?”
“Yes, you may, Dada,” Bree said with confidence as she went back to her section of the flowerbed.
“Thank you, Squirt,” said Brian as he resumed weeding.
It was dusk before Brian was satisfied with his efforts. The yard lights automatically came on bathing his blooms in an amber light. Bree had finished up her patch of the yard earlier then went inside to clean up and help with dinner.
“Bri, dinner’s ready, it’s time to come in,” Justin called out of the sun porch door.
Brian took another look around his garden, pleased with what he saw.
“It’s beautiful,” said Justin as he walked outside, sidled up to Brian and wrapped his arm around Brian’s waist. Brian hesitated for a second before sliding his arm around Justin’s shoulder.
“I stink,” Brian said with a smirk.
“I know,” replied Justin with a grin and waggle of his eyebrows.
“Do I have time for a quick shower before dinner?”
“We always have time for a shower,” Justin said.
“They’ll talk,” Brian said with a smirk.
“They always talk,” Justin countered.
“Dinner will get cold.”
“I’ll make us up a couple of plates for later and put them in the warming oven,” Justin replied.
“You have an answer for everything, don’t you, Sunshine?”
“Of course, I do, I’m brilliant that way,” Justin smugly stated.
“Yes, you are,” Brian said as he cupped Justin’s face to bestow a kiss.
“I’ll meet you in the shower,” Justin said when they came up for air.
Later on after a vigorous playtime in the shower, the boys quickly toweled off then flopped onto their bed. They played, wrestled, and made love for hours. Finally when the need for sustenance temporarily took precedence over their need for sex, the boys got up and went to the kitchen.
“It’s too late for dinner,” Justin commented as he shoveled slices of roasted chicken into his mouth.
“I think you mean it’s too early,” Brian said as he lifted his eyes toward the clock on the wall. It was nearing one in the morning. “The hordes will be descending at any moment.”
“Stop exaggerating,” Justin admonished followed by a loud belch.
“You so love me,” Justin teased while nibbling on potatoes.
Brian could only laugh. After all their years together, the boys played hard, loved hard, and bickered just as hard.
Suddenly Brian stilled.
“What’s wrong?” Justin asked with concern when he sensed a change in Brian.
“Ben. Michael. Take your pick.”
“You should call them.”
“Bree gave me the same advice. Actually, she practically demanded that I call Ben.”
“And did you?”
“I had planned to after dinner, but I was distracted,” Brian said as he gave Justin a poignant look.
“I have no clue to what you’re referring,” Justin said with seemingly innocent eyes.
“Uh huh,” Brian replied with a tinge of snark.
“Brian, if you’re that concerned, go over there in the morning and talk to him,” Justin said seriously.
“You’re right. Bree’s right,” Brian said with a huff. He stood to begin clearing the table.
“You’ve barely eaten anything!”
“I’m fine, Sunshine. Let’s go back to bed.” Brian held out his hand for Justin. Hand in hand the boys went back to bed.
The next morning, Brian was up and out on the lane heading for the log cabin. Something made Brian set his internal alarm for ‘early.’ As he suspected, Ben’s car had been pulled as close to the front door as possible and the trunk lid was up. Brian sauntered through the open cabin door.
“Hey, Professor!” Brian called out, startling Ben who was attempting to escape unobserved. He failed.
“Fuck, Brian! You scared the life out of me,” Ben exclaimed when his feet came back down to earth. “Why are you here?”
“Apparently preventing you from leaving without saying goodbye,” Brian growled, his eyebrow arched with menace. “Sit,” Brian commanded as he pointed to a nearby chair.
Ben sat and so did Brian.
“I’m not here to change your mind or to pry but do you have any fucking clue what you’re going to do with your marriage? What about Mikey? And where the fuck is the French fry?!”
“Armand went home. I drove him to the airport yesterday. I’m going back to Pittsburgh this morning. Preferably before the family invades.”
“Not up to seeing them?” Brian asked with understanding.
“Not really. You all thought I was crazy inviting Armand to stay. Can you imagine all the questions I’ll get when the entire family gets here? I’m just not up for that,” Ben said. He took a good look at Brian’s face. “Go ahead, ask me.”
“Are you in love with Armand?”
“Not the question I was expecting but, no I’m not. I could have been; it would have been so easy. It took all my resolve not to fuck him on every available flat surface.”
“Language, Professor,” Brian grinned. Ben blushed. “Why didn’t you?”
“Why?” Brian gently asked.
“I couldn’t do that to Michael.”
“You still love him?” Ben nodded. “What are you going to do about it?”
“I’m going back to the city but I don’t think I can go home just yet,” Ben began. “And before you ask, as strong as Michael is, I’m sure I’ve hurt him. It wouldn’t be fair for me to just go back home and expect him to let me back into his bed. I haven’t seen him in two months.”
“It appears you have a lot of groveling to do and ass kissing if you want to get your hubby back,” Brian teased.
“Yes, I do. I don’t think this is going to be easy.”
“Agreed. Mikey can be one stubborn little guy,” Brian stated. “Do you have a plan?”
“Sort of, but I need a huge favor.”
“May I stay at your loft for a while? I have to find out if Michael wants me back. If he does then my plan is to court him.”
“Court him?” Brian made a face.
“You know what I mean; woo him. Take him out on dates. We have to get to know each other again.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“Then somehow I’ll convince him to give me a chance,” Ben said with determination.
Brian nodded. “Are you prepared to work your way back to him?”
“Yes. This time away has made me realize that despite our obvious differences, we were good together for a very long time. Somewhere along the line we forgot about that. And I forgot why I fell in love with him in the first place,” Ben admitted.
Brian stared at his friend for a moment. “You still have your keys to the building and the loft?” Ben nodded. “I didn’t change your password. Stay as long as you like. I’ll let the cleaning lady know. Just be careful with my shit, play safe and no tricks after midnight.”
“Thank you, Brian,” Ben said with sincerity as he hugged his friend. Brian accepted the hug for a moment then pushed Ben away.
“You better hurry up and haul ass out of here. My spidey senses are tingling. The hordes are about to descend. Take care of yourself, Professor. And practice your puckering,” Brian snarked as he was about to leave.
“Yes, for all the ass kissing you’re about to do.” With that, Brian walked out of the cabin to head back home.
Brian was immediately attacked from all fronts as soon as he stepped through the cottage door. The lane residents were crammed into the kitchen of the conjoined cottages. They wanted a report and they wanted it now.
“One, Ben’s leaving now to go back to the Pitts,” Brian began. There were cheers. “Two, the French fry flew back to Paris.” More cheering ensued. “Three, Ben will be staying at the loft for a while.” Some grumbling was heard. “Four, he’s planning to court Mikey.” Many puzzled and curious remarks were made. “You know, courting, like going out on dates and shit,” Brian attempted to explain.
“Oooh, a date; something that you never took me on,” Justin teased.
“We went out,” Brian countered.
“No, we didn’t, we just went to find new and interesting places to….” Justin didn’t finish his sentence in deference to young ears.
“I get it, Sunshine,” Brian said, gazing upward for guidance. “Bottom line, excuse the pun, Ben is going back to Pittsburgh to try to get his husband back.” The cottage erupted with applause and lots of cheering.
“And it’s about fucking time too!” Debbie added in her own unique style.
Ben never understood why Brian hired doormen for the Tremont building but on this occasion, Ben was grateful. He didn’t realize how much stuff he had accumulated while at the cabin. Plus, he still had most of his belongings left in storage in the basement of the Tremont building. Since Ben was going back to work, he was going to need his “school” clothes. The doorman helped Ben shove everything into the elevator. Most of the building’s tenants were heading for the lane for the holiday weekend, so Ben had plenty of time to get his stuff off the elevator and into Brian’s loft without fear that the elevator was going to be needed.
At first Ben did the usual things, like placing whatever perishables he brought with him into the refrigerator. Checking his office voicemail. Opening a few windows to air out the place then starting to unpack. Ben was placing his toiletry bag in the bathroom when he realized he was procrastinating. He should have called Michael to let him know he was back. Ben called the house. He smiled when he heard Michael’s voice say “hello.”
“You’ve reached the Novotny home, please leave a message after the beep.”
“What the…? Uh, hi Michael. I’m back in Pittsburgh. Um, give me a call. Bye.”
Ben stared at his phone.
“Idiot! You should’ve called his cell,” Ben grumbled to himself. He immediately hit number one on his speed dial.
“You’ve reached Michael’s cell, you know what to do!”
“Uh, hi Michael, it’s Ben. I’m home, I mean here in Pittsburgh. I’d love to see you, go to dinner. Call me, please.”
‘That sounded nice and desperate,’ Ben thought to himself. “Where the fuck is he? The store,” Ben said as he bopped himself in the forehead. “He’s got to be there.” Ben dialed again.
“Comic book store; how may I help you?”
“JR! Oh thank the gods. How are you, Sweetheart?”
“Hi. Where are you?”
“At the loft.”
“Brian’s loft?” JR asked.
“The one and only. I’m going to stay here until I patch things up with Michael. May I speak to him?”
“He’s not here,” JR said.
“Where is he? And why are you there? The family will miss you at the barbeque.”
“No, they won’t. We’re only open a half day today. As soon as Jacqueline gets here, we’ll be on the road.”
“And Michael? Is your dad going too?”
“I don’t think so. He has a full schedule today.”
“But you said you’re closing.”
“Oh sorry, I didn’t mean here. Dad’s at the Jason Kemp Center and then he’ll be going to the Grassi House. Ooo, I have to go, I have customers. I'm so glad you’re back. I missed you. Love you!” Then JR hung up.
“Well, fuck me!” Ben swore out loud as he sat down hard, surrounded by his possessions. And no Michael Novotny-Bruckner to be found.
“Now what the hell do I do?”
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