He was moaning with pleasure as a moist tongue was doing delicious things to his chest. Strong, yet gentle hands held his trim waist firmly in place as his treasure trail was kissed then followed. The fine hairs were nosed along the way until the ultimate destination was reached and…
“Holy shit!” Ben sat up in his bed with a startled gasp, one hand clasping the sheets to his bared chest while the other searched for the lamp switch. He quickly turned on the light as his eyes swept the bedroom confirming he was indeed alone. A wave of relief tinged with sadness washed over him. “It was a dream. It was all a dream,” he murmured to himself.
Michael had left the lane some time on the Fourth. At least they had parted on good terms. Michael appeared to be serious about his resolution to become a better man. Ben had no doubt in Michael’s abilities; Michael was stubborn that way. The apprehension Ben was feeling was in his own abilities, his own sincerity and devotion to those vows he had exchanged with Michael. Especially with his very handsome and very available house guest currently sleeping in one of the bedrooms above.
“What was I thinking?” Ben shook his head. He glanced at the bedside clock; it was going on four in the morning. There was no good reason to be awake at this time of the morning. Unfortunately, parts of Ben were very much awake, demanding attention. As he took matters into his own hands, his thoughts meandered back to that moist tongue and the delicious things it was doing.
“Where the hell are they?” Justin mumbled around the end of a paint brush to no one in particular, as he studied his latest canvas.
The conjoined cottage was enjoying the quiet. With help from all the lane residents, the lane homes and yards had sufficiently recovered from the July Fourth festivities. Life was returning to normal, so to speak, with one interesting exception.
“Who’re you talking to, Sunshine?”
Justin jumped about three feet up into the air. “Geez-zus, Brian, wear a bell, will ya!” Justin yelled when he touched down and caught his breath.
Unrepentant, Brian smirked.
“I was just wondering if anyone has seen them since the barbecue,” Justin stated. He spared his spouse a glare then got back to work.
“I haven’t, since they disappeared inside the log house,” Brian snarked. “However, I know that someone’s alive. Their trash can was at the usual pick up spot early this morning then vanished when I went to check for mail. I can only assume Ben put it out then got it later,” Brian explained.
“You know what happens when you assume…” Justin murmured. Brian knew by the look on Justin’s face that no further intelligent conversation was forthcoming. Their artist was in artist mode.
Brian, dressed for gar-gar, retrieved his hat then went through the sun porch door. After about a very successful hour of wrestling with various weeds, he stood amongst the blooms to survey his work. He smiled.
“Here, Dada,” Bree called out as she approached with a bottle of water and handed it to her father. Brian took a good long drink, removed his hat then poured the rest over his head.
“Have you done today’s chores?”
“Some of them,” Bree said with a bowed head.
“Uh huh.” Brian arched a brow. “Thank you for the water, Squirt. Now I believe you have a list to attend to.” Bree nodded her head then went back inside the cottage.
Bree headed for the bedroom. She had her list of required things to do on her desk. She glanced at it and let out a long sigh. She had made her bed and picked up her room, but that was only two of the nine thousand things on her list. She picked up a pencil and drew a line through the ones she had accomplished. She grabbed the pencil in her fist and drew it through the items she was checking off again and again. She pressed as hard as she could, almost tearing the paper. She frowned so hard it almost gave her a headache. She wanted to rip up the awful list and flush it down the toilet, but she knew her fathers would only make a new one.
She dropped the pencil and walked over to her bed where she threw herself down, giving the mattress a couple of hard punches to show how annoyed she was by this whole process.
Bree rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. Life was so unfair sometimes. It was a beautiful summer day and her Dada was doing gar-gar. She would have loved to do that with him, but he wouldn't allow it because he knew how much she liked them working on the gardens together. That was their time and their project. But now she was being punished. Her Dada wouldn't even let her do the jobs she liked to do. Instead, she was supposed to clean the damn toilets. She ground her teeth in frustration.
"What are you doing, Squirt?" a voice asked from outside her bedroom door.
Bree jumped a foot off the bed at the sound of the voice. "Nothing, Dada," she said contritely.
"Is that what you are supposed to be doing - nothing?" Brian asked.
"I was just ... taking a break."
"Is your break over?"
"I guess so," Bree sighed as she sat up.
"Good. I'm going to take a shower and I expect your bathroom to be pristine when I come out."
"Pristine?" Bree asked with a frown.
"Is that better than clean?" Bree asked coyly.
"You know what pristine means," Brian stated.
"Okaaaay," Bree sighed.
"Good girl," Brian said suppressing a smile. "And when you get your bathroom done you can do ours next."
Bree groaned loudly. "Do I hafta?"
"You know the deal you made with your father."
"Okay, okay," Bree griped as she headed for her bathroom.
She had all this work to do, things she hated doing, things everybody hated doing. And her Dada seemed to have lost his sense of humor. He was sticking to the letter of the law. And the summer was just beginning. Bree didn't know how she would ever survive a whole summer of this. It was so unfair. How could her parents be so mean?
When she was finally done - the toilet, the sink, the shower, the floor, the countertop, all the towels changed - Bree stood back and looked around. It was - pristine. Her Dada better like it, or she was going to go ballistic.
"Are you done?" Brian asked from the doorway behind her.
Bree jumped again. "Will you stop sneaking up on me?" she demanded.
"I asked you a question," Brian said with that ominous raised eyebrow.
"I'm done, and you better like it," Bree stated glaring at her father.
"I better like it, had I?" Brian asked with a tone that told Bree she might have gone just a smidge too far.
"I hope you like it," Bree amended.
"That sounds better. I hope I like it too," Brian said as he glanced around the bathroom. He looked in the toilet, opened the shower door and ran his fingers over the tiles.
Bree held her breath. The bathroom better be okay.
"I'd say this bathroom is..."
"What, Dada - okay, satisfactory, mediocre, unacceptable, great - what?"
"I'd say this bathroom is ... pristine," Brian said with a smile.
"Oh, Dada!" Bree screeched as she flung herself into her father's embrace. "I love you."
"I love you too, Squirt."
After a couple of minutes they released each other and Brian smiled at his daughter.
"I thought nothing I did would ever be good enough," Bree admitted.
"You did a great job on this bathroom," Brian told her. "It doesn't matter that you had to do it, it's the value of always doing your best in any situation," he counseled.
"Thank you, Dada," Bree said. She smiled for the first time that day.
"Now, if you do this good a job on my bathroom..."
Bree's face fell. For a fleeting moment she had forgotten how much she still had to do.
Brian noted his daughter's reaction. "When you finish our bathroom and it is declared pristine," Brian repeated, "then that will be enough for today. You can work on the other chores tomorrow. I think you've earned an ice cream at the general store."
Bree's face broke into a smile. "Really, Dada?"
"Are you coming with me?" she asked.
"Of course I am. How else are you going to get there? Or did you learn to drive while I wasn't looking?" Brian asked with a smirk.
"Silly Dada," Bree said with a grin. It was nice to feel that her father loved and respected her once again. She hadn't felt that way for the last few days. Maybe she could get through this summer after all.
Later after dinner the boys were lounging in the sun porch reviewing their day while Patrick and Bree were in Patrick’s room playing video games. Every once in a while the boys would hear a “boom” followed by a cheer when the forces of good triumphed over the forces of evil. Brian and Justin were sharing a chaise.
“I never got the fascination of playing computer games,” Bobby stated. He was enjoying a cold beer. “I’d rather be outside playing baseball.”
“I was more interested in drawing than computers,” Justin commented. “Then someone opened my eyes to drawing on the computer,” he said with love in his voice. He gave Brian a poignant look. “What about you?” Justin asked John.
“We really didn’t have the money for a computer. Our local library had a few that I could use if I needed to write something when I was in college. Most of the time I used my mother’s old typewriter,” John explained.
“Ah, yes, the dark ages,” Brian teased. He got a familiar glare for that one. “But I know what you mean. We had a computer lab in high school that I used for my reports. Old Jack never had the money for a computer.” Brian refrained from saying out loud that whatever extra money Jack did have, he drank away.
“Uh, not to change the subject, but has anyone seen Ben and his guest lately?” Bobby asked.
“I haven’t but I’ve been glued to a canvas all afternoon,” Justin said as he pointed up. There were several new canvases hanging from the rafters. A few more had been crated up awaiting transport to the city.
“I was out early. The lane was dark when I left this morning,” John added. “I didn’t notice anyone when I came home.”
“Do you think Ben and Albert are doing the nasty?” Brian asked. The boys grumbled and admonished Brian, however if pressed, they would have to admit they were all thinking the same thing. Minus the obvious name snafu.
“His name is Armand,” Justin pointed out.
“Oh, didn’t I say that, Sunshine?” Brian asked with the innocence of a baby viper.
“You’re incorrigible,” Justin stated the obvious. John and Bobby wisely remained out of the test of wills.
“That goes without saying,” Brian proudly admitted. “Seriously,” Brian began after a few moments, “should we be doing something?”
“What can we do?” Bobby asked.
“I don’t think there’s anything we can do,” Justin sadly observed.
“I think this falls under the category of things we shouldn’t get involved in,” John pronounced. “Michael met Armand and knows he and Ben are here. If he’s not freaking out then maybe we shouldn’t either.”
“Yeah, and that’s another thing. Why isn’t Mikey calling me every ten seconds,” Brian put out there.
“Maybe he’s really serious about getting his own act together,” Bobby said. The boys nodded in agreement. “But it is a little weird that your cell isn’t buzzing every five minutes.” The boys nodded again.
“It does seem a little odd that Ben appears to be going through a mid-life crisis while Michael is turning out to be the reasonable one,” John observed.
Brian stood from his lounger and walked over to the windows. He stared out and up toward the sky.
“What are you doing?” John asked.
“Looking for flying pigs,” Brian replied before returning to the chaise. John rolled his eyes while Bobby and Justin laughed. “I hate to admit it but you’re right. The only thing we can do is be there for either one of them to give them support if needed. And who knows, once the professor takes a walk on the wild side, he’ll get all of it out of his system then return to the fold, so to speak.”
“Bri-ian!” Justin scolded.
“I’m not saying he will, but he’s a man. A very good looking gay man whose house guest is another very good looking gay man. Shit happens sometimes, Sunshine. We shouldn’t judge.”
“I hate to say it but he does have a point,” Bobby said as he went to his kitchen for more beer. He came back with four more bottles. “Sometimes a wild oat or two must be sown.”
“And we don’t have the right to approve or disapprove,” John added.
“No, I guess we don’t, but we may be the ones picking up the pieces after,” Justin said.
The boys again nodded in agreement. The silence was becoming too silent.
“So what’s everyone doing tomorrow?” Brian quickly asked.
“I have a new client to meet,” Bobby replied, happy with the change of subject.
“Lindsay’s sending the truck for my paintings. I think I’ll follow it back to the gallery,” Justin said to them. “Do you want to come with me? You can shake up the office for a while then we can go to lunch.” Justin smiled sweetly; his blues eyes twinkled at his spouse.
“Great idea, Sunshine. What about you, big brother, do you have any plans for tomorrow?”
“John?” Bobby sat up to look at his usually straight shooting spouse.
“Why do I get the feeling another cottage might sprout up on the lane this summer,” Brian grumbled as he pinched the bridge of his nose.
“John, are you planning another cottage,” Bobby directly asked.
“Not really. It’s a shed, a living shed. For Debbie,” John added.
“Why does Debbie need a shed?” Brian groused.
“Since Debbie and Carl moved here, she finally got that garden she’s been talking about,” John began.
With the help of Todd’s garden center, Debbie had a couple of raised beds set up. She planted tomatoes, peppers, onions, and several herbs. It kept her active and the family had an unending supply of homemade tomato sauce. However, Debbie’s gardening tools were beginning to take over the thatched cottage backyard. Not to mention the supply of jars Deb used to hold all her sauce. Carl had come to John in search of a solution.
“Okay, I get the need for a shed. We have our own very nice and useful shed, but what the fuck is a living shed?” Brian asked.
“It’s a shed with a garden on the roof. Usually, it’s wild grasses, maybe a few wild flowers or moss. It just softens up the look of the shed. If you want I’ll add a couple of windows with window boxes. You and Bree can fill them with flowers,” John said with a smirk. He knew Brian couldn’t resist an empty window box.
“And how much is this going to cost? Deb and Carl aren’t made out of money.”
“Don’t worry, I have plenty of scrap wood that’s been aged in the sun. I can probably frame it within a day or two then start on the walls and basic roof,” John assured Brian.
“You can have Patrick and Peter to help,” Bobby suggested. “Maybe get Brian to strap on the old toolbelt,” Bobby said with a snicker making Justin blush.
“Now, there’s an image,” John said with a chuckle.
“When did this turn into pick on Brian night,” Brian grumbled. Justin reached up to peck his chin to soften the blow. Brian reciprocated with a peck to Justin’s nose. “John, let me know when you’re planning to raise the roof. I can be on hand to help,” Brian said with a gentle smile. They all knew how much Brian loved Debbie.
“Of course, I will. And I’ll send you a picture of the basic structure so you’ll understand the look I’m going for,” John said. “I’ll share the picture with all of you.”
The boys chatted quietly for the rest of evening until Brian grabbed Justin’s wrist to check the time. “Well, boys, I think it’s time for me to take my husband to bed,” Brian said with a smirk as he stood up taking Justin with him.
“What about Bree?” Justin asked.
“Don’t worry about her; she worked hard on her list of chores. She deserves a break. I’m sure Patrick will send her to her room when they’re done saving the world,” Brian assured his spouse. John and Bobby promised to not let her stay up for too much longer.
The boys said good night then retired to their own cottages.
“Bri, are you sure they’ll be okay,” Justin asked as Brian ran a soapy puff across Justin’s back. They were enjoying a nice leisurely shower.
“The kids will be fine.”
“No, I mean Ben and Michael,” Justin said as Brian began to shampoo Justin’s golden locks. Brian took delight in his ministrations as did Justin. But for Brian it was something more, he had a deep seated need to take care of Justin, all of Justin.
“I’d like to say I’m not worried about them. Even though Mikey can be a pain in the ass, I do love him.”
“I know you do.” Justin turned around in Brian’s arms to look up into the concerned hazel eyes.
“I have no clue what will happen. I’m hoping Ben will wake up and smell the coffee then send Alfred packing.”
“Oh you,” Justin said shaking his head. Some things never changed and Justin was happy they didn’t. “Let’s go to bed,” Justin whispered against Brian’s lips.
They quickly finished their shower and were soon cuddling in their bed.
“I love you, Sunshine,” Brian murmured as he nibbled Justin’s soft neck.
“Love you too,” Justin replied as he gave himself over to his lover.
Ben and Armand entered the cabin from the back patio. They had spent most of the evening outside enjoying a cool breeze that chased away the daytime heat. Ben had enjoyed their lively conversation regarding world politics, art, and global warming. It was nice conversing with someone who understood important issues rather than the color of the latest garden gnome in someone’s front yard.
Ben paused for a moment. “That’s cruel,” he murmured to himself in anger.
“What’s wrong, my friend?” Armand asked with concern.
“Oh nothing, just my mind wandering.”
“You need time to recover from your recent…unpleasantness,” Armand stated with some hesitation as he searched for the correct words. The words, “I can help you to forget,” hung in the air unsaid.
“I think I’ll turn in,” Ben said choosing his words carefully. “I’ll see you in the morning.” Ben said with a smile.
“Of course. Rest well,” Armand said as he slowly ascended the stairs to the upper level. He turned to give Ben a lovely smile. Ben couldn’t help returning the smile.
“Good night,” Ben called out before darting into his room then shutting the door behind him. “What is wrong with me?” Ben said out loud. “Oh great, I’m talking to myself. Now I know I’m losing it,” Ben growled as he stripped out of his clothes then threw himself into the shower.
Afterwards, with one towel wrapped around his waist and another to dry his hair, Ben sat on the edge of his bed. The shower did its trick, he felt so much calmer. Ben was about to search for a clean pair of sleep pants when he heard a quiet knock on his bedroom door.
“Yes,” said Ben as he opened the door and that’s when his towel dropped from his waist.
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