“Hello! Hello?” Debbie called out as she slowly entered the log cabin.
“Out here, Ma,” Michael replied. “We’re in the back,” he added.
Debbie looked around as she leisurely walked through the cabin toward the backyard. Since the cabin was built, it saw little use. Hunter and his Dr. Nick would spend time here each Spring but they were the only ones who visited regularly, until now.
“Such a waste,” Debbie murmured to herself as she looked around. “Seems like a sad place. Maybe it’ll liven up now,” Deb said to herself as she walked out the patio doors.
“What’s that Ma?” Michael asked as he kissed his mother’s cheek.
“Nothing, just thinking out loud.”
“About what?” Michael asked as he led his mother to a chair.
“It’s just nice to see some life in this place,” Debbie said as she sat. “How are you and Ben getting along?” She smiled at her son then turned her head toward Ben. He was busy typing away on his laptop. “How’s he doing?” she asked, nodding her head toward Ben.
“Great. He’s halfway through chapter two,” Michael proudly said with a broad grin.
“That’s wonderful!” Debbie crowed.
“Oh hi, Deb,” Ben said as he looked up from his laptop when he realized they had company. “How are you?”
“Very well; thank you for asking,” Debbie replied as she tossed a dirty look to her son. “At least someone around here has manners.”
“What can we do for you, Debbie?” Ben asked as he stood up, stretching the kinks out of his shoulders.
“Nothing, except join us for dinner. I’m making lasagna.”
“Ma, you know Ben doesn’t eat beef.” Debbie held up her hands to ward off the protesting.
“I’m using free range organic turkey and chicken and whole wheat pasta,” Debbie pointed out wagging a brightly red polished finger for emphasis. “Dinner is at six. Don’t be late.”
The boys nodded as Deb heard, “Yes, Ma.” And an “Of course, Debbie.”
Satisfied with their response, Debbie stood up to go. “I’ll see myself out.”
“Did you convince them?” Carl asked his wife as she came through the door.
“Yup. It wasn’t all that hard.”
“They’re probably looking forward to a home cooked meal,” Carl commented.
“I guess I better start it,” Deb said as she walked to the kitchen. “The sauce will take some time.”
“Do you want help?” Carl volunteered.
“Thank you, Honey, but I can handle it. I think I’ll make extra for the boys to take home and a tray for Brian, maybe a small tray for Rachel.”
Carl smiled as his wife mumbled and calculated. He gave her a peck on the cheek then let her know he and Peter were going to the General Store for dessert. They had freshly baked pies that sold out fast.
“Good idea,” Debbie agreed then started pulling out pots, pans, and lasagna trays.
“You ready to do this, Sonny Boy?” a familiar voice drawled over the phone.
“I sure am, Pop,” came the reply in a similar drawl.
“Just stick to the plan and you’ll be fine.”
“I know, Pop, but I don’t want to let you down.”
“You never have before. What makes you think you will now?”
“This is different, I’m doing this on my own.”
“No you’re not, Shane and Molly will be right there with you. They’re both smart and have common sense. Plus you have Ray. I’ve read all the contracts he’s written; he’s brilliant. Besides, Sonny Boy, I’m only a phone call away. You can call me day or night.”
“Thanks, Pop. I’ll remind you of that when I wake you up at three in the morning with a question.”
“Say goodbye, Gus.”
A distinguished man in his forties who could pass for younger, walked past a large glass enclosed conference room. On the inside of the thick glass hung stylish ecru colored drapes. The drapes were closed but one was able to make out the shadows of the men and women in the room. The door was shut.
“What’s going on in there?” the man asked one of his co-workers who was sitting at her desk.
“Where have you been?” The woman looked up. The man gave her a blank stare that made her chuckle. “I forgot, you’ve been on holiday. There’s been talk of a merger.”
“Another one? Pierre turned down a perfectly good offer earlier this year. What makes you think he’ll go through with it this time?”
“Maybe he wasn’t ready last time. Or maybe it wasn’t a legitimate offer.”
“Not a legitimate offer? Chloe, don’t you know anything? Max Jacobs is one of the most prominent businessmen on the continent. Pierre was a fool not to take his offer,” the man sneered.
“If you’re so dissatisfied with your work here then why do you stay? Go work for Jacobs.”
“Because it’s convenient. Because the commissions are good. Because I like…”
“Why are you always so bitter?” his co-worker said with disgust.
“Because a long time ago I could have had everything! A ready-made family with a beautiful wife and a darling baby boy, living in a quaint home in the middle of an American city.”
“So what happened?”
“Nothing I care to discuss with you. It’s time to get to work,” the man said with a sneer. He strutted off to a small office at the other end of the floor.
“How do like Paris?” Pierre asked Gus.
“It’s beautiful, but you already know that. I wish we had more time to sightsee but if we can come to an agreement, we’ll be back to explore more of the city,” replied Gus.
Ray nodded in agreement. Then took over the conversation. “As you can see,” Ray began as he handed the contract to Pierre. “The Bellerose agency will retain full creative power, but with the backing of Kinnetik you’ll have the opportunity to take on more avant-garde projects,” Ray explained.
Pierre’s lawyer was reading his own copy of the unusual contract. Every once in a while he’d lean toward Molly and they’d whisper back and forth in French.
“Is there a problem?” Gus asked.
“No,” Molly replied. “Stéphane remarked that he had never seen a merger contract this generous.”
“Aye,” Shane piped up. Until then he sat quietly observing the proceedings. “I had the same thought when Brian approached me.”
“And what did you do?” Molly asked, translating for Stéphane.
“Research. Lots and lots of research and made several overseas calls to Joseph Reilly of Perspectives. He had only good things to say,” Shane explained. Pierre and Stéphane nodded with understanding.
“If the Genderless campaign is an example of Kinnetik’s creativity and vision then I look forward to the partnership. However, I would like to take another day to discuss this further with our associates. Many of them don’t understand why we’re considering your proposal and yet turned down the deal with Max Jacobs. He is better known in Europe compared to Kinnetik,” Pierre stated.
“We understand,” said Gus as he stood, signaling the end of their meeting. Molly, Ray, and Shane stood as well. “May we take this up again the day after tomorrow? Will that give you enough time to speak with your associates?”
Pierre agreed. They would meet again in two days.
Before Gus and party departed the conference room, Gus enquired about the gallery that was planning to showcase Justin Taylor.
“I will give you their card,” Pierre offered. “They are a modest gallery just outside the city. However, they are known for modern pieces as well as the avant-garde.” Pierre gave Gus a knowing smile. “Perhaps you will visit them tomorrow,” Pierre suggested.
“Perhaps we will,” said Gus as they all shook hands.
As Pierre and Stéphane walked their guests to the door, Stéphane whispered to Molly.
“The Justin Taylor show is a major coup for us. In the past we’ve been able to secure small shows that featured only a few of his paintings.”
“That will change,” Molly promised.
“You mean when we join the Kinnetik family,” Stéphane said.
Molly shook her head. “I’ve enjoyed our meeting and the opportunity to practice my French. I have good feelings about this association. I appreciate Pierre’s loyalty to his employees. He reminds me of Brian. No matter what the outcome of our negotiations, I will recommend to Mr. Higgins that he use the Bellerose agency to promote Justin’s show.”
“You are able to do this?” Stéphane said with amazement.
Molly smiled. She leaned in closer to Stéphane’s ear. “Yes, I am. Justin’s my brother,” she confided as she shook hands with the stunned man then followed Gus and company out the conference room door.
As the Kinnetik party exited the office, a man stood up gaping at them from across the room.
“Kinney,” the man growled.
Debbie wiped her brow as she filled the last tray of lasagna. She had made four - one for her dinner with Michael tonight, one for Ben and Michael to take home with them, one for Rachel and George and the biggest one for the conjoined cottages. She covered the last one with foil and sat down at the kitchen table.
"Shit," she said out loud as she wiped her brow with a paper towel. "I must be getting old."
She rolled her shoulders and stretched out her legs. When had it got so hard to stand for a couple of hours and make her lasagna? She sat for a moment to catch her breath. Then she decided that she had earned a fucking bottle of beer. She pushed herself up and went to the refrigerator. She grabbed one of Carl's beers and twisted off the cap. She returned to the table and dropped down into her chair. She took a long pull from the bottle and let out a long, slow breath.
Just then the front door of the thatched cottage opened and Carl and Peter came in, each carrying a couple of pies.
"Hi, Hon, we thought since you were making the main course for everyone, we'd get dessert to go with it," Carl explained as they set the pies beside the lasagnas on the counter. "Wow, you made four. You've been busy."
"Yeah," Debbie said. "What took you so long?"
"We had an ice cream cone and sat on the front porch of the general store," Peter told her.
"Bully for you," Debbie snapped.
"Hey, what was that for?" Carl asked.
"I could have used some help here."
"I asked if you wanted some help before we went."
"Yeah, I know, but I made four of the fucking things and I'm beat."
"Do you want us to deliver them for you?" Carl asked.
"No, I don't fucking want you to deliver them. I made them and I want the credit!'
"You don't seriously believe they would think Peter and I made them, do you?" He gave Debbie a quizzical look. "Anyway, I'd make sure they all knew how hard you worked to make the lasagna," Carl said gently.
"Yeah, right," Debbie said not ready to be charitable about the whole thing.
"I would," Carl protested.
"And so would I," Peter chimed in. He didn't like it when Debbie and Carl disagreed.
Debbie heaved a sigh. "I know you would, both of you. I'm just tired. And I would like to deliver them myself, with your help, of course."
"Finish your beer. I might just join you," Carl said.
"I'll get you a beer, Carl," Peter offered.
"Thanks, and grab a soda for yourself."
"But don't spoil your dinner. We've got lots of lasagna to eat," Debbie said with a smile for the boy.
"I won't spoil my dinner, and I love your lasagna."
"You fucking better," Debbie said with a cackle.
Carl shook his head at his incorrigible wife.
Sometime later when Debbie had rested and finished her beer, she, Carl and Peter made their way up the lane. Debbie carried a small lasagna - small in comparison to the other huge ones she had made - and Carl carried the large one. Peter carried three pies. They passed the conjoined cottages and made their way to George and Rachel's. Rachel welcomed them and thanked them profusely for the lasagna and pie. She wanted them to stay for some tea or coffee, but they had their other delivery to make. Debbie accepted the thanks with a big smile, pleased that her efforts were appreciated.
They made their way back to the conjoined cottages and rang the bell at the front door of Brian and Justin's.
"We could go right in," Carl advised.
"No we couldn't," Debbie replied.
They heard the door handle turn.
"Trick or treat!" Debbie called.
The door opened.
"It's not Halloween, Grandma Deb," Bree said with a laugh.
"It's not? Am I early?" Debbie asked.
"By a couple of months," Bree laughed again.
"You knew, Grandma Deb. You're silly."
"I guess I am sometimes."
"Hey, Squirt, aren't you going to ask our guests in?" Brian said to his daughter as he came up behind her.
"Grandma Deb thinks it's Halloween."
"I heard," Brian said raising the infamous Kinney eyebrow. "To what do we owe the pleasure?"
"I brought you all a treat," Debbie said.
"Well, come in, we're always up for a treat," Brian said with a smirk.
"Or you're just ... up ... all the time," Debbie retorted as she swept past Brian and Bree.
"What did you bring us, Grandma Deb?" Bree asked.
"Dinner," Debbie said decisively. "I made lasagna, and Carl and Peter picked up some pies from the general store.
"That sounds great," Justin said as he came in from the sun porch. "I wasn't looking forward to cooking tonight."
"Well, sweetheart, you don't have to cook now," Debbie said giving Justin's cheek a little tweak. "The lasagna needs about an hour in the oven."
"I love your lasagna, Grandma Deb," Bree said.
"Me too," Peter chimed in.
"You all set for school?" Justin asked the young man.
"I guess so," Peter said with little enthusiasm.
"He is, and he's going to do great at school this year," Debbie said nodding toward her foster son. "Aren't you?"
Peter shrugged. They all looked at him.
"You have a lot of smart people living on this lane," Brian began. "If you need help with anything, all you have to do is ask."
Justin nodded in agreement. "I know John and Bobby would be happy to help too."
Peter's eyes filled up and he fought back tears. "Thanks," he said, "thanks a lot for the offer. I really appreciate it."
"But it's not really about the difficulty of your school subjects, is it?" Bree asked.
Peter looked at her, and then shook his head.
"I know it's hard to fit in and make friends," Bree said gently.
"How would you know that?" Peter demanded. Bree was a very popular girl. "You have tons of friends. Everybody likes you."
"I don't have tons of friends," Bree informed him. "I have lots of acquaintances, but I only have a couple of real friends. That's all you need."
"I ... I don't have any friends," Peter whispered.
"Yes you do. You've got me and Patrick," Bree stated.
"Really," Bree said. "Want to give me a push on the swing?" she asked with a coy smile.
"Sure, if you want..."
"Let's go," Bree said and started into the sun porch. Peter glanced around and then followed her.
"You've got quite a girl there," Debbie said wiping at her eyes.
"Yeah, we do," Justin said and Brian just nodded, a little choked up himself.
Debbie dished up the lasagna to everyone at her table.
"Thanks, Ma," Michael said as he took his plate. "Smells great."
"Thanks for making this without beef," Ben said as he received his plate.
"Not a problem. Hope you like it," Debbie said. "Peter, pass the garlic bread. And everyone help yourself to salad."
"This is delicious, Debbie," Ben told her. Everyone else nodded in approval.
"Thanks for inviting us, Ma."
"I want you boys to enjoy your time here. Summer's almost over," Debbie said. "Do you have to go back to university soon, Ben?"
"Nope. I'm on sabbatical until Christmas."
"Oh, so you'll have plenty of time to write."
"I'm hoping to finish the book by Thanksgiving," Ben explained. "Then there are rewrites and other revisions to be done."
"Sounds like a long process," Michael said with a frown.
"So, what are you going to do, Michael? About staying here or in Pittsburgh?" Debbie asked. She held her breath hoping that her son would make the right decision.
"I've been thinking about that. I haven't told Ben yet, but..."
Ben stared at his husband. "Do you intend to tell me you're going back to Pittsburgh?"
"That's not what I was about to say."
"Really?" Ben asked hoping against hope that Michael was telling the truth.
"I'd like to stay with you, and maybe go into Pittsburgh once a week. Maybe stay for a day or two and make sure everything's okay at the store. Then I'd come back."
"That sounds perfect," Ben said leaning over to kiss Michael's temple.
"Glad you think so," Michael replied with a radiant smile.
"That's a great decision," Debbie added. "Isn't it, Carl?"
"Sounds good," Carl agreed, mumbling around his mouthful of lasagna.
"Are you ready for school?" Ben asked Peter.
"Why does everybody keep asking that?"
"Maybe because we care," Ben stated.
"I'm as ready as I'm going to be."
"I can help you with any subjects that might give you trouble."
"Me too," Michael volunteered.
"I don't think there's a comic book class," Peter retorted.
"I know about more than just comics."
"Brian has helped me start an online comic business. I've gotten some orders already."
"I know about computers and websites," Peter said.
"So does Brian."
"Michael, Peter's offering help, and Brian won't always be available," Ben explained.
"Well, maybe, but..."
"No buts, Michael," Ben cut him off. "That's very nice of you, Peter, and my offer stands."
"Thanks," Peter replied eyeing Michael suspiciously. He knew Michael didn't really like him, and the feeling was mutual.
"Tell them what Bree told you today," Debbie said hoping to ease the tension.
"That's private," Peter said. "I've finished my lasagna. May I be excused."
"Don't you want pie?" Debbie asked.
"Maybe I'll have some later," Peter said as he stood up, picked up his plate to drop in the kitchen sink, and went to his room.
"Good one, Michael," Debbie said.
"What did I do?"
Everyone left at the table just shook their heads.
Return to Gay Paree