“Why did you lie to my mother?” Michael asked Ben as they were getting ready for bed. He stood in the middle of their bedroom with his arms crossed over his chest and glaring at Ben.
“What? I’d never lie to your mother!”
“You did at dinner,” Michael accused.
“What did I say?” Ben asked, totally baffled.
“You told Ma that your sabbatical ends in December. You told me that you took off a year. Which is it?”
“I didn’t lie. I got a call from Dean Cartwright today. She wanted to know how far along I am in my book. I told her I had made significant progress.”
“Why does she care about how much progress you’ve made?”
“Because one of us in my department being unavailable to teach this semester isn’t a big deal, the Dean can rearrange the schedules to cover all the classes.”
“Unfortunately it’s not just one of us that’s going to be out. Carmichael broke a leg jet-skiing this summer and suffered a concussion. It’s a bad break; he’ll need a lot of therapy before he’s able to come back to the university. And before the Spring semester ended we learned that Amy’s pregnant.”
“What’s the big deal, women get pregnant all the time,” Michael huffed.
“Amy’s a mature mom to be. She started having trouble a month ago so her doctor recommended that she stay off her feet. She won’t be back until next year. That’s why the Dean called; she asked if I would consider coming back early.”
“And are you? I thought you wanted this time off to stay on the lane,” Michael said, finding it hard keeping the sarcasm out of his voice. He wouldn’t mind going back home early. Michael liked the cabin; John had built it just like Michael wanted. But he missed his neighbors, he missed socializing with other same sex couples who understood what a “real” marriage was about.
“I still do,” said Ben; he was disappointed. “But it wouldn’t be right to leave the Dean stranded this way. If I cover my own classes plus a couple of Amy’s, the Dean can find enough adjunct professors and T.A.’s to cover the rest.”
“Oh. So are you going to do it?”
“I don’t think I have a choice. It’ll be a rough semester but if Carmichael and Amy return in the Spring then I can take off again. Do you think you can stand to have me at home with you in Pittsburgh for a few months?” Ben asked with a coy smile. He flirted shamelessly with his husband.
It took a minute for Michael to process all the implications. When he did he broke out into a broad smile.
“Yeah, I think so,” Michael playfully said. All his anger drifted away as he walked into Ben’s arms. “I’m sorry I accused you of lying.”
“I feel like I lied to myself. Although I did make a lot of progress, but I’m disappointed that we have to leave here. I really wanted to be away from the city for a while.”
“Maybe we can come out here on the weekends,” Michael suggested. He could deal with being away for a few weekends.
“That’s a great idea!” Ben crowed. “I won’t have any Friday classes; we could leave Thursday after my last class then stay until Sunday afternoon. I can bring whatever papers or exams with me and still have time for my book! Yes, I think it will work. JR will still be in charge of the store when we’re gone.” Ben beamed at the thought. Michael was happy too. And when Michael was happy, all was right in Ben’s world.
“Besides, maybe it’s better to be up here in the warmer weather. Remember that huge blizzard. I felt like we’d never get out of the snow.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I have to admit, that was a little scary and a bit claustrophobic,” Ben admitted.
Michael nodded in agreement. “Come on, let’s go to bed. We’re going to need all our energy tomorrow to pack up and shut down the cabin,” Michael stated reasonably.
“Good idea. We should let the guys know too,” Ben said as he turned down the bed then slipped himself under the covers.
As the boys snuggled closer, Michael turned towards Ben, settling himself under Ben’s arm.
“So how is your book coming? Are you really almost finished?” Michael asked.
“The first several chapters are finished; my editor has them. She likes the way the story is taking shape. Our story is easy to write; same with your mom and Carl. Emmett’s an open book! He’s fun to write about; he’s so out there.”
“That’s for sure.”
“I’m being a little conservative with Drew and the girls.”
“Why? What makes them so special?”
“A number of things such as career and the children.”
“And then there’s Todd and Tom.”
“I bet the church is still angry with Tom,” said Michael a little smugly. “He should have never left the church.”
“Michael! That’s like saying you should have never come out. Besides, it’s a little too late for that. And he’s still with the church. Just a different one.”
Michael snorted but left it alone. “So what’s Todd’s problem?”
“No problem, it’s just he’s not that backroom bottom boy anymore. And there’s no reason to emphasize the issue. He’s a respected businessman; he’s moved on.”
“But he doesn’t care if I say 'Hey, Todd, how’s it going?' when I see him. And he always answers, “Fine.”
“That doesn’t mean he likes it, Michael.”
“So why does he answer, fine, all the time?”
“Habit, plain and simple.”
“Brian says it to Todd all the time.”
“Brian’s different; there’s no malice intended. Todd knows it,” Ben stated wisely then added, “Brian sees Todd as a kindred spirit.”
“Brian’s no bottom boy! Never was and never will be,” Michael spat back.
“I’m not saying he was or is,” Ben replied gently. “But you have to admit Brian spent just as much time in the backroom as Todd, maybe even more. And then there were the baths. Brian’s moved beyond that and so has Todd. This book is about growth, love, and acceptance. It’s not a tabloid exposé.”
“Well, Brian wouldn’t care, I bet he’d be proud of it. Probably wants you to go into detail about how many guys he fucked.”
“No, Michael, he wouldn’t. I’ve already discussed this with him. He won’t lie about his past reputation but he’s not going to flaunt it either. It was a very long time ago. It’s done, over, that chapter in Brian’s life is finished. Michael, Brian’s been a true friend to me. We’ve become very close over the years; I won’t betray his trust.”
“He’s my best friend. I know him better than anybody,” Michael protested.
“You know the old Brian, the Brian that didn’t give a shit about anyone or anything except for making lots of money and fucking anyone that measured up to his standards.”
“A lot you know,” Michael grumbled as he flipped himself over.
‘Yes, a lot I do know,’ Ben thought to himself. ‘I know a hell of a lot more than you, it seems.’
Ben rolled the opposite way then closed his eyes.
“Patrick,” Bree whispered as she gently knocked on his bedroom door. She carefully opened the door just a crack to call out his name again.
“What's wrong?” Patrick replied with a sleepy voice.
“Nothin’,” said Bree after a few moments of hesitation as she scuffed at the floor in her pink fuzzy slippers. Grey bunny was in her arms. Bree had gone to bed some time ago but woke feeling a little weird. She wanted to be close to her Patrick like she did when she was younger. Bree sometimes missed her Patrick, the Patrick that was all hers.
“You want to sleep in my bed tonight?” Patrick offered. Bree nodded. “I can’t hear you if you just nod your head,” said Patrick knowingly.
“Then come in,” Patrick invited.
Bree quickly entered the room, leaving the door slightly open just in case her daddies or uncles came looking for her. She kicked off her slippers then quietly crawled onto Patrick’s bed and under the blanket he held up for her.
“Okay now?” Patrick asked. Bree nodded again. “Good. Do you want to tell me what’s wrong?” Patrick gently asked. He felt Bree shrug her shoulders. After a while Patrick said, “We start school soon; I’m a little worried. The work is getting a lot harder. Are you worried too?” Bree nodded. “It’ll be okay. We can study together and our dads are really smart. They’ll help us,” Patrick said with confidence. Bree nodded again then snuggled close to her Patrick with grey bunny between them. Patrick always knew what to say to make her feel better.
Patrick heard Bree sigh then he felt her relax. Soon her breathing evened out and Patrick knew she was asleep. He also knew they were getting too old to sleep in each other’s bed like when they were little kids. But sometimes it felt good that Bree still needed him. Then there were the times when Bree annoyed the shit out of him. Patrick smirked, trying not to giggle out loud. He was channeling his Uncle Brian again. And then there were times when those violet blue eyes gazed at him like he was the center of her world. He liked that feeling. Bree’s his best friend; always was and always will be.
Patrick was just drifting off when Little Beau pushed open the door wide enough for him to enter the room. The big dog sniffed the air then gently climbed up on the bed. He sniffed the air again. When he was satisfied that his two charges were safe, the young dog went to sleep at the foot of the bed.
Patrick smiled as he too fell asleep.
“McKenna, what’s going on?” Pierre growled into the phone.
“I’m not quite sure to what you’d be referrin’ to,” Shane responded exaggerating his brogue.
“Don’t you use your Irish on me, Shane McKenna. Consider this a courtesy call. If we weren’t friends I’d be calling the Kinney’s and telling them they can take their deal and, and…”
“Whoa there, laddie!” Shane began then changed his tone and tactics. “Pierre, we are friends, good friends, so why don’t you start from the beginning?”
Pierre informed his old friend that when one of his account agents called the Simone Gallery to arrange the PR for a Justin Taylor exhibit, he was told that everything was all set. “And I quote, ‘Mr. Kinney was delightful and so thorough. I’m sure we’ll have a long and profitable alliance.’ Unquote. Shane, what the hell is going on?” Pierre was so angry that he spoke rapidly, breaking into French.
“Pierre, why don’t you and your assistant meet us at the gallery? It will be much easier to explain there,” Shane suggested.
“Very well, but I’m bringing my attorney!”
“You do that,” was all that Shane was able to say before he heard the phone slam. Shane took a breath then called the boys and Molly, instructing them to meet him in the lobby right away. Before he left his room, Shane made a few calls.
“Are ya that angry with me that you deliberately had me wearing out the pavement waiting for your arrival?” Shane called out as a car finally pulled up, depositing Pierre and Stéphane in front of the gallery. Shane held out his hand. He was encouraged when Pierre took it and gave him a firm handshake. “Now before you and your man here decide to sue the pants off us, come inside and listen to what Gus has to say. He doesn’t know that you’re spitting bullets and I’d like to keep it that way. The lad is bursting at the seams wanting to tell you his ideas. So try to put on a happy face, will you? For my sake, if for no other reason.”
Pierre nodded then plastered a phony smile onto his face.
“Delightful. Now in you go,” Shane snarked as he opened the door for the gentlemen.
Familiar with the gallery’s layout and not seeing anyone, Pierre started for the office. Shane redirected him and Stéphane toward the rear section of the gallery where a buzz of noise emanated.
“Mr. Bellerose, please join us,” Simone gushed as he extended his hand toward Pierre. Again Pierre gave the hand a firm handshake. “We’re so pleased that you’ve taken on our publicity for this very special exhibit! And this young man...” Simone indicated Gus whose head kept bobbing up and down as he pointed to his tablet then at a wall. “Brilliant, just brilliant! So innovative and such enthusiasm. Mr. Bellerose, we’ve been associated for many years, your work has never failed us but this is exceptional. Come, come, see Gus’ ideas.” Mr. Simone nearly pulled the perplexed man toward Gus and his tablet. Stéphane followed.
“What’s going on?” Ray asked, eying Shane suspiciously. Molly stared at Pierre for a moment then at Shane.
“Let’s step out front and leave these fine folks to putter about,” Shane replied as he led Molly and Ray out toward the front of the main gallery where they wouldn’t be overheard.
“Spill,” Molly demanded when they were out of earshot.
“Apparently a little birdie at Bellerose caught wind of our goings on with Simone. He misunderstood the arrangements, went straight to Pierre and blabbed.”
“Let me guess,” Ray began. “Mr. Bellerose thought that Kinnetik was going to handle the PR for the show.”
“Correct, my boy. Pierre called me with his knickers all in a twist. I had a devil of a time trying to calm him down. I convinced him to come here before making any judgments.”
“You hope that Gus’ ideas will wow him enough so that he’d listen to us when we eventually explain the whole deal,” said Molly who caught on quickly.
“You win the cigar,” Shane teased.
“You took a big chance,” Ray stated. “It might have been more prudent to just explain the plans we made on their behalf.”
“Maybe but Gus’ ambitious ideas don’t translate well over the phone. It was better to lead the horse to the trough as they say.”
Before the conversation could continue, a very distinguished gentleman entered the gallery.
“Ah, a meeting of the minds, I see,” Charles Higgins quipped. He gallantly greeted all then took Molly’s hand to his lips.
“Lindsay warned me about you,” Molly said with a smile.
“My reputation precedes me. How is the dear woman? I miss her dreadfully,” Charles exclaimed with his usual dramatic flair. “And your father, has he fully recovered?” Before Molly could reply, Shane cut in.
“We can postpone the pleasantries for another time. I need you to get in there and make nice,” Shane instructed.
“I excel at making nice,” Charles boasted as he stood tall, readying himself for the challenge. “The senior Kinney wouldn’t be among them, dare I hope.” Shane shook his head. “Oh, well, I’ll just have to make do with the younger Kinney,” Charles declared as he strolled toward the back. Shane just shook his head.
“I thought he was straight,” Molly commented. Ray narrowed his eyes at Shane.
“He is, but after seeing some of Justin’s renderings of Brian...” Shane shrugged. “Let’s just say that even on canvas, Brian has a way of bending straight men to the dark side. And of course, meeting the man, in the flesh, so to speak…” Shane shrugged his shoulders.
Ray and Molly both nodded, conceding the point then dutifully followed Shane toward the back room. No pun intended.
“Remarkable, truly remarkable. Why aren’t you working for me, dear boy?” Charles exclaimed as he studied Gus’ plans for the exhibit. “May I make a suggestion? Of course the purpose of the exhibit is to sell paintings but why not make some available for a silent auction. The proceeds can go to local or world-wide charities. I’m sure Justin would agree.”
“Yes, he would,” Gus concurred. “Justin is always looking for ways to give back. I’ll call him. He may have a few unique pieces to donate.”
“By unique, may I infer there may be one or two nudes of perhaps your father?” Charles asked as he waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
“Mr. Higgins, this is a fine upstanding establishment. Well respected in the neighborhood. We’ll have none of your shenanigans here,” Shane admonished, trying to keep a straight face. Duly chastised, Charles held up his hands in surrender.
“Pierre, are you and your attorney satisfied with the arrangements?” Shane asked.
“Yes, quite satisfied. I apologize for the misunderstanding. Guillaume is a trifle overzealous,” Pierre explained. Everyone in the room understood.
“No, apologies necessary,” Gus stated as he extended his hand toward Pierre. The men shook then turned back to Gus’ tablet.
“So tell me your ideas,” Pierre began. Gus made his pitch as if he was vying for a career-making contract. Pierre had to admit, Gus was very impressive. However Pierre had to be sure before making his final decision. “Is this what we may expect if we join your little family?”
“I’m not sure what you mean?” replied Gus.
“Will one or more of you come into to my agency and take over?” Pierre wanted to know.
“Pierre, what are you talkin’ about?” Shane asked with a touch of anger in his voice. Ray glared at Pierre.
“It’s all right, Shane. Mr. Bellerose doesn’t know Kinnetik or how we work. He’s entitled to ask whatever he wishes. I’m happy to answer his questions,” Gus stated as he straightened to his full height.
When Gus had first entered the room he made himself more comfortable, by removing his sport coat and rolling up his sleeves as he delved into his work.
Sensing Pierre’s reservations, Gus slowly rolled his sleeves back down then reached for his jacket. When Gus turned to face Pierre, Molly made a startled gasp. It was as if she was back in Pittsburgh with Brian in full award winning, adman mode. Gus exuded a confidence she hadn’t noticed before and it made her proud to witness it.
“Mr. Simone, may we use your office? I’d like to fully explain our proposal to Mr. Bellerose,” Gus asked using a very professional tone.
“Of course, Mr. Kinney. I’m sure you have much to discuss. Please take your time. Mr. Higgins has brought a wonderful catalog of Justin Taylor’s work. We have plenty to occupy ourselves with,” Mr. Simone explained.
Gus nodded then gestured to Pierre who led the way out of the white room, back into the main gallery and to the office.
“Mr. Bellerose, I believe we may have given you the wrong impression. If Kinnetik had planned on making a proposal to Mr. Simone, we could have done this months ago. Mr. Higgins and Shane have been discussing the possibility of a major exhibit in Paris for some time. However, knowing Justin so well we had to be certain of the venue. Justin has had a grand opening at the National Gallery. This time he was hoping for something more intimate. Simone’s is made to order.”
“You seem to know a lot about Justin Taylor.”
“Before approaching a perspective client, we do our homework. We research the client thoroughly. However, with Justin we do have the home court advantage.”
“How so?” Pierre asked.
Gus gave him an incredulous look then smiled. “I’ve known Justin all my life. He was there the night I was born. Justin Taylor is my father’s partner or I should say, husband. They were officially married in May,” Gus said proudly.
“I was unaware of this.”
“We’re not hiding it; I’m sure it was in the dossier that Shane had given you under personal associations. However, Brian Kinney and Justin Taylor try to maintain a certain amount of professional distance. And yes, they have always been extremely supportive of each other’s careers, however Brian Kinney was well established in the advertising world years before he met Justin.
“My father has asked for Justin’s opinion on several occasions but the final word on a campaign belongs to Brian Kinney. He stands by his work and is rarely wrong. My personal challenge is to attain at least half of his accomplishments.”
“From what I can see, you are very close to reaching your goal,” Pierre commented. Gus acknowledged the comment with a nod. “Answer me truthfully,” Pierre began, not wholly convinced. “You were prepared to relinquish all your ideas for this exhibition to the Bellerose agency whether or not we joined Kinnetik.”
“How can this be? Kinnetik would be losing millions!”
“Money isn’t everything, especially when it concerns Justin Taylor. I emailed my ideas to him; he fell in love with them and immediately had Lindsay Peterson, his agent, send an updated portfolio to Charles. Justin approved of the approach.”
“And does Justin Taylor get all that he approves of?”
Gus laughed; he had made Justin sound like a spoiled brat. “Not always, my father is one of Justin’s grounding forces; Justin’s daughter is another. And fortunately Justin has a lot of common sense. But there are times where he can be as stubborn as my father. Their arguments are legendary in Pittsburgh,” Gus laughed.
“It’s true, Kinnetik would have lost a hefty commission but we’d gain so much more. Justin Taylor will increase his presence in Europe making him very happy,” Gus added.
“And a happy Justin Taylor is a happy Brian Kinney?”
“You catch on quickly Mr. Bellerose.”
“I have been married for a very long time, and please call me Pierre.”
“Pierre, I apologize for seemingly going behind your back; it all happened very quickly. We were going to present you with this proposal during our scheduled appointment.”
“Yes, it was only by chance that Guillaume found out.”
“He sounds like a loyal employee.”
“For the most part. But enough about that. Tell me more about Kinnetik. Your father sounds like an interesting man.”
“Yes he is, to say the least. What more can I tell you than what you already know. He was the youngest and the most successful ad exec at Ryder’s before it was sold, and he made partner at Gardner Vance. Then circumstances changed, life was about to take a drastic political change in our city. Many people helped to turn the political tide including the “Concerned Citizens for the Truth". He lost everything, opened his own agency and the rest you know.”
“And his association with Justin?”
“That’s something you’d have to ask him and Justin about.”
“What I can tell you is they’ve been together for twenty-five years. I’ve never known two people so different yet so much the same.”
“And you love them dearly,” Pierre said with a soft smile.
“Yes, I do,” said Gus, blushing.
“They sound like remarkable men. I look forward to meeting them.”
“You will when the Bellerose agency presents the next Justin Taylor exhibition at Simone’s Gallery.”
“The Kinnetik Bellerose Agency,” Pierre suggested.
Gus had a gleam in his eye then grabbed a piece of paper off the desk and a pencil. He quickly made a sketch.
“I’m not a graphic artist but I think you’ll get the idea,” Gus said as he handed the paper to Pierre. On it was a drawing of a large stylized rose surrounded by leaves and vines framing the words “Kinnetik Rose.” Pierre studied the drawing.
“There are thorns on the vines,” Pierre observed.
“If everything in life were as smooth and soft as rose petals, it would be a very boring life,” Gus said with a knowing smile.
Pierre laughed heartily as he extended his hand toward Gus. Gus took it and gave Pierre a firm handshake, a handshake Bree would approve of.
“I look forward to a long and certainly not boring partnership with Kinnetik,” Pierre declared.
“So do I,” Gus affirmed.
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