Brian jammed the laundry into the washing machine and slammed the door on the front loader.
"What are you doing?" Justin asked from the doorway of the laundry room.
Brian jumped, not expecting anyone to know that he was washing sheets. "What does it look like I'm doing?" he asked sarcastically.
"Whoa!" Justin said taking a step back. He hadn't expected that reaction. "You never do laundry unless there's something bothering you," he observed.
Brian glared at him. He hated being predictable. "I thought our sheets could use a good washing after last night's activities by my oh so horny husband," he said hoping to embarrass Justin into silence.
Justin blushed in spite of himself. He had been pretty aggressive last night, but then they both were. "You can't blame that all on me."
"I can if I want to," Brian said with a smirk.
"You are incorrigible."
"You've known that for years, and you're still here."
"And I'll still be here for years to come," Justin declared.
"I hope so," Brian said as he started the washer and reached out to pull Justin into his embrace. He kissed his partner thoroughly.
"Did you make the bed?" Justin asked when Brian let him go.
"Not yet. Why?"
"Too bad, I was thinking we could dirty some more sheets."
Brian chuckled in spite of his foul mood. "You've been hanging around me too long."
"We can go make the bed and see what develops," Brian suggested.
"I'd like that," Justin said sincerely, "but first I want to know why you were doing laundry."
"I told you ... because the sheets needed washing."
"I know you only do laundry when you're stewing about something," Justin informed him.
"Is that right?" Brian frowned as he realized that Justin was probably right. Brian hated doing laundry. That task usually fell to Justin. He had never done laundry when he lived alone in the loft.
"You know it is, so what's going on?"
"Um isn't an answer." Brian glowered at him. "Is it Gus?" Justin asked. "Are you worried that he won't be able to bring the Bellerose Agency into the fold?"
"I would be unhappy if we didn't do the merger, but I'm more worried about what a failure would do to Gus' self-confidence."
"Typical worried father," Justin said gently with a soft smile. He rubbed Brian's arm in commiseration. Then he brightened. "But I think you're worrying for nothing, even if this is Gus' first major acquisition."
"That's what you think, huh?"
"Yep, because I know Gus is one smart and creative young man, just like his father. Look at the ideas he sent us for my exhibition at the Simone Gallery."
"They were pretty damn good."
"They were spectacular!" Justin said enthusiastically.
"Yeah," Brian agreed with a happy smile on his face.
"Stop worrying," Justin commanded. "Gus can handle whatever comes up, and he has Ray, Molly and Shane to help him."
"Yeah, you're right."
"Okay! Now that we've got that settled, let's go break in some more sheets, and I'll even let you wash them afterwards."
"Thanks a bunch," Brian said as he quickly marched behind Justin toward their bedroom.
The front door of the thatched cottage was flung open, and Michael marched in carrying his laptop.
"Ma!" he bellowed. "Ma!"
"What the fuck is going on?" Debbie shouted as she came in from the back patio. "You sound like a fucking foghorn."
"I've done something to my computer," Michael whined.
"And what the fuck do you expect me to do about it?" Debbie demanded. She was fully ticked with Michael interrupting her little siesta on the back patio.
"I don't expect you to do anything," Michael declared. "I want you to get Peter to help me."
"Well, that's a good one!" Debbie reacted. "You never give him the time of day usually. I thought the big man up the lane was your go-to computer whiz."
"Brian is, but I can't get a hold of him, and I need help."
"Then ask Peter yourself. You don't need me." Debbie started towards the patio again.
"Wait, Ma," Michael pleaded. "He'll help me if you ask him, but I don't think he'll help if I ask."
"And why would that be, Michael?" Debbie asked her eyes narrowing as she stared at her son.
"I ... I guess I haven't been very welcoming since you took him in," Michael admitted.
"So, will you ask him ... for me?"
Debbie thought about it for a moment. "No! No, I won't."
"What? Why not?"
"Michael, ever since Peter got here you’ve been running hot and cold with him; mostly cold and very rude to him every time you've been together. It's time you made an overture. You owe that boy an apology."
"An apology? What for?"
"I just told you - for being rude and unwelcoming to him."
"Maaaa," Michael whined.
"You can ask Peter yourself or you can go back home. Them's you're choices, sweetie," Debbie said sarcastically. With a self-satisfied smirk on her face she went back out on the patio to resume her siesta. She could hear Michael's plaintive whine of "Maaaa" as she sat down on the chaise. "I'll be buggered if I'll give in to him this time." she muttered. She leaned back, hoisted her legs up onto the chaise and closed her eyes. It would be what it would be.
Michael stood just inside the front door of the thatched cottage wondering what had just happened. Usually he could rely on his mother to do his bidding. What had happened? He didn't want to approach Peter by himself. He knew he had been rude and mean to the kid, but he really didn't like Peter usurping Michael's place in his mother's life. Michael liked things the way they had been before Peter Chang ever came along.
Michael sighed. He'd try Brian one more time. Maybe he'd get lucky and Brian would answer and fix the problem. He pulled out his phone and hit the appropriate buttons. It went directly to voicemail.
"Shit!" Michael muttered.
Now what was he going to do? He really didn't want to have to ask Peter without support from his mother. He frowned and considered his options - which were none.
"Peter," he called gently. He realized that he didn't even know if Peter was there. "Peter," he said a little louder.
"What do you want?" Peter asked as he came out of his bedroom.
"Um," Michael stumbled. "I'm having trouble with my computer. I ... um ... was wondering if you could help me with it?"
"I thought you made it clear you had Brian Kinney to help you. You don't need me." Peter turned to go back into his room.
"I can't get in touch with Brian," Michael admitted.
"Then I guess you'll just have to wait until he's available," Peter said smugly.
"But I could lose a big sale," Michael said trying not to whine.
"Too bad," Peter replied. He wasn't prepared to show any sympathy since Michael never seemed to have any for him.
"Peter, I really could use your help. I'm trying to improve my online business for the store. I had this order for ten comics and I was trying to check inventory, and somehow I lost the message. I don't know how to get in touch with the buyer. I didn't want to screw this up."
Peter looked at Michael who really was quite forlorn about what he had done. He supposed he could make an effort to be charitable and help this annoying man.
"Okay, let's have a look," Peter said grudgingly.
They went to the kitchen table and Michael opened the laptop and signed on. Peter did a bit of exploring on the site and discovered that going from the email to the inventory of the store and back again wasn't as easy as it should be. He made a new link on the inventory page. Then he went back to the email page, set up a folder for purchases and went to Michael's trash bin. There was the message in the trash. He moved it to the purchase folder.
He was tempted to merely tell Michael he had found the message and let the man fend for himself, but he decided he would try to explain. He went over all the steps he had taken and explained the new link and folder he had set up. He told Michael how to use them and let him practice a few times. He also told Michael to always check the trash bin of his emails when something was missing.
"There, that should get you going," Peter said.
"That ... that was really helpful," Michael said closing his laptop.
"Good," Peter said not expecting a thank you.
"Peter, thanks," Michael said sincerely.
"You're welcome," Peter replied, and he meant it.
Debbie smiled to herself from her chaise.
Brian opened his eyes and looked at the clock on the nightstand. He must have dozed off. Justin snored lightly beside him. Brian couldn't help but smile. Who would have thought that after all these years they could still burn up the sheets like they just had.
"You're smiling," Justin said as he opened his eyes.
"I thought you were asleep."
"Then how did you know I was smiling?"
"I can feel when you look at me, and I always know what emotion goes along with that feeling."
"No, I mean it."
"You don't believe me?"
"I ... I guess I should, since this isn't the first time that you seem to know what's going on when I think you're asleep."
"Did you sleep?" Justin asked as he rolled over to look into Brian's eyes.
"Must have. You wore me out."
"Impossible!" Justin said with a giggle.
Brian grinned. He reached for his phone on the nightstand. "Hm, it looks like Michael called about a million times."
"You better call him back."
"Naw, if I call, I'll have to explain why I didn't answer. And I have more sheets to wash," Brian added as he got up from the bed.
"You're a good husband," Justin said as he too got up.
"Don't spread that around. You'll ruin my reputation."
Justin made the move to lock his lips before they started stripping the bed.
“All better now?” Ben snarked as he continued to stuff his suitcase.
“What?” Michael snapped.
“Your laptop, is it all fixed?”
“Brian made it all better?”
“No? He couldn’t fix it?”
“I, uh, couldn’t reach him so I asked Peter.”
“Peter. Your mother’s Peter?”
“He isn’t my mother’s anything, I’m her only son! But I asked Peter and he helped me.”
“Did you apologize to him first?” Ben asked as he threw an armful of socks into his bag.
“Why does everybody think I should have to apologize to that kid?” Michael griped as he walked away to pack up his laptop and its paraphernalia.
“Maybe because you’re a rude son of a bitch,” Ben muttered under his breath.
Ben stood, looking around their bedroom. It was beautiful, the whole cabin was perfection. John poured his heart and soul into the project just as he did with all of his commitments. It was too bad that all of John’s energies were wasted on someone who never really appreciated the effort. Ben shook his head; he needed to clear it before the drive back to the city. Ben made one last sweep of the bedroom and bathroom before bringing the suitcases to the front door.
“I’m going to check the yard,” he called out.
“Okay,” came a response from somewhere within the cabin.
Ben walked outside; the air was warm but with a hint of Autumn. He took a deep cleansing breath trying to rid himself of the negative vibes. He did it again and again but found he was fighting a losing battle. Ben walked around the cabin toward the front yard and then onto the lane.
Lost in thought, Ben found himself facing the front door of the conjoined cottages. Taking a chance, he knocked. In a few moments Justin opened the door looking freshly showered, a blush to his cheeks, wearing a contented smile, and a twinkle in his eyes.
“Hey, Ben, please come in,” said Justin as he stepped back to allow the big man into the cottage. Ben nodded as he stepped through the door. “How’s the book coming?”
“Good. I’ve made a lot of progress.”
“I’m glad to hear it. What can I do for you?”
“Is Brian home?”
“Yes, of course, I’ll get him for you then give you two some privacy,” Justin said softly. As he turned to go get his spouse, Ben gently tapped Justin’s shoulder.
“Justin, I’d like you to be a part of the conversation,” Ben said stoically as he pleaded with his eyes. Justin nodded.
“Who’s at the door?” Brian asked when Justin entered their room. Brian was dressed but still toweling off his hair. After the boys spent the afternoon making love, they not only had more laundry to do, they also needed another shower.
“Ben, he wants to talk to us,” Justin replied. Brian cocked his head with curiosity and concern. “He didn’t say,” said Justin, able to read the questioning hazel eyes.
“Then let’s not keep the man waiting,” Brian said as he tossed the towel toward their bathroom.
“Hey, Professor, how’s it hanging?” Brian quipped as he extended his hand. Ben took it but his heart wasn’t in it.
Justin led them into the kitchen; Brian and Ben sat at the table as Justin put the kettle on and turned on the coffeemaker.
“Seriously, Ben, what’s wrong and how can we help?” Justin asked.
“I’m not sure where to begin. One minute I’m happily typing away with the man that I love sitting by my side, then the next minute, I’m packing a suitcase and wondering whatever did I see in Michael,” Ben stated pitifully. Justin went to console him when the kettle began to whistle. Brian indicated to Justin to take care of the kettle while he took care of their friend.
“Start from the beginning,” Brian said gently.
“Yesterday I received a call from my Dean. Long story short, she begged me to reconsider my sabbatical just for this semester. Due to a twist of fate, my department will be very shorthanded for the Fall semester. The Dean has always been good to me so I couldn’t refuse her.”
“So far I’m not hearing anything that would lead you to reconsider your life with Michael,” Brian said as Justin slid Ben a mug of his favorite tea.
Ben stared at the mug for a moment savoring the soothing hot aroma of the tea. How was it that Justin remembered Ben’s favorite tea and Michael couldn’t. Ben sadly shook his head.
“Mikey probably did a happy dance at the thought of going back to the Pitts,” Brian remarked.
“Yeah, you could say that, until we started discussing my book,” Ben mumbled into his mug. He inhaled the aroma of herbal tea sweetened with honey. He looked downtrodden.
“What happened?” Justin asked as he began to rub Ben’s arm.
“Let’s just say we have differing opinions on how much I should reveal about the past lives of certain members of our family,” Ben snarked.
Brian nodded knowingly. “I suspect Mikey suggested you should go into detail regarding some of our exceptionally memorable backroom activities,” Brian surmised.
“You can put it that way,” Ben agreed.
“Wait, I’m not sure what you mean.” Justin was perplexed.
“What the professor means is that my so called best friend believes that Ben’s book would be a wonderful opportunity to expose the past sexual exploits of some of the members of our widdle family. Including mine, Todd’s, possibly yours, and who knows who else. Most of us have interesting stories,” Brian said as he winked at Ben.
Ben snorted as he smirked. He hung his head for a moment then burst out laughing. Brian and Justin exchanged worried looks.
“Whatever you put in his tea, Sunshine, make mine a double!”
“I’m sorry, guys, I swear I haven’t popped a breaker. I just remembered a story Emmett told me about the time he and Michael were trying to earn some extra cash as naked waiters at a private party. Emmett said that all they wore were bow ties, cuffs, and maybe an occasional apron. They both came away with a nice paycheck plus black and blue rear ends.”
“Maybe you should accidently leave those pages around for Michael to find,” Justin grumbled as he stood to make more tea.
“Sunshine, that sounds positively devious,” Brian crowed with pride.
“Brian, you’ve been a very bad influence,” Ben said with a smirk.
“Well I do try,” Brian stated with false modesty as he examined his immaculately manicured nails.
“I was only kidding,” Justin admonished as he topped off Brian’s coffee and gave Ben a fresh mug of tea.
“Maybe so but I might try it anyway. It would serve him right,” Ben groused.
“This doesn’t sound like you,” Justin quickly said.
“Where’s the Zen Ben we’ve grown to love?” Brian added.
“Living alone like a monk in a beautiful cabin.”
“Ben,” Brian began but then the man who made a living from words couldn’t think of anything to say. He turned his gaze toward Justin who appeared just as confounded.
“Brian, Justin, it’ll be all right. I really came here to let you know that we’re going back to Pittsburgh so we’re closing down the cabin. I’m not sure when we’ll be back but if my colleagues return to work next semester, I’m planning to return in the Spring. Just do me a favor.”
“Name it,” Justin quickly said.
“After we leave, have John go through the cabin and close it down properly. I’m sure we’re forgetting something.”
“No problem,” Brian and Justin said at the same time.
Ben nodded. He finished his tea, thanked Justin as he stood and brought his empty mug to the sink. Taking a deep breath, he bid them goodbye. When Ben turned to leave, Justin gave Brian a poignant look.
“Let me walk you out,” Brian offered.
“Thank you, Brian, for everything.”
“I haven’t done anything.”
“Yet. You haven’t done anything yet and I want you to keep it that way.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Language, Professor. If this is your subtle way of warning me to stay out of it, I will. If you and Michael are going to fix whatever is broken with your marriage then you’ll have to do it without interference. Not from me, Debbie, the guys, or from the family.”
“How did you get so wise?”
“Practice, plenty of practice. If you haven’t noticed by now, we’re a pretty dysfunctional bunch.”
“No, really? I never noticed,” Ben snarked.
“Okay, now I know this is serious. The Ben I know doesn’t swear or snark. You’ve done both within the last ten minutes. And very well.”
“That’s high praise coming from you,” said Ben. Brian arched a brow. Ben held up his hands. “I promise, I will suggest we seek professional help before we give up on our marriage.”
“Just know that we’re here for you.”
“And not for your best friend?”
“I don’t take sides,” Brian growled.
“I know you don’t. You’re one of the most honest men I know.”
They had just about reached the driveway to the cabin when Ben stopped Brian.
“Brian, I still love Michael but there are times when I just don’t like him. Lately I’ve come to the realization that I may no longer be in love with him. But we have too much history, I’m not ready to give up on him yet.”
“Do what you have to do. Justin and I will be there if you need us.”
“Thank you,” Ben whispered into Brian’s ear as he drew Brian into a hug.
The minute Brian walked through his cottage door, he found himself with an armful of Sunshine. Shutting the door with his foot, Brian held onto the younger man. He felt Justin shake and take a shuddering breath.
“I know, Justin, I know,” Brian murmured as the lovers held fast to each other.
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