"What the fuck are we going to do for Labor Day this year?" Brian groused at breakfast.
"Language, Dada," Bree stated seriously.
"Okaaaay," Brian sighed.
"You're going to barbecue, as you always do," Justin said with a beatific smile.
"Believe it or not, I'm sick of barbecuing. I've done nothing else all summer."
"That's hardly true," Justin said.
"That's how it seems," Brian countered.
"Dada, you know you do the best barbecue in the whole state, maybe the whole world," Bree said with a smile.
Brian's eyebrow shot up in surprise. "Have you been coaching her?" he asked his husband.
"Nobody has to coach me, Dada. I'm telling you the truth." Bree's smile grew broader and coyer.
"She does have a point," Justin contributed.
"How come I always have both of you ganging up on me?"
"You're just lucky, Dada," Bree said with a giggle.
Brian shook his head. He knew when he was not going to win. "Okay, okay, but let's keep the fu... get together small this year."
"Small it is," Justin agreed. "How about we only invite the people on the lane?"
"Don't they number in the fu... thousands?"
"Not anymore, Dada. Uncle Michael and Uncle Ben just left. Uncle Emmett and Uncle Drew are working in Pittsburgh over the long weekend," Bree informed them. "Auntie Molly won't be here since she just got back, so none of the Brenner’s will come. That leaves us, Aunt Rachael's family and Grandma Deb's family."
"Is that it?" Brian asked, surprised at how small the number actually was. "Are John, Bobby and Patrick not going to be here?"
"Of course they are, Dada. I included them with us."
"So the barbecue will not overtax you," Justin said matter-of-factly.
"What about Alex and Glen?" Brian asked.
"They might decide to come out here, but they're both getting back into their work schedules, so probably not," Justin said.
"Hmmm," Brian replied.
"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were disappointed that there aren't more people coming."
Brian made a face. "I'm not sure I can barbecue for such a small number, that's all."
Bree giggled. "Silly Dada."
"You got that right, Bree. Silly Dada doesn't know what the fu... what he wants."
"Silly Dada is leaving," Brian said as he quickly exited the kitchen to the chuckles of those still at the table.
Labor Day dawned warm and sunny. It was not supposed to be overly hot which suited Brian to a tee. Slaving over a hot barbecue in 90 degree temperatures was no fun at the best of times. He finished cleaning the barbecues so that everything was to his liking. He had most of the morning before people started arriving. They would have a barbecue lunch and a relaxing afternoon before everyone headed home so that the children could get ready for school the following day.
It should be calm and peaceful, maybe too calm and peaceful.
Standing beside the barbecue grills, Brian let his mind wander. He was thinking about his son who had just returned from France, bringing back a major new acquisition. Brian was very proud of Gus. He must remember to tell him that when next he saw him. He was sorry that Gus and Ray wouldn't be here for Labor Day, but the boys wanted some alone time in their own apartment. He could understand that. They would do their celebrating there.
Brian smiled thinking about his own coups and the celebrations that he and Justin had had as a result.
"Penny for your thoughts, or maybe it would take a dollar based on that look on your face."
"Hey, Carl," Brian said as he turned to the older man. "You're early."
"Debbie sent me over to see if you needed any help."
"I think we're good. The grills are in tiptop shape."
"I told her you would have everything under control, but she insisted."
"That's Debbie for you," Brian said with a chuckle. "I appreciate her concern."
"Then I'll see you later," Carl said as he turned to leave.
"Um, Carl, have you heard anything from Ben and Michael?"
"No reason, I was wondering how they would settle back into life in the Pitts."
Carl studied Brian's face. "You're worried about them too, aren't you?" he asked.
"You're worried?" Brian asked.
"And so are you, if I'm reading you right."
"I ... I don't want to get involved, but..."
"I don't think we can do anything. They need to work it out," Carl said.
"I agree. Has Debbie figured out what's going on between them?"
"She suspects, but she doesn't want to believe that anything's really wrong," Carl said rubbing his chin.
"Let me know if you hear from them."
"I will," Carl said. He slowly walked away.
Lunch went by without incident. The small group who attended the barbecue found it refreshing to be able to have some in depth conversations with those in attendance. Usually there were so many people that every encounter was fleeting and superficial. The men enjoyed talking sports and politics over a beer once they had eaten. The women enjoyed not talking sports, although Bree wouldn't have minded. The ladies discussed politics, clothes and relationships. Debbie had little to say about the last topic. She didn't want to think too much about her son and Ben.
"What's up?" John asked Peter who was sitting on the swing with a soft drink in his hand.
"Are you okay with going back to school tomorrow?"
Peter shrugged. John waited. He wanted an answer to that question, but he wasn't going to push. He had grown to like the boy over the course of the summer. Peter drew in a deep breath and thought about what Bree had told him. He shouldn't keep silent and keep everything locked up inside him.
"Since the princess tells me I need to talk more, I guess I can answer that," Peter said. "I'm not looking forward to school but I'm going to try to be more friendly and open. I'll have to see how it goes."
"Good man," John said squeezing Peter's shoulder. He deliberately said 'man', not 'boy'.
"I hope you're right," Peter replied.
"We'll have to see. Oh, and just a word to the wise, don't let Bree hear you calling her a princess. You don't want her wrath unleashed on you."
Peter shook his head. "I guess I'm not off to a good start with trying to change."
"You'll do fine. Be yourself." John headed back to his chair in the shade and the beer that was waiting for him.
Peter wondered why people wanted him to be himself, when most people didn't like that person. He wondered how fine the first day of school would turn out to be.
As the afternoon wore on, the inhabitants of the lane started to stroll back to their homes. Soon the only people remaining in the backyard were the families of the conjoined cottages.
"Another successful Labor Day get together," Bobby said raising his bottle of beer in salute.
"Glad you think so," Brian said trying not to be too sarcastic.
"I know it wasn't up to your usual multitudes, brother dear, but it was a pleasant afternoon spent with people we like," John stated.
"Fuck! We are so old!" Brian groused.
"Speak for yourself, old man," John retorted.
"You're not old, Dada," Bree said with a gentle smile. "You're just aging to perfection!"
Brian snorted. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Squirt, but we've all grown so ... lame."
"I beg your pardon, brother-in-law dear," Bobby interjected. "I refuse to be lame. I'm totally in style and in the know. No lameness for me."
Brian chuckled. "That statement just proved how lame you are."
"Brian, stop it," Justin said firmly. "None of us is lame, including you. We have matured and learned how to enjoy ourselves in a sensible manner."
"The only thing worse than lame is sensible," Brian countered.
"Hey, you guys," Patrick said, "the world thinks you are all at the top of your game. You shouldn't be griping about such stupid stuff."
"Out of the mouths of babes," John said with a smile for his son.
"Who you calling a babe, old man?" Patrick demanded. "I can take you any day of the week." Patrick couldn't prevent the smirk that crossed his face.
"Uh oh," Justin said when he caught his breath. "Somebody's feeling his oats."
John feigned offense as he grabbed Patrick then held on tight to give him a noogie. Patrick shrieked as the family laughed.
"This is the most ridiculous conversation I've ever heard," Bree said standing up. "I think you're all nuts."
"And I think you're right, Squirt," Brian agreed before they all cracked up again.
“What’s this?” Alex asked when Ben placed a book on Alex’s desk.
After a few late night sessions at Brian’s loft, Alex and Ben finally found a convenient time to meet at Alex’s office. It wasn’t as comfortable as the loft but they didn’t want to take advantage of Brian’s generosity.
“My first book; this is the copy I gave to Michael. I even signed it.” Alex opened the book to the fly leaf and read the dedication.
“Beneath whose mild mannered appearance beats the heart of a superhero,” Alex read out loud. “From what you’ve told me, he always had a thing for superheroes,” he remarked as he closed the book. “You know him so well.”
“I thought I did,” Ben sighed.
“Why did you bring it today?” Alex asked.
Ben stood up to pace. “The other day I dropped my favorite sweatshirt in the back of our closet. When I went to pick it up, I noticed the book sticking out from under a pair of Michael’s old sneakers. A year ago I would have probably laughed it off.”
“I find it almost impossible to laugh anything he does, off. It hurt, Alex. It was as if my gift meant nothing to him, that my life holds no meaning for him. Granted, there are so many survivors that my story is no longer unique.”
“But it is your story and you feel betrayed.”
Ben nodded. He walked over to a window and stared out. Alex gave Ben a moment to compose himself.
“When Michael and I first met we had to overcome several issues before our relationship took hold. One was my HIV status, another was Brian. We obviously got past my status but there were times I was jealous of Michael’s unrelenting love and yearning for Brian. Brian was Michael’s superhero.” Alex again nodded. When Ben first sought out Alex’s counsel years before, he and Alex had spoken extensively about Brian.
“Do you know how often I had to beat down the urge to throw into Michael’s face the fact I have a piece of Brian that he will never have? Sometimes I still have to fight that urge. I get so angry at him that I want to shout, “Brian and I fucked all night long. You never did and you never will!” And then there are the times when I love Michael so much that I want to protect him, wrap him up in bubble wrap. And I wish we’d never leave our bed, that we could shut out the world, make love all day and all night,” Ben said with a waning smile.
“But those times are becoming too far in between. I never thought I’d hear myself saying that.”
“Ben, about Brian,” Alex ventured. “I have to ask.”
“Friends only; just very good friends. He keeps my confidences and I keep his,” Ben explained. Alex gave him a look. “Yes, he’s a pain in the ass with his incessant flirting and innuendos thrown left and right when he’s in the mood to torture the hell out of me; he wouldn’t be Brian Kinney if he didn’t. But that’s where it ends.”
“And if you and Michael can’t fix whatever is wrong with your marriage?”
“I’ll still have a friend who will keep my confidences.”
Alex believed him. Knowing Brian as well as he did, Alex had no doubt of his fidelity. Alex also knew that Ben would do whatever it took to heal his marriage. But if the worst did happen, Ben was not the type of man to seek solace in the arms of a married man.
“I’m so tired,” Ben murmured so softly that Alex had a difficult time hearing him. “I’m tired of always having to defend him. I’m tired of looking the other way when I’m embarrassed by what he says or does. He’s not a stupid man. You don’t become as successful as he is with his business by being stupid. But there are times…” Ben sadly shook his head. “I’m just so tired,” Ben said hanging his head.
Alex jotted down a few notes on a pad then made Ben a proposal. “I normally wouldn’t offer to prescribe something for you but I will if you’re having trouble sleeping.”
“No, thank you. You know I don’t like ingesting any more chemicals than I have to.”
“Yes, I know, you’re stubborn that way,” Alex good naturedly chided Ben. “Seriously, Ben, this may be unprofessional of me but you’re a friend as well as my patient. If you need anything, day or night, you only have to call. Both Glen and I will be there for you.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it as friends and as your patient,” said Ben as he prepared to leave. “Same time next week?”
“Yes, of course.” Ben walked toward the door. “Ben, your book!”
“Keep it; read it if you’d like,” Ben said with a grin. “Consider it homework. Maybe you’ll learn something.”
“Okay, Professor, I might just do that. But I’m adding the read time to your bill!” Alex called after Ben as he left the office.
Alex examined the book. Of course, he and Glen were old enough to remember the early days when that “plague” first hit. The devastation it created, the men and women lost and the guilt from the survivors left behind. Even those who were lucky enough to remain clean or worked hard to play safe, were forever changed. The age of Aquarius was long gone.
Alex shook himself trying to release the bad vibes. He began packing up his briefcase, getting himself ready to leave for the night. Before he snapped his briefcase closed, Alex reached for the book and shoved it in.
“Homework indeed,” he muttered as he shut off the lights.
Early November 2025
“So what do you think?” Gus asked. He, Ray, and Stacy were in the conference room of Kinnetik N’rgy. They were video conferencing with Kinnetik, Part Deux, Perspectives, and North going over the plans for Justin’s show in Paris. Shane and Isles were "homebase" for Gus and the plans; Shane was well versed so he didn't need to attend. Lindsay was watching from the Bloom Gallery while Brian and Justin were watching from Brian's attic office.
“I think it’s outstanding!” Scott from Part Deux exclaimed with agreement from all around.
They watched the screen as Gus manipulated his laptop. He swung the picture around so that they all had a 360˚ view of the Simone Gallery and the changes made to accommodate Justin’s exhibition.
“Wow!” Justin gasped, “it’s fabulous.” “Look at that,” he gasped as he leaned over Brian’s shoulder to point at the screen. Brian was bursting with pride over Gus’ designs for the exhibition and the contract arrangements written by Ray. He was proud of all their accomplishments.
And then there was Justin; Brian could feel the warmth of Justin’s body leaning over him and sense his excitement. Justin had sold many works in Europe but he never had a Paris opening. This was a special event for Justin, their family, and the whole of Kinnetik.
“Hey, Sunshine,” Brian began as he grabbed hold of Justin’s arm, dragging him onto his lap. As Justin settled onto his favorite seat, Brian wrapped his arms around him. They continued participating in the conference, offering suggestions and discussing the plans. As the meeting was drawing to its conclusion, Brian made an announcement.
“Before we sign off I want each branch to arrange for two representatives to accompany us to France. I’ve contacted Liberty Air, a private jet will take us all over and back. Theodore, I’ll expect you to have the final employee list to me by Friday. I’ll call you with the list of family members who will be joining us,” Brian stated with authority.
“Yes, Boss,” Ted replied promptly in his usual way. Brian arched a brow, surprised he didn’t get an argument regarding the expense. Ted shrugged as he smiled. “This is a special occasion,” Ted went on to explain, reading Brian's thoughts. Brian gave him a knowing wink.
“People, we all know what we have to do, so let’s go do it,” Brian commanded before ending the conference.
"Well, Sunshine, gay Paree, here we come!"
"Yee haw!" came the response followed by a bright sunshine smile and glowing ocean blue eyes.
"Yee haw," Brian repeated, followed by a deep passionate kiss.
Late November 2025
The Liberty Air plane Brian hired was quickly filling up with Kinnetik personnel, close friends, and key family members. Everyone chosen to go to the opening, rendezvoused in New York. They had a couple of days to take in a few New York City sights, the city was all dressed up for the holidays, before flying to France.
"He looks nervous," Gus commented to Lindsay. Gus noticed Justin was almost buried into Brian's side.
"He always is before a new exhibition," Lindsay informed her son. Soon after takeoff the pilot switched off the seat belt sign, the passengers were free to roam the cabin. It was a long flight, the private plane had lots of room to move about to visit with friends and family.
"I wondered about that. He's had hundreds of shows including the big one in London. How come he's still so nervous?" Gus asked. Lindsay gave her son a knowing smile. "Yeah, yeah, stupid question. No matter how many presentations I make to get that contract, I'm still nervous. I get it."
"Yes, you do. Never take things for granted; never assume there's no one out there better than you because there always is," she said, imparting good advice to her son. Gus gave his mother a hug.
"Love you, Mom."
"I love you too, Lambskin," said Lindsay, using her pet name for her baby boy who was now a man.
"Oh Mom," Gus whined as he hugged his mother harder.
In another part of the plane, Justin was leaning into Brian's shoulder.
"Are you all right, Sunshine?"
"No, but I will be, eventually, like some time next year when I'm sure the show went well."
"This is small time compared to the National Gallery."
"That's bullshit and you know it. But I understand and I'll get over it as soon as I'm there in the gallery."
"Fussing over a sketch or rearranging a grouping of sculptures, no doubt."
"No doubt," Justin mimicked, getting a toe curling kiss for his insolence.
"We could fuck in the forward restroom," Brian suggested into Justin's ear as he nibbled a tender lobe. Brian felt Justin shiver as his cock twitched in anticipation.
"Stop it," Justin admonished, his eyes searching for their daughter.
"Later when she falls asleep," Brian said, knowing what his spouse was thinking about.
"Yes, I am but you love me anyway."
"Yes, I do," Justin stated sweetly. "I always have and I always will," he murmured as he snuggled closer into the safety of Brian's arms.
"No doubt," Brian repeated as he held Justin tighter.
When the big day finally arrived, both Justin and Gus were fussing and inspecting every inch of the Simone Gallery tweaking this, polishing that, and blowing away imagined dust off of anything and everything. Brian and Lindsay found it amusing. Mel found it annoying but what did she know, she wasn't an artist. She thought the whole exhibit looked perfect.
Bree was beaming. She was wearing a pale pink suit, reminiscent of Chanel, especially designed just for her by Nina Richie. Molly did Bree's hair in a simple chignon, held in place by the "B" clip. She looked like a princess. A princess who kept her prince Patrick close for moral support.
As was his custom, Brian stood off in a quiet corner watching Justin "work" the room. This was Justin's time to shine. Brian, thanks to the nudes Justin had chosen to include and prominently display, had become a bit too famous for Brian's liking. Justin was wearing one of his favorite deep navy Hugo Boss suits with a cream shirt. Brian had insisted that Justin leave the tie behind. The look gave Justin's youthful face and physique an air of sophisticated innocence. Brian, wearing black on black, looked lean and mean. Whenever Justin felt the need for an extra boost of confidence, all he had to do was look over to Brian's corner. Justin found it there in Brian's eyes.
After several celebrities and VIPs had come and gone, all overjoyed with the attention Justin paid them and by their latest acquisition, employees of the new Kinnetik Rose advertising agency began to arrive. Pierre proudly introduced his people to Justin, explaining their position in the company and their contribution to this event. Justin took his time with each one of them, thanking them and answering their questions.
"Pierre looks like he's bursting at the seams," Lindsay commented. She and Mel quietly joined Brian in his corner, bringing him a glass of champagne and a small dish of delicate canapés to nibble on.
"He has a right to be, he did an exceptional job advertising this event and with the guest list," Mel added. "Brian, you're awfully quiet. Jealous of Pierre's accomplishments?" Mel teased. She and Lindsay exchanged looks when no caustic reply came.
"Brian, what's wrong?" Lindsay asked as she scanned the gallery looking for something or someone out of place. "Brian?" she said a little louder to get his attention.
"What the fuck is wrong with you, Kinney?" Melanie growled.
"Who is that?" Brian asked, ignoring their questions. The ladies, following his gaze, found the object of Brian's concern across the room speaking with Justin.
"He looks familiar," Mel stated as she set her glass down on a nearby table.
"Yes, he does," Lindsay agreed. She squinted as she took one step closer to get a better view.
"Son of a fucking bitch," Brian swore.
"Brian, who is it?" Lindsay asked with concern. Mel stepped in closer as she stared at the very familiar gentleman.
The parents of Gus made a collective gasp.
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