Kinney Bros. Inc.
While Justin began preparing the Fractal room for his guests, a blank canvas called his name. He placed the 16x20 prepared canvas on the nearest easel, picked up a pencil then his fingers began to fly. Within minutes a scene was laid out before him. Justin as a child painting-by-numbers with his first art set. Justin as a teen sketching his jacket that hung on the back of his bedroom door. Justin drawing one of his first sketches of Brian after the bashing using the computer program Brian had given him. And Justin painting Bree as she sat on a rock near the stream dipping her tiny toes into the water. All phases of his life that helped to shape the man he was and is.
“Justin,” a gentle voice called to him, bringing Justin back to the here and now. “Your guests are here,” Lindsay said as a half a dozen boys crowded the doorway.
“Hmm?” Justin shook himself out of his reverie. Lindsay caught sight of his new work.
“You’ve been in here less than an hour,” she commented as she approached the canvas. Being as familiar with Justin’s style and with all his works, Lindsay knew immediately what was before her. “This is stunning. May I include it in our next show,” she asked hopefully.
“I, er, sure,” Justin mumbled humbly; a blush worked its way over his face. It sometimes still struck him as inconceivable that anyone would be interested in his work.
“What is it?” a tall young man asked in a belligerent tone. The kid was good looking, nearly as tall as Brian. Justin sensed trouble.
“A self portrait of sorts,” Justin politely replied.
“What the fuck does that mean?” the kid asked.
“What do you think it means?” Justin asked before Lindsay could say anything. He noticed the look on her face that read concern, trouble, and maybe I should call the police. He motioned for her to leave and that he’d be okay.
“A self portrait means a selfie. Everyone knows that,” the kid said smugly.
“What’s your name?” Justin asked before going further.
“Ethan. What of it?”
“Well, it’s easier to address you by your name instead of the tall kid with a chip on his shoulder,” Justin casually replied. His heart was pounding. This was an Ethan that reminded Justin of a younger and very angry Brian. “And yes, a self portrait can be a selfie. But many artists draw themselves as different characters. Or as they were through time which is what I did,” Justin explained.
“This is you at different times of your life,” a painfully shy boy stammered out.
“Yes, it is,” Justin gently replied. “You all can look if you’re interested.” The kids came closer to the easel. “And no, it’s not a test. Something just made me put this canvas on the easel and start to draw.”
“I’m not sure what I’m seeing,” a third boy spoke up.
“This is me around seven or eight. A relative gave me this paint-by-numbers set. I thought it was the best gift I ever got. Of course, my father wasn’t very happy with it but I didn’t care. The set came with a tiny easel barely big enough to hold the picture while I painted. I remember the picture kept falling off a lot if I pressed too hard with my paint brush,” Justin laughed.
“That looks like a denim jacket,” another kid pointed out.
“You’re right, it is. I was trying to get into PIFA. You need a portfolio and I had nothing. And no inspiration. I figured everyone does flowers or a bowl of fruit. I was sitting in my room probably pouting about how shitty the world was treating me when I saw my jacket hanging up on a hook. I took out my pad and began to draw.”
“Did you get in?” someone asked.
“Yeah, but not right away, and I got kicked out. But it all worked out okay in the end,” Justin said with a sigh.
“Who’s the hot naked dude?” Ethan asked showing interest.
“His name is Brian,” was all that Justin would say.
“And the kid?”
“My daughter,” said Justin.
“You have a kid? I thought you were gay,” Ethan said incredulously.
“Being gay doesn’t mean I can’t have children. But we’re not here to talk about me. And our time is limited. If you feel inspired to draw there are plenty of sketch pads and pencils, or charcoal if you prefer. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can paint. We can work out a schedule when you can come back to continue working. We’ll store your projects here where they’ll be kept safe until you return to work on them.
“And you can ask me anything about art. If I don’t know the answer I’ll try to find it for you. Lindsay is an adjunct professor at PIFA; she’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have. And I know Sam Auerbach has been hanging around lately, maybe we can get him in here,” Justin suggested.
The shy boy among the kids, William, was fascinated by the fractal film.
“These are fractal representations of your paintings,” William whispered as he stared at the movie.
“Yes, they are. My son created the film as a part of his own project for school,” Justin explained. “And because he just wanted to do it for me.”
“Is he an artist too?” William asked.
“In a way. He’s in advertising. He works up promotional ads and creates websites for his clients. He uses his talents in more practical ways,” Justin added.
“What the fuck are fractals?” Ethan asked loudly. Justin rolled his eyes.
“Think of fractals like pictures within a picture infinitely repeating itself,” Justin tried to explain. “Chaos theory,” Justin threw in.
As Justin urged the kids toward the art supplies of their choice, negotiations over lunch were in progress.
At the diner, Hunter pecked Jennifer on the cheek as he sat down and again attempted to finish his lunch before it got cold or before Brian stole another fry.
“So what do you have in mind?” Hunter asked. “Gordon’s already rallying the troops.”
“This is more for security purposes once we actually have a structure in place and before it’s sold or rented,” John began. “Similar to our eye in the sky next to the Village garden.”
One of Hunter’s graduates was the first inhabitant of the newly renovated apartment building that stood next to the gated park that housed Justin’s metal henge. He occupied the uppermost apartment that gave him a bird’s eye view of the park. He was a bit of a hermit, worked from home, but was added security for the park.
“Of course, there’ll be a security system in place, but your kids are streetwise. They’ll know the difference between a stray cat and someone looking to break in to steal our equipment,” John added.
“And what if they like the place, do they get first dibs on a maintenance or doorman position?” Hunter asked. It was hard for his grads with a dubious past to find legitimate work.
“Absolutely,” both John and Brian replied. It made perfect sense to the brothers. Everyone deserved a chance at a better life.
“Deal!” Hunter pronounced. “I have a file on all my grads. I know which ones will be a perfect fit for each building. A few have asked about some of the single homes you’re planning to build. They’ve done well and have families of their own,” Hunter quietly said around the lump in his throat. Jennifer wrapped her arm around the younger man.
“You’ve done so much good for the community. We’re so proud of you,” Jennifer said. Brian and John nodded in agreement.
As the waitress came over with their orders and to clear Hunter’s now empty plate, Hunter got up to leave.
“Brian, just as an FYI, I left Blondie at the gallery with a bunch of kids who show some interest in art. So don’t go raggin’ on him if he spends more time in the Pitts. Plus I think Lindsay is working on a new show. You guys may want to stop by once in a while and throw your weight around. There’s one kid in particular that may not easily fall for Justin’s charms. If you know what I mean.
“You’ll know him when you see him. He’s tall, dark, kinda good looking if you like that type. Oh, and his name is Ethan,” Hunter said with a wink as he left the diner.
All eyes were on Brian.
“Hi Dad,” JR said as her father entered the comic book shop.
JR rolled her eyes but held her tongue. “Thanks for coming in.”
“Where are you off to?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Jacqueline called before I called you. She wants me to go with her to see something, but she wouldn’t tell me what,” JR said.
“You don’t think she bought a house, do you?” Michael asked with a frown.
JR felt her heart skip a beat. “She wouldn’t do that without talking to me about it,” JR stated, hoping she sounded confident in what she was saying. Her father’s words had sent a shiver up her spine.
“I hope you’re right. She always seems pretty bossy to me,” Michael felt compelled to add.
“She’s not bossy,” JR retorted. “She’s … older than me and used to making all the decisions for herself. She’s trying to change, and … and she has. She consults me about almost everything.”
“If you say so.”
“Daaaad, why do you always have to be so negative?”
“Sorry, Honey…” Michael caught himself before he called her Honeybun again. As much as he liked calling his daughter by that name, he had learned that he had to limit its use or really antagonize her.
“I hope so,” JR scolded. “I don’t like you criticizing Jacqueline.”
“I wasn’t really trying to be critical of Jacqueline,” Michael said hoping to not make matters worse. “I just wondered why she wouldn’t tell you what she wants you two to do.”
“It is a bit strange,” JR conceded. “Jacqueline’s not usually so mysterious.”
“She is an upfront kind of woman.”
JR somehow felt an implied criticism in her father’s comment, but she decided not to make an issue of it since she couldn’t put her finger on what that criticism was. And she didn’t want a fight right now; she wanted to go meet Jacqueline and find out what was going on.
“I should get going,” JR said.
“How’s business lately?”
“I wish one of these times you would say that business is great,” Michael stated.
JR again felt implied criticism that somehow she wasn’t doing as well with the store as her father expected. She blew out a long breath as she put on her coat. “I’ll see you in a couple of hours,” she said briskly as she headed toward the door.
“Good luck,” Michael replied.
JR wanted to slam the door behind her as she left the store, but she managed to shut the door without too much of a bang. She walked toward the corner of the street muttering to herself. “Be patient with him,” she mumbled. “He’s trying and he’s better than he was. If only he could be less critical about everything I do. Maybe someday he will get that. If only…”
JR looked up from her mutterings. “Jacqueline!” she said in surprise. “I thought I was meeting you at the corner.”
“You were supposed to, but you passed that corner a while ago.”
“Yep. You walked right across the intersection without even a pause. You could have been killed. That’s when I ran after you.” Jacqueline took a few breaths trying to get her equilibrium back. “What’s wrong?”
JR shook her head. “The usual.”
“Got it in one.”
“What did he do this time?” Jacqueline asked with a big sigh.
“The usual,” was all JR could think to say.
“Criticizing your business, telling you everything that’s wrong with me, never pleased with anything…”
“Stop! I don’t want him ruining everything. He is trying to be better about his behavior.”
“But now it’s what’s hidden behind his words, isn’t it?” Jacqueline asked.
JR hurled herself into Jacqueline’s arms. “That’s it exactly, and it’s almost worse than when he shunned you and didn’t want us together.”
“He still doesn’t want us together,” Jacqueline whispered to JR as she hugged her tight. “But we’re not going to let his disapproval destroy us. Are we?!”
“I love you,” JR said as she gradually released her grip on her fiancée. “And nothing and no one is going to stand in our way.”
“That’s my girl,” Jacqueline said with a smile. “Better?”
“Much better,” JR said giving her eyes a swipe to get rid of the tears that had started to well up. “So what do you want to show me?”
“We have to walk down the street a little way,” Jacqueline said.
“Yes, and hopefully you won’t walk into another intersection without looking to see if there are cars coming.”
“If you hold my hand, you could make sure I’m safe,” JR said with a little smile.
“My pleasure,” Jacqueline responded as she clasped JR’s hand and they started down the street.
“I love you,” JR said.
“I love you right back.”
JR smiled, feeling better than she had all day. She realized that she needed to learn to take her father’s words with a grain of salt. If only she could do that. She shook her head trying to get her father’s words out of her head.
“Where are we going?” JR asked after a couple of minutes.
“Just keep walking,” Jacqueline replied.
“When did you become so mysterious?”
“I’ve always been mysterious. I’m just good at covering it up,” Jacqueline said.
JR chuckled. “That’s news to me. I’ve always thought you were very upfront…” JR stopped walking.
“What is it?” Jacqueline asked.
“Upfront, that was one of the words my father used about you.”
“I, um, I took it as a criticism of you.”
“Why would it be a criticism?” Jacqueline asked with a frown. “I would think that being upfront about stuff is a good thing.”
“It is,” JR said with a sigh. “Maybe I was too critical of what Dad was saying.”
“And the problem with that would be…?”
JR had to chuckle again. “I’m always accusing my father of being critical and here I am doing the same thing. I feel kind of stupid.”
“Don’t feel stupid. You’ve probably had a lot of training in being critical over the years. Having to be around your father,” Jacqueline added.
“I never thought about how much his criticism has affected me. I’m going to try to be more accepting. I shouldn’t look for the bad in what he says. I should just accept it as a statement and not judge.”
“Sounds like we both have things to work on.”
“Yeah,” JR said. “I guess we’re both evolving.”
“Don’t evolve too much, or I might not recognize you,” Jacqueline admonished.
“I promise if you do.”
“Backatcha,” Jacqueline said, as they started walking again.
They hadn’t gone far when Jacqueline stopped.
“What?” JR said as she looked around.
“We have an appointment here.”
“We do?” JR looked at the store in front of them. “A jewelry store?” she asked. Her heart leapt into her mouth.
“I thought maybe we could look at some rings,” Jacqueline said almost bashfully.
“Rings, oh Jacqueline,” JR gushed as she hugged her lover again. “But…”
“But what? Don’t you want a ring?”
“We should both have rings,” JR declared.
“Who said we couldn’t?”
“But … we’re saving for a house. I don’t want to be spending money on diamonds.” JR looked crestfallen. The discrepancy in their incomes once more came to the surface.
“Who said anything about diamonds?” Jacqueline said.
“Isn’t that what you meant?” JR asked in bewilderment.
“Come inside and you’ll see.”
“O-kaay,” JR said uncertainly. She was filled with a sense of wonder … and fright. What was this all about?
They entered the store and a girl led them to the office in the back. The man behind the desk stood and came forward to meet them, shaking their hands.
“Please have a seat,” he said. “Jacqueline and I have met before. You must be JR.” JR nodded and gave Jacqueline a questioning look. “I’m Don, Don Willoughby. This is my jewelry store. I also design much of the jewelry that’s in the shop.”
“I saw some lovely pieces as we were coming in,” JR said graciously.
“Thank you,” Don replied. “Jacqueline tells me that you are getting married.” JR nodded. “She came in looking for a pair of unique rings for your wedding.”
“She did, did she?” JR asked smiling at Jacqueline.
“Here’s one possibility that Jacqueline and I came up with,” Don explained. He set a pair of rings on the desktop. “Usually these are for a man and woman, hence the two widths. Of course, if you decide on something like this we can customize them for each of you - make them both the same width or whatever you want.”
“What are these lines on the finish?” JR asked as she picked up one ring and looked at it more closely.
“Fingerprints,” Don said proudly. “You could have your partner’s fingerprint on your ring … if you wish.”
“Oh, I love that idea,” JR said.
“I did too when Don first showed them to me,” Jacqueline agreed.
“And this inscription is lovely,” JR gushed.
“I’m really glad you like them,” Jacqueline said. “I liked them the instant I saw them.”
“I have a couple of other possibilities,” Don said as he drew out two more small boxes from the desk drawer.
“I think these are perfect,” JR said as she continued to hold the ring she had picked up. “They’ll have our fingerprints on them, right?” Don nodded. “Just one more thing.”
“What?” Jacqueline asked.
“Could we put ‘J’ on mine and ‘JR’ on Jacqueline’s?”
“We can do whatever you decide on,” Don said reassuringly.
“Do you like that idea?” JR asked Jacqueline. Jacqueline nodded and smiled. “Then I guess the only thing remaining is the cost.”
“We can work that out,” Jacqueline said firmly. “I took that into consideration.”
“If you’re sure,” JR said.
“I’m very sure,” Jacqueline stated.
“Then we just need to get your fingerprints and write everything down so that it’s exactly how you want it,” Don said.
“I love you,” JR said smiling at her partner.
Jacqueline couldn’t wipe the smile off her face.
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