On The Move
“Hey, Dad,” JR said as her father entered the comic book store.
“How’s business?” Michael asked as he looked around at the empty store.
JR shook her head. Her father wasn’t beating around the bush, and he certainly didn’t use small talk when something was on his mind. Well, she could do the same. “We had a good holiday season,” she said, “but it’s been a bit slow since Christmas, and Jacqueline and I are thinking of buying a house.”
“Slow since Christmas. That’s not good,” Michael said. Then he looked at her more closely. “Did you just say that you’re thinking of buying a house?”
JR nodded. “That’s exactly what I said.”
“But, I thought you were happy in your apartment, and if the store isn’t doing well, how can you even think about buying a house?”
“I didn’t say the store was doing badly. We had a good holiday season, and while it’s slow at the moment, all the late sleeping teenagers will be in here once they drag themselves out of bed,” JR said defensively.
“Look, Dad, buying a house is our decision, not yours.”
“I … I know that, but…”
“No buts,” JR said emphatically. “You and I have been getting along really well lately. Don’t mess that up by trying to talk me out of this. It’s not your concern.”
“Anything that could … be a problem for you is my business,” Michael replied.
“I know, I know, I need to back off.” Michael knew his months of self examination needed to be put into practice. He realized he needed to stay out of his daughter’s life on this tricky point.
JR nodded. “It’s our decision, not yours,” she repeated. “Besides, Jacqueline’s business is doing very well,” she reminded her father. Jacqueline, JR’s partner has her own line of state of the art bicycles. She was a self-made millionaire before meeting JR, and she continued to be successful.
JR stared at her father realizing that was probably the best she was going to get from him. “I did want to ask you if you would be available to man the shop if we have to go look at possible places,” JR asked hopefully.
“Have you started looking already?” Michael asked with a raised brow. He would have liked to have been informed, consulted, asked for his opinion, even if he didn’t agree with the whole idea.
“No, we haven’t even got a real estate agent yet. We’ve just been talking about moving. We could use some more space.”
“I wonder if Jennifer is still working in real estate,” Michael suggested.
“That’s a great idea,” JR said, glad to see that her dad might be willing to help them instead of criticizing.
“Even if she isn’t, she probably knows some other agents that she could suggest. You want somebody reputable.”
“You’re right. Thanks, Dad,” JR said with a smile.
Michael smiled back. He appreciated that he had managed to diffuse the situation. That was one of the things he had learned - not everything was about him and people liked to see him helpful instead of critical. He frowned in concentration, wondering for a moment why that didn’t come easily to him. Maybe it would get easier with more practice. At least he hoped it would.
“You okay, Dad?” JR asked. “You’re frowning.”
“It must be something important by the look on your face.”
“It is important,” Michael averred.
JR studied her father. “So what are you thinking about?” she asked.
“Um, nothing, nothing that important.” Michael wasn’t quite ready to admit his shortcomings or struggles to his daughter. That might come somewhere down the line, but not yet.
“Okaaay,” JR replied, a bit mystified about what her father was doing.
“So, can I help you with anything while I’m here?” Michael asked.
“I got some new items in, so I was thinking of redoing the inside of the front counter.”
“Great, I can help you make a new display.”
“Thanks,” JR said feeling like they were back on more solid ground.
They went into the office and brought out the things JR thought they might use in the glass fronted cabinet of the counter.
As they were trying different positions for the items, Michael decided to tell his daughter the good news. “I wanted to let you in on some good news,” Michael said.
“Good news? I like the sound of that.” Michael smiled; in fact, he grinned like an idiot. “Hey, what’s going on? Why do you have that goofy look on your face?” JR asked.
Michael paused a beat or two, letting the suspense build. Finally he said, “Ben has moved back home.”
“Back home?” Michael nodded. “To your house?” Michael’s grin grew even wider as he nodded again and again. “Oh, Dad, that’s wonderful!” JR grabbed her father and hugged him in her very best Debbie Novotny way.
“You’re squeezing the life out of me,” Michael gasped.
“Good,” JR replied as she finally let him go. “When did this happen?”
“A few days ago. Well, really after Thanksgiving but we officially just got the last of his stuff out of Brian’s loft.”
“What a great New Year’s present.”
“It is,” Michael said quietly. He realized how relieved he was to be able to present good tidings to his daughter instead of more tales of the lonely and lost person he had been for months.
“Is everything good between you two?”
“We’re still working on things, but it’s better than it has been in a very long time. We can talk.”
“That’s a good thing.”
“That looks good,” JR said as she went around to the front of the counter to evaluate their handiwork. “I like it. What do you think?”
“Awesome,” Michael said with a grin. “We make a good pair when we work together.”
“Yes, yes we do. I haven’t seen you this happy in ages.”
“That’s because I haven’t been this happy in ages. I feel like things are finally getting back to normal - to a new normal.”
“I’m glad you said that,” JR said with a somber look on her face.
“What do you mean by that?” Michael asked. The frown on his forehead became very pronounced.
“I just meant that … um … I wouldn’t want you to go back to the way things were when you two were separated. I hope you won’t make the same mistakes over again.”
“Are you saying it was all my fault, because it wasn’t, you know.”
JR realized her mistake in the way she had worded her last statement. She had to be careful, even with the new and improved Michael. “I didn’t say that, Dad. I’m sure there was fault on both sides.”
“Good, I’m glad you realize that.”
Just then the bell over the door of the comic book shop tinkled and two teenagers came in.
JR was glad of the distraction as she went over to them to see if they needed any help.
Michael decided to go into the office. He quietly shut the door behind him and slumped into the big chair behind the desk. “It’s a good thing those kids came in,” he mumbled to himself. ‘I don’t know why I always take things as a personal affront,’ he thought to himself. ‘I should know better by now. I thought I had learned not to do that. Maybe I’m not as far along with the new me as I thought I was. I almost had a fight with Ben this morning, and it was really over nothing. I have to get this under control or I will screw things up with Ben, and maybe with JR, even though she is stuck with me. I need to help her and Jacqueline, not criticize their decisions even if I don’t agree with what they’re doing.’
Michael leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. He did some of the deep breathing that he had been instructed to do when he felt things were getting heated or out of control.
“I will be better,” he whispered out loud.
“Did you say something?” JR asked as she opened the office door.
“No, just thinking out loud.”
“Okay,” JR agreed. “Those kids just spent over a hundred dollars. It was their Christmas money. I told you they’d start coming in this afternoon.”
“That’s great, Honeybun,” Michael said wearily.
JR opened her mouth to tell her father not to call her that, but she stopped herself in time. Michael seemed like he needed her support, not her telling him off. “And they even commented on our display. They bought one of the figures we put in there. I think I have another one in one of these boxes.”
“I’ll help you find it,” Michael offered standing up. It was time to stop wallowing.
Michael smiled at his daughter. “And if you ever need me to cover for you in the store, I’ll make sure to be available.”
“Thanks,” JR said. “That means a lot.” She gave her father another warm hug.
“Holy fuck!” Gus exclaimed as they slowly made their way into their parking spot next to the Tremont building. “We made it,” he said with relief.
The drive back from New York had taken them longer than the drive to New York. A combination of New York traffic and bad weather had added a few hours onto their drive. They all took a cleansing breath before climbing out of the Jeep.
“I’m going to put my overnight bag in my Jeep then I’ll help you with the boxes,” Brian commented as he stretched out the kinks in his spine before taking his bag. The boys nodded, a bit too tired to say much of anything.
“How are we going to do this?” Ray asked. He was so tired that his brain had ceased to function.
“Hand cart,” Brian said when he returned from his Jeep. “Start taking the smaller stuff up to the loft; I’ll get the hand cart,” Brian suggested.
While Gus and Ray grabbed their duffle bags and tote bags of random items, Brian went to the security office and had a brief chat with the on duty doorman. By the time Ray and Gus came back down to the street, Brian had the hand cart ready.
“Come on, boys, you can do this,” Brian cheered on his exhausted boys. “Youth,” he mumbled to himself shaking his head. They got all their boxes onto the cart and into the elevator.
“I can’t believe we did this in one trip,” Ray commented when the elevator arrived at the top floor. He lifted the gate so Gus could maneuver the handcart out of the elevator and into their apartment.
While Gus looked around, Brian slipped Ray a small folded piece of paper. Ray gave Brian a look before unfolding the paper to read the writing inside. He stared at the figure for a moment then looked up at Brian.
“I’ll set up autopay from our account in the morning. I’m assuming one month’s rent and one month security deposit,” Ray asked, daring Brian to defy him. Brian could only nod. “Good. I’ll get the details from Ted tomorrow. You won’t regret this,” Ray assured Brian, his almost father-in-law and now landlord.
“I know I won’t,” Brian said with resignation. Simon was right. “Sonny Boy, I’ll bring the handcart down with me then I’m hitting the road,” Brian called out. Gus was clearing the bed of their travel luggage and shoving the box labeled bathroom toward its destination.
“Wait a minute, Pop!” Gus scrambled over to his father. “Thank you,” Gus said as he gave Brian a fierce hug. “We couldn’t have done this without you.”
“Sure you could’ve,” Brian countered as Ray joined the hug. Brian gave both his boys a squeeze. “Take care of your loft,” Brian murmured as he broke out of the hug, grabbed the handcart and made for the door.
“And remember…” Brian began as he closed the lift gates.
“No tricks after midnight!” the boys shouted back with a laugh.
Brian grinned as the elevator slowly took him down to the lobby.
“Take care of those two,” Brian growled as he returned the handcart to the doorman.
“Don’t worry, Brian, the boys will be just fine,” the man assured Brian. Brian had hired the finest retired cops and firefighters as his security and light maintenance force. And what they couldn’t handle, John and his crew could or knew just who to call. Brian had nothing to worry about except for getting used to the fact that his kids were grown up.
Brian pulled up to the Liberty Diner, parked then dialed his phone.
“Hey,” Brian heard the soothing voice of his spouse.
“Hey yourself. I’m about to head home.”
“Where are you?”
“At the diner. I need coffee. You want something?”
“Just yourself home safe. And maybe some lemon bars.”
“Your wish is my command.”
“Bri, if it’s too icy, wait until tomorrow,” Justin warned.
“It’s not too bad and the salters are out. I’ll take my time,” Brian assured him.
“I promise, Sunshine, and I never lie,” said Brian. “See you in a couple of hours.”
A slightly weary Brian walked into the diner. The bell dinged over the door, the sounds of late night diners, pots, pans, and dishes filled the air. ‘Some things never change,’ Brian mused to himself. Although the faces were all new and fresh. Brian went to the counter and sat on a stool.
“Hi, Brian,” Lacy cheerfully greeted. “What brings you in here so late?”
“We just got back from New York. I need some coffee before I hit the road to the lane. And lemon bars for the blond,” Brian said with a smirk.
“It’ll be great to have the guys in the building. And I’m sure Mel and Lindsay will love having Gus living close,” Lacy commented as she prepared Brian’s travel mug with coffee just how he liked it.
Lacy hadn’t changed much since he and Justin met the frightened waif-like girl years ago. Lacy was tall, thin, with closely cropped hair that gave her a boyish appearance. What did change was her self-confidence. Lacy was the woman behind the revitalized Liberty Diner. And just as Justin still had interest in Rage, so did Lacy, even though Candy was now the principle artist. Lacy and Candy come up with interesting story lines and with Michael, Rage is still saving Gayopolis one fuck at a time.
Brian utilized the rest room before taking his coffee and nicely boxed lemon bars on the road. He slapped down some money on the counter before saying goodbye.
“Keep an eye on the boys,” Brian said as he walked out the door.
“I will,” Lacy called out after him as the cook rang the bell. “Keep your fucking shirt on!” Brian heard Lacy shout as the door shut.
Some things never changed.
“Lucy, I’m home,” Brian whispered as he walked through the cottage front door. It was close to midnight by the time he got home. It had started snowing again which made visibility challenging. But as promised, he had taken his time and got home safe.
Brian could see a fire blazing in the fireplace. He placed his box of lemon bars on the kitchen counter before stripping off his coat and boots. When he tip-toed into the living room, he saw Justin curled up on the sofa, asleep. Brian allowed himself to indulge in Sunshine watching for a few moments before he knelt beside the sofa to kiss the soft pouty lips.
“Hey,” Justin murmured as he stretched out. “What time is it?”
“What took you so long?”
“It’s snowing,” Brian replied.
“I’m fine,” Brian said as he gave Justin another kiss. Brian decided that Justin looked far too comfortable to move. “Stay here,” Brian told him. “I’ll be right back.”
“Okay,” Justin mumbled, quite willing to oblige him.
Brian made a beeline to their bedroom. He shed his clothes, made a pit stop then put on an old pair of sweat pants. He took a fluffy quilt out of their closet then went back to the living room where he found Justin sleeping. Brian stoked the fire, adding a few more logs. He gingerly maneuvered himself behind his mate then covered them up with the quilt.
“Brian,” Justin mumbled in his sleep as he turned to bury himself into Brian’s chest. “Love you.”
“Love you too, Sunshine,” Brian whispered as he gently rubbed Justin’s back.
A very tired but contented Brian followed his mate to sleep.
“We could have waited until tomorrow to put this all away,” Ray grumbled. Gus had insisted that they unpack most of their boxes before going to bed.
“I know but I’d really like a lazy day with you and I wouldn’t be able to relax surrounded by boxes.”
“I hardly think six boxes and a few tote bags constitute being surrounded,” Ray groused. Gus was about to protest when Ray held up a hand. “However, I agree. We can enjoy several guilt free lazy days in bed, or otherwise.”
Gus smiled as he held out his hand. “How about a nice hot shower,” Gus suggested. “I’ll even wash your back.”
“An offer I cannot refuse,” Ray agreed without argument.
The boys began their first shower together as the new tenants of the loft.
“There’s room enough for four people in here,” Ray commented as he stepped into the spacious shower.
“No there isn’t,” Gus said as he turned on the taps. “There’s only room for us two,” he added as he stepped into Ray’s arms.
“Yeah,” Ray agreed as the steam fogged the glass.
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