North to the Max
Emmett strolled up the lane toward Edna’s Treasures at a leisurely pace, gently swinging a full basket of muffins, biscuits, and other treats.As he walked, Emmett was mentally going over the chores that were left to complete before their guests arrived. It appeared that most of the family would join in the fun at some point during the day. Unfortunately, the girls were still in London. Michael was being Michael by threatening not to show up due to the sudden influx of the law enforcement guests of honor. Again, he was under the impression that Brian required Michael’s permission to invite guests to the lane. Brian ignored Michael then made sure that Ben knew that he was more than welcome to join the fun. Ben had already planned to spend the weekend on the lane anyway, despite his ornery spouse. Hunter and JR with their respective partners were caravanning up with Ben, leaving Michael to stew on his own. Which was the other reason why Michael was being an ass.
As Emmett passed the thatched cottage, he could hear the leaves rustling in the cool breeze. Autumn always came early to the lane and this year would be no different. As he approached the conjoined cottages, he stood in the lane, quietly contemplating life and noting how truly blessed he was. Gently knocking on the front door Emmett let himself in. Inhaling the rich aroma of Brian’s favorite blend, Emmett went directly to the kitchen.
“Good morning,” Emmett cheerfully addressed the lord and master while placing the basket on the kitchen table in front of Brian. Brian grunted as he waved his half empty coffee mug in Emm’s general direction. Emmett took that as a sign that he should help himself, which he did then promptly topped off Brian’s mug. Brian was casually rummaging around in the basket for a treat; gradually becoming human as the coffee and carbs worked their miracle.
“What is it this time?” Emmett asked, observing the grumpy expressions. “As far as I know, your family is well, your businesses are booming, and you haven’t lost your best friend.”
An eyebrow arched.
“Let me rephrase that. You still have me, Teddy, John, Ben, and the rest of the boys in the band. Michael’s currently being an ass, just ignore him.” That remark made Brian snort then giggle. “And he’s back.”
“What is it about you Honeycutt? I can no longer enjoy a proper sulk when you’re around,” Brian commented using full sentences.
“I’ll take that as a compliment. Seriously Brian, I do understand the gravity of the situation, of what could’ve happened to the kids. But it didn’t, it all went according to their plan and our princess was surrounded by all those hunky MIBs. That hideous man as well as his network is out of business for good.
“Come with me for a minute, let’s take a look outside; come on,” Emmett said, urging his friend up and out the front door for a few minutes, ignoring the Kinney grumbles.
The boys stood in front of Brian’s door listening to the birds, feeling the breeze, and watching as the bees made their last minute flight for pollen before it got too cold.
“It’s beautiful,” Brian softly whispered, not wanting to break the spell.
“Yes, it is, I’m happy you noticed,” Emmett countered. “We’re very blessed, you and me, don’t you ever forget that. Now let’s go back inside and go over our list. I want to make sure we haven’t forgotten anything.” The boys turned around to go back inside to review the plans for the day and finish their light breakfast.
“As if I could forget anything,” Brian grumbled.
Emmett grinned. “By the way, where’s your better half?” Emmett asked before finishing his muffin.
“Did you wear the poor boy out,” Emmett asked with a smirk.
“If you must know, he wore me out, you know he’s not a morning person.”
“True; and I so thank the gods that you are. Oh well, let’s get cracking. Chop! Chop!” Emmett commanded, clapping his hands.
“She who must be obeyed,” Brian swore before proceeding to chop, chop.
“And don’t call me Honeycutt!”
Unlike her blond father, Bree was up, dressed and out early helping to prepare the lane for all the friends and family that were about to descend. After her chores were done Bree took advantage of the calm before the party. She sat on the swinging bench in front of the Wendy house. Next to her was Old Beau and his pack sunning themselves on the neatly manicured lawn. Beau Jr. now had full responsibility of keeping the lane and its surrounding territory safe along with his mother, Lady Lucie. However, Junior always knew his place when in the company of his sire.
The tension between Bree and her elder father was still thick. Bree especially felt it during the “gar-gar” they did the day before and this morning while she was filling up snack bowls with chips and pretzels. Brian was still very quiet, speaking to Bree in short sentences or just quiet grunts. Every once in while Brian would pull Bree into a strong hug, squeezing the breath out of her then gently push her away. When she questioned her younger father, his advice was to leave it alone and go draw. Justin was sure everything would be fine. Dissatisfied with her Daddy’s advice, Bree decided to seek her other source of wisdom and truth, the one person who had helped Bree make several of the important decisions in her life…her Auntie Emm.
“Oh Sweetie,” Emm began as he gave her a reassuring hug. “Just remember, your Dada loves you so much that it frightens him. He knows you’re a very smart and responsible young woman but when he looks at you he still sees his little Squirt riding in a pouch on his chest. When he learned all the facts, his head knew that you and your brother were in no danger. That the three of you did the most responsible thing you could, to get that horrible man put away. And he’s so proud of you, all of you. But remember, Bree, in Brian’s heart you will always be his little girl. Just give him time; he'll eventually pull his head out of his ass,” Emmett said with a full watt grin.
Bree decided to heed her Auntie Emm’s advice and wait. She just hoped it wouldn’t take too long for her Dada to pull his head out of his ass, because Bree didn’t want her Dada and Daddy to fly off to London until everything was back to normal. So, Bree decided to take her Daddy’s advice and draw. Her Daddy once told her that sketching can be a very personal act and not all of one’s drawings or paintings were meant to be seen. They were meant just for the artist.
Bree sat on the swinging bench absentmindedly doodling, sketching out flowers and trees, when light footfalls on the path to the stream caught her attention.
“Hi, Miss Andrea,” Bree called out. Andrea had stopped by the edge of the trees, uncertain if she was going in the right direction.
“Are you going to the thinking rock?”
“That’s the plan. A nice man, named Drew, at the big cottage said I just needed to take the garden path past the conjoined cottages and it would lead me to the stream.”
“The nice man is my Uncle Drew. He’s married to my Auntie Emm. And you’re on the right path. Would you like me to show you?” Bree offered. When all the trees were in full leaf, the entrance to the stream path looked like a long dark tunnel with dappled sunlight peeking through.
“I don’t want to take you away from your drawing,” Andrea said.
“I’m just doodling,” Bree said as she packed up her pad and pencil then slung the strap of her messenger bag over her shoulder. “Let’s go, Beauie,” Bree said to Beau Jr. Beau senior and Lucie stayed, resting in the warm sun.
“Bowie, as in David Bowie,” asked Andrea.
“Who?” Bree asked, then thought for a minute. “No, not him. His real name is Beau Jr.,” Bree said as she leaned down to pat the large dog on the head. “That’s Beau and his wife Lady Lucie,” Bree said as she pointed to the napping couple. “Uncle John says he’d always had a Beau when he was growing up. All the Beaus were watch dogs,” Bree explained. Andrea took a mental leap and understood.
“Uh, the path,” said Andrea.
“This way,” Bree replied as she and Beau Jr. led the way.
“This is beautiful,” Andrea commented as they slowly traversed the graveled path that was lined with lilies and wild flowers. “Who did all this?”
“My Dada, with help from the gods,” Bree stated.
“Huh,” Andrea murmured as the sound of rushing water grew louder. “This is so wonderful,” she commented as they approached the small clearing just before the edge of the stream. Andrea took a good look around noting a bench that had been conveniently placed in the shade of a large tree. And the small statues standing near the great rock.
“Is that the thinking rock?” she asked as she pointed to the large boulder.
“Yup. We all come here when we need a quiet place to think. You can sit on the rock or use the bench. Beauie can stay with you if you’d like,” Bree offered. Beau Jr. stood patiently at Bree’s side waiting for instructions.
“No, I’ll be all right,” Andrea said as she offered her hand to Beau for inspection. Young Beau gave her hand a sniff then a little lick of approval. Andrea gave Beau a little scratch around his ears then went to sit on the bench.
“Take your time,” Bree said. “You’ll feel much better after the thinking rock works its magic,” Bree stated with confidence as she and Beau turned to take the path back to the cottage gardens.
“Hey Squirt,” Brian greeted his daughter as she cleared the entrance to the path.
“Hi,” Bree replied with a dejected shrug.
“Come here,” Brian whispered. “I love you,” he murmured into Bree’s fine strawberry blond hair as he held her close. “I’m sorry, I was being an ass.”
Bree nodded; she knew her Auntie Emm had it right.
Father and daughter stood hugging for a long time.
“Hey Jus,” Gus said as he came through the sun porch door sipping his coffee when he spied Justin outside staring out toward the stream path. “Contemplating life?” Gus asked as he handed Justin a cup of tea.
“Thanks. Sort of,” Justin replied as he pointed in Brian and Bree’s direction. Gus looked over Justin, following his finger.
“Do you think Pop will ever forgive me like that?”
“He already has,” Justin reassured Gus.
“How about me?” Ray asked as he reach for Gus’ mug. “I really don’t want to look for a new job.”
“You’re both forgiven. He just was not ready to talk about it. Give him time, baby steps. Okay guys?”
“Okay,” said Gus and Ray with visible relief.
“What about your parents?” Justin asked Ray with a smirk.
“Don’t go there. I already got an earful. Apparently, the trafficking network did extend to New York. My parents were informed by the New York City branch of the FBI when the sting was successfully completed. Needless to say, my ears are still ringing,” Ray said, sticking his pinky in an ear for effect. Gus and Justin had a good laugh at Ray’s expense.
“I spoke with Ken; he’s very proud of you,” Justin commented.
“I know, but he might not talk to me for a while,” Ray said with a pout. Gus kissed the pouty lips.
“We’ll soon find out; their plane just landed. They should be here in a few hours. Oh, and Jeffrey’s with them,” Gus said teasing Ray as he checked his phone messages.
“Great,” Ray said flatly with a snort.
“I’ll protect you,” Gus offered. He drew Ray close and began to get all mushy on Ray’s face.
“On that note, it’s time for me to scram.” Justin stated, walking back into the house.
As the day progressed, family and friends drifted up and down the lane, catching up with the latest news and gossip. Enjoying the company, spending time with loved ones, relishing in the fine weather, and meeting a lot of new people was the agenda for the day. As it turned out, due to the success of closing their case, many more of the team were given time off. That included Mr. Murdoch who decided to take advantage of the offer to vacation on the lane and brought his wife, Helene.
“What are you planning on doing?” Murdoch asked Andrea. He cornered her in the sun porch as she refreshed her iced tea.
“I’m not sure. I just know that I can no longer go undercover as a teenager,” said Andrea.
“You have so much experience. You can teach, you don’t have to put yourself at risk,” Murdoch exclaimed.
“I’m aware of that Victor. I just need time to think,” Andrea pleaded.
“I realize that. You’re very good at what you do. I’d hate to lose you.”
“Thank you. You’ll be the first to know when I make my decision,” Andrea assured him.
Murdoch took a plate of dainty canapes out to the yard to share with his wife.
“Leave her alone, Victor. Let her make up her own mind,” Helene Murdoch counseled her spouse.
“I can’t help it; she’s been attached to our department since she graduated from the academy. She’s a good agent.”
“And a good person,” Helene added.
“Yes, yes, you’re right. I’d be very sad to see her go.”
“But you will support her decisions,” Helene coached.
“I will,” Victor promised.
“Come to any conclusions?” Brian asked Andrea as he entered the sun porch for another pitcher of lemonade.
“What do you mean?” asked Andrea. Brian had caught her off guard.
“You spent time by the stream. Most of us who do, either return with more questions, or answers. What did the rock do for you?”
“More questions,” Andrea admitted.
“Let me ask you something. When you were younger, what did you see yourself doing when you reached this age?”
“Security,” Andrea stated with confidence. “I’ve always wanted to be in law enforcement but at some point, graduate into corporate security. I like being proactive rather than picking up the pieces after a crime has been committed.”
Brian stared at the young woman for a moment, the cogs turning in his head. “Schmidt!” Brian loudly bellowed toward the garden. A few seconds later Ted skidded to a halt as he entered the porch.
“What took ya?” Brian asked as he pretended to look at his non-existent watch. Before Ted could sputter out an answer, Brian asked him a question. “Besides being chief bean counter, what other job have you been doing?”
“This is not a trick question, Schmidt,” Brian barked in full CEO mode. Andrea was amused.
“Well, besides being your CFO, I, um…”
“Now, Schmidt, while I’m relatively young!”
“I’m your head of security, sort of. I liaise with Brandon’s computer company,” Ted said.
“And how’s that going,” Brian asked. Ted gave him a look. “Be honest with me.”
“I’m good with the technology, but not that good. We can really use someone who thinks out of the box, who knows what to look for before bad stuff can happen,” Ted said with honesty.
“Bad stuff?” Brian snarked then turned toward Andrea. “You want a job? Before you answer, I want you to take your time and think about it. Theodore can give you the basic info on our company. We have branches here in the U.S., one in the UK, and in Paris. Toronto you already know about. You can live anywhere you want, make your own schedule, and fly out on Kinnetik’s dime. Think about it. Schmidt, answer her questions. Now shoo, go outside and soak up some rays. Both of you,” Brian commanded, making shooing gestures with his hands.
“Brian, what are you doing?” Justin asked as he strolled into the sun porch from the kitchen. He had heard the tail end of the conversation.
“Trolling for a new head of security for Kinnetik. Why do you ask?” Brian spread his arms as an invitation. Justin quickly moved into them.
“Just curious. Do you need a new head of security?”
“Yes. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I know Kinnetik is nothing like the National Gallery but I have lots of reasons to want to make sure each branch is physically secure as well as cyber secure. And I really want Teddy to concentrate on keeping us fiscally sound. He still has too many fingers in several pies. He needs to play to his strengths. Not be distracted by other concerns.”
“Makes sense,” Justin agreed. He hung onto Brian, hugging him closer. “Gus and Ray think you’re still angry at them. Make sure before we leave for London the boys know that you still trust them. Promise me,” Justin insisted.
“I promise, Sunshine. When do you want to go back?”
“Next week, if we can book a flight.”
“Consider it done. What about your paintings?”
“Now that we’re all together, safe, and having you near me, I’ll have them touched up in no time.”
“I won’t leave your side until you push me away,” Brian said as he held Justin tighter.
“Never. I’ll never push you away, Brian. I love you so much. You keep me safe.”
“Love you, Sunshine. And you inspire me, in so many ways.”
The lovers kissed and kissed and kissed.
“If we didn’t have a thousand people on the lane, I’d ravish you here and now,” Brian quipped. He leered suggestively at his spouse.
“We’ve fucked in front of an audience before,” Justin teased, thinking about their old backroom days.
“Too many cops around; we’d be arrested for indecent exposure,” Brian joked.
“Nothing about your dick is indecent. But as soon this day is over, I’m taking a long hard ride on it,” Justin declared.
“Then let’s get out there, enjoy the day, then your ass is mine,” Brian said as Justin leapt into his arms. Brian swung him around as they laughed.
With arms wrapped around each other, the lovers went back outside to spend the day with their family.
Return to North to the Max