North to the Max
Gus, Ray and Bree settled into the suite in the hotel once they arrived from the airport. The house the boys normally used when they were in Toronto was currently occupied, occupied by one Melanie Marcus. The boys had been away for long enough that Melanie had thought it more practical for her to occupy the premises than to leave the house standing empty. It was owned by Kinnetik North, and Gus had told his mother to stay put. They weren’t going to be in Toronto long enough for them to take over the house again.
Bree stowed her clothes in the drawers and closet of her room. It was a pleasant room overlooking a small park. She liked it.
When she had everything put away, Bree stepped out into the living room of the suite. Ray was sitting on the couch looking at his phone.
“Hey,” she said.
“Got everything unpacked?” he asked her.
“Yep, what about you?”
“I leave that to Gus. He likes things in their place.”
“And only he knows the place.”
Ray chuckled. “You got that right.”
“Just like Dada.”
Bree smiled. She really liked Ray. He was such a … guy. “Are we doing anything today?” Bree asked.
“I think Gus wants to go to Kinnetik North and check things out.”
“Am I going too?”
“I would think so.”
“That’s good, because I’d like to get acquainted with how everything runs,” Bree stated clearly.
“Would you now?”
Bree frowned. “Yes, did I say something wrong?”
“No, not at all. It’s just kind of disconcerting how much you sound like Gus and your father.”
“Do I?” Bree asked with a quizzical look on her face.
Ray chuckled. “You could give your brother and your father a run for their money.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You really don’t get what a little powerhouse you are, do you?”
“Yeah,” Ray said shaking his head. “Look at how you buffaloed that flight attendant and got the seat you wanted, and then you strike up a conversation and make a possible connection for more business for Kinnetik North.”
“Hm, I guess I did do all that.”
Bree laughed. “You make me sound like a wrestler or a mogul or…”
“Okay,” Ray interrupted. “Enough about you.”
“Yeah,” Bree agreed. “How about you? Are you and Gus happy? Do you like your job? Do you have any plans for the future?”
“My god, you do like to ask the big questions, don’t you?”
“I ask what I want to know,” Bree replied.
“Straight to the point.”
“Is that a bad thing?” Bree asked with a frown. She heard something a little disconcerting in Ray’s voice.
“No, but sometimes it pays to take a less direct route to the answers you want.”
“Some people might see your direct approach as brusque or dismissive. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”
“No, but how do I know when to be direct and when to be more … roundabout in my approach?”
“You have to listen to people and see how they react to what is going on? Reading people is important in business as it is in life,” Ray explained.
“You’re good at that, aren’t you?”
“I like to think so.”
“Seems like I have a lot to learn still,” Bree said with a sigh.
“What are you, twelve going on twenty-five?”
“Fifteen going on forty?”
Ray laughed, “Good one.”
“I’m really interested in what you’re telling me,” Bree said seriously as she sat down beside Ray. “I know I have a lot to learn so tell me more.”
“That’s the first step in progressing - understanding that you have things to learn.”
“So, is there anything else you need to advise me of?”
“Probably lots of stuff, but I think we should discuss that as it comes up,” Ray said.
“Hey, as what comes up?” Gus asked as he came out of the bedroom. “What are you two conspiring about?”
“We’re not conspiring,” Bree said.
“We were just talking,” Ray added.
“Not going to tell me?” Gus asked with a wry look on his face.
“No,” both Ray and Bree said at the same time.
“Hmphh!” Gus reacted.
“Some things are private,” Ray stated.
“Okay, leave me out and see if I care,” Gus said petulantly.
“We’re not leaving you out,” Ray said quickly. “It was nothing important or we’d tell you.”
Gus looked at Bree who merely nodded agreement with Ray’s statement.
“Okay,” Gus said realizing that they had no intention of telling him. “What do you say about grabbing some lunch and then heading over to Kinnetik?”
“Sounds good to me,” Bree said. “I’ll just get my backpack.” She went into her room to retrieve her bag.
“So what really was going on when I came in?” Gus asked Ray as soon as Bree was gone.
“Bree and I were just having a little chat,” Ray said non-committally.
“Why, about you, of course,” Ray joked.
“Is that right?” Gus demanded.
Ray could see that his partner was getting irritated with him. “It was kind of private,” Ray admitted.
“So you’re not going to tell me?”
“I don’t think Bree would want me to.”
“Since when did you become her confidant and not me?”
“I’d hardly say that I’m Bree’s confidant. I was just telling her some business facts of life,” Ray said defensively.
“Oh, and what might those facts of business life be?”
“You already know them and Bree doesn’t.”
Gus stared at his partner. It wasn’t like Ray to be so evasive. “How do you know that I know them?” Gus asked not ready to drop the subject yet.
“I just know.”
“Why don’t you just tell me?” Gus waited for Ray to respond. When nothing was forthcoming, he said, “You’re not going to tell me, are you?”
“No, no I’m not.”
“Okay,” Gus said with resignation. “I guess you and Bree can have your little secrets.”
Ray chuckled. “You’re not going to coerce me or cajole me or shame me into telling you.”
“If you say so,” Gus said turning to go back into the bedroom.
“Gus,” Ray began but Gus kept on walking. “Gus, don’t let this cause a fight. It’s nothing.”
“If you say so,” Gus threw over his shoulder as he disappeared into the bedroom.
Ray let out a long sigh and slumped down into the couch.
“Is he mad?” Bree asked as she came back into the room.
“He’s not a happy camper.”
“Let’s just tell him,” Bree conceded. “Nothing we were talking about is all that important.”
“I know, but Gus needs to realize that there are boundaries. I don’t have to tell him absolutely everything, especially when it doesn’t really concern him.”
“And does that go for Gus as well,” Bree asked, “that he doesn’t have to tell you everything either?”
“I guess it works both ways,” Ray admitted.
“Glad you can see that,” Gus said as he returned to the living room with his briefcase. “It doesn’t feel good to be excluded.”
“We weren’t trying to exclude you,” Bree said quickly. “Ray was mentoring me about how to handle business situations. He picked up on something that happened on the plane and he wanted to caution me.”
“What happened on the plane?” Gus asked. “I don’t remember a problem.”
“It wasn’t a problem really,” Ray said.
“Ray was trying to teach me that being so direct and maybe a bit confrontational might not always be the right approach,” Bree explained.
“And this is what you were keeping from me?” Gus asked.
“That’s it,” Bree conceded.
“Hardly worth worrying about,” Gus had to admit. “I didn’t mean to pry. I guess I didn’t like being left out is all.”
“Nobody likes to be left out,” Ray said, “and I’m sorry we made you feel that way.”
“I can see that it was private between you two,” Gus felt he had to say. “Next time I’ll mind my own business. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” Bree and Ray said.
“I’m hungry. Let’s get lunch.” Gus slung his arm over Ray’s shoulder as they headed for the door.
And that was the end of it - crisis averted.
“Mama!” Gus called out when he saw Mel sitting at a table set up for four. Melanie smiled brightly at her young co-workers.
“Hi Auntie Mel,” Bree called out. Ray smiled at the petite lawyer, his partner in all things legal at Kinnetik.
“How are you? How was your flight?” Mel asked.
“Uneventful, except for Bree,” Gus stated as he hugged his mother before settling down into his chair.
“Oh, nothing bad, I hope.”
“Nope, just Bree being Bree and networking. She may have scored us a new client,” Gus stated nonchalantly as he perused the menu. Melanie turned to query Ray who just nodded.
“Yep,” was all Ray said with a grin to confirm. Bree took out the business card she received on the plane then passed it over to Mel.
“Why does this name sound familiar?” Mel muttered to herself. “I know, we looked through their catalogue when we were buying furniture for North. Your dad didn’t like it. Said it didn’t feel right,” Mel said as she rolled her eyes. “Office furniture is just office furniture,” she muttered before the waiter came for their order.
“No, it’s not,” Bree said softly.
“Bree,” Gus said low, in an almost Brian-like way as he shook his head at his sister.
“No, it’s all right. Bree, what do you mean?” asked Mel. Bree opened her mouth to speak then glanced at Gus. He shrugged his shoulders.
“I mean, that the office furniture should project the feel of the place, it should help to set the tone. Dada says that North is filled with youngsters and first-timers. He said the furniture should look fresh,” Bree explained over her salad.
Mel stared at the girl. Gus smirked.
“Just go with the flow, Mama. Eat before your salad wilts,” Gus suggested. Mel picked up her fork.
“So should we pursue Dunhill’s fine furniture?” Mel asked after a while.
“Not sure, at least not right away. I think Bree should do some research first and if we like what we see then we can sic Bree on them,” Gus said with an ear to ear grin. Bree smiled brightly as Mel and Ray just shook their heads.
“Anything else going on at home that I should be aware of?”
“The Babylon project is in full swing. Uncle John figures he might have the garage and market done by winter. They already pulled down that old factory, and the skeleton for the garage is up,” Gus explained.
“Wow, they’re moving fast,” Mel exclaimed.
“Seems like it but not too fast. John doesn’t want to disrupt the neighborhood too much and safety always comes first,” Ray stated.
“So, in other words, Babylon is just as busy as ever,” Mel grinned.
“Yup!” Ray replied.
“Auntie Mel, what will I be doing while I’m here?” Bree asked when there was a lull in the conversation.
“The first thing is to set up an appointment with Mr. Waldon; he’s looking forward to seeing you again and giving you a tour of their expanded factory,” Mel replied. “Shelly and I have worked up a tentative agenda for you.”
“Oh, okay, I can’t wait,” Bree said as she sipped her soda.
“How’s your mother?” Melanie ventured.
“She’s fine,” Gus stated. “She did say she misses your dates,” Gus said with a smirk and a waggle of his eyebrows. “Is there something I should know about?” Gus asked as he leaned in toward Mel.
“Nothing much. We do share children and a long history. It’s nice going to dinner with someone who knows you,” Mel explained. “There’s nothing else going on.”
“I don’t see why not. You’re both consenting adults even though the thought of old people doing it is icky,” Gus stated with an exaggerated shudder.
“I’m sure your dad would have something to say about that,” Mel retorted.
“I’m sure he’d say it was icky,” said Gus.
“This conversation is becoming ridiculous. Your dads are notorious for doing “icky” things,” Mel stated making air quotes. Ray snickered.
“They’re men,” Gus said, stating the obvious. “Gay men.”
“Oh, like that explains it all.”
“Of course, it does; we do icky things all the time.”
Mel shook her head. “Enough with the icky talk. Back to business,” Mel strongly suggested which was fine with everyone.
After enjoying their leisurely lunch, they went directly to North to get to work.
Early August and Casa Edna Treasures was very quiet. With the kids up north, John and Patrick spending most days in Pittsburgh supervising the Babylon project, and Bobby at his office daily, Justin was free to concentrate at his easels, leaving Brian to review contracts to his heart’s delight and conferencing with Isles and Rose. He was feeling very pleased with himself and with Kinnetik in general.
Brian shut down his computer then stood at the edge of his balcony surveying his kingdom. The gardens were awash with color and the arbor path that connected the garden to the greenhouse was dripping with lavender blue wisteria.And his resident artist was blissfully at work.
Brian was extremely pleased and at peace.
“Sunshine,” Brian gently called out as he rounded the spiral stairs to the porch.
“Hmm?” Justin mumbled around a paint brush.
“Justin, what can I do to break you of your nasty habit?”
“What habit is that?” Justin asked as he studied his current work.
“The one that has you at risk for blood poisoning or something else equally vile,” Brian said in a very controlled manor.
“What?” Justin asked as he spun around to see very concerned hazel eyes staring at him. “What are you talking about?”
“This,” Brian said as he gently pried the paintbrush out of Justin’s hand to show the artist the teeth marks.
“Oh.” Justin looked a bit crestfallen and very embarrassed.
“We all have habits and our peculiar quirks but I think this one should be stopped,” Brian said with concern.
“You’re right. I have no idea when or how it started but I think I’ve always done it.”
“I’m sure you have but given the unpredictability of your allergies and not knowing what type of varnish your brushes are coated with, it seems smart to curtail this particular habit of yours.”
Justin put his brush in cleaning solution then felt himself engulfed in Brian’s arms. “This is a habit I never want to break,” Justin murmured.
Just then a stomach growled.
“I believe your stomach has spoken,” Brian pronounced.
Justin nodded. “What should we do about it?”
“Stow away your masterpieces then you, my dear Watson, should take a well deserved shower while I fire up the grill. Turpentine and barbecue do not mix,” Brian suggested. “The guys should be home in about an hour.”
“Agreed, my dear Holmes,” Justin quipped, punctuated by several kisses.
The boys turned the art studio back into the dining room then went their separate ways until it was time to get dinner on the table.
“Honeycutt, what brings you to our land of cottages?” Brian snarked as he turned several pieces of chicken.
“Our Hummer, silly, and don’t call me Honeycutt.”
“Seriously, Emm, I didn’t know you were at your cottage.”
“We just got here. We both have some time before our busy season begins. What better way than to spend the time here,” Emmett explained.
“Couldn’t say it better myself. Would you like to join us for dinner?”
“Only if you allow me to help.”
“Couldn’t stop you if I tried.”
“Will the Horvath tribe be joining us and those from the big house?”
“Don’t know, but I wouldn’t mind if you extended the invitation? I want to keep on grilling.”
“It would be my pleasure,” Emmett gushed as he happily swished himself out of Brian’s garden.
“Hey, was that Emmett?” Justin asked as he came out of the porch. He handed Brian a bottle of water.
“Yes, he and Drew realized they had some free time before their next big commitment, so where else better to spend that time.”
“Nowhere that I can think of. You inviting the rest of the lane?”
“Auntie Emm has taken on the task and will contribute to the feast.”
“I’m sure everyone else will too. I’ll go set the table,” Justin said as he turned to leave Brian with his grill, but not before bestowing a loving kiss. “Love you.”
“Love you too, Sunshine.” Brian giggled as Justin happily swished his way back into the porch.
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