It was mid-September 2027; the boys were one hour into their seven hour flight to London. Justin was curled up into Brian’s side peacefully sleeping. To say that the events of the last couple of months were an emotional roller coaster for the boys was an understatement. After the Labor Day party, life on the lane had slowly returned to normal. Bree focused her attention on preparing for the new school year, as did Peter. Patrick returned to Penn State for the official start of his first semester. Gus and Ray spent several days with their parents on the lane. After Simon and Ken flew home, Gus and Ray spent a few days at the flagship branch of Kinnetik before going back to Kinnetik North to monitor the results of the Dunhill campaign and start the preliminary work on the Waldon expansion PR. Gus and Ray hoped to finish up at North so that they could join Brian and Justin in London for the reopening of the National Gallery. Justin, with renewed inspiration and vigor had finished the restoration on the last of his damaged paintings then quickly shipped them back to Charles.
As soon as their plane took off and the all clear to use laptops was issued, Brian carefully dug out his briefcase from under his seat without dislodging Justin then went back to work. While Mel had originally flown to London to provide emotional support to Lindsay due to the stress surrounding the gallery fire, she spent the rest of her time at Kinnetik Isles. Her work produced several new contracts that Brian was reviewing. Brian hadn’t completely forgiven Mel for her part in the Jacobs caper, but he was working on it. He was also working on the hiring package for one Andrea Renaud, Kinnetik’s new chief of security. Plus, Brian was reviewing the progress on the…
“Brian,” Justin murmured from somewhere near Brian’s ribs, startling the man.
“Tell your gerbil to shut the fuck up, he’s keeping me awake,” Justin commanded as he yawned.
“Yes, dear,” Brian murmured as he quickly shoved his stuff back into his briefcase then requested a blanket large enough for two. He tucked one side of the blanket around Justin then hugged him closer before drifting asleep.
“So Sunshine, what do you want to do first?” Brian asked as the boys climbed into the car that Brian hired for their stay. “We can go directly to the gallery, or get some real food, or to the hotel.”
“Hotel,” Justin wearily replied.
“Yes. We can get real food sent to our room and there’s no need to rush to the gallery. Charles and Lindsay have it covered.”
“Hotel it is,” Brian said, as he indicated such to the driver. “Sunshine, should we expect a frantic call from Lindsay or a highly persuasive one from Chaarles?”
“Probably both, but I’m inclined to pull my Justin Taylor man of mystery routine.”
“You haven’t been that man for a long time.”
“I know. Sidney always knew when it was time for me to dial it back for a while and not flood the market. Lindsay and Charles have a tendency to want to keep me in the limelight. They also like to parade me around during the gallery’s emerging artist show,” Justin said with a sigh. “It’s not on purpose.” Brian arched his eyebrow. “Well, maybe it is,” Justin said with a coy smile. “But it’s what they do.”
“The holidays are coming up soon; Kinnetik’s business is ramping up. You can take time off and let me bring home the bacon for a few months,” said Brian. “You can paint and draw at your leisure. Spend time with Bree.”
“I’d like that.”
“Your wish is my command, Sunshine, but you might get blowback from Lindsay,” said Brian as he sat back. His gerbil was already formulating plans.
“I know but I haven’t signed any contracts; I haven’t made any promises to anyone. I like the idea of spending time at home and painting when the spirit moves me.”
“You do your best work when you do,” Brian said proudly. “What about commissions?”
“I only have a few; they shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Okay. So, our immediate agenda is to check in, order a nice meal then relax for the rest of the day.”
“Yup. Throw in a nice long shower and you’ve got yourself a plan,” Justin agreed as he settled back while they completed their ride to the hotel. “We can deal with everything else tomorrow.”
With years of experience behind him, Brian knew the signs and symptoms of one burnt out artist; he knew just what to do about it. And may the gods help the person who’d get in Brian’s way.
Bree arrived home from school on the bus. She wasn’t looking forward to another day of staying in her home by herself, even if her uncles would be right next door. Things hadn’t been the same since Ray and Gus went back to Toronto and Patrick went back to college. She heaved a sigh as the bus made a U-turn at the top of the lane and stopped halfway between her house and Peter’s. She picked up her backpack from the seat next to her and trudged to the bus door.
“Bye, Miss Bree,” the bus driver said cheerfully.
“Yeah, bye,” Bree replied curtly as she stepped down off the bus. She didn’t look back as she headed toward the conjoined cottages.
“Bree,” a voice called. She didn’t look back. “Bree! Wait up,” Peter said as he ran up beside her. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“What? Nothing’s wrong.”
“What is your problem?” Bree demanded wanting to be left alone with her misery.
“My problem? I’m asking what is your problem.”
“I don’t have a problem.”
“Is that why you were so rude to Ms. Jenkins when you got off the bus?” Peter asked.
“I wasn’t rude!” Bree protested. “Was I?” she asked after a brief pause. Her forehead wrinkled in concern. “I … I didn’t mean to be rude,” she said contritely.
“Well, you were pretty brusque with her.”
“What’s going on with you?”
Bree heaved a sigh. They were almost at the cottage door. She looked at Peter and it suddenly hit her. He must feel almost as alone as she did. “Would you like to come in and have a soda with me?” she asked wondering if this was a good thing to do.
“Oh? Um, yeah, sure,” Peter stammered.
They entered the house and headed for the kitchen. Bree dropped her backpack and so did Peter. She opened the fridge and asked what Peter would like. He chose a Coke and she had a 7-UP. They went out to the sun porch and took seats in the loungers. They each sipped their soda in silence.
After a couple of minutes, Peter said, “So, are you going to answer my question now?”
“What was the question?”
Patrick snorted. “You know.”
Bree shook her head. How much should she tell him? She glanced over at Peter who was calmly sipping his soda. She was torn about what to say. Taking a quick breath, she decided to forge ahead since she had asked Peter to come in.
“I don’t like that I’m here all by myself,” Bree said scarcely above a whisper.
Peter almost choked on his soda. Bree was the golden girl who got everything she wanted. How could she possibly be upset? She had everything. “You, you can’t be all by yourself,” Peter said. “Your fathers would never leave you alone.”
Bree sighed and fought back the tears she could feel behind her eyes. “I know I’m not really alone,” she admitted. “Uncle John and Uncle Bobby are right next door, but it’s not the same without my dads and Gus and Ray.”
“At least you have people you wish were here,” Peter growled. “I have no one.”
“You have Grandma Debbie and Grandpa Carl.”
“They love you, you know that, don’t you?” Bree asked suddenly regretting that she had invited Peter in.
“Yeah, I guess, but it’s not the same as my actual family.”
“I think they’re better than your actual family,” Bree averred.
“Who isn’t better than my loser father? He was only too happy to be rid of me.”
“And Grandma Debbie and Grandpa Carl were so happy when you came to live with them.”
Peter snorted. “That’s not quite true. I gave them a hard time at first and I know I’m not easy to deal with.”
“Then why don’t you make it easier to deal with you?”
“I try, but sometimes I have so much … rage, I can’t contain myself,” Peter admitted.
“Oh Peter,” Bree said softly.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to say that.”
“Yes you did, because that’s how you feel.”
“I choose not to feel,” Peter stated matter-of-factly.
“How can you do that?” Bree asked with a frown.
“Years of practice and you get quite good at it.”
“That doesn’t sound like much fun,” Bree said.
“I’m not talking about fun. I’m talking about surviving, not feeling the … pain,” Peter admitted, but the last word was almost impossible to hear, except that Bree did hear it.
“That doesn’t sound like a very nice way to live your life.”
“Believe me, it’s not!” Peter said as he stood up. “I should get home. Debbie will be wondering where I am, and I … I’ve said too much already.”
“No you haven’t, Peter. I’m always willing to listen to you.”
Peter turned to face Bree. He shook his head. “When have you ever had time for me? You and your fathers and your uncles and … Patrick. Life is so easy for all of you. You … you have everything, and I have nothing. Have a nice life, Briana Victoria Kinney-Taylor,” he said as he marched back into the kitchen to retrieve his backpack.
“Peter, wait,” Bree called as she jumped up from the lounger. “Wait, please.”
She heard the door slam and knew he was gone. She had really made a mess of this. She slowly sat back down wondering how she could possibly fix this. She had wanted to help, but she had made everything so much worse. She leaned back in the lounge chair and shut her eyes. Peter thought she had everything, but here she was all alone with nobody to talk to or to give her advice about what she should do.
Bree didn’t know how long she sat there like that, regrets and worry and sadness alternating through her brain and her body. It seemed like forever, but suddenly she heard a voice call her name.
“Auntie Emm?” Bree said as she realized who it was. “I’m on the sun porch.”
“Hi, Sweetie,” Emmett said with a big grin as he entered the room.
“What are you doing here?” Bree asked.
“And a cheery good day to you too,” Emmett replied, his grin faltering. “Your fathers asked me to check in on you every now and then.”
“I don’t need to be checked on!” Bree declared.
“I’m just doing what your dads asked me to do,” Emmett said hesitantly.
“I’m fine, so leave me alone.” Bree crossed her arms on her chest and glared at Emmett.
“Bree, you don’t sound fine. What on earth is wrong with you? Why are you being so rude?” Emmett asked in bewilderment.
“You’re the second person today to tell me that I’m rude. I must be the rudest person in the whole world,” Bree stated defiantly.
“Forget rude. What’s going on, sweetie?”
Bree felt tears start to well. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she managed to get out.
“I think you do need to talk, and you know I’m willing to listen.” Emmett sat down on the edge of Bree’s chaise and reached out to her. She allowed herself to be drawn into a warm hug, and the tears came.
“What’s going on, baby?” Emmett asked when he felt Bree’s sobs slow down.
The simple question this time opened the flood gates and Bree let it all pour out - about feeling alone, reaching out to Peter and finding that he thought she had everything when she had nothing at the moment, being called rude, Peter walking out on her making her feel that she and her family had not helped him. Everything he said had some truth to it, but it hurt so much when none of it had been intended in the way Peter perceived it.
Emmett reached for the box of tissues on the little table next to the chaise. Bree took a couple and blew her nose and wiped her eyes. Emmett looked at the little girl who was now a teenager and so grown up in most ways. She seemed like the tiny child he had known all her life. She had shrunk somehow with everything that had happened to her that day.
“Okay?” Emmett asked after a bit.
Bree nodded slowly. “I’m sorry for yelling at you.”
“Sweetie, that was hardly yelling. I’ve been yelled at by a lot worse than you over the years.”
“Yeah, but I was rude. I … was mad and … hurt.”
“Peter’s words hit home, huh?”
“He must feel so alone sometimes,” Bree said softly. “I know my dads are coming home in a while, but his dad is likely never coming back. He really has no one.”
“Now hold on a minute,” Emmett cautioned. “He has Debbie and Carl and all of us on the lane. We’ve all told him that we’re here if he needs us.”
“I know, and I think he understands that, but it’s still not really family.”
“Many of us have had to create our own families. That applies to me.”
“Have you ever told Peter that?” Bree asked.
“Um … no, I guess I never have.”
“It might help if you did.”
“You’re right and I will,” Emmett said sincerely.
Bree smiled at her Auntie Emm. He really was the best. “I’m really sorry about before,” she admitted.
“I know, Sweetie. It’s not easy for you either with everyone being away.”
“I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself though. I have so much … especially compared to Peter. My life is so much easier than his.”
“Nobody’s life is easy when you get right down to it. We all have problems and sadness from time to time. It’s all a matter of degree.”
“Yeah, but Peter does have a much higher degree of things to deal with.”
“Have you ever told him that?” Emmett asked with his toothy grin in place.
Bree chuckled. “You’re so bad! And so good!”
“That’s my gift to the world,” Emmett said with a mega smile.
Bree reached up and hugged her Auntie Emm so hard that he squealed.
“My god, you’re getting strong!” he said.
Bree made a muscle with her right arm. “I’m grown up now,” she declared
“Don’t we know it!”
“Thanks for coming to check on me,” Bree said softly. “I’m glad you were here to help me.”
“Well, that’s a big turnaround from when I walked in,” Emmett stated with a smile. “You know you can always call on me whenever you need anything.”
“Well, I should go get some dinner ready for my man,” Emmett stated as he stood up. “Would you like to come with me and have dinner in our cottage?”
“Is Uncle Drew here with you?”
“Yes he is.”
“Then you two should have some quality time alone,” Bree said.
“We’d love to have you for dinner.”
“Maybe tomorrow if you’re still here.”
“We’re here for a couple more days,” Emmett said. “Are you sure you’re okay now?”
“Not totally okay, but better,” Bree averred.
“Okay. Then if my work is done here, I’ll be on my way.”
“And thanks again.”
With a wry smile, Emmett walked out of the sun porch.
Bree sat for a long time on the chaise. Her thoughts ran rampant about what she had done, what Peter had accused her of, what Auntie Emm had told her. She wondered what she could do to make things better. She wasn’t sure she could ever make things right, but “better” was at least a start.
“Bree. Bree! Bree!”
“Huh, oh hi, Uncle John,” Bree said when she finally realized someone was talking to her.
“Where were you just now?” John asked.
“I gathered that, but what about?”
“Something that happened with Peter today,” Bree admitted.
“Peter? What happened?”
“It’s something I want to deal with myself. I need to apologize to him.”
“Okaaay,” John said uncertainly. “If I can help in any way, let me know.”
Bree shook her head. “I need to do this myself.”
“Bobby will be home in about half an hour. He’s bringing pizza and I was going to make a salad to go with it. Sound good?”
“Could I invite Peter to join us?”
“Of course you can.”
“He might not come.”
“That’s okay too.” John went back to his cottage to make the salad.
Bree got up from the chaise and decided what she had to do. She left the cottage and walked slowly down the lane. She could have called Peter on the phone, but she thought this needed to be done face to face. She wondered if Peter would accept her invitation or slam the door in her face. Hesitantly she knocked on the door of Debbie’s cottage.
When the door opened, Bree was face to face with Peter.
“What do you want?” Peter demanded.
“Now who’s being rude?” Bree retorted before she could stop herself. She had come to apologize and this was not a good beginning. “Sorry,” she said immediately. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
“I don’t think you can say anything I want to hear.”
“Come outside and let me explain,” Bree requested. “Please,” she added.
Peter stepped outside and shut the door behind him. “Okay, what do you want to say?”
“I … I’m sorry about what happened. I was feeling lonely and … and abandoned when I got off the bus. You wanted to help and I was rude. I realize now that what I was feeling is only a fraction of what you must feel. I’m sorry I didn’t realize that sooner.”
“Okay,” Peter said softly. “Apology accepted.” He turned to go back into the cottage.
“Wait,” Bree said. “I know that’s not enough. I want to be friends.”
“Oh, like you have been all this time?” Peter asked without turning around.
“No, like a good friend would be, by spending time together and … having each other’s backs.”
Peter turned around then. He studied Bree’s face and believed what he saw was sincerity there. He didn’t know how to reply. “I…” He couldn’t find any words.
“I know we have a long way to go to get to that point, but I’d like to try. We’re the only young people left on the lane, so we should stick together.”
Peter hesitated. He couldn’t believe he was hearing this. It would be nice to have a friend, a real friend. “I guess we could try,” he said slowly.
“That would be great,” Bree said with a smile and a bat of her violet eyes. “Uncle John says we’re having pizza and salad for dinner. Would you like to join us?”
“That sounds good,” Peter admitted. “I need to clear it with Debbie.” He stepped back inside while Bree waited on the front step. Quickly the door opened and Peter came back out. “All set,” he said.
They began walking up the lane. Bree wondered if Peter had really forgiven her. This was a first step anyway. Peter wondered how long this so-called friendship would last before Bree forgot all about him once again.
They both decided that time would tell.
Return to Open Arms