With their day of leisure to get themselves acclimated to their current time zone over, the boys were ready to face the new day. They breakfasted then got ready to go to the gallery.
“Is that what you’re wearing?” Brian asked in a not so amenable tone. Justin huffed as he gazed down at his “ensemble” and then upward toward the ceiling hoping for some guidance. When none came, he responded as best he could.
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” Justin countered. He was neat, tidy, wearing clean and pressed clothing. And more importantly, he was comfortable. Justin chose his favorite cargo pants, a short-sleeved powder blue Henley, topped with his ever present hoodie.
“You look twelve,” Brian snarked. Justin searched his tired brain for a snappy comeback but nothing came to him. He couldn’t help but notice that Brian was stunning in his hunter green lightweight cashmere sweater, which brought out the color of his eyes, and well worn designer jeans. But then Brian could be stunning in a potato sack.
“I’m comfortable,” Justin stated with narrowed eyes, daring his spouse to make another remark. After a moment of staring at each other, Justin continued. “This is just a walk through. No press involved. Charles wants to show us renovations and the upgraded alarm system.”
“Are we staying there for the rest of the day?” Brian asked softly. He had no intention of leaving Justin’s side.
“Not planning on it. Do you want to go to Isles when we’re finished at the gallery?” Brian nodded. “Then that’s what we’ll do,” Justin said with a smile. He saw the relief flood Brian’s face. The stress of their long separation hadn’t completely faded for either of them. They felt like they were still walking on eggshells with each other. With nearly thirty years together, it was ridiculous. However, they also knew they’d get over it, eventually.
“I’ll call for the car,” Brian stated as he reached for the phone. Before he could, Justin walked toward Brian and nestled himself against Brian’s chest; Brian’s arms immediately surrounded the younger man in a strong embrace. The lovers stood linked together for several moments, silently expressing their need for each other and grateful to be together. When their moment was finished, they parted to get on with their day.
“Welcome, welcome, my boy,” Charles gushed the moment Justin came through the gallery doors. Lindsay gave Brian and Justin a weak smile. “You look… relaxed,” Charles stated hesitantly as he gazed up and down at Justin. With a fleeting glance at Brian, Charles whisked Justin deeper into the gallery. “Let me show you the renovations and your paintings,” Charles said loudly as he shepherded Justin away.
“Hi,” Lindsay said. Brian took a good look at his long time friend and didn’t like what he was seeing.
“You look like shit.”
“Thanks,” Lindsay snarked.
“When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep?”
“What month is this?”
“Come here,” said Brian as he opened his arms. Lindsay fell into his arms then quietly burst into tears. “When is this dog and pony show over?”
“The grand reopening is on Monday the 27th,” Lindsay confirmed with a sniffle.
“Then by Tuesday we all go home. You, me, Justin, and the she-wolf. No arguments, Lindsay. This has gone on long enough. He’s tired. Between the fire and Bree and Gus playing James Bond, Justin is done. I’m done. And considering how much Kinnetik work Mel did as well as being your rock, I know she needs a good long break. Has anyone been checking on your house?” Brian asked without segue.
“The girls and Ben have been going in and out. He took care of the lawn and stuff,” Lindsay replied from somewhere near Brian’s chest.
“What about Mel’s apartment?”
“Emmett and Ted.”
Brian nodded. “Then there’s no excuse. We go home, you check on your gallery, have whoever continue to keep an eye on it then you come to the lane and stay as long as you want.”
“What about Mel?’
“She comes too.”
“Are you sure? It won’t be a vacation if I have to play referee,” Lindsay stated with a tiny smirk.
“I’ll be on my best behavior; scout’s honor,” Brian said as he held up one particular finger.
“You were never a boy scout, girl scout maybe,” Lindsay said with a chuckle.
“I’m serious, Linds, promise me you’ll spend a few weeks on the lane.”
“Why can’t I just stay home?”
“Because I know you. You’ll start checking your emails on your phone then your laptop, then you’ll make an excuse to go in one afternoon then before you know it, vacation over.”
“I can still drive in from the lane.”
“I’m confiscating your car keys and padlocking the gate,” Brian stated with a glare.
“All right, you’ve convinced me,” Lindsay said with a smile. “You’ll tell Mel?”
“Yes, later today. Justin swears he’s not planning to spend the whole day here. How’s Charles doing?”
“He was in shock at first but then took charge. He dealt with everything and practically everyone. It was all a blur until the authorities informed us of the reason for the arson. Once we got the okay to start the repairs, Charles and Henry called in the contractors. I concentrated on the artists.”
“Must be that famous British stiff upper lip and all. How’s Sam?” Brian asked with a grin and a waggle of his eyebrows. Lindsay smacked his arm.
“He’s fine. He restored his paintings except for one of them. He demanded that it should be re-hung as is.”
“Good for him. You ready to give me the fifty-cent tour,” Brian asked as he offered her his arm. Lindsay kissed Brian’s cheek then smiled prettily as she linked her arm through his to guide him toward the reconstructed wing.
“Melanie, lass, are you ready for a cuppa tea? Or are you in the mood for one of those posh coffees with all the froth?” Shane asked Mel as he walked into the small office that Mel commandeered for her stay at Kinnetik Isles.
Mel looked up from her computer, with weary eyes, her glasses slightly askew.
“Ah, lassie, it’s all over now. Time for you to be going home,” Shane gently stated.
“I’ll go home when she does,” Mel retorted.
“And when will that be?”
“Soon, I think. The reopening is in two weeks.”
“Then go home after that. I’m sure the man will give you all the time off that you’d be wantin’,” said Shane. “Maybe stay on that lane of his,” he suggested.
Melanie shrugged her shoulders. “I’m not his favorite person,” she murmured.
“That’s not true, he trusts you.” Mel shrugged again. “He does. I know he does. He’s proud of you and the work that you do.” Mel looked up in shock. “It’s true. He as much as told me. You held his company together when his mind was torn in two, worrying about his wee lass, and that man of his. Don’t discount all the good work you’ve been doing for this company. And for that woman of yours.”
“Uh, uh, uh! You may not be in a traditional relationship but a fella would have to be blind not to see the love and respect you two have for each other. Even if that relationship is a strong lifelong friendship. It will always be there. You have too much history together, besides those wonderful children of yours. Speaking of which, when will Gus and his young man be arrivin’?”
“They’ll be here for the reopening,” Mel said with a smile and happy with the change of subject. “They’re finishing up at North and will fly in from there.”
“We’ll all be happy to see them,” Shane stated with a twinkle in his eyes. “Those two love stirrin’ up the place,” he said with a laugh. “Now about that cuppa?”
“Yes, please. Tea would be lovely. No froth required,” Mel said with a smile as she turned back to her computer.
“Yes, ma’am,” Shane replied as he left her office.
“Ready for school?” Bobby asked as Bree drank the last of her orange juice. She was having breakfast in John and Bobby’s kitchen. “The bus should be here in a few minutes.”
“I’m ready,” Bree replied getting up from the table. “I need to get my backpack from my side.” She started to walk out of the kitchen.
“There probably won’t be anyone home when you get back from school,” Bobby informed her. “I have to work late and John is in Pittsburgh today.”
“I have my key,” Bree said with a sigh. She didn’t like coming home to an empty house.
“And Emmett’s down the lane, Debbie will be home and Rachel is always available.”
“Have a good day at school,” Bobby said as Bree left the kitchen.
“I will,” Bree said with no real conviction in her voice. She quickly walked through the sun porch, picked up her backpack and stepped outside locking the door to the cottage behind her. She stood outside for a minute waiting for the bus to arrive, but then she made a quick decision and started down the lane. At Debbie’s cottage she went up the walk and knocked on the front door. Debbie answered the door.
“Is Peter able to come out and play?” she asked with a smile.
Debbie let out one of her famous cackles. “He can’t play at the moment, he has to go to school,” she said when she stopped laughing. “What are you doing here?”
“I thought Peter and I could sit together on the bus.”
Debbie’s eyebrows went up into her scalp. “What the fuck brought this on?” she demanded.
Bree giggled. “Language, Grandma Debbie,” she stated.
“Well pardon the fu** out of me! Answer my question,” Debbie retorted.
“Peter and I decided that since we were the only young people left on the lane, that we should stick together.”
“Are you saying I’m old?” Debbie asked with a chuckle.
“You know what they say…”
“And what might that be?”
“If the shoe fits…”
“You really are looking for trouble, aren’t you?” Debbie laughed.
“No, I’m looking for Peter.” They both burst out laughing.
“What are you two doing?” Peter asked as he came to the door carrying his backpack.
“Waiting for you,” Bree said.
Peter’s eyebrows went up into his scalp in Peter’s version of Debbie’s reaction. Bree chuckled and Debbie guffawed.
“I thought we could sit on the bus together,” Bree stated.
“Are you serious?” Peter asked with a frown.
“Completely. What are you worried about?”
“Um, people might start to think I’m straight,” Peter said trying not to laugh.
Bree and Debbie both laughed loudly as the bus went by to turn around at the top of the lane.
“You just made a joke,” Bree said to Peter. “And it was a good one.”
“You seem surprised,” Peter said.
“You’re usually so serious, and dour.”
“I’ll define it for you when we get on the bus … if you sit with me.”
The bus pulled up and Bree got on followed by Peter. He debated going to his usual seat where he always sat alone.
“Morning, Ms. Jenkins,” Bree said determined not to be rude today.
“Morning,” Peter added.
“Good morning to you both,” Ms. Jenkins said with a smile. This was an improvement, she noted.
Bree took her usual seat and tapped the spot next to her as Peter approached. Peter hesitated for a moment and then sat down beside Bree. Several people on the bus looked slightly astonished. Usually Peter didn’t acknowledge anyone else’s presence, let alone sit with or talk to them.
“What about Ashley?” Peter asked in a whisper.
“She can sit with someone else today. She won’t mind.”
“If you’re sure.”
The bus headed down the lane and made a couple of pick-ups before Ashley got on. She looked a question at Bree who merely smiled and winked. Ashley sat with one of the other girls.
“Do you think Ashley will be mad that I’m in her seat?” Peter asked after a moment.
“I’ll make sure she isn’t.”
“How can you do that?”
“Bribery? What are you talking about?”
“Uncle John and Uncle Bobby said I could have Ashley for a sleepover on the weekend. Ashley will forgive me … and you when we do that,” Bree explained.
Bree thought for a moment. “I was going to see if Uncle John or Uncle Bobby would help us make cookies when Ashley comes. Maybe you could join us.”
“You really are serious about being friends, aren’t you?”
“Of course I am. That’s what I told you.”
“I guess I didn’t really believe you.”
“Well, believe it.”
“Okay,” Peter said slowly. “I’ve never made cookies so I don’t think I’ll be much help.”
“That’s okay. I know how to make them. Daddy and I have a really good chocolate chip recipe. Do you like peanut butter?”
“Maybe we can make peanut butter cookies too,” Bree said with a smile.
“Don’t think I’ve ever had a peanut butter cookie,” Peter admitted.
“Wow, then you’re in for a treat,” Bree said with a laugh.
“Are they really good?”
“Yep, everything I make is good.”
“No, not really,” Bree said with a laugh. “I’ve made some truly awful things.”
“Daddy and I tried to make Auntie Emm’s popovers one time, because Dada really likes them.”
“And they didn’t turn out?” Peter asked.
“Dada said he thought Auntie Emm gave us the wrong recipe so that his popovers would always be better.”
“That sounds like your Dada.”
“Anyway, the popovers sucked.”
“Maybe your cookies will too.”
“No way. I told you I have a great recipe and I know how to follow it,” Bree declared.
“If you say so.”
“Are you always this skeptical about everything?”
“It comes from many years of experience with things not turning out the way they were supposed to,” Peter said.
“Well, this time the cookies are going to turn out great.”
“If you say so,” Peter agreed with a smile and shake of his head.
When the bus arrived at the school, Peter and Bree got off together, thanking Ms. Jenkins for the ride.
“See you later,” Peter said as he walked away to his locker to get ready for his first class.
“Yeah, later,” Bree said as she watched him go.
“What’s going on with you and Peter?” Ashley asked as she appeared at Bree’s side.
“I’m trying to be a friend to him,” Bree told her.
“What brought this on?”
“I realized that even though I thought I was being friendly to Peter, I haven’t really been a friend to him.”
“It never seemed like he wanted a friend,” Ashley observed.
“I don’t think he’s ever had or been a friend. He’s had a pretty awful life.”
“And you’re just realizing this now?”
“Yeah, with everybody in my family away, I saw what it must be like for Peter to be all alone. As much as I hate being without my family, I know they’re coming back. Peter’s family completely abandoned him. As far as he knows they’re never coming back.”
“That must be awful.”
“So, are you going to sit with him on the bus all the time now?” Ashley asked.
“No, but maybe for the next while and occasionally after that.”
“It doesn’t mean I like you less, but I want to include Peter in some of what we do.”
“I invited him to make cookies with us this weekend,” Bree said.
“And is he sleeping over like me?” Ashley asked with a grin.
“Of course not,” Bree said indignantly, giving Ashley a look of horror.
“That’s good,” Ashley said, smiling as she linked her arm through Bree’s and they headed for class.
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