“Be nice,” Justin admonished as their car pulled up in front of Isles.
“I’m always nice,” Brian snapped back. ‘Why do people think I can’t be nice,’ he thought to himself. “I can do nice,” he stated out loud.
“Suurre you can,” Justin mumbled, eliciting the appropriate glare. “Let’s go; we haven’t been here for a while,” Justin stated as he got out of the car and tugged on Brian’s hand.
Hand in hand, the two walked up the steps of the old Victorian building. “Every time I visit here, I keep expecting Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to come bounding down the steps toward a new adventure,” Brian wistfully stated. Justin gave him a gentle smile. He often had similar thoughts about the building that housed Kinnetik Isles.
“Come on, Holmes, let’s see what Shane has in store for us,” Justin joked as he opened the door. “And remember, be nice.”
“Indubitably, Watson; indubitably!”
“Ah, there you be!” Shane greeted them with bluster. “I was beginning to wonder if Charles had carried ya both off into the bowels of the gallery. But now that you’re here, let me show you some improvements the lass has made while she’s been puttin’ us all to shame. Are you sure she hasn’t taken a correspondence course in advertising in her spare time. What am I saying,” said Shane as he popped himself in the forehead with his hand. “What spare time?”
Shane walked Brian and Justin up, down, and around the building to show Brian some of the subtle changes Melanie had suggested to create better efficiency. The tour ended on the top floor where the artists worked, similar to Kinnetik where the windows had been blown out to allow for more natural light. Justin found himself an empty easel and made himself at home, giving Brian the time he needed to carry on with Kinnetik business.
“She’s tired, Brian,” Shane stated when they were alone. “When she wasn’t being a strong shoulder for that woman of hers, she was hard at work. And not just for Isles; she had her fingers in everything, as you well know,” Shane reminded Brian. “It’s time for her to take a good long vacation. Let the young squire and his man take up the mantle, so to speak. They can handle it.”
Brian studied Shane’s face. His words mirrored Brian’s own thoughts. The girls needed a good long rest; they all did. Gus and Ray were more than willing and able to take up the mantle as Shane said. And they knew Brian was always available; all of Kinnetik knew that.
“Where is she?” Brian asked.
“I’ll take you to her. And Brian, be nice,” said Shane with a twinkle in his Irish eyes.
“I’m always nice.”
Shane rolled his eyes.
“Hey,” Brian gently greeted Mel as he entered her cozy office. She was again consumed with work, hidden by her computer screen, a cup of tea cooling on her desk.
“Hi,” Melanie automatically replied as she jumped; she hadn’t heard Brian come in.
“I’ve heard you’ve been shaking up the hornet’s nest,” Brian commented as he made himself comfortable in one of the cushy chairs in front of her desk. “I like this chair,” Brian commented to himself as he bounced his butt on the chair. Melanie swallowed her snarky retort. “How are you?” Brian asked when he suddenly stopped bouncing like a child and became Mel’s boss.
“Fine,” she snapped back, thrusting out a stubborn chin.
Brian wasn’t buying it. He stared at her for a moment then stood. In three strides he was at her chair, pulling her up, and giving her a strong hug. Mel fought back, not wanting to show Brian, of all people, any weakness of character. But like Lindsay, Justin, and Brian, Melanie was tired. She stopped fighting, sniffling once or twice. She wanted to go home.
“I’ve booked us a flight home on the 28th. Gus called; North is good. He and Ray should be here in a few days. Let them be in charge; they’ll know where to find us if necessary. But I guarantee you it won’t be necessary.” Brian gently pushed her back and with one finger raised her chin up so he could look her into her eyes. “You did good, Mel, better than I hoped. You kept Kinnetik safe for me. Come to the lane, stay with Lindsay at the big cottage. Take as much time as you need. No work. I already convinced Justin to take time off. He needs to reconnect with Bree and to stay home. JR and Jacq plan on taking some long weekends to visit the lane. No arguments, Mel. We go home, you air out your apartment then you and Linds come to the lane,” Brian commanded.
“Okay,” Melanie whispered, unable to argue with him. Besides, she didn’t want to argue. A long quiet vacation was just what she needed. Brian released her then went back to his comfy chair.
“So, what the fuck was up with the sting!?” Brian loudly asked as he narrowed his eyes.
Melanie groaned as she lowered her head to the desk.
“Hey, Bri,” Justin called out to his spouse. Brian had found an unoccupied desk to set up his laptop and had been working for a several hours.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“We worked through lunch and I’m hungry,” Justin said.
“Of course, you are. Any suggestions?”
“Well, why don’t we ask Shane,” said Justin as he leaned his ass against Brian’s desk. Brian took some personal but discrete liberties with one of Justin’s thighs. Ignoring the roving hand, Justin continued. “Apparently, everyone decided that if you weren’t taking a lunch break then neither would they. Now, it’s getting close to tea time and everyone is starving. They’re beginning to rebel, saying that you’re worse than Melanie,” said Justin with a smirk.
“Where’s Shane?” asked Brian.
“Here I am,” Shane appeared. “And since I’m supposed to be the head of this establishment, I’ve been given the responsibility of informing you that if you don’t want a reprisal of the General Strike, you better be ordering some take away. I’ve brought a list of suggestions,” Shane quipped as he handed Brian a bevy of menus then turned to walk away.
Justin took a few of the menus to assist Brian. One of the menus caught Justin’s eye. He slipped it on top of Brian’s pile.
“Do you think they deliver?” Brian asked.
“For you, I’m sure they will. If not, you do have a car with a chauffeur handy,” said Justin with a smirk. Brian swept the younger man into his lap then planted a loud wet kiss on Justin’s lips.
The lovers laughed.
“And this is the reason why I keep you around,” Brian stated with authority as he nibbled on the delicate skin of Justin’s neck.
“At least one of them. Food now, dessert later,” Justin said reasonably.
“Promise?” Brian asked seriously.
“I promise,” Justin vowed.
“Shane!” Brian bellowed.
“You shouted, oh great and affluent one,” Shane teased as he presented himself with a bow.
Brian waved the Harrods Tea menu in front of Shane’s nose. “As owner of this establishment, I give you liberty to order whatever it takes to prevent the strike. You go with him, Sunshine, you know what I like plus you can keep an eye on the budget. I’ll stay here and figure out how I’m going to pay for all of it,” Brian said as got back to his laptop.
Justin gave his man a peck on the cheek before leaving with an amazed Shane in tow.
“Hello, may I speak with the manager. This is Brian Kinney from Kinnetik Isles. Yes, you’ve catered several of our functions at the National Gallery. In a few minutes you’ll be receiving a call from Shane McKenna. Yes, that’s right. Please put his order on our corporate account. Thank you. Yes, I have full confidence in you. Goodbye.”
Bree took the container of flour from the cupboard and set it out on the counter with the other items needed to make her and her daddy’s famous chocolate chip cookies. At least that was how she liked to think of them.
“Hi, Miss Bree,” John said as he came into the kitchen.
“Hi, Uncle John.”
“Have you got everything you need to make your cookies?”
“I think so. I hope we have enough peanut butter if we decide to make a batch of peanut butter cookies as well as the chocolate chip.”
“Perhaps Debbie has some extra peanut butter at her place,” John suggested.
Bree raised an eyebrow, but said, “Yeah, she might. I could ask Peter to bring it.”
“That won’t be necessary. Debbie called a few minutes ago and suggested that you come down to her place to bake cookies.”
“She thought you might need some help and she would be better at that than Bobby and me,” John said with a wry smile.
“Okaaay. But we kind of wanted to do this on our own.”
“You know what Debbie’s like, and she really seemed to want you all to come to her place. Maybe she thinks Peter will be more comfortable there,” John explained. He really wasn’t sure himself why Debbie wanted the kids at her house, but if you were smart, you didn’t argue with Debbie. “I brought a bin to carry all your supplies down to Debbie’s. I can call Ashley’s mom and get her to drop off Ashley at Debbie’s.”
“I guess that will be okay,” Bree said slowly. This wasn’t turning out the way she had thought it would.
“What’s wrong?” John asked.
“I kind of thought I was old enough to make cookies on my own,” Bree admitted.
John chuckled. “You are,” he said with a wink, “but you know what Debbie’s like. She has trouble letting people grow up and she likes to be helpful.”
“She likes to be in charge,” Bree corrected.
“Well, that too. But she loves you all to the nth degree.”
“I know,” Bree sighed.
“So, are we going to Debbie’s or not?” John asked.
“If I said no would it make any difference?”
“It would. I’m not forcing you to do anything you don’t want to do.”
“Thanks for that, and yes, we’re going. Grandma Debbie’s the best,” Bree said with a smile. This wasn’t worth arguing over. She could bake her cookies at Debbie’s just as easily as she could bake them here. She just hoped Grandma Debbie would leave them to make the cookies themselves, without interference.
“You got that right. Debbie is the best,” John stated as he began loading the baking supplies into his bin. “Let’s go,” he said as he finished putting them all inside the bin. “I’ll carry this down for you.” Bree grabbed her recipes and followed him out the door.
A while later Bree and Debbie had the supplies all arranged on her counter. Peter was still in his room, and Bree had to wonder why he hadn’t come out to help them. She hoped he wasn’t having second thoughts about spending time with her and Ashley.
When Ashley arrived there were the obligatory hugs and kisses from Debbie. Then Debbie bellowed, “Peter, get out here. Your company is waiting.”
“I’m coming,” Peter replied as he appeared in the kitchen. “Hi Bree, hi Ashley,” he said with what could only be described as reluctance.
“What the fuck is the matter with you?” Debbie demanded. “This is the first time you’re having visitors and you look like someone just stole your puppy.”
“I don’t have a puppy,” Peter responded belligerently.
“Um, we just want to make the cookies,” Bree interrupted as things began to escalate out of control.
“Yeah, cookies,” Ashley agreed. She didn’t want to be part of any fighting.
Debbie gave Peter a withering look then stomped off toward the living room. “I’ll be in here if you need help,” she threw back at them.
“Phew, she can be a handful,” Bree whispered to the other two.
“I bet she says the same thing about you,” Ashley replied with a chuckle.
“Yeah,” Peter agreed. “I thought we were doing this at your house.”
“Debbie wanted us here for some reason,” Bree explained, “so let’s get to work.”
“What do we do first?” Peter asked seeming to perk up and leave his battle with Debbie for another day.
For the next hour the three young ones, as Debbie would call them, spent their time mixing, shaping and baking their cookies. They made a batch of the chocolate chip and then agreed to make a batch of peanut butter cookies. Both Ashley and Bree wanted Peter to try them. They talked and laughed and teased each other, starting to finally feel at ease with each other for probably the first time.
As the last of the cookies came out of the oven, Debbie came back into the kitchen. “Something smells great in here,” she said eyeing the plates of cookies.
“We just finished and the first batches should be cool enough to eat,” Bree said as she slid cookies from the cooling rack to another plate.
“I’ll make some coffee,” Debbie volunteered. “What would you like to drink?”
“Milk,” the girls said.
“Soda,” said Peter.
“You should have milk,” Bree advised. “Cookies are better with milk and you can dunk them.”
Peter gave her a look, but said, “Okay, milk.”
“Three milks coming up.” Debbie got glasses out and poured milk while her coffee brewed.
“Which kind do you want to try first?” Bree asked Peter.
“Um, the chocolate chip. You said they’re the best.”
“Okay, but you should try the peanut butter too. I think they turned out great.”
They all started munching on their cookies and couldn’t help but have a few moans of satisfaction. Peter admitted that Bree did know how to make great cookies, and that peanut butter cookies were pretty awesome.
“So when did the three of you start hanging out together?” Debbie asked as she refilled her coffee mug.
“It’s mostly Bree and me,” Peter said looking askance at Ashley.
“I’m okay with hanging out with you,” Ashley told him. “I just thought you didn’t want to be bothered with anyone else.”
“Peter and I decided we would have each others’ backs,” Bree piped up.
“That’s nice,” Debbie said. “Just like Justin and Daphne.”
“You mean my daddy Justin?” Bree asked. Debbie nodded.
“Who’s Daphne?” Ashley asked.
“She was Justin’s best friend for many years. Every gay man needs his fag hag.” Debbie cackled at her own joke.
“You think I need a fag hag?” Peter asked with a look of confusion on his face. Then asked, “What’s a fag hag?”
“It couldn’t hurt,” Debbie said, then clarified further. “A fag hag used to be the label given to straight girls or women who’d hang out with gay men. In many cases they were best friends. Your daddy had Daphne. Your dada had and still has Lindsay, although in the truest sense of the label, Lindsay isn’t so straight, and he had me! But I digress. Nowadays, the term fag hag isn’t very PC.”
‘PC,’ thought Peter. ‘What the heck is PC?’ he thought to himself as his eyes drifted to the ancient desk top computer on the desk near the window.
“But in my day, I was very proud of being a fag hag to my boys and all the gay boys and girls of Liberty Ave,” Debbie crowed.
“But…” Peter began. He had tried so hard to keep his sexuality to himself.
“You think I didn’t know you like boys?” Debbie demanded with an arched brow. “My son is gay, I live on a lane with mostly gay men and I used to run the gayest diner in all of Pittsburgh. I know gay when I see it.”
“But…” Peter tried again.
“Don’t try to shit me!” Debbie advised. “I know what I know,”
Bree couldn’t help but chuckle. Ashley looked rather shocked. Obviously, she hadn’t known what Debbie and Bree both had suspected even though when Peter had chosen to come to a school dance, if he danced, it was with a boy. Ashley hadn’t quite connected the dots.
“Why doesn’t my daddy ever talk about this Daphne?” Bree asked, deciding to draw attention away from Peter’s sexuality.
“They had a falling out after Daphne moved away, but during high school they were inseparable,” Debbie explained. “In those days there was a lot of homophobia in schools.”
“There still is,” Peter whispered.
“It was worse back then. Justin had his locker set on fire and he was bullied by the jocks in the school.”
“My daddy was bullied?” Bree asked in surprise. This was not something she ever thought she would hear. Her fathers were so powerful and able to take care of themselves and everybody else.
“’Fraid so, Bree. It wasn’t easy in those days. Daphne stood up for Justin when she could. They even started a club at school to try to make other students understand. They called it the Gay/Straight Alliance.”
“Not a very catchy title,” Peter observed. He was still trying to process that both Bree and Debbie knew he was gay. He had thought he had covered it up pretty well.
“The club didn’t last long. It actually caused some more tension and the school shut it down,” Debbie said shaking her head.
“That’s not fair,” Bree stated.
“No, it wasn’t.”
“How did you guys know … about me?” Peter asked.
“I suspected from the first time I met you,” Debbie said.
“And I saw the way you and Joe got along,” Bree added with a gentle smile for her new friend.
“Joe,” Peter said wistfully.
“Your first crush?” Debbie asked with a chuckle.
“Maybe,” Peter said sheepishly. He wasn’t going to say anything about Patrick.
“I feel like such a dork because I had no idea,” Ashley stated.
“That’s what I hoped most people would think, so don’t feel bad,” Peter said giving her a small but reassuring smile.
“Thanks,” Ashley said.
“Well, now that we got that out of the way, I have to say that I’m really pleased that the three of you are going to look out for each other. Everybody needs friends who will stand up for them,” Debbie said.
“Remember when I first met you, Bree, and you said you would kick the asses of the bullies who were picking on me?” Ashley asked.
“Yeah,” Bree said with a grin.
“That’s our Bree,” Debbie cackled.
“Can I count on you to do that for me?” Peter asked with a coy smile.
“You bet,” Bree said and they all had a good laugh.
None of them doubted that Bree would kick ass if it was required.
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