“Hey, Squirt, whatcha staring at?” Brian asked as he walked down the circular stairs from his attic office to the sun porch. Bree was standing under the chandelier staring out the windows. April was just a few days away, however Mother Nature had decided to take that old adage, “April showers bring May flowers,” to heart. She’d been practicing for a week making sure her April rain drops would fall precisely where she wanted. And what the Great Mother wants, she gets. Even Miss Briana Victoria Kinney-Taylor could do nothing about it.
“Hey, Dada,” Bree replied meekly.
“What’s wrong?” Brian tried again as he stepped up to her side. He gently caressed Bree’s fine strawberry blond hair then hugged her close.
“It’s so yucky outside,” Bree complained.
“You get no argument from me,” Brian agreed as he glanced at the dreary grey clouds.
The lane had experienced an exceptionally difficult winter in more ways than one. Not only were there walls of snow piled high all throughout the lane but the war between the Bruckner – Novotny couple continued to rage on. And due to the constant rain, the landscape of white snow mountains was slowly transforming into muddy hills. There were some brief periods of calm and blue sky but they were few and far between.
“Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about it,” Brian commented as he looked down for a moment at his petite and precocious daughter.
“What’s really wrong? We’ve survived yucky weather before,” Brian said as he gave Bree’s shoulder a little squeeze. He felt Bree shrug her shoulders. “I came down for coffee. Would you like some cocoa?” Brian offered, getting a “Yes, please,” in return. He leaned down to peck Bree’s head then took her hand to lead her to the kitchen.
Brian was heating up the milk, carefully adding cocoa when the front door opened. “Hello, anyone home?” Justin called out. Justin had gone to Harrisburg for the morning to shop for supplies. His mini canvas paintings were selling like mad, Lindsay and the other gallery owners were pushing for more. “I can use a little help.”
“Go, Squirt, I need to watch the milk,” Brian said, adding more just in case his spouse wanted some.
“Coming, Daddy,” Bree shouted as she ran to the door. Within moments, Justin’s SUV was unloaded and his supplies were safely stored away.
“What are you and Dada up to?” Justin asked as he took off his coat. Bree handed her daddy a towel; his hair was covered in a fine sheen of water. “Thank you, Baby Girl,” Justin said as he toweled off his hair.
“Nothing. Dada’s making cocoa,” Bree said with a weak smile. Justin leaned down to peck her cheek.
“That sounds wonderful,” Justin stated, giving his daughter a sunny smile. “Do you think there’s enough for me?” Justin teased as they went to the kitchen. The room smelled like chocolate.
“Mmmm!” both Justin and Bree hummed.
Brian smiled as he gently stirred the milk. “Like two peas in a pod,” Brian murmured to himself as he regarded his beautiful blonds. His blonds made themselves comfortable at the counter anticipating their chocolaty reward. Brian didn’t disappoint as he served up two steaming mugs of rich hot cocoa then quickly adding a dollop of whipped cream to each.
“What’s up?” Justin asked, noting his very quiet Bree.
“Your daughter has observed that Mother Nature has been a bit unmerciful of late,” Brian stated with a formal flair.
“I see,” Justin commented.
“However, methinks there’s more to it,” Brian continued, giving Bree a poignant look. Bree gave a heavy sigh, she could never hide anything from her Dada.
“What is it, Sweetheart? You know you can tell us anything,” Justin urged.
“I’m worried…” Bree began. Justin gave Brian a look. Little girls shouldn’t have to worry about anything.
“About what, Squirt?” Brian asked.
“Uncle Michael and Uncle Ben,” Bree sadly said. “They aren’t getting any better.”
“No, I don’t think they are,” Brian honestly stated.
“Brian…” Justin glared at Brian.
“I don’t like this situation any better than you but I don’t believe in sugar coating it just because Bree isn’t an adult. She knows what’s going on. This affects her too,” Brian said with his usual candor. Justin nodded in reluctant agreement.
“I wish there was something we can do,” Bree murmured.
“Me too, but we can’t. We can only be supportive if either one comes to us,” said Brian as he poured himself another cup of coffee.
“Supportive? Since when does Brian Kinney say words like supportive,” Justin teased a little, trying to lighten the mood.
“Since going through therapy and falling in love with you,” Brian said as he leaned over the counter to give Justin a chaste kiss. “And you,” Brian continued as he pecked Bree’s nose. Brian received bright sunny smiles from his blonds.
“Have Alex and Glen mentioned anything?” Justin asked, already knowing the answer.
“Of course not, those two are beyond ethical. They won’t break their vows of silence. I did speak to Ben when I delivered their mail.”
“Ben, not Michael?” Justin asked.
“I’ll never get a straight answer from Michael. At least Ben makes sense.”
“And?” Justin asked.
“And nothing. Michael believes that their breakup is all because of Ben’s book.”
“Wait, I don’t understand. How can a book written about our entire family be the cause of their breakup? Besides, didn’t Ben say he’d been unhappy for months before he started the book?”
“Give the man a cigar!” Brian crowed. “Michael is heading back to the Pitts now that it looks like the white stuff is finally finished.”
“We hope,” Bree chimed in. Her dads agreed.
“What about Alex and Glen?”
“The therapy twins are not happy with the current state of affairs, however they are rethinking their cottage,” Brian said with a smirk.
“You’re kidding,” Justin said as he got it.
“Nope,” Brian stated, his smirk turning into a grin.
“What?” Bree asked as she looked back and forth at her dads.
“They want their own log cabin,” Justin deadpanned.
“They want their own log cabin,” Brian repeated then the boys cracked up. Bree just shook her head.
“Men,” she grumbled. “Focus, Dada,” Bree demanded. Brian coughed a few times as he got himself under control while it was Justin’s turn to smirk. Brian narrowed his eyes at his recalcitrant spouse, giving Justin the glare of death. Justin held up his hands in surrender.
“The guys will have to go back to the city sooner rather than later since they’re not making any progress,” Brian stated sadly. “I really hoped our intervention was going to work. Maybe it’s time for Ben and Michael to cut their losses.”
Brian turned to face the sink; as he did he hung his head. It saddened him that two of his closest friends were hurting and on the verge of breaking up. Bree looked at her daddy with concerned eyes. Justin whispered in her ear to give her Dada a moment. Ever preceptive, Bree changed the subject.
“What are you painting now, Daddy?”
“I finished my series of winter trees,” Justin replied, giving Bree a wink. “But I’m not sure what to paint now. I haven’t seen any spring flowers yet, only mud. Lots and lots of mud.” Justin punctuated the word mud by gently tapping Bree’s nose with his spoon making Bree giggle. Bree’s giggling cut through Brian’s melancholy, he topped off his coffee mug then turned around.
“Sunshine, you have a wonderful imagination. And you’ve painted plenty of spring flowers. I seem to recall a grape hyacinth with a crocus hat,” Brian teased as he reminded Justin. “Just paint those first spring flowers breaking through the mud,” Brian suggested.
Bree and Justin gaped incredulously at Brian for several moments.
“Uh, are you finished with your cocoa?” Justin asked his daughter as he downed the last few sips in his mug. The wheels were starting to turn in his head.
“Do you want to paint with me?”
“Sure!” Bree said with a huge smile as she jumped off her stool and ran into the sun porch to get out the art supplies. While she set up their workspace, Justin took a minute for his spouse.
“Hey,” Justin said as he sidled up to Brian. Brian wrapped his arms around Justin, relishing the compact strength of his lover, best friend, spouse.
They stayed locked in each other’s arms for several minutes until Brian told Justin, “Go paint.” Kissing deeply before Brian let him go, Justin ran his fingers through Brian’s hair then caressed his cheek.
“I love you,” Justin murmured.
“I know,” Brian replied as they kissed again before Brian gently pushed Justin toward the porch.
Brian looked at the clock on the wall. Deciding to go back to work, he poured himself a fresh mug of coffee then headed back to his office. Several hours later, Brian shut down his computer, happy with the work done by Kinnetik during the day. He leaned back in his chair and listened to sounds of the creative process going on below. As he was calling it a day, his phone rang.
“Good evening, Theodore. To what do I owe the pleasure,” Brian snarked.
“Uh, hi, Brian,” Ted replied hesitantly. “How are you?”
“Pretty much the same since our web conference earlier today.”
“Good, good. Um, how’s Justin?”
“Fine. Bree’s fine too. Get to the point, Ted, while I’m young,” Brian growled.
“Uh, well, um…”
“WegotthelistofexchangeemployeesfromKinnetikRoseandGui’sonthelist,” Ted said very fast then held his phone away from his ear and waited.
“You better warn Mel,” Brian said.
“What?” Ted shouted. “I can’t hear you.” Brian rolled his eyes.
“What? Oh wait,” Ted put the phone back to his ear. “That’s better. Um, what did you say?”
“I said you better warn Mel,” Brian said calmly.
“Are you okay, Bri? This is the same Gui that tried to take away your family.”
“I know but that was a long time ago and he didn’t succeed. I’m forwarding you an email from Pierre. Get him set up in the art department.”
“Not with the ad execs?”
“No, let him watch the artists at work then we’ll pair him up with the ad men.
“Whatever you say, boss.”
“Say good night Ted.”
“Good night Ted,” Ted repeated. Brian sighed then hung up. He broadly smiled as he left his office for the night.
"Yes, who's this?"
"It's me, Michael," Michael said exasperated that his longtime friend didn't recognize his voice. Some friend!
"Oh? Michael ... I haven't heard from you in ages," Emmett responded.
"Phones work both ways. You could have called me."
"I thought you and Ben were working things out. I didn't want to intrude."
"Good excuse," Michael snarked.
"It's not an excuse. Did you and Ben make any progress?"
"That's what I said!"
"I ... I'm really sorry to hear that," Emmett said making a sad face at Drew who was listening intently.
"Ben just doesn't get it," Michael explained.
"No, he won't accept responsibility."
"Are you sure it's Ben?" Emmett felt compelled to ask.
"What the fuck does that mean?"
Emmett drew in a breath. He needed to be careful how he phrased this. "I mean ... that it usually takes two to screw up a marriage."
"What have I done?" Michael demanded.
"I didn't say you had done anything," Emmett backtracked trying to get out of the hole he had dug for himself.
"That's sure what it sounded like."
"I ... um ... wish you two could find some common ground."
"I've given Ben every chance," Michael said defensively.
"Have you?" Emmett asked.
"Why are you trying to make this into my fault?" Michael demanded.
"That's not what I'm trying to do."
"That's sure what it sounds like."
"Michael, I don't want to fight about this. I'm just asking you to think seriously about your part in all of this."
There was a long silence on the line.
Suddenly there was nothing.
"He hung up on me," Emmett said as he set down his phone.
"Are you surprised?" Drew asked.
"Well, he did call me, so, yes."
"Michael lives in his own alternate reality. There doesn't seem to be any way to convince him that he could have some fault in this mess."
"Oh, Drewsie, I hate all this arguing and ... and ..."
"Let's forget about Michael. Come have a glass of wine and I'll show you how much I love you."
"That sounds like the best offer I've had in decades," Emmett gushed with a big toothy grin as he moved to sit beside his husband.
Michael dropped his phone onto the coffee table. He should have known that Emmett wouldn't take his side. Everybody took Ben's side. Why couldn't they see that Ben was the one who was being inflexible? He wouldn't leave the lane and come home as Michael asked. He kept working on that stupid book about Brian. Brian was Michael's friend, not Ben's. Yet even Brian didn't really support him.
With a shake of his head Michael made a decision. Since none of his old friends would come to help him, he'd try some of his new friends. He picked up his phone and dialed the new number he had entered a couple of weeks ago. He had met Kevin at the grocer's around the block. They had ended up walking the aisles of the store together collecting a lot of the same items in their carts. Kevin had said he would like to do coffee one day, so maybe it was today that Michael should make that happen.
"Hi, Kevin, this is Michael, the guy you met at the grocery store a couple of weeks ago."
"Oh? Yeah. I remember. I thought you had blown me off since I didn't hear from you," Kevin said.
"I, um, I was out of town for the last while. Just got back," Michael explained, leaving out where he had been and what he had been forced to do. "Would you like to grab that coffee we talked about?"
"Yeah, unless you're busy," Michael said uncertainly. Kevin didn't sound nearly as enthusiastic about getting together as he had at the store.
"No, no, I'm not busy," Kevin said.
"So? Coffee?" Michael asked.
"Sure, I'll meet you at the Starbucks near the grocery store. Say fifteen minutes?"
Michael set his phone down again. He could use someone to talk to - someone sympathetic to his position. He wondered how much he should tell Kevin. He decided he would play it by ear and see how receptive Kevin was.
Michael whistled tunelessly as he grabbed his coat and headed out the door for his rendez-vous.
Michael had been sitting in Starbucks for almost fifteen minutes past the time he was supposed to meet Kevin. His coffee was getting cold and there was no sign of the man. He was beginning to wonder if he had been stood up. He heaved a sigh and took the last gulp of his barely warm coffee. He made a face and stood up to leave. It looked like he couldn't count on anyone these days.
"Hey," a voice said. Michael turned to see Kevin coming into the store. "Sorry I'm late. Joe called just as I was going to leave."
"Joe?" Michael asked with a frown.
"My partner. He's having a rough time at work and wanted to vent."
"What does he do?"
"He works in advertising."
"Advertising?" Michael asked wondering if Brian would know this Joe.
"Let's get a coffee and find a seat," Kevin suggested.
Kevin go his latte and Michael got another coffee.
When they were seated at the same table Michael had before, Michael had to ask. "What firm does Joe work for?"
"It's called Adventura Advertising," Joe said. "Not much of a company. Joe is in the art department and he doesn't like a lot of the campaigns he has been assigned to do, but there's no talking to his boss. His boss is a real asshole."
Michael breathed a sigh of relief. At least Joe wasn't describing Brian. Brian had been called an asshole many times, so Michael had begun to wonder if Joe might work for Kinnetik. "You and Joe been together for long?" Michael asked.
"On and off for about twelve years."
"That's a good amount of time."
"How about you?"
Michael grimaced briefly. He should have known this question would come up. "My husband Ben and I have been together for over twenty years." Michael frowned. It was even longer than that. He couldn't believe how long it had actually been.
"You said you had a comic book store. I've been meaning to come by and check it out."
"I wouldn't have been there," Michael informed him. "I was out of town." 'Trapped on that fucking lane,' Michael thought to himself.
"Where were you?"
"Ben and I have been having some problems," Michael blurted out.
"Tell me about it."
"You and Joe having problems?"
"I don't know why we are together. So often we rub each other the wrong way," Kevin said. "Like that stupid phone call when I wanted to come talk to you."
"Oh?" Michael said. That was unexpected. Kevin hadn't sounded very enthusiastic about meeting up with him.
"Joe expects me to be at his beck and call all the fucking time."
"I'm sorry you're not happy."
"What's happy?" Kevin asked ruefully.
"Yeah, I wonder that quite often lately."
"So, you and Ben are having problems too?"
"Unfortunately," Michael agreed. He wasn't sure how much to tell this new friend. "That's where I was the last couple of weeks. Ben and I have a place in the country and some friends trapped me there so Ben and I could supposedly work out our difficulties. All they did was pick on me."
"Assholes," Kevin said.
Michael smiled for the first time in what seemed like forever. He had finally found someone who was on his side. "Let's get another coffee and I'll tell you all about it."
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