The family of the conjoined cottage was in the sun porch preparing for dinner. There was the usual family chatter, catching up with the day’s news, discussing homework, and life in general. Bree and Patrick were setting the table when came a gentle rapping on the front door at Brian’s end of the cottage.
“Who could that be?” Justin casually asked as he was plating up the steamed vegetables.
“Can’t be Debbie,” Brian called out. “She’d barge right in.”
“Not Carl either,” Bobby mentioned. “He knocks twice, opens the door then announces himself.”
“Must be the cop in him,” John commented.
“Definitely not Emmett,” Brian growled. “We’d hear him “you hooing” from down the lane.”
When the knocking became louder, Bree looked around at the supposed grown-ups. She shook her head at their lack of action. “Men,” she grumped then made a beeline for the door. “Hi, Uncle Alex, Uncle Glen; come in.” Fortunately there had been a break in the weather so the men weren’t soaked.
“Hiya, Sweetpea,” Glen greeted Bree as he wheeled himself inside. Alex closely followed.
“We’re in the porch,” Bree stated as she showed them in.
“I told you we were going to interrupt dinner,” Alex griped with a pop to Glen’s arm. Glen just waved him off as he rolled toward the porch.
“Mmm, something smells good,” Glen said with no hesitation.
“Join us,” Justin invited. “We have plenty.”
“We always cook large,” Bobby said as he brought two more place settings.
“Don’t mind if we do,” Glen said boldly as he positioned himself at the table.
“Glen!” Alex admonished his partner. “Please forgive him, sometimes he’s ruled by the id.”
“Sit, Uncle Alex,” Bree urged. Alex sat opposite his partner.
“Yeah, Alex, sit,” Glen demanded.
“Sometimes you have no manners,” Alex hissed.
“I’m tired of eating tofu shit in that mausoleum,” Glen growled back. Alex realized Glen, his fun loving, forever jovial partner, was serious.
“Good God, Glen,” Alex exclaimed with exasperation.
“Sometimes I think you have no faith in me,” Glen murmured.
“Enough!” Brian commanded in a low tone that would have had ad execs quaking in their loafers. “This is our home, not a battleground. Dinnertime is the one time we put aside all the fucking shit of the day and enjoy each other’s company. If you two can do that then you’re more than welcome to stay. If not then don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out,” Brian put his foot down as he placed a large roast on the table. The glare he broadcasted clearly punctuated his point.
“Brian…” Alex was cut off by Glen.
“I apologize, Brian, to you and your family,” Glen began as he slightly pushed himself back from the table in order to face Brian.
“You know we can’t go into detail but what we can say is that for all your good intentions, we failed, for lack of a better term. Alex and I both have had clients where the outcome wasn’t as satisfying as we hoped. But this is personal. We consider Ben and Michael family and that could be part of the problem. We’ve recommended to both of them to seek other therapists,” Glen went on to say.
“And?” Brian asked.
“And we can’t say much more than that,” Alex interjected. “We’ll understand if you kick us to the curb.” Alex stood, waiting for Brian’s reaction knowing the family would follow Brian’s lead.
Brian waved Alex down and indicated to Glen he should get closer to the table. Then Brian left the porch to bring out the potatoes.
“Can you tell us if they’re all right?” John gently asked as he placed a large bowl of salad on the table then told the guys to help themselves.
“All right is a relative term. Michael left as soon as he could. Ben appeared to look forward to the quiet and getting on with his book. Speaking about the book,” Alex began.
“That fucking book,” Brian sneered as the platter holding the potatoes hit the table with a dull thud. “I wish I never agreed to that fucking thing.”
“You do know the book has nothing to do with their problems,” Glen stated. “Their breakup was inevitable,” Glen said flatly as he piled the salad high on his plate.
“Unfortunately we know,” Justin admitted. He received a queer look from Alex and Glen. Everyone took their place around the table and began passing around the dishes. Brian was carving up the roast; he put a thick slice on Glen’s plate.
“We’re aware of Michael’s misconception that the book is about Brian and not the whole family,” John explained. “His jealousy regarding all things Brian is well known, but it seems to have gotten worse since the book. What I don’t get is why Ben hasn’t let him read it? It would have solved everything.”
“Uncle Ben did give Uncle Michael a copy,” Bree told them. The room became very quiet.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Justin asked.
“No one asked me, besides I thought Uncle Ben told you.”
“Wait a minute, if Michael knew all along then why is he insisting that the book is only about Brian?” Bobby asked.
“Because…” Glen began then he caught himself.
“Because he would’ve finally had to admit to himself that he’s partially responsible for the breakup of their marriage,” Brian said reasonably and with sadness. “Excuse me,” Brian said as he stood and went to his bedroom. Justin excused himself as he quickly followed.
“No, let Justin do his magic. He’ll come and get us if he needs help. Let’s dig in before dinner gets cold,” John wisely advised.
“Hey,” Justin said as he entered their room. Brian was sitting in a chair. “Are you all right?”
“All right is a relative term,” Brian parroted back. Regretting his snarky attitude, Brian opened his arms as he stood. Justin moved quickly into them. Brian heaved a heavy sigh. “For most of my life I’ve loved Michael as a brother. I’ve tried not to encourage his fantasies about me. I hate feeling so helpless.”
“I know you do but this is something they have to do on their own. They have to want to fix their marriage.”
“Like we did?”
“Our marriage wasn’t broken. You wanted a wedding that would be recognized by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and I wasn’t convinced it was necessary,” Justin frankly stated. “We were on different paths until I caught a clue and I’ve never been happier. You were right all along,” Justin said with a gleam in his eyes.
“I’m always right,” Brian said smugly. He leaned back to look in Justin’s eyes.
“But I’m right about this. We’ve done all we can to help, now it’s up to them,” Justin said wisely. “I’m hungry, let’s go eat dinner before it’s ruined.”
“You’re right,” Brian teased. The lovers hugged, kissed, then left their room hand in hand.
“We good?” John asked when they entered the porch. Brian nodded. Bobby brought in their plates that had been kept warm.
“We’re good,” Brian acknowledged. He was about to apologize to the room at large when Alex stopped him.
“No, Brian, we insinuated ourselves here tonight. No apologies required.”
Glen wheeled himself over to Brian. He reached out to give Brian a hug which was graciously accepted.
Dinner proceeded without further ado.
Brian was swirling a small amount of brandy around in a snifter. He had offered their guests an after dinner drink which they declined.
“We’re driving back tonight,” Alex said.
“We packed the van before we stormed your parapets,” Glen teased.
“We’re going to miss you,” said Justin.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be back for the summer,” Glen said. “Just promise me that Brian will be tending his garden in those sexy overalls when we do.” Glen gave Brian an appreciative leer. Brian raised his glass, throwing Glen a smoky hot look.
Alex shook his head as Justin rolled his eyes. The conversation went downhill from there. About an hour later Alex announced it was time to go.
“We’ll stay in touch. Brian, we can’t force our help onto anyone but I promise when we get back to the city, I’ll let Michael know we’re available to him.” It was the best they could do.
The Anderson-Morrison family retired to their side the house, the dishes washed, Bree in her room, and the cottage was once again quiet. Brian was enjoying his brandy in front of a fire. Justin snuggled up close, then appropriated Brian’s snifter to take a small sip.
“You enjoyed that, didn’t you?”
“Enjoyed what, Sunshine?”
“Flirting with Glen.”
“Was I flirting?”
“You most certainly were.”
“It was harmless, you know that.”
“Of course I know it, I know everything,” Justin boasted as he took another sip.
“Besides, I have to keep up my skills.”
“My flirting skills. You never know when they might come in handy.”
“You are so full of shit, Kinney,” Justin exclaimed then burst out laughing. “Come on, old man, time to go to bed.” Justin stood and held out his hand.
“Bossy bottom,” Brian grumbled as he obeyed.
“Bossy top,” Justin said with a wink. He then swished his way toward their room.
Knowing he had met his match, Brian secured the fireplace, washed his glass then scurried to their bedroom to his bossy ….
Michael undressed and slipped under the covers of his bed. His hand swept out to the side where Ben used to be. He sighed heavily. As much as he had wanted to escape from the lane, and the fucking interference of Alex and Glen, he missed his husband. Why couldn't Ben give just a little bit and come back to Pittsburgh? But Ben was so inflexible these days. They couldn't seem to find any common ground.
Pulling what had been Ben's pillow against him, Michael curled himself around it. He sniffed the faint odor of Ben on the pillow. Life was so shitty these days.
He rolled onto his back clutching the pillow to his chest. He wanted to stop these thoughts that dragged him down. He had felt pretty good after his talk with Kevin. Too bad he couldn't do that again. Then again, why couldn't he? He reached for his phone on the nightstand. It was almost midnight. He better not call now. If Joe was home that could cause major problems for both of them.
Michael rolled back onto his side and hugged the pillow. He'd call Kevin tomorrow. He wanted to see him again.
"Hey, Dad," JR said as she walked into the comic book store sipping her coffee.
Michael frowned. "Is that from the diner?" he asked.
"Yes," JR said with a sigh. She really didn't want a fight with her father.
"I thought you were never going back there."
"It's you who is never going back there," JR reminded him. "I do what I want."
"Hmpff," Michael reacted.
"I thought you were okay with the latest version of Rage that Candy and Lacy came up with? It does feature Zephyr and Professor Ken."
"I thought I was okay with it too, until I saw the finished product." Michael waved a copy of the new Rage at his daughter. "Have you seen this?"
"Of course I have."
"And you think it's okay?" Michael asked glaring at his daughter and daring her to say that it was.
"Figures!" Michael spat out.
"You got an issue about Zephyr and Professor Ken. Isn't that what you wanted?"
"That was what I wanted. But that's not what I got," Michael almost yelled. "I got a story where these stupid counselors and Rage have to save Ken and Zephyr. Ken and Zephyr were supposed to be the stars, but they're the victims."
"They're not victims," JR objected. "They were just having some problems and they needed a little help to fix things."
"Why couldn't they have fixed it themselves?" Michael demanded. "Zephyr is just as capable as Rage."
"Is he?" JR asked. She had had enough. "Were you and Ben able to fix things by yourselves?"
"We're still ... working on it," Michael said softly hoping that was actually true.
"Are you kidding? Nothing has changed and you're no closer to a solution than you were weeks ago," JR felt compelled to say.
Michael crossed his arms on his chest and glared at his daughter. "How do you know? You know nothing!"
"I know what I see, Dad, and things are a fucking mess with no visible signs of improvement."
"How could I have such a disrespectful and, and, and, just plain mean daughter?" Michael practically screamed before he grabbed his jacket and stomped out of the store.
JR's mouth dropped open. She had never had her father speak to her like that. She wasn't being disrespectful; she was telling him the truth. And she certainly wasn't mean. Someone had to lay out the facts to her father. She heaved a weary sigh and went to call Jacqueline.
"Kevin," Michael said into his phone when his new friend answered.
"Can you talk?"
"I guess so."
"If this is a bad time, just tell me," Michael said getting the feeling that Kevin didn't really want to talk to him. He wondered what had happened.
"Joe and I had a ... a bit of an altercation this morning," Kevin said hesitantly.
"He wants me to have his breakfast ready when he gets up."
"Like a good little wife?"
"And you didn't have it ready this morning?"
"I slept in a little longer than I intended. He was pretty furious with me," Kevin explained.
"What did he do?"
"For a couple of minutes I thought he was going to beat the shit out of me, but then he turned and walked out, slamming the door so hard that the dishes on the table rattled."
"Has he hit you before?"
"I ... I don't think we should be discussing this," Kevin said.
"Let's meet and you can tell me all about it," Michael suggested.
"That's probably not a good idea. Someone could see us and tell Joe."
"Then we need to meet in private. Why don't you come to my house," Michael said. "I'm on my way home right now."
"I don't know," Kevin said uncertainly.
"I think you need to talk, and so do I."
"Okay, text me your address and I'll be there as soon as I can," Joe conceded.
Michael smiled as he texted his address. He wanted to help Kevin, and maybe Kevin could help him. They needed each other.
Some time later Michael sat on his couch staring at the clock on the wall. It was almost an hour since he had talked to Kevin. He had expected Kevin to arrive long ago. Maybe the man had changed his mind. He had sounded unsure about their meeting when they talked on the phone.
Michael picked up his phone willing it to ring with a call from Kevin, but there was nothing. He debated calling Kevin, but that didn't seem like such a good idea. If Kevin was rejecting their meeting, Michael would rather not be told so in no uncertain terms. Maybe he'd wait just a little longer, and hope...
About ten minutes later the front doorbell rang. Michael stood up hoping it was Kevin and not somebody selling something. When he opened the door he found a grinning Kevin staring back at him.
"Hey," Michael said with a warm smile. He was really glad to see Kevin.
"Hey," Kevin responded before pushing past Michael and flopping down on the couch in the living room.
Michael frowned. This didn't seem like the Kevin he had talked to an hour ago. "Are you feeling okay?" he asked.
"You sounded upset when I talked to you on the phone."
"I was upset. Sometimes Joe is a complete asshole."
"I got that impression," Michael agreed sitting down in the chair opposite Kevin. "Did you two make up?"
"Nah, but we probably will. We always do," Kevin said with a sigh.
"Sounds like you have kind of a rocky relationship."
"You could say that."
"So why do you stay with him?"
"What the fuck else am I going to do?"
"Get a job and a place of your own," Michael suggested.
Kevin snorted. "Tried that, didn't like it."
"You see, life is always easier after I do a line or two." Kevin pulled out a small plastic bag and waved it in front of Michael's face. "I think another line would make things seem so much better."
"I ... I'd prefer if you didn't do that in my home," Michael said with a frown. This was totally not what he had expected.
"Oh, come on. Don't be such a prude. I'll share," Kevin said with that grin he had when Michael opened the door.
"I'm not a prude, but I don't want you doing coke in my house."
"Fine, then I'll go elsewhere. I don't need you and your fucking problems. I've got enough of my own." Kevin stood and began to leave the room. "Oh, and by the way, don't fucking bother calling me again. I don't want any more of your pathetic calls."
Michael's mouth dropped open. "How dare you! This is my house and you're no longer welcome here." Michael stood and stepped ahead of Kevin to the front door. He pulled it open and indicated that Kevin should leave.
"I'll go, and gladly," Kevin said. "Asshole!" he added before Michael slammed the door behind him and quickly locked it.
Michael leaned against the door with tears forming in his eyes. How could he have made such a mistake with Kevin? He had thought he had found a new friend who was a good guy, a sympathetic listener, someone he could confide in. He had been so fucking wrong!
"I want Ben," Michael whimpered as he slid down the door and sat dejectedly on the floor with his back against the door.
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