“That went well,” Mel snarked as she washed the last of the glasses. Brian quietly took each glass, inspected it before drying then returned it to the appropriate cupboard.
“Not,” they both murmured at the same time.
“He spent half the night glaring at everyone,” Mel stated.
“And the other half grumbling that no one’s on his side and we couldn’t possibly understand what he’s going through,” Brian completed her thought.
“How many times did Lindsay and I break up?”
“How many times did I push Justin away?”
“But it worked out for you.”
“And it didn’t for you?” Brian asked.
“Of course not, we got divorced.”
“Yes, but if you really think about it, it did work out for both of you.”
“How can you say that? We, I, broke up my family!”
“No! What the fuck is up with you, Kinney? You make assumptions and manipulate everyone around you. You don’t give a fuck how it turns out, do you?”
“Me and Lindsay loved each other.”
“We had everything; the kids were happy! You ruined everything!”
“Melanie!” Brian roared. “What fucking planet do you live on?! You and Lindsay were miserable. JR was falling apart and Gus couldn’t wait to get the hell out. Think, Mel. Put that brain of yours to work and remember what it was really like. You and Lindsay were not happy. The only things I manipulated were your fucking wedding, encouraging Riley to buy the toll house, and asking Bobby to handle Lindsay’s end of the divorce.
“Mel, listen to me. You know better than most that it takes two people to make a marriage work and those same two people to fuck it up.”
“But we were happy.”
“Were being the operative word. People change, Mel. Shit happens. You either ignore it, fix it, or realize it’s time to cut your losses. You and Lindsay may have ignored your problems for a short time but you did try to fix things, then when you both realized nothing good was coming out of it, you did the next best thing for everyone concerned. You split up and got your lives in order. And look at the results.”
“Kinney, what are you talking about?”
“Putting it simply, Lindsay took over The Bloom Gallery and has art contacts all over the world. You took up my offer…”
“More fucking manipulations.”
“And have become ten times more successful than you ever were just being a lawyer. You have a career that allows you to grow, practice law, and spread your wings in the business. Mel, a day doesn’t go by when a client doesn’t call to renew a contract and wants to deal exclusively with you. You’re good at what you do. And your children are fabulous.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Say nothing. Most people change, evolve, as they grow up, hopefully into something better than what they were before.”
“You never changed, neither has Michael.”
“Of course I changed. Coffee?” Brian offered as he flipped on the coffeemaker. Mel was about to object when he said, “Decaf.” Mel agreed.
“How did you change?”
Brian contemplated for a minute before answering. He poured out their coffee then sat at the counter. “I think I got better as a father and as a partner too.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Mel said, seemingly not impressed.
“You forget, officially I stopped tricking the day of John and Bobby’s wedding. Unofficially, a couple of years before, but I made a vow that day to Justin that I haven’t broken,” Brian stated with a proud smirk.
“That’s over twenty years ago.”
“Yeah,” he said, extremely pleased with himself.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Melanie said with frustration, making Brian laugh.
“I’m just messing with you. And to answer your unspecified question, I love him too much to jeopardize our life together. I’m far from perfect.” Mel rolled her eyes. “But I’m smart enough to know not to fuck up a winning formula. And what Justin and I have…”
“Is a winning formula that can’t be duplicated.”
“The Stud of Liberty Avenue gave up tricking for the man he loves.”
“Therefore, oh fuck therefore!”
Brian cracked up. “You know, it takes a lot of compromising in a good relationship,” Brian said when he got himself in control. “Some big compromises.”
“Like no tricking?”
“Some little, like who’s cooking tonight or whose turn is it to pick up the kids from school. Or do I let him wear those fucking cargo pants to an opening or convince him to wear a suit.”
“Preferably one with a well known label. What’s the point of all this?”
“The point is that a relationship can go south when the compromising stops.”
“Lindsay and I stopped compromising.”
“Probably, but I’m talking about Ben and Michael, apparently they stopped compromising years ago.”
“How did you come to that conclusion?”
“Just observations, that and they haven’t been on the same page for a very long time. Ben enjoys simple things; a nice meal with his husband, quiet nights reading. Michael still thinks he has to prove to the world that he’s married, and the only way he thinks he can do that is by 'doing dinner' with his yuppie neighbors.”
“Yuppie neighbors? What century are you living in?” Brian glared. “But I know what you’re saying. I tried to get Michael to talk about what he and Ben like to do together with JR and Hunter.”
“Wait, let me guess, he just rattled on about his dinners with Biff and Boff and other assorted domesticated fags.”
Mel nodded. “You’re a domesticated fag.”
“True, but I excel in my form of domestication,” Brian smugly declared. Mel shook her head.
“So what can we do to help them?” Mel asked in all seriousness.
“I honestly don’t know. Maybe it’s all for the best. It’s not like Hunter and JR are little kids. They won’t be happy about their parents breaking up but they won’t be surprised by it. Who knows, maybe Michael will reconnect with Dr. Dave. And I happen to know that there’s a certain Frenchman pining away for our musclebound friend.”
“You’re such an asshole,” Mel declared as she prepared to leave.
“That goes without saying but you love me anyway,” Brian snarked.
“True,” Mel admitted with a gentle kiss to his cheek. She chuckled as she left a stunned Brian Kinney standing at his door.
Brian shook his head to clear away stray thoughts as he stepped back into the loft. He decided to call Justin, update him about the dinner and the lack of any positive results.
“Maybe you should call him,” Justin suggested over the phone.
“Not sure what good it would do, it's only been a couple of hours since he went home.”
“You know him so well, Bri, I bet he’d appreciate knowing that you’re thinking of him.”
“That’s just it, Sunshine,” Brian began sadly. “I don’t think I know him at all anymore. The Mikey I grew up with was one stubborn son of a bitch, but eventually he saw reason. Now, I’m not so sure. He’s built up this wall that no one can break.”
“Brian, you were the king of walls when we first met and they’ve all crumbled.”
“That’s because you carry one helluva big sledgehammer, Sunshine; you tore down each one of them.”
“You give me too much credit. You broke most of them yourself.”
“And you were my reward for each one that came down,” Brian lovingly said.
“I love you.” Justin sniffled.
“Love you too, Sunshine.”
“I miss you. When are you coming home?”
“A few more days. There’s more Kinnetik shit I need to take care of.”
“No, but Gui’s got a chip on his shoulder that needs crushing to say nothing of the stick up his ass.”
“Be nice,” Justin admonished.
“I’m always nice.”
“Sure you are,” Justin hissed.
“Have you no faith in me?”
“I have a lot of faith in you, faith that you’ll torture the man to the point that he’ll go running back home. And how would that look to Pierre.”
“I promise to give him a chance to prove himself before I kick him in the ass,” Brian said with a sigh.
“That’s all I ask. You know, if he had married Lindsay, things may have turned out a whole lot differently.”
“Yeah, Gus would have grown up speaking French and JR would have never been born,” Brian grumbled.
“Point taken,” Justin admitted.
For the next thirty minutes the boys spoke nonsense, making sappy kissy noises at each other until they giggled at their own silliness.
“I’ll be home soon,” Brian promised before they cut their connection. Brian checked the time and decided to give Michael a call.
“What do you want?”
“I can’t call to talk to my oldest friend?”
“You could have talked to me a couple of hours ago.”
“I would have if you had talked back instead of growling or ignoring me.” Brian heard Michael snort. “We can talk now.”
“Why does everyone want me to talk? I’m sick of talking; no one ever listens to me.”
“I’m listening now,” Brian gently said as he sat on the sofa.
“It doesn’t help. Talking does shit.”
“What do you think will help?”
“Someone has to do something.”
“Like what, Mikey.”
“Like make Ben see reason!”
“And what should he see?”
“That we’re married and we should do things together,” Michael said with a huff. Brian could almost see the arms crossing.
“What kinds of things?”
“Same things you do.”
“Going out. Having dinner parties.”
“Mikey, let’s put aside the fact that for most of the last six months has been non-stop work for me and Justin. And that the weather has been for shit. Any 'going out' as you put it, has been mainly for Kinnetik business and shoveling fucking snow. And I can’t remember the last real dinner party we’ve had. Mostly it’s just the family coming over.”
“That can’t be true.”
“Because you’re Brian fucking Kinney, that’s why. You make your life sound so dull.”
“Gee thanks, Mikey. But what if my life doesn’t live up to your standards, what if I like dull. Why do you care?”
“Be…because, I just do. You should be out partying every night.”
“Michael, in case you don’t remember, I live out in the sticks. Besides, you want me to be an over the hill club boy?”
“I work hard, Michael.”
“And I don’t?”
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“Then what are you saying?”
‘If you’d shut the fuck up, I’d tell you,’ Brian wanted to say but he didn’t. “At the end of the day, I look forward to spending time with Bree and Justin. And with that big brother of mine and his clan. A wild night for us is putting together a large jigsaw puzzle.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“No, Michael, I’m not. I wouldn’t lie to you. Whether I’m working in the Pitts or up in my attic office, at the end of the day all I want to do is spend time with my family. I missed some important years with Gus and I swore that wasn’t going to happen with Bree. So until my daughter gets sick and tired of her Dada, I’m spending as much time with her as I can.
“Michael, some things are way more important than dinner parties. You have two wonderful children that miss their dad. As for Ben, I’m not really sure how to help either of you. He’s happy being a homebody but he’d be a whole lot happier if you were the body he was home with. Think about it.
“I gotta go, I have an early meeting. I love you, Mikey, always have, always will. I’ll be in the Pitts for a few more days if you want to do lunch or dinner. Okay?”
“Yeah, okay,” Michael softly said.
“I’m serious, Mikey. No matter what happens, I’ll always love you,” Brian assured Michael before he hung up.
“I love you too,” Michael said before he heard Brian cut the connection.
Michael felt the sting of unshed tears in his eyes. He scrubbed at them for a moment then made sure his house was locked up before going to bed.
"Hello?" Brian said into his phone as he lay on his bed in the loft.
"Hi, Dada," Bree responded.
"Shouldn't you be asleep?"
"I'm not a baby, Dada, and it's only a little after eleven."
Brian frowned realizing once again that his daughter was getting older every day. He didn't like it one bit. "That's late ... for someone who has school tomorrow."
Bree sighed heavily to make sure her father got the point that she was annoyed. When was he going to realize she was almost grown up? "Dada, when are you coming home?" Bree asked into her phone. She decided there was no point in arguing about bedtime, so she'd get to the point of her call.
"Just a few days more," Brian responded. "You sound like you miss me," he teased.
Brian couldn't help but smile. "Your Daddy won't be happy to hear that."
"Why? He misses you too."
"Does he now?" Brian's smile broadened.
"He always misses you when you're not here, and so do I."
"I thought your Daddy would be happy painting and cooking and looking after you without me stumbling around in the background."
"You don't stumble, Dada," Bree informed him.
Brian chuckled. "Well, thanks for that vote of confidence anyway."
"Dada, I know you're teasing, but it's lonely here."
"Care to elaborate?" Brian asked with a frown.
Bree sighed into the phone once again. "Patrick is busy trying to get his driver's license. All he wants to do is drive a car."
"What about Peter?"
"Peter's ... Peter. He's never all that friendly."
"Maybe you could make more of an effort with him," Brian suggested hopefully.
"I've tried, Dada."
"I know you have, Squirt. But maybe, you could try again."
"Yeah, maybe," she agreed reluctantly. Her many charms never seemed to make much difference with Peter.
"How's Ashley?" Brian asked.
"She's fine, but she doesn't live real close. We have to make special arrangements to get together after school. It's not like I can go next door and she's there."
"Yeah," Brian agreed. "I'm fresh out of suggestions to help you." Brian hated to admit he couldn't solve Bree's problem, but there was nothing much he could do.
"I didn't expect you to fix everything, Dada. I just wanted to talk to you about it."
"Did talking help?"
"A little bit."
"I love you, Squirt, and I'll be home soon."
"Good," Bree said emphatically. "I love you too. Bye, Dada."
Brian dropped his phone onto the bed in the loft where he was lying. He missed his family too. He would gladly have moved heaven and earth to help his daughter, but he couldn't think of any way to make things better for her. He wondered if this might be the new normal as his daughter grew up.
Bree set the phone down on her nightstand. She stared up at the ceiling. It wasn't her usual thing to be melancholy, but it really bothered her when the people she depended on for company and fun and discussion weren't around. She wondered what she could possibly do to make things better.
"Bree?" a voice said from outside her door.
"Yes?" she said with a frown.
"Are you still awake?"
"I heard you talking to someone. Who was it?"
"Come on in," Bree said softly. She waited till her father had opened the door and taken a seat on the side of her bed. "I called Dada."
"Oh, what did he have to say?"
"You weren't listening?" Bree asked suspiciously.
"I wouldn't do that," Justin said, a little taken aback. "I never listen in on private conversations."
"Never?" Bree asked with a little giggle.
"Well, never, except when it's really necessary to find out something extremely important." Justin couldn't help but grin at his daughter.
"I understand, Daddy. So, did you listen?" she asked with a twinkle in her eye.
Justin shook his head as he smiled at her. "I did not."
"So, what did Dada have to say for himself."
"You know, I may have to start listening at your door if you don't supply me with more information."
They looked at each other, smiled and then hugged.
"I'm sorry, Daddy. I called because I miss Dada and I wanted to tell him that I was lonely because he was gone, and Patrick doesn't want to do anything with me, and I don't like it."
"Hm," Justin replied.
"Is that the best you got?" Bree asked with another giggle.
"'Fraid so. Did Dada have any answers?"
"What are you going to do?"
"I was just thinking about that when you came to my door. Dada said I should be friendlier with Peter, but I don't think that will work. Peter isn't interested in me or anything I do."
"I know you've tried with him."
"I have. Soooo, I was thinking maybe I need to find some more things to do on my own."
"Oh, like what?"
"Maybe I should go riding again. Do you think they would let me do that at the Farm."
"I imagine they would."
"Or I could take more piano lessons. Mr. Riley would like that."
"I bet he would."
"Or I could find something totally new to do."
"And what might that be?" Justin asked.
"I haven't figured that out yet," Bree said with a big sigh.
Father and daughter said goodnight, and Justin headed for his own bedroom. They both had things to think about.
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