Brian rolled over and blinked himself awake. He gave a little groan before sitting up. It was Black Friday, the day after the Thanksgiving get-together. Brian looked at his sleeping partner. Justin had done well at the dinner. He was almost back to his usual self after the stint in the hospital. And he certainly had been his old self during the night, as they had made love multiple times. Brian hoped he had not caused Justin to relapse by their rather strenuous activities.
“You awake?” he whispered to Justin.
“The hordes are about to descend,” Brian stated as he glanced at the clock.
“Unnnhhh,” Justin groaned.
“A little, but I also feel great,” Justin said perking up.
“We haven’t lost it yet,” Brian grinned.
“Apparently not,” Justin replied with a satisfied smirk. “I feel … yummy,” he added with a large stretch.
“You look yummy,” Brian purred as he rolled on top of Justin to nibble his lips. “Taste yummy too.” They languished together for a few more minutes before something in Brian’s demeanor changed.
“What’s wrong?” whispered Justin as he hugged Brian closer.
“I didn’t hurt you?” Brian murmured into Justin’s neck.
“Not at all, I loved every minute of it,” Justin said as he gently bucked up against Brian’s hip. Justin felt Brian relax again.
Brian smirked. “Always glad to have a satisfied customer.”
“Very satisfied,” Justin grinned. “Do you think we can lock the door and stay in bed for the rest of the day?”
“Not going to happen. A big tall fairy would be hallooing outside our door non-stop.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Justin agreed as he threw back the covers. “Shower?” he asked with a waggle of his eyebrows.
“Sounds good,” Brian said as he forced himself to leave their comfy bed.
Some time later Brian and Justin were in their kitchen making preparations for the brunch that everyone had been invited to. Bree was taking dishes from the dishwasher and setting them out on the table once again. The cottage door opened and Emmett arrived with muffins and popovers. Brian could smell the popovers as soon as Emmett entered.
“Popover, now!” Brian said in a commanding voice.
“Yes, sire,” Emmett acquiesced immediately. The smile on his face showed how glad he was Brian still loved his popovers. Brian took a bite of the popover and let out a satisfied groan. “I see that it meets with your approval,” Emmett smiled.
“At least you can do one thing exceptionally well,” Brian stated, but his smile showed that he was teasing.
“You’d be amazed at what I can do exceptionally well,” Emmett declared.
Brian shook his head, but had to admit, “Yeah, I bet I would.” Brian gave Emmett a wink. The tall man beamed.
The rest of the lane began to stream in. Rachel and Debbie helped Brian with his eggs. Stephanie pitched in making toast. There were platters of bacon, sausage and the occasional roasted veggie for one particular professor.
Soon they were all seated at the long table enjoying the scrumptious fare. Justin was next to Stephanie and Sabastian. He felt Stephanie’s eyes on him as she seemed to ignore her food.
“Is something wrong with your breakfast?” he finally asked.
“Oh, um, no. I’m sure it’s delicious,” Stephanie stammered.
“Do I have spinach in my teeth or a long hair growing out of my nose?” he asked with a chuckle. “You seem to be staring at me.”
“Oh, sorry. It’s just that you seem to be … healthier, almost glowing today.”
Justin felt himself blush. “I do feel good today,” he said non-committedly. He quickly glanced at Brian who was all innocence and not about to help his husband. His satisfied smirk said he was content to let Justin deal with the situation. Justin wasn’t at all sure that Stephanie was prepared to hear the real reason for his renewed vigor.
“Doesn’t he look better today?” Stephanie said to her husband.
“What?” Sabastian asked. He had been digging into his bacon and eggs and hadn’t paid any attention to what else was going on beside him.
“I just told Justin that I thought he looked much better today - almost like he’s fully recovered,” Stephanie explained.
“Oh?” Sabastian scrutinized Justin more closely. “You do have a rosier hue to your cheeks. Are you feeling better?”
“Glad to hear it. You’ll have to tell us your secret.”
Brian gently elbowed his husband and smirked some more. Justin glared but said nothing. Sabastian went back to eating and Stephanie finally started in on her food. Crisis averted … or so they thought.
“Justin has that just fu…” Debbie interjected.
“Deb,” Carl warned cutting her off. “There are children present,” Carl hissed.
“Oh, right, pardon my French.”
“I know what you were going to say,” Gus singsonged with a twinkle in his eye. “I think we all know how much Pop and Justin love each other, and there is a natural consequence of that.” The evil boys in the room snickered.
“Exactly correct,” Bree nodded in agreement to her big brother.
The whole table looked at Bree wondering just what she knew and what she was saying.
“More popovers?” Emmett said cheerily trying to get their brunch back on the food train and off the s-e-x train.
Several people raised their hands and the popovers were passed around.
“I think I’ll indulge in one more,” Brian stated grabbing one from the basket as it was passed by. He pulled off a bite and popped it in his mouth. “These should be outlawed. They’re just too good.”
“Wait, was that Brian Kinney remarking about food?” Alex asked with a hand to his ear.
“I think we’ve found his one weakness,” Glen said. “Who would have thought it was popovers?”
“Are you sure that’s his only weakness?” Drew asked.
“What do you mean, sweetie?” Emmett asked.
“I would say Justin is his greatest weakness,” Drew asserted.
“Oh, of course,” Emmett agreed. “And then there is Bree, and Gus, and…”
“Hey, how did this lovely gathering turn into pick on Brian day?” Brian asked.
“I just find it fascinating that they think of those things as weaknesses. I would consider them strengths,” Sabastian said out of the blue.
The whole table stared at the good doctor.
“That was so sweet,” Stephanie said giving her husband a peck on the cheek.
“Was it?” Sabastian asked surprised at himself.
“Very sweet,” Justin agreed.
“More muffins?” Emmett asked; the popovers had vanished. The muffin basket was quickly passed around.
As more guests arrived from the city, another round of bacon and eggs were whipped up. This time it was just Brian doing the whipping and adding the flipping of pancakes. The newcomers included Ted, Allen, Lindsay, Mel with JR and Jacqueline.
“JR!” Bree screeched as she ran over to give her big sister a hug. JR quickly made the rounds, grabbed her fully laden plate then she and Bree sequestered themselves in Bree’s room for a good long chat.
“Well, that’s the last we’ll see of those two for a while. I barely got a kiss from JR,” Gus grumbled good-naturedly then settled down at the table with another plateful.
“Better watch it, Sonny Boy. You don’t want your partner looking for a sleeker model,” Brian stated as he patted his flat tummy.
“No worries, Pop, I know his weakness; cupcakes,” Gus said with a grin. Ray just shook his head as he pinched a piece of bacon off Gus’ plate.
“Who’s JR?” Stephanie asked no one in particular.
“Bree’s sister,” Debbie supplied.
“Okay, now I’m totally confused,” Steph said as her coffee mug clunked onto the table. Her confusion was met with chuckles from around the room.
“Let me break it down for you,” Gus offered. “Are you ready?” Gus asked with a sly grin.
“Be nice, Sonny Boy,” Brian warned but his eyes sparkled with mischief.
“I’m always nice, Pop. Here we go, Lindsay and Mel over there,” Lindz and Mel gave a little wave, “are my and JR’s moms. I belong to Lindz and Pop. JR belongs to Mel and Michael. Bree belongs to Justin, Justin belongs to Pop so that makes me, JR, and Bree brother and sisters!” Gus crowed with satisfaction.
“I’m sorry I asked,” Steph said as she consoled herself with another muffin. The family laughed and brunch continued.
“I was told this porch is your studio,” Steph began sometime later as family and guests mingled. “Would it be presumptuous of me to ask to see some of your work in progress?” she asked Justin.
“Not at all. You can see some of it now but when the table is pushed away, I can give a closer view,” Justin said as he pointed up. Stephanie followed Justin’s finger.
“Wow, how ingenious! Who thought of that?”
“John did. He’s a crafty guy to have around. Patrick is following in his footsteps. Other than Rachel’s house and that side of the cottages, John and his men built everything on the lane,” Justin said fondly and with pride in his brother-in-law’s creativity and skill.
“Glen said something about John becoming a doctor of cottages,” Steph said with a grin.
“It just seemed like a natural progression for him. His interest in older architecture grew and we were traveling a lot at the time,” Justin said with a shrug. “So he studied for his PhD.”
“You all travel together?”
“Sometimes. We traveled a lot when the kids were younger; it seemed easier when they were more portable,” Justin laughed. “As they grew and as everyone’s business grew, we stay a little closer to home. Bree and Patrick have many activities to attend.”
“I know the feeling. You’ve built yourselves a wonderful paradise out here; I’d never leave it,” she remarked.
“Come on, I need to stretch my legs. Let me show you the greenhouse,” Justin offered.
“I’d love too,” Steph agreed.
Even though it was the end of November, it wasn’t too cold and the sun was shining. Justin and Stephanie only needed sweaters to traverse the covered path to the greenhouse from the cottage garden.
“I still can’t get over that you don’t lock your doors,” Stephanie commented as Justin pushed open the greenhouse door into the antechamber.
“There’s not much to steal in here but plants and fish,” Justin replied with a shrug as he closed the outside door before pushing open the inner door. Stephanie loudly gasped as she took in the sight of the array of blooming flowers and trees.
“It’s a tropical paradise!” Steph stepped forward to a rosebush “tree” that was happily blooming in a pot.
“Is it real?” Steph asked; Justin nodded.
“Watch out for thorns,” he warned.
“How did you do all this?”
“The short version is, Brian and I went to Hawaii on a second or was it a third honeymoon. The trip didn’t turn out like we hoped but one of our more peaceful day trips was to a huge conservatory greenhouse with these amazing tropical plants. I must have spent hours drawing while Brian warmed a bench just staring at all the plants. When we came home he suggested the idea to John. Brian really is the master of the gardens out here. He has an uncanny eye for color and making unusual combinations work. It’s probably why he’s so good at his job. Bree not only grew up in Kinnetik but out here with him in the gardens.”
“And she got a double dose of an artistic eye,” Steph said with a smile.
“Nature and nurture,” Justin stated as he moved to a large palm tree that had found its home at the center of the floor. Its huge pot doubled as a large bench. And sitting on the bench they found Peter and Joe.
The boys were sitting, each with a sketch pad in hand, drawing furiously. Albeit, totally different subjects. Joe’s page with filled with different blooms while Peter’s drawing appeared to be a modern space aged greenhouse.
“I wondered where he had gotten too,” said Steph.
“May I see what you’re drawing?” Justin carefully asked the budding artist. Joe was startled that such a famous artist would be interested in his doodles as Joe called them. Joe hesitated but then gave the pad to Justin.
Justin examined the pad then looked up at the flowers that were the inspiration for the sketches. He smiled; the details were spot on. Justin recognized each plant depicted.
“You have a very good eye and very good attention to detail. You could have a wonderful career as an illustrator if you wanted. Steph, Joe should send some examples of his work to PIFA. Better yet, show these to Lindz.”
“She’s an adjunct professor at PIFA plus she owns the Bloom Gallery. She’d give it to you straight,” Justin explained as he handed the pad to Joe’s mother. She gazed at the page with awe.
“What are you drawing?” Justin directed his question to the budding designer. Peter handed over his pad. “Okay, these are way beyond me. Promise me you’ll have John look at this. He’s definitely the expert here.”
“May I see?” Steph asked as she looked over Justin’s shoulder. After a minute she commented, “I see where you’re going with this. It’s not just a greenhouse but a whole house. Peter, this is beautiful!”
Peter blushed with the praise.
“Joe, make sure Peter shows you the waterfall,” Justin said with a grin as he led Steph away toward the pond.
“Waterfall?” As they walked away they heard Joe ask Peter about a waterfall.
“You’re kidding, right. I thought Emmett was joking when he told us about the waterfall.”
Justin said nothing as the sound of water falling over the rocky back wall of the pond became louder as they got closer.
“Okay, now I’ve seen everything! A waterfall; an honest to god indoor waterfall, and koi? And what else is in this pond of yours? Hmm.” Steph narrowed her eyes at Justin who gave her an innocent grin. “Well established pond plants including water lilies. Fresh water crustaceans, several algae eaters. Bet he’s got an A-1 filtration system and it’s heated,” Stephanie observed as she felt the warmth coming off the water as she held her hand above the water.
“This was all Brian’s idea?” Stephanie asked she sat down trying to take it all in.
“Yup. What Brian wants…”
“He gets. Yes I’m beginning to understand. Has he always been this way?”
“Pretty much,” Justin replied honestly. “But he does know when to stop. And then sometimes he does go a little overboard like putting a fireplace in a tree house. Uh uh. I’ll show you later. Once he hired a helicopter to land here in the field to take me to Chicago for an important opening. We were having an important family barbeque that I didn’t want to miss. But Chicago was too important for me to skip.”
“So he figured out a way for you to be in two places at once,” Steph said. Justin shrugged with smile. “Very romantic, your Brian.”
“Shhhh, he claims he doesn’t do romantic,” Justin said with a gleam in his eyes.
“Then it will be our secret,” Stephanie whispered as she knocked shoulders with her fellow conspirator.
They walked through the greenhouse with Justin pointing out some exceptional plants and flowers, explaining about the antechambers and showing Steph the mudroom. They doubled back to go out the way they came in so Justin could show her the treehouse.
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