Justin and Stephanie walked back towards the treehouse, and the Wendy house which was nearby.
“This must be so beautiful in the summer,” Stephanie observed.
“It is, but I love it all year round,” Justin averred. “That’s the treehouse up there,” he explained pointing up into the big old tree.
“Wow, it looks like an actual house. And it has a fireplace?”
“Yep, designed by John and built by all of us.”
“I’d love to see inside but I’m not exactly dressed for tree climbing.”
“Come over tomorrow in jeans and sneakers and we can go up.”
“I’d love that,” Stephanie said with a big smile. “Was the treehouse for Bree?”
“No,” Justin replied with a nostalgic look on his face. “We built it for Gus when he would come to visit his dad.”
“He didn’t grow up here?”
“No, he grew up with his mothers in Pittsburgh.”
“Ah, that must have been hard.”
“Sometimes, but it all worked out in the end.”
“Gus seems very successful and well adjusted,” Stephanie observed.
“He is,” Justin said. “This is what we built for Bree.” Justin pointed at the Wendy house across the yard.
“Oh, it’s so cute,” Stephanie gushed. “Can we go inside?”
“Sure, but there’s not much room.”
Beau Sr. was lying on the porch as they approached. He gave a gentle woof as they got to the edge of the porch. “Hi, Beau,” Justin said giving the big dog a pat on the head. “This is his favourite spot,” Justin explained.
“He knows how to pick ‘em,” Stephanie said with a laugh.
Justin chuckled. “It’s the good life here on the lane … for all of us.”
“I’m beginning to realize that.”
“Watch your head as we go inside,” Justin warned.
Stephanie gave a little gasp as she saw the mural Justin had painted on the wall of the Wendy house. “That’s your family,” she said. Justin nodded. “It’s wonderful. So much love.”
“Thanks, that’s what I was going for.”
“Your children are so lucky.”
“Thanks, have a seat,” Justin said indicating the little table and chairs. “Bree’s almost grown out of this place, but she still comes here every now and then when she is upset or needs to sort some things out by herself.”
“What a wonderful place for a little girl. Did she have tea parties here?”
“Yep, we’ve all had tea parties with her.”
“Certainly,” Justin responded with a frown.
“I didn’t mean anything by that,” Stephanie said quickly. She hadn’t intended to offend. “It’s just that Brian doesn’t seem like the tea party type.”
“Most people would agree with you, but the outside Brian has little to do with the true Brian. You learn that after a while.”
“I look forward to that,” Stephanie said thoughtfully. “Bree is a very lucky little girl by the sound of it.”
“Not all the world would think so, especially for a little girl raised by two men.”
“Bree is a lovely girl, polite but independent.”
“That she is,” Justin said with a chuckle. “The world is a little more accepting these days.”
“I sense there’s a story behind those words.”
“Yeah.” Justin had a funny look on his face.
“Care to share?”
“It’s a long story.”
“Does this have to do with you and Brian?” Justin nodded. “When you got together?” Justin nodded. “Was it ridiculously romantic?”
Justin snorted. “Not at all. In those days Brian Kinney did not do romantic. He did sex and only sex. No ties, no obligations, no concern, no apologies, and certainly no regrets for anybody else.”
Stephanie frowned. “I find that hard to believe.”
“That’s what everybody believed about Brian back in those days. Brian was the Stud of Liberty Avenue. He could have any man he wanted, and he had every man that he wanted.”
“But he couldn’t have you?”
Justin shook his head. “He had me. Actually it was the night Gus was born. He got the call while we were … um…”
“Got it,” Stephanie said understanding what Justin meant. “How did you meet?”
“I was standing under a lamppost on Liberty Ave., scared out of my mind and wondering if I should run home like the poor little scared shitless boy that I was.”
“And Brian found you?”
“Yeah, he walked up to me and asked what I was doing and I said something like ‘nothing much’, then he said he could change that.”
“And he did?”
“Oh boy, did he! In fact, neither one of us was ever the same after that night.”
“So it was romantic.”
“Not really,” Justin said shaking his head as he remembered the events of that fateful night. “It was pretty scary … and exhilarating … crazy.”
“You’ve been together ever since?”
Justin snorted again. “Hardly. Brian fought me all the way. I became his sort of stalker.”
“Yeah, I wanted Brian, and he wanted his freedom. I kept showing up and he kept pushing me away.”
“Really? You two seem so simpatico.”
Justin smiled. “We are now, but it took a long time to reach that point. Lots of ups and downs.”
“Fascinating,” Stephanie mused. “Tell me more.”
Justin hesitated. He wasn’t sure he wanted to get into his and Brian’s history with someone who was a virtual stranger. “Maybe another time,” he said as he stood up. “We should get back. They’ll think we’ve been abducted by aliens.”
“Do you have many aliens on the lane?” Stephanie asked standing up and stretching a bit from sitting on the low chair.
With a laugh Justin replied, “More than you might think.”
They stepped outside just as Bree came out of the sun porch. “Daddy!” she said forcefully. “Everybody has been wondering what happened to you. You shouldn’t be out here in the cold for so long.”
“I’m fine, baby girl,” Justin said patiently.
“Come inside,” Bree ordered. “We don’t want you getting sick again.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Justin said contritely as he headed for the house.
Stephanie shook her head and grinned. What an amazing family! What an amazing lane! She intended to find out more about all the residents and guests. If their stories were half as interesting as what she had just heard from Justin, this could be a very entertaining and informative weekend.
When Justin and Stephanie stepped back into the sun porch, the long table had been cleared and pushed to the back wall. The delicious aromas of hot cocoa, fresh coffee, and warmed apple pie wafted through the air from the kitchen. Everyone was helping themselves, and in general, pleasantly socializing.
Through hidden speakers, gentle music was playing. The kind of music Justin remembered from his childhood when he and Molly would be danced around their living room by Jennifer. There were several couples slow dancing. Melanie and Lindsay threw caution and rumors to the wind, enjoying their dance together. Deb and Carl had no hesitations, proving they still had it. Rachel and George also braved criticism by taking a turn on the floor.
Bree turned around to look up at her younger father; she had a gleam in her eyes and a sly smile on her lips. Justin narrowed his eyes at his precocious daughter. He suspected a conspiracy between a certain petite strawberry blond and her fairy godmother. Even the weather contributed by darkening the skies with grey clouds which meant the crystal chandelier was not only switched on but slowly revolving. A special feature that a certain builder had added sometime ago without anyone knowing. Its delicate light twinkled as it bounced off the glass walls and roof.
Stephanie was awed and amused by it all.
“May I have this dance?” Stephanie boldly asked her host. Justin was startled but then nodded; with gentle hands he took Stephanie as his dance partner and glided her around the floor.
“You’re a wonderful dancer,” Steph commented after a while. Justin smiled. “Who taught you?”
“My mom and Arthur Murray,” Justin replied.
“Nope. My parents once lived in what Brian calls, the country club set. Learning how to dance properly was a must. I left that life a long time ago but some things are still imbedded in my brain.” Stephanie laughed as they kept on dancing.
“May I cut in,” a breathy voice asked as the song changed. Justin turned to see his lover, partner, spouse, love of his life gazing at him with a look of love and lust.
“By all means,” Stephanie said as she stepped back with a knowing grin on her face.
Brian took Justin in his arms. Justin loved being manhandled by Brian, it felt good to be within Brian’s strong arms. He felt safe and as loved as he ever did. Justin finally felt healthy, back to normal. He had all that he ever wanted in his arms and on the lane. Fears of relapse were waning; Justin felt stronger every day. A flurry of creative thoughts sailed through his head, painting projects large and small. Plans for Christmas and summer travel overwhelmed him. In his arms, Brian chuckled.
Blue eyes met hazel.
“Your gerbil is running on overdrive, Sunshine,” said Brian with a grin. Justin briefly contemplated being insulted but then he broke out into his brightest sunshine smile. This is what Justin’s life was all about, being in love with someone who knew him as thoroughly as Brian did.
The lovers laughed as Brian lifted Justin then twirled him around. Somewhere in the background they heard applause but they didn’t care. The lane was filled with life and love. Justin was then gently lowered allowing his feet to touch the floor. They continued dancing for several more songs.
“What’s your encore, Kiddo? Are you two going to disappear on us for a while?” Debbie loudly asked as she and Carl left to find beverages.
Snickers were heard from the peanut gallery.
“Aww, Maw, would I do that to you?” Brian countered.
“Yes!” came from several sources. Brian made a rude gesture with one finger as he scrunched down and held Justin closer.
“Are we disappearing, Sunshine?” Brian whispered in Justin’s ear.
“Would you be insulted if I said no? I’m kinda enjoying myself,” said Justin.
“So am I,” Brian admitted. “Besides, it’s been a long time since we put on a show.”
“Even if the show is rated PG?”
“Especially when rated PG. I have no intention of shocking the hets. The rest of the family couldn’t give a rat’s ass what we do. Shit, I think I’m getting old,” Brian grumbled.
“Poor baby,” Justin teased. “Besides you’re not old, you’re aging to perfection. And I’d love to hide in our room for the rest of the day but we can pick a day later in the week when there’s no one around.”
“It’s a date!”
“I thought Brian Kinney didn’t do dates,” Justin teased.
“This Brian Kinney does do dates but for only for his very special Sunshine.”
“Ooo, how romantic,” Justin crowed.
“I have my moments.”
“Speaking of moments, what are we going to do about dinner tonight? I really don’t want the Cabots to have to cook on their vacation,” Justin pointed out.
“Got it covered. Our hippy dippy weatherman has assured me that while it may be a little chilly outside, no rain is predicted. I’ll grill later,” Brian assured his spouse.
Justin smiled proudly at Brian. “My Big Smoosh!”
“Definitely,” said Justin. It was Brian’s turned to proudly smile.
And they kept on dancing.
“Is this normal?” Ryan asked Bree indicating the dancing couple. He became slightly embarrassed when his mother persuaded his father to dance. Old people, especially parents, weren’t supposed to be shaking bootie and having fun.
“Yes,” Bree responded with a curious look on her face. Sometimes she forgot that a lot people didn’t dance in their houses. Then again Bree didn’t live in a normal house. She smirked. “You wanna dance with me?”
“I, uh, don’t dance,” Ryan stammered.
“Your brother does,” Bree said as she pointed to Joseph who somehow managed to get Peter to dance. The boys weren’t all that coordinated but they were laughing and having fun. And wasn’t that the point?
“Come on, I’ve been dancing my whole life. I promise to make you look good,” Bree said. Ryan was unconvinced. “No one will care if you dance well or not. Just as long as you don’t step on my feet.”
“Okay,” Ryan groaned. He allowed Bree to take his hand and lead him to the floor of doom. The music wasn’t too fast or too slow. Bree kept a safe distance. She seemed to understand how uncomfortable Ryan was. If she had insisted that he take her hands that would have sent him running out the sun porch door.
Ryan managed to stay upright through three songs. Feigning dire thirst, he left the porch for the safety of the kitchen. Before Bree could work her way up to a pout, Gus saved the day by scooping her up and doing those awkward Kinney moves around the porch with Bree in his arms. Justin couldn’t help breaking out into giggles. Brian felt another “pick on Brian” evening coming on.
“I wonder where he learned those moves,” John teased his brother.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Brian replied with as much dignity as he could muster. John clapped his brother on the back.
“Come on, I’ll help you with the grill,” said John. Brian pecked Justin on the nose then followed his brother to the kitchen.
“By the way, when did you turn our very expensive crystal chandelier into a disco ball,” Brian asked with an arched brow. John just waved him off.
“Honeycutt, this is all your fault,” Brian growled.
“What’s my fault?” Emmett innocently asked as he was chopping vegetables for grilling.
“You’ve corrupted my brother!”
“I did no such thing. He came to us that way. I take no credit for it. He’s just letting out his inner Kinney, that’s all,” Emmett said with his patented toothy grin. “And don’t call me Honeycutt!” Emmett said as he went back to chopping.
“I get no respect,” Brian grumbled as he got a large tray for the meat down from an upper cabinet. “By the way, what am I grilling?”
“Well, besides these lovely cuts of chicken and beef, we have some nice salmon,” Emmett replied. He took out a large platter from the refrigerator holding a beautifully dressed salmon filet.
“Uh huh. And how long have you guys been planning this little soiree?” Brian asked.
“Not long. Now shoo; y’all git to grillin’. I’ll be out with the veggies and salmon when they’re ready for the grill,” Emmett commanded.
“I guess we better git,” John said to Brian as Brian picked up the tray of meat. John picked up the basket that held various seasonings and grilling utensils then followed his brother out.
“Can we help?” Steph called out as the brothers donned heavy sweatshirts before going outside.
“Go ask that nelly….”
“Bri-ian,” John growled. Brian rolled his eyes.
“Thank you, Stephanie, we got this covered. Besides, we never ask honored guests to help, at least not the first time you’re on the lane. The second invite, the gloves come off,” Brian warned.
“I’ll hold you to that,” Stephanie said as the boys went outside.
“May I see your set-up?” Cabot asked.
“Sure,” John replied.
Sabastian quickly got his coat. “This is nice,” Cabot commented on the massive grill.
“I know, it does seem big but Emmett picked it out and insisted we set it up here. He’s a bit of a size queen,” Brian nonchalantly explained. John coughed.
“What my brother means, is that we tend to hold very large family gatherings. In warmer weather, it’s easier to grill than cook on the stove.”
“Understood,” Sabastian acknowledged. The heat from the grill soon staved off the chill of the evening. “May I ask, what made you move out here?”
“I was born out here,” John said. He was currently taking his turn at the grill. "My mother and I lived in a small town about an hour away called Bridgeton. Before I met Brian, most of my work came out of Harrisburg.”
“When we met John, Justin and I were still in Pittsburgh. Somehow, Jennifer found this place,” Brian went on. “It was nothing but a few walls and broken planks for a floor. My brother made a miracle.”
“Then he insisted that I uproot a small cottage on our farm and replant it here,” John explained, cocking his head toward the “he” in question.
“We were wasting a hell of a lot of time driving back and forth. At the time, it seemed like the logical thing to do,” Brian quoted from Star Trek.
“Thank you, Sarek,” John snarked as he shook his head. “But he’s right. I’m fairly close to my mother and Harrisburg. Plus close enough to Pittsburgh. My family of two exploded the day we met Brian and Justin. Now I can’t imagine my life without them,” John said with a kindly smile for his brother.
“You’re very lucky. Our family is on the small side,” Cabot stated.
“Then, we’d be honored if you joined ours,” Brian said with a similar smile. “But if you do, you’ll have to work on those dance moves of yours,” Brian teased.
“And baseball,” John said quickly.
“Soccer,” Brian countered.
“Football,” a new voice chimed in as Drew appeared holding the fish.
“Cooking!” All eyes turned to Emmett. “Well it’s sort of a sport,” Emmett explained. He had the platter of vegetables.
The guys laughed, enjoying the camaraderie and the evening.
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