While the adult Cabots were being fed and entertained by the adults in the conjoined cottage, the younger Cabots were still asleep sprawled out in the living room of the B&B. Patrick and Peter had also found a soft spot to sleep on in the living room. Upstairs in the attic “garret” Gus was stretching himself awake. He was used to waking with the sun, a habit he developed from his father. He and Ray were familiar with the rooms of the B&B but never had cause to stay overnight. Gus thought it would make a nice change from his room in the cottage. The spacious layout of the attic reminded him of the infamous loft that he and Ray were about to inhabit.
“Maybe we should stay here while on the lane,” Gus thought to himself as he got out of bed; Ray was still fast asleep. Gus took care of his morning rituals then headed to the kitchen. He figured the smells of breakfast would soon wake up the boys.
“Morning,” came a voice.
“Morning,” Gus replied. “I’m going to make breakfast but it would help if you brought in all the cups and dishes to be washed. I don’t want to leave our mess for your parents to clean up.”
“Sure,” said Joe. Gus pointed to a tray and a garbage bag to make gathering up the trash a lot easier. In a few minutes the living room looked back to normal, aside from the sleeping boys. Joe got himself a glass of juice then sat on one of the stools watching Gus whip up breakfast.
“Who taught you how to cook?” Joe asked.
Gus grinned. “Lots of people. My moms, my dads, my Grandma Deb. I did some experimenting when I was away at college. There’s just so much packaged noodles one can eat,” Gus said with a laugh. “That stuff will kill you after a while. My mom is a good cook, so is Justin. He learned a lot from his mother and Debbie.”
“Your dad can grill a mean hunk of meat,” Joe joked. Gus laughed.
“He sure can. And he also loves cooking breakfast,” Gus said waving a spatula.
“Did he always like to cook?” Joe asked then looked at Gus with curiosity when Gus snorted.
“Fuck no! His idea of cooking was dialing a phone. He learned over the years and he knows his limits. Justin is the main cook on their side of the cottage. Bobby and John share the cooking on their side.”
“How does it work with the four of them?”
“They take turns. Justin usually has their work schedules in his head. A lot of John’s work is seasonal so he works from home during the winter. Bobby works in Harrisburg during the week and Pop works wherever the hell he wants to. Sometimes he goes to the Pitts, sometimes he’s in New York. He’ll fly out on a moment’s notice if a branch needs him. But mostly he controls his empire from his attic office,” Gus explained as he placed a plate of bacon and eggs in front of Joe.
“Can I ask you a personal question?” Joe asked around a slice of toast.
“Sure, but I reserve the right not to answer if it’s too personal.”
“When did you know?” Joe softly asked.
Gus stared at the teen for a few seconds. He gave himself a moment to gather his thoughts. “Are you asking me when did I know I was gay?” Joe nodded. “That’s not an easy question to answer. There was a time when I was around your age when I had a serious crush on a girl. We’re good friends now but I was devastated when she turned me down. I was still in high school when I fell in love with a guy. Or I thought I did,” Gus sneered.
“No, not Ray. Cole was his name,” Gus growled. “Turned out the dickwad was a thief and con artist. He played me like a fiddle. I trusted him and he took advantage.”
“My family happened, thank the gods. My whole family got together and worked with the police. We later found out that he and his cousin had pulled similar scams in New York City; that’s where I first met him. After Pittsburgh was through with him, Cole got thrown to the criminal justice system of New York. He’s doing a lot of time.”
“Yeah, not one of my finer moments. My dad and Justin had my back; the whole family did. I don’t know what I’d ever do without them. Anyway, that doesn’t really answer your question, does it? I was raised that love is love. They didn’t give a shit who I loved as long as I was happy; that’s all that matters. And Ray makes me happy. You think you’re gay?”
“Yeah,” Joe murmured.
“Do your parents know?”
“Sort of. I think my mom does. She’s always been out there. You know what I mean?” Gus nodded. “She’s a stay at home mom. She told me that it was okay cause she knew it was right for us when we were babies and they were first starting out. Plus my dad works crazy hours. But now that we’re older, I can see my mom doing anything she wants to do.”
“My mom was like that when I was a baby. Momma Mel’s a lawyer; she worked crazy hours too when we were little. She works at my dad’s company and still has crazy hours. It was never a dull moment at our house when JR and I were kids, but that’s another story. Look, there’s no reason to put a label on it, gay straight, bi, purple, green, blue, it doesn’t mean shit. My mom and Mel were together for years before they split. My mom had a couple of boyfriends over the years. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that when you find that right person you’re as honest as possible with each other.”
Joe nodded. He had a lot to think about.
“Come on, let’s set the table and wake up these lazy bums before the food gets cold,” Gus suggested. Joe thought that was a great idea.
Back at the conjoined cottages, the Cabots were deciding what time they should start back to the city. Sabastian was pushing for early afternoon, Stephanie wanted to wait until later in the evening. It wasn’t a long drive and she wanted to see the rest of the lane homes if possible. Sensing that Stephanie had something on her mind, Brian took a chance.
“Let’s take a walk,” Brian said as he handed Stephanie her coat. “Did you see the stream?”
“Come on,” Brian said as they left through the porch door. Within five minutes they were sitting on the bench under the shade tree near the stream.
“This must look like heaven on earth in the summer,” Stephanie exclaimed.
“Yes it does. For more than one reason. Bree was baptized in this stream,” Brian said with a smile; fond memories of that day floated through his mind.
“Does it get deep enough to swim in?”
“Not really. There are a few spots where if you sit the water is chest high, but it’s really just a stream. That big rock is one of the reasons why I bought this place,” Brian said as he pointed to the thinking rock. “When Justin and I first met John and his mother, we discovered a larger stream on their property. It has a similar rock. John said he would go to the rock when he had important decisions to make.”
“And you do the same,” Steph surmised.
“Yes. We all do, even the Squirt.”
“Old habits die hard,” Steph commented at Brian’s nickname for Bree.
“Yes, they do.”
They were in quiet contemplation for a few minutes, inhaling the crisp clean air when Brian made an observation.
“You do know Joe is gay,” Brian stated.
“How…?” Stephanie was never sure that she was reading the signs correctly. She had no idea how Brian could be so sure.
“My gaydar never lies.”
“Do you think he has, ah, um… oh boy.” Stephanie sighed.
“No,” Brian said, shaking his head. “I think the thought of being gay is as far as it’s gone. This weekend may have pushed him a little. He’s seeing an alternate lifestyle up close and personal. We’re all out there and no one will ever push us back in any closet. He reminds me a little of Justin when we first met. Scared shitless but curious. But he’s not Justin. I think he’d be comfortable talking to you about it if you gave him an opening.”
“I would never condemn either boy for who they chose to love.”
“And the good doctor?”
“Sabastian grew up with very traditional values but he’s a good man under that gruff exterior. All he wants for the boys is for them to be healthy and happy.”
“What about your kids?”
“What about them? Gus had his girlfriend moments until he woke and smelled the cu… the aftershave. Bree is straight.”
“How do you know?”
“No pings on the gaydar,” Brian joked. Stephanie scowled. “Bree is daddies’ little girl. She’s destined to marry a handsome prince with flaming red hair,” Brian said with a slight flush to his cheeks and a gentle smile on his face.
“You amaze me.”
“I did a little research about you after we got here. You have an interesting past.”
“That’s one way of describing it.”
“Is it true?”
“Depends on what you read. Ted keeps an eye on anything business related that pops up on the net.”
“And your personal stuff?”
Brian abruptly stood; his expression became almost shark-like. It startled Stephanie. “Whatever you read happened a long time ago.”
“Whoa, easy. It basically hinted at an interesting reputation and equally interesting nickname, but nothing detrimental,” said Stephanie.
Brian stared at the stream. “The stream is in a natural valley; the wind will pick up soon. If you’re still interested in a tour of the cottages we should go now,” Brian stated coolly.
“I apologize if I insulted you. I didn’t mean to. What I read just confirmed your integrity and work ethic,” Stephanie affirmed. Brian nodded. “And yes, I would love to see the other homes on the lane. We only did a drive by with Emmett. But I think I’d rather check on the boys and get washed up. I can meet you later before we leave.”
At the mention of Emmett’s name, Brian relaxed and nodded. He shook off any defensive urges he may have felt rising. Stephanie wasn’t an enemy. Brian knew it and in fact he may have found a good ally, but only time would tell.
Brian walked Stephanie to the lane then went back into his own cottage.
Justin walked down the lane toward the B&B. He wanted to say something to Dr. Cabot before the family left to go back to Pittsburgh. He hoped he would find the right words.
As he approached the cottage he heard the strains of a violin emanating from the B&B. He stopped and listened. It was beautiful music, but it was dominated by the violin. Old memories flooded back. Justin stopped and took a few deep breaths before continuing on.
Justin knocked on the door of the B&B, and it was opened quickly by Stephanie.
“Justin,” she said with a big smile. “Come in.”
“Thanks, Steph. Is your husband around?”
“He and the boys went out for walk before we start to pack up. I’m glad to see him spending some quality time with them.”
“Oh,” Justin said uncertainly.
“Did you want him for something? Is everything all right?”
“Everything’s fine. I just wanted to speak to him for a few minutes.”
“I’m not sure how long they’ll be gone. Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“Tea, if you have it.”
“I do,” Stephanie said heading to the kitchen and plugging in the kettle. “You made sure this kitchen was well stocked,” Steph said smiling in appreciation.
“Are you a fan of violin music?” Justin asked, as the piece playing was finishing with a flourish.
“Yes, I am. I’ll just turn that off.”
“Who was playing?”
“Joshua Bell. That was ‘Ode to Joy’ he was playing.”
“Hmm,” Justin replied.
“Is that significant for some reason?”
“Are you familiar with a violinist named Ethan Gold?”
Stephanie frowned. “I think I’ve heard of him,” she said. The kettle whistled and she began making the tea.
“He was supposed to be the next Joshua Bell.”
“Oh, I don’t think he’s quite in the same league as Joshua.”
“No, I don’t suppose he is.”
“Do you know this Ethan Gold?” Stephanie asked as she handed Justin a mug and let him fix his tea the way he liked it.
“I did once … a long time ago.” Justin and Stephanie sat down at the table by the patio doors.
“Yeah, I actually left Brian to be with Ethan,” Justin admitted sadly. “Biggest mistake of my life.”
“Oh my God! How could you leave Brian for anyone?”
Justin made a sound that was halfway between a chuckle and a sob. “I was young and stupid.”
“I find that hard to believe - the stupid part, not the young part.”
“Well, thanks for that anyway,” Justin replied.
“So tell me what happened?”
“It’s a long sad tale.”
“You have all the time until my family deigns to return,” Stephanie said cheerily hoping to encourage Justin to tell her the whole story. “So … spill.”
“You are one pushy broad,” Justin said with a chuckle.
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Okay,” Justin said with a sigh. “Here’s the story.” Justin began to tell Stephanie about how he met Ethan at PIFA and their friendship began. It was not a good time for Justin and Brian. Brian was very busy trying to get ahead in business, and Ethan was being so romantic around Justin. “We had a picnic on the floor of his dump of an apartment. I thought that was the most romantic thing ever. Then I went home and tried to do the same with Brian. I set up this picnic on the floor of the loft with cheese and wine. Very romantic in my eyes. When Brian came home, he grabbed a piece of cheese and said he wanted to go to Babylon, a gay club.”
“Wasn’t sure if you would,” Justin said. “Brian let me know that he didn’t do romantic. He wanted sex and clubbing. That’s when things really turned bad between us.” There was a long pause. “Then I left.”
“So how did you end up back together?”
“I thought I was happy with Ethan for quite awhile. He said all the right things and tried to show me that he loved me. And then he cheated on me. That was the last straw.”
“Stupid jerk!” Stephanie said.
Justin chuckled. “I was the jerk,” he admitted. “I trusted him. I thought I wanted romance and that was what he gave me … for a while. It was all a farce. He couldn’t be trusted. I realized that Brian may not have been romantic but he told the truth and I could always rely on him. I’ve come to the conclusion that there was an attraction between me and Ethan, but he really just wanted to put one over on Brian. I was the prize, and that was all I was worth to him.”
“That is a sad tale,” Stephanie agreed. “And you are worth so much more than that. Ethan Gold is the really stupid one in this story.”
“I’d agree with you on that,” Justin said with a small smile. “But I was stupid too. I’m glad Brian decided to give me another chance. It wasn’t easy getting him to do that.” Justin chuckled. “I had to promise to never play violin music in front of him.”
“Seems fair. You two have sure had your ups and downs,” Steph observed. Justin nodded. “But you seem perfect for each other … now.”
“I can’t imagine being with anyone else.”
“Speaking of being with someone, that sounds like my husband returning.”
The door of the B&B opened and Sabastian came in.
“Where are the boys?” Stephanie asked.
“Down by the stream trying to skip stones.”
“Why aren’t you with them?”
“I wasn’t very good at skipping stones,” Sabastian replied. “They’ll be back soon.”
Stephanie gave him a look, but no further comment. “Justin wants to talk to you. I’m going to the bedroom to start packing, so take your time,” she added.
When Steph had left the room, Sabastian sat down across the table from Justin. “What can I do for you?”
“I … I just wanted to say that we’ve really enjoyed having you here this weekend.”
“Especially Brian … with all his teasing?” Sabastian watched as Justin’s mouth dropped open.
“You picked up on that, did you?” Justin asked.
“I’m not as much of a stuffed shirt as most people believe,” Sabastian stated. “I can play along with what people expect … when I want to.” He smiled a genuine smile at Justin.
“I can see that. I, um, just wanted to thank you again for all you did for me in the hospital. I know it was touch and go for awhile. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”
“There are other doctors. You would have been fine,” Sabastian said as he felt himself blushing. “And I had a lot of help,” he added referring to Dr. Dan.
“I’m not so sure about that,” Justin averred, “but anyway, I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your wonderful care.”
“Thanks, Justin,” Sabastian said sincerely. “That means a lot.”
“I mean every word of it.”
Sabastian smiled one of his all too rare smiles. “I expect you to keep up your allergy tests and be careful with new situations like that restaurant.”
“Why don’t I do a final check up on you before we go back to Pittsburgh?”
“Sure, why not, you’re here.”
Just then there was a knock on the door of the B&B.
“Come in,” Sabastian shouted.
“I’m looking for Justin,” Brian said as he pushed open the door. “Is he here?”
“Yes he is,” Stephanie said as she came out of the bedroom.
“Justin,” Brian said as he walked farther into the B&B.
“Is something wrong?” Justin asked.
“I thought maybe something was wrong with you. John said you went to see the doctor.”
“That he did,” Sabastian said. “I was about to give Justin an examination.”
“Why? What’s wrong? Justin, what the fuck happened?” Brian growled low. He was visibly upset.
“I’m fine,” Justin said. “Calm down. I came down here to thank Dr. Cabot again for all he did in the hospital. I didn’t mean to worry you.”
“Then why the examination?” Brian demanded.
“I thought it would be a good idea to give Justin the once over one last time before we leave, that’s all,” Sabastian explained.
“Brian,” Justin said making sure his husband was focussed on him, “I’m perfectly fine. You don’t have to worry.”
“O-kaay,” Brian said softly, but the look on his face said that he wasn’t so sure about all this.
“Stephanie,” Justin said, “why don’t you get Brian to finish your tour of the lane while the doctor examines me?”
Brian glared at his husband, but said nothing.
“That sounds like an excellent idea,” Steph replied as she grabbed her jacket. “Come on, Brian.”
Brian looked at Justin who nodded his approval. Brian knew a dismissal when he heard one and turned to Stephanie to usher her out the door.
“You have him well trained,” Sabastian said.
“You think so? You don’t know the half of it.”
“Are you saying he’s untrainable?” Sabastian asked with a smug grin.
“Let’s just say I’m going to hear about this later.”
“Ah,” Sabastian murmured as he started his exam.
You hustled me out of there fast,” Brian observed as they came down the path from the B&B.
“I thought maybe that was a better idea than you getting into a fight,” Steph stated.
“And just who would I be fighting with - your husband or Justin?”
“It was a toss-up.”
Brian chuckled. “I’m not a fighter.”
“So, what, you’re a lover?”
“I like to think so,” Brian laughed.
“Justin told me about Ethan Gold,” Stephanie said.
“Did he now?” Brian stopped in his tracks and arched a brow. “And what did my little Mary Sunshine say about Ian?”
“He said Ethan was the worst mistake of his life.”
“I’d have to agree.” Brian again started walking toward the thatched cottage.
“That must have been a very sad time in your life, being without Justin. I can see how much you love him.”
Brian swallowed hard and nodded. He cleared his throat. “This is Debbie and Carl’s place,” he managed to say without his voice breaking. He pointed to the thatched cottage.
The door to the cottage opened and Debbie shouted, “I saw you coming. Get in here. Have a cup of coffee with us.”
“One doesn’t refuse Deb,” Brian said, glad of the distraction from their previous conversation.
“Doesn’t one?” Steph laughed.
They entered the cottage and Steph took it all in.
“This is just a wonderful building,” she observed. “So unique.”
“I loved it from the moment I saw it,” Debbie said as she served them coffee. “It suits me and Carl to a T.”
“Or to a coffee,” Carl added with a chuckle. Brian groaned causing Carl to laugh out loud. “I like puns, so shoot me.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Brian smirked. “Too bad you don’t have any good puns.”
“Hey, watch it mister,” Debbie interjected; she almost spilled the mug of coffee. Brian caught it just in time. Wasting coffee was never a good thing.
“This lane is a little piece of heaven,” Steph said as she sipped at her mug.
“Most of the time,” Debbie agreed, “except when certain people step out of line. Not mentioning any names.” She looked directly at Brian as she said this. The party in question, grinned.
“How long have you lived on the lane?” Steph asked.
“A few years now,” Carl said. “We had planned to travel across the country, and we did for a while, but I have to say that living here has really grown on me.”
“Along with the moss,” Brian contributed.
“You’re looking for a smack upside the head,” Debbie threatened with a pointy finger.
“That’s Deb’s signature move,” Brian informed Stephanie.
“And don’t make me use it.”
“No, ma’am,” Brian said contritely. Debbie gave Steph a quick tour.
“I think we should be on our way, Stephanie. There’s more of the lane to see.”
“By all means,” she said. “Thanks so much for the coffee.”
“Any time … for you.”
“That was interesting,” Stephanie said as they walked down the lane. “Are you and Debbie always at it?”
“Naa,” Brian replied. “It’s just the way we are with each other. She likes to think she keeps me on the straight and narrow.”
“And you let her think she does.”
Brian said nothing.
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