Gus looked at himself in the mirror. He had tried on three different combinations of shorts and T-shirts. With a sigh he started to pull the T-shirt over his head.
“You look great,” Ray said coming up behind him.
“It’s just not right.”
“It’s almost the same as the other ones you had on, and they looked yummy too.”
“Yummy?” Gus asked with a chuckle.
“I’ve been hanging around Bree too much since I’ve been here.”
“I just want Mama to see that I’m doing great. I don’t want her to find fault and make everyone … miserable.”
“She loves you, you look wonderful like always, and she’s not going to make things miserable. Just stay calm and positive, and everything will be fine.”
“Take it from me,” Ray insisted.
“I love you,” Gus said turning and pulling Ray against him. They kissed for a few minutes both getting aroused.
“I think we better stop,” Ray groaned. “It won’t make quite the right impression if we’re naked in bed when she arrives.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Gus agreed reluctantly. “I do love you.”
“You better,” Ray teased. “I didn’t leave all the excitement of New York City to come here to Nowhere Pennsylvania to be dumped.”
Gus laughed. “I’m going to tell the family you called this Nowhere Pennsylvania.”
“I … I was just kidding. Don’t tell them. They’ll roast me alive on one of the barbecues,” Ray begged in mock fear.
“Too late, buddy. You’ve sealed your fate.”
“Then I’ll die a happy man,” Ray declared giving Gus a sweet kiss.
“I guess I better go out there and make sure things are ready for Mama.”
“Your dads are supervising the lunch. It will be great.”
“Yeah, but I need to make sure they don’t slip a little arsenic into the salad,” Gus joked.
“Your mother sure causes a lot of upheaval.”
“She always has marched to her own drum.”
“And tried to make others follow her,” Ray said wisely.
Gus nodded his head in agreement. “She’s not the easiest person to live with or deal with.”
“Sounds like this Lorna person has her work cut out for her.”
“I just hope I can hold it all together with Mama. I don’t want a fight,” Gus said.
“You’ll be great,” Ray assured him. “And I’ll be around if you need backup.”
Gus smiled at that comment. “Let’s go see if lunch is ready.”
“With or without arsenic,” Ray laughed as they headed out of the bedroom.
“Is she here yet?” Gus asked his father as the boys entered the kitchen.
Brian shook his head. “It’s after one, but trust your mother to make us wait.”
“It’s one of her tactics,” Gus said with a wry smile.
“I have a few tactics of my own,” Brian replied.
“Look in the sun porch.”
Gus and Ray walked to the entrance to the sun porch. Luncheon was laid out on the big table which was surrounded with all the family and friends who were in attendance in the lane, including Lindsay, who said she was perfectly strong enough to face Melanie. Danny and Riley were there too. They had returned from their cottage for this special occasion. Debbie had let them know what was going down.
“Strength in numbers?” Gus asked.
“Something like that,” Brian responded.
The buzzer sounded indicating that a guest was at the gate. Brian pushed the button to open the gate without even asking who was there. The less he had to speak to Melanie Marcus the better.
Everyone around the table waited quietly for Mel and her new love to appear. Gus went to the front door to let them in.
“Mama,” Gus said hugging his mother when she got out of the rental car.
“I missed you,” Melanie replied touching Gus’ cheek softly. “I wish you had come to Portland. We could have had a lovely time.”
“But you’re here now,” Gus said, steering away from the topic of Portland. “This is what’s important.”
“Right,” Melanie agreed slowly, “and I brought Lorna.”
“Hi, Lorna,” Gus said cheerfully. Lorna nodded at him as she also got out of the car.
“Lunch is ready.”
“Am I invited too?” Lorna asked.
“Of course,” Gus replied as he ushered the ladies into the house.
At the entrance to the sun porch, Melanie stopped abruptly and drew in a sharp breath. “I see the gang’s all here,” she said rather flustered. “I thought it would just be you and I.” She gave Gus a withering look.
“And Lorna,” Gus couldn’t stop himself from adding.
“Hi, Mama,” JR said going over to give her mother a hug.
“My goodness, sweetheart, you grow up more every time I see you,” Melanie said as she released her daughter from the hug. “You remember Lorna.”
“Come and sit down, Mel,” Debbie ordered. “You too, Lorna was it?”
“Yes, Lorna,” Lorna replied feeling a little overwhelmed by the sea of faces in front of her.
“We thought we’d let you eat and meet people as the occasion arises,” Debbie said. “You’d never remember everyone’s name anyway if we all introduced ourselves, and the fucking salads would all get warm. We don’t want no ptomaine,” Debbie laughed heartily.
“You can sit beside me, Mama,” JR volunteered.
“Miss Lorna, you can sit beside me,” Bree said courteously.
“Thank you,” Lorna replied. “And your name is…?”
“Briana Victoria Kinney-Taylor,” Bree told her.
“I see.” Lorna sat down beside the petite girl.
Everyone began passing the salads and dishing up the cold cuts. The cold lunch was very refreshing for a hot day. Emmett sent the pitcher of lemonade one direction and the pitcher of iced tea the other. When everyone had food and drink they started to dig in with quiet conversations starting up at various places around the table. Lorna ate some salad and found it quite delicious. As she chewed, she watched the dynamics of the group.
Melanie and JR were speaking to each other to the exclusion of everyone else. Gus looked strangely at his mother who had supposedly come there to see him. He leaned frequently against the dark young man next to him. That must be his boyfriend, Lorna thought. She studied the man across the table from her. He looked an awful lot like Brian Kinney and his son. He must be related to them.
“Patrick, could you get another pitcher of lemonade out of the fridge?” the man asked the red headed boy next to him. “This one’s almost empty.”
“Okay, Dad.” Patrick left the table.
They certainly had well behaved children, if nothing else, Lorna noted. She observed the woman who had been with Brian in the lane – the fiery redhead, too old to have hair of such a color. She was talking to a tall blond. Lindsay! Lorna made that realization with a bit of shock. She hadn’t expected Melanie’s ex to be in attendance. Melanie had said that Lindsay was too much of a wimp to show up even if she was staying at the cottage. Looked like Mel got that one wrong too.”
“Care for more iced tea?” John asked Lorna, since her glass was almost empty.
“Yes, thank you.” She held out the glass for John to fill.
As John poured, he asked, “I hope you had a good trip here.”
“It was long and boring,” Lorna replied. She had never been one to make small talk. “Are you related to Mr. Kinney?” she decided to ask.
“I’m Brian’s brother, John Anderson.”
“Oh, why aren’t you named Kinney?”
“I’m Brian’s half-brother.”
“Oh! There certainly is a strong family resemblance.”
“We sometimes get mistaken for each other, but I’m the handsome one,” John joked.
Lorna gave a little laugh. She had rarely seen such a handsome family. This man obviously could be very charming, she noted, unlike his rude and blunt brother that Melanie detested. She turned her attention to Brian Kinney for a moment.
“Dada,” Bree was whispering, “can I have some more carrot sticks?”
“I think that can be arranged, Squirt,” Brian replied.
“Can I go swimming later?” she asked.
“When our guests leave, we’ll see,” he replied non-committally.
“She’s a very polite little girl,” Lorna said deciding to speak to the infamous man himself. This would be a good ice breaker.
“Yes, she is,” Brian responded.
“My daddies always tell me to be polite,” Bree informed Lorna.
“That’s a very good practice.”
“I don’t practice,” Bree replied. “I am polite.”
“And she shares too. Don’t you, Squirt?” Brian said tongue in cheek.
“Where will you swim?” Lorna asked. “I didn’t see a pool.”
“We go to the stream. That way!” Bree said pointing to the path near the Wendy house.
“Is this greenhouse new?” Lorna asked Brian.
“Yes, Justin and I went to Hawaii for our anniversary. We both loved the tropical flowers, so we’re going to try to grow some.”
“I love gar-gar,” Bree declared.
“It’s our pet name for gardening,” Brian explained. “Bree and I have gardened together ever since she could walk. Right, Squirt?”
Lorna took a sip of her iced tea. She was fascinated by this man who gardened with his daughter, took his husband on trips to Hawaii and had this large extended family who were obviously there to support Gus. She had trouble understanding what Melanie hated about Brian Kinney, other than his success.
“I thought we could all make ice cream sundaes for dessert,” Emmett announced as people had finished up with the salads. “I’m going to put on coffee and tea for anyone who wants it, and the fixings for sundaes will be on the counter in the kitchen.” Emmett disappeared into the house.
“I’m going to give Emmett a hand,” Brian said to the blond man next to him, who Lorna surmised must be Brian’s husband. Lorna watched him go, noting the cast on his foot. She wondered what had happened.
“He has a very bad sprain,” Justin informed her.
“My Dada fell down,” Bree told Lorna.
“That’s too bad.”
“But he’s getting better. He had to use crutches before. I help him and Daddy do their therapy,” Bree said proudly.
“That’s very good of you.”
Bree smiled then her forehead wrinkled in a frown. “Do you live with Auntie Mel?”
“Do you love her?”
“We’re in a relationship,” Lorna replied carefully.
“She used to love my Auntie Lindsay.”
“Is that right?”
“Yes, and now she’s gone far away.”
“We live in Portland.”
“Do you like ice cream sundaes?” Lorna asked, deciding she had been grilled by the petite blonde for long enough.
“Well, it looks like you better get into the kitchen before it’s all gone.”
Bree saw that most of the people at the table had already gone to get their sundaes. “My Dada will save me some,” she said confidently, but she hopped down and ran for the kitchen.
Lorna smiled to herself. Briana was certainly an interesting child. She watched Gus stand up and say a few words to Melanie before he and JR went into the kitchen.
“Charming group, aren’t they?” Melanie griped as she moved over to sit beside Lorna.
“They seem very pleasant actually.”
“Yeah right, pleasant,” Melanie scoffed.
Lorna drew in a breath. Melanie just didn’t seem to get the fact that she was holding a grudge that had long been forgotten by everyone else.
“What did Gus say to you?”
“He thought we should take a walk to the stream after he has his sundae. We can talk there alone. Will you be all right here?”
“Your former friends and family don’t scare me. I’ll be fine,” Lorna declared.
“Just stay away from Kinney.”
“I might,” Lorna said, “but he is interesting.”
“You’ve been using that word a lot lately.”
“I thought fascinating was a bit strong,” Lorna said. Melanie made a face. “Come on, let’s get one of those sundaes before the ice cream’s all gone.” Lorna grabbed Melanie’s hand and dragged her into the kitchen.
“Would you like a tour?” Brian asked Lorna without any snark. Lorna had been standing in the garden just outside the sun porch admiring the flowers in full bloom.
After dessert Mel and Gus took a walk toward the stream. Bree invited JR, Candy and Richie to the Wendy House to play, draw and just hang out while Mel and Gus visited. Bobby and Patrick persuaded John to join them in a little pitching and batting practice while Emmett helped Justin clean up the kitchen. He offered to hang around for moral support. Justin appreciated the gesture but told Drew to take his partner home because he had worked hard enough during the barbecue. Debbie, Carl and Lindsay sat in the sun porch just enjoying the afternoon and of course, to be available for Gus.
“Excuse me?” Lorna asked not quite believing that the dreaded Brian Kinney could address anyone civilly.
“Would you like a tour of the gardens and the lane? Mel and Gus may be a while,” he again asked in a sincere tone.
“It’s fine. I’m allowed to walk on it as long as I use the walking boot and cane.”
“Then yes, I’d love to see your garden. Thank you.”
Brian slowly took Lorna through the gardens of the conjoined cottages and then down the path toward the new greenhouse.
“These flowers are phenomenal. The weather is so dreary in Portland that we have a short growing season.”
“I imagine you can find something native to grow.”
“I guess so but I found out a long time ago that I have a brown thumb instead of green. I even killed a cactus,” Lorna said as she made a pitiful face.
Brian giggled making his handsome face even more so. “It took a while and a lot of dead plants to figure out the best combinations and what works well out here. We need hardy plants. It gets really hot in summer and the winters can be brutal.”
“It’s beautiful,” Lorna said as she took one last look at the garden before they entered the greenhouse. “Oh my!” she gasped as she took it all in. “And you just did this?”
“My brother built it for me. Somehow he transcribed my scribbles into all of this,” Brian explained as he showed Lorna a framed set of drawings that John had hung on the wall at the front of the greenhouse. “When Justin and I were in Hawaii we visited a museum that had a huge greenhouse with palms and tropical flowers. I was sitting and started to doodle. John is a very talented architect; he created this,” Brian said proudly as he pointed to the greenhouse plans.
“This is amazing,” Lorna exclaimed as they strolled through the aisle and ended up at the pond. “It looks like the water is flowing right out of the wall!”
Brian smiled. “That’s how we wanted it. I have a business partner at the garden center; he helped me to create this after I described the look I was going for.”
“It’s so surreal. You’ve created a tropical paradise in the middle of nowhere. This may sound like a dumb question, but why?”
“Why do all this? You have a beautiful garden, why go through all this trouble for more plants?”
Brian was shocked that someone would question his motives when it all seemed so simple to him and his family. “My daughter and I miss it during the winter,” Brian said softly. Lorna could only nod.
“Why a cottage? Why all these cottages?” Lorna asked as if she were cross-examining Brian. Brian bristled, ready to strike back with sarcasm in the way only Brian Kinney could, but he stopped himself. He sat at the edge of the pond.
“When Justin found out that I had a brother, we visited his home. On his property was a cottage that John and his mother would occasionally rent out. Before John and Bobby got married, Justin and I would stay at the cottage when we visited. And then the boys moved in when they got hitched. Justin’s mother is a realtor; she found the ruins of the cottage we now live in. John restored it.”
“He surpassed all my dreams for the place. Later on, the four of us found that we really liked each other. John moved his cottage and joined it to ours via the sun porch.”
“Drew asked for a piece of land and had John build a cottage for Emmett. Molly wanted a quiet little place for her and her family.”
“And the house at the top of the lane?”
“Long story, but John rescued it for Rachel and her family. Rachel is Bobby’s sister. And that’s the condensed version about Edna’s Treasures. But I’m sure Mel has filled you in on all of this.” Brian waved his hand in the air.
“No, she hasn’t. Believe it or not, Melanie doesn’t like to talk about her past. Edna’s Treasures?”
“That’s a whole other story.”
“I think I’d like to hear it.”
“Why? Why are you so interested? Why are you here?”
“I came with Mel.”
“With Mel, not for Mel?” Brian asked with an arch of his brow as he stood straight and tall. Lorna was almost as tall as Lindsay but not quite. Brian towered over her. “Look, let’s stop with the bullshit. I could care less if you and Mel are here, in Portland, or in fucking Oshkosh. My son, JR and Lindsay have been hurt enough. They deserve better.”
“And Melanie, what does she deserve? Didn’t she deserve better?”
“She has you, doesn’t she? She has her new life. From what I hear, it doesn’t get better than that. What more does she want?”
“No one is keeping Melanie away from her children, least of all me. She doesn’t need my help; she’s accomplishing that all by herself.”
“Why do you say that?” Lorna was using everything she could to turn the focus back onto Brian.
“You’re a very smart woman, you don’t need my answer.”
“But I’d like to hear it all the same.”
“Melanie is beautiful, talented and she had to fight for everything she’s earned. I admire that, but I don’t think she’s ever learned to appreciate what she has. Mel’s children love her but she raised them to think for themselves, to make decisions, to be independent. And now that they are, she’s angry with them because of it. Did you know that Gus is majoring in two different degrees in two different universities? JR may only be fifteen, but she single-handedly revamped her father’s comic book store to increase their profit by thirty percent and had a hand in the marketing. She’s brilliant in business and loves it. Mel wants her to drop everything and move.”
“She might like it in Portland.”
“She might, but back a teenager up against a wall and what happens?”
“They most likely do the opposite.”
“Correct.” Brian turned away from Lorna to walk toward a newly potted orchid. He gently caressed the delicate petals. “Children are a lot like flowers. Given the right soil and fertilizer, plenty of sun, and enough water, they bloom.” Brian gave Lorna a crooked little smile then left her in the greenhouse.
She was even more confused about Brian Kinney than she had been before.
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