“Thank you for keeping her today,” Susanna said to Justin as he walked her out to her car. She had just dropped Ashley off at the cottage. The girls were ecstatic about spending the day together. “I can take her in with me some days but not today.”
“No problem, besides you know how much Bree loves Ashley. She even put together an agenda of activities she wants to do with Ashley,” Justin said with almost a pained expression. Susanna burst out laughing.
“That sounds like Bree. I’m sure Ashley won’t be bored for a second. Oh, I put extra clothes in her bag just in case she gets really dirty.”
“No, problem, besides we have a washing machine and I know how to use it. Susanna, we love Ashley, she’s welcome here anytime. And if you want to take a few days for yourself or have a weekend with the girls, Ashley is more than welcome to sleep over.”
“Thank you, Justin, I may just take you up on that. The divorce, the penny pinching and finding the new job took a lot out of Ashley,” Susanna said sadly.
“You kept your home together, Susanna. Never doubt yourself,” Justin reassured her.
“I’ll see you later,”
Susanna called out as she waved from her car. Justin waved back as she drove
down the lane.
“Ma, what are you doing here?” Michael asked as he answered the demanding knock on the door.
“Selling Avon, what does it look like I’m doing?” she demanded. Debbie was standing on Michael’s doorstep with a piping hot tray of lasagna. “Well, can I come in; this is getting heavy.”
“Sure, Ma,” Michael said meekly as he stepped aside to let his mother through the door.
“Where’s your husband?” Debbie wasn’t pleased to find Michael all alone.
“Uh, at the gym,” Michael was almost afraid to admit.
“You’re dying and your husband is banging dumbbells around! I don’t care how many muscles he has, I’m going to kick his ass.”
“Ma, please. I’m not dying and Ben’s been very attentive. He’s been driving me crazy so I told him to go to the gym. He’ll be back soon.”
“Well, okay. I guess that’s all right,” Debbie barely conceded. She stomped her way to the kitchen to set the tray on the stove. Then proceeded to rummage in their refrigerator to take out the fixings for a huge salad.
“Ma, it’s only the two of us unless you’re staying for dinner.”
“I’m not staying,” she grumbled, putting back the extra lettuce and tomatoes. “I helped out at Edna’s Treasures this weekend. I guess I’m still in huge family mode. You missed a nice party. Ended with a bang, literally.”
“Yeah,” Michael smiled. “Tell me about it.”
Pleased to get the focus off himself, Michael was happy to hear all about the barbecue, the fireworks and the progress on the new cottage. He laughed as his mother described how Todd was drooling over Gerry.
“Sounds like I missed a real good barbecue.”
“You did and I have to talk to you about something. But before I do that, please tell me what’s wrong. I did something very foolish the other day because I was so angry. That's no excuse but it happened.”
“You didn’t take it out on Brian, did you?” Debbie nodded. “Oh, Ma!”
“Well, no one tells me anything and you weren’t there and a mother knows when something’s wrong with her baby and...”
“Breathe, Ma. Let’s sit down and I’ll tell you everything,” Michael said as he led Debbie to the couch. A half hour later, Debbie was sniffling into her tissues.
“I can’t lose you too,” she wailed, clutching Michael to her chest.
“No one’s losing anyone,” Ben said as he entered the room, catching Debbie’s last remark. “Michael’s strong and he’s going to beat this thing. He just needs a lot of rest.”
“And he’s going to get it!” Deb declared as if her word was the determining factor. “The new cottage. I overheard John say that he was going to have his men work on the new cottage double time. Is that because of you?”
“Maybe, I don’t know. Brian promised not to say anything,” Michael said.
“Then nothing would make him break a promise,” Deb agreed.
“John’s a very smart man,” Ben said. “He can put two and two together. He probably suspected and Brian did nothing to dissuade him.”
“Well, whatever the reason, Emmett said the furniture should be delivered soon. That means you can move in,” Debbie stated.
“Ma, you said that you had something to tell me.”
“Honey, I don’t want you to worry but Mel is here, was here. I think she flew back this morning.”
“Melanie was in Pittsburgh?” Michael asked with worry.
“She showed up at the cottage Saturday night as the guests were leaving. When Brian refused to give her access to his house, she came back on Sunday. She spent most of the day on the lane.”
“How is she?” Ben asked.
“Beautiful, and stubborn as ever. She came with her new girlfriend who looks a lot like Lindsay but without Lindsay’s sweetness. Mel was in rare form, spitting bullets at all things Kinney. And Lorna walked around like she had a stick up her butt. Even Bree didn’t like her.”
They all laughed at that. Bree was even more critical at times than Brian.
“Do you think Mel’s going to make trouble?” Michael asked. He was beginning to feel tired. He closed his eyes as Debbie began to plate up their dinner.
“I don’t think so, honey. JR seemed happy after her visit,” Debbie said as she handed the plate to Ben.
“Babe, try to eat some of this,” Ben said as he put the plate on the coffee table so he could prop Michael up.
“I’m not hungry,” Michael mumbled but not low enough that Debbie couldn’t hear.
“But you love my lasagna,” she cried.
“Deb, I’ll make sure he eats,” Ben said as he stood.
“You promise me, he’ll eat,” she said as she waved a finger in his face.
“I promise. Let me walk you out,” Ben said trying to steer Debbie toward the door. She broke free of his grip to kiss her son who appeared to be sleeping.
“Deb,” Ben said sternly but gently.
Debbie wiped her nose as she walked to the front door. “Please take care of my baby. I love him, can’t lose him.”
“I love him too. The doctor assured me that if we’re careful, Michael will get through this.”
“Okay. Honey, what about you? Are you okay?” she asked with real concern.
“I’m fine. And I’ve decided to take a sabbatical to care for him, maybe write some more. When the cottage is ready, I’ll bring him up there. The fresh air and the quiet will do him good.”
“What about it? JR’s been wonderful.”
“Sweetheart, JR is wonderful but she can’t sign for shipments or do the banking. I agree, she knows the customers and the stock but she’s still underage. Let me and Carl help. I worked the till at the diner for years, it’s not that much different at the store. This way JR can work but still have a little time for herself.”
“Are you sure? It would put his mind at ease.”
“Consider it done. I’ll talk to Carl today.”
“Okay. Thank you, Debbie.”
Debbie gave Ben a bone crushing hug before he could make his escape back into the house. For a split second Ben contemplated how to extricate himself from Debbie’s clutches, instead he allowed himself the comfort of her loving arms.
“I love you, Sweetheart.”
“I love you too, Deb.”
Satisfied, Deb let Ben go then drove off back home.
“So, Auntie Melanie came all the way from Portland, wherever that is, and she brought this lady, Lorna, with her. Lorna’s her girlfriend. I don’t like Miss Lorna very much, cause she’s weird. She didn’t like me either. And Gus told me that Auntie Mel is an outsider now, and I should be nice to her, because being an outsider’s not fun,” Bree said before taking a breath.
“Wow!” Ashley replied.
The two girls were in the Wendy house sitting on the big cushions with Beau watching them patiently. Bree was catching her friend up on all the events of the long weekend.
“You should have been here for the fireworks,” Bree informed her friend. “They were awesome.”
“I wish I could have been here.”
“How was your daddy?”
“He was okay.”
“He has a new girlfriend too. I got to meet her.”
“Did you like her?”
Ashley shook her head. “She’s kind of weird too. I don’t know why my daddy wants her and not mommy. My mommy’s much better than her.”
Bree nodded in agreement. “Auntie Lindsay is much better than Miss Lorna, but Auntie Mel likes Lorna better now.”
“Adults are stupid,” Ashley said sagely.
“Yeah … sometimes.”
“Are you going to see your
“I don’t know. He … he’s not like he used to be.”
“Auntie Mel isn’t like she used to be either … not exactly. She’s not as nice as she used to be.”
“Neither’s daddy,” Ashley agreed.
“I wonder why divorce does that,” Bree speculated. “Maybe it makes people hate the people they used to love.”
“I … I don’t think my daddy hates me,” Ashley said with her bottom lip quivering.
“Oh, I didn’t mean that your daddy hates you. I meant that Auntie Mel and Auntie Lindsay sort of hated each other for a while. They argued all the time.”
“So did my daddy and mommy. It’s much nicer not having arguing all the time.”
“Yeah,” Bree agreed, although she had never really had much arguing with her fathers.
“What are we going to do this afternoon?” Ashley asked.
“I think we should swim in the stream.”
“That would be good,” Ashley said with a smile. “Do you think we could ride the horses one day?”
“I could ask Unca John.”
“I think you should.”
“Lunch, girls!” Justin’s voice came to them across the yard.
Bree and Ashley quickly abandoned the Wendy house and raced to the sun porch. Beau was hot on their heels.
“Gus!” Ashley shrieked as Gus and John came in for lunch from their work in the lane.
“Hey, sweet thing,” Gus replied with a big smile. He bent down so that he could receive Ashley’s hug and give her a warm one in response.
“I didn’t know you were here.”
“Has my sister been shirking her duties of reporting on my activities?” Gus teased his sister.
Bree made a face. “I haven’t seen Ashley in forever,” Bree said. “I had so much to tell her. I forgot about you.”
“Great, now I’m forgettable,” Gus griped as he released Ashley from their hug. Ashley’s hand found its way into his. Gus smiled down at the little girl.
“Gus, can you sit beside me at lunch?” Ashley requested.
“I think that can be arranged.”
“Beside me too,” Bree said.
“A lovely lady on each side,” Gus laughed.
“What are we?” Brian asked as he watched the little girls fawn over his son.
“Chopped liver,” John replied.
Brian snorted. “I think we are officially past it.”
“Never past it, handsome gentlemen,” Gerry said as he joined them in the sun porch for lunch.
“If all you handsome gentlemen will be seated, lunch is served,” Justin said formally as he carried a pitcher of iced tea to the table.
“Daddy, you forgot to say the lovely ladies should be seated too,” Bree told her father.
“I apologize for being so remiss,” Justin responded. “Lovely ladies, please be seated.”
Everyone chuckled as they all found a seat. Ashley and Bree made sure one of them was on each side of Gus.
“I expect them to be peeling grapes for him any minute now,” Brian whispered to John.
“They do love the Kinney male.”
“And what’s not to love?” Brian said tongue in cheek.
“I understand where they’re coming from,” Justin said with a wink at his husband.
Just as everyone had filled their plates with the leftovers from the Fourth of July barbecues and fresh salads that Justin had whipped up, Gerry’s phone buzzed. He looked at his caller ID, and then excused himself from the table.
“Have to take this,” he said as he walked to the door of the sun porch.
“Todd,” Brian and John each said at the same time.
“I hope it is,” Justin smiled. “It would be good for both of them.”
“Matchmaking much?” Brian asked.
“I didn’t have to,” Justin retorted. “They found each other without any help from me.”
“Although, tropical plants did play a role,” Brian smirked.
“Tropical plants?” Gus asked.
“Todd and Gerry bonded over hibiscus and heavy urns full of soil,” Brian informed his son.
John and Justin laughed while Gus shook his head.
“What’s bonded?” Bree asked her brother.
“Um, got together,” Gus said cautiously.
“Does Mr. Todd like Mr. Gerry?” Bree wanted to know.
“I don’t know,” Gus responded honestly. “You’ll have to ask Gerry.”
Gerry took that moment to reappear. “Sorry about that,” he said as he sat back down.
“Todd?” Brian asked with a smirk.
“As a matter of fact…”
“Is Mr. Todd your boyfriend now?” Bree boldly asked.
The adults groaned but also waited to hear how Gerry would answer.
“I don’t know yet, Miss Bree,” Gerry replied. “We’re going to explore that possibility at some place called the Honey Bear tonight.”
“Ooh, the Honey Bear,” the men said then chuckled.
“What?” Gerry asked.
“The notorious Honey Bear,” John said with a faraway look in his eye.
“Huh?” Gerry asked wondering what he had got himself into.
“Bobby was a waiter at the Honey Bear way back when,” Justin explained. “Before he met a certain man with a PhD who swept him off his feet.”
“I didn’t have a PhD back then, and I hardly swept him off his feet,” John said coming back to reality. “I didn’t even want to admit I might be gay.”
“Kinda like me,” Gerry said thoughtfully. “Maybe my destiny awaits me at this Honey Bear.”
“You better find out soon,” Brian advised. “You’re only here till the end of the week.”
“Well, if my patients weren’t doing so well, I might have to stay longer,” Gerry joked.
“Are you asking us to fake our injuries?” Brian asked with a look of mock horror.
“If things don’t go well tonight, I might have to do just that,” Gerry said with a laugh.
“Oh, just go for it,” Brian advised. “There’s no point of beating around the bush. It just wastes valuable fu… together time.”
“Duly noted,” Gerry said.
“Are you actually taking romance advice from my infamous studly brother?” John asked.
“I believe I am,” Gerry said with a wink.
“Good,” John said as he helped himself to some more salad.
“Gus, will you come swimming with us this afternoon?” Ashley asked sweetly.
“I have to work.”
“Oh,” Ashley said dejectedly.
“Daddy, will you come with us?” Bree asked.
“I really have to paint this afternoon,” Justin replied.
“I’ll come with you,” Patrick volunteered.
“That’s lovely son,” John said, “but you children need an adult with you when you go swimming in the stream.”
“Okay,” Bree said with a sour look on her face. “But will you take me and Ashley horseback riding later in the week?”
“And me too,” Patrick said feeling like he was getting left out of everything since Ashley’s arrival.
“I think that could be arranged,” John replied.
“Dada, can you come to the stream so we can swim?” Bree asked hopefully.
“Sorry, Squirt, I have a conference call this afternoon with Kinnetik Isles.”
“Poo!” Bree reacted. “I want to swim.”
“There’s one adult at the table that you haven’t asked, Miss Bree,” Gerry said.
“Would you come with us?” Bree asked, her face brightening up.
“I certainly will. I think a swim before my big date might be just what the physical therapist ordered.” Gerry looked around the table. “Well, my patients are both going to be busy. I won’t have anything else to do,” he said.
“Except think about a certain man from the garden center.”
“A swim will help me keep my mind off my impending … date.”
“We will expect a full accounting tomorrow,” Brian advised. “And make sure I give you the code for the gate, so that when you come home at all hours, you won’t interrupt Justin and me.”
“If I come home,” Gerry smirked.
Mouths dropped open around the table.
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