Trials and Tribulations
Brian quickly made his way up the lane toward the safety and quiet of the conjoined cottages. A frigid wind started blowing and if Brian wasn’t mistaken, the sky was getting darker. He even saw Beau and his pack make a beeline toward John’s side of the cottages. Brian didn’t need his brother to know that there was a good chance a snowstorm was brewing.
“Hey,” Justin called out as Brian came inside. “That was quick, I wasn’t expecting you for hours,” Justin commented getting no response. Justin had cleaned up the kitchen, put on a fresh pot of coffee, and was now contemplating how to spend the day. He considered painting but his heart wasn’t in it, besides he was still jet-lagged. When it dawned on Justin he hadn’t heard Brian speak, Justin came from behind the counter to approach him. Justin studied Brian’s face and saw something in the hazel eyes that he hadn’t seen in years. Justin saw pain; he also saw the beginnings of a wall about to be built. He quickly helped Brian out of his scarf and coat.
“You’re freezing,” Justin observed as he took Brian’s hands and led him into their living room. Justin had a small fire going. After making Brian comfortable on the sofa, Justin added a few more logs to the fire then fetched a cup of coffee. “Tell me what happened.”
Brian hated talking about emotional shit. He hated seeing women cry, especially Debbie; it felt like his heart was in a vise. But Brian had a very stubborn and determined partner who wasn’t going to let him bury his feelings. He took a deep breath and began to spill.
“I went to Debbie’s. But she'd had enough of Michael’s whining and threw him out.” Brian waited for Justin’s reaction. When it was clear that Justin was waiting for Brian to continue, Brian had no choice but to keep on talking.
“Michael really has no clue what’s going on with Ben. And of course, Debbie was about to tear me a new one because we took Ben with us. She assumes the worst. I told her that I believe Ben when he says he’s not fucking around. At least Carl believed me and kept Debbie calm, for the most part. Michael went to the cabin.”
“Did you go?” Justin asked.
“Yeah. I interrupted Mikey’s pity party. I was about to sit down with him and a nice cup of instant crap when his phone rang. It was Ben. Fuck, Justin, Michael looked so happy when he realized the call was from Ben. What if Ben’s not ready to come back?”
“Then we’ll deal with it. Right now, I want to go back to bed.” Brian arched his eyebrow. “Asshole,” Justin said with a smile and a light smack to Brian’s chest. “I’m jet-lagged. I need some more sleep and I’m sure you do too.”
Brian nodded. He was indeed very tired, emotionally as well as physically. It didn’t take much persuasion on Justin’s part to get Brian to accompany him back to the comfort of their room and their very comfortable bed.
“Do you think they’ll work it out?” Justin asked as he stripped down to his t-shirt and underwear. Brian too, shed his clothes then cuddled close to Justin under their thick blankets. They heard the wind outside picking up speed.
“I don’t know. I think it may be too late. Ben’s sabbatical may be more about getting away from Michael than taking time away from teaching.”
“Shit!” Justin exclaimed.
“Yeah,” Brian agreed as he drew Justin into his arms and buried his face into Justin’s neck. He inhaled the unique scent of Justin; it meant home to Brian. “I love Michael, I always have even when I think he’s being an ass but I’ve never really gotten him and Ben together,” Brian admitted.
“Michael loves Ben.”
“What’s not to love? He’s brilliant and he’s certainly good looking.”
“He has a beautiful soul,” Justin added eliciting a loving kiss to his neck.
“But I never got what Ben sees in Michael. Dr. Dave was easy.”
“What do you mean?” Justin asked as he maneuvered himself around to look into Brian’s eyes.
“Dr. Dave was a Svengali but not so evil. He just wanted to change Michael into something he’s not and he had the money to do it.”
“I think Ben hoped that given time and the right influences, Michael would grow up or at least catch a clue. There were a lot of times that I thought he had but…”
“But sometimes he still hurt you,” Justin said. Brian gave a little nod, his eyes looking sad. “Brian, I’m going to say something that I know you’re not going to like but you know is true. Michael grew up to be more like his mother than anyone cares to admit. You ignore it even though I know it hurts. She kisses your cheek then smacks you in the head. She does the same with Gus, although with him it’s just a bad habit that she can’t break. Thank god Gus finds it amusing. He doesn’t have your history with her. She’s not always nice to you but she can’t help that either, and you always forgive her even though she may not deserve it or realize it.
“Bri, you worked hard to change your so called evil ways.” Justin gave Brian a coy smile and waggled his eyebrows. Brian snorted but he understood what Justin was saying. “We both work hard at making us work.”
“We have to work hard, we’re so different,” Brian stated.
“Not really. I’m not talking about physical appearances.”
“Or about your horrid taste in music,” Brian quipped. Justin nipped the tip of Brian’s nose. “Spousal abuse,” Brian protested. “I get it, Sunshine. We have the same drives and that does include fucking our brains out. My dick and your ass are still legendary, the subject of songs.”
“I should have never coerced you into watching that Klingon episodes marathon,” Justin grumbled.
“I hear what you’re saying, Justin, we have the same commitment to our careers, to the kids, our family,” Brian said as he gently shook Justin bringing him back on point.
“And our lane,” said Justin. “We work at those commitments every day. We can’t become complacent. And we know when to take a break.”
“You mean I know when you’ve painted yourself into exhaustion and you need a break. I need the break because just watching you makes me exhausted.”
“Asshole. But you’re right. You do know when we need to take a time out. And you seem to know when others need a vacation too,” Justin said, narrowing his eyes suspiciously at his recalcitrant spouse.
“It’s a gift,” Brian stated with a smug grin and a shrug.
“The point is I listen…”
“Eventually,” Brian interjected.
Justin snorted. “I do listen. And you make things happen and I’m forever grateful.” Justin lay his head against Brian’s chest. Brian hugged him close.
“I promise to never take you for granted and never stop working at our marriage,” Brian vowed.
“I promise to never take you for granted and never stop working at our marriage,” Justin repeated the vow.
“But Ben?” Justin said after some time.
“I’m afraid he stopped trying.”
“Ben! I’m so glad you called,” Michael gushed.
“How are you, Michael?” Ben said flatly.
“I’m good. How are you? How’s Paris? When me and David…”
“Michael, I’m not in the mood to hear about your vacation exploits with David,” Ben quickly redirected the conversation. “I called to let you know that I may stay here for another week or two. When I leave I’ll be spending the remainder of my sabbatical at the cabin.”
“But you said your book was done. You don’t have a reason to stay at the cabin.”
“Yes, the book is finished but now the editing begins. There are several chapters that require changes.”
“Oh, but you’ll come home after. We missed some great holiday parties. Our neighbors are hoping we’ll host the next one.”
Ben heaved a heavy sigh. “Michael, you can host as many parties as you wish. I’m not interested.”
“But they’re our friends!”
“No. Michael, they’re your friends. My friends and I enjoy discussing the latest novel or politics or the accomplishments made by our children. Your friends seem to find pleasure in discussing the paint color of someone’s front door or the random flamingo lawn ornament seen in a yard. I need a break, Michael. I need quiet. I need to figure out my life.”
“And what about my life!” Michael screamed. “We’ve been married longer than any of our friends. We’re happy! Everything changed when you started writing that stupid book about Brian. He’s MY friend, not yours!”
“Michael, do you hear yourself? First, let’s get one fact straight. This book is not about Brian. It may start off about how Brian and Justin met but it’s about all of us. So, I don’t want to hear another word about the book. That’s not when things began to change. The changes started years ago but I was too proud to admit it, so I ignored them. I hoped our problems would go away or somehow resolve themselves. You’re just too blind to see them.”
“We don’t have problems. We love each other and always have. We’re married, for fuck’s sake!”
“It doesn’t matter how many times you say those words, Michael. Repeating them over and over doesn’t make our problems disappear. We’ve grown apart; we have little in common, and I can’t live this lie anymore.”
“I don’t understand, our life is perfect. We live in a great house, we have wonderful friends, and we love each other.”
“Oh Michael, I wish that were true,” Ben said sadly. “Michael, please call Alex. He can refer you to a therapist. Maybe it’ll help.”
“I don’t need therapy. It hasn’t done you any good, it just made you leave me.”
“You’re wrong; therapy made me realize the truth and gave me the confidence to act. I care about you, Michael, I really do, but I can’t live with you. I’ll call you when I get back.”
“But we’re married, we’re in love,” Michael said softly.
“No, we aren’t. You may be, but I haven’t been for a very long time. Goodbye, Michael, I’ll let you know when I’m leaving France and when I’m back on the lane.”
“But…” Michael began then realized Ben was gone.
Michael stood frozen in shock. After a while he put down his phone. He stared out of the nearest window watching the first few snowflakes swirling in the wind.
“Oh fucking, hell no! No way am I spending another fucking blizzard on this fucking lane. I’m going home. To hell with everyone. I have friends. I don’t need him. He’ll see.”
Michael grabbed his duffle bag, shoved whatever clothes and toiletries he had taken with him into the bag, grabbed his keys, phone, and wallet then made for the door. He stomped his way across the lane to his car and got in. For a moment he thought maybe he should tell his mother that he was leaving but then realized that she threw him out. She didn’t care what happened to him. Michael took a deep breath to calm himself. He knew he needed to concentrate on driving home. He so wanted to make it back before the snow really got heavy. He started the car, took another deep breath then slowly drove off the lane.
When Michael drove through the gate, he stopped to watch it slowly swing shut behind him. He sat there for a moment before easing out onto the main road. For a fleeting moment, Michael was afraid his life had been changed forever.
“He’s wrong. They’re all wrong. And I’ll prove it,” Michael vowed then he drove back home to Pittsburgh.
Brian had a sense of heaviness in his chest or rather on his chest when he finally opened his eyes. He also realized that there was a lot more activity going on in the conjoined cottages than what usually occurred during the week at one in the afternoon.
“Wakey, wakey, Sunshine,” Brian said to the man that was draped across Brian’s chest. And if he wasn’t mistaken, drooling on his chest too.
“Wha’ ‘ime ‘sit?” Justin mumbled.
“Around one, we had a good long nap.”
“Why is it so noisy?” Justin asked as his brain kicked into gear. He used the edge of his t-shirt to wipe his face and then Brian’s chest.
“Gee, thanks, Sunshine,” Brian snarked. “And in answer to your question, I have no idea. Maybe we should get up to find out.”
The boys did just that. They quickly tidied themselves and the bed up, threw on some comfortable clothes then left the comfort of their bedroom.
“Is there a party going on that I wasn’t aware of,” Brian said as he and Justin entered the sun porch. There was a tray of healthy and not so healthy snacks on one of the small tables and a huge pot of hot chocolate.
“We have a snow day, Dada!” Bree said as she flung her arms around Brian’s waist.
“You do?” Brian asked as he scooped up his petite daughter into his arms. She smiled her bright sunny smile which warmed Brian’s heart. “And why do you have a snow day?” he asked as he rubbed his nose against hers.
“Look outside, little brother,” John said as he entered the porch from his side. He had just come back from checking Emmett’s cottage, looking in on Debbie and Carl, and giving the cabin the once over. There was a full scale blizzard going on. John poured himself a mug of hot chocolate then sat.
“Wow, when did that happen?”
“Not too long after I dropped everyone off at school. I was halfway to Harrisburg when we got the school alert. They were closing the school and needed everyone to pick up their kids. Some of the other parents with larger vehicles played transport. Everyone got home okay as well as the teachers. I brought our guys home including Peter. I did stop by the General Store first for extra supplies, just in case this is a long one.”
“Where’s Bobby?” Justin asked with concern.
“Here I am,” Bobby announced himself. He had come through Brian and Justin’s front door. “Rachel and George are good. John, I think we should attach the plow to your Navigator.”
“Good idea,” John said as he finished his hot chocolate then went to bundle up again.
“Need help?” Brian volunteered.
“We got this.” John smiled his thanks as he and Bobby left the porch.
“Well, kids, that hot chocolate smells delicious, I think I’ll have a small cup,” Brian announced.
“Good for you, Dada,” Bree teased.
“You want some whipped cream?” Patrick asked, not expecting a yes.
“I think I can indulge this one time.”
“Will wonders never cease,” Patrick quipped making Bree and Justin laugh.
Brian put Bree down then went to the table. He opened the container of fresh whipped cream, took a spoon and gave his cup a good dollop. He toasted the room before taking a sip. When he lifted his head, he had whipped cream on the tip of his nose. The kids laughed as Brian looked cross eyed at the end of his nose. Justin helped by licking off the whipped cream.
The boys exchanged loving looks. This is what it was all about. Family.
Michael held the steering wheel of his car with white knuckles. The weather had really deteriorated since leaving the lane. At first he thought he might outrun the storm, but then it began to snow. The road was increasingly slippery and it didn't seem like any plows or sanders were out yet.
A road sign came into view. Ten miles to Pittsburgh. If he could just get through those ten miles, he would be close to home. Once inside the city limits he was sure the roads would be better. He had to keep going. It was too late to turn back now.
Michael pondered that thought. Was it too late for him and Ben too? Michael couldn't believe that it was too late for them. He couldn't believe how Ben had spoken to him. It was like they were on two different planets. Michael shook his head and glanced up as he felt the car start to fishtail on the slippery road. He managed to steer into the skid and regain control.
"Pay attention, Michael," he warned himself. He could think about Ben and what he was going to do once he was safely at home.
Slowly he inched on wondering how much longer it would take to get to his house, his and Ben's house. He hoped that would still be true once he and Ben finally were face to face.
Bree stood staring out of the sun porch window at the snow that seemed to be going sideways. She could no longer see the Wendy house at the back of the yard.
"What's up, Squirt?" Brian asked as he came up behind her.
"I wish it would calm down. I'd like to go out and make snowballs or snow angels or something."
"Not in that fu... mess. It's pretty raw out there right now."
"I know," Bree said with a big sigh.
"Are you bored?"
"Kind of," Bree admitted.
"Do you want to paint? I'm sure your Daddy would paint with you." Bree shook her head. "How about you practice your piano?" Again a head shake. "Do you want to play a game of Scrabble?"
"You usually win, so no," Bree stated.
"Hm," Brian said thoughtfully. "I might have something you'll like."
"What is it?" Bree asked suddenly interested.
"Well, it just so happens that I found something in the airport before we left Paris," Brian said with his patented smirk.
"What did you find?" Bree asked.
"Hang on and I'll show you," Brian told her as he left the sun porch.
"What is it, Daddy?" Bree asked Justin. "Do you know?"
"Yes, I know," Justin said, "but I'm not going to spoil your Dada's surprise."
"Hmpf," Bree said. She waited impatiently for her father to return.
Brian came back into the sun porch holding something behind his back. It looked like a box of some kind.
"What is it, Dada?"
"Impatient much?" Brian asked making her wait a little longer.
Bree threw him a look and crossed her arms on her chest. Brian did a double take. Michael couldn't have made that move any better. Brian quickly drew the box from behind his back and handed it to Bree.
Bree stared at the picture of the Eiffel Tower surrounded by all the attractions that made Paris famous. "A jigsaw puzzle!" she exclaimed. "Oh Dada, we haven't done a jigsaw in ages. Can we start now?"
"That's why I brought it out," Brian said smugly.
"Daddy, it's got 2000 pieces. Are you going to help us?"
"I think that could be arranged," Justin said getting up. "Let's get it laid out on the big table and maybe we can rope Patrick, John and Bobby into helping too."
They quickly dumped the puzzle into piles and started searching for edge pieces. They had found quite a few when John, Bobby and Patrick came in from their cottage.
"What's this?" John asked.
"Dada brought me a jigsaw from Paris," Bree said proudly. "We could use more help. It's a really big one."
"Count me in," John said and the others nodded their agreement.
They had managed to get most of the edge together when Brian stood and rotated his neck. "Time for a break," he said. "We've been at this for a couple of hours."
"Yeah, it's dinner time," Bobby said.
"Shall I send out for a pizza to be delivered?" Brian asked sucking his lips in with amusement.
"That weather isn't fit for man nor beast, let alone a poor pizza delivery man," John said looking out into the growing darkness. "It doesn't seem to be letting up."
"I think we've got some pizza dough in the freezer," Justin volunteered. "We could make individual pizzas with whatever people want on them."
"Great idea," Bobby said standing up to go help Justin.
"Pizzas?" Brian asked with a grimace.
"Says the man who has had hot chocolate with whipped cream," Patrick observed. "Pizzas are much healthier."
"Is that so?" Brian asked. "Okay, kids, let's go pick out the toppings we want on our pizzas."
Soon they were all working around the counter in the Kinney-Taylor kitchen. Bree made the Eiffel Tower out of red peppers on hers. Picking up on the theme of France they each concocted some scene from their trip there. Justin's ferris wheel from the Place de la Concorde was quite entrancing, made with little rounds of pepperoni. The others did their best to make some attraction that they had enjoyed. When they were just about finished, everyone checked out what the others had done. Brian's pizza got some gasps.
"Is that what I think it is?" John asked.
"I don't know. What do you think it is?" Brian replied.
"Is it a boat on the Seine?" Bobby asked.
"I looks like one of those abstract pieces of art from the gallery where Justin's artwork was shown," John offered. "I'm not sure what that blob in the middle is."
"It could be a taxi on one of the streets," Patrick suggested,
Bree giggled. "It's Dada's hotel room, and that's the bed."
"Really?" came as a chorus.
"How do you know?" John asked.
"He always does something with him and Daddy in it," Bree declared. "They're in bed together."
"Is she right?" Justin asked with a loving grin.
"Could be, but I'll never tell."
Everyone laughed as they got the pizzas ready to go into the oven. They hardly noticed that the storm had started to die down.
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