Trials and Tribulations
“Hi, I miss you.”
“Miss you too. When do you think you’ll be home?”
“I could ask you the same thing.”
“Liberty Avenue looks normal again, so I’m coming home tonight,” said JR.
“How do you feel about that?”
“I wish my dad was in a better mood but that doesn’t look like it’ll happen anytime soon. I wish Ben would come home. They can’t fix anything if they’re three thousand miles apart. But it was fun staying with my mom. I think we’ve become friends, not just mother and daughter. It felt good. How’s Philadelphia?”
“Still half buried under snow but the shop is fine. Those three wheel off roading bicycles suddenly became a hot seller. I really didn’t intend them for snow but somebody tried it and the word spread. We’ve put in an order to the factory for more.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“You don’t sound convinced.”
“Don’t mind me, I’m just a natural born cynic. I’ll be home in a couple of hours, what do you want for dinner?”
“You going to cook,” JR asked with a laugh.
“Not hardly but I am an expert at calling out. So, what are you in the mood for?”
“Besides you? Something Italian. You pick. I gotta go, we just got a delivery.”
“See you later; love you,” Jacqueline said.
“Love you too,” JR said before she hung up the phone. “Dad,” JR called out. Michael was in the office. “Dad!” JR called out louder. She signed for the delivery then put the closed sign in the window before locking the door and marching to the back.
“Dad, I’ve been yelling my head off,” JR stated succinctly as she crossed her arms over her chest.
“Sorry, Honeybun, I guess I didn’t hear you,” Michael said.
“No, Dad, you weren’t paying attention. You haven’t been paying attention for weeks. You need help.”
“I don’t need anyone!” Michael shouted.
“Dad, I love you but if you don’t figure things out soon, it may be too late to fix this.”
“There’s nothing to fix. We were fine before Ben started writing that book.”
“Dad, you’re lying to yourself. Things weren’t fine and it has nothing to do with that book. Everyone knows it but you!” Michael turned away. “I love you so much, I’ll stand by you and help any way that I can but face facts. Sometimes a man needs to know when to ask for help. This is one of those times.” JR hugged her dad then kissed his cheek. “Please, Dad, please,” JR begged before she released him then went out front to deal with their shipment.
“Ben!” a friendly voice called out above the noise in the terminal.
“Bobby, am I glad to see you,” Ben greeted his friend with a hug and a handshake. “It felt like we were circling the airport for hours. Were you waiting long?”
“Not at all. It took me a while to get here, the roads are still icy.”
“I didn’t put you out, did I?”
“Of course not. I’m the most logical choice to play taxi this side of the lane. Let’s get going before it decides to snow again. It’s looking bleak,” Bobby said as he cocked his head toward the glass doors. Ben could see it was a little too dark for the hour of the day. When Ben was settled into his seat, Bobby steered the car into traffic.
“How is he?” Ben asked softly. Bobby had no trouble figuring out the “he” Ben was referring to.
“Honestly?” Bobby asked.
“Not good. May I be frank?” Bobby carefully asked.
“You need to get your head out of your ass, take Michael kicking and screaming, if necessary, to a marriage counselor.”
“No excuses, I’ve heard them all. I may not be a divorce lawyer but I’ve handled many cases where estranged couples fuck up their businesses and charitable donations because of stupid bickering. Now, at some point when you and Michael first met you saw something in him. Something that made you fall in love with him, overcome major obstacles, and get married. And yes, Michael can be an annoying son of a bitch but he’s your son of a bitch.” When Ben tried to protest, Bobby cut him off. “Uh, uh, uh, don’t interrupt. You’re not a pocket full of roses either. You’re pigheaded, judgmental, and a fucking snob. That doesn’t mean I don’t love you like a brother, but if you don’t get rid of that stick up your ass you are going to lose the best thing in your life.”
They drove in silence for a while.
“He came to the lane but felt weird staying at the cabin without you.”
“What happened?” Ben asked with real concern.
“He slept on Debbie’s couch for a few days until she threw him out.”
“Threw his ass out. He ran to the cabin.”
“When was this?”
“The day after Brian and Justin got home. Brian went to talk to him but left when you called. Michael left the lane just before the snow hit. I heard he just about made it home before it came down hard. JR keeps us updated.”
“You must think I’m a cold hearted bastard.”
“A bastard, yes. Cold hearted, not so much,” Bobby teased. “You can fix this if you try hard enough.”
“I’m not sure if I have the energy to try.”
“May I make a suggestion?”
“I think we’re beyond you asking my permission. What’s your suggestion?”
“Find the energy. At least call him, let him know that you’re back. Can you do that?”
“Yes, I owe him that much.”
“What should I do after that?”
“How should I know?” Bobby said as he pulled up to the General Store. Ben gave Bobby a curious look. “Your cupboards may be bare.”
Ben got out of the car to do a little shopping.
“We good?” Bobby asked when Ben got back in the car with several grocery bags.
“Yeah, we’re good. In more ways than one,” Ben replied.
They slowly approached the gate to their little corner of the world. It swung open after Bobby entered his code. Within moments they were in front of the cabin.
“John turned up the furnace and laid a fire,” Bobby informed Ben.
“Thank you, for everything. I promise, as soon as I put this stuff away, I’ll call him.”
Bobby helped Ben get all his stuff inside then left him to his own devices.
“So is the brick shithouse home?” Brian snarked as Bobby came through the door.
“Yes, Ben is safe and sound in the cabin. We stopped at the store for a few supplies. Hopefully he won’t need them for too long,” Bobby replied as Brian handed him a cup of coffee. “Thanks,” said Bobby as he took a few sips. “I needed this. It looks like it’s going to snow again. And I…”
“Let me guess, you read him the riot act,” Brian said smugly.
“Yeah, I did.” Bobby gave Brian the short version of the conversation.
“Somebody had to and I’m glad it was you,” Brian stated.
“Not that we all haven’t thought of it but you have a way of cutting through the bullshit and clearly laying out the facts. Must be the lawyer in you.” Brian smirked. “How’d he take it?” Brian asked.
“I honestly don’t know but I think I got through to him. He was getting way too used to living in his own little 'poor me' bubble.”
“And you’re just the man to burst it,” John said as he breezed into the kitchen and helped himself to coffee. “Shit, it feels like it’s getting colder outside.” John leaned down to kiss Bobby.
“Get a room,” Brian grumbled.
“You should talk,” came a two part chorus.
“I’m not feeling the love,” Brian groused.
“Poor baby,” Justin snarked as he came in to put the kettle on. “Ben home?” Justin asked. The boys filled him in. “I hope he took your advice seriously.” The boys raised their coffee mugs in agreement.
“All we can do is wait and see,” said Brian as he stared out the window then glared at the snow that began to fall. “Should I go over to welcome him home?” Brian asked the room. Justin shook his head, no.
“Bri, what did you want to do when we got home?” Justin asked as he sipped his tea.
“Sleep. Sleep for days,” Brian admitted.
“I’m sure he feels the same way. You can see him tomorrow,” Justin suggested.
“Yeah, as we dig ourselves out, again,” Brian grumbled as they all looked out the window.
“Who’s there?” Lindsay called out into the empty gallery.
“It’s me! I can’t believe you’ve forgotten all about me already. It hasn’t been that long,” Sam pointed out.
“The one and only,” Sam said with arms stretched out wide and wearing a big grin. In one hand he had a bottle of wine and in the other two glasses. “You are beautiful!”
“What are you up to?” Lindsay was suspicious.
“Nothing,” said Sam as he tried for an innocent expression on his face. Lindsay wasn’t convinced. “I’m surprised you’re open. It's not looking pretty outside.”
“I debated it then decided to open, for a while at least.”
“Are you alone?” Sam asked with honest concern.
“No, I sent Claude out for lunch. We’ve been moving some paintings around in our 'rogues' gallery just in case…”
“A rogue like me should have some paintings to hang?” Sam asked smugly.
“Something like that,” Lindsay replied with a lady-like snort. Sam handed her a glass of wine. “I really do like those pictures you sent me. If you’re really interested in a comeback I’d be honored to show them.”
Sam sat in a chair, quietly sipping his wine before replying. “Yes, I am, very serious. No fanfare this time. I’d like to be one of your emerging artists, but a quiet artist. Just hang a few and see if they sell.” Sam had a vulnerable expression on his face.
“May I put a small sign up by the door announcing your work?”
Sam took his time to think about it before answering. “All right, but nothing fancy.”
“Fair enough. I’ll contact your agent and get a few updated publicity photos. You do still have an agent, don’t you?” Lindsay asked after seeing something flit across Sam’s face.
“Yes, I do, although she’s not very happy with me at the moment.”
“Should I ask?”
“No. Maybe I’ll tell you one day but not right now. Let’s just say it’s going to take a while for me to get back in her good graces, so don’t be surprised if she sends you a photo with an arrow sticking out of my chest or a target on my head.”
“Yeah, I’ve been an ass.” Lindsay gave Sam a poignant look. “More of an ass than usual. I went into rehab for a while,” he sadly admitted.
“Oh, Sam, I’m so sorry,” Lindsay said as she came around from her desk to give him a hug.
“Don’t be, Lindsay, it was all my fault. I’ve finally learned to take responsibility for my actions. I’ve cleaned up my act. I’m even allowed a few sips of wine now and then,” Sam stated as he held up his nearly full glass. “Moderation is my new middle name. I was lucky,” Sam said seriously. “They ran a few tests, no permanent damage. I’m fairly healthy for an old man.”
“You’re not old.”
“I’m not a spring chicken either. But enough about me. Let’s talk about my paintings!”
Lindsay smiled as she nodded. There was the old Sam she knew. They spent several hours planning, deciding, and arguing about which paintings she would exhibit and how they’d be arranged.
Brian knocked on the cabin door several times before a bleary-eyed version of Ben appeared.
The lane and most of the East Coast had been lucky, sort of. There was no new snow to dig out but lots of wind damage. The men of the lane, under John’s guidance, had spent the better part of two days examining the roofs, windows and nearby trees for damage. John’s first thought was for the thatched cottage but it was snug as a bug in a rug, as they say. They had hiked out to the meadow cottage too. Other than a window box that had managed to get blown off its perch, the cottage held up very well. Brian gathered up the window boxes to store in the greenhouse.
“You look like shit,” Brian pronounced.
“Gee, thanks,” Ben grumbled as he stepped aside to allow Brian to come in. “What time is it?” Ben asked. It was dark. Brian grabbed Ben’s wrist to look at his watch.
“It’s night time.”
“Asshole.” Ben glared at Brian then checked his watch. “Seven-thirty? What day is it?”
“You’ve been home for two days. Have you been sleeping all that time?” A loud stomach grumbling was Brian’s answer. “Come on, I’ll cook you something.” Brian turned Ben around by his massive shoulders to lead him toward the kitchen.
“I’m making coffee. You can drink your grass clippings tea some other time,” Brian said with disgust as he rummaged through the refrigerator for ingredients. Soon the enticing aroma of Brian's special blend filled the air as well as from a simple omelet that Brian carefully prepared.
“Eat!” Brian commanded as he placed the neatly plated omelet in front of his friend. Ben inhaled deeply, took a few sips of coffee then dove into Brian’s concoction.
“Oh my god, this is delicious,” Ben exclaimed as he ate.
“Geez, leave the pattern on the plate, will ya!”
“I didn’t realize how hungry I was,” Ben said as he bit into some toast.
Brian poured them more coffee.
“Wait a minute. Where did your coffee come from? I didn’t think I had any real coffee in the cabin.”
“You didn’t, I brought my own,” Brian said.
“I must have been really out of it, huh?”
“Yeah, you weren’t looking very alert when I arrived. Seriously, are you okay?”
“I’m fine, just really jet-lagged. I’ll be all right in a few days. I haven’t been away from home like that in a very long time.”
“Did you call him?” Brian asked after a while, daring to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Ben nodded. “Did you speak to him or leave a message?”
“How’d he sound?”
“Not so good.”
“And? Any revelations?”
“We made an agreement.”
“Care to share? You know we’re all behind you two, so to speak.” Ben rolled his eyes at Brian’s awful pun.
“I said if he gave me some uninterrupted time to complete the editing, I’ll come home after, and we can go to couples counseling. In the meantime, I suggested he see someone on his own.”
“How’d he take that?”
“Better than I thought.”
“Do you think he’ll go through with it?”
“Yeah, I think so. He sounded sincere.”
“Then that’s a good sign,” Brian agreed. Ben began yawning. “Go on, back to bed. I’ll clean up then let myself out. We’ll leave you undisturbed, but you’re invited to dinner tomorrow, no arguments. Maybe I’ll dare the gods and invite Debbie.”
“Whoa, are you sure?”
“I’m feeling adventurous. By the way, your roof and surrounding property weathered the last storm which I think you slept through, without any damage,” Brian said as he shooed Ben back toward the bedroom and began to clean up the kitchen.
“Brian?” Ben called out.
“You’re a good friend.”
“Yeah, yeah. Keep it to yourself,” Brian groused.
“I’m on to you!” Ben said with a chuckle.
“I can’t hear you,” Brian shouted as he ran the water and smiled to himself.
“Well?” Justin asked the minute Brian came through the door. Brian was surrounded by his family.
“Big Red, I think you got through to him.” Everyone cheered.
“What did Uncle Ben say, Dada?” Bree asked.
“They spoke. Bottom line, Ben needs the quiet of the lane to do his rewrites. If Michael leaves Ben in peace for a while and seeks his own therapy, when Ben is finished he’ll go home. AND then they go to couples’ therapy.”
The family cheered louder.
“I also invited him for dinner tomorrow,” Brian added.
“So, I guess we’re having chicken?” Justin assumed.
“That is correct, my little Mary Sunshine,” Brian snarked with a smirk then he sucked in his lips.
“It almost feels normal again,” John observed.
The family all nodded in agreement. They learned over the years when one of their “cwazy wittle” family was hurting, they all hurt.
“Come on, we have a puzzle to work on,” Bobby suggested getting smiles from everyone.
“Just as long as there’s hot cocoa and Uncle Bri has some,” Patrick also suggested. Brian ruffled the flaming red hair as everyone got to work.
“Hello-o, anyone home?” Debbie called out as she, Carl, and Peter came through the front door.
“In the porch!” someone called out. They followed the noise to the porch. The long table had been moved to the center of the room. There were several roasted chickens on the table with a lot of fixings except for…
“We brought the salad!” Debbie announced getting a loud round of applause. “Thank you, thank you,” Debbie said with a bow and a laugh. She found a place on the table to set down her large bowl.
They heard the front door open and close again, and another set of people walked into the porch, Rachel, George, Emmett, and Drew.
“Is someone having a party without me?” Emmett called out as they entered the porch each carrying a dish of something to be shared with their lane family. The family cheered again as they all settled around the table to begin their meal. Emmett noticed Ben sitting next to Justin and decided to sit on Ben’s opposite side. He gave Ben’s hand a gentle pat of support just before the meal commenced.
“I know we don’t always say grace but I’d like to tonight,” Debbie asked as she stood. She looked over to Brian and John who both nodded. “We are thankful for the meal before us, for the family seated at this table, and for our extended family not present.” Debbie sat then shouted out, “Let’s eat!”
The lane family enjoyed their meal, laughing, joking, and in general catching up with each other. At the end of the meal while the dinner dishes were being removed and the dessert things were taking their place, Debbie drew Ben aside.
“Are you avoiding me?” Debbie asked. “You haven’t said one word to me all night.”
“I couldn’t think of anything to say except I’m sorry, but sorry seems so inadequate.”
“Yes, it does,” Debbie abruptly commented. “So, what the fuck are you going to do about it?” she said as she pointed a very sharp finger at Ben.
“We’ve talked. He promised me that he’ll seek therapy while I finish the rewrites. Then when I go back to Pittsburgh, we’ll do couples’ therapy.”
“Now you’re talkin’!” Debbie shouted as she slapped Ben on the back then gave him a fierce hug.
“Deb, Debbie,” Brian shouted. “The man is turning blue. Not a good look for him.” Debbie released her captive.
Ben took a moment to refill his lungs then sat back down at the table. There were fresh homemade pies, a cake, and of course, plenty of ice cream to be had.
With certain tension in the room released, dessert time was fun and relaxing.
Return to Trials and Tribulations