Working My Way Back
“I’m meeting Professor Bruckner here,” Michael said to the hostess at Emmett’s Place, as he looked around hoping to see Ben. Ben didn’t seem to be there yet.
Michael didn’t know this woman who was the hostess. He had kind of hoped Emmett would be there. It had been a long time since he had been to Emmett’s Place, or to any relatively fancy restaurant. With a frown, Michael realized how cut off he had been for the last months. And that had been by his own choice. He had withdrawn into himself and kept everybody at bay, except for Hunter and JR, and his work at the Jason Kemp Center and the LGBT Center. He hadn’t been out on the town in so long. He wondered if he remembered how to be on a date. He smiled to himself. He was on a date with Ben. That was a good thing. Then his smile faded. What if they didn’t have anything to talk about? What if it turned out to be all awkward and hopeless? Michael almost turned around and ran out of the restaurant.
“Sir … Sir!” he heard. He realized the hostess was speaking to him. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to Mr. Bruckner’s table.”
Michael realized his moment to flee had passed. He was going to go through with this. The date was going to be fine, great even - he hoped. Drawing in a deep breath, he followed the hostess to Emmett’s special table. Michael had to smile that Ben had arranged that. It made the evening even better.
Michael wondered if Emmett was in the kitchen. He hadn’t talked to Emmett in ages. That was another person he had cut himself off from. Now, however, things were going to change … maybe.
“Hey, handsome,” Ben said with a grin as he slid onto the bench seat next to Michael.
Michael smiled. He liked being called handsome, and he wondered if Ben really still saw him that way. Ben certainly was as handsome as ever. “Glad you could make it,” Michael said trying to be glib.
“Make it? Of course I’m going to be here. We had a date.”
“Yeah, we did,” Michael agreed.
Ben looked at his husband. He had a sinking feeling that maybe Michael was regretting this date. Maybe it really was too soon for them.
“Are you okay with being here … with me?” Ben asked.
“If I’m really honest…” Michael said hesitantly.
“Please, be honest. That’s what we need to do from now on.”
“Okay, I’ll try.” Michael waited a moment as he collected his thoughts. “When I came in and you weren’t here, I … I almost left.”
“You were going to leave?” Ben asked in disbelief. “Why?”
“I was half afraid you wouldn’t show up and I’d look like a fool. And, the other half of me was afraid you would show up and we … we would be strangers. I was afraid we might not have anything to talk about.”
Ben smiled. “And here we are - talking.”
“Yeah, here we are,” Michael agreed smiling back.
“So, let’s order dinner and see what else we can talk about,” Ben suggested.
“Sounds like a great idea,” Michael said as he started to read the menu.
Ben watched his husband. Michael’s insecurities were still in evidence, there was no denying that. But, this was the first time in a long while that Ben felt like they were really being honest with each other. And that felt great.
They ordered their food and ate in amiable silence with a few comments here and there.
When they had chosen a dessert to share and had their coffees in front of them, Michael felt he had to ask, “Ben, how serious was it with you and that Frenchman?”
“I told you that’s all over.”
“I know you did, and I believe you, but I need to know how serious it was.”
Ben leaned back and looked at the ceiling. He wasn’t sure how to answer. He didn’t want to freak Michael out. He thought for a moment and then decided that if they were going to be honest with each other, this was a good place to start.
“I was feeling pretty lonely when we were apart. Armand is a charming and handsome man. I would be lying if I said otherwise. I was attracted to him, and him to me. But nothing happened, Michael. I wouldn’t let it. You were still in my thoughts and in my heart. I couldn’t betray you.”
“You couldn’t?” Michael asked with a tiny smile.
“I couldn’t. I wanted you, not Armand.”
“Do I look like I’m joking?”
“No, and you better not be,” Michael said with a coy smile.
“I like this new honesty. I think we can make it work.”
The waiter brought their dessert and they dug in. Ben’s hand found Michael’s in between bites. It felt very good to both of them.
“What’s wrong, Bree?” Patrick asked.
Patrick shook his head. Bree had been much happier since she got to talk to her father and actually went to see him, but that hadn’t lasted long. She was back to not talking and hardly eating anything. “I know something’s wrong when you don’t talk and you hardly eat anything.”
Bree pushed her cereal bowl away. It was Saturday morning and she wasn’t happy. “I’m not hungry,” she said.
“I can tell, but why?” Patrick persisted as he finished his cereal.
Bree just stared at him like he should know without asking.
Patrick knew that look. “I know you think I should know what’s wrong, but I don’t. Your daddy is recovering and they’ve let him out of the hospital. He should be home soon. So, what’s the problem?”
“I want him home now. I thought he would come home as soon as he was released from the hospital. I want to take care of him.”
“The doctor wants him to stay in Pittsburgh for a week. You know that. I’m sure he’d be home if the doctor said it was okay.”
“It’s just not fair,” Bree whined. “I can’t do anything to help him if he’s not here. I should be helping.”
“You will be as soon as he comes home,” Patrick said trying to make it better. “Isn’t that right, Poppa?”
“Correct, my boy,” Bobby agreed. He had learned that often Patrick was the one who could talk Bree down when she got in one of these moods. Thus far, he had chosen to stay out of their exchange.
“See, Bree,” Patrick continued. “Once your father is home, you can baby him all you want.”
“He’ll be all better by the time he comes home,” Bree said with a pout. “He won’t need me. I want to help him now.”
“But it will be a good thing that he’s all better, won’t it?” Patrick asked. He was beginning to run out of arguments.
“I guess,” Bree sighed.
“I have an idea,” Bobby said trying to help. “What if we make your daddy’s favorite cookies? We could have them all ready for when he comes home. I’m sure he’d love one or two after that hospital food.”
Bree perked up. “Could we?” she asked.
“Absolutely,” Bobby declared. He was relieved that he had hit upon something concrete that Bree could do.
Bree smiled just a little. She liked this idea.
“Do you think you could finish your cereal and then we’ll get started?” Bobby asked, hoping he wasn’t pushing his luck.
“I think maybe I can,” Bree told him as she pulled the bowl back in front of her and started to eat.
Bobby and Patrick smiled at each other. Another crisis averted.
“What!?” Brian growled at Justin when he saw the expression on his face.
Before Brian stepped into the luxurious hotel bathroom to shower, Justin had been sitting up in bed contently eating a bowl of oatmeal and sipping not too hot tea. Brian figured his plain toast, fruit and coffee could wait until after his shower. He came out of the bathroom, naked as the day he was born, toweling off his hair. That’s when Brian caught a glimpse of Justin snapping his cell phone shut then tossing it down onto the bed. Justin was upset.
The boys had a few more days at the Plaza until Justin’s follow up appointment with Dr. Cabot and then they would go back to the lane. Some close friends and family were given permission to visit. John, Alex, and Glen came and went as they pleased.
“Bree,” Justin mumbled.
“What about her?” Brian asked with hands on hips.
“She’s upset that she can’t be here to nurse me back to health.”
“She can get the fuck over herself!”
“Bri-an!” Justin admonished.
“No, not this time; she can wait. We’ll be home in a few more days,” Brian said as he tossed his towel and sat heavily on the edge of the bed.
“She means well,” Justin carefully replied. He knew Brian was just as upset and stressed. Justin was tired of all the attention and looking forward to sleeping in his own bed, and eating food prepared in his own kitchen. Except for a slightly scratchy throat, Justin was feeling fine.
Brian sighed as he scrubbed at his eyes. He wanted the world to go away and leave them the fuck alone. And he was desperate to take Justin home to the safety of their lane and cottage. Brian was perfectly fine with letting Bree take over as mother hen for as long as she wanted, if they could only go the fuck home.
Justin carefully moved his tray out of the way to crawl down the bed. He knelt behind Brian snaking his arms around Brian’s chest. “I love you,” Justin whispered into a damp ear as he tightened his grip. He felt Brian relax as Brian’s long fingers wrapped around his own.
“We’ll be home soon and then you can change the code to the gate so no one can invade for the next twenty years,” Justin assured him. “Tell John to lock the gate in place so no one goes in or out.”
Brian snorted. “You sure about that? Between the greenhouse and the rest of the gardens on the lane, we might be able to grow our own fruit and vegetables but I think Carl would get a little antsy for a good steak now and then,” Brian joked. He looked over his shoulder at Justin’s sweet face. Bright blue eyes gleamed back.
“It sounds perfect, Sunshine, to be left alone with you without hordes of people trying to tear you away from me. However - I share,” Brian stated using Bree’s old expression. Justin was not convinced. “Sometimes I share,” Brian amended his statement.
With the tension finally broken, the boys laughed, falling back onto the bed. Justin rolled on top of Brian, snuggling into his chest. Brian held him close.
“It was close, Sunshine,” Brian whispered after a while, his anxiety creeping back.
“I know,” Justin whispered back.
“I couldn’t reach you.”
“I felt you. I knew you were keeping me safe.”
“I thought I lost you.”
“Never. I’ll always be here.”
Deciding they needed more alone time, the boys worked together to tidy up the room, pushing the food cart well out of harm’s way. Leaving strict instructions for the concierge that they were not to be disturbed, the boys went back to bed and back to snuggling.
“When’s our next appointment with Alex?” Justin asked with a yawn. He still tired easily.
“Tomorrow,” Brian replied, drawing the younger man closer. “Nothing to do today except sleep and eat,” Brian commanded.
“Okay,” Justin murmured as he drifted off, safe within Brian’s arms.
It took a couple of minutes for Brian’s racing heart to calm down. He held Justin tighter, then soon closed his eyes as he fell asleep.
“Are we done?” Brian barked. He abruptly stood from his chair to get more coffee.
“Is he always this chipper?” Glen snarked as he looked back and forth from Brian to Alex to Justin.
“You ain’t seen nothing, yet,” Alex remarked.
Justin shrugged with a smirk.
The boys had agreed to joint counseling to help them deal with the aftermath of Justin’s sudden allergy attack. They had been receiving daily visits from Alex and Glen and doing very well. However, Brian could take baring his soul for only just so long. His patience was wearing thin.
“Brian, behave,” Justin said with a gentle smile.
“I am behaving, Sunshine,” he said with a fake ear to ear grin.
“We’re tired,” Justin interrupted Brian. “We just want to go home. We promise you that if either one of us begin to feel overly stressed or depressed, we’ll immediately call you,” Justin said reasonably and sincerely.
Brian walked over to sit beside Justin. He grabbed Justin’s hand to give it a little squeeze. It was his way of making the same promise. Then they both gazed up at Alex and Glen with puppy dog eyes.
“I give up,” Glen said as he threw his hands up into the air. “Alex, let’s go, we have real patients out there that need us. These two deserve each other.”
“See what you’ve done,” Alex stated as he pointed to Glen. “He’s going to be impossible to live with for the next week. I don’t know why I bother,” Alex teased as he and Glen gathered their coats. “You two can try the patience of a saint.”
Alex and Glen went for the door.
“And you’ll be getting our bill!” Alex shouted in a very un-psychiatrist like manner.
Before they left, Glen did an about face and wheeled himself back to where Brian and Justin were still seated. He took their hands.
“You call us anytime, you hear me, anytime! We’ll come to you, or you come to us or we can meet in the middle. We’re here for you,” Glen promised. He was happy to get a sincere acknowledgement from both men. Then he threw his hands back into the air when the boys kissed his cheeks.
“I’m outta here!” Glen shouted as he made for the door, opened it then scooted out with Alex hot on his heels. “And you still owe me a tour of the loft!”
Before shutting the door, Alex stuck his head back into the suite, “We mean it, anytime you feel the need to talk, you call. Promise?” He slammed the door when Brian and Justin silently raised hands as a promise.
“Those two are going to be the death of me yet,” Alex mumbled as he pressed the elevator button.
“They will be all right?” Glen asked with concern.
“Yeah, they will. They’re both too stubborn and too well adjusted to do anything stupid,” Alex retorted.
“And both too much in love,” Glen stated gently as the elevator doors opened and he wheeled inside.
“Yes, they are,” Alex agreed with a smile. “Mind you, Brian’s still a pig-headed son-of-a bitch. How he landed that sweet man as a partner, I’ll never know.”
“It’s all an act; Justin’s the true brains of the outfit.”
“Agreed,” Alex stated as he leaned down to give Glen a kiss. “I love you.”
Glen reached up to caress Alex’s face. “I love you,” he said, returning the kiss. “Now let’s go treat some real patients.”
Alex chuckled as he nodded in agreement.
“You’re fine, now it’s time for you to leave my hospital and go back to your country oasis. You’ve both disrupted Pittsburgh long enough,” Dr. Cabot stated.
“What’s with us, Sunshine? We appear to upset doctors wherever we go,” Brian said as he turned to ask Justin.
“Beats me,” Justin replied with a shrug and a smile.
“Who else have you been annoying? Never mind, I don’t want to know,” Cabot replied in frustration. “Now, let’s be serious. Justin, I’d like you to be retested for allergens. I know you’ve done this before but that was a long time ago and things can change as we age. You don’t have to do it now. It can wait until after the holidays. Think about it. I strongly recommend it. In the meantime, stick with the basic seasonings that you know. If you don’t know who cooked it then don’t eat it. Have a safe trip home.”
The boys had been dismissed.
Before leaving, Justin shook Dr. Cabot’s hand with a grateful smile. Brian arched a brow but he also shook the doctor’s hand as he slipped Cabot his business card.
“What’s this?” Cabot asked as he examined the card. There was writing on the reverse.
“Directions to our country oasis,” replied Brian. “If you and your family haven’t made any holiday vacation plans, you’re welcome to spend it on the lane. We have plenty of room. Think about it. You only have to call me or John so we can turn up the heat in the B&B,” said Brian.
“Thank you, um, I’ll speak to my wife and let you know,” Cabot said in somewhat of a shock.
The boys quietly left while Dr. Cabot stared at the card in his hand. He then picked up the phone.
“Alex, it’s Sebastian. Don’t call me that. Yes, they just left. I gave him the usual talk and warning. Yes, yes, of course I told him to schedule the tests. It can wait until after the holidays. Let things get back to normal first. Whatever normal is for them. Listen, Kinney invited me and my family to the lane. It’s very nice of him, but is that ethical? How do you keep the lines separate? Uh huh. Okay, see you in a minute,” Cabot hung up.
While Cabot fiddled with the card on his desk, Alex walked in bearing gifts of coffee.
“Hey, Sabby,” Alex taunted as he placed a cup of coffee on Cabot’s desk. Cabot didn’t bother to scold Alex; he picked up the cup to take a well deserved sip. “You have time before your next patient?”
“I’m done for the day. Those two give me a headache.”
“Understood. They can frustrate the hell out of anyone. Now, what’s your objection to a little quiet country living for a few days? If Brian invited you then he means it. Not everyone gets to go there. They’re all very protective of their lane.”
“I’ve never been able to mix friendship with being a doctor. You’re either my patient or my friend, not both.”
“I understand the conundrum, and I agree. However, when it involves Brian and Justin, the rules we follow bend over for them. No pun intended,” Alex winked. “Seriously, we were honored to be invited and very happy with our own little piece of paradise. And yes, sometimes the lines get blurred but only for a few seconds. Besides, it takes a village to keep those two out of trouble. But it’s worth every minute of it. Glen and I are giving them a few days to settle in then we’re going up for the weekend. Come with us and see for yourself. Bring the wife and kids; they’ll have a great time. Then you can judge if you’re ready for a longer stay. Let me know.”
With that, Alex left Cabot’s office with Cabot having a lot to think about.
“Are we cleared for take off?” John asked as he rolled up in his Navigator and rolled the window down to ask. The boys had just stepped outside after Justin’s visit with Dr. Cabot.
“Yes,” they both shouted.
“Then get in and we’re outta here,” John said cheerfully. The boys jumped into the large SUV.
In anticipation of getting a clean bill of health, Brian, Justin, and John had packed their belongings and checked out of the hotel. They were each looking forward to going home.
“You do know Bree is going to hover over you like a mother hen,” John warned.
“Yes,” said Justin.
“Better you than me,” mumbled Brian which earned him an elbow in the ribs.
“Don’t be surprised if she looks a little ragged. Bobby had a difficult time getting her to eat. Patrick was more successful at it but she probably lost a few pounds,” stated John.
“We’ll feed them both,” Brian proclaimed. Justin had dropped a few pounds as well. “Better yet, we’ll let Emmett and Debbie takes turns. Then we won’t have to mess up our kitchen,” Brian announced smugly.
“Speaking about Emmett and Debbie. You do know they’re already preparing for the holidays. You going to be up for all that,” John asked.
“We’re always up!” the boys cheerfully declared. They all laughed and were very grateful to be going home.
The boys settled back, with Justin safely tucked close to Brian’s chest as John drove them home.
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