Working My Way Back
“What?” Brian growled as he stepped down the spiral stairs to the sun porch, empty coffee mug in hand. He was heading for the kitchen for a refill. Justin was wrapped up in a cocoon of warm blankets on the chaise and looking miserable.
“She’s killing me with kindness,” Justin declared. It was the weekend and Bree was making it her mission to do everything for her daddy to make him as good as new. Justin wasn’t allowed to do anything for himself except for using the bathroom. He was surrounded by snacks, magazines, books, cold juice and warm tea.
Brian cracked up with laughter. “You gotta admit, she does make a mean grilled cheese sandwich, Sunshine,” Brian proclaimed. “Our little girl is growing up.”
“Well, let her grow up somewhere else,” Justin grumbled as he struggled to free his arms from their warm wrappings. “I feel like a mummy under here.”
“Yes, but you’re a toasty warm cute mummy,” Brian said as he helped free his spouse from his trap. Brian bestowed a gentle kiss onto Justin’s lips. “Give her today to mother you. Tomorrow ask her to paint with you. When she sees you’re back to normal, she’ll calm down and back off a little.”
“Uh huh, like you’ve backed off. Don’t think I haven’t noticed you spying on me from your balcony.”
“I’m allowed,” Brian said with a huff as he stood to continue to the kitchen in search of coffee.
“Yada, yada,” Justin grumbled as he lay back into his nest and soon fell back to sleep.
“Hellooo,” Emmett called as he entered the front door of the conjoined cottages. It was his signature greeting, but he didn’t call too loudly in case Justin was sleeping.
Bree immediately appeared from the kitchen with her finger to her lips and a little “shush” to keep Emmett from saying anything else. “He’s sleeping on the sun porch, Auntie Emm,” Bree whispered to him.
“Oh, okay,” Emmett said. “I brought a casserole for your dinner.”
“Thanks a lot. Come into the kitchen where we can talk.”
Emmett raised an eyebrow before following her into the kitchen. “How’s he doing?”
Bree kept her voice low as she answered. “He’s pretty good and he doesn’t want any help, but every time you turn around he falls asleep. I think he’s still kind of weak.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Emmett said as he placed the casserole in the oven. “Turn the oven on about half an hour before you want to eat.”
“Okay,” Bree said with a frown.
Emmett caught the frown as he turned around. “What’s wrong?”
“I wish I knew how to cook more things. I want to make stuff that’s healthy for Daddy, but that he will really love.”
“Hm,” Emmett responded. “He still needs relatively soft food, doesn’t he?”
“That’s what seems the best for his sore throat.”
“How about we make a big pot of soup? I have a great recipe for cabbage soup.”
“Cabbage?” Bree asked in horror. “Won’t that be kind of yucky?”
“Pardon me, but are you disparaging my cultivated palate?” Emmett asked.
“Huh?” Bree replied.
“You know what I mean. I promise you’ll love it.”
“I don’t know,” Bree said uncertainly.
“You’ll see. Now, do you have a cabbage?”
“Did I sound like I’m going to have a cabbage?” Bree asked with a little giggle.
“No, I suppose not,” Emmett admitted. “Let me check what you have in the fridge. I have a cabbage at home, and probably anything else we’ll need.”
“Okay,” Bree said, still uncertain about cabbage soup. “I’m going to check if Daddy needs anything.”
“Go for it, and if he needs anything you don’t have, let me know and I’ll send Drew out to get it.”
“Thanks, Auntie Emm,” Bree said as she headed for the sun porch.
Emmett rummaged around in the fridge before starting down the lane to get the things he would need for the soup. He had just stepped inside the cottage when his phone rang. He looked at the call display and raised a brow in surprise.
“Hello, Michael,” he said hoping this wasn’t bad news. He had not heard from Michael in ages.
“Hi, Emm, I called to apologize for not returning your calls.”
“Those calls were weeks ago,” Emmett said trying not to sound too judgmental. “I’d forgotten all about them,” he added.
“I really am sorry, but I didn’t feel like talking to anybody.”
“Didn’t know I was just anybody,” Emmett said rather petulantly.
“You’re not anybody,” Michael said emphatically, “you’re my friend. At least I hope you still are.”
“Yes, I am,” Emmett conceded. “So, why are you calling now? Has something changed?”
“Yes, a lot of things have changed … are changing. I’m re-evaluating my life and trying to improve it.”
“Is that right?”
“Yes, Emm, and I am so sorry about cutting you out of my life for so long. I had so much to think about and I just needed to be alone,” Michael said hoping for forgiveness.
“Okay,” Emmett said deciding to let Michael off the hook. “So what’s happened that made you call me?”
“I … I’ve been seeing Ben.”
“Seeing Ben? In your dreams? In your mind’s eye?”
Michael chuckled. “No, silly, seeing … as in dating. We’ve gone out a couple of times and it’s been … wonderful.”
“You’re back together?”
“No, not yet. But I hope we’re heading in that direction.”
“I like the sound of that, Michael.”
“Um, Emm, don’t tell anybody else about this … please?”
“Okay, Michael, but why?”
“Ben and I, we’re taking it slow. We don’t want to make the same mistakes we made before. It’s still early days.”
“I see, so why did you tell me?”
“We used to tell each other everything, back in the day. I felt like I needed to talk to someone and that someone is you,” Michael said with all sincerity.
“I must say that’s better than being anybody.”
“Sorry about that.”
“All’s forgiven and I’m really pleased about you and Ben. I hope it all works out.”
“Me too, Emm, me too,” Michael said.
“I won’t mention this call to anyone, even Drew.”
“Thanks, Emm. I hope I’m headed in the right direction.”
“It sounds like you are.”
“I’ll call again soon.”
“That would be nice,” Emmett said as he hung up.
He couldn’t help but hum a little tune as he got the cabbage out of the fridge.
Bree tucked the blanket closer around her sleeping father’s neck. She leaned down and kissed his cheek. Then she just stood there staring at him and thanking the powers that be that he was okay.
Brian came down the steps from his office. “He won’t appreciate you staring at him,” Brian whispered to her as he reached his daughter’s side.
“I don’t care,” Bree whispered back.
Brian pointed with his finger to the kitchen as he began to leave the room. Bree reluctantly followed him out of the sun porch.
“You’re driving him crazy, Squirt,” Brian said when they were safely in the kitchen and wouldn’t wake up sleeping beauty.
“I can’t help it and I don’t care,” Bree repeated.
“Bree, your Daddy needs peace and quiet to complete his recovery,” Brian explained.
“That’s what I’m giving him.”
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“He just needs to rest.”
“And he needs food and tea and blankets to keep him warm. That’s what I’m giving him.”
Brian sighed in exasperation. Bree had a stubborn streak a mile wide. She got that from the sleeping beauty on the sun porch. “Too much of a good thing can be … bad.”
Bree glared at her father. “Daddy needs me,” she said defiantly.
“Yes he does, just not every minute of every day.”
“I say and so does your Daddy.”
“You wouldn’t let me help him when he was in Pittsburgh and now you won’t let me help him when he’s home. I hate…”
“Don’t say it … please,” Brian begged. Nothing hurt him more than when Bree said she hated him.
“I was going to say that I hate being useless,” Bree said as tears started to well up.
“You’re not useless, Squirt. Daddy is lucky to have you looking after him. Better you than me,” Brian said with a wry smile.
That got a little grin from his daughter and she wiped at her eyes. “Am I really smothering him?”
Brian nodded. “Back off a little bit and things will be fine.”
Bree looked like she wanted to cry again, then she looked like she wanted to wring her older father’s neck, and then she looked contrite. “Okay, I’ll try.”
“Yoohoo!” Emmett called softly as he entered the cottage. Brian rolled his eyes then looked upwards seeking guidance.
“Auntie Emm and I were going to make soup for Daddy. Is that okay?” she asked pointedly.
“Of course, Squirt; that’ll be fine.”
“Here I am, cabbage in hand,” Emmett announced as he entered the kitchen.
“Cabbage?” Brian asked with a raised eyebrow and a look of mock horror. “I hope you’re not cooking that for a recovering patient. It’s liable to kill him.”
“Miss Bree and I are making it into soup, and you and the patient will eat it, and you will love it!” Emmett declared.
“Is that right?” Brian asked skeptically.
“That is totally right, so get out of my kitchen while Bree and I cook up a culinary delight.”
“Happy to get out of the way for two master chefs. And by the way, this is my kitchen,” Brian added smugly before he left the room.
Emmett shook his head, deciding not to press his luck by making a further comment. “Let’s get to work, Miss Briana.”
“I’m ready,” Bree agreed.
They spent the next half hour getting all the components into the soup and setting it to simmer on the stove.
“It smells good already,” Bree told her Auntie Emm.
“I know,” he said smugly. “Let it simmer for another hour and then enjoy.”
“Are you leaving?” Bree asked as Emmett finished cleaning up the kitchen.
“I have a hungry man at home who appreciates me and loves my food.”
“We love you too, Auntie Emm,” Bree declared with a hug.
“Thanks, sweetheart.” Emmett kissed her cheek and quickly left the cottage.
Bree stirred the soup hoping it would taste as good as it smelled. She wanted her Daddy to love it.
“What are you doing?” Bree asked, hands on hips and a glare in her eyes.
“What’s it look like I’m doing?” Justin retorted as he placed a blank canvas on an easel.
“Are you supposed to be doing that?”
“Do you want to paint with me?” Justin answered Bree’s question with a question as he pointed to Bree’s easel.
“Really?” Bree replied with a big smile.
“Really,” Justin said with a brilliant smile of his own. Justin set Bree up with a canvas of her own while Bree took out their paint boxes, charcoals, and palettes. “Ready?” Justin asked, a new charcoal stick in his hand.
“Ready, Daddy. What’s our subject?”
“You mean Thanksgiving?”
“That too, but what I really want to paint are things and people that I’m thankful are in my life. And that includes you, Baby Girl,” Justin proclaimed as he leaned over to peck Bree’s head.
“I’m thankful for you too, Daddy.”
Father and daughter smiled at each other before they began to concentrate on their canvases. Brian smiled as he leaned over his balcony railing; he had heard the whole exchange and was also very thankful. Things were growing closer to normal. Across the sun porch, in his own attic office, John smiled too.
“I hereby declare the meeting of the lane tenants’ association come to order,” Emmett announced with pride and a bang of a heavy paperweight on the table, startling everyone. In attendance were Emmett, Drew, Debbie, Carl, Rachel, George, John, Bobby, Alex, and Glen. On Skype were Michael, Ben, Molly, and Owen, Jr. The meeting was taking place in Emmett and Drew’s cottage.
“Emmett, sweetheart,” Debbie began in a sickly-sweet tone that quickly escalated. “What the fuck is this all about?” she shrieked.
“Emmett, I think it would be wise if you got to the point,” Drew advised.
“Yes, right. Um, well as you know Thanksgiving is this Thursday. Brian has finally informed me that our darling prince has expressed his desire to celebrate Thanksgiving with his nearest and dearest,” Emmett stated with a flourish and an ear to ear grin.
“Emmett, honey, what the fuck does that mean?” Debbie shouted.
“He means just the lane homeowners,” Carl ventured. Emmett nodded.
“Well, why didn’t he just say so?” Debbie asked. There was much rolling of eyes.
“What Emmett is trying to say is that Brian has said yes to having Thanksgiving but no to the ravenous hordes. That’s a direct quote, by the way,” Drew explained.
“Thank you, Honey,” Emmett said to Drew. “He also invited Claire, Steve, Dr. Dan, his lovely wife, and a Dr. Cabot and his family.” Emmett said the last name with a bit of uncertainty in his voice. He looked to John for explanation.
“Dr. Cabot led the team at Allegheny,” John explained.
“Oh,” the lane residents murmured.
“I think I want to bow out,” Rachel murmured to herself.
“Why, honey?” Emmett asked.
Rachel had tears in her eyes. “If it wasn’t for me, Justin would have never been there. I practically dragged him away from his easel. I should’ve left him alone,” Rachel cried.
“He doesn’t blame you,” Bobby vehemently declared. “Is that why you’ve been avoiding the cottage?” Rachel nodded. “Don’t, Rach, he loves you.”
“Brian,” Rachel said.
“What about him?” Bobby asked as he moved in front of his sister then squatted down to take her hands.
“Does he hate me?”
Bobby sprang up and immediately took Rachel into his arms. “Oh god no, he doesn’t hate you; he loves you too. You have nothing to feel guilty about. Absolutely nothing! And he expects you to be at the table on Thanksgiving. He even mentioned your apple pies,” Bobby insisted.
Everyone in the room and online spoke out all at once in Rachel’s support.
“Well, that’s settled!” Emmett said with a flourish. Everyone agreed that Brian’s job would be to look after Justin. John asked Debbie to “borrow” Peter to help with prepping the B&B for guests which she readily approved of. They all had their assignments.
“I declare this meeting of the lane tenants' association adjourned!” Emmett declared with a bang. With assignments in hand, everyone left to go home.
On the way up the lane, Bobby jogged up to Rachel.
“Are you okay?” Bobby asked.
“Yes, let’s drop it, okay? I feel foolish enough already. I know Brian well enough by now. If he was angry at me, he would have said something. When he refused visitors at the hospital, I took it personally. I should have asked you for an explanation.”
“John told me that Brian nearly lost it. He was snarling at everyone; he barely slept until Justin woke up and was coherent. He practically had to be force fed.”
“He’s so skinny as it is,” Rachel observed.
“It wasn’t just you Brian shut out; it was all of us. He was afraid and feeling helpless. John said it was like Justin was bashed all over again. It was a shock to Justin’s system as well as Brian’s. He might feel awkward around all of us because of his behavior. Just let him know you understand,” Bobby advised.
“When did you get to be so smart?” Rachel teased her younger brother.
“I’ve always been this smart. You just never noticed cause I was such a jock,” Bobby declared smugly. They teased and jibed at each other all the way up the lane.
After the meeting Ben called Michael.
“Hi,” said Michael
“Are you going?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Yes. Uh, would you like to go together?”
“I’d like that very much. But are you ready for the family questions, looks, and expectations?”
“I think I can handle it.”
“Me too. Um, I can stay at the B&B if you feel awkward.”
“Michael, we own a big beautiful cabin, it would be a shame not to use it.”
“I’ll pick you up Wednesday evening.”
Later that night when the cottage was quiet, John cornered Brian in the living room enjoying a small brandy. He was sprawled out on the sofa, snifter in hand. Justin had gone to bed early.
“Mind if I join you?” John asked indicating the brandy.
“Help yourself,” came the reply. John did just that then sat in a comfy chair near the fireplace.
“You want a fire?” John asked. Brian shook his head.
The brothers quietly sipped their brandies for a while before John spoke.
“Are you sure you’re ready for Thursday? Everyone will understand if you and Justin want to be alone. I can host Thanksgiving at the B&B.”
“We’re doing this,” Justin stated with determination as he entered the living room before Brian could answer. Brian abruptly sat up.
“Are you sure, Sunshine? No one will think less of us if we back out.”
“Maybe so, but I will. I’m not sick. I just get a little tired sometimes, but it’s getting better. I won’t overdo. I’ll go take a nap if I need to, but I want to say thank you to the family, especially to everyone who worked hard to get us through this. I also want to make a donation to the hospital or endowment or whatever it’s called.”
“Bobby can help you with that if you’d like,” John suggested. “Here’s a thought. When you’re up to it, maybe one of your larger canvases to go on a wall in the lobby.”
“That’s a great idea,” Justin said with a big smile. Justin reached out his hand. Brian downed the rest of his drink then stood to take it.
“Good night, big bro,” Brian said.
“Good night,” John said as he took Brian’s empty glass. John watched the lovers as they went to their room.
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