Not So Zen Ben
JR and Jacqueline rang the bell at Brian and Justin's side of the conjoined cottages. Jacqueline frowned as they waited.
"What's wrong?" JR asked. "Are you feeling okay?"
"Then why are you frowning?"
"I'm just not sure I'm going to like being in a crowd."
JR laughed. "Tonight will only be ten or twelve people. I'll have to bring you to one of the holiday get-togethers."
"Why, what's the difference?"
"There are hundreds, possibly thousands of people at those parties."
Jacqueline looked at her with disbelief. "Then don't bother bringing me to one of those."
"I wonder why no one's answering."
"Maybe they're all out back. Let's go around."
As the girls walked around the side of the cottage, they saw Bree chasing after Little Beau. When Bree spied them she halted abruptly and ran to JR.
"JR!" Bree squealed. "I've been waiting for you. Will you sit with me for dinner?"
"Of course, sweetie."
"What about me?" Jacqueline asked, slightly miffed at being ignored.
"Sorry," Bree said, "you can sit with us too."
"Thanks," Jacqueline replied snarkily.
Little Beau woofed at them, wanting Bree to come play some more.
"Later," Bree said decisively to Little Beau as she linked her arm through JR's. Little Beau laid down on the grass and whined miserably.
"Is he always so sensitive?" JR asked.
Bree giggled. "He thinks he's going to get his way by whimpering."
JR laughed then her face turned serious. "Is Ben here?"
"Not yet, but Dada told him he had to come."
"That's subtle," JR snorted.
"You know my Dada, Mr. Subtle."
The girls were laughing raucously as they came into the backyard. Jacqueline followed behind, not feeling the love.
"You look bummed," Peter said when he handed Jacqueline a glass of lemonade.
"What was your first clue?" Jacqueline asked taking a long drink from her glass.
"Perhaps that look all over your face."
"I just got told how unimportant I am," Jacqueline snarked. "Feels great."
"Ouch," Peter responded.
"Do you still feel like an outsider around here?"
"How long have you been here?"
"Hey, don't get me wrong. I may still be an outsider, but I've decided to own it. No matter how long I live on the lane, the people here will always have known each other longer than I will. I'm getting used to them and them to me. We get along fine."
Jacqueline frowned. "What are you trying to tell me ... exactly?"
Peter chuckled. "To relax and go with the flow. You can't change the way things are. You can only be you."
"How philosophical of you!"
"That's me, Mr. Philosophical." Peter looked her in the eye. "It's taken me a long time to come to that realization. I just thought I'd share." He started to walk away.
"Hey," Jacqueline said touching his arm, "I do appreciate your advice and I'm sure you're right. It's ... It's good to have a friend on the lane."
"I feel the same way, and I'm sorry you're leaving tomorrow."
"I'll give you my cell number. If you ever need to talk, no, want to talk, just call."
"Thanks, and the same for me," Peter said sincerely.
They sipped their drinks silently watching as the yard filled up with the residents of the lane.
Finally as Brian was taking the steaks off the barbeque, Ben walked into the yard. He had cleaned up considerably after his chat with Brian, but he was definitely not a happy camper.
"Ben," JR said leaving Bree's side and heading toward him.
"Hi, sweetie," Ben replied giving her a hug.
"How are you doing?"
"Coming to terms with the fact that your father and I may never get back together."
"Noooo," JR groaned. "Don't give up."
"I'm trying not to. I'm here and I'm hungry, so let's eat."
Knowing glances and nods passed from person to person of those assembled. They were all going to stand behind Ben and help in any way they could. Many patted him on the back as they all sat down at the big table in the sun porch. Food was passed around and people ate with quiet conversations filling the room.
"That dumbass son of mine better get his head screwed on straight," Debbie said loudly after a few minutes.
"Deb," Ben protested.
"You know I'm right, and so does he if he'd get his head out of his ass."
"What can I do?" Ben asked pushing his plate away. He had lost his appetite.
"Are you two talking at all?" Alex asked trying to diffuse some of the raw feelings.
"We've talked but it doesn't get us anywhere."
"It may not seem like it's going anywhere, but keep talking," Alex advised.
"Is that your professional advice?" Ben asked.
"Professional, and as a friend."
"Or you could just give him a good spanking," Glen suggested. When a stunned silence ensued, Glen asked, "What?" in his best innocent voice. "He might like it."
Everyone burst out laughing breaking the tension.
"Hey, this is my father you're talking about!" JR said indignantly. As much as she thought her father was in the wrong, she still loved him and didn't appreciate people making fun of him.
"This is supposed to be a farewell party for JR and Jacqueline," Justin reminded them. "Maybe we should choose a different topic of conversation."
Ben mouthed a 'thank you' to Justin, as people started talking about other things.
"We'll miss you around here, girls," John was saying.
"Thanks, John. The lane is such a peaceful spot. I always like it here," JR said sincerely.
"How about you, Jacqueline? Do you like the lane ... in spite of your accident?" Bobby asked.
"The place kind of grows on you," Jacqueline admitted. She heard a little chuckle in the background. "What's so funny, Peter?" she asked.
"I was thinking about whether the growing was as in you like the place or as in a fungus you can't get rid of," Peter admitted.
"Peter!" Debbie reacted.
"It's okay," Jacqueline said. "That's just Peter's twisted mind working, and I like his perspective on things."
Peter grinned and Jacqueline smiled back at him. Bree looked from her sister to Jacqueline and frowned.
"Don't ask, sis," JR whispered. "I can't explain it either."
Somehow the meal got finished with everyone eating their fill and seemingly having a good time. As things wound down, JR and Jacqueline received many hugs and fond goodbyes since they were leaving in the morning. Ben got his fair share of hugs too before taking his leave.
Ben walked down the lane thinking about what he was planning to do. He knew Alex was probably right and he needed to keep lines of communication open with Michael. He decided that he would call his husband again and this time he was not going to allow himself to get upset.
Ben got himself a glass of water and drank it down before picking up his phone. He could almost go for a shot of bourbon, but he decided against it. He wanted to be clear headed when he talked to Michael.
He held the phone in his hand for a minute before hitting his husband's number.
"Hello?" he heard Michael say.
"Yeah, I know."
"That's not a very warm welcome."
"You know what can make it warmer," Michael declared.
"I don't want to fight with you, Michael."
"What do you want? I don't hear you saying you're coming home."
"That's because I'm not coming to Pittsburgh."
"Then why are we talking at all?" Michael demanded.
"I'd ... I'd like to find a compromise."
"A compromise? What kind of compromise could there be?"
"That's what we need to discuss."
"Why don't you come here and we can talk?" Michael suggested, holding his breath as he awaited the answer.
"I thought maybe you could come here for the weekend."
"I can't leave the store. You know JR's not here."
"She's coming back tomorrow."
"Yes, so there's no reason you can't come here." There was silence on the line. "I'm not asking you to stay," Ben said. "Just come, even if you want to drive back at the end of the day. Please come." He hoped he didn't sound too needy.
There was a very long pause and Ben thought maybe he should hang up, and give up.
"Okay, I'll come, but just for the day," Michael finally said.
"Thank you, Michael. I really want to work something out," Ben averred.
"Me too." Then the line went dead.
Each man stared at their phone wondering if they had made the first step toward getting back together.
Brian sauntered into his flagship branch of Kinnetik in Pittsburgh. He was dressed in casual clothing, still sexy and ready for action. He smirked at a few key employees and glared at others as he strode passed Molly’s desk before going to Cynthia’s office.
“Good golly Miss Molly,” he crowed.
“Good what? I thought you stopped doing E,” Molly spit back as she stood up. “Does Justin know you’re here?” Surrounding employees began to slowly inch away in fear of the unknown. Brian wasn’t fazed by Molly’s reaction as he kept on walking throwing a “Come with me!” over his shoulder. Molly quickly moved around her desk then sprinted to catch up to him.
“Good morning, Ms. Cynthia,” Brian announced loudly as he walked into Cynthia’s office. She and Ted had their heads together going over some figures. “Schmidt,” Brian added after the fact with a sneer.
“You didn’t tell me you were coming in today,” Cynthia remarked trying not to look startled. Ted kept mum.
“You should always expect the unexpected when it comes to me; I thought you’d know that by now,” Brian snarked as he flung himself onto the small sofa in Cynthia’s office. He bounced a bit on it then stood up. “Theodore, take notes,” Brian commanded.
“Of course, Brian,” Ted replied as he promptly took up a pad and pen.
“First, order a new sofa for this office. That thing is past its sell by date.” Brian paused to arch a brow; Ted quickly jotted down the note.
“Next,” Brian began as he turned his gaze onto Molly. “How would you like an all expense paid trip to Paris? I’ll sweeten the pot with a ticket for your hubby and son, if you’re so inclined.”
“Brian, what’s this all about?” Cynthia sharply asked.
Brian pulled out a chair and sat. Ignoring her glare, Brian kept talking. “I had an interesting conversation with Gus. The meeting with Pierre went well; they secured an invitation to Pierre’s agency for some time next week. Since Miss Molly is our resident linguist, I’d like her to go across the pond, as they say, to lingual,” Brian quipped looking awfully proud of himself. He glanced at Ted who quickly made another note.
“Is it too early to call over there?”
“What do I wear?”
“I’ll book the tickets.”
Brian, sporting an ear to ear grin, picked himself up and sauntered out of the office.
“I love my job,” he said as the wheels of business were spinning in Cynthia’s office. As he walked into the main room, a blond tornado ran straight into him.
“Uncle Bi!” Taylor shouted as he looked up at his uncle with a bright sunny smile.
“Hello, little man,” Brian replied with his own lovely smile as he scooped up little Taylor. Curious personnel inched their way closer. Not too many of them got to witness the ‘softer’ side of their boss.
“I bet your Uncle Dust looked just like you when he was your age.” A mop of blond hair, deep blue eyes, and a cute nose studied Brian’s face. Brian ruffled the baby fine hair.
“You go back to school in a couple of weeks, don’t you, buddy?”
“School,” Taylor repeated.
“Hmm, I think you need some new clothes.”
“New clothes,” Taylor mimicked.
Brian, with Taylor still in his arms, stopped back into Cynthia’s office before leaving. The wheels were still turning as plans were being made. Cynthia was on the phone with Isles.
“Miss Molly, I’m taking your son shopping!”
“Okay!” Molly replied, popping her head up then immersing herself back in her travel plans.
“Well look who we have here!” Debbie called out as Brian walked into the diner with Taylor.
“Gamma Deb!” Taylor shouted as he squirmed out of Brian’s arms. He ran across the diner to Debbie. She picked up the boy, gave him a sticky kiss on the cheek then sat him on her lap.
“What’s he doing here?” Debbie asked as Taylor took a good look at all the food on the table. He found a French fry and helped himself.
Brian and Deb had decided to take Peter, Patrick, and Bree into the Pitts for a back to school shopping spree. Brian took that opportunity to shake up the office with a little Kinnetik Isles business.
“Molly has a business trip to plan for next week so I figured she wouldn’t have time to take little Taylor shopping for school supplies. I thought I’d be a helpful brother-in-law and bring him along,” Brian explained with a smug smile.
“I never did trust that smile,” Debbie growled. “But I won’t say no to spending time with our littlest Sunshine. Why don’t we call Taylor’s other grandmothers and make an afternoon of it. I bet Jennifer, Susan, and Sharon would love to go shopping.” Now it was Debbie’s turn to look smug.
Brian pinched his nose at the thought of spending the afternoon with so many women. He was about to be resigned to his fate until a brilliant thought popped into his head. He leaned over to whisper into Deb’s ear.
“You’re still the master!” Deb stated as she pulled out her cell to make a few calls. They all enjoyed their lunch until joined by the grandmothers. Brian passed out kisses to all the ladies, whispered instructions to Bree and Patrick then handed a bunch of prefilled credit cards to Debbie to use for the kids.
“Thank you, Kiddo, but I’ll take care of Peter,” Debbie said sweetly. Brian scowled, narrowing his eyes at the woman. “Okay, don’t get your jock strap all in a twist,” she said as she pecked him on the cheek then softly cuffed the side of Brian’s head.
Peter stared in awe at Brian’s generosity and at the way he showed his love for his family. Not just with monetary gifts but the way he respected everyone from the children to eldest members. Peter had never known such love in his short life; he felt very fortunate to be included and he smiled. He then looked up as he felt he was being watched only to see Bree and Patrick smiling back. Peter’s smile became wider as he realized he was indeed a part Brian’s crazy widdle family.
“I love you, Sweetheart,” Deb called out as Brian slid out of their booth.
“Love you too, Maw,” Brian replied as he handed Lacy a fistful of money then he left the diner.
“Yo shop keep!” Brian called out as he slapped his hand against a counter, grabbing the latest copy of Rage then falling into the overstuffed chair in the corner. Michael came racing out of the back room wearing a big smile. Brian stood to give Michael a warm hug and a chaste kiss. Michael searched Brian’s eyes and saw only love in the depths of those hazel eyes.
“How’s it going, Mikey?” Brian asked as he plopped back into the chair.
“Okay,” Michael replied. He stepped back behind the counter then took out a cloth and started to wipe down one of the glass display cases.
“You don’t sound okay,” Brian casually remarked, his eyes never leaving the comic.
“How’d you feel if Justin walked out on you,” Michael grumbled.
“What was that, Mikey? I didn’t quite hear you.”
“Nothing.” Michael kept cleaning his counters.
“You keep that up and you’ll wear out the counter.”
“A lot you know, it’s glass, it doesn’t wear out like that.”
“Don’t tell me I have to make the first move. Don’t tell me it’s all my fault. Don’t tell me to be reasonable. Just don’t!” Michael shouted as he dropped the cloth and stormed into the back room.
Brian got up, went to the door of the shop to flip the “Be Back in 10” sign around. He then locked the door so they wouldn’t be disturbed. Brian took a deep breath and quietly walked into the back room where he found his longtime friend standing in the middle of a bunch of empty boxes.
“Aw, Mikey,” Brian murmured as he got into Michael’s personal space with his arms held out. Michael stepped into Brian’s embrace and began to cry. Brian held his friend close as Michael cried himself out.
“They all think I’m wrong. No one is on my side. Do you think I’m wrong?”
“It doesn’t matter what I think. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. Are you still in love with Ben? Do you miss him?” Without hesitation Brian felt Michael nod against his chest. “Then that’s all that matters. Now what are you going to do about it?”
“Go to the lane?”
“Are you asking me or telling me?” Brian asked as he gently pushed Michael back to look into his eyes.
“I’m going to the lane.”
“Good. And what are you going to do when you get there?”
“Bring Ben home.”
Brian arched a brow.
“Uh, I’m going to listen to what Ben has to say?” The brow smoothed out and a small smile began to curl up on Brian’s lips.
“Make love?” Brian shook his head. Michael was confused until Brian’s expression changed to a lustful leer. “Um, have hot monkey sex on all available flat surfaces?”
“Now yer talkin’, Mikey!” Brian proudly crowed as he gave Michael a bone-crushing hug worthy of Debbie.
“But what if Ben doesn’t want me?”
“Uh uh uh, none of that. Ben loves you and is miserable without you. But Michael, just as you love your comics and are our resident superhero expert, Ben is a writer. He has this in him like Justin has his art. I know Justin loves me more than anything else in this world but if he can’t paint or draw it’s like a part of him dies. In a way, Ben’s like that, maybe not as passionate about writing as Justin is about his art but it’s there. It would be cruel not to give Ben this time. He’s earned it.”
Brian gave Michael a few moments to let that all sink in. Then he gently raised up Michael’s chin with a finger. “The Michael I know, who was my only friend for a very long time when we were kids, isn’t cruel.”
“Okay,” Michael softly said as he nodded his head.
“There’s my Mikey!” Brian gave Michael a big smile. “Now why don’t you go home to pack?”
“Okay, no wait! What about the store?”
“Daddy? Dad?” JR shouted as she unlocked the door to let herself in and came into the shop. “Dad, are you all right? Why is the sign on the door?” JR continued to shout as she stomped her way toward the store room.
“I swear she’s just like your mother,” Brian grumbled.
“Yeah, she is,” Michael proudly agreed. “Back here, Honeybun!”
“Is everything okay?”
“Everything is just perfect,” Michael exclaimed with a big smile as he gave JR a hug.
JR looked over her father’s shoulder at Brian. Brian gave her a wink.
“Well as much as I’d love to stay to witness this Novotny lovefest, I have four children with a bunch of women all shopping with my money. I better go and make sure I’m not destitute. Toodles!”
JR and Michael burst out laughing. Brian bussed each Novotny then left the store very pleased to hear them laughing.
“I love my job,” Brian murmured as went to track down his family.
Return to Not So Zen Ben