"Your father's acting strange," Justin said as he beat six eggs for a Western omelet.
"What else is new?" Perched on a stool, Gus watched his dad chop vegetables and was reminded of all the weekends he'd spent at the house and the mornings he'd get up and sit in the kitchen while Justin fixed breakfast. Brian would either be asleep or running on his treadmill and when he finally put in an appearance, Justin would make a joke about him being Sleeping Beauty and Brian would kiss him and they'd all sit down and eat. He missed that. Being in college so far away had its drawbacks but Yale had an excellent architecture program and he'd been extremely fortunate to be accepted and to have parents who could afford it.
"Well, he's freaking out big time about turning fifty. I don't know what the big deal is about."
Gus blinked his eyes in disbelief. "Turning fifty. That's the big deal."
"He's so vain."
"I know someone who'll be turning forty in two years. Let's see how you like that."
Justin brushed his hair back from his forehead and formed a moue with his mouth. "I donít care. I still look thirty." And he did. Forever youthful, that was him. "And Brian doesn't look a day over forty."
He didn't. Gus was constantly amazed by how young his parents looked despite having had to deal with three kids and each other for over twenty years. "What did you expect? Dad's a Drama Queen par excellence."
"I prefer Drama Empress, if you please," the birthday boy said sauntering into the kitchen and bussing his son on the crown of his head. "Morning, Baby," he said in greeting to Justin and they kissed and kissed again, threatening to forget about breakfast and Gus.
"Take it upstairs, you guys," Gus told them, shaking his head.
Brian pecked Justin one last time and headed for the coffee. "Why is this freeloader here again?"
"Your birthday," Justin replied.
Justin pushed him in the middle of his back.
"Hey!" Luckily, he hadn't actually started pouring the coffee.
"Donít say fuckin' Oh to me, asshole. I've been planning this for months."
Rolling his eyes, Brian said, "You shouldn't have bothered."
His skills as a negotiator in demand, Gus asked, "I can't wait to see Jake." He'd gotten in late the night before and hadn't had a chance to see either his brother or sister.
Finished with the vegetables and ham and cheese, Justin put a pan on the stove. "He'll be over this afternoon. Indy too."
"The whole gang'll be here," Brian groused, taking a seat next to Gus at the island. "And for what? Just to see an old geezer try and blow out fifty fuckin' candles." He paused before sipping his coffee. "There'd better not be fifty candles on that cake," he warned.
"What cake? Who says there's going to be a cake?"
Justin snorted. "For someone who's not interested in celebrating their birthday, you've got a lot of demands."
"Might as well do it right."
As he watched his father drink his coffee, his robe hastily belted as always, Gus couldn't believe how amazing he still looked. Hazel eyes just as sharp, even behind the reading glasses he sometimes wore; chestnut hair streaked with grey but that only served to make him look more distinguished and, besides, Justin had grey hair too, it was just harder to see since he was blond. He had crow's feet at the corners of his eyes but that seemed to be the only concession to aging that he had made skin-wise; and he was still as lean as he'd always been: he often boasted that he'd only gained five pounds over the years.
Justin had thickened a bit but he was still slender, still Brian's little boy with his bright blue eyes and golden hair, no matter how many gray hairs peeked through here and there. He often joked that he had to remain young or else Brian would lose interest in him and find another twink to take his place. No one believed him. He and Brian loved each other fiercely, despite the arguments and spats, and the separations they endured because of their individual careers. Their love had only grown stronger over the years, time had not diminished it one whit.
"So what'd you get me?" Brian asked Gus.
"Normally, you have to wait until your party to find out," he answered.
"When have we ever done anything normally?"
"Well, you'll have to wait."
"Christ. You're just like your mother."
Gus shook his head. "Uh-uh. I'm just like you." Everyone said that at 20 he was the spitting image of Brian at that age. Sometimes when he went to visit his Nana she confused him with her son, thinking time had slipped away and Brian was a young man again.
Turning off the stove, Justin divided the omelet into thirds and slid a portion onto each of the three plates he'd set out. "Come and get it."
The three of them carried their plates to the family room and sat at the table the way they used to and talked about school and Gus' plans after graduation next year and caught up on the things they hadn't talked about during their twice monthly calls.
After breakfast, Brian went up to shower and dress and Justin started calling around to make sure everything was set for the party that afternoon. Left to his own devices, Gus decided to go and see his moms. Peeking his head into Justin's studio, he told him, "I'm going around to the house."
Justin waved him away as he was on the phone with the caterer but smiled to let Gus know that he appreciated the heads-up. Then mouthed, Let Brian know.
So Gus ran upstairs and found Brian shaving. He remembered being a little boy and watching Brian shave and being fascinated. Brian used to put some shaving cream on his face and he'd use his finger and pretend to shave just like his dad.
"Hey, Sonny Boy."
"I'm going around to see Mom and Mama."
"Don't let them talk you into being straight. Your sister's dating some guy and they're freakin' out. They figure one of you should like pussy."
"Good boy. By the way, why are you here by yourself?"
"Because Beck and I broke up. Remember?"
"I figured you'd have someone else by now."
"Well, I don't."
"All right," Brian said, holding up a hand to ward off any further bitching. "I know when I'm being told to mind my own business."
"Not everyone's as lucky as you and Dad," Gus told him.
Brian smiled softly. "You'll find someone. Won't be as good as Justin but he's hard to beat."
"Yeah, he's pretty amazing."
"Until then, have fun."
"I do. Did I tell you about the time Ió" Gus laughed at Brian's expression. "Never mind."
"Great. You know I can only live vicariously these days. Justin's got me on a tight leash."
"Like you're complaining." He waited until Brian had wiped his face clean and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "See ya later, Pop."
Every time he got into his car, he grinned. It was probably really bad form to love an automobile as much as he loved his but he couldn't help it. As he tooled around New Haven in his Jeep he thought about Brian's old Jeep and how they used to drive around with the top down, their hair ruffling in the wind. When it came time for Brian to retire the Jeep and get a more "mature" car, Gus thought he'd never seen a sadder person. So when his parents agreed to get some wheels, Gus had opted for a Jeep. Not new, not by a few years, but he loved it. Black just like Brian's used to be, and when he drove with the top down, he imagined the way Brian must have looked cruising for guys on Liberty Avenue back in the old days. Hotter than hell. There were pictures of Brian when he was younger and he'd definitely been outstanding. Gus was outstanding too but his nature was different. He supposed he was more like Justin in that regard. He'd grown up watching them together, watching his mothers, and he'd wanted to find a mate too. He hated dating, hated all the useless ritual. But he didn't have a choice. Great guys didn't just fall out of the sky, you had to go looking for them. He had thought he'd found one in Beck but they'd crashed and burned after a year of going out. He didn't know what the hell had happened except that they'd gradually grown apart until finally the only thing holding them together had been the sex. And that hadn't been enough.
Pulling into the Munchers' yard, he smiled. It was great seeing the house again. Even though he'd just been home at Christmas, it seemed like forever since he'd been back to Pitts. Before he'd gotten out of the car, Mel and Lindsay had come bounding out of the house. As had Brian and Justin, they'd aged well. Melanie's hair had gone grey in the front, giving her a grey stripe on one side of her hair, which prompted Brian, in one of his less charitable moments, to quip that she'd finally revealed her true nature. Lindsay's hair was going silver and she looked beautiful. She had good bone structure and Gus often teased her and said that eventually she'd look like Kathryn Hepburn. Showing her patrician roots.
The women hugged him and fussed over his hair (too long), his clothes (didn't he have any jeans that didn't have holes), and his driving (he drove too fast, they could hear him coming down the street).
"Out with him," said Mel, rolling her eyes.
"Don't get her started," Lindsay said. "Ricky's a nice boy. It's just thatÖ"
"He's a boy."
Mel grumbled as they entered the house, "It comes from spending too much time with Brian. Figured she'd go looking for an asshole just like him." Seeing the look on Gus' face, Lindsay nudged her and she remembered that he was gay and just like Brian. "Sorry, Baby." Kissed him. "You know I don't mean it."
Gus laughed. "If you didn't call Pop an asshole at least once a day, I would think I'd come to the wrong house."
He hung out all morning and had lunch with them. Around one, Indy came home being trailed by a very limp looking teenager. Gus wasn't exactly sure what to think about his sister's choice but he put aside his misgivings and hugged her and shook the guy's hand when she introduced them. Ricky didn't stay long, saying he'd come back later and pick Indy up for the party. Mel sighed audibly and even Lindsay looked paler than normal.
"What?" asked Indy once Ricky had left.
"I thought we agreed that this would be a family celebration?" Lindsay explained.
"Is Michael coming?"
"And Ted and Em."
"They're family, honey."
"Why donít you just admit that you don't like Ricky?"
Mel shrugged. "Okay, I donít like Ricky. There. So what does that solve?"
Indy growled and stomped upstairs.
After a moment, the rest of the family laughed. Wiping her eyes, Lindsay said, "You know, she really is just like you, Mel."
"God save us all," her partner replied.
Ready to play peacemaker, Gus went upstairs and knocked on his sister's room.
"Come in." She must have known it was him. "They send you up?"
"No." He sat on her bed next to her. "So, what's with this Ricky guy?"
She grinned mischievously. "Isn't he horrible?"
"He's nice enough but he drives them crazy and I love it."
"So you're just playing him?"
"No. I like him. I do." She ran her hand through her cropped hair, darker than his, dyed he was sure. "He's just some guy, you know? It's not like I'm gonna marry him or anything."
"So what does Pop say about him?"
"Hates him." She suddenly sobered. "But, at least, he and Dad didn't try to talk me into becoming a lezzie."
"Mom and Mama would never do that."
"Please, they're like Lesbian Recruiting Officers."
"India Peterson, you're lying."
She kicked him softly with her bare foot. She hated wearing shoes. He did too. It must have been a Kinney trait. "Do you have to be so serious all of the time?"
"Sorry. It comes from being part of an insane family."
"Speaking of family, have you seen Jake yet?"
"No. What's up?" Since he had been away at school, Indy had taken it upon herself to keep him updated as to the goings on of their youngest sibling.
"I don't know. I think he's having some trouble at school again. He and Daddy have been spending a lot of time together."
It was ironic that Brian was closer to Justin's biological son than Justin was himself. Gus supposed it had something to do with the fact that Jake was a lot like Brian had been: wild, undisciplined, and too damn smart for his own good. And, like Brian, Jake had taken a lot of shit at school. It was hard enough being a biracial child without one of your parents being a single mother and the other a gay man in a committed relationship. Although, in some ways, Jake was the luckiest because by the time he'd come along, Brian and Justin and Mel and Lindsay had had communal child rearing down to an art form and they'd welcomed Daphne into the fold without any trouble. So, really, Jake had three moms and two dads. But when two of your moms were lesbians and your dads were gay, well, it wasn't always easy. Gus knew that well. He'd had more than one scrape at school because someone had said something about his parents. Same thing with Indy. So they both tried to be there for Jake, to make sure he understood that he wasn't alone. And he had Brian, who was the only one out of all their parents who seemed to be able to talk to Jake when he was so angry he couldn't see straight. Maybe because Brian had felt that way himself growing up, for different reasons.
"I'll try and talk to him at the party."
"Good luck," she snorted. "It's gonna be Drama Queen Central."
"Pop's already had one grand hissy fit this morning. I donít know why Dad bothers sometimes."
"Cause he loves Daddy." She turned thoughtful. "Do you think we'll ever be like them?"
"You're kinda young to be thinking about settling down."
"I think I'm going to be like Daphne. Just have lots of boyfriends and never get married."
Leaving Mel and Lindz to deal with Indy, Gus decided to stop by Daphne's house instead of returning to his fathers' place.
She opened the door and hugged him hard, looking him up and down. "You look just like Brian did when I first met him. Least, I think so. You'd have to strip before I could be sure."
He laughed. She hadn't changed in all the years he'd known her. Like Justin, she seemed ageless. And she'd remained bubbly despite having become a doctor working primarily with pediatric AIDS patients. The kids loved her and her spirit had yet to be broken. "Where's my little brother?"
"Probably in his room wrapping Brian's present. He finally decided what to get him today and he wanted to wrap it himself. Go on up, I've got to finish getting ready."
Gus checked his watch. Shit. It was getting late. He sprinted up the stairs and found Jake in his room, just as Daphne had said, and he was trying to wrap Brian's present and doing a piss poor job of it. He definitely hadn't inherited Justin's artistic ability. "You need some help with that?"
"Gus!" The boy threw himself at his big brother and hugged him hard.
"What have you got there?"
Jake showed him. It was a model of a classic Jeep, the kind Brian had had all those years ago.
"Sweet." He tried to straighten the paper on the box and handed Jake the tape to dispense.
"You think he'll like it?"
"Without a doubt. He'd have a Jeep now if Dad would let him."
"Daddy B says that when he retires, he's getting one no matter what Daddy says."
Gus laughed. "I wanna be there for that fight."
"Me and Daddy B watched the Indianapolis 500 last year and he got us tickets this year for my birthday."
"It's gonna be cool."
To Gus, it seemed that Jake was the only one of them who looked like both his parents. He was, as everyone said, the spitting image of Brian; Indy, for some strange reason, looked like Mel even though Lindsay had carried her; but Jake had curly, dark blond hair courtesy of Daphne and Justin, and he had cafť au lait skin with dark brown eyes. Still, for all of his parental resemblance, Jake had bonded with Brian.
Gus finished with the present. "There."
"Hey, you wanna go over with me? I'm heading back to the house."
So Gus told Daphne Jake was going with him and he put the top down and they turned the radio up real loud and pretended they were driving in the Indy 500.
Brian and Justin were yelling at one another when they got to the house. They could hear them as soon as they opened the side door. Gus grimaced. "Maybe we should go to the mall."
"But the party's in an hour," Jake pointed out.
Gus took a deep breath. "Once more into the breach."
"Shakespeare. Come on." They entered the house and found Justin sitting in the family room visibly upset. His cheeks were flushed and he looked as if he were about to tear someone a new asshole. The likely candidate was standing by the French doors to the backyard and he didn't look any more composed. Jake cautiously approached his dad and sat next to him.
"Hey, Jake." Justin smooched him on the forehead.
Maintaining an equal distance between the two men, Gus said, "Should I even ask?"
"Your father is being an asshole," explained Justin.
"It's my fuckin' birthday and I should be able to spend it anyway I want to."
"Not an hour away from the goddamn party that I planned for a month, that you knew about, and that you gave your tacit agreement to!"
"What's going on?"
"Ask him," said Justin.
"I don't want a party. What I really want is for everyone to leave me the hell alone." And he pushed open the French doors and went outside.
Justin muttered, "No judge would convict me. If I killed him, no one would blame me."
Before Gus could respond, he heard a car door slam. "I think the caterers are here."
"Shit." Justin stood, then paused, unsure of what to do.
"I'll talk to Pop. Donít worry, there'll be a party."
Kissing Gus on the cheek, Justin went to answer the door.
Gus shook his head. "Never a dull moment." Went in search of his father. Found him seated on a bench in the backyard smoking a cigarette. Something he rarely did anymore unless he was stressed out. Gus waved the smoke away and sat down.
"I'm not putting it out," Brian told him.
"I didn't ask you to."
"He send you out here?"
"No, he didn't. I came out here all on my own to see why you're acting like a total shit."
Brian cut his eyes at his son, then stubbed out his cigarette. "I'm half a century old."
"So? Nana's seventy-two and Deb is sixty-eight."
"I think I'm going to hurl."
"You're supposed to be celebrating today."
"Celebrating what? The fact that my ass is about to hit the ground?"
"Your ass is not about to hit the ground. You don't even have enough ass to hit the ground," Gus pointed out.
"And I donated sperm for you," groused Brian.
"Dad worked really hard putting this party together because he loves you. Even though you're an ungrateful, aggravating pain in the ass most of the time and especially now that you've turned fifty."
"You can go now."
"Sorry, I'm here until Monday."
"You are staying over at the Munchers tonight, aren't you?"
"Birthday nookie," Brian explained with a lecherous grin.
"If you donít apologize to Dad, I think a solo birthday handjob might be more like it."
He blew out his breath and stood. Looked Gus' outfit up and down. "You are changing, aren't you?"
"You are such a label queen."
Brian walked with his arm across his son's shoulders. Unable to resist, he checked the label in Gus' shirt. "Jee-sus. And I send you money for clothes."
"I spend it on pot."
"I hope you're getting the good shit, then."
When they reached the house, Brian went over and hugged Jake and told him to go upstairs and make sure Gus put on something decent. "Jake's got better taste than you do," he teased but they all knew he had some major crow to eat and didnít want an audience.
Whatever he'd said to Justin, it had done the trick and the next time the boys saw them, they were kissing their way to their room, going to "get dressed" they said.
Gus turned on the radio and laughed.
Looking around at his huge, extended family, Gus was reminded of why he loved coming home: Emmett was demonstrating his latest dance creation to Michael who was trying to slip away; Ted was busy trying to convince Mel and Lindsay to invest in some new company he'd discovered; Deb and Joanie and Jennifer were looking through Brian and Justin's wedding album for the hundredth time; Daphne and Jake were dancing as were Indy and Ricky and Ricky actually smiled, miracle of miracles; Brian and Justin, of course, were still making up in the corner.
"Donít you two ever get enough?" Gus asked, coming to get Justin to dance with him.
"There's no such thing as enough," Brian replied but he let his partner go with a promise to resume their kissing at a later time.
Dancing with Justin, Gus remembered his fifth birthday. There'd been presents and balloons and a huge piŮata in the shape of Pikachu, one of the Pokemon. God, he couldn't believe he'd actually liked that shit. But the best part of the party had been when Brian and Justin had danced with him. Smiling broadly, he waved his Pop over and they all three danced together while everyone called out, "Go, Gus! Go, Justin! Go, Brian! It's your birthday!"
"Do the Naked Dance!" Daphne called out and he did and Lindz and Mel covered their eyes to see their twenty-year-old son shaking his package. He pulled Jake up onto the floor and his little brother did the Naked Dance too, having been taught too at an early age by Justin. That any of them could dance at all, they owed to him.
There was, indeed, a cake from Gaia's bakery: a beautiful lemon cake with white frosting, a wax 1971 candle on top, and an array of miniature classic cars modeled in sugar around the base of the cake: including a Ford Falcon, a Mercedes 350 SL, a Porsche 911, and a Pontiac GTO. Justin raised his glass of champagne, as did the other guests (including Jake who was clearly psyched to be having champagne) and said, "All of the models on the cake are classics, just like Brian. Think of it this way: you're not getting older, you're increasing in value." Their guests laughed. "And I wouldn't trade you in for anything. Salute."
They all drank to Brian's health and Justin gave him a huge kiss afterwards and they looked like the perfect couple; Gus tried not to snort thinking about the mega fight they'd just had that afternoon. Those two. They'd never change.
Once the cake had been eaten and the champagne bottles ran dry, it was
time to leave the birthday boy and his husband to their private
celebration. Gus packed an overnight bag, kissed them both goodnight, and
took off to spend the night with Jake and Daphne, having decided that his
little brother needed him more than his moms. As he backed out of the
driveway, he saw Brian and Justin's silhouettes in the doorway waving and
he smiled. He could imagine them setting the alarms, shutting off all the
lights, and retiring upstairs with a private bottle of champagne that
they'd left chilling in their bedroom. They would help each other undress,
and slip into bed, and make love until the late hours of the night. And
then they'd fall asleep in one another's arms the way they had for years.
It was good to be home.