Please note: This story is extremely long and is posted in two parts
"Are you all right?" Brian looked up from the floor where he'd landed and held out a hand to be helped up. "I think we need a wider couch."
"I think you need to warn me before you spring something like that on me," he said, this time sitting next to Justin. "So," he asked quietly, "are you serious?"
Justin could tell Brian wasn't as calm as he seemed. He could almost hear the older man's heart pounding and not from the exertion of the fall, from the thought of them publicly exchanging vows. So he replied, with a soft smile, "No. I was just joking."
Kissing him, Brian rose. "Not funny. Come on, I'm beat."
Dutifully, Justin followed him to the bedroom where Gus slept, Beh next to him in the middle of the bed, something precious to be protected by them, their larger bodies on either side of the pair, buffering them.
"I can't wait until we find a new place and he gets his own room and his own bed," Brian said, but Justin knew Brian would miss Gus' warmth. He would too.
After kissing and moving to opposite sides of the bed, they got in with the toddler and called it a night. Only Justin couldn't sleep. He kept replaying his response in his head, "No. I was just joking." Turning over, away from Brian and Gus, he stared at the blinds that hung on the glass wall of the bedroom, the blinds they almost always forgot to close so that the sunlight came in at first light. It would be such a simple thing, to close the blinds before going to bed but they nearly always forgot. "No. I was just joking." Such a simple thing to have told the truth. To have said, "Yes, I am. I am serious. I want to marry you." Yet he had not. After a while he heard the familiar sound of Brian softly snoring. He eased his right hand from beneath the covers and gazed at the band of platinum that gleamed even in the darkness. Inside the words, Forever faithful, Brian. He could feel them pressing against his skin even though they'd been engraved and weren't raised but rather recessed. He felt Gus stir in his sleep, his tiny hand accidentally brushing against his hip. What did it matter if they were married or not? He had the man, the ring, and a family. Who needed a wedding? No one. You wanted a wedding; no one needed one. So who wanted a wedding?
He closed his eyes.
Such a simple thing.
Waking with an urge to pee, Gus crawled to the foot of the bed and carefully got down and walked to the bathroom. The light was on for which he was glad because even though he wasn't afraid of the dark, sometimes there were scary things in the darkness and the light helped keep them away. So did Beh but he couldn't take Beh into the bathroom. Beh liked to stay under the covers where it was warm. So did he. But he had to pee.
He climbed upon his footstool and pulled down his trainers and peed, the liquid making a very satisfying sound as it splashed in the water. He liked that sound. When he was done, he pulled up his trainers and got down. Flushed the toilet, loving the whooshing sound the water made. He wondered where the water went but his Mommy told him that he shouldn't put his head in the bowl to see. So he didn't. He reached for a wipe, the box up on the counter so he had to feel around for it because he couldn’t see up that high. Usually Daddy or Daddy Jusin handed him one but they were both asleep. He got the container at last and pulled one out the way he'd seen Daddy do and pushed the box back onto the counter. Dropped the wadded up wipe into the wastepaper basket. Went back to bed.
Daddy was making funny sounds in his sleep. Daddy Jusin too but they weren't as loud. Gus stood next to Daddy and watched him. Daddy was very pretty. He liked looking at him. He had such pretty lips. That's why Daddy Jusin liked to kiss him so much, cause Daddy was so pretty. Gus reached out and touched Brian's face, touched his lips. So soft. Daddy moved and opened his mouth and Gus snatched back his hand, afraid Daddy would eat his fingers. Then he giggled, remembering how Daddy had tried to eat him, saying he tasted like cookies. No, he didn't. He didn't taste like any food. He tasted like Gus. He wondered what Daddy tasted like. Leaning close to Brian, Gus licked his face. Daddy didn't taste like cookies either. Or carrots or chicken or peas or hamburger. Daddy, he decided, must taste like Daddy.
Brian opened his eyes and saw Gus' face a few inches from his own. Sleepily, he said, "Hey, Sonny Boy."
He moved over and Gus crawled in next to him, the bed warm where Daddy
had lain. Gus liked that and snuggled close to Brian. Daddy smelled good.
He felt good. Gus closed his eyes and soon was asleep again.
Having slept another hour or so, Brian woke, feeling that Gus was looking at him. He was right. The toddler's bright eyes were fixed on him. He wondered what Gus thought about, why he studied him so. Maybe it was like when Justin used to watch him as he slept: it seemed to be the only time they could catch him with his guard down. Except that wasn't true anymore. Both Justin and Gus had a way of getting through his defenses and leaving him utterly open and yet completely safe.
Silently, Gus moved closer to him and touched his face. Brian leaned over and kissed him on the nose and Gus giggled and rubbed his button nose against Brian's considerably larger one.
"You like looking at Daddy, don't you?" Brian asked and Gus nodded. "Why? Why do you like looking at Daddy?" he asked, unable to refrain from doing so.
"Daddy pretty," Gus said and he stroked Brian's cheek.
Which was one of the reasons Justin said he watched him as well. "Because you're beautiful," he would say.
"I think you're pretty too," Brian told the baby and Gus agreed.
"Daddy Jusin pretty," he said softly.
"Yeah," agreed Brian. "He is." He smiled. "How about all of us pretty boys going out to have breakfast this morning?"
"Uh-huh," answered Gus.
"We can go see Debbie."
Gus clapped his hands. He liked Debbie. "Debbee."
"We can have… pancakes."
"Pancakes!" yelled Gus.
"Shh…" Brian told him. "You'll wake Daddy."
Justin said quietly, "I'm already awake."
Climbing over Brian, Gus crawled onto Justin and kissed him. "Hey, Daddy."
"Hey. You want pancakes for breakfast?"
Brian rolled over and started to give Justin a kiss too but something in the teen's eyes told him not to attempt it. He reached for Gus instead. "We better take a shower then." He placed the baby on the floor. "Go to the bathroom and take off your clothes and wait for me." Gus ran off to do as he was told. Waiting a moment, Brian asked, "What's wrong?"
Brian moved closer to him but Justin shrank away. "Nothing, huh?"
From the bathroom came a muffled cry. "Daddy! Helmp!"
Leaving the discussion for later, Brian went to investigate and found Gus stumbling around with his shirt caught on his head. He'd gotten stuck. Brian took hold of him, "Stand still," and pulled it off. "Some genius," he said and chuckled because he couldn't help it. He'd done the same thing probably as a two-year-old. Justin had done it just last year.
Gus looked pissed. He snatched the shirt from Brian and threw it on the floor. "Bad!"
Lord love him, Gus was just like him. Some poor girl or guy was gonna catch hell one day. "And what did the shirt do wrong?"
Pouting, Gus replied, "Tuck."
"You got stuck?"
Trying not to laugh, Brian reprimanded the shirt too. "Bad shirt."
"Bad," agreed Gus.
While the toddler waited, Brian undressed and turned on the water. Tested it. Heard Gus calling to Justin. He poked his head out of the shower. "Come on. Daddy Justin's taking his shower later," because he didn’t think Justin was joining them. Something had pissed him off too. You know what it is, he told himself. But he said he was joking. Only neither one of them was laughing now.
Gus joined him in the shower stall and ran in place.
He shook his head and reached for his soap and began to rub it over his body the way Daddy did.
After soaping himself and rinsing off, Brian squatted and made sure Gus was clean too. "Close your eyes," he said and washed the toddler's hair, then held him under the gentle jets of water until all of the suds were gone.
Gus squirmed as Brian wrapped him in a huge red towel and dried him off and as soon as Brian released him, he took the towel and flopped about playing ghost and peek-a-boo until Brian shook his head and turned to shaving.
The towel lost its allure then. Gus was mesmerized by the ritual of shaving, so much so that Justin was able to come in and get into the shower before Gus noticed his appearance. Even then, all he did was look away from Brian for a second before turning back to see what he was doing next.
Noticing how intently Gus was watching him, Brian placed a dot of shaving gel on the tip of the toddler's nose. Gus opened his mouth real wide, then laughed. He sat contentedly on the top of the commode until Brian was finished and then, apparently, he decided that it was time for Justin to come out of the shower because he went over and banged on the outside. "Daddy!"
"Hey," called Brian, "stop that. Let Justin shower in peace."
Gus ignored him completely. "Daddy!"
Just as Brian was about to get him, Justin came out of the shower looking rather perturbed.
If Brian noticed it, Gus was blissfully unaware. "Daddy, I hungry."
Intervening, Brian picked him up. "Do me a favor and go play with Beh. I think he's lonely."
"I hungry," Gus said again, not sure if they understood.
"I know. We'll eat soon." He released Gus and waited until he'd gone from the bathroom before sliding the door close. "So?"
Justin didn't look up from drying off. "So what?"
"I told you nothing's wrong."
"So you're in a snit for no reason?"
Emphasizing each word, which let Brian know that he was in a snit despite what he said, Justin replied, "I am not in a snit."
"What?" he said, caught off-guard by the question.
"Kiss me. You always kiss me good morning. I want my kiss." Brian moved closer but the teen brushed by him.
"Gus is waiting for his pancakes," he said, opening and closing the sliding door behind him.
Sitting on the toilet lid, Brian rubbed his face. "Fuck. Fuck, fuck,
By the time they reached the diner, even Gus realized something was wrong with Justin and he tried to cheer him up by giving him Beh to sit with since Justin refused to sit next to Brian and Gus wanted to sit beside Brian himself. He figured Beh would be the next best thing but Justin didn't seem to be cheered up by the leather bear.
Discontentment radiated from him. Brian could almost see it emanating in ice blue waves. It was with great relief that Brian saw Deb coming, relief and trepidation because she was certain to notice something was wrong with Justin and she'd want to know what it was and probably wouldn’t take no for an answer and the last thing he wanted was for Deb to get involved in the situation. Luckily, just as she neared the table, Michael pushed through the front door.
"Michael!" Big hug and kiss. "Look who's here."
He headed for their table with his mom in tow. "Hi, guys."
"Hey." He knew who that was. That was Mikey. Mikey was Daddy's friend.
As Michael went to sit next to Justin, the teen got up abruptly and started to walk away but Brian caught hold of him. "Where the—"
"Let go of me," he said tightly and snatched his hand from Brian's grip, giving him a little push in the process before he stormed out of the diner.
Angrily, Brian stood, unsure what he was going to do but feeling hot, and it was only Deb's hand on his arm that stopped him. She looked frighten. "Brian." He moved away from her but she held onto him. "Brian," she said again and this time he paused. "Maybe you should just leave him alone for a while."
Gently, he pulled away from her and followed Justin outside. They were going to deal with this now. Fuck later.
Michael started to go after them but she shook her head. "Let them work it out."
He wasn't the only one with the idea of going after them, but he stopped Gus from following. "Hey, Gus, are you hungry?"
The baby, distracted by the offer of food, forgot about his feuding parents but Deb, still worried despite her advice to Michael, looked out the window at them.
Brian had caught up with Justin and grabbed him again. "Don't you fuckin' walk away from me." He let go not wanting to get into a public tussle in front of the diner. "What the hell is the matter with you?"
Justin glared at him. "What do you care? You obviously don’t want to be with me—"
"Where the fuck did that come from?"
"If you can't even say in public that you love me—"
"Just leave me alone," he said and started away again.
"Justin, let's talk about this."
He glanced back at Brian. "There's nothing to talk about. You said how you felt."
"No, I didn't. I asked you if you were serious and you said no." There was no point in pretending that he didn't know why Justin was so upset.
"Because you, obviously, don't want to marry me. What the fuck was I supposed to do? Sitting there like a fucking idiot thinking that you loved me—"
"Not enough to— What does it matter? You don't want to do it, so forget it. Forget I ever mentioned it." With that he left.
Brian stood outside for a moment, painfully aware that everyone in the diner had witnessed their fight and he was determined not to scream. So he remained where he was until the urge passed and then he trudged back inside. Michael was talking with Gus. The toddler jumped up when he returned.
He took him in his arms.
"He's right there," Michael told the baby.
"No," explained Brian, "he calls Justin Daddy too."
Michael's mouth dropped open. "He calls Justin Daddy?"
"Where Daddy?" Gus asked again.
Brian sniffled. "He wasn't hungry."
Noticing that Brian hadn't answered Gus' question, Michael tried one of his own. "You okay?"
"Why don’t I believe you?"
"Then why'd you ask?"
"Maybe I should have asked what's wrong."
"We seem to be experiencing a breakdown in communication."
"Doesn't matter." Justin would never forgive him if he told Mikey. Fortuitously, Deb arrived with Gus' pancakes and Michael's eggs and bacon.
"Here you go, Big Boy, one order of pancakes."
"Tank you" He waited for his daddy to cut them up for him.
She gave Brian a look. "What about you?"
"Coffee," he replied as he finished preparing Gus' pancakes for him.
"Coffee isn't food."
He felt ill. How many fucking times could they screw up and still be able to put things right again? "I don't want anything."
Again she asked, "What about you?" each word enunciated which meant she was serious.
Giving in, he said, "I'll eat some of Gus' pancakes."
"I'll bring you extra. Gus looks like he might not be sharing today," and she laughed because the toddler had begun tearing into his pancakes. "Didn't you feed him last night?"
"He's inherited Justin's…" looked away, "appetite."
"Kiddo…" Brian shook his head. "You and Justin are so good together. I know you'll work it out."
"That's more than I know."
"Of course it is. I'm smarter than you."
"Smart enough not to get involved with a twink twelve years younger than you."
Cutting in, Michael said to his mom, "Did you know Gus calls Justin Daddy?"
"He should cause he is." Deb went to put in his order.
Waiting a moment, Michael asked, "Things that bad?"
"I don't know." Exasperated, he added, "I don't know anything anymore. How did I go from knowing exactly what I wanted out of life and how to get it to this? I feel like… like I never know what the hell to say or do. Because it's always wrong, whatever it is."
Brian took a deep breath before answering. "Yeah?"
Gus offered him a piece of pancake. "Here." It was all he had to make Daddy feel better. Touched, Brian leaned over and Gus fed it to him. "Good?" he asked cause Daddy was smiling.
Gus went back to eating, content now that Daddy was happy again.
He'd heard the elevator door open and close, surprised that Brian had taken it, that he hadn't taken the stairs to give himself more time to calm down. That he was pissed was probably a given. Justin didn't know what to say to him to make it all right between them. So he waited until Brian came inside and said the only thing that came to mind. "Hey."
Putting his keys down on the kitchen counter, Brian didn't look around as he answered. "Hey."
Talking to his back, he asked, "Where's Gus?"
"I took him home. Figured he could do without watching us fight."
"I'm sorry. I know you only have a little time with him—"
"Where did you go?"
So Brian didn't want his apology. He answered his question. "Movies." Brian crossed the room and started up the steps to the bedroom. "Brian?"
He paused. "We just came home yesterday from celebrating our first anniversary and today we're fucking screaming at each other in the street."
"I'm sorry." He really was. He had no idea how they'd gotten to that angry place again.
Brian ran roughshod right over his apology. "If you wanted a commitment ceremony, why didn't you just say it?"
"I thought I did." He had. Brian just hadn't wanted to hear it.
"We joked about it the entire summer and all of a sudden you're serious? How was I supposed to know that? Why couldn't you just say it?"
And how easy would it have been to have done that? He'd been faced with Brian's reaction. "I didn't say it because I was scared. Because I didn't know what you'd say."
"So what? How the fuck does that change how you feel? What you want?" He hated when people pretended not to want something or lied about what they wanted. He'd done it in the past and it'd never done anything but caused him problems. "Justin—I can't read minds."
"And I'm tired of being blamed for it." For not knowing how Justin felt, for not anticipating his needs.
"I just…" So Brian was right, he couldn't read minds, but he could have reacted better to Justin's question. "I guess I wanted you to be excited about it."
"You never gave me a chance to be."
"I asked you, 'What about a commitment ceremony?' and you fell off the couch."
"I was surprised."
"Then why didn't you say that?"
"I did. And then I asked you if you were serious and you said no."
"We've been through this." It was frustrating, neither of them budging at all.
"And we'll go through it again."
"I already know how you feel." That was abundantly clear.
"How?" laughed Brian. "Did you ask me?"
God, he could make him angry. How much did Brian think he could take? "Don't—"
"Ask." There was no give in his voice.
Suddenly Justin felt shaky. Who knew he'd be so nervous? After all, wasn't this what he wanted? To marry Brian? Justin swallowed and asked, "Brian, would you marry me?" His voice came out so quiet that he had to strain to hear himself.
Brian couldn't resist a bit of play. "I would if you asked me."
Justin smiled, realizing the mistake in his choice of words. Tried again. "Will you marry me?"
"Yes, I'll marry you." No hesitation.
He'd answered too quickly. "Don't tease me."
"I said I would. But if you don't want to…"
"You'll really do it?" His pulse had begun to race. Maybe Brian really meant it. But…
Closing the distance between them, Brian took hold of Justin's hands. They were only a little smaller than his own. That Justin had such large hands comforted him. Let him know that they were big enough to hold his heart, that he and his heart were safe with Justin. So he asked softly yet confidently, "Will you marry me?"
He had dreamt the words a thousand times and never had they sounded as good as they just had. Violins could have been playing, they could have been in a restaurant in Paris in view of the Eiffel Tower and it wouldn't have improved the proposal. Proposal. Brian had proposed. And was waiting for an answer. "Yes."
Now, Justin laughed. "Yes!" He embraced Brian and lay his head upon his chest. Felt Brian's heart beating strong and steady. "Thank you."
"Anything for my baby."
Alarmed, he asked, "You're not doing this just for me, are you?"
"No," Brian replied, honestly. "I'm selfish. I'm doing it for me."
"Good." Justin raised his head and gazed into Brian's eyes. "I love you."
"Where's my kiss? I haven't forgotten, you know."
Justin drew Brian's head down and kissed him tenderly. "There. Happy?"
Pulling Brian down onto the couch next to him, he slung his legs over his partner's lap and leaned against him. "We're getting married," he announced happily. Then, "When?"
"I think we should get the house first," Brian replied, smiling, Justin's happiness infectious.
"But that could take a long time."
"You in a hurry? What's wrong? It's not like you're knocked up."
"Funny." What was the hurry? "I don't know…" he shrugged. He just felt that once they'd made the decision, they should act on it.
"I thought it might be fun to have it in the new house."
"We could do it here," Justin suggested.
"Too small." Now that they'd decided to do it, he wanted to do it right.
"How many guests are we having?" Was Brian thinking about having some grand affair? He'd thought they'd invite their friends over and just do it. But Brian was an advertiser first and a person second. At least it felt like it sometimes.
"I don't know. But we should definitely set a limit and stick to it."
Testing him, Justin declared, "Thirty or less."
"Works for me." That way they'd have to be selective as to the family members they'd invite, which was fine with him. God, if only Claire wouldn't show up but she would, she was a glutton for punishment and never missed any family weddings, regardless of how she felt about the participants. This meant he'd definitely have to arrange a meeting between her and Justin beforehand. The day of the ceremony would not be a good time for their first encounter. And he had no idea how his mom would feel. It was one thing to accept them as they were in private and another to watch them proclaim to the world that they were committed in a public ceremony. There might be limits to her understanding.
"Who should we invite?"
"I was just thinking about that. And guest lists, food."
So he was serious. "Decorations, music. Who's going to be in the wedding party," added Justin. Suddenly it seemed a monumental undertaking.
Seemed that way to Brian too. "Fuck, we'll need all the time we can get to plan this thing."
"We can get your mom to help."
"Hopefully as a wedding present." He didn't bother to tell Justin his fears. Let him be happy.
And he was. "I can't believe we're having a wedding." A big, fancy wedding at that. Daphne would freak. All the women they knew would. Just think, they were the ones having the fairy tale wedding. He laughed joyfully.
"Ecstatic." Justin kissed Brian and drew away slightly. Waited. He'd learned how to tease, how to whet Brian's appetite.
Having had a taste, Brian decided to try for more. Just at that moment, the phone rang and he groaned. "You know, in the movies, that would be your mom calling to tell us she's found the perfect fucking house. But, in reality, it's probably some annoying person with nothing better to do than to keep us from having incredibly hot sex."
As Justin went to answer it, he chuckled. "Behave." As if ever. He picked up. "Hello?" He paused. "Hi, Mom." A look of disbelief crossed his face. "You did?" He looked over at Brian. "You've just found us the perfect fucking house."
"Genius," boasted Brian.
"Sorry. Yeah. But what's it— Okay. Eleven o'clock. Okay. See you tomorrow. Bye." He hung up.
"So?" If they were living in a movie, so be it. He'd go with it.
"So she's making like a Bond girl. Everything's top secret. We have to pick her up tomorrow at eleven and she'll take us there."
"Told you. Except she says it's perfect for us."
"I'll believe that when I see it." When Justin didn't return to the sofa, Brian went to him. It was obviously time for bed.
Justin led him up the steps. "Where were we?"
"I think I was trying to knock you up."
"You know my motto: If first you don't succeed, try, try again. And again…" The teen walked on ahead, his hips swaying gently as he crossed the floor and Brian followed their movement with his eyes.
"Fuck, yeah." Later, with Justin perched on top of him, head thrown
back and mouth open, about to come, Brian repeated the sentiment
breathlessly. "Fuck, yeah…"
"Now, turn here," Jennifer told Justin, as he was driving.
The teen turned right. Glanced at the street sign. "Whitman."
Brian raised a brow. "Could be a good sign." At Justin's groan, "No pun intended."
"You're going to love it," Jenn said for the fiftieth time since they'd picked her up. "There, that's it. The third driveway on the left." The opening was flanked by two lamps. "The one with the trees that look like cypress. They're called Green Giants. Apparently someone recommended them back in the early 90's when no one else was really using them and the owners planted them not knowing what to expect. Now, of course, everyone's planting them. They're all the rage."
Peering ahead, Brian said, "Nice." They couldn't see the house from the road, only a rough stone fence about five feet high and a perimeter of tall evergreen trees that lined the yard just inside the fence and led to the hidden domicile. In Italy, on the train to Florence, gazing at the rolling Tuscan hills that passed by them, dotted with cypress trees, they'd thought that they'd never seen a more beautiful view. So even though the Green Giants weren't cypress trees, they reminded him of them and so the house already had that going for it.
Justin pulled into the driveway and followed its path until they came upon the house. Both he and Brian were hard-pressed not to gasp.
It was as if they'd come upon an Italian villa in the valleys of Chianti. Their eyes automatically scanned the house for details. Walls of rough, unworked stone and red-tiled roofs. A pair of two-story wings set at an angle to one another with a tower at the pivot point or nearly at the pivot point. The peak of the roof seemed to be maybe thirty, thirty-five feet off the ground. There was a detached two-car garage near the wing closest to them.
A low hedge of green shrubs ran along the outside of the nearest wing which was punctuated by six tall, slender, French windows with separated tops on the first floor. A matching number of windows with separated arched tops ran along the second floor completing the illusion of the wing being dominated by vast two-story Palladian windows. There was a stone chimney at the end of the farthest wing and another in the middle of the nearest one. A cobblestone path led from the driveway to the front entry which was gated. Its roof formed the floor of a balcony with a wrought iron railing. Beautiful evergreen trees and additional shrubbery softened the house's façade.
Opening her door and breaking the spell the house had cast on the two men, Jenn said, "Let's go inside."
But the spell hadn't been broken, it had only tightened around them. They followed her as if in a dream. As they passed the tower, they looked over and saw a window in its side on the second floor and another small, grill-covered window on the first floor level near the entry way.
"It belongs to the cousin of a friend of mine. She and her husband are getting a divorce and they're selling the house. They're letting us have a first look-see as a favor to her before it goes on the market. If it goes on the market," she hinted.
The two halves of a wrought-iron fence, delicately filigreed, guarded the arched entrance to the house. The floor was a dark terra cotta tile. On either side of the entrance way beneath an arched opening sat a plain wooden bench. About five feet from the gate, offering entrance into the house, was a double door of oak studded with black iron nails. On each of the doors was a heavy round knocker. Jenn turned the key in the lock and stepped inside, shut off the alarm.
It felt as if someone had shouted "Open sesame!" and they were about to enter Ali Baba's cave. The exterior had promised riches beyond imagination. Solemnly, Brian gestured for Justin to go on ahead. The teen stepped across the threshold and paused, looked back at Brian who came in behind him and stopped as well.
As beautiful as the outside was, the inside was magnificent.
"It’s the reception hall," Jenn said behind them and when they both started, she explained, "That's what it's called."
They grinned sheepishly and looked around. The hall was stunning. Creamy colored stone tiled floor with a border of blue tiles forming an aisle down the middle; walls of Italian plaster in delicate, swirling shades of amber; and exposed beams in the ceiling. The space ran the depth of the house. They walked towards the back, forcing themselves to ignore the temptation of open arched doorways. At the end of the hall was a set of French doors with a window in the shape of a semicircle overhead. Brian slide the doors open, the two halves recessing into the wall, and Justin did gasp this time. It was a sunroom, an attached octagon, with alternating windows and doors set in all seven walls. It had a vaulted ceiling that rose to a point high above the floor. You could actually see part of the ceiling through the window from the reception hall. The whole room was flooded with light. The floor was covered in rose terra cotta with a matching multicolored stone border than ran around the sunroom's perimeter and medallions placed randomly among the rose terra cotta flooring.
"The floor is heated so you won't get cold out here in the winter. So are the floors in the upstairs bathrooms," Jennifer added for Brian's sake alone because Justin was lost.
"It's perfect," he sighed. Going to the door on the left, he looked out at the loggia that ran along the back of the house to that side of the sunroom. Going to the opposing door, he scanned the pergola that ran along the back of the house to the right. Standing at the door opposite the entry from the house, he gazed at the lap pool which dominated the backyard. Tearing himself away from a vision in which he sat at his drawing board, the afternoon sun streaming in through the glass to light his work, Justin asked reluctantly yet excitedly, "Can we see the rest?"
Going back into the reception hall, they went through a broad arch way on the right into a vast room with a marble fireplace opposite the arch. As with the walls in the reception hall, the ones in the livingroom were covered with Italian plaster, this time with a slight ochre cast. They would discover that all of the walls in the house were either of Italian plaster or painted to resemble it. On either side of the fireplace a single French door with a quarter moon arched window over each opened into a walled courtyard. A set of stone steps led to the second floor. "It goes to the Master suite," Jenn explained. Two sets of double French doors topped by arched windows, each flanked by attached plain French windows, opened onto the loggia. The room was divided vertically by three arches, a large arch with two smaller ones on either side. "The dining room is in there," said Jenn. "But really, the entire room can be used as one huge space." A trio of Palladian windows, one large, two small, dominated the front wall complimenting both the openings between the living room and dining room and the faux Palladian windows in the other wing.
Exiting through an arch way leading from the dining area, they passed by the front door again, this time noticing the cloakroom on either side. And then they saw the stairwell inside the tower, its seductive curve beckoning them to climb and explore the rooms above.
"Do you want to go up now or see the rest of this floor first?"
Justin turned to Brian to let the older man decide. "Let's do this floor and then come back and go upstairs."
So Jennifer lead them towards the back of the house and to the right into a foyer. Its floor was tiled the same as the reception hall minus the border. Instead a dark blue, gold, and orange mosaic sun radiated from middle of the space. In the center of the sun stood a fountain. A simple fountain, just a basin set on a low pedestal in the middle of a pool but the entire piece was made of a dark red stone.
"Like in the Vatican!" Justin exclaimed.
"Probably not the same kind of stone," said Brian, "but it's beautiful."
To the right of the fountain was the beginning of a hallway but they chose to go into the family room first. There was a bar area just to the left of the doorway and a massive fieldstone fireplace about twenty feet in that divided the family room from the kitchen. Neither one of them could believe that the couple who was selling the place had left the glass-doored wine and beverage center in the bar. The top section looked as if it could hold about ten soda cans and the bottom section was designed for wine bottles. The bar itself was made of the same fieldstone as the fireplace and had a tiled top.
Brian wandered past it to look out at the yard. At first glance, the window and door arrangement seemed identical to that in the livingroom but then Brian realized that there were subtle differences. There were three sets of double French doors instead of two and windows with floating arches between them.
"This place must be a bitch to heat," Brian commented, especially since rooms flowed into one another without any doors to keep heat in any one section.
"Actually, that helps," she said pointing to the see-through hearth which had an arched glass door and a built-in wood storage section and bench. "It's some kind of masonry fireplace. I don't understand all of the specifics but it's supposed to generate more heat than a traditional gas or wood burning fireplace. I've got all the information about it if you want to see how it works. And since the hearth is see-through, you'll be able to see the fire on the kitchen side as well. Plus there's a bake oven on that side."
"We could make our own wood-fired pizzas," said Justin, visions of exotic ones to rival California Pizza Kitchen dancing in his head.
Although he didn't think anything could compare to the solarium, Justin was duly impressed by the kitchen. It had plenty of cabinet and countertop space, using a combination of framed cabinets and freestanding units. The cabinets were made of a warm, dark golden wood; and there was a two-tiered blue-stained wooden island in the middle of the room with a prep sink in it. The higher section was for eating at the island and for hiding the prep area on the lower level. A wooden and iron pot rack hung above it. All the cabinet countertops were made of some bluish stone. Justin ran his hand over it. Felt cool to the touch.
"That's blue imperial granite," explained Jennifer. She pointed to the exposed sink with a deep blue porcelain bowl. "Farmer's sink. The cabinets are custom-made of amber maple with navy blue colored glass inserts in the doors which match the multicolored Indian slate floor tiles." The cabinets and granite countertops coordinated perfectly with the floor which was comprised of rough textured tiles made of rust, beige, and bluish grey slate. "The island has a warming drawer," she pulled it out, "that comes with wire dividers and liner pans." She indicated the spaces in the island along the sides. "For your cookbooks." Gestured at the color-washed walls and at the dark blue tiled border that ran around the room three inches above the countertops, "The border compliments the backsplash behind the stove."
Justin's mouth fell open. "Is that an Aga?"
"Two ovens. One for roasting and baking and the other for simmering. Two hotplates, one fast, one slow."
"I've always wanted an Aga stove." The dark blue range occupied a corner niche and was sheltered by an old fashioned European-style hood (which mimicked a stucco covered chimney that was not there) with a blue and sienna tiled backsplash. The stove coordinated perfectly with the tiles and the glass-fronted cabinet doors.
In addition to the Aga, there was a Wolf cooktop at the opposite end of the countertop in the corner closest to the refrigerator. It had four burners and a grill in the middle. It occupied an alcove formed by an stone-lined arch. The backsplash behind it was made of the same tiles as the one behind the Aga.
Next to the Aga stove, between two small windows, was a freestanding dark blue baking center with spaces and shelves for pans and spices and other baking supplies. And beside it was a piece of built-in furniture that looked like a hutch.
"They call it a la mattina. It's a place where you can put a microwave, coffee maker, juicer, things that you use to make breakfast.
"Oh, I get it, la mattina. That's cool."
Jenn pulled out one of the large drawers. "These are actually undercounter refrigerator drawers."
"How do you know so much about this place?"
She held up the pad she'd been carrying around. "Cheat notes."
Justin went through the entire kitchen opening each and every door and drawer. There were solid wood insets to hold spices at an angle inside of a drawer near the stove. Wire basket pullouts beneath the kitchen sink which held cleaning supplies, even a utility tray built into the cabinet next to the sink. Just a slender flip-down drawer with a plastic tray inside to hold sponges and scouring pads.
"What are these for?" he asked his mom of two deep glass-fronted drawers in the island.
"Dry goods. Beans, rice, that kind of thing."
One cabinet contained three shelves that made complete revolutions inside of it. There were cabinets with roll-out trays that were two feet deep. On one side of the sink, he opened a cabinet door to find two slide-out wire mounts for garbage cans.
Jennifer showed him the stem glass holder mounted to the bottom of the dishes storage rack. "There's room in this kitchen for everything."
"Yeah, especially since we don’t have that much stuff," he said. It was amazing.
Brian watched Justin walk around the room checking everything out and knew his partner was in heaven. Coupled with the studio, the kitchen had definitely sold the teen on the house. He only wished he had an inkling of what this place cost. He could imagine it didn't come cheap.
There were two sets of multi-storage pantry cabinets placed side-by-side (forming a divider between the kitchen and the family room) that contained swing-out storage racks with adjustable shelves. One was obviously meant for small canned goods and the other for larger boxes. Who ate that much food? Brian grinned to himself. Justin did.
As they headed out of the kitchen towards the back door and the stairs, they passed a built-in supply cabinet that framed the end of the refrigerator/freezer, which would hold mops and brooms and other cleaning accoutrements. Adjacent to it and behind the refrigerator/freezer and the cabinets was a powder room. It was nice, with a blue glass basin floating above a stone countertop that matched the kitchen counters, a wall-width mirror, and a toilet. But there was room for a chair and a small table which Justin thought would make it all the nicer.
Brian joked, "Don't want to make it too nice. People might go in and never want to come out."
Jen pointed to the stairs. "It goes down into the basement and up to the second floor. Comes out by the guest room." There were niches cut into the wall leading up the stairwell where sculptures and vases might go. "And this," she said pointing down the hallway, "is the gallery."
They fell silent as they traversed the long corridor, looking out of the six French windows they'd seen from the outside. The floor was covered in blue and burgundy mosaic tiles in an interlocking circle pattern. The entire area was, Brian decided, a completely useless feature and yet he couldn't have imagined the house without it. Justin had visions of artwork hanging on the walls, their very own art gallery right in the house. Not that there wasn't enough room in the reception hall but there was something so right about this space. It reminded him of being in the National Gallery in London.
At last they were coming around to the tower again. They paused and peeked through the grill-covered interior window at the gently curving staircase. Unable to wait any longer, the two men rushed past the fountain and around to the entrance to the tower. They walked through the arched opening and into the tower proper, amazed by the light that the three windows let in, turning what could have been a dark space into a beautifully lit one. The stair was comprised of stone with an iron banister that managed to look delicate yet sturdy at the same time. The front edges and undersides of the steps were decorated with tiny multicolored tiles in an Arabesque pattern. The colors recalled the backsplash in the kitchen. Slowly they climbed the stairs, wanting to savor each step, each moment.
About halfway up, Brian and Justin stopped and looked out of the window they'd seen from the outside. The view of the front yard with its manicured lawn and clipped hedges was superb.
Jenn paused at the top of the stairs. "Left or right?"
"You choose, Mom."
"Then I choose the master suite first." She halted though to show them the open space directly adjacent to the tower. "This is the library and out there," she pointed towards an open area opposite them, "is the sitting room." The library had rows of built-in shelves in the walls on either side of a simple French door which led out to the second-floor balcony they'd seen from outside. The two partners went out onto it, a cool winter breeze stirring their hair.
Justin laughed. "I feel like Juliet standing up here."
Quickly, Brian kissed him and said, "I liked Mercutio better."
Smiling, Justin replied, "So did Romeo."
After they returned inside, Jennifer took them into the master suite. "Voila. To your left, a study for Brian," and she opened up the French doors for them to see inside. It was a wide space and not very deep but there was more than enough room for a desk and two chairs and Brian's Le Corbusier chaise lounge. Which made it perfect for him. "To your right," she said as they went back out, "a walk-in closet. The Paradisio model from California Closets." It was roughly the same size as Brian's study. "There's a doorway on this side and one from the bath." They walked inside. "Cherry veneer," exlained Jenn.
"For once, there might be enough room for my clothes," Justin teased. "Notice how the room is equally divided?" he hinted.
"Uh-huh," replied Brian who was already mentally arranging his things. This was his kind of space: long poles on which to hang his suits and dress shirts, shelves for sweaters, casual shirts, tee-shirts, and jeans, drawers for his underwear, and slots for his many pairs of shoes as well as storage space for his suitcases. There was even room to put a bench in the middle of the floor to sit on while he dressed. Heaven.
Justin tugged on his arm. "Come on, let's see the rest."
As they continued into the master suite, Jenn indicated the fireplace on the left side. "It's gas," she said, explaining the absence of a stone chimney on that side of the house. "There's a metal flue, hardly noticeable." There was a door in the adjacent wall nearer to the back of the house that led to the steps they'd seen from the livingroom. "So you can go downstairs to the courtyard without having to go all the way down the tower stairs." Three arched windows alternated with two pairs of French doors in the wall at the back of the house which led to the second-floor loggia. "There's no loggia on the other wing," for which they sighed in relief. They each had visions of Gus walking out onto the loggia in the middle of the night and falling over the edge. As is they'd have to make sure the library door was locked securely at all times.
The windows and doors of the room flooded the space with light which was reflected off the sand-colored ceramic tile floors.
"I'm never going to be able to sleep in on the weekends," Brian groaned.
"Poor baby," Justin said. "We'll put up blinds. And curtains around the bed. Okay?"
The bathroom extended out so that its outside wall actually incorporated the arches of the loggia. They felt like they were in a Roman bath. Obviously a designer had taken great pains to put together the bathroom and it was a great bathroom, with a built-in tub and his and her sinks in a huge vanity, but it wasn't to either of their taste. At least not to Brian's taste. It was too busy, too feminine. He planned on tearing out everything and starting over beginning with replacing the sunken tub with his freestanding Philippe Starck edition two. Right by the window. He could hardly wait. The one thing he did like was how the flooring in the bedroom coordinated with that in the bathroom. The bedroom floor was comprised of light-colored stone tiles laid out in regular rows except for five areas of the room where groups of smaller tiles were arranged in a diamond shape bordered by slender tiles inset with a wavy pattern formed by gold and dark terracotta-colored stones. The colors of the inset stones were picked up again in the bathroom's slate floor.
Going back out into the sitting room area through a door in the bathroom, Brian examined the space. "Maybe we could put up a wall, make this a home gym. I don't think we really need a sitting room."
The first bedroom in the other wing, which would be Gus' room, was large and could hold all of his various and sundry toys and accoutrements. Also, it had a small walk-in closet with shoe cubby holes, a chest of drawers, and clothing shelves as well as poles and places to put linens. This was a bedroom to grow in and, if needed, they could put twin beds in here and use the extra bed for company. Or another child, if they had one. Gus' room shared a bathroom with the guestroom. Shiny blue tile on the floor, white tile wall with a blue and white mosaic border. There was a round corner shower stall with a multihued blue tiled wall and acrylic doors; and even a freestanding tub. They needed to buy some storage units for the room but otherwise it would do. Luckily, it was in good shape and Gus wasn't picky. They passed through the door to the guest room. It was smaller than Gus' but there was space for two full beds and a couple of nightstands, a small table maybe and a couple of chairs. Plus there was a large reach-in closet with a closet system already installed.
Between the rooms, behind the closets and off the hallway, was a laundry area behind a set of sliding doors with enough room for a supply cabinet/folding surface and a full-sized washer and dryer. There was even a pull-out ironing board that Justin most definitely didn't plan on using as he wore wash and wear and Brian sent out most of his clothes to be dry-cleaned. Of course, that might have to change if they bought this place. In any case, he loved the fact that the laundry was on the second floor, which meant he didn't have to lug any laundry baskets down to the basement like in his mom's townhouse and Debbie's place.
Exiting, they took the back stairs down to the first floor and went out of the side door. Walked around to the pergola with its rough-wood poles; vines had grown upon it, crisscrossing the open-work bamboo roof. At the top of the spaces between the columns hung rolled-up canvas coverings which could be lowered to block the light.
"You don’t have to worry about leaving them out here, they're manufactured to withstand the weather," explained Jennifer.
They walked around to the other side of the studio and through the loggia, around to the courtyard to examine it more closely. An arched doorway led from the loggia to the courtyard area. In one corner, stood a fountain which would bubble when spring came; there was a stone barbecue pit in the other. Spreading from their respective positions next to the steps to the second floor and the front wall, two wisteria plants provided coverage for the courtyard, their vines entwined in a rustic arbor. Already Justin could imagine them having intimate dinners out there, paper lanterns hung from the arbor, illuminating the wisteria, their purple blossoms beautiful on spring nights. They went back towards the loggia to check out the rest of the yard.
The pool was gorgeous. Long and slender with variegated blue tiles along the bottom and sides, it reigned the landscape. Brick red terra cotta stones in a hexagonal shape extended from the pergola and loggia down to the edge of the pool forming a wonderful open patio area.
"And it's only five feet deep," Jenn warned, "so no diving."
Justin was abuzz with plans. "We can put chairs and tables out here and have parties… We could have Gus' birthday party out here. And yours." He smiled, envisioning it all. They wandered down to the other end of the yard and stood looking back at the house.
Brian nodded towards a tree on the left of them, having gotten caught up in Justin's excitement. "We could build Gus a tree house up there."
"I never had a tree house," Justin said.
"Think it'd be big enough to…?" hinted Justin.
"We'll make sure of it."
Jennifer walked over interrupting their planning session. "Do you want to see the basement?"
"Do we have to?" asked Brian.
"You probably should," she told them, so dutifully they followed her back to the house, stopping to peek into the window of the garage. Plenty of space in there for the Jeep and Justin's Cherokee plus there were storage cabinets for automotive products, garden tools, snow shovels, sports equipment, and anything else they wanted to put out here. Re-entering the house, they went on a tour of the basement which housed the furnace, the wine cellar, the hot water heater, and workings that had to do with the masonry fireplace and the fountain.
"I never imagined having a wine cellar," Justin said quietly.
"Should have maybe picked up a few more bottles of wine in Europe," said Brian.
Taking them back to the reception hall, Jenn waited for Brian to ask the inevitable.
He glanced around at the hall, at the openings for the other rooms, thinking about the rooms upstairs and the massive furnace downstairs. "It'll cost a fortune just to heat and cool."
"Mom said that the fireplace in the family room helped and we could always close the vents in the rooms we're not using. Or turn the heat down low and snuggle. And in the summer, we can open the windows and doors," Justin suggested, anxious to dispel any negative thoughts about the house. He'd fallen in love with it and couldn't imagine living anywhere else. From the red roofs to the tiled floors, he loved it. Most of all he loved the glass conservatory and its view of the pool and the backyard. I could be happy here, he thought.
Brian watched the expression flitter across his face, read it correctly. Sighed inwardly. "So, how much are they asking for it?"
She paused. "Maybe you should sit down first," but there were no chairs available. The entire house was empty of furniture. Instead she moved closer to him and whispered in his ear.
Justin watched Brian's face. His eyes grew larger than normal. "Dollars?" he asked. Jenn nodded. Brian rubbed his face. "American dollars?" She nodded again and Justin just about screamed.
How much? he wanted to ask. But Brian turned to him with a question of his own.
"So how rich and famous are you going to be?"
"Very," Justin reassured him.
"Good because for what they're asking, we'll be paying for this place until we die and then Gus will take over and if his kids are lucky, they'll finish paying for it in their lifetime." Christ! It's a house! he wanted to yell. Not a small country.
Although it nearly killed him, Justin said quietly, "We could look at some smaller places. That don't cost as much. We don't need all this room. We could do that, couldn't we, Mom?"
"No, we couldn’t," replied Brian. "Because this place is perfect."
"I wish I could help out," Justin told him.
"Don't worry. You'll be paying for it long after I'm dead."
"Don't say that," Justin scolded. He didn't want to even think about Brian dying.
Jenn waited patiently. "What do you think?" she said after a few moments.
"How much negotiating room do we have?"
"A little. The divorce hasn't been pretty and they're anxious to unload the house. But they know what it's worth." She watched him for a reaction. "So?"
"You and I should meet tomorrow to write up an offer."
"And the earnest money deposit…? We should, at least, offer them one percent of the offering price," she suggested, the earnest money being a good faith deposit to convince the sellers that the buyers were serious about purchasing the house.
He scratched the back of his neck. "I'll have it." There went the savings until they sold the loft.
"Brian…" began Justin, sensing that there was some problem.
"It's all right. Really. I love it." He pecked Justin on the cheek. "And I love you."
Trusting that Brian would tell him if there was a problem and assured now that he'd said there wasn't, Justin began making plans again. "We can have the ceremony right here."
"What ceremony?" asked Jenn.
"Oh," said Justin casually, "our commitment ceremony. I forgot to tell you, we're getting married."
"Justin Taylor!" Jennifer hugged him. "You forgot?"
"I was excited about the house."
"This would be the perfect place to hold a wedding," she said, already imagining the hall decorated and the guests seated and waiting for the processional to begin. A wide smile crossed her face.
"Uh-oh," said Brian, "her gerbil's off and running."
"Then she won't notice if I…" started Justin and he kissed Brian for a long moment. When they parted, he said, "I wish we had a bed."
"We do," Brian reminded him. "At home. Although it won't be home for much longer."
"You okay with that?"
He shrugged. "We knew we'd have to move eventually."
"You didn't answer my question."
"Yeah, I'm okay with it. Now I just have to sell the loft so we can afford this place."
Jennifer came out of her daydream. "I've already got a couple of perspective buyers."
" It's not even on the market yet."
"Neither is this place. I've been quietly letting people know about it. Trust me, you won't have any trouble selling it."
"And getting a decent price for it?"
"Very decent. I'll make a couple of calls tomorrow, arrange some showings." She bounced a little. "I'm so excited for you two."
"You're excited about your commission," Brian said wryly but he smiled and Jennifer risked a tiny kiss on his cheek.
"Welcome to the family." She gasped. "Oh, wait until I tell your grandmother, Justin. She won't believe it," she said, heading for the front door.
Brian and Justin followed holding hands. They took a last long look at the reception hall and smiled.
"It's like being in Italy again," said Justin. "It really is the perfect house for us, isn't it?"
"It is." Waiting for Justin to go out, Brian pulled the door closed and
Jennifer locked it again. Soon they'd have keys to the house, to their new
house. Their new home.
Brian could tell by the way Justin was driving that his mind wasn't on the task at hand but was probably busily decorating their new house in his head. For his part, he was working out the finances. The bank had already pre-approved his loan on the basis of his credit history and his percentage ownership in the company so getting the money up front wasn't a problem. The problem was paying the mortgage each month and actually having money to live on afterwards. They could do it easily, if they cut back on extraneous expenses. Namely, expensive clothes, expensive dinners, and expensive trips. At least until a few more big bonuses rolled their way. They'd been looking forward to returning to Europe this summer. That was out now. They'd be spending the summer at home. Which might not be so bad. Gus could spend some time with them, maybe stay a couple of weeks and he could take off from work and putter around the house.
He grimaced and looked quickly out of the window so Justin wouldn’t notice. Putter around the house? Jesus, he was turning into a responsible adult. How'd that happen? How'd he end up being a father and a husband? His words to Mikey came back to him, "Guess I didn't run fast enough. He caught me." And so did Mikey's to him, "You let him. I know how much you love him." Brian glanced over at the teen—soon to be twenty and not a teen anymore—and smiled. He did love him.
Justin turned and smiled when he noticed Brian was looking at him. "What?"
He shook his head. "Nothing. Just thinking about moving."
They fell silent and didn't discuss the house or the move anymore until they'd gotten home and were trying to rummage up something to eat.
Brian sat at the bar waiting to chop or peel or do whatever Justin needed as he prepared lunch. "Unfortunately, we won't be in the new house by your birthday."
"I don't think I want a party this year. Be nice to celebrate in private, just the two of us."
"Be twenty years old. Big deal. You sure?"
"We can curl up in bed… Have some cake, like on my eighteenth birthday," Justin suggested.
That decided, Justin turned to another subject. "I guess we can keep this furniture after all. It'll look okay in the new place."
"Nope. We're selling it with the loft."
Justin looked surprised. "Really?"
"Really. Except for the chaise lounge and my painting. Those can go in the study. But the rest of this stuff, it doesn't really fit," he decided, despite what Justin had said. "So," he announced, envisioning the money it'd take, "we need to get new furniture."
Justin grinned. "Bed first."
"Why don't you and Joanie take care of that."
"What about you?"
"I trust your taste."
"But I thought we could do it together."
Refraining from sighing, Brian counted to ten inwardly and tried to keep his voice even as he replied, "I have to work."
"We can go looking after work."
"Your mom and I can come up with some options and then you and I can decide what we want. Okay?"
He agreed. "Okay." Then thought, "I'll get Cynthia to help too. And we might need to work with a decorator."
"We've got your mom."
"Yeah, but she doesn't have a license. Some showrooms and manufacturers only deal with the trade. Which means you gotta have a license."
"Then we won't get any stuff from them."
"I want my Philippe Starck tub." It was the only thing he'd been adamant about.
"We'll find a dealer who'll work with regular people and you'll get your tub. And, if you're good, you'll get a toilet too. Maybe even a bidet."
"What the fuck is up with bidets?"
"I really don't want to think about anal cleanliness while I'm cooking."
Brian laughed and waited for Justin to hand him the red peppers after he'd roasted them.
"I can't believe we're moving."
"If they accept our offer."
"We're meeting their price, aren't we?"
"Yep. But they may decide they don’t want to sell to fags." He turned to chopping the peppers.
"I don't think my mom would have dealt with them if they had a problem. And I'm sure she told them about us."
"Maybe." Despite his experiences with Hobbs, Justin remained cautiously optimistic about the world and it's reaction to them. Brian had no illusions. He'd had his eyes opened way too many times.
Later, over lunch, Justin brought up the wedding. "We have to start thinking about decorations and what our colors are going to be and—"
"Can't you and Joanie deal with that too?"
"Joanie and I aren't getting married. You and I are."
Hearing the warning in his voice, Brian decided he'd diffuse that fight before it got started. "Which is a good thing cause I think Joanie might be too much for you."
Not falling for it at all, Justin nevertheless replied, "Ha ha. I mean it, I want you to help. That means you, not Cynthia."
Rolling his eyes, Brian said, "Fine."
"We need a theme."
"We need to talk to Joanie. She's got the wedding books." From when she decorated the loft for her portfolio pictures.
Justin finished his pasta. "We can go online. Look at the wedding sites." Drank the last of his wine. "Today."
Looking wistfully at his empty plate, Brian drained his glass as well. "Yippee."
The dishwasher cycle started, Justin sat at Brian's computer with the ad exec next to him and went to Google. Typed in "commitment ceremonies" and got some hits. Brian's eyes and mind wandered as Justin clicked through to a few sites and bookmarked some in a folder he named "Commitment Ceremony".
"What about invitations?"
Coming out of his self-induced trance, Brian asked, "What about them?"
"Should we send out invitations?"
"How else would they know when and where to show up?"
Elbowing Brian, Justin said, "We could just call them. Or have Cynthia call them."
"I’m not a traditional kind of guy," Brian admitted, "but even I think you should send out invitations."
"Fine. What kind?"
"What kind? They've got all these different kinds," Justin pointed out, moving the cursor over the different designs. "What kind do we want?"
Despite himself, Brian asked, "Shouldn't it go with our theme?"
"We don't have a theme," said Justin.
"Then maybe we should get one first and then work from there," Brian suggested quite reasonably.
"Okay," challenged Justin, "what?"
Brian fell silent.
"What would you like our theme to be?" asked Justin.
"I guess that depends on when we have it. Pull up the calendar." Justin did and went forward to February. They both stared at it. Finally, Brian said, "Not on Valentine's Day."
"People have to work."
Admitting that was true, Justin asked, "What about the fifteenth? In the early evening?"
Brian calculated the time. "If we move into the house the first weekend in February, we just might be ready for guests by the fifteenth." Thought about it. "Okay, the fifteenth it is."
"February fifteenth," Justin said contently. "So what goes with that?"
"I'm not too fond of bright red decorations," Brian told him. "Especially big, red hearts."
"Well, it's still the winter so we could do something with winter. Let's see what the wedding sites say." So he did a search for winter weddings and pulled up some sites. Scanned the pages. His eyes lit up. "What about a Winter Wonderland? We could have fake snow and snowflakes and icicles and stuff. Lighted trees. Hey!" He grabbed Brian's arm. "We could string lights from the rafters to look like the night sky. Just like you did in the loft that time. It'll be so beautiful." Opened a Word document and started jotting things down. "Candles, snowflakes, fake snow, icicles, lights in trees…"
Slipping away Brian left him at the computer writing things down and picked up a pad of paper and started making notes about selling the loft and moving. If Justin needed him, he'd call.
"What do you think about silver and dark blue?"
"As what?" he asked although he knew.
"Our wedding colors."
"As long as it's dark blue and not baby blue."
Justin turned back to his document and began making more notations and Brian was left alone to make notes again. For a while.
Without looking around, he answered, "Hmm?"
"What's our budget for the wedding?"
"We don’t have one. Just don't go crazy. You know we're paying a lot for the house."
"No," said Justin softly, "I don't know. You never said." When Brian looked around, he glanced away.
Coming back to him, Brian sat next to him again. "I'm sorry, Baby. I just—I guess I wasn't thinking."
"So how much is it?"
"A little over three quarters of a million." He'd gotten used to saying it to himself so he had no trouble saying it now despite his initial reaction.
"Dollars?" Justin asked in a choked voice much as Brian had when Jennifer had told him.
"Brian… that's too much." Justin couldn't even conceive of paying that much for a house.
"Not for that house and the property. It's a great investment."
"But seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars?"
"Eight hundred and fifty thousand, actually."
Justin turned from the computer. "We don't need to have a fancy wedding then. We'll just have some people over, have some food, and call it a night."
"No, we're not," said Brian. "We're having a fabulous wedding. And no one's ever going to forget it. Especially us." He gripped Justin's forearm. "Fuck, we're gonna be paying for that house forever so we might as well do what we want. Who knows? Maybe you'll become famous right away and sell a painting for a million dollars and we can pay it off before we're senior citizens."
Still worried, Justin asked, "Can we afford to decorate it?"
"Can't live in it without furniture."
"We can find inexpensive stuff."
"Cheap furniture? In that house? It'd be like decorating Buckingham Palace with plastic crap from the Big Q. We'll take it slow. Only do the rooms we have to right now."
"The master suite, Gus' room and bathroom, the family room and kitchen, and your study."
"And your studio."
"I don't need anything but a drawing table and a stool."
"See?" asked Brian. "We can work it out. So, what kind of invitations are we going to send out?"
Knowing what Brian was trying to do and wanting to please him, Justin said, "I want something with snowflakes."
"Think we'll find anything?"
"I haven't seen any."
"Tell you what. Why don't you whip up something on the computer and we'll get them custom printed."
Justin's mouth opened and he sat there in a daze for a moment. "That's it," he said finally.
"There are some people doing tables and one of a kind chairs and stuff and they'd love to sell it, get some exposure, and we'd have some cool furniture."
Thinking that would work when it came to occasional tables and chairs, Brian agreed. "Sounds like a plan." You never knew how empty a house could look until you only had the bare necessities in it and then you'd find all this bare space that needed to be filled. He'd gone through that with the loft and had fought the urge to buy extraneous stuff to fill it. He had a feeling they'd succumb to that urge with the house.
Justin slipped over onto Brian's lap and wrapped his arms around his neck and pecked him on the lips. "Thanks."
"For the house and the ceremony and everything."
"We're doing this together. You don't have to thank me for anything. Thank your mom, she found the house."
"Brian, no one would give me a loan to buy a million dollar home."
"You wouldn’t need one if it weren't for me. Without me, you'd be just another struggling art student content to live with his mommy." He grinned and Justin nudged him with his forehead. "Besides, the firm will look good when we entertain guests there." He smiled thinking about the magnificent reception hall with its weathered wooden beams in the ceiling, the beautiful tiled floor, the set of French doors leading to Justin's studio.
Giving Brian another peck on the lips, Justin settled in for a longer kiss and when he parted from his lover, his eyes were glittering. Saying nothing, he stood and pulled off his sweater to reveal a chest that still seemed boyish despite his upcoming twentieth birthday. His nipple ring flashed in the sunlight.
Lips parted, Brian asked, "Are you propositioning me?"
Justin sat straddling Brian's lap and embraced him again as they kissed, his hands eventually finding their way from his shoulders to his neck to his hair until Justin was gripping the back of his head and holding him close as he gnawed on Brian's lips. God, he loved Brian's lips, so perfectly shaped… and the way they'd swell when he was aroused, Justin couldn't get enough. He gently bit down on the bottom lip and heard Brian cry out, felt his cock throb in response. He wanted to come out of the rest of his clothes but he didn't want to stop this, to stop kissing Brian.
As if Brian were privy to his thoughts, the man unzipped the teenager's jeans and eased them open, slid his hands down inside the back of his briefs and cupped his ass. Justin rose, still fixed on Brian's mouth, and let Brian work the jeans down around his legs. When they'd fallen to his ankles, he stepped out of them and resumed his position on Brian's lap, his cock stiffening inside his cotton briefs. Half-standing, he rubbed himself against his lover's covered belly. Brian slipped his hands back inside Justin's Calvin Klein's and stroked his ass as his little boy worked his erection against him.
Finally, Brian pulled them down in front, releasing Justin's cock. The thick head looked hungry. Brian rubbed his thumb over the tip as Justin thrust his tongue into his mouth. His fingers moved down the shaft and gently rolled the teen's balls but Justin grunted, complaining, and he had to use both hands, one to play with his balls and the other to give his cockhead the required attention.
It felt good, what Brian was doing to his cock but he wanted to be sucked. Breaking their kiss, he stood and reached for the desk behind him, held onto it and presented his cock to be serviced.
After taking off his own sweater and then pulling Justin's underwear all the way down, Brian took a moment to gaze at his little boy in all his hard glory. Moving closer, he licked the underside of his cockhead. Just a quick lick. And again. This time a little slower. And again. Even more slowly until finally he was barely moving his tongue. Justin took in a deep breath and exhaled as Brian made a leisurely circuit of the underside of his cockhead, fighting the urge to thrust.
Brian withdrew his tongue and kissed Justin's cock on the tip. Then made his way all around the bulbous head until he'd left his lip print on every inch and Justin was seeping. Taking hold of Justin's balls, Brian guided him into his mouth. Slowly, as he wanted to taste his juice, his honey, dripping from his honey bear, his Pooh. He took him all the way in and then backed off again so that the head lay on his tongue. Closed his lips about just the head and sucked him. Clear honey oozed out and he lapped it up. He wanted more.
Sighing as Brian decided to suck him in earnest, Justin relaxed and enjoyed the blow job Brian gave him. No one sucked dick like Brian. No one fucked like Brian. All of those encounters hadn't been for nothing. He was the best, even if Justin hadn't been with very many people outside of Brian. He knew instinctively that Brian couldn't be beat. Not when it came to pleasing a man. He hissed and reached for Brian's head as it got good, as he felt himself tumbling towards orgasm. Taking a deep breath, he tried to calm down and make it last.
He knew how hard Justin was fighting not to come and it made him feel proud that he did that to Justin, that he knew how to drive his little boy wild, that he could make him scream and lose control. Brian wanted to fuck him but he wanted to give his cock a good working over first. If he could keep his own cock from asserting its demands. Feeling constricted, he rose up enough to slide his jeans down, still sucking Justin's dick, not wanting to release the teen's thick meat. His cock felt much better now that it was free to stretch as it wanted. It bounced between his thighs and reached for his belly. He took it in hand and gave it a few strokes. Sighed around Justin's shaft.
"Brian," whispered Justin, stomach fluttering. "Oh…" He was so hard, so ready to come and Brian wouldn't let him, wouldn't take him that extra step. The man kept his fingers pressed firmly against the base of his cock, not allowing his balls to empty their load while he sucked him hard.
Letting Justin's dick slip from his lips, shiny with spit and precum, Brian ran his mouth along the shaft, then began licking the teen's balls. Taking them into his mouth and sucking them, Justin's dick rubbing against his face as he feasted on his sac.
Easing Brian off his balls, Justin turned and bent over, his ass positioned in front of Brian's face. Invitation accepted, Brian parted the teen's cheeks and lapped his hole. The edges drew in, then relaxed with each motion of his tongue. He kissed Justin's cheeks, making his way towards his anus where he pressed over and over with the tip of his tongue until Justin opened up for him, moaning. Brian pushed his tongue inside and began moving his head back and forth, fucking his little boy, saliva running down his chin and down over Justin's balls. Pulling out, he nipped the edges of his hole and heard Justin cry out. Licked and kissed and gnawed on his asshole until those same edges were pink and puffy. Placing his fingers on either side of his anus, Brian pressed down until his hole popped open and he tongued him again.
Justin's dick felt like it was going to explode. If Brian didn't fuck him soon, he was gonna come. He wanted to come so badly his cock ached. But if Brian did mount him, he didn't know if he'd be able to keep from coming, he was so close. Squeezing his eyes shut, he murmured, "Brian."
Leaving off his tonguing, Brian kissed Justin's ass and asked, "Close?"
"You wanna wait?"
So Brian sat back in the chair and waited. When he could breathe once more, Justin turned and straddled his lap as before. "Ready?"
Justin nodded and fixed his mouth on Brian's, kissing him deeply. He could feel Brian's cock sliding between his thighs and beneath his balls, the man's hands on his ass, feeling him up. Then one hand left his cheek and he half-rose, knowing that Brian was getting in position. He lowered himself onto Brian's cock and grunted, groaning at the end of the descent, his lover filling him completely. Tightening around Brian, he buried his face in his neck, fingers trailing over his throat to feel Brian's Adam Apple bob as he swallowed.
"Fuck me," he whispered and kissed his way up Brian's throat to his lips. "Fuck me," he breathed into his mouth and began rising up and falling down upon Brian's cock, the muscles in his thighs and legs hard as he supported himself on the balls of his feet. "Unh, unh… Oh!" he gasped as he rode Brian's erection. "Brian, Brian, Brian…" he muttered, the feelings so intense, so overwhelming that he couldn't think of anything else.
"I love you, Baby," Brian told him, knowing that's all he wanted to hear, all he needed to know, as they fucked. "I love… you."
"Oh! Oh!" Justin tightened his grip on Brian's shoulders and back and jerked against him. Brian's stomach muscles rubbed all along the length of his cock. He shook all over. "I—I—"
"Come on," Brian whispered. "Come on, Baby. Shoot. Come on," he coaxed and Justin cried out and thrust hard against his belly and came. "That's it, that's it, Baby. That's it," said Brian, holding Justin tight while the teen ejaculated. He gasped and shot his load too, shot it up Justin's hole. "Oh, Baby…" he sighed. "Oh…" Deep breath. "Mmmm…"
Trembling, Justin collapsed against Brian and shut his eyes.
"Thanks," said Jennifer as she accepted a cup of coffee from Cynthia. She and Brian had decided to meet at his office as he had a meeting immediately after theirs. Taking a cautious sip, she savored the intense flavor for a moment, then asked, "Still interested?"
"Justin loves that house."
"And you?" She'd learned not to accept the things he said but to ferret out the meaning behind the things he didn't say.
"I love it too but I have to pay for it, at least until he graduates and starts working so…"
"We need to negotiate."
She'd been afraid he would say that. "Risky. It's a great house in a great neighborhood and it's not an unreasonable asking price."
"No. But it's got low ceilings when everywhere you look architects are designing houses with twenty foot cathedral ceilings in every room. And it's a three bedroom house with two and a half baths. Most houses in that price range have four, five bedrooms and three and a half baths."
"But the rooms are large."
"Plus, it's got an unfinished basement." Not that he really cared. "No game room, no bathroom. Everybody wants those things now. Face it, they've got a limited market. So, we offer them seven hundred and fifty thousand."
"They won't accept it. They'd barely be making back their investment." Jennifer didn't know that for sure but she could guess that they'd put in a lot of extras after the place had been constructed.
"Then we look elsewhere and they deal with one another that much longer."
"We have to decorate and pay for the upkeep of that monster." Still, even though he'd thought about it long and hard, he paused. Then said, "Seven hundred and fifty thousand and not a penny more."
Jennifer sighed. "All right. Do you want to be there when I make the offer?"
"How soon can you set it up?"
"Let me know when and where."
She blinked as if she just remembered something. "Oh. I need a key to the loft and the code to the building."
"Got any nibbles yet?"
"Two. Very interested. I want to show it tomorrow afternoon if I can to one of the parties."
"I'll have a key made today, and give it to you at the meeting."
Tomorrow. The offer letter. Back to the matter at hand. "I'll draft the letter but I need some specifics from you."
As Jenn got out her folder and prepared to receive his information,
Brian hoped that he hadn't made a mistake. He didn't know what he'd do if
they rejected his offer. More importantly, he didn't know how he'd be able
to face Justin with the news.
His mind on the house and not on waiting tables, Justin managed to mix up three orders so horribly that even the customers were confused as to what they had originally ordered, to step on Deb's toe twice as they passed one another, and to break a couple of dishes. Dishes and orders aside, it was only when he stepped on Deb's toe for the third time that she yelled at him.
"Tell that to my throbbing, fucking toe." She perched on a stool and took a breather, hoping her toe didn't turn purple. "So what's up?"
"Nothing." Brian had sworn him to secrecy about the house. Not until we're sure, he'd told him.
"Nothing, my big, fat ass. Spill."
"Ah… Brian. What's he up to now?"
"Nothing," she said and stood up again. "Well, when it becomes something, you let me know."
About to explode, Justin blurted out, "We found a house." He bit down on his lip. Brian was going to kill him.
"You putting in an offer?"
"Soon. Brian's meeting with my mom. Please, don't tell him I told you. He didn't want to say anything until he signed the papers."
"My lips are sealed."
Famous last words. When Brian came in for lunch, Deb hugged him. "I'm so happy for you, kiddo."
"For having lunch?" Then he glanced at Justin and raised a brow. "Loose lips…"
Justin shrugged. "Sorry."
"I'll make you pay later." They kissed. "Your mom's drafting the letter. We're meeting with the sellers tomorrow. You want to come?"
"You think I should?"
Not wanting to hurt Justin's feelings, Brian replied, "Probably not. But it's up to you."
"It's not like my name's going to be on the title and you're taking out the mortgage so I don't really have to be involved."
Pulling the teen into a booth next to him, Brian said, "You are involved. This is our house, no matter whose name is on the title or the loan. Same way the loft is ours." He kissed Justin again. "So… what's good today?"
Incredulous, Justin asked, "Here?"
Kissing Brian once more, Justin went to put in his order and hoped that
nothing went wrong with Brian's meeting tomorrow.
Even lying in bed that night, after having 'paid' for spilling the beans about the house, he could barely concentrate on anything else but the meeting he wouldn't be attending. Finally closing his eyes in an effort to sleep, he prayed that everything went smoothly.
Turning over away from the teen as he was accustomed to do, Brian thought about calling Jenn and having her up their offer, just in case. But seven hundred and fifty thousand was a fair price for that house, despite the beautiful architecture and landscaped grounds and all the extras like the French doors and Palladian windows and terra cotta floors…
Fuck, he cursed himself. He couldn't call her now, Justin would know something was up, would know that Brian was having doubts about paying the asking price for the house despite what he'd said the day before. It was too late. He'd just have to go into that meeting and pray that the divorcing couple was ready to accept any reasonable offer just to end their association with one another.
But he couldn't do it, couldn't trust their future to the whims of strangers. Getting up, he palmed his cell phone from the bedside table and went into the bathroom. Glancing at Justin, he assured himself that the teen hadn't noticed anything, especially since he was turned the other way. He closed the sliding door, something he rarely did but he did close it on occasion, almost randomly. He waited, then when he didn't hear Justin stir, called Jennifer. She answered sleepily. Well, it was after eleven. "Jenn, Brian."
"Brian? Something wrong?"
"Eight hundred thousand." He said it before he could change his mind.
She instantly perked. "You want to up your offer?"
"I'll redo the letter tomorrow before our meeting."
"Thanks." Added, "Sorry about waking you up."
"No problem. See you tomorrow. Night."
"Night." He closed the phone and peed for good measure and flushed and returned to bed. Slipped in next to Justin and replaced his phone. Luckily, Justin hadn't stirred. Now he could sleep.
Justin frowned and wondered why Brian had closed the door when he'd
gone to the bathroom. He'd heard it slide close and open too. Mentally he
shrugged. Their new bathroom didn't have a door, just an arched doorway.
He smiled in the dark. Their new bathroom. In their new house. Only, it
wasn't theirs yet. Yet. His smile grew wider.
Jennifer was pleased to see that Brian had worn one of his more conservative suits, dark grey, white shirt, and a beautiful blue tie. He looked young yet successful. His outfit said, I have style and money. She could tell that the Baumanns were already impressed. Their agent, however, was not. He looked as if he'd tasted something slightly disagreeable. And if she noticed the expression, there was no way Brian would miss it. How would he respond? She had no idea. Despite having known him for a couple of years, he remained something of a mystery to her, due mostly to his unpredictable behavior. Yet, Justin would say that his unpredictability was predictable. Still it didn't help her at this moment. She needed him to remain calm and to keep his infamous temper reined in. Risking a glance at his face, she felt jittery inside. He'd seen. And he wasn't pleased but he didn't seem to be on the verge of a major meltdown. In fact, he seemed rather blasé about the entire matter. And that worried her. She had no idea what he'd do.
Closet queen Brian declared to himself. Hence the hostility. Well, Brian said to the man with his eyes, that's your problem, not mine, and he dismissed him without a further thought. He'd met men like that before, who'd disliked him because they resented him and felt inferior. Not once had he let it stop him and he didn't plan on letting it stop him now. Justin wanted that house and he'd have it. They'd both have it. No matter what.
Since it appeared that the Baumanns' agent was not going to speak first, Jennifer made introduced herself and Brian. "Mr. and Mrs. Baumann, I'm Jennifer Taylor and this is my client, Brian Kinney."
Mr. Baumann nodded and Mrs. Baumann smiled shyly and extended her hand. "Mr. Kinney."
"Mrs. Baumann." Brian took it and smiled in return whereupon Mrs. Baumann's fingers lingered just a tad long on his before letting go. Justin would have accused him of flirting but who did it hurt? He had no intention of making a serious pass at a forty-five year-old woman. He was just being himself.
Noticing that he'd been left out of the conversation thus far, the Baumanns' agent spoke up at last. "And I'm Mr. Withers." He glanced at Brian surreptitiously before continuing. "I believe you're here to tender an offer, Ms. Taylor?"
Brian smiled inwardly. Withers was already losing ground.
First handing copies of the offer letter to each of the Baumanns, she gave one to Withers as well. As a formality, she also handed one over to Brian. And then she held her breath and waited.
Withers was the first to speak this time. "You do understand that the asking price is eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars, Ms. Taylor?"
"Yes, my client understands that quite well, Mr. Withers."
"This offer is for eight hundred thousand dollars."
Catching Mrs. Baumann's eye, Brian said nothing but he could tell that she was ready to accept the offer. The tension between her and her soon-to-be ex-husband was palpable. But the husband might be a problem and definitely the asshole agent would be as well.
Mr. Baumann spoke up. "Was there something wrong with the house?"
Speaking for Brian, Jennifer said, "My client feels that the limited number of bedrooms and bathrooms might be a problem and because of the unique architecture of the building, extensive renovations would be undesirable."
"Do you have children, Mr. Kinney?" asked Mrs. Baumann.
"Then what's the problem?" her husband asked.
"We may have more children. And we'd like to keep one room as a guest room."
Looking rather smug, Withers asked, "We?"
"My partner and I," replied Brian. So Jennifer hadn't explained the situation. So be it.
"Then you're…" began Mrs. Baumann.
"Gay," Brian answered.
"Why isn't he here?" inquired Baumann.
"He's at work." Should he explain? Something told him not to. Not unless he absolutely had to.
"But his name will be on the title as well?" Withers asked.
"No." Brian glanced down at the offer. "I think it's pretty well explained in the letter. I'm the sole purchaser."
Not willing to let go, Withers continued with his line of questioning. "And what does your partner do?"
Not pausing an instant, Brian replied, "He's an artist." Which was true. So what if he was also a college student?
Fascinated, Mrs. Baumann asked, "And you and your partner adopted a child?"
"Gus is my biological son. His mother is a friend of mine. He lives with her full-time but we're hoping to share custody eventually."
Jennifer really hoped this was the end of the questions about Justin. God forbid if they asked Brian how he knew her. Her nineteen-year-old son is my partner. That would go over real well with Mr. Withers. There was something odd about him. Something she couldn't put her finger on.
Putting the issue of Justin aside, Withers turned to the offer letter once more. "Speaking for my clients, I would have to say that the asking price is more than fair considering the amount of money and work that they've put into the house. I'm sure if it were to go out on the open market, their asking price would be met without a problem."
"How soon would you be able to close on the house if we accepted your offer?" asked Mr. Baumann, ruffling Withers' feathers a bit. With the sale of the house, his ties to Carol would be cut and he'd be free to move on. They'd only paid four hundred thousand for the house in the first place. Despite the work that they'd had done to it, they'd be reaping a substantial profit from the sale.
"I'm in the process of selling my loft. I was planning to use money from the sale as a ten percent down payment but I already have pre-approval for a loan from my bank and if I have to, I can use other resources to finance a down payment. It'd take me a few days to liquidate some other assets but that wouldn't be a problem. As it states in the letter, we're willing to close by the twenty-seventh, as long as the house passes all of its inspections."
"And you're offering eight thousand today as a deposit?" asked Baumann consulting the letter.
"Yes." It would take a huge chunk out of his savings but it would be worth it if they accepted his offer.
Sensing that his commission was about to be smaller than he'd previously thought, Withers spoke up again. "Mr. Baumann, I would remind you that on the open market, we'd have no trouble—"
"What do you think, Carol?" Baumann asked his wife.
"I think eight hundred thousand is a fair price." She smiled at Brian.
"What's fifty thousand dollars between friends?"
As soon as they left the real estate agent's office, Brian picked Jennifer up and kissed her soundly on the cheek. "Yes!" Put her down and laughed. "I have never been so happy to be so broke in my life." He smiled. "I can't wait to tell Justin." They walked to the Jeep and got in.
"Well, you won't be broke for long," she told him. "I'm showing the loft this afternoon and tomorrow morning. I know it's immaculate so I won't bother to ask you if it looks presentable." Brian was a stickler for keeping the loft neat as a pin.
"I had the maid come over this morning to make sure everything was in its place. Just don't open any chests," he warned, a grin on his face, and pulled away from the curb.
Jennifer blushed. She'd heard plenty about their toys and had no desire to see where they kept them. She still couldn't believe Brian had taken some on their trip to Europe and that Customs had discovered them during their search. He was incorrigible.
Flipping open his phone, he called Justin at work, keeping part of his attention on the road. "Hey, Baby. Guess what? We're moving." Laughed at Justin's response and nodded his head. "Yeah. She was great." Thought about Justin's question. "Around six. I've got a late meeting, I don't know how long it'll run. Okay. You too. Later."
Although she was pleased that Brian had thought she'd done a great job during their meeting with the Baumanns, she had to admit that he was the one who cinched the deal. "You were right to negotiate."
"I'm glad we upped the price though. I think Mr. Baumann might have gone the other way if we'd only come with seven hundred and fifty."
She smiled. "As Mrs. Baumann says, what's fifty thousand dollars between friends?"
"I think if we had come to the table with seven hundred and fifty thousand, I would have had to have gotten a lot closer to and a lot friendlier with Mrs. Baumann." He glanced at Jenn, "And no offense, but I'm really not into straight women of a certain age."
Jenn laughed. "You like them younger?"
And he laughed as well. She was learning how to take him.
For the rest of the day, it was pretty damn impossible for him to stop smiling even though they had weeks ahead of inspections and meetings and paperwork out the wazoo. They had gotten their house. Just thinking about them lying naked out by the pool or sitting in the courtyard beneath the wisteria made him feel a little lightheaded.
"So when am I going to see this fabulous house?" asked Cynthia.
"When you help us move in," Brian joked.
"Boss, this body and manual labor. You do the math." And she turned on her heel to escape before he came up with any other threats.
"Hey." He nearly cracked up at the look she gave him, probably imagining all kinds of crappy assignments. "Find a dealer who sells Philippe Starck bathtubs."
Breathing easier, she smiled. "Will do, Boss."
Laughing, Brian flipped through his papers to find the one he'd been looking for before he'd lost his train of thought daydreaming.
Who the fuck is going to take care of that gigantic yard and all
those fuckin' trees?
As soon as he'd hung up on Brian, he'd begun to count the minutes until he was off. Luckily, he only worked the morning shift today so when twelve rolled around, he jumped into the Cherokee and went to see Joanie. But first he had to endure about thirty kisses from Deb so that he looked sunburned when he left he had so many red splotches on his face.
He was still rubbing the lip prints away when he pulled into Joanie's yard. The car was parked in front of the garage so technically she was home but she sometimes walked to a neighbor's or to the store and didn't bother with the car. Hopping out, he ran to the door and knocked. Soon her head peeked from behind the curtain and she smiled and opened the front door. "Justin."
"We got it!" he announced.
He'd forgotten. Brian hadn't told anyone. "A house."
Waving him in, she said, "I didn't know you were that close to getting one."
"No one did," he explained. "Brian wanted to keep it quiet until his offer was accepted. They accepted it today and we're supposed to close on it at the end of the month."
"No thanks." He'd drank about a pot this morning since he'd had to be at the diner at five to get ready for the breakfast crowd.
"Well," she said, sitting across from him, "this is exciting."
"We have to decorate it from top to bottom."
"What about your furniture?"
"We're selling it with the loft. Most of it anyway. So we have to buy all new stuff. And the house is huge." He grinned and bit his lip. "It's so amazing. I can't wait until you see it. And…" he added, "we also have to plan for our wedding."
Joanie started. "Did you say wedding?"
He'd forgotten again that Brian hadn't mentioned that either to anyone but Jennifer. "We're getting married. Next month. So there's some time to plan for it. Not a lot but—"
"Not a lot? A month." She laid a hand aside her cheek. "Well, we can do it."
Until that moment, Justin hadn't thought about how Joanie would react, not to the idea of having so little time to plan a wedding but to the idea of her son marrying another man. "Is it okay with you? That we're getting married?"
"You already are. This is just the ceremony," she replied, smiling, thinking back to the two of them standing in front of the flowered arch in their apartment, how the thought had come to her then that they were married. "Next month. Please tell me it's late in the month."
"Justin! And we have to decorate the house too?" She chuckled although her head spun with the enormity of their undertaking.
"Just a few rooms at first. Our suite, Gus' room and his bath, the guest room, and the family room. But the only area that really has to be done by the wedding is our suite and the downstairs bathroom. We're going to rent tables and chairs for the ceremony and the reception and just put them in the reception hall and the livingroom."
"How many people?"
"We're thinking twenty-five, thirty. No more than thirty."
Standing, Joanie turned on her computer, the one she'd bought right after Christmas with some of the money she'd earned decorating Woody's. "Don't just sit there," she told Justin, "we've got work to do." When he'd joined her, she said, "I suppose my son has left all of this up to us."
"Well," admitted Justin, "he agreed to look at options. So long as we came up with them. And he's doing the bathroom in the master suite. He wants a Philippe Starck tub."
"Pricey," commented Joanie.
"He worships him," Justin explained.
"His money," she said and she accessed her bookmarked sites to begin creating lists from which she and Justin would work. "You have the room measurements yet?"
"No," he replied, "but think huge. We can always take stuff away. And I'm not sure how much money we're going to have to decorate anyway. Especially with the wedding."
Joanie shook her head. "If I know that son of mine, he'll want everything perfect for the wedding. After all, presentation—"
"Is everything," he finished, laughing softly.
By the time Brian had changed and begun helping Justin put out the food, their guests started to arrive.
Lindsay and Melanie made it there first, wanting to know if there was anything they could do. Brian switched off with them since Gus wanted him to play immediately and wouldn't take, "Later," as an answer.
So while he kept Gus entertained in the livingroom, the Munchers ferried bowls and platters from the kitchen to the dining table and made sure there were enough plates and flatware on hand.
"May I ask what the big announcement is?" Mel asked Justin, hoping to pump him for information.
"Nope," he replied smiling. He'd learned his lesson.
Thwarted, Mel grumbled, "He's getting to be a little too much like the Asshole."
"Mel!" scolded Lindsay. "Not so loud. Gus is gonna think that's Brian's name."
"Isn't it?" She called out. "Hey, Gus, what's Daddy's name?"
He looked up from his puzzle and said, "Daddy."
"No, what's Daddy's name?" She pointed to Justin. "Daddy's name is Justin." Pointed to Brian. "What's Daddy's name?"
Gus brightened. "Pookie," and the women and Justin laughed so hard they had to stop what they were doing for a little while. Brian was not amused.
"Say, 'Brian,' Gus."
"Pookie." The baby smiled.
Giving Justin the eye, Brian said, "You know." He didn't even have to make the threat. Justin would understand.
He did and wasn't worried at all. His Pookie would give it up whenever and however he wanted. He waved sweetly and went back to work on dinner.
By the time Mikey and Jeff and Emmett and Ted arrived, the women were about to burst with the effort of keeping their curiosity under control. They didn't think they could wait for Vic and Deb to arrive but, luckily, they came in a few minutes after the guys. Finding a parking place, they explained.
Gus finally got his fill of playing with Brian and went in search of Justin who was carving the roasted chicken he'd picked up for dinner. "Daddy!"
Emmett almost fell off the arm of the chair where he was perched. "Did he just call Justin Daddy?"
"Told you," said Michael.
"What?" asked Justin.
"Okay, we're going to eat soon. Just wait."
"No," pouted Gus.
"He's been grouchy all afternoon," Lindsay explained. "Gus, behave."
Ignoring her, the toddler held out his hand and Justin, feeling sorry for him, slipped him a sliver of chicken. "There."
His prize in hand, Gus went to sit with Vic. "May I have some?" Vic asked but Gus shook his head. Vic laughed as the toddler munched on the piece of thigh meat.
"He's Brian's son, all right," said Deb. "Doesn’t like to share."
"Toys, boys, or secrets," complained Ted. "So what's the big deal? We're all here, so spill."
"In a minute," Brian promised. He got out two bottles of Chianti and made sure everyone had a glass, even Justin who paused in his preparations. Standing next to his partner, Brian kept his word. "Justin and I just made an offer on a house."
"Where?" asked Lindsay but Brian held up a hand to forestall any further questions.
"And," he announced, "we're getting married. Next month." He exchanged smiles with Justin then proposed the following toast, "To us."
"To us," replied Justin and they clicked glasses.
Once the surprise had worn off, their guests raised their glasses as well. Then the questions began.
"Where's the house?
"How many rooms?"
"When are you getting married?"
"When did you decide to get married?"
"When are you moving?"
"Who bought the loft?"
Brian assured them that all questions would be answered in time and then Justin directed them to the table where the food was laid out. Even though the food was delicious, they all kept pestering them between mouthfuls to give them the full story behind the house and the sudden decision to get married.
"Justin isn't pregnant, is he?" joked Emmett.
"Well, it'd have to be him. I can't see Brian carrying a baby to term," said Ted.
"I can barely see him carrying a baby across the street," Jeff added.
"I carried Gus. And changed his diaper and fed him and helped toilet train him too. Didn’t I, Gus?" Brian asked the tot, who was perched on his lap, his favorite place to sit when he was eating. Gus nodded and offered Brian the rest of his roll. Brian lowered his head and ate it out of the baby's hand, snuffling his fingers, which caused Gus to giggle. It tickled.
"So what's the big rush?" asked Michael. He'd been quiet every since Brian's announcement.
"What rush? We've been together almost three years."
"So why have a wedding?"
Brian looked sideways at Michael and replied, "Because we wanted one."
"Hey!" exclaimed Em. "You think they'll cover it in the local fag rag?"
"Hopefully," said Jeff. "Cause they certainly won't in the mainstream papers. They won't even print same-sex announcements."
"They might, since it's Brian and Justin. Big news," Michael told them. "Victim of Gay Bashing Weds His Savior," he said, sketching the headline in the air. "But then they'd have to mention that one of the grooms is nineteen and the other is thirty-one."
"I'll be twenty by then," Justin reminded everyone.
"Twenty and thirty-one. I guess that'll look better."
"Who the fuck cares how it looks?" asked Deb. "They're getting married because they love each other. And I, for one, am ecstatic."
"Here, here," cheered Em. "A toast." They all raised their glasses, even Gus, who had a sippy cup full of juice. "To the happy couple, may all their dreams come true."
"To the happy couple."
After he'd sipped his wine, Justin said, "You should see the house. It looks like a castle. It's a Mediterranean-style villa with a tower."
"A tower?" Lindsay asked.
"Yeah. The stairs to the second floor are inside it. It is so cool," he exclaimed. "And there's a balcony next to it coming out of the library."
"Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?" recited Em.
"At Babylon or Woody's," answered Ted and the guys laughed.
"I don't think so," Vic said. "He's a responsible adult now."
Brian groaned. "Don't say that."
"Pretty soon he'll be driving to PTA meetings and soccer games," laughed Lindsay, just imagining Brian sitting on the sidelines cheering Gus on or at a school bake sale with a platter of not-so-special brownies in his hands.
"Trading in his Jeep for a mini-van," laughed Emmett.
"So you're giving up the partying," said Michael.
"I'll be too busy paying for that fuckin' house," he groused.
"Enough to keep me off the streets and out of trouble. I'll be working late at the office like a good little hubby. And," he added, "Justin doesn't have to worry about me fuckin' my secretary."
They all laughed just imagining Brian and Cynthia doing the nasty. Not that Cynthia wouldn't be up for it. Justin secretly believed that she was a member of the Straight Girls for Brian Kinney Club too. He couldn't wait to call Daphne and tell her about the house and the wedding. He wanted to tell her in private which was why he hadn't invited her to the get-together. And from Michael's reaction, he thought he was right to do so. Michael seemed less than thrilled with their news. Guess he and Brian would have to have another talk alone to straighten things out.
Brian must have been thinking the same thing because as Michael and Jeff were leaving, Brian said to his best friend, "Lunch tomorrow? My office?"
"Make it day after tomorrow?"
"Sure. Later, Mikey."
Closing the door, Brian walked around making sure they hadn't missed any glasses. Justin said nothing, just continued to load the dishwasher. Brian did find a few strands of chicken which he suspected had belonged to Gus. He dumped them and tied the garbage bag to take down. Sighed loudly. Smirking, Justin cut on the dishwasher and then turned his attention to Brian as the man had intended. "Yes?"
"I don't know what's wrong with Mikey."
"Same thing was wrong with you when he and Dr. Dave got together," Justin reminded him.
"Don’t remind me," he said.
"It's good you're having lunch together. Talk it over."
"We're having food, not a heart-to-heart."
"Maybe you should do both."
Taking the garbage in hand, Brian said, "I'll leave that to you and Daphne."
"Asshole." He wiped down the counter, then said just as Brian was about to walk out the door. "I've got some beds I want you to look at when you get back."
Sighing even louder, Brian slowly crossed the threshold and wondered
just how long he could stay away before Justin sent out a search party.
After looking at the fourth wrought iron canopy bed, Brian began to notice a pattern. "So what's with the canopy beds?"
"I've always wanted one."
"A princess in her bower," teased Brian.
"Shut up and tell me what you think."
"Well," he began, "I think the ones I've seen so far are too…"
"Busy," Brian said, surprising the teen. "There's too much going on." He sat back. "I don't know. It's hard to say when I don't know what look you're going for."
"I don't know," shrugged Justin. "Something that'll fit the house. Something vaguely Mediterranean. Or exotic. A lot of the Mediterranean bedrooms your mom and I looked at had white canopies or curtains on the bed."
"Thought you didn't want any white furniture in the house."
"We don't have to go with a white color scheme. We can do something else."
"Like I don't know yet," Justin said exasperated. "We got some books on Mediterranean and Italian style and we're going through them. I was thinking maybe earth tones. They seem to be hot this year. Cinnamon, terra cotta, umber, maybe burnt sienna," he suggested slyly.
Brian smiled softly thinking of his burnt sienna sweater. He loved that sweater and he hardly ever wore it since their trip abroad. Definitely have to rectify that. "Sounds good to me." He sat forward. "All right, show me some more beds." After looking at about twenty beds and saying nothing beyond an occasional grunt, Brian finally spoke. "That one. I like that one." It was made of rattan and had faux crocodile leather on the headboard and foot board; the bedposts were massive with decorative balls on top. Something about the posts reminded Brian of tree trunks.
Justin shook his head. Leave to Brian to like the most expensive one. "It's really expensive. They wouldn't even say how much it was."
"So? I like it. So do you. I say we get it. It looks sturdy enough. Take a lot of bouncing," he grinned.
"You'll be working so hard to pay for the house you won't have any energy to bounce," joked Justin.
"Probably right," Brian agreed.
Justin paused and moved closer to his partner. "Brian? Tell me the truth. This isn't too much, is it? The house and all? Cause we can find another place to live."
"No, we can't. Not after today. They've got eight thousand of my hard-earned dollars so we're stuck with it now."
"Then we can skip the wedding."
"I've already told you, we're having a wedding." He didn’t even know why he was so insistent on it but it had become a non-negotiable point. "We're having a fuckin' fantastic wedding. Got it?"
Justin gave up. "Got it."
Studying the bed again, Brian said, "I say we get this one."
"We have to find a furniture store that carries the brand. They don't sell directly to consumers."
"So do it and find out how long it'll take them to deliver it."
"And we'll be paying for it how?"
"Use the card." He made a mental note to talk to Ted about liquidating
some of his stock. He might not have to, depending on how much he was able
to get for the loft. Still, even with money from the sale and even at
decorating the house a few rooms at a time, it was going to cost a bundle.
He took another look at the bed. They'd need a mattress. And that they
could get in Pitts, no problem.
Having given their orders to the waitress, the two best friends settled down to talk.
"So?" asked Daphne, anxious to find out why Justin had wanted to have lunch, not that they didn't have lunch when they could since she'd be heading back to Princeton soon enough, but he seemed to have something specific he wanted to discuss.
"We found a house," he said with no preamble.
"Justin!" she said, bouncing in her seat. "That is so cool. What's it like?"
"It's kind of like an Italian villa but smaller. And it's got a tower where the stairs are. And balconies and loggia and pergola and a lap pool and this long hallway with kind of like Palladian windows." He stopped cause Daphne was laughing and he laughed with her. "It's incredible, Daphne."
"Sounds fabulous. And expensive."
"It is," he confessed. "Eight hundred thousand dollars."
"Oh. My. God," she whispered, in awe of the figure. "But, it'll be all right cause Brian wouldn't have done it if he thought he couldn't handle it."
"I hope." He wasn't as confident as she was, having seen the worried look that sometimes appeared in Brian's eyes when they discussed the house. Still, Brian kept assuring him that everything was okay. Now, onto the other part of his news. "There's something else."
"What?" she asked, leaning forward.
"Brian and I are getting married next month. I want you to be my best man, woman, whatever." He laughed. "Would you?"
"Oh. My. God, Justin. Married?"
"On the fifteenth."
"And you want me to be your best… whatever?"
He nodded. "Who else? You're my best friend and I want you there."
"Do I have to wear a tux?"
"We'll find you a beautiful dress to wear. But not too beautiful, you can't outshine the grooms."
She grinned. "I could be wearing Vera Wang and it wouldn't matter. All eyes are gonna be on you two." Smiling, she asked, "Did you ever think you'd get married?"
"No," he replied. "I always figured that was for straight people. And even after Brian and I got together, I never thought he'd want to get married. Even after we exchanged rings." He didn't tell her about their big blow up about the ceremony.
"You must be so excited."
"I am. And kinda overwhelmed. I mean, we have to move, decorate the house, and plan for the wedding."
"You need any help?"
"Brian's mom is helping with the decorating and coordinating stuff for the wedding but if you could look for a dress, that'd help a lot."
"Silver. Our colors are going to be silver and blue. It's easier to match silvers than blues so all the women are wearing silver dresses and the men are wearing blue vests. Except for me and Brian. We're wearing silver ones."
"Our theme is a winter wonderland."
Daphne squealed. "Ooo, snow and snowflakes and pretty white lights and stuff."
"There's this huge reception hall area in the middle of the house, that's where we're going to have the ceremony. We're going to stand in front of the French doors leading to the solarium."
"That's where my studio's gonna be. I hope you get to see it before you go back to school."
"Me too." Her eyes took on a dreamy look. "I can't believe you're getting married and you're moving into a fabulous new house. It's kinda like you're doing all the things my parents always wanted me to do."
"You'll move into a fabulous new house someday too. And you could get married but you don't want to."
"Nope." She looked up as their lunches appeared. "But I wouldn't mind having the wedding." As he laughed, she added, "And the presents." Testing her fries and finding them super hot, she waited for them to cool off. "So have you told Xavier yet?"
"Had to tell you first."
"Are you going to tell him?"
"Yeah. I'm hoping he can come and Rennie too and Nana Rose."
"The invitation will say "and guest"." Why did she have to bring Xavier up anyway?
Cocking her head, she watched him for a moment, then asked, "Do you like Trey?"
He frowned. "I've only met him once. But he seemed okay to me."
"How do you think Xavier's going to react? To the news?"
"Why should he care, Daph?" Justin picked at his fries, ignoring his burning fingers and trying to keep from getting angry with her. But she was pushing it.
"Ah, hello? Because he was in love with you."
"Well, he's not anymore."
"Says who? Just because he has a boyfriend?" She shook her head. "Come on, Justin."
"I'm not in love with him anymore."
He wanted to laugh but there was nothing funny about the situation. "How?"
"Because you have Brian."
"And you can't imagine me wanting anyone else?"
"Because you're about to be married, idiot." She rolled her eyes. "Is Xavier?"
"Still doesn't mean he's in love with me. He's had a whole summer and the fall to get over that. And he has. We're just friends now. He's even told you that."
"Well, my middle name isn't gullible so, excuse me, if I'm a little skeptical," she said, deigning to try her fries now. Just right.
"No, it's Maureen," Justin said, knowing how much she hated it.
"Shut up." She nibbled on a fry. "I'm just trying to look out for you."
"I know, Daph, and I'm glad." He took a bite of his hamburger. "So are you bringing Courtney to the wedding?"
"Maybe. If he behaves himself."
"I can't believe you found a guy named Courtney."
She giggled. "His parents were hoping for a girl."
"Least they didn't name him Maureen," said Justin and Daphne threw a
fry at him.
Brian picked up. "Yeah?" Cynthia was on the line telling him Jenn was there to see him. "Send her in." He put aside his work and waited for her to appear. "Well?"
"Well," she said as she sat, "I think we've got a live one. They loved the loft."
Brian groaned. "In the loft?" Sighed. "I was hoping to keep it in the family."
"They're willing to pay two hundred for it."
"Fuck the family. Do they have the money?"
"I’m loving them more and more all the time. When do we meet?"
"Thursday afternoon soon enough?"
She grabbed her purse and stood. "I'll see you then. At my office."
"Will do." Things were falling into place.
Despite Brian's reassurance that he wasn't planning on doing anything embarrassing, Justin felt the tiniest bit of trepidation as they stepped inside the furniture store. That level of trepidation rose incrementally as a very young and good-looking salesman approached them. Totally gay.
"May I help you?"
"We're looking for mattresses. King-sized," Brian told him, barely suppressing a smile. He had promised Justin.
"Do you have a budget that you're working with?" the sales associate asked, as the store mostly carried high-end products. Still, from the outfit that the guy was wearing, he looked as if he could afford their prices.
Not disappointing him, Brian said, "Show us the best that you have…" He leaned forward to read his nametag, "Dennis."
"Very well. This way, sir. We've got Royal-a-Pedic latex—"
Justin interrupted him. "I don't know about the latex. I've got allergies."
Brian concurred. "He's allergic to a lot of stuff. We'd better stick to cotton or something like that."
"Royal also features a line of cotton mattresses. Plus we have Simmons and Sealy."
Gesturing towards the mattresses, Brian said, "Lay on, Macduff."
They'd done as the websites had suggested and worn loose fitting clothes. Getting interesting looks, they proceeded to test each of the beds under consideration until they'd narrowed their choices down to three although both of them were secretly leaning towards the Simmons.
Brian laid down on his back and said to Justin, "Come here."
Giving Brian a panicked look, Justin whispered, "What?"
He motioned to his partner. "Come here." Justin slid closer. "Lay on top of me."
"What?" Justin's voice raised in a crack. "Are you crazy?"
"Do it. I wanna know if this thing is gonna support us both in the same spot."
"No way." They'd already garnered a couple of dirty looks from straight couples and Dennis looked like he was about a motion away from cardiac arrest.
"Do it," he said and he reached for Justin and pulled him over onto him. Justin froze in place, mouth slightly open. "Close your mouth or they'll think we're about to make out," teased Brian. He held Justin in place for a moment, gauging the give of the mattress, and then rolled them over.
"Ah…" began Dennis.
"How does that feel?" Brian asked Justin, lying on top of the teenager.
"It feels good. I can hardly tell the difference."
Rolling off of Justin, Brian suggested they try it on their knees.
"No fucking way," hissed Justin.
"Not one behind the other, perv, on our separate sides. I don't want to cause a riot. Especially since we've given up on threesomes," he grinned, looking around at Dennis who looked like he wanted to join them. He definitely had the beginnings of a boner beneath his trousers.
"Okay, as long as you stay on your side." Justin had visions of Brian sneaking up behind him.
Behaving himself, Brian stayed on his side of the bed and they tested it on their knees. "Feels good," said Brian.
"Yeah," agreed Justin.
"Yeah. Bounce. You know how." Brian turned and sat on his butt and began to bounce up and down on the bed. After a moment, Justin joined him and they both bounced on the mattress, grinning at one another and at the look on Dennis' face as he recognized the quickening rhythm of their movements. "That's it, Baby," cooed Brian and Justin laughed, shaking his head.
They slipped off the bed and put their shoes back on. "So," Brian said to Dennis, "we won't actually need this for a few weeks yet. We're moving at the end of the month. Should we pay for it now and have it delivered then or wait until it's closer to the time of our move?"
Stammering, Dennis replied, "Whichever you'd prefer, sir." His face was flushed pink and he had moved his folder of leaflets in front of his crotch.
Pursing his lips, aware of the man's eyes on them, Brian said, "We'll wait then. Thanks for your help."
"Thanks," echoed Justin. "Bye."
"Good-bye," mouthed Dennis and he checked his watch. Break time.
"How much do you want to bet the minute we left, he ran to the bathroom and beat off?" asked Brian.
"I know he did," Justin said, snickering. "You were so wrong."
"I wasn't up there by myself," Brian reminded him.
"Don't remind me," he said, covering his face. Least the next time they went in there, they'd know exactly what they'd want and there'd be no 'testing' required.
"What's next on the list?"
"Well, we have a bed, that's all." Which meant the list was pretty long of things they needed to get.
"Cynthia found a distributor for the tub; and we can get the matching vanity and toilet and bidet too, whatever the fuck it's for."
"Isn't that why we have toilet paper?" he asked, frowning.
"Don't ask me. I didn't invent either one," Justin said, shrugging his shoulders.
"Yeah, cause if you had, we'd be wealthy."
"You are wealthy," Justin pointed out.
"I mean really, really wealthy. We're just doing well."
The distinction having been made clear to him in the past few days, Justin agreed. "So we'll have a house with only a little furniture at first. All we really need is a bed and a table and some chairs."
"At the rate we're going, that's all we're gonna have for a while," smirked Brian which let Justin know that he was kidding.
Going along with the joke, Justin said, "Maybe we could pick up a few things at Ikea."
"Do you want to walk home?"
Miming zipping his lip, Justin suppressed a giggle. God, Brian was such
a designer label queen. Still, despite his best efforts, he began to laugh
and Brian reached over and pushed him on the shoulder which only made him
That night, around two in the morning, Justin woke in a sweat and sat straight up in bed, momentarily lost. Then he heard Brian snoring softly and remembered where he was but he was still in a panic. Over and over he heard the words, "Eight hundred thousand dollars," until they seemed to be syncopated with his heartbeat. Although they had a ways to go yet the house was, for all practical purposes, theirs. A eight hundred thousand dollar house. With no furniture. And they were getting married in little over a month. In a house with no furniture. He covered his eyes and took a deep breath. What were they thinking?
Brian sounded half-awake and Justin wished he'd drift back off but the man turned and looked at him out of eyes that were growing clearer by the moment. "Just a little restless."
"Maybe it was something you ate," Brian told him as the teen had had a bowl of chili and a plate of fries and it had been enough to give Brian heartburn just looking at him.
At that, Brian sat up as it had become to clear to him that Justin wasn't "Just a little restless." "So what's wrong?" he asked.
"Can't sleep, that's all."
"Hmm," replied Brian, then he flung back the covers and grabbed his robe, tying it only half closed.
"Where are you going?"
"Warm milk. Deb always says it helps."
"How come you never drink it then?" asked Justin as Brian suffered from insomnia a great deal.
"I hate warm milk," he explained as if that were any kind of explanation.
"That's okay," said Justin, hoping to head him off but Brian had already opened one of the panels in the glass partition and stepped through, climbing down from the top of the storage cabinets. Resigning himself to drinking warm milk, Justin waited patiently for Brian to return with a cup. Only he didn't think it'd really help. God, he was tense. As much as he wanted the house, he didn't want Brian to get in a bind. Could they really afford it? He'd known the house wouldn't come cheap but he hadn't really imagined it could cost as much as it did. He didn't know why he'd taken so long to start panicking but he guessed it had to do with shopping for the mattress this evening and finally realizing that they were, in fact, moving at the end of the month and leaving their old home for a new one. And, as excited as he was about their new house, he was scared. He just hoped Brian wouldn't figure it out.
Returning with the milk in hand, Brian delivered it to Justin, dropped off his robe, and crawled back beneath the covers. At the face Justin made, he said, "Drink up. But sip it. It's pretty hot."
"It's supposed to be warm."
"I know but I started to drift off and it overheated."
Not satisfied with Justin's answer to his earlier questions, Brian laid on his side and watched the teen sip the milk. "So, what's up? And don't say nothing. We both know it's something."
"I was thinking about the house," confessed Justin.
"Thinking about decorating it," teased Brian.
"Actually, I was thinking about how much it costs."
"I know it's too late."
"It's never too late. But I'd probably lose most of the earnest money I put up if we pulled out now." Which he had no intention of doing whatsoever.
"I don't want to pull out but I don’t want you working all the time either to pay for it."
"I won't be. I came home tonight at a decent hour, didn't I?"
"So I feel… guilty."
"Why?" he asked although he knew the answer.
"Because I know you did this for me."
"I did this for us." He'd fallen in love with the house just as much as Justin had.
"I want to help."
"You are helping. You're taking care of the decorating and the wedding plans…"
"I mean help financially."
"You can. Those six portraits Kenneth wants, do them and charge him an arm and a leg for them."
As if it were so easy. "I can't get started until you find time to sit for them."
"You mean you don't know what I look like by now?"
Justin nudged him with his foot and took another sip of his milk, frowned, and set the cup on the night table. "It'll be better if you sit for the preliminary sketches."
Giving up, Brian said, "All right. This weekend. You can have me Saturday or Sunday. All day. For as long as you want."
"For anything that I want?" asked Justin slyly and he stroked Brian's thigh.
"To sketch my portrait," Brian clarified.
"Go to sleep." Brian turned over and closed his eyes and hoped that
Justin would fall asleep soon because he was pooped and the last thing he
wanted to do was to have sex. Again.
Raising a hand to Mikey as he entered the office, Brian hit a few keystrokes and closed out his file. "Hey, Mikey."
"Hey. Where are we eating?"
"Here. I ordered Chinese."
"Cool." He started to take a seat across from Brian but the man shook his head and directed him to the sofa and coffee table.
Brian sat in one of the armchairs and crossed his legs. Watched Michael settle into the sofa and sit uncomfortably, aware of his scrutiny. "So what's wrong?"
"Who said anything was wrong?"
"I did. So what is it?"
Conceding that it was probably useless to try and lie about his feelings, Michael said, "I think you're making a mistake about the house."
"It's a great house."
"How much are you paying for it?"
"What does it matter?"
"Eight hundred thousand dollars." If you couldn't tell your best friend, who could you tell?
Michael's eyes almost sprang from their sockets. "Eight hundred thousand dollars?" He forced himself to close his mouth momentarily, then he asked, "Are you insane?"
"It's worth every penny."
"Brian?" Mikey sat forward, then sat back and shook his head. "I know you own part of a company now but, Christ, that's almost a million dollars."
"Guess what? I can dress myself and I can count too."
"Did Justin talk you into this?"
"What the fuck does that mean?" This was not going the way he'd planned.
"That he seemed mighty excited about moving."
"And why shouldn't he be? I'm excited too."
But Michael had seen the look in Brian's eye too, same as Justin, and he knew that wasn't all. "More like panicked."
"I can handle it."
"By doing what? Working eighty hours a week instead of sixty?"
"I like to work." It was true, he did like to work, didn't mind putting in extra hours.
"You're gonna kill yourself just so Justin gets to live in his dream house?"
"One, I'm not killing myself and two, what is up with you and Justin?"
That was a loaded question and Brian knew it. "Nothing."
"Then why are you laying all of this shit on him?"
"I'm not. I'm voicing my concerns."
"That what? That Justin's using me to get a house?"
"That he probably talked you into it."
"He actually tried to talk me out of it." Truth was, Justin would have been satisfied staying in the loft if there had been room for Gus.
That was unexpected. "You should have listened to him."
"It's done now." He uncrossed his legs and looked Michael dead in the eye. "And I don't want you bringing any of this up with Justin, you understand?"
"Afraid he'll feel guilty?"
" He makes me happy and I don't care if I have to pay every fucking penny of that money by myself."
"Which is why you're getting married, I suppose." He hadn't meant to bring it up but now that he had, he knew there'd be no turning back.
Shaking his head, Brian said, "So what's the problem with us getting married?"
Still, he tried to shut down the conversation before it got out of hand. "Nothing."
"Then you won't mind being my best man."
"I don’t mind."
"Wow, could you say that again with less enthusiasm?" Standing, Brian rubbed his chin and walked about for a moment. "I guess I can't do anything right according to you."
"I thought you'd be happy for me." He sat again and looked down at his hands.
Softly, Michael said, "I'm scared for you."
"Why?" Brian asked, looking up once more.
"Because he's only nineteen, Brian."
"He'll be twenty in less than two weeks."
"So what? It's a lot to ask of a twenty-year-old. To help pay for a house, to help raise your son." God, he hadn't been able to do it with David and he was thirty-one, for Christ's sake.
"He's my partner."
"I don't want to see you get hurt."
"He's not going to hurt me."
That was almost worth a laugh. "So Xavier was just a figment of our imaginations?"
"Fuck you, Mikey," he said and he stood and walked towards one of the windows looking out on downtown Pittsburgh.
Michael followed him. "None of the others will say anything but I'm not gonna pretend like it didn't happen."
"I know that it happened. I don’t need you to remind me."
"Then act like it."
"What am I supposed to do? Punish him for the rest of our lives? Punish myself? What?"
"Maybe you should be careful." Which was like asking a rhinoceros not to charge: it went against his nature. Yet, it was Michael's nature to worry, and so he did.
"And I've never made any mistakes? I'm just a helpless victim waiting for Justin to spring his latest trick on me?" If so, they would have never separated this fall but they'd both made their share of fuck-ups.
"You think he's really ready to settle down?"
"I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think he was. I wouldn't trust my son's life to him if I didn't. He saved my life, Michael. I can't ever forget that."
"He put your life in danger in the first place." And Michael wondered if he'd ever really forgiven Justin for that. It still frightened him and made him angry that Brian had been so close to dying. "Don't forget that either."
"What's this really about?"
"I told you."
"No, there's more. There's a reason why you've suddenly decided to tear Justin down and I wanna know what it is." Fuck. Things had been going so well. Michael had seemed to have accepted Justin, despite their troubles in spring and now this.
There was nothing he could say to change Brian's mind, so what was the point? "You know what? You do what you want and I'll stand by you when you get married and make a toast to the happy couple."
"No.” Michael looked shocked. "You won't. Not if you feel this way about us being together." Before Michael could reply, Cynthia knocked at the door and came in with their order. Set it on the coffee table. "Thanks."
"Enjoy." Went back out again.
Brian watched Michael struggle with his decision. Waited for him to respond.
"If that's how you feel," Michael said, "then I guess I won't."
Brian took a deep breath before speaking. "I never thought I'd be getting married without you standing next to me." Too late the double meaning of his words came to him.
Neither did I, Michael thought but out loud he said, "Your decision," and he turned and exited the office before Brian could see the tears in his eyes.
Making his way to his desk, Brian sat in a stupor while his order
cooled. After a while, he got up and put the food away in the mini-fridge
and then prepared to go meet Jennifer and the prospective buyers for the
Well, they were straight all right. Jesus, breeders in the loft. He hoped the apartment didn't do an Amityville Horror on them and run them out. Of course, once the check cleared, he didn't give a crap what happened. Only, that wasn't quite true. He was selling the loft. After all these years, selling his home, his first real home. He remembered moving into the loft, into that big, empty space, raring to fill it with only the best furniture. And he had, he'd turned it into a showcase. One that would belong to someone else at the end of the month. Even now, it felt like he was losing a part of himself. Which was stupid, it was only an apartment, a place.
His place. For so long, it had defined who he was. It had been part of his image, the sleek, minimalist loft to go along with the sleek, designer look he affected personally. Even after Justin had moved in, his presence hadn't really changed the look of the place. There were more colors now, because of his things but it was still fundamentally the same. Now, they would be decorating a house together, making decisions, compromising.
Compromising. Not something he did well. But just as his experiences with Justin had taught him faith, and his experiences with Gus had taught him patience, he believed this experience would probably teach him how to compromise. Or so he hoped.
And what had today's experiences with Michael taught him?
That you could never be too sure of anything in this world. Which was not something you wanted to think about a month away from being married.
Picking the phone up for the third time, Justin dialed Nana Rose's number, waited for either her or Xavier to pick up. Hoped it'd be her cause she would help get Xavier on his side. Four rings and he was about to hang up when
He exhaled. "Hey, Nana Rose. It's—"
"Justin! Baby, how are you? Thank you for my present. It's beautiful."
The scarf he'd bought her in London, he'd sent it home with Xavier for Christmas. "You're welcome. I'm glad you like it."
"I love it. You have a good Christmas?"
"Got a car."
"You had a great Christmas!"
"So you wanna talk to Xavier?"
"In a minute. I've got some news."
She seemed apprehensive, he could hear it in her voice. "Good news. Brian and I are moving."
"To another state?"
"Another house." He smiled. "And we're getting married."
Nana Rose sounded just like Deb when she got excited. Voice rose about an octave on the end. "Yep. Next month. The fifteenth. Can you come?"
"Try and stop me from being there. My God, married. And a new house. You having the ceremony there?"
"Uh-huh. There's this huge entry hall, we're gonna have it right there."
"Well, I am so excited for you, baby. How's His Big and Badness doing?" She'd picked up Xavier and Rennie's habit of calling him that.
"He's doing okay. I'm waiting for him to come home from work now."
"I cannot wait to see you two in your tuxes. Let me write that down right now. February fifteenth."
"You'll get an invitation sometime next week."
"I'm happy for you, baby. Now, you take care. Hold on, I'm getting Xavier."
He heard her put down the phone and call Xavier. Just breathe, he told himself.
"Just wanted to call to see if Nana Rose could come to the wedding."
"Mine and Brian's." He waited a moment. "It's next month. In our new house."
"You found a house?"
"Yep. Moving at the end of the month."
Xavier paused before speaking and in that short time Justin had cursed himself a thousand times for even thinking that Xavier could be happy for him. "You need help moving?"
Justin closed his eyes. Opened them. "Maybe. And some help decorating."
"You got it."
"Thanks, Xavier. You think Trey might come?"
Xavier's voice sounded lighter when he spoke. "Definitely."
"Then everything's going okay?"
"I think so." He smiled and Justin could see it in his mind. "He just might be around for a while."
Justin laughed because at times like that, Xavier reminded him of Brian so much. "Cocky, aren't we?"
"Damn skippy. I got the goods."
Laughing again, Justin shook his head. "Well, Mr. Goods, I'll see you when you get back."
"See you later."
As he replaced the receiver, he whispered, "Thank you," to his friend
even though Xavier had already hung up because he knew that, somehow,
Xavier would know. They had a connection and as long as they did,
everything would be all right.
At first he thought he'd leave Brian alone, hoping that he'd tell him what was bothering him but finally he couldn't wait any longer and he asked, "What's wrong?" It couldn't be the house because Brian had come home and told him that Jennifer had found buyers for the loft and they were willing to wait until the thirty-first to take possession of the apartment, giving them time to move out once they'd closed on the house. So it had to be Michael.
Brian laid down his fork, not that he'd been using it anyway. Most of his food still remained on his plate. "Mikey's… not gonna be in the wedding."
"What?" Even though he'd guessed that it had something to do with Michael, he hadn't imagined that Michael would refuse Brian.
"He doesn't want to be my best man." Brian got up and carried his plate into the kitchen. There was no point in pretending that he was going to eat anything else.
Justin followed. "What happened?"
"We had an argument," replied Brian and he dumped his food down the disposal and ran it along with the cold water.
"About what?" He couldn’t believe that they'd had a big enough fight to make Michael opt out of the wedding.
"The fuck it doesn't. Your best friend won't be in the wedding and you say it doesn't matter?"
"I said what we argued about doesn't matter."
"And I say that it does." He waited until Brian had loaded the plate in the dishwasher. "What did you argue about?"
Weighing telling the truth against hurting Justin's feelings, Brian decided to come clean. "About you."
"What about me?" he asked although immediately after he did so, he knew. Michael didn't think he was up to being Brian's partner despite having been his partner for a year now. "He doesn't think I'm good enough for you, does he?"
A white hot heat flashed over Justin. "That I'm gonna go out and screw Xavier again? Or maybe I'll find someone new? Maybe I'll bring him home and screw him in the guestroom while you're sleeping. No, wait, you won't be home. You'll be at the office slaving away for me. I bet he said that too, didn't he?"
Justin returned to the table and picked up his plate and carried it into the kitchen, his appetite lost too. Once he'd disposed of the remains of his meal, he put the plate in the dishwasher as well and slammed it closed, furious. "Fuck him. He had no right to say those things. I don't care if he is your best friend. He doesn't know shit about us."
"Besides which, he's just jealous. Because I have you and he doesn't."
"That's not true, Justin."
"Don’t lie to yourself. And don't lie to me because I know the truth. I know that he loves you. He always has and he always will. And all the Davids and Jeffs in the world won't change that."
"I'm not leaving you for him." I'm not leaving you for anyone.
"Which doesn't stop him from wanting you to."
Brian gave a half-laugh. "I never thought he would let me down. Never
in a million years." He walked away from the kitchen and into the bedroom,
leaving Justin alone.
Justin's anger accompanied him to work where he banged and slammed his way through breakfast and was just about to be on the receiving end of a good tongue-lashing from Deb when Michael appeared. Cutting his eyes at the man, Justin made a point of ignoring him even though Michael sat down at one of his tables.
Deb raised a brow, then went to greet her son. "Hey, honey."
"You meeting Jeff here?"
"No. He's out on a story."
"Well," she said, "this is Justin's table but I don't think he's coming over to take your order. Wanna tell me what's going on?"
"Not really." Cause somehow she'd find a way to make it his fault and then there'd be another pop on the head. Or worse. That look she gave him when she was disappointed in him, that said he'd hurt her more than words could say.
"Then you wanna tell me what you want to eat?" She'd learned how to bide her time.
"Eggs over easy and a couple pieces of bacon."
"Coming right up." She put in his order, then caught Justin by the sleeve. "You missed a table."
"No, I didn't."
"O-kay. You wanna tell me what's wrong?"
Her patience ran out. "Well, somebody better tell me something goddamn quick."
Justin pointed a finger at Michael. "Why don't you ask him why he refused to be Brian's best man?"
"You what?" she asked Michael.
"I didn't refuse. He didn't want me." Which was technically true.
"And why was that?" yelled Justin.
"Hey," said Deb, "tone it down. What the fuck is going on?"
"Michael's being an asshole."
"Well, you've already tried to fuck me over, so why not?"
"I was looking out for my friend."
"And all you did was to make him miserable. Satisfied? I hope you are. I hope you're real happy with yourself. Fuckin' asshole."
Michael stood and neared Justin and Deb managed to position herself between them just in case. "You think you know everything, you think you know Brian, but you don't. You don't know shit about him. I've known him half my life."
"And he still chose me," said Justin. "And that just burns you up. I thought you understood. I thought you were finally getting over it but you weren't. You were just waiting for the right time to kick him in the teeth."
"I would never hurt Brian."
"Well, you did. You did hurt him. So congratulations." Justin untied his apron and threw it down. "I'm going for a walk," he announced and without further ado, he left.
Deb waited until he was gone to pop Michael in the back of the head. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Looking out for Brian." He returned to his seat with his mother right behind him.
"By telling him Justin's no good for him? You know what they've been through. I would think you'd be the first person to want to see Brian happy."
"Justin makes him happy. Happier than he's ever been in his entire life. I know you have feelings for Brian, I've always known that, but I thought you'd want to do what's right by him."
"You're letting him down, Michael. And you're letting yourself down
too. You think about that. Think about what you'd be missing if you broke
off things with Brian. Then decide if that's what you really want." Seeing
that his order was ready, she went and got it and put it on his table.
Not in the mood to look at furniture, they decided to go to the movies to escape the world for a while. Hoping that the crowds would be less now that the holidays were over, they headed out to see Lord of the Rings and prayed that they'd get tickets. They were in luck, it seemed to be a slow night, the theatre was only half-full. Finding seats in the area dividing the middle level from the top level, they were able to secure some privacy away from the giggling teenagers and pontificating geeks who'd probably read the books a hundred times—before there was ever a rumor of a movie. Brian had read them too as a teenager at the insistence of Mikey. They'd planned on seeing the trilogy together and had seen Fellowship of the Ring together (after he and Justin had seen it first). He didn't think they'd be seeing The Two Towers installment in one another's company any time soon though.
He still couldn't believe it, that Mikey had said all those things about Justin. He'd really believed that Michael had come around, had accepted Justin as his partner. What a fool he'd been. And Michael had no right, had no right to try and dictate to him. No one did. He made his own decisions and he had decided that where he belonged was with Justin, no matter what. That Justin had made mistakes, he admitted that. So had he. They'd both probably make a buttload more too before it was over. Which, if he had anything to do with it, wouldn't be for a very, very long time. 'til death do us part. Brian sighed and shifted in his seat, anxious for the film to begin and to take his mind off of things.
"Want some?" Justin asked, extending the bag of popcorn. Brian shook his head and picked up his bottled water, sipped it. "I hope they don't show too many sneak-previews before the movie. I hate waiting."
Unfortunately, not only did they have to watch a bunch of sneak previews, they also had to watch commercials.
"I hate fuckin' commercials at the movies," complained Brian which Justin thought was funny since Brian was in the business of making commercials.
They both laughed at the trailer for Bruce Almighty although Brian personally loathed Jim Carrey. "He was the worst fucking Riddler ever." And he surprised Justin by actually liking the Bad Boys trailer and singing the song along with Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. "Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do? What you gonna do when they come for you?" he whispered in Justin's ear.
"Give up," the teen replied and turned his head ever so slightly and kissed Brian ever so softly.
"What movie did you see the other day?" Brian asked since Justin had never said.
"I can't remember," he replied.
Which immediately made Brian suspicious. "You saw this, didn't you?"
"No," Justin denied. "We promised to see it together, remember? Popcorn?"
Brian refused again and sat back in his seat, not quite convinced of Justin's innocence. And then the movie started and he didn't care. Transfixed by the action on the screen, he forgot about everything else, even his fight with Mikey. It was magnificent. Several times he was aware of holding his breath, sitting literally on the edge of his seat, muscles jerking as he fought alongside Aragorn in a battle that seemed never-ending. When the sun rose and the Calvary appeared on the ridge of the hill, arrayed behind Gandalf the White, he breathed easier, relieved that help had, at last, come.
Then the house lights came up and their sojourn in Middle Earth was over. They were the only people left in the theatre other than the ushers who had begun cleaning. "Next year?" asked Brian ruefully.
"Next year. But then we can stay all day and watch all three. You just know someone's gonna do that, show all of them one after the other."
Brian nodded. "It'll be sweet."
"Trash," said the usher, coming up next to them. Justin tossed in the wadded up popcorn bag. "So was it just as good the second time around?" the usher asked.
Damn! It was the same guy. They should have gone to another theatre, it wasn't like it was only showing at this one. Idiot. Feeling Brian's eyes on him but not daring to turn around, Justin replied meekly, "Better actually."
"Cool." The guy moved on leaving wreckage behind him.
Saying nothing, Brian rose and walked down the steps, Justin trailing behind him.
I am so not getting any tonight.
And he was right. Brian steadfastly refused any and all overtures to make love despite having accepted his apology for seeing the film without him the first time. He wasn't nasty about it, he just turned Justin down. Claiming exhaustion. Which Justin bought since the man fell fast asleep the moment his head hit the pillow. He really was tired, he said to himself, watching Brian sleep. He's working too hard. But there was nothing he could do about it other than to continue to press Brian to take it easier, to leave things for tomorrow, to take care of himself. In the end, all he could really do was to take care of his partner the best he could.
Sliding closer to Brian, Justin slipped an arm around his waist and
held him, feeling his lover shift just a little and settle back against
Since the guys had had Gus the previous weekend, the Munchers had decided to keep the toddler this time around which suited Brian just fine as he really wasn't in the mood to try and keep up with a two-going-on-three-year old. Besides, Justin had a full weekend planned for them. One, he was going to work on Kenneth's commission and two, they had at least two showrooms to visit and a plethora of websites to browse. Armed with the measurements for the master bedroom as well as all the others, Justin and Joanie had gone through and identified possible purchases. In addition, Brian needed to talk to a contractor about doing some redesign work on the master bath to accommodate them. But that would wait until next week. After he and Justin and Joanie had gotten together and planned what the new bathroom would look like.
"We saw these snail showers online, they looked really cool."
"Yeah," replied Justin. "They don't have any doors. You walk around a wall to an opening."
"Why do they call them snail showers?"
Justin drew on a sheet of paper. "See? Cause the shape of the outside is like a snail shell. It goes around and curves in."
"Most of the time, the walls without the plumbing are made of glass blocks."
"I downloaded some pictures online so you could see what they look like."
"When are you talking to the contractors?"
"Next week. Cynthia set up a meeting for Wednesday. Give us some time to come up with some rough ideas."
"I thought the bathroom was your baby." He'd known that eventually Brian would want his help.
"It is, but you're going to be using it too so I figured you should get a tiny say so in the matter."
"Just a tiny one?" Well, guess he'd been fooled. Maybe.
"Uh-huh. You got the room measurements?"
"And the shower measurements?"
"Let's see." He looked on the page. "There it is. Schematics."
"Sweet. And Cynthia got the dimensions of the tub and the other stuff."
"Here's the grid your mom gave me. She drew in where the doors are and everything."
"She's really good."
"Okay, so we could put the shower here and the tub goes here." Brian drew them onto the grid in pencil.
"By the windows?"
"Yep. So we can bathe by moonlight." The way they had in Venice, listening to the water lap against the piers and foundations, distracting you from the fact that you were sinking along with the city.
"Romantic." The phantom moonlight in his mind brushed a smile across his face as he imagined them weeks in the future, buffered by bubbles, tea lights in bowls set upon the window ledge.
"I thought so."
"You're not careful, I might start to believe that you actually do have a soft and squishy side."
"Shut up. So what do you think about putting up a partitioning wall here and attaching the toilet, and the bidet to it? Put the vanity table right next to them." He indicated an area about midway between the shower and the tub.
"Saw a modified version online. Using Starck stuff." And he'd liked it. He had no idea why they'd need a wall right there but he wanted one.
"Hey!" said Justin. I could paint some trompe l'oeil on it. Like we saw in Italy." It'd be less trouble to do a little wall than to try and paint the entire bathroom.
"Trompe l'oeil of what?"
He shrugged. "Maybe Roman columns and ruins, something like that. Vines entwined about the rocks or something. Or the colonnade at Hadrian's villa. That would go with the loggia arches and columns."
"Sounds… interesting." He would get his Roman bath after all. "Draw it up and let me see."
Justin leaned in and kissed Brian soundly on the mouth.
"What was that for?"
Raising a brow, Brian said, "Decorating obviously makes you horny."
"Later," said Justin. "I want you to look at these armoires for the bedroom. And we need to pick out night stands and lamps and stuff."
Hours later they'd made a list of things they definitely kinda thought they wanted. Brian didn't even want to add it up but he did and blew out a stream of breath. Although they'd have over a hundred thousand dollars left over from the sale of the loft, minus a substantial ten percent down payment on the house, they were probably going to spend at least thirty thousand on the bathroom renovation. Which left them with around eighty thousand dollars. Most of which was going to be spent decorating the house and what was left would go to the wedding. Just the thought of all that money leaving his hands made him feel very dizzy. He propped his head in his hand and hoped Justin didn't notice. Yeah, right.
He glanced at the clock on the computer. "Lunch. I feel a little lightheaded."
Kissing him on the top of the head, Justin rose. "I think there's enough stuff for a Caesar salad."
With Justin gone, Brian went over his finances on a spreadsheet he kept
on the computer. He and Ted definitely needed to have a talk.
From the moment he put on the burnt sienna sweater, his skin started to tingle. It always made him feel incredibly sexy to slip it on, but to be completely naked except for the sweater was almost immediately arousing. He remembered coming home from Into the Woods and having Justin slide his hands up underneath it, desperate to touch him, to have him. And he'd let him. Had leaned against the countertop, face cooled by the mirror, and had let the teen fuck him. He could still feel Justin's cum as it splattered his bare back, the sweater pushed up over his shoulders. Risking a glance downwards, he was surprised that he wasn't already hard. Which was good as he had a few hours of lying motionless ahead of him. Shifting gears inside his head, he put away all thoughts of sex and concentrated on nothing except remaining absolutely still.
Two hours later, he heard the scrape of the bar stool being put back in place and opened his eyes. The teen was standing at the head of the chaise lounge where he lay. "Through?" he asked and Justin replied, "Um-hm," and those were the last words they spoke for a while as they gave into the desire they'd both been feeling, succumbing to the influence of the burnt sienna sweater.
When Justin pulled it over his head, trapping his arms in place, he was momentarily alarmed but then the idea of being bound, of being helpless even as Justin rode his cock increased his arousal.
Feeling the teen's dick pressing against his navel sent him spiraling towards ecstasy. His panting caused the sweater to rise upwards sharply and then to sink just as sharply against his mouth. He was aware of Justin standing and then he smelled the scent of cum as the teen ejaculated on his sweater-covered face. Afterwards, he lay supine upon the seat of the lounge, head still concealed by the sweater, and fought the urge to scream as Justin jacked him off.
As they kissed through the barrier of the sweater, their cum soaking the strands and wetting his face, Brian shivered. No one made him feel the way Justin did, helpless yet strong.
"I love you," the teen whispered and slowly uncovered his face. "I love you," he said again, blue eyes gazing into hazel, and kissed him once more. "I love you," he said for the third and final time as if he were chanting an incantation.
Closing him in an embrace, he held Justin tightly, the beat of his
heart and the strength in his arms saying what his lips could not, weaving
a spell as tightly as any words had ever cast.
Having fixed a couple of steaks, they sat at the table and ate by candlelight.
Justin could imagine them in the solarium eating by starlight, a couple of slender tapers on the table. "So," he said, "we probably should start thinking about music and flowers and stuff for the wedding."
"But I thought…" Brian paused. "Oh, you mean, you've got some ideas you want to run past me."
"Do you mind?"
He shook his head. "Gotta get it done. The wedding's in a month."
"Exactly," agreed Justin.
One month. And they had to clear out of the loft, move into the house, and try to maintain some semblance of normalcy at the same time. He wished he could take some time off from work but they'd just come back from the holidays and he had to monitor a couple of new campaigns that seemed shaky already. So taking time off was out of the question. "So what's first?"
"What are we wearing?"
"I'm guessing tuxedos?"
"So smart," he said smiling. "What kind?"
"Something different," Brian replied. "And no bow ties. I hate bow ties." Hence his wearing one to the prom and not tying it.
"Should we wear the same kind of tux or different?"
"The same. It'll look classier."
"What about—" He paused abruptly.
"What about what?"
"About…" Justin looked down. "Your best man?"
"Maybe I'll do like you and get Lindsay to do it."
"But Lindsay's not your best friend. And I thought maybe she and Mel could be the wedding directors, keep things on track during the ceremony. I'd ask Deb but she'll be too busy making sure her mascara isn't running."
"Well, Mel might have to do it by herself." Because he and Michael still hadn't resolved things. Hadn't even tried.
"Why don’t you talk to him?"
"And say what? 'It's okay that you think I'm making a huge mistake, why don’t you be my best man anyway?' "
"Can we call them something else?" Off the topic but on his mind.
"Like what?" To his credit, Brian kept up with the change.
"Like Grooms' Attendants."
"I don’t care."
"Brian. Talk to him." Back to the previous topic.
"What's next?" He had no intention of wasting any more time at the moment discussing Mikey.
Used to Brian dismissing topics out of hand, Justin moved on. They'd come back to it eventually. "What kind of tux should the ushers wear?"
"Something nice but not too nice. I don't want us to be upstaged." As if.
"I don't think we will be. I've been thinking. We could wear silver vests and the rest of the guys, " that took care of the niggling problem of Michael for the moment, "could wear dark blue vests since our colors are blue and silver. And the women could all wear silver dresses. Maybe Daphne can find a dress style that she and Molly both could wear. And then our moms can wear whatever styles they want. Your mom and I found some cool sites with mothers of the bride and groom dresses. Tres chic. And my mom knows the best stores. They're going shopping next week. And taking Deb with them."
That was one worry off his shoulders. "What about us?"
"You look around and see what you can find. I trust your taste," joked Justin.
"Oh, so funny." He stopped. "Gus. He needs a tux too."
"I can't wait to see him all dressed up. We gotta get him a ring bearer's pillow with a couple of fake rings on them."
"About the rings, do you think we should wear them on the left or the right?" Who would ever have believed he'd be having this conversation?
"Well, traditionally, couples wear them on the left."
"I've gotten kind of used to wearing it on the right."
"Then we can keep on doing it."
"No. You're right, once we're married, then we're married. We'll wear them on the left so everyone will know." I'm taken, and, more importantly, He's taken.
"Can you believe it? We're getting married."
He had to derail Justin before he started waxing rhapsodically. "I can believe it. What else?"
"Flowers. Do we want fresh or silk?"
"Which will look better?" That's what counted.
"Well, I think the silk would look just as nice as fresh flowers. Especially at night and with all the other decorations we're putting up. Plus, if we go with artificial flowers, we can get the right color blue."
"And your allergies won't start acting up."
"Exactly. Wouldn’t want to tear up during the ceremony."
"Uh-huh." He chuckled softly. "Sounds good."
"Your mom and I have been looking at sites and we think we can buy the flowers in bulk from this place in town and do the arrangements ourselves."
"All of them? Even the ones on the tables and stuff?" He'd been to a number of weddings and it seemed like a lot of work to do without professional help.
"Yeah. There's only going to be about thirty people there, that's five or six tables at the most. Plus our table. We can do it. Besides, your mom and Lindsay and my mom and Emmett can help make them." Maybe Xavier and Rennie too.
"And I can help decorate when the time comes." Brian nearly looked around to see who had said that.
A smile spread across Justin's face. "You just want to supervise."
Taking the out Justin had given him, Brian agreed. "The smartest person should always be the leader."
"Then that leaves you and Dubuya at the bottom of the totem pole."
"What do you think about putting flowers around the French doors to the studio?"
"It'd probably look great. We opening the doors?"
"I don’t think so. There won't be anything in there."
"I think the cake and champagne should be in there. We can decorate a table and put up some lights and stuff and it'd look fabulous. Plus, if we don't open the vents in that room, the champagne will stay chilled," laughed Brian.
"That's a fabulous idea," said Justin. "You're good at this."
"I'm an advertiser."
"Presentation is everything," Justin said before he could.
"You have been paying attention. So the doors should probably be closed until we open them to reveal the cake."
"But aren't people supposed to offer toasts at dinner?"
"Who says we have to follow tradition? 'We are the makers of manners,' " he quoted. "Besides, it'll get people up and about before we go out to dance and we can show off the solarium. And if it's chilly in the room, they won't be tempted to toast us forever."
"That's why you win awards. Always thinking."
"Are you trying to butter me up?"
"Is it working?" asked Justin, his mind suddenly on buttering Brian up literally. Wow...
"What else?" Brian had seen the change of expression on Justin's face and wondered if it was a good thing or a bad thing.
"We're thinking about having a stand of candles behind the minister and we would all bring in a candle and put one in the candelabra. Everybody except the ushers and Gus and Molly, that is. Seven branches. One for each of our families, two for our friends, and one for each of us. The officiant would bring out the commitment candle and put it in the middle and then our attendants would come out and put in two at the ends and then your mom and my mom would come out and put theirs in and then we would put ours in on either side of the commitment candle. And then at some point in the ceremony, we would use our candles to light the commitment candle."
"So we're going to be carrying lit candles?" Visions of a fiery doom flashed before his eyes.
"Yep, so we'll have to walk very very slow."
"What if I drop mine or something?"
"It's our wedding, we can do what we want, remember?"
"How about we light them after we get up there?"
"You afraid of a little flaming?" he teased.
"No, I'm afraid of immolating myself on my wedding day." That would look good. Flaming poofter goes up in flames. Poof.
"But it'll look so beautiful if we're carrying them."
Brian sighed. "All right."
"Don't worry, I'll be holding your hand, and I'll make sure you don't get nervous and drop anything."
"Uh-huh. And who's going to keep you from getting nervous?"
"You." That's what they did best: support one another.
Brian gave a soft smile. "So what else?"
"Music. I was thinking we could go with classical music during the ceremony and maybe play jazz or something like that during dinner, you know, love songs, show tunes..."
"So what are we going to dance to?" He couldn't see them cutting the rug to Glenn Miller.
"In general, we should mix it up, rock, club music, a few old standards, maybe some disco."
"No, I mean what's our song?"
Their song. "What do you think it should be?" He asked but he already had an idea.
It came to him immediately, the song they had danced to at the prom but he had such mixed feelings about that moment even now that he couldn't suggest it. Not as their song. Maybe they could play it at the wedding but not as their song, not as the first song they'd dance to as partners. Husband and husband. For that they needed a song free of shadows, free of any unpleasant memories. And something sappy. Of that he was certain. For that moment, he knew Justin would want to go all out romantic, just as syrupy sweet as they could stand.
"What about "Save the Last"—"
"But—" They had danced so beautifully to it, like Fred and Ginger.
"No. Not that song."
"Why not?" He was surprised that Brian even cared.
"Because it should be something that makes us happy to hear it."
"I'm happy to hear it. I'm happy that I'm still alive to hear it."
"You're not happy I'm alive to hear it?" joked Justin but he could tell that his joke had fallen flat. "Brian?"
"That song makes me think about Chris Hobbs and everything that came after and I can't do it. I can't." Just thinking about it now made his heart race.
"It's okay. I understand." Because it wasn't just Chris Hobbs, it was the trial and him and Xavier and that morning in the loft and almost losing one another. "So we'll pick something else. But what?"
"I guess we'll have to go through our CDs and maybe the DJ'll have some ideas."
"We should use that guy who did our New Year's party."
"Definitely. He was pretty good."
"Pretty hot." In the old days, he would have definitely done him. Come to think of it, he may have. Maybe that's how he knew him.
"Don't worry," he said, lying. "He's not my type." Brian thought for a moment. "We should call him next week. He gets booked up really fast."
"Can we start buying stuff now or should we wait until after the closing?"
"Put it on the card. But let me know so I can keep a running total on the spreadsheet." A mounting total of zeros.
" 'kay. We need to find an officiant too to perform the ceremony." That was key.
"Lotta gay religious groups in town." Always trying to get him to come to service. As if he would. Not unless they held it at Babylon's or Woody's.
"Does it matter if it's a woman?" He'd seen a list and thought one of them was headed by a woman.
"I don't care."
Next thing. "Guest list."
"Not tonight, Baby." He was bushed. "We can hash that out when the invitations get back."
Thinking Justin was done with him for the moment, Brian began to clear the table, his movement slow as if he lacked energy to move any faster.
"You all right?" Justin asked.
"Just tired, that's all."
"Then leave that stuff. I'll get it. Go lie down." He had to take care of his Pookie.
"I'm not an old man yet," snapped Brian.
Justin held up his hands in mock-surrender. "Sorry."
"I'm sorry." He paused, intending to continue clearing the table and then decided that if they were going to be married, they'd have to learn to share their problems and not keep them bottled up inside. "I just can't believe Mikey's not coming to the wedding."
"He'll be there. Just because he's not in the wedding doesn't mean he won't come altogether."
"He may not."
"Why don't you talk to him?"
"Because he doesn't want to talk to me. And I don't know what I'd say to him anyway."
Excuses. "How about you tell him that you miss him?"
"Maybe by then I won't," Brian said and he carried their plates into the kitchen and began to load them into the dishwasher.
Justin debated helping him and figured he'd been rebuffed once already
tonight, why push his luck? Brian didn't need his help.
Curious when they told him that a Justin Taylor was there to see him, Jeff put away the story he was working on and waited for the teenager to appear. Which he did in a few moments.
"Come on in. Have a seat."
Justin closed the door behind him and sat across the desk from Jeff. He'd never been inside a TV studio before and it had been difficult not to gawk on his way in. "I hope I'm not bothering you."
"I can always use a break from work. Don't tell my boss. He thinks I'm a workaholic. Actually, I'm just efficient. So what's up?"
Not sure if this was a good idea, he forged ahead anyway. Something had to be done. It'd been four days since Brian and Michael had argued and neither showed any signs of leaning towards a reconciliation although he knew Brian wanted to reconcile with his best friend. "I think we need to do something about Brian and Michael."
Throwing up his hands, Jeff disagreed. "I think we should leave them alone." Both times he'd tried to bring up the subject with Michael, the man had shut him down cold. He was not about to attempt a third, futile discussion.
"If we leave it to them, they'll behave like children and never speak to each other again."
"They'll speak to each other again. That's how best friends are." That's how he and his best friend were. Too bad Kurt lived so far away now.
"Not if Michael stays out of the wedding. Brian won't ever forgive him that."
Risking it, Jeff said, "He's forgiven worse from you."
"We're partners. He'll take shit from me that he would never take from anyone else," Justin confessed. "Including Michael."
Jeff leaned back in his chair and contemplated Justin's words. "Maybe it's for the best," he said finally. "Maybe this friendship has run its course."
"He loves Brian."
"I know that."
"No, I mean—"
"I understand," Jeff said. "I'm a reporter. I'd be a damn poor one if I hadn't noticed that Michael's feelings for Brian go a lot deeper than just friendship."
"That bother you?"
He shrugged. "Maybe, in the beginning, when I thought we had a chance for something more."
"You don't think that anymore?" He guessed Michael must have been right about the change in their relationship.
"I'm not holding my breath waiting for it to happen. If it does, fine. If it doesn't, I'll live." Which sounded a bit callous, but it was the truth.
Xaver had said much the same about him and Trey. At first. Now, he was singing a different tune. "I could never live without Brian," Justin admitted softly.
"Which is why you're partners. But I can live without Michael and Michael can survive without Brian, if he tried. Maybe that's what he needs now. To be without Brian, to learn how to be on his own. Maybe we'd have a chance without Brian in the picture."
But Justin shook his head. "If your relationship can't survive Brian, then you're fooling yourself. The worst thing that ever happened to me and Brian was Xavier but we survived it and because we did, we know that we can survive anything. No matter what, somehow we find a way." He thought of the letter Brian had written him after he'd left him in November and had known that the old Brian, the pre-Xavier Brian wouldn't have been capable of writing that letter. They'd passed through fire and had been strengthened by it.
"Then why does Brian need Michael, if he's got you?"
Brian had tried to explain it to him, in the Bahamas: "Having Michael as a best friend... means I get to have you as everything else." "Because," explained Justin, "we all need someone on the outside, to help give us perspective. Like me and Daphne. She's known me almost all of my life. I feel like I can tell her anything and she'll understand and even if it means kicking my ass, she won't lie to me. Sometimes you need someone who'll say no to you. That's what best friends do."
"But she's not in love with you."
"She thought she was. Once. She loves me. Just like Michael loves Brian."
"But it's different because Michael's in love with Brian."
Justin disagreed. "No, he isn't. It's just body stuff mixed in with the love. That's what tripped me and Daphne up. The body stuff. We slept together and all of a sudden she thought it was more than it was. But we worked it out."
"So what are you saying? That Michael and Brian should just fuck and get it over with and then move on?" Which was what he'd thought more than once.
"Maybe if it had happened, Michael would have moved on. But it's too late now."
Jeff knew that Brian was faithful to Justin but then again his idea of faithfulness wasn't your normal definition. "Brian wouldn’t do it now?"
"I wouldn’t let him."
"Not even to save his friendship with Michael?"
Justin shook his head. "If it's finished, then it's finished and Brian will get over it. I want him to be happy but I'm not stupid."
Taking stock of the young man, Jeff agreed. "No, you're not. You're a good person."
"So are you."
Jeff grinned. "And as a good person, I'll do what's right and talk to Michael? That it?"
Justin stood. "It's up to you. My job is to take care of Brian."
He'd been in the middle of looking over some reports when Lindsay called saying Gus wanted to see his daddies. Since they hadn't kept him that past weekend and wouldn't be keeping him the upcoming weekend or the weekend after that, Brian had agreed to come over and spend the evening with them. "No Scrabble though," he'd told her, remembering the whipping he and Justin had received on one of the other Family Nights they'd spent together.
Calling Justin on the cell and finding him at Joanie's place, he'd invited her to come along too but she'd begged off saying she had a lot of work to do on the plans for the house and the wedding.
Instead of both of them driving, Brian drove home and parked the Jeep and waited for Justin to pick him up. Which gave him time to go upstairs and change clothes, putting on something he could roll around on the floor in since Gus invariably wanted to play hobby horse or cars or something which required him to get down on his knees.
He couldn't wait until Gus' birthday this year when he'd be old enough for the Baby Jeep Brian had been threatening to buy him for the past year and a half. He could just see Gus tooling around the yard in that baby. Gus loved his daddy's Jeep and Brian just knew he'd love having one of his own. And then, for Christmas, he planned on giving Gus his old Tonka dump truck. As much as he wouldn’t admit it to Justin, he was going to miss that thing. Maybe he would give it to Gus but they'd keep it at their house, so that Gus would have some toys there too and wouldn't have to cart everything between houses. God, that was going to be crazy, coordinating weekends and maybe even some weeks in the summer and maybe even during the year. And it would only get stickier down the road once Gus started kindergarten in a couple of years. But, at least Lindsay and Mel were willing to discuss it which was more than he'd thought they'd ever do. Of course, the fact that he even wanted to discuss it was the biggest surprise of all.
He was just buttoning up a white shirt over his black tank top when Justin slid open the door. "Hey."
Justin threw down his bag and came into the bedroom, kissed him and plopped down on the bed. "Ready?"
"Just about." He sat to put on his boots. "Get a lot done today?"
"A little. I worked on the portrait some too."
"When's school start again?" Justin had told him before but in the midst of all the other things he had to think about and remember, he'd forgotten.
"Can't stop it from starting again."
"That's not the answer I was looking for."
"Well, it's the only one I've got." Forestalling a discussion, Justin added, "Things will get back to normal after the wedding."
"But almost a month of the semester will have gone by."
Standing, Justin kissed Brian again. "I'll be all right. Come on, Gus is waiting and I'm starving. What's for dinner?"
"Lindz didn't say. I hope it's not garlic chicken. Last time I could smell it on my breath for a week afterwards. And taste it for two."
"Three," said Justin cause he'd had to taste it as well. "Anyway, I don’t care what it is as long as I don't have to cook it."
"Oh? This coming from the man with the gourmet kitchen? Bake oven, Aga cooker, warming drawers, cooktop with a grill…"
"I'm just tired, that's all. Between combing through wedding books, working on the portrait, and looking at flowers at the craft store, I'm beat."
"You wanna stay home tonight? We can order in and do this another night."
"Gus would have a hissy fit."
"He'll get over it."
Justin didn't think so. "Besides, I wanna see him too. I'll be fine. I'm just glad I don't have to cook, that's all. Ready?"
"Yeah. You driving?"
Brian popped Justin on the butt and dashed out of the room before Justin could retaliate.
"You'll pay," the teen warned.
"Just bring it on, little boy."
Gus was waiting at the door for his daddies to arrive. Lindsay and Mel couldn't get him to sit down at all so they just left him alone—and made sure the door was locked. Showing more patience than normal, he stood in the doorway for at least ten minutes until he saw the headlights of the Cherokee. "Daddy!" he yelled and when neither Mama nor Mommy came, he ran to the kitchen and shouted again, "Daddy!"
"Yippee." Mel rose. "All right, keep your pants on." She followed the toddler to the door and unlocked it just as Brian and Justin arrived on the front porch.
"Daddy!" Gus pushed open the door and reached for Brian who picked him up and kissed him soundly.
"Hey, Sonny Boy."
Justin kissed him over Brian's shoulder. "Hey, Gus."
Following Melanie into the house, Brian set Gus down on his feet. Immediately, Gus tugged on Brian's hand and demanded that his daddy follow him up to his room. He waved to Justin. "See ya later."
Mel shook her head. "It's amazing how children gravitate towards other children."
Justin laughed. "He just misses Brian, that's all."
Coming out of the kitchen, Lindsay kissed Justin on the cheek. "You sure you don't want to take him this weekend?"
"We would except that it's my birthday so we're gonna be kinda busy."
"Both days?" she asked.
"If I'm lucky," he grinned. "Actually, we'll probably spend it mailing off invitations for the wedding, talking to caterers, and picking out the cake."
"And the weekend after?"
"Our last weekend before the big move."
"And the weekend after that you'll be moving. And the next weekend you'll be getting ready for the wedding. And the weekend after that you're getting married." finished Mel.
Aware of how it was beginning to sound, Justin said, "It's just a bad time, that's all. But once we're settled in, he can come over whenever he wants."
"I know, honey," Mel said, "except that he wants to come over now."
"We'll just have to come over here more often."
"You know," explain Mel, "the object of this shared custody deal is that Gus gets to spend time with you guys and we Mommies get some us time alone. Seems to me we're getting the short end of the stick if you're coming over here."
"Mel," Lindsay admonished. "Justin, you're welcome here anytime to see Gus."
"I know. But Mel is right. And when we're in the house, things will be different."
"So how's it coming?"
"What? The house, the loft, the move, the wedding? Pick one."
Mel disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a bottle of wine and three wine glasses. Distributed them and poured a half measure of crystal clear Chardonnay into each goblet. "Have you found a buyer for the loft?"
"Yeah. Brian met with them last week. They're straight."
"The horror," she joked. They all knew what a notorious heterophobe Brian was.
"Brian was not pleased but they had pre-approval for a loan which made him very very happy. As soon as the inspections and the paperwork goes through they'll close on the loft. Everything should be done by next week if nothing goes wrong."
Lindsay slipped away and peeked on dinner, then returned. Perched on the edge of the sofa next to Mel. "Excited?"
He broke into a wide grin. "I can't wait until you guys see the house. It's… it's amazing."
"So why haven't we seen it?" asked Mel.
"Brian wants to wait until all the papers are signed and it's ours."
"We could, at least, drive by and just see what it looks like."
He shrugged. "Not up to me. Talk to Brian."
"Yeah, right." The timer went off. "I'll get the spinach puffs."
While the adults were discussing real estate, Brian and Gus were busy building real estate of their own. Or rather, Brian was. Gus had gotten a Leggo castle set for his birthday but he wasn't very good yet at putting things together so he preferred to watch his daddy construct the castle while he provided musical accompaniment on his xylophone. Which was just what Brian wanted.
"Gus, Gus," he said finally, his head about to split, "I think Daddy's had enough music. Okay?"
He raised a brows. "What did I tell you about calling me Pookie? It's Daddy to you."
"What's Daddy's name?"
Gus smiled. "Pookie," upon which Brian grabbed him and began to tickle him mercilessly.
"What is it?"
"Poo—Poo—" Gus was laughing so hard he couldn’t say it. At last, he gave up. "Daddy!" He wriggled in Brian's arms and tried to get away. "Daddy!"
"What?" said Justin, coming around the corner. Brian released Gus and he ran to the safety of his other daddy's arms. "Has Daddy been tickling you again?"
"Well, tell him to stop."
"Top tickle me."
"Tell Justin why I was tickling you." Gus shook his head and hid behind Justin. Peeked out and shook his head again.
"Was Gus being bad?" asked Justin.
"He was calling me Pookie."
"Oooh," said Justin. He leaned over and told the toddler, "I'm the only person who's allowed to call Daddy Pookie. Okay?"
That had become one of his favorite phrases along with "What dat?"
"Because that's my special name for Daddy." He was still amazed that Brian tolerated it and tried not to wear it out for fear of being forbidden to call him that anymore. And he liked it. His Pookie.
"I call Daddy Pookie."
"How about you call Daddy, Daddy?"
"Gus…" he warned and he gave the toddler the look Brian usually gave him when he was being less than perfect. Gus responded as he normally did by settling down even though Justin hadn't quite mastered the stare. Maybe it was the color of his eyes.
"Okay," said the toddler.
"So what's Daddy called?"
"Good boy. You ready to eat?"
"Yeah!" He bounced up and down and clapped.
"Go wash your hands then."
The little boy ran off to the bathroom to wash his hands while Justin helped Brian up from the floor.
"When did the floor get so low?"
"It hasn't moved. You're just getting—"
"Bite your tongue."
"Then how would I be able to do this?" asked Justin and he licked Brian's throat before kissing it.
Later, after dinner, Lindsay asked, "Have you decided what kind of ceremony you're having? Traditional? Modern?"
"I think we're probably doing something non-traditional," replied Justin.
"You think?" asked Brian with a tilt of his head.
Gus looked up from the floor where he was playing with his blocks and showed Brian one. "What dat?"
"P." Smirked, "P is for—"
"Poetry. Which you could read during the ceremony," Lindsay suggested before Brian could finish his lesson. "I seem to remember someone taking a poetry class in college."
Brian stared at the ceiling. "Ah, let's see." Thought for a moment, then said, "There once was a twinkie from Pitts/ Who had a gold ring through his tit/ When you tugged it his cock/ Got as hard as a rock/ And that's not a sight to be missed."
Covering her face, Mel said, "Maybe you should skip the poetry."
"Or stick to Michelangelo and Whitman," said Justin, giving Brian the evil eye.
Although she knew she might be making a huge mistake, Lindsay asked, "So, have you spoken to Michael?"
Justin said nothing; he knew she wasn't talking to him.
"What? Today?" asked Brian.
"Since your argument?"
Ignoring the warning looks from both Mel and Justin, she plowed on. "Don't you think you should?"
"Don’t you think you should mind your own business?" He glanced down as Gus displayed another block for clarification. "C," he replied to the tot's unasked question and didn't bother to say what it was for. He didn't have to.
"Cookie," said Gus and began to sing although they only understood a few words. "See…cookie…for me."
Justin laughed and supplied the missing words. "C is for cookie, that's good enough for me," he sang and Gus jumped up and bounced up and down to the song. "C is for cookie, that's good enough for me. C is for cookie, that's good enough for me. Oh, cookie, cookie, cookie, starts with C."
Gus clapped and exclaimed, "Cookie!"
Standing, Mel held out her hand and he took it. "I think someone wants dessert. Anybody else?" None of the others said anything. "Okay, Gus, I guess it's just you and me."
"Cookie, cookie, cookie, see," he sang and together they went in search of cookies.
He felt her eyes on him and said, "You weren't there. You didn't hear the things he said."
"He was angry, Bri. And hurt. And you know he didn't mean them."
"He meant every word he said," Brian argued. "And so did I."
Drew checked his watch as Brian sauntered into his office. "The Prodigal Son returns. And on time. Better get out my extra big notepad because this is going to be good," he joked.
Taking his seat, Brian said, "Don't get all sweaty, Doc. It's just the usual."
"Regular sized pad then," and he almost laughed because that sounded like a commercial for feminine napkins.
Brian did laugh because he'd done an ad for tampons and he'd watched about a dozen commercials for various products as part of his research.
Caught out, Drew chuckled as well. "What's up?" he asked when the laughter had faded.
"Getting married. Buying a house. The usual." Totally nonchalant.
Drew's mouth fell open and with effort he closed it. "You're getting married? When?"
"Next month. You'll get your invitation in the mail. February fifteenth, so put it on your calendar."
"Will do," said the therapist. "Brian Kinney… getting married. I wouldn't miss that for the world. And you're buying a house too?"
"Closing on the 27th of this month. Moving the following weekend and getting married two weeks after that."
Drew whistled. "Cutting it close. Any reason for the rush?"
"Michael asked me the same thing." Maybe there had been some validity to his questions.
"And there's no reason to wait."
"Except that you'd have some time to settle into the house before putting on a major production."
"It's being catered."
"Look, we get dressed, we show up and say a few words, and then we eat. And at some point very soon afterwards, I hope, you all go home and we go to bed. Simple." And even to his own ears, his words sounded false.
"Still, it's a big step. You ready?"
"Would you believe me if I said I was?"
"There's like fifty fuckin' thousand things left to do between now and the fifteenth. Justin is driving me crazy looking at furniture and rugs and… and the bills, the bills must be multiplying like Tribbles cause they're falling out of cabinets."
"Sounds like you're right on track."
"To doing what? Having a nervous breakdown?"
"To having a fabulous wedding and a fabulous life." Drew reached over and clasped Brian's hand. "And you, my friend, deserve it. Be happy."
Brian looked down. "I would be except that my best friend bailed on me."
"What's wrong with Michael?" Other than being in love with you?
"He told me I was making a huge mistake so I told him I didn't want him in the wedding."
"You think that was the right thing to do?"
"I didn't want him upsetting Justin. He's touchy enough about the house because it costs so much and he feels like a freeloader cause he's not paying the mortgage. Yet. But he really wants this wedding and I don't want anything to fuck it up for him."
"Do you want the wedding?"
"I’m paying for it."
"Yeah, Doc, I do." Jesus, he really did. That, in and of itself, surprised the hell out of him.
"Why not? We've been together for almost two years now."
"Why do you want a wedding?"
They'd been through enough sessions that Brian knew what Drew was trying to get him to do. "I want it because I love Justin and I want to celebrate us being together. I want our friends to be there to celebrate with us. I know that some of them think that we're not gonna make it. They don't mean any harm, they just don't. And why should they? I've only ever been in one other relationship and it didn't end too well. And Justin's just starting out. We know how it looks. But we want them to know that we're serious, that we're committed to being partners for life."
"And none of what Michael said was true?"
"No." He wanted the house, he wanted to marry Justin, and he wanted them to spend the rest of their lives together—and they would.
"Do you want Michael at the wedding, as your best man?"
"Yes!" Despite everything Michael had said, he did. "He's my best friend, we've been best friends since we were fourteen. I want him to be there."
"Then tell him that. Put aside your anger and your pride and talk to him. Tell him how you feel. And listen to what he has to say too. He's probably feeling left out, feeling a little alone right now, like he's on the outside looking in."
"I wanted to include him."
"But it's not the same, Brian, and you know it. You have to know how Michael feels about you. You have to know how disappointed he probably feels."
"But Justin and I have been together for years now."
"But this is different, Brian. You said it yourself, this wedding means you're serious, it's a very formal and very public announcement of your intentions to be life partners." Drew observed as Brian absorbed his words. "Tell him that you know how he feels…" Brian looked up in alarm. That was the one thing he and Michael had never talked about, not openly, not if they wanted to stay friends and yet it hadn't kept them from breaking up. Maybe it was time to bring it out in the open. "And explain to him," Drew continued, "why you love Justin and why you're getting married."
"Try again. I meant it before, be happy, Brian."
"But," Brian joked, "if I'm happy, then I won’t need to come and see you anymore."
"What does being happy have to do what that? You, my friend, have a long way to go before we can even think about ending our relationship. But if it ever happens, I would hope that we could be friends."
Brian smiled. "We already are, Doc."
Justin had called and wanted to meet him in the mall. After wondering how long he'd live if he said no way, Brian agreed to be at Macy's Bridal Registry by six-thirty. Which meant he wouldn't have time to go home and change unless he left work early. Looking at his watch, he flipped a coin mentally and began gathering his stuff. What the hell, it was four o'clock and he'd put in a full day's work. Besides which, he was a partner now. Grinning broadly, he snapped his briefcase close and picked up his coat on the way out. Left instructions for Cynthia to tell anyone looking for him that he had an important meeting to attend off-premises and headed for the parking garage.
Having changed into a pair of jeans and his denim shirt, he felt better physically even as his stomach churned. There could be only one reason why Justin wanted to meet at Macy's Bridal Registry. China patterns. It was true they didn't have any formal china but the last thing he wanted to do was to wander around with a bunch of breeders looking at dishes and glasses and silverware. But if he refused to help Justin look for something, there'd be a lot of cold nights ahead of him. So he practiced all of his relaxation techniques and counted the minutes until the ordeal would be over.
Justin was waiting when he got off the escalator. They kissed. "Hey, Baby."
"I was beginning to think you weren't coming."
He checked Justin's watch, having taken his off. "Six forty-five. I had to park and you know how it is in the mall."
"I know. I just got here myself," he confessed.
"So let's get this over with," said Brian.
"That's an attitude."
"Sorry. China's not my thing."
"Afterwards I promise we can go downstairs and do some window shopping in the Men's department."
"Deal." There was another couple, straight, milling around and Brian wondered when the sales person would show up to give them the cold shoulder. He did not have a good feeling about this.
Justin, for his part, was confused by the plethora of dishes and glasses and stuff. His mom had given him a list of things she said they had to have but there were so many choices. Where's the sales person?
A blonde woman appeared, mid-thirties, wearing a wedding band and carrying what looked to be scanners like they used in the grocery store. As she approached, the straight couple made a beeline for her. Justin checked visually with Brian and they walked towards her as well.
"Are you here to purchase a gift or register for gifts?" she asked the straight couple.
"We need to register," the woman replied. The poor guy looked like Brian felt: like he'd rather be getting his wisdom teeth extracted.
"And you, sir?" she asked Brian and the woman laughed.
"I think that's obvious."
Clamping down on his first response, Brian replied, "We need to register."
"You're getting married?" the bride-to-be asked.
"Yes," Justin answered.
"To one another?"
"Uh-huh." She was cute, but slow, Justin thought.
The woman glanced at her fiancé and then frowned at them. "What for? It's not like it's real."
The saleswoman inhaled but words must have failed her because she didn't say anything. They all stood for a moment in stunned silence, even the woman looking surprised that she had said such a thing and Brian counted backwards from ten and thought happy thoughts and in the end, he said quite evenly, "Fuck you," and walked away.
Justin was shocked. He'd expected Brian to say a lot worse. Giving the saleswoman a lifted brow, he went to make sure his lover wasn't destroying anything valuable.
Facing the straight couple, the sales person handed the man the scanner. "There's your gun. Use it," and she followed Justin and found the couple examining some Royal Doulton china. "I'm terribly sorry."
Brian shook his head. "I shouldn't have said that. It wasn't even her, you know? Just reminded me of someone else."
"Someone who doesn't understand why you're getting married?"
"You know, when I got married, my husband and I had to deal with people like that. My friends didn't understand why I was marrying him since he's quite a bit older than I am. And his friends thought I was just a gold digger. Which explains why I'm working here, right?" They laughed. "It got so bad that I tried to talk him into getting a prenuptial agreement and having a small wedding, just the two of us and a witness at the Justice of the Peace. And you know what he said? He said, 'I'm not marrying them, I'm marrying you. So fuck 'em." She smiled. "I think you and he would get along." She indicated the straight couple wandering in the section trying their best not to run into them. "So fuck 'em." She handed them their scanner. "You just scan the barcodes of the things you want and it records it. Then when you register, we'll download the information."
"Thanks," said Justin. "For everything."
"If you have any questions, just holler. My name's Trish."
"Thanks." Looking back towards the rude woman and her fiancé, Brian was
glad to see the heteros heading down the escalator, scanner left behind.
They'd chosen Naples by Royal Doulton for their china, Classic stemware by Vera Wang, and Golden Legacy silverware by Gorham. Brian was impressed by the tulip shaped Vera Wang with a subtle hint of gold color in the actual glasses and Justin especially liked the china as it reminded them of plates they'd used in Italy at one of the restaurants they'd visited.
After finishing in Macy's they hit Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, and Williams-Sonoma.
"Don't you have enough crap for the kitchen?" Brian asked incredulously as Justin went through making note of the things he wanted.
"We have some stuff but you didn't do much cooking so you're lacking a lot of essential items."
"Such as a KitchenAid mixer." He lovingly ran his hands over the dark blue mixer that would go perfect with the Aga stove.
Checking out the price, Brian said, "That thing costs almost four hundred dollars."
Justin plucked Brian's shirt pocket. "Says the man in the hundred dollar shirt."
"Yeah, it's a shirt. I can wear it."
"Well, with this, I can make cake so we can eat it." Case rested, he moved onto the next item.
"Eat me," Brian whispered.
"I heard that," replied Justin.
They did spot a neat coffee table for either the bedroom or the family room in Pottery Barn and some furniture for Gus' bathroom as well as a hamper for their bathroom. Stuff to get when they went back for the mattress. There was no point in buying any local items now as there was no place to put anything. Flipping through the catalogue in the Crate and Barrel store, they found their casual dining ensemble, the one they were putting in the great room since neither one of them wanted to eat in the formal dining room unless it was a formal occasion. Brian applied for store credit on the spot and ordered the table and chairs and sideboard within a few minutes. Since they were in there, they registered for gifts as well and Brian laughed while reading the brochure.
" 'Look at what great gifts you'll get,' " he read with fake enthusiasm. " 'Did I register for enough gifts?' "
Justin herded him out of the store before the sales people had a chance to hear him. "We need something for the pergola too." They planned on putting a larger table in the courtyard, enough for at least six people to gather around.
"Eventually, yeah" Brian agreed. "But, for right now, as long as we have somewhere to eat, I'll be happy."
"Romantic dinners under the pergola, lanterns hanging overhead. Just the two of us." Justin tempted Brian with his vision.
"Fine. But something inexpensive," he warned. "Yet tasteful."
"Actually, I found a mosaic table online that might work."
Brian took hold of Justin's arm and tugged him along. "I'm taking that mouse away from you."
"It's the gerbil you have to worry about," he retorted.
As they walked to where he'd parked, since Justin was closer to Macy's, Brian asked, "Have you told your father about us?"
Without resorting to a cheap joke about his father already 'knowing about them,' Justin said, "No."
"I don't know."
"That's a kid's answer. You'll be twenty in a few days. I want a man's answer."
"I haven't told him because I don't want to have that conversation."
"The one where he asks me what the fuck I'm doing."
"And you can't tell him? I know it's not because you're afraid. I don't think you're afraid of anything."
"Some things," he admitted. "I just want everything to go smoothly."
Brian snorted and gripped Justin by the arms. "Baby, it's us. It's not gonna go smoothly. I'm just praying we make it through the day without it becoming a complete cluster fuck." Justin laughed too cause it was true. "I think you should talk to him."
"Maybe I will. When you talk to Mikey."
Brian took a deep breath. "I'm going by his place tomorrow. Time to clear the air." He waited.
"Maybe I'll go see my dad while you're with Michael."
"That would be a fantastic idea." Brian kissed him. "We heading home or what?"
"I don't have anyplace else to go." Besides which, he was tired. Hard to believe, but true.
"You know the place."
"Meet you there."
They kissed again and parted and Brian watched Justin walk back to his car. He wished he could be there when Justin talked to Craig. Sometimes the man had a way of twisting Justin up so that it took all of Brian's considerable talents to straighten him out again. He understood. His father had had the ability to twist him up as well. He could only imagine what Jack Kinney would have said about him getting married and, truthfully, he was glad that he wasn't around to cast a damper on the proceedings. At least Craig was trying to understand Justin, even though, at times, it seemed to be an unbelievably slow process. For every inch that they moved forward, they appeared to move a half an inch in the opposite direction. Still, it was something. Whereas Craig would probably just stay away from the proceedings and keep to the background of Justin's life where he'd been lurking for months now, Jack would have made it his personal crusade to ridicule, heckle, and humiliate Brian. The way he always did when it came to something Brian thought was important.
Waiting for his turn to pull up to the ticket booth in the garage,
Brian gave his head a tiny shake to clear it of all thoughts of his
father. Jack Kinney was dead, let him rest in peace. He was still alive
and about to embark on a new adventure with the man he loved. As he looked
back up in his mirror after getting out his validated ticket stub, he saw
Justin sitting behind him in the Cherokee and smiled. Justin waved and
even though he didn't wave back his smile broadened and he knew that
Justin had seen because Justin always knew if he was smiling or not, if he
was happy or not, if he was bothered by something. On an impulse, he stuck
his head and arm out of the window and waved. Justin laughed and waved him
on. He looked around. The lady in the ticket booth was waiting. Grinning
sheepishly, he advanced.
When Brian poked his head in the door to see if he had a minute, Ryder was certain it was to talk about the house.
"So how's everything going with the new digs?"
"On schedule. The buyers are closing on the loft early next week and we'll close on the house on the twenty-seventh. But that's not what I'm here to talk about."
"You need some time off?" It'd be tricky but he and the other partners could probably handle it until Brian returned. If it were only a few days.
"Need it, yes; taking it, no."
"So what is it?"
"Ah… Justin and I are getting married. February fifteenth and… we'd like you and Liz to come."
Ryder seemed surprised. Which was only natural. Inside, Brian berated himself for even asking him. "Look, it's okay if you don’t want to come."
"Six o'clock. It's an evening wedding. At the house. Just twenty-five, thirty people."
"Liz and I would be happy to attend." And they would. Liz especially. She liked Brian and Justin, thought they made a 'cute couple.' "Are you registered anyplace?"
Brian cocked his head. "I didn't think you'd take it this well."
"I know that I gave you a hard time, at first—"
Brian laughed. "Hard time?" That was an understatement. He still remembered Ryder coming to his apartment after Justin had been bashed, worried about the bad publicity from the incident and suggesting that Brian take some time off to reconsider the choices he'd made. Or the time he'd chewed Brian out for fighting in the break room cause some asshole was making cracks about Justin.
Ryder remembered those moments too. "But I know now that you and Justin are committed to one another and I respect that commitment. So, where are you registered?"
"Macy's, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, Crate and Barrel, and Pier 1 Imports. So far," he added.
"I think I'll send out an all-staff announcement. You mind?"
"Good. Solicit donations for a company gift. Got a china pattern picked out?"
"And silverware and stemware, the whole nine yards."
"Macy's." He paused. "Thanks, Marty."
"You're a partner and a valuable member of this firm. Whatever we can do, just ask."
"I will." He wandered out of Ryder's office as if he were in a dream, unsure if in the next moment he'd run into Ewan McGregor in the hallway singing, "Come what may," from Moulin Rouge. "That's it!" he whispered fiercely. Rushed to his office and called Justin. When the teen answered, he said, " 'Come What May'."
"From Moulin Rouge." Justin had the soundtrack and the DVD. "That could be our song." They both loved the movie and Ewan McGregor and even Brian thought Nicole had been 'okay'. And the music was great. More importantly, it had been a totally awesome day, that first time they saw it, just the two of them, cycling precariously (on Brian's part) in the park, holding hands in the movies, and then rushing back to the loft after dinner to make love.
"Yeah," agreed Justin, remembering that day fondly as well. "Yeah!"
Brian could see him smiling. "Did I do good or what?"
"Your gerbil did a good job. We'll have to practice dancing to it."
"In the house. We'll have plenty of room."
"Only a few more days now."
"I love you."
"Love you too. Listen, you call your dad yet?"
"Yeah. I'm having dinner with him. I hope."
Justin didn't seem very enthusiastic. "You'll be okay?"
Brian heard the hesitation in his voice but decided to trust that Justin knew what he was doing and how to handle his father. "Then I'll see you later."
Justin had only been over to his dad's new place a couple of times and each time he was struck by how empty it seemed without Molly's crap all over the place, and the flowers his mom had always put out, and his sketch pads. It kind of reminded him of the loft before he and Gus had come along to stay. And now they were moving into a brand new place with a room for Gus and a studio for him.
"So," Craig asked, breaking through his daydream, "where do you want to have dinner?"
He shrugged. "Doesn't matter."
"Yeah." There was no point in putting it off. Bruschetta was not going to make it any easier to digest. "Dad, I have something to tell you."
"What?" Instantly suspicious. Justin could hear it in his voice. "You're not quitting school are you?"
"No. I'm… I'm moving."
"You and Brian split up?"
"No." He gave a half-laugh. "We're moving into a new house." Pause. "And we're getting married."
Craig frowned. "Did you say you were getting married?"
"Yeah, Dad, next month."
"Is this a joke?"
This was going just as he'd expected. "No, it's not. Brian and I are getting married."
"But, Justin, it's not legal."
"So what?" Frustrated, he sat and expelled a stream of air. "That's not why we're doing it."
"Then why are you doing it?"
"Because we love each other and we want to celebrate."
"Then go out to dinner. But a wedding?" Craig's mind reeled. He'd spoken to Jenn just this past weekend and she'd known and hadn't said anything.
"Then I guess we don’t have to bother sending you an invitation."
"Yeah," he said exasperated. "Invitations, a catered dinner, cake, decorations, the whole nine yards. We're getting married." He'd known Craig wouldn't understand and his father hadn't disappointed him.
"Christ." He sat in an armchair and stared at his hands which were clasped between his knees.
"Don't worry, we're paying for it ourselves." Craig looked up and Justin regretted making even that tiny joke. "Dad… Why can't you understand?"
"Because I don't. I don't understand why you have to make a mockery of everything."
Justin's face went hot. "A mockery? Of what?"
"So we're not allowed to get married because we're gay?"
"What's the point? You can't have children—"
"We have a child."
"You have no legal rights—"
"It's not about—"
"And I bet he," Brian, "doesn’t even believe in God."
"He's Catholic, Dad; he believes in God. He just doesn't like him very much." On the verge of leaving, Justin made himself stay and try one last time. "We're building a life together. All we want is to be able to have the same things as everyone else."
"Funny, I thought gays didn't want to be treated like straight people." Justin had yelled that at him enough times that he'd finally gotten it.
"So only straight people can get married?"
"If you don’t want to be straight, then don't be. But you can't have it both ways." You had to draw the line somewhere and this was it.
Standing, Justin said, "I thought after everything that had happened with Chris Hobbs, you would understand. But you don't."
Craig rose and started after him, then stopped when he realized he didn't know what to say. From his place by the couch, Craig asked, "So that's it?"
"What do you want? You want me to say that we're not getting married? Well, we are. We're getting married and afterwards we're gonna live our lives, Dad. You can be a part of that or not. It's up to you." Then he added, "And this time you can't strike a deal with Brian because he has to be there." Softly, he said, "But you don’t." Closing the door behind him, he waited for the elevator to arrive and hoped that his father would come after him and hoped, just as fervently, that he wouldn't.
God, he wanted to see Brian. But Brian was dealing with a situation of
He'd stopped by Mikey's place and Emmett had been there entertaining a guest. Peeking out of the door to spare Brian the sight of his naked body, Em had informed him that Michael had gone to Deb's for dinner. Girding himself for the encounter, Brian had driven to Deb's house and parked. Now he sat outside debating whether he should go in. He could always wait until tomorrow. But he'd made a deal with Justin that if he talked to his dad, he would talk to Michael. So there was no point in putting it off.
Vic peeped through the curtain and announced to the group, "It's Brian."
Jeff gave Michael a look. He'd tried to talk to him again about Brian, prompted by Justin's visit, but Michael had again refused to discuss the situation. Looked like the situation had come to him.
"Hey," said Vic as he opened the door. Brian bussed him and waved to the rest of them sitting around the table.
"Don’t hey me," scolded Deb and she rose and hugged him tightly. "Where's Sunshine?"
"Dinner with his dad."
"So they let you loose on the town, huh?"
"I've got a tracer in my underwear. Justin doesn't let me leave home without it," he joked and she slapped him on the arm. "Ow!"
"Sit down and have some dinner." She checked out Michael's reaction and was satisfied to see that he was upset. Good, he ought to be. If she were closer to him, she'd pop him too.
"Have you eaten?"
"Well, we just started so sit down. We're having lasagna." When he didn't sit, she said again, sternly, "Sit."
Pop on the back of the head. "And don't call me ma'am."
"What do you do when I'm not around to hit?"
Vic raised his sleeve. "Have I showed you the bruises?"
Laughing softly, Brian caught Michael's eye. "Hey."
Jeff nodded. "How have you been?"
"Busy." He didn't have to say with what. Deb handed him a plate filled
to the rim with lasagna. "Thanks."
As he pulled up to Deb's house he cursed. Brian was there, which meant Michael was there. Shit. He was hoping to stay out of that. Especially since he was the bone of contention between them. It occurred to him that he should just go home but he really wanted to see Brian now, he needed to be with him and with people who supported their decision to get married, Michael excepted. Making up his mind in an instant, he parked and ran up the steps.
"Who could that be?" Deb asked, hearing the knock.
"I'll get it," said Michael, wanting a moment away from Brian's avoiding eyes. Even worse than Brian looking directly at him was the way his friend kept trying not to look at him. It was about to drive him crazy. Not bothering to check through the window, Michael threw open the door. "Justin."
"Sunshine!" called Deb. "We were just talking about you."
Michael waited until Justin had gone past him to shut the door and return to his seat. Brian rose and met Justin just as he entered the kitchen. "What happened?" Justin shook his head.
Another plate appeared and space was made for Justin next to Brian at the table.
"So," asked Deb, "are you excited?"
"You guess?" She exchanged glances with Vic. "I would have bet money that you'd already had your china pattern picked out."
He smiled. "I do."
Deb laughed. "What's it like?"
Michael standing up interrupted his response.
"Michael?" Deb asked, startled by his sudden movement.
"I think we should go," he said to Jeff.
Debbie glared at him. "What's going on?"
"You know damned well," he replied.
Justin stood. "I'll go."
So, of course, Brian got up too. "Come on."
"Goddamnit! Everybody sit your asses down!" ordered Deb. "Right now." They all sat back down. "Now, eat your fuckin' food before it gets cold. And the next person who gets up without cleaning his plate first is gonna answer to me."
They began to eat.
Perversely, Brian felt the urge to giggle and fought it until he happened to glance at Justin and see that he was barely holding it in too. And his floodgates opened and he laughed. Laughed so hard Justin had to slap his back before he choked on his lasagna.
"You can't die. We haven't said, 'I do,' yet," said Justin, which only made Brian laugh even harder.
Deb poured a glass of water and passed it to him, shaking her head.
After dinner Justin helped Deb and Vic clean up while Brian went outside to smoke. And to give Michael a chance to respond to the overture he'd made by coming over. Within a few moments, Mikey appeared outside. Stood for a while by the door before stuffing his hands in his pockets and joining Brian by the picnic table. He pressed down on it, testing it.
"I don't know why Ma won't get rid of this thing. I'm surprised the City hasn't condemned it yet."
"I think she keeps it around to give splinters to unwanted guests." But it had never worked on him. This had been home to him, just as much as his mom's house, more maybe, because they'd wanted him around.
Chuckling. "Maybe." He risked sitting on it anyway. "Brian…"
He waited. "Yeah?"
Brian exhaled a stream of smoke. "I know."
"Well, aren't you sorry too?"
"For what? I didn't do anything wrong."
Softly, Michael asked, "Not even for leading me on for fifteen years?"
Deb's words came back to him,"Always giving him just these extra little tidbits of your affection, huh? To make him believe that maybe someday you'd be his." Brian put out his cigarette. "I'm sorry."
"I always thought…" Michael shook his head. "I don't know, that maybe…you and me…"
"Mikey… It was never gonna happen between us." Total honesty now.
"If Justin hadn't come along—"
"Even if he hadn't, we wouldn't have gotten together."
"Why not? I'm not your type?" he joked.
"You're my best friend."
"And you don't do friends." That was a cardinal rule among the members of their group and yet he would have broken it in a minute. Maybe. Sometimes he didn’t know, wasn't quite sure how to feel about Brian.
"Cause if we had and something had gone wrong, who would we have turned to?" Brian asked. "And then that would have been our friendship gone right down the fuckin' drain. And for what?"
"For a chance to have a life together!" Michael exclaimed.
"It would never have been."
"You don't know that."
"I know that I belong with Justin." And he did. With all of life's uncertainties constantly assailing him, it was the one thing he knew to be true. "I don't know how I know it, I just do. I can't explain it but he's what I've always been searching for. Even though I didn't know it."
"It could have been me. You ever think about that?"
"No," he replied, "it couldn't have been. Because it's him." Michael rose and started to walk away. "I don't want to hurt you."
"Michael… please. I want you to understand."
"No, you don't. Because I don’t understand it myself. Except that I feel like there's always been this piece missing from my life. And it was Justin." He neared Michael and touched him. At first his friend flinched but then he settled down. "I want you in my life. I want you in my wedding. You're my best friend and I want you beside me when I get married." He looked into Michael's eyes, so that he'd know he was sincere. "But if you can't do it, then that's okay. I'll understand."
"Maybe you would, but I wouldn't." He couldn't let Brian down no matter how he felt. "Friends don't let friends get married without them. Especially best friends."
Brian drew Michael to him and held him, feeling Michael's warmth against his own, comforting, reassuring. A homecoming. "Thank you."
"I love you, you know." Always had, always would.
"I love you too." Even if it wasn't the same kind of love, it was love nonetheless and special.
"Well," said Deb, as they reentered the house, "I bet your asses are cold."
"Don’t worry," Brian told her, "Justin'll heat mine up when we get home." Justin whacked Brian with a wet dishcloth, "Ow!" and Deb patted the teen's shoulder.
"Nice technique. I admire a man with good wrist action."
From the living room, Vic, Jeff and Michael brayed but Brian, wisely,
stayed quiet. That dishcloth was no joke.
Having driven home in separate cars, they parked and met at the front door, walked up together, arms about one another's waist and shoulder. Brian waited until they got upstairs and safely inside the loft before asking the question he'd been burning to ask all evening. "So what did the asshole say?"
That almost made him laugh, because that sounded so much like Mel talking about Brian sometimes. But he didn't laugh because there was very little funny about the situation. "He said we were making a mockery of marriage."
"Guess we can scratch his name off the list, huh?"
Brian gathered Justin in his arms and kissed him below the ear. "You knew he'd probably react that way."
"I guess… I guess I was hoping…"
He kissed him on the cheek. "I know." Justin was still so tense. "Least your mom'll be there."
"And your mom."
Chuckling, Brian asked, "Can you imagine what Jack would have said if he were alive?"
"He would have made my dad seem reasonable," laughed Justin and Brian felt the tension flow out of his frame. "Why are they such assholes?"
"I guess," said Brian, "that the world didn't give them much choice," and it was the most charitable thing he'd ever said about either one of them. "All that bullshit about being real men."
"We're real men," Justin pointed out.
"Total he-men," joked Brian and he struck a bodybuilding pose so ridiculous that Justin cracked up.
"I didn't know they had an underweight category."
"I am not underweight," declared Brian. "Just slender."
The teen ran his hand over Brian's slender chest. "Just perfect." Began
unbuttoning his shirt.
They'd arranged for him and Daphne to go to the school and pick up Xavier and Rennie. Justin didn't tell his two friends that he would be driving his new car. Seeing them from down the street, he grinned.
Pulling up to the curb, it was worth a thousand dollars to see Rennie's jaw drop.
"The deluxe Hot Wheels model… You must be putting out some good stuff, Boy Wonder."
"The best," he assured her. They hugged and she ran her hand over the hood. He and Xavier came together and embraced one another. "Good break?"
"I think I gained ten pounds. Every time I looked Nana Rose was shoving something in my mouth."
"And when she wasn't, Trey was," quipped Rennie.
"Nasty girl," said Xavier.
"Don't I get any hugs?" asked Daphne and both Rennie and Xavier hugged her, apologizing for seemingly overlooking her.
"I was blinded by Justin's gas guzzler," Rennie explained.
Xavier said, "You had some Christmas."
"And anniversary and birthday," he said.
"And now a new house and a wedding."
"You wearing white?" asked Rennie.
Daphne laughed and grabbed her arm. "Come sit in the back with me."
Loading up, they went down the street to a pizza place they liked to eat at and ordered two pizzas, one with the works and one white pizza with cheese only for Rennie.
"When do we get to see the house?" asked Xavier.
"After we sign the papers," he replied and hoped Daphne wouldn't tell them that he'd promised to show her the house before she went back to school. She wouldn’t be able to see it until the wedding otherwise.
"I can't believe you're getting married," Rennie said. "I mean, it's all I can do just to concentrate on my art. How are you going to manage school, a husband, a kid, and a house?"
"Same way I've been managing. Only better," he added cause, fuck, he'd made some mistakes. Big ones.
The girls wanted to go thrift store shopping so Xavier and Justin wandered around on their own for a while until they found a quiet place to sit and talk.
"You look happy," Xavier told him.
"I really am glad for you, J. I mean it."
"I'm glad I didn't fuck it up for you."
"You didn't do anything by yourself. I was right there with you."
Xavier shook his head. "Sometimes I look back and I wonder what in the fuck we thought we were doing."
"Trying to live." He squinted against the glare of the sun. "I'm glad we're still friends."
Not looking at Xavier, Justin said, "I don't regret being with you. I hate that it hurt Brian… and us. But I'll always remember the time we spent together."
"Me too," Xavier said softly. "I'll always—" he began but the girls
came over laughing and talking about their purchases and he never finished
what he was about to say.
With a name like Reverend Ophelia O’Leary, Brian had expected a willowy, red-headed Irish lass; instead, Rev. Ophelia reminded him of the Vicar of Dibley. Sturdy and round-cheeked with a mop of brown hair held back with a couple of hastily clipped barrettes. She was wearing, as best he could tell, a pair of brown suede pants topped with a generously cut blue tunic. But despite her appearance, she had a knowing look in her eye that bespoke her years as an AIDS counselor and minister to the gay community. Yet, for all of the death and sorrow she must have encountered, her spirit shone through bright as brass and it was that quality which had drawn Justin on the telephone and which he was now experiencing in person.
"So, you want to be married?" she asked with an Irish brogue. That much Brian had gotten right.
"Yes," said Justin, clearing his throat as his voice had cracked a bit. “Yes.”
"He’s still going through puberty,” explained Brian and Justin elbowed him.
Rev. Ophelia laughed and the sound was like music. “I know you,” she told them. “Said a prayer for Justin when he was in the hospital. Even went down to the proceedings once.”
"To protest?” asked Brian. There had been a lot of protestors, none of whom he’d regarded very kindly at the time.
"No. To see the other one. To see the face of a child who could do such a thing. To try and understand why.”
"And nothing. What can you know of a person in such a short time?”
All Brian could hear was Chris Hobbs saying he’d attacked Justin because of him. His face darkened and Justin reached for his hand, held it, and his features cleared and he smiled, the shadows gone.
"I was going to ask you why you wanted to be married but I don’t think I have to,” she said. “So when is the blessed event?”
"February fifteenth,” replied Justin.
"Not much time.”
"Are you available?”
She checked her book. “Aye, I’m free. I suppose you'll be wanting to do it early in the day? There goes my sleeping in.”
"Actually, it’s an evening wedding. Six o’clock.”
"Well, I’ll have to wear my fancy clothes underneath my robe.” She wrote down the time in her planner. “Now, are you wanting a traditional wedding or something a little more modern?”
"I think we’d better go with something a little more up-to-date than ‘love and obey,’" said Brian, “although…”
"Don’t even think about it,” warned Justin.
"I think we can accommodate you. Will you be writing your own vows or saying something special during the ceremony?”
Brian raised a brow and Justin shrugged. Still, he said, “It’d be nice if we did.”
"Like,” answered Justin, “saying how we feel about each other.”
"Won’t that be obvious? I mean, we are getting married.”
"I think what Justin means,” began Ophelia but Justin cut her off.
"He knows what I mean. He’s just being difficult.”
"At any rate, we can discuss it again as the time gets closer but you don’t have much time to decide. Let’s say we meet in a week and go over the order of service. I'll have some options for you then."
Justin rose when she did and shook her hand. “Thanks.”
Brian took it as well. “We’ll see you in a week.”
"You hope,” she said, laughing again.
"I like her," Justin said as they drove to their next appointment, which was at the formal wear shop. They had to pick out their tuxes.
"She's okay," said Brian which meant he really liked her.
Glancing at his partner, Justin chuckled. That's why he loved him.
An hour later he could have killed him. Who would have thought it would have been that much trouble finding a tuxedo to please His Big and Badness? That one didn't do, not that one, no, no, no, a volley of no's fired at the poor, hapless clerks in the shop, riddling them with rejection and turning their ordinarily pleasant evening into a major engagement. One in which they were on the losing side. Of course, Justin felt like a loser as well as every suggestion he made was shot down just as quickly. Finally, one fortunate soul brought out a black Fumagalli tux. The single-breasted, five-button jacket had a mandarin collar. Justin was certain Brian was going to blitzkrieg him but he paused, took it from the man, examined it from collar to cuff and pronounced it, "Perfect." Held it up against Justin. "We'll need two. One in his size and one in mine."
Relieved that they'd found something that suited him, they were more than happy to take their measurements and put in the order. The supervisor assured Brian that the tuxes would be there within the week.
"Good," he replied, "because my tailor will need to make some adjustments."
"You can't adjust rentals," the man explained before Justin could warn him.
"We're buying these," Brian told him, frowning. He did not do rental tuxes.
"Yes, sir." Subdued, the clerk rang up their order. When he was done, he gave Brian the receipt and said, "You pay when the tuxes come, sir."
"Fine." Brian put away the receipt and left without saying anything else.
"Thanks," said Justin, a little ashamed of Brian's imperious behavior. When they got to the car, he launched an attack of his own. "Did you have to act like the Queen of Sheba?" he asked his partner.
"What?" replied Brian, genuinely puzzled by Justin's obviously bad mood.
"You yelled at those guys for a half an hour and then they find something you like and you didn't even bother to say thank you."
"They're getting my money, what else do they want?"
Justin squeezed his eyes shut and tried to remember that this was the same man who would play horsie with Gus or buy him roses or sing to him.
But Brian didn't drive away. He sat there with his hands on the wheel and took a deep breath. "You want me to go back and apologize?"
"No. I just—" Justin started. "I just wish you'd think about someone else before you totally disregard them. You treated them like servants, and they're not."
"Fine," Brian said tightly.
"And now you're mad."
"I’m not mad."
"Yes, you are."
"No, I'm not." He turned, faced Justin. "But I may be if we keep this conversation up."
"Oh," said Justin, about to have a hissy fit of his own. "You might get angry. I guess I should just shut up then."
"Let it go," Brian warned.
"Maybe use my mouth for something useful, huh?" he asked, reaching for Brian's zipper. But Brian swatted his hand away.
"Leave me alone."
Justin moved closer and cupped Brian's groin. Whispered in his ear, "You mean you don't want me to service you? I thought that's what we were all for: to serve you."
"Fuck you," Brian growled and his jaw tightened.
Satisfied that he'd gotten a rise out of him, Justin moved away and sat back in his seat, silent for the rest of the trip home.
Only, when they got home, Brian showed no signs of having gotten over his anger, in fact, he seemed angrier than before, as if the silent trip had only intensified his emotions.
Suspecting that he may have made a mistake, Justin tried to make amends but Brian was having none of it. Brushed him off and strode on ahead, not bothering to see if Justin was behind him or not. It was only by opening the loft door and leaving it open did he indicate that he even cared. Closing the door, Justin said, "Brian?"
The man whipped around. "Stay away from me. That's a direct order from the Queen herself." And he headed for the bedroom.
Justin closed the gap between them. Sang in a whisper, "Never knew I could feel like this/ Like I've never seen the sky before…" Brian paused and Justin moved closer. "I want to vanish inside your kiss/ Every day I love you more and more." Instantly, Brian's anger vanished and he enveloped the teen in an embrace and heard Justin say, "Come what may."
"Come what may," he agreed and lifted Justin in his arms.
Over breakfast, Brian said, "Last day as a teenager. What do you want to do?" They had already spent the early morning making up again but he wasn't adverse to another make-up session. Only, he figured Justin probably wanted to go see caterers. Which was what they ought to be doing while they still had time. And picking out a cake. And sending out the invitations. He sighed inwardly but was careful not to let it escape his lips, wary of another blowup like yesterday's that had come out of nowhere and gripped him so tightly he hadn't been able to escape it. Pre-wedding jitters. Except that their wedding was still almost a month away. Putting it from his thoughts he waited for Justin's reply.
"Well," he said, "we need to do the invitations, talk to the caterers," bingo, "and hit a couple of bakeries," direct hit. "And I set up a meeting with the DJ for this afternoon. He's meeting us here around five. Okay?"
Brian snapped the paper and went back to reading the Style section. "Fine with me. That all?" he asked, peeping over the top.
"And then maybe we could have dinner and make up some more," he suggested with a grin.
The ad exec didn't reply but he did raise his foot and stroke his
Their first stop was a nearby bakery that they both liked. Joanie and Justin had found the perfect cake online. Unfortunately, the bakery that produced it was not local. Their task was to find a place in Pitts that could design a similar cake which was also moist and delicious.
The proprietor of the bakery was from the South and she loved to bake. And it showed. She was an earth goddess if ever they had seen one. Voluptuous and not beautiful but striking. She even called herself Gaia, as if aware of the association everyone made when they saw her. Actually, she looked a little like the cartoon character Gaia on Captain Planet, except that she was heavier and had more curves. Not only did she have some of the best cake in town but Justin loved the way she talked, like she was putting exclamation marks behind every phrase.
"Hey," she called out as the guys came in. Justin was one of her favorite customers. He loved her tiramisu, told her it was the best he'd had outside of Italy. She propped her elbows up on the counter. "What can I do for you boys?" This, despite the fact that she was probably under forty.
"We need a wedding cake," Brian told her.
"For us," said Justin.
"Well, isn't that something." Reaching behind the counter, she took out a Palm Pilot. "When you need it?"
Checked her dates. "Cutting it kind of close."
"But you can do it, right?"
"Maybe. What kind you want?"
"First," said Justin, pulling out the picture of the cake from online, "can you do something like this?"
She looked at it for a moment. Laughed. "Shoot. I thought you wanted something hard. So what flavor do you want?"
"What do you suggest?" asked Brian. What was the point in consulting with an expert if you couldn’t get an expert's opinion?
"Well, I like lemon cake myself for weddings. It smells good and it tastes good, my two requirements for cake."
"I like lemon," said Justin.
"How about this? Y'all come back this afternoon and I'll have some sample cakes for you to taste. How about that?"
"We can do that," Brian told her.
"All right now. Getting married."
After the baker, they went to see the caterers. They had been recommended to them by an old trick of Brian's. And, of course, they were gay.
"Gas Mark eight," whispered Brian to Justin as the two men led them to a sitting area and told them to make themselves comfortable. They ran the business out of a space very reminiscent of Sebastian's shop—they even lived above it—and, for a moment, Justin was sad but then he remembered all the years of happiness James and Sebastian had shared and he smiled softly and made up his mind to visit their graves and take some flowers before the week was out. After all, Valentine's Day was coming up, what better way to celebrate their love?
Handing them a brochure explaining the different wedding services they offered, the two—Derek and Hansel—gave them a moment to look it over.
There was something strange about the two, Justin decided, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. They were both quite handsome, almost pretty even and when they walked, they glided. Very good posture. Skin smooth and even-toned. They reminded him of something…
"So why do you call your company the Zoo?" asked Brian.
"Zoolander!" exclaimed Justin. "Derek Zoolander and the other model was named Hansel."
"Exactly," said Derek. "These aren't our real names but we loved the movie so much we figured, what the hell."
"What the hell, you'd change your names?" Brian asked seeing visions of death by chocolate—and not in a good way.
"What the hell, we might as well have some fun."
The one called Hansel leaned forward, as if imparting some great secret, "We used to be male models."
"Never would have guessed," Brian deadpanned.
Despite their gooniness, they served a killer lunch and the two grooms were more than happy to throw them their business. Besides, Brian thought it would be great to put on their wedding program that it had been catered by the Zoo. Secretly, Justin figured Brian just wanted to see how many of the cater waiters on the Zoo staff he had actually slept with in the past. Remembering Brian's performance at Michael and David's fundraiser for Senator Baxter, Justin resolved not to leave him alone with any of the cater waiters at their function.
With the caterers taken care of, they returned to Gaia's place to sample cake. When they walked in the door, they could smell freshly baked lemon cake and their minds were made up before she even offered them a seat and brought out the samples. Along with glasses of water to cleanse the palate between slices.
"Now," she said, "taste this and see if you don't slap yourself upside the head with your tongue."
Each piece was sinfully rich and delicious. There was a pale yellow cake that tasted of toasted almonds; a soft butter cake; an Italian cream cake with coconut and pecans in the batter; and even a moist white cake flavored with vanilla; but the lemon cake was the clear winner. The scent of citrus fruit perfumed the air and they felt as if springtime had already arrived.
"Raspberry filling, buttercream frosting," she described before taking a bite of the cake herself. "Mmm mmm mmm. Now, that's good."
Justin had to agree. "And the decorations won't be a problem?"
"Honey, I've got a dozen patterns for Royal icing snowflakes. All you need to tell me is how many layers do you want and how many snowflakes do you want?"
Brian deferred to Justin. "There's only gonna be about thirty, thirty-five people there. But…"
"You want something impressive," she finished for him. They all did, male, female, gay or straight, everybody wanted a big-assed cake.
"The cake's going to be out in the solarium and it's a pretty big space so we need something that looks, I don't know…"
"Bingo," added Brian. He liked the way she thought.
"Since you're only having less than fifty guests, how about I do a fake cake to put in with the real ones? We'll do a fake bottom layer, then put in two real ones for the reception, and you can save the top one for your anniversary next year."
"Now, I got to tell you, buttercream ain't the most hardy of frostings so it needs to be in a cool place."
Brian told her, "We can set the heat on low in the solarium, it should be cold enough."
"And the Royal icing will start to break down when it comes in contact with buttercream so I won't put the snowflakes on until the cake is set-up."
"You'll come and set it up?" asked Justin.
"I got to make sure my shit looks right." She smiled. "Excuse my French."
"Fuck it," said Brian. "You wanna hang around after you're done?"
"Hell, I'm always ready for a par-tay."
Arriving home at four thirty, they had a half hour before the DJ was supposed to show up. Brian opted to lie down for a moment while Justin kept him company and flipped through the brochures the caterers had given them.
"We probably should have done this first and then we could have put an RSVP card inside and asked people to indicate their choice of entrees."
"Maybe but most people won't return the damn things on time. I'll give Cynthia the list and have her call all of them and get their answer on the phone once we make some decisions."
"I wonder if my grandmother will come," Justin said, making notations on the brochure.
"They're both dead," Justin pointed out.
"Yeah, but even if they were alive, I couldn't see either one of them at a gay wedding."
"My grandmother would probably get drunk and hit on you."
Justin nudged him with his foot. "Are you always this conceited?"
"Modesty's for losers."
Chuckling, Justin went back to perusing the menu choices available from the Zoo.
At precisely five, DJ Twist buzzed them from downstairs. He was just as they'd remembered him: not quite six feet tall, slender, and beautiful. Deep brown eyes and dark, almost black hair, a rakish goatee, and full red lips. "Bri, good to see you again," he said as he came inside the loft. "Justin."
"So you two are getting married? Sweet. I think I can hook you up. Valentine's Day is crazy but the day after Valentine's Day is just the day after Valentine's Day, you know?"
"Not to us," countered Justin.
"True." He took out a pad of paper. "Low tech palm," he explained with a grin. "So what kinda music you want?"
"Something traditional for the service. You know, Bach, Handel, those guys. And we need a song to play after they read the poetry and while we're lighting the commitment candle."
"I got some wedding CDs with classical music. I'll see what I can find. What about the reception?"
"I was thinking maybe some jazz, show tunes, vocalists, stuff like that for the dinner part and then something we could dance to later on."
"House, electronica, rock and roll?"
"Yes," said Brian.
"Plus some slow songs," added Justin. "And they should all be about love."
"And no Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, or Enrique Iglesias. And no boy bands," Brian stipulated.
"But I like Savage Garden," Justin complained.
"Do you want my head to explode?"
"What about Destiny's Child?"
"If you have to," replied Brian, rolling his eyes.
"They're not a boy band," he pointed out.
"No, just annoying."
"You know," Justin said, standing, "why don't you pick out the music and you let me know? Or better yet, how about we just forget about the entire thing and you can do whatever the hell you want!" Leaving them in stunned silence, he stormed off to the bedroom.
DJ Twist laid his paper and pencil down on the table.
Taking a deep breath, Brian said, "We'll be back."
"Take your time."
"If I'm not out in ten minutes or if you hear any crunching sounds, please come save me before he eats me alive." Walking slowly to the bedroom, wishing that they had a door to close so that they could at least have a little privacy, Brian entered the lion's den. Found Justin sitting on the bed with his back to the livingroom. He leaned against the doorway. "You know, I wouldn't care if there was no music."
"Gonna give me some corny-assed line about how all that matters is that we're there?" came Justin's response.
"Yeah," said Brian, "I am gonna give you some corny-assed line about how all that matters is that we're there because that is all that matters. The rest of this shit is just… icing on the cake. On a cake that you and I both picked out without shedding any blood, sweat, or tears."
Justin snickered and rubbed his face. "Teen Drama Queen scene?"
Now that it was safe, Brian went and sat down next to his partner. "If you want to play Savage Garden or Destiny's Child, you can."
Laughing, Justin said, "Oh, that was gracious."
"I'm feeling magnanimous."
"What about Whitney, Celine, and Enrique?" he asked to test the boundaries of Brian's good will.
"The Axis of Evil is still banned from the list."
Returning to the livingroom, the two partners discussed their revised music choices and DJ Twist assured them that he would mix it up so that there was something for everyone. "What about your song?"
" 'Come What May' from Moulin Rouge," Justin answered.
"Good choice. Very popular." As he finished making notes, he said, "So am I gonna be doing MC duties too?"
"We've got wedding directors who'll be in charge of herding people from place to place and keeping us on track and making announcements. Mind if they use your mic?"
"Not a problem. Well, if there's nothing else?"
Brian shook his hand at the door. "Always a pleasure."
Twist said with a twinkle in his eye, "Less of one now that you're getting married."
"You mean we…?"
"You spin me right round, baby/ Right round like a record, baby/ Right round round round…" he sang as he left the apartment.
Justin hit Brian in the arm.
"Ow! What's that for?"
"Just because," he replied and went to look at entrees.
They'd fallen asleep but Brian had set the alarm. At precisely twelve o'clock it rang and they woke up again, the older man cutting it off and pulling the younger man to him. "Happy Birthday," Brian said against Justin's cheek. They kissed. "What do you want for your birthday?" he asked when they'd parted.
"I have everything I want."
Brian eased his leg over Justin's hip and laid his forehead against his partner's. "Sure?"
Giving him another kiss, this time longer and deeper, Brian asked, "There's nothing you want?"
Justin drew him in for another kiss. "Well, maybe something…"
Their low laughter filled the room and then they fell silent save for the usual sounds of their lovemaking.
Lying on his back, Justin stretched between his thighs and feasting on his balls, Brian uttered a sharp cry and groaned. Letting his lover's sac slip from his lips, Justin rose up and encircled Brian's cock with his fist, held him upright. A drop of precum bubbled from the tip and slipped down over the head, slid down the shaft. He waited until it was just about to touch his hand and lapped it up completely. Took the opportunity to engulf the swollen head and suck it until Brian gave a shout.
"Baby, Baby, Baby… Baby," he muttered as Justin went down on him from tip to base for the second time in fifteen minutes. "Oh, fuck…" His toes curled and he drew up his knees, pressing down into the mattress with his feet, trying to ground himself but he was losing that battle. All he wanted to do was to come, to shoot his load. His balls were so tight, so full they felt like they were going to burst.
Justin moved slightly to the side and used one hand to steady himself and the other to stroke Brian's balls as he sucked him off. His lover shuddered and pumped his hips twice, three times, and came. Keeping hold of the slippery organ with his lips was difficult but Justin managed to collect every drop of cum. Then, letting Brian slide free, he raised his hips from the bed and parted his cheeks. Opened his mouth. Cum and saliva dripped down upon the man's hole which was exposed and twitching from the aftermath of his orgasm. Soon it was covered. Justin lubed Brian, then flipped him over and mounted him, sliding through his tight hole, coming to rest deep inside him.
"Oh," mouthed Brian and he closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of Justin's cock, the rhythm of his strokes, slow at first but increasing in speed. Justin was so hard, so thick. He reached back and laid his hand upon his Baby's flank.
"Feel good?" Justin asked him and Brian moaned. "You like that?"
He said nothing, enjoying the ride.
Many long minutes later, Justin began to feel the need to take a ride himself. Giving Brian a couple of deep thrusts, he pulled out and turned his lover over. Brian's cock was hard against his belly, oozing precum from the tip. Perfect. Justin knelt astride Brian and waited.
Brian took his cock in hand and stroked it, coaxing even more precum to rise and spill. Justin leaned over and let a mouthful of saliva drip over the swollen head, mixing with Brian's juices. The man's flesh looked hard and shiny, slick. Brian held it upright by the base and Justin settled down over it. Lowered his hips until the head touched his hole. Pushed down and opened up around it. "Yes," he whispered as he took in the shaft. Felt Brian's hands on his hips, over his ribcage, his chest.
He positioned himself on all fours and rocked back, fucking himself on Brian's cock.
Hours later, Justin awoke to the smell of bacon cooking, probably eggs too. Butter which maybe meant toast. Coffee. He smiled and closed his eyes again, awaiting his birthday breakfast in bed. Which came in a little while on the tray he'd bought when Brian had gotten sick last year. The week of his birthday. Things had certainly changed. Although he'd wanted Brian to think he was still asleep, he couldn’t help it, he smiled and Brian laughed.
He opened his eyes and sat up. Fixed the pillows behind his back. "I was thinking about my birthday last year and how different things are now." One thing hadn't changed, that Brian still looked delicious in his sheer, black, silk robe. Justin hoped he'd been careful in the kitchen as the robe wouldn't have afforded him much protection from hot, splattering grease.
Brian positioned the tray over Justin's lap, then went back for the carafe of coffee and the cream and sugar. There was one plate on the tray and two forks and two cups. The one plate was filled with food enough for two. After he sat the coffee and sugar and cream upon the night stand, Brian got back in bed and kissed the birthday boy. "Mmm…"
Laughing, Justin held up his coffee cup. Brian filled it half way, poured cream enough to reach the two-thirds mark, and stirred in three teaspoons of sugar. Just the way Justin liked it. He sipped a taste and smiled. "Perfect."
"You or the coffee?"
"Both." Brian fixed his own, black with plenty of sugar, and raised his cup for a toast. "To the hottest twenty-year-old in Pittsburgh." They clicked cups.
"Not the world?"
Brian amended his statement. "In the world." Put down his coffee. "I forgot the juice."
Justin picked up a piece of bacon with his fingers. Crunched on it. "Forget it. Don't need it."
"Don't talk with your mouth full."
"You certainly talk enough when my mouth is full," he grinned, alluding to last night's/this morning's activities and the way Brian had moaned while Justin sucked him.
Saying nothing, Brian also took a piece of bacon and began eating. He needed his strength. Justin had that 'I'm not finished with you' look in his eye. "Oh," he said and got up. Rummaged in his briefcase. Came back with something in his hands. Handed Justin an envelope and plopped back down.
Justin set aside his fork and took the envelope, opened it to find a card with two men in bed on front and the message "My dreams come true…" Inside it said, "every time I wake up with you." And it was signed, "Happy Birthday, Pookie."
"I mean it," Brian said, giving him a little kiss which turned into a much bigger kiss and proceeded to evolve into the need to put the food on the nightstand and attend to other desires.
Forty minutes later, in the shower, Brian asked him again, "What do you want to do today?"
Shrugging and moving closer so that Brian could wash his back, Justin said, "Don't know. Maybe I can work on another drawing for Kenneth."
"It's your birthday," Brian pointed out, running his hands over his lover's smooth, soft skin.
"Yeah," agreed Justin. "Exactly." They'd had plenty of fun the last time working on the first drawing.
Brian raised a brow. Smiled. "I want to take you out, show you off."
"Which means I'll need my strength."
Justin cupped his buttock and kissed him just above his heart. "I promise I'll be gentle."
Both having dried off, Brian knelt and held Justin's underwear as the young man stepped into them, then stood and pulled the white boxer briefs up over his golden furred calves and thighs until the spandex stretched snug about his buttocks and crotch. He adjusted his lover's package, then kissed him, his palm still cupped about his groin. Squeezed lightly and felt Justin pulse in response. Nibbling on his neck, he continued to stroke him, listening to the sounds of Justin's breathing for signs of increasing arousal. Finally, the twenty-year-old eased Brian away from him and laid back on the bed, thighs open. He pushed his briefs partway down his thighs and left them there. An invitation.
Lips pursed, Brian started to join him when the buzzer to the front door rang. "Fuck!" He started to ignore it when it came again. "Fuck."
Justin drew up his underwear and went in search of his robe. Brian's lay at the foot of the bed. Frustrated, Brian snatched it up and stomped off to buzz through whomever it was. He belted it around his waist and waited.
"Well, it's not any of my friends," Justin assured him. "Daphne gave me her present at lunch on Thursday and Rennie and Xavier promised not to show up today."
"Probably your mom," he groused.
"I told her not to come over before twelve."
Brian glanced at the clock on the DVD player. Grimaced. "Eleven fifty-nine," he announced.
"Shit." Gave Brian a kiss. "Sorry."
"I'll—" He was interrupted by a knock. "Come on in, Jenn," he said as he slid open the door to find not only Justin's mom there but Lindz and Mel, Deb and Vic, Mikey, Jeff, Ted, and Emmett. And Gus.
Brian caught the toddler in his arms and kissed him soundly, then passed him to Justin. "What are you people doing here?"
"Fashion show," explained Ted. "The latest in hide and peek loungewear."
Looking at the slightly shocked faces of the women present, he realized what he'd done. He'd put on his sheer robe. Turning to Justin, he asked, "Why didn't you tell me?"
Breathing loudly, he mumbled, "Nothing you’ve never seen before," and since most of the women present had seen him naked or near naked at least once, it was true. "Come on in," he said before heading to the bedroom to find his other robe.
"What's up?" asked Justin, putting Gus down. The toddler ran after Brian.
"Well," explained Jenn, "we figured you and Brian would probably want to have an intimate dinner for two but we wanted a chance to celebrate with you. You only turn twenty once. So here we are." And they had food and cake and presents.
"Thanks, Mom," he said, bussing her on the cheek.
"Had lunch yet?"
"Just part of breakfast."
By the time he and Brian had each put on something more substantial, their guests had begun setting up the birthday brunch. Jeff and Mikey and the guys had piled up Justin's presents on the cabinet outside their bedroom and then retired to the livingroom, Emmett browsing through their CD collection to find some appropriate birthday music.
Deb caught Justin as he was passing the bar and laid a big one on him. "Happy Birthday, Sunshine."
Em had decided to put on Macy Gray's On How Life Is and skipped right to "Caligula". As the first notes sounded, Justin began to bounce.
"Hush the neighbors hearing you moanin and groanin
"Excuse me," he told her and went into the livingroom. Tried to get Brian to dance but the older man refused. "Come on, Gus, dance with Daddy." The tot left Brian's lap and reached up for Justin's hands and together they danced soon joined by Mikey and Jeff, and Em and Ted.
"Do the Naked Dance, Gus," Justin told him and the toddler shook his hips in a pretty good imitation of Justin.
Brian and Vic watched them and laughed, especially when Macy sang, "He wanna fight and make me feel like nothing/ Never loving but we're always fuckin" and Mel and Lindsay looked up to see Gus boogying with his Daddy Justin as if he were listening to The Wiggles.
"Like a jacuzzi
Tired of dancing, Gus found Jenn in the kitchen and said, "Nana, juice."
"You want some juice?"
She found his cup and poured him a cup of juice which he drank noisily.
Deb, sitting on a bar stool, asked her, "How does it feel being a grandmother?"
Smiling at the toddler, Jennifer replied, "I love it. And him."
"Is Joanie coming?"
"She said she might. Listen," Jenn began, "when are we going shopping for dresses? The wedding's less than a month away."
Looking down at her waistline, or what was left of it, Deb replied, "Maybe I could wear one of the dresses we bought for the trial."
Having overheard her, Brian nixed that. "Buy something new."
"He's right," seconded Michael. "You haven't bought a new dress since the trial."
"I'm a waitress, I don't need new dresses, I need sensible shoes and orthopedic hose."
"Well, this time you're buying something sleek and sexy," said Brian.
She looked down at her body again. "On this old chassis?"
"New coat of paint," he told her.
"What about the guys?" she asked. "What about you and Justin?"
"We ordered tuxes Friday," Justin replied. "Fumagalli."
"And I'm taking the guys shopping next weekend for rentals," Brian said.
Ted rolled his eyes. "This oughta be fun. Like a turn in the Roman Colosseum."
"Oo," exclaimed Emmett, clapping his hands, "I loved Russell Crowe in Gladiator. So butch."
"And wearing a skirt no less," added Vic.
Justin told them, "Brian has a tuxedo like the one he wore to the Academy Awards. It's sweet."
"But you're buying another tux for the wedding?" asked Jeff.
"Of course," answered Brian. "You can't get married in a rented tux," he said as if they were words of wisdom passed down over the ages.
"Of course not," Jeff agreed and smirked as Gus looked at his Daddy with a serious expression on his face.
"Can you, Gus?"
The baby shook his head as if he knew exactly what Brian meant and was rewarded with a kiss. "Luv you," he told Brian.
"I love you too."
Sliding onto the arm of the sofa next to Brian, Justin asked, "Me too?" and was given a kiss as well.
"All right," Jenn announced, "brunch is ready."
It was the sort of luncheon someone would fix for a bridal shower: chicken salad sandwiches on focaccia, tomato and basil quiche, and a carrot cake with a light orange-flavored cream cheese frosting.
"This is great, Mom."
Jennifer received the praise with a warm smile. "I'm glad you like it."
"You cooked this yourself?" asked Brian.
"With some help from Vic and Deb."
Brian whistled. "Maybe you three should cater the wedding. Except that you all might be in it."
At this first mention of the mechanics of the ceremony, Lindsay took the initiative to ask, "So have you decided what kind of service you're having?"
"We saw Rev. Ophelia on Friday," Justin explained, "and we're going to see her again this week coming up to make some decisions."
"Rev. Ophelia?" asked Ted. "Sounds vaguely Shakespearean. You sure she won't throw herself into a pond before the service?"
"She looks like the Vicar of Dibley," Brian said. "And she's Irish."
Jeff laughed. "Only you two would end up with an Irish priest who looks like the Vicar of Dibley."
"Who's the Vicar of Dibley?" asked Michael.
"It's a show. This British comedy. She's hilarious. Dawn French. Used to be part of a comedy team with Jennifer Saunders. From AbFab," explained Jeff.
"Absolutely Fabulous," exclaimed Emmett. "I loved Patsy."
"You wanted to be Patsy," said Ted. "Actually, Brian was Patsy."
" 'Sin is in, sweetie,' " quoted Em.
" 'Easy going sex with gorgeous, underage youths...' " said Ted, looking at Brian.
"He was not underage. Just undercooked."
Jennifer blushed, then said, "I loved that show." She quoted Edina talking about her ex-husband, " 'I don't know why it went wrong with Justin. I mean, you know, cause we did just adore each other, you know…' "
Ted, Emmett, and Jeff shouted, " 'He's gay!' " and they and Jennifer laughed and the others laughed as well to see them laughing together.
"Has your mom been drinking?" Brian asked Justin.
With brunch eaten and the cake partially demolished, it was time to open presents. Brian checked and saw that it was only two o'clock. Plenty of time to rest up before tonight.
Justin, with Gus as his helper, opened his presents. The baby seemed to feel that any present opening had to involve him as any and all presents belonged to him.
"He's your son all right," said Mel.
"Was there ever any doubt?"
"Well, he can dance…" she began and they all cracked up because Gus certainly didn't get his moves from Brian. Least not his vertical ones and there were years to go before they found out if he'd inherited Brian's penchant and talent for the horizontal mamba. Many, many years, hoped Mel and Lindsay.
All in all it was a pretty good haul: cash, new sketch pads, a set of watercolors, some brushes, a sweater, and a cookbook for brides to be called The Dowry Cookbook given to him by Deb.
"Since you're not having a shower. I hope," she added.
"No, we're having a double bachelor's party," Brian leered. "Lots of naked dancing boys."
"Excuse me," said Justin, "but there's only gonna be one naked dancing boy there and that's only if I get totally bombed."
The festivities over, their guests began to gather their belongings to leave at which Gus began to fuss, sensing that he was not going to be staying with his daddies. Lindsay had explained to him before they'd left home that he wouldn't be staying with Brian and Justin but he didn't remember, of course, cause being with Daddy and Daddy overrode all previous instructions. "Gus," she said, trying to explain again, but he began to pout and grabbed Brian's hand and held it when she attempted to put on his coat. "Gus, you can't stay with Daddy this time."
"Honey, you can't stay. Now, put on your coat, please."
Brian lifted him up and held him in his arms. Kissed him. "Daddy and I will see you later this week, okay?" The toddler shook his head. "Gus, you can't stay tonight."
"I want stay."
"I know but not this time. Okay?"
Angry, Gus fidgeted and Brian put him down. He went to Lindsay and let her put his coat on and then found Mel and stayed by her side until it was time to go.
"Gus," said Brian, "you're not gonna give me a kiss goodbye?" Gus stayed where he was. "That's okay," Brian said sadly and he waved at him. "I love you." Justin came and stood by him and watched as Gus struggled with being angry and also wanting to come to his daddies. Finally, the desire to be with them overcame the anger and he returned and hugged them both.
"Luv you," he told them as they exchanged kisses.
Once everyone was gone, Brian and Justin collapsed on the couch and closed their eyes. After a moment, Brian leaned over and nuzzled Justin's neck. "Where were we?"
Justin undid the button on his jeans and parted his lips and Brian
kissed him gently.
The moment Joanie heard the key in the lock she realized two things: 1) she should have gotten the key back from Claire; and 2) Claire was going to lose her mind once she found out what was going on, namely, that Brian was buying a fabulous new house and getting married. To another man. It was too late now, too late to gather up the floor plans and swatches and wedding books and decorating manuals. So she waited.
Claire glanced around as she came in, an automatic habit, to see if Joanie had anything she could nibble on. She was a nibbler. Spotting an apple, she picked it up and bit into it before leaning over to buss Joanie's cheek. "Hi, Mom."
"Hello, Claire." She sighed inwardly: Claire had seen.
"What's that?" Sitting, she pawed through Joanie's drawings.
"A house I'm decorating."
Clare picked up the floor plan of the bedroom. "Some rich guy and his stuck-up wife?"
"Actually, it's for your brother."
"Brian lives in a loft," she replied, quite reasonably.
"He's buying a house. He and Justin are moving at the end of the month." Joanie watched her daughter. When Claire had first learned of Brian and Justin on the television and in the newspapers, her response had been predictable: she'd emailed him and told him that she hated him. Which, as far as Brian was concerned, cut her out of his life. He sent presents at holidays and birthdays via Joanie but he'd made a point of not seeing her. They hadn't spoken face-to-face in almost two years.
"Well," said Claire, tossing the drawing onto the table, "good for him."
Joanie raised a brow. Just like Brian, when Claire pretended not to care, it meant she was really affected by something. "There's more."
Snorting, Claire asked, "What? Are they getting married too?" She'd heard about them exchanging rings from her mother and had put it out of her mind.
"Actually, they are. On the fifteenth of February."
Claire nearly choked on her apple. "What?" she shrieked. "And you're letting them!"
"It's Brian's decision. His and Justin's."
"And you're helping them?"
"I don't have a problem with them getting married."
"What about the Church?"
Pretending ignorance, Joanie replied, "They're not getting married in a church. They're—"
"You know what I mean." Claire was not amused. "You almost had an aneurysm just because Bobby wasn't a practicing Catholic but it's okay that Brian's marrying another man?!"
"Times have changed. So have I."
"If Daddy were alive, this would never have happened."
"What? Brian and Justin getting married? You're sadly mistaken if you think Jack could have stopped Brian from doing anything."
"No," Claire said coldly, "but he would have stopped you from helping them."
"Maybe," Joanie conceded. "Maybe I wouldn't have gotten to know Justin at all if Jack were still alive. And that would have been a loss."
"You couldn't stand Bobby."
"He was no good. I think he proved that when he left you."
"But Brian's boyfriend can do no wrong."
"Justin's his partner. And he's made plenty of mistakes, they both have. But they love each other and that's all that matters."
"And it doesn't bother you, thinking about the two of them having sex?" Her face scrunched up on the word sex as if it physically pained her to say it.
"It's none of my business what they do." Truthfully, it still bothered her a wee bit, just a tiny holdover from all of her years of thinking that homosexuality was wrong. It'd helped, a little, being in Woody's, putting up the decorations, seeing men together who were not her son and his lover, helped to desensitize her to the thought of them making love. It no longer disturbed her to watch them kiss, to see them hold hands. Justin liked touching Brian and she'd gotten used to that, gotten used to hearing him call Brian, Pookie, to hearing Brian call him Baby. To be fair to herself, she supposed no parent really enjoyed thinking about their children having sex, no matter their age or sexuality.
"No wonder you didn't want us to move in," Claire said bitterly, spotting a picture of Brian and Justin and Gus on the counter. "You're too busy with your new grandson, your perfect little family, to care about me or my kids."
"Claire, that's not true. I love all my children and my grandchildren." But it was true that she especially adored Gus. He was so loving, so easy to love, and he was still at that age when everything was new and exciting. Being with him was like seeing the world all over again and, in some cases, seeing it for the first time. She treasured their moments together. In fact, if she hadn't been so busy with the house and the wedding plans, she would have missed Claire altogether and would have been over at the loft celebrating Justin's birthday. Now, she wished she had gone.
But Claire wasn't ameliorated by her words. The patronizing tone she believed she heard twisted everything Joanie said and made a lie of it. Angrily, Claire snatched up her coat and purse. "Everything's changed now that Daddy's gone."
"You're right," said Joanie, "everything has changed. For the better."
Claire's mouth dropped open. "How can you say that?"
Joanie took a deep breath. Poor Claire, she'd been in denial about so much because she'd protected her, protected her the way she'd never been able to protect Brian. Because she was a girl she'd been able to shelter her from Jack's rages and if she'd tried to do the same for Brian, things would have been even harder for him. Jack hadn't wanted to baby him, to turn him soft, turn him into a fag. And so he'd hit him and berated him and belittled him and she'd stood by and let it happen because she hadn't had any choice and because she'd wanted him to be tough, to be able to take what the world would give him and survive because she'd known that there were worse people in the world than Jack Kinney. Justin had found that out the hard way. Still, there was no point in telling Claire that, not now. It was too late. "Nothing."
"No, I want to know what you meant."
"Claire!" Joanie half-stood, then sat back down. "Claire, your father was not always a good person."
"He worked hard—"
"And pissed away our money on cheap booze and even cheaper women."
"Don't you dare!" she thundered and she did stand this time and even though Claire was taller than she by some few inches, she towered over her. "You know nothing, nothing about what I went through. What your brother went through."
"Is that why you love him better?"
"Claire—Claire…" It would be funny if it weren't so, so sad. "Brian never thought that I loved him at all." She laughed softly, helplessly. "So many mistakes."
"Well, now you have a chance to fix things." She put on her coat. "With
Brian." Taking the half-eaten apple with her, she left.
It wasn't Sans Souci or Papagano's but the lights were down low and votives flickered on the table in their booth and Brian held his hand and they could have been in a swanky restaurant in London or at the McDonald's three blocks from the loft for all he cared.
Brian stroked Justin's fingers with his thumb and his young lover smiled softly. "This place okay?"
Lifting Justin's hand to his lips, Brian kissed his fingers. "I love you."
Justin's reply was interrupted by the waiter returning with their wine. The man hadn't asked to see Justin's ID although he'd known that Justin wasn't twenty-one, at least, he didn't look twenty-one. He barely looked eighteen most days. But the waiter had thrown him a bone since Brian had mentioned that it was Justin's birthday today. When the waiter had asked how old, Brian had replied, "Guess," and the waiter had answered, "Twenty-one," and neither of them had corrected him.
Now, as they lifted their glasses, Brian proposed a toast. "To my Baby on his birthday."
Justin clicked his glass and sipped his wine, then noticed Brian reaching into his jacket pocket. "What are you doing?" Then he saw the wrapped box and said, "I thought we agreed: no presents. Not with the Jeep and the house and the wedding. Brian—"
"I can afford this." He handed the box to his lover. "Go on. Open it."
So Justin, putting aside his wineglass and his objections, opened the present expecting to find jewelry inside. Instead there was a key chain with a picture of them in a plastic rectangular frame.
"Turn it over." On the other side was a picture of their new house. "So you never forget where home is."
Because home was wherever Brian was, wherever they were together. Eyes shiny, Justin sniffled and replied in a thick voice, "I won't forget."
He wiped his nose. "Allergies." He turned the cheap plastic key chain
in his hands and a tear rolled down his cheek. Brian reached over and
thumbed it away. Justin caught his hand and held it in place, kissed his
palm. "Thank you."
After dinner they drove to the riverfront and walked in the park. Sat on a bench.
"So this is where you come?" asked Justin.
"Except it's a lot nicer now than it used to be."
"And you just sit here? And think?"
"Look at the water. It helps. Sometimes."
"You can talk to me now."
"Sometimes I need to think about what to say." He grinned. "Wouldn't want my baby cat to get his claws into me."
"Just think, with the new house, you can go out and sit by the pool or under the pergola or in the courtyard or on the balcony or on the loggia upstairs, the loggia downstairs…" He laughed and shook his head. "We're so lucky."
"We deserve this."
Justin agreed. "We do." He snuggled closer to Brian as the night air was getting chillier.
Brian slipped an arm about him. "Cold?"
"Ready to go?"
Brian stood and held out his hand. "Wouldn't want you to catch cold on
your birthday." Arms around one another they hurried back to the car.
Their warm bed and the rest of the birthday cake awaited them.
Justin kissed and licked frosting from Brian's mouth. "Mmm, you taste good."
"Don't I always?"
Turning and lying in Brian's arms, back to chest, Justin said, "Sometimes, it's like a dream. Us being together." Smiled. "I remember you telling me to 'find a pretty girl and get married.' " Silent. "Did you really mean that?"
"At the time."
"Now look at us. We're getting married."
"And I'm prettier than any girl you could have ever found."
"Cock's bigger too." Brian laughed and turned Justin around to face him. They kissed for a while and then Justin pulled away. "What do you want for a wedding gift?"
"You wanna talk about that now?" His dick was all for tabling the discussion for another time.
Justin propped his chin on Brian's chest and waited for an answer.
"Um… I don't know. I haven't really thought about it. Haven't thought about what I’m getting you either."
"What's left? You've given me everything." Justin sat up and started climbing up his body.
"So have you." He waited until they were face-to-face. "You're everything to me."
Justin shivered. It never failed to go right through him whenever Brian
said things like that, making him feel incredibly lucky and incredibly
scared. That he was responsible for Brian's happiness, for his well-being.
Sometimes he felt small, inadequate to the task and other times knowing
that he held Brian's heart in his hands made him feel so strong because
Brian wouldn't have given his heart to just anyone. There'd been a time
when Brian hadn't trusted him enough, hadn't trusted himself enough to say
those words to Justin. At first Justin thought it was because Brian
believed the words didn't mean anything but, in reality, they meant too
much. As someone who made a living manipulating words, Brian knew their
worth, knew the power they wielded and he'd wanted to be sure that he
meant what he said, that he was capable of living up to his words. To him,
saying I love you meant more than uttering three, tiny words, it was also
saying, I love you and I promise to be there for you, to protect you, to
support you, to open myself up to you, to give of myself to you, to share
my life with you and so many other things that it made Justin's head spin
now to think about it. About how much those three, tiny words really
meant. And he realized now, having grown older and wiser, that he hadn't
really understood all that he'd promised each and every time he'd said
them to Brian. Not in the beginning. Maybe deep down inside he did but not
consciously. No wonder Brian had been hesitant to believe him, to accept
them of him. Gazing into his partner's eyes, his beautiful hazel eyes that
he never tired of, he said quite simply, "I love you;" and Brian tightened
his arms around him because he had heard all the other words that Justin
didn't have to say.
First period studio and Justin came rushing in, breathless, and claimed his seat thirty seconds before class started. The professor raised his eyebrow at his last minute arrival but said nothing.
From a few feet away, Rennie and Xavier grinned, thinking he'd probably been fucking and had lost track of time. Which was true. He'd awakened wanting to have sex and Brian had obliged. Shifting on the hard, wooden seat he grimaced then smiled. Caught a glimpse of Rennie looking at him. She shook her head and turned to her sketch pad.
After class, they sauntered out into the courtyard so that Rennie could have a smoke before their art history class.
"Do you two have sex every morning?" she asked.
"On the good mornings," he replied.
"Then how do you stand it?" she asked Xavier, "since Trey is so far away?"
"We have a lot of phone sex," he answered and laughed. Which was partially true.
Justin made a motion with his hand and snickered.
"Boys," said Rennie disparagingly.
"Oh, like you've never," said Justin.
Xavier added, "She's got a dildo this," and he started to indicate just how big with his hands when she bumped him. "So, you two still celebrating your birthday?"
Justin nodded. "And the buyers are closing on the loft today. So we should be right on time to close on the house."
"Sweet," said Rennie. "When do we get to see stately Wayne Manor?"
"The day we get the keys, everyone can come over and see it. My mom's throwing us a housewarming. Satisfied?"
"They bringing Gus?" she asked.
"Why, you need a date?" Xavier teased.
"He's a hottie but a little young for me."
"Give him fifteen years and he'll be unstoppable," commented Justin.
Rennie thought for a moment. "God, we'll be thirty-five." Shivered. "Christ."
"I don’t think I'll mind being thirty-five."
"Yeah," she said, "cause Brian will be what? Forty-seven? You don't have anything to worry about."
"She's the one facing spinsterhood," Xavier cracked. "Can you see Rennie with kids?"
"Wednesday and Pugsley," Justin replied and dodged Rennie's elbow.
"Hey, Wednesday's my hero," she told them.
"Thought it was Winona in Beetlejuice," said Justin.
"Was. But she's a klepto so I had to kick her to the curb."
Checking his watch, Justin announced, "It's time to go," so Rennie
stubbed out her cigarette and they tromped back in for another round.
Having done a thorough walk-through, the couple accompanied Brian and Jenn back to the escrow agent's office and signed the final papers to purchase and transfer ownership of the loft. The loan documents would be sent back to the lender and once the bank was satisfied that everything was copacetic, they would wire funds to the escrow agent who would then have the deed recorded at the County Recorder's Office. As he affixed his signature to the various and sundry pieces of paper, Brian was besieged by a feeling of ambivalence. As per their agreement, the couple would wait until the first of February to take actual possession of the house. By that time, Brian hoped to have all of their belongings packed up and in the U-Haul, ready to take to their new home. He couldn't quite imagine handing the keys to the loft over to someone else although it would happen.
Once the couple had departed, Jenn asked, "Having second thoughts?"
"No," he replied. "The house is fabulous."
"So's the loft."
"True," he said with a smile.
"Well, the good news is that the inspections are done on the house and I'm waiting for the reports. If everything looks good, you could be closing as early as this Friday."
He stretched his neck. "I'll be glad when all of this is over."
They were walking back to the Jeep. "Still have to get settled and plan a wedding, too," she reminded him.
"Did we say February the fifteenth?"
Opening the door for her, he said, "Too late to change it. We sent the invitations out Saturday."
"I can't wait to get mine."
He laughed. "You're in the wedding. You don’t get one." Disappointment
registered on her features and he chuckled. "We had extras. Yours is in
His phone rang about a half hour after he returned to work. Taking it out of his jacket pocket, he answered, "Yeah."
"So, once the money's wired and the deed is registered, the loft is theirs."
"And how long before we can close?"
"Once we've got the money in the bank, we can close on the house. Jenn says we should be able to do that on Friday, Monday at the latest."
There was a pause at the other end of the line. "We need to start packing."
"This weekend. We're not taking a lot of furniture, it's mostly kitchen and bath stuff and our clothes. I think we can get all of it done by the first."
Another pause. "Listen, I need to stop by your mom's house tonight to go over some wedding stuff. You wanna have dinner over there?"
"She invite us?"
"Whenever we get there."
He checked his schedule. "Seven."
"I'll call her and let her know." Pause. "You happy?"
"Later, Baby." He snapped the cell shut and replaced it in his jacket. Only he didn’t feel ecstatic. He felt as if he were losing a part of himself. Shaking his head, he tried to put it out of his mind but he couldn't. All afternoon he kept replaying a scene in his head, the first time he'd unlocked the door to the loft and walked inside. He'd sat on the steps and looked around the empty apartment joyfully, planning where everything would go and how it'd look once he was through decorating. Or rather, once the decorator was through decorating. He'd been too busy climbing his way up the ladder to expend any energy on something someone else could do. Despite that, he'd loved the loft the moment he'd seen it. It had spoken to him the way no other space had and he'd known that he'd have to have it. Now it would belong to someone else. A couple of breeders. In the loft. Sleeping in his bed, having sex in it. He frowned. Don't think about it. Think about you and Justin having sex in the new house. So he did and it made him feel better.
But he wished there'd been a way to keep the loft and buy the new
house. But there hadn't, not unless he wanted to be a landlord and he had
no desire to do that. Besides, the new house was beautiful, it was
fantastic, it was perfect for the two of them. For the three of them.
Having gone home and changed, Brian met Justin outside of Joanie's place, the both of them arriving at seven on the dot. They dismounted and walked arm and arm to the front door, kissed as they waited for her to answer. Justin pulled away and studied Brian. "You okay?"
"Seem… I don't know."
"Hungry," he said.
At the crack of light that appeared in the door, Justin said, "We'll eat first, talk later?"
"Sounds like a plan." He opened the screen door. "Hey, Mom."
"Come in. It's cold out there." She ushered them in and shut the door, then hugged them both. "Dinner's ready."'
"Best news I've heard all day."
"What about the house?" asked Justin.
"What about the house?" asked Joanie.
"The buyers closed on the loft so we'll probably close on the house this week," he told her.
Hugging them each again, she exclaimed, "That's wonderful news. Much better than pot roast."
Brian groused, "When did you get so huggy?"
Justin popped him on the arm. "Behave."
The table already set and the side dishes on the buffet, all they had to do was pile their plates and wait for Joanie to bring out the roast and carve it. For a while there were few words spoken beyond, "Pass the rolls," and "This is pretty good."
"I guess I'll have to come over for another lesson," Justin told her when he saw how much Brian liked her roast.
"Don't you cook any, Brian?" she asked.
"I'm the sous chef. I peel, chop, and dice."
Justin disagreed. "His steak is delicious." Brian raised a brow and Justin laughed. "Stop it."
Deciding that it was time to bring up the subject of Claire, Joanie asked, "Have you sent out the invitations to the wedding?"
"This weekend," answered Justin.
"Did you send one to your sister?" she asked Brian.
"Did you tell her?"
She hesitated. "She came over and saw the plans for the house and the wedding books."
"So she knows."
He waited. "And?" He was sure it would be something hurtful.
"And I think you should invite her. It'd be a nice gesture."
"What did she say?" He wasn't buying it.
"What did she say?"
Justin reached for him. "Brian…"
"I wanna know," he said firmly.
"She was… upset."
He'd never forgotten the email she'd sent him telling him that she hated him. Never. "Then why the fuck would she want to come?" Justin's hand tightened on his arm.
"She's the only sister you have, Brian."
"Not my fault you and Pop didn't use birth control."
"She took your father's death very hard—"
"She's the only one he didn’t try to beat to death."
Trying one last time, Joanie said, "You're family, Brian. Families should support one another."
"Where was she? Where was she when he came home drunk and tried to kick the shit out of me? Where was she when he hit you?" His mother wouldn't meet his eyes and she had no answer for him. "Exactly. She wasn't there. So fuck her. I don't want her at our wedding, and I don't need her in my life. I have a family, all the family I need."
"You can't blame her for what your father did."
"You're right. She's done enough on her own."
"Brian?" Justin waited until his partner turned his head and acknowledged him. "Maybe all she needs is a chance."
"To do what? Tell me how much she hates me for being gay? This is our wedding. I don't want her fucking that up."
"It wasn't so long ago that I was the one who didn't understand," Joanie reminded him. "Remember? I remember you telling me that you always thought I hated you, that you hated me."
"Give Claire the benefit of the doubt. Let her see, the way I did, what you and Justin have." And hope that her bitterness doesn't cause her to do more harm.
"It's our wedding," Justin said. "Do you really think Claire can ruin it? You think anyone can do that?" He raised Brian's hand and kissed the backs of his fingers.
The touch of Justin's lips on his skin soothed him. Calmed him. "Okay. We can invite her. But," he added, "just her. Not those two demon spawn she calls children."
"Brian!" Joanie scolded. "They're your nephews."
"Assholes in training."
"Like she said," Justin joked, "they're your nephews."
Giving him a look, Brian threatened, "You know." When Joanie looked
away for a moment, Justin's tongue danced between his parted lips and
Brian felt his resolve waver. Fuck. Little asshole.
Brian had fallen quiet the moment they walked inside the loft and Justin wanted to know why. "What's wrong?"
Brushing aside his concerns, Brian replied, "Nothing."
Justin wasn't having it. "Let's try it again. What's wrong?" He led Brian over to the couch and made him sit. Waited.
His sofa, his chairs, his table and chairs, his bed, they were all someone else's now. He was only borrowing them for a short while. Come the first of February and they'd no longer be his in any capacity. Unconsciously, he stroked the arm of the chair.
Watching him, Justin began to understand. The buyers had closed on the loft today and it had finally hit Brian that he was losing his home, a place that had come to define who he was as much as his designer suits and Jeep. Brian had to be feeling incomplete, a little lost. Who was he now? He knew those thoughts were probably racing through Brian's mind, maybe not in those terms but the feelings were there. Softly, Justin said, "I remember walking into the loft that first time and thinking, Shit, this place is fantastic." He smiled. "And then you took off your shirt and poured that water over your head and I couldn't think about anything else at all."
Brian snickered. "You looked like you'd walked into a den of wolves." His eyes fixed on Justin's face. "But you stayed. Even scared to death, you took a chance and you stayed."
"Guess that's what life's about," he said. "Taking chances."
He swept his eyes over the living room. "I guess. Can't stand still."
"Best decision I ever made." He kissed Brian next to his mouth, then turned his head and kissed his lips, held his face in his hands. "Still can't think about anything else when I'm looking at you." He climbed over onto his lap. Brian closed his eyes and Justin pressed his lips to each lid and then his forehead and kissed his way down Brian's cheeks to his mouth.
When they parted for a breath, Brian said, "Just think, we'll have all those rooms to make love in," and Justin laughed.
"And the courtyard, the loggia, the balcony, the pergola, and the pool."
Holding his lover in his arms, Brian whispered, "I’m glad you stayed."
Justin grasped Brian's hair and drew his head back, exposing his swanlike neck, covering it with kisses from the hollow of his throat to his chin and back down again. Unbuttoned his shirt partway as he plied his lips with sweet kisses. Teased his raspberry nipples as he kissed lips of the same color. "You're so beautiful," he said between kisses. Laid his face against Brian's as the man's hands roamed his body, running under his shirt to touch bare, hot flesh. Kissed him again, deeply, tongue stroking tongue. Their mouths hardly parted as Justin managed to get Brian's shirt completely unbuttoned and halfway off his shoulders. Fingers spread over tensing muscles from shoulders to back. Brian grasped the hem of his shirt and pulled it over his head. Mouths pressed tightly together, they strained to close the gaps between their bodies. Justin could feel a fluttering in his belly that caused him to moan into Brian's mouth. Hungrily he fed on his lover's lips, sucking on them until they began to swell. Legs spread, he rubbed his groin against Brian's side as the man cupped his buttocks. Impatient, Brian unzipped his pants and slipped his hands inside to grab his ass. He rubbed harder. Brian pushed the cargo pants down around his legs and stroked his cock through his briefs. Justin expelled a breath and renewed his attack on Brian's lips even as his cock and balls were being squeezed.
Suddenly he was thrown on his back and his pants and underwear dragged over his legs and feet. Brian stood and stripped off the remainder of his clothes, lay down upon his lover. They kissed and rubbed cock against cock, Justin's legs up around Brian's hips. Sitting up, Brian looked down at his young lover and ran his hands over his slender chest and flat belly. Rubbed his thumb over the head of his cock. Lay back down upon him and kissed him hard. "Hold on," he told Justin and he did, wrapping arms and legs around his partner. Brian got up, Justin clinging to him, and walked to the bedroom, muscles bulging slightly with the task of carrying his little boy.
Laying Justin down upon the bed, Brian stretched out upon him and they joined mouths, kissing one another so deliciously, so deeply that their dicks began to swell as well as their lips. Justin turned them over so that he was on top. Moved back and forth, dragging his cock over Brian's belly. Every now and again he would peck Brian's lips, teasing him. Brian palmed his ass and spread his cheeks, fingering his hole as the young man ground his dick into him.
Justin pulled away and knelt between Brian's legs. Parted them and slid his hands up and down his long, slender thighs. His cock was hard and lay flat against his belly, his balls high and firm. Placing his palm over cock and balls, Justin rotated his hand, rubbing Brian slowly, gradually closing his fingers over the shaft to stroke him. Lowered his head and kissed the tip. Again. His tongue flicked over and under. Lips closed about the tip and sucked. Brian groaned and he released him. Licked him from his balls to just below the cap of his cock. Teased the spot where the shaft and head joined. Traced the divide to the opening in the tip. Washed it with his saliva. And sucked him again.
Stretched out, gripping the low headboard, Brian raised his hips from the bed as Justin blew him. His lover's hands were beneath his hips, holding him in place as he sucked his cock, fingers occasionally straying between his cheeks. God, Justin was so different from that seventeen-year-old who hadn't even known what rimming was. He was a man now, in knowledge and body. A man who made love to his partner with confidence and skill. Spreading his legs open even wider, Brian began to pant as Justin devoured his cock. He was about to come.
Grasping his cock by the shaft, Justin stroked Brian until he knew the
man was about to ejaculate. Pulling down on his balls, he pressed his
finger at the spot just beneath the head of his cock and held on while
Brian climaxed. He didn't ejaculate but the orgasm was no less satisfying
because of it. When Brian had calmed down, Justin released him and lay
next to him, his cock brushing against his hip. Plied his nipples as he
kissed him gently.
Jennifer could imagine that the sales lady had never seen three more dissimilar people come in together than her, Joanie, and Deb. Although Joanie was dressed tastefully you only had to look in her eyes to see that she'd never been in a shop like this before and Deb, well, Deb was completely out of her element. She'd eschewed wearing either of the dresses she'd bought for the trial and came in her usual garb: t-shirt and comfortable slacks. As the woman approached, Jenn took control. "Hello, we're attending a wedding. Actually, two of us are in the wedding party."
"Mothers of the bride and groom?" ventured the sales lady whose name tag read Barbara.
"Mothers of the grooms," she replied. Joanie looked a little uncertain but here Debbie was on familiar ground.
"And I'm a friend of the grooms."
"Well," Barbara ventured, "what color dresses do you require?"
"Silver for us and, Debbie?" began Jennifer.
"Whatever'll fit," she said, cackling.
Barbara gestured to a settee and armchair. "Please, have a seat and we'll bring out some selections."
Taking their seats, the three women smiled at how well it was going so far.
Deb gazed around at the tasteful appointments and whistled. "I could pay the mortgage with what this dress is probably going to cost."
"Don't worry," Joanie assured her, "Brian's taking care of it. Just find something you like."
Patting Joan on the hand, Deb asked, "Did you ever imagine we'd be out shopping for dresses to wear to Brian and Justin's wedding?"
"I used to imagine Brian getting married when he was younger, the kind of girl he'd marry." She laughed. "Justin's nothing like what I imagined."
Jenn laughed too. "Well, Brian's not exactly what I had in mind either." She covered her mouth momentarily. "He took some getting used to."
"And you've only known him for a few years. When he was younger, my God… He's mellowed some." All three laughed at the idea of Brian having mellowed but it was true, he had mellowed and it was due primarily to Justin.
"He was lucky to have had you in his life," Joan told Deb although she'd told her that once before.
"It's true. And he's lucky to have Justin. They're so happy together."
Thinking back to when she'd first found out about Brian, Jennifer said, "I remember the first time I saw him. At the art show at the Gay and Lesbian Center."
"You looked like your head was going to blow off," said Deb.
"All I kept thinking was, He's a grown man. Justin doesn't know what he's getting into."
Deb agreed. "He didn't have a clue. But somehow he knew that it was worth it, that Brian was worth it."
"They haven't been easy on each other."
"Carrying on the family tradition. Jack and I…" She shook her head.
"Well, Craig and I didn't do too badly in the shouting department," confessed Jennifer. Looked up as Barbara returned.
"I think you'll like these," she said and the store attendants came out with a selection of silver dresses for Jenn and Joanie to look at and a number of dresses for Deb to view.
In the end, both Jennifer and Joanie chose a three-piece silver ensemble with a long skirt, sleeveless shell, and a jacket. Jennifer's jacket was made of lace and the skirt was lace with a silk lining; while Joanie's entire outfit was solid silk with embroidered flowers around the edges of the jacket. Debbie found a two-piece outfit in navy blue: flowing silk skirt topped by a three-quarter length sweater shot through with shiny threads.
"Oh, this is beautiful," she exclaimed, looking at herself in the mirror. "Is it really me?"
With their purchases slung over their arms, the three women departed the store for a late lunch.
"Have the boys said anything more about the ceremony?" Jenn asked Joan while they waited for their salads to arrive.
"No. I know they're meeting with Rev. Ophelia this week to firm up their plans."
Taking a sip of iced tea, Deb said, "I just hope I don't have to read any poetry or anything like that. All I want is to get through the day without looking like a raccoon."
Jennifer held her glass between her hands. "It's still hard to believe. My son's getting married."
"Yep," said Deb. "Married with a ready-made family. And a new house."
"I can't wait until you see it," Jenn told them. "It's perfect for them."
"I've been looking at furniture for Gus' room," said Joanie. "He's going to love it."
"So you've seen it?" asked Deb.
"No. I'm working from the floorplans."
"What's with all the secrecy?"
"I think," explained Jennifer, "they don't want to jinx it. Plus, it's not really theirs until the check clears. But the moment they close, you're all invited over for a housewarming. My treat."
The waiter arrived with their salads and for a moment all conversation
stopped as they began to eat. Then, in between one bite and the next,
Joanie paused and said, "I can't believe it," and Jenn and Deb smiled
because they knew exactly what she meant.
Over dinner, Justin said suddenly, "Oh. Did you send your sister an invitation?"
Rolling his eyes, Brian replied, "Yeah, I did. I sent it off today." As if that'd be enough. Joanie wanted to have a family dinner next week to give Claire a chance to meet Justin before she saw him standing before her exchanging vows with her brother. Justin thought it was a good idea. Brian wanted to schedule a frontal lobotomy for that day.
"So, I guess that's it for invitations. I hope everybody gets theirs in time."
"It's three weeks away. Besides, the only people who aren't local are Nana Rose and Kenneth."
Justin laid his fork down. "Did you say Kenneth?"
"You invited him?"
Unaware of the danger, Brian said nonchalantly, "Yeah. I called him today."
Taking a deep breath first, Justin said, "You could have asked me first."
"For what?" Brian still hadn't caught on.
"Because I might not have wanted him at our fuckin' wedding."
Looking up quickly, Brian asked, "Why not?" He was endeavoring to keep calm; one of them should be.
"Because he's in love with you!" What the hell was wrong with Brian?
"So. Xavier's gonna be there. Least I never fucked Kenneth." So much for keeping calm.
"No, you went out and fucked three strangers."
"That you'll never have to see. Whereas you're forever shoving Xavier in my fuckin' face."
"You don't want him at the wedding?"
"I don’t care."
"No, obviously, you do."
"I don't have a problem with him being there. He's your friend. I'll get over it."
"And Kenneth's your friend?"
"Yeah, he is. So you get over it." He pushed from the table and carried his plate to the kitchen.
Justin followed with his own, his appetite gone as well. "I can't."
"You accepted a commission from him. If you have such a problem with him, why take his money?"
"Because it's business. Just because I'm doing a job for him doesn’t mean I want to eat dinner with him or have him dance with you at our wedding."
"What are you afraid of? That we're gonna slip away and have sex in the guest room?"
Putting his plate in the dishwasher, Justin said angrily, "Forget it."
Brian caught him by the arm. "No, I'm not gonna forget it. I wanna know what you're so afraid of."
"I know that you're attracted to him."
It would have been funny except that there was nothing funny about their argument. "You were in love with Xavier."
"I chose you."
"And don't you understand that from the moment I met you, there's never been anyone else?" He cupped Justin's face. "I love you. You. Not Kenneth, not Mikey, you. Don't you know that?" Justin laid his head upon Brian's chest and embraced him. "But if you don't want him there—"
"Let him come." Suddenly, he felt very foolish. How could he feel insecure when Brian said things like that? "I can give him the first drawing I owe him."
That night as Justin slept, Brian wondered if he'd done the right thing after all by inviting Kenneth. Despite the way he'd explained it to Justin, he'd felt plenty of ambivalence about inviting the biochemist. Had hesitated more than once before calling him.
Kenneth had tried to sound happy for him, had congratulated him and thanked him for thinking of him. Assured him that he'd try to be there if his schedule permitted.
If his schedule permitted. Brian was certain that was a feeble attempt on Harris' part to deal with his own feelings of disappointment. After exchanging a few more pleasantries, they'd severed the connection, each one left feeling unsatisfied by their conversation, by the things they hadn't said.
Why did you call him? he asked himself. Hearing Kenneth's voice had stirred something in him, there was no doubt of that. But he was a grown man, he could control his urges, his desires. They could be friends without giving into the attraction between them, he was sure of it. Still…
Reaching over, he stroked Justin's back then moved closer and embraced
him. He stirred in his sleep, then settled down again. Brian kissed his
shoulder and closed his eyes.
Mel opened the door while pulling her blouse down over her chest.
"My eyes," exclaimed Brian, having glimpsed her breasts.
"Shut up, asshole." Leaving him to shut the door, she stomped upstairs to finish dressing. "Lindsay, the babysitter's here!"
"Daddy!" shouted Gus from the second floor. In an instant he was coming down the stairs, quickly but carefully, his lesson with the steps not forgotten yet. Brian caught him as he reached the bottom and hugged him. "Daddy."
"Hey, Sonny Boy. You glad to see me?"
Brian nuzzled him with his nose. "Yeah?"
Gus giggled. "Yeah." Looked around for Justin. "Where Daddy?"
The toddler hugged him again as if to make up for not being able to hug Justin. "Luv you."
"I love you too," Brian told him and held him that much longer.
"So," said Lindz coming down the stairs with Gus' overnight bag and his SpongeBob backpack. "He has to be at school by eight thirty. Don't forget."
"I won't forget."
She kissed Gus and went to get his coat. Brian put him down so that she could get it on and zipped and buttoned. "Gonna miss me?" Dutifully, he nodded. "I'll miss you too. Thanks for taking him, Bri. Mel and I haven't gone out in two weeks."
"You realize this means we'll have to do it on the couch tonight."
She covered her eyes. "Bri!"
"And that you and Mel have to be the wedding directors." Justin had broached the subject with them previously and both of them had hedged a little. He held out his hand. "Deal?"
She shook it. "Deal."
Mel came back downstairs carrying Beh which she handed to the toddler before kissing him. "See you tomorrow, baby."
"Bye-bye." He waved as they left the house. "Bye-bye."
Brian strapped him into his car seat and got in on the driver's side. "You ready, Sonny Boy?"
"How about Beh?"
Gus asked the bear and nodded. "He hungry."
"How about we go to the diner and see Daddy Justin?"
"Yeah!" shouted Gus.
Justin heard Gus before they got inside and smiled, waiting for them to enter the diner. He squatted and held open his arms, closing them around the baby. "I missed you."
They exchanged kisses. "You staying with us tonight, staying with me and Daddy?"
He walked Gus to a booth and helped him into the seat. Stood upright as Brian embraced him from behind and kissed his neck. "Hey."
"It's a date." Loathe as he was to release Justin, he did so and sat next to Gus. "You having dinner with us?"
"Yeah, I didn't take a break so I'm done. What do you want?"
Brian checked with Gus. "You want some meatloaf?" The baby thought and nodded. He knew what meatloaf was now. He liked it. "I guess we'll have the meatloaf."
" 'kay." He went to put in their orders and brought back three low glasses which he filled with water. Put a straw in Gus' and carried the pitcher of water back to the counter.
"Had to run to the drugstore." He took off his apron and sat counting his tips and recording the amount on his pad.
Medicine for Vic probably. Which got Brian to thinking about their future, about the possibility that something might happen to him. To either of them. They needed to make plans. But now was not the time to broach the topic. Not with Gus there and not in a public place.
"What?" asked Justin.
"What are you thinking about?"
Brian laughed. "It can wait."
"What's so funny?"
"You. You always know, don't you?"
Justin's answer was interrupted by the cook ringing to let him know his order was ready. Taking his apron with him to hang up in the back, he retrieved their plates and set them on the table.
Barely waiting for Brian to cut up his meatloaf, Gus began spooning mashed potatoes in his mouth.
"Definitely inherited your appetite," Brian commented but Justin
couldn't respond as his mouth was full of mashed potatoes too.
By eight thirty Brian was ready to crawl into bed but Gus and Justin
were still raring to go. They'd danced and sung for half an hour and played
hide-and-go-seek and tag and were at the moment trying to erect a house of
colored blocks. Grateful for a few minutes of quiet, Brian stretched out
on the bed intending to take a brief nap. When he awoke, Gus was lying
half on his chest and Justin was on his side fast asleep. So much for the
With ten minutes to get the rest of his notes together and make it to the meeting, he cursed when the phone rang. "Shit." Snatched it from the cradle. "Make it fast."
"We're closing tomorrow."
Brian chuckled. "What time?"
"Meet me at the house for a walk-through at eight and then we can head over to the escrow office to sign the final papers. I'm faxing them over to you today."
"Sweet. We'll see you there." Hung up before she could say anything
else because he now had eight minutes to get the rest of his notes
together and make it to the meeting.
That evening he came home to the smell of steak grilling on the stove. "God, I love you," he announced as he put his briefcase down.
"I know," Justin said and waited for him to come over. They kissed.
Brian took off his jacket and went to the bedroom to undress. "We're closing tomorrow."
Running after him, Justin leapt into his arms. They fell into bed kissing. "Why didn't you say something?"
"I just did."
"When did you find out?"
"Your mom called around two this afternoon."
"Why didn’t you call me?"
"I was heading to a meeting and I didn't have time." He kissed him. "Forgive me?"
Justin nipped his ear. "Forgiven." He smiled and kissed Brian again. Then, "Shit! The steaks." Jumped off the bed and hurried to salvage dinner while Brian laughed and changed clothes.
Over dinner, he decided it was time to broach the subject of making plans for the future. "I think we need to talk to the attorney, have him draw up some papers."
"What kind of papers?"
"In case something happens to one of us."
"You mean a will?"
"A will, power of attorney, setting up a Living Revocable Trust."
"What's a Living Revocable Trust?"
"If I have a LRT, I can put the house and any other property I have like checking accounts, saving accounts, and retirement funds into it and manage it for your benefit. So if I drop dead, you can take immediate control of our assets without having to go to court."
Justin looked down. "I don't want to think about that."
"Maybe," said Brian, reaching over and lifting his chin, "but it's important. What's ours is ours and I don't want anyone trying to take anything away from you."
"What about Gus?"
"We can specify what goes to Gus if something happens to either of us. And once we're both gone, he can inherit."
Brian was right, it was important, he just wished he didn't have to think about it now. "Can we wait until after the wedding?"
"Have to. I don’t think we can squeeze one more thing into the three weeks we have left," he laughed.
"Don't forget, we have to see Rev. Ophelia tomorrow night."
Covering his reaction by having a last bit of steak, Brian chewed reflectively, then asked, "Do we have any idea as to what we want to do?"
"You mean have I come up with something?"
"If you want to put it that way." Justin said nothing. "Well?"
"Well, I think Lindsay's right, we should have poetry."
"I'm not reading any poetry."
"I'm not asking you to. I think she and Vic should read some. They've got great voices."
"Okay, so Em and Ted are ushers, Mikey's my best man, Lindz and Vic are reading poetry, and Mel and Lindz are the wedding directors. What about Deb?"
They both thought and thought. "There's nothing really left for her to do. And she gets so emotional," Justin reminded him.
"Mmm," said Brian without saying anything more on the subject. "So, look, if you've got class or something tomorrow morning cancel it."
"We have to do the walk-through and then go sign the papers."
"You have to sign the papers."
"Yeah, but it's our house so we need to do the walk-through. So keep tomorrow morning open."
Softly, Justin replied, "Okay."
Mind on practicalities, Brian said, "We should probably give the house a good cleaning before we move in."
And since they were ending their maid service that meant they needed to do it. "It's a big house."
"Your mom's throwing us that housewarming on Saturday. Maybe we can have the guys come over early and help us out. Call the rest of the cast of Real World: Pittsburgh and get them in on it too."
"Sure?" Since their big blowup about Kenneth, Justin hadn't mentioned Xavier or Rennie since Xavier was obviously still a sore spot for Brian. And he understood why, he just wished that it weren't.
"The more hands we have helping, the easier it'll be and the sooner we'll get it done."
Dinner dishes cleared away, Justin declared that it was time to practice their first dance. "If we get up there and make complete fools of ourselves, I'm holding you responsible," he told Brian.
"I looked good at the prom, didn't I?"
"Yeah." God, he had.
"All right then."
"How did you manage that?" They hadn't practiced together and he couldn't see Brian taking lessons for one night.
"A friend of mine." Former trick. "He's a pro. Gave me some tips."
"You asked? For me?"
"For me. Bad enough being old without being fuckin' clumsy too."
"You're not clumsy, just a little stiff." He rubbed Brian's belly through his shirt. "And you're not old. You were the hottest guy there."
Finding the CD in amongst the others, he popped it in the player. Assuming the position in the middle of the floor, they had a rocky start which made Justin wonder if maybe Brian hadn't gone to a hypnotist and then he looked down and discovered the problem.
"We're wearing the wrong shoes." Pausing, they went and put on their dress shoes and began again. This time they had a smoother start and after a while they fell into familiar rhythms. Even without a mirror, Justin knew they looked great together.
When the song ended, Brian parted from him and cut off the CD. "That good enough?"
"You know, we could practice some more," Justin suggested as he loved dancing with Brian.
Taking hold of Justin's shirt, Brian tugged him towards the bedroom.
"Just what I had in mind."
Now that they'd purchased a few pieces of furniture, being in the house again gave them both butterflies in their stomachs, imagining their new bed in the master suite and the dining table in the family room. It also made them painfully aware of how much was left to do. While they toured the house, Jenn went through the inspection checklist thoroughly.
Glancing around the family room, Brian said, "We really should buy a couple of sofas and some chairs for in here before the wedding. In case people don't want to dance, they can sit down and watch TV or something."
"Hey, I meant to tell you. Your mom—"
"She has a name."
"I just feel weird calling her Joanie."
"You call Deb Deb and my mom's only a little older than her."
"I know but it's different. Deb is Deb and your mom is… She's like my mother-in-law or something."
"She's not like your mother-in-law, she is your mother-in-law. Or soon will be."
"Which is why I feel strange calling her Joanie."
"Well, don't call her Mother Kinney. She hates that. Claire's husband used to call her that, drove her apeshit."
"Anyway," Justin said to try and put them back on track, "she found this cool site with bathroom stuff for kids, like lower toilets and stuff and I thought maybe we should think about replacing the toilet in the guest bath with a lower one."
"Yeah, except that when we have guests, they'll have to squat lower to use it. And Gus has a stool to stand on." A sickeningly cute stool with a whale cutout forming each side. It totally clashed with the loft but it'd fit right in the new house.
"We'll think about it," Brian said which meant he wasn't really going to think about it, he was just putting Justin off. Which Justin knew. It kinda made him angry but he also knew that it was just Brian's way. Brian must have realized that Justin was onto him because he leaned over and pecked him on the head. "Really."
Justin laughed. "You are so full of shit."
They met Jenn in the kitchen. "Well?" Brian asked.
"Everything checks out. I think we're ready."
Eyes alight with joy, Justin inhaled deeply. "Just think, this time tomorrow, it'll be ours."
"Not officially," she said. "Not until the deed is registered. But I'm sure the Baumanns won't mind handing over the keys today." Gathering her papers, she told them, "I got my invitation in the mail yesterday. It's beautiful."
"Justin designed it."
"Well, I think everything might just be ready by the time the fifteenth comes."
Laughing, Brian said, "You didn't tell me your mom had a problem with reality."
They followed her in the Jeep over to the escrow agent's office where Mr. Withers, the Baumann's real estate agent, and the Baumanns themselves were waiting for them.
"Mr. Kinney," said Mrs. Baumann, holding out her hand, which he shook.
"And this is…?" she asked, glancing at Justin.
"Justin. My partner." Luckily, Justin had worn a dark rust-colored sweater and a brown suede jacket he'd picked up this fall which meant he looked maybe nineteen.
Withers looked as if he'd swallowed lye. "I thought you said he was an artist."
Justin smiled. Brian had warned him about this guy. "I'm a student at the Pittsburgh Institute of Fine Arts."
Before anyone could ask any further questions, Jennifer said, "Honey, you can sit over here," indicating a chair next to the one she intended to occupy.
Even Mr. Baumann looked up at that and he'd previously been studying the papers to make sure everything was proper and above board. "He's your son?"
"Yes, he is," replied Jennifer and she sat up straighter and reached for Justin's hand. Squeezed it briefly.
"Hmm," was the only further comment the man made. "Well," he said to the escrow agent, "I think everything looks good. Mr. Kinney?"
"Looks fine to me."
"You have the check?"
He'd stopped by the bank and had the certified check drawn for the amount of the down payment. He removed it from his jacket pocket.
From his vantage point slightly behind the primary participants, Justin was able to appreciate how smoothly Brian interacted with the Baumann's, flirting just the right amount with Mrs. Baumann, being direct with Mr. Baumann, while managing at all times to snub their agent.
Once all the papers were signed and the monies exchanged, Mr. Baumann reached into his pocket and produced two sets of keys. Handed them to Brian and shook his hand. "Nice doing business with you, Mr. Kinney." Said to the escrow agent, "You'll send me a copy of the papers? Good. Carol." Nodding curtly to his ex-wife, he departed.
Mrs. Baumann offered a warmer congratulations, pressing Brian's hand and saying, "I hope you enjoy your new home, Mr. Kinney."
Glancing at Justin, he said, "I'm sure we will."
Waiting until they were outside, Brian and Justin kissed and laughed. Brian gave him one set of the keys which Justin immediately put on his new keychain. Jennifer hugged them both.
Brian pecked her on the cheek. "Thanks, Jenn. We couldn't have done it without you."
"I know you'll be very happy there."
Smiling broadly, Justin embraced Brian and kissed him again. "I can't believe it's really ours."
"And we've still got about a thousand things to do before we can move in." He eased Justin away, thinking of the immediate concerns. "Utilities. I'll get Cynthia on that this afternoon." He needed to close out his accounts on the loft and open new ones at the Whitman Drive address. They also needed to contact the security company that handled the alarm system at the house and—
He looked around. "Huh?"
"We've got a list, remember?"
Fuck. They did. They'd made it weeks ago after making the offer on the house. "Sorry, Baby."
Jenn shook her head in amusement. "So, what time should we meet tomorrow at the house for the housewarming?"
"Actually," Justin told her, "we've decided to make it a cleaning housewarming. So wear old clothes."
"Early. That way Brian and the guys can go look for tuxes in the afternoon."
"I'd better call and let everyone know then. Nine okay?"
"Perfect, Mom." He kissed her again. "Thanks. For everything."
"You're welcome, Honey. I love you."
"Love you too. Later."
They watched her drive away and then Brian asked, "So what are you going to do the rest of the day?"
"Well, after you take me to lunch, I'm going to work. Pick me up around five thirty so we can meet with Rev. Ophelia."
"Where are we having lunch?"
"Anyplace but the diner. That meatloaf gave me indigestion the other night."
Waving his hand in front of his face, Brian said, "You don't have to tell me."
Justin pushed him with his shoulder. "Shut up and take me to lunch."
"Yes, Your Highness."
"You'll want some," Justin threatened and Brian laughed and climbed
inside the Jeep.
He was still wearing a grin when he met Justin later that afternoon. "Hey."
Justin checked out the smile. "You're in a good mood. What gives?"
"I'm happy," he said simply. "We should hit the mattress store while we're out."
"Your mom called about the bed; it'll be delivered next Saturday just like they promised."
"Least we'll have somewhere to sleep. I talked to the contractors. They can start on the bathroom next month. They'll pull out all the fixtures and install the new ones, then put up the new shower and the partitioning wall."
"How long is it gonna take?"
"Three weeks tops." He glanced up at the stoplight, waiting for it to change. "And the dining table and chairs and side board are probably getting here next week." Pulled away from the light and went a few blocks before turning left. "My mom may have to house sit during the day if we can't get exact delivery dates."
"She'll probably be there anyway, measuring for curtains and stuff. We need to make sure that our online service is turned on right away. She can use your laptop."
Both of them having seemingly run out of conversation for the moment, Brian drove in silence until they neared the rectory.
"I hope Rev. Ophelia's got something good for us."
"Hungry?" asked Brian, which wouldn't have surprised him.
"No, I mean for the wedding," Justin replied, a little perturbed by Brian's assumption.
"O-kay." Warning himself to be on his best behavior, he vowed to stay on Justin's good side for the rest of the evening.
Greeting them at the door, Rev. Ophelia led them to her office and promptly left them. Returned with a tray of tea and a plate of cookies and cakes. "I figured you probably left work and came straight here." Said to Brian, "Nice suit."
"Thanks." He wanted to kiss her. Maybe if Justin ate something he'd be a little less grouchy.
But the young man took one cookie and placed it on a dessert plate and set it on the low table between the sofa where they sat and the chair where Rev. Ophelia was perched happily munching on a cookie. Finishing, she took a sip of tea and wiped her mouth. "Now that I feel a little more civilized, let's get to business. I have a list here of possible pieces of music to play during the ceremony and Justin told me on the telephone that you're going to have some poetry read as well. So, the prelude music plays while your guests settle down and at six sharp—if a miracle on the scale of the parting of the Red Sea occurs—we'll start with the procession. Everyone comes out and takes their places and I go into "Dearly Beloved, blah blah blah blah blah. Then there's a short prayer and I speak a little about what marriage is and what it means. After that there's a short musical interlude and the poetry you've selected is read. Generally, we play a song after that and then another short prayer."
"That's a lot of praying," Brian commented.
"I get paid by the prayer," she told him in a deadpan voice and Justin laughed. "Now, after that we need to decide if we want to do the 'I do' part and then have the blessing of the families or do the blessing of the families first and then the 'I do's.' "
"What's the blessing of the families?" asked Justin.
"It used to be the part where the priest would ask the father of the bride if he gave her to be married but now people are beginning to replace that with the blessing of the families. Basically, I ask them if they give their love, their blessings, and their support to your union. Then I ask the same of the congregation and afterwards the mothers of the grooms sit and we continue with the ceremony. If we do the blessings first, then we'll do the 'I do' part and move onto the vows. Now, have you decided if you'd like to speak before the traditional exchange of vows?"
Justin exchanged glances with Brian and began to speak when Brian spoke up instead. "I think we should say something." Pause. "About why we're getting married." Waited for Justin's reaction. His partner said nothing but he picked up his plate and nibbled on his cookie with a look of contentment on his face. Brian was hard-pressed not to laugh.
"All right, then you'll speak and afterwards we'll do the 'I do's,' I'll bless the rings and you'll exchange them. And then I pronounce you…"
"Yes?" said Justin.
"What would you like to be called? Partners for Life? Domestic Partners? Spouses? Husband and husband? Married? We have to say something."
"I like Partners for Life." Checked with his partner. "What about you?"
Brian said, "I can live with that."
"And then I say 'You may kiss your partner' and after you're through—"
"You'll give us a few minutes, won't you?" asked Brian, smirking.
"You light the commitment candle," she said as if he hadn't interrupted, "and if you have a special gift you'd like to present to anyone you can do it here."
"Special gift?" asked Brian.
"Sometimes the participants like to give gifts to their grandparents or someone special who's supported them."
"Oh," he replied. That was it. Everything was falling into place.
"And then..." she teased.
"Another prayer," supplied Brian.
"And the benediction and I introduce you to the congregation. So, how does that sound?"
"Long," said Brian and received a sharp look from Justin.
"It sounds great, Rev. Ophelia."
"And then the wedding directors will take over and my job will be done. I plan on drinking lots of champagne and having a huge slice of cake."
"Wait until you see the cake. It's perfect."
She smiled, pleased by his excitement. "I'm sure it is. So, if everything sounds good to you, I'll get you a draft of the text next week. That way you can look it over, see if you disagree with anything."
"I'm sure it'll be fine," Justin assured her.
"Still, to be on the safe side. Then you can have the programs printed up in plenty of time. And I'll need directions to the house."
"I'll fax them to you," Brian said, "with a map of the neighborhood."
Business settled, she asked them about their other arrangements. "You've found a caterer then?"
"Highway robbers you mean," groused Brian. "You'd think they were serving pheasant under glass instead of dried out chicken and mauled beef."
Justin shook his head. "Don't listen to him. The food was amazing."
"Tuxes all ready?"
"Coming in next week so we can get them altered a little."
She was impressed. "You two seem to have everything under control."
"Well," he confessed, "Brian's mom helped out a lot and we still haven't gotten the flowers yet. We're buying silk ones and doing the arrangements ourselves. And the decorations."
"What's your theme?"
"A Winter Wonderland."
Justin smiled. "It will be. No matter what." Because they were going to
be married and it didn't matter if they did it under a tree in the
backyard, all that mattered was that afterwards they would be partners,
beginning their new life together.
Setting his glass of wine down on the night stand, Brian wrapped his arms around Justin and held him. "Last week in the loft." They had skipped the mattress store reasoning that they could get it sometime next week.
"Last week in this bed."
"I can't believe breeders are gonna be breeding in my bed."
"You have a child so, technically, you're a breeder too," Justin told him, grinning in anticipation of Brian's response.
"We have a child." Laughed. "I don't think anyone would call you and me, and Mel and Lindsay breeders."
Justin agreed. Cocked his head. "Probably shouldn't waste what little time we have left then."
"Oh? I thought you were the one threatening to hold out?"
"Changed my mind." He brushed his finger over Brian's nipple, felt it tense. "Please, Pookie."
Pulling Justin up so that they were eye-level to one another, Brian asked, "What do you want?"
Justin kissed him hard. "Everything."
"You're in luck then," Brian told him, "cause that's just what I have."