Unfortunately, it took them half the night to get through 'everything' and when the morning came, they were both exhausted. Shading his eyes, Brian checked the clock. "Fuck."
"What?" murmured Justin.
"It's eight o'clock."
"Fuck." He threw off the covers and got to his feet, stumbled to the bathroom.
Raising a brow, Brian licked his lips as he watched Justin's plump cheeks disappear from sight. "Well, you know what they say about the hair of the dog…"
Although they had very little time to play, Justin wasn't about to turn Brian down, especially when he came bearing soap. Pretty soon, Justin was leaning back against Brian and breathing hard as the man soaped his thighs and belly, his chest and neck. Each time the bar encircled his nipples or crossed his belly, his cock twitched. Suds covered most of his torso and back, his buttocks were streaked.
Abandoning the soap, Brian turned to kissing his lover's neck and
shoulders, his cheeks, chin, and lips as he rubbed him all over, Justin
guiding his hands to the places he wanted to be touched. So they'd be a
little late. The party couldn't start without them. After all, it was
Cars were parked in the driveway and along the street outside Joanie's place and their friends and family were waiting with barely disguised impatience as they pulled up in their respective vehicles. Justin checked his watch for the fourth time. "We're only fifteen minutes late," he said to himself.
Brian grumbled, "They'll get over it." Parking, they hopped out to greet a chorus of inquisitive faces. "We overslept," Brian explained as Gus ran over to be picked up and hugged.
"Over-fucked," murmured Emmett.
"That too," agreed Ted.
Brian flicked his tongue and said, "Breakfast of champions."
Interrupting their banter before it descended any lower, Justin said, "Can we go now?" He leaned in to kiss Gus and rubbed noses.
Cautiously, Jennifer asked, "Are your friends coming?"
Despite her having asked Justin, everyone's eyes darted towards Brian. "He's picking them up on the way over." Abruptly, he announced, "Let's get this wagon train on the move."
There was no question of Gus riding anywhere else but in the back seat of the Jeep. Since Justin was driving as well, Joanie rode with Brian and Gus. Mel and Lindz had their car; Ted, Emmett, and Michael took Ted's car; Vic and Deb were in her car; and Jenn drove with Molly and the food in tow.
Although they started out together, at some point Justin left the caravan to pick up Xavier and Rennie and stoplights and traffic managed to separate the rest but only for a little while. Eventually, the five remaining cars pulled onto Whitman Drive in a row.
"Close your eyes," Brian told Joanie and she did so, heart beating rapidly. She couldn't wait to see the house.
"Ritzy neighborhood," observed Emmett as they passed house after fancy house, all with manicured lawns and tasteful landscaping. "I guess Brian and Justin got lucky, found something reasonable."
Michael shook his head and Ted, who also knew how much the house cost, said, "Depends on your definition of reasonable."
Debbie's hands trembled a little on the steering wheel. "Oh my God, can you believe this place? It's like Beverly Hills."
"And we're the Hillbillies," joked Vic.
Eyes wide open, Mel and Lindz gazed around with undisguised awe. "It's like Home and Garden heaven," said Lindz.
Mel was suitably impressed as well but kidded, "If I ever see Brian in a Mrs. Miniver hat, then I'll know the world is ending."
Pausing briefly, Brian pulled into 1517 Whitman Drive, the smooth asphalt of the driveway carrying them all the way up to the house. He parked closest to the kitchen door and said, "Okay. Open them."
Despite having floor plans and descriptions of the house, she was instantly overwhelmed and covered her mouth for a moment. "Brian… it's beautiful."
He unstrapped Gus and took him out of the back. Held his hand to keep him from getting entangled with the oncoming cars. "It'll be even more beautiful once you're done with the inside." Brian squatted and pointed to the house. "See the house?" Gus nodded. "That's where Daddy and Daddy Justin are gonna live. You like it?" Gus nodded and hid his face in Brian's shirt, a little overwhelmed himself.
One by one the cars parked in the yard and the stunned occupants dismounted, all except Jennifer who had gotten used to the house on her numerous trips out there to meet with inspectors. Still, it was amazing.
"Vic, Vic, it's just like the houses we saw in Italy," Deb said, gripping her brother's arm.
"Can we go inside?" asked Lindsay, anxious to see the rest.
"We should wait for Justin. He'll be here in a few minutes. You can walk around the front yard if you want. But no peeking in the windows," he warned.
So as he leaned against the Jeep and watched, the rest of them wandered about the yard trying not to look inside the house, wanting to wait until Justin arrived and they could go in en mass. Still, they marveled at the tower and the gated entry and the beautiful windows that they couldn't look through. By the time Justin drove up, they were champing at the bit.
Justin started to open the back of the Cherokee to get out the cleaning supplies and the boxes that had come to the house full of things they'd bought a while back but Brian told him, "Leave it. Come on." Together they led their friends over to the front gate and Brian produced his set of keys. Unlocked the gate.
"Last night I dreamt of Manderley," joked Ted. A titter of laughter accompanied his comment.
"Oh my God," said Rennie who was still in a bit of a shock despite having grown up in a well-to-do neighborhood. It was just that the house was so beautiful.
Em leaned over and whispered, "You'll get used to it."
Xavier, who was, admittedly, from the projects, was speechless. He'd seen houses like this in DC, walked past them feeling the hairs on the back of his neck stand up because he knew and the houses knew that he didn't belong in the neighborhood, that he was an interloper. And this was where Justin would live, where he and Brian would live.
Running her hand over the back of one of the benches, Deb said, "I like these. In case you get tired after walking from the car." At Vic's look, she said, "It could happen."
"Is this terracotta?" asked Vic rubbing the floor gently with the toe of his shoe.
"All of the floors are either terracotta or some kind of stone tile," Justin answered.
Unlocking the front door, Brian stepped inside and disengaged the silent alarm. He'd called yesterday and activated the account. Releasing the latch in the left-hand door, he swung both of them wide open. "Well, don't just stand there," he said to their stunned friends, "come on in." Justin laughed and joined him on the inside while they waited for everyone to comply. Gus separated himself from the crowd and tugged on Brian's jeans.
"I got go." Which broke the spell and gave the others permission to come inside.
Taking Gus to the guest bathroom by the kitchen, with Molly close behind them, Brian left Justin to guide the tour. But he had other ideas. "So, make yourselves at home," he told them and he smiled and went to help Jennifer bring in the food and the cleaning supplies.
Released on their own, they all began to wander in groups: the guys in one group; Mel and Lindz in another; Vic, Deb, and Joanie together; and Xavier and Rennie forming the last group.
Carrying the first box inside, Justin saw Mel and Lindz standing in the doorway of the sunroom. "That's my studio," he told them and headed to the kitchen.
The two women went inside the conservatory and Mel shut her eyes against the glare of the sunlight streaming in from the glass walls and windows and doors but Lindz basked in the warmth of the winter sun and imagined herself as part of a light-filled canvas.
Vic, Deb, and Joanie wandered the livingroom and dining room area and Deb wondered, "What are they going to put in here?"
"Nothing at first," Joanie told them. "They're starting out with the master suite, Gus' room and bathroom, and the family room and kitchen."
"Well, they could always rent these rooms out, generate a little extra cash," Vic said lightly.
"Would you look at that fireplace?" Deb ran her hand over it. "Marble." Peeked out the side doors. "What's out there?"
They walked out into the courtyard, standing beneath the wisteria arbor that come spring would bloom and shade the area with a canopy of heavy, fragrant purple flowers.
Having joined Lindsay and Melanie in the conservatory, Xavier and Rennie envied their friend his new studio. "This is fucking amazing," commented Rennie. "And all we've got is that crappy studio at school."
"Better than nothing," said Xavier. "Better than I ever had before."
Melanie agreed. "Absolutely right."
"Still…" he began, looking around at the perfect space, "this is something else."
The guys had headed upstairs, climbing the tower steps and making their way to the master suite.
"My God," exclaimed Emmett upon seeing the vast room with the private office, walk-in closet, and monumental bath. "They're going to be living like kings."
"Like queens, you mean," quipped Ted.
"Brian said they bought this huge king-sized bed," Michael told them.
"I'm surprised he didn't just have one built to fit the space, turn the whole room into a giant bed," Ted said and they all laughed at the image of Brian and Justin rolling around on a room-sized bed.
Moving apart from the other two, Michael walked out onto the loggia, stood looking out at the backyard below. He could see Brian and Justin sitting out here sipping drinks or having a romantic dinner beneath the night sky.
"Honey, you okay?" asked Emmett, coming up behind him.
"Just think, some day you and Jeff might be moving into a house of your own."
Michael said nothing, only smiled softly and walked back inside.
Jenn and Justin having brought in Gus' toys, he and Molly contented themselves with playing in the fountain area. Brian had cut it on and he could tell that it was going to be one of Gus' favorite places in the house. The toddler was fascinated by the sound of the falling water and within moments had his hand in the basin splashing water on the floor. Bringing a paper towel over, Brian cleaned up the mess and then picked up Gus and asked him if he wanted to see his room.
"I want… water."
"We'll come back and you can play with the water later, okay? Come see your room."
"Come on, Gus," said Justin and he and Molly accompanied them upstairs. Molly loved the tower staircase and stood at the window halfway up and stared out of it until she realized she was being left behind.
Although the room was empty, Gus understood that it was to be his room and he understood the importance of that. He had a room of his own with Mommy and Mama and now he would have a room of his own with Daddy and Daddy Justin.
Holding him, Brian walked him around the room and told him all the things they were going to put in it. "Your bed and a nightstand and a lamp and a clock and a toy chest and a table and some chairs." He opened the closet to reveal the shelves inside. "And you can put your clothes in here when you come and stay with us. You'll like that, won't you? Having your own bed?" Gus nodded and Brian kissed him.
"Where am I going to stay?" Molly asked and Justin laughed.
"There's a guest room on the other side of Gus' bathroom," he said and he showed her the room and told her, "Anytime you want to come over and see me, brat, you can."
"I don't want to see you," she said, "I want to see Brian and Gus."
They all regrouped downstairs, talking over one another about how fabulous the house was so that no one person could hear what anyone else was saying. Justin placed his fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly, the sound cutting through the noise. Abruptly, everyone fell silent. "Okay, that's better."
"He acts like he owns the place," said Ted.
"Now," continued Justin, "here's what we need to do. All the floors need sweeping and mopping and the kitchen and bathrooms need to be cleaned from top to bottom. We've got cleaning supplies and plenty of sponges, mops, and buckets." When no one moved, he said, "Maybe my mouth was moving and nothing was coming out of it."
Brian raised a brow. "Too easy."
"Bust a move," he commanded and everyone split up into work details. Mel and Lindsay took the upstairs wing with Gus' bedroom in it, the guys took the master suite, Joanie and Jennifer tackled the kitchen, Deb and Vic the family room and bath, and Brian and Justin and Rennie and Xavier went around mopping the floors in the conservatory, the dining and living room, the gallery, and the sitting room/library upstairs as well as the second-floor hallway. By twelve thirty they were all done and exhausted and ready to eat. With no chairs to sit on, they perched on the floor picnic style and ate off colored plastic plates.
"I can't wait until it's warm and we can lounge around the pool," said Em with visions of a deep tan prancing around in his head.
"I can," said Ted. "Yet another opportunity for Brian to make some cutting comment about my body. Or lack thereof."
"He'll be too busy barbecuing," Justin told him.
Mel asked, "Are you going to have one of those Kiss the Chef aprons?"
"More like Kiss My—"
"Brian!" Joanie scolded. "There are children present."
"Sorry, Baby," he apologized and kissed Justin who pushed him away.
"So," Lindsay said, "tell us about the wedding. Where's it going to be?"
"We're having the ceremony out in the reception hall and the dinner tables are going to be set up in the livingroom."
"All warm and cozy by the fire," Em mused. "At least I won't have to wear my fur."
"I heard raccoon is in this year," Ted teased.
"By the time we're done eating, they'll have removed the chairs and we can dance out in the hall. We're putting the cake and champagne in the studio."
"Sounds like a lot to direct," Lindsay said. "I hope we can manage."
"Mostly we just need you to keep an eye on things," he told her. "The caterers and the DJ know what they're doing, you just have to make sure we stay on track as far as moving from one place to the other and keeping people from getting in the way of the professionals. And, Lindsay," he added, "we want you and Vic to read poetry during the ceremony."
"Us?" asked Vic. "What about Deb?"
"Honey," she replied, "the only thing people want to hear me read is
today's specials." But it had become obvious to everyone that they all had
something to do but her—and Rennie and Xavier, of course, but they didn't
count because they were recent friends, not quite family yet. Debbie, she
had been like a second mom to both Brian and Justin. "Listen, all I want
to do is to show up and enjoy myself," she assured them.
With lunch over, Brian first went around and took pictures of the empty house and then he and the guys got ready to go looking for tuxedos. Justin remained at the house with Joanie taking measurements for curtains and armoires and tables. Vic and Deb were dropping Xavier and Rennie off at school and Mel and Lindsay gathered Gus' stuff in preparation to head home but the toddler was having none of it. He wanted to go with Brian and nothing any of them said could convince him otherwise.
"No. Go Daddy."
"All right." Brian finally gave in. "You can go with me this afternoon. I'll drop him off later on," he told Lindsay.
"If he lets you."
Xavier and Rennie both hugged Justin before they left. "It's a great place," Xavier said.
"Nana Rose is sure she's coming to the wedding?"
"She's already gone out and bought a new dress to match the scarf you got her in London."
"I can't wait to see her." He looked down, then back up again. "Trey coming?"
"Uh-huh. They're driving up together."
"I bet you can't wait to see him."
"One night's better than none."
Rennie broke into the conversation. "So, Boy Wonder, are you happy now?"
"Yep. But I'll be even happier on the fifteenth." His smile was as
bright as the sun. "I'll be the happiest person on earth."
Neither Ted, Michael, or Emmett had known the true meaning of pain before but they knew now: pain was having to go clothes shopping with Brian. Nothing satisfied him and he was very vocal about his disappointment. To the guys all the tuxes looked the same but Brian quibbled over the width of a lapel, the number of buttons, the cut of the coat, the length of the slacks, the material, etc., etc., etc.
Finally, finally, hours later it seemed to the guys although it'd only been about forty-five minutes, he decided on a Lord West tuxedo paired with the navy blue Perry Ellis vest that matched the silver one he and Justin would be wearing. Once he was done with them, he turned to the meager, in his opinion, selection of children's tuxedos in search of something for Gus to wear. Gus, his eyes fixed on his daddy, was given a crash course in selecting tuxedos. Paying the deposits on the guys' tuxes and buying Gus', he also purchased a matching blue vest for Gus since it had to be cut and altered to fit him. His and Justin's tuxedos had arrived, so he paid for them as well and slung them over his arm. His next stop was the tailor's. Luckily, Daphne had found the perfect dress and was getting it altered in Princeton while Jennifer had taken Molly's matching one to a seamstress they trusted so he only had to worry about the grooms and Gus.
The guys felt like they had been released from bondage when they were done. Waving goodbye to father and son, they decided to hit Woody's for a pick-me-up.
Drinks in hand, they found a corner table and collapsed.
"What a day. I just want to go home and go to sleep," moaned Ted.
Emmett frowned. "I feel just a wee bit, I don't know, inadequate after seeing that place. I mean, the loft was bad enough but that house is absolutely fabulous."
"I know what you mean. I'm definitely going to be finding faults with my place for weeks to come."
"And I don't even have my own place. I'm rooming with Mikey." He rubbed Michael's shoulder. "For which I am eternally grateful."
"Did you ever think Brian and Justin would be getting married?" asked Ted.
"Not in this universe, Honey. But, I keep remembering how Brian went after Justin that time he ran away to New York, and I kinda knew then that Justin was around to stay. Because if he didn't mean anything to him, Brian would have never gone after him."
"I know what you mean. And going to the prom. You knew it was serious then. Brian in a room full of eighteen-year-olds and they were all fully dressed." He and Em laughed but Michael didn't. Ted took a big swig of his drink. "So, how are you doing?" he asked Michael.
"I'm doing great. Why wouldn’t I be?"
"Maybe cause Brian and Justin are getting married in three weeks."
"I'm happy for him."
"Be happier if it were you," he said, broaching the subject they'd all been tiptoeing around for so long.
"I don't think Jeff's going to ask me to marry him," joked Michael although he knew exactly what Ted meant.
"Honey…" Emmett paused. "It's okay if…"
"If what?" asked Michael. "My best friend's moving into a new house and getting married and I'm happy for him." He finished his drink. "I'm ready for another. You guys?" They shook their heads, still working on the first one. "Be back."
They watched him go. "So?"
"So," Emmett asked, "what do you think about that?"
"I think you'd better have a bottle of rum on hand after we get back
from the wedding." And not just for Michael, they'd all need it. Sometimes
being happy for someone else didn't keep you from feeling sorry for
Brian felt especially sorry for himself as Gus was pitching a major hissy fit having realized that Brian was taking him home and not to the loft. From his seat in the back, he wailed and cried and threw Beh away from him, refusing to be comforted by his best bud. Every now and again Brian would hear him say an intelligible word: No, stay, Daddy and it was about to drive him crazy. Nearing a traffic light, he pulled over next to the curb and parked. Turned around and faced the crying tot. "Gus. Gus, listen to me. Gus—"
"You just stayed with us this week. Gus…" They had so much to do and so little time and it took longer if you had a two-year-old with you and there was that damn dinner tomorrow and no way was he taking his kid over there to mingle with Claire's horde of devils masquerading as children. But his head was about to explode from the crying and he'd do anything to get him to stop. "Okay, okay, you can stay. You can stay tonight but we're taking you back home in the morning, deal?" The toddler sniffled and wiped his eyes. "Okay?" Gus nodded. Brian found Beh and handed him back to the little boy and watched as he clutched the bear. He turned back around and slumped in his own seat. Got out his cell and called the Munchers. "Yeah. Gus is staying with us tonight. Look, he was about to cry himself to death. No, I know that—You wanna be the one to tell him, be my guest. Come and get him."
"No!" came from the back seat.
"Your son has spoken." Listened to Mel bitch for a minute, then interrupted with, "I'll bring him back tomorrow morning. Early. Elevenish." Snapped the phone close and suddenly smiled. "I love doing that."
From the back came the sound of giggling.
He didn't have to worry about Claire's brood setting a bad example, he was doing a great job all by himself. He flipped open the phone and called Justin. "Hey. You still at the house?"
"Just about done. What about you?"
"I dropped our tuxes at the tailor's and he's got Gus' vest too. And I've got Gus," he added.
"For the night?"
"Uh-huh. My ears have only just stopped ringing."
"We need to stop by the mattress store." They hadn't done it last night, wanting to get home and celebrate on their old mattress.
"We can do that with him."
"And we need to stop by the mall. We don't have towels and stuff for Gus' bathroom or for the guest bath downstairs."
Brian's headache was returning. It would be harder to do that with Gus in tow but they had no choice. "Well, we'll make do. You wanna meet at the mattress store or what?"
"How about we park the Jeep and take my car? It's got more room."
"Be there in fifteen." He cut the connection and started up the Jeep. "All right, Gus, we're going to see Daddy Justin."
The toddler clapped and said, "Daddy!"
"Yea," murmured Brian, hoping his head would stop pounding.
By the time they met up with Justin at home, he was in a somewhat better mood. Of course, his mood was improved by the long and lingering kiss Justin bestowed upon him. Parting, Justin asked, "The couch?"
"Maybe we'll actually make it this time."
"We better get a move on. Gus looks hungry." He was sitting in the back chewing on Beh's paw.
Dennis was on duty again when they returned to the mattress store. "Don't they give you any time off?" Brian asked jokingly.
"You're back for the mattresses?"
"And we don't even have to test them this time."
Noticing Gus, Dennis asked, "This your son?"
"Yep. Say hello, Gus."
"Hello. You're a cutie." Just like your daddy. Gesturing towards an office area, Dennis said, "Let's get the paperwork done."
"More paperwork," sighed Brian. "You wanna take Mini-Me on a tour of the store?" he asked Justin.
"Keep him occupied," the young man said and he and Gus wandered around looking at mattresses and beds while Brian filled out the paperwork for the bed and arranged for delivery next Saturday afternoon. Fifteen minutes later, he shook hands with Dennis and found Justin and Gus lying on a mattress set like the one they'd purchased.
"Come on, let's get this over with."
Of course, the mall was jammed packed full of people. Which irritated and amazed Brian. "Who says the economy is bad?" They made their way to Pottery Barn and bought a corner storage shelf and a bench for Gus' bathroom and the hamper for theirs. The hamper they got in-store and the rest of the stuff they had to have delivered. Hopefully it would arrive by next Friday or the following Monday at the latest. They also bought car bedding for Gus' bed and a car lithograph to hang on his wall. They'd ordered this awesome bed in the shape of a car for his room and some other things online that he was certain to love. Of course, they'd also ordered bedding for themselves from Spiegel's. Online. All due to arrive sometime soon.
"Don't stores have things for sale in them that you can actually take home anymore?" Brian asked, puzzled by the fact that he'd spent a great deal of money and all they had in hand were some towels.
"It's easier this way," Justin explained. "You're not loaded down with stuff."
"No, you just have to hang around the house waiting for shit to show up."
"Sit," said Gus and the two men tried to ignore him but it was too
funny that he was trying to curse and yet couldn't pronounce the "sh"
sound yet. Suppressing giggles they took hold of his hands and went in
search of food.
"Do you think we should try to fix up the guest room now or wait? We've already got one request from Molly to come over and stay."
"Let's see how much we've spent already and then make a decision." He finished strapping Gus in and got in on the passenger side. "I forgot to tell you. I bought a new tub for Gus' bathroom. It's coming with our stuff. I figured since the contractors were putting in one tub, they might as well do two."
"What kind of tub?" And unspoken, Why didn't you discuss it with me? Justin focused on driving through the parking garage.
"Michael Graves. I saw it online and it's amazing. It's perfectly round. Gus will love it." He paused and studied Justin's profile. Despite the younger man's efforts, Brian could see the tension in his jaw. "I'm sorry I didn't bring it up before. I didn't even think, I just bought it."
"It's okay." He'd tried to hide how annoyed he was and failed.
"No, it's not. It's our house and we should make decisions about it together."
"So I guess I should tell you that I've decided to paint the kitchen
walls purple." But he couldn’t even get it out before he started laughing.
Brian joined in as did Gus even though he had no idea why they were
laughing. He just liked to laugh.
He also liked spaghetti and he loved getting spaghetti all over him, which is what Brian surmised as he watched his son smear sauce all over his face and hands. Figuring it was easier to wipe him down afterwards than to try and keep him from doing it in the first place, he only gave the little boy the eye when he went to pull the napkin from his collar. It was the only thing protecting his clothes and Brian had no intention of letting him get anywhere near the white furniture in the loft with spaghetti-stained clothes. Especially since, technically, the loft wasn't theirs anymore, nor was the furniture. "Leave it," he ordered and Gus left it alone and continued to eat.
"I love it when you take charge," Justin told him sotto voce.
"Maybe I'll show you my technique when we get home."
"We might wake Gus."
"Hmm… you're probably right. We can save it for the new house. You can make as much noise as you want."
"No more notes from the super." He wouldn't miss those at all as he still couldn't look the man in the face without blushing.
"Did we call the paper and give them the new address?"
"It was on the list. And you gave the list to Cynthia, right?"
"Then it's done." The one thing Cynthia was, besides being very pretty, was efficient. Give her something to do and she was like the Terminator, didn't stop until the job was done. "We should get her something special for helping out so much," Justin suggested.
"It's called a big, fat paycheck," Brian replied.
"I think we should do something for Deb too," Justin added. "I felt kind of bad today. Everyone else has something to do in the wedding and she doesn't."
"We won't leave her out, trust me."
"She really has been like a mom to both of us." He chuckled. "I remember when she called me out about throwing away my artwork and thinking about going to Dartmouth. God, she could yell…"
"You haven't heard her yell." Rolled his eyes. "I've heard her yell. Every time Mikey got into trouble, she'd find me and yell at me. Like it was my fault."
Justin raised his eyebrow. "Well?"
"It wasn't always my fault. Just most of the time." Gus dropped a piece of bread on the table out of reach so Brian retrieved it and fed it to him.
After a while Justin asked, "Is everything okay with you and Michael?" It'd been on his mind most of the afternoon.
"He was kind of quiet today."
"Trying to conserve oxygen. All we needed was Daphne and we would have exceeded our per person oxygen quota with all the yakking going on there today."
"They were all blown away by the house." He mused, "Wait until the wedding."
Having demolished his spaghetti, Gus announced, "I want cookie."
Brian grinned. "Someone wants dessert."
"How about some gelato, Gus?" The baby looked properly confused. "Ice cream," Justin explained.
"God," Justin reminisced, "they had the best gelato in Florence."
"Be a while before we taste any like that again."
"We can buy an ice cream machine and experiment at home." Smiled. "Ice cream kisses…"
Brian remembered the night he was referring to. He'd stopped by the diner and invited Justin to the loft, the first time, in fact, that he'd ever invited Justin over. At the time he'd told himself that it'd been because he and Mikey weren't talking but, looking back, he realized that part of the invitation had come just because he'd wanted to see Justin, to be with him. It almost made him laugh, how hard it'd been for him to admit that to himself back then. Smiling, he said, "Maybe we should stop by the grocery store and buy some ice cream, take it home…"
"What about the noise?" Justin reminded him.
"I can always gag you."
"Oh, Daddy…" he whispered and reached for Gus to clean him up. "Come
on, Gus. We're having ice cream at home."
The chaise lounge was a little sticky this morning but it had been the site of their first ice cream encounter so it had sentimental value plus it was the one piece of furniture that they were taking with them to the new place so they didn't have to worry about staining it. Amazed that they hadn't awakened Gus the night before despite making every effort to be quiet, the two lovers looked forward to the days when they could soak in a tub after making love and relax tired muscles.
Sitting at the table watching Gus eat his breakfast, Brian envied him his night's rest. This had been the second night in a row that they'd gotten very little sleep after a busy day and it was starting to catch up with him big time. Another of life's little reminders that he was, in fact, getting older and slower. "You know," he said to Justin, "maybe we ought to invest in a sauna. They have these units that you can add to any room, put them together in a couple of hours. The contractors could do it along with the other renovations." Which, of course, was something all the guides said you shouldn't do: add jobs onto a renovation mid-course as it jacked up the price. But…
"Around four thousand for a two-person model. Be big enough for Gus to get in there with us," he said, tapping the toddler on the nose with his finger as Gus was highly interested in their conversation and not as interested in his breakfast anymore.
Justin shrugged. "If we're going to have a home gym, we should probably have a sauna too. And four thousand's not a lot. Not really." Not compared to eight hundred thousand for the house and about thirty thousand for the work being done to the bathrooms and the sitting room area. "I say we do it."
"Why are you being so nice to me?" Brian asked, pretending to be suspicious.
"Because you're having dinner with your sister and nephews today."
Grimacing, Brian added, "So are you."
"You know, maybe I should meet them under a less stressful situation. I mean, your sister's already upset, why make it worse?"
"Because we're running out of time," Brian pointed out. "We don't have very many weeks left. And once we move, I don't want to think about Claire. We won't have time to think about anything except the wedding. So we do this now and get it over with."
"Think maybe we could slip them a Mickey or something?"
"So devious. Believe me," he said, "the last thing you want to see is Claire's tits. Okay, make that the next to the last. The very last thing you want to see is my mom's."
Frowning, Justin put down his fork. "Thank you for ruining my appetite."
Brian looked at Gus who was smiling. "What are you grinning about?"
Justin nearly spit out his coffee. "You are so gonna get it. Lindsay is gonna kill you if she hears him say that."
"Well, he's probably seen enough in their house."
"You can stop now," said Brian and Gus laughed and picked up his juice.
He wasn't laughing later on when Brian and Justin took him home but he didn't fall out this time either. Waving goodbye, he watched from the front door as they drove away. Little did he know they hated leaving more than he hated them leaving. Their next stop: Joanie's.
They sat outside her house for as long as they possibly could without arousing suspicion. Claire was already there, probably been there for an hour, wearing Joanie down. Kissing for one last time before their ordeal began, the two men dismounted and walked leisurely to the house, affecting a casualness they in no way felt. Justin knocked.
As she usually did, even when she knew someone was coming over, Joanie peeped through the front curtain before opening the door. "Justin, come in." Hugging him briefly, she embraced her son and whispered, "Thank you."
Brian said nothing, only followed Justin inside and pulled off his coat before Joanie began making introductions.
"Justin, this is my daughter, Claire, and her two sons, Peter and John. Everyone, this is Justin… Brian's partner."
Claire's youngest son, John, asked, "What does that mean? His partner?"
His mom snapped, "Be quiet."
"I know all about partners," Peter said. "It means they do it."
"Peter," Claire warned, then said to her mother, "I don't want to subject my children to this."
"Then you should have left them home," Brian told her. "I knew this was a bad idea," he said, reaching for his coat.
"Brian—" began Joanie and Justin took hold of his arm.
"I want to stay." He felt Brian's muscles uncoil. "Your mom invited us to dinner and I want to stay."
"Well, I'm not going anywhere. She's my mother too," said Claire and she sat down as if she never planned to leave. "Sit down," she told the boys and they obeyed, for once.
Brian and Justin perched on the loveseat and waited.
"So," asked Joanie, "is everyone hungry?"
"Starving," replied Justin. "We didn't eat much breakfast this morning. Gus ate enough for the both of us though."
"Is Gus Uncle Brian's son?" asked John.
"I've told you about him," said Claire tightly.
Brian glared at her. "You know, Claire, if you loosened up you might be able to pull that stick out of your—"
"I think I'll go and check the roast," Joanie announced.
Justin leaned closer to Brian, risking an evil look from Claire, and whispered, "Behave."
Brian slipped his hand in Justin's and held it. Claire didn’t miss the gesture.
"Do you have to do that?"
"What?" he asked innocently.
"Rub our faces in it."
"What do you want, Claire? For everyone to be as miserable as you?"
"Your turn will come," she promised him. "He's what? A good twelve years younger than you? Mom told me he's already left you once."
Face burning, Justin couldn't deny her words but he wanted to because he could tell Brian was getting upset again.
Brian said nothing, refusing to spar with her.
Returning, Joanie informed them that dinner was ready. Pointing out their seats around the table, Joanie placed Justin and Brian on one side, the boys on the opposite side, and herself and Claire at each end. Brian made sure to put himself between Claire and Justin even if that meant he had to spend all of dinner next to his sister.
How long could dinner possibly last? Justin asked himself. He didn't savor the thought of spending much time with Claire or her kids. Maybe Brian had been right to want to stay away from her. She hated him and she didn't even know him. She didn't want to get to know him, wasn't willing to give him a chance, he could see that in her eyes. So why were they even trying?
"Pass the rolls, please," Brian said to Claire when it became obvious that she wasn't going to. She handed the basket to him with undisguised annoyance. Angrily, he asked, "Do you have to be such a cunt all the time?"
Joanie inhaled and the boys burst out laughing. Claire turned about three shades of red before slowly rising and leaving the table.
"Fuck," he said beneath his breath and got up and went after her.
Justin looked as if he'd been left alone in the Roman Colosseum during the height of battle and the boys looked as if they wanted to devour him.
Brian followed Claire upstairs to her old room. She'd shut the door. He knocked first.
He went in anyway. She was sitting on the bed dabbing at her eyes. Standing to her side, he took a deep breath, then said, "I'm sorry."
"That's a first. Brian Kinney's sorry about something."
He snorted. "You weren't exactly on your best behavior either."
"You had no right to bring him here."
"I had every fucking right. He's my partner and Joanie's my mother."
"Not to Daddy's house."
"It isn't Jack's house anymore. It's Mom's."
"And now you two can do whatever you want."
"It's about fuckin' time!" he bellowed. "She's over fifty, for Christ's sake and she's never had a life of her own."
"Well, you've always done exactly what you've wanted."
He closed his eyes and he could see himself, twelve years old and lying in bed, wanting to be anywhere but in this house, and knowing that there was no place else for him, no escape. "Not always," he said softly.
"As soon as you could, you started staying away from home. And then you went to college and you never came back."
"Claire—How the fuck could I? He hated me." And Brian had always known it.
"He didn't hate you."
"He never wanted me and he never lost an opportunity to tell me that. Never missed a chance to tell me that I was no good, that I'd never amount to anything, that I was a mistake. And if I said anything to defend myself, he was right there, trying to knock the shit out of me."
"You shouldn’t have said anything."
"How long was I supposed to take it?"
"Well, he didn't kill you. It didn't hurt you any. You're successful, fancy job, big house."
"And you think that makes up for everything that he did to me?"
"What more did you want?"
"I wanted— I…" He laughed a little. "I wanted it not to have been so hard." He thought of the stuff he and Justin had left at Jack's grave, wondered if anyone had ever stumbled across it and puzzled over its meaning. Knowing he was possibly making a huge mistake, he said, "Do you remember what I said during the trial? That I'd been raped?" Even now it was hard for him to say the word despite his work with Drew.
"Yeah." She remembered. She'd read it and wanted to crawl under a rock because of it and all the other things that he'd said, that were now part of the public record.
"I didn't remember, Claire. All those years and I didn't remember. And even if I had, who would I have told? Joanie? Jack?" The pain made him wince. "I should have been able to tell them. That's what parents are for. But not ours. So I blocked it out of my mind. And I went on."
"Who did it?" He hadn't said during the trial.
He'd come this far, might as well go the entire way. "The Coach."
"From school?" She remembered the coach. All the girls had had a crush on him. Handsome guy, big, strong. And a rapist. "Is that why?"
"No." He knew what she meant, what they always meant. If it hadn't been for the Coach would he have been straight? "It's what I was always meant to be. Can't change that."
"The Coach, what he did to you, that wasn't Daddy's fault."
"No. But he did plenty on his own. You know what it's like, being scared of your own father? Wanting to be anywhere but here, where he could get to me, where I could hear them arguing, him hitting her? But you were gone, you escaped."
"By marrying Bobby. You think that was a picnic?" God, she and Bobby hadn't had a clue what they were getting into, hadn't had any idea what it meant to be married, to work together towards something, towards building a life together.
"I know it wasn't." He looked up and shook his head. "But now Pop is gone and, no matter what you think, at least we've got a chance to maybe change things."
"It's easy for you. You've got everything. You waltz in here with your perfect life and it's easy for her to love you."
"Hello? You sent me emails telling me you hated me, she wouldn’t even talk to me. I've had to work hard to get where I am. With work, with Justin, and with Joanie." He could have written a book about his life, about all the travails he'd faced. We could be on that show, he thought. The one Justin had told him about in England. Queer something. That’s how crazy and fucked-up his life had been.
"Is it true what she said? That he left you?"
"It hasn't always been easy for us to be together. We've both fucked up plenty. But we're still together. For always."
"How can you be that sure?"
"Because there's nothing without him."
"That why you're getting married?"
"Usually the reason." Even though he knew there were many more reasons that had nothing to do with loving or needing someone.
"Why do you think they got married? I didn't come along for a couple of years, so it wasn't cause she was pregnant."
"Guess you'll have to ask her." And she would probably tell her now, she was a different person now, more open. Same as him.
"You talked her out of letting us move in here, didn't you?"
"You having money problems?"
"I just thought she was lonely."
"She's just getting started with her business, with her life,,, give her a chance, Claire."
With her hands folded in her lap, she sat and thought for a moment. He didn't interrupt but he steeled himself for whatever she might say. Finally, she spoke. "I don't hate you, you know. I never did."
"Bet you didn't like me too much though."
She laughed. "No. God, you were such a little asshole. Why couldn't you stay out of his way?"
"Just wasn't my way, I guess." He added, "I would have tried, Claire. If he had ever…" So desperate for his father's love, he'd done what he could, given him what he could, and even then he'd said to him, "It's you who should be dying." Brian didn't think he'd ever forget that. But it didn't hurt as much anymore, he didn't allow it to.
"So… am I going to get to see him?"
To himself he said, He's two-years-old and, so far, the world's been pretty good to him. I want it to stay that way. But he asked, "You coming to the wedding?"
"Maybe." She never missed a family wedding, even if she hated the bride and groom. Some kind of a curse.
"Then you'll meet him there."
She decided to test their newfound peace. "Can I bring the kids?"
He sighed. "If you can keep Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dumber on their leashes."
Meanwhile, Justin had been fending off questions from said Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dumber.
"What's your name again?"
"How old are you?"
"No, it's not, that's not even as old as Mom."
"Stupid. Do you and Uncle Brian really do it?"
Joanie said very firmly, in her best grandmother voice, "Boys…"
"Are you gonna have a baby?"
"He can't have a baby, only girls have babies."
"Then how do they do it?"
"Boys!" Joanie's cheeks were spotted. "Eat your dinner and not another word or you're both leaving the table and not having dessert. Is that clear?"
Touching Justin's hand, she apologized. "Justin… I'm sorry."
"Molly's just as bad," he said, although he was used to her. These two…
they'd take some getting used to. But he'd do it because they were Brian's
family which made them his family too. In any case, the boys apparently
believed their grandmother's threat because they left him alone and
concentrated on their dinner until their mom showed up again at which time
each began to tell on the other. Brian took his seat, kissing Justin on
the cheek as he did, which set the boys off again. Sighing, Justin
wondered how long it'd be before Joanie banished them to the other room.
As they walked to the car, Brian slipped his arm about Justin's waist. "Sorry."
"Leaving you to fend for yourself."
"They're not as bad as they seem."
"They're a little rough around the edges." He opened the passenger door. "They kinda remind me of you."
Brian nudged him in the back with his fist. "I'll show you rough."
Getting in, he said, "Promises, promises." Brian shut the door and went around to the other side, grinning. "So," he asked when Brian had gotten in and started the car, "everything went okay?"
He shrugged. "It's a start." Waited at the stop sign until it was his turn to go and pulled out. "She still has this picture in her head of Jack that… it's not the way it was."
"Let her," Justin suggested. "Who's it hurting?"
"Nobody probably." Stoplight. "I don't expect her to have us over for dinner any time soon."
"As long as she doesn't try to burn us at the stake."
"Those kids of hers might. They're like savages."
"Maybe what they need is a man in their life. Someone with a strong hand," he said suggestively. "Firm grip." Licked his lips.
"I don't know, I think I need to work on my grip," he replied and
Justin laughed deep in his throat as Brian applied the gas and speeded up.
Brian lay on his back with Justin in his arms. His eyes were closed and he felt rested the way he hadn't for days. With the ordeal of dinner behind him, he could relax.
"Next Sunday we'll be in our new house."
"We should do something special."
"Dinner for two… candlelight—"
"If we have a table."
"Could always have dinner in bed."
"Light the fireplace…snuggle under the covers..."
"It's a date."
"Thought you didn't do dates."
"I'll make an exception." Justin turned in his arms and kissed his throat. Made his way to his lips and kissed him softly, then settled back down, his face in his neck. "Happy?"
He murmured, "Yeah."
Justin looked up and cupped Brian's face, ran his thumb over his cheek. "I love you."
"But will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four," he chanted.
"Now, that's just sick."
"You…" He drew Brian's head down and they kissed. "I cannot wait for the wedding."
"Have to unless you've got a time machine."
"Did you ever think we'd be getting married?"
"It crossed my mind."
"When we first met?" Justin asked, incredulously.
"When we first met, I didn't think I'd even see you again after we fucked."
"Why did you?"
"Cause you wouldn't leave me alone."
"You were like a barnacle."
"A barnacle of luv."
Justin chuckled. "You liked it though."
"Or you would have told me to get lost."
"And really meant it."
"If you had, I would have gone and never come back. But I knew you didn't mean it."
"How?" He shifted positions and propped up on his elbow so that they faced one another. "How did you know?"
"By the way you touched me."
"How did I touch you?"
"Like a lover."
"You'd never even had a lover. How did you know?"
"I just did. You touched my heart. Not everybody does that. But you did."
"You're really something else, you know that?"
"What am I?"
Brian leaned in close. Whispered, "Mine."
And Justin tilted his face upwards for a kiss. "Always."
Looking around the loft, Brian said, "We should start packing up the stuff we don’t use. The painting, pictures, personal effects."
"Is there a list of all the things we're leaving in the loft?"
"Yeah. Had to have it for the closing."
"I can start working on that today. I'm taking the week off from work."
Brian stabbed at his eggs. "Wish I could. But Liberty Air's been griping about feeling neglected ever since we took over Hyperion so my job's to make them feel loved again. And, of course, they picked this week to come down and take a meeting. Which means they'll have some bright idea about a new campaign and I'll have to come up with something to make them happy."
At the mention of Hyperion, Justin thought about Kenneth. "Did Kenneth say if he was coming to the wedding?"
"Said he would try. Who knows with his schedule. He could be in Hong Kong that weekend. But I bet we get some kick-ass gift."
"Speaking of gifts, you still haven't told me what you want for a wedding present."
"That's because I don't want anything."
"We have to exchange gifts."
"It's also tradition to spend the night before the wedding apart. I don't see us doing that either."
"Oh, yes, we are."
"Oh, no, we aren't."
"Our stag party's that night. And it's at our place."
"So. I'm leaving the party and going to my mom's house. Daphne's spending the night with me."
"Nope. We planned it before she went back to school."
"No pre-wedding nookie?"
"Uh-uh." He raised his coffee cup. "It's tradition."
"It's cruel and unusual punishment."
"It's one night."
"No. Now, eat your food."
"When did you turn into such a bride?"
Justin kicked him beneath the table. "You wanna have lunch today at the house? I'm going over there to relieve Joanie when I get out of class. I can pick something up."
"Can't. Lunch meeting with the partners."
"What time are you getting home?"
"Are the contractors coming today?"
"Tomorrow. Joanie's gonna be there. Wanna come?"
"Class." He checked his watch. "Speaking of which, I gotta go."
"Dinner?" Brian still had a while.
"Call me. Let me know when you're coming home." They kissed and he grabbed his stuff.
"Getting close to the big day, Boss," said Cynthia as she handed him today's schedule.
"Which big day?"
"So, what'd you get me?"
"I contributed to the company fund."
"How—" The phone rang and he snatched it up before she could answer it. "Yeah?"
Mace. "You get it?"
"You should have posted a warning on the outside: May cause fainting from disbelief."
He laughed. "Trust me, I was as shocked as you."
"So this is bonafide?"
"Justin wouldn't let me play that big of a practical joke. You coming?"
"Bringing what's his name?"
"Yeah. Finally get to meet him."
"He's been wanting to meet you too, His Big and Badness."
"My reputation precedes me."
"Tell Justin I said hello and I'll see him on the fifteenth. Oh, you are registered someplace aren't you?"
"Macy's, Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Pier One, and Crate and Barrel."
"I figured you'd be a little more uptown than that."
"You did meet our friends?" Like which of them could afford better than Macy's? Which of them could afford Macy's period?
" 'nough said. See you then."
"Later." Smiled as he hung up.
"Yeah, I guess you could say that." She'd definitely been more than just the prosecutor assigned to their case. They'd both come away from that experience thankful she'd been on their side. Mace, that's what they called her. Not to her face, although Brian suspected she'd actually like it. It'd be good to see her again. Good to see a lot of people again.
You mean Kenneth.
He looked up at Cynthia, guiltily, as if she could have overheard his thoughts. Taking the day planner from her he said, "Thanks," and hoped she'd go. Taking her cue, she left, closing the door behind her.
It would be good to see Kenneth. And stressful. Between Justin's understandable suspicion, his own uneasy feelings, and Kenneth's feelings for him.
Maybe I shouldn't have invited him.
Too late now, couldn't uninvite him. Best he could hope for was for Kenneth not to show up. But he really thought they could be friends and he wanted him there, wanted Harris to see him and Justin be married so that any ideas Kenneth might have about them being together would be put to rest and they could get on with the business of being friends.
None of which was helping him prepare for his day and for the very important lunch meeting he had at noon. So, putting Kenneth and the wedding out of his mind, he turned to work.
But his eye ran across the portrait Justin had drawn of him and Gus, sleeping. He'd put it on the wall over the sofa and no one who came into his office failed to comment on it. He couldn’t wait to get a picture of them at the wedding to put on his desk. Abruptly, he laughed. Shook his head.
When did I become a family man?
Busy delivering two bowls of soup, Deb barked over her shoulder, "Thought you were taking the week off?"
"I am," he told her. "I came in to get some lunch to take to the house. And to see you."
She kissed him on the way back to the kitchen to pick up the rest of her order. "How you doing? How was dinner?"
"It was okay. They're not as bad as Brian says. Okay, they're bad enough," he admitted, "but I've seen worse. On TV."
Deb laughed. "And, believe me, you were spared the worst of the bunch: Jack Kinney. What a piece of work." With her orders dispensed with, she took a breather and sat on a bar stool next to him. Squeezed his shoulder. "I just can't believe you're getting married in three weeks. And that house. Sunshine, it's wonderful."
He smiled broadly. "I love it. And Brian loves it too. It's just like being in Tuscany again."
"Having breakfast on the loggia, looking out over the pool and the backyard. I can just see the flowers."
"And I'm planning on growing a kitchen herb garden. There's that huge space between the side door and the pergola, right beneath the kitchen window. It's perfect. I can get some stones and mark off the beds, maybe pave a path between them with bricks or something. Have to take my allergy medicine though."
"And Gus can help you harvest them. He's such a good helper." She'd seen first-hand evidence of his abilities on Saturday when he'd gone around handing out sodas at Jennifer's direction.
"And he's so smart too. He knows his colors and the names of all kinds of foods and he knows what his name looks like—"
She laughed. "You sound just like a proud papa."
"I am," he said bashfully. "He's gonna love his room. Joanie really did a great job."
"I bet she had some help."
"Well, we helped some. Brian picked out the bed. Gus is gonna freak."
"And that's a good thing?" Then cackled. "I'm happy for you, Sunshine."
He broached the subject of her non-involvement in the wedding. "Are you sure you don’t mind not having anything to do in the wedding?"
"Are you kidding? I'm going to sit back and relax and enjoy myself." Standing, she kissed him on the cheek and rubbed her lipstick away so he wouldn't have to. "So, what are you having for lunch?"
"Tuna sandwiches. One for me and one for my mother-in-law-to-be."
"Coming right up."
As she went to put in his order, he thought about how strange it was going to be, working in the diner and then driving home to that neighborhood and that house. He wondered what kind of neighbors they had, if they had kids or not, if they were young or old. Maybe they ought to have an open house, a meet and greet the neighbors kind of thing. Brian's head would probably explode if he suggested it but they were going to be living there for a long time, might as well make the effort to fit in. As much as they could.
That thought was still on his mind as he drove into the driveway of 1517 and saw a woman in her mid-thirties walking a dog down the street. She was the first person he'd seen walking since they'd been coming to the house. He paused and debated making contact with her, then decided that it was worth a try. Putting the Cherokee in park, he waited until she was close by, then rolled down the window. "Excuse me?"
Her dog began to bark and she shushed it. Justin noticed she was wearing a wedding ring. "Sorry about that. Did your folks just move in?"
"Huh?" She thought… "No."
"Too bad. I was hoping someone had moved in there."
"I mean, we are moving in. On Saturday. My partner and I."
At that there was a subtle change in her manner. She seemed to look at him more closely. " You're mighty young. What do you do? Pop star?"
He smiled. "No. I'm an art student."
"A student. So what does he do?"
"Ad exec. Do you live around here?"
She pointed back down the street. "About six houses down. On the left."
"The English Tudor?"
"Yep, that's us. Me and Christopher. Oh, I'm Rachel, by the way."
"Justin. Brian's my partner."
"And this is Rusty."
Justin waved at the dog, a Chocolate Lab. "Hi, Rusty."
"Well, welcome to the neighborhood."
"Thanks." He waved as she continued down the street. She seemed nice enough. Although by this evening he figured most of the neighbors on the street would know about the gay couple that had moved into the villa at 1517 and the fact that one of them was a student. He could only imagine what she imagined Brian to look like, how old, that is. Probably thought he was some old guy keeping some hot, young thing. Well, wait until she saw Brian. He smiled. Wait until they all saw him.
Joanie came out of the kitchen to meet him as he got out of the car. Waved. He waved back and went inside. There were swatches on the counter. "What do you think about this?" she asked.
It was a fabric swatch. Lightweight, cinnamon-colored. "What for?"
"Kitchen curtains." There was a set of wide tilt windows with separated arched tops in the kitchen as well as two smaller windows.
The fabric was in the same color family as the floor and the terracotta-colored tiles in the backsplash but lighter so the curtains would allow the sunlight to filter through. "I like it. What kind of curtains do you think would look good in here?"
"Something simple. In a room like this, you want them focused on the kitchen and the shape of the window, not the curtains."
Justin gave her an encouraging smile. "You're really good at this."
"Thank you. But, really, it's not much. I just know what I like."
"Brian would say that's all that matters. As long as you have good taste."
She laughed. "That sounds like him. Thank you again, for coming over on Sunday," she added, touching him briefly on the arm.
"We're family now; we should start acting like it."
"I think it did them both some good, getting it out in the open." Turning to the cabinet, running her hand over it, distracting herself in the veins of the granite, she said, "So much of it was my fault. I should have… I should have been a better mother. I should have protected them."
Not wanting to excuse her but feeling that she had paid, if not as much as Brian, she had paid enough. "They're adults now, you don't have to protect them anymore."
At that she turned and smiled. "Brian has you to protect him. He doesn't need me."
"Yes, he does," he replied. "To help decorate. So what else?"
After showing him her other ideas, in between eating her sandwich, he gave the go-ahead and she left to buy the material and to start on the curtains and the placemats and napkins for the table in the family room. While he hung around and waited just in case any deliveries came today. Taking his sketch pad out into the solarium, he resolved to pick up a cheap stool and easel so that he could begin setting up his studio. He didn't need much, not at first. Eventually, he could envision there being plants all over the place, soaking in the sun through the walls and roof. Maybe they could put the little mosaic table and matching chairs in here instead of the pergola. Get something else for out there. They'd need something for the outside by the summer, when they planned on having a huge party for Gus' birthday. His third birthday.
He sat on the floor, with his sketch pad in his lap, and doodled for a while before turning his mind to the second of the drawings he was to do for Kenneth Harris. Got distracted again. God, what had possessed him to take that commission? Money was one thing, peace of mind another. Not that he didn't trust Brian, he did; but he didn't trust Kenneth for a millisecond. The man would do anything to get Brian. Why couldn't Brian see that?
Maybe he does.
Justin looked out of the window to dispel the voice in his head.
Maybe that's what he wants.
Shaking his head, he said softly, "No. He doesn't." He didn't. Brian loved him. Look at this house, look at the wedding they were planning—
He was jolted out of his thoughts by the sound of the doorbell. That was certainly loud enough. He wondered what it sounded like upstairs. The doorbell was part of an intercom system linking the family room, the living room, their bedroom, Gus' room, and the guest room. You could use the intercom to talk to people outside the door or to people in other rooms of the house. He went to the door and pressed the intercom button. "Yes?"
This early? Justin opened the door to find a deliveryman standing in the entryway.
"Delivery for a Mr. Brian Kinney. You him?"
"No. He's at work. What is it?" Probably the dining table and chairs.
"Two bathtubs, a vanity, toilet, and a bidet." The guy raised his eyebrow on the last item.
"I can sign for it."
"I'd really rather have him sign for it. There's about fifteen thousand dollars worth of stuff out there."
"I'm his partner." When that didn't seem to faze the man, Justin offered to call Brian. "I can call him and you can talk to him."
The guy held out his hands. He could tell Justin was getting pissed. "Look, I'm sorry. I just want to be careful. Anything happens to this stuff, I get blamed."
"I understand. I'll call him if you want."
"Nah, just make sure everything is there and okay before you sign. I guess it'll be okay. You wouldn't be in here if it weren't."
"Can you bring everything to the side door? The stair back there is a straight shot up. This one's curved."
"No problem. Meet you around there."
"You've got help, right?"
"Yeah. Waiting in the truck."
Locking the front door again, Justin went to meet them at the side door. Opened it and pushed it all the way back against the wall. Hoped the doorway was wide enough for the crates. Otherwise, they'd have to come in the front door and then go up the back stairwell. Which would be a pain in the ass. Watching them come with the first crate on a dolly, he began to doubt. But they lifted it from the dolly and turned it on its side and carried it up the stairs. He picked up the dolly and followed them, figuring they'd rather push it on wheels.
"Thanks," said the other deliveryman, the one who had stayed by the truck.
"Where's it go?"
"Which one is it?"
"Dreamscape, it says on the crate."
Gus' tub. "You can take it in there." He pointed to the guest room.
After they'd carried it in there and set it down, they took the dolly back to the truck and loaded the second tub. They went through the same routine, Justin picking up the dolly and lugging it up the stairs behind them. "The rest of the stuff you can leave in the sitting room for the time being," he said and showed them the way.
The second delivery guy, whose name was Carmichael, whistled. "This is some house."
"We just bought it."
The other guy, Tony, eyed the empty rooms. "Figured."
Justin smiled sheepishly. "Yeah."
"You wanna check this stuff?" asked Carmichael. "Usually you just sign for it and we leave but…"
Getting the guys to open the crates, Justin visually scanned the items and checked to make sure all of the parts on the manifest were included. Then the tops were put back on to keep them safe. "Thanks." He pulled out his wallet and handed them twenty bucks that he could have used but they'd been really nice. "Thanks again."
Once they'd gone, he went to the sitting room and walked around the opened boxes. He wondered if he should call Brian and let him know. He checked his watch. It was three o'clock. Maybe he'd be back from his lunch meeting. Going back downstairs, he found his phone and dialed Brian's office rather than his cell just in case he was still meeting with the other partners. Heard Cynthia answer, "Good afternoon, this is Brian Kinney's office. How may I help you?"
"Hi, Cynthia, it's Justin."
"Justin! How are you? Are you excited?"
"Brian promised me a tour of the house once you guys moved in. I can't wait to see it."
"We'll fix brunch or something and you can come over."
"I'd love it. The Boss is in his office. You wanna talk to him?"
"See you soon." She transferred him.
Brian's voice brightened. "Hey, Baby. What's up?"
"Tubs came. And the vanity and toilet and bidet."
"Already? Ahead of schedule."
"What about the glass block for the shower?"
"On order. Should be there by the time they start next month."
"Did you order the sauna?"
"How long will it take to get here?"
"It's coming from New Jersey. Should be here by Wednesday."
"I can't wait to see the suite when we have all of our furniture in place."
"Listen, I gotta run."
"Home for dinner?"
"Maybe you shouldn't. I might be really late. Like after eight."
"I'll wait. I love you."
"Love you too. Later."
Justin snapped close his cell and thought about eating alone. Wondered if he should get used to it. Suddenly he had a vision of himself sitting at the dining table, a wonderful dinner prepared, candles, wine, soft music playing, and no Brian. Again. Was that the way it was going to be? Was that the price they had to pay?
Telling himself that he was being melodramatic, he pushed the thoughts
from his head and packed his stuff. There probably wouldn't be any more
deliveries today and he needed to do something to distract him from
thinking foolish thoughts.
Xavier opened the door to his room and smiled. "Hey, J. What's up?"
"Wanna go look at drafting tables and shit? I gotta set up my studio at home and I figured I'd go looking, see what's out there and how much it's gonna cost."
"Yeah. Hold on." He grabbed his jacket, a new leather jacket Justin noticed.
"Nana Rose got that for you?"
"Sweet, huh? She really missed me." Grinned and locked the door.
They drove down to Utrecht's and wandered around lusting after everything, Xavier, in particular, handling a set of wood carving tools lovingly.
"I didn't know you did any woodworking."
"Not yet but I figured I should learn. Might turn into something."
"Yeah, you can make us some tables for the loggia."
Making their way leisurely through the store, they finally ended up in the furniture section. After looking at several drafting tables and chairs, both he and Xavier figured the best value was the combo set with drafting table, attached lamp, and chair all for a hundred and ninety-nine dollars. Justin walked around the display model and thought about it and thought about it and then he found a sales associate and told her he wanted to buy a set. It'd take almost all of the money his mom had given him for his birthday but it would be worth it. Quickly balancing his checkbook he figured he had a couple hundred dollars left. Just enough for Brian's wedding present. He hoped. Once he figured out what to get him.
Taking a dolly, he and Xavier carted the table and chair out to the Cherokee in two big boxes.
"You want me to go with you and unload it?" offered Xavier.
"Thanks but I'll wait until tomorrow. Brian can help me. I hope. If he's home." He hadn't wanted to add that last part but it slipped out. Just go home and forget about it, he told himself.
"You wanna grab something to eat?"
"I told Brian I'd wait for him but he said not to."
Xavier laughed. "You haven't answered my question."
"Yeah. Why not?" Why not have dinner with Xavier? Better than eating
"I bought Nana Rose this pair of inline skates. You should see her go. We went down to East Potomac Park and she tried 'em out. Totally out of control. Waving people out the way."
Justin laughed just imagining Nana Rose teetering on the skates, careening out of control. "How many times did she fall down?"
Shaking his head, Xavier replied, "Man, I ain't never heard that kind of language before." They both laughed. "But, got her a date."
"This guy helped her up and he was all cheesin'. They got to talking and next thing I know, he's macking her like crazy. They hooked up that weekend, you should have seen her. She was looking fly; that dress she had on was off da heezy. I started to lock her up. Man, that's my grandma. She ain't nobody's shorty, yo."
Laughing, Justin knew he'd made the right decision coming out tonight. If he'd stayed home, he would have just sulked over being by himself and by the time Brian got home he would have been brewing for an argument. Of course, he couldn't decide if he'd tell Brian he was out with Xavier—without Rennie. He didn't know how Brian would take that. He'd suggested himself that Justin call Xavier and Rennie to come over to the house for the housewarming so maybe he was okay with Xavier. But then Justin remembered Brian saying that he was always shoving Xavier in his face. Maybe he hadn't meant it, had only been angry and grabbing at anything to say. "She bringing this guy to the wedding?"
"Nope. They broke up a week later. He was all over her, twenty-four seven, wanting to move in. She told him to take his ghetto ass away from her and git to steppin'."
"Stop it," Justin told him, laughing so hard he had to put his soda down before he spilled it. He could see her saying that too. "Why did she hook up with him in the first place?
"Guess she got needs too," he said, raising a brow and that cracked Justin up even more.
After dinner, they went to Woody's and hung out for an hour or so, nursing a couple of beers that the bartender slipped them--recognizing Justin as a regular-- and talking until Justin checked his watch and realized that it was almost ten. "Shit. I gotta go."
"Bust a move then."
Dropping Xavier off first, he hurried home and hoped that Brian hadn't gotten there first.
Brian was home. The Jeep was parked outside. No telling how long he'd been there. Parking, Justin rushed upstairs and then paused outside the door, catching his breath.
He looked up from his papers as Justin came in. "Thought you were waiting for me?"
"I went out," he explained, "and got a drafting table and chair for my studio." Of course, that didn't explain why he was coming in after ten.
"It's in the car."
Justin sat next to Brian on the bed. "You eat yet?"
"When did you get home?"
Shrugged. "Don't remember."
Which meant he'd been here a long time. Fuck. "Sorry. I should have waited."
"I told you I'd be late and not to wait for me." He stood and carried the papers he'd been looking through to his desk and put them inside his briefcase.
"I'll fix you something to eat."
"I'm not hungry."
Nearing him, he waited. Something was wrong and they needed to talk it out.
Finally Brian came clean. "I got home around six. And I waited."
"You should have called me on my cell."
"I figured you must have gotten a better offer," Brian said and he walked past Justin towards the bedroom.
"You weren't with Xavier?" he asked, knowing that he had been. He could smell Xavier's cologne in his clothes. Justin didn't wear cologne because of his allergies, and neither did he, so it had to have been Xavier.
"We had dinner." He followed his lover. "You should have called. You could have had dinner with us."
Brian snorted. "No thanks." Pulled off his shirt and pants and got in bed.
"You're not going to eat?"
"I told you I'm not hungry."
"Is this my punishment? Because I wasn't here?"
"How is it hurting you if I don't eat?" he asked and he turned onto his right side and closed his eyes.
Justin stood at the foot of the bed for a moment, getting angrier and angrier and finally said, "Fuck it," and went to the bathroom.
Brian heard him storm into the other room and clenched his jaw. What the fuck was he doing? Why was he so angry with Justin? All he'd done was eat with Xavier, maybe went out and had a couple drinks someplace. That's what friends did, that's what he and Mikey would have done if he'd called him up. And Justin wouldn't have copped an attitude with him so why was he pissed off that Justin had done the same thing? Because it's Xavier and you're never going to be able to forget, are you? He rolled onto his back. He had to forget, had to, because they were getting married in three weeks and they didn't need the bullshit and that's all it was, bullshit. He was pissed because Justin hadn't sat at home pining for him. That's what it boiled down to because he knew that Justin didn't want Xavier, that all he'd done was to go see a friend and hang out for a few hours. Get over it. He sat up and waited for Justin to come out. Which he did in a few minutes. Before Justin could speak, he said, "I'm sorry." Looked down at his lap. "I… I told you not to wait and then I got mad because you didn't. And I used Xavier as an excuse to get angry when I didn't have any right to be angry. I'm sorry."
Justin stripped and crawled in next to him, wrapping arms and legs about him, his head on his chest. "Why do you do these things?"
"I don't know."
He looked up. "That's the answer you tell a child. I'm not a child anymore. I want a man's answer."
Brian moistened his lips. "I don't know," he repeated, softer this time
and Justin accepted his answer because there were some things that Brian
didn't understand about himself and it would take time, time and a lot of
talking before he'd be able to figure them out. Luckily, they had an
As usual, they were up late making up and overslept despite the incessant clamor of the alarm clock. When the sound finally penetrated his dreams, Brian reached over Justin and shut it off, then nudged his lover awake and closed his eyes again. "How did the morning get here so fast?"
Justin yawned. "You gotta go meet the contractors."
"Mmm…" Brian sat up and stretched. Shook his head like a dog just coming in from the rain. "I'm up."
"Come on, let's go take a shower. Maybe that'll wake you up."
It did; although Justin steadfastly refused to fool around once he was awake which put a damper on his enthusiasm for the day. But, considering he was going to meet with the contractors, he was still pretty excited. After he'd gotten dressed, as he sipped a cup of coffee, he dialed Joanie. "Hi, Mom. You ready?" Put down the cup as his tie felt weird. Readjusted it.
"Yes, although I don't know why I'm going. You know what you want."
"I know but you're the designer. A big part of designing is meeting with the contractors and you need that experience. Plus, the more contractors you know, the better off you'll be. A lot of people call contractors to get designer recommendations."
"All right. I'll meet you there at eight."
"Got your cards?" She and Justin had designed a business card for her: JK Design.
"I've got them."
"See ya, Mom." Put down the phone and untied his tie.
Observing him from the table where he was finishing off a bowl of cereal, Justin said, "Must have been sleepier than you thought."
"Well, if someone hadn't kept me up last night…"
"You'd be grumpy this morning." He stood and took Brian's tie away from him. Kissed him. "Admit it, you're in a much better mood this morning."
"I'm in a much better mood," Brian said in a less than enthusiastic voice.
Justin tickled him, making him laugh. "Say it. Say it!"
"I'm in a much better mood," he confessed and waited while Justin retied his tie.
"There." He kissed Brian again and handed him his coffee cup.
Feeling like Ward Cleaver, Brian left the loft and went to meet his mom and the contractors. He supposed the feeling would only increase when they had moved into the house. Suddenly he had this vision of himself walking out of the house to go to work while Justin waved from the doorway wearing an apron and a strand of pearls. He shuddered and tried to clear his mind of the image. No way would they end up like that. No matter what.
Joanie was waiting inside when he got there, puttering around in the kitchen with some curtains, standing on a short stepladder. "Hey. Those are nice. You make 'em?"
"Yes, I did." Each set was comprised of two simple tab-top panels, hung just below the beginning of the arch in the window, leaving the curved part uncovered.
"You've got the preliminary plans they sent over?"
"And you'll talk to the contractors, make sure they have all the stuff we want?"
"I can talk, you know."
"Cynthia checked them out, made sure they're licensed and that they have insurance coverage; and we will be getting the lien waivers from them to make sure we're not paying for this shit for years to come. We'll get copies of the permits once they take them out."
"Okay, but you'll be here too. Won't you?"
"I gotta go." He hadn't told Justin because he hadn't wanted him to worry but he had an appointment to see Drew this morning. Last night, he'd felt tense all evening until he'd finally called the shrink and made an appointment. Which, in light of their subsequent argument, had been a good thing.
"What?" she asked, confused.
"Meeting. In like twenty minutes."
"Brian?" she began, a little panicked.
"You'll do fine. Make sure they give you a project timeline and confirm the start date. They're responsible for signing for the stuff that's delivered for the job once they're on the job so make sure they're gonna do it. And find out if they're bringing a dumpster with them and where it's going. They can put it next to the courtyard if they want. They can take those stairs down to the courtyard and then out the pergola. But they cannot park their fucking trucks on the grass everyday. Tell them to walk up the back stairs from the kitchen and park on the asphalt. Thanks, Mom."
"All, all right." Her head was swimming with details.
He opened his briefcase and took out a sheet of paper. "It's all written down." Kissed her on the cheek. "Later."
Joanie looked at the checklist of items and wished she had a chair to
"So, I'm guessing there's a problem," said Drew, flipping open his notepad.
"Of course, there's a problem. Why else would I be here contributing to your next trip to Cancun?"
"I've never been to Cancun," said Drew, "I can't seem to get away from my patients."
Brian grimaced. "Sorry."
It'd been late and Drew had been in the mood for love, had just about convinced Terrance that he ought to stay the night when the phone rang giving the man just the opportunity he needed to slip away. Drew supposed he could have let the machine pick up but he had only given his direct line to a select few of his patients and had promised himself—and them—that he would answer if at all humanly possible. He never wanted to miss one of Brian's calls, not after the close call they'd had back in the spring. "What's up?" he asked, in a much less aggravated voice.
"I don't know. Last night I worked late. I told Justin not to wait for me and he didn't. He went out with Xavier and I knew that's where he was and I just—" shook his head. "I acted like a total jerk and he got mad and the only reason we didn't have a knock-down, drag-out fight was that he had the good sense to walk away."
"Was it Xavier?"
"No. I know Justin doesn't want Xavier. I know that. I don't know what in the fuck is wrong with me." He had no clue sometimes why he did the things he did and last night, last night had been a prime example. Why had he gotten so angry?
Drew smiled. This was an easy one. At least in terms of identifying the cause of his anxiety. As for curing it… "How are plans going for the wedding?"
"No. Everything's on schedule. We're moving into the house this weekend and the contractors are starting next month on renovating the bathroom. Things are going better than I expected."
"Yeah." How this was helping he had no idea but he'd humor the doc.
"Tell me about the ceremony."
"We have this Irish priest, her name is Rev. Ophelia and she looks like the Vicar of Dibley." Drew laughed, he loved that show. "It's pretty standard, I guess. She says some words and a whole lot of prayers and they play music and we say, 'I do' and light the candle and say our vows and then we're married."
"Writing your own vows?"
"Supposed to." He hadn't found any time to work on them, every moment at work was filled with some meeting he had to attend, some fire he had to put out. And last night he'd come home and hadn't been able to concentrate in between finding fault with Justin for not being there.
He'd answered way too quickly. "Sure? Wouldn't be the first time a groom got nervous before his wedding."
"I said I'm fine." Standing, Brian went to the window and looked at the sky. It was clear but they were due snow. Again.
Drew was convinced that Brian was unconscious of how his body betrayed him. Despite the fact that a lot of his job was knowing how to read people, Brian seemed blissfully unaware of the signals he was sending sometimes. So he was nervous about the wedding and was in big time denial about it. "How many people did you invite to the wedding? I got my invitation, by the way, it's beautiful."
"Justin designed it." He shrugged. "We're supposed to have less than thirty. Manageable."
"Yeah, but it's still a lot of people."
"They'll fit. It's a big house, Doc." Brian had sidestepped that issue but had stepped right into another.
"Well, I won't be going on any extravagant buying sprees any time soon. Unless it's for the house."
"No Armani Spring Collection?"
"How will you stand it?"
"I'll be married. Nobody cares how married guys look." He grumbled, "Not even them. You should see some of Ryder's outfits."
"I don't think the fashion police will be after you just yet."
"Give them time. Especially after we've been on a budget for a while." He returned to his seat. "It's weird, having to think about the house and Justin and Gus…" Crossed his legs. "Guess I really am a family man now."
"You've been a family man for a while now," Drew reminded him.
"I guess. It was just different somehow."
Shrugged again. "I guess having a wedding makes it official, somehow."
"And a little scary?"
At first he started to deny it but he couldn't deny the way his heart had started to race just thinking about standing up in front of a group of people and swearing his undying love for Justin. He took a deep breath and nodded.
"It'll only be family and friends, people who wish you the best."
"It's not the wedding, Doc. It's everything after." He fidgeted, then made himself sit still. "Making good on all those promises you made."
"You made them before. There just weren't any witnesses." Referring to their having exchanged rings.
Brian laughed bitterly. "And look how well we did."
"You survived everything life threw at you and you're about to be married. I think that qualifies you to go to the head of the class."
"Then how come I feel like a total doofus?"
"Because you care. Because you want to do what's right and because you're taking a big step. You have every right to be scared, to be concerned. No one's gonna fault you for having a case of nerves."
"Justin will, if I chicken out."
"You're not going to chicken out. I won't let you. Your friends won't let you. And, most importantly, Justin would hunt you down and marry you in a bus station bathroom if he had to."
Brian chuckled. "Fuck," he agreed. "He would." Checking, he asked, "You'll be at the wedding?"
"I'll be there," laughed Drew.
"With a date?"
"Not the guy from last night, that's for sure," he teased and Brian
shrugged. Win some, lose some.
"Mr. Taylor," began Professor Lennox.
Justin jerked and dropped his chalk.
"That's interesting. Pop culture meets high culture." He'd drawn a picture of Gus and Beh peering down from the clouds. "I see your trip to Italy wasn't wasted." Lennox walked on and Justin exhaled.
After class Rennie and Xavier pestered him until he showed them the drawing.
Rennie giggled. "What's this for?"
"Gus' room in the house. I thought I could paint it on the ceiling."
"Boy Wonder, you paint for shit." Which was true, he was a great draftsman but his painting technique sucked.
Xavier patted Rennie on the shoulder. "I hear a volunteer. Did you hear it too, J?"
"I heard it." He and Xavier walked on ahead.
"Wait! I didn't volunteer for anything."
"Wedding present," Justin told her when she'd caught up. "Think of how grateful Brian will be."
"If he's not gonna fuck me, I don't know that I really care about how grateful he's gonna be."
Justin dangled a temptation in front of her face. "Might be a big, wet kiss in it for you."
"You'd let him kiss me?" Rennie asked.
"Depends on how good a job you do."
"I'm the best," she bragged and puffed out her chest. Already her head was swimming with visions of Brian kissing her. Hell, she'd take what she could get.
"And no vaginas," Justin warned.
"Unless you want to turn Gus gay," added Xavier giggling.
"No way, he's mine," she said. "Just give him another fifteen years."
"I think Molly might beat you to it," said Justin.
"But she's like his aunt. Isn't that incest?"
"They're not blood related," Xavier pointed out.
Justin thought it was too cute. Molly had definitely taken a shine to
the little boy. Brian joked that two of his Straight Girls for Brian
Kinney club members had defected and all he had left was Daphne. Which was
okay with Justin. He didn't like sharing him anyway.
He looked around the kitchen. "The curtains look great."
"Thank you. Brian liked them too."
Justin's smile widened. "Did you do the placemats and napkins yet?"
She showed him those as well and he put them in a drawer in the china hutch after admiring them a great deal. They'd cleaned out the drawers of all the cabinets and put down paper linings.
"Thanks for everything," he told her and he bussed her cheek.
"You're welcome. Now," she said, gathering her things, "I've got to go. I'll see you tomorrow. With the table cloth."
"Hopefully the table will come sometime this week. Oh, how did it go with the contractors?"
"They were very nice. I think they'll do a great job. They're gay, you know."
He did know. Someone had recommended them and he was glad that they'd worked out. Brian wasn't in for throwing people work just because they were gay and if he gave someone an opportunity to prove themselves and they failed, it didn't matter if they were queer or not. They were history.
"And some of your furniture for the bedroom came this morning. It's up on the second floor. I think it's the armoire for your bedroom. And three smaller boxes from Spiegel's."
"The bedspread and canopy and the lamps."
After she'd gone, he went upstairs and checked the crate. It was the armoire. He'd wait for Brian to uncrate it. Also checked the bed linens and the lamps. Perfect. Then he trekked out to the Cherokee and removed the box with the drafting table by himself. It wasn't super heavy, just awkward to handle but he managed to get it to the sunroom. Went back for the chair and laid the box down. The only bad thing about the solarium is that you really didn't want to lean anything up against the walls even though they had to be sturdy to withstand weather.
A half hour later, he had everything assembled. Now where to put the table. He was tempted to leave it in the middle of the floor but he figured it'd be better situated closer to an actual wall or window since Gus would come in and want to run around and if it were out of the way, that'd be a hundred times better than trying to tell him not to run into it. Even better, they should probably get Gus an easel of his own since he'd more than likely spend a lot of time out here with Justin. He smiled, imagining the two of them in the studio, Gus at his easel, him at his drafting table. The draw of the pool was too much and he situated the drafting table by that view, turned to the side so that he didn't have his back to the door or to the window. Stood looking at the covered pool, visualizing it full of water, their family and friends sprawled around it and in it. They'd definitely have to have a pool party at the beginning of summer.
Taking out his pad, he began to sketch. At first it was a sketch of the backyard and the pool and gradually Brian's form took shape, floating in the water, just beneath the water, his slender frame breaking the surface at head and shoulder, hip and calf. It reminded him of David Hockney's paintings of boys by the pool. Maybe he should do a drawing of Brian by the pool, in the pool as one of his commissions.
Restless, he left the studio and walked through the reception hall, mentally arranging the decorations for the wedding. He and Joanie had created a floor plan mapping out where the chairs would go and where everything and everyone would go up front where the ceremony would take place. Plus, they'd formed a decorations map, indicating what would go where. He couldn't wait for the wedding. And he couldn't wait for it to be over. He was exhausted. Sitting on the bottom step of the stairs in the tower, he leaned against the banister and closed his eyes. Just for a moment.
When he awoke, someone, Brian he supposed, was coming through the door. Rubbing his eyes, he got up and waited.
"Hey. You're early."
"I got out of a boring, fucking meeting because one of the company reps got sick. Cancelled. So I hauled ass. Dinner?"
"Come on." Justin followed Brian to the kitchen whereupon the ad exec went outside and returned with a picnic basket. "Voila."
Justin took the basket from him and opened it. Inside was half a roasted chicken, a green bean salad, a bottle of wine, plates, glasses, and candles. "You did this?"
"Well… my Girl Friday made the call."
"Where are we going to eat?" Justin asked to cover his joy. "We don’t have a table yet."
"Ah." He brought a blanket out from behind his back. "What's a picnic without one?"
"Bring the ants too?"
They set up their picnic out in the solarium, turning the floor heating up just a tad.
"This is really romantic," Justin told him.
"I figured I owed you after last night."
"No. It's not. I told you a long time ago not to take any shit from me and I meant it. I don’t want to lose you."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"We could be in the same house and be a million miles apart. There's other kinds of leaving."
"I know." His mom and dad's marriage had been like that. By the end, they might as well have been living in separate houses. "I don't want that either."
"So, I guess our options are for me to stop behaving like an asshole—"
"Never," joked Justin.
"Or for us to keep fighting and making up."
Justin moved closer to him. "I like making up."
"I like your drafting table."
Laughing, Justin shoved Brian gently, then drew him nearer and kissed him.
They huddled beneath the blanket in the studio and watched as the stars peeked out from behind the dark curtain of the sky.
"We should go. Got a lot of packing to do between now and Saturday."
"Yeah," agreed Justin. "I guess. It's nice here."
"In three days, we'll be here forever."
So they stowed the remains of their picnic dinner in the basket and grabbed blanket, backpack, and sketchpad; cut off all the lights; set the alarm, and locked the door.
Three days and a hundred things to do before Saturday morning.
Joanie was busy house sitting for deliveries while trying to make sure that all of the windows had some sort of covering, even if it was just temporary. Problem was, they had so many windows the job seemed Herculean. As a last resort to save her sanity, she decided to prioritize and do the rooms that they deemed most important: their suite, Gus' room, the family room, and the kitchen. Plus, they wanted to cover all of the windows on the front of the house on the first floor, the second floor could wait.
Justin was having to check the closing list for the loft to make sure they hadn't packed anything that they were supposed to leave behind. Plus, he had to arrange for the gas delivery for the fireplace in their room and the Aga oven and the Wolf cooktop range, pick up a load of wood for the fireplaces, and make out a grocery list so that they could minimize the amount of time they spent in the supermarket when they went on Thursday.
But, for all of their running around, things were proceeding rather smoothly. The last of the big items they'd ordered for Gus' bedroom, including his bed, arrived on Wednesday and Joanie began setting up his room even though Rennie would have to paint in there when she had a chance. They'd just have to spread tarp over everything because they wanted the room to be ready when they moved in officially on Saturday. They had a hunch Gus wouldn't take no for an answer when he wanted to stay and they knew he'd want to stay since he hadn't spent an entire weekend with them in ages. They still had to wait for the table and chairs, the linens they'd ordered on Saturday, and for their bed but they had the furniture store's sworn promise that it would show up on Saturday and for what they were paying, it better had.
In the afternoon on Thursday and Friday, Justin, Rennie, and Xavier worked on the mural for Gus' room. Although there was still more to come, they got most of it finished and it looked amazing just the way it was. Justin was sure Gus would love it.
Plus, while they were there, the coffee table arrived and the hamper for their bathroom.
Thursday night, Brian and Justin went grocery shopping and put everything in the refrigerator and freezer at the house. They'd take the rest of the food out of the loft on Saturday morning and give it a good cleaning before they surrendered the place to its new owners.
Justin was very sensitive to the fact that Brian was having a problem
thinking of the loft as belonging to someone else yet there was very
little he could do to make things better. At best, he could share in
Brian's misery and, at worst, he could acerbate the problem. He chose to
leave it alone. If Brian needed comforting, he knew how to sigh.
Friday night came and they both were sighing. They'd packed most of their belongings and still there seemed to be so much more that they were taking.
"What the fuck is in those boxes?"
"Ask yourself. It's mostly your stuff from storage."
"No telling then." Maybe old textbooks from college, clothes he no longer wore or would be seen in. Some of the boxes held Christmas decorations from the past two years. Some Justin's stuff. And there were more of Justin's things still at Jenn's place. They could bring them home now. Home. Where they had a huge basement just waiting to hold all the junk they didn't want cluttering up their living space.
Turning down offers of assistance from their friends, they waded through their stuff by themselves until they were assured that they'd packed everything and labeled every box. Since they had a few hours left before they collapsed, they packed up the refrigerator too and gave it a good cleaning which amounted to a wiping down as the freezer defrosted itself and they kept the lower part virtually spotless.
"Don't forget we have that box in there tomorrow," Brian said, and Justin took the magic marker they'd been using to label boxes and put a sign on the refrigerator door that said, 'Take the box inside.' Brian smiled and hugged him. "So smart."
"And cute too."
By eleven they were too tired to do anything more than pull off their clothes and collapse.
"Last night in this bed," Brian said. Justin crawled over and laid upon his chest.
He chuckled. "Most orgasms in a single bed."
"What do you remember most?"
"About the bed?"
"About the guys you were with."
"Not much. Except that it was fun. Most of the time."
"What do you remember most about the loft?"
Brian smiled. "You. That first time. You said you liked my kitchen." He laughed. "For a minute, I thought I had lost my touch but then I realized you were just nervous."
"I thought I was gonna pass out. I was so scared."
"Of you laughing at me, I suppose."
"Because I didn't know anything."
Justin grinned. "Good teacher."
Stroking Brian's chest, Justin asked, "Think there's anything left for me to learn?"
"Plenty," replied Brian.
"Good. Then our new bed won't get jealous of the old one."
And they reminisced about their favorite moments in the bed and in the
loft until sleep slipped up and took them.
Moving day. Moving day!
Justin opened his eyes and checked the sky through the blinds. Clear. Clear but cold. No problem. They'd heat up plenty carrying and unloading boxes and arranging furniture and running up and down the stairs. They'd probably wish there was an elevator in the house before they were done. Still, at least they didn't have to transfer any heavy furniture from the loft to the house; the heaviest pieces they had to carry were the treadmill, the chaise lounge, the Turner prints left to them by Sebastian, and the painting from the wall, which was probably heavier than the Le Corbusier.
Turning to Brian, he touched his back and asked, "You awake?"
Brian inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. Turned over. "Yeah."
"Better shower and get ready so we can clean up the bathroom, strip the bed."
"I can't believe they're gonna use the same mattress," Justin said as they padded to the bathroom.
"I asked them if they wanted us to get rid of it and they said no, they'd keep it."
"Maybe they're going to sell it for medical research. For all the—" Brian kissed him before he could finish his sentence. "You did that on purpose."
Under the guise of saving their energy for moving, they didn't fool around in the shower but Brian seemed subdued to Justin. By the time they'd dressed and begun cleaning the bathroom and bedroom, he was certain. And he knew why. It was finally happening, today was the day they gave up the loft and, despite loving the house, despite their having talked about it numerous times, Brian was still feeling a little blue. The feeling only intensified when the guys called saying they were on their way with the U-Haul and Justin figured there was nothing left to do except to let Brian work it out for himself.
If the guys noticed, they didn't let on. Boisterous as puppies, they tumbled into the loft and began loading the elevator with boxes.
"Might as well use it while we can," said Emmett quite reasonably.
"Wouldn't want Miss Scarlett to break out in a sweat," Ted teased.
Emmett corrected him. "Men sweat, ladies perspire, and men with delicate constitutions glow."
"Well, then, could you move your glowing asses on?" growled Brian and Justin made a motion behind his back that only the guys could see.
Don't mind him, it said and they all made note of it and went about their business.
"You want some juice?" asked Justin. They hadn't eaten and all Brian had taken was some water. Maybe hunger was contributing to his bad mood.
"No, I do not want any juice," replied Brian. Then he relented a little, "I'll eat when we get to the house."
Lifting a box marked, 'Toys,' Michael asked, "You're not bringing the chest?"
"Nope. It goes with the bedroom furniture so we're leaving it. Buying another one."
At last the loft was empty of their belongings. Brian held the last box, from his desk. They'd run the mop over the floors and a cloth over the wood surfaces to remove any excess dust and, now there was nothing left to do but to turn over the keys to the super to give to the new owners and leave.
Signaling to the guys, Justin went downstairs to wait. Brian needed a moment alone.
He was aware of them leaving and was grateful to Justin. No matter how many times he'd told himself that they were selling the loft and moving on, he hadn't really prepared himself for this moment, for the feeling of emptiness that had started in his belly and spread. Setting the box on the counter, he looked around the loft remembering the first time he'd walked through the apartment, knowing it had to be his; his first night in his new home—which he spent alone—wanting to savor it without company, not even Mikey; the first guy he'd done there, bringing him back to his place and watching the man's eyes light up, feeling energized by that look; the first party he'd thrown, the envy on the faces of his guests feeding his pride, helping to still the lingering doubts he'd had as to whether he'd made it, whether he'd done good.
And he remembered, with a smile, the first time Justin had seen the loft, knowing, in an instant, that he'd entered someplace different from the world he'd been used to; dancing together before making love for the first time, the way the loft had looked, decked out in flickering candles, a gentle haven for two lovers just starting out it seemed; moving Justin's stuff in after he'd asked him to share his home, making space in his apartment and in his life; standing by the window after the New Year's Eve party, trembling as Justin accepted the ring he offered, accepted his offer to share his life, another new beginning; the night Gus had called Justin 'Pooh' for the first time; the night he'd called Justin 'Daddy' for the first time.
Sniffling, he told himself that although this was a new beginning too, it was also an continuation of the past, a continuation of the building they'd begun in this place. They would take the loft with them to their new home: in their memories, in the photos he'd taken, in the things that came from their old home to find special places in their new home, and in him. The loft had been part of who he was and he would carry that person inside him no matter where he went.
"Later," he whispered and picked up the last box and walked down the stairs to see the super.
"There he is," said Em, pushing off the front of the truck that he'd been leaning against.
Justin, touching Brian's arm, asked, "Ready?"
"Let's move." Opening the passenger door, he stowed the box on the front seat. Justin hopped in the Cherokee, Ted got in his car, and Michael and Em mounted up in the truck. Starting their engines, the Great Gay Cavalcade got underway.
Looking back in his rearview mirror, Brian saw Em doing the Hail Jesus and laughed. Remembered him saying on their trip to NY that a snack and a song could turn any moment into an occasion. Justin waved at him at stoplights and he shook his head. His Baby would never change. And he didn't think he wanted him to.
The Munchers, Jennifer, and Joanie were waiting when they got to the house. Lindz and Mel came out to help unload the truck.
"Where's Gus?" asked Justin, anxious to see the little boy.
"Inside with Jennifer," Lindz replied. "We figured we'd keep him out of the way until we were done bringing in the boxes."
"My mom finish his room?" Brian asked.
"She's putting up the curtains right now."
"Yeah, she wouldn't let us see," Mel complained.
"Just following orders."
"Speaking of orders," said Justin, "here's one. Get busy."
Ted snickered. "You've been letting him top you again, haven't you?" he asked Brian.
Before he could answer, Justin said, "Move it!"
They headed for the truck and waited while Brian and Emmett pulled open the door.
"So where's the rest of the cast of Zoom?" asked Michael
"They came over on Thursday and Friday to help do the mural in Gus' room." He turned his mind to the moment. "I think Mel and Lindz should get inside the truck and hand off to two of us who'll carry the boxes to the back and leave them and then the rest of us can carry the boxes upstairs—except for the ones that go in the kitchen."
"I think that plan is a little chauvinistic," said Lindsay.
"Well, you can carry the boxes up the stairs and I'll stay in the truck and hand off," offered Brian.
"Why don't we all just get the boxes from the truck and carry them up the stairs?" suggested Michael in the spirit of being fair.
Ted thought for a moment. "Justin's right. It makes more sense to form a daisy chain, that way we expend less energy. Isn't that right, Bri?"
Brian grinned, he'd been in enough daisy chains to know.
To forestall another argument with the women, Em said, "How about we trade off when somebody gets tired? Then everybody gets a chance to do everything."
"We don't—" began Brian and Justin covered his mouth.
"Deal. Lindsay and Mel can go first in the truck."
So the women climbed up in the truck and handed down the boxes to Em and Brian, who had the longest arms, and they carried them to the house where Ted, Michael, and Justin did stair duty. Before they knew it, the truck was empty.
Having been very careful not to raise his voice so that Gus would hear while they were unloading the truck, Brian called out to him as he went inside with the rest of the crew to find something cool to drink. The little boy came running. "Daddy!" Brian caught hold of him and hugged him. "Hey, Sonny Boy."
"Daddy, look." He showed him a toy sailboat that Jennifer had given him. "Nana Jenn give me."
"She gave you that?"
"Yeah. Put water."
Brian showed it to Justin. "Cool, huh?"
"Very." He took Gus from Brian and kissed him too. "Hey, have you had fun with Nana Jenn?"
"Nana's got a surprise for you." Joanie had peeped out of the room and declared it ready as he and Ted and Michael had passed the doorway.
"You wanna go see?" asked Brian and Gus nodded. Justin put him down and the toddler took Brian's hand and walked with him upstairs. Everyone followed, wanting to see what Joanie had put together. At the doorway facing the gallery, Brian knelt and told Gus to close his eyes. He did so and covered his eyes with his hands and giggled. He loved playing hide-and-seek.
Guiding him inside the room once the door was opened, Brian told him to open his eyes and Gus moved his hands and looked and looked and looked.
"Remember coming in here last week? Remember Daddy said this was your room?"
"Yeah." He looked around at Brian. "My room?"
Gus laughed and ran and jumped on the hot red racing car bed. The entire room was devoted to racing cars. Besides the bed, there was a racing car lamp with a car forming part of the base; a racing car clock with a checkered flag up top and a car as a pendulum; a green racing car mirror on which red and yellow cars raced; a personalized table and chair set with a built in race track running from the top, around the base, and down to the floor (there were four or five cars already on the top courtesy of Brian); and there were race cars on the bed sheets and quilt and on one of the area rugs. In a departure from the theme, there was also an ABC rug on the floor which was big enough for him to sit on and trace the letters around the edges; a red, white, and blue toy chest with chalk boards forming the tops and sides; and a beautiful blue night stand upon which sat the lamp and a racing car alarm clock. But the most amazing part of the room was the mural on the wall. It paid homage to his current love of cars and looked to the future when he'd become enamored of other fast vehicles. The lowest level showed cars driving down a road, simple cars, nothing fancy, kind of like Putt Putt cars, but bright and fun; the middle part of the wall was inhabited by planes of all colors and sizes flying in amongst the clouds; and finally, up on the ceiling, in the night sky, was a space ship, heading for the moon and parts unknown.
Lindsay and the other adults marveled at the mural. "Oh, Justin, you did this?"
"Rennie and Xavier did most of the work. I just designed it." Still, he was pleased. It had turned out well. You could smell the paint a little but it wasn't as bad as he'd feared. They'd left the windows cracked all night and it'd helped.
Gus had gotten off of the bed and gone to the wall. Pointed to the car nearest him. "Jeep."
It was a Jeep, bright blue instead of black, but a Jeep just like the one his daddy drove.
Mel turned to Joanie. "This is fantastic." Added wryly, "Thanks a lot. Now he'll never want to leave." But she said it with a smile on her face to let Joanie know that she was pleased too.
Stooping, Brian whispered something to Gus and the baby went to Joanie and tugged on her leg. "Tank you, Nana," he told her and then went to Justin and said, "Tank you, Daddy."
Justin picked him up and hugged him. Rubbed noses. "You're welcome."
In the midst of all the thank you's, Lindsay slipped next to Brian and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you."
"I didn't do anything."
"If I had had a room like this, I would have stayed a kid," said Mikey.
"Ah, honey," Em told him, "your room now is like this. Our whole apartment is like this."
Dragging themselves away from the room, the gang went back downstairs and everyone fixed sandwiches and they sat around for an hour eating.
"Do you want any help unpacking?" asked Michael when they were done.
"Nah," replied Brian. "We're taking it slow. Besides, we haven't really figured out where everything's going yet." He got out his wallet. "How much for the truck?"
"Don't worry about it," Ted said. "Just think of it as a housewarming present."
Brian put his arm around Ted's shoulders. "Why, Theodore, I think you might actually like me."
"Well, don't push your luck. I still remember that Dead Man Walking crack."
Em cackled and stopped abruptly when Ted glared at him. "That was one of your better ones, Bri."
"If you don’t need them," Joanie began, "I could use some help with the curtains and shades. I need to put up the ones in your bedroom and the dining room."
"We can help," Mel offered. "I don't think Gus is gonna want to leave for a while."
He was over at the fountain again playing with his toy boat.
Jennifer excused herself. "I have to go show a house this afternoon and pick up your sister."
Justin hugged her. "Thanks for everything, Mom."
"You're welcome, sweetie. Brian."
He kissed her on the cheek. "Thanks, Jenn."
She waved. "Bye, guys."
Mikey looked around the reception hall. "Well, if the Munchers are helping your mom and you don’t need us…"
"Go. Have fun. Whatever it is you're going to do."
They hugged. "Later."
"Later, Mikey. Guys, thanks."
"Later," said Em and he and Justin smooched. Ted waved and the three of them went out behind Jennifer.
"You keep an eye on him?" asked Lindsay and Brian assured her he would.
"Come on, Gus. We're going upstairs." The toddler followed Brian and Justin upstairs and into the sitting area. "Stay up here with us, okay?"
Just as they were about to start separating the boxes, the doorbell rang.
"The bed?" Justin said hopeful that it had come.
"We'll find out. You'll stay up here with Mini-Me?"
Brian flicked on the intercom. "Yeah?"
"Delivery for Brian Kinney."
"Coming." He ran down the tower stairs and beat his mom to the door. "Delivery," he told her. Opened the door to find a guy with a clipboard waiting.
"We've got your bed."
"We'll bring it in and set it up." And he went back to the truck.
"Talkative," said Brian. He hit the intercom and buzzed Justin upstairs. "It's the bed."
An hour later the two guys had the bed assembled upstairs. "Where are your mattresses?"
"Coming," Brian told them.
He signed. Gave them a tip and showed them the door. When he got back upstairs the women had joined Justin in their room and were marveling at the size of the bed.
"Wow," said Mel, "I think this one's actually bigger than the last one."
Running her hand over the foot board, Lindz asked, "What is that?"
"Crocodile leather," answered Brian. She snatched away her hand.
"Faux crocodile leather," added Justin.
"You gonna have a canopy like Scarlett O'Hara? " teased Mel.
"Beaded draped canopy." Going out into the sitting room, he found the box with the linens in it. Opened it and showed the canopy to them, holding it against the bed poles.
"That looks fantastic," said Joanie. "Now if the mattress would only come."
Within the next forty-five minutes, the dining table, chairs, and side board for the family room arrived. Another set of delivery guys, just as talkative, but very efficient. They had everything set up by the windows in the family room and were gone again in no time flat.
"Gotta get a rug in here," said Brian. "The—" The doorbell rang again. "The mattress," he predicted.
And it was. The guys carried it up and put it on the bed, accepted their tip, and were gone before the women had finished admiring the dining table.
"I would never have thought that you would go for something that rustic looking," Mel said to Brian.
"Sometimes I like it rough," he grinned.
"Well, look at these shades and tell me if you like them," said Joanie and she lead him into the dining room and showed him the window treatment. Each of the windows was covered by a sheer, soft, reddish-beige cloth shade that was gathered along the top and drawn up to form billowing puffs and drapes at the bottom.
"They're called shirred cloud shades."
"I wonder why?"
Mel leaned against Lindsay. "What else?"
"I don't have anything for the galleries yet so all that's left is the master suite. I wanted to wait to see how the ones in the dining room looked first before ordering any shades for the hallway."
"Let's get a move on."
"I hope you like the shades I bought," Joanie told Brian. "They're sheer but you can adjust them to block out the light. And the soft gold color goes well with the curtains Justin ordered."
While the women attended to the curtains and shades, Brian and Justin got out a crowbar (bought especially for the move) and opened the crate with the armoire in it. The piece was beautiful, a dark wood cabinet with a latticework pattern on the doors that echoed the diamond pattern of the faux crocodile leather on the foot board and headboard.
Before the hour was out, the curtains were up, the television, VCR, DVD player, and stereo were in place in the armoire along with their DVDs, VHS tapes, and CDs, and Brian and Justin had managed to put the sheets and comforter on the bed after chasing Gus off about a half dozen times.
Seeing Brian and Justin place a table lamp on an upturned box on either side of the bed, Lindsay asked, "No nightstands?"
"We wanted something really cool to go with the bed but we haven't found it yet," said Justin.
"So," asked Joanie, "what else can we do?"
"Nothing, really," Brian replied. "Like we said, we're taking it slow, unpacking a little at a time. Look, you've done enough. Go home, take a rest."
She touched her fingers to the back of her neck. "I am a little tired."
"Then go home. I'll give you a call tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow. We've still got a lot to discuss about the wedding." Bending over, she held open her arms and Gus came to her for a hug and kiss. "Bye-bye, Gus."
"Maybe we oughta go too," suggested Mel.
"I could use a nap," said Lindz. "You sure you don't—" At Brian's look, she held out her hands in mock defense. "All right." To Mel, "Do you think we can get Mini-Me to come home?"
"Not on your life. After seeing that race car bed, I'd be surprised if he ever wants to come home."
Lindsay tried. "You ready to go home, Gus?" He shook his head and moved closer to Brian. "You want to stay with Daddy for the weekend?"
"Did you ask Daddy if you could?"
He looked up at Brian. "Daddy? Stay?"
Brian lifted him up. "I think we can find room for you."
"My room," said Gus.
He laughed. "That's right, your room."
"You've got clothes for him?" she asked.
"Extras from the loft," said Justin.
So he gave Mommy and Mama a big kiss and hug and walked with them downstairs and waved from the kitchen doorway. When the women were gone, Justin said, "I'm hungry. Is anyone else hungry?"
"Yeah!" yelled Gus.
"What about you, Pookie? You hungry?"
Brian nuzzled his neck. "I'll eat later," he promised with a grin and Justin felt warm all of a sudden.
Carrying their snacks upstairs, the three men sat on the bed and watched a little TV while they ate and then went back to unpacking. That is, the two older men went back to unpacking, Gus played in his room. Brian and Justin could hear him sending his cars down the track table saying, "Room, room, room room."
First, they unpacked their clothes and arranged them in the walk-in closet, Brian taking one side and Justin the other. If Justin had ever seen Brian more content, he didn't know when. The man was in heaven. There was room for everything and he used every inch.
"What if you buy something new?"
"There's space on the other side."
"Oh, no, you don't."
Brian embraced Justin. "You wouldn’t let me borrow a shelf or two?" Kissed him on the neck. "Not even one cubby hole?" Another kiss.
"Maybe," he relented and raised his face for a kiss which Brian bestowed upon him forthwith. "Okay, my hole is yours," and they both laughed until tears sprang up in the corners of their eyes.
The earth tone colors of the thick, thirsty towels they'd bought in anticipation of their new bathroom matched the terracotta-colored tiles and beige walls perfectly. For Gus' bathroom, they'd gotten navy blue towels and bought him a fluffy white bathrobe which they hung on a hook by the storage bench next to the vanity.
Walking around in his bare feet, Brian said, "You know, the floor's not cold at all. Maybe we don't need to get any rugs right away up here."
"I think you're right about the table and chairs though, there definitely needs to be a rug underneath it, keep the chair legs from scratching the tile."
"Let's go tomorrow. See what we can see."
"Maybe jute or something like that."
"That won't show dirt," added Brian.
"You're thinking like a dad."
He smiled. "I am a dad. And," he added, "we need to buy some security gates for the stairs. I don't want him falling down again."
A few minutes later, Gus came running out. "Daddy!" Both Justin and Brian looked around and then smiled at one another. Gus went to Justin. "Look." He had the racing car alarm clock. "Car."
"I see it. It's a clock too. See?" He pointed to the moving hands. "Clock."
"Cock," replied Gus. Showed it to Brian. "Cock." Brian and Justin could barely hold it in, could barely wait until he'd taken the car back to his room before collapsing in laughter.
In between snorts, Brian said, "I think his voice is getting deeper."
"Early puberty," joked Justin.
Now that they had room for them all, they figured they might as well unpack all their books and display them on the shelves. It made for an eclectic collection. Old math books next to marketing guides and weighty art tomes.
"You still think you and Daphne might have a kid someday?" asked Brian as he flipped through a biology lab manual. Why had he kept it?
Justin paused with the book about Lucien Freud that Brian had bought him for his nineteenth birthday in his hands. "It's possible."
Saying nothing else, Brian put the lab manual in the reject pile and continued to put books up on the shelves, which piqued Justin's curiosity.
"Just wondering," he replied without pausing.
A minute passed and Brian said, "I was just thinking that maybe we could build a guest house out back and use the other bedroom as another bedroom if we had another kid. That's all."
"There's room enough in the back yard." Then he added, "But if we did have a child, it wouldn't be for a long time, maybe when I'm 28, 29, like you and Lindsay did."
"You sound disappointed."
"I just said oh."
Gus came out of his room again, this time carrying Beh. "I hungry, Daddy," he told Brian. "Beh hungry too."
"You ready to eat?" he asked Justin.
"I'm always ready to eat, isn't that what you say?"
"Like father, like son."
"We haven't unpacked the kitchen yet."
"No time like the present."
"What about Gus? He's hungry now."
"We'll give him some fruit, that'll hold him over. You cook and I'll put stuff away. You can tell me where," he added since Justin would be the one doing most of the cooking.
So the boys and Beh trooped downstairs and Brian gave Gus an apple cut into slices and sat him on the kitchen island to eat while he went about putting things away. Justin decided to make pasta since it was easy and he could put on the sauce and the rotini and help Brian while it cooked without having to pay any attention to it. Then, with him directing Brian, they emptied all the boxes marked for the kitchen until the space began to take on a lived-in look. There were still many empty cabinets and drawers but, in time, they'd be filled as well. Putting the last of his cookbooks in the kitchen island, Justin leaned back against it and looked around the kitchen, pleased with their work.
"I love this kitchen."
"Good, because it's yours for the next eighty years."
"I wonder why they left behind some of this stuff. I mean, the baking center's not bolted to the wall, they could have just taken it with them."
"Bad memories." Brian looked at Gus' pat on the shoulder. The baby offered him a piece of apple. "Thank you."
Justin went to check on the pasta. "Done."
"Yea!" said Gus and he clapped his hands. He loved spaghetti, even spaghetti that didn't look like spaghetti.
Putting down placemats to protect the wood, they carried their meals to their new table and sat down for the first time around it. The night sky was visible through the windows and door that looked out onto the pergola.
Justin said, "It'll be nice, in the summer, to open the windows and doors and eat with a breeze blowing."
"Bugs getting up your nose," Brian joked.
"That's what those zappers are for."
The wine was delicious and Brian took a moment to savor it, his food cooling on the plate. Gus had tucked in right away as had Justin. "This is nice," he said between sips.
"Everything," he said with a smile.
Justin returned it. "It is, isn't it?"
"Welcome home," Brian said, lifting his glass for a toast.
Gus looked from one of them to the other, then laughed because he was glad to be with them, no matter where they were. He wondered if they were going back to the loft. This place was nice and it had some of Daddy's stuff in it but he wondered where the bed was and the white couch. The television was here and Daddy's clothes but where was Daddy's desk with his computer? He'd seen Daddy unpack the computer and put it where the books were but there was no desk in there. Wanting to clear things up, he asked, "Daddy? Go home?"
"No, you're staying with us tonight," Brian told him.
"No." Daddy didn’t understand. "Go home? Stay here?"
Brian's face brightened. He said gently, "No, we're staying here. This is our new house. We're not going back to the loft. Understand?"
Gus nodded. "Stay here."
"That's right. Where your new bed is and your room."
Gus laughed, he loved his new bed and his room. "Stay here." Then he launched into a story about the race cars in his room and what he'd done all afternoon.
And even though they only understood an occasional word like car or room, the two men sat enrapt by his story and clapped when he was done.
When dinner was over, the three cleaned the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher and cut off the lights downstairs and headed upstairs, making sure the alarm was set and everything was in its place.
"We've got to get some furniture in this place," said Brian. "I feel naked."
"Later," teased Justin. "After Mini-Me's gone to sleep."
They ran a bath in the tub in Gus' bathroom and bathed him and put on his pajamas and let him come in their room and watch TV for a while and then he got bored and went and got his cars and rolled them across the floor until he began to stumble each time he went to retrieve a car and they knew he was ready for bed.
Justin tucked him in and read him a story about Pooh and Piglet while Brian made sure the night light was on so that he could find his way to the bathroom if he needed to get up and pee. He also set the intercom on broadcast so that they would hear if anything was wrong during the night. Giving the toddler kisses, they waited until he was asleep before pulling the door to and leaving.
Collapsing on the bed, they decided to forgo bathing themselves. The mattress felt so good to their tired bodies, they didn't think they'd ever move again. Even if it had been lumpy as shit, they probably would have felt the same way: it was heaven just to lie down.
"Who knew moving was so exhausting," said Justin, laying his head on Brian's chest.
"Do we have a list of the stuff we want to get tomorrow?"
"Do it at breakfast."
"So how's school?"
Justin laughed. "It's good. Everything's okay."
"Why'd you laugh?"
"I figured you'd tell me my eyes were beautiful or something and you're asking about school."
"Things have been crazy. I want to make sure you're not falling behind."
"You're a good husband," Justin told him, fingers brushing over his chest.
"And your eyes are beautiful."
A feeling like spring came over Justin but even though the heart was willing, the body was exhausted and he smiled softly and remained supine upon his lover. "First night in our new house."
"I think so."
"I love it."
For a while neither said anything else and then Brian nudged Justin. "Come on." They got up and undressed, then cut off the lights and the television and returned to bed. Kissed briefly.
He awoke to the sound of crying. "Gus," he said automatically and got up, grabbing his robe as he did and slipped it on. He found the tot sitting up in bed crying. Obviously, he'd awakened and was disoriented by the new room and new surroundings. Brian sat on the edge of the bed and picked him up, held him. "Hey, it's okay. Shhh, it's okay." Gus rubbed his eyes and laid against his daddy. "You all right now?" Gus nodded. "It's your new room, remember?" He nodded again. "Daddy Justin painted the cars on the walls and the airplanes and the rocket ship. See?" He pointed to the ceiling and Gus looked up. Finding Beh, Brian gave the teddy bear to him. "And here's Beh." Now that Gus seemed calm again, he laid him back down and pulled the covers up over him and the leather bear. Knelt by the bed. "You think you can go back to sleep now?"
"Yeah," he said softly.
"You want me to stay here until you fall asleep?"
"Okay." Brian waited.
"Look, cloud," he said, pointing to a cloud.
"Uh-huh. Snow comes from the clouds."
"Clouds," he said drowsily and in a moment he'd fallen asleep again.
Giving him a kiss, Brian left him to dream of clouds. When he returned to his room, Justin was awake.
"Yeah, he was just confused by being in a new place."
As Brian settled in next to him, he said, "Well, now I'm wide awake," and grinned.
Slipping his arm around his lover's slender waist, Brian said, "First time in our new house."
"In our new bed," Justin added.
The bed made nary a sound as they bounced on it, Justin crouched over
Brian, impaled on his cock.
He could feel the sun coming through the windows despite the curtains and the shades and decided that he must be genetically predisposed to sense sunlight, kind of like a plant. But light or not, he fully intended to lie in bed until the last possible moment.
Which came sooner than he'd expected.
The door to their room pushed open and he heard, "Daddy!" Gus came running in and bounced up and down next to the bed. Held up his arms to be lifted. "Daddy!"
Brian picked him up and set him down next to him. "What?"
Justin turned over. "Just ten more minutes."
Gus kissed Brian, then crawled over to Justin and smooched him too. "Daddy, pancakes."
"Okay, just give me ten more minutes. Ten minutes?"
Brian reached for him and pulled him onto his side of the bed. "Come on," he told him, "come watch me take a shower and shave." Gus loved to watch Brian shave and he'd probably want to join him in the shower too. Which he did. Taking off his clothes too, he got in the shower with Brian and danced around in the water while Brian bathed. Then after Brian dried him off, he watched him shave and held out his hands for Brian to put some lather in them and when Brian did, he put some on his cheeks too and used his finger to take it off like he saw Daddy do with the razor. Following Brian into the closet, he watched as his father slipped on a pair of briefs and then a pair of jeans and a black sweater. Afterwards, he and Daddy went to his room and found him a pair of jeans and a sweater to wear as well except that his sweater was orange. By the time they returned, Daddy Justin was up and in the shower. Gus helped Brian fix the bed—mostly by staying out of the way, but he did straighten the lengths of the canopy that hung along the bed posts, playing with the beads on the edge of the cloth and then he sat on the bed and watched TV until Justin finished and they were ready to go downstairs and eat.
Using the simmering plate on the Aga stove, Justin fixed pancakes, two for Gus and three each for he and Brian while Brian fried bacon on the range at the opposite end of the kitchen. Gus went from end to end, eating a banana while the main course cooked. They brewed coffee and made toast using the appliances on the top of the la mattina at the end of one arm of the U of cabinets and countertops that formed the kitchen. There was milk, eggs, butter and juice in the refrigerator under the counter which was also convenient to the baking center and bake ovens. Justin had whipped up the pancakes using ingredients kept in the under the counter refrigerator and on the shelves of the baking center without once having to ask for anything from the Northland at the other end of the kitchen. Conversely, it was nice to have the meats in the refrigerator/freezer which was closer to the grill in the rangetop.
"I like this setup," Justin said.
"I think we need some bar stools for the island," Brian said. "No point in eating breakfast way out there," the family room, "if we can do it in here."
"What about the bar in the family room?"
"If we get some sofas and chairs, then we can wait on that."
Justin reached for the pad of paper he'd been scribbling on. Added bar stools to the list of things they wanted to look for today when they went shopping. "You know, I was looking online…"
"And they have this thing called the Icebox Flipscreen and it's this entertainment center that fits under the kitchen cabinet and it has this screen that flips down. It's a combination TV, DVD and CD player, there's a radio, and you can access the internet using it."
"Really." Brian tried to keep inflection out of his voice. Stepping to the sink, Brian opened the curtains and looked out.
Justin saw that he was probably not going to convince Brian that they needed one this go round so he decided to drop it for now. "What do you think about putting an herb garden out there?"
"Fine with me."
"What do you think about helping me?"
Brian inhaled and exhaled. Punishment for not greenlighting Justin's toy. "Fine."
"You say that with such enthusiasm," teased Justin.
"It's all I have."
"Maybe you'll have more come spring."
After they'd eaten, they ran the dishwasher and went to get on their
winter gear. They'd decided to keep their coats and scarves and hats in
one of the closets next to the front door. Brian also kept a couple pairs
of shoes in there too. It was a lot easier than trekking back upstairs.
That was the one drawback to living in a large house, having to plan their
routes and make sure that they were placing things where they'd be most
useful. They had space to waste but not the energy and humor to go roaming
all over for any and everything.
Armed with the list, they went to this upscale furniture store Brian had bought some of his furniture from for the loft all those years ago. Joanie and Justin had found some pieces online and their task was to find something like it locally if possible.
"Don't you think this stuff is kind of expensive?" Justin asked.
"It'll last forever," replied Brian. And to Gus, "Don't touch anything unless Justin or I say so. Okay?"
"Okay," he said, eyes already shining, excited just to be out and about.
To be on the safe side, Brian took hold of one of his hands and held it.
"So what do we want most on this list?" Brian asked.
"The nightstands and some furniture for the family room," replied Justin. "I can wait for everything else."
Beginning at the front, they worked their way through the store discussing different pieces, testing a few out, Gus loving that part. A sales person came over after they'd been in there a couple of minutes and, ascertaining that they just wanted to look on their own, made himself scarce. By the time they got to the back of the showroom, they'd both agreed on five key pieces: two nightstands for the bedroom, a sofa, and two chairs. The nightstands were these leather cubes that would look great with the bed; the sofa was the color of reddish sand with matching pillows and a couple of striped pillows in complimentary colors; and the two chairs had tan leather bottoms and cloth backs, the cloth patterned in rust, burgundy, and tan blocks. Justin was surprised that Brian liked the chairs as they were a little ornate, reminding him of the kinds of chairs English nobility must have used in their castles. He smiled, thinking of Deb sitting in one of them. But they were beautiful and their rounded arms echoed the rounded arms of the sofa. The salesperson was very happy to assist them and opened an account for Brian and arranged for delivery of their furniture Tuesday evening.
So, that was five pieces down and a long list to go.
The next store they visited sold leather furniture as Brian hoped to pick up a leather sectional for the TV viewing area. As is, they got a leather sectional and two leather and rattan armchairs.
"Sweet," declared Justin as they marked three more items off their list.
As Gus was looking a little pooped, Justin suggested that they quit and have lunch. Brian agreed. He was feeling a little empty himself. They stopped in a chain sandwich and bakery place and studied the menu before ordering roasted chicken and red pepper sandwiches with provolone. While Justin waited for their order to come up, Brian and Gus went to get drinks and find a table. The toddler slid into the booth next to his daddy leaving the other side for Justin. When the young man returned with their food, they all dug in, hungrier than they thought even though they'd been out shopping for two and a half hours and it was understandable that they would be. After finishing his sandwich, Brian leaned back and stretched his toes inside his boots. It felt good to take a load off and relax.
They struck out in the showroom they visited next which was disappointing to Brian because he'd had good luck in there in the past. But his tastes had changed or, rather, he now had to consider Justin's tastes as well and the store was a bit too cold for Justin's tastes. So, they moved on.
In the next furniture gallery, they snagged two coffee tables, a game table, and two side tables for the sofa that would sit near the fireplace. All of them were made of mahogany and glowed with a soft beauty that made them almost irresistible to Justin's artistic nature. They also purchased a reddish-tan colored chenille chair that matched the leather sectional perfectly. They still didn't have any lamps or a chest for their room to sit at the foot of the bed and hold their toys.
Going directly to a nearby lighting store, they found two table lamps for the family room and two floor lamps. The table lamps had shades of an almost burnt sienna color with amber beads along the edges and the floor lamps were a lighter sienna color with curved poles making them look like flowers.
Now they had almost everything they really needed.
"I guess we can wait on the toy chest," suggested Justin.
"I don't like the idea of my stuff being packed away in a box in the closet," said Brian but he conceded that fact that they might not find anything today. Putting that on the back burner, they hit an electronics store to look at televisions. They really needed to get something for the family room so that Gus would get used to watching it down there and not in their bedroom. Plus, they wanted to get a stereo system for the lower level as well. In the future, Brian planned on having a whole house audio system installed but that was a little ways down the road. Right now, they wanted to do some basic decorating; in time, they would get to adding the little frills that would make their house even more comfortable.
Fully intending to go in and buy a relatively modest television for now, they found themselves staring at the flat-screen plasma televisions with lust in their eyes. Not that Brian watched television much outside of taking in a show with Justin and Gus but he could easily see them buying the Lord of the Rings trilogy and losing themselves for hours at a time, the action looming large above them.
"But it's ten thousand dollars," Justin said to Brian. "That's a lot of money."
"We're living in an eight hundred thousand dollar house," Brian countered. "Ten thousand's a drop in the bucket."
"We've got the wedding and the mortgage payment is coming up next month and we've bought all this new furniture and—"
Brian kissed him to shut him up. He was well aware of the bills he'd have to attend to when it was time to pay up but for right now all he wanted was to see his home look as fabulous as it could.
"What about the forty-two-inch instead of the fifty-inch?" Justin asked, willing to concede the previous point to Brian.
"What about those eight extra inches?" asked Brian.
"You'll just have to make them up," purred Justin.
Brian grinned and pulled him close and kissed him again. But he said, "I think it's stupid not to get the best you can get, especially if you can afford it," and Justin couldn't argue with that logic.
Having made arrangements for the television to be delivered and installed on Monday evening as well, they left to hit one last store.
It was a furniture store that Brian had done some ad work for in the past. Upscale yet very down-to-earth. The people who ran it knew quality and only featured the best. As he hoped he would, Brian spotted the perfect chest, a stained wicker trunk that matched the bed perfectly. It was actually one of the pieces on Joanie's list.
"Finally," declared Justin. Although they had lots more to buy, they had gotten the basics for their room, enough to keep them comfortable for a while.
Plus, they also picked up a media center to put in the family room next to the television. Since the television would be mounted on the wall, it needed no stand, but they had to have something to store their public-viewing DVDs and videotapes as well as the stereo system when they bought it. Their "For our eyes only" media, they kept upstairs in their armoire.
The only things they hadn't gotten on their list were bar stools but they were all too exhausted to go on and it was getting late. They had to take Gus home. Having brought Beh and his SpongeBob SquarePants backpack with them, they went directly from the last showroom to the Munchers' house. Gus made a fuss but Justin managed to calm him down by telling him he could come and see them next weekend if his mommies agreed.
"You sure?" asked Brian. "That's the weekend before the ceremony."
"We can manage. Besides, we'll have the TV and furniture and stuff, maybe Molly can come over and baby-sit him while we do stuff. My mom's coming over on Sunday afternoon to help make flowers and Joanie's coming over to help and Mel and Lindz and Emmett probably so there'll be lots of people around to keep him occupied. We ought to be able to manage."
"All right," Brian said, "because a promise is a promise." He lifted Gus from his car seat and gave him his backpack and Beh once he was on the ground. The toddler walked ahead of them, looking forward to seeing Mommy and Mama. He did miss them and he had fun with them too, lots of fun, and nobody played Patty Cake or sang better than Mommy and Mama made the best French toast in the world and could do all the voices in Winnie-the-Pooh, even Pooh. But being with Daddy and Daddy Jusin was fun too. He wished they could all be together all the time but Daddy and Daddy had their house and Mommy and Mama had their house and he had rooms in both houses. The thought made him very happy and he jumped up onto the steps and yelled, "Yeah!"
Coming up behind him, Brian and Justin cracked up. Sometimes they
really wondered what he thought about.
Brian sat in bed with Justin between his legs, leaning back against him as they watched one of their "For our eyes only" DVDs. Not that they made a habit of watching a lot of porn but Justin did enjoy an occasional erotic feature. It turned him on, watching another couple make love as a prelude to their making love. Sometimes the sound of another couple moaning and sighing made his skin tingle as he moaned and sighed himself. The film had been on for a few minutes and the two men onscreen had progressed to heavy kissing and stroking. Shifting on the bed, Justin signaled to Brian just by his movement that it was time to turn the heat up a bit. Brian had been holding him and rubbing his belly lightly but now he began to run his hands up and down Justin's thighs, still lightly, just the tips of his fingers. Up and down the insides of his thighs and Justin spread his legs even wider, throwing them over Brian's. It felt so good, Brian's hands on him, between his legs, stroking his flesh, his lips on his neck and shoulders, kissing him, kissing his way up his neck to his mouth. He twisted his neck so that they could kiss and turned in Brian's arms. Wrapped arms and legs about him.
"Oh," he gasped as they kissed, as Brian raised him up and licked his nipples, as he laid him down upon his back and licked his way down his chest, down his belly, and back up again, tongue tracing a path over his stomach, between his pecs.
He felt so small, loved the way Brian could pick him up with one arm and hold him as he kissed his nipples, kissed along his ribcage, kissed around his navel, down between his legs. With his lover's arm around his waist, hand in the small of his back, he raised his hips and felt Brian's lips on his cock, brushing over it, teasing him.
Crawling back up Justin's body, leaving no inch of flesh unkissed, unlicked, Brian crouched over him and they kissed deeply, tongues entwining inside warm mouths. He pulled away and Justin raised his legs over Brian's thighs and rubbed his buttocks over the man's groin, then gripped his neck and raised himself up for another kiss that went on for some time. Brian knelt on the bed and Justin climbed up onto his lap and they kissed, nipples rubbing chests, cocks rubbing bellies. Moaning into Brian's mouth, Justin pressed himself against Brian's torso. God, it felt so good. So good…
Sliding Justin off his lap, Brian laid back and his lover rolled over onto him. He raised his left leg between Justin's thighs and the younger man straddled it, working his cock and balls and asshole against it. Grabbing Justin's ass, Brian stroked his buttocks, fingers sliding down the crevice to brush against his hole.
"Mmm," whispered Justin. "Oh…"
Brian's cock was trapped between their bodies and every time Justin moved, he felt it throb. Pulling Justin over onto him, he rubbed his dick against Justin's, the younger man's balls pressing back against Brian's. Their cocks strained against one another and twitched, drooling precum.
And they kissed, kissed until saliva smeared their faces, until it streaked their skin where they kissed nipples and chests, bellies, thighs, cocks. Parting Justin's legs, Brian licked his cock from base to tip, then licked his balls, the strip of flesh between his balls and his hole. He turned Justin over and kissed his shoulders, teased the area between his shoulder blades, then followed the path of his spine until he reached the tops of Justin's buttocks. He licked between them, moving closer and closer to his hole, pulling away at the last moment to kiss his cheeks, to suck on his flesh, to leave his mark.
Rising up, Justin pushed Brian back and caught hold of his cock, began sucking him. The older man caught his breath as his lover went down on him, coaxing his cock to grow harder and harder. When Justin finished with him, his dick was rock hard and he thought his erection would never subside.
Justin spread lube along the length of Brian's shaft, then turned on his side. Reached for the cinnamon-colored towel on the nightstand and spread it in front of him. Brian wrapped his arms around his torso and held him, kissing his neck and jaw, rubbing his dick between his buttocks, waiting until Justin deemed it time to be entered.
He was so hot, so hard, so hungry for Brian's cock. He raised his left leg and eased it back over Brian's. Now, the motion said. And Brian spread his cheeks and pushed his dick inside.
"Yes," he whispered. Cupping his balls, he gently stroked himself as Brian slowly fucked him. As they fucked, they kissed, bodies contorted so that lips could reach lips, and tongues could touch as Brian's cock slid in and out of Justin's ass with growing ease. At first Justin was content with their leisurely fucking but he grew more impatient as his cock hardened and he moved closer to his orgasm. "Do it," he moaned. "Do it." Those were the only words he could utter but Brian understood. He moved Justin onto his belly and supported himself on his arms, began thrusting harder, harder, faster, jerking against him, stabbing him with his cock. The towel bunched up beneath them, wet with their sweat, dotted with precum. Justin cried out and began panting. "Oh, oh. Oh. Oh," he groaned and he buried his face in the pillow and uttered a throaty cry, tightening around Brian. Cum spread beneath him, trapped in the fibers of the towel.
As Justin's hole went into spasms around his cock, Brian opened his mouth around his lover's neck and sucked him until he came.
Still joined, they rolled over onto their sides and Brian gently
stroked Justin's cock.
Tired but contented, Brian walked into his office, sat down, and put up his feet. Cynthia hadn't been at her desk which meant she was probably off getting coffee or something. He supposed they could have put a coffee maker in his office like the other executives did but he was trying to cut back. Speaking of cutting back, he hadn't had a cigarette all weekend, too busy working and shopping. There was a pack in the drawer; he took one out and found his lighter. That first puff was going to be heaven... He inhaled the smoke and coughed. "Fuck." That hadn't happened before. He put out the cigarette and waved the air in front of his face. Jesus. No cigarettes? It had finally happened, he'd given up most of his vices and become a respectable person.
Cynthia came in with his coffee and found him sitting at his desk in almost a stupor. "What's up, Boss?"
"I'm respectable," he said.
"You're also going to be late for your meeting if you don't hurry up." She handed him his coffee and the relevant folder of notes and files.
All during his meeting with Darren Johnson, he barely paid attention to what Darren was saying, partly because it wasn't necessary, he'd already decided that Johnson needed divine intervention to save the campaign and was prepared to give him some as long as it didn't cost him any late nights. He and Justin had a lot to do between now and the wedding and after the wedding, even though they weren't going anywhere, he fully intended to take at least three or four days from work for a homebound honeymoon. But, mostly, he was distracted by thoughts of his apparent fall from vicedom.
He looked up. "Yeah?"
"So? What do you want to do?"
That was the question.
Later, after having trashed Darren's proposal and given the man strict orders as to how to save the campaign, he returned to his office in an introspective mood. Cynthia handed him his messages as he passed her and he took them without looking at them. Again, he sat in his chair and pondered his state of affairs and felt a foolish urge begin to take hold of him. Cutting on his computer, he logged into his personal email account and sent a note to his favorite boy toy: Bountiful Bottom.
How about a play date at Babylon? I'd love to see you shake your
How about a play date at Babylon? I'd love to see you shake your bountiful booty.
It took almost a half hour for a response to come.
Sitting back in his chair, he smiled. Things were definitely looking up
for the former king of vice.
Things didn't exactly go smoothly. First, he had to convince Justin to wear something even the least bit sleazy. "Baby, what's the point of going to a club if you're going to wear your chinos? We can stay home and dance by ourselves if you're gonna play the happy homemaker." Which did not go over well with his groom-to-be. But, at last, Brian got Justin to put on a pair of skintight jeans and his tight, white fcuk spandex tee. He wore his favorite pair of leather low-rider pants and a virtually see-through black top that left nothing to the imagination.
"We look like call boys," complained Justin.
"Exactly the point. You need a pair of leather pants," he said. "Gotta do something about that."
With his less-than-thrilled partner in tow, Brian swaggered into Babylon, certain to draw the attention of most of the guys in the place. He wasn't disappointed. Despite being in physical contact with Justin, some guy walked up and wanted to dance with him so he let Justin go and followed the man onto the dance floor where they put on a show for at least ten minutes, the guy doing everything short of blowing him to get him excited and interested in a closer relationship in the backroom. Brian wouldn’t let the guy kiss him but he didn't dissuade him from trying his best. In the end though, he went back to find Justin at the bar with the guys. They'd spotted him pouting and had set about cheering him up. When Brian walked up, they were having a drink and talking about… the wedding.
"Oh, no," he said, and he grabbed Justin. "No talking about the wedding or the house. Come on, let's get some people hot and bothered."
"What about your partner?" Justin asked, meaning the guy he'd danced with.
Brian held up his hand and spread his thumb and forefinger about five inches apart. "Too small."
Laughing, despite being a little pissed with him, Justin let Brian pull him onto the dance floor where they held court for three or four songs, kicking it up notch by notch until Justin was ready to come out of his clothes and fuck right there on the floor. Brian pulled off Justin's shirt and his own and they danced topless, sweat glistening on their torsos, until thirst forced them to take a break.
"Two Jim Beams," Brian said. "Doubles."
"First strong drink you've had in a long time," Justin remarked.
"I can handle it."
"Yeah." He picked up his drink. "I just want to have some fun tonight, maybe go home loaded, fall asleep, and get up tomorrow with a little hangover just for old time's sake." He downed his drink and signaled for another.
Sipping his more cautiously, Justin said, "Well, I think you're working on a huge hangover."
"Good," replied Brian and he waved to Mikey who was dancing with Jeff. Michael motioned for him to join them so he did, leaving Justin at the bar once more. But not for long as Emmett came back from dancing with some will-o-wisp in the night and wanted a more substantial partner.
"Come on, sugar, let's dance!"
Two hours later, after four double Jim Beams and a number of beers, Brian was less than steady on his feet. Justin had wisely stopped at two Beams and three beers but his head was feeling a little tight as well. As in the old days, Michael drove them home with Jeff following behind them. Assured that they'd made it inside, he and Jeff took off.
They crawled upstairs and fell onto the bed, too tired to undress but eventually their club clothes began to feel constraining and they had to come out of them.
Pissing for what seemed like an eternity, Brian flushed the toilet and
staggered back to the bed. Crawled in and shut his eyes. Ah, bliss.
Justin glared at Brian from across the table. "I hope you're happy." He'd awakened that morning with the urge to throw up immediately. Which he'd done after just making it to the bathroom.
Wincing from the light, Brian mumbled, "Ecstatic." He wondered if
anyone would notice if he wore his sunglasses all day today.
They had just enough time to eat before the first of the delivery vans appeared. For the next hour and a half the house was a flurry of activity as pair after pair of delivery men traipsed into the house bearing sofas and chairs, tables and lamps. The guys from the electronics store arrived with the flat screen television and in no time had it mounted on the wall and connected to the digital cable box and DVD/VCR which they'd placed inside the entertainment center to the left of the television.
When all of the delivery men and installation guys had left, they arranged the furniture until it was the way they wanted, then stood and surveyed the family room with pleasure. It was exactly how they had imagined, masculine yet comfortable and inviting. Now all it lacked was bar stools but they were in no rush. Their friends would love it just as it was, just as much as they would.
"Let's have dinner over here on Saturday night," Justin suggested.
"Works for me."
"You sure you don’t want to go out and paint the town red?"
Brian nudged him and said, "I think I'll build a fire instead."
Curled up on the sofa with Brian, Justin said, "We still need to get some rugs."
"This Friday. We'll go out and see what we can find."
The fire crackling behind glass doors, Justin couldn't imagine being happier anywhere else. "I love this place," he said.
Brian looked down at his partner and squeezed him. He loved it too.
The students piled into Gus' room once more to finish the mural on the walls. Justin's friends had been amazed at the change in the house in just a few short days.
"I can't believe how fabulous it looks already," Rennie said as she got up on the ladder again to complete the ceiling.
"It'll look even better when we get some rugs and vases and stuff. It'll still a little stark," Justin confessed.
Xavier said, "You should put up a notice at school. Lotta kids doing pottery and glasswork, might be able to find something nice."
"Hey," said Rennie, "what about the sculpture Xavier gave you for Christmas last year?"
Justin felt his chest tighten. He'd never told Xavier what had happened to the piece and he didn't want to talk about it now. "That's just once piece," he pointed out.
"Yeah, but it'd help. Where do you think you'll put it?"
But Xavier had seen Justin's reaction even if Justin hadn't intended him to and he said, "Stop hounding the man and work, woman." I wonder what that means? he asked himself and resolved to ask Justin if they ever got a moment alone.
Which came when Rennie announced that she wanted to walk around the back yard and get some air, leaving the guys to clean out the brushes and talk.
"So where are you going to put the piece?" Xavier asked.
"Xavier…" Justin began. He didn't know how to say it, how to tell Xavier that his work had been sacrificed so that he might be free, so that Brian could live, so that they could save their love, their lives.
"You don't have it anymore, do you?" Justin shook his head sadly. "What happened?" he asked softly. He'd put his heart and soul into that piece and to find out that it was gone, it made him want to yell but he knew Justin, knew that he wouldn't have done anything rash, not unless he'd been pushed to it.
"I had to do it. Me and Brian… things were really crazy, Xavier. I thought I was going to lose him. I almost did."
Risking a touch, Xavier brushed his fingers over Justin's hand. "I know, J."
Justin shut his eyes. He would never forget that day for as long as he lived. "I would have done anything to keep him safe."
"What did you do with it?"
"We took a bunch of stuff to his father's grave and we left it there." He watched Xavier for a reaction, there was none. "Maybe someone came and took all of it away."
Xavier shrugged it off. "I know he comes first. I know what he means to you. You did what you had to do." His work… gone. Well… he'd make other pieces. He'd make pieces for Trey and Nana Rose and Rennie and maybe even for Brian and Justin. Turning slightly away, he sniffed and tried to smile.
Just then, before Justin could make an overture towards Xavier, Rennie came running into the room. "Hey, guys, it's snowing again."
So they walked to the back of the room and watched the snow fall, three
friends, reading their futures in the swirling flakes.
Deciding to hang Brian's painting of the naked guy outside their suite, they had to find places for the portraits Justin had done of Brian and for the Turner prints Sebastian had given them. The tea service had a place of honor on top of the sideboard and the pictures of Sebastian and James would go on the mantelpiece with their other pictures of family and friends just as soon as they decided which mantelpiece to put them on: they had three.
"Well," Justin suggested, "I think they should go out in the reception hall," they being the Turner prints, "but they don't exactly fit our wedding theme. Maybe we can put them up after the wedding."
"So what the fuck are we going to put in the hallways?" asked Brian who thought the Turner prints would be perfect for the gallery.
"I've got plenty of friends who make lots of art," he replied. "We won't have any problems filling up the white spaces." Not that any of the walls in the house were really white. Instead, they spanned the spectrum from oyster to honey. He surveyed the long hallway on the first floor. "It'll be so cool, having our own home gallery. Maybe we could have cocktail parties and show the art, like Peggy Guggenheim used to do. You could become an art broker."
"I don't know shit about art," said Brian.
"But you know about selling stuff and you're smart and witty and you throw great parties. We could put out a little wine and cheese and show off the artwork, it'd practically sell itself."
Brian thought about it, saw them schmoozing with important people in the area, talking about art, it couldn't hurt. "Works for me," he said.
Throwing his arms around Brian's neck, Justin asked, "Have I told you I loved you today?"
"Then I'll tell you again, just to make sure." He kissed Brian soundly. "I love you, Pookie."
"Love you too, Baby."
Justin parted from him and crooked his finger. Eyebrow raised, Brian
There was a discount rug warehouse on the edge of town that sold almost every kind of rug known to man from high end to bargain basement and walking into it, Brian foresaw hours of browsing and comparing ahead of them and he was right. The problem was there were too many rugs and they had too many spaces to buy for and coordinate. In the family room alone there were three distinct spaces: the dining table area, the fireplace area, and the home theatre area so not only did the rugs have to coordinate with the furniture in those areas, they needed to coordinate with each other and they had no intention of just buying three identical rugs. Then they needed at least three rugs for their room: by the bed, by the fireplace, and by the pergola and the same problem applied. The rest of the rooms they would worry about later but they did need something by the front and back doors, both inside and out, and a couple of runners for the kitchen.
When they were done shopping, they'd found everything they were looking for and had the guys load them up in the back of the Cherokee along with non-slip pads for all of the rugs and a half dozen throw pillows they'd picked up for good measure. They had a busy Saturday morning ahead of them.
Coming home (after a stop to pick up security gates for the stairs) and unloading the rugs, they took a breather by the fireplace before heading into the kitchen to fix dinner.
Steak and potatoes in front of them, they sat at the table and talked about their plans for the house once the wedding was over and things settled down a little as if they ever settled down around them.
"I don't know what I'd do if things were actually peaceful," said Justin.
"Me neither," Brian agreed. "So when is the mosaic table coming?"
"Should have come already. I'll check tomorrow," he said. Of course, spring was weeks away and they wouldn't be able to use it until then but still, it should have come days ago.
"The mural looks great," Brian said. He'd peeked in Gus' bedroom on his way to change. "Maybe you guys should do one for the guest bedroom too."
"Maybe the Tuscan countryside," Brian suggested.
"I thought you said you didn't know anything about art?"
"I know what I like," he answered.
That night as Brian prepared for bed, he gazed out of the back windows at the pergola and said, "We need some fucking furniture up here. I feel like I'm living in a goddamn warehouse," he complained.
"Come to bed, Pookie," Justin told him and held open the covers for
him. Brian lowered the shades on the window, then slipped into bed and let
himself be enveloped in Justin's arms. "It'll be perfect. It just takes
time," he said. Something he hoped they had plenty of. Feeling Brian
settle down, he closed his eyes and slept.
In the morning, they got up and went to work. The gang would be over that evening around six for dinner and they needed to put down the rugs, plan tonight's menu, and pick up some groceries and wine. Plus, Justin wanted to make a special stop to get something he'd seen earlier in the week. For Gus.
Making his stop first, he went into the shop and showed Brian what he wanted. It was a red and yellow plastic easel for kids.
"For the studio. To keep Gus occupied while I work."
"I think that is a most excellent idea," said Brian.
"Yeah, it just means he'll be out of your hair."
But Brian had been thinking about getting Gus a computer workstation that came equipped with a computer for little people. That way Gus could sit with him while he worked in his study and not be bored to death. But he figured he'd wait until his birthday and get it so Mel and Lindsay wouldn't scream that he was spoiling Gus. Like God forbid if he spoiled his own kid just a little. Granted they had spent a lot on his room too, so it was a good thing to maybe wait a while before giving him anything else. Still, Gus would look mighty cute sitting at his workstation. Brian smiled and decided to keep his options open.
Having gotten brisket for dinner, a Chocolate Kahlua cake from the bakery for dessert, and three bottles of wine, the men headed home and began preparing for their guests. It was the first time they would entertain in their new home and despite it only being their friends and family, they were a little nervous, wanting everything to be just right.
One problem was that even though they'd gotten extra chairs for the dining table, there were still only twelve chairs and fourteen people. So they dragged the two leather and cloth armchairs over and set one at each end where they would sit as hosts. Unfortunately, it would be a tight fit around the table as some had to straddle legs and sit arm and arm with the others. What they needed was a table for Gus and Molly that would sit near the main table.
"Listen," Brian said, "how about Gus and Molly sitting on the sectional and watching TV instead of sitting at the table? There's no fucking room."
"Molly wouldn't mind and I don't think Gus would either," Justin replied from the kitchen.
"I just hope nobody has to get up, we're gonna be packed like sardines at the table."
Once the problem of the seating arrangements was settled, Brian checked the downstairs bathroom to make sure it had clean towels, toilet paper, and soap. Then he tested each of the rugs again to make sure they wouldn't slip. That done, he set the table, spreading the tablecloth first, then using most of the placemats Joanie had made, and putting out their everyday water glasses and wine goblets. They'd decided to use the amber-hued plates they'd bought in Italy as they were warmer-colored than the black plates they tended to use everyday and went with their new décor. Pretty soon they'd have fine china and stemware and silverware for special occasions. Joanie had also made matching napkins for the placemats which made the table settings look tasteful and elegant. They'd picked up blue glass napkin rings in Venice which they only now had found an opportunity to use. The burnt sienna color of the placemats and napkins contrasted nicely with the blue glass bead flowers of the napkin rings and the blue rug they'd bought for the dining area, the entire arrangement echoing the colors of the kitchen and providing a visual link between the two spaces.
He'd decanted the red wine to let it breathe and the white wine was chilling in the wine and beverage center along with about a dozen cans of soda. There were more cans in the refrigerator.
This was good practice for next week—when they'd host the rehearsal dinner at the house—and their chance to work out any kinks in the system.
One thing they discovered was that as close as the family room was to the kitchen—they were basically the same space—it was still a haul to carry heavy serving platters to the table.
"What the fuck are we gonna do when we have to serve people in the dining room?" asked Brian.
"Well, I guess we can buy a serving cart."
"The food'll get cold by the time we get there."
"Maybe we can turn the closet closest to the dining room into a butler's pantry," Justin suggested. "Put a microwave in there and maybe a mini fridge."
"Possible," said Brian, not committing to anything more than that.
While Justin checked on the brisket, Brian went through their video collection to find something that would keep both Molly and Gus entertained and not drive the adults crazy. They had bought some videos for Gus to watch when he visited but he seemed more interested in SpongeBob and The PowerPuff Girls than in any movie they'd purchased. Still, maybe he'd watch something if Molly did.
"What's Molly like?" Brian asked.
"What do you mean what's she like?"
"Movies?" It was hard to carry on a conversation in different rooms.
"She likes Toy Story."
That was one of the films they'd bought. Taking it out, he put it in the DVD player and hoped it would keep Gus quiet for at least a half hour or so. That was about the limit of the toddler's attention span these days before something else caught his eye and he was off. Of course, he was also enamored of the water fountain so he'd probably spend a lot of time there too. As long as he stayed in sight and out of trouble, he could knock himself out.
Joining Justin in the kitchen, Brian watched him toss the salad and shake together a bottle of vinaigrette. "Need any help?"
Shook his head. "Almost done. The brisket's finished."
"I smelled it."
"You want something now?"
"I'll last," he assured his lover but he did take a bit of lettuce and a cherry tomato just to be safe. Checked Justin's watch. "They'll be here soon."
Sure enough, within minutes, he heard the first of the cars arrive. Taking a deep breath, they went out to greet their guests.
"We were going to use the side door," Emmett explained, "but we didn't want to look like the help."
Joanie came bearing gifts: curtains for the family room which she put up with Jennifer's help once she arrived.
"These match perfectly," Justin said. She'd come over during the week after they'd gotten the furniture but before they'd purchased the rugs, yet the curtains flawlessly complimented all the colors.
"You can't go wrong with sand," she replied.
"You mean beige?" asked Debbie.
And Joanie clarified for her once more, "Sand."
"Sand," said Debbie, looking around to check with Vic.
"Sand," he declared and went to snag another hors d'oeuvres from the tray on the coffee table by the fireplace. Brian was there replenishing the supply and he clapped him on the shoulder as he straightened up. "Everything is wonderful."
"I knew you had it in you," he told him and Brian swallowed around a lump in his throat.
"You were the only one then," he said but then he and Justin happened to glance at one another from across the room and the younger man smiled.
"No," said Vic, "I wasn't."
Gus and the Munchers ("Sounds like a new kids show, like Josie and the Pussycats or Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels," quipped Ted.) arrived like the North Wind, with a lot of fuss and noise. The toddler had been quite put out by the fact that he hadn't come over on Friday and had to wait all day Saturday before he could come see his daddies. Even the promise that he could spend Saturday and Sunday night with them hadn't assuaged his anger. It was only when he actually saw Brian and Justin in the house that he believed his mommies and put aside his hurt feelings. Having met them at the door, Brian carried Gus and his stuff to the family room where everyone called out to him and he waved and laughed and, spotting Molly, wanted to be put down so they could play. Brian offered to put on their movie but Molly told him that they'd wait until dinner to watch it.
Now that everyone had arrived, Justin gave them another fifteen minutes or so before he and Brian herded them into the kitchen to fix their plates, the food arrayed on the island buffet style. Then they all trooped back to the family room and arranged themselves around the table, Gus and Molly gleefully taking their places on the sectional in front of the television while Brian started their film.
"It's like being at the movies," Molly said with awe in her voice.
"Yeah," Michael agreed. He could just see them watching Batman or The Crow on that thing. Totally awesome.
Jeff patted him on the arm. "Down, boy."
"Why don't you own one of those?" Michael asked.
"Because I don't own the station, I just work there," he clarified. "But," he added, "if I go national, I just might be able to afford it."
"The network guys are interested in you?" Brian asked.
"Had a couple of feelers."
Michael looked surprised. "You never said anything."
Eyes glanced away, wondering if there would be a scene.
"Didn't want to jinx it. Actually, I was going to tell you tonight; I've got a meeting in New York on Friday."
"You'll be back in time for the wedding, won't you?" asked Justin.
"Maybe. Depends on their itinerary."
Having watched Michael go through one painful breakup due to relocation, Deb asked, "Would you have to move?"
Jeff looked as if he didn't want to answer that question. "I might. Depends on where they think I'm needed. They might just decide to leave me where I am but there are bigger markets than Pittsburgh."
"But you could still live in Pitts and fly to where the stories are," suggested Em. "Right?"
"Unless they decide to send you to Europe or other places east of the Atlantic or west of the Pacific," joked Ted. "Then the commute might be a bit of a problem."
"They wouldn't do that, would they?" asked Michael and Jeff paused.
"Actually, they might."
"They just can't send you someplace you don't want to go."
"No," Jeff agreed, "they can't."
As the implications of his words sank in, everyone went back to concentrating on their meals and no one said anything for a while. Then Gus and Molly broke the silence singing along with the film. Mostly they could hear Molly but every now and again Gus would break through with a clear word amongst the garbling sounds he made.
"Strange things are happening to me Strange things are happening to me Strange things
Strange things are happening to me
By dessert, the strange feeling that had descended upon the group had almost dissipated. Only a trace of malaise still clung to Michael and Jeff but that was to be expected. Still, they managed to laugh with the others and evening passed much too quickly for them all.
Toy Story had long gone off and Molly and Gus had gone upstairs to play in his room. They'd been gone about forty minutes when Jennifer decided that it was time to go home and called them. They arrived, hand in hand, Molly having guided the little one down the stairs and Gus looked like he was in love. When he found out that Molly had to go, he fussed, then asked to be picked up so he could hug her. "Bye-bye."
Deciding to leave along with Jennifer, Joanie kissed her son and grandson, her soon-to-be son-in-law, and wished everyone else a good night.
Vic and Deb weren't far behind them, Vic needing to take his meds soon and not having brought them with him because there were just too many. So they thanked their hosts and made their way home as well.
The girls weren't far behind them, wanting to rest up since they were coming back tomorrow to help with the flowers. Gus waved good-bye to them, holding on to Brian's pants' leg for good measure to make sure he was staying the night.
Although normally the guys would have stayed on after everyone else had gone, none of them had completely forgotten that Michael and Jeff had issues to discuss, so Emmett and Ted had a last drink and followed the two lovers out to the cars, Emmett saying he'd catch a ride with Mel and Lindsay tomorrow to help with the decorations for the wedding.
They were all alone. The kitchen was in a state of disarray and the family room wasn't in much better shape. But cleaning up was a routine they'd perfected in the loft so they went into high gear and in no time had everything looking spotless again. All the dishes were loaded and the cycle started and they were off to bed.
Putting the security gates in place, they bathed Gus. He remained in a playful mood despite the late hour and splashed them many times before Brian gave him the eye and he calmed down. Wisely, Brian had changed before attempting to bath him but he still didn't want to have to mop the floor when they were done.
Gus hopped around wearing his bathrobe while they cleaned up and then, with his pajamas on, followed them into their room, not wanting to go to sleep just yet. Beh in his arms, he went on a tour of their room, looking through Brian's study, which remained empty, walking through the closet and bathroom and back out into the sitting room. Justin was a little anxious about him wandering around the top floor but Brian convinced him that Gus wouldn't be able to get past the security gates so his ability to get into trouble had been seriously curtailed. Still, they could hear him wandering around and singing to Beh for a few minutes, the sound fading and then rising as he moved away from and back closer to their room. Finally, he returned to their bedroom and leaned against the bed. Laid his head upon it. Brian looked down.
"Yeah," he replied.
Getting down, he picked him up and carried him to his room. Tucked him in and kissed him goodnight.
"Daddy," he said softly.
"I love you too, Sonny Boy. Nite."
Waiting until he was fast asleep, Brian returned to bed where Justin
waited for him. Life was good.
Sunday he wondered how he could ever be so naïve as to think life could be anything but chaotic.
Gus woke up raring to go at six a.m. and would not go back to sleep so they had to get up and trudge downstairs and fix breakfast for him and hope that emergency infusions of caffeine would do the trick and jumpstart their hearts and brains. Brian felt that the method was only partially successful and he also felt that being forced to watch brightly colored cartoons on a fifty-inch television was a torture only the cruelest imp in hell could have devised.
"Told you to get the forty-two-inch one," Justin grumbled. Even he was unable to shake the exhaustion and he felt as if he were inside someone else's body and couldn't get it to cooperate.
As soon as he was finished eating, Gus ran over to the television and began dancing as Shaggy and Scooby tried to outrun a wax monster. Pretty Mary Sunlite was playing and Gus loved it.
"Pretty Mary Sunlite, she's all right with me
Covering his eyes, Brian sighed. Gus was utterly tasteless.
The toddler laughed as Fred dumped wax not only on the Phantom but also on Shaggy and Scooby.
Justin snorted. "It is kinda funny."
"Better than that Freddie Prinze Jr. and Buffy monstrosity."
"Can you believe they're married?"
"Stranger things have happened."
By the time Joanie, Jenn and Molly arrived, Gus had calmed down a little but he was still hyperactive as far as Brian was concerned. Finally, Justin having shown him his new easel, he stood out in the studio painting while Justin got the flowers ready for his helpers. He had some ideas about how he wanted each corsage to look and each set of boutonnieres. Using white rose buds and navy blue and silver filler flowers, his and Brian's would be the most elaborate, followed by Mikey's, and then the guys' and Vic's. The corsages would feature a large opened white rose. Instead of a corsage, Daphne would have jeweled pins and silk flowers freely arranged in her hair. There would be a headband for Molly and a tiny white rosebud with a silver ribbon tied around it for Gus. Each of the tables needed a centerpiece and their table would have a centerpiece as well as a garland. Plus, they wanted to put a garland around the French doors leading to the studio and they needed decorations for the cake and champagne tables. Joanie thought wreaths for the front doors would be nice and Jenn suggested putting something around the fountain or maybe floating lit votives in it or maybe both. Which meant they had a lot of work ahead of them.
Mel and Lindz and Emmett arrived soon after and they settled in the family room with their individual assignments. Since he wasn't an arts and crafts kind of person, Brian was charged with keeping Gus occupied. Which he did. They went upstairs and played in Gus' room and Gus watched him rearrange his clothes in the closet and they watched TV and at the end of an hour, they were both bored and went down to see how the flower making was going.
Justin was not having fun. Not only did he have no prior knowledge of how to arrange flowers but he seemed to be all thumbs. The others picked up pretty quickly how to do it from the instructions Joanie had printed off the web and from the books she'd gotten from the crafts store but he couldn't get it no matter how hard he tried.
"Maybe you're trying too hard," Jenn suggested. "Why don't you relax a little?"
"Mom, the wedding's next Saturday. I don't have time to relax."
Having exchanged glances and made a silent pact not to say anything else, the rest of the group continued with their work, hoping Justin would relax in spite of his protestations.
And then Brian and Gus came down. Gus went to his mommies to see what they were doing and Brian made a beeline for Justin. "What's that?"
"A boutonniere," he replied tightly and Brian failed to hear the note of warning in his voice. Lindz looked up and was about to speak when Brian beat her to it.
"Is it supposed to look like that?"
Justin stood and walked away.
Lindz went over to him and hit him on the arm. Pointed towards the studio. With a sigh, Brian followed him. Found him sitting at his drafting table, obviously fuming. "Sorry, Baby."
"Leave me alone."
"I said leave me alone."
"I accept your apology, now just go. I want to be alone."
Brian made a face, then walked out of the studio and sat down on the floor by the door. Waited. In a few moments Justin came towards him.
"What are you doing? I said I wanted to be alone."
"Fine. You stay in there."
"I want to be alone."
"And I want to be near you." They locked gazes and then he raised his hand. Justin took it and sat down next to him. "I'm sorry."
"Guess there are some things that even I can't do."
Brian looked incredulous. "You? Wonder Twink?"
"I am not a twink. I'm twenty-years-old."
"Uh-huh. Twenty, twink. You do the math."
Justin pushed him with his shoulder. "I wanted to do this."
"You can. You're just trying too hard. Leave it alone for a while and then go back to it. That's what I do when I'm stuck."
"You're probably right."
"I know I’m right. Come on, let's go for a walk."
"Around the neighborhood. I haven't met any of our neighbors. Maybe some will be out and we can get acquainted." He grinned.
"Are we going to get in trouble?"
"I certainly hope so, I'm bored."
Putting on their jackets and shoes, the two men tried to sneak away before Gus noticed they were leaving but he spotted them at the last moment and demanded to be taken with them. Bundling him up, they strolled down the driveway and out onto the sidewalk.
"Right or left?" asked Brian.
"Right. Rachel, the woman I met that day, she lives in the English Tudor down there."
So they went right and sauntered down the street, checking out the houses they could see from the sidewalk. A lot of homes had privacy hedges or fences like their house but a few were visible from the road and they appraised them and decided that their house was, by far, the best.
Unfortuantely, none of their neighbors were out and about. The street was deserted. It was cold. So cold, in fact, that they turned around and headed back themselves. Maybe when it was warmer their neighbors would emerge from their cocoons.
"We could have an open house," Justin suggested. "Invite everyone in the neighborhood."
Used to Brian's noncommittal answers, Justin started to plan for it in his mind.
Used to Justin taking his noncommittal answers as affirmatives, Brian smiled and wondered what their open house would look like.
The break seemed to have done Justin some good. He was able to concentrate and in less than half an hour had produced a beautiful corsage. Brian picked it up and said, "I want this one."
Curious but not questioning him, Justin let him take it. Maybe Brian was making a wedding memory book.
Justin and Emmett worked on the garland for the main table and when they were finished with the six-foot piece, Em declared it to be a masterpiece. "It's fabulous!"
The women agreed and handed them the materials for the garland to go around the French doors to the studio. "I think you should add some lights to this one," Joanie suggested. "It'll look beautiful at night."
"What about the lights for the ceiling?" asked Justin.
"Brian and the boys can put those up Friday afternoon."
"Brian?" Justin called.
"Are you taking Friday off?"
"I told Cynthia I wasn't coming in. Why?"
With Brian doing KP duty, the workers stopped around one to see what he'd fixed for them. Grilling four flank steaks, he brushed them with molasses, honey, cracked peppercorns and cayenne pepper, let them rest, then sliced them and made a salad with a vinaigrette of lime juice, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and olive oil.
Even Mel was impressed. "Brian Kinney, cooking. Will miracles never cease?"
He smiled broadly. "Nope. I'm getting married next weekend."
"That should qualify you for sainthood."
"Saint Brian, patron saint of orgasms?" Em suggested.
"An orgasm a day keeps the grumpies away," said Brian.
"Brian!" scolded Joanie.
"They started it."
"But they're not Catholic." He rolled his eyes. "I saw that, young man. You keep it up and I'll send you to your room."
In the afternoon, they finished the flowers on the list and set them
out in the livingroom to make sure they had everything. After determining
that they had, Justin put the individual pieces in Ziploc bags, labeled
them, and then stored the bags in a box marked "Wedding Flowers".
"Hey, Boss, here it is," said Cynthia, bringing him the list of wedding guests and their meal preferences.
He glanced at it. "You couldn't reach Kenneth?"
"I reached him. See? There's an x by his name. He's not coming."
Left alone with the sheet of paper, Brian debated taking action, deciding not to call and then changing his mind. Reaching Kenneth's administrative assistant, he waited, wondering if Kenneth would try and duck him. After a few moments, he was transferred and Harris spoke.
"Brian? What can I do for you?"
"You can tell me why you're not coming to the wedding." Although he knew.
"Business. Something sudden. I'm sorry. I would have liked to have come."
"Yeah, well, that's the breaks, I guess."
"But, most importantly, I got you a gift. Should arrive Saturday morning."
"Thanks." He couldn’t work up any enthusiasm, his disappointment was so great.
Kenneth must have heard it in his voice. "Brian—"
"I won't keep you from your work." He hung up before Kenneth could say anything else. So it had come to this, that Kenneth was avoiding him. He didn't buy the excuse that something had come up at the last minute although it was possible. It's just that it was too convenient and something about Kenneth's tone rang false.
The phone buzzed. "Yeah."
"Boss, it's Kenneth Harris."
He started to instruct her to tell him he was out but didn't. He waited for Kenneth to come on the line. "Yeah?"
"You were a little abrupt."
"I figured you were busy. Maybe dealing with a crisis. Sudden business and all."
There was no way Kenneth could miss the accusation in his voice. "Brian…"
"If you didn't want to come, why not say it?"
"I do want to come."
"Then what's with the bullshit excuse?"
"I don't think Justin would appreciate me being there."
"He agreed to invite you." Lying but what did it matter? Justin hadn't forced him to retract the invitation.
But Kenneth didn't buy it. "That true?"
"He understands why I invited you. He knows that we're friends."
"I don't want to cause any friction between the two of you."
"We generate enough heat all on our own," joked Brian.
Kenneth laughed. "God, I do love you." He paused. Said quietly, "You know that, don't you?"
"I know," Brian replied just as quietly. But I'm not free, he added silently.
"Worse, I'm in love with you."
"Let me say it even if you can't." A moment of silence. "I love you."
Knowing how hard it was for Kenneth to admit his love, Brian said nothing. What good did it do Kenneth to love him when there was no chance of him returning that love? It was hopeless and yet he understood what it meant to be hopelessly in love, the way he had loved Cam. Loving Justin gave him hope, was hopeful and therein lay all the difference and the reason why he and Justin were marrying and he and Cam had fallen apart. Yet, for all of the happiness he felt now, there had been times when he'd felt just as desperate as Kenneth must be feeling now. All he could say was, "I'm sorry."
"I'm not. I'm not ashamed of loving you." He chuckled. "Actually, I am sorry. Sorry I didn't come along sooner."
He had to try one last time. "Come to the wedding." Maybe they could be friends the way they'd planned, maybe—
"I don't know if I can. I don't think I can watch you marry someone else."
Then it was time to end it. "I guess… I should let you go." His choice of words wasn't accidental. If Kenneth needed to be released, then he'd do it. No matter how much it hurt.
"Yeah," he said and hung up the phone. Sat motionless for a long while
he imagined what life with Kenneth would have been like and then he put
aside those thoughts and opened the folder on his desk and went back to
work on the newest Liberty Air campaign.
Only he hadn't put those thoughts far enough away and they returned to haunt him on his drive home. Although they'd been in the new house for a week now, he almost took his old route to the loft. Arriving home a little after six thirty, he smelled dinner cooking the moment he walked into the side door.
It was like old times. Him coming home from work, the loft filled with the aroma of a hot meal, Justin at the stove. Except that Justin had two stoves now and the kitchen was as big as the livingroom in the loft had been. "Hey," he said and laid his briefcase on the kitchen island to free his hands and arms as they kissed hello.
"Reverend Ophelia finally faxed her sermon. Looks good. I don't think it needs any changes."
"Then fax it back to her."
"Don't you want to see it?"
"I trust you." He picked up his briefcase and started out of the kitchen.
Turning his head. "Hmm?"
"Yeah. Perfect." Taking the back stairs, he went up to the second floor and walked the long hallway to their suite, dropped his briefcase in his office, and headed for the closet where he stripped and hung up his clothes and found a pair of sweats and a tank top to put on. Maybe he'd do a few miles on the treadmill. Too bad the sauna wasn't installed yet, it'd feel nice to sit and steam for a while after a run. The only problem was he didn't really feel like running, he didn't feel like eating, didn't feel like doing anything but sitting in the closet right where he was.
After a while Justin came upstairs to see what had happened to him. Found him in the closet with his running shoes neglected next to the bench. Justin leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms. "So?"
"So what's wrong? And don't tell me nothing."
And how was he going to explain to his partner that he was sad because of the absence of one guest from their wedding. Justin had to contend with his father not coming and finding out that his grandmother couldn't make it and all that had happened to him was that Kenneth wasn't coming. And yet his absence would be felt as keenly as any. Which shouldn't have been. He'd only known Kenneth since the trial, not even two years. Why was the man so important to him? There was no denying it, Kenneth was special to him and he didn't know why or how to explain it and he knew, he knew that if he told Justin why he was down, Justin wouldn't understand or, worse, would understand too well. He had no desire to hurt him, to make him feel threatened, to cast a shadow over their wedding but how could they start their new life with a lie between them? So he told the truth. "Kenneth's not coming to the wedding."
"Business?" Even though he knew that wasn't the reason.
"No." Brian looked up at him. "He said it'd hurt too much." Paraphrased, true, but that was the gist of what the man had said.
"Because he loves you," said Justin. He stopped himself from continuing to speak and counted to ten, tried to see this from Brian's perspective. "I'm sorry," he said, "I know how much you wanted him there."
"I wanted all my friends to be there, not just Kenneth." Somehow, a defensive tone had crept into his voice.
"You don't have to explain. I know that you're friends."
Smiling softly, Brian stood. "So what's for dinner?"
That evening as he went over their finances at one end of the table, Justin checked the list of preparations at the other end to make sure they were on track for Saturday. There were only four days left before the big event. Four days and so many things still to do. At the top of the list was a wedding present for Brian. They'd agreed to skip Valentine's Day this year because of the wedding which was one less thing to worry about but it still didn't help his dilemma. What to get Brian?
"What are you thinking about?" Brian asked, having seen the look on his face by accident.
"Oh," said Brian in pseudo awe, "stuff."
"Shut up," Justin told him and shook his head and went back to his list.
"What's left to do?"
"Check with the caterers on Thursday to make sure everything's set, check with Gaia about the cake, make sure everyone knows they're supposed to be over here at six for rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner… do the seating chart… make sure the guys pick up their tuxes on Friday, make sure Gus and Molly have their stuff… I have to check with your mom to see if she was able to get the rest of the decorations and the favors… double check that the party rental place is going to deliver the chairs and tables Saturday morning and that they have a table for the cake and champagne…"
"Stop, you'll give us both headaches."
Justin gestured at the pile of bills and invoices in front of Brian. "How are we doing?"
"Get used to staying home."
"Are we broke?"
"No, we are not broke. But until we pay off some of these bills, we're going to be budgeting for a while."
"I'm good at clipping coupons," Justin boasted.
"I just bet you are." As a rule, Brian frowned on the use of coupons but they might actually have to use them for a couple months. But it was worth it. The house looked great and the wedding would be fabulous. And the smile on Justin's face whenever he looked around the house or thought about the wedding was worth every penny.
Justin asked, "What are you thinking about?"
Blushing, he went back to his work, a smile lingering about his lips.
Before they knew it Thursday had come and it was time to rehearse for the wedding. DJ Twist wasn't there but he'd sent Justin a CD of the music for the ceremony so they would be able to practice their timing. Mel brought their boom box from home and set it up in the tower stairwell which was going to serve as the wedding directors' base of operations. The wedding party would use the second floor as a staging area and descend the stairs in order and process to the area just in front of the French doors leading to the solarium. Vic and Debbie sat in the audience, having brought over some folding chairs from their basement to set-up the first and second rows.
Reverend Ophelia arrived wearing a white cassock over a pair of jeans and some platform shoes. Gus was instantly taken with her outfit and spent the first ten minutes she was there trying to look up her dress.
"That settles it," said Ted, "he's straight."
"Maybe," Vic suggested, "he needs to do a lot of research first before he makes up his mind."
Joanie loved her accent, it reminded her of her grandmother who had come over from Ireland at the turn of the century. She couldn't wait to get Reverend Ophelia alone at dinner and find out where she was from.
Mel and Lindsay passed around one of the programs so that everyone could see it. White with a navy blue border and silver snowflake watermarks.
"Oh, that's beautiful," said Debbie. "The wedding service of Brian Andrew Kinney and Justin Matthew Taylor." Both the mothers smiled, taken with it too.
Having gone over with Mel and Lindsay what was supposed to happen when, Rev. Ophelia herded everyone upstairs, except Deb and Vic who were sitting in the audience. "Nervous?" she asked Justin and he shook his head. Rather than feeling nervous, he felt kind of light and airy. Which was probably nervousness in disguise.
"You take a hit?" Brian asked.
"No," he replied indignantly. He hadn't smoked any weed in a long time. The last time was with Brian and they'd gotten so silly that, in disgust, they'd both sworn off for a while.
Before Brian could interrogate him further, Mel cued them with the last few measures of "Adante" from the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G that would be played at the end of the musical prelude. With that Rev. Ophelia moved into place, standing on the bottom steps of the staircase. Then the first notes of "Air" from Water Music Suite No. 1 began to play and she stepped down with her Bible and the commitment candle in her hands and started down the aisle towards the ceremony area and the seven branch candelabra they'd set up. Mel had joked, "Catholic and Episcopalian, and you're using a menorah." When the Reverend was about halfway down the aisle, Lindsay signaled Molly and she began to process, sprinkling white silk flowers from the white wicker basket she would use on Saturday. It was beautifully decorated with silver ribbons and silk flowers in their wedding colors. She would have real freeze-dried white rose petals the day of the wedding. They were the only real flowers they'd use for which Justin and his allergies were very grateful.
"Molly, walk slower," Lindsay told her and she slowed down. A little.
Rev. Ophelia arrived at the spot where the ceremony would take place and put the blue and silver commitment candle in the middle of the holder. Then she waited.
As Molly reached the halfway point, Lindsay handed Gus a pillow from the sofa and told him to walk towards Molly. Which he did without hesitation. Whether he'd do it on the day of the wedding was anyone's guess. Some kids basked in the attention, others became overwhelmed. With Brian for a father, Gus had a better than average chance of coming through like a champion. As is, he strode down the aisle, waving at Debbie and Vic, and laughing until he reached Molly. Rev. Ophelia separated them and had him stand to one side and Molly the other which didn't sit well with Gus but he did as he was told. Mommy had told him to listen to the lady in the white dress.
Following Gus were Ted and Joanie, Joan carrying a lit white and silver candle which she would put in one end of the candelabra. Brian wanted to practice with them to avoid any untoward surprises come Saturday. Which was probably a good idea.
Reverend Ophelia observed Ted for a few moments, then said, "Theodore, smile. It's a happy occasion."
When they reached the area for the ceremony, Joanie put her candle in place and then took hold of Gus' hand and moved to the side. Ted sat down in a chair on the front row, relieved to be off stage.
Meanwhile, Emmett escorted Jennifer to her place and he must have had visions of Milan in his head because Mel called out, "Emmett, you're not on the catwalk. Tone it down."
"Sorry, sweetie." Turning down his flame a few notches, he continued down the aisle with Jennifer on his arm.
Barely suppressing her laughter, Jenn put her candle in the opposite end of the candelabra from Joanie, then she and Molly moved to the side and Emmett took his seat, crossing his legs ever so neatly.
Arm in arm, Michael and Daphne sauntered down the aisle. She had come home early from Princeton in order to rehearse for the ceremony and was anxious for Justin to show her around the house since she hadn't been able to tour it after all before going back to school. She couldn't wait for Justin see her dress. Couldn't wait for Courtney to see it either. He was coming down on Saturday. Both Daphne and Michael carried candles, representing the grooms' friends as the candles Jenn and Joanie had carried represented their families. Coming to the candelabra, they separated, put their candles in place, and then moved to their respective sides. They all waited as the music for the wedding party procession ended and the French horns sounded, signaling the grooms' procession.
Vic and Deb stood and turned as the congregation would do on the day of the wedding. Brian and Justin were standing before the front doors. Hand in hand, with lit candles in their free hands, they walked slowly towards the rest of the wedding party. At first they both endeavored to be solemn but then Justin began to smile and soon, never able to resist Justin's smile, Brian did too. Within moments, everyone was smiling. They looked so beautiful together, even in jeans and sweaters and with Brian's hair messed up from some last minute kissing he and Justin had engaged in before coming downstairs. Reaching the candelabra, they placed their tapers on either side of the commitment candle and moved back so that Rev. Ophelia could take her place in front of it.
She looked over the wedding party arrayed before her: Molly, Jennifer, Daphne, Justin, Brian, Michael, Joanie, and Gus, bright in their love, and nodded. "Dearly Beloved…" she began and stopped. "Well," she said to Lindz and Mel, "I think that went rather well, don't you?"
"Perfect. Now if they could just do that on Saturday," said Mel.
"We'll have to have faith." Opening her Bible, she took out her program. "Now, after we have the blessing and I say a few necessary words about marriage, Lindsay and Vic will read a selection of poetry."
"I think," Lindsay suggested, "that we should stand by the fountain. We can reserve seats for Vic and Debbie in the second row and when it's time to read the poetry, I'll come up and meet Vic there."
"That's perfect," Ophelia said. "Then after the poetry, we'll have a musical selection and a blessing," this with a grin for Brian's benefit, "and do the declaration of intent. Then the blessing of the families and the congregation and after that, Jennifer and Joanie can sit down. Probably this would be a good time for Molly to sit as well." Molly and Jennifer and Joanie sat. "After that we'll do the exchange of vows. Brian and Justin will each say a few words before we do the formal exchange." And at Brian's panicked look, she asked, "You do have your vows written, correct?"
"Working on it," he confessed.
"Work fast," she advised. "So, we exchange vows and then rings. At that point Gus can sit down." Gus looked up at his name. Looked around as Joanie called him. He went to her and sat in the next chair. "Then I'll declare you partners for life and tell you to kiss your groom, pause pause pause." Brian laughed. "After that, I'll speak a blessing, and you'll light the commitment candles while another musical selection plays. Then I'll offer another blessing and the benediction and introduce the couple." She smiled. "And then someone will get me a stiff drink and I can get off my feet."
Deb laughed. "Amen to that."
"So, any questions?" she asked.
Justin said, "Now that we've gone through it, I think that the declaration should come after the commitment candle lighting." Turned to Brian. "What do you think?"
He was, of course, thinking about the vows that he hadn't written yet. "I think either way is fine. Although," he added, "it probably makes more sense for the declaration to come afterwards since lighting the candles is part of our vows, kind of."
Nearly everyone in the room stared at him, except Gus who was busy playing with his pillow, sans fake rings.
Justin kissed him. "Sometimes you do real good, Pookie."
Rev. Ophelia guffawed. "My Lord. Pookie."
"Pookie and Pooh," Ted told her.
"Pee-Pee," Emmett added and she laughed even harder.
Looking at them, Gus wondered why Emmett wasn't moving if he had to go?
The work part over, they turned their attention to dinner. Justin had grilled half a dozen small pork tenderloins and made a blackberry and wine sauce while Brian had fixed the salad: mixed greens with a champagne vinaigrette and blue cheese. Everyone trooped into the kitchen and piled their plates, Lindsay doing the honors for Gus, and returned to the family room to sit where they wanted and chill. Gus, Molly, and Em spread out on the sectional and watched Beauty and the Beast.
"I just love that story," said Em.
"Yeah, cause you've dated enough beasts," Ted said.
"Beauty can't help what it attracts," replied Em.
As she'd hoped, Joanie had persuaded Rev. Ophelia to sit with her by the game top table and tell her about Ireland. She'd never gone but still hoped to do so some day.
With Justin and Daphne wandering through the house, Brian slipped away virtually unnoticed. Except for Lindsay. She rose and followed him, found him sitting on the back stairs with only the storm door closed.
"Mind some company?" He made room for her. "I can't wait to see this place all decorated. It's going to be so beautiful."
"Brian Kinney having a fairy tale wedding."
"Who'd have ever thought it'd happen."
"Me." He looked over at her. "Except I thought, maybe, it might be us someday."
Brian laughed, remembering. "I used to tense up every time you even looked at a bridal magazine."
"Why'd you do it? Go out with me if…"
He shrugged. "I guess, I thought, what the hell? Why not give it a try?"
She pushed him. "Be serious."
Sobering up, he said, "Because I liked you. You were different from the other girls I'd known."
"Guess you didn't know too many lesbians."
Raising a brow, he said, "I went to Catholic school until the ninth grade. I'd seen plenty of lesbians." They both chuckled.
"So how was I different?"
"Fishing for compliments? At your age?" But he smiled and said, "You cared about… people. All your fuckin' causes and marches and debates." Shook his head. "You reminded me of Mikey, except that Michael wouldn't have marched in a protest if his life depended on it. But you, you'd set yourself on fire if that's what it took. I admired that."
"You were always so cool. Never got angry about anything. I thought. But then I got to know you and I realized that you did care, you just didn't wear your heart out on your sleeve."
"Get it ripped off. Broken."
"The way Cam broke your heart?"
He leaned against the wall. "For the best, I suppose. If I'd been with him, I would have never met Justin." A muscle in his cheek twitched and gave into the desire to smile.
Squeezing his forearm, she said, "I'm so happy for you."
"Me too," he admitted.
"So," she asked, "why are you sitting out here by yourself?"
God, she was so like Justin, no wonder he'd been attracted to her. Both artists, both touchy feely, both onto him and his ways. He gave in. "Kenneth can't come to the wedding."
"Can't or won't?"
"And you're upset." She studied his face. "Why?"
Not answering right away, he gazed out of the door at the night. But there was nothing there but the sky and the stars and they held no answers for him. "Because I thought we could be friends. I thought… maybe… maybe I didn't have to give him up," he admitted and the thought scared him a little, that he cared that much for Kenneth. But he knew that wasn't all of it. He'd been seeing Dr. Drew for too long to pretend otherwise. "Cam died and we never got to be friends and I thought… this was my chance."
Wrapping her arms around him, she held him and whispered, "You're a good person, you know that?"
"Tell that to Mel."
"She knows it too." Brushing her thumb over his cheek, she asked, "You ever think about having another child?"
"You make beautiful babies."
He looked down at her. "You propositioning me?"
"Think about it." She released him with a kiss. "We can talk again after the wedding." Then, standing, she reached out to him and together they walked hand-in-hand back to where the others were waiting.
As if he just remembered (which he had) Vic said, "Oh. Guess what I saw in our local gay rag."
"What?" asked Em, always game.
"Ours?" asked Justin. He and Daphne had returned from their tour. "I was gonna look but I forgot."
"I cut it out." Reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a folded piece of newspaper. "Voila."
Justin smiled as he read. "Brian Andrew Kinney and Justin Matthew Taylor will celebrate their marriage February 15th at the home of the grooms. Brian, a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, is the son of Joanie Kinney and is a partner in an advertising and public relations firm. Justin is the son of Jennifer Taylor and is a student at the Pittsburgh Institute of Fine Arts. The Reverend Ophelia O'Leary will officiate."
Even though Justin had seemed happy, Brian knew that he was disappointed that his father wouldn't be attending the wedding. Still, the young man passed around the announcement proudly and beamed.
"You two look very handsome," said Lindsay.
Justin had submitted a copy of the photo that Brian had taken of them
on the sofa. He loved that picture. It had a place of honor next to the
photograph of Sebastian and James on the mantelpiece in the family room
and among the photographs of their friends and family. Justin looked
around at the group that was gathered around them and suddenly it didn't
hurt as much that his dad had excused himself from the festivities. He had
all the family that mattered right here.
Justin rubbed his knees against Brian's waist as the man thrust into him. They had woken up hungry for one another, wanting to make love as many times as they could since they'd spend the night apart, their last night as free men before the wedding. Besides which, it was Valentine's Day. Groaning, Justin came against Brian's belly and held on as his lover continued to pump against him, hurtling towards his own orgasm.
Standing outside, Joanie and Jennifer listened as their children had sex. They'd come to the house to help with last minute preparations. Waiting until after nine, they'd arrived at the front door only to hear their sons gasping for air. They must have accidentally set the intercom to broadcast in their room.
Blushing deeply, they returned to their cars, glad Molly wasn't with them. Giving the men ten or fifteen minutes to recover, the women walked back to the house and, hearing nothing, entered. Brian and Justin had given them both keys: Joanie's in order for her to help with decorating the house and Jennifer's in case of emergencies.
Once inside, they were at a loss as to whether they should just wait downstairs or try and let the boys know they were there. Finally, Jennifer hit upon the idea of calling them on the telephone. She knew Brian kept the cordless phone on the nightstand by their bed. So she called. After a few moments, Justin answered.
"Mom, when are you coming over?"
"I'm already here. Downstairs."
"How long have you been there?"
"We got here about fifteen minutes ago and we've been out in the cars."
"Why didn't you come in?"
She paused. "Ah, you left the intercom on broadcast in your room."
Silence. Then, "Fuck. Sorry."
She could imagine his cheeks were fiery red. "See you in a while."
Brian came out of the closet pulling on a pair of briefs. "What's up?"
Crooking his finger, Justin led Brian towards the door to their suite. Flipped the switch on the intercom. They must have brushed against it when they stumbled to bed last night, too busy kissing and pulling off clothes to notice what they were doing.
"Note to self: check the intercom before fucking," quipped Brian. Being the brazen hussy that he was though, his embarrassment didn't last long and he joked as they walked downstairs, "Are you sure it was on? Maybe they just heard you moaning the way the super did."
Justin cut his eyes at him. "Don't start none, won't be none," he warned and Brian laughed.
"My own little snap queen."
Throwing up his palm, Justin said, "Talk to the hand," and Brian grabbed him and kissed his fingers until Justin giggled.
"Listen to them," Joanie said as she and Jennifer stood in the kitchen eavesdropping. "I'd never heard Brian laugh like that before Justin."
The two men arrived in the kitchen, kissed their moms, and immediately went into action, Justin tending to the bagels and cream cheese while Brian put on the coffee maker. Within minutes they had a pretty serviceable breakfast ready and sat in the kitchen on the bar stools Joanie had found for them, brushed chrome diner stools with maple wood seats. The two women, meanwhile, took the lights and other decorations they'd brought for the reception hall into the family room and began to set everything out in preparation for putting them up. They'd decided to put up the lights and the other wall decorations now, and get the trees decorated and everything else they could do today so that tomorrow they'd just have to wait until the tables and chairs had been set up to put everything in place. Making trips out to their cars, they brought the rest of the items inside and got to work. Within ten or fifteen minutes, Brian and Justin were done eating and came out to help. Getting the ladder from the garage (they'd bought one after moving in the house for Joanie to reach the tops of windows while putting up the curtains), Brian climbed on it while Justin handed up the lights that were to hang from the rafters. They'd bought strands of rice lights and connected them and planned on stringing them along one rafter and then another until they had all of the wooden beams covered. It took the better part of an hour to put them up, since Brian had to staple the lights to one end of the beam, then move to the middle and staple it again, and then do the same for the end but when they called Joanie and Jenn in and turned on the lights, they looked amazing.
"I can't wait until evening to see them lit up," said Joanie. "So beautiful."
While they had been putting up the lights, Joanie and Jenn had decorated the four small silver Christmas trees with blue ornaments and had just begun to do the same to the six birch bushes in pots that Joanie had spray painted white, stringing tiny lights in their branches and then decorating the trees in Brian and Justin's wedding colors, adding silver snowflakes and glittering azure balls.
Joanie got out her list and checked items off. "Two of the silver trees go up front, two in the livingroom by the doors. Two of the birch trees will go in here, two in the livingroom, and two in the solarium next to the cake table." For now, they stored the trees in the dining room with the wedding flowers.
With the reception hall done, they turned to the solarium, stringing lights over the doorways and windows until the entire room was encircled in glittering icicles.
They hung garlands of snowflakes over the mantelpiece of the fireplace and over the windows in the livingroom. As there would be lit votives on each table and the chandelier overhead would be on, they didn't hang any additional lights in there.
When one o'clock rolled around, Brian could have eaten a bear he was so hungry. The bagel they'd had at breakfast hadn't stuck around and there was an empty feeling inside him. Walking to the kitchen through the family room he asked Justin, "What about in here? I know we're not doing anything in here officially but maybe we should put up some candles or something. It'll look kind of bare otherwise."
Justin made a motion to Joanie and Jennifer, proud of him for thinking of that on his own. "You do care," he said and Brian shrugged off his praise.
"Just don't want people thinking we have no taste or are too cheap to do something right."
After lunch, Joanie worked on the wreaths for the front doors and the decorations for the gate; Justin tackled the piece that would go on the candelabra; and Jennifer took off to spend a few hours at work before the day was over.
"Anything you want me to do?" Brian asked aware that he was asking a loaded question. There were a hundred things to do but they had to trust that other people would pull their weight and get it done. No point in hiring people and then micromanaging them. It was better to let them do their job unhindered by unnecessary supervision.
"Do we have everything for the party tonight?"
"Yeah. It's just us and the guys. Mel and Lindsay didn't even want to come."
"I don’t think I blame them," said Joanie. "I can't imagine what you boys get up to."
"You don’t have to imagine," Brian teased, "you heard us this morning."
Popping him on the arm, Justin said, "Brian! Go in the other room and play by yourself." Then he burst out laughing. "On second thought…"
Released from work detail, Brian went upstairs and into their bedroom and thought about his vows, the ones he was supposed to have written by now. Taking out his laptop, he hooked it up and sat on the bed and stared at the blank document screen. He sat there for fifteen minutes and nothing came to him, nothing that could express what he felt for Justin. How could you explain to anyone, even your friends, how deeply someone had affected you without opening up your heart and saying, Here, this is the place where he touched me? If only he could, it would have been easier than trying to write vows. Putting aside his laptop, he went rummaging through their CDs and he came across the one Sebastian had given Justin and put it in. Sat back on the bed with the remote in his hand. Having listened to it before, he skipped back to the last song on the CD, "Doe Eyes". He remembered watching the movie with Justin one evening, not his thing at all he'd thought, but he'd ended up being just as affected by Robert and Francesca's story as Justin, thinking how close he and Justin had come to spending their lives apart. Robert's words came back to him, "This kind of certainty only comes once in a lifetime." Once, and if you missed your chance, there weren't any more. But he'd gotten a second chance. With Justin. Justin had been his second chance at living. Maybe he'd been his first chance, maybe what he had thought of as being in love with Cam hadn't really been love at all. Not the kind to last a lifetime. No, not a lifetime. But what he and Justin had couldn't be destroyed or put aside or forgotten.
He looked at the neglected laptop. Or put into words apparently.
He'd fallen asleep and when he awoke Justin was lying beside him, dozing as well. Tomorrow, this time, they'd be putting the finishing touches on the decorations and making sure everything was perfect before getting ready for the wedding. As easy as possible, he turned over onto his side and watched Justin sleep. It was one of his guilty pleasures, one he freely admitted to. Like Justin said of him, he watched him because he found him beautiful. Justin's eyes opened and he became lost in the blue of his irises. Wordlessly, Justin came to him. "Doesn't this count as pre-wedding nookie?" he asked and his lover kissed him and the question was forgotten.
An hour later, they had showered and Justin had packed his bag in preparation for his sleepover at his mom's house. He'd meet Daphne over there around ten after having spent some time with Brian and the guys.
"You sure you don't want to stay with me tonight?" Brian asked with a devilish grin on his face.
"I don't know if you've noticed but we're not your traditional couple."
Slinging his bag over his shoulder, Justin led the way downstairs.
"Remember when Justin came to Babylon looking for Brian and Brian was down there dancing with those two guys?" asked Emmett. Brian shook his head in dismay and Justin grinned proudly. He'd gotten his man that night. Took those two guys from him and made Brian jealous enough to take him from them. Not as if he'd ever wanted those guys. He'd snagged the man he'd wanted. And kept him too.
"Actually, I don't," Ted told his best friend.
"Oh, that's right," said Emmett. "That was the night you met that tweaked-out twinkie from Hell, Blake."
Michael warned, "Play nice."
"So," Justin asked, "is Jeff coming tomorrow?"
"Don't know." He studied the umbrella in his tropical drink. "We had a little fight," he admitted. "I don't know if we're gonna see each other anymore." Lifted his glass. "Happy Valentine's Day."
"Hey," Em reminded him, "no talk about Valentine's Day. This is a bachelor's party. Not a feel-sorry-for-our-looserly-selves-because-we're-not-getting-married party or a why-don't-we-have-boyfriends-and-it's-Valentine's-Day party."
Ted gave his head a little shake and laughed. That's why he loved Emmett cause Emmett could put a spin on anything. Not exactly a positive spin but something. "So, guys, what about a honeymoon?"
"We honeymooned in Europe last summer," Brian explained.
"But that was last summer," complained Em. "You should go somewhere."
"We're staying home," said Justin.
Justin flashed a bright smile. "We're gonna fuck and lay around and fuck some more. Have lots of intimate dinners and fuck. Watch TV and fuck. Take baths together and—"
"We get the picture," Ted said. "Youth."
"And Viagra," added Em.
"I do not need Viagra," Brian informed them.
"He can get hard any time he wants," said Justin proudly.
Before Justin could spill any more of his secrets, Brian pulled him up from his chair. "Come on. Let's dance." He hit the remote and "Roll it Up" by The Crystal Method began to play.
"ah ah ah ah…
By the time the song had gone through its only verse the first time, the rest of the guys were up on the floor.
"turn the mothafuckin mic up…
"Is this going to be your song?" asked Ted and Brian gave him the finger.
Over chips and margaritas, the guys relived some of their favorite Brian and Justin moments. "Remember that time you told Justin you were staying home to work and he came to Woody's and found you at the bar?" Michael asked and Justin covered his face. He had acted like such a teen drama queen.
"The time Justin told Brian he was having dinner with Daphne and Brian caught him in the backroom at Babylon," Ted remembered.
"That hellish trip to Princeton when Justin and his little friends made Brian listen to that TLC CD three times in a row," Emmett recalled.
"I'm still disappointed they didn't show up on the eleven o'clock news," said Ted.
Michael snickered. "Ryder coming into your office after you and Justin had been in there fucking."
"The super leaving all those notes in your newspaper after hearing you fucking," added Emmett.
"Us listening to you and Justin fucking in the loft," said Ted. "Oh, Baby, harder. Fuck me—" Brian pushed Ted and the accountant laughed.
Michael went, "Oo. Your mom walking in on you fucking at Gus' birthday party."
Emmett agreed. "That was a good one. Her face… that look was priceless." He made the face and the guys cracked up.
"Speaking of naked moments," Ted said, "what about Brian coming out naked when Daphne was visiting Justin?"
"Brian flashing us on Justin's birthday," Michael said.
"Brian flashing the bellboy at the hotel in the Bahamas," said Justin and Brian threw one of the pillows from the sofa at him.
"I seem to remember someone coming out of the shower bare assed when Lindsay came over once," he said, smiling at Justin who blushed. Neither one of them had told the story of the couple who'd watched them have sex on the beach in the Bahamas. They had to have some secrets.
But the guys weren't finished with them. "Thanksgiving," said Em, "when Justin called Brian Pookie."
"The first time my mom saw their commitment rings."
Ted went back to the very beginning. "The first time Brian saw Justin." The two grooms smiled softly, remembering that first moment. Who knew it would lead to this?
"So," Emmett asked them, "what's your favorite Brian and Justin moment?"
Brian frowned. Out of all of their adventures in lands foreign and domestic; all of the times they'd made love, had fucked until they'd collapsed, exhausted; had laughed until they'd cried; had cried until they'd been washed clean; out of all those moments, the one that meant the most to him was, "Walking into Justin's hospital room and hearing him laugh." He paused, reliving it again. "That's when I knew that it would really be all right, that I hadn't lost him."
"Hearing him say he loved me for the first time," said Justin without preamble, without having to think about it. "I felt like, no matter what, I could face it, because we'd be together."
"And," Brian added, seeing the glistening eyes around him, "that time in London when we danced around the fountain in Leicester Square."
Justin laughed. "That was the best!"
Dabbing at his eyes, Em said, "I'm going to be a mess tomorrow."
"Just—don't forget your hankies," Ted told him, sniffling too.
They held each other, standing by the kitchen door, and kissed. Parting, Brian said, "I guess I'll see you tomorrow. Sure you won't change your mind?"
Justin shook his head. "Besides, it'll give you and Michael time to talk."
"More talking?" Brian complained. "Fuck."
"Be good. I'll be back around noon." Quick kiss. "Later."
"Later." He stood in the doorway until Justin had loaded up and pulled out. Waited until the taillights turned a corner and they had parted for the night. Locking the door, he returned to the family room. Ted and Emmett had already gone, only he and Mikey were left. He picked up his beer and plopped down on the sectional where Michael was sitting, having turned the TV to Cartoon Network. The Powerpuff Girls were on.
"Look, it's 'Cootie Gras'. I love this one."
Brian shook his head. "Pathetic." But he crossed his feet on the coffee table and watched too, laughing as Mojo Jojo terrorized the Powerpuff Girls by threatening to give them the cooties from Harry Pitt. Having gone on a crime spree and become boss of all the criminal syndicates in Townsville, Mojo made a fatal mistake in forcing the Powerpuff Girls to face Harry Pitt with nowhere to run. When the girls learned that they could not, in fact, get the cooties from Harry, they kicked Mojo's butt. The guys laughed the hardest when Mojo ended up in prison with this huge inmate looking at him rather amorously while the Narrator said, "Love is in the air." Inhaled deeply. "Mmmm! Can't you just smell it?"
When the Cartoon Network special came on with Johnny Bravo, they turned down the volume and ignored it. Instead, they talked the way they used to, about the past, as old friends do.
"Had you ever done it with a girl before Lindsay?"
"Nope. No interest."
"Then why her?"
He shrugged. "I liked her." Laughed. "She was pretty hot, you know. Even Jack thought so."
"I always figured maybe you did it because of him. To impress him."
"Maybe a little," he admitted. "But it was fun being with her. Plus, she's tall. I didn't have to lean over too much to kiss her. Sometimes I get a neck ache kissing Justin."
"Which is why your favorite position is horizontal," teased Michael.
Michael finished off his beer. "You ready?"
Taking a deep breath, Brian said, "No." Chuckled lightly. "My heart was beating like a fuckin' freight train last night during rehearsal. I kept asking myself, 'Why are you doing this?' "
"You two looked amazing. Totally beautiful."
Brian smiled and it was as if his entire body was infused with light. "He did look beautiful, didn't he?"
"That's why you're doing this. Because of the way you look when you talk about him. The way he makes you smile like no one else does."
Looking down at his hands for a moment, Brian glanced at his friend. "Thanks. For being here… for being my best man… and my best friend."
They embraced. "Where else would I be?"
Checking the clock. "Probably at Babylon or Woody's," said Brian, "dancing with some hot guy."
"Well, my hot guy is in New York getting a job that's probably gonna take him a million miles away."
"Europe isn't that far," Brian told him. "Just eight hours by plane."
"It's over. Not that I think it ever got started."
Brian shook Michael's knee. "You'll find someone, trust me. If I can do it, anyone can. Course, he found me." Laughed and shook his head. "It's like a dream, you know?"
Michael stood and held out his hand the way Brian had held out his on top of the hospital the night Gus was born. "Come on. It's time to go to bed so you can get up in the morning and get married tomorrow."
Arms around each other, they walked upstairs to the master suite and dropped off their clothes and slipped into bed. With a peck on the lips, Brian turned over and closed his eyes. "Night, Mikey."
He traced the muscles in Brian's back with his eyes, having touched him so many times that he knew the feel of them by sight, and yet, this one time, he couldn't touch him, in this bed where Brian and Justin had made love, would make love tomorrow as a married couple. For a moment, he felt sorry for himself, and then he realized that no matter what, he would always have Brian, no more, no less than he always had, and that, by far, was better than not having him at all. "Night, Brian."
"Night, Mary Ellen."
Michael snorted. "Night, John Boy."
"Boy, oh boy," camped Brian and the two friends laughed and settled down to take their rest.
Tomorrow was a big day.
Justin and Daphne sat on his bed eating potato chips. That is, he was eating potato chips and she was sipping a Diet Coke.
"Do you think Brian is gonna show tomorrow?"
"Yeah," he said, a hint of disgust in his voice. "Daphne."
"Well... you never know." Her shoulders were hunched. "He might freak out or something."
"He came to the prom," he reminded her.
"True. He looked soo hot." A smile crept across her face as she remembered.
"Hey!" Justin bumped her. "That's my hubby you're drooling over."
"Not yet. Not until tomorrow. So, until then, I can drool all I want."
"You are such a freak."
"I love you too." Justin offered her a chip but she refused. "I have to fit into my dress tomorrow."
"Daphne, you don't weigh anything."
"Neither do you."
Justin boasted, "Brian says I'm all ass."
She collapsed in laughter. "God, I love him. I am so glad you two are together."
"Me too. It's better than I ever expected."
"Is there anything you want that you don't have?"
"Nope. I have everything I've ever wanted. Good friends, a great place to live—"
"A fabulous place to live."
"—a child, and someone to share my life with." It was kind of amazing, that he was only twenty and all that was left was for him to make his mark in the world. And that would come, with time, Brian assured him.
"I think you need a dog," she suggested.
"No way. Brian would never let me have a dog."
"It's your house too."
"Yeah, but I wouldn't do it unless he agreed. That's how we're supposed to do things, right? Make decisions together? Besides, my allergies are bad enough as is."
"But it'd be cool."
He thought about it. "Yeah. It would be. But we've got Gus."
"Justin!" she laughed. "Gus is not a pet."
"He's too funny. He's totally in love with Molly. He gave her a cookie at dinner the other week. And he never shares his dessert. Not even with Brian."
"He's going to be the cutest ringbearer ever. And how awesome is it that he calls you Daddy?"
Justin's eyes gleamed. "It's the second best thing."
"So what's the best?"
He glanced from beneath thick lashes. "When Brian calls me Baby." And
just saying it, thinking about Brian saying it, made him shiver.
He thought that waking up on the day of his wedding would feel differently from waking up on an ordinary day. But it didn't. Except maybe for that fluttering sensation in his stomach that had nothing to do with being hungry and everything to do with being slightly nervous. Okay, really nervous.
"How you doing?" Michael asked, sitting up beside him as he rubbed his eyes and tried to focus.
"Wishing Justin was here. No offense, but I like a little early morning nookie."
"And midday, evening, and late night nookie too," said Michael. "We've heard. You hungry? For something other than nookie?" he asked.
"A little. Justin left pancake mix."
"You're going to cook?"
"Unless you want to do it. I can pour batter on the griddle." Flinging back the covers, he padded to the bathroom for a morning leak. Looking around at the pale peach-colored walls and the Corian topped wood vanities, he counted the days until the contractors would come and tear it all down.
After they'd both washed up a bit, he and Michael went about assembling breakfast and even though he didn't have to tell Michael where anything was because the la mattina was fully equipped for breakfast with coffee cups and saucers stored in the top cabinet and cream, sugar, and orange juice in the refrigerator beneath the counter, and although they had breakfast finished in no time flat and sat at the island laughing about old times, it still felt differently from when he and Justin were in the kitchen together. With his coffee mug halfway to his mouth, he paused and smiled. He missed his Baby.
"What?" asked Michael, having seen the smile.
"I'm getting married today."
Taking a plate from his mom, Justin joined Daphne at the table. Molly was already there, having started eating without them. The two coeds waited until Jennifer had sat down before they began. Both Jenn and Daphne were surprised to see that Justin's appetite hadn't been diminished any by his upcoming nuptials.
"Aren't you nervous?" Daphne asked, which earned her a questioning look from Jenn. Don't poke the bear, it seemed to say.
But Justin shook his head. "I'm in denial."
After breakfast, he and Daphne got ready to go. She was going home to chill out until the afternoon and he was returning home to help finish decorating.
"You sure you don't want me to come over?" Jennifer asked for the tenth time.
"That's okay. We can handle it. Besides, Joanie's coming over."
Before he left, Jenn hugged him tightly. "I know I'm probably going to do this a hundred times today."
"I love you too, Mom."
Driving along the street to their house, he wondered if any of their neighbors realized what was about to happen in their midst. He wanted to roll down the windows in the Cherokee and yell, "I'm getting married today!" The thought made him laugh. I'm getting married today.
"There he is," Michael told Brian. He'd been keeping look-out while Brian pretended not to care and busied himself with making sure that they had everything in the dining room that they needed to decorate. Not that they could do anything until the party supply company brought the tables and chairs but it kept his hands and mind busy.
Michael grabbed his bag. Gave Brian a hug. "So, I'll meet you guys back here at five?"
"Okay." Brian looked a little pale.
"You know," Michael added, "we may have to make last minute adjustments to our outfits or something. How about the guys and I come back around four thirty?"
Breathing a little easier, Brian replied, "Thanks, Mikey."
They met Justin at the door and Michael hugged him as well and went on his way, leaving the two grooms to say hello.
Kissing softly, they held one another for the longest time, each taking comfort from the other's presence.
"I missed you," said Justin.
"Me too," Brian admitted.
Parting from him, Justin checked his watch. "The tables and chairs and dishes and stuff should be here in the next half hour or so."
"My mom didn't say when she was coming over."
"Mel and Lindsay were waiting until around four because of Gus." The toddler was sure to get in the way, on purpose or not, so they wanted to minimize the amount of time he spent running around. "Plus, the DJ and the caterers won't arrive until four thirty so there's no need for them to be here early."
Walking with him to the reception room, Brian said, "I guess we can run the mop over the floors and make sure everything's ready before the tables get here."
"Help me move the stuff out of the studio first."
So they packed up his drawing board and chair and Gus' easel and lugged them upstairs, taking them to the guest room and not chancing a trip to the master bedroom for fear that tradition would be thrown to the wayside and the tables and chairs would arrive to find them otherwise engaged. With difficulty, they returned downstairs and ran the dust mop over the floors and gave the powder room a thorough cleaning as well as the kitchen. Luckily, since Brian was such a neat freak, the rooms didn't require much cleaning.
By the time they'd finished, they heard a knock on the door. Had to be either Joanie or the tables and chairs. No offense to Joanie, they were really hoping it was the table and chairs.
Directing the guys to the reception area and the dining room, they stood aside while they put up the tables and chairs and then showed them where to put the two round cake and champagne tables. Along with the chairs and table came the tablecloths, the dishes, flatware, and stemware, and the candelabra.
When the movers were gone, Brian and Justin set about arranging the chairs in the reception hall in rows of four chairs in two sections. They had gotten thirty-six plain white wooden folding chairs with cushioned seats for the ceremony although they were only expecting to have thirty-one people there total including them and Reverend Ophelia. But then they remembered they'd invited Gaia and there was the kid from Justin's school who was going to take photographs of the wedding party. Still, there would be extra chairs, especially since Kenneth wasn't coming and it didn't look like Jeff was either.
Once the chairs were set up, Justin took the candelabra into the dining room and affixed the flower arrangement Joanie had made for it to the front of it, once he figured out which was the front. He carried it out and showed it to Brian who was making fine adjustments to the table and chair arrangement in the living room and putting on the table cloths. Luckily, the tables had an aluminum frame with a plastic core so they were lighter than all-metal tables and he could shift them about easily by himself. They'd sprung for the fancier Chiavari chairs to go with the dining tables as they could get silver wood-frame chairs with navy blue seat cushions. "What do you think?"
"Enough room in here?"
"Think so." They'd had the movers place their small table in the middle of the floor and the other six larger tables along the window and by the arches leading to the dining room. "As long as the waiters can get around the tables, we're fine."
They heard the front door open before Joanie came in and called out, "Brian? Justin?"
"In here," Justin replied and went and stuck his head out of the doorway. "Hey."
"They brought the table and chairs. Good."
"Guess we should get started."
For the next two hours, they put out the decorated trees and put up the wall decorations, most notably, these mirrored branches that were attached by sticky pads that would roll off the wall without damaging the paint. Or so they hoped as they were putting up four of them in the reception hall to help reflect the light from the ceiling and the candles. Taking out the floating snowflake candles they'd bought for the fountain, Justin carefully placed them in the water. The flow had been set to low for the wedding and the water ran over the edges of the red bowl slowly and gently cascaded into the basin below where the candles were.
Brian put the garland around their table while Justin and Joanie attended to the cake and champagne tables, putting up garlands entwined with tulle and dotted with dark blue and white flowers. After a while, they heard him shout, "Goddamnit!" and went to the livingroom to find him struggling to put the garland on by himself.
"You should have called for help," Justin told him.
Giving him a smack on the arm for being sacrilegious, Justin helped him put on the garland and then they put out the centerpieces and votives on each table and on the mantelpieces in the livingroom and the family room. There was also a silver candelabra surrounded by a centerpiece that went on their table, in which they'd put their lit commitment candle after the photo ops. This was in addition to the votives on the table.
"How are we supposed to eat with all this garland and stuff on the table?" asked Brian.
"We're not supposed to eat. We're the hosts. We're supposed to mingle," Justin told him.
"Supposed to pass out," he grumbled.
While they dealt with their table, Joanie went around and put the party favors on each of the other tables, enough for each person to have a memento. Silver dragee was tied in little silver or dark blue organza sachets with tiny clear plastic snowflakes attached. There were also snow globes with pictures of Brian and Justin on the inside and mini silver bells that served as placards. But instead of putting each person's name on them, they left the card holder empty and would rely on Melanie and Lindsay to see that each person got to their seat.
Next came the artificial snow which Justin and Joanie spent a great deal of time trying to sprinkle artfully. Not trusting Brian to do it to their exact specifications, they let him wrap the trees and potted birch branches with snow blankets. He didn't want to point out to them that the cater waiters had to set the tables and light the votives and candles, thus messing up their artfully arranged snow, for fear of being torn apart. Both Justin and Joanie seemed to be a little on edge.
Lastly, they put up the wreaths on the front doors and draped flowers and tulle on the gates of the entry way.
Joanie got out her list. "Is that everything?"
"You mean we don't have decorations for the toilet?" joked Brian but he didn't feel too funny when Joanie and Justin appeared to take his suggestion seriously. "No. No more fuckin' flowers. That's it." Then he toned it down a little. "Besides, it's one o'clock and I'm starving."
"Who can eat?" asked Justin and Brian found a chair and sat down.
"It's a miracle."
Justin bumped him with his hip. "Shut up." And headed for the kitchen. Maybe he could eat a little something. Plus, they needed to check out the dishes.
Justin had picked out white plates with a beautiful decorated silver edge which was further enhanced by the metallic silver chargers that would go underneath. The flatware was a little fancier than Brian would have chosen but it went well with the plates and the stemware was your basic pattern, nothing special. Justin couldn't wait to see how many of their pieces they ended up with. They hadn't looked yet, wanting to be surprised.
Although Brian had claimed hunger, he didn't have much of an appetite either. They all picked at their food for a few moments, then abandoned the pretence and just enjoyed the rest.
"I think," Joanie said after disposing of the remains of her meal, "that I'd like to take a nap."
"Did you bring your clothes with you or do you have to go back home?" asked Justin.
"Everything's out in the car," she told him and he went out and got her bags and hung everything up in Gus' room. She'd already turned back the covers on the bed by the time he asked, "Are you sure you don't want our bed? It's bigger."
"I'll be fine right here. Besides, where would you and Brian sleep?"
Justin laughed. "I'm too wound up. And I don’t want to tempt him," he added.
She laughed as well, knowing exactly what the nature of the temptation would be.
"Well, wake me up when the girls get here with Gus."
"I think you'll hear them," he assured her. "Thanks again."
He returned to their bedroom to find Brian on the phone with someone.
"Sweet. Thanks. Later."
"I didn't hear the phone ring." Fishing.
"It didn’t." Brian lay the telephone down and went into the closet.
"What you doing?"
"Making sure my tux isn't wrinkled."
"It's been in the cleaning bag for a week," Justin pointed out.
Sitting on the bench in the middle of the closet, Justin watched Brian go about his business oblivious to his audience it seemed. "You're ignoring me, aren't you?"
"Okay." Justin stood and unzipped his tux from its bag, checked it over, and left it out. Then he went to his bureau drawer and took out a pair of white, cotton briefs. Brian glanced over.
"You're not wearing those, are you?"
Justin sniffed them to make sure they were clean. "What's wrong with them?"
"It's our wedding day. You can't wear those."
"Why not?" Justin was beginning to think Brian had gone round the bend.
"Wear something sexy."
"Like what?" Justin challenged.
Brian reached into his drawer and drew out a package wrapped in navy blue paper. Anxious and yet a little wary, Justin tore off the paper and opened it. Inside was a pair of black lycra briefs that laced up the back from balls to waist.
"Underneath a tuxedo?" He frowned. "Who's going to see it?"
"Me. After everyone else leaves."
Trying to strike a compromise, Justin said, "I'll put them on then."
"I don't want to wait." He snaked his arm around Justin's waist and kissed him. "You wouldn't want to make me wait, now would you?" Kissed him again. "After waiting all day and all evening." Kissed him a third time.
"I'll wear them under the tuxedo," Justin said breathlessly. Brian had a way with words.
Just as Justin was about to forget about traditions and Joanie resting in the other room, the phone rang, saving him. Rushing from the closet, Brian's laughter following him, he snatched the phone up. "Hello?"
"Hey, Justin. You ready?" It was Lindsay.
"Uh-huh." Ready for the day to be over so he and Brian could play. "You guys coming over soon?"
"As soon as we can get ready." They had to dress early because they'd be dealing with the caterers and the DJ and Gaia and guests and there would be no time for them to do so once they arrived at the house.
"Did Gus try on his tuxedo?"
"He looks like a little angel. Which he is definitely not."
Laughing, Justin asked, "Hasn't he been a good boy?"
"He's Brian's son all right."
He checked his watch. It was two-thirty. "See you in an hour and a half?"
"We'll be there. And remember," he waited, "breathe."
Coming out of the closet, Brian said, "That Lindz?"
"Yeah. They're on schedule. So far."
"Good." Brian stretched out on the bed. "I think I'm going to get forty winks too." Closed his eyes.
Justin stared at him, his long, lean body on display and felt his pulse rate increase. "I think I'm going downstairs and watching TV for a while."
"Suit yourself," replied Brian. "Wake me up when the Munchers get here."
With one last backwards glance at his sleeping lover, Justin trekked
downstairs and flipped on the television and within minutes he was fast
The doorbell was ringing. Someone was at the door. Groggily, Justin rose and went to answer it. Probably Mel and Lindsay and Gus. Sure enough, just as he reached the back door, he heard Gus yelling, "Daddy!" Opening the inside door and unlocking the screen door, he waved to the toddler. As soon as he had the door open, Gus rushed forward and demanded to be picked up. Exchanging kisses, Justin put Gus down and told him Brian was upstairs. Carefully, the toddler climbed the stairs in search of his other daddy. With Gus taken care of for the moment, the women came in and followed Justin to the reception hall.
"Wow, this place looks amazing," Lindsay exclaimed. Walked around to check out the studio and the livingroom, Mel trailing behind her. "Justin, everything looks wonderful."
"Thanks. Joanie was a huge help. And Brian too."
Mel cackled. "It's a day of miracles."
"So," asked Lindsay, "has he finished his vows?"
He shrugged. "I guess."
"I think so." Truth was, he was a little shaky. He knew what he wanted to say, he just didn't know if he'd be able to say it when the time came.
"Breathe," Lindz reminded him.
"I am," he told her with a small laugh. "You two look fabulous," he said once they'd taken off their coats and hung them in one of the closets. Mel had on a long, close-fitting beaded sleeveless ice-blue jacket with slits up the side over a matching tank-topped jumpsuit; and Lindsay wore a deep blue sheer chiffon jacket over a crepe top and straight skirt.
"I can't wait to see you and Bri in your tuxes," said Lindsay. "When are the rest of the guys due to arrive?"
"Around four thirty, I think. Least that's when Brian said Michael was coming over."
"If you want to go on up and get ready or do whatever, that's fine. We're here. Right, Mel?"
"Right. You go on, honey. Take your time."
He was anxious to take a shower and relax for a few minutes before the mayhem began so he accepted their offer. About halfway up the stairs he heard Gus talking to Brian although they were in the depths of their bedroom. Definitely not the shy and retiring or quiet type. He found them on the bed bouncing, Gus trying to explain something earth shattering to Brian but he was too excited to get it all out plainly and so Brian only understood about a third of it. Seeing Justin come in, Gus waved and tried to explain it to him as well.
"I'm gonna take a shower," Justin said dashing Brian's hopes of being saved from the rest of the story.
"Don't use up all the hot water."
"We have a huge tank," he told him.
"And that's a lot of ass to cover," said Brian. Justin shook his hips and began to strip even before he reached the bathroom.
It felt good to stand beneath the water without thinking about anything for a few moments. But it only lasted a few moments as he began to worry about the food and the flowers and their guests and the ten dozen other things they had to think about today. Shaking his head, he cleared his thoughts again and endeavored not to think. That's why they had wedding directors, all of those worries and concerns were Mel and Lindsay's responsibility now. Still, he wondered if Nana Rose and Trey had gotten in okay. They were supposed to have left DC that morning, early, and should have already gotten to Pittsburgh by now. He hadn't heard from Xavier but he was sure he would have if something had gone wrong. Nothing had gone wrong. Everything would go perfectly.
Then he heard Gus yell, "No!" and realized that perfection was probably not an attainable goal for them.
Having showered for ten minutes, he cut off the water and wrapped himself in a towel. Walked barefoot back to the bedroom. Brian had stripped down to his undies.
"Leave any hot water?"
"Plenty. Besides, you don’t have a lot of ass to cover," he teased. "Just those long, gorgeous legs," he added.
Brian flashed a bright smile and then raised a brow to Gus who was sitting on the bed and pouting. "Watch him. I told him he couldn't shower with me and I mean it. Mel said he's already had his bath."
"No," Gus said again but this time with less vehemence.
"Behave," Brian warned and he left to shower without him.
"Come on, Gus," Justin said, "and sit with me while I put on some clothes." Then he remembered that he was supposed to put on those lace-up briefs Brian had gotten him. Well, maybe Gus wouldn’t say anything. Besides, even if he did, he probably didn't have the words to describe them accurately. Thank God for his limited two-year-old vocabulary. Just as he was about to drop off his towel and put them on, someone knocked at the door. "Yeah?"
It opened and Joanie poked her head in. "It's me, Justin."
"Nana!" Gus shouted and he ran to her.
"Hey, Gus. Mmmm." She hugged him tight and he kissed her. Justin slipped on his robe and went around to where she stood by the door. She'd put on her makeup but not her dress. Still, she looked so pretty. He could see the resemblance between her and Brian. "I thought I'd come and get Gus for a while."
"Bye-bye," Gus said as he and Joanie went to play in his room.
"Bye-bye." Closing the door, he returned to the closet and quickly put on his briefs. God, they felt so incredibly indecent, the way the air slipped between the laces and cooled his cheeks. Hopefully, he wouldn’t have a hard-on the entire evening thinking about Brian's tongue traveling the same path. Putting his robe back on, he sat on the bench and dried his hair and waited for Brian to finish bathing.
With a towel in his hands as he rubbed his hair furiously, Brian came into the closet completely naked and Justin had to look down, he was so beautiful. And then he dropped the towel on the floor and slipped on a pair of his 2(x)1st thong underwear and Justin had turned at the sound of the towel dropping and now he couldn't look away. Over the underwear went his sheer, black silk Georgette robe, doing very little but faintly shadowing his skin as it was ninety-nine percent see-through. Before his resolve crumbled entirely, someone else knocked at the door. Leaping to his feet, Justin escaped the closet.
"Hey, Boy Wonder," said Michael, coming in after Justin had stepped aside. "Your Grooms' Attendant has arrived and she's asking for you."
"Thanks." Justin looked him over. The tuxedo Brian had picked out looked good on him. And apparently Mel and Lindsay had found the marked boutonnieres in the box in the dining room because he wore his and was carrying the one for Brian in his hand. "You look nice."
"Hey, Mikey," called Brian.
"Hey." He walked with Justin to the closet and he and Brian hugged as the younger man gathered his stuff in preparation for carrying it to the guest room. He would dress in there. They'd hung a full-length mirror behind the door for the occasion and put two of the extra chairs from the dining set in there, anticipating that some of the wedding party might need to use the area.
Parting from Michael, Brian leaned over and pecked Justin on the lips. Inhaled deeply. He loved the smell of his Baby when he was fresh from the shower, loved the smell of him anytime. "Later."
Daphne was waiting for Justin in the guest room with Molly and Jennifer. She had on her dress, a two-piece affair, simple sleeveless sheath and wide skirt in a shimmering silver fabric, and was in the process of doing her hair. She'd drawn it back into a pony tail, then separated the tail into three sections and braided them. Then she'd formed a bun of the three braids and Jennifer was busy adding the crystal pins to it. A few of the pins were navy, most were clear, but they all shone like fine jewels in velvet. Besides the pins, they'd decorated a hair comb with flowers as well and Jennifer had put that in at the top of the bun.
"Wow, Daphne, you look fabulous."
She blushed. "Thanks."
Justin smiled at Molly. "Look at you, squirt."
"What about me?"
She was wearing the flowered headband they'd decorated for her and a silver dress that matched Daphne's. "You look presentable."
Molly glared at him and the robe he was wearing. "You don't," and she laughed as he tried to fake punch her in the arm.
"You look great too, Mom," he told Jennifer. "Did you do something to your hair?"
"Got it cut." She'd gone and had them cut it and she looked a little like Jennifer Aniston, albeit an older one but no less attractive for it. She checked her watch. "You'd better get moving if you want to be on time for your wedding."
Going into the bathroom, he fixed his hair, leaving his bangs hanging over his forehead the way Brian liked them, and brushed his teeth, and put on his clothes while Jennifer and Daphne and Molly fussed over their outfits and hair even though they had no need to do so.
In the other room, Joanie had put the finishing touches on her outfit and was in the process of dressing Gus. When Justin had gotten his pants and shirt on, he went to see how she was doing with the toddler.
"We're decent," she said.
"That's a first in our house," quipped Justin. "You look very pretty," he told her.
"Thank you," she said, touching the back of her neck. "You don’t think it's too tight, do you?" Meaning the dress.
"Not at all. But you can go ask my mom and Daphne if you want. They're just messing around in the other room." Needing another woman's point of view, she left, and Justin sat on Gus' bed and checked out the little man's outfit. "Look at you. You like that?"
"Yeah," he replied. Nana had told him that he looked very handsome. "I want see Daddy."
"I'll call him first and see if he's ready. Okay?" Gus nodded and Justin called Brian on the intercom. "Are you done dressing? Your son wants to see you."
"Are you coming over too?"
"I've already seen you in your tuxedo."
"All right, I'm coming too." He cut off the intercom and went for his vest and jacket. Took his boutonniere from where his mom had lain it and carried it with him. Joanie had put Gus' on and he looked spiffy. Justin barely escaped from the room as all the women wanted to fuss over him and tell him how handsome he looked in his tuxedo. Didn't they realize that Brian was waiting? Finally slipping away while they were examining one of the crystal pins in Daphne's hair, he and Gus took a short trip across the hall and went in to see Brian.
Seeing the two of them together, Brian and Justin in their matching tuxedos and vests, Michael whistled. "Wow. You two are gorgeous."
"Of course, we are," said Brian.
Gus tried to whistle and couldn’t but he did say to Brian and Justin, "Pretty."
"You think we look pretty?" Brian asked him and Gus nodded. "I think you look pretty too. And don't let anyone tell you men can't look pretty. Cause we can and we do. Don't we, Baby?"
Justin blinked and smiled. "Yeah, we do," he admitted.
Since he didn't wear a watch, Brian checked the one over the fireplace. Five o'clock. In another half-hour their guests would start to arrive if they hadn't already. Lindz had buzzed him to tell him that the caterers had taken over the kitchen upon arrival and no one was permitted in there upon orders of Derek and Hansel. If anyone wanted something to drink, they were to get something out of the beverage center in the family room until further notice.
Justin was itching to see if they'd begun setting the tables. "You want to go take a peek? I could use a drink of water."
"All right," Brian said, knowing that if he didn't agree right away, Justin would pester him until he did. "Come on, Gus, we're going downstairs but only for a minute." This for Justin's benefit but the teen had already started for the door. "Wait. Let me put on your boutonniere." So Justin came back and Brian affixed it to his jacket, then waited for him to do the same to his. With a quick kiss, they were ready, Brian holding Gus' hand to keep him from wandering, Justin out in front, and Michael bringing up the rear.
Descending the stairs and stepping down into the reception area, they heard a, "My word!" and knew it was Emmett. "Look at you. Let me look at you." He checked them out from head to toe. "Perfect. You look stunning."
Smiling, Justin said, "Thanks, Em. You and Ted look very handsome."
"Well, Brian wouldn’t let me wear my blue suede shoes so I had to come in these." He was wearing sensible black wingtips. "Think anyone would recognize me? I feel like I'm dressed in drag."
"Don't worry," said Ted. "We'll get you home by twelve so you can turn back into the Rainbow Fairy we all know and love."
"Don’t hate me because I'm fabulous."
Brian and Justin went over and spoke to DJ Twist who had arrived and was setting up in the dining room where he'd hold court for the evening. Since he didn't have to MC the event, he preferred to be in the background, out of the way. Still, he'd be able to see Mel and Lindsay and make sure they were in sync.
Coming out of the family room, Mel and Lindsay gasped and oohed and ahhed over Brian and Justin's tuxes and how handsome they looked and then shooed them back upstairs.
"But I wanted something to drink," Justin protested.
Mel ran back and got three bottles of water. "Here. Now, go before someone sees you."
"None of the guests have arrived," Brian pointed out but it did little to help their case.
"Go," Lindsay ordered them and they went back upstairs, Gus in tow, Michael left behind with the guys.
Of course, by now, the other women were beginning to get tired of being cooped up as well and Daphne, Molly, Jennifer, and Joanie went downstairs too. Which meant only the grooms were left sequestered in their quarters.
"Why is it everyone else can roam around but not us?" Justin complained.
"Tradition," replied Brian and cut on the television for Gus. He was in
no mood for cartoon antics. He still hadn't figured out what he was going
to say when it came time for him to speak. He was hoping for divine
intervention, maybe the gift of tongues. In reality, he figured he'd
probably come up with something. He usually did under pressure. But this
was different, this was his wedding not some pitch for an account. He had
to come through. For Justin.
Arriving in a Ford Bronco, Reverend Ophelia came in carrying her white cassock over her arm which gave them all ample opportunity to see the outfit she was wearing, a dark green Shantung jacket over a long skirt. "So, is everyone ready?" No one dissented. "And where is the happy couple?"
"Upstairs," answered Mel, "staying out of trouble."
"Which is where they should be."
At that moment, the buzzer sounded and Ted got it. "Yeah?"
It was Justin. "Did someone put out the cobalt blue glasses for our toast?"
He relayed the message. "Justin wants to know—"
"We heard him," said Lindsay. "Yes, Justin," she said loud enough for him to hear it, "we put them out. And," she added, "the silver champagne stopper too."
"Okay." He cut the connection.
They all tittered, recognizing nervousness when they heard it.
"They'll be fine," Ophelia told them. "Now, where can I go to put on my cassock and my makeup?"
Michael laughed. "Upstairs. Come on, I'll show you. You never got the grand tour, did you?" he asked as they mounted the staircase.
Just as they went around a curve in the stairs, the doorbell rang again. Ted answered it. "Yes?"
"It's me," said Deb.
He opened the door and let her and Vic in while everyone else held their breaths and hoped that she had done something with her hair, other than stick half a dozen brightly colored ribbons in it. They were all pleasantly surprised to see that she'd limited herself to two sapphire combs which held her hair back from her face. After exchanging pleasantries and comments on one another's outfits, they all stood around wondering what to do next. Joanie had been forbidden by Brian and Justin and Mel and Lindsay to do any more tinkering with the decorations.
"Everything is so beautiful, Joanie," Deb told her.
"I think," Mel announced, "that it's time to cut on the lights. They hadn't noticed but it had begun to get darker outside. With Ted and Emmett and Michael helping them, they went around and cut on all the decorative lights and lit the votives in the fountain and on the cake table and on the mantelpieces and on the tables in the livingroom. As they'd thought, it looked magical almost, as if they'd left Pittsburgh behind and been transported to a winter wonderland in truth.
"I've never seen a wedding look more beautiful," Jennifer told Joanie.
"I hope," she started to say, then swallowed her words.
"That Claire doesn't get too upset. We couldn't spend a lot on her wedding and I think she's always resented us for it." Glancing around, she patted her cheek absentmindedly, worried. "I just want everything to go smoothly for them. They've been through so much."
"It will," Jennifer promised.
"Even if I have to sit on Claire," Deb declared.
Twenty minutes later, the wedding party was directed to go up and wait for the ceremony to begin. The first of the guests had arrived.
Of course, it was Claire and her two kids. Taking their coats, Ted and Emmett directed them to the two tables the waiters had set up on either side of the fountain. One table held cinnamon cookies in the shape of snowflakes and the other a silver samovar which dispensed hot apple cider. The smell of the cookies and the spiced cider soon filled the air. Taking only two cookies each, upon strict orders from Claire not to embarrass her, the boys carefully sipped their cider and sat in their seats without causing a ruckus.
Claire, for her part, ogled the beautiful decorations and the parts of the house that she could see from her vantage point. She hadn't believed it when she'd pulled into the yard, that Brian lived in this, this castle. That's what it looked like to her, a fairy tale castle complete with a tower. And to think that Joanie had gone to all the trouble of helping them decorate it for their wedding. Looking around, she felt the anger begin to take hold of her, the anger that she still felt due to the shabby treatment she'd received from her parents when she got married. Jack, she hadn't expected much from, after all, he was a man, but Joanie, Joanie was the one she'd really blamed. After all, a mother ought to know how much a wedding meant to her daughter. Why hadn't she done more for Claire? And then she remembered the things Joanie had said about Jack, about his having pissed away their money and she knew that even if Joanie had wanted to, there probably hadn't been money for a fancy wedding. That they'd had a wedding at all and hadn't had to go to the Justice of the Peace was more than likely due to Joanie wheedling the money out of Jack somehow. And, God knows, there was no point in being angry with Brian. He'd been through hell with his father, been through hell period if half of what Joanie had told her was true. Maybe, maybe he deserved this, to have a beautiful wedding, surrounded by friends. Maybe he was due that. And maybe, if she tried real hard, she could be happy for him and not feel sorry for herself. Resolving to do just that, she smiled and took a sip of the cider. It was delicious.
DJ Twist had put on the Brandenburg Concertos and was busy looking over the rest of his selections for the reception. He had the CD ready for the wedding ceremony, all he had to do was cue it up and pause between pieces.
Now that some other guests had arrived, Deb and Vic sat down, Vic taking his place on the front row close to the fountain and Deb sitting behind him next to Claire and her kids. With Vic busy going over the poems he was going to read for the ceremony, Deb turned to Claire and struck up a conversation. Being a waitress, she could talk to anyone and she actually liked Claire. Well, maybe like was too strong of a word but she didn't dislike her and she'd understood how Claire must have felt growing up with Jack and Joanie. God knows, she had seen first-hand the results of their child rearing methods each and every time Brian had come over to their house and she knew that even if the symptoms weren't the same, Claire had suffered as well. For that reason and because she was trying to mend things with Brian, Deb felt she owed Claire a second chance.
The front door opened again and they heard, "My God, I've died and gone to Dynasty!"
Deb laughed and got up to go greet Rose. They hugged, having met the other time Rose had come to town and with both of them, once you'd met, you weren't strangers anymore. "You look beautiful," Deb told her.
"Girl, go on. So do you." Truthfully, Nana Rose did look beautiful, wearing the jewel-toned scarf Justin had bought her in London wrapped around her dreads and a beautiful amethyst dress that coordinated perfectly with it.
"I love that dress," Lindsay told her.
"Shoes and the purse to match too," she bragged. "Got the whole ensemble on sale at Macy's. I can't imagine why no one had snatched it up before but it's mine now."
Xavier and Trey both had on suits, Xavier's dark grey and Trey's black, Xavier's hair neatly braided and Trey's dreads pulled back and tied at the neck.
Rennie, of course, was in all black except for a ruby pin stuck through her lapel. Her hair matched the color of the pin down to the roots.
Ted showed them to their seats on the side where Molly and Jennifer would sit, not because they were Justin's friends particularly but because they wanted to try and balance out the guests so that each section was relatively full. Spotting the cookies and cider, Nana Rose sent Trey and Xavier over to get her and Rennie a cup and only a couple of cookies since she had to watch her figure.
Before long, most of the guests had arrived. Dr. Drew with a solid-looking blond; Ryder and Liz Ryder-Kelly; Keisha and Cecil, sitting down behind Xavier and his group prompting Nana Rose to ask if this was the black section which cracked everybody up especially Drew since he and his date were sitting in their area too. Daphne's date, Courtney, sat in the last row behind Cecil and munched on his cookies, hoping this would be over soon so he could see Daphne. He wasn't one for weddings but he really liked Daphne. Cynthia and her date took seats next to Ryder and Liz and endeavored to talk about something other than work. It helped that none of them had seen the house before and were duly impressed. Cynthia was to have been invited to brunch at the house in the weeks before the wedding but the guys had been so busy that it never materialized. Still, they all hoped for a tour after the ceremony.
"Well," Mel said to Lindsay. "I think that's it. Jeff's not coming and neither is Kenneth." The photographer had arrived and sat in the back row nearest to the stairwell.
"Still have a few more minutes left, it's only five fifty," said Ted.
"Yeah," Emmett agreed. "They still might come."
"You wanna go check on the grooms? Make sure Brian hasn't fled the country?"
"Mel." Lindsay clucked her tongue. "You couldn’t drag him away from here." Still, she went up to make sure they were all in their places. The end of the Brandenburg Concerto no. 4 was coming and that was the wedding party's cue to line up on the stairs. Em and Ted followed her as they'd be needed to escort the mothers of the grooms.
Mel started towards the DJ to tell him that they'd be starting on time when someone knocked. Startled, she went to answer and found both Jeff and Kenneth at the front door.
Jeff said, "I found him sitting out in his limo pondering the meaning of life."
"You mean," she said, "you couldn't decide if you wanted to come in or not."
"Exactly," said Kenneth.
Mel took their coats and hung them up and took their gifts and placed them on the temporary table they'd set up by the staircase. She and Lindsay would move all of the presents later to the studio. Just as she'd put the presents on the table, Lindsay returned, glowing.
"So are we." Looking up, she saw Rev. Ophelia start down the stairs and she nodded to the DJ to let him know that he could proceed as planned.
The last few notes of the concerto sounded and there was silence. Then, the "Air" from Water Music began to play and Rev. Ophelia, resplendent in her white cassock, began down the aisle, holding the unlit commitment candle in her hand.
Upstairs Jennifer and Joanie pressed the hands of their sons and took their places. Molly was just about to begin her walk.
Michael borrowed Brian's lighter and lit all of their candles, his hand shaking a little.
"You okay?" Brian asked with a grin and Michael returned it, then got in line next to Daphne and waited for their cue to descend.
Molly was halfway down the aisle when Lindsay handed Gus his real ring pillow, complete with fake rings, and sent him after her. "Walk slowly," she told him and he began.
At first he was distracted a little by the shiny lights and wanted to dawdle and look at them but then he saw Debbie and Rennie and Xavier at the other end of the room and began to walk towards them. Hearing the soft laughter of the adults around him, he laughed too and waved. "Hey," he said to Jeff, whom he remembered, and to Ryder even though he didn't know who they were. Which made the adults laugh even more. Looking back at Lindsay, he giggled and, at her prodding, went forward. Spotting Debbie and Vic, he sang out, "Hey, Debbee! Hey, Vic," and waved at them before reaching Molly and standing next to her. He reached for her hand and held it, happy.
Nana Rose shook her head and chuckled. He was just like Brian.
"Why do I know that was Gus doing something wrong?" asked Brian upstairs as Emmett and Jennifer got into place, Ted and Joanie already having begun their walk.
"Because he's your son," replied Justin. "Which means as wrong as it probably was, it was probably right too."
Daphne glanced around and mouthed, "Good luck" as she and Michael went down to the bottom of the steps.
"Well, just us chickens left," said Brian.
"Who you calling a chicken?" asked Justin with a grin.
Brian kissed him and Justin moved on ahead. It was almost time.
With the ending of the "Air", all of the wedding party except for the grooms had processed and taken their places in front of Rev. Ophelia. All the candles but two were in the candelabra. The music faded away. Brian stepped off the bottom of the stair and stood next to Justin. They held hands and smiled softly. The wait was over.
Rev. Ophelia motioned for the congregation to stand.
The French horns sounded a blast and the two grooms began to walk forward. Pausing by the front doors, they continued down the aisle, hand in hand, lit candles held before them. All around them smiling faces wished them well and they basked in the good will of their family and friends. At some point, Brian's longer stride took him a step in front of Justin and he hesitated an instant until Justin had caught up and then shortened his stride so that they walked side-by-side. The maneuver hadn't gone unnoticed and many of their guests' smiles widened and they chuckled softly. Finally, they reached the ceremony area and Rev. Ophelia stepped aside to let them put their candles in the holder on either side of the commitment candle. Candles secure, they took their place in front of her. The music continued for a few moments, then there was silence.
Rev. Ophelia opened her Bible although she didn't need to look at her notes. She'd been an actress in college before turning to the ministry so she could memorize an entire play in a few weeks, a couple pages of text was nothing. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the presence of God and this congregation, to join together these two in holy matrimony. Marriage is a holy sacrament, a covenant between two people and is therefore not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, and in awe of God. Brian and Justin, you have signified your desire to enter into the holy state of marriage. If any person knows of any impediment why you may not be married, let them speak now or forever hold their peace."
Justin thought that there were at least three people in the audience who might speak up but it was too late now, because even if they did, there was nothing they could do to destroy their love, it was that complete.
Giving the matter the moment it deserved, Ophelia continued. "Let us pray." Some members of the congregation bowed their heads, others, such as Brian, looked straight ahead as if wanting to face everything, even their maker, with eyes open and head held high. "Almighty and everlasting God, through which all things are possible: grant unto us purity of heart and strength of purpose, so that no selfish passion may hinder us from knowing your will, and no weakness from doing it; that in your light we may see light, and in your service find perfect freedom through Jesus Christ our Lord. Be present at this hour and grant that what is said and done in this place may be blessed, both now and forevermore. Amen."
"Amen," murmured the congregation, no few of them crossing themselves.
"Marriage," began Rev. Ophelia, "is a commitment to life, to the life that is engendered as two individuals come together and swear their commitment to a partnership that lasts a lifetime.
"Marriage deepens and enriches every facet of life. The joy that you feel increases; the passion intensifies;" a few smiles at this as definitely Brian and Justin had their share of passionate moments, some of them publicly witnessed, "and even anger is felt more keenly, yet passes away more easily." Again, their friends smiled as they'd also witnessed more than one knock-down, drag-out fight between the two grooms and yet they'd always managed to put aside their anger and find a way back to one another.
"Marriage understands and forgives the mistakes life is unable to avoid. It encourages and nurtures new life, new experiences, and new ways of expressing love through the seasons of life.
"When two people pledge to love and care for each other in marriage, they create a spirit unique to themselves, which binds them closer than any spoken or written words. Marriage is a promise, a potential, made in the hearts of two people who love, which takes a lifetime to fulfill." Although she'd made some changes, she still loved the basic text of Edmund O'Neill's "Marriage is a Promise of Love" and used it in most of the commitment ceremonies she performed. It seemed to sum up all of the things she wanted to say about marriage and in language people understood and related to without a lot of thou shall and thou shall not. Letting hers and O'Neill's words sink in for a moment, she announced the reading of the poetry.
"At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet."
Lindsay came forward and Vic stood and joined her in front of the fountain. The cater waiters had come and taken the cookies and apple cider away before the procession had begun. Clearing her throat silently, Lindsay spoke first.
"…in my mind you're a clock
Channeling the spirit of Nikki Giovanni, Lindsay put a little soul into the last few lines and Nana Rose said, "Yes, Lord!" just the way she did in church and shook her head. That's the way love was supposed to be.
Vic's poem was also humorous and just as true.
"I wanted you. I fought you
Almost everyone present knew the story of Brian and Justin's tumultuous courtship and recognized Justin's sentiments in the poem. He certainly had fought hard enough for Brian.
The next poem was also read by Vic and as he spoke, the rich tones of his voice were like ocean waves.
"How did you know I'd been travelling
A smile spread across Justin's face. In some ways, in some things, he did lead and Brian did follow and neither seemed to mind; it was as it should be.
Lindsay read the last poem in a strong voice that spoke for both lovers, for all lovers wherever they might be.
"My true love hath my heart and I have his.
The poems read, Vic and Lindsay returned to their places amid many head nods and smiles and the first musical selection began. Brian tightened his grip on Justin's hand and the younger man looked up at his lover. I mean it all, his hazel eyes seemed to say and Justin moved closer to him, declaring his intent without words.
"Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Deb dabbed at her eyes. Christ, they hadn't even gotten to the vows yet and she was already tearing up. She sure hoped the waterproof mascara she'd gotten was tear-proof too.
"Let us pray," said Ophelia and she caught Brian's eye. He smiled and lowered his head. "Almighty God, we ask your blessing to be with Brian and Justin as they now make their wedding vows. Draw them closer to you and help them to grow together in love and commitment to each other from this time forth, and forevermore. Amen."
"Amen," Joanie said with fervor. Let them be happy, she asked and crossed herself.
Addressing Brian, Ophelia asked, "Brian, will you have Justin to be your wedded partner, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love him, comfort him, honor him and keep him, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others remain loyal to him as long as you both shall live?"
Brian parted his lips. "I will."
"And will you, Justin, have Brian to be your wedded partner, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love him, comfort him, honor him and keep him, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others remain loyal to him as long as you both shall live?"
He nodded. Heard Daphne give a little giggle. "I will."
Widening her gaze to include both mothers, Ophelia asked, "Joan and Jennifer, as Brian and Justin join their lives in marriage, they also bring you together in a new relationship, creating new bonds of trust and ties of affection. Will you give them your love, your blessing, and your support? If so, will you please show them your support by saying 'We will'?"
The two women said in unison, "We will."
"Will the congregation please stand." She waited until all had. "Friends, Brian and Justin have invited you here because you are important people in their lives. Your love and support will be important always. Will all of you, by God's Grace, do everything in your power to preserve this marriage? Will you give them your love, your blessing, and your support? If so, will you please show them your support by saying 'We will'?"
"We will," came the answer as one voice comprised of many voices.
"You may be seated." Joanie, Jennifer, and Molly sat as well with the congregation. Now, only the grooms, Gus, and their attendants remained standing before Ophelia. " 'Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to the understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom. Some people make the sky more beautiful just to gaze upon. They stay in our lives for awhile, leaving footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.' At this time, our grooms will speak the vows that they have written themselves," and she looked directly at Brian.
His heart felt as if it were going to burst from his chest and he took a deep breath. This was no time for an Alien impression. Now was the time for that miracle he'd been hoping for. Aware of Justin's eyes on him, he turned towards the congregation and opened his mouth… and began to speak. "Most of you, if not all of you, know how Justin and I met. Some of you were there. We met on the night my son, Gus, was born and I should have known something was up but I have to admit that I was a little under the influence at the time so I kinda missed its significance." Michael laughed as did Em and Ted and no small number of their guests. "I had no intention of being in a relationship, no intention of falling in love; I didn't even want a boyfriend. I didn't believe in love. So I said." He paused, thinking of Cam, and the hurt, finally, dissipated. It was gone, as if it had never been there. His eyes widened, wondering at the sensation. "But Justin didn't listen to me. He had every intention of being in a relationship, of falling in love, and he wanted a boyfriend. He wanted me." Shook his head. "I don't know why but he did. And he wouldn't go away. No matter how many times I told him to, he just kept hanging on, kept coming around, kept staying in my face until I couldn't remember what my life had been like without him. But I didn't tell him that." Again laughter. "Because… I was scared." There, it was out in the open, the Great Brian Kinney had been afraid. "I had gotten my heart broken once and I didn't intend to have it happen again. I guess I might have gone on protesting that I didn't want or need him if he hadn't… if he hadn't gotten hurt." Even now, it caused his breath to catch, knowing how close he'd come to losing Justin. "I thought I had lost him. And I didn't know what I would do if I did. And I hated myself for not…" a breath, "for not having told him that I loved him. But he lived. He didn't leave me behind and I—I swore that I would tell him how much he meant to me and I did. And for some strange reason he didn't tell me to fuck off." Joanie caught her breath and shook her head. He'd never change. "And here we are. I'd like to say that it's been smooth sailing between then and now," lots of laughter, "but you all know me and you know Justin so you know that's not true. And I'd like to say that we won't have any more arguments or fights or problems but that's not true either. All I can say is that I've never known anyone who challenges me more than Justin does. To be a good friend, a good father, a good son, a good person period. And I've never known anyone who's made me angrier or happier than Justin. He gives me hope, gives me strength, and he gives me his love. He makes my life brighter, more exciting, and fuller than I've ever thought it could be. And I love him. I can't always promise to do the right things, because I won't," he said with a little laugh, "but I do promise to always try to listen to what he has to say, and to try to understand what he needs from me; to try to do the best for him, to give him my best, because he deserves it. He deserves everything that I have because I can't live without him. Without him, there's nothing, because he means everything to me." Looking back at Justin, a tear rolling down his cheek, he smiled and Justin returned his smile and wiped away the tear, ignoring the tears that streaked his own face.
Amidst the numerous sniffles in the room, Justin admitted, "I've forgotten what I was going to say," and they all laughed, grateful for the chance. "Brian told you how we met and how I wouldn't leave him alone and he said that he didn't know why. So I'll tell you why. Because every time I looked at him, I saw something that I wanted. At first, I admit it, I wanted him because he was the most beautiful man I'd ever seen. He still is. I wanted him because when he touched me, I felt alive. Because when he touched me, he wasn't just touching my face or my body, he touched my heart. Even though he kept telling me he didn't want me and he didn't need me, I could feel him inside me telling me that he did want me, that he did need me. And I fought hard to get him. I fought him, I fought his friends, his family, my family, even myself and the world to have him. There were times when I'd go home and cry because I didn't know what to do, what to say to make him understand that I could be that one person who could change his mind about love, who could change his life the way he'd changed mine. Sometimes I didn't think that I could hold on long enough for him to see me, to see how much I loved him. But I did… because he met me halfway. Because he took a chance on me, even though I was just a kid who didn't know anything except that I loved him. I'm still not all grown up yet," and everyone laughed, "but if he'll have me as I am, I promise… to try and become the man that he needs me to be, a man that he can depend on, that he can trust, who'll be worthy of his trust, and his love. He loves so much, gives so much, it makes me ashamed of how little I have to give him. All I have is me. And all I know is that I love him. I love him. I love him," he said again and Brian drew him to his chest and held him. Held him so tightly that he knew it was okay, that Brian had told the truth when he said that he was everything to him. They parted and Brian brushed away his tears and kissed him on the cheek. Their foreheads touched and he smiled, his blue eyes shining.
No one was left dry-eyed after they'd spoken, not even the photographer, who thumbed away a tear and pretended to fiddle with his camera. Mel and Lindsay had sat down in the last row and they held hands and were glad that they too had found the love of their lives.
Rev. Ophelia dabbed at her eyes. "Well, now I've forgotten what I was going to say," and everyone chuckled. "Luckily, I've got it written down. ' Now join your hands, and with your hands your hearts. ' Brian, repeat after me. I take you, Justin."
"I take you, Justin."
"To be my partner."
"To be my partner."
"And these things I promise you."
"And these things I promise you."
"I will be faithful to you and honest with you. I will respect, trust, help, and care for you. I will share my life with you…"
And so on until he'd completed his vow. Then Justin did the same.
"I will forgive you as we have been forgiven. And I will try with you to better understand ourselves and the world through the best and worst of what is to come, until death parts us."
"May I have the rings."
Brian turned to Michael, who had both the rings in his pocket as Daphne didn't have anyplace to put one, but Gus spoke up. "Here, Daddy," and he held up the pillow with the two fake rings on it. Smiling as the congregation laughed, Brian took the pillow and, turning slightly away from Gus, flipped it over and returned it to the toddler.
"Thank you. You can go sit with Nana now." His job completed, Gus sat happily next to his grandmother. Michael slipped Brian the two real rings and he handed them to Rev. Ophelia.
"The perfect circle of a ring symbolizes purity and eternity. As you give these rings to each other, our prayer is that your love will be the same, pure and eternal. May the Lord God bless these rings, symbols of your marriage. Brian, take this ring and place it upon Justin's finger and say to him, 'I give you this ring, that you may wear it, as a symbol of the vows we have made this day'."
"I give you this ring, that you may wear it, as a symbol of the vows we have made this day," said Brian and he slipped the ring upon Justin's finger.
"Justin, take this ring and place it upon Brian's finger and say to him, 'I give you this ring, that you may wear it, as a symbol of the vows we have made this day'."
Voice trembling a little, he did so. "I give you this ring, that you may wear it, as a symbol of the vows we have made this day."
Now was the time to light the commitment candle. Ophelia explained to the congregation, "Two candles were placed in the holder representing Brian and Justin's families, two representing their friends, and two representing themselves. Now Brian and Justin will light the commitment candle to symbolize the union of their lives. From now on their thoughts shall be for each other, and joys and sorrows shall be shared alike. ' Two souls with but a single thought, two hearts that beat as one.' Yet, by allowing the flame of their two separate candles to remain lit, they also accept the individuality of one another as a means of fulfilling their oneness."
As she stepped to the side and Brian and Justin approached the candelabra, a smoky voice filled the air.
"Make of our hands one hand, Make of our lives one life, Now it begins, now we start
Make of our lives one life,
Now it begins, now we start
When the song ended, Ophelia nodded to Brian and he and Justin went over to Debbie and he removed from inside his coat pocket the corsage he'd taken from Justin. Handing it to her, he kissed her cheek and said, "Thank you. We wouldn't have made it this far without you. I wouldn’t have made it this far without you."
"Thanks, Deb," said Justin and he kissed her as well and the tears flowed down her cheeks soaking her hanky.
Moving back to their places, they waited for Rev. Ophelia to begin again. "Brian Andrew Kinney and Justin Matthew Taylor, in God's presence and before this company, you have made your promises to each other to be helpful and faithful in your life together.
"Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the
"In as much as you have pledged your love to one another by the speaking of vows, the exchange of rings, and the lighting of the commitment candle, I now declare you to be lifelong partners, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. You may kiss your partner."
Smiling, Brian leaned forward and kissed his partner, holding the younger man's face in his hands, then sliding them around his shoulders to embrace him. After a moment they kissed again and parted.
"Let us pray. Eternal God, without your grace no promise is sure. Strengthen Brian and Justin with the gift of your Spirit, so they may fulfill the vows they have taken. Keep them faithful to each other and fill them with such love and joy that they may build a home where no one is a stranger. Amen."
"And now unto you, and all who are present, may this blessing come upon you, that you be in love, grow in love, stand in love, and act by love, through the God of love, both now and forevermore. Amen."
"Ladies and gentlemen," she announced, "it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you, Mr. Brian Andrew Kinney and Mr. Justin Matthew Taylor," slight pause, "Kinney."
As the congregation stood and applauded them, and as the sounds of Gloria swelled, Brian bowed his head and said, "Are you sure?"
"Happy Wedding Day," said Justin, and he wrapped his arms around his partner and kissed him soundly.
The music was very nearly drowned out by the cheering and cat calls and whistles as the two partners kissed, oblivious to everything but one another.
Emmett and Ted leapt up and began showering the two grooms with pieces of confetti.
When the piece ended, Mel took the mic from DJ Twist and gave everyone instructions for the receiving line and dinner. "Okay, everybody, listen up. Will everyone in the wedding party please get in place for the receiving line. If the guests would please pass through the line and into the livingroom where the tables are set up, Lindsay will be there to direct you to your table. Please wait until she seats you. At that time, appetizers and drinks will be served until the wedding party has completed the receiving line and taken a few hundred photos. Dinner will start in approximately a half hour. Thanks."
Brian shook the confetti from his hair and caught a piece in his hand. Something was on it. He frowned and tried to read it. "What is this?" he asked Emmett.
"The names of some of the guys you've tricked with at Babylon."
Ted explained, "When they read that you were getting married, they wanted to do something to show their appreciation. So they wrote their names on slips of paper and we decided to make confetti out of it."
Handing the microphone back to the DJ, Mel went to herd the guests towards the front of the room. Twist moved his rig back further into the dining room so that the waiters could get by him and put on Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" to get things moving along. Who would have thought it? Brian Kinney actually had a soft side. If he could change, then there was hope for all the playas. Maybe even Tony who swore he was not "into commitment". Twist smiled. Wait until he told Tony about this…
After hugging all of the wedding party, with an extra big hug for Gus who had done so well, Debbie came to the beaming grooms. "You two, look at me. Four bucks for freakin' mascara and the eyeliner runs. I look like a giant, blue raccoon."
"You look beautiful, Deb," Justin told her and he hugged her.
Brian held her at arm's length. "You look like a beautiful, blue raccoon," and he laughed and hugged her as well as she mumbled.
"Asshole. You didn't give me a pin with this thing," she said, showing him her corsage.
"Didn't want you to poke yourself with it."
"Only way I am gonna get poked these days," she joked and they laughed.
Vic came up along beside her. "Me too."
Hugging him, Justin complimented his reading. "You were great, Vic."
"Maybe I should have gone on the stage," he replied with a flourish. "Victor/Victoria."
Excited by the lights and the people yet a little bored too cause he was so small and the big people blocked his view, Gus played with his pillow and began turning it over in his hands. There. There were the rings he gave to Daddy. How'd they get back on the pillow? He frowned, then looked for Brian. "Daddy?" Got out of the line before anyone could grab him and found Brian. "Look, Daddy. Ring."
Brian squatted and took the pillow from him. "Wow. Magic."
"Brian," scolded Justin, "don't tell him that."
So Brian showed Gus his ring. "See? Here's Daddy's ring. And Daddy Justin has his on too. These were extras, okay? In case we lost ours. So they were very important. Just like you," and he kissed the toddler and made him giggle by tickling him a little. "Now, go back and stand next to Molly."
"You want to stay with me and Daddy Justin?"
Brian looked over at Justin who shrugged. "Let him stay."
"All right, stand here between us."
Satisfied now that he'd gotten to stay, Gus went back to playing with his pillow.
By the time Gus had settled down again, Claire and the boys came through the line. When she got to Justin, she held out her hand and shook his. "Congratulations. It was a beautiful ceremony."
"Thank you for coming," Justin replied.
Then she laughed. "Daddy would have had a heart attack when Rev. Ophelia introduced you as Justin Taylor-Kinney."
"Would have saved him from dying of cancer," Brian joked and she punched him in the arm and laughed anyway as she hugged him. It was the first time in years that they had embraced one another and it felt good. "I'm glad you came, Sis."
"Me too." She looked down at the toddler standing between Brian and Justin. She'd watched him as he walked down the aisle and could remember when Brian had been that small even though she was only a few years older. He looked so much like Brian and for a moment, she felt disoriented and looked around for her younger self. Time, it seemed, had become disjointed. She wouldn't have been surprised to see Jack coming up behind her.
Brian placed his hands on Gus' head and said to him, "Gus, do you know who this is?" The toddler shook his head. "This is your Aunt Claire. Daddy's sister." Gus stared at her, he knew what sister meant, Molly was Daddy Justin's sister and she looked like him so he studied Claire to see if she looked like Daddy. They both had brown hair even though Daddy's hair was prettier. Maybe that was enough.
"Hey," he said, after he'd finished taking her in. With Daddy to protect him, he was rarely shy around people anymore.
She squatted. "Hi. What's your name?"
"Gus." He pointed to the boys who seemed to be with her. "Who dat?"
"That's Peter and John, your cousins."
Gus looked up at Brian for an explanation. "They're Aunt Claire's little boys. Just like you're my little boy."
He waved. "Hey."
Peter said, "He looks like Uncle Brian."
"How come he doesn't look like Justin?" asked John.
"Cause he's not Justin's kid, doofus," replied his older brother.
"But they're married. And you said they were doing it."
Claire stood and turned to the boys who were just about to either start fighting or quizzing Justin again. "Come on." They followed in her wake as she went in search of their table.
"Madam," Emmett said to Nana Rose, "that is a fabulous scarf."
"The grooms gave it to me for Christmas. Got it from London, you know. One of a kind."
"A unique gift for a unique lady."
She laughed. "Are you flirting with me?"
"No, it's just that a queen recognizes a queen," he replied and she slapped him on the arm, laughing.
"You are something else."
"That's what we keep telling him," Ted said, "although we haven't figured out just what it is yet."
When she got to Justin, Nana Rose hugged him long and hard. "Oo, I could just eat you two up," she said after hugging Brian as well.
"Leave some for me," Justin told her with a smile.
"I bet you've had plenty already."
"Nana Rose!" That was Xavier, coming up behind her.
"We'll talk later," she whispered confidentially and moved on to let Xavier and the rest of the kids speak with them.
"J, that was da bomb," Xavier said as he and Justin briefly hugged.
"I'm glad you came. You and Trey," he said taking Trey's hand.
Trey grinned. "I wouldn't have missed it for the world, seeing you safely married," and Xavier smiled and pulled him on, the two of them nodding to Brian.
"Congratulations," Xavier and Trey said as they passed by him.
"Thanks," he replied and then, "Oomph," as Rennie grabbed him in a big bear hug. "That's some grip."
She parted from him and said, "I've been waiting for two weeks for the big, wet one Justin promised me and, no, I do not want to kiss the Boy Wonder."
So Brian took her in his arms, dipped her, and gave her a big, wet kiss on the lips. When he brought her up again and let her go, she stumbled off in a daze. "Bye-bye."
"What did you do to her?" Justin asked.
"Slipped her a little tongue." Flicked it. "She did a great job on the ceiling."
"Remind me to keep you away from the photographer."
Speaking of the photographer, he was waiting patiently at the edge of the room by the fountain as the rest of the guests passed by the wedding party shaking hands and exchanging hugs and kisses until finally the last person went through. Kenneth.
Giving Justin his best, Kenneth stood in front of Brian, speechless as it would seem.
But Brian found his voice. "I'm glad you came." There was more to say but it could wait until later.
"Justin," Kenneth said to him, "do you mind if I hugged your groom?"
"I don't mind," he replied, watching as Harris embraced Brian and kissed him chastely on the cheek. He wasn't the only one. Dr. Drew had turned from his position just inside the livingroom and had observed the entire exchange.
Kenneth went into the livingroom with the rest of the guests leaving the wedding party and the photographer alone. Mel came forward. "Okay, let's take some pictures. We're right on schedule as far as time goes." It was around seven o'clock. "Fifteen minutes for pictures and then we can start dinner." She nodded to the photographer who took over.
For the next ten minutes he arranged the wedding party into dozens of groups, taking a myriad of pictures until at last he released the other members of the party, keeping only Brian and Justin. Posing them by the candelabra, the fountain, the staircase, and all over the room by silver trees and blankets of snow, he took a dozen shots of them alone until he finally announced that he was through.
Justin shook hands with him. "Thanks, Jase."
"No problem. Sweet house."
"So how much are you paying me again?"
"Go have some food," Brian told him.
He demurred. "That's okay. I gotta go."
"There's cake later on," said Justin, hoping to tempt him.
"Nah, I really gotta hit the road. Hot date in about an hour. Listen, I'll get the pictures to you in a couple days." Waving, he split.
"Speaking of cake, where is it?"
"Gaia's in the kitchen, waiting for dinner to start before she puts it out," Mel told him, "so go on," and she hurried them into the livingroom, where a fire roared in the hearth, and dinner officially began with a round of applause for the gorgeous grooms and the tinkling of silver bells encouraging them to kiss. Which they did, never needing any encouragement at all.
As they took their seats, DJ Twist faded out the Beethoven and the singer who had performed "One Hand, One Heart" began to sing of her romance.
"My romance doesn't have to have a moon in the sky
With the last note of the guitar, Miss Etta James began extolling the joy of finally finding that one special person.
"At last my love has come along
The waiters brought out the rest of the appetizers, for which Brian and Justin were very happy as they hadn't eaten anything substantial since breakfast, not counting their aborted attempt at having lunch. Not a big fan of brie since Mikey and Dave's homecoming party, Justin was glad to see that there were a couple of arugula and bacon quiches left as Brian didn’t really care for brie or goat cheese. As he dug in, Justin decided that Brian was right to have moved the toasts to after dinner. He didn't think he could have waited any longer to eat. He'd felt faint a couple of times standing up front but figured it might have been nervousness too. But, strange thing was, after a while, he hadn't been conscious of being nervous. Even though his hands had shaken, he'd felt calm inside because he and Brian were together. Watching his partner eat, Justin smiled. He still couldn't believe Brian had said all those things about him. He would never forget it. None of it. They hadn't wanted to videotape the service so there was no record of what had been said except in his heart. Which was as it should be. The pictures were enough. They'd serve when memory dimmed and threatened to fade although he knew that all he'd have to do was to look in Brian's eyes and he'd remember.
"Thought you were starving?" Brian asked him when he noticed that Justin had stopped eating and was looking at him instead.
"I am. Guess I'll just have to wait until they leave."
Pursing his lips, Brian lifted a brow. "Someone's feeling frisky. Must be the briefs."
"Must be the company." Both fell silent and Brian reached for Justin's hand and stroked his fingers.
" You smile, you smile
Their quiet moment of seduction was interrupted by an eruption at Nana Rose's table. Lindsay had seated Keisha and Cecil with them and they were getting along famously although she had worried that maybe it would look racist, that all the African-Americans at the party except for Daphne were seated at the same table. Still, they got along famously, Keisha and Nana Rose talking within minutes as if they were old friends. They weren't the only ones laughing though. Even Joanie and Jennifer were having fun at their table and they were sitting with Claire and her brood. But, for once, Claire seemed to be enjoying herself.
Maybe, thought Brian, she yanked that stick out of her butt. He chuckled silently and smiled when Justin looked at him quizzically.
Lindz had seated Kenneth at the table with her and Mel, Gus and Rev. Ophelia, and Deb and Vic and the two men had struck up a conversation which made Justin happy as Vic didn't always seem to fit in with the rest of the guys by virtue of his being older. And sick. Kenneth wasn't quite his age and he wasn’t sick but he was in his forties and knew a lot about pharmaceuticals and had traveled to Italy as had Vic, so they had topics enough to keep them conversing for a while.
Dr. Drew and Cynthia had their heads together which worried Brian a little. There were two people he didn't ever want getting together to compare notes on him. Cynthia had dirt that went back years and Dr. Drew was always digging. Brian really wished they'd pay more attention to their dates than to one another. Then again, looking at their dates and the way they sat stiffly in their seats, no wonder Drew and Cynthia had turned to each other.
At the wedding party table, Daphne and her date were busy making goo-goo eyes at one another, having succumbed to wedding fever, if only temporarily and even Jeff and Mikey seemed to be enjoying themselves. Brian wondered how Jeff's job interview had gone and if he'd be leaving soon. But then the waiters brought out their salads and he turned his mind to eating.
Or he would have if Justin hadn't picked that moment to lean into him and draw his head down for a kiss.
"What was that for?" No one had rang any bells as far as he could tell.
The younger man shook his head and returned to eating. But Brian sat and watched him and was content.
"The very thought of you
Suddenly Justin laughed.
"I can't believe you said fuck off during the ceremony."
"Why can't you believe it?" And Justin chuckled because Brian was right. It was exactly the kind of thing he would have done. No matter the circumstance or occasion, Brian remained Brian.
Taking Brian's hand, Justin brushed his fingers over his partner's ring. "It's okay, isn't it?"
"That I want to change my name. You don't mind, do you?"
With a slight smile, Brian replied, "I don’t mind." He cocked his head. "You think I should do the same?"
"I don't think Brian Kinney Taylor has the same ring as Justin Taylor Kinney."
Justin wrinkled his nose. "It doesn't," he admitted. "It's okay. I like your name just the way it is. Besides, even if I'm the only one who does it, it still says we're together."
Raising his hand and kissing his fingers, Brian said, "Not just together. Married."
"This isn't sometimes, this is always
Justin listened to the words of the song, it was one of his favorite from the Bridges of Madison County soundtrack Sebastian had left him when he died. "Do you think that's true?"
"This is always?"
"I hope so. I'm getting too old to train another twinkie."
"Uh!" Justin rolled his eyes and tried to pull his hand away but Brian held it tight and kissed his fingers again before Justin freed them and stroked his face.
Lindsay leaned over and said to Mel, "Look at them. I've never seen Brian happier."
"It's amazing, the asshole actually came through." Then remembering Rev. Ophelia was sitting with them, said, "Sorry."
"I'm a big fan of dickhead myself."
At that moment, Gus turned to see where they were looking and seemed to remember that his daddies were in the room and he wasn't with them. He tried to get out of his chair but Lindsay caught him.
"And where do you think you're going?"
"No, Daddy and Daddy Justin need to be alone for a while. Okay?"
"I want sit Daddy."
"You can see Daddy later and talk to him. Okay?"
Pouting, he stayed in his chair.
Kenneth smiled. "He looks exactly like Brian."
"And has the temper to match too," Mel said.
Rev. Ophelia chuckled. "He seemed pretty cowed the two times he and Justin came to see me."
"I think Justin's the only one who can keep him under control," she told them and noticed Kenneth looking wistfully towards their table.
Just then three waiters descended upon the room to begin serving dinner. They'd gone around earlier and taken everyone's orders and gone back to the kitchen to make sure the room survey matched the earlier list they'd gotten from Cynthia. Now, they returned with the meals.
Waiting for her salmon to arrive, Nana Rose gazed around the room once more, taking in the beautiful French windows and doors, the marbled fireplace. She couldn't wait to take a tour of the rest of the house. To Keisha she said, "I just can't believe this place. It's like something out of the soaps. I keep waiting for Erica Kane to show up and marry someone."
"It's pretty impressive. Then again, so are they."
"They think a lot of you too. Xavier says they call you Mace."
She laughed. "It's the braids." With them, she did look a lot like the character Angela Bassett played in Strange Days.
"And cause you kick ass," Xavier added from across the table, then went back to his conversation with Rennie and Trey.
"The first time I met them, I knew it wasn't going to be just another case and I wanted to do the best I could to help them, no matter what."
"I hardly saw her during that case," Cecil complained.
Nana Rose checked him over then asked Keisha, "Girl, are you crazy? Fine man like that?"
"I knew he'd still be around when I was done," she said and Cecil laughed because he knew that it was true. He was still around and had no intention of going anywhere. Maybe one day they'd be holding court from a bridal table of their own.
Jennifer thanked the waiter for her meal, then said to Joanie, "Everything's going so well."
"I'll be happy when it's over," she confessed. "I've been nervous all afternoon, thinking something's going to go wrong."
"It's perfect. You did a wonderful job."
Claire caught her mother's eye. "It was really beautiful. The things Brian… and Justin said to one another." She paused. "If Bobby and I had loved each other like that, it wouldn't have mattered what kind of wedding we had."
"Well," said Jennifer, "it's never too late."
"You ever think about getting remarried?" asked Joanie.
"Oh, all the time. And then I remember why I got divorced. Best hundred and seventy pounds I ever lost." She laughed as did Claire.
Justin watched his mom and Claire laugh. "I wonder what they're laughing at?"
"I don't know cause they haven't brought out the booze yet."
"Chances are 'cause I wear a silly grin
"So what happened in NY?" Michael asked Jeff during a moment when the others seemed to be deep in conversation and not paying any attention to what they were saying.
"I met with a lot of people who seemed to be genuinely impressed with my work," Jeff replied.
He nodded. "I know this is a huge opportunity for you. And I would never ask you…" Michael paused and looked down at his hands for a moment. "I don't want you to go." Looked up again, his eyes shining. "I love you and I want you to stay."
"Not a lot of Native American broadcasters out there."
"There's one in Pittsburgh and he's the only one I care about."
Jeff's eyes twinkled. "You said loved before."
"Okay," smiled Mikey, "the only one I love." He waited, wondering what Jeff would say.
"I told them I'd take it." Michael's shoulders slumped and Emmett and Ted tried to pretend not to have heard Jeff's pronouncement. "On the provision that I stayed in the area." Michael held his breath, he didn't dare hope. "And they said yes."
"I'll be flying a lot, probably won't be home more than a few days a week but—"
"I don't care. I'll take what I can get." He threw his arms around Jeff's neck and they kissed.
"You sure this is what you want?" Jeff asked as they parted.
"I love all, the many charms about you Don't you be a naughty baby
Don't you be a naughty baby
"Are you my naughty Baby?" Brian asked Justin.
"Ask me that later," he said and blushed as the waiter placed his Chicken Calabrese on the table. It was obvious the man had heard their exchange as he was fighting back a smile.
Preparing to cut into his veal, Brian chuckled. That was his Baby.
The food was delicious, Derek and Hansel had outdone themselves. The veal was tender, the chicken succulent, the salmon moist and flaky, and the ravioli was, in Rennie's words, magnifico. Who would have ever thought that two former male models would know anything about food? Especially food that seduced you with tantalizing aromas, eye pleasing presentations, and subtle flavor combinations. For a while everyone was all silent, too busy enjoying their meals to talk. Then, out of the silence, came a voice:
"I want burga."
Brian almost spit out his veal. He began to laugh and laughed until tears squeezed out of the corners of his eyes and, having been given permission by his laughing, the other guests did as well. Gus escaped from his chair and ran to his daddy. "You want a burger?" he asked the toddler and Gus nodded.
Catching the attention of one of the waiters, Brian called him over and said, "Could you fix him a cheeseburger? We've got patties in the freezer."
Justin was horrified. "Brian…"
"No problem, sir." The man smiled and returned to the kitchen to put in Gus' order.
"Happy?" Brian asked his son.
"Yeah." Gus laid against his daddy and waited for them to bring his
With dinner over and everyone, including Gus, very pleased with their meals, they moved the celebration to the reception hall which had been cleared of chairs (some of which had ended up in the studio) and of the candelabra which had been moved to the studio where the cake was now set up along with a table lined with flutes and a pyramid of glasses into which on most occasions champagne would be poured. Brian had thought it would be a little tacky and a waste of good champagne but Justin had wanted to do it so they compromised. It was a small pyramid, and they'd agreed to use a bottle of sparkling grape juice instead of real champagne.
Having moved his rig back out so that he could observe the guests, DJ Twist, with a cue from Lindsay, took over MC duties for the moment and announced, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the grooms' first dance."
The wedding guests moved to the sides of the room and Brian and Justin assumed their position in the middle of the floor, Justin's smile rivaling the lights around them. When the music began, they slowly started to move, just swaying in place really, still a bit shy with all of the attention on them, especially the dozen camera flashes that went off; and then Ewan began to sing and they forgot about the crowd, focusing on the words of the song and on one another.
"Never knew I could feel like this
Their feet found their places as they moved about the space, eyes only for each other.
"Listen to my heart, can you hear it sings Come what may
Come what may
And they kissed and DJ Twist invited everyone to join them on the dance floor. Pairing off, their guests began to dance around them. As there was a disproportionate number of women to men, some of the women danced together, Rev. Ophelia holding court by herself until Mel invited her to dance with her and Lindsay.
"Suddenly the world seems such a perfect place
Although they were surrounded by other couples, could feel them brushing by them as they moved across the floor, Brian and Justin could have been alone in the loft for all they cared. This was their moment and as ridiculously romantic as the song was, they understood the sentiment. How hard had they fought to get to this place in their lives? And even though sometimes it had seemed that they wouldn’t make it, they had. Nothing and no one had been able to stop them, not even themselves. They'd made it.
"Oh, come what may, come what may
Suddenly, heart full to overflowing, Brian and Justin twirled around joyously as the music swelled to a crescendo.
"Come what may
Holding Justin in his arms, Brian kissed his partner long after the song had ended.
For the next twenty minutes, DJ Twist kept the dancing going with an assortment of contemporary love songs from Stevie Wonder to Bad English to Sarah MacLachlan. When "Never Tear Us Apart" began, Justin asked Brian, "Can you believe how Michael Hutchence died?"
Brian said nothing. He'd never told Justin about his own adventures in scarfing the week of the prom. Some things were better left unsaid.
"God, he was beautiful," said Justin. "I love that video. Even if it is old."
Ignoring the ageist remark, Brian just tightened his grip on Justin and endeavored to forget how old he'd been when that song had first been released.
Even Gus got in on the action, dancing with his daddies while a very apropos song played.
"I was born to make you happy.
Debbie and Nana rose laughed and clapped, encouraging him and he just danced and danced.
"Watch out!" Nana Rose exclaimed. "That baby has got to be Justin's. Look at those hips."
Around nine Melanie gave DJ Twist the high sign and he faded out the song that was just ending. "Okay, everyone," she said, "the moment we've all been waiting for: cake."
Peter and John who had been growing bored with the dancing, cheered. That's what weddings were really about, the cake.
At Brian's insistence, Lindsay went and found Gaia in the kitchen and had her come out. Luckily, she was dressed to party, in a beautiful flowing purple and gold caftan with a matching headdress.
"That's what I'm talking about," exclaimed Nana Rose. "Take care of business."
Justin introduced her to their guests. "This is Gaia. She's the best baker in Pittsburgh and she made our cake."
"And now," Mel said, "it's time to cut it. So get to it."
Gaia helped Lindsay separate the layers of the cake, putting the top aside and placing the two real layers on either side of the fake one.
Justin took hold of the cake cutter and Brian enclosed his hand in his own and together they cut into the largest of the real layers. Then, as married couples had done for ages, they fed pieces of the slice to one another, smearing their faces in the process and then kissed away the frosting as their guests cheered and whistled. The kiss went on for a while. When Brian let Justin up for air, the younger man's chest was working like a pair of bellows.
Rennie, remembering the kiss Brian had given her, whispered, "Wow." She didn't think she could take Brian's kisses all the time. The Boy Wonder definitely had her respect and admiration.
One of the waiters poured a bottle of sparkling grape juice into the top glass of the pyramid of glasses. Everyone oohed and ahhed appropriately as the juice flowed down the apex of the pyramid into the wide-mouthed glasses below. Gus pointed to the glasses and said, "Look." He and Justin both were suitably impressed.
The pyramid glasses filled, a second waiter joined the first and they uncorked the bottles of champagne and began filling the other glasses on the table. The kids were given the sparkling grape juice, even Gus, although Lindsay had to keep him from drinking his before the toasts began. When everyone had a glass in their hands and Brian and Justin were in possession of the special cobalt blue flutes they'd bought for their champagne, the toasts began.
As one of the grooms' attendants, Michael went first.
"Brian and I have been best friends since we were fourteen years old and we've been through a lot together. Some things we can't talk about for fear of incriminating ourselves." Laughter. "Well, I could probably tell you about them but the names would have to be changed to protect the not-so-innocent." Again laughter. "I was there the night Brian met Justin and even though I never thought they'd end up together, much less married, I'm glad they are. They make each other very happy and I hope that they are always as happy as they are today." He raised his glass. "To the grooms."
"To the grooms," and everyone raised their glasses and drank the first toast.
Next was Daphne's turn. Giggling a little at first, she turned serious. "Well, Justin and I have been best friends since we were four years old and that's a really really long time." The older guests laughed. Some of them had clothes that were older than Justin and Daphne. "I remember the first time I saw Brian. He was talking with Michael in Woody's and I couldn't believe this was the guy Justin was crazy about. I thought he was crazy." They all laughed. "But it turns out he knew exactly what he was doing. Kind of." A titter. "I don't think I've ever seen two people more in love." She raised her glass to the grooms. "May you always love each other."
"May you always love each other," echoed the guests.
Justin went next, toasting his groom. " 'The birthday of my life/ Is come, my love is come to me'," he quoted. "To my love, 'Grow old with me! / The best is yet to be'," and although he'd used pieces of Emily Dickinson and Robert Browning, they seemed to fit together seamlessly.
" 'I have known many,/ Liked not a few,/ Loved only one/ I toast to you'," said Brian, reciting an Irish toast which garnered many chuckles, and he raised his glass to his love. The toast he'd prepared long in advance even though he hadn't been able to write his vows ahead of time. " 'Love comforts like sunshine after rain'," he said, paraphrasing Shakespeare. "To my Sunshine."
Then their mothers each gave a brief toast and welcomed each of them into the other's family.
They'd agreed before hand to keep the toasts short and sweet and not have the rest of their friends and family make toasts so that they could cut the cake and get on with the festivities before the night fled from them. Even so, Gus was beginning to look a little tired and Brian especially wanted him to be up for one part of the festivities. So, while Lindz and Mel and Gaia cut the cake and passed it out, Brian signaled Cynthia and she disappeared for a moment. When everyone who wanted cake had gotten it and while they were busy eating and complimenting Gaia, Brian cleared his throat. "Excuse me. Excuse me."
Mel whistled. "Hey! Listen up."
"Thanks." Waited until he saw Cynthia. "I wanted to give Justin his wedding present before Gus fell asleep cause I think he's going to appreciate it and he looks like he's about to fall over at any minute," and he did, he'd plopped down at his Nana's feet and was leaning back against her as she sat and ate cake, his eyelids getting heavier and heavier by the moment. It had been a full day. "So," Cynthia came up and handed him the box, "this is for you." And he kissed Justin on the cheek and passed him the box.
"Why does the box have holes in it?" Em asked Ted.
"Guess we'll find out."
Taking the box, Justin set it upon a chair and removed the top and his mouth fell open. "Brian…"
"Take it out."
Justin reached in and lifted out a beautiful light brown, almost golden-colored kitten with beautiful light blue eyes and big ears that caught every sound. Alert and bright-eyed, he uttered a soft meow and continued to survey his surroundings.
"I know you wanted a dog but I thought maybe a cat would be better with our schedules. And the breeder said Burmese are good with kids."
"Your grandmother had a Burmese," Joanie said.
"That cat always liked you best," said Claire. "And you hated cats."
Gus snapped out of his daze the moment Justin had taken the cat out of the box. Getting up, he walked over and said, "Kit cat."
"That's right, it's a kitty cat."
"What kit cat name?"
Justin turned to Brian but he shrugged. "Your cat."
"Our cat." He was not going to be the only one cleaning out kitty litter and feeding the cat. He thought for a moment. "Leonardo, and we can call him Leo for short so Gus can say it."
"Leonardo di Caprio?" asked Emmett.
"Da Vinci," he replied. "Leonardo dei Gatti."
"Leonardo of the cats," translated Vic. "I like it."
Craning his neck to kiss Brian, Justin said, "Thank you."
"I love." He watched as Gus tried to pet Leo. "Pet him softly. See?" and he demonstrated. Gus studied his movements, then copied them. "Isn't he pretty?"
"Pretty. What his name?"
"Pretty Leo. Pretty kit cat."
"Are you going to show him?" asked Keisha who loved cat and dog shows and never missed one on TV if she could, to Cecil's chagrin as they spent little enough time together without wasting it watching poodles prance around.
"Who has time?" asked Brian. "Besides," he explained, "the CFA doesn't recognize the chocolate ones. It's not one of the approved colors, apparently."
"I can't believe," Lindsay whispered to Mel, "that Brian even knows what the CFA is."
"One of his tricks probably told him."
"How catty," Em was saying. "Well, he'll fit right in with us. The rainbow takes in all colors."
Brian gave Mel the high sign, she gave Twist the go ahead, and he put on another song. Their guests spread out again, some eating cake, others dancing, a few starting to explore the house, some even putting on their coats to walk around outside since there were plenty of lights on beneath the pergola and loggia and in the courtyard for them to see by.
"Did you lock the chest?" Justin asked him.
"Uh-huh. But you might want to check, just to be sure."
"I'm going to take Leo upstairs, put him in our room. I think the music's probably too loud for him."
"There's a cat house in there already." No few people laughed at the idea of a cat house in Brian's bedroom. "Cynthia brought it," he told him, clearing up the mystery of how Leo had come into their lives.
Seeing how taken Gus was with Leo and how sleepy he was, Lindsay suggested he go upstairs too and lie down for a while. With any luck, he'd sleep until it was time to go home. So he went with Justin and Leo, babbling to the cat in his daddy's arms. Justin put the kitty cat in his beautiful wooden house, where a warm pillow bed was already in place, and put Gus to bed, in their bed, not his. Despite wanting to look at the kitty cat, Gus was out almost the moment his head hit the pillow. Lying his jacket and vest on the trunk at the foot of the bed, and placing his shoes next to them, Justin checked to make sure the chest was locked, then gently pulled the door to. Hopefully none of their guests would wake the toddler in their explorations of the house.
Brian was being hugged yet again by his mom and Jennifer when Justin returned.
"There he is," Jennifer said and she reached for him as well. "Congratulations, honey."
"Thanks, Mom. Do you mind if I steal Brian for a minute?"
"He's all yours."
"I know," he replied and they took to the dance floor yet again, talking softly between kisses and laughing.
" however far away I will always love you however
Gradually, everyone returned to the reception hall for more cake and champagne and the hot cider that the waiters had put out again. Couples wandered back onto the dance floor and the party still seemed to be in full swing. Brian and Justin passed Ryder and Liz on the dance floor, the older couple laughing at some private joke and Brian asked them if they were having a good time.
"I'm glad we came," Ryder said.
"What a fabulous wedding and a fabulous house," exclaimed Liz. "We saw the name of the firm that did the decorating in the program. JK Designs?"
"My mom," he replied.
"We'll have to talk. Marty and I are thinking about redecorating and I would love to have your mom come over and take a look at the place."
"Well, 'Have swatches, Will travel', that's her motto." Both Ryder and Liz laughed.
"No," Justin explained, "that is her motto. It's on her business cards."
The music took the couples out of range of each other and Brian and Justin ended up next to Cynthia and her date.
"Thanks, Cynthia," Brian told her.
"You're welcome, Boss."
"So you were the one he was talking to this afternoon."
"He wanted to make sure everything was going as planned."
"I didn't suspect a thing. Where'd you leave Leo during the ceremony?"
"Upstairs. I left him in the basement and then one of the waiters carried him upstairs when you guys began the procession."
"So if you're mad, get mad
Michael, who was dancing with Rev. Ophelia, moved up next to the happy couple and said, "This could have been your theme song."
"Yeah," Justin replied, "it does fit. But I like the song we picked out."
"It was beautiful," Rev. Ophelia told them.
"The service was fantastic," said Justin.
"You did good, Rev." This, of course, from Brian.
"Glad to see I meet the high Kinney and Taylor-Kinney standards."
"I'll stand by you
Kenneth had gone out into the courtyard, eschewing his coat since he only intended to be out there for a moment. Examining the water fountain in the shape of a face with an open mouth, like the one in Rome into which Gregory Peck had put his hand in Roman Holiday, Kenneth heard the door open and close behind him. Turned and found a young man standing behind him. Well, not so young, late thirties, glasses, rather ordinary-looking but not bad-looking. It was just that compared to Brian, everyone was plain. God, Brian…
Drew glanced up at the sky. "Beautiful night."
"Yeah." He did not want to chitchat. Starting back towards the house, he was stopped by the Drew's words.
"Brian was very glad to see you. He cares a great deal for you."
"And you are…?"
Holding out his hand, the psychotherapist introduced himself. "Dr. Drew Becker, psychiatrist."
"And his friend. I hope." He paused. "I hope you're his friend as well."
"I'd like to think that I am," replied Kenneth.
"Then you'll give them a chance to be happy."
Kenneth pretended to study the wisteria vines, bare now but just waiting for spring to bloom. "I've always wanted Brian to be happy."
"With you." They traded looks. "But he's with Justin. They're married now and no matter how you feel about that, I'd ask you to respect it."
Unused to people speaking so bluntly to him, Kenneth was momentarily nonplussed. Then he regained his composure and replied, "It's his life. Not yours."
"Maybe. But I'm the one he comes to when he can't turn to anyone else, not even Justin. I'm the one who gets to watch him fall apart. And I do the best I can to help him rebuild. But there's a limit to what I can do. There's a limit to how much he can take." He stared directly into Kenneth's eyes. "You can either be his friend and be happy for him and leave him the fuck alone or you can be responsible for destroying him. You take your pick. You say you love him, prove it." Having spoke his piece, Drew went back inside to find his date and try to dance away the anger that had suddenly gripped him.
Left alone, Kenneth leaned against one of the poles of the arbor and lit a cigarette, its smoke curling around his head, weaving spells in the air.
As Brian and Justin made their way across the dance floor, they spoke with many of their guests, touching and infecting as many people as they could with their happiness, their joy. Brian danced with Keisha and teased her about "What's his name" mercilessly before admitting that he thought Cecil was pretty hot. Justin found Dr. Drew's date and talked with him for a few moments before Dr. Drew returned and claimed him. The guy actually seemed animated at last. Maybe it was the champagne.
Finally, the two hosts took a brief rest and heard DJ Twist say, "We're coming down to the last songs of the evening, folks." Most people paused to listen. "And these songs really capture the essence of Brian and Justin's love as they were requested by the grooms themselves." Everyone laughed a little, just imagining what the songs were.
The first one came on and people seemed puzzled as it sounded like the pilot of a plane speaking over the intercom. Then someone began to play the guitar and sing.
"I wanna make you smile
It was Adam Sandler singing the song from The Wedding Singer that he'd sung to Drew Barrymore on the airplane.
"I'll get you medicine when your tummy aches
There sounds of people laughing on the track, making miscellaneous sounds during the rest of the song which pretty much matched the sounds Brian and Justin's guests were making at the reception.
"I'll miss you So let me do the dishes in our kitchen sink
So let me do the dishes in our kitchen sink
With Michael and the guys ribbing him, Brian gave Justin a kiss and shook his head. It was the perfect song. But, now came his turn.
"This song was requested by Brian for Justin."
"Tender as a peach
Those who recognized the song began to laugh even before the chorus began.
"I'm in baby love
The laughter drowned out some of the lyrics and Brian and Justin got teased royally but they took it good-naturedly and laughed as well.
"All right, enough sitting on your butts," said DJ Twist, "everybody get up and dance. I think you'll all recognize this next song."
Everyone got up, even the people without partners, waiting to see what it was. With the first chords of synthesizer music, Emmett began to grin. He loved this song. By one of his favorite divas as it were. And it was perfect. By the time the drumbeat came in, almost everyone recognized it and they grinned too. They'd all been guilty.
"Our friends think we're opposites They said it wouldn't last
They said it wouldn't last
For once Brian had loosened up and he and Justin were putting on a show. But, unlike their first dance, when they'd been oblivious to their guests, this time they were very aware of the people around them, egging them on.
"You go, baby," shouted Nana Rose and Justin grinned even wider and gyrated his hips while Brian did a good job of keeping up with him. "Shake them hips, Brian. Shake it."
"Ahh," said Keisha, "look at them go."
"They said it
"Come on, y'all," DJ Twist urged, and they all began to sing and clap their hands, even Joanie.
"Love will never do
His arms around his Baby, Brian closed his eyes, losing himself in the music and in the knowledge that they had, indeed, made it and were where they belonged.
That song segued into another that had just as much meaning. They slowed their movements and swayed.
"Sometimes the snow comes down in June And now we're standing face to face
And now we're standing face to face
Justin tightened his arms around Brian and laid his head upon his shoulder. Gazed at the room around them. It really did seem like a winter wonderland. The snow had been scattered by their guests and you could see footprints in the flakes.
"Sometimes the very thing you're looking for Sometimes the snow comes down in June
Sometimes the snow comes down in June
But they had seen before it was too late and this was the best, being together, in the midst of their friends, celebrating their triumph.
"Ladies and gentlemen," DJ Twist announced, "our hosts, Brian and Justin, invite everyone to join them in this, the last dance of the evening."
When the music began to play, Daphne's eyes lit up, as did Justin's. He'd had no idea Brian had requested the song, had thought that it'd be the last song in the world the man would want to hear but, looking into his eyes, he saw the truth, that the song no longer had the power to hurt. This was their moment and nothing could diminish it.
"You can smile
Although they didn't reproduce their prom dance step-by-step, they did manage to sneak in almost all the moves and when they got to the part where Brian had dipped Justin before, he did again, Justin's smile just as wide as before, and then Brian raised him up and lifted him in his arms and twirled him around as he had that night and afterwards they kissed, just as they had all those years ago, and it was better than it'd been before because there would be no Chris Hobbs waiting in the parking lot, no tears, no fearful rides in the back of ambulances, and no anguished moments waiting in fluorescent-lit hallways; there was only their friends and family wishing them well, their home to shelter them, and one another's arms to protect them from harm.
"This was the best night of my life," Justin whispered as they parted.
"Even if it was ridiculously romantic," replied Brian.
Having dispensed hugs to nearly everyone, Brian and Justin waved to their guests as they departed. Behind them, the cater waiters were busy clearing away the last of the glasses and plates. DJ Twist had already gone. Brian hoped it wouldn't take the clean-up crew long to pack everything up and hit the road. He was anxious to spend some time alone with his groom.
As was his groom. Kissing Nana Rose goodbye, he extracted a promise from her to come and visit when school ended. "We've got an extra room now so you can stay with us."
"I'd love to, baby. Brian." They kissed and she pulled her coat tighter and accompanied Trey and Rennie to the car. Xavier hung behind. He and Justin hadn't had a chance to talk alone all evening but he wanted to speak to him before he left. Justin grabbed a coat from the closet and walked with Xavier to the car. As they passed through the gates of the entry way, they paused and exchanged a few words.
"Thanks. I'm glad you came. You and Trey." Smiled. "Who knows…?"
Xavier shook his head. "I'm not ready for that yet. But I'm happy for you." They embraced and Xavier waved goodbye. "Later, J."
"Later." He returned to the house and saw Brian lean forward and kiss Kenneth upon the cheek before the biochemist turned to exit the front door. "Thanks for coming," he said as Kenneth neared him.
"I hear you've got one of the drawings finished."
"How long you in town for?"
Harris laughed. "Not long enough to wait out your honeymoon. I'll be up again in a month. I'll see it then. Maybe you'll have a couple more done."
"Maybe," he replied, not promising anything. Continuing on into the house, he slipped his arm around Brian's waist. "That everybody?"
Everyone but their close friends and family. But even they got on their gear in fast order and quickly exchanged kisses and hugs with the grooms in preparation for leaving. They could tell their hosts wanted to be alone.
"See you next week," Michael told them and they laughed.
They didn't want to see anyone for a few days, didn't plan on even leaving the house. Which might prove to be a problem for their littlest guest. Gus had awakened and was coming down the stairs with Lindsay. He wanted to stay, wanted to sleep in his bed but Mommy had told him that he had to go home with them tonight. Which made him very fussy since he hadn't been able to spend hardly any time with his daddies tonight. And then there was Leo. He'd already gotten attached to the cat.
Lindsay said, "Leo was on the bed with Gus, curled up next to him. You should have seen it."
"Thanks a lot," Mel told Brian. "You and your perfect fucking gifts," she complained but she did so good-naturedly.
"Hey," he told her, suddenly serious, "thanks for tonight. You and Lindsay did a great job."
"Good, cause that was your wedding present," she joked but it would have been fine with him and Justin. "By the way, when are you opening your presents?" she asked. They'd piled them in the family room by the bar as there was space there and that's the room they spent the most time in besides their bedroom and the kitchen.
"Tomorrow. If we find the time."
Justin having talked to him and tried to explain why he couldn't stay the night, Brian took Gus and walked with him for a few minutes and promised him that he could come over on Monday after school and play with Leo and have dinner if he wanted.
"You can stay," he promised him. "Okay?"
" 'Kay. Luv you."
"I love you too." Giving him back to Mel, he hugged Lindsay tight. "Thanks for everything."
"So are you seriously thinking about having another one?" he asked. As if Gus wasn't enough.
"We'll talk later," she said and kissed him goodbye, then gathered Mel and Gus, and left, Gus waving over Mel's shoulder.
They were alone. Except for the guys who were rattling around in the kitchen. They'd returned with the truck and packed up all the tables and chairs, the dishes and linens and were making a final sweep of the premises to make sure everything was accounted for. Satisfied, they said goodnight.
Setting the alarm, Brian and Justin went around and made sure all of the downstairs lights were off before heading up to their suite.
"Where are we putting Leo's kitty litter?" asked Justin. There was a small pan next to the house where he now slept again, Gus having gone. It was unused as of yet. Some of the food was gone from the bowl though and water had spilled over onto the mat that Cynthia or someone had put beneath the bowls.
"Not in our room."
"How about in the laundry room? I think there's just enough space beneath the table."
"Oh, that'll be great. Laundry with that fresh, clean cat litter smell."
"You think of a better place—and not in the basement, he's too small—and I'll be happy to entertain the thought."
Brian bumped Justin. "God, you sound just like a spouse."
"Cause I am."
Glancing down at the sleeping kitten, Brian made a suggestion. "Maybe we should put him in Gus' room for the night. Don't want to disturb his beauty rest."
Raising an eyebrow, Justin asked, "You planning on getting a little rowdy?"
Brian kissed the back of his neck, whispered, "A lot."
By the time Brian returned from settling Leo in again, Justin had managed to come half out of his clothes. Taking hold of the younger man's trousers, Brian unbuttoned and unzipped them and slipped his hands inside, fingers tracing the laced-up back of the briefs Justin wore. "I've been thinking about these all night," he murmured before kissing his lover.
"No pure and virtuous thoughts?"
"Not a fuckin' one." He parted from Justin and began to strip as well until they were both naked except for Justin's sexy underwear. Coming together again, Brian cupped Justin's cheeks as they kissed and squeezed them. "You feel so good."
"Sometimes I think you just want me for my ass," teased Justin so Brian cupped his cock and squeezed it too.
Moving to the bed, they curled around one another, Justin wrapped about Brian's body, and remained that way for a while, enjoying each other's warmth. Then, softly, Justin began to kiss his partner's chest and neck. About halfway up Brian's throat, Justin paused. "We forgot to light the fire."
Brian reached over and picked up the remote control and hit a button and within moments flames began to lick the ceramic logs. Both he and Justin laughed and then they found something better to do.
Having kissed one another until their bodies were covered with kisses and having touched each other until no inch of bare skin was left uncovered, they found themselves trembling on the edge of arousal, hungry for a more deeper connection yet wanting to wait, to take it slow, to savor the moment and the night.
Parting from him, Justin brushed his fingers over Brian's cheek and gazed into his eyes. God, he loved Brian's eyes, deep, dark, hazel eyes that saw so much, revealed so much if you took the time to look. Doe eyes, he thought of them and, by coincidence, "Doe Eyes" from The Bridges of Madison County soundtrack was playing. "You looked so beautiful today," he told him and Brian smiled softly. "I almost don't believe it happened," and by way of answer, Brian took hold of his left hand, his ring hand, and kissed his fingers. "Thank you."
Still holding Justin's hand, Brian said, "Thank you."
"For today and tomorrow and all the days after that."
Feeling his eyes water, Justin buried his face in Brian's neck. Kissed his throat. "I love you."
It had been on his mind all evening off and on so he said in a low voice, "When I talked about us during the ceremony, I didn't tell them how you saved my life because I couldn't. I was ashamed."
Justin got up on one elbow. "Why?"
"I was supposed to be the strong one. And I let you down." No matter how long he lived, he'd always remember that failure, it haunted him.
"No, you didn't."
"Yeah, I did. And I'm sorry. It was too much to put on you."
"I'm still here," said Justin. "Still queer—" Brian laughed. "And still in love with you. Come what may. It's not just a song, you know."
"Then no more talk about you having failed me. You never have. Never." Laying his hand upon Brian's face, he kissed him tenderly.
Brian looked into Justin's eyes, eyes that he loved, looked for when he woke up in the morning and when he went to sleep at night, eyes that had watched over him during some of the worst days of his life, and said, "Thanks for not giving up on me."
"Never. No matter what."
"I love you."
"That's all I've ever wanted." Grinned impishly. "Except maybe to come out of these things."
Cupping Justin's groin, Brian felt the fullness there. Leaned forward and kissed him, whispered, "That can be arranged."
He'd thought that nothing could have improved their lovemaking. Hadn't believed for an instant that being married would feel any differently from not being married. Having a ceremony was fine, hanging with their friends was fine, but he'd been of the opinion that he wouldn't be changed. And yet something had changed the moment Rev. Ophelia had pronounced them lifelong partners and especially after she'd introduced Justin as Justin Matthew Taylor Kinney. It was as if Justin was truly part of him now. They'd always had a connection, a link that had bound them closely together but now he felt as if he and Justin were complete soul mates. He started to say something more, then realized that the time for words had passed; now their bodies would speak, skin to skin, muscles against muscles, flesh inside flesh.
Turning his lover, his partner onto his belly, Brian kissed him from the nape of his neck to the small of his back, lips brushing over his soft skin. Cock pressing against the front of his underwear, Justin was almost to the point of begging Brian to remove the constraining briefs when he felt a tug at his waist.
Brian had caught one end of the lace between his teeth and tugged on it. The knot unraveled. Like opening a present, Brian undid the lacing: slipping his finger under each crisscross, briefly dipping between Justin's cheeks, then pulling the lace from its loops until he'd pulled it entirely free and Justin's ass lay open before him, the white strip of flesh and rosy hole bordered by the black halves of the briefs. Laying them back over his hips, he unveiled Justin's behind in all its bounteous glory. Softly, he kissed the crease of his buttocks where they met the tops of his thighs, around the edge of his cheeks, up on top of the mound, and then all along the crevice…
Lids fluttering, Justin moaned as Brian entered him and Brian's hand
closed over Justin's, lacing his fingers with the younger man's.
With candles lining the window sill and the ledge of the built-in tub, softly illuminating the otherwise darkened room, Brian and Justin soaked and rested weary bodies. More importantly, they enjoyed just being close to one another, Justin lying against Brian's chest, Brian's arms wrapped around him.
"I love you," he whispered in the darkness and Brian kissed his temple.
"I love you too."
Justin shut his eyes, content. If Brian said so, then it had to be true.
Reaching for the bath gel, Brian squeezed a palm full, then began to wash Justin without changing positions, running his hands over his body as they lay together. Justin's tongue peeks between his lips as he enjoyed the feel of Brian's hands on his chest, teasing his nipples; washing under his arms; tickling him as he cleaned out his navel; fingers closing around his cock and sliding up and down, spreading suds along its length. He tensed as Brian tightened his grip, muscles contracting in the man's forearm as he stroked his dick. Fighting to remain still as Brian jacked his cock, Justin gripped the edges of the tub and held on but Brian wouldn't let up, wouldn't release him, would only increase his efforts, rubbing his thumb over the head until Justin thought the tip of his cock would swell and explode. Surrendering, he gave into the need to move. Water sloshed over the edge as he began to thrust upwards, forcing his shaft through Brian's fist.
"Unh. Unh," he groaned as Brian cupped his balls and rubbed the tight
sack while continuing to tug on his lover's meat. Shouting, he came, jizz
splattering Brian's hand and arm. Creamy patches floated on the water,
intermingling with soap suds.
Having made love a number of times during the night, they finally settled down for good around four in the morning, Brian closing his arms about his partner, Justin burrowing against his side. As he fell asleep, Brian looked back on the day that had passed, on the things that they'd said to one another, the vows that they'd taken, the promises that they'd made and, even as he gazed back, he closed his eyes to dream of a future when all of their promises would come to fruition, to a day when they'd stand before their friends again and recount the years they'd spent together. He saw them, wiser and older and smiled because he knew the truth. They would never grow old, only better, only stronger in love, deeper in love.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you, Mr. Brian Andrew Kinney and Mr. Justin Matthew Taylor Kinney."
Music played in the story (not at the wedding)
Poetry (in order of reading)