Despite having come in from out-of-town, both boys arrived before Indy. No surprise there, she was chronically late for everything except for the one thing that really mattered to her: her work. No one on the force was more conscientious. Maybe that's why her family only occasionally ragged her about her tardiness.
Hugs dispensed even though it'd only been weeks earlier that they'd gotten together at Christmas, the four men gathered in the kitchen and ferried snacks out to the family room. Thirty years of marriage, two successful careers, and three kids later, the only concession Brian and Justin had made to their busy lives was to have a maid come in twice a week to make sure the place didn't fall down around their ears. In between her visits, they did everything themselves. Which was why they'd never exchanged their first home for something more befitting their stature and financial status. Too hard to keep up.
They still cooked most of their meals, explaining that sometimes that was the only time they saw each other for weeks other than in bed. They'd spent so much time apart over the years what with both of them traveling for work that they treasured every moment they had together. Having had three kids, sometimes it hadn't been easy to steal a few moments alone, even though they hadn't been the primary caregivers. There had always been some crisis, some problem that needed solving. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there'd been soccer and lacrosse matches, basketball games, dance and piano recitals, Science Fairs, and on and on and on. Maybe in response to the dearth of paternal involvement during their own formative years, Brian and Justin had made it a priority to spend as much time as they could supporting their kids as they found their way in the world. Even if only one of them could make it, one of them had made it if at all humanly possible. Brian still joked that sitting on "all those goddamn benches" had further flattened his already padding challenged ass. When Justin replied that it hadn't done anything to his, Brian just smiled and managed to pat said ass, still fairly plump even after all those years.
"So," Gus began after they'd settled down and begun filling salad plates with food, "you gonna tell us what's up?"
"Not until your sister gets here," Justin told him, ignoring the brow Gus raised in response to his refusal.
"Jesus. We could be here all evening," Jake griped.
"One," said Brian, "would that be so bad? And, two, she called and said she was on her way."
Getting up to snag a bottle of wine from the beverage center, Jake pecked Brian on the forehead, brushing his still thick and very grey hair out of the way. "You know I love hanging with you, Pop."
Brian wasn't fooled for a minute. "But…?"
"I called Lena and told her I'd be in town so…" He smiled and flicked his tongue, a gesture so like Justin that you didn't have to know they were father and son to see the resemblance.
The older man shook his head. "How is it that with four out of five parents being gay, we end up with two straight kids?"
Before he sat back down, Jake nudged Gus with his hip. "Gus makes up for the two of us."
"Please," his brother responded, "I wish." Raising his glass to his fathers, he said, "Unfortunately, I didn't inherit the Brian Kinney tricking gene."
"You ought to be happy. What good did it ever do him?" asked Justin.
"Got him you," answered Gus.
Brian grinned. "I love this kid."
When the back door opened and slammed, all four of them sighed, "Indy."
"Twenty-eight-years old and she still slams the fuckin' door," complained Brian.
"So do you," Justin pointed out and received a look in return that was pure Brian Kinney.
"I'm here!" Indy called as she entered the kitchen.
"We heard you," Brian replied dryly and looked around as she came up behind him and kissed his cheek.
"Sit down," Justin told her as she kissed him as well. "We need to talk."
A look of concern crossed her face. "You're not dying are you?"
"No," he replied and frowned.
"Are you dying?" she asked Brian.
"No, I am not dying. What's with the dying fixation?"
Coming to his sister's aid, Gus said, "You have to admit, it's a little scary, you calling us together like this."
"You were coming down anyway for Justin's birthday party."
"Yeah, but you told us to get here early and it was not a request, it was a command."
"So shut up already." He shook his head as if he couldn't believe the stupidity of his children. Only Jake remained silent, patiently waiting for his dads to tell them whatever it was they'd called them together for.
"You wanna tell them?" Justin asked him in such a way that Brian knew what Justin was saying was, "You tell them."
Drawing a deep breath, Brian looked at their kids, faces bright with anticipation yet tinged a bit by apprehension. "I've decided to retire at the end of the fiscal year." Having learned the way he operated, none of the children said anything. They knew there was more. "And Justin and I are selling the house here and moving to the house in Cetona. Permanently." In the silence that followed his announcement, he and Justin exchanged glances. "That went better than I'd thought it would," he said lightly.
"You're selling the house?" asked Gus as if he hadn't just heard him say that they were.
"And he went to Yale," teased Brian.
"I just…" Visibly upset, Gus paused to gather his thoughts. Softly he said, "You got married in this house."
"We know," Justin said.
"You raised us in this house."
"And now you're grown. You've got your own homes." Justin reached for Gus' hand and squeezed it once. "When's the last time any of you actually stayed here with us?" Even at Christmas, Gus and Jake had stayed with Indy, only coming over to the house for family gatherings.
"That's not the point," said Indy. Brian waited. "The point is, you've lived here for thirty years and now you're just going to sell it to strangers and move to the house in Italy?"
"What did you think we were renovating it for?" Brian rolled his eyes in disbelief. And these were their children.
"For holidays and vacations."
"Well, now we're going on a permanent vacation."
Attempting to put things into perspective, Justin added, "We've been dreaming about this for years. And now that you're all grown up, we figured we might as well go for it before we're too old to enjoy it."
"Speaking of which, Italy's a long way away. What if something happens to you?"
"We'll get out the telegraph machine and send you a message in Morse code," Brian told her. "Italy's not that far. You've all been there. It's not like we're isolated, we're an hour and a half from Florence, for Christ's sake."
"It's not the same thing as all of us being there on vacation. You'll be there and we'll be here," she retorted.
"That's the point," he sneered.
"You just said we're never here so why do you have to go to Italy to get away from us?" she asked, mind just as sharp as ever, looking for the slightest opening to press her point.
"We're not going to get away from you," Justin explained. "We're going to get away from winters in Pittsburgh, and the traffic, and the noise, and the pollution, and the aggravation." He smiled.
"So spend the winters in Siena," said Jake.
"Ah, I was wondering when you'd pipe up," Brian said.
He shrugged. "I figured what was the point? You've made up your minds. I wouldn't be surprised if you said you already had a buyer for the house."
Gus looked startled. "Do you?"
"Actually, we do," Justin said. "An executive at the firm." Brian's firm. "He and his wife have a child and they love the house."
"We love it too." His jaw tightened so very much like Brian, Justin could almost predict what he was going to say. "But it's your house, so you can do whatever the fuck you want." He stood and left the room, going out into the backyard without his coat despite the cold January weather.
Brian looked at Justin, expecting him to go after their eldest son but Justin gave his head a tiny shake. "He's your clone."
When he was a child, he had often come out in the backyard when it was covered in snow and imagined he was an Arctic explorer searching for aliens, or woolly mammoths, or Santa Claus. The tree house Brian and Justin had built for him was still in the old oak, having done secret hideout duty for Indy and Jake too. He could remember learning to swim in the pool, Justin patiently teaching him the finer points of the front crawl. There were pictures of every birthday party they'd ever had back here and Fourth of July barbecues, graduation celebrations.
Hearing the snow crunch behind him, he glanced over his shoulder to see his Pop coming. Figured Justin would send Brian out to deal with "his clone" as they called him. Truth was, in some ways, he was more like Justin but every now and then his temper would flare up and remind everyone just whose blood flowed in his veins.
Brian laid Gus' coat over his shoulders. "You'll catch cold."
"Jake's in medical school, he can prescribe something for me."
"Don't be an ass about this."
"Fine." He started back towards the house but Brian caught his arm and made him walk with him to the bench they'd put out back years ago.
"Sit." Gus sat and Brian joined him.
"I'm sorry, Pop."
"Apologies are bullshit." Even though he'd offered a thousand of them over the years to practically everyone in his life, he still held to his credo. At least in theory.
"It's just that…" Gus paused, wondering if he'd ever be able to explain it. "I have all these memories… of us in this house." He pressed his lips together and sniffled. "You’ve been in this house almost all of my life. And all of Indy's and Jake's. No matter what, this is home."
Brian shook his head. "You think we didn't think about that before we made our decision? You think Justin won't cry his eyes out when we hand over those keys? I'll have to fuckin' console him all the way to Italy."
"Then why are you doing this?"
"Because…" He blew out a breath. "Because we need to get away. And not just for a month or two." Leaning forward, he clasped his hands between his knees. "We're not getting any younger and I want us to spend some time together, alone, before I can't get it up anymore."
Touching his father's arm, Gus asked, "There's not something wrong, is there?" He knew his grandfather Jack had died of cancer and he lived with the constant fear that his dad would one day tell him that he had it as well.
"Naw," Brian assured him. "Just old age catching up with my ass."
"Brian Kinney admitting to being old."
"Well, the proof is on the roof," he replied, running his hands through his hair, more grey than anything else anymore. He refused, like some of his more shameless friends—Emmett— to dye his hair. It was evidence of his enduring vanity that he believed he was gorgeous as is, grey hair and wrinkles and all. And Justin wouldn't disagree. "So, are you gonna cut us some slack about this?"
"You're not changing your minds, are you?" Brian shook his head. "I'm gonna miss you."
"We're not moving to the moon. There are flights from Pittsburgh to Florence every fuckin' day of the week."
Rubbing his nose, Gus asked, "What did Michael say when you told him?"
He grimaced. "Haven't. Not yet."
"Mom and Mama and Daphne?"
"When were you planning on telling them?"
"After we told you guys."
"Cause they'll understand. We figured you knuckleheads wouldn't."
Gus bumped his dad with his shoulder before turning and hugging him. "I love you, Pop."
"Better." Kissing Gus on the cheek, Brian cupped his face and looked at a vision of himself thirty years younger and smiled. "Come on, let's go back in before Indy gets Justin to change his mind."
Stopping Brian, Gus said, "I'm worried about Jake. I know he seems like he's okay with this but…"
Brian nodded. "I know. I'll talk to him. Promise."
The dramatics over for the moment, the kids helped their fathers finish off the appetizers they'd fixed and then headed off to their separate pursuits. The boys were staying with Indy again and she and Gus had planned on crashing for the evening as she'd just gotten off a long shift at work and was bushed. Jake, as he'd intimated, was having dinner with Lena and there was a good chance he wouldn't make an appearance that night at his sister's—if he got lucky.
Left on their own, Brian and Justin prepared a simple salad for dinner and carried it and a bottle of red wine up to their bedroom. Deciding just a year and a half after moving into the house that they didn't need two seating areas in their suite, they'd taken out the sofa by the fireplace and placed a small dining table between the two remaining armchairs. Barely five minutes into their meal, Justin asked what had been on his mind for the last half hour. "We're doing the right thing, aren't we?"
Taking his hand, Brian kissed his fingers. "This has been our dream."
"But the kids… they took it so hard."
"They'll be fine. I talked to Gus and I'll talk to Jake tomorrow sometime. Indy…" He waved his fingers. Who knew with Indy.
"Good," said Justin. "I'm worried about him. I don't want this to affect his studies. Medical school is hard enough without having to deal with family problems."
"This isn't a problem. This is us enjoying our retirement."
"You're retiring. I fully intend to keep writing. And drawing."
Brian frowned. "But no more book tours."
Justin agreed. "No more. I'll be a modern day J.D. Salinger." He chewed his salad reflectively, then asked, "What about you? You haven't said what you're going to do."
"I intend to sleep late; get up and have a long, leisurely breakfast; take a walk out in the olive grove; maybe read a book under a tree; and take a few pretty pictures."
"And what are you going to do the second day?" joked Justin. His eyes gleamed. "Just think, we can travel together, wherever we want. Whenever. For however long. Spend a month in Vienna—"
"Three," added Justin, getting into the spirit of things. It had been a dream of his to spend a romantic holiday in Vienna but they'd never gotten around to it. Too busy. They'd gone for a week once but it hadn't been enough and they'd never gotten back. Funny how time just passed you by when you were busy: being successful, being parents. Brian was right, they needed this time to themselves, to be a couple again, a pair of lovers. He smiled thinking of the nights they'd spent making love in the villa the times they'd managed to sneak away for a brief holiday there in the Tuscan hills.
"You're thinking about sex," teased Brian.
"Guilty as charged." He stroked Brian's fingers. "Feel like fucking the hottest fifty-year old around?"
"You've got a few more hours to enjoy being forty-nine."
Justin grinned. "I'd enjoy them even more—"
"All right, all right," Brian laughed. "Jeez. You never give an old man a break, do you?"
Smiling, Justin asked, "What old man? I don't see any old man in here."
"Then your vision must be going."
He shook his head and gathered their empty plates, leaving the wine and glasses behind. Calling over his shoulder, he said, "Be naked when I get back." Brian's laughter followed him out of the suite.
"The sooner you get out of bed, the sooner we can start celebrating your birthday," Brian told his spouse who was still lazing about beneath the covers.
"Be better off doing it in bed," Justin replied, lifting the comforter. He was gloriously naked beneath the sheets, he and Brian having celebrated a good deal last night.
Brian leaned over and kissed him on the lips. "Some of us take longer to recover," he said. "Later," he promised. Grinning, Justin got up and stretched, his buttocks lifting provocatively, tempting Brian to touch them. Which he did. Justin fairly purred as Brian stroked his ass, then drew the taller man's head down for a kiss that tempted him to call upon his reserves. Losing himself in Justin's lips and the feel of Justin's hand slipping in between the halves of his robe to run his fingers up and down his cock, Brian nearly forgot why he'd shaken his partner awake in the first place. He pulled away with a grimace and heard Justin's faint cry of complaint. "I've got breakfast ready."
"Mmm,,, Can't it wait?"
Brian pecked him on the lips again. "Nope." Popped him on the butt. "Put on your robe and let's go." Closing his own again, Brian hurried from the room. He didn't think his virtue could withstand another attack.
Begrudgingly, Justin complied with Brian's request and followed his husband downstairs where a lovely birthday breakfast awaited him in the conservatory. Despite the outlay of energy required to heat the glass room during the winter, Justin considered it an essential expense. To sit among the flowers and trees that bloomed during the cold season was something he needed to survive the harsh winters in Pittsburgh. Which was one reason why they had decided to move to Italy. In Cetona, all of the property was like one huge garden with olive trees and grapes, wild vegetables that grew in nooks and crannies uncultivated by man. Still, he'd miss this room which had been Brian's gift to him on their first wedding anniversary. This year they'd celebrate their thirtieth.
Brian had fixed his favorite breakfast: Belgian waffles with strawberries and whipped cream, Mimosas, and pork sausage that they got from a farmer in Virginia. Once a year they drove down South and restocked their supplies, depleting the hoard a few links at a time. Taking a bite of the perfectly cooked waffles: crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, Justin sighed and chewed contentedly. Then washed it down with a sip of his Mimosa. "Decadent," he said with a smile.
"Now, wasn't that worth getting out of bed for?" Brian asked, satisfying himself with half the food he'd put on Justin's plate. Some things might have changed over the years but his appetite wasn't one of them. It was still a chancy thing and this morning he had awakened famished only to have the feeling evaporate by the time he'd actually finished cooking. His mom had often joked that he lived on vapors.
Content just to be together, they spoke very little while they ate and, afterwards, Justin sat in the conservatory alone, savoring the last of the coffee, while Brian cleared everything else away. Catching his lover's hand, Justin kissed his slender fingers. "Thanks, Pookie."
"Happy Birthday." Before he got halfway to the kitchen, a phone rang somewhere in the house. The kids thought it was terribly old fashioned of them to actually have a telephone line in addition to their cells but it comforted both Brian and Justin to have a number just for their home. Putting down the dishes he was carrying, Brian answered. "Yeah."
"Figured you and the birthday boy would still be in bed."
Brian sneered even though Michael couldn't see it. "Saving it up for later."
"He must have had you up late last night then," Michael said knowingly.
"After midnight," Brian groaned.
"That's what happens when you put a middle-aged guy with a senior citizen," teased Michael.
Brian confessed, "I knew one day those twelve years separating us would come back to bite me on the ass."
"So the party's still on for tonight?"
"Definitely. The caterers and the party planners will be here this afternoon and everything should be set up and ready to go by six." He paused. "Jeff still coming?"
"Far as I know."
Brian had long ago forgiven Jeff for the story he'd done on Kenneth's funeral and suicide. So many years had passed that even the pain of losing Kenneth had faded and all that was left was a sepia-toned memory and an occasional pang of regret that they hadn't been able to grow old as friends.
Jeff and Michael had been partners now for decades having spent the first few years after the Kenneth debacle in an off-again, on-again relationship that exhausted them both to the point where they figured they'd just give up pretending that they could do without one another. Once they'd done that, things had settled down and life had progressed as smoothly as life could progress when one partner was a reporter and a vagabond by nature and the other was a definite nester. Still, Brian supposed that was the reason they'd stayed together all these years: Jeff always knew that there was someone waiting for him when he was through traveling and Michael always knew that the wait would be worth it when Jeff returned.
"Brian!" called Justin from the conservatory.
"Her Majesty calls," said Michael before Brian could tell him. "I'll see you later."
"Later, Mikey." Hanging up the phone, Brian finished loading the dishwasher, fished a bowl out of the refrigerator, and then went to see what his Birthday Baby wanted. Found him stretched out on the sofa. Naked. Pale skin luminous in the early morning sunlight that bathed him from above. He had his fist wrapped around a very impressive erection and a lascivious grin stretched across his face.
"I hope there's some whipped cream left," Justin told Brian and the man smiled, cool as ice, and showed him what he'd brought: a bowl filled with peaks as perfect as Justin's nipples.
"I saved mine for later," Brian explained.
Using his tongue, Justin summoned him and sighed as Brian used two fingers to paint his cock a lovely shade of white.
Anyone would have thought the two men were going to spend the evening alone in their house enjoying a private and very romantic dinner the way they smiled when they greeted their guests. This despite having gone through an afternoon from hell wherein the caterers and party planners had engaged in a screaming match to rival the War Between the States. However, Brian and Justin had wisely stayed out of the altercation, busying themselves with getting ready to play hosts to a house full of well-wishers. And, of course, fooling around a bit in the shower, the closet, the bedroom proper, the hallway…
Most of their friends and family came in groups: Michael and Jeff; Emmett and Mario; Ted and Drew (which still shocked and amazed Brian whenever he thought about it); Daphne tagging along with Mel and Lindsay; Molly and her husband, Ando, whom they all called Andy; Claire; Justin's editor, Emile; Cynthia and her live-in, Lyle; Craig, still looking dapper despite being in his late seventies; Jennifer, who had only grown more regal as she aged; Keisha and Cecil who'd married decades ago; other friends from the neighborhood and work; and Xavier, who had driven up from DC to celebrate his friend's fiftieth birthday. Rennie couldn't make it as she was in Bonn at the moment getting ready for the opening of her latest show.
Once everyone had arrived and had a few appetizers as well as a few drinks, the waiters began circulating again to make sure everyone had some champagne. Then Brian tapped his glass to get their attention and raised his flute to a red-cheeked Justin who had never gotten used to being the center of attention despite numerous book tours and interviews. "We're here to celebrate Justin's fiftieth birthday. The one good thing about being an old man like me is that half a century still looks pretty, damn hot from where I'm standing." Their guests laughed and Justin shook his head. Brian would never change. Thank God. "So, here's to my better half. Happy Birthday, Baby."
"Happy Birthday," chimed the chorus of guests.
"Salute." And they drank to Justin's health, Brian nuzzling his neck with a kiss afterwards. "I love you," he whispered.
Justin turned his head to meet his lips. "I know."
Inquisitive as always, Emmett asked, "So, Bri, what did you get Justin for the big five-oh?"
He shook his head. "Nothing much."
Again, no one spoke. They knew the Kinney Method all too well.
"Just a Maserati Spyder. Vintage. Mint condition."
Michael almost wept. "What year?"
"Ask him what I got him for his birthday," Justin told him.
Brian pushed his tongue into the side of his cheek before answering. "Ferrari Spider. 2005. Purrs like a kitten."
The collector in him sighed. "Where are they?"
"Italy. Figured we might as well kept them there since we'll be moving to Cetona in eight months," said Justin.
The room went quiet.
"Oops?" said Brian incredulously. "You spill the beans and all you can say is 'Oops?' "
"More dip?" he suggested.
Rolling his eyes, Brian mumbled, "Here it comes."
"So," said Lindsay, sliding up beside Brian, "you've got it all figured out, do you?"
Groaning, Brian knocked back the rest of his champagne. "Least I know where Indy gets it from."
"Her incredible capacity to nag."
Offended, Lindsay said, "I have no intention of nagging you." Before they could sigh in relief, she added, "Merely to remind you of the facts."
"Lindz… if this is going to be another lecture about how old I am and how far away Italy is, save it. Indy already covered that ground."
"Not you. Deb and Jenn and Craig. Your mom might be gone but they're still here and they're not getting any younger."
Although Craig and Jenn lived alone in assisted living communities, Deb had decided to remain in her house, cohabiting with a live-in helper courtesy of Michael's chain of comic book stores.
"Michael's here. He can look after Deb and Molly and Andy can take care of Jenn and Craig."
"Besides," Justin cut in, "it's not like we're abandoning them. Italy's not that far away."
That Michael had fallen silent hadn't escaped Brian's notice. Giving his friend the signal, he made his way to the French doors leading to the backyard. "Gotta smoke," he told Justin although his spouse knew very well why he was going out there.
In silence Brian lit up a cigarette and waited while his best friend figured out what he wanted to say and how. Then, in typical Michael fashion, he said, "I don't want you to go."
"Well, if you did, that'd be exactly three of us. And some days I'm not so sure of either me or Justin." Shook his head disparagingly.
"Then why are you doing this?"
Brian offered him the cigarette but Michael refused. He put it out. Justin would be happy with him. "Cause it'll be our last, great adventure," he answered with a soft smile on his face.
Immediately concerned, Michael touched his arm. "You're not...?"
"No." Brian shrugged. "But I’m sure it's around the bend. Someday," he said. Cancer, he meant. It'd taken his dad and a goodly number of relatives on the Kinney side of the family. He was only waiting for his number to be called up. "And I don't want to be in Pitts, regretting what I didn't do, when it happens."
"What regrets?" Michael asked. "You've done everything you've ever wanted to do."
"I want to spend time with my husband. I want to putter around in the garden and take long walks to fuckin' nowhere and fall asleep under the most incredible sky you've ever seen. Being there, Mikey, it feels like home."
"You're Irish. Ireland's home."
"Who knows? Maybe some Romans came to Ireland back when they were conquering Britain. I might actually be part Italian somewhere back along the family line." That would explain his uncanny resemblance to Michelangelo's David something all the visitors to the Galleria dell'Accademia commented on the day he and Justin toured the museum. "I can't explain it, but this feels like the right thing to do."
Something in his tone told Michael that no matter how many doubts Brian might have about moving to Italy, move he would. There was a longing in his eyes that Michael had never seen before and he knew that staying here in Pitts was not the answer. "How long have you and Justin been planning this?"
"We started kicking the idea around when we first bought the house in Cetona but neither one of us was really serious. It seemed kinda crazy, packing up and moving to Italy. Then, a few years back, when I was first thinking about retiring early, we talked about it again and it didn't seem so crazy anymore."
Silencing any other objections, Michael hugged his friend. "Then I hope you two are happy there."
As they returned to the party, Brian spotted Justin talking to Xavier and decided this was a good time to corner Jake about coming over and seeing him tomorrow. It took a while to find him among all the people as most folks wanted him to stop and talk about their plans to move to Italy but when he did find him, finally, he laughed out loud. Jake and Lena were holed up in his old room making out. As they broke apart, blushing furiously, Brian chuckled. "You're Justin's kid all right."
Assuring Lena that it wouldn't take long, whatever his Pop wanted, Jake closed the door behind him and struggled to keep a straight face as he and Brian stood out in the hallway. He lost the battle and he and Brian giggled recalling a similar situation years before Jake had even been born. Wiping his eyes, he asked, "So what's up, Pop?"
"Come by the house tomorrow? Have brunch with your old man before you leave town?"
Just the two of them, that's what Brian was telling him which meant there was something he needed to talk to Jake about. The medical student knew what the subject of conversation would be: the move to Italy. No one had been fooled by his studied nonchalant attitude. "Sure, Pop."
Brian gestured to Jake's old room. "Better lock the door. Both doors," meaning the one from the guest bathroom as well. As he left, he grinned, pleased that he hadn't been struck blind by seeing a straight couple make out.
Touching Keisha's arm in passing, Justin and Xavier went out into his studio and closed the French doors behind them.
"Well," said Xavier," now I'll have somewhere to stay when I'm in Italy."
"Please, the way your stuff is selling, you could buy your own place."
"Yeah, but I like DC. Besides, Nana Rose would kill me if I moved to Italy and nothing could get her to leave the District. So…" He shrugged. "I'll make do with visits." With a small smile, Xavier confessed, "It'll be strange, you being so far away."
"We hardly see each other anymore," Justin pointed out to him.
"But it was different because I could see you if I wanted to. Or rather, if you had wanted to see me."
Head bowed, Justin said, "I wanted to see you. I just thought it'd be easier for you if we didn't." Xavier had been singularly unlucky in love, none of his relationships had lasted and it looked as if he'd end up alone, with only his art to comfort him. Justin had been acutely aware of the fact that Xavier had envied him to a degree because of his marriage and also that the man still loved him. Maybe not as intensely as when they were younger but the love was still there. As for his feelings, he still cared for Xavier but whatever passion he'd felt for him had long ago dissipated.
"You're right," replied Xavier. "There were times when I wanted to see you so badly but I knew I had to stay away. For both of our sakes."
The sculptor's eyes glistened. "I still love you, J. Always will, I guess. I suppose that's why I never… I never could get it together with anyone else, make it work."
"I'm sorry." Justin ached for his friend.
"I'm not. Growing up in the projects, losing my mom when I was just a kid, that was some good shit to channel into my art but it was nothing compared to loving you for almost thirty years." He chuckled. "Nana Rose used to laugh and say you must have had some ass to keep me dreaming about it after all these years." And it sounded so much like her that Justin laughed too. "But that wasn't it. It was…" He fell silent, unable to put into words just what kept him in love with Justin but he didn't have to explain because Justin understood.
It was what he felt for Brian, an indescribable feeling that you'd found that missing part of you that you may not have even been aware was gone, that feeling of wholeness, of finally being complete. It was the relief you felt after having come, magnified a thousand times. And a feeling of security, of being safe, being cared for, cherished. Slipping his arm about his friend's shoulder, Justin kissed his cheek. "You're the only other person I've ever loved in my life," he said, fingers resting lightly on Xavier's honey-colored skin. He smiled. "Come on, there's some champagne left and if I let Brian drink it all, he'll be unbearably silly the rest of the night."
Unfortunately, Brian was already behaving terribly silly, he and Mikey putting on an impromptu reunion of the World's Worst Rock 'n' Roll duo. Rescuing their guests by pretending to need Brian on party business, Justin ushered him off to the kitchen and force fed him a cup of strong black coffee.
Thinking he would be alone, Xavier climbed the curved steps to the second floor and walked out onto the balcony just off the library. Someone else was there, leaning over the balustrade. Tall and lean. For a moment, Xavier thought it was Brian and then he realized it was Gus. His guess was verified as the man looked around and smiled.
He really was beautiful. An almost carbon copy of Brian but with subtle differences. He wasn't quite as tall, his nose wasn't exactly the same, and if you looked into his eyes they seemed softer somehow, as if the green among the brown came from moss on trees rather than emeralds embedded in hard stone.
"Hey," replied Xavier. "I didn't know anyone would be out here. I'll just—"
Gus turned all the way around and leaned back against the railing. "Stay. Keep me company."
So Xavier took a seat at the table Brian and Justin had put out here even though they hardly came out on that particular balcony. Gus, on the other hand, had loved it and had often sat out there while he was growing up.
"This is one of my favorite places," he said and Xavier noticed that he didn't say "was" he said "is".
"So how do you feel about the big move?"
He grimaced. "Hate it." Blinked and his hazel eyes seemed to gleam in the moonlight. "But I have to let go of it. This house and the dream that we'll always be here." He smiled ruefully. "Everything changes, no matter how hard you fight it. Best you can do is try to keep it together, you know?"
The expression on Gus' face shifted almost imperceptibly. "You've never stopped loving him, have you?"
No point in equivocating. "No."
Gus folded his arms and studied Xavier, eyes having gone almost completely green. "I saw your pieces in the Hirshhorn when I was down in DC on business a few months ago. It was amazing, your stuff sitting next to Picasso and David Smith."
"I can hardly believe it myself sometimes."
Without looking away, Gus said, "There was a time in my life when I hated my dad… because he was all you could see."
Xavier's breath seemed to ebb away.
"Even in a room full of people, it was like there was no one else in the world but Justin." Gus pressed his lips together. "I couldn't compete with that. So I put that dream away too." He pushed off the balustrade and started past Xavier when the older man caught his arm.
"Gus." He couldn’t believe what Gus was saying—implying—no saying. Gus had wanted him, still wanted him. And how did he feel? He'd always thought Gus was attractive but he'd watched him grow up, used to play with him when he was a toddler. He'd never thought of him sexually. Yet, here he was, a grown man, a very attractive man who was telling him that he was attracted to him.
In the silence that had ensued, Gus had made some assumptions. "It's okay. I'm a big boy. I'm used to disappointment."
Xavier stood, his head but a hair's breadth lower than Gus'. "So am I. But that could change. Maybe it's time we both let go of some old dreams and started working on some new ones."
If Justin was surprised to see Xavier and Gus coming downstairs together, looking as if they'd discovered Aladdin's cave, he had no time to ruminate on it as a ruckus had just broken out between Brian and Indy.
"Why are you so dead set against us going to Italy?"
"Because this isn't the best time!"
"Why not? What are we waiting for? The summer solstice, the vernal equinox?"
"I’m pregnant!" she yelled and the room went silent. Even the waiters stopped in their tracks.
In the silence a voice rang out that sounded like the tolling of the bells in Notre Dame. "What did you say?" It was Mel and pissed did not even begin to describe her mood.
"I said I'm having your first fuckin' grandchild." You had to give it to Indy, she didn't back down, not a whit. Came from growing up with Mel and Brian as parents and Justin and Lindsay who were every bit as stubborn as their more volatile spouses.
Justin sat on the edge of a chair. "How do you like that? Upstaged at my own goddamn birthday party."
The last of the caterer's staff had gone and Brian gratefully locked the kitchen door and set the alarm. Finally. Only the night was far from over. He fully anticipated having to stay up another couple of hours at least while he and Justin talked and/or made love. As exhausted as he was, he was hoping the desire for sex won out as he didn't think he could stand any more talking tonight. Especially since he had the sinking feeling that Justin had changed his mind about moving in light of Indy's news. Despite her initial anger at having heard about their grandchild in such a public forum, even Mel had started cooing over the mother-to-be and it was all they could do to keep Lindsay from running out and buying baby clothes in the middle of the night. And Justin, his eyes had lit up like Gus' used to on Christmas morning. As for Gus, something was up with him and Xavier, they'd left together and it didn't take a genius to figure out there'd be some moaning and groaning going on in Xavier's hotel room tonight. Brian suddenly felt very dizzy and out of his depth.
Closing the door behind him he saw that Justin was still dressed and sitting on top of the bed. Bad sign. That meant more talking. Taking a deep breath, he prepared himself for an extra-long session. But Justin only stood and met him at the side of the bed. Kissed him deeply and said, "We are not having a party for your birthday."
"Just skipping right to the good part," Brian told him as he began pulling Justin's sweater over his head.
Thirty years. He very nearly panicked when he woke up and realized that today was his thirtieth wedding anniversary although he and Justin had been looking forward to it and planning for it for weeks. Despite wanting to spend as much time at the house before they sold it, they'd decided to go away to the inn where they'd spent more than one anniversary. Unfortunately, that plan had been scrapped. The kids had nearly revolted when they'd found out that they weren't even going to be home for their anniversary. So, instead of looking forward to a quiet dinner and a night of making love, they had to endure a brunch in their honor. Maybe they'd still get a chance to do dinner alone and, of course, making love was definitely on the agenda for later. If not sooner.
Having awaken before Justin, Brian propped his head on his hand and lay watching his spouse sleep. After all these years, it still remained a guilty pleasure. Unable to help himself, he reached out and traced the edge of Justin's bottom lip with his finger. Justin woke and those blue eyes trapped him as they always did. Brian could feel his heart swell against the bindings Justin had placed around it. Leaning forward, Brian kissed him. Whispered, "Happy Anniversary."
Justin smiled. "Best way to wake up." He held up the covers as Brian moved closer to him and eased an arm and a leg over him so that they were pressed against one another. Even after thirty years, they still got excited about making love. Rolling them over so that he was on top of Brian, Justin rubbed against Brian as they kissed, one cock stroking the other. Brian cupped Justin's ass and covered it in feather-light touches, urging his lover to grind harder against him. He loved the feel of Justin's cock against his belly, especially when it got hard, leaving traces of precum on his skin. Although it took them a little longer to get stoked, once the fires roared, the flames didn't die down for a good long time. Justin said it just stressed the importance of foreplay, something young people didn't appreciate in their hurry to fuck. He often bragged that he'd been fortunate to have an older lover, someone who had loved to keep him on the edge of coming for as long as he could. Justin remembered an endless progression of nights that had lasted way past midnight, Brian teasing him almost to the point of no return, only to ease off and begin again, driving him crazy. But those had been some of the best orgasms of his life. Not that they hadn't all been fantastic.
Brian loved kissing his way down Justin's body, his lover still so slender that he could fit him in the hollow of his am and hold him as his lips traveled the length of his torso.
His nipple ring put away years ago, his nubs were no less sensitive and responded to Brian's lips by stiffening and standing out from his chest as if they were yearning for Brian's mouth, which they were. He arched his back and Brian swirled his tongue around one stiff nipple, then the other.
Down his chest. Over his belly. He left kisses all over his skin and then shifted so that he lay between Justin's legs. Nuzzling his spouse's full sac, he began kissing up his shaft, the plump head his destination. Before he'd reached the halfway point, Justin had fisted his cock and was pointing the head towards his lips. Smiling, Brian opened his mouth around the tip and kissed it gently. Flicked his tongue over the end. Justin sighed. His Baby was hungry so he gave him what he needed, closing his lips over Justin's cock head and sucking the swollen cap until Justin cried out in pleasure. Sliding down the length of the shaft, he thumped the turgid organ with his tongue until the first of the precum began bubbling up at the tip to smear over the roof of his mouth. There was no inch of Justin's cock that he did not know intimately and he flaunted his knowledge by doing all the things Justin loved best: digging into the tip of his dick with his tongue, sucking the bump where the shaft met the head, and running his tongue up the large vein that stretched up from his balls. He worked Justin over until the younger man began to pant, signaling that he was getting close. Brian let his cock slide slowly from between his lips. Bussed the head one last time and then lay next to him, stroking his nipples and prick again as he turned his attention once more to Justin's lips, kissing him so deeply his tongue was able to run over Justin's back teeth.
Caught up in a kiss that threatened to undo him, Justin knew he had to distract himself, had to turn the tables on Brian before he spewed all over them both. Pushing Brian away, he crawled on top of him and straddled him, head over Brian's crotch. He wrapped his fist around his cock and French kissed the end, probing the opening with his tongue as his lips formed a tight seal around the cap. He could hear Brian groaning and grunting, could feel his cock hardening in his grip and he continued to maul his dick with his lips and tongue, even running his teeth gently over the edge of the head. Precum wet Brian's cock and Justin's hand and lips and face. He licked it from Brian's dick, purring contentedly.
Brian shivered. Nothing turned him on so much as Justin getting turned on enough to purr. Especially if he had his cock in his mouth at the time. His eyes having narrowed to slits, he opened them a bit, and then wider, mesmerized by the sight of Justin's hole quivering in front of him. Each time Justin applied pressure to his cock and pulled up, his hole drew in and then relaxed. Brian knew what Justin wanted. He wanted a thick cock buried up his backside. He'd get it. But first, Brian would make him beg for it. Wetting his fingers with spit, Brian grasped Justin's balls and began fondling them. Having gotten Justin's attention as evidenced by the way the purring increased in volume, Brian slowly ran the fingers of one hand up the muscle that stretched from his balls to his asshole. By the time his fingers reached his hole, Justin's lips had gone completely slack around Brian's dick. But instead of going directly for the center of Justin's ass, Brian encircled the flesh around the knotted opening, moving alternately closer and then farther away until Justin said in a strangled voice, "Christ!" Brian took his hand away and, amidst Justin's complaints, wet his fingers with lube. Then, using one hand to spread Justin's hole open, he eased two fingers inside his ass.
"Yes," he moaned, feeling a little dizzy. Face laying on Brian's cock, Justin worked to keep from crying out as Brian fucked him, his fingers sinking down into his ass only to slide back out to the rim. Justin's hole relaxed, Brian added a third finger and held on while Justin bucked a little. When the fourth finger joined the others, Justin stiffened and cried out, then settled back down to enjoy his husband's ministrations.
He twisted his fingers as he entered and exited Justin's hole, first quickly then slowly, fascinated by the differences in sensation that it provided both he and Justin. He alternated between deep and shallow strokes, sometimes only sliding his fingers in an inch, working the rim of his ass, other times going deep down enough to massage his prostate.
It was after one such foray when Brian's finger had bumped into his prostate that Justin jerked and reached back to still Brian's hand. "Oh God," he panted. "Fuck me. Fuck me." His cock was rock hard and his ass ached to be filled with a stiff prick. "Fuck me…"
Withdrawing his fingers, Brian got up on his knees behind Justin and lubed his cock. Justin held onto the footboard and his breath as Brian mounted him, releasing his breath all at once as Brian's cock pushed past his prostate. He trembled as his husband buried his cock inside him and paused.
Grabbing hold of the footboard as well, Brian supported himself as he fucked Justin's ass. The bed shook as he plowed him open, forgetting they were neither one of them young anymore. All that mattered was his cock and Justin's ass.
Justin twisted his head to the side and moaned. Recognizing Justin's call for what it was, Brian latched onto his mouth and kissed him hard as they fucked. They'd both be achy tomorrow but they'd make it through most of today, jazzed on the buzz from this session.
Loathe to part, Brian pulled out anyway and drew Justin back further onto the bed. Flipped him over and put a pillow up under his hips to help him maintain the right angle. They actually loved fucking doggy-style but sometimes Brian needed to feel Justin's legs around his waist and this was one of those times. With Justin holding his legs up by the knees, Brian leaned over him and entered him. Mouth open, Justin crossed his legs behind Brian's back and held on.
From the moment he'd slid back inside Justin's warm hole, Brian had been lost. Hips pumping in a blur, he buried his face in Justin's neck and let his body do what it would. How many years had they been fucking? And each time he pushed inside him it felt like the first time, like something magical. Add to that feeling the fact that Justin knew how to work a man's dick with his hole until he had you screaming. He knew how to tighten and relax his muscles with such skill that it felt like he was sucking you off even as you fucked him.
His own cock sliding along Brian's belly leaving a trail of precum, Justin relished the feel of Brian's dick tunneling up his ass. God, there was nothing like that feeling even after so many years. Brian's cock was perfect, was still something worth waiting for, worth begging for, worth opening up his legs and ass for. Throwing his head back, he shouted and came, cum smearing between their bellies. His hole tightened around Brian's prick and his husband grunted and jabbed him hard.
"Uh," Brian groaned and he came inside Justin's ass with a feeling of relief.
Returning to the dining room from a long journey to the kitchen, Indy said, "Well, at least the kitchen and the dining room are next to each other in the new house. Old house." She shrugged. "The house."
With a sigh, Brian asked, "We're not having that discussion again, are we?"
Gus shook his head. "No point, is there?"
Indy looked at her brother as if he'd just stabbed her in the back. "Oh, now that you and Xavier are cozying up to one another, you don't care that Dad and Daddy are moving halfway around the world."
"You know, Indy, pregnancy really brings out the inner cunt in you."
"Hey!" shouted Mel. "Watch your mouth."
Justin rolled his eyes and sipped his wine. It would have been so nice to celebrate alone. Had been nice this morning, lazing in bed while the hours slipped away.
Ever the peacemaker, Lindsay tried to calm everyone down. "Could we please, just once have a normal meal like a normal family without all the yelling and shouting and name calling?"
Which made it worse.
"What exactly do you mean by normal?" Brian asked. "You mean like breeders?"
"Your daughter's a breeder," Mel pointed out.
"So's one of your sons," said Daphne.
"One," Brian replied, "technically Indy isn't a breeder since her baby's daddy came out of a vial and she didn't have to fuck anybody to get it; and, two, neither is Jake as he hasn't fathered any kids. That we know of," he added.
Before tempers could erupt again, Justin stood up. Quiet descended upon the table as they waited to hear what he had to say. Only trouble was he hadn't known what he was going to say when he sprang out of his chair. So he just stood there for a moment before sitting back down. Brian smirked from the other end but said nothing.
Unfortunately, Indy did not. "You're not having an Alzheimer's moment are you?"
Jake exploded. "Gus is right, you are a cunt sometimes."
"Okay!" Everyone looked down at Brian. "I don't want to hear the word cunt spoken again at this table. I'm a fuckin' faggot, for Christ's sake, the last thing I want to have to think about is pussy."
"This is helping," Justin muttered under his breath.
"As a matter of fact, how about we all just shut the fuck up and eat so that all of you people who don't live here can take your asses home and we can get some peace and quiet?" There was silence for a second and then the sound of forks striking plates as everyone prepared to launch into their own individual diatribes. Disgusted, Brian got up and tossed his napkin down in his chair. "Hell," he mumbled and left the room.
Justin surveyed the table and spoke softly as was his way. "Thanks for a lovely anniversary brunch." He followed Brian and found his husband sitting in the conservatory, staring out at the backyard. Hearing him come, Brian held out his hand and made room for him on the sofa.
"No, you were right." Justin bussed his cheek. "What a complete and utter clusterfuck." He laid his head against Brian's shoulder.
Someone cleared their throat in the doorway of the conservatory. They turned and saw their family standing there, everyone gathered around Gus who held two boxes in his hand. "Happy Anniversary."
Motioning with his head, Brian gave them permission to enter the space. They did and stood around shamefacedly while Gus handed his fathers their presents. Afterwards, he moved next to Lindsay on the other side of the room while they opened the boxes.
As usual, Justin tarried over opening his present, taking his time removing the top with its shiny silver bow. The boxes were dark blue with silver accents, mirroring their wedding colors. Brian had already gotten his open and sat staring at the contents in disbelief. He looked up at his family and smiled softly. "You assholes."
Justin finally lifted the top and his eyes widened in surprise. "Oh my God…"
Always the first to venture forth after battle, Indy crossed to her fathers. "You like them?"
"They're… they're amazing," Justin said, removing the ring from its box. "Where'd you get them?"
"Place in Jersey," Gus said.
"Ten diamonds, one for every three years you've been together," Jake explained.
Brian held the ring between his fingers. It was exquisitely beautiful.
"Platinum," said Gus. "Just like the ones you already have. They're even engraved."
Justin looked at the inside of the ring. A lifetime is not enough.
"We know they can't replace the ones you have but maybe you could wear them on special occasions or something," Indy suggested, showing more tact than anyone would have suspected her of having.
Brian held up his right hand. "Got two hands." He held out his ring to Justin and Justin did the same with his. Exchanging them, they very solemnly placed the anniversary bands on one another's right hand. Then, in the presence of their family, they kissed as they had so many years ago, Brian holding Justin's face in his palms. "I love you," he whispered as they remained close together, foreheads touching.
"Always," Justin promised.
In remembrance of the first time they'd celebrated Brian's birthday in the house, they had supper outside in the courtyard off the living room. Only this time they didn't have to worry about Leo getting out accidentally. He'd died years ago and been buried in the back yard with a little stone marker proclaiming him to be "Leo I", their intention having been to purchase another kitten and name him Leo II, "Like the Pope," Brian had said. But they hadn't been able to bring themselves to buy another cat and, with their schedules, it had probably been for the best. Now that Brian was retiring and he was going into semi-retirement, Justin suggested they wait until they moved. Maybe they'd find an abandoned kitten and give him a home in exchange for keeping the mice away.
Like the first time, they split up the cooking duties, Brian grilling Porterhouse steaks outside and Justin fixing appetizers inside. There was even a cake from Gaia's, although Gaia's daughter now ran the main bakery while her mother held court at the smaller, original location, presiding over a new crew of assistants. Over the years they'd had twink cakes and dildo cakes and once even a cake in the shape of Justin's ass. He'd made the mold himself and then had an aluminum pan cast from the mold. Gaia had laughed for days after delivering that cake to them. Tonight there was just a simple carrot cake, pedestrian but delicious nonetheless.
The lights they'd purchased thirty years ago to string in the wisteria still worked and glittered overhead as they ate beneath the trees' twinkling canopies. Brian very nearly sighed as he chewed his steak, prepared just the way he liked it. Over the years he'd gotten Justin to eat his medium rare instead of well-done but he would never convince Justin that rare was the way to go and, even now, he sat wrinkling his nose at his husband who laughed and finished his meal.
"Sometimes," Justin said, "it feels like it's still 2003 and we've only just started out."
"And then you look over at that old guy sitting across from you and you know that's just a dream," Brian snickered.
Justin put down his wine glass and reached for Brian's hand. "You're still beautiful. I still dream about you and wake up wanting you."
"You wanna have cake upstairs?"
Answering with one of his hundred megawatt smiles, Justin began gathering the dishes to take inside.
"You've gotta hope
They loved that old song and were pretty fond of the movie too except that Brian didn't really care for Emily Watson at all. "Too skinny," he called her as if he weren't whipcord thin himself. Still, they liked Adam Sandler and they loved the song. Each year, usually on their anniversary, they danced to it. This year they dragged it out again for Brian's birthday. Dancing in their suite, they reminisced about all the other birthday celebrations they'd enjoyed or endured since moving into the house including Brian's infamous 50th birthday extravaganza that almost didn't happen.
"Well," he admitted when Justin asked him why he'd changed his mind, "Gus is pretty persuasive." After his son had talked to him, Brian had realized what an ass he was being and had gone in and apologized to Justin as he should have.
"That he is," Justin agreed. Then he brought up the subject he'd been wanting to bring up for weeks now, ever since Gus had confessed that his one-night stand with Xavier had progressed to being something a lot more serious despite living in two different cities. "So what do you think about him and Xavier?"
"I think Gus is a smart kid and he wouldn't get into something he couldn't handle. He can handle Xavier."
"Just seems so strange. I mean, Xavier's old enough to be his father."
"He's only seventeen years older than Gus. Same as you."
"Like I said, he's old enough to be his father."
"A very young and sexy father."
"You think Xavier is sexy?"
"I think you are sexy."
Justin smiled despite himself and shook his head as Brian kissed him.
"And I don't want to think about our son having sex with someone we've both had sex with," he added which let Justin know that Brian had concerns about the relationship as well but, as was his way, he'd decided to let Gus handle as he saw fit.
"I'd much rather think about having sex with you," Justin told him.
"Why think about it when you can just do it?"
Laughing throatily, Justin led the way to their bed.
Raising her glass, Cynthia offered a toast. "To Brian Kinney: the toughest, sharpest, and smartest son of a bitch to ever run an ad campaign." The other members of the firm's senior and junior management staff agreed and clapped and hooted before drinking a toast to their soon-to-be ex-boss. As Brian kissed her cheek, she wished him good luck.
"I intend to have a ball. Or maybe two." He raised a brow and she giggled. "So… don't tell me you got me a gold watch for my retirement gift."
Signaling someone in the back, she shook her head. "I know better. Close your eyes," she told him as the guy returned with the gift. Brian complied and waited until she gave him the word to open them.
It was a print of an Italian castle. Obviously a reproduction but done on quality paper and beautifully framed. It would look perfect in their place in Cetona. Lost in the details, he realized he was being rude and wrenched his eyes from the print. Gestured at it. "Thanks, guys. This is really great. Justin will love it."
"Surprised he's not here," she said.
"I think he's having a hard time with this. Not that he doesn't want to go. He just… it's hard… leaving home."
"What about you? No more ten hour days, no more deadlines…"
"I figure we'll be so busy packing up the house here that it'll feel like I'm still at work. But," he confessed, "once we get there and get settled, it'll be harder." He bit his lip. "Luckily, I've got my cameras and the car. And there are plenty of places we want to see, things we want to do. I'll be fine."
"We're gonna miss you."
"Nah," he said. "Hell, it'll be a chance to do things your own way for a change. Besides, you'll be retiring in what? Five years?" Cynthia had worked her way up to chief operating officer of the firm and there was no one better. They'd lose a valuable partner the day she retired. Of course, there were any number of young hotshots waiting to take both their places. Looking out over the sea of eager faces, watching the dealmakers at work even at a retirement party, he grinned. Such was the way of the world. It waited not a moment, not even for an old player to take his final bow.
Placing the last folder into his briefcase, Brian looked around the office he'd occupied for the past thirty years. He could have moved into a larger office once Sears had retired and Ryder had taken his space but he hadn't wanted to. He'd set down roots in this office, despite some of the less pleasant things that had occurred in there, namely Kenneth's suicide. Even though the carpet had been replaced more than once, he could still see the stain where Kenneth's blood had been spilled. Could still hear him say, "I would never hurt you." If only Kenneth hadn't hurt him. But he'd survived.
Justin pushed open the door and caught the pensive look on Brian's face before it could completely disappear. "You okay?"
"I was just thinking about things." He didn't want to say.
"Kenneth?" He knew the way Brian operated, knew he could not have thought about Kenneth on this day of all days.
"Such a waste," he said, a line drawn between his brows, and said no more on the subject. He closed his briefcase. "Didn't think I'd see you down here today."
"I thought you might need some help."
Brian grabbed his coat. "Get that?"
Justin picked up the print from the sofa. "Nice."
"For our new place."
"Our new old place?"
Brian smiled and flipped off the lights, leaving behind the ghosts of his past.
There were any number of ways Brian liked to be awakened in the middle of the night: Justin's cock pressing against his hip, Justin's mouth on his cock, Justin's mouth on his mouth… But to wake up to the jarring sound of the telephone ringing was not one of them. As his partner sat up, Brian grabbed the phone from the bedside table. "Yeah?"
"What time is it?" Justin asked sleepily as if Brian knew the answer to that question.
It was Lindsay. Instantly, he became alert. "What is it?"
"It's Indy. She's at the hospital. We're at the hospital. The baby's coming."
Brian said aside to Justin, "The baby's coming."
"Shit," he said, throwing back the covers.
"I guess we're heading over," Brian told her before hanging up. Joining Justin in the closet, they dressed in silence. Before leaving, Brian grabbed his digital camera and a package from his dresser drawer.
Mel was waiting for them when they arrived at Allegany General. "Lindsay's in there with her." Since there wasn't a father, Lindsay was serving as Indy's coach. Having had two children, she was more than qualified. Mel, who had been Lindsay's coach during both of her deliveries, was more than happy to sit out this one. The whole miracle of birth phenomena always seemed a bit messy to her. So while Lindsay had her hands full keeping Indy relatively calm, the rest of her parents (minus Daphne) sprawled out in the waiting area either trying to stay awake or trying to come down off the ceiling. They spent the next few hours jerking around like frogs being submitted to electroshock therapy.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Lindsay came out with the good news. "It's a girl."
"Yes!" said Mel, who had wanted a girl to break the gender tie in the family. Now there would be five women and four men. Until the next child was born.
"Glad it wasn't twins," Justin whispered to Brian.
"How's Indy?" Brian asked.
"She's definitely your daughter. The language…" Blushing, Lindsay recounted a list of the more colorful words Indy had yelled during labor to the amusement of the other people who had gathered in the waiting room. "But she's fine. We'll be able to go in and see them in a little while."
"What's the baby look like?" Mel asked.
"She's got hair like Indy's."
"Before or after the dye job?" as India always dyed her hair a deeper brown than it was naturally.
"Father could be blond or brunet," Justin said.
Aware that some of the other waiting room occupants were eavesdropping, Brian said loud enough for them to hear, "Well, I'm sure you get what you order at the old sperm bank," which earned him a smack on the arm from Justin.
Mel cut her eyes at the both of them, then turned back to her partner. "What else?"
"She's got hazel eyes, almost green. Just like her granddaddy's."
"Christ," groused Mel, "she would go out and pick an anonymous donor who looked like that asshole."
In due time the nurse came out and gave them permission to go back and see Indy and the baby. They almost didn't recognize her, she looked so vulnerable. Indy had made it a point never to look vulnerable which wasn't hard to do as she was tall and had dark, piercing eyes which she used to her advantage. Lying in bed with a newborn in her arms, she could have been a modern day Madonna. And not the musical one with literary pretensions. However, as soon as she saw her parents enter the room, Indy the lioness reared her head.
"Too late," Brian told her. "We saw you."
"What?" she challenged.
"You looked like you might actually be someone's mother," he teased.
And she smiled. "I am someone's mother."
As the three grandparents who hadn't seen the baby yet crowded over the bed, Lindsay asked, "Picked out a name yet?"
"Huh?" asked Mel.
"Jett. Like Joan Jett. I wanted to name her after Nana but I don't really like Joan as a name so I picked Jett."
Accepting her convoluted thinking, they inquired after her middle name.
"Michelle, after Nana Jenn."
"Jett Michelle Peterson," said Lindsay. "I like it." She and Mel took the baby from Indy and cooed over her while Justin tried to get a peek in edgewise.
As if he'd suddenly remembered it, Brian handed Indy the package he'd brought with him.
"What's this, Daddy?"
"Open it and find out. Jeesh, how many drugs did they give you?"
"Not enough," she said, sticking out her tongue. Indy opened the plain-wrapped package and exclaimed, "Daddy, it's beautiful."
"Your Nana made it and she gave it to me for safekeeping. For whichever one of you had the first grandchild."
It was a blanket, knitted out of the softest, creamiest yarn imaginable. Indy ran it over her cheek. "This is amazing."
He leaned over and kissed her forehead. "So are you. And Jett."
After taking a number of pictures to send via email to the boys who wouldn’t be able to make it down for a while and to Daphne, Brian and Justin returned home to make good use of the few hours left in the night.
The next morning they slept in late and then got up and downloaded Brian's pictures to his laptop and sent them to Daphne and Gus and Jake. They also sent files to Jennifer and Craig and Michael. Michael would see that Deb and the guys got a look at Indy's new daughter.
Over breakfast, Justin looked thoughtfully at his cup of coffee.
"Gerbil's working overtime." An old joke which still brought a wisp of a smile to Justin's face.
"Yeah?" He finished off his bagel and debated getting another. Waking up in the middle of the night had thrown his body off balance. It wanted lunch even though it was barely ten.
"What if we waited a while before we moved?"
"Because of the baby."
"For how long?" he asked.
Justin shrugged. "I don't know. A couple months… maybe just until Christmas."
"Or just after Christmas, or just after your birthday, our anniversary, my birthday—"
Justin knew what he was doing. "Brian—"
"There'll always be an excuse."
"It's not an excuse. Our first grandchild was just born."
"I know that, I was there."
"Then why can't we stay to enjoy her a little bit?"
Brian decided to play hardball. "Look, either we move to Italy as planned, when we planned, or we stay here. Because there will always be something to keep us from going if we postpone this."
"Just a few weeks—"
"We said the end of August, so either we do that or we don't. It's up to you." He sat back in his chair and waited for Justin to make a decision. His lover fidgeted a bit due to the intensity of Brian's gaze.
Refusing to be swayed, Brian said, "You choose. One or the other." He folded his arms and waited. At first he was sure that Justin would say, "Fuck it, we're staying," but he knew that, deep down, Justin wanted to go to Tuscany just as badly as he did.
Already beginning to pout, Justin said, "Fine. We go when we said we'd go." He avoided Brian's grasp then relented and reached for his husband's hand. "You're right. If we don't go now, we'll never go."
Now that Justin had agreed to see reason, Brian softened his tone. "Besides, we've got three more weeks left. There's plenty of time to spoil Jett before we leave."
During one of Jett's fitful naps, Indy and Justin crept out onto the balcony for a glass of lemonade and a talk.
"So why'd you do it?"
Indy grinned. "Have you seen her? She's beautiful."
"You're the last one of the kids that I'd have ever expected to have a child."
"Then why'd you change your mind?"
"When I was little, you know who my heroes were? Shuttle pilots, astronauts, and the guys who fly the firefighter planes. Every since I could remember, I've wanted to fly."
"But you're grounded."
Now that she'd become a single parent, she didn't have the luxury anymore of having a risky job. Not that she needed to work, there was money enough in her trust fund for her to live comfortably, but she wanted to work, wanted to remain productive. So she'd resigned from the force and hoped that something came to her, some kind of direction, a path she could follow. In the meanwhile, she was plenty busy being a mom. "I know. But see, it came to me one day, that my heroes had changed. I don't know what it was, what specific thing triggered it, but I was thinking about you and Daddy and Mom and Mama and Daphne and I realized just how amazing you guys really were. To have raised all of us kids together couldn't have been easy. But you did it and you never made us feel unwanted or unloved and you treated us all the same. I never thought you loved Jake more than me because he was your blood relation and I wasn't. I never felt closer to Gus than to Jake because we had the same parents and Jake didn't. You made us feel special."
She poured some more lemonade, took a sip. "I remember the first time I read one of your books and realized that was me in the story, that Princess India was me and Prince Gus was Gus and Prince Jake was Jake. That was us. You'll never know how good that made us feel. When some asshole at school picked on one of us because our fathers were a couple and two of our moms were a couple, we would think, 'You might have a normal family but none of you losers have books written about you.' And when Daddy would come to school and the teachers would drool over him, it was worth every single nasty thing they'd said to us because we knew he didn't give a shit about any of them, men or women, because he loved you. We knew that our family was better than any other family out there because we had all of you and Nana and Deb and Michael and Em and Ted." Pausing and wiping away a tear, she said, "I want that too, Dad. I want to be some little girl's hero. The way you all were to me."
Hiding his emotions behind a swig of lemonade, Justin said, "I guess I'll have to keep writing after all." Gestured with his head. "For Jett and the other grandkids."
The last piece of furniture had been boxed and was on its way to Florence where a freight truck would pick it and the rest of their belongings up and ferry them down to the house in Cetona. They'd sold or given away a number of pieces that wouldn't fit the new house either style-wise or size-wise. With only one dining area, there was no need for two sets of furnishings so they'd kept the trestle table and given the smaller one to Jake who'd been living in his place for a year without any dining room furniture.
Walking through the now empty house, they were reminded of the first time they'd entered it, in Jenn's company, their desire to own it growing with each step. By the time they'd arrived on the second floor, Justin had known that he didn't want to live anyplace else. The house had spoken to them, had responded to their need to put down roots by being everything they'd wanted. And now they were leaving their home for another house.
He was haunted by poltergeists, listening to the sound of running feet and laughing children, to friends recounting old stories for the hundredth time.
He turned and saw Brian watching him from the doorway to their bedroom suite. The master bedroom in their new house was much smaller: intimate, and cozy yet they'd managed to make this space feel cozy and intimate as well.
"They're here. It's time to go." The new owners had arrived and were anxious to take possession of the house.
Justin ran his hand over the frame of the door leading the courtyard stairs. How many times had they used those stairs to go down and sit in the courtyard among the fragrant wisteria? He left that doorway and walked over to the French doors that opened onto the loggia. They'd had hundreds of romantic meals out there, overlooking the backyard. He glanced down at the pool. Could see himself and Brian kissing in the water, making love on the chaise lounge poolside.
"Baby…" Brian had crossed to where he stood. He wrapped his arms around him and kissed his neck. "You know the first thing I want to do when we get to our new place?" Justin shook his head, too upset to speak. "Take a nap." He got a smile as he'd intended. "And then I'm going to strip down to nothing and dive in the pool." Another kiss and a smile. "And if I'm lucky, maybe my sexy, young husband will join me." Justin turned in his arms and laid his head upon Brian's chest. He knew that he was crying, could feel his shoulders shaking. Brian kissed the top of his head and said, "It's okay. We can stay as long as we need," because he didn't know if he could walk away either.
Gus had just about run out of excuses to give to the house's new owners when his fathers appeared in the bend of the stairs. "Here they are," he said unnecessarily as they could all see and hear them coming. "Hey, Pop."
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Brian told Kevin and his wife.
"No problem. We'll be spending the rest of our lives here, a few minutes won't hurt."
Wanting to punch him in the face for being an insensitive prick, Brian held his temper and turned over the keys.
Justin paused before stepping over the threshold for the last time. "I hope you'll be as happy here as we were."
The wife, who spoke very little, said, "Thank you. I promise, we'll take good care of it." It must have taken a great deal of courage for her to say even that much and Justin appreciated it even though he thought his heart would break.
Then, looking ahead of him, he saw Brian waiting, holding out his hand. Taking it, Justin walked with Brian to Gus' car and they got in the backseat together.
Oh it's enough to be on your way
"You okay?" Brian asked and Justin smiled as brightly as he had the day they'd moved into the house.
"I'm fine." Home was where Brian was and, as long as they were together, it didn't matter where they lived. Still, it didn't hurt that they'd exchanged their Mediterranean-style villa for a Tuscan villa in the hills of Siena. He laughed and snuggled close to Brian. Everything would be all right.
They were spending the night at Mel and Lindsay's place and then taking an early flight to Italy the next day. Of course, the Munchers had planned a small going-away party just for their family and close friends. Which, in their case, meant a house full of people. Brian had hoped to leave without any fanfare but clearly that was not to be. In any case, now that Justin seemed to have pulled himself out of his funk, maybe a party would tolerable.
Aware that the guests of honor would need their rest before the long flight to Europe, Mel and Lindsay started the party as soon as they arrived. The gang was all there—even Deb put in a rare appearance. Leaving their significant others at home, Em and Ted showed up alone as did Mikey. Only Gus had brought his current lover along as Xavier was still one of Justin's oldest and best friends. Putting aside any awkwardness, Justin and Xavier hugged one another like they used to in the old days.
And, as he had done at all their parties, Brian circulated with his camera, capturing moments for posterity. Especially since this might be the very last time they'd all be together. No one said it but it was on all their minds. He came across Molly and Daphne with their heads together in the corner. "Uh oh, this looks like trouble."
"We were just remembering the first time we had a bon voyage party for you two and you headed off to Europe. Remember?" Molly asked.
"You asked us what we wanted you to bring us back," Daphne said. "And I told you—"
"You wanted a new Italian boyfriend to replace the old one," he said with a grin, certain they hadn't expected him to remember. "And Molly wanted a model pony."
"So what are you bringing us back this time?" Molly fixed her eyes on her brother-in-law and waited.
Looking at them now, at the women they'd become, it seemed almost impossible that he'd watched them both grow up. But he had. And he'd miss them no less than he would the guys. Brian blinked rapidly a couple of times and replied, "It'll be a surprise." Smiling softly, he moved on.
Jenn and Deb were perched on the sofa with Indy and Jett, talking about Joanie and how much she would have enjoyed being at the party today. "She would have been proud of you, honey," Deb told Brian as he joined them.
"Because you proved them all wrong and you made it. You and Justin."
"Certainly proved me wrong," Jenn admitted. "The first time I saw you, at that showing, I thought you were trouble."
"I was," he agreed.
"Maybe. But you've made Justin happy and you've raised three beautiful children together."
"And that's what counts," Debbie added with pride. "And you've never forgotten your friends. You're a good man, honey. I'm proud of you."
Giving her a kiss on the cheek, Brian said, "Thanks, Mom." Looking around for Justin, Brian spotted him heading for the kitchen.
He and Xavier had gone in there to talk. Specifically about Gus. Uncharacteristically forthright, Justin got to the point. "You won't hurt him, will you?"
"He's too damn tough to be hurt."
"That's what I thought about Brian, but it wasn't true." Xavier, of all people, knew that.
"Gus isn't Brian. Believe it or not, he's a lot less vulnerable."
"He's been lucky. He's had us to love him. Brian never had that when he was growing up. And he's been through a lot of shit, things he should never have had to go through."
Xavier held up his hands in surrender. "I’m sorry. I didn't mean for it to sound like I was knocking Brian."
Justin shook his head. "This is crazy. I'm about to pick a fight with you when I might not ever see you again."
"J, you're going to Italy, not the Antarctic."
And wasn't that what he and Brian had been telling everyone? "Fuck." He sniffled. "I wonder if I'm going through some kind of mid-life crisis."
"You mean menopause?" Xavier slapped Justin on the back as the two of them laughed. They embraced each other. "Be happy."
"You too." They parted. "And make my son happy."
The guys went outside so that Brian could smoke. He'd all but given up smoking but every now and then he indulged in a well-deserved cigarette.
Arrayed about the back porch, the guys reminisced about days gone by. And even though they'd lived their lives, they found it a little difficult to reconcile their former selves with the people they were now. Or, rather, they wanted to believe that they'd been smarter, less naïve, and more together than they had been. In actuality, they'd been extremely lucky.
"Gosh," said Emmett, still having retained a little bit of Hazelhurst, Mississippi even after all this time, "who would have ever thought we'd end up like this?"
"Like what?" asked Ted. "Successful? Happy?"
"You with a partner," said Brian. And Drew no less. Hopefully the therapist believed in doctor-patient confidentiality because he didn't think he could stand having his friends know every secret he had.
"What about you?" Ted inquired. "No one, and I mean no one, would have ever thought you'd be celebrating your thirtieth wedding anniversary. Not the Great Brian Kinney, King of the Backroom and Stud Extraordinaire."
"One person did," said Michael. "Justin."
"True," Emmett agreed. "From the very beginning, he knew you'd be his."
"Ah, youth," commented Brian.
Pensively, Em said, "It's going to be strange, without the two of you around."
"Well, they have this newfangled contraption called a telephone and it allows you to talk to friends who are far away. You know? Reach out and touch someone?"
"I'd like to reach out and touch you," threatened Emmett.
"Why, Em," camped Brian, "I never knew you felt that way about me."
The guys laughed as he'd hoped and the maudlin moment passed but Emmett had only said out loud what they'd all been thinking.
"Anyway," Brian added, "you guys can come and visit us in Italy. There's plenty of room." None of the guys had come over since they'd had the house although the kids and their mothers had visited one summer.
"I've always wanted to go to Rome. Check out those hot, hunky, sweaty gladiators."
"There haven't been real gladiators in Rome for centuries," Ted informed him.
"A gal can dream, can't she?"
"So what exactly do you plan on doing in Cetona?" asked Ted.
"Tend to the olive grove and the grape vineyard, maybe plant a few flowers, some vegetables, take a lot of pictures, lounge around the pool, and fuck my brains out."
"Now, the last sounds like you but the rest… I don't know. Squire Brian, landowner, doesn't seem to be the real you."
"I've done everything else, why not?"
Michael raised both brows. "You sure you won't get bored?"
"I'll be living with Justin, of course, I won't get bored."
"That's true, life has never been boring as long as Justin was around."
Em laughed and said, "I think that's why Brian's hair went grey so early."
"Fuck you," said Brian and ran his fingers through his hair. "I like it. It makes me look distinguished. Otherwise no one would believe I'm as old as I am," he boasted.
Which cracked the guys up. "Always the dreamer," quipped Ted.
The hour grew late and, at last, the moment came that they'd all been dreading: it was time to say goodbye. The kids and their mothers would see them off tomorrow at the airport but for everyone else, this was it. As they prepared to part, there was sniffling all around prompting Brian to say, "Sounds like an allergy experiment in here."
Craig hugged Justin and shook Brian's hand, the years having erased any animosity between them. It was hard to hold a thirty year grudge and Craig had changed for the better and become a pretty good grandfather and a decent father-in-law. Exchanging hugs with the two men, Jenn and Molly wished them well, Jenn already making plans to come and visit so that she and Justin could go to the museums in Florence together. Smiling through the tears, Justin waved goodbye as his family took off in Molly's car.
Next Ted and Emmett left, embracing Brian and Justin tightly and promising to visit as soon as they could.
"But not too soon," said Brian. "We'll still be on our honeymoon."
"Honeymoon?" snorted Ted. "You got married thirty years ago."
"Our second honeymoon. The Tuscan air always does wonders for my—"
Justin cut his comment short. "I can't wait to see you guys again."
With a final hug for each of them, the two best friends went out into the darkness.
Although they'd managed to get through saying goodbye to Jenn and Molly and Craig and Em and Ted without anyone getting too emotional on either side, when it came time for Mikey and Deb to leave, the tears began to flow. Michael and Deb had been a part of Brian's life for so long, none of them knew how they'd be able to function without seeing one another every day. It had been hard enough when Deb had quit working and the diner had ceased to be their hang-out place but to be an ocean apart seemed impossible. Especially since Brian didn't know if this would be the last time he'd ever see Deb alive again. She was getting up there in age and had more bad days than good. Holding her somewhat frail frame in his arms, Brian kissed her and told her the one thing he'd never said to her before, "I love you."
Justin was in just as bad a shape as Brian. He'd never forgotten how Deb had taken him in after he'd left home or the way she'd helped take care of him after the bashing. She'd been a second mom to him, as she had been with Brian, and he loved her—if not as much as Brian, he loved her enough to make him hate leaving her behind. Wiping his eyes numerous times, he kissed her cheek and walked her to the car. Leaving Brian and Mikey to say goodbye on the front steps.
"Guess I can't call you everyday now, huh?" asked Michael.
"You can email me. You already do a dozen times a day."
Michael grimaced. "Guess I've been kind of a pain, huh?"
Brian threw his arm over his shoulder. "Nope."
"Not even when that football player's friends kicked the shit out of you for defending me?"
"Not even then." He smiled crookedly. "You saved my life, you know?"
"All the time," he said. "I wouldn’t have made it if it hadn't been for you and Deb."
Michael rubbed his eyes. "Shit. I said I wouldn't do this. That I would be happy for you." He wiped his nose with his shirtsleeve and Brian winced inwardly. No matter how much Michael changed, he'd always remain the same person inside. For which he was very grateful. "I am happy for you, you know that, don't you?"
"I know, Mikey."
"So this is it. No more Brian and Mikey's Excellent Adventures."
"Are you kidding? We've been living the craziest, best adventure for years." At Michael's confused look, he explained, "Life, Mikey."
Sliding his arms around his best friend, Michael held him tight then let him go. "So," he asked, "any regrets?"
"Not a one."
"I love you."
"You too. Always have, always will." Pecking his best friend on the lips at the car, Brian whispered, "Later, Mikey," and a tear crept down his cheek. As he stood watching Michael and Deb go, Justin slipped an arm around his waist and laid his head against his chest. After a moment, Brian said, "You think the Munchers' guestroom bed is good for bouncing?"
Eyes shining, Justin laughed. "Let's go find out."
"Still got one more person to say goodbye to," Brian reminded him.
Who waited with Gus on the porch. Gus smooched both his dads and went to wait in the car for his lover.
The thought still caught Brian off-guard sometimes, that his son was lovers with Justin's ex-lover. With the only man who had ever seriously posed a threat to their relationship. Kenneth had caused him a world of pain but, at no point, had he seriously considered leaving Justin. That hadn't been an option. But Xavier had taken Justin away from him. Hadn't been able to keep him but he had taken him away and the subsequent fallout from that episode had blanketed them for months before they could fully shake it off and move forward. If he and Xavier weren't bosom buddies, at least they'd become friendly acquaintances and he respected Xavier for his work and for the man he'd become. So it was with genuine fondness that Brian shook Xavier's hand and said, "Take care of each other," giving the one thing that he could to Xavier and Gus' relationship: his blessing.
"You too," replied Xavier.
Brian passed into the house.
The two friends stood saying nothing, then embraced one another, Justin clasping the back of Xavier's head, his hair still thick, braided and drawn through a ring.
"Nana Rose do this?" he asked and Xavier laughed.
"Would you believe Gus? He's a fast learner."
"He's Brian Kinney's son."
Justin nodded. "And mine."
Knowing how Justin's mind worked, Xavier said, "He's not a consolation prize. He's the real deal."
"I know. You take care. Tell Nana Rose I expect her to come and visit us in Cetona."
Xavier bobbed his head then brushed his lips over Justin's and headed for the car and Gus. Just like his father, Gus tore off out of the driveway like he was leaving the starting line at Le Mans.
Shaking his head, Justin went inside the house and hoped the other kids would be on their way soon because he and Brian had some bouncing to do.
That it would be difficult to say goodbye, they'd known; that it would be impossible, they'd feared. Huddled together in the terminal, their family seemed unable to let them go. All of them, even Brian and Indy were teary-eyed: she blamed her tears on hormones from the delivery, he didn't even attempt to explain his. More than once he looked down at his tickets, knowing that he and Justin should go soon, but unable to say the words that would sever them from their family. But time was merciless and, at last, it was time for them go on alone.
"This isn't goodbye," Justin told Mel and Lindsay as he hugged them, "cause we'll see you next year, for Christmas."
"It's a plan," Mel agreed. "Just make sure there's plenty of rooms between your room and ours. The last thing I want is to have to listen to you and the asshole going at it all night."
"Fuck-ing," said Brian. "Come on, Mel, you can say it. Fuck-ing."
"Fuck you, asshole," she said but she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him. "Take care."
"You too." He bestowed a kiss on Daphne's cheek. "Who's the hottest doctor in Pittsburgh?"
He smiled. "Good girl. Always know your worth."
Justin hugged her tight. "Call me when you get there," she told him. "I want to hear all about the hot, young Italian boys."
"Sorry," he replied. "I'm not allowed to look."
"You can look," Brian said, "you just can't touch."
Lindsay laughed. "I'd think that would be more of a problem for you than Justin."
Brian smirked. "You know me too well."
"Well enough to know that you wouldn't dare." He shook his head. "I've always wanted this for you. For you to be happy."
"We did it," he said. "And we didn't fuck it up."
"Or them," she said, gesturing to the kids. "You did a pretty good job, Pa."
"You didn't do so badly yourself, Ma."
As they embraced, she whispered, "Love you."
"You too." Releasing her, he turned to their kids. As if by cue, both he and Justin hugged Jake and held him. "You need anything, you call us."
"We mean it. Anything at all. Anytime. Okay?"
"Yeah." He wiped his eyes. Then said in a choked voice, "I don't want you to go."
"I know," said Justin.
"But I want you to be happy."
"We want you to be happy too."
"So don't wait too long to say something to Lena," Brian reminded him. "The good ones will get away from you if you're not quick." He looked down at Justin. "And once you have her, hold on to her. Don't let go." Giving him a final squeeze, they found Indy at their side, Jett cradled in her arms. The baby seemed content despite the noise of the airport.
Justin took her from Indy and held her up to his face. Kissed her cheek. "Maybe we'll come visit you for your first birthday. Would you like that, Jett?" The baby gurgled. "Don't forget your Grandpa Justin, okay?"
"She won't," Indy promised. "Or her Grandpa Brian."
While Justin held her, Brian kissed Jett as well. "Look at those eyes. She's going to be a heartbreaker."
"Like her grandpa?" asked Indy. She paused. "You're breaking my heart, you know that, don't you?"
"You'll survive. You're too damn much like me not to."
Indy threw her arms around her father and nodded. Then, while Brian held Jett, she hugged Justin as well. Afterwards, she took the baby and joined her moms and Jake.
Brian slipped his arm through Gus'. "Come on, Sonny Boy, walk your old man to the gate," he said. Together he and Gus and Justin headed for the security gate after which they'd part. "Look after them," he told his son, meaning the rest of the kids. "You're the eldest, so I expect you to take care of them."
"And take care of yourself," said Justin. "You work too hard. I worry about you, that you're not getting enough rest, not eating enough... You're too skinny."
"Genetics," said Gus with a shrug. "Besides, Nana Rose said she'd try and fatten me up."
"Are they really moving to New York?" asked Justin. That had been a relatively recent development, one which he still didn't completely believe.
"That's what Xavier says." Then he added, "But even if he doesn't, we'll find a way to make it work. Even if I have to move down there. I can't lose him."
"Then don't," Brian said. "You do what you have to; don't ever be too proud to fight for what you want. Worst thing that can ever happen is for you to wake up one day and realize that you've wasted your whole, fuckin' life being stupid." He checked his watch, exchanged glances with Justin. It was time to go. Brusquely embracing his eldest son, Brian nodded, too emotional to speak. He and Gus exchanged kisses and left it at that.
"I remember the first time Brian held you. You reached out and touched his face like you knew he was your daddy." He looked fondly at his son. "I think you did." They held one another and then parted with a kiss.
Gus watched them go, their images becoming watery. Then he wiped his face and rejoined his family.
For as long as he lived, he didn't think he'd ever forget a moment of this past Christmas. The kids had come, minus Daphne and the Munchers, who'd said they wanted to spend the holidays at home and alone for a change. Daphne had accepted an invitation to spend Christmas and New Year's with the latest in a string of long-term boyfriends who couldn’t quite make the jump to husband. Not that they didn't try, she just wasn't interested. She often said that if it'd been good enough for Oprah, it was good enough for her.
So Gus and Xavier had come along with Jake and Lena and Indy and Jett, the ten-year-old complaining about the lack of kids to play with. She'd been bugging her mother to have another child but Indy had informed her that the baby factory had shut down for good once she'd been born. Although Jake and Lena had been married for years and were both in their early thirties, they still weren't quite ready to have a child, being heavily involved with building their respective practices. Gus and Xavier hadn't completely ruled out the possibility but they enjoyed their life too much to seriously think about complicating it any further. They loved being able to drop everything to run off to Zurich for a week of skiing or down to Brazil for Carnival. Besides, they didn't know any women willing to have a child with or for them as Rennie had unequivocally said, "Fuck no," the one time they'd mentioned it to her. Secretly, Brian thought they were more than happy with her answer as they hadn't really wanted to be parents.
He knew how they felt. Not about not wanting kids but the desire to be alone. Since moving from Pittsburgh ten years ago, he and Justin had become even closer. Sometimes it surprised him that they didn't dream the same dreams, their thoughts had become so entwined. Like two trees whose trunks had become intertwined, they supported one another and strengthened one another weathering any and all storms. Even when their family had descended upon them like whirlwinds they'd managed to maintain their equanimity, their love for one another radiating a peace that had buoyed them though the various tempests that had erupted during the kids' visit.
Now that their family had gone, they did miss them but they also savored the return of the serenity they'd grown to cherish. It was hard to imagine, looking at them moving about in quiet harmony, that they'd ever been the cause of more than one eruption themselves, that they had lived in a seemingly constant state of chaos. Now they took quiet walks among the olive grove or traipsed the lanes between the grape arbors planning next year's harvest. They worked side-by-side in their rose gardens, supervised small repairs to the walls surrounding the grounds, or roved their land marveling at the beauty of Tuscany all over again. Every day, even after a decade of life in Cetona, there was always a new flower to discover, a path they hadn't taken before, a wine they hadn't tasted. And when they began to feel hemmed in, they hopped in one of the cars and drove to Florence or over to Pisa or down to Rome or Naples. At least once a month, Justin said, "Why didn't we do this sooner?" the move he meant.
More importantly, they had lost none of their passion for one another. Even at sixty and seventy-two respectively, they still found one another beautiful. Justin often traced the lines in Brian's face as if they were a road map to his pleasure. And they were. His pleasure lay in Brian's lean frame, in his loping gait and sinewy arms, in the bristles of his hair which he lopped off indifferently these days, light years removed from fancy salons; it lay in his hazel eyes that still gleamed, still flashed, still pierced; and it lay in his quick mind, his stinging wit, his sharp intellect. After all of these years, Justin's love and desire had not lessened a bit.
Neither had Brian's. For if Justin still found him attractive, he found Justin even more beautiful now than when he was younger. Justin's bright blue eyes still made his stomach flutter when he woke to find them looking down at him and his smile still had the power to banish clouds and foul moods alike but Brian also realized that what he valued most about Justin was his constancy: his rocklike devotion and his unyielding strength.
Now Justin waited impatiently for Brian to join him. "Come to bed," he told him as Brian fussed at the window.
"Let me close the shutters first. Otherwise, it'll be cold as hell in here." He shut them and then climbed into bed.
"Hothouse flower," teased Justin.
"Arthritis," Brian told him.
"Nonsense. Here," Justin said, wrapping his arms around him, "I'll keep you warm." He began kissing Brian's throat and the older man chuckled.
"None of that. I'm tired."
"Just a little…"
"I'm seventy-two-years old, a little's all you're getting these days."
"Still the best, old man," said Justin fondly. "Better than any man I've ever known."
"You haven't known that many men," Brian pointed out.
"Enough. You were just lucky that you got to me first," he bragged.
Brian made a sound of agreement. He had been lucky. "What do you want to do for our anniversary?" It would be their forty-first. Last year they'd gone to Japan and stayed in an inn near a monastery outside of Kyoto. They'd loved waking up to the sound of the prayer bell calling the monks to their morning chant. Justin had found a tiny bell which he sometimes tapped for no reason other than to hear the clear, clarion tones.
"How about Paris?" Justin suggested.
"Sounds good to me." They hadn't been in years. "Maybe we could get our same room in the Hotel du Louvre." Each of the four times they'd been to Paris for an extended stay, they'd booked the same room, the Pissaro suite, an apartment really where the Impressionist painter Camille Pissaro had stayed while producing some of his most famous views of Paris.
"Perfect." Justin snuggled closer to Brian, if that was possible, and rubbed his face against the bare skin of his chest. "I wonder if that patisserie is still there?"
"Everything changes," Brian said. "The world keeps moving on."
"Not here." It was like their own enchanted kingdom where they were forever young and forever in love.
"No," Brian agreed, "maybe not here." As their neighbors were fond of telling them, nothing much changed in Tuscany. Which was, in their opinion, a very good thing as they both believed they'd found a way of life which suited them imminently. Sometimes he wondered why they left home at all.
As if he'd been reading Brian's mind, Justin said, "Or we could just stay home and celebrate alone."
"You wouldn’t mind?"
Tightening his grip on his spouse, Justin smiled. "I wouldn’t mind."
Justin glanced up as Brian came inside. Raised his face for a kiss. "You get the canvas?"
"Out in the car," Brian said absently.
Attuned to Brian's every mood, Justin put aside the book he was reading. "Something wrong?"
Brian sat next to him on the edge of the sofa. "We need to talk."
Sometimes he would go outside and sit in the olive grove, just sit as still as he could, and he would pretend that time had stopped, that beyond this moment nothing existed. Tuscany had always been and would always be and if he could somehow match the rhythm of the region, maybe things wouldn't change for him as well. But that was selfish and he realized it. Brian was in pain and the best thing would be—
He couldn't even think it, even as he sat trying to hold back the inevitable. He used no euphemisms, no trite phrases to describe something so profound and final that it defied any and all attempts to come to grips with it. He just kept his mind focused on the task at hand, on the thing that needed doing now, and he tried not to look ahead to the moment when he'd lose him.
The thought had come up on him by surprise and he paused and squeezed his eyes shut and refused to give in to the need to weep. He could do no less than Brian who had only cried twice since coming home with that horrible, black knowledge gnawing away at his belly. Jake had called to say that he and Lena were expecting their first child and Brian had talked to them as if he fully expected to be there when the baby was born and then he'd hung up the telephone and wept for almost half an hour.
He'd accepted his death as he had anticipated it for years. In a way, it had been a relief to finally know with certainty that he would die soon. He didn't have to wonder any more. Yet he had not given up, given in to dying. He'd raged against the dying of the light, lived as he'd always done. They'd had ten years in Tuscany and he'd wanted ten more. Death, when it caught him, would have to catch him balls against the wall. He'd refused to change his life, had fought the pain and gone on with their plans as if he weren't being devoured from the inside.
Until the day had come when the pain had shaken him so violently that he'd crouched down on the floor of the bathroom and clenched his teeth to keep from screaming. Justin had come in on him and helped him to bed and taken out the drugs that the doctor had prescribed for that moment when it came. Tears streaming down his face, Brian had swallowed them and closed his eyes, exhausted. The fight was finally over.
They'd decided not to tell the rest of their family. There was nothing any of them could do, not even Jake who had specialized in oncology. Nothing but pity Brian and mourn him while he was still alive and he hadn't wanted that, had refused to be treated like an invalid, like the walking dead. Justin had agreed, even though he'd known that their anger would be directed against him once Brian was gone. But it had been easier to cope with Brian's fast approaching death on his own. With the rest of them around, he might have been tempted to let down his guard, to give in to the desire to feel sorry for himself. As it was, he'd been Brian's sole support and caretaker and he hadn't had the luxury of self-pity.
Only it was so hard now. A few weeks back, Brian had taken to his bed for what they both knew was the last time. No more would he speed down the white road from their house to the highway, clouds of dust marking his passage. He would never journey forth from the house alive again. That day, Justin had watched him slip into an uneasy, pain-filled sleep and then he'd paced their land, crying wildly, until exhaustion had taken him into its arms and he'd sat in the olive grove too tired to walk a hundred yards back to the house.
The doctor had come out on Monday; at the end of his visit, he'd taken Justin aside and warned him that it wouldn’t be much longer. "A week," he'd said and Justin had wrapped his arms around his chest and held himself so tightly that he hadn't been able to breathe easily. It hadn't been the doctor's prediction alone but the fact that it corroborated Brian's; Brian had told him that it would be only a matter of days.
Last night had been especially difficult, the drugs offering no relief from the ceaseless pain, the unending digging and tearing. That's what Brian had said it felt like, as if something was burrowing through him. "A pair of ragged claws," he'd said, eyes brightening a bit. "I finally understand the connection."
"What?" Justin had asked.
"Eliot." Breath. "Prufrock. Crab. Cancer."
This morning he'd refused to eat. Summoned enough strength to turn his head but not enough to speak. Taking the broth back to the kitchen, Justin had poured it down the sink and rested his head on his arms.
Now that it was lunchtime, he thought he'd try again. Brian had slept most of the morning while he read from a chair he'd positioned near the bed weeks ago but when he looked up from his reading around eleven, he noticed a pair of shiny, hazel eyes watching him. Putting his book aside, he sat gingerly on the bed next to Brian. "Hey."
"Hey." His voice was so faint, Justin had bend closer just to hear him.
"Feel like eating something?"
"Trying… watch my figure," he joked.
Where he'd always been lean, he was now gaunt, the fine bones of his face in sharp relief against his pillow. They were lucky they'd resisted getting one of those video phones that everyone had these days. They'd felt that it hadn't been in keeping with the house's character. He was grateful for their decision now when they wouldn't have been able to fool anyone. It was one thing to hear Brian's papery thin voice and wonder if he was okay and quite another to see him and to know immediately that he was dying. More to comfort himself, Justin stroked his cheek. Brian winced and Justin caught his breath. "Do you need a shot?"
"No." He swallowed with difficulty. "Need to see you smile, Sunshine." Justin tried but he couldn't, shook his head. "Remember… when we first met? I asked you… if you liked Special K?" Justin chuckled, then choked back a sob. "Baby, don't cry." But he laid his head on Brian's chest and cried because after this, what would be left but memories that would never be enough? Although Justin was careful not to put too much weight on him, Brian still ached but he said nothing until Justin was through. Then he brushed his fingers over Justin's lips. "Kiss me." Justin raised his head and pressed his lips to Brian's. "I've never… stopped loving you," Brian whispered. "Not even… for a minute. Never will."
"Me neither," Justin said, tears dropping down on Brian's cheeks as he rested his forehead against his. "Not ever."
Brian closed his eyes and, in his mind, he could see Justin smiling, a white scarf tossed gallantly around his neck, so bright, so beautiful that it made him take a breath.
He released it.
And did not take another.
The sun shines on this funeral