After they finished kissing, Johnny led Linda into his room on the ship. “I’m so glad you came,” he confided. “I’m glad I got the courage to come,” she retorted, blue eyes sparkling. Although she suddenly gasped. “What?” asked Johnny with a smile.
“I forgot to pack anything!” she said with absurd realization. Johnny’s smile grew into a grin. “The boat doesn’t sail for a few hours,” he pointed out. “We’ll nip into your house and pack some stuff for you. Which reminds me – where’s Ned?”
Linda’s face fell. “He’s not coming … I think it’s too much for him. And Father was there radiating his booming disapproval. I told him I’d be back for him though.”
“Well, Linda, that’s not going to work!” Johnny exclaimed. Linda gaped at him.
“What on earth do you mean?” she cried, confused. Johnny ran his hand through his dark hair as he spoke.
“Well, I didn’t grow up in your family. However, the impression I got was that you and Ned were able to survive being Setons because you had each other.” Linda bit her lip as she started to realize where Johnny was going with this. He turned and caught her gaze.
“If we don’t get him, he’ll be all alone. No one will be there for him. We can’t let that happen, can we?”
No. No, they couldn’t. Linda looked at Johnny. “He can’t be alone,” she said firmly. “Julia and Father don’t count. Julia’s never had much to talk about with Ned and Father … well, he’s not nice to Ned.”
A grim look crossed Johnny’s face. “Do you mean he’d hit Ned?” He demanded. Linda nodded sadly. “He’s been doing it ever since Ned was a kid. Maybe ten or so? I found out when Ned was about 13. He stopped once Ned turned 16, but at that point Ned was already cowed of him and he started drinking as soon as he was of legal age.”
“And that’s why he doesn’t seem to want to be around your father. I’ve noticed him flinching sometimes …” mused Johnny. Linda took his hand and they both turned to get Ned, determined. If Ned felt he couldn’t leave, if he felt he was caught – then it was up to them to rescue him. She’d promised to come back for him, she was just going to come back for him right now.
Ned stumbled into the playroom after Father and Julia had left in a huff, the both of them outraged at Linda’s actions. He curled up on the sofa, staring at the small cozy room that had been such a refuge for him and Linda growing up. He was struck with the awful realization that he was now all alone. Linda had gone to be with Johnny and good for her, finally going after what she wanted instead of always thinking of how her family felt.
“I’m a coward,” Ned muttered to himself bitterly, full of self-loathing. She’d asked him to leave, and he could’ve escaped … but no. He almost had, but then Father had been right there snapping at him and part of him had shrunk. That young boy who couldn’t do anything right and paid for his Father’s disappointment in bruises and blood had come forth. Fear had risen up and now … now he had no allies. No one here to care if he drank himself to death. Or to try and save him. He pressed his forehead into his knees as he felt his breaths getting shorter and faster, his skin feeling too tight.
“No … no …” he whispered, tears welling up. He couldn’t have a panic attack now … he just couldn’t. Suddenly, the panic attack was diverted as he heard voices. “… he’s probably in the playroom. It’ll be a refuge and Henry said that he’s still home.” That was Linda’s voice and … and Johnny’s as he answered “Well, let’s check.” Ned stumbled to his feet, swaying as he stared at the door. Maybe he was imagining it? But no, the doors opened and there they were. Johnny, tall and tan and strong, hands in pockets following behind Linda who rushed into the room and up to him, talking quickly.
“Neddy! Oh Neddy … Neddy – can you ever forgive me? I know I said I’d come back for you, but how I could ever think of going and leaving you alone in this great big mausoleum with only the playroom and Leopold as comfort, I'll never know. And no one to act as a buffer between you and Father. You will forgive me, won’t you Neddy?”
Ned blinked at her, stunned. “Of course I forgive you, kid” he slurred. “Why are you two here though?”
“Well,” Linda said a bit sheepishly, “I forgot to pack anything. And more importantly, we’re here to rescue you and get you to come sail with us.”
Ned stared at them, taken aback. “Me?” he asked, motioning to himself unsteadily. “I’m useless … I … I can’t. You two don’t need me.”
“We do!” Linda said fervently, as Johnny nodded his agreement. She came towards Ned, her fine hands coming up and framing his face. “We’ve realized we’re not complete if you’re not with us.” And suddenly she was leaning up and kissing him softly, full of love. Ned’s brain blanked out and helplessly, he responded. A soft cough reminded them of Johnny and they broke apart, both suddenly shooting fearful looks toward the tanned man who’d brought life back to them.
Johnny seemed surprised, but smiled reassuringly at the siblings. “I didn’t know you two were quite that close or felt that way, but it’s okay.” The siblings stared, realization dawning. “You mean that,” they said together. Johnny nodded. “I love both of you – if both of you want it, no reason not to be together. Regardless of what society or your family would say.”
“Thank you,” Linda said sincerely and she smiled up at Ned who hugged her to him, burying his face into the russet-flames of her hair. She hugged him back hard and then stepped back, making a little ‘go-on’ motion to Johnny, who stepped up to stand right in front of Ned.
Johnny extended a broad, calloused hand and cupped Ned’s cheek in his palm. He had a steady, warm smile on his tanned face. “Is it just Linda for you or do you think you can love this old egg?” Ned couldn’t help but nuzzle into the palm, murmuring “It’s both of you.”
“Good.” Johnny said and he leaned down slightly and kissed Ned. Ned swayed into the other man’s strong body as he enjoyed the kiss and all it promised. After they finished, Johnny looked at him. “Are you willing to come with us now?”
“Yes – please Neddy. Let us take you away from here,” Linda said, eyes alight. Ned looked at them both and slowly nodded his head. The bright smiles that greeted him at his agreement brightened him up and he said quietly, “I’ll try to stop drinking so much. I don’t know if I’ll be successful, but I’ll try. I think I can do it if you’ll both help me.”
“Of course we will,” they both said at once, looking at each other and laughing. “With that and your agreement to come – it’s sweet to hear.”
“Well, I’m a sweet kid,” Ned joked. “Yes, you are.” Johnny replied firmly. “One of the sweetest kids I’ve ever known.” Linda smiled at him lovingly. “My adorable Neddy … my sweet little lamb,” she cooed.
Ned felt himself blush at their words and his grey-blue eyes couldn’t help but close as a flush of pleasure spread through him, leaving warmth in its wake. That warmth spread as the other two hugged him, Ned melting into their loving embrace. They then separated, Linda going to pack her clothes while Johnny went with Ned to help him pack and give him support.
Henry and the other servants had deposited the packed suitcases and boxes into the waiting taxi and the three of them were about to get in when Edward Seton’s dictatorial voice rang out. “What on earth are you doing with those two, Ned?”
Hearing his voice, Ned instinctively flinched and his smile dropped off his face, looking fearful. Linda took his arm in a warm grip as they turned to face Mr. Seton. “He’s sailing with us, Father.”
“Nonsense! No time for a trip – he’ll be doing stocks.” He took a step forward.
“You won’t touch Neddy!” Linda cried out passionately. “He’s coming with us where he’ll be safe and loved and away from this poisonous house and your heavy handling.”
“He’s a useless drunk,” sneered their father. “What is he going to do?”
“He’ll be a musician,” declared Johnny with a decisive nod, putting a supportive hand on Ned’s shoulder. “It’s what he seems to love. And he won’t be stuck behind a desk until 6 in the evening, having his soul sucked out.”
Ned felt Johnny’s hand squeeze his shoulder at the same time as Linda squeezed his arm. Feeling secure between them, he gathered his courage and looked his Father in the eye.
“I’m officially quitting now, Father. I’m going with them and I’ll be a musician. Goodbye.”
And the three of them slipped into the cab and it pulled away, leaving Edward Seton spluttering in shocked outrage on the sidewalk. And Johnny and Linda held Ned as he trembled in reaction, a smile growing as he realized how free he felt.
Of course, it wasn’t smooth or flawless. No real relationship ever is. A relationship is indeed based off compromise and while Johnny knew how to do that and was even willing to try with Julia, Linda and Ned had never really learned. Especially in the Seton house, where any compromise on their part only led to an utter takeover from their father & Julia. But with tears, patience and laughter they learned and figured it out.
There was the time (impending, really) where the Potters walked in on them while all three of them were having sex. Susan had gaped, obviously stunned. Nick’s eyes had bugged out and he’d clutched the dresser, saying
“Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear me. My, this is shocking! I can’t believe my own eyes – oh, the room is spinning. It’s going round and round …”
“Nick …” admonished Susan, regaining her color. They had both been obviously shocked and things had been uncomfortable for a few days, but it had worked out. Susan and Nick Potter both decided that, while unconventional, the three of them all loved each other and it did indeed make all three of them happy. They felt parental toward the three younger people. And after all, they were not only all the members of the Fifth Avenue Anti-Stuffed Shirt and Flying Trapeze Club, they were family. True family. And true family stuck together.
There were times Johnny would come home spitting mad about how capitalist society seemed to be, helpless at money being taken from those who could actually use it. Only to benefit those who already had more than enough. His amber-brown eyes would be full of an old pain, remembering the young 10 year old boy he’d been who was forced to work to help his family. His black hair would be disheveled, the forelock the siblings both loved curling by his forehead. It made him look very young and they’d remember that although Johnny grew up in a family of love, he’d had to grow up far too early and never really had the chance to be a kid or teen, just like them. Then it would be Johnny’s turn to be held and comforted, the siblings soothing him as they knew best.
Sometimes it would be Linda, unconsciously slipping into the shadows. While being loud and true to her values – (“the black sheep.” “Baaaa …”) – she was so good at suppressing her wants and desires that she would try to be self-sacrificial. When the boys noticed, they’d put her in the middle and make her feel like the most important woman in the world. They would worship her, bringing her pleasure as her head was thrown back, red locks spread across the pillow. Devotedly, making sure she knew that she was the one who tied them all together.
And then of course, there was Ned. Poor Ned who tried so hard to resist alcohol for them. Sometimes, he’d slip. Not often. With Johnny and Linda always being there with their support, it was getting better. With their love and his being able to work as a musician in a small club, Ned was often all right. And then he’d see a face, or someone would swing their arm too close to him, or he’d hear a certain demanding tone of voice and he’d flash back to his Father. Sometimes he’d make it to Johnny or Linda and sometimes the panic took him fast enough that he’d drink to avoid having a panic attack right there wherever he was.
When that happened, he’d always try to curl up in a small, dark corner in their apartment, shame curling up inside him. The other two would coax him out though. Johnny would be there, strong and sturdy, to hold Ned. A bastion of safety at his back, with an arm over his waist holding him close, his hand rubbing soothing circles into his belly. Linda would run her hands through his dirty blonde hair, murmuring endearments to her ‘little lamb’. Ned would bury his face into her neck, breathing her familiar scent – the one that throughout his life meant safety. And enjoying the weight of Johnny holding him close.
Their relationship wasn’t always the smoothest, and it was full of flaws and arguments. But it was also filled with love. And it was theirs. And that made it perfect.