It's our first multi-chapter round robin work! We wanted to write a Christmas story, but it's summer...so why not start it in July? We hope you enjoy our take on a Brian & Justin Christmas!
Title borrowed from the Mariah Carey song of the same name.
"...And there is literally nowhere else you're willing to stop?" Brian asked, giving Justin a sideways glance from the driver's seat.
Justin frowned. "How often do we pass through Syracuse? And besides. It's lunchtime. We need to eat anyway."
"Do you want me to fall asleep driving?" Brian attempted a new tactic. "I intentionally don't eat carbs at this time of day."
"Fine, I can drive the second leg," Justin replied easily, giving Brian a sly smile. "I've never driven a Porsche before."
Brian rolled his eyes, but said nothing. However, Justin noted that he took the appropriate exit for downtown Syracuse without being prompted.
Because it was lunch, the restaurant was serving its housemade pasta cafeteria-style, but Justin was not to be deterred, ordering his coveted Wicked Chicken Riggies without second thought. Brian had started to order a green salad, but Justin cut him off, holding up an apologetic hand to the waiting employee.
"You will not order a salad, and then sneak half of my meal off my plate. Get your own."
Brian didn't even bother to argue, and simply sighed deeply, then said, "Well I refuse to order the same thing on principle. Who the fuck came up with that name anyway?"
Justin, however, was undeterred, grinning even bigger. "Even better. Get something else to try and we can share!"
And so they ended up sharing bowls of the spicy chicken rigatoni as well as fresh linguine with basil-walnut pesto while Brian sipped on a local lager and Justin, a glass of pinot noir.
"Worth it?" Justin asked as they bundled up in their jackets again, ready to resume the last four-or-so hours of their northward journey.
Brian shrugged noncommittally, which Justin took as enough confirmation as he needed, smiling with satisfaction. "Thank you for stopping," he purred, giving Brian's freshly-gloved hand a squeeze.
"You're not driving," was Brian's only response, then led Justin to their rented Macan.
"You don't have to act like carbs are the devil," Justin said, once they were back on the road. "You know Lindsay, Mel, and the kids are going to be loading us up with cookies, and all other manner of baked goods this week."
Brian groaned. "Don't remind me. I'm going to have to spend an additional week at the gym to make up for it."
"Well," Justin said conversationally. "If memory serves, the last time we visited Toronto together, we got in a few good workouts, so, maybe it won't be so bad."
Brian's lips curved into a smile as he realized what Justin was referring to -- namely two spectacular lovemaking sessions, in Lindsay and Melanie's guest bedroom, of all places, that had, oddly, resulted from an unfortunate bout of food poisoning and several days apart.
"When does your mom arrive?" Brian asked, abruptly changing the topic, and causing Justin to give him a slightly disturbed look.
"Seriously? I just reference some of the hottest sex in our recent past, and you immediately change the topic to my mother?"
Brian gave Justin a sideways glance. "Unless you plan on explaining to the Border Agent why you're sucking my dick as we attempt to enter the Great White North, a topic change is advisable."
Justin snorted. "We're still almost, like, three hours away from the border, but point taken." Then he paused, and added, "Or are you suggesting I'd be willing to give you a three-hour blowjob?"
"Keep talking about giving me blowjobs, and maybe we'll find out."
About two-and-a-half blowjob-less hours later, they made it across the border with minimal interference, and Justin could sense Brian's excitement growing as they drove closer to Toronto.
"Have you and Gus finalized any plans for while we're in town?" Justin asked. "It'll be weird to not have J.R. around this time."
Brian smirked. "I think it's more weird when she is around. Can't take a fucking piss without wondering if she's peeking through a crack in the door, trying to see my dick."
"Well who can blame her?" Justin teased, reaching over the console to gently nudge Brian in the thigh. "It's a sight to behold."
"Definitely not something she gets from her mother," Brian muttered. J.R.'s crush on Brian was becoming somewhat legendary as she entered the hormone-driven years of teendom. It drove Gus crazy, and made Brian a little uncomfortable, but Justin, and most others, thought it was fairly hilarious. It was definitely clear which side of her parentage came into play with that trait.
"It'll be nice for her to spend the holidays with Michael, Ben, and Hunter. I'm sure Debbie will appreciate the opportunity to spoil her to death," Justin said, trying to steer the conversation into less-awkward waters for his husband.
"I'm sure," Brian agreed. "And Sonny Boy doesn't seem to have a ton of specific plans. He mentioned some kind of Christmas Market he wanted us all to check out, so I'm not averse to that. And Nate, that semi-douche from the Art Department overheard me mentioning it to Cynthia and said that it has heated beer gardens, so apparently he's good for something."
"Sounds cool," Justin said, making a mental note to google the Christmas Market later. It actually sounded like something he'd really enjoy, and figured it could also have some good opportunities for finding last minute gifts.
"He mentioned ice skating too, which surprises no one," Brian continued, his voice carrying an air of fond annoyance. Every year that Gus visited them in the city around the holidays, his one requirement was ice skating by the Christmas tree at Rockefeller. And every year, Brian acted like he hated the very thought of it, but Justin knew how much he secretly looked forward to it.
"At least in Toronto, you probably won't have to sell a kidney to do it," Justin teased.
Brian hummed in response, a small smile on his face that was all Justin needed to see to know how much he was looking forward to this visit.
Surprisingly, it was their first time spending Christmas in Canada with the Munchers; in most years past, everyone gathered in Pittsburgh, and Debbie would host Christmas Eve with the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes, while Michael and Ben would host a more low-key Christmas day. This year, it was likely much of the same would happen, but Emmett and Drew had been the first to bow out of the festivities, opting to spend the holiday skiing with Drew's family in Vermont, while Ted and Blake had decided to remain in New York to celebrate with their local group of friends. No one had been more shocked than Brian when Melanie, of all people, had suggested that, since she didn't really celebrate Christmas, but J.R. was heading to Pittsburgh to be with her dads, perhaps Brian and Justin would rather come to Toronto to have a more subdued celebration with Lindsay and Gus.
"Lindsay never really gets to enjoy the decorations she puts up, since we're rushing around and then traveling during this time," Mel had explained. "I just thought it would be nice if you and Justin wanted to come to our place instead… You know, let Linds and Gus go all out, and then have a nice quiet holiday at home."
"Quiet" was all Brian needed to hear before he agreed.
It wasn't easy to tell Deb about their change in plans, especially because, aside from the year that Justin had come down with pneumonia and they'd had no real choice but to stay in New York, they hadn't missed a Christmas in nearly two decades. However, after some heavy groveling, with the promise that they'd come down for a visit early in the new year, and with the benefit of knowing she'd get some exclusive granddaughter time, Deb had relented.
"You never answered when your mom arrives," Brian realized, nearly four hours after he'd originally asked the question.
"That's because you were--" Justin cut himself off quickly, realizing that they were much closer to Melanie and Lindsay's house than before, and he didn't want the first thing they did to be dashing up to the guest room so Brian could get off. "She flies in tomorrow morning."
They both appreciated that Lindsay had suggested inviting Jennifer to join them. Justin's sister Molly was spending the holiday with her fiance's family in Lock Haven, and Jennifer was always welcome to join the festivities at Debbie's, but she'd gratefully accepted Lindsay's offer, excited to spend the holiday with her son, son-in-law, grandson, and his mothers.
"Good," Brian nodded, pausing as the GPS announced that their exit was in ten kilometers. "I hope she likes her Christmas gift."
Justin chuckled lightly. "I think she's going to kill you for her Christmas gift."
Brian shrugged. "It's just a bracelet."
"Yeah, a twenty-five-hundred-dollar gold-and-diamond bangle from Tiffany's!"
Brian snorted. "That's nothing. I could have gotten her a five-thousand-dollar bracelet. Or gone to Chanel. Fuck, you know some of the shit they have at Fred Leighton is worth more than most average life insurance policies." He paused, then said a bit more hesitantly, "But you think she'll like it, right?"
Justin laughed genuinely, touched by his husband's concern. "Brian. She's going to fucking love it. But she's still going to kill you. Or me, for letting you do it."
"Hey," Brian interrupted. "You don't let me do anything."
"Just like you didn't let me buy the sweater I wanted to get her at Macy's," Justin grumbled, despite knowing that his mother would be far more smitten by the cashmere Burberry scarf he'd settled on instead. Truthfully, he knew Jennifer would love anything she was given, as it came from them, but while the Macy's sweater was far more sensible and in line with something she'd purchase for herself as an everyday item, the scarf was more of a luxury. And since Brian mostly handled the expenses of their Christmas gifts for friends and extended family, Justin figured it meant he could splurge a bit more on people like his mom, Brian, and Gus.
"There's a reason I'm her favorite son," Brian teased, and Justin pretended to be offended, but couldn't help but smile afterward. He loved the relationship Brian had developed with his mom over the years, and he was excited that she'd be a part of their holiday, especially given some of what he knew would be coming.
About twenty minutes later, they pulled up in front of Lindsay and Melanie's home and Brian cut the engine of their rented Porsche SUV, saying, "Well, here goes nothing."
But Justin had a feeling it was going to be quite the opposite. Rather, he was fairly confident that it was going to be one of their best Christmases to date.
Brian was not the least bit surprised to find an enormous platter of perfectly-decorated Christmas cookies on the coffee table in the living room -- testament to Lindsay's seemingly incurable impulse to always be the consummate hostess. He just hoped that Justin and Gus -- the two people in his life who most embodied the teenage stereotype of being bottomless pits, despite the fact that Justin hadn't been a teenager for quite some time -- would take care of most of them before Lindsay had too many opportunities to force him to eat one.
No sooner had they all exchanged hugs and greetings than Lindsay was practically buzzing around them, helping bring in luggage and gifts, and chattering on about something likely inane, though Brian couldn't be sure because he wasn't exactly listening. He'd learned a long time ago -- when they were both in their 20s -- to tune her out when she got like that, because there was no getting a word in edgewise, not that she would appreciate his often-sarcastic commentary anyhow. Melanie, who probably would enjoy said commentary, was unfortunately still in court and wouldn't be able to join them until later. And Gus, who shared a lot of his dad's sense of humor, knew better than to blatantly laugh at his mom's expense -- at least while in front of her.
Brian clearly remembered how much Lindsay used to moan and complain about all of her mother's holiday traditions that she expected Lindsay to attend, most of them stuffy, formal affairs that involved a lot of dressing up in uncomfortable clothes and pretending to like her parents' snobby, upper-crust friends. Thankfully, Brian had only had the misfortune of having to attend one such gathering, back when he and Lindsay had been dating and her parents had apparently wanted to show off their daughter's "new" beau, though it was beyond Brian why they wanted their hoity-toity friends to meet him -- the son of a blue-collar factory worker and a drunk. It wasn't like he had a pedigree to brag about, or a trust fund, or a high-paying job waiting for him at daddy's company. He was just some kid from the wrong side of the tracks who'd met their daughter in art history class, who had to work his ass off for every penny and every opportunity he got. Though, looking back, maybe they were just grateful that their daughter was dating a man, no matter what his background was.
The only thing Brian liked about that party was the fact that it was the first time he ever got straight-laced Lindsay to smoke pot. They'd sneaked upstairs to her childhood bedroom, mostly because Lindsay said she needed a break from her parents and their friends before she punched someone. They hadn't been up there for more than a minute before Brian opened the window, despite the December chill and Lindsay's protests, and produced the "emergency joint" he'd stuck into his pocket before leaving his dorm, thinking that he might need a little something to "help" him make nice with the Petersons' rich friends. Brian had smoked in front of Lindsay before and would always offer her a toke, like a gentleman, but she had refused him every time. That night, however, she took it from him, albeit hesitantly, and gave it a try, and that was how Brian Kinney ended up corrupting Ron and Nancy Peterson's dear daughter right under their noses, as it were. Though if Brian was honest, Ron actually wasn't half bad; it was Nancy who was absolutely insufferable. And fake -- so, so fake, which Brian couldn't stand. None of his adult encounters with her had been any better, and Brian was thankful that it had been years since they'd last had to interact, despite them being his son's grandparents.
Anyway, that had been the first of many joints shared between the two of them, even though their "romantic" relationship ended not long after, much to her parents' dismay. They'd continued to try to fix Lindsay up with their snobby friends' sons, but somehow it never seemed to work out, because unfortunately for Ron and Nancy, their pride and joy preferred girls.
Despite Lindsay's dislike for her parents and their pretentious ways, the holidays had always been a time when Lindsay seemed to channel her mother a little bit, because everything had to be 'just so' and any deviation from that could very well end in tears and frustration. Just like things had been at her parents' house, Lindsay's Christmas trees were always perfectly decorated, though she did it herself rather than paying someone else to do it. This year, she had also covered the entire banister in greenery, hung a huge wreath on the front door, and even had a miniature ceramic village atop the mantle that Brian had never seen before and had no idea she even owned. It was certainly a far cry from Debbie's mismatched, over-the-top holiday display that he'd been used to seeing every year since he was 14, and it was worlds different from Joan Kinney's overtly religious style of celebrating the holiday, which included multiple nativity scenes, lest anyone forget that "Jesus is the reason for the season," as she often liked to remind him and Claire when they started making lists and writing letters to Santa Claus.
"So, Dad," Gus' voice brought Brian out of his thoughts and back to the present moment, "I was thinking that maybe tomorrow night we could go down to Nathans Phillips Square and check out the winter carnival. They've got a market too, and there's ice skating."
"You and your ice skating," Brian teased, giving Justin an amused smirk, because he'd totally called that one in the car. "You really are Canadian, aren't you?"
"Hey, you like it too," Gus protested.
"I said no such thing," Brian insisted, stifling a grin while Justin rolled his eyes.
"So can we go?" Gus asked eagerly, pausing before he added, "And can we take the Porsche?"
"You're not driving," Brian said, knowing exactly what Gus' unspoken question was. "But yes, we can go, and yes, we can take the Porsche."
"He wouldn't even let me drive," Justin cut in, giving his husband a teasing smile.
Brian was just about to fire back a sarcastic remark when Lindsay reappeared in the foyer. "I'm going to go upstairs and make sure everything in your room is ready," she said. "I've got a chicken roasting. But if either of you get hungry before then, there are plenty of cookies."
That was all the permission Justin needed, and he soon had half of a frosted sugar cookie shaped like a Christmas tree in his mouth, happily munching away while Brian shook his head. "What?" Justin said, in between bites.
"Nothing. Just thinking that one day age is going to catch up with you and you won't be making fun of me anymore for watching what I eat," Brian said, watching Lindsay disappear up the stairs.
"Whatever, old man," Justin said, a confident smirk spreading across his lips as he polished off the last of the cookie. When he was done, he leaned up to give Brian a kiss -- one that was flavored with a slight hint of sugar cookie.
Gus cleared his throat, not particularly wanting to be a spectator to his dads playing tonsil hockey in the living room. Justin pulled away, winking at Brian. "I'm going to take the rest of our stuff upstairs," he said. "You and Gus catch up; I'll be right back."
Justin turned and started up the stairs, Brian's suitcase in hand, hoping Brian wasn't going to try to follow him with the intention of helping out, but thankfully, Brian seemed to be focused on Gus. When Justin got to the guest bedroom, he found Lindsay fluffing pillows and otherwise flitting around the room like she just needed to be doing something at all times. But that wasn't unusual for Lindsay when Brian and Justin were visiting, given that she was typically quite preoccupied with making sure that everything was perfect and she hardly ever sat down. Now, there was just the added element of the fact that they were actually staying in the Marcus-Peterson home, which seemed to have broadened Lindsay's self-assigned hostess duties considerably.
"Oh!" Lindsay said, the second she saw Justin standing in the doorway. "I was just thinking that I probably should have replaced these pillows. They're old, but they hardly ever get slept on."
"They're fine," Justin said, smiling. "Remember, we just used them not long ago. We really appreciate you letting us stay here. Mom too."
"It's no problem at all! I'm so thrilled to have you all here. I've never really hosted the holiday, so I've been looking forward to it. And it was so nice to have you and Brian both here last time, even though I wished it hadn't started because he was ill." Seemingly satisfied with her pillow fluffing, Lindsay moved on to giving the dresser another once-over with a microfiber duster. "Oh, yes, I almost forgot -- your package arrived safely the other day. I've got it hidden in the bottom of our closet."
"Perfect. Thanks so much."
"No need to thank me. I can't wait to see the look on his face when he opens it." She smiled and continued dusting the dresser, though Justin honestly couldn't see any dust on it. Once the dresser had been rid of all of its invisible dust, Lindsay stashed the duster in a drawer and gave the entire room one last glance, as if to check that absolutely nothing was out of place. "I'd better go get started on the mashed potatoes," she said abruptly. "Let me know if there's anything else you need, and I'll be happy to get it for you."
Justin turned to thank her, but she had already disappeared down the stairs. He busied himself for a few minutes hanging up his and Brian's shirts in the otherwise-empty closet, occasionally hearing bits and pieces of Brian and Gus' conversation downstairs. It always made Justin smile to hear the two of them laugh together, and how similar their laughs were, yet just different enough that he could easily tell them apart.
Justin was looking forward to spending Christmas in a new place, but still with family, because to him, that was what was most important. His mother had always made sure that spending time with each other was a priority at the holidays -- save for the year or so of upheaval surrounding Justin's coming out and his parents' subsequent divorce -- and Justin had done his best to continue that tradition with Brian. But Justin knew that Brian didn't necessarily share all of his warm-and-fuzzy feelings about the holiday, and that Brian's own memories were not nearly as positive as Justin's. Even after almost a decade of marriage, there were a lot of details of Brian's childhood that Justin didn't know, simply because Brian felt they were in the past and there was no sense bringing them up. But Justin did know about Jack Kinney's Christmas Day tradition of watching football and polishing off a six-pack of beer all by himself while yelling at the television, as Joan complained and drank scotch, Claire whined about whatever trendy gift she hadn't received, and Brian just tried to stay out of the way.
The only reason Justin knew about that was because he'd asked about the small scar on the back of Brian's hand -- so inconspicuous that it had escaped his notice for quite some time, even in spite of his eagerness to study and memorize every inch of Brian's body -- and Brian had sarcastically said, "I guess you could say it was a Christmas gift." After a good bit of back and forth and Brian trying to avoid giving any additional details, Justin had managed to get him to admit that it was from being forced to pick up broken glass after Jack threw an empty beer bottle at the wall when the other team scored a touchdown against the Ironmen. Brian had refused to look at Justin as he recounted the story, only looking at him when Justin linked their fingers and brought their intertwined hands to his lips, gently kissing the scar.
"I'm sorry that happened to you," Justin had said, wishing as he often did that he could somehow go back in time and kick Jack Kinney's ass, personally.
But Brian had merely shrugged and said, "No sense apologizing. It's in the past. You didn't do it." Then he'd changed the subject, and Justin hadn't brought it up again. That seemed to be their usual course of action whenever the first 14 or so years of Brian's life came up, before he met Michael (and subsequently Debbie) and started spending less time at his house and more time at the Novotny home.
Once Justin had emptied both of their suitcases of everything that needed to be hung up to avoid wrinkles, he went back downstairs to the living room, where Gus was in the middle of recounting a story about how he'd scored a goal and basically won the game for his soccer team. It was a story Justin had already heard a handful of times, and he knew Brian had as well, but that didn't matter. Brian was positively beaming, and it warmed Justin's heart to see that, although he knew that Brian was probably wishing he'd also been there to see it. If Gus went to college in New York though, as he'd mentioned wanting to consider, that would soon no longer be a problem.
There were several delicious smells coming from the kitchen, so Justin figured dinner wasn't far away. Less than a minute later, he found out he was right when Lindsay appeared in the doorway and announced that the meal was ready. Melanie had apparently arrived home from work while Justin was upstairs, and she was now in the kitchen, setting the table and pouring wine into glasses.
"Hey, Stranger," she said happily, noticing that Justin had joined them. She set the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc on the table and walked over to him, giving him a hug. "We're so happy to finally have you guys here!" then in a quieter voice directly into Justin's ear, added, "Lindsay has been driving me fucking insane."
Justin chuckled, giving Mel an extra squeeze in acknowledgement of her comment. He could only imagine what visitor preparation was like in the Marcus-Peterson home. His own mother prided herself on her hostess skills, and she was wonderfully attentive, but Lindsay was like Jennifer on speed.
Melanie resumed her task of filling the wine glasses, so Justin took his regular seat next to Brian, surveying the table in front of them. Not only had Lindsay prepared a perfectly-roasted (of course) chicken and mashed potatoes, but she also had a medley of roasted winter vegetables, minted peas, and what appeared to be Yorkshire pudding.
"What kind of meat would everyone like?" Lindsay asked, hovering within arm's reach of the chicken, carving knife and serving fork at the ready.
To Brian's credit, he managed to keep his mouth shut, but when Justin glanced over, he saw the undeniable smirk on his husband's face. Fortunately, serving continued without incident, and everyone began to eat.
"Linds, these are fantastic," Justin complimented, swallowing a mouthful of the peas. They weren't typically his favorite vegetable, but Lindsay's version was surprisingly tasty.
"Oh, thank you!" she replied, smiling and setting down her wine glass. "The secret is a little bit of lemon zest! They're actually a Martha Stewart recipe. I can give it to you later, if you'd like."
Dinner was going smoothly until Brian put the last bite into his mouth from the intentionally small pile of mashed potatoes he'd taken. Lindsay immediately reached for the spoon, scooping up another dollop and prepared to deposit it onto his plate.
"Do you fucking mind?" Brian asked, trying to keep his voice light, but blocking her path with his hand.
Lindsay gave him a well-practiced smile, the picture of patience. "I just want to make sure you have a good dinner after a long day of driving."
Brian opened his mouth, but then closed it and looked down at his empty plate, thinking better of it and taking a breath instead. Justin could see Melanie watching him with keen interest, probably debating if she would have to jump in to defend her wife, or if Brian was about to say what she'd been thinking over the course of the past week.
It's only been an hour, Justin thought warily to himself, shifting his gaze to his husband as well.
"Linds," Brian finally said. "Chill the fuck out. Please. It's us. Not your parents, not your boss, not the goddamned Queen of England. It's me and Justin. Stop worrying about how satisfied we are with every single breath we take. Please?"
Like watching a ping pong match, Melanie, Gus, and Justin turned their heads toward Lindsay, waiting for her reaction.
Fortunately, she let out a defeated laugh. "I'm sorry. Am I overdoing it? I just really want everything to be perfect. It's the first time you've officially stayed here, so I just want you to feel at home, plus it's the holidays, and…"
"It is perfect," Justin offered, giving Lindsay a gentle smile. "We're here with all of you for Christmas, that's all we wanted."
"And if I wanted to be waited on hand and foot, I would've just stayed at the Four Seasons," Brian teased.
"He has a point," Melanie chimed in, her tone amused. "Besides, if you really wanted Brian to feel 'at home' here, I should probably be telling him to get the hell out!"
Mel and Brian exchanged smirks before he continued. "Really, though, just relax and enjoy yourself. Have another glass of wine. Smoke some weed… whatever you have to do."
Lindsay's eyes widened. "That is one thing we won't be doing in this house, for relaxation or otherwise," she said, and though she said it playfully, her eyes brokered no arguments.
Gus snorted lightly and glanced at his dad, but Brian cast him a warning look that sobered him quickly. Fortunately, Lindsay didn't notice, sparing them all what would've inevitably become the interrogation from hell.
"Well," she said brightly, sliding back her chair. "Who's ready for dessert?"
"More like, who's ready to become pre-diabetic?" Brian muttered, and Justin snickered, elbowing him in the side to shush him.
"What did you make, Mom?" Gus asked, peering toward the kitchen. He'd been involved in a lot of the holiday baking, but nothing specific had stood out as a special dessert for that evening.
Lindsay smiled. "It's a surprise. Would you like to come help me?" Gus nodded, following his mom into the kitchen. Melanie stood to collect their empty plates, shoo-ing Justin away when he offered to help.
"No, I'm fine," she insisted. "Why don't you guys take care of refilling the wine?" Justin nodded, and Melanie gathered the stack of empty dishes and headed out of the room.
"I wonder what Christmas concoction Linds has up her sleeve for tonight," Justin mused, passing Melanie's empty wine glass to Brian, who filled it.
"Figgy pudding? Dancing sugar plums? Candy canes made from scratch?" Brian offered, reaching for Lindsay's glass, before finishing by topping of Justin's and his own.
"Orrrrrr," Lindsay dragged out, coming back into the room, a decadent-looking cake on the platter she was carrying, "Chocolate-chocolate chip!" She set the cake on the table, and smiled at Brian, squeezing his shoulder as she passed behind him to return to her own seat.
Justin glanced over at his husband, a little hesitant about what he would find, but was relieved to see that Brian just gazed steadily at the cake, a small smile on his lips.
"Looks good," he said softly, giving Lindsay a meaningful look. If Gus was confused why his normally sweets-opposed father wasn't making a big deal about the rich, fudgy pile of calories, especially when a generous slice was placed in front of him, he wisely chose not to comment.
"What do you think?" Lindsay asked casually, dabbing at the corners of her mouth with her napkin after trying her first bite. "I followed the recipe exactly, so hopefully it turned out--"
"It did," Brian cut her off.
"It's really great, Linds," Justin added, and really the cake was fantastic. The particular combination happened to secretly be Brian's favorite, and they'd had it in various iterations over the years, but this was one of the better ones Justin could remember. From his genuine reaction, Brian seemed to agree.
"I can't believe I didn't know you were making this," Gus commented. "You kept it from me!"
They all chuckled at his mock-offense.
"That's because I actually wanted some cake leftover for when we served it," Lindsay teased, reaching over to ruffle her son's hair.
"Hey, I'm a growing boy," Gus shot back with a grin, stretching his six-foot frame for emphasis. At seventeen, he was already taller than both of his mothers, as well as Justin. Only Brian managed to maintain about two inches on his son.
"I suppose you could've at least licked the bowl," Lindsay relented, shrugging apologetically. "Oh well. Next time!"
Once dessert was finished, Brian and Justin helped them clear the rest of the table, and, despite Lindsay's protests about them being guests, assisted with the washing and putting away of dishes as well. When everything was finished, they all settled in the living room.
"Maybe there's a good Christmas movie on," Lindsay suggested, gesturing at the television. She was seated with Melanie on the loveseat while Brian sat between Justin and Gus on the large sofa. The plate of cookies still sat temptingly on the coffee table, but after Lindsay's substantial meal, no one dared to touch them.
After some dedicated channel surfing, Gus declared everything on TV to be "crap," and they ended up watching an episode of House Hunters that was, ironically, set in Pittsburgh.
"I'm surprised they don't have more shows dedicated specifically to Canada up here," Justin commented as another episode started, this one set in Indianapolis.
"Practically all of HGTV's shows were set in Toronto when it was becoming more popular," Melanie pointed out. "Most of the original show hosts were Canadian. A lot still are. In fact, a cousin of the Scott brothers actually works within our firm."
"That's pretty cool," Justin said, reaching over to lace his fingers through Brian's, resting their interlocked hands on Brian's thigh.
At one point, Lindsay offered to bring in another bottle of wine for the adults (despite Gus' best attempts to argue that he was only two years away from being legal), and Melanie joined her in the kitchen to assist with carrying glasses.
"Brian's unusually quiet," Melanie observed, trying to keep her voice down as she pulled four stemless wine tumblers from their cabinet of barware.
"Well," Lindsay said, trying to decide between bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. "I'm sure they're both tired from the drive."
Melanie nodded. "Yeah, eight hours in the car is a bitch. But something still seems 'off' to me. You don't sense it?"
Lindsay shrugged, wondering how much of this was tied to her decision to make the cake she'd chosen. Part of her wondered if maybe she should've cleared it with Brian or Justin first, just as a precaution, but Brian didn't really seem upset, just contemplative. It really had been intended as a kind gesture, so she hoped Brian would know her well enough to understand that. "If there's something Brian wants to talk about, I'm sure he will," she said, settling on the Cab. "I know the holidays have always been difficult for him, so that's why I'm so focused on making sure everything goes well while they're here."
"I know," Melanie said, walking over to Lindsay and wrapping her arms around her wife. "He's lucky to have someone who knows him and cares for him as well as you do. But I think everything we have planned will be great, with or without the extra pomp and circumstance. You know what holidays at Debbie's are like every year. I think low-key will be something everyone can appreciate -- you included."
Lindsay nodded, smiling and accepting the kiss Melanie offered. "You're right. I'll try to dial it back this week."
They gathered the wine supplies and a bottle of Gatorade for Gus and headed back into the living room where the three men had apparently found and settled on Home Alone, which appeared to be about halfway over.
They watched the rest of the movie together, enjoying the lighthearted laughter it brought. Gus could hardly believe that Justin was around the same age as the main character when the movie had first come out, especially when Brian revealed that he'd been 21 at the time.
"Watch what you say, young man," Lindsay warned teasingly. "Your dad and I are the same age."
Gus held his hands up in surrender.
"Good move," Melanie, the eldest of all four adults, joked, nudging her son's calf with her toe.
When all peace was restored in the McAllister household, Gus decided he was going to bed, and Justin -- sensing that Brian still had something on his mind -- announced that they would follow suit. Everyone said goodnight, leaving Lindsay and Melanie in front of the TV to watch the news before heading upstairs themselves.
Justin intended to question Brian as soon as they got to their room, but no sooner had he opened his mouth than Brian murmured his intention to shower and left the room, pulling the door closed behind him before he disappeared across the hall to the bathroom.
For a brief moment, Justin considered slipping in to join him, but figured the closed door was symbolic of Brian wanting a little space, and knew it was best to grant it. Hopefully the time alone would give Brian an opportunity to sort out his thoughts and decide how much he was willing to discuss with his husband.
Instead, Justin took the alone-time to sort through a couple of the gifts he'd hidden among his personal bag, preparing them to add to the surprise for Brian that Lindsay was already keeping for him in her closet. He'd finished and was lounging on the bed when Brian walked back in, dressed in sleep pants and a t-shirt.
"All yours," Brian said, offering Justin a tentative smile.
Justin nodded, standing up. "Thanks," he said, grabbing the few items he'd need to prepare for bed and heading across the hall himself.
By the time he returned to the bedroom, dressed in pajamas as well, Brian was in bed, propped up against two pillows with his eyes closed, but Justin knew he wasn't asleep. After he'd closed and locked the door, he crawled onto the bed. Brian opened his eyes as soon as he felt the movement.
"Hey," he said quietly.
"Hey," Justin echoed, situating himself on his side so he could look at his husband. "You've been about a million miles away most of the night."
Brian huffed out a small laugh. "Sorry."
"Don't be," Justin said, reaching out and gently stroking the exposed skin along the length of Brian's arm. "Where's your head?"
"About a million years away. At least that's what it feels like."
Justin figured there was no point in beating around the bush, especially since it seemed that Brian was actually willing to engage in the topic, so he cut right to the point. "Are you okay?"
Brian shrugged noncommittally. "I think so. It's… it's not what you think."
Justin raised an eyebrow but said nothing, waiting for Brian to continue, while continuing the lazy pace of his fingers up and down Brian's forearm and bicep.
"I'm not… upset. It's… actually not bad at all. Maybe that's the problem."
"That you don't know what to do with a good memory?" Justin guessed, realizing that Brian's struggle was actually with the fact that chocolate chocolate chip cake was something his mom had sometimes made as a treat for him -- a rare positive highlight of his childhood, among the mostly negative memories that he associated with the majority of his time spent with Joan and Jack Kinney.
"It's complicated," Brian sighed. "But pretty much, yeah. This whole fucking time of year is just-- I mean, you know. You've been around me long enough to understand. And Lindsay, too. She…" Brian trailed off, turning his head away from Justin, seemingly needing a moment to collect himself. When he looked back, his eyes were slightly glassy. "She used the same recipe. Betty-fucking-Crocker. Joan had this battered orange cookbook from the 70s… I don't know where Linds found the exact recipe, but that was it. I'm sure of it."
"It was a fantastic cake," Justin said, moving closer to Brian in an effort to provide comfort. "I know I've tried to make other recipes, but that one was better."
Brian sighed again. "It's just… fucked up, you know? This random sprinkling of not-so-awful memories among the shit that defined my formative years. But I appreciate that Lindsay remembered. And that I don't need to explain that much of it to you now. Because I don't know how I would if I had to."
Justin stopped stroking Brian's arm to reach for his waist, and gently coaxed him onto his side so they could lie facing each other. It was a vulnerable position for Brian, having to look Justin directly in the eyes, but after seventeen years together, he went willingly, knowing he would only find love and understanding with no sign of judgment in the blue eyes looking back at him.
"It's okay to hold onto the good too," Justin said softly, pushing a piece of damp hair away from Brian's face. "Especially during the holidays. And this year will be really special, because it's just us -- our little family with Mel and Linds and Gus. And my mom. And… I guess in a way, with the cake, it's a small positive way that your mom can be a part of it too."
"The only way I'd want her part of it," Brian snorted. "Can you imagine what Saint Joan would have to say about the sheer lack of Jesus in this house if we'd invited her?"
Justin laughed, happy to hear Brian sounding more like himself again. He leaned up and gave Brian a kiss, feeling it deepen as Brian's arms finally came around him, pulling him close. There was still a lingering desperation in Brian's kisses that Justin could sense, and he knew he wanted to do what he could to make sure that Brian felt well-cared for and loved.
He wasn't sure if Brian's original intention had been for them to have sex that night or not, especially considering that he'd come to bed fully clothed -- which was a rarity, even taking into account the part where they were guests in someone else's home. Regardless, Justin had something in mind, because he knew that if anything worked to soothe Brian's soul during complicated times, it was a mind-blowing orgasm.
Justin gently extracted himself from Brian's arms, ignoring Brian's protest when their lips separated, and instead, he began kissing a gentle trail down Brian's neck, and over his clothed collarbones, before pushing up his t-shirt to expose his abdomen and chest. He turned his attention to Brian's nipples, licking and biting at them until he was moaning softly, and then worked his way across Brian's stomach, circling his belly button, and then pressing kisses to Brian's lower torso until he reached the edge of the soft cotton sleep pants.
Surprisingly, when Justin lowered Brian's pants to just below his hips, enough to expose his groin, he found that Brian wasn't actually aroused at all yet. Sometimes, despite that he was nearing fifty, Brian was still like a horny teenager, hard and ready to go within a split second of when the mere suggestion of sex entered the picture. But tonight, his non-response told Justin just how affected Brian was feeling. Then again, Justin thought, ongoing thoughts of Joan Kinney would be enough to kill even the most determined hard-on.
Just to be sure, he glanced up and gave Brian a questioning look, and Brian simply gave a single nod back and spread his legs slightly, his eyes glazed as he focused intently on whatever Justin was about to do. Clearly he was interested; he just needed his body to cooperate. Fortunately, as soon as Justin took Brian's soft cock into his mouth, it began to respond, eventually allowing Justin to put his deepthroating skills to good use as he skillfully brought his husband to the height of pleasure, knowing exactly what sensations and pressure drove Brian crazy.
"Oh fuck, oh fuck," Brian murmured, practically under his breath, as Justin worked his magic, and Brian's fingers tangled in and tugged at Justin's hair.
Justin smiled around his mouthful of Brian's cock, humming gently and using his free hand to push Brian's pants lower so he could stimulate his balls -- and back even further -- causing Brian to let out a moan that he had to bury in his forearm to muffle the sound. As Justin realized that Brian was getting closer to his climax, he started paying more explicit attention to Brian's perineum while he continued his oral ministrations, applying delicate but firm strokes that he'd discovered gave Brian a far more intense orgasm than just via his mouth alone. Usually, he didn't bother to go this route if he knew Brian was going to end up fucking him, but tonight, he wanted to pull out all the stops, and he knew that this technique actually came close to simulating the type of orgasm he experienced when he bottomed, without having to manually engage Brian's prostate.
"Oh shit, Jesus fucking Christ," Brian chanted, fortunately keeping his voice down, as his orgasm overtook him with a massive shudder. Justin held him in his mouth until he finished coming, and then swallowed and carefully tucked Brian's spent cock back into his underwear and replaced his pajama bottoms before crawling back up to the head of the bed.
"Feel good?" he asked, his voice raspy from his vigorous efforts.
Brian snorted, still looking a bit out of sorts. "That's the understatement of the year. You are a fucking champion. I think you just sucked my brain out through my cock."
Justin smiled, leaning in to give Brian a kiss. "I learned from the best."
Brian smirked, but still looked pleased by the compliment, even despite nearly two decades of Justin having thousands of other opportunities to perfect his skills. He started to move toward Justin as if he planned to reciprocate, but Justin stopped him.
"No, no. That was just for you."
"But you--" Brian frowned, gesturing at the obvious bulge still remaining in Justin's pajama pants.
Justin reached down under the fabric and cupped himself, squeezing gently. "Why don't you just give me a hand instead?"
And before they fell asleep, curled around each other in sated bliss, Brian did just that.
The next morning, Brian was the first to stir, and decided to let Justin sleep in for as long as he could. With the holidays approaching, and Jennifer joining them later that morning, it was likely that the following days would take on a much earlier start.
Brian contemplated trying to go back to sleep himself, but found he just felt restless, so rather than risk waking Justin -- even if it had the potential to result in some morning extracurriculars -- he decided to head down to the kitchen, allowing his nose to lead him in the direction of coffee.
"Morning," Melanie greeted him when he walked into the room. She was still in her pajamas and a bathrobe, reading the newspaper at the kitchen table. "Help yourself."
"Morning," Brian replied, walking to the counter and pulling down a mug to fill from the pot of freshly-brewed coffee. Once his drink was prepared to his liking, he joined Melanie at the table.
"I'm sure you're used to Starbucks, but we figured you should start your day with something inherently Canadian," Melanie teased, watching as Brian took his first sip and let the coffee sit on his tongue for a few seconds as he surveyed the taste.
"Can't go wrong with Timmy's." Brian shrugged, obviously recognizing it. "This is good. The shit I drink most days is more like jet fuel, just so I can keep up with everything at work."
Melanie laughed. "I'm sure. I know the feeling. It's nice, though, having you guys up here for a change, at this time of year. Gives us all an excuse to slow down for a couple of days." She paused, taking a sip from her own mug. "Speaking of which, did you sleep well?"
Brian nodded. "Yeah, much better than my last 'first night' staying here," he joked, alluding to the twenty-four hours of gastrointestinal pyrotechnics he'd experienced during his previous trip to Canada. Strangely, for as miserable as that initial period had been, he was grateful for it, because, had that not occurred, their current holiday plans never would have come to fruition, especially not the part where they were houseguests at the Muncher estate. And as much as Brian had never imagined a scenario in which Melanie Marcus would be the first person he'd actually care to see in the morning, he appreciated that she carried an air of quiet calmness about her, far removed from the slightly frenetic energy that Lindsay possessed, especially when she was playing hostess.
"Definitely glad to hear that," Melanie said. "Lindsay is getting ready, but she has breakfast plans in mind, so--"
"What a surprise," Brian said, his lips quirking with amusement.
"I know." Melanie smirked, grateful that Brian understood Lindsay without any additional explanation or justification necessary. "So, anyway, our understanding is that Jennifer's flight arrives soon, and Gus was asking if he could be involved with picking her up, but we're not thrilled about him driving out to Pearson alone--"
"I'll go with him," Brian offered easily, eager for the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with his son. Plus, if Justin slept in as late as he was sometimes prone to do after a long work week, there was a good chance they could get out to the airport and back with his mom before he even woke up.
Melanie nodded. "Just one thing -- if he wants to drive, please take my car. I know he thinks he's a hotshot driver now, but I'd rather not see him trying his hand at a Porsche just yet."
Brian laughed genuinely, making a mental note to call and cancel the car service he'd originally scheduled for his mother-in-law's pick-up. "You and me both."
Sitting and having coffee with Melanie actually turned out to be enjoyable, in spite of what Brian might have thought of the idea in years past. Mostly, they just sat and enjoyed the quiet, sharing the newspaper and occasionally exchanging a few words here and there about work and life in general. Lindsay joined them after about thirty minutes, clearly pleased to see her wife and her best friend getting along so well.
"Morning," she said, greeting Brian with a kiss on the cheek and Melanie with one on the lips. "It's so nice to see the two of you talking instead of sniping at each other all the time."
Brian opened his mouth to say something, but Lindsay kept right on talking, as she started opening cabinets in the kitchen and pulling out cooking implements, clearly about to get started on breakfast.
"Why don't you sit down for a few minutes?" Melanie suggested. "Have coffee with us. Then we can do brunch after Jennifer gets here. I'm sure she'll be hungry after being in airports and on a plane all morning."
Lindsay willingly acquiesced, making herself a cup of coffee and joining them at the table. That surprised Brian, though he noted that Lindsay did seem to be quite a bit more low-key than she had been the previous day, so perhaps she and Melanie had had a talk after they all went to bed. Brian wouldn't know; he'd been a bit… preoccupied.
"So, I was thinking I'd make quiche lorraine," Lindsay said. "Simple but elegant."
"What, no homemade cinnamon rolls?" Brian teased, raising an eyebrow.
"That's for Christmas Day." Lindsay smiled and took a sip of her coffee. "And don't worry, I'll make something low carb too. Maybe a broccoli cheddar frittata."
"Thank god," Brian said, bringing his own almost-empty mug to his lips. "I was starting to think you were trying to fatten me up."
"Well, it is Christmas." Lindsay paused and poked Brian playfully in the stomach through his t-shirt, causing him to reflexively swat her hand away. "Though really, I don't think you have anything to worry about."
If Lindsay was being honest, Brian looked just as good in his late forties as he had in his early twenties -- maybe even better. But she wasn't going to comment on that out loud in front of Melanie, lest she reignite the rivalry that had once been the norm between her wife and best friend.
"I swear, it's like you and Justin think it takes no effort at all to maintain this physique," Brian said indignantly. "It's hard work."
"Yeah, I'll bet it's hard work… in more ways than one," Melanie teased.
Brian was about to make a sarcastic remark of his own when a fully-dressed Gus rounded the corner and came into the kitchen. Brian wasn't sure he'd ever seen Gus up and dressed that early, given that he mostly saw his son on school breaks, and Gus -- who took after Brian in his tendency to be a night owl -- was normally prone to sleeping in even later than Justin.
"Going somewhere?" Brian asked innocently, even though he already knew the answer to his question, after talking with Melanie earlier.
Gus slid into the chair next to Brian, clearly trying to play it cool even though his excitement was palpable. "I was thinking, if it was okay with you, maybe we could go pick up Gigi… You know, as a surprise," he said, obviously trying to sound casual. He looked expectantly at Brian, and it was all Brian could do not to laugh, because Gus' eagerness reminded Brian of when Gus was a little boy and the three of them would go to Jennifer's house during the holidays that were spent in Pittsburgh. Gus loved Jennifer, and Brian knew that the feeling was mutual. Even though they weren't related by blood, Jennifer definitely thought of Gus as her grandson, and likewise, Gus counted Jennifer among his grandmothers -- even giving her the nickname he'd called her since he was a little boy.
"Sounds good to me, Sonny Boy," Brian said, keeping his poker face firmly in place so Gus wouldn't know this plan had already been made. "And you can drive, too."
"Really?! Awesome!" In that moment, any intention Gus had to remain nonchalant appeared to go out the window. "Can we--"
"You're taking my car," Melanie interrupted, without even looking up from the newspaper.
"But…" Gus let his voice trail off, looking to Brian for help and obviously hoping Brian would argue with Melanie to let them take the Porsche.
However, Gus' hopes were quickly dashed when Brian said, "No buts. If you want to drive, we're taking the Subaru."
Gus looked disappointed for a moment, but it was short lived and soon overshadowed by his excitement about being able to drive at all. Brian glanced at his smartwatch, realizing that he'd better go get dressed if he and Gus were going to make it to the airport on time, given that Jennifer's flight was scheduled to land in a little over an hour. He left Gus at the kitchen table, chatting with his mothers and probably still trying to plead his case to drive the Porsche, and went upstairs to quickly brush his teeth and change into a pair of jeans and a sweater. Finding Justin was still sound asleep in the guest bedroom, Brian tried to be as quiet as possible, though he knew it probably didn't matter, since Justin usually slept like the dead and could even flop over to practically bodyslam Brian in his sleep without waking up. At one point, when Brian was carefully closing the closet door, Justin stirred a little, but he rolled over and seemed to settle back into a deep sleep quickly as Brian left the room.
On his way back downstairs, he called to cancel the car he'd previously booked for Jennifer, hanging up the call just as he went back into the kitchen, where he found Gus pouring coffee into a travel mug, looking suddenly very grown-up. Brian still found it hard to believe it had been more than 17 years since he'd stood in Lindsay's hospital room, high as a kite after making his way through the disco pharmacological alphabet, with Michael taking pictures to document the moment and Justin acting every bit the teenager that he was. Things had certainly changed since then, but Brian wouldn't give any of it up for the world.
"Ready to go, Sonny Boy?" Brian asked.
Gus flashed the keys to Melanie's Subaru, while Brian wondered to himself if it was possible for Melanie to be any more lesbian. Though, looking at her plaid flannel pajamas, perhaps not.
After saying goodbye to the Munchers -- and Gus having to promise three separate times that he'd be careful -- father and son made their way to the car. Once he'd started the engine, Gus immediately changed the station from CBC Radio to some sort of rock station that didn't sound half bad at first listen -- perhaps Gus' musical tastes were improving and starting to move away from the top 40 shit that Brian swore would make your ears bleed.
Brian could see Lindsay peeking out the front window of the house as they pulled out of the driveway. Clearly, she was hovering at least a little. But as they got farther away from the house, Brian saw that Lindsay really didn't have anything to worry about, because Gus was actually a good driver. Much better than Brian had been at that age, though Brian figured a good portion of that was likely due to the differences in how they'd each learned to drive -- Brian having no choice but to learn "on the job" at 15 when his father started forcing Brian to drive him home from the bars, and Gus having attended some fancy driving school that Brian had paid for.
Sometimes Brian wondered what it would have been like to have a "normal" childhood -- whatever that was -- but he also figured that was water under the bridge. No sense worrying about it because he couldn't change it. He'd gotten out of there and made something of himself, and that was all that mattered. Still, that perspective often left him in awe as he watched Gus, this miniature version of himself that shared half of his DNA, grow up. For as much as Gus was Brian's mini-me, the life Gus had at 17 was very much different from the life Brian had had at the same age.
When Gus was born, Brian had misgivings about what life would be like for his son, being raised by a same sex couple in a world that wasn't always accepting. But in the end, it didn't matter. Gus was raised by an entire village who loved him dearly -- two moms, two dads, two "half dads" in Michael and Ben, four uncles in Ted, Blake, Emmett, and Drew, and two loving "grandmothers" in Debbie and Jennifer. Of the group, only Brian and Lindsay were related to Gus by blood, but the others all loved him just as much.
Brian also remembered joking with Lindsay all those years ago that if their parents could fuck up, they could too, but he'd really only been half joking. At the time, it was a legitimate fear. However, that fear also proved to be unfounded, and any "fuck ups" on their part when it came to Gus had been extremely minor by comparison.
Mostly, Brian was grateful that Gus had the opportunity to have a "normal" childhood, and was growing up to be a well-adjusted young adult. Brian still wasn't sure exactly how much of a role he'd played in that, but he hoped he'd had at least some positive influence, and he was starting to have a bit more confidence in his ability to do that.
"Earth to Dad!" Gus' voice pulled Brian out of his thoughts and back to the present moment again. "Is my driving so bad that you have to disassociate to get through it?"
When Brian's vision came back into focus, he realized they were on the highway, and he probably should have been paying more attention, but thankfully, Gus was going exactly the speed limit and had both hands on the wheel.
"Is everything okay?" Gus asked, glancing over at Brian, but making sure to also keep his eyes on the road. "You've been kind of quiet."
"I'm fine. Just had a long travel day yesterday." Brian smiled at Gus, hoping his answer would satisfy Gus' curiosity, since Brian didn't particularly want to share the specifics of what he'd been thinking about, and he was equally sure that Gus had zero interest in hearing him say anything that would qualify as "mushy."
Thankfully, Gus changed the subject and they spent the rest of the drive to the airport talking about much more neutral topics, with the majority of the conversation centering on their shared interest in soccer. Brian was grateful that they had that connection, especially after hearing so many of his employees at Kinnetik complain about how they felt like their children lived in a different world and they had nothing in common. He'd also heard plenty of stories that made his employees' children sound like holy terrors, which made him even more glad that Gus had never been that bad. Gus had always been a pretty good kid, and Brian knew they were lucky. Jenny Rebecca, on the other hand, seemed to be more of a handful, who often tested her mothers' patience as well as Michael and Ben's.
Traffic seemed relatively light for a weekday morning, though Brian supposed that was likely because there were only a few days left before Christmas, and a lot of people probably had the day off from work, much like himself. He'd actually had a spurt of holiday generosity and decided to close the office for a few extra days, which also meant that no one would be calling or emailing him with stupid shit they could have and should have taken care of themselves, since no one would be working. It was a genius idea, if he did say so himself.
Once they arrived at the airport, Brian helped Gus navigate the confusing series of signs and ramps that surrounded almost every airport Brian had ever been to, making sure they ended up headed in the right direction. They parked in the express garage near terminal 1, where Jennifer's flight would be arriving, then proceeded inside the terminal. Since they still had some time to kill before Jennifer's flight actually arrived, they located the Tim Horton's at Gus' request, where Gus polished off what Brian deemed to be an excessive amount of TimBits while Brian had more coffee, electing to save his food consumption for Lindsay's planned brunch -- though he did steal a couple of TimBits, earning himself some good-natured teasing from his son. Gus had just finished the last of the doughnut holes when Brian got the text notification that Jennifer's flight had landed.
Knowing that she'd still need to clear customs -- which Brian figured might take a bit longer since many people were likely traveling with gifts -- they took their time making their way back over to baggage claim, which seemed to be the best place to surprise Jennifer. Once her flight had been assigned to a carousel, Brian and Gus waited nearby. Gus was still trying to act casual, even though it was obvious that he could hardly wait until Jennifer walked through the doors.
When she finally did, Gus rushed toward her, nearly bowling her over before sweeping her off her feet and spinning her in a circle, then setting her back down again.
"Oh my goodness!" Jennifer exclaimed, laughing. "I wasn't expecting you!"
Gus was beaming from ear-to-ear and wasted no time taking her carry-on bag and slinging it over his shoulder, leaving her with just her handbag to manage. "I'm so glad you're here!" he said, starting to walk back in the direction from which he'd come.
As Jennifer began to follow him, she finally noticed Brian standing a few feet away, watching the reunion between his son and mother-in-law with an amused smile on his face.
"Mom," he greeted Jennifer fondly, wrapping her in a warm hug once she was near enough.
"Brian! What a surprise!" she said, laughing into his shoulder as she rose onto her tiptoes to meet his embrace.
"It was Sonny Boy's idea," Brian admitted, releasing Jennifer and gesturing toward Gus. "I think your visit might have been more anticipated than Santa's."
Brian saw a slight flush creeping up Gus' cheeks as he put his head down and scratched behind his ear -- a nervous habit of Justin's that Gus seemed to have picked up.
"Well, it was a great idea," Jennifer said, putting her arm around Gus' waist and pulling him close to her. "I'd much rather get to spend 45 minutes in the car with my favorite grandson than with a stranger."
"I'm kind of your only grandson," Gus laughed, his color and countenance starting to return to normal.
"You're still my favorite." Jennifer smiled and leaned up to kiss Gus on the cheek.
Soon, they were back in the car, headed toward Melanie and Lindsay's house. Brian let Jennifer sit in the front seat so she and Gus could talk a bit more easily, while he sat in the back and looked up the winter carnival Gus had mentioned to see what sorts of vendors they had. He was hoping to pick up a few more last-minute gifts, since he and Justin had to limit what they'd purchased at home to avoid any unpleasant surprises at the border. It looked like there was a fairly diverse offering, though there were nearly as many food vendors as there were those who were offering material goods, leaving Brian wondering, as always, why the holidays were always so centered on food. And not just food, but sugary, carby goodness, which he liked -- even though he often pretended he didn't -- but couldn't eat as much of as people seemed to want him to. Namely Lindsay. And sometimes Justin. But mostly Lindsay.
Brian was thankful that Lindsay's planned brunch didn't sound too terribly indulgent, given that it looked like there would be food trucks at the carnival, and he knew Justin and Gus would absolutely want to have dinner there too. Gus had already mentioned ice skating, so Brian knew that would be happening for sure. It wasn't his favorite activity, but it made Gus happy and it meant spending quality time with his son, so he'd do it. And it looked like there was a wine bar too, which would probably go a long way toward helping the skating be more enjoyable.
When they arrived back at the house and got through the front door with Jennifer's luggage in tow, Justin was coming down the stairs, still in his pajamas, obviously having just having woken up -- exactly as Brian had predicted. His eyes widened as he watched the crowd assembling in the foyer.
"Mom?" he said, almost as if he didn't believe what he was seeing, especially considering that she was surrounded by Brian and Gus, who were giving him matching grins and casting absolutely no doubt on their shared DNA.
"Hi Sweetheart," Jennifer said, smiling up at him and opening her arms for a hug.
Jennifer's hug felt particularly good to Justin, who'd had a stressful week of trying to prepare for a show that was scheduled for the start of the new year. Though Brian was always more than supportive and would do anything Justin needed or wanted him to do -- having come a very long way from the man he was in the early years of their relationship -- sometimes a boy just needed his mom.
"Shit," he said as he pulled away, "I feel underdressed. I thought I was just going downstairs to grab a cup of coffee. I guess I didn't realize how late it was."
"It's fine," Jennifer smiled. "I could care less what you're wearing, just as long as I get to see you."
Brian picked up Jennifer's suitcase and carry-on bag to take them upstairs, leaving his husband and mother-in-law to catch up, since they hadn't seen each other since Thanksgiving. They talked on the phone often, but with the odd hours they both worked, Brian knew it was sometimes difficult for the two of them to catch each other. So he knew that being able to spend most of a week together was important to both of them.
Brian took the bags to Jenny Rebecca's room, which had been made up for Jennifer. Brian had only been in her room a handful of times over the years, since his primary focus when he visited was Gus. He hadn't been in there in at least a year or two, so he had to admit he was mildly curious to see if J.R. had any "passions" much like the one Michael held for comic books -- though he hoped he wouldn't find a shrine to himself in there. Thankfully, there was no shrine, and curiously, the only interest apparent from her decor was art. One entire wall was painted with the mural Brian remembered Justin helping her design the last time they were in Toronto. She might not have won the contest, but it appeared she'd somehow managed to convince her mothers to let her bring her design to fruition in her bedroom, and Brian had to admit it was good. Not that he had any technical expertise, but being married to an artist who also worked at a gallery meant Brian had been to a lot of art shows and seen a lot of things, many of which were not his cup of tea. But it looked like J.R. actually had some talent.
Brian placed both of Jennifer's bags by the closet so she could put them wherever she preferred them to be, and went back downstairs, where he found everyone had moved into the kitchen, with brunch apparently ready.
Lindsay had rounded out the quiche with a large bowl of fruit salad, keeping things much simpler than Brian had expected her to. Not that he was complaining. Mostly, the brunch was an opportunity for them to all catch up, now that Jennifer had arrived.
Once everyone's plates were empty or nearly so, Lindsay seemed to be back in hostess mode, clearing the table and loading the dishwasher and making absolutely certain that no one needed anything, in spite of Melanie urging her to sit down. The only thing that worked was Gus getting up and physically taking the dishes out of her hands and guiding her toward a chair before loading the dishwasher himself.
They spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon at the house -- Gus, Brian, Lindsay, and Melanie watching a holiday movie marathon on cable in the living room while Justin and Jennifer went upstairs to wrap gifts. Gus tried to beg Brian once again to let him drive the Porsche -- and Justin tried to plead his own case as well -- but both of their attempts were unsuccessful, and Brian was the one in the driver's seat when they headed to Nathans Phillips Square, with Lindsay and Melanie following in Melanie's car.
True-to-form, both Justin and Gus insisted on hitting up the food trucks first. As Brian perused the menus of the trucks in attendance, he quickly noticed that the overall theme seemed to be "everything you can imagine, served on carbs, topped with cheese or sugar." Of course that was right up his husband and son's alley, and the two of them were like kids in a candy store, having a hard time deciding what to get.
"It's not after seven yet," Justin said, teasing his husband for his long-held food rule.
"I know, but that doesn't mean I want to gain five pounds tonight alone," Brian said.
"You'll survive," Lindsay said from behind them. "Besides, it's the holidays."
"If only every time someone said that amounted to an extra hour at the gym," Brian muttered.
Melanie laughed and rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on. Live a little," she said.
"Yeah, Dad -- live a little," Gus chimed in, throwing his arm around Brian's shoulders.
"Christ, what is this, some sort of Christmas intervention?" Brian grumbled. Jennifer was smiling next to Justin, but she didn't say a word.
"You'll be fine," Justin said. "I promise I'll still love you even if you gain a few pounds."
"You'd fucking better," Brian grumbled, ignoring the look he got from Lindsay for swearing in front of their son -- though he wasn't sure why she was surprised, given that she'd known him and his mouth for close to three decades.
"Come on," Gus said, grabbing Brian's arm and pulling him toward a truck that apparently featured gourmet grilled cheese, which Brian knew would be right up Justin's alley, with two of his favorite things: carbs and cheese.
Ten minutes later, everyone had their choice of street food, and Justin and Gus each appeared to have enough to feed three people. Brian had found a vegan food truck with primarily Indian dishes, which appeared to be the healthiest thing available. Thankfully, the peanut gallery left him alone to eat his curry in peace.
Brian tried to do some shopping, but it was difficult since the people he was buying gifts for were with him, and even with the crowd, it was impossible to not be spotted by at least one person -- usually the wrong one. That said, he did manage to pick up a few things and stash them back in the Porsche without ruining any surprises.
While everyone else was shopping, Gus alternated between finding various confections to buy and eat, and trying to push everyone in the direction of the skating rink. He was finally successful just as the sun was starting to set, and their entire party was soon donning rental skates and attempting to look like they knew what they were doing on the ice.
Brian hadn't skated since the previous year when Gus had begged to go to Rockefeller Center, and it showed in how long it took him to get his footing, which remained more precarious than he would like, as always. He'd made a stop by the wine bar before renting his skates, though the jury was still out on whether the wine was helping or hurting when it came to Brian's skating skills. Everyone else was about the same, save for Jennifer, who, after only a few minutes on the ice, was soon twirling and turning and otherwise skating literal and figurative circles around their entire group.
She was just coming out of a spin when she realized that the others were all watching her.
"What?" she said, laughing.
"Do you have some secret life I didn't know about?" Justin grinned. "The one where you were an Olympic figure skater?"
"Well, I was never that good," Jennifer said. "But I did skate when I was a teenager, and I even competed a little bit. I haven't skated in nearly forty years, though, so I'm a little surprised with how easily it all came back. Like riding a bike I guess."
"Did you do, like… jumps and stuff?" Gus asked, his eyes wide with wonder that made him look a lot younger than he was.
"I did," Jennifer said. "But, like I said, I haven't done it a long time, so I'm not sure--"
"You've gotta try it!" Gus exclaimed, cutting her off.
"Oh, I don't know…" Jennifer tried to object, but soon the others were all joining in, encouraging her to try, and the next thing she knew, she was skating around the rink, picking up speed as she tried to psych herself up for trying her first toe loop in four decades, while the rest of her family looked on. It took her a couple of laps to work up the courage, but she finally initiated the takeoff, and was more than a bit surprised when she successfully landed the jump. Maybe it really was just like riding a bike -- once her muscles learned how to do it, they'd never really forgotten.
"Holy shit, Gigi!" Gus' jaw was hanging open and his eyes were now full of surprise as Jennifer skated back toward the group.
"Gus..." Lindsay cast her son a warning look. "Language."
Gus chose not to argue with his mother, even though he'd heard her use that word -- and others -- on more than one occasion. Instead, he smirked at Brian as if to say, "Yeah, see what I deal with?" before changing the subject and begging Jennifer to show him how to do a few tricks. The two of them skated off together to the other side of the rink, where they worked on spins and jumps and even a partner trick or two. Brian loved watching them -- both of them smiling and laughing, even when things didn't go as planned and one or both of them ended up falling. He continued skating idly around the rink, holding Justin's hand -- thankful that he could do that and no one appeared to be giving them a second glance. He had to admit that skating was pretty romantic, particularly as sunset gave way into twilight and thousands of tiny Christmas lights twinkled around them. Not that romance was Brian's thing, but he had to admit that sometimes it wasn't bad.
Several yards ahead, Lindsay and Melanie were doing the same -- skating and holding hands, and sharing an occasional kiss. Brian was totally absorbed in watching Gus celebrate his most successful jump attempt yet, when Justin leaned up and kissed his cheek.
"What was that for?" Brian asked.
"Just because I love you." Justin smiled and squeezed Brian's hand. "I love being with you, no matter what we do. And I'm so glad we're all here."
"Me too, Sunshine." Brian squeezed Justin's hand and gave him a small smile in return.
A few hours later, they were back at the house, and Brian's gift purchases were safely hidden away for later wrapping. That was another part of Christmas that wasn't Brian's favorite thing -- so much so that he'd been known to just hand people gifts unwrapped in years past -- but he knew he'd have to do it, or otherwise endure a good bit of ribbing and teasing from Justin and Lindsay, which he wasn't in the mood for.
This time of year was always a struggle for Brian, because everyone else seemed to have all of these positive, warm memories that made them look forward to the holidays and reliving those times and those feelings -- usually flashbacks of their childhood. Flashbacks of Brian's childhood, on the other hand, were almost never a good thing, and even though it sounded absurdly sentimental, Brian felt like he was maybe just a little jealous of the positive recollections other people had, wishing he had the same things to look back on fondly, instead of constantly trying to keep himself from being reminded of not-so-great holidays past.
Justin always helped him with that, and Lindsay did too, and Brian appreciated their efforts, but it was still a difficult time to get through, even when he tried his best to keep his focus on enjoying the time with his chosen family.
Brian was looking at his phone, scrolling through the pictures he'd taken of Gus and Jennifer at the skating rink, when Justin came to bed, his hair still damp from the shower.
"This was a pretty good night, I think," Justin said, as he pulled the covers back and climbed into bed alongside his husband, settling onto his side and propping himself up on his elbow. His other hand started to wander idly over Brian's torso as they both looked at the pictures. "I can't believe I never knew that about Mom."
"Guess you never asked." Brian leaned over and plugged his phone in to charge on the nightstand, then laid back down next to his husband, pulling the blankets back up over both of them.
"I guess. But when do you ask things like that, anyway? Maybe over dinner? 'Hey, Mom, any hidden talents you haven't told me about?'"
Brian snorted. "Wonder what Joanie's hidden talent is? I mean, besides sneaking in alcohol to high school soccer games that she didn't want to be attending in the first place? Naturally, she had to look like the perfect mother in front of her church friends. Little did they know."
"I'm pretty sure her hidden talent was making the human that turned out to be the best husband in the entire world. But I don't wanna talk about her," Justin said, snuggling up to Brian's side and tugging their bodies closer together, then starting to plant tiny, light kisses down Brian's jawline. "I just want to enjoy being with you." He paused and kissed Brian on the lips, then continued. "Appreciating how sexy you are."
"Flattery will get you everywhere, Sunshine." Brian pressed his lips against Justin's and rolled over, positioning himself on top of Justin as he reversed their roles, this time kissing his own way down Justin's jaw and neck, then pushing Justin's shirt up and over his head as he prepared to repay his husband for the immense pleasure Justin had given him the night before.
Just as Brian was about to lower the waistband on Justin's flannel sleep pants, Justin spoke up as if Brian had interrupted him mid-thought, his voice full of awe. "I still can't believe Gus actually landed two jumps tonight."
"I thought we had shifted gears," Brian grumbled, moving back up to the head of the bed. He definitely didn't want to have a conversation about his son while he was face-to-face with his lover's dick.
Justin laughed. "Sorry. I just realized that I meant to say that before, and got distracted."
Brian smiled in spite of himself. "I guess your mom is a good teacher. I was more surprised that he managed to land a salchow." He noticed Justin giving him a surprised look. "What?"
"How do you even know the different skating jumps? I didn't think you even enjoyed it. I couldn't tell you the ones they were doing."
Brian smirked. "I had a lot of time on my hands as a kid. And Mikey and I were obsessed with Brian Boitano, so we spent most of the 1988 Olympics glued to the TV during figure skating."
"I'm just surprised you understand so much about it… I mean, I guess I shouldn't be, knowing you and how intently you learn about things that matter to you, even when you act like you don't care… But, it's just impressive."
Feeling a little uncomfortable with the praise associated with that specific memory, Brian decided to revert to their previous course of action, climbing back on top of Justin and grinding their pelvises together. "You know what else is impressive?" he teased, relieved to feel that Justin's erection was stirring.
Brian kissed his way back down Justin's body, finally making his way to his intended target. As he really started to put effort into driving Justin wild, he felt Justin place a hand on his shoulder to stop him, so he looked up questioningly.
Justin simply greeted him with a smile, his eyes glazed over with arousal, and murmured, "I want to come with you inside me."
Brian smiled back, completely in agreement with that proposal, and gave Justin's cock a stroke before making the necessary adjustments to accommodate his request.
When they curled under the covers a little while later, bodies heavy with satiation, Brian found himself listening to Justin's soft breaths and reflecting on the day as a whole. There had not been a single argument, nor, really, a true negative word spoken, and they'd all spent time together as they pleased -- enjoying laughs, good food, and fun experiences. Now, Brian was under the roof of a warm and cozy home with his son on the other side of the wall, his son's mothers (and one of his very best friends) just down the hall, and his beloved mother-in-law across the hall. Not the mention the love of his life was in his arms. If this was what the holidays were supposed to be about, Brian thought to himself, maybe he'd be able to find a way on board after all.
If Brian had hoped his feeling of peacefulness would extend into the next day, he was absolutely wrong -- at least initially.
The first thing he noticed when he woke up, Justin still tucked under his arm, was the sound of raised voices coming from downstairs. He found himself on even higher alert when he realized that the voices belonged to Lindsay and Gus. Though Brian knew they argued far more often than he and Gus did, it was one of the first times he'd experienced it in person, and as much as he wanted to ignore it and try to go back to sleep, something in his conscience nagged at him to go down and see if he could help.
When he got to the kitchen, he could see Gus and Lindsay facing off, Lindsay with a spatula in her hand, and Gus dressed like he was preparing to go for a run in the cold.
"Dad would probably agree with me, he has no interest in any of that crap," Gus was saying flatly as Brian stepped fully into the room, absentmindedly running a hand across his bare torso, as if only just realizing that he'd forgotten to throw on a T-shirt.
"What crap wouldn't Dad be interested in?" Brian asked nonchalantly, causing both Lindsay and Gus to look in his direction with wide eyes.
"Desserts. High-calorie, sugar-filled, fat-laden mounds of diabetes," Gus mumbled, shooting his mother the evil eye, not for the first time that morning, if Brian had to guess.
"Potentially correct," Brian conceded. "But what else am I missing?" He gave Lindsay a meaningful look, hoping that, with just the three of them, she could fill in the missing pieces without feeling the need to go over-the-top proper.
"Well," Lindsay began, clearly bristling, "I made a reservation weeks ago for us all to enjoy a late lunch before heading to the Christmas Market later today, and your son is making a giant fuss about not going."
Brian had to contain his smirk -- of course Gus was "his son" when Lindsay was displeased with him. "Where is this coveted reservation?" he asked, trying to remain neutral for the time being.
Lindsay named a place Brian only vaguely recalled hearing at first, but the more he thought about it, he realized that he recognized it as somewhere Justin had mentioned wanting to go several times.
"Hmm," Brian said, looking over to Gus with his brow furrowed. "Why don't you want to go?"
Gus sighed, then took a deep breath as if he realized this might be his only opportunity to plead his case. "There are lots of other places we could go that are even closer to the Christmas Market. This place isn't that great, it's mainly just known for desserts. Like, the lunch food isn't even that great, so if people don't want to get dessert, like me or you, and probably Ima and Gigi, it barely even serves a purpose."
Brian nodded, his tongue planted in his cheek. "I see. And you are not a dessert fan since… when? Is this a New Year's resolution that you decided to kick off today?"
"Um," Gus said, not entirely anticipating that his dad wouldn't immediately agree with him on the basis of dietary concerns.
"These reservations are not easy to come by, especially during the holiday season," Lindsay said, her tone still indignant. "Gus was well-aware that I had an intention of making one over a month ago, especially since Justin had asked about going there. I'm not sure why it's so surprising to him now."
"I thought you'd forget," Gus mumbled, looking down at his feet.
Brian snorted. "Have you met your mother? She doesn't forget anything. Ever," he said, ignoring the sharp look Lindsay gave him. He bought himself time when he noticed there was coffee in the pot on the counter, so he prepared a cup for himself while Lindsay and Gus continued to face off, and then helped himself to a seat at the head of the table, gesturing for the other two to join him.
"Gus, you're being incredibly rude and selfish," Lindsay continued once she was seated on one side of Brian. "And I don't want to continue arguing about this. I'm trying to prepare breakfast for a houseful of guests, and it's bad enough that your carrying on has already woken your father--"
Brian held up a hand, the other wrapped around his hot mug. "Hold on. You've each attempted to drag me into this argument in ways that are of equal disrepute, and entirely inconsequential." He looked at Lindsay. "For the record, it was your voice that woke me, not his." He turned to Gus, seated on his other side, "And Justin hasn't shut up about this horrific dessert hut of your nightmares, so as far as my role is concerned, I'm going whether I want to or not."
Gus' mouth rounded into more of a frown. "But--"
"Gus," Brian cut him off firmly. "Give your mother and I some credit. We all know this isn't about desserts. What's the real reason you don't want to go? Can we at least agree that there's a 'real' reason that isn't this nonsense?" And Jesus Christ, if this wasn't shaping up to be one of the most parental conversations Brian had ever had in his seventeen years of being a father.
Gus stared down at the table for a long time, his annoyance with the whole situation showing clearly on his face. Finally, he glanced at Brian and muttered something unintelligible.
"Could you please enunciate?" Lindsay asked, her tone loud and slow -- a clear sign of her own frustration.
"KAAAAA-SEEEY. WORRRRRKS. THERRRRRE." Gus practically yelled, glaring at his mother the whole time, before shifting his gaze to Brian and, more neutrally, adding, "and I don't fucking want to see her. Especially not with my entire family there."
Well that explained it. Brian felt a pang of sympathy for his son and wondered how much Lindsay actually knew at this point, regarding how Gus' relationship with Kasey had ended -- or more specifically, why.
Lindsay huffed, not even bothering to point out Gus' choice in language. "I don't understand why you can't act like an adult about this, Gus. You see each other practically every day at school. There's absolutely no reason why you can't attempt to be friendly toward her."
Not much, Brian realized, answering his own query as he waited to see if Gus would say anything further. He did -- but not with regard to that matter.
"Fine. Do whatever you want. Not like how I feel matters to some of the people in this house," he spat, shoving back his chair and standing up, headed for the foyer.
"Just where do you think you're going, young man?" Lindsay called after him, flinching as the sound of the front door slamming served as his response.
"Linds," Brian said, his tone calm. "I think it's safe to say that he's going for a run. It's probably a good thing right now. Let him cool off."
Lindsay sighed, standing up from her chair and walking back over toward the stove. Brian picked up his mug of coffee and followed her, taking a seat at the counter while she began to pull breakfast accoutrements from the cabinets. "I just don't understand why he has to make things so difficult sometimes. It's like he's contrary just for the sake of driving me crazy."
Brian smiled ruefully. If anything, that sounded more like him than Gus, but he supposed it wasn't impossible that the apple hadn't fallen far from the tree there either. However, he knew that this time, it genuinely wasn't the case.
"Have you ever asked him what happened with Kasey?" Brian asked casually, fiddling with the handle of his mug.
Lindsay paused, the lid of the flour canister in her hand when she turned to face him again. "Of course I have. He's the one who hasn't wanted to share. I always thought Kasey was a nice girl. A little naive, perhaps, but she comes from a good family, and was always extremely polite to Mel and me."
Brian chuckled. "Oh, I'm sure you catching her with her hand down our son's pants made her put extra special effort into being on her best behavior when she was around you."
"Brian!" Lindsay exclaimed, though fortunately she was laughing. "I assure you, I was far more mortified by that experience than Gus or Kasey."
Brian snorted, but figured it wise not to argue. He had bigger battles to fight for his son right now -- or at least a better opportunity to deploy some reinforcements. He took a sip of his coffee while Lindsay began measuring out pancake ingredients, and then said, "You know… Gus is a really good kid. Far better than Justin or I were at his age."
"I know he's generally good," Lindsay said, casting Brian a curious look over her shoulder as she continued her work. "Why do you believe I wouldn't think that?"
Brian gave an imperceptible sigh. There were a lot of reasons, but none of them were based in reality, and he knew Lindsay never meant any harm by them. She'd just had a much different upbringing than he'd had, and, despite difficulties with her parents as she moved into early adulthood, the remnants of Lindsay's privileged adolescence often trickled into expectations she set for their son and his behaviors or decisions. At least Brian knew it all came from a place of love, and wanting what was best for Gus.
"Listen, Linds," he said finally. "Trust him a little here. It's possible there's a good reason why he wouldn't want to have a run-in with his ex-girlfriend in front of his family."
Lindsay turned around fully now, whisk in her hand. "You could just tell me what happened, you know."
"I could," Brian agreed. "But when you wonder why Gus and I have an easier rapport most of the time, understand it's not just because I see him a couple times a year and show him a good time in New York City. Respect is a two-way street."
Lindsay sighed and shrugged. "I know you're right."
"I'm sorry, what?" Brian said, his voice a bit louder as a smile lit up his face. "Say that again?"
Lindsay let out an unexpected giggle. "I will not!"
"Yes!" Brian exclaimed, jumping up from his seat and barging over to her, wrapping his arms around her with his fingers threatening to tickle her sides. "Yes you will!"
Lindsay shrieked and tried to swat at Brian with the whisk, which was fortunately still clean as she made successful contact with his thigh.
Justin found them both laughing and attempting to torture each other when he walked into the kitchen a few minutes later.
"Hi!" Lindsay said brightly, noticing him first and pushing a rogue strand of blond hair out of her face.
"Morning, Sunshine," Brian added, having turned as well, when he saw Lindsay look up. He mercifully let her go and walked over to his husband for a kiss instead.
"You two are awfully frisky this morning," Justin commented, stealing a sip of Brian's coffee then making a face when he realized how much sugar was in it.
"Frisky is relative," Brian replied, sneaking his hand down the back of Justin's pajama pants to give his ass cheek a gentle squeeze, before claiming his mouth in a longer kiss.
Lindsay had successfully resumed pancake-making, but turned to wag her finger at them -- knowing Brian all too well -- and was completely unsurprised to find them making out. "Hey, you two! No funny business in the kitchen!"
"Sorry, Linds," Justin said, sounding genuinely apologetic as he extracted himself from Brian's side to pour a fresh cup of coffee, ignoring his husband's resulting pout.
They resumed casual conversation for the next few minutes, but Brian kept trying to sneak his hand into Justin's lap, keeping his efforts out of Lindsay's potential line of sight, though Justin kept swatting him away less discreetly.
Finally, Lindsay was ready to begin pouring batter into the skillet and turned toward the two men, a ladle now in her hand. "You have twenty minutes. Please just go finish… whatever… upstairs?"
As polite as Justin was trying to be, they didn't have to be told twice.
By the time breakfast was over, Gus had seemingly calmed down a bit, his run helping to work off a lot of frustration. Melanie had returned from her own morning run and had clearly been brought up to speed by Lindsay, while Brian had supplied Justin with the morning's happenings in between shared blowjobs in the shower. Jennifer seemed happily none the wiser, instead continuing to rave about the maple syrup Lindsay had served with the pancakes.
"You know, they say it's best in Canada, but you never really know if it's true. I'm sure now, though, it's true," she was telling Justin as the others helped with clearing the table.
Gus didn't say anything further about his resistance to Lindsay's dining choice for later in the day, but he also kept noticeable distance from her for the majority of the rest of the morning and into the afternoon, preferring to stick around Brian and Justin, or, at one point, offering to take Jennifer to Shoppers to pick up a few odds and ends she'd forgotten to pack. It had given him an escape his mothers couldn't easily dispute, and he'd managed to score some candy in the process -- "A grandmother's duty," Jennifer had called it, winking at him.
By the time they piled into two cars to head to the restaurant -- maintaining the same driving arrangement as the prior afternoon, with Brian, Justin, Jennifer and Gus in the Porsche, and Melanie and Lindsay in the Subaru, Gus had begrudgingly agreed to be cooperative, despite his clear reservations about the whole situation.
“Maybe she won’t be working?” Justin offered hopefully as they got out of the car. He walked to Gus and gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze.
Gus shrugged. “Maybe, but I mean, I would imagine they have all hands on deck for holiday crowds.”
"Want me to pretend to be your new girlfriend?" Jennifer teased, wrapping her arm around Gus' waist as they walked toward the restaurant.
"Gigi, no offense, but I am way too young for you," Gus laughed, though he put his arm across her shoulders in return.
"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Brian mumbled into Justin's ear, earning himself a well-deserved elbow to the side.
Gus looked back and gave them a curious look, but didn’t make any further inquiries, still caught up in his own internal panic. Fortunately, he was too young to remember Jennifer’s foray into the world of dating men twenty years her junior. Brian, however, would never let Justin forget.
Since Lindsay had made a reservation, they didn’t have long to wait until they were seated, and when their server came over for the first time, Gus let out a sigh of relief -- it was an older woman named Marlene, who actually reminded them all a little bit of Debbie, minus the wild red wig and cock-affirmative t-shirts.
They placed their drink and meal orders, Justin intentionally choosing something on the lighter side in preparation for his planned dessert massacre.
“I’ve heard legendary tales about your peppermint bark cheesecake-swirl brownie sundae,” he told Marlene, passing her his menu.
“Just you wait, sweetheart,” she told him with a wink and a snap of her gum.
However, it turned out that Gus was the one who should’ve been on pins and needles for what was to come -- as the person who delivered their drinks was not, in fact, Marlene, but rather a petite blonde who, based on Gus’ reaction, could be none other than the notorious Kasey.
“Fuck,” Gus muttered under his breath as she paused in front of their table, still not yet realizing he was one of her customers. Fortunately, his curse was quiet enough that only his dad heard, and immediately the pieces fell into place for Brian.
“Oh, um, hey, Mrs… um… Ms. Peterson,” Kasey stumbled on her words, realizing that Gus’ mom was in front of her. Slowly she glanced around the table and realized that Melanie was there too, as well as someone who was clearly Gus’ dad, and, presumably, Justin, about whom she’d heard plenty from Gus as well. There was an older woman she didn’t recognize, but guessed she had to be part of the family too.
“Kasey, hello,” Lindsay greeted her pleasantly, smiling as she slid one of the waters Kasey had placed on the table over to Gus. “How nice to see you.”
Gus looked down at the table and closed his eyes, though whether he was praying for patience or for the floor to swallow him alive, Brian wasn’t sure.
“Have you met Gus’ dad?” Melanie continued, offering the clearly nervous girl a smile of her own.
“Brian Kinney,” Brian introduced himself smoothly, reaching out to shake Kasey’s hand. “I’ve heard… a lot about you.”
“Um,” Kasey replied dumbly, her cheeks flushing, “Nice to meet you.”
“Justin,” Justin offered, his tone polite and very business-like. Kasey shook his hand as well. “And this is my mom, Jennifer -- Gus’ grandmother.”
“Jennifer Taylor,” Jennifer introduced herself, impeccable manners on display. However, Gus had filled her in on the Kasey saga during their earlier shopping trip, so despite the smile on Jennifer’s lips, it didn’t reach her eyes.
Gus didn’t say anything.
“So, um,” Kasey continued, finishing her drink distribution. “I’m supposed to be helping Marlene, but I can… um…”
“It’s absolutely fine, Kasey,” Lindsay assured her, nodding encouragingly. “We’re happy to have you. Also, could I get some extra lemon, please?”
Kasey nodded back weakly, murmuring, “My pleasure,” then quickly turned and walked away.
“Jesus Christ, Mom,” Gus snapped once she was out of earshot.
Lindsay raised an eyebrow and glared at her son. “Excuse me?”
“I told you I didn’t want to come here because of her, but no one seemed to think it would be a big deal, and we probably wouldn’t even see her. Well guess what. Here she is! And it’s a Big. Deal.”
"Is it really that bad?" Melanie asked, genuinely sounding confused. "I mean, baby, you see her every day in school…"
Gus snorted. "Yeah, and usually I'm not surrounded by a table of people who know she's the only girl who's ever touched my--"
“Okay!” Brian cut him off quickly, holding up a hand. “I think we all get the picture.”
Lindsay, however, shook her head. “I’m afraid I still don’t understand what the big deal is, Gus. There’s no reason you and Kasey can’t attempt to be friends simply because you were… intimate… at one point in time and it didn’t work out.”
“Well maybe she shouldn’t have been even more intimate with someone else while she was dating me!” Gus gritted out, then shoved his chair back and stood up from the table, storming out of the dining room.
Everyone watched him leave except for Justin, who simply said, “I’ve got this,” and followed Gus out of the room.
They watched Gus and Justin both disappear out the restaurant’s main door before Lindsay turned to face Brian and said, “Do you care to explain what that was all about?”
Brian smirked. “Not particularly.” Upon seeing Lindsay’s frown, he quickly added, “But I guess I can try.”
“So, if I’m following what just happened,” Melanie chimed in, her eyes narrowed as she replayed her son’s words in her mind, “Gus is saying that Kasey cheated on him with someone else?”
Brian nodded. “That does sound like what he said.”
“He told me about this earlier,” Jennifer revealed, shaking her head. “What a horrible thing for her to do to him.”
“What happened? Why didn’t he tell us?” Lindsay wondered, looking disappointed.
Brian gave her a look. “Did you discuss your sex life with your parents?” He waited a beat, and when she didn’t respond, added, “I thought not.”
“He did discuss it with you,” she countered.
“Yeah, well part of that is no thanks to you and sending him down to us the time you caught him in a compromising position. You don’t get to pick and choose when you want the sex talks for yourself,” Brian told her matter-of-factly.
Melanie shrugged as if she agreed with him, which was equal parts surprising and gratifying. “Hold on, though,” she said, realizing something. “Gus said Kasey was more intimate with the other person. I presume that to mean that Gus never actually had sex with her?”
“Very good, Counselor,” Brian teased, smirking at her. She rolled her eyes but smiled back.
“Well, why not?” Lindsay asked quickly, not realizing what she’d said until a moment later. “I mean,” she stammered, “was Gus unwilling to have sex with her?”
“Are you saying you would’ve rather he had?” Melanie asked her wife, eyebrows raised.
“No!” Lindsay exclaimed, exasperated. “I’m relieved to know he didn’t, but I’m trying to understand what happened during the time between when I found them fooling around in his bedroom… to her having sex with someone not him that led to their break-up.”
Brian sighed, realizing that it was likely his responsibility to fill in the blanks at this point, but really, all he wanted was to know what was going on between Gus and Justin outside the restaurant. He figured they couldn’t last out there too long, since neither had taken jackets and the temperature was frigid, but he hoped that Justin would be able to work his parenting magic and help Gus cool down enough to return to the table.
“They had agreed they’d discuss it if either one of them felt ready. Evidently, Cassie only felt that applied to Gus, and took it upon herself to bump uglies with some other asshole.”
“Kasey,” Lindsay corrected as Melanie hid a smirk at Brian’s choice in phrasing.
“I don’t fucking care what her name is.”
Lindsay sighed. “I wish Gus had just been more forthright about this.”
“I understand your frustration, Lindsay,” Jennifer interjected gently. “It’s difficult when you have a teenage son who won’t be up front with you when you’re practically begging.” She cast Brian an amused look. “Trust me, I know.”
Brian gave her a sheepish smile in return. It was hard to reconcile the fact that Gus was now the same age Justin had been when they’d first met and gotten together.
“However, sometimes it’s just as important to listen to what they’re not saying,” Jennifer continued sagely. “I think Gus was hoping you’d hear his plea without him having to outline it explicitly, for the sake of his own dignity, but he felt like you simply saw it as him being difficult.”
Lindsay frowned again, but didn’t say anything.
“Babe,” Melanie chimed in, addressing her wife. “Gus is a good kid. He rarely gives us any kind of serious trouble. I wish we’d been able to sort this out earlier, but I think, at least moving forward, we owe it to him to show a level of compassion for what he’s gone through.”
Brian nodded, giving Lindsay a sobering look. “He was pretty messed up when he came to New York after the break up.”
“I thought he was just being a dramatic teenager,” Lindsay admitted quietly, to no one’s surprise. “I hadn’t realized his feelings for her were that serious.”
Brian sighed, feeling like, in one way, he was betraying a little bit of his son’s trust, but on the other hand, Lindsay was his best friend, and Gus’ mother, so she had the right to know what she was up against, especially if it better prepared her to deal with any future iterations of the Kasey situation. And, if he was being honest, in some ways it gave Brian a rush of confidence he hadn’t expected. It was a rare -- if not otherwise nonexistent -- circumstance that he had the parenting upper-hand over Lindsay and Melanie.
“I don’t think it was entirely about his feelings for Cas-- Kasey,” he began carefully, hoping Gus wouldn’t hate him too much for what he was about to share.
Lindsay’s eyes narrowed in confusion, but she remained uncharacteristically quiet, allowing him the room to speak.
“Gus is--” Brian started to say, pausing to consider his words.
“It’s difficult for teenage boys to express what’s on their minds, especially when it comes from a place of insecurity,” Jennifer supplied, temporarily saving Brian from having to overshare anything Gus had confided. And whereas Brian could only share from his Gus experiences, Jennifer had the benefit of falling back on things she had gone through with Justin at the same age, creating a slight buffer to protect her grandson’s privacy. Despite the months that had passed since the break up, Gus had still gotten a little emotional recounting what had happened when he’d shared it with her earlier in the day, so she knew that, while he was coping and moving on from the situation, the damage ran deep.
“You’re saying that he felt that there was something wrong with him, and that’s why she cheated?” Melanie realized, her face clearly indicating the sorrow she felt for her son.
“I guess we tend to assume the worst about ourselves when the people we believe are supposed to care about us behave differently,” Brian said in a rare moment of unmasked honesty.
Lindsay recognized his statement for what it was and raised her eyebrows slightly in surprise, but wisely didn’t comment on it, instead saying, “I just wish we’d realized more about what happened and could have supported him better.”
“Hey,” Brian said. “I don’t think I did a half-bad job.”
Lindsay opened her mouth to respond but Jennifer beat her to it. “If anyone can speak on behalf of the favorable success rate associated with sending their teenage son to Brian in times of turmoil, believe it or not, I think I would be first in line.”
“Aww, Mom,” Brian gushed, his voice infused with fake saccharine, “I’m touched.” Despite his attempt at diffusion, however, it was clear how much Jennifer’s compliment meant to him, and the fact that she used it to vouch for him with regard to his own son made it even more poignant.
“So,” Melanie said, bringing them all back to business, since it was likely that Justin and Gus would return shortly. “I think it’s safe to say that Lindsay and I now have a clearer picture as to the circumstances that led to Gus’ relationship with Kasey ending.” She paused and turned to her wife. “And I think we have some apologizing to do.”
Lindsay sighed. “I certainly do. I feel awful for assuming Gus was simply being difficult about coming here.”
“You know--” Jennifer began, but cut herself off as she noticed Gus and Justin re-entering the dining room. Instead, she gave Gus a warm smile as he resumed his seat next to her.
Brian studied Gus carefully, trying to gauge what had happened with Justin, but neither of the two younger men gave much away, aside from the fact that Gus was noticeably calmer, and Justin was giving him an encouraging look that he was fastidiously ignoring.
Fortunately, Lindsay spoke first. “Honey, I’m sorry for not being more sensitive when you were asking not to come here. But I wish you’d told us what had happened with Kasey. You know Ima and I would have supported you.”
“Gus,” Melanie continued, “we’re just glad you had people to talk to -- that your dad and Justin were there for you. But I think what Mom is saying is that if we’d known there was such a strong reason to not be welcoming toward Kasey, we’d have been more considerate of why you were so resistant.”
Gus finally gave Justin a glance and Justin nodded encouragingly, as if urging him to speak up. He sighed and said, “But, like… why couldn’t either of you have trusted me enough without me having to ‘prove’ it to you? I said I didn’t want to see her. Why did I have to explain what happened to me? And then to have you find out about it here, in the middle of a restaurant -- while she’s probably, like, creepy-watching around some corner…” He looked down at the table and shook his head. “It just fucking sucks.”
Before Lindsay or Melanie could respond, Kasey herself came back to the table, a small dish of lemons in her hand. In hindsight, it seemed like it had taken an inordinately long time to acquire a few slices of fruit -- it certainly wasn’t as if she’d had to go to a grove out back to pick a fresh lemon herself -- but that just added validation to Gus’ theory that perhaps she’d been watching the table, and had noticed him leaving -- or possibly even heard her name.
No one gave her much more than a cursory glance as she set the lemons on the table, and Lindsay offered a polite, but fairly curt, “Thank you,” once she finished and gave Gus a wary look before nervously informing them that Marlene would be back with their meals shortly and walked back toward the kitchen.
“Kill me now,” Gus muttered, earning a comforting pat on the arm from Jennifer.
Brian offered his son a sympathetic smile. “Don’t worry, Sonny Boy. I have a good feeling we’ve seen the last of her for today.”
Sure enough, when Marlene came back to the table a few minutes later, she informed them that Kasey would be going on break, so she’d assist them fully for the rest of their meal. The relief on Gus’ face was palpable as his fish and chips were placed in front of him, and they managed to enjoy the rest of their meal in relative peace.
Once Justin had been satisfied with his peppermint bark cheesecake monstrosity -- that actually required four of them to adequately consume, while Brian sipped on a latte and Jennifer had a glass of chardonnay -- they headed back to the cars and over to the Christmas Market.