A/N: Okay - I promised myself I wouldn't do this right after finishing "Remember Me," but this story nagged me into it - LOL! Here goes...
Joan Kinney's House – Late Afternoon
Justin wiped some blond hair that had fallen into his eyes as he sat on the bedroom floor sorting through a large-sized jewelry armoire. "How's it going in there, Michael?" he called out to his friend in the other room. He shook his head at the mere size of the jewelry boxes piled high in front of him. There was no way this woman could have possibly used all this jewelry in her lifetime. He vaguely thought about the irony of such a so-called, God-fearing woman being so hung up on fancy jewelry before he heard Michael's footsteps approaching.
"Well, I think I've finally got all of her dishes boxed up," he announced. He shook his head in disbelief. "How one woman could collect so many glasses, let alone use them, is beyond me. I say we just call 1-800-Got-Junk and be done with it."
Justin smirked. "Believe me, I've considered it. But I'm afraid if we do that, we might miss something that Brian might actually want to keep." At Michael's look of doubt, he added, "I know…..she was a cold, inconsiderate ice queen, and Brian told us to shuck it all in the garbage. But she was still Brian's mother. He might want to at least keep some family photos or some item of hers, even if it's just in case Gus might want something for himself later."
"A fond memento of the grandmother you'd like to hate?" Michael responded dryly. "You didn't see the woman when Brian was growing up. His prick of a father would beat him up regularly in a drunken stupor, and the woman would just stay out of the way and pretend she didn't notice his black eyes and bruises. It's not too likely Gus will have any warm, fuzzy feelings for her – ever."
Joan Kinney had somewhat unexpectedly died about a week ago; she had returned home after attending mass with her reluctant daughter, Claire, early Monday evening and had been found the next morning at the kitchen table, slumped over from a massive heart attack the previous night before. When Brian had heard the news at Kinnetik that morning, his reaction was of a man who had heard instead that someone's pet rabbit had died. He simply shrugged before saying, "Well, I'm sure the angels are singing over her arrival – down under," before he returned to his laptop to review his latest client's advertising account. When Justin had offered to help him pack up his mother's house in preparation for sale, he had told his fiancé to do whatever the fuck he wanted with the junk – he didn't want to see so much as a pillowcase. He told Justin and Michael to either throw all the stuff out or donate it to whatever – he didn't care. His mother hadn't understood him or accepted him for what he was, so the last thing he wanted was to memorialize her life in any way now that she was finally dead.
Instead of following Brian's orders, however, Justin had persuaded Michael instead to methodically examine the entire contents of Joan Kinney's house to save anything that Brian might want later. He didn't know if Brian would ever feel comfortable reminiscing about his childhood or any member of his family, but Justin wasn't ready just yet to throw it all away. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but he held out hope that something in Brian's childhood had at least contained some source of happiness for him; the thought of Brian growing up with nothing pleasant in his family made him feel extremely sad for his partner.
He was brought out of his reverie by Michael asking, "Hey…I'm pretty much done in the kitchen. It's the standard corny knick knacks, although it doesn't quite compare to Maw's ceramic kitten or religious towels." He and Justin shared a chuckle over that memory in the past when Debbie had tried to donate some of her treasures to Justin when he had been separated temporarily from Brian. "I promised Ben and Hunter I'd be home by dinner time so we could go out to a movie together." At Justin's bemused smile, he added, "I know – it's corny. But, hey, what can I say? I've been infected with suburbia fever," he said sheepishly.
Justin smiled. "It's okay…..actually, I think it's kind of nice," he told him softly. "That's fine – go. I'm only going to stay for a little while longer. I'm sure Claire no doubt has already gone through all of her mother's jewelry and taken out the valuable stuff. I just want to get this bagged up for Goodwill and take a look at that shoebox I found in the closet before I leave."
Michael glanced over at the small alarm clock on Claire's nightstand, noticing it was almost 6:00. "Sounds good. We shouldn't have to stay here too long tomorrow – looks like we've only got the living room to go through now. How about we meet here around 10:00? We should be able to finish up pretty quickly."
Justin nodded. "I'll see you then," he responded as Michael bade him a quick goodbye and headed out of Brian's childhood home. Justin let out a heavy sigh; he hated going through other people's things but especially this woman. In all the years Justin had known his fiancé, the woman had never supported him or accepted his lifestyle. Once she had found out Brian was gay, she spent the remainder of what little time she deigned to spend with him constantly reminding her son that he would burn in Hell for the way he lived and scolding him for what he was "selfishly" putting HER through. How Brian had managed not to punch her fucking lights out was beyond him; on the few occasions where he had had the unfortunate circumstance to be in the same room with her, it was all he could do not to undertake that mission himself on Brian's behalf. He was convinced that there was a God the day the woman had finally died, because now Brian could finally have the heavy burden of two uncaring son of a bitches lifted from his shoulders permanently.
Finally bagging up the tangled mess of jewelry fifteen minutes later, Justin rose from the floor, about to retrieve the dented, ancient orange-colored cardboard shoebox he had found on the top shelf of the bedroom closet when he heard his cell phone ring. Retrieving it from the nearby mattress, he flipped it open and, smiled as he recognized the caller. "Hey."
"Hey yourself, Sunshine." As usual, his heart beat just a little faster at the affectionate tone in his partner's voice. "Where are you? Are we still on for dinner tonight? Or now that I finally proposed again, have you already dropped me for a new plaything?" he drawled, unable to keep the teasing tone out of his voice. After all this time, Brian knew where Justin's heart lay, and where it had always lain – firmly with him.
Justin chuckled softly as he played along with his partner. "Yeah….I thought now that I have you wrapped around my finger, I needed to find a new diversion on the side. I can marry you for your money and get my kicks at the same time."
Brian laughed. "In your dreams, Sunshine." He knew Justin wasn't going anywhere, and Justin knew he knew it. "Just make sure you're done fucking the other guy before 7:00, okay? I'm not paying for your boy toy's dinner, too."
"Did you hear that, boy toy?" Justin pretended to be calling out to an imaginary lover. "No surf and turf for you." He was silent for a few seconds before he told Brian, "That's okay – he says he's stuffed already. I guess he's just stuffed to the brim with love."
Brian snickered. "He's full of something, all right. If you can tear yourself away from him, I'm about ready to leave here. I'll see you at Tony's at 7:00 – alone, got it?"
Justin laughed. "I got it, Mr. Kinney. No boy toy. I'll see you then. Later."
"Later, Stud," was the impertinent, kidding reply before Brian ended their conversation.
Justin smiled; he had never felt as happy as he did right now. He had returned from New York after a year of commuting back and forth between there and Pittsburgh before he finally decided he had had enough of his and Brian's long-distance relationship. His inspiration had always been in Pittsburgh, as well as his heart, and once he had decided to return, he never looked back. He had been back for about two months, delighted to be reunited with his partner, before Brian had unexpectedly surprised him with another marriage proposal. Brian had had to do a lot of convincing to persuade him that he really did want to get married; it seemed that his partner's separation from him had served to prove to Brian that being committed to one person wasn't such a bad thing after all. After several days of discussion and some intense fucking along the way, Brian had finally convinced him that he really did want the ceremony, the rings, and the paper. Once he had been sure of it, Justin didn't have a problem at all in agreeing to it.
Unfortunately, Brian's mother's death a week later had tarnished the occasion somewhat. At least Justin could help his fiancé by cleaning his mother's home out and preparing it for sale. In a way, that might be considered a wedding present to him, but Justin wanted something more – something special befitting the special man that Brian was. He was at a loss, however, as to what to get him. He had painted Brian more times than he could count by now, and had given him all sorts of material, designer-label trinkets to cater to his partner's taste for nothing but the best. But now he was in a quandary. What else was left to give him?
He pondered over that dilemma as he reached up to grab the shoebox and carry it over to the bed, where he sat down next to it. He had spied the box earlier when he had taken Joan Kinney's clothes out of her closet and had moved some hatboxes that were stacked in front of it. He initially thought it contained just a pair of shoes; but upon picking it up, he noticed the word, "Papers," scrawled on top of the box and a line of clear tape running around the border. He had wondered about the box's contents the entire time he was clearing out the rest of the bedroom; now that he was finally done sorting through all the jewelry, he was eager to satisfy his curiosity and find out what was inside the worn container that had apparently previously contained a pair of Size 7 leather shoes from some place called Baker's.
He reached over to the nightstand to retrieve a pair of scissors he had found earlier in the drawer and ran the blade around the perimeter of the box. Curiously, he opened the top to peer inside. The box did, indeed, contain a bunch of mostly yellowed papers, reflecting they had been there for some time. As he picked up a newspaper clipping detailing a luncheon being held for a former mayor of Pittsburgh in 1974, he could feel the dust on his fingertips and smell the mustiness. He placed each piece of paper down on the bed as he methodically examined each one, disappointed that the box apparently contained nothing more exciting than a boring woman's interest in political gossip and cooking recipes. He had actually hoped the box would at least hold some early photos of Brian; except for the one picture he had seen of a teenaged Brian and Michael that one time in Michael's bedroom, he had never seen any early photos of his fiancé. He would have loved to have seen what Brian had looked like growing up; he imagined his partner had always been extremely attractive like he was now, only not in such an overtly sensual, elegant way. He had probably looked a lot like Gus, in fact, since Gus' facial expressions and body language constantly reminded him of his father.
He sighed, resigned to yet another trivial trip down the bizarre memory lane of Joan Kinney. Nothing he had seen in the woman's house had led him to change his opinion about Brian's mother, nor would it likely engender any affection from his partner toward his mother. It seemed that Brian had accurately pegged both his mother and father for exactly what they had appeared to be: unfeeling, cold, heartless people who were simply baby makers, NOT parents in the true sense of the word.
Justin was about to place all of the bland newspaper clippings back into the box when he spied one last piece of paper he had almost overlooked lying at the very bottom. As he picked it up, he noticed that unlike the other pieces of paper, this one apparently wasn't a clipping from any newspaper. It was folded into thirds, and was blank on the outside. As he fingered it, he noted how brittle it felt to his touch. He gingerly unfolded it to unveil an official-looking document bordered by a scroll design.
As he carefully scanned the paper, his eyes widened in stunned disbelief. He sat there for several seconds, trying to absorb what he had read and re-reading it to make sure he had understood the contents correctly. "My God," he whispered to himself. "I don't believe this." He stood up, the paper clutched gently in his hands, which were now shaking.
The other contents of the cardboard box now completely forgotten, he refolded the piece of paper and held it almost reverently in his hand. Taking a deep breath and letting it out, he turned to pick up his phone and place it in his pocket in preparation for meeting Brian at Tony's for dinner.
Glancing at the nearby clock and noting that it was now 6:30, he turned to leave, the paper now held firmly in his hand. He smiled as he realized he finally knew what special present he was going to give Brian.