DISCLAIMER: QAF and its characters are the sole owner of Cowlip Productions and Showtime; no copyright infringement is intended.
Also, the name of this story is taken from an old Carpenters' song from the '70's; I'm just borrowing it for a while and don't own any rights to it.
A/N: I couldn't resist a short story about Thanksgiving and the boys. I anticipate this being probably a couple of chapters long. Hope you enjoy it!:P)
Pearson International Airport – Toronto – Day Before Thanksgiving – 4:00 p.m.
Brian fidgeted uncomfortably in one of the hard, plastic chairs ringing the security station; he glanced over at the arrivals board for the third time to verify that Justin's flight had finally arrived from New York City. His plane had been delayed for an hour on the ground while they de-iced the wings as a safety precaution before it had been allowed to take off; that much he had ascertained from his partner himself. Now as he sat there among a horde of strangers in the bustling airport, he sighed. He had tried three times to reach Justin here in Toronto once the arrivals board had indicated his plane had finally landed about fifteen minutes ago, but down in the lower level of the airport they apparently hadn't discovered how to emit a strong cell signal. He scowled in disgust; one more minute on the unbending, red plastic chair and he was sure his ass would simply become permanently numb. He hefted his shoulder bag onto the empty seat beside him, amazed there was even such a luxury at the moment in light of how crowded the airport waiting area was presently, as he placed his head in his hands in frustration and sighed softly.
A cry of delighted greeting from someone nearby caused him to raise his head and observe a group of people, apparently deplaning passengers, striding towards the group of waiting family members and friends. He stood up then, grateful for his taller stature, as he quickly scanned the people walking toward them, until at last his eyes feasted on a familiar blond figure and his pulse began to speed up in response. He caught Justin's gaze and the two of them smiled warmly at each other as if they were the only two people in the airport as he picked up his bag and shuffled as quickly as he could toward his partner, cursing the bustling crowd in his way.
Finally, he emerged into a more open area and located Justin standing against a nearby wall, out of the main traffic flow. He had to smile as he recognized the familiar, black, beat-up duffle bag that Justin still used for his trips lying on the carpeted floor next to him as he rushed over and promptly swept Justin up into his arms to hug him tightly, totally oblivious to anyone who was watching. For him at that moment, anyway, no one else existed as he pulled back just enough to gaze into the beautiful, glowing face and soft, familiar blue eyes before he smashed his lips against Justin's and simply luxuriated in the familiar feel of his lover's touch, his skin, his smell, and his soft sighs of pleasure.
Finally after several seconds, Brian loosened his hold enough to stare into Justin's eyes with a warm smile; God, this man still made his heart do somersaults every time he saw him! He asked, "How was your flight?"
Justin picked up his duffle bag and Brian slung his own over one shoulder as they began to walk toward the exit. "You mean before or after I got off the ground? Once we were actually airborne, it was fine. It took almost as long for the plane to be de-iced as it did to fly here," he pointed out as he sighed in frustration. "It's not supposed to be snowing this early."
Brian guffawed. "Since when? I've seen people use a jack-o-lantern's head for the top of a snowman before Halloween, at least in Pittsburgh. We're a lot farther north than there." He curled his right hand around Justin's shoulder as they walked, needing that physical touch to ensure that he really was here with Justin and not separated from him. Since Justin had left for New York City, they had done a fairly credible job of seeing each other, visiting at least twice a month and speaking every day on the phone. During the times they were apart they both missed each other terribly, but each of them knew this was necessary for Justin's art career to get off the ground. It still didn't make things easy on either of them, though, so it was moments like these where they could be together that were both wonderful as well as bittersweet.
Mel and Lindsay's invitation to come to Toronto to spend Thanksgiving with them and Gus had provided them with a good reason to once more be together. They had both eagerly made arrangements to be gone through Sunday, spending Thanksgiving Day with Brian's son and the Munchers while spending some private time alone at a nearby hotel afterward. Mel and Lindsay had found the cost of living to be surprisingly high in Toronto when they had moved here several months ago, and as a result had had to make do for now with a smaller, two-bedroom home in a suburban area of the city, leaving no real room for guests to stay with them.
That was fine with Brian, though; as much as he was looking forward to seeing the son he dearly loved, he was looking forward even more to spending some much-needed quality time with Justin. That was by far the worst part of their separation; he actually physically ached for the touch that only Justin could provide for him. He never slept well at night anymore without his partner's body curled up against his and the sound of his soft, even breathing at his back. He would never discourage Justin from pursuing his dream – he knew how much it meant to him and Justin's happiness was important – but silently he hoped that their long-distance relationship would prove to be a relatively short one, because the separation was fucking killing him.
He turned as he observed Justin looking at him with a frown. He smiled softly at his partner in reassurance as he said, "Yeah?"
"You okay?" Brian's troubled expression hadn't escaped his notice. This was supposed to be a happy time for both of them; why would Brian look sad? "What is it?" he asked softly as he peered up into the handsome face.
Brian turned to face him as he placed his hands on Justin's shoulders. He shook his head, not wanting to reveal the real reason for his sadness for fear it would simply lay an unmerited guilt trip on his partner. He wasn't about to do anything that would cause Justin to give up his dream, although he knew his partner well enough to know he would do it if he thought it would make him happy; he loved Justin even more for that, but he couldn't do that to him. "Nothing," he said gently as he pressed his forehead briefly against Justin's before pulling back a little. "I'm just a little tired from the trip; I've been up since before six and came straight from Kinnetik to the airport."
Justin gazed into his hazel eyes, somehow knowing that wasn't the total reason for his melancholy look but also realizing that if Brian wanted to tell him he would. Deciding for now that he preferred to dwell on the here and now and how happy he was to be with his lover again, he nodded. "Well, let's go grab a taxi, then, and get going. You still want to see Gus first before we head over to the hotel? If you're too tired, we can wait and go over tomorrow morning."
Brian briefly squeezed Justin's shoulders before he released him and shook his head. "No, it's okay; I'd like to see Gus first." He hadn't seen his son in over two months now and was anxious to reunite with him. He hadn't really realized just how much he was going to miss the young boy who looked so much like him until he moved here. Lindsay had been true to her word and had encouraged the two of them to keep in touch by cell phone, Skype and even an occasional card from Gus, which he appreciated. But it was just like Justin – it wasn't quite the same as being able to hold your son in your arms, read him a bedtime story while sitting next to him in his bed, or give him a good night kiss as he wrapped his slightly chubby arms around your neck and whispered that he loved you. Some things could not be replicated long-distance; he was anxious to see his son in person and he knew how much Justin loved him like a son and had missed him, too. His son felt the same way toward Justin; he loved him like a second father which made Brian both proud as well as grateful.
Justin nodded as the two of them walked toward the exit and stood outside on the cement walkway; to both of their surprises, the cold, cloudy air was now spitting out the first sign of fat snowflakes that slowly fluttered to the ground in front of them.
"You jinxed us, Sunshine," Brian quipped as he held his arm up to hail an approaching taxi. "You brought the winter weather with you from New York."
Justin grinned as he watched the snowflakes start to come down a little more heavily. "I think it's pretty," he observed, knowing that comment would make Brian cringe.
"You would," Brian muttered. "Damn artists." Justin laughed softly as the cab pulled up and Brian opened the passenger door and threw their bags inside onto the floor. "Get in, you little shit," he kidded him as Justin slid across the seat and Brian joined him, shaking his head as Justin beamed back at him in reaction. God, how he had missed that smile! As he gave the taxi driver the address of Mel and Lindsay's house and it pulled slowly away from the curb, he reached over to silently clasp Justin's hand as his partner curled his fingers around his palm in response. He smiled over at him tenderly as he scooted over a little more into the center of the bench seat and pressed his thigh up against the smaller, denim-clad one.
"Brian…" Justin whispered a warning under his breath; he knew this man well – TOO well. He glanced over the backseat to observe the cab driver glancing back at him in the rearview mirror and his face flushed. The man knew exactly what his partner was itching to do; it was written all over the smirk on the man's swarthy face. He shot a look over at Brian who curled his lips under like a little boy's and shrugged. Fortunately for Justin, he managed to keep Brian's idea of becoming further 'reacquainted' on hold, at least temporarily, as he held tightly onto his partner's potentially wandering hand in an attempt to help him behave.
He heard Brian sigh like a kid being deprived of his favorite toy as he glanced over and grinned sympathetically at him; he wasn't the only one dying to 'play.' There would be time enough later for that, though, as he turned to glance out the window at the snow now falling more in earnest; it was quickly coating the grassy areas and starting to create a thin sheet of white on the roadways. Despite it being rather early in the year for it, though, Justin still thought it was very picturesque as it sprinkled the abundance of pine trees with snowy tips of white just like a Norman Rockwell picture.
He jumped a little when he felt Brian graze his fingers with his lips as he turned back around and looked over at his partner, his head lowered as he lifted his eyes to meet his. He blushed at the unexpected overture and smiled tenderly back at his unpredictable lover. "Brian," he whispered emotionally, realizing anew just how much he had missed being with this man in every sense of the word.
Brian's heart melted at the look Justin gave him; God, he so loved this man. He was thankful that both of them had managed to coordinate their schedules to be together for Thanksgiving, even though he typically didn't even want to acknowledge them. He knew that Justin had given up going back home to be with his mother and sister by opting to come to Toronto, and the knowledge of that filled him with even more emotion. He had never had a family who cared one iota about his feelings or about including him as part of a loving, close-knit group; the realization that he had that now with Justin threatened to overwhelm him as he smiled back at his lover in return, hoping that the expression on his face and in his eyes would say all he wanted to say without verbalizing it aloud. He was getting better at saying those "three little words" to his lover, but it was still difficult. Justin was so adept at reading between the lines, anyway. Little shit, he thought affectionately as he took his other hand and briefly squeezed Justin's upper leg before he released it. He smirked as Justin flashed him another warning.
"Hey, this isn't easy," he whispered to him as he leaned over and nipped at the fleshy lower part of his partner's ear, hearing a soft sigh in reaction. "You know what this reminds of?" he asked unexpectedly as a sudden thought occurred to him.
Justin turned to gaze into his eyes and shook his head. "What?" he asked softly, mesmerized by the largeness of Brian's pupils as he stared back at him.
Brian smiled. "This reminds me of the first night we met and Michael was driving us home."
Justin grinned at the recollection as he said, "Why? Because you didn't get what you wanted then, either?"
Brian laughed softly, a throaty sound as he growled, "Oh, yes I did. It just took me a little while longer before I got it." He was rewarded with Justin blushing an even darker of red as he waggled his eyebrows at him suggestively. He still loved the fact that his partner reacted that way, even after all these years, and he knew it was only reserved for him.
They continued on in companionable silence for approximately thirty minutes, the silence occasionally interrupted by idle small talk, until at last they arrived at the Munchers' new residence. They had no sooner gotten out of the cab, paid the taxi driver, and lifted their bags when the door banged open and a flash blew toward them, slipping on the rapidly-accruing snow. "Gus – your coat!" Lindsay called after her son, but he paid no heed; he was too busy rushing toward his two fathers in euphoria.
"Daddy! Jus'n!" Gus shrieked as he ran down the short, narrow cement walkway.
Justin grinned as he took Brian's bag so his partner could kneel down and hold his arms out toward his son. "Sonny Boy!" Brian exclaimed, the joy over seeing his son again obvious by the look on his face. "My goodness!" he cried out as the child ran full speed into his waiting arms and he scooped him up. "Look how big you're getting!" He stood up as he turned around toward Justin who leaned over and gave Gus a kiss on the cheek.
"Hi, Little Man!" he said to him, using his favorite nickname for him; as usual, Gus beamed at the title since he thought that meant he was getting 'growed up,' as he liked to put it. "We're so glad to see you!" He looked around Gus and Brian at Lindsay, who was smiling back at him in the doorway. "Hey, Lindsay," he said with a warm smile.
"Hi, Justin! Come on in, you two, and get out of the cold!" She swung the door open as the trio walked up the steps and entered the foyer. The house Mel and Lindsay had found was an older Victorian, not nearly as big as their previous house but with a lot of the same charm. Justin took a moment as he entered the foyer to sweep his artist's eye around the interior, admiring the curved mahogany bannister that ran the length of the stairs leading to the second floor and the tall, narrow windows in the nearby living room that let in a lot of light; the maroon-colored fabric curtains were tied back with gold sashes so the sheer, cream-colored panels underneath could allow more light to come through. He could see a long, comfortable-looking velour-type beige couch nestled in a corner of the living room, along with a matching recliner placed perpendicular to it as Lindsay called out, "Mel! They're here!" She turned to the two men to tell them, "Mel, believe it or not, is in the kitchen checking on dinner."
Brian frowned. "You left her alone in there with the strychnine?" He gently put Gus back down on the ground as Lindsay rolled her eyes and smacked him briefly on the arm.
"Brian… You promised," she reminded him. He had made a pledge on the phone last night that he would be on his best behavior around Mel, even though he knew it would take a major amount of willpower. It wasn't that he hated Mel, at least not as much as he used to. Neither one of them would ever be each other's greatest fan, but at least they had finally arrived at a place where they could be in the same house together without biting each other's heads off.
He held up his hands in surrender as if to say he remembered his vow, just before to his surprise a flash of yellow came lumbering up to him instead of Mel.
"Tricky, no!" he heard Gus say just before an eighty-pound beast promptly came skidding excitedly to a halt right in front of him and began to vigorously lick his hand, which was conveniently located at shoulder height to him. Brian immediately scowled and pulled his hand away as he said to Lindsay, "What is THAT?"
The look on Brian's face was priceless as Justin giggled. "I think it's called a dog, Brian," he said in jest.
He's a labador," Gus told his father proudly as he leaned down and wrapped his arms around the dog's neck to give him a hug. "Isn't he pretty?"
"It's Labrador," Mel corrected him as she came walking up holding a dishrag in one hand. She dried her hands off as she stuck the cloth under her arm and smiled over at Justin. "Hey, Sweetie, how are you?" she asked Justin as she hugged him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Even now, after several years, she still thought of Justin as the baby in their group, even though she had the utmost respect for him and his talents. "I'm so glad you could come." She turned to look at Brian and smirked. "Even you," she said with a tight smile as Brian stuck his tongue out at her briefly.
"The feeling's mutual, Mel," he quipped as she nodded back at him knowingly. He stared over at Gus and the thing. "Where in the hell did that come from?" he asked. "No one said anything about a dog the last time I called."
"Gus wanted to surprise you," Mel volunteered helpfully, enjoying Brian's discomfiture. She knew he wasn't the greatest animal lover, and was secretly amused that he would have to co-exist with one – and a rather large one at that – while he and Justin were here for the holiday. "Isn't that sweet?" she said with a smile as she glanced over at her son and the dog wrapped in their embrace.
"Oh, it's just great," Brian said sarcastically as the dog bounded over to Justin to check him out, also; Justin bent down and began to stroke the dog's heavy, blond fur coat as he cooed to him softly. He ran the silky-feeling ears through his fingers, marveling at their softness and giggled as the dog licked him on the face.
"I love these kinds of dogs!" He said with a warm smile as he gave it a short hug around the neck and stood back up, wiping his hands on his thighs. "My uncle had a black one when I was growing up. They have the sweetest dispositions." He gazed up at Mel and Lindsay. "What was his name again?"
"Tricky," Gus supplied as he continued to pet the dog's coat.
Brian's eyebrows rose as he almost choked. "Tricky? What kind of name is that?"
"Brian," Lindsay chided him. "Gus picked it out."
"You did?" Brian said, turning to his son. "Why did you pick that name?"
Gus looked up at his father as if he were crazy with a 'duh' look on his face. "Because he can do all sorts of tricks."
"Like father, like son, huh, Brian?" Mel muttered as Justin snorted in amusement. "Show them, Honey," she said as Gus knelt down next to the dog who wagged his tail vigorously.
"Shake," he said as the dog promptly held his paw out and Gus shook it. "Good boy." He reached into the pocket of his jeans and retrieved a small treat as the dog gummed it and took it from his palm; Gus giggled at the ticklish sensation as he said, "Speak!"
Brian jumped, startled, as the dog let forth with a loud, deep, throaty bark. Gus again reached into his pocket and found another small bite as he held it out for Tricky to take from his hand. "Good Dog, Tricky!" he repeated as the dog wagged his tail swiftly back and forth at the praise.
"That's great, Gus," Justin told him with a smile as Gus beamed up at him. "I see your father's not the only one who can work with tricks."
Brian glared over at his partner, who smiled. "How about this one, Gus?" he said with a grin as he leaned down to stare into the dog's eyes. "This one's my favorite; it works on Justin all the time: roll over," he commanded in an authoritative voice. The dog immediately dropped onto his side and, wriggling his body, he succeeded in rolling over onto his back before he rose back up on his feet and wagged his tail some more as he waited for another snack bite.
Justin's face warmed as he felt the blush spring once more to his cheeks as the two women giggled in response. "Brian…"
"Here, Daddy - you give him the treat this time," Gus offered as he dug into his pocket and found another snack bite. He held it out to his father, but before Brian could take it from him, Tricky promptly slurped it out of Gus's palm with his large, wet tongue as Brian recoiled in disgust over what must have been the transmission of at least a million dog germs. Again, Gus giggled at the touch of the dog's wet tongue on his skin. "Too late, Daddy!" he said.
"Hand me another treat, Gus," Brian told his son as he looked down at the dog. "Can he play dead for the next twenty-four hours?" Brian asked sarcastically.
"Brian!" Lindsay exclaimed. "Uh, Gus… I think that's enough for now; go wash your hands and get ready for dinner, okay? Take Tricky down to the rec room for a while until we're done eating."
"Do it, Gus," Mel said in a quiet voice; she typically wound up being the authoritarian of the two when discipline was involved, and Gus knew that. He also knew by the tone of her voice that there would be no room for argument.
"Okay, Mommy," he said, his voice tinged with a little disappointment. "Come on, Boy," he said sadly in resignation as he walked down the hallway, Tricky trotting along right behind him. "I'll let you out of jail as soon as I can."
Justin laughed softly as he watched his partner's son shuffle down the hallway. "Jail?"
"You would think I was telling him to take Tricky down to an unheated, cold basement," Mel observed as they watched Gus open the door and softly close it behind him, leaving Tricky alone for now; they could all hear the dog immediately scratching on the door and whining to come back out. "He's got a dog bed down there almost the same size as Gus's bed upstairs, along with a radio and light that Gus insists we keep on for him. He's even got an extra dog dish with food and a water bowl. Poor thing," she said with a grin. "Has to really rough it. Gus has him spoiled rotten."
Lindsay added, "We've tried to break him of the habit, but he normally winds up sleeping at the foot of Gus's bed at night. If we even suggest he keep his door closed to keep him out, Gus raises such a fuss that we eventually give in. They're practically attached at the hip when he's not at school."
Justin grinned as he watched Gus walk further down the hallway and enter what he assumed was a bathroom. "How long have you had him?"
"Almost seven years now, right?" Brian quipped, tongue in cheek.
Justin smacked him on the arm. "I meant the dog, you asshole!" Brian merely grinned back at him; his partner was always so easy. It was almost like being Abbott and Costello.
"About a month," Lindsay informed them. "He belonged to a neighbor who had to move into an apartment and couldn't take him. Gus was already great friends with him anyway, and we knew he wanted a dog, so it was a natural fit. He used to be called Murphy. That was before Gus taught him all those tricks."
"He did that himself?" Brian said, impressed. "I knew I had a smart kid."
"Well, if anyone would know how to handle tricks, it would be your son," Mel responded as she smiled sweetly back at her adversary.
"O…kay," Lindsay responded as she gently but firmly grabbed Mel's arm. "Is dinner ready now?" She turned to the two men to advise, "It's not much; just some pot roast with vegetables out of the crock pot and some rolls and salad."
Justin smiled. "Sounds great," he said as he looked over at Brian with a warning glance. "Doesn't it, Brian?"
"Pot roast AND the chance to eat with Mel? I can hardly contain myself."
Lindsay sighed; some things never changed. "Well, then let's go into the dining room and get started, shall we?"
"Age before beauty," Brian snarked as he held out his hand for Mel to precede him.
"Brian…" Justin sighed as he gave him a look that clearly said please behave, but he had a feeling it was going to be for naught. To Brian, harassing Mel was akin to an Olympic sport. He glanced over sympathetically at the two women as he followed them down the hallway toward the end where the kitchen and dining room were located.
A hour and a half later, the two partners had enjoyed a surprisingly satisfying meal with their hosts and Brian had, to Justin's amazement, actually behaved himself with a modicum of self-restraint while they were eating, only commenting dryly once about a new perfume that Mel was wearing that actually turned out to be a mixture of brown gravy and baby powder that she had used on JR earlier before she had put her to bed.
After a tour of the rest of the house, the boys prepared to head back to the hotel; both were tired from being on the go since morning and were anxious to check in for a long, steamy shower and some much-awaited, long, steamy sex before retiring for bed.
As they gathered in the living room for some decaffeinated coffee and dessert before leaving for the night, Lindsay offered to call the taxi service to come pick them up. Scrolling through a small directory of frequently-called numbers on her cell phone, she dialed the number of the Maple Leaf Taxi Service she and Mel normally used for out-of-town company and for travelling to the airport.
A few minutes later, she hung up the phone and stood up to walk over to the window. Pulling back the sheer drapes to peer outside, she turned to face Mel, Gus – who now had Tricky lying by his side on the floor – and the two men. "Looks like you're going to have to change your plans, guys," she announced. "I don't think you're going anywhere tonight. Have you looked outside? The snow's turned into a major ice storm – the taxi service said there's a snow emergency in effect and it's too treacherous right now for even them to go out. Looks like you'll have to stay here for the night."
"Yay!" Gus cried out in delight as Tricky thumped his tail against the floor and raised his head to try and determine why his master was so excited all of a sudden; not noticing anything particularly newsworthy, he lowered his head back to the ground, his deep brown eyes peering over at Brian and Justin who were sitting on the couch together.
Brian rose from his seat to walk over next to Lindsay. "You're shitting me," he said as he peered out of the parted curtains to observe the ground now covered in white; there was a definite sheen on the streets and the grass and trees, indicating they had, indeed, received quite a bit of ice since he and Justin had arrived. "You've got to be kidding me!" he added as he shook his head.
"Is it that bad?" Justin asked from his place on the couch.
Brian watched as one poor sap tried to navigate his way down the sidewalk across the street and promptly fell down on his ass; he had to raise up on his hands and knees and grasp a nearby metal handrail leading up to another house before he could eventually rise and attempt to slowly walk down the walkway, his feel slipping and sliding the entire way. "Well, unless you have a pair of extra snow shoes on you or some ice skates, yeah, it's bad," he conceded as he flipped the sheer curtain back closed and turned to stare over at his partner. He sighed in resignation. "Looks like we're stuck here for the night."
Justin nodded; it wasn't the most optimal arrangement, but at least they weren't stuck at the airport and had somewhere warm and dry to stay. "I'm sure we can figure something out." He looked over at Lindsay questioningly.
"Of course," she said with a smile as she glanced around the room. "Uh… we don't have a spare guest room yet," she said apologetically. "We haven't had a chance to convert the study upstairs into a bedroom. We could have Gus sleep with us. He has a twin bed you could use, but it's not the biggest bed in the world - it's one of those racecar beds."
"That's okay," Justin assured them, not really feeling like reliving his youth in a souped-up version of a child's bed. "I don't want to put Gus – or you – out." He looked around the living room to offer, "Brian and I could sleep on the couch – couldn't we, Brian?"
Brian eyed the piece of furniture skeptically. It was an overstuffed model, but not exactly the widest or longest couch in the world. "I suppose," he finally conceded, deciding that anywhere WITH Justin was better than anywhere WITHOUT him. He had certainly fucked in 'tighter' spaces before, and he was always quite versatile in figuring out ways to fuck his favorite blond; this wouldn't be an exception. After all, he had gone two WEEKS now without said activity and that was two weeks too long...
"Are you sure?" Lindsay asked them doubtfully. "It's not very big."
"It'll be fine, really," Justin assured them. "Thanks."
Lindsay nodded. "Mel, if you'll take care of putting Gus to bed, I'll go find them some blankets and pillows, then."
Mel nodded as she turned to take Gus's hand, but he crossed his arms defiantly over his chest as he declared instead, "I want Daddy to do it!"
Why am I not surprised? Mel groused silently as she sighed. "Honey, your father must be tired by now; he's been gone all day lo…"
"Come here, Sonny Boy!" Brian told his son as he knelt down and held his arms out. Mel rolled her eyes as Gus quickly rushed over to his father and Brian scooped him up in his arms to stand up, his hands cradling Gus under the butt as his son's arms slid around his neck for balance. "You want me to read you a story before you go to bed?" He knew he was offering to do it partly just to piss Mel off, but truthfully he was doing it mainly to have some precious, private time with his son that he had missed dearly.
Gus eagerly nodded his head. "Yeah, Daddy! I want you to read Clifford the Big Red Dog; that's Tricky's favorite!"
"Of course it is," Brian said dryly as Tricky obediently wagged his tail at the mention of his name and stood up, taking a moment to stretch his paws out in front of him to fully wake up.
"Don't even think about it, Old Yeller," Brian growled quietly at the dog as he approached him; he noticed clumps of fur on the top of his body where the dog was apparently shedding its coat for the winter; why in the world would he do that right at the time he would need the fur the most? "If you get any hair on my Armani coat…" He looked around. "Uh… Where IS my coat?"
Justin snorted. "Relax, Beastmaster; Lindsay hung our coats up in the hall closet earlier."
"Oh. Okay... Well," Brian said in relief; he jostled Gus slightly in an attempt to better shift his weight in his arms. "You ready for bed, then, Sonny Boy?"
The boy nodded his head and beamed at him as Brian smiled down lovingly into his face and turned to go; he glared at the dog as Tricky began to trot along closely behind them, clearing broadcasting his intentions. "Does he have to go with us?" he asked Lindsay.
"Oh, I don't know, Brian, I think you make a very cute couple; you always did have a soft spot for blonds," Mel called over to him with a smile on her face; she was enjoying Brian's awkwardness. It was nice for a change to see him out of his element a little and not in command of a situation. "Maybe if you ask him nicely enough, he'll go to bed with you instead."
Justin pursed his lips together to keep from laughing; his partner looked so uncomfortable, torn between wanting to please his son and not wanting to be anywhere near Tricky. He knew in the end, though, that Gus would help tilt the odds in the dog's favor as Brian sighed in resignation.
"No thanks," he told Mel as he scowled at her in disgust; he looked down at Tricky, who was now sitting up on his haunches staring up at him expectantly, his big, dark brown eyes bright and expressive, almost as if he were waiting for him to speak some sort of native dog language. "All right," he conceded. "You can come; but you keep your distance, you got it? And NO licking – there's only ONE blond that's allowed to lick me, and YOU'RE not him."
"Brian," Justin said embarrassed as his face turned red and the two women turned to stare over at him in amusement; he noticed Lindsay had her hand over her mouth, no doubt in an attempt not to laugh at him. "Uh… Just get on with it, okay?" He smiled at the little boy who looked so much like his partner. "Good Night, Gus; I'll see you in the morning. Maybe we can draw something together tomorrow, okay?" Whenever he and Brian's son were together, invariable the finger paints suddenly appeared from almost out of nowhere as they combined to work on a masterpiece together; at least Gus thought so. They always wound up in a prominent place of honor on the refrigerator, anyway.
Gus nodded. "Okay," he said with a smile. "Good night, Jus'n." He raised one hand and gave Justin a sort of royal-type, side-to-side wave of his hand as Brian turned to head down the hallway.
"Good night, Sweetie!" Lindsay called after him. "We'll be up to kiss you goodnight in a little while." She watched with a grin as Tricky followed close on Brian's heels and turned to go up the steps with them. "They almost look domestic together," she said with a giggle as Justin grinned at her.
"Better not let him hear you say that," he warned her. "A child AND a dog? That would destroy his image forever if word got out." But as he watched his partner disappear up the steps, a look of tenderness and love written all over his handsome face as he gazed down at his son, he knew Brian truly relished his role as Gus's father and had become a better man because of it. The fact that he would agree to have an eighty-pound dog accompany him up the steps and stay in the same room with them while he read to his son was proof of that; Brian normally wouldn't let even a Chihuahua anywhere near him, much less a large, lumbering yellow Labrador.
"Don't worry; our lips are sealed," Lindsay assured him with a smile. "Now let's go find you some blankets and pillows; if I know Gus, he won't let Brian walk away until he's read the same book to him at least twice."
"I'll take these back to the kitchen, and then I'm going to go take a quick shower," Mel told Lindsay and Justin as she grabbed a nearby, white wooden serving tray with the coffee mugs and dessert plates.
As she walked away, Lindsay gently took hold of Justin's sleeve and smiled. "Come on – we can go sneak a peek at the two boys – or should I say three boys – while we're upstairs."
Justin nodded and smiled; so far their Thanksgiving visit to Mel and Lindsay's house hadn't quite worked out the way he and Brian had anticipated, but he wasn't complaining. He was surrounded by his friends and he and his partner were together; that was enough for him.