Miss Otis regrets she's unable to lunch today, Madam.

Miss Otis regrets she's unable to lunch today.

She is sorry to be delayed,

But last evening down in Lover's Lane she strayed.


Miss Otis regrets she's unable to lunch today.

When she woke up and found that her dream of love was gone, Madam,

She ran to the man who had led her so far astray,

And from under a velvet gown,

She drew a gun and shot her lover down.


Miss Otis regrets she's unable to lunch today.

When the mob came and got her and dragged her from the jail, Madam,

They strung her from the old willow cross the way.

And the moment before she died,

She lifted up her lovely head and cried.


Miss Otis regrets she's unable to lunch today.

Cole Porter


"Sweetheart, this is no better than your last studio!" Jennifer protested as soon as she stepped through the door. "Surely you can afford something a little more upmarket this time!"

Justin sighed. "Mom, I'm not living here. This is only a place for me to work." He indicated the huge trestle table; the battered chest of drawers containing his brushes, paints and varnishes; the easels standing in front of the windows; the racks of canvasses against the far wall. "I don't just use a sketchbook and a computer anymore. I couldn't set all this up at the Loft, even if Brian was prepared to let me drip paint everywhere."

"Well, I realise that, Justin," Jennifer replied testily. "But why on earth didn't you come to me? I'm sure I could have found you somewhere a little more salubrious!"

"It's cheap, quiet, and the light is wonderful," Justin explained patiently. "Plus it's within walking distance of the Loft. It's everything I need."

Jennifer looked sceptical. "And does Brian approve?"

"Mom, this is nothing to do with Brian! I chose the place, and I'm paying for it. I wouldn't dare try to tell Brian how to run Kinnetik and I don't expect him to interfere with my art."

Jennifer raised her elegant eyebrows. "So he doesn't mind you being here alone until God knows what hour and then walking back to the Loft?"

Justin mentally counted to ten. "Mom, I'm an adult, not a child. And in case you've forgotten, I lived in New York for nearly two years! I think I can handle the Pitts. Anyway, if it does get too late then I can just stay over here … that's why I got the futon."

"From some Thrift Store, by the look of it," Jennifer sniffed. "I could have given you the one from the spare room."

"And then have you on my case for getting paint all over it? Mom, you've never seen me work. It can get pretty messy."

"And what about eating?" Jennifer asked, adroitly changing her angle of attack. "I can't see any cooking facilities."

"I have an icebox and a microwave. Don't worry; I'm not going to starve."

"But you might get pneumonia!" Jennifer shivered and rubbed her arms with her hands. "Goodness, Justin, it's cold in here!"

Well, she had a point. Justin didn't tend to really notice the cold: he'd spent so many winters at the Loft, and then in New York, that he'd become acclimatised to it. His only source of warmth in the studio was an antiquated fan heater, which he rarely bothered turning on unless his fingers became too numb to paint.

He tried to distract her by taking her shoulders and steering her over to the windows so that she could look down on the tree-lined street and the little park opposite. "See, Mom? It's a really pretty view. This must have been a classy area once."

"Then it must have been a very long time ago!" his mother snorted. Her attention was caught by the canvas standing on the easel nearest the window and she walked over to it. "Justin? Who's this?"

Justin frowned as he looked at the half-finished portrait. "Honestly? I have no idea."

Justin had begun searching for a suitable studio before he moved back from New York: he was a 'serious' artist now, and even more than space he needed the privacy to work without distraction. He'd viewed several places but hadn't been satisfied with any of them: either they were too small, too dingy, too noisy, too far from Liberty Avenue, or way too expensive. But the moment he'd walked down the quiet, tree-lined square and looked up at the building standing on the south-east corner, its lower windows peeping through a curtain of scarlet Virginia Creeper, he'd felt an instant attraction.

The house, like its neighbours, was built of warm yellow brick, tall and narrow, with a broad flight of steps leading from the sidewalk up to the gracefully proportioned front door. When Dial Square had been laid out in the early 1900's it had obviously been an affluent area: its fortunes had sadly declined since then, and the surrounding houses had all fallen into various states of shabby disrepair. They might have been saved from commercial redevelopment because the square was located too far from the business district, but they were too large and uneconomical for modern families and had gradually been converted into cheap apartments and rooms, mostly rented out to the poorer college kids from nearby Carnegie Mellon.

Justin was met by a short, cheerful, balding guy – 'you can call me Denny' – who seemed to be a sort of caretaker cum agent for the owner. He led Justin up three flights of creaking balustraded stairs and down a long, narrow hallway to a door at the far end, which he unlocked. Justin found himself being ushered into a large uncarpeted space, smelling of old paper and stale air and empty except for a huge, stained porcelain sink in one corner. The naked wooden floorboards were thick with dust and the plaster on the walls was cracked and yellow. Denny explained that the present owner had bought the property to convert it into rented accommodation but for some reason had never got around to redeveloping the top floor (for which, read: ran out of cash, Justin thought with a smirk) so it had mostly been used for storing junk. "I cleared it out so you could see it," Denny told him. "It's got water and it's got electricity. I guess it's big enough for what you want, as long as you don't expect more than the basics. The rest of the tenants are nearly all students, so it's pretty quiet during the day. Gets a little rowdy at weekends, though."

Justin stood looking around. There were four tall, wide sash windows set in the northern wall overlooking the park in the centre of the square and two smaller windows along the eastern side of the room: and although right now the sunlight was having to battle its way through the grime and cobwebs clouding the glass, Justin knew that once they were cleaned he'd have the maximum light exposure for most of the day. He glanced up at the high ceiling and smiled.

"Would the owner object if I whitewashed the walls?"

Denny chuckled. "I very much doubt it."

"Then let's talk business."

Half an hour later Justin was on his way back to Loft: subject to the usual security checks, he had just taken up the tenancy for his new studio, at half the rent he'd expected to pay for it.

"So what do you think?" Justin asked.

Brian looked round with lazily sardonic eyes before pointedly wiping a dust bunny from the sole of his loafer. "Needs a lot of work."

"Not so much," Justin disagreed. "Just a good cleaning. Denny said I could whitewash the walls too …"

"The owner should do that for you, or at least pay you for the work," Brian observed.

"I'd rather fix it up myself. And I'm getting it dirt cheap as it is, Brian."

He was half expecting an argument, but Brian only nodded. "Okay," he said blandly.

Justin cocked an eye at him suspiciously. "Just like that?"

Brian shrugged casually. "You know what you want. If this is it, and it comes at a good price, fine. It's in no worse shape then the bath house was when I bought it."

Justin turned to grip the sleeves of Brian's overcoat, peering up into his face. "What, no lectures about vermin? No concerns about the safety of the neighbourhood?"

Brian shook his head. "I'm sure you've considered them all. But there are a couple of things I'd like you to do, for my own peace of mind at least. Get a decent lock on that door, and have a land line installed."

"Why do I want a landline? I've got my cell."

Brian let out a long breath that was almost a sigh. "Justin, there has never been a crisis in either of our lives when you have actually been available on your cell phone. Either you'd forgotten to charge it, or you'd switched it off because you were working, or you'd left the fucking thing at home."

Justin had to acknowledge the truth of that statement. "Okay. I'll call the cable company, I promise. And I'll get a new lock."

"Then I'm happy."

They locked eyes for a moment. "Are you?" Justin asked eventually.

Brian pressed his lips together in a half-smile and raised his eyebrows as he nodded, and Justin believed he was telling the truth. New York had made him believe.

He hadn't, quite, when he left. After the fiasco of their almost-wedding, after he'd left his ring still lying with its mate in the box on Brian's desk, after Brian's comment about 'Never again,' Justin hadn't known for sure that they would make it. He knew that Brian loved him enough to throw over every rule he'd ever made for his sake: but was that what either of them really wanted? The only way to be certain was to leave, with no promises, commitments or ties on either side. If they stuck it out, and still wanted to be together … then that was the way it was meant to be.

Contrary to most expectations they had stuck it out. Sure, there'd been the occasional misunderstanding and subsequent queen-out from one or the other, after which would follow days - once, after a particularly vitriolic exchange, weeks – of silence; but eventually one of them would crack and call, and everything would be back to normal. And the moment that Justin truly believed in his very soul that this was the way it was always going to be between them was the moment he allowed himself to finally go home.

That wasn't to say that nothing had changed, because it had. He and Brian had been living apart for two years and the dynamics between them had shifted a little, because Justin had grown up a lot in New York. Hollywood had been different: he'd only been there for six months and he'd walked straight into a highly-paid, challenging job that never allowed him enough time to feel home-sick. New York had been hard, lonely, and had proved ultimately hollow: but it had taught him valuable lessons. He'd learned how to deal with disappointment and frustration, how to stand on his own feet without the financial and emotional support of his friends and family, and he'd learned to come to terms with his own limitations and inadequacies. His most valuable lesson, however, was to realise that, although he would never stop wanting to be with Brian, he was capable of surviving without him.

Justin might not have conquered the art world, but he was coming back to Pittsburgh a little richer, a little harder, and a lot wiser, with a new sense of self-sufficiency and confidence. He was discovering a Brian who had also changed somewhat: who was more patient, more relaxed, less likely to push the self-destruct button as soon as he felt threatened; a Brian who actually seemed ready to confide in him a little. For the first time Justin felt that they were meeting as equals.

He reached up on tip-toes and pressed a kiss to Brian's chin. "And so am I," he whispered.

Brian's arms went round him, crushing him against the expensive wool of his coat and Justin found his lips being captured in a long, hungry embrace, hard and hot and altogether wonderful. When Brian finally released him, Justin was pretty certain his eyes were glazing.

He saw the lust in Brain's own face and fully expected Brian to take him then and there on the floor amidst the dust bunnies, but instead Brian paused, glancing around him, and then his expression changed as he shivered a little.

"Come on, Sunshine," Brian said, slinging his arm over Justin's shoulders, "let's go back to the Loft for a celebration fuck. We'll have to leave christening this place until you get some heating in."

Justin didn't get around to doing much in his studio, not for the first few weeks after he came home. But once the let's-fuck-like-bunnies-every-time-we-get-half-a-chance honeymoon stage had worn off a little, he threw himself into the project with a new enthusiasm. It wasn't only because he had no intention of sitting around being Brian's kept boy: they'd gotten used to living alone and both of them needed time to adjust to sharing their space with another person again. Their relationship would always be volatile, and they were always going to lock horns occasionally: a couple of minor spats confirmed Justin's opinion that the studio would also provide a refuge to which he could retreat when the tension started building, giving them both a chance to cool off before words were spoken that might open old wounds and old insecurities. So he swept and scrubbed and painted, coming back to the Loft covered with grime and his hair spiked with whitewash until Brian bitched about grit in the shower tray and paint on his pillowslips. He could have finished quicker if he'd accepted the offers of help from Ben and Michael and especially from Emmett, but Justin wanted this to be his project and his alone. Still, it wasn't much over a week before he was done and enlisting Daphne's help to transport his heavier supplies in her car. They hit the charity stores for a few basic furniture essentials, and then he was opening the door with its brand new heavy duty Yale lock and proudly showing Brian the transformed studio with its stark white walls and ceilings and the winter sun streaming through the sparkling windows.