Gift #27

Jan. 1st, 2017 11:21 am
[identity profile] mander3-swish.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] qaf_giftxchnge
TO: [livejournal.com profile] moonbrightnites
FROM: [livejournal.com profile] lupin111
TITLE: Special Delivery
GIFT REQUEST: Fic AU or canon-compliant, something supernatural is happening. Justin is lost. Brian, somehow, helps him find his way.
NOTE: Beta by Xrifree. I went with an AU fic, and have tried to incorporate all your other requests. I hope that you like it ☺ I’m sorry about the delay, but my computer crashed and I lost the document I was working on, so I had to rewrite it.
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, and all the very, very best for 2017!










SPECIAL DELIVERY



Justin was debating whether it was better to be a bartender in a seedy bar, or be a retail worker during the Christmas season. He had pretty much concluded that being a bartender beat retail any day of the year, even before he saw the tip. It was a huge tip.

“Wow…thank you…” Justin looked up from the cash on the table, but the elderly gentleman had all but vanished into thin air. “..sir.” That was when Justin saw the gift box on the table that the customer had clearly forgotten. “Sir! Hey mister!” Justin grabbed the box off the table, and dashed outside. It was in vain; he looked up and down the street, but there was no sign of the elderly customer. It would have been impossible to miss the customer – the guy had been dressed in a spanking new Santa Claus costume, presumably returning from some Christmas event.

Justin sighed, and returned back inside with the box. He was carrying someone’s Christmas gift. Someone was going to be short of a gift on Christmas, the fake Santa would have to rush around to find a replacement gift…Justin sighed again, and examined the box. It looked extremely expensive. There was no name on the box, but it had a small piece of paper that said ‘The Gift of Love’ in fine calligraphy. Justin assumed that that was the name of the store. There was a name and address on the box.

Brian Kinney
6 – 141 Tremont Street
Pittsburgh
Tel: 412 362 6593


“Hey, Justin, start cleaning up, we’re closing early.”

Justin looked up, startled at the voice. “Yeah, sorry Jim. That customer from earlier…the one in the Santa suit…he left this box behind…a present for someone in Pittsburgh.”

“What? What the fuck are you taking about? There was no customer here dressed as fucking Santa.”

“Jim…yes there was. And he left a gift meant for someone in Pittsburgh.”

“Yeah, well, I ain’t seen no Santa. And anyway, he ain’t got much time to make it from New York to Pittsburgh for Christmas now, does he? Just clean those damn tables; if he comes back in the next twenty minutes, good for him. Otherwise, you can keep the gift. I ain’t got time for no senile Santa.”

Justin held back his sigh, and started cleaning the tables. He hated Jim. The man never had a nice word to say about anything or anyone. The only he reason he kept Justin around was that he knew that Justin was a runaway with little options, and thus he could get away with paying Justin less than minimum wage.

All the while Justin cleaned the place up, he contemplated his options for Christmas. His mother had been begging him to come home to Pittsburgh for Christmas. Justin hadn’t been there for the past four years, when he had run away at seventeen after his father had told Justin that he wasn’t ‘allowed’ to be a homosexual so long as he lived under his father’s roof. He had left home and taken the Greyhound to New York, and had never gone back.

But New York wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. He lived in a cramped hostel that was teeming with other desperate runaways and people living on the edges of society. Jobs – and money – were hard to come by, especially when you didn’t know anyone. And even after four years, Justin was hardly in any better a position than when he left. He literally had no idea what was going to become of him, if he kept going – or not going – at this pace.

Still.

Still, it was better than having to step inside the closet and live under his father’s rules, Justin thought. Better to have an honest yet shitty life, rather than a dishonest yet comfortable one.

Justin weighed his choices. He could sit in the hostel during Christmas, being miserable. Or, he could go back home for a visit – more misery, likely, but at least not of the usual sort. His mother had been begging him to come back, even if it was for just a few days. The problem with that was that he wouldn’t be allowed to stay at home, and his mother would have to put him up at a hotel or some such, and Justin was too proud to suffer through that. He had enough money saved up though, and he knew that he could afford to take the bus. The train would be tougher to pull off, but still…

By the time they closed up for the evening, Justin still had not quite made up his mind as to what he was going to do. Also, the fake Santa Claus had not come back to retrieve the present he had left behind.

There was nothing to do but call the number that was on the box, despite the ungodly hour. Justin briefly thought about putting it off until the morning, considering that it was well past midnight. Then again, tomorrow was Christmas Eve, and he was holding somebody’s gift in hand. It seemed mean to not even try and give them a head’s up that their delivery guy had messed up. Justin dialled the number, and waited while it rang. Once, twice, thrice, four times, five –

“Hello?”

“Hi. Hello. Hi. Um…Mr. Kinney?”

“Yes? Who is this?”

“I’m sorry to be calling this late, but you left your gift at Jim’s this afternoon…we just closed for the evening…for the holidays, in fact, but I could meet you somewhere if you wanted to pick it up.” Justin could hear a great amount of chattering in the background.

“Who is this? I think you have the wrong number.”

“Is this Brian Kinney? Of 6 – 141 Tremont Street, Pittsburgh, phone number 412 362 6593?” Justin asked, more than a bit confused.

“Who. Is. This.”

Justin sighed, and felt himself getting annoyed. “This is Justin Taylor. I’m calling from New York. I have a gift here with me, addressed to a Brian Kinney of 6 – 141 Tremont Street, Pittsburgh, telephone number 412 362 6593. Now, either that’s you, or it isn’t, and if it isn’t, I’d like to hang up and try and find the right Brian Kinney.”

There was a pause, as the man on the other end seemed to contemplate matters. “I am the right Brian Kinney, but I don’t understand how you have something addressed to me in New York.”

“Well, I believe the gentleman that was supposed to deliver it to you forgot it…it’s a box, expensive gift wrapping, it says –”

Fuck! That’s Gus’s gift. Those fuckers were supposed to have it delivered today…fuck! And then they called to say it’s coming positively by tomorrow morning, and now you’re telling me it’s in fucking New York with some random stranger?”

“Tomorrow is Christmas Eve,” Justin pointed out uselessly.

“I fucking know that. Fuck. Listen, can you drop it off at the closest UPS right now? Or FedEx? Or DHL? Or…”

“Mr. Kinney, it’s 2:30 in the morning. I don’t think any place is open. I could drop it off in the morning…but it’s Christmas Eve…I don’t know that you’ll get it by Christmas, but I can try.”

“Jesus fucking Christ! This is all I need. To turn up for Christmas without a gift for my son. Just fucking fantastic! What the fuck am I supposed to do now? Buy a leftover, rejected toy from the mall tomorrow?”

Justin quietly contemplated both their options. He had been at a loss as to what to do for Christmas, but this conversation had given him a sense of direction and what to do. “Well…if it’s for your son…for $500, I can have it delivered to you tomorrow.”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, I’m in New York at the moment, but was thinking about traveling to Pittsburgh to visit fa – friends. If you’ll pay me $500, I could deliver your son’s present to you as soon as I get to Pittsburgh.”

There was a pause.

“Aren’t flights out of New York grounded due to the snow storm?”

“Probably. I was planning on taking the bus.”

“You’re charging me $500 for a $50 bus ride?”

Justin took a look at the expensive box with calligraphy on it. The guy clearly had money, if he ordered this. “Seriously? You don’t have a gift for your son on Christmas Eve, and you want to negotiate my delivery fee?” Justin asked incredulously. “Listen, you can either pay me $500 when I get there, or I can just pawn off whatever is in here when the shops open after Christmas. Hey, I can give you the name of the pawn shop, and maybe you can buy it back from them.”

“Fuck you.”

“Likewise.”

The man sighed. “What did you say your name was?”

“Justin. Taylor.”

“Okay, Justin Taylor. And this is your cell phone you’re calling me on?”

“Yup.”

“What time will you be here?”

“Um…I’m not sure. I have to check my ticket.” The ticket I haven’t yet purchased, Justin thought to himself.

“Roughly what time?”

“The…afternoon? Late afternoon?” That seemed reasonable, Justin thought. If he took the next available bus out of New York, he should be in Pittsburgh by the afternoon.

“Let me know the exact time once you check your ticket. Do not lose that gift. I can meet you at the station here.”

“Perfect. I’ll keep you posted.”







Justin should have known that only crazy people take the bus from New York to Pittsburgh on Christmas Eve. He had surmised as much when he was at the bus terminal purchasing his ticket. He was pretty certain that there had been a man hiding a hand gun in his jacket; he was equally certain that this man was seated on the self-same bus as Justin. Then there were the two women who kept arguing loudly with each other at the terminal, yet chose to sit next to each other in the bus, only to continue their argument, in voices that were even louder than before.

The bus had left New York at 6 a.m., and they were scheduled to be in Pittsburgh by 5:50 p.m. He had wanted to let his mother know that he would be there for Christmas, but felt nervous about letting her know, for some reason. He didn’t want her mistakenly telling his father, and that resulting in some high drama and unpleasantness for everyone. Meeting his mother would be a last minute thing, and this would give the universe lesser chance of fucking it up. He had called ahead and made sure that the LGBT shelter on Liberty Avenue was open during the holidays; Justin had no qualms about staying there for a day or two. He would be making $500 off Brian Kinney, and Justin planned to give some of that money to the shelter in return for them letting him stay, though he knew he didn’t have to pay them.

The one person he did text was Brian Kinney, to let him know that the present, together with Justin, was arriving at 6 p.m. It wasn’t exactly ‘late afternoon’, but that couldn’t be helped. This was the only bus that had seats available. He didn’t get a response immediately, and Justin fell asleep almost as soon as the bus took off. He woke up around a quarter to nine, when the bus was just pulling into Allentown. He saw an incoming text from Brian, mostly bitching about his arrival time, telling him to guard the present ‘with his life’, and to keep Brian posted. It was also weird, because Brian said that he had also received an email from the company saying that he wouldn’t be receiving the delivery until the end of business day. Justin could only imagine that company had figured out that the original delivery hadn’t been made, so they were sending a replacement gift. Justin could only hope that he made it to Pittsburgh before the replacement gift did.

He knew for certain that things were heading south when they pulled into Harrisburg at ten thirty. Justin was starving, so he went to the bathroom, and then went to the restaurant to buy the cheapest sandwich that he could find. When he boarded the bus once again, he found himself seated next to an innocuous-looking blonde man, who looked a lot like Justin himself, except older. Justin soon found out how wrong he was about the man being innocuous.

“Going home for the holidays?” the man asked him.

“Ugh…yeah, I guess you could say that. I’m surprising my mom for Christmas with a visit.”

“Hmf. Christmas. Does she have a tree at her place?”

Justin frowned at the weird question, but decided to answer. “Yeah, she usually has a tree.”

“Your mother is an idiot,” the man said, “along with the rest of this country. You think that’s really a star on top of the tree? WRONG. It’s a pentagram! How are people in this country so stupid that they don’t realise this? You think it’s a good thing, cutting down a tree and then keeping that dead tree inside your home? That is death that you have invited into your home!”

Justin stared at the man in open amazement, too shocked to put an end to the diatribe. Unfortunately for him, the man was not finished.

“And then you keep presents under the tree. Presents blessed by death. Presents for children. This is why the world is doomed,” the man intoned.

“Uh-huh,” Justin said, more than a little annoyed. “What about when the tree is plastic, though? My mother’s tree is always plastic.”

This was clearly not the best comment to make under the circumstances, and Justin knew it. The man started ranting on and on, and Justin was compelled to text the only person he knew that would comply with his request.

Call me right now Justin texted to Brian.

Exactly thirty seconds later, his phone started buzzing.

“What’s wrong? What happened?”

“Honey, I’m so glad you called me! I was just about to call you.”

“Justin? This is Brian. Kinney. You’re delivering my gift…you texted me by mistake?”

“Oh, of course, how silly of me! I completely forgot that you said you were going to call to make sure that I was okay.”

There was a pause. “Have you been kidnapped? Are you trying to send me a coded message? Because you could have just typed it out as a text. Let me guess, the kidnappers want more than $500.”

“Yes, sweetheart, that’s precisely why I was about to call you,” Justin responded wryly. “There’s this absolutely charming gentleman seated next to me on this bus, telling me that a star on top of a Christmas tree is really a pentagram, how having a real tree is an invitation to death, and that dead tree blesses all the presents with…death, and how the whole thing is really a Satanic ritual in disguise. I am so lucky to have this man teach me this! So, I was thinking, do we have a plastic tree? An angel instead of a star? Because if we don’t, I’ll get off this bus at the next stop – Lewistown – or maybe at State College and buy us a nice plastic tree and an angel. Of course, I’ll have to wait for the next bus, and I’ll get late, and we’ll be late for dinner at mom’s…but this is really important, don’t you think? Honey, are you there?”

“You are absolutely not getting off that fucking bus! Do you know how excited Gus is, waiting for his gift?” Brian hissed.

Justin shook his head. For a man who spoke about coded messages, Brian was sure slow on the uptake.

“Aaaw, is Gus there with you? Tell me about him. I haven’t seen him in so long.” By which, of course, Justin really meant that he hadn’t seen Gus ever.

That did the trick. While Mr. Personality next to him hummed and hawed, Justin listened to Brian, who was clearly a very proud father, speak about his son, who was almost four years old.

By the time Mr. Personality was asleep, Justin had found out that Gus was being primarily raised by his lesbian mothers Lindsay and Melanie, Gus was in love with dinosaurs and penguins, wanted to be garbage collector when he grew up on account of being able to drive the largest vehicle the child had ever seen, and was a budding artist. Justin was carrying his sketchbook, though he hadn’t been inspired to draw anything of value in months. However, as Brian spoke about his son, describing the boy and all the adventures Gus had been up to, Justin found himself pulling out his sketchbook, and drawing the scenes that Brian was describing.

“So, is the Pentagram Man still there, or did you manage to shake him off?” Brian asked him.

Justin laughed quietly. “So you did catch on! I was beginning to worry about your ability to crack coded messages. He’s asleep now.”

“Deciphering messages about religious psychos happens to be my specialty.”

“So in a previous life, you were a heretic working against the Inquisition then?”

Brian laughed. “Not bad. So, tell me. Why are you taking this trip to Pittsburgh; it can’t be a purely altruistic trip on my behalf. Do you live here?”

“I used to,” Justin replied dully.

“Aaaw, and then the glittering lights of New York stole you away from the Pitts?” Brian asked sardonically.

Justin scoffed. “Pffffft – hardly. The only thing glittering in New York is the lint in my pockets. I simply decided that it was better to live a life where I was down and out and proud, instead of a Kafka-esque closeted nightmare under my father’s homophobic eyes. With the money I had at the time, New York was as far as I could afford to travel without having to give blowjobs on the way. Feel free to judge my youthful stupidity, if you so wish.”

“Blowjobs can’t really be enjoyed if you’re doing it with an eye on the money; so it’s just as well that you travelled only as far as the money you already had took you. Nothing to judge; if you had stayed, eventually, your cancer-ridden father would be affronted that his gay son wasn’t stricken with the illness instead of him. You do what you have to do.”

Even though Justin had never actually met Brian Kinney, he felt a kinship with the man. “I’m sorry to hear that your father was such an unadulterated asshole. If it means anything at all coming from a stranger, it sounds like you’re light years ahead of him in terms of being a father. And I use that term as both a measurement for quality as well as distance.”

“Well, you’re not quite a stranger; you’re my delivery person. How old are you?”

“Almost twenty one. And I make excellent cocktails as well. If you need a bartender in between deliveries,” Justin joked, trying to lighten the mood.

There was a pause. “Well, if you ever want to move back to the Pitts, I’m pretty sure I could find a bartending job for you, if you’re as good as you say. I appreciate what you’re doing, even if it is coming at a steep price of $500.”

Justin felt a twinge of guilt. The man was getting a replacement gift from the company; that too was on its way to Brian undoubtedly at no extra cost. There was no need for him to waste $500 on Justin. Justin sighed. He could only hope that Brian would actually end up needing the gift Justin had, which at this point had become the back-up gift.

“Well, thanks for deciphering my code. I don’t want to take up more of your time; I’ll try and get some sleep while Pentagram Man here drools away in his sleep,” Justin said. The guilt made him want to end the conversation.

“That’s not drool; he’s probably foaming at the mouth,” Brian commented, sounding a tad surprised. “Well, keep me posted on your journey.”

Justin promised to do so, and he managed to fool himself into believing that all drama was over. Through Lewistown, onto Tyrone, and then to Altoona, there were no problems. Justin sent Brian cheerful updates, and managed to even have another conversation with Brian, who wanted Justin to give him recipes for ‘the absolute fucking best’ Christmas cocktails for the Christmas Eve dinner that he was apparently having with what sounded like a rather large group of people.

At Johnstown, drama of a different sort struck. In fact, Justin considered it to be closer to disaster than drama. The bus wouldn’t start, and all the passengers were effectively stranded. The most a highly frustrated Justin could get out of the driver was that he should be patient, because the next bus would be coming in a mere three hours to take him to Pittsburgh.

Justin weighed his options; he had a Christmas gift to deliver, and Pittsburgh was another good two hours away, by bus. It was already three thirty. If he were to wait three hours for the next bus, he’d be in Pittsburgh only by nine in the evening, and that was assuming that no other calamity struck. Justin decided that the risk wasn’t worth it. Thus, he took matters into his own hands.

He didn’t anticipate how little Brian would appreciate his course of action when he called Brian with an update.

“You’re WHAT?” Brian screamed into the phone.

“Hitchhiking. I’m hitchhiking. Or rather, I was. I got picked up by this really nice guy, a trucker…he’s name was Doug.”

“He’s probably a homophobic serial killer, dropping bodies along the interstate. Are you out of your fucking mind? Do you have no regard for your own safety? Do you never watch the news?”

“I don’t own a television…and can you lower your voice? I think I burst an eardrum listening to you overreact.”

“Jesus fucking Christ. Where are you? At ‘almost twenty one’, you should be smarter than this.”

“Oh, be quiet. I thought you needed this gift. By the way, did you get anymore emails from the company?”

“Yes, to say that the delivery is being further delayed. Apparently, they’re well aware of your current predicament.”

“Uh-huh,” Justin said, at a complete loss to understand how anyone other than himself and Brian could be privy to his current predicament.

“Where are you?”

Justin paused. “You know how there are days that you swear you were born to lose? Today is one of those days for me. I hitchhiked in the wrong direction from Johnstown, so I ended up back in Ebensburg…but don’t worry, I’m going to find a vehicle soon, one that’s heading to Pittsburgh. Doug told me that from Ebensburg, it’s only one and a half hour on Route 22.”

“Jesus fucking Christ. Do you even know which way is west? Do you know how to get to Route 22 from where you are?”

Justin paused again. “I can figure it out.”

“You’re lost, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but I can…I can find my way to Pittsburgh. Trust me.”

“Where, precisely, did this Doug drop you off at?”

“I’m not quite sure, but I walked a bit…I’m near a…I think it’s a war memorial. Or some kind of memorial.”

Justin heard Brian sigh.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” said Brian, “but you need to stay exactly where you are. I’m driving there to get you. The last thing I need on Christmas day is to have no gift for my son, and the police knocking on my door about a murdered ‘almost twenty one’ year old.”

“Look, I told you that I can –” Justin started saying, but Brian cut him off.

“I’m not arguing about this. Just sit there at that memorial and fucking wait. Actually…it’s going to be freezing outside. Can you see a Starbucks nearby?”

“Yes, but –”

“Get in there, and wait. I’ll be there in an hour and a half.”

“I’m still charging you $500,” Justin said petulantly.

“Of course you are. I expected no less.”

Justin decided to not comment further; he was exhausted, and decided that the only decent thing to do was to reduce the delivery fee, despite what he told Brian. He was relieved that Brian was decent enough to come and pick him up, giving up at least part of his Christmas Eve with his family.

Justin went into the Starbucks, ordered a coffee, sat down and waited for Brian to arrive, not thinking much about the fact that neither of them would know how to recognise the other. He fine-tuned the sketches he had done on the bus ride, wondering if all this was a sign that he should never have left New York, or a sign that he should never have left Pittsburgh. He didn’t notice the time pass, until someone addressed him.

“Ah you my special devivery?”

Justin stared at the little boy standing in front of him. He looked exactly the way Brian had described him.

“Hey, you must be Gus. I’ve heard so much about you!”

Gus beamed. “You ah my special devivery!”

“Gus, he isn’t your special delivery. He is bringing your present, and your present is a special delivery.”

Justin looked up at Brian. It was all Justin could do to keep his jaw tightly closed. He expected to meet a father who looked like a father, not one who looked like he had just stepped out of a fashion magazine.

“Hi, I’m Justin. I’m really sorry that you had to drive all the way out here.”

Brian shrugged and smiled, and Justin felt warm all over just looking at the man.

“Gus and I had a good ride, and this teaches me not to leave the gift ordering for the last minute. Shall we?”

“DADDY! Daddy, look! It’s Santa!”

Both men followed Gus’s excited cry, and indeed, a man dressed as Santa Claus was walking out of the Starbucks.

Justin’s jaw dropped open. It was the same man that had left the present the day before at the bar!

“That’s…that’s…”Justin sputtered.

“That’s Santa Cwaus,” Gus supplied helpfully.

Justin stared as the man turned around, winked at him, and walked out of the Starbucks.

“Justin, do you want anything, or shall we leave?”

Justin drew his eyes away from the door at Brian’s question and then quickly glanced back; just as in New York, there was no sign of the Santa Claus walking about anywhere outside.

“Didjoo dwaw this? Daddy, look! It’s me! Isn’t that awesome?” Gus had clearly caught a glimpse of the open sketchbook, and was enthralled.

Justin smiled. “Your daddy told me all about you, so I thought I’d draw you something. Do you want it? That is…if it’s okay with your dad. I’m good, we can leave,” he added.

Brian nodded. “Gus, say thank you.”

“Thank you! Justin, you can sit next to me at dinnah. Thew’s no space at Gwanma’s table, so we can sit anywhey, and we can sit on the couch. It has pwetty cushions.”

“Uhhh…” Justin stammered.

Brian was already walking out of Starbucks holding Gus’s hand, and Justin wondered how to politely let down Gus, as he followed them out.

“Do you have any dinner plans?” Brian asked over his shoulder.

“Uhhh…not really…I mean…no…but you don’t have to…”

“I guess you’ll be sitting on the couch with the pretty cushions, then. You can help mix the drinks after dinner. Consider that payback for this little detour, outside of your exorbitant delivery fee.”

Justin thought he heard a smile in that comment.







For the sake of Gus, the adults had woken up before noon, which was an enormous challenge, considering the copious amount of alcohol that almost everyone had consumed.

When Brian had actually seen what Justin Taylor looked like in Ebensburg, he had made up his mind there and then that he was going to find a way to have the blonde spend the night with him. Fortunately for him, Gus had been one step ahead of him.

After dinner, Gus had promptly fallen asleep, and the adults had gotten as drunk as they could on Christmas Eve, before Brian called himself a cab and took Justin home with him. Needless to say, come Christmas morning, the two of them had done almost everything but sleep.

Normally, Brian would have chased a trick out faster than a person could blink come morning, but somehow, things weren’t quite working out that way.

First, Gus had called him early in the morning, no doubt with encouragement from his mothers, to ask about opening presents. Given that his car was parked elsewhere from the previous evening, Brian took a cab to Lindsay and Melanie’s. Normally, he would have – he should have – dropped Justin off on the way – but he thought that given all the trouble, Justin may want to see Gus open the gift. Plus, Gus seemed to be under the expectation that Justin was going to be there in the morning. Lindsay and Melanie seemed to share the same misunderstanding as Gus.

Now, they were all sitting around the tree, with Gus excitedly opening presents.

“Here Gus, why don’t you open this one? It’s what Daddy got you,” Lindsay said, handing Gus an elaborately wrapped present.

Brian frowned; that certainly didn’t look like the gift that Justin had given him the previous day, and which now lay underneath the tree.

“Linds, where’d you get that from?” Brian hissed. “Did you go buy something because you thought I’d fuck up?”

“Please, don’t be so silly,” Lindsay said, rolling her eyes. “The delivery guy called from your place yesterday…around six o’clock I think. No one was there to sign for it and your neighbour had given him my number. I told him to deliver it here instead,” she whispered. “Sorry I forgot to tell you, but you were already on your way to get the back-up gift, and I figured that two gifts wasn’t going to hurt Gus any.”

Brian stared at Justin in confusion, and the ‘back-up’ gift that lay under the tree. Melanie had just helped Gus with the wrapping on the gift that had been delivered in his absence. Gus excitedly opened the box, and pulled out the hand-made expensive-as-fuck art supplies that Brian had ordered.

“Oh Gus, look, isn’t that cool? Daddy got you art supplies, and they’re so good!” Lindsay cooed. “Now you can paint as much as you want.”

“It’s cool.”

“Aren’t you going to say thank you?” Melanie prodded.

“Thank you Daddy. I can paint something fow you now.”

However, Brian was more than a bit disappointed when Gus almost immediately put it aside to paw through other gifts.

“He’s going to love it when he’s a bit older,” Lindsay whispered gently.

“Gus, you have one more gift under the tree,” Justin said. Brian looked at the blonde, but it was impossible to read his expression.

Once again, Melanie helped Gus with the wrapping paper.

“MAMA! LOOK!” Gus screamed. “It’s pengins! Thews lots of pengins! This one’s a empwewa pengin!”

“An emperor penguin, yes, I can see that,” Melanie said. “What else is there?”

Gus tipped the box over, and out fell a wooden menagerie of assorted penguins and dinosaurs. All else forgotten, Gus immediately started playing with them. Brian stared at the toys, utterly confused. He definitely did not remember ordering those.

Much better choice,” Lindsay whispered to him.

“Gus, remember your manners. Aren’t you going to say thank you?” Melanie asked.

“Daddy thank you! It’s awesome! I wove you!” Gus ran over to give him a hug, this time sans prodding from either of his mothers.

Brian looked at Justin, who simply shrugged, and smiled at him.

Light years ahead, Justin mouthed to him.



THE END



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