CHAPTER 23 - Relaxing Life
Once someone like me finally does embrace the challenge of parenthood, where does one go to find out exactly how to do it? I mean, it's not like I have any experience in the matter. My own parents were woefully inadequate. I have, to my knowledge, not one single good example of parenting in my entire history. The only person who even came close to being a good parent in my past would be my surrogate mother Debbie, but I wouldn't exactly call her an expert. Granted she did the best she could as a single mother back in the seventies. But, if I were looking for someone who really knew what they were doing, I'm afraid it would not to be Debbie Novotny. Sorry, Debbie.
About the best I can say is that I know what not to do. I will never, ever, raise my hand to a child. Period. However, almost equally bad, is the other extreme; neglecting a kid to the point that he gets no support, or encouragement, or love at all. However these two worst-case extremes are on the far ends of the spectrum. Between those two, there's a huge empty realm of possibilities. That's the area that I'm very, very uncomfortable with.
And let's face it, I'm really not the kind a guy that will turn to psychologists or other kinds of professionals for advice. I'm even less likely to turn to self-help books. And, while I'm not opposed in a general sense, to doing my own research via the Internet, I can't seriously imagine finding good, verifiable advice in the inter-web. So, what does that leave? I really hate not having a good solid plan, you know? But as far as I can tell, the only alternative I have is good old-fashioned trial and error.
Let's just hope both Gus and I survive the experience . . .
.:G:. .:G:. .:G:. .:G:. .:G:. .:G:.
Once they'd finished with the tour, Brian headed back outside to check on the kids while Justin puttered around in the house, getting their gear all stowed and making a start on dinner. Molly met him at the door, saying she wanted to go swimming in the nearby stream before dinner and was going to go change into her swimming suit. Brian hadn't yet seen any stream, but was intrigued by the idea. It had been a rather warm day and even though they had air conditioning in the car, he felt hot and sticky. A swim sounded good to him too. This camping thing was certainly turning out to be a lot more enjoyable than he'd expected.
Brian held the door for the girl and then proceeded on outside to try and find his offspring. It wasn't hard to locate Gus and Sunshine, though. They were both running in circles in the large clearing right in front of the cabin, playing what looked like a very strange game of chase.
Sunshine seemed to be the primary instigator of this new game. She would run in a slow circle, barking over her shoulder at Gus, who would then run up behind her. Just when it looked like the boy was about to catch her, though, the dog would put on a burst of speed, zooming around until she was right on Gus' heels. That would spark a freshet of giggles from the boy, who'd break into a sprint and, in turn, careen around till he was again on the dog's tail. It was an absolutely hilarious sight. Brian stood there, watching this debacle and laughing so hard he was almost crying, until both the child and the dog seemed to finally tire, dropping to the grass in a happy heap together.
"Hey, Midget," Brian came up to the pair, noting that both were sporting huge smiles, and hunkered down so he could look Gus in the eye. "You guys having fun?"
"YEAH!" Gus hollered.
"Yip, yip, yip," Sunshine seconded her boy's sentiments.
"This is the bestest place in the whole wide world, Daddy B'ine. I's never seed so many trees, ever. I din' know they's had dis many trees. We never haded trees like dis in T'ronto," Gus gushed, as he flopped onto his back so that he could look up at the encircling trees all around him.
"There sure are a hell of a lot of them around here," Brian agreed. "How about we take a bit of a walk and see how many we can count before Justin calls us in before dinner, huh?"
"YAY! We gets to count trees," Gus enthused, jumping up to his feet as if counting trees was the most exciting game that had ever been invented.
Sunshine thoroughly agreed that this was a wonderful idea and added her own chorus of barking agreement as she danced around Brian and Gus' feet. Brian shook his head at the pair of them. Where DID they find all that energy? Maybe it was all the fresh air around here? Good thing he'd thought of the idea of a walk to help drain off some of that excess bounciness, or else they'd have a hell of a time getting the kid to sit down when dinner was served.
With Sunshine leading the way though, they were soon headed down a little dirt path leading away from the cabin into the thick of the forest. It was a beautiful area, with quite a wide range of tree species. Brian, of course, didn't know shit about trees, but even he could identify some of the more common varieties. The tall evergreens seemed to dominate - he thought he could pick out pine and hemlock among others - but amidst those were other, smaller trees with what he considered normal leaves. He recognized a typical maple here and there, and one he thought might be a cherry tree of some kind. There were also some very pretty trees that he didn't know with a light, almost white bark and tiny, fluttering, light green leaves that made a whispering sound as the breeze blew through them. It was idyllic. He could definitely see himself taking lots of long, relaxing walks here in the future, hopefully with a handsome young blond by his side.
Meanwhile, Gus and Sunshine were gamboling around, taking numerous detours off the trail to climb over rocks, look in holes, pick the occasional wildflower and chase down other interesting distractions. It reminded Brian of an old ‘Family Circus' comic that he'd seen when he was a kid where the cartoonist had traced the boy's crazy winding trail all over a similar forest, with the joke being that he came back to camp with only one tiny stick of firewood. But as long as Gus was having fun, Brian didn't care what the kid did. There was plenty of room to run and explore out here and nobody around to bother, so he just let the kid ramble where he wanted to. Besides, he didn't think they'd need any firewood considering the stack he'd seen already piled under the eaves of the cabin.
About fifteen minutes down the trail, they came to a pretty little clearing. The meadow here was covered with all kinds of wildflowers. Gus and Sunshine both yelped with happiness at their discovery and then barrelled into their midst. With the dog attentively trotting as his heel, Gus would walk up to one bloom after another, bend down, and sniff them all, describing the scents for Brian's edification. Brian chuckled at the descriptions, enjoying the kid's statements about which flowers smelled ‘Orangish' and which were ‘Koolaid' scented.
Suddenly, when they'd come to just about the middle of the clearing, Gus looked up and stopped so fast that Brian almost knocked him over.
"What is it Midget?" Brian asked.
"Look Daddy B'ine . . . it's Foofie Flowers. Lots and lots of dem."
Brian looked around him but couldn't decipher what Gus was talking about. "What are Foofie Flowers, Midget?" Brian asked, confused.
"Watch!" Gus answered picking up a puffy dandelion and blowing loudly to spread the seedlings, making a ‘foofie' sounding noise as he did it. "That's a Foofie Flower, and that's what ya do wif it!" he announced with surety.
After that, with Gus goading Brian on to copy his actions, they both started picking the foofie flowers and blowing the seedlings everywhere. Sunshine thought this was a wonderful game and tried to catch the blown seeds in her mouth as she ran around the clearing barking at them. Gus thought that his puppy was hilarious and started laughing so hard he actually collapsed, flopping down in the field of Foofie Flowers so that Sunshine could jump up on his tummy and roll around with her boy.
Brian let them have at it until Gus started sneezing. That was his signal to move on. He rounded up his charges and they all continued on down the path. Just around the bend, Brian could see the trees thinning out a bit and before he knew it, they'd rounded one last outcropping of those white-barked trees, and found themselves standing on the banks of a wide, clear babbling stream.
The water looked so refreshing after their little walk that Brian wasn't at all surprised when Sunshine bounded straight into the middle and simply plopped down on her belly, lapping up the trickles of water that flowed around her.
"Look, Daddy B'ine! Look! Sunshine is swimmin'! I wanna go swimmin' too. Kin I, Daddy B'ine. Kin I? Pwease?" Gus pleaded, tugging on the hem of Brian's shorts to emphasize his words.
Brian had to admit that it sounded like a great idea. Looking to the left, upstream, he saw that the little creek widened out in that direction and there seemed to be a nice little deep spot up there. If Gus wanted to swim, that looked like the best place. He wasn't sure how good a swimmer Gus was though, and there weren't any lifeguards on duty here like there had been back at Hersheypark, so if Gus went in, Brian would have to go too. Not that he really objected.
"What the hell," Brian mumbled with a shrug to nobody in particular. "Sure, Midget. A swim sounds like a good idea. Let's go." Gus grinned up at him and started to wade into the water just like his dog, but Brian grabbed him before he got too deep. "Hold up there a sec. We don't have towels or anything and it's a bit of a walk back to the cabin. We don't want to do it in wet pants. Trust me on that one, Midget - it's not pleasant." Brian started to pull off his shirt. "Besides, a swimming hole like this one, sorta calls for skinny dipping, don't you think?"
"Skinny dippin? Was that, Daddy B'ine?" Gus asked innocently.
"Well, just like how you're allowed to pee on the trees when you're out in the woods, you're also allowed to go swimming naked," Brian explained, tossing his shirt over a nearby tree branch and proceeding to shimmy out of his shorts. "Skinny dipping is when you go for a ‘dip' in only your ‘skin'. You ready to try it?"
"YAY! WE'S GONNA SWIM SKINNY!" Gus hollered, obviously in favor of the idea, and pulling off his shirt with such enthusiasm that he almost tossed it into the water.
Brian caught the shirt before it went into the drink and then added it and Gus' shorts to the branch with his own clothes. Then he had to jog to catch up with the boy before Gus got too deep into the water. He had no idea how deep it was or if it was safe, and definitely didn't want the kid going there without him.
"Hold up there, Midget!" Brian caught up with the now butt naked boy before he was more than knee deep. "No going in the water without an adult, kiddo. The rule is the same here as it was back in the city. And I need to go first, just to make sure it's safe and not too deep, ok?"
"Kay, Daddy B'ine," Gus responded agreeably. "Let's go, den."
Brian waded deeper into the water, edging along carefully step by step, thinking it was pretty tame. Or, at least he WAS thinking that until he took one step too far and the rocky bed of the stream below his feet disappeared and he found himself bobbing under water. When he finally came up, sputtering and spitting out the water he'd inadvertently swallowed, Gus and Sunshine were laughing at him. Brian didn't take it personally. In fact, he was relaxed enough that he could easily see the humor in the situation. Instead of getting pissed off, he splashed a huge wave of water at his laughing audience, almost swamping both boy and dog. Neither seemed to mind though. First Sunshine, and then Gus, took it as an invitation to dive in, with Brian just managing to catch the boy at the last minute.
After that there ensued quite a bit of watery horseplay as the trio bobbed around in the deep, chilly cold water of the swimming hole. It was a good thing that Brian was there, though, because the water really was deep and even where there were underwater boulders to stand on, they were slippery and covered in algae, and didn't make for good perches. He ended up holding Gus in his arms while he trod water for most of the time. But it was all good, they were happy and wet and having fun.
"Hey! How come they don't have to wear swimming suits? That's not fair," the watery fun was interrupted a few minutes later by Molly's loud complaint.
Brian looked up to see the two Taylor's standing on the bank of the stream smiling down at them in the water.
"You don't. Buuuttttt . . ." Justin sauntered casually over to the tree where Brian's clothing was hanging. "If you decide to go skinny dipping, then you always run the risk of somebody absconding with your clothes when you aren't looking." He reached out with one hand, the fingers trailing teasingly over the hem of Brian's shorts, and smiled over at Brian with the most aggravatingly mischievous grin anyone had ever seen.
"Don't you dare, BB. If I have to traipse all the way back through the woods to the cabin in my birthday suit, you will be so sorry," Brian cautioned, swimming closer to the edge of the pool as quickly as he could in case he had to jump out and save his clothing.
"Actually, it would probably be you that was sorry. Did you know there's a LOT of poison ivy around here?" Justin laughed at the worried look on Brian's face as he intentionally started to gather the clothing up.
Brian looked seriously concerned for a minute, realizing that he didn't know exactly what poison ivy looked like.
"Shit, I didn't even think about that," Brian looked at Justin fretfully.
"Gus, come out and go with Molly for a second," Justin waved the boy over to the side and gestured purposefully to his sister to help the younger boy.
Looking at her brother, Molly walked to the water's edge and reached out for Gus, wrapping him in a towel and taking him with her a little way back down the path.
Brian swam in place for a minute, not sure what to do.
Once the kids were out of earshot Justin pulled off his sandals and waded into the water over to Brian, taking his hand and helping the bigger man out of the water before handing him a towel too.
"I'm so stupid. I took Gus through the woods and never even thought about anything like that. I even let him and Sunshine roll around in the flowers. I'll never be a good father."
"Brian, look at me," Justin commanded.
Brian looked into the concerned blue eyes of his lover.
"You are an amazing father, Brian. I didn't think about it before either. I told the kids to go and play when we first arrived and didn't even think to look around for any poison ivy. Molly knows what it looks like but we haven't been here in a long time. She could have forgotten. That's why I mentioned it now, though. We need to show it to the kids so they know what to look for. As for Sunshine, her fur will protect her from most of it but I should put boots on her feet if we walk in the woods."
Brian wrapped his arms around the man who could somehow make even the worst sounding things, not so bad.
"What the fuck does this poison ivy shit look like anyway?" Brian asked, looking down at his bare feet, relieved to see only grass and clover where he was standing.
Justin chuckled but turned his attention to the vegetation nearby and, after a little searching around, found what he was looking for. Towing Brian closer, he pointed down at a patch of green stuff in a woody spot on the forest floor. Brian squatted down, careful not to touch the innocuous looking plant.
"Leaves of three, leave them be. Berries white, what a fright!" Justin recited. "That's what my mother always told me. It's an easy rhyme for a child to remember. See the way the leaves all grow in groups of three. That's what you need to look for. The leaves are always shiny and smooth with those notches around the edges. They also get white berries on them in the fall. Poison oak and poison sumac have similar three-leaf stalks, so if you see any plants like that, it's best to just give them a wide berth."
Brian looked around him and saw several similar plants all over the place. "Damn, BB. This shit's everywhere."
"I know. That's why, when we get back we need to let the kids know what it looks like and make sure they know to stay out of the woods unless we're with them. Trust me, a poison ivy rash is definitely not a pleasant thing to have. I never got it. Craig did though, several times," Justin smiled, realizing after the fact that it was the first time he'd smiled when thinking anything about the bastard who had ruined his world.
"Daddy Jussin, is you and Daddy B'ine done looking at plants? can we gets back in the water now? I wanna show Molly how gooder I can swim now," Gus begged, looking longingly back at the big pool of deep water.
"Sure, Gus. That's why Molly and I came out here too, you know. We all want to swim and cool off. But give me one sec, okay?" Gus nodded as Justin took Brian by the hand and led his Stud back towards the water and away from the dangerous plants. "Molly and Gus, can you two please cover your eyes for a minute," Justin asked out of the blue, causing Brian to look at him in confusion.
The kids did as asked, though, and as soon as they were no longer looking, Justin whipped off Brian's towel and, with a surprise move, he shoved Brian as hard as he could, causing the off guard brunet to topple over head first into the pool once again. The huge splash caused the kids to peek out from under their hands, both of them breaking out in smiles as they watched Brian gasping for breath and shuddering from the sudden dunking in the very cold water. With an impish grin and a yell of ‘Cowabunga!' Justin took a flying leap off the rock he'd been standing on at the edge and propelled himself into the water too, landing with a splash that once more swamped Brian.
"You twat! I'm going to get you for that!" Brian promised, taking two big strokes to swim towards a laughing, teasing Justin.
After that the kids both jumped in too, though, so Brian had to put his revenge on hold. The four of them - plus Sunshine - spent the next hour or so splashing, laughing, goofing off and just generally having the best time they could on a hot summer day. When they all had finally had enough, the men helped the kids out, dried them off and made sure their shoes were on before they headed home.
Brian then retrieved his own clothes off the tree branch and began to get dressed as Justin watched, licking his lips and admiring the delicious man he would be having for dessert later.
As he and Brian walked back to the cabin, Brian told Justin about the Foofie Flowers. They made a point of looking around the big meadow to see if there was any poison ivy that needed to be removed. Luckily they didn't find anything to be concerned about and continued on their way home. Justin couldn't get the story out of his head though. He thought it was adorable and wished he'd been there to see it. He suggested they try to find more and blow them around, telling Brian they could even make dandelion tea with the leaves. Brian, of course made a face at that.
The walk back went pretty quickly. Once they were at the cabin, they sat down with the kids on the porch while Justin explained about the poison ivy, showing them pictures on his phone and reminding them to be careful if they saw it and to let the adults know so it could be safely removed. But, since everyone seemed to have avoided the dangerous plants so far, Brian considered the afternoon a success and was once more reassured in his parenting abilities. At least for that day.
.:G:. .:G:. .:G:. .:G:. .:G:. .:G:.
By the time they'd made it back to the cabin from their swimming adventure, the chicken Justin had started marinating was ready to go. Brian was put in charge of the grill on the back deck with Gus as his assistant and Molly and Justin put together a salad and heated some ready-to-bake rolls in the oven. The easy to cook meal only took about fifteen minutes, which was good as far as Brian was concerned because all that fresh air and fun had given him quite the appetite.
Since it was such a gorgeous evening, Justin set a table for them outside. He lit the big bucket citronella candle in the middle of the table to fend off any bugs that might venture their way and then poured some wine for himself and Brian. The Stud sauntered over a minute later with a platter heaped full of the delicious looking grilled chicken and everyone was quick to serve themselves and dig in.
The hungry little family ate and talked and joked through the meal. Brian didn't think he'd ever felt this comfortable and relaxed. It was like all his thirty plus years of worry and troubles had simply evaporated as soon as they entered the cabin that afternoon. He didn't want to ever go back.
After dinner, they quickly cleared everything away but nobody really wanted to go back inside. The sun had finally set and the stars above were twinkling so brightly and in such amazing numbers, that it would be a shame to go back in and turn on a bunch of boring electric lights. Instead, Justin brought out a few more candles and a deck of cards. The cabin was well stocked with lots of games since there wasn't any television and no computers either. That had actually been one of Justin's favorite things about coming here when he was young - the lack of intrusion from the outside world had meant that his parents had been forced to pay him a lot more attention. As a result, he had lot of memories of fun family game nights just like this one. And he was eager to share that experience with his new family.
"So, what game do you want to play?" Justin asked as he sat the deck down on the patio table. "Go Fish? War? I know about a million card games that we could play. Just name your doom."
"Daddy Jussin?" Gus piped up, looking around the circle of people. "Kin we plays poker?"
"You know how to play poker, Gus?" Brian asked, wondering how a five year old would know such a sophisticated game.
"Yep. Mommy showeded me how to play Five Card Stud when she was teachin' me numbers. An' I learneded to play Texas Hold ‘Em when I watcheded it on TV. There's lotsa good players on TV. My favorite is Matt Stout - he's really nice ta everybody. This one time, I even seed him give all da moneys he won to some sick kids. And I tolded Mommy that I wants to be jus like him when I grows up."
Brian didn't follow professional poker, so he didn't know who the hell that Stout guy was, but it certainly sounded like the Midget knew the game pretty well if he was watching it on TV.
"Okay, Midget. Show us what you got," he conceded, handing over the deck of cards to the boy with an indulgent smile.
Justin looked at Brian questioningly, but when Brian shrugged, he went back inside and got his father's poker set out of the games cupboard and brought it out the the table. With Gus directing them, the four of them started to play Five Card Stud. After an hour, little Gus had almost all the chips. When they switched to Texas Hold ‘Em, it took him a little longer, but he eventually beat everyone at that, too.
"Great, Brian. Our son's a card shark," Justin commented.
"If he sticks with it, he could be amazing by the time he's old enough to get into the casinos," Molly surmised. "Maybe he'll win big money and then he can buy me really nice presents. Like a diamond necklace or a boat."
That comment had them all laughing even though Brian thought it wasn't far from the truth. "Who knows, BB. If she's right, then we can both retire and live off our kid."
Justin just smiled, more happy than he could say to hear Brain referring to Gus as ‘their kid'. But, when he looked over at the yawning poker prodigy he decided it was time to wrap up game night. He rose to his feet and started to pick everything up, at the same time telling the kids to head inside and start getting ready for bed. Brian lent a hand at the clean up and then followed Justin inside with the now-empty bottle of wine and their glasses in hand. Once he'd deposited those in the kitchen though, he took the time to corral Justin before the younger man headed upstairs to see to the kids.
"Thank you, BB," he whispered, nuzzling into the softness of the blond's silky hair. "Thank you for bringing me up here and for making me feel like I really can do this parenting/relationship thing. If it's going to be like this all the time, I really don't know why I've been fighting it all these years."
"My pleasure, Stud," Justin cooed back, reaching down to goose the big guy's posterior in a familiar fashion. "Not that it's always going to be this easy or fun, but I think you'll do just fine, no matter what." Brian shrugged at the truth of that comment but didn't want to ruin the moment by admitting that possibility out loud. "Come on, big guy. Let's get the kids to bed and then you can come show me just how thankful you really are while we shower."
Brian thought that was a wonderful idea and happily trotted after Justin as they climbed the stairs to the kids' rooms to get them settled for the night.
.:G:. .:G:. .:G:. .:G:. .:G:. .:G:.
After the long, full day of family fun, Brian was glad to finally get some alone time with his BB. As soon as the kids were in bed, the two of them almost ran down the stairs to the master bedroom, pulling off their clothes as they went. The moment the door was closed behind them, Brian pretty much attacked Justin, pulling him into a tight clench and walking the smaller man backwards, towards the bathroom, without ever breaking the kiss. In less than sixty seconds, they were in the beautiful shower with the water raining down on them, rutting away as if they hadn't seen each other in months instead of just having spent the entire day together.
"Hey, Guys! Guess what I can do!" said a naked Gus as he ran into Justin's bathroom, stopping when he say the two men in the shower all soaped up and basically ready to go. "WOW! You's both got pokey dicks now. Look, Daddy Jussin, your dick is even huger than Daddy B'ine's, you prolly have lots of special pants," Gus announced loudly.
Quickly shutting off the water and grabbing towels both men stepped out of the shower, now without their ‘pokey dicks', which had almost immediately deflated.
"Gus, what have you been told about knocking and waiting for an answer before coming into someone's room," Brian admonished the boy.
"I's sowwy Daddy B'ine, but I was essited and I wanted to show you's guys a new trick I learneded. Watch this!"
With that, Gus screwed up his face like he was going to explode, held his breath for almost a full minute and then looked down at his nether parts where the boy's little dick was now standing at attention.
"See! Now I can be pokey too. Can I gets some special pants now?" Gus asked with complete ingenuousness.
Brian and Justin looked at each other, trying NOT to laugh. It wasn't easy though. Justin bit at his bottom lip so hard he almost drew blood. Brian folded in his lips and, when that didn't work, pinched back any laughter by pressing hard against the bridge of his nose. When he finally thought he had the urge under control, he looked down at his pleased-as-punch son.
"That's not bad, Midget. We'll see about taking you shopping for new pants next week, okay? Now, how about you hop on back to bed."
"Kay, Daddy B'ine. Nite!" Gus turned on his heel and marched out of the room again, leaving the two adults to finally let their laughter out.
"Damn, you didn't warn me that being a father was going to be so funny, BB," Brian complained when he was finally able to talk again.
"You think it's funny now, Brian. But just wait till he shows his new trick to everyone in his preschool class at the GLC . . ."
"Shit! He wouldn't . . . would he?" Brian asked, feeling a little bit panicky about that possibility.
It didn't help that Justin's only response was to laugh even harder as he headed back into the shower, pulling a perturbed Brian in after him.
.:G:. .:G:. .:G:. .:G:. .:G:. .:G:.