Justin was reading to Keegan in the living room one day when the doorbell rang. He sat the baby in his lounger seat and went to the door. He was shocked to look on the security monitor and find Gus standing on the porch with a guitar case on one shoulder and a duffel bag on the other.
Justin opened the door and stared at the boy.
Gus opened his lanky arms wide. "Surprise, Papa J."
Gus looked exactly like his father, although he still had a few more inches to grow before catching up to Brian's height of six feet, two inches. Justin remembered Brian telling him that he hadn't reached his full height until he was nearly twenty, so he knew both Kinney men would tower over him someday. At that moment, he and Gus were roughly the same height.
The fifteen year-old was going through a hipster phase, which had been preceded by a punker phase as well as a gothic phase and a grunge phase. The kid changed his appearance so often, it was hard for anyone to keep up. On that day, Gus was wearing a light brown corduroy jacket, a red flannel shirt, and a pair of skinny jeans. The jeans were tucked into a pair of Doc Martens combat boots, a holdover from the previous phases. His chestnut-brown hair was long on the top and shaved short on the sides, sort of like a pompadour but combed over to the left. His beautiful hazel eyes were behind a pair of black-framed glasses, which Justin knew Gus wore ironically, since he had perfect vision. He had a whisper-thin mustache that he was very proud of. Brian had remarked at Christmas time when they had gone to Toronto to visit that Gus would have been a lumbersexual if he could only grow a beard. The teen was thin as a rake, having not yet developed his father's lean musculature.
Justin took the boy into his arms and pulled him into the house. "Gus, what the hell are you doing here? Not that I'm not thrilled to see you, but why didn't we know you were coming? Where's your mother?"
"Um... well... ah..." Gus hesitated, his voice cracking boyishly.
"Gus," Justin said sternly.
Gus put his bag and guitar case on the floor. "Papa J, I can't take it anymore. All Mom does is scream and cuss at me... that is, when she comes home at all. I don't know where she goes and she screams at me when I ask her, saying she's the mother and I'm the kid, so it's none of my fucking business what she does. She never cooks anymore, and I'm getting really tired of eating nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Ramen noodles. That's all she ever keeps in the house."
Justin looked at Gus sympathetically. "Was she okay with you coming here?"
"Well, I... um... I didn't exactly tell her I was coming."
"How did you get here? Did you take a bus or something?" Justin asked, wondering why Lindsay hadn't called yet to say that Gus was missing.
The boy shuffled on his feet nervously. "Um... I hitchhiked."
"You did what?" Justin yelled.
"Relax!" Gus replied, holding out his hands in a defensive gesture. "I do it all the time."
"You..." Justin began to say before stopping to take a slow breath to calm himself down. "Gus, do you have any idea how dangerous that is? You could have been raped or killed. I was pretty fucking dumb at your age, but I wasn't dumb enough to hitchhike. I'm surprised your guitar and duffle weren't stolen."
"Please, if someone wanted to take Sylvia, they would have to kill me," Gus said proudly, referring to his prized acoustic guitar. "Besides, I couldn't have crossed the Canadian border alone without a parent's permission even if I had the money to take a bus or fly, so I had to hitchhike. Luckily I was picked up by some old stoner dude that let me hide in his trunk at border patrol, but he was only going to Buffalo. A couple of nice truckers brought me the rest of the way."
Justin shook his head. "Jesus, Gus... Mel and Brian are going to shit when-"
"No, Papa J, please don't tell them," Gus begged. "Just... I'll tell them I took a bus, okay? I had no choice but to come here. If I would have stayed at that house with herfor one more day, I would have lost my fucking mind."
"When did you leave your mom's house?"
"Two days ago. I snuck out in the morning, which was easy since Mom was still in bed and would have thought I had gone to school when she woke up and saw I was gone. Anyway, where's Ima?" Gus asked, "Ima" meaning mother in Hebrew.
"Out in the guest house with JR, probably doing school work. Hey, you should come meet Keegan before you go to see them."
They took Gus's things into the living room, where the baby was dozing.
Gus smiled at seeing the little sunny blond. "Can I hold him?"
"Sure, just be careful. He's very delicate."
Gus picked up the miniature Justin and hugged him to his chest. "Hey, Keegan. I'm your big brother Gus, and we're going to have lots of fun together."
Justin teared up, happy to have both of his sons home, and touched to see Gus accept Keegan so quickly. "Could you keep an eye on him for a few minutes? I need to go check on something."
Gus nodded and sat down on the couch, cuddling the small, sweet smelling bundle in his arms.
Justin went into Brian's office and called his partner.
"Sunshine," Brian answered.
"We have company. Care to guess who's here?"
"Not Michael again," Brian said, his voice filled with anger.
"No," Justin said quickly. "If he were here, I would be talking to the cops instead of you. Guess again."
"I have no idea. How about a hint?"
"Well, except for the outfit and silly haircut, it's someone that looks just like you."
"What the hell, Gus is here? What about Lindsay?"
Justin proceeded to tell his partner about his conversation with their oldest son, minus the part about the hitchhiking. Brian was furious, but not at his son. He was happy that Gus was there. He would deal with Lindsay later.
"Well Sunshine, what's for dinner? I think I'll head out now, since I don't have anything pressing for the rest of the day and I'm missing my family."
Justin was finishing up with dinner when Brian arrived home. He had made roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and steamed vegetables along with fresh dinner rolls.
Brian walked up behind his partner, wrapped his arms around him, and kissed his neck.
"Dinner smells great, Sunshine. Where's our wayward son?"
"I figured Gus could use a nice home cooked meal after what he's been eating lately. He's in the nursery playing his guitar for Keegan. You have time to take a quick shower before dinner if you want. It will be ready in about twenty minutes."
Justin turned around in Brian's arms for a proper kiss, having not seen him since the previous day.
Brian broke the kiss several seconds later and cracked, "If Gus is still as terrible on that guitar as the last time I heard him play, I'm sure poor little Keegan has his hands over his ears."
Justin laughed before saying, "Oh, Mel and JR will be joining us for dinner."
When Brian started to make a face, Justin added, "Gus's request. The girls don't actually know he's here yet and he wanted to surprise them."
Brian just nodded and headed for the stairs. He could hear someone struggling to play an acoustic guitar and singing. The singing wasn't too bad, but the guitar playing... well, maybe he could take some more lessons.
He found Gus sitting on an ottoman in Keegan's room with his back to the door. Keegan was laying on a beanbag chair in front of him.
"Come break me down, bury me, bury me, I am finished with you," Gus sang slightly off-key. "Look in my eyes, you're killing me, killing me-"
"Christ, Sonny Boy," Brian interrupted. "Why do you always have to sing such fucking depressing songs?"
Gus got up to give his father a hug.
"It's ‘The Kill' by Thirty Seconds to Mars, Pop," the teen informed him.
"It makes me want to slit my wrists," Brian replied as he embraced his bony son.
Melanie and JR were thrilled to see that Gus was there and he was happy to see them, having missed them both terribly. Dinner went very well, with no sniping or arguing.
"After you guys left, Mom used me as a sounding board whenever she was pissed, which was like, pretty much all the time," Gus informed Melanie. "I tried to stay out or locked in my room whenever she was home."
"I'm so sorry, baby," Melanie said to her son with tears in her eyes. "I was hoping she wouldn't take her anger out on you, but..."
Gus grabbed her hand. "I know, Ima. You had no choice. I understand why you had to leave and why you couldn't take me with you. I heard what Mom said, about how I had to stay if you were taking Sis."
Once they were all finished eating, Brian suggested that they go down to the basement and play pool and darts.
Gus and Melanie talked about Lindsay quietly, out of earshot of JR while they played a game of darts. Melanie wanted to know what had happened after she and JR left Toronto. He repeated what he had told Justin, and Melanie was appalled that her wife had treated their son so shabbily.
"What do you want to do?" she asked the teen.
"I'm not going back to Toronto," Gus answered sternly. "I had to leave most of my stuff behind, but I don't care. I can't live with Mom anymore. I want to stay here with you, Sis, Pop, and Papa J."
Melanie gave her son a kiss on his cheek and a tight hug.
Brian instructed JR in pool as they played a game against Justin. JR was a natural pool player, and she and Brian won their game.
"Way to go, munchkin," Brian said to the little girl.
JR scoffed. "Of course I won. I'm awesome."
He looked down at mini-Melanie with a sneer. "We won... you didn't even know how to play an hour ago."
"Oh, please, Uncle Pop," she replied, rolling her eyes. "As if you stood a chance without me. We all know who the talented one in this house is, and it's not you."
Justin, Melanie, and Gus laughed in amusement while Brian pretended to be offended. They all knew that he loved verbally sparring with the kid and he always let her win. Like her mother, she would make a great lawyer someday.
Gus and JR teamed up against Justin next for a game of pool while Melanie and Brian played a game of darts.
"What are you going to say when you call Lindsay?" Melanie asked Brian.
"I don't know... I can't believe she hasn't called either of us yet to let us know that he's run away. Surely she's noticed that he's gone by now, right?"
"All I know is that we have to do whatever we need to do to keep Gus here and away from her," Melanie said. "I talked to her briefly on the phone last week, and she's pissed because I refuse to give her any money. All the money you've sent for Gus over the years was always kept in a separate account that only she has access to. I have no idea how that money has been spent or if she was just saving all of it to send him to college, but I'm not going to give her more money to spend on whatever the hell she wants. She obviously hasn't been buying Gus any decent food over the past few weeks. He didn't have much weight to spare, but he's probably dropped a few pounds since I left."
Melanie threw a dart at the board, landing on the bullseye and winning their Cricket game.
"Yes!" she yelled victoriously.
Brian hated to lose, but he congratulated Melanie with a high five. "Great job."
Gus looked over at them and smiled. "I never thought I would see the day when the two of you would look happy at being in the same room for any length of time, let alone wanting to do anything together."
Brian returned his son's smile. "Yeah, me neither."
After another hour, the little noisemaker upstairs went off. Gus and JR argued about who would get to feed and change their little brother. They finally decided that they would do it together.
Lindsay failed to call the following day as well as the next. Brian gave her a call four days after Gus had left Toronto.
"Hey Lindz, how's it going?" he asked, playing it cool.
"Well Brian, how the fuck do you think it's going?" Lindsay said in an irritated tone. "Mel left to go take care of ‘Justin's little problem,' and I have no idea when she plans on coming back. She even took JR out of school! All our son does is sulk in his room, and he only comes out to go to school and eat everything in the house. That's how it's going."
"Well Lindz, let me talk to the boy. Maybe I can straighten him out about some things," Brian said, trying to sound like a concerned father.
"Fine, maybe he'll listen to you."
Brian smiled and shook his head when he heard Lindsay yelling for Gus to come downstairs.
"He's not even answering me, Brian. I'll have to take the phone to him."
He heard Lindsay stomp up the stairs and open a door.
"He's not here," she said, seemingly unconcerned. "He knows he's supposed to come right home after school. I bet he's over at that little prick Brendan Jackson's house. They do nothing but play video games and smoke pot, and then he comes home expecting me to have cooked him a three-course meal, like I'm his fucking maid."
"When was the last time you saw him?" Brian asked, getting more agitated with his son's mother.
"Well, um... I didn't see him this morning, but I woke up late."
"So when did you last see our son, Lindsay?" Brian demanded.
"I'm not sure, Brian. Like I said, he's probably at a friend's house. I'll call around and look for him," Lindsay answered uneasily.
"Lindsay, why aren't you answering my question? When was the last time you saw our fifteen year-old son?" Brian demanded again, trying to keep his temper in check.
"I don't remember... maybe a couple of days ago. Do you think he may have run away? Maybe I should call the police."
Brian decided it was time to drop the bomb. "Actually Lindsay, yes, Gus did run away... four fucking days ago! He has been here at Britin for the past two days. Before that, he was on a bus from Toronto alone. He's been very vague as to how he crossed the border without a parent, but that's not important right now. Would you like to tell me what the fuck you've been so busy doing that you failed to notice that our son has been gone for four fucking days?"
"Don't yell at me, Brian! This is not my fault. You or Mel should have called me as soon as he showed up there," Lindsay said, obviously trying to turn things around and blame them for Gus running away. "I can't believe the school hasn't called me yet."
"No, Lindsay. You should have noticed immediately that he was gone and called me, Mel, or the police. It's not like he's a fucking chihuahua that escaped through a hole in the fence."
Lindsay huffed out a breath. "Well Brian, send him back to Toronto on the first bus out. A plane would be faster, but he should spend several hours on a bus to think about what he's done. Let me know when I should expect him."
"No, I'm not sending him back," Brian replied vehemently. "He said he was miserable there with you, and I'm not going to force him to go back if he doesn't want to. He wants to stay here with us, and that's what Justin, Mel, and I want, too."
"I really don't care what any of you want, least of all Justin. Why the hell would Justin have any say in this, anyway?" Lindsay sneered. "Fine. I guess that I'm going to have to fly down there and drag him home myself, kicking and screaming if I have to. I'm his mother and I will decide where he lives."
With that comment, Lindsay hung up.
Brian stared at the phone in his hand. He could not believe that the woman he had been friends with for twenty-five years and made a child with was acting like such a sanctimonious bitch.