Justin was very surprised when he arrived at the airport on Monday afternoon and found both Melanie and Jenny Rebecca waiting for him near the baggage claim.
"Uncle Sunny!" JR screamed when she saw him.
Justin was glad that he was pushing Keegan in a stroller instead of hauling him around in the baby carrier, because the little girl launched herself into his arms.
"Hey, beautiful," Justin said as he hugged JR tightly.
Melanie joined in on their hug and gave Justin a kiss. "Hey, kiddo."
The three of them embraced for a few moments, almost forgetting about Keegan until JR asked to be let down to see him.
"This is so cool," JR said when she saw the baby. "I already have a brother that looks like Uncle Pop, and now I have one that looks like Uncle Sunny."
While JR looked into the stroller and cooed at the baby, Justin whispered to Melanie, "I didn't know you were bringing her."
"Uh... yeah, I hope that's okay," Melanie said uneasily.
"Of course it is," Justin said. "When I told Deb that you were coming, she insisted we come over for dinner this evening. I know she'll be thrilled to see both of her grandbabies. Isn't JR missing school, though?"
Melanie bit her bottom lip. "I'm going to homeschool her online until we make permanent arrangements here."
Justin immediately knew what that meant, but since they were in public, he just nodded and didn't press her further.
They headed out to Debbie and Carl's house where Grandma Deb was indeed very happy to see her granddaughter. Brian showed up in time for dinner, during which everyone tactfully did not mention the elephant in the room while they were eating.
Brian started grilling Melanie as soon as JR had excused herself to go upstairs and play on her iPad.
"Alright, who cheated on who this time?"
Melanie sighed. "Nobody cheated, at least I haven't and she hasn't admitted to it. Lindsay has turned into an unbearable cunt and I've been wanting to leave her for months now. She's been different ever since we moved to Toronto. At first it was very subtle, but lately it has gotten so much worse. When Justin called me last week to tell me about Curtis's lawsuit, I took that as my ticket out. I just couldn't take it anymore. This Lindsay is not the same person I fell in love with.
"I honestly think she might have some kind of mental disorder, but she refuses to see a doctor or even admit that anything is wrong. She thinks I'm just picking on her or trying to make her feel bad when I bring it up. I think she may have developed PTSD after the Babylon bombing and Dusty's death. I thought moving away would help, but it didn't. She really took it personally after Justin moved back here from New York, as if she had been living vicariously through him. It was like he was giving up on herdream of becoming a famous artist."
Melanie had more to say to both Brian and Justin about Lindsay, but would tell them in private later. One thing in particular was how Lindsay had made a photo album full of pictures of Brian and Justin, but Lindsay had photoshopped her own face in place of Justin's. Melanie had found it one day hidden in their closet when she was trying to find a pair of shoes but never confronted Lindsay about it. The level of her obsession with Brian and her jealousy of Justin had almost become scary.
"I wouldn't have ever gone to New York if it weren't for Lindsay blowing smoke up my ass, telling me I was going to make it big after one positive review," Justin admitted. "Really, I think she was just trying to keep me away from Brian. She has acted weird towards me ever since I've come back home. She hardly said two words to me when we came to visit you guys over Christmas. I know she's always held a candle for Brian, just like Michael."
"It's never been a secret that she always dreamed of having a family with you," Melanie said to Brian. "That's why she chose you to be Gus's father, like one day you'd suddenly decide that you wanted to be with her as a real couple. She'll argue that she's a lesbian until she's blue in the face, but she's definitely bisexual. When she found out that Justin wants to raise Keegan, it really sent her over the edge. He's not the famous artist that she wants to be, but he's getting to have the family with you that she's always wanted."
"That is so fucked up," Brian said, shaking his head. "She knows that she'll never be with me like that, no matter how much I love her and our son."
"I also recently found out that she has been keeping Michael informed about everything that goes on within the family all this time."
"What?" Justin, Brian, and Debbie asked simultaneously.
Melanie nodded. "Yep, I overheard one of their phone conversations when I came home early from work one day. Sorry Deb, I know he's your son, but after what he did to Justin and Brian..."
"No reason to apologize, honey," Debbie said. "I don't blame any of you for cutting him out like you did. I want all of you to know that I never mention any family stuff to him, even when he asks. I had no idea how he knew any of the things he would question me about, like if Brian plans to help raise Keegan. He says, ‘Since you won't tell me things, I have to find out somehow and I won't reveal my source.' I guess now we know who that source is."
"Why would Lindsay still talk to Michael when she knows that none of us, minus his mother, want anything to do with him?" Brian asked Melanie.
"She said that she felt like Michael deserved to have her in his corner after the rest of us disowned him, since he ‘so selflessly' gave up his parental rights to JR so Lindz could adopt her, and then gave us his consent to move to Toronto. I reminded her that you did the same for Gus, but it's as if she forgets that while giving more loyalty to him than to you. She actually said that it wouldn't have been the worst thing for you and Michael to get together, that it would have brought our family closer together since the fathers of our kids would also be a couple. She eventually confessed to giving him regular calls letting him know how JR is doing, along with sharing pictures and videos we take of her. Hearing that made me feel so... violated, so betrayed."
"Lindsay must have been the one who told Michael about Keegan being released from the hospital the day he showed up at Britin," Justin said to Brian, who was doing some deep breathing to keep calm.
Melanie nodded. "Lindsay told me that Brian demanded Michael leave the property and would call the police if he came back. I'm glad JR and I will be staying at Britin, so he won't come by in an attempt to visit her. He'll unfortunately always be her father, but I don't want him getting anywhere near JR. He's just a shitty human being, and I don't want my daughter to be around someone like him, someone so callous and selfish. She doesn't remember him and I would like to keep it that way."
"We just installed a new security system at the house, since I'm home alone with the baby so much," Justin told her. "There are a few cameras outside, and there are video monitors with panic buttons throughout the house and in the guest house. If Michael shows up again, it'll only take one press of a button to call the police without even having to open the front door."
"That's good. In the meantime, I'll probably be filing for divorce and full custody of JR soon."
"Wow," Debbie said sadly. "I'm sorry, honey."
"Don't be," Melanie answered quickly. "Sure, I'm going to really miss Gus, but I couldn't stay in Toronto or with Lindsay anymore. I'll still get to see him when he comes down here during the summers and holidays to visit. I don't know how I lasted over a decade up there. I never made as much money as I did at my old law firm here, since I was usually assigned court-appointed cases, and I never really felt at home. Even though it was my idea to move to Canada, I admit now that it was a mistake leaving all of you."
"Hell, the least you could have done is bring Gus with you, too," Brian mumbled.
"That's what Gus said, too, and I wish that I could have," Melanie affirmed. "He gave me more grief for leaving than Lindsay did, bitching at me for leaving him as the solo target in her crosshairs. Lindsay said, ‘If you're taking your kid, then you're leaving me mine,' as if suddenly DNA made a difference. I hated leaving Gus there alone with her, but there was no way I was leaving JR behind, too."
"Is she..." Carl began to ask Melanie, using his cop brain. "Has Lindsay ever gotten violent with you or one of the kids?"
"No. If she ever had, I would have brought Gus with me no matter what she had to say about it. That is, after I called the police and had her locked up."
Brian promised himself that he would speak to his son soon and make sure that he was safe, just in case Lindsay had started to get violent with him after Melanie had left.
"Anyway," Melanie said, "I shipped the rest of our clothes and some personal items to Britin, and the boxes should start arriving tomorrow."
"Just how long do you two plan on staying with us?" Brian asked, prompting Justin to pop him on the shoulder.
"They can stay for as long as they want," his partner answered. "They're family. Sharing our home with Melanie and Jenny Rebecca is the least we can do for them, especially with this lawsuit going on. Plus, Mel can help me take care of Keegan during the days when I'm home, right Mel?"
"Of course," Melanie answered, relieved that she wouldn't have to worry about her living situation for the time being. "I'm sure JR will pitch in, too. One of our neighbors has a two year-old that Gus watches once in awhile, and JR became an expert diaper changer."
Even though he loathed changing diapers and had to admit he was relieved that Justin wouldn't be home alone with the baby when he was at work, Brian wasn't exactly thrilled about gaining two indefinite lodgers. He figured he would just have to grin and bear it, and hopefully he and Melanie wouldn't end up killing each other before she found more permanent housing.
The following evening at Britin, Melanie and Justin were talking in the kitchen about his case with Curtis.
"Justin, I have a question," Melanie began, not sure if she was about to open up a huge can of worms. "Why have you and Brian not gotten married yet? I mean, you were going to symbolically get married before you moved to New York, so why haven't you guys done it for real? Lindz and I were expecting to get a wedding invitation within days of it becoming legal in Pennsylvania a couple years ago. We thought maybe you were holding out until it was legalized nationwide, like Deb and Carl were. Now it's legal everywhere, but still, no wedding."
"I honestly don't know, Mel," Justin said with a sigh. "Ever since I've been back from New York, we've never really discussed getting married, either symbolically or legally. You know how Brian feels about the institution of marriage, and his opinion hasn't changed since it's become legal for all of us. He's been supportive of our friends getting legally married, like you and Lindz after you moved to Canada, and then Ted and Blake after it was made legal here, followed shortly after by Emmett and Drew, but he hasn't caught the marriage bug. Why are you asking?"
"Well, courts seem to favor giving custody to married couples over unmarried, not that it necessarily makes sense. A piece of paper certainly doesn't show the love that two people have or don't have for each other. My marriage license proves that. Now, don't you tell Mr. Big Ego I said this, but anyone can see just by looking at the two of you how much in love you are. He absolutely adores you," Melanie replied, shaking her head at the reality of Brian I don't believe in love, I believe in fucking Kinney being so much in love with the blond.
"I'll talk to Brian about it later and let him know what you said. I'll leave out the nice part."
She smiled at that. "I wouldn't want the asshole to know how much easier he is to read these days, now that you two are together and better than ever. I'm really happy for you guys, Justin. You compliment each other so well, and you somehow manage to bring out the best in him. What you and Brian have together is something most people can only dream about."
When she finished that statement, there were tears in her eyes that she tried to quickly blink away.
"Do you know how soon we might get a court date? I really would like to get this settled as soon as we can," Justin asked, wanting to change the subject due to it obviously upsetting Melanie.
"I called in a favor with a court clerk I know right after you called me last week, and we got a date a week from today."
Justin thought about it for a moment. "That would have been Daphne's due date."
Melanie patted his arm. "She had to rearrange the judge's schedule, but we'll have one hour for an initial hearing at eleven. The actual trial probably won't be for a few months, but we need to get a list of character witnesses for the two of you started. I'll need to get a kickass opening argument prepared for the first hearing. I don't know Curtis's lawyer very well, but from what I've heard, he likes to drag up any dirt he can on people to make them look as unfit as possible. He's going to personally attack both you and Brian, whether the points he brings up are true or not. We're going to have to counter that as much as we can and make Curtis look worse. Did Daphne ever say anything bad about Curtis that we could use?"
Justin thought for a moment. "He used to take Adderall during college to help him study, and it wasn't prescribed to him."
Melanie scoffed. "Who the fuck didn't? Unless he was ever convicted of anything related to that, it wouldn't do us any good. I already did a criminal records check of him online, and apart from a couple of speeding tickets, he's clean."
"Well okay, how about the fact that he admitted to Brian and me that he had been cheating on Daphne with one of his interns? Learning about his infidelity was what made her so upset she crashed her car."
"There we go," Melanie said, perking up. "The hospital may have a policy against that kind of thing, which could get him suspended or even fired. That would hurt his earning potential. We could say at the trial that a man who was cheating on his pregnant wife was obviously not putting his family first. If Daphne hadn't passed away on that day, do you think she would have left him?"
"Oh, definitely. She had a suitcase all packed in the trunk of her car. She wouldn't have put up with that shit. She was probably hoping she could stay here, and she certainly would have been welcomed with open arms."
Melanie jotted some notes down on a legal pad. "Alright. I think our main argument against Curtis's petition for custody is that there was no actual Donor Agreement between you, him, and Daphne."
"I didn't sign one because Scary Lawyer Lady said that I couldn't agree to give away what wasn't legally mine yet, since paternity wasn't established."
"She was right, but courts do honor those agreements sometimes because it establishes the intent of the parties. It will now be up to the court in our case to determine if an oral contract had been made and if it was binding. We can point out that any agreement you made was with your understanding that Keegan would be raised by Curtis and Daphne, not Curtis alone. Now that Daphne is gone, the terms of the agreement have changed.
"We'll also need to show the judge that you and Brian are the best ones to raise Keegan, that you can do a better job parenting than Curtis could. I had one of my old law friends file a subpoena for Curtis's employment records to see how many hours he works per week, and we will really push the fact that he would be raising Keegan as a single father. The court will ultimately make its decision on what is in the best interest of the child."
"Keegan's best interest is being raised by a father who loves him," Justin said, tearing up. "Brian hasn't said it, but I know he loves Keegan, too. I have been there for that baby since the beginning. Curtis never came to visit him in the hospital, and I practically lived at the hospital until he was well enough to come home. Then suddenly, on the day Keegan was being released, Curtis showed up at the nursery deciding that he wanted him, having zero attachment to him other than Keegan being Daphne's son. He obviously didn't love Daphne anymore, so why the fuck would he want to raise her child?"
"That's for him to answer in court," Melanie said. "What would you say to possibly granting Curtis visitation?"
Justin shook his head. "Absolutely not. I don't want my son around him. I promised Daphne that I would raise him, and I'm sure she wouldn't want Curtis to have anything to do with him. Having Curtis in his life would just confuse him."
"How about Curtis's family? Do you think they'll want to be involved in Keegan's life?"
"I don't know," Justin said. "I talked to his mother at Daphne's funeral, and then both of his parents came to the hospital to visit him once. They said they respected the fact that I'm Keegan's real father and that I want to raise him. I haven't heard a word from any of them since then. I'm sure they all know that Keegan went home with me and that Curtis filed his suit."
"Have you talked to Brian yet about whether he'll want to adopt Keegan if you win the case?"
Justin felt guilty. "No... every time I try to bring it up, I chicken out. We usually end up having sex instead."
Melanie cringed. "Well, I think you should do your son a favor and keep your pants on long enough to have a serious discussion about this with Brian, along with the marriage issue. Courts always favor two-parent households, and our judge has always run as a Democrat and probably has a positive opinion about gay people. If I can honestly tell the judge that if you're granted custody, Brian will adopt Keegan and you guys will eventually get married, that can really help our case. "
"You're right. Brian is in his office, so I'll go talk to him right now. It's a lot safer than trying to talk in the bedroom."
Mel shuddered, not wanting to think about them that way. She would never forget the day that she and Lindsay had walked into the loft uninvited and found an underwear-clad Justin being spanked by Brian. After that, they had never dared to enter without knocking again.
Justin walked down a short hallway and knocked on the door of Brian's office.
"Come in," came the voice from inside.
Justin entered, and Brian looked up from his work and saw the look on his partner's face.
"Why so serious, Sunshine?" Brian said in a bad impression of the Joker.
"Brian, do you have a few minutes to discuss a couple of things?"
"Sure, what's up?" he answered, setting aside the boards he had been going over to give Justin his full attention.
"Well, Mel and I were talking about the custody case, and she asked me a few things that I can't answer without your input."
"Like what?" Brian asked curiously.
"She wants to know why we haven't gotten married yet and if you're planning on adopting Keegan."
Brian took a deep breath as he gathered his thoughts. "Well, I thought we had decided that it didn't matter if we were married, because we know that we love each other and a piece of paper wouldn't change anything. And as for adopting Keegan, we should just wait and see how the court case comes out before deciding anything. Does that answer all of your questions?"
He wondered if there was more to this, based on the defeated look on his young lover's face.
"Melanie said that the court might be more willing to give us the baby if we were married and you wanted to adopt him," Justin said quietly.
"Our marital status is really none of the court's fucking business. A piece of paper doesn't make someone a better parent. I mean, just look at Jack and Joan; being married sure didn't stop them from fucking me and Claire up royally. Plus, we shouldn't get married just because society says we should be married to raise a child together."
Justin couldn't hardly breathe from the tightness he felt in his chest, so he just nodded.
"Okay," was all the blond managed to say before leaving the room, blinking back tears at feeling like he was being dismissed.
He went upstairs into his and Brian's bedroom, needing a minute to calm down before going across the hall to check on Keegan. He didn't want his son to feel how tense he was.
Brian came into the bedroom and walked over to where Justin was standing, looking out the window over their snow-covered grounds. He wrapped his arms around the younger man and tried to pull his shirt off.
Justin stopped him, turning around to face the older man. "What are you doing, Brian?"
"That should be obvious, Mister 1500 on his SAT," Brian quipped.
"I'm not in the mood. You can't fix everything with sex."
That said, Justin walked out of their room and into the nursery, taking a few deep breaths before picking up his smiling son to settle in the rocking chair and read to him.
Brian retreated back down to his office to sulk. Justin had never turned down sex, and he was beyond shocked.
Justin hadn't really mentioned getting married since returning from New York nearly eight years prior, and Brian figured that the blond was fine with being happily unmarried. Many of their gay friends had gotten married since it was legalized, and he had never once seemed jealous.
Brian knew that talking about him adopting Keegan before they even knew the outcome of the case was a waste of breath, but the real problem was if he even wanted to adopt the baby if given the opportunity.
He figured he had some serious thinking to do.