Chapter 3: Jennifer’s POV
Who the hell buys or sells real estate during the Christmas holidays? Everyone, it seems! My phone won’t stop jangling and my assistant is off to visit her family. I thought it would be quiet. I thought I could leave early and stop at the grocery store and then go home to prepare a nice dinner for Justin’s homecoming and finish my gift wrapping, and so on and so forth, the life of a working mother. The stress of this particular Christmas is miserable.
Molly is at that hateful age, not a kid, but not yet a woman, and Justin is still bleeding over the whole Brian Kinney debacle. Brian is, too. I can’t blame either of them for what happened, because I don’t have all the facts. Those two are so stubborn, so foolish to risk what appears to be the “real thing” over the inconveniences of establishing a life together. They’re young, they don’t understand how rare that “real thing” really is, how unlikely either of them will find it again.
Unfortunately, this is not the kind of lesson you can teach people. This is the kind of thing they have to learn for themselves, and often, they learn it too late. I hear the buzzer, telling me the front door has opened, and I wave in that direction to signal I’ll be right with them. I’m trying to tie up a phone call with a title company. Putting on my best, non-frantic face, I turn and smile at my visitor when I hang up. I see that it’s Brian.
My almost son-in-law.
He looks predictably tall and devastating in his black cashmere long coat, dusted with snow. A red cashmere scarf forms a bleeding wound around his long, elegant neck. The cold temperature gives him a flush, and he disguises his eyes behind dark glasses. Gloved hands hold a small box wrapped in silver paper with a red velvet bow. I walk over to greet him, feeling him tense as I put a hand on his arm and stretch to kiss his cold cheek. “Sorry, Brian. I’ve just been buried today.” The phone rings. I ignore it.
“Need to get that?” He tucks his glasses into a pocket. His eyes, he does have the most beautiful, expressive eyes, are still carefully shielded. I feel sad that he feels the need to hide his emotions from me. Sad, but not surprised.
“No, they can call back. Sit down. Do you want some coffee? It may be a little strong, but…”
“No thanks. I can’t stay,” he hovers, but doesn’t sit. “I just thought you could give this to Justin. It’s completely impractical, but I don’t believe in practical gifts.”
He thrusts the package at me, but I don’t immediately take it. “Give it to him yourself, Brian. Come to dinner this evening.”
“I can’t,” he sets the package down on my desk. “I’m on my way to the airport.”
“You won’t be here for Christmas?” I know this will be a blow to Justin. I’m sure he was hoping to see Brian. How could he not be? Do they never even talk? God, I wish I understood what was happening between these two. Whenever I try to approach the subject with my son, up goes the Great Wall of China. I know better than to even try and pierce Brian’s armor.
“I’m going to Toronto to see Gus.”
“Oh. I was hoping the girls were coming here.”
“No, they want to establish a home base for the kids. Get them accustomed to their new environment. They see the holidays as part of that process.”
“Is Michael going with you?”
“No.” The “thank God” is implied in his tone. “I think he and Ben are driving up after Christmas.”
“When will you be back?”
“I’m not sure. I’m going to fly to Banff from there and ski for a few days. I need a break.”
A very smooth, superficially disconnected way to avoid Justin. “He’ll only be here for a few days, Brian. I know he wants to see you.”
“Did he tell you that?” The hope in his voice, in his eyes, is so raw that I almost lie and say ‘yes’. I know Justin does want to see him, despite the fact they’ve imposed this cone of silence. Or whatever the hell it is. But I can’t lie. It just wouldn’t be fair.
“Yeah,” he cuts me off. “Give him that, okay?” he leans down to kiss my cheek. “Merry Christmas to you and Molly, too.”
“Brian, what’s going on with you two?”
“Nothing,” he says with a flat smile. “Nothing at all. Ciao.” He gives me a little wave and then he’s gone. The ringing phone startles me out of my melancholy.
“Jennifer Taylor,” I answer, back on auto-pilot.
“Jesus, Mother, do you ever pick up? I’ve called three times!” My son’s annoyance is clear.
“I’m sorry. I was talking to Brian.”
“Yes, he dropped off a present for you.”
“Is he still there?”
“No, he just left.”
“Why did he give it to you?”
“Justin, do you know he’s going to Toronto to see Gus?”
I can hear his slow exhale. “No. But I guess it makes sense.”
“You two never talk?”
“And yet you don’t even seal plans to meet at Christmas?”
“Mother, if my visit is going to be an unending inquisition about what happened with Brian and me, forget it. Not interested.”
“Ok, calm down. Where are you?”
“I’m on the plane, about to be told to turn off my phone so we can take off. You’re picking me up, right?”
“Of course. I have all the information.”
“Okay. I’ll see you in a little while.”
“Safe trip, honey.”
“Mom, how did he look?”
“He’s Brian. He looked gorgeous.”
“Right, of course. Okay, later.”
As we hang up, I rethink my Christmas gift to my wonderful son. Instead of a gift certificate to that art supply house in the Village that he likes so much, and some money on his rent, I should give him a group discount to a marriage counselor, and make sure Brian gets in with him for free. Maybe they aren’t married, but they need something to break this log-jam of stubborn determination that blocks their happiness. If I thought Justin didn’t love him anymore, or vice versa, I’d be less bothered. It would hurt, I’d be sad, but I’d move on.
He does love Brian, and Brian loves him, which makes this all the more ridiculous. It also makes me angry. No one has the right to waste love. It happens so rarely and is such a precious gift that we all have a stake in nurturing it. If I thought they were better off apart, or happier, I’d stay out of it. But they aren’t.
“What’s this?” Molly has come into my office and she picks up the package, examines it, shakes it, until I finally take it from her.
“It’s for your brother.”
“I thought you already got him what he’s getting,” the two of them still measure their gifts against each other like little children.
“It’s not from me. It’s from Brian.”
Her big blue eyes grow wide and she flips that red hair behind her shoulder. She’s as pretty as Justin is, in her own way. That worries me. She’s not that much younger than Justin was when he met Brian and his whole life changed. “Oh. Why do you have it?”
I explain the drop-off and she sighs. “They're so weird.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” she says with all the wisdom of someone who’s never experienced great love. “Why don’t they just sit down together and figure it out? What’s the big drama?”
I smile at my daughter. May she always have such clarity about her own love life. “Sometimes that’s easier said than done, Molly.”
“Whatever,” she shrugs. “Can I have twenty-dollars? I need to get another present for someone.”
“Someone, Mother!” She sees no need to explain and I see no need to give her twenty dollars, so she leaves in a huff. I pick up the present Brian left. I give it a little shake. I recognize the store on the silver label. Not cheap. He’s right, it’s impractical, but so Brian. The door opens and in walks a delivery man carrying a huge pot of white poinsettias. “Where do you want this, lady?”
I motion to the window that faces the street. The flowers have a card attached, and I open it to read, “Merry Christmas, Brian”. I sigh and slip it into my pocket as my fingers drift over the velvety petal of a bloom. Pretty poison, that’s what poinsettias are. Lethal to pets, but pretty to look at. Once, I would’ve thought the same thing about Brian Kinney. Not anymore. Now I see Brian as every bit the victim as Justin, if not more so. Because Justin believes in love, and for Brian it was a big leap of faith.
This has got to be fixed. But what can I do besides “butt out” as my son so delicately puts it? I phone a familiar number. A familiar female voice answers. I identify myself and say, “I need your help in a conspiracy.”
Her laugh convinces me that my instinct in calling her was correct.