Chapter 14
Back To Business
Copyright 2005 Julien Gregg
Edited by Bruce

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.  This story is completely fiction.  The characters depicted in this story exist exclusively in the imagination of the author.  Any resemblance to an actual person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.  For a list of my other stories, original and fan fiction, please visit my personal website.

When we walked into the house, Ben and Wendy were sitting in the living room with two other boys that looked a lot like Phillip. I assumed that they were Jason and Carl, and when they both got up and excitedly hugged Phillip, my suspicion was confirmed.  Carl took Phillip off to another room as Wendy got up and hugged me. She squeezed me tightly, and I returned the embrace with just as much enthusiasm.  She'd been gone all summer, and I'd really missed her. She and I had only recently gotten close again after I'd come out to her while we were dating. I still felt awful about hurting her like that.

"I heard about last night," she said as she hugged me.  "I'm sorry, Dusty."

"Hey, win some," I said. "It can't rain all the time."

"That's my sexy optimist," she laughed, releasing me from the embrace. "When I need optimism, I come to you. If I want a dose of pessimism, I have Tommy to hand it to me."

"Tommy doesn't strike me as the pessimistic type," I said as I sat beside her and Ben on the couch. "He's always so upbeat."

"Well, he's getting better," she agreed, "but he has his days."

"He's always been like that," added Ben. "As long as we've been friends, Tommy's always expected the worst to happen in any situation. I secretly think that its just his way of being happier when something positive happens, though."

"How was your trip?" I asked them both. 

"It was all right," replied Wendy. "It started out nice, but then it started to get hot, and we were all in tents. Of course the temperature drops like crazy at night, so we froze our butts off all night long. Dad finally decided that enough was enough, and we came back early."

"Yeah, you're usually gone until the middle of August," I said.

"Its all right, though," said Ben. "I really wanted to spend more than a week with Phil before he had to go back to Maine."

"Yeah," I said, wondering if he knew that they wanted to move to Storyville.

"Turns out that I didn't have to worry," he said.  "They're moving here."

"He told me about that," I replied, smiling. "I'm glad he's not leaving."

"So, you and Phillip are getting close, huh?" he asked.

"We are," I replied, smiling. "I'm so happy that I met him, and I can't tell you how happy I am that we're together."

"I'm glad to hear that," said Phillip, coming back into the room with a smile on his face. He leaned down and kissed me before sitting beside me. "Guys, this is Dustin. Dustin, these are my brothers, Carl and Jason."

I couldn't get over how much the three of them looked alike. I'd seen their father, so I knew that they didn't get their looks from him. Carl had a slightly darker shade of blond hair than Phillip and Jason, but other than that, he just looked like an older version of Phillip while Jason looked like a younger version.  I smiled when I looked at them.

"Really nice to meet you," said Carl, shaking my hand.  "Phillip tells me that you're a lawn care specialist."

"Well, I have my own lawn care business," I said, blushing. "I don't know if I'd call myself a specialist."

"You put Phil to work," laughed Jason. "You're good at something."

"Mom's in the kitchen with Shirley," said Phillip.  "Uncle Tom is at Tommy and Steve's. He'll be back in a few minutes. Dinner's just about ready."

"All right," I said, lacing my fingers with his as he held my hand.

"You're all my mom has talked about all day long," laughed Jason. "She asked Aunt Shirley every question under the sun about you."

"I just wanted to know a bit about the young man that stole my son's heart," said a blond haired woman as she came into the room. I could tell right away that she was Phillip's mother. She had the same nose, hair and eyes as all three of her sons. She reached out her hand to me as I stood up. "I'm Meg, and you have got to be Dustin."

"Very nice to meet you, Meg," I replied, shaking her hand. "Phillip has told me so much about you."

"Well, he talked a lot about you today, too," she said. "Shirley has wonderful things to say about you, too."

"Shirley and Tom have been very great to me," I said.  "If it hadn't been for their generosity, I don't know where I'd be."

"Oh, I suspect you'd have landed on your feet," she said, tilting her head and smiling at me. "Let me apologize for my soon to be ex-husband's attitude last night, Dustin. The man is impossible. What he said to you last night is the same thing that he said about my son, and that's one of the biggest reasons that I'm divorcing him."

"I've been called a lot worse," I said as I sat back down. Meg sat in the recliner that was adjacent to the sofa that Phillip and I were sitting on.

"Well, there's a restraining order on him," she said.  "And all three of the boys are going to testify in court when the time comes. Don't you worry, Dustin, Phillip will be living right here in Storyville before too long."

"You said I could stay here until it was time to go to court," said Phillip.

"And you will," she said, smiling. "Mike Andrews tells me that we don't have to go back to Maine to do anything more than pack up our belongings. We can go to court right here in Storyville. All I have to do is find us a house."

"So, I don't have to leave at all?" Asked Phillip.

"Well, I'm not packing your stuff for you," she laughed. "But we'll only be gone for as long as it takes your three boys to pack the house. We'll have everything shipped down here from Maine, so we don't have to worry about renting a truck. I've sold the station wagon, so we'll just fly out and back. Couple days, tops."

"Cool," he said. "Then I don't have to leave Dustin for long."

"Nope," she said, smiling again. "Dustin, you must be really special. I've never seen Phillip so worked up over anyone in my life."

"Well, I'm crazy about him," I replied. I didn't know what it was about her, but she just put me at ease. I felt like I could say just about anything to her, and she wouldn't mind one bit.

Tom came home, and Shirley called us all into the dining room a few minutes later. For the first time since I'd known The Meyers family, their dining room table was full of people. We all sat down, and food was passed back and forth while Shirley talked to me about the greenhouse that she had found. I was happy about that, and Meg asked a lot of questions about my business.

"And my sister-n-law is going to be your business partner?" she asked.

"Yeah," I replied, smiling at Shirley. "She's going to help me get the business off the ground."

"Jason and Danny start Monday, right?" asked Shirley.

"Yeah, and I've already got two customers lined up for them to talk to about masonry," I said and quickly explained about Mrs. Johnson's walk and Mr. Peterson's patio. "I think I want to learn to build wooden decks and things like that, too. I got to thinking about that while discussing the patio with Mr. Peterson."

"Those are easy," said Meg. "I can show you how to do it. I finished our deck while Paul sat on his butt and drank beer all summer last year."

"That would be great," I replied, smiling at her.  "Tommy has been wanting a new deck for a while, maybe we can work on his."

"After I get the house and get everything moved, we'll set it all up," she said.

"Great," laughed Carl. "Before too long you'll have all of us working for you, Dustin."

"Oh, I'm not working for him," said Meg. "I'm just going to work on Tommy's deck with my son and his lover."

I smiled when she said that, and Phillip beamed at her. We talked back and forth about different things for the rest of the meal, and then Meg told me and Phillip to run on back to my apartment and hide. She kissed Phillip goodnight, and then shocked me when she kissed me, too. She told me that she really liked me, and she couldn't wait to get to know me better.  Phillip promised her that she'd have her chance, and he talked about how happy he was that we got along so well all the way back to the apartment.

"Well, I see she didn't lynch you," laughed Charlie when we came through the door. "I assume your balls are still in tact, and, no, I don't need visual confirmation."

"It was nice," I said, ignoring his comment about my balls. "She's going to help me rebuild Tommy's deck."

"She going to help us," corrected Phillip. "My mom really likes Dustin."

He was smiling from ear to ear, and after the state he'd been in the night before, I loved his mother for making that confused frown go away. The light in his eyes was amazing, and the fact that he was still holding my hand told me that he was happy with me for some reason. All I'd done was meet his mother. The rest was all her doing. She was a remarkable woman.

"Any idea what your going to say to Keith? I've been wondering about that since you told me you were going to talk to him," said Charlie as Phillip and I sat down.

"None," I admitted. "I don't plan on talking to him tomorrow, though. I've got time to figure it all out."

"Well, like I said," he said leaning forward, "I'll be nice as long as he doesn't show his ass."

"Thanks, Charlie," I replied. "I know you don't like him, and I'll try not to put him in your face a lot, though, at this point, I don't even know if I'll want to see him more than twice a year."

We all settled into the living room to watch a movie on cable. It was a pretty good movie, but I kept thinking about Keith. What was I going to say to him?

I did miss the friendship that we'd shared, but I knew that I would never be able to trust him again. How could I be his friend if I couldn't trust him? I wasn't sure that I wanted to be his friend if I had to think about everything I said or did when he was around. Maybe the talk I wanted to have with him was about not being his friend at all. I surely didn't know.

I was still thinking about Keith and what I was going to say to him when Phillip took my by the hand to lead me off to bed. He gave me a look that told me that he understood that I was thinking, and I'm sure he knew just who I was thinking about. God love him, he did everything in his power to drag my mind away from Keith and back to him. It worked famously, I'll admit. I won't record the details of our night here, because nothing that we did was any different than anything we'd ever done together.

Afterward, we held each other and talked about his moving to Storyville now instead of at the end of the school year. He talked about his father and how hurt he was by what the man had done to him, and I talked about mine and admitted that it hurt to know that my father died hating me. We held each other tighter through those admissions.

In the morning, he was staring at me when I opened my eyes. I wondered if he'd even gotten any sleep at all. I could imagine him staying awake all night, thinking about his father. He smiled at me, though, and all thoughts of sleepless nights and hateful fathers left my mind instantly. His smile could do that to me no matter what I was thinking about.

"I love you," he said before he kissed my forehead.

"I love you, too," I sighed, wrapping my arms around him and holding on tight.

After that, there were no words. We got up and headed for the shower. I brushed my teeth while he got the water ready and stepped into the shower. Then I climbed in behind him and we washed each other in turn thoroughly. While he brushed his teeth, I picked up all of the towels and put them in the hamper. We were both dressed in shorts when we left the bathroom, and I about fell over when I smelled food cooking.

Resisting the urge to go and see what damage Charlie had done to the kitchen, I followed Phillip back to the bedroom to get shoes and shirts. We still hadn't said a word to each other since proclaiming our love for one another before the shower. Every time our eyes met, he would smile a small smile and look at me with so much love in his eyes that I nearly burst. When we left the bedroom, I was confused to see Charlie sitting at the table instead of in the kitchen. I was about to admonish him for letting the food burn when I heard another voice. Charlie didn't see us until we got closer, and then he smiled at us.  Phillip took my hand, and we walked into the dining room/living room to sit at the table with him.

"Morning, gents," said Meg as she turned from the stove to smile at us. "Charlie here was telling me that you two usually alternate between cooking, because he burns water. I thought I'd feed you guys this morning."

"Morning, Mom," said Phillip with a big smile.

"Hi there, Meg," I said. "I didn't know you were here, and I was about to come in here and hurt Charlie."

"Now, that wouldn't be a good thing," laughed Charlie.  "Dustin is a freak about the kitchen. Phillip is, too."

"I know about Phillip," she laughed. "Carl and Jason are on their way over here, I think. They want to help out with your lawns today."

"I'm going with Shirley today to look at the greenhouse," I reminded. "So, Charlie and Phillip could probably use the help today."

"Yeah, I came over with her," said Meg. "She's downstairs talking to one of the tenants about a broken window."

"Ah," I replied. "Must be the apartment on the ground floor."

I'd noticed the broken window when we'd returned the night before. I was so wrapped up in meeting Meg, Jason and Carl that I didn't think much of it.  Shirley, however, seemed to want to know exactly what had happened. I was thinking about that when someone knocked on the door.

"I'll get it," said Phillip, getting up from the table and letting go of my hand.

"Hey, Goober," said Carl as Phillip let him and Jason into the apartment. "French toast?"

"Morning, Carl," laughed Phillip.

"Come on, boys," called Meg. "Plenty to eat."

"This is Dustin's brother, Charlie," said Phillip when he and his brothers got to the table.

They all introduced themselves and Charlie and Carl immediately gravitated toward each other as Jason fired question after question at Phillip about what he was expected to do all day long. Meg just smiled at them for a minute while she put a plate of French toast in the center of the table. Phillip followed with plates for everyone.

"I still can't believe you got Phillip to mow lawns," laughed Jason. "At home, they always made me mow."

"That's just the law of the family, Runt," laughed Carl. "The little guy gets all the flack."

"Well, things will change now that we'll be in Storyville," said Meg. "I'm going to hire Dustin to take care of the lawn."

As we ate, the boys all talked back and forth with Meg throwing in a comment here and there whenever she thought her input was needed. We were cleaning up the table with Shirley came in. She accepted a cup of coffee when Meg offered it, and then she sat and told us that Mrs. Banning on the first floor had been the victim of vandals some time yesterday.

"Job's yours if you want it, Carl," she said as she sipped her coffee.

"Job?" inquired Phillip as he handed me a glass of juice.

"Well, Aunt Shirley and Uncle Tom want Mom to buy the house across the street from them," said Carl. "Its only three bedrooms, and I really want a room of my own."

"I could share with Philly," said Jason, and I got the feeling that this had already been discussed after we'd left them all the night before.

"Phillip will need a room of his own," said Meg. "I do expect him to spend at least three nights a week at home. Dustin can come with him."

"So, I talked to Tom about an apartment here in this building," said Carl, stopping the side conversation before it could get off the ground. "He needs a maintenance man for the building, so I offered to take that position."

"We've decided to give you the apartment rent free," said Shirley. "We really don't have the money to pay you that well, so we'll give you the apartment."

"Well, I've got my savings," he said. "And I still wanted to talk to you and Dustin about working in the greenhouse."

He looked from me to Shirley when he said that. I didn't know what to say to him. I hadn't even been inside the greenhouse yet. Shirley had said that it needed work, so I assumed that Carl could help with that if he was going to be a maintenance man for the apartment building, he had to know what he was doing.  Shirley and Tom wouldn't have offered him the position if he didn't.

"Why don't you run downstairs and look at Mrs. Banning's window," said Shirley. "There are a few things in the maintenance room that you might need. A tape measure, for one thing. Then you can ride along with us to look at the greenhouse, and Tommy and I will discuss what needs to be done to it."

While Carl was downstairs, looking into the repairing of Mrs. Banning's window, Shirley talked about the greenhouse. She told me that it was really a large garage that had been converted into a greenhouse when Jenning's Nursery had been in operation. I vaguely remembered that name from when I was in grade school.  My mother used to buy flowers from them.

"I'm going with you guys today," said Meg when she was finished with the dishes. "I want to see this place. I'm hoping that I can help out in some way."

"Well, I'm sure that we'll need your services when we get everything moving," said Shirley. "Meg is an accountant."

"Was," corrected Meg. "I haven't worked in the field since Carl was three years old."

"You're still an accountant," insisted Shirley. "You still know everything you need to know, and I'm sure that we'll need your knowledge when it comes time for bookkeeping and taxes."

While they talked back and forth about what service Meg would be able to offer the company, Phillip and I went back to the bedroom to talk for a minute. He wanted to make sure that I was all right with his mother working for me, and I reminded him that Shirley was now a partner, so the business wasn't exactly all mine anymore. I was happy to help his mother out if she needed work. I knew that what she could do for us was something that I could never hope to keep up with on my own.

When we got back to the dining room, Carl was back upstairs, telling Shirley that he'd have to buy glass to replace the window. With that settled, we all got out things together to start out day. Charlie, Phillip and Jason were headed off to mow while I went with Carl, Shirley and Meg to see the greenhouse. I kissed Phillip  goodbye before we left, and I was immediately embarrassed when I found everyone looking at us. I turned to Phillip and saw him blushing, too.

Then, everyone broke into their groups and headed out without a word about the kiss. I was thankful for that. I got into the back seat of Shirley's car with Carl, and we drove off in a different direction from Charlie's Jeep and Tom's truck that Phillip was driving. Carl kept a steady conversation going with Shirley and Meg about what he could and couldn't do to get the greenhouse back to operating status. I didn't say anything, because I had no idea what the greenhouse looked like. It had been years since I'd been to the Jenning's property.

What I found when we got there wasn't as bad as I had been expecting. The structure was intact and only a few panes of glass would need to be replaced. Inside, there were still tables and what looked like a sprinkler system overhead. It was filthy and would need a thorough cleaning, but even Shirley was happy with what we had to start with.

"We'll be renting with an option to buy at a later date," she said as we walked down the isles of tables. "Myra Jenning is really excited that we want to use the property. She said that when her husband died, she didn't know what to do with the place. Its been empty for eleven years now."

"There's a little office in the back," said Meg as she came back up the outer isle to talk to us. "The desk, chair and filing cabinets are all in there. They need a little work, but I'm sure Carl and I can get them in shape."

"Ten panes of glass should be replaced," said Carl as he came to join us. "I don't see any real problems with the structure, but I don't know about the sprinklers. We'll have to test them when we get water."

"There's a large storage shed behind the building where all of the mowers and supplies can be stored," said Shirley. "It locks, and we'll add another lock to the doors, but everything will fit with plenty of room to spare."

Carl carried a clipboard around with him and made little notes about what he thought needed to be done, and Shirley and Meg talked about office equipment and telephone service. I just walked around the place, looking at everything. I wondered just where we were going to get all of the money that would be required to get all of the things that Carl and Meg were suggesting.

"Oh, don't worry about that," said Shirley when I started thinking out loud. "Mike Andrews assures me that he can help us get a loan really quickly. Now, I know you're worried about a loan, but realistically, we have to borrow to get this going, Dustin. It won't be as bad as you think."

Things went pretty quickly after that. We left the greenhouse to meet Mike for lunch, and he told us that he'd already called around hunting for the right bank. He said he'd found one, and we could head over there after lunch. He said he would follow us to the bank, and then he told me that he would be acting as the company lawyer, if I agreed. Of course I agreed.

From there, we headed over to Bank Of America, where Shirley and Mike did most of the talking. I answered a few questions, and the loan officer was very pleased to hear that my account was already handled by the bank. He had us fill out paperwork, and I used my legal adult status for the very first time, signing paper after paper with Shirley and Mike signing under me.

When we left that bank, we had a loan, and my business had a new name. Shirley and I sat for only five minutes discussing the name of the business, and I liked what we came up with. We rushed off to the court house to gain a business license, and I was shocked at how easy it was to obtain one. By the time I got back to the apartment, Granger and Meyers Lawn Care Services was a licensed business with a greenhouse for its home base.

Work would begin on the structure and equipment that Myra Jenning had donated with the rental of the greenhouse the following day, but I wouldn't have much to do with that other than cleaning. Shirley and Meg went to get the power and water turned on as soon as they dropped me off. We'd be testing the sprinklers in the morning. The shed was empty, so I'd already decided to move everything out of Tommy's garage and the storage shed at the apartment building to the shed behind the greenhouse.

I was just putting my paperwork in my desk when someone knocked on the door. I was sure it was either Meg or Carl, and I wanted to know if they got the utilities turned on, so I was smiling when I opened the door. As soon as I saw Keith on the other side of it, my smile melted.

I want to thank Bruce for all of his time spent editing my writing.