Showered and relaxed Blue and Gervais head back to the café and fill Chris and Larry in on what happened. One of the seniors overhears them discussing the disgusting comment the cop made.
“We’re not like that round here. He didn’t speak for everyone, we know you’re good boys. I know what went on at the school and you boys had a hand in stopping it. Wouldn’t have happened in my day.” The man rants.
“Stand used to be the principle at the school. He did a great job for 30 years.” One of the ladies says.
“Well thanks for your kind words. I used to be a nanny and one of my charges is at the school now. I couldn’t keep my suspicions quiet.” Gervais says.
“Quite right. The police didn’t used to take things seriously like today but we had our own black mark system and he wouldn’t have worked in another school. Isn’t that right Marge?” Stan says.
“Quite right. Now the police are on side the schools are too concerned with reputation and don’t want the scandal so just send them on their way and encourage the parents to not go to the police.” Marge says.
“So, it’s the talk of the town.” Blue says.
“We only know because Stan got a call. Parents still call Stan when something happens, so many were students when Stan was in charge.” Marge says.
“l retired ten years ago and some weeks it feels like it is still a full-time job.” Stan sighs.
“I’m sorry if I caused you any trouble.” Gervais says.
“You stopped anything worse happening. We’re all grateful, we don’t want people like that in our community.” Star; says.
“Is your soup okay? Do you need some more crackers?” Blue asks.
“I’d go for some more jalapenos. This soup is wonderful and I can forgive the lack of bacon.” Stan smiles.
“You should have seen him boasting to the doctor about all the vegetarian food we’ve been eating.” Marge grins.
“Its good food. We’re all happy, we’re well fed and you let us linger over coffee. You are good boys.” Stan repeats.
“Did you teach too, Marge?” Larry asks sitting down with his lunch.
“Yes, I was principal of the elementary school for many years. I was born on the next farm over to here and I always lived here. Stan and I married a year after we both retired.” Marge says making all four lads smile.
“We’d given our lives to other people’s children and now we find we’re very happy without grandbabies of our own. No obligations on holidays and we can spend our money however we feel like spending it.” Stan says with a grin.
“What happened here? Why was this farm abandoned?” Blue asks.
“The last owners were city folk with a dream and no work ethic. They tried a fancy farm shop in here with city prices. Strawberry preserves at fifteen dollars a jar. No one down here has that sort of money, other than the parents at the boarding school and that is only a few weekends a year.” Marge laughs.
“Before that it was a bad divorce. Farm had been in the family for generations, it was a big family but with each generation it got smaller and smaller. The last son was an only child as his father was before him and his eyes were turned by a pretty city girl.” Stan says.
“She was a lovely girl and worked hard. They couldn’t have kids, which got them both down, he played away and she took him to the cleaners. They had to sell up to pay the legal fees.” Marge says shaking her head.
“She had the last laugh, married a rich man in the city, moved to a huge ranch out in Texas and had 3 babies.” Stan says with a chuckle.
“It had been empty for 2 years before you guys showed up. Working your magic.” Marge says.
“What have you planned? You’ve not shipped in any dairy cows.” Stan asks.
“This is phase one and I think we’re going well. We planned a b&b but we’re happy with the boarding house. Long term we want to grow produce for here and have an animal sanctuary.” Blue says.
“l grew up on a farm, my dad grows orange things, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and carrots.” Larry grins.
“He grows other things too.” Blue laughs.
“We’re working on designs for glasshouses. B had a great kitchen garden a few years ago that we want to recreate here. No big crops, lots of variety. We want to be our own main supplier.” Larry says.
“So, we can expect beautiful strawberry cheesecakes and super fresh salads in the future?” Marge asks smiling.
“We hope so. It’ll be a lot of work and a few years before we are able to grow as much as we’ll need, providing this place survives.” Blue says.
“You’ll survive. You get us, after only a few weeks you understand the way of life here and you are giving us a great product at a great price.” Stan says.
“You’ll be able to barter some. If you have great berries you’ll be able to buy oats with them. We used to have a lot of bartering around here and we need more of it back.” Marge says and Blue smiles, she reminds him so much of Gladys.
“I’d discounted growing our own grains as being too labor intensive for the pay off. We are open to trading cheesecakes or pies for any type of flour, cornmeal, oats or barley.” Blue says.
“My dad and his friends used to drop off a sack of whatever they had had a bumper crop of, or a glut of misshapes, in the hope he would come up with a beautiful soup. B can turn any fruit or vegetable into something quite wonderful. He can do a million things with beetroot,” Larry says remembering.
“Ahh yes we had beet salad, cake, borsch, pickles and chips so many things we tried.” Blue smiles.
“Why did you leave?” Marge asks gently seeing all four boys looking nostalgic.
“We all had reasons Leo’s dad remarried and had more kids, shrinking his potential share of the farm to less than would be enough to live on. C is going to school here in the fall and he wanted B to be nearby. We were alt ready for a new challenge.” Gervais says.
“We knew we wanted to be in the country near a city, and it was a choice of here or an old agricultural college.” Blue says.
“Here felt right. The college might have been better due to the buildings but it didn’t feel right. Whether we house animals or make wine or just potter along with the café here felt like it could be home.” Chris says.
“l grew up near a lake and having one close by meant a lot to me. I’m down there most days,” Blue says.
“We heard, doing yoga they say. You are the talk of the town. Well until this business at the school.” Marge says.
“Gary and B are both amazing at yoga. Plan B for here for sure includes a yoga studio and full on hippy vacation experience for people.” Larry says and Blue scowls.
“Some of the parents from the school would love that. They’d use you as a spa and a way to see the kids. You could charge them an arm and a leg.” Stan says with a laugh.
“We have thought that if we keep the house for seasonal workers we could put in some yurts or teepees. Fancy ones fully kitted out, log cabin sauna. Veggie or vegan food here, meditation, yoga, art.” Gervais says and Blue’s heart sinks further.
“You have the space for it and everyone in town would be down here to watch em like it was the zoo.” Stan says laughing and slapping his thigh.
“l wish you had been my school principle. I bet you were a lot of fun. You’d never have tolerated half of what I went through.” Gervais says suddenly.
“Where did you go?” Stan asks.
“Triangle rock.” Gervais says and the year he graduated.
“l heard stories of there. I’m sorry you weren’t treated better.” Stan says quietly.
“I’ve been lucky ever since. Meeting B in college changed my world. I’ve beaten my past with the help of these guys.” Gervais says with a smile.
“Now can we get you some dessert?” Blue asks.
“Can we try the milkshake of the day, instead of pie today?” Stan asks.
“We’ve heard the kids talking.” Marge grins and Blue smiles.
“2 milkshakes coming up, extra thick.” Blue grins.
The following evening Blue has no worries about leaving Gervais for the evening and going with Liv to the gallery. She is a member and so they are going to a preview event. Blue hadn’t quite realized that it meant Birch might be there.
“l love this one.” Liv says as they stop in front of a house on fire. It is so real you can almost smell the smoke. The colors are incredible and at the same time it is incredibly sad. The exhibit is called Home and Sea and features paintings of houses and bodies of water.
“It is beautiful. Harrowing but beautiful.” Blue says.
“This is the same house as in your print.” Liv says as they stand in front of another painting of Spence’s beach house.
“I loved that place.” Blue says.
“B knew Birch’s sister when they were in college and has a lovely print of that house.” Liv says to another women admiring it.
“Oh. so many people claim to have known someone related to someone great, only for it to turn out they never met.” The woman replies snootily.
“And sometimes true friends downplay their connection, when they were my very best friend.” Birch says and squeezes Blue’s hand.
Blue’s eyes brim with tears. He still can’t get used to people coming back into his life, however badly their relationship ended.
“This is Liv, she teaches near to where I live. Liv meet Birch, the, uh, artist.” Blue says.
“What do I call you.” Birch whispers.
“B or Bert, I have a sucky name right now.” Blue whispers back.
“Where did you get the idea for the house on fire?” Liv asks.
“Was it the California house?” Blue asks suddenly.
“Yes it was my childhood home, or commune. It was burnt down recently. Fortunately, no one was hurt.” Birch says.
“Is Adam okay?” Blue asks.
“He and his family are fine. I was able to help secure a property for them to use while waiting on insurance and the rebuild. Money from the sale of the fire painting series will go to it as well.” Birch says.
“That is so sad. Losing the place that holds your memories.” Liv says.
“I’m lucky I had painted it before it burnt down. I paint most houses that are significant to me. But I hadn’t lived there for many years. Come see this one of where I live now.” Birch says and leads them to an enormous painting of the lake.
Blue looks for a second and then turns away, it is so painful to see his home. The lake where he grew hadn’t expected Blue to ever look this thin and grey and world weary. He feels bad that he’s upset him with the picture, he should have thought about how much Blue might miss the place. Though Bea lives there no problem he reasons and he really wanted Blue to see this one, one day.
“Is that me?” Blue asks.
“You doing yoga by the lake.” Birch says.
“Just like you do here.” Liv says.
“Everyone really knows?” Blue asks laughing.
“Small down, you’re big news.” Liv laughs she can’t believe she’s getting a tour of the exhibit by the artist and is loving it, very aware the city folk are spitting chips.
“B has no idea what he looks like when he’s doing yoga. Even in his current skinny shape I bet it is quite the sight.” Birch says.
“I remember you looking pretty great when you took class.” Blue says with a smile.
“l thought you were just friends with his sister.” Liv says.
“B met Willow first, and then we dated. He introduced me to a lot of places in this exhibit.” Birch says and Blue takes a sharp breath in worried it is too much information.
“What are you working on now?” Blue asks shifting the topic.
“I’m taking a breather. The fire paintings were a late addition to this set, I had to include at least one. I did 12 or so I think and that wiped me out. I’m taking a break, I’m sure inspiration will hit me at some point. This exhibit is on a long tour and so there isn’t too much pressure to churn things out.” Birch says.
“Do you work in bursts then?” Liv asks.
“He can paint all day and all night, sleep 3 hours then starts again for weeks on end. If someone isn’t there to put a fork in his hand he doesn’t eat.” Blue says fondly.
“I’m not always that bad, though my sister might disagree. When it strikes I work like a demon. In between I teach and tour and I don’t worry about it. I don’t paint when I’m not inspired, drove my college professors crazy when I was in a fallow period.” Birch grins.
“But it worked out. You’re a big star. What happened to Grant?” Blue asks.
“He teaches, makes short films, and illustrates books. Acts like he’s a gigging artist and not richer than sin.” Birch says.
“His grandmother?” Blue asks.
“Yeah straight to him and Magnus. You know Magnus and DeShawn got married?” Birch asks.
“How could he not know, it was everywhere. OMG you know those guys?” Liv asks sounding like a squealing fangirl.
“I’ve not seen them in forever. I kind of dropped off the grid. You need to see the lake here. Do you have any of the creek at Abby’s place?” Blue asks.
“I do, come on.” Birch says and drags Blue to the paintings showing his house, the creek, the garden and Abby’s old house.
“Why are these smaller?” Liv asks.
“l was experimenting and I was angry. If I had done them large like the lake picture you’d have seen the anger. Follow me.” Birch says and around the corner are the same settings are shown with darker colors, all emotion, the settings are clear but the emotion changes everything.
“Gosh what an amazing contrast. So beautiful.” Liv says.
“It’s like you ripped it’s heart out. I remember your post Joe pictures, these are like that but a lot more sophisticated.” Blue says.
“Both were dark times. At least I know how to channel it properly now. Look I really want to catch up properly but I have to squeeze flesh and do more interviews tonight. Tomorrow?” Birch asks.
“I have to work in the morning. Come by and I’ll feed you.” Blue says.
“Sure. Who are you living with now?” Birch asks.
“My twin, G and uh I don’t know if you knew Tad’s brother Leo.” Blue says.
“It is good you have people around you. Touring can be lonely, I hated to think of you alone.” Birch says.
“Are you not seeing anyone?” Blue asks.
“Nah, not many options at home and my life isn’t idea for relationships. What about you?” Birch asks.
“I’m with G.” Blue says.
“Are you fucking insane? Will is free and you’re with G? What the fuck is wrong with you?” Birch spits.