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Chapter 4 - Putting the Looney in Looney Bin.


<~> Ted's POV <~>

'The Banks Convalescent Care Center'. It's actually worse than I expected, and I didn't expect much. Fucking 'Banks' - yeah, right - from the smell around here, the only bank this place is near is the bank of the ditch leading to the sewage treatment plant next door. I can't believe Michael agreed to let them transfer Brian to this dump. I bet Brian is going nuts already. Oops, bad analogy.

It's just that the whole building looks and smells dirty. Even the lobby and the lounge area are less than clean. I hesitate to sit on the dark brown sofa, there's no telling what the fuck might be crawling around in there. I opt instead for a hard, uncomfortable but not obviously contaminated plastic chair.

"Theodore is here! Here! Here! Everyone cheer 'cause Theodore's here!" Brian sings as he bounces into the room with the biggest smile I've ever seen him sport covering his usually taciturn face.

To my total surprise, Brian lopes over to me and gives me a bear hug that would put Debbie to shame.

"Isn't this the best day ever, Theodore?" Brian raves. "First I wake up with My Hal in my arms. Then, he even talked to me. And now you're here for a visit. It just keeps getting better and better!"

"Wow, Bri," I'm too amazed to argue with him. "You're certainly in a great mood today. I thought you'd be angry as hell at being transferred to this place. I gotta say, it's not nearly as nice as Shady Glen - not that that place was all that wonderful to start with, but . . ."

"Oh, yeah, this place IS a fucking hole. I don't know how much Mikey's paying for this place, but trust me, whatever it is, he's getting ripped off. It's basically just one step up from the Pits of Hell," Brian agrees easily, but strangely doesn't seem all that upset with his surroundings. "But that doesn't matter, Ted. Nothing else matters now that I found My Hal."

"Your Hal?"

"Yep. My Hal. He's perfect. Perfect. Perfect! Well, except that he doesn't talk much and he's far too skinny. Oh, and I think his hair would look better shorter. You know what? That's a great idea. Tomorrow morning I'm going to take and get him a haircut. That's a great idea, Ted. Thanks! You're a great friend."

"Well, that DOES sound . . . Great!" I agree, speechless at the sight of this upbeat, cheerful, freaky weird Brian Kinney.

"Oh, and My Hal doesn't like blue."

"Why doesn't he like blue," I'm game.

"There's just too much of it. Plus it's not a happy color. I want My Hal to be happy. We're going to redecorate. I'm thinking maybe yellow. Is there any color happier than yellow, Ted?" I shake my head, no, but don't dare try to interrupt this speeding train of thought. "Yes. Yes. Yes! That's it! Next week, Ted, you need to bring me some yellow. Okay? Remember. NOT blue. Yellow!"

"Um, alright," I'm a little lost and think I must have missed some part of this conversation. "Anything in particular, Bri? Or, just anything yellow?"

"I don't care. Surprise me! Just make it be yellow. My Hal will love that!" Brian announces and thereafter seems to almost instantly calm down now that the issue of yellow - definitely not blue - has been resolved.

"Now, Gus. Gus. Gus. Get off the bus and tell me about Gus!" he says, back to the Brian I've come to know. I'll have to follow up more about this 'Hal' later. Now we start into the newsy segment of the visit.

"Gus is fine. You know it was his birthday last week, right? I can't believe he's already four, can you? It seems like just yesterday . . ."

"Two babies," Brian interjects, apparently completely off topic.

"Well, Lindsey had this big party for him," I continue, ignoring the non sequitur. "She sent a picture for you."

Brian greedily grabs the picture out of my hands. It shows a grinning four year old Gus, standing next to a huge birthday cake with four lit candles. Brian's fingertips trace along the surface of the image, following the curve of the little boy's face.

"Sonny Boy. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful boy."

"Yeah, he is beautiful," I have to agree, looking down at the picture myself in order to avoid staring at the tear running down Brian's cheek.

"Gus. Gus. Gus. Mikey. Mikey. Mikey," Brian swipes the tears away and returns to his comfortable litany.

"Michael's fine. I was just talking to him on the phone this morning. He said to tell you 'Hi'."

I'm lying, of course, but I'm not about to tell Brian how Michael finally admitted that he hadn't researched this place at all before he let them transfer Brian here. Or that all he seems concerned about is that it will cost less. Christ it's not even Michael's money we're talking about - it's Brian's money, left over from the sale of his loft and what he had already in savings and investments. You'd think Michael would at least care enough to make sure Brian's happy and comfortable while he battles for his sanity. Fucking Michael.

Brian must sense I have nothing more to add on the topic of his former best friend, since he moves on to the next names. "Ted and Emmett!"

"Ted is fine," we both chuckle. "Em is working like crazy lately. I guess it's good that he's so busy though. He seems happy and the business is making money . . ."

"Debbie and Vic!" Brian asks, right on cue as I finish with the Emmett update.

"Debbie is great," I offer, digging into my briefcase for the ubiquitous Tupperware box of cookies. "She sent you chocolate chip cookies this week. I have to admit I stole one on the drive over here today. They're really good."

I'm surprised when Brian grabs at the box right away - no discussion of germs or carbs or any of the other dangers inherent in the scrumptious dessert item.

"My Hal will love these! I told you how skinny he is. These will help a lot to get him fed up right. Better tell Debbie I need more next week. I think a double batch. Yes. Yes. Yes. Sweets for my sweet Hal!"

"Hal again, hmmm? Do I sense a possible love interest. So, who exactly is this Hal you’re going on and on about, Brian?

"He's NOBODY, Ted. Nobody! Isn't that perfect!" Brian insists, chucking at some private joke. "He's just My Hal. All Mine. Just in my head Hal. He's my responsibility. I take care of him. He's a little broken but I'm going to try to fix him."

"Well, Bri, it sounds like you've found someone that makes you happy, and that makes me happy too," and I truly am. Brian deserves a break. If he's found a guy to love, even in this unlikely place, I think he should seize the chance at happiness no matter what impediments stand in their way.

"Debbie and Vic. Lindsey and Mel. Lindsey and Mel. Lindsey and Mel?"

"Lindsey is acting kinda strange these days. Rumor has it that she's dating this New York artist guy. I mean dating, dating him, complete with scarey straight sex. I personally am completely grossed out by the mere thought.

"I like dick. You like dick. No reason why Lindz can't like dick too," Brian explains very non-judgmentally.

"I guess not, but that certainly would explain why Mel left."

"Gus. Mikey. Ted and Emmett. Deb and Vic. Lindsey and Mel. The gang. . . The old gang . . . Old gang," Brian suddenly seems hesitant and almost shy. The motor tic often seen in his right hand starts up again. I can see he wants to ask something more. "And, and, and, what about the other, Ted? What about . . . Him? Gus. Mikey. Ted and Emmett. Deb and Vic. Lindsey and Mel. And . . . Justin?" The last name is whispered as if sacred.

"Uh . . . Justin? Wow, Bri, I haven't heard that name in a long time." While I stammer and trip over my tongue, Brian's pretending not to care, looking off to the side, but I can tell by his increasing agitation that he wants this knowledge badly. "Unfortunately, Bri, I don't know how Justin is. I haven't seen him since, well, since before you got sick. But, I can ask Debbie for you and see if she knows. I'll tell you whatever I find out next week, okay?"

Brian sighs, clearly let down. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Next week. Next week. Next week - Justin and Gus and more pictures and more cookies and yellow. Don't forget, Ted." At least he bounces back quick.

"I won't forget, Bri."

"It's late. Late. Late. Time to find My Hal again. Bye, bye, bye, Ted. Ted. Ted!"

Before I've even gathered my briefcase, Brian's already long gone. Even the idea of finding this Hal guy makes him overjoyed. Good for him, I think. I know that we'll probably never see 'Brian Fucking Kinney' again, but maybe there's a place in the world for this happy, more innocent Brian? Maybe.



<~> Brian's POV <~>

Lily tells me I'm doing a great job at taking care of My Hal. Everybody likes his new haircut, too. It's extra short. I can brush his hair now without all the knots and tangles. Maybe I'll let him grow it back out a little bit longer, but only if he takes better care of it this time. Lily also lets me use a safety razor today and I shave us both. I think My Hal likes feeling all clean and looking neat. Plus, now he's not all stubbly and scratchy when I kiss him.

Lily has warned us about public displays of affection. It's okay to hold hands, but we're not supposed to kiss. Yeah, right. Has she seen My Hal? How can you not want to kiss him all the time? Maybe she hasn't seen him - he is my own personal delusion - maybe only I can see how beautiful he is? But if she can't see him, how does she know I'm kissing him? Or, maybe Lily's just jealous because she doesn't have her own Hal?  But it doesn't matter because I can't stop kissing him anyway so she'll just have to learn to deal with it.

After the barber cut My Hal's hair, I went to tip him but then remembered I don't have any money anymore. Mikey has all my money. But, it WAS a really great haircut. It felt weird not tipping the guy. Then my eyes fell on the box of Deb's cookies which I had brought along in case My Hal needed a snack. Yes. That's a perfect idea, I'm sure. The barber is more than happy with his tip of three large yummy sugary death nuggets. I never knew cookies could be so useful!

Next order of business is to get that You, Gene guy to trade me spots. He's got the bed in the corner next to My Hal, but that's not right. I should be there. He needs to move. I asked nicely already - I ask every single morning - but he always says 'no'. I'm not very fond of You, Gene. After my success with the barber, though, I think I have an idea.

"Hey, You, Gene," I say confidently as I approach the man's corner. "You're gonna trade beds with me today, You, Gene."

"No I'm not," You, Gene replies stubbornly, turning his back to me.

"Yes, you are, You, Gene. You know why, You, Gene? Because I've got something you want. I've got yummy, delicious, chocolate chip sugar death nuggets. I WAS only going to let My Hal eat them. But . . . If you trade with me, You, Gene, I'll give you, say, FIVE cookies?"

"Cookies?" You, Gene looks over his shoulder at me. I can tell he's tempted.

"Yep. FIVE cookies. What do you say, You, Gene?"

It takes the man all of thirty seconds to think over my proposal. I know I've got him when I see him lick his lips. It reminds me a bit of my old life as an AdMan, closing the deal. It's easy. Easy. Easy! You, Gene, shrugs his shoulders and says, "okay"!

I'm not going to give him time to rethink things either. Gotta strike while the iron is hot. Hot. Hot. I hand him his five cookies, shove him off the bed and, while he's still distracted eating, quickly pull all his stuff out of the cupboards and closets and toss it all on my old bed. Then, just as quickly, but more carefully, I bring my stuff over and put it all away nicely. It's all done in less than five minutes. A done deal! You, Gene, is history and I've got the bed next to My Hal!

All hail the power of the sugary death nuggets!


Hallucination Hal. My Hallucination. My Hal. My Hal seems to be doing better every day now. I think maybe he was lonely before I came along and conjured him up. He doesn't have a Ted to visit him. I tried hallucinating a Daphne yesterday so My Hal would have somebody to talk to, but it was hopeless. I'm not sure, but I think maybe this schtick doesn't work that way.

But at least My Hal has me now. There's no way he could be lonely - I make him go with me pretty much everywhere. Of course that’s not only because I don’t want him to be lonely, but also because it makes me nervous when I don’t know where he is or how he’s doing. The only place they won’t let me take him is when I have to go to my therapy sessions. The doctor here in this new place is Dr. Travis. He’s straight - not only does he have the picture of the wifey and kiddies on his desk, but he didn’t even look at my ass when I bent over for a magazine in his office. He doesn’t seem too bad, though. Except that he won’t let me bring My Hal into the therapy sessions, which makes me kinda grouchy with him.

I’m especially annoyed by that fact this morning. See, mornings are when My Hal is most alert. Most perfect. Most mine. I like to be with him then. If we wake up early enough, we sometimes lie in bed together and I talk to him while I massage his broken hand. He used to flinch when I first would touch him, but now I think he likes it. Every day I work on his hand to get the muscles to loosen up. Atrophy. Atrophy, Atrophy. It’s all bent up like a claw. I DON’T like his hand this way at all. I plan to fix it and then he can draw. I’m sure My Hal would like to draw. He used to like to draw all the time. But first I have to fix his hand.

Today, while I was working on his hand again, both of us curled up in bed still with his head on my shoulder right where it should always be, My Hal smiled at me and said, “Feels nice.” Two words! I got two words together and a smile. It was only a little smile but it was still a smile and that’s the first ever smile I’ve managed to get from him. It even lasted clear through until we got to breakfast. I’m definitely making progress here.

And then that Lousy Lily made me go to therapy and wouldn’t let me bring My Hal. I am rather cross with Dr. Travis. I refuse to talk to him. All I do for the full hour is play my ryhming games and pace and give him dirty looks behind his back. Okay, I realize that I’m behaving worse than my four year old son, but since I went crazy I don’t feel bad about that shit anymore. I no longer worry at all about what people think of me - I mean I always used to SAY I didn't give a fuck what people thought, even though I knew it was bullshit - but now I REALLY don't care. Being crazy is very liberating in that respect.

By the time I get back to My Hal though, his smile is gone and so is the light in his eyes. The rest of the day he just sits there and doesn’t say anything more. I’ve got to figure out how to fix him. He’s my hallucination and I want him to be perfect. I want him to talk and laugh and draw and tease me and fight with me and everything else. He needs to be just like Jus . . . Just in my imagination. Just in my head. Just in my mind. My hallucination. My Hal. My Hal needs to be perfect.



<~> Justin’s POV <~>

Brian is still here.

How weird is that? I know, right? I have no idea how he found me or why he’s here after all this time. But, it's been a long time - I think maybe several days or weeks or maybe years even - and he's still here. I'm starting to think he might even stay. But no, I won't think that. I don't want to get my hopes up. That would mean that I cared.

In the meantime, I'm just not going to fight it. He'll just be there when he's there. I don't have to acknowledge him or do anything different.

Only, I'm finding that this Brian talks at me a lot. He also moves around a lot and I find myself being dragged along with him practically everywhere. It's not like before when someone would just sit me down and leave me be. I think I used to spend a lot of time sitting and being turned off. Not anymore, though.

Which has made it hard to stay turned off. I don't know why. But when he's talking at me nonstop all day, or making me go places and do stuff, I catch myself paying attention to him even when I'd rather be off. It's too much stimulation. I can't concentrate on not concentrating. Maybe my mental 'off switch' is faulty? But, basically, I find having Brian around these days is exhausting.

Brian keeps catching me unprepared, like early in the morning when I've just woken up and haven't had time to turn myself off. He touches me and I find myself leaning into the warmth of his hands. He's there in the middle of the night when I'm all turned around from a nightmare. He's relentless and there's nowhere I can go to escape his attentions. A couple of times, things I've been thinking have even slipped through as words. It's not good.

He also has an annoying way of saying shit that makes me want to care again. I wish he'd stop. It's so much easier when you don't care at all.

See, here he goes again.

I'm all turned off and put away, safe and comfortable somewhere alone in my head, and the next thing I know he shoves a photo in front of me and I realize he's talking about Gus. That word, that name from the past - Gus - just knifes right through all my hazy numb 'offness' and before I know what hit me I'm looking at the picture and thinking about Gus.

'Shit! That boy can't be Gus, can he? Gus is a little baby. This kid is big - like maybe four or five years old. How could that be? The boy in the picture is smiling and there's a big cake. A birthday?' I wonder briefly if the boy, if Gus, is happy. Is he having fun? And, damn it, all the sudden I realize that I CARE whether or not Gus is happy.

Fuck! It takes forever after that to block out the memory of that photo and stop myself from listening to Brian talking about some party. But I simply can't let him in. I can't let him do this. I can't stand to be hurt again. I don't want to feel at all. I can't let myself care.



<~> Brian's POV <~>

"Thanks, Tony," I say to the janitor as he finishes mopping up the room.

I hand the balding middle aged man two of Debbie's sugary death nuggets in gratitude as he wheels away his equipment. Thank goodness I was able to talk him into doing that. I think that disgusting You, Gene, must have been pissing on the floor in the corner behind his bed or something. The odor was so bad when I first moved over there that it made my eyes water. How the regular cleaning guy never noticed the built up brown gunk in the corner is beyond me. Tony was really nice about it though. He even emptied out his bucket and used fresh water for me. It's a thousand times better. I can finally relax a bit now that that is taken care of.

Did I mention I have a lot of phobias? 'Ataxophobia - Fear of disorder or untidiness.' Yeah, it's a fun one. I like the name, too; sounds like 'Attacks of phobias'. That's exactly how I feel sometimes - like I'm under attack.

I haven't noticed many attacks of phobias lately though. I don't have time to stress out over that stuff. I've got too much to do taking care of My Hal. I'm too busy to be bonkers right now. I'll probably get around to freaking out about it later, once I've fixed My Hal.

As soon as Tony is done, I get started on reorganizing all our stuff and making the area a little more livable. I'm taping up the pictures I have of Gus and the rest of the gang on the wall by My Hal's bed. It'll help hide the ugly blue wall. I know he'd rather look at Gus than more pasty blue. I hope Ted remembers to bring the yellow I wanted. That would definitely help make the place more cheerful. Although, there's really just so much you can do to decorate a hospital ward. But I'm doing my best. Anything for My Hal.

Now, the only thing that's still bothering me is what to do about My Hal's clothing. Or rather, his lack thereof. It's really stressing me out.

You see, my boy really only has two pairs of sweat pants and about four shirts, and what he does have is ridiculously old and ratty. What makes it even worse is that they only do our laundry for us once a week. Now I, personally, would have no problem just letting my beautiful boy traipse around here all day completely naked . . . except that they keep the fucking place so cold all the time. I don't think My Hal would like being too cold. I think there's also some bullshit rule about being naked. So how am I supposed to take care of My Hal if he doesn't ever have any clean decent clothes?

I've tried dressing him in some of my stuff but it's way too big on him. He can barely walk in a pair of my pants without tripping and the sleeves are so long they get into his food when he eats. It doesn't help with the cleanliness factor.

I ask Lovely Lily about this dilemma, but she says he doesn't have anything left on his clothing allowance until next year. I'm not sure why that would be - wouldn't my hallucination come with a full designer wardrobe? How did Brian Kinney manage to create a boy toy that doesn't have the appropriate accessories? This just won't do.

Next I try to order him some clothes on my account, but the morons running this place won't let me do that. 'Why not', I ask? Nobody has a good answer, just that it's against the rules. Fuck the rules! I want to call Mikey and complain, but they won't let me do that either. I want to violently shove all their useless rules down the throat of the pissy old bitch at the front desk, but I'm pretty sure that would be frowned upon as well. Plus, I've got My Hal to think about so I can't just let myself go all 'Psycho Ape Shit'. I don't want to get in trouble and risk them taking him away from me.

That doesn't solve our clothing problem though.

I'm almost out of people I can complain to about this, when this tiny little woman almost scares the shit out of me by coming up silently behind me and tugging on my sleeve.

"Scuse. I might can help," she says in a teeny tiny squeaky voice, making me think she might be half human and half mouse. "I am Tilda. I work in laundry here. I overhear you need clothing for the boy?" Tilda smiles up at me in a very small and mouselike manner.

In the back of my mind I hear the reference librarian in the back of my head announcing that, 'The fear of midgets, dwarfs or small people is called Achondroplasiaphobia'. I mentally dismiss the silly, interfering library lady. If this teeny tiny woman can help My Hal, then this particular phobia will have to wait.

Without waiting for my reply, the mousey little thing waves at me to follow her down the hallway. I tighten my hold on My Hal's hand and follow bravely into the unknown. Luckily, the unknown turns out to be only the big industrial laundry facility that's housed at the back of the building. Tilda leads me through one steamy hot and drippy room after another until we get to the teensiest tiniest farthest away room of all. There, in the way back of the dimly lit area, are several cardboard boxes overflowing with all manner of clothing items.

"Is 'Lost and Found', yes?" Tilda states. "Nobody ever claims. Most is trash, but some things good. Good for your boy?"

Despite the fact that the little mouse woman completely freaks me out, at that moment I feel like hugging her! Eureka! We've hit the motherlode of clothing stashes. It's the least worst solution to our clothing dilemma so far. Hooray for Tilda!

Forty five minutes later, we have a substantial pile of clothing in Hal's size assembled on the nearby work table. Some of this stuff looks brand new. A couple items need a few small repairs or are missing a button or two, but Tiny Tilda assures me she's handy with a sewing needle and can have everything ready for us before she leaves tonight. She says she'll bring everything up to our room before the end of her shift. She's like a tiny little clothing angel. I leave the box with the rest of Debbie's sugary death nugget cookies with her. And I don't even flinch when Tilda pulls me down, stands on her tiptoes and leaves a teeny tiny kiss on my cheek, although I do grab My Hal's hand and run out of the teensy little hidey hole room a little bit faster than is seemly.

The best part is that NONE of My Hal's new clothes are blue!



<~> Ted's POV <~>

"Mr. Schmidt?" a woman dressed in the building staff uniform asks from just inside the room where I'm waiting for Brian.

"Yes, that's me. Ted Schmidt. Can I help you"

"My name's Lily Roberts. I'm one of the day attendants in your friend, Brian's, ward. I heard that you were here and I just wanted to come introduce myself briefly."

The woman advances towards me holding out her hand amiably. She's rather plain: medium brown hair pulled back from her face, average height, brown eyes and regular features. The only thing about the woman that stands out at all is the mischievous grin on her face. She reminds me of a girl I knew when I was growing up - you know, the one who was always talking you into getting into trouble?

"It's nice to meet you, Lily," I say politely as I shake her hand. "Is there some issue with Brian? I'm not his legal guardian myself, but if there's something wrong, any problems with Brian, I can pass a word along to Michael for you."

"Oh, no. I'm sorry if I gave you that impression. Brian's fine," Lily smiles her impish smile at me. "In fact, Brian's more than fine - he's only been here a couple of weeks and he's already practically running the place."

"That sounds like Brian alright," I chuckle at the thought.

"He certainly is one of a kind," Lily's chuckling now too. "In the short time he's been with us, Brian has reorganized the ward, charmed most of the staff into doing whatever he asks, and established a whole cookie-based bartering system. He somehow got Tony, the laziest janitor I've ever seen, to clean up their room and he has the barber, most of the kitchen staff and even the laundry ladies practically jumping over themselves to do whatever he asks. It's been fun watching him work his magic."

"Wow. That sounds a lot like the old Brian. I wasn't sure about this place when I heard they were moving him here, but if he's making that much progress, your therapy program must be amazing." I really am impressed.

"I wish I could credit all that to our therapy program, but I think the real reason behind Brian's improvement is that he's in love," Lily announces.

"Brian Kinney in love?" I scoff, shaking my head in denial. "I don't think we're talking about the same guy."

"Oh yes, I'm afraid it's true. Your friend Brian has sort of adopted one of the younger patients and has nicknamed him 'Hal'. Brian spends pretty much his entire day taking care of the kid. It's really adorable, actually, and I think the new sense of purpose he's found is the main cause of any improvement we're seeing." Lily explains, obviously caught up herself in the love story unfolding between her charges.

"Brian did mention someone named Hal when I was here last week, but I wasn't entirely sure he was real."

"Hal is real, alright, and I think all the attention he's getting from Brian has been good for him too. That poor boy has a lot of issues. He's been almost completely catatonic for the past year now. He doesn't speak and he's got very little support from family or friends. Before Brian came along, Hal spent most of his time sitting alone in his room staring off into space. But now, Brian drags the kid around everywhere, talks to him constantly and has been doing a pretty good job making sure Hal is taken care of. It's remarkable, really."

I'm stunned by the description Lily is giving me of Brian. It just doesn't sound like the Brian Kinney I know. Or, at least, not like the Brian Kinney I used to know. Maybe this Brian - the one who no longer has to worry about maintaining his rep as a heartless, promiscuous bastard - could be caring, nurturing and let himself openly love someone? Maybe losing his marbles isn't the worst thing that could have happened to Brian?

"Ted. Ted. Ted. I'd probably misplace my head if it wasn't for Ted!" Brian comes bounding into the room before I can ask for more info from Lily.

"Hey, Bri! You seem to be in a great mood today," I barely choke out the words before I'm enveloped in a huge hug.

"Theodore, oh my Theodore. I simply adore my Theodore. He's the only accountant who isn't a bore!" Brian recites, bowing theatrically at the end of his performance.

"That has got to be the nicest thing you've ever said to me, Bri," I say warily, wondering when the expected insult will hit.

"Does one silly poem cancel out 999,999 insults?" Brian shrugs with a shy smile then almost instantly changes pace. "Enough tomfoolery, Ted my good man! Ted. Ted. Ted. What news do you have for me today?"

"I'll leave you to your visit, Brian. It was nice meeting you Mr. Schmidt," Lily excuses herself, affectionately patting Brian's shoulder as she walks by.

"Oh! Lovely Lily, My Hal needs a nap while I'm talking with Ted. Make sure nobody wakes him up till I get back." Brian orders, causing Lily to chuckle and wink at me before she finally leaves.

"Now, I need Gus, Gus, Gus, and stories and pictures and lots more cookies and My Hal's yellow, please, Theodore," Brian sits on the couch with his legs pulled up under him, looking at me expectantly, an innocent, happy little smile gracing his lips.

"I think you're gonna be happy, Bri," I say, moving around to the corner of the room where I'd stashed his present. "I think I found the perfect, happiest yellow present ever. Are you ready?"

"Yes. Yes. Yes. Bring on the yellow!" Brian cheers. "Mellow yellow makes My Hal a happy fellow!"

"Ta da!" I hold out the cardboard box I brought so that Brian can see the treasures waiting inside.

"Hah! These are fabulous, Theodore," Brian exclaims, clapping his hands together exuberantly before reaching into the box and pulling out one of the mini bonsai grass planters I've brought him. There are six of them total. Each small round bowl is painted a bright, smiley face yellow and decorated with funny faces. Okay, I admit they're kitschy as hell, but you can't say they aren't amusing. When I showed them to Em he thought they would be perfect and immediately ordered himself his own set.

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"Fred," Brian says as he pulls out the figure wearing sunglasses. "Red," the one with a cute red smile. "Crazyhead," the one with the big swirling eyes. "Happy, Pappy and Ned," Brian lines up the last three on the table with the rest. "Ted. These are the best yellow I've ever seen. My Hal will love them. Remind me to give you a raise next quarter!"

"Yes, Sir, Boss," I tease him and we both giggle.

"Moving on with the Agenda," Brian announces in his best business executive voice, ticking things off of the imaginary pad in his hand. "The next item, I believe, is . . . Gus. Gus. Gus!"