QAF FanFic by Morpheus
Summary of Part 1: More or Less. Brian returns from a mysterious business trip and announces that he’s got a new job – in Los Angeles. Justin is more-or-less invited to move to LA, where Brian has arranged a domicile exchange with Bruce Applethorpe, formerly an employee at Brian’s new agency, Bradford and Slate. Michael and Hunter have come out of hiding, and Michael and Ben are working with an attorney in an attempt to become Hunter’s foster parents. Brian insists on selling his Corvette and splitting the proceeds with Mikey, to help pay legal expenses. With his share, Brian buys himself a new jeep, and he and Justin plan to drive to LA with their clothes and computers in the car. At their going-away party at Deb’s house, Jennifer corners Brian and forces him to admit publicly that yes, he and Justin are now partners – more or less.
Part 2: Wilderness Adventure
"If you start singing 'On the Road Again' again, I'm turning around and going back."
"Brian, you're getting crabby, which means you're tired, which means you need to let me drive for awhile."
"I am not crabby. I am not tired."
"You've been driving all day, of course you're tired."
Brian glances at the clock in the dashboard and corrects me. "Eight hours and three minutes. Not counting twelve stops for food. In the next city we're buying an ice chest for the back seat."
"There's no room. Besides, we've only stopped twice - once for lunch in Indianapolis, and once at a gas station to use the men's room. I bought snacks there but that's not why we stopped. You pissed too, remember?"
"You're forgetting McDonalds."
"Brian, that was six a.m., that was breakfast, before we got on the freeway. It doesn't count as a stop because we hadn't officially started yet."
"Hmm. Anyway, I'm not tired. You can drive later."
"You said that ages ago. Later it will be dark, and then you'll say you don't want me driving in the dark."
"I don't want you driving in the dark."
"So let me drive now."
"Jesus Christ," he grumps, quickly changing lanes, then changing lanes again and pulling off onto the shoulder of the highway. Throwing the jeep into park, he exclaims, "Three thousand miles of nagging! What the fuck was I thinking?"
That's rhetorical so at first I’m going to let it pass, but then I have to correct him. “Two thousand four hundred and twenty-eight miles. Don’t exaggerate.”
We get out and walk around the car, trading places. As he buckles his seat belt, Brian's glancing over his shoulder and he says, "Be sure to signal. Watch out for that tanker."
"The tanker is three lanes over, I'm not going to pull in front of it. Don't backseat drive, okay?"
Rubbing a hand over his face, Brian relaxes in the seat, leans his head against the headrest and sighs deeply. "I need a sedative."
"Fuck you." I'm extra cautious pulling back onto the highway, he's made me nervous which is ridiculous, I really am an excellent driver. He's just hypersensitive because the jeep is new - when we stopped for lunch he was annoyed to discover bugs splatted all over the grill. He wanted to drive through a carwash but I talked him out of it. There's going to be a million more bugs glued to the car by the time we get to LA.
I'm sure that Brian's uptight about this move, wondering if he's doing the right thing, maybe worried about impressing everybody at his new agency. It's hard to imagine Brian Kinney less than supremely confident about anything but I've been on to him since almost day one and so I know he has self-doubts, though he'd never admit it to another soul. Except maybe to Michael.
Leaving Michael is probably the hardest part of moving for Brian. He might not acknowledge it - well, I'm sure he'd never acknowledge it, probably not even to himself. But I know that he and Michael have always been there for each other and now they'll be on opposite ends of the country. I used to be jealous of the bond between them but now I realize that one person can't fill all the needs in your life. I love Brian, but that doesn't mean I don't still need Daphne, and my mom, and a few other people. Brian's the same.
"Where's your master navigation chart?"
That's five minutes of relaxing, Brian's maxed out. He's not good at relaxing.
"I shoved it under the seat."
Brian reaches down and pulls out the clipboard where I've attached our driving itinerary with maps and notes. I'm really very proud of it, I downloaded lots of travel info and I've charted our route cross-country. When I showed it to him a couple days ago I could tell he was impressed, but of course he had to critique it and make revisions. He's insisting on driving almost straight through with only two overnight stops, in Oklahoma City and in Phoenix. I wish we could take more time and stop to see things along the way, but he's in a hurry to get to California.
"Where do you want to stop for dinner?"
Without looking up from the clipboard, Brian huffs. "It's only been two hours since lunch, don't you ever think of anything but food?"
"Yeah," I tell him, "I also think about sex but you didn't leave time for that in our schedule."
"I'll fuck you tonight at the hotel."
"Not if I'm asleep you won't."
"Sure I will," he contradicts. "But I'll be very quiet so I don't wake you up."
That makes me laugh. "As if I could ever sleep through THAT."
I feel Brian staring at me and I glance across the seat; he's frowning. "You've done it before."
"I have not." When he says nothing, I glance at him again, he's still frowning. "You're joking, aren't you?"
"Yeah," he agrees. "Watch out for that white truck, it's changing lanes."
I must have been out of my mind to agree to a three-day road trip. Justin's doing some of the driving and he's a good driver - not that I'd tell him but he can figure it out - if he weren't a good driver, I'd never let him behind the wheel. But while I don't mind Justin or Michael driving the jeep around town, usually when they're doing that it's because I'm wasted. Now I'm damnably sober and it's hard to sit still, almost white-knuckled from forcing my hands to not grab the steering wheel, restraining myself from growling helpful driving advice.
Besides, driving keeps my mind focused on the road; here in the passenger seat, I'm relaxed (more or less) and my brain is free to stumble through the maze of worries and problems facing me when we reach LA. Mostly I'm thinking about the new job where I won't have my reputation for excellence paving my way, I won't have my reliable contacts, I'll be starting practically from scratch. In a way that's an exciting challenge and I try to focus on the challenge aspect. I'm not afraid of failure - I've never failed at anything in my life. Well, nothing related to my career. But it's not likely that I'll be an overnight success either, I'll need to be patient. Something I'm not very good at.
Partly I'm second-guessing the wisdom of bringing Justin along. Will he be a major distraction? What's funny is that I really couldn't bear the thought of leaving him behind. That's ridiculous because I know there's about a million hot guys in LA who will want to fall into my bed, so what do I need a live-in lover for anyway?
Lover. Well, Justin is my lover, I can't deny it. For a long time I did deny it, but the funny thing is, once Justin was out of my life, on his own and living with that fucking musician, I discovered that I sort of missed him. Sort of missed having him sleep beside me every night, missed the noise and mess and turmoil he created in my loft and in my life. Even the bad times we shared were almost preferable to the outrageous emptiness and silence once he was gone.
Even so, even though we've been back together for a while, we haven't been living together and I wonder if I'm going to like it. Or if - once I have noisy and messy Justin under my feet again, am I going to be sorry? The phrase 'Can't live with him, can't live without him' springs to mind. I have a feeling that's going to describe the mixed blessing of having Justin as a roommate once again.
He's excited about the move. He's still young and inexperienced enough to expect the future to be bright and shiny. Maybe his optimism will rub off on me. And Justin is resilient - good Christ, he's bounced back from so many negative experiences the past couple years which would have knocked a weaker man on his ass. Maybe his resiliency will buoy me up.
I almost laugh out loud when I realize that I'm acting as if I need him. Acting as if I am dependent upon someone besides myself to cope with the challenges ahead. I remember telling Justin a long time ago, 'You're all you need, you're all you've got.' Another one of my famous credos put to the test. I believed it then. And I still believe it - philosophically. But the reality is different. I'm not all I've got. And damn it all to hell, I'm not all I need.
I didn't mean to fall asleep, I wanted to be awake and keep Brian talking so he'd stay alert. When his hand on my shoulder shakes me awake, immediately I pop upright on the seat and insist, "I'm not sleeping!"
"You've been sleeping the past hundred miles," he tells me dryly, then his voice softens and he says, "Which is exactly what I wanted you to do. No point both of us being awake."
"Where are we?" It's pitch black though scattered lights on either side of the car seem to indicate that we're on the outskirts of civilization. I rub my eyes and blink hard a few times, then strain to read the clock on the dashboard. One forty-five. "Is this Oklahoma City?"
"Yeah, we'll be there in ten or fifteen minutes I think. Grab your clipboard and tell me the address of the hotel."
I pull out the itinerary sheets and by penlight read the Yahoo map directions I'd printed out from the computer. It was Brian's idea that we make hotel reservations. I thought we could just find a motel room along the way but he said since we'd be arriving late at our two stopover places, he'd rather know he had a comfortable bed waiting for him, and not waste time driving around looking for a motel without cockroaches.
Soon we leave the highway and enter the city streets. It's very quiet, there's not much traffic at two in the morning, and it doesn't take long to find our hotel. The reception area is deserted and then a desk clerk comes from a back room, yawning. We each carry just a small overnight bag, and when the clerk hands Brian a keycard, we take the elevator to our floor and enter a really pretty room decorated in dark green and gold, with a king size bed.
Now I'm glad Brian insisted on staying here. We pull off our clothes and climb into the huge tub and indulge in a long and very hot shower. We've hardly said a word the past half hour, and when we dry off and slide into the big bed between cool sheets, I expect us both to drop off to sleep within moments. Brian's got other ideas.
"Can you stay awake for fifteen minutes?" he asks, and the tone of his voice makes my heart lurch in my chest.
"Mmm," I murmur agreement, turning to slide into his waiting arms and raising my face for his kiss.
I'm much more exhausted than I thought I'd be, for some reason this long-distance driving is very tiring. Justin drove twice yesterday, each time for a couple hours, which gave me a good rest in between long stretches; he wanted to drive more, and I promised he could do so today. I left an eight o'clock wake-up call, God knows how many times the phone rings before we rouse up to answer it.
We grab a quick morning shower and Justin wants to blow me, but I give him a choice between that and making a quick visit to the Oklahoma City Memorial. He'd nagged about stopping to see places of interest on our cross-country trek and while I said no to most of them - this isn't a vacation or a pleasure trip after all - I agreed that he could do one thing at each overnight stop.
"Bri-an," he whines; he always makes two long syllables of my name when he wants something. "A good quickie blow-job will energize us, it's a healthy way to start the day."
"Then we'll skip breakfast instead."
So we share fast blow-jobs. I don't waste time shaving and we wear the same jeans we wore yesterday, just changing shirts, and hurry down to the hotel dining room for breakfast.
I promised Brian we’d spend no more than an hour at the Memorial Center but it was almost two hours before we left there. He didn’t complain, in fact I could tell he was really moved by the exhibits though he didn’t comment much. Outside there’s an open area filled with empty chairs, and other symbolic memorial stuff, and there’s a chalkboard area where you can leave messages. Brian waited patiently while I drew a picture of a dove on the chalkboard. I hoped it wasn’t too clichéd, but when I was done Brian put his arm around me and kissed my hair so I guess he approved.
Inside the memorial building there are huge glass cases full of office furniture and stuff recovered from the wreckage of the explosion. And a room with a curving glass wall with photos of all the victims. A lot of small children were killed in the bombing and their photographs are there, too.
Brian was moving a bit faster than me, staying just a few feet ahead while I studied all the photos. I was so engrossed in the pictures, I didn’t notice that Brian had stopped until I walked right into him.
I looked up at him, startled; he was standing stock-still, staring at the display. We’d almost reached the end of the curving glass wall, and I looked around, trying to see what Brian was staring at. Then I saw it: A photo of a boy on a swing, caught in mid-swing, his legs pumping, his feet reaching up toward the sky. A boy about three years old, with dark curly hair and big brown eyes, laughing exuberantly into the camera. The boy looked almost exactly like Gus.
“Brian – “
“Aagh,” Brian choked.
“Brian – “ I reached out to touch his arm but he pulled roughly away, turned abruptly away and strode off quickly past the end of the display and out of the room. I hurried after him but he picked up speed and almost lost me as he moved across the polished floors and through a couple doorways until he found the exit and burst urgently out of the building.
Outside I picked up speed and ran, I was out of breath when I reached him. “Brian, stop.” He didn’t seem to hear me, so I grabbed hold of his arm. “Brian, slow down, I can’t keep up with you.”
He stopped then and turned to stare down at me. I was shocked by his face, it was drawn up into a harsh grimace and he seemed to be grinding his teeth.
“Brian,” I said urgently, “Gus is safe. He’s at home with his moms, he’s okay.”
“What?” Brian shook his head, then focused his eyes on my face. “I – I know. It wasn’t, I didn’t, I don’t – “
“It shocked me too, Brian. The photograph.”
“What photograph?” he asked, swallowing hard and looking away as his hands fumbled in his pockets and he pulled out his cigarette pack and lighter.
“Don’t what?” He turned back to look at me again, raising those eyebrows with seeming carelessness as he shook loose a cigarette and tried to light it. His hands were visibly shaking.
“Don’t,” I repeated, taking the lighter from him and holding it toward his cigarette. “Don’t shut me out.”
Inhaling deeply and then immediately nosily exhaling a cloud of white smoke, Brian regarded the end of his cigarette. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Brian – “ I put my hand on his arm again but he turned away.
”Ready to go?” he asked, but he didn’t wait for an answer, just moved off in the direction of the parking lot. I could feel my shoulders slump with defeat, feeling sorry but not really surprised that Brian wasn’t going to share his feelings with me. Sometimes it seems like we’re getting close to creating a different kind of relationship; sometimes it feels like we’re two good friends who happen to be lovers. But maybe I’m fooling myself; maybe it’ll never happen. I love Brian and I know he loves me, even if he never says the words. That’s enough. That has to be enough.
By the time we reach the parking lot I’ve shrugged off my disappointment, and Brian has obviously shrugged off whatever sadness or worry or upset he was feeling over seeing the photo of the boy who looked like Gus. I take my place as navigator and check my Yahoo printouts, reading the directions that lead us away from the city and onto the freeway headed west.
A few miles outside town Brian pulls off to gas up and then says I can drive. I gobble a granola bar from my stash in the boot and get behind the wheel. We’re quiet for a while, then I notice that Brian’s eyes are closed, his head resting on the back of the seat. I’m glad he’s taking a nap, I know he was really tired from yesterday though of course Brian-like he’d denied it.
I didn't mean to fall asleep, I must be more tired than I realized. I awake with a jerk and sit up straight, glancing anxiously around at the countryside passing by the window.
“Don’t worry, we’re on the right highway,” Justin reassures me, reading my mind. I should have known he wouldn’t make a wrong turn and get us lost. “Next stop, Arizona!”
“Justin,” I say, “Take the next exit.”
“Hmm? We’re okay for gas, do you need to take a piss or something?”
It’s ten miles or so before we reach an exit, an exit which looks like it leads directly to Bumfuck, Arkansas. Justin slows down and takes the off-ramp onto what looks like a main road. “Are we looking for a gas station, or what?”
He throws a curious glance at me, opens his mouth and then shuts it again and keeps driving. In a few minutes we come to a dirt road that intersects the paved one and I direct him to turn onto the road, which he does without comment, and when we come to a clump of trees I tell him to pull over. We’re stopped under a canopy of leafy trees shading the jeep, in the middle of nowhere, empty fields covered with bushes and scrub all around us.
Justin throws the jeep into park, kills the engine, and turns sideways in the seat, smiling quizzically.
Before I can change my mind, immediately I begin speaking. “You were right. About the photograph freaking me out. It did look almost like Gus.”
Justin loses his smile, reaches out to touch me but thinks better of it and pulls back his arm. “Yeah,” he says quietly, “I thought so.”
“I didn’t want to talk about it. I still don’t, but. . .”
Justin folds his hands in his lap and waits.
Finally I sigh and shake my head, turn to look out the windshield at nothing. “But – I know you want me to share things with you. Emotional things." I hesitate, then turn back to look at him again. "It's just not natural - for me - to do that. You need to understand that."
"I do understand," Justin says quickly. "I just - sometimes I just wish that you. . ." He stops abruptly.
"You wish that I what?"
Justin lowers his eyes and stares at his hands that have started twisting together in his lap. Quietly he says, "I wish that you trusted me."
Fuck. "It's not a matter of trust - "
Raising his head and staring at my face, Justin murmurs, "Isn't it?"
"No." Then the truth: "I don't know." When still he says nothing, I add, "You should stop waiting for me to change. It's not going to happen."
Justin's silent for a moment, then he asks, "Did you have me pull off the highway in the middle of nowhere just to tell me that you aren't going to tell me anything?"
I almost laugh at that. It's a good question. I don't answer right away, then I feel myself relaxing and leaning back in the seat. "I wanted to clear the air. I didn't want to watch you pouting all the way to Los Angeles."
"I wasn't pouting!"
He's positively bristling with indignation and then I do laugh. Reaching over to take his hands in mine, I squeeze them as I lean over and butt his forehead with my own. “You have pouting down to an art form.”
He calms under the touch of my head against his but as we stare cross-eyed at each other, he insists – quietly – “I wasn’t pouting. I was just feeling a little sad.”
“Well, stop it, okay?”
He doesn’t answer for a moment, then he asks, “Brian, are you worried that something might happen to Gus when you’re not there? When you’re far away and not there to protect him?”
I don’t want to answer Justin and yet he’s right, in a way. “Not entirely.” I pull away and sit upright in my own seat again, roll down the window and take a deep breath of country air: it smells green and earthy and vaguely soothing.
That’s not entirely what upset me so badly, seeing the photograph of the little boy who died in Oklahoma City.
Justin waits. He’s pushing; he’s always pushing just that extra little bit.
What I don’t want to tell him, what I’ve never told anybody, not even Michael. . .is that I feel almost like I carry a curse. The Brian Kinney Curse. The concept is too ridiculous to talk about, too silly and melodramatic and preposterous. And yet it’s happened so many times: Me just being around other people makes bad things happen to them. Not only can’t I protect anybody – well Christ, look how I failed Justin! – but it’s mere association with me that seems to bring misfortune down on people’s heads.
I should never have agreed to father a child. I remember standing on the hospital roof the night Gus was born, ready to fling myself off the ledge to go crashing down to the street below. I pretended to be angry at the responsibility of fatherhood – actually that was not a pretense, I WAS angry; but I had a much deeper anger that night. I was furious with myself, for helping to create a child who would probably suffer the consequences of the Kinney Curse.
Of course what’s even more illogical than the concept of the Kinney Curse is that, if indeed I do bring misfortune down on others, then the fact that I’m leaving almost all the people I care about behind me could be seen as a positive act, freeing them from the consequences of associating with me. So why then am I feeling so anxious, why do I have this sense of doom that something terrible is going to happen to Gus?
I’ve never completely put this idea of the Kinney Curse into words inside my head; it’s been an amorphous unspoken concept that I’ve mostly chosen not to acknowledge, even to myself. The whole idea diminishes me somehow. So of course I’m not going to tell Justin. I’m not. Instead I hear my voice as if from a long distance away saying, “I have – not a premonition – just a bad feeling about Gus. I know that it’s meaningless but it’s fucking with my head.”
“Oh,” Justin says, and I brace myself for an amateur lecture on the psychology of fear. Justin thinks he’s a master of analysis and I dread giving him an opening to bombard me with pycho-babble or even worse, banal platitudes.
“Do you,” he begins, and I brace myself; “Do you feel guilty, for leaving Gus?”
“Of course not,” I curl my lip at him dismissively. Then I realize that, stupid as it seems, I do feel guilty. But, “I don’t buy into that guilt shit,” I tell him, and at least THAT’S the truth.
Justin reaches over to touch my arm and says tentatively, “You felt guilty when I got hurt at the prom. You thought it was your fault, but it wasn’t.”
I want to deny it but I can’t. “That was different,” is the best I can do. Because it WAS my fault, at least partly. Everybody else thought so too – except Justin.
“It was really painful for you,” Justin’s telling me now – and who gave him permission to talk about the bashing? “So now maybe you think, if something happens to Gus while you’re far away, you’ll feel guilty too. Maybe you’re worried about having that guilt pain again.”
He ignores my protest. “I’ll bet every parent feels guilty when they leave their kid,” Justin tells me. He curls his fingers around my wrist as if taking my pulse. When I say nothing he goes on, “Maybe that’s all it is, Brian. Just normal parent shit.”
“I’m not a normal parent," I growl. "And I didn’t ask for a lecture, or for any sage advice from someone of your advanced years.”
Justin should be insulted but he’s not. "I'm full of good advice," he tells me with a smirk.
"You're full of it, all right." My voice is still gruff but I don't pull away. Instead I lean down and press my forehead to his again and when his eyes close, I kiss him. Just a small kiss. Just a few small kisses. Kisses that warm up as he slides closer, leaning across the gearbox, slipping his arms around my neck. My arms circle around behind him, slide up underneath his shirt to caress the soft skin of his back, one hand slips down below his waistband and he raises up slightly in the seat so I can move my hand down a few inches to stroke his smooth ass.
"Brian," he murmurs, the eagerness of his voice traveling directly from my eardrums in a straight line to my cock, already straining at the buttons of my jeans. When his hands drop to my lap and fumble with the buttons, I stop kissing him for a moment and look around us: Empty fields, silence except for the soughing sound of a light breeze riffling the leaves of the trees arching above the jeep, a sibilant shussing sound of insects, probably fucking their little bug guts out in the grass under the trees.
"Brian," Justin's eager voice urges me, "Let's do it outdoors, we've never done it outdoors before!"
"We've done it outdoors a million times."
"In alleyways! In the car! We've never done it in sunshine, in the country, in the grass!"
Justin's fervor almost makes me laugh; often he’s been able to rout the cynic inside me with his semi-innocent enthusiasm. Still, I'm not going to roll around in the dirt to commune with fucking nature, not even for Justin.
But. . . "Come on!" he's urging, his face glowing with the famous Sunshine smile. "Let's go find a private spot away from the road!"
Pulling back, trying to release his hands from the front of my jeans, I intone incredulously, "You mean – hike?"
Still laughing, Justin opens his door and jumps outside, runs around and yanks open the passenger door. "Come ON," he insists, "A little exercise won't kill you, we've been sitting in the car for DAYS."
Groaning, I allow Justin to pull me out of the jeep, grabbing the keys and locking up before following him as he pushes aside a tall bush and leads the way into the wilderness.
Okay, so it's not wilderness, but it's definitely the boondocks, it feels like the back of beyond. "Careful," I warn him, following reluctantly behind, "There's probably snakes."
"And lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" Justin laughs over his shoulder, moving through knee-high grass. There's a bit of a path that he's following, though it seems seldom-used and is barely discernible in places.
Most of the country through which we've been driving is flat prairie land, or at least it looks flat from the highway. Up close and personal it's really a combination of rolling prairie, small hillocks, scattered outcrops of rock and occasional clumps of trees. We wade through the tall grass for a quarter mile ('about three blocks' I call it, till Justin reminds me that there are no blocks in the country). Then we come to another stand of trees that Justin thinks are cottonwoods, though both of us are horticulturally-challenged - they could be willows or junipers or fucking palm trees for all I know. Well, I think I can identify a palm tree, but who cares; these trees have rough bark and skinny leaves and big roots sticking up out of the ground.
"We're going to get grass stains," I complain bitterly as Justin drops to his knees and pulls me down beside him.
"No we won't - let's get undressed." Already he's dragging his shirt off over his head and, after a quick glance around the empty landscape I follow suit, and then we both pull off our jeans. Our contortions flatten a mound of grass that becomes a sort of bed; Justin throws himself down on his back and I drop down on top of him.
Conversationally I say, "You've heard the expression, 'Got a bug up your ass?' Well, in a few minutes you'll probably find out what that feels like, for real."
Trying not to laugh, he complains, "Can't you even PRETEND to be romantic for once in your life?"
"There is nothing remotely romantic about bare-assed fucking in the wilderness."
But I soften my harsh words with a kiss, and then another kiss, grabbing hold of his wrists and pushing down his arms on either side of his head. Crouching over Justin I wait while he raises his legs to my shoulders, my nostrils fill with the scent of grass and twigs and earth, and deer and buffalo a-roaming, and God-knows-what-else. Then I remember we need a condom, and stretch sideways so I can reach the jeans I threw on the ground and rifle the pockets till I feel a foil packet.
"No lube," I warn Justin, licking my fingers and beginning to work him open.
"Mmmph-mmmph," he says, which roughly translated means "Fuck me anyway and hurry up about it."
So I do.
Sliding into Justin's ass is an amazingly welcome feeling, I've fucked him a million times and yet each time it's just as exciting, just as breathtaking as the time before. His legs tighten around my neck and we fall into our rhythm, and I forget about the grass and the bugs and the sounds and smells of the prairie and lose myself inside of Justin, this lithe-limbed juicy blond boy who belongs only to me.
Afterwards we roll apart and stare up at the bright blue sky, letting the light breeze rippling the long grasses dry the sweat on our naked bodies. I want a cigarette but I’ve left them in the jeep – just as well, otherwise we might start a grass fire and burn down the state of Oklahoma. Not that that would be much of a loss, except to the twelve people who live there.
When my breathing returns to normal I sit upright. “Let’s go,” I urge Justin, “We’ve wasted enough time already.”
“Wasted?” he demands, sitting up straight and glowering at me. “Wasted?”
Laughing, I lean forward to smack his lips with a loud kiss, then turn sideways to retrieve my jeans from the pile of discarded clothing near our makeshift bed. When I lift the top pair of jeans, something long and dark uncoils and raises its head to stare up at me. “Jesus Christ!” I exclaim, except no sound comes out of my mouth.
“Wha-?” Justin starts to say, but I leap to my feet, grab hold of his arm and pull him with me as I move quickly backwards, away from the fucking enormous killer snake glaring up at us.
“Move, move!” I urge him loudly, pulling him along as I back away, “It’s a fucking rattlesnake!” Keeping my eye on the snake, expecting it to leap after us on the pathway and kill us both with its sharp fangs full of poison, I continue to pull Justin along with me.
“It’s not poisonous,” a disembodied voice informs us, and we twist around, looking upwards. The voice came from above, maybe it’s God.
“Where are you?” I demand loudly, though by now I’ve spotted him – a boy sitting on the limb of a tree about fifteen feet away. How fucking long has he been there?
“How long have you been there?” I demand, glancing from boy to snake; the latter has started moving away, slithering and coiling around itself as it moves off into the tall grass. Brave Justin retraces our steps and grabs up our clothes, hands me mine as he pulls on his jeans.
The boy jumps down from his tree perch and ambles over to stand watching as we hurriedly pull on our clothes. As he gets closer I see that he’s not really a boy, he’s a man – probably in his late twenties, very short, very slim and wearing cut-offs and a green tee shirt with ‘Goo-Goo Dolls’ emblazoned on the front.
“Did you enjoy the show?” I keep my face neutral though I’m furious and want to punch the rotten peeping-tom in the nose - which I realize is rather ridiculous, considering the shows that Justin and I put on frequently in the backroom of Babylon. But it’s different, knowing you’re being watched. Being spied on like this makes me feel – vulnerable I guess. Suddenly I wonder if Oklahoma is one of those states with anti-sodomy laws.
The guy shrugs laconically and shoves his hands into his pockets. “It’s my land, guess I can watch trespassers if I got a mind to.”
Justin’s dressed now and he sits down to pull on his shoes. “So,” he says to Farmer John, “Did you enjoy the show, or not?”
“Yeah,” the guy admits with a laugh, “Guess you could say that I did.”
I feel myself relaxing slightly, he must be gay or at least curious. I pull on my shirt and glance at him as my head emerges from the neck hole; he’s winking at me. No, thanks.
“How did you know the snake wasn’t poisonous?” Justin asks; he’s finished dressing and he’s regarding the guy a bit warily. “It was big, at least three feet long, and it made a rattling sound.”
“It’s a salt-n-pepper,” he answers, “A speckled kingsnake.” He turns to me and asks, “Black with yellow spots, right?”
How the fuck should I know? But Justin does (of course): “Yeah, that’s right. And it’s harmless?”
“Not to rats and birds. But it don’t try to eat humans. Though you two boys’d make a tasty meal, I’ll wager.” He’s got an oily smile with teeth somehow too white to belong to an Oklahoma farmer. In my mind’s eye I picture him standing in front of a mirror in an outhouse, pressing Crest whitening strips on his prominent front teeth.
That dazzling smile is our cue to leave. “Come on,” I tell Justin, “Time to go.” I turn away and start back on the path through the tall grass and hope that Justin’s right behind me, but I hear him talking to the farmer.
“Thanks for the info about the snake,” he says politely, “Have a nice day.”
“Okay,” the guy says, and I hear disappointment in his voice; “Take it easy.”
“Bye,” Justin calls, then I hear his footsteps hurry to catch up with me. “Brian, this isn’t the right path.”
“What?” I stop and look around. “There’s more than one path?” We’ve gone a couple dozen yards, are we going the wrong way?
“Don’t panic,” he says, “Let’s just go back and find the right path.”
“I don’t think we should go back that way – Farmer John wants to take a turn pumping your ass.”
Justin laughs in my face. “Brian, this isn’t ‘Deliverance.’ Come on, follow me.” And he turns and heads back the way we came. Reluctantly I follow him and I’m relieved to discover that the yokel has left the fuck-site. Justin immediately finds the path we took and we start walking through the tall grass once again. I’m begrudgingly grateful that he’s got a good sense of direction but damned if I’ll tell him so.
Within a few minutes we’ve reached the dirt road without encountering any more nosy farmers or speckled snakes, harmless or otherwise.
“I’ll drive,” I say gruffly, unlocking the jeep and hoisting myself inside. Before Justin’s finished buckling his seat belt I’ve done a one-eighty, moving the jeep quickly back toward the main highway.
“Brian, are you mad at me?” Justin asks after a moment, and I realize that I’m frowning and very likely there’s smoke coming out my ears. “We weren’t really in danger you know, the snake was harmless.”
“Which snake?” I growl at him, though I feel my muscles gradually relaxing as we put distance between us and the fucking peeping-tom hayseed farmer.
“Oh, he seemed like a nice enough guy,” Justin the Trusting says cheerfully. “But we don’t need to do that again, I’m sorry it ended badly.” Then he adds eagerly, “But at least I’ve got something exciting to write about in my travel journal!”
I steal a glance at him and shake my head at his enthusiasm, he’s grinning happily and no doubt he’s already mentally composing his version of our wilderness adventure. Silently I tell him, ‘And be sure to send your mom a postcard, telling her I almost got you killed again.’
I allow myself to relax some more and I reach across the seat to pinch him – hard – on the inside of his thigh.
“Ow!” he complains, so I leave my hand there, smoothing and soothing the sore spot. “I’m going to have a bruise!”
“It’s okay,” he assures me, circling my wrist in his lap with both hands and squeezing lightly. “Promise to kiss it all better?”
“Remind me, when we get to the hotel tonight.”
“Don’t wait that long,” Justin admonishes, “You can kiss it when we stop for lunch.”
We ride along silently for a few minutes and then Justin asks, “We ARE going to stop for lunch soon, aren’t we?”