BEFORE THE PROM
Gap-Filler for Episode 22 (Finale)
"Emmett's going to help me pick out a tuxedo tomorrow."
"Oh, no," Brian groaned.
"You'll end up wearing a purple tux and an orange cummerbund. With sparkles."
Justin tsk'ed. "Give me a little credit. I know what I want."
"If you'll take my advice," Brian began, then stopped. He shrugged his shoulders, suddenly indifferent, and turned away. "Wear what you want."
Following Brian into the kitchen, Justin put a hand on his arm. "Tell me."
Brian sighed. "Okay." He turned around, leaned on the counter. "Tuxedos should always be black. Or - " He studied Justin a moment, then went on. "With your coloring, dark gray might be better. Or charcoal. Black is too harsh on you."
Inwardly happy at this evidence, no matter how meager, that Brian cared what he looked like, but remaining outwardly cool, Justin answered, "I didn’t know they made gray ones.”
"And not one of those ruffled shirts."
Justin tilted his head to one side, regarding Brian. "You'd look good in a ruffled shirt, though." When Brian snorted, he went on. "No, really. You'd look like Lord Byron."
Justin laughed. "You said it, not me!" When Brian smiled, he added, "Romantic's what I meant. Lord Byron was so," Justin sighed, "Romantic."
Brian rolled his eyes. "He was a profligate, with a club foot, and an ego the size of Cleveland."
Laughing again, Justin teased, "Well, except for the club foot. . ."
Brian grabbed him, shook him; Justin closed his eyes, whispered "Tickle me," and leaned all his weight against Brian. But Brian pushed him away - not roughly, but determinedly.
"No. I have work to do tonight." Justin drooped with disappointment, and Brian added, "Don't push it. I've got a project deadline tomorrow, and I have at least a couple hours' work to do tonight. I told you that when you called, I told you not to come over."
"I know," Justin agreed. "But I brought my books with me so I could study here, and not bother you, and then maybe when you're done, we could - "
"All right." Throwing up his hands, Brian turned away. "Jesus." He walked over to his computer desk and pulled out the chair. "But - no promises. This could take me all night. And you will be totally silent. "
"Okay." Meek, be meek, Justin ordered himself, don't smile in triumph. Brian was continuing.
"And if I tell you to leave, you'll leave. No arguments."
"Okay." Justin picked up his backpack, carried it over to the sofa. "Can I get something to eat, if I'm very quiet?"
Brian sat down in his chair, nodded absently and waved a hand toward the kitchen. "I just bought some grapes, wash them first."
Justin tiptoed to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and found the grapes. They were green grapes, his favorite. He washed a large bunch and drained them on paper towels, then fixed a plate for himself, adding crackers and cheese. On his way back to the sofa, Justin quietly set down a small dish of grapes by Brian's elbow. Brian grunted, did not look up, but his hand snaked over to the bowl and pulled off a grape, popped it in his mouth.
Justin had finished his homework and was deep into a book that Ted had recommended, A Home at the End of the World, by Michael Cunningham. He loved the author's narrative style. Ted said Cunningham was the best gay author writing today, and Justin agreed wholeheartedly. Suddenly the book was grabbed from his hands, he jumped and a tiny "Oh!" of surprise escaped his lips.
Brian was standing over him. "This doesn't look like homework," he said, turning the book around and peering at the cover. "Somehow I can't imagine your English teacher assigning Michael Cunningham."
"Have you read it?"
Brian closed the book and handed it back. "Yes. And don’t look so surprised, I'm not illiterate."
"I just can't see you curled up with a book, somehow."
"Hunh," Brian responded, perching on the back of the sofa. "I read in airports, on planes. Unless of course there's somebody to fool around with, instead."
"Are we going to fool around now?" Justin asked hopefully, glancing at the clock. It was almost ten. "Did you finish your project?"
"Mostly. I'll polish the rough edges at work in the morning."
Brian was in one of his moods. Not the grumpy mood, not the hostile mood, but the pensive mood. "What are you thinking about?" Justin asked, risking the Wrath of Khan. It was a question Brian hated, and yet sometimes he answered it. Fortunately this was one of those times.
"My own senior prom, actually," he said. He sighed, smiled, shook his head. Justin loved watching the fleeting thoughts, memories and feelings pass over Brian's face when he was in this mood. He had such expressive eyes.
"Did you and Michael go together?"
"Of course. We doubled." Brian laughed. "His date wore some kind of fluffy pink chiffon dress, and army boots."
"Army boots?" Justin was incredulous.
"Yeah. Or something farmers might wear to spread manure or rake hay. She was a weird girl, all right. Susie Constanz."
"What did your girlfriend wear?"
"Huh?" Brian shook his head, clearly lost in memories. "She wasn't my girlfriend. Patsy Morgan. I don't remember what she wore. Something blue, I think."
"Brian," Justin began, anxious to take advantage of this rare opportunity of having Brian share stories of his past, but afraid to go too far. "Did you date a lot of girls in high school?"
"Date?" Brian came out of his reverie, looked down at Justin. "Do you mean date, or do you mean fuck?"
"Either. Both. I don't know."
Brian looked at him for a moment, then asked, “I thought you said things were okay with Daphne now. Are you worried she’ll expect you to fuck her again, after the prom?”
“No!” Justin grimaced. “God, no.” He shuddered. “I told her ‘weirdness over,’ and she agreed.”
Brian changed the subject. "What are you listening to?" He picked up the Walkman from Justin's lap and flipped it open. "Moby? Put it on, let me hear some of it."
Justin obeyed, and the opening bars of 'Honey' immediately put him in the mood to dance. "Dance with me," he pleaded, rounding the sofa and grabbing Brian's hand, dragging him to his feet.
"No," Brian refused. "You're the prize-winning dancer, not me."
Justin had known he would pay a price for insulting Brian's dancing on the night of the King of Babylon contest. Among other things. They hadn't really talked about that night, but Justin was sure it had had something to do with Brian going after the New York job. It was all still a touchy subject, the contest and New York both; they'd been skirting around the issues for days.
"You dance okay," Justin said generously; a lie.
Brian snorted. "Right. Maybe you want to give me lessons?"
Afraid to answer that loaded question, Justin stayed mute. Brian smirked, noticing Justin's reticence. "I actually took dancing lessons once," he admitted.
"No way!" Justin's mouth dropped open.
"Thanks again. You're determined to insult me tonight, aren't you?" When Justin shook his head vigorously, hastening to deny the accusation, Brian shushed him, with a laugh. "I did though. Take dancing lessons, I mean. In college. Lindsay made me." Brian laughed again. "She had a crush on the teacher, a lipstick lesbian, who also worked part-time in the campus bookstore with Linds."
"Did they ever get together?"
"Yeah they did, for a while. But not till we'd learned the samba, the mambo, all those Latin dances. Linds was pretty slow at putting the moves on the teacher."
"I took ballroom dancing lessons, too," Justin admitted. "When I was about twelve. Mom said all boys needed to learn how to dance like gentlemen."
Suddenly Brian said, "Wait." He went over to the audio deck, ejected the Moby CD, and turned on the radio, fiddling around till he found a station playing classical music. The sounds of a Strauss waltz soon lilted around the loft, and Brian turned up the volume. Hastening back to Justin, Brian executed a perfect and very deep bow. "May I have this dance?" he asked, striking a pose.
Justin laughed, kicked off his sneakers, and walked into Brian's arms. They fit naturally together, and soon they were whirling around the room, Justin in stocking feet, Brian barefoot as always. It was exhilarating, and Justin was amazed at the smooth way Brian executed the dance steps, though Justin had to concentrate at first on dancing backwards, he'd never done that before. They finished with a flourish, Brian raising Justin's arm and twirling him around and around in circles, then pulling him close, and bending him over backwards for a dip. Justin lost his balance and almost fell to the floor, and they burst out laughing.
"That was fun!" Justin exclaimed.
"Yeah, but you need to practice dipping," Brian criticized. "It ruins the mood if you fall on your ass."
The radio announcer stopped speaking and another song came on. Without a word, they moved together and began again to whirl around the room. This time when Brian dipped him, Justin pressed his right leg against Brian's for balance, and raised his left leg on Brian's back, like Cyd Charise with Fred Astaire; the resulting dip was almost perfect. Even better was the kiss Brian planted on his lips when the dance ended.
"You're really good!" Justin exclaimed.
Brian pushed him away, but playfully, and griped, "Don't sound so amazed."
Another waltz began playing on the radio and Justin reached out for Brian, but Brian shook his head, grabbed both Justin's hands and said, "Enough."
"But I need you to dip me again, I need practice," Justin pleaded.
"You need me to dip you?" Brian's voice went low and gravelly, his eyes got THAT LOOK. "I'm going to dip you right now." Justin shivered with anticipation as Brian led him up the steps to the bedroom.
Justin lay curled against Brian's side as they relaxed and their bodies cooled off after an hour of passionate lovemaking. At least Justin thought of it as lovemaking; he supposed that to Brian, it would always be merely fucking. Not for the first time Justin wondered how Brian was with other guys. Did he hold them tight when they came, like he held onto Justin, tickling their ears with his warm breath, murmuring soft, meaningless words when they cried out with pleasure? Did he kiss them so gently, afterwards? Did he sometimes hold them in his arms and nuzzle their hair till they fell asleep? He couldn't ask, so probably he'd never know for sure. There were so many things he couldn't ask Brian.
He couldn't ask Brian how he had felt when Justin, as the new King of Babylon, stole Sean away from him. Oh, he was mad; he was mad as hell, the anger seething out his pores and fury leaping from his eyes like Martian deathrays. But was he only mad to be bested, to be made to look foolish; or had he cared at all that Justin was having sex with someone else? Justin didn't have sex with very many guys, despite what Daphne and others might think. Did Brian know that? Did he care?
It was not that he couldn't, as he'd told the drag queen at Babylon; he knew he was attractive, guys were always coming on to him. Strangely, it did nothing for his ego. Well, that was not entirely true - he liked knowing guys were hot for him. But all he really wanted was to be with Brian. In his heart he knew that probably Brian would not, could not, ever be monogamous. Justin suspected that there was some kind of insecurity that pushed Brian to prove his power over and over again. 'Don't go there,' Justin reminded himself; Lindsay had emphasized it was dangerous to play psychoanalyst with Brian. Brian had a lot of demons to deal with, was all Lindsay would say, and Justin respected her for keeping Brian's confidences. She was keeping some of Justin's, after all.
Justin was sure that the King of Babylon contest had played a part in tempting Brian to leave everyone and everything behind in Pittsburgh. There had been something in his eyes, that morning in the diner, when Brian bragged about sending his resume to a big advertising firm in New York. A glint in his eye, aimed specifically at Justin; or anyway, that's what it had felt like. 'Gotcha' is what it had felt like, and Justin had forced himself to smile and turn away, to hide his fear.
That fear had grown into unbearable proportions, and even as he'd helped Brian pack for his interview in New York, Justin had felt like he was hanging on to the edge of a cliff by the tips of his fingers. He'd tried so hard not to fall apart that morning, not to let Brian see his despair. He'd been sure that Brian, who despised weakness, would see Justin's tears and throw him out of the loft. When instead, he had pulled Justin into his arms, hugged him tight, it had been worse, really. It had been worse to realize that Brian cared, really cared, for Justin, yet he could walk away, walk out the door, and never look back.
At that moment, the precise moment that had felt like he was dying in Brian's arms, Justin remembered finally understanding the impulse that drove people to suicide. Not that he would have, or could have, done such a thing; but he understood it, all right. Life had stretched ahead of him, immeasurably long and lonely and bleak. Luckily the moment had passed. From somewhere, Justin had found the courage to go on breathing, in and out, in and out.
Gratitude that he was alive made Justin unconsciously tighten his hold on Brian, breaking their nearly-asleep reverie. Brian stirred, stretched, then rolled over and sat up on the edge of the bed, ran a hand through his hair. He turned to glance down at Justin and said, "It's almost midnight, time for all good little boys to be home in bed."
"I'm not a good little boy."
"Thank God. Bad little boys are so much more fun." Brian grinned, but added, "Get up. I'll drive you home."
Justin rolled over, got up on his hands and knees and crawled to Brian’s side of the bed. “Once more,” he said.
“It’s a school night.”
“Once more,” he whispered, wrapping his arms around Brian’s chest.
Leaning backwards, Justin pulled as hard as he could, trying to topple Brian over. But Brian was stronger than his slender form suggested. He twisted around and pushed Justin flat onto the bed, then crawled on top, straddling him and holding his hands in an iron grip, flat on the bed above his head. Leaning down till his forehead touched Justin’s, Brian intoned sternly, “I-said-no.”
Justin could feel Brian’s erection growing hard against his belly, and he laughed throatily. “Your lips say 'no-no' but there’s 'yes-yes' in your dick.”
“You’re too young to know that song,” Brian murmured inconsequently, before his mouth found Justin’s and all conversation ceased.
They dressed silently, both lost in thought and tired from their exertions. Brian shut down his computer while Justin gathered up his books and stuffed them in the backpack, and they quickly descended the stairs instead of taking the elevator. Breathing deeply of the damp night air, Justin’s energy revived slightly, and as they climbed into the Jeep, he asked Brian for a ride to Emmett’s for the flannel party on Thursday night.
“Deb’s going, right? You can ride with her and Uncle Vic.”
“I’d rather go with you.”
Brian asked, “Did you find a flannel shirt?”
“Vic’s loaning me one of his. It’s too big, but I didn’t want to actually buy one.”
Brian was being kind of cryptic, Justin thought; was he just tired? “You are coming to the party, aren’t you?” When he didn’t answer, Justin said, “Brian?”
Patiently Justin repeated, “You’re coming to Michael’s going-away party, aren’t you?”
Justin was surprised. “Michael’s your best friend, you wouldn’t miss his party. Would you?”
No answer. Taken aback by Brian’s sudden change in mood, Justin hazarded a guess. “Does it make you too sad?” He wanted to put his arms around Brian, suddenly the inside of the jeep felt full to bursting with emotion.
“Don’t analyze me.” Brian’s voice was harsh as he turned to glare briefly at Justin. “Ever. Got it?”
“I – I wasn’t.”
“Yeah, you were,” Brian insisted. “And it’s none of your fucking business.”
Stunned, Justin shut his mouth, turned quickly to look out the side window, feeling hot tears prick the back of his eyelids. He blinked them away. Brian’s switch from gentle lover to hostile accuser was too fast, too surprising. Justin managed to keep his voice even as he said, “Sorry. I didn’t mean anything.”
Brian stopped at a red light. “I know you didn’t,” he said roughly. He pulled a crumpled cigarette package from his pocket and shook one loose, put it in his mouth, hesitated, and then offered the pack. Justin realized that this was as close to an apology as Brian could make. He took a cigarette and accepted a light from Brian’s Zippo.
They rode in silence for a few minutes, then Brian pulled to the curb in front of Deb’s house. Justin chucked his half-smoked cigarette out the window and reached into the back seat for his bag. When he opened the door, Brian leaned across him and pulled the door shut.
Justin dropped the backpack on the floor and turned to face Brian.
Raising his hand, Brian gently caressed Justin’s cheek. “Good night,” Brian said. His lips brushed Justin’s briefly, then he leaned over and pushed the door open. “Goodbye.”
“Bye,” Justin echoed quietly as he got out of the jeep and watched Brian drive away. He wondered if the time would ever come that Brian could open up his heart, share his deepest feelings with Justin. Every time he got close, Brian pushed him away. Justin wanted desperately to be more than Brian’s boy-toy fuck, he wanted to share Brian’s life.
As the red taillights of the jeep disappeared into the distance, Justin came to a decision. After this busy week was over, after Thursday's flannel party and after the prom on Friday, Justin was going to get Brian to talk. He knew Brian cared about him, maybe even loved him. For sure this Saturday morning, Justin promised himself, he would go over to Brian’s to tell him about the prom, and then, somehow, he would confront Brian about their relationship. He could not go on indefinitely in this limbo-land of uncertainty. Unconsciously touching his cheek where Brian’s hand had caressed him, Justin turned to the house, shouldered his backpack and walked up the path to the door.