"You're Brian Kinney, for fuck sake!"
Michael's words last night were like a bucket of cold water thrown over my head. I couldn't have been more shocked if he'd hauled off and smacked me across the face.
Finally, in the end, even Michael had bought the myth.
It's no mistake that I was voted Advertiser of the Year. 'Advertiser of the Century' would be more like it. I have been advertising, marketing, selling, and hyping one product almost all my life: Brian Kinney. And everybody's bought it. Somebody once said, 'Find a need and fill it.' There was need for a sex god in Pittsburgh, and I've filled that need.
I was born good looking, but I've managed to convince everyone that I am gorgeous. I keep my body lean and toned, but I don't work out for long hours to build up an incredible torso - I carry myself like the perfect male specimen, and they buy it. There are flaws in my body - my legs are a bit thin, I have a few minor bumps and scars, but no one sees them. I've learned how to dress, how to speak, how to hold myself aloof from humanity; I've learned how to stare down my nose disdainfully at the mediocre masses beneath me, and the masses love it.
I'm great at fucking, I learned that from fabulous sex partners when I was very young. And now I've convinced everyone that nobody is better than me. And yet usually when I allow a man to come home with me, I make him do all the work, and he not only loves it, but by the time he leaves, he's convinced he's had the best fuck of his life.
Men sigh and stare at me longingly when I walk by; that's not an accident. You don't attract by throwing out lures and convincing guys that you want them. You act like you don't want them, it drives them crazy with desire. Everybody wants what they can't have. Everybody wants the best. Brian Kinney is the best. In Pittsburgh anyway. Brian Kinney is magic.
The secret of magic is this: Hold the crowd away from you, don't let them get too close. If people get too close, they might be able to see through you. Always I have kept people away from me, pushed away at arm's length. A few people have gotten close - Deb, to a certain degree; Lindsay; and now this amazing teenager. . . But Michael's the only one who's been inside me. The only one.
Michael's been inside me half my life. The few others who have touched me, who have affected my life in small ways, it's been easy to keep them away. They let me. But Michael's never let me. Michael's been my lifeline since I was fourteen years old. This is not the first time Michael has saved my life, though I've never told him. There were a few times when I was much younger that I thought about checking out. When nothing in my life mattered enough to continue breathing in and out. Each time Michael was there, either sixth-sensing my need or needing me himself. He thinks this is the first time I've played with death. I've never told him about the others. Never will.
Death does not scare me. Not my own, anyway. And if you manage to hold yourself aloof from humanity, nobody else's death scares you either. Dad's didn't. It angered me, though. Much as I hated that man, I was angry that he was taken away. I wasn't through with him yet. I don't know what that means, but it's true anyway.
The thought of Gus dying scares me. Somehow I let Lindsay talk me into having this baby, and who knew I would give a shit about him? Now I am scared of his death. As Justin once told me, I was surprised to discover that I cared about someone besides myself. A little jizz in a cup and suddenly Iím holding a living, breathing, beautiful lump of my own flesh and blood in my arms, and I'm scared for him.
And Justin. Christ, how did I let him get so close to me? I've had plenty of great fucks in a lifetime of thousands of men; men more beautiful, more sensual, more exciting than the blond teenage virgin I picked up one night out of sheer boredom. It amused me to introduce this innocent boy to the joys of manhood. Except, of course, that he was not really a boy. As Michael said, Justin was a man in a boy's body. He was inexperienced but I didn't really seduce him. In retrospect, you might say that Justin Taylor seduced ME. In spite of everything, that makes me smile.
With a few well-chosen words, I finally convinced Michael that I wasn't going to scarf again. He was really scared, fear made him angry, you seldom see Michael Novotny truly angry. Then we talked for a while, though I really wanted to be alone to think. But he needed to talk about David, and I tried to listen. It's hard for me not to let my own feelings about David get in the way of really listening to Michael. Michael loves David. Or thinks he does, which amounts to the same thing. Regardless of my own feelings about 'love,' it's true that most of the population believes in love and fucks up their lives over it. Michael is doing the same thing, but I know enough by now to stand back and let him go at it.
I don't believe that David is good enough for Mikey. He underestimates Michael, he doesn't appreciate Michael's intelligence and sensitivity. I don't think he sees the real Michael, instead he wants to make him over into something he's not. Michael has not told me this; it's hints I pick up when I see them together, the way David pats Michael's head or his butt, like he's a cute puppy, the clothes David buys him, and the way David tries to pull Michael away from me. David sees me as a threat, but his biggest danger is not me, myself; his biggest danger is trying to come between us. Michael and I are bonded for life, nothing can change that.
What Michael really needed from me last night was a dose of reality. But I couldn't tell him what I really wanted to; I couldn't say, Michael, don't go so far away with that man who doesn't appreciate you. Because really, what incentive has he got to stay here with me? We'll never be lovers. We might have sex sometime, we've come close so often. But I'll never be the lover he wants and needs. I can't be, and I don't want to be, either. Cold of me to say that, but who is Brian Kinney except a cold, unfeeling, insensitive man?
Lindsay's always trying to convince me that I'm sensitive. Or convince herself perhaps, because she wants to believe it. I'm not, though. Things don't touch me, don't hurt me, the way they hurt normal people. My father beat any feelings of sensitivity out of me many years ago. Now I feel nothing, nothing can touch me. Or anyway, that's been the case for most of my life. Until Gus. Until Gus was born. And amazingly, until Justin came along. Sometimes I see myself as Goliath, and Justin as little David with the slingshot. That should make me smile, but it doesn't. Goliath didn't want to be knocked to the ground.
After Michael left, I poured a shot of scotch, just a small one, there were still plenty of drugs and alcohol swirling through my veins. I carried it with me to the bedroom while I changed from jeans to my black silk robe and then took a piss. My cock was sore and my balls ached. When Michael had pulled me to the floor, my cock landed first, with the rest of me landing on top of it. I wondered if it would be bruised, if a blue shadow would have bloomed on the shaft when I woke up this morning, but there wasn't; no mark to betray my injury.
Walking back to the living room to sprawl on the sofa, I picked up the silk scarf as I passed by the chair. The chair I'd been standing on, to reach the high ceiling beam and tie one end of the scarf around it, one end around my neck. I held the scarf in my hand as I sipped scotch, one thumb rubbing the smooth silk in the same way that Gus rubs the satin binding of his blanket. It's soothing. Soporific.
I needed time to reflect on the scarfing incident and my reasons for it. I'm not a great believer in introspection - I went through enough of that self-doubt and self-questioning shit in college. I remember staying up once till four in the morning, arguing existentialism with a bearded nineteen-year-old mystic in a coffee shop just off campus. 'L'existance precede l'essence.' Jean-Paul Sartre. In French class weíd called him Jean-Paul Fartre, joking that he was full of hot air. I bought his philosophy though: You're born, and anything after that, you create for yourself. I created the Brian Kinney myth, didn't I?
Okay, so why was I scarfing, why was I flirting with death, when Michael found me? The obvious answers were too easy. I'd told Michael it would be cool to go out in a blaze of glory, like James Dean. He will always be remembered as young and beautiful. The end of my youth was merely days away; if I died while still young, I'd be remembered for the Brian Kinney myth. And yetÖand yetÖalthough true enough, I knew that was not the real reason. Or not the whole reason.
Another obvious answer was that my days as top man on the gay totem pole, even in mediocre Pittsburgh, were going to end. Maybe not tomorrow, but eventually. Eventually men would walk past me without a second glance. Eventually someone would ask, "Brian who?" I would become passe, obsolete, a Liberty Avenue legend whose name people would invoke with nostalgia.
All these things were true, and yet. . . there was something less tangible going on beneath the surface. God knows I didn't want to think about it. Didn't want to discover some new unpalatable truth about myself. Yet it was there, knocking on the door of my subconscious, waiting for me to unlock the door and let it in.
The telephone rang. I was going to ignore it, but few people call so late, what if it was an emergency with Gus? After the first two rings, I found myself jumping up and rushing to the desk to pick up the phone. It was Justin. He tried to be offhand, just calling to see if everything was okay, he said. He'd missed me at the party. I growled at him as usual, scoffed at him as usual. Then I relented slightly and, before hanging up, I said I hoped he would have a good time at his prom on Friday. I could hear the catch in his voice as he thanked me and said goodbye. I could hear him NOT saying, again, that he wished I would be there with him. And because he didn't say it, I found myself thinking about the prom.
Michael and I had double-dated at our own senior prom. For me it had been an incredibly boring and insipid evening; I only went because Mikey insisted. The couples milling around, laughing at inane jokes, dancing awkwardly together - what did that have to do with me? I belonged on Liberty Avenue, shooting pool, disco dancing, getting high, getting fucked. I had argued with Michael for days about going, and yet in the end, there I was with him, wearing an ill-fitting tux, dancing with a girl in blue satin who kept pushing her tits hard against my chest, who kept smiling coyly at me, her eyes promising a prize I had no intention of claiming.
I'd gone to the prom only because Michael wanted me to. And now Justin wanted me to go to his own prom. But as his date. I have to admit, it took my breath away when the kid invited me. I tried to joke about it, but I was shocked at his audacity. I've always admired Justin's courage, but the thought of taking a guy as your date to the high school prom was astonishing to me. When I told Lindsay, she tried to turn it into some kind of weird compliment from Justin to me. Maybe it was. Maybe it was, after all. Of course I had no intention of going, of making a laughing-stock of myself, an old fart of thirty in the middle of a roomful of teenagers. And a gay man at that, parading around a decorated ballroom with his little blond fucktoy.
Except that Justin had ceased being my little fucktoy a long time ago. When, exactly? I didn't know. He'd been in my peripheral vision for weeks after I picked him up the first time, he'd been hanging around the edges of my subconscious for a while before I became aware that I'd started looking for him at Woody's, at Babylon. Brian Kinney glancing around a bar room, hoping to see a head of shiny golden hair! Seeking out a pair of blue eyes so beautiful that. . . that. . .
The first time I was aware of Justin as a real person was the night I brought him home from his parents' house and sat down to eat at the table he'd so formally set with candles and flowers. I'd been unable to leave him at that house with his cruel father, although God knows I didn't want a teenager living in my loft, cramping my style.
(That was exactly what I'd tried to tell him by bringing home Hotlanta the night before. I remember standing there staring at Justin while the trick slipped to his knees and took my cock in his mouth. I looked at Justin and let my eyes tell him that he meant nothing to me, nothing. I knew he would run away. I was glad he ran away. The irony was that I threw out Hotlanta just a few minutes later. I lost my hard-on, and suddenly I wanted to be alone. I'd spent time cleaning up the mess in the kitchen, angry, so angry. But not angry at Justin. Only at myself, for letting the brat stay with me in the first place.)
That dinner was the first time we really talked. He told me about school, about his dream of becoming an artist, and I ate the food he'd cooked especially for me, drank wine with him, watched him across the candlelit table, watched the way he exposed his emotions so openly. He trusted me with his dreams. Trusted me. God, I remember the struggle it had been for me in that moment not to jump up and run out of the loft, screaming bloody murder. 'Don't fucking trust me," I wanted to scream at him.
When my loft was robbed a few weeks later, I went off on him. What's funny is that I really don't lose my temper like that very often. And while it was his fault for being careless with the alarm, I immediately realized that there'd been lots of times I'd forgotten to set the fucking alarm myself. I didn't admit that to Lindsay, when she tried to excuse Justin's mistake. But I admitted it to myself, and when Justin's little girlfriend came looking for me, and told me Justin had run away to New York, I knew I had to go after him. Of course I'd put up a front with the others, had gone through a long drawn-out routine of denial, telling Deb I was not responsible for the kid and refusing to go after him. If only they'd all left me alone, I could have caught the red-eye to New York and found him by myself, without the ridiculous Lavender Posse piling into my jeep and making a pilgrimage to the city.
I'd been relieved to find Justin unharmed, but at the same time furious as hell at the way he'd played me. He knew I'd come looking for him, he'd gotten himself an expensive suite at the Hilton, and he was just waiting for me to come to his rescue. He admitted it. I pushed my way into the suite, sure I would find him with another man; instead I found a dozen half-eaten room service dishes and one very scared kid full of bravado and bluster. I'd been ready to blast him to hell and back, but I couldn't do it. I don't know why, but I couldn't.
Deb had taken me aside and suggested having 'little Sunshine' move into Michael's old room, and that seemed like a good solution to the problem, so I told Justin we'd find him a place to live and ordered him to pack up his gear. His answer was to peel off his bathrobe and try to seduce me with his naked body. I wasn't interested, not really, but then I thought: I'll punish-fuck him. Teach him to think twice before he tries to seduce me. It started out rough, I threw him on the bed and held him down. Trouble was, he liked it. He returned my blistering hot kisses and met my furious passion with his own, till I totally forgot that I was supposed to be teaching him a lesson.
I thought he'd flaunt that little tryst to the guys when we met up with them and started for home, but he didn't. He was subdued and embarrassed about running away, and luckily the guys didn't give him a hard time. In fact, he behaved so well that I took pity on him, perched uncomfortably between Ted and Emmett in the backseat of the jeep, and I asked Michael to drive the rest of the way so I could get in back and let Justin sit on my lap. He was dead-tired and went right to sleep, and slept almost all the way home.
Things kind of escalated after that. I was always clear with Justin that he would never be my boyfriend, and Iíve continued my normal pattern of constant casual sex. It's just that, my sex partners happen to include Justin more and more often. I really enjoy fucking him. I have made sure that he knows Iím doing dozens of other guys, but I keep finding myself in bed with Justin time and time again.
Worse, he keeps sucking me into his life. Iíve never given a shit about anybody (except Michael), then suddenly Iím eating pasta at Debís with a boring senator, just because this kid begged me to come. When I try to wise him up, warn him to be more suspicious of peoplesí motives, he slips his arm around me, rubs his cheek on my shoulder, and declares that heíll be fine, as long as heís got me to protect him. Me! So then: Do I push him away, do I growl that he sure as fuck does NOT have me to protect him? No. No, I hug him tighter to my chest. Christ.
I reached the breaking point with Justin a couple weeks ago. Everybody was starting to assume we were a couple, so I determined again to push him away, to annihilate him, to hurt him so much he would finally leave me alone. I picked up a trick at the King of Babylon contest , I was going to flaunt the trick, a really hot young stud, in Justinís face, in front of all the guys.
Then suddenly the drag queen announced a new stripper, and it was Justin! He looked right at me from the stage, and I knew immediately what he was doing. What he was trying to do. Make me jealous. What a joke, what a fucking joke, I thought. So I grabbed the trick and gave him a big kiss. The trick pushed me away. He pushed away BRIAN KINNEY so he could watch a skinny pale blond boy in a cowboy hat dancing around in his underwear.
Fine, I thought; fuck you, I thought, and I turned to watch the brat strut around on stage while the crowd went wild. I couldnít understand it at first; Justinís a hot kid, but heís not tanned, heís not muscular, heís not the porn-star type like the other contestants. Then I saw what the crowd was seeing. Not a phony oiled muscle hunk, but a real boy, a real man, exuding honest sex appeal; a real man you could touch, and kiss, and take home to fuck all night.
Afterwards I pretended to think the contest had been rigged, I desperately needed to put Justin in his place. But Justin surprised me. Again. He spit in my eye by stealing my trick right out from under my nose. In a daze, I watched them walk away. I blinked, and tried to push them out of my thoughts; turned around and ordered a double Absolut. I pretended not to notice the bartender smirking. I tossed back the drink and stood glaring at the empty glass. Then a thought occurred to me: Did the boys go to Babylonís back room? Impossible. Justin had never gone there. I was a hundred percent sure about that.
Anger and dread dragged me down the stairs. My seemingly casual gaze found nobody familiar on the first level. My feet kept moving downward. When I reached the bottom I glanced quickly around, relieved, and I remember that I sighed. Then I heard something behind me. A familiar soft moan. I twisted my head around and saw two figures huddled in the shadow under the stairs. It couldnít be, I kept repeating inside my head, but still I moved closer and closer. It was them. Justin and the other boy. Justin was fucking him. And they were loving it. I had never let Justin fuck me, and I didnít think that heíd fucked anyone else either (except Daphne, which hardly counts). But this was not Justinís first time. No, it wasnít.
That night had been a watershed experience for me. I felt lost and alone. Iíve always cherished being alone, and suddenly my independence left me feeling like a hollow empty shell. For another half hour I put up a front for the others, all the time wanting to get the fuck out of Babylon. Debbie came searching for me, to help bail Vic out of jail, and I couldnít even help my old friend. First chance I got after that, I slipped out the back door and drove home alone. I killed a half bottle of scotch before falling asleep. Next morning I was going to skip breakfast at the diner, but I knew I had to face the guys sometime, and I planned to just brazen it out.
When Justin came in, I could hardly make myself look at him. Pride should have carried me through, but it didnít. The best I could do was pretend to read the newspaper, pretend a disinterest even I wasnít buying. Justin saw through me. He had his chance to turn the knife in my wounded pride and I wouldnít even blame him. But he didnít do it. He joked a little with the guys, but he let me know, crystal clear and with a big smile, that he was still around if I wanted him.
But I didnít want him. Iíd had my first taste of rejection and it was bitter. I left the diner without finishing my breakfast, and I didnít answer my phone for a while. I worked at home for several nights, and finished a big ad campaign for Samuel Adams beer. It was a great success. My first night out in a week was attending the annual Pittsburgh Advertising Association dinner, where I won the Advertiser of the Year award and fucked the presenter, a handsome hunk from New York City. Which led to me sending my resume to his agency in the city. My ego somewhat restored, I rejoined the group at the diner next morning.
Justin was waiting tables, I just nodded casually at him, ignoring those incredibly expressive blue eyes of his. At the first opportunity I bragged to the others, in Justinís hearing, about the job I was getting in New York. It had the desired effect, and when he called me later, I took his call, and let him come over to help me pack for my interview in the city. I had already made up my mind to be very clear with Justin that once I left Pittsburgh, I was never coming back. I was prepared for his reaction, I knew he would be miserably unhappy. I was not prepared for my reaction to his unhappiness. I had to pull him into my arms and hold him tight. I didnít want to let him go. Finally he pulled away, grabbed his bag and ran out of the loft, sobbing. In the long run, I thought that would be good. Heíd get over his teenage crush, heíd find somebody new and be happy and carefree by the time he started college in the fall.
When the call came to tell me I didnít get the job, Justin was with me, researching New York apartments on the internet. Somehow I got rid of him, inventing a deadlined project for work. I sat alone on the sofa all that night, sipping Jim Beam and letting my failure sink in. The only one I wanted to tell was Mikey. I was longing to tell Mikey, but I couldnít. He was seriously considering moving to Portland with David, and even I couldnít interfere with that decision. Not this time. This was Mikeyís life and future at stake, I owed him the freedom to choose for himself.
By the night of Vicís celebration dinner, I was in a serious downward spiral. Even I could recognize it, but I couldnít stop drinking. I canít remember ever being so wasted as I was that night. I tried to slip away, but Justin came after me, drove me home, took care of me. Next day Lindsay came to check up on me. In a way itís a curse to have people care about you, though God knows Iíve done nothing to deserve it.
My thirtieth birthday party was a cruel and unusual celebration in a funeral home, no doubt arranged by the undertaker whoíd fucked Emmett many months ago. I broke the news to the gang that I didnít get the job in New York, then threw myself into an open coffin and slammed it shut. Everyone tried to laugh, but it wasnít funny. I wanted to stay in the coffin and let them nail down the lid.
Michael had decided to go to Portland, and he, Emmett and I shared our last drink together at Babylon. Emmett got tearful and planned a going-away party for Michael. And when I followed a cute young guy down the stairs, Justin stopped me with a call on my cell phone, then held on to my arm on the stairway to invite me to his prom. In a way that was the last straw for me. Or another last straw in a string of last straws.
Turning thirty, passed over by a trick who wanted Justin instead of me, watching my little boy fuck another man, rejected for the job in New York, losing Mikey to that asshole David who was taking him half a world away, and now being invited to a teenagerís prom. Brian Kinney had lost it. When Lindsay insisted on taking me shopping for my birthday present, and when I spied the silk scarf, I knew immediately what I wanted to do. Metaphorically I was at the end of my rope, and suddenly I wanted nothing so much as to be literally at the end of a rope, to be hanging by my long beautiful neck at the end of a silky white rope. Melodramatic, maybe; but also supremely fitting.
If Michael had not arrived at the loft when he did last night. . . But Michael did arrive; Michaelís harsh words woke me up from the miasmic spell I was under, and I realized I could no longer go through with it.
So: Brian Kinney - on his way to becoming not a legend but an anachronism - decides to make another grand gesture. But an unselfish gesture this time. For a change. Iím going to Justinís prom tonight.
Heíll be surprised when he sees me walk in. I think he will smile at me, this courageous boy who has become a courageous man. I think he will stand proudly next to the man he loves. I donít have Justinís courage, but Iím going to pretend that I do. If he wants a romantic dance, Iíll dance with him; if he wants to kiss, Iíll kiss him.
Iím going to take a shower now, and then Iíll put on the ruffled shirt I bought today - Justin said heíd like to see me in a ruffled shirt. I want to give him this night. After that, I donít know what will happen. Iíve made no plans. I refuse to look ahead any further than the prom.