Summary of Part Two: Brian and Justin take a weekend getaway to State College PA for the Arts Festival. Brian seems preoccupied, and once they are settled in the hotel, he announces that he must return briefly to Pittsburgh. Brian does not tell Justin that he’s answering an urgent summons to see his mother, who’s in the hospital. Once he’s there, Brian’s mother delivers some shocking news.
Part Three: CHAPTER ELEVEN
”Brian,” Mom lowers her voice until I can barely hear her. “Brian,” she quietly whispers, “Jack Kinney was not your father.”
My first reaction is a laugh. A loud, guffawing laugh that jumps right out of my mouth before I can stop it. It’s not amusement, it’s not even irony – it’s simply disbelief.
Mom gasps an indrawn breath and her eyes widen, her mouth’s working silently as I shake my head and ask inanely, “What?” as if I haven’t heard correctly.
“Jack was not your father,” she repeats, still whispering.
“What do you mean? I don’t understand.” But I’m beginning to.
“Brian,” Mom raises her voice slightly, “I made a mistake. Do you understand now? I sinned – with another man. And I was punished by God.”
I’m silenced then, sitting motionless as a statue, just staring at her. The first thing I can think to ask is, “Why?”
“Never mind.” I shake my head, embarrassed by the ridiculous question. Do I really need to ask why somebody fucks somebody else? Even straight people get itches and they scratch them. It means nothing. Or anyway, it should mean nothing – unless people are careless and the result is a disease – or a baby.
I ask the first thing that comes into my mind. “Why didn’t you use a condom?”
No doubt it’s a stupid question but Mom answers immediately, “The Church is against birth control.”
I refrain from pointing out that the Church is against adultery, too.
Mom doesn’t like the look on my face, she’s getting angry. “Stop staring at me that way,” she hisses, “From what I hear you’re a terrible sinner yourself. Who are you to judge me?”
“I’m not judging you,” I contradict, “I’m just trying to understand.”
But she must still think I’m judging her because immediately she raises her voice and says, “It was your father’s fault, he was the biggest sinner of them all. He was always cheating on me, you must know that’s true.”
I nod but I’m barely listening, thoughts are chasing themselves around inside my skull. “I know he liked the ladies,” I say.
Pop even bragged to me, when I was older, about his prowess with “the ladies.” And of course I knew that Mom was aware of Pop’s cheating.
She’s continuing her rant: “Jack always left me alone, he never took me anywhere, never spent any time with me.”
This is a song that I’ve heard my mother sing plenty of times, but for some reason it never occurred to me that she was really upset about Pop’s absence from home. If anything, I’d have thought she was glad that he left her alone, since they fought like fucking tigers whenever they were together.
“I was lonely,” she says, and for the first time I feel a pinch of what might be considered empathy for my mother. A sudden image flashes in my brain, the reflection of my eyes looking into the mirror, the morning after Justin left me for the fiddler. Quickly I shake my head to dislodge that image and to dislodge any trace of sympathy for my mother. I realize that I’m starting to get angry.
“Why,” I ask then, leaning forward in my chair and fixing my eyes on Mom’s face, “Why the fuck are you telling me this now?”
And I realize that I’d rather not have known, I’d rather my mother had taken her secret to the grave. I don’t want to know that Jack was not my father.
Jack was not my father. The full import of this statement is only beginning to jell inside my brain.
“How can you be sure,” it occurs to me to ask, “That - ”
“Jack and I weren’t – we didn’t - ”
When Mom’s voice trails off, I interpret, “You weren’t fucking?”
“We weren’t having marital relations,” Mom almost hisses at me. “Or, not very often. Not then.”
Suddenly I leap to my feet and demand, “Did he know? Did he fucking know?”
Mom doesn’t pretend to misunderstand. “Not – exactly,” she murmurs, pulling her eyes from my face and looking away.
“He suspected,” she turns back to look at me again. “He suspected that you were not his son, but I never told him. He never knew for sure.”
My hands have turned into fists and I want to hit something. I feel an almost unbearable urge to hit something. I turn from the bed and walk away, pace over to a window across the room, turn and come back again, stand looking down at her, my head almost exploding. I take a quick breath, another, to calm myself, and when I can speak again, I whisper, “Was that why he wanted you to have an abortion?”
“I don’t know,” Mom says, but I can tell that she’s lying. Of course that must be why.
I sit down again, I almost drop down onto the chair and I rub both hands hard over my face. There’s so much to think about, so many puzzle pieces of my childhood, my relationship with my – with Jack, that have taken on new meaning. I need time to put it all together. I need to get away from here.
Raising my head and looking at my mother, I say, “I have to go now.”
“Brian, will you come back? I need to talk to you some more.”
“I don’t know.” It’s the truth. I don’t want to talk to her. Not now, maybe not ever again, I don’t know. All I know is, I have to get away from here, I need to be alone. Christ, I need a drink. Or two drinks, or three.
Standing up and straightening my jacket, I turn my back to my mother and walk away from her bed. “Brian,” she calls after me, “Please wait a minute.”
I stop in my tracks and keep my back to her until I can be sure that my face is blank. Turning around at the door, I glance at Mom and raise my eyebrows in query.
“Brian, please don’t tell anybody. Not Clare – not anybody. Please?” she asks plaintively, her voice sounding uncharacteristically weak and beseeching.
“Yes, okay,” I sigh, then add, “I mean, no, I won’t.”
“Call me later?”
I nod again, neither yes nor no, and then I’m hurrying out the door, down the long white corridor and bursting out the exit door to the hospital parking lot.
I’m annoyed when Brian doesn’t show up by two o’clock. I’m really pissed at three. At four I start calling his cell phone, being glad finally that he brought it along after all. Except, there’s no answer. I leave a message, at four-thirty I leave another, and by five o’clock, I can’t decide if I’m furious because he’s late or if I’m furious because he’s got me worried about him crashing the car.
If there were a car accident, how long till I got a phone call? If it were something minor, a fender-bender, surely Brian would call me himself. Why hasn’t he called?
I feel so fucking helpless. I don’t know where Brian went, I don’t have a car to go looking for him, I don’t even have my cell phone so I’m afraid to leave the room in case I miss his call. I know Brian will get angry if I start phoning our family and friends in Pittsburgh to check up on him, but by seven-thirty, I make up my mind to call Michael, I can’t wait any longer. I reach for the phone and then I jump about a foot in the air when suddenly it rings right under my hand.
Jerking and knocking the phone off the table, I bend down to grab the receiver and press it to my ear, exclaiming, “Brian, where the fuck are you?”
“It’s not Brian, it’s Michael.”
Oh God. Something’s happened. A horrible sense of dread washes over me, I rub a hand over my chest, I can hardly breathe, I can’t make a sound.
“Justin, you there?”
“What happened?” I manage to ask, my voice squeaky and gasping. “Did something happen to Brian?”
“Yes,” Michael says, “He’s - ”
“He’s dead!” I knew it. My legs go out from under me and I sit down, hard, on the carpet.
“No,” Michael reassures me quickly, “No, of course he’s not dead! Well, he’s dead-drunk, but otherwise he’s okay.”
Oh God, Brian’s not dead!
But he’s going to be, when I get my hands on him. Fucking asshole! “That fucking asshole!” I leap to my feet. “Let me talk to him!”
“He’s not here,” Michael explains. “He’s – well, he’s in jail.”
“Jail! Did he crash the car? Is he okay? Michael, damn it, don’t make me play Twenty Questions – just tell me what happened.”
“Then stop queening out on me and listen!” he snaps back.
I take a deep breath and blow it out. “Sorry. Michael, I’m sorry, you’re right. I’ve just been worried sick, he was due back here hours ago!” I take another breath and perch on the edge of the bed. “I’m calm now, so tell me, please, what the fuck is going on?”
“Actually, I don’t know much,” he admits. “Somebody called me a few minutes ago from the police station. He’s in Altoona – that’s about halfway between Pittsburgh and State College, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.” We passed through Altoona on the drive up here yesterday afternoon.
“Well, all I know is, Brian got pulled over for drunk driving. Apparently he got belligerent and they dragged his ass to jail. He passed out and he only just came to a little while ago. The officer said Brian gave him my number, I don’t know why he didn’t call you.”
“I don’t have my cell with me, but why didn’t he call the hotel?”
Michael says he doesn’t know. “I’m on my way to Altoona now,” he tells me, “I’m going to post bail for Brian, but I think they’re going to keep him overnight, till he sobers up. I’ll call you from the police station, okay?”
“Okay. Thanks, Michael.” We hang up and I sit on the edge of the bed a few minutes longer, torn between relief that Brian is okay and anger that he’s fucked up our weekend. And I’m also pissed that Brian called Michael to help him. I’m his partner, why didn’t he call me?
Well, I don’t have a car to get to Altoona but I could have taken a cab or something. Meanwhile, as I wait for Michael to call me back, I might as well order some dinner from room-service, I missed lunch waiting for Brian and I’m starving.
When Michael calls again two hours later, I’m much calmer. He confirms that they’re keeping Brian overnight, but Michael posted bail and the police will release Brian in the morning. Michael says Brian will pick up his car and drive here; he’ll meet me at the hotel some time tomorrow morning.
Now that I don’t have to worry any more, I’m free to get as mad as I want to. And I’m getting very, very angry. Not just because the weekend is ruined. But because Brian left me to go off on his own and do something that apparently got him so upset, he drank himself stupid. It takes a lot of alcohol to get Brian fall-down drunk. He wouldn’t tell me where he was going or why, and now I feel sure he won’t tell me why he got plastered.
I’m right of course. About nine thirty a.m. I’m curled up in an easy chair holding my sketchpad and doodling, with White Stripes blaring loud on my earphones, when movement makes my head come up and I see that the door is being pushed open. Brian’s standing there looking almost sheepish for a moment, then he puts on his who-gives-a-fuck expression and says blandly, “Hey.”
I don’t return his greeting, just pull off my earphones and stare at him. I’m waiting.
Brian closes the door. “You should’ve locked this,” he gripes, “Any asshole could just walk right in.”
“You’re mad.” It’s rhetorical; Brian shrugs. “So, I stopped for a drink or two,” he’s nonchalant as he pulls off his jacket and throws it toward the bed. “Big deal.”
“How many drinks? Michael says you passed out.”
“Yeah, well, I hadn’t eaten anything all day.”
“I was busy.” Brian turns away and begins to empty his pockets, laying wallet and keys and coins on the desk.
“Brian,” I can hear my voice taking on an edge; he hears it too and cocks his head to one side though he doesn’t turn to look at me. “I have to know something,” I insist. “Why did you call Michael instead of me?”
Carelessly he answers, still without looking at me, “I couldn’t remember the name of the hotel. I couldn’t call information, they only let me have one phone call. Besides, I needed someone who knows how to post bail.”
“You could’ve used your cell to call me later.”
Now he turns and gives me his oh-so-casual look again. “Yeah, well, I didn’t have it. Probably the cops stole it.”
“Probably you left it in the bar. Was it a gay bar, Brian? Did you stop to get your dick sucked?”
“End of story - no more third degree. I’m going to take a shower. Then can we go to breakfast? I’m hungry.” Without waiting for an answer, Brian strips off his shirt and drops it, toes off his shoes, yanks open the bathroom door and closes it abruptly behind him.
I close the bathroom door and look at myself in the mirror: Beard stubble and bleary eyes. I look like shit. Not very surprisingly, I feel like shit too. I'm still hung over, my head is pounding, I’m slightly nauseated. I’m in no shape to deal with Justin’s anger, no matter how justified. And I admit to myself that it is justified - I’ve fucked up his weekend.
But most of it was beyond my control - not that I'll admit that to him, and I don’t intend to make excuses. The fact is, I was caught off guard by my mother's revelation. I needed some time alone, a few drinks, so that I could come to terms with what she told me before rejoining Justin and carrying on as though nothing has happened. As though the fucking rug hasn't been pulled out from under me.
Still studying my reflection, I shake my head; no. Melodrama is not my style. Well, some people might dispute that statement, but fuck 'em. Instead I can say that emotional turmoil is not my style. Most of my life I've successfully avoided personal entanglements and the complications they bring. Not always, obviously - the pissed-off blond in the next room is proof of that. But the sturm-und-drang and histrionics that were daily life in the Kinney home when I was growing up taught me to disengage and walk away from emotional bullshit.
When I left the hospital yesterday, it was my intention to disengage from the havoc my mother's newsflash created in my gut. The further I got away from Pittsburgh, the easier it should have been; I’ve never had a problem ignoring unpleasant information. Yet it wasn’t working this time, so I pulled off the highway and found a bar, threw back a few shots of JB and waited for comfortable numbness. But the more I drank, the more fragments of memory rose up in my throat like bile I couldn't swallow. Events of my childhood, conversations I'd had with Pop - I mean with Jack - over the years, played and replayed in my head.
Instead of strengthening my resolve to disengage, the drinks I kept throwing back had the opposite effect. Finally I gave up, got back into the ‘vette and drove north. I barely remember being pulled over; even to myself I have to admit that I was pretty far gone. I do remember getting out of the car and confronting the cop, but after that, everything’s a blur, till I woke up late in the afternoon and discovered that Michael had arrived to bail me out.
Once awake and unable to convince the police to release me until this morning, I’d spent a night in their fucking drunk tank surrounded by snoring deadbeats. Somehow I’d made it through the night without dwelling any more on Mom’s announcement; I’d even been able to sleep a bit finally. This morning all I could think about was getting out of there and driving as fast as legally possible to get here, to be here with Justin.
I don’t like to think what that means, exactly. I don’t like to think it means that I need him, or anything like that.
All I want right now is to close the door on yesterday. Just walk away. Yes, I nod at my reflection in the mirror; just close the fucking door. With that resolve, I move to the shower and turn the knobs, adjust the temperature to boiling. Throwing off the rest of my clothes, I climb into the tub and stick my head under the steaming hot shower spray.
Waiting for Brian to get out of the shower, I work on my attitude. I can be righteously angry that he’s spoiled our weekend get-away, continue to tell him off, demand an explanation. Then he’ll refuse to explain or even to apologize, and we can spend the rest of the day being mad at each other.
Or, I can decide to ignore his behavior, consider it just another example of Brian’s bullshit, shrug it off and move on.
I don’t want to do either. Mostly because it seems like Brian and I are further away from having a real partnership than we were half a year ago, when I left for LA. Brian fucking up is not the problem. He didn’t walk away from me in the middle of our weekend just to get drunk and fuck around, there was some reason he needed to do that. Why did he do that?
Why can’t he tell me? If there was a problem at Kinnetik, or with Lindsay or Gus or Debbie, or even with Michael, Brian would probably tell me. The only reason I can think of for not telling me what’s going on is that maybe there’s another man in the picture. Brian knows I’m okay with him refusing monogamy, as long as I’m only sharing Brian’s cock with a bunch of other guys. But what if he sort of fell into a relationship with some other guy while I was gone? He wouldn’t want to tell me, he wouldn’t want anyone else to know either – it would look like he was getting even with me, for Ethan. Brian’s not petty or cruel – well okay, sometimes he can be. But I know in my heart he wouldn’t want to hurt me like that.
But what if it happened accidentally and now that I’m home, Brian’s breaking it off? Maybe the other guy won’t go quietly. Or – oh God, I can’t bear to think about this possibility – what if it’s the other way around? What if it’s me that he wants to break off with?
By the time Brian gets out of the shower, I’ve almost convinced myself it’s all over. Maybe this weekend away from the Pitts is his way of letting me down easy. Maybe he’s planning to tell me today, maybe he got so drunk yesterday to prepare himself to give me the boot?
I look up when Brian opens the bathroom door and emerges, he glances at me and then does a double take. “What is it?” he asks, moving quickly across the carpet and putting a hand on my shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I shake my head, wondering what’s showing on my face. I meet his eyes and shrug.
“Justin.” Brian leans down and presses his forehead to mine, we look cross-eyed at each other. “How about, you can be mad at me again when we get home tonight. But for now, maybe we can salvage what’s left of the weekend, okay? Let’s have a good time today.”
Swallowing my worry, I nod and try to smile. We kiss, then Brian stands up and pulls me into his arms. Rubbing his cock against mine, Brian groans quietly and pushes me gently backwards toward the bed.
“No, wait,” I argue, gasping a bit. “Breakfast first, sex later.”
Brian snorts at that and pulls away. “Your priorities are fucked, as usual.” But he lets me go and drops his towel; he gets dressed quickly and we move together down the hall and into the hotel parking garage. When we’re in the car buckling up, I spy something shiny on the floor of the back seat, undo my seat belt and twist sideways, reaching into the back.
“Here’s your cell phone,” I announce, flashing it in Brian’s face. “The police stole it, you said!”
“They did,” he insists, straight-faced as he grabs the phone and pockets it. “They must have slipped it back in the car while I was in the clink.”
“Brian,” I venture gingerly, “What did you do to get arrested? Michael said you assaulted a police officer.”
“I don’t remember that part.”
”What was it like, being in jail?”
“Justin,” Brian sighs, “It sucked, okay? I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Where is that famous sticky-bun place you wanted to try?”
I give Brian directions then add, “Don’t change the subject. I want to hear about your prison experience.”
“Where is it written in your Partners How-To Book, that we have to share every intimate experience under the sun?”
Brian chuckles, but stops when I can’t resist adding, “Right after Chapter Eleven: Unexplained Absences.”
Frowning as he steers the ‘vette around a corner, Brian says tersely, “I explained.”
“No, you didn’t.” Oh Justin, I counsel myself, please shut up.
Paying no attention to my own good advice, I hear myself asking, “Did you promise him you wouldn’t tell me?”
“Him?” Brian’s surprised. “Him, who – Michael? What’re you talking about?”
I’m biting my tongue, I didn’t mean to push Brian into a corner about this right now. “You know you can tell me anything, you know that, right? I’m not going to get mad or give you a hard time or anything, but - ”
Brian turns to stare at me and raises his eyebrows to emphasize, “But you are mad, and you’ve done nothing BUT give me a hard time today.”
“Being a shit is not going to help.”
He shrugs and turns away. “It used to.”
Justin’s got his mouth wrapped around a third sticky-bun, there’s icing on the tip of his nose and both hands are sticky where he holds the gooey confection up to his mouth. He glances up at me through loose strands of blond hair hanging around his face as he hunches over his plate on the table between us, and he catches me in an unguarded moment before I can remove what must be a silly, sappy look in my eyes.
Sometimes he looks so fucking adorable that I forget what a little shit he is.
Leaning against the back of the booth, I move my fork idly around the remains of sticky-bun on my own plate. “You’ll be in sugar shock in about five minutes,” I drawl, frowning to counteract any accidental impression of affection that escaped me.
Justin’s brow has been furrowed since I got to the hotel this morning, he’s reading too much into my disappearing act yesterday. Yes, it was shitty of me to fuck up this weekend and he’s entitled to be pissed off. But it feels deeper than mere annoyance or even anger; he seems to be fucking worried about it. So I’m glad when I see Justin relax now, and I decide that maybe it was okay for him to see a little tenderness, or whateverthefuck, in my eyes a moment ago.
Justin’s eyes crinkle up at the corners and he gives me a cheeky grin. There’s the Sunshine that’s been missing from the morning. And so I jettison the snide remark I was preparing about his undignified display of greedy gobbling, and instead I rise up on the bench and lean across the table, surprising him (and myself) with a smacking kiss on his icing-covered lips.
“Mmm, tastes better with you on it.”
Justin laughs at that, he tosses his head and I see him relax a bit more. He doesn’t even glance around to see what the hetero crowd at Ye Olde College Diner make of my PDA, and I’m reminded again how much I like the confident young man Justin has become. His months in LA working and living on his own matured him even more and increased his self-confidence. I’m glad of that.
At least I think I am. Justin is demonstrably less willing now to put up with bullshit from anyone, including me. It’s good that he’s become more self-reliant; if I have to be partners with a man, at least that man won’t always be leaning on me for moral support and all that touchy-feely bullshit. Just because in retrospect I might have slightly enjoyed having Justin lean on me sometimes, that doesn’t mean I want to spend my life with somebody emotionally needy.
Whoa. Mentally I put the brakes on the killer phrase “spend my life with somebody.” Who said anything about a lifetime? Partnerships come and go. Justin has come and gone away from me twice now. He could leave me again, or I could leave him. Although looking at him now as he returns his attention to the pastry he’s devouring, it’s hard to imagine me walking away from him. I tried to leave him only once, for the ill-fated job in New York. And while I’ve always told myself that I really would have left him in Pittsburgh, as time passes I can admit that even then, the thought had crossed my mind that there were plenty of good art schools in New York.
Justin’s easily settling into the new semester at the IFA, falling on his feet as he’s done a couple times before. It’s further proof of his intelligence, his talent and his fucking charm, that he can waltz in and out the doors of the IFA with ease. But he’d damned well better stay put this time, otherwise he’ll be ninety before he graduates.
Later on the long drive home I ask him, “How’s school?” sounding positively avuncular; but I really want to know.
We’ve been riding along in companionable silence – at least I think he’s finished being mad at me. We spent the afternoon cramming in as many highlights of the arts festival as possible and we had a fantastic dinner at Chez Marquise, though Justin accused me of wanting to dine there only to justify wearing the dressy suits I’d insisted we bring along. I’m not sure that boy’s palate is ever going to rise above his favorite pink-plate-special at the Liberty Diner.
Now it’s late – later than I’d planned for the drive back to Pittsburgh but I owed him as much time as possible in State College, and we couldn’t stay over another night since I have a Monday morning meeting at Kinnetik.
Justin stretches and yawns, he may have been dozing the past thirty miles. He turns sideways in the seat to answer me. “Great, actually. Did I tell you Dean Ryerson has okayed giving me six credits for my assistant-art-director experience in LA?” When I shake my head no, he adds, “So you see, I won’t be so far behind as you thought.”
“Brian,” Justin starts, then stops abruptly.
“Brian – you’re not – you didn’t get – kind of mad at me, for leaving? Did you?”
“What kind of stupid question is that? Of course not.”
It’s like he didn’t hear my answer; he goes on, “Because, if you didn’t want me to go, you would’ve told me. Right?” I draw breath to answer but he doesn’t wait, he adds quickly, “I mean, you would’ve just been upfront and told me.”
“Justin – what the fuck are you talking about?”
“Nothing! I just, I don’t know. It just seems like maybe you’re holding it against me. Or something.”
Swerving the ‘vette off onto the shoulder of the road, I throw it into park and shut off the engine. “I encouraged you to take the Hollywood job,” I remind him. Then I add lightly, trying to push away the feeling that something ominous is happening between us, “The only thing I’ve ever held against you is my cock.”
He’s not distracted. “I just mean, you wouldn’t have done anything, I don’t know, weird or something, while I was gone. If you were mad. Which you weren’t.”
Unbuckling my seatbelt, I flip on the overhead light, then turn sideways in my seat and grab Justin’s shoulders, give him a gentle shake. “Justin,” I tell him, studying his face which is turning red as it does when he’s upset. “You’re not making sense. What do you imagine I did while you were gone??”
“Nothing. I don’t know.”
“Wait a minute.” Suddenly I’m wondering who’s been getting to him. “Did somebody tell you that I’ve been fucking around? That’s not weird, and you know it already.” When he just stares back at me, I add, “I tricked a lot, so what?”
Justin nods again and murmurs, “I know.”
Is he mad because I’ve been fucking around? “Justin,” I remind him, “That’s normal for me. I do that when you’re here, too.”
“I know,” he repeats, looking away.
So that’s it. He’s upset about me tricking. I thought this was settled a long time ago. “You said you were okay with it,” I remind him, staring at the side of his face, he’s still turned away from me.
“Yes,” he agrees with a heavy sigh. “Of course I’m okay with it.”
We just sit there for a moment, like a couple of statues.
He turns back toward me again and he repeats, more forcefully, “Of course I’m okay with it, Brian. That’s just you being you.”
Obviously he’s not okay with it, but we are not going there. “Then what,” I want to know, “Is this all about?”
“Nothing, nothing. I’m just tired, Brian. Let’s go home now, okay? I have an early class tomorrow.”
I look at him a moment longer, then I nod. Now is not the time to get into a long-winded discussion about tricking, or anything else for that matter. Facing front again and fastening my seatbelt, I start the car and pull back onto the highway. A few minutes later, I realize that my hand has crept across the seat, over the gearbox and into his lap, searching for his hand. Our fingers intertwine and we squeeze, then we drive onward through the darkness toward home.