Summary of Part Twelve: The Key: Brian pays a couple visits to his mother. Alexander DuPont makes an offer to Justin.
Part Thirteen: First, Last, Only
It’s been a couple days since I told Mom about Shaughn and I keep meaning to call him, but work has been fucking hell and. . .well, work is the main reason. And also I’ve just had a lot on my mind. Lots of stuff, not least of which is the increased frequency of the calls Justin’s getting at home from Alexander DuPont almost every fucking night.
After the third call in as many evenings interrupts our viewing of some DVD the brat rented, I’m on the alert. First off, Justin glances at his cell when it beeps his silly disco music and he decides to take the call, when normally he’d let the machine take a message. Secondly, he gets up off the sofa and moves out into the hallway, after giving me a suspiciously sweet smile and whispering, “Be right back.”
Naturally I’m annoyed, he coerced me into watching this stupid film and I’m pissed to find myself alone, staring at the plasma screen. I am not trying to eavesdrop on his fucking phone call, eavesdropping is not my style and besides, I can’t hear a fucking word.
When Justin comes back a few minutes later and drops down on the sofa next to me, it’s my intention to say nothing at all about the phone call. So I’m surprised to hear myself casually asking “Who was that?” as he reaches for the remote.
“Zander. You heard me say, ‘hello, Zander,’ didn’t you?” Before I can answer he adds, “That’s why you made that sauerkraut face, isn’t it?”
“Hmm.” I won’t deign to confirm his accusation, which is bullshit anyway because my face never shows my feelings. Still, I can’t help asking, “You had to go outside? You needed privacy?”
“No,” he’s annoyed. “I just couldn’t hear over the tv.”
“There’s this magic button on the remote that controls the volume. Want a demonstration?”
“Brian - “
“I’m just curious how you’ve become so fucking indispensable to this guy’s life. He’s some big-shot artist and you’re just the student intern.”
“Brian - “
“I had dozens of student interns when I worked at Vanguard. I never called any of them.”
“Brian, this is different. I’m not that kind of intern.”
“What kind of intern are you?”
“I just mean, I’ve been organizing his collected works and he hasn’t learned to use the software, so when he wants to locate something, he calls me.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to teach him the software?”
“Yes, and I’m trying, but he’s not very good at technology stuff.”
“He has no right to keep bothering you when you’re off-duty. You have to know how to deal with people like that, he’s taking advantage of you.”
“I’m handling things just fine, Brian.”
“What things, exactly? What’s there to ‘handle?’ His canvases? His paintbrushes? His cock?”
I wasn’t joking. I grab the remote from Justin’s hand and turn up the volume.
“Brian,” Justin turns up his own volume to compensate, almost shouting as he insists, “There’s no reason for you to be jealous.”
“Jealous?” I’m insulted. Standing up and snapping off the tv, I raise my eyebrows at Justin. “I’m not jealous, I don’t do jealous. If you want to fuck him, go ahead and fuck him.”
“I’m not fucking him.”
“Well, you can.”
“Well, I don’t want to. And the thing is, Brian, he’s not interested in me like that. He’s very respectful and polite, he’s never even made a pass at me.”
We stare at each other for a minute, maybe this is some kind of impasse. Then, “This conversation is boring,” I tell him, “And so is the movie you rented. I’m going to Woody’s. You can come if you want to, or you can stay home and wait for the phone to ring.”
Without waiting for a response, I go and grab my jacket from the bedroom closet and move toward the door. Justin hasn’t budged, and a surreptitious glance at his face reveals that he’s pouting mutinously. I pause at the door, mentally reviewing our conversation, and I have to admit that maybe, just possibly, I over-reacted.
Fuck that, I don’t have to admit anything. Pulling open the door, I move into the hallway and push it closed with a bit of unnecessary roughness.
It’s really annoying that Brian doesn’t trust me, I can take care of myself. Christ, I spent six months in LA on my own surrounded by millions of guys hitting on me, doesn’t Brian think I can handle one guy in Pittsburgh? Besides, I told him the truth - Zander has never put the moves on me, and except for the first couple days, he doesn’t even hug me any more. I made it pretty clear with my body language that I didn’t like it and he stopped. If only he’d stop nagging me about Italy, my job would be just about perfect.
Now Brian’s gone storming out of the loft, headed for Woody’s. In the past I would have immediately followed him, but I’m not going to do that any more. In fact, if I just stay here, I know that Brian will come home a lot sooner.
I’m proved right when the door is pushed open less than an hour later. I’m on the computer and I don’t turn around, instead I wait to see what Brian will do. He doesn’t keep me wondering long, he moves from the door to stand behind my chair, leans down and rubs his cheek against mine. “How about a shower?” he suggests, and happily I log off the computer and push back my chair. He keeps his arms around me as we head up the steps to the bedroom. It’s the Brian equivalent of an apology, and it’s good enough for me.
When Cynthia buzzes via intercom and announces that Alexander DuPont is in the lobby asking to see me, I feel my heart jerk in my chest. Mentally running through a short list of any possible reasons for the artist’s visit, I can’t come up with an answer. My impulse is to keep the guy cooling his heels for a while, but curiosity – that’s all it is – makes me tell Cynthia to show him in.
I stand up as he enters and he strides quickly forward to stretch out his hand across my desk. I don’t bother to waste a smile on the man but I shake his hand and indicate a chair for him to sit. He shakes his head no.
“Can I take you to lunch, Brian?” he suggests.
“Thanks,” I answer shortly, “But I don’t eat lunch, and I’ve got appointments all day.” I don’t, in fact the calendar’s unusually light today, there’s only a budget meeting with Ted scheduled for late this afternoon.
“You’re the head honcho,” DuPont points out, “Can’t you clear your schedule for a couple hours? It’s important that we talk.”
Christ, there goes that lurching-heart sensation again, though I keep my face blandly blank and just stare back at him for a moment, considering. "Why don't we just talk here?"
"Oh, but I want your undivided attention," he smiles slightly.
“I’m – intrigued,” I say, though that’s not quite the right word for what I’m feeling. He stares back at me and I can’t read the expression on his face – he’s looking pretty bland himself. Moving around from behind my desk, I say, “Have a seat, I’ll go check with my assistant.” Then I push through the door and confront Cynthia; she’s on the phone but hangs up quickly and gives me her “yes, sir?” look.
“I’m going to lunch but I’ll be back in time for the budget meeting.”
“Okay,” she agrees, then leans over her desk and whispers, “Brian, isn’t that the famous artist?”
“What – you want his autograph?” I curl my lip, but she only grins.
"No, I just wondered if he's going to be a new client. Or - something?"
I won't gratify her curiosity, instead of answering I turn away and head back into my office. DuPont stands up and I nod. "Okay, let's go."
"Great! How's Charlie's?"
"Whatever. I don't eat lunch," I repeat.
"Then how about coming back to my place instead? We won't waste time in a restaurant and we'll have more privacy." When I hesitate, trying to remember Justin's schedule, DuPont reads my mind. "He's not working today, we'll be alone."
So this is about Justin, I figured as much. "Okay," I agree, then follow the artist out to the parking lot. He offers to drive but I refuse; I want my own car so I can leave whenever I feel like it.
It's a short drive to DuPont's borrowed house; I follow him through the electric gate and park behind him in the curved driveway. Then we go up the steps, through the entry, and into what appears to be the artist's study, a large airy room with tall windows, bookshelves lining two walls, a desk and several armchairs. "Can I offer you a drink?" he asks, and I wonder if I'm going to need one but I shake my head no.
We sit down in front of his desk in leather armchairs, and it's with something approaching trepidation that I wait for him to start. Then I remember that hesitation's not my modus operandi so I take the initiative and ask coolly, "So, what's up? Besides your cock, whenever you're around young Mister Taylor?"
DuPont merely chuckles. "No, no, Brian, that's so heavy-handed," he chides me. "Besides, young Mister Taylor has no effect on my cock. Or," he shrugs, "Not very much. Too young and shy for my taste."
That relieves my mind of at least one concern: If he thinks Justin's shy, he hasn't been in bed with the lad. Justin's nearly as carnivorous as I am myself. But there's no need to disabuse the artist's mind of his erroneous conclusion, and I just raise my eyebrows in silent question. So what the fuck is DuPont after?
"No," he repeats, "I didn't ask you here to challenge you to a duel for the sweet boy's affections," he smiles almost mockingly. "No, the thing is, I've become more impressed than I can say with Justin's artistic ability. He has a tremendous future ahead of him, if he grasps every opportunity that presents itself."
I'm still in the dark but I merely say, "I agree."
"In fact," DuPont leans forward in his chair and continues earnestly, "I've been trying to convince Justin that his first responsibility right now MUST BE to himself, to the pursuit of artistic perfection. Everything else must take a back seat. Even," he sighs and leans back in his chair again and regards me from under hooded eyelids, "Even at the expense of every other consideration in his life right now."
"Am I to conclude," I ask crisply, "That it's your opinion Justin's relationship with me is a hindrance to his career?"
"Oh, it's more than my opinion," DuPont insists, leaning forward again. "It's a fact."
"The fact is," I'm annoyed and I stand up abruptly, "That Justin's personal life is none of your fucking business." I can't believe I let the artist drag me over here for this bullshit.
"You're right, of course," DuPont answers evenly, taking the wind from my sails. "But I was hoping we could talk unemotionally about what's at stake now for Justin. I was hoping you'd be able to put Justin first, ahead of your own desires, in this instance."
DuPont's lucky I don't simply punch him out; we look to be evenly matched physically and at the very least, I could knock him down a couple times. "What's at stake for Justin," I inform him coldly, "Is that he's going to finish his degree at the IFA, and after that he'll make his own career decisions."
I turn to march out of the room but before I reach the door, DuPont answers softly, "That might be too late."
Despite my anger, the artist has grabbed my attention and I turn around again. "Too late for what?"
"Please sit down, Brian, and I'll explain."
Reluctantly I return and sit down on the edge of the chair.
"First off," DuPont says, "Justin is already far more advanced than any of the instructors at the IFA. Continuing on with their program can only stifle Justin's own creativity.”
It's hard to argue with that statement, since Justin himself has often railed about what he considers the sometimes stifling atmosphere at the school, he's complained about several teachers who resist innovation and others who discourage the use of his computer.
When I say nothing, DuPont continues, "Justin is ready for greater challenges than he can get at the university, he's ready to study with other artists more advanced and innovative.”
"Like you?" I ask crudely.
"Not I," he contradicts. "But there’s no one in Pittsburgh, and very few teachers in this country as a whole, who can provide the kind of creative stimulation Justin needs at this stage of his development. However,” he hurries on before I can interrupt, though damned if I know what to say to that, “There is an excellent program in Rome that begins in the spring, specifically developed for young artists poised for greatness who are ready for the challenge. I’m on the board of directors of the Accademia but that’s the limit of my involvement - I’m not a teacher myself – so be assured that there’s no hidden motive at work here.”
When I just sit there unspeaking – I honestly am at a loss for words now – DuPont delivers the kicker: “I’ve offered to sponsor Justin for the Accademia’s program. It would be a scholarship, no strings attached.” When I draw breath to protest, he hurries on, “If it relieves your mind, I’ll tell you that I myself am committed to a project in San Francisco when I finish up in Pittsburgh. I won’t return to Europe for eight or nine months at least. So you see, there is no ulterior motive for me to move Justin out of your reach – I have no intention of pursuing him.”
“Your motives don’t concern me,” I tell him. That’s not entirely true, but he’s beginning to convince me that it’s not Justin’s ass he’s after. “And if Justin wants to study in Italy, I can damned well pay for that myself.”
“And Justin would allow you to do so?”
“I - “ I blink, remembering Justin’s stated determination to keep our personal lives separate from our careers from now on. He won’t even accept a job at Kinnetik, so there’s no way he’d let me pay for this school in Italy.
“And Justin would leave you for a year to pursue this opportunity?”
Fuck. “Probably,” I hedge. After all, he left me for LA. But he’s said more than once that he’s never going to leave me again. Of course normally I put no stock in people’s promises. Promises are always bullshit. Almost always.
Then I remember that DuPont said he’s already made this offer to Justin. “When you told Justin about this program in Italy,” I ask, “What did he say? Exactly?”
“To be perfectly honest,” the artist lowers his voice almost sympathetically, “He was very excited by the idea of studying in Rome. And he said several times, when pressed, that he’s considering it. But,” he concludes, spreading his hands, “I’m pretty sure he’s just saying that, to get me off his back.” DuPont smiles slightly. “I’ve been pretty insistent, probably he’s tired of fobbing me off.”
When I just sit there staring into space for a moment, the artist interrupts my thoughts. “Am I right in thinking that Justin has not mentioned this to you?” I swing my gaze around to DuPont and I nod. “Then,” he says gently, “Isn’t it obvious that he’s not comfortable discussing it with you? For whatever reasons – which, as you point out, are none of my business.”
I stand up then and pace over to the window, glance out at the manicured lawn. Taking a deep breath and blowing it out slowly, I ask, “When do you need an answer? What kind of timeline are we looking at, for Justin to decide about the program?”
“Probably within a couple weeks at the most. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of competition for a place at the Accademia. Attendance is confirmed several months in advance.”
“Okay,” I say, still without turning around. “Okay.”
DuPont waits, then he asks, “What does ‘okay’ mean, Brian?”
“I don’t know.” I turn then and walk back toward the desk. “I don’t know,” I repeat, “But I’ll think about it and get back to you. Don’t tell Justin we’ve talked about this.”
“Right,” he agrees, standing up and escorting me to the door. “You have my number?” When I shake my head no, DuPont pulls a purple business card from his pocket and scribbles on the back. “That’s my private line. Call anytime you like.” He sticks out his hand and reluctantly I shake it, but I can’t return his smile.
“I’ll be in touch,” I murmur at the front door, then slowly I move down the steps and get into the ‘vette. It’s only two o’clock; I can drive around for a while before I need to return to the office for the meeting with Ted. Right this minute I’m not in the mood to discuss budgets.
I almost call Zander on the intercom by the front gate but I know he was planning to be out all day, he told me so. Instead I just punch in the security code he gave me. I’m not scheduled to be here but I left a book at my work station that I need for my four o’clock class, I’m just going to zip in and pick it up. The gate opens and I begin to walk up the driveway.
When I reach the bend of the road, I see Brian’s car parked behind Zander’s in front of the house. What is he doing here? I told him this morning that I wasn’t working today, so there’s no reason for Brian to be at the house.
No reason. . .except, maybe the obvious reason. Maybe Brian’s usual reason. Brian fucks everybody in Pittsburgh, why should he make an exception of my boss?
I stand there for two or three minutes, just staring at the ‘vette, trying to decide why I’m feeling upset. Is it because Brian is breaking his promise about monogamy? No. He didn’t promise monogamy exactly, he only promised to “cut back.”
Maybe this is why Brian has been trying to find out if I’m fucking Zander – maybe he wanted to be sure the coast was clear for himself? Normally Brian doesn’t mind sharing men, so that doesn’t really make sense.
My brain doesn’t come up with any other ideas. The simplest explanation is that Brian and Zander are just fucking. I shouldn’t really be surprised. No wonder Zander hasn’t been hitting on me, probably all along it was Brian he wanted. Most men do want Brian; no mystery there.
On that thought, I turn away and retrace my steps back down the driveway and out the gate, shutting it securely behind me. Just then I hear a car engine rev – it’s the ‘vette! Brian’s gunning the engine and quickly rounding the bend in the driveway. Feeling like James Bond (or more like Austin Powers), I slip quickly through the thick shrubbery near the fence and I’m well hidden in the bushes by the time the ‘vette reaches the bottom of the driveway, hesitates till the gate opens, then the car slides through, Brian guns the engine again and he’s gone.
I’m not sure what instinct made me jump into the bushes, that was pretty silly. After all, I have every right to be at Zander’s house, and if he and Brian are fucking around, well, so what? I don’t really care. Or I shouldn’t really care, should I? When Brian gets home tonight, I’ll just ask him about it.
Or maybe I’ll wait for him to tell me. I’m sure he’s going to tell me all about it.
Justin’s in a strange mood tonight, he’s very quiet, almost. . .withdrawn. Maybe I’m imagining it; he says he’s concentrating on a project that’s due the end of the week, and anyway, I’m in something of a strange mood myself. I’m not a man given to indecision, but despite several hours today spent thinking about the opportunity for Justin at that school in Rome, I haven’t been able to make a decision what to do about it.
Easiest would be to confront Justin about the subject, bring it out into the open. He’s always telling me that we need to communicate better with each other, and while I loathe “meaningful discussions,” I can see the benefit of laying our cards on the table. But before I can do that, I need to know what cards Justin is holding.
Does he want to go? I’d ask if I was sure I’d get an honest answer. But several times in the past Justin has lied when he thought he was doing it for my benefit. Like about my cancer. So isn’t it likely that he’d pretend disinterest in anything that would take him away from me? I can't let him sacrifice his career like that.
I wish there was someone to talk to. Someone I could trust to keep from blabbing everything to Justin. That leaves out Michael and Debbie. And Lindsay's away at a week-long conference in New York.
The phone rings, interrupting my deliberation. "Hello?"
"Hello," a hearty voice proclaims, "I can't believe I finally caught you."
It's Shaughn. "Hey," I tell him, "I've been meaning to call." And then it hits me. Maybe I can talk to him about this.
It's not really like me to seek advice from anyone, but I feel a vague sense of relief just hearing Shaughn’s voice. That's weird but I don't need to analyze it, I just sit up straight in my chair, feeling an eagerness to see this man and talk to him about Justin.
"I have to be in Pittsburgh tomorrow afternoon," Shaughn's saying, "A colleague has asked me to sit in on an urgent surgical consultation at Mercy Hospital, so I've arranged a morning flight from Boston. I know it's short notice, but could you maybe break free and have lunch with me?"
"That would be great," I agree, feeling the corners of my mouth turn up in a smile.
"Brian - I'm so glad," Shaughn says enthusiastically. "Where shall we eat?"
"When does your flight get in – I could pick you up at the airport."
Justin has left his desk and moves to stand behind me, a hand on my shoulder.
"Oh, don't bother," Shaughn says quickly, "It's damned early, all I could get at the last minute. I'll cool my heels at a day hotel near the airport, then meet you for lunch somewhere. You name the place."
"I'll come to your hotel," I parry. "We could eat there, have more time to talk."
"Brian," he sounds pleased, "What a great idea. How about I call you when my flight gets in, and let you know where I'm staying?"
"Okay, you do that."
"Oh," Shaughn adds before we hang up, "Maybe Justin could join us?"
"No, no," I say quickly, "Not this time."
“Hmm,” he replies. “Something’s up?”
“Ah, you’re not free to talk. That’s okay, we’ll deal with it tomorrow. Goodbye for now, son. See you tomorrow.”
“Goodbye - “ I clamp my lips closed tight; I almost slipped and called him “Dad.” Where did that come from?
As Brian hangs up the phone, I circle my arms around his shoulders and give him a hug from behind. “You’re going to see Shaughn? I’m glad, Brian.”
“Yeah.” He turns in his chair and gives me a smacking kiss. “Me, too.” I’m happy to see him smiling. He’s been so quiet tonight, and when he didn’t tell me about his encounter with Zander today, I wondered if maybe he was feeling guilty about it. Brian says he “doesn’t do” guilt, but I know that’s not entirely true.
Well, I am not going to hassle him. For Brian, it was probably just another fuck; no big deal.
“Be sure to say hello to Shaughn for me,” I hug him again, before pulling free to return to my desk. Brian grabs my hands and pulls me back toward him again and I allow him to draw me between his legs and I slip my arms around his neck. Then he kisses me and I push my body hard against his chest.
“Is it bedtime yet?” he murmurs, but doesn’t wait for an answer. Instead he stands up, keeping one arm around me as he logs off his computer, then he walks me over to my desk and waits while I also log off. Together we move up the steps and into the bedroom. It’s only nine-thirty or ten, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be sleeping any time soon.
I’ve asked Cynthia to cancel my morning appointments and I spend time concentrating on some deadlined projects as I wait for Shaughn. It’s quarter part ten when he calls and I’m at his hotel just before eleven. When he opens the door of his room, I’m not surprised that Shaughn pulls me into a crushing bear hug. But I am surprised to discover that I’m not disliking it very much.
We settle into a couple of easy chairs and I do the polite “how’s the family” bit, but again I’m surprised when I realize that I’m actually interested in Shaughn’s answers. Barbara has had a promotion at her job – she supervises the office staff at a medical billing facility in Boston; and Caroline is busy preparing for her part at an upcoming performance at Tanglewood. Shaughn renews the invitation for us to join them for that and I promise to talk to Justin about it.
Then Shaughn offers me a drink from the mini-bar and asks if I want to order lunch.
“I don’t usually eat lunch,” I explain, “But I could probably manage a salad.”
He nods. “I often skip lunch too, except perhaps for an energy bar, but I missed breakfast this morning.” He finds the room service menu and we call in our order, then we each grab a tiny bottle from the fridge and pour the liquor into glasses and resume our seats.
“Now,” Shaughn relaxes back against the chair cushion, “Tell me what’s up with Justin. Something wrong?”
“Not – wrong.” I don’t really know how to begin. “There’s – history you don’t know about, so it’s hard to explain without going into a lot of boring detail.”
Shaughn tilts his head to one side and smiles slightly. “I’ve missed sharing your ‘history’ until now. I’ve missed too much of your life, son. It couldn’t possibly bore me to hear about it.”
I just stare back at him, moved but also wary. He must sense my caution because he adds, “Tell me only what you want.”
“Okay.” I’ll try to be brief. “Justin has an opportunity to study in Rome next spring. I think he wants to do it, but I’m pretty sure that he’s turning it down in order to stay in Pittsburgh.”
I don’t say, “to stay with me,” but immediately Shaughn asks, “He doesn’t want to leave you?” When I nod, Shaughn says, “Hmm. Separation can be really hard on a relationship.” He thinks for a minute, then asks, “You say you ‘think’ Justin wants to go. It sounds like maybe you boys haven’t discussed this?”
Tearing my eyes away from his face, I stand up abruptly and pace over to the window. Staring out at the view of airport runways, I watch as a Southwest Airlines plane takes off, rising slowly from the tarmac and gaining altitude as the powerful engines thrust the plane forward into the sky. Then I take a deep breath and turn around, put my hands in my pockets. “No.”
“Does this have something to do with the ‘history’ you don’t want to tell me about?”
Shrugging, I admit, “Communicating isn’t something we do very well.”
“And yet, there’s nothing more important to a relationship.”
My habitual sneer begins to curl my lip before I can stop it. Shaughn’s quick enough to catch it and surprisingly, he laughs. “Brian, can I ask if this is the first serious relationship you’ve had?”
Without answering, I explain, “I just loathe all those heterosexual catch-phrases. Justin and I are gay, we’re together because that’s what we both want right this minute.”
“Being afraid of commitment is pretty much a universal male thing, Brian. I don’t think gays have the corner on that.”
I just stare at him, biting back a rejoinder that I’m not afraid of anything.
“IS this your first serious relationship?”
Giving up the fight, I shrug and sit down again. “First, last, only.”
When Shaughn begins to say something else, I quickly interrupt. “But it’s also Justin’s first. And it’s not his last or only. He’s fucking twenty years old, for Christ’s sake.” I raise my glass and drain it in one swallow.
“He is young,” Shaughn agrees, “But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s incapable of making a commitment. Are you worried that he might leave you, Brian?”
“He already has. Twice.” Christ, I really did not intend to go there.
“Oh!” Shaughn’s surprised. He thinks for a moment, then says, “But each time he’s come back? And,” he raises his eyebrows as he searches my face, “Each time you’ve taken him back?” When I don’t answer, he says gently, “That must mean you love him very much, Brian.”
“No.” I lean forward, staring hard at Shaughn and shaking my head vehemently. “It only means that I’m fucked.” Jumping up again, I stride across the carpet to the mini-bar, pull it open and grab another tiny bottle of JB.
“Can I ask a personal question, Brian?”
I give him a look – like all this shit hasn’t been personal?
Without waiting for my answer, he plows on. “Did you forgive Justin each time each time he left you, or does he think that you’re still resentful?”
How the fuck can I answer a question like that?
“And you are, aren’t you, Brian?”
I don’t have to answer that, either.
“Because,” Shaughn continues, “If he thinks you’re still angry, maybe he’s afraid you won’t take him back a third time. Maybe he’s afraid that, if he goes to Rome, you won’t let him come home again.”
“That’s bullshit. Of course he can come home.”
“How can he know that, Brian, if you two don’t communicate? By osmosis?”
“He could fucking ask me. He’s a man now, he needs to fucking act like it.”
“Tell him that.”
“I have!” Fucking hell, I told him over a year ago to stand up for himself.
I feel my shoulders droop, and I move back and almost fall into my chair. “There’s – maybe – more to it than what I told you,” I admit, throwing a glance at Shaughn’s face.
He nods, so I go on. “We have – an arrangement. We can both fuck around. He doesn’t, or not very much,” (as far as I know, I remind myself), “And recently I agreed to cut back. But he told me a few weeks ago that when he was in LA, he was afraid I’d hook up with somebody else while he was gone.” I shrug. “So maybe that’s influencing his decision about Italy too.”
Shaughn’s quiet for a moment, then he leans forward and says earnestly, “I’m no Dr. Phil, Brian, but it sure seems like this problem could be easily solved by the two of you sitting down and talking openly about it. Or,” he shrugs, “What if you came right out and told him that he’s your first, last and only love?”
“I don’t SAY things like that!” I reach up to quickly loosen my tie, suddenly it’s choking me.
“It’s fucking romantic bullshit, that’s why! Christ almighty!”
“But it’s true, isn’t it?” I just stare at him, still clutching my tie and breathing rapidly. “How can it be bullshit if it’s true?”
“I don’t say things like that.”
“Then maybe it’s time to start. Being honest about your feelings is also ‘acting like a man,’ isn’t it, Brian?”
I’m saved from answering by a knock on the door; our room service lunch has arrived.
When I moved in with Brian after coming back from LA, I brought along two boxes of old sketchbooks that I’ve been carting around from place to place for years. Mom’s keeping most of my junk from childhood but sometimes I like to look back at drawings I did years ago, and this is one of those times.
We have an assignment in my advanced life class to do a before-and-after study of somebody we’ve known a long time – a comparison drawing of what the person looked like five years ago and today. I want to find a particular sketch I did of Daphne when were sophomores, so I’m glad my cache is handy, in Brian’s storeroom across the hall.
I don’t have my own key to that room but I know where Brian keeps it, in the top right-hand drawer of his desk. I plop down in his chair and pull open the drawer, but my eye is caught by the edge of a purple card sticking out from under Brian’s mouse pad. Lifting up the corner of the pad, I slide out the card and I’m surprised that it’s one of Zander’s. Then I realize that he must have given it to Brian yesterday, when I saw the ‘vette in the driveway. Flipping over the card, I see that Zander has scribbled his private phone number on the back.
Carefully I slide the card back under the mouse pad and sit there for a moment biting my lip. I thought them hooking up was a one-time thing, and I was okay with that, even though Brian didn’t tell me about it. But knowing that they’re going to get together again. . .scares me. Because Brian doesn’t do repeats. So if he’s going to see Zander again, that means something.
And it makes me wonder if this is why the artist is pushing me to study in Italy. What better way to get me out of the picture than to send me thousands of miles away from Pittsburgh?
I’m slumped in Brian’s chair, staring morosely at golden flecks of dust whirling lazily in a ray of sunshine slanting through the living room drapes. My mind has shut down for a few moments, and it takes a while for my brain to recognize the musical greeting of my cell phone, which I’ve left over on my own desk. I leap up and hurry across the room, grab the phone and see Brian’s number flashing.
“Hey,” I say, trying to remove the misery from my voice. “Hey, Brian,” I manage to sound more chipper.
“Hey yourself. What are you up to?”
“Nothing!” I glance guiltily over my shoulder at his desk, then retrace my steps and make sure the purple card is pushed out of sight under the mouse pad.
“I’m coming home early,” he announces, “Do you have plans for tonight?”
“Just the usual. Dinner, homework. And of course,” I add, forcing a laugh, “A really fabulous fuck.”
“Okay,” he agrees, but he doesn’t echo my laugh. “Order some Thai for dinner, would you? Whatever you like. We can eat early, get it over with. Then we need to talk.”
“Talk?” I’m surprised, Brian never wants to talk.
Oh my God. “S-sounds serious?” I guess, grabbing hold of the edge of his desk with white knuckles.
“Yeah,” he confirms, “It is. See you in a bit.”
I try to say, “See you,” but suddenly my mouth has gone dry. It doesn’t matter anyway; Brian’s already hung up the phone.