Summary of Part 9:  Chocolate Cake:  Brian’s semi-commitment to partial monogamy is put to the test.  Justin gets a call from Alexander Fucking DuPont, and Brian has dinner with Dr. Shaughnessy. 

Part Ten:   Starting Gate


Justin greets me at the door, he grabs onto my arm and shakes it.  “How was it?  Is he nice?  Did you have a good time?”

“You’re wrinkling,” I admonish, pulling my arm free.  I hand him the box of cake, shrug off my jacket and move across the loft toward the bedroom.  Naturally he follows, frisking around me like an excited puppy.

“You stayed a long time,” he points out, “So you must have enjoyed it?”

“I brought you chocolate cake.” 

“Oh.”  Justin notices the box he’s holding and pops it open to look inside.  Raising it to his nose to sniff, he says, “Mmm, great!  Thanks, Brian!  But, did you have a good time?  Do you like Dr. Shaughnessy?”

“He’s all right.”  I turn away to hang up my jacket.

“You like him!” Justin guesses.  “You never like anybody - that’s only your highest compliment.” 

I slip off my pants and reach for a hanger.  “It is?”

“Yeah.”  Justin dips a finger into chocolate frosting and licks it.  He watches in silence as I remove the rest of my clothes, containing his impatience until I’m down to my briefs and tee shirt.  “Are you going to see him again?” he asks then, and I nod.

“Maybe.  He invited us for dinner next week.”

“Brian, that’s great!  See, he likes you!  And. . .”  Justin stops jiggling around and stands still.  “Brian, you said. . .’invited us.’  Us, as in – me too?”

“What other us is there?”  

“Holy shit,” Justin murmurs.  “Holy shit, Brian – you told him about me?  You told him you’re gay, and he’s, like, okay with that?”

“So what?” 

“Brian - “

Then I sigh.  “He acts like it’s no big deal, but who knows what he really thinks?  Anyway,” I add quickly, “It doesn’t matter if he’s ‘okay’ with it or not.”

Justin’s silent for a moment, then he asks, “Can we go?  To dinner?”

“I don’t know.”  I haven’t decided yet.  “I’ll think about it.  Meanwhile,” I take the cake box away from Justin and set it on the chest of drawers, pull him into my arms and give him a quick kiss.  He slides his arms around my waist and slips his hands under my tee.  “Meanwhile,” I repeat, “It’s your turn for show and tell.  Tell me about your famous artiste.”

“Oh, I had a good time too!  He’s really nice.”

“It’s nice that he’s nice,” I mock.

“I mean, he’s not all snooty or full of himself.  And he liked my stuff.”

I’ll bet that he liked Justin’s stuff.


“I don’t know why I was so nervous about meeting Alexander DuPont,” I explain to Brian.  “I mean, he’s famous and everything, but I met a lot of famous people in Hollywood.  And I remember being surprised at how normal most of them were.”


“Like, probably the most famous person I ever met was Robert DeNiro; he was at a reception Brett took me to.  I remember being surprised that DeNiro’s kind of short, has terrible hair, and he just isn’t that impressive.  I didn’t get to speak to him, except to say hello, so maybe he makes a better impression if he talks to you.”

“That’s possible.”  Brian’s got his tongue in his cheek but I’m ignoring it.

“So anyway, after all my experience in Hollywood, you’d think meeting a famous artist wouldn’t be such a big deal.  But somehow in my mind, I put Alexander DuPont up there on a pedestal, you know?  Like Pablo Picasso or Modigliani or Vincent Van Gogh.  And I’m sure that, if I met one of THEM,” I emphasize, “I’d fucking pass out!”

“Hardly a unique reaction,” Brian observes dryly.  “They’re all dead.  Meeting a ghost would surprise anyone.”

“You know what I mean!”  I pull away from Brian and reach around him to grab the box of cake.  “Let me eat this while I tell you about him, okay?” 

He nods so I lead the way to the kitchen, grab a fork and then we sit down at the counter and I dig off a big chunk of cake and shove it in my mouth.  “Mmm, they make the best cake there, even better than my mom’s.  Or,” I add guardedly, “Your mom’s.” 

“Is that so?” 

Brian never touched the cake his mother brought him, that time she caught us fucking, but I ate most of it and it was really good.  Chocolate with chocolate chips.

“The house where he’s staying is huge,” I tell him, “Almost as big as that Pickle Guy’s place, but more modern.  There’s an enormous studio with skylights, and easels set up all over the place.  Zander showed me - “


“It’s his nickname.  He told me to call him that, he says he hates formality.  So anyway,” I lay down my fork and give total attention to Brian.  “He gave me an overview of the project he’s working on.  It’s being underwritten by the National Endowment for the Arts.  And the Human Rights Commission is sponsoring it too.  Twelve nationally recognized artists are creating posters supporting equal rights for the LGBT community.  Zander says the HRC believes we need a national focus on the issue, instead of just reacting to the individual states’ efforts to ban gay marriage.”

“A poster campaign?” Brian smirks.  “That should be right up your alley.”

I feel my cheeks getting hot.  “I know you thought my agit-prop posters were stupid.”

“Hey,” he fixes his eyes on my face and says seriously, “I helped you put them up, didn’t I?  And they were damned effective, they made a lot of people think.  Why do you always assume that I’m making fun of you?”

“Well,” I shrug, “Sometimes you do.”

“Only when you wear a pink shirt and carry a concealed weapon.” 

I draw breath for a retort when Brian forestalls me.  “Now tell me,” he says, “Why does this guy need you – what is your role in all this?”

“Partly, he says, because he wants a young person’s perspective.  He says he’s not as in touch with youth culture as he used to be.”

“And you are?  You don’t even like hip-hop.”

Ignoring Brian, I go on, “And also because he needs someone who’s familiar with drawing and painting software programs.  Professor Grant told him about the one I use, and Zander wants me to show him how it works.  He also wants to catalog his master portfolio and he needs someone who’s familiar with sorting programs and knowledgeable enough about art to help with the cataloging.”

“Sounds like you’re the man.”


Zander had said exactly that, “You’re the man, Justin,” and then he’d given me a hug.  I don’t need to tell Brian about the hug.  It was just a friendly thing to do, but Brian might misunderstand.

“So,” Brian asks, “I forgot to ask the most important question:  Is he hot?”

“Don’t make this about sex, okay?  Working with Zander is totally a professional thing.”

“So – he IS hot, then?”

I don’t want to answer that but he’s bound to meet Zander at some point, so I might as well tell the truth.  “Yeah.”

“Tall?  Dark?  Handsome?  All of the above?”

“Yes, okay?  What difference does it make?”

“Hmm.”  Brian shrugs, he seems totally disinterested which naturally proves that he’s not happy with my answer.  “And so,” he continues, “How long is this project going to take?  How long will you be working with him?”

“He thinks he’ll be in Pittsburgh two or three months.  Some of the stuff I’ll be doing, I can do alone, or on my computer.  But he’d like me to be with him at the studio at least three hours a day, times to be mutually arranged.  He said it’ll probably average twenty hours a week, altogether.  Anyway, that’s how much he’s going to pay me for, and I won’t have to punch a time clock.”

“That’s too many hours.  You’re at the diner, what, about twelve hours?  And it exhausts you.”

“Twelve or fourteen,” I agree before adding, “But the diner is more physical.  It’s not physical with Zander, I won’t get so tired.  Plus I’ll be doing more meaningful stuff.  And it’s a ton more money, fifteen dollars an hour!  And it’s only for a couple months.”  When he just looks at me, I add emphatically, “I can handle it, Brian.”

“I offered you more than that, to work at Kinnetik.  And shorter hours.  Or isn’t working at the agency ‘meaningful’ enough?”

“Brian,” I’m surprised, “Of course working at Kinnetik would be meaningful too!  I just honestly didn’t think it was a good idea – for, you know, for you to be my boss and all.  For our relationship.  You know?”


I really am surprised, I honestly didn’t know that Brian was still upset about me turning down a job at Kinnetik.  I’m afraid of the answer, but I have to ask the question anyway:  “Brian, are you saying you don’t want me to take this job?”

“Of course not.  It’s up to you to make your own decisions.  And you already have, haven’t you?  You told him yes.”

“Yes, but - ” 

“No buts.”

“Brian, it didn’t occur to me that you’d object.”

“I don’t object.  Justin – I don’t fucking object, okay?”  Brian stops abruptly, shakes his head and fixes his eyes on my face.  Then taking my hand and unconsciously massaging it, his voice softens, loses the exasperation.  “Look,” he says gently, “You had your reasons for turning down the Kinnetik offer, and I’m through rubbing your nose in it.  Okay?”

I just look back at him, maybe I don’t seem convinced because he adds, “This new job is a good opportunity for you, and the salary’s not bad.  You’ll be doing something you enjoy and get paid for it.”

“But you’re not happy.”

“Stop that shit now, don’t get fucking lesbianic on me.  It’s late, let’s go to bed.”

It’s not really late, just about midnight, but I don’t argue.  “Okay,” I agree, getting up to dump my empty box in the garbage and follow Brian up the steps to the bedroom. 

We undress silently, slip under the covers.  And even though our brains are not getting along very well right now, our bodies don’t seem to notice – hands, arms, and legs just naturally snap together, like a pile of oversized Legos.  And when we kiss, well, everything outside this bed just ceases to exist.    


Justin’s over the moon, he’s practically giddy, that he’ll be working so closely with this “Zander“ DuPont.  Zander, what a pretentious nickname. 

On Sunday, while Justin was working one of his last shifts at the diner, I spent a little time googling Alexander DuPont.  He was apparently some kind of child prodigy, dazzling the art world while he was still in high school.  He aced his way through college and made a splash in Paris, having his first one-man show there when he was still in his early twenties.

Another prodigy for Justin to hang out with.

The guy’s thirty-five or so now and unlike most artists, he’s made a bundle.  He has a house in the south of France – so what the fuck is he doing in Pittsburgh?  I asked Justin that and he had an answer:  It seems that The Artist Formerly Known as Alexander feels the need for “an American perspective” for this poster project.


And why am I feeling so negative about this guy?  I really have no idea.


It’s my first day working with Zander and we spent a couple hours this morning discussing the computer program he wants to use to keep track of his master portfolio.  He claims he’s tech-challenged and while I don’t say out loud that I agree with him, the truth is, he’s right.  But he's interested in the drawing software I use and he asked to see samples of work that I've done on the computer.

"I'm surprised that Professor Grant allows it, he was always such a stickler for traditional media," Zander remarks, and when I hastily assure him that Grant is one of those teachers who WON'T allow it, he takes one look at what must be my woebegone face and laughs sympathetically, then grabs me for a quick impromptu hug. 

He lets go right away and turns back to the computer, and I remind myself it means nothing.  Zander is just one of those touchy-feely types, it’s reflected in his art which is sensual and sensitive yet dynamic at the same time.  It’s no wonder he’s achieved such popular acclaim, the appeal of his paintings is universal.

We’re still sitting by the computer when my cell rings about eleven-thirty and I’m surprised to see that it’s Brian, he usually doesn’t call me in the middle of the day.  “Hey,” I answer, “What’s up?”

“I was going to ask you the same thing,” Brian replies, his voice has an edge that I don’t understand.  Christ, I hope I didn’t forget to set the alarm or something, and I open my mouth to ask if he’s mad when his voice changes suddenly and becomes almost cheery.  “I called to tell you that I’m just finishing up a meeting in your employer’s neighborhood, so I could pick you up – you said you’d be finished there about noon, right?”

“Oh,” I’m surprised.  “Yeah, I guess so.  Let me ask Zander.”  Then I turn to the artist who’s raised his eyebrows in enquiry.  “Will we be finished by noon?” I ask, then add, “If so, my partner can pick me up, but it’s okay if you need me to stay a little longer.”

“Of course, Justin, you can leave whenever you want to, we won’t stand on formality here.”  I nod but before I can give Brian the news, Zander adds, “Tell him to buzz from the street, he can drive up to the door.  And tell him to come on in, I’d like to meet him.”

I’m not sure that’s such a good idea but I smile anyway and pass on the invitation to Brian.  I doubt that he’ll say yes but surprisingly, he does.  “I’ll be there in half an hour,” Brian concludes before hanging up.  Then Zander and I return to our discussion about software and I don’t have time to worry about the two of them meeting.  Not that there’s any reason to worry.


I was going to wait a few days before making an appearance at Alexander DuPont’s little villa-away-from-villa but curiosity – and absolutely no other motive than that – prompted me to call Justin this morning and wangle an invitation to meet the famous artiste.

Rounding the curve of the driveway, I push down a vague feeling of disquiet as I glance up at the elegant façade of what passes for an upper-middle-class mansion in this part of the city.  It’s not often any more that I have to remind myself that I’m not intimidated by the trappings of wealth and power, and immediately I'm able to shrug off a very temporary feeling of being out of place.  There's nowhere in the world that I am out of place; and nothing intimidates me.  I slam the door of the 'vette and climb several stairs leading to the entrance, and the door opens as I approach.

It's not really a mansion, and it would have been downright amusing if I were greeted by the butler dressed in tails that my imagination had somehow conjured up.  Instead this must be the artist himself standing tall in the open doorway.  He's smiling but I have only a moment to look him over before Justin comes around from behind and rushes to my side, grabbing my arm and giving it a hard squeeze.  "Brian," he greets me, then turns to the other man and says, "Alexander DuPont, this is Brian Kinney.  My partner."

DuPont sticks out his hand and gives me a big grin.  "Happy to meet you," he says, "Come on in."  We shake briefly then I follow him into the house, Justin still hanging on my arm. 

I'm glad to get a look at the artist, and at the place where Justin will be working.  The man's definitely in the category of hot, though he looks older than I expected - a little French anti-aging crème would have done wonders to prevent the wrinkles gathering around his eyes and mouth, and there is the slightest hint of sag in the skin under his chin.  He obviously works out, he's got broad shoulders, his fawn trousers outline well-muscled thighs, and there's no suggestion of belly softness.  His hair is thick and dark brown, and his face is chiseled - handsome in the Marlboro Man sense.

Immediately on shaking the man's hand, I feel a slight frisson of familiarity.  In a sense I was expecting something like this - considering that he is not much older than me and that he grew up in Pittsburgh, it's not unlikely that we have met before.  Perhaps in the baths, where I hung out in my late teens, when I couldn't easily get into the bars.  On that thought, and as we enter what must be the living room, DuPont turns toward me again and asks, "Have we met before, Brian?"


I've decided that we're not going there, and I notice that DuPont's eyes crinkle up as he nods his head and almost-smiles.  He's apparently having the same thoughts as I am, and he may also be acknowledging my desire to leave the past – if we share any past – behind.

"Would you like a drink?" he asks politely, gesturing toward a bar cart against one wall.

"I can't stay," I shake my head no, "I've got a conference call scheduled shortly; I just came to give Justin a ride to campus."  I glance at Justin and he nods.

"I've got a two o'clock class today," he confirms.

"Ready to go?" I raise my eyebrows at  him and he nods again.

"Yes, I'll just go get my stuff together, it'll take a couple minutes, okay?"

"Go ahead."  As he scurries from the room, I accept DuPont's gesture to sit on the sofa and he sits in a nearby chair.

"He's a beautiful young man," DuPont comments, giving me that half-smile again.  "I'm not surprised that he's been snapped up, though he seems rather young to be in a committed relationship."

"Does he?" I inquire - pleasantly, but giving it an edge.

The artist laughs softly.  "Ah, Brian," he shakes his head, "Not to worry, your boy is safe with me."

"Who's worried?"

"You're practically waving a sign that says 'hands off,' you know?" he informs me languidly.  "It's sweet, but not necessary.  I've never been interested in the young ones."

"Is that so?"

"Maybe once, when I was younger myself.  Am I right," he asks conversationally, "In thinking that you and I have met before?  I have the craziest notion that I've had your cock in my mouth."

"Could be," I agree easily, "Every vaguely attractive fag in Pittsburgh could say the same."

DuPont laughs at that.  "There's one way to jog my memory," he suggests.  "I'll give you my private number."  When I open my mouth to say no, DuPont quickly adds, "Or are you two playing the monogamy game?  That hardly seems like it would be your style."

Monogamy isn't my style, and I don't know if I'm playing that game or not.   "Actually," I match DuPont's languor and easy smile, "That's none of your business."

"Touché," he acknowledges, then we both get to our feet as Justin re-enters the room.  His head swings from one to the other and his brow furrows as he studies our faces; perhaps he's worried that I've fucked up his new job.

"Good-bye for now," DuPont tells Justin, "See you tomorrow?"  And when Justin says okay, I can see him relax – until  the artist throws an arm around Justin's shoulders and gives him a quick hard hug.  Justin glances worriedly at me, and I realize that DuPont is playing with us.

"Good-bye," I smile, refusing to rise to the bait, sticking out my hand to shake.  DuPont clasps my hand with both of his, and squeezes.

“Don’t be a stranger,” he urges, and with tongue definitely in cheek, he adds, “I just love making new friends.”

Disengaging my hand, I slide my arm around Justin’s shoulders and lead him to the door.  DuPont comes with us and stands on the porch, waving us away.

We’re silent in the car for a few moments, then Justin says off-handedly, “Do you like him?”

I’m not sure how to answer that, but then I shrug and remind him, “As you said the other day, I never like anybody.”

Justin laughs, but I can tell that he’s concerned.  But as long as he treats Justin fairly and keeps his artistic hands off him, I don’t need to like this guy.  Still, I don’t want Justin to worry about it, so I slide my hand across the back of the seat and squeeze his neck.  When we pull up at a stop sign, I lean over and plant a big juicy kiss on him, and I’m rewarded when Justin relaxes in his seat and gives me that beaming sunshine smile.


When Brian hasn’t called by mid-week, I take the initiative and call his home number on Thursday night.  After meeting him last weekend, I realize that I’m the one who’ll have to do the pursuing.


“Hello, this is Shaughn.  Who is this, please?”

“Hello,” the unfamiliar voice answers, “This is Justin.”

“Oh yes,” I acknowledge; “Brian’s boyfriend.”

“We-ell,” there’s some hesitation, “He doesn’t exactly like that word.  We’re partners.”

“Oh, I see.”  Partners indicates a different kind of relationship to me than boyfriends, but I reserve judgment.  “Is Brian at home tonight?”

“He’s working late.  Do you want his office number?  Or, could I give him a message?”

“I don’t want to bother him at work.  Could you just ask him to call me?”  On impulse I add, “I was hoping we could get together this weekend.”

“That would be great,” he’s enthusiastic.  “I’m sure Brian would like that.”

I’m glad he’s sure; I’m not so very confident myself.  After a moment I suggest, “He’s rather difficult to pin down.  Your partner.”

“No shit!  Oh, sorry!” Justin quickly corrects himself, “I mean, yes, yes he can be.”

“Have you,” I hope I’m not prying but I’ve started this so now I go on, “Have you known Brian long?”

“Yeah, a really long time.  Three years.  Umm,” Justin hesitates, then says in a rush, “Oh, I think he’s here now, can you hold on?” and before I can answer, I hear the phone landing rather heavily on a desk or table.  There’s a loud metallic screeching sound, then some low-voiced conversation that I can’t hear, then in a moment Brian comes on the phone.


“Brian?  It’s Shaughn.  Have I caught you at a bad time?  Justin said you were working late.”

“Having a chat, were you?” he suggests, his voice sounding a bit annoyed, then he quickly adds, “No, it’s not a bad time.  What can I do for you?”

Ignoring the brusqueness in Brian’s voice – something apparently necessary for anyone intending to spend time with the man – I say, “I was hoping we could confirm a date for you – and Justin – to come see us.  Maybe this weekend?”

“That’s very soon,” he says quickly, then adds, “We might have plans.”

I can hear Justin’s hissing whisper in the background, “No, we don’t have plans!”

“Hold on for a moment,” Brian says evenly, then he must have placed his hand over the phone and I can hear only mumbled voices on the other end.  It’s a full two minutes before Brian comes back on the phone.

“Possibly we could make it,” he tells me.  “But it’s a long way to come just for dinner.  I might have a client meeting in Boston next month, why don’t we wait for that.”

“We can, of course,” I agree, “But you’re not just invited for dinner, Brian.  Why don’t you come for the whole weekend?”  When my suggestion is met with dead silence, I go on, “We have a  guest cottage on our property – it’s small, nothing fancy, but it’s comfortable.”  When there is still no response, I add, “Brian, please come.  Barbara is anxious to meet you, and I’d really like to have time to get to know you better.”

Finally he speaks.  “Why?”

I sigh and shake my head.  “Brian.”

He sighs too.  “Let me think about it,” he says at last.  “I’ll get back to you.”

“Come on Brian – don’t let me down.  Say you’ll come.”

“Okay.”  He sounds reluctant, but then he relents.  “Yes, okay.  Probably.”

“Good!  Goodbye, till then.”


As I hang up the phone, I shake my head at Barbara, who’s standing at my elbow.  “I have a feeling,” I tell her, “That getting to know this man is going to be very God-damned difficult.”

“Well,” she shrugs, “You always enjoy a challenge!”


As we drive through the busy streets of Boston late Saturday morning, Justin is simultaneously looking at a map, reading the directions e-mailed by Shaughnessy’s wife, and rubber-necking what few sights there are to see on the drive from the airport to the doctor’s neighborhood just outside the city.   He’s excited and happy and smiling and I’m. . .not. 

I have this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’m making a very big mistake, coming to spend the weekend with a couple of strangers, old straight people I don’t know from Adam.  I hate straights and they mostly hate us, all of them.  I know there’s exceptions – Debbie, Justin’s little friend Daphne – but there’s no evidence that Dr. Shaughnessy is going to be any different, blood connection or no.  What have I gotten myself in for?  What have I gotten Justin in for?  I’ll kick the shit out of anybody who mistreats him, whether I’m related to them or not.

Finally we find the doctor’s house.  It’s large but not imposing, a two-story brick home on a  slight rise, with a narrow front yard ringed by a wrought-iron fence.  The gate’s open and I pull the rental car into the driveway; we park behind a silver Mercedes as a door on the side of the house opens and Shaughnessy comes down the steps.  As we get out of the car my face is blank and feels wooden, but that’s okay, Justin’s smiling wide enough for both of us.

“Hello!” Shaughnessy greets us enthusiastically, coming around the front of the car and grabbing my hand to shake.  “Welcome!”  He quickly releases my hand and grabs hold of Justin’s. 

“Justin Taylor, Gerald Shaughnessy,” I say rather unnecessarily.

“Hello, welcome,” the doctor repeats.  “Barbara’s in the cottage, making sure you have everything you need.  Why don’t you bring your cases, and follow me?”  He turns and pushes open a large wooden side gate with iron hinges, and he holds it open while Justin and I collect our cases from the trunk. 

I’d rather have done that later, I’d planned to leave our stuff in the car in case we wanted to get away quickly before we were committed to staying in the guest house.  I'm already feeling vaguely trapped.  As we’re ushered through the gate, I have this sinking sensation in my stomach when I realize that there’s no turning back now. 

Justin’s having no such qualms.  "Oh, it's beautiful!" he exclaims as we enter a large back yard, filled with flowering shrubs and plants and complete with a small kidney-shaped pool surrounded by a redwood deck. 

"Thanks - gardening is my wife’s hobby, this is all her doing." 

There's lawn chairs sprinkled here and there on the deck and a round umbrella-topped table.  A paving-stone pathway skirts the pool and leads a few yards to the guest house in one corner of the property.  The door’s open and Shaughnessy calls, “Barbara, they’re here.”

A woman comes through the doorway, she’s tall and has dark blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, she’s holding something, a couple books, in her hand.  When she sees me, she stops short and mutters, “Oh, my God,” drops the books to the ground and raises her hands to her face.  “Oh, my God,” she says again.

“Quite a likeness, eh?” Shaughnessy asks genially as he bends to retrieve the dropped books.

Barbara glances from me to her husband and back again.  “I’m sorry to stare,” she apologizes quickly, “You have no idea how much you look like Shaughn when he was young.”  She moves a step closer and continues to peer at my face.  “There’s differences too, of course – your cheekbones are higher, your chin’s a bit rounder than Shaughn’s, and. . .oh, I’m sorry to be so rude,” Barbara apologizes again, reaching out to take my hand and shake it.  “It’s such a pleasure to meet you, Brian, Shaughn’s been so excited ever since he met you, he talks of little else.”

“Hello,” I manage to murmur, there’s a strange lump in my throat that won’t let me speak properly.

Justin jumps into the void, stepping forward to offer his hand.  “I’m Justin Taylor,” he introduces himself.

“It’s lovely to meet you both,” Barbara says graciously.  “Bring your things into the cottage, I was just straightening up a bit.  Come in, come in,” she encourages us as we hang back by the door.  Actually I’m the one hanging back, Justin surges forward and immediately compliments the décor.

“Oh, how pretty it is!” he gushes.

Shaughnessy's description was accurate, the cottage is small, merely a bedroom and bath, made up very attractively in blue and white; comfortable but not ostentatious.

"Would you boys like to freshen up before lunch?" Barbara asks.  "We'll eat in about an hour, out there on the patio.  Is either of you a vegetarian?"

"No," Justin answers for us, “We eat everything.  Well,” he corrects himself, “Brian has this thing about carbs, but he does eat meat.”

“We’ll leave you alone to get settled then,” Barbara says, moving to the door to join Shaughnessy where he’s been waiting. 

“Thanks,” Justin gives them a big grin, then they turn and walk off down the path.  He moves to stand beside me and pries my frozen fingers off the handle of my suitcase, it drops to the floor with a clunk.  “Are you okay, Brian?” he whispers, staring hard at my still-blank face. 

What’s the matter with me, I feel like I’ve been hovering in suspended animation for the past several minutes.  Then I snap myself out of my weird trance and chuff a loud sigh.  “Of course I’m okay,” I answer irritably, turning away from him and glancing around the room.  I spy an open door of what must be the bathroom and move toward it.  Justin follows me but I explain quickly, “Gotta take a piss.”  Then I slip quickly into the bathroom and shut the door firmly, almost in Justin’s face. 


Through the door panels, I assure him, “I’ll be right out.”  Then I glance at my pale face reflected in a mirror over the sink, and silently I ask myself, “What the fuck am I doing here?”