|Queer as Folk FanFic by Morpheus
Episode 302-303 Gap-Filler
I'm not sure how I got rid of Ethan, what I said to him, I don't think I said anything really. He was so hyped as we left the bursar's office, hugging me and dragging me along with him, almost running down the stairs. I think I was just smiling and nodding, smiling and nodding, and he didn't notice that anything was wrong. But something was very wrong. The exact moment the bursar said, "It's already been paid," I knew who'd paid my tuition. While Ethan was congratulating me for convincing my dad to help, I was struggling with myself not to grab my file lying on the desk in front of Mrs. Hagar and look inside for Brian's name.
Ethan and I went our separate ways, I went to class, later I went to the diner for my afternoon shift, hours passed and all the while I kept having this interior argument with myself. Like eenie-meanie-miney-mo, the voices in my head argued back and forth: Take it - don't take it. Take it - don't take it. Finally my shift was over, it was after seven and Brian hadn't come in - he drops by the diner often for dinner, mostly soup or a sandwich, he's not eating enough, I can tell that he's thinner, since. . . Anyway, naturally he didn't come today when I really needed to talk to him.
Not expecting him to be home, I was surprised to see his jeep in the garage. I used my key on the foyer entrance and knocked on the inside door. It was kind of early for him to be fucking a trick, maybe he wasn't home after all, he might have gone somewhere with Michael. I only waited a minute before pulling back the door, I thought about leaving him a note, or - but then I saw him across the room, sitting in a chair watching tv. He was still in his work clothes, and after one cursory glance at me he turned back to stare at the television. He asked, "Are you coming in, or not?" and a moment later informed me that there was no one else there.
I couldn't resist murmuring, "For a change," but I let it go at that and walked further into the loft. Stopping to lean on the back of the chair nearest Brian, I told him that I'd been in the bursar's office today and that I couldn't accept the tuition he'd paid for me.
"Why - is somebody else covering it?" he demanded, and when I said no, he went on, "Then you can't afford not to."
Brian insisted it was all strictly a business deal - we'd both signed the agreement I'd written up for the loan of my I.F.A. tuition, and now he was acting like it was no big deal for him to keep paying it even though we aren't together any more. I know I should have refused, it just seems unfair or something, why should he help me any more? But without Brian's help I'll have to drop out of school. I warned him I'd be poor for a long time, and that's when he hinted that I should continue with the Rage comic. He didn't come right out and say that - it's not Brian's style to tell people what to do. But that's what he meant.
As if it weren't hard enough to accept Brian's financial support, then he insisted I take my computer, the super-expensive computer he'd bought especially for me, the computer that had practically saved my life when I was totally intent on giving up my art, when I nearly walked away in unbearable frustration. Brian's done so much for me, he's done so much for a lot of people, though most of them turn around and spit in his eye. Probably he thinks that's what I did, too. I don't want to take the computer, but fuck, I need it. I still need it, and he's insisting, and. . .
How am I going to get it home? It's fucking heavy. I can get it downstairs at least and then maybe I can get a taxi. Or I can call Daphne and see if she'll pick me up.
Turning my eyes back to the tv, I wait to see if he's going to ask for help. Of course I know he can't carry that computer by himself, and on the bus at that, but I want to see if he'll ask me to give him a hand. I should have known better, he's a stubborn brat sometimes. Then I relent. Pointing the remote at the tv to shut it off, I stand up and stroll into the kitchen. He's standing staring at the big box I've left on the bench. "I'll drive you," I say casually, passing him on my way to get a bottle of water from the fridge.
"I can manage," his voice is as off-hand as mine.
How? I want to ask but don't. Instead I pull open the fridge and ask, "Want something to drink?"
"No. Thanks." He looks at me over his shoulder, his defenses that slipped almost imperceptibly a moment ago have gone back up.
Does he think I'm going to grab hold of him, throw him down on the table and fuck the shit out of him? I already fucked him on that table a few days ago, it was good till he opened his mouth and turned into some anonymous dark-haired sweaty punk.
"Wait till I change my clothes," I murmur, going past him again, up the steps. Iíd been too tired when I got home to do anything but kick off my shoes and fall into a chair but now Iím slightly energized, a few minutes spent watching tv must have relaxed me, now Iím ready to go out.
When I come down the steps, Justin's still staring at the boxed computer but he's turned his back to the bedroom, his body language screaming 'don't touch.' He doesn't need to worry, I wouldn't touch him on a bet. If I touched him, maybe he would end up on the kitchen table after all, and then what? He made his choice, I have to accept it and move on. I have accepted it. I am moving on. Helping with tuition has nothing to do with anything except keeping my word, keeping our deal, it has nothing to do with watching out for him, he doesn't need or want me to look out for him.
"Get the door," I say, almost too abruptly, he looks up startled, maybe he was lost in thought.
"I can carry it," he insists, and probably he can; he puts both hands on the sides of the box; but I know how heavy the fucker is, I packed it up myself.
"Don't be an ass," I murmur, then look into his eyes and feel my face soften. "I'll carry it to the car, you can carry it up to - your place." His place. The musician's place.
"Okay," he says, moving away, hurrying to the door. He'd left it open - for easy escape?
I carry the box through the door and set it down on the floor of the elevator. Justin's hesitating by the alarm box. "Did you change the code?" he asks, looking over his shoulder at me as I wait holding the elevator gate up.
"No, why should I?" Did he think I was worried he'd rob the place? He doesn't answer, just quickly punches in the code, pulls the door closed and, with another glance at me, pulls out a ring, selects a key and locks the door.
"I should give your key back," Justin mumbles, joining me in the elevator. He's fumbling with the keyring, and I hasten to say, "You don't need to. Lots of people have keys - as you know very well." People are always walking into the loft, several times in the past year we were interrupted fucking madly on the sofa, by my desk, and - on the dining table.
"But they're your friends." His voice is so soft, almost a whisper, I can hardly hear it over the rattling sound of the elevator descending.
"Aren't you my friend, Justin?" My voice is nearly as quiet as his. He looks at me then, really looks at me as if for the first time since he walked into the loft tonight.
Lifting his chin and staring straight into my eyes, Justin answers clearly, "Yes."
I want to smile and say something clever or witty or at least fucking meaningful. Instead all I can do is nod and look away from those damned piercing blue eyes. "Good." It's the best I can do. Then we reach the foyer and Justin pulls open the elevator gate while I pick up the computer and carry it through the garage to my jeep. After the briefest hesitation, Justin moves toward me and reaches in my pocket for my keys - of course he knows which pocket I keep them in. In that millisecond that he's in close proximity, I breathe in a hint of his Justinsmell, the same shampoo, different cigarettes, and something else underneath, unrecognizable. Ethansmell perhaps. That thought jogs me out of my ridiculous nostalgic mood and when he opens the boot, I plonk down the computer and say brusquely, "Get in."
Resisting the urge to help Justin with the seatbelt, I glance out my side window so I don't have to see him struggle, then turn back when I hear the metallic clink as he gets it fastened, put in the key and start the engine. Pulling out of the garage, I wait and let Justin give me directions, though of course I know where the musician lives.
I almost wish I'd let Brian carry the computer upstairs for me, it's fucking heavy and my arms are ready to drop off by the time I reach the top floor. I didn't want to gamble on Ethan being home and seeing me with Brian, or maybe I didn't want Brian to see Ethan's place. Our place I mean.
I'm not ashamed of the apartment, in fact I think it's really cool. Except for the thin walls that let you hear everybody arguing and laughing and having sex. And the pitiful shower, I was spoiled by Brian's fantastic shower, this one kind of spits on you and there's never enough hot water. It's a nice room though, or it would be if only we could paint it; and if only there was a real bed instead of a pile of wooden packing cases with a ratty old mattress on top. Other than that, I love the place.
Luckily Ethan's not home, but when he comes in as I'm setting up the computer I can tell that he's pissed. "You should have told me you were going over there," he says gruffly, "You never said you left your computer at his place."
"He gave me a ride," I admit, then seeing Ethan's frown deepen add, "He was going out anyway, it wasn't like any big deal to drop me off."
"You shouldn't be there alone," he insists, unwinding his scarf and throwing it on the sofa, "What if he hurt you or something?"
"Brian would never hurt me."
"Huh," Ethan snorts, unconvinced. ďHe punched that guy at the party - his best friend, you said."
"He just wouldn't." I'm not going to explain any more, I hunch my shoulder and turn away. Somehow it's really annoying for Ethan to think that Brian would hurt me, especially when I know how fucking generous he's been to me almost from the beginning. But I can't be defending Brian all the time, so instead I drop down to the floor and run the connector cable under the table and plug it in. Brian even put the surge protector inside the packing box so now I can plug everything in and not worry about setting the apartment on fire.
There have been very few material things in my life I've wanted as desperately as I want this car. I'm not sure why it's so important - it's not a status thing, I'm not really into status though most people think I am. I like designer clothes because they're beautiful, they fit perfectly and they're comfortable - it has nothing to do with snobbery. I like my loft because it's a reflection of me, like my clothes it's comfortable and a perfect fit. And somehow this car has become inordinately important to me too. Time for a change - the jeep fit me for several years but not any more.
That's the real reason I cave in to Lindsay's pleas for help with the Center carnival. People will think Iím a selfish bastard for not donating my time - let 'em. I am a selfish bastard and I'm worth my fucking weight in gold in this business. With the plans I've outlined and the support I've garnered from some of my clients, the Center's going to make a ton of money. And I'll get twenty percent off the top, maybe enough for my car.
Iíve got a dozen people working for me, pulling off this carnival scheduled for next week, all the best men in the field, arranging the production and the talent, I know perfectly well how to delegate and still get what I want. This morning one of the design team, Dave Meltzer, emailed me three projected poster designs and I rejected all three of them. They were good, they were hot, but there was just something not quite right about any of them. I've already included poster costs as part of the overhead for the carnival so if I get someone else to make the poster, the cost will have to come out of my profits. Normally that would piss me off, but. . .
What I want is something more personal, more erotic, more - more artistic. I need a real artist to design the poster, not a draftsman. There's only one real artist that I know. He could do it - he could do it exactly as I want, and he could do it damned quickly too. But will he?
Brian asked me to bring over the poster I've created for a first look, he said he'd probably have changes. I've worked really hard on the design but I prepared myself for him to suggest changes. I've seen enough of Brian at work to realize what a perfectionist he is - but that's okay, so am I. When he explains what he'd like all I can do is nod my head and agree. Then he asks me to come closer so he can show me what he means.
That shouldn't bother me. It doesn't bother me. I just would rather not be close enough to smell him. But I do as he says and move closer, and he turns sideways as he describes what he wants the guy on the poster to look like. I can hear his breathing, I wonder if he can hear mine? We both jump almost imperceptibly when Michael pushes back the heavy loft door with a bang and comes in carrying a couple plastic bags. Dinner. Iím in a hurry to get out of there Ė well, Iím hurrying because I need to finish the poster tonight, no other reason; Brian needs it first thing in the morning, everythingís on a really tight schedule for the carnival this weekend.
Michael shows up early with dinner which is probably a good thing, Justin rushes off, which is also a good thing. Iíve been wanting to talk to somebody about the munchersí proposition, maybe Iíll see what Michael thinks.
What do I think? When Lindsay first told me, in that first moment Iíll admit I was almost happy. I still canít figure out why. But when they said Mel would be carrying the baby, my thoughts did a one-eighty and I bolted out of Woodyís. I donít want to make a baby with Melanie for lots of reasons, not all of them selfish. What kind of child would a combination of our genes create? Itís a scary thought.
Yet as the evening wears on and Mikey and I get high and higher, I decide to go ahead with it after all. I know itís mostly because Lindsay asked me Ė Iíve hardly ever been able to say no to her. But in a way, itís also for Gus. Iíve told Linds that siblings are not automatically a good thing Ė look at me and Clare. But Iíve seen Justin with his sister. So maybe Gus will be happy with a sibling.
Brian's waiting for me at the end of the alley, one thing about Brian is, he never keeps you waiting. If he says he'll be somewhere he is always there. Or anyway he always has been for me, just like today. He called me on my cell early this morning, about six o'clock, I was hurrying through the gray dawn on my way to the diner for breakfast shift. Luckily I wasn't at home - not that it would matter for Brian to call me at home of course, but well, anyway, it was a good time to call. Brian said he had an eight o'clock appointment but could I meet him about nine-thirty, he had my check and he wanted to show me something.
So I tell Deb I need a break and slip out the back door of the diner, and sure enough right at the end of the alley he's waiting for me, leaning against the brick wall, smoking. When he sees me he flicks the cigarette away and smiles as I get close to him. I really wish he wouldn't smile like that.
"Hey," he says, "I wanted you to see this for yourself." He moves away from the wall and holds out his arm and points, his Vanna White imitation that always used to make me laugh, and he's pointing at the wall where about a hundred copies of my poster are plastered, then he turns and points down the street, and I'm grinning like an idiot as I see my Carnivale poster plastered all over the walls and in windows of the shops on Liberty Avenue. I get a little shiver of pleasure seeing my drawing repeated over and over, and when I glance at Brian he's grinning right back at me.
"Cool, huh?" he asks, and I can only nod, I'm feeling suddenly almost shy. Not shy, that's silly, just kind of overwhelmed by the sight of my poster all over the place, and Brian's standing there in the sunshine smiling down at me, which of course no longer affects me like it used to. We turn and start walking down the street and it's sort of a deja-vu-ish kind of feeling, it's a beautiful day and I'm not tired and I don't have a headache. And when Brian hands me a check it's all I can do just to mumble thanks - and he says I got a hundred dollar bonus for finishing the poster on time.
I fold the check and put it in my pocket, then suddenly he's shoving something at me, it's tickets, tickets for the Carnivale, for me and for Ethan. I open my mouth to say thanks and to tell him sorry, we have other plans for tonight, when out of the blue here is Ethan, grabbing onto me with both arms, almost knocking me down, kissing me hello and hanging onto me real tight. He was supposed to be in class, I don't know why he showed up unexpectedly like this.
Then something awful happens: Brian tells Ethan that he was admiring my poster and Ethan smirks at him, bragging that an artist always does his best work when he has someone he loves to inspire him. Brian's nodding and he doesnít miss a beat, he glances at me quickly and he says, "So I've been told." Suddenly I'm remembering the day I'd said those very words to him, to Brian, it was while I was assembling my work for the spring art show. I'd spread it all out on the floor by the table and Brian had come up behind me, wrapped his arms around me and kissed my neck while he told me how good my stuff was. Then I'd told him, an artist is inspired by being with the one he loves.
Quickly changing the subject, I show Ethan the tickets and immediately he grabs them away from me and shoves them back at Brian. He says we already have plans, which is true - it's that guy Collier's party tonight that Iím dreading so much, but there's something about the way Ethan pushes the tickets at Brian that feels abrupt and almost rude, and I try to turn him around so we can get the fuck out of there. When I glance quickly at Brian heís still smiling at me and he says he'll leave our names at the door in case we change our minds later. Then I drag Ethan away, we walk back up the street toward the diner, I can't get away from there fast enough.
It's not as if I want to go to the Carnivale tonight, I mean, it would have been fun a year ago maybe but I know it's not Ethan's kind of thing or even my own any more. I've changed a lot, and like Ethan, I no longer like that raunchy kind of entertainment. Probably. But I canít help feeling a little curious to see what Brianís created for the Centerís fundraiser, in a way I almost wish I could see it for myself. But I'd rather be at the party with Ethan and his friends.
I've only met one or two of his friends when we've run into them on campus, but Ethan's best friend Collier has called many times and I've talked to him when Ethan wasn't there. Talked is the wrong word, all he ever does is leave messages for Ethan, and he always throws in some nearly incomprehensible but vaguely insulting remark. Stuff about unfurnished garrets and starving artists who don't starve if they work at a restaurant and once he said something about 'the male equivalent of a blond bombshell,' which means he'd either seen me around or else Ethan's told him what I look like.
I thought maybe I imagined that Collier always has a kind of sneer in his voice, until I met him at the party tonight. It wasn't my imagination.
The party's in Collier's apartment - a large space furnished nearly as spartanly as Brian's loft used to be, but with much less taste and with a carefully chaotic feel too casual to be real. I've never really liked being in the middle of a big group of strangers, and I feel awkward smiling as I'm introduced to all of Ethan's friends. Naturally they're all talking about music and musicians and at first I try to pay attention and pretend Iím interested, well I do TRY to be interested but the thing is, I'm just not. I owe it to Ethan to pretend though and I manage to do that for a couple hours till the headache starts.
I've never told anybody about the headaches, Brian's the only one who's ever guessed. Whenever he realized my head was pounding - and I don't know how he figured it out but he'd done it lots of times - he'd take my hand and drag me away from the computer or the kitchen or the tv and push me down on the bed. He'd bring a cold washcloth for my eyes and hand it to me wordlessly, then he'd turn out all the lights in the loft. Sometimes he'd go out but usually he'd just sit at his computer in the darkness until I fell asleep. Nothing helps but sleep - not Tylenol, not even Demerol or Vicodin.
Once the headache starts, my attempts to talk to Ethan's friends and try to fit into his crowd, well it's all over, I can't try any more, all I can do is stand up and smile, brace myself against the pain. Finally I manage to slip away into a corner by myself, light a cigarette, try to catch my breath - it takes a lot of concentration to ignore the pounding in my head. Ethan finds me and I try to convince him I'm having a good time but then that asshole Collier joins us and says something slimy, he says something like, ďSo, youíre more than just a pretty face.Ē
Standing up tall I look him in the eye and smilingly tell him, "Yeah - I've also got a pretty big cock, and I'm great at giving head." I turn my smile on Ethan and say, "Right?" Christ, I'm channeling Brian Kinney. Ethan looks embarrassed and I really, really should feel sorry. I really should.
After a few moments both Ethan and Collier peel away, moving off in opposite directions and I'm left alone to finish my cigarette. I kill a little time reading the titles of some old books lining a couple tall shelves in the corner of the living room - the books all look alike, it's as if Collier bought them in one big lot from a garage sale or from an old bookshop going out of business. My headache's getting worse and I know I should just go home, lie down in the darkness and wait for it to pass. So I find Ethan and tell him I'm leaving, he wants to come with me which is nice but I need to be alone so I insist he stay at the party. At the door I turn to give him a wave and I notice that look on his face that I'm seeing more and more lately. I can't quite place it, but it feels like suspicion.
Or maybe I'm imagining it, maybe that's my own guilty conscience speaking, because as soon as I leave Collier's building and walk off down the street, my headache starts to let up. Probably it's the cool night air and the pleasant quietness of the side street that's easing the pain. In fact, by the time I've gone a few blocks and reached the bus stop, my headache's almost gone. I'm lucky that a bus comes along in just a few minutes, and on a whim I get off at Nantucket and transfer to a bus for Liberty Avenue.
I only want to take a peek at Babylon, it's just curiosity that makes me want to see how it's been transformed into a Carnivale. Sure enough my name is on a list at the door so I get in free, and I say hi to Terry in the coat-check room, he winks at me as he takes my jacket to hang up. Once inside the main room I'm wandering around almost open-mouthed, the place is hardly recognizable. There's masses of people, mostly guys but some women too, and all around there are these crazy carnival-type booths and games but with a raunchy gay sex twist - it's funny and silly but also very hot, I can see Brian's hand in everything that's going on - and then I see Brian himself, he comes toward me through the crowd, he's wearing a new striped shirt I haven't seen before, it looks good. Well everything looks good on him of course.
"Hey," he says, "Where's Ian?"
"Ethan!" I correct him, that makes me laugh for some reason. I tell him Ethan's with his friends and Brian says I should have brought him, all I can do is shake my head, Ethan would hate it. Brian starts to say something about learning things here you can't learn at college, then this almost-naked guy comes up and puts a hand on his arm, Brian glances at him and right away I know he's a trick that Brian's picked out for himself. Deja-vu. I feel the smile slip right off my mouth and I say coolly, "I'd better go," and I turn to push my way through the crowd.
"Tell Ian we missed him," Brian calls after me, I just give him a look and keep walking. By the time I collect my jacket and hurry out the door into the dark street, my headache's back.
The minute the little dark-haired trick moves up beside me, I know that Justin will bolt. In a way I want to tell the guy to fuck off, in another way I want to thumb my nose at Justin - why should he care whom I'm fucking? But in the end, in the split second I have to make up my mind, I realize I'll say nothing. Of course Justin turns and walks away. As soon as he's gone I move off into the crowd, quickly lose the dark haired boy and slip into the men's room for a piss. When I come back out and glance around the club, suddenly I want to go home, there's no reason to stay any longer. Collecting my jacket, I leave by the back door into the alley where I'd parked my new car. I can see it crouched in the darkness half a block away. Somebody's sitting on it, some jerk is leaning against my new car, and I tell him abruptly to remove his ass. Then he turns around and looks at me, and instead of ordering him to fuck off, I realize I've lost the slightly-angry head of steam that carried me from Babylon to the alley.
"Want me to take you for a ride?" I ask quietly and he says yes.
As we get into the car I wonder if I'll let him stay. Used to be I'd kick out a trick as soon as I fucked him, but lately I've been letting them linger if they want to. A couple I've even let stay the night, I'm not sure why. I used to hate waking up with someone in my bed, but I don't exactly remember why any more. Maybe I just got used to someone lying there beside me. And now it doesn't seem so terrible, to wake up next to another warm body. Yeah, maybe Iíll let this one sleep over tonight.
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