QAF FanFic by Morpheus
Intermission-10: Six Months
Part 5: DON'T
Brian's here. Across the street standing next to his jeep.
Driving home, I was thinking about our argument in the diner - it wasn't even an argument, it was just Brian repeating his orders. You can't argue with him, he either wins or he walks away. And even though at first my heart jerks in my chest to see him standing there in the darkness across the street as if I'd conjured him up just by thinking about him, still I don't move, I can't move, I don't want to see him any more tonight. There's too much going on inside my scrambled-egg brain and I'm tired and I just don't think I can deal with it. So I stand motionless next to my open car door and just stare at him.
Then he moves. Still he hasn't said a word but he closes his door and starts walking. Brian walks to the middle of the street and then stops. Tomorrow if I bring out the big silver tape measure with the retractable metal tape and lay it down on the road, I'll bet the point where Brian's standing is the exact mathematical center of the space between us. He won't come forward even one extra inch.
He stands there a minute, we're staring though it's too dark to make out each other's faces, and then he shoves his hands into his pockets and he takes one more step, then stops again. Just one more step, then he's over the halfway point. Now I'm able to move. Shutting my car door, I turn toward Brian and begin to walk to him in the middle of the street. In the middle minus one step. When I'm an arm's length away, I stop.
"You had to work late?" he asks. He wants to know if I was over at Lawrence's having a quick fuck. Or maybe he just wants to know if I had to work late. I'm too worn out to maneuver through the complicated minefield that is conversation with Brian.
"Brian, I'm tired, I need to sleep now. Can we talk some other time? Please?"
He nods. "You want me to fuck off."
"No. It's just literally the truth - I'm tired, I can't think straight, I don't want to argue."
He stares at me a moment, then he nods again. "Okay. You can call me sometime. When you're not tired." He turns away and I watch him walk back to the jeep, pull open the door.
He stops then and I hurry to close the distance between us, almost stumbling from exhaustion. He's standing in a pool of light from inside the jeep and now I can see his face, he's wearing his mask of unconcern. I used to be able to see under Brian's masks but somewhere along the way I lost that knack. He looks at me now, turning his head sideways, raising one quizzical eyebrow. I'm too tired for words but I need to communicate. Instead of words I slip my arms around his waist and lay my head on his chest.
Brian's arms go around my shoulders, maybe it's just a reflex but at least he's not flinging me away. We stand together like that, wordlessly hugging, then I feel him press his chin into my hair. "Have fun in New York," he murmurs.
"Thanks." My voice is muffled against his jacket. "I haven't been there since I was a kid. Well, you know – not really." The time I ran away doesn’t count – all I saw was the inside of the hotel room.
He squeezes tighter. "I was going to take you and Gus there, to FAO Schwartz."
He sighs. "I never had time."
"I know Brian, it's okay." I pull away a few inches and look up at his face but his mask hasn't slipped.
"You should have reminded me."
"You were busy, becoming partner and everything."
“Hunh,” Brian murmurs, “Do you always make excuses for me?”
“No. You’re thinking of Michael.”
That stops him; he frowns. “He knows me better than anyone.”
“What?” Brian drops his arms and moves back a step.
“Brian, why does he know you better? It's because you let him. You won’t let me. You won’t let me close to you, you won’t trust me with – “
“Fuck you, Justin.” Brian backs up another step. “Don’t fucking analyze me. And don’t talk to me about trust.”
I drop my head and stare at the ground. What can I say to that? He’s right. I’m too tired to talk rationally and he’s still shutting me out. Maybe it’s hopeless after all. The silence draws out between us, and finally all I can do is whisper, “Are you ever going to forgive me?” I can’t look at him.
At first Brian doesn’t answer and maybe I already know the answer anyway, so I turn and head back across the street. I take two steps, three, then Brian’s behind me and he reaches out to turn me around. “I don’t know,” he says. In the dim light from the jeep I can see that Brian has let the mask slip off his face. He’s letting me see the pain in his eyes. “I don’t know,” he repeats.
I have to close my eyes, otherwise I’ll start crying. Then he pulls me back into his arms and rests his chin on my head again. “Justin.” He pauses, then he says, “I’m trying to.”
“Okay,” I gulp. I'm falling-down-dead-tired.
Gently Brian says, "Go to bed, get some sleep. I’ll see you later."
"Later," I echo him, and watch as he swings himself into the jeep and closes the door. He takes off and I watch him drive away down the street, then I retrieve my backpack from the car and go into the house. It's chilly tonight, I'm shivering. I'm almost unbearably tired, and though I need a shower it's all I can do to pull off my clothes, drag back the covers on my bed and crawl in. I curl up on my side on the pale sheets; and squeezing my eyes shut, I pretend that Brian's body is curled around me, keeping me warm.
I'd completely forgotten my promise to Justin, that I'd take him and Gus to New York to buy a present for Gus' birthday. It was the day of the birthday party and Justin was terrified of being in a crowd of people. He tried to use the excuse of not having a present for Gus as reason for not going, and that's when I made the promise. He says he remembers but I'd forgotten until tonight.
Now somebody else is taking Justin to New York. Somebody who shares his interest in art. They'll go to the museums that Justin always talks about. They'll have dinner in nice restaurants. Maybe this teacher will even take him to a play on Broadway. And then they'll go back to the hotel and fuck each other all night long. And then maybe Justin will fall in love with this guy, this tall and handsome man who's probably already himself half in love with little Sunshine.
Who wouldn't be?
Debbie says it's all my fault and she doesn't know the half of it. She doesn't know that I pushed Justin away from me. Again. It was the right thing to do, I still believe that. Maybe Justin will find happiness with the teacher. That would be good. That would be very, very good.
I'm almost home when I make a sudden U-turn and head back toward Liberty Avenue. I need a drink. I need a lot of drinks. I need to get my dick sucked, I need to fuck a willing ass, or two or three or four. Nodding my head, I keep driving back toward Liberty.
Pulled up at a red light, it occurs to me that I don't really want to get drunk. I'm out of the habit of drinking myself into oblivion, somehow it's lost the appeal it used to have for me. Partly because I'm out of the habit, partly because I have an important meeting early tomorrow, partly for other reasons that I don't need to think about right now. When the light changes, I turn left and then left again and head back toward home.
There are times when it would be so easy to just drive my jeep into a brick wall. Sometimes the only thing stopping me is the realization that I'd probably survive and end up in some fucking hospital overwhelmed with grinding pain.
Stopped at another red light, I remember a warm spring day during junior year when I sat in my Shakespearean Lit class checking out a hunky blond senior, mentally removing his varsity sweater as well as every other stitch of clothing he was wearing while the teacher's voice droned on and on about Hamlet and his tragic flaw. I can still remember Professor Noxin’s mellifluent voice discussing the 'to be or not to be' soliloquy.
Suddenly the professor exclaimed, "Mister Kinney, perhaps you can explain to the class the meaning of the phrase, 'Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all?"
I remember flushing with embarrassment at being caught daydreaming and I stammered some kind of bullshit answer - you learn to give them the bullshit answers they want early on in college - but later that night I'd laid in bed and thought about Hamlet and what a pussy he was, he should have stabbed his mother AND his uncle and been done with it. And if he wanted to off himself, then he damned well should have just gone ahead and done it and stopped whimpering about it all the time.
But now I think I understand Hamlet better. Knowledge and courage don't always go hand in hand.
It's Friday night, the office is deserted, I've been trying for over an hour to write a presentation outline for Abernathy Brothers and finally I click 'save' and push my chair back from the computer. Might as well admit that I'm bullshitting myself, I'm not working overtime. What I'm really doing is waiting to see if Jesse shows up. We haven't shared a drop since he visited me at the loft and I'm sort of hoping that he might come by to visit me in the office tonight. Okay, I'm really hoping that he does.
"Hey." I look up and here he is now in my doorway.
"Jesse, come in." I stand up and when he gets close to my desk I reach out to shake his hand.
"You're looking good, Brian, back to normal now?"
"Yeah, yes I am. Or almost. Have time to sit down?"
"Sure." Jesse relaxes in a chair by my desk and, surprising myself, I come around from behind the desk and sit down next to him. I haven't done that before.
We go through a minimum of small talk and then Jesse pulls out his cigarettes and offers me the pack. I'd forgotten our routine so I jump up and retrieve paper cups and the bottle of JB from my desk before resuming my seat and pouring us each a measure of bourbon. We touch our cups together and Jesse says "Clink!" before taking a sip. I accept a cigarette from him and we light up.
"Well," Jesse says, "How's your friend Justin? Still taking care of you?"
"No." I shake my head. When Jesse says nothing, I hasten to add, "I don't need help any more. He's moved back home now."
"That's too bad. It's always nice to have someone around, helping out."
"He's got his own life, he needs to be getting on with it." My voice comes out sounding harsh, so I smooth it out and add, "He's still in school, not even out of his teens yet. He needs to enjoy himself, be around kids his own age. That's what's best for him right now."
"Yeah, that could be true," Jesse agrees. "If that's what Justin wants too." When I say nothing, Jesse asks, "Is that what Justin wants too?"
I open my mouth, then close it again. Finally I say, "It's what he should want."
"But he doesn't?"
That's something I can't answer. And not because I won't. "How can he know what he wants?" I reply. "And even if he does," I hurry on, before Jesse can speak, "What if what he wants is bad for him?"
Jesse takes a sip of bourbon, then says, "Why do you think that what Justin wants is bad for him?"
Abruptly I stand up, walk to the door, turn and walk back again, then sit on the corner of my desk facing Jesse. "He wants me. And I'm bad for him."
"Do you love him?"
I'm not expecting this question and it catches me off guard. "I - " Then I stand up again and walk back behind my desk, sit down in my chair. It's easier to breathe over here. Finally I'm able to answer Jesse. "I care about him."
"But you don't think he can be happy with you, Brian?"
That's easy. "I know he can't."
Jesse considers that for a moment, takes a drag off his cigarette and leans back in the chair. "And what about you, Brian? Could you be happy with him?"
Quickly I answer, "I don't do commitment. And besides, he - "
Jesse waits, saying nothing.
"He doesn't do commitment either. We - had rules. He broke them."
Jesse nods. "That's rough. You got hurt," he murmurs sympathetically. I don't answer, just look at him but he reads my eyes. "I'm sorry."
This is getting too maudlin, too emotional. I want to change the subject, but then Jesse speaks up again.
"You know what I think, Brian?" He hesitates, and when I nod warily he goes on, "It seems to me like maybe you're the one you want to protect from getting hurt. Not Justin."
"I don't - "
Jesse continues speaking, "Of course I could be wrong, but it feels like maybe while you're insisting how bad you are for Justin and how you want to do what's best for him. . .maybe what you're really doing is, what you think is best for Brian."
"Here's somebody who can hurt you, who has already hurt you, so you'd better not let him get close enough to do it again."
I lean both arms on the desk and stare hard at Jesse. "You're wrong. It's not like that at all."
Jesse nods. "Okay. I've been wrong before, maybe I’m wrong this time too. It was just a thought."
We don't speak for a moment, then Jesse says, "I could maybe tolerate another drop of bourbon, if you don't mind."
Standing up, I go around the desk and pour an inch of JB into Jesse's proffered cup. "People make mistakes," he says, looking up at me. "Sometimes they deserve a second chance, sometimes they don't. It's a tough call."
There's a few moments of silence, then Jesse sighs. "Nothing like aged bourbon to smooth out some of the bumps, thanks, Brian." He takes another sip. "Did I ever tell you about my wife's cousin, who made wine in his bathtub?"
After a couple minutes I'm able to focus on Jesse's story and I feel myself relaxing, even laughing at his bad joke about the wine leaving a ring around the bottle. And then we talk a few more minutes about the maintenance workers' union, and when he tentatively asks me how my son's doing, I find myself pulling out a picture Lindsay gave me the other day - I'd shoved it in my wallet temporarily. I even hear myself telling Jesse about Gus getting into a jar of grape jelly and drawing pictures with it on the kitchen wall while Lindsay's back was turned. Christ, whoever thought I'd be showing baby pictures and telling boring kid stories?
Soon Jesse must be getting to work and I'm ready to get out of the office myself, I can work on the Abernathy presentation at home this weekend. Jesse stands up and crushes his paper cup, shoves it in his pocket, and reaches out to shake my hand. But this time he hangs onto my hand and squeezes hard. Looking into my eyes, he says seriously, "Forgiveness isn't as hard as it might seem, Brian."
"You think I should forgive him," I say, somehow surprised at this direct piece of advice from Jesse.
"No, I'd never tell you what to do," Jesse contradicts me, "How can I? You live in your shoes, I don't. I'm only saying that, sometimes it's easier to let go of anger - it takes a lot of energy to hang onto it."
Then he releases my hand and reaches up to briefly squeeze my shoulder. Somehow that gesture makes a lump stick in my throat.
"You have a good night now, Brian - and thanks for the bourbon."
Swallowing hard, I manage to smile and say, "You too, Jesse."
He gives me his salute-wave from the door and he's gone. Putting away the JB, logging off my computer and loading up my briefcase, I think about what Jesse said about hanging onto anger. It's something I've done a lot of in my life, and sometimes hanging onto anger can make you strong, get you through situations over which you have no control. I never thought of anger as taking a lot of energy, but I can see now that Jesse might be right about that.
I remember how I felt the night I first confronted Justin with his sneaking around. We didn't talk about it, but instead I'd attacked him with my body, with my mouth, I'd aroused him - and myself - almost to the point of losing control. Then I'd pulled back and left him floundering alone on the floor. I was completely consumed with anger that night. And I was exhausted. I remember grabbing the bottle of JB and flinging myself into the living room, falling onto the couch. While Justin was taking a shower, I nearly cried out, I nearly fell off the couch, I was so exhausted by the toll of holding that much anger deep inside me.
I'm still filled with anger and I don't know how to get rid of it. In the past I never wanted to get rid of anger, I'd clutch it to me, believing that it made me strong. But it's not working now. The anger I feel toward Justin isn't making me strong, it's almost a physical pain inside my gut. And Jesse was right, it makes me tired. Incredibly tired.
I'm in the middle of changing for dinner Saturday evening when my cell phone rings. It takes a minute to find the phone, it's under a pile of discarded clothing, and when I do, a glance shows me the call is from Brian. I hesitate to answer - Lawrence will be here shortly, we have dinner reservations for seven o'clock. But naturally I have to answer the phone. I don't think I could ever not answer a phone call from Brian.
"Justin?" Brian's voice sounds so far away.
"Hey, Brian, what's up?"
"Nothing," he says, then he asks, "You having fun?"
"Yeah. Brian, why are you calling? Lawrence will be here any minute, I need to get ready for dinner." I sit down on the end of the bed and try to put on a sock with one hand.
"Bet you go to a nice restaurant. Expensive. Romantic."
Why is he calling me? "Brian, why are you calling me?" I stand up again and look around for my other sock.
"Wanna ask you."
I kneel down and pull up the edge of the bedspread - there's my sock! "Brian, are you drunk? It's only like, dinner time, why are you drunk so early?"
"Drunk?" Brian asks, there's a pause, then he says, "Yeah. You know what?" He sounds surprised. "I think I am."
"Well, don't drive or anything, okay? If you're at home just stay there, okay?"
"I need to hang up now." I glance at the clock, I don't want to be on the phone when Lawrence gets here. "Brian, are you sure you're all right?"
"I'm very all right. More or less very all right. You all right?"
I'm getting exasperated. "Brian, I'm fine. I need to hang up."
"Ask a question first."
Sighing, I say, "Well, go ahead and ask."
There's a really long pause and I think he's hung up. Or passed out. "Brian?"
"Justin," he says at last, "Justin. You falling in love with this guy? Teacher guy?"
Why is he asking me this? Why is he calling New York to ask me this? "Brian - "
"Yes or no. Easy question."
". . .No."
"Ah," Brian says, "That's good. Because - because don't. Okay? Don't."
I have to ask. "Why not?"
"Just don't. That's all. But you have a good time now, okay?"
"Brian - "
He's hung up the phone. And I'm left standing in the middle of the room in my underwear with one sock on my foot and one in my hand, wishing like hell I was back home in Pittsburgh. Because if Brian doesn't want me to fall in love with Lawrence, then doesn't that mean. . .something?