…for Michael Mele…

"Dr. Chaudry wants to see you."

"What?" Brian had just folded his jacket on the seat; they were early, the other guys had not yet arrived at the diner for breakfast.

Justin repeated, "Dr. Chaudry - "


"I don't know."  Justin shrugged his shoulders, turned over his coffee cup in the saucer, then reached over to turn Brian's cup, too.

The new waiter appeared, a gorgeous blond hunk with, according to Brian, the I.Q. of a baked potato.  He smiled at Justin and said good morning, but just barely looked at Brian; he'd learned to be wary of Brian's morning sarcasm.  He poured them coffee, took their orders, and hurried away.

"You always scare poor Alex," Justin commented, taking a sip of coffee, burning his tongue.  "Damn, this is bitter, I need cream."  He glanced at Brian, expecting a ribald joke, but Brian was frowning.

"Why does your therapist want to see me?"

"I told you, I don't know."  When Brian tilted his head, raised an eyebrow, Justin insisted, "I really don't.  He just said he'd like to meet with you, and could you give him a call."

"Okay," Brian conceded.  He took a sip of coffee, made a face, and Justin quickly handed him the sugar, then slid out of the booth and grabbed a cream pitcher from the counter.

Pouring too generous a dollop of cream into his cup, Justin's coffee overflowed onto the saucer, and he quickly bent his head to take a big slurp off the top.

"That is SO rude."  Brian rubbed his right temple as he stirred sugar into his cup.

"Still got a headache?" Justin was immediately solicitous, leaning forward, folding his hands on the table.  "I can get you some aspirin from the back, there's always a bottle of - "

"No," Brian almost growled; he was annoyed by Justin's kindness.  'You're my headache, and you never go away.'  But he didn't say it out loud.  It was a joke, and yet it was true.  In the past, Brian knew, he would have said it without a thought.  But in his mind's eye, he could see Justin's face fall, could see Justin trying to cover his hurt feelings with a mask of unconcern.  When did I start watching my mouth around him? Brian wondered.     

Brian grew even more annoyed, but at himself.  Well, at Justin, too.  Unfairly or not, Brian was annoyed that Justin had become slightly, almost imperceptibly, fragile.  Brian had always spoken his mind, to friends and enemies alike; let the chips fall where they may.  Life was tough, and people needed to be tough enough to deal with it.  To deal with reality. 

One of the things that had drawn him to Justin from the beginning was Justin's strength, his resiliency.  He remembered that first morning, when he'd challenged Justin to climb into the jeep spray-painted FAGGOT.  Justin had passed the test; he'd climbed into the jeep and let Brian drive him right up to the front of his school. 

Without meaning to, without conscious thought, Brian had outed Justin to the entire student body of St. James Academy that morning.  Brian remembered stealing a look at the kid in the rearview mirror as they drove away, remembered that he'd been impressed to see Justin square his shoulders and walk bravely past the clumps of laughing students and up the steps of his school.  It had never occurred to Brian for a single moment on that fateful day, that he had set off a chain of events that would eventually lead to. . .

Another sharp pain stabbed his temple, and Brian rubbed it again.  He saw Justin glance at him, open his mouth and close it.  'Good boy,' he silently told him, 'Don't nag me!'  Justin bent his head and concentrated on drinking his coffee, and put a napkin in the saucer to sop up the spill.  Just then Ted and Emmett arrived at the diner.  Emmett waved and the guys hurried over to join them in the booth.  Finally there were people on whom Brian could take out his evil morning temper.

Ted and Emmett, Brian knew, were used to his snide comments and sarcasm and didn't let him get under their skin.  Brian hadn't realized until recently that this was because the guys didn't like him all that much.  They hadn't really seemed to care when he was planning to go to New York, and yet they both fell apart like orphaned puppies when it appeared that Michael was moving away.  That was okay, Brian reminded himself; they had always been more Michael's friends than his, and he didn't need them.  Didn't need anybody, really; he was totally self-sufficient.  Always had been, always would be. 

The hunky waiter, Alex, brought Brian's and Justin's plates and took the others' orders; they joked with him but Brian wasn't paying attention.  He took a bite of eggs, then reached for the pepper.  He had barely raised his hand when Justin thrust the pepper shaker into it, and as he shook it on his eggs, Justin called out, "Alex, Brian needs some more coffee!"  He glanced at his cup, he hadn't realized it was empty. 

"Do you cut his meat for him, too?" Ted smirked.

"What?" Brian glanced at Ted, but Ted was shaking his head and smiling.


Emmett laughed and said, "Oh, I'm sure Justin takes care of Brian's meat all right."

Ted nodded.  "I think Justin owns the butcher shop."

Brian glared at Ted and opened his mouth to reply, but Justin quickly interrupted and asked, "Oh Ted, you were going to loan me that Aida CD, did you remember to bring it?"

"Sure."  Ted rummaged in the briefcase that he'd set on the floor beside him, and found the Aida jewelbox, handed it to Justin.  Justin began to ask him questions about the opera; and tuning out again, Brian thought about Justin's therapist and wondered why he wanted to see him.  He'd get the phone number from Cynthia this morning and give the man a call.

Cynthia had found Dr. Chaudry, probably the best psychiatrist in Pittsburgh, and one of the few out gay doctors in the state.  When he'd asked her to research therapists, he'd been able to read her face, and snapped, "No, it's not for me."

Cynthia had smiled but said nothing for a moment, then asked gingerly, "Justin?"

Brian hesitated, then nodded.  Cynthia probably knew more about his life than anybody besides Michael.  Not that he shared that much, but she was extremely intelligent and keenly intuitive.  Only last March he had taken her to lunch for her birthday, and he'd encouraged her to go back to college; he knew she had almost enough units for a degree.  But she'd refused; she loved her job, she said, and she'd risen as high in the ranks as she wanted.  Brian was selfishly glad; he didn't want to train a new assistant.  Cynthia could do his job almost as well as he did it himself. And she was discreet and almost fanatically loyal.  He was certain she'd never gossiped about him in the company, and he knew for a fact that she shot down others who did; he'd heard it from several sources.  And she'd always been nice to Justin.

Brian had personally visited Dr. Chaudry, to assure himself the therapist was good enough, and he'd filled the doctor in on some background about Justin's nightmares and fears.  Naturally the doctor was familiar with the incident at the prom; it had been splashed in all the newspapers for days and was likely to be again, once that bastard Hobbes’ trial began.  Melanie thought it would start soon, but the judicial system dragged things out for months, so they didn't really know for sure.  Dr. Chaudry had promised not to let Justin know that Brian had told him anything; it was important, he'd advised Brian, that the patient reveal his own concerns.

Chaudry was a tall man, Indian or Pakistani Brian thought, though he wore western clothes and no turban.  He had gray hair and a beard frizzled with white at the edges, and had small round gold-frame glasses.  His office was decorated monochromatically, all brown and tan and beige, comfortable though not stylish, with low lighting, big leather chairs and what Brian thought of as a traditional Sigmund Freud couch.  Soft-spoken, with a clipped British accent, his English was better than most native-born Americans.  Brian had been impressed with him, although he had felt unaccountably nervous in the doctor's office.  He was glad he was not the one who was going to be psychoanalyzed.  Not really psychoanalyzed, Dr. Chaudry had explained; Justin would simply have an opportunity to talk about any problems or concerns he might have, and hopefully resolve them.

Justin didn't tell Brian much about his twice-weekly visits to the therapist and Brian didn't ask; it was not his business.  Justin said he liked Dr. Chaudry and Brian didn't press for more information.  The only real annoyance for Brian was that Justin had kept insisting that he wanted to pay for the therapist himself, until Brian got very angry and told Justin to shut the fuck up.   That had been a few weeks ago, so Brian didn't think it had anything to do with the doctor wanting to see him.

He was wrong.


That was Tuesday.  Brian made an appointment with Dr. Chaudry's secretary, and arrived punctually at three o'clock on Thursday.

After shaking hands with the doctor and sitting in a chair near his desk, Brian waited to hear why he’d been asked to come in.  The doctor started by saying that he felt Justin was doing very well, but added, “We’ve come upon a stumbling block in Justin’s treatment, and I was hoping you could help us get over it.”

“Stumbling block?” Brian repeated.

“Yes.”  Dr. Chaudry stroked the side of his beard with a pen.  “Justin has become quite adamant about wanting to pay for his visits himself.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Brian snorted.  “He’s a kid, he can’t afford it.”

“And you wish to pay because - ?”

Brian stared at him.  “Because I can.  I can afford it, he can’t.”

The doctor nodded.  “You have a certain responsibility for this boy?  He is a relative, or a close friend, perhaps?”

"He's my - "

The doctor nodded.

"He's my - "

The doctor nodded again.

Brian could feel his face flushed hot.  "What difference does it make?" he demanded at last.  "I'm paying the bill, so why the fuck should you care what he is to me?"

"You're angry," the doctor said, leaning back in his chair and templing his fingers together. 

Brian stared at the man's hands, a childhood nursery rhyme repeating in his brain: 'Here is the church, here is the steeple, here is the church, here is the steeple. . .'  He pulled his eyes away and glared at the doctor.  "I am not fucking angry, damn it!" he nearly shouted.  Which was about the stupidest thing he'd said all day.  They stared at each other in silence for a moment, then Brian huffed.  "Okay, I'm angry.  I'm tired of being harassed, that's all.  I told Justin I want to pay you, it's my decision, and I just want everybody to shut the fuck up about it.”

“So you’ve already discussed it with Justin.”

“Yes,” Brian agreed.  Then he added, “Okay, we didn’t discuss it, I just told him to – “

The doctor waited a moment, then suggested, “To ‘shut the fuck up?’”

Brian stood up abruptly, paced across the room, then back again.  Still standing, he said, calmly and reasonably, “Look, this is ridiculous.  Justin can’t afford to pay you.  He’s a school boy, he’s already working too many hours, he already gets too tired, he gets these fucking headaches when he’s tired.  His mom can’t afford it.  His – Deb can’t afford it.  There’s nobody else.  Only me.  Why are you taking his side?”

“Why do you think I am taking Justin’s side?” the doctor asked.

Brian dropped his head, stared at the floor.  Fucking psychiatrists only asked questions, never answered them.  He forced himself to calm down, then sat again in the tan leather armchair in front of the desk. 

After a few moments of silence, Dr. Chaudry leaned forward and rested his hands on the desk.  His knuckles were large and very hairy, Brian noticed. 

“Mr. Kinney,” he said, “As Justin’s therapist, of course I won’t divulge anything that he has told me in confidence.  But there are some things I can share with you that won’t, I think, break that trust.”

Brian nodded and folded his hands in his lap, unconsciously mirroring the doctor.

“Justin is an independent young man.  He appears to be very responsible, very honorable.”

Brian nodded again.  “Yes, he is.”

“It seems to me, and of course I may be wrong, that perhaps Justin does not want to feel indebted to anyone.  Or perhaps beholden .  This is supposition on my part, not stated fact, you understand.”

“Why should he feel like that.”  Brian was annoyed.

“Forgive me if I am overstepping my bounds, Mr. Kinney, but may I ask if you and Justin are in a serious relationship?  You don’t, of course, have to answer.”

Brian narrowed his eyes.  “No.  No, we are not.  I don’t do relationships.”

“I see.”  The doctor nodded.  “Mr. Kinney, may I ask something else?”

Brian looked warily at the doctor, nodded.

“Mr. Kinney, if the positions were reversed, if someone who was no relation to you, who had no responsibility for you, and was not in a serious relationship with you. . .if that person were spending a great deal of money on  you. . .would you, Mr. Kinney, feel indebted?  Or beholden?”

Brian stared back at the doctor.  He couldn’t answer.  He had no answer.  “I don’t know,” he said at last.  Then, looking away, over the doctor’s shoulder, Brian nodded.  “Yes.  Yes, I would.”

“Thank you.”  

“But the thing is – “  Brian stopped abruptly. 


“Fuck,” said Brian.  He closed his eyes.  Suddenly an incredibly large and very heavy boulder rolled onto Brian’s chest.  He couldn’t breathe, and he gasped once, twice, three times, then leaped to his feet and let out a roar, a roar of anger and frustration and regret and. . .and fear.  Then he could breathe, then he could breathe again.

“The thing is,” Brian said calmly, as if that brief explosion had never happened, “That I am responsible for – for things.”


“I shouldn’t have gone to the prom.  But he wanted me to.  If I hadn’t gone, that fucker might not have hurt him.  But he wanted me to.  He wanted me to.”  Brian glared at the doctor, then shouted, “He wanted me to!”

“You are feeling guilty, Mr. Kinney?”

“No!” Brian shouted again.  Then, “No,” more quietly.  He sat down in the chair and sighed.  “I don’t believe in guilt.”  He didn’t, either.

They were silent a few minutes, then Dr. Chaudry asked, “So, you wish to pay for Justin’s treatment because you do, in fact, feel responsible for what happened to him.”

Brian thought for a moment.  He knew he was not really responsible for Chris Hobbes bashing Justin.  That bastard had probably planned it, all along.  Justin had revealed that Chris was bashing him, in smaller ways, all semester at school.  Knocking him down, setting fire to his locker.  Brian showing up at the prom may have pushed the bastard over the edge, but Brian knew he was not really responsible for the attack.


Dr. Chaudry waited.

“I want to pay because I – “  Brian took a deep breath and said honestly, “Because I care about him.”

Dr. Chaudry nodded.

Brian sighed.  “He belongs to me.”

Brian glanced at the doctor, expecting to see the whiskery older man smiling or gloating, but he wasn’t; he was solemn studying Brian, and merely nodded.  “I understand,” he said, and Brian believed that he really did.


Justin pointed the remote control at the tv and hit MUTE.  They were in the middle of Jeopardy! and it was a commercial break.  He turned to Brian and said, ”I talked  to Dr. Chaudry today about your reality hang-up”

“Since when is reality a ‘hang-up?’  It’s mature.  It’s responsible.”  Brian took a last puff on his cigarette and ground it out.  “It’s real life.”

“Uh-huh.”  Justin nodded, smirking slightly, and Brian’s attention was caught. 

“So - what did you and your therapist say about me?”

“I can’t tell you THAT,” Justin teased, “It’s confidential.”  He took the ashtray from Brian and set it on the coffee table, then stretched out on the sofa and put his head in Brian’s lap.  Immediately Brian began playing with his hair, he could never keep his hands off that soft golden hair.

“Anyway,” Justin was continuing, “Dr. Chaudry has an assignment for us.”


“Yes.  I wanted him to write it down, like a prescription?  So I could show you.  But he said   you’d have to agree on your own.”


“So anyway, what are you doing this coming weekend?”


“Well,” Justin asked, “Is it stuff you can cancel?”

“Maybe.  What is this so-called ‘assignment?’”

“Oh!” Justin glanced at the tv and sat up quickly, “Wait!  Jeopardy’s on again.”

They finished watching the show and had their usual argument about who had won.  Since they didn’t write down scores, each of them always claimed to be the winner.  Justin switched off the tv and offered to get Brian another beer. 

“Okay.  But no more for you.”

”Brian, I only had one,” Justin complained.

“One on a school night, that was the agreement.”  Brian undid the top button of his jeans, stretched his arms above his head, then gratefully accepted the cold beer Justin brought him from the kitchen.

“Okay,” Justin sat down on the sofa and turned toward Brian.  “Will you listen to the whole thing, and not make awful faces, and not make rude remarks, till I’m done?”


“Okay.”  Justin pulled up his stockinged feet and sat cross-legged on the sofa, elbows on his knees.  “So, I was telling Dr. Chaudry about how you always are so serious and reality-based and don’t like games and stuff.  And he asked if we ever played Fantasyland.” 

Brian groaned. 

“Wait!” Justin insisted, reaching over to punch Brian’s shoulder.  “Anyway, he explained that sometimes people can play a game, a pretend game, and like, negotiate rules ahead of time, agree on things they can’t do, and set boundaries, that kind of thing.  And then suspend reality for a while, like a weekend?  And pretend to live in a fantasy land, and pretend to be different people, without all the rules and things they have in their normal life.”

“Justin,” Brian said honestly, “In the first place, this sounds like a BD/SM scenario, which you are NOT getting into, and I mean it.  And in the second place, all this talk about ‘pretend’ is making me uncomfortable.  I don’t like that psychobabble bullshit.”

Justin said nothing.  He looked away from Brian, sighed, and nodded his head.  “Okay,” he said at last, getting up from the sofa and clearing the coffee table of chip bags and empty beer bottles. 

As Justin carried the garbage into the kitchen, Brian also sighed.  Shook his head.  Closed  his eyes.  “Fuck,” he said, but under his breath.  Setting down his bottle, he followed Justin to the kitchen, where he was rinsing dishes and putting them into the dishwasher.  Brian turned off the water, put his arm around Justin, and led him up the steps to the bedroom, and pulled him down on the bed, but not for a fuck.  He didn't undress Justin or himself; this wasn't about sex.  “Just lie still,” he said.

Stretching out full length, Brian pulled Justin’s body close in his arms and buried his head in Justin’s neck for a moment, breathing in the familiar aroma of Justin’s hair and skin.  When their muscles let go and they relaxed into each other, he ran his hand through Justin’s hair and whispered into his ear, “Tell me why.”

“Why, what?” Justin breathed back at him.

“Why do you want to pretend, Justin?  How do you want me to be different than I am?  What are you wanting me to do, that I don’t do already?”

“I didn’t mean that – “

“Yeah, you did.”  Brian nuzzled Justin’s face, feeling the merest fuzz of hair on his cheeks.  “Listen to me.”  He pulled his face away a few inches so he could look into Justin’s eyes.  “You can pretend this bed is Fantasyland.  For the next five minutes.  Okay?  Now tell me what you want.”

Justin said nothing, just closed his eyes and lay very still.  Brian could feel him start to tremble in his arms.

“You can tell me.”  Brian blew on Justin’s eyelids, kissing each one in turn  “You can tell me anything, don’t you know that?  You can tell me.”

“Brian. . .” 

Brian could feel Justin’s adam’s apple moving up and down.  “Tell me.”

“I. ..I want you to say you love me.  Even if it’s only pretend.”

Brian was not surprised.  He lay silent for a moment, breathing Justin’s warmth through his nostrils, through his mouth, through his skin.  He felt the length of Justin’s body lying tight against his own, felt the beat of his heart, could almost hear the blood rushing through Justin’s veins.  Brian did not believe in love, he didn’t, he couldn’t.  But Justin did.  He pressed his lips to Justin’s ear and murmured, his voice the merest whisper, “I love you, Justin.  I love you, baby.”

Justin’s body jerked slightly against him, rocked as if by an orgasm, and he gasped and drew a quick breath.  “Brian. . .Brian. . .” he breathed into Brian’s neck, “Brian.”  

“It’s only pretend,” Brian reminded him in a whisper.

“No, it’s not,” Justin murmured.

“No, it’s not,” Brian agreed, pressing his lips to Justin’s delicious sweet mouth.