October 1990: Brian Kinney is a College Sophomore
Brian's head was pounding, and not from a hangover this time, though he was going to ease up on the beer. He'd had a meeting with his advisor yesterday, talking about grades. Brian had admitted he was falling behind, and Dean Johansen had delivered a long and very boring lecture about time management. Brian had laughed off the dean's warning, but now he admitted to himself that it was time to buckle down. Christ, 'buckle down' was something his dad would say. Like 'nose to the grindstone' or. . .well, it didn't matter; it was fucking true. If he wanted to keep his scholarship, he couldn't let his grades slip, no matter what. No matter how miserably unhappy he was.
'I am not miserably unhappy,' he told himself, glaring at the mirror in the tiny bathroom he shared with two roommates, Jack Masterson and Matthew McNutzenberger. Matt's real name was McNally; Jack christened the asshole McNutzenberger because he was a certified nutcase, who wore Nazi stormtrooper jackboots summer and winter. Jack was okay, a quiet, pimply boy from Altoona; he kept to himself.
No, the headache was not from beer, and not from poppers, though the guy he was with last night shoved the poppers so far up his nose, Brian's brain exploded, or felt like it. He couldn't remember the guy's name but he remembered his big beefy hands, and the roughness with which he jerked down Brian's jeans and fucked him standing up, pressed hard against the men's room wall. He remembered that the bricks had been cold against his face, and he remembered the guy yelping when he caught some pubic hair in the condom he grudgingly put on, after Brian insisted. They hadn't had lube though, and it had hurt, hurt a lot. But sometimes Brian liked it rough; not often, but sometimes.
Brian had a quick shower, the water boiling hot. He bent over and spread his cheeks, let the hot water soothe his burning anus. Better hold off for a few days, he told himself; or better yet, he'd pick up a willing bottom or two. There were plenty of them always hanging around the entrance to Banger Bar. Brian loved that bar, a tiny hole-in-the-wall place, dark and crowded with hot sweaty bodies every night of the week. He took Michael there, the last time he was up for a visit, and Mikey said there was enough friction in that bar, you didn't need a back room; you could drink your beer and have an orgasm at the same time.
Mikey. God, he missed Mikey. Brian wasn't good at making friends. Oh, there were plenty of guys, and girls too, that he talked to and went to parties with; he was part of a loose-woven group, but he never got close to anybody. There was one guy, Patrick, that Brian was pretty sure was gay; he was hot, too, but Brian had decided to keep away from him, not make waves. As far as he knew, nobody in the group was having sex with each other. They all talked about it constantly, of course. He was pretty sure most of them knew he was gay, though he never told anyone outright. It wasn't their business.
James didn't agree. James was always after Brian to come out, to join the campus GLB club. Brian didn't do groups. And he didn't advertise his sexuality, or anything else about himself, on banners and t-shirts. He didn't do organizations or parades or clubs. He wasn't ashamed of being gay, as James kept accusing; it was just private. Irrelevant.
James had given him a fucking ultimatum: Come out, get involved, or we're finished. So, they were finished. Brian didn't care. Guys were easy to come by, he didn't need a boyfriend. James hadn't been all that, anyway. Okay, great in bed; okay, they were great together in the sack. And Brian had thought that maybe he'd be able to talk to James someday; talk to him like Mikey. There hadn't been time to get that far. James closed the door. Yesterday, passing James in the quad, James had looked away, wouldn't even meet Brian's eyes. So it was definitely over. No big deal. And Brian was NOT fucking miserable.
Fucking miserable was the day Charlie moved away. Nothing in his life had prepared Brian for the pain of losing somebody. Charlie'd always joked that they were not in love, they were in lust. Charlie did not believe in love. It was a good philosophy, really. Charlie had been able to leave everyone behind, including Brian, without a backward glance. He'd gone to California and settled in San Francisco; Brian received one postcard, almost two years ago. The postcard was filed in Brian's Merriam-Webster dictionary, under C.
Toweling off, Brian glanced at his naked body in the mirror. He looked damn good. Thin, but he liked thin, and so did the guys who hit on him all the time. Still, his chest and arms could use some definition; he needed to make time for the gym. Trouble was, there WASN'T time. Brian's schedule was so tight this semester, with a full load of courses, eighteen hours a week working in the campus cafeteria, another sixteen hours restocking shelves at the A&P. He also worked occasionally for a local banquet hall, usually in the cloakroom, when there was a big party. Every other minute was crammed with homework. And tricking, of course; there was always time for a trick, most nights. Mikey had been shocked to find out that Brian was having sex four or five times a week. Mikey. Brian sighed.
Michael was in love (though he denied it) with a neighborhood boy in Pittsburgh, Ralph. (Who was named Ralph anymore?) They'd had a sort-of date, Mikey told him; an accidental date. They were both in line at the movie theatre to see Batman, and had chatted, then sat together in the theatre and walked home afterwards talking about the movie and their respective comic book collections. The guy was twenty, a year older than Michael, a student at the community college, living at home with his widowed mother. Ralph was tall, with curly brown hair.
While Michael rhapsodized about Ralph on the phone last week, Brian had felt his heart sinking. He'd said all the right things, or he hoped he had; he couldn't remember much of the conversation, all he could think about was Mikey sharing himself with somebody else. First Charlie had moved away, then James dumped him, and now Michael was getting with some guy, and he'd forget all about Brian, two hundred miles away from home.
At work that night at the A&P, stocking the long cooler unit with dozens of cases of beer, Brian was listening to The Cure on his earphones and wasn't aware of anyone in his vicinity, until someone tapped him on the shoulder. He jumped slightly, pulled off his earphones and turned around, to see a tall man in a beautifully tailored gray suit standing casually with one hand in his pocket.
"Excuse me," the man said, "I search for the vermouth."
"Aisle three," Brian pointed, and turned back to the box-laden dolly.
"Perhaps you would help me to find it?" the man continued. "I am very much hurrying."
He had some kind of accent, probably French, Brian guessed. He couldn't resist showing off a bit, and said, with a toss of his head, "Mais, certainement, monsieur, je vous en prix," - certainly, sir.
The man's face lit up with a huge smile, and Brian realized he was very handsome, even debonair - at least compared to the usual A&P customers in the liquor aisle, most of them beer-belly types in wrinkled t-shirts, grasping impossibly large packages of potato chips and grabbing a couple six-packs, in a rush to get home to the game on tv.
The man burst into a rapid-fire response in French, most of which was lost on Brian; he made out "thanks" and that was about all. "Excusez-moi," he interrupted, laughing, "Sorry, my French isn't that good!"
'But you are charming, to speak so," the man smiled. "And your accent is very good."
"Merci. Follow me, aisle three is over here." Brian led the way round the aisle endcap and found the section with bottles of vermouth. There were several kinds. "You want sweet vermouth, or dry vermouth, or what?" He turned to face the man, who was not looking at the bottles on the shelf, but was intently studying Brian, instead. There could be no mistaking the look - 'elevator-eyes,' as Charlie had described it. Brian had become pretty good at it, himself; and after his initial surprise, he returned the glance.
"Tu es tres bel," (you are very beautiful) the man spoke slowly, to be sure Brian understood. "You would permit me to buy you a drink, peut-etre?"
"Sure," Brian agreed. "I work till midnight, though." He couldn't picture this man meeting him in the Banger Bar; in fact, he couldn't picture him in the A&P. He wouldn't mind a quick fuck in the guy's car, after work; he was really very handsome. Tall, about the same height as Brian, with thick black hair swept back from his face, a trace of gray at the sides. What was he, maybe forty? But looking very slim and fit despite his advanced years.
"I am called Henri." He extended his hand and Brian shook it.
"Charmant! You have the automobile, Brian?" When Brian shook his head no, Henri added, "May I pick you up here, at midnight?"
Thinking of a sociology paper due tomorrow, Brian hesitated, but only for a moment. He'd never had sex in French before. "Ca va," he said, "Okay." He also spared a thought for his sore ass, but fuck it, he didn't want to pass up this guy.
"Bon!" Henri smiled, and extended his hand again. "Au revoir, we will meet again very soon."
He turned to go and Brian called after him, "What about your vermouth?"
"Ah!" Henri laughed, turned back to peer at the shelf, and pulled off a small green bottle. "Merci, Brian!" With a nod of his head, he walked off. Brian couldn't help watching Henri walk away; his suit was to die for. Someday, Brian promised himself, someday, he'd have clothes like that, too.
Punching out at midnight, Brian wondered if Henri would be there, or if he'd changed his mind. It had rained sometime earlier, the parking lot was shiny wet, reflecting light from the street lamps. Brian stopped outside the automatic door and shrugged on his leather jacket; it had gotten snug on him, he'd grown in the three years since Charlie bought it for him, but he loved old leather and couldn't part with it. He didn't at first see Henri's car, till the headlights were turned on, and Henri waved from his open window. Brian smiled briefly, remembering all the anonymous cars he used to climb into, behind Pittsburgh's dirty-book store.
Brian crossed the pavement and blinked at Henri's beautiful tan Mercedes. Henri leaned over to push open the door, and Brian got in beside him. The seats were leather, and the dashboard revealed enough lights and dials for an airplane cockpit. "Bonsoir," Henri greeted him.
"Where would you like to go, little poulet?"
Bristling slightly, Brian replied, "I'm not a poulet - a chicken. I'm a man, not a boy."
"Certainement, certainement," Henri said quickly, briefly touching Brian's shoulder. "It is a word for the endearment, yes? I can see that you are a man, mon cher, I have no interest in the chickens, bien-sur."
"Okay," Brian relaxed, mollified. "You can drive down by the river, there's some places to park that are dark with nobody around."
"Ah, no, Brian, you are far too beautiful to waste on the - what do you call it? the quickie?" When Brian laughed, Henri continued, "Will we go to my hotel, yes? We can have a drink, get to know each other, un peu. You are in the rush to get home?"
"No," Brian lied, thinking of his sociology paper; maybe he could get up early and finish it in the morning before class. He wanted to see this guy's hotel room; he wondered what a rich Frenchman was doing in Harrisburg.
Henri shifted gears and rolled out of the parking lot headed east. "You live at home Brian, with the parents?"
"No," Brian answered absently, running his hand over the smooth leather seat cushion. "No, I live in campus housing." Campus housing was a joke; he'd expected a dormitory, but Meade Heights was former air force housing units converted into tiny, cramped apartment-type spaces for a few hundred students. Still, it was cheaper than most apartments in the city, and not too far from campus. He didn't like having roommates, but someday he'd have his own place, a big, beautiful apartment, maybe in New York, and he'd live alone forever and love every minute of it.
"And what are you studying in school?"
"Business. I'm a marketing major." Brian regarded Henri's profile; he had a prominent nose, high cheekbones, and thick black eyebrows; his eyes looked black in the darkness, but might be brown.
"But that is marvelous," Henri cried, throwing a quick smile at Brian as he maneuvered a corner and headed north. "I am also in the business. Do you know the General Refrigeration company here in Harrisburg?" He didn't pronounce the H. "Non? Ce n'est rien, it does not matter. This company has merged, tu comprends? - with L'Interdit, my company in France."
"You own a company?"
"Mais non," laughed Henri, "I am le directeur of international relations for L'Interdit, and they sent me here to organize the staff, since the merger."
"So you live here now?"
Henri shook his head. "Not live, no. For two months only, then I will be in Los Angeles a short time, then I return to Paris."
"Paris," Brian murmured, with a sigh.
"Ah, here we are," Henri said, slowing down to turn into the entrance to the Hilton Hotel. They got out and Henri turned over the key to a parking valet, then led Brian through the glass doors and into the lobby of the hotel.
"Would you like to eat something?" When Brian shook his head, Henri went on, "We can get a drink in the bar, or go upstairs. I can make you my specialite, a martini, very dry."
"A martini," Brian answered, following Henri to the bank of elevators off the lobby. A very fat man in a double-breasted navy blue suit who reeked of stale cigars got in the elevator with them, so they rode silently to the top floor.
Throwing open double doors from the hallway, Henri preceded Brian into a large suite. Henri hung their jackets in a closet near the entry. Brian walked on pale green plush carpet across a room twice the size of his parents' living room, and perched on a tapestry-covered loveseat when Henri waved for him to sit. Against one wall was a brass tray on wheels, loaded with liquor bottles, where Henri filled a silver cocktail shaker and then poured his concoction into beautiful fluted glasses. He added olives from a small jar and carried the glasses to the love seat, handed one to Brian. "Salut!" he said, clinking Brian's glass, before sitting down next to him.
Sipping the martini, Brian decided that he liked it; now he knew what dry martinis tasted like, the tip of his tongue felt fuzzy.
Henri leaned back against the sofa cushions, and he and Brian regarded each other over their cocktail glasses. Before picking him up at the store, Henri had changed from his gray suit into beige linen slacks pleated at the waist and an ivory colored pullover sweater. "You are very beautiful," Henri told Brian again; "Perhaps you hear that often?" He swiveled sideways and draped his arm across the back of the small sofa.
Feeling slightly out of his element but determined not to show it, Brian made himself relax, and he turned sideways, too. "Sometimes," he agreed. He wished he'd had time for a shower; he was very conscious that he'd been wearing the same clothes for eighteen hours.
"Your mouth is very. . . sensuelle. What is this word in English?"
"Ah." Henri moved his arm, reached his hand toward Brian's face, slowly outlined Brian's mouth with a caressing finger. Then he set down his drink on an end table, took Brian's drink and set it down, too, and slid closer across the sofa. "Do you kiss?" he asked, and Brian barely had time to nod before Henri's mouth descended on his.
Slipping his arms around Henri's neck, Brian gave himself up to the moment. Sex was best when you let go, forgot about yourself, forgot everything but the feel of skin on skin, tingling nerves, quickened breathing, and the hot pulsing hardness of two cocks straining for release. Nothing else existed for those minutes, nothing mattered but letting your senses fill with the smell and taste of another man, his whiskered chin scraping your face, your nipples, your belly; his tongue rasping all over your body, leaving a moist, burning trail that set fire to your skin, while you did the same to him, to his body, his cock filling your mouth, tasting his flavor, till you were both slippery with sweat, panting and moaning.
Somehow they ended up in Henri's king-size bed, though later Brian couldn't remember making the move from sofa to bedroom, couldn't remember getting undressed, so lost was he in the throes of passion. When Henri finally came, his sudden burst of laughter brought Brian back to reality. He opened his eyes, to find himself on his back on the bed, his long legs wrapped around Henri's neck. Henri's head was thrown back, and he was gasping with laughter. A jolt of remembrance jerked Brian's body, suddenly remembering Charlie's laughter; Charlie often laughed when he orgasmed, from sheer blissful joy. Henri leaned forward and kissed Brian's mouth, filled Brian's mouth with his tongue, as his hands - rough then gentle then rough - brought Brian quickly to orgasm, held tight to Brian through that first violent convulsion of pleasure, then rolled over beside him on the bed and lay gasping for breath.
In a few moments, Henri moved, rolled off the side of the bed, pulling off the condom carefully and wrapping it in tissue from the nightstand. He grabbed a handful of tissues and gave them to Brian, then disappeared into the bathroom. Brian heard Henri pissing, then he was back, and came round the bed, sat down on the edge. "Permit me, mon cher," he said, and gently wiped Brian's cock and stomach with a warm washcloth.
Henri's gentleness was almost Brian's undoing. He felt his throat tighten against inexplicable tears; he would not cry, he never cried. It was only the aftermath of release, of intense pleasure, nothing more. But Henri was too quick, too aware; somehow he caught the edge of Brian's sudden vulnerability, and reached a hand to caress Brian's face. "What is it, mon chou?" he whispered. "Why suddenly you are so unhappy?"
Brian pulled away from the hand and pulled himself upright in the bed, cleared his throat and leaned back against the headboard. He regarded Henri evenly and repeated flatly, "Unhappy? I'm not unhappy. It was great. The sex was great."
"Mais oui, le sex was magnifique, yes," Henri agreed. He studied Brian intently for a moment, then let his face relax, and he smiled. "Ca va," he said. "Okay. Would you like another drink, or we can order the room service, if you have hunger?"
"No, thanks," Brian shook his head. "But I'd like to take a shower, can I?"
"Of course." Henri stood and let Brian get up from the bed. He gave a caressing pat to Brian's back, and Brian could feel the older man watching him as he went into the bathroom. The shower was fantastic, boiling hot, the intense water pressure creating a blissful, almost painful needle-sharp cascade. The narrow shower stall at Brian's apartment was claustrophobic, the spray anemic at best. Brian had not felt so clean in months. His ass was not complaining much; Henri had used plenty of lube, so the soreness from last night had been barely noticeable.
Expecting to be packed off with, or without, a farewell kiss, Brian was surprised when Henri pressed for another meeting. And not just a fuck, but for dinner. Brian was gratified, he wanted to be with Henri another time. The sex had been great, as they'd agreed; but more than that, Brian liked being with the older man. Despite all the guys he'd been with in the past few years, and he'd long ago lost track of how many, for the first time since Charlie, Brian felt wanted, felt liked, for himself. It felt good.
Henri got dressed and drove Brian back to campus; he could have put Brian in a taxi, but he didn't. He kissed Brian goodbye, on both cheeks, then again on his mouth, and something in Brian stirred; he got out of the car with a smile on his face, and a wave for monsieur Henri.
Three days later, Brian was back in Henri's hotel room, sipping a before-dinner aperitif. Henri had offered to pick him up, but Brian preferred arriving on his own. He wore dark charcoal gray worsted slacks and a navy wool blazer, the only half-way dressy clothes he owned. Henri had greeted him at the door, wearing perfectly tailored black slacks with the merest break, and a pale gray raw-silk long-sleeved shirt. He greeted Brian with a kiss on both cheeks and drew him into the sitting room, pressed a tiny glass of clear amber liquid into his hand. It tasted like sweet burnt almonds; almost too sweet.
They sat on the love seat. "That's a beautiful shirt," Brian said.
"Versace," Henri replied; "It's very comfortable. You like the feel of silk on your skin, Brian?"
"Sure. I don't know, I never felt it. But probably." Shut up, Brian told himself, you sound like an idiot.
"Come with me." Henri stood up and led the way into the bedroom. He pulled open sliding doors on a large closet, filled with wooden hangers spaced an inch apart, hung with beautiful shirts, most of them beige or cream or pale blue. Henri walked behind Brian and removed the navy blazer. "Take off your shirt," he said.
Embarrassed, Brian unbuttoned his shirt. He was acutely aware that the cotton Van Heusen was revoltingly commonplace, and his Hanes undershirt even more so. Henri stepped forward and pulled off the t-shirt, messing up Brian's carefully disheveled hair. Then he reached into the closet and pulled out a shirt the color of mist, a blue so pale as to be almost white. He held it out and Brian slipped his arms into the sleeves. "Wow," he said, an understatement. Henri buttoned it up for him and stood back.
"So, here is the silk. How does it feel?"
"Incredible," Brian breathed. The cool brush of the silk against his bare skin was almost aphrodisiacal.
"Bon!" cried Henri, "Your beautiful body was meant to wear silk. No, no - do not take it off, Brian! Keep it, it suits you, mon chou."
"I can't." But he wanted to. "I can't."
Henri tossed his head. "Do not be silly, Brian, you can see I have many of these shirts. It fits you very well, a bit large in the shoulders, peut-etre, but nothing to matter."
Brian stood still, rubbing his fingers lightly over a sleeve. His pride warred with his intense desire to own the beautiful shirt, and desire won out. "Okay," he agreed. "Thank you. Merci! Merci, monsieur Henri!"
"Oh, la la, Brian, that smile! You will break a million hearts with that smile, mon cher." They laughed. "Now, we must hurry un peu, la reservation is for eight o'clock."
Tucking the shirt in, zipping up his pants, shrugging on his blazer, Brian glanced at himself in the mirrored closet door, used his fingers to carefully disarrange his hair, and followed Henri to the door.
When they arrived at Les Fenetres, Brian was glad he'd kept the shirt; it gave him a modicum of confidence walking into what was probably a four-star restaurant, probably Harrisburg's ONLY four-star restaurant. Henri was well-known, a frequent visitor it seemed, and all the wait staff were deferential and incredibly polite. They were seated immediately, at a table in a quiet corner, and were handed menus the size of the Declaration of Independence. The menu was in French with no prices indicated, which Brian knew meant they must be extremely expensive.
Brian wrinkled his forehead. His two-years-of-high-school-and-one-year-of-college French did not help him decipher entrees on the imposing menu. 'Fruits de mare' - what the fuck were fruits of the sea?
"Do you like the biftek, Brian?"
"Bon," said Henri to the waiter, rescuing Brian from his dilemma. "Deux bifteks, avec pommes frites, et salade nicoise. Ca va, mon ami?"
"Yeah. Ca va," Brian agreed. He recognized steak, fried potatoes, and he'd have to trust Henri about the salad. He sighed with relief when the waiter took their menus and disappeared. "Oh," he turned to Henri, "Can you please tell the waiter I want my steak rare?"
"No need. We French eat our beef bloody."
"Bon!" Brian said, and relaxed against his chair. He liked Henri.
Two or three times a week, Brian visited Henri at his hotel. Sometimes they went to dinner, once they even went to see a film, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, at an art-house theatre, but mostly they just fucked. Brian's schedule was too tight to spend as much time with Henri as the older man wanted. Brian cut out his frequent visits to the Banger, hitting the books and saving his ass for Henri.
Saturday was a late-work-night at the A&P, and it became a habit for Henri to pick up Brian in the parking lot and drive him to the hotel for a shower, a fuck, and a wonderfully quiet night’s sleep away from his noisy apartment complex. They would sleep in next morning, have a leisurely room-service breakfast while reading the Sunday paper, and sometimes go for a drive in the countryside, before Brian had to report for work in the campus cafeteria at three o’clock. He worked there till seven, then walked home to the apartment to work on school assignments until late into the night. Within a few weeks, he’d managed to catch up in all his classes, and knew his grades would be excellent by the end of the semester, assuring renewal of his scholarship.
Brian's wardrobe had expanded to include several of Henri's silk shirts, a pair of tan linen slacks altered to fit Brian's slimmer legs, and a new thigh-length, rust-colored leather jacket with a belt. Henri had insisted on buying Brian a pair of Gucci loafers, which Brian loved so much, he almost wore them to bed. It had been difficult at first to accept Henri's gifts; but the older man took so much pleasure in the giving, that Brian soothed his pride and tried to be gracious.
In early November, while eating dinner at Les Fenetres (Brian had graduated from biftek to coq au vin), Henri proposed a weekend trip to Philadelphia. He had a yearning to see the Liberty Bell. "America was the example, tu comprends? For the French people. Our Revolution was modeled after YOURS. That is why we gave the Statue of Liberty, for your New York harbor. I want to see all these glorious symbols of liberty, they are - merveilleuses?"
"Marvelous," Brian corrected. They were helping each other with vocabulary. Brian was learning much more than French from Henri, he was learning about food and wine and even American history. He hadn't remembered that the Statue of Liberty had been a gift from France.
Later, relaxing on Henri's thoroughly messed-up bed, Henri again pressed Brian to go with him to Philadelphia.
"I could get away next weekend," Brian finally agreed. "It's Parents Weekend, so the professors will let us off easy."
"Oh non, non, Brian, you will want to be here for your family."
"My parents are dead," Brian said flatly, "So it's no problem." It was what he told everyone here in Harrisburg; it saved a lot of trouble.
Henri was shocked. "Mon dieu," he exclaimed, laying a hand on Brian's arm. "I am so sorry, mon pauvre lapin, my poor rabbit, c'est dommage!" Brian looked over Henri's shoulder and said nothing. Henri squeezed his arm and asked gently, "How did they die? You were very young?"
"Car crash," Brian said stoically. "I don't like to talk about it."
Henri regarded Brian's profile in silence for a moment, then squeezed his arm again. "And everyone, they let you get away with this?" he asked quietly.
"Huh?" Brian swiveled his head around to look at Henri.
"You are not, I think, telling the truth."
Brian was amazed, and stared at Henri, open mouthed. "How'd you know my parents aren't dead?"
"I did not, not really. But I can tell when you are not being truthful." Henri sat up and leaned against the headboard. "You forget, mon chou, I am the - specialiste? Ah, specialist! In the personnel. I can tell very much about people, from the way they speak to me." When Brian said nothing, Henri continued, "So tell me, please, why you don't invite the parents to come see you here at school?"
"Henri," Brian said earnestly, "My parents would never come here, and I'm glad. I don't want them to. We all hate each other, it's no big deal."
"Because you are gay?"
"Ha ha!" Brian barked a staccato laugh. "They don't even know I'm gay. They just hate me on general principles." He looked away again, swallowed hard. Fuck Henri and his damn questions. He didn't need to hash over this family shit. He stood up abruptly, but Henri grabbed his arm, pulled him back down on the bed.
"Tell me," Henri said.
"Tell you what?" Brian demanded. "I don't need any fucking psychoanalysis, so drop it, okay?"
"Brian. . ." Henri paused, then said deliberately, "Brian, friends talking is not the psychoanalysis. Aren't we friends?"
Brian stared down at his hands, clasping each other white-knuckled on his naked thighs. After a long silence, he said at last, "I was an accident. A mistake."
"An accident, perhaps. Not a mistake. A child is never a mistake."
Brian shook his head. "You don't understand. My dad TOLD me, my mom TOLD me. I was a mistake. They didn't want me. They don't want me now. Oh!" he tossed his head, "I don't CARE. It's not like I fucking CARE, you know?" He squinted his eyes and glared at Henri. "It's no big deal. So just lay off this shit now. Okay?"
Henri paused. "Brian, you are a beautiful, intelligent, sensitive young man. You are going to have a wonderful life. That is the truth, that is not a mistake. YOU are not a mistake."
"I know," Brian insisted, his voice hollow.
"Do you, mon lapin?"
"Yes! Fucking yes! Okay?"
"Okay," Henri agreed, and let the subject drop.
All too soon Henri's allotted time in Harrisburg was whittled away. They spent his last night in the hotel room, ordering room service food which neither could eat, and sharing a final shower, drying each other off with huge fluffy white towels. Brian thought he would miss Henri's shower almost as much as Henri himself, and he said so. He could do that, he could say what he thought to Henri, and the older man would laugh or nod understandingly. Brian was comfortable with Henri. Not in love; not even in lust, though he always enjoyed their sex; he was IN LIKE with Henri. It had been a wonderful interlude in his mundane, hard-working college life, and he'd never forget it.
Henri was less sanguine than Brian about the end of their affaire. Brian was truly surprised to see tears in Henri's eyes as, dressed to leave the hotel, Brian was drawn into a bearhug that literally took his breath away. Pulling away at last, Henri said, "I have a surprise for you, mon cher. But only if you want it! No strings, as they say." He handed Brian a large white envelope.
Ripping open the flap, Brian pulled out a smaller envelope that said Air France. Inside was a round-trip ticket to Paris. He stood staring at the ticket, at a loss for words.
"The ticket is what you call it, open-ended," Henri explained. "There are 'no strings' because, you can visit Paris on your own, any time you like. Of course," he smiled, and shoved hands in his pockets, "Naturally, I would like you to visit me, but you don't have to do so."
"Oh my God," said Brian, stunned. Paris! He'd always dreamed of visiting Paris. "But, I can't leave school," he said sadly. "I can't miss school, or I'll lose my scholarship."
"But you have the holidays, non? The winter holidays, with no school, n'est-ce pas?"
"Two weeks at Christmas. I'm supposed to go home." Brian thought about going home. Home was Mikey. Not his parents. Nobody else, nothing else. But Michael had Deb; Michael had his family and other friends. Michael would forgive him, if he went to Paris instead of Pittsburgh over Christmas. Wouldn't he?
"Who is this guy?" Michael's voice crackled over the phone, the long-distance connection was poor. "I mean, you said he's old, so what are you doing with him?"
Brian laughed. "You name it, Mikey. He is kind of old, forty-two, but he's hot, really good in bed."
"So, is he your boyfriend now?"
"No! Jesus, you know I don't do boyfriends."
"What about James?"
"Oh," Brian sighed dramatically, "I dumped James, weeks ago. He got really boring, always droning on about politics and activism and shit like that. And," Brian's voice reflected outrage, "He wanted me to be MONOGAMOUS. Can you imagine?"
"No, I cannot imagine that!" They both laughed, then Michael continued, "So, are you dating this old guy, or what?"
"Michael, you are so pathetically HETERO. He's just a fuck, that's all."
"But you said he takes you to dinner, and to movies, that's dating, isn't it?"
"No, it's foreplay." Brian changed the subject. "Never mind him, tell me about you and Reginald."
"Ralph, his name is RALPH. You're such a shit, Brian Kinney."
"That's why you love me. So tell me about Ralph. How big is his dick?"
"I don't - it doesn't - oh fuck you."
Brian was amazed. "Don't tell me you guys haven't done anything yet! Jesus, Michael, it's been months!"
"Not months," Michael corrected, "Three weeks. We're, you know, friends. And I - "
"Mikey," Brian interrupted, "Are you sure he's gay? Come to think of it, are you sure YOU'RE gay?"
Annoyance coloring his voice, Michael snapped, "Being gay doesn't mean you have to fuck every guy you meet!"
"Sure it does," Brian insisted. "Didn't you read the instruction manual? It's on page three."
Michael laughed, but added, "I must have got a different version. Anyway, Ralph is really nice, and he's funny, and I can't wait for you to meet him. I wish you were coming home next week for Thanksgiving."
"Me, too." Brian could almost smell Debbie's turkey. He sighed. "But it's only two days off school, and they gave me extra hours at the A&P, and I've got a sociology term paper to finish. Finals start in three weeks."
"Poor Brian," Michael sympathized. "When do you get off for Christmas?"
"My finals are over December 15, I think. Somewhere around then, I don't have a calendar right here." Brian shuffled some papers on his desk, pretending to look for a calendar, buying himself some time. He wasn't sure how to broach the subject of Christmas to Michael.
"Mom's having Ralph over for dinner, Christmas eve. Of course you'll be here, too. Oh, I know you're really going to like him, I just know it!"
"Sure I will," Brian lied; he hated Ralph already, sight unseen. "But I. . . I might not be coming home for break."
"I said, I might not be - "
"You have to!" Michael's voice cracked a high note. "Brian, you have to come home! I haven't seen you for MONTHS, why wouldn't you come home for Christmas?"
"Mikey, you know I want to see you too, but. . .I've got a chance to go somewhere that I've always wanted to go, all my life, and. . ." Brian's voice faltered; he could sense Michael's profound dismay on the end of the line.
"Where? Where would you rather go, then come home to see me?" When Brian didn't answer, he continued, "We've been together every Christmas for FIVE YEARS. Why do you want to go someplace else, and spend Christmas with strangers?"
Brian could hear the tears in Michael's voice, his own throat tightened in response. "It's Paris. A chance to go to Paris, Mikey."
"We were going to Europe together. You promised we would, someday. Now you want to go without me." Michael was crying now, full out, not even trying to hide it.
Brian's heart sank. How was he going to get Michael to agree? "Okay, Mikey, if you don’t want me to go, then I won’t." He paused. "It's just - I’ve been working so hard all semester, and then I get this incredible offer to see Paris, for free. It’s the chance of a lifetime. But -” Brian took a deep breath, then continued staunchly, “But I won’t go, if you don’t want me to.”
There was a long pause, then Michael said, "Wait."
Brian could hear Michael lay down the phone and leave his bedroom, then he heard him return a moment later, blowing his nose, Michael's honk-noise making him smile slightly in spite of everything. When the honking and snuffling noises stopped, he asked, "Are you there?"
"Brian. . ." Michael cleared his throat. "Brian, I'm sorry. Of course you should go to Paris. I'm sorry for being selfish."
"I miss you like fucking hell, Mikey. If you say, ‘don’t go,’ well then, I won’t." Brian’s held his breath, his heart in his throat.
"I miss you too. But I know how much you want to go there, I know that's why you took French in high school, and you had that dopey poster of the Eiffel Tower inside your closet door."
"It wasn't dopey."
"It was queer."
Brian laughed. "Okay, so it was queer, why do you think I put it in the closet?"
"Is it your old French guy who's taking you?"
"Yeah. But. . .you're sure it's okay?"
"Sure I'm sure," Michael's voice was brisk now, "You can't pass up a chance like this. We'll be together spring break. And you can bring me a present."
Brian laughed with relief. "Of course I will! How about a beret? Or a bottle of champagne?"
"Oh, I know!" Michael exclaimed, "You can buy me some comic books, in French! See if you can find Le Captain Astro!"
Shaking his head, Brian sighed. "I'm so sure I'm going to spend my vacation in Paris looking for comic books."
"You're staying at this guy's house? He lives in Paris?"
"Yeah. I guess so. He has to work, but he's going to take time off so we can be together. I don't know the details yet.”
“We better say ‘bye’ now,” Michael said quickly, “We’re over ten minutes already.” They rationed themselves to ten minutes a week; Mikey kept a timer on his desk.
“Bye, Mikey. Give Reginald a kiss for me, huh?” Brian held the receiver away from his ear, enjoying Mikey’s explosive curse, and laughed as he hung up. Now that he had gotten over that hurdle, excitement began to build about the Christmas trip to Paris.
The plane ascended above the clouds, and Brian had his nose pressed to the glass of the window, staring down at the earth falling away. His stomach was doing flip-flops and his pulse was racing. He had never been so excited in his life. His first airplane ride! His first trip to Paris!
In Brian's pocket, in a new, expensive leather wallet bought by Henri as another going-away present, was Brian's passport, rushed through the system with some pushing by Henri; the picture inside displaying Brian's incredibly eager face, despite his best attempt to look blasé for the photographer. He also had a wad of French money, the large, unfamiliar bright-colored paper fascinatingly meaningless, like oversized Monopoly money.
It was a week before Christmas and the airplane was surprisingly uncrowded; in fact, Brian could have spread out, lying down in his empty row, except that he was too excited to sleep. He spent hours poring over a large street map of Paris he'd bought at the college bookstore, listened to music piped through the airline headphones, ate everything the smiling flight attendants brought to him, and flirted with all of them. Two girls and one guy, in their bright-colored uniforms, hung around near him, their tasks on this half-empty flight giving them time to play. Eye contact with Maurice when he'd boarded had alerted Brian that the other man was gay; but he enjoyed flirting with the girls also, and practiced speaking French with them.
It was gray and overcast in Paris when the plane landed at Orly Airport, the city invisible from the air. Brian followed the queu through Customs, his eyes peering beyond the barrier, looking for Henri. Finally coming out the other side, he spied him near the exit and rushed forward, throwing himself into the other man's arms, forgetting for the moment that Henri had told him French people were reserved. But Henri laughed and hugged Brian back, and kissed him on both cheeks. "Bienvenu a Paris!" he greeted, "Welcome!" and hugged Brian again.
Henri kept Brian answering questions about his final exams, about the flight, all the while they waited for luggage and finally made their way out of the terminal. "We'll take a taxi to the hotel," Henri informed him, curbside; "I did not bring my car; it is too difficult to drive around Paris this time of day, what you call the rush hour."
"You're taking me to a hotel?"
"It is a very nice place, mon cher, on the Ile St. Louis, tres charmant. You will be comfortable there."
"Why can't I stay at your house?" Brian was confused. "You said you have a house in the city."
Henri laughed. "Mon dieu! My wife is, how do you say, open-minded, but not THAT open-minded."
"Your wife?" Brian could feel his mouth drop open. "You're married?"
"But of course," Henri raised an eyebrow, amused by Brian's surprise. "It is necessary, for the business, tu comprends? It is an arrangement, un marriage du convenance, there are many so. We share a home, but not a bedroom. This is not unusual in France."
Brian nodded, tried not to look shocked. But he was shocked. And upset, for some reason; why should he be upset? he asked himself.
For the first time, Brian realized that he did not know Henri very well, after all. They'd never talked about his life in France. Brian had never been interested in Henri's life. He'd never asked any questions about him. Am I really that selfish? he wondered. That superficial? Brian glanced at Henri, several feet away in the street, negotiating with a taxi driver, and suddenly he felt engulfed by guilt and sadness.
Henri waved him over to the taxi, the driver helped stow his suitcase in the trunk, and they got in. The driver pulled out into traffic with a lurch, and Henri turned sideways on the seat to regard Brian. "What is it, mon lapin?" he asked gently.
"Nothing." Brian tried to pull himself together. "I'm just tired."
"Yes," agreed Henri, "It's a long trip. You can have a good sleep tonight."
Brian nodded, and spent the rest of the taxi ride peering out the window at landmarks pointed out by Henri, or grabbing hold of the doorframe as the taxi hurtled at what felt like a hundred miles an hour through the darkening rain-wet streets. It was seven p.m. in Paris, six hours ahead of Pennsylvania.
“There’s no snow,” Brian noticed. He’d removed his coat in the overheated taxi. “It doesn’t snow in Paris?”
“Sometimes. Mostly, it is the rain in winter. You are disappointed?”
“No, I hate snow.” He did, too. Shoveling snow, trudging to school through snowbanks. Still, it did not feel like Christmas time without it.
The taxi screeched to a halt in a quiet street on the Ile St. Louis. Henri explained that this small piece of land, located directly behind Notre Dame Cathedral, was one of the best neighborhoods in Paris. There were several small hotels and shops, but most of the island’s buildings were private residences. It was but a few minutes’ walk to Notre Dame, to the Left Bank and the Latin Quartier. Brian grabbed his suitcase from the trunk as Henri paid the driver, then followed Henri through a small carved door in a scrolled archway into a paneled room with a fireplace at one end throwing out welcoming warmth. A door in the wall across from the fireplace opened and a distinguished looking gray-haired man entered, approached a tall narrow desk and greeted them somberly: “Bonsoir, messieurs.”
“Bonsoir,” Brian shyly echoed Henri, then zoned out while Henri dealt with registration, turning instead to study the carved stones surrounding the fireplace. He could tell that it, and the entire building, were very old. Another wall held a large tapestry, shabby and ancient; the floor was stone, covered and overlapped with oriental carpets of mismatched design. He was snapped out of his reverie when Henri called to him.
They followed the elderly man through a door beside the fireplace and ascended several narrow, circular flights of stairs. Round and round the narrow steps led upward, till Brian was dizzy and his suitcase was becoming heavy in his hand. At the fourth floor landing they passed through an archway into a narrow hall. Four doors led off the hall, and the elderly man unlocked the second door on the left and held it open for them to enter.
“Oh!” a cry escaped Brian’s lips. The room was small, but in the center stood a large four-poster bed, with heavy carved posters, hung with draperies of maroon silk. He dropped his suitcase, and went to the narrow window, with tiny glass panes and a wooden shutter. He pushed it open and gasped again, as he looked down into a courtyard straight out of the fifteenth century – cobblestoned, with topiary trees in the center, and an archway through which Brian was sure coaches had once passed.
“Monsieur, la salle de bain,” the old gentleman was saying, and Brian turned back as the man opened a door leading to a small bathroom with an imposing claw-footed tub.
“Merci, monsieur,” Henri was thanking the man, discreetly slipping a folded bill into his palm, and Brian echoed him, with a huge smile, “Merci!” The door closed behind him, and Brian threw himself into Henri’s arms.
“Oh, it’s beautiful, so beautiful!” he gushed, then pulled away, blushing slightly, and went back to the window. “Look down there,” he said, “Wow.”
“Yes, I have stayed here before, in this very room, I think,” Henry smiled, glancing down at the courtyard. Brian wondered if another young man had been treated by Henri to a holiday in this hotel. Henri pulled the shutter closed. “It’s a bit cold now, though, n’est-ce pas?”
Brian’s room had a corner fireplace, which had been fitted with a gas heater. Henri showed him how to work it, and demonstrated how to use the telephone. “I am going to leave you now,” Henri said. “You can unpack your baggage, faire la toilette, relax for a while. I will come back in perhaps an hour, take you to dinner. Ca va?”
“Yeah. Ca va,” Brian agreed. Henri squeezed Brian’s arm, then walked out the door with a wave and a smile.
Brian threw off his clothes, took a piss, then struggled to figure out the workings of the chrome hand-held shower inside the huge porcelain bathtub. He sprayed more water on the room than on himself, but felt refreshed after his shower adventure, and set about unpacking his clothes into a standing armoire of inlaid oak. He dried his hair with a built-in blow-dryer in the bathroom, and had just finished buttoning his pale blue silk shirt when a knock on the door announced that Henri had returned.
Henri greeted Brian with a kiss on both cheeks, held Brian’s coat for him to shrug it on, then preceded him downstairs and into a waiting taxi. They sped through now-dark streets lined with tall trees, past floodlit stone buildings, and came to an abrupt halt beside a carpeted strip of sidewalk under an awning proclaiming Le Bistro Vingt-et-un. Inside the heavy wooden doors was a narrow reception area, where they waited a moment until a table was prepared for them, then followed the maitre d’ to a corner table draped in heavy white linen. By now Brian knew to expect the oversize menus, and he was able to select his own dinner without coaching.
Dinner was fantastic, and afterwards Henri insisted Brian join him in sipping a snifter of warmed brandy, before they retrieved their coats and climbed into a taxi back to the hotel. As Brian pulled up the taxi door handle, Henri laid a hand on his arm. “Attends, wait a moment,” he said softly. “Do you want the company tonight, or perhaps you are too tired, mon lapin?”
Brian leaned his forehead against Henri’s and whispered, “Please come up with me.” Henri smiled broadly and followed Brian out of the taxi and up the curving stairs. Soon Brian felt like he was acting in a movie, exchanging hot, passionate kisses in the middle of a silk-draped four-poster bed in an ancient stone building in Paris.
Henri did not spend the night; he had to be in his office by nine o’clock next morning, Monday. Buckling the belt of his trousers, he paused to leave his office number by the telephone, and explained that Brian was now on his own for two weeks. He could call if he needed help or got lonely; otherwise, Henri would see him at the week-end. As Henri pulled on his jacket, Brian nodded solemnly; he’d expected to spend more time with Henri, but he knew he’d get by on his own.
When Henri pulled out a wad of brightly colored bills from his pocket and laid them beside the telephone, Brian suddenly said, “No.” Surprised, Henri regarded him. “I have my own money,” Brian explained, wrapping his terrycloth robe around him. “I brought money with me, I don’t need it, really.”
“Mon lapin, ce n’est rien, this is nothing. Of course I am paying for your holiday, I invited you, tu comprends?”
“Henri. . .” Brian swallowed a lump rising in his throat. “No, Henri, no, okay?”
“My silly boy, don’t upset yourself, please.” Henri brushed the hair back from Brian’s forehead and regarded him closely. “What is it? What is upsetting you?”
“I can’t – I don’t want you to do this. That’s all.”
“Because!” Brian suddenly exclaimed. “It’s all too much! The plane and the hotel and now this pile of money.”
Henri tsk’d. “You are not feeling the, oh what is it called? Like a kept boy?”
Yes. “No,” Brian denied. Yes, and no. He wasn’t sure how he felt. “I just – I just, you know – “
“Brian.” Henri sat down on the foot of the bed, pulling Brian down next to him. “You enjoy the sex, yes?” Brian nodded. “You do not feel like I am making you do the sex with me?”
“No! No.” Brian shook his head. He loved having sex with Henri.
Henri took Brian’s hand and kissed the palm. “It is nothing to me, this money, it is the, what do the British say? ‘Piffle.’ For me, it is the piffle. This money, this holiday, it is not for the sex, mon lapin. You understand? We are friends, you and I. Friends, they share things, yes? And I am the older friend, the one with money because I have lived much longer than you. You are the young friend, just starting your life.”
“Yeah, but –“
“Non, let me finish.” Henri stared into Brian’s eyes. He said solemnly, “We are good friends, mon cher, and friends take care of each other. Always. It is my turn now, someday it will be your turn, to take care of a friend. Yes?”
Suddenly Brian pulled away, stood up and walked to the window. He stared at the shutter, as if the window was open and he was looking out onto a distant view. “I’m not a friend,” he whispered.
Brian raised his voice. “But I’m not a friend. Not a good friend. I’m bad.”
“Come here, please.” Brian came back to the bed and stood looking at Henri. “Tell me what you are thinking.”
Brian sighed. “I didn’t even know you were married. I don’t know exactly what your job is. All those weeks, in Harrisburg, all those times we were together, I never even asked you about yourself. All I ever thought about was me."
Henri smiled. "But my dear, dear Brian - that does not make you bad. That only makes you very young. This is perfectly natural, for the youth, tu comprends? You understand?"
Brian nodded. In a way it was true. But not totally. "My best friend is young, and he's not like that. My best friend is not like that at all. He cares about people. Everybody. He would've known all about you."
"You are speaking of your friend Michael?"
Brian nodded again. He'd told Henri about Michael, he'd talked about Michael lots of times; how tight they were, how Michael was always there for him, no matter what.
"I should have gone home to Michael, instead of coming here. Michael wanted me to come home, for Christmas. He wouldn't have come to Paris without me. Michael would've come home to me, instead." He dropped his head in his hands, squeezing his eyes tight to keep tears from falling.
Henri said nothing for a moment, let Brian have time to pull himself together. “I have an idea,” he said. “Why don’t you telephone your friend, right now? And if he wants you to come home, I will take you to the airport myself. We will change your ticket, and voila!”
“Really?” Brian was dumbfounded. “You wouldn’t be mad, if I went back home?”
Henri shook his head. “Of course not. I don’t want you to be unhappy. Do you wish to call Michael now?”
“It’s so late.”
“It’s not late in Pennsylvania,” Henri reminded Brian, “It’s early evening there.”
Brian took a deep breath, then another. He needed to do this. He wanted to do this. “Okay.”
Picking up the phone, Henri dialed the international code number for long distance, then had Brian repeat Michael’s phone number and punched it in, then handed the receiver to Brian. “Shall I leave the room?” he asked, but Brian shook his head as he heard the phone ringing.
“Mikey!” Brian exclaimed, “Mikey, it’s me. In Paris!”
“Oh my God! Mom, Brian is calling from Paris!” Michael’s voice was squeaky, as always when he got excited. “How is it?” he demanded, “Are you having fun?”
“Michael,” Brian interrupted, paused, then charged ahead. “Mikey, I – I’m missing you. I should have come home for Christmas, instead of doing this.”
“Henri – Henri says he’ll get my ticket changed and everything, so I can come home to Pittsburgh tomorrow.”
“Are you nuts?” Michael shouted. “You’re in Paris, you idiot! Don’t you dare come home!”
“But I miss you,” Brian said. “I mean, I really, really do. I’d rather be with you than anywhere in the world.” He gulped, cleared his throat.
Michael said, "Oh, Brian. Me too." Then he was laughing again. “But have you lost your marbles? You can see me on spring break.”
Brian laughed too, but said earnestly, “Are you sure?”
“Did you buy my French comic books yet?” Michael demanded.
“No, I – “
“Well then, don’t you DARE come home without them! Now stop being such a drama queen, and have a good time, you dope!”
“Okay. Okay. Say hi to Deb for me. And Michael?” Brian lowered his voice and whispered, “Thanks.”
“Send me a postcard, Brian! Good-bye.”
“Au revoir, mon ami,” Brian answered, and hung up the phone. He felt like jumping up and down and whooping, but remembered just in time that he was nineteen years old. He flashed a dazzling smile at Henri. “Merci.”
Henri hugged Brian, and kissed his cheeks. “You see? You are a good friend, after all. Now sleep well, mon lapin. Paris waits for you in the morning!”
Brian closed the door behind Henri and whirled around in a circle in the middle of the room. Paris was waiting for him, and Michael was waiting for him. First thing tomorrow, he’d find a comic book shop. Then he’d visit the Louvre. Then Notre Dame. Then the Eiffel Tower. All of Gay Paree was waiting for him tomorrow! If only he could get to sleep tonight.