QAF FanFic by Morpheus

Intermission-10:  Six Months


Part 4:  INTRODUCTIONS




Brian

If he doesn't answer, I'm not leaving a message.  In a way I hope he doesn't answer.  I hate this shit, it's fucking emotional blackmail, that's what it is.  I've never bought into this kind of -

"Hello?"

Fuck, Justin answered his cell.  "Hey."

There's a pause, then he says, "Hey."

Fuck.

"How's it going?"  Christ, I sound like an idiot.

"Fine." 

He's not going to help me.  "I saw you at Starbucks this morning," I tell him.

"I saw you too."

Long pause.

"You should've come in.  I'd have bought you a latte."

"You were busy."

I knew it would be like this.  I should never have called him.  He wants me to explain and why should I have to explain?  Nothing happened.  Nothing fucking happened.  Well, that's the end of the game for me, I'm not playing any more. 

Or maybe I am, because then I say, "Justin, if it looked like - something to you, well, it wasn't."

Another long pause.  "It looked like something to me."

"Well, it wasn't." 

I sigh deeply, shake my head.  Why did I make this call?  "Look, Justin, we sound like a couple of lesbians.  This is way too much drama for Thursday morning.  I've got a meeting in five minutes."

"Okay."

I'm exasperated and I growl at him, "Okay, what?"

"Okay, sir."

Against my will I sputter a laugh.  "You're such a shit sometimes."

"Me?" Justin's voice goes up an octave.

There's another long pause and I look up to see Cynthia hovering in the doorway holding the Jackson file.  "I have to go now."

"Okay."

Christ, he won't help me at all, the fucker.  "Justin, are you working tonight?"

"Yeah," he confirms, "Six till midnight."

That's too long.  He should be home sleeping or doing homework or something, not waiting tables till fucking midnight.  But that's his business.  I think about talking to Debbie about his schedule but I know Justin would be pissed if I did.

"I might drop by for dinner," I tell him, glancing at Cynthia again and waving her into the office.  "So I just wondered."

"Oh," he says, "That might not be a good idea."

Cynthia hands me the file and I open it, search for the notes I need for the ten o'clock meeting.  Absently I ask him, "Why not?"

"Um," Justin pauses, "Well I think the special tonight is that awful meatloaf you don't like."

"That doesn't matter, I’ll have a sandwich.  I've got to go, I'm running late.  Maybe I’ll see you.  If I decide to come by."

"Well, I don't think you should - "

"Gotta go."  Cynthia is pointing at her watch and making faces. 

I hang up without waiting for Justin's goodbye, stand up and button my jacket.  "Let's go, we're late," I bitch at Cynthia as she follows me to the door.

"You're so charming," she gushes, "I can't imagine why you're still single."

"Fuck you," I frown at her, "And guess what, you're still single, too."



Justin

I hang up the phone, feeling kind of confused and annoyed and I don't really know what else I'm feeling.  Actually I've been feeling sick for the past couple hours but after talking to Brian, I feel a lot better.  A little better.  I never expected him to call, and I sure as hell never expected him to explain.  Not that he explained.  He just said it ‘wasn’t anything.'  Does he mean he didn't have sex with Rick, or does he mean it wasn't a date?

They were laughing together.  Rick was leaning across the little table, they were sharing a laugh, looking into each other's eyes.  I know all of Brian's looks.  They were - intimate.  I saw it, I know what I saw.  So how can that be nothing?

I’m making myself sick all over again.  Christ, I hope Brian doesn't come to the diner - I really don't want to see him tonight.  For lots of reasons.



Lawrence

This is the first time that I've been in Liberty Diner.  When I moved to Pittsburgh six years ago I made a conscious decision to steer clear of Liberty Avenue.  I'd spent several years living in Los Angeles and then San Francisco, and I probably had sex in every bar in WeHo and on Castro Street.  After a while the bar scene, the gay ghetto - it's just repetitive and not very satisfying.  So when I got the job at PIFA and moved to Pittsburgh I decided to retire from that scene and I've never been sorry.  There's other ways to meet men - I met my last lover when we both volunteered to help with the AIDS-walk two years ago.  Rob moved to Dallas last summer, and Justin’s the first serious dating I’ve done since then.

I don't see Justin when I come in the door, I glance around for a moment until a plump waitress with a mass of improbable red hair points a finger toward the back.  "There's a booth over there, honey," she says, bustling quickly by me, coffee pot in hand, then throws over her shoulder, "Sunshine'll be right with you, he's just taking a piss."  My face must register surprise because she laughs loudly while pouring coffee for some patrons in a nearby booth and says breezily, "Don't worry, he always washes his hands!"  The men in the other booth laugh so I smile and turn toward the back.  And there’s Justin.

"Hey," I greet him, and he gives me that smile that curls my toes.

"Hey, Lawrence, you're early!  That's good!"  He points at the empty booth and says, "Sit here, I'll get you a menu, or you can read it off the wall over there."  I look where he gestures and see a big sign listing sandwiches and other items, then he tells me, "The special tonight is filet of sole with lemon-butter sauce." 

I slip into the booth and smile at Justin, he looks so darling with a big white apron tied tightly around his hips and a name badge pinned to his waist.  "I'll get you some water," he offers, turning away quickly and going into the back, and it is a pure pleasure to watch his ass bounce behind him as he hurries away.

He’s back a moment later with a menu and a glass of water.

“I like seeing where you work,” I tell him, “Do you like it here?”

“Yeah.  Umm, why don’t you order really fast, Lawrence – it gets crowded later, so you can, you know, finish before the noisy people come in to eat.”

“Okay.”  I glance down at the menu.  “I wish you could eat dinner with me.  Can you take a break and do that?”

“Huh?” Justin’s not looking at me, he’s glancing around; but he brings his eyes back to my face and says, “Oh, I already had my break.  The fillet of sole’s good, why don’t you have that?  Tony, he’s the cook, he says it’s good tonight.  And it doesn’t take a long time to fix.”

I just nod, still perusing the small menu.

“You’re new, aren’t you?”

I look up and the redhead has stopped beside Justin, an empty tray held at her side.

“Deb, this is Lawrence Cooper, he’s an art teacher at PIFA.”

“Oh, really!” the redhead smiles at me, reaches out her hand and shakes my own.  “I’m Debbie Novotny, welcome to Liberty Diner!  How’s little Sunshine doing, is he behaving himself in school?”  She grins widely, cracking her gum, reaching up a hand to ruffle Justin’s hair.

“Sunshine?”

“The one and only,” she confirms, pinching Justin’s cheek.  He winces but doesn’t pull away.  “He’s practically my son, so you take good care of him, you hear?”

“Deb,” Justin says, “Lawrence isn’t MY teacher, he’s just A teacher.”

“Oh?” she says.

“Deb,” calls a man from a front booth, “Can I get some more coffee?”

“Hold your piss, I’ll be right there, Bobby.  Although - as much coffee as you’ve had tonight, maybe you CAN’T hold your piss!” She laughs and several others in the diner join in.  It seems like a happy place for Justin to work.

“Enjoy your dinner!” Deb says cheerfully, then she’s bustling off behind the counter.

“Order now,” Justin says and when I look up at him, I notice his eyes keep glancing toward the front of the diner.  

“Okay, I’ll have the sole.” 

Justin grabs his order pad and scribbles on it, then says, “I’ll be back in a minute!” and he hurries off to the kitchen.

Justin’s kept busy waiting on customers, ringing up the cash register, cleaning off tables, he barely has a few moments at a time to talk to me.  “Don’t you get a break?” I ask him when he stops to fill my coffee cup.

“Sorry, Lawrence,” Justin says, “I told you I’d be busy tonight.”

“I know.  I just wanted to see where you work.  Besides, I’m going to leave a big tip!” 

I’m expecting him to laugh but he just nods as if he doesn’t hear me, he’s glancing around the diner again.  Then he murmurs, “Oh, shit,” turns abruptly on his heel and hurries off into the kitchen.

Being a waiter is difficult, and my respect for Justin has gone up another notch tonight.  He’s obviously conscientious, he works very hard, the customers and the other people working here seem to like him very much.  I’m glad I came by to see him.  I wish Justin could come home with me tonight, but we’re leaving tomorrow after work so I’ll just have to wait till then to get my hands on him.

The sole's surprisingly good for a diner, Tony the cook knows his stuff.  I push aside the zucchini and eat just half the baked potato – too much starch, though I love it.  I drain my coffee cup and look around for Justin to see if I can get a refill, but then Deb comes breezing by me and I stop her, she’s got a coffee pot in her hand and refills my cup with a flourish.  Justin’s still in the kitchen I guess.  I hope he comes back soon, I’m almost ready to leave.

Here he comes out of the kitchen and I smile as he gets close to my table, but he’s not looking at me, he walks straight past me and goes to wait on another customer a few booths away.  I’ll catch him on the way back so I can get my check.



Brian

Here’s Justin at last, I’ve slipped into the booth and sprawled on the seat.  I’ve been coming here so long my ass should’ve worn through the vinyl covering by now.  I stopped by a little earlier than usual, I don’t want to run into any of the other guys in case they drop by for dinner.

“Hey.”  Justin stops and leans a hip against the table.  “The special tonight’s fillet of sole with lemon-butter sauce.”

“What, no meatloaf?  You promised me ‘that awful meatloaf.’”

Justin doesn’t even crack a smile, he must still be mad.  Fuck that, I told him it was nothing, he needs to get over himself.  His hand’s resting on the edge of the table and I push out my arms in a big stretch across the table, then let my hand accidentally graze his knuckles.

“Can you take your break and eat with me?”  I hear a gentleness in my voice that I didn’t intend to be there.  He catches it too and tilts his head slightly, like a hard-of-hearing man leaning toward an unfamiliar sound.  The edges of our hands are still casually touching and I curl my fingers around the tips of his fingers, the most casual and meaningless and nothing caress.  He looks at our fingers and he looks at me and I see the softening in his eyes. 

I’m glad I came after all.  I want to get past this – whatever this thing is we’re going through, all because I accidentally ran into Rick at Starbucks this morning.  I find myself almost wishing I could say ‘I’m sorry,’ even though I did nothing wrong, even though I never apologize.  We look at each other a moment, and a tiny smile begins to turn up the corners of Justin’s mouth, and I smile back at him.

“Justin?”  A customer comes up behind Justin, making him jump slightly.  “Sorry to interrupt,” the stranger says, “But I’m going now and I need my check.”

“Sure.  Of course.”  While Justin pulls out his order pad and flips through it, I eyeball the guy.  He’s about my age, tall and good-looking with thick dark hair.  His face is not familiar and I don’t think I’ve seen him before.  He catches me looking at him and I see his face flush slightly – the usual effect of my elevator-eyes on a newcomer.  I let him see the barest flicker of interest in my eyes and he turns his head away.  Maybe he’s straight.

“Here it is,” Justin says, ripping out a sheet from his order pad.

“Thanks,” the guy says.  “It was great watching you work, you’re very good at your job.”  He puts a hand on Justin’s arm and I wait for Justin to pull away but he doesn’t.

“Thanks, Lawrence,” he says.

“Well, I’m off – “

“Umm,” Justin says, “Wait a second.  Lawrence Cooper meet Brian Kinney.”

I look at the guy, then move my eyes back to Justin. 

“Hello,” Lawrence says, reaching out to shake hands, so I give him my hand.  Who is this?

“Lawrence is a teacher at PIFA,” Justin explains.  

“Oh,” I say, relaxing against the vinyl seat, then I ask with a chuckle, “And how is little Justin doing in class, teacher?”

“Lawrence isn’t JUSTIN’S teacher,” Debbie’s suddenly at the booth, barging into the conversation, giving me a look I can’t read.  “Lawrence is just ‘a’ teacher.”

“Oh?” I say.

Lawrence’s hand is still on Justin’s arm and I see him give Justin a squeeze.  “Nice to meet you Brian, Debbie,” Lawrence says.  Then he turns and leans down and gives Justin a kiss.  On the lips.

“See you tomorrow night – and don’t be late, we have to be at the airport by six o’clock.”

“Okay,” Justin says.  “Here, I’ll ring you up on the cash register.”  He turns away but Debbie shoots out her hand and grabs his shoulder. 

“Oh, let me do that,” she insists, wrestling the receipt out of Justin’s hand.  “Why don’t you take a break now?   You can talk to Brian for a minute.”

Justin just nods and stands still while Debbie hustles Lawrence off to the cash register.  He doesn’t move till Lawrence goes out the door, turning to wave at all of us.  Justin waves back, then he turns to look at me.

We stare at each other a moment, then he asks, “So, do you want the fillet of sole?” 

Clearing my throat, I ask, “Do all your teachers kiss you?”

“He’s not my teacher.”

”Oh yeah, I forgot.  He’s just ‘a’ teacher.  Do all the teachers at PIFA kiss you?”

“No,” he shakes his head, “Only the ones I’m dating.”

“You’re dating him?”

“Yeah.”  Justin finds a tiny spot on the table and scrapes at it with his thumbnail.

“This is the guy you’ve been dating?”

“Yeah.”  Justin raises his head and looks me in the eye.  “So?”

“Christ, Justin, he’s my age.”

“No, he’s not.”  When I open my mouth to argue, he says, “He’s thirty-four.”

Christ.  Christ.  “You’re supposed to be dating KIDS.”

My voice stays noncommittal but Justin’s getting angry.  “Says who?” he asks loudly.

When I don’t answer, Justin slips onto the seat across from me.  “Brian, says who?” he repeats more quietly.  “I don’t want to date kids.”

I can’t think of anything to say.  Justin finds another spot on the table to rub with his thumbnail, and I pick up my fork and stare at it for a while.  I can’t think of anything to say.

“So.”  Deb’s back at our table and we both look up at her, startled.  “Now – you know that I’m going to butt in, right?”

“Not this time.  Go away.”  She’s used to my rudeness, it doesn’t faze her.

“Justin,” she turns her heat-seeking-missile eyes on him, “Justin, are you dating that guy?”  She gestures over her shoulder with a thumb as if he’s still standing by the cash register.

“What if I am?”

“Well, he seems like a very nice man.  You like old farts, don’t ya?” 

Of course I’m insulted but I say nothing.  When Justin also says nothing she goes on, “When you’re through with Lawrence, Vic’s got some middle-aged friends he can fix you up with.”

“Debbie – fuck off.”  Justin’s voice is getting louder again.

“Yeah,” I decide to jump into the fray, “Fuck off, Debbie.”

“Uh-huh.”  She puts her hands on her hips and gives me a hard stare.  “Did you ask him where he’s going?  That guy’s taking him somewhere on an airplane.”

Oh.  I’d heard that but it hadn’t registered.

We both turn to stare at Justin and he shrugs.  “I don’t need anybody’s permission.  I’m almost twenty.”

“Where are you going?”  Deb can be impossible to snub sometimes.

“To New York.  For the weekend.  Big fucking deal.”

“Yeah,” she snorts, “I’m sure fucking has a lot to do with it.”

“Damn you – I won’t be fucking interrogated!” Justin slides out of the booth and pushes past Debbie.  “Both of you, mind your own business!”  He hurries into the kitchen and after a moment’s silence, Deb takes his place in the booth across from me.

“Well, Mr. Kinney, you fucked up again, didn’t you?”

“Why do you think this is my fault?”

Debbie raises her eyebrows.  “Well, isn’t it?”

Fuck.

I sit there a moment longer while Debbie gives me her version of the Death Stare, then I shake my head, slide out of the booth and walk out of the diner, being extremely careful not to slam the door.



Debbie

“What kind of game are you playing at, hmm?”

“Deb – “ Justin opens his mouth but I’m not finished.  I’ve got him cornered in the store room and unless he knocks me down, I’m not letting him out until he talks to me.

“And don’t tell me it’s none of my business, because it is.  Or if it isn’t, I’m making it my business.”

“I’m almost twenty years old, I don’t have to – “

“Yeah, you do.  And Sunshine, I’ve got dust bunnies older than you so don’t keep flinging your great age at me, I’m not impressed.”

Justin crosses his arms over his chest, sighs deeply and stares at the floor.  Stubborn child position number three.  He sometimes forgets I’m a mother.

“So tell me,” I lean back against the door and shove my hands in the pockets of my apron.  “Are you seeing this guy to make Brian jealous, or are you and him really not getting back together?”

Justin’s silent for a moment, then he looks up at me.  His eyes look bruised.  “I don’t know.”

“Which question are you answering?”

“The getting-together one.”

“Uh-huh.  And this guy, this Lawrence, is he in love with you?”

“No,” Justin makes a face, “Of course not.  We’ve only gone out a couple times.  He’s a nice guy, I like him, but – it’s not like THAT.”

Yeah, right.  Maybe not for Sunshine, but I saw the way that guy was looking at him, his eyes following Justin all over the diner.  “Don’t break his heart while you’re playing your games.”

Shaking his head, Justin insists, “I told you – it’s not like that.  And it’s not a game.  I just have to date a bunch of guys, Lawrence is the first, that’s all.” 

“Why?”

Justin moves toward the door but I reach out and grab his shoulder. 

“Debbie, the customers must be going nuts out there, we need to – “

“In a minute.  Tell me first why you ‘have to’ date a bunch of guys.”

He stares at me then with a deer-in-the-headlights look.  “I – I didn’t mean I HAVE TO.  I’m just going to, for a while.  Open the door, will you?”

“Okay,” I give in.  I’m not getting any more out of Justin, but I’ve got a pretty good idea what’s going on now.  “Just YOU be sure you don’t hurt this guy.  Lawrence.  You can’t just pick  people up, play with ‘em a while, then throw ‘em away.”

“Jesus, Debbie, I know that.”  He’s exasperated, he’s mad at me, but he’s a sensitive kid.  He’ll think about what I said, no matter how pissed off he is at me now.

“Okay.”  I pull open the door and the clamor from irate customers in the diner is deafening.



Justin

I’m sitting in my car having a cigarette and holding my cell phone.  I glance up at Lawrence’s windows and they’re dark, he’s gone to bed.  I know I should just go home, not wake him up.  I‘ll see him tomorrow.  I know Debbie’s full of shit anyway.  Finally I push the buttons and listen to his phone ringing.  I see a light go on and then he answers the phone.

“Hi, it’s Justin, I’m sorry to wake you up.”

“Justin!  No – that’s okay.  Is something wrong?”

“No,” I hedge, “But – I need to talk to you a minute.  I’m downstairs, can I come up?”

“Sure, of course, hit the buzzer, I’ll be waiting.”

He lets me in and he’s wearing a fleecy maroon robe and brown slippers.  I’ve never seen him wear slippers and I find myself staring at his feet.  My dad had slippers like that.

“Come in and sit down,” Lawrence urges me, putting a hand on my arm, and I look up at his face.  I don’t know how to start this conversation, I don’t know what to say to him.

“You look upset – are you sure everything’s all right?”  His hand on my arm guides me into the living room and we sit down on the sofa side by side.

I fold my hands in my lap and look at them, then raise my eyes to Lawrence’s face.  “I just need to ask you about this New York thing.” 

“What about it?”

“Well, I mean, it’s just for fun, right?”

He shakes his head.  “I don’t understand – “

“I mean,” I feel myself wringing my hands and force myself to stop.  “I mean, it’s just a fun thing, it doesn’t MEAN anything, does it?”

“Why should it mean anything?  I’m not following you, I’m sorry.”  Lawrence’s brow is furrowed, I can tell he doesn’t get it, how can I ask him?

“I mean, it’s not a love thing, right?  It doesn’t mean we love each other or anything, right?”

Lawrence takes my hands between his own and squeezes, holds them still.  “Justin, New York is not a ‘love thing.’  We’ve had two dates.  We’re just friends having a good time together.”

“Well, that’s what I thought!” I exclaim, anger at Debbie making my face hot.

“Justin, who told you that going to New York was a ‘love thing?’”

I pull my hands away and stand up quickly.  “Oh nobody – I just wondered.  I just wanted to know, that’s all.”

“Okay,” he says.  Probably he doesn’t believe me, but he doesn’t push it.

“Now I’d better go,” I say, and Lawrence stands up too.

“Would you like some coffee, some hot chocolate?  Since you’re here, I wish you could stay a while.”

“No thanks, no, I can’t.  I’ve got an eight o’clock class on Fridays, I’d better be getting home now.” 

Lawrence says okay and walks me to the door, then gives me a brief kiss and waves as I get into the elevator.  Suddenly I’m very tired and I can’t wait to get home and go to bed.



Lawrence

I wave at Justin as he gets in the elevator, then close the door.  I catch sight of myself in the entryway mirror and shake my head.  I wonder who’s been talking to Justin about me?  It must have been Debbie, the woman who said that she’s practically Justin’s mother.  Probably she doesn’t trust me because I‘m so much older than him.

Is going to New York a ‘love thing?’  No.  No, of course not.  But looking at myself in the mirror, I have to admit that I wish it were.



Brian

Maybe he’s not coming home tonight.  He should have been here by now.  I’m sitting in my jeep on Willow Street across from Jennifer’s condo like some crazed cop on a midnight stake-out and even if he does come home, what do I intend to say to him? 

It’s after twelve-thirty, he should have been here ten-fifteen minutes ago.  Probably he went to HIS house.  The teacher.  The good-looking thirty-four-year-old teacher he’s been fucking.  All this time I’m picturing him with some kid, going out, acting crazy, fucking like bunnies.  Somehow I was okay with that.  Or if I wasn’t okay exactly, I could handle it.  But this is – different.  I refuse to define ‘different.’  

Jesus, I’m being ridiculous.  Obviously Justin’s gone to his teacher’s house to play, he’s not coming home.  Turning the ignition, I resist the urge to gun the engine and wake up the whole fucking middle-class straight asshole neighborhood.  Then I see headlights coming, a car’s just turned the corner onto Willow and is slowing down.  It’s Justin, he pulls into the driveway. 

I switch off the engine and open my door, step out onto the pavement.  Justin must see movement because he turns to glance across the street and then he stops and stands still by the open door of his car.  I’m standing still by the open door of my car.  It’s a standoff.








11/4/02


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