|Gap-Filler for Episode 2-18|
|It's Your Call|
I close my eyes and take a shallow breath, then another. I don't want to feel this way. I've never felt this way about another guy, only Brian. I don't want to feel it, I won't feel it. Just take another breath, keep breathing, I tell myself; the feeling will pass. It's not real, it's some ridiculous imaginary romantic fucking mistake.
And of course it's not the same really, it can't compare to those moments under the street lamp when the first look from Brian's eyes grabbed me, almost pulled me to him like a giant cartoon magnet. It's not the same, not at all. That was heaven and it was hell and it stopped the earth spinning on its axis. This is just. . . something else.
There's just this - kind of gentle pull. Just a tug, really. When I was a kid we used to visit my aunt in Florida every summer, and Mom and I spent hours at the beach. I can remember standing barefoot on the shore as the tide washed in shallow waves foaming around my ankles, then slowly, irresistibly, it was drawn backward, the wave was drawn backward into the ocean and it sucked at my toes trying to pull me along, pull me into the ocean. And Iíd have to lean backward just slightly and keep my feet firmly planted in the shifting sand as I felt the ocean wave pulling at me.
Ethan's just a ripple of ocean-tide tickling my feet. Brian's a tsunami.
I stand totally still, feet firmly planted on the floorboards of the student center, strong and centered and totally in control. Nothing and nobody is pulling me anywhere I don't want to go. My breathing is normal, everything is normal and ordinary and I won't let my silly imagination get the best of me. That pull means nothing, probably I just want to fuck Ethan, nothing mysterious about that.
Except that I don't want to fuck him.
Okay, I do want to fuck him, but that means nothing, I want to fuck Heath Ledger, that doesn't mean I'm ever going to. It's just a passing wave of lust, meaningless, unimportant.
Ethan makes the rounds of the Student Center, looking at all the art works on display - not that I'm watching him, I just happen to notice him from time to time. My life drawing teacher stops by to compliment me on one of my sketches, and I see over her shoulder that Ethan is sort of lurking in the background. Our eyes meet a couple times, and when the teacher moves away, Ethan closes the distance between us.
"Hey," he smiles, "I'm going to get something to eat, want to come with me? We can go to my place and hang up your picture."
Thankfully, whatever I was feeling toward Ethan has dissipated, and it's so totally meaningless and so unimportant now, that I know it's okay for me to have lunch with him. He's just a guy, a nice guy, I like talking to him. He understands what it means to be an artist, like nobody I've ever talked to has ever understood.
We walk to Ethan's, stopping at a grocery for some grapes, cheese and bread. He opens the door to his apartment and the first thing I see is Wolfram sitting on that really awful sofa. He jumps down and comes running to greet me. Cats always like me. I pick him up and hold him in my arms, loving the warm smoothness of his fur and his delicate singsong purring, as I watch Ethan spread our food out on an overturned wooden box.. He grabs a half-full bottle of red wine and two glasses and we take up our places on either side of the makeshift table for a picnic on the floor.
He has the most amazing eyes, so dark that they are deep and almost bottomless, like a well. You must be careful when you lean over the edge of a deep dark well, careful that you donít fall in.
There is no danger of course, weíre only talking. About art and music and boyfriends, he had a boyfriend who sounds a lot like Brian. Ethan left him because he wants someone who loves only him. Eric said the same thing, the boy I fucked at Daphneís party, it seems so long ago. Eric said he wanted just one guy to be with, and I remember laughing. Because it doesnít work out like that. It didnít work for Eric and it didnít work for Ethan and it isnít working for me. The secret is, you just have to not mind very much. Because what does it matter if your boyfriend fucks a million guys, as long as you know he really loves only you?
Brian loves me. Or anyway Iím pretty sure he does. I used to be a hundred percent sure, but that was before Vermont. Before I came home and found Brian fucking some guy in our bed, and he didnít even pause mid-stroke to greet me. ďYouíre back,Ē he said, like it didnít matter one way or the other if I came home or not. Maybe it didnít. He didnít call me, not once, he probably had a different guy, two or three different guys, in our bed every night of the week.
Brian wanted to fuck me that night, why was I surprised? And I let him, and whatís worse, whatís really worse, is that I wanted him to. He kicked the guy out after fucking him, like he always does; I was in the shower and he just walked right in on me, put his hands on me and I wanted to resist but I couldnít. Because I hadnít had sex for a week, except for jerking off a few times a day, but it wasnít just sex and I knew it. I wanted him inside me, I wanted to taste him and feel him filling me up and possessing me. Christ. At least I made him change the sheets. And I didnít help. I logged onto my computer and checked e-mail while he changed the bed, then he came after me, reached over my shoulder and logged me off, then picked me right up out of the chair and carried me up the steps to the bed. I didnít resist. I couldnít resist. I wanted him too much.
When I woke up next morning he was already gone. Most of the time we shower together, get ready for work and school and often he drops me off, if he has time for a detour. He must have had an early morning meeting, not that he bothered to tell me. I guess weíre still mad at each other. I woke up feeling so much better, but now I feel annoyance and resentment and regret creeping back into my heart. I donít have a wall around my heart like Brian does, but it should be tougher by now, more resistant to pain, Iíve had enough practice with disappointment, havenít I?
He was late coming home, I was gathering my sketches and drawings for the art show. He burst through the door and exclaimed, ďIíve got a new client!Ē For the briefest moment I thought he was talking to me. ďThatís good!Ē I said encouragingly.
But he wasnít talking to me. He ignored me, moving on to the bedroom, where he started undressing, all the while talking to himself, mumbling. It was like I wasnít even there.
ďAnd how was your day, Justin?Ē I asked myself, and answered, ďNot bad, thanks for asking; and how about yours?Ē
ďA whole lot better, now that Iím with you,Ē I told myself.
Then I dared to ask myself, ďDid you miss me?Ē
In a gruff voice I answered, ďEvery minute you were away Ė youíre all I thought about. Please never leave me again.Ē I was feeling sick to my stomach for some reason.
Brian walked into the kitchen, pausing to bend down and whisper in my ear, ďWho are you talking to?Ē before he ambled on to pull open the fridge and get himself a beer.
ďAnd whatís with the little voice? Are you planning to become a ventriloquist?Ē
ďItís one way to hear what you want,Ē I answered, looking at him seriously as he crouched down beside my desk.
He ignored that and took a swig from the bottle. Then he put his hand on the back of my neck like he was moving the head of a dummy and asked, in a deep ventriloquist voice, ďSo-how-was-your-trip?Ē
I half turned and put my arm around him. ďNot much fun without you.Ē It wasnít fun, and I wanted him to know that. Wanted him to hear that.
But he didnít. Instead he showed me some advertising poster or flyer he was holding and murmured, ďI had things to do.Ē
Giving up, I pulled my arm away, he stood up and walked off. ďDid you miss me?Ē I asked for real, and immediately cursed myself for being so fucking transparent. So needy. Damn me.
I heard him set down the bottle and come up behind me, I couldnít turn. He reached around me and grabbed my arms, pulled me to my feet. Almost I felt joyful, I felt a smile just beginning to form on my face as I waited for him to kiss me, to say something, anything, to show that he missed me. Then suddenly he whirled me around and pushed me up against an I-beam, pushing me from behind, wrapping my arms around the beam while he started tonguing my neck, and I felt him lift the hem of my shirt and he pulled it off over my head. He wanted to fuck me. That was his answer. Thatís what he missed.
And I let him. I let him do it and I enjoyed it and we both grunted as we came at the same time. And afterwards he went to his desk and I went to mine and we worked on our projects. For the first time the silence between us did not feel companionable. At least not for me. I tried not to think, just to concentrate on my drawing, to lose myself in my drawing, itís never failed me before. This time it did. I felt like something inside me had broken. Nothing dramatic, no loud crashing boom, just the tiniest snap of a twig in a quiet forest. He was still working when I went to bed, and I willed myself to fall sleep without crying.
Next morning the phone woke us up before the alarm went off. Ben was in the hospital. We got ready quickly and drove to Em and Michaelís apartment to meet the others, and we all tried to decide what we could do to help Michael. I offered to watch the comic shop and Brian said nothing, but later when we were alone for a moment, he told me it would be better to close the shop for a day or two, that I had too many commitments already with an afternoon shift at the diner and my project deadlines at school. I might have resented it if he'd said that in front of the others, but in the end I had to agree that I didn't have much time to spare. Brian was in a rush to get to work, so Ted offered to drive me to school. I had stuff in my portfolio for the student art fair and it would have been hard to manage on the bus. I didn't tell Brian about the art fair; I didn't want to wait for him to show up and then be disappointed.
I havenít worked this hard since I was new kid on the block at the agency, burning hot to prove that I was better than everybody else. Now I was not only proving myself to Gardner Vance, but as partner in the agency, I had a very different role than Iíd had before. Iíd grown used to making my own schedule, delegating the boring projects and saving the crŤme de la crŤme for myself. Now in addition to the crŤme, I had to deal with an enormous amount of boring, time-consuming shit work.
Gardneríd been true to his word and fired most of the ad execs, but heíd kept nearly all the creatives and support staff. Cynthia is enjoying her new role, and I made sure she got a hefty raise, but sheís also working harder than before, and longer hours. Weíre earning our fucking money, thatís for sure.
Naturally it is just at this critical time of my life that Justin has to start being difficult. Making demands on my time and fucking with my emotions. I donít have the time, I donít have the energy to deal with that shit right now. Heís just going to have to look out for himself for a change, heís nineteen, he can handle it. It surprised me that he didnít tell me about the student art fair, Iíd seen a flyer on his desk announcing the show. In truth I was relieved, it let me off the hook. I donít have time to meet his professors and drink lukewarm punch in Styrofoam cups, Iím scrambling like fucking hell just to stay on top at the office.
Then in the middle of one of the worst days at Vangard, right before a meeting with the four old fart execs of that damned Open Fire restaurant chain, my cell went off. It was Mikey so I had to take it, and the moment I answered I could hear the panic in his voice. I walked out of the meeting, brushed off Vance, and hurried to the hospital. Michael needed me.
He was a wreck, and it was all I could do to hang onto him. I almost started crying right along with him, everything came back to me, the fucking helplessness of standing in a hospital corridor while someone you care about lies only a few feet away, fighting for his life. Mikey was falling apart, and I helped put him back together, just the way heíd done it for me, those nights after Justin got bashed. When I couldnít see anybody, or let anybody see me, and Michael took care of everything. It was payback time.
I stayed all day with Mikey, then finally about six oíclock Benís fever broke, and the worst was over, he was going to be okay. Michael really did fall apart then, and I dragged him downstairs and forced him to walk around the parking lot, breathing cool air and calming down. Then we sat in the hospital cafeteria, me drinking three cups of bitter black coffee, Mikey choking down some overcooked hospital corned beef hash for dinner. He insisted he was all right, he was going to sleep in Benís room, so finally I headed home, just physically and emotionally drained. I even took the elevator to my floor, I didnít think I could manage the stairs.
And I stopped dead just inside the door. There was Justin, kneeling on the floor, lighting candles and smiling up at me. He jumped up and began telling me about his picnic preparations, and, my shoulders drooping, I shut him up with a kiss. No, I wanted to shout at him, I canít do this now! Instead I grabbed a slice of apple and tried to play along, I dropped to the pillows and sprawled on the floor. But that wasnít enough for him, no, he insisted we were going to be romantic. Christ.
I grabbed the wine bottle and jumped up, and told Justin I needed to unwind at Babylon. He kept trying to get me to stay home instead, grabbing my hand, looking up at me with those fucking beseeching blue eyes. I gulped a mouthful of wine to strengthen myself, gave him a kiss, and told him to make a choice. Stay home alone, or come to Babylon with me. It was his call.
It was my call, Brian said, stay home alone or go to Babylon with him. I almost said no. I was upset about Brian dissing my picnic, and I really felt like telling him to fuck off. Instead I collapsed onto the cushions and pinched out the candles. I heard Brian undressing, then the shower was turned on full blast. Slowly I put away the cheese and crackers, put the fruit in baggies, then picked up the candles and put them on the counter.
Surprisingly, Brian came to join me. Heíd just gotten out of the shower and had a towel wrapped around his hips. He began to pick up the pillows, making a stack in his arms and carrying them into the living room. I just stood there watching him, feeling Ė oh, not sad, not even disappointed. Just kind of numb. So when he took my hand and led me up the stairs, I let him. When he pulled off my red sweater and handed me a pale blue one. I took it from him and put it on. I sat on the edge of the bed and put on my shoes and socks while Brian got dressed, then he handed me my jacket and shrugged himself into his brown leather, and we left the loft and headed to Babylon.
Even when I'm not really in the mood, usually I go to Woody's or Babylon with Brian because I want to be with him, even if he's fucking around. We haven't been sharing tricks lately, but that's only because I've started saying no, thanks. Sometimes Brian laughs and sometimes he's annoyed, but it hasn't slowed him down any. I love Babylon but I don't like the backroom any more, I can't believe I used to be so excited when Brian would take me back there with him. It just got boring or something. It's not that I don't like fucking and plenty of it - maybe I'm just going through a phase. Whatever it is, usually now I dance and hang out with the guys till Brian's ready to go home. He's always got plenty of sex energy left over for me, so I guess I can't complain.
It was the same last night, twice I noticed Brian leading guys into the backroom, but I wasn't really watching him, I was having a good time talking to Emmett and Ted. Em was telling some great stories about his adventures with George Schickle, about the time George made him go horseback riding, and another time when George took him shopping at Saks and they did the nasty in the gentlemen's dressing room. Ted said he'd done it once with Blake in a dressing room too, and Ted got all misty and we tried to cheer him up. Then Brian came up and grabbed me from behind and said he was ready to go home. Luckily he didn't say anything mean to Ted, who was embarrassed about crying in the middle of Babylon. We came home and Brian offered to let me fuck him, which doesn't happen very often. So naturally I felt more enthusiastic than I had in ages, and we had a great time in bed.
Brian's pretty tight for an older guy, probably because he doesn't get fucked very often. He won't tell me much about things he did when he was my age, but he's admitted he used to bottom for a few guys. He's good at it too, well that's how he taught me everything I know about fucking, he knows what it feels like and how to make it feel even better. He'll only let me fuck him from behind though, he says he feels ridiculous with his long legs falling off my shoulders or flailing in the air. Since I'm a lot shorter than Brian, the way he likes me to do him is for him to kneel on the floor by the bed and have me stand behind him. It's a good fit that way and I can hang on to him for balance. But he says if I ever call him 'horsey,' he'll beat the crap out of me.
That's funny because Brian's one of the most non-violent guys I know. Not that I know many violent ones, but I mean, he's so gentle and he doesn't threaten, well not for real. He's pretend-spanked me a few times, but only when we're fooling around, nothing serious. He says that daddy stuff squicks him out. We've played around with S&M a few times, but I feel silly doing it and Brian says that's okay, he's not really into it either. There've been a few times I've seen Brian really angry, but he's never scary. Well, except that one time he pretended to choke me. I know, from things Debbie and Vic let slip, that Brian's dad used to beat him up all the time. Brian even sort of told me that once, though he'll never talk about his childhood with me. "Never look backwards," he tells me all the time. But it seems strange to me that somebody who grew up in a violent house, is not violent himself.
And Brian's a great daddy with Gus, when he sees him, which is not very often. A couple times when I've been babysitting, Brian has dropped in. He gets right down on the floor and lets Gus crawl all over him, and he gets such a gentle look sometimes when he's playing with his son. I've tried to capture that look in sketches, but none of them has ever come out right. I haven't shown them to him; I'm afraid he wouldn't like seeing that vulnerable look on his face.
Next morning I woke up alone again. Iím beginning to think that Brianís avoiding our shared morning time. I donít understand and itís starting to hurt. Iíve really been trying to be the kind of boyfriend he wants me to be, but itís getting harder and harder. Itís like he keeps changing the rules on me. Or maybe I just donít want to live inside those rules any more. For a long time I thought Brian and I were getting closer and closer. Now thereís this space, this distance, itís like heís pulled away from me. Maybe Iíve pulled away from him, too. Iím so tired of trying to figure out the right things to say, the right things to do.
Iíve seen Michael and Ben together, and itís like theyíre always relaxed. Itís like they donít have to try and figure things out every minute. Sort of like I feel when Iím with Ethan. Like I can say anything I want without worrying that itís the wrong thing. Like I can laugh and be silly and not have to look cool all the time. I can say what Iím feeling without having to think about it first. I didnít realize how exhausting it is living with Brian. It didnít use to be. I donít know whatís changed.
Brian didnít call me all day, and heís asked me to stop calling the office for a while, he says itís all in an uproar with so many changes, and he doesnít have time right now for personal calls. My day was uneventful, there was a female model in life class and I saw some of the guys smirking at each other. God, straight guys are so disgusting. I had a coffee date with Daphne but she cancelled, so I went home early and decided to cook dinner. I stopped and got a pound of shrimp and a packet of fresh pasta, and even splurged on some imported French beans. It was fun cooking again, I havenít felt like doing that for a long time. I put placemats on the counter and retrieved candles from the aborted floor picnic.
When Brian hadnít come home by seven, I dared to call him at the office. Cynthia answered and said theyíd had an emergency meeting at six and Brian might be stuck there while longer. He must have been right by her desk because the next thing I knew, Brian was barking at me on the phone.
ďJustin, is this an emergency?Ē
I was surprised by the harshness in his tone, but instead of feeling bad, it made me angry. ďYeah,Ē I answered brusquely, ďItís an emergency, because I cooked a fucking fantastic dinner, and I need to know if Iím eating it alone.Ē
There was a long pause, then I heard Brian sigh deeply. Iíve grown to hate that sigh, that little conscious breath to let me know Iíve exasperated him once again. ďIím sorry,Ē Brian was saying, as slowly and as patiently as if he were talking to a not-very-bright child. ďIím stuck here for a couple more hours. Iíve told you over and over not to count on me.Ē
ďYeah,Ē I agreed softly, ďYou have. Sorry.Ē I hung up the phone and turned to look at the dishes Iíd spread out on the counter. At least this time I hadnít lit the candles yet. The phone rang several times while I was putting everything away, but I ignored it. I got my jacket from the closet, wrapped a muffler round my neck and went out for a walk.
Christ, I was pissed at Justin, but as soon as he hung up on me, I was immediately sorry. He had no way of knowing Iíd be home late tonight, thereíd been no time all day to call him, and I remembered telling him just last week how much I missed the special dinners he sometimes cooks for us. I tried calling him right back, but he wouldnít answer. I tried twice more, then gave up.
Iím sorry that I hurt his feelings, but Jesus, the kidís got to learn that he doesnít always need to wait around for me to come home, he can go out on his own sometimes.
I can hear violin music from the street two floors below Ethanís apartment. Iím not sure how I ended up in this neighborhood, but as long as Iím here, I guess Iíll go up and say hello. He still owes me a song after all, so maybe Iíll tell him Iíve come to collect it.