QAF FanFic by Morpheus
Intermission - 07
I had just gotten off the bus at the western entrance to the IFA campus on my way to the graphics studio when my cell phone beeped. It wasn't even an hour since I'd left Brian's place, he said he would call me but I never expected it so soon. He said he wanted to come pick me up in the afternoon, when I finished whatever I was doing, if I wasn't working tonight. Since there's a few days left of my leave of absence from the diner, I was free to meet him. Not really free - there's hours and hours of work left on my final graphics class project, and it's due in three days, on Tuesday. But I didn't tell Brian that, because I really wanted to see him.
Waiting on the corner where he used to pick me up, finally I see the jeep approaching. Of course my stupid heart jerks in my chest, but there's heavy traffic so I have a minute to get my breathing back to normal before he pulls up at the curb and I climb in beside him.
Brian helps me fasten the seat belt - he's the only one I don't mind doing that. As he pulls out into the flow of traffic, I can't resist asking, "So, was he pissed at you?"
"Who?" Brian keeps his eyes on the road.
"Your boyfriend. Rick."
"He's not my - "
"Whatever. Was he pissed?"
Brian frowns, staring straight ahead. "He has no reason to be pissed. No right to be pissed."
"But you're dating him," I point out. "Of course he was pissed."
"I am not dating him."
"You've been taking him out, right?"
Brian shakes his head, no. "We’ve had dinner a couple times."
"Did you pick him up at his place?"
"So what?" His frown deepens.
"Did you pay for dinner?"
"I always pay," he's getting more and more annoyed.
"And you brought him back home and had sex, and then he stayed overnight?"
Brian stops the jeep at a red light and turns to me, demanding, "What are you getting at?"
"Brian, that's called dating."
"No," he shakes his head, "It's called eating and fucking."
Ignoring him, I continue. "And you've done it a few times, right? Not just once. Right?"
"So, that's a relationship."
"No." The light turns green and Brian steps on the gas.
"Brian, yes it is. Even if you don't think so, he does. So naturally he's pissed if he thinks you're fucking other guys."
"That's where you're wrong," he throws a 'gotcha' glance at me as he shifts gears and makes a right onto Jackson. "I told him I don't do relationships, and I fuck whoever I want to. Whomever. A million whomevers, if I want to."
"But Brian," I explain patiently, "You were supposed to have a date with him this morning and you forgot, and when he comes over, he finds you with your ex."
"You are not my ex. If you don't have relationships, you don't have exes."
I reach over and punch Brian's arm. "Are you going to tell me that the almost entire year we were living together was not a relationship?"
"What was it then?"
"Eating and fucking and doing laundry."
Torn between wanting to laugh and wanting to punch him again, I grumble, "Brian Kinney, sometimes I could kill you."
Then he smiles, and keeping his eyes on the road, he reaches over and slides his hand between my legs and squeezes my left thigh. After a moment I'm breathing normally again and, continuing to hold on, Brian asks, "Hungry?"
"Always. But it's kind of early for dinner, isn't it?" I glance at my watch, it's just three o'clock.
“Do you have to go home tonight?”
“No.” There's a catch in my throat. “Why?”
“Your mommy won’t worry if you stay out all night?”
“No.” I wait for a moment and when he says nothing, I ask, “Where are we going?”
“I’m going out of town. You can come along, if you want to.”
“When are you coming back?”
I hesitate, wondering what’s up. I want to be with Brian, and yet I don’t want to. He’s got a boyfriend now, no matter what he says, so I don’t know what he wants with me. Well, except the obvious, but we don’t have to leave Pittsburgh to have sex.
Brian shakes his head and says impatiently, “Don’t over-analyze it, Justin. If you don’t want to, it’s no big deal.”
“At least tell me where you’re going?”
“Nope.” He turns to look at me, and in a serious voice with eyebrows raised he asks, “Do you want a ride home, or do you want what’s behind door number three?”
“Door number three.” God, I hope I’m not going to be sorry.
“Good.” Brian changes lanes and makes a left turn into the freeway entrance, and we ride along in silence for a few moments till he says, “Tell me about school. You haven’t flunked out yet?”
So I tell him about my classes, and my professors, and it feels good to be talking to Brian again, people don’t realize what a good listener he can be. The time flies by as he speeds down the freeway.
Two hours later, I have to ask again, "Brian, where are we going?"
"Where?" I demand, "Albuquerque?"
"Didn't you study geography in school?" he retorts. "Albuquerque's southwest, we're headed southeast."
"What's southeast? Richmond, Virginia? Atlanta, Georgia? Tallahassee, Florida?"
Brian flips down the visor, there’s a glare from the setting sun that colors his face with a red-orange glow. "Okay, you passed geography. Now see if you can master minding your own business."
"It's my business where we're going, I feel like I’m being kidnapped."
He nods. "If you really want to get into that, we'll stop at a hardware store for some rope and chains."
I sigh heavily, giving up.
"Kind of," I admit. Whatever drugs I took last night have left me feeling kind of shaky.
"Lie down on the seat and rest. You can put your head in my lap." Brian's voice is laced with such mock sincerity I have to giggle.
"Yeah, you'd like that, huh. Just your luck, I'd fall asleep with your dick in my mouth."
"Then we'd go over a bump and my dick would knock all your teeth out."
We laugh and then ride in silence for a few minutes, till I have to ask, in a whiny voice, "Are we there yet?" and Brian snakes his hand across the seat and grabs a handful of my hair and pulls it, hard.
"Stop being a brat. Pick out a cassette from the glove compartment, why don’t you?”
"Okay." I flip open the compartment and pull out a handful of tapes. A small bottle of lube falls out and rolls on the floor. I pick it up and flourish it in the air, "Aha! Look what I found."
With barely a glance at the bottle, Brian shrugs. "I like to be prepared, like the Boy Scouts."
"Were you a Scout?"
"Nope. I wanted to be, but - "
When he doesn't go on, I ask, "But?"
Shaking his head, Brian says, "My dad thought they were fascists. Kind of ironic, isn't it? Since the Scouts won't let fags join now, he'd be siding with them if he were alive today."
Brian's hardly ever talked to me about his parents, about himself as a kid, so I'm almost afraid to ask anything else, but who knows when I'll get another opportunity. "Do you think your dad knew you might be gay? Is that why he beat up on you?"
"Who said he beat up on me?" Brian turns to scowl at me.
"You did. You told me once, that when he had a lot to drink, he - "
"Yeah. I forgot I told you." He's quiet for a moment and I don't think he'll tell me any more, but he surprises me by saying, "He didn't know I was gay. He just hated me for being born." I sit perfectly still, hoping Brian will continue, but he doesn’t.
We ride along in silence for a minute or two, then Brian shakes off his serious mood. "Put on some music," he urges me, and I sort through the pile of cassettes on the floor by my feet. "See if that disco tape you like is there." It is, and I shove it into the cassette player. Soon a familiar melody blasts out at us: “I love the night life, I love to boogie. . .”
Taking the Riverside exit off the highway, the jeep rolls along almost as if it knows the way, and as we cross the bridge over the river, I look around for familiar sights. I haven't been back here in almost ten years, and naturally the city has changed, the skyline is markedly different and some of the streets are now one-way, so momentarily I'm confused, till I turn onto Clement, and then I'm okay. Then I know where I am.
"Brian, where are we?" Justin had been dozing, his head leaning against the side window, but the turn off the freeway woke him up, and I feel him straighten in the seat and look around at the darkened streets.
"No, Harrisburg, Outer Mongolia." I take a left and stop at a red light. I turn to look at Justin, he's rubbing his hands over his face. "Are you okay? Did you pass out from hunger yet?"
"Almost." He raises his wrist and strains to read his watch. "It's six-thirty. I've got a crick in my neck," he complains, moving his head back and forth, so I reach over and give him a quickie one-handed massage and his neck relaxes slightly under the pressure of my fingers. Then the light changes and we move forward.
"Brian, am I allowed to ask why we're in Harrisburg? I really do feel kidnapped."
"Just be patient a little longer, I'm looking for - yeah, here it is." There's an illuminated sign for the Abernathy Hotel, and another sign announces 'Parking in Rear,' so I turn at the corner and find the hotel parking garage, pull into the underground lot and park. "We're here," I announce, and we get out of the car. Opening the boot, I pull out a small suitcase and my leather garment bag.
Justin grabs my arm and shakes it. "You brought a suitcase? We're staying here tonight? I won't have anything to wear tomorrow. Why didn't you take me home to get some clothes first? Why are we here, Brian?"
"Christ, Justin, one thing at a time, okay? Yes, we're staying here, and don't worry, I've got something for you to wear." I glance around and see a sign that says 'Registration' with an arrow. "Come on, let's check in."
Justin's right at my elbow. "Is this a surprise I’m going to like?"
"I don't know," I answer honestly. Then I add, even more honestly, "It's really for me."
"Curiouser and curiouser," Justin intones dramatically, making me laugh.
Brian wouldn’t let me take a shower, there was no time, he’d made dinner reservations for seven-thirty. Which is too early to be sophisticated but he said he knew I’d be dead of starvation if I had dinner later than that. He’s right, my stomach is growling like crazy, Brian can hear it across the table where we’ve been seated, he cocked an eyebrow at me in silent condemnation when the waiter handed us the hugest menus I’ve ever seen. They’re all in French and have no prices on them.
I glance at Brian around the edge of my menu and his brow is furrowed in concentration. He looks so beautiful, he’s wearing his dark gray Prada with the matching shirt and tie. I’m wearing a new suit he bought me, it’s dark gray too. Brian doesn’t like the way it fits, he had to buy it off the rack (he shuddered when he said ‘off the rack,’ he can be so pretentious sometimes) and he says the shoulders are too big and the sleeves too long, but it looks fine to me. Usually I’m not crazy about getting dressed up, but I like the suit and it actually feels very cool and grown-up to be sitting in this fancy French restaurant across from Brian. He even bought me new shoes, they’re slip-on loafers of soft black leather, the left one is too tight but I told Brian they fit fine. It’s weird that he bought me these new clothes, even new underwear and socks, and drove me hundreds of miles from home just to have dinner in this restaurant. It’s called Les Fenetres, which he said means The Windows.
Brian meets my eyes around the edge of the menu. “Do you know what you want?”
“It’s in French,” I point out, in a whisper. “I recognize ‘crème brulee’ and ‘a la mode.’”
“How about roast chicken and mashed potatoes?”
“Sure,” I nod.
Just then the waiter comes up, a white towel over his arm just like in the movies. I’m shocked when I hear Brian talking to the waiter in French, I had no idea Brian knew French. Then the waiter shows him a wine list and they (apparently) discuss what wine we’re going to have. When the waiter finally leaves, Brian glances over at me and goes, “What?”
“You speak French. I’m just like, you know, really impressed.”
“Don’t be too impressed, it’s college French, I can order dinner and that’s about it.”
“Brian,” I lean forward a bit, the table’s small but I want to be closer to him. “Brian, why are we here?”
He hesitates for a moment, then replies, “On a whim, mostly. I’ve been thinking about this place and wanting to come back. This morning I just decided, what the fuck, so I made a few phone calls.”
“That’s awfully organized for a whim. And you bought me these clothes, what if I hadn’t come with you?””
“You know I like to shop, it was no big deal. If you hadn’t come along, I could always return them.”
Then I ask, “You said, ‘come back,’ so you’ve been here before?”
“Oui.” He leans back in his chair. “This was my first French restaurant, and I was wearing my first silk shirt. I’ve never forgotten that night.”
“It’s a happy memory.”
“Yes,” he agrees. Brian stops then and his eyes look over my shoulder, I can tell he’s remembering something nice.
“You were with a guy?” When Brian nods, I ask, “And you drove all the way here from Pittsburgh?
“Huh?” Brian blinks and comes back to the present. “No, I went to school here.”
“How old were you?”
“Your age. Nineteen.”
Wow,” I breathe again, afraid to say anything to break this spell. Then I can’t help myself, I have to know. “Did you love each other?”
“No,” Brian says firmly, frowning slightly, and I’m afraid I ruined his mood. “I didn’t love him.”
“I bet he loved you,” I sigh.
Brian laughs at that, then the waiter brings our salads and I eagerly pick up my fork and dig in. When I come up for air, Brian changes the subject, he asks about my mom, does she like selling houses, is she good at it, stuff like that. I never thought to ask her if she likes it, but I guess she’s doing okay. Then we talk about Rage, and how my partnership with Michael is working out. It’s all right, we still don’t like each other very much, but we get along okay doing the comic.
When the real food comes, I can’t believe how fantastic it is, I’ve never had chicken so delicious, I eat everything on my plate and most of Brian’s baked potato. He leaves half his steak, but I can’t eat that, it’s bleeding and I can almost hear it mooing a desperate cry for help. Then Brian orders crème brulee for dessert for me and a glass of brandy for himself. By the time I finish every bite of dessert I’m finally full, and I relax back in my chair and smile across the table at Brian, but I can feel my eyes drooping and I fight to look alert. The two glasses of wine I drank have made me awfully sleepy.
“Sleepy?” Brian asks, and when I try to deny it, I have to swallow a huge yawn. He gets the waiter to bring the bill and hands over his plastic. Once we’re outside the restaurant and walking through the dark parking lot toward the jeep, the cool night air wakes me up a little. The thought of getting naked with Brian in the hotel’s king size bed wakes me up even more.
The food at Les Fenetres was not as good as I remembered it, but the restaurant had remained virtually unchanged during the past decade - all gilt and brocade and soft lights. Justin enjoyed it, and he looked so beautiful in his new suit (it doesn't fit properly, I had to buy it off the fucking RACK), and I found myself impressed all over again by his good manners. Justin always seems to fit in, no matter where he's at. His family was well off and he grew up in a classy neighborhood and went to private school, yet Justin never complained about living in Deb's tiny house in a blue-collar neighborhood. And, I remembered grimly, he seemed equally at home in the hovel that his violinist called an apartment.
This was clearly Justin's first experience at a four-star restaurant, which surprised me, considering his upbringing - but then, most people take their kids to McDonalds. When Gus is a little older, I'm going to make sure he's exposed to some cultural dining a step higher than Chuckie Cheese. Naturally Justin ate everything in sight - I don't remember having his appetite when I was that age.
I found myself telling Justin about my first dinner at Les Fenetres with Henri - no details, but at first I was surprised that I even spoke about it at all. Until I realized that I'd brought Justin along on this little junket down memory lane on purpose. It had all been a bit hazy in my mind when I was planning it this morning, making phone calls, even going shopping for some clothes for him. But what I told Justin was true, I've been thinking about this for a while, though I wasn’t sure why.
Then I remembered the night about a week ago when Jesse had asked me what college I'd gone to and if I'd been happy when I was in school. At first I'd kind of blown him off, saying something like, all kids enjoy college, but then Jesse started quoting statistics about suicide rates among college students, and it jarred me a bit, as if Jesse had a secret porthole looking into my brain.
He was leaning back in his chair looking very relaxed, but I've caught on by now that Jesse's brain is always whirling around, and I also know that he's very observant, about me I mean. That should piss me off, but somehow it doesn't, maybe because he never pushes an agenda and never really pries into my personal life - well, not very much. But I have to admit that I was jolted by his remark about suicide, as if he somehow knew that I'd tried it myself a couple times when I was a kid. And once in college, when a guy I cared about dumped me. Usually I smile when I remember that, but sitting there across from Jesse, suddenly I realized that I've been fooling myself. Fooling myself by making a joke out of that incredible pain I felt so long ago, ten years ago, when at the time I had climbed to the roof of the administration building and came very close to jumping off. It was not remotely funny any more.
"Bad memory?" Jesse asked gently. I don't know what he saw on my face.
"Yeah," I admitted. "But it's a very old memory and it doesn't matter any more."
"If it still hurts, it still matters." He ground out his cigarette in the ashtray and leaned forward, his arm resting on the edge of my desk. "Does it still hurt?"
I stared at him, not wanting to answer. Finally I nodded. "Yes. It shouldn't though."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Jesse agreed. "It's like this old cat we used to have, Betsy was his name." He laughs at my raised eyebrows. "The kids named him, we didn't think to look and see if he had balls. Anyway, Betsy got in a fight one night. When he came into the house, he looked okay. But he wasn't. Long-story-short, Betsy got a bite wound, deep in his thigh. It healed over on top - that's a problem with cats, the vet told me later, their wounds can heal on top but go on festering underneath. Anyway he got real sick and we rushed him to the vet, and they had to cut open the healed skin on top and get down to the infection rotting underneath, cut it out and get rid of it."
Somehow Jesse'd lost me in this story, and when he glanced at my face, I could tell he realized it. "Brian, it's just like your bad memory," he explained. "You've healed over the top, but it's gone on festering underneath the surface. You have to cut it out, get rid of it, before the pain will go away."
I could only stare at him, once again Jesse'd somehow seen me too clearly. I wanted to laugh, but somehow I couldn't. All I could say was, "But it's so long ago, it can't possibly matter any more." Jesse shrugged, and I went on, "And anyway, how am I supposed to get rid of it?"
Jesse shrugged again. "I don’t know - I'm not a shrink. Maybe you just have to really think about it, relive it in your mind or something - maybe if you let yourself feel the pain, you can release it. I don't really know. If you believed in shrinks - "
He nodded, "I know, you've told me before. Well," he stood up, drained his paper cup of bourbon, smashed it and shoved it in his pocket, "I'd better get back on the job. Don't work too hard." He was almost at the door when he turned back to say, "Pain isn't always a bad thing, Brian. Sometimes it's just a symptom that's something's wrong and needs to be fixed." Then he gave me his half wave and I raised my hand to wave back at him. When he was gone, I sat there at my desk, wondering how to fix the something that was wrong, the something that still made me feel the pain of an event that happened so long ago.
So the seed was planted then I guess, and now here I was, back in Harrisburg where I'd experienced a lot of pain and a lot of joy, probably the normal amount of both for a kid in college. I'm not sure exactly why I wanted Justin to come along with me on this jaunt into my past, but I'd called him and picked him up and here we were now.
He was sleepy, wine always does that to him, and he'd had two glasses. We walked out to the car and drove back to the hotel. When I called this morning for a reservation, I'd actually thought about getting Justin his own room, out of some ridiculous sense of giving him his own space. But even as I spoke to the reservation clerk on the phone, I realized how impossible it would be for either of us to sleep alone, to keep our hands off each other. No matter what has happened between us, the lust is still as strong as it ever was. So instead of giving Justin his own room, I'd decided to wait and let him make the first move. Which naturally he did, about five seconds after we'd closed the hotel room door behind us.
Waking up alone, I immediately remember where I am, remember the night, and before I even open my eyes, I’m stretching out in the bed, my hands searching for Brian, but he isn’t there beside me. I hear a ‘click’ sound that at first I can’t identify, then I sit up in bed and see Brian sitting at the little table by the window, he’s just flicked his lighter and the acrid smell of burning tobacco wafts toward me across the small room. He turns when he hears me sit up, and he says, “Hey.”
“Hey. Come back to bed.”
He shakes his head no and flicks ashes into the ashtray on the table. “If I come back to bed, we’ll be there fucking all day long. Come on, time to get up, there’s things I want to do today before we head for home.”
Giving up, I throw back the blankets and slide to the edge of the bed. “What things?” I ask, a yawn practically splitting my head in two, and I run a hand through my hair, I can tell it’s standing straight up on top.
“Things.” Brian stubs out his cigarette and pushes back his chair.
He’s wearing a white terrycloth hotel robe and he looks really hot. Of course Brian looks hot in anything. And in nothing. I stand up and stretch, then like a moth to a flame I’m drawn toward Brian, and as I cross the carpet toward him, he holds out his arms and grabs me, pulls me down onto his lap, and my arms go around his neck. I can’t resist him, and he can’t resist me. Why can’t that be enough? Why isn’t that enough?
Don’t think about it now, I remind myself, as we kiss, and kiss, and kiss.
Brian doesn’t let it get too far. “Shower,” he whispers into my mouth, and I moan and I groan and I leap to my feet and grab his hands, try to drag him back to bed, but he’s stronger than me. “Shower!” he insists, and once again I’m forced to give up, and I let him lead me into the bathroom.
There’s a huge white tub with white tiles all around, and a thin white shower curtain that billows in the spray from the shower. Brian turns it on full blast, and it’s hot as hell, just the way he likes it. He washes me and I wash him, then when I’ve soaped his beautiful cock to magnificent erection, he lets me slip to my knees and take it into my mouth. With one hand on my head and the other on my shoulder for balance, Brian leans against the white tiles and lets me suck him off, slowly, deeply, just the way he likes it. When he comes I take it into the back of my throat and hold it in my mouth, savoring his flavor. Then he pulls me to my feet and kisses me, he likes to taste himself inside my mouth.
After a moment Brian pulls away and murmurs, “My turn” as he moves me around so my back’s to the wall and he kneels at my feet. In a way I wish we could just die like that, right at that exact moment, both of us together. Then we wouldn’t have to get dressed and go out into the world. Then he wouldn’t be driving me home and leaving me alone when this adventure is over.
When I come, I turn my face into the shower spray to hide my tears, but he knows, Brian knows, and he gently pulls my head around and kisses me some more, kisses me almost to oblivion.
Out of the tub, I watch Brian shave, and I ask him to let me use his razor on my mustache hairs, and of course he makes a joke out of it, pretending not to see them, pretending like I’m some kid who doesn’t need to shave yet. I shave lots of times, lots, it’s only because I’m blond and my whiskers don’t show up like his dark ones do, that he likes to give me a bad time about it.
When we’re getting dressed, I bitch because he didn’t buy me some new jeans to wear today, I have to put on the clothes I was wearing yesterday. “We can go buy you some stuff this morning, “ he offers seriously, though of course he knows I’m joking, I could wear the same clothes for a week and not mind, as long as they were clean. It used to drive him crazy that I don’t care about clothes the way he does.
We have breakfast in the hotel dining room and there’s small groups of people spread out among the tables, murmuring in low voices. Brian has yogurt, half a bran muffin and black coffee, but I’m starving so I order ham and eggs and extra toast, a glass of apple juice and two glasses of milk. There’s still a tiny bit of room left so I eat the rest of Brian’s muffin. While he checks out at the registration desk I pick up a postcard of the hotel. We get our stuff from the room, carry it to the jeep and pack it into the boot.
Of course I ask him where we’re going, and of course he won’t answer me.
Driving through the Sunday-quiet streets of Harrisburg, I feel a strange mood come over me. It’s part dread, though what I’m dreading I’m not really sure; and it’s part fear of being ridiculous. I should have come alone, should have come without Justin, if I had to come at all. And yet I’m glad he’s sitting beside me, I’m glad he’s here with me this morning.
I’m not sure that what I’m doing is anything more than an exercise in futility, or even worse, some kind of self-indulgent grasp at exorcising a terrible memory that should have faded out of existence a long time ago. Justin picks up on my mood and is silent, sitting motionless beside me in the jeep, peering out the window at the passing scenery – mundane scenery of a middle-class town with large houses and wide lawns, a respectable business district and a medium-size university.
The university entrance is not guarded and I drive through the gates and park near the student center. I get out of the jeep and Justin joins me, searching my face but not saying anything. We walk over the grass to the quad and for a while we wander around almost at random, looking at the campus buildings; I’m remembering little bits of conversations, the faces of friends, remembering how the seasons changed the quad from broad expanses of grass to wind-scattered autumn leaves and later to banked piles of shoveled snow. After a while I realize that I’m just postponing the inevitable, and I turn around and walk purposely toward the administration building.
It’s closed and locked, of course; it’s Sunday and the building is deserted. But I remember the side entrance around a cinder-block wall screened from view by a row of Italian pines, where an outside fire escape winds filigree metal steps up to the roof of the building four stories above. I had no way of knowing if the access had been changed, and I was relieved to find it just the way I remembered it, except that the trees are much taller now. I start up the stairs and I feel Justin’s hand on the waistband of my jeans giving a tug, and when I turn around to look at him, he says, “Brian, what – “
“Shh.” I give him a serious look and say again, “Shh.” He nods okay, then he follows me up the twisting stairs till we reach the top of the fire escape. There’s a narrow landing and a locked door, but I remember that following the landing around to the right, there’s another set of steps, these concrete, leading to the roof itself, which is surrounded by high masonry curlicue edging. I stop at the top of the steps briefly, catching my breath. It’s not the climb that’s taken my breath away, but a rush of memories flooding my brain, the recaptured painful emotion of that night ten years ago when I climbed to the rooftop determined to jump off and end it all.
I always was a bit of a drama queen.
But I can’t joke away the return of those feelings, though in a way I feel detached, like I’m standing back and watching the nineteen-year-old me struggle with the demons urging him to throw himself over the edge of the roof – the edge to the far right that plunges straight down to the basement terrace an extra thirty feet below ground level. Almost against my will, I follow the decorative masonry curlicue edging around to the right, the sun directly overhead casts strong shadows of light and dark from the airducts sticking up seemingly at random on the graveled rooftop. It’s bright sunlight, yet in my memory the roof is flooded with darkness, it was probably two o’clock in the morning the last time I stood here.
Justin’s close beside me and in a way, I realize that he’s my safety net. When we reach the corner, I pull up short, surprised to find a metal fence, perhaps twelve feet high, stretched across the end of the roof, preventing access to what I think of as the jumping-off point.
“Hey,” a loud voice from behind makes us both jerk, and we turn around to find a man hurrying across the roof toward us. “What do you think you’re doing?” he demands, when he’s covered the last few feet. He’s in the uniform of a security guard, a man in his late forties, pot-bellied and breathless from the climb.
I clear my throat. “We were just looking around. I used to be a student here,” I can tell that some explanation is necessary, so I smile and see if the Kinney charm can get me out of this one. “We used to come up here and drink beer on the weekends. I wanted to show - my nephew - my old stomping grounds, he’s going to be a student at the university next year.”
“Nobody’s allowed up here, it’s not safe,” he lectures. “Let me see your I.D.” Justin and I pull out our wallets and show driver’s licenses, and the guard looks carefully at our photos and our faces.
”Uncle Brian, I TOLD you we shouldn’t come up here,” Justin whines, turning to the guard and showing his sweetly innocent visage. “And I’m scared of heights, too!” he exclaims to the man, his bottom lip trembling slightly. “Can we please, PLEASE go back down now? My mom is going to be SO MAD when I tell her what Uncle Brian did!”
Justin heads off toward the stairs and the guard immediately follows, glaring at me over his shoulder. “Shame on you,” he whispers to me, and I manage to look chagrined and sorrowful. In silence we descend the stairs single file, and at the bottom Justin grabs the guard’s hand and shakes it. “Thank you so much for rescuing me!” he exclaims, and silently I will Justin not to overdo it.
“You’re welcome,” the guard assures Justin with a benevolent smile.
“Sorry,” I say again, but the guard’s paying no attention to me, he’s probably got a son Justin’s age. He pats Justin’s shoulder and says firmly, “Don’t ever go up there again! It’s dangerous. Kids used to commit suicide up there, jumping off the roof, till they put up that metal safety fence.”
Justin whips around his head and stares at me, but I’m giving nothing away. After a moment, Justin thanks the man again, then he grabs my arm and drags me away. “Come ON, Uncle Brian,” he exclaims, “You promised to buy me lunch, I’m starving!”
When we’re half a dozen yards away, Justin turns around to wave. “Is he waving back?” I ask, I don’t want to look.
“Yes.” Then Justin calls, “Bye-bye!”
I’m torn between wanting to smack Justin and wanting to kiss him. “The Oscar’s yours, enough already.”
He giggles, but then falls silent, and we make our way back to the parking lot without any more conversation. Once we’re in the car and I’m fastening Justin’s seatbelt, he grabs my arm and holds me close to him, we’re eyeball to eyeball.
“When you were. . .did you. . .?”
I don’t pretend to misunderstand. “Almost.”
Justin says nothing but throws his arms around my neck and holds me tight, till I’m nearly strangled. Finally I pull away gently and I’m afraid he’s going to erupt with a barrage of questions I don’t want to answer. Surprisingly, he’s restrained.
“Do you want to talk to me about it?”
“But,” he says reasonably, “You must have brought me here with you for a reason?”
With a sigh, I agree. “I must have, yes. But I don’t know what it is.”
“Maybe you just didn’t want to feel alone, this time.”
“Maybe.” I put the key in the ignition and back out of the parking space, with one glance over my shoulder at the administration building in the distance. I remember every detail of that night, the incredible pain I was feeling, the desperation - and yet as we drive away, it seems like maybe the memory is fading, the pain fading along with it.
“Hmm?” I stop at the parking lot exit and look at Justin, wanting to say thank you or something equally ridiculous, but I can’t.
“Brian, how about having lunch before we head for home?”
“Lunch? You just had breakfast two hours ago.”
“Well, just a snack then. To tide me over till lunch time.”