Queer As Folk FanFic by Morpheus
       
      
TRADING SPACES
   

Summary of Part 4:  Two Lookers.   Brian and Justin arrive in LA and settle into the condo.  At breakfast next day in WeHo, the waiter announces that there's an opening at the restaurant; Justin interviews with the boss and is offered the job.  Brian's not so lucky; he considers picking up a couple of lookers but the timing is not right.  Still, he enjoys the novelty of his new round bed with mirrored headboard, where he and Justin become two "lookers," watching themselves make love.



PART 5:  Out and About in LA – Part One


Brian

"We're expecting great things of you," Matt Bradford concludes, rising slightly in his chair to reach across the desk and shake my hand again.  "We're glad you've joined the team."

I give him the smile and thanks he wants and stand up to leave his corner office that has floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides.  His huge desk is polished walnut without a single paper or note on top, a pretension that not even pretentious Gardner Vance affected.  Just because he owns the agency does not, in my opinion, entitle Bradford to rest on his laurels.  Naturally I don't share this wisdom with my new boss - I'm doing the minimal new-employee ingratiating act, though knowing myself, that won't last very long.

"By the way," he adds, speaking to my back just as I'm about to exit his office, "I'm looking forward to meeting your wife at the Jackenzie dinner on Saturday." 

I stop and turn to look at him again, eyebrows raised.  "Excuse me?"

"I'm looking forward to - "

"I'm not married."  Period.  A subject I've no intention to discuss at this point.

"Really?"  Bradford looks surprised.  "I was sure Gardner told me you were married."  He pauses and shakes his head.  "Or anyway, he said that you were 'spoken for,' so I assumed - "

"I'm not married," I repeat.  Full stop.  Fuck Gardner Vance, thinking he's so sly.  I feel my jaw harden and I force myself to relax, to give Bradford another small smile before turning once again for the door.

"Then bring a date, if you want," I hear Bradford say to my retreating back, I don't turn again, just nod and mumble thanks and keep on walking.

Outside my new assistant is waiting and she greets me with a fake smile.  At least it feels fake, already I'm missing Cynthia and our no-bullshit rapport.  She's the only woman, besides Lindsay and Deb, for whom I've ever had any respect.  I went through a dozen or more assistants at the Ryder agency before Cynthia turned up, and I realize that I'm just as likely to go through a dozen more here in California.  Tough-as-nails Cynthia cried when I said goodbye to her, an action that caused a lump in my own throat at the time.  No looking back, instead I look forward and allow Ginger - and what the hell kind of name is Ginger? - to lead the way to our office suite.

'Suite' is a rather grandiose name for my interior office and the Spice Girl's cubicle fronting my door.  There's a window to the hall but no outside window.  I remind myself that I'm starting almost at the bottom again, and I need to become more humble.  How the fuck I can become humble, I have no idea.



Justin

“What time do you get off work tomorrow night?”

"Why?"  Brian's sprawled on the sofa reading the paper, he just got home.  It's almost ten o'clock and he said he had a late lunch and won't let me fix him anything to eat.  He's still in his suit, he just tossed the jacket over a chair, kicked off his shoes, and threw himself down on the sofa.  I can tell that he's exhausted.

“I want to go shopping," I explain, sitting down on the coffee table and leaning forward, putting my hands on his knees.  "I need something cool to wear to the party.”

“What’s wrong with the clothes you have?  No – no, don’t get me started."  Brian folds the paper and puts it aside.  "What I mean is, why suddenly don’t YOU like your clothes?”

“Brian, they’re PITTSBURGH clothes.  We live in California now, we have to be more cool.”

“I am extremely cool.”

“Yeah, you are.  But I’m not.”

“I’m graciously making no comment.  But what put this bug up your ass about needing 'California clothes?'”

“Today was Robert’s day off, he came in to get his check and you should have seen his jeans!  They’re specially faded in the back and front, and he was wearing a transparent pink shirt.  I think that would look really good on me."

"Don't copy someone else's style," Brian curls his lip, "And don't fall for the cheap pop-star styles, stick to the classics, you'll always look good."

"See?" I exclaim, wheedling with my voice and running my hands up his thighs to grab hold of his belt and hang on, shaking him slightly.  "See?  I need you to help me pick something out!  You don't want to see me in silver short-shorts, do you?"

"Yeah, I do," he contradicts me, one corner of his mouth turning up, "But not in public."  Brian removes my hands but hangs onto them.  He stands up and pulls me up too, dragging on my arms to pull me against his chest.

"Can we go shopping after work tomorrow night?”  I lean back, avoiding his kiss; I don't want him to get distracted till I've got a commitment.  “I really need something nice to wear to Tom's going-away party Saturday night, so I don't embarrass you!"  I laugh then and raise up on my toes to give him a quick peck on the lips.

"I can't go to your party."

That stops me cold.  "Brian!  Since when?"

"Since today.  There's a client dinner I have to attend Saturday, it's mandatory.  And don't make that face, it's a Pittsburgh face.  Pouting is very uncool in California."

"I'm not pouting!" I deny hotly, taking a step back.  The coffee table hits the back of my knees and I sit down hard on the table.  "Ow!"  I sat on the big blown-glass Murano ashtray which luckily didn't break.

"Careful!" Brian warns, "If you want glass up your ass, try a light bulb."  He rescues the half-full ashtray and pulls me up again, up and into his arms.  "Don't harass me about it, Justin - you knew going into this that I'll be working my ass off this year, I won't have a lot of free time."

"I know," I agree, forcing my face to stop looking unhappy.  "I just wanted everybody to meet you.  I’m just a little disappointed, that's all," I lie, shrugging my shoulders. 

Inside I feel crushed with disappointment; stupidly crushed.  The guys at work are my new friends and I want Brian to be part of this small niche I’m creating for myself in California.  I won't tell him - I can't tell him - how homesick I feel, how lonely; how already, just these first few days in LA, Brian's late hours at the office make me ache with missing him.  I promised to be mature about things and I'm determined to keep that promise.

I don't  know what Brian reads on my impassive face - the face I'm trying to keep impassive anyway - but he pulls me hard against him and gives me a loud smacking kiss.  "Probably I can come home earlier tomorrow, in time to go shopping," he concedes, and I give him a big smile.  "Let's go to bed now, I'm exhausted."

"A quick shower would refresh you," I suggest, moving ahead to lead the way down the hall.

Brian stops and turns around, goes back to turn off all the lights behind us.  This is the new Brian, the budget-conscious Brian who used to leave lights on 24/7 in the loft.  It's a sobering reminder that we need to stay on a budget this year.  I silently resolve to buy something cheap tomorrow.  I really do need something cool to wear to the party, but it doesn't have to be expensive. 


Brian

"You look like a ten-dollar whore."  Brian's standing outside the dressing room leaning against the wall, arms crossed on his chest, while I model the clothes I've picked out.

"I do not!  These pants are majorly cool!"

"Justin, they have a million silver buttons down the sides, you probably glow in the dark."

"But - "

"No.  You said you wanted my advice, and it's no.  Try those black jeans I picked out."

"The black jeans!  They're so PLAIN.  They’ll make me look dull and boring."

Brian smiles then and his eyes crinkle up at the corners.  "Your ass could never look boring.  They’ll fit you perfectly, slim-fit works well for you.  You've got a great young body, show it off."  When I open my mouth to argue, he goes on, "Simple clothes show off your body, the glitzy ones detract from your natural good looks.  I know what I'm talking about."

The hell of it is, he does.  Nobody ever looks better than Brian and he always wears simple, subtle clothes.  I guess I should take his advice.  But I really love those silver buttons. 

I try one more argument.  "But the jeans are ninety dollars, the button pants are only thirty-five!"

He nods.  "And the jeans look like ninety dollars - the bargain is that they'll keep looking good for a long time.  And you can wear them anywhere, casual or dressed up with a sports jacket."  He nods his head, "And you need a new sports jacket, the one your mom got you last year makes you look about twelve."

"Can I at least get a glitzy shirt, a party shirt, to go with the new jeans?  Everything I have is so blah."

"I saw something on the rack, I'll go get it while you change.  Put the black jeans on."  Without waiting for an answer, he turns and leaves the dressing room hallway so I do as he says.  A couple minutes later he pulls open the cubicle door and hands me two shirts on hangers.  One is a soft knit pullover, black with a light blue collar, the other a long-sleeved black gauze shirt with vertical silver threads woven in, translucent but not transparent, and cut very severely, fitting close to the body.

"Brian, I like both of them," I admit, though I'd never have picked them out myself in a million years.  They're Brianesque and yet somehow they are also me, they suit me.  The pullover fits snugly but not obscenely, and the gauze shirt is beautiful, it would look good over the black sleeveless tee-shirt that he bought me a few weeks ago.

"The blue collar brings out your blue eyes," Brian tells me, "And you can wear the gauze shirt with your black tee."

"I like both of them," I repeat, studying my reflection in the three-way mirror.  "But I'll just get the gauze, it's perfect for the party."

"Let's get them both.  Then you won't have an excuse to drag me shopping for a while."

"Oh my God, Brian," my mouth falls open.  "You can't believe the price tags!"

"Never look at price tags," he says airily, helping to pull the knit shirt off over my head.  "These are both classics, they're good-looking shirts you can wear for a long time."

"But the pullover alone costs as much as a week's salary!"  I'm exaggerating only slightly; what I feel is dismayed and disappointed.

"It's an investment," Brian insists, picking up the discarded black jeans and folding the shirts over his arm.  "Get dressed, I'm going to go pay for these now."

"You're not paying!" I grab his arm and pull him back into the dressing room.  "Brian, that's not why I asked you to come!"

"Don't queen out on me," he answers harshly, "Calm down.  If I didn't want to buy them, I wouldn't - you know me well enough to know that, don't you?"

I only nod, but I want to keep arguing, I feel so guilty.  "Please don't, Brian," I say earnestly, hanging onto his arm and looking hard into his eyes.  "You're already so deep in debt - "

"Hey," he pulls away gently, "When you owe a hundred grand, what's a few more bucks?  Get dressed, and stop boring me with budget talk, okay?"  He doesn't wait for an answer but quickly leaves the cubicle, and I hurry to get dressed and join him in the store.

Naturally Brian is flirting with the sales clerk at the cash register, a tall slim redhead with improbable dark green eyes - colored contacts, I'll bet.  When I come up behind Brian I slip an arm around his waist and he turns his head to glance down at me, his almost-smile saying he's on to me and on to my gesture of ownership.  The clothes are bagged and he signs the sales slip, then hands me the bag as we exit the store. 

The flirting means nothing, it's second nature to Brian, but it reminds me that we haven't revisited our discussion about tricks in the apartment.  I wait till we're buckled into the jeep and pulling out into traffic, then I say, "Brian, we need to agree about bringing guys home."

"I agree," he responds quickly, "Let's bring lots of guys home.  We can start with that redhead – I’ll turn around and go back for him, okay?"

"You know what I mean."  I keep my voice calm and unfazed by his stupid joke.  "I agreed to your rules about drugs and so forth, and I'm asking you to agree about not bringing tricks home."

"Justin, that's an unnecessary rule.  Forget it."

"I won't forget it.  I'm totally serious.  Brian," I pause and move my hand to rest atop his on the gear shift knob.  "Brian, I only want to see you and me in our Hollywood mirror.  Nobody else.  It's really important to me."

He says nothing for a few minutes, his face is unreadable as he maneuvers the jeep through the traffic on Cahuenga.  Traffic in LA is just amazing, the streets are always crowded, day and night.  Finally when the silence draws out and I think he's not going to respond, Brian sighs, stops at a red light and turns to look at me.  "It's an unnecessary rule," he repeats, "Because I'm going to be working day and night for a long while, I won't have time for major tricking in the foreseeable future."

"I know you're working long hours," I reply reasonably, "But it could still happen.  Almost accidentally.  You might pick up somebody at lunch and bring him here and fuck him in our bed."

Shaking his head, Brian denies it.  "I never fuck accidentally."

"Accidentally, on purpose, what's the difference?  I just don't want you to.  Not in our bed.  Not in our house."  When he says nothing, I add, "You can fuck in your office, or away from home, or - or," I take a deep breath and make a concession, "Or in the jeep.  Just not - not in our home.  It's my home too, you said so.  Didn't you mean it?"

"Of course it's your home too.  Don't get all sentimental, Justin - you know that emotional bullshit has no effect on me."

That's not completely true, but I wasn't using it as blackmail.  Or not really.  "Okay," I concede.

There's another long silence and I bite my lip to keep from going on and on; I just wait for his answer.  If he's expecting more ammunition from me, he's not getting it.  I only want a yes or no.  I only want a promise.

Finally Brian takes a long deep breath and blows it out noisily.  "Justin, I'll agree to no tricks at the apartment - for three months.  A three-month commitment."

"And after three months, what?"

He shakes his head.  "After three months - I don't know."  We're both silent, thinking hard.  Then he adds, "After three months, we renegotiate.  How's that?"

It's not what I want.  I want a forever, permanent commitment.  But this is Brian I'm dealing with.  Any sentence that has the word 'forever' in it scares him to death.  Commitments from Brian are hard-won and exhausting to wring out of him.  Oh, I know he's going to be working too hard to spend as much time fucking around as he used to, so this is not a major concession.  But aggravating as it is to admit, any concession from Brian really is a big deal. 

"Okay," I give in graciously.  "Three months."

"And," he says off-handedly, as if he doesn't really give a shit, "You won't bring tricks home either.  Right?"

"Right.  Of course.  I'll fuck all my tricks off-site."

Brian snorts but says nothing.  He knows I'm not into heavy-duty tricking like him.  And I've already promised 'no violin music,' which means, no emotional involvement with any other guys.  I've learned my lesson about that and I'm not going to slip up again.



Brian

Strange as it might seem, I haven't felt like fucking anybody this first week in California.  Not anybody but Justin.  In many ways it's convenient to have him living with me.  Wake up with a woody and there's this hot trembling slender body eager to fulfill my desires.  Not that Justin would appreciate this philosophy of course, so I keep it to myself.  But the three-month commitment I've made for no-tricks-at-home is not an onerous enterprise.  The fact that I needed to make such a commitment at all naturally irks me, interferes with my self-image as an unfettered free agent; but somewhat reluctantly - only somewhat - I admit that I am, after all, no longer a completely free agent.

What's more shocking:  I don't even want to be.

Which does not mean that I've sworn off tricking or have any intention of ever becoming some monogamous, compliant, boring stay-at-home asshole.  But I can keep tricks out of the apartment for a while, no problem with that.  Especially since I really am, as I told Justin, working my ass off.  I knew I'd have to work twice as hard as anyone else at Bradford & Slate, merely to prove myself, to establish my reputation for excellence in the field.  Somewhat surprisingly, my Spice Girl assistant is proving more helpful than I'd any reason to expect.

"Ginger," I press the button on my intercom and call her into the office; when she opens the door I ask if she's received the Magruder proofs and she whisks them from her desk to mine and spreads them out on my desktop.  They're not too bad though I'm frowning as I look over the photo shoot prints in draft format prepared by the art department.  Ginger's standing by my shoulder and she surprises me by pointing out a spelling error in one of the proof sheets.  When I grunt agreement, she tentatively suggests, "And - maybe the color blocking on the second page needs some tweaking?"

Nodding agreement, I glance up at her and say, "Right again.  Thanks."  She smiles and blushes slightly.  Hopefully she's merely pleased at having her suggestions acknowledged.  However, while I'm not egotistical enough to think that every woman under the sun is hot for me, I've had enough experience with female staff members getting googly-eyed around me, to realize that I need to set the record straight - so to speak - with Ginger.  With everyone in the office actually. 

I'd experienced the gamut of a slow coming-out at the agency after Ryder hired me right out of college.  I never pretended to be straight but I never revealed anything of my private life to anyone at work.  Slowly, over a long period of time, people came to know that I was gay.  Cynthia was the only person who ever asked me, straight out, and I respected her for that - and her honesty and forthrightness became a cornerstone of our working relationship.  Cynthia shared some of the office rumor-mongering with me.  Sometimes I was amused, sometimes I was pissed; but mostly I just ignored the issue and finally it became a non-issue.  The passage of time coupled with my superb advertising expertise overcame almost every homophobic obstacle in my career.  With a few notable exceptions, my being gay did not interfere with my rise through the ranks at Ryder.   

I refuse absolutely to pretend to be straight - that's a lie I've never been tempted to live.  But while my sexuality is nobody's business and has nothing to do with anything at work, I'm not sanguine enough to imagine that it won't make a difference at Bradford & Slate, once it's common knowledge that I'm queer.  Still, I've decided that this time around, I'm going to establish up front that I'm gay.  Partly to avoid the kind of sticky female wooing I've experienced over the years, partly to short-circuit the speculation that sometimes encourages distancing by male staff members.  Rather than play into that coy 'is-he-or-isn't-he' game, I've decided to establish my sexual orientation right off the bat.
  
It's another late night getting home, Justin's sprawled on the sofa watching tv and doodling.  Seeing him with his sketchpad makes my chest hurt.  Fuck, he should be in school.  I'm sure there's plenty of art schools in LA, and the sooner he's back in class where he belongs, the better.  But I'm fucking hamstrung by this debt I've incurred, by my maxed-out credit cards.  I won’t - I will never - regret the impetus that moved me to my uncharacteristically charitable act in Pittsburgh.  But I regret that I'm no longer in a position to help Justin with school fees.

"Hey," he drops the sketchbook and jumps up to greet me with a wraparound hug and a loud kiss.  "You look exhausted."

"Yeah."  I drop my briefcase and return his hug briefly, then head off down the hall.  "I'm going to change.  Is there anything to eat?"

"Sure," he answers eagerly, "I'll make you a sandwich, okay?"

"Mmm-hmm."  I'm really too tired to eat but my body needs fuel.  "No mayo," I remind him as I loosen my tie and pull it off.  When I return to the kitchen, Justin hands me a plate with a corned beef sandwich and he pulls a beer from the fridge and opens it for me, then joins me at the small round dining table in an alcove off the living room.

After a few quick bites to ward off my hunger pangs, I take a swig of beer and relax back into the chair.  "What time is your party tomorrow night?"  I know he's talked about it several times but I wasn't paying attention. 

"I told you," he says patiently, "It's late.  Some of the guys will be working at the restaurant till almost midnight, so people will be coming and going, from ten o'clock onwards."

"So," I start, stop for a moment, then go determinedly on.  "So, if you didn’t get there till eleven-thirty or twelve, it wouldn't matter?"

"I don't work Saturday," he reminds me, "So why would I go so late to the party?"

"In case you had something else to do first."

"Huh?"  Justin's shaking his head.  "What else would I have to do?"

Swallowing a bread crumb that threatens to choke me, I say off-handedly, "In case you had another party to go to first.  Or something."

"What other party?"  He sits up straight and his eyes are open wide.  "Brian, what other - "

"You might want to go with me to my business dinner.  Maybe."

"Brian - do you mean it?  Do you mean it!?" he's almost shouting.

Christ, do I mean it?  It's an irrevocable step.  Just this afternoon I'd made the decision to formally announce my sexuality to the staff of Bradford & Slate by showing up at the Jackenzie dinner with my - with a date.  But now, just for a moment, my resolve weakens.  Do I really want to do this?

Then I decide, What the fuck.

"Yeah," I answer him at last, sounding more confident than I feel.  I nod my head and answer more assuredly, "Yes.  If you want to."

"Brian - do they know you're gay?"

"I don't know," I answer truthfully.  "But after tomorrow, they will."

"Yee-haw!" Justin shouts then, jumping up from his chair to throw his arms around me in an enormous hug.  "Brian, I'd love to go with you!  Wow!"  He smacks a kiss on my eyebrow and then leans back and exclaims, "Luckily you had my suit pressed when you took all of yours to the cleaners.  I mean," he shakes his head, "Probably you don't want me to wear my new gauze shirt to the dinner, do you?"

That makes me laugh and I feel myself relaxing for real finally.  "Not especially.  We can come home and change before going to your party."

"And you're coming to my party too!  Oh Brian - I'm so happy!"  Justin squeezes me again and smacks kisses all over my face.

"Back off now," I tell him, faux-sternly, "Let me finish my sandwich."

"Gobble it up," Justin urges me eagerly, "You'll need all your strength - I'm going to fuck the shit out of you as soon as you finish eating!"

"Not bloody likely," I sneer at him, "But you can suck me off if you want."

"Thanks," Justin laughs.  "Well, hurry up then!"



Justin

It surprises me to discover that I’m nervous about going to the business dinner with Brian tonight.  He's never included me in any work-related events before, and though he pretends not to be worried about the reaction of his co-workers, in my heart I know that he's plenty nervous about it too. 

Brian spent part of the day at the office, and when he came home in the early afternoon, I convinced him to sleep with me for a few hours, so we'd have plenty of energy for the long evening ahead.  He harassed me with some digs about toddlers and nap-time, but I coaxed him with the promise of an amazing blow-job, so finally he agreed and he even fell asleep and slept hard for a couple hours.  I knew he was exhausted so I was glad I'd talked him into it.

In the end we overslept and now we have to rush a bit to get ready to leave for the dinner party, which is being held at some fancy restaurant called Cicada in downtown Los Angeles, just a few miles from our apartment.  Brian insists on retying my tie, and he looks me over critically before nodding his approval.

"How do I look?"

Predictably he answers, "You look all right."  The highest Kinney praise.

"You look all right too," I tell him cheekily and he has the grace to laugh.  He looks gorgeous of course in his black Armani suit and Gucci loafers.

"Let's go, we're already late.  'Let's take a nap,' you said."

"Well, you feel better though, don't you?"

Nodding as he turns toward the front door, Brian throws over his shoulder, "Yeah, but I think the blowjob had more to do with that than a couple hours sleep.  Let's go!"



Brian

Luckily it's a short drive, just a few miles, to Cicada, though the heavy LA street traffic still amazes me.  A valet takes the car keys and we move inside, through a crystal archway and into the dimly lit interior, a huge cavern of a room with a thirty-foot ceiling, the whole place ornately art deco and supremely elegant.  A maitre-d' escorts us along one side of the main dining room to a polished wooden staircase leading up to a u-shaped balcony halfway to the gilded ceiling.  There's quite a crowd here milling around.  Bradford's assistant told me there'd be about fifty guests, the top brass of our client Jackenzie as well as Bradford & Slate's senior staff of half a dozen vice presidents and the twelve top ad execs.  Plus spouses. 

I glance at Justin one last time and breathe a sigh of - of something, relief or I don't know what. He looks beautiful, dressed perfectly in his dark gray suit, seemingly relaxed and at ease, though in fact I know that he's rather nervous.  I'm almost glad that I brought him tonight.  No.  No, I am definitely glad that I brought him.  Not only will I come out of the closet with a bang, get it over and done with.  But also I'm proud of him, and I realize that I'm sort of happy to have Justin as my partner.  Though I've no intention of giving him that title, either publicly or privately.  Not. . .anyway, not yet.

The crowd parts slightly as we reach the top of the stairs and I see Matt Bradford near the back wall by a tall wrought-iron plant stand adorned with an enormous flower arrangement.  Touching Justin's sleeve, I motion for him to follow as I wend my way through the crowd and approach Bradford.  He turns just then and sees me, gives a welcoming smile, and I take one last deep breath before returning his smile and coming to a halt in front of him.

"Brian!  Welcome to the party - fashionably late, I see." 

"Hello, Matt." 

He touches the shoulder of a tall woman next to him, she's middle aged, with dark blonde upswept hair.  "Sarah, this is our new hotshot ad exec you've heard me talking about.  Brian Kinney, this is my wife."

Sarah smiles and holds out her hand and we shake.  "Hello Brian," she says graciously, "I've heard good things about you, welcome to Los Angeles."

I turn slightly then and give Justin a look that makes him step up close beside me.  "This is Justin Taylor," I tell them. 

"Hello," Justin smiles at Matt and his wife; "Nice to meet you."

Sarah blinks twice, then she extends her hand for Justin to shake, and her smile tells me that she's very quick.  "Hello Justin.  Are you from Pittsburgh also?"

"Yes," his smile brightens, "It's my first time in California and so far I love it."

I've been glancing at Matt Bradford who resembled, for a few moments, a glassy-eyed Madame Tussaud wax figure.  Then he comes back to life and determinedly holds out his hand to Justin.  "How d'you do?"

"Fine, thank you," Justin answers politely.  "This is an amazingly beautiful restaurant."

"Yes it is, isn't it?" Sarah answers, "It's a very old building, this part was originally a large haberdashery shop in the 1920s.  The food's marvelous too, I hope you're hungry."

"He's always hungry," I murmur, making Justin blush. 

"Yes, I am," he confirms, eyeing a long narrow table against the back wall loaded down with hors d'oeuvres and ice sculptures.

"Let's get a bite to eat, shall we?" Sarah offers and, after a quick glance at me to see my barely perceptible nod, Justin agrees eagerly and moves away with Sarah toward the hors d'oeuvres table.

As soon as they're out of earshot, Matt turns to me and says, "You could have told me."

"Does it matter?" I ask seriously, wishing I had a cigarette in my hand; fucking California restaurants don't allow smoking.

"No, I mean," Matt repeats, "You could have told me, because it doesn't matter."

Talk is cheap; we'll see about that, but for now I just nod and say, "Good."

There's an uncomfortable silence for a few moments, then Matt asks, "How are you getting on with your assistant, what's-her-name, Ginger is it?"

"She's good," I answer honestly.  "She seems very competent."

"Great.  That's great.  But feel free to hire somebody else, if you need to.  Now," he clears his throat, "Come along, I want you to meet the Jackenzie brass.  Your - your friend will be all right with Sarah?"

"Of course." 

Matt leads the way across the room to a huddle of black-coated gentlemen reeking of success and big money.  The Jackenzie account is the jewel in the crown of the Bradford & Slate agency, thus this expensive and elegant fete which is an annual event to thank Jackenzie for their business.



Justin

I'm so proud of Brian that I could bust, I feel like jumping up on the hors d'oeuvres table, tap-dancing and loudly singing some wonderful out-of-tune song like in a movie musical, then sliding down the long stairway banister!  Instead I keep my happiness all bottled up inside and make do with smiling at all the people and chatting happily with Mrs. Bradford.  "Call me Sarah," she said but I haven't been able to do that, she's so old and married to the head of Brian's agency, it seems disrespectful.

Not only is Brian the most handsome man in the place (in all of Los Angeles I'll bet), but he has so much class - I've never been around him in a formal situation like this, I've never seen him 'on' before, and he's just fantastic.  He's so fucking sophisticated!  I wonder if any of the Liberty Avenue crowd have any idea what this Brian Kinney incarnation is like?

After a bit of chatting with Mrs. Bradford, nibbling crackers and shrimp and watching everyone mill around mingling and (presumably) talking business, finally we get to sit down and eat actual dinner.  There's a dozen or more small tables scattered around the balcony area and we're kind of herded in groups to sit down.  Brian's eyes find me across the crowd and beckon me to his side, and we end up seated at a table with two guys and their wives.  One guy is a mucky-muck at this Jackenzie place and the other one's a VP at Brian's agency.  Mostly I keep my mouth shut, I'm afraid I'll say something to embarrass Brian, so I concentrate on eating and smiling.

The food is to die for and there's tons of it, I have to remind myself not to eat as greedily as I sometimes do, luckily the hors d'oeuvres took the edge off my hunger so I can sit back and politely nibble on the various courses brought by the waiters who are wearing suits almost as expensive as Brian's.  I'll bet they make great tips here, I wonder if there's any job openings? 

It's Italian cuisine but very elegant, not spaghetti like you'd expect.  It's a big group so I guess they ordered just a couple things ahead of time.  We get our choice of chicken Florentine in lemon-caper sauce or sesame-crusted Atlantic salmon with baby leeks and snow peas.  I have a hard time deciding, I know if we were alone Brian and I could order one of each and share but you don’t do that at an elegant dinner like this.  Finally I choose the salmon and it's just the most delicious amazing fish I've ever eaten.  Brian gets the chicken and without even realizing it, I discover that I'm checking out his plate and wishing like hell I could have a taste.  Brian seems to be paying no attention to me but before I know what's happening, he's cut off a hunk of chicken and surreptitiously transferred it onto my plate!  I smile up at him but he's not looking at me, then I glance across the table and see the wife of the Jackenzie guy wink at me and smile.  I feel myself blushing but I smile back at her and happily fork a piece of the chicken into my mouth and it just melts on my tongue.  I hope we can come back here for dinner sometime, just the two of us.

Finally I'm full enough to stop thinking about food and tune into the conversation.  At first it's business related and even though I worked for a while at Vangard, I don't really understand the context of the discussion - it's about media manipulation and I'm out of my depth.  Then the Jackenzie guy, Theo Something, changes the subject to tell about a fairly new museum in LA, the Getty Museum.  I've heard of it at the IFA and I'm thrilled to realize that now I can visit the Getty and several other famous art museums in southern California. 

Theo notices what's probably my excitedly bugged-out eyes and asks if I'm interested in art, and before I know it, I'm talking about the IFA and the modern art museum in Pittsburgh.  Everybody goes quiet and I realize that I'm talking too much, so immediately I stop, pick up my fork again and shove some salmon into my mouth.

Surprisingly, Brian says, "Justin is a very talented artist."

"Really?" asks Theo's wife - I can't remember her name - and she says their daughter is an artist too, studying at UCLA, and asks if I'm a student.

"Not right now," I falter, worried that I'm going to blurt out my secret infamy, being expelled from the IFA for political activity, but Brian smoothly interjects, "Justin's taking a sabbatical this year.  Has anyone seen the new Spielberg film about the Civil War?" and the conversation veers off into safer territory.  A moment later I jump slightly as I feel Brian's hand slide into my lap under the tablecloth, and he gives my thigh a hard pinch.  I don't know if it's reward or punishment, but I'm sure I'll find out later.


Brian

Finally the long dinner party comes to an end, and after making the rounds to say our goodbyes, Justin and I are among the first to leave the restaurant; it's just after eleven and we need to get home to change for the other party.  Once we're in the car and headed toward home, Justin asks uncertainly, "Brian, was I okay?  I didn't embarrass you or anything?"

"You were okay," I tell him. 

He was fucking magnificent, and I haven't an iota of regret for taking him to the dinner.  He was completely himself, no pretentiousness about that boy ever; he has beautiful manners and he charmed the pants off all the ladies present, and probably not a few of the older men as well.  His good looks and cheerful enthusiasm win over all but the hardest hearts wherever he goes.  Christ, I'm so fucking proud of him. 

"If I was okay, why did you pinch me at dinner?"

That makes me laugh out loud.  "That was for being fucking darling."

"Brian!  Really?"

He's making too much of that, I knew I should not praise him.  "Of course you also ate like a pig, but what else is new?  At least your table manners are halfway decent."

"Thanks for sharing your chicken, it was fantastic!  I wish you could've tasted my salmon, I was afraid you'd get mad if I offered it."

"I would've," I confirm.  "We'll go there sometime on our own and you can share your salmon with me."  I slide my hand across the seat and find his; we squeeze fingers.

"Everybody seemed really nice.  I couldn't tell if people were shocked or anything, could you?"

"It was fine." 

Oh, I caught a few sidelong looks, a few whiffs of whispery-gossip voices around the periphery of the crowd, but nothing overt.  There will probably be repercussions, but I'm not sorry that I decided to out myself to the agency staff and get it over with, all at once.  I'll find out Monday if I'm going to be treated any differently by Matt Bradford, by the others. 

"So, tell me again where your party is at?"  He's prattled on all week about this going-away party for the waiter he replaced but I barely paid attention.

"Simon, he's the bartender, it's at his place, he has a condo too.  Robert says it's pretty big and has a view out over downtown LA."

"And is Simon the one who fell in love with you at first sight?"

Justin laughs.  "He was joking around - I told you.  He's a real comedian."

Mmm-hmm.  Despite my seeming disinterest in the group of guys working at the Porte d'Or, I'm looking forward to checking them out, seeing for myself who's coming on to Justin and who can be trusted to keep his dick in his pants when Justin's around.  It's not that I'm jealous, I don't do jealous.  And Justin's a semi-free agent, if he wants to fuck around, that's okay.  I'm just curious.  That's all. 

I especially want to get a look at this Simon character.  And Robert.  I met Robert the day Justin had his interview.  They were hugging, right in the middle of the restaurant.  I don’t care, of course, it doesn't really matter to me.  I'm just curious.  That's all.



----to be continued---

9/4/03