|QAF FanFiction by Morpheus
Summary of Part 9: Be Careful What You Wish For: Lindsay and Gus arrive for a visit and Brian is coaxed into taking Justin and Gus to Disneyland. Brian discovers that it’s a small world, after all, when he runs into his mother, Claire, and Claire’s devil offspring at the theme park. Joanie is surprised and not-pleased to discover that Brian’s been keeping Gus a secret from her but she invites them to dinner next evening with her sister’s family anyway. Lindsay helps Justin talk about his feelings and worries about art school, and Justin decides to check into local classes. Brian’s relieved about Justin’s decision, but he’s dreading the next day’s Close Encounters of the Family Kind.
PART 10: Partners
"Why the fu. . . Why the hell did I agree to this?"
Brian doesn't really expect an answer, he just wants to moan and complain. We're in the garage buckled into the jeep, waiting for Lindsay who's run back upstairs to retrieve some toy that Gus insists he must have right this minute. I offered to go but she said I'd never find it in the mess they've made of the guest room, so instead I'm turned around on the seat talking to Gus, keeping him occupied - he's fidgeting in his car seat and looks like he's going to start crying any minute. Brian would probably use that as an excuse to cancel dinner with his mom.
"Brian, don't forget that we need to stop at a liquor store for some wine or something."
"Remind me a few hundred more times," he says, his voice sounding like a wedge of hard cheese rubbed across the prongs of a metal grater. "I'm not aggravated enough yet."
He's aggravated plenty, but I don’t take his bitching personally. Still, I turn back partway on the seat and reach over to grab one of his fidgety hands and squeeze it. He glances sideways at me, then over the seat at Gus, and he barks a laugh. "So - you're keeping two Kinney brats calm, are you?" And I realize that I'm squeezing Gus' hand in just the same way I'm squeezing Brian's.
"You said it, I didn't." I keep my voice cool but I give him a smile. Surprisingly, he smiles back, and I see his shoulders relax, he leans back against the seat and his hands are still.
"I can't imagine why you hang around with me."
"That's easy," I squeeze his hand harder, "You're good in B-E-D."
"Can three-year-olds spell?" Brian throws another look over the seat at Gus, who's decided to pull off his shoes and socks.
"I hope not."
Then, "Leave your shoes on, Gus," I tell him, but he ignores me, he's managed to get the right shoe off and drop it on the floor, and now he pulls off the left and tosses it into the front seat, where Brian catches it one-handed.
"He's yours all right,” I tell Brian. “You both hate wearing shoes."
"Probably he just hates sneakers from The Gap. He’d rather have Guccis."
We sit and watch Gus struggle to remove his socks, and since Brian's now relaxed, I decide that maybe this is a good time to ask him something. I tried twice today and each time he was able to quickly change the subject, walk away, turn his back and forestall me, but now he's trapped in the car, belted into the seat next to me; he can’t get away so easily.
He hears a different tone in my voice and turns his head to look at me, one eyebrow raised in that way he uses to intimidate.
"Brian," I continue, "Yesterday you introduced me to your mom as your 'partner.'"
He says nothing but the eyebrow climbs higher.
"I just want to know, did you really mean it? Or was it just something to say instead of - oh, like, 'boyfriend' or 'lover' or something?"
"You're not my boyfriend. Neither of us is a boy."
"'Lover' implies love. Which you know I don't believe in."
"Uh-huh." I wait. When he stops and just stares at me, I'm forced to press on. "So, does 'partner' mean, partner as in life-partner, or does it just mean, non-boyfriend? Or non-lover?"
He stares at me for a second, then he asks, "Did Lindsay put you up to this?" He doesn't wait for an answer but rushes on to say, "Because you sound exactly like an insecure lesbian."
"Of course she didn't. And I’m on to you, remember? Now you're just trying to piss me off so that I'll shut up."
After a moment he asks, conversationally, "Is it working?"
"Good. Ah, here comes mommy." Lindsay reaches the car and pulls open the door, climbs in, and hands the toy - a much-chewed little rainbow-striped bear - to Gus, who takes one look at it and tosses it on the floor. He's changed his mind, he doesn't want it now.
"Gus, where's your shoes and socks?" she demands, grabbing his now-bare feet .
I point at the floor and Brian hands her the other shoe, chiding, "Just think, less than a year from now, you'll have TWO monsters to take care of."
"How's Melanie doing?" I ask, "Is she feeling okay?"
"Do not talk about anything revolting like swollen ankles," Brian growls as he starts the car and pulls out of the garage. "I'm going to have a hard time swallowing dinner as it is."
"Mel's fine," Lindsay smiles at me, making a face at Brian behind his back. "She had morning sickness for a while, but being Mel, denied it completely. She just gets tired easily, and we decided this trip would be a bit much. And she's got a case going to trial next week."
I tune out the pregnancy conversation, having vague memories of recurring nausea every time Lindsay told me about some problem she was having before Gus was born. I'd really intended to be with her for the birth - at her request but also out of a sense of - oh call it curiosity, but perhaps naturally when the time came, I was higher than a kite and fucking my brains out. Every time I remember that night, I'm struck anew with wonder that I allowed Justin to go along with me to the hospital. That was so out of character that I can't explain it to this day.
So Gus was born that night, and this thing with Justin was born at the same time. I'm committed to my son forever. Probably. But I don't know how long my commitment to Justin will last. Or his to me. Now he's haranguing me to put a title to this arrangement we have, this, Christ, this relationship. Relationship! Brian Kinney in a long-term committed relationship. The stars must've tilted in their circled orbs the night we met.
Oh no - no you don't, Kinney - no fucking Shakespeare. Not at five-thirty on a Saturday afternoon as the jeep slinks all too quickly toward an appointment with the Gorgon and her spawn. And her spawn's spawn. And let's not forget the Gorgon's sister, Aunt Emily. How the fuck did I get into this, anyway?
When I'd introduced Justin to Matt Bradford and his wife, I'd managed to avoid giving him a title. But I told Mom that Justin is my partner. And I sort-of told Jennifer the same thing, or anyway, I didn't contradict her when she called me that, at the going-away party from hell. So: Is Justin my partner? He wants to know and probably I'm going to have to come up with an answer this time. When we lived together before, we'd left everything very ambiguous, which suited me just fine. But it didn't suit Justin, and it was at least part of the reason he went elsewhere to get his needs met.
"Brian!" Justin's voice calls me back to the present, "There's a Liquor Barn on the corner."
"Liquor Barn, yee-haw," I nod, changing lanes and pulling into the parking lot. "The perfect place to find an unpretentious little cabernet sauvignon from the Cincinnatti vineyards.”
“Are there wineries in Ohio?”
He bites. Probably he’s decided that I’ll cheer up if I can belittle him. He may be on to me, but I’m on to him, too.
I strongly believe that it’s my Christian duty to meet the mother of Brian’s child. Last night I prayed for God to help me get through the dinner tonight without completely alienating my son. Of course he's the one who should be praying not to alienate me, but like so many things in my life, the whole situation is grossly unfair. If he had told me years ago of his decision to become a homosexual, perhaps I'd have had more time to deal with that information. Instead he springs it on me by flaunting it in my face when I dropped by his house one day. I only went by to thank him for taking me to church. How could I know there'd be a naked man hanging around?
When Brian answered the door, I didn't notice that he was all sweaty. It wasn't till that other man came out of the bedroom, nearly naked and sweaty too, that I realized what was going on.
It was not a man really, but a boy. A blond boy, the same one Brian was with at Disneyland yesterday. Brian taunted me that he was there looking for boys to molest. He obviously needs to look no further than his own backyard. So, he brought the boy with him to California. His 'partner,' Brian called him. That's a new word for it.
It has taken months of prayer just to help me deal with the fact that Jack knew about Brian and never said a word to me. Now I find out that Jack knew about this baby too, that in fact he actually saw the baby. I'm not really surprised - Jack loved keeping secrets, especially harmful ones. But Claire knew too, and nobody ever said a word to me. Brian has never showed me any respect, but Claire used to. Brian's obviously been trying to poison her to turn against me.
Claire was feeling guilty for believing Johnny's story but I told her, it's commonplace for homosexuals to molest boys, it wasn't Claire's fault for believing Johnny. Calling the police was absolutely the right thing to do, children need protection from perverts. Of course it was wrong of Johnny to lie. Claire said she should have known he was lying, apparently he lies all the time. If Claire were a better mother, her children would be better behaved.
Well, that is not necessarily true. God knows what an excellent mother I've always been, and both my children turned out less than perfect. That's the Kinney side showing through, all the Kinneys were selfish drunkards and wife-beaters, Jack said his father was always pounding on his mother when he was growing up. Like father, like son. And Brian's like Jack in so many ways, insensitive and selfish to the bone. Brian's a successful businessman, he has an expensive home and car, you'd think he'd want to be generous to his family and yet he's never given any of us a red cent.
I'd better get back to the kitchen and help Emily with dinner, I just needed a little fortification, I'm glad I brought my own medication with me. That's how I think of it, 'medication,' and that's exactly what it is. Some women my age need Valium but not me, I've always had a strong constitution which is fortunate since I've had to deal with cruelty and unfairness all my life. An occasional little sip or two helps smooth the rough edges of life, it's not like I'm addicted to prescription drugs or anything.
Emily's so disorganized, she had to rush out this afternoon to buy groceries. I need to tell her about Brian before he gets here. Claire said not to bother but I think Emily should be prepared. Naturally I didn't tell her anything before, it's too personal, too private, and too horribly embarrassing. To think that that tall handsome son of mine is an abomination to God! I had been so sure that someday he'd marry and give me some grandchildren. Little did I know that he'd give me grandchildren all right, but illegitimate ones - and then never even let me know about it. If we hadn't run into him at Disneyland, I suppose he'd have let me go to my lonely grave in total ignorance that he had a child.
"Joanie, there you are!" Emily greets me, she's standing at the counter mixing a cake, an apron tied haphazardly around her thick waist. "Can you look in that bottom cupboard and see if the bundt pan's there? I don't remember where I put it."
I go through several cupboards before finding the pan, which I take pains to wash and dry before handing to her, who knows how long it's sat around in that dusty cupboard. Emily always was untidy, we had to share a room growing up and it was always a mess, thanks to her. Being younger naturally she got away with murder, a few more spankings would have done her a world of good.
"Emily," I say now, leaning against the sink and folding my arms, "I need to tell you something about Brian. I hope you won't be upset, it's rather - distasteful."
"Distasteful?" she straightens up from putting the cake pan in the oven and wipes the back of her hand over her forehead, messing her hair even more than it was before. "I haven't seen him since he was a teenager, but he looked very handsome in the picture you sent from last Christmas. And you said he has a successful career, right? Has something happened?"
It's hard for me to speak, I can feel myself frowning and shaking my head. "He's - he's not exactly what he seems. That's all. I didn't plan to tell anyone, but since he's coming today and bringing his. . ."
"Yes, and also. . . Emily," I draw a deep breath and look her in the eye. "I just found out a few months ago that Brian is, that he's. . . “
I hesitate, then before I can finish my sentence, Emily glances out the window over my shoulder and exclaims, "Oh, I'll bet that's them, a car just pulled into the driveway. Does Brian drive a black jeep?"
Without waiting for my answer, she moves past me and throws open the side door. All I can do is turn and follow her down the path toward the driveway, where Brian and his entourage are getting out of a car.
A tall woman with straggly brown hair comes rushing toward us as we get out of the car, and behind her I see Mrs. Kinney, arms crossed and frowning, this is the place all right. My stomach's in knots, making me sorry I bought those sno-balls at the liquor store, Brian said they were toxic and now I think he was right. I glance at Brian and he looks calm and untroubled but I know all his masks by now and this is just another one, he's probably as scared as me right now.
Not scared, I’m not scared, I'm just worried. If that old woman says something mean to Brian how will I keep from spitting in her eye and knocking her down? Of course I wouldn't really knock her down, but I'd probably say something terrible. Please God, I sort-of pray (not that I believe in God, or anyway I don’t know if I do or not); please God, don't let her be an uber-bitch to Brian.
Lindsay's pulled Gus from his car seat and she comes around the car just as the two women arrive.
"Brian!" the brown-haired one cries, smiling widely, "You're even more handsome in person, how long since I've seen you?"
"Fifteen years, at least. Hello, Aunt Emily." Brian allows himself to be hugged and I see him glance at his mother and nod. "Hello, Mom."
"Brian." Mrs. Kinney stands unmoving, her arms still crossed over her chest, her lips turned up slightly in what I suppose passes for a witchy smile.
Pulling away from his aunt, Brian steps sideways, puts an arm around Lindsay's shoulders and pulls her forward. "Mom, Aunt Emily, this is Lindsay. And this is our son, Gus."
Gus hangs on tight to his mother, looking wide-eyed at the two women. He's not really shy, or so Lindsay says, but today he seems shy, maybe he's picking up the tension pouring out of us.
"Hallo, Lindsay," Aunt Emily greets her cheerfully, "And hello, Gus. My, aren't you a beautiful boy! How old are you?"
Gus doesn't answer, but after a moment's hesitation he stretches out his hand and displays three fingers.
"Three! What a wonderful age." Emily reaches over and pinches Gus' cheek, making him pull back a few inches. "It's nice to meet you, Lindsay, welcome to California!"
"Thank you," Lindsay smiles, then turns to put Gus down on the grass, "You're too heavy to hold," she tells him, but he doesn't want down.
"Daddy, up!" Gus demands, throwing his arms around Brian's legs, and Brian obligingly picks him up and settles him on one arm, then he turns and grabs my shoulder with his free hand, pulling me gently forward.
"Aunt Emily, this is Justin," Brian introduces me. "He's mine too."
"Hi, Justin.” She’s got a strong handshake. "Come in, everyone, dinner's almost ready. Hank will be home soon, we eat about seven, we keep early hours because of his job.”
“Your husband works weekends?” Lindsay asks, following the two women as they turn toward the house.
“Get the wine, will you?” Brian murmurs to me, his arms full of Gus, so I turn back to the car and pull out the bottles Brian bought, then bring up the rear of the parade into the house. It’s a big place, a long spread-out house sprawling on a slight hillside. We go in the side door right into the kitchen, which is big with tall windows letting in golden rays of the sun that’s hanging low in the sky. The air is full of the smells of food cooking.
“Mmm,” I can’t help saying, “Something smells good!”
Emily turns to ask, “Are you hungry, Justin?”
“Is the Pope Catholic?” Brian slants his eyes at his mother but she doesn’t take the bait. Maybe she didn’t hear him, she’s clear across the room, standing near a doorway. She still has her arms crossed.
“Good,” Emily says, “I love feeding hungry teenagers.”
“I’m almost twenty,” I tell her, defensive as always about my age.
“Oh I see,” Emily nods. “Come into the family room. We can get acquainted. Claire and the kids are out by the pool.” She leads us through a door and then turns to wink at me. “And there’s some cheese and crackers to tide us over till dinner.”
I’m smiling back at her; she’s nice. Emily takes my hand and pulls me along with her, out of the kitchen and through a long hallway.
I don't remember much about my aunt , I was about fifteen when she and her husband moved to California. I seem to remember that Pop didn't like Emily's husband very well - but then, he never liked anybody very well. There wasn't much family togetherness, that I do remember. Which of course was fine with me, especially by the time I was a teenager - I hated being around my own parents much less any of their relatives or friends.
Now I'm vaguely remembering Mom telling me that Hank got a job with some film studio in LA, he's a lighting technician or supervisor or something like that. His job must be a pretty good one to afford this big house. Glass doors in the family room look out on a large patio and a turquoise-blue swimming pool in the back yard. Claire gets up off a lawn chair and herds her evil spawn into the house to say hello. The boys spit out a quick generic greeting and dash back outside and jump in the pool. Claire's got a deep tan which emphasizes the crow's feet around her eyes and the wrinkles gathering under her chins. I'm tempted to comment on it but restrain myself with an effort, merely saying hello and plopping myself down in an easy chair.
Justin hesitates, then settles on the floor at my feet. His hair's in touching range and my fingers twitch with the urge to smooth down the unruly cowlick on the back of his head. Aunt Emily brings a tray of cheese and crackers and sets it down on a coffee table near Justin and he smiles happily up at her before leaning forward to grab a napkin and help himself.
"Do you have children?" Lindsay asks, as Emily sits down on the sofa next to her. From the corner of my eye I see Mom hovering, before sinking down on a love seat near the windows.
"Yes, a son and daughter," Emily agrees, "Twenty-nine and twenty-five. They're both married and unfortunately they've both moved far away, Randy's an attorney in Washington and Melody's a nurse in Arizona, her husband's family is from there. We probably won't be together again this year until Thanksgiving." Emily leans forward and taps me on the knee. "Brian, you should join us for Thanksgiving, I'm sure your cousins would love to see you again."
"Hmm," I respond. I barely remember them. The last time I saw Randy, he was flaunting a black leather jacket that made my stomach twist with envy; and a year later when Charlie, the first guy I was involved with, bought me a similar jacket, I desperately wished I could show it off to my cousin but the family had moved to California by then. I don't remember Melody at all.
"Brian doesn't celebrate holidays." That's Mom, piping up from her corner, her voice managing to convey a desolate image of a lonely old woman deserted by her dearest child. "At most he'll drop by on Christmas for a few minutes."
"It's true that Brian's not much for celebrations," Lindsay agrees rather placatingly, "But he's always generous with gifts."
"Is he?" Mom's voice reflects disbelief. "I wouldn't know."
Lindsay opens her mouth to defend me but she intercepts an angry glare I've aimed in her direction, and her mouth snaps shut again. I hate to be talked about, especially in the third person.
Emily's apparently oblivious to the group dynamics, dividing her attention between chattering on about her daughter who is finally pregnant and leaning forward to urge Justin (unnecessarily) to eat more cheese and crackers. A few minutes later we hear someone coming down the hall and then a tall broad-shouldered man with a thick shock of curly salt-and-pepper hair bursts unceremoniously into the room. We all stand up to greet him.
"Hello, hello," he says heartily, grabbing my arm and shaking my hand. "Brian, I'd know you anywhere, you're as tall as your dad but much better looking!" He laughs and turns toward Lindsay, whom I introduce merely as "Lindsay Peterson, my son's mother."
"Welcome, Lindsay," Hank says, before pulling her into a hug and kissing her cheek. "And this is your little bambino, is it?" he asks, crouching down and grinning at Gus at eye level. "Cute little punk, are you a daddy's boy?" Gus doesn't answer, just sticks a finger in his mouth and stares wide-eyed. Hank pats his shoulder, then stands up and turns toward Justin.
"This is Justin Taylor," I say. Period.
"Justin, hello," Hank grabs his hand and shakes it. "Why are you stuck in here with the grown-ups, wouldn't you like to play outside with the other kids?"
Quickly Emily interjects, "Justin's a grown-up too - he's almost twenty."
"Oh!" Hank looks chagrined, "Sorry, champ, I bet you curse your baby-face, don't you?" Before Justin can answer, he adds, "Don't worry, someday you'll be glad to look so young." Hank sits down on the sofa near me and we all resume our seats.
"You've relocated to LA, right, Brian?" When I agree, he asks, "And you're in advertising?" I say yes and he goes on, "Good decision - lots of opportunities on the west coast in the marketing field. And what do you do, Justin, are you in school?"
"He will be soon," I answer for Justin. "He's been taking a break but he's going back next semester."
"We have excellent schools in California," Emily assures Justin, "What's your major?"
"Art," he says. "Commercial art, illustration."
"Animation?" Hank asks, leaning forward, elbows on knees; he seems genuinely interested in Justin's answer.
"Yes. Maybe. I'm not sure exactly."
"Plenty of opportunities for artists in LA," Hank assures him. "Are you working now?"
Justin nods. "Yeah, but just as a waiter."
"Nothing 'just' about that - it's an honorable profession," Hank seems determined to make up for insulting Justin's age a few minutes ago. "I had a couple waiter jobs when I was in school, it's damned hard work, I know for a fact!" His comments are facile but his sincerity seems real enough, at any rate he's got Justin smiling, so I give him props for that at least.
"Well," Hank concludes, "If you'll all excuse me, I'll go change my clothes and wash up. Be right back!" And he hurries from the room.
Justin leans toward me and whispers, "I don't look that young!"
Emily overhears him and apologizes. "Sorry, Justin, Hank didn't mean to offend you, sometimes it's hard to judge the age of young people, our kids have been grown for such a long time." She hesitates, then asks, "I was wondering if you'd mind giving me a hand in the kitchen for a moment? I need someone strong to help me take the roasting pan from the oven."
"Sure, okay," Justin agrees, somewhat mollified; he stands up and follows Emily into the kitchen.
Lindsay stands up too and says, "Can I help?" She moves away and asks me to keep an eye on Gus.
"Come here, you," I tell him, grabbing him off the floor and plopping him onto my lap. "Want a cracker?" I lean forward and grab a couple crackers and Gus accepts them, holding one in each hand, taking a bite first from one, then from the other. Then he offers one to me.
I let Gus shove the cracker in my mouth and chew it thoroughly in the silence that's descended on the living room. It's just me and Mom and Claire, and none of us has anything to say. Claire escapes with an excuse of going to get the boys ready for dinner. After a moment, Mom gets up and moves to the chair next to mine.
"Gus seems healthy," she comments finally. "Are you financially supporting him?"
Unwillingly I answer her. "I help out. But Lindsay's married to a lawyer so they have a comfortable income."
"She's married to a lawyer?" When I just nod, Mom goes on, "Lindsay's husband knows about you?"
"And he doesn't mind?"
"No, she doesn't."
Mom doesn't pick up on the pronoun change. "Well, that's very understanding. Did you ever consider marrying this girl when she got pregnant?"
"Mom, that was never an option. And we're not going to talk about it."
"Fine." She compresses her lips and stays silent for a minute.
"Daddy, down!" Gus wriggles off my lap and I set him on the floor. He plops down at my feet and plays with his teddy, apparently telling it a story in some indecipherable toddler language.
"You seem to love him."
"Mmm-hmm," I nod.
"He seems to love you too.”
Then Mom asks quietly, "But have you considered what the future holds, Brian? When your son is old enough to know about you, about the kind of life you lead, what will he think of you then?"
Christ, how did I know that was coming? "He'll make up his own mind," I answer her mildly.
“But will he still love you?”
A knife twists somewhere in the middle of my chest. "Who knows?” I manage to keep my face impassive. “Maybe he'll turn out to be gay too."
"Hush, don't even joke about such a thing!" she hisses. "You shouldn't wish that disgrace on your worst enemy, much less an innocent child!"
I look at her then, and I don't know what my face shows but she shrinks backwards a bit in her chair.
I don't know what I might have said to my mother but Hank suddenly reappears, still bustling. Hearty people are so exhausting to be around.
"Where is everybody, in the kitchen?" He doesn't wait for an answer, but goes on, "Come on to the dining room now. Brian, you can help me put another leaf in the table and be sure we've got enough chairs."
Wordlessly I stand up to follow him, grabbing up Gus and ignoring my mother, turning my back on her. Symbolically and in reality, I turn my back on her. Again.
Of course I knew she'd try to make me feel bad today, and I was right. I'm tempted to gather up Gus and Lindsay and Justin and just get the fuck out of suburbia. Fuck dinner. Why'd I let myself be coerced into this fucking family togetherness bullshit?
We gather around the table, I'm sitting on Brian's left and Lindsay's on the right. Brian's mom is directly across from us. Looking at her is going to ruin my appetite.
"So," Hank says, handing a bowl of mashed potatoes to Brian, "How long have you and Lindsay been married?"
There's dead silence for a moment, then Brian takes the bowl from Hank and sets it down on the table. "We're not married," he says.
Hank just laughs. "Son, you really should make an honest woman of her." Brian bristles and opens his mouth but Hank hurries on, "I'm just joking - sorry. Our son lived with his girlfriend for three years before they got married, nothing wrong with that." Then he says earnestly to Brian, who's looking like a storm cloud, "Sometimes my jokes fall flat, I really didn't mean anything by it."
Brian just stares back at him, his face unchanging, then he says, "Lindsay's already married."
"Oh!" Hank says, "Well, that complicates things, huh?"
Brian turns to stare at his mother. "I can't believe you didn't tell them," he says to her. "Did you expect me to pass Lindsay off as my wife?"
Mrs. Kinney's face is as hard as a statue, the planes of her sharp cheekbones outlined by the skin drawn tightly over them as she grimaces and stares back at Brian. "How could I tell them," she almost spits at him, "If you're not ashamed of yourself, you should be."
"What?" Emily asks, glancing around the table. No one says a word as Brian and his mother glare at each other. Finally from the other end of the table, Johnny pipes up. "Uncle Brian's a fag," he informs his aunt.
"Oh!" Hank and Emily exclaim in unison, eyes wide with surprise. Hank says, "Well, that explains Justin, then, doesn't it? I couldn't quite fit him into the picture."
There's silence again for a moment, then Emily says, "Johnny, it's not nice to say 'fag.'"
"Emily," Mrs. Kinney leans forward toward her sister, "Don't you understand? Brian is a homosexual."
"Oh yes, I understand," Emily says without a blink, and at first I think she's hiding her shock, but then she nods and goes on, "I always thought he might be."
"What?" Mrs. Kinney almost shouts.
"Joanie, the man's over thirty and gorgeous and unmarried. I mean, get real."
Mrs. Kinney just stares at her, open-mouthed.
Emily laughs now. "I guess I've lived in California so long, I'm not shocked by stuff like that. Hank's worked in the film industry for years, he works with lots of gay folks, don't you, Hank? It's no big deal."
"I beg your pardon!" Mrs. Kinney raises her voice and I see her hands like claws wadding up her napkin. "This is my SON we're talking about. And it's a very big deal - it's an abomination to God!"
"Oh pish," Emily laughs. She laughs, and I see Mrs. Kinney lean further forward, for a moment I think she's going to reach out and slap her sister.
"And you call yourself a Christian!" Mrs. Kinney sputters.
Emily's face is suddenly serious. "I don’t call myself a Christian, I am a Christian," she answers quietly. "And there's lots of gay folks in our church who are Christians too. Our minister has performed several commitment ceremonies. Hank and I went to one a few months ago."
"She's right," Hank corroborates, nodding. "James, a guy in my lighting crew. He and his partner are members of our church."
"Dear Lord," Mrs. Kinney almost moans, "What is this world coming to?"
"Its senses, hopefully," Hank answers her with a smile. He turns to me then. "Justin," he says, "Have you considered getting a part-time job in a film studio art department? The pay is probably not much, but it would be good experience for you."
"But I don't have a degree," I answer, almost at random, I'm still in shock. Then I shake my head to clear it and add, "I've only had a couple years of school so far."
"That might make a difference of course," he agrees, "But it wouldn't hurt to check it out. I know a guy in the art department at Simpson Studios, I could give him a call, see what's shaking. Interested?"
"Wow. Umm, yes! Oh yes!"
"Don't get excited yet, there may not be anything, but I'll give Jake a call after dinner."
"Wow. Thanks, Hank."
"Uncle Hank," he corrects me. "It seems we're sort-of related." And he winks at Brian. "Guess you boys are partners, huh?"
Brian usually hates guys who wink, but now he just smiles. "Yes, we are," he agrees, his smile widening as he turns to look at me. Under the edge of the tablecloth I feel Brian slip his hand between my legs and gently pinch my thigh. Then he picks up a bowl from the table with his other hand and offers it to his mother. "Mom," he asks sweetly, "Would you like some potatoes?"