|Piece of Cake|
|Gap-Filler for Episode 2-20|
Part I – The Sting
Brian’s been waking up early and leaving before I get up, he’s done it every morning this week. We didn’t have sex for a while after the night he let me know he was on to me. I wanted to talk to him about Ethan, but he hasn’t been around much, and I really don’t know how to tell him. Or what to tell him. I don’t know what I want to do, and it’s paralyzing me. I feel good being with Ethan and I feel bad being with Brian, but it’s not so easy as that makes it sound.
At first I hardly saw Brian, he’d come home late from work, change his clothes and go out, mostly without saying a word to me. He didn’t ask me to go with him, and I didn’t want to anyway. One night I stayed home to work on projects but the next night I thought, what the fuck, and went over to Ethan’s. I made sure to wash up and brush my teeth before coming home, but I suppose minty-fresh breath is a giveaway anyhow.
Brian always came home right at the three o’clock deadline, as if to rub my nose in how virtuous he is. Each time I was asleep, and he banged the door just loud enough to be sure I heard it, but I kept my eyes closed and each time, I went right back to sleep. Who says the guilty can’t sleep, sometimes I feel like I could sleep all day. Now that I know he knows, I’ve stopped throwing up all the time. I still haven’t been eating much though, I don’t feel hungry at all, it’s weird.
Michael called me to come to the store, our comic had arrived from the publisher! We were excitedly opening cartons and complimenting each other on our work, it was so thrilling, the first time I’ve seen my work in print. Then the bell over the door clanged, and we looked up to see Brian entering the store. Michael must have called him too.
“Hey, boys,” he said, and then proceeded to announce that he’d arranged a launch party for our comic, bought ads in newspapers and even arranged interviews with the gay press. Michael was amazed and excited. I should have been too. Instead I felt almost angry. Resentful. Brian never said a word to me, never asked for my opinion or my input; it was, as usual, another of his grandiose gestures. How could he do all that without consulting me and Michael?
I tried to act like I was cool with it, but I said I was late to class, grabbed one of the comics and left the shop as fast as I could. Brian called after me, “See you tonight?” and I managed to answer him, I said “Sure” or something, I don’t even remember. I just felt this bubble of anger building up inside my chest and I had to get out of there before it popped. I’m not ungrateful. I’m not. Brian as always is being generous, taking care of things, taking care of me. But I don’t want to be taken care of, I want to be a partner. I want to have a say in our lives together, but how can I tell him that? It makes me look like an ungrateful bastard, to complain when he handles everything so perfectly without me.
That night he came home earlier than usual, I was sitting on the sofa with my legs curled under me, watching a movie and roughing out some panels for the next Rage comic Michael and I are working on. Brian came up the stairs so I didn’t have the sound of the elevator to warn me, and when he pulled the door open, I jumped at the sound and turned toward the doorway. “Hey,” he said, real casual, so I said “Hey,” and turned back to the tv. I heard him changing his clothes, and I expected he’d be heading out the door right away, but then I heard him opening the fridge, and the clink of the bottle opener, and then he ambled in to the living room and sat down on the other end of the sofa.
“What’s this?” He pointed his beer bottle at the tv.
“It’s a movie, called ‘Memento,’ it’s really good. This guy has no short-term memory and he keeps doing things over and over.”
“Hmm.” From the corner of my eye I saw him take a swig of beer, and a moment later another. Without looking at me he asked, “You eat yet?”
“No.” It was five o’clock, pretty early for dinner.
We both sat staring at the tv, then he said, “I’m going to call the Thai place, you hungry?”
“Yeah. Sure.” I turned to look at him, feeling sort of strange, but he still didn’t look at me, just grunted and got up, went to the phone and called in an order. Then he sat down at his computer, and we didn’t talk again until the food arrived. He answered the door and paid the delivery man, then told me to come and eat.
I stood up and walked into the kitchen, I felt very awkward and stiff, but Brian was acting normal. He put the cartons on the counter and got silverware and napkins while I pulled plates from the cupboard and got myself a soda. We sat on the stools and ate in silence for a few minutes. I mostly shoved food around on my plate, I didn’t really feel hungry and it was hard to swallow. I was just choking down a bite of lemon chicken when I felt Brian’s hand on the back of my neck.
“Eat,” he said, his voice almost unbearably gentle. He rubbed my neck for a moment, then rested it there. “You’re not eating enough. You’re thinner.”
“No,” I denied, though it’s true. Most of my clothes have gotten slightly loose on me the last couple weeks. I managed to swallow the bite of chicken, and I stared down at my plate. I couldn’t look at him. “Brian.”
He pulled his hand away. “Shut up and eat. Clean your plate, or no dessert.”
“Brian.” I couldn’t look at him, I put down my fork and tried to talk over the lump in my throat. I felt tears building up behind my eyelids, tears I could not, COULD NOT, let him see. Brian stood up abruptly and walked around from room to room, turning off all the lights. Soon the loft was plunged into pitch-darkness, but he found me, his footsteps leading him unerringly to my side where I sat frozen to the stool.
“Come here,” he said, taking my hand and pulling me behind him. He led me to the bedroom, turned me around and pulled off my sweatshirt.
“Shut up,” he murmured, as he finished undressing me, and then himself. He threw back the duvet and pulled me into bed with him, and our bodies slid together, and his mouth found mine, and the world dissolved all around me, dissolved and exploded and there was no need for words, no room for words, only pleasure and warmth and the almost unbearable comfort of being held in Brian’s arms again.
We both kind of slipped away after we came, usually we fall asleep for five or ten minutes, then wake up and start again. But this time when we awoke, Brian threw back the duvet, climbed out of bed and pulled me after him into the bathroom. He flipped on the light and held a washcloth under the hot water, wrung it out and handed it to me to clean myself. “Hurry up,” he said, “The food’s probably cold now.”
Suddenly I felt hungry, and I pulled on my sweatpants while he stepped into his jeans and we went back to the kitchen, reheated the cartons of Thai, and sat down to eat again. Though we still didn’t talk, I felt a lot more relaxed, and I cleaned off my plate and even had second helpings. As we carried our dishes to the sink, Brian said, “I’m going to Woody’s. You coming?”
“I promised Michael I’d have some sketches ready for him to see tomorrow.” It was the truth.
“Okay,” was all he said. He left me rinsing the dishes and went to the bedroom to pull on a shirt, his shoes, grab his jacket, and he was gone. The minute the door was closed, I sat down, I sat down right on the floor in the kitchen and started to cry. I dropped my head into my hands and sobbed, like some stupid little baby. I can’t go on like this much longer.
Brian was in the shower when I got up next morning, I hadn’t heard him come home. I thought about joining him in the shower, but it seemed like if I did that, it might send a message. Some message I wasn’t sure I wanted to send. When he came out I was in the kitchen making toast, and I offered to fix him something to eat. He just said no thanks, he was in a hurry, and he got dressed quickly and left.
That day I didn’t have a shift at the diner, so I went over to Ethan’s and we made love all afternoon. He wanted me to go to the country with him for the weekend. I told him about the Rage party Brian organized, and Ethan said, “He must really love you.”
“In his way,” I agreed.
“But not in yours.” Ethan caressed my face, and I resisted the urge to defend Brian. Somehow I can complain about him, but I can’t stand for others to do that. Not even Ethan.
While I got dressed, Ethan jumped out of bed, dug through some things stacked on a table, and handed me a jewel case. “My new CD,” he said proudly. He’d used one of my sketches of him for the cover, and on the back he’d dedicated it “To Justin.” I felt all choked up, and kissed him, and I remembered why being with Ethan was so special. He’s always showing me his love, always telling me how much he loves me. Every moment I’m with Ethan, I know he loves me, there’s no doubt in my mind. It feels good.
That night Brian was late coming home, and he was back to being gruff again.
For an hour I worked on a deadlined project, and I felt resentment against Brian building inside me. One day he could be gentle and loving, the next day, silent and distant, he was always alternately warm and cold. I never knew where I stood with Brian, he never told me in words what he was feeling and he wouldn’t let me tell him, either. When I tried to talk to him he’d shut me up with kisses, or he’d be too busy to talk, always saying “later, later;” or he’d be hurrying out the door to meet his buddies at Woody’s, or to pick up tricks in the backroom at Babylon.
Brian calls all the shots. If he loved me, he’d tell me so, at least once in a while - wouldn’t he? He’d let me be partners in our life - he’d consult me and let me have a say in things, like the Rage party, like the interview for OUT, like a million other things that Brian decides for himself, for me, for us - every single fucking day we are together. Finally I gave up and switched off my computer – I was just ruining one sketch after another. I grabbed my jacket and headed out the door for a walk, for some fresh air. If I ended up at Ethan’s, well, so what? So what?
When I got home around two, Brian was already home in bed. He pretended to be asleep, but he pretended in a bad way, so that I’d know he was pretending to be asleep. Am I supposed to guess that he’s mad at me, or what? Christ, Brian is so fucking complicated.
I thought Justin would be excited about the arrangements I made for the Rage party at Babylon. Michael was. At the comic shop, Michael kissed me and thanked me over and over for everything I’m doing to launch their comic book. But Justin’s not excited. There’s no pleasing that kid sometimes.
For a few days after I found out that Justin has a fuckbuddy on the side, after I attacked him with as much jealous rage as. . . well, as Rage, I could hardly stand to look at him. We barely spoke. We shared the bed, but both of us keeping well to our own sides. Only in sleep did we roll together - our bodies not realizing that our brains were pissed off. Usually I woke up first, and I slowly slipped away from Justin, inch by careful inch, so he wouldn’t know we’d been sleeping like spoons in a drawer, my arms surrounding him, his hair tickling my nose, our legs braiding together in the middle of the bed.
I stayed angry, but I couldn’t avoid knowing that Justin was miserably unhappy. Mostly I was glad about that. I could tell he hadn’t been eating – the fridge is usually emptied in a day or two by his voracious appetite, but lately it seemed untouched. I could see that he’d lost weight, and he’s slim to begin with. So I stayed home one night, tried to get him to eat. He wanted to tell me something. Something I damn well did not want to hear. So I shut him up with a good fucking, and I was rewarded by seeing him eat a huge dinner afterwards. I thought maybe he’d go out with me after that but he refused. Pretended he had to work on some project. Well, fuck you then, I thought, and I went out alone. Angry all over again. And okay, jealous.
Who is this guy he’d rather be with? Is he a better fucker? Does he have a bigger dick? What is he giving Justin that I don’t give him? I look after Justin better than I ever looked after myself, I do everything for him I possibly can, he doesn’t have to worry about money or food or clothes or anything else. But it’s not enough.
Next day I left work after lunch and went to Mikey’s store and grilled him about what he knew. He didn’t want to tell me anything. I swore I was not jealous, just curious, but of course he could see right through me, he always has. He told me he saw Justin kissing this guy on Liberty Avenue; a young guy with dark hair, playing the violin for cash on a street corner. Christ! I’m picturing some rich sugar daddy fucking Justin at a mansion about twice as large as George Schickle’s, and it turns out the guy Justin’s fucking is another kid. Young. A fucking young violinist for Christ’s sake. I laughed right out loud. Michael stared at me with that crinkled-forehead-worried-frown of his, so I stopped laughing. But with a cheeky grin, I promised Michael not to let Justin know he told me, and then I got out of there. Fast. I stopped smiling the minute I was out of Mikey’s sight.
I went home then, right in the middle of the day. If Justin had been home I don’t know what I would have done. I started searching through his things, just as if I were entitled to. I found a homemade CD of violin music – the same CD Justin had played night and day for a week after he went to some music recital on his birthday. The name on the CD was Ethan Gold, his picture was on it too. Young, as young as Justin perhaps, with long dark curly hair and smoldering dark eyes. The same smoldering dark eyes staring out at me in drawing after drawing in several of Justin’s sketch books. I picked up Justin’s journal, but I put it back down again. No. No details. It was enough that I had the face of this fucker burned into my brain, I couldn’t bear to read any details of him putting his hands on Justin, kissing him-fucking him-touching him. No.
Changing clothes, I got a glass and started drinking. I sat on the sofa, drinking steadily as the shadows lengthened outside my windows, but I didn’t get drunk. It was like the liquor never touched me. My mind was clicking, like it sometimes does when I get a hot idea for a project, for an ad campaign, and I must have been burning up alcohol as fast as I poured it inside. Finally I had my plan in place. I grabbed my jacket and took off for Babylon, where I fucked four guys in a row. I was late getting home but what did it matter?
Ethan said he’d be playing his violin for tips on Liberty Avenue this afternoon, so I expected to see him on my way to the diner, I had a shift from four to eight p.m. There was a light snow falling, so I guessed he must have given up and gone home. When I entered the diner and pulled off my muffler, I was surprised to see Brian, sitting in a back booth. “Brian, I thought you’d be at work?” I said, approaching the table. Brian was smiling at me, and I started to smile back, till I saw the figure sitting in the booth with him.
Ethan and I stared at each other, in dumbfounded amazement.
“Justin, this is Ethan. Ethan, Justin.” Brian was still smiling. I couldn’t speak, and Brian went smoothly on, “We’re having a business meeting.”
There was absolutely nothing to say.
Finally Ethan broke the silence. “I’ve got to get to class,” he muttered, glancing at Brian, glancing at me, and hurrying away.
“The job’s yours, if you want it,” Brian called cheerfully after him.
I turned to look down at Brian and he was still smiling, the most smug, supercilious smile I have ever seen in my life. I turned and walked away from him, walked into the kitchen and out the back door. My hands were shaking so hard I could hardly light the cigarette I’d poached from a guy at school earlier in the day. I stayed there smoking for ten minutes, until I figured Brian would be gone. When I went back into the kitchen and peered out the pickup window, sure enough, the booth was empty.
“Hey, Sunshine,” Bobby, the cook was tapping me on the shoulder. “Get your apron on, sweetie, we’ve got orders backed up here.”
“Okay,” I nodded, pulling off my jacket and going to hang it up in my locker. I had to do my shift, I couldn’t just walk out of the diner. In a way that was good, it gave me time to recover from the shock of what Brian had done. I don’t know how he figured it out, I don’t even think I want to know. And I can’t believe he pulled off a trick like that. A set-up. A sting operation, that’s what it was, a sting.
I knew Justin wouldn’t come back into the diner until I left, and I really needed to get back to work anyway. I spent a couple hours with Cynthia, organizing my calendar, then I went home, stopping for a sandwich at the deli on Tremont. I got home and sat down at my computer, had one bite of the sandwich and waited.
At quarter after eight he walked in, as I expected. He pulled off his jacket and stood in front of my desk. “Brian.” I held up a finger, pretended to focus on a chart on my computer screen and clicked the save button. Then I looked up at him inquiringly.
“Brian, I’m sorry.”
“You know what for. I never meant for it to happen.”
“I know,” I said faux-sympathetically. “You were the poor hapless victim of a love-bashing.”
“I should have told you.”
Yeah right. “What – and spoil the fun?”
Justin had no answer for that. I scooted back my chair and smiled at him. “So tell me: How big is his dick?”
That made him angry. “That has nothing to do with it!” he insisted, turning away. I jumped up and grabbed on to him, leaned my face close to his.
“Since when?” I whispered. “You love cock. You love it down your throat, you love it up your ass, you love riding it. And you love to fall asleep with it still inside you.”
I had my hand down his pants, rubbing his cock. Justin pulled my hand out and pushed it away.
“Brian, cut it out!”
“You’re hard,” I informed him, grabbing his hips and pushing him away in my turn. “So don’t tell me it has nothing to do with it.”
I had to walk away from him, I found myself staring into the refrigerator, I didn’t remember opening it.
“There are other things!”
“Like what?” I demanded. “Flowers? Picnics? Violin music?”
Justin was bristling, his voice rising. “He loves me.”
Love. That word. I turned and sneered at him. “Your dreamy-eyed school boy.”
“He loves me in ways that you can’t.”
“In ways that I won’t.”
Justin paid no attention. “He says I’m all he wants.”
“They’re still using that one?”
“It’s more than you’ve ever said.”
I shook my head. “It’s more than I ever will.” I realized I’d walked right back to Justin, and I put my hands on his neck, leaned my forehead against his. “So why are you still here?” I whispered.
Justin was trembling under my hands. “Would you care if I wasn’t?” His voice broke on that, going way off register. I realized that I was responding to him, emotion washed over me, completely against my will.
I pulled back to look at him, and I could feel the weight of tears building up behind my eyes. He would not see them, I would not let him see them. “You decide where you want to be,” I managed to say, and I heard my own voice breaking. Then I had to let go of him, and I brushed past him and almost fell into my chair, leaning my head on my hand.
He didn’t move for a moment, for a few moments. Then he grabbed his discarded jacket from the sofa and hurried out the door, only half closing it behind him. I heard his footsteps running down the stairs, and just before he was out of hearing range, I heard him start to cry. Hard gasping sobs that stabbed me, literally stabbed me in the chest, and I cried with him. But my tears were silent, my tears are always silent. He must never know he has any power to hurt me. Silence is my only defense.
Ethan sent me away. He was so mad at Brian, at being tricked, he was furious that both of us were made to look ridiculous. I think Ethan was intimidated by Brian. Well, almost everybody is, why not? But I had to defend Brian when Ethan called him an asshole. I’m the asshole, I’m the liar, I’m the cheat. No matter how many things Brian has done that have hurt me, he’s never lied or cheated, not ever.
Ethan sent me away. So I wandered around the streets for a while, not wanting to go back to the loft, not wanting to show up at Deb’s or my mom’s or Daphne’s, I didn’t want to see anybody. Finally I had to go home, there was no place left to go. I was afraid there’d be a trick in our bed, but Brian was alone. I came in and took off my jacket, and I saw him lying there awake in the near-darkness, his skin pale against the dark sheets, his eyes unbearably sad. He stared at me and I stared back at him.
Finally I crossed the space of floor and climbed the steps. At the foot of the bed I stopped, waiting for him to tell me to go away, but he didn’t. So I got undressed. I was so completely exhausted, I could hardly pull off my clothes. And I waited some more. Then Brian lifted the duvet and wordlessly invited me to get in beside him. I had to crawl over the bed, I couldn’t walk another step, and I collapsed beside him, turning my back. I couldn’t look into those eyes any more. Brian covered me up, then I felt his fingers caressing my arm. There was a huge lump in my throat, I could hardly swallow. I felt tears pressing against the back of my eyeballs, and I willed Brian not to say anything, not anything at all. In a moment his fingers were still, and I knew that he’d fallen asleep. Then I could let the tears leak silently out of my eyes.
Justin came home last night, but it was not a victory. He had not made his decision, that was obvious the moment he walked in through the door and hesitated in the darkness, looking at me uncertainly. I tried to keep my face expressionless, my eyes blank. Part of me wanted to rise up in the bed and tell him to get out, to fuck off, to go away and never come back. Part of me wanted to pull him into my arms and murmur rash, ridiculous promises I could never keep. So I stayed silent, and in the end he crawled into bed with me.
He was cold and exhausted, nearly collapsing, that much I could tell, and full of unshed tears. I’d been watching him carefully for a few days, and I could see how much he was agonizing, trying to decide what to do. He wasn’t eating, he’d lost weight, and his eyes – his eyes were. . .
My stomach clenched just looking at him – it’s amazing that somebody else’s pain can hurt so much. I’d found that out in the hospital, all the nights I watched through the little window in the door of his room. I couldn’t do anything for him then, I was helpless then. But I wasn’t helpless this time.
He crawled into bed with me. All I could do was cover him up so he would get warm. That wasn’t enough torture for me, I had to move the duvet and caress his bare arm with my fingers. I knew it was probably the last time.
This morning last night’s gentleness was gone. I woke up angry and stayed that way all day. Anger is good, it makes you strong. I had a shower and when I came into the bedroom, Justin was awake, sitting on the edge of the bed. He didn’t look at me, he sat staring at the floor. This was getting just too fucking melodramatic, so I cleared my throat and told him to hurry up and get ready. I’d arranged for a journalist from Pittsburgh OUT magazine to be at the comic shop at ten o’clock, and in a rough voice, I practically ordered Justin to be there. My voice was hoarse, I must have caught cold yesterday.
Justin nodded without looking up. I got dressed quickly and departed, I couldn’t wait to get to the office where I could lose myself in hour after hour of grinding work, impossible deadlines, and asshole clients. No emotions required. Piece of fucking cake.
Before he left for work, Brian told me to be at Michael’s store by ten o'clock, he’d arranged an interview with Pittsburgh OUT. All over again I felt sour resentment rise in my throat. Resentment that Brian had gone ahead and arranged everything on his own, then dictated to me when and where and how to do his bidding. I knew I should have felt grateful instead of angry, and that made me even more angry.
When I got to the store, Michael ragged on me for not getting dressed up. It was the least I could do for Brian after all he was doing for us, he said. Well, that set me off and I dumped on him, complaining that Brian wasn't doing this for us, he was doing it for himself. That's only half-true, but it's still true.
"Brian calls all the shots," I said bitterly.
Naturally Michael jumped to Brian's defense, telling me I should be grateful, grateful for Brian saving my life and taking me in and paying my way. That really burned my ass. Of course I'm grateful, of course I'm grateful that Brian has always taken care of me. But Michael has no idea of the price you have to pay for being the fucking little boytoy that Brian's always taking care of.
Maybe he does though. Yeah, he does. It's a price he'd gladly pay, to be in my shoes. To have Brian for himself. Michael has worshipped at the temple of Brian Fucking Kinney practically all his life. He's jealous, I've always known it. Somehow it never bothered me till now. Till I could see him bristling with outraged wrath that I would dare to question Brian's motives, dare to be unhappy in my relationship with Brian, when he'd give a million dollars to trade places with me.
"Maybe you should find somebody else," he spit at me, glaring. Then he added, "Maybe you already have."
That stopped me cold. Brian told him. "He told you?" I was incredulous.
"He didn't say a word." Michael glared at me, then folded his arms defiantly on his chest. "I told him."
I was amazed, just amazed. "How did you know?"
"I saw you kissing on the street."
Furious, I demanded, "Why didn't you mind your own business?"
"Brian is my business." He was all self-righteous, the asshole. "He's my best friend."
"You ungrateful little prick!"
"Fuck you, Michael!" I yelled at him. I started gathering up my stuff, yelling "Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!" I was barely aware of the shop door opening, two tall men walked into the store.
"Pittsburgh OUT," I heard one of them say. "Which one of you is Michael and which one is Justin?"
"He's Michael!" I growled, shoving past them to the door, "And I'm out of here." I slammed out the door, and stomped down the street, outrage burning hot inside me, I felt like a firecracker about to go off. "Fucking asshole, fucking jealous asshole," I kept repeating over and over all the way down the street. I was boiling over with fury, and I walked about a mile past my bus stop before I noticed where I was at. I had to backtrack, and I missed the bus. When I was late to life class and got reprimanded by the instructor, I almost told her to fuck off, but luckily I was cooling down by then.
So Michael ran to Brian and ratted me out, behind my back. Not even talking to me first. That was how Brian figured out about Ethan, and then he probably searched through my stuff and made plans for his truly amazing, truly outrageous sting operation. He was so fucking clever, he was so fucking smart. Once my anger at Michael started to dissipate, I was filled instead with embarrassment and guilt. I pictured in my mind Brian going through my stuff, my sketchbooks, my journal. Christ. My journal. When I thought of Brian reading my journal, my private thoughts, details about Ethan and me, oh God, I couldn't bear it. And how stupid am I, that I left it lying around, just lying around waiting for Brian to find it?
How stupid am I, that I kissed Ethan right on the street? It must have been that day Michael and I were putting up Rage posters on Liberty Avenue. I left Michael and walked over to where Ethan was playing, and when he kissed me, I forgot everything. I forgot Michael was right across the street. Christ. How stupid am I?
Did I want to get caught? No. Did I? I don't know. I don't know.
When I got home, I started looking through my sketchbooks. There's a million drawings of Ethan, anybody looking through my books could put two and two together. And my journal. I felt my face get hot, thinking of Brian reading my journal. No wonder he was so mad at me. I knew he must hate me now. Maybe now he'd kick me out, tell me to fuck off and get out of his sight. I tried to do some homework, later I tried to eat some dinner. I failed at both, and by eight o'clock I fell into bed, went right to sleep and didn't wake until morning, till Brian shook my shoulder. My eyes opened and I looked up into his face, it was unreadable.
"You're going to be late for school," he said, "It's eight o'clock." Christ, I’d slept twelve hours. And yet I was so tired, I could hardly throw back the covers and swing my legs over the side of the bed.
Brian was already dressed for work, he walked into the kitchen, opened the fridge and poured himself some juice. He drank it down in one gulp and rinsed his glass in the sink, then headed for the door. He stopped and glanced back at me. "You okay?"
"Yeah," I answered, except my voice made no sound, I had to clear my throat. "Yes, I'm fine."
Still he hesitated by the door, then shrugged and turned away. "Don't forget the Rage party tonight at Babylon," he threw back over his shoulder as he went out the door, pulled it shut with a bang, and then I heard his feet begin to descend the stairs.
The Rage party tonight at Babylon. I don't want to go. I don't want to see Michael. I don't want to see anybody. But of course I have to. I have to. Despite what I said to Michael, that Brian is doing this for himself, I know he's really doing it for me. For us, for Michael and me. So I have to go. And I have to be grateful. And I have to wonder: What will Brian do now?
Part II – What Will Brian Kinney Do?
Everybody showed up for the Rage party, even Daphne and my mom. Everybody kept congratulating Michael and me, he and I kept bumping into each other but we didn’t speak, didn’t exchange glances. Babylon was so crowded that nobody noticed. Brian showed up late, just as a little stage show he’d arranged was starting.
It was fantastic of course, everything Brian does is perfect. He bragged that he wrote the copy for the little play, and it was exciting to see the characters I’d drawn come to life. They’d found an actor who looked a lot like Brian, and the one playing JT had very blond hair. Later Lindsay asked me if it was upsetting to see someone who represented me getting bashed. It wasn’t - maybe because I’d dealt with a lot of those feelings while Michael and I were creating the comic; maybe because the Rage scenario was not like what really had happened to me; maybe because I still don’t remember much about the night I was bashed.
I glanced at Brian while the scene was playing, and he didn’t seem upset by it either. That was good. I’d been a little worried, when I first showed Brian our finished comic before we sent it to the publisher, worried that he might get upset, remembering. Right after I moved in with him and he was trying to help get my memory back, he drove to the parking garage and re-created what had happened that night. I’ll never forget how upset Brian was, he actually broke down and cried, just telling me. That was when I still couldn’t touch people, so I couldn’t even hug him. Weeks later, when I tried to talk about it, he acted like it never even happened.
Thinking about those first weeks living with Brian after the hospital brought back so many happy memories, the first time we made love, how gentle he was with me; the Pride parade, and how he’d asked me to dance and held me in his arms kissing me in the middle of Liberty Avenue; of the many times he walked with me down the street, to help me get used to being around people again. I don’t know what happened to that Brian. I lost him somehow. I guess I’ll never know what I did wrong, to lose that Brian I used to know.
The Rage party was a huge success of course. I planned every detail, I wasn’t named Advertiser of the Year two years in a row for nothing. The skit went off without a hitch, though it was nerve-wracking for a moment, wondering if Justin would be upset by it, but a few sideways glances showed me he was relaxed and smiling, so that was okay.
Justin told me he and Michael weren’t speaking – that Michael admitted he’d told me about the violinist. So I told Justin not to let his personal feelings interfere with business – the joint production of the Rage comic - but he wasn’t really paying attention. Then I decided to kill two birds with one stone – and I told him not to piss on his achievement. I wanted him to remember that night, the night that I pissed on his drawings. Not that he’ll ever forget. Not that he’ll ever forgive me. I wouldn’t either, if I were him. I wanted to remind him how angry he’d been at me. Anger makes you strong.
It was almost accidental, me fucking the actor playing Rage. It was actually one of those lucky coincidences. After I asked Lindsay to tell Justin I was looking for him, I scouted out the back room, looking for a likely trick, and there he was. It was too perfect, almost as if I’d planned it that way. I took my time fucking him, it must have taken Justin a while to decide to check out the back room, but finally I looked up and saw him in the shadows, watching me. I looked right into his eyes, never blinking, never missing a thrust into the ass of the superhero trick. As soon as Justin turned and walked away, I felt myself losing my hard-on, so I pushed the trick off me and quickly moved back onto the dance floor, to see what Justin was going to do.
I didn’t expect the violinist to be there. I’d thought about calling him, telling him to come, but young kids like that are unpredictable. So I was surprised to see him, to see Justin talking to him. Then they kissed, and that surprised me too. I haven’t seen Justin kiss anyone before. I didn’t know how that would make me feel. Christ. I should have prepared myself for that, but I didn’t anticipate it ahead of time.
He saw me watching, the violinist. I won’t say his name. Justin turned around and saw me too. I reached up and pulled off the black mask, and carefully I arranged the muscles of my face into a smile. I looked Justin in the eye, and I smiled at him, and exactly as I knew he would, he turned and walked away. Piece of cake.
I thought I was prepared for how I’d feel when he walked away from me, but in the end I wasn’t. It was almost like a physical blow, a sucker punch to the gut; it’s really very amazing that I didn’t fall down. I struggled with the mask and got it back on quickly, then I was all right. I was safe, and I could stop looking at the exit, I could turn around and merge into the crowd of dancers. I couldn’t hear music, but I moved my arms and legs, hopefully it looked like I was dancing. I moved toward a guy, I have no idea what he looked like. I reached up and adjusted my mask, making it fit more snugly over my eyes, pressing tight against my face. I touched my mouth, to see if I was still smiling, but I wasn’t, so that was okay too.
Then the strangest memory came into my brain out of nowhere: My mother’s favorite phrase, repeated about a million times when I was a kid, whenever something went wrong. “It’s all over but the shouting,” she used to say. Now those words repeated inside my head, again and again: “It’s all over but the shouting. It’s all over but the shouting.”
And I wondered, shouldn’t there be shouting?