His eyes touched on mine as he entered the diner and stopped by the cash register, for a moment I had this crazy feeling that he would walk toward me, rest his hip against the table and lean over for a kiss. I saw it happening in the split-second it took to raise the cup to my lips, and by the time I swallowed a sip of coffee, I knew it was an hallucination. I couldnít stop staring at him, even though I knew they were all looking at me, waiting for my reaction; I couldnít take my eyes off him. Then Deb spoke to him and he turned and walked off toward the kitchen. Only when he was out of my line of sight could I look away.
Iíd planned to eat lunch in the diner, when your life is totally fucked the best thing you can do is keep a routine. But my stomach was begging me to heave up the coffee Iíd already drunk, it took all my determination to keep it down. As soon as Justin disappeared into the back I stood up, pulled out a couple dollars to drop by the cash register on my way out. I didnít speak to any of them, didnít look at them again, didnít look at Debbie who said something I didnít hear as I walked by her and out the door.
I thought Michael would follow me but he didnít; once Iíd walked to my jeep, got in and pulled away from the curb, I was able to drive quickly down a side street, blessedly deserted, so I could stop and open my door, lean out. Surprisingly I didn't throw up the coffee that was churning in my stomach begging to be set free. Just a few deep breaths and I was ready to close the door and drive on. Damned acidic diner coffee probably makes lots of people sick.
Signing in at the office I noticed that some people in the art department were working on Saturday too but they were three floors away and wouldnít bother me. I didnít stay long, partly because I had this strange urge to get home, like a premonition that something was happening there. Of course I don't believe in that shit, and of course nothing was happening once I pulled back the heavy metal door and shut it with a bang that reverberated off the walls.
The loft was empty, it had that echoing empty feel it's had since Thursday night, the first time Justin walked out the door, the first time I knew heíd never come back. When he returned later that night my heart leaped briefly into my throat. Till I got a good look at him. He didnít want to be there. He was there, but he wasnít there. I let him get into bed, lifted the covers and invited him in. Pressed up against his back turned so resolutely against me. Pressed my nose into his hair, smelling his smell for the very last time.
This morning Iíd awakened early, early for a Saturday, early for a morning after a night of heavy medication. I was groggy with hangover and sucked down a beer and two bottles of water while I sat on the sofa watching tv. Usually I like to watch with the sound off but I kept grabbing the remote and turning the sound louder and louder, I donít know why. Then someone in the apartment below me banged on the ceiling and suddenly I realized that the tv was fucking blaring.
A shower, a power shake and a good workout cleared my head, and I was ready to listen to messages on the answering machine. There weren't any that interested me, so I spent an hour on the computer, working on a presentation for a new chain restaurant opening several outlets in Pittsburgh. Vance wants to take on any company with money to burn, there's no arguing with him that he's dragging down our professional reputation with his uncontrollable greed for profits.
Naturally thoughts of Justin came into my head from time to time; I knew where he was and I knew he'd made his choice. Which was a relief. Mostly. I wondered when he'd come by to collect his clothes and I suspected he'd wait till I wasnít home which is exactly what happened. Heís got a Saturday class but maybe he cut school today, to make time to come over and clear out his stuff.
So I pulled open the door and I heard the echoes, and I knew that he'd been and gone even before I discovered the empty drawer, the clothes missing from the closet. A glance in the bathroom showed me one toothbrush alone on the shelf but my eyes didn't linger there, instead I moved down to Justin's table and saw that he'd not only taken most of his stuff, but he'd left a sketch of Rage and JT, almost like a message. No, not a message, nothing so melodramatic as that - just an oversight. A coincidence. I crumpled the sketch in my hands and tossed it into the garbage.
Waking up in Ethan's bed was unexpectedly comfortable. Sunshine streamed in the window warming me as I stretched and got ready to open my eyes, sweet violin music had awakened me and I wanted to prepare myself to give Ethan the smile he deserved. In the end I didn't have to work at it, it came naturally, and I was amazed to discover how comfortable I felt. Later I realized it was because I wasn't tense any more. I've been tense for so long that now that it's all over, my body feels relaxed, almost fluid. Well, it did Saturday morning anyway. And telling myself that 'it' was all over proved to be the first of many lies I told today.
Could there be anything more romantic than chocolates and roses for breakfast? I smiled and licked the chocolate off my fingers, ignoring the growling of my stomach. I hadn't been eating much the last few days, and what I really wanted was a huge plate full of bacon and eggs. Quickly I banished mundane thoughts of food and instead enjoyed sharing kisses with Ethan, before making myself get up and get dressed, I've got a nine o'clock class on Saturdays. I told him I'd go by the loft to pick up my stuff, and that's when I started feeling tense again. Even while telling Ethan it was no big deal if Brian was at home, the muscles tightening in my neck and back let me know I was lying.
Somehow I never expected Brian to be at the diner when I showed up for my lunch shift. They were all there, it was a huge test of my will not to turn around and run screaming out of there, all those faces, all those eyes of Brian's friends and family staring at me. And he was there too. I knew they were all judging me, blaming me for being a liar and a cheat, Michael would have wasted no time filling everyone in on my sins. The tension in my neck moved into my shoulders and slid down into my feet. I turned my back on them, picked up an apron, but after that I couldn't move. It was like I was paralyzed to the spot.
Finally Debbie said something to me, I don't even remember what, but her touch on my arm freed me from paralysis, and I moved into the kitchen, where the cook greeted me with a wink. I wondered what the wink meant, till I shook my head and called myself a fool for imagining Tony or anybody else gave a shit about me.
My first job was hauling out the trash, and after dragging the huge bags to the dumpster, I lifted the lid and started tossing them in. A glance over my shoulder showed Michael standing by the building, glaring at me.
I've always known that Michael wanted me gone, wanted me out of the picture so he could have Brian all to himself like he did in the olden days, the days before I forced my way into their lives. He told me I didn't belong there, that I should do everyone a favor and disappear. I was mad as hell of course, but in a way I knew he was right. All I'd ever been was an appendage, somebody hanging onto Brian's arm, shoving my way into the middle of his family. I'd never really belonged there and now there was no place for me at all.
The only good thing about seeing Brian at the diner was that I noticed he was dressed for work. He's been working a lot of extra hours, weekends too, so once I knew he was headed for the office, I knew it was safe to go to the loft for my things, which I did right after my shift ended. I knocked but he wasn't there, so I moved around collecting most of my stuff and shoving it into a duffle bag. I can get the rest another time or just leave it there. Probably he'll burn it. I donít care.
The longer I stayed in the loft, the harder it was to breathe. It was like all the oxygen had been sucked out, and I found myself hurrying faster and faster to pack up my stuff. Every time I looked over my shoulder I saw images of Brian and me making love. No, it was not making love, we were just having sex. If Brian never loved me, it was only sex. Meaningless sex, sex that had no power to fill me with regret and sadness, only anger. Anger that kept building and building, all the while there was less and less air to breathe, and finally I just had to grab my bags and get the fuck out of there, slamming the door for the very last time. Outside I waited for the elevator, leaning on the wall and trying to catch my breath.
After a while I decided to quit the diner. I had to do it at a time when Deb wasn't there, cowardly as it sounds I just couldn't face her. I'll have to get another job, I'm a pretty good waiter so maybe it won't be so bad. It might be though. Probably I'll have to drop out of school, I know that Mom can't afford tuition, and the money I can make as a part-time waiter is not enough to live on. Ethan keeps saying romantic stuff like 'two can live as cheaply as one,' but it's bullshit. I don't tell him that. But it's true.
Lindsay and Mel had invited me to their anniversary party a long time ago but I knew I wouldn't go. Brian might be there, and even if he isn't, itís not fair to make it hard on everyone else. They were all Brian's friends first. He needs them too - he'd never admit it but he does. They're all he's got. I've got Ethan. And my mom, and Daphne. Someday I'll have a lot of friends, but Brian doesn't make friends easily.
Not that I give a shit about Brian or what he needs. Leaving him was probably the hardest thing I'll ever do in my whole entire life, but it was the right thing. It was the only thing. When I came home from Ethan's after he kicked me out last Thursday, I resigned myself to staying with Brian for a little while. Eventually I would have left him anyway, because he flat-out told me he would never love me. But when I saw him fucking Rage at the party, I knew I couldn't go on that way any longer. Seeing Ethan across the crowded dance floor smiling at me was the jolt I needed to just get the fuck out of my hopeless relationship with Brian Kinney.
Lindsay is so full of shit, always haranguing me about Justin, even now that he's gone, he's out of my life, still she's haranguing me about what I should have done. Saying it's not too late. That's complete bullshit, it's way too late. And that's good, that's for the best. He made it clear he wasn't satisfied with what I was giving him, so it's much better for everyone concerned that he went somewhere else to get his needs met. I'm glad for him. Or anyway I will be soon.
The other night I got so wasted, before I knew what I was doing I'd used Mikey's key to let myself into his apartment. I think I knocked first but I'm not sure. I walked in on him and Ben almost fucking. Christ Ben is hot. He's not really my type - except of course that most men are my type - but he's damn hot. Michael tried to get rid of me, then somehow he changed his mind and went with me to Babylon. We danced for hours, I got more wasted than I've been in months. I don't remember Mikey getting me home but I woke up in my own bed so he must have managed. He's always managed to get me home, he's my safety net.
I'm glad I went to the garden party, I thought at first Mel and Lindsay were just pretending to want me to come and to bring Ethan along but they meant it. I was a little worried about running into people there but everyone was nice to me, to us. Almost everyone. I had to take a piss so we went into the house, I saw Deb serving up food at a table in the living room and I tried to slip by without her seeing me but of course she did and she called me over. I was really embarrassed, I thought she was going to make a scene in the middle of the living room, ream me out for cheating on Brian, I don't know what I expected. But she didn't. I should have remembered that Debbie loves me. She was even nice to Ethan.
In a hurry to get to the bathroom, almost pissing my pants, I left Ethan with Deb and ran upstairs. It never occurred to me to lock the door, I heard it open behind me and turned to curse out whoever'd come in without knocking. Christ, it was Brian. He looked as surprised as me, but he didn't leave. Just strolled over, whipped out his dick and stared pissing right beside me! I couldn't say anything to him, not anything. That's when I knew I'd been lying to myself about how comfortable I was, instead I was so tense my piss just dried up, just stopped pouring out of me. It was all I could do to zip up and move around Brian, get out of the bathroom.
His voice stopped me at the door. When he turned around I was jolted by how openly he was looking at me. In this fucking sincere and almost unbearable voice he said quietly, "Justin, I hope you get what you want." Still I couldn't speak, I just hesitated a moment, glaring at him. How dare he say such a thing to me? How dare he be fucking nice? I don't want him to be nice. It's easier to hate him when he's being an asshole.
Shrugging off that awkward scene in the bathroom, I collected Ethan, we got drinks and hung out on the patio. After a few minutes I became aware of raised voices, when I glanced around I saw Michael talking to Brian, they were arguing, I couldn't hear the words but Michael kept throwing glaring glances at me, at Ethan, waving his arms around. Suddenly Brian whipped around and punched him! Brian punched Michael in the face. I was struck dumb. Everybody was struck dumb for a moment, then all hell broke loose. I saw Ben lunge for Brian, his fist raised, and without thinking I moved toward them but Ethan grabbed my arm and held me back. I couldn't see what was happening, everyone was crowding around, but I don't think Ben hit Brian, there was a moment's silence, then a dozen voices started screeching at Brian to get the fuck out of there.
I don't know what to think. I don't know what happened. I want to ask, but how can I? Besides it's none of my business. It's not. Still, I can't shake off that crazy feeling in my chest when I saw Brian punch Michael. I've never seen him get violent before; tough yes, threatening yes, I've seen him like that. But not - not like this.
The party was ruined for me, I just wanted to go home. Or anyway, I wanted to go back to Ethan's which I guess is my home now. I can't decide if I'm going to live with him or not. How will I pay my way? What am I going to do now? Will I have to drop out of school?
I knew I should stay away from the munchers' party, I'd told Linds flat out I wouldn't be there and I absolutely had no intention of going. But I ended up drinking way too much for a Saturday afternoon, just hanging out at Woodyís listening to two bears piss and moan like a couple of dickless fags overloaded with estrogen, and for some reason it seemed like a good idea to take them to the party. Iím still not sure what that was about. Maybe I wanted to be there after all and they were just an excuse. No. No, of course I didnít.
I should never have gone, Justin was there. I accidentally ran into him in the bathroom, it was one of those impossible coincidences. He wouldnít speak to me, I tried to joke with him but he wasnít having it, he wouldnít say a word. Clumsily I tried to wish him good luck with Ethan but it came out all wrong and he only glared at me and almost slammed out of the bathroom.
Downstairs again I grabbed a glass of beer and drained it, crossing the patio on my way out of there. I passed the boys but pretended not to see them, and I was almost home free when Michael appeared and grabbed my arm, hissing urgently some nonsense about how Justin shouldnít be there, I didnít really even hear him clearly until he said heíd told Justin to get the fuck out of our lives. Christ, that made me angry. As if it wasnít going to be hard enough for Justin on his own, and our family is Justinís family too. I tried to shut him up but he got louder and louder, and then when he said I should have left Justin to die on the cold cement of the parking garage, I lost it. Just lost it. I hauled off and punched him in the face.
I was so shocked that Iíd hit Mikey, so angry at the things he said, that it felt like the trees and the flowers and the crowd milling around the patio were swirling around and around me, I barely had time to put up a hand to ward off a blow from Ben, Iíd not even seen it coming. Then they all started yelling at me. Ordering me out, calling me names. I didnít hear much of it, I couldnít stop glaring at Michael, I was still so angry I could have punched him again.
Somehow I got out of there and drove home. I threw myself down on the sofa and had a few shots of JB, then I just sat and stared at the curtain over the windows, watched as the light faded and shadows lengthened, sat in the dark thinking about what Iíd done. I donít give a fuck about the others Ė not Lindsay, not Melanie, not their gaggle of lesbian bitch friends. Not even Debbie. Sometimes sheís pretended to be a mom to me, but Iíve always known that what she really wanted was for me to get out of Michaelís life.
I wondered if Mikey would ever forgive me. I wondered if Iíd ever forgive him.
Finally the JB wore off and I made a few phone calls, giving in to a temptation thatís been eating at me from the inside out. Iím not stupid and Iím not a fool. I know exactly what Iím doing. Itís a ridiculous compulsion, yet one that in my semi-vulnerable state tonight I cannot resist. Once Iíd made the arrangements, I breathed a sigh of relief. Get it over with.
I had a couple hours to kill so I went for a drive. It was late but the lights were still on in the comic shop. After stopping to pick up a stupid present for Michael, maybe hoping to make him laugh, I parked and walked up to the glass door. He finally let me in and we almost apologized to each other. Iíve asked him to make up with Justin, to continue working together on Rage. He might not, all I could do was plant the idea in his head. I did it for Mikey, the comic book is his dream come true. But I also did it for Justin. Not just for the money that I believe Rage can make, but mostly so Justinís way can be eased back into the family. Not that I care exactly, heís not my responsibility any more. But I did it anyway.
Then I went home and waited. The boy was not exactly right but close enough. Too old, mid-twenties probably. He tried to tell me his name but I didnít need to hear it. He tried to kiss me too, but quickly he got the picture and rolled over. I just wanted to look at him for a minute. I wanted to touch his not-quite-golden-enough hair, I wanted to feel his smooth pale slim body moving under me. He was just a reasonable facsimile, thatí s all. Nothing more complicated than that.
Gap-filler for Episode 3-01