The combined beauty of the sleeping boys causes an almost unbearable pain in my chest. Justin lays curled on his right side, knees drawn up slightly, his right arm stretched out at ninety degrees, his head curved downward. At this angle the pink scar on his forehead is not visible. In repose his pale skin resembles marble, the curves and planes of his face a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture, his blond hair artfully disarranged by sleep, his pale eyelashes feathery, ephemeral. He’s wearing only light blue shorts, so the curve of his slim torso defines the outline of his small, almost delicate bone structure. Yet inside this slight boyish body lives an almost-man of great courage and resolve, intelligence and strength.
Inside the protective curve of Justin’s body lies sleeping the other boy, his back resting against Justin’s chest, his head pillowed on Justin’s outthrust arm. His dark curls and creamy beige skin contrast with Justin’s paleness, his dark eyelashes flutter on his cheeks, he begins to wake up. His eyes open and he stares up at me, he catches me smiling yet I am feeling moved almost to tears by the beauty and vulnerability of these boys. I hold a finger to my lips and whisper, “Shh,” but I know it’s hopeless.
“Dada!” Gus murmurs, reflecting the smile on my face, and he pulls himself up to a sitting position, holds out his arms and says “Dada, up! up!” and of course this wakens Justin, who stretches and yawns as I reach over him to pick up the baby, my amazingly beautiful son, and I quickly wipe away every trace of sentimental emotion that might be visible on my face.
“Hey,” I say casually, “Sorry I woke you boys up.”
Justin swings his legs over the side of the bed and stands up, slides his arms around me and Gus in one sweeping gesture of love. I want to back away but I don’t, I let him hug me briefly; he won’t hang on too long. “Did you just now get home?” Justin asks, releasing me and yawning again.
“Yeah, I caught you napping, didn’t I?”
Justin laughs ruefully. “Gus wouldn’t take a nap unless I laid down with him. I waited for him to fall asleep, but I conked out, too. And I was going to have dinner ready for you.”
“Gus, you’re wet!” I discover the baby’s wet diaper only after it has leaked down the side of my suit, one of my favorite Armanis, the dark gray one with notched lapels.
Justin grabs Gus and carries him at arm’s length into the bathroom, dripping all the way. “Baby, how come you peed so much?” he asks, but Gus only laughs. “Can you bring me the diaper bag, Brian?” I look around and find the bag in the corner by the closet. Removing my soiled jacket, I watch with admiration as Justin expertly peels off the soggy diaper, cleans up Gus’s bottom and rubs powder gently on his skin, then slips on a new diaper in a flash.
“You make a great mommy,” I tell him, as I turn on the faucet and dampen a washcloth, then turn to rub it on my stained suit.
“Don’t!” Justin stops me. “Remember, the cleaners told you not to try and wash stuff off yourself.”
“Oh yeah.” I’d forgotten.
“Just hang up the jacket and I’ll take care of it later,” Justin says, “I have to pick up a couple of your other suits tomorrow anyway.”
“You make a great wife, too,” I tell him, then bite my tongue. It’s a joke and yet it’s not a joke. Justin wants to be my wife. Or my husband, same difference. I’m pissed at myself for giving him this opening, but generously, he lets it slide.
“Can we go out for dinner?” he asks instead.
“God, no,” I moan, and he laughs. Gus can be impossible in restaurants. He behaves well most of the time, but in public places he has been known to wreak havoc if he is in the right frame of mind. “I’ll call for take-out instead. What do you feel like?”
“Pork,” Justin exclaims, his eyes meeting mine in the mirror. “A big piece.”
“We’ll save that for dessert. After he’s asleep.”
“Oh, all right,” Justin sighs dramatically. “There you are, Gussy, all nice and clean!”
“Do NOT call him Gussy.”
“He likes it. Don’t you Gussy?” Justin pushes his face close to the baby’s and rolls his eyes. “Fussy Mussy Gussy!” Of course Gus laughs. “See? He likes it.”
“Mel will absolutely kill you for that.”
Justin shoulders the baby and carries him through the bedroom and down into the living room. Gus watches me as I follow behind, and when Justin tries to put him down in the playpen, Gus starts to cry and holds up his arms to me, his only hope of salvation. “Dada, dada, dada,” he whimpers.
I lean over and show Gus a very stern face. “No!” I tell him, waving a finger. “Dada’s busy now.” He stops crying, but his bottom lip quivers almost unbearably and a single tear rolls down his cheek. I feel myself weakening.
“Be tough, dada,” Justin admonishes, so I turn on my heel and retreat to the bedroom to change clothes. “Gus, let’s watch ‘The Little Mermaid!’” I hear Justin exclaim, and silently groan to myself. Every time Gus watches that damned video, I’m humming “Under the Sea” for three days. As I get undressed I squint through the blinds at the boys, Gus scooting over to the front of his playpen so he can see the TV as Justin finds the video and starts it playing for him. Justin crouches for a moment by the playpen, whispering to Gus, poking a finger through the netting to tickle Gus’ tummy, and I can just barely hear the baby giggle. Gus adores Justin.
Everybody adores Justin. Everybody harasses me about Justin, every chance they get. It has reached a point where Justin is the only one NOT harassing me. I feel once again the desire to break away rise up in my throat, making me want to shout out loud. I can still take the San Francisco job. Paul Alioto told me, when I called to turn down his offer, that I could consider the job open and available any time I changed my mind. I was flattered when he’d told me that, but later I regretted it. If you can’t escape your jail cell, the mirage of an escape tunnel is a cruel twist.
I throw my shirt and tie on the bed and start to remove the belt from my trousers as Justin comes up the steps. He reaches for the tie and hangs it in the closet, then reaches for my belt and loops it carefully and lays it in the belt drawer. He would probably polish my boots if I asked him to. Or even if I didn’t. His thorough, cherishing care of me is almost suffocating at times. Sometimes I wonder how on earth I managed to survive before he came along and insinuated himself into every crevice of my life. But it is not as if I need him, not really; you can hire people to do almost everything he does for me.
The phone rings, and Justin runs to answer it. Despite everything, he’s still naïve enough to think a ringing phone needs answering, that someone’s call might be good news. He answers with “Kinney Residence,” and I shake my head at his impertinence. Pulling off my trousers, I start to throw them on the bed, then stop; I can hang them up myself, I always did before. Before this combination wife-slave-goodfuck started coddling me. I put on my favorite homewear, old jeans and sleeveless black silk tee. Since Henri introduced me to silk shirts many years ago, I’ve never wanted anything else touching my skin.
I go into the bathroom to take a piss and wash my hands and face, thinking about Henri and the magical Christmas visit to Paris with him so long ago. I was about Justin’s age then, yet already I’d known for a long time that love does not exist. Justin still holds out hope. Hope is an expensive and dangerous commodity; I need to tell him that, but I won’t. Justin avoids the truth. Even though it came sneaking up behind and smashed him on the head, Justin still avoids knowing the truth.
From the corner of my eye I see Justin straightening the duvet wrinkled by the sleeping bodies of the two boys, then he comes into the bathroom and hands me a towel as I finish washing up.
“That was Lindsay,” he tells me, though I didn’t ask. “She just called to see if Gus had worn us out yet. They’re on their way to dinner. She says it’s raining in New York.” Then he laughs suddenly, which reshapes and rounds the contours of his face, making him look the same age as Gus. “I told her you called their trip, ‘Munchers Take Manhattan.’”
I hand the towel back to him, only so I can watch him hang it up again. “You’re probably starving by now. But then, you’re always starving. Let’s call a restaurant.”
Justin follows me down to the kitchen and we pull out the menus. “Not always. Besides, I had some cheese when I fed Gus a couple hours ago. But yeah, I’m sort of starving now. How about chicken parmesan from Luigi’s?”
“Fine,” I agree, then pull open the fridge and take out a beer. I know the bottle opener is going to be thrust into my hand the moment I turn around, but I turn anyway and let him give it to me. I have committed to an entire weekend with Justin, I asked him to help me care for Gus, but now I wonder, in my present state of mind, if I can go almost three days without blowing up at him, without blistering his ears with the cruelty of my frustration that bubbles just beneath the surface.
“Brian. . .what’s wrong?” He always knows. Always.
“Nothing,” I lie, setting down my beer on the counter and sliding both arms around his slim waist. I make myself smile at him, and relax slightly as he raises up on tiptoes to kiss my lips. “Just a busy day, I’ll need to do some work this weekend.”
“Will you have to go in to the office?”
“Probably,” I lie again, releasing him and pushing him an inch away. “Call the restaurant now, would you?” He nods and hurries over to the desk, and I drink my beer as I listen to him on the phone.
“Hey, Frederico,” he says, “Buon giorno! It’s Justin. How’s it going?” He’s smiling and nodding as if Frederico, whoever Frederico is, can see him.
I’ve been using the same restaurants for years and I don’t know anybody’s name.
“How’s the chicken parmesan tonight? Oh, parmeggiano! Sorry. Sounds great. Yeah, for two, and some of your fantastico minestrone. . .oh, a quart. And can you put in some olives, just a few, you know how I love those! Don’t tell Luigi, okay?” He laughs, looks over and catches me watching him and his smile jostles the organs inside my body like whiplash. I have to look away, walk away into the living room, where Gus is enthralled by a redheaded mermaid singing to an octopus.
When Justin joins us, he has changed into jeans and a tee shirt. And socks. His feet are always cold, sometimes in the night when he’s deeply asleep, he puts them against my skin and I wake up with a shudder. Corpse feet, I called them once without thinking, and he got horribly upset. He joins me on the sofa and puts his feet in my lap, I rub them hard to improve the circulation and he sighs with pleasure. Justin loves to be touched. We three sit in silence, watching the garish Disney colors and an inane musical extravaganza of singing fish, until the buzzer sounds, making us all jump.
Justin bounds off the sofa, runs toward the door and slides the last yard in his stocking feet. Gus has been watching him, and laughs. I laugh too; I can’t help it. Justin buzzes the downstairs entry, then pulls open the loft door. I hear the elevator stop and the delivery boy appears.
“Hey, Arsenio!” Justin greets him, “Wassup?”
I turn away, focus my gaze on the television again. Justin knows everybody.
After dinner, I let Justin clean up the kitchen; he says he likes to, and I believe him. It’s another skirmish in his battle to take over my life, and I let him win this one. I sit at my computer and log on, bringing up a file I’ve been working on, then I minimize the screen and surreptitiously log on to a Pittsburgh m4m chatroom, read the profiles of all the horny queers, recognize some of them. Emmett is there; he is not aware that I know his cruising screenname; I hope he does not know mine.
When Justin finishes in the kitchen and walks over toward the desk, I quickly exit the chatroom and stare at the text file, as if lost in thought. He stands behind me and peers at the screen. “Do you have to go in tomorrow? I was hoping we could take Gus to the zoo.”
“Save the zoo for Sunday,” I suggest, “It’s supposed to rain tomorrow.”
“Oh, I have an idea!” Justin exclaims, dropping his hands on my shoulders and leaning down his face to rub his cheek on mine. “Gus and I can come to the office with you!”
“Nobody will be there on a Saturday, right? I could do homework and sketch, and we could put Gus’ playpen in your office, he’d be quiet.”
I shake my head, but Justin continues: “I’ve always wanted to see your office,” he confesses, wrapping his arms around my neck and squeezing like a gentle python. “I like to see people’s environments, so I can picture them there. I bet Gus would like to see your office, too.”
“We’re not dragging all that baby shit into my office for a couple hours. And how do you think I could concentrate with two kids acting up, right under my nose?”
Justin laughs. “Well, you do okay at home. And we won’t act up, we’ll be very, very good.”
How to explain that I just wanted to get away from him and Gus for a few hours? It sounds cruel, even for me. That’s all I really wanted. I wasn’t going to get up to anything. Or, if something happened, it happened. There’s this guy who works in the corner florist shop near my building, I thought he might work Saturdays. In fact, I asked that yesterday on my way home. But it’s not like I was planning anything. There was no guarantee he would be there.
All right, so I can’t sustain a monogamous relationship for a weekend. Why should anybody think I can last a lifetime? And no, Justin has not asked me to. But it’s what he wants.
Somehow, next morning, I let myself get talked into taking the boys to my office. I have no idea how this happened, and by the time we get there, I am furious. Furious at myself, mostly, for letting myself be strong-armed into dragging Gus and all his accoutrements into my office on a Saturday morning. My temper is short. Justin blames it on a lack of caffeine; when we drive by my coffee kiosk, it’s closed, with no explanation. Justin promises to make coffee at the office; he knows there is a staff lounge on my floor. Cynthia must have told him. I wonder what else she has told him, they seem to have friendly little chats all too often.
I sign us in at the security desk in the lobby, ‘Brian Kinney and consultants.’ I peer at the guard’s name badge and say, “Thanks, George.”
Justin flashes me a grin, and in the elevator he whispers, “Trying to pretend you actually know somebody’s name.” I ignore him, but he’s on to me, all right.
Justin carries Gus around my office for a tour, reading my plaques, looking at my reference books, while I set up the playpen in a corner. I’ve got a small combo TV-VCR that I use to preview copy, and I move this around so Gus will be able to watch a video if he gets fussy, which naturally he does within five minutes. Justin pops in the video; it’s ‘The Little Mermaid.’ Again.
“Sorry, dada,” Justin answers my groan, “It’s his favorite.” He comes over to my desk and hands me his Walkman.
“What a choice,” I mutter snidely, ‘Under the Sea’ or Moby.”
“No,” Justin says, “It’s Aida.”
Somewhat mollified, I adjust the earphones and log on to my computer; in a few minutes, Justin returns with a mug of coffee. I pointed out the location of the staff lounge and he managed to make a pot of coffee for us. I laugh as I notice that the mug he hands me says ‘Marty’ and Justin rolls his eyes at me. Then he settles down on my sofa with his sketchpad and Gus keeps his eyes glued to the little red-haired mermaid swishing her tail. Christ, he’ll probably grow up to be straight. If he thinks he can ask me for dating advice in sixteen years, he’ll be out of luck.
All goes well for an hour; in fact, I become so involved in the copy I’m editing that I even forget the boys are there. When I remember, and glance up, I see that Gus is asleep, lying sideways in the playpen, his tiny fingers rhythmically rubbing the silk binding on his blanket, his rosebud mouth making sucking motions. Seeing this never fails to stop my heart in mid-beat, it’s indescribably adorable. I glance at Justin, throwing him a smile, wanting him to see the baby too, but Justin is himself asleep. His head is lolling on the back of the sofa, his sketchpad is tilted at an alarming angle, about to slip off his lap, and his fingers lie on top of the sketchpad, just barely holding on to his pencil. In spite of all that Justin has been through, in sleep his face looks cherubically innocent. My heart is tugged again by the sight of my sleeping boys.
A sudden movement pulls my eyes toward the open doorway of my office, and I grab the earphones off my head; silently cursing the fucking Aida CD which masked the sounds of approach. It’s Marty, in jeans and a Yale sweatshirt, staring at the unexpected sight of my office turned into a daycare center. “Hey, how’s it going,” I try for casual.
From the corner of my eye I see Justin jerk awake, his sketchpad slips to the floor with a muffled bang and he sits up straight, alert and looking guilty.
“Hey,” Marty answers me, turning to flash his most insincere smile. “I saw you signed in downstairs; are these your consultants?”
“Yes. Justin, this is my boss, Marty Ryder; Marty, Justin Taylor.”
Justin gets quickly to his feet and extends his hand; he has perfect manners. After a brief hesitation, Marty shakes his hand and they nod warily at each other. Gus chooses this moment to wake up and start crying. Justin hurries to the playpen and picks him up, kisses his cheek, murmurs, “Shh, you’re okay.”
Marty is staring at the baby. “And this is. . .?” he asks. I’m not sure if knows I have a kid or not, but in any case it’s none of his business.
“This is Gus.”
Justin throws a worried glance at me and says, “He’s wet. Can I change him here, or -?”
When I nod and Justin turns to carry Gus to the sofa, the baby catches sight of me over Justin’s shoulder and cries, “Dada!” and struggling against Justin, he reaches his tiny arms out toward me.
I stand up and walk around my desk, pull Gus from Justin’s arms and hug him. He grabs my face with his sticky fingers and says, “Dada, pee, Dada, pee.”
“I know, Gus, Dada’s going to change you right now.” I carry him to the sofa, Justin spreads a towel and I lay him down on it, and together Justin and I kneel by the sofa and have Gus changed in record time. I’m afraid he’ll grab the opportunity of being briefly naked to pee on my sofa and carpet and the Liberty Air brochures spread out on my coffee table, but luckily he does not.
“Brian,” Marty says from the doorway, “Can I see you in my office for a moment?”
I nod and hand Gus to Justin, whose forehead is wrinkled with worry. I smile reassuringly at him and squeeze his shoulder, before heading down the hall behind Marty.
Marty stops at the door of the staff lounge, where Justin has left on the light. “I smell coffee,” he says, “Mind if I grab a cup?”
“Help yourself.” I lounge in the doorway watching him, then almost laugh when I realize he is searching in the cupboard for his mug. After a moment he shrugs and picks a cup at random, fills it from the pot, and brushes past me out the door. We walk in silence to his office.
Marty flips on his light and seats himself behind his desk, takes a swig of coffee. “So,” he asks, “What are you doing here on a Saturday?”
I sit down, uninvited, and cross my legs. “The Browerman account. They’re scheduled to see our presentation on Tuesday, and the copy is fucked. It needs some rewording.”
“Who did the original copy?”
“Guess,” I answer bitterly.
Marty takes another sip of coffee and sighs. “Bob and Brad. The Moron Twins.”
I have to laugh at that; at least I’m not the only one who can’t tell them apart.
“Run the copy by me Monday morning, if it’s ready,” he says, and I nod. It will be.
I stand up and ask, “Anything else?”
He looks at me for a moment over the rim of his cup. After all the years we’ve worked together, I can usually read him, but not always. Sometimes he surprises me. “I just wanted to say. . .” he pauses, then puts down his cup and flips on his computer. “I appreciate your dedication to the company,” he says, throwing me a brief glance, before turning to stare at his monitor. “See you Monday.”
Back in my office I hug Justin and give him a brief kiss, then we gather up all our shit and get the hell out of Dodge.
Unfortunately, Sunday morning dawns bright and sunny; no rain clouds to save me from the zoo. Justin decides he’s going to make us pancakes, but I’m able to talk him into going out instead. We have a big breakfast at a chain restaurant near the zoo, and I allow myself a piece of bacon and three bites of Justin’s hashbrowns, figuring I’ll walk it off today. It’s early, so the zoo is not very crowded yet, and we decide to let Gus experience the petting zoo first, though he’s really too young to appreciate it and is slightly wary of the animals walking all around him, then Justin has the bright idea that the baby will enjoy the aquarium, since he loves ‘The Little Mermaid’ so much. Halfway through the exhibit, I’m bored; I ask Justin if he minds me stepping out for a smoke. He’s got Gus in the stroller so he can manage alone.
I make my way outside and join a scattered group of hard-core smokers on a deck overlooking the manmade lagoon. I’m just lighting up when this guy in snakeskin cowboy boots and a suede vest sidles over to ask me for a light. He gives me the look and I feel a definite tightening in my balls. I’ve seen him before, in fact I’m pretty sure I’ve fucked him before, but of course I can’t remember the details, it was a while ago and there’ve been hundreds under my bridge since then. He’s hot, definitely in my league, dark blond hair curling over the collar of his shirt, lips red and full and turning up at the corners. I return his smile, and when he gestures toward a door marked EXIT on the far side of the platform, I quickly follow him across the weathered wooden deck. He pushes open the door and holds it for me, and as I start to pass through the door, I hear my name, and turn.
It’s Justin, struggling to hold open the heavy glass aquarium door and push the stroller outside. Someone grabs the door for him and I turn away from Cowboy and walk casually back across the platform to his side, puffing leisurely on my cigarette.
He’s not buying it, not for a moment. He flashes me a furious look, then turns away and pushes the stroller about eighty miles an hour down a zoo pathway. I quickly catch up with him and grab his arm, jerking him to a stop.
“What the fuck?” I demand, dropping my cigarette butt and grinding it out. “Where are you going?”
He looks at me as if I am the biggest asshole on the planet. “Go ahead, Brian. We’ll wait in the car.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” But he has already turned and quickly pushes the baby stroller through the zoo pathways and out toward the exit. I don’t try to stop him again, but pass him near the carpark, have the doors of the jeep unlocked and the babyseat ready for Gus. While Justin straps the baby in, I fold down the stroller, and within moments, we’ve fastened our own seatbelts and head across town in silence.
Justin speaks only once. “Brian, I’ve never asked you not to mess around.” (He’s the only one of the whole group of us, including both mommies, who remembers not to say ‘fuck’ in front of Gus.) “All I’ve ever asked is, not to do it when you’re with me.”
I say nothing. There is nothing to say.
We don’t talk all the rest of the way home. When we enter the loft, Justin carries Gus across the living room and lays him in the crib, takes off his jacket and shoes, pulls the tiny handmade-by-Pennsylvania-lesbians quilt over the baby. Gus murmurs and rolls over; he’s asleep, it’s his nap time. I hang up my jacket, grab a beer, and sit down at the computer. Without looking at him, I watch Justin gather up his books and clothes and pack up to leave. He sets his backpack near the door, all without looking at me, then returns to the living room, sits on the sofa with his back to me, sketchpad on his lap.
I can’t stop watching him, even as I type gibberish and pretend to work. ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the sleeping gray dog, the quick brown fox jumps over the sleeping gray dog, the quick brown fox jumps over the sleeping gray dog,” my fingers clatter busily on the keyboard. His head is bent in concentration, I know what his face looks like even from the back. He waits for me. He waits for me to give him what he needs, to tell him what he needs to hear, and I can’t. Or I won’t. Which amounts to the same thing in the end.
I want to rage at him, I want to scream a defense, ‘I didn’t DO anything.’ But of course it’s a lie, so I can’t. I wish he would go home, but I know he is waiting to be sure that Lindsay picks up Gus before he leaves my son alone with me, the bloody fucking monster of Tremont Street. I know he will put up an elaborate front for Lindsay when she arrives; he will act convincingly like everything is fine, he will kiss me, he will joke with me, he will wave happily as he exits my door. And I know that the moment he is gone, Lindsay will turn to me and demand to know what the fuck I did wrong.
One reason I need to move to San Francisco is this: All the people in Pittsburgh know each other too well. ‘No excuses, no regrets’ only works with people who think you mean it, who will swallow your words wholesale, and who will walk out and leave you alone afterwards. People who won’t come back the next day, who won’t forgive you; people who won’t keep believing in you, no matter how many times you prove them wrong.