QAF FanFic by Morpheus

   …a post-414 story


I was ready to leave him for the New York job.  Christ, that was what, almost two years ago?  I didn’t expect it to be so hard to leave him, but I was going to leave him anyway, I was prepared, he was prepared.  Of course I’d made it worse when I pulled him into my arms and let him cry.

It’s hard to forgive someone who lets you cry and then leaves you anyway.  Yet he always forgave me.  I’ve hurt him so many times, most of them on purpose.

He always lets me see his pain.  That is so fucking brave, I cannot imagine the courage it takes to let somebody see your pain, to give them the power of knowing they have hurt you, knowing they can hurt you again.  But he does it all the time and always it wrenches me, a physical jolt in the gut.  I remember the very first time he let me see him cry.  We were standing outside my loft, I’d kicked him out, he’d run away and I followed him.  First time I can remember going after someone, even if it was only to push him further away.

He cried.  He told me he loved me and he cried.  I wanted to laugh but I couldn’t laugh.  I remember standing in the street, watching him drive away, telling myself the tears weren’t real, they didn’t mean anything, I was just his first fuck, not a man he could love.  He was a kid, a boy, a fucking teenager, what did he know about love?

More than me, as it turned out.

There were so many times that I hurt him.  Calculated times, like when I sabotaged him with his boyfriend.  Of course I knew exactly what I was doing, pushing the fiddler to sell his soul for a career.  Justin hunted me down that time too, showing me his anger, showing me his pain.  How could he let me see that?  It’s like asking for more pain, to let someone know they have the power to hurt you.  Which of course I went ahead and did.  Threw it back in his face, that his boyfriend had trashed Justin’s love for the sake of a buck.

I was fucking happy that Justin was hurt that time.  Or anyway that’s what I told myself.  I rejoiced in his pain.  Except that I didn’t.  He looked at me with that face, letting me see his tears, and the moment he turned and walked away, I raised my hand and dashed it across my face, completely and utterly amazed to discover that my eyes were wet.  I had hurt him, I had purposely and with malice aforethought hurt him, I had cut him open and watched him bleed.  And yet I was bleeding too.  I was crying too.  It was right then that I knew – somehow he had turned the tables on me.

When Justin left me for the fiddler, everyone assumed that I was okay.  They joked and laughed about it, or blamed me, or were angry at me, or felt nothing whatsoever.  And I kept my pain secret, like all my life I’ve kept my pain secret, only Michael has ever seen me suffer, but even with Michael, I’ve kept some of my pain to myself.  And this time, like so many times before, Michael bought my act of disdain, and so did everyone else. 

Except. . .except, there I’d be in the diner surrounded by these alleged friends, Justin would walk by and they’d all look at me, and I’d be showing them nothing, nothing at all.  And they’d go back to eating and talking and laughing and suddenly I’d catch sight of my reflection in the window, or in the chrome napkin dispenser, or in the bowl of my fucking spoon for Christ’s sake, and there would be my eyes, dark with pain.  Yet they didn’t see it.  Maybe they didn’t want to.

The most amazing thing was that I found myself letting Justin see it.  The very first day, the morning after the Rage party, when Justin walked into that diner, I looked at his face and consciously – fucking consciously – I let him see the pain in my eyes.  Like the others, Justin chose not to see it.  And why should he?  He’d made his decision, his life was going in a direction a hundred and eighty degrees away from me, so why should he care that he'd hurt me?  

For a long time I told myself he’d come back to me.  That’s when I wasn’t assuring myself I didn’t want him back.  And in between I helped him every way I could.  Not for any selfish reason – except of course who really does anything unselfish, don’t most people have a hidden motive, even if it’s only to feel good about themselves when they do a noble deed?  But mostly I helped Justin out of a sense of obligation.

Obligation is a sword people use to hold over your head, to force you to do what they want.  That’s what I’ve always believed.  What I never understood before is that obligation can also be a sweet urgency, a need so great to help someone that you don’t consider what’s in it for you.  It’s a new concept for me.  I’ve heard about it, I just never believed in it until now.


He has to know – naturally he knows – how difficult it was for me to ask him to move in with me.  Of course even I recognize the absurdity of continuing my pain-avoidance defense mechanisms – pretending to be offhand, pretending like asking him is sort of an afterthought.  And yet I hear my words hanging in the air, my invitation unanswered.  Why isn’t he answering?

Michael’s known me longer and more easily accepts and forgives me, but nobody understands me better than Justin (which sometimes scares the shit out of me).  And he’s just admitted that he’s been waiting since Day One for me to ask him to move in.  So why then isn’t he giving me an answer?

Finally when the silence grows too long, I make a wisecrack, delivered with a shrug and a bark of laughter.  “If you’re holding out for jewelry, you can forget it.”  

Justin doesn’t even smile, he just turns sideways on his stool and frowns at me, shaking his head.  “It’s not that,” he says, which naturally starts alarm bells clanging noisily inside my head.

With another shrug, I turn my back to him.  “It’s no big deal,” I lie.  “If you want your own space, that’s cool.  Whatever.”  I stride easily across the floor toward the bedroom but before I reach the steps, Justin’s right behind me, grabbing my arm and pulling me around to face him.

“It’s a huge deal,” he contradicts me earnestly, still hanging onto my arm.  “You have no idea how happy I am that you asked me.”  He doesn’t look very happy.

I keep my face noncommittal, then raise my eyebrows at him.  “. . .But?”

“Brian, there’s something I need to tell you, there hasn’t really been time since I got home, but there’s – there’s this thing I need to discuss with you.”

Fuck, I knew it.  “Something happened in Hollywood.”  My voice is flat, sounding (I hope) unconcerned.  But I knew it, somehow in my gut, I knew it.  He’s met somebody out there, somebody rich or famous or with a cock bigger than mine.  I’m not even surprised, it was only a matter of time after all.

“Yes,” he agrees eagerly, shaking my arm. 

I look down at his hand on my sleeve and I order myself to keep it light, keep it easy.  “That’s cool,” I hear my voice say. 

“I hope you’ll think it’s cool – I mean, I’m really sure you’ll be happy for me, at least I think so.”

I’m not going to play Twenty Questions, in fact I’m not going to help him out at all.  Instead I just stand still, not shaking his hand off my arm, simply waiting with a faintly bored expression on my face, waiting for him to deliver the kiss-off.

He’s studying me, maybe waiting for me to go off on him or something, but I won’t give him that satisfaction.  When I say nothing more, Justin takes a deep breath and exclaims, “Brian, there’s a job for me there, in Hollywood, working for the studio.  If I want it.”

A job.  A job in Hollywood, if Justin wants it.  “A job,” I repeat lamely, staring at his face.  When he nods eagerly, I clarify, “Working for him?  Brett Keller?” 

Justin nods again.  “Yes.  Assistant Art Director, for our Rage movie.”

It’s already “our movie.”  Justin’s and Brett’s.  Justin stayed at Brett’s house in Hollywood.  I was  pretty sure they’d fuck and it was okay with me.  That’s what I told myself, and it’s even true.  I’m perfectly okay with Justin fucking around.  He’s a beautiful kid, a beautiful and very sexy young man.  Who wouldn’t want to fuck him?

“I thought,” Justin’s voice falters slightly, “I mean, I was pretty sure that you’d be happy for me.  That you’d want me to do it.”  He’s studying my face, trying to read my non-expression.  He shakes my arm again.  “Aren’t you?”

If he was so sure that I’d be happy for him, why did he wait to tell me?  Was he afraid to tell me before now?  And why the fuck did I have to reveal my hand to him, before he told me his news? 

“Justin,” I take a deep breath to fortify myself.  “Of course I’m happy for you – that’s great.  Really great!”  I paste on a smile and make myself grab his hands and squeeze them.  “Assistant Art Director.  You’re on your way now!”

Still he’s studying my face, maybe wondering if I’m sincere.  I squeeze his hands a little harder and look into his eyes, saying slowly, “Justin, you’re going to be famous – you’ll be a ‘stah,’ just like you predicted.  That’s fucking great!”

“But,” he says, “But – if – I take the job, I’ll have to be away for a while.  Out there, in California.”

“Of course,” I say easily, “Hollywood’s the place for you, there’s no fucking film industry in Pennsylvania.”  I laugh and shrug, pull my hands gently away as I turn and go up the steps.   I forgot why I was headed for the bedroom, but momentum keeps me going.  I stop at the closet, slide open the door and look inside.  No clues there.

Justin’s on my heels, like the antsy little puppy he has always been.  “It’s only for a few months,” he’s talking to my back.  “I mean,” he clarifies, “If I take the job.”

“Of course you’ll take the job.”  I turn then and put my hands on his shoulders, hold him still.  Looking at his face, I can read the truth in his eyes.  “Besides,” I add, “You already said yes.  Right?”  I know I’m right.

“Yes.  But it was contingent on – on things here.  If things were okay here.”

If I were okay, he means.  If I weren’t a sick helpless invalid needing his chicken soup and his cool hand on my hot forehead and the comfort of his body holding mine in the bed that somehow has become our bed instead of my bed.  At least in my mind that’s what happened, but apparently not in Justin’s, he’s made plans to move to California and he didn’t tell me until now.  Maybe I’ll leave those blue lights over my bed after all.

“Well,” I assure him with a smile, “Everything’s okay here,” then I turn back to the closet and pull something off a hanger at random.  It’s a jacket, one of my Hugo Boss black leather jackets, I look at it like I’ve never seen it before, and then I shrug it on.  This distracts Justin.

“You’re going out?”

I’d had no plans to go out tonight but suddenly I’m wearing a leather jacket, I have no choice now.  “Yeah.  You don’t mind, do you,” I leave off the question-mark and add quickly, “You probably need to start packing, and all that.”

“Brian – “  Justin follows me as I skip lightly down the steps and move quickly through the living room to the door. 

“Don’t forget to set the alarm when you go – “  I was going to say, “to Daphne’s.”  Instead I say, “When you go home.”  Apparently Daphne’s apartment is going to remain Justin’s home.  For now.  Until he comes back to Pittsburgh.

Unless he comes back to Pittsburgh.

I halfway expect Justin to follow me downstairs, follow me to Babylon, but he doesn’t.  That’s good.  That’s a relief.  I really don’t feel like talking any more tonight.  Instead I head for the blue lights of Babylon.


Brian's mad.  Or maybe not mad, maybe he just doesn't trust me.  There was so much going on behind his eyes when I told him about Hollywood that I couldn't sort out what was what.  He was surprised, he was not happy, but beyond that, I'm not sure what he was feeling.

Usually I can tell, I can read Brian pretty well, though he thinks he's this great stone-face poker player.  I was so sure he'd be happy for me that I didn't prepare my announcement well enough, I didn't have the words ready to assure him that everything's okay, that I'll be coming home to him again in just a few months.  But he took me by surprise, inviting me - Brian fucking inviting me! - to move in with him.  Christ, could the timing of his invitation have been any worse?

He couldn't wait to get away from me just now and I decided to let him go.  Give him time to process the information that I'm going to Hollywood to work on this film.  Part of me wanted to chase after him, grab onto him and make him look me in the eye and say that he understands, that he believes in me, believes in us.  But part of me knew that he wouldn't hear any of that right now, he was too surprised.  Surprised and - well, if it weren't Brian, I'd say that he was embarrassed, but Brian's never embarrassed.  Yet I'd seen a dark flush color his neck and move up into his cheeks.  I think he was embarrassed to have finally admitted that he wants to keep me close to him.

As if I haven't known that for most of the past three years!  Even during the early days of our relationship - and no matter how he denies it, we've had a relationship of sorts since the night we met.  Even if it looked one-sided for a very long time, still I always knew that underneath the perfect selfish-asshole façade, Brian cared for me.  Even when he was breaking my balls.  Especially when he was rejecting me, pushing me away from him as hard as he could.  There were a few times during the past three years when I let doubt creep into my mind and fuck up my certainty that there was a future for Brian and me; but looking back, about ninety percent of the time I was pretty fucking sure that we'd end up together.

"End up together" is a romantic fantasy fairytale ending to a love story; but it's not a fantasy if you work your ass off to achieve it.  I did and I am and I will continue to work my ass off to make sure that Brian and I have our version of the rose-covered cottage.  Our cottage may be a nearly furniture-less loft with a revolving door to forever let in and let out an endless stream of Brian's one-time-only tricks, but that's okay.  I don't need my forever lover to be monogamous or to otherwise buy into a white-picket-fence future.  I just need him to believe in the inevitability of us.



If anyone else asks me tonight, "Where's Justin?" I swear I'm going to knock them down.  Kapow! – just like that.  I’ll Kapow! and Splat! and Kerplunk! them halfway across the dance floor. 

I'm higher than a kite, which is no surprise, I don't think I could stand Babylon tonight if I were sober; but right now I'm so high that, while seriously considering knocking down the fools who're harassing me about Justin, I imagine that I can see cartoon sound-effect-bubbles - "Kerplunk!" and "Pow!" - floating overhead, as if I'm starring in some Batman cartoon on tv. 

Mikey always made me watch those stupid cartoons with him on Saturday mornings, we'd be stretched out on the living room floor licking grape popsicles or eating misshapen sticky pink popcorn balls Deb made for us.  Sometimes Deb herself was there unless she was working an extra shift at the Woolworths cafeteria.  She'd sit on the sofa for a few minutes, watching tv, and she'd shout those cartoon sound-effects too.  It always made me feel slightly less stupid and childish, to have a grown-up yelling “Kapow!” right along with us.

In the murky blue backroom glow, in the tiny reaches of my brain which are not yet completely impacted by drugs, I'm struck suddenly by the realization that in point of fact I actually am the star of a cartoon.  I'm Rage, I'm the superhero of Gayopolis.  Because of this, because Rage and myself, or a more heavily muscled version of myself, have been immortalized by the pen of emerging animation artist Justin Taylor, said emerging animation artist is now heading west to seek his fame and fortune. 

Somehow this ironic scenario twists around in a very karmic way to end up being my own fault, to make me in fact the proximate cause of Justin’s imminent departure from Pittsburgh and (maybe) from my life.  At odd moments when I’m both sober and introspective (which states fortunately do not coincide very often), I wonder what would have happened if I had not busted my ass re-creating all the comic sketches which I’d ripped and shredded and pissed on in anger and frustration and (yeah, okay, yeah) fucking jealousy one dark and stormy night?  What if I’d left the soggy mess I destroyed alone, just walked away.  Then would Justin and Michael have been so discouraged that they’d have given up their dream right that very minute?  Would Rage have died before he was born?

And if they’d given up their dream, and Rage had died on the floor of my loft in a piss-soaked mess, would Justin have been content to remain in Pittsburgh, a mere sometime-art-student and Liberty Diner waiter; would he be snuggled up in my bed right now, waiting for me to come home to him, instead of packing his bags and winging off to California to work with a rich and famous and powerful and tall and actually pretty fucking hot gay Hollywood director?

The irony of the situation would be fabulously amusing, if only it didn’t hurt so much.

Not that I’m feeling any pain, not tonight, not with so much heavy sedation clogging my bloodstream and my brain, not with my back pressed against the rough brick wall and two eager tricks kneeling at my feet worshiping Rage’s and my nine-inch cock.  Finally I'm able to push aside the useless rambling thoughts in my brain and concentrate instead on the pleasure of two wet mouths servicing my cock, but moments later when at last I come, I imagine I can see my groans encased in thought-bubbles floating over the heads of the half-naked bodies kneeling on the back room floor.


A few minutes after Brian left the loft last night, I was almost sorry I didn't follow him.  I knew he was upset and it seemed best just to leave him alone, he wouldn't hear a word I said anyway; but later I wondered if that might have been a mistake.

It must have been because this morning Brian's not answering his phone, and when I'm standing outside the loft, I press my ear against the door to see if I can hear the coffee-maker.  It's Saturday, Brian should be up by now getting ready for the gym.  Silence.

Using my key to let myself in, I glance quickly around the loft for evidence of an orgy, but there's no trail of discarded clothing, no empty liquor bottles strewn upon the floor.  More surprising, when I make my way up the steps to the bedroom, I discover that the bed hasn't been slept in.  A quick peek in the bathroom reveals echoing emptiness and a dry shower stall - so Brian did not just get up early and take off, he hasn't even been home.

Slowly making my way to the kitchen, I'm biting my lower lip, wondering if I should be worried.  Probably it just means that Brian went home with a trick - he does that sometimes for various reasons, though it's not his usual routine.  Hesitating only a moment, I decide to start the coffee-maker.  I need some caffeine myself, and if Brian comes dragging home from a trick's house, he'll need caffeine too.

On that thought the loft door is pushed open, screeching loudly on its track, and I hear Brian murmur, "Shh, shh," then he turns the corner and spies me at the kitchen counter.  "Hey," he says casually, not batting an eye, "Is coffee ready?"

"Just starting it.  Why didn't you stop at Starbucks?"

"Head hurts," he answers simply.  "I drove home with my eyes closed."  Brian pulls off his jacket and pauses for a moment to add, "I'm grabbing a shower.  You sticking around a while?"

"Yes.  I'll have the coffee ready, can you eat some toast or something?"

Brian gags and makes a face, his only answer, before moving up the steps and heading for the bathroom.  When he returns to the kitchen a few minutes later, he's wearing gray boxer-briefs and nothing else.  Hoisting himself onto a barstool, he raises his eyebrows in silent entreaty.  He wants coffee.

Pouring a cup and setting it down on the counter with the sugar canister, I wait while Brian pours in enough granules to induce a diabetic coma, then give him a spoon to stir it up.  Pouring myself a cup, I take the seat next to him.

"L'chaim," Brian raises his cup in a toast and gulps a boiling-hot mouthful of coffee, grimaces, then says, "Mmm, I needed that."

"Bad hangover, huh?  Bourbon or Special-K or E or what?"

"Yes."  He takes another swig of coffee and looks at me over the rim of the cup. 

This probably isn't the best time to talk seriously to Brian, but I have to know, I have to.  "Brian," I ask tentatively, "Are you mad at me?  For taking the Hollywood job?"

"Of course not."  But he swings his eyes away from mine and stares at the refrigerator, then adds, "I'd be mad if you didn't take the job."

"Well," I can't help admitting, "That's sort of what I figured.  But - it feels like you're mad anyway."

"Twat.  I just hope - "  Brian stops abruptly and takes another swallow of coffee.


There's a long silence, then Brian sighs.  "I just hope you're not chasing rainbows." 

"Huh?"  I'm confused.

Brian turns to look at me again, but the shutters are down over his eyes, I can't see inside.  "I just hope you're not getting your pretty little head turned by the big famous Hollyweird director."

I shake my head, I still don't get it.

Setting down his cup abruptly, Brian demands, "Are you sure there's a real job for you there?  Are you sure this Brett butthole isn't just jerking you around, taking advantage of you?"

I'm surprised by Brian's distrust of Brett.  "Of course there's a real job for me!  Assistant Art Director, I told you."  When Brian just looks at me, expressionless, I enthuse, "You met him - Brett's a for-real nice guy.  There's no reason for him to jerk me around."

"Maybe he wants your ass."

I shake my head but before I can say anything, Brian asks, "You stayed at his house.  Did you fuck him?"

"No!  It wasn't like that at all, he's not interested in me that way."

"It's not like I care," Brian hastens to assure me.  "You can fuck whomever you want.  But - "  he pauses, then says bitterly, "But you're a fucking bad judge of character, Justin, how do you know he's a 'for-real nice guy' or not?  You said he was having an orgy the night you arrived."

"It wasn't an orgy - it was a birthday party.  There were drugs and sex, but - "

"Drugs and sex are an orgy.  You're not that naive, are you?"  Now Brian stands up abruptly and takes his cup to the sink and rinses it.  Over his shoulder he repeats, "It's not like I care."

If he didn't care, he wouldn't keep saying so.  "Brian," I join him at the sink, put my hand on his arm.  "You have no reason to be jealous of Brett.  He - "

"Jealous?"  Brian pulls away, moves a step backwards and curls his lip.  "You think I'm fucking jealous?  Don't be absurd."

"Well," I say reasonably, "You're acting jealous.  And that's okay, I mean, it's kind of sweet. But - "

"Sweet?  I am not fucking jealous, and I am not fucking sweet.  Just because I'm not blind and stupid enough to see what this asshole is up to. .."  Brian stops then, drops his head and stares at his feet.  Then he shrugs.   "Whatever."  Resuming his calm and cool demeanor, Brian moves away toward the bedroom. 

Following on his heels and watching him get dressed, I feel a sinking in the pit of my stomach.  "Brian, if you don't want me to go," I start to say, wondering if I could  turn down this opportunity of a lifetime just because Brian is irrationally jealous of Brett Keller.

"Don't."  Brian was buttoning his jeans but he freezes and frowns at me.  "Don't pull some bullshit sacrifice routine on me, okay?  You make your own fucking decisions, you're not laying that responsibility on me.  You're a man now, so you do whatever the fuck you want to do."

"But we're partners!"

"Partners," Brian nods agreement, "But no fucking strings attached, remember?  I'll do whatever the fuck I want and you'll do whatever the fuck you want."

"That's not my definition of partners," I point out.

Ignoring me, Brian pulls a shirt over his head and shoves his feet into sneakers.  '"Take it or leave it," he says gruffly, and I'm not sure if he means being partners or taking the Hollywood job.  "See you later," he throws over his shoulder, and then he's grabbing his gym bag and hurrying down the steps and out the door.  And I'm left standing alone in the middle of the living room, wondering what the fuck I'm supposed to do, what Brian wants me to do. 

Well, I know what he wants me to do:  Be a man.  Make my own decision.  And I realize that I have already made my own decision:  I'm going to Hollywood. 

Brian's wrong about Brett and it's time for him to start trusting me.  If he wants me to make my own decisions, he should have faith in me that I'll make good judgment calls, that I won't be naïve about people's motivations, and that I'm not going to fuck up this relationship with Brian that I've fought so fucking hard to achieve. 

"I'm coming back!" I yell at Brian, though by now he's probably a block away.  "I promise to come back to you."  My voice reverberates in the echoing emptiness of Brian's loft.  "And," I add more quietly, "And now it's time for you to trust me, you fucking fucker." 


"I'm not a fucking taxi service."

"Brian, if you don't want to drive me to the airport, all you have to do is say so."

"I don't want to drive you to the airport."

"Fine."  Of course I'm annoyed and I'm ready to snap my cell phone shut but something makes me wait for a moment; I pause to see if Brian will say anything else.

He does.  "I didn't say I wouldn't do it," he clarifies.  "I just said that I didn't want to."

"That's the same thing, isn't it?"

"Used to be," he sighs, and I almost laugh. 

Used to be, once upon a time, if Brian Kinney didn't want to do something, well then, he didn't do it.  End of story.  His loud-on-purpose sigh is a mini-admission that nowadays, Brian Kinney does plenty of things he doesn't want to do.

I decide to be generous, not rub it in.  "Can you pick me up at six?"

"Six a.m.?  Fuck that, I'll still be asleep."

"Fine."  Suddenly I'm tired of the game.  "Never mind, I'll take a taxi after all."

"Don't be so pissy.  I can pick you up, but why are you sleeping at Daphne's tonight?  Stay at the loft."  Quickly he adds, "It'll save time."

When I hesitate, Brian gripes, "Not even one night, huh?"

"Okay," I agree, keeping the reluctance from my voice. 

I really do not want Brian and I to have a "last night together," it will be too emotional.  At some point I'll probably start crying, and Brian will get pissed at me and even more pissed at himself for feeling emotional too, and then we'll argue, and then we'll fight, and then I'll storm out of the loft and wander around Pittsburgh until I’m exhausted and end up back at his place anyway because my suitcase is there. 

"Promise we won't fight?"

"I never fight," Brian insists.


"I never promise."

"Brian, I'm counting to ten."

"When you get to nine you can call me back, I'm hanging up now, I'm busy."

"One - "

"Meet me at Kinnetik about five-thirty.  We'll have an early dinner."

"Okay," I give in, but he's already hung up the phone.  Why do I have to love such an asshole?


Justin's flight has been delayed so we're sitting in the car in the parking lot, killing time.  He wanted to go wait at the gate where of course I can't accompany him because of tight security.  I should have just let him go.  But the delay is two fucking hours, too long for him to sit alone twiddling his thumbs.  But not long enough for us to go home.  We contemplated getting breakfast either at the airport or at a nearby restaurant, but neither of us feels like eating.   Justin should be starving, I know this boy's appetite, and he only picked at his dinner last night.  I can guess why he's not hungry, I'm feeling pretty shitty myself.

Of course there's plenty of time for another fuck but apparently neither of us is in the mood for that activity either.  Justin's already walking funny after our marathon fuckfest last night, or anyway that's what he claims.  So we just sit here feeling awkward and miserable and for no good reason, we start picking on each other.  Or I start picking on him and he defends himself.

"Don't forget your roots, when you get famous," I advise him. 

Justin pretends to believe that I'm joking.  "I'm a natural blond," he answers mildly, "No dark roots."

"Don't forget all the little people who made your success possible."

"Midgets had nothing to do with it."

The first one to laugh, loses.

I’ve run out of one-liners so I decide to shut up.  Instead I move my arm across the seat and caress the short hairs on the back of his neck.  I refuse to remind myself that it’s for the last time, or the last time for an eternity of months.  Justin’s shoulders, that were feeling tight and tense, relax under pressure from my fingers.  But unfortunately the tight hold he was keeping over his emotions relaxes too, and I hear that telltale tiny gasp as he takes a breath and holds it, his determination not to cry creating a lump in my throat.

Coughing once to clear my throat, I say, “Justin. . .”

“Hmm?”  He’s not going to look at me.

“The time will go fast,” I lie, hating myself for the perjury.  “You’ll be so busy out there, and I’ll be so busy with Kinnetik, time will fucking fly.” 

He nods, probably not trusting himself to speak.  I want to look away, give him a modicum of privacy to pull himself together, but I can’t stop looking at him.  He’s so beautiful, so shiny, he looks so fucking young and vulnerable.  He’s not of course; he may look like cotton candy but he’s really tempered steel.  Even so, I can’t help murmuring, “Be careful, don’t trust people too easily.”

“Okay.”  He can look at me now, he moves his head back a few inches and smiles up at me.

“And don’t fucking smile like that at people, they’ll eat you alive.”

“I’ll frown a lot, I promise.  I’ve been practicing the Kinney sneer in front of the mirror.”  He shows me and it’s all I can do not to laugh out loud, he looks about as menacing as a kitten.

“Call me,” I tell him for about the thirtieth time.  “A lot.”

Justin nods and looks away again, I see his Adam’s apple bobbing.

“This farewell scene is getting too fucking maudlin,” I growl then, gripping the door handle and lifting it, thrusting the door open wide and stepping outside.  “You have to go now,” I tell him, hoping he’ll understand.

Of course he does.  “It’s okay,” he assures me, climbing out and moving around the car to stand in front of me.  “Let’s say goodbye right here, with nobody around.  I’ll go into the terminal alone.”

Grabbing Justin’s shoulders, I pull him hard against me and just hold on tight.  He slips his hands inside my jacket, around my back, and he’s hanging on to me too.

“I’ll miss you,” I say  gruffly, unable to make a joke of it.

“I’ll miss you too.”

We look at each other and our lips meet for a long and hard and nearly unbearable final goodbye kiss.  When at last we come up for air, I almost push Justin away from me.  “Now go,” I tell him, “Or – “ 

I don’t finish my sentence – “Or I won’t be able to let you go.” 

But he knows, Justin knows, he hears the words I won’t say.  And he’s crying now, full out.  Christ, here’s Justin once again showing me his tears.  And then he’s grabbing his backpack and hurrying away, almost running toward the terminal. 

Standing there, watching him go, I tell myself that he’ll be back.  Probably. 

As I get in the car, drive out of the garage and move into the stream of morning-commute traffic, a line from Romeo and Juliet repeats over and over inside my head:  “Parting is such sweet sorrow, parting is such sweet sorrow.”

That fucking William Shakespeare has a hell of a lot to answer for, not least of which is forcing college students to memorize big chunks of verbiage that will be stored eternally in memory, and will ever after slip out at the most fucking inopportune moments. 

“Parting is such sweet. . .” 

He’ll be back.  I hope.