Queer As Folk FanFic by Morpheus

Intermission-09

The Prisoner of Tremont Street

Part 13 (Final Chapter):   What I Want




Brian

"I am not using a fucking cane!"

"Brian - "

"No."

"Mr. Kinney - "

"No."

There's a brief pause, then Justin suggests, "Brian could still use the crutches, couldn't he doctor?  Instead of a cane?"

The doctor sighs; he's tried his bedside manner on me before and he prefers dealing with Justin.  "Yes, of course, but it will be much easier to get around using a cane."

"No fucking cane.  And no fucking crutches.  I can manage without them, I've done it at home."  The end.  I'm finished, no more conversation.

I don't look at the doctor but I know what his face looks like:  Controlled annoyance, his lips compressed tightly together; my peripheral vision shows that he's crossed his arms over his chest.  I loathe doctors, they think they're God, all of them.  I hear him take a deep breath, no doubt to calm himself,  maybe to keep from punching my lights out.

"Yes, Mr. Kinney, you can manage without a cane, without crutches.  But your balance is off, your center of gravity has shifted because of the weak leg.  You can 'manage' to get around, no doubt.  And you will certainly manage to fall down, too.  You can believe me or not, I've only been an orthopedic surgeon for eighteen years."  He takes another deep breath and tells me, "And if you fall hard enough, your bone will surely break again."

There's a long pause while I choose not to acknowledge him, and while Justin struggles to keep his mouth shut.  I sense him fairly quivering with unspoken words.  For a brief second that makes me angry with Justin, then the next moment I feel myself softening toward him.  He's trying to mediate for me, the way he's been doing ever since the accident.  To walk a fine line between doing what's best for me and not pushing too hard.  A thankless job. 

"Okay," I give in.  Not for the doctor, not even for myself.  For Justin.  "I'll keep using the crutches.  But no cane."  I still don't look at them, but I hear Justin heave a sigh of relief.

"Very well."  The doctor's voice is clipped.  "Continue the PT three times a week, and see me again in two weeks."  He turns to leave the room, but Justin stops him, grabs his hand and shakes it.

"Thanks so much, Dr. Kuchner," he says, giving his big Sunshine smile.  Watching from the corner of my eye, I see the doctor visibly relax and return Justin's smile.  That boy should go into politics.  Or advertising.

When the door closes behind him and Justin turns back toward the table where I'm sitting with my bad leg stretched out on a pull-out shelf, I cock an eyebrow at him.  "Well - aren't you going to tell me I'm an asshole?"

He shrugs.  "Why bother?  You know that already.  Why don't we stop for lunch at Luigi's on the way home?  I'm hungry for some Italian."

"Me, too.  Think your favorite waiter - Salvatore? - would come home with us after lunch?"

"Ha ha."  He pushes in the shelf and helps me off the table.  "Sit down, let me get your jeans started."

Halfheartedly I say, "I can do it," but I watch him grab the jeans and bend over to help me put my feet inside the pants legs, and I lean on his shoulder as I stand to pull them up.  Christ, I've been leaning on Justin so much the past couple months.  I've told him it doesn't mean anything and he's said he understands.  But it does mean something.  When he hands me the crutches, I fit them under my arms and follow him out of the room.

Naturally I loathe the crutches, a bright blinking neon sign that a weak imperfect man is hopping around.  But I absolutely will never use a cane.  Canes are for old men, for broken-down useless wrinkled and helpless drooling old farts.  I don't care if that's ridiculously vain, I really don't care.  I won't do it.

On Monday, I'm returning to work.  I'm limited to four hours a day, and though I scoff at the time imposition, to myself I'll admit that four hours sitting at a desk will tire me.  I've pushed that limit at home and later paid the price of flat-out, lie-down-in-bed-and-die exhaustion.  Even so, on my own I realize that I'd continue to push the limits.  But Justin knows me very well - he's lined up volunteer chauffeurs who will deliver me to work and pick me up four hours later.  So the schedule is out of my hands.

I'm longing to get back to work, and yet I'm feeling trepidation for various reasons.  Partly my low energy of course, partly because I dread running the gamut of office staff welcoming me, glad-handing me, and all the false shit that that entails.  Nobody really likes me at the office and that’s the way I want it.  I'm aware of the nicknames, Killer Kinney being the mildest.  I've never made an effort to know anyone and I've never let anybody get personal with me.  I have no interest in being buddies with people at the office.

Except for Jesse of course.  But he works nights so I won't get to see him for a long time.  I find that I've missed his company, which is vaguely amazing.  He visited me in the hospital, he met Justin.  Later Justin asked if he could call Jesse, invite him to come visit me at home, but I said no.  That's just a casual acquaintance kind of thing, not a friendship.  Jesse wouldn't want to come to the loft, I wouldn’t put him on the spot like that.

I've never really done the friends thing anyway, not since college, and not much even back then.  Most of my so-called friends are really Mikey's.  Michael's my friend.  Lindsay.  And - Justin.  Whenever I think of Justin as my friend, I do a sort of mental double-take.  It took so long for me to recognize that Justin was more than just a great fuck.  Almost from the beginning, I wanted him around me.  I thought it was only for sex.

Following Justin out to the parking lot and handing  him my crutches while I climb into the passenger seat, I think about that nebulous word 'friend.'  Supposedly a friend is someone you count on to always be there for you.  Like Michael. 

And Justin?  He was on my side from the very beginning, even before I wanted him to be.  Despite my best efforts to keep him from being.  And have I been there for him?  Mostly.  Mostly I have.  Not always the way he wanted me to be, but. . .

"You're deep in thought," Justin comments, throwing a glance at me as he pulls out of the stall and exits the hospital parking lot.  He wants to know what I'm thinking but he knows better than to ask.  And because he doesn't ask, I decide to tell him.

"I'm thinking about friends." 

He hesitates, starts to speak, then stops abruptly.

"What?"

"Oh, nothing."  He pauses, then blurts out, "You know, people came to see you in the beginning, but you didn't exactly make them feel welcome."

I correct him.  "I wasn't thinking of fucking visitors.  And I didn't make people feel welcome at the loft because they were NOT welcome.  I wanted to be left alone."

"Well, it worked." 

I stare hard at him, trying to decide if he's being sarcastic.  But he's not - or only a little.  "I don't like a lot of people around.  In the clubs it's okay.  But not at home.  I'm a loner - always have been."

"I know."  He stops at a red light and turns to look at me. 

I can't read his expression - he's learning to mask his feelings from me, damn it.  He used to be transparent as glass.  Then suddenly I think I know what he's not saying.

"I didn't mean - "

Justin just looks away, the light changes and the car surges forward.  Fuck.  This is exactly why I don't like to talk about feelings.  People misunderstand.  Things get confused.  Things get emotional.  I don't want to explain.  It's fucking invasion of privacy.  And I'm not going to explain myself to Justin or to anybody else. 

Because I didn't mean him.  Yet if I say I didn't mean him, then that implies that I want him to stay with me.  And just because maybe I do want him to stay with me, it can't happen.  I won't let it happen. 

It's silent inside the car, and then I see my hand moving slowly across the seat.  I watch it creep up Justin's arm and come to rest on the collar of his jacket.  I watch my fingers squeezing his neck, and when he turns his head and gives me a reluctant smile, I feel my the corners of my mouth turn up in return.  At the next red light we kiss.  Actions are better than words, and they don't paint you into a corner.


Justin

It won't be long now till Brian won't need me any more.  I have to prepare myself for getting pushed out of the loft once again.  Maybe pushed out of Brian's life.  I've tried not to get comfortable here, but it's hard not to fall back into our old ways, back when we lived together by choice. 

I haven't let myself sleep in Brian's bed unless I'm invited, one night at a time.  In the beginning Brian tried to get me to sleep with him every night - he said he was more comfortable having somebody warm lying next to him.  So I offered to buy him an electric blanket.  He laughed but he was pissed.  I was pissed too - I have no intention of being merely a warm body in Brian's bed.

Sex has been happening a lot lately.  Which is not really surprising for two sexually active guys being together every morning and night.  At first Brian was hurting too much but eventually we worked out some ways to have almost pain-free sex, and lots of times Brian just wants to be jerked off or to watch me jerking off.  That's incredibly hot, having Brian watch me.  We lie side by side on the bed, me in the circle of his arm, his breath warm and tickling as he whispers nasty hot things in my ear.  One time Brian asked me to bring a trick home, he wanted to watch me fuck somebody.  Like we used to.  But I won't do that any more and I told him so.  I thought he might scoff at me, curl his lip in that scornful way of his, but he didn't, he just nodded.  He didn't even seem surprised.

Now that Brian's almost back to normal, he wants to fuck every day.  I try to resist him because it's only going to make me miss living here even more: the constant access to Brian's beautiful naked body, his kisses, the roller-coaster feelings that having sex with Brian puts me through.  In my mind I've purposely stopped calling it love-making.  Because I've learned that you can't "make" love, and Brian does not really love me.  Or at least, not the way I love him, not the way I want to be loved.

Oh, I'm not the romantic dope I was when I fell for Ethan.  The romance with Ethan was what I thought I wanted, needed - yet I learned pretty quickly that romance wasn't enough.  It was delicious at first, like Worcestershire sauce poured on top of a steak.  Yet soon I realized that it was the steak I wanted, not the sauce.   

What's ironic is that I never really loved Ethan, so in a way I was cheating him of the kind of feelings he wanted, just like Brian cheated me.  No, Brian didn't cheat me.  He's always said, from day one, that he doesn't believe in love.  You can't withhold something that doesn't exist.

But In the past few months I've discovered that Brian used to believe in love.  I don't know the details, but when he was a kid, he loved that guy Charlie, Vic's friend.  And he admitted, not in so many words, that he loved a guy in college, loved him almost enough to throw himself off a rooftop.  He won't talk about it and yet he showed me the guy's picture, an amazing thing for Brian to do.  He's given me a couple peeks inside his armor now.  At first I hoped that meant he was opening up to me, but since he won't talk about it any more, I'm beginning to think it was just Brian's way of showing me why he won't ever love again.  When I start thinking like that, I get an unbearable pain in my chest.

After the doctor we stopped for lunch at Luigi's - Brian's first time at our favorite Italian place since the accident.  They made a great deal of fuss over him which Brian pretended to dislike, but in a way I believe he enjoys it.  I wonder if they'll do anything to welcome him back to his office?  I talked privately to Cynthia and she felt pretty strongly that Brian won't want any recognition whatsoever.  I agree, and yet as much as he bitches about things like that,  I still believe he sometimes wants that kind of acknowledgment. 

Brian says he doesn't like people and doesn’t want to have lots of friends, but I'm not sure any more that I believe him.  For one thing, there was this old guy, Jesse, who came to see Brian in the hospital.  Brian wouldn't say anything about him except he knew him slightly at work, but when I asked Cynthia about Jesse, she said he’s one of the janitors.  She had no idea how Brian knows this guy.  I only talked to him for a minute at the hospital but he sure didn't give off any gay vibes.  I offered to invite Jesse to visit the loft but Brian wouldn't let me.  Yet it was obvious Brian liked Jesse, because he was so totally not being his normal asshole self when Jesse visited.  Not like he was with every single other visitor.  Wish I knew more about this guy.

The biggest problem in the way of Brian and I ever working out is not the love thing.  Well, partly it's the love thing.  Whoever I love is going to love me back, and say so.  I don't need to have floor picnics, I just need to hear a man say he loves me too.  But actually the biggest problem is the fact that Brian won't talk to me about things important to him.  His family, his past, and not much of his present.


Brian

Of course it was almost worse than I anticipated, my first day back at work.  Michael drove me to the office and I called Cynthia on my cell to come meet the car, so she could carry my briefcase while I crutched my way into the elevator and through the agency lobby to my office.  The trip was a minefield of brief encounters with agency staff, everyone with big fake smiles and false words of welcome.  If I weren't a partner, I'll bet most of them wouldn't have bothered.

By the time I collapsed into my desk chair, I was exhausted and wished I were home in bed.  There was a huge bouquet of flowers in a glass vase on my coffee table which turned out to be from Vance himself, and throughout my few hours at the office, he and almost everyone else dropped by to welcome me back.  I was getting more and more pissed, with all the interruptions I got virtually no work done, then an hour before it was time for me to leave, Vance called a finance meeting in the main conference room.

If Cynthia hadn't been there whisking visitors into and out of my office quickly, probably I'd have leapt from my window.  She had the nerve to chastise me to behave myself, even after I told her that insubordination was grounds for termination.  She only laughed and dared me to fire her, and after glowering for a moment, my fingers twitching to pick up something and throw it against the wall, I gave in and laughed.  Without her I’d be up shit creek and we both know it.  That relaxed me a bit, and a phone call from Justin relaxed me even more.  He promised a hot shower, what he called a 'deep, penetrating massage' and a prime rib take-out dinner from Les Gendarmes, if I made it through the day without killing anybody.

By the time I crutched my way down the hall to the conference room, I was really hurting and felt sure my jello-brain would not function much longer.  But the 'meeting' turned out to be a fucking party to welcome me back.  I just stood stock-still inside the conference room door staring in dismay at the decorations and a huge hideous cake in the center of the conference room table.  If Cynthia had not been behind me with a hand on my arm, I would have turned and fled - as quickly as one can flee on crutches.  She pinched my arm and when I glanced down at her, she smiled with clenched teeth, "Be fucking nice or I'll tell Justin."

Somehow I managed to be nice.  Or as nice as anybody can expect me to be with dozens of people grinning and staring at me as I sat in one of the leather chairs and toyed with the piece of cake in front of me.  Finally the ordeal was over, and back in my office I packed up all the reports and memos I'd had no time to read, while Cynthia waited to escort me downstairs as soon as Justin arrived.  If I were using the cane as the doctor suggested I could carry my own briefcase, but it's impossible with crutches.  Cynthia said she didn't mind carrying it for me, and she accompanied me into the elevator and out through the lobby to the street.

Justin was standing next to the car parked in the loading zone in front of the building.  And to my great surprise, standing next to Justin on the sidewalk by the open car door was Jesse.



Justin

When I'd parked the car and went around to open the passenger door to be ready to help Brian get in, a man approached me and said hesitantly, "Mr. Taylor?"  Immediately I recognized Brian's friend Jesse and I held out my hand and we shook.

"It's Justin, and you're Jesse, right?  It's nice to see you again, have you talked to Brian yet?"

"Oh no, no," he shook his head, "I don't work till later tonight, but his girl Cynthia told me he was coming back today so I hoped if I came around, I might get to see him.  Welcome him back."

"Brian's on his way down right now, he'll be here in just a minute.  You didn’t go upstairs?" 

"Oh no," he said again, "Wouldn't want to interrupt business.  How's he doing?  Better I guess, since he's back to work."

"Yes, lots better," I told him, then went on to explain that the cast was off Brian's leg, he was still in PT and would be for quite a while, but he'd been anxious to get back to the office.  I studied Jesse while we were talking and I was surprised again  - he just didn't seem like the kind of guy Brian would know.  Brian's no snob but he's very standoffish, he won't give most people the time of day, and it was hard to imagine that Brian had some kind of friendship with an old straight guy, Jesse has to be fifty at least.  Brian likes Vic but they've got history; why does Brian like this guy, I wondered?

"It was nice of you to visit Brian in the hospital," I said, "You should've come to see him at home too."

Jesse was shaking his head.  "No, I wouldn't have imposed myself that way, we're just sometimes drinking buddies.  Brian used to work late and we'd share a drop and a cigarette.  I've missed our little talks, baring our souls," Jesse chuckled.

"I'll bet he's missed that too," I ventured, trying to imagine Brian baring his soul to anybody.  Then we looked up and Brian and Cynthia arrived at the curb.

"Jesse!" Brian exclaimed, stopping to hand me a crutch so he could shake hands, the look on his face changing from concentration and pain to a big open smile.  Jesse kept hold of Brian's hand and squeezed it hard.

"How you doing?" Jesse asked, "I heard you'd be back to work today."

"Great," Brian replied, "I'm doing great, how are you?"

"Don't stand around any longer, you look beat," Jesse let go of Brian's hand and pointed at the open car door. 

With a sigh and a nod, Brian agreed, "I am."  He handed me his other crutch and lowered himself onto the car seat but kept his right foot outside the car so he could turn and keep talking to Jesse.  "Did your son get that job in Colorado?"

"Yeah," Jesse agreed, "There's a long story about that - but I'll save it till you're up to par and back at work full-time."

I'd just shoved the crutches behind the seat and I quickly turned to interrupt, "Oh, don't wait for that," I said, "Why don't you come see Brian this weekend?"

Jesse was shaking his head, but after glancing at Brian's face, which briefly looked eager till he quickly assumed his usual blasé façade, I repeated the suggestion.  "You could come by on Saturday or Sunday, Brian doesn’t have any plans yet.  You'd like that, wouldn't you Brian?"

Brian dropped his façade, allowed himself to be real.  "I'd like it very much," he looked at Jesse, "Whenever you can.  If not this weekend, another time."

"If you're sure. . ." Jesse hesitated a moment, then nodded his head.  "I'd like that, too.  My grandson's got a soccer game Saturday morning, but other than that, I'm free."

"Saturday afternoon?" I suggested, and both men agreed.  Then Cynthia handed me Brian's briefcase, and I almost laughed when I realized she was winking at me.  I grinned at her, both of us acknowledging our own versions of Brian Kinney manipulation.  Then everyone said good-bye and I got in the car to drive Brian home.

"You're an interfering twat," Brian told me as he pulled the seatbelt over himself and fastened it. 

Traffic was heavy downtown and I couldn't turn to look at him, so I just said, "Oh, sorry - don't you want Jesse to come over?   You seem to like him a lot."

Brian didn't answer for a moment, then he sighed and relaxed against the seat.  "It's okay.  And he's all right."  'All right' being high praise in Brian's book.


Brian

I was looking forward to Jesse's visit though I wondered if it would feel strange talking to him again after such a long absence, and then out of context in a way, having him at the loft instead of in my office.  But when he arrived and Justin ushered him into the living room, I immediately felt comfortable with Jesse and he seemed to feel the same.  I was on the sofa with my leg elevated, and he sat down in the chair on my right, turning slightly to face me.  Justin was quick to play bartender, handing us each a small glass of JB.  I'd purposely not taken any Vicodin since the day before.  I'm needing it less and less anyway, soon I'll be able to drink any time I want without throwing up.

When Justin brought over my cigarettes and an ashtray, I said, "Thanks, now go away."

Jesse threw a quick look at Justin - maybe to see if he was offended - but Justin was smiling.  "I'm off - I've got my cell if you need to reach me.  Have a nice visit."

"Wait a sec," Jesse's voice halted Justin, who turned to look at him inquiringly.  "You're the young man who was attacked a year or so ago, aren't you?"  When Justin merely nodded, he went on, "Sorry - maybe you don't want to talk about it?"

"Actually," Justin confided to him, "I do want to talk about it - but nobody else does."

Jesse just nodded.  "That's normal - folks usually ignore things that make them uncomfortable.  Did your physical injuries heal, or do you still have problems?"

Throwing an uncertain look at me (I was careful to keep my face impassive), Justin said haltingly, "Some small problems, motor skills with my hand, headaches, stuff like that.  Nothing major."

"Good," Jesse nodded seriously, "I remember reading about it and I was afraid you'd be damaged for life.  No thanks to that bastard that you're not.  I never heard what happened to him?"

"Nothing," I said coldly, I can't bear to think about that son of a bitch walking around free.  I hope to Christ I never run into him, I don't know what I'd do.

"Community service," Justin added. 

Jesse nodded.  "The justice system in action, huh?  Are you mad about that, or were you able to let it go?"

Justin took a deep breath, then perched on the edge of the coffee table near my foot.   He looked at Jesse intensely.  "I'm trying to let it go.  But sometimes," his face twisted angrily and his voice grew harsh, "Sometimes I want to kill him with my bare hands." 

That jolted me, I hadn't realized that Justin still had so much anger inside.  Jesse was nodding.  "You probably both feel that way, huh?"

"Yes," I agreed, looking down to see my hands clenched on my lap.  When I looked up, Justin was staring at me.

"You do?"

"Well, what do you think, Justin?" I could hear the impatience in my voice.  "That bastard almost murdered you.  Did you think I'd just forget about that?"

"I - I don't know.  You never said."  Justin's face was pink, he looked almost ready to cry, which somehow aggravated me even more.

I leaned forward, my clenched hands turning into white-knuckled fists.  "Every day I worry that I'll run into that fucking prick, and I won't be able to keep myself from breaking his fucking neck!"

Justin was blinking his eyes hard, he's learning to keep his feelings from spilling over, I'm proud of him for that.  "I didn't know," he murmured again.  Then he reached out his hand to me, and I took it, squeezed his hand in mine.  "Thanks," he said, smiling tremulously.

I cleared my throat.  "You need to go now - you'll be late to Deb's."

"Okay."  He jumped up from the coffee table and reached out to shake hands with Jesse.  "Nice to see you again," he said.  That boy has the best manners of anyone I've met in my life.  Jesse stood up and watched Justin cross the polished floorboards and go out of the loft, turning to wave at us as he pulled the heavy door closed.

Jesse sat back down and shook his head.  "I'd guess that young man's been through a lot, if half of what I read in the newspaper is true."

"Yeah."  I leaned forward to offer Jesse a cigarette and take one for myself, then lit them with my Zippo.  "His dad disowned him, he had it really rough at school, then he got bashed.  He did make a good recovery, but it's been tough for him all right."

"I'd say he's lucky to have you looking out for him," Jesse exhaled a blue cloud and leaned back in his chair.  "Lots of young folks don't have mentors helping them out."

I almost laughed at that.  "I'm hardly a mentor for Justin.  And I'm not looking out for him."

"You've stuck by him through all the grief, haven't you?"

"Sort of accidentally, most of the time," I hedged, but Jesse shook his head.

"Bullshit.  I've come to know a bit about you by now, Brian, and I'd say, no offense intended, that you wouldn't cross the street for somebody you didn't care a lot about."

How could I deny that?  I said nothing.

"So. . ."  Jesse paused, then went on, "So, has it been accidental then?"

I just stared at him for a moment, tempted to make one of my usual flippant rejoinders, but I couldn’t do it.  "No," I said at last.  "Not accidental." 

Jesse just nodded, he's not one to press his advantage.  We sat in silence for a few minutes, then I sighed.  Somehow Jesse makes me see things differently, I don't exactly know how.  Finally he said, "So I was right - Justin's lucky to have you on his side."

I couldn't let that pass.  "He's not lucky.  I'm just about the worst person in the world for Justin to be with."

"Oh, I don't know."  Jesse took another puff of the cigarette.  "Does he want to be with you?"

I pondered that question for a moment, though I've always known the answer.  Finally I admitted, "Yeah."  There was another silence, then I added, "But he doesn't know what's best for himself.  He's nineteen, for Christ's sake."

Jesse smiled.  "I was nineteen when I married my wife.  I knew I wanted her."

"It's different for straights," I answered him, almost angrily. 

"Why is that, Brian?"

"Just trust me, it is."  I wasn't going there.  Not even with Jesse.  "Can we change the subject?"

"Sure, of course."  Jesse leaned forward to crush out his cigarette.  "Sorry if I was prying too much.  Let me tell you about my son, the big real estate baron," and he laughed, leaning back and crossing his legs.  Jesse's son works for a national realty firm and just landed a job in Boulder, Colorado.  Jesse'd been to visit him at Christmas and he told me all about it.

Jesse stayed a couple hours and when he left, I limped up to the bedroom to lie down, I was tired and thought I'd fall asleep, an afternoon nap has become almost a habit.  But the minute my head hit the pillow, I started thinking about Justin, about the bashing.  I'd been surprised to realize that he was still so full of anger.  I shouldn't have been surprised - in his place I'd be mad as hell.  I've always known that I should let him talk about it, but I didn't want to - it hurt too much to remember that night.  Somehow I'd managed not to think how hard that made it for Justin, not to let him express his feelings.  Just because I don’t need to express my own feelings. . .

Which is, of course, a fucking lie.  Almost all my life I’ve shared my feelings with Mikey.  We’ve been through so much together that by now, we hardly need words to know what the other’s feeling.  Maybe I’d assumed Justin knew how I felt, without me having to tell him.  Or maybe I was just wary of letting him see. . .inside.  If you give people an opening, give them something to get their hands on, later they’ll use it as a knife to cut your heart out.

Michael never did, but Justin might.  Justin already did, didn’t he?  He screwed around behind my back, and though I shouldn’t have cared, in the end it hurt like fucking hell.  I remembered the night I gave Justin an ultimatum:  Choose.  And he didn’t choose me, did he? 

Then I had to remind myself that I’d wanted Justin to choose his violinist.  I knew that would be the best thing for everybody: give Justin the push he needed to move away from me, from my hopelessly cynical outlook – let him go be his age with another ridiculously romantic boy.

Ridiculously romantic.  I’d tried that once.  Tried it on and – being completely honest with myself as I lay there in the dark – I had to admit that I’d fucking liked it.  For a few almost unbearably happy moments.  It wasn’t real though.  It was something outside reality.  I can’t even remember now what I was thinking as I got dressed in the tux and sauntered into the hotel to find Justin dancing with Daphne in the middle of the ballroom full of teenagers.  Yet I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy every moment of that dance with Justin.  Though I’ve cursed myself since then a hundred times, a thousand times, for daring to think I could be happy like normal people.   

Justin’s normal.  He still can be, he’s not become truly cynical yet.  His mother’s right, Lady Jennifer.  I owe it to Justin to give him a chance at a normal life, with someone who can give him what he needs.  He’s only nineteen, his whole life’s ahead of him.  In some ways he’s still almost unbearably young and hopeful. 

Then I thought about Jesse's remark, that he'd been married at Justin's age.  I know Justin wants to be with me again - or anyway, he would if I could manage not to be such a giant prick most of the time.  If I would tell him things he wants to hear.  I can feel part of me yearning to be the kind of man Justin wants, and it scares the shit out of me.  That's not me.  That'll never be me.  And I can’t continue to fuck up Justin's life just because I – just because I –



Justin

Brian was lying down when I got back about seven but he wasn’t asleep.  The loft was mostly dark so it must still have been daylight when he went to lie down, only a couple lamps were turned on.  At first I was trying to be quiet but he called out to tell me he was awake, so I quickly put away the stuff Debbie’d sent for our dinner and pulled off my jacket, throwing it toward my desk chair.  For a change it landed there and not on the floor.  Then I sat down on the bed next to Brian.

“Did you have a nice visit?  I like Jesse.  He likes you a lot, doesn’t he?  Is he coming to see you again?  Can I invite him for dinner sometime?”

Brian yawned and folded his arms behind his head.  “Give me a dose of your energy, will you?”

I leaned forward and smacked my mouth against his and Brian laughed, stuck out a hand to grab my arm and pulled me down beside him.  I kicked off my shoes and settled next to him, stretching out on top of the duvet.

“Did you and Michael finish painting Debbie’s shed?”

“Yeah, and she sent home some lasagna for our dinner, as payment.  Are you hungry?”

“Soon.  Stay with me here a while.”

“Okay.”  I relaxed even more, letting my whole body fall into Brian’s, being careful not to smash his bad leg. 

“Mmm, you smell delicious,” he said, “Nice and sweaty.” 

“I need a shower.”

“No,” he contradicted, “Nice clean teenage sweat smells good.”

“I won’t be a teenager much longer – I’m nineteen and half already.”

Brian’s arm snaked around to pinch my ass.  “Jesse said -  “  He stopped, then went on, “Jesse said, when he was nineteen he knew exactly what he wanted.”  Brian pulled back and studied my face.

“Me, too.”

When he said nothing, I went on.  “I want to be a good artist – not famous, but good enough to make a living doing what I like.  I want to live in a nice place and drive a good car.  I want lots of friends.  I want to travel.”  I stopped, and when Brian still said nothing, I ducked my head and laid my face on his chest, so I didn’t have to look at him.  “And I want to be loved.  By just one man who will love only me for the rest of my life.  And he’ll tell me that he loves me, right out loud.”

I felt Brian’s heart beating beneath my cheek.  Finally he murmured, “You deserve all of that.”

Suddenly I thought, ‘It’s now or never.’  Soon Brian won’t need my help any more, he’ll send me away, and I might not get another chance to tell him how I feel.  I was scared, but I asked myself, what have you got to lose?  So I took a deep gulp of air and I whispered, “I want all of that with you, Brian.”

His arms tightened around me and he pressed his chin on top of my head.  “I know,” he said.

We lay in silence until finally I couldn’t wait any longer.  “What do you want, Brian?”

“I have everything I want,” he answered quickly, and I felt my heart sink.  I started to pull away but he held me tight against him.  “Almost everything,” he amended.

Waiting, I lay still in his arms, feeling his breath ruffle my hair.  Finally he sighed and held me even tighter.  “What I want, more than anything right now, is for you NOT to throw your life away.  I want you to be happy."  He paused.  "And you can't be happy with me.”

Pulling away so that I could look into his face, I nodded.  “Maybe not.  But I can’t be happy without you, either.”

We stared at each other, and for the first time, I felt like Brian was letting me look deep inside him.  “Justin,” he said, pulling himself upright in the bed and grabbing my arms to pull me up beside him.  “Justin, I’ve been lying here thinking about things, and I - I want to make a  suggestion.  A proposition.”

I waited, scared but not completely hopeless. 

Finally he said, “I want you to take a year off – from me.”

“What?”

“Throw yourself into school, date a lot of guys, be open to anything that happens to you.  Enjoy yourself, and I mean, put your heart into it.  You have so much energy, so much enthusiasm – I want you to have the best time of your life.”

He stopped, and after a moment I asked impatiently, “Well, then what?  After a year, then what?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted, shrugging his shoulders.  “No promises.  No promises from you, no promises from me.  But I need to know that you’ll give yourself a chance.  With other guys.”

“I don’t want to.” 

Didn’t I have any pride?  Brian was pushing me away again, didn’t I have enough pride to back off? 

No.  No, I’ve never had any pride where Brian is concerned. 

Brian swung his head away, stared off into space and ran a hand through his hair.  “Nine months,” he said at last.

“I can’t live without you for nine months,” I said simply.  I believe that with all my heart.

“Six.”

“Brian – “

“Six.”  He turned back to stare at me.  “Six months.”

I considered for a moment, then asked, “Can we still see each other?”

He was shaking his head.  “Then what’s the point of – “

“Are you going to see that Rick again?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Promise.”

Brian laughed then, but he wasn’t amused, he was losing patience; I know the signs.  “No promises, I said.”

“Promise you won’t see Rick.”

“Justin – “

“Promise I can still come over here sometimes.”

“Justin – “

“Promise.”

Brian dropped his head into his hands and pulled on his hair.  “Aaaaaaaaaaaghhhhhhhhh!” he moaned loudly.

“Promise.”

“Fuck you,” he said, but it was a whisper.  Then his arms reached out and grabbed me, pulled me hard against his chest and he covered my mouth with his lips, kissing me so hard and rough that I almost cried out.

When I could pry my lips away from his, I breathed into his mouth, “Promise.”

“Damn you to fucking hell, Justin Taylor,” Brian growled at me. 

And then a moment later he whispered, “I promise.”
















10/17/02




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Index