|WHAT LOVE MEANS
Part two of three-part story
Brian had been in his office less than an hour, half-heartedly sorting through stacks of papers and reports efficiently organized by Cynthia, stockpiled while he was stranded in the hospital waiting for Justin to wake up. It was time to get back to normal, to wrest his projects from the hands of the all-too-bright-eyed young ad execs anxious to fill in during his absence, eager for an opportunity to make their reps in the company. Oh, he was wise to them all right; after all, he'd been in their shoes himself not so many years ago.
Thinking of shoes made him remember the day he had bought his first Pradas, blowing a week's salary on black leather symbols of the status he had every intention of achieving, even then, his first year at the company. He was making a presentation to one of the agency's most important clients, the CEO of a large Pittsburgh financial institution. Brian had been nervous, a bit unsure, but standing at the head of the conference table, he'd spread his toes inside the Prada boots, instantly buoying his self confidence, and he was convinced that those boots had pushed him over the edge into greatness. He smiled at his own hyperbole; he should have had those boots bronzed, he thought.
"Hey," someone called quietly from the open doorway of his office, and when Brian looked up, the smile was immediately wiped off his face. It was Kip Thomas. Kip, who had sued Brian and the agency for sexual harassment, then subsequently dropped the suit. He'd been transferred, by his own request (so Cynthia discovered through the grapevine) to the marketing department. As far as Brian knew, or cared, the younger man was likely plotting coupon campaigns for midwest housewives. It was a shame, because Kip was ripe with talent; but no doubt he'd move on to another company soon, when the minor furor he'd created here was forgotten. Brian himself had almost forgotten. Well, not really - bitterness still churned in the pit of his stomach. Kip had been the first person to drive a wedge between Brian and his longtime mentor, Marty Ryder. Things had never been the same afterwards, and they were likely to get worse over Justin's bashing and Brian's three-day AWOL absence from the agency.
"Fuck off," Brian said, quickly returning his gaze to the computer screen blinking with a hundred unanswered e-mails. Peripherally he could see that Kip did not at first move, then with a single motion he stepped inside Brian's office and closed the door behind him. Brian stared at Kip with narrowed eyes. "I can throw you out of here, head first, or I can call Security to do it for me. Which will it be?"
Kip's thin lips twisted in a sideways grin. Not for the first time Brian wondered why he'd bothered to fuck the puny, acne-scarred creep. "Because I could," was his stock answer, to Michael and to himself. It had been exciting, dangerous, fucking someone in his office in the middle of the day. And on top of his glass table, at that. He'd been afraid for a moment the table would break beneath the combined weight of their bodies, probably severely injuring them both in the process; but the table had held, and he'd given Kip Thomas what was no doubt the best orgasm of his life. But the next time they met, ostensibly to work in the loft, Brian had not felt the slightest degree of lust for the naked man who sprawled so provocatively on Brian's bed. Yet he'd gone ahead and fucked him anyway. Brian remembered wishing he'd gone with Justin to Babylon instead. Not that he'd ever admit that to Justin.
Kip advanced a few steps into the room, but stopped cold when Brian stood up behind his desk. "I can sue for physical assault as well as sexual harassment," he threatened, with what Brian was sure was mock bravado. He'd encountered enough guys like Kip to know they were cowards at heart.
"Don't tempt me," Brian sneered, "It would almost be worth a trip to jail, to bend you into a Bavarian pretzel." When he advanced around the edge of his desk, Kip stepped back.
"Hey, don't go so caveman on me," Kip laughed, waving his hands as if to push Brian backwards. "I only wanted to ask about your friend who got bashed last weekend."
Brian scowled. "That's none of your business. Get out of my office."
"Oh," drawled Kip, "In a way it is my business. Yeah. I know Justin Taylor. I know him very, very well." He paused, then went on, "I . . . fucked him."
"YOU LIAR! HOW DARE YOU?" Brian shouted, quickly covering the space between them and reaching out to grab the man's sharkskin-suited shoulders.
"Wait! Wait! I can prove it," Kip said quickly, and something in his face, in his eyes, made Brian pause.
"No way would Justin be attracted to YOU," Brian scoffed, yet he hesitated. Something was going on that he couldn't understand, couldn't explain. Somehow he was almost believing...NO, NO. No fucking way. Yet still he hesitated. "Tell me," he said at last, grim and cold.
Kip started to smile, thought better of it, and leaned back casually against the wall, crossing his arms. He knew he had Brian's attention, and he was loving it. Brian was aware that Kip had felt scorned, humiliated by Brian, and he knew, too, that Kip would love to get revenge.
"Justin came on to me one night, at Woody's," Kip said quietly, savoring his moment of triumph. "Yeah, go on, shake your head, I was surprised too. I know I'm good looking," he bragged, tossing his head back, ignoring Brian's snort. "But yeah, I was surprised at this kid coming after me. Beautiful, beautiful, that blond hair, those deep blue eyes. Way too beautiful for me."
"Get to the point," Brian almost choked. Why was he listening to this jerk?
"The kid said he'd seen me, in Babylon, said he'd seen me with YOU. Said I was more his type." When Brian snorted again, Kip went on quickly. "Yeah, I found out later it wasn't true. So you're right. But at first I believed him. I took him home with me."
Brian narrowed his eyes. "Why do you think I believe you? Why do you think I care?"
"Because he did it for you," Kip said simply, "And I think you do believe me." He paused, then went on, "Afterwards, he told me he was just 17, said he'd tell his dad I fucked him, and get me sent to jail. He was very convincing. I believed him all right."
His heart sinking, sinking, Brian thought he could figure out the rest, but he let Kip tell him, anyway.
"So the kid says, he won't tell his dad after all, he'll do me that favor. But I have to do a favor for him, too."
"You dropped the suit," Brian said tonelessly.
Kip nodded. "At first I figured you put him up to it, but he made me swear not to mention it to you, so I guess it was his own idea, huh?"
Brian turned, walked back to his desk and sat down heavily. "So why are you telling me now?" he couldn't help but ask.
Kip laughed. "Why do you think? I read about you and that kid in the paper. You went to his prom, danced with him, right?" He laughed again. "So I figured, hey, Brian Fucking Kinney at a high school prom? Brian Fucking Kinney is in loooooooooooove."
Brian raised his head and the look he gave Kip made the younger man stop laughing, and glance at the door, like he was measuring the distance he might need to run.
"Why are you telling me now?" Brian demanded again, although he knew the answer really.
Kip edged toward the door, but he could not resist answering. "Because you hurt me, you asshole, and now I can hurt you back."
"Satisfied?" Brian asked acidly. He wanted to jump over his desk, throttle the slimy snake who had dared to put his hands on Justin.
"Yeah," Kip answered softly. "Oh, yeah." He opened the door and walked out of the office, down the hall. Through the window Brian saw him glancing over his shoulder to see if was being pursued. Oh yeah, Kip was satisfied, Brian was sure of it.
From years of habit, Brian stepped out of his frustratingly human body churning with emotion and turned himself into calm, cool, efficient Professional Man - Mikey's name for Brian the Corporate Superhero. Briefly he wondered if he would tell Michael about Kip's revelation, then shoved that thought, and all thoughts not relevant to the tasks at hand, away for safekeeping. Sometimes Brian could keep thoughts and emotions locked up for weeks. Months. For years. Emotions were very inconvenient things that wasted your time on tears and useless yearning.
Working through lunch, stopping only to take a few bites from the sandwich Cynthia brought him at noon - and only because he was grateful for her support and didn't want to hurt her feelings - Brian finally pushed himself away from his desk at three o'clock. He laughed ruefully when he realized that he was subconsciously attuned to the dismissal bell at St. James Academy several miles across town. Sometimes in the past he had driven by the school and picked up Justin. Only to give him a ride to Deb's or to the diner. Fifteen minutes listening to the brat's happy chatter somehow energized Brian for a few more hours at the office. When did I start doing that, he wondered. Dumb. Really dumb.
So now it was three o'clock and Brian didn't want to work any more. He'd accomplished a lot, caught up on e-mail and correspondence, finished three projects and roughly outlined two new ad campaigns. He'd met with Bob and Brad (God, he wished they'd wear name tags, they even had the same designer glasses, for Christ's sake) and set fire to their balls to get them rolling with the new beer account. Normally Marty would have dropped by; checked in to see how things were going. His disapproval of Brian's latest "scandal" was tacit by his nonappearance.
Dropping his calendar on Cynthia's desk, Brian told her he had an appointment downtown, and accepted her rather surprising hug, and even more surprising, he looked down to discover she had shoved a large white envelope into his hand, on which she'd written "Justin." He found himself smiling back at her, which probably shocked Cynthia even more than it shocked himself. Brian felt his Corporate Superhero cape slipping, and hurried to get out of the office before he embarrassed himself further.
Getting into the jeep in the parking lot, he asked himself, "Where to?" As if. As if he didn't know exactly where he was headed. He stopped twice, once at a florist and once at the diner, to pick up a couple lemon bars, in case Justin was allowed to eat real food by now. His cell phone had not rung all day, which meant everything was okay. Michael had flown to Portland to see David, and he'd asked everyone else to keep his line open, in case of emergencies. He'd been tempted to call Jennifer, or Deb, but restrained himself; he knew they would call him if anything was wrong.
Despite reassuring himself this way, still he was relieved when he tapped on Justin's door at the hospital and peered through the opening. Justin was awake, sitting up, drinking a glass of water and listening to Daphne and her girlfriend (October? November? What was that silly girl's name?). Their voices trailed off when he neared the bed. They greeted him with somewhat somber giggles and quickly disappeared, telling Justin they'd come back tomorrow and bring him the CDs he wanted.
Justin was very pale and looked tired, but he smiled brightly when Brian reached the bed. "Did you buy those flowers for me?" Justin asked.
"No, I stole them from the nurses' station," Brian deadpanned. "Nobody was looking." He laid them on a tray table and opened the styrofoam box so Justin could see the lemon bars. "ONLY if the doctor says you can have them," he cautioned, when Justin licked his lips and mmmmmmmmmm'd. He put the box by the flowers and leaned against the bed. "So: How are you today?"
"Better. But they won't let me get up or do anything! I can't lay here forever!"
"Patience is a virtue, little woodchuck. Woodchuck?"
"Grasshopper!" Justin laughed.
"Whatever. You'll be up soon enough - everybody should enjoy the quiet while you're tied to the bed. Hmmm," Brian rolled his eyes, "Tied to the bed! That gives me ideas!"
Justin laughed, but reached out to touch Brian's arm. Automatically Brian turned his hand over and took Justin's hand in his. "Hey," he whispered, then leaned over and touched Justin's lips with his own - lightly, briefly, yet still tasting the sweet silkiness of that delicious mouth. Somehow he could never resist kissing Justin's mouth.
"Brian!" Justin breathed, "I can't even jerk off! Someone's ALWAYS here! I'm going to EX-PLODE! You've got to help me!"
"Yeah, right," Brian nodded, "Just when your mom has started tolerating me, let's see what she does when she walks through that door and finds me crouched on your bed, eating your little candy ass." He snorted, then grew serious. "You're not going to explode," he assured Justin. "Soon they'll let you get up and walk around, then you'll be able to take showers, and you'll be alone. You'll be all right till then. And stop sulking!"
"Sorry," Justin murmured. "I want to be with you."
Me, too, Brian almost echoed him. Almost.
Somehow, Brian needed to find out about Kip. In his heart he was sure that Kip's story was true. He'd never understood, nor had Melanie, why Kip had suddenly, and without explanation, dropped the harassment suit. Of course he could not confront Justin about it. Not now, maybe not ever. But somehow, he needed to know..
"Work was a bitch," he told Justin. "Really a lot piled up, being off a few days. Oh!" he'd almost forgotten the card, reached inside his suit jacket and pulled it out. "From Cynthia."
Justin was pleased. "She's sweet, huh." He'd talked to her on the phone a few times. "Were people. . .nice, to you? Or you know, did they like, say mean things?"
"Nobody's ever nice to me," Brian sneered, only half joking. "If people were nice to me, I'd start worrying. I think my office nickname is Sumbitch." He bet it was, too. Brian despised chitchat and family vacation pictures and baby stories. Well, except for stories about Gus of course. But he would never share Gus with people at the office.
Justin persisted, as Brian knew he would; that's exactly why he had started talking about work. "But did anybody say anything mean to you? About, you know. What happened?"
"The only one who matters is Marty. My boss. He ignored me all day. Which is about what I expected."
"I'm sorry. Making trouble for you."
"You didn't," Brian reassured him. But this was the opening he'd been waiting for. "The only person at the agency who really hates me is Kip Thomas. The guy who sued me, remember?" Staring straight into Justin's face, Brian watched his eyes blink rapidly, once, twice, three times; watched Justin drop his lashes, casually look away; watched as a faint rose blush colored Justin's pale white neck and spread up onto his cheeks.
"Oh, yeah? I never knew his name," Justin said.
Justin was the world's worst liar. Or second worst; Michael took first prize in that category.
So it was true. He'd known it was, anyway, even as he'd shouted "Liar!" at that smug bastard Kip. Brian turned away from the bed, pretended to stretch, walked away for a moment until he got his face back in order. Then he returned to the bed, put an arm around Justin, and kissed his hair. "Eww, boy, you need a shampoo!" he exclaimed, then laughed at Justin's wide-eyed look of horror. "I'm kidding, you dope. You smell delicious. And if I stay a minute longer, your mom WILL find me crouched on your bed, eating your ass!"
Justin smiled, but tilted his head and stared perplexedly at Brian.
"What?" Brian demanded.
"Nothing. You just kind of weirded-out on me."
"'Weirded' is NOT a word." Brian smoothed out the worry-wrinkles in Justin's forehead with his thumb. "Now tell me good-bye and say you'll behave yourself. I'll come see you tomorrow."
Brian sighed. He didn't do promises. "Yeah. I promise." With a wave he was out the door, hurried down the stairs, not waiting for an elevator. He needed fresh air, his chest felt tight, he was having trouble breathing. He'd known that Justin loved him. Yeah, he'd known, for a long time. He didn't need Lindsay to tell him. Or Deb. Or Michael. Or Kip Thomas. Whatever "love" means. Whatever the fuck "love" means. Brian was beginning to learn, very much against his will, what love means.
Final Version Posted to ATP September 2001