|QAF FanFiction by Morpheus
Summary of Part 8: Only You: Brian's ready to start tricking again but Justin wishes he wouldn't. Brian wishes Justin would enroll in some art classes at the local junior college. Justin isn't sure how he feels about art any more but wishes he did. Both are wishing they could talk to some of their Pittsburgh family.
PART 9: Be Careful What You Wish For
"Mark October 5 on your calendar."
"What's that, the anniversary of your first erection?"
We're in the kitchen, Brian's rinsing dishes and I'm putting them into the dishwasher. Patiently I remind him, "It's Gay Day at Disney, remember I forwarded a link to you a couple days ago? About how it's not an official Disney thing, but thousands of gays turn up at the park on that day, everybody wearing red shirts. Last year there were ten thousand gays at the park, the article said."
Brian lowers his head and gives me that look. "And this is important to me, why?"
"Well duh, because I want to go!"
"Okay," he nods then, handing me a platter; "I'll give you a ride to Disneyland. And you can call me when it's time to come get you."
I grab the plate with one hand and punch his arm with the other. "Don't be such an asshole. I want you to go with me."
"The fuck." He's actually surprised, or else he's doing a good job of faking it. Then he laughs. "Can you honestly picture ME at Disneyland? I'd probably get arrested for fucking Goofy underneath the Matterhorn."
"Be serious, okay? I really want to go, and I want you to go with me."
"Justin - absolutely not." He turns off the water and pulls away from me, looks me in the eye. Slowly he repeats, "Ab-so-lute-ly not."
"But - "
"Listen to me!" he insists, fixing me with his famous burning death stare. "Nothing in the world could make me go to Disneyland - nothing." He pauses, then adds, "So forget it."
I feel my shoulders slump and I know my face is reflecting my severe disappointment.
"And stop fucking pouting. Make your popcorn so we can watch this dvd you rented, I have some work to finish tonight."
"Okay." I give in and turn away, start the dishwasher and toss a packet of popcorn into the microwave. I didn't really expect Brian to go with me to Disneyland - he's way too cynical for The Happiest Place on Earth. But I sure wish he would.
"It's too soon," I explain patiently, cradling the phone on my shoulder as I pour myself an inch of JB. Justin's not home, he's working overtime at the d'Or to fill in for someone who's sick. “I can’t take time off work now.”
Lindsay’s insistent. "We need to come now, before school starts. I don't want Gus to fall behind."
"What - he's going to miss algebra? They're teaching chemistry in preschool now?"
"I just don't want him to be out of step with his classmates."
Melanie's on another phone, they're conference-calling; now she breaks in with a laugh. "He's got two mommies, and he’s got a father who fucks thirty guys a month. Linds - I think he's already out of step with his classmates."
"Who says I fuck thirty guys a month?"
"You told me yourself, remember? When you were being sued for harassment. Don't tell me you've turned over a new leaf out there in California?"
"Mel," Lindsay chastens her, "Brian's settling down with Justin now, give him a break."
"I am not fucking settling down."
Mel can't resist digging. "You're monogamous now? The fuck king of Liberty Avenue?"
"One, we are not monogamous, two, it's none of your fucking business, and three, if you spread that around, I'll sue you for defamation of character."
"Then you are?" she's incredulous.
"No, we are not. Now fuck off, let me talk to Lindsay alone before I hang up the fucking telephone."
I hear her laugh trail off as she hangs up her phone and apparently wanders away. Bitch.
"Brian," Lindsay's voice becomes silky, she thinks she can wrap me around her finger. "Brian, please make me feel welcome to come visit you now. Don't you miss me? Don't you miss your son?"
Christ. "Possibly," I sigh. Somehow I've lost this battle. "What day are you thinking of coming?"
"Our reservation is for the fourteenth, Thursday."
Reservation! The fuck. "You already made a reservation? What if I'd said no?"
"Our flight gets in about six p.m., can you pick us up at the airport?"
"LAX?" There's only a dozen fucking airports around Los Angeles.
"Yes. Is that all right, is it hard to get to the airport?"
I can get there okay, it's finding my way back that's the problem. I'll bring Justin along, he's a halfway decent navigator.
"I'll be there," I agree with a heavy sigh. "But it's not fucking convenient."
"Thank God Justin's living with you, at least someone will make me feel welcome."
"You're fucking welcome, okay?" Am I really grinding my teeth? Taking a slurp of JB, I force my shoulders to loosen up. "How come the wicked witch of the east isn't coming with you?"
"She's working on an important case that's going to trial soon. And she's having a problem with edema, so flying's probably not a good idea."
"Edema?" Do I really want to know about this?
"Her ankles keep swelling, a side-effect of pregnancy. She's retaining water."
Ugh, I'm feeling slightly nauseated.
When I say nothing, Lindsay continues. "So, since I have to come there anyway it just seemed like a good chance for you to spend some time with Gus before you forget each other."
"Is that the real reason?"
"Yes." Lindsay pauses, then asks, "What do you mean?"
"You're not having problems again?"
"Mel and I? No, not at all. This is just a perfect opportunity to visit. Giselle - she's the new gallery owner - wants me to attend this conference on Friday and Saturday so she's paying my airfare. She'll pay for a hotel room too, if you don't want me staying at your apartment."
"You can stay, but put Gus in a hotel." I'm joking, but not really. The thought of a three-year-old invading the condo makes me shudder.
"We'll stay in your guest room and be very, very quiet."
Uh-huh. "It's not a guest room, it's an extra bedroom. I thought Justin might turn it into a studio."
"Is he painting again?
“No.” I set down my glass and run my hand through my hair. “No, he’s not.”
“What is it?” Lindsay’s always been quick. “Something wrong with Justin?”
“No. Not – wrong.”
“What is it?” she asks again.
“Look,” I say at last, “This isn’t something to talk about on the phone. He’s fine. Justin’s fine.“
“But you’re worried about him. Why, Brian?”
Shaking my head, I pick up my glass and carry it over to the sofa, sink down on the cushions and put my feet on the coffee table. “Not worried,” I say at last. “I’m not fucking worried.”
With a sigh I give in some more. “Okay. Yeah. Slightly.” How to explain this feeling that Justin’s hiding something from me? I hate talking about this kind of shit.
She waits so I’m forced to go on. “Something’s just a little – off. He’s not himself somehow. I mean,” I add quickly, “Mostly he’s the same, but I don’t see him sketching very often, and I tried to get him to take a couple classes here and he’s resisting.” He’s resisting like fucking hell.
Then I hear myself admitting, “Maybe he’s sorry he came to LA.” Jesus, where did that come from?
“Nonsense,” Lindsay’s voice is brisk, assured. “Justin’s in love with you, so wherever you are, that’s where he wants to be.”
“Maybe if he’d stayed in Pittsburgh, the IFA would’ve taken him back.”
“Brian, I’m sure Justin isn’t thinking that. He’d give up everything to be with you.”
“I don’t fucking want him to give up everything!” I lean forward, slamming my glass down on the table “Christ.”
Lindsay’s quiet for a moment, then she says, “I’ll talk to him when I'm there, get him alone and feel him out. He always used to confide in me, maybe he’ll still do that. It's possible you’re imagining things, you always were a drama queen.”
“Fuck you, Linds.” But I’m not really angry. Maybe she’s right, maybe I am imagining things. “Oh, shit.” A glance at my watch tells me I’m going to be late to pick up Justin at the d’Or. "E-mail me tomorrow with flight details," I tell Linds quickly before clicking off the phone and hurrying to the bedroom to pull on my boots, rush out the door and down the stairs.
I'm so happy that Lindsay's coming for a visit and Brian is too - though of course he's pretending to be an asshole about it. He's very good at that.
I want to fix up the spare bedroom for them, though I can't spend a lot of money. We've just been using it as a sort of store-room, there's some moving boxes shoved in there and stacks of things we haven't decided what to do with. Bruce Applethorpe left some minimal furniture - a double bed, a small table, a chair. When we moved in, Brian said I could do whatever I wanted with the room. I think he expected me to turn it into a studio, though of course he never said so; Brian hardly ever gives anybody orders.
Shouldn't I want to have my own studio? Shouldn't I be thrilled to have a space of my own? I should, of course I should. So why have I steered clear of that room, shoved things in there and pulled the door shut?
I'm just too busy right now to think about it, that's all. Learning a new job, making new friends, taking care of Brian without appearing to take care of him. Not really taking care of him, just trying to make things easier, smoother, so he doesn't have to worry about the small stuff. He's working so hard, putting in so many hours at the office. Brian really throws himself into whatever he's doing. Now it's work, but back home he divided his time between work and play.
I wonder if he misses the hard playing he used to do - not just the fucking around, but all the drugs, and the drinking too? He used to drink so much, I remember that it scared me sometimes. Now he has only one or two drinks at night, sometimes none at all. And the fucking. . .well, maybe he does that during the day, but mostly he's with me at night. We've made a kind of truce about tricking. Often he's late coming home, I guess sometimes he could be tricking. If I asked him, he'd tell me - but I don't need to know. He comes home to me every night. That’s enough.
Brian said I could spend a couple hundred dollars fixing up the room. I bought new sheets, but I saved a bundle by picking up some stuff at a flea market we stopped at last weekend, on the way back from visiting Robert. He's still at his uncle's house. Brian dropped me off and came back a couple hours later. As I got out of the car he said, impossibly casually, "Why don't you ask Uncle Jerry about the school?" and when I just said "Maybe," Brian shrugged and drove away without another word. I thought he'd hassle me again when he picked me up but he let it drop.
I saw the flea market from the car and asked Brian to stop, and I got a cool blue retro-looking bedspread and a small chest with three drawers, I'm going to paint it blue to match the bedspread thing. Brian kind of ragged on me for becoming domestic but I'm not really. House decorating, like fashion, doesn't interest me, I just wanted to make the room comfortable for Lindsay. Brian surprised me. He disappeared for a while, to have a cigarette he said, then he came back a few minutes later clutching a big stuffed giraffe. "For Gus," he muttered, shoving the giraffe at me; he said he refused to be seen carrying it around.
The flea market was kind of an upscale thing, in a nice neighborhood a couple miles from Jerry's house. He has a big old house in a neighborhood with wide tree-lined streets which sort of reminded me of my old neighborhood back home. Big lawns and wide yards. Robert has a bedroom on the second floor, he's resigned to being an invalid for a few more weeks, he's become addicted to some video games his uncle bought for him and we played those for a while during our visit. Robert seems like such a kid to me now - since I found out he's only eighteen. Mr. Chambray already replaced him at the d'Or and it seems unlikely Robert'll get his old job back.
The airport's crowded, masses of people coming and going and masses of crowds waiting for them - with tight security only passengers are allowed to go to the gates. Brian's trying to find somebody who knows if Lindsay's plane has landed. The computer monitors that announce incoming flights are out of service so we stopped at the information counter and the girl there was totally clueless, why would they hire somebody so dumb to answer questions? All she did was giggle and blink her heavily made-up eyes at Brian, and when he asked her to call the airlines, she said they weren't allowed to bother the airline agents! He nearly blew up at her but I put a hand on his arm and he turned away, gruffly asked me to wait in the baggage pickup area in case Lindsay turns up here, and moved through the crowd toward the Southwest airline check-in counter in the far distance.
We had to park miles away in the airport garage, Brian said we should drop breadcrumbs so we'd find our way back again. But I've got a good sense of direction which sometimes annoys him but other times he's glad of it, so I knew we'd be all right. He trusts me but he made me bring a map of LA to the airport with us anyway, he got lost once a couple weeks ago. I love to harass him about that but for some reason he doesn't think it's funny.
I turn around just in time to intercept a big hug from Lindsay, she grabs onto my shoulders and give me the best hug I've had since we left home. Pulling quickly away, Linds drops her shoulder bag onto the floor and turns to take the hand of Gus, who's standing close to her legs and looking up at me uncertainly.
"Hey Gus, you haven't forgotten me, have you?" I smile at him, crouching down to kid level and smiling.
"Say hi to Justin," Lindsay tells him.
"Hi," Gus murmurs, ignoring my outstretched hands and clinging to Lindsay's legs. He puts one finger in his mouth and sucks on it, staring solemnly at me with his big dark-hazel Brian-eyes.
Gus looks so much like Brian sometimes it's almost spooky. I sure wish I could see baby pictures of Brian but he says there aren't any. I don't believe him, it's just that he won't discuss his family with me, and I've only met his mother once - on the Viagra day.
Standing up again, I ask Lindsay about the flight and we glance around at the several big luggage carrousels, the airport's so large and crowded and confusing.
We both turn when we hear Gus screech, and then he's pulling away from Lindsay's hand and running pell-mell toward the tall figure of Brian still twenty feet away. Brian crouches down like I was doing a moment before and Gus throws himself into his daddy's open arms almost hard enough to knock Brian over. The huge smile on Brian's face and the way his arms wrap tight around his son would melt anybody's heart, though Brian quickly regains control of his sense of cool as he stands up, lifting Gus in his arms, then moves toward us frowning harshly.
"Damned Southwest is so fuckin' disorganized," he bitches, and immediately Gus echoes him.
"Nice going, Daddy," Lindsay shakes her head, but she's unable to stop smiling at Brian, and when he shifts Gus from right arm to left so he can grab onto Lindsay, she returns his hug and laughs, "Oh, it's so good to see you! We've missed you - both - so much. And you both look great!"
"You look like shit," Brian responds in his brutally honest manner - and she does look disheveled and wrinkled and exhausted.
"Thanks," Lindsay snaps, "You spend seven hours on two airplanes with a three-year-old and see how YOU look."
Brian just smirks at her. "So, where's your fu--, umm, luggage?"
We wander around till we see a sign on a luggage carrousel with Lindsay's flight number and as we reach it, it begins to move around and slowly starts spitting out suitcases and boxes and bags. "Here," Brian says, pushing Gus into my arms, "You boys go sit over there," he gestures toward a row of chairs near the window, "Linds can point out her luggage and I'll grab it."
"Daddy!" Gus sounds alarmed as Brian and Lindsay move away.
Brian turns around and says firmly, "Stay with Justin for a minute." He must read something on Gus' face because he adds, "Gus, you like Justin. Remember?"
Gus turns in my arms and regards me solemnly. After a moment he agrees, "Uh-huh," then slides an arm around my neck and smiles sweetly. "Unca Jus."
Brian raises an eyebrow at me as if to warn that I'm not officially Gus' uncle - God forbid I should assume I'm sanctioned for unclehood. The moment he turns away I stick out my tongue at him.
Gus giggles delightedly. "Daddy," he shouts at Brian's retreating back, making him turn to glance over his shoulder at the two of us. "Ppp-th-th-th!"
Brian grimaces again, understanding perfectly that Gus is mimicking me, and I know that I'm going to pay for it later.
How is Brian going to make me pay, I wonder, with Lindsay staying at the condo? We talked about it actually, or anyway, I brought it up this morning at breakfast.
"Brian, how are we going to manage having sex, with Lindsay and Gus staying here?"
"We can ask them to wait in the hall while we fuck."
"Don't be an ass, I'm serious. I don't think we can go three days without sex, do you?"
"Justin, grow up. Lindsay knows we have sex, okay? And Gus is too young to figure it out. We'll confine ourselves to the bedroom or the bathroom and close the door. As long as you can keep from screaming bloody murder like you usually do, it's no big deal."
I knew he was right and yet, somehow I was still embarrassed. Or anyway I was pretty sure I'd be embarrassed when the time comes. But I said nothing, just nodded and went on slurping spoonfuls of Honey-Nut Cheerios.
Brian stood up to take his plate to the sink. "You don't think Gus hears his mommies screeching their lungs out constantly?" he asked over his shoulder. He rinsed the plate, then moved behind me and squeezed my neck. "Didn't you ever hear your parents?"
"You don't have to answer that." He let me go and walked away. I was glad, I really did NOT want to answer that. Then I had a thought.
"Brian, did you ever hear YOUR parents having sex?"
'They didn't," he answered seriously, turning from his desk to regard me solemnly. "They didn't have sex. My mother believed sex was for the procreation of children. She had two children, so I'm reasonably certain that she had sex only twice."
"You're joking, aren't you?"
"Probably," he admitted. "But you were right the first time." Brian scrunched up his face and said with a shudder, "Eww."
“No. Absolutely not.”
“But Brian, I promised Gus you’d take him to Disneyland!”
Why are people always making promises on my behalf? “No way.”
Gus jumps up from his post on the floor next to Justin, they were sitting cross-legged in front of the tv watching some garishly colored cartoon DVD – Lindsay brought along a handful of his favorites. He seemed totally lost in la-la-land but he’s pretty fucking quick on the uptake, this curly-haired little monster mini-me.
Reaching my side where I’m sprawled on the sofa next to Lindsay, Gus leans against my knee and repeats urgently, “Daddy! Dizzy-land!”
Shaking my head, I say firmly, “No, Gus – no. Next time you visit, your mommy will take you there – both of your mommies will take you.”
‘Next time’ means nothing to a three-year-old.
“Daddy!” Gus scrambles to pull himself up next to me on the sofa, climbs into my lap and pushes his face close to mine. “Mickey lives there!”
“Mickey Mouse! You know, Daddy!” he insists.
Shaking my head, I say, “I think Mickey moved to Florida. He has a bigger house there.”
“No!” Gus gasps, his eyes wide with pain, his entire chubby-cheeked little face reflecting a look of agonized despair.
“Gus,” I try again, silently cursing the two bystanders who are not making a move to help me out, “Daddy will take you to the zoo tomorrow. You can see the baby animals.”
“Wanna see Mickey,” he mourns. “Wanna go to Dizzy-land.”
“Brian,” Justin has joined us and now he perches his butt on the coffee table facing me. “Maybe I could take him?”
Gus turns an eager face toward his potential savior. "Unca Jus!"
“No," I glare at Justin, "You could not."
"Daddy, Unca Jus wants to see Mickey too!" Gus insists.
"No," I repeat, giving Gus a quelling look, before glaring once again at Justin. "You can’t handle a hyperactive three-year-old all by yourself. And don’t undermine me with my son.”
“Sorry.” Justin looks chagrined. Then, “Gus,” he says enthusiastically, “You’ll like the zoo! I checked it out on the computer, there’s a big merry-go-round we can ride on.”
“Dizzy-land,” Gus murmurs disconsolately, dropping his head onto my shoulder and snuffling. “Mickey Mouse.”
I should never have agreed to take a day off work, to be with Gus tomorrow while Lindsay’s at her conference. I can’t afford the time off, I’m in the middle of planning a presentation for the director of Nippon Noodles. It's business, it's legitimate, I've got a new career to obsess about. But even falling back on my reputation as an asshole couldn’t get me off the hook with Lindsay this time, so finally I'd agreed to spend Friday with Gus, and Justin arranged to take the day off too.
But I have no intention of being dragged to some hideous huge theme park crowded with throngs of howling children. Yet now I’m being cornered by a toddler who doesn’t yet know my reputation for selfishness. I should let him find out. Let him find out that he can’t ever count on me for anything, not ever. Better he finds out at this young age so he’s not disappointed later.
I strengthen my resolve and take a deep breath. Gus needs to learn that he can't have everything he wants. He needs to learn that when I say 'no,' I mean 'no.'
"Gus," I begin, and he turns his little face toward me again. His eyes are bright with unshed tears, his bottom lip trembles and his cheeks are flushed pink.
“All right." I sigh, shaking my head. "Daddy will take you to Dizzy-land tomorrow. But only for a couple hours.”
Gus immediately gasps, then throws his little arms around my neck and nearly strangles me. “Daddy!” he shouts, permanently deafening me in one ear, “Daddy!” Then he stops abruptly and pulls back to look at my face. "Unca Jus too!" he demands.
"Okay," I agree grudgingly.
Faux-grudgingly. Christ, if I didn't have Justin to help, there's no way I'd agree. But Gus doesn't need to know that. Neither does Justin.
“Yay!” Justin joins in the revelry, jumping to his feet and executing an impromptu Cinderella dance in the middle of the living room. “A dream is a w-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-s-h your heart makes!” he sings off-key, and Lindsay laughs, leaning over to plant a loud kiss on my cheek.
“I knew you’d come through,” she exults complacently.
How could she know that? I didn't even know it myself.
Brian is really unhappy about going to Disneyland, he’s not just being an asshole for form’s sake, he really doesn’t want to go. He took out some of his aggression on me once we finally got to bed. It took ages for Lindsay to calm Gus down enough to go to sleep, he was so excited; and it was after midnight before Brian and I went into our room and closed the door. Brian immediately grabbed me and started roughly pulling off my clothes.
“Don’t make a sound,” he warned, gripping my shoulders tight and dragging me urgently toward the bed, shoving me down on the side of the bed and ripping off my shirt. "I'm going to fuck you so hard your teeth'll rattle."
"Okay," I agreed breathlessly. Lucky for me I enjoy an aggressive Brian Kinney. The only bad part was being unable to scream with nearly unbearable ecstasy. Twice I forgot and opened my mouth to shout, and both times Brian quickly covered my lips with his own, quelling my cries and drowning his own moans inside my mouth.
As we lay panting side by side, catching our breath before falling asleep, I whispered, "Brian, that was just about the best sex we've had since we got to California."
"Yeah?" He leaned up on one elbow, pulled off the condom and dropped it into the wastebasket near the headboard.
"Yeah," I confirmed, sliding next to him and fitting my body snugly against his. His arms went around my shoulders and he pulled me even tighter.
"Yeah," I repeated. "I'm going to remember to piss you off again, real soon."
"Hunh," he snorted quietly, "If I fucked you every time you pissed me off, we'd never leave the condo."
"Sounds good to me."
"Mmm-hmm." I felt his muscles let go and he slid into sleep, with me three or four seconds behind him.
Disneyland is just about as terrible as I expected, thousands of over-excited screeching children massed together in one place. However there's a sense of order that I didn't expect - the kids don't seem quite as wild and unruly as I thought they'd be. Perhaps this is the holiest of holy shrines, a childhood Valhalla. Certainly Gus is more subdued than I'd have thought - he's excited but not hysterical.
Justin's more hysterical than Gus. His head's swiveling around to take it all in, he's practically hyperventilating. We're sauntering down Main Street, Gus barely contained in his stroller (which of course I'm making Justin push), and I lean over to whisper in Justin's ear, "Better hold my hand so you don't get lost."
He throws back his head and laughs up at me, correctly interpreting my quip as gentle sarcasm. He's always been on to me. Almost always.
"Shuddup," he mutters but leans over to rub his shoulder against my arm briefly.
Maybe being here on Gay Day wouldn't be so bad after all - I have this amazing urge to put my arm around Justin's shoulders and pull him close against me, plant a big kiss on those juicy inviting lips. For some reason his excitement makes me smile. It's sappy but, well. . .whatever.
But it's not Gay Day, and as much as I don’t give a shit for the sensibilities of Middle America moms and pops, I'm also not willing to make waves big enough to spill over onto my son. That's a strange and yet familiar realization - familiar because I remember how I felt when Lindsay asked me to go with her to a preschool and pretend we were husband-and-wife so they'd let Gus in. I was angry and annoyed at the time, but willing to bend my rules to accommodate the needs of my son. Strange. And strange to realize that I feel the same way today, not wanting to do anything to tarnish my son's experience at Disneyland.
After two hours we've barely scratched the surface of this huge playground. Gus is over-stimulated, he's starting to get fussy. "Put me down - pick me up - put me down" is wearing very fucking thin. Justin suggests we take a break for lunch - food is Justin's answer to most of life's problems; but as we stop to reconnoiter and discuss food possibilities, Gus pulls on my hand and demands my attention.
"Daddy - look! Daddy - look! Boats!"
I swivel my head around and realize that we're standing next to an attraction called 'It's a Small World.' A feeling of dread washes over me - I recognize the stultifying carnival-like tune blaring from loudspeakers near the entrance, and already I can tell that this melody is going to bang around inside my head all the rest of the day.
I'm hoping that Gus is too small for this ride - he's too small for many of the bigger attractions like the roller coasters and thrill rides. But no, he's not too small, it's just open flat-bottomed boats that fill up with families and small children, floating away through doors covered with huge brightly colored plastic flowers.
"Daddy!" Gus is pulling on my hand, trying to drag me to the entrance.
"Okay, Sonny-boy," I acquiesce, bending down to lift him in my arms and hand him off to Justin. "Unca Jus will take you."
Gus allows himself to be handed over but turns in Justin's arms and demands, "You too, Daddy! It's boats! Boats!"
"Daddy's taking a break," I tell him; I'm dying for a cigarette and see an opportunity to be childless for fifteen or twenty minutes. When Gus rebels by sticking out his bottom lip in a shameless pout, I raise an eyebrow at him. That should be intimidating enough - it works on most people - but I add a verbal command as well. "Go with Justin or not at all. I'll wait here for you."
Justin bends his head and whispers something in Gus' ear, making him giggle.
But Justin's not telling, and probably I don't want to know anyway. Whatever it is, it works - Gus allows Justin to put him down and lead him to the queue to wait for a turn to climb into the boats. My patience lasts just long enough to stand watching till their boat disappears through the magic doors, then I sigh with relief and move quickly off toward the walkway to Tomorrowland - one of only three areas in the park where you can have a smoke. I gamble on leaving the stroller unattended at the Small World entrance, there’s a dozen of them sitting unattended, it’s probably safe. I don’t care if it’s not safe, there's no fucking way I'm pushing an empty stroller around on my own.
Perhaps inevitably there's a looker standing in the shade puffing away - a tall redhead in tight levis. We give each other the once-over and I contemplate asking for a light, then mentally shake my head, look away, and move to another shaded bit of walkway. Turning my back and lighting my own cigarette, I realize that this is the first time today I've seriously eyeballed another guy. It has nothing to do with Justin. Probably. It's only that carrying around a small child cramps my style. Then I wonder, if Gus weren't along, would I be starting something with Red? I don't know. I really don't know.
It's irrelevant, it's unimportant, and I don’t even need to think about it. Finishing my cigarette, I wander back toward the Small World ride, already unwillingly (though so far silently) singing along with the annoying repetitive lyrics and hoping the song's author will someday roast in the fires of hell. The stroller's still there, so I wheel it over to the exit where I plop myself down on an empty bench and crank my head around to stare at the returning boats, feeling unaccountably grateful to Justin for saving me from what must be a plastic Technicolor nightmare inside.
Surely the ride can't last much longer, children don't have that long an attention span, and -
"Brian? Is it really you?"
I spin around on the bench, the voice is eerily familiar, then suddenly I see her and I almost fall off the end of the bench. In fact I start to fall but then I catch myself quickly and get abruptly to my feet.
Holy Christ, what on earth is she doing here?
I don't think I said that out loud, and apparently I didn't because immediately she demands, "Brian, what on earth are you doing here?"
I haven't seen Mom since her darling grandson accused me of molesting him. And she believed him. She believed him, and she told me I should be behind bars. We haven't spoken a word since that day when I went crashing into Clare's house.
"Disneyland's a great place for kids," I tell her. Raising my eyebrows and crossing my arms on my chest, I clarify, "I'm looking for little boys to molest."
"That's not funny." Her lips tighten and she grimaces. Not a good thing for someone so wrinkled to do. Christ, I hope I die before I'm that old.
"You're always trying to shock me," she frowns, "But you're not the least bit amusing."
"You mean you don't believe me?" I can't resist asking, and I taste bitter gall in the back of my throat. I didn't know that I cared any more what my mother thinks.
"Clare told me about it." Mom crosses her arms, we stand toe to toe, two tall mirror-imaged strangers related by blood. "It was very bad of Johnny to say those things."
"You believed him," I can't resist saying, though I've ordered myself to shut up, shut up.
"Well Brian, it's common knowledge your sort of people DO molest children."
"That's a fucking lie. What IS common knowledge is that YOUR PRIESTS molest children, don't you read the papers?"
"I'm not Catholic," she throws back her head and stares into my eyes. "Your father's priests might be homosexual, but the ministers of MY church are not."
I have to laugh then. It starts with a chuckle, but turns into a belly laugh. In fact I laugh so hard that I have to sit down quickly on my bench, drop my head into my hands and order myself to stop fucking laughing.
"Brian - what's the matter?"
I feel a hand on my shoulder and look up to see Justin standing beside me, holding Gus in his arms.
"Oh!" he says, catching sight of my mother. "Mrs. - Mrs. Kinney!"
"Have we met?" Mom asks icily, adjusting her purse strap on her shoulder and looking down her nose at Justin.
"Umm, well, sort of," Justin hedges.
His hand tightens on my shoulder and he squeezes hard. But I'm okay now, I’m fine. I stand up again and clear my throat of one final chuckle. Then I say, "Mom, this is Justin Taylor. He's my partner." I'm proud of myself for not hesitating over that dreaded word.
Gus has been silent this entire time, but now he's tired of being ignored. "Daddy!" he exclaims, reaching for me, and when I take him in my arms he hugs my neck. "Daddy, wanna go again! Go again, please?"
"Daddy?" That's Mom. I never in my life wanted to play out this scene with her.
"This is my son Gus," I tell her reluctantly, then turn to plant a kiss on Gus' cheek. "Maybe after lunch," I tell him, "Aren't you hungry now? I'll bet Unca Jus is hungry."
"Is this really your son?"
I don't want to look at her again and I'm tempted to make some churlish remark, but I force myself to answer quietly, without emotion, "Yes, he's really my son." Then I can't resist adding, "Dad met him. He said he looked just like me when I was a baby."
"Your father knew you had a child? And nobody ever told me?"
"What do you care?" I can't keep the bitterness out of my voice, but before Mom can answer me, we're swarmed by Clare and her two horrible sons.
"Brian!" she exclaims, "Fancy running into you here!" She notices Gus in my arms and Justin standing close with his hand on my sleeve. She nods warily at Justin - I forgot that he met her when he took Deb's cop to suss out John's story.
John's looking wary himself. Then he shrugs his shoulders and apparently dismisses whatever discomfort he was feeling. "That ride was so boring, Mom, I wanna go on the Pirates of the Caribbean next."
"Let's go on the Pirates," echoes his little brother, copying John's hands-in-pockets posture.
"Boys, say hello to your uncle." They ignore her and she goes on quickly, "Brian, I heard that you moved to California but I never imagined we'd run into you - we're on vacation, we're staying with Aunt Emily in San Bernardino."
"Hey," John snorts, pointing at the sign behind Clare's head. "'It's A Small World," he crows, then punches his brother and they start laughing. "It's a small world after all, it's a small world after all," they sing and chortle, till I want to strangle them both.
It’s a small world, all right – too fuckin’ small.
Nobody else cracks a smile, we just stand there awkwardly for a moment, then Clare says, "Okay, boys, you can go get in line for the Pirates, but don't go anywhere else. Grandma and I will be there in a few minutes."
The boys need no further encouragement, they take off running and we all stand watching them. Then Clare turns to me and says, "Brian - I never told you I was sorry. About - you know what about."
"It doesn't matter." It's too fucking late for apologies. And I don’t give a fuck anyway.
"I heard you moved out here but I didn't know you brought your kid with you."
"You knew he had a child? You never told me." That's Mom, righteously indignant again, but neither Clare nor I pay any attention to her. And Gus has lost interest in the grown-ups' conversation, I knew he was tired and he's confirmed it by resting his head on my shoulder and falling asleep, one arm around my neck and one finger in his mouth.
It's none of Clare's business but I answer her anyway, "He doesn't live with me. With us. He's just visiting."
"His mother's at a conference today," Justin adds helpfully, then throws a quick look at me to be sure it's okay for him to speak.
"Who's his mother?" That's Mom again, and I've really had enough of this conversation.
"We have to go now," I say abruptly, turning my shoulder toward the two women and inching away. "Gus needs to eat and take a nap."
"It was - it was nice to see you," Justin offers them a smile. "Maybe. . ." His voice trails off as he looks at me uncertainly.
I know the formula, I know what's polite, I don’t need Justin to push me. But I don't want to be polite.
"We're here till next Thursday," Clare says.
There's another awkward silence, then I hear myself caving in, God knows why. "Do you want to meet Gus' mommy?" What the fuck am I saying?
"Yes." Mom interjects herself back into the conversation. "Yes, I do. Why don't you bring her to Emily's for dinner tomorrow? And - and Gus, of course."
"And Justin." There's a slight edge to my voice.
Mom and Justin glance at each other and Mom sighs. "Yes. Of course."
“Why don’t you come over about six? Aunt Emily eats early.” Clare then asks, "You know the address?"
No I don't. Clare writes down the address and phone number and then we all nod at each other. "Good-bye." "Bye." "Till tomorrow," Clare repeats.
I turn away and Justin walks close beside me, I slow down so he can keep up - I'm glad he remembered to grab the stroller, I would've walked off without it. I very much wish I could put my arm around him. Or maybe I want to feel his arm around me. I'm not sure which of us needs the comfort more. Maybe I need it more, because finally I raise my free arm and slide it around his shoulders. He glances up at me and his smile is tremulous.
"Is it okay?" he asks anxiously.
"Yeah. Sure. You hungry now?"
Duh, indeed. We stop at a posted map of the park and check out the restaurant listings.
I’m so glad that Brian is finally settling down, Justin is the best thing that’s ever happened to him. Brian’s happier than I’ve ever seen him before – though of course he’d deny it under torture, but I can see the difference. There’s a sort of calmness about him, a slight lessening of intensity, something very subtle but so real it’s palpable.
When Justin left, I remember feeling sad but not surprised – Brian is the most difficult person in the world to be with. Once Debbie and I were talking about the guys and she marveled that Justin had. . .I think she said that Justin had ‘slipped under the wire,’ and I remember thinking at the time how apt that phrase was, since Brian has always had this barbed-wire fence wrapped around him. Anyone getting too close is impaled. In the end Justin got hurt too and finally he walked away.
Nobody knows exactly how the guys got back together, but nobody was really very surprised either. Mel laughs at me but I truly believe in Destiny, and if any two men were destined to be together, it’s Brian and Justin.
Yet now that I’m around them again I can feel how fragile their relationship still is. Maybe it always will be – both of them walking an emotional tightrope. I’m not sure that Brian will ever be able to openly express his feelings – but anyone watching him can easily see how much he loves Justin. I told him once that I was sure it had been love at first sight for him and Justin both. Brian had snorted and corrected me, “Lust at first sight you mean.” The lust is also obvious of course.
We left Gus with Brian and came out for a walk and a coffee after dinner, Justin and I. Gus was sleeping and Brian was pounding the keyboard at his computer – he still works like a fiend. Justin says he puts in very long hours at his new office, determined to establish his reputation, make a name for himself in LA.
Justin led the way to Starbucks, and when I glance at the door he’s just coming outside, balancing two cups in his hands, one of them with a chocolate croissant perched preciously on top. I quickly stand up and rescue the croissant before it slips to the floor. We laugh and sit down on the wrought iron chairs, then I lean back and glance around. It’s almost nine and street lamps are just coming on, there’s a relaxing glow in the warmth of the California summer sunset.
“It’s lovely here,” I murmur, taking a sip of my mocha frappachino. “Does it feel like home yet?”
Justin shakes his head no as he wipes a whipped cream mustache from his upper lip. “Not really. But I like it a lot.”
“Do you think you and Brian will stay here for a long time?”
“I don’t know.” Justin sets down his cup and leans back in the chair. “He’s only committed to a year for the condo. And I think he sort of has the new agency on trial for a year too. Not that he’s discussed it with me.”
His lips tighten and I realize I’m on shaky ground. Good. I’ll push a little bit.
“Brian doesn’t tell you his plans? Doesn’t ask for your advice?”
“Not really.” Justin frowns and leans forward to stare into his coffee cup. “Not essentially.” When I say nothing, he raises his head and looks solemn as he says, “Brian’s business is always his own. And I’m okay with that. Mostly.”
“And is it the same with you? Do you discuss your own plans with Brian first, or make decisions on your own?”
“There’s no decisions for me to make. When to pick up the cleaning. What to buy at the grocery store. Will I work overtime or not? Those are my major decisions right now.”
“I meant, oh, for example - have you decided to go to school out here, or not?”
“That’s easy – I can’t. I’m working full time.”
“But have you checked out the local schools? If you could enroll, would you? Where? And why?”
“Lindsay, you don’t understand. I need to be committed to Brian right now.”
“Hmm. To pick up his laundry? Cook him dinner?”
“No, but – we don’t have the money for school. And as soon as I have a few months of California waiter experience at the d’Or, I’m going to get a better-paying job at a better restaurant, so I can really help Brian financially.”
“Is he counting on that? Will he let you help pay off his credit cards?”
“No, but I can pay back the money he loaned me for the IFA, he can use that for his creditors.”
“Does Brian want you to do this?” I push a bit more. “Or does he want you back in school?”
“It doesn’t matter what Brian wants, damn it!”
“Ah,” I nod understandingly. “It’s not Brian’s business, so you don’t need to discuss it with him. Seems you two are a better match than I thought.”
Justin shakes his head, rubs a hand hard over his face. “Okay. You got me. Okay? But I just can’t discuss this with Brian.”
Closing his eyes, Justin caves a bit more. “Because you’re right, he does want me back in school. But I need to be committed to helping him right now. If I’m in school, I won’t be able to work overtime, or to look for a better job.”
“What about going to school part time? Couldn’t you take a few classes, just to keep your hand in? I thought the state colleges in California were supposed to be pretty good?”
“Lindsay, there’s a school right in this neighborhood, and Brian kind of leaned on me to check it out. But it ‘s a junior college! A state school for students who can’t get into the better schools. I’ve had almost two years of advanced training at the IFA, the LA college would be like going backwards for me!”
“Yes, I see your point, and you could be right. However, did you consider that there might be one or two excellent teachers at this school from whom you might learn something?” I hesitate, then add, “I’m on the faculty at Penn State, not the IFA, but I think I’m a pretty good teacher.”
Sudden comprehension dawns on Justin’s face, he looks horrified. “Oh my God, Lindsay, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound like a snob, I know you’re a fabulous teacher.”
“Even if I am merely a teacher at a state school.”
When he opens his mouth to apologize again I cut him off. “Justin, I’m not really insulted, I do understand what you mean. And I know you wouldn’t say anything to hurt my feelings. But remember that I also graduated from a state college. And so did Brian. Do you really believe that we got a second-rate education?
Justin stares at me, blinking rapidly. “Fuck.”
“I guess I forgot. Or anyway I wasn’t thinking about that.” He frowns at the table, then looks up at me, shame-faced. “Brian must be insulted too. He never said so though.”
“Oh, I doubt that he’s insulted – you know what a snob Brian can be, he probably agrees with you!” I laugh but Justin’s still looking mortified.
“Forget about it now,” I suggest, “And tell me if all this is the real reason you don’t want to go to school, or if it’s all just a smoke screen.”
“Justin,” I lean my arms on the table and bring my face closer to his. Gently I admonish, “Justin, you haven’t touched your sketchbook since we arrived yesterday. You didn’t take it to Disneyland, and you haven’t drawn me or Gus a single time in over twenty-four hours since we got here. That’s so not like you. Normally by now you’d have made a dozen sketches of Gus, of me, of Brian. Of anyone who sits still for five minutes.”
“I’ve been busy.”
I say nothing, just look at him – we stare at each other for a couple minutes, then Justin looks away. “I don’t know,” he admits at last. “I don’t know why I’m not drawing now.”
“So it’s not just since I arrived?”
He shakes his head no and fiddles with his coffee cup, making circles with his finger in spilled sugar on the tabletop.
“What is it?” I ask gently. When he still doesn’t answer, doesn’t look up, I hazard a guess. “Are you afraid that you’ve lost it? Your gift? Your ability?”
“No.” He looks at me then and I can see pain in his eyes. “Maybe. Oh, I don’t know. I just sometimes think, maybe it all happened for a reason. Maybe if I were a better artist, the IFA wouldn’t have kicked me out. Maybe it was just a reason they used to get rid of me.”
Oh baby, baby. But pity won’t do now, nor empathy. Instead I try the Brian Kinney approach: “Justin, that’s bullshit and you know it.”
He eyes widen with shock and I know my voice was harsh. I meant it to be harsh, and now I go on, “Justin, it sounds to me like that could be a major cop-out, an excuse so you don’t have to try and prove yourself out here in California. Maybe you’re just afraid of new competition.”
“Lindsay!” He’s still shocked. Well, I’ve shocked myself, but I think a splash of cold water on his face is what Justin needs right now.
“You think I’m a quitter?” he demands, sitting up straight in his chair, his eyes wide, his hands gripping the coffee cup.
“I don’t know. You never were before.” I shake my head and soften my voice. “I remember when you were having problems after – after the hospital, I remember Brian telling me that you were the bravest man he’d ever known.”
“Brian said that?”
“He was so damned proud of you. He always has been. Remember when he came to the art show – just to see your drawings. He’d never have come to the GLC for anyone else. And he hardly knew you way back then.”
“I’m not a quitter,” Justin insists. After a moment he adds with painful honesty, “But in a way, I think that giving it all up is really – easier. I mean, drawing all the time is a constant reminder of what I can’t have.” When I nod he goes on, “And then I realized that, if I could give it up so easily, give up drawing – maybe I don’t have what it takes to be a success.”
There’s a pause, then I ask gently, “Justin, you really should talk to Brian about this. Don’t you think?”
“How can I? He blames himself for so much already, for the prom especially but other stuff too. He said once that if he’d fired me from Vangard, really fired me I mean, then I wouldn’t have got in trouble with the IFA. I told him that was bullshit, but you know Brian.”
Yes, I know Brian.
“Justin,” I say at last, “If I’ve noticed that you’re not drawing now, don’t you think Brian has, too?”
“He’s so busy – “
“Oh come on. Hasn’t he said anything to you about it?”
“No. But – “
“Then he probably has reached his own conclusions, and you’re right, he’s probably feeling guilty and blaming himself. I do know Brian, just as you do.” I reach across the table and take Justin’s hand. Gently I encourage, “All the more reason you need to talk to him about it.”
Justin nods. “Okay. Yeah, you’re probably right, he must’ve noticed. And since he hasn’t said anything to me, you’re probably right that he’s blaming himself too. Jesus. I fucked up again.”
“No martyr routine, the world hasn’t come to an end. Let’s start back now, okay? It’s getting dark and I’m exhausted, and the conference continues tomorrow morning.”
We stand up and Justin gestures for me to precede him onto the sidewalk as we begin the trek back to the condo. We’re silent for a moment, then Justin laughs.
“At least you have a treat to look forward to tomorrow night, after your meetings! Dinner with the Kinney clan!”
“Oh God,” I groan, “Don’t remind me! I’ve already got goosebumps just thinking about it!”
“Me too,” Justin admits.
I don’t have long to wonder if Lindsay had a chance to talk about school with Justin, because as soon as we go to bed – well, as soon as we finish having sex and are mopped up and Justin has snuggled his way into my arms, he plants a few pre-sleep kisses on my Adam’s apple, gives me a tickling bite on my ear lobe and murmurs, “Brian – I’ve been thinking about school.”
“Hmm?” I answer sleepily, though my brain flips over and I’m wide awake again.
“Yeah,” he goes on. “I might call Robert’s uncle next week. After all.”
He’s silent for a moment, then he says, “I guess it couldn’t hurt to check it out.”
“Mmm-hmm,” I murmur, “Couldn’t hurt.”
He nibbles my ear again and I feel him relaxing in my arms.
I tighten my grip on Justin’s shoulders, squeezing gently, gently, as he falls asleep. And I lie here sleepless in the darkness, listening to his slow, even breathing, my cheek nestled against his soft sweet-smelling hair, with a fucking stupid grin on my face.